"Two double cheeseburgers, fries and…" Feeling a slight pang of guilt to the promise he had made Kim, Jared added, "A small house salad." Guilt disappearing, Jared slapped the menu closed and grinned at his friend, waiting for him to order.
Paul raised an eyebrow before turning to address the impatient waitress. "Make mine the same minus the rabbit-kibble and add an order of onion rings."
The waitress shoved her pad and pen back into her apron before taking the menus and scurrying off.
"Man, I should've gotten onion rings too," Jared offered mournfully.
"What's up with the side-dish of lettuce? Are you suddenly worried about your weight?" Paul asked scathingly. Neither of them had to worry one damn bit about their caloric intake other than making sure it was a lot. Vegetables didn't have much value in the way of a werewolf diet.
"No, it's Kim. She's worried about her own weight which means I have to worry about mine as well according to her. She doesn't think I eat healthy enough and asked me to make sure I tried to cut back on fried foods and eat a few fruits and vegetables.
"And you don't think you could have gotten away with just asking for extra pickles for your burger?" Paul asked, not really caring one way or another. It wasn't his stomach that would be growling for more food an hour sooner than it normally would. Jared would have to eat five or six salads to accommodate for the calories from onion rings.
"Damn it, Paul! Why didn't you say anything sooner? I could have asked for extra lettuce and tomatoes too."
"Because it amuses me to watch you squirm over the mishaps you find yourself in due to being imprinted."
Jared knew better than to continue to bait Paul on the topic of imprinting. The legends had said it was rare, but true to folklore, most took it for face value and didn't look for missing elements. In every generation of wolves, the family lines and names were recorded along with who was the Alpha and his mate. Any other mate was not considered for recorded value as only the male lines were followed for the remaining pack members.
The rest of the current pack had imprinted with the exception of Paul. He never spoke of it outwardly, constantly praising the joys of a single man's life and the bed variety he switched every couple of weeks. It was during celebrations and holidays, when the pack got together with their imprints, that Paul's nonchalance was a shield of longing. He may be a possessive, intolerable asshole, but if he ever imprinted, those feelings would mellow and become redirected towards a single love. That was the pack's hope anyways.
Shrugging indifference, Jared went along with Paul's reasoning. "Go ahead and be amused. Next time Emily asks me what type of dessert she should make, I'll tell her you requested prunes."
"With enough sugar and breading, I'm sure I could manage."
Jared couldn't stop his laugh. "Yeah, Paul, you probably could."
Looking around the covered patio of diners, Paul leaned back in his chair to avoid the awkward conversation his friend was sure to bring up. Any time the wolves gathered together more than one would take the opportunity to comment about Paul's lifestyle.
"So, Paul, how is Amy doing these days? I haven't seen her around the Rez lately," Jared commented slyly. Paul's non-imprinted status was an entirely different topic than not having an imprinting.
Paul met Jared's gaze. "You mean Amber?" A shrug. "She's gone."
"She actually broke up with you?" This was news. Paul rarely let a girl come to his house, Amy/Amber being one of the rare exceptions. Kim thought it was because Paul was trying to accommodate for not having an imprint. The wolves thought it was because Paul had decided if a chick stayed the night, he'd get to tap it some more.
"We weren't dating, Jared; we were mutually exclusively fucking each other, just like the rest of the women you insist on labeling as my girlfriends," Paul explained in his fully rational guy-mindset.
"Don't you get tired of it, though?" Jared asked earnestly. "I mean, I can't even imagine being with anyone else, not even if the imprint suddenly disappeared."
The snort Paul gave could be heard half way across the street. "Whatever. If it weren't for that, none of you would still be with the girls you have. Except maybe for Sam, but only because he'd be afraid his old lady would beat the shit out of any other girl he might try to show interest in."
"I don't know…they're kind of perfect for each other. I think even without the wolf side-effects, he'd have stuck around and kept her."
Secretly Paul kind of thought so, too. Not that he had a thing for Sam's girl, far from it. And he wasn't willing to give up the extra curricular pussy he presently engaged in; a different chick once a month who fell into the category of perfect until she started eyeing him with a look of determination.
Frustrated with himself once again, Paul gave up thinking about a long term thing. He wanted someone who was the complete opposite of his own personality and those types of chicks stayed far away.
