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Instinctual

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Marcus Rushton walked home quickly, even though the day was still bright.  This part of town was quite sketchy, the kind you tried not to be stuck out walking in (or living in, to be honest), so if anyone noticed how he always furtively scurried home, they’d blame it on that. Very few humans would immediately peg him as one of the non-human members of society, but he was able to see passingly well in the dark and smell most kinds of trouble before they got to him. Being a Werewolf occasionally had its perks.

The grocery store he worked at had had quite a spill today – the kind of mess that happened only rarely but was no less hated for its absence.  This time, it had been thanks to a pair of drunkards getting into a fight right in the aisles. Anywhere else, and the event would have been unbelievable, but here, it wasn’t even unprecedented. That was just the kind of place Marcus lived in.  Marcus tried to avoid working around the spill, especially as the massacred food products (already mixed into a morass by the chaos) had thickened the air with their smell. If Marcus had come to work here openly declared as a Werewolf, he would have been excused, his sensitive nose spared, but he hadn’t told anyone, so now he was walking home with his nose clogged by the scents of crushed fruits and even the worsening stench of spilled dairy products. He couldn’t smell a thing besides that, and it made him more nervous.  A small young man by all accounts – just twenty-one and of modest height, built on the light side – he would be a prime target in a neighborhood like this.

But it wasn’t muggers he was afraid of.

Werewolves were an accepted part of society, and at least tolerated where they were not liked. Mostly they lived apart, preferring woodlands and suburbs to human-packed cities, and this helped. The politics within Werewolf society, however, were an altogether more complicated story.  It was an intricate dance of rules, strengths, and genetics, all working together to create the entity known as a Pack that all humans were aware of only superficially. Marcus, although lacking a pack of his own, was fully aware of them. Just like he knew the birthrights of Alphas and Omegas.

Marcus was an Omega, a fairly rare condition that felt like a weakness eating at his core right now. He walked faster, head down, one hand already wrapped around his apartment keys in his pocket. The disadvantage of being Omega was that an Omega had to obey Alphas – everyone did, but for Omegas it was worse, more imperative. Whatever genetic or supernatural quirks that had ingrained authority in the voice of an Alpha over other Werewolves had also sewn a corresponding weakness into Omegas, like a crippling little keyhole that couldn’t be hidden, removed, or defended.  In a pack, however, this was balanced out, because Omegas like Marcus were prized and cherished – beyond their natural obedience, they had the ability to spread calm like an intangible ripple around themselves. No one (not science, at least) could explain the trick, but a pack rarely survived long without an Omega and his or her abilities acting like a buffer between what could otherwise be temperamental, grating personalities in close quarters (combined with sharp teeth).

An Omega without a pack, however, was nothing.

Marcus shivered, hunching his shoulders, recalling his own pack with wistful longing. He hadn’t had a pack in years, so the memory was stale and cold on his tongue.  Time had dulled some of the agony of losing them – his family, for all intents and purposes, certainly his friends – but had done nothing for the pure anxiety that ruled his every waking hour now.  That was because an Omega without a pack was vulnerable. For Werewolves of other ranks (Alphas, Betas, the others with less defined titles), being without a pack was a fairly trivial matter: Alphas on their own invariably built up a pack, and any other Werewolf was just as easily subsumed into whatever pack they came across, barring clashes of temperament. It was natural for a lone wolf to seek out more, like metal shavings to a magnet, or a river to its source. However, since each pack only ever held one Alpha and one Omega, and Omegas did not start their own packs, that meant that Omegas had a very hard time regaining camaraderie once they lost it. This also made them largely useless on their own.

And unprotected. This wouldn’t be a problem, except for certain quirks of Werewolf nature.  While they were perfectly human in most respects, Werewolves suffered from many instincts that were perhaps mostly canine, one of which dictated the persecution of outsiders – of ‘non-pack’ – and a certain violence towards the weak, so long as that weak individual was neither kin nor kith.  I. e., a lone Omega like Marcus who had no pack to serve as family, and virtually no hope of being subsumed into a new pack.

Very few Omegas ever ended up on their own to begin with, being much-loved and protected by their own packs, but Marcus was on his own now, and had learned that the best method of survival was avoidance of his kind entirely. Hunting for a new pack…was dangerous. Deadly even. So he lived a quiet life, just scraping by, and kept his head down and his person well-hidden amidst the thriving human populace – it was a fact of life that Werewolf packs preferred to live on the outskirts of everything, where their canine side could have room while still allowing their human side to benefit from the amenities of society. In the city, there was little room and too many smells, but Marcus was just one Werewolf, after all, so the cramped quarters didn’t bother him too much.  The smells gave him headaches sometimes, like today, but they were bearable. He would have preferred the close press and constant company of his pack – his family – and the fresh scent of open, woodland air, but beggars couldn’t be choosers, and a lone Omega was lower than a beggar.

Unfortunately, just because Wolves preferred wilder locals did not mean they stayed there indefinitely.  Marcus had just gotten to his door, fumbling out his keys, when the wind direction changed and the scent hit him with a punch of fear like ammonia, belatedly cutting through the smell of food stains on his clothing. He stiffened violently on reflex, his key scraping out of place and across the doorknob instead of going in. Since losing his pack and truly becoming alone, Marcus had felt as if his senses were raw, if not stronger than before – not only had he lost the buffer of a pack between himself and other Werewolves, but he’d lost some layer of protection between his senses and the world. It caused the sudden scent of an Alpha to scrape along his nerves as it finally managed to reach him past the smell of soap and crushed produce from the store. Marcus swore in his head, but already his lips wouldn’t move as fear swallowed him whole.

An Alpha. He smelt an Alpha, and since he could hear footsteps coming towards him, the Alpha had caught wind of him, too.

“What are you doing out on your own?” The voice was faintly angry and wholly demanding, a trait that came with being an Alpha, it seemed – just like being small and generally unassuming came with being an Omega. It was genetically written into them. Marcus was still madly trying to get his door to unlock, stubbornly not turning around to face the low voice now at his back, but his hands kept shaking.  Peaking out from under his sleeve was a scar from the last time he’d tangled with an Alpha without a pack around him.  It was reflex – ingrained instinct – for the leader of a pack to oppose the presence of an interloper.  Marcus knew from experience that even if an Alpha were normally even-tempered, they’d go after him, his tangled scent triggering some instinct for violence in them. To a species built around the integrity of a group, a lone Omega was an aberration, and therefore not tolerated very long. The worst part was that, without an Alpha and pack of his own, Marcus was still just as vulnerable to orders…if not more so.

‘Please don’t give an order…please don’t give an order…’ he found himself reciting over and over in his head, the one desperate, begging plea filling his mind up so much that he could barely formulate an answer to the other man’s question.  Marcus forced his blue eyes open just enough to stare in fragile determination at his door, answering in as even a tone as possible, not wanting a fight, “I don’t know you, I’m sorry.” He made another attempt at unlocking his door, wanting the safety and escape he’d find on the other side. In counterpoint to that promise of safety was the looming presence behind him, standing at the bottom of the landing – but with only two steps of difference, it didn’t feel like much distance at all.  

Marcus heard gravel grind as the man shifted his weight – probably a lot of weight, because Alphas were practically born muscular, the better to protect their packs.  It was a young voice, but Marcus didn’t dare turn around to make any more assessment than that, fear sliding cold hands up his spine. “You’re an Omega,” the man said, as if this were a revelation – in reality, any Werewolf could peg an Omega if they were close enough. Even the mess from work hadn’t hidden that telltale scent, which Marcus spent every night wishing he could scrub off to keep himself safe. Now, he resisted the urge to crumple against the door and just beg to be left alone.

The silence Marcus was presenting as he continued to fight with the lock on his door finally triggered annoyance, and Marcus physically flinched as he heard the other man take in a breath to growl, “I asked you a question – what are you doing on your own? Where’s your pack? Tell me.” New power flickered in his voice this time.

Marcus had hoped that he’d never have to hear another order again, not without his pack to back him – to muffle the effect. His hands and seemingly all of his muscles froze as the Alpha’s unconsciously applied command wrapped around his will and squeezed, leaving Marcus no choice but to whimper and then grate out truthfully, “I live here on my own.”  He tried to hold the confessions back, but the effect was like nails in his throat until the words were torn unwillingly from him, “I don’t have a pack.”

There was silence for a moment, the usual faint surprise of an Alpha encountering something so odd as an ‘unattached’ Omega. What came next would be an order to turn around, or something like that, to put them facing each other…usually about then, the Alpha’s more merciless instincts took hold, and there would be a fight Marcus couldn’t win.  Marcus forced words out before that could happen, “I’m not bothering anybody, so just leave me alone.”  He could have banged his head against the door for how desperate and tremulous his voice sounded, but it was the best he could do with the threat of being beaten to a pulp hanging over his head.  Werewolves healed faster than a normal human did, but he had enough scars from various fights to prove that the experience hurt and could leave permanent marks if done viciously enough, and he didn’t want to go through that again.  He cursed the genetics that made him so poorly built to be a fighter – a grudging glance back told him that the Alpha was, unsurprisingly, twice his size.  A fit man with broad shoulders and a strong jaw, although younger than most Alphas, probably only as old as Marcus.

“Leave me alone!” Marcus repeated, more sharply as anxiety dug its claws into his skin.  His key finally fit into the lock, although it was a sticky contraption that would take a bit more work to actually turn open. “Look, I know how it is with you Alphas-!” he began to rant with increasing, frustrated anger.

“Woah, woah, slow down!” The Alpha had stepped a half-pace back, hands rising.  It was a cool autumn day, and Marcus was wearing a coat and scarf, but the other Werewolf was getting away comfortably with just a sweater.  “I’m not threatening you or anything – it just seemed really odd to smell a Werewolf around here that isn’t one of mine, especially an Omega.”

“Well, now you know,” snapped Marcus. He knew full-well that he was just using waspishness to hide the fact that he was totally terrified, fear making him sick.  A pack-less Omega was a helpless Omega, and the helpless were prey.  It was a feeling he’d gotten used to.  “And I’d like it if you left.  I’ve got things to do.”

“You smell like you rolled in a buffet,” the Alpha pointed out, gold-brown eyes crinkling slightly as he wrinkled his nose, “I can’t imagine what kind of things you need to do smelling like that, besides maybe a long shower.”

The lock finally gave way and Marcus released an embarrassing sigh of relief as he hurriedly turned the knob.

Too late – Alphas had weapons that worked as quickly as thought.  Or, rather, speech. “Stop!” the Alpha commanded, voice firming up as power infused it, “Turn around, I’m still talking to you.” Marcus couldn’t find it in himself to be surprised, but he still felt a surge of helplessness and hopelessness as control of his muscles was once again wrested from him. He was so close to retreating to the loneliness and quiet safety of his cheap little apartment, but still he felt his hand unlatching from the doorknob and his body turning. Marcus was a fairly slender fellow, but he felt even more so as he moved to face the Alpha, arms at his sides and somehow dwarfed by the other young man despite standing up a few steps higher. Trembling, there was no way to hide how scared he was.  This had happened before a time or two, despite all of Marcus’s precautions to keep as far away from his dangerous kind as he could, and it was impossible to forget the vast disparity between his own powers and those of an Alpha.  There was no comparison, not when one could control the other with mere words, and Marcus’s Omega ability barely worked at all when he was panicked.

The Alpha had looked friendly enough, initially, but was now showing telltale signs of being annoyed. Businesslike but frowning, the Alpha gave in to using his power liberally and demanded, “What’s your name? Answer.”

“Marcus,” the Omega coughed out, “Marcus Rushton.” It was hard – nigh unachievable – to remain even vaguely defiant in the face of something like this. It was a level of powerlessness that humans would never understand.

Surprisingly, instead of continuing with another order (although the strength of the earlier commands didn’t let up, weighing down the air), the other man nodded and then said, “I’m Declan Fen. There’s no need to be so hasty.”

Marcus didn’t care how sensible Declan Fen was trying to be – other experiences had started out exactly the same way. Alphas couldn’t help but become violent when they met up with an anomaly like Marcus, even the friendliest Alphas. They couldn’t fight nature. Marcus began sharply shaking his head as if he could somehow rattle himself free.  “You don’t really want to talk with me,” he tried to reason bluntly with the oblivious Alpha, “Right now you think you do, but it’s just reflexes. Just now you noticed an Omega that didn’t smell right, and soon you’ll want me gone from your territory.” His voice, without his consent, dropped to a horrified little whisper, like misted words falling frozen out of his mouth, “However possible.”  Perhaps he’d never stopped, but Marcus was shaking again, nauseous now with fear.

Declan’s eyes widened a bit and he blinked. “Wait… What? What are you going on about?” His irises in the fading light were a fetching shade of green, offsetting the dirty-golden color of his hair, but even if he looked like an angel, he’d be a demon before long.

“Let me go. Just try and let me go,” Marcus challenged, knowing how this would go, “You won’t be able to do it. I’m a Wolf, but I’m not part of your pack, and at the same time you can’t make me part of your pack, because you already have an Omega.” All packs found an Omega almost immediately, and when Marcus had first moved here, he’d heard that there was a well-established pack some distance away – he’d just hoped they were far enough away to never meet him.  That farcical hope had been shattered now, clearly.  “I’m an aberration that’s not supposed to exist, so you may as well admit it.”

“Well, what if I did want to add you to my pack?” the Alpha tried to argue, even while he took a step forward.

Marcus managed to fight the Alpha’s command enough to edge a frightened step back in return. “I’d say you were a lying sack of meat, because it doesn’t work that way,” he informed the Alpha flatly. There was an itch under his skin to change, if only so he could bare his real teeth, but that was an even worse idea than arguing – if he changed, then so would Declan, and Fen was no doubt a fair sight bigger and more dangerous than Marcus was in Wolf-form.  So he stayed as he was, resigning himself to take damage in his human form if only because he got fewer scars if their fight didn’t initially involve lupine fangs.

Predictably, the cutting remark caused Declan’s eyebrows to lower stormily over his eyes almost immediately, and Marcus almost choked. He didn’t even breathe as the larger man suddenly walked up the stairs to get into his personal space, on the same level.  This was another Alpha tendency, Marcus had learned, right along with not realizing how much their power affected Omegas who didn’t have a pack around them. “So I’m a liar?” Declan snarled in a low tone.

He was going to be hit now, if not hard at first, then very hard eventually – there was just something about his existence that triggered violence in others of his kind, like one shark scenting blood and weakness on another.  Once the blood started flowing, the frenzy only increased. That knowledge was lodged like a block of ice in Marcus’s throat, so cold it burned, and he turned his head away with a little sob of breath as his nose filled with the smell of temper and dominance. It always smelled different, from Alpha to Alpha, but it mixed with Marcus’s own scent of complete, overarching fear to create a scent like nutmeg mixed with a sting of ammonia. All of his tartness and defiance crumpled and he stood with his body shaking and his eyes squeezed shut, feeling exactly as small as he was, and so helpless he could cry. Just that earlier handful of Alpha commands were still enough to prevent him from running away, as effective as chains.

Silence reigned. Marcus only breathed when Declan Fen did, the older man letting out a held breath in a steady rush. “Shit,” he sighed, while Marcus continued to cower, ashamed at his own fear and refusing to make eye-contact, “I don’t even…”  The other man was clearly at a loss for words, but hadn’t moved away, proving that Marcus’s assumptions were not unfounded: Alphas were hardwired not to leave possible threats to their packs unattended.  Finally, the larger man blurted, “I’m not going to hit you!”

The words didn’t reassure Marcus in the slightest, and he flinched very visibly as Declan expressively threw his arms out. Marcus was backed up against his tiny porch’s railing, and he hated Declan for being larger than him – Marcus had learned to hate a lot of Alphas for being larger than him. He didn’t trust Fen as far as he could throw him, and with the size difference, that wasn’t far. “Then leave me alone,” Marcus said back tonelessly, eyes focused past Declan’s elbow as he stood there tautly. 

Declan made a frustrated noise in his throat that sounded more animal than human, but he didn’t move – either away, or closer. The thinnest, most tenuous thread of hope wove itself into Marcus’s mind, and with a surge of brashness, he lifted his hands to try and shove Declan away and bolt for his still-half-open door.

The reaction was instantaneous: Declan burst into motion as well, the hot cinnamon smell of violence exploding from him a split second before one of his hands caught Marcus’s arm and the other came up to catch the Omega flush across the face. It all happened with the kind of speed only non-humans could manage, and if this were any other neighborhood but what it was, people would have been calling the cops.  As it was, both young men fell back, Marcus knowing that no one would prosecute Declan for the blow.  Right now, they were across from each other, each leaning on a railing like resting boxers, Declan looking shocked at himself and Marcus looking back at him bitterly like one who’d been vindicated.  “See?  Instinct. I’m an Omega, and I’m not part of your pack.  And since you’ve obviously already got an Omega in your pack, then I’m a threat to his or her position – to the stability of your family,” Marcus said with a voice that shook despite its stubbornness.  There was blood dripping down his chin, but he was still lucky: the blow had been sloppy and fast, an impulsive reaction.  An Alpha could break a jaw with a better punch. Marcus just continued, his voice a briar-bush of bitterness and jaded terror, “Those were your Wolf instincts telling you that I shouldn’t exist.”

Declan actually looked horrified, staring at what he’d so swiftly done.  Clearly he was a bit new to this Alpha thing. Most eventually realized that Omegas were a dichotomy, bringing out either protective qualities or angry qualities in the Wolves around them for no discernable reason – if Declan Fen had been Marcus’s Alpha, there would have been much more of the former and practically none of the latter.  Since he was not, the balance slid sharply the other way, leaving only unfounded, uncontrollable temper. And Since Marcus didn’t have any Alpha, there was no one of equal strength to stand up for him.

Logically, he couldn’t be mad at the Alpha for the violence: the reaction was as impossible to avoid as a chemical reaction. He could be angry at the Alpha for not leaving, and avoiding the reaction altogether.  Sadly, like an open wound, lone Omegas seemed to attract the very thing that was a danger to them, as if nature itself sought to wipe them out. “I said,” Marcus bit out one last time, “just go away and leave me alone. I have my life, you have yours. Don’t mix them.” It was a shaky request – it didn’t even manage to be a demand.  Omegas were all but incapable of demanding things of an Alpha, a fact that made Marcus grit his teeth with helpless fury. He noticed that his coat-sleeve had gotten rucked up when Declan had grabbed him, showing off a large scar on his wrist and forearm that couldn’t be from anything but a Wolf’s teeth. He swiftly pulled the sleeve back down again, still too scared and vulnerable to even lick at the blood spilling from his split lip.

“That wasn’t…! I mean…  How did I…?” the Alpha was stuttering, still frozen and staring in a rather un-Alpha-like fashion.

Marcus cut him off again, voice brittle, “It’s what all Alphas do.  You can’t help it.” Seeing that this might be his best chance, the Omega then made a dash for the door, reaching it even as Declan twitched – instincts coming alive again.  This time Marcus made it, however, skidding inside and immediately slamming the door shut and bolting it.  He actually heard a fist slam against the other side, and yelped aloud in alarm.

There was a moment of silence and frustrated breath, then a confused sort of canine whine that ended in an angry growl: human empathy warring with Werewolf instinct. Marcus backed up, logically knowing that a door should hold back Fen…but logic didn’t have a very good foothold in his world.

The growl faded, becoming a human voice again as Declan hollered, “Rushton!  Hey, man, I’m sorry – I never meant to…  Rushton! Hey!” It was clear that Marcus wasn’t going to listen to him, so the voice rose; Marcus cowered and pressed his palms against his ears as it wavered close to a command. “I’m serious!  Open up!”

The last sentence was a weak command, an unconscious one, but for a pack-less Omega, it had the power to bite and scrape against him like sandpaper over a bared nerve. Declan stopped talking and probably only realized that he’d done anything at all when there was a torn scream from inside as Marcus fought it.  Marcus stumbled back, still crushing his hands to his ears to block out the sound that had the power to tear free will away from him.

“Sorry, sorry,” Declan tried to soothe him, finally realizing the extent to which this had gone very, very wrong. Marcus could imagine his shocked, handsome face, the setting sun lighting up the blonde tousle of his hair and his wide eyes.  “Are you-?”

“GO. AWAY.”

That final, rasped holler was Marcus’s last hope of solace.  He huddled on the floor in the back of his apartment, cursing whatever trick of biology that turned his scent into a lure and his body into a target for those who naturally hated him the most. Even as he yelled, he could barely feel the stricken flicker of his hope – most of him expected to hear pounding on the door as Declan attempted to tear it off its hinges. The bite on his arm had come from an Alpha that had grown so incensed at him that the man had found a window and broken through it, his rage not leaving him until Marcus had managed to shove him down a flight of stairs.  Marcus had nearly been dead by that point. That was the worst skirmish he’d had, but there was always room for more scars…

But no more sounds came. No more orders that tore his mind in half (a plaything yanked at by himself and the Alpha, destined to be shredded or won over entirely by the latter) as he sat there, no more attempts at bewildered apologies and no more pounding on his door. The Alpha, Declan Fen, had gathered the strength to just leave.

Marcus didn’t uncurl from the floor, but he did sigh in bone-deep relief before finally dipping out a tongue to prod at his swelling lip and the sore teeth that had cut into it. He was shocked and already almost deliriously pleased that the Alpha had managed to ignore his instincts enough to walk away, but already he was thinking, with his heart sinking, of how he’d pack his meager belongings, scrape together his meager savings to pay off the remainder of his bills, and move.  It would be idiocy to hope that Declan would leave him alone for long, no matter how much both of them seemed to want that.

 

~^~

 

Chapter Text

The first thing that Marcus realized was that he couldn’t afford to move. That realization hit him like a wrecking ball, crushing his chest in and leaving him silent and breathless.

He could always just skip town, of course, but he already had enough trouble tiptoeing around the Werewolf community – he didn’t need more trouble with the judicial one as well, if he just decided to leave unpaid rent and bills. His next check from work wouldn’t come for another whole week, and even that wasn’t much, considering he had to eat between now and then. If he made sure to pick it up promptly, and didn’t use up too much of the remaining money he had from his last one…

Marcus forced himself to nod, dragging in deep breaths and telling himself that it would be okay. He could do it, he could wait out the week and put all of his focus and savings into leaving at the end of it. He usually lived pretty much from pay-check to pay-check anyway, and his lack of social life contributed to virtually no superfluous spending.  So in a week, he could repay whatever he owed here and there, and pack what he could carry before hopping onto a bus to…somewhere.  Anywhere.  He should have realized that this was inevitable, because Wolves invariably stumbled upon him wherever he went.

Sighing, the slim young man thumped his head against the wall, sitting there despondently with bills, paystubs, receipts, and other monetary papers spread around him like the detritus of his entire life.  He’d lived here for nearly three months – three months. Long enough to start tentatively putting down roots, but not quite long enough to get out of the debt he’d accrued from his last hurried leaving.  He tested his split lip with his tongue, imagining that he could taste Declan’s fist there.  If he breathed in deeply enough, his hyper-acute senses could still smell the Alpha like sharp lemon and angry cinnamon at his door, and he wondered briefly when his raw senses had started getting so sharp that they had developed synesthesia. Next he turned to his side, feeling above the left curve of his hipbone beneath his T-shirt where he had the scar from a set of jaws locking onto him there.  That was a wound that had put him in the hospital for days, even with his Werewolf healing ability, and had forced him to move last time before the same Alpha could try again.

Fear rattled through him, making Marcus’s eyes close and his breath quake, because he didn’t think that Declan would stay away for that long, no matter how good his intentions. Three days in the hospital, one day of painful packing, and Marcus had still heard lupine howls echoing behind his train, full of bestial, predatory intent.  The sound had challenged him to come back for his own execution, the instincts of the pack’s Alpha so strong that he had shadowed Marcus to the very border of his territory before common-sense finally had reasserted control and he left. Marcus was a drug, the kind that induced hysteria and homicidal feelings, and he cursed nature for making Omegas like this.

It took effort to drag himself from his melancholy, to pick up the controlled mess he’d made, and then to go and catalogue his stuff.  He’d acquired a microwave and some other things that he’d have to leave behind, being too big to carry.  Sighing and telling himself (lying to himself) that he couldn’t miss them, Marcus pushed his straight brown hair back from his forehead and bent to drag his suitcase out from under his bed.

Better start packing now, if he was going to be gone by the end of the week.

 

~^~

 

Marcus was feeling marginally more optimistic by the time he got ready to leave for work the next day. He wasn’t precisely cheery, but he no longer felt quite so much like curling up into a furry lump under his bed for forever. The night before had been spent in his Wolf form, nose tucked under tail, on top of the covers – more ready for trouble that way.  When he’d slept untroubled to morning, he’d dared hope that maybe he’d gotten lucky, and Declan had more willpower than he’d thought.  Stretching out pink-padded white paws (despite his brown head of hair, Marcus was entirely white once he shifted into his fur) and arching his back, Marcus got up and showered quickly, even humming slightly to himself as he stepped out to check the mail.

He felt like an idiot when the scent hit him a second later, a smack of lupine scent across his too-sensitive nose.  Immediately he lost his good mood and jerked to retreat back into the house, marginally comforted by the fact that he was only smelling Beta wolves – plural, true, but not Declan Fen. He was too slow, however, to avoid hearing a female voice pipe up, “Hey – wait!  Hold on a sec!” Right about then Marcus realized that his time without a pack was affecting more than just his senses, as his inner wolf immediately rolled over and gave in, as obedient as it had been for the Alpha.

Marcus tried to pull away, and gritted his teeth at the immediate pain he got for his troubles – the command wasn’t even very strong, coming from a Beta, but it had him pinned halfway in, halfway out of the door, and fighting it made him feel like he had fishhooks in him.  Heart hammering and frustration curling hot and painful through his gut, the young man froze where he was, one hand clenched on the doorframe and the other behind him, where his door was trying to swing shut on him.  ‘You can do this… You can do this… Focus…’ he commanded himself to push past the panic, breathing in again and instantly recognizing three distinct entities (two male and one female, all Betas) before even opening his eyes. In his ears, he heard the gravel slide as they walked towards him, the faint rosemary smell of wariness mixing with a crystalline sliver of curiosity. Only when he was sure that he wasn’t about to scream at the whole situation did Marcus open his eyes, banishing the scent-images that his brain was wildly trying to paint with the lack of visual input.  It was a whole different brand of alarm to realize that he might be going insane from being without a pack for so long.

Maybe that was why instincts dictated that lone Omegas be murdered: without the buffer of a pack, all of their internal wiring and senses started to overload.

“What do you want?” he growled, counting heartbeats until the command wore off, although his heartbeat was fittingly rabbit-fast.  He shifted and leaned away, testing how far he could pull with his body working against him, and decided that a Beta’s commands were definitely easier to deal with than an Alpha’s – it hurt, but he was able to sidle just a bit further away immediately, although not far enough.

The woman who had spoken, a redhead in her mid-twenties, probably about Marcus’s age, blinked as if surprised by the tone, and stopped at the bottom of the stairs. The two men behind her were not far off in age – one looking more boyish, one slightly older, both of them full of the natural strength that came with being Werewolves. They weren’t Alphas, but they were both broad-shouldered and well muscled, and could probably snap Marcus in half. He shuddered as his brain unhelpfully supplied images. “I said, what do you want? I have to get to work, and I’m not bothering anyone,” he stressed anxiously not making eye-contact, wishing he weren’t so transparently, embarrassingly afraid.

The woman was looking even more surprised, and the more stoic faces behind her looked taken aback. “I never said you were bothering anyone. I…er…we just wanted to say hello. We were going to come and knock, but then you stepped out, so…”

“So, you’ve seen me. You’ve said hello,” Marcus snapped, hoping that her uncertainty continued, so he’d be able to slip free of her, hierarchy be damned, “Now fucking let me go about my day.”

“You’ve got quite a mouth on you,” one of the men behind the redhead commented, his voice built with a roughly grating edge like a cat’s tongue, jerking Marcus’s eyes to him involuntarily. Light-skinned like Marcus but with black hair, the athletic Beta continued with the sort of perfect mildness that came from perfect irritation, “I’ve never seen someone stick around to say hello, and swear- Wait.” The fellow cocked his head and seemed to realize something, and Marcus breathed out a gutted sigh, because he knew what the Beta had comprehended.   “You’re following Liz’s command, aren’t you?  You’re stuck.”

The beginnings of surprised amusement in the man’s voice had trapped fury boiling up Marcus’s throat, and suddenly he wanted nothing more than to shed his human skin and go at them with his teeth.  As with yesterday, it would be a dumb – possibly even fatal – idea, against three Betas, but right now it was appealing in the way that all last-ditch resorts were appealing. It was that that gave him the last dregs of will he needed to wrench lose of the command locked onto him, and twist into his house to slam (and lock) the door behind him. It was satisfying that he could actually smell the surprise from behind him, even if he felt as if he’d just torn his body loose from a giant strip of duct-tape. His skin felt raw, but it was nothing compared to the headache of last night, against Declan. “No, I’m not,” he called rudely through the door, before pacing away, trapped all over again. “Damn.”  He buried his fingers to the hilt in his head, trying to figure out what to do about the three Betas at his door.  He had already smelled Declan on them.

“Open-” one of them started thumping the door and calling.

Marcus immediately bristled and overrode them, bracing himself and covering his ears as he shouted, “No! If you start shouting orders at me, I swear to god that I’ll shoot you through the door!”  He didn’t own a gun (the licensing process cost too much), but the threat felt good, and it sure sounded sincere.

“Woah, wait, no!” the girl – Liz – immediately could be heard backtracking on the other side. Marcus felt viciously good about making the Betas squirm. “No shooting!”

“And no commands,” the third Beta, who hadn’t spoken until now, added, “Promise.” There was a pause. “Do they seriously affect you that much?”

Marcus wanted to lie, but he couldn’t think of a way to say it that didn’t sound obviously false, and by the time he mulled it over, it was too late anyway. So he settled on saying nothing at all, instead going to hunt up the aluminum baseball bat he kept in the closet. Silver didn’t affect Werewolves any more than any other metal did, but a good hard swing from a weighty bat was sure to leave a mark. “Look,” he tried to calm his voice down enough so that he didn’t sound wildly suicidal, “It’s better for everyone if you just leave. I don’t know if your Alpha told you, but my being around you-”

“Actually, he sent us,” the first man said, startling Marcus for a second, and not in a good way. In fact, the pit fell out of the bottom of his stomach, as he considered the possibility of a territorial Alpha sending his whole pack out to get Marcus.  Suddenly, the baseball bat seemed ethereal in his hands, as useless as a feather. His hands shook hard enough to nearly drop it as he backed up an involuntary step and tried not to panic. Fortunately, the Beta went on, voice calm and none-the-wiser yet for the alarm he was causing, “He said… He said that he spooked you pretty badly yesterday evening, and sent us to check up on you. He even explained the whole lone-Omega thing.”

“Fen may not look it, but he’s actually pretty good at explaining things,” Liz piped up, as if that helped. It didn’t.  Marcus didn’t care if Declan Fen philosophized and taught preschool classes in his spare time – all that mattered was that his instincts were hardwired to beat Marcus to a bloody pulp, and he was strong enough to do it.

“Go away,” he repeated, trembling from the utter horribleness of this situation. He looked at the clock as an afterthought, feeling even more wretched as the possibility of being late for work became almost a certainty. Tears threatened at the corners of his eyes, even if he blinked them back stubbornly.

“Look – Marcus,” Liz went on appealingly, and he could hear that she was close against the door now (probably seeing through his lie about owning a gun to shoot her with), “I’m sorry we got off on the wrong foot, and Fen is, too. You were going to work, right? Let us walk you.”

It actually took physical effort not to bark out a sincerely manic, cracked laugh. Marcus choked on it instead. Eventually, he got words out that sounded derisive and bitter but not like he was starting to go slowly insane, “Why the fuck would I do that?”

“So that we can have a chance to apologize?” Liz sounded hopeful.  “Come on, Marcus, we haven’t even tried to order you around, and whatever you think we’re going to do, we’re not. You can hear if I’m lying.”

“It doesn’t matter if you’re telling the truth or not,” Marcus retorted, having gone through his before, in other places and with other Wolves, “It’s not a matter of intent – it’s instinct.  You will hate me.”

“But not as much as an Alpha would, right?  Declan looked it up, last night, and that’s what he learned.  That’s why we’re here instead of him, even though he wanted to apologize.” Liz’s voice was growing more and more sensible and soothing by the minute, and even though it was devoid of any sort of order, Marcus could feel it breaking him down. The Wolf girl truly did sound like she was just trying to be friendly, which confused the hell out of Marcus at the same time that it made something in him ache so fiercely that he thought something was burning up in his chest.  The company of other Werewolves…

A tear slid down from either eye, hot and cutting on his face.

“Leave. Me.  Alone,” he said brokenly, and dropped his bat on the floor to stagger to his bedroom at the back of the apartment, turning up the radio as loud as it would go and hoping that the neighbors called the cops on him – if only to drive away the Wolves at his door.  The radio had been rescued from the trash, and sounded tiny and off-key, making it even worse on Marcus’s sensitive ears.  It was agonizing enough that he almost immediately felt like his eardrums were bleeding, but he didn’t turn it down, just huddled on his bed with his hands over his ears, teeth gritted, tears flowing now because of pain, physical as much as emotional. He huddled behind his knees and pretended the noise was swallowing him, deaf to the voices calling out to him.

 

~^~

 

“Declan, it smelled like someone being gutted in there.” Liz sounded shell-shocked, and her eyes were huge even now.  Kobi and Rob stood behind her, looking equally troubled, their scents labeling them as upset more than their expressions let on.  “He turned up the music so he couldn’t hear us, I think, but we weren’t even putting any command into our voices-!”

“It’s all right, Liz,” Declan soothed, hiding how startled and freaked out he was by force of will. It wasn’t easy. He felt a lot as if he’d just watched a favorite pet be hit by a semi-truck right before his eyes, only this wasn’t a favorite pet, it was a lone Omega that he’d only met yesterday, and who inextricably made him want to go rabid.  At times like this, he really, really wished he had more experience leading a pack… “I’ll…” He ran a hand over his face. “I’ll think of another way to deal with this.”

“We could try just leaving him alone,” Rob opined.  He was the black-haired young man who had gone with Kobi and Liz to check out the situation, and was actually the youngest of the pack at twenty one. Right now, he looked to be in one of his contentious moods that had Declan bracing himself already.

It was Liz who replied, however, turning with her fists on her hips to the dark-haired Beta, “Seriously, Rob?  Did you see him? God, did you pick up his scent?! He’s a walking disaster. I’ve never seen an Omega all alone, but right now, the thought of just pretending he doesn’t exist turns my stomach.”

“That could be the hormones talking,” Rob pointed out, although his smile was a bit mean, “You know, the same hormones that have Fen contemplating murder.”

“That’s enough, Rob,” Declan stepped in, the command in his voice not compelling anyone, but settling like a weight in the room.  He remembered, with a jolt, the way commands affected Marcus Rushton – he’d already known how commands affected Clarissa, their Omega, but even her reaction was just a shadow to the shackled obedience he’d gotten a glimpse of earlier. “One way or another, I think we have to deal with him,” he went on with a sigh, leaning back against the kitchen table, “He is in our territory, and all of my senses might be wrong, but they say he’s a threat, and I think I’ll go insane if we just ignore him.”

The others – except maybe Rob – looked sympathetic, nodding a bit or making agreeing noises. It was then that Clarissa walked in.

By all accounts, it was a young pack: Declan, Liz, Kobi, and Rob were all under thirty. The voice of elderly wisdom in their pack came from Clarissa Fen, who was Declan’s aunt.  She’d never married or given up the family name, and respected her nephew’s leadership of the pack to the letter (a fact that made it easier for Declan to conscience ordering around a family member from time to time). “Is this about the Omega?” she asked without prompting, although also without admitting to any eavesdropping. Like most Wolves, she held onto her youth, and still had a pretty face even as she aged – it was more sharp-edged than it used to be, but her blonde hair only sported a few paler, silver strands, barely visible where she had it all tied back severely. Despite all of these harsh qualities about her, she made everyone relax the second she walked into the room, as if a wave of serenity had unrolled like a red carpet before her.

“Yes,” Declan nodded, wishing that he could unload all of his tension on her, but not feeling that he should. He was still torn to pieces about how he’d acted around Rushton, a stranger, and it was hard to connect that feeling of baseless anger with the immediate sensation of trust he felt around his aunt, Clarissa. Honestly, he was beginning to wonder if every feeling that an Omega caused in him was real. “The one I asked you about earlier.”

Clarissa nodded, pulling out a kitchen chair and sitting, straightening out her skirt a little while everyone else waited patiently.  Even Rob, usually quite bellicose, softened. “You’ve read up a bit on pack-less Omegas, yes?” she asked, prim and yet somehow gentle, the words rolling calmingly out of her mouth.

Again, Declan nodded an affirmative.

“And you took what I said to heart?”

“That it’s a tragedy for an Omega to be without a pack, but that it sometimes happens? Yes, I thought about that.”

“I didn’t ask if you thought about it,” Clarissa wove back to her point, reaching out to touch his knee in a maternal way she had with all of them. Her smile was somewhat patronizing, however, and Declan found his eyes narrowing a fraction. “I asked if you took it to heart. Declan, you don’t know why he’s without a pack. For all you know, he attacked one of them.  Omegas aren’t all gentle like I am, especially at a younger age.”

“This one definitely wasn’t gentle,” Rob reminded everyone, and it was poignant that even Liz and Kobi pulled uncomfortable faces.  They’d already told the part of the story where Rushton had cursed at them and threatened to shoot them.  Declan almost couldn’t wrap his head around that…almost.  Sure, the smaller man had gotten a bit short with him, but mostly, Marcus had seemed scared.  Terrified.  Like Liz had described, he’d smelled like someone being eviscerated slowly, although Declan’s indecipherable rage had blocked that out until later, looking back on the memory.

Still, it seemed that the Omega had shown more salt and vinegar with Rob, Liz, and Kobi, which supported Clarissa’s theory about why Rushton was on his own. She patted Declan’s knee again, and he found that as much as he wanted to be annoyed at the parental treatment, the emotions wouldn’t stick. He found himself calming down instead. “Werewolves have good instincts – especially Alphas from strong lines like you and I.  Your instincts say that he’s a threat, and I can’t see any reason to argue with that,” Clarissa went on quite sensibly.  She shrugged beneath her conservative, lavender-colored blouse.

So you just want me to bare my teeth and put an end to him?’ he wanted to ask, but the words were too cruel to leave his mouth, what with the sea of calm mulling the room. The softer emotions felt like they were trying to smother Declan’s discontent but, for once, not quite succeeding. He stood up and moved away from his aunt, looking to Liz and Kobi instead. “I still want you to shadow him. Since we’re new here, we may as well learn about our neighbors anyway…and I owe him.” He looked down guiltily at his hand, the one that had flashed out without him even thinking, cracking so far against the bone of Rushton’s waiting jaw.  “I don’t want my attacking him to lead to anything worse,” he rationalized his actions, “and he lives in a really crappy part of town.”

“And what are you going to do?” Rob demanded, arms crossed.

Declan snorted and flashed the other man a biting sort of grin, saying acerbically, “What do you think, Rob? Stay as far away from him as possible. Until I know that he’s a real, tangible threat to our pack, I’m not going to become a killer.”

He was aware of his aunt’s criticizing look and Rob’s unimpressed one, but he focused his attention on Liz and Kobi. Liz seemed eager to do something about the immense pain she’d smelled like acid through the Omega boy’s door, and Kobi always did what Liz did – the two of them could be trusted to act sensibly and without violence.

 

~^~

 

Chapter Text

Those Betas had made him late for work, but at least he’d made it.  They’d left his door about twenty minutes after he’d turned up the music, although he only had known that by checking through the peephole on his door. The blasting music had left his ears ringing and numb-feeling for hours afterwards, even after he’d more or less sprinted to work in the hopes that he still had a job when he got there.

 

His boss, not surprisingly, was irate, but Marcus took the verbal beating silently, nodding when appropriate and making his posture as submissive as he could get it without physically kneeling on the floor.  As an Omega, submissiveness technically came easily to him, but right now he was so out of sorts that he was just grateful that the lecture was one-sided – no hard questions were asked of him, and no responses were required other than, “Sorry, sir” or “No, won’t happen again, sir.”  Then, ears still aching and a pounding headache behind his eyes, Marcus turned and left the office to man his post, filling shelves with myriad boxes of breakfast cereal.

 

“Wow, look who showed up today,” a voice popped into his ear, along with an actual pop – bubble-gum, quickly pulled back in behind red lips.

 

“Hello, Muriel,” Marcus greeted tiredly.  This was the last thing he needed, but he’d reached the point where he didn’t even care anymore – his day had already hit rock-bottom.  Muriel could make it worse, but he wouldn’t feel it, as far gone as he already was. He kept moving boxes of marshmallows and cornflakes.

 

The girl – perfectly human but as pushy as any Alpha Werewolf – smirked at him, rolling the gum behind her even white teeth, as if to let her bare them a little more. “D’you get a tongue-lashing in the boss’s office?  Or did he do something else with his tongue to punish you for tardiness?” she asked teasingly, her eyes giving him a suggestive once-over.

 

Something in Marcus recoiled and shuddered at what she was implying, but he kept his face even. Muriel didn’t actually know that he was gay – she just liked to yank his chain with new and humiliating insinuations every day.  “He told me not to be late again,” was all he said, very calm, very level. Very dead-sounding, really, because that was the best he could manage.  He had a notion that he wouldn’t even notice if he started crying right now, because sitting next to the ear-rending sound of the radio turned up had rubbed his senses so raw that he felt utterly desensitized. If someone cut him right now, he’d bleed, but he didn’t think he’d feel the broken skin no matter how hard he tried. “I’m trying to work, Muriel.”

 

“ ’Course you are,” she smiled again, letting her voice get sweet in a way that made Marcus grit his teeth and his mouth turn down reflexively at the edges.  Muriel always got under his skin, and he was wishing that today had been her day off.  If he weren’t so in need of the money, Marcus might have requested off days when she worked, but instead he was here pretty much every day – good, dependable Marcus, practically a fixture at the store.  No social life. No escape from Muriel when she got feisty or clearly wasn’t getting some itch or other scratched.

 

Fortunately, this time she must have had something else to do – or else the boss’s anger had been hot enough that she could still feel the heat of it pouring off Marcus like a warning to everyone – because she walked off, leaving him in peace.

 

Somehow, the peace wasn’t that much better.  It was just a lonely silence that left him thinking about Alphas and orders, Betas and a pack family, and the growing suspicion that his senses were slowly going haywire, because after awhile, he started smelling wolves again.  Feeling drained, foggy, and definitely off his game, it actually took Marcus a moment to realize that it wasn’t just his pessimistic imagination but an actual scent tickling at his nose.  He hadn’t heard a thing to indicate that his workspace had been invaded by other Werewolves, so a few moments of utter panic later, he realized that his sense of smell was far more sensitive than he thought – he was smelling two Betas, but they weren’t in the building yet.  He could also smell a package of meat that was going bad in the back room, a sweet smell that had to mean they were going to try selling flowers again, and a menagerie of other smells that suddenly were incredibly hard to block out.

 

Marcus had to pause in what he was doing to simply press his head between his hands, panting shallowly through his mouth and trying to find that balance between his mind and the physical world. Being able to sense things this strongly wasn’t odd by Werewolf standards – but normally, it took focus. Marcus wasn’t even trying lately, and his senses would suddenly crank themselves up to the highest level, and he knew with horrible certainty that it was because he didn’t have a pack around him.

 

Omegas weren’t meant to live alone.

 

Managing to turn down his sense of smell again before it made him retch, Marcus quickly finished with the shelves and scurried to the back of the store, making an excuse to work there for awhile.  He could still smell the Betas with an acuity that was abnormal, but he decided to use it to his advantage.

 

For the next four hours he played hide-and-seek with a pair of Betas who were terrifyingly determined to find him, but who were at a distinct sensory disadvantage to the one handshy Omega slipping through their fingers time and again.  The supermarket was big enough to become Marcus’s personal labyrinth, in which he felt like a rat being harried from turn to turn, and no real promise of cheese at the end if he made it there in one piece. He was aware that his coworkers were giving him funny looks, but he could just hope that no one reported it to the boss, who was already disgruntled with Marcus enough.

 

To be fair, Marcus was also working – albeit at random jobs all over the store, often dropping one to suddenly head elsewhere like a spooked hare.  He was perfectly aware that he was acting far less like a wolf and far more like a rabbit, but just thinking of the two Betas (the redheaded girl and the brown-haired guy from this morning) made his stomach cramp up with fear, and he told himself not to care.  Pride was less important than safety, and when compared to other Werewolves… Marcus was definitely the prey rather than the hunter.  He had no illusions about that.

 

“You’re seriously hiding from those people, aren’t you?”

 

Marcus had been so focused on the two distinct Beta Wolf smells and sounds that he’d completely missed Muriel walking up to him.  Now she had her too-bright red lips pulled back in a knowing smirk from where she leaned against the outside of the building – she was out taking a smoke, and Marcus’s nose recoiled from the thistles-and-honey sensation of the smell. He’d come outside when it was clear that the two Wolves nonchalantly chasing him were getting too close for comfort, and he needed space to think up a new plan, because he couldn’t keep this up all day.

 

“I don’t know what you’re talking about, Muriel,” he managed to say calmly, and was just about to grab the door and go back inside when fear stayed his hand again. Betas were inside. His hands shook and refused to touch the knob, and suddenly he was disgusted by his own cowardice. Frustration and self-hatred rolled through him in a red-hot flush of heat, and he couldn’t help the way the corners of his eyes stung or the way his lips turned down sharply at the corners. He wanted to scream. But all he could do was stand there staring helplessly at the door with his brain blanking as he searched for more options.  “Why won’t they just leave me alone?” he hissed to himself.

 

He’d forgotten that Muriel was there. Maybe it was because the scent of her cigarette covered up everything else, so that she disappeared so long as he was focused on his sense of smell. When her hand landed on his shoulder, he physically jumped, spinning and blinking in surprise to find Muriel standing there, one eyebrow raised and her free hand still negligently holding her cigarette.  “Poor baby,” she cooed, but actually sounded more soothing than teasing. If Marcus weren’t so worn out from everything – from Liz’s accidental command this morning, from blasting music until he wanted to tear his ears off, from being lectured by his boss and then having his work-space invaded by Werewolves who would kill him at the slightest provocation – he wouldn’t have been more suspicious. Muriel didn’t have a sincerely sympathetic bone in her body.

 

“I always thought you were boring – pretty, but boring,” she went on, almost conversationally, as Marcus frowned at her, and then at her hand still on his shoulder. He wrinkled his nose as the scent of the cigarette morphed into a physical sensation in his head, synesthesia at its best.  It was a dust-brown smell, and it prickled at the edges until he wanted to turn his head away, as if against a cloud of nipping flies.  He didn’t realize that he’d closed his eyes and distastefully done just that until suddenly warm hips and breasts were up against his front, and he was being backed up two startled steps into the wall.  The alley was silent again but for the quiet thump of his shoulder-blades against the old brick.  Muriel was grinning at him, making him realize that they were nearly the same height. “But now it looks like pretty-faced-you has a secret, and damn if that doesn’t make you more tempting.” As her right hand stroked his jawline unexpectedly, it brought her cigarette daringly close to his face, a glint of still-burning red that breathed and inhaled like the lungs of some tiny, coal-hearted demon.  It startled Marcus nearly as much as the punch of pungent smoke did, and it was then that he realized that he was far, far too unprepared for all of this. Even as an Omega, he was stronger than any human, but strength was pretty useless when the last thing he wanted was for Muriel to realize that he was even more interesting than she suspected: a Werewolf. Or worse, if she filed charges against him for any of this. That suddenly seemed like a distinct possibility, and suddenly all the stress made it impossible to think-!

 

He was one-hundred percent sure that there was an easy way out of this, but he was also one-hundred percent sure that he couldn’t think of it, and that helplessness made him passive and compliant when what he really wanted was to shove Muriel across the alley and away from him.  A whine curled up his throat that sounded distinctly dog-like, and Muriel laughed as if she found it hilarious, and petted his upper arm while her other hand kept the burning tip of her cigarette near his face like a signal flare of his own failure to act.

 

“Hey.”

 

Marcus hadn’t been breathing, and realized it suddenly when the low, iron-heavy voice startled him into inhaling. Both Marcus and Muriel looked over to see the large male Beta from that morning striding towards them, his dark brown eyes looking almost black on his squarish but handsome face. Marcus hadn’t smelled him coming because his head was clogged up with the smoke swirling around it, but right now he couldn’t even summon the energy to leap away.  He was finished.  Today just needed to end. The fact that he couldn’t even handle Muriel meant that he didn’t have a snowball’s chance in hell of dealing with Werewolves, and his headache felt like it was pounding in agreement.

 

Before Muriel could do more than glare, the Beta went on, “Your break is over.  Leave.”

 

It should have been a relief when Muriel stepped back, no longer pressing flush to him in a way that was too intimate.  Instead, Marcus just took in the hard words and felt his heart-rate pick up again. This was it then. He knew that Betas didn’t react with the same irrational, territorial anger that an Alpha did, but it was plausible that they’d want to back up their pack-leader and run him out of town by force. He ignored Muriel entirely in favor of firming up his stance and clenching his jaw, eyes entirely on the male Beta standing a few paces away.  The man wasn’t as big as Fen, but he was still broad-shouldered, with eyes as steady as the earth beneath hair that was cut almost too short to notice the slight wave to it.

 

When Muriel’s fingers snagged his sleeve as if to pull him in after her, the Beta spoke again, “His break is just starting.  Now leave.”

 

Muriel’s eyes widened at the blatantly ordering tone, but she dropped Marcus’s sleeve while simultaneously tossing aside her cigarette.  It landed between herself and the Beta, and she let it smolder as she went back inside with a huff and a slamming of doors.

 

Marcus didn’t move or shift his eyes off the Beta.  “So I’m on break, am I?” he asked, very softly, like the kind of soft wind that stole over gravestones.  It had an air of finality to it, but at least it didn’t sound quite as terrified as he was, so long as he kept his tone rigidly controlled and too quiet for the quaking to grab hold of it.  The lazy smoke from Muriel’s cigarette was still stinging his nose with painful claws.

 

The Beta had looked, this morning, like he was more the brawny than the brainy type, but his dark-brown eyes suddenly seemed to notice something.  He glanced from Marcus’s tight, pained expression to the smelly wisp of smoke that he probably had been ignoring up until now.  Marcus couldn’t.  The Beta stepped forward the two easy steps necessary to put it out with a twist of his booted heel.  It was a gesture so unexpectedly sympathetic and kind that Marcus couldn’t think of anything to do other than blink.  The Beta didn’t get any closer, either, instead putting his hands almost nervously in his pockets and belatedly answering, “’Name’s Kobi.  And yeah, you’re on break.  I think Liz is talking to your boss.”

 

“Nope, done talking to him,” the redheaded Beta suddenly appeared around the side of the building, too, and Marcus fought the renewed impulse to flee.  The woman immediately stopped, still behind Kobi, and raised her hands. “Easy there, Marcus. Seriously, I just asked your boss where you were, and he said this was your lunch-break, so we should look for your somewhere outside of the building.”

 

Marcus hadn’t actually realized that, amidst all of his dodging and hiding, he’d survived until the noon hour where he got some time to grab food.  He was pretty sure that he was too nervous to eat, though, and eyed Liz and Kobi warily. In no way was he surprised when both of them made an abortive movement towards him as soon as he shifted a foot in the direction of the door back inside.  In fact, it was all so predictable that he laughed a little, a humorless and broken cough of noise that sounded more bitter than anything else. “Fine then.  You’ve got about twenty minutes with the pack-less Omega,” he bit out, crossing his arms and flexing the intuitive ability at his core that would let him shift shapes. He still didn’t like his odds if he added teeth to the occasion, but he knew that he was pretty fast if it came to running on all fours.  As rattled as he still was by Muriel’s advances, however, he wasn’t sure if he couldn’t control the shift very well – that meant tearing clothing and an embarrassing return to nudity later. Controlled shape-shifting could include a Wolf’s clothes in the shift, morphing whatever they mentally considered a part of themselves. In optimal conditions, Marcus could change to a wolf and back, and his shirt and pants would go from fabric to fur to fabric again without a hitch.  Today wasn’t optimal by a long-shot.  “Are you going to lecture me some more about how you’re not going to hurt me, or at we just going to skip all the crap and get to the part where you teach me a lesson,” he finished in a brittle tone, full of harsh anger like rusted knives. “Or whatever you want to call it.”

 

The redheaded woman just blinked at him, as stunned as if he’d walked right up, stood on her toes, and slapped her. The other one, Kobi – who smelled too much like Liz to be anything but her boyfriend or lover – looked equally startled, but Marcus just watched his hands, tracking them as he slipped them out of his pockets.  Marcus had learned a lot of self-defense and a lot of paranoia by necessity over the past four years, and one thing he’d learned was that empty, free hands were dangerous hands.

 

“God, you still think that that’s what we’re going to do to you?” Liz said suddenly in such a broken voice that Marcus’s distrustful blue eyes snapped up to her.  He was startled by the open, hurt shock he saw on her face, and for a moment he felt off-balance.

 

Kobi recovered first. He put a hand on his girlfriend’s shoulder but talked to Marcus, saying in a steady voice that seemed to come naturally to him, like stability came naturally to the earth. “There’s a coffee-shop just around the corner.  Come with us. We’ll buy you coffee. No tricks.”

 

The tone itself was mollifying, but Marcus suddenly felt the sting of a light command, and it made him physically wince and lose his balance.  “Shit!” he swore involuntarily as the command literally dragged one of his feet forward. It had felt, for a second, as if he had a fish-hook stuck between his ribs while Kobi pulled on it. The command hadn’t even been that strong, but it reignited the raw, naked fear that had been filling Marcus for days. He started to lift his hands to cover his ears like a beaten spouse learns to cover his or her head against blows.

 

“Sorry!  Sorry,” Kobi said before he could complete the action of muffling his ears.  “That was accidental.” Broad face transforming into something truly apologetic, Kobi continued, “I didn’t mean to do it, I swear. We…Liz and I…any of us…we’re not used to having to watch ourselves this much.  What I meant was…would you like to sit with us and have coffee?” He sounded so imploring, and Liz was nodding her red head, too.  “Our treat. Public place, so it’s safe, and your coworker won’t be hassling you either.”

 

The growl in Kobi’s voice as he mentioned Muriel was almost shocking to Marcus, who realized that he hadn’t been defended in awhile.  It put him off-balance almost as much as the sudden scent of Liz’s regret and Kobi’s petrichor-scented sincerity.

 

Marcus looked at his watch. If he didn’t eat now, he’d have to wait until after work, and he was already starving. His lack of options tightened around him like chains, every second taking up the slack, as if the world didn’t already realize that he was immobilized.

 

He wanted to just close his eyes and pretend that none of this was happening to him…but he’d been hoping that ever since he’d heard the news that his entire pack had been murdered, and he hadn’t gotten his wish yet.

 

Feeling dead, defeated, hurting, and so, so tired, Marcus let his posture radiate submissiveness and he murmured, “I suppose I don’t have a choice anyway.”  He was already walking in the direction Liz and Kobi wanted him to go.

 

~^~

 

Marcus had a headache that precluded thinking, but the chai he’d ordered at least had a scent that was soothing his nose.  The cigarette smell had already started to fade back in the alley, but it felt as if someone had put hot lead in his sinuses, and with the two main threats to him presently sitting across from him, he hardly needed his sense of smell free. So he sat at the outdoor table beneath the tastefully green umbrella and hung his head over his tea, letting the smell and steam invade his head.

 

Liz and Kobi were looking distinctly uncomfortable sitting across from him.  They’d all ordered food, and as promised, it had been Liz who’d footed the bill.  That didn’t particularly surprise Marcus, as he had no doubt that these two were good people – but good people and good Werewolves were two different things, and the latter had a way of subverting the former when Marcus was involved. He’d eaten his strawberry scone mechanically while waiting for the other shoe to fall. He flinched when someone walked by on his peripheral vision who looked like Muriel.

 

“Are you friends with the girl who was bothering you?” Kobi asked suddenly, as if reading his mind. He had eaten half a scone himself, but had left half on his napkin, and Liz was picking at it. None of them seemed to have much of an appetite, though, and to be fair, this part of town didn’t exactly breed good coffee-shops – the scones were mediocre-tasting at best. Marcus had just gotten used to them.

 

Casting Kobi a cautious look, Marcus thought a moment before replying, “Why do you want to know?”

 

“Because she looked like she was five seconds away from sexual assault, that’s why,” the Beta went on in that same, mountain-level voice of his.  It would have been annoying, if it weren’t so calming – Marcus had to admit that he felt a little bit less threatened when he was faced with such a levelheaded conversationalist.  It felt less like Kobi was suddenly going to say, ‘Just kidding!’ and attack him. He was so unused to dealing with members of his own kind that didn’t want to hurt him, that this was a bit surreal, and Marcus honestly wasn’t sure how to deal with it in a non-defensive manner.

 

“Sexual assault?!” Liz’s sharp voice had both men turning. She hadn’t arrived until after this, Marcus remembered, and felt his face flushing with shame at how he’d handled the altercation with Muriel…or, rather, how he hadn’t handled it at all. Like now, he’d been in a state of mind where all he could think to do was shut down and let things happen to him. Anything else was exhausting, and he didn’t have any extra energy to spare.  Ducking his head, he sipped at his chai, letting Kobi deal with this.

 

“When I found Marcus, there was a woman obviously taking liberties,” Kobi explained with unexpected brevity, apparently a bit intimidated by Liz’s demanding looks his way, “She had him pushed up against the wall.”

 

The memory, even stated in such a detached fashion, had Marcus shivering.  He resisted the urge to rub at the shoulder where Muriel had first put her hand, before proceeding to stroke it with a heavy, possessive touch. Before now, Muriel had always been a bit on the pushy, flirtatious side, enough so that Marcus had always avoided being in enclosed, private locations with her, but this was the first time she’d crossed the line from mildly inappropriate to accosting him. On any other day, he might have been able to deal with it, too, but now…

 

Marcus felt another bit of his internal support structure buckle, suddenly understanding what it felt like to be a rocky shore – waves beating against it until bits of itself started sliding into the sea.  He’d stopped tasting his chai awhile go, and right about then, he couldn’t care less. About anything. “Fuck you,” he growled, startling Kobi and Liz both, but by then he’d crossed his arms on the table and dropped his head onto them. His limbs blocked out the light, and he imagined that it equated to the world.

