Kia laid propped on his bed a half smile playing at his mouth, eyes half closed. His lips still tingled from his and Quin’s attempt at kissing. At only 12 years of life, he didn’t think they did so poorly. Imagining it was Rhys was easier than he thought. Rhys is his brother of sorts. Those who didn’t know them would think it’s incestuous, but it wasn’t. They weren’t related.
It happened long ago when Kai and his sister, Tristan were 5 years old and their parents died suddenly. With nowhere to go they came to live with Rhys and his sister, Isa, Alpha to the Belladonna wolf pack. Rhys was just a year older than Kai and Tristan, but he became a protector to them like nothing Kai ever knew. Kai’s feelings for Rhys developed over the years. He discovered just recently that Rhys’ presence made his heart flutter. Kai realized he liked boys, and Rhys being THE boy Kai liked. So the kiss with Quinn was so much more. He just closed his eyes and his mouth was on Rhys’. It felt good. Did it complicate his relationship with Quinn? No. In fact, it may have strengthened it. After all, they’re one in solidarity, pining for that one person they are sure they’re meant for. No one else knows this longing, this pain; Kai for Rhys and Quinn for Tristan. Even after Tristan plunged a dagger into Quinn’s thigh after walking in on Kai and Quinn’s romantic moment, Quinn was on Cloud 9.
“Did you see that?” he blurted out to Kai. “She’s totally jealous,” as his leg gushed blood from the stabbing. Kai shook his head at the thought. Right now Wren and Isa were with Quinn at the hospital, having had to take him there because of said stabbing. Tristin and Neoma were at the diner (the family business) relieving Rhys of his chores with Haddie and Gen, who took care of the diner when Isa or her mate, Wren, weren’t there. Rhys coming home darkened Kai’s mood a bit. Having Grumpy Pants around isn’t much fun. Especially since Kai was positive that his feelings for Rhys were surely not reciprocated.
He was probably there daydreaming for some time, maybe an hour, maybe two, when all at once the door to his bedroom banged open so loud Kai nearly fell off his bed. He looked up to find Rhys standing there, partially shifted, panting and angrily staring at him. Kai felt his heartbeat flutter, but not from fright.
“What the hell, dude? Don’t you know how to knock?” he yelled.
Rhys stared at him for a good moment before he growled, “Is it true? Did you and Quinn… make out?” he choked out the last part with a face that looked like he tasted something horrible.
“It’s none of your business what Quinn and I do!” Kai spat at him. “You don’t own us?”
Rhys moved faster than Kai had ever seen, one moment he was standing in the doorway, the next he was pulling Kai up off the bed and slamming him against the wall.
“Did you?” he shouted in Kai’s face, pinning him to the wall with his body.
“Leave me alone you moron! You’re hurting me!”
“You’re mine!” Rhys growled.
“Let me go you jerk!” Kai shouted shoving at Rhys to get away. Rhys didn’t budge.
“You’re mine!” Rhys shouted. “Do you understand?”
“I don’t belong to you, you dick! Leave me ALONE!” and Kai started punching at any part of Rhys he could reach.
Rhys grabbed Kai’s arm squeezing tight. “You belong to ME!” he yelled in Kai’s face.
Kai pushed at Rhys then yanked his arm from Rhys’ grasp. He screamed, “Owwwww!” Kai stood holding out his arm and as he and Rhys watched as 3 angry scratches the length of his forearm, bloomed red as blood started to ooze out.
“Look what you did you bastard!” Kai yelled pushing Rhys away from him. This time Rhys moved. Tears started to leak from Kai’s eyes. “Get out of here!”
“Kai,” Rhys said staring wide eyed at what he’d done. “I’m sor-“
“Get out I said!” Kai yelled again, shoving Rhys in the chest. “I hate you,” he cried.
“I’m sorry! Kai, I’m sorry!” Rhys pleaded.
“Go away, you MONSTER! Go away and don’t come back!”
Rhys froze at Kai’s exclamation. “Kai-“
“Go away and DON’T COME BACK!”