"…and Kim said she thought you two might be perfect for each other. What do you think?" Jared asked, abruptly disrupting Paul's chaotic musings.
"I think," Paul answered, while flashing polite grins at their waitress as she set their plates down, "that my answer would be hell-fuck-no. Not to that, doll," he said, reaching out to grab the waitress's hand that was quickly retreating with a bottle of hot sauce. With a wink, she placed it back on the table before leaving.
"See, now that right there is your problem," Jared offered when the waitress was out of earshot. Pushing his salad away from his line of sight, he continued. "That waitress could be nice and stuff but your gestures basically said 'Wanna meet up later and get busy?'. If you're going to keep a girl interested in you longer than a couple of weeks, you have to play a little hard-ball."
The large bite of burger Paul had just taken, thumped unattractively back on his plate. "You think I need to act like a dork to keep a girl? I already told you, Jared, I like my arrangements just fine and I'm not about to turn into a monk to keep some chick."
Paul resumed eating, grabbing a handful of onion rings to shove into his mouth. He swallowed hard before adding, "Fuck! That's sounds boring as shit. Why the hell would I want a piece of pussy to be around me and not touch it?"
"You mean fuck it?" Jared sighed under his breath.
"Exactly. That too! I enjoy some roughness in the bed, but I'm not a fucking masochist. No way would I torture myself from having sex just to see if a girl is worth keeping around. That's like those dweebs who buy a bottle of wine and wait fifty fucking years for it to mature before they open it and half the time they can't even do it since they've kept it sealed for so long as is."
"Paul, I don't think you can compare quality relationships to the art of aging fine wines. Although, now that you mention it that could be a nice way to invest some cash. Maybe I should have Kim research it a bit. We could easily store them in the basement. I could even make one of those cool wine racks."
'Are you fucking nuts? Do you know how little return you'd get back on a bottle of wine? There's probably only a two to three hundred percent mark-up value after fifty years. Insurance would cut into that because what the hell would you do if your house suddenly burned down or was robbed? With most policies you'd only get purchase price value back but if you file for a collectors addendum it'd cost a lot more," Pausing mid-discussion/rant, Paul took in Jared's stunned expression.
"And fuck! What the hell am I doing even talking to you about this shit?" Picking up his second burger, Paul tore into the bun. "You and Kim can go on and be merry, secret closet lushes until the end of time. Just leave me out of any match making schemes you two plot together over like junior high school twats."
Choosing to ignore Paul's lack of tact concerning his reason for existence, Jared zeroed in on his friend's abrupt topic. "I didn't even know you knew about investing and collectibles, Paul. What's that about?"
Trying really hard not to chuck the remaining burger across the table at his friend's head, Paul just shook his head sadly. "Look, I know we're a community and all and that our people look out for each other, but I don't want to be impoverished for the rest of my life. I make decent money at work; not grand, but better than being a cart pusher somewhere. I went online and did some searching in bonds, grants, retirement accounts and stuff and it's kind of easy. There were several sites that show you how to start saving bits and pieces, here or there. I'm not going to have enough money to buy a yacht or some shit, but I'd like to know that I can at least be able to afford more than cat food to live on when I get old."
"Wow!" Still staring at Paul like he had never met the man, Jared was impressed. "I mean, Paul the man whore has a portfolio. That's kind of impressive."
"Fuck you, Jared," Paul ribbed good naturedly, watching him pull the salad back towards him. "I'll be laughing my ass off at you when we're eighty-five and I can afford the fancy TV dinners while you're trying to live off of bread and peanut butter for the week."
Feeling better about himself, Paul and Jared joked for the rest of the meal. His life was far from mapped out but he was comforted in knowing that he could handle just about anything life might throw at him.
Anything being like the possibility of staying single for the rest of his life.
A famished and impoverished girl had seen the two strangers dining earlier at a local shop. Normally she wouldn't have paid them a bit of attention. It was Tuesday which meant the next-door bakery had thrown away their old pastries in the bins out back. They didn't put the trash out until early afternoon just before lunch. It was common for officers to be on the lookout for people like her and most of her kind stayed away when necessary. Today, however, was a huge necessity.
