This is set at the end of Family and Honor.
Jabari rode silently next to his youngest sister as they headed for her territory. He watched her profile, considering how focused it was on the road. Intent. She made no mistakes with her driving, no errors, and she was a courteous driver, allowing others to cut her off or go around her as she followed the speed limit. He refrained from remarking on the lack of a Look Away charm on her vehicle, a fae spell that anyone could easily get ahold of. It would have allowed her to drive quicker and get them to her territory at a much more reasonable speed. Even he and Zuri kept contact with a fae for their own vehicles and yet Jacky, his little modern sister, had none.
Needless to say, he found it curious, even odd, but he knew to refrain from mentioning it. After the stress they had all just gone through, there was no reason to start on her for anything. He was on thin ice and he knew it. When he’d seen her in Washington at that cabin, he hadn’t quite realized the implications of her presence, nor did he truly understand her.
Now he knew all of those things, and though true understanding took time, he felt like he knew her well enough to make the correct decisions about the situation.
So, Jabari stayed silent as they drove, pointedly trying not to comment on anything she was doing. The fact that they were even in a vehicle, a modern metal death trap, was astounding, considering what they had just gone through. He figured it was a testament to her courage that she could get on the road without the smallest hint of fear in her scent, not after going through two of those accidents in her life time. He hated just the one and it had nearly killed him, all several thousand years of him. He talked to Father privately, who had impressed on him the keen reminder that long life and great power didn’t make him invincible, something his father also pointed out was not something he had to tell Jacky.
“You’ve been quiet for too long,” she said, and he caught the annoyance in it. “Can I turn on music or will that interrupt your thoughts?”
“Ah… we can talk about something if you would like,” he said, wondering how to approach this sister. Zuri was easy. As his twin, he knew her better than all others and she knew him better than anyone. Mischa had been in his life for so long that he considered himself adept at talking to her and how to handle her. Liza had been sweet and innocent, easy to approach. He’d never had to work hard with her because she just didn’t threaten him the way his more imposing sisters did.
Jacky was none of those sisters. She had been right. He didn’t know her, not nearly well enough, and that only did a disservice to them both. Something he hoped to rectify.
“Runes of power. Hasan’s… mate, your mother. She taught them to you and Zuri.” She seemed just as uncomfortable as him.
“Yes. We’ve been over this,” he confirmed, nodding. “They are ancient, considered the original and true text of magic itself, created by those who had magic long before human language was written. Some say the runes of power are built into the very foundation of this world and others. However, their true origins are unknown. Where our mother learned them, I don’t know.”
“Is there anything you want to talk about?” she asked, a little snappy.
Jabari eyed her. Why was she snappy with him now? Was it the way he said something? He sighed, giving up on trying to discern his sister’s moods. He need more time to understand her and he was about to get that. Trying to unlock the puzzle that was Jacky Leon didn’t need to happen on the drive to her home.
“Certainly. How is it living with wolves in your territory?”
“I notice them,” she answered, shrugging with one shoulder. “They keep my territory magic semi active, but I’m hoping that the longer they’re around, the easier it will be on me. Who knows, though. Aside from that, they’re good. I enjoy having Carey so close and they aren’t bad. Heath is a good man and Landon is a solid person, though I don’t know Landon so well.”
“It will get easier. Zuri and I have shared territories for many years. You begin to put the other in the back of your mind,” he explained, hoping he could help her with that information. Not that he wanted her to grow comfortable with werewolves in her territory. He wanted her to run them out. When Father had told him of the development, he’d been furious, but he’d also been banned from approaching her about it. Father had plans, ideas, that he wasn’t privy to. Whatever Jacky was doing was something their father was interested in and no intention of forcing to stop.
“That’s good,” she muttered. “Look, we don’t need to do this.”
“Try to be… close or whatever. You can stay in my house while you heal and teach me the runes of power to protect my territory better, but you don’t have to force yourself to get to know me.”
“I want to get to know you,” he countered. He understood what she was trying to say and could relate. It was uncomfortable opening up to new people. Jabari avoided it at all costs. But she was his sister and he had no intention of continuing to be a terrible brother to her. He had a responsibility as the eldest to welcome Jacky in and he had failed in that task for too long. The others would continue to fall into place if he and Zuri stepped up.