Rhys stood frozen looking at Kai, watching as his tears spilled down his cheek. “You’re a monster!”
At that Rhys tore from Kai’s room and bounded down the stairs.
“I HATE YOU,” Kai cried after him, cradling his arm as tears streamed down his face. “I hate you!”
Rhys bounded down the stairs, 2 at a time, reeling from what just happened. “What did I do?” he repeated to himself as his wolf roared in horror. He hit the landing at full speed and barreled through the back door full shifting before he reached the bottom of the doorsteps. Letting his wolf take control he ran full speed into the woods, easily dodging trees that happened into his path following this course to the property line, and still then he didn’t stop. He pushed himself harder, ran faster, and when he reached the 100 foot or so wide St Mark’s River that flowed through these woods he didn’t slow down. Instead he leaped and flew over the water easily landing on his feet on the other side and continued running at full speed.
Rhys ran until his lungs burned and his legs ached. He ran until the sky turned a deep blue and the stars glittered. He ran for what felt like hours but still felt the agony and self-loathing of what happened. Of what he did to Kai. The image of Kai’s bloodied arm, the injury he caused, was burned on his brain. The single person in his life he never wanted to feel hurt. He couldn’t hate himself more if he tried.
Eventually, when the air felt heavy and too hard to breath in, Rhys slowed down to a trot. He didn’t recognize the area he was in, but it was still forest. He came across a small lake, high reeds and grasses surrounding it. There was a broken down shack at one side probably used as a boat house of sorts. Rhys didn’t care. He shifted back to his human self then pushed in the door and went inside. A number of crates and old canvas tarps were lying around the small interior. There were dried up paint cans and emptied gas containers scattered about. Rhys made his way to the back corner behind some old crates and sat against the wall. He tried to make himself small, tried to curl up and disappear but no matter how small he made himself he couldn’t escape reality. Couldn’t hide from what he was responsible for.
When he couldn’t control it any longer, when his emotions overwhelmed him, Rhys buried his head in his knees and sobbed. Kai was right. He is a monster. He has no right to be in the pack. Especially if he can’t control his anger, if he can physically hurt family. He’s a danger. He’s a liability. Isa would banish him. What could he be other than an Omega. A wonderer with no home, no family. That’s his destiny. He’d have to accept it.
Kai cleaned up his arm best he could. The scratches weren’t much but they stung. He didn’t bother wrapping his arm as they already stopped bleeding. He made his way back to his bed and flopped down. He was still reeling from Rhys’ exclamation that Kai belonged to him. What the hell does that mean? Did Rhys think Kai was his slave or something? His prisoner? Kai fumed. He didn’t “belong” to anyone.
Kai sat fuming in his room until late into the evening when he heard noise from downstairs. He assumed Rhys was back and he was sure to give him a piece of his mind, when he heard Isa call out to them. He didn’t bother going downstairs. He was still upset. He heard as Isa and Wren came up the stairs. They opened Kai’s door.
“Kai! Didn’t you hear me calling?” Isa said a bit annoyed. “I’d like to be answered when I do.”
Kai said nothing and just glared at Isa.
“Where’s Rhys?” she asked.
“Don’t know, don’t care!” he responded. “Where’s Quinn?”
“We took him to his father’s. What’s going on?” Isa asked sensing Kai’s mood. “What’s the matter with you? Why so angry?”
Kai folded his arms and huffed in agitation. “Never mind,” he mumbled.
“I can’t ‘never mind’” she said. “What happened? What’d Rhys do?”
“I hate him, Isa! He’s always so mean to me. Why is he such an ASS!”
“Language Kai,” Wren said.
“He IS!” Kai cried. “Look what he did!” showing them the scratches on his arm.
Isa’s eyes widened, her eyes shooting to Wren’s. Both their nostrils flared as if detecting a threat. Kai wasn’t sure but it felt like the air was sucked out of the room. Wren slowly sat on the bed, took Kai’s arm and said in a low voice, “Rhys hurt you?”
Kai looked from Wren to Isa then back to Wren. “Yes,” he whispered, suddenly nervous.
