Marcus was floating. He was drifting in quiet and darkness, and felt safer than he could imagine being in awhile – there was a scent wrapped around him, one that made him content and made him smile. It was a smell of protection, one that any Werewolf, but especially an Omega, learned to associate with safety: an Alpha’s scent. There was always a bit of his Alpha’s scent clinging to his clothes and skin, from Graham doing the laundry at his wife’s behest, or from one-armed hugs to paternal pats on the back. So even when Marcus was off on his own getting groceries or just taking a walk, the scent was there as a reminder of the place he belonged.
Of the place he had belonged.
This Alpha he was scenting wasn’t Graham either.
Peace shattered like glass beneath a falling rock, Marcus woke up to reality all around him. He remembered his past haunting him like over-eager ghosts. He remembered his body starting to confuse and betray him, senses going on overdrive with little to no warning, until he was scared he’d be unable to function before long, but didn’t know how to stop it. He remembered his apartment torn to shreds – the Omega woman trying to kill him – ending up at the Fen pack’s house like a sparrow falling into a cat’s lap. Pain surged back in and Marcus hissed and gasped, momentarily too overwhelmed to hold the sound in.
There were blankets over him. In fact, there was a whole bed, and the mattress and pillow gave a bit underneath him as the slim young man arched and tensed against the pain throbbing through his newly-awakened limbs. Confused and still so drained that it felt like he’d never slept at all, Marcus blinked dazedly up at the ceiling, feeling confusion and panic vie for contention in his chest and throat. He tried to take stock of his surroundings, and that led almost immediately to following his ears and nose to the familiar figure slouched in a chair across the room.
Marcus froze, staring at a dozing Declan Fen. Fear won out over mere confusion, and suddenly it didn’t matter how he’d gotten into bed – and into sweatpants, too, it felt like – it only mattered that he got away from here.
Everything was foggy, either from the pain or the medication he vaguely remembered them giving him, but Marcus swallowed thickly and tried to think nonetheless. He mentally sought out options as he tried to sit up, large blue eyes never leaving Declan’s angular, strong-jaw face. The Alpha was younger than Graham had been – probably only a few years older than Marcus himself – with broad shoulders and an impeccable build, barely hidden beneath the grey T-shirt and dark-wash jeans he was wearing. His socked feet were crossed in front of him, and Marcus blearily wondered if he could take advantage of that, because his own bare feet would have better traction on linoleum, at least until the Alpha changed shape.
As Marcus tried to push himself up, however, his left arm reminded him abruptly that it had had teeth sunk into it not long ago, and he nearly choked on a reflexive cry.
While Marcus fell back against the headboard, half-sitting but with his face twisted in a rictus of pain and his injured arm curled vulnerably over his bare stomach, Declan bolted awake with a snort and a jerk. When Marcus managed to pry his eyes open again, teeth still gritted against the slowly-fading agony, blue eyes met tawny-gold, and they just started at each other. The former was wary and fearful, and the latter looked mostly startled by the fact that they were both so suddenly awake.
Finally, Declan cleared his throat, and Marcus tried to hush his breathing and quiet himself; everything about the Omega tensed to be ready for anything. His survival, he knew, depended on his ability to see the next danger coming… and ignoring how ill-equipped he was to meet any sort of attack. Ignoring that was as impossible as ignoring the sun, unfortunately, and Marcus huddled in on himself while a sick feeling rose in his stomach.
Everything hurt, and he had a feeling that everything was going to hurt a lot more soon.
“Please don’t hurt me.” He didn’t realize that the words had evolved anywhere but in his head until the soft noise cut the quiet of the room. Hot shame flooded Marcus, but he didn’t take it back, because he couldn’t see what good other words would do him.
Declan went from slightly sleep-addled to fully awake, looking as if someone had dumped cold water on him as he sat up and blinked in shock. “What the hell-?” he started out his first response as, and the faint, confused growl in his voice had Marcus gritting his teeth and preparing to leap off the bed, no matter how much that promised to hurt. Fortunately, the Alpha caught the little snarl in his tone and immediately pressed his lips together, filling the air with silence again. His eyes looked offended, and Marcus could all too easily see how that look could find its way to being righteously indignant, to being angry, to being openly violent as the territorial Alpha instincts took the reaction and twisted it. There were a million paths that all led to one place, and that place was viscerally familiar to Marcus.
It usually included him bleeding. He self-consciously touched the nasty lacework of scars along his right wrist and forearm – now a match to the freshly stitched wounds on his left – and remembered the other Alpha that had given him those. That altercation had started out as nothing more than Marcus bumping into him, and smelling like a packless Omega.