 

Except his cup of chai, which was sitting too close to his elbow, and starting to burn a bit. He jittered to one side when he felt fingertips brush his arm, but it was just someone… Who was he kidding? It was one of the Betas sharing a table with him, moving the cup away. Marcus curled his arms around his head tighter and forced himself to ignore the sick feeling of helplessness that was crawling up his throat and stinging the corners of his eyes.

 

“Marcus…”

 

It was the girl, Liz. Marcus was feeling defensive again, but not daring enough to lift his head. “If you give me one single order, I’ll shift and make such a mess of both of you that you’ll regret it for weeks,” he threatened with a fierceness only found in cornered creatures. It was a kind of courage that tasted like acid and burned as it went down.  Unfortunately, the threat was also entirely empty, because there was no way Marcus could best these two in a fight.  “I don’t care if we’re in public or not.”

 

“Geez, Marcus, no – I wasn’t going to order you!” Liz did a good job of keeping her voice down, so probably no one was noticing them.  Marcus almost wished someone would, because the last place he wanted to be was at a table with two people so dangerous to him.  Liz’s softening voice surprised him, “I just wanted to ask you if that girl bothered you often, and if your boss knows.  I wanted to help.”

 

Something twisted in Marcus’s chest, painful and sharp.  He’d been surprised again: Kobi was being nice…and Liz was being nice. Despite the fact that he’d had an altercation with their Alpha, and had threatened and insulted them at literally every opportunity.  He should have meant nothing to them – less than nothing.  Marcus was under no illusions that he was the least bit likable at this moment, because he was doing everything he could to ward them off. Snark and nastiness were literally the only weapons he had, unless he wanted things to get bloody. Which he didn’t. The idea made his mouth dry, and he swallowed, but forced himself to lift his head and act civil.

 

If Kobi and Liz weren’t there to hurt him, then he should stop being an idiot before he convinced them to hurt him. His headache was muddling his thoughts more than he’d realized.

 

Looking down and away, posture tense but now erect, Marcus thought very carefully about what he wanted to say. He was aware of both Betas watching him, and finally started with, “Sorry. Sorry, I’m…” Something like the truth sounded like a good bet, so he went on in a voice pitched this time to be non-confrontational, “If you just want to talk, then we can just talk.”

 

“Like civil people?” asked Kobi.

 

The words hit Marcus like a barb, but this time, he pushed down his reaction, although he suspected that his shoulders twitched as if in a flinch.  Still lookingoff in the direction of the overflowing trashcan on the ground to his right, he made himself nod.  Getting angry was the easiest route, but even with his head packed with steel wool (painful and dense-feeling), Marcus thought that he could try and think his way through a peaceful conversation.  He hoped. It took effort to effectively sharpen his thoughts, when what he really wanted (needed) was to take some painkillers and curl up in bed.  “Yeah, like civil people.”

 

After that, the conversation was just that: civil.  It was awkward and halting at first, but Liz was determined and Kobi was honestly about as unflappable as a guy could get. The former refused to let the talking falter, and the latter went along with her, the two of them managing to almost make the chatter feel natural.  In all truthfulness, Marcus appreciated the effort, because as nervous as they made him, it was the only real conversation he’d had in months that hadn’t involved coworkers or customer service.  In fact, it felt…

 

“Marcus?” Liz had been talking to him about what it was like to live in this part of town, and how long he’d lived here, when the man with the dark-brown hair had suddenly frozen in place. The two Betas blinked at him.

 

Quickly, Marcus recovered himself, barely noticing that in the time he’d been sharing a table and slowly relaxing by increments with the other Wolves, his headache had been receding and his senses had begun to settle to normal levels.  He pushed himself to his feet.  “Sorry, I’ve got to get back to work,” he murmured, excusing himself and more or less fleeing to his workplace.

 

The reason he’d left so swiftly was because he’d suddenly realized that this was what talking with pack-mates felt like, and he hadn’t felt like that in four years, and he didn’t want to torture himself with the feeling now.  He was painfully happy that Liz and Kobi didn’t follow him this time, although a battered part of him suspected that this wasn’t the last time that they’d see him, or find him, or take him someplace quiet to eat and treat him as if they really did think he was family.

 

~^~

Chapter Text

Declan was feeling something akin to relief as he sat and talked with Liz and Kobi, and Liz and Kobi (mostly Liz, because Kobi was the taciturn type) talked about Marcus Rushton. They’d been seeing the lone Omega on a regular basis now, usually over his lunch-break, although apparently he’d accepted their company while walking to work in the morning, too. Kobi was a damnably early riser, and while Liz most certainly wasn’t, the two of them seemed happy to get up early just to troop over to Rushton’s rundown little place and then go with him to work from there. Of course, Liz was usually too sleepy to recall most of the morning conversations, but on those occasions, Kobi made up for his girlfriend’s quiescence a bit. Declan himself was an early bird, and had long-since gotten used to the friendly, easy way that Kobi talked over a cup of coffee in the morning – he always used words conservatively, but in the hush of the starting day, he talked a bit more. It was as if fate had granted him more words in the morning or something.


“Hey, Kobi actually got him to laugh!” Liz piped up suddenly, as the three lounged in the living room gossiping about Rushton.


Kobi’s face didn’t move, but his voice sounded just a bit rueful as he nudged Liz with a foot. “I think that you got him to laugh. At my expense.”


Sitting on the other side of the couch from Kobi, Liz gave him back his foot-nudge – with interest, but also with a mischievous smile. “I was just telling a story! It’s not my fault that you featured in it.” Her grin turned wicked. “Hilariously.”

“Rushton actually smiled?” Declan was still caught on that. After their first disastrous encounter, he’d managed to successfully avoid the Omega, although the effort of it some days left him fidgety and growly. He’d started to get used to the butter-sugar scent of him on Liz and Kobi, but only just, and the extra, bitter edge to the smell always made his hackles rise up. By now, he was sure that he could tell Rushton apart from a whole sea of Werewolves, just by scent.


Warming to her subject, Liz turned to her Alpha and said a bit wryly, “Yeah – who knew he could, right? It was just this tiny smile, one of those crooked smiles that just move one side of your mouth.” She mimicked, just half of her even teeth flashing faintly on one side, the caricature making Kobi and Declan both snort. Liz added with obvious amusement, “And his nose does this thing where it gets a wrinkle, right in the center. It’s like he’s still on the fence about the whole showing-positive-emotions thing.”

As his girlfriend chuckled, Kobi added with a shrug, “It was only there for a second. Then he went back to just sitting and watching us.”

“We’re still trying to figure out what he likes to talk about,” Liz added.

Declan had to admit, he secretly enjoyed how eagerly Liz and Kobi had accepted their impromptu mission to shadow Rushton around. As Betas, they seemed largely unaffected by whatever kept setting Declan off, so long as he didn’t let any of his own instinctive temper show to them. Being told about Rushton without actually having to stand there next to him was…a relief. It allowed Declan to assess the situation without any distractions besides the faded scent of Rushton already mixing with the coconut-citrus smell of Liz, and the loam-and-fudge smell that he’d come to associate long ago with Kobi.

From what he’d heard, Rushton was more interesting than he’d expected – although what exactly he’d been expecting, Declan wasn’t entirely sure. Clarissa had been quite clear on her dislike for Rushton, supporting Declan’s defensive instincts, and the only personal memory Declan had of the younger man was biased to say the least, and unpleasant. Liz and Kobi, though, were now regularly coming home with stories about Rushton-this, Rushton-that, and it felt like Declan was getting to know him from a distance. He was amused by the puffed-kitten behavior the Omega exhibited (‘puffed-kitten’ being Liz’s choice of words, although it was sometimes said with unease), and intrigued by the careful way he seemed to live his life.

There was still one question, however.

Clarissa stepped into the room, asking it as if reading his mind, “So, has he told you yet why he is without a pack?”

Both Liz and Kobi lost their playful looks and began to frown. “No,” Liz was the one to admit slowly, grudgingly, sitting back, “We started to ask once, but he cut us off pretty quickly.”

“It was obvious he didn’t want to talk about it,” Kobi added, sensibly.

As ever, Rob was never far away, and called from the kitchen, “And you didn’t press him because you were afraid that he’d threaten to shoot you again?”

“Rob, that’s enough,” Declan called, infusing just enough command into his voice that it shivered in the air – a light, verbal shove towards obedience. He had to tamp down on his own instincts rising up, bubbling like a subsonic growl in his throat at the mention of the threat. Rushton hadn’t done anything since then to threaten Declan’s pack, so logically, it was okay to calm down. Logically. Instinctively, Declan felt himself yearning to remove the threat again, as if Rushton were some insidious entity gnawing away already at the defenses of his family.

Usually, Clarissa was helpful at tense moments like this, but at the moment, she didn’t appear to be using the innate soothing ability of her kind. She was watching the whole exchange with sharp eyes. “You really should ask him. There’s a very high likelihood that you won’t like the answer.”

Declan stayed pointedly silent, not wanting his own inexplicable animosity to color the atmosphere, so it was Liz who quirked a bewildered brow and demanded “What do you mean?”

“I mean that good packs value their Omegas, and good Omegas will do anything – anything,” she stressed, her eyes intense, “not to lose their packs. So if you connect the dots between Rushton’s rash temper, his unwillingness to talk, the fact that he doesn’t even seem to have any family backing him up…” Clarissa shook her head, and fixed Declan with a knowledgeable look while he kept his expression blank. “My bet is that he did something unforgiveable and was kicked out of his pack. If that happens, even family won’t touch a Wolf.”

That caused a general hubbub of sound in return – loudest from Liz, who looked disturbed and almost angry by this – but now Clarissa chose to use her abilities as an Omega, and Declan felt a calming wave shift through the air like a subtle shift in pressure. He felt tension leave his shoulders, felt his heartbeat slow, and soon the room was quiet again. Clarissa went on in a tone that said this should be obvious, “Omegas almost always must leave their family pack before the age of twenty, but that doesn’t mean they cut ties with their family! But have any of us heard of seen any signs of Rushton’s family? No.”

Since Liz and Kobi were the resident authorities on all things Rushton at the moment, Declan looked over at them, but they were pensive and quiet. They had no argument against this. Apparently, they hadn’t even noticed evidence of Rushton calling or thinking about his parents or possible siblings.

Clarissa shook her head in a pitying motion. “If an Omega somehow loses their pack, it’s the family’s job to try and find them a new one as soon as possible.”
Coming out of the kitchen to lean against the wall, Rob picked up Clarissa’s line of thinking very quickly, “So your question is: why isn’t this kid’s family involved?”

There was silence following that. Clarissa didn’t even deign to nod, because she knew that Rob had just summed up her point for her. Even with that faint layer of calm still in the air – a gentle, ethereal hand pressing down on his shoulders – Declan felt himself growing restless. Why, indeed…?

“Maybe he hasn’t been without a pack very long,” Liz spoke up, arguing, “His family might have just started helping him out, but hasn’t made any headway yet.”

Clarissa shook her head. “Oh no, that Omega boy has been on his own a good long time. You said that strong smells seemed to hurt him?” When both Liz and Kobi nodded cautiously, Clarissa’s matronly face turned seemingly regretful. “Then I’m afraid, dear, that that is a sign of an Omega who’s been abandoned for quite some time. You see, Omegas like myself start to… How shall I put it?” She tapped her fingertips against her lower lip, crossing one leg over the other as she perched on her seat. “We break down. Technically, any Wolf on his or her own starts to get unstable, but it happens faster for Omegas. We’re weaker that way.”

Remembering what he’d heard about Rushton’s flash-fire temper, and his idiotic willingness to stand up even to three Betas on his doorstep, Declan had a hard time believing that Rushton was weak. Then again, if Declan also recalled the slim, cowering young man that had been stopped by an Alpha’s voice alone, and who had shaken and pleaded, that cast a different light on things. Ultimately, Declan didn’t know what to think, and the only authority on Omegas was his aunt, who seemed to dislike Rushton almost as much as Declan inordinately did.

“The biggest sign of this is the way a Wolf’s senses start getting turned on more and more strongly, with no way to turn them back down again,” continued Clarissa, “If this Rushton fellow is so obviously affected by scents, then he’s honestly too far gone to even fix.”

Liz, unexpectedly, bristled. Even Clarissa’s soothing aura was ineffectual to quell the sudden spice of anger that tinted the air from the redheaded woman.

“What are you talking about?” she demanded in a very soft voice.

“I mean,” went on Clarissa, with a lamenting sigh, standing up to show that she was just about done talking about this, “that even if you were to miraculously find this boy a pack out of the goodness of your heart, it wouldn’t do any good. He’s a stripped wire – a naked nerve ending – right now. His senses are so clearly out of whack that it’s no doubt permanent. I doubt it will kill him, but it probably won’t help his temperament or general sanity.”

Even Kobi looked startled, and Liz looked downright horrified. Declan felt a hard jolt of sadness at the sight of her, and sympathetic pain blossomed in his chest as he saw her face contort – regardless of Declan’s reflexes towards Rushton, Liz had clearly become friends with him. She’d become attached to the feisty little Wolf, and Clarissa’s news had hit Liz like a knife to the chest. Without thinking (sometimes his instincts were quite useful things, when Rushton wasn’t part of the equation), Declan got up and moved to the couch, sitting on the other side of Liz from Kobi. He slung an arm across her shoulders and squeezed her to his side, watching as Liz’s boyfriend mimicked the gesture on her other side. Kobi seemed a bit in shock, too, and not-so-subtly let his hand press against the back of Declan’s ribcage as both men bracketed Liz with their arms circling her. Alphas were designed to protect their packs, but a large part of that included offering a shield against intangible threats, like those that clawed at emotions. Liz leaned back into both the Beta at her right and the Alpha at her left, and Kobi’s hand pressed warm and slightly desperate against Declan’s shirt.

“I’m sorry,” Clarissa said, brown eyes softening a bit even as she extended her aura in a slow ripple – a mother wolf’s tongue soothing a wound, “That wasn’t good news, but it’s the truth. Even if I didn’t strongly suspect that Rushton is trouble, there’s really nothing to be done for him.”

Because he hated to see Liz and Kobi hurting, Declan extended his senses, searching for a lie in Clarissa’s words. It didn’t sit well with him that one of his pack-members would lie to him, but it happened, from time to time. Not all Wolves could sense lies, because there was more to it than mere scent and listening to heartbeats – lies were not that simple. When one formally became part of a pack, however, the connection they gained also allowed their Alpha to pick up on falsehoods. It was a sort of sixth-sense that was hard to describe. Now, Declan prodded with that innate skill, but ended up sighing as he found nothing. One way or another, Clarissa believed what she was saying, so even if it was false, Declan had no way of knowing or proving it.

“I’d cut ties before anyone gets more attached,” Clarissa suggested, her words directed at Declan, as if this were solely under his jurisdiction. She added more enigmatically, “Considering this boy’s threatening personality, I’d listen to your instincts, Declan.” And with that, she turned and left the room, moving past Rob, who had his expression shuttered and his arms crossed over his chest like a bulwark.

Even Rob seemed to be thinking deeply on all of this, and wasn’t liking any of it. “So what’s the plan, boss?” he finally asked, flicking dark-green eyes Declan’s way.

Aware of Liz and Kobi turning to him, too, Declan resisted the urge to shift uneasily. He had mixed emotions about all of this, and the more Clarissa had talked (and the more reasons she’d given for why Rushton was a potential threat to the stability of his pack) the more he felt something vicious and predatory crawl through his veins. A brief growl bubbled in his throat before he cut it off. Despite the threatening noise, he tamped down on his impulsive reaction and once again strove for temperance, “I’ll think about it.”

“Do you still want us to keep an eye on him?” Kobi asked, over Liz’s head. The brown-haired man looked like his usual calm self again, but his fingertips were still touching the side of Declan’s chest where no one could see, like he was drawing stability out of his Alpha now that Clarissa’s calm had left the room.

“If you want to,” Declan nodded, and felt Liz relax where she was still tucked against him. He wanted to growl at her for getting so transparently attached to the enemy, but until he had solid facts to prove that Rushton was an enemy, he’d keep that to himself. Declan still felt bad for hitting the Omega without any reason other than a surge of unexpected temper. “See if you can get him to talk about his family, or why he’s on his own. I want to know more than ever now.”

“You just want to keep talking to him?” Rob asked, clearly bewildered. His posture tensed in a faintly more confrontational fashion. “Didn’t you hear a word Clarissa said? For all we know, he could be a psychopath, kicked out of his pack for threatening people with a shotgun like he did us!”

“I know that, Rob,” Declan tried to contain his temper even as it bubbled like a physical heat up his throat. He got up from the couch, every movement showing the muscles in his frame, the power in his movements. Both Rob and Kobi were big, athletic guys, but Declan was still slightly broader across the shoulders, and he carried himself somehow differently…there was something more about him. Betas were tough like granite, but Alphas were strong like mountains, a kind of immovable might that could either shelter those beneath them, or crush them. Rob shifted uneasily, finally ducking his black-haired head after a moment, watching his feet.

“I already told you that I’m not going to hunt down and hurt someone who hasn’t done anything to me,” Declan finished, “So all that leaves for us to do is keep an eye on Rushton.” With that, Declan left the room as well, to grab his laptop. Maybe there was a chance that Clarissa was wrong about Rushton being ‘un-fixable,’ and it would just take some internet searching to find factual data. The urge to set Liz and Kobi at ease gnawed away at Declan’s chest and gave him a distraction from the more territorial instincts jabbering away in his skull.

He could sense Rob’s frustration and anger behind him, but didn’t turn to catch his eye.

 

~^~

 

It had been a long time since Marcus had thought this, but life was starting to give him a bit of sunshine for once.

He’d been careful, suppressing any knee-jerk reactions of snark and replacing them with the best manners he could manage. The two Betas, Liz and Kobi, were impossible to avoid, so he did his best to stay on their good side. This mostly meant keeping his eyes down and his posture as submissive and possible, and scrupulously going over his words before he said them. He only slipped occasionally, hackling and feeling sharp words snap out of his mouth – but, in his defense, those times were always in conjunction with one of the Betas accidentally pushing him around with a command. After almost a week, he was getting good at hiding it when that happened, although he apparently still froze and hissed in a sharp breath whenever a stray command caught him like a fist around his spinal cord. Liz and Kobi always apologized. It was nice. Despite his assurances that they’d come to hate him before long, that hadn’t happened, and Marcus was grateful. Even the crummy little coffee-shop next to his work-place had started to gain a positive connotation after regular breaks there with Liz and Kobi sitting across from him.

At first, he’d called them purely ‘he’ and ‘she’ or ‘the Betas’ in his head, recognizing the strict line that he didn’t want to cross – because these two were not his pack, not his family. They were undoubtedly interested in being friendly to him, but with Werewolves, connections outside of the pack were lukewarm things compared to the warm link to a fellow pack-member. Marcus would forever be on the outside, communicating with the two Betas through cold glass. But their company was nice, and rare, and he liked the faint feeling of company and inclusiveness that always wrapped around him like the lightest of blankets. It pushed the harshness of the world away, and made him want to wrap it around himself tighter. At some point, he’d started thinking of them by their first names, and watching them instead of his chai as they conversed.

What finally made him decide to drop his plan to flee the city was the fact that Declan Fen hadn’t made a single appearance.

Muriel had ceased to bother him after the altercation with Kobi in the alleyway, although she’d shot him snotty glances from a distance all day today. Still, it was with something resembling a spring in his step that Marcus made his way to the coffee-shop during his lunch-break. He could already smell Liz and Kobi, but that didn’t mean anything – if the wind turned, he’d be smelling the garbage dump a mile away. His other senses were likewise getting keen to the point of ridiculousness, although it flickered on and off like a bad bulb. Just in case, Marcus had taken to carrying earplugs with him, although the best answer he’d found so far for his unpredictable sense of smell was a good cup of tea under his nose. Sitting at their usual table, he did just that, ordering ahead of time because he knew that the two Betas were coming.

He felt…relaxed. If it wasn’t contentment, it was damn close, and he wanted to grab the feeling in his fists and never let go.

Holding onto happiness was like holding onto a bird, however: grip too tight, and you’ll kill it. That saying would be echoing in Marcus’s head before the day was out.

Marcus was filling his nose with steam and cinnamon and the warm, curling smell of honeyed vanilla when Liz and Kobi approached his table with familiar strides. An unexpected urge to smile twitched the corner of his mouth as he looked up at them, but the rare expression died as he saw their faces. Instinctively, Marcus went on alert, hands tensing around his mug until his palms were pressed flush to the container. Heat seeped through the thin cup.


Both Liz and Kobi were clearly worried, the look all over their faces with no real effort being put into hiding it. Marcus didn’t like the way they were looking at him, with intense but cautious glances that resembled their first encounters more than the tentative camaraderie that had been forming. Reflexively, Marcus made a grab for the innate calming ability that came with being an Omega, but it slipped through his fingers like a skittish eel. He was too unsettled himself to sooth anyone else, and that realization left him feeling cold and vulnerable.

“What?” he wanted to demand, but bit the inside of his cheek instead. Silence and caution, he reminded himself, were the better parts of valor. So instead of greeting them or even giving his customary nod, he sat in utter stillness and quiet, eyes moving from Beta to Beta.

Both members of Fen’s pack sat down in their customary seats, doing a bit better job of acting normal, but still not really managing to hide it. Liz looked a bit guiltily at the way Marcus was clutching his drink and sitting stiffly, but offered with weak friendliness, “Hey, Marcus! Work was good, I take it?”

You don’t even care right now,’ he judged in his head, and clenched his jaw for a second. He suddenly hated formalities, lying like a thin veneer over what (in his experience) was often an ugly truth. After all, both Kobi and Liz knew that Marcus had a crummy job, so it was never truly ‘good.’ “What is it?” he finally couldn’t help himself from asking, but at least his tone was adequately level to hide his mounting wariness.

The Betas exchanged looks, but thankfully decided not to skirt the point anymore. “We have some questions for you, Marcus,” Kobi finally took up the narrative, looking apologetic, of all things. It made Marcus tense more. By now, he could feel the heat of his chai starting to brand the insides of his hands, but he couldn’t let it go.

“What kinds of questions?”

“Marcus…” Liz looked down, then back up at him, determined to meet the Omega eye-to-eye when speaking. “We… Can we ask you about your pack? And why you’re on your own now? I know we asked before, and you said you didn’t want to talk about it-”

“Because I don’t,” Marcus interrupted, feeling more and more cornered by the second, even though he was in the open air with witnesses all around him.

“I know, I know, but we’ve got to ask. Declan wants to know about your pack,” Liz finished gently and reached forward a hand as if to touch his knuckles.

The compassionate gesture combined with Declan’s name broke the last brittle threads of Marcus’s calm, and he stood up sharply. If his chair hadn’t been bolted to the concrete to prevent thievery, he would have tipped it over, but instead he spilled his tea all over the tabletop. Kobi had fast reflexes, and caught Liz’s hand to pull it back out of the way, but Marcus felt scalding droplets land over the back of his hands and left wrist. He hissed at the pain, and felt people staring at him. ‘Keep it together, keep it together…’ he repeated frantically in his head, fisting his hurting hands and holding back the whine that wanted to crawl up his throat. He wasn’t sure what was triggering the pained whimper: the agony of the hot liquid, or the agony of knowing that he’d just ruined whatever had been between himself and Declan’s two Betas.

Declan’s Betas. Declan’s pack. Not Marcus’s. None of this belonged to him – not the companionship, not the conversations over coffee and tea, not the way Kobi and Liz smiled at him as if he were a friend. Something rent itself in half behind Marcus’s sternum.

“Marcus…!” Liz’s eyes were huge, pale-green in the sunlight, like twin peridot. Her hands were unharmed, but had curled up against her breast once Kobi had let go.

The Omega cut her off, struggling not to make the situation worse even as he began to feel a ringing in his ears – a sign that that sense was beginning to go haywire again. ‘Not now…!’ “No. No, I’m not talking about that.” He had to get out of here: not only had he discovered his habit of getting waspish when under threat, but he was pretty sure that he was about to have a bad episode. ‘Episodes’ were what he was starting to call the occasions when one of his five senses decided to crank itself up to top sensitivity, as if this were some sort of mental disorder.

“I’ve got to get back to work,” he dismissed himself quickly, embarrassed that he was almost sprinting to leave the coffee-shop while everyone on the patio stared at him like a freak. Five minutes later he was in the back room in the middle of the most boring inventory in history, earplugs jammed in his ears until the time came when he didn’t feel like destroying his eardrums with an icepick.

He ended up stopping before long, and just leaned his body disconsolately against the shelves. Everything was going wrong, if not all around him then inside of him. Once again, he began doing sums in his head, calculating how much he’d make on his next paycheck – due tomorrow, unless his boss conveniently pushed it back a day – and thinking about what he’d have left over after paying off his bills and his rent and escaping out of town. That was still an option, after all, and possibly the safest one after his abrupt dismissal of the two Betas just now.

The fact that he’d switched back to calling them by their titles registered like a punch to the gut, but it also got Marcus to go back to work, if only for the distraction.

 

~^~

Chapter Text

Most people saw Rob Karly and saw the physique.  With his broad shoulders, Werewolf-strong build, and striking black hair over pale features, he was easy on the eyes, and usually thought of to be little more. No one really looked at Rob and thought ‘brains,’ and to an extent, they were perhaps right - but that was not to say that he didn’t possess some cunning when he put his mind to it.

Therefore, when he saw Declan going soft on this rogue Omega matter, Rob put two and two together and realized that he’d have to do something, or no one would.  It took him barely seconds to come up with the most efficient, simple plan, and no one even noticed him leave the house.

Marcus had left work early, mostly because he was so out of sorts that he had started messing things up and hadn’t wanted to get himself fired for breaking something. The conversation with Liz and Kobi from earlier that day was still ringing in his ears, making him shake and bringing up old pain and fear to the back of his throat.  Thank goodness Muriel hadn’t worked today, because she would have noticed how close he was to tears, and there was no way that would have ended well.  Muriel had mostly left him alone since that run-in with Kobi, but she still eyed Marcus a lot as if looking for chinks in a piece of chain-mail, the better to run a spear through.  Feeling like he had more chinks than armor right now, Marcus padded home on autopilot, keeping just enough wherewithal to scent the air steadily. The rough smell of heated tar mixed with dust and the oppressive, amalgamated smell of humanity, but it wasn’t until he was almost at his doorstep that he smelled Werewolf.

Freezing in his tracks, Marcus’s head came up, and the cloud of dark feelings that he had been choking him transformed quickly into cinder-hot unease.  Why was he smelling one of Declan’s pack so close to his house? It wasn’t Liz or Kobi – Marcus knew their scents very well by now – and it wasn’t Declan either, but it was still familiar.  Quickly, Marcus went through his memory until he recalled that first meeting with the Fen-pack’s Betas, centering in on the black-haired young man with the sharp, dark-green eyes.  Marcus shifted his feet and prepared to run, even as his senses told him that the scent wasn’t fresh. The third Beta had come and was already gone.

Then why was the scent so thick?

Starting to feel trepidation buzz in his limbs, Marcus forced himself into motion again, hurrying to his front door and nearly coughing at the strong scent of a Beta all over the door-handle. His sense of smell was acting up again. And the lock was busted, forced by Werewolf strength in the absence of a key.  Growing increasingly panicked by the moment, even as understanding began to dawn like a sickly glow in his mind, Marcus rushed inside of his home.

To find it in a state of utter ruin.

Things hadn’t been merely tossed about and moved – they had been shredded, shattered, broken into pieces. Entire pieces of furniture were gouged and torn, and long claw-marks bifurcated the wall-paper as if some massive cat had used it as a scratching post.  Unlike normal wolves, Werewolves actually possessed claws that could do some damage, and one of Declan’s Betas had done just that to every inch of what had once been a safe place for Marcus.

He couldn’t breathe. He couldn’t move, he couldn’t react, he couldn’t think.  The world was falling in on him, and all Marcus could do was sink down against the doorframe, legs folding up without resistance.  It felt like there was a ton of bricks on his chest, and all he could get past them, even as tears tricked down his face, was a desperate sort of whine that dragged itself thinly past his throat. 

They know,’ he thought to himself, mind flashing to his memory of Liz today, asking him about his pack.  About why he was alone.  ‘They have to know, and this is what they’re doing about it.’ 

Somehow, Marcus pulled himself to his feet, iron bands of fright still tight around his chest, making his breaths tight and stilted.  The shock of everything had somehow knocked his senses back in order, so he was able to consciously dull his sense of smell just enough so that he wasn’t overwhelmed by the smell of the Beta.  Closing his eyes tight, shuddering with the effort not to break down again, Marcus silently considered that it was at least good that Liz or Kobi hadn’t done this. He wanted his memories of them to be good, not tangled up forever in this picture of desecration and violation of his home.  Ever since the loss of his pack, Marcus had had precious little to call his own, but he’d carved out a space for himself here.

And now it seemed like it had been carved right back out again with vicious teeth and claws.

Starting stiffly but getting quicker as his mind focused on the task, the Omega moved into his room, already prepared to find it just as trashed as the rest of the place. He steeled himself against it, and made a beeline for one of the floorboards – it was a clichéd old trick, but apparently Declan’s Beta hadn’t thought of it.  Prying the floorboard up, Marcus found some money and a few other important things he’d stashed, bare remnants of what his life had been when he’d woken up this morning.

Tears spilled down his face again as he stood, holding everything he owned in his own two hands.

This morning had started out so bright.  But the past just couldn’t be avoided, it seemed. 

Managing to find a few other things in the wreckage worth saving, including a pathetic plastic bag to put them all in, Marcus packed up to leave.  A lot of people were going to be angry about the apartment, but he just honestly couldn’t care right now – and there was nothing he could do anyway. His meager savings that he’d just recovered from under the floorboard weren’t enough to repay the damages even if he had wanted to, and right now, all he wanted was to leave.  This was a warning, painted as brightly as a neon sign, and Marcus knew with certainty what he was supposed to get out of it: ‘You have nothing here, and next time, it’s you we’ll wreck.’  Marcus didn’t need to be told twice. 

With dusk starting to fall, Marcus pulled on his light jacket (ripped on the inner lining, but not beyond repair), hefted his bag over his shoulder, and started towards the bus station at a swift trot. 

Carefully downwind, so that even Marcus’s raw senses couldn’t pick it up over the smell of yesterday’s trash and his neighbor’s drinking habit, eyes watched him. But they weren’t Rob’s eyes.

~^~

Declan had been researching pack-less Omegas for what felt like decades, but he’d actually found an article or two that didn’t sound like complete hogwash or blatant propaganda. He couldn’t stare at the screen any longer without his eyes burning up in their sockets, however, so he left his room to find Rob lounging on the couch watching M.A.S.H reruns. Kobi and Liz were there, too, but instead of watching, they’d taken up the space of the other couch instead – Liz mostly on Kobi’s lap, both of them looking decidedly troubled. Even if their body-language didn’t speak of distress, Declan could smell it now that he wasn’t holed up in his room. “What is it?” he demanded, striding in.

It was Rob who answered sardonically, not turning from the television, “Turns out your plan to just ask the Omega kid questions did a fuck-ton of good.  He wouldn’t tell them a thing about his pack.”  He jerked a thumb towards Liz and Kobi, who glared a bit but didn’t counter him. Declan, brows lowering, waited for further explanation while trying not to bristle at the mere mention of Marcus Rushton.  It was illogical, since he still didn’t have a concrete reason to hate the kid yet.  Yet.

“We asked him if he could tell us why he was alone,” Liz answered, sounding very tired and upset. Kobi, to the casual observer, looked calmer, but he was burying his nose in Liz’s hair, breathing her in and focusing on the contact like he needed it right now.  Kobi wasn’t usually the kind for public signs of affection, so things must have truly not gone well.

“And?” Declan pressed.

“He panicked and refused to answer,” Liz sighed.  She quickly added, “But it’s not like he has a reason to trust us with every detail of his life anyway!  I mean, we sort of dumped the question on him out of the blue, and we didn’t even know him a week ago.”

“Or,” Rob felt the need to put in, “he doesn’t want you to know that he’s actually a mean, dangerous little shit, and that his pack kicked him out because of it.”

Liz actually lunged forward with a snarl, transforming.  Kobi looked supremely unsurprised by this, and – while remaining human himself – caught his arms around Liz’s furry neck and let her drag him off the couch. There, he managed to stop her, his tanned skin off-set by the russet color of her bristling pelt. Liz rethought her actions immediately, and let her lips fall back over her fangs, ears flattening to her head in embarrassment.  Kobi murmured things to her that Declan could have understood if he wanted to, but he let the intimate whispers stay between the couple.  Liz had shifted shape so quickly that her clothing hadn’t made the change with her, and now hung around her lupine shape in tatters.

Still sitting on the floor and holding her, Kobi shot a brief glare at the back of Rob’s head before turning back to Declan.  “What do you want us to do?” he asked, ever the voice of calm and reason.

Taking in a deep breath and resisting the urge to either shout at Rob or go over and hug Liz himself, Declan replied on the exhale, “You two are going to do nothing. I’m going to talk with Clarissa. I found some articles on the internet that say she might be wrong about Rushton being… permanently broken… but I want to talk it over with her.  Where is she?”

Liz and Kobi both shook their heads to show they didn’t know, so Declan looked at Rob, who likewise shrugged. “Don’t look at me, Fen, I only came out of my room to watch television, like, ten minutes ago. I haven’t seen her.”

~^~

When Marcus smelled another Wolf, it was instinct to change directions and try to lose the tail. He wanted nothing more than to avoid absolutely anything and everything that smelled like his own kind, and therefore trouble.

That took him further and further away from his intended path, however, as his pursuer kept up, persistently.  Marcus was unfamiliar with the scent, but it was also far enough off that he wasn’t getting it clearly, so he stayed anxious and wary.   It wasn’t until he’d detoured to the very edge of the city – buildings giving way to actual trees – that the wind shifted enough to carry the scent to him. Then he halted and turned, he was so surprised. 

“Another Omega…?” he asked himself, feeling stupid a few moments later when a pale-grey wolf trotted into view before turning smoothly into an impeccably dressed, middle-aged woman. The Fen-pack’s Omega. Marcus found his feet retreating again, even as other instincts told him not to turn his back on the new threat.

“Look, I don’t want to cause anymore trouble,” he made himself say, and was immediately struck with déjà vu that left him sick.  He’d said similar things to Declan, to no avail.  The taste of bile rose in the back of his throat as his stomach twisted. “I’m leaving, all right?  That’s what you want.”

“My, you’re more of a talker than I was led to believe,” the other Omega said, her voice charming but her eyes sharp and cold.  It was as if they’d stayed predatory and lupine while the rest of her had changed to fake humanity. “I’m Clarissa Fen. You’ve met my nephew?”

Marcus’s throat went dry. He shook with the urge to run, but had the feeling that this woman, Clarissa, would follow if he wasn’t careful. “Yes,” he said, very quietly, fear choking out his voice a little. 

“I saw what happened to your shabby little apartment,” she went on, as calmly as before even while Marcus flinched, hard, “Pity that.  Don’t you move while I’m talking to you!”

Her voice had risen suddenly to a shrill snarl, and even though the commands of another Omega were just about the only thing that didn’t affect Marcus in the slightest, he froze, one foot just in the process of edging backwards.  He found his hands clutching tight to his bag of things spasmodically as the crackling scent of rage rolled off Clarissa, like a building storm.

“You see, my fellow Omega, you and Rob have both managed to put me in quite a bind,” she quieted again, with a speed that was unsettling. Marcus started looking around furtively for the best routes of escape, despite the Omega woman’s insistence that he stay put for her impromptu lecture.  “I say that what he did to your apartment is a pity, and that’s exactly the problem…”  Clarissa began stepping forward, her sensible shoes silent in the grass. “…Pity.  If Declan had just given you a good thrashing, you could have left, but as soon as the pack realizes what just happened to your belongings-” Clarissa’s mouth twisted, and it was an ugly thing to see.  “-They’re going to pity you, and then I’ll never be rid of you.”

“Yes, you will – I’m leaving!” Marcus enunciated, starting to wonder if Clarissa was deaf or something.  The reality of the situation was worse: she wasn’t deaf, she was driven

“It’s not that simple anymore, you naïve little brat,” spat Clarissa derisively, “You’ve been a threat to my position in this pack from the moment you turned up, but now it looks like Miss Davidson and her boyfriend Mr. Knox are becoming far too attached to you – like a mutt they’ve lured home with scraps.”

Marcus could only guess that Davidson and Knox were Liz and Kobi’s last names, respectively; he’d never learned them.  Mostly, he’d been so shocked at their friendship that he hadn’t cared if they had surnames at all.  Despite Clarissa’s earlier demand, he began edging away, smelling violence on the air with heady potential.

“You know, I don’t even care what you did.  I don’t care why you’re alone, or what your story is – what I care about is me. My place.  My pack.”  As the female Omega spoke, Marcus began to hear the snarl in her voice, a purely animal undertone, and his ears picked up the sounds of bones straining. “No doubt Rob thought he was helping, but he’s only going to make things worse when the others find out.” The straining sounds became abrupt snapping, and Clarissa’s body folded in half like some busted marionette, but her eyes remained locked fixedly on Marcus’s face as she began to change shape. “So I guess I’m going to have to solve this problem myself.  I’m truly sorry for this, but you’re a threat that I can’t ignore.”

Marcus was already bolting as Clarissa’s words became guttural and then indistinguishable from growls, his feet flying over the grass.  The other Omega was faster, however, especially once she had four legs under her: Marcus barely had time to hear the rustle of her pelt against bits of underbrush before she was leaping at him.  Planting his foot, he spun and swung his bag of possessions in an act of desperation – the impact threw off her trajectory just enough that she sailed clumsily past him, but her claws tore the bag open, leaving what little he’d scavenged from his out strewn across the grass at the edge of town. Somewhere deep in his core, Marcus felt himself break a little more, but he didn’t have the luxury of grieving.

He’d never had the luxury of grieving.

“I’m not a threat to you!” he yelled at Clarissa, as she regained her balance, the cat-like claws in her lupine feet flexing against the ground.  Like all Omegas, she was statistically smaller than a Beta or Alpha in wolf form, but that still made her large on the normal-wolf scale – more than big enough to make mincemeat of a human Marcus’s size. His voice cracked with panic even as he strengthened it with all the sincerity and determination he could muster, “I don’t want to fight with you!”

Clarissa charged again before the last word was even fully out of his mouth, making it clear that she didn’t care.  Marcus barely dove out of the way this time, panic becoming full-fledged terror that he fought to push down, because he knew that if he didn’t keep a level head, Clarissa was going to kill him.  The problem was, he didn’t want to kill her. For all of his threats, for all of his blustering, Marcus didn’t think he had it in him to go into a fight with the lethal determination that Clarissa had right now – and even if he did, the last thing he wanted to do was make himself a real threat to the Fen pack.  If he could get out of this without hurting Clarissa, there was a chance he could get out of town and never be thought of again by these Wolves, but if he hurt or killed their Omega…

Marcus wanted to vomit. He was literally watching his options being systematically destroyed one by one, and already he saw his chances of escaping without a fight disappearing.  When Clarissa bared ivory fangs and turned on him again, Marcus’s survival instincts finally overrode his logical thinking, and he transformed so fast that it hurt. A bit dizzy and realizing that this now left him tangled in his clothing – he’d shifted shape too fast to change it along with him – Marcus let out a whimpering pant and made himself small. Clarissa was already on him.

For a moment, there was nothing but movements and the sounds of snarling and yelping. Marcus’s telltale white fur stood out in the deepening dusk, more of it showing as Clarissa’s claws tangled in the remains of his clothes and allowed him to pull free of the ribbons. He immediately backed away from her, communicating in every way possible that this wasn’t how he wanted this to go – every time he turned to run away from her, however, the older Omega attacked his unprotected flanks.  Marcus finally spun and bit back when he felt a tearing pain down his right hind leg, the agony of Clarissa’s teeth impossible to shake off. A few sharp snaps dangerously close to Clarissa’s face got her to let go, but all she did then was come in from another angle.  Besides being older and more experienced, Clarissa had the advantage of size, as well as being well-fed and well-cared for.  It was true that Omegas were the least equipped to fight of all the Werewolf classes, but Marcus was the lowest of the low, eating and surviving on a tight budget before even taking into account the earlier disasters of the day. Even now that Marcus was fighting back, Clarissa was winning, becoming lethally calm as she recognized just how strong her advantage was.

And once she was calm, she started using her innate powers as an Omega – and hers were far beyond what Marcus had ever learned.

It felt like a vice around his throat, but it wasn’t physical.  It was pure panic.  In a detached sort of way, the smaller Omega realized that this wasn’t natural, and tried to shake it off.  Concentrating was hard when it was all he could do to keep Clarissa’s fangs away from vital organs, however, and he started to feel her influence tear at his emotions when she couldn’t tear at his flesh.  Marcus was almost awed when he realized what she was doing, because he didn’t know that it was possible for an Omega to do anything but exude calm – but he could tell now that she was doing far more, especially because she wasn’t bothering to be subtle. As she bit and swept her taloned paws at him, Clarissa struck out at him emotionally, until it felt like he had a storm beneath his skin, so terrible and awful that it eventually made him scream in a twisted, lupine voice.  Clarissa bowled him over, teeth just missing his muzzle and eyes as he pushed a paw in her way. 

Please… Please stop…  Please make it stop…’ Marcus begged in his head, knowing that no one would hear him, because only packs communicated in their heads.  Without a pack, he was more alone that he’d known there were ways to be alone. 

And all the while, Clarissa kept fanning those feelings of fear and sadness like a bellows fed a fire, until Marcus nearly folded up and gave in.  He’d barely wanted to fight her before, but now, as he bled from a half-dozen places and physically felt her grabbing his emotions and hurling them around, he barely wanted to exist.  ‘This is torture,’ he realized, while knowing he wasn’t strong or skilled enough to combat it.

Clarissa had gotten past his defenses enough to just snag her teeth in the soft white fur of his neck when suddenly a massive force and weight tore her away.

Moving in a way that radiated power and control, a third wolf followed Clarissa right over Marcus’s prone tangle of limbs.  Coat a mass of black and darkest grey like the mottled belly of a thundercloud, the wolf was easily twice Clarissa’s size, and with a throaty roar that was all fury, he physically grabbed her by the nape and threw her. Tumbling and rolling, Clarissa’s shock would have been comical if the scene were not so horrifying, because this was Declan Fen, and he wore the scent and presence of an angry Alpha around himself like a cloak. 

He continued to follow Clarissa.  Never hurrying, but never hesitating, he strode up to her just as she began to find her feet, and shoved her down again, hard.  His teeth flashed at her without breaking skin, but she still cowered, surprised as much as confused.  When he finally stopped pummeling her, the grey-furred Wolf lay on her side on the ground, eyes so huge they looked like they’d fall out of her sleek head. A conversation was no doubt going on, in the fashion of pack Wolves: a fairly dependable sort of telepathy was available to the wolves who were of the same pack, especially when they were so physically near each other. Declan stood stock-still, tail high over his back and his thick ruff of dark fur still bristling, even if he’d hidden his fangs within his inky snout. 

Whatever he said to her made Clarissa’s body jerk as if she’d been slapped, and she cowered more. Then, with conflicted looks between her Alpha and the Omega she’d just tried wholeheartedly to murder, she got clumsily to her feet and slunk away, limping a little but soon picking up speed back in the direction of her house.

Declan watched her go for just a moment, and then turned around to the fight’s other participant.

Marcus was barely standing.

Blood was dripping down his left foreleg like spilled red dye, and more of it was coming from the gash on his lower hindleg.  Clarissa’s last bite had missed his jugular, but the punctures in the skin on the right side of Marcus’s neck were still staining his white ruff like a starburst of gory, vicious red.  He was aware that he had a little bit of blood on his muzzle, too, but he’d barely managed to get a bite in against Clarissa’s horrifying attack.  He could still feel the aftershocks of her emotional onslaught, and that combined with general exhaustion meant that he didn’t have the strength to move.

This was it.

This was the end.

Too battered physically and emotionally to even put up a brave front, Marcus lowered his head in exhaustion and closed his eyes in fear, blocking out Declan as much as he could. A whine came up his throat as if it had been punched out of him, and the only reason the white-furred Omega didn’t let himself collapse was because he was somehow just as terrified of moving as he was of dying.  Wolves lacked the ability to cry tears, but he couldn’t stop the steady, soft whimpering that escaped his chest, as he swayed and locked his limbs to keep from falling, and waited for Declan to finish what his insane aunt had started.

Grass rustled. Pawsteps came forward only slowly.

‘Please don’t make me fight anymore,’ Marcus begged shamelessly in his head, every inch of him hurting.  He couldn’t understand why Declan had just attacked and driven away his own Omega, but Marcus was the intruder, and territorialness would have the Alpha at his throat any second now anyway.  Marcus just hoped that it would be quick, and Declan wouldn’t drag it out… because Marcus was done.  Just done. Even if Clarissa hadn’t dragged his emotions out of him like an ethereal evisceration, Marcus was on his last legs. His home had been destroyed, people were bringing up his family again, and he was dripping blood everywhere – so even if Declan were to magically disappear, and Marcus’s paltry possessions went back into their ripped bag, he didn’t think he had the strength to go anywhere. 

No strength, no options, no hope.  Marcus cried a few more tearless, mostly-silent sobs as he felt Declan circle him, growling more quietly than he’d expected.  The larger wolf passed so close beside him that Marcus flinched and nearly lost his footing. Only by digging his claws into the ground did he manage not to fall, and then he froze, feeling a snout nosing at him, prodding chest and flank.  Confusion muddled his already rattled head, and Marcus opened his eyes without lifting his head, just as Declan finished circling him to come forward along Marcus’s left side.  He had to be smearing blood on that gorgeous, dark coat. 

When Marcus just stared at him stupidly even when Declan had stepped forward (shoulders even with Marcus’s smudged white head), the Alpha turned back to look at him. There were no teeth bared, and no more growls.  Marcus was utterly confused even as Declan flopped his tail over Marcus’s pale back, like an arm over someone’s shoulders to keep them close and urge them forward. Declan watched him with unreadable, golden eyes, then turned forward again. 

Even without telepathy, there was a rudimentary understanding of body-language to take into account, and Marcus was too exhausted to be on anything but autopilot – so he found himself stumbling and staggering forward as Declan’s body-language urged him to. He tripped into the Alpha’s side, stumbled on his own paws, and tasted blood on his tongue when he panted, but Declan seemed determined to keep Marcus with him.  As Marcus walked haltingly away from where the last remnants of his life were strewn about, and where he’d nearly been killed, his failing mind struggled to make sense of this. 

In the end, it couldn’t. What Declan Fen was doing now made no sense, and with Clarissa’s forced fear still tangled in his head like strangler-vines, all Marcus could think was that this was some sadism on the Alpha’s part. He’d be killed later; maybe the whole pack would tear him to shreds.  That made him stop walking once or twice, breathing his way through the edges of a panic-attack that he seemed constantly on the verge of now. He choked on crying whines and forgot how to push down the pain, the agony of his injuries overwhelming him in waves.

The only reason he always started walking again was because the tail draped over his back urged him to, and because he didn’t know what else to do except obey the heady smell of an Alpha at his side.  Declan terrified him, and while he had gotten away with disrespecting and disobeying Betas, Marcus didn’t have the courage to do the same to an Alpha, not while this beaten up.  Marcus mostly walked with his eyes closed, focusing on putting one paw in front of the other, considering turning back into a human once or twice… before remembering that he’d changed too fast, and was essentially naked. The added humiliation of that made Marcus stumble and stop again, and this time, he didn’t have the strength to get back in motion.  ‘Just kill me now.  If that’s what you’re going to do, do it here,’ he said, as if this were his Alpha and Declan really could read his mind. 

Marcus was still stubbornly standing on shaking, bleeding legs when he heard the snapping and refolding of bones next to him.  Then human arms encircled him under chest and rump, lifted him like he was nothing, and carried him into the house they’d finally reached.

~^~

 

Chapter Text

Rushton’s paws skidded out on the tiled kitchen floor as soon as Declan put him down, partially because two of the four were slicked with blood, partially because the Omega had to be on his last dregs of strength anyway. The battered little white wolf looked with panic around the room, skittering and cowering away when his blue eyes eventually came to rest on Declan himself, probably a towering giant as a human right now.  When Marcus’s retreat brought him up sharply against the kitchen cabinets, he smeared blood on them, but also lost his footing and fell with a pained yelp. 

Declan could see that Marcus was trying to back down, as if this were a fight and he wanted nothing to do with it.  That was probably why the territorial temper was only grumbling softly at the back of Declan’s head instead of trying to overwhelm him like it usually was around the Omega – from the moment he’d seen Marcus standing there, head down and tail tucked right up against his belly between his legs, Declan’s instincts had recognized that there was no threat to his pack here. Some part of him was still setting off alarm bells, but it was ignorable, especially since Declan had never seen someone cower as much as Marcus was cowering now, the whites of his shockingly-blue eyes showing, ears disappearing against the tattered fur of his neck, tailed tucked.  His body had been low, right up until he’d stumbled, and now it was on the floor itself.

It was the saddest fucking thing Declan had ever seen.

“Shh, hey, I’m not going to hurt you,” the larger man said, stepping forward with hands outstretched and open.  His attempt at being unthreatening seemed to work for a second, because Rushton stopped that heart-tearing, intermittent whimpering, eyes fixed on Declan’s face. It swiftly turned out that the Omega was still as scared as before, though: he stopped trying to get up, and rolled tentatively belly-up instead, paws shaking as he tucked them close to his body.  Declan had already been blocking out the smell of abject terror and submissiveness, but now it hit him like a clout to the head, and he had to just stop for a moment on his haunches, his entire body constricting.

He felt like a monster.  A bit more of his instinctive, defend-the-pack instinct flickered and petered out, unable to sustain itself with such a non-threat in front of it.

“Declan, what in the world is-?”  Liz had no doubt heard him come in, and came into the kitchen only to suddenly sway as if nauseous.  Her eyes fluttered and she brought a hand up over her nose, hit by the rank stench of fear and pain as well – out of all of Declan’s Betas, she’d always been the most sensitive. “Oh, god…” she gagged, even as tears of emotion came unbidden to her eyes. Scents could affect Werewolves that way: just as a pitiable sight could move people to tears, smells this strong were descriptive enough to do the same, and even Declan was having a hard time keeping himself under control.  Liz was almost crying even before her eyes landed on where Declan was squatting in front of a small, badly beaten wolf who was presently bleeding all over their kitchen.  Her eyes widened and snapped up to her Alpha.  “Declan, did you-?!”

Before she could finish her horrified question, Declan was replying, denying, “No, Clarissa did this.  I…” Even now, he could barely believe it. “I stopped her before she could murder him.  I told her to go home and go straight to the basement, where she’s to stay until I say otherwise.”

Liz was still trying not to breathe through her nose, and there was such sympathetic pain on her face that Declan wanted to either hug her or push her out of the room.  “Clarissa did this!?”

“Yes, now please, Liz, I need you to focus – get me the first-aid kit,” Declan forced himself to be calm and commanding, even as he felt rage boil up inside of him at the memory of what he’d seen when he’d tracked down his aunt: her teeth nearly buried in the throat of a Wolf who was barely even fighting back. It didn’t take a genius to see how the fight had gone, with Clarissa suffering from only a few wounds here and there, and Rushton torn all to hell. 

To say nothing of the forced emotions in the air.  Declan admittedly knew very little about the inner workings of Omegas, but he was getting the sinking sensation that Clarissa could do a whole lot more than calm a room.  

Rushton’s sense of smell was clearly just as strong as everyone said it was, because he instantly picked up on Declan’s anger, and started shuddering on the floor.  He stopped showing his belly even as a new wave of emotional scent – hopelessness, helplessness – filled the air and made Declan swallow abruptly.  Liz let out a sob even as Rushton tried to curl up in a ball, his wounds and exhaustion making it difficult. 

“Go!” Declan barked at Liz, and even though he hated being tough with her, it worked.  She nodded with closed, wet eyes and turned blindly as if trying to escape ammonia fumes. She ran into Kobi coming the other way, but thankfully took him out of the kitchen with her as she left, door closing behind her to shut Declan and the foreign Omega in. Declan just caught sight of his other Beta’s usually stoic face sharpen with worry, confusion, and alarm.

Hopefully the two of them could handle each other.  Declan presently had a different problem on his hands.

Rushton was still trying to curl up and away from everything, but his wounded legs wouldn’t tuck under him, which was a bad sign – but no worse than the amount of blood he was still smearing everywhere, or the level of utter exhaustion he was showing.  He looked filthy from his battle with Clarissa, but also had a generally unkempt air about him that made Declan uncomfortable.  He wondered if that was the same response he’d have if Rushton were his, instead of packless.  If this were Clarissa looking so ill-cared for, Declan would definitely be upset, but right now he couldn’t think of his aunt without seeing her poised to coldly murder another Omega.  That thought aside, it was clear that Rushton had been living on the edges of society, his coat dull of worn, his body skinnier than it should have been.

“Don’t you dare bite me,” Declan said steadily but quietly, at the last moment reining in any sort of command – the Omega still flinched and whined, eyes fixed on him and body pressed flush to the kitchen cabinets. Declan fully expected bared teeth, and braced himself to deal with it as he reached forward again, some of his instincts prickling at him with renewed vigor. It seemed that his body was demoting Rushton from ‘imminent threat’ to merely ‘undetermined,’ unless some action or other changed that.  But instead of trying to warn Declan off, the Omega pressed his head down against the floor and held miserably, immeasurably still. 

I don’t have the energy to fight you,’ his eyes said as eloquently as a worded speech would have. His ears quivered where they lay against his skull; tiny shivers.  He even made a show of tucking his claws in, like someone disarming before a conqueror, and that relieved Declan a bit.  It also made him feel nothing like a conqueror, and everything like some sort of brutal tyrant. 

Feeling a bit like a horrible person but not wanting to take chances, Declan’s hand got close enough to wrap around Rushton’s muzzle.  Even as a human, Declan was strong enough to make sure that those jaws stayed safely shut, and Rushton only squirmed and whined a tiny bit, eyes closing like he didn’t want to see what was coming. No matter how many times Declan repeated, “I’m not going to hurt you.  You’re safe,” that didn’t change, and eventually the Alpha just gave up and used his other hand to tug Rushton closer to the center of the kitchen where he could get a proper look at him.  As if trying to do his best impression of a pill-bug or threatened hedgehog, Rushton tried to fold his body up, even when Declan’s knee against his stomach got in the way.  Declan ran his free hand, carefully but unhesitantly, along the little Wolf’s long-bones first, then anything else that could be seriously broken. 

“If you could change back, that would be great,” he commented, not entirely sure that Rushton was still understanding him anymore. He hoped Liz got back with the first-aid kit soon, because the Omega was fading fast – if not from blood-loss, then from shock.  At least he didn’t seem to have any broken bones, which meant he could safely change shape. “I’m not too shabby at wolf anatomy, but I’ll be able to see how wounded you are much easier without the fur,” he tried to coax.  “Come on, Rushton, let me help you.”

Beneath his hand, Rushton shook his snout, just a little, in a definite negative. He was sprawled out on the floor now by Declan’s knees, and red was already staining the Alpha’s jeans and his free hand where he’d touched the smaller Werewolf. 

“Rushton… Rushton, I don’t want to order you, but you know I can, and I will if I have to,” he reminded, becoming a little less kind and a little more Alpha-like for the moment.  He hoped that the threat alone would work, but all it got him was a flinch from the snout he was still firmly holding, and a wracking shudder from the ribcage under his other hand.  Declan sighed, realizing that they were just going to have to do this the unpleasant way.  “Change back into a human, Rushton,” he ordered. 

The Omega whined so sharply that it sounded like Declan had punched a dagger through him, and he convulsed in a way that had nothing to do with changing shape, startling Declan.  Before he could do more than stare in horrified shock, however, bones and sinews were stretching as Rushton’s entire body started to realign. It took a moment, because the change was happening with laborious slowness, but Declan realized with sudden regret why the Omega hadn’t wanted to change back – apparently, like Liz earlier, Rushton had changed very swiftly.  And why was he surprised?  If Rushton really had been trying to avoid a fight for as long as possible, he’d probably been forced to take on his wolf shape as a last-ditch defense, with Clarissa giving him no time to think about it.  Sighing, Declan settled back on his heels, watching with a sad, resigned look as fur disappeared to be replaced by nothing but bare, red-smeared skin. It was about then that Declan started seeing something else, too: scars. 

Soon the Alpha had a huddle of bloody, naked, packless Omega on his floor instead of bloody, fur-covered, packless Omega.  Rushton had his eyes squeezed tightly shut and his lips peeled back in a panting grimace, showing the pain he was trying to endure as his body resettled itself into a new shape.  His eyes opened briefly – the same intense blue they always were – saw that Declan was still there, and then closed again with a bright blush of humiliation that went right down his neck and chest.  Apparently too tired to do or say anything, he folded in on himself as much as he could with one slashed arm and one torn leg, blood also leaking sluggishly from a set of puncture wounds between his neck and shoulder. 

Declan found himself staring, not because Rushton was naked, but because so much of that pale, bared skin was littered with scars.  “What the hell…?” he started to murmur, the wind knocked out of him by the sight, and he was too fixated for a moment to realize that Rushton’s shoulders were shaking minutely: he was crying, fatigued and silent, and it suddenly felt as if something had been ripped right out of Declan’s chest. Rushton was beyond finished, but was trying to maintain some control over himself anyway, no doubt out of some twisted hope that it would keep Alpha Declan Fen from going berserk on him.  

“Declan, I’ve got the first-aid kit,” came the voice of Kobi rather than Liz, slipping into the room.  It was the first time that the Beta had a good eye-full of Rushton in their house, and even Kobi’s natural, unflappable calm took a hit by the sight. Not only was there blood, but nudity. Still, he froze only for a second, looking more than a bit sick as his steady brown eyes traced scars that looked like bite-marks along Rushton’s sides and calves – they ranged from fading and old to the gaping wounds that Clarissa had made under an hour ago. Considering a Werewolf’s healing skills, these had to have been serious injuries for the marks to still be lingering.  “Christ,” Kobi swore even as he passed the first-aid kit into Declan’s waiting hand.