She hadn't eaten in seven, maybe eight days. Her max limit was usually five, but the demons had been disappointed in her usual offerings. It wasn't her fault. The local restrooms she used to clean up in were closed and even lustful men didn't want to be lured by a dirty girl. The last man she had brought to her captors was a rival homeless man. He was old, decrepit and coughed all the time. Bella had heard him crying in his sleep and decided he would probably die anyway due to poor health and harsh living conditions.
Disappointment reigned high when Bella had opened the trash bin to Sweet Delights. Someone, probably that creepy dish-washer, had thrown dirty water on top of all the slightly crusty goodies. Tentaively Bella had tried to sample some of the goo. She wasn't overly picky most of the time and her stomach was so taut, it hurt with every breath.
The water had been mixed with bleach, soap and grease. Her mouth puckered and the small bite she had tried to consume immediately came back up. On her knees and gagging, Bella felt like she was close to the end. If only she could get a few bites of something, anything to stop the stomach pain from pulling her into a consuming pain. On her knees, praying to stop being sick and for some type of miracle, she had spotted the two diners.
They looked like body builders, or foot ball players. Young, well-groomed, well-built and happy, they had sat at a nearby table eating heartily from large plates of food. When her retching had finally stopped, Bella sat hunched over on her knees watching the two men. Mid to late twenties, they laughed while shoveling fries, salad, hamburgers and what-not into their mouths. For just a minute, Bella wondered what it was like. To sit out in public and not be ridiculed, or yelled at, eating freely without wondering if it was your last meal for a very long time and knowing that you had money to pay for what you had bought.
Time meant nothing to Bella other than the difference between night and day. She sat for awhile, watching the men and noticing how others noticed them as well. From the young teenagers to the elderly, the men were watched discreetly. When both pulled out their wallets to pay, Bella gasped as she caught sight. From her distance she couldn't count it, but it was easy to see the bulging amounts of green one of the men had in a leather billfold. It was then that she decided to follow them.
Running along the back alley, Bella decided to get ahead of them. It would be easier to situate herself up ahead and strike rather than trail behind them for an extended period of time. It weakened her window of opportunity, but this was going to be difficult no matter what. At least if she planned for it a few blocks up, she'd have an easier time of making a getaway.
The men's height made it easy to see their approach. Bella tried not to gain the attention of any other pedestrians, shrinking into herself in hopes of looking invisible. When they stopped not a quarter block away and began to talk, she worried they might hail a taxi or go another direction. She couldn't afford such an opportunity to pass and slowly hedged her way in their direction constantly looking back to judge the distance between them and her escape route.
Seattle crowds weren't really Paul's thing. He wasn't like one of those home-body geeks that refused to live anywhere outside of a town bigger than population five thousand, but people stank; physically and metaphorically. Body after body pushing past each other in a hurry to get wherever they needed to be and unmindful of who or what may be in the way. Paul was kind of like that as well.
There was however an inherent appeal to living in La Push. It was home, always had been for generations past and always would be for generations yet to come. Maybe not any of his future generations, but definitely for his friends like Jared.
"Look, man, I know you don't do this emotional shit real well or anything but I'm glad you agreed to come out here with me," Jared said as the two walked through the mid-day city traffic. "I just needed some back-up cause I know I'm gonna be overwhelmed with this girly shit as soon as I enter the damn store."
"Interesting choice of words –girly shit—in reference to buying your imprint a ring," Paul remarked snidely if not a bit bitterly.
"It is, I know that. You have to understand that even though Kim is my world, I still need some man space. I can't totally hand over my dick to her along with my heart," Jared answered earnestly, once again wearing that goofy, love struck grin on his face.
Slowing his pace, Paul held his arm out in front of Jared. "Shut the hell up before someone thinks we're dating each other or some shit. That grin you've been wearing all damn day could blind a bat."
"I can't help it! I know she'll say yes and that we're pretty much already a couple and everything, but this just kind of seals the deal."
"As I seem to recall, she already said yes along with 'Oh yes, Jared. Right there! Harder!'" Paul mimicked in high falsetto.
"Not again, Paul! You weren't supposed to be out on a patrol in that area anyways. I can't help it that she appreciates my wolfish ways," Jared chuckled lowly. He wasn't embarrassed to have been caught at making love with Kim; Paul knew that.