Isa gasped and Kai looked at her trying to understand what was wrong. Wren spoke, pulling Kai’s attention back to him. “Rhys struck you?” he asked slowly, so Kai would understand the seriousness of the question.
“What? NO!” Kai uttered. “Rhys didn’t hit me. He didn’t do that. No, he…he just…”
“You said Rhys did this,” Wren said, indicating Kai’s arm. “Did he?”
“No…well yes, but not like how you think,” Kai stammered out.
“Then how, Kai?” Isa asked. “Tell us how.”
So Kai explained what happened, leaving out the foul language part. “So really I did this to myself, “ he explained. “I yanked my arm from him and essentially scratched myself on his claws, so it really wasn’t Rhys’ fault. It was mine! I did this,” he finished looking from Isa to Wren and back.
Isa and Wren were silent for what seemed like a long time to Kai. Then Isa asked “Where could he have gone?”
“Maybe he’s out back or down by the lake,” Kai suggested.
“No, we’d sense him,” Wren said. He looked at Isa and getting up from the bed he said, “I’ll go look for him.”
“We’ll both go look for him. He’s my brother.” She challenged Wren to argue with her. When he didn’t she turned to Kai. “You stay here and if Rhys comes home you text us. Understand?”
“Isa,” Kai said, tears starting to well in his eyes.
“Understand?” she asked again louder.
“I called him a monster, Isa. I didn’t mean it.” Kai said as his tears started to flow. Isa pulled him into a hug.
“I know you didn’t, sweetheart,” she soothed. “We’re going to find him. OK? You stay here and text if he comes back. It’ll be OK.”
Kai nodded then wiped his eyes. Isa gave him one more squeeze and let go. “We’ll let you know when we find him,” she said then her and Wren left. Kai watched out his window as both Isa and Wren walked out the door into the back yard, shifted and went running into the woods.
About an hour passed with no word from Isa and Wren and no Rhys showing up. Kai started to get frantic. He paced his room, stopping and staring out his window every time he passed. He would go down stairs to the back door and stare out that window. He’d eventually go back upstairs to start his pacing again. At about 10pm he heard the back door open and bounded down the stairs, hitting the landing before skidding to a stop in front of Tristan.
“Woa there Brother. What’s the rush?” she said, Neoma chuckling as she walked over to the Breakfast nook and grabbed an apple from the fruit bowl.
Kai glared at his sister. “I thought you were Rhys.”
“Really?” Neoma said from the back of the kitchen. “Tristan looks like a 6 foot 200 pound wolf to you?” And both Neoma and Tristan busted out laughing.
“Rhys ran away,” Kai shouted, mostly because he was annoyed they were laughing.
“What do you mean he ran away?” Tristan said staring at her brother.
“I mean he ran out of here this afternoon and hasn’t come home, or called, and Isa and Wren have been looking for him for the past hour and he was mad and I called him something mean and I don’t know if he’s going to come back,” Kai blurted out as his voice cracked. He blinked back tears. He really needed to get his crying under control.
Tristan and Neoma stared at him dumbfounded before Tristan finally found her voice. “Is this because I told Rhys about you and Quinn?”
“Why did you have to tell him anyway? Why couldn’t you just keep it to yourself?”
“We told him Isa and Wren had to take Quinn to the human hospital because of what happened.”
“You mean because you stabbed him? Couldn’t you have just not?” Kai said, not really angry, just more tired than anything.
“Did he flip out on you?” Neoma asked.
“Yeah. We were shouting at each other, and he grabbed me and I pulled away and got scratched by his claws,” he said holding out his arm.
“That doesn’t look so bad,” Neoma said coming over to look.
“It’s really not but Isa and Wren were bothered by it. They asked if he hurt me on purpose.”
“You said NO right?” Tristan asked.
“Of course I did. Rhys wouldn’t hurt me on purpose. Why are you asking?”
“Because,” Neoma explained, “a young wolf who physically hurts or lashes out at family is bad news.”
“What does that mean?” Kai asked.