“Can you stay and help patch him up?” Declan asked, deciding to focus on the here and now instead of the past painted out in scar-tissue in front of him. Suddenly so many things were falling into place – especially everything Rushton had said about Alphas instinctively hating him, and attacking.  It looked like a lot of them hadn’t stopped themselves at a single punch like Declan had, and it made him furious in a whole new way.  Unfortunately, it also forced him to agree that Rushton had good reasons to be wary and wildly mistrustful. 

Rushton and Kobi both smelled the flash of Declan’s temper, and while it made Rushton choke on a panicked sob, it made Kobi tense on his knees across from Declan.  “Are you going to be able to stay?  With him around, I mean?” he asked, pointedly tipping his chin down towards the smaller man lying naked in between them.

“Yeah, I can handle it,” Declan grunted, grabbing antiseptic and gauze, and then reaching reluctantly for the package that contained sterilized needles and thread.  Werewolves had an impeccable ability to heal themselves, but these wounds were bad, and he didn’t think they had time to just take this whole problem to the hospital across town. “He’s hardly a threat right now, so whatever it is about me that wants to-”  He was about to blithely say ‘kill him’ but the hand he’d rested unconsciously on Rushton’s pale shoulder registered a preemptive flinch, and Declan softened his words, “-Whatever it is that makes me hate him, it’s nothing I can’t ignore now.  I won’t hurt him. We’re going to have to put stitches in him, though.”

“I’m better at it than you.  Can you hold him still?”

Bless you, Kobi, for being so levelheaded.’ “Yeah, I can.”

After they bound up two of Rushton’s wounds swiftly to slow the bleeding in the interim, Declan got a good hold on the kid.  By this point, Rushton seemed hollowed out and worrisomely unresponsive – he didn’t react, he didn’t open his eyes, he didn’t protest even when Declan (whom he was clearly most terrified of) flipped him over on his back so Kobi could get easier access to his lacerated left shin. Kobi put a knee over Rushton’s lean thighs, and stuck him with a syringe full of numbing agent, looking tense the whole while in a way that was rare for the usually relaxed Beta. He looked as though he were trying very, very hard to remain calm, so Declan spared a moment to squeeze his shoulder before turning his attention back to the Omega.  Rushton wasn’t unconscious, for all that he seemed to be systematically shutting himself down, and quivered as Declan’s hand pressed against his flat stomach.  “Just stay still,” he suggested, not realizing that he’d made it an order until Rushton broke his silence with a small, torn scream as his muscles visibly locked up.

Declan cursed and nearly fell backwards.  “Shit, does this always happen?” he asked Kobi, a bit helpless as to how to deal with this.

Even Kobi looked startled, needle threaded and poised but eyes now wide and fixed on Rushton’s pale, agonized face.  “Not like this,” he replied, struggling to sound like the sensible Beta he was, “I mean, Liz and I weren’t lying when we said he was sensitive to even the slightest command, but it didn’t seem to hurt him before.”

“…Please,” Rushton sobbed, clearly barely getting the words past his locked jaw and pursed, white lips.  Tears were painting renewed paths from the corners of his eyes, past his temples, in his straight brown hair.  He made a little coughing noise that could have been another entreaty stifled in in infancy, and Declan did the only thing that felt right, which was to gently stroke a hand across Marcus’s chest.

“Easy, easy, I’m sorry.  It’s all right. Move if you want to, Rushton.” Declan was careful of his power now, reigning it viciously in, but letting the teensiest bit slip out in the last sentence – which did what he had hoped it would, freeing the Omega from his previous command. Rushton gasped and sagged, like an unstrung bow, and Kobi turned back to his job of sewing while things were still under a modicum of control.  “I’ll hold you still, so Kobi can stitch you up, but I won’t order you,” Declan promised as soothingly as he could.  He imagined he was working with Liz, when Kobi had been in a motorcycle accident a few years ago and had actually been hospitalized, leaving his girlfriend in a panic that had taken a lot of holding and murmuring to calm. It felt a bit… odd, doing the same for someone whom his senses told him was Not-Pack, but he managed. True to his word, Declan also leaned over Rushton to push down on his arms, but he kept it gentle, since the Omega wasn’t struggling.  The numbing agent must have already set in, because he didn’t even flinch with the punch and pull of the needle and thread.   

Thanks to the fact that Kobi liked motorcycles but hated hospitals, he’d actually stitched himself up enough times that this was probably easy by comparison.  He finished admirably swiftly.  “Arm next?” Declan asked efficiently, to keep the Beta focused.  Kobi’s eyes had been drifting to Marcus’s tense, utterly panicked face, but he quickly dragged his eyes back to his Alpha’s.

“Uh…yeah. Yes.  Arm next,” Kobi found his equilibrium again, and at that moment, the kitchen door slid open just a little – revealing Liz. Her face, as it hovered in the doorway, looked red and puffy from crying, and she still couldn’t stand the smell of fear and anxiety in the room.  At the sight of Rushton now human again, and even more helpless-looking without his fur or clothes on, she let out a whimper of her own.

“Liz, sweetheart, go back outside,” coaxed Kobi, his own voice relaxed again. Helping his girlfriend gave him the focus and strength to push down on the tumult of feelings he had to be feeling himself, and just for a second, it was a Beta and not an Omega who radiated calm throughout the room. 

Marcus let out an incoherent little noise of question, eyes fluttering open, but while Kobi was getting up off him to quickly get Liz to go somewhere else – somewhere where she wasn’t going to be in constant emotional pain – Declan knelt by the Omega’s side and shushed him. 

Seeming to realize that he was naked and an increasing number of people were seeing it, Marcus imploded a little, and for the first time, the Alpha in the room was demoted to second-worst-fate while death-by-humiliation clumsily climbed into first place.  Eyes glazed with tears and nose probably getting plugged from sniffling (perhaps enough that he wasn’t smelling Declan quite as clearly as he’d been earlier), the smallest Wolf managed to tip over onto his side again, so the pale, bony curve of his back was to the door, and his body was once again pulling into a fetal position against Declan’s leg.  “M-M-M-” It took even Declan’s sensitive hearing a moment to realize that Rushton’s shaky breaths were slurred attempts at words, falling shakily from his mouth without the strength to really make themselves heard.  “M-Make it…s-s-sto-stop,” he begged without pride or reserve, uninjured arm crooked against his shivering, quaking chest and injured arm almost getting there, bent in the shallow, protective curve of his belly where it continued to try and bleed through the temporary bandages.  Kobi’s needlework, neat and skilled though it was, looked like a bunch of ugly dark insects feeding in a line down Marcus’s shin, and despite all of those things, he was worried about Liz – Liz, who’d just about attacked Rob this morning in Rushton’s name – seeing him naked.

It would have been amusing and endearing if it weren’t so heart-breaking. If this were a situation between pack members, a little nudity wouldn’t have even raised an eyebrow, but Rushton was clearly viscerally aware that he wasn’t pack, wasn’t wanted, and wasn’t afforded the usual, affectionate tolerance of a pack-mate.

“Liz,” Declan said, just as Kobi was about to push her out of the room. Liz looked past her boyfriend’s shoulder, and Kobi turned, revealing red eyes on both parties. Declan kept his own gaze firm as one of his hands moved of its own accord to run through Rushton’s disheveled hair. Loose tangles caught on his fingers and parted, creating a gentle tugging that usually calmed wolves of lesser rank than Declan – and it seemed to work just the tiniest bit on Rushton. Just the tiniest bit; he went quiet again.  “Liz, get that bottle of stuff we gave Rob when he had that nasty cold.”

Perking up just a bit, but still looking like she just wanted to take Rushton and put him back together like a dashed puzzle piece whenever she glanced at him, Liz queried, “The stuff that put him on his ass?”

Declan reluctantly nodded.  His other hand had somehow found its way to Rushton’s back, and it was counting jutting vertebrae as it travelled slowly up and down – he wanted to fix things, too, perhaps more strongly than Liz did.  Alphas fixed problems for Wolves of lesser rank than them, and the more Declan convinced himself that this packless Omega wasn’t a threat, the more his urge to make things right reared its head. Marcus was still too tense to have blacked out, and was clearly clinging to consciousness, but he also appeared too wrung out (or tired, or confused) to make an issue of the Alpha petting him. “That stuff, yeah. We still have a lot of stitching to do, and I don’t think…” ‘-Rushton has to be conscious for the whole torturous time,’ his mind finished, but didn’t work the words past his teeth.

Liz understood, though.  She was intuitive beyond measure, and not just when it came to emotional scents in the air. Nodding, she moved to leave… then stopped and whispered something in Kobi’s ear, probably something soothing, because the broad lines of his back relaxed.  Then she kissed his cheek swiftly and left. 

“We should start stitching up his arm,” Kobi said, sounding reluctant but determined as he turned away from his girlfriend and back to the scene of torment on their kitchen floor.  Rushton continued to shiver intermittently, which would have been understandable, considering he was naked on the cold kitchen floor, but both other Wolves flinched every time he shivered because of the way Rushton always tried to stop.  Without clothing or fur to hide it, and also without any superfluous fat on any inch of him, it was easy to see the way his lean muscles and tendons flexed and tightened every time he tried to still himself.

Before either man could work up the energy to continue, Liz returned, and this time she strode right in without pausing.  She did flinch, but was breathing through her mouth purposefully, and handed Kobi the requested bottle of medicine.  It was a simple concoction, with nothing in it of particular note, but it did a good job of pushing everything aside except sleep, so someone ill could get the rest they needed without coughing/sneezing/headaches, etc. The painkiller in it would help in the long-run.  Before leaving, Liz stopped, her eyes taking in the scars like the two men had. Mouth twisting – a bit in anger, mostly in sympathy – she squatted down next to Kobi until she could reach out and just touch Rushton’s shoulder.  “Hey, Marcus, it’s me.  It’s us, Kobi and I,” she soothed hopefully, “It’s going to be all right.”

For a moment it seemed like the medicine wouldn’t be necessary, and Rushton had passed out after all, but in reality he’d just lost the gumption to move and flinch. He did, however, somehow find strength to clear his throat, and laboriously force words up his throat. They fell in brittle, broken pieces out of his mouth, raspy and breathy as a desert wind, “N-N-Nothing…will be all right.” 

Liz pulled her hand back as if Rushton’s skin burned, and everyone could smell it: utter defeat from Rushton, matching his resigned words, and murderous anger from Liz.  Her face was still tear-streaked, but it had set in a lethal expression, and she got up quickly.

“Liz…” Kobi called to her softly, worriedly.

“I’m going to go for a run before I kill Clarissa,” the young woman replied with brutal softness before striding out of the room.

~^~

Marcus was drifting in a haze of pain and exhaustion, and was barely holding onto the desperate little voice that kept telling him to stay awake, when he felt something pushing against his lips that smelled so blindingly like nastiness that it pushed every other scent from his nose.  It shot him into a panic, in fact, because it felt a lot like when he had a migraine coming on and his senses were winding themselves up to their highest capacity. With strength he didn’t know he still had, Marcus lurched back, somehow getting his uninjured arm and leg underneath him. 

Get away, get away, get away,’ the mantra picked up speed in his head, and Rushton was too dizzy and dazed to know whether it was a command to himself or to others around him. His lower left leg felt numb, and a hand from behind grabbed at him, but somehow Marcus’s staggering got him upright with enough speed to avoid capture – and made him desperately dizzy, so much so that he staggered and fell again.  He just caught himself on a table, slewed off around it, and followed a chair to the floor.  Of the kitchen around him, he got blurry, imperfect impressions, everything spinning and swaying too much for his eyes to lock on anything before he was sitting heavily on cold tiles again.

A weight suddenly landed over his lap, and a broad torso filled his watery, wavy vision.  “Rushton!” a male voice barked, and at the almost subliminal edge of command lurking behind those words like a swarm of locusts behind a thin screen door, Marcus recognized who was talking. 

No. This could not be happening. Nonononono.  His memories of the past few hours were presently a fragmented mess in his head, glass-edged so it hurt whenever he reached for one to try and decipher it and put it in its proper place, but Marcus then remembered quite clearly collapsing in what had to be the kitchen of the Fen pack. Of all the places Marcus should not be, this was at the very top of the list, right under ‘in the center of an active volcano.’ Realizing that there was precious little chance of him making it out of this in one piece, he did what he could, with an Alpha literally sitting on his thighs and presently grabbing his shoulders.

He got as submissive as possible. 

Head tucked down as if he could make it disappear beneath his collarbones (even though that made his bitten neck scream in pain), hands lifting in feeble, open barriers between them, Rushton squeezed his eyes shut and sunk back against the refrigerator door leaching heat out of his back behind him. He didn’t fight the hands on his upper arms, and focused as much as he ever had in his life on that innate Omega skill. ‘Come on, come on, work, dammit!’ he screamed at the ability in his head, having never been so in need of it.  He felt it turn on in fluttering, fickle spikes of power, like a fire starting and stopping on damp wood – flaring briefly only to die down. It was a pathetic attempt, and Marcus seethed with disgust at himself, even as pain and exhaustion gnawed away more of his ability to think. 

Fen had gone still on top of him, though, kneeling just above Marcus and hands firm but not tightening painfully.  “Rushton, are you listening to me?” he asked suddenly into the stillness and quiet.

It was hard – impossible – not to flinch.  Even as a Werewolf, with a body that was more durable and faster at healing than a human’s, he knew that his spread fingers may as well have been straws before a hurricane, and he fully expected Fen to break a few of them.  “Y-Yes,” he got out as barely a hushed whisper.  ‘Be obedient, Marcus.  Obedience makes Alphas happy.  As happy as they can ever be with you,’ he reminded himself of the new rules he had had to learn since the loss his own pack. 

The Alpha’s sigh rustled Marcus’s hair, warm compared to everything else. “Fuck,” Fen murmured, apparently to himself before continuing more professionally, “I’m calm, all right? Or, at least, I’m calm enough that I’m not going to bite your head off, but I need you to take something.”

He sounded earnest… but then again, they all did.  This was their first conversation all over again, but this time, Marcus was too tired to play his part and remind Declan that instincts always won out over good human intentions.  An embarrassing mewling noise came out of his throat in lieu of an answer, before Marcus hid it with a little cough and bowed his head down further.

“Rushton? Marcus?  Marcus, Kobi’s got something, and I need you to drink it. You know Kobi, right? Big softy, hopelessly attached to a redheaded girl named Liz, big enough to pull me back if I did decide to get violent?”

That logic worked more on Marcus than previous entreaties had, and he lifted his head just a little, cracking an eye open.  Declan Fen was still intimidatingly close, with nothing between them to protect Marcus, but a glance over Fen’s shoulder showed that, yes, Kobi really was there, something in hand and a worried, earnest look on his face. Whether he’d be able to pull back his Alpha in case of violence was another matter, still up for debate, but Marcus tentatively lowered his hands.  He also lowered his eyes.  Whatever was going to happen was going to happen anyway, whether he wanted it to or not.

He dropped his hands down defeatedly onto his lap, wondering what Fen’s Alpha instincts took of his picture of abject dejection. Honestly, he wondered what Kobi…and Liz, he vaguely remembered Liz getting in on this, too… thought of their new, supposed friend now, a naked, scared, scarred wreck. If his waspish temper hadn’t turned them away before now, this was sure to, and Marcus didn’t even notice two more tears sliding down from his eyes, coursing salty paths already laid out from previous, pathetic crying.  He was so tired… so done.  If he closed his eyes, however, he imagined he saw his world in burnt-out shambles around him, and so he stayed awake. 

This time, when Declan backed off and Kobi pressed something to his lips, Marcus just took it.  He accepted the glass of water that followed – numbly, like a doll being moved. He knew that both the Beta and the Alpha were staring at him, but the last thing he wanted to do right now was meet their eyes.  The anger would make him panic again, and the sympathy would surely look faked, so Marcus just grimaced and tucked his legs up, hiding his nudity a little. 

And, surprisingly, the two other Wolves in the room left him alone.

Right up until the room started tipping, and shadows started crawling in around the edges of Marcus’s vision, and he realized that he was losing his hold on consciousness.  He flailed, trying to shake it off, but hands caught him and held him still until he forgot how to do that, too.  While startled and confused by this new situation, there was a voice in his head that was also sighing with relief, because the pain was fading, too. 

The last thing he was aware of was the heady smell of Declan Fen wrapping around him, along with the man’s warmth, which… meant he was carrying him? But they didn’t have to move him, did they?  So was the Alpha just holding him? 

That was so ridiculous that Marcus might have laughed, but he finally gave way to sleep then, dark and total.

~^~

Chapter Text

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.

~^~

Chapter Text

Earlier that day, probably at about the same time that Liz and Kobi had been trying to get Marcus to eat something and Declan had been taking an exhausted, troubled nap, Rob had padded quietly through the house.  He’d stopped at Clarissa’s door, pitching his voice so that only she would hear him, “Open up, unless you’ve suddenly changed sides and decided to go all cuddly on that Omega brat like the others.”

His careless, blunt remark had footsteps shuffling inside, and soon the door was opened.  Clarissa, looking more unkempt than she would have liked, with dark circles under her eyes, glared warily at Rob through the crack in the door.  He grinned back.  Rolling her eyes and sighing resignedly, the older woman backed off but left the door open for him to slip inside, closing it behind him.  “Why are you here, Rob?” she asked wearily.

“To see if you’ll help me with something,” he asked with an enigmatic, toothy sort of smile.

“In case you haven’t noticed,” Clarissa gestured around at the room she hadn’t left since returning home with her tail between her legs over a day ago, “I’m a bit out of favor with my nephew right now.  So asking me for any favors isn’t probably your best idea yet.”

At her slightly patronizing tone, Rob’s white teeth went from a smile to a snarl, still bared either way.  “I know what I’m doing,” he griped quietly, then focused again and calmed, “Actually, the fact that you’re in disgrace is rather helpful.”

“Watch your tongue,” Clarissa bridled.

“You’re awfully huffy for an Omega who’s liable to be replaced any minute by the poor, sad, sob story rooming at the other side of the house.”

Now Clarissa was shaking a little, her anger a cinnamon scent on the air, and her eyes snapped with temper as they latched onto Rob’s self-assured, handsome face.  “If you came in here just to tease me, young man, I’ll be happy to give you a real-life lesson in how experience triumphs over youth in a fight.”

“I’d love to see you try,” Rob retorted, and Clarissa shut her mouth as she picked up the throb of interest that wafted off his skin instead of fear. “But that’s not why I’m here. I’m here because I want that dangerous little kid out of here as much as you do, and even though you epically failed at that earlier-”  Rob paused, just so that he could let the taunt fester, and watch as Clarissa’s face twitched with the effort not to explode on him.  After a long, smirking moment, he continued blithely, “-I figured that you still wanted the same thing.”

“I’m listening,” Clarissa said slowly, after a beat of silence. She flicked her eyes to the door, but it was probably her other senses that were stretching out, trying to deduce if anyone else was near enough to hear. 

Rob already knew there wasn’t.  He was cocky, but he wasn’t an idiot.  “I just need ten minutes.  If you make a run for it, I can bet you that Declan, Kobi, and Liz will all take their high-and-mighty selves out after you – and while they’re gone, Rushton and I can have a little chat.  Apparently, wrecking his place didn’t get the point across, but I’m sure I can have him far from here before anyone gets back.”

“Your wrecking of his place was a witless idea to start with,” Clarissa snapped, shattering Rob’s self-assured grin.  “And this plan is likely to get me torn to pieces – have you thought of that? Hmm?”

Rob made a face at her, growling a bit in his throat while he crossed his arms.  “Come off it, Clarissa. You know as well as I do how soft your nephew is.  He fucking found you trying to kill another Wolf, and all he did was send you home.  Do you seriously think he’ll hurt you now just for going out and stretching your legs a little? And he’s not going to let the other two Betas do what he won’t.”

Clarissa’s eyes were growing calculating, as she began to truly take in Rob’s plan. “So you’re just going to… what? Use the time I buy you to beat some sense into an Omega that’s already bedridden?” she said with a heavy layer of derision.

Controlling his temper was hard, but Rob managed it, muscles flexing for a moment before he replied tartly, “He’s perfectly capable of limping out of here. You didn’t hurt him that much Clarissa.” Let her stew in the sting of that.  “And all I want is to talk to him.  You see, while you were busy getting your hands dirty, I was researching.  It’s a better tactic – as evidenced by the fact that you got caught, and I didn’t.” Clarissa literally growled, and Rob paused a moment to reflect on how lovely the sound was in her throat. His eyes flashed, and he bit back the grin that wanted to creep up the side of his face.  “I found out a few things that Rushton won’t like anyone knowing. So…”  He shrugged, tipping his head back haughtily, pleased with himself, “I figure I’ll give the kid a choice: either he gets his ass out of here and keeps on running, or I tell Declan why an Omega is just running around on his own.”

Where there had been irritation and temper, there was now avid interest in Clarissa’s eyes.  She stepped a little bit closer to Rob – clearly able to smell interest on him, even if the thought made her want to roll her eyes and slap him like the cocky pup he was – and demanded in a hushed tone, “And why is that?”

“Because he’s wanted for the murder of his entire pack.”

~^~

There was no one else in the house.  Marcus couldn’t smell any other fresh scents, even with his head out from under the blanket, and his sense of smell so terribly slow to fade into the normal ranges.  Even the bitter, biting scent of the other Omega was gone, and it took all the strength Marcus had not to cry out.  As it was, he released a thin, dog-like whine of helplessness as Rob stepped close enough to grab his chin.  Marcus reflexively tried to pull loose and get away, but the command was still lodged into his bones, and the pain of fighting it was enough to make a red and black haze crowd the edges of his vision. It hurt so much that Marcus never wanted to do that again, and Rob was only a Beta. Before now (back when things were happy and normal and Marcus hadn’t had all of his ties slashed away from him), a Beta’s words wouldn’t have meant all that much to him, no matter how bossy, but clearly he’d sunk quite low since then. 

When Marcus’s eyes focused again, he could see that the Beta was thinking about how well his demand had worked, but he was fascinated rather than horrified. “Well, well, well,” he mused, his grip on Marcus’s jaw tightening until it became almost unbearable, “There really is something wrong with you, isn’t there?”

Even as the words made Marcus flinch – they echoed his own thoughts too perfectly – he closed his eyes and managed to whisper out, “Just tell me what you want.”  His words sounded pathetically weak in his ears, as insubstantial as feathers, as fragile as the wing they came from. 

Rob slammed his head back against the wall hard enough to make the smaller Wolf see stars.  “I want to tell you a little story that I heard, and see if it rings any bells to you,” Rob crowded in close to breathe the words hotly against Marcus’s ear. The Omega attempted to fight back, or at least push the Beta away, but the command lingered hot and heavy in his veins like barbed chains.  Marcus made a little noise as if a choke-collar had been pulled tight around his throat, even as Rob continued with obvious smugness, “I heard about a court case where an entire pack was gunned down in their own house.  Do you know anything about that?”

Suddenly Marcus was shuddering; it was all he could do under the influence of Rob’s command.  He’d thought that his world was already falling apart, but apparently there had been some last bastion still standing, because he could feel it crumbling now. Rob was like a plague of locusts, sweeping through the land and devouring whatever it came across, only to move on to the next field just when it seemed he might be sated. Marcus didn’t have any fields left now that were safe, and it forced a choked sob out of his throat.

“I’ll take that as a yes,” Rob still, standing back a bit, and lifting his hand to pat Marcus’s head patronizingly.  The Omega bowed his head, because it was the only small thing he could do to hide the flood of frustrated, terrified tears hiding in his eyes. “So, hopefully now you can see why you need to leave.  You’re a murderer.”

“No, I’m not.” The words were too weak to even make a dent, and his pleas sounded almost uncertain even in his own ears.

Rob just kept talking, standing over him like a green-eyed gallows. “Even your own blood-relatives won’t have anything to do with you.  After I finish talking to you, I plan to call the police, and tell them that I’ve got the perp they’ve been hunting for four years.”

Marcus’s head jerked up, eyes wild and desperate.  Tears final spilled past the edges, because he couldn’t hold them back anymore.  “P-Please…” he almost couldn’t get the words out past the stifling panic crawling up his chest. He couldn’t deal with this. He just couldn’t. “Don’t.”

“It’s my civil duty to turn in a murderer,” stated Rob as calmly as a summer’s day, “but you’re in luck.”

Holding very still (of his own volition now, like a rabbit sensing the possibility of an escape past the fox), Marcus stared silently at the larger Wolf. His wounds burned and throbbed in time with his racing heartbeat, and he flinched a little as a peal of thunder rolled in the distance.  There was a storm rolling in.  Marcus imagined that he was already in its foreboding, smothering shadow. 

Rob bared his teeth, teasing giving way to simple violence in that one expression. “I’m going to give you a head-start.  This is my pack, and mostly, I just want to rid them of a threat. Your old pack trusted you, and you killed them, and now my pack is starting to trust-!”

“That’s not how it happ-!”

The slap whipped Marcus’s head to the side so hard that he tipped onto his left side, and then he heard the crackle of bending, breaking bones above the ringing in his ears.  Marcus pushed through his disorientation to scramble out from under the sheets, the warnings in his head dazedly telling him that Rob had finally gotten tired of playing with him and that the order to stay still had finally faded – just as Marcus tumbled in a haphazard heap onto the floor, injuries screaming, there was a heavy thump of lupine paws hitting the mattress. Big and furred in shades of grey, Rob bared ivory fangs even as his Werewolf claws flexed like a cat’s against the sheets. 

Marcus was already feeling lightheaded, both from the pain of his wounds and from the weakness of his body.  But no matter how unfit he was to run, he did so any way, forcing his legs under him and making them move even as the left one threatened to buckle.  His bare feet scrambled against the hardwood floor even as Rob’s rumbling growl became a hunting roar. 

To be honest, Marcus wasn’t near fast or coordinated enough in his present condition to have reached the door without Rob letting him, and he knew it.  In fact, as the Omega stumbled through the house and eventually found the door leading to outside – giving him a view of verdant forest in all directions, and overcast skies rumbling ominously overhead – Marcus knew that he Beta wasn’t even following him. As he turned around, however, feeling acutely the weakness in his leg and the tight ache in the stitched arm folded against his lean stomach, Marcus knew that he hardly needed to be chased.

His past had already caught up with him. 

Marcus almost lost his footing and hit the ground as he moved to turn away, agony lancing up from his calf almost to his hip.  Looking down, he could see a few spots of blood seeping through his borrowed sweatpants, a sign that his earlier lunge to escape hadn’t been without consequences.  Marcus bit his lip hard so as not to whimper, afraid that even that tiny sound would alert Rob to the fact that he was still standing there on the doorstep before he could get further away. 

This is all I have,’ Marcus realized with a clenching of his gut.  A pair of sweatpants, not even his. 

Because he couldn’t help it – the instinct was too strong, the urge an animal and feral force rising up his spine and to his throat – Marcus tipped his head back and howled, his human throat not built for the sound, but swiftly catching on as he slowly transformed into a small, dirty-white, keening wolf. The sound was lonely and afraid, and it petered off quickly before the Fen-pack Beta could come to silence it himself.  Marcus forced his paws to run even as the first fat drops of rain began to patter against his pale coat and flattened ears. 

~^~

Declan didn’t so much hear the sound as… felt it. It felt like a tuning fork that had been struck, an ephemeral sound resounding subtly through his bones and making him suddenly freeze.  He turned back into a human with a thought, fur becoming skin and clothing. To either side of him, Liz and Kobi stopped running, still in their lupine forms and now turning curious snouts his way.  Ahead of them was Clarissa, running with her tail tucked between her legs, but distantly Declan was aware that his aunt had trotted to a halt, too.  

Suddenly, Declan realized something that he’d been too furious and focused to notice earlier, as he’d chased his treacherous aunt through the trees. “Where’s Rob?” he demanded in a voice that matched the thunder coming in.  A crackle of lightning answered him. 

Not knowing where these new instincts were coming from, and suddenly not caring, Declan turned his feet back towards the house, commanding Liz and Kobi without looking back, “Fetch me Clarissa.  When I see you again at the house, I want her waiting for me.” As Kobi and Liz growled their full-hearted acceptance of those orders and began pelting away with the swift pounding of paws, Declan’s full height once again folded in on itself, until a massive beast of black stood on four legs instead.  The inky wolf was running back the way he’d come without questioning his actions for a second, that sound still echoing in his head.

He sensed fear.

He sensed loss.

He sensed sadness so strong that it was like a phantom knife skewering him right through, but it was the voice in his head that had him running faster and faster. 

Foreign yet familiar, Declan could just barely hear Marcus Rushton’s thoughts, like a radio station he wasn’t quite tuned to catch, but could hear with crackling clarity, ‘I hope this kills me… because I can’t take any more…’

The storm had begun in earnest now, the droplets like beads of silver as they rolled off Declan’s thick coat, splashing beneath his paws as he ran. As he reached the house, he began to scent Rob there; even though the Beta wasn’t projecting his thoughts, Declan knew he wasn’t imagining the sense of pride and gloating. Fury tore through Declan like a flash-fire that he didn’t even remember throwing kerosene on. But another smell – that of Marcus, flecked with the iron tang of blood and the omnipresent smell of fear that the Omega always seemed to have – reached him, staining the grass and heading away from the house and deeper into the woodlands at the city’s edge.

He turned and headed in that direction instead, even as the storm increased, washing away the scent. 

~^~

As the adrenalin faded, Declan began to think about just how odd it was that he was hearing Marcus’s voice in his head.  Even for those bound to him in his pack, Declan only heard them telepathically when they meant him to – it was just another kind of speech.  Now, though, the flickering, there-and-gone echo of Marcus’s thoughts was the only thing allowing Declan to follow the Omega.  The rain was making everything smell like mud and wet leaves.  It didn’t seem as though Marcus was telepathically picking up Declan’s thoughts in return, but instead just thinking his own thoughts like a man talking to himself in a room he thought was empty.

They were horrible, agony-damaged thoughts, and each tore into Declan like claws:  ‘Can’t…  Can’t let them find me.  Cold. So cold.  …Just my luck that it would rain.  Nothing.  I can’t go back because I have…  Nothing. I don’t know where I am… Hungry… Tired…  Hurts…  Keep moving…’  And then there were the more visceral, wordless thoughts that came to Declan’s mind more as impressions than coherent words, thoughts of just curling up in place and staying there. 

Declan knew that Marcus wanted to do that so he never had to move ever again – a suicidal impulse that had the Alpha’s wet hackles standing up in fear as much as directionless anger – but right now, he wanted Marcus to do just that so he could quickly find him. So Declan pushed with his mind as hard as he could, imagining the link he had with his other pack-mates and trying to form it out of thin air between himself and this strange, pack-less little Omega he’d gotten so tangled up with so quickly.  The whole process felt a lot like trying to understand the beating of his own heart, as he attempted to consciously do something that he usually did instinctively – and to make it even harder, the link itself wasn’t really there, or at least not in the same way it was with Kobi, Liz, Rob, and Clarissa.  When they’d formally joined his pack, a thread of steel had stretched between them, firm and unshakable.  Somehow, Declan now found himself holding the trailing end of a fraying string, unsure if he’d break it if he tugged too hard, barely feeling the vibrations from the other end.

But Declan had already decided that he wasn’t just going to abandon Marcus, so he kept trying, until he felt a little… quiver.  It wasn’t quite recognition, nor was it the solidifying of any kind of true connection, but capitulation spiraled down the one-sided telepathic link, and Declan sensed that Marcus’s internal fight between escaping and giving up had tipped towards the latter.  Declan picked up pace, his heart sore, but glad that this resignation at least made the Omega easier to find. 

With his quarry no longer running, but with his mind also growing progressively quieter, Declan pushed his body and senses to the limit, fur slicked back and wet nearly to the undercoat by now.  He nearly stumbled in relief when he began to pick up the familiar, vanilla-edged scent that was all Marcus, despite the pelting rain.

By then, the telepathic connection had kicked out completely, almost like it had never been.  It made the Alpha think of computer glitches, and things that weren’t made to happen, and were usually cleaned away and ‘fixed’ later so they wouldn’t happen again. It made Declan realize that Marcus thought about himself the same way: as a ‘glitch’ in society that needed to be deleted.  Some part of Declan hadn’t wanted to really think about it that way before, but having been listening in on Marcus’s half-coherent thoughts for about half an hour now, he knew it to be true.  Feeling nearly sick to his stomach and burning with the need to do something - to convince Marcus that that wasn't true - Declan didn’t even notice the lack of territorial anger when he caught sight of something white and soft amidst the dark greens and browns. 

Marcus had curled himself up in the lea of an old, worn weeping-willow. It looked as though another storm had torn the tree asunder some years previously, making it lean crookedly to one side, old scars slowly healing all along its northern face. The few branches still left provided very little protection from the storm, but Marcus had huddled there anyway, amidst long grass already bent by the rain and trailing willow branches that draped across his flank and shoulders.  He looked so small, balled up tight around himself there, like a ghost with his soaking white fur sticking up in all directions. His nose was in the mud and his eyes were closed, the only sign that he was alive being the too-fast, shallow breaths raising and lowering his ribcage, and the way he shuddered and tensed as waves of pain hit him. 

It seemed at first that he hadn’t noticed Declan standing there, a leap away, but when one blue eye opened – as clear as the sapphire sky of a midsummer day, but as forlorn as a gaze out to sea – it found the Alpha unerringly.

Slowly, Marcus changed shape, so that before long there was a slim young man lying where a wolf had been.  He didn’t try and get up; he didn’t say anything.  Declan’s heart tore as the smaller young man simply lay on his side in the mud and grass, shivering uncontrollably as the wet and cold sank into skin that was barely even covered – all he had on were the borrowed sweatpants, which clung to his legs, as sopping wet as every other inch of him.

“I don’t…” Marcus finally started to speak, voice small and catching on the second word.  He had to swallow visibly before going on with his helpless eyes fixed on the black wolf across the way, “I don’t know what to do anymore.  I…!” Either his injuries or his own sadness finally got too painful to bear, because his face twisted up in a rictus grimace, eyes closing.  Marcus pushed himself up laboriously into a sitting position, but only to huddle in on himself, arms wrapped around his chest.  Scars on his shoulders and arms showed up brightly as a distant flash of lightning illuminated him. The bandages he still wore were soggy and bloodstained in places, hinting at torn stitches where there would later be more scars.  “I don’t know what else anyone can expect me to do,” he whimpered down towards his lap, like a desperate, supplicating plea for an answer that wouldn’t end in more pain.  For an answer that would give him any direction at all

Declan changed back.  He did it fast enough that it hurt a bit, making him wince, but he needed his voice and he knew that he needed to be something that didn’t have teeth and claws. Marcus’s head jerked up to look at him, face wet and surprised.  Hopefully Declan’s open palms showed his harmlessness well enough.  “No one is expecting anything of you, Marcus,” he said, low and steady, easing his steps forward.  The jacket he’d been wearing when he’d left the house was still repelling water, and when he got close enough to crouch down in front of Marcus – the Omega eyeing him warily, but too exhausted to flee again – he shrugged it off. Marcus tried to avoid the article of clothing, but Declan knew a fight-or-flight, knee-jerk response when he saw one, and knelt forward a bit closer so that he could snug the thick material around the smaller young man’s torso, holding him still even as he gave him a barrier against the storm.  Marcus finally just shuddered and closed his eyes, and an unexpected burst of completion flushed through Declan’s system as he watched the Omega turn his nose and burry it in the collar, inhaling deeply. “You’re scared.”

It wasn’t a question, but Marcus answered anyway, wearily, “I don’t know how to be anything else.”  He sniffled, drawing his knees up until there was little except his feet, shins, and head not covered by Declan’s coat at least partially.

After a pause, Declan just nodded, accepting that.  For the first time, he really glanced around to get his bearings, glad that he actually recognized this area.  “You’re easier to carry as a Wolf,” he said, keeping his tone level and calm, even though he still got a ludicrous sort of look in response, “If you transform, and if you let me, I’ll take us somewhere dry. There’s an old hunter’s cabin not far from here.”

Marcus immediately began shaking his head, full of fear again now that he’d had a few minutes to rest.  “N-N-No. No.  I have to leave.  If you knew what Rob-” 

Startling both of them, Marcus’s attempt to gain his feet ended with his left leg buckling completely and it was only thanks to quick reflexes that Declan shot to his feet and caught him.  Rain running down both of them, and muddy bare feet touching (Declan hadn’t bothered to put on shoes before going after Clarissa), the two men just stood still for a second, Marcus’s wounded arm shaking as his fingers snagged in Declan’s white T-shirt.  Declan’s arms were wrapped around the Omega’s back, holding him up and also holding the jacket in place, although it had slipped down, baring the tops of Marcus’s lithe shoulders. His skin stood out, so pale when contrasted with the dark brown of his hair that had turned a nearly black, sable color now that it was wetted down and plastered to his head. Declan figured that his own blonde hair looked quite a wreck. 

Taking a risk, Declan slowly lifted up one arm, until he could cup his hand around the back of Marcus’s neck.  He got a shiver in response, Marcus’s face pressing in the slope of muscle between neck and shoulder, and gave in to the urge to stroke upwards until his fingers were buried in thick, straight hair and pressed against a chilled scalp. “And what does Rob know?” Declan asked as gently as he knew how.

This time, Marcus didn’t try to escape. 

“Take me wherever it is you’re wanting to… and I’ll tell you,” was the resigned answer sighed against Declan’s throat.  “You’re going to hear it anyway, but I want you – I want someone – to hear it from me first. Just one time.”

“Okay,” the Alpha agreed, as easily as that, with another pet of his hand. He murmured encouragingly, but with great care not to use any command, “Just change then for me.”

A frigid mouth, nose, and chin rubbed against Declan’s skin and made it his turn to shiver as his smaller companion nodded, and then – while still standing in the Alpha’s arms – Marcus shifted shape.  Wolves were rarely this close to one another when they changed, and Declan was shocked by the intimate feeling of bones and muscle moving, twisting, stretching, and even snapping under his hands, before he lost his grip on the fluid shape. 

Just a moment later, and he was looking down at a small white wolf – it seemed that only Omegas actually got smaller when they went Wolf – sitting at his feet, head tiredly hanging and eyes closed as if almost asleep.  The soft paws were the last things to leave the ground as Declan carefully picked him up, frowning at the new bits of red staining Marcus’s messy white fur, but the Omega didn’t try to claw or bite him, and his weight rested easily in the circle of Declan’s strong arms. 

Declan was probably too far away to telepathically signal the rest of his pack, but he did his best to send them words and feelings that he was okay. He wanted to say that Marcus was, too, but he was truthful enough with himself to admit that that was very much not true. 

~^~

 

Chapter Text

The old hunting cabin was in pretty good shape, all things considered. The Fen pack had only moved here in the past year, but Liz had always liked exploring, and Kobi had always liked working with his hands – so the former had found the place and the latter had been working on it off and on to patch it up. There had been quite a few jokes about the dating pair making a ‘love-nest.’

As Declan stepped inside the door and finally brought himself and Marcus out of the rain, he decided that the cabin wasn’t quite up to the standards of a decent love-nest, but at least Kobi had sealed it against mice and weather. He remembered when Kobi had driven the truck out here, depositing the worn futon that was now one of the few pieces of furniture within the place.  It smelled of Kobi and Liz and warm happiness, getting Declan to relax even as he tightened his arms around Marcus and wished he could impart some of that feeling to him.  The little Omega had barely moved since Declan had picked him up, besides constantly shivering. In fact, Declan was pretty sure that if he hadn’t walked carefully, Marcus wouldn’t have even bothered to shift his snout out of the way of passing branches; he was passive in a way that was unsettling.

Pushing the door shut on the rain, a gentle kick of his heel doing the job, Declan glanced around with relief to see that there was also a blanket or three as well as chopped wood sitting dry and ready by the small fire-place.

“I’m going to put you down, okay, Marcus?” he gave the Omega plenty of warning before slowly bending over to deposit him on the floor between the futon and the hearth. He kind of missed the feeling of soft (but wet) white fur against his hands as soon as he let go, and was pretty sure that Marcus missed it, too, if only because he had to stand under his own power now.  He didn’t seem to have either the will or strength for it, and only wobbled on his four paws for a moment before crumpling to the ground.  Sighing, knowing that there wasn’t anything he could do about that yet, Declan turned away from the small white wolf he was now sharing space with, instead turning his attention to getting a fire started.  He glanced back frequently while finding matches and wadded up newspaper to breathe life into a warm blaze, watching as white paws were tucked carefully beneath a trembling body, tail tucked so close against the wolf’s rump that it looked honestly like he didn’t have one.  Stunning blue eyes were nearly closed, and focused off to the side, with a sort of strained deference that made Declan feel unaccountably like he was a horrible person – once again, the Omega was doing everything he could to appear submissive and non-threatening, even when Declan had never demanded the former from any Omega, and as for the latter…

There was just no possible way that Declan could be afraid of a young man who was obviously so scared, regardless of whether he had fangs and claws at his disposal right now.

“You don’t have to do that, you know,” Declan said awkwardly as the fire began to devour the paper, hungrily blackening it before reaching for a more stable food-source in the form of a small stick.  Declan began to slowly feed it larger and larger logs. “You don’t have to make yourself small and inconspicuous just so I’ll… so I’ll tolerate you.” The words tasted so wrong in his mouth that the Alpha couldn’t help but grimace.

He got no answer, of course, because Marcus seemed reluctant to change back, and the telepathy appeared to have been a fluke.  Declan was still confused as to how their minds had linked up in the first place, although he thought it had something to do with just how furious and disgusted he was with Clarissa, the pack’s native Omega, at the moment – he also liked to think that it was because he sincerely cared about Marcus’s wellbeing by this point, and wanted to help him regardless of whether he was packless or not.  “If you change back, we’ll get you dried off, and then you can tell me your story,” the Alpha finally said calmly, still watching the fire.  It was throwing off a pleasant and powerful heat now, but he wished he could find easy answers in its fickle, leaping flames.

The sounds of straining, snapping bones heralded Marcus’s willingness to follow this plan.  Declan was very proud of himself for remembering the Omega’s particular weakness to commands, and there hadn’t been a hint of it in his voice so far.  He turned as he heard a throat being carefully cleared, and a soft voice saying, “I have your coat.”

Like the sweatpants and bandages, Declan’s jacket had been close enough to Marcus’s skin to undergo the transformation with him.  Now it was once again draped over lean shoulders, but Marcus was quick to slide it off and proffer it in one long-fingered hand. Without the jacket, various scars were all-too-visible against the skin of his chest, shoulders, belly, and arms, the firelight not quite managing to soften them.  When Declan didn’t take the coat fast enough – caught staring instead – Marcus lost his courage and simply leaned forward to drop it between them. Eyes downcast but body tense from something other than shivering, the smaller young man withdrew again, until he was sitting with his back against the edge of the futon.

Declan had hoped that he’d say something more, but sighed in resignation when Marcus instead just reverted to what he’d been doing previously, as a wolf: keeping his eyes down and doing his best not to exist.

Projecting his movements so as not to startle the fragile Werewolf unnecessarily, Declan got up, grabbing one of the blankets folded not far from the fire. It smelled a little musty, but was clean and dry.  Shaking it out a moment to gather his thoughts, Declan made up his mind on what he wanted to do before coming up to Marcus. He had to ignore the way the little Wolf sidled away from him, pressing one shoulder a bit more firmly against the couch while trying not to appear like he was avoiding anything. Sharp fear ignited in blue eyes that were focused somewhere off towards the sparse little kitchen.

“Shhh, shhh,” Declan hushed, gentling his tone, “I’m not going to hurt you. I know you don’t believe me, but I’ve been doing pretty well lately, right?” The Alpha squatted down by the shoulder Marcus had turned to him (the term ‘turning a cold shoulder’ came rather literally to his mind), blanket draped across his hands as he did his best to catch Marcus’s eyes – if only so Marcus could see that he was smiling, and not angry or defensive. “I just want to dry you off.” Doubting that he’d get any sort of permission – either verbal or gestural – Declan waited a few moments before beginning to run his blanket-covered hands as gently as he could over Marcus’s wet, cold skin.

The little Omega immediately closed his eyes and let out a little sigh, something resembling a whine threading through the breath, so quiet that Declan almost didn’t hear it.  The Alpha thought for a frightened moment that he actually had hurt Marcus, but then the shivering torso leaned into his hands a little bit.  Marcus hunched his shoulders as if ashamed a moment later, straining the injury on the side of his neck, no doubt, but ducking his head and turning further away nonetheless.

Slowly, Declan began to understand.

“It’s all right, Marcus,” he whispered, stroking the impromptu towel down Marcus’s back, which was scarred like the hide of a street mutt, or a fighting dog. Soft skin like this shouldn’t have been so roughened up.  “You haven’t had an Alpha in a long time, have you?”

Marcus cleared his throat again, and though he didn’t turn back to Declan, the Alpha could hear how thick the smaller man’s voice was, “Not in four years.”

The length of time startled Declan, but at least Marcus had his back to him now, and therefore wasn’t watching to see his gold-brown eyes widen. He continued to dry Marcus off, beginning to understand just why the Omega was letting him instead of taking the blanket for himself – and also understanding what had driven Marcus to inhale deeply of the scent of Declan’s coat.

Liz and Kobi (and, once upon a time, even occasionally his aunt and Rob) came to Declan for comfort, drawing a natural sense of tranquility from his presence and scent. Marcus hadn’t had anything like that in four years, and had definitely been in circumstances that would cry out for an Alpha’s natural sense of security.  He was enjoying that sense of safety vicariously now, stealing calmness and safety from an Alpha that wasn’t his, and felt so clearly guilty that Declan could detect it in nearly all of his senses.

And even pick it up, as a vague sort of sound, telepathically. It sounded like rejoicing and crying at the same time, heard from the other side of a bolted door.

Feeling his heart stretching and tearing, Declan swallowed the lump building in his throat and draped the blanket over Rushton’s soaked head, which bowed beneath the weight without protest as Declan began to dry that, too. Hidden by the fall of the blanket, Marcus cried; Declan could hear it in the soft whines and painfully hitched breaths.  Declan also took the opportunity to move just a little bit closer, though, kneeling up so that there was barely half a foot between them, and he didn’t miss the way Marcus started to lean back but then stopped himself, muscles quaking with the effort it took to hold still.

‘…None of this is mine,’ Declan just picked up in his head before the telepathic link broke and faded again.

“I… I should get out of these wet pants,” Marcus said, voice stiff and unnatural as he tried to accomplish a detached tone of voice. Declan lowered the blanket off him, wishing he could see that tousled head of damp hair in other circumstances – it would look adorable.  “Do you…? I mean, are there any dry clothes here I could change into?” he asked apprehensively.

“I hope so, because I’m soaked to the bone, too,” Declan tried to inject normalcy and cheer into his voice, and thought that he had almost managed it as he pushed to his feet. He left the blanket. He also pretended not to notice when Marcus scooped it up hesitantly and carefully, and then bundled it around himself.  The wet portion was turned outwards, the dry side that had been touching Declan’s hands and forearms was pressed up against Marcus’s nose and face.

Marcus hadn’t moved from that pose by the time Declan returned a few moments later, glad that Liz and Kobi probably were fooling around in the privacy of this little cabin, because it meant there were a few changes of clothes stashed away in the small bathroom.  He’d gone ahead and changed in there, and felt rather triumphant as he now padded out with one more set of clothes for Marcus.  He didn’t expect the Omega to speak: “I’m broken.”  There was a little pause during which Declan froze, bewildered, and Marcus didn’t open his eyes.  His voice was a bit muffled by the blanket, because he still had his mouth and nose buried in it. “Omegas… aren’t supposed to live on their own.  I think it’s like a sickness that eats away as us… at me.  Or else I’m going insane.”

“What are you talking about, Marcus?”

Squirming in place for a moment, Marcus rubbed his face back and forth, and Declan caught the brief, agonized grimace that twisted the smaller man’s mouth downwards and beetled his brows.  “I can’t tune things out sometimes.”  He sounded close to crying again, but was holding onto control with threadbare tenacity. “A lot of the time. Smell is the worst, but…” And now he broke: a sob shook his shoulders and cracked his words in half.  Marcus hunched his knees up beneath the blanket and buried himself entirely in it, except for his ridiculously tousled, still-damp hair. “…But the smell of a fucking Alpha makes it better!” he finished in furious helplessness, and everything fell into place.

Ignoring the swearing – Declan wasn’t so soft as to be offended by something like that, and he no longer felt even the vaguest impulse to be angry at every little thing the packless Omega did – Declan padded forward with a soft, sad sigh. Marcus was crying hard even as he obviously fought not to, all of the stress and strain clearly catching up to him. And it must have been a lot of stress and strain, because his small body was absolutely shaking with it, curled in on itself like something imploding, the blanket providing a pathetic façade of privacy.

Hooking the new pair of sweatpants and T-shirt over his shoulder, Declan bent down and carefully gripped Marcus’s elbows, drawing him upwards as his last sob became a painful keen.  He’d noticed that Marcus sounded more wolf-like than nearly any Werewolf he’d ever met, while still wearing his human skin.  It was as if he were a little bit feral.  “Let’s get you into some dry clothes, Marcus,” the Alpha said with soft compassion, no judgment in his voice, and even though he wasn’t being ordered anywhere, Marcus let the blanket drop and scrubbed at his teary eyes with one hand before letting Declan lead him closer to the warm fire and gently strip him.

 

~^~

 

“You must think I’m pathetic.”  Marcus’s voice, now that he’d cried himself out, was toneless and weary. He was sitting back on the couch now, head against the arm-rest and body stretched halfway across it. The Omega could have taken up more space, as Declan was only sitting on the far fourth of it, but Marcus kept his legs bent and tucked in anyway, now sans bandages but with the left leg of his new sweatpants rolled up to avoid more blood. Because of the torn stitches and Marcus’s compromised ability to heal himself, the bite-wound on his calf would likely scar. The soaked bandages on his neck and arm had been removed, too, but they merely looked painful and red – no torn stitches. It all looked very stark against the oversized black T-shirt the Omega was now wearing, a color that wasn’t flattering when his skin was so pale, not to mention blotchy from crying. Marcus fisted his hand reflexively where his injured arm was laid over his stomach.

Still a little bit shell-shocked from all this, although still maintaining a steady, calm demeanor, Declan turned his attention from the lessening rain back to Marcus.  “No, I don’t,” he replied.

Marcus’s disbelief was palpable, but he didn’t address it. “I said that I’d tell you my story, and I may as well start.  This can hardly get any worse.”

“Marcus…”

“I said I’d tell you, and I want to!” the Omega raised his voice suddenly to almost a shout, but then backed off.  Had he been in lupine form, his ears would have laid back on his head and his tail would have tucked. “Sorry, it’s…”

“It’s hard. I understand,” Declan hurried to mollify him.

But the Omega just wrapped both arms around his middle and huddled his knees in closer, like a barricade to hide behind as he stared up at the ceiling. “It’s not, really. It’s actually quite simple,” he began, in a shaky voice that came as if from far away – or like heartbreak locked beneath a layer of fragile ice, “I got in an argument with my Alpha over something stupid. A disagreement between myself and someone else – he’d sided with Melissa, and I thought I was right.” Marcus paused, rubbing at one of the scars on his forearm, and now his eyes were barren and dry as he stared at the ceiling but watched something else. “I got mad; we yelled. Mostly I yelled. God, I was so childish… Then I stormed out.” He finished with a clinical detachedness that sounded desperately wrong, especially when Declan could smell his pain and sorrow as clearly as if it were the stench of ammonia and sulfur, “And when I came back, they were all dead.”

“So what happened?” Declan pressed after a moment spent processing that. He didn’t know what he’d imagined… but this wasn’t it.  Somehow, the truth right out of Marcus’s mouth was more violent than a sledgehammer, even if Marcus was somehow managing to tell the story with a flat, dead tone instead of an emotional one.

Shockingly, Marcus’s answer was simple: “I don’t know.  I don’t remember.  I have a vague memory of leaving the house to go to a bar some of my friends frequented, but it’s all fuzzy.  It was like I closed my eyes a few blocks from my house, and opened them again as I stepped into the house to see…”  He choked, swallowed, but continued like the martyr he was right now, “…To see the bodies of my family all over the floor.  I…I tried to revive them.  I was told that I didn’t call an ambulance until it was too late, though, but everything was so fuzzy…!”

Marcus had to stop because his voice had been rising hysterically, his brittle calm shattering. While Declan just stared, horrified as he pictured all of this, Marcus covered his face with his hands and cried again.

But, stubbornly, he forced himself to speak once more. By this point, Declan just wanted to tell him to stop, but the Alpha was stunned, and Marcus had promised to rip himself open if only to give one person the truth as he remembered it.  Or, rather, as he didn’t.   “I think… I think that they were dead even before I got home, but people have said that that’s a lie, or wishful thinking. When the ambulance and police arrived, I was whisked away so fast that…” His voice dropped to a whisper, and his hands were still over his eyes. “If they had still been alive at all, and died later, I…I never knew.  No one told me. No one let me stay with them. I just wanted to stay with them…”

Another long, tormented pause.  Declan wanted to reach out and touch, but Marcus had pulled his feet back as far as he could, and looked as fragile as glass that already had cracks fissured all through it.

“I told everyone that I didn’t remember, but there were no drugs in my system to corroborate that story,” Marcus continued, gaining some measure of control now that he’d gotten the worst of the story out.  That didn’t mean it wasn’t painful.  “There were no fingerprints in the house to indicate a stranger, and there was no sign of a break-in, so they told me that it must have been me who did it. Me.” Abruptly, Marcus got up. He didn’t go far, and he limped horribly with his one rolled-up pant-leg riding level with his left knee. Nonetheless, he staggered back and forth, pacing furiously with his knuckles pressed against his eyesockets, and forced the words out like fishhooks pulled from his throat, “It’s hard to kill a whole pack like that so cleanly, they said!  Only someone they knew could have accomplished it, they said! They said more things that I can’t remember, because I was grieving!” By now, Marcus was screaming again, as if none of this had had a chance to come out before – and maybe it hadn’t. “I just wanted to be with… with them. Even if they were… I just wanted to see them. My last memory of my entire pack is of them…!”

Marcus stopped pacing to just stand hunched by the fire, staring into it with his arms dropping to his sides.  His voice came out as a little mewl, so tiny and so lost, “Is of them covered in blood, strewn across the house like something thought they were trash.” When Marcus unexpectedly turned to meet Declan’s eyes, his blue gaze was glistening with tears, tracks running silently down his face, which looked terribly young and open at that moment, making Declan’s heart seize.  “My own family won’t even see me, you know?  My birth-family.  My uncle is the Omega of that pack, so I moved to another when I turned seventeen, but we still talked on the phone and they visited.  But then the lawyers and the police officers said that neighbors had heard me yelling profanities at my Alpha, and all of the facts did… do… point to me. My family disowned me officially just a week after my pack was murdered.”

The bottom fell out of Declan’s stomach, and he thought he was going to be sick. The picture being painted before him in vivid, gory brush-strokes was almost more than he knew how to comprehend. From what he knew of Marcus, he had a hard time believing that he really was capable of mass murder, but regardless of the truth, no one should have had to undergo what Marcus did afterwards: torn from his slaughtered pack without closure, immediately tossed into a judicial whirlwind while the grief was still fresh, then pounded with allegations that he’d done all of this and it was his fault.  On top of all that, his family had believed the opposing side, and had abandoned him.

Marcus dropped his eyes to look at the floor, his weight shifting over to his good leg just as the other threatened to give out on him. He shook everywhere, despite the way the fire had heated up the small cabin.  “I ran away about a week later,” he whispered, “They were moving me to another jail-cell from the one I’d been sleeping in since everything happened-” Declan flinched again at the callousness of that act alone – if he’d just lost his entire pack, he wouldn’t have wanted to cope with that alone in a cell. “-and someone neglected to cuff me. I guess I’m not very physically intimidating.”  Marcus made a dry noise in his throat as if he were trying to laugh, but failing miserably. He shook his head. “I know how this all sounds. With my own Alpha dead, there’s no one to be able to tell if I’m telling the truth either – I was told that that was awfully convenient.” Marcus flinched but went on, “And I know that running away only makes me seem more guilty – believe me, I know that. But… at the moment, it’d seemed like the only option.”  He locked his arms tight around his middle again, looking small and breakable as he gripped his own ribs.  “I just wanted to get away and grieve,” he said in a pitch that Declan was probably not meant to hear. It was made of nothing but heartbreak. “I just wanted to grieve.”

After a long silence – stretched out like the edges of a wound, nerve-endings screaming – Marcus sagged again, sighing as if the wind had been punched out of him. His head lifted, but his eyes were still closed, as if he didn’t care to see anymore of the world, or of Declan’s reaction.  He looked haggard and drawn, exhausted in a way that went beyond mere physical fatigue. It looked like a kind of tiredness that Marcus had been carrying for four whole years. “There.  That’s my story. The rest you know: I’ve been living on my own, doing my best to avoid anything and everyone, and moving when that doesn’t work. I would have left this town, too, except Rob trashed my entire house,” he finished without any particular inflection.

That got Declan to focus past his own shock.  “He did what?!”

“I figured you didn’t know,” Marcus merely sighed, as if this didn’t surprise him. Or as if he expected no better. “On the same day that your Omega went after me, Rob tore my apartment to shreds.  I was already leaving with that little I had left, but Clarissa destroyed that, too.  Plus, by now my landlord or neighbors must have noticed something, so they’re probably looking for me to pay damages.  And I’ve missed enough work that I’m probably fired.”  Head tipped back, eyes still closed, Marcus let out a giggle that was pure insanity. “You know what? Things really can’t get worse for once.”

“Why didn’t you tell me all this?!” Declan exclaimed, breathless because now he felt like the one with all the wind knocked out of him.  It was as if he’d been running around with sunglasses this whole time, blind to the light of truth waiting all around him, but now he was seeing clearly.

Marcus finally cracked his eyes open and looked at him, sadly. “You’re not my Alpha. You’re their Alpha. And I’ve already been told that I’m not a reliable source.”

“That’s without facts to back yourself up,” Declan argued, frustrated but managing his temper, “Here, there are facts! If Rob broke into your apartment and ransacked the place, his scent would have to be everywhere.”

“You wouldn’t have punished him.”

Declan’s voice dropped to a nearly deadly octave.  “What?”

