“It could’ve been worse,” he admitted to Dante later that night, as they sat in the local coffee shop and drank enough caffeine to power a small nation. “He didn’t actually tear my head off my shoulders. Ignoring me is the better option.”
“What if he’d swept you up in his arms and declared he couldn’t live without you any longer?” Dante asked, raising an eyebrow.
“Then I would’ve gotten my head torn off my shoulders, because I’d have punched him in the nose.”
“You know, for a werewolf that’s just foreplay.”
“My heart actually belongs to you, Dante. Let’s go back to your place and shag.”
“Alia has been talking about a possible threesome.”
“What, with me specifically?”
“Anyone, really, but I’d prefer you. Less chance of it all turning into a mess, other than the fact that Dhanya might eat us.”
Yoah thought about it and actually considered it for a few seconds before shaking his head. “Nah. Alia scares me too much.”
Dante laughed. “I like that that’s your only complaint.”
Yoah blew him a kiss then glanced at his watch. “Speaking of Alia, I should go rescue my puppy from her. Then you can deal with her maternal instincts.”
“She likes other people’s kids because she can give them back when they get annoying.” Dante pushed himself up from his chair and pushed his china mug into the center of the table. “We’ve discussed kids. I’m ready, she’s not.” He shrugged and offered Yoah a hand up. “But maybe Nikkam can do for a little while, if Dhanya accepts him.”
“Fuck Dhanya.” Yoah held the door for Dante as they walked out. “You make that into something even approaching a joke and I’ll never speak to you again. What’s there to think about? The kid needs a pack and his life expectancy isn’t that long with the Wagner pack gunning for him back home. It’ll suck for him to move here where he doesn’t know anyone but he’ll have a pack and he’ll have protection.”
“It’ll hinge on you, you know that.”
“Dhanya ignored me completely. As far as he’s concerned, I don’t exist anymore, and I’m just fine with that. He doesn’t get to do that and still hold an innocent kid’s fate in the balance because he’s still got a stick up his ass over being dumped.” Yoah got into the driver’s seat of his car and slammed the door shut for emphasis. “And if he takes too long to think, I’m just going to take Nikkam home and figure out some other way to take care of him,” he added when Dante slid into the passenger seat.
Dante held up both hands in a placating gesture. “All right, all right. Let’s just go grab your puppy and hopefully things will look brighter in the morning.”
Yoah grunted and turned the engine on, driving in silence until they reached the house Alia and Dante shared, a split-level on the outskirts of town with a long and heavily wooded backyard. He followed Dante through the front door and braced himself against a pair of tackle-hugs that drove him back into the wall behind him. Alia nuzzled and nipped his neck just hard enough to make him wince before letting him go and tackling Dante, which he took to be a sign that she’d really forgiven him. She’d said she had when he’d gotten a chance to talk to her alone after the awkward meeting with Dhanya, but he’d had years to learn how far she could take a grudge when she felt it was warranted.
“She’s kind of crazy,” Nikkam said when they’d made their escape—Yoah had denied another cup of coffee with the excuse that he’d be up all night as it was—and were driving to the motel Yoah had booked. “I like her though.”
“Good. I’m glad.” Yoah found his thoughts drifting to Dhanya—Dhanya with his dark grey eyes and the little twist to his mouth he got when he was annoyed, a twist that had been in full evidence when they’d pulled into his driveway earlier—and bit his own lip hard to pull his mind away.
He pulled into the motel parking lot and followed Nikkam up to their room, heading straight into the bathroom to ease the ache in his bladder from so much coffee. When he came out Nikkam went in to brush his teeth and flopped face-down on his bed when he was done, grumbling when Yoah poked him to get under the blankets.
“Don’t tell me you’re that exhausted already,” Yoah said, laughing.
“The day was so long.” Nikkam sighed and wriggled his legs up until he could pull the sheets up around him. “Don’t your parents still live here?”
“Nope. They moved further south when I went off to college. I should give them a call, maybe go visit while I’m down here.”
“Can I visit too?” Nikkam mumbled into his pillow.
“Maybe. Night, puppy.” Yoah reached over to stroke his hair but Nikkam had already fallen fast asleep.
Yoah took a little longer to fall asleep, restless in the strange bed and strange room and when he slept he dreamed--
--pulling into the long gravel driveway is so familiar that Yoah feels like he’s gone right back in time, like he’s an awkward and angry teenager again instead of an adult with a job and a responsibility for the 15-year-old beside him. He automatically parks in his old spot, right beside Dhanya’s sleek sportscar, and looks up at the ranch-style house in front of them. It’s had a new coat of paint recently but otherwise it hasn't changed much in the years he’s been away.
Dhanya hasn’t changed at all, even to look any older; there’s no age to his narrow face or around his dark grey eyes. He steps out onto the porch with the same tightly controlled grace that he’s always had, the grace that has always kept him from looking gangly despite his slim build and long limbs. He moves like he’s hunting and Yoah suddenly, sincerely regrets leaving early so he could see Dhanya for the first time in years without the rest of the pack hovering.
