First-move advantage

"You wanted to talk." 

We'd left Jax to tend to the meal and taken a walk through the trees with me in lead. In the gathering dusk, the forest around us was transitioning from light to dark, the sounds and smells shifting. Everything was much more intense, from the buzz of the wakening cicadas to the thick perfume of night flowers opening as the light dimmed. The forest seemed alive, aware - just as I was.

I would have preferred Jax to be in my place right now, but he'd pointed out that, firstly, I was the lead on this mission and secondly, the male had asked to speak to me. Jax had then adroitly side-stepped my not-so-subtle hints and generously - and most uncharacteristically - offered to take care of the meal while we talked, giving me no choice.

Which is how we'd ended up walking among the trees in the shadows and the silver of moonlight all around us. 

"Yes, I did." He said from slightly behind me, his voice low and pleasant. "I think it's time we cleared up a few things."

"Such as?" I asked, stepping over a fallen branch, hearing the crunch of leaves.

"Why we're here, for starters." 

"Tracking Rogues, obviously."

"I meant beyond the obvious."

"You're asking me to reveal details of an Intelligence mission to OutClan agents." I stated, shaking my head as I continued to walk between the trees. 

"I would not ask you to go against your Clan. But we must know if we're dealing with something bigger here." He said, his voice clear. 

"How would it help?" I said, looking down at the layer of leaves on the forest floor as I walked. 

My breath caught as I felt a cool, firm hand on my bare arm.

I turned to look at him. His ocean eyes were luminescent, glowing in the moonlight and the shiver that had begun when he'd touched me rippled right through me. 

"You know this is bigger than your Clan or mine." He said, his eyes intent on mine. "If we share information, we might be able to get to the bottom of what's going on." 

I stared at him for a moment and then gently pushed his fingers off my arm and stepped back, frowning.

"You were the one willing to ask Krevin for help back there." He persisted. "You're the one who insisted on notifying the Krevin Border Guard. Why?" He took a step forward towards me. 

"Protocol." I said, but he shook his head.

"We both know it wasn't protocol. You could have left and no-one would have been the wiser."

I stayed silent.

"You could have left us back there. You didn't need to help us. So why did you?" He continued, watching me intently.

I glanced down. Those beautiful eyes saw too much, I thought wryly.

"You could still leave." He said, quietly, "We could both go back to our Clans. And then what would happen? We continue with independent investigations that waste time and energy while whoever's behind this continues to get away with it."

His eyes met mine.

"It's time for cooperation. Don't you think?" He said quietly. 

For a long moment, I stared at him. 

"That's a good spiel." I said, equally quietly. "It even makes sense."

He inclined his head slightly.

"The problem is, I'm just not sure I trust you." I looked him squarely in the eye. "And that's what you're asking me to do."

His expression changed and he turned away from me. I exhaled and looked down. 

"It started about a month or two ago." 

I looked up as he spoke. His back was still turned but he continued speaking.

 "Small incursions, border settlements mostly and carefully timed and planned, never any witnesses, never any evidence left behind - and never any violence. Sometimes vandalism, sometimes theft. We only figured out it was the same people behind all of the incidents through a stroke of luck. One of our agents tracked back a Rogue - only to bump into another agent tracking another one to the same place. That's how we found out it was an organised group - and that there was someone behind it. So rather than catch them, we followed them. And here we are."

He had my full attention now. 

"We're not speculating what this is about. But it's not just vandalism or theft. There's something about how carefully random the incursions are, almost deliberately misleading us, that makes me think there's more to it. And if the same group is sending Rogues into another Clan - well, that would make this a bigger problem."

He turned. 

"So."

Yes, indeed. So.

He'd made the first move, putting his information out there. It was upto me to reciprocate - or not. 

I met his steady gaze. 

"That could have been my mission report." I said quietly. "Every word."

His eyes narrowed on me.

"They've been causing disturbances at our border settlements. Nuisance activities, mostly vandalism. Our Guard initially thought it might be young Clan, letting off steam. No witnesses, no evidence and a randomness that doesn't feel random at all. Our suspicions were confirmed when we followed them back to their campsite and heard them talk--"

"You actually heard them?" He asked sharply. I nodded.