“It could mean they get banished by the Alpha,” Tristan added.
“Isa wouldn’t do that to Rhys. He’s her brother.”
“I know,” said Tristan “and you said it wasn’t on purpose, so I think it’s OK.”
“Me too,” added Neoma.
At that moment Isa and Wren came through the door.
“Did you find him?” Kai asked while looking hopefully through the door past them.
Isa shook her head as Wren said, “No. We didn’t. We tracked him through the woods to the river. We lost his scent there.”
“Maybe he swam across,” Tristan suggested.
“I don’t think so,” Isa said. “Rhys doesn’t really like to go in moving water, especially a flowing river.”
“Maybe he jumped it,” Kai added.
“That’s almost 100 feet,” Wren said. “I know Rhys is strong, but jumping that? In one bound? I honestly don’t think he could.”
“You don’t think he tried?” Tristan asked softly. “And missed?” Tears started to well in her eyes, as well as in Kai’s.
“No, I don’t!” Isa exclaimed. “He’s just being difficult. It’s just like Rhys. He gets mad he becomes a recluse.” Isa threw her hands in the air and growled. “Why can’t he just grow up already!” She started pacing back and forth between the front door and the living room.
“He’s just 13. Calm down Isa,” Wren said gently as he tried to pull her into an embrace.
“No, Wren!” she exclaimed pulling away from him. “He’s old enough to know better. He has to shape up and start acting like the adult he needs to be!” she said as she smacked her hand down on the coffee table. “First his reluctance to being the Left hand of the pack and now this! A misunderstanding! Really?”
“Isa, being upset with him isn’t going to help us find him,” Wren said. “We need to think. He’s out there. Alone.”
“I know,” Isa said falling onto the couch. Her hands in her hair.
“I know where Rhys is,” came a little voice. All eyes turned to Neoma who stood by the front door. “The trees told me where.”
“You did, Sweety? You found him?” Isa asked.
Neoma nodded. “He’s past the river about 20 miles.”
“He did jump it!” Kai exclaimed.
“Or swam,” Tristan added.
Wren picked up the tablet and opened a maps application. Neoma pointed at the map. “That’s the lake.”
Wren zoomed in on the area. “Good, there’s a road that leads to it. We can take the highway most of the way and turn onto the side road that leads to the lake.” He turned off the tablet and he and Isa got ready to leave.
“I want to come,” Kai said.
“I don’t think that’s a good idea, Kai,” Isa answered. “If he’s mad or sorry for what he did and you’re there he might not want to come with us. Just let us take care of it, Okay?”
Kai nodded. “Bring him home, Isa,” he said.
Rhys sat in the corner, numb, for hours. He was cold and hungry. He didn’t cover himself to get warm. He was determined to stay that way. To stay miserable.
He was alone with his thoughts when he heard a car engine. First very far away but then it came closer. Rhys froze. No one knew he was here. It was OK. They’ll move on. But they didn’t. He listened as the car approached and stopped a little ways from the shack. He heard the car doors open and slam shut, then he caught their smell. Isa and Wren. But how? He asked himself. The answer came even before he finished the thought. Neoma.
He listened as they walked towards the shack. They went to the door and pushed it open. Wren looked in and spotted Rhys.
“Go away,” Rhys said.
“We can’t do that, Rhys,” Wren said walking in the door.
Isa appeared next to him. “Rhys, you need to stop this and come home.”
Rhys shook his head. “No. I’m not going back.”
“Well, you have to,” she said.
“No. I want to be an Omega. I don’t want a home.”
“An Omega? Are you serious? You?”
“What, Isa,” he pouted, “can’t I want something for myself?”
“Of course you can, but an Omega? I don’t see you as that. You need family,” Isa said trying to convince him.
“I don’t NEED family. I want to be alone!” Rhys said shifting his eyes to the ground. He knew Isa could sense the lie.
Isa stared at him for a long moment, then said “Okay, Rhys. If that’s what you want.”
“It is,” he lied.
“Okay, when you’re 16 then fine.”