For a moment they stare at each other through the windshield, then Dhanya’s eyes flick to Nikkam in the passenger seat and flare golden. Nikkam makes a noise that’s half a whimper and half a snarl, digging his fingers into the dashboard in front of him. Yoah reaches over without taking his eyes from Dhanya and smacks Nikkam hard on the shoulder, earning himself a growl and then a hurried apology.
“Don’t you dare try to out-alpha him, puppy. He has zero patience for it.” Yoah relaxes a bit when Dante and Alia pull into the driveway and park beside him. “Out. No fighting.”
He braces himself for trouble as they walk to the porch and stop at the foot of the steps, but for all the acknowledgement Dhanya gives him he might as well be invisible. Dante and Alia move past to join Dhanya on the porch, in the high place of power. Not that they need it, Yoah thinks; even Alia’s nearly six foot, a good three inches bigger than Yoah and four over Nikkam, though Nikkam at least will grow.
“The Fairland pack,” Yoah says after a beat of silence. “Alpha Dhanya and betas Dante and Alia. Dhanya and Dante are brothers,” he adds, just for something else to say.
Nikkam looks from Dante, dark-skinned and built like a tank, to Dhanya’s dark red hair and the spray of freckles across the pale bridge of his nose. “Man. Genetics are weird.”
Alia laughs first, breaking the tension, and Dante grins a moment later. Yoah, watching Dhanya with an intensity he doesn’t realize, sees the corner of Dhanya’s mouth curve up in that crooked little smile he’s kissed so many times. The thought makes his cheeks flush bright red and he takes a step back, essentially leaving Nikkam with the pack. Nikkam glances back a little nervously but Yoah just makes a waving motion at him, stepping back again and moving to the car.
He waits there while Alia and Dante circle and tease Nikkam under Dhanya’s watchful eye, like a group of puppies playing. Yoah finds himself smiling a little, watching them, until Dhanya calls his brother and Alia off and steps down off the porch himself. Nikkam practically has to crane his neck to look up at Dhanya’s face, a move that isn’t helped by the fact that he instinctively hunches his shoulders and crouches a little. It’s all Yoah can do to keep from interfering, and he digs his nails into his palms so hard he leaves himself with little half-crescent bruises.
Dhanya puts out a big hand and rests it lightly on Nikkam’s head, studying him, then drops it and jogs back up the steps to the porch. In response to Dante asking if that’s acceptance or what, he only says, “I’ll think about it,” and goes into the house, letting the door bang shut behind him.
In his dream Yoah marches into the house after him and demands he take Nikkam in, arguing him into it more eloquently than he’s ever been able to manage with Dhanya. In reality he--
—woke in the early light of dawn, all his blankets kicked down to the end of the bed and sweat curling the ends of his hair against the back of his neck. He rubbed at his forehead and got out of bed, checking on Nikkam—still fast asleep—before going into the bathroom to wash his face. He stared at himself in the mirror, water still dripping down his skin, then suddenly straightened up and went to pull some clothes on. He stopped just long enough to shake Nikkam awake and tell him not to go anywhere outside the motel before grabbing his keys, gathering up his courage, and heading out to his car.
The day was already warm enough to make him sweat by the time he reached Dhanya’s house and he was glad to step into the shade of the porch, crossing its creaky floorboards to knock on the door. After the first series of pounding knocks brought no response, he tried the handle and wasn’t all that surprised when it turned under his hand. He glanced back over his shoulder at the empty, dusty dooryard, then pushed the door open and stepped inside.
The inside of the house had changed about as much as the outside and Yoah walked down the front hall feeling a bit like he was still dreaming. He could smell coffee and remembered Dhanya’s habit of setting the coffeepot on a timer so that when he dragged himself up finally, he could just pour himself cups until he woke up enough to be functional. Yoah glanced into the kitchen to see if he’d actually managed to catch Dhanya awake, saw nothing but the empty table and chairs, and turned around just in time to smack right into Dhanya’s chest.
Dhanya grabbed him by both shoulders and pushed him back, but didn’t drop his hands. He still looked half-asleep, his eyes heavy-lidded and his hair sticking up in tufts. He was only wearing the shorts he slept in and Yoah noticed one change: he had a few more scars marking up his ribs and side. Yoah breathed in despite himself, smelling the faint scent of aftershave and desert that clung to Dhanya’s skin.
“Your problem,” Yoah said, surprising even himself, “is that you’re really not a morning person. And that you’re an asshole, but mostly you’re not a morning person. Let go of me and go drink your coffee. Let’s talk like adults.”
Dhanya squinted at him, then grunted and dropped his hands, scratching absently at the small of his back as he pushed into the kitchen. Yoah followed a few steps behind and watched him pour a big mug of coffee, trying to breathe steadily against the pounding of his heart. Dropping down into a chair hard enough to make it creak, Dhanya gestured at the chair opposite him but Yoah remained standing, enjoying the sensation of being the taller one for once.
“So are you going to accept him or not?” he asked after the silence had stretched out into minutes counted down by the ticking of the clock.
“Your puppy.” Dhanya took another gulp of his coffee. “Is that all you care about?”