"And I wish to god Sam hadn't asked me to go check out what inexplicably sounded like dying road kill. But he thought it might have been a confused bloodsucker trying to fuck a deer or something."
"That's not even funny, Paul. Just cause you fuck nothing but hard bitches who only moan on cue and not from pleasure, doesn't mean the rest of us don't get the real thing when we're having sex."
"I can assure you, Jared, that any of the bitches I fuck are not moaning on cue. They moan because they've finally gotten a lay that was worth something." Over Jared's shoulder, Paul could smell the stench before he saw the source, killing his train of thought. Darting in and out of people, amongst the crowds was a small dirty urchin of a girl.
Paul watched her with the eyes of a non-interested predator. It wasn't unusual for people to pass by the likes of him or Jared on purpose. Women especially gravitated towards their kind. This little one however seemed different. She wasn't approaching them to silently swoon at their good looks, or casually bump shoulders in hopes that they would ask her out on a date. This girl had a purpose and it amused Paul's dark side to see what it was.
Jared snapped his fingers, aware that Paul wasn't giving him his fullest attention. "No more comments about my girl, okay?" Jared asked. He knew how Paul was, but it still bothered him to be razzed about his imprint.
Paul's eyes jerked back to his friend. "Whatever. You want me to shut the fuck up then I suggest you keep those types of activities to an inside variety and not out on the Rez where the entire pack can hear and see."
She was fifteen feet away now. Paul could still see her and was eerily intrigued. She moved skittishly and ungraceful, constantly bumping into the throngs of people hurrying to and fro.
"Says the wolf who fucked some bitch on the cliff top while the rest of us had our families down on the beach for a family picnic," Jared snarled, not amused. "I'm not kidding, Paul! It was an accident and one that will probably be repeated-"
Paul had yet to actually see her face, but judging from her clothes and smell, he figured he wasn't missing much. At ten feet she stopped, seeming to bowl over slightly, clutching her mid-section.
What was she doing?
"-many more times. Let it go!" Jared's voice cutting back into Paul's musings.
"Alright, Jared. Fine! Fuck, let's go buy your cock-ring ,so we can go back home," Paul snapped, immediately wishing he hadn't said it so loudly. It was supposed to be a dig at Jared, but the few women who stopped to gape at them told Paul they were thinking the worst.
Addressing a middle aged mother whose mouth was opened the widest, Paul snidely spoke to her. "My brother's boyfriend insists he wears such things. I don't agree, but I can't forsake my brother's choices now can I?"
Unable to even speak, the woman just nodded her head in agreement before breaking eye contact and hurrying her pace.
In the time it took for Jared to do some of his own gaping at Paul, the urchin had moved closer. Finally closing his mouth and eyes as well, Jared took a deep breath. He was never, yet simultaneously always, surprised at what came out of Paul's mouth. Jared quickly wished to once again explain that when they entered the jewelry store, Paul need not say anything.
He never felt the movement of his pants as a small girl jacked his wallet, but as soon as she turned to run, Jared's eyes snapped open.
"Jesus fuck, what is that god-awful smell?" Turning around he watched as a small dirty figure raced through the people, realizing too late that he was light one wallet and forgetting all about Paul's early reference to him having a boyfriend.
"Thief!" Jared called out, running at a fast pace to catch up.
Paul laughed quietly to himself before picking up pace behind his friend. They couldn't run overly fast with so many witnesses, but being built as they were, some speed was to be expected.
"Give it back, you bitch!" Jared called again as he advanced towards the retreating figure, Paul right at his heels.
Paul thought it was slightly comical. Werewolves were built for fast reflexes and sudden responses and here a simple waif of a girl had managed to rob Jared of his wallet. When she had turned to judge her pursuers distance though, Paul was singing an entirely different tune. Her whole being reeked of despair, her eyes included, but when she stared directly into Paul's his world had changed.
Seeing beyond the dirt, filth and poverty, Paul felt connected to protect, worship and pleasure her. Before she had turned the corner, Paul had sped past Jared, almost within reach of what was soon to be his.
A/N: Kudos to Shadowpast620 for beta'ing.