" 'We need to leave, to report back. He'll be expecting us', 'We couldn't find any sign either', 'Wonder how the others have done.' " I replayed it word for word as I leaned back against the tree. "That's how we knew there were more of them. And that it was organised."

He exhaled long and slow.

"It's also how I knew our cases were connected." I continued. "Back there, when you said you'd been tracking Rogues. It's too much of a coincidence for two different Rogue groups to end up in the same place. I don't believe in that kind of coincidence." I folded my arms. 

"I don't either." He said, massaging the back of his neck, frowning.

"So what now?" I said after a pause. He glanced at me. "Where do we go from here? We shared information. What do we do with it?"

He shook his head, a small smile on his face.

"Straight to the point."

I shrugged. 

"I will take this to my Clan. Once they are aware that this isn't just our problem, I feel confident they will be more amenable to finding a joint approach to this." He sounded grimly certain. "We are all Clan, after all."

He must have caught my impassive expression.

"You think so too. Otherwise, why go out of the way to notify Krevin? Or help us? Most folk wouldn't have bothered." He said, and again that intent gaze was speculative on me, and again I felt like he saw too much.

"It doesn't matter what I think." I said, pushing off the tree. "It won't be my call." 

"Speak to your people." He said quietly. "I will speak to mine."

I inhaled and nodded slowly. 

He smiled then.

"We should get back." I said abruptly and went to move past him, back in the direction we'd come from when I felt his cool fingers grip my arm again.

"We have something else to clear up." He said softly. When I met his eyes, I knew exactly what he meant. 

"No. We don't." I said calmly, making no move to remove his fingers, not dropping my gaze. I hadn't been planning on this, but since he'd been the one to bring it up, I wasn't about to avoid it.

He didn't let me go, simply raised an eyebrow at me. 

"Oh no?" He stepped closer and, when I stayed my ground, closer still. 

My turn to raise an eyebrow at him. 

"We're in the middle of a forest." I said, keeping my tone even. Those ever changing, luminescent blue-green eyes were so close I could see that his thick eyelashes were brown, at variance with his light hair. "We are also in the middle of a sensitive mission. Not to mention, we have plenty of company."

He laughed, a rich, deep sound that vibrated through me and made my stomach clench. Oh, I liked that sound...

"We're also not animals." He said, amused. "What did you imagine, that we'd slake our mutual needs here and now?"

I tilted my head as we looked at each other. 

"I'd be happy with name and Clan. For now." He said, softly, emphasising the last two words.

"To what end?" I asked, calmly, continuing when he frowned, "It's not as if we'll meet again. We go our separate ways, back to different Clans, back to work that doesn't allow for this."

"You've worked it all out." He said, his lips curving into a slight smile. "And there's no leeway?"

I shook my head. What did he think, that we could meet every few months to fuck and go home afterwards?  Because that's all that this could ever have been, with our differing Clan loyalties, the rigours of being an Intelligence agent and that lifestyle. I couldn't see even that, my Clan would take a dim view of an agent hooking up regularly with an OutClan agent just because he fancied the pants off the guy. At best, this was a one night stand sort of thing, but tonight was hardly that night. 

"So we walk away." He said slowly, and I could see his eye colour change a little as he spoke. 

"We walk away." I agreed. 

"Just like that." He said, and something about his tone made me still, my senses on alert. Now I gently but firmly pushed his hand from my arm and stepped back, away, away. He let me go, but his eyes didn't.

"Yes." I said simply. 

"Deny our instincts." He stated, watching me.

"I'm not denying this." I said, my tone neutral. "I'm being practical."

"You feel what I feel." He said softly, eyes never leaving mine.

"I do." 

"But you won't follow it."

"No." I reiterated quietly.

"Are you always this in control?" And again, there it was. That something in his tone that made me go still and wary. 

"Always this practical." I said, choosing my words carefully. 

He exhaled, his expression softening a little.

"Pity." He said, his voice low. "I'd love to get to know you better."

I'd love to get to know your body better, I thought, but I simply inclined my head and indicated for him to lead us back.

We walked in silence in the darkness, and I was sure he was as aware of me as I was of him. If anything, our little chat had only heightened the tension between us. 

I didn't see that as a good thing.

We were nearing the dwelling and I could hear soft voices talking, smell the mouthwatering aroma of stew, when he stopped and turned suddenly in front of me, forcing me to stop too.