“I’m not getting into this conversation. I told you why I left and that’s not the point here. He needs a pack and as much as I never really wanted to see your face again, you guys are the only ones I can trust to take care of him.” Yoah shrugged. “You were a shitty boyfriend but you’re a great alpha. You take care of your pack.”
“Only if they accept it.”
“I’m not—” Yoah bit his tongue and took a deep breath. “I’m not pack, Dhanya. I’m human. And I’m not going to be owned by anyone, not even a fuzzbutt like you. All I’m asking is that you take this kid in and look after him. He’ll be a better pack member than I could ever be.”
“He still won’t be you.” Dhanya got up and refilled his coffee mug. “I’ll look after him for you. He can stay here until he’s eighteen, then he can decide for himself if he still wants to be a member of this pack.”
Yoah laughed a little. “You’d let him go?”
“Maybe.” Dhanya held up the pot. “Coffee?”
“I should get back,” Yoah said, but found himself moving to the cupboard anyway and taking out the mug he’d used most often when he came over as a teenager. He held it out for Dhanya to fill it, went to the fridge to dump some cream and sugar in, and leaned against the counter beside Dhanya to sip at it. They drank in silence for a few minutes, the tension gradually easing into something that was almost companionable.
“How’s the whole school thing going?” Dhanya asked finally, refilling his coffee mug for the third time and tugging his fingers through his hair in an effort that only made his bedhead worse.
“It’s going pretty good,” Yoah said, trying not to laugh. “Teenage werewolves aside. The kids aren’t a bad group, though I’m never going to get used to being called Mr. K all the time.”
“Can’t pronounce your last name?”
Yoah couldn’t help the laugh this time. “Pretty much. Gotta get back soon and sign the new contract or it’s not going to matter who can’t pronounce my name.”
“Mr. K.” Dhanya said it slowly, like he was tasting the syllables. Yoah felt a blush climb up from his collar to his ears and willed it to go away before he completely embarrassed himself. “Professor Yoah Khataee.”
“Not a professor yet,” Yoah mumbled into his coffee. “Dunno if I’ll ever be.”
“Bet you’d look hot in a suit and tie.”
“Knock it off.” Yoah rubbed at his hot cheeks and finished the last of his coffee, placing the mug in the sink. When he turned back Dhanya snaked a long arm around his waist and kissed him lightly, just enough for a brief moment of warmth and pressure against his mouth.
Yoah knew he should pull away and walk out but instead he tangled his fingers in Dhanya’s hair and pulled his mouth back, stretching up on tiptoe to kiss him properly. Both of Dhanya’s arms went around his waist and pushed him back until he hit the edge of the counter hard enough to make him wince. Dhanya slid both hands down over his hips and under his thighs, scooping him up with wiry strength and sitting him on the counter before pressing against him again, fingers picking at the button of his jeans. The heat of his mouth moved down Yoah’s jaw to the sensitive skin of his throat, and the sting of teeth closing on his flesh made Yoah arch even as he tried to jerk away.
“Ow, fuck!” Yoah put the heel of his palm into Dhanya’s jaw and shoved him away. “This is exactly my problem with you. Stop trying to mark me.”
He tried to slide off the counter but Dhanya shoved him back, pinning him there with hands and weight. Yoah looked up, scowling, but snapped his mouth shut when he saw the golden glow in Dhanya’s eyes.
“You want to know what your real problem is, Yoah?” Dhanya’s voice was calm, but there was a growl to it. “You’re selfish. Everything has to be about what you want. You wanted us to take in your puppy. You want my protection from the Wagner pack. You want to be all free and clear with none of us holding you back. But you refuse to give anything in return. You’re perfectly happy to use me and my influence for your own gain but the instant it stops being all about you and what you want, you act like we’re trying to kill you.”
“Because the only thing you want is to own me,” Yoah snapped, trying to get up again. Dhanya hooked his fingers into two of the belt loops on Yoah’s jeans and shoved him back by his hips, holding him there.
“You’re the only one who sees that as a bad thing. It’s not like I’m going to chain you up in the basement and only take you out for special occasions.” Dhanya tossed his head to get his hair out of his eyes. “Marriage is a form of ownership but I don’t see you telling married couples to stop owning each other.”
“Big difference, Dhanya. Marriage just comes with in-laws, not a pack. You don’t marry a werewolf, you just submit to them, and I refuse to belong to anybody but myself. You want to talk about me being selfish? All you see is someone challenging your authority so you’ve got to dominate and claim me to soothe your bruised ego. Life doesn’t work like that, not outside the pack. I am not pack. Stop trying to force me to be.”
“If you’re not pack, you don’t get to use us,” Dhanya said flatly.
Yoah laughed, the sound bitter. “Typical Dhanya. Don’t get your own way, so you have to punish everybody around you. Nikkam—”
“Who said anything about Nikkam? I’m talking about you, Yoah. We’ll take your puppy in because he seems like a good kid and because it’s not his fault he’s lost his pack. But once you walk out of here, you are no longer under our protection. Stop using that grey sweatshirt you stole from me to bluff your way through trouble.” The corner of Dhanya’s mouth quirked up in a humourless smile. “The one you ‘borrowed’. Don’t call Dante to rescue you, or Alia. They will no longer speak on my behalf when it comes to you. I will not allow them to put themselves in danger for you. If the Wagner pack wants to come after you for vengeance or just because you’re fucking annoying, so be it; let the blame rest on you alone. Is that what you want, Yoah?”