“What? No, now! I want to be an Omega now?”
“Sorry, brother. Those are the rules,” she said as Rhys shook his head vehemently.
“And they’re not our rules,” added Wren. “The Grove made that rule a long time ago to stop young wolves from wondering. A wolf isn’t of age until they’re 16 so you cannot be an Omega until you reach that age. You’d just be a run away.”
Rhys frowned at him. “That’s not fair.”
“Yeah, well, life isn’t fair,” Isa said. “Now come on. I have clothes for you in the car”
Rhys shook his head. “I can’t go back.”
Isa looked at him. “Yes you can, now get moving!”
Rhys shook his head again. “No!”
“Kai is fine,” Wren said. Rhys’ eyes shot to his, remorse written all over them.
“I didn’t mean to hurt him. I swear.”
“We know,” he said. “Kai said you didn’t hurt him. He just got scratched pulling away from you. He was adamant about that.”
Rhys looked at him with hopeful eyes. “Really?”
“Yes,” Wren said walking over to him. “He’s frantic with worry right now.”
Rhys snorted at that. Like that was true.
“True that,” Isa said. “And you know I wouldn’t make that up.”
Rhys looked to her and then Wren. “Okay,” he said. “I’ll come home.”
“But only until I’m 16.”
“If that’s what you want,” Isa said.
Kai laid on his bed waiting for Isa and Wren to return. Hopefully with Rhys. Tristan and Neoma went to bed, not worried in the least that Isa and Wren will get Rhys home safe and sound. Kai wasn’t that confident. He wanted to actually see Rhys. If not to hug him then to punch him in the face. He was so angry with Rhys for making him worry.
It was about midnight when Kai heard them come home. He didn’t run out to greet them. He stayed in his room listening. He heard them talking quietly then heard them come upstairs.
They were in the hall when he heard Isa say to Rhys, “You should take a shower before you go to bed. You’ll feel better.” Kai didn’t hear Rhys’ response but he heard Wren say, “Good night.”
Rhys’ room was across the hall from his. Kai went to his door and crouched down. They lived in an old style house with old doors so there was a key hole in the door lock big enough to look through into the hallway and, in Kai’s case, Rhys’ room. He saw Rhys standing at his dresser getting out his pajamas. Rhys was shirtless and even though Kai was young, he could appreciate the beauty. Kai marveled at how Rhys’ muscles contracted as he moved. He watched as Rhys froze then turn his head and looked directly at Kai’s door. Kai’s heart pounded as he pulled away from the door quickly. He stayed crouched like that until he heard Rhys walk out his room, shut the door and go into the bathroom.
Kai sat on the floor with his back to the door and waited. He thought over all the events of the day, from his experimental kiss with Quinn, to his fight with Rhys finally to his dismay thinking he would never see Rhys again. That made him angry. He decided to let Rhys know that. And he would do it without tears. Kai heard the shower turn on. Determined, he got up off the floor, walked out of his room and walked into Rhys’.
Rhys stood in the shower letting the hot water cascade down his body, relishing in it’s warmth. He didn’t realize how cold he really was until then. He was still unsure how he felt about being back. Kai hasn’t shown his face yet, though Rhys was sure he was watching him through his keyhole. He heard Kai’s heartbeat pounding, louder than anyone else’s. He always heard Kai’s heartbeat over anyones. Like Kai’s heart was calling out to him. He wanted to apologize to Kai for what happened, but he wasn’t sure Kai cared for one. As far as Kai was concerned Rhys was just an annoying presence in his life.
Rhys washed himself and turned off the shower. He got out and shook out his curly hair. He stood in front of the mirror looking at himself. Maybe Kai was right. Maybe he’s nothing but a monster. No right to be loved.
Rhys dried himself and dressed into his pajamas. He walked out the bathroom and walked to his room. He stood in front of Kai’s door hoping Kai would hear him and come out. After a few moments, with no Kai to be seen, Rhys turned and opened the door to his room. He froze when he saw Kai sitting on his bed.
“I’m sorry for what I said,” Kai told him. “It was mean and I didn’t mean it.”