And he just wanted to. He wanted to know her because what had seen so far fascinated him. He saw what Father must have seen when he decided to Change Jacky. A will to live, a fire that refused to be put out. Sure, it was apparent his sister avoided this passion for life she had now, but it was still there, underneath the outward avoidance she presented to the world.
“No you don’t. You didn’t for several years. Why should now be—”
“I want to know you, little sister,” he growled. He didn’t understand why they were back to this point. “Don’t presume to tell me my own mind. I failed to recognize you for the decade you’ve been a member of our family that is my failing. I saw something in you that I respect, something powerful. You will be formidable with age and experience. And you’re interesting. You don’t hold the same views of the world as the rest of us. I want to know you, because you deserve to be known and I disrespected you for too long.”
He watched as her hands tightened on the wheels and he could smell the strange saltiness of tears.
“Thank you,” she whispered. “I want to know you too.”
“Then we shall get to know each other much better while I stay with you. You can tell me about… Shane, the man you lost. You can introduce me to Carey. I know she has made an impact on your life. I would like to see these things and know them. Maybe we can continue to grow our new understandings of each other.”
“I like that idea,” she agreed. “And maybe one day I could visit you and Zuri?”
“Yes, that would be nice,” he agreed, nodding.
They settled into silence again, but it felt different now. Jabari smiled to himself as they entered her territory. The feeling of it was peaceful in a sense. Jacky’s magic didn’t respond aggressively, but rather, content, with the under current of a warning. She would tolerate the presence of another werecat as long as he didn’t step out of line. It was a good settled feeling for a territory, that wasn’t too aggressive the way Gaia’s or Titan’s had been. It also wasn’t too peaceful and relaxed like Liza.
It wasn’t late, and he noticed how she drove even more carefully as they came up to her bar. He’d never seen it in person and he knew immediately to keep his thoughts and opinions to himself at the sight of it. Outside it, there were already people waiting. By the sizes and shapes, he guessed two adult males and a young child. This had to be the wolf pack.
“Were they expecting us? Or were we expecting them?” he asked as Jacky turned into her parking lot.
“Neither, but I have a feeling they want to get introductions with you out of the way,” she said with a deep sigh. “Politics, I bet.”
“Of course. Only prudent to handle this quickly,” he agreed, respecting the wolves for making the first move to introduce themselves instead of making him and Jacky run to them. It was their place, honestly. This wasn’t their territory. “Alpha Everson returned yesterday, did he not?”
“Yeah, they wouldn’t release you from the hospital fast enough for us to catch the same flight as him,” she explained, pulling around the bar and parking behind it. “He must have had Landon pick him up from the airport, because he drove to Dallas with me.”
Jacky was able to beat him out of the car and he felt somewhat chagrined at how she came around to his side and got the door before he could get moving. He wasn’t nearly at his best, his body aching at every move. He would heal fast but it was frustrating not to be in his top shape, especially since he was meeting these wolves.
He frowned as Jacky didn’t walk around the bar to see the werewolves. She unlocked the back door of the tiny, dirty bar and went inside, making him follow her. He stopped in the center of the bar as she opened the front door and let the wolves in.
He knew Heath Everson, the one who entered first, but he was more interested in the next. Landon Everson was of a unique heritage, a blend of different things that almost made it seem like he was from everywhere. Jabari recognized certain aspects of the male’s face as ones he knew well, even grew up with. Others he saw from Heath, more European in nature. And it wasn’t just that. There was a way this Landon Everson carried himself that made Jabari stiffen slightly. This wolf was deadly. His father was probably as well, but Landon carried it on himself like a mantle, much like Jabari did, or even his brother Hisao was known for.
“Jacky!” a young girl yelled happily, the last to enter the building. Jabari knew it was a sign of the two wolves wanting to see him before he saw their smallest family member. Posturing was important.
“Carey!” Jacky hollered back with a laugh. Jabari watched patiently as his sister hugged the young girl and ruffled the girl’s hair. “Now, you yelled at me on the phone, so please don’t yell at me now. I just got home.”
“Sure, but you have to tell me everything that happened,” Carey said boldly, putting her hands on her hips.
Jabari heard someone cough and watched as Heath covered his face, smothering what might have been a laugh. Jacky sighed deeply and grabbed Carey’s shoulders.