Coming slowly out of the painful fog he’d been in, telling his story, Marcus caught the tone enough for his eyes to widen.  He flinched physically, reverting somewhat to the fearful young man he’d been before. “Nothing,” he said, hurriedly, “Nothing at all.  I didn’t say anything.” But he took a step back nonetheless and nearly stumbled on his bad leg.

Declan was already berating himself for forgetting how easily Marcus felt threatened when the Omega apparently made up his mind that he’d been through enough already, and transformed with a painful snap.  He was fighting his way free of Kobi’s oversized clothes a moment later, before scurrying off so fast that Declan was barely given time to react. Thankfully, the cabin had only one door, and Declan was in the way of that. Still, Marcus’s skinny, white-furred form made a dash for somewhere safe and quiet, which turned out to be the tiny bedroom just off the main room.

Swearing to himself (but silently, because he had a feeling that Marcus would hear and misinterpret the focus of his ire otherwise), Declan got up quickly and followed. He had only looked into the bedroom briefly, seeing that Kobi had found time to buy a mattress for the bedframe, but there were no sheets at the moment.

Marcus was under the bed.  He’d dashed under there like a fox into its den, and Declan had to get down on his hands and knees to see him in the back corner, curled up tight.  For a second, blue eyes met tawny ones, but then Marcus closed them and hid them behind his slightly-matted tail, as if the world would go away if he just didn’t look at it.  He whined, and throbbing beneath it, garbled but comprehensible, Declan heard human words in his head: ‘I’m sorry, I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to say that! …I was hurting.  I am hurting.  I do terrible things when I’m hurting.’  Suddenly Marcus’s whole body flinched, the whine ratcheting up to a tortured noise that the telepathic link translated without warning, ‘God, last time I was angry and hurting, did I kill them…?!’

“No, Marcus,” Declan found himself saying firmly, “No, you didn’t do that – you didn’t hurt your pack.”  Now that he’d started talking, Declan felt at once ridiculous, and like he had to continue, so he grasped at words like they were straws, “I’m not your Alpha, and I can’t sense if you’re lying, but from everything I’ve seen… Marcus, you’re nearly a pacifist! I saw.  You wouldn’t even bite back at Clarissa, and god knows I want to take a chunk out of her.”

Perhaps hearing that Declan was actually angry at his own Omega for her actions made Marcus feel a bit safer, because he opened his eyes again. When his tail unfurled from around his nose, Declan dared to reach forward and grab it, just at the tip. More softly, as he felt fur beneath his fingers that would have probably been so soft if it were better taken care of, the Alpha added, “And you’ve got plenty of reason to bite me or claw me now, and before now, but you haven’t even bared a fang.  Please, Marcus… You told me what happened to you, and I listened…”  Declan spent a moment thinking, going over everything, wanting his next words to be the truth. He thought they were as he flattened himself onto his chest, which allowed him to reach forward a bit more to just stroke his fingertips over Marcus’s cold, quivering nose, “And I believe you.”

 

~^~

Chapter Text

It was a bit of a risk, but by now, Declan trusted that Marcus wasn’t going to attack him – if he needed any more proof that the Omega preferred peace immensely to violence, this would be it.  Flat down on his stomach now, Declan ended up grabbing Marcus’s forepaws to drag him out from under the bed.  A regular wolf’s paws would have felt different from a Werewolf’s.  Instead of the stiff, hard bones of canine paws, Declan felt the more catlike flex of Marcus’s paws against his hands, even as his grip got some of the other’s retracted claws to extend.  They were pearly and sharp, but with the exception of a bit of halfhearted whining and wriggling, Marcus didn’t fight the slow drag forward. With nary a nip or a nick, Declan had Marcus back out from under the bed. 

Not wanting to have to explain how he’d known what Marcus was thinking (especially since Declan didn’t understand that fluke of telepathy himself), and not wanting to deal with the embarrassment of Marcus being naked again, Declan didn’t try and coax the Omega to change back into his human shape.  In fact, he didn’t say anything at all.  He had a feeling that they both were wrung out, empty from so many truths being dragged out of them in such a short space of time. Declan hadn’t even been reliving painful memories, and he still felt a bit gutted, so he merely hooked an arm around Marcus’s ribcage and lifted him while he himself stood. Having the smaller Werewolf in the grip of his arms was starting to feel almost normal to Declan. Marcus made a soft yip of surprise, but Declan was strong in a way that only Alphas could be, and soon he was striding back in the living room and depositing the white wolf on the futon. Marcus stood unsteadily when Declan let go and backed off again, unsure how to balance himself on an uneven surface with two bad legs. 

At least he didn’t seem as afraid.  In fact, he was watching Declan with half-hopeful eyes, a tiny sliver of him willing to take the Alpha’s belief in him as a sign of trust.  It was heart-wrenching to see such a tiny sign of caring mean so much to someone who seemed, from Declan’s limited knowledge, to be a basically good guy. But life had dealt him a brutal hand, so even hearing an Alpha like Declan say those words – ‘I believe you’ – seemed like almost too much to hope for.

Again, there just weren’t words to express everything, so Declan discarded his more verbal shape for one that dealt in more tactile currencies.  Marcus’s stunning blue eyes widened with surprise as Declan’s shape contorted and folded, slowly replacing skin and cloth with four legs and thick, black fur. 

Before the Omega could go from shocked to worried – he looked more awed than anything, really, which made Declan preen a bit – Declan hopped up onto the futon, too. He was at least twice Marcus’s size, his dark fur stark against even the dirtied white of the Omega’s pelt, but Declan crowded up along Marcus’s side anyway within the limited space of the futon.  The Omega whined, clearly confused and doing his best to show it – to cry out, ‘I don’t understand!  What do you want me to doI don’t know what you’re doing, or why you’re doing it. Tell me what I’m supposed to do!’ Random moments of telepathy aside, however, Declan couldn’t tell Marcus much of anything, except through touch and body language.  Turning his head constantly to keep an eye on Declan, Marcus got shuffled around and barely managed to keep his feet as the Alpha gently but stubbornly forced them to share space. Ears back, eyes perplexed and troubled, Marcus continued to make small whimpering noises, until Declan suddenly reached his snout down and purposefully wrapped his jaws around Marcus’s uninjured ankle.  Marcus froze and went almost shockingly silent in the space of a heartbeat, but the Alpha was gentle, his larger shoulder against Marcus’s and his fangs barely dimpling the furred skin where they pressed down.  When Declan began to slowly pull Marcus’s paw forward – out from under him – the Omega belatedly realized that he soon wouldn’t have enough legs to stand on, and clumsily dropped to his belly on the couch. 

With a pleased huff of breath, Declan let go, grinning a lupine smile of satisfaction over his handiwork.  Marcus was still watching him with almost painful uncertainty, now looking up from his lower position, but the larger wolf only loomed over him for a moment before lying down as well, although far more gracefully.  Glancing once at the fire – still crackling merrily, drying the assortment of wet clothes now arrayed before it – Declan placed his paws carefully so as not to step on his smaller comrade, and settled down at Marcus’s side.

It felt natural, or at least it should have: an Alpha comforting a traumatized, injured pack-member.  But Marcus wasn’t pack, and the past four years had conditioned Marcus to fear just about anyone who could possibly recognize him as a murder suspect, or who would attack him instinctively because he was packless.  So instead of being comforted, Marcus shivered and cowered as Declan’s larger, black-furred shape stretched out along his left side, between him and the back of the futon. He relaxed just a little, however, when Declan’s tongue swiped lightly at his shoulder… as if they were friends.

Head on his forelegs, Marcus let out a thin noise that was different from before, a sad, pleading, heartbroken noise.  ‘Don’t tease me,’ drifted with static through the link, very softly spoken.  Blue eyes miserably reflected the crackling fire, dancing as it cheerily burned the wood to nothing but ashes. Marcus’s eyes – so beautiful, so blue – looked in danger of being burnt out, too. 

Declan was beginning to realize that he’d rather chew off his own leg than let that happen.

This time, Declan focused as much as he could on his thoughts, grabbing the connection as it reached between them and holding on tight.  ‘I’m not,’ he tried to transmit solemnly. 

Unexpectedly, the body alongside him twitched.  Marcus was suddenly holding his breath, his ribs temporarily ceasing to rise and fall. 

You can hear me?’ Declan asked. Excited despite himself, Declan nosed at Marcus’s head, able to forget various human rules of personal space because… well, he wasn’t exactly human-shaped anymore. When Declan’s snout nudged encouragingly behind one of Marcus’s ears (usually flat against his skull but now lifted tentatively), he found the fur to be as soft as a puppy’s undercoat, smelling pleasantly of vanilla and cedar. 

There was a pulse of wordless emotion, surprise and bewilderment, but it took a bit for it to turn itself into a muffled word from the Omega: ‘Yes.’

When Marcus tried to struggle up and turn around, questions bubbling in his mind but not making it through the shoddy, untrustworthy telepathic link, Declan stopped him with a paw across his shoulders.  Marcus was a wreck (physically and mentally), so now wasn’t the time for him to get excited about this revelation – there would be time for that later. Declan also draped his neck over the back of Marcus’s tousled white ruff and curled his tail around his haunches, making it clear that his only interest right now was to be warm, cozy, and preferably asleep soon.  He gave a lupine, huffing chuckle as Marcus grunted under his weight and flicked an ear, the tip brushing Declan’s jaw. 

How about we just sleep, Marcus?’ he tried to project telepathically again, careful to suggest and not command. Declan was almost shocked by how contented he felt right now, just to be curled side-by-side with Marcus, and nothing would ruin that faster than accidentally playing to the Omega’s intense sensitivity to commands.

Cuddled up against black fur and strong limbs, tucked under Declan’s chin and subtly breathing in the smell of him (as Declan was doing in return), Marcus for a moment was silent.  Then, very faintly as if from far away on a bad phone line, came the tentative, hope-wrapped, ‘…Okay.’

It took a long time before either of them actually drifted off, but that was only because Declan was less tired, and Marcus – while exhausted – kept awake as long as he could, surreptitiously committing to memory the comfort and closeness Declan was offering.  In no way unaware of this, Declan’s heart broke just a little bit more, and he made sure that his body if not his words projected the fact that he was staying by Marcus’s side.

Even if no one else had.  

 

~^~

 

There was enough tension back at the pack’s home to just about clog the air and choke someone, and it looked like Kobi was just barely keeping Liz from transforming and rending Clarissa to shreds.  By the time Declan stepped inside, it also looked like Rob’s involvement in things hadn’t been discovered or revealed, because he was merely standing off to one side, beyond the reach of the tempers flaring in the room. All eyes turned to Declan, but then jumped past him with varying expressions of shock to see the figure walking in the door behind him: Marcus.  The Omega’s slighter frame looked exaggerated by the borrowed clothes he was wearing, even as he stuffed his hands in the pocket of his sweatpants and did his best to remain unnoticed behind Declan – the fact that he smelled almost as much like Declan as he did himself also added a sort of camouflage to him. His bare feet shuffled on the floor even as he glanced down self-consciously at the stitches showing on his bare forearm. 

While Liz’s face nearly split with the expanse of her smile and Kobi’s expression relaxed into something akin to warmth and relief, Declan noticed how Rob’s face fell and paled.  He also didn’t miss the brief look exchanged between the black-haired young man and Clarissa Fen. “You two worked together on this, didn’t you?” Declan guessed without preamble, his own face carved from stone. He forced himself to ignore the burgeoning happiness from half the room – he thought that even Marcus looked tentatively elated at his warm welcome from Liz and Kobi, although Declan had had only time for a quick glance back at him – and instead play the role of the judicial, displeased Alpha.

He could be a source of protection, warmth, and comfort.  He could also be an avenging storm of controlled anger, which he was now.

“What did he tell you?” Rob demanded to know with an unmistakable air of violence wrapped around his words.  His posture shifted to something more belligerent, brawny arms crossing, but he had nothing on Kobi when Declan spoke next. 

“Rushton… Marcus… told me that you broke into his house and trashed the place.”

Suddenly Liz wasn’t the most volatile entity in the room anymore.  Kobi, usually the calmest fellow a person could hope to meet, was making a noise more befitting a lupine throat than a human one, and had crossed the room so quickly that even Declan didn’t have time to stop him. Rob’s mien of careless recalcitrance shattered, being replaced by one of almost humorous fright and shock as he suddenly found himself toe-to-toe with the other male Beta. It was very, very obvious at that point that Kobi Knox was the ‘bigger dog,’ and he was going to win this fight if it ever got started. 

“I didn’t do anything!” Rob instantly denied, green eyes wide and voice rising a few pitches as he tried to slide away from Kobi.  Snapping a furious glance back at Declan before raking it towards Marcus, Rob continued with venom, “He’s a lying pile of shit, and if you knew anything about his background, you’d know that, Fen!”

“Rob is right,” Clarissa chimed in, stoically ignoring the growing fury rolling through the room, and choosing to be calm instead.  In fact, that calmness began radiating throughout the room in a subtle, cooling wave, distracting Declan from doing what any Alpha would do: listen for lies from his packmate.  “You’re harboring a criminal, Declan.  I’m sorry to be the one to break this to you, but he’s wanted for the murder of his pack.”

“Stop.” Marcus’s voice was soft and small, but the tortured plea in it stood out surprisingly well in the confines of the room.  As eyes turned to him, it was his next words that were more startling, however, even as Declan felt a sudden, rippling tug on his emotions as if something had upset his inner ear, “Stop…stop messing with my emotions.”  The smallest Wolf was shaking where he stood, knuckles going white as he fisted his hands, cornered tension filling him from head to toe.

Like a cord being snapped, Declan recalled his aunt’s prodigious gift for emotional manipulation.  Turning back to her with a growl low in his throat, Declan pushed back the synthesized calm even as he felt Marcus’s own weak attempts at empathic ‘nudging’ further disrupt Clarissa’s powers.  “Do that again, Clarissa, and aunt or not, you’ll find yourself in a very bad spot with me,” Declan warned in a voice as low and calmly deadly as a freshly dug grave. Clarissa blanched and suddenly the air felt lighter, but also charged once again with menace – even if most everyone else in the room looked a bit shocked.  Taking quick stock of the situation (Liz at his left, loyal and kind to the bone; Kobi to his right, looking away from Rob now but still penning him in; Rob with his back to the wall, but blinking owlishly at the turn of events not unlike Kobi was; Marcus behind him, sighing almost inaudibly as the emotional tug-of-war ended; Clarissa directly before him, suddenly looking as dangerous as a snake hidden in a familiar flowerbed), Declan forged onwards, “I already know about Marcus’s past, and what he’s been accused of.  I also happen to think that the police are wrong.” Declan shook his head, wanting to look back and check Marcus’s expression but not willing to look away from his aunt, “I don’t think Marcus killed his pack.”

“What you think doesn’t matter, Declan, there are facts piled against him!” Rob shouted, furious again.  “Seriously, what kind of an idiot are you? He just waltzed up to you and said, ‘Hey, by the way, the police and everyone are wrong – I’m totally innocent’? Is that it?”  Suddenly something more cunning entered Rob’s eyes, and the black-haired young man glanced between Declan and Marcus, perhaps reading something in their body language or scent.  “Good God, Fen, did he bat his pretty blue eyes at you, too?”

Declan was about to surge forward when suddenly it became apparent that Kobi had had enough. With nary a sound of warning, he closed the last few inches between himself and the other Beta, gaining enough momentum in even that short space to slam Rob hard into the wall. “Kobi, love…” Liz said gently, but her tone was noncommittal enough that anyone listening knew that she wasn’t about to lift a finger to stop her presently very angry boyfriend. Kobi’s expression had gone unsettlingly flat, like a parody of his usually calm, aloof look – only instead of being harmless and relaxed, this was flinty and blank like the cold surface of a winter stone. 

Clarissa, on the other hand, looked more interested in stopping the rising violence, as she glanced back and forth sharply between her nephew and the two locked Betas. “Declan, do something, for God’s sake!”

“Aunt Clarissa, at this moment, I’m trying very hard not to bare fangs and run both you and Rob out of the house – bleeding, preferably,” Declan admitted candidly, far beyond the point of prevaricating.  He could sense Marcus’s surprise behind him even as he caught Liz trying to hide a surprised smile.  “Marcus told me everything, and even if he hadn’t, I’d have appreciated it if you and Rob had told me what was going on instead of taking matters into your own hands.”

“Well, you weren’t going to do it,” Rob spat as best he could with nearly two-hundred pounds of muscled Kobi against him. The black-haired Beta was forced to cut off any further waspish remarks as Kobi pulled back a bit only to slam him back again.  He could just be heard growling something about how Rob’s best course of action right now would be silence, or else Kobi’s track-record for friendliness would go out the window.

Declan’s calm was breaking, too, and he finally raised his voice to shout back, “That doesn’t give you the right to break into someone’s home and trash the place! And you-!”  He swung his hard, gold-brown eyes to his aunt, who had the audacity to merely clench her jaw and hold her ground.  That made the fury in Declan’s gut burn hotter. “How can you go on about Marcus being a murderer when you tried to murder him?!”

“He’s bad for the pack, Declan.  I was only trying to protect everyone.  Running him out was for the good of the pack.”

“Your version of ‘running him out’ included teeth in his neck,” Liz hissed.

There was a slamming of a door.  Everyone turned to find the space behind Declan now empty, the sound of Marcus’s receding footsteps on the grass outside audible to keen ears.  Kobi abruptly let Rob go, and shifted closer to Liz, even as the young woman’s eyes grew worried and darted to Declan, unsure. 

The Alpha sighed, pushing down the rising tide of anger.  “Go after him.  Please. I’ve got to talk to Rob and my Aunt. Just…”

“Just don’t scare Marcus worse than he’s already scared?” Liz finished, a weak little smile quirking her lips. 

As Declan nodded that that was, indeed, the best way to put it right now, Liz and Kobi began moving past him towards the door.  They didn’t even stop to ask for details, despite all of the accusations and crazy so-called facts that had been tossed around the room.  Not because he thought that Liz and Kobi had been swayed by the murder allegations leveled at Marcus, but because Declan felt bad about leaving them in the dark, he caught Kobi’s bicep in passing.  “This isn’t what it looks like.  I’ll explain later, but I think that Marcus has been set up. Someone killed his entire pack and left him to take the fall.”

As Kobi’s eyes widened and Liz sucked in a shocked breath, Rob huffed and retorted, “It’s exactly what it looks like – you’re just too softhearted to believe it!”

“Shut up, Rob,” was Liz’s reply.  “I didn’t hold Kobi back when he attacked you earlier, so you’re lucky you’re in one piece.”

“And you can bet that I’m not going to hold her back either,” Kobi jerked a thumb in his girlfriend’s direction.  Then, with a nod to Declan that was full of understanding as well as enough compassion to make the Alpha sigh – Marcus was in good hands, still having the friends he made – Kobi turned and headed out the door.  Liz followed after him, although not before shifting slowly into her lupine form. Standing in the doorway as Kobi held it open for her, she peeled her lips back in a silent but meaningful snarl at both Clarissa and Rob before trotting outside.  There was the sound of snapping bones soon after that meant Kobi was joining her on four paws. 

Declan turned back to the remaining two pack-members in the room with him, turning his focus away from thinking about Marcus and instead trying to come to grips with the fact that two people he had loved and trusted had proven themselves to be as amoral as snakes. 

 

~^~

 

Finding Marcus proved unexpectedly easy – he hadn’t gone far.  With an obvious limp, he moved slowly and indecisively across the yard, seeming to hesitate at the edges of the trees so that he was walking along in an arcing semicircle instead of trying to disappear into the deeper brush. Liz and Kobi skidded to a halt even before he heard them, stunned by how much smaller he looked now, hunched in on himself with injuries peaking out at arm and neck. 

It had always been clear that Omegas were small by Werewolf standards. Clarissa was a fairly petite woman, after all.  However, while Clarissa had feminine curves rounding out her figure, Marcus had only sparse, male angles that spoke of too little to eat and hard labor – or, perhaps, too much running, as Liz was beginning to suspect.  The T-shirt he was wearing now was one of Kobi’s, a worn, old one that showed the knobs of Marcus’s spine through it before he turned, startled to see that he had attracted a new shadow in the form of two large Beta wolves. He started to back away in alarm, his scent betraying weariness along with fear and fatigue to Liz’s sensitive nose.

She transformed back into her human shape with a snap.  “It’s okay, Marcus,” she soothed, hands out and open-palmed, “Declan just sent us to check on you.  Kobi and I wanted to make sure you were okay.”  She reached down to touch her fingertips to the familiar, furred head at her side, brushing back into his thick ruff that always felt like home to her.

It was a fifty-fifty chance, Liz realized pessimistically, that the slim young man would actually believe her, so she breathed a quiet sight of relief when he relaxed somewhat.  His usually orderly, straight brown hair was in a mess around his head and ears, and the stress he was in showed clearly in just about every inch of him.  Just barely, however, Liz thought she could detect a thin skein of hopefulness sewn into him as he glanced at her and nodded in response to her words.  “I’m all right,” he lied, in that quiet voice that Liz realized sadly was his ‘pacifying voice’ – the one that said he probably wanted to yell and be emotional but logically realized the risks in that to his wellbeing.  He seemed confident enough to add, however, with a little shrug, “I just didn’t want to… to cause more fighting, you know?”  The shrug made him wince, and he lifted his left hand to gingerly touch the side of his neck where Clarissa’s bite was still healing. The lean sinews of his forearm moved beneath still more stitches, making Liz want to stomp right back into the house and punch Clarissa so hard the older woman’s teeth came out the back of her head. 

Perhaps Liz’s riled temper was more obvious than she’d thought, because Kobi transformed back as well to place a human hand on her shoulder.  She looked up at him, intending to glare, but his face was carefully neutral.  ‘You’re too smart by half, Kobi,’ she grumbled halfheartedly in her head, even as she gave in to the urge to lean against his solid bulk. Looking at Marcus now, standing on his own and shifting his weight vulnerably to his good leg, Liz realized that that’s what the smaller boy needed right now: something solid to lean on.

“Hey, Kobi, Declan’s truck is parked out back, right?” she turned and asked, ignoring the suspicious, curious look that immediately flashed across Marcus’s face. Now, in the sunlight, she could see slight bruising on the side of his face that hadn’t been there before, and made a mental note to shred whoever had done that, too.

If Kobi was thrown by the question, he was far better at hiding it, and merely raised one eyebrow.  “Last I knew. Do you want the keys?”

Liz smiled, loving that he didn’t even ask if she was going to spirit Marcus off into the sunset. That was her best friend and boyfriend: no questions asked, all trust.  That was good, because she was the same way towards him.  “Nope,” she shook her head, an enigmatic little smile tugging at her lips before she turned and strode out from under Kobi’s hand, approaching a bemused Marcus and carefully touching his elbow. “How about the three of us stay out of the way for a bit, okay?  Don’t worry, we won’t go far – I just know that Declan’s truck is rarely locked, and he has a pile of blankets in the back seat and granola bars in the glove-box. We can hang out in the tuck-bed.”

Despite Liz’s self-assured nature right now, beneath it, she was holding her breath to see what Marcus would do.  She wasn’t used to dealing with such flighty, unsure people – life had taught her that, by nature, Werewolves were group-creatures who were naturally trusting of and relaxed around one another.  Marcus was the very opposite, his tension ratcheting up higher with every second he spent with another Wolf, just because he didn’t have his own pack.

Liz stalwartly refused to think about all the new stories popping up about just why Marcus didn’t have a pack. 

Blue eyes glancing suspiciously over Liz’s face, clearly looking for a trick or a trap, Marcus eventually asked slowly, “So we’re just going around to the back of the house… to sit in D- your Alpha’s truck?”

Liz didn’t miss how easily Declan’s name had almost come out of Marcus’s mouth, when in the past, he’d either called him ‘Fen’ or just some variation of his social position.  Kobi’s quick look said he’d noticed, too, before he came to Liz’s side to answer in her place, “It’s not as uncomfortable as it sounds.”  His voice was easy and soft, his small smile gentle and light to match. “Declan will be able to find us there in a heartbeat, too, when he wants to.”

Watching carefully, Liz wanted to smirk a little at the mention of Fen’s further watchfulness did the trick and got Marcus’s shoulders to unwind a little bit. Some of the knots of tension loosening, the lean young man sighed and nodded reluctantly, and followed when Liz and Kobi turned.  He shied away when Kobi offered to help him with his limping, but accepted the hand up when they reached the dusty white truck parked on the grass on the other side of the house. From here, they were furthest from whatever was going on between Declan, Clarissa, and Rob, but still technically within range should Marcus feel the need to shout for help. Liz was determined to prove that he wouldn’t need to – that she and Kobi were still as much his friends as they’d been back when they’d chatted and had coffee together on work-breaks.

While Kobi exerted the little strength necessary to lift Marcus up into the bed of the truck, Liz smiled victoriously at Declan’s habit of never locking anything. Blankets waiting for the express purpose of being piled in the back as well were folded in the back seat, and Liz filled her arms with them before dumping them over the side to a still-wary Marcus.  The poor guy didn’t seem to know where to look; he traded off between sorting out the blankets dumped in his lap and watching Kobi, who was intimidating by simple dint of his size, and who was now climbing up, too.  Liz watched worriedly, her nose stinging with the scent of barely controlled fear that was beginning to come off Marcus now.  He’d pushed his smaller body into one of the corners near the body of the truck, not blatantly telegraphing his fear in any way besides his scent and body-language, but looking  edgy nonetheless.

As Liz closed up the truck’s doors and tailgate and climbed in herself, Kobi smartly kept all of his apparent attention on straightening out the layers of blankets. Marcus, by contrast, never let his eyes leave Kobi, although he loosened up enough to help.  By the time Liz had hopped in, Kobi was sitting down almost opposite Marcus, near the bump of the wheel-well, and the place had a cozy feel that Liz remembered from late nights spent stargazing or cuddling. Declan had no trouble lending out his truck for just this purpose, and sometimes even joined in, his presence calming in a way that only an Alpha’s could be.  Technically, it was Clarissa who had the Omega-based ability to radiate calm, but there was something about being with an Alpha that just made everything seem right with the world. 

“Here,” Liz called cheerily, pulling a granola bar that she’d grabbed from the cab of the truck and tossing it to Marcus.  The Omega looked startled by the object, but caught it with deft hands nonetheless.

He started unwrapping it slowly, but still with less hesitance than expected – he must have been starving.  “So you’re not going to ask about what you heard in there?  About me?” he asked, very softly and very slowly, his eyes rife with mistrust and a pain that went bone-deep, and yet was somehow still able to reach out and twist at Liz’s heartstrings. 

“Do you want us to?” Kobi chose to reply tactfully.  He held out a hand and Liz tossed him a granola bar, too.

Marcus paused for only a moment to digest the question, then looked down, brows furrowing and a frown tugging the corners of his mouth down.  At this angle, Liz could just make out a faint scar across the bridge of his nose – just one of many that she was learning to see on his skin now that she knew to look for them.  Marcus was indeed a damaged person – just not in the way that Clarissa and Rob seemed to see him, however.  “No,” the young man mumbled, shaking his head before biting off a small mouthful of honey and oats with neat, white teeth.  His next sentence was almost too soft to hear, “You wouldn’t believe me anyway.”

Hating the way Marcus was huddling away from them (closing himself off with drawn-up knees and bent head), especially after she’d started to see him open up only days ago (she’d actually seen him laugh), Liz pressed onwards, “Declan believes you.”

That seemed to catch Marcus off-guard, and he looked up, still chewing his second mouthful. “He’s the first,” Marcus finally replied, cagy yet resigned.  He looked down to focus on his food again, missing the pained look that Liz exchanged with her boyfriend.  When Marcus finished his first granola bar, Kobi handed over his, and Marcus surprised everyone by reaching out and actually taking it from his hand on impulse.

“You don’t have to tell us… about your pack… if you don’t want to,” Liz bravely navigated treacherous waters while also having to choke off her burgeoning curiosity, “But we’d like to know what happened after we left you yesterday.” Catching the disbelieving look Marcus briefly flashed her way, Liz drew herself up straight where she sat, saying with stern finality, “You may as well know that regardless of what you or anyone else says, I plan to slap both Rob and Clarissa hard enough to knock the taste right out of their mouths.”

When Marcus’s look then turned to one of shock, and silence reigned – one that Liz stubbornly refused to dispel, just as she refused to take back her threat – Kobi eventually chimed in with jaded fondness, “Liz has always hated Rob a little. And kind of finds you adorable.”

Marcus actually choked on his next mouthful of granola bar.  He ended up coughing so hard that he didn’t even notice when Liz and Kobi both crawled over through the nest of blankets to thump his back a little, until he was breathing normally again.  “I… I beg your pardon?” the Omega was eventually able to rasp in evident shock, unsure what else there was to say to something as outrageous as that last sentence.

Elated that Marcus was letting them this physically close, Liz beamed, deciding not to thump Kobi about what he’d just said (until later, at least), and settled down to sit against Marcus’s left side.   “Even if Declan didn’t vouch for you, we’d choose you any day over Clarissa and Rob,” she admitted candidly.

“You’re serious?” Marcus asked incredulously, then repeated again without the question mark after reading Liz’s face, “You’re serious.  Why?  They’re your pack – you’re supposed to-!”

“I’m supposed to pick my friends based on whether they’re decent people,” Liz raised a finger to correct.

But Marcus wasn’t done yet, and now that he’d been rattled somewhat, his sharper, more lively temperament was waking up.  He shook his head sharply and argued back, “Packs aren’t friends – they’re more than that.  They’re families.”

Liz and/or Kobi would have argued back, continuing the discussion, but suddenly they saw the way that Marcus’s voice broke at the end of the sentence. His pain was easy to see, and Liz could almost taste it on her tongue, making her eyes dampen with a surge of sympathy she couldn’t help.  It had sounded, at first, that Marcus was righteously indignant about the differences of definition… but clearly, it was more than that. 

The Wolf with no pack would argue that packs were families until it killed him. And right now it looked like it really was. 

Marcus dropped his head, and despite having asserted that he didn’t want to tell them anything yet, he choked out painfully, “They’re families, and mine is gone.”

 

~^~

Chapter Text

Declan liked to think that he was a reasonable fellow and not prone to acts of violence or vengeance, and was therefore a bit disturbed to find himself considering those options as he stared at Rob Karly and his aunt Clarissa.

Finally, Rob at least couldn’t take the stalemate any longer, and shifted his weight with a growl, “Well – say something.”

“How could you do this?”  Declan’s mouth and vocal cords were working, but his voice came as if from outside himself, as if it had to beat itself past a ringing in his ears, “How could both of you do that to another Wolf?  Another person?”

It was Clarissa who replied, her voice level and gentle by contrast, as if she were calming a spooked colt instead of defending herself against attempted-murder charges before her Alpha, “What’s best for the one isn’t always what’s best for the pack, Declan dear, and one always has to look out for the pack at times like this.”

“ ‘At times like this’?” Declan echoed hollowly and bitterly, finding his temper sparking.  He wondered what his smile looked like right now; he could feel it pulling at his mouth, but he couldn’t feel any warmth or humor behind it.  It felt stiff and chilled, like a crack in thick ice. “You mean at times when there’s an Omega you barely know, and who’s alone, and sick, and frightened-”

“Oh, he’s sick all right,” Rob felt the need to comment sardonically.

Declan rounded on him with a roar that shouldn’t have fit in human lungs. His bared teeth began to itch, promising to replace even, human teeth with fangs as long as fingers. Rob jerked back and cowered even as Declan snarled lowly, “Don’t you say another word until I tell you to.” It took some effort, but after a moment in which he coldly considered how easy it would be for him to seriously damage the male Beta, Declan found his calmness again.  It was possible that his Aunt and her Omega powers had something to do with that, but he wasn’t going to argue with the outcome this one time. He turned to face Clarissa again and said with controlled frustration, “Everything you’ve got against Marcus is based on allegations – on hearsay.  You don’t actually know anything about him.”

While that reasoning made perfect sense to Declan, it only caused his aunt to shake her head almost sadly.  “That’s part of the problem, Declan.  No one does. With his Alpha killed, that conveniently removes all hopes of anyone being able to detect lies from him.” She paused, watching the way Declan’s eyes narrowed.  She apparently decided to read the look as indecisive, because she went on convincingly, “Besides, I’d hardly call the work of trained policemen and investigators hearsay, and Rob did a decent bit of research on the matter.”

“Yes, and Rob also apparently broke into Marcus Rushton’s apartment and tore it apart.”

Rob growled.  Declan switched his attention to him again – not a fun experience.  “I don’t hear you contradicting me on that,” the Alpha pointed out shrewdly.

The Beta sullenly continued to say nothing, which saved Declan the trouble of listening for a lie in the young man’s voice.  He was already so sick of all this.  And worst of all, he didn’t know what to do about it!  His emotions were pretty clear and pretty violent on the matter, but logic dictated that he take this whole thing to the local authorities – which would promptly bring the authorities down on Marcus’s head, which Declan also didn’t want. It wasn’t uncommon for Werewolf packs to take the law into their own hands, and while it was frowned upon by the overall judicial system, it was allowed, but even then…

Declan realized with a jolt that all of this was too fresh and too hot in his head for him to think clearly on it.  He’d had two pack-members whom he had considered family just days ago, and now he couldn’t look at them without being sickened by what he knew they’d done. Marcus had often talked about how Declan’s ‘wolf’ side would persuade him to attack a packless Omega, but suddenly it wasn’t Declan being the animal at all, but Rob and Clarissa. For a brief moment, he wondered if he’d done something wrong – something that had led to such an unthinkable disaster as this.  Declan was a new Alpha, after all, and young.  Clarissa, in fact, had left their original pack with him for the purpose of giving him guidance, she being experienced and capable of giving him advice as he put together a pack of his own.  

As Declan’s self-doubts began to multiply, he suddenly recalled, like a flash, the sound of Marcus’s voice going tight and defiant as he’d shouted for Clarissa to stop toying with his emotions.  

“Stop what you’re doing right now, Aunt Clarissa, or I swear on all the Alphas before me that I’ll never let you manipulate anyone’s emotions ever again,” Declan turned on her to snarl with emphatic warning, watching as she jumped, and simultaneously learning that he was right to suspect her, because the emotions piling up beneath his skin dissipated like water from a dropped balloon. “Don’t think I won’t. You may be my aunt, but I’m beginning to realize that you’re sticking your powers where they don’t belong,” Declan added in a tone that was less sharp but no less threatening.

“Declan, I don’t know what you’re-!” she started to defend, eyes wide and horrified, as if by his behavior.  

But Declan merely spoke over her again, this time shaking off the apologetic feeling that he could feel coming over him for no good reason. “I can tell that you’re lying already, so stop.  Influencing. My.  Emotions,” Declan finished, and this time he acted like the Alpha that he was, pushing commands into each word.  

It looked like Clarissa choked on her own tongue for a second, so shocked was she at this show of force.  “You won’t command that Omega brat but you’ll command me!?” she finally stuttered in outrage, even as Declan’s words made her unable to use her Omega abilities on him anymore. 

Feeling jaded suddenly, but in no way regretful for what he’d just done, Declan just nodded, and then turned to Rob, “Yes, and I will again. Both of you – to your rooms. Stay there until I fetch you.”

Perhaps Declan was young and new, but he was no weakling His powers crackled through the words like heat-lightning, making both Rob and Clarissa jump noticeably, as if they’d just felt ghostly hands grip their feet.  Then their feet began moving and turning, bending their bodies towards their personal quarters within the house.  Clarissa fought silently, her body jerking and twitching as her own brain and Declan’s commands fought for control of her motor functions, but Declan was winning.  Rob was struggling, too, which had the effect of making him look like he was suffering from an epileptic fit of some kind.  It could have been hilarious, but Declan’s head was still too full of worries and stress and heart-deep pain to smile or laugh.  Rob took the time to glare over his shoulder at Declan, snarling furiously, “So that’s it?!  You’re going to treat us like children and send us to our rooms?!”

“Go, Rob, before I decide that locking you in the trunk of Liz’s car is better,” Declan replied tiredly, but infused a bit more command into the first word to keep his Beta going.  Taking away someone’s free will like that had never come easily to Declan, but right now, he wanted to take more than their free will – but then he’d be as bad as they were.  “I need some time to think about what to do with you two.  I’ll come back when I’ve reached a verdict.”  Since Clarissa’s door had already been slammed shut and Rob was nearly gone also, Declan didn’t know whether he was talking to them or to himself, and he didn’t care. 

He needed to think.  Alone.

Before being alone, however, he had to check in with Liz, Kobi, and Marcus – assuming that they’d caught up with him.  A spark of very real worry and fear sizzled up Declan’s spine at the thought of the brown-haired young man running away again, and before he realized it, the Alpha was almost sprinting to the door.  He caught Marcus’s scent immediately (vanilla and smoke, sweetness and fear, so tangled and so distinctive), and was relieved to find it overlaid with the familiar scents of Liz and Kobi, as well as their paw-prints in the occasional stretch of damp earth.  Slightly less concerned that he’d have to chase a hand-shy Omega through the woods again, Declan followed the trio of tracks around the house that eventually, unexpectedly, went right to his vehicle.  For a moment, Declan frowned at the truck, which appeared to be empty, until he saw a head of light, wavy, brown hair lift from the truck-box: Kobi.  The staid Beta saw him instantly and flashed a calming smile, but didn’t otherwise move, so Declan trotted forward curiously. 

He felt the telepathic link click on in his head, a stronger, more seamless connection than what he had with Marcus.  Kobi’s voice was saying before Declan got close enough to see into the back of the truck, ‘Everything’s all right here.  We found Marcus. He hadn’t gone far, and Liz was able to talk him into just sitting with us while you handled things inside.’

Kobi’s easy belief in him flowed through the link as easily as the words did, and Declan felt tension leave his shoulders.  At least one person trusted him to be able to handle things like the Alpha he was – with any luck, Kobi wasn’t alone in that faith.

‘It took a bit, but we got Marcus to talk to us, too. I think that Liz bribing him with food helped,’ Kobi kept talking telepathically, eyes steady on Declan as he approached, mouth closed.  That mouth turned down in a frown very quickly, however, and Declan saw as much as sensed the wave of sorrow, anger, and sympathetic agony that washed through Kobi. ‘God, Declan – how do things like this happen to people like him?’

So he told you about his family then?’ Declan guessed, surprised and a bit childishly jealous that someone else had gotten the story out of Marcus so quickly.  Perhaps telling it once to Declan had made it easier, however. By now, the Alpha was standing next to the truck, and when he peered into the box he was greeted by a sight that warmed his heart from corner to corner.  Kobi was propped up against the front right corner, blankets making the position comfortable; Kobi in turn was providing a pillow for the others, who appeared to have fallen asleep.  They looked like a tangle of puppies, with Marcus’s head on one broad pectoral and Liz draped behind him a bit, her own cheek on Kobi’s shoulder. She appeared to be drooling a bit, but that just made Declan smirk, his eyes crinkling. 

Kobi was nodding, the movement careful so he didn’t dislodge or wake anyone. Liz wouldn’t probably do much if roused, besides grumble about missing sleep, but Marcus was fragile like this. Declan and Kobi were probably both thinking the same thing – that the Omega would startle and bolt if he woke suddenly to realize what position he was in.  ‘He told us how he came home to his whole pack dead, just in time to be told that it was all his fault. Liz felt so bad she dragged him into a hug on the spot, and I’m not sure whether that made him mad or incredibly relieved,’ Kobi explained, sounding fondly exasperated, ‘But Liz is always telling me that guys should just let go and cry more often.  All I know is that eventually Marcus let her hug him, and after awhile he was just too tired to say or do anything else.’

And you became a human pillow?’ Declan couldn’t help but tease, grin broadening.

Instead of bristling, Kobi let loose one of his rare smiles – a surprisingly leering thing, at the moment, as he curled one hand around Liz’s far shoulder and nodded down at the two people leaned against him. ‘And I became the lucky guy who has two good-looking young people lying on him. Admit it, you wish you were me, Fen.’

It took all of Declan’s self-control not to burst out laughing aloud and wake everyone.  After the debacle inside, this was a balm on burning skin, and his whole body shook with happy – but silent – chuckles until he thought his heart would burst through his chest. By the time he’d controlled himself, Kobi was back to smiling his soft, small, gentle smile again, no more innuendo laced across his honest face.  ‘I need to check on some things, Kobi, but I’ve ordered Clarissa and Rob to stay in their rooms until further notice. Still, I’d like someone watching them, just in case.’

Kobi was immediately serious.  ‘Sure thing.  Want me to wake Liz?’

Bless you, Kobi, for not even asking me what the hell I plan to do about all of this,’ Declan thought, but didn’t project that sentence down the telepathic link. ‘I’ll get in and pick up Marcus first.  If we can keep him asleep, I think everyone will be happier.’

Yeah, the kid seemed beat. And starving.  You’re going to have to renew your stash of granola bars.’

As Declan climbed stealthily into the back of the truck and knelt down on the nest of blankets, he found that he couldn’t have been upset about the loss of that stash if he’d tried.  In fact, the thought that they’d gone to feeding Marcus – slim, tough-life, too-skinny Marcus – made him quite pleased.  ‘See if you can get him to eat more,’ was Declan’s reply, and before he felt too much like his own grandmother (constantly pushing food at people), he bent over and ever-so-slowly slid his arms between Kobi and Marcus, and Marcus and Liz.  Liz barely stirred, and Kobi’s frame was solid and warm against the back of Declan’s arm, even as he gently eased the sleeping Omega forward.  By some miracle, Marcus didn’t wake up, too emotionally exhausted to come back to the waking world just yet.  ‘I’ll put Marcus in my room. Even if Clarissa or Rob manage to circumvent my orders somehow, they won’t dare go in there.  If Liz wants to nap more, she can stay there, too,’ Declan said, even as Kobi nodded and solved the problem of how Declan was going to get out of the back of the truck with an arm-load of sleeping Marcus.

“Shhh, sorry, Lizzie,” Kobi murmured against his girlfriend’s temple as he slid out from under her.  As she woke, Kobi was jumping with barely a thud onto the grass next to the truck, circling until he could lower the end-gate with careful precision. It barely made any noise, and Declan was able to then pass off Marcus to where Kobi was standing on ground-level. The Omega twitched and a line formed between his eyebrows, as if he’d noticed how he’d changed hands even if he hadn’t awoken. 

“Did he tell you about the problems with his senses?” Declan asked, risking speaking out loud, because now Liz was awake – but probably not awake enough to be coherent telepathically. 

Looking sad and troubled again, Kobi just nodded.  “He talks about it like someone with a progressive, terminal disease,” he whispered.  

Declan wished that he could deny that this was true, but he honestly didn’t know. So far, all he knew about Omegas came from Clarissa – who no doubt believed what she said, but also wanted Marcus gone – and Marcus – who was in new territory with all of this, much like Declan was.

Sensing movement behind him, Declan barely turned his head as one of Liz’s hands touched his shoulder.  “We’ll do whatever we can for him, won’t we, Declan?” she asked, sounding sleepy still, but so earnest that Declan’s heart cracked a little. 

That, at least, he could answer truthfully.  Looking back at Marcus (at his tousled head of dark-brown hair, lips parted slightly and cheek turned into the hollow of Kobi’s shoulder, the stitches on his skin like wicked memories), Declan replied, “I will. We will.  I promise.”

~^~

Liz did end up continuing her nap, or at least that’s what she claimed. In reality, Declan was pretty sure that her eyes were too alive and canny to be compatible with sleep after he told her about Clarissa and Rob, still not dealt with besides the Alpha orders keeping them confined.  Still, Declan did see her transform into her lupine form and traipse back into his room, padding on light paws and just as lightly hopping up onto the bed where Marcus was. Clarissa, by dint of being his aunt, had barely even been in Declan’s room since the move-in, and Rob had always been standoffish about anything that resembled cuddling, but Liz and Kobi both knew their way around Declan’s bed.  Liz claimed it was more comfortable.  Kobi claimed that he did what Liz told him to do and lived most happily that way.  On a more pragmatic note, Declan’s bedroom had an adjoining bathroom, and neither Kobi nor Liz’s did, so when someone was sick, it was often easier to just trade rooms temporarily rather than have an ill Liz or Kobi wandering back and forth down the hallway from bedroom to bath. 

Now, Declan had someone else learning about his room. He spared a moment, leaning in the doorway, to watch as Liz folded her elegant, four-legged self at the end of the bed before turning her long snout to watch Marcus.  Kobi and Liz, but not Declan, had been surprised by how swiftly Marcus had tumbled into an even deeper sleep the moment they’d eased him down and covered him with one of Declan’s comforters.  Declan already knew about Marcus’s association to his scent, but felt that it wasn’t his place to tell anyone that, if Marcus hadn’t revealed it. 

Even if Marcus was too ashamed to ever tell anyone that he drew comfort from the smell of an Alpha that wasn’t his, Declan would still let him press his nose to Declan’s blankets. It was worth it to see the little frown line between the young man’s brows ease, and to hear his breathing deepen.

“Declan?” Kobi’s voice, though soft and unassuming as always, startled Declan out of his thoughts.  The male Beta was standing behind him, alert but steady. “You looked far away for a second there. Anything I should know?”

Drawing himself up and stubbornly saying to himself that, no, there wasn’t anything else – at least nothing else to do with the young man now curled up on his bed, watched over by just about the fiercest she-wolf either of them knew – Declan replied, “I’m fine.  Just keep an eye on Rob and my aunt.  They’re going to pay for what they’ve done, but… I have to check on some things first.” In reality, he really just needed time to walk and think, away from his responsibilities.  It made him feel a bit horrible, leaving his pack right now, but he didn’t know what else to do with his thoughts so tangled and his heart so torn.

Kobi, however, seemed to understand.  If nothing else, he nodded without any further questions, and transformed with a practiced crackle of bones and sinews into his big, brawny wolf shape. He didn’t go into the bedroom, although he cast an eye towards his girlfriend, but instead began prowling around the house like a guard-dog.  He walked with an easy, unhurried stride, but Declan knew better than most that if Kobi was in his furred shape, he was ready for trouble.  Liz wouldn’t be far behind him if something happened.

Declan left the house feeling a little bit better. 

~^~

Running had always helped to clear Declan’s head.  On four paws or two feet, he was fast and tireless, and the burn of taxed muscles was both exhilarating and distracting when his head as too cluttered and full.  He also loved to run with no direction in mind, so there was nothing to worry about besides each stride following the next, and dodging or leaping over obstacles as they came up before him.

Somehow, though, Declan’s so-called aimless running ended with him standing on Marcus’s apartment steps, where he’d met the Omega what felt like forever ago.

There was a new lock on the door, but it was flimsy, and obviously a roughshod replacement.  Since Declan couldn’t smell any recent scents about the place, he easily forced the lock and made his way inside, morbidly desiring to see proof of what Marcus had said about Rob. Perhaps there was some part of him that was hoping that Marcus was lying, because life wouldn’t have to change if Rob and Clarissa were in the right.

But even before he opened the door, Declan knew that what they’d done could never be anything but wrong. 

The landlord had cleaned up the place – the job was just as flimsy as the lock, however, and the place reminded Declan of nothing so much as a swiftly-cleaned murder-scene.  There was no blood, true, but the bare walls had the gouges of Werewolf claws, and what furniture remained showed signs of damage or hasty repairs. If Declan focused hard enough, and breathed deeply, he could actually still smell Rob here, damning the man. Declan could also smell Marcus, soaked into the walls from living here for a time – not long, but long enough – the most recent scents being so sharp and spiked with horror and fear that Declan had to stop and breathe through his mouth for a moment. God, it must have been like walking into a nightmare, coming home to this.  Instead of growing calmer and more levelheaded, Declan wanted to murder Rob more than ever, and the thought sickened him. 

Declan put the lock back in order as best he could as he left, touching nothing without his jacket sleeves pulled over his hands. He was increasingly sure that he didn’t want the authorities involved in this, and he definitely didn’t want the law coming down on him, too, because of some ill-placed fingerprints. Walking briskly away before transforming slowly into his big, black, wolf form, Declan started running again, and this time he didn’t lie to himself about where he was going.

The scents arrayed around the area where Marcus and Clarissa had fought were far more faded and gone than the scents at the house: nature was cleaning her domain, overlaying everything with new movement and life. Still, Declan knew the spot without having to follow his nose, and he simply circled the area for a long time, ears back but feeling a growl always threatening in his throat. Here he’d seen Clarissa bent over Marcus, the latter’s pelt like a splash of snow even as it was smeared ruby-red in places – more of that ruby-red staining the jaws of Declan’s aunt, who’d helped raise him.  Here he’d seen Marcus, a bloodied wreck as a wolf that would later be a bloodied wreck as a person, barely able to stand.  Perhaps exhaustion explained why Marcus hadn’t bitten him or at least bared his teeth, but Declan doubted it. 

Leaving the spot where Marcus had almost died, the black wolf began circling, his nose eventually picking up washed-out scents and following them. Marcus hadn’t said much, before he’d finally cracked and told Declan all he knew about his pack’s death, but Declan had gotten the idea pretty strongly that Marcus had been essentially skipping town before Clarissa had found him.  When Declan had found the kid, however, he’d had absolutely nothing with him – not even clothes. 

Declan found Marcus’s clothes a few moments later, his nose leading him to various strewn articles of clothing, now dirtied by rain and weather. Tangled in a nearby bush was probably the bag that they’d been carried in, and Declan found himself whining, a high-pitched and gutted sound. That had been all Marcus had salvaged from his apartment? The contents of that bag were what Marcus had planned to start his life over with?  To make matters worse, Declan clearly remembered Marcus quite obviously wanting to leave the second he’d woken up after his stitches – at the time, Declan had expected Marcus to eventually go home, not realizing that the sweatpants he’d borrowed where the closest thing he had to a possession at the time.

Feeling like his chest was imploding, Declan transformed back into a human, feeling tears silently break free from his eyes the second he was crouched down on two legs again.  Tracks forming down his cheeks, Declan reached forward, fishing the plastic bag loose. It was badly torn, but Declan noticed a tattered wallet still wrapped in the plastic.  It didn’t look too waterlogged, and had some IDs in it – and cash, but not a lot.  If the clothes had been Declan’s, he would have left them for the wild animals, but since this was literally all Marcus had left, Declan picked up the various strewn items as well, bunching them up and ending up wrapping them all together inside his own jacket.  Everything would go in the wash, except the wallet, which Declan had no idea how he’d dry, but he’d try his best – as he’d promised. 

Reminded of what he’d seen, and what had been done, and who had suffered, Declan knew what he had to do.  Carrying Marcus’s things under one arm meant that Declan couldn’t run back as a wolf, but walking more slowly on two legs gave him more time to think and to come to terms with his decision.  With every step, his resolve hardened, and so did his heart.  When he got home, there would be no place for softness or regret, or last-minute forgiveness.  These crimes were heinous and unforgivable, crimes that the laws of human-kind would have punished severely – in Clarissa’s case, maybe even lethally.

Declan couldn’t pass off responsibility to the law, however, without Marcus being caught in the crossfire.  It was all up to him to decide how to handle this, and the pressure was crushing him. For the first time, he truly realized that he held lives in his hands, as the Alpha of a pack.  One of those lives technically wasn’t his to protect, but Declan was human, too, and right now his morals were screaming just as loudly as his reflexive desire to run away from all of this. 

In the end, the young Alpha walked all the way back to the house, never slowing or stopping.  His gold-brown eyes were as hard as chunks of fossilized amber, and before he’d even entered the house, everyone within it went a little bit still, like a hush had fallen over everything.

All animals could sense when a storm was about to hit.

~^~

 

Chapter Text

Marcus felt comfortable and warm in a way that went beyond skin-deep, and for a moment he burrowed deeper into blankets and pillows, not realizing that they didn’t smell like him.  That startled him a little bit, but only enough to half-open his eyes, because the scent literally wrapped all around him seemed to have taken all of his fear, wariness, and panic and spirited it all somewhere far away.  Lying there and still breathing slowly, each blink slow and torpid, Marcus belatedly recognized the most prevalent scent as belonging to Declan – although he was smelling Liz, too, and Kobi more faintly. In fact, his feet were unexpectedly warm, and when he unconsciously stretched a leg out to seek that heat, he felt something solid.  That finally made Marcus’s head jerk up, looking towards the foot of the bed and finding himself looking at a russet-furred she-wolf that could only be Liz.  Her ears were turned towards the door, however, and Marcus came the rest of the way awake with an almost painful snap as Liz transformed suddenly back to a human girl again. 

“Come on, Marcus, you’ve got to wake up, sweetie,” she turned on her knees to say to him, only then realizing that he was awake – or, at least, mostly awake. His brain stubbornly wanted to cling to the sensations of safety that came with dozing on what was undoubtedly Declan’s bed, but the rest of Marcus’s common-sense was screaming for just the opposite, which was causing something of a mutiny in his head. The more he woke up, the more he remembered who he was, and that this wasn’t his pack.  He jumped a little as Liz’s hands came into contact with his upper arms, and she immediately pulled back with an unaccountably sad look flicking across her face. 

Then she tipped her head and looked off at nothing for a moment, a sure-fire indicator that someone was communicating with her telepathically, and Marcus felt an unexpected spark of jealousy flare up before burning out again. Even as the feeling faded, it left behind a little burn in his soul that he knew would be slow to heal.

“Sorry to wake you up, Marcus, but Declan’s on his way back.” Perhaps seeing something on the Omega’s expression, Liz hurried to reassure, “It’s nothing bad – not for you, at least.  How about we got to the kitchen and grab some food, okay?”

Liz didn’t touch him this time, but as she slipped off the bed and Marcus followed, he saw her eyes slide to his arm.  The sleeve of his borrowed shirt had ridden up in his sleep, he realized, revealing pale scars.  He quickly pushed the sleeve back down, but made no other comment, aware that most of the Fen pack had already seen all the scars he owned anyway.  There was a rebellious little impulse to say he wasn’t hungry, just to exercise his right to say no, and prove (if only to himself) that he still had some control over his life.  The grumbling in his stomach was more insistent, however, and he ended up simply nodding, “Sure.  Sounds great.”

The smile he got in return was a little bit distracted, making Marcus itch to ask what exactly was going on, but when he saw Kobi outside the bedroom door, he closed his mouth again.  The two Betas were radiating a sort of nervous energy that Marcus didn’t know how to interpret, but at least it didn’t seem directed at him. “Marcus and I are going to make sandwiches,” Liz murmured to her boyfriend, stroking a hand down his bicep. Kobi’s muscles were subtly taught where he had his arms folded, and his eyes were looking off deeper into the house, where a tentative sniff from Marcus revealed Clarissa and Rob to be. Just the reminder of them made the Omega shiver, but then Liz backed up to put a hand on his shoulder.

“I’ll join you guys, if that’s all right,” Kobi decided, and while Liz brightly accepted his company, Marcus could sense that her bright attitude was strained.  Still, the presence of the Betas on either side of him balanced out the sense of impending danger, because after their talk in the back of the truck…  Remembering how he’d broken down and given up his tale so easily, revealing a story that he’d been holding so close for years, Marcus blushed a humiliated red. At the same time, however, he felt something relax in his chest, like a wound that was finally, finally, sealing up just the tiniest bit.  It was as if something inside of him had been broken horribly and had healed crookedly, but Declan had been the one to break the bone again back in the hunting cabin – a painful event full of fear, tears, and complete resignation that also had allowed the healing to start again.  Maybe that was why telling his story the second time had been easier.

That, and he’d been plied with food.  The reminder made Marcus want to groan in embarrassment, but even now he was about to be coaxed into acting companionable again with the promise of filling his stomach, so he just gave up.  He was starving still, and there was no point in denying it even as he reflexively caught the loaf of bread Liz tossed at him.  She herself grinned and began digging around in the fridge for mayonnaise. Kobi, who always looked so large compared to her, bent carefully around her so that he could quickly and deftly retrieve a container of sliced meat, knowing exactly what he wanted and where it was, while Liz rummaged more haphazardly.  The broad-shouldered Beta had an inexplicable ability to down-play his size somehow, and Marcus’s spine barely even tensed when he found himself standing next to Kobi at the kitchen counter, putting together the rudimentary components of a quick meal.  Liz provided idle chatter in the background that only felt a little bit forced, and Kobi answered in kind, his words brief and quiet but also steady and friendly. He didn’t touch Marcus unnecessarily, and somehow that seemed to be the greatest gift of all, because the Omega was starting to remember falling asleep against the larger man. It was all very fuzzy, emotions and tears fogging up the memory, but Marcus desperately hoped that either it was all a dream, or no one would bring it up if it really had happened.

He didn’t quite dare ask how he’d made it from the back of the truck to Declan Fen’s bed. 

Marcus’s sense of smell was acting up a bit by the time the three of them sat down at the table to eat, but it wasn’t bad enough for him to put down his food. The combined scents of cheese, ham, mayonnaise, and bread all buffeted his nose a bit, but he stubbornly kept eating until another scent caused him to lift his head.

“What is it, Marcus?” Liz asked, putting down her half-eaten sandwich, too. She and Kobi were eating more slowly, and with a distracted air that said it was mostly a reflex that had nothing to do with hunger, like Marcus’s eating did. 

“Declan… Fen is coming back,” he said, identifying the smell instantly, although this time the amber-and-cedar scent of him was tangled up in something toxic, a burning, acrid smell that Marcus didn’t need to think on much to know was anger.  He felt his breathing pick up a bit, heart tightening, although he forced himself to stay calm as he asked tightly, “What’s going on?  He’s pissed.”

Both Liz and Kobi startled a bit, but their own attempts to smell what Marcus was picking up were in vain.  “You can smell that?” Kobi finally asked, clearly surprised. 

Marcus just nodded.  He remembered explaining to Liz and Kobi how his senses were slowly degrading, like wires being stripped of their protective coatings, but he didn’t really want to go into detail now. 

With no more information forthcoming and Marcus’s question still hanging in the air, Kobi and Liz exchanged torn looks.  Marcus huffed a little breath of frustration out of his nose before finally breaking the silence himself, “Look, if he’s coming in hot under the collar, I don’t want to be here.  I shouldn’t be here.”

“Marcus, Declan isn’t going to hurt you,” Kobi said back with a fervor that surprised Marcus – a surprise that expanded into wide-eyed shock when Kobi looked him in the eye and went on, “Declan’s coming back to banish Clarissa and Rob.”