Rhys walked in and closed the door behind him. “Yeah you did,” he said walking to his dresser, grabbing a comb and pulling through his thick locks.
“You’re a dick!” Kai uttered. “Why would you just leave like that? Why would you make everyone crazy with worry about where you are? Why are you so selfish?”
“I don’t know,” Rhys answered. “Maybe it’s just the monster I am.”
Kai looked stricken. “I told you I’m sorry.”
Rhys finished combing his hair and put the comb back on his dresser. He turned and looked at Kai.
“Don’t leave again,” Kai said.
“I’m going to be an Omega when I’m 16,” he said to Kai.
“Why?” Kai asked.
“I just don’t feel needed here,” he said.
“That’s stupid,” Kai said. “You know you are.”
Rhys walked over to his bed and pulled at the covers Kai was sitting on. “You getting in?” he asked.
Kai thought a moment, then scooted back and crawled under the covers. Rhys got in and laid on his back resting his head on his hands looking at the ceiling. Kai lay facing him.
“Promise you won’t leave,” Kai said.
“I can’t promise that.”
“Promise!” Kai said again.
Rhys turned his head and looked at Kai. “No”, he was going to say. “I can’t promise that.” But instead he said “Okay”.
“Promise me,” Kai insisted. “I need to hear you say the words.”
Rhys looked into Kai’s eyes for a long moment. Then he said, “I promise.”
Satisfied, Kai closed his eyes to sleep. Rhys watched him for a while before giving into his own tiredness and, too, fell asleep.
Rhys woke with a start sometime in the early dawn. Kai’s scent enveloping him. He turned his head. Kai lay sleeping just as he was a few hours ago, close enough that Rhys felt his breath on his face. Kai’s one arm was resting on Rhys chest his breathing slow and steady. He needed to use the bathroom, so gently he held up Kai’s arm and crawled out of bed. As he was turning to leave Kai suddenly grabbed his wrist in a death grip, and with a with a mutinous look squeezed tight.
“What?” Rhys whispered. “I’ll be right back.” Kai didn’t flinch. “Kai, I gotta pee.” Again just a dead stare from Kai. Then Rhys understood. He looked into Kai’s eyes and he said, “I’m coming back.” Kai’s grip loosened slightly, “I promise,” Rhys assured. Then after a heartbeat Kai let go of Rhys but still looked at him doubtfully.
Rhys walked out his room and into the bathroom. He closed the bathroom door and leaned his head against it taking a deep breath. Waking up next to Kai sent his wolf into a tizzy and he needed to collect himself. He stood breathing deeply for a few minutes then went to use the toilet. When he was finished he went back into his room. Kai was still awake, still with the same untrusting look on his face. Rhys walked over to the bed and as he climbed back in he said, “I’m back. You can relax now.” Kai looked at him, then closed his eyes to go to sleep again. Rhys smiled to himself and with his nearness to Kai his wolf let him fall back to sleep quickly.
Rhys woke the next morning with the sunshine lighting up his room. The spot Kai slept was now empty, Kai having already woken up and left. Rhys spent a few minutes thinking what might await him when he finally made his way downstairs. He imagined the probing questions, the teasing, the disappointment in him from Isa. He dreaded going down there, but he couldn’t hide in his room forever. So he got up, got dressed and slowly made his way downstairs wondering how his and Kai’s “brotherhood” faired. Would things be different now. He was sure they would.
He walked into the kitchen. Everyone was already there in various stages of eating breakfast. Wren and Isa were cleaning the cooking area after having just cooked what looked like 50 pancakes. As Rhys walked in Wren handed him a plate. “You have dishwasher duty, by the way,” he said to Rhys.
“Ha ha,” Tristan laughed from the breakfast nook.
“I wouldn’t laugh if I were you,” Kai, who was sitting on the counter next to the nook, said to her. “You have toilet duty.”
Tristan frowned as the room erupted in laughter. Kai looked to Rhys and gave him a nod. Rhys knew right then that everything would be fine. He and Kai would be just fine.