The first thing Maddy notices when she wakes up is that Rhydian is gone. It’s still dark out. The clock reads 5:14. Maddy blinks the sleep out of her eyes and clicks the light on her bedside table on so she doesn’t give in to the temptation to just go back to sleep.
He just didn’t want mum and dad to find him here, Maddy tells herself. They’d make a fuss of course.
Rhydian doesn’t really understand her parents’ hang up with sharing a bed. In the wild, packs sleep curled up together to share warmth and reaffirm their bonds. Maddy envies the simplicity of it all. Wolfblood or not, she would not be sharing a bed with Rhydian nearly every night if her parents knew about it. They’re too integrated in the culture of humans to be okay with that kind of intimacy. Never mind that it is different than the kissing. Of course, they don’t know about that either. She hates lying to them. It goes against all of her instincts to hide something from her parents, her pack. But if they knew they whole story, they probably wouldn’t let her run with Rhydian alone, and she won’t give that up. She needs it.
Don’t borrow trouble, Maddy, she thinks. You have enough to worry about already.
She arches her back and drags herself out of bed with considerable effort. She stayed out too late last night. It was too tempting. She needed to give in, to run, to be who she really is. Playing human all the time is exhausting. She has exams to study for. She needs to get her grades up in maths for her uni applications. Human life is so complicated; at times she wishes that she had been born in the wild.
Stop that, she orders herself. It’s no use complaining. If you want things, you go out and hunt them down.
She staggers into the bathroom and turns the water on in the shower. She resists the urge to turn the heat up, she needs to wake up.
When she gets out of the shower, she’s shivering. She grabs her clothes from her bed and begins to get dressed.
Outside the window, she can see snow falling in the dim pre-dawn light. Something moves near the tree line. She smells the barest hint of something familiar.
Her heart pounds. She can hear the rustling of every leaf. There’s a wood-mouse skittering through the snow. Fur. He’s just out of her reach.
Maddy slams back in to her body squeezing her eyes shut in pain. Everything is too loud–– too much. She scrabbles for her phone, collapsing onto the rug when she manages to snooze the alarm.
What the hell was that? she wonders. I shouldn’t have been able to do that from in here.
The alarm goes off again. Maddy sits up rubbing her head a little. 6:05, no time to worry about Rhydian or what’s going on with her. She grabs her textbook off of the desk and begins to read.
Lunch meetings are the worst, Maddy thinks eying the line for food distastefully.
There is no way that she’ll be able to get food and still get to her meeting on time. She packed a peanut butter sandwich in her bag but it’s probably considered rude to eat during the meeting.
I’ll eat after, she tells herself.
Which is stupid because she knows that she’s not going to have time for that either. Something in her chest tightens and she has to force back the change. It sends a pang through her. Something is wrong. A part of her desperately wants to say she’s sick, go home and beg her mom to fix everything. But she can’t do that. Uni applications are due at the end of the month and she was lucky to get this appointment at all.
The door next to her swings open.
“Maddy, come in,” says Mrs. Griffin, the guidance counselor.
Maddy grits her teeth imperceptibly and walks in. Mrs. Griffin’s office is warm and it makes Maddy’s skin feel tight.
“You wanted to talk about applications right, Miss Smith?”
Maddy’s throat feels tight. The change pulses in behind her eyes. She pushes back against it with all her might.
“Yeah,” she manages.
Mrs. Griffin doesn’t seem to realize that anything is amiss. She hums as she scrolls down on the computer.
Maddy bites her cheek and stays human.
“It says here that you are planning on applying to just four schools,” says Mrs. Griffin. “I don’t want to alarm you, Miss Smith, but it concerns me that you don’t have any safety schools listed.”
Maddy shifts in her seat. Is it her imagination or are her nails lengthening?
“I–– I know what I want,” says Maddy. “I don’t want to settle. If I don’t get in, I’ll try again.”
Mrs. Griffin makes a tut-tut noise.
“Your dedication is admirable, Miss. Smith,” she says. “But it doesn’t hurt to have a backup plan in place. Consider it.”
Maddy bites back a snarl. Her nails are definitely growing. It’s getting worse.
“I will,” she lies.
“I also want to ask you about where you were planning on studying,” says Mrs. Griffin. “You’ve mentioned in the past that you wanted to go farther afield for your studies but of your four choices, only Trent is more than an hour’s drive from here. Did something change your mind?”
Did something change my mind, thinks Maddy. If only you knew.
Maddy’s pretty sure that fight had been the biggest fight she’d ever had with her parents. They have no idea that she is still planning on applying to Trent. The worst part is, knowing that they aren’t wrong. It is dangerous to be a wolfblood in the city, a wolfblood away from the woods, from pack. But it makes no difference. She wants it anyway. Maddy’s tired of living in the countryside. She wants the big city and noise and life. To the rest of the world, she is just human, and the way she sees it, it’s time to live it up.