"If we met again. What then?" He asked quietly.

"What?" I asked, a little thrown by the suddenness of his question.

"This." He said, "If we met again, under different circumstances. Would you still insist on being practical?"

I stared at him.

"It's unlikely we'll meet again."

He smiled, a smile that made me swallow, and stepped close before I could react, leaning forward so his mouth was near my ear, his breath on my skin.

"I look forward to learning your name - Wolfman." He said, his voice a soft, low murmur in my ear. 

As I stood there frozen, he stepped back, smiled gently at me and then turned to stride through the trees to where the others were gathered.

Leaving me standing there, heart thudding loud in my ears.

***

How I made it through the meal, I don't know. I certainly didn't taste much of the stew Jax had prepared. 

Oh, outwardly I was the same. I was an old hand at keeping my feelings to myself and I was usually equally good at compartmentalising, at being professional regardless of everything going on around me. But I was being distracted by this male, I could feel his gaze on me in such a physical, intimate way, even now as I cleaned up the remnants of the meal and the fire and it bothered me that I liked the sound of his voice so much.

I couldn't afford distractions. Even one as beguiling as he was.

It was time to go.

"We'll be in the dwelling just across from yours." I gestured at it as I doused the fire. I knew the third male was still wary - not that I blamed him. I wouldn't have shared quarters with OutClan agents I'd just met either. I figured this would make them more comfortable. 

I wasn't just doing it for them - I had no desire to be in close proximity to their leader, not with the tension between us so much more evident. The others had been glancing between us throughout the meal and I could see the apprehension on their faces. This would make things easier - and would give us some privacy. Jax and I had things to discuss. 

"See you in the morning." The leader said quietly, as the female did a vertical jump up into the tree, hopping up further till she had reached the dwelling where the injured male was waiting for her. 

Jax inclined his head and after a moment, so did I. The leader seemed to hesitate and then jumped up into the branches himself. The third male gave us a measured look and then followed suit. 

"Shall we?" Jax asked. I didn't bother with an answer, just jumped up, hearing the rustle of leaves and branches from behind me as he came up with me. 

"Well that was an interesting day." He said, unstrapping his crossbow and pack as we entered the simple dwelling. 

"What happened with the Krevin Border Guard?" I asked, undoing the buckles on my chestguard slowly.

"What do you think?" He gave me a look as he dropped his gear. "I told the Guard Commander about the Rogues. He grunted at me and escorted me back to the tree line, dagger in hand. Talk about unfriendly. I had five crossbows pointed at me from start to finish."

"You're lucky they didn't do worse." I reminded him. 

"Yes, Kane was walking funny for a week after what they did to him. I suppose I should count my blessings." He shook out his tunic and then settled on the floor opposite me. "What about you?" I glanced over from where I was kneeling. He jerked his head in the direction of the other dwelling. "What did you two talk about?"

I sat down and stretched my legs out in front of me, leaning back against the wall. 

"The Rogues."

"Oh?"

"They have the same problem."

"Clearly."

"No, I mean the exact same problem." I told him what the other had said, how the details matched. He whistled softly.

"Now things are getting interesting." He said softly. 

I caught his eye.

We need to go, I signed. His eyes narrowed slightly.

I didn't know which Clan they were from, but there were a few who had enhanced hearing. And I didn't want this heard.

We go to the border to check in with Krevin and then head back home, I signed. We need to report this. 

And them? he signed.

They go their way, we go ours. We've done what we can for them.

Oooh, that's cold.

I gave him a look. He grinned at me.

Someone's a little edgy today. 

I shook my head.

We don't need any more delays.

Is it because of that stunning male?

Leave it, Jax.

I thought you two would have worked off some of that tension when you went for your 'talk'.

I showed him my middle finger.

Ah, I see, it's because you didn't have him, that's why you're grumpy. Loverboy Lio didn't get laid.

Get some rest, I signed, choosing to ignore his last comment, we're leaving in two hours.

You want to leave before they rise, he signed slowly after a long pause. 

I didn't respond to that, kept my face expressionless as I looked back at him. He exhaled.

Alright. Two hours. 

I gave him a brief nod and moved to lie down, stuffing my pack under my head for a makeshift pillow, feeling some of my tension ease.

In two hours we'd be gone.

And I'd never see him again.