“Let go of me,” Yoah said carefully, trying not to squirm against the grip on his hips, where Dhanya’s hands had tightened enough to be painful. “You’re hurting me.”
Dhanya’s upper lip curled but he released Yoah’s hips and took a step back. “I’m sorry I hurt you. When are you leaving?”
Yoah flinched despite himself, hiding it in a shrug. “Soon as possible. I’ll make sure Nikkam’s settled and head home. Then we can put this all behind us.”
“You know the way out.” Dhanya turned and walked out, and a few moments later Yoah heard the creak of his feet on the stairs.
He let himself out and drove back to the motel feeling numb, mustering up a smile when Nikkam demanded to know where he’d been. It took him a couple of minutes to explain a heavily censored version of the morning’s events, between Nikkam bouncing on the bed in excitement and suspiciously sniffing the air, obviously bothered by something he was picking up. When Yoah finished reassuring him that Dhanya had really agreed to take him into the pack, he sat wide-eyed for a second then threw his arms around Yoah and hugged him until he squeaked.
“You have a bruise on your neck,” Nikkam said when Yoah had managed to untangle himself. “Did you make up with Dhanya?”
“No. Once you’re settled, I’m going home.” Yoah pretended an interest out the window to avoid the hurt look in Nikkam’s eyes. “You have my number, you can call me any time you need anything. Dante and Alia already said you can live with them if you want, and I can transfer your school papers so you can get into the high school here in the fall. You’ll get so caught up in the pack and everything that you won’t even miss me.”
“I will.” Nikkam curled up against his side, tucking himself under Yoah’s arm like a child. “Why can’t you just stay too? Make up with Dhanya. You can forgive him, can’t you?”
“That’s not really the problem, puppy.” Yoah stroked his hair. “It’s years of bad blood and arguments and we’re just incompatible. That’s what it comes down to. But I promise to at least try and visit. Does that work?”
“Is that the best I’m getting?”
“Final offer, puppy, take it or leave it.”
“You’re both jerks.” Nikkam pulled away and went into the bathroom, slamming the door behind him. Yoah looked at it for a moment, then sighed and fell back across the bed, draping his arm over his eyes.
Three days later he was back on the road towards home, absently eating from a box of homemade cookies Alia had put on the passenger seat just before he left. He hadn’t seen Dhanya at all in the past three days and tried to tell himself that was a blessing, and that it didn’t leave him feeling a little hollow inside. He’d spent his time with Nikkam, Dante, and Alia instead, coaxing Nikkam into forgiving him and getting roaring drunk with Dante and Alia on the second night. All three of them had woken late the next morning in a big tangled pile in Dante and Alia’s bed, missing bits of clothing. Yoah was still missing one of his socks.
He drove steadily, trying not to feel how empty the car was without Nikkam chattering beside him or fighting him for control of the radio. He slept in the car at night, snatches of sleep full of vague dreams and the occasional startling wake-up call of a semi blasting by on the highway. By the time he got home and fumbled his key into the lock on his apartment door, he was so exhausted he could only keep his eyes at half-mast. He stumbled down to his bedroom and paused just long enough to take off all his clothes and drop them in a pile on the floor before he collapsed into bed.
He woke in the dark, to the glow of golden eyes in the shadows of his bedroom. Even as he drew a breath to yell a heavy hand clamped down over his mouth and he was roughly yanked out of bed and dragged stumbling towards the door. He tried to kick out and landed a blow hard enough to make someone yelp, but the answering punch set his head spinning. He sagged a little then let his knees go out, refusing to make it any easier on his kidnappers than he had to.
They tied his hands when they reached the parking lot outside, shoving him up against a car to do it, and spread duct tape across his mouth. One of them opened the back door of the car and shoved him inside, then the door was slammed shut again with the click of a lock coming into place. Yoah squirmed around as the driver and a passenger got into the front, wishing he was wearing a pair of boots. His first attempt at kicking the window only bruised his heels and brought a snarl from the front seat, and his second got him a cuff upside the head that made him see stars. He subsided, concentrating on breathing steadily through his nose, and worked his wrists back and forth in their bindings to find any weakness.
He’d loosened them enough to pull his wrist to one side and was working on tugging that hand free when the car pulled up outside the Wagner farmhouse. The beta from the passenger seat—one of the big ones who had threatened them in the diner—came around to open the door. Yoah pulled his knees up and lashed out as soon as the beta was in range, catching him in the stomach with both heels. The beta grunted and doubled over, stumbling back from the car, but before Yoah could shove himself out through the open space, the driver snagged him by the scruff of his neck and manhandled him up to the front door.
Anita was waiting for him on the same couch where he’d confronted her before, sitting straight-backed and dressed elegantly despite the late hour. She smiled at him when he was dragged in, as though she’d invited him for tea instead of having him kidnapped in the middle of the night. The driver yanked the tape from Yoah’s mouth and Yoah spit at her feet, flecking the pale carpet with blood from a gash in his bottom lip.