Maddy shakes her head to clear her mind.
“Sorry,” she says. “I have some family things to work out and it’s complicating things.”
Mrs. Griffin nod solemnly.
“I want you to know that you can come to me with anything Maddy,” she says.
I wish that were true, thinks Maddy.
Out loud she thanks the guidance counselor and gathers her things to leave.
By the time Maddy finally gets to eat her sandwich, she’s already running late for her study group. Social studies ran late so she missed the bus. She runs the whole way there, letting some of the tension from earlier bleed off. When she gets there, everyone looks up from their books.
“Sorry,” she says breathless. “Missed the bus.”
Megan sniffs as if disgusted by people who take the bus but everyone else waves it off.
“We’re doing trig,” says Beth.
Maddy likes Beth. The girl always tries to make her feel welcome even though Maddy is the only one in the group who doesn’t hang out with the other girls outside of school. She pulls her textbook out of her bag.
They work through several problems before taking a ten-minute break.
“Have you heard back from any of the US schools, Beth?” asks Maddie to make conversation.
“Not yet,” admits Beth. “I don’t know what you expect really. I mean, I knew it was a long shot.”
“I can’t imagine applying out of the country,” admits Maddy. “You’re brave.”
“What do you want to study Maddy?” asks Beth.
Maddy takes a deep breath. There’s no need to lie.
“Photojournalism,” she says. “I’m applying to this joint degree program at Trent.”
“Wow,” says Beth.
Megan mutters something about journalism not being very hard.
Maddy bites down on her lip so hard that she tastes blood.
“Ignore her,” says Beth seeing Maddy’s face.
Maddy nods tightly.
Beth leans in close and Maddy reminds herself that this girl is her friend and not a threat.
“Between us,” she says. “Megan found out that she didn’t get into Oxford yesterday.”
The fight goes out of Maddy.
“Goes to show that we’re all human,” says Beth. “Even Megan.”
Maddy feels like crying. She nods instead.
Instead of taking the bus back home after she finishes with her study group, Maddy shoves her things into one of the lockers in the girl’s locker room and heads for the woods.
It feels amazing. She’s been longing for this all day. Her hair billows out behind her catching on twigs as she runs. The snow settles on her shoulders. Her feet are freezing cold. Nothing from the human world matters out here.
She stops when she gets to the little river. It’s frozen solid with the cold. Maddy walks slowly out onto the fallen tree that serves as a bridge and boundary.
“I, Maddy Smith, make myself known to the Silver Woods Pack,” she says without raising her voice.
She doesn’t need to. They’ll hear her.
A glimpse of long black hair.
“The Silver Woods Pack makes Maddy Smith welcome,” says a voice behind her.
“Gwen!” she says laughing.
The other girl smiles shamelessly, dimples deepening.
“I know I was supposed to teach the kids today,” says Maddy. “But I need to ask you something first.”
“Of course, Maddy,” says Gwen.
Maddy feels a rush of gratitude towards her friend.
“Have you ever heard of a wolfblood using Eolas inside of a building?” asks Maddy.
Gwen frowns thoughtfully.
“Not exactly,” she says. “But there is something similar.”
Maddy looks at her pointedly when she doesn’t go on.
“Alphas have been known to be able to use Eolas while not in direct contact with their own land,” says Gwen.
“Does that answer your question?” asks Gwen, with a wicked smile.
Maddy opens her mouth to say something but nothing comes out.
“Wouldn’t want to keep the cubs waiting,” says Gwen tugging Maddy’s arm. “Come on!”
Maddy follows automatically. As the children swarm around her, she catches a whiff of something.
This time she’s ready and she doesn’t lose control.
“Rhydian’s been here,” she says.
It’s a statement, not a question.
“He left before you got here,” says Gwen.
Her eyes are asking Maddy a question but Maddy looks pointedly at the kids and shakes her head.
“Okay,” she says.
The five children of the Silver Woods Pack stare up at her with rapt attention, like she’s an expert.
This is ironic given the day I’ve had, she thinks.
“Today we’re going to be talking about control.”
“I’m telling you, he wants to talk to you,” says Shannon.
Maddy is lying on her floor, home at last. It’s 5 am in England and Shannon looks tired but intrigued by Maddy’s situation.
“I thought we were over the run and hide routine,” says Maddy groaning. “It’s been like five years.”
“It’s Rhydian,” says Shannon, like that explains everything.
It kind of does though. She knows what he’s like and more importantly, why he’s like that. Rhydian has grown so much in the five years since she first met him but when really pressed. He runs, every time.
