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Mother Nature’s Cruelest Predator (A Prickly Business Ficlet)

In the grand scheme of things, Avery Babineaux didn’t have very many secrets from his friends, or his mate. Especially Dylan. Sharing a house, living together day in and day out—it was hard to keep secrets under those circumstances unless you made a real effort at deception. But there was one thing Avery hid. One thing he’d never live down if Dylan or his friends found out.

Occasionally, when no one else was around, he liked to shift into his hedgehog form and play. Not the sort of playing he did with Dylan and his buddies when they ran the forest in shifted form, and Avery investigated scents in rocky crevices or hollow logs, snuffled at the leaves and the soft, loamy earth, or drank from the cool, rushing creek. That sort of behavior was expected from shifters.

This… well, this was the sort of playing domesticated animals did. Cats with their catnip-stuffed mice, dogs with their tennis balls, hamsters with their wheels… and hedgehogs with their toilet paper rolls. And sometimes dinosaurs.

See, every once in a while, he needed to be mindless and Zen, like when he filled the bathtub, went spiny, and floated around in mellow circles for an hour or so. Other times, he needed to be silly. To scurry and burrow through tunnels and chew on crunchy cardboard. That’s when toilet paper rolls came in handy.

He waited for his days off when Dylan was at work. Then he dug his toys from the trunk in his den, stripped naked, and shifted into his hedgehog form.

Nose quivering, he pounced on the plastic stegosaurus and chomped down on one of its back plates. He shook his head and sent the thing flying, taking unholy pleasure in the clatter it made as it skidded across the hardwood floor. If hedgies could smile, he’d be doing it now. But the joy of trouncing the toy dinosaur was nothing compared to his love of empty toilet paper rolls. He gnawed on the edge of one, enjoying the squish of cardboard between his tiny teeth. Then he stuck his head inside and peered around the room, viewing his bookshelves and record player through tunnel vision before shaking the tube off and nudging it in a circle with his snout.

This went on for a while and never lost its appeal… until he stuck his head into one of the tubes and then couldn’t get it back out again. He scrabbled at it with his paws, which ended with him losing his balance and tipping over backward. He tried to pry it off by rubbing against the couch—only to succeed in wedging it on further. He pressed the end of the tube to the floor, hoping to pop it free. Nothing.

Hissing in displeasure, Avery tried once again to use his paws. The problem was, his legs weren’t very long. He could catch the edge of the tube with his claws, but mostly he scraped ineffectually at the cardboard and rolled from his side to his back. The tube didn’t budge and the sensation of being trapped intensified.

Lost in his distress, he didn’t think to try to shift. He forgot that the thin tube would shred apart the moment he started growing. And he totally missed the sound of the den door swinging open. Until a startled laugh froze him in place.

Dylan.

Dylan was home, and Avery was caught, his shameful secret revealed.

Avery plopped onto his stomach and huffed as Dylan kept laughing. All he could see through the narrow tube were Dylan’s motorcycle boots.

He heard the camera click of a picture being taken. There Avery was, trapped and pathetic, and Dylan was using the moment as a photo op?

Avery hissed in annoyance and sprang to his feet. If Dylan posted it on Facebook, he’d be one sorry wolf. A sorry wolf who would be living without blowjobs for a month. No, a year! That would teach him.

Finally, the laughter died down to a chuckle and Dylan pulled the tube free. Avery shook his head and sneezed at the sensation of cardboard tugging his spines in the wrong direction.

Dylan knelt beside him, a huge grin on his face. “Something you want to tell me?”

Avery sniffed and pointedly turned away. He wanted an explanation for why Dylan was home early, but he didn’t want to shift back to ask. Not yet.

Dylan’s big hand appeared in front of him as he set the toy stegosaurus on the floor. Avery’s entire body heated. In human form, he’d be blushing bright red. Oh, the shame. Dylan was never supposed to find out about his little pastime. Not even Jaden knew. Avery could only imagine the ribbing he’d get from Dylan’s friends if Dylan shared the picture with them. Lucas would mock him for the rest of eternity.

Avery bolted toward the couch, intending to curl up and hide underneath, but Dylan caught him before he made it very far. He lifted Avery and turned him so they were face-to-face. Despite his grin, Dylan’s eyes were soft. He was laughing at Avery, sure, but without any malice. Just good-natured teasing and… fondness? Yeah, that was it.

“I’m not going to post it anywhere,” Dylan said. Because, naturally, he would guess Avery’s worry. “It’s for me.” He leaned forward and touched his nose to Avery’s snout. “I think it’s adorable,” he added with a chuckle.

Avery huffed. He wasn’t adorable. He was Mother Nature’s cruelest predator. Hadn’t Dylan seen that “True Facts About Hedgehogs” video on YouTube? He was fearsome and deadly… to insects and other tiny creatures. So what if he’d just gotten his head stuck in a toilet paper roll? It happened to the best of hedgehogs.

Dylan’s grin widened. “But don’t think I won’t use it for blackmail.”

Avery snorted. Of course he would. But two could play at that game. He’d get something on Dylan eventually.

Dylan laughed as if he’d read Avery’s thoughts. “Come on, brat. I forgot my wallet in my jeans from last night. Let’s go grab lunch before I head back to the shop.”

He set Avery gently on the ground and Avery shifted to his human form. He took a moment to gather himself, dizzy from the change, as usual. Then he grabbed Dylan’s proffered hand and got to his feet.

Dylan slapped him on the bare ass. “Go get dressed. But stay away from the toilet paper. Don’t want you getting stuck again.”

“Haha. Laugh it up, big guy.” Avery huffed and spun away so Dylan wouldn’t see his smile. It really was funny. If it had happened to anyone else, he’d have found it hilarious. And maybe he would’ve even shown the picture to their friends.

But Dylan didn’t need to know that.

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Welcome to Birthday Guest Piper Vaughn!

Birthday flash fic for Malachi and Aaron from “Wood, Screws, & Nails.” 🙂

Amber Kell's Blog

Birthday Surprise by Piper Vaughn

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Happy birthday month, Amber! Thanks for inviting me to contribute to your Birthday Bash. I had a birthday earlier this month too, so it’s extra special for me. 😀 This flash fic features Aaron and Malachi, characters from my co-written book, Wood, Screws, & Nails, which came out from Dreamspinner in April.

Hope you enjoy!

~Piper

 

~*~

“Happy birthday, Mal.”

Despite being distracted by the sight in front of him, Malachi shivered at the whisper in his ear, the scrape of stubble on his skin, the warm, hard body against his back. He stood in the entryway to Aaron’s apartment—which typically exemplified the definition of “Spartan bachelor pad”—but tonight, it had been transformed into something magical. Candles of various sizes adorned every flat surface, casting a welcoming yellow glow. In the center of the living room lay a red and white tartan-patterned…

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