“Very nice,” she said, twitching her bare feet away from it and smoothing out her skirt. “You are as courteous as ever.”
“You’re the one who dragged me here, you bitch.”
She arched an eyebrow. “I’m a werewolf, dear. Calling me a bitch is about as insulting as calling me Mrs. Wagner. And we have business, as I’m sure you’re aware. Get the puppy all tucked away safe and sound in the desert?”
“Away from you and safe, yeah.”
“The target was never the puppy, you moron. I admit it was luck that he ended up at your door after we ran him off, but after that you went headlong right where I wanted you to. He can stay where he is and live happily ever after for all I care, so long as he doesn’t step another toe into my territory.” She gave him another pleasant smile. “It’s you I want, and through you, your alpha.”
“He’s not mine,” Yoah said automatically. “And I don’t need him anyway, I can take care of myself.”
“I’ll fail your son.”
Anita blinked. “What?”
“Your son, what’s-his-face, he’s in my class next year. I’ll fail him.”
For a moment she just stared at him, her confused expression almost worth the pain in his mouth and his strained shoulders, then she gave herself a little shake. “Very amusing. You’re not going to have a class next year.” She sniffed. “As if I would allow my son to be taught by the likes of you even if I wasn’t planning to use you to fertilize my flower garden.”
She held out a hand and another of her pack members put a cell phone in it. Yoah recognized it as his own when she held it up and wiggled it a bit, smiling. Then she dropped her eyes and started pressing buttons, making little ‘hmm’ sounds. Yoah watched her warily and tried not to fidget, guessing what she was doing even before she dialled a number and put the phone on speaker.
“Talk to your alpha,” Anita said as it rang. “Let’s see him deliver on the threats you keep making.”
Yoah laughed a little. “I left the pack. He disowned me. He’s not going to come help.”
“Pack is for life.” She smiled. “I believe that was your beta who told me that.” She nodded to the beta behind Yoah, the one who had driven him here. “Make him scream. See if his alpha can ignore that.”
Yoah heard Dhanya answer the phone, his voice tinny and slightly buzzing with static through the phone’s speaker, even as the beta behind him grabbed his arm and twisted. Something in his shoulder gave with a dull snap and he gritted his teeth against the pain, making a choked whining noise instead. The beta jerked his arm up and agony shot through his arm and down his chest until he couldn’t keep himself from crying out. From the phone he heard Dhanya say his name, voice sharp and alarmed.
“Fetch, boy,” Anita said into the phone, and hung up, giving Yoah a mock look of sympathy. “That sounded like it hurt.”
“Bitch is too good a name for you,” Yoah managed, panting. Pain pulsed through him in slow waves and he could feel sweat sliding down his neck and back. “He’s not going to come, so if you could just kill me now and get it over with, it’d be greatly appreciated.”
“We’ll see.” She gestured. “Go lock him up.”
Yoah curled up as soon as he was left alone in a locked dark room down in the farmhouse’s basement, holding his injured arm close to his chest and struggling to ignore the pain. After a little while he dozed, shivering in the cold air. They fed him in what he assumed was the morning and left him water to drink and a bucket to use as his bathroom. He shoved it in the corner and forced himself to pace the length of the room, still cradling his injured arm, to work some of the kinks out of his legs. Sometimes he heard voices and movement on the floors above him but it was always too muffled to make out.
He dozed after his second meal and woke feeling feverish and parched. He drank all of the water they’d left him and still craved more, dragging himself to the door and pounding on it until it was opened and someone snarled at him. They brought him more water and he drank it before curling up in the corner, hugging himself, and dozed off again. Pain spiralled through his dreams and for the first time he acknowledged the reality of dying as something more than just a threat. He woke and drank, slept again, and woke to dinner being brought in, along with more water.
He recognized the woman who brought it from his front door, where she had grabbed him by the throat. When she set the tray down on the floor in front of him, he looked at it without interest but gulped down more water, then poured some of it over his head to try and cool down. Swiping wet hair out of his face, he looked up and realized the woman was still there, crouched casually by the door and watching him with her head tilted slightly to one side.
“So tell me,” she said, “what’s so damn special about your stupid alpha.”
Yoah laughed, a little surprised at how rusty the sound was. “Omega. He’s an omega.”
She squinted suspiciously at him. “Bullshit. They don’t exist.”
“Believe whatever you want, but I’m telling you, he’s an omega wolf. You think your alpha would be interested in some sandy desert wolf from a territory all the way across the damn country if he wasn’t something important?”
“I figured a grudge,” she admitted after a considering silence. “An omega. She’s out of her fucking mind.”
“You said it, not me.” Yoah lay down on his uninjured side and closed his eyes. “Go away. I’ve got dying to do.”
“Don’t be so dramatic,” she said, but she got up and left him alone in the darkness.