“I don’t…” Marcus tried to salvage the situation, dropping his eyes to stare at nothing beside the bed, trying to sound placating and sensible even when his voice shook. “I don’t know why you brought me in h-here. But I’ll leave. It would be for the best if I left.” ‘And where will you go?’ The question was like a knife twisting in his gut, bringing back the reminder of his ruined life so suddenly and brutally that Marcus couldn’t help his eyes from closing; he had to grit his teeth to keep from suddenly crying. He had no idea where he would go. Literally his only hope for today was to leave the Fen place in one piece and walk away to who-knew-where with nothing to his name.
And that was his best option.
Marcus curled forward over his arm, feeling like there wasn’t enough air to breathe, not enough space in his ribcage to expand his lungs. Everything had gone so wrong…!
“-Marcus. Marcus! Marcus, just-!” The words brought Marcus back, possibly because he felt a small tug on his guts that came from the hastily bitten-off command that had nearly come out of Declan’s mouth. Since the Alpha seemed to mostly call Marcus by his last name, he’d possibly been calling to him for a while before the smaller man had heard him over the rushing of his own pounding heart. Somehow Marcus managed to push through the panic-attack threatening to happen, wondering when he’d become so fragile and weak that one simple thought could tear him apart at the seams.
Eyes betraying him by feeling puffy and damp, Marcus straightened as best he could, refusing to admit that he was such a mess inside but also refusing to meet Declan’s eyes. “Yes?” he responded nonetheless. It was hard to culture the properly subservient tone in his voice, but since his life literally depended on it, he managed something close.
Declan made another soft frustrated noise in his throat, and started and stopped speaking twice before leaning his elbows forward on his knees, finally saying, “Look, you don’t have to be so polite. I’m not going to fly into a rage just because…” The larger young man struggled for words, and his rather transparent expression momentarily showed how rattled he was and out of his depth. “…Just because you’re not perfectly nice. And you don’t have to leave.”
“I’m pretty sure that I do,” Marcus reminded him patiently even as exasperation mixed with the fear beneath his breastbone. “Your instincts won’t tolerate me much longer. Even now-”
“Right now, I’m controlling myself perfectly well, thank you very much,” interrupted Declan quite steadily.
Startled, Marcus looked at him, wanting to believe those words but hesitant to. “All right,” he said slowly, unconvinced. Agreeing was safer than arguing, though, so after saying those two words he merely went still and quiet, not wanting to speak unless spoken to first.
For a long moment, Declan clasped and unclasped his hands, waiting for Marcus to say more, but then realized that that wasn’t going to happen. With a resigned sigh, the Alpha dropped his hands to drape them over his knees. “You don’t believe me?”
‘Don’t answer,’ Marcus told himself sternly, even as he tensed. Tightening up his muscles made him aware of every stitch on his body, and it hurt as they pulled at his skin, but he pushed the discomfort aside. There was no right answer to the question Declan was asking: the truth was no, he didn’t believe him, but that would make the Alpha mad The last time Declan had thought Marcus was calling him a liar, things had escalated until Marcus had blood running down his chin, and the memory still made him quake inside. Since Declan wasn’t Marcus’s alpha, then a lie would go undetected, but he had a feeling that it was too late to backtrack and answer Declan’s question with a blithe, “I believe you!” And that would probably infuriate Declan in a whole different way.
So Marcus just held his silence, tense as a cat being held above running water. He was well aware that refusing to answer wasn’t an altogether good response either, but since when were there any good options left?
Declan eventually just exhaled deeply again, rubbing a hand over his face in defeat. “Okay, fine,” he murmured, his free hand flexing momentarily into a fist that Marcus watched with trepidation, but then it relaxed. “Look, you definitely have a point,” Declan finally dropped his hand and admitted frankly, “There is something about you that puts my back up. But seriously – my aunt tried to kill you! I’m trying to make it right by letting you heal up, so that means I’m going to behave myself, too. It’s easier…” He paused, seeming to have a hard time finding the words to describe whatever he was feeling. “It’s easier to… well, to stand you… when you’re like this.” He indicated Marcus vaguely, but tawny eyes looked at his stitches. “I guess my stupid instincts finally realized that you’re not a monster knocking on our front door,” the Alpha finished with a lopsided smile, running a hand back through his blonde hair, making it even more tousled than before. “So just stay there. I’m determined not to be an ass to you, and I know I can do it with you obviously pretty beat up. When you’re a bit better, Liz and Kobi can take you home.”