~^~

Marcus’s throat was dry and the sandwich he’d eaten was sitting like a lump of lead in his stomach.  He couldn’t honestly say if he was more shell-shocked, disbelieving, or scared out of his mind, but most of those feelings converted to a morbid sort of awe when Declan finally reached the house and stalked in the door.  ‘Stalked’ was definitely the right word, too, or ‘prowled’ – some verb that described predatory motions.  Declan was fully human, but somehow there was still something wolfish clinging to him, making his eyes seem sharper and his posture more intimidating. The Alpha didn’t even spare a glance for Liz, Kobi, and Marcus (who were now standing at the edge of the kitchen, too tense and watchful to eat) but instead turned his flowing, padding footsteps towards the wing of the house where Rob and Clarissa were still confined. The utter intentness in Declan made Marcus shiver, and he was wordlessly glad that those gold-brown eyes hadn’t turned his way. 

He’s going to banish them. Members of his own pack, whom he’s probably known for years,’ Marcus repeated to himself numbly, barely believing it, ‘I was wrong.  He’s not choosing them over me.’

There was a bit of a verbal scuffle, and Marcus chose not to listen to it too closely – although he flinched and pulled back when he felt commands ripple through the air, right out of Declan’s throat.  Kobi’s hand caught him and kept him from tripping on himself, his broad hand warm on Marcus’s right shoulder-blade even as Liz cast Marcus a sympathetic look as she shifted closer to him.  The Alpha’s orders must have been for silence, but they must have also been fairly specific, because when Declan returned to the living room with a mute Clarissa and Rob in tow, Marcus didn’t feel the telltale tightening of his own throat that would have come with such a command.

Declan’s expression was stormy, and as foreboding as thunderheads rolling in, but after merely meeting Kobi and Liz’s eyes – and perhaps communicating telepathically, because Marcus thought he felt a faint buzzing in his head, even if he couldn’t pick out words – he turned his back on them to face the two disgraced pack-members.  Declan was standing firmly in the center of them all, physically embodying the divide that had been created.  “You know I’m angry,” he said, but in a voice so calm that it barely sounded angry at all.

Face purpling with far more obvious fury, Rob opened his mouth, but nothing came out but a choked puff of air.  It was strangely satisfying to see, even as Marcus felt a chill at the memory of the Beta commanding him into stillness. 

“You also know what you’ve done.  Rob, I went back to Marcus’s apartment – I could smell you all over it. This is your last chance to give me a good reason as to why that is,” Declan went on, still with that terrifying calmness, finally allowing, “You can speak.”

Now that he’d been given the chance, Rob didn’t seem able to find the words. That, more than anything, no doubt sealed his guilt, even before his expression morphed into something trapped and furious.  “I did what I had to do!” he exploded.

The wrath in that sentence had Marcus’s tensing, hands coiling into fists, but to Declan, it was nothing but a puff of meaningless air – he didn’t budge. If Marcus weren’t still smelling that burnt-forest smell off him, he’d think that the Alpha wasn’t angry at all anymore.  “Fine,” the Alpha said levelly, “Then I’ll just do what I have to do.”  With nothing more than that, he turned to his pack’s Omega, “Aunt Clarissa.”

The command of silence had apparently be rescinded from both of them, because the older woman – with a brief flick of her shrewd eyes over Declan’s shoulder, right to Marcus – began speaking without further prompting, “This isn’t like you, Declan.”

“I rather think it is.  You’re the one who’s not acting like the aunt I knew.”

It was eerie, hearing two people talking in such hauntingly flat, calm voices, soothing and steady as mountain lakes.  Somehow, it was worse than if they’d been screaming at one another, or tangled in a mess of claws and fangs, because at least that would have been expected – normal.  It was like watching lightning scrape the ground right in front of you but never hearing any thunder.

Meeting her nephew’s eyes levelly, Clarissa went on, unperturbed, “How much time have you been spending with him?  With the Omega?”

That finally got through Declan’s armor, and his shoulders twitched. “Enough to hear the truth from him.”

“But you can’t know that,” Clarissa shook her head, and Marcus felt his stomach sinking to the level of his heels, “You can’t tell if he’s speaking the truth, Declan, no matter how much you tell yourself otherwise.”

The muscles of Declan’s back were tautening beneath his shirt, visible to those standing behind him.  “That doesn’t change what you did, or make it right.”

Clarissa didn’t even bat an eye.  “His powers are out of control, Declan.  I don’t know what he’s convinced you of, or what you convinced yourself of, but he’s degrading slowly.”  Marcus flinched, beginning to feel panic rising like water around him; soon it would be up to his neck and drowning him.  There was a look of such pity and sadness on Clarissa’s face that Marcus made a choked little noise.  “I can see now, Declan, that you want to keep him,” Clarissa went on, and her eyes slid once again past her nephew to the other Omega standing stiffly across the room. Her gaze seemed sympathetic, but with a flat sort of sheen like a dead thing, or a reptile – a cold marble beneath a pretty gloss.  “But whatever he’s making you feel now-” She stressed the word, making it something insinuating, something ugly, and for no reason at all, Marcus suddenly felt… dirty.  His hands unclenched but his shoulders rose even as the sense that he’d done something deeply and morally wrong continued to grow.  “-It won’t last.  His abilities to manipulate emotions are caught up in the same downward spiral that his natural senses are, and he won’t last much longer.  I’d guess a few months, at the most.  Really, Declan, what I was trying to do was a mercy, by putting him out of his misery.  It will only get worse.”

It was at this point that Marcus realized that her words were poison. She was the one manipulating emotions, even as she directed the attention to him.  Marcus felt his own helplessness and frustration condense into anger, but in the second that he pushed aside his hesitancy and fear – and opened his mouth to speak – Clarissa noticed, and suddenly her gaze sharpened.

The subtle fog of emotions she was projecting  became a torrent, even worse than what she’d hit him with out in the woods, with only the trees for company.  It was a testament to Clarissa’s skills that no one else in the room seemed to feel anything, but suddenly Marcus was being speared through with terror, fear, loss, hopelessnessdreadterrorlonelinessRAGE.

The last one was his.  Marcus’s defenses had cracked and fallen beneath the onslaught of the older Omega, but hadn’t been snuffed completely, his empathy rallying just enough for one strike – like the death-throws of a wounded prey-animal.  Marcus was barely aware of hearing himself scream, or of his knees cracking hard against the floor as he collapsed.  The emotions were blotting out everything, as if he were at the heart of the sun, and his own emotional backlash was a blind throw. He only knew that it had worked when Clarissa’s emotional onslaught dissipated, leaving him crumpled on the floor, deaf to all noises but the rough sounds of his own lungs inhaling and exhaling.  It sounded ragged; everything else sounded muffled, like his ears were stopped up. His other senses were no better, and it took a moment for Marcus to realize that it was his mind as a whole that was doing this.  The shock of the attack had driven him inside of himself, and it was incredibly unsettling to realize this even while his thoughts stirred sluggishly. 

Somewhere in there, he felt afraid that he’d broken something – not something physical, although he could have done that too when he had fallen, but something less tangible in the drawn-out seconds that it took for his senses to reconnect with his brain again.  Slowly, he became aware of a hand on his shoulder, shaking him, while another cupped his skull, which ached.  He thought he heard raised voices, and a second later knew that he smelled bright and brilliant fury, and had a dazed moment where he wondered if he’d caused that. He hadn’t managed to use his Omega powers properly in what felt like forever, and even before then, he’d never been trained enough to do anything but calm a room.  As he finally cracked his eyes open to find himself staring up at Declan’s worried, handsome face, Marcus was further confused – because while the Alpha did smell a bit angry, it wasn’t him who was screaming…

“You bitch! You did that!  You spineless, amoral snake,” Liz’s ranting voice sounded vicious, and Marcus tried to turn his head to look at what was going on, but the back of his skull sent a poignant throb right into his back-teeth and down to his neck.  He winced and stopped trying to move about, even as the heat of Declan’s hand sunk further into his scalp from where the Alpha’s fingers were buried in his hair. “Do you seriously not have any shame? Or do you think we’re stupid? Did you seriously think you could hurt him like that and no one would notice?”

Mind still foggy, Marcus was still pretty sure that Clarissa’s plan had been to blame Marcus’s sudden collapse as some sort of fit that had nothing to do with her, but apparently that plan had gone up in flames. Belatedly, Marcus realized that part of this might actually be his fault, because Liz was shockingly angry, and if Clarissa was trying to use her powers to calm the Beta down, it wasn’t working. Marcus tried to twist around on the floor again to see what was going on, and this time Declan’s other hand joined the first in keeping him still – this time cupping Marcus’s jaw. “I… I think I did this,” the smaller man tried to explain, the words feeling cottony in his mouth but coming out clearly enough, “Like Clarissa did… I made Liz angry like this.”

“Oh, I wouldn’t be so quick to say that,” Declan countered, low enough for only Marcus to hear as the larger Werewolf crouched over him and watched the proceedings over Marcus’s head, “I’m pretty sure Liz got worked up all on her own.”  Gold-brown eyes looked back down again, brows knitting with worry, “You do realize that you cried out and then started seizing on the floor, right?”

Marcus blinked.  Oh. No, he hadn’t known that – except for the part where he was on the floor and a lot of him ached, throat included. He subtly flexed his joints, testing whether everything still worked.  It seemed to, albeit painfully.  His psyche also felt absolutely shredded. 

“And then suddenly you stopped moving and snarled, and it was my aunt who shrieked, so Liz put two-and-two together.  I’m pretty sure that you didn’t manipulate any of that,” Declan assured, even as he split his attention between Marcus and the rest of his pack. 

Clarissa finally found her tongue, but she sounded frazzled and hoarse as she snapped back, “I was proving how broken he was!  How unfit to be part of any pack!”

“No, you were breaking him.”  And then there was a crack of skin-on-skin, and an aborted yelp that sounded like it had come from Clarissa. 

The only way Marcus really had to judge the situation was the look on Declan’s face above him, and right now, the skin around his eyes tightened and his jaw clenched, but the Alpha otherwise did nothing.  In fact, he looked away even as he called out calmly, “Kobi, you good?”

Marcus hadn’t even thought about where the other Beta was – or Rob, for that matter – but he heard a low, steady growl that was so low it shook his sternum. Since Declan didn’t flinch, it must have been a positive response.  Declan’s hand started pushing Marcus’s head forward, and the Omega was distracted from everything as his head protested.  He hissed between his teeth and half-lifted a hand even as his chin was pressed to his chest, and Declan leaned further over him to presumably get a better look at his head.  “Not bleeding. Kobi must have managed to catch you a little bit.”

A happier-sounding growl emanated from the other side of the room, if growls could be construed as happy. 

The warm palm slid down from Marcus’s skull to the back of his neck even as Declan exhaled quietly out his nose in relief, expression softening just the tiniest bit.  “Your neck all right? You’re moving a bit, so I doubt that you broke it.”  Fingers idly massaged alongside the knobs of bone at Marcus’s nape, and it did a lot to ease the ache he was feeling all down his spine, although he still felt like he’d been pummeled inside and out.

“I feel like an all-over bruise,” he ended up responding, even as he reached up to rub his neck himself – then realized that that would mean touching Declan’s hand, paused, and dropped his arm again to rest on the floor. “Sorry,” he sighed, realizing that he kept ending up like this: in a wreck, on the ground. 

“Do not apologize,” Liz’s voice was like a whip-crack from across the room, and even Declan’s head jerked to look her way.  Marcus finally rolled over enough to push himself shakily onto his hands and knees and see Liz boxing Clarissa into a corner – another corner of the room was occupied by a human Rob cornered by a lupine Kobi.  Clarissa had a look of shock on her face and a hand on her cheek, not quite hiding the redness of a palm-print.  Liz was looking over her shoulder at Marcus now, her green eyes so intense that it was like looking at fire through two emeralds.  “You did nothing wrong, Marcus, and the only people who should be asking for forgiveness don’t deserve it.  Declan.” Her eyes flicked over, and became… almost pleading.  This was her Alpha, and no matter how furious Liz was, it wasn’t her place to pass judgment, but she ached to do so nonetheless.  “You said you were going to banish them.”

“Banish?” Rob exploded, momentarily forgetting the three-hundred pounds of wolf in front of him, “What archaic crap is that?  You can’t seriously banish us.”

“I can,” Declan answered, hand dropping at long last from where it had still been resting across the back of Marcus’s neck, “and I’m going to.”

Clarissa’s eyes widened still more with understanding.  “This is how you’re going to avoid the law – how you’re going to keep the police from getting involved and finding him,” she spat, jerking her chin in Marcus’s direction and making him flinch. 

“Don’t presume to know what I’m thinking, Aunt Clarissa,” replied Declan in that scarily calm voice, “Clearly, it’s been a good long time since you understood what I was thinking, even if you apparently are quite good at affecting it.”

The female Omega pursed her lips until they whitened, but said nothing.

“Clarissa Fen, Rob Karly, for your actions against my will and against the harmony of this pack-” Declan began to intone, all of that foreboding and thunder-less lightning finally reaching a peak – the storm was breaking upon them.

Clarissa began to panic.  She was about to become what she’d been persecuting, a packless Omega, and her gaze was horror-filled as it fell on Marcus once again.  It quickly snapped back to Declan as she shrieked, “What I did was for the good of the pack!”

“-For committing acts no human or wolf should enact against another without conscience-” he went on as if she hadn’t spoken.

“I was protecting myself!  He could have taken everything from me!” his aunt continued, growing more desperate – and perhaps more truthful as her other options were being stripped away. She lunged at the Alpha, but Liz was there, and the two women struggled, but Liz was a Beta and therefore naturally stronger. 

Marcus felt some of her terror, and not because of any emotional manipulation. He realized that exactly what Clarissa had feared was coming true, and while Liz had said that none of this was his fault, Marcus also knew that if he hadn’t been here, maybe none of this would have happened – maybe this pack, this family, would still be happy. Would be whole. Thinking back on the last four years of his life, on the run and falling apart at the seams, Marcus realized that he wouldn’t wish his life on his worst enemy.

He lurched clumsily to his feet, feeling pins and needles in his nerves, and stumbled over until he could wrap a hand around Declan’s shoulder. Before he could speak, however, he was once again cut off – but this time it wasn’t with an attack, but instead a mental prodding.  Marcus blinked in surprise as he felt Declan clumsily opening up a telepathic link with him, his voice coming through with lots of static, but understandable, ‘Trust me, Marcus.  I know what you’re going to say, but… trust me.’

It wasn’t an order… but Marcus paused and kept his mouth shut anyway. That didn’t stop him from gathering together his courage, and telepathically replying to the Alpha, ‘If you take her pack away from her, she’ll be like me. She’ll die.’

She’ll be like you, but she won’t die,’ Declan assured, the link strengthening a little bit with use. The Alpha had stopped speaking briefly, but now turned his attention back to the matter at hand, expression hardening with one last comment to Marcus, ‘Which might be more than she deserves.’  The connection finally buckled and broke then, leaving Marcus blinking in surprise, his fingers still digging into the muscle of Declan’s powerful shoulder.

Declan finished like an axe falling, “-I retract all that the pack stands for and all that it is.  As my second-to-last command to you, Clarissa Fen and Rob Karly, you shall never speak of Marcus Rushton, or his time here in this city or house.”

The Alpha’s tone demanded obedience with the power and unbreakable might of a chain, and Marcus shivered even as it rolled over him to its intended targets.  Marcus’s vulnerability made him feel like he’d been scorched for a second, standing too close to a roaring flame, but his first reaction was to hold onto Declan more tightly – since the other young man was the most solid item available. He was also an Alpha, Marcus reminded himself belatedly, even as the heat of the command was pushed aside by the utter power of the one who had wielded it.  Marcus sighed in relief, both embarrassed and ridiculously glad to be in the Alpha’s shadow, even if it was only borrowed protection and not really his.

By now, Clarissa was no longer fighting; she was resigned, like a sheep to slaughter.  Rob hadn’t bothered to rail against his fate, no doubt knowing that he at least stood a chance on his own, as a Beta.  However, most Betas his age weren’t packless, so other Werewolves would be suspicious of him, and it would be a long journey to finding a pack again – if he ever did. Still, the stigma against a lone Beta wasn’t a death-warrant, so he looked grim rather than devastated.

“And as my last order,” Declan said, and the whole room held its collective breath, even while the Alpha himself spoke with deceptive softness – a war-hammer wrapped all in mist.  “I command you to transform.”

Clarissa did so with such speed and reckless haste that it had to be her own will to do so.  Her clothing shredded around her as she simply tore free of it, jaws snapping as her body fell down onto all fours.  Then she was trying to escape, because she knew what was coming, and probably hoped that if she escaped it, then perhaps she still could maintain her ties to the Fen pack. Declan was just as fast, however, and Marcus jumped  back even as the Alpha similarly transformed without wasting time or focus on something so trivial as clothing – his entire concentration was on the bending and  breaking of his own skin.  Mere seconds after the words had left his mouth, two more wolves populated the room, and the black one was snarling to bare all his teeth.

Realizing she couldn’t do anything with Clarissa that Declan couldn’t do better, Liz shifted her focus to Rob.  The Beta was also changing shape as commanded, but more slowly, and with Kobi already watching him, the Beta showed no inclination to run. He’d wait his turn for the final steps of his banishment. 

Clarissa’s tail was tucked firmly between her legs as she thrashed free of the last of her torn human clothing, and she let loose a bark that was more of a squeal as Declan charged her.  Marcus watched, entranced.  He’d never seen someone being ostracized from their pack before, but everyone knew how it worked, and at least half of all wolves were ritualistically ‘banished’ from their birth-packs when they went to live with the pack that would be their new family. Even today, Marcus could remember his mother – the pack’s Alpha – padding up to him, both of them cloaked in their wolf skins and watching one another with wolf eyes.  She’d leaned over him and closed her jaws around his nape, where puppy-fur was giving way to the more bristled ruff of a grown wolf, and had bitten down.  The bite hadn’t been hard, merely enough that the bruises lingered later on his human skin – a temporary symbol of his expulsion.  At that moment, his telepathic link with her and the rest of the family pack had also been severed.  That had been a time of bittersweet celebration, as he’d left home. 

This was nothing like that. 

Clarissa didn’t even make it to the next room, although maybe she would have made it further if her wild scrambling hadn’t made her skid and collide with the couch, hitting it so hard it nearly overturned.  Declan was right on her back-paws, and as she was brought to a halt, he leapt and pinned her to the floor with his pure bulk. She twisted and let loose enough cacophony to make Marcus’s ears ring, and even tried to twist around and snap at Declan, but he just let loose a roaring snarl.  ‘Take this with dignity, Aunt,’ Marcus just barely thought he heard, as if he were just catching the barest echoes of the telepathic words Declan was broadcasting.  There was pain behind the words, too, but it didn’t stop Declan from surging downwards and clamping his jaws around the back of Clarissa’s neck.

The symbolism, Marcus knew, was that anyone leaving the pack left violently – like something hunted.  The back of the neck symbolically snapped like everything else was, although Alphas were not supposed to kill anyone in this procedure.  Entrance into the pack was a more human thing, a gesture of trust: a bite to the throat, done while in human shape.  Now, Clarissa was making noises like she was being murdered, but when Declan released her and stepped back, there was only the required amount of blood wetting her ruff.   It would scar. Other packs would be able to see that she’d left in disgrace. 

Now, she huddled on the floor like the most pathetic thing to walk the earth, and Marcus felt a deep sorrow for her, and pity.  Tentatively, he reached for that quiet space inside of him that was his Omega power, where he used to be passably good at radiating calmness. Now, he tried his best, hoping that he wasn’t so scrambled and messed up inside that he couldn’t do at least a little good. 

Heads and ears turned, everyone lupine now but Marcus himself, and suddenly alert as if to a sound that no human ears could hear.  Body language shifted – stiffened limbs eased, challengingly raised tails drifted lower, and hackles flattened.  Last of all to look at Marcus was Clarissa herself, getting her paws under her and looking at him with naked shock as he did his best to calm her.  Declan had told Marcus to trust him, so he had to believe that there was some hope for Clarissa, and as horrible as she was, he didn’t want her to leave in the same sea of terror that he’d arrived to this house in. 

Marcus had first arrived at the Fen-pack residence shaking, cowering, and bloody. Clarissa left the same way, but the difference was – she did so alone. 

Declan’s long snout turned to watch her go, and he released a very human-sounding sigh before turning to Rob.  The other disgraced Beta shook a bit, and his snout twitched as if to snarl, but he lowered his head and averted his green eyes obediently. Rob was a pretty big wolf, with a mottled, dark-grey coat, but he still looked helpless in Declan’s soot-black jaws when the Alpha came over to finish his banishment.  Rob struggled then, the pain making him whine, fear probably making him lash out with clawed paws, although Declan took the rake across his forelegs with barely a flinch – the responding snarl that bubbled up his throat was truly terrifying, however, and Rob subsided and gave in. He, too, was bloodied now, and wouldn’t look anyone in the eye as he looked the way Clarissa had gone and then quickly raced after her, like an adolescent pup following the scent of a parent.

There was silence in the room, until Declan slowly tipped his head back and howled.  There was blood smeared on his snout and chin, darkening the fur like wet ink, and the call that echoed up his throat was just about the saddest thing that Marcus had ever heard.

~^~

 

Chapter Text

Kobi transformed back first, slow and purposeful like everything else about him.  He straightened out his shirt a bit, pretending to be focused on that as he said to the room at large, “He’ll probably stick with her.  Rob liked to act independent, but he’s always been a follower.” He said it in a tone that made it clear that he wasn’t just referring to Rob’s identity as a Beta, but as a personality flaw – probably one of many.

An uncomfortable silence followed in which Kobi seemed to ignore the room at large in favor of staring at his girlfriend’s lupine form, although after a time Kobi turned to Marcus with an unexpectedly embarrassed face. “Sorry, Marcus, I was talking to Liz. She was just saying that that’s for the best – if Rob sticks with Clarissa, then hopefully he’ll be allowed into the Tomlin pack, too.”

Surprise hit Marcus hard, and he blinked before saying the only response he could think of, “What?”

After coming up and rubbing the side of her head against Kobi’s jeans (more catlike than wolflike), Liz transformed back, too, so that she could answer verbally instead of telepathically.  Her expression was still tight with anger, and maybe more hidden beneath, and her posture was closed off as she crossed her arms.  However, her words were surprisingly calm, “My cousin on my father’s side is due to have a baby any day now – and they already know that it’s going to be an Alpha.  Their pack only has one Omega, of course, so they’ll be in the market for another.”

“We’ve asked them to take in Clarissa,” Kobi took up the narrative with a sigh and a twist of his lips, “Considering the age-difference, it will be more of an honorary position – she won’t get any power – but it should keep her safe and secure, and she won’t be without a pack entirely. The new Alpha won’t be old enough to formally bring in pack-members, but it’s not unheard of for a new Omega to hang around until that day comes.  The Tomlin pack should accept her, despite the circumstances.”

“And what have you told them about the circumstances?” Marcus had to ask, not sure whether to be fascinated, relieved, or a bit horrified. He felt a brief flash of jealousy and anger at Clarissa for getting this opportunity while he himself remained packless, but then he remembered that he couldn’t belong anywhere – because if he joined this Tomlin pack, it would only be a matter of time before his unpleasant history blew up in his face. His jealousy burned out almost instantly in a sour, painful sputter of sparks. 

At that point, Declan himself decided to change back, answering even as the last of his thick, black pelt was being replaced by tanned skin, “That she attacked another Werewolf with the possible intent to kill. They deserve to know what they’re getting.  They know about Rob, too, and that he could be tried for breaking and entering and destruction of property, but I wanted to keep everything in-house.”

Marcus had no response for that.  Possibly, it was because this all sounded very well thought-out for a plan that had to have been made within the last few hours (this must have been what Declan, Kobi, and Liz had been telepathically discussing even as Marcus had woken up in the Alpha’s bed).  Possibly, the reason Marcus had no response was because Declan had transformed too quickly to take his clothing into account, and now wasn’t wearing anything as he had reverted to his human shape.  So there was Declan Fen, in all of his glorious nudity, and apparently quite unaware of it. His body was gorgeous – muscular and tanned, marred in only a few places by scars and both of his forearms presently sporting thin cuts from Rob’s claws.  Marcus at first stared because Declan also had blood smeared primally around his chin and throat, but his eyes definitely dipped all the way down to Declan’s toes and back up again, seeing a lot more than the patches of bloody skin. 

Liz, of course, started snickering and giggling, breaking what had been a rather grim atmosphere.  “Dec-Declan? Declan, I think you broke Marcus.”

The Omega immediately tore his eyes away, flushing so furiously he thought his ears would spontaneously ignite, even as Liz’s laughter became more pronounced. It sounded like Kobi was trying to be diplomatic and hush her, but maybe that was just his excuse not to look at anyone but his amused girlfriend.  Amidst pack-members, nudity was pretty normal, but manners also existed.

For his part, Declan swore and scrambled a bit, trying to cover himself for just a moment before muttering, “Fuck it,” and darting into a nearby room. Said room looked to include a washing machine and laundry hamper, so the blond-haired Alpha returned a moment later with a pair of wrinkled shorts on as well as an embarrassed expression. “Sorry-” he started to say, the tan of his cheeks replaced by a hot blush. 

“Don’t worry about it,” Marcus rushed to interrupt what would undoubtedly have been a painfully awkward apology.  Liz was still giggling, although now Kobi was holding her and murmuring in her hair – it sounded, to Marcus’s keen ears, that the male Beta was trying to convince her to stop laughing before she antagonized someone into a fit of temper. Unfortunately, it didn’t sound like Kobi was trying very hard, and his mouth was hidden where he was pressing it against his girlfriend’s red hair.  It looked suspiciously like Kobi’s broad shoulders were shaking with suppressed amusement of his own.  Looking anywhere but at Declan and all of his muscles and skin, Marcus went on stiffly and utterly inelegantly, “It was nothing offensive.  Really.  Werewolves and transforming and… all that.  Uh. Just… don’t mention it.” ‘Ever again,’ his tone added at the end with the kind of desperation usually only found in life-or-death situations.

A furtive glance at Declan’s eyes showed that he was in total agreement. 

“You’ve got something right here,” Liz gained command of her laughter enough to turn around to Fen, rubbing at her own chin.  For a moment, Declan’s brows knitted, but as he raised a hand he felt the little smudges of blood well enough.  It wasn’t much, but it was all over his mouth.

“Dammit,” he swore again, and then said, “Look, you guys stay here and order pizza or something.  I’m going to make sure that Rob and my aunt really got the message and are leaving. And Marcus?”

The Omega immediately straightened, head turning around to fix Declan with his full attention as anxiety and insecurity sizzled through his stomach. He didn’t know what all of this meant for him.  “Yes?”

Rubbing absently at the blood slowly drying on his chin, touching it briefly with his tongue before realizing what he was doing and making a face, Declan replied, “Consider this your home for the immediate future.  If you seriously hate the idea, we’ll… work something out. I want you to stay, though.”

Declan sounded so sincere that Marcus was put off-balance for a moment, literally shifting his weight like a slim tree in a sudden gust. He had to blink and stare for a breath or two before he realized that he was supposed to say something, which led to more blushing and a self-conscious glance at the three Werewolves staring at him.  “I… er…” he stumbled over the simple act of getting his words in order, and had to clear his throat as his voice grew suddenly rough.  Finally, he just shrugged and folded his arms in front of him, studying his feet as he stated the obvious, “I’m not exactly spoiled for choice, so I’ll stay.”

Fortunately, no one chose to take exception to his tone of voice, which had been gruff unintentionally.  Marcus’s vocal cords appeared to have betrayed him, and he didn’t know what to do about that except stop talking.  Declan merely flashed a relieved but brief smile, and then wandered off swiftly to the bathroom, presumably to wash his face off.  Something about his posture and gait suggested pain: his shoulders were taut, the muscles standing out in sharp relief against his back as he retreated, and his steps weren’t as even and smooth as they usually were.

As if reading his mind, although Marcus was pretty sure that was impossible for anyone except, inexplicably, Declan, Kobi regained Marcus’s attention by murmuring softly, “I saw a banishment once before, so I know, but not a lot of Alphas really talk about it.  Breaking a link between pack-members like that is brutal on different levels for everyone.”  Liz had stopped laughing, and Kobi was now just stroking her back slowly where she stood tucked under his arm.  Both of them now looked solemn, and Kobi kept talking in a voice designed not to carry to Declan, “You probably know this, but it’s the Alpha of the pack that holds all of the telepathic links.  We can all talk to one another, but he’s the one who ties it all together.”

“And the one who feels the wound when one of those links has to be cut,” Liz finished, casting a sympathetic look over her shoulder to the closed bathroom door, where they could now hear water running. 

In an abstract way, Marcus had known this – after all, it took the actions of an Alpha to both create and break the bonds between pack-members – but he’d never been in a position to really think about it very deeply. At that moment, he wondered if Omegas were the only ones who kept secrets about their caste. “Will he be all right?” he found himself asking, feeling an unexpected tightness around his heart as he stared at the closed door.  He didn’t dare go in there and ask the Alpha himself, but Marcus realized that he dearly wanted to know the answer, regardless of whether he was part of this tiny pack or not. Looking back in his memories, he tried to recall if his mother had seemed hurt or in pain after she’d gently broken his link to the family pack, but couldn’t remember. 

“Just give him a bit of time,” Liz reassured, managing to flash a smile that only had a few shadows in it.  “How about it then?”

Marcus turned to her, trying to hide the suspicion in his voice and face, “How about what?”

The red-head smiled more brightly.  “How about pizza?  We had sandwiches, but that’s hardly a meal, and I say that we deserve the kind of distraction that only greasy cheese and perfectly cooked dough can offer.”

Both Marcus and Kobi were helpless not to chuckle just a little at Liz’s description, as she stubbornly tried to turn everyone away from the trauma that they had just endured.  No matter how much any of them had hated Rob or Clarissa by the end, the two had still been family – been part of their pack – and suddenly having them gone forever was a hard blow to weather.  As Liz led the way to the kitchen where the number for a good pizza-place was affixed to the refrigerator, Marcus tailed obediently behind and tried to reach inside of him to that place where his Omega power lurked.  This wasn’t his pack, but for all that they were doing for him, he figured he owed them whatever he could do to ease the emotional (and in Declan’s case, physical) pain they were feeling. While Liz and Kobi bickered good-naturedly over what to order and Liz pulled out her cell-phone to start dialing preemptively, Marcus managed to call up his empathic abilities a little, using them carefully and gently as he thought about how brutally Clarissa had misused hers.  Thinking over her abuse of power towards him made a shiver run through Marcus’s body, but he waved off the brief looks that Kobi and Liz cast his way, gamely entering their conversation to distract them.  In truth, Marcus still felt rather raw inside, as if he’d pulled a muscle that he didn’t have a name for, and spreading calmness to his new companions felt a bit like walking on a sprained ankle.  He did it anyway, clumsily but determinedly, focusing on how much Liz and Kobi deserved to be at peace right now.  Declan needed that more, probably, but Marcus didn’t think he had the range to affect someone even as far away as the kitchen’s doorway, so he focused on what he could do.

By the time Kobi left the room, promising to go pick the pizza up because delivery-boys always seemed to get lost, both Betas were looking notably more relaxed.  Marcus blushed a little and looked away when Liz pulled Kobi in for a concise but obviously heart-felt kiss before they parted. 

“Hopefully he won’t eat all of it before getting it back here,” Liz teased once her boyfriend had left.  The young woman smirked at Marcus and opened her mouth to say something else, but then looked past him, and the Omega turned around just in time to see a bushy black tail disappear out the back door.  The door shut quietly behind Declan.  “I sincerely hope that neither of those bastards come back,” Liz hissed with surprising ferocity but a look of pain on her face, “because it’s going to hurt Declan even more if he has to drive them off again.  I’d take his place right now, but I’m not sure I could best Rob in a fight – at least, not if he has Declan’s aunt with him.” Looking frustrated now, and very territorial for a young woman who wasn’t all that physically intimidating, Liz spun on her heels and stalked purposefully over to the coffee-maker.   She started to get a pot going.

Feeling his stomach tossing at all of the turmoil in evidence all around him, unaffected by his measly capabilities as an Omega, Marcus stood uncertainly on the other side of the kitchen and said, “I’m sorry. I can’t… I can’t begin to say how sorry, because I know that I’m at the middle of all of this, and it wouldn’t have-”

“Nope, we’re not talking about that Marcus,” Liz cut him off without the slightest sign of hesitation.  She was still fiddling with the coffee-maker, but her voice was strong and sure, “We’re not going to talk about you blaming yourself, because there’s nothing to blame.” Sharp green eyes glanced back at him. “If Clarissa and Rob were capable of doing what they did, then it doesn’t even matter who they did it to – if not you, then someone else would have suffered eventually.”

Marcus wasn’t to agree with that, but couldn’t quite let himself off the hook that easily. He stuffed his hands in the pockets of his borrowed trousers, and argued, “It’s not every day that a packless Omega wanders in, though.  They felt threatened by me.”

Liz made a scoffing noise and turned back to the percolating coffee. “That shouldn’t have made either of them into terrible human beings.  Sit down, Marcus.  It’s been a long day, and I’d much rather talk about the weather, or even sports, than who’s at fault for what.  Do you want coffee?”

Honestly, Marcus rarely drank coffee, but at the moment was too startled to do anything more than sit down obediently and reply, “Sure.”

Liz ended up pouring them both coffee; Marcus sipped at his, and even managed to enjoy it after adding liberal amounts of sugar and creamer. They actually ended up talking about the weather, and eventually about cooking, and other neutral topics, although they never got around to sports.  It was all just ‘surface talk’ – the kind of conversation that never went more than skin-deep, and mostly just served to fill the empty spaces and keep both of them from thinking about what had happened today.

Just as they were in danger of running out of pointless things to talk about (at which time they’d either have to drown in uncomfortable silence or talk about more dangerous things, like how Marcus was doing, or – goodness forbid – what he’d said about his past), Kobi came back with a shout of, “Pizza for the starving masses!  Declan still out?”

“Yes,” Liz replied, and that was all that was said on the matter. Kobi came in with an influx of new banal topics of conversation, but the two Betas also managed to enliven the conversation a little bit by talking about themselves and each other. Childhood stories came up; past shenanigans and fun anecdotes.  Liz even mentioned the Tomlin pack and her relatives once, although what Marcus mostly got out of that story was that he wouldn’t have wanted to be in that pack much. It felt evil to think it, but Rob and Clarissa would be getting their just deserts, if the Tomlin pack’s Alpha was as crotchety and grumpy as Liz described him to be.

The evening was spent amongst just the three of them, and neither Liz nor Kobi so much as mentioned Declan, suggesting that they suspected him to be out for some time.  Still, despite so many metaphorical elephants in the room, it was one of the nicest spans of time that Marcus could easily remember.  His own happy memories had mostly ended four years ago, so even something as simple as eating pizza and pretending to be normal with two Betas from another pack was like heaven to him. 

Of course, reality had to intrude.  Sometime after the pizza (pizzas, plural, actually) had been set aside, everyone full but a few stray pieces still left for the absent Alpha, Marcus’s ears started ringing.  He was so caught up in the story that Liz was telling, that for a moment he didn’t realize what was happening.  It took a few minutes more before the ringing transformed itself into a slow but steady heightening of his sense of hearing.  Things got decidedly less fun from there, with a hectic few minutes spent with Kobi and Liz fretting over him, Marcus trying to tell them to be quiet while also talking almost too softly to hear, and everything getting progressively harsher and more painful on his ears.  It didn’t take long before the two Betas realized what was happening, and there was a blessed moment of silence as they stood over where he was folded over in his chair. While Liz and Kobi exchanged worried, grim looks over Marcus’s bent head, he pressed his palms more tightly to his ears and tried not to let tears fall down his face as he mourned the happy moment that had been shattered by his own worsening malady.

There was no more talking after that, at least not in anything above a very hesitant whisper.  Liz and Kobi probably also talked telepathically, because without any verbal signal, Liz left the room and Kobi knelt down carefully in front of Marcus.  Feeling insecure and out of his depth, not to mention scared in a directionless way that came with having no problem to fix or enemy to fight, Marcus drew back from him as soon as the Beta’s face hove into view. Kobi raised his hands silently in a gesture of harmlessness, however, his expression showing understanding. Never saying anything, Kobi pointed towards his own nose before making a questioning face.  After a confused second, Marcus realized that the other young man was asking whether his sense of smell was acting up, too, and Marcus shook his head even as he felt his face heat up ashamedly.  He was a wreck, literally falling apart at the seams, and people had to ask whether he had multiple senses on the fritz.  Too embarrassed for words, Marcus rested his elbows on his thighs and ducked his head down, hands still over his ears and eyes closing to avoid Kobi’s pitying expression.

A tap on the shoulder was the next thing that drew his attention, and he glanced up from under his bangs to see Liz back, and offering him something in her hand.  Earplugs. Gratitude rushed through him so powerfully that he felt a wobbly smile split his face, and a cough of laughter spilled out before he could catch it.  Even that small sound ricocheted against his eardrums, and he bit it off with a wince. Nonetheless, he reached out to take the earplugs with a nod of thanks.  As soon as he took one hand away, however, he gasped as he was bombarded by the ambient noise around him – from the rush of every breath the Betas took to the thunder of their heartbeats.  Marcus couldn’t get the earplugs in fast enough, and even after he did, he was helpless to do anything but scramble out of his chair and retreat to the far side of the kitchen – away from Liz and Kobi. 

Most all of Marcus’s instincts begged Liz and Kobi to leave, if only so he could not be deafened by the mere sounds of them living. 

A tiny but very real part of him fractured and died a little as they did exactly that, hovering uncertainly for a moment before leaving him alone. It was what he’d needed, but at the same time, not what he’d wanted at all.

~^~

It took ages for Marcus’s hearing to die back down to manageable levels – time that he spent in the kitchen, mostly just huddled in one of the chairs and staring out the window as the sky darkened.  He didn’t cry, because he told himself that this wasn’t something worth crying over, and he just had to sit this out like he’d done a dozen times before. This episode was longer than any others, however, making anxiety and fear claw at the lining of his stomach. Despite the distance and the earplugs, he could hear the muffled sounds of Kobi and Liz still in the house – nearby if he needed them.  Twice, Liz came to the edge of the kitchen and whispered, “Better?”  Both times, Marcus had to hold back a wince and shake his head – although the second time he managed to mouth ‘Thanks’ as distinctly as he could.  Liz gamely flashed him a smile, and then walked away again. 

Finally, after it had actually gotten too dark outside to be much of a view, Marcus’s hearing lowered down to the point where he wasn’t a complete cripple, and he used that new freedom to tidy up the kitchen a bit. That option was less frustrating than the alternative, which was just to sit like a deteriorating lump in the Fen-pack’s household.  Running water to fill the sink with suds only made him tense up a little bit, and if he was careful, he could wash the dishes without too much ear-rending clanking. The earplugs stayed firmly in place, but he itched to pull them out, because that would mean he was okay, that he wasn’t too broken to be fixed. 

It was nearly ten at night before he was able to, making this the longest episode yet. 

Kobi and Liz were still awake, but it sounded like they were in one of the bedrooms.  What they were doing, Marcus thankfully had no idea, now that his hearing was down to a normal range. They were quiet, however, with only the occasional sound of voices drifting all the way to the kitchen. There was a high chance they were talking about him, Marcus realized with an acidic taste in his mouth, although there were quite a few other topics from today that could easily be vying for attention.  Marcus was drawn from his morose musings by the sound of the door opening, and tensed up watchfully where he was still standing by the kitchen sink. 

Paw-steps moved through the house, and a moment later, Declan’s familiar, ink-black head peered into the kitchen.  The big wolf’s ears and tail were drooping a bit with tiredness, and despite the fact that he was still physically huge, he wasn’t projecting such a presence as he usually was, which engendered a pang of sympathy from Marcus. “I’m not the only one having a bad day,” he found himself murmuring in a voice that was soft and raspy from misuse. Not thinking about it – probably too drained to do so if he tried – the blue-eyed young man walked over to the table, where the remaining pizza slices were still sitting in the box. He’d been on the verge of putting it away, but something had stayed his hand.  Now, as Declan watched him with his intensely golden eyes, Marcus grabbed a clean plate and pulled three slices of bacon-and-pepperoni layered pizza onto it.  “Want it warm?” he asked, still quiet, ears still tender even if they weren’t trying to deafen him anymore.

After another long moment of merely staring at Marcus, Declan’s black snout moved side to side in the negative.  Marcus just nodded back, and proceeded to step forward and put the plate down on the floor at the Alpha’s feet.  Moving around this close to an Alpha had become something that haunted Marcus’s worst nightmares, ever since he’d ended up on his own, but either he was too wrung-out to care or something had changed. 

Belatedly starting to really consider his own bravery and forthrightness, Marcus let go of the plate and retreated to his previous chair as fast as he could without appearing to be rushing.  He was distinctly aware of Declan’s fatigued, lupine eyes following him the entire way, but by the time Marcus sat down, the Alpha was devouring the pizza as delicately as a wolf could. 

Thinking back on how he’d calmed down Liz and Kobi, but how Declan had been out of range, Marcus pretended to watch the darkness outside the window while he listened to the relatively quiet sounds of Declan eating and steadily, clumsily, but determinedly stretched his abilities to sooth as far as he could.  It still felt a lot like moving pulled muscles, but the fierce sense of pride in what he was doing made it worthwhile. 

 

Chapter Text

Declan had followed Clarissa and Rob to the edge of his territory, as he’d promised he would… but then he’d just started to run. He needed to burn energy like he needed to burn away memories.  Everyone said that being an Alpha was hard, but they never explained just how much it would hurt to go through turmoil like this.

Liz would set up the fine details about the Tomlin pack later, knowing that even if Clarissa and Rob had left just now with only the clothes on their back (‘More than they gave Marcus, by the end,’ something vicious in Declan’s head snarled), the Omega would be able to find an internet café and check her email.  Rob was also almost never without his cell-phone, so it had probably transformed with him, so some brief, formal text-messages could suffice, too. There was a very large part of Declan, right now, that wanted to just let Clarissa suffer as a lone, pack-less Omega, but another part of him remembered Marcus coming up and grabbing his shoulder with a determined hand, wanting mercy for those who had wronged him.

How could someone like that possibly be blamed for murder?

Declan ran until he was exhausted, and then walked back home, his Werewolf body resiliently slowing down and recovering so that he was barely panting by the time he pawed open the door and slipped in.  Seeing Marcus there, alone in the kitchen with the remains of pizza, had been a surprise, albeit one Declan wasn’t quite prepared to think deeply on.  The Alpha was distracted by the pain of Clarissa and Rob’s severed links, which sat like twin physical wounds in his chest, aching pains that had barely ebbed since the moment he’d banished the two Werewolves.  It had been… surreal… horrifying… terrible to feel his teeth come down on Clarissa and Rob’s throats and yet sever something deeper as if he’d sheared right through something vital and precious. It had been all he could do to hold himself together in the moments following, and only Liz’s humor, Marcus’s endearing embarrassment, Kobi’s stalwart dependability, and his own pumping adrenalin had kept Declan from breaking on the inside. 

Adrenalin had kept the pain at bay for the first while, then the flood of endorphins from running had done the same until he’d lost the energy to run. Now he’d come back home to find Marcus curled up like a quiet, lonely sentinel in the kitchen. The pain and sadness were already starting to descend again, making it feel like Declan’s heart was bleeding in every way it could, but moments after, Marcus’s attention turned to him and the Alpha felt something brush like soothing, chill water across his mind. It was tentative at first, but after Marcus quietly and efficiently served Declan up some slices of pizza, it became more pronounced.  It didn’t take a genius to put two-and-two together and realize that Marcus was reaching out as only an Omega could, his touch subtle but not secretive. After finding out just how manipulative and secretive his aunt had been, Declan felt only relief at Marcus’s more guileless attempts, and had soaked in the calmness like a dry sponge.

The night had fully descended upon the house now, and Declan reached up a hand to rub at the base of his breastbone, feeling an ache there that he’d hoped to never feel in his lifetime.  Banishment was something that all new Alphas were lectured about, but there was no way to physically teach them what the repercussions felt like – and now that Marcus was asleep in Kobi’s room (Kobi easily giving it up in favor of sharing Liz’s), Declan didn’t have that feeling of Omega calm to distract him from the fact that severed links hurt like blazes. 

Since he was unlikely to get any sleep anytime soon, the blond-haired young man tried to distract himself, thinking of more positive things that he could actually change.  Declan still had Marcus’s remaining possessions, tucked away in his closet at the moment.  The day had been too hectic to properly give them back, even if Declan was looking forward to the look on Marcus’s face with a ridiculous level of anticipation. Not only did the young Omega deserve his things back, but he deserved…

Declan was distracted by just what he thought Marcus Rushton deserved by the sound of footsteps in the hall.  Ears metaphorically perking up, Declan focused, bringing up some of the heightened senses that he always had as a wolf, but usually toned down as a human – if only so he didn’t have to listen to every little noise that Liz and Kobi made whenever they decided to spend some quality time with one another. Declan was just beginning to truly realize what a nightmare it must be to have no choice in the matter, like with Marcus every time his senses went haywire, when Declan realized that he was hearing Marcus – in fact, at that moment, his doorknob turned and pivoted inwards.

“Marc-?” Declan started to say, sitting up and tensing.  He froze and fell silent immediately, however, as the smaller young man made a gutted noise, just inside the door now, and lifted his hands to press them against his ears.  Declan realized that what he’d just been pondering – Marcus’s malfunctioning sense of hearing – was actually happening. Before going to bed, he’d briefly talked via telepathy with Liz, learning that the Omega had had an episode while Declan had been out, but now it was shocking to realize that he was having another one.  Unsure what to do, but not wanting to make things worse, Declan bit his lip to keep quiet even as Marcus stumbled a little further in and closed the door behind him.

Standing hunched with his hands still pressed almost painfully hard to his ears, Marcus was breathing with the sort of shaky, shallow care that came from being unable to stand the sound of his own inhale and exhale. “Please…” Marcus whined, and the sound seemed to be punched out of him, a canine whine adding a second, higher pitch to the word.  Declan remembered thinking earlier, back at the little shack, that there was something feral about Marcus, and it showed through now as he whimpered, “Please… please, it’s better around you.  Around an Alpha.” Marcus flinched and ducked his head, but not before Declan caught the rictus of pain that Marcus’s features had become. “My hearing… god, it hurts…!”

Marcus was swaying where he stood like someone being assaulted from all angles, and suddenly Declan was afraid that he was going to actually pass out. “Marcus,” he whispered, keeping his voice as soft as he could, but even then, tortured blue eyes snapped up to him with another canine whine.  Even knowing that Marcus’s hearing had been ratcheted up to the highest notch, Declan was surprised that the Omega heard him so keenly. 

Eyes agonized and wild, Marcus briefly bit his lip until Declan’s nose picked up the tangy scent of blood, but then the brown-haired young man mouthed in a soundless plea, “Please let me stay.”

Never would there be a moment when Declan could deny a simple request like that, regardless of whether it was from a pack-member or someone unattached like Marcus.  Expression worried and stunned, Declan merely lifted up the blankets to his left, wordlessly making the invitation clear.

Bent like some cowering, beaten thing, Marcus stumbled desperately forward, his bare feet nearly tripping on the carpet.  He hesitated a moment right at Declan’s bedside, eyes meeting for a moment – wide tawny ones to bloodshot, tear-wet blue eyes.  Then Marcus dropped his gaze, ashamed, and slid into bed to curl up in a tight ball.  Declan kept the blankets raised for a long moment, watching him, at a loss as to what to do. Tentatively he reached out a hand, afraid to touch lest he somehow broke his unexpected bedmate somehow, although he finally laid a palm over one lean shoulder.  It was shaking and so tense that it may as well have been carved out of solid stone.

But at Declan’s touch, Marcus breathed out his first easy breath since he’d come in, and tears spilled down his cheeks.  “I’m sorry… I’m sorry,” the Omega panted, still in a hushed voice that resulted in flinching.  Moved by pity, Declan reached over again slowly and pried Marcus’s hands away from his ears. The Omega’s eyes flashed open, and he fought, but Declan merely eased down next to him and exerted a bit of his Alpha strength, so that in a moment they were both comfortable and still. Declan now had his hands cupped over Marcus’s sensitive ears, and by the Omega’s shocked expression, it was actually doing some good. Apparently Marcus hadn’t exaggerated when he’d said that there was something about Declan – about Alphas – that helped during break-downs like this. 

Thank you,’ Marcus mouthed, barely putting air past his lips as they moved.  He looked like something stretched almost to its breaking point, but now relaxing slowly, deliciously relieved not to have been cracked or broken. His hands hovered over Declan’s wrists, where they’d tried to break his hold for a few seconds before realizing that he wasn’t under threat.  Declan merely nodded, breathing a sigh of relief of his own as his impulsive plan worked.  He felt that he was stumbling around in the dark most of the time with Marcus, unsure what to do or how to act around him, but for once, Declan’s instincts had steered him in the right direction.

Surprisingly, he felt earplugs in Marcus’s ears, and realized that all of this was still hurting him despite that. The realization made him sick with sympathy, even as Marcus’s eyes fluttered closed.  His next breath came even easier, and even through Marcus’s soft nightshirt, Declan could see his tense frame relaxing slowly.

“Is it getting any better?” Declan dared to ask in a whisper.

The answer itself came in the fact that Marcus twitched but didn’t quite flinch, eyes shyly opening.  He nodded. Time stretched like warm taffy between them, and in a removed sort of way, Declan realized that the ache in his chest was easier to ignore when he had another task to focus on – such as helping Marcus through an episode.  There were a number of things that truly made Alphas feel alive, and most of those things revolved around protecting and defending.  A few others came from softer acts of doting on those of lower rank, and right now, Declan felt a lot like he was doing all of that, and it fulfilled something inside of him.  He shifted, getting a bit more comfortable, still keeping his hands easily on either side of Marcus’s head, fingers buried in straight, short, tousled brown hair that was just as soft as Marcus’s lupine coat. 

After a stretch that could have been nearly fifteen minutes, but felt like an eye-blink to Declan, Marcus shifted and gripped the Alpha’s wrists again. “O-Okay.  I think I’m a bit better now,” Marcus murmured, the low volume of his voice giving away that he wasn’t entirely over the fit yet, “I’ll just… go.  Thanks.” The words sounded so awkward that it was a miracle Marcus didn’t choke on them, and even as he refused to meet Declan’s eyes, that fickle telepathic link crackled to life to fill Declan with a burst of Marcus’s utter embarrassment and self-loathing, a pulse of humiliation that almost hurt more than the lingering ache of his still-sensitive ears.

Declan immediately firmed up his grip and dragged Marcus further into bed, much to the Omega’s surprise.  Feeling a bit of the bossiness that was apparently typical of Alphas everywhere (sometimes the stereotypes had merit), Declan forced Marcus to meet his eyes, and gave him a frank, sincere expression.  “Stay,” he said, before remembering that Marcus was vulnerable in multiple ways – the Omega’s muscles tightened up, and suddenly he started to look afraid as the simple word threatened to sink hooks of command into his skin.  Declan immediately rushed to add, “If you want.  You don’t have to… but I don’t mind, I swear.”  Deciding that he was far beyond the point of acting like an austere Alpha who had everything under control, Declan made a little embarrassed face and rolled his eyes, “Call it repaying a favor is you want.  I noticed that you calmed me down in the kitchen, and I appreciate it.”  Fear flickered for a moment longer in Marcus’s eyes, but then his gaze relaxed to mere wariness; his hands loosened a little until his fingertips were just fluttering against Declan’s wrists.  It made the larger Werewolf shiver. 

Wanting to press his point home while still avoiding the commands that Marcus was so sensitive to, Declan met Marcus’s gaze pointedly and said with all seriousness, “You’re not better yet, Marcus.  Now, look, I might not be your Alpha, so I can’t tell one-hundred percent when you’re lying, but it’s not that hard to tell right now. Not when you’re still flinching at everything above a whisper.” 

Marcus huffed a sigh and then – not surprisingly, but definitely ironically – flinched.  Still, he argued, “It’s not your job to do this, though.”

“It is as a caring human being.  I’m not all wolf, you know.  I’m part human, too.”

That seemed to catch the Omega off-guard, but now that he wasn’t in complete agony, he was being stubborn.  He changed tactics to argue from a different direction, “Seriously, though, don’t you want to actually sleep?  Alone? Without a stranger commandeering half your bed?”

“I’m pretty sure that you’re not taking up anywhere near half the bed,” Declan said with a slight, upward curl at one side of his mouth, “and I think that Liz and Kobi like you too much for you to be a stranger.” Even in the dark, Declan could tell that that last sentence was making Marcus blush – actually, he thought he could feel the heat of the flush against his hands and wrists where he still cradled Marcus’s head – and at that point, Declan knew that he’d secured victory for himself, “Come on, Marcus, we both want the same thing.”

“To not fall apart at the seams because the sounds of Liz and Kobi’s heartbeats sound like cannons going off in my head?”

The description was blunt enough to shock Declan, who began to truly realize the depth of Marcus’s torment.  Thoughts derailed, Declan removed his hands a bit without thinking, asking, “And mine doesn’t?”

Surprisingly, Marcus didn’t immediately try and bury his head or cover his own ears again, although he grimaced as if adjusting to something uncomfortable. He also made no attempt to leave the bed.  “Any noise you make feels like it’s got a layer of… I don’t now… water or cotton around it. It doesn’t hit as hard. Or else, whenever you’re close by, my ears gain a layer of cotton.”  Marcus reached up to gingerly finger the earplugs in his ears, which couldn’t be comfortable, and he held the protruding edge of one in his fingertips for a few long breaths.  His eyes, for a moment, showed his desire to remove them but his utter helplessness to do so. The torn, fragile expression tugged at Declan’s heart. 

“Stay with me – just for a few more minutes, all right?” he coaxed, careful not to demand anything, “If it reaches the point where you can take the earplugs out, then you can decide whether you want to leave.  Deal?”

“A deal hints at two sides to things – both benefit,” Marcus argued with the desperation of someone who was starting to forget why he was arguing, but sensed that he still needed to.  He crossed his arms defensively, which made him look more adorable than foreboding, lying on his side as he was under the blankets, just a foot of space between him and Declan. 

“Commensalism,” Declan pulled out a word from his school days in biology, explaining when Marcus’s eyebrows quirked, “One creature benefits, and the other is neither harmed nor helped.  I don’t mind those odds.  Besides, I told you – you helped me earlier today.”

Finally, Marcus gave in.  He did so in a rather obvious fashion, baring his teeth in a puppy-ish snarl that made Declan think all over again that living alone had made Marcus just a little bit wild – and he found that he liked that just fine.  “All right, I’ll stop arguing with you.”  Sounding irked and huffy, but with his eyes swimming suddenly with unexpected tears again, Marcus twisted around so that his back was to Declan.  His shoulders still formed a stiff, taught shape beneath the blankets, but his voice sounded less combative as he mumbled, “You could have just ordered me, you know.”

“Marcus…” For no reason except that he suddenly wanted to, Declan reached out a hand and smoothed it over Marcus’s back, ignoring the startled twitch.  “When are you going to get it?  I want to help you – not hurt you.”

Slowly, the taut muscles and tendons under Declan’s hand relaxed, although Marcus’s exhale sounded suspiciously wet.  “Fine,” was all Marcus said, trying to maintain his dignity with the aloof word, but pretty much failing as relief sank into his voice. “Fine.” 

Giving Marcus’s nape a gentle squeeze out of reflex – a gesture he’d shared with Liz, Kobi, and even Rob at least a dozen times – Declan settled down and gave Marcus his personal space back, yawning, “See you in the morning, Marcus.”

~^~

Marcus woke up feeling a level of contentedness that he honestly couldn’t remember feeling in years – if ever.  It made him, for a brief moment, wonder if he was drugged, although his head felt clear.  His entire front also felt warm and his hair felt like there was breath ruffling it, and that registered a full three seconds before Marcus realized that he was smelling Declan because his nose was almost touching the other man’s bare collarbone.

Everything from the previous night came back in a rush like an avalanche rushing down a mountainside: feeling as if an army of sounds were waging war on his ears, even the slightest noise like an ice-pick until he was literally hearing Liz and Kobi breathing from two rooms away, their heartbeats slightly out of sync but thundering like drums, the crickets outside creating a terrible symphony all turned up to its top volume.  Marcus had actually been asleep until the roar of noise woke him, and by then it was too late for the hastily-put-in ear-plugs to do a lick of good.

His only thought within ten minutes of waking was just to escape it all.  The problem was, nowhere was quiet, so he was seeking dry land in the middle of the ocean. 

It was only when he found himself, for no reason that he could think of, standing outside of Declan Fen’s door that he felt the pounding, lancing against his ears lessening.  He had wanted to cry. 

The memory after that was terrifying and garbled, like a camera being moved around too swiftly for it to focus.  He remembered being desperate beyond measure and begging like the dog he was; he remembered Declan saying something, his words too loud but still not as painful as everything else; he remembered finding them the lesser of two evils, a pain that he could survive.

He remembered thinking that it would be easiest if the Alpha just got mad and killed him.

He remembered that thought fading beneath a pathetic sort of pleasure that came from being slightly less tormented than before.  To a beggar, even scraps tasted good.  But the death-grip of the torture had finally been broken with physical contact, and Marcus’s clear memories started with a snap once he found his head caught in Declan’s firm but conscientious grip.  Marcus hadn’t been lying when he’d explained that being around Declan helped him, but he might have been downplaying the effects a little, if only because Marcus himself could barely believe how swiftly the Alpha’s nearness and touch had allayed the pain. 

The relief of knowing that his ears weren’t going to explode had been so great that Marcus’s attempts to extricate himself from the situation (and Fen’s bed) had been halfhearted at best.  He actually remembered waking up at some point…  Blinking now and furrowing his brows as he tried to remember, forgetting for a moment that he was basically glaring at Declan’s pectoral muscles, Marcus recalled surfacing from a dreamless, black sleep and pulling out the ear-plugs… and then rolling over and falling back to sleep instead of leaving. He also recalled this bringing him into contact with another warm shape, which had grunted and done nothing more than move to accommodate him.

Which explained a lot about where he was now. 