Yoah sat up enough to drink again when she was gone and the door had clicked shut, then gingerly tried to wash his swollen shoulder. His head pounded, the worst of the pain centered behind his right eye, and he was glad to lie down once more and feel sleepiness wash over him. As he drifted off he thought of Dhanya and--
--he learns that Dhanya’s a werewolf, that they all are, on a crisp fall night just before the full moon. He goes over to Dhanya’s house for the weekend ritual of pizza, video games, and bitching about school with Dante and Alia. Dhanya, who graduated at seventeen and got a job at the local gym instead of going to college, always just listens to them with the corner of his mouth curved up in amusement. Sometimes he lets them have a beer, but only ever one and only if they’re staying over; and sometimes Yoah catches Dhanya studying him with a thoughtful expression and an odd golden tint to his eyes that Yoah puts off to a weird trick of the light.
When he walks in this night, already opening his mouth to complain about the cold weather, they’re all waiting for him, sitting on the couch and loveseat with the TV turned off. He stops suddenly in the doorway, uncertainly trying to read their expressions, and tries to tell himself that his first impression—that they’re watching him hungrily—is nothing more than the result of one too many horror movies.
“Is this an intervention?” he asks, forcing a grin. “’Cause if so, it’s all Dhanya’s fault. Just in general.”
“We have something to tell you.” It’s Dhanya who says it, and both Dante and Alia look at him as though they’re waiting for something.
“You’re all really aliens, right?” Yoah can feel how stiff his grin is getting but he won’t let himself stop trying for a joking, carefree attitude, like they’re not scaring him so badly that he feels ill.
“We’re werewolves,” Dhanya replies, as easily as if he were talking about the fact that his hair is red or his eyes are grey.
Yoah blinks, but his laugh is more genuine than his grin, if a lot more puzzled. “Ha, that’s a good one. Real funny, guys. You scared me for a minute there. Have you ordered yet, ‘cause I’m starv—”
The last syllable becomes a strangled squeak when Dhanya suddenly changes. His body arches and elongates, and the crack of his bones rearranging makes Yoah cringe back in horror. Alia says his name, her tone soothing, but Yoah only spins on his heel and bolts, tearing through the house and leaping off the porch, hitting the ground running. For the first time he curses how far out of town Dhanya’s house is, and the fact that he has his driving license but not yet the trust of his parents to use their car alone. His feet pound the gravel of the road and his own panting breaths echo in his ears as he runs, fighting the urge to look behind him.
He sees the wolf out of the corner of his eye and swerves suddenly, sliding in the loose gravel and recovering to bolt for a stand of drooping trees. He has a vague idea that maybe he can climb a tree—wolves aren’t cats, and even werewolves can’t climb trees, right?—but something snags the back of his shirt and spins him around, backing him into the tree he was going to attempt to climb. Taking a deep breath, he opens his mouth to scream but the creature’s hand settles gently over his mouth—and most of his lower jaw—to muffle the noise. He breathes harshly through his nose, blinking back tears so he can look at the creature in the moonlight, and wonders if it’ll hurt when he dies.
He saw a wolf the size of a horse chasing him, but this creature stands on two heavily muscled legs and clawed feet. Its body shape looks almost human but its head is the most wolfish thing about it, long-snouted and golden-eyed. Furry ears twitch to catch sounds in the night and its body is covered with thick, short, dark red hair, except where the hair lengthens into a ruff around the creature’s neck. Instead of paws it has enormous hands and long fingers, each one tipped with a heavy black claw. It smells a bit like wet dog and a bit like hot desert sand, and Yoah hears a heavy buzzing in his ears and vaguely realizes he’s going to pass out.
“Yoah.” Rough fingers smack his cheek none-too-gently and he opens his eyes to find Dhanya looking down at him, one eyebrow arched. He’s still covering Yoah’s mouth with his other hand, but at least it’s become a more normal size. Yoah stares at his face then looks down, following the line of his neck to shoulder, down his chest to his hips and legs.
“...Why are you naked?” His voice is muffled against Dhanya’s palm but still clear enough to make Dhanya laugh.
“Wolves don’t wear clothes, puppy.” He tilts his head slightly. “Can I let go of your mouth or are you going to try and scream again? And don’t make me chase you again; that shit’s painful when it’s not a full moon.”
Yoah mutely shakes his head, then adds, “I won’t scream.” He rubs at his mouth when Dhanya releases him, and leans over to spit out the taste of fur. When he looks up Dhanya’s still standing there in the light of the near-full moon, silver light limning his shoulders and picking out the highlights in his hair. “You’re—I... How? How do... werewolves even exist outside bad horror movies? Were you bitten?”
“No.” Dhanya seems amused, and completely casual for the fact that he’s standing outside on a cold desert night without even a pair of socks on. There’s an ugly scar twisting up the outside of his thigh, something Yoah can’t help wondering about even as he makes his gaze stop wandering anywhere but Dhanya’s eyes. “I was born a wolf. Dante too. Our father was—is—the alpha of a pack about four hours from here.”
“This is ridiculous. You know that, right? Werewolves don’t... I’ve been friends with you for two years and you’re only just telling me?”
Dhanya shrugged. “Look how you just reacted.” He reaches out and rubs a thumb gently across Yoah’s cheek, wiping away half-dried tear tracks. “I didn’t mean to scare you this badly, though in retrospect... yeah. Should’ve seen it coming.”