Marcus realized with an unpleasant little jolt that Declan didn’t know that his home had been trashed – totally desecrated. There was nothing to go back to. For a fleeting moment, the smaller young man considered opening his mouth to enlighten the unexpectedly calm Alpha, but at the last second, he bit his tongue. He knew that it was a member of Fen’s pack that had done the deed. If Declan was willing to push his instincts to the limit, how long would that last if Marcus started throwing out accusations at one of his pack-members?
And what would that pack-member do if he realized that there was a scrawny, messed-up, pack-less Omega tattling on him?
Cold fear washed through Marcus, nearly stealing his breath away, and the words still hovering on the edge of his tongue crawled away to the furthers recesses of his mind. Whoever had destroyed his home was in the same house as him, and suddenly Marcus couldn’t have felt more small and threatened than if he’d been sharing a bed with his attacker. Looking at Declan – so open, so foolishly sure that he could treat Marcus like an equal – Marcus suddenly wondered if he was even the biggest threat.
Unable to trust that Declan would believe Marcus over one of his own Betas, Marcus kept his silence. Fear sealed his lips.
“Rushton?” Declan had noticed his silence, or else had scented the new influx of fear in the air.
“That’s okay,” Marcus replied quickly, if a bit numbly, eyes down on his lap and resisting the lupine urge to tilt his head – usually, baring one’s neck to an Alpha was a good trick for showing submission, albeit a risky one, but Marcus didn’t want to aggravate the stitches there. He went on, providing lip-service like a caterpillar weaving a protective cocoon around itself, even though it knew that the protection was made of nothing but threads, “That is very kind of you. Thank you. I will try not to be a bother, and will… and will get out of your hair as soon as possible.” That was the best he could hope for.
A glance would have told Marcus that Declan was frowning at him, suspicious, able to tell that this was a totally abnormal level of politeness for a young man who usually showed so much fire and spunk. Before he could say anything, however, he heard footsteps approaching, a moment before the door opened and a familiar red-haired head popped in. “Is he awa-? Marcus!” Liz went from whispering to calling in slightly louder delight. Marcus jumped.
For awhile, Declan stayed in the room, watching as Liz sat down on the bed a companionable ways from the small Omega. They’d actually had to dress him in one of her pairs of sweatpants, because Rushton was more her size than Kobi’s or Declan’s – in fact, sitting in bed with his bare skin and gingerly held limbs, he looked almost smaller and more fragile than she was. It was painfully obvious that the Omega was trying to take up as little space as possible, and to Liz’s friendly questions he replied with quiet reserve, frequently glancing past her to Declan.
Deciding that he was only making matters worse, Declan got up and left the room. It was surprisingly easy to leave his Beta in the room with Rushton, despite the way Declan’s nose still crinkled at the foreign smell of him.
As soon as he’d left the room, however, Declan wanted to go back in again, but for totally non-instinctive reasons. He just couldn’t forget the desolation in Marcus’s crystal-blue eyes, the defeat that turned them from sapphire to a stagnant-water color. The only thing worse than having the Omega afraid of him, Declan was realizing, was having the slender young man resigned to the fact that Declan was going to tear him to shreds. Even now, the memory of Rushton’s first words upon waking – ‘Please don’t hurt me’ – made Declan snarl silently, pressing his palms against his eyes as if to erase the memory.
He was not a bad guy! Why did Werewolf instincts automatically dictate that he was?
Clarissa was still in her room. She hadn’t left since arriving there, and Declan hadn’t gone to see her, mostly because he wasn’t sure he could do so without becoming a little homicidal himself. He had no idea what Werewolf lore would say about a situation like this, but so far as Declan was concerned, Clarissa had done something unforgivable: she’d tried her level best to murder someone. Someone who wasn’t even fighting back. Suddenly Declan didn’t want to think about her as a part of his family, much less his pack, which had his insides tied up in knots. It was sickening, to think that his very aunt could consider hunting down someone and attacking them.
Declan paced for awhile in front of her door until he realized that he was growling, a low, deep vibration from his chest, and the stench of his aunt’s naked fear was coming through the door. Abruptly, he forced himself to turn away and stalk to his own room, slamming the door. A vindictive part of him was pleased that his lethal aunt was getting a taste of some of the terror she’d instilled in the poor Omega recuperating right now in the guest-room. Stripping out of his clothes first because it was easier, Declan changed shape, leaping onto his bed lightly only once he was comfortably quadrupedal. Sometimes, the world just felt… simpler… when he was wolf-shaped, and he kept that thought in mind as he circled a few times before tucking his nose beneath his tail to take a nap.