Declan didn’t have a shirt on, which made perfect sense, honestly, for someone who usually slept alone and who looked as good as the Alpha did. Marcus hadn’t thought much of it when he’d first come staggering in, because he’d been nearly suicidal with sensory overload, but now it was suddenly the only fact he could think of. Not only was Marcus close enough that his every breath ricocheted gently off tanned, warm skin, but with a dawning sort of horror, Marcus realized that one of his own arms had somehow found its way around Declan’s middle.  It was looped there without any apparent care in the world, and Marcus spent another few frantic seconds cataloguing all of his other limbs to see if they’d gotten into any worse mischief.  ‘Damn, damn, damn…’ Further investigation proved that his left arm was curled loosely and nonchalantly between them and his legs were only mildly tangled up with Declan’s, but Declan’s right arm happened to be what Marcus was using for a pillow.  Declan’s other arm shifted then and dragged laxly curved knuckles up Marcus’s unsuspecting abdominals, making him shiver in a breath.

At that moment, either feeling the contact from the backs of his fingers unconsciously rucking up Marcus’s nightshirt or feeling that whisper of breath cascading over the hollow of his throat, Declan came awake. Marcus could tell because the larger man froze, muscles tightening beneath Marcus’s tensely draped arm.

There was a count of three seconds where neither of them even breathed, and then they both sprang apart simultaneously, all in a whirl of limbs and blankets.

Sitting at the far reaches of the bed now, the two young men stared at one another.  Declan looked shockingly young despite his powerful physique, because right now his gold-brown eyes were huge and his blond hair was tousled up like a wheat-field on a windy day.  The cuts Rob had left on his forearms were already healing, a testament to the power of his Werewolf healing, so there was little or nothing to show that he was actually a tried and tested Alpha and not just a random boy caught red-handed.  Marcus doubted he looked much better, his own blue eyes probably as huge as mortified dinner-plates.

Declan suddenly looked down, flushed red, and drew his knees up sharply, but not before Marcus followed his eyes and noticed a distinct tenting of the Alpha’s sweatpants.  Marcus counted himself lucky for not having the same problem, but knew that the embarrassment was still shared quite equally between them. 

“I wasn’t-!” Declan piped up.

Marcus blurted at the same time, “I didn’t-!”

They both stopped, realizing that this was going to be the second event in as many days that they agreed silently to never talk about again. Unfortunately, since Marcus had gotten an eye-full of all of Declan Fen naked yesterday, his brain was happily skipping through his latest physical memories and happily stitching the two together into an unavoidably vivid fantasy no matter how Marcus internally screamed at the impulse to stop.

Declan was the first to brave speaking again, lifting a hand to rub it over the left side of his face, eventually brushing it back through his hair and making that whole side stand straight up.  “Okay,” he sighed, voice still a bit sleep-rough but also higher pitched with what actually might have been panic, “I’m going to say that this was neither of our faults. Agreed?”

Hurriedly, Marcus nodded.  “Agreed.”

“So no one needs to apologize-”

“No, no,” the Omega quickly agreed again, “No need to apologize.” Too late, he realized that he’d concurred a bit too quickly and a tad too emphatically, because when their eyes locked, there was something else in Declan’s, and for a second Marcus couldn’t breathe for the increased racing of his heart.  No, it didn’t look like either of them was seriously hoping for an apology…

A knock on the door had them both jumping so hard that Declan actually overbalanced, and would have fallen backwards right off the bed had Marcus not thrown himself forward instinctively.  He more or less tackled Declan’s shins, and that managed to ground the other man enough that, with a flail of his arms, he was saved from a meeting with the floor.  Still leaning backwards precariously, with the wayward Omega hugging his ankles to balance him, Declan jerked his attention to the door.

Liz called through the door, “Kobi and I can’t find Marcus! His door is open, but he’s not anywhere in the house.  Do you know where he could be?”

With mutually horrified expressions, Declan and Marcus turned to stare at one another.  ‘Now what?’ both of their faces asked in mute panic.

Chapter Text

~^~

“Declan?”  Liz’s knuckles tapped on the door again, and Marcus and the Alpha being called for just continued to stare at each other in pure, trapped horror until Marcus – seemingly without thinking – let go of Declan’s ankle, which proved to be rather pivotal to his balance.  No longer anchored by the Omega’s curled fingers, the Alpha overbalanced backwards and fell right off the bed with an ungainly yelp and a hard thud.  Marcus immediately scrambled to the edge on hands and knees, but before his mouth could form an embarrassed apology, Declan recovered enough to wave him into silence.  Looking at the Omega firmly, Declan tapped a finger to his ear and then pointed at the door, before moving said finger in front of his lips to remind Marcus that silence was in his best interest right now if he wanted to keep their shared bed arrangement a secret. 

The way Marcus’s pale skin immediately flushed red over his cheeks – more so than they’d been already, in fact – was somehow hard for Declan to draw his eyes away from.  Recalling that this already had the potential for intense humiliation for both of them, even without him staring at Marcus’s sharp features, Declan rolled to his feet with another gesture for the Omega to stay quiet and where he was. “Sorry, I just got up. One second!” he called to ensure that Liz and Kobi wouldn’t come in of their own accord.

The one silver lining to this situation, of course, was that if Declan was busy diverting his two Betas, then he wasn’t stuck here trying to talk things out with Marcus, which would eventually have lead to the fact that he’d been perfectly awake last night when the smaller man had rolled into him. Declan should have done something, like perhaps wake him and see if he was well enough to go back to him room, but Marcus had turned out to be so supple and warm when he was like that. He still didn’t smell like ‘pack,’ but to Declan’s nose, the warm smell of the Omega’s skin had become less foreign and threatening and instead merely novel.  

Maybe more than merely novel.

Firmly pushing those thoughts to the back of his mind but knowing that there was no way to hide the way his skin trailed the new smell of vanilla and smoke – scents that were purely ‘Marcus’ – Declan opened his door just enough to slip out.  Kobi and Liz blinked at him in surprise, but he spoke before they could.  “So you’re looking for Marcus?  You checked all the rooms?”  Telepathically, he spoke between his verbal words, ‘Play along.  I know where he is.’

Liz raised an eyebrow, mentally replying, ‘Declan, I think we all know where he is by this point. The real question is why you smell like you rolled in him.’  To keep up the façade, the young woman spoke, “Yeah, we checked all the rooms – his door was open.” 

Flushing all the way to his ears, Declan defended himself weakly, ‘He came to me last night because he was having another episode.  Look, he’s in my room, but nothing happened, but I think that if you both go barging in there he just might die of embarrassment.’

Understanding flashed immediately across both Kobi and Liz’s faces, and they immediately nodded and began to play along more intently. “Where do you think he could be?” Kobi asked, all concern in his low tones.

“He could have gone outside…”  The conversation continued, with Declan supposedly distracting and leading Liz and Kobi away, even though everyone but Marcus knew that the jig was up. Considering how fragile Marcus’s psyche was, however, there was no argument about whether feigning ignorance was worthwhile, and even Declan didn’t receive any more teasing, although he was forced to explain a bit more via the mental link.  While he described the way Marcus had been a truly horrible wreck at first, but had stabilized incrementally with every minute spent in Declan’s presence, the Alpha kept an ear cocked in the direction of his bedroom. No doubt Liz and Kobi were listening, too, even as they left the house, so everyone was perfectly ready to turn back when they deduced that Marcus was no longer in such a compromising part of the house. 

Declan left out the part where he’d woken up to Marcus, clearly barely conscious, pulling out his earplugs and then moving into the Alpha’s personal space.  Neither Liz nor Kobi needed to know how fiercely protective and fond Declan had suddenly felt when he’d realized that the battered Omega was feeling better but wasn’t leaving.

They eventually ‘found’ Marcus in the kitchen, looking incredibly awkward but not as if he’d been sneaking around while Declan supposedly misled the two Betas.  Liz, the angel, immediately created a mien of surprise and rushed into the kitchen with a happy call of, “Marcus!  There you are – we thought you’d flown the coop on us.”

Flashing a small almost-smile, his natural wariness still there even as he did his best to warm up to the idea of people being genuinely happy to see him, Marcus replied wryly but not unkindly, “Nowhere to fly to, remember?” By then, the redheaded woman was by his side, adjusting the settings on the coffee-maker and chatting about breakfast choices.  Briefly, over her shoulder, Marcus caught Declan’s eyes with a worried look. It made Declan immediately glad that he’d formulated this plan to save the Omega’s pride a little, because there was just a glimmer of trepidation in his gaze – a hint of what he’d have felt like if confronted with his stay in the Alpha’s bed.   Even as Declan flashed him a brief and reassuring look, the Alpha felt deeply sad that Marcus was afraid of little things like that. Marcus had an unreasonably strong sense of his lack of belonging, and probably feared repercussions for cozying up to the Alpha of another pack.

I think he sees me as a married woman that he’s sleeping with when her husband is away,’ Declan tested out his realization purely telepathically, and just to Kobi, making a little face as he watched Liz show Marcus the best way to make coffee with a machine that had clearly imprinted at an early age, and not on anyone currently living in this house.  Both Declan and Kobi were by now seated at the table, still contemplating breakfast choices.

Having also been watching (although with a more fond expression, and only really paying attention to his girlfriend), Kobi swung his head around sharply to blink at Declan.  ‘I thought you said you didn’t have sex with him?’ Kobi replied with more shock in his voice than Declan had probably ever heard, as if the Beta were choking on his own thoughts.

Immediately, Declan’s eyes widened.  ‘No! I mean – yes, that’s what I said. That’s exactly what happened – didn’t happen.  I didn’t have sex with him,’ Declan stumbled to explain, mental tone extremely fervent, especially because he could practically see the protectiveness in the line of Kobi’s shoulders.  Declan wasn’t the only one who’d developed a soft spot for the stranger under their roof.  This was another reason why Declan was never going to mention his poorly timed erection this morning…  ‘It was just a metaphor to explain the situation! Marcus needed my help, so I helped him, but he sees it as him doing something morally reprehensible,’ the Alpha finally managed to coherently elaborate. 

“What are you two talking about?”  Still facing the counter instead of Kobi and Declan, Liz was looking back over her shoulder with a suspicious expression on her face that was more than a little foreboding.  Kobi slouched a little lower in his seat.  Marcus was also glancing apprehensively at them out of the corner of his eye, but was doing a good impression of this all being none of his business, even though he was right there. 

Fortunately, Kobi was loyal, and while sometimes that loyalty was awfully attached to a certain redheaded girl, he knew who his Alpha was. He saved them both by speaking up quickly, “Guy things.”

One eyebrow lifted upwards imperiously.  Patently unconvinced, Liz said back slowly, “Uh-huh.” Then she looked to Marcus… whom Declan realized belatedly was a guy, and therefore a loophole in Kobi’s vague excuse.  The wince Kobi gave showed exactly when he noticed that, too.  “Hey Marcus – you want to know about guy things, right?” Liz tossed out blithely.

Things probably would have devolved into quite a lot of embarrassment for the two larger Werewolves at the table (and perhaps amusement for a victorious Liz), but sometimes it was easy to forget that Marcus didn’t adhere to predictable, pack responses.  Instead of either giving in and aiding Liz in her quest to not be left out and lied to, or raising his hands in defeat and deciding whether or not to go down in flames with the other boys, Marcus turned his back more firmly to the room and replied quietly, “Nope.  It’s none of my business.”

Uncomfortable silence spread through the room like a dank fog, muffling the budding humor and teasing.  Marcus was fiddling with the coffee-maker, his posture a study on carefully hidden tenseness, and he wasn’t looking to see the suddenly sad look Liz was directing his way.  The sympathy on her face was mixed with pain, and Declan suddenly didn’t know who to comfort or how.

~^~

Breakfast could have been worse.  At least Marcus’s senses behaved, and conversation picked up a bit after everyone was arranged around the table with coffee and cereal or toast. Marcus was friendly, but not too friendly, Declan noticed, and by the time everyone started to wander off and start their day, the Alpha was pretty sure he knew why Marcus was behaving as he was. He caught the Omega in the hall a bit later when Liz and Kobi headed the other way, needing to go into the city for something. 

“Hey,” Declan said, getting Marcus’s attention mildly even as the Alpha settled a muscular shoulder against the wall and made it clear he was staying there.

Eyes narrowing as he noticed his path blocked, but not outright worried yet, Marcus came to a halt.  “Yes?” He’d been given a chance to change right after breakfast, Liz and Kobi working together to find clothing suitable for the Omega’s slender frame.  Ultimately, that meant that he was actually wearing clothes that were probably Liz’s, but the jeans were of an androgynous cut that didn’t bag over his bare feet and looked comfortable.  His faded blue T-shirt made his eyes look brighter and his hair seem a subtly richer brown; it was only a few sizes too big, enough so that it showed quite a swatch of collarbones but didn’t look like he was swimming in it.

Deciding to get right to the point, Declan put on the face he used for official, Alpha-related things – an expression that he admittedly didn’t have an abundance of practice with, but he was still learning – and said, “You’re allowed to make friends with my Betas, you know.” He added quickly as the thought came to him, “And me.  Pack relations don’t govern who all of our friends are.”

Marcus actually looked sincerely stunned, although whether it was because he’d been figured out, or because of Declan’s bluntness, or by the idea itself, there was no telling.  Blue eyes blinked at Declan dumbly for a moment.  “This is more than making friends – this is living in your house-!” Marcus finally recovered himself enough to properly make a rebuttal, but Declan just raised a hand and cut him off. With Marcus’s sensitivity to commands, Declan was getting more used to watching his language, and gestures were safer.

Instead of saying ‘Come here,’ Declan merely turned around and beckoned, saying, “I’ve got something for you.”  He knew that he was being purposefully vague, but a curious Marcus seemed to be a quieter one, and Declan wasn’t prepared for this to become an argument. He’d caught Marcus with the intention of reassuring him and making him feel welcome, not to get his hackles up.

Marcus hesitated for a moment, but apparently his instincts still ran true, because his feet had him following the Alpha naturally as Declan started walking.  “What is it?” Marcus asked warily.

“A sign that we actually care about what happens to you,” Declan said.  With his back to the other young man, it was easier to speak candidly about topics that were like icebergs: so calm and simple when Declan voiced them, but hiding a whole mountain’s-worth of depth beneath. 

Declan couldn’t see Marcus’s face, but the long silence spoke of surprise, although eventually the other answered lowly, “I’m pretty sure that what’s going to happen to me is either that the police will eventually figure out where I am, or my brain will explode during one of those episodes as they get worse.”

Now Declan contributed to the silence, stunned speechless by the easy admission – but no, it hadn’t been easy.  Marcus’s voice was steady, but it was so quiet and low that it was like something admitted in the dark.  Just like Declan could say deep things when he wasn’t eye-to-eye with someone, Marcus could tell harsh truths like this when no one was looking at him. Declan felt his throat close up as he wondered how long Marcus had been thinking this, unable to get it out, or having no one else around to hear it even if he did. 

“It’s all right,” the Omega continued, still subdued, still following Declan with shuffling steps, “I figured that it would get too bad to handle eventually, and it’s nice to find people who… you know… care. I’m pretty sure that it’s terminal, though.”

The iron quality of his own voice startled Declan as he bit back stubbornly, “It’s not going to be,” even as he opened the door to his room and stepped inside.  Not wanting to return to Marcus’s choice of topics because it made him feel like he wanted to tear into something – a foe that he could touch, could hurt, could halt – Declan instead rummaged in his closet, distractedly tracking Marcus by sound as the brown-haired young man came to stand in the doorway.

“What are you looking for?”

“This,” Declan murmured, returning with the plastic bag containing the remainder of Marcus’s things.  His entire life, all encompassed in one paltry heap.  By the way Marcus’s eyes widened, he’d realized what it was instantly, probably smelling it, or seeing a few familiar items through the clear plastic.  It looked like the Omega briefly forgot to breathe as he just stared, shocked silent. Declan held it out to him, feeling his impotent anger leave him for a rush of compassion instead. “Here.  Take it.  These are all yours – what I could find, anyway.  I went by your apartment and the place where Clarissa attacked you, and gathered up what I could find.  I figured that you’d want it.”

Marcus’s mouth was moving, but he couldn’t seem to figure out how to get words out of it, although a few brief noises were emitted.   The most coherent thing, at first, was a doglike whine that tugged at Declan’s heartstrings even as Marcus blinked rapidly, eyes going shiny.  “This is-” he finally managed to speak, words tripping and feet also starting to stumble forward as he reached out like the bag would disappear, “I didn’t think I’d- This-”  His hands closed spasmodically on the bag, and Declan let it go, watching as Marcus clutched it to his chest, looking both lost and found at the same time, utterly uncertain but momentarily anchored around this one point like a dragon curled around the last jewels of what had once been a hoard. Marcus’s knuckles were white, he was holding on so hard, and he’d started to shake.  “Thank you,” he whispered.

Feeling embarrassed to be spoken to as though he’d just saved Marcus’s life instead of merely a few articles of clothing and his wallet, Declan glanced down at his feet, rubbing a hand self-consciously over the back of his neck.  “You don’t have to thank me,” he muttered, shifting his weight, “Seriously, you haven’t even looked at what’s in it.  It’s not much.”

“It’s more than I had.”

Declan glanced up sharply to notice Marcus already looking at him, eyes red-rimmed and lashes wet from the tears that had finally escaped his eyes.  Despite the tracks down his cheeks, he looked more resolved than Declan had seen him before, chin tipping up and spine straight.  Suddenly, it felt that maybe Declan had given him more than just a pathetic bag of things – maybe he’d given him back a little bit of his pride as well, or some control. “Thank you,” Marcus said again, in a voice that said Declan had better accept the gratitude this time.

He did.  “You’re welcome,” the Alpha said solemnly and with a steady nod of his head, tawny eyes never leaving sapphire blue eyes. 

~^~

Marcus with his things back was a different person. He was still wary and a bit hand-shy like a partially tamed thing, but he interacted more freely, and stopped walking as if he were on thin ice.  The jeans he started wearing around the house were actually his, too, and they did rather unexpected things to his ass that Declan found hard not to notice, even though the jeans were obviously cheap and old and worn. When Marcus wasn’t acting chronically wary, subservient, or fearful, he had an unexpected, hard-edged sort of grace to him that matched his lean body. 

That was not to say that everything became suddenly sunshine and roses, because whenever Declan wasn’t distracted by the way Marcus simply looked (wandering around the house, interacting with Liz and Kobi, sometimes faintly smiling so that Declan finally got to see that, yes, Marcus’s nose did wrinkle whenever he fought a smirk), he was remembering what he’d said.  ‘I’m pretty sure that it’s terminal.’ The resigned, hollow declaration echoed in the Alpha’s head like a clap of distant thunder, the warning of an oncoming storm that seemed terrifyingly inevitable.  To drive the point home, Marcus had another episode somewhere around noon, and although it wasn’t anywhere near as bad as the previous one, it still left everyone rattled and subdued.  While Marcus huddled in the bathroom, weathering the last bit of vomiting induced by a suddenly heightened sense of smell, Liz approached Declan.

“Is this how things are going to be from now on?” she asked in a hushed tone.  There was an edge to it like rust on metal, and the way she’d wrapped her arms tightly around her ribcage spoke of anxiety that he could scent like something acidic in the air.   “We’re just going to live with him, and pretend everything is okay, until he suddenly goes into a fit so bad that he can barely function?”  By the end, her voice was still the same volume, but had risen in pitch and gained a quality not unlike hysteria.  A glance in her direction showed Declan the unshed, angry tears in Liz’s eyes. She was furious, but also helpless.

 Probably sensing Liz’s distress, Kobi wandered up to them, his broad shoulders a little slumped. He’d been hovering by the bathroom door, not daring to get much closer lest Marcus took in the scent of him and overloaded again.  Declan itched to go over there himself, to test whether his own nearness held in all situations and not merely those involving hearing, but he needed to think.

“From what I can hear,” Kobi started, low and subdued, “he’s a bit better.  At least I’m hearing long gaps between the dry-heaving.”  The male Beta looked a bit queasy himself, and everyone in the house had consciously toned down their own sense of smell – a luxury that they’d taken for granted until they’d learned about packless Omegas.  Standing close enough to Liz to lean his shoulder against hers, Kobi added with a wealth of worry in his tone, “When we first met him, we realized that he had… moments… like this, but I don’t think it was this bad.”

“It is getting worse,” Declan confirmed, and when his Betas looked at him for a more explanation, he sighed and admitted hollowly, “My Aunt wasn’t wrong about what happens to Omegas when they go for a long time without a pack – at least, not completely wrong.  Marcus told me…”  He paused, unable to finish, looking down at his bare feet against the carpet and searching in his mind for that tentative, unnatural link that he sometimes felt between himself and Marcus.  It was like chasing dreams after waking, however, and he couldn’t find it. 

Liz slid away from Kobi – who looked as if she’d taken away a piece of him when she left, a sure sign that he was unsettled by all of this if he needed his girlfriend that badly – so that she could stand almost on Declan’s toes and demand, “What did Marcus tell you?”

Meeting her fierce, scared eyes, Declan realized that this wasn’t what she wanted to hear… but that he couldn’t lie to her. He sighed, “He expects this to kill him. Sooner rather than later.”

Instead of flying into a panic, or crying out, or even getting furious, Liz stayed perfectly still.  So still, in fact, that her muscles quivered, and the determination that slid over her eyes was like a shield of adamantium.  Something about that look made Declan’s heart swell in his chest, and despite the situation, he wanted to smile at her proudly. Instead, he schooled his expression into something calm but unreadable, even as Liz straightened and said in a tone that brooked no argument, “I’m going to research.  There’s got to be some way to fix this.”  And with that, she spun on her heel and left, no doubt to grab her laptop.  With a helpless sigh, Kobi watched her go, still looking like something in him was disjointed and out of place.  Declan himself could feel it, like a sympathetic pain for a dislocated shoulder. Without saying anything, telepathically or otherwise, he moved to the living room and sat down on the couch – from here, he could just see the bathroom door, and if he strained very, very hard…

He could just sense Marcus. It felt unnatural, like bending his arm just a hair beyond its normal range of motion, and honestly, the link was a poor one, but it was there.  Declan held onto it stubbornly even as he felt what amounted to pure misery and exhaustion coming from the Omega camped out in the bathroom.

Kobi wandered into the living room bare moments later, with that same natural urge to follow in Declan’s shadow that Marcus had shown earlier. It was one of the lesser-known quirks created by pack dynamics with an Alpha.  Kobi collapsed onto the couch next to Declan, and after a moment, sort of toppled over against his shoulder, not unlike what he’d done with Liz, only sitting now.  It was a manly sort of bid for comfort, with both of them staring forward at the wall ahead of them, but Kobi didn’t hesitate to relax as his muscled shoulder started to warm against Declan’s.

“I know that there’s a question you and Liz want to ask me,” Declan said, after a good full minute of simply letting his Beta lean against him, both powerful men breathing in slow tandem.  Kobi turned his head, making a questioning noise, so Declan simply voiced the question himself, “Would my bringing him into our pack fix him?”

The way Kobi said nothing, but instead just went back to staring forward at nothing, indicated that he had, indeed, been entertaining that question.  Being the quiet guy he was, however, he simply hadn’t said anything – and for all that Liz was more talkative, she trusted equally in Declan’s judgment, and therefore hadn’t brought it up either.  For once, that faith made Declan uncomfortable, and he looked down at his lap where his hands were rubbing, one over the other, the marks from Rob’s claws almost gone already from his forearms.  “I’ve been thinking about it…”  Kobi’s sharp intake of breath was the only indication that he was listening. He leaned a bit harder into Declan’s shoulder.  “It’s not something you usually just do out of the blue, but I think that these are special circumstances. The only problem is…” Declan leaned forward suddenly over his knees, rubbing at his temples and swearing quietly under his breath as the magnitude of everything depending on him hit home. Realizing that he was quite suddenly on the verge of breaking down in front of one of his Betas, a subordinate, technically, Declan briefly tried to reign himself in but ultimately gave up. If Kobi couldn’t stand the sight of his Alpha acting so human, then they weren’t as good friends as he’d thought. “The torn links from Clarissa and Rob still hurt!” Declan complained, voice scraping up his throat with frustration and very real pain, “If this weren’t a desperate situation, I’d say that I didn’t want to create a bond with a new pack-member ever again, or at least not until these heal up a bit.”

“It hurts that much?” Kobi hazarded, surprised.

Declan merely nodded, forehead on his palms by now. The torn links could be ignored if he was acting and doing other things, but right now, he felt them acutely like fresh scar-tissue.  He had two still-tender wounds in his psyche.  For a moment, he lost his grip on the pseudo-link with Marcus, and it broke just like that, making Declan sigh in defeat at the loss.  Fine.  He’d have to check on the Omega physically then. 

“Do you want Marcus?” Kobi finally asked, after a long moment of pondering silence.  His voice was once again sounding like the calm, collected, steady Beta that Declan knew. “I mean, do you really want him in the pack – if there weren’t any circumstances forcing your hand?”

The answer was surprisingly easy.  “Yes.” 

Instead of immediately saying that Declan should just go ahead and do it then, Kobi instead merely hummed and nodded.  He stood, taking a moment to brush a hand against Declan’s left bicep.  “You should think on that then.”

Just as Declan was nodding, his thoughts a nasty tangle but the answers nonetheless staring him in the face, Liz sailed into the room again like a red-haired wind-storm.  There was fierce pride on her face.  “Clarissa clearly wasn’t looking very hard.  I think I found a rumor or two that say being in a wolf shape helps with what might be called ‘Omega Deterioration’.   It’s apparently nothing like a cure, but I’m going to keep looking. Should I tell Marcus, or do you want to, Declan?”

The Alpha immediately stood up, walked over to Liz, and dragged her into a hug so hard she squeaked.  “You’re a god-send, Liz,” he breathed against her hair.

She chuckled next to his ear, still trapped in the hug. “I’m a computer-whisperer, actually. But I’ll go with ‘god-send,’ too. I think my boyfriend wants to hug me, Declan, so you should let me go and talk to Marcus instead.”

Chuckling warmly and feeling hope flaring behind his breastbone where resignation had been threatening before, Declan released his hold, immediately turning his footsteps towards the bathroom.  He didn’t have to look back to know that Kobi and Liz were most likely doing much more than just hugging – they deserved it. Kobi needed more comfort than Declan could hope to give him, and for making this discovery, Liz deserved a lot more than a brotherly hug from her Alpha. 

 

Chapter Text

Wanting to test and see whether his presence was more tolerable to Marcus’s nose just as it’d been more soothing to his ears than the rest of the pack, Declan left Liz and Kobi to their own devices and slipped quietly into the bathroom.  Marcus heard the door easing open and flinched where he was huddled over the toilet, but he aborted the movement to cover his nose when he saw that it was Declan.  “Alpha,” he greeted, a bit more formal than he’d been all day, which was yet another sign that he really wasn’t feeling well - or that he was feeling more ostracized than ever.  Sitting on the floor with his arms draped over cold porcelain, Marcus certainly looked pathetic and lonely, reminding Declan that this was what having no pack meant to an Omega.  Marcus took a cautious but obvious sniff through his nose, then sighed and dropped his head in relief.  

“Okay?” Declan asked, ready to leave again if necessary.  Marcus gave a blissful little nod, which in and of itself was sad - the bar had to be set pretty low when something as simple as ‘not going into sensory overload’ counted as ecstasy.  Declan closed the door behind him and cautiously sat down on the edge of the tub, wringing his hands as he tried to get his words together.  The smaller man didn’t seem to mind.  He’d dropped one arm down to his lap, making space for his head to rest against the toilet seat in a way that didn’t look comfortable, but must have been, because Marcus’s blue eyes had closed.  His pale skin was paler than usual from being sick, save for unhealthy spots of color over his cheekbones and dark, tired shadows under his eyes.  Declan wondered if there really was any way to put meat back on Marcus’s bones and help him regain his strength when he kept getting setbacks like this.  “Did you ever research… this?” Declan found himself asking, vaguely indicating Marcus’s condition with a wave of his hands towards the toilet bowl and the unfortunate Werewolf collapsed in front of it.  One blue eye opened to a bare slit, the color appearing brighter because the sclera around it was slightly bloodshot.

After a beat of silence, however, Marcus cleared his throat painfully and sat up a bit more.  Looking embarrassed, he idly swiped the back of his hand across his mouth, and Declan took that as his cue to fill up a cup of water from the bathroom tap to give to him.  A bit of rinsing and spitting later, and Marcus seemed ready to talk.  “I haven’t had the cash to get myself a laptop,” he admitted, eyes down, “and for at least the first year…and maybe even now… I’ve been paranoid about public places like libraries or internet cafes, and there aren’t as many books on Omegas as you’d think.  I had a scare…”  Marcus paused, shrinking in on himself a little, and wouldn’t meet Declan’s eyes.  He backed up in his story, “These symptoms started up after about six months on my own - but they weren’t anywhere near this bad!  Every once in awhile, I’d just have moments where I was just a bit more sensitive to some sound or smell, or sometimes touch, and couldn’t turn it down for an hour or two.  But it was never anything major.  I thought it was connected to migraines or something, because my mom used to get those.  It got a bit worse, but the bad episodes would happen… I don’t know?  Once a year?  Maybe?  So I never actually thought about researching it until recently, because it’s only started to get really, really bad this year.  But…”

Declan had sat and listened quietly, but when it seemed like Marcus wouldn’t continue, he prodded gently, “But you had a scare?”

“Yeah,” Marcus flushed and nodded, sitting back against the wall to Declan’s right and drawing his knees up.  He looked terrible.  With short sleeves, it was clear to see that he still had stitches in his arm from where Clarissa had gotten him, whereas Declan’s own wounds from Rob were healing far faster - a sign of Marcus’s compromised Werewolf healing ability - and old scars were visible, too.  His face wasn’t quite gaunt, but was narrow enough that he had a vulpine look to him.  “When this all started to get worse, I went to the public library to see if I could find out anything about it.  This was two towns ago, and it’s probably the closest I’d come to being caught by the police since I first ran for it.”   His hand shook badly as he lifted it and ran it back through his hair, putting the straight, brown strands into stark disarray even as his eyes took on a hunted look.  

Declan’s own eyes widened and he sat up a bit, surprised as much by Marcus’s words as by the protectiveness that rolled through him.  “What exactly happened?”

“I don’t know if they were looking for me specifically, or…  I just don’t know.  Either way, I’d come into the library about three days in a row, between the two jobs I was working, and was looking up what was wrong with me.  I’m not all that tech-savvy, and I originally thought that this was just some weird, hereditary migraine, but I’d started to realize that it was an Omega-specific ailment that came with being away from a pack,” Marcus continued to explain, “After that last day, though, I came back to the library to find it swarming with police.  Actually…”  Marcus chuckled, but it was humorless, and sounded more like a sob.  “I was having an episode then - a mild one, but still pretty bad.  It was one of the ones that affects my hearing, so I was still a block off when I started to pick up more voices than expected.  Instead of walking further, I stopped and managed to focus enough to zero in on some of the voices, and thankfully, the library sat in a quiet part of town, so I wasn’t too overwhelmed.  But I heard a bunch of cars, police radios, and people talking about Omegas, and research, and asking around about me.”  Finally, Marcus looked up at Declan, his expression so lost for a second before he looked down at his hands where he was tangling and untangling his fingers in his lap.  “I never heard my name specifically - just the alias I’d given the librarian - so maybe the police always keep an ear out for Omegas deteriorating like I am… but I don’t know.  Either way, I was already paranoid, so I’ve been too much of a coward to look it up since.”

“Hey, Marcus, don’t say that,” Declan murmured, the whole story hitting him like a punch but the last sentence truly slicing into him.  He leaned forward to cup a hand over Marcus’s shoulder, knowing that it put him in the Omega’s personal space - leaning over him - but feeling pleased when the lean young man didn’t flinch.  “You’re not a coward.”

One side of Marcus’s mouth kicked up wryly.  “You clearly don’t know me very well.  Didn’t I mention that I’ve been on the run for four years?”

“Yeah, but you stood up to me,” Declan reminded, sitting up again, putting on a slightly affronted face at being told he was wrong.

Marcus’s half-smile still wasn’t a very funny one, and he countered without sparing himself, “You mean cowered.  I’m pretty sure that when I met you, I cowered.”

The memory wasn’t exactly a nice one for Declan either, so he looked away, but turned back again when a new point came to him, “How about with Liz and Kobi, then, huh?  Pretty sure that they’ve told me some pretty impressive stories about you when your back was up.”

Looking like he didn’t know whether to be embarrassed, uncomfortable, or secretly slightly proud, Marcus’s expression twitched again and he let out a little cough that might have been a laugh.  “You’re talking about when I threatened to shoot your Betas with a gun I didn’t own,” he guessed, “I’m pretty sure that someone with real bravery would have just transformed and attacked them.”

Declan was warming up to this conversation, though, and just smiled instead of being set back.  “Maybe true, but that person would have to be both brave and stupid - and, to tell you the truth, I prefer smart people to brave ones, and you’re about the most sensible person I’ve ever met.”

The compliment startled Marcus.  He didn’t have anything to say to that, and just sat, blinking slowly.  It truly looked like he didn’t know what to say to the sincere praise.  

Declan went on, voice softer but no less candid, “And when you didn’t attack my aunt, when you had every right to, that wasn’t cowardice either - that was good sense, too.”

“No, it wasn’t,” Marcus argued weakly, unconsciously reaching up to touch the stitches at the side of his neck, then his arm, before making an aborted stretch to the stitches hidden beneath his pantleg.  

“Choosing not to engage in violence isn’t a sign of weakness,” Declan kept arguing gently, having wanted to get this idea out for some time, ever since he’d realized that Marcus was probably a pacifist beneath all of his snarking and snapping, “In fact, I bet it takes more courage.”  Because it looked like Marcus was precariously close to either blushing to death or having some sort of emotional crisis (and Declan wasn’t entirely sure he was prepared to deal with that), the Alpha left it at that and changed the subject, “Look, Liz might have found something.  Clearly, computers like her better than most people, because she just started looking and found a rumor that says maybe turning into a wolf more often might help with your senses.  I think that the idea is that you should be able to control or handle the overload better.”  Seeing Marcus’s blue eyes widening, Declan held up his hands, cautioning, “It doesn’t sound like a cure, but maybe it’ll help.  Have you noticed that being lupine is better?”

“I don’t transform much, actually,” Marcus admitted unexpectedly, looking uncomfortable again - if he’d truly ever stopped looking uncomfortable.  It was sad for Declan to see someone so not at home in their own skin.  The Omega indicated himself with a wry quirk of his lips, elaborating, “I mean, I don’t stand out too much like this, but as a wolf, I’m kind of distinctive.  White’s a rather rare color, and I’m obviously a young Omega by my size.”

Declan was about to say that he thought Marcus’s sapphire eyes were distinctive regardless of what shape the rest of his body took, but swallowed those incriminating words at the last second with a vague choking noise that he hid with a cough.  After the inappropriate events of this morning, now didn’t seem the time to admit that he found Marcus’s eyes to be so enchanting.  “So you haven’t changed regularly since everything happened?”

“I’ve barely transformed at all - and never outside,” was Marcus’s blunt reply, even as his expression said he was thinking of the idea with growing interest.  He looked up at Declan uncertainly, and asked in a more hushed voice, “You really think it’ll help?”

“I don’t know,” Declan said truthfully, strong shoulders lifting in a shrug, “But it makes sense.  All of us have heightened senses as wolves, and our bodies are more equipped to handle them.”

Marcus began considering the idea with acceptance if not enthusiasm, nodding as he murmured, “Okay.  Do you mind me staying in the house?”

“No one is going to see you outside.  We’re kind of off the beaten path.”

Jaw setting stubbornly and some of that fragile determination lighting his eyes, Marcus merely repeated more clearly, “Do you mind me staying in the house?”

Sighing as he realized that Marcus’s nervousness and paranoia wasn’t something that could be fixed in a day, Declan nodded.  It wasn’t as if Liz, Kobi, and Declan himself didn’t pad around the place on four legs all the time anyway - the fact that Marcus was asking was just a formality, a sign of politeness that Declan really wished Marcus would stop doing.  That was yet another thing that he didn’t think would be swiftly remedied, although the Alpha was by now determined to make Marcus feel at home here.

The offer to add Marcus to his pack continued to float around in the back of his mind, but it was still so tangled up in the painful memories of Clarissa and Rob that Declan couldn’t touch it yet.  He hoped that this temporary remedy of Liz’s would give him some time to think, because he wanted to help Marcus, but he didn’t know if he could right now - not without suffering psychological damage himself.  Besides that, entering into a pack was a big decision, and Marcus had not only been on his own for years, but was as wary as a winter hare.  Being told that his only chance of survival lay in letting Declan bite him and drag him into his pack would be not unlike making a decision at gunpoint.  

While Declan unhappily tried to figure out when life had gotten so complicated, Marcus closed his eyes and focused.  The change took a long moment to start, adding backing to the fact that the Omega didn’t actually transform that often despite how many times Declan had seen him in his lupine form, but then gained momentum with the sounds of snapping bones and stretching sinews that had long since ceased to make Declan bat an eye.  Soon Marcus was settled into his other form, standing up a little shakily and taking stock of himself.  “Better?” Declan asked, taking in the white wolf in front of him.  Marcus had had the opportunity to shower since his induction into the Fen household, and it showed: his pelt was brighter and a bit fluffier, although it wasn’t quite healthy and sleek yet, and even in this form the stitches he had in his skin were retained.  They looked stark and black against his pale coloration.

Too late, Declan remembered that Marcus actually only had a problem with other people’s scents right now - therefore, his question was moot.  But Marcus merely shrugged, eyes on Declan but ears swiveling towards the door.  His body language spoke of anxiety, tail tucked low against the back of his legs and ears flattening to his head when they were done listening.  He didn’t go for the door immediately, clearly worried that this wouldn’t work and he’d end up being overwhelmed as soon as the more complex scents of the house hit him - so Declan took the initiative, standing and heading out.  “Come on,” he coaxed, and thought he heard a soft whine as an answer, but Marcus gave in and followed.  Declan pretended not to notice that the Omega followed him so closely that his nose nearly brushed the back of Declan’s knee, clearly insurance in case he needed the Alpha’s stabilizing scent to buffer him.  

Nothing terrible happened when they got out into the hallway, except for Marcus bumping his snout against Declan’s leg sharply when the Alpha stopped.  Feeling more amused than anything else, Declan just stood there, posture easy and arms crossed, watching as Marcus ventured further and further away from him like a particularly wary pup.  Declan found that he liked watching Marcus move, whether Marcus was a wolf or a human, because he picked his steps so carefully, adding a dance-like quality to his tread.  His pelt was bristled slightly in wariness, but after getting about four body-lengths down the hall from Declan, he seemed to relax.  “Nothing overloading you?” Declan called, and Marcus’s ears sprang up and turned back towards him before his eyes followed.  This time, there was a more immediate, sure nod, and Marcus’s snout even twitched as if he were tempted to flash a canine smile.  He was still too reserved for that, but Declan would take any progress he could get from his new house-mate.  Careful to stick to yes-or-no questions until he succeeded in re-initiating the telepathic link again, Declan stuffed his hands into his pockets and asked, “Do you think you’re up to eating anything yet?”

When he got a shy, tentative affirmative, Declan grinned and strode past Marcus into the kitchen.  

What followed was an unexpectedly nice, domestic evening shared between Declan and Marcus.  At first, Declan wondered where Liz and Kobi had gotten to, but while he was making a snack for both of them, he caught Marcus staring off into space with his pale ears alertly lifted.  They were focused out towards the woods, and the look on Marcus’s face was… almost one of longing.  Focusing his own senses, Declan quickly picked up the sounds of running pawsteps and delighted panting as Liz and Kobi raced through the trees not far from the house.  When he opened his mouth to make a comment about it to Marcus, however, he Omega caught him looking and realized that his own interest had been noticed.  Head and ears dropping in embarrassment, Marcus slunk under the table, circling within an artificial forest of chair-legs and looking decidedly unhappy about it as he did so.  Declan didn’t know what to say, and could only watch and sigh as the Omega - still determined not to go outside where he ran the risk of being seen and recognized - lay down on the linoleum.  Never had a wild creature looked so out of place amidst the trappings of civilization.  

Just for that, Declan decided to find some leftover chicken in the fridge, and added it to the plate he was putting together.  “Marcus - coming?” he asked, stepping purposefully towards the living room.  Still looking sad, the white wolf’s head nonetheless lifted, and he scrambled up even though there hadn’t been an order in sight.  Claws flexing in uneasiness even as he watched Declan curiously, Marcus trotted after him, eventually accepting the invitation to jump up and share the couch.  Putting a plate made up largely of leftover pizza, chicken, and a sandwich in between them, Declan flicked on the television and settled in.  “Just make a noise if you see something you like,” he said, although he was aware that Marcus was still watching him more than anything on the telly, “And anything but the sandwich is all yours.  But you should probably eat slowly, since you just spent the last few hours being sick.”

Huffing out a breath that was part agreement, part ruefulness, Marcus relaxed a bit and even, after a moment of eyeing the plate, stretched his neck out to nose at a chicken leg.  The bone itself would be unwise for him to eat (every Werewolf had seen enough warnings about splintering chicken bones and a dog’s digestive system), so he tried to tug at it carefully.  Eventually, hesitantly, he placed a paw against it with his claws lightly extended, but it was all done so delicately that Declan knew Marcus was trying to go unnoticed again.  It made him sigh.  And then it made Declan reach out, taking the chicken-leg - Marcus pulled back from it in a flash - and tearing the meat away from the bone with his fingers.  “Sorry, you looked like you could use the help,” he said, a bit embarrassed at his own impulsive assistance.  Still, Declan gamely held out the shredded meat, while blue, lupine eyes watched him a bit incredulously.  

After only a moment, though, Marcus leaned forward again.  Impressive teeth showed for a moment and a pink tongue - so bright against the whiteness of his coat, and colorful against dark gums and the interior of his mouth - snaked out, claiming the tidbit gracefully.  Declan smiled broadly at the whole exchange, even as he ripped off a bit more.  They continued like this for some minutes, mostly with Declan putting the bits of meat on the plate, because that felt less weird than hand-feeding someone he’d only actually met a few weeks ago.  When Marcus finished up with that and moved onto the leftover pizza, Declan let him be, focusing on his own sandwich and the hockey game he’d found on the television.  By the time both hockey and sandwich were finished with, Marcus was lying on the couch, eyes closed, breathing deeply.  Declan counted that as a win even as he felt himself relaxing at the mere sight of his companion finally looking at ease.  

Removing the plate as quietly as possible, Declan settled in to watch some more mindless television and simply feel proud of himself for doing something right with Marcus for once.  

“Did you miss us?” Liz’s voice called into the house, accompanied by the creak of the door swinging open.  Declan had heard his two remaining Betas even before they’d touched the doorknob, but being asleep, Marcus hadn’t gotten the forewarning - instead, he just heard the door slam accompanied by sudden voices.  With a mental crackle like static down a landline, Declan felt the spike of sleepy panic rush through Marcus’s system even before he jolted awake, paws pedaling and the fur along his spine standing on end.  The fear was so visceral that for a moment Declan choked on it, overwhelmed by the unexpected telepathic connection, even if it was a haphazard, shoddy link.  Fortunately, even young Alphas like Declan had fast reflexes and good instincts, both of which had the blond-haired young man moving swiftly as he grimaced his way through Marcus’s startled fear.  

Mostly, he was just picking up on emotions, but beneath them he could interpret the shape and nature of the Omega’s alarm, too: Marcus wasn’t used to being awoken by open and closing doors or by voices, because he’d been living alone for years, so any such noises were now a total anomaly to him.  Of course he’d jump to conclusions before the rest of his brain caught up with him.  Finding himself in his wolf form couldn’t be helping either, because Marcus had already explained that he felt more vulnerable like this instead of less - true, he had fangs and claws, but he was also stripped of his anonymity.  Whining high and sharp, Marcus nearly rolled off the couch and bolted before Declan surged his way and caught a handful of his ruff.

“Marcus-!”  He was about to say something like ‘Calm down!’ or ‘Stop it!’ but then remembered that there was more wrong with the packless wolf than just his senses - his sensitivity to commands was also cranked up dangerously high.  Fortunately, just the sound of his name was enough to get Marcus’s attention, although not before the Omega had turned on the hand holding him still.  Declan had already tensed, clenching his jaw in preparation for a lot of pain as narrow white jaws twisted around to close over his bicep.  

But Marcus never bit down.  Sanity came back into his eyes as they locked on Declan’s, the two of them close enough that Declan could pick out the fine, short whiskers amidst the fur of Marcus’s muzzle, and the tiny notch in one of his ears that was no doubt a connected to a bad memory that could’ve been worse.  Blue eyes widening, Marcus froze for a moment with his teeth just dimpling Declan’s tanned skin on both sides of his right upper arm, and then suddenly the Omega was letting go as if he’d closed his jaws on a firecracker.  He jerked back so hard that Declan lost his grip, and by the time Liz and Kobi raced into the room, Marcus had backed all the way up until his tail and hind-legs had thumped into the wall between the television stand and a bookshelf.  He looked possibly more terrified than before, but in a far more cognizant, aware way, as he stared at Declan and what he’d almost done to the larger Werewolf.  

The telepathic connection was still there, but it was shaky and unreliable.  ‘Oh god… What did…?  ...So sorry…’ and different variations came through to Declan’s mind in bits and snatches, the sentences cutting out sporadically.  

Everyone was shocked and confused.  Liz’s green eyes were flicking between everyone, and she gasped out, “Marcus!” as much because of the state he was in as because he was a wolf at all - he truly was a shock to see, so stark white.  She’d seen his wolf form before, but it was hard to get used to, especially with him cleaned up a bit.

Marcus never turned his attention from Declan, though, and slowly let loose a whine like it was being peeled out of him in a bloody strip.  It was such a helpless sound, confused and lost as to what to do, that everyone in the room shivered and cringed a little - by the way Kobi actually jerked a little, Declan sincerely wondered if Marcus had somehow managed to create an impulsive link with all of them.  Looking cornered but so far from violent that it was almost unnerving, Marcus slowly and shakily laid down on the floor.  It was a lot like what he’d done that first time, in the kitchen, purposefully making himself small by tucking his feet up under his body.  At least he didn’t turn belly-up this time, although Declan was still feeling a bit sick at the abject show of submissiveness.  

‘...Sorry,’ rolled down the link again, painfully sincere, ‘I didn’t know what I was doing… Or else I wouldn’t’ve…’’

Liz stepped forward.  Her eyes were red like she was about to cry, and Declan remembered then how deeply she’d picked up the scent of Marcus’s emotions in the past - and they’d hurt her, heart-deep.  Now she was staying calm, however, and slowly removed the distance between herself and Marcus.  He watched her uncertainly as she knelt down in front of him, never once hesitating - perhaps because she knew as well as Declan did that Marcus wasn’t going to attack her, or perhaps because she realized instinctively that as a Beta, she was physically stronger than him as a wolf, if need be.  She reached out a hand and slowly stroked it down his head, and her voice was as soothing as rain to a desert.  “Marcus, sweetheart, it’s okay.  Come back to us, please?”

There was no command in her careful voice, but the pure compassion alone was tugging at Declan’s heartstrings, and he wasn’t even the focus of it.  Liz’s gentleness translated right now into her hands as she cupped Marcus’s skull, which, after a moment, reshaped itself into a human one.  Panting in gulps of air like he’d forgotten how to breathe, Marcus knelt in his human shape in front of Liz, eyes searching her face desperately.  

Declan knew he had to speak up.  Even if his Betas somehow knew what had happened, he needed Marcus to see it from his point of view - and if his Betas did not know the truth of the last few minutes, he needed to say it because they were thinking he’d hurt the young man across the room.  “Marcus, it was natural for you to react like that, but you didn’t bite me.”  He glanced at his Betas to add, “He was asleep on the couch and startled when you came in.  I shouldn’t have grabbed him without thinking.”

“And I shouldn’t have tried to rip into your arm-!” Marcus started to shout, voice high and thin with something close to hysteria.  

“Shhh,” Liz cut him off.  She transferred her hands to his shoulders and gave a little shake.  His frenzied eyes snapped back to hers, and whatever Marcus saw there confused him and then settled him grudgingly.  “I’m sure that if Declan says he’s not mad, he’s not mad.  All right?”

Catching onto the conversation quickly, Kobi added in his imperturbable voice, “And Declan’s not bleeding anywhere.”  Declan stretched out his arm obligingly as evidence, and watched as Marcus’s mouth compressed into a thin line, not willing to forget it all so quickly.

Liz wasn’t to be denied, however.  “Declan, did you tell him about how he might feel better as a wolf?”

“Yes.  And it seems to work.”

Having glanced back at Declan for that quick exchange, the red-haired young woman now turned back to Marcus, one eyebrow imperiously raised.  “Well, then what are you doing in your human skin, Marcus?”

“But if I bite-”

Marcus’s fretful argument was cut off quickly by Liz saying slyly, “Oh, I think that if you bite Declan with your human teeth it will be much more embarrassing.  But if that’s what you’re worried about, fine.  I’m not making decisions for you.”  

Everyone was gifted with the sight of Marcus’s cheeks going absolutely pink, and then he glared at Liz in a way that said he’d get her back for that comment (her grin said she relished the challenge), before he once again focused and molded himself back into a four-legged shape.  Surprisingly, as soon as he did so, he timidly inched his head forward until he could barely - just barely - nudge Liz’s shoulder with his nose.  Then, before she could get over her surprise at the miniscule gesture of affection, he was hopping nimbly around her.  Tail tucked low, he cast Kobi a look as if apologizing for the offense of touching his girlfriend, but Kobi merely shrugged. He wasn’t in any way bothered. Assured that everything was okay in that quarter, Marcus trotted up to Declan.  It was still painful to watch the way he held himself, almost slinking, but at least he looked up and then repeated the nose-nudging gesture that he’d done with Liz - only the closest bit of Declan within reach was his knee, so it got the gentlest of shy touches.  Declan suddenly wondered if this was something familiar from Marcus’s old pack, because it had an air about it of something that Marcus had once done regularly.  

He decided to accept it for what he assumed it was: both an apology, and a silent question about forgiveness.  Dropping down to his haunches to put them on level ground, tawny, smiling human eyes met blue, uneasy lupine ones.  Declan flashed a sudden, broad smile and reached out to ruffle Marcus’s ears, earning a terribly amusing yip even as Marcus danced away.  

“Hey, it’s only fair,” Liz told Marcus, who was managing to look affronted even as a wolf, “If we ever play-fight and start mouthing at Declan, he’s totally allowed to ruffle our ears.  Right Declan?”

I wasn’t mouthing,’ came Marcus’s rather petulant voice.  Apparently the link was still working.

Well, you sure as hell weren’t hurting me,’ Declan thought right back, and was pleased by the way Marcus looked surprised, then a bit more relieved, and finally just sat down on his fluffy white tail.  Out loud, Declan said airily, “Totally true.  We’ll tell you the rest of the roughhousing rules later, Marcus.”

 

 

Chapter Text

Marcus still refused to go outside while transformed, but he was fitting in surprisingly well as an ‘indoor wolf,’ in Declan’s admittedly biased opinion.  He was still a bit shy around Declan, and always just a bit too watchful of his manners for it to be entirely normal, but when Liz and Kobi took it upon themselves to keep him company indoors, Marcus’s actions gradually began to resemble something like playfulness.  Since being in wolf form did seem to be helping with the condition of his overwrought senses, Marcus usually spent at least half the day (and presumably most of each night) in lupine form, and it was Liz who first decided to keep him company that way.  The Omega had been surprised at first, standing a bit stiffly as Liz - tongue-lolling and bedecked in her thick, reddish pelt - had approached him.  Ever since that one fluke, the Betas hadn’t managed to hear any of Marcus’s thoughts, but Liz was pretty good at communicating by body-language alone.  When she’d dropped her front half down onto the floor, hind end still held in the air and tail waving back and forth like a flag, Marcus had snorted and looked tentatively amused.  He’d responded well to her playfully nipping at his forepaws, careful to steer clear of his still-present stitches.  Before long, Liz had goaded Marcus into a hesitant, gentle sort of play that mostly included her making a nuisance of herself and crowding him, tugging playfully at his fur and sometimes mouthing at his ears or tail.  Sometimes they chased one another around the house (or at least Liz dogged Marcus’s heels around the house).  It was all done carefully enough that the smaller white wolf never seemed to be overwhelmed - and whenever he was, the games turning a bit rougher or more fast-paced, he found solace in an unexpected place: Kobi.

Perhaps knowing that his girlfriend’s rambunctious nature could be too much at times, he started transforming, too.  It was soon an unspoken rule that if Kobi was sprawled out in lupine form in the living room, and Marcus ended up within touching distance of him, Liz was to leave him alone - or else her boyfriend would get up with a fond but exasperated huff, and tackle her.  Liz was larger than Marcus, but Kobi was bigger than both of them, and offered a good distraction when Marcus needed a breather.  Marcus always looked honestly flummoxed when Kobi stood up for him that way, and would sit with his tail wrapped contritely around his paws and watch Kobi playfully maul Liz with sheathed claws and a careful jaws.  Declan, usually keeping his human shape so that at least one of them had a human voice with which to speak to Marcus with, would lean his shoulder against the nearest door-frame and laugh, always drawing Marcus’s attention.  Times like these did a lot to soothe the ache Declan still felt in his mind and in his heart from the cruel parting of Clarissa and Rob.  He was pretty sure that Liz and Kobi also enjoyed the distraction that Marcus provided, even if they had to remember to play very gently with him.  Declan himself had found that even if he wasn’t issuing commands, he had to watch his mouth, because as playful as Marcus got, he’d stop interacting entirely if he got even the faintest impression that the Alpha wasn’t pleased with the idea.  

Just like today: Liz was chasing Marcus around the house with both of them actually putting some effort into the game, and Declan called out jokingly, “Hey, you two!  No speeding!”  He’d meant it all in jest, simply a comment thrown about between friends to show he was watching with no commanding power behind it, but Marcus, instead of hearing the humor in the words, immediately skidded to a halt.  Liz actually ran into him, nearly knocking them both over, and Kobi pricked his ears up from where he’d been dozing on the couch.  Regaining his balance  but seeming to shrink, Marcus had stopped racing around, and no amount of coaxing on Liz’s part could restart the game.

Later that evening saw Marcus human again with an embarrassed flush to his cheeks, and asking to eat his supper in his room.  When he walked off with a plate, shoulders up and humiliation obviously burning in him from earlier, Declan wordlessly got up and followed a beat later with a plate of his own.  He found Marcus sitting cross-legged on his bed, pushing macaroni and cheese listlessly around on his plate.  Startled blue eyes lifted when Declan let himself in.  “Declan,” was all he said, then seemed unable to find anything else appropriate to say.  

Fortunately, Declan already had a good excuse for coming in here.  He held up a pair of small scissors.  “I just realized that we can probably take your stitches out now, and figured I should do that before I forgot.”  Instead of getting closer, however, Declan merely sat down at the end of the bed, making himself comfortable while Marcus watched him with a cautious gaze.  “We can eat first, though,” he added, setting aside the scissors in favor of pulling a fork out of his pocket and digging in.

The two ate in silence, Declan seemingly paying Marcus no mind, and Marcus eating as an afterthought as he continued to glance suspiciously at the Alpha in between bites.  Finally, Declan spoke, apropos of nothing but in a conversational tone, “You didn’t do anything wrong earlier.”

Swallowing his last bite a bit early, and grimacing as a half-chewed mouthful of macaroni worked its way down his throat, Marcus eventually answered, “I was being stupid.”

“Playing around and keeping Liz happy is stupid?” Declan challenged mildly.

He got an actual glare in return.  “No, not realizing that you were joking was stupid.  I freaked out and reacted when there wasn’t trouble in sight,” he assessed himself unforgivingly.  

Putting his own fork down and instead propping an elbow on one knee and his chin in his hand, Declan looked at Marcus frankly and replied just as calmly as before, “And how long have you known me?  How long have you been under this roof?  You don’t know the rules, Marcus, and no one expects you to.”

Making a noise in his throat that sounded very canine for a human throat - a little growl - Marcus looked down and stabbed at a hapless piece of macaroni.  “I expect myself to at least not make an idiot of myself every other minute by cowering at every unexpected thing.”

“You’re being pretty harsh on yourself.”

It seemed like the Omega would argue with him some more, but instead, he sighed and his shoulders lost their tension a little.  Clearly, he hadn’t really wanted to play the ‘devil’s advocate’ in this discussion anyway.  “You think so?” he asked, painfully hesitant.  

Declan felt some of his own tension go away, and he picked up his plate again.  “I do.  I also think that after what you’ve been through - what members of my very own pack put you through-”  The memory made Declan’s breath catch even now, a combination of impotent anger and the pain of lost pack-members.  He went on as evenly as he could, hiding the break in his words, “-No one in this house is going to judge you, no matter what.”

The relative paleness of Marcus’s skin-tone always off-set the darkness of his hair, and now his lashes as he looked up from under them, feigning nonchalance rather well for a young man who was usually rather highly strung, “Even if I’m speeding in the house?”

Declan snorted and answered, “Even then.”

“Even if I start roughhousing with your Betas?”

This new side of Marcus - almost teasing but not quite, almost serious but not quite - was somehow wholly charming to Declan, and he found himself chuckling now, a sound from deep within his chest.  He smiled wryly and pointed out, “Marcus, I’d totally pay to see you roughhousing with Liz or Kobi, because right now they’re so afraid of hurting you that I think they’d just about have brain-aneurysms.  But don’t tell them I said that.”

It was possible to see the smile that Marcus hid, because his mouth twitched up on either side and - just like Liz had said - a tiny wrinkle appeared briefly on the bridge of his nose.  Even as he schooled his face into an expression of polite friendliness, his eyes stayed very warm, so that the larger Werewolf could still imagine the hidden smile perfectly.  “Even Liz is nearly half again as heavy as me.  They could take me with their paws tied.”

“But they won’t,” Declan assured smugly, before eating another mouthful.  He resisted the urge to talk with his mouth full, and was pleased when Marcus merely waited for him to keep talking, looking more relaxed than the Alpha had almost ever seen him, “I bet you dish-washing duties that if you jump them, you could have both Liz and Kobi on their backs, dominance-dynamics be damned.”

Marcus’s smile slipped out a bit more as he chuckled, looking grudgingly surprised by this whole conversation.  His eyes narrowed just a bit even as he kept smiling, eyes searching Declan’s face as if trying to figure him out.  “I’ll take that bet.  I mean, I don’t think I’ll have the guts to do it-”

“Says the guy who was gutsy enough to stand up to my aunt’s empathic powers.”