“No shit.” Yoah takes a deep, wavery breath. “So you and Dante and Alia too, I guess?” He waits for Dhanya’s nod. “You just turn into wolves and what, go roaming around Mount Sorrel?”
“Only under the full moon, usually. Dante and Alia aren’t... exactly like me. They’ll only change under the moon, or under a great deal of stress. I can change any time I want, though like I said, shit’s painful.”
“Well, aren’t you special.” Yoah can hear the catch in his own voice and is horrified to realize he’s on the verge of tears again as the shock wears off and his system starts to crash from the adrenaline rush. “Give the guy a prize.”
“Hush, puppy.” Dhanya pulls him into a hug, stroking his hair. The warmth of bare skin and the steady beat of his heart comforts Yoah and after a few sniffles he manages to regain control. “Feel better?”
“I still can’t believe you didn’t tell me,” Yoah mutters. “Asshole. And why the hell do you get to change any time you want? That doesn’t seem fair.”
“’Cause I’m an omega. Creature of myth, in the flesh.”
“I don’t even know what that’s supposed to mean.”
“That’s okay.” Dhanya ruffles his hair, hand lingering in a way that Yoah completely misses until a year or so later. “Feel up to going back now? Alia’s probably going to smother you in kisses, just a warning.”
“That’s so not something I’ll ever complain about.”
He looks it up online later, after Alia’s dropped him back at home and made him promise to call her if he feels like freaking out. It takes some searching and sifting through endless crap about movies and bad fiction until he finds information that looks at least somewhat legitimate. Most of the information is the usual mythology about werewolves, full moons and packs and silver bullets, but he stumbles across a link on the omega wolf as he’s reading up on alpha/beta dynamics.
According to the site, the omega wolf is the ultimate werewolf, rumoured to exist but never actually confirmed. Along with speed and strength above even a regular werewolf—Yoah has to fight the urge to roll his eyes when he reads that, even as fascinated as he is—the omega can transform at will and into two wolf-like forms instead of just one. Yoah thinks back to the wolf on four legs and the wolf on two, shivering a little at the memory of Dhanya’s massive hand covering the entire lower half of his face. He glances uneasily at the window, gets up to close the curtains, and returns to reading.
He finds there are two schools of thought regarding omegas: those that think omegas are born as the result of a freak mutation, and those that think any werewolf could become an omega if they found one to kill. There’s little more information than that and Yoah goes to bed feeling uneasy. He dreams of being captured and used to lure Dhanya in so he can be killed for his omega powers, and wakes--
—to the sound of feet pounding the floor over his head and a sudden yell, cut off abruptly. He looked up automatically at the ceiling and carefully pushed himself upright, glancing towards the door. At first he thought his eyes were playing tricks on him or that he was still dreaming, but when he got awkwardly to his feet and took a few steps forward, he saw the door was actually open a crack, just enough to let in a thin stripe of light. He went and loosely hooked two fingers over the edge, then hesitated, half-expecting a trap. Taking a deep breath, he swung the door open and stepped out into the hallway.
Above him he heard more running footsteps and screams, followed by a bellowing roar of rage that made him crouch instinctively, hunching his shoulders. Pain shot through his chest and he yelped, holding his injured arm tight against him until the pain faded back to a steady ache. He moved slowly down the hall on shaky legs, concentrating on breathing through his nose and listening to the sounds of battle up above.
Climbing the stairs took almost all of his energy and he nearly collapsed at the top, forced to cling to the railing until he stopped wobbling dangerously. The first thing he smelled when he reached the landing was blood, a thick and coppery smell that made him wrinkle his nose. Something crashed at the other end of the house and he heard a flurry of snarls, then the heavy thud of impact. Gritting his teeth, he put his good hand on the wall to support himself and kept moving down until he reached the kitchen.
He grabbed a pair of dishtowels from the rail on the front of the oven and used them to fashion a rough sling, then swallowed a handful of aspirin he found in a drawer. As he was shoving the bottle back, his fingers encountered something hard and cold, and after a quick glance over his shoulder to make sure no one was sneaking up on him, he pulled the drawer out further to see what it was. Both eyebrows went up when he saw the gun, a snub-nosed revolver that looked almost like a toy, shoved in the back of the drawer.
He took it out and checked the chamber, frowning when he saw there was only one bullet in it. Uneasiness prickled along the back of his neck and down his spine, and he looked back quickly, half-convinced he would see a werewolf crouched and ready to spring. The kitchen remained empty but as he was turning he realized what had caught his attention: the sound of fighting had stopped. In the sudden silence his own heartbeat sounded very loud and fast in his ears.
Inside his head he heard Dhanya’s voice clearly, telling him that he would be completely disowned from the pack if he left. He sniffed the air, knowing it was useless even as he tried to catch the scent of anything other than blood, and settled the gun in his good hand before making his way cautiously out of the kitchen. He passed a body on his way to the back of the house, where the living room opened up to the back porch and the backyard, and let his eyes slide away after one look, gagging a little on the stench of blood permeating the air. The living room looked like a slaughterhouse and the back door hung open, sagging off its hinges.