“I just wish we could talk things out like a normal couple,” she says.
Shannon claps her hands over her mouth.
“Tom owes me five quid,” she says gleefully.
Maddy rolls her eyes.
“It’s not like you haven’t known. I’m sure mum and dad suspect something too.”
“You haven’t told them?” says Shannon.
“They’ll throw up a fuss about how much time I spend with him,” says Maddy more defensively than she means to. “I need it, the time with him. It reminds me of who I really am.”
“By the way, is Jana there?” asks Maddy in what she hopes is a nonchalant voice.
Shannon perks up immediately.
“No, she’s out on super-secret business until Friday. Why?”
“No reason,” says Maddy too quickly.
“You never want to talk to Jana for no reason,” says Shannon. “Spill!”
She knows me far too well, thinks Maddy.
“My abilities were acting up,” admits Maddy. “I asked Gwen about it, and I want to know what Jana thinks too.”
Shannon, sharp even at 5am, immediately picks up on what Maddy didn’t say.
“What did Gwen say?” she asks eagerly.
“She said … that it could be a sign of becoming an alpha,” says Maddy.
There, she’s said it.
Shannon stares at her.
“You don’t seem as happy as I would have thought,” she says. “Come on Maddy. We’ve known you were headed for alpha for years.”
“But not now,” says Maddy. “It’s too much.”
“You were born for this,” says Shannon.
It should be the right thing to say but instead it makes Maddy’s blood boil. Her nails lengthen, thankfully out of view of the camera. She pushes it away.
“It’s too much,” she repeats. “I’m applying to Trent.”
Shannon blinks at the apparent abrupt change in topic, then she catches up.
“In the city,” she says. “I thought your parents ––
“I’m doing it anyway,” says Maddy. “I want it so badly. I don’t know what’s happening with me.”
“Maybe your alpha shift is kicking in because of your demonstrated independence,” says Shannon thoughtfully.
Shannon grabs for a notebook and pen off screen. Maddy hears branch crack outside her senses start to slip into overdrive but she grits her teeth and fights it.
“Can you describe the incidents?” Shannon asks.
“I’ll give you the the quick version,” says Maddy. “I need to go find Rhydian.”
It’s dark when she gets to the ridge but she doesn’t need to see to know that he’s there.
“Are you avoiding me?” she asks.
It’s always better to be straightforward. She and Rhydian don’t lie to each other, leave out information, sure, but he won’t lie to a direct question.
“I needed time,” he says. “You needed time.”
He doesn’t look at her as she sits down next to him but not too close.
I needed time for what?
She wants to shout at him. She doesn’t.
“How ‘bout you let me tell you what I need,” she says not bothering to hid what she thinks about him telling her how she feels.
“I didn’t mean it like that,” he says.
He still hasn’t looked up.
“Rhydian,” she says. “Look at me.”
A second too late she realizes that he won’t be able to disobey a direct order if she really is becoming an alpha. But it’s too late, he’s already done it. Her pulse speeds up. He’s been crying. She reaches out and touches his face. He flinches minutely before leaning into her touch.
“Talk to me?” she says, careful to make it a question.
“I saw the application on your desk,” he starts.
Her blood runs cold.
“I wasn’t–– I”
He stops her by pressing his face into her hair.
“You’re going places,” he says. “Uni, becoming an alpha, I’m –– I’m not.”
“Rhydian,” she says.
But she doesn’t know what else to say.
Some alpha I am, she thinks.
“I got a job offer from the construction people last night,” he adds.
“That’s great news,” says Maddy automatically.
She is happy for him, she’s just not sure how the job offer fits into the rest of the conversation.
“You don’t understand,” says Rhydian. “This is what I want, all I want. If I take this job, I’ll have money, I can buy land. That’s what I’ve always wanted, space and a pack.”
“What about me?” asks Maddy tears welling up in her eyes.
Rhydian pulls her close.
“You are my pack, Maddy” he tells her. “You are my alpha.”
Her blood sings and her eyes go yellow. She can feel every leaf, every mouse, every snowflake. Everything clicks into place.
“You’re my pack too, idiot,” she says. “No matter what. Just because I want to leave for uni doesn’t mean I won’t come back. I’ll always come back to you. Pack is home.”
He was the one who told her that, back when she first came to Canada. When she was homesick in strange land it had become her mantra. Pack is home.
“Home is pack,” he replies.
“We’ll make it work,” says Maddy. “I promise.”
“I’ll be here,” says Rhydian. “I’ll wait if that’s what you need.”
“What I need right now is to run,” she says.
His eyes flare yellow.
“After you alpha,” he says.
“Let’s go,” she says and they take off into the woods.