Now Marcus looked at him fully and seriously.  “You noticed that?”

Declan shrugged, admitting, “It was mostly a guess, actually, but that mess right before I banished my aunt Clarissa had a lot of emotional turmoil in it that stopped very, very suddenly when you got involved.”  Deciding to drop the subject, because it touched on tender wounds and unpleasant memories for both of them.  “Anyway – just know that you’re allowed to do anything those two can do, which includes goofing off.”

Marcus relaxed a few more noticeable degrees, and actually nodded acceptingly before digging back into his meal.  After a few more surprisingly hungry-looking mouthfuls, he changed topics in a subdued tone, eyes on his plate, “I actually came to my room – Kobi’s room – because I could feel one of my senses starting to go haywire again.”

Since Declan had thought that the isolation was purely from awkwardness over the running-around-the-house incident, he nearly fumbled his spoon.  Recovering, he said to hide his incorrect (and now debunked) assumption, “Oh?  Why didn’t you just change shape?”

“Because… it’s not always working,” Marcus admitted, and Declan’s heart sunk.  Immediately, the Omega lifted his head, hurrying to explain, “It’s still much better!  Liz’s suggestion is a life-saver, no question about it, but like she said, it’s just a patch.  A temporary fix.  But I’m better now, because, well…”  Now Marcus looked awkward, a blush just painting his cheekbones as he gestured vaguely in the other young man’s direction.  “Because you’re here.  Thanks.”

So Declan’s assumptions about Marcus’s motives were wrong – but so were Marcus’s, thinking that the Alpha had come in here to help him.  However, Marcus’s theories were intensely flattering, and Declan wished that he’d noticed the problem and had come to fix it.  The outcome was the same, however, and Declan found his heart giving a hard, proud thump in his chest.  “Don’t mention it.  Are you finished eating?  I said that I wanted to take your stitches out, and I meant it.”

Plates were put aside and Declan moved closer, the young man coming to sit in the center of the bed, cross-legged, knees not quite touching Marcus’s.  When their eyes met for a moment, Marcus flushed even more brilliantly than before, and Declan didn’t need a telepathic link to realize that he was thinking about the last time they’d been on a bed together.  The Alpha’s eyes rounded a little bit, and he felt his ears heat up before he cleared his throat loudly and looked down to the scissors in his hand.  “Okay, how about your arm first?  It was healing the fastest.”

Marcus stuck out his arm, rolling back the long sleeve of the shirt that he’d been wearing – one of his own, of a dark blue color that had faded in places from wear and care – to reveal the skin of his forearm and the neat black threads that were no longer needed to hold the skin together.  Although the Omega was still healing markedly slower than a healthy Werewolf would have, the wounds were much further along than a human’s would have been.  “Looking good,” Declan murmured his approval, even as he cupped one hand underneath Marcus’s elbow, so that the Omega’s lower arm rested naturally against his, parallel and wrist-down.  Purposefully, the Alpha didn’t stare at the other, old scars that he could see, although something stirred angrily in him.  Marcus shifted as if he noticed the emotional shift, but a slight squeeze of Declan’s fingers around the crook of his arm got him to settle down again almost instantly.  With careful focus and patience, Declan began snipping the knots away and then tugging the threads free as gently as possible.  Marcus hissed a little at the minimal sting, and Declan could feel the way his tendons flowed under his skin when he clenched his fist for a moment.  “Okay, all done with these,” Declan sighed, releasing Marcus and running a hand back through his hair.  Removing stitches was hardly a major medical procedure, but he always felt a bit nervous – he had an irrational fear of doing more harm than good while pulling the threads away from the healed skin.  Marcus was fine, though, the damage done by Clarissa now faded to pink marks that would hopefully heal even more with time, and maybe even disappear entirely.  Considering Marcus’s impaired healing abilities, unfortunately, it was possible that he’d bear scars. 

Not liking that thought, Declan shuffled back a bit, indicating Marcus’s leg was next.  Eventually, the two got themselves situated so that Marcus was leaning up against the headboard with his left leg on the larger Werewolf’s lap.  Something between the two of them felt more at ease in that moment, as they got situated, although there was a bit more shyness and awkward throat-clearing as Marcus pulled up his pant-leg and Declan hesitantly rested a hand on his ankle to prevent accidental movements.  After that, however, Declan turned his attention purely to his task and Marcus sat idly with nothing else to do or worry about besides sitting still.  He barely flinched as the stitches tugged free of his skin.  This time, Declan found himself far more confident in his self-assigned job, but it was only when he was done that he lifted his head, expression puzzled, and then turned to Marcus to ask, “Were you calming me down?”

Marcus’s eyes widened and in a second his body tensed up.  “Yes.  Sorry.  I’ll stop.  I just thought-” he started to rapidly justify himself. 

Still keeping a grip on Marcus’s ankle instinctively, Declan waved aside his concerns.  If asked before now, he would have thought that his reaction to being emotionally affected would’ve been negative, after realizing how much his aunt had been abusing that power – but somehow, with Marcus, it didn’t feel manipulative.  For starters, Marcus wasn’t quite as deft as Clarissa was, as evidenced by the fact that Declan had noticed.  The guilelessness of it all was unexpectedly comforting.  “No, it’s fine.  I don’t mind.”

Usually, at this point, Marcus would decide not to believe him, and instead retreat behind a wall of civility and nervous aloofness, but this time he nodded.  The lean muscles in his frame unclenched, and he looked unexpectedly pleased.  “Since I’m not your Omega, I didn’t think you’d be happy about it, but… you looked stressed,” Marcus explained with less defensiveness and more simple shyness, folding and unfolding his hands in his lap.  He eased his leg free of Declan’s grip to get a better look at it, tipping his chin approvingly before rolling his sweatpants back down over it.  Then he tipped his head to the left, and for a moment Declan was more distracted by the bare lines of his bared neck than by the stitches that resided there.  “These next?” Marcus asked, nervous because Declan hadn’t said anything right off the bat. 

Shaking off his distraction and reminding himself that he was a person first and a wolf second (although perhaps he found the showing of Marcus’s throat erotic in an entirely human way), Declan nodded vigorously and scooted forward.  “Yup.  Those are the last ones to go.”  Still, he hesitated to touch, scissors readied in his left hand and body-weight shifting as he knelt up for a better vantage point.  “Uh…” he floundered, “Can you tug the collar of your shirt down a bit?  To keep it out of the way?”

“Oh!  Yeah, sure,” Marcus obliged readily, dexterous fingers reaching up and hooking in his shirt-collar.  This proved to be a bad move (for Declan, at least), because now not only was Marcus’s neck on show, but so was a fair swatch of his collar-bone, artfully curved against his skin.  An old scar curled over it, abruptly making Declan sad, and it was with a compassionate gentleness that he rested the fingertips of his right hand on Marcus’s jaw to keep him still.  Eyes the color of robins’ eggs snapped to him, devoid of fear for once, but watchful. 

Slowly, carefully, Declan began the same process over again of cutting and then removing the neat little stitches that Kobi had put in.  He unconsciously bent over his work like a scribe trying to get a bit of calligraphy right, unaware of how amusing he looked with his handsome face configured in a focused, serious frown.  Marcus only twitched once or twice, the tendons of his neck flexing, either at the cold feel of the scissors touching his neck or the tug from a bit of thread having scabbed to his skin – but even those minute movements Declan could feel.  It always distracted him, and left him flustered for a second before he refocused himself.  Through it all, the Omega sat quietly in his shadow, no doubt feeling each little point where he was being touched.  Declan had to call this a little triumph, because at the beginning of their relationship, the Omega hadn’t wanted to be within shouting distance of him (a wise decision considering his vulnerability to Declan’s mere voice).  Now, it was something of a miracle to have Marcus accepting Declan’s fingers gently gripping his chin and keeping his head turned to the side, kneeling so that their legs brushed, leaning so close that Declan’s exhales occasionally rolled over his skin.  A tentative inhale – with Declan turning up his own senses with an amount of fine control that Marcus lacked – showed no acidic scent of fear either.

Just the unique vanilla-and-cedar smell that was so domesticated and yet so wild all in one. 

“Alpha?” Marcus asked softly, the use of the title a sure sign that he was uneasy even if he didn’t smell afraid.  However, he cleared his throat and quickly changed his term of address to something softer, “Declan?”

“Yes?”

“If I…?”  He stopped and swallowed, and now Declan could smell fear, but it must not have been connected to him, because Marcus didn’t shy away.  “I mean I…  I don’t know what to do,” the Omega continued to stumble along, looking anywhere but at Declan.  He went on bluntly and with a flinch that had nothing to do with the most recent stitch being tugged loose, “I’m crashing.  Hard.  I know that Liz is awesome and might pull another miracle out of thin air, but I don’t expect it, and the only thing…”  He bit his lip to stop himself from talking. 

Pulling out another stitch – the last stitch – Declan ran his thumb alongside the healing skin as if to prove that it was hale now.  When he let go of Marcus’s jaw, the Omega merely dropped his head, smelling of worry, defeat, and confusion like a cornered young stag.  Sensing more words to come, he waited, although it wasn’t until his hand fell on Marcus’s shoulder that the smaller man turned his head to look almost guiltily at the hand and say, “The only thing that helps every single time is you, and I honestly don’t know what to do about that without making things as embarrassing as hell.”

Declan felt his stomach give a little flip as he, too, thought about the embarrassing consequences of the most memorable time he’d used his presence to settle Marcus’s senses – but at the same time, his heart gave a counter-flip.  Clearly, Declan’s body was of two minds on the subject, and he settled back on his heels so that he could face Marcus without looking down at him.  Tired blue eyes met his, clearly seeking a solution but nearly too hopeless to find one.  It made Declan want to gather him into a hug, or defend Marcus in some way from an enemy that had no corporeal form.  His hand was still on Marcus’s shoulder, so he compromised with himself by merely giving a firm squeeze and not letting go.  “Needing help is not embarrassing,” he stated seriously.

One of Marcus’s eyebrows rose.  “No, but getting caught in the bed of an Alpha that isn’t mine?  That would have been pretty embarrassing.  And scandalous.”

After chewing his lip for a moment, Declan drew his hand back to instead scrub it back through his blond hair and admitting, “Actually… Liz and Kobi kind of already know about that.”  As Marcus’s eyes widened and he visibly stopped breathing, Declan added hurriedly, “But it didn’t bother them in the slightest – I mean, they understood why you did it, and like you besides.”

Clearly embarrassed despite the assurances, Marcus dropped his head into his hands and swore fluently.  Declan wasn’t sure whether to feel bad about the secret getting out or amused by the reaction, but tried to look properly sympathetic and understanding when Marcus raised his red face again.  “They seriously know?  For how long?”

“Pretty much since it happened.”

“Goddammit.”

Since Marcus swearing was rather rare, and since it sounded refreshingly normal to just hear him hissing out defeated expletives, Declan finally couldn’t help but release a smirk.  Marcus saw it, of course, and gave him a gimlet look as he threatened jadedly, “I could seriously beat you to death with a pillow right now.”

“Hey, I didn’t do anything!” the larger young man lifted his hands up defensively, but didn’t quite loose his grin because that was not entirely true, “Besides, this proves my point that they understand what’s going on, and don’t have a problem with it.  So…”  Losing some of his volubility, Declan tried his best to play it cool but was fairly sure he failed, “…If you need my presence or anything, all you have to do is ask.” 

“Or turn up unexpectedly at your bedroom door?” Marcus asked in a tone that might have been joking if his eyes didn’t look so hesitantly hopeful.  For a moment, his eyes flickered all over Declan like moths just barely smart enough to realize that alighting on the flame would hurt them: unable to pull away but frightened of closing that last distance between themselves and the well of light and warmth before them.  Face, shoulders, chest, easy posture, and capable hands draped over crossed legs – the Omega’s eyes flitted across every point before landed on his own lap. 

After a moment, Declan answered with soft sincerity, “You can do that, too.”

~^~

While Marcus refused to step outside the house in his distinctive wolf form, that didn’t mean he abhorred the outdoors entirely – and it wasn’t long before Liz, in her insatiable manner, got him outside as well.  It was always curious to watch, from Declan’s point of view.  He maintained a certain (if small) level of aloofness from his pack, and therefore spent the majority of his time standing aside while his Betas and his ‘adopted’ Omega gamboled about.  It lead to many soft smiles that no one else noticed as he saw a fondly tolerant Marcus – in human form – being coaxed out of the house by Liz and Kobi – both in wolf form.  With gentle jaws they caught hold of his clothing and hands, and looked like nothing so much as two children in that moment. Marcus put up with it patiently, protesting that he couldn’t play around with them on equal footing because he just had his human body right now, and that wasn’t going to change.  However, the brown-haired young man also seemed to have taken to heart Declan’s assurances that he was safe from any and all repercussions in his games with Liz and Kobi. 

This was proved not much later when he did, indeed, start to play.  Declan hadn’t seen something so heartwarming in his entire life. 

It was true that Marcus wasn’t exactly rambunctious – that would have been too far outside his character, right now – but he did bat at Liz’s snout as she mouthed at his wrists and hands, and tugged at Kobi’s thick ruff in counterpoint to the larger wolf shoulder-checking him.  Marcus wasn’t notably strong by Werewolf standards, but he was still more powerful than he looked, and actually managed to tug Kobi around a little, much to Liz’s delight.  From where he was sitting on the steps, Declan kept up a telepathic link, occasionally reminding his Betas not to jump on Marcus and to keep their claws sheathed.  If they’d been letting off steam with Declan or just each other, they could have been quite rough, knowing that even mild scratches or bites would heal up in no time.  Marcus was different, however, and it didn’t take much for Liz and Kobi to keep that in mind, even in the heat of a good bit of roughhousing.  Of course, their gentleness opened up Liz for a shocking headlock about ten minutes in, and Declan burst out laughing even as the female Beta yipped and wriggled.  Showing more bravery than Declan had expected, Marcus maintained his grip – although chuckling, a smile spreading across his face and causing a surprisingly impish wrinkle on his nose – for a good minute or two before letting Liz go.  With her prodigious strength, Liz could have escaped on her own before then, and everyone probably knew it.  But she didn’t, and it was worth the bashful, flushed look of pride on Marcus’s face as he straightened again and folded his arms. 

Kobi transformed behind Marcus, and came forward to clap him on the shoulder.  The smaller Werewolf jumped, but already the Beta was saying calmly and with a smirk just hiding at the corner of his mouth, “Admit it, Liz.  The pup’s got you beat.”

“I’m not a pup-” Marcus started to indignantly protest, but then stopped as Liz – with an amused, lupine huff – rolled over on her back.  Marcus looked at her like he’d never seen someone show any kind of subservience to him before, and Declan abruptly wondered what kind of pack experiences Marcus had had before all of this.  He wouldn’t ask, in respect to the dead, but he was curious nonetheless.  Until then, he merely felt a soft warmth in his heart as he saw Marcus shuffle his feet and duck his head, bashfully running his fingers through his hair until Liz flipped agilely to her paws again. 

 

 

 

Chapter Text

It wasn’t long before everyone had to admit that even in wolf form, Marcus wasn’t safe - his condition continued to deteriorate.  Everything came to a head when he went to bed early, claiming that his skin itched and felt a bit tight.  Still a bit hesitant and quiet around the pack that wasn’t his, but fitting in much more naturally now, Marcus had left the living room and transformed mid-step into his pale-furred shape.  On four paws, he’d padded past the couch and to the room which was pretty much his now, with Declan very nearly dropping a hand over the arm of the couch to stroke his spine as he went past.  It was a totally unconscious action, and Declan just jerked his arm back in time.  Of course, Kobi and Liz had totally noticed, but merely smirked and raised significant eyebrows while their Alpha had blushed and a blissfully unaware Marcus had disappeared into the bedroom.  Some goodnatured, entirely telepathic teasing had followed, right until Marcus had a full-blown episode twenty minutes later.  That ‘itching’ to his skin had actually been the early warning signs of his sense of touch overloading, and by the time the others realized he was in distress, even the slightest touch sent him into a frenzy of pain.  The worst part was, he was in canine form already - so there would be no reprieve via transformation.  Liz and Kobi always reacted and went to Marcus first, their relationship with him having blossomed into something that included friendly touches and casual contact even while Declan’s Alpha status seemed to keep Marcus at arm’s-length.  This time, though, they were driven back by sharp whines and bared teeth as the white wolf tried to convey just how very much he did not want anyone touching him.  With no telepathic link to Marcus, it took an agonizingly long few minutes to realize what the problem was, although no one was hurt or bitten.  Peeling back his lips to reveal his fangs was just about as violent as Marcus got, but when he backed away into the wall and suddenly yelped, high and sharp, it had clicked in Declan’s head what was going on.  

“It’s his sense of touch this time,” he’d explained in a breath, even as he grabbed Kobi and Liz’s arms to drag them back, firmly but with care.  Then retreated with worried eyes, torn by the desire to help even as logic sank in: when Marcus was like this, he was only able to stand Declan.  A bit afraid himself, so out of his element that part of him wanted to just run away and hide from his new responsibility, Declan asked Marcus as calmly as he could, “That’s right, isn’t it, Marcus?”  When he got no answer besides whimpering, with Marcus standing carefully on the far side of the room where nothing was touching him safe the carpet under his tensed paws, Declan regretfully slipped just a sliver of command into his words, “Marcus, answer me.”

The full-body jerk that the Omega gave was like that of a small animal coming into contact with a cattle-prod, and it hurt to see Marcus hunch in on himself like that.  The sleek little talons usually hidden in his paws splayed out before retracting again, as if even touching the floor was too much sensory input.  Nonetheless, he tipped his long, wrinkled snout in a stiff, slow nod.  

Mostly, the senses that Marcus was having problems with were his sense of hearing and smell.  This was new, and gravely worrying.  Exchanging sad, defeated looks with Liz (who looked absolutely distraught) and Kobi (who looked quietly helpless), Declan pulled himself together and reminded himself that he was the Alpha, and therefore the leader, theoretically.  Sometimes he didn’t feel equipped to be that, like now, but his attitude didn’t change the situation.  Slowly, he stepped forward, watching as mostly-closed blue eyes tracked him.  Unlike with Liz and Kobi’s approach, Marcus didn’t try to shuffle away, although his pelt was twitching and standing on end intermittently, as if in muscle-spasms, or in response to some phantom touch.  When Declan squatted down by his head, Marcus covered his teeth again, but his eyes were full of utter, utter agony as they met Declan’s.  

‘...Please…’  The simple word echoed through Declan’s mind like a tune carried on a forlorn breeze. The telepathic link was weak but there, and the Alpha grabbed at it quickly enough to hear the next few words, which nearly cracked his heart in half, ‘...Make this all end.’  Somehow, Marcus seemed to realized that Declan could hear him, because suddenly he opened his eyes more and fixated on him; ears that had been previously flattered against his neck strained upwards.  ‘Please, Declan, make it stop.  Please...’ he started to push the words through the link with a desperation that Declan, after a moment, realized bordered on madness.  When Marcus, virtually quivering now and talking nothing but a load of pleading gibberish, stretched his head forward, Declan was too overwhelmed to pull back before a black snout touched a fold of his shirt.  He feared that Marcus’s overwrought sense of touch would punish him for even that small touch, but again that magic of being an Alpha paid dividends.  Marcus’s wild eyes opened further, and ecstatic relief overwhelmed the link until Declan fell back on his heels and the connection shattered.  By then, a very desperate and very manic Marcus was crowding forward, and Declan had a lapful of him without warning.  

Still standing back, Liz and Kobi looked more worried than amused by this sudden change.  It would have been an excuse for more teasing, except everyone knew that the Omega was not this forward or enthusiastic about physical contact.  He’d only recently grown accustomed to Kobi patting him on the shoulder, and still squirmed and looked nervous whenever Liz brazenly hugged him (even if, beneath the nervousness, was an ocean of grudging, hopeful contentment).  Now, though, he was wriggling forward like someone’s highly domesticated pet dog who’d been shut up in the house too long, shoving his nose and head against Declan’s chest and up under his arm, stepping onto his thighs and losing his balance in a way that was also atypically clumsy for a Werewolf.  It was as if he were trying to rub the pain off himself through the Alpha’s physical tough, and when Declan - worried but cautious - focused on his own sense of smell, the scents that hit his nose were all wrong, too.  Marcus smelled… frenzied.  Elated, but wild at the same time, without an ounce of calmness in him.  

Suddenly Declan understood the very, very real danger of an Omega going mad like this, under the unpredictable torture of senses going haywire.  

“Marcus - Marc!” Declan shortened up his name to a bark of sound, but the only way he actually got Declan to stop wiggling and moving everywhere was to clamp his arm down.  This effectively trapped Marcus’s head against his side, and for a moment, taloned paws scrambled at Declan’s jeans without ever pressing down hard enough to break through.  The urge to tell Marcus to just calm down was strong, but Declan didn’t want to add commands to the mix, when clearly pain had already pushed the Omega to a very dangerous place in his head.  Marcus’s body was still cavorting, but he released a shuddering sigh when Declan’s grip tightened a bit; his white tail, a bit fuller now and less unkempt, swayed back and forth like a drunk-man’s step.

“Declan…?” Liz asked, uneasy.

“I’ll handle it,” was the Alpha’s immediate reply.  He hoped that he was telling the truth.  A glance back told him that his calm tone had at least done the trick of settling down his two Betas, who still looked worried but no longer quite so tense.  Looking back over his shoulder at them and feeling Marcus’s hot panting against his lower ribs and back, Declan went on, “You two go and watch a movie or something.  I’ll stay here with Marcus for tonight, or at least until he… gets over this.”

“Are you sure?” Liz asked.

Declan nodded, even as Marcus swung his body around so that his side was now pressed up against Declan’s chest while the Alpha continued to hold him in an awkward headlock.  “I’m sure.  Hey, at least this proves that my being an Alpha still helps him, right?”

Both Kobi and Liz tried to smile, but it was weak, and clearly they were thinking the same thing he was: ‘How much longer before that technique lost its effectiveness, too?’  They both turned to leave, however, but not before Liz suddenly turned around and skipped closer on her light  feet.  Declan feared that she’d tried to touch Marcus, who seemed fine with Declan but was still arguably in the middle of an episode, but instead she placed a hand on Declan’s head, leaned down, and pressed a soft kiss to his tousled blond hair.  Her thanks thus extended, she retreated soundlessly to Kobi’s side, where he already had an arm raised to accept her willowy form against his side.  They closed the door behind them, leaving Declan feeling at once a bit alone and also heartwarmingly surrounded by their support.  

Marcus wriggled again and stepped on Declan’s knee, paw sliding off with a sound of claws zipping against denim.  Declan appreciated that Marcus was being mindful of his retractable claws, but honestly, this was just ridiculous.  “Come on, Marcus,” he sighed, hoping for some sort of reprieve, but he couldn’t even tell if the Omega was listening to him.  Then he wrapped his free arm around Marcus’s ribcage, and the wolf went still in his arms.  “You’re a bit of a mess,” Declan decided to tell him frankly, but not without sympathy in his voice.

The body in his grip gave a quivering little shudder.  He thought he felt something like a nod against his back, but it was hard to tell.  Carefully disengaging, Declan got back enough personal space to back up and stand before he reached down and summarily scooped Marcus up.  The Omega was still pretty small by Werewolf standards, and Declan was strong enough to lift even Kobi as a wolf, so it wasn’t hard to hoist him up.  Marcus’s feet kicked at the air as strong arms locked under his rump and chest, and his continued squirming made it very, very hard to take him from the floor to the bed.  As soon as Declan set him down, Marcus grew even more restless, until it looked like he had ants under his skin.  Bedsheets rucking up and tangling around his paws, he twisted and shuffled and paced, something scratching at his limbs or neck or face.  At his wits end, Declan tried to create a telepathic link again - and this time, it worked.  He was treated to a mumbled litany of half-sentences that were still full of distress, although not the same level of pain as before: ‘...Itches!... Stop touching me… Everything is… everything is touching!  Stop it stop it stop it…’  Marcus abruptly tripped and fell off the bed, and by the time Declan had circled around to where he was, bones were reshaping themselves with little pops and snaps to reveal a human Marcus.  Now the mantra was out loud, spoken in muttered growls and frustrated, fast breaths, “God, it feels like I’m wrapped in sandpaper!  Why is everything so rough?  Get it - get it the fuck off-!”  

Eyes squeezed shut and still sitting on the floor where he’d ignominiously fallen, Marcus proceeded to fight his way desperately out of his shirt.  Resigned to how tonight was going, Declan just exhaled slowly before kneeling down to help him.  The smaller man was still half out of his mind, but right now his frustration was preferable to the manic, mind-cracking agony of earlier.  This reminded Declan more of the time Liz had gotten well and truly drunk, and had started to complain muzzily but stubbornly that she was too hot.  Undressing had happened then, too, and Declan was secretly sad that Werewolf metabolism made it hard for Liz to ever get wasted again.  Liz was Kobi’s girlfriend, not his, but that didn’t mean Declan couldn’t appreciate how devastatingly pretty she was.  That event had ended with her passing out in her undergarments, cuddled up against Kobi on the couch, Declan throwing a blanket over both of them while the male Beta gave him a harried but thankful look.

It looked like now was going to be a repeat of that event, only without back-up, because Declan didn’t know how Marcus would react to someone else touching him.  

By now, both Betas were telepathically asking what was going on, so with a grimace and another steadying breath, Declan informed them of all the details.  He got shocked silence at first, but at least no one came peaking in the door as Marcus struggled out of his jeans like they were made of thorns.  Liz and Kobi seemed to get the message that this was simply Marcus trying to avoid any and all things touching him, and ultimately sent back thoughts of sympathy and assurance that made Declan feel a bit better.  Of course, he still blushed bright red when Marcus finally stripped himself entirely naked and went back to standing in the center of the room where nothing could touch him.  With nothing to hide him, all of his scars were on display, and his ribs flared and contracted with each too-fast breath, still standing out a little bit more sharply than was strictly healthy.  Still crouched on the floor by the bed, unsure where to look or what to do, Declan asked, “You doing okay there, Marcus?”

This time, he got a coherent answer, even if it was being spoken to the far wall.  “That is a really stupid question.”  Marcus sounded exhausted, and just about on the verge of either screaming or crying or a distressing combination of both.  

“Are you at least better than you were earlier, when we came in?” Declan asked sensibly.

Marcus’s shoulders shook, and if it was from a laugh, it was not a nice laugh.  “I think I lost my mind for a second there,” the Omega admitted with cracked, failed lightness instead of answering the question, but he also dropped his face into his hands.  From behind him, Declan mostly just saw the delicate just of Marcus’s vertebrate against his skin as he lowered his head and the play of his sharp shoulder-blades as his arms moved.  Of course, he could also have waxed poetic about everything else he could see from his unobstructed view, but Declan was working very hard not to compromise Marcus’s privacy anymore than he already was.  When Marcus chuckled into his hands it sounded like the sound was being dragged over broken glass, and the Alpha winced.  “This isn’t what you signed up for, is it?  When you said that you’d happily help me the next time I had an episode?  God, I will laugh so hard if you say that you totally expected me to maul you with friendliness and then strip naked,” Marcus said in a way that said he wouldn’t laugh at all - unless it was the kind of laughter that lead to a mental institution with straight-jackets.  Put simply, Marcus was not in a good way, and he was holding onto himself by mere threads.  Painfully humiliated threads.  

Declan stood up, slowly, and said in a low and soothing voice that was carefully modulated to show no sort of judgment, “Do you think that your skin can take something soft?  Silk, maybe?  You did seem better the closer to me you got, but I think you’ll regret it later if you snuggle with me naked.”

There was another unhappy snort that didn’t quite make it into the realm of humor, and Marcus still hadn’t turned to face Declan, probably for obvious reasons.  However, as he wrapped his arms tentatively around himself - his fingers peeking out around his sides - he seemed to test out what kind of touch his nerves could take.  “I don’t know… maybe?  Yeah.  I’ll try anything.”

“I didn’t ask if you’d try anything, Marcus,” Declan pressed firmly but sensibly, “I asked if you thought that would work.  If your sense of touch is too sensitive-”

“You’ll what?” Marcus cut him off.  There was an ugly edge in his voice that Declan knew came from fear, not anger.  The sharp tone did its best to hide the petrifying vulnerability.  “Walk out and save us both the embarrassment?”

“No.”  Declan shook his head and sat down on the edge of the bed, knowing when Marcus’s shoulders twitched that the smaller Werewolf could hear him.  “I’ll stay here and keep you company.  At least then it won’t be as bad, right?”  Because while Marcus was still a wreck, this was an improvement on his condition when Liz, Kobi, and Marcus had first entered the room.  Marcus had been at his best when he was rubbing himself all over Declan, but then the Alpha had let him go on the bed, and the increased distance had caused the return of the symptoms on a milder scale.  

Marcus’s voice was very small and uncertain, and nothing like the sharp-tongued thing that he could be sometimes, when spooked, scared, or backed into a corner.  “You’d…?  You’d do that?”  He cleared his throat uncomfortably, and shifted his weight.  Briefly, his dark-haired head turned, but when he caught sight of his discarded clothes, Declan saw a grimace in profile - he wasn’t ready to put on something that rubbed too much against his skin.  

Scratching at the back of his neck and trying to ignore both his own blushing and the reflexive urge to stare at all of the bare skin in front of him, Declan replied awkwardly but sincerely, “Yeah.  I mean, we’ve shared the bed once already, haven’t we?  And you’re… you’re ill.”  He didn’t know how to say this, but plunged onwards anyway even as he moved towards the door.  “I’d feel like a really terrible person if I didn’t help out a friend who was ill.  I’m just going to see if Liz has a silk robe.”  At the door he paused, and said with a little downward twist of his mouth, “Sorry that we keep putting you in girl’s clothes.”

When Marcus half-turned to him, Declan was very careful to avert his eyes, but not before he thought he saw the beginnings of a weak smile starting at the corner of Marcus’s mouth.  “Whatever fits.  Besides, I don’t think there’s anything girly about Liz, just sayin’.”

Declan was actually laughing just a little as he slipped out of the room.

~^~

Of course Liz had a silk robe, orange-gold colored in a way that he didn’t doubt made her hair shine like fire by contrast.  It was simple and undecorated, and after Declan explained absolutely everything to her (and to Kobi, who was equally worried about Marcus’s welfare but showed it in a quieter way), Liz all but shoved Declan and the robe back into Marcus’s assigned room.  The Omega had at least pulled his boxers back on, but from the second Declan laid eyes on him, he could see that Marcus was fidgety and uncomfortable again - bordering on in pain, if the tightness around his mouth and eyes was any indication.  “Worse?” the Alpha asked.

Frustration ignited in Marcus’s eyes before he dropped them to look at the floor.  

“That’s answer enough,” Declan grunted before gathering together his courage and a healthy dose of professionalism to stride forward.  When Marcus’s eyes lifted again, the first thing they saw was the silk robe cascading from the taller boy’s hand.  “Try it.  If you need me to… I don’t know…”  This was getting just about awkward enough to kill him, but considering that it was a small price to pay compared to the pain Marcus was literally feeling, the Alpha pressed on, “...Stand closer, or something, I’ll do it.”

By the way Marcus’s head ducked and his shoulders rose fractionally, a gesture that was at once submissive and insecure, Declan knew that Marcus wouldn’t ask even if he really wanted to.  At least he reached forward and took the robe.  When his fingers touched Declan’s, they lingered, and some of the Omega’s tight posture eased even as he sighed.  His eyelids even fluttered closed a little, and Declan asked, “It helps that much, does it?”

He’d meant it as a benign question, but Marcus’s eyes flew all the way open again, shock flooding them as he realized what he’d been doing.  He pulled his hands back with a jerk that was hard enough to send his elbow snapping into the wall not far behind him.  The pain of a hard hit combined with nerve endings already on fire, and Marcus let out a noise that sounded like a dog being kicked, hard.  It was reflex for Declan to reach out, and that was how he found himself standing in front of Marcus with his hands wrapped around the Omega’s biceps.  

Breathing fast enough to hyperventilate and biting his lower lip viciously so as not to make a noise, it was hard to tell if Marcus was coherent enough to hear Declan murmuring, “Shhh, shhh, it’s okay,  It’s all right.  It’ll pass, I promise…”  The pointless promises went on until Marcus let out a long, slow, canine whine and just dropped his head forward in defeat - which put it on Declan’s collarbone, and made him at once a bit embarrassed and secretly happy all at once.  The silk robe had survived all of this movement by being draped over Declan’s left arm, and now it made a soft rustling noise as it brushed against them both.

“Is the silk too much for you?” Declan asked, after a long minute of silence and neither of them moving.  Marcus was still breathing in tight, shallow breaths, but making no other noises or any attempts to retreat.  He was also as taut as a piano-wire, but the weight of his forehead on Declan’s shirt-collar spoke of total defeat and resignation.  

Marcus sighed, and spoke as if he were dragging the words laboriously up from the pit of his stomach.  “No.”

“Do you mind if I slip it on you before you get cold standing there in just your boxers and your skin?”

When a shake of Marcus’s head against the side of his neck informed him that no, the smaller young man didn’t mind, Declan carefully shifted his grip enough to shake out the robe without actually moving away or dislodging Marcus.  Liz hadn’t worn this robe in ages, and Declan vaguely remembered it as a Christmas present years ago from a distant family member that had ordered a size too big.  Marcus was built small and lean, but his shoulders were broader than Liz’s, so the fit would hopefully be perfect.  Declan felt a wash of sadness and protectiveness as he saw scarred skin disappear under autumn-hued cloth, skin that should have gone unmarred because Omegas were precious, and Werewolves were hard to hurt.  Marcus had been hurt in just about all the ways there were to be hurt, and abandoned like something worthless.  Declan couldn’t help it: after easing the material around Marcus’s torso, he lifted a hand to cup the back of Marcus’s neck, squeezing and pulling the other young man in close.  He felt the soft surge of breath rush in and then out against his clavicle, even as the Omega made no move to pull away.  “I’m so sorry, Marcus,” Declan sighed, squeezing his eyes shut as heat prickled at them.  

In response, Marcus wove together a little wave of calmness, as if to prove that the world hadn’t managed to crush his good intentions even if it had thoroughly pummeled the rest of him.  Even as his emotions evened out on the crest of that soothing wave, Declan felt his heart swell in his chest until it was a physical ache.  “None of this is your fault,” Marcus murmured in a voice muffled against the front of Declan’s shirt, brushing aside the apology.  Somehow, he managed to get his arms carefully into the sleeves of the robe without retreating, clearly not wanting to leave the firm hand cupping his nape.  

“No, but…  I’m still sorry that it’s happening.”  Under his fingers, Marcus’s hair was just as soft and thick as his lupine pelt, albeit darker.  The physical touching didn’t seem to be hurting him, but that didn’t change the last fifteen minutes, in which he’d gone from nearly insane with pain to stripping out of his clothes in one last bid at comfort.  It was wrong.  So wrong that Declan couldn’t take it.  “I want to fix it.”

“I think we’ve already established,” Marcus sighed wearily, “that you’re going above and beyond the call of duty already.”  He paused, then added, “I appreciate it.  Really.  I know that you don’t have to do any of this, and that it goes against your instincts as the Alpha of this… this pack.”  Declan almost jumped as he felt the touch of a shy hand against his stomach, just a light pat at the lower edges of his ribs.  He didn’t think he was imagining the way Marcus was curling subtly closer to him, as fragile as the patterns of frost on a window in winter.  There was definitely no imagining the way Marcus’s voice broke on the word ‘pack,’ his mouth forming it as if the word contained something immeasurably precious - or already broken, with Marcus only able to save the pieces.  With a thud of sadness in his chest, Declan realized that that was all Marcus could do: hold the broken pieces of his pack close to his heart, while all the world derided him and tried to take even the good memories away.  

Declan lifted his other arm and wrapped it around Marcus’s back, feeling as the emitted wave of calm tripled in response to Marcus’s own easing emotions.  It was like being caught in a feedback loop, where he was repaid instantly for giving comfort by getting it in return.  This was just one thing that made packs treasure Omegas more than gold.  

“Do you mind me staying in bed with you?  Just so you don’t have another attack,” Declan said against Marcus’s hair, hurrying to amend his words so he didn’t just sound lecherous.  The truth was that he was at the mercy of some very sudden and strong protective urges right now, and the more he saw of Marcus Rushton, the more he wanted to make sure that nothing and no one broke him anymore.  “I’ve spent the night in bed with both Liz and Kobi at least once when either one of them was out of sorts,” he added, “If that makes it seem less weird.”

Instead of answering, Marcus just yawned again and sagged a little more fully into Declan’s weight, showing just how much this last episode had taken out of him.  Declan was just glad his mind was intact.  Keeping an arm around Marcus’s shoulders, he lead the exhausted Omega over to the bed, pulling the sheets all the way back because he didn’t know how rough they would feel to hyper-sensitive skin.  Marcus did squirm and grimace a bit as his bare legs touched the mattress-cover, but after tucking himself as much into the robe as he could, he at least managed to lie down.  Declan noticed that the tight, pained expression on his face didn’t ease, though, so Declan slipped out of his jeans to join him on the bed in just his shirt and boxers.  The way Marcus lay with his body curled up, eyes closed but tense, and a frown contorting his fine-featured face made him look like someone in the midst of a nightmare, or a bad fever, but when the blond-haired Alpha hesitantly slid closer enough to just touch Marcus’s back… he relaxed a little.  

“Aren’t you going to get cold?”  Marcus didn’t open his eyes, but it was clear he was talking about the discarded blankets.

This close, Declan’s shrug made his right shoulder and arm slid between Marcus’s shoulder-blades.  “I run hot.  Don’t worry about it.”

For once, Marcus seemed to take his word for that, and merely nodded.  He didn’t seem to like the feel of the pillowcase against his cheek, and retreated with a little hiss before slipping his arm in the way instead.  His cheek snuggled against the silk sleeve, and Declan watched his dexterous fingers where they curled lightly against the back of his head.  On a whim, he reached out and touched them, then squeezed in a tiny show of support.  “Just roll over if you need anything.  If you get cold, I’m not going to judge you for being a bit close in the morning,” he murmured easily, even though ‘a bit close’ was a rather mild way to describe the situation that he resulted from their last bout of bed-sharing.

Fortunately, Marcus was already slipping under, his breaths evening out and deepening.  Maybe he heard, maybe he didn’t.  Either way, just as Declan was about to drift off with his hands clasped over his stomach and his shoulder brushing Marcus’s back, the Omega wriggled, arched a little, and scooted the few inches necessary to put him flush to Declan’s side.  The Alpha once again felt that swelling sensation of happiness in his chest, and the calm that settled over him had everything to do with the Omega on the bed with him, but nothing to do with any sort of superhuman, empathic power.  

 

 

Chapter Text

When Declan woke up, he wasn’t surprised to find Marcus still dead-asleep.  The previous night’s episode had obviously taken a lot out of him.  Declan would have liked to say that he was surprised by how much closer Marcus had moved towards him during the night, but really, all the Alpha felt was a selfish sort of happiness that he had an Omega curled up to him.  Blinking his eyes open in the dim light, Declan stayed perfectly still, lying on his back, but glanced down and couldn’t help but smile at the sight of Marcus tucked up under his arm.  The smaller young man was now using Declan’s right shoulder as a pillow, left arm curled up tight between their two bodies while his right one extended onto Declan’s chest in a way that seemed tentative even though Marcus was entirely unconscious.  He must have been feeling better, too, because the robe was pushed back so that pale, sporadically scarred shoulders protruded past the rumpled silk, and one bare leg extended carelessly across the bed even while the other appeared to have flung itself over Declan’s thighs.  

Eyes skimming across his bedmate, Declan tried to feel embarrassed or uncomfortable, but all he could feel was contentedness like warm honey in his system.  Being asleep, it was impossible for Marcus to be actively influencing anyone else’s emotions, so the pleasure and calm Declan was feeling were entirely his own.  He didn’t realize that he was projecting these feelings until Kobi’s telepathic thoughts echoed back to him, ‘Everything good where you are, Dec?’  The Beta sounded hesitant, but there was an undercurrent of amusement that Kobi couldn’t entirely hide.  

Since Liz’s mind was also bubbling up along the link, meaning that both of his Betas were waiting curiously for an answer, Declan sighed and decided that there was no point in prevaricating.  In fact, he saw no point in hiding what he felt either, with morning still making his thoughts soft and sleepy, ‘Really good.  Marcus is sleeping, so he must be feeling better, too.’

There were little flickers of surprise and interest from Kobi and Liz that had nothing to do with the sentence itself and everything to do with the emotions of happiness that Declan was letting slip.  As an Alpha, it was his job to be protective and to want his pack to be safe and happy, so the sight of Marcus snoring gently against his chest was practically a victory - even if Marcus wasn’t his pack.  

Sobered by the thought of what packlessness was doing to Marcus, Declan looked at his impromptu bedmate more seriously.  It was like a switch being thrown, casting the scene in a new light.  As much as Declan honestly enjoyed sharing a bed (platonically or otherwise), he knew that Marcus right now didn’t have a choice in the matter.  Like a terminal patient connected to an IV-drip, the Omega had a choice of staying close or suffering terribly… all with the promise of dying at the end.

Now it was Liz asking, once again picking things up that Declan wasn’t bothering to hide, ‘What’s wrong, Declan?  Your thoughts got dark all of a sudden.  Is it Marcus?’

Eyes still on the head of dark-brown hair pillowed against his shirt, Declan stated bluntly, ‘He’s fine now, but this is going to kill him before long.’

Liz answered with remarkable but sad calm, ‘We know.’

I want to stop it,’ Declan sent the declaration shivering down the link even as fervor replaced the gentle warmth with sincere heat in his veins.  Without thinking, he folded his left arm up until it was curled behind Marcus’s shoulders; the Omega sighed and shivered, but then relaxed again, remaining deep in an exhausted sleep.  

At first, there was silence from his two Betas, but Declan could feel their emotions still - all three of them were being purposefully transparent, leaving the connection wide open even if no words were formed.  Therefore Declan could feel their hope, their sudden restlessness to do something, and a burning protectiveness that made him proud of them.  Knowing that they felt the same way towards Marcus as he did made the next words easier to say: ‘We haven’t found any other ways of helping him, and maybe those ways don’t exist.  What’s killing him is a lack of a pack… so I want to give him one.’

‘Ours?’ Liz asked, not wanting to jump to conclusions even as excitement made her telepathic signature ripple.

Kobi stepped in as the voice of reason.  ‘Can you do that right now, Declan?  I mean, it still feels like yesterday that you banished Rob and your aunt, and I’m told that that can feel like cauterizing a wound to an Alpha.’

Although Declan would have described the pain differently, Kobi wasn’t far off.  And Declan could still feel the severed links of his two former pack-members like raw scars that ached when he poked them with his attention.  His wince made him unthinkingly tighten his arm around Marcus, and this time he was afraid he’d woken him - but, once more, the Omega managed to stay asleep.  More determined than ever as he watched sleepy fingers curled into the material of his shirt, Declan replied, ‘Since the only other choice I see is watching more of what happened last night - or worse - then I’m going to have to.’

He said nothing about the fact that he wanted to, but was pretty sure that Liz and Kobi knew that anyway.  

~^~

Marcus stirred sluggishly, and suffered from a lingering sense of déjà vu as he took in how comfortable, warm, and inexplicably safe he felt.  Wanting to understand where the sensations came from but not wanting to leave the muzzy, lax cloud of sleep, he blinked his eyes open to bare slits.  At about the same moment when he realized he was looking out across Declan’s chest - and that he had, indeed, rolled towards the Alpha in his sleep again - a hand squeezed his shoulder and his new body-pillow spoke with some embarrassment, “I… uh… Before you panic, I’ve been up for awhile now, so if this had bothered me, I could have escaped at any time.”

Unsure whether to hide his face in mortification or to laugh at Declan’s awkward tone, Marcus just groaned and sat up.  That dislodged the hand from his shoulder and also necessitated pushing down on Declan’s chest for a moment.  The feeling of powerful muscles tensing under his hands sent a little thrill up Marcus’s arm even as he gathered the courage to look Declan in the eye.  As promised, however, the Alpha appeared untroubled, although there was a bit of caution in his tawny eyes as he lay where he was and watched Marcus find a vertical position.  It was a flick of those pale-brown eyes that made Marcus realize that his borrowed robe had slipped, sliding down off his shoulders and gaping in the middle, too.  Flustered, Marcus pulled it back into place before dragging a hand over his face and sighing nosily again.  “This is clearly becoming a habit.”

“You needed it,” Declan seemed willing to dismiss the problem, although he did ask, a bit more hesitantly, “It doesn’t bother you, does it?  I mean, you don’t feel that I-?”

“That you’re molesting me in my sleep?  No.  No, I’m pretty sure that I’m the one doing that,” Marcus grumbled with a healthy dose of self-loathing, talking into his hands because he’d lost his previous gumption to look at Declan’s face.  To be honest, the Alpha was ridiculously attractive, and probably had far better prospects when it came to people sneaking cuddles from him in the night.  Prospects who weren’t coming apart at the seams physically and mentally, and on a steady downward slide into an inglorious death.  Therefore, Marcus was surprised when a hand came up and touched his wrist - uncertainly at first, before fingers curled into a firm grip to pull Marcus’s palm away from his face.  Declan was looking at him with a surprisingly determined, focused expression.  

“I need to ask you something, and before I say anything else, I need you to know that any answer you give is okay - yes or no,” the Alpha said, tone sober.  

A bit startled to be faced by something so apparently serious when he’d only just woken up, Marcus just sat and blinked, forgetting the arm he still had in Declan’s grip while dropping his other limb to his lap.  “What are you going on about?” he finally voiced his perplexity.  

With a sigh, Declan switched from subtlety to bluntness with the swiftness of a prairie storm, “Do you want me to bring you into my pack, officially?”

The shock of that question hit Marcus so hard that he forgot to breathe.  He’d been getting used to his life being full of surprises, and since there was nothing normal about waking up in the bed of an Alpha he’d only known for a few weeks, Marcus had stopped expecting normal.  Nonetheless, this question completely blindsided him, and his brain struggled to grasp the hot coal it had been given.  Attempts at opening his mouth and speaking resulted in mere squeaks of air past a throat that felt suddenly too tight, and instead of answering, Marcus ended up jerking his arm roughly free of Declan’s grip and fleeing the bed to pace the floor instead.  He was so uncoordinated about it that he nearly tripped, so the next words he got out were breathy swears.  Declan finally sat up to watch worriedly, still looking ridiculously good for someone only half-dressed and rumpled from sleep.  “Marcus…?” he started to ask worriedly.

The Omega exploded, hands actually lifting into the air, “What the fuck does your real pack think about this idea?”

Dark blond brows lowered.  “They think that you would become part of that real pack, if you decided to say yes,” he retorted, “And yes, I did ask them.  They’d love to have you as much as I would.”  The last few words were a bit mumbled as Declan dropped his head and scratched at the back of his neck, but Marcus’s head was still too much of a whirlwind to properly notice.  Declan’s voice gained volume again to add, “Becoming part of a pack again should make you better - or at least that’s the last option any of us can think of.”

“And when I am better?”  Marcus dropped the question even as he came to stand facing the door.  He made no attempt to leave the room, but he couldn’t face Declan right now, not when he was asking this, “When there’s no longer any life-or-death situation, then what?”

There was a long pause, in which Marcus folded his arms tightly across his chest as if forming a shield of them, and Declan stayed silent.  That silence turned out to be from confusion as Declan finally queried, “What are you talking about?”

Marcus sighed, then closed his eyes.  “I think you’re going to regret this,” he finally said in a whisper.  

This time when the quiet stretched it felt like a physical force beating against Marcus’s psyche, and he nearly feared that he was tumbling into another episode.  The fear of that made his body tremble along with the utter dejection settling into his mind, because Declan was offering him something wonderful - something sacred - that he couldn’t in good conscience take.  Head ducking low between hunched shoulders, Marcus tried to ignore the ache that came from his own chest, where twelve whole pack bonds lay severed.  Losing pack-members by death was different from by banishment, he was told, and Alphas suffered tenfold more at the loss, but that didn’t mean Marcus couldn’t feel the absence and cold where he’d once felt the gentle links of love and attachment.  Being brought back into the latter state now, with Declan, Liz, and Kobi, sounded like heaven, but the thought that it was being done entirely out of obligation threatened to make him sick right there.  Lifting a hand to rub at eyes that he just now realized were leaking tears, Marcus tried to hold himself together.  He felt like a starving dog who couldn’t eat the food before him because he feared the presence of poison deep within the meat.  It was already pretty clear that Marcus had slightly different views towards packs and the relationships therein (or at least the power-relationships, which Declan seemed willfully lax about), but right now he didn’t feel remotely up to the task of explaining how precious a thing this was to him, and how it would break him clean through to be brought into a pack that didn’t really want him but felt they had no choice but to save him, and-!

“Marcus.”

Declan’s voice startled Marcus so much that he gasped, a horrible, wet inhale because somehow he’d ended up crying again without even noticing - probably at some point when his thoughts had fallen into an avalanche of silent ranting.  Somehow he’d also gotten distracted so as not to hear the other young man walking up behind him, because his voice came from just behind Marcus, steady and low.  Shaking and trying not to let his quiet tears morph into all-out sobbing, Marcus clasped his hands against his ribs so hard that his muscles ached, but whined when warmer, larger hands fell on his shoulders.  

“Marcus - Marcus, let me in,” Declan pleaded, his meaning assisted by one hand lifting and just brushing the smaller man’s temple.  The Omega struggled with twin urges to both shy and away and lean in ridiculously close, and compromised by turning his head, eyes closed but face in profile to the Alpha behind him - and still in contact with the gentle fingertips just barely brushing his skin.  He didn’t need to tell Declan that the random bouts of telepathy between them were entirely outside of his control, but he still felt like a failure when Declan sighed and dropped his hand away again.  “If you were in my head, you’d be able to feel how serious I am about this,” Declan went on, sounding frustrated but also unexpectedly stubborn, “You’d also be able to tell without me spelling it out for you that… that I want you in this pack.”

“No, you want-”

“Don’t assume to tell me what I want.  Please.”  Declan sounded more like Marcus’s former Alpha for a moment there, but softened his sentence at the end, going back to sounding like the Declan Marcus knew.  “Just listen to me for a second, okay?  Half the reason I’ve taken so long to ask you this is because I didn’t want to just do this out of charity - I don’t want you to die, obviously, not when I can do something about it, but it would be cruel to pretty much everyone involved if I brought in a new Omega who wasn’t good for this pack.”  Declan sighed, muttering, “I already did that.”  Unfair blame aside, the Alpha went on stalwartly and gave Marcus’s shoulders a squeeze, “So while you’ve been suffering, I’ve been thinking this over, and while that might make me sound like a cold-hearted bastard, I did it because it’s my job.  As an Alpha.”  Somehow, being an Alpha always seemed to come as something of an afterthought to Declan, which both amused and confused Marcus - enough so now that he opened his eyes to  glance back at him questioningly.  Sincere, golden-brown eyes stared back at him, veritably pleading for understanding, “I’m asking you to accept the offer, to become a member of my pack, because I’ve thought this over and come to the conclusion that we really, really want to have you.  Come on, Marcus, surely you’ve noticed that Kobi and Liz adore you?”

This was all threatening to make Marcus cry again, a weakness that he usually couldn’t afford in his life, so he blinked rapidly even as he kept up the awkward conversation over his shoulder, “Adore like a future pack-mate or adore like an injured animal they can dote on?”  The question came out brutally enough to actually make both men wince, but Marcus needed to hear the answer.  From the very start of his relationship with Liz and Kobi, he’d seen how his condition troubled them, and after that his memories were a series of scenes where the two either looked at him with pity or tried to fix him.  The hardest part was, he didn’t hate them for that, and in fact would have reveled in being their ‘project’ if he didn’t realize how unhealthy that was.  If they actually felt something more for him, he needed Declan to spell it out, because Marcus himself had been refusing to see anything but what he’d first believed - because anything else would be too much for him to hope for.  And too much for him to let go of.  

Marcus was sure that some of this ridiculous, desperate hope was shining in his eyes, but he couldn’t stop it, and met Declan’s eyes anyway.  

The pause that followed the question had nothing to do with uncertainty, because Declan’s eyes were as steady as pieces of amber, unchanging and timelessly solid.  The firm hands on Marcus turned him until they were facing each other, the Omega growing nervous but the Alpha refusing to relinquish his gaze.  Finally, ducking down slightly to lock gazes when Marcus tried to turn his attention to the floor, Declan replied, “Liz and Kobi consider you a friend, and they’ve adopted you as a pack-mate even without an official bond.”

Something in Marcus unraveled, and it was a painful and beautiful feeling all at once.  “And you?” he demanded to know next, glancing up cautiously past his lashes.  

This time, Declan surprised him by cracking a wry, lopsided smile and lifting a hand to scrub at the hair at the back of his head.  It was such a natural, boyish movement that it disarmed the last bits of Marcus’s arsenal, and made him ready to accept what he heard next: “Well, the fact that I like it when you share a bed with me is a good indicator that I’m okay with this.  And even if your life weren’t on the line… you’re a person I’d like to get to know.”

The words were so tentative for so powerful a Werewolf that it somehow made them sound more sincere instead of less.  It was a dichotomy that Marcus’s brain tried to rebel against even as his heart gave another twist in his chest as hope truly sank its claws in.  It was both sweeter and more torturous than anything Marcus had ever imagined could exist, and suddenly he couldn’t be here anymore.  Pushing past Declan, not caring as he briskly brushed his shoulder on the way past, the dark-haired young man said, “I’ve got to take a walk.  I need to think on this.”

“Of course,” Declan was quick to say.  He watched as Marcus went over to his discarded clothes, and apparently didn’t realize he was staring until Marcus had pulled on his jeans and was in the process of shucking his robe.  At the sight of pale skin, Declan’s more tanned skin flushed bright red and he fumbled for the door-handle.  “If you - uh.  I know you trust Liz and Kobi’s word more than mine, so you can ask them to confirm if you’re, well, uncertain,” Declan stumbled verbally as he nearly did physically, trying to slip out the door while simultaneously paying attention to Marcus while simultaneously not staring at Marcus.  The combination of looking and not looking was making the Alpha uncharacteristically clumsy.  “I’m just going to-?”   He pointed uncertainly at the door he’d cracked open.

For once unembarrassed, Marcus was standing naked from the waist up as he hunted for where he’d tossed his top.  He arched an eyebrow at Declan and supplied, “...Go?”

“Yup,” Declan agreed, and then escaped, leaving Marcus to dress in peace.

~^~

Standing outside, dressed again but with the breeze cutting through his long-sleeved shirt a bit, Marcus reflected on how surprising it was that Declan hadn’t tried to keep him in the house.  Even Marcus’s original Alpha had had some mild possessive tendencies, and Marcus’s experiences with Alphas after that had pointed towards an urge to control the world around them.  That was what helped them keep their packs together, and protected territories, so Marcus had thought that Declan would want to keep him nearby until he had his answer - but here Marcus was, walking and already out of sight of the house and even heading vaguely towards the city.  He hadn’t even seen any of the Fen pack since Declan’s inglorious exit from the bedroom.  

Which was kind of funny, now that Marcus thought about it.  He’d never seen an Alpha trip over himself before.  

The questions buzzing around in Marcus’s head were big ones, flocking like a murder of crows in his mind, all revolving around an offer that was literally his salvation.  One thought Marcus didn’t expect to be mulling over, however, was Declan’s comment about Marcus trusting the Betas over the pack’s Alpha… which was true, in a way, although after falling asleep next to the man twice, Marcus was more positively disposed towards the blond-haired Werewolf.  Not to mention Declan was the first one to believe him when hearing about the murder of his pack.  The memory of their first nasty encounter was being pushed out in favor of more pleasant things.  Before now, Marcus would never have considered accepting the offer to join a pack, much less believed such an offer, because he wasn’t an idiot - he knew that joining a pack required a bite, just like leaving one did.  So far, any Alpha that got within scenting-distance of him wanted to chase him off or tear chunks out of him, and any offer of having teeth (even human ones) near his neck was definitely suspect.  Declan, however, had proved that the impulse to drive away outsiders could be overridden, so Marcus wasn’t actually that afraid of submitting to a bonding-bite.  

Which left him with purely emotional and psychological reasons for refusing, and even those were growing shaky.  Was this all brought on by pity?  Did they really want him as a part of their pack - their family - or did they just feel too guilty to let him malinger on his own and die?  Was that alternative enough to justify tying them all together through instincts, loyalty, and telepathy for the foreseeable future?  Declan could always remove him from the pack of course, if things didn’t work out, but that thought scared Marcus so much that he stumbled midstep, having to stop and lean against a tree as his lungs refused to expand all the way.  

No.  He wouldn’t survive leaving another pack.  Shaking and barely managing to inhale and exhale his way past a panic attack, Marcus dug his fingers into his support structure until he felt splinters of wood needling at the beds of his nails before finally releasing it with a little growl.  Looking down at himself and the human clothes that he used to exchange pretty freely for fur, he wished, not for the first time, that he could freely shift without fear. Glancing around, however, he reminded himself that he was surrounded by nothing but trees and woodland life.  True, he’d been heading towards the city, if only because he’d lived there long enough that it felt natural, but he was still a ways out…

That thought petered out as the wind shifted and the young man picked up a scent.  His eyes narrowed, and his shoes rustled leaves as he turned slowly - although, a beat later, he recognized the scent.  He relaxed.  “You two realize that my sense are always on high, right?  Even when they’re not set to super-high and I’m in danger of blacking out?” he called sardonically to the two Betas he knew to be following him at a discreet distance.  By this point, Marcus was just about able to joke about his ‘condition,’ although he felt a little bit bad using it for its shock value - because now he was able to hear the Betas, too, as his blunt call caught them off-guard.  A twig snapped as one of them put a foot (or paw) wrong.  

Part of Marcus wanted to snarl for them to leave him alone, but he instead stayed where he was, silent and waiting, because it went against his instincts to get confrontational like that.  Plus… maybe he didn’t really want to be alone.  He’d been walking for nearly fifteen minutes now, without his head getting any clearer, and the last thing he wanted was to really have a panic attack, out here alone.  The almost-attack that he’d just rode out was still fizzling like a crackling power-line in his blood, uncomfortable and on the verge of causing a power-outage.  

