A surge of fear, then anger at herself for being afraid, and then at Rogue for not being a normal bear, ripped through Jill. She pushed away from him, though he held her at arms’ length. “You’re not supposed to exist!” she said. “None of you are! None of this is! You’re supposed to be a bunch of bears that wander around the woods, eat berries, and I’m supposed to watch you and—”
Her mark burning, deep in her chest, stopped Jill’s tirade short.
“We do those things,” Rogue said in his quietly powerful way. He regarded her cautiously, like he was trying to figure out the best way to say something that was rolling around in his mind. For a long moment though, the two of them just watched one another.
Jill chewed her lip, like she always did when she couldn’t think of anything else to do with herself.
“Have you never wondered about the mark on your chest?” he finally asked. “The one I know you feel burning? We both have them too. You’ve never—”
He said we, she thought. We.
“You said she—” Another voice, very similar to Rogue’s, but slightly deeper and calmer, broke the silence.
“Who is—” Jill turned to the left, toward the door, as someone she knew, but couldn’t place, stepped through. He too was nearly naked. Huge, muscled thighs flexed every time he moved. Jill felt her mouth fall open, but couldn’t do anything aside from stare.
She shook her head. She knew this man, just like she’d known Rogue.
Running his hand over his wavy, black hair, King stared back. “King,” he said simply. “My brother told me he’d found you. I don’t understand how this is possible, though.”
Jill scoffed. “You don’t? The giant, magically transforming bear-man doesn’t understand how I am possible? Did I just step into la-la land?”
“No,” King said. “I don’t know where that is, but it isn’t here.”
He and Rogue exchanged a glance. “I don’t know either,” Rogue said. “Is that like Virginia?”
A smile crept across Jill’s taut lips. That was the first time she realized she’d pulled them into a line. Just that instant of levity relaxed her enough to let emotions other than fear and anger come through. “It’s just an expression,” she said.
She laughed for a moment, then she smiled again, and then before she knew it, a tear was rolling down her cheek followed by another and another.
“This is real, isn’t it? I’m not going to wake up from this like it’s one of my dreams?”
Rogue stroked her cheek. His hands were quickly joined by one of King’s, pressed flat on Jill’s back. The heat from his palm burned through her shirt, warming her skin. “But she’s a human,” he said. “This can’t be right. Can it?”
The shorter, more muscled Rogue, turned his face to the other bear, then back to Jill. “Don’t you feel it?” he asked the other man. “When you look at her, don’t you feel your mark burning? When I kiss her, when I taste her lips,” he paused to do just that. She felt him warm her to the core, and then when he pulled back, immediately chased him for another.
“When I taste her, when I smell her, I can’t explain my emotions,” he said. “All I know is that I haven’t felt this since they were taken.”
Rogue’s voice had a strange down-turn when he spoke. King cocked an eyebrow, and Jill noticed that even with his skepticism, he hadn’t taken his hand away. “I,” he began, then trailed off.
“What?” Jill urged him. “If you’re going to barge in here and tell me I shouldn’t exist, you can at least finish a sentence every now and then.”
King turned to her, confusion on his face. “She certainly reminds me of our last mate,” he said to Rogue.
“I am right here,” Jill said, pinching him hard enough to get a reaction. “You can use my name instead of talking like I’m livestock.”
It was King’s turn to smile. “I don’t understand this,” he said, “but you are right. She – Jill,” he said, catching himself. “She makes me feel like I’ve not for a long, long time. But Jill,” he turned to her. “You’re human.”
Slowly, she nodded. “Yeah,” she said. “I’m glad we’ve established that. And you are a giant magical bear who isn’t supposed to exist.”
“We do tend to stay to ourselves,” Rogue said. “But I think he’s referring more to the difficulty you’re going to have in delivering our children.”
He said that with such plainness, with such complete matter-of-factness, that it took a second before Jill actually realized what he’d said. “I met you a week ago and you three minutes ago,” she said, looking at King, “and you’re already talking about babies?”
“Cubs,” King corrected, helpfully.
“Right, yeah, cubs. I mean, don’t you think that’s a little forward?”
Rogue obviously got the joke, but King stood there, shaking his head. “I’m not sure why? We’re fated to be together, why would it be strange for—”
“Ah,” Rogue patted the other bear on the shoulder. “I think maybe this is one of those times where me being more worldly than you is a very good thing. Brother, I say this as gently as I can, but I think that she might be joking.”
King furrowed his brow and shook his head.
How can anyone be this serious without having an embolism?
“But the joke,” he said. “It wasn’t funny.”
For a moment, the three of them sat in silence before King broke it with a loud, single laugh that sounded more like a cannon going off. “You see?” he asked. “I pretended like I didn’t understand the joke, and then when I fooled the two of you, I said that I did, but that it wasn’t very funny.”
Rogue smiled an easy half-grin, and began nodding slowly. “Sure you did, sure,” he said. “I’m sure that’s exactly what happened.”
The two of them turned their attention back to Jill, who was still in more than a little shock. She let her arm flop limply down.
“Oops,” she said, as she squeezed where it landed, and realized what she had her hand around. King swelled larger in her palm, his shape apparent through the flimsy fabric covering he wore. “Sorry, I—”
Rogue silenced her with a kiss that forced her head backward against King’s chest.