Yoah picked his way through the bodies, trying to breathe shallowly through his mouth and unaware of how pale his face had gone. He stepped out onto the porch and heard a long, low growl that made his stomach twist. Slowly he looked to the right and saw a big wolf limping up onto the porch, one eye swollen shut, its pale fur streaked with blood. It stopped when he aimed the gun at it, then its mouth fell open and its tongue lolled out in a wolfish smile.
He saw movement from the corner of his eye and cringed back, bracing himself for impact from the second wolf. Instead a blur of red motion caught the wolf mid-leap and drove it back, snapping and snarling until sharp teeth found a place to bury in. The Wagner wolf went limp and Dhanya straightened up, splattered with blood and gore that dripped from his clawed fingers and stained his muzzle a brighter red than his fur. At least half of the blood seemed to be his own, from a dozen gashes and deep wounds all over his body, and when he stepped forward he swayed a little, favouring one foot.
The pale wolf circled them warily, green eyes narrowed, its tail tucked in tight against its back legs. Yoah took aim at it again, curling his finger around the gun’s trigger, but it suddenly jumped off the porch and backed into the shadows of the trees. Dhanya went after it immediately, ignoring Yoah’s yell to stop, and the remainder of the pack descended as soon as Dhanya stepped foot beneath the trees, overwhelming him with numbers and knocking him down. Yoah tried to find the pale wolf—it had to be Anita, with those cold green eyes—so he could shoot it, but in the mass of struggling bodies he couldn’t get a clear shot.
Dhanya surfaced briefly, batting away a smaller wolf hard enough to send it flying into a tree. Another wolf closed teeth on the arm he’d used, yanking him off-balance, but he tore its throat out with his other hand. Yoah felt his stomach rise suddenly and had to turn away to vomit, throwing up so hard that he went down on his knees and only just barely kept hold of the gun, useless as it was. By the time he managed to pick himself up, head spinning, the battle was mostly over. The Wagner pack had been decimated, its members dead or dying, but Dhanya lay on his side, panting shallowly. Blood ran from his neck and pooled beneath him, staining the grass red.
The pale wolf stood over him, teeth bared, though her eyes were fixed on Yoah. He stumbled towards them and stopped on the porch steps when she made a motion with her teeth towards Dhanya’s throat. Carefully he raised the gun again, wishing he had his other arm to steady his shaking hand.
“Back off.” His voice was scratchy and he could still taste bile in the back of his throat. “You’ve lost, your pack’s pretty much destroyed. Good job, gold star for you.” He laughed a little, aware the sound was unhinged. “And what the hell did you get out of it?”
She didn’t reply, of course, only stared at him with uncanny human intelligence in her wolf’s eyes. Yoah deliberately thumbed the hammer back on the revolver, holding her gaze with his own.
“I don’t want to shoot you, Anita,” he said. “You’ve got kids, which I hope are a long way from here right now. And that’s the only reason I don’t want to shoot you. Puppies without an alpha, without a pack, that’s never a good thing. But if you don’t take your fucking teeth away from my alpha, I will put this bullet right between your pretty green eyes. Don’t even think of trying to gamble that I can’t shoot faster than you can bite. I’ve been shooting since my dad took me to the gun range at 13.”
He felt his knees wobble and knew he couldn’t keep up the position much longer, but just as he was on the verge of desperation, she ducked her head and backed away, whining. When she’d reached a safe distance she turned and fled, disappearing into the trees. Yoah waited a moment then made his careful way off the porch and fell to his knees at Dhanya’s side, laying the gun down so he could press his hand to the wound in Dhanya’s neck.
“You stupid shit.” His voice cracked a little. “If you die, I’m going to beat your ass.”
Golden eyes opened and focused on him for a moment, then Dhanya convulsed, shivering and whining as his body changed back to human form. The bloody wounds looked even worse against the paleness of his bare skin and Yoah bit his lip hard, blinking back tears.
“Take more than a pack like that to kill me,” Dhanya managed in a raspy voice.
“You’re not even supposed to be here, fuzzbutt. What happened to me not being pack anymore, not calling for help?” Yoah stroked his hair and awkwardly settled on the damp grass, pulling Dhanya’s head onto his lap.
“Said you couldn’t use Dante and Alia. Said nothing about me.” Dhanya’s eyes slid closed. “I get to make my own stupid decisions.” He took a deep breath. “You’re alpha now.”
“You’ll be fine, and making me alpha is a moronic idea anyway.”
“Not of my pack, you idiot.” Dhanya huffed out a laugh. “Of here. You drove the last alpha out of your territory.”
“Stop talking nonsense. Though if I’m an alpha, I really can’t be part of your pack. Can’t have two alphas, right?”
“Unless they’re mates.”
“If you’re asking me to marry you, Dhanya, you can fuck right off.”
The corner of Dhanya’s mouth curved up. “What if I was?”
“I think,” Yoah said carefully, “that we need to start being friends again before we do anything else.”
“S’why I like you, puppy.” Dhanya’s voice faded, so that Yoah had to lean over him to hear. “Smart. Dante and Alia’ll be here soon. Gonna rest til they come.”
“You and me both.” Yoah slumped back against the tree behind him, letting his eyes close. In the distance he thought he could hear an approaching engine, but he slid into unconsciousness before he could tell for sure.