“How about I distract you with someone new?” she said patiently, turning Carey towards him. “Everyone, this is my… older brother, Jabari, son of Hasan. He’ll be staying for a few weeks.”
Jabari was charmed by Carey immediately. Her eyes went wide in shock at his appearance, and her jaw opened. He’d rendered the little thing speechless. He wasn’t like his father and didn’t have that special knack for children, but Carey’s reaction to him charmed him. There was no fear and no secrets on her face. She didn’t shy away. She was just awed by him and, while he’d awed many people in his life, the lack of fear was refreshing.
He went down to one knee, ignoring the wolves as it became clear his behavior around Carey would be what every adult in the room would judge him for. If he messed this up, he knew he would never find a peaceful relationship with the werewolf Alpha breathing down his neck now, who already disliked him for how he treated Jacky. And this Landon, the obvious enforcer of the small pack, would make his life hell.
How this little human convinced three predators to defend her was clear, though. She was too unafraid. She walked right up to him and smiled once she found her bearings again. Definitely too unafraid. He could easily hurt her and no one would be able to stop her. It was charming and also, he realized, probably terrifying for Heath and Landon. He looked over her head for just a second and knew it wasn’t just the wolves scared for her. Jacky was watching him intently, a clear warning that if he messed up, he would find himself thrown out of her territory.
“I’m Carey Everson!” She thrust a hand at him and he took it gently, shaking it like he would any adult.
“I’m Jabari, son of Hasan,” he repeated. “It’s a pleasure to finally meet you, Miss Everson.”
“Oh, you can call me Carey,” she answered with a blush forming. “Everyone calls me Carey.”
She didn’t let go of his hand, so he broke off the hand shake and stood back up. He was bemused by how her eyes watched him rise over her, going wider as he grew taller.
“So, you must be my sister’s charge,” he pointed out.
“I’m her friend,” she answered, grinning. “She’s cool, Jacky. I’m really glad she let us stay here. We hang out every Monday. Maybe you can hang out with us too.”
“I would very much like that,” he said in agreement. A soft growl filled the room, making everyone look to the imposing wolf standing by his Alpha and father. Landon was glaring at him.
“Landon,” Heath warned softly. “He’s Jacky’s guest and family.”
“If you aren’t comfortable with me near Carey, I’ll make myself scarce during her visits with Jacky—”
“Landon! Don’t be mean,” Carey snapped. It made him jump, looking back down at the human girl. She could talk to her werewolf family like that? He hadn’t heard any human girl use that tone with a supernatural since… Mischa was young, still human. Centuries ago. “He’s Jacky’s brother and he wouldn’t hurt me. Right?”
She looked up for confirmation.
“No, I wouldn’t hurt you but your brother just wants to protect you. It’s his right.”
She glared and Jacky started to snicker behind him. Jabari turned on her, frowning, hoping she would step in at any time. He wasn’t sure how to go about this anymore.
“Maybe we could leave this topic for a later day,” Jacky declared. “Heath, it was good to see you. Landon, Jabari wouldn’t dare do anything, but if it makes you comfortable, you can come over with Carey. Heath, you okay with that?”
“I’m totally fine with it. It’ll get both of them out of my hair,” the Alpha said with a smile. Jabari realized his sister was good at the werewolves. Appease the older brother, but always make sure to clear it with the Alpha. She could make a very good politician one day. Another small facet of Jacky he had missed over the years, since he never bothered to get to know her. “We can talk more on it later. I just wanted Jabari to meet them both and for them to meet him, so there weren’t any surprises later.”
“It was a pleasure. Thank you for taking the time,” Jabari said, nodding his head politely. Heath returned the gesture then began to walk out, Landon hanging back, staring at his sister. Carey gave a large sigh, tossed up her hands in defeat, then followed her father out, Landon trailing behind.
When they were gone, Jacky started chuckling again.
“She’s fearless,” he said casually.
“She is,” his sister agreed softly. “I love her for it. Now, let me show you my house. I think you’ll like it.” She walked for the back of her bar again, more at ease than she had been only moments prior and the entire trip to her territory.
Jabari knew he had passed some sort of test and he hoped it would continue to a better relationship with Jacky. That was the real reason he was there, after all.