Buzzing at the back of his mind was the constant reminder that he had a stranger in the heart of his territory, but right next to that was the bitter knowledge that he had a wanabe murderess in his house, too, and he was hardly going to judge the former while ignoring the latter. It put things into perspective, to realize that family members could end up being more dangerous and alien than strangers.
Declan was up again before long, human and dressed, and was halfway to the guest-room (he could still scent Rushton there, a vanilla-and-smoke sort of smell that had a sour edge because of fear) when he caught sight of Liz and Kobi sharing mugs of tea in the kitchen. Liz didn’t look as bright and pleased as she’d seemed upon entering Marcus’s room.
“So,” Declan started, walking in, tipping his head towards where the strange Omega was staying, “is he always like that? You know, painfully polite?”
Liz immediately sagged and shook her head. “No, definitely not. You noticed, too?”
“Kind of hard not to.” Declan sat down. Liz pushed her tea towards him, and he took it out of habit. Food-sharing was natural between the three of them. Kobi proved this by immediately pushing his own drink into the empty spot now in front of his girlfriend, a cycle that made Declan relax a bit.
“You know,” Liz mused, looking down at her new drink. Kobi liked his tea sweater than she did, but Liz always drank it anyway, just as Declan would happily finish off any cup they handed to him. “Kobi and I, when we would hang out with him, started being able to tell when Marcus was nervous, because he’d always start being more careful around us. It was as if he were afraid we would retaliate against him or something, if he didn’t keep us happy and appeased, but it was always sort of obvious what he was doing.” She sipped, the smell of maple and ginger filling the air. Kobi’s hand lightly stroked her hair where it hung free down her back today. “This?” She looked up to Declan’s eyes and tipped her chin towards the bedroom, then shook her head in bewilderment. “This is way worse. Usually he at least starts acting a little normal around Kobi and I, but even after you left, it was like talking to… to some house servant from an old movie or something!”
“Even after I left?” Declan asked, even though he’d heard Liz say that perfectly well. He’d hoped that Marcus would relax after he wasn’t sharing space with an Alpha.
But Liz just shook her head again. “Kobi came in, too, after a bit.”
“Didn’t change anything,” murmured the other Beta, face grim, “Eyes down, didn’t start any conversation, spoke only when spoken to. Totally polite, though. Friendly as could be.”
“I liked it better when he snarked,” Liz sighed, leaning back and downing the last dregs of Kobi’s tea fast enough to burn her tongue. When she made a wincing face, however, it must have been because she’d also gotten the last, thick slurp of sugar un-dissolved at the bottom.
Marcus was curled up on the bed, getting a rather nasty reminder that there were more things wrong with him than he cared to count. Once again, his senses were going haywire, and even the sandwich on the plate next to the bed was sending his nose reeling with its sledgehammer fragrance of bread and lettuce, mayo and ham. The other Wolves had to know about Marcus’s unpredictable ailment by now, because Liz had come in with food for him and had just been coaxing him to eat it when the symptoms had come on. Marcus had done his best to interact and be social like a normal person would, but in the end, he felt like Pinocchio: no matter how hard he tried, he wasn’t a real boy, he was just a puppet with his strings cut. Kobi had come through the doorway right about when Marcus had thought that he would surely puke, and the two Betas had exchanged looks of growing realization.
They hadn’t taken the sandwich, but Marcus had basically pleaded with them not to. Besides the fact that he was truly starving – he hadn’t eaten since… before he’d left for work, however long ago that had been, and healing was a draining business – Marcus didn’t want to seem rude. He wanted to act as inconspicuous and ordinary as possible, to do absolutely nothing to draw anyone’s attention or make anyone think about him. Basically, Marcus wanted to be invisible, but he was coming to the realization that that was an impossible task. After all, he was presently so broken that he couldn’t even un-bury his head from the blankets for fear of being swamped by more scents. His stomach twisted in on itself and grumbled, clearly unable to decide whether it wanted to eat or disgorge what little it had in it right now.
Marcus whimpered, and curled up tighter, biting his lip against the little sparks of pain set off in his limbs and neck. For a brief, ridiculous moment, he wanted to call out for Declan – and then wanted to laugh hysterically at his own ideas. The Alpha had also walked up to is door to check on him, some time after Liz and Kobi had left him the sandwich, and Marcus had learned at that moment that the only smell that didn’t shred the inside of his nostrils was the distinct Alpha smell that Declan had. Instead, the masculine, earthy smell had temporarily centered Marcus, just a little, although at the time he’d only had the wherewithal to sigh and collapse in on himself.