Two wolves trotted out into view a few moments later, looking slightly chagrined but also shifting quickly into human form.  “So… um… off for a walk?” Liz asked, flashing a too-bright grin.  Kobi managed a better poker-face, but also stood back to let his girlfriend handle things.

“Well, I’m not running away, if that was what you thought,” Marcus replied without any bite, feeling a bit too emotionally exhausted at the moment to get tetchy.  

Liz’s expression eased into something more natural, and she padded past Marcus in the direction he’d been going earlier - clearly coaxing him to follow.  “The thought never crossed our minds.  Speaking of minds, care to tell me what’s on yours?”

It was a pretty transparent bit of nosiness, but Marcus already felt a bit safer and more comfortable with the two Betas around.  Werewolves - Omegas especially - were not meant to be alone, and Marcus’s feet turned to follow Liz’s naturally.  He also felt the urge to answer, but this one he tamped down, instead silently falling into step with Liz.  A beat later and Kobi came up on Liz’s other side, and all three of them were crunching softly through the random detritus that all old forests gathered.  Liz could have led them both, because now that Marcus was with the both of them, he would have followed someone of a higher rank (even if those of higher rank didn’t seem as concerned with pack hierarchy as Marcus was) - and it was common knowledge that Liz could lead Kobi anywhere and he’d happily go.  However, Liz simply kept walking in the same direction that Marcus had been heading to start with.  It felt… companionable.  

Although without realizing it, Marcus began to talk.  

He talked about how bad things had gotten last night, this time toning it down so as not to unsettle his walking companions.  He talked about Declan’s question come morning.  He talked about how it all made no sense, and even started raising his voice and gesticulating.  All the while, the Betas just walked and said nothing, but subtle nods of their heads said they were keeping pace.  Only when Marcus had talked himself out was there any response forthcoming, and when it came, it wasn’t quite what he expected.  Instead of trying to stalwartly defend their opinions towards the new Omega, Kobi instead spoke of Declan, “You know, Declan really does just like company in bed.  He has ever since we’ve known him, and he’s always been like that.”

Liz continued in the same conversational tone, as if they weren’t talking about the private personal life of their Alpha, “And we’re not talking about sex.  I mean, Declan’s my Alpha but Kobi is my boyfriend - and vice versa - and Declan’s got a thing about not crossing lines like that.  Ever since we all became a pack, though, Declan has made it pretty clear that he’s a good shoulder to cry on, lean on, or fall asleep on.”  The young woman smirked, and even though he was rather befuddled as to how they’d gotten to this conversation, Marcus quirked a half-smile back.  Kobi was fighting a grin on Liz’s other side, and slung a familiar arm over her shoulders as his girlfriend continued to explain the inner workings of Declan Fen, “I remember this time when I was really sick, and Kobi had been up with me all night because I’d been puking.”  Liz made a face at the memory, but went on gamely, “Kobi was exhausted to the point where he was going to get sick before long, so Declan offered to stay with me.”

“I was so relieved that I remember nearly crying,” Kobi added, unashamed, although he kept his eyes forward as if watching their path.  

“But I had a terrible fever and was just about burning up, so…”  Liz shrugged, before snuggling closer to Kobi’s side, lifting one hand to grab his wrist in a never-let-go sort of grip.  She met Marcus’s eyes, smiled mischievously, and finished, “I woke up with Kobi snoring against my back and Declan in front of me, reading a book.  I’d turned him into a heated body-pillow.”

While Marcus flushed a bit, because he couldn’t help but think that that would have been scandalous in his old pack, he also thought about how he’d woken up twice already.  Maybe this was why Declan hadn’t seemed bothered…  “What about Rob and Clarissa?” he had to ask when he found his tongue.

Kobi answered, a hint of a frown twitching at his mouth, “Rob wasn’t part of the pack yet.  And Clarissa… well, she’s Declan’s aunt.  Honestly, neither of them are cuddly personality types.”  By the time Kobi was finished, he was making a face like he’d smelled something bad.  

It took Liz to continue the conversation, her eyes forward-facing now, too, but her tone strangely quiet and thoughtful, as if she were musing to herself, “Maybe it should have been a sign.  Hindsight's twenty-twenty, and all that, but even in the two years that Rob has been in the pack, he and Declan were always butting heads.  I think that Rob wishes he’d been born an Alpha.  And while Kobi and I always knew that we could come to Declan, his aunt liked to keep her distance and some superiority, because she was his aunt and older than him.”

“So they didn’t fit into the pack well?” Marcus hazarded.  He was insecure talking about inner-pack dissention like this, but since the pack-members in question were gone, he figured it couldn’t do any more damage than had already been done.

“So… they missed out,” Liz corrected firmly, her eyes focusing as her mind came back to the present.  Her emerald gaze was alert and sure as it swiveled back to Marcus again, and he felt like she was seeing right into him as she stated, “They missed out on the kind of relationship that Declan was offering them, not as some distant, aloof Alpha, but as a guy who’s willing to sit with you when you’ve got the flu - even though he risks getting it himself.”

“Or willing to hug you for hours when you and your new girlfriend get into the first nasty fight ever,” Kobi adds, wincing.

“Or right there to let you literally crawl into his lap when your boyfriend has just had a motorcycle accident so bad that even his Werewolf healing can’t keep him out of the emergency room,” Liz drove the point home.  Around her shoulders, Kobi’s muscular arm tightened reflexively, and she likewise gave his wrist a sharp, stubborn squeeze.  These two seemed so close, Marcus realized, but they’d gone through hard times, too - it was just hard to tell, because they’d come out of those hard-times so very much stronger.  Declan, apparently, had played a large part in that.

Smiling as if she could see these epiphanies slowly coming to fruition in Marcus’s head, Liz chuckled, “What we’re trying to say, Marcus, is that Declan sincerely cares about you - and if you’re willing to accept that caring and snuggle with that big softy, then you’re good for the pack.  You get stamps of approval from both of us.”  She tipped her head at Kobi, who nodded back to Marcus.  

At first, all Marcus could think was that was just about the most roundabout way to ever tell him that… but then he felt a new sort of warmth spreading through his chest, like the wings of some bird that hadn’t gotten a chance to stretch out in quite some time.  

~^~

Dusk was descending with cat’s-paw softness by the time Declan saw the rest of his pack, and even though he’d already scented their arrival, he still only relaxed when he saw Marcus with them.  It had taken a lot of willpower not to follow after him earlier, and even now, he felt an itch along his spine, pleading with him to snap his bones and reform them stronger, sleeker - wilder.  He imagined himself as a black wolf, bounding up to Liz, Kobi, and Marcus, meeting them halfway and showing just how childishly delighted he was to see them back.  Instead, he stood up from where he’d been sitting on the porch, and denied that scratching desire in his bones.  The second urge he was holding out against was the urge to connect telepathically and demand to know all that Liz and Kobi knew right now.  That seemed like an invasion of Marcus’s privacy, however, so no matter how Declan was dying to know what conclusions Marcus had come to, he kept himself from reaching out.  

The way that Liz flashed him a smile, brilliant and pleased, almost said more than words could, however.  Declan allowed a bit of hopefulness to stir in his chest, even as he reminded himself that Marcus was allowed to say no, and not become a member of their pack.  Presumably, however, both Betas would have looked a lot more heartbroken if ‘no’ seemed the most likely answer to that offer.  

The only thing that kept Declan nervous, however, was the stern set of Marcus’s face.  Standing shorter than both Kobi and Liz, and built more like a lean coyote than the wolf he was (regardless of his present bipedal state), he shouldn’t have looked intimidating - but Declan still found himself holding his breath as Marcus suddenly left the Betas behind to stride up to him.  It looked an awful lot like the Omega was about to come up and slap him, but instead, Marcus came up until they were standing nearly toe-to-toe… and stopped.  He swallowed once, audibly, and clenched his jaw, and it was shocking for Declan to see these actions and realize that Marcus was actually fighting anxiety.  Unsure how to handle this and feeling a lot like he had a bomb on his hands instead of an Omega Werewolf half his sise with the most amazing blue eyes he’d ever seen, Declan just stood and waited, heart hammering.  

Marcus seemed to freeze for a second, and his eyes darted down, to Declan’s chest.  ‘He can hear my heartbeat,’ Declan belatedly realized, then flushed, because he should have expected that.  It wasn’t yet dark enough to hide the red tint on his cheeks, but maybe that was a good thing, because when Marcus glanced up, his mouth twitched, nose wrinkling in amusement.  Apparently with Declan’s visible nervousness to disarm the situation, Marcus was able to gather himself and say, “Yes.  I still don’t know if this is a good idea… but yes.  I’ll become part of your pack.”

The tremble in Marcus’s voice was unmistakable, but Declan’s nose was also keep enough - when he focused a little - to scent the complicated mix of emotions that spoke of ammonia-sharp fear interwoven with pure, hesitant happiness that smelled like the ozone around a lightning bolt.  It wasn’t something that Declan had ever smelled before, but it made a thrill run through him even as he felt a huge smile spread across his face.  Knowing that Marcus liked the formalities and rules that bigger, older packs seemed to follow, Declan asked solemnly past his delighted grin, “Marcus Rushton, I’ll ask you again in words before I accept you with a bite.  Do you wish to become a part of my pack?  Everyone who says yes agrees to accept my bite, my thoughts, and my will.  You’ll eat from my table and follow in my paw-steps.”  Those words always sounded so harsh, but for once, they sounded poetic as Declan continued softly, “Will you stand in my shadow and howl at my moon?”

Marcus didn’t breathe for a second, and his blue eyes were wide, pupils dilated in the coming dark.  At his sides, he’d fisted his hands until his lithe arms shook, but his mouth twitched upwards again in the smile of a man being offered something he’d almost forgotten how to miss.  “Yes,” he whispered.  

Quite probably Declan would have bitten Marcus right then, foregoing some of the finer points of protocol out of the simple wish to press human teeth hard against Marcus’s skin and create the bond that would make Marcus better, but at that moment, Marcus suddenly stiffened and spun around.  Declan forgotten, he looked back out into the woodlands, over Liz and Kobi’s heads - back towards the city.  Marcus’s haywire senses were stronger than anyone else’s, but a second later, Liz heard it, too.  “A car is coming,” she said, no longer joyous but instead cautious. Tension crept into the air.  

The tension snapped and became a torrent of alarm that Declan could smell coming off Marcus like ash and sulfur, even before the Omega said in a hollow, dead voice of shock, “It’s a police-car.  I know the sounds of their radios even from here.”

 

 

Chapter Text

~^~

Things were happening quickly while Marcus felt like he was trapped in molasses.  From the moment his heightened senses had informed him that law enforcement officers were coming his way, everything in Marcus had all but frozen solid - it made him think of the article he’d read once on a species of frog that survived winter by slowing its metabolism down and nearly freezing.  Right now, it was like Marcus’s every thought was slowly becoming immovable ice while the world flowed around him at a mighty pace, a chunk of winter stuck in summer.  

Declan and his Betas must have been talking telepathically - either that, or the thud of Marcus’s heartbeat was drowning out their words, seconds before Kobi transformed so fast that he had to fight his way out of his clothing.  Sacrificing concentration for speed, Kobi’s lupine form kicked itself free of what he’d been wearing with a bit of help from Liz and was soon sprinting off into the trees.  He moved so swiftly and powerfully that for a moment Marcus wished he were with him, white paws running in tandem with darker ones, only Marcus wanted to go in the opposite directions.  Marcus wanted to be anywhere but here, where his past was catching up to him.  

It proved that Marcus’s ears were working when he heard Declan speak, firm and swift and as commanding as any Alpha Marcus had ever met, “Kobi is going to head them off as fast as he can, or at least relay back what’s going on.  Liz-”

“I’ll keep a closer perimeter, and help Kobi if the police really are here for Marcus, because that is not going to happen,” she finished before Declan had to.  Her eyes were wide, delicate nostrils flared, but otherwise she looked steady as she nodded to Marcus.  “You take care of him, Declan.”

Declan’s voice was determined, “I will.  Come on.”

Even though there was no actual tone of command in the voice, Marcus’s unnatural sensitivity to such things had him flinching and jumping a little, invisible hooks drawing taught upon his skin to pulling him after Declan and into the house.  “Sorry,” the blond-haired young man winced, noticing, but like Kobi he was favoring efficiency over social niceties.  To be fair, Marcus would have followed him anyway as they both retreated into the relative safety and seclusion of the house, the command slowly fading but leaving Marcus’s flesh prickling uncomfortably.  At the same time, the noises from outside somehow refused to fade, and with an audible groan of defeat, Marcus realized that he was tumbling towards another episode.  Declan’s hand had found his arm, but stopped tugging when he heard the sound.  “What is it?”

Looking back towards the closed door, through which he could still hear the world with slowly-growing intensity, Marcus sighed tightly before turning back to Declan.  So many emotions were running amuck in his chest, but the look of clear-cut concern on Declan’s face still managed to override them all and undo him.  “My sense of hearing is starting to go crazy,” he admitted without realizing he’d given the words permission to leave his mouth.  Shoulders slumping, he realized that things could go so wrong in the next hour that it hardly mattered.  He felt panic and vivid insanity prickling at the edges of his awareness like tears at the corners of one’s eyes.  

He was shocked when Declan’s eyes widened in understanding, and then the Alpha was enfolded him in a hug.  Marcus’s squeak of shock became a slow, high-pitched whine of hard-won relief, as if something in him had been punctured to painfully let the pent-up tension out.  It was the cry of a dog that had been walking on frozen ground for what felt like forever, but had finally been picked up by warm arms so that it’s ice-ripped paws were no longer needed to hold it up anymore.  He let his face be pressed into the crook of Declan’s neck, and clutched back at the Alpha’s ribs when words weren’t enough to show how much he wanted this nightmare to be over.  Everything, for a split second, had promised to get better, but now it was all going bad all over again, as if he had bad luck sewn under his skin.  

He didn’t think that he’d said that out loud, but perhaps that fickle trick of telepathy had happened again, because the growing intensity of sound around him was broken by Declan’s voice, “Bad luck can’t follow you forever, Marcus.”  The quiet strength in that voice cut the sharpest edges off Marcus’s panic, but also worked together with the Alpha’s simple nearness to dampen the worsening effect of Marcus’s worsening senses.  While Declan was talking, it was as if a blanket were wrapped around Marcus’s head - a blanket that filtered out the things that shouldn’t be there, the noises that were threatening to split Marcus open and strew his sanity around like Rob had done to his apartment.  “I won’t let it - and once you’re part of my pack, I can legally put a stop to a lot of that bad luck.”

The word ‘legally’ and any other words related to the law had dogged Marcus in the worst way for literally years, so he flinched, but then buried his nose against Declan’s shirt-collar to remind himself that this was a sign of hope, not impending incarceration.  Just thinking about what a help Declan and his pack would be when faced with Marcus’s past made the smaller man dizzy and a bit giddy.  “Now’s the last change you have to back out,” he nonetheless made himself ask, trying to levity but hearing his own words come out scared and choked against Declan’s sturdy frame.  

The big hands around his back circled him more tightly, and Declan began to walk them backwards until they bumped up against the couch.  “Not a chance,” the Alpha assured, then tried to pull them down gracefully to sit on the couch but ended up dragging them both into an undignified heap instead.  

Marcus was surprised at his own ability to laugh, finding himself sprawled half on Declan, half on the couch, but with his hearing still cycling through growing hypersensitivity and a strange, muted quiet that came from Declan’s presence.  It was like having just a taste of what it would be like to have a pack again, protecting him not only from the world but from himself.  Still, it was a precarious balance, at least so long as Marcus wasn’t initiated fully.  A tiny, indestructible part of him still whispered fearfully that this was all a trick, that it was fake, and even after hearing Declan’s assurances yet again, Marcus found his smile faltering and his limbs tensing to run.  It was no longer so much that he was afraid of Declan as afraid of what a single word from him could do - namely, the word “No,” connected to a refusal to drag something as broken and trouble-wrought as Marcus into his world.  Insecure and somehow unable to entirely trust in the commitment Declan was promising, Marcus found himself seeking Declan’s eyes almost desperately.  

Declan replied by gently gripping both of Marcus’s biceps and slowly maneuvering him until the Omega’s shoulders were pressed back into the arm of the couch.  This included a bit of tangling with their legs, but it was all accomplished with an unexpected sort of… not grace, but steadiness and assurance, with the Alpha’s tawny eyes looking as though they’d never been so comfortable or committed to anything in their lives.  With Declan leaning over him now, Marcus blinked up at him nervously, his own fingertips fluttering against Declan’s arms in return while his sense of hearing did it’s best to take in every scrap of sound around them.  The sensitivity made Marcus blink until he focused on Declan’s heartbeat, an indecipherable series of unending, dependable thumps right in front of him.  Once part of the pack, Marcus would get to know that heartbeat better, and Declan would in return know Marcus’s so well that he’d be able to deduce lies from truths.  

Truths that had been impossible for the court to deduce before, with Marcus’s own Alpha conveniently dead (so said the opposing parties) and unable to act as an official lie-detector.  

For a second, Marcus’s hearing expanding like a bubble, dragging in distant sounds: the scratch of branches against the roof like rusty nails on a metal hide, the inhale and exhales of Liz all tangled up in the breeze like discordant, chiming bellows, and beyond that, a rumbling car motor…  Inundated, the smaller man squeezed his eyes shut, hands clenching involuntarily around Declan’s shoulders as he tried to huddle in the seclusion the Alpha’s aura offered.  He only relaxed when warm hands were clasped over his ears like they had been on their first unexpected night together.  

Muffled now, blessedly so, Marcus could just hear Declan saying, “Easy, easy.”  Lip-reading was easier, as the Omega opened his eyes again, finding worry but also sympathy written all over Declan’s strong features.  A thumb stroked Marcus’s cheekbone, and this time when his senses stretched beyond their normal bounds, it was only to catch Declan’s words through the covering of his hands, “Just hold it together for a few minutes more, and I’ll fix this.  I promise you that.  Do you believe me?”  The arched eyebrow said that he was sincerely worried about the answer to that, so Marcus gave a jerky nod just to see the Alpha’s face relax.  Still with his hands cupped over Marcus’s ears, Declan settled his weight a bit more comfortably on the couch, a look of concentration and focus settling over him even as he tilted Marcus’s head ever-so-slowly to right.  That bared the left side of Marcus’s neck, the opposite of where Clarissa had tried to tear him open, but he still squirmed a bit in embarrassment before Declan hushed him again, “Come on, Marcus, we’re Werewolves.  Being embarrassed about our skin - scarred, naked, whatever - should be the last thing we ever do.”  The careful mix of chiding, humorous, and compassionate got Marcus to relax again, although he also tossed in a little eye-roll to show that he didn’t believe Declan one-hundred percent.  Declan could strut around naked as much as he wanted, but that was because he was gorgeous…

Marcus’s thoughts ground to a halt as Declan finally leaned down, the smell of his skin and his shampoo filling the smaller man’s nose: salt and honey, the sea and the land.  Before Marcus could wonder if his sense of smell was going haywire, too, his focus shifted to the sudden sensation of an exhale against the skin of his throat.  Excitement and fear tangled up like yarn in his head, and Marcus shifted his hands to grip Declan’s wrists as if to push them away, but instead just hung on.  He almost didn’t hear Declan murmur, “I want you in my pack, Marcus.  Scars and all.”

Then Marcus felt teeth, and it was like every single one of his senses exploded at once.  

~^~

“Declan.  Declan!”

The female voice jolted Declan into awareness, and his eyes flashed open in an instant, all of the fur along his ruff and back standing to attention even while his claws extended like white knifes from black sheaths.  He stood, paws pressing down on the couch-cushions, and let loose a rumbling snarl that burbled like thunder from the storm of his throat.  

Across the room, Liz physically jumped.  Her hands immediately went up, open-palmed and empty, and Declan’s nose picked up the scents of surprise, alarm, but also harmlessness even as he shifted his weight and felt the comforting warmth of another body next to and half under him.  Black snout turning down, he saw lean limbs and clean-cut features, lax in sleep and sprawled out on the couch.  It took a few seconds of staring before Declan’s mind caught up with everything and recognized the fact that he was looking at Marcus, and in the meantime, his Beta kept talking hurriedly, “I was coming to tell you that one of the cops coming out way is a Werewolf - I don’t know what pack he’s from, but it’s not one we’ve met.  The good news is, he stopped as soon as he saw Kobi, and now he looks awfully nervous because now that he’s out of the car, he can smell that it’s your territory.  The bad news is, he knows Marcus’s scent.  He’d demanding to see you, Declan.  Or, well, he’s demanding as much as he can with Kobi staring him down with his hackles up.”  As Declan cocked his head, flustered by the foggy state of his own thoughts, Liz went on with more worry, “I didn’t know whether to go and help Kobi out or talk to you, but then I heard a scream…  Declan…”

At long last, something seemed to connect in Declan’s head, like the teeth of a gear finally catching in a watch mechanism; everything immediately began to run, with a little jolt.  He abruptly stopped staring at the neat, human teeth-marks standing out starkly against Marcus’s pale throat and gave his body a hard shake.  Consciously resheathing his claws, he flicked his ears back and down in a show of embarrassment before initiating a telepathic link to reassure Liz.  ‘Sorry.’  His voice sounded like static even in his own head, but swiftly evened out as he tried again, ‘Sorry.  I… I’ve brought Marcus into the pack, but his senses went wild at the last second.’

The redhaired young woman’s shoulders relaxed as soon as she heard her Alpha’s voice, steady and sane.  She replied verbally, “What happened?  Is he all right?  Are you all right?”

Before answering, Declan stepped forward carefully, paws carefully maneuvering around Marcus’s still form until he could sniff at his neck and face.  Marcus was breathing just fine, and nothing smelled amiss - in fact, the only novel item of note was the brand new bond strung between them like an invisible line of gold.  It felt warm and alive, and made something in Declan’s chest leap with joy even as his tail wagged unconsciously.  ‘I think everything is all right.  He just... overloaded the telepathic link.  I’ve never had anyone suddenly grab onto the bond so totally,’ he explained, a bit overwhelmed now that the memories were filtering back in.  He’d only bonded four people before in his life, which was far less than many Alphas in their lifetimes, but he could safely say that he’d never had one go like this: it was as if Marcus had not waited passively for the bond, but had reached out for it, like a drowning man.  His grip had been like iron the second the connection had been initiated, and for a second that felt like an eternity, Declan hadn’t known where his own mind started and Marcus’s began.  It had been a maelstrom, a mass of screaming noise, scents that burned right up through his skull like inhaling ammonia and fire, sensations like his every nerve had been plugged into an electric current.  Declan had no doubt that Liz had heard a scream - he just had no idea whether it was him, Marcus, or both of them who’d cried out.  If this was any indication of just how close to a massive meltdown the Omega was, or what an episode of his felt like, then Marcus had been in need of a pack more desperately than they’d thought.    

The problem was, Declan worried that the connection to the pack hadn’t settled right.  He could feel it, somewhere deep inside, but his mind had had a choice between shutting off or splitting down the center, and it had chosen the former when agony and madness had come knocking at his door.  Declan literally had no memory of the chaos ending, or of transforming and falling asleep in a furry, protective pile on top of an equally unconscious Omega.  With Kobi and Liz and even Rob and Clarissa, Declan had a clear and perfect memory of adding another person to his pack - of each filament of thought and emotion weaving together between them, latching onto their minds piece by piece, sharing emotions in little sparks that would become clearer with time.  With Marcus, he’d apparently done the latter half of the job unconsciously, and it was a minor miracle that he hadn’t torn open Marcus’s throat when he’d inexplicably changed shape.  Huffing out a perplexed, concerned breath, Declan nosed at Marcus’s chin a bit, tilting the Omega’s head to look again at his neck again.  Like banishment, the bite was largely symbolic, but he’d done quite a literal job of it, he noted with alarm.  The skin was almost broken, a vivid bruise already in full-bloom as if Declan had gone for the jugular.  If Marcus weren’t unconscious, Declan didn’t doubt that he’d be in some pain right about now.  

But he wasn’t.  Besides breathing and a steady heartbeat that Declan could now hear and feel like an echo in his mind, there was nothing to indicate that the pack’s newest member wasn’t dead.  Declan tried to push down his mounting fear before it leaked down the telepathic link to Liz, who was already worried.  

“Declan?” she asked again, more hesitantly than before.  

Giving himself a hard shake, Declan forced himself to handle what problems he could: the foreigner on their turf.  So far as he could tell, Marcus was fine, but had merely passed out like he had but with slightly more lasting results - and, notably, no sudden lapses into lupine shape.  The bristling of his pelt his betraying continued anxiety, Declan leapt off the couch, his body feeling sore and stiff but quickly loosening up as he moved.  ‘Stay here and watch Marcus.  I’ll go meet Kobi and deal with the police,’ Declan decided, then glanced around him once more.  He noted with the first hint of optimism since coming back to himself, ‘At least it looks like I took my clothes with me since I transformed, so I won’t be in the same state Kobi’s in if we have to change back.’

~^~

George Stanford eyed the Werewolf before him, his partner - entirely human and presently quite spooked - still in the police car.  More than a little nervous himself but not reaching for his gun yet, George stood by the front fender and waited patiently for someone or something to break the deadlock he’d reached.  The wolf in front of him was a Beta, just like him, with an impressively brawny frame covered in shades of brown and grey fur like shadows and earth.  If George transformed, he guessed himself to be at least in the same weight-class as this fellow, but didn’t want to push his luck, not with the steely, calm look in the Beta’s eyes.  

Folding his arms slowly and leaning his hip against the car, George sighed.  “If you’re not going to transform back, I hope that you at least called to your Alpha to say that someone wants to see him?  It’s police business.”

The grey-brown Beta tipped his snout in a measured nod, confirming this but doing nothing else.  George had a daughter who had just reached her teens, and he was starting to get used to just how uncomfortable a stony silence could be, but his Serene had nothing on this Beta.  If this ended on friendly terms, George was going to have to ask this guy how he managed to be so threatening without so much as bearing a fang or growling.  It was remarkably civilized, even if George was one-hundred-percent certain that he and his buddy were going nowhere fast without permission.  George dragged a hand back through his greying hair (all of said grey having occurred since his daughter’s birth, he was sure of it), but spared a moment to at least shoot his partner a thumbs-up through the window.  The guy didn’t looked convinced, but waved a hand to signal that George could keep dealing with the ‘Wolfy stuff.’  

No more headway was made for a few more minutes, and George was just about ready to stop being patient and demand to be let through when the wind shifted and he caught another scent on the wind - the scent of an Alpha.  The wolf now sitting in front of him tilted his head, too, but otherwise didn’t lose his poise in the slightest.  Damn, George was definitely going to have to take notes.  Instead, he asked, “That your Alpha coming?”

Another nod, cool and steady as a riverbed stone.  

If George had been impressed by the Beta, he was intimidated by the Alpha: the next wolf to trot into view on the old dirt road was massive, and cloaked in a pelt of ash and night.  His keen eyes were like two golden coins staring out above a long, dark muzzle, and he moved with supple power as he took in the situation with quick glancing and rotating ears.  His fur shifted as he inhaled and huffed out a deep breath, but then began to transform.  George looked away politely as skin stretched and fur receded over buckling, warping bones, but when he looked back, it was to face a fully-clothed, fully calm, human Alpha.  He was younger than George had expected - probably only in his twenties, younger than George by at least a decade.  “I’ve been talking to your Beta here, but he hasn’t exactly been forthcoming,” George started out the conversation, keeping his tone light even as he dipped his head to show respect, “Nice to meet you, Alpha…?”

At the hanging title, the blond-haired young man stepped forward, extending a hand to shake.  “Alpha Fen.  Call me Declan.”  His grip was firm as well as his tone, and despite his youth, the Alpha exuded competence.  He also, pointed, didn’t address the odd behavior of his Beta, even when the grey-brown stood up without warning and trotted away.  George didn’t have to be a genius to suspect some telepathic communication between pack-members, but his police-instincts made him want to ask what was going on beyond his ken.  “To what do we owe the visit, officer?  Is this pack business?” Declan went on as if to pointedly detract attention from his Beta.  

George’s partner stepped out of the vehicle then, feeling more at home now that he was dealing with only bipedal individuals - which was stupid, because George could have told him that Declan Fen was just as deadly no matter what face he wore, because he could turn back in seconds.  Besides that, the Beta had finally disappeared beyond George’s sensory range, but that didn’t mean he’d truly quite the area.  Fen could call him back with a thought.  “Police business,” George decided to keep things neutral, unashamed of hiding behind his badge, “We’ve reason to believe that a Milo Marcus Rushton is in the area.  He’s the main suspect in a murder investigation, and you’d definitely have noticed him - he’s a Werewolf like us.  Brown hair, blue eyes, white as snow when he’s got his fur coat on.”  Watching Fen’s shuttered expression for an inkling of reaction, George added possibly the most noticeable characteristic, “He’s also an Omega, a young one, and presently without a pack.”

If George were a betting man, he’d have said that Fen knew what George was talking about, but only because the Alpha’s face was so flat and lacking in reaction that he had to be hiding something.  Unfortunately, instead of giving anything away, the Alpha merely crossed his muscular arms and asked, “Do you have a warrant?”

“Do I need one?”

“Well, I’m not exactly partial to stray Wolves nosing into my territory,” Fen countered, and GEorge had to hide a wince.  At least his partner was keeping silent, knowing that there were Werewolf politics underlying any police procedure they used.  The Alpha went on stoically, “So I’d like to see a warrant, honestly.”

Frowning and shifting his weight, George tried to think of a way to deal with this.  It went against his instincts to gainsay an Alpha, even if that Alpha wasn’t his,  but as a police officer, he had a job to do.  “Hey, we’re both Werewolves here,” he changed tactics while keeping his tone friendly, “I don’t need a warrant to smell Milo.”

Something about that sentence made Fen twitch, but it was an unreadable flicker that quickly gave way to an impassable expression again.  Dammit.  “But you do need a warrant to go searching on people’s property - and this is my property.  I have a question, though.”

Getting frustrated, George just managed to keep his tone level as he responded, “Yes?”

Fen’s eyes grew suddenly cunning and subtly dangerous.  “How cozy are you with this suspect to call him by his first name so easily?”

George felt himself bristle, an itch forming beneath his skin that heralded his transformation hovering as a possibility.  Caught off guard by the question, he stiffened and stared, and it was his partner who finally had to say, “Come on, Stanford, we can come back with a warrant.  We don’t need trouble - not without back-up, at least.”  The human’s eyes flicked from George to Alpha Fen, who hadn’t moved, but somehow looked more lethal than he had before, like a ray of light focusing and narrowing until it became a laser-beam or a rifle’s sight.  George was sure that the Omega was here now, and it infuriated him that he couldn’t do anything about it.  Growling (the noise less intimidating from a human throat, but he didn’t dare change shape and risk an Alpha’s territorial wrath), George turned on his heel and yanked his door open.  While his human partner slipped swiftly back into the passenger side of the car, George said as a parting shot, wanting to make himself clear, “I use Milo Marcus Rushton’s first name because I know him.  He was born into my pack.  But then he must have stripped his gears when he was accepted into another pack, because he’s wanted for killing them all.  So if you see him, keep that in mind.”  Getting in, George rolled down his window for a parting shot, lamented the last of his calm as it fell to let his frustrated temper slip through, “So if you see him, keep that in mind.  He looks like a good kid - hell, I thought he was a good kid, too - but he’s dangerous.”

All the young Alpha said in response was, “Come back with a warrant or not at all.  Your pack isn’t welcome on my land either.”

Feeling the trailing edges of a command in that sentence even though Declan wasn’t his Alpha, George shivered and shifted the car into reverse, turning around to leave as soon as possible.  His partner, wisely, said nothing, instead watching as the tow-headed young Alpha receded into the trees behind them.  George felt another twitch of unease as he saw something alongside their car not long after - that Beta, trotting alongside them, his lupine body appearing and disappearing between trees as he ‘escorted’ the police-car out.  “Damn you,” George growled, thinking of Fen, and wondering what he was going to do about a foreign Alpha harboring their missing fugitive.  Speaking a bit louder, he brought his partner into his thoughts, “He’s too young and stupid to know that he’s got a snake in his nest.  If Milo was insane enough to slaughter his own pack, what’ll keep him from doing it twice?”

“I don’t know, Stanford,” the human said quietly.  He looked uneasy - and then looked even more anxious as he belatedly noticed the Beta, too.  Right about then, however, the grey-and-brown wolf peeled away and disappeared, hopefully for good this time.  “Shit, that was spooky.  Seriously, though, Stanford, I’ve seen pictures of that Rushton kid, and he’s barely big enough to-”

“Don’t lecture me on Milo, Haverfield.  I grew up with Milo.”

“And did he seem like a killer?”

Silence followed.  George watched the rode, and felt his frustration and temper recede, letting his levelheaded policeman’s training take the fore again.  He drummed his fingertips on the wheel. “I don’t know.”

~^~

 

Chapter Text

Declan beat Kobi home, transforming and telepathically reaching ahead - finding first the link to Marcus, which was still definitely there, but dark and quite like the path to a bottom of a well.  He was still unconscious.  Liz’s was bright and alert, however, even as he asked, ‘How is he?’

No change since you left.  What happened with the police?  Are they on their way?’ was the rapid-fire, tense reply.

Paws making soft thuds against the earth as he moved, Declan tried to push back his worry so that Liz couldn’t feel the entire breadth of it.  ‘I sent them packing, but they’ll be back.’

Liz’s tension spiked.  ‘Declan…’

I’m almost back,’ he cut off further questions, not sure if he’d have the answers but wanting desperately to reassure his pack, ‘Kobi, too.  We’ll explain everything face-to-face, okay?’  Even as he said this, the house came into view, a sanctuary that felt a lot less safe after the run-in with the police officers and their warnings of a future warrant.  Werewolves generally respected the boundaries of other packs’ territories, but Werewolves in turn had to respect human laws, and the latter promised to bring with them a whole world of trouble.  Declan growled in unease, a noise that became a human sound midway through as he shifted back into his human skin and twisted the door-handle beneath his hand.  

Usually, Liz would have been rightly miffed at being left behind, but right now she was sitting next to Marcus’s knees and looking too worried to willingly leave his side.  She’d dragged a blanket over him, and he looked peaceful, even if he was so still that Declan reflexively sharpened his senses for a minute, just to hear the Omega’s breathing.  “This is not how I planned for my day to go, Declan,” Liz faked blasé grouchiness even as her eyes betrayed far more uncomfortable emotions.  

Declan hadn’t bothered to close the door behind him, and therefore heard pawsteps as Kobi - still in lupine form - trotted in after him.  After giving himself a good shake, the male Beta began to change back with a snapping and rearranging of bones, finally unfolding into a bipedal standing position.  His feet and hands were a little grimy from running around on all fours, but otherwise nothing but a light sweat marred his tanned skin.  Unashamed of his nudity, he nudged the door closed with a heel and replied to Liz’s comment, “I think we can agree that none of us woke up with this in mind.”  He scrubbed a hand back through his brown hair, smearing a bit of dirt on his forehead, but otherwise maintained the calm facade that was so typically Kobi.  His eyes sharpened and the muscles down his arms and torso flexed unconsciously as he noticed Marcus, however, and he asked with more tautness in his low voice, “What’s wrong with Marcus?  Did you make the link?”

There were a lot of Werewolf packs who actually saw nudity as embarrassing - after all, transforming back naked meant that a person didn’t have enough personal control to perform the shift and take their clothing with them.  Therefore, nudity was a sign of incompetence.  Declan still remembered being a pup, however, when he’d just shifted back and forth for the hell of it, and never cared what became of his clothes (much to his mother’s dismay, as she replaced his wardrobe again and again).  He was of a more liberal mindset, and didn’t bat an eye at his Beta’s unabashed state of undress.  “Don’t worry, he’s definitely part of the pack now - which is going to annoy anyone who comes looking for him, I can just tell - but something weird happened while I was creating the bond.”  Sitting down on a nearby chair, it was Declan’s turn to make a tired gesture, at his wit’s end as to how to explain this.  Rubbing at his mouth for a moment, he contemplated the fine-featured young Omega who somehow managed to make everything unexpectedly complicated.  “I think it has something to do with those episodes he was having before.  The telepathic link snapped into place, promptly exploded with input, and then we both passed out,” Declan finally summarized, being truthful to the best of his ability.  

“Do you think it’s possible that he had an episode while you were biting him?” Liz asked, curious.  

Before Declan had time to answer, Kobi stepped further into the room to get a better look at Marcus.  He smoothly raised one eyebrow, cutting in, “And did you really have to bite him that hard?”

Embarrassment, confusion, and a healthy dose of self-castigation made Declan’s face flush, and he was still trying to word a suitable answer when Marcus groaned and tossed his head a bit.  Immediately, Declan felt the telepathic link in his head light up, a shocking tug on his attention that he’d never felt with his other pack-members before.  Shortly thereafter, he gasped, feeling a wash of emotions tumble through him that were most definitely not his.  

Marcus sat up so quickly it was as if someone had electrocuted him, although he clearly didn’t actually come awake with the same electric speed, because he swayed and tangled in the blankets, gripping his head as if worried it would spin right off.  There was a panicked moment for everyone as Liz and Kobi tried to prevent Marcus from flailing off the couch, only to realize that Declan wasn’t doing much better - although steadier, he’d leaned forward over his knees and had clutched his skull with a sudden groan.  Their attention thus split, the two Betas were left at something of a loss as to what metaphorical fire to put out first.  Confusing things even more, they heard Declan growl without warning, “Marcus, what in the world are you-?”

“I’m sorry - sorry!” was the yelp from their pack’s newest member as he squeezed his eyes shut, leaning over his knees and managing to not to overbalance thanks to Liz’s hand.  “I’ll… I’ll turn it off,” he promised, but sounded uncertain.  However, before anyone could question that either, Marcus lifted his head and opened his eyes… to the sight of Kobi.  The Omega’s blue eyes immediately rounded out like dinner-plates.  

Abruptly, everyone realized that nudity was not entirely the norm for every pack.  

Suddenly Marcus didn’t seem to know where to look, and his cheeks had lit up scarlet with an embarrassment that drowned out whatever he’d been thinking of earlier.  His sharp discomfort was a literal scent on the air to keen Werewolf noses, and Kobi managed to maintain just enough aplomb to clear his throat and say levelly, “That’s my cue to find some clothes.  Are you all right, Declan?”

“Yeah, yeah,” the Alpha waved him off, expression still pinched but no longer trying to hold his head together with his hands.  He even flashed a weak smile as everyone (except Marcus, who was trying very hard not to look at anything but his knees) watched Kobi beat a smooth retreat.  Kobi was next to impossible to fluster, and even now was striding smoothly, powerful muscles working naturally beneath a skin he was superbly comfortable in.  “Marcus was just trying out the telepathic link, and it got a bit loud.”

“Sorry,” Marcus murmured again.  

Declan’s hand did an imitation of a broom sweeping old dust under the rug.  “Forget it.  I’m sure it happens all the time.”  It hadn’t happened with his aunt, Rob, Liz, or Kobi, but perhaps that was simply a small sample size.  The wash of foreign emotions that he’d felt telegraphing from Marcus’s head to his had faded a bit, although it hadn’t turned off entirely.  That was most definitely not normal, but Declan let it go for now, because Marcus looked so flustered and off-balance that more trouble was definitely not needed.  Apparently, Marcus’s old packs were not only very traditionalist, but were part of those who adhered to the ‘nudity is embarrassing’ mindset.  Sighing, Declan stood up and paced for just a moment before shoving his hands into his pockets.  Liz watched warily to see where this crazy day would go next.  

Since Marcus was too flustered to ask about anything that had happened in the past half hour, Declan decided to restart this whole conversation on a better note.  He took a deep breath, faced Marcus, and then said with true warmth, “Welcome to the pack, Marcus.”

Marcus’s blue eyes snapped up to him, still looking a little shell-shocked, and sleep had left his hair ruffled.  For a moment, it was like Declan was speaking Greek to him, but then realization flashed - both in Marcus’s eyes and, to Declan’s muffled shock, in Declan’s head as well like a tiny firework.  While Declan schooled his features to show no reaction to this unorthodox use of telepathy, Marcus’s hand flew up to his neck, promptly wincing and pulling his hand away.  

“I… uh,”  Declan fumbled, but admitted, “I bit you kind of hard.”  He didn’t even know where to begin to explain his subsequent blackout and switch into wolf form, so he decided to wait until Marcus asked.  One piece of information could be dealt with at a time… and maybe by the time all of the pieces of information were put together, Declan would have the vaguest idea of the puzzle they were making.  “There’s no broken skin, but you’re  going to have a bruise.”

Liz seemed happy to flow with the conversation, and scooted up to sit closer to Marcus.  When he jumped and stiffened a little at the closeness, she ignored it in favor of catching his chin in one hand.  With a patience that was rather admirable - or perhaps a lingering sign of how Marcus still avoided conflict studiously - Marcus let his head be tipped back and to the left, showing off Declan’s teeth-marks to best advantage.  “Ooh, a pretty bruise,” Liz teased, then added more wryly, “Or, at least, a pretty colorful one.  I don’t think I have enough makeup to hide this one, Marcus.  Sorry.”

Carefully extricating his chin from her fingers, Marcus replied, “That’s all right.  I’ve got more reasons to show it off than to hide it anyway.”  Suddenly Marcus sat bolt upright, jerking his head around to look at Declan so fast that the Omega’s neck audibly creaked, “Shit - the police!  Are they-?”

“Gone,” Declan replied, even as Kobi returned.  He looked as unbothered as ever, dressed in T-shirt and jeans, and met Marcus’s involuntary, shy look with an accepting, Kobi-style nod.  Of course, as soon as Marcus looked away again, Kobi’s mouth twitched in a suspicious approximation of a tiny smile.  Declan’s heart warmed at these little signs that he’d done the right thing, adding Marcus to their small family.  “They didn’t have a warrant, so I convinced them that it was a bad idea for them to try and search the property.”

Marcus’s shoulders relaxed.  “But they were looking for me?”

Everyone got a bit grim and exchanged looks, then just nodded silently.  Marcus seemed to shrink.  Instead of crumbling entirely, however, he ran a hand back through his hair, silky brown strands falling through his fingers and settling again before he spoke, “Look, I…  I don’t know what happened, but I think I passed out.  Can someone fill me in, please?”

The next ten minutes were dedicated to getting everyone up to speed.  Marcus sat through all of it remarkably quietly, nodding and taking things in, staying calm.  Only Declan knew better, because there continued to be a slow bleed of emotions from Marcus’s head to his, and he didn’t know how to turn it off.  Kobi and Liz seemed oblivious to it, but everyone noticed Marcus’s reaction when the Werewolf police officer (who’d introduced himself to Kobi before Declan arrived on the scene) was mentioned.  Everyone had settled on the living room couches, Liz giving up her customary position next to Kobi to sit with Marcus instead, Kobi sitting on the opposite couch with Declan.  They all grimly noted how Marcus twitched, shock as well as something vulnerable etching itself across his face.  Declan hid a wince as he felt the emotional tangle beneath that look, and knew that what everyone else was getting was only the tip of the iceberg.

“So you do know him?” Liz hazarded.  

“Yes,” Marcus replied shortly, but then looked down at his hands.  In his head, Declan could feel Marcus gathering himself, trying to dig his way past a quagmire of hurt and betrayal and loss so that he could talk as if unaffected.  Clearing his throat, Marcus spoke down to the floor, softly and steadily, “George was part of my pack - my birth-pack.  He used to play soccer with me when I was little.”

Sympathy crossed Liz’s face.  She reached out and squeezed Marcus’s shoulder, a gesture that surprised him.  “Well, now he has your scent.  He’s going to be back.”

Declan felt all too clearly the flash of mortified fear that those two sentences caused Marcus - a sharp stab of horror like a spasm in the brain.  Gritting his teeth, Declan rode the emotion out even as he made a note to really, really talk to Marcus about this later, because it was not normal for a empathic link to be stuck open like theirs was now.  “Easy, Marcus,” Declan said, in hopes of soothing the foreign emotion that was burning like a conflagration through his head, “We’re going to handle this, all right?”

“How?”  Marcus said the word in an explosion of breath, and Declan felt his fear transmute into desolation - an old hopelessness that hurt like a toothache.  Declan was used to being able to scent different emotions if he tried, but this was far more exact and intimate, making him feel like a peeping-Tom as he read and understood just how lacking in hope Marcus was.  The Omega was a maelstrom of other emotions, while hope curled up like a starved, shriveled things, emaciated from lack of use.  “I’m a wanted felon, Declan!  Even if we forget the murder-charges hanging over my head, I did escape custody, and who knows what else they want me for after I’ve been running for this long.”

“Marcus!”  Declan’s bark cut off what he knew to be building into a wild rant.  Even if the Omega’s tone wasn’t portending it, the black hole of panic swallowing everything else down the link sure did.  Marcus’s teeth clicked as he closed his mouth.  Knowing that he had Marcus’s full attention because he was practically in the Omega’s head at the moment, Declan went on patiently, “Regardless of what they have against you, you have us now - a pack - and an Alpha who can, coincidentally, tell everyone whether you’re lying or not before a court of law.”

Stunned silence struck the room, not so much because this was unknown knowledge but because pretty much everyone had forgotten this particular part of pack-life in light of greater areas of drama.  While Marcus sagged back against the couch, trying and honestly failing to digest this massive change in his legal situation, Liz’s face suddenly split wide into an elated grin, and she actually bounced a few times on the couch in silent celebration.  Even Kobi, usually stoic, suddenly smiled broadly as if his girlfriend’s excitement were catching.  All the while, Declan watched Marcus, finding the omnipresent telepathic link less irritating when it was slowly beginning to transmit shocked joy with only the barest brittle edges of disbelief.  “You’re right,” Marcus said on a shallow breath, as if words were a new thing for him and clumsy on his tongue.  It made Declan recall what he’d thought of the smaller youth on occasions: that Marcus had a feralness to him.  The Omega went on, meeting Declan’s eyes unflinchingly now.  “No one believed me before, but now they’ll have to.”  When Declan nodded, Marcus finally joined in with the fun of smiling, a hesitant and crooked look that pulled up one side of his mouth and put a faint wrinkle on the bridge of his nose.  It was just about the most wonderful little expression Declan had ever seen, and he forgot his unease about the link for a moment, instead basking in the steady stream of happy excitement he was feeling.  It was like having a shot of endorphins going right into his veins, and when Marcus suddenly jumped up - literally leaping into the air - Declan rose in tandem because he’d felt the movement coming with the inevitability of a geyser.  

Liz laughed and squealed, clapping her hands; Kobi transformed (more slowly this time) and came forward with raucous barks that were quite unlike him, as well as some very puppyish bounding.  It was truly like a delightful disease had spread to them all, a veritable wave of effervescent delight spreading to swamp the entire room and all its occupants.  It wasn’t until Declan - laughing now, loudly and freely - literally grabbed Marcus and hugged him off the floor that he realized that this could actually be all Marcus’s doing.  Clarissa’s empathic Omega abilities had never influenced this level of pure euphoria, but then again, Clarissa had never knocked her Alpha unconscious by accidentally overloading the telepathic link.  If Marcus was really doing this, then it opened up a whole new bag of questions about just what Marcus could do, having been so damaged by abandonment and now returned to a pack.

At the moment, Declan was literally too happy to care, and put some of his strength to good use in spinning around until Marcus’s feet left the floor and he was clutching at his new Alpha’s shoulders for dear life (and laughing all the while, a noise that Declan immediately labeled as something he needed to hear more of).  By the time Declan let Marcus stand on his own two feet again, Liz was watching with a hand delicately hiding part of her smile, a knowing glint in her eyes, and Kobi had his head cocked amusingly.  “What?” Declan said, affecting ignorance.  Marcus, flushed and breathless, glanced between the three of them with true incomprehension, although when he glanced at Declan something… stuttered… in his emotions.  Narrowing his eyes, Declan suddenly wondered whether this strange and unfading link when both ways…

“I… I think I need a minute,” Marcus pleaded, flashing a less convincing smile than earlier but making the effort nonetheless.  Liz was already knelt down on the floor to cast an arm over her boyfriend’s lupine shoulders, and simply smiled and shooed him off understandingly.  When Marcus turned on his heel to retreat to his assigned room, the two Betas continued to enjoy the lingering aura of euphoria: Liz, with a surprisingly good wolf-growl for a human throat, lunged and toppled Kobi over with her arms locked around this thick neck.  He rumbled back and struggled good-naturedly, wolf versus human, his huge paws sans claws as they batted at her.  Declan knew that they’d both end up in one form or another before the play-fighting was over, to even the odds, and that Liz would undoubtedly win - if not by skill then because Kobi enjoyed letting her.  Scuffling, laughter, and the sound of Kobi’s tail thumping against the floor filled Declan’s ears as he, too, turned to follow after Marcus.  

~^~

Marcus managed to keep up his good mood until he had the door shut behind him, at which point he nearly fell apart.  

“No, no, no, no.  This is not how this is supposed to go!” he hissed to himself, pressing the heels of his hands against his eyes as if he could deny reality by blocking everything out.  The problem was, while he could block out his sight just fine this way, and maybe even work his way to voiding his other senses, the telepathic link remained - blown wide open and even now pulsing with bits and pieces of Alpha Declan Fen’s emotions.  With all his might, Marcus had been trying to throw that particular door closed since the moment he’d woken up, but he could still feel with crystal clarity that Declan was presently confused, hesitant, and a helluva lot more cautious than he’d probably ever been around Marcus before.  There was no hope that Declan wasn’t noticing the malfunctioning mental link, and Marcus choked on a sob as he felt the wariness rippling down the link like water down a string.  He’d just started to like the idea of Declan trusting him and being at ease around him, but now that was all shattered like a popped balloon.  

Marcus had been so prepared to finally get some stability and normalcy in his life.  This was what he got instead.  The cruelty of it all had his eyes leaking hot ears across his palms, the frustration behind his chest so hot that he wondered why it didn’t burn him.  

And then he realized that Declan was feeling all of his - Marcus could actually feel an emotional flinch - at about the same time that his door opened.  “Oh, I- I’m so sorry,” Marcus got the words out, meaning them from the bottom of his soul but not knowing what in the world to do.  Dropping his hands, he saw Declan through a watery haze of tears, and backed up automatically, nearly tripping on something but catching himself against the wall.  He kept stuttering even as he scrubbed at his eyes, “I’m s-sorry.  I never meant for this to happen.  You’re feeling all of this, aren’t you?  I’m so sorry.  I’ve been trying to turn it off-”  To the point where his head felt like it would split open, the effort becoming painful, making him imagine clawing at a door until his fingernails bled and still making no headway.  “-But it just won’t!  God…”  He took in a breath that was more of a hiccupping sob as the last word fell out of his mouth, and realized that he’d backed up all the way to the far wall when he hit it with both shoulder-blades.  The sob became a cry that constricted his throat and wouldn’t let go, and he gave up on not crying, covering his face instead.  “Why?  Why does this have to happen to me?  I thought it was over!  I thought that this would be a way to fix me, but somehow I’ve managed to botch it all.  Am I too broken to fix?”  His voice got thinner and thinner with every word, until he didn’t know if he was talking to Declan, pleading with himself, or just slowly bleeding himself dry of useful words.  

Just as his legs got shaky and he was about to sink to the floor, tears all over his face and hands smeared with them, powerful hands caught his arms, taking his breath away but also keeping him upright.  It was natural to jerk his head up, meeting tawny eyes, but then he felt the torrent of stolen emotions he wasn’t supposed to have access to.  Marcus’s face crumbled, and if there was anything but sorrow and apology coming from him, then he didn’t know what the hell Declan could be feeling.  “I tried to hide the emotions coming from my end, I swear I did,” he whimpered, shaking his head even as it made the bite-mark on his neck twinge - a sign of acceptance, one that he’d somehow managed to turn into a curse.  What should have been a sacred bond between them he’d twisted and broken, a lame wing on a bird that was meant to fly.  “That feeling out there?” he began to plead more loudly, desperate to show how sorry he was, even as Declan’s hands held him still.  He leaned forward against the pressure.  “That was me - I did that.  I thought that if I was able to empathically make this better, it could make up for-”

“Marcus, stop!” Declan finally shouted over him.  Down the link trickled shock-hurt-concern-pity-fear, although Marcus couldn’t tell what the fear was for.  Sort of.  Still seeing imperfectly through tears, he couldn’t stand to look the Alpha - his Alpha, his Alpha who was now stuck with an overly telepathic cripple - in the face anymore, but when he tried to drop his head, Declan transferred his grip until he had both of Marcus’s wrists firmly in one hand between them.  Declan’s other hand came up and cupped Marcus’s chin, warm and firm, and lifted it.  Marcus couldn’t have fought if he’d tried, and cowered in that grip, afraid but even more devastated.  

Then… the emotions softened.  Marcus pulled in a watery little gasp as he felt the sharp, icy prickles of the previous emotions thawing out and smoothing over.  Declan didn’t let him go, but neither did either of his hands tighten, simply maintaining a gentle yet steady hold.  “Yes, I can feel all that, Marcus.  And can you feel this, too?”  When the Omega didn’t answer, Declan gave his head just the tiniest shake, “Answer me, Marcus.”

It was a pleasant surprise to not be at all affected by the imperative sentence, which was at least a small victory in this whole thing.  It gave Marcus some hope to stand on, and he blinked wet lashes and misty eyes before nodding.  His chin shifted in Declan’s hold, feeling the larger Werewolf’s warm palm as a living cradle.  The shock was fading away, and the hurt had morphed into something more bittersweet - a flavor of emotion that made Marcus want to lick an actual taste from around his teeth - and a patient sort of fondness was also building until Marcus could barely stand to be in the glow of it.  He squeezed his eyes shut, fidgeting, but Declan still hadn’t let him go and the link would follow him wherever he went anyway.  

“Okay, good.  That’s good, Marcus,” Declan kept speaking, in a voice that had gone very quiet and gentle.  It turned friendly and almost cajoling, a smile turned into sounds, “I thought that was your doing, in the living room.”  Realizing belatedly that what he’d done could be seen as intrusive and forceful, Marcus opened his mouth to apologize but was cut off by being hushed.  “Shh.  I’m not mad.  You know I’m not mad.  Just the same way that I know how terrified you are, and how you feel like you followed a path through the wilderness only to get lost again.”  The words were so true that it felt like something ripped open in Marcus, visceral and painful, and he pressed his eyes closed tighter in a vain attempt to keep the tears in.  They rolled down his cheeks and fell off his chin to where Declan’s hand was so gently, stubbornly cradling his jaw.  The hand holding his wrists up between them pulled Marcus forward a bit, and the smaller young man folded, making an aborted whimper even as he felt his arms being pressed against the sturdy warmth of Declan’s chest.  “You’re not lost, Marcus.  This is just a different path than planned.  And for the record, what you did out there was amazing.”

Declan’s hand moved, sliding away from the underside of Marcus’s chin to slide past his ear, against his hair, and finally cup the back of his head.  Marcus was pulled in against his shoulder.  He yipped rather unbecomingly and jumped as he recognized another emotion, one that must have been revealed on purpose, because there was no surprise to be found at its heels.  

“Yes,” Declan answered without being asked, sounding exasperated but feeling kind and fond, “I do like you.  And that won’t change as I help us all get through this.  Do you understand?”

This time, Marcus answered without need for any prompting.  “Yes.”

 ~^~

 

Chapter Text

Explaining everything to Kobi and Liz was awkward, but by this point, Declan was actually becoming rather used to having strange and painful talks with Marcus about startling and bizarre things and then bringing his Betas into the loop.  At least neither Liz nor Kobi seemed frustrated yet with how they were always the last to know.  The only thing Declan left out of the rendition as he explained Marcus’s inexplicably omnipresent empathic link was his last confession: “I do like you.”  

Then again, he expected that Kobi and Liz had already figured that out.  

Upon the finishing of the short story, Liz looked sympathetically to Marcus, suggesting, “Maybe this is just because you haven’t been part of a pack in so long.  It’s been years since you had to deal with a telepathic link, right?”

Marcus had alternated between pacing and sitting on the end of the bed, and had finally settled tiredly on the latter a few minutes ago.  Hands clasped beneath his chin as if his head needed the support, Marcus nodded even as Declan felt the smoldering pile of disbelieving emotions belying the answer - Marcus didn’t really think that that was the reason.  “I’ll keep trying to get the hang of it,” he offered nonetheless, subdued, “I’m sure it will turn off eventually.”

“You have gotten it to dim a bit since that first burst,” Declan hoped to cheer him up with signs of progress, and was at least rewarded by a smile and a surge of relieved and positive feelings.  However, there was something lurking beneath them that prompted the Alpha to frown and press, “There’s more, isn’t there?”

Either Marcus’s difficult, jarring day had knocked any sort of fight out of him, or he’d finally started to realize that hiding information didn’t do him or anyone else any good.  Because of this, instead of saying, ‘It’s nothing,’ the Omega just sighed and looked suddenly much more tired than before.  “The harder I try to turn it off, the more my head hurts.  I didn’t want to tell you…”  He dropped his head, giving the distinct impression that if he’d been in his wolf form, his ears would have slicked back against his flattered ruff.  

No one was entirely sure how to respond for a moment, until Kobi offered, “I’ll go find some Aspirin,” and that seemed to be a safe course of action.  Marcus was used to functioning on his own, and Declan could feel how embarrassed he was to be showing his metaphorical soft underbelly, but at the same time, at least the smaller boy was making a sincere effort to act like a part of a pack - something that included depending on others from time to time.  While Kobi walked out and Liz leaned against the wall with a little sigh, Declan sat down on the bed next to Marcus and did his best to feel positive and okay with all of this, even though there was at least a part of him that sparked and fizzled with worry and discomfort.   He was a fairly new pack-Alpha, true, but he’d never heard of even seasoned Alphas dealing with conundrums like this in their extensive reigns.  Part of Declan wanted to ask, ‘Why me?’ but the truth was, he really did like Marcus, and the same things that were making him troublesomely unique didn’t detract from the many things that also made him interesting, endearing, and likable in Declan’s eyes.  He tried to press that sense of acceptance down the link, knowing that all of his emotions would inevitably flow along with it, and it must have worked, because Marcus’s shoulders became less tense and his thoughts less of a briar-patch of self-recrimination.  Worry still