The relief had faded as soon as Declan had moved away, however, and Marcus had felt more alone and broken and wrong than ever. Declan wasn’t his Alpha, and was little more than a band-aid for the poisonous wound that just kept right on growing in Marcus’s body.
This ‘episode’ was lasting longer than any of the others had, scaring Marcus. Some part of him wished that Clarissa Fen wasn’t out to kill him, because maybe she could have told him what was happening to him. That was an impossibility, however, so Marcus stubbornly tried to turn his thoughts to different things, to occupy himself until his senses returned to normal again. He could feel his body making sluggish attempts to heal, and spared a moment to be grateful that he hadn’t been further hurt since coming here. Declan had somehow kept his word.
Marcus wished that that could make him feel safe.
It seemed, so far, that no one besides Clarissa and… Rob? Had that been his name?... knew about what had happened to Marcus’s house. The pain of that personal violation still roared through his blood, and it made him want to scream as much as cry – perhaps more so. He was so desperately, helplessly furious that he wanted nothing more than to change shape and bite. The more sensible part of him won out, fortunately, reminding him that the perpetrator of that act was still around, and was far more capable a fighter than one battered little Omega could ever be. Because of this, Marcus’s bubble of safety here felt tenuous, like it would pop if he didn’t stay perfectly still… and perfectly silent.
Marcus didn’t realize that there were tears starting to slide down his nose until one dripped onto his hand, where he had it curled up alongside his check against the pillow. Underneath the blankets, it was dark, but when he blinked his eyes open he could feel the wetness clinging to his lashes, and that made him feel so damn pathetic that he nearly cried more. Why? Why did this have to happen?! Why couldn’t he have just continued to lead his life as he had been? It had been a pretty sad, sorry little life, but it had been his, and it had been bearable. But now he had a dangerous but unpredictably nice Alpha messing with his head, two Betas giving him the cruelest hopes of friendship he could have imagined, a psychotic Omega who clearly wanted to wipe Marcus from her world permanently, and a third Beta who apparently knew Marcus’s secrets and was hanging them over Marcus’s head like an axe. It was as if he knew that Marcus would do just about anything to keep his past a secret.
And then, like the devil drawn to the sound of his name, Marcus scented the oncoming stench of the same Beta that had gutted the only home Marcus had left.
Although he could feel his sense of smell slowly settling, it still left an ache like a migraine in Marcus’s head. Still, he forced himself to sit up, fear thudding through him as Rob’s scent grew stronger. For a moment, the smell was almost as strong as a physical object, something with weight and heft that colored Marcus’s world with red and bruise-purple, and he had to shake his head to clear the notion; when he opened his eyes again, he was trembling, entirely sure that he was going mad. His five senses were a tangled mess in his head.
Without the warning of a knock, Marcus’s door was opened, and he drew his knees up as if to hide behind them. A black-haired young man met his gaze, green eyes sharp and knowing as he flashed a slantwise grin. There was nothing but frost in the expression.
“What do you want?” Marcus blurted. He’d fisted his hands so hard that the stitches down his left forearm were stretched against his pale skin.
Rob just snorted at him, and barged the rest of the way in, closing the door before leaning back on it. “Seriously? I trash your house and make it unlivable, and you don’t know what I want?” he retorted snidely, and went on when Marcus flinched, “I want you gone. And before you say it, yeah, I know that Declan gave you that bullshit about staying and healing up and all that. Kobi and his bitch clearly see you as some sort of sob-story, too – some broken thing they can fix. Seriously, those two just need to get a pet or something.” Each word was coming in and hitting Marcus like a knife, but Rob just kept talking. He stepped closer, too, until Marcus was huddled up against the headboard to keep as far away from him as he could. It was a useless effort, as Rob purred, “Sit. Still.”
The command came in like a mass of boat-hooks, driving into Marcus’s skin and lodging in the delicate weave of his will. Commands in his old pack had been inconvenient, on the rare occasion he’d been subjected to one, but with every passing day they now grew more painful, and Marcus’s eyes slammed shut even as his breath caught in a tortured noise. Rob just grinned, looking proud of himself and maybe a little bit high on the power he now knew he had over another being, and Marcus could do nothing but sit there, pinned in place like a butterfly, and realize that he couldn’t at the moment smell either Declan, Liz, or Kobi in the house.
All he could really smell was Rob and his ugly, bruise-purple scent of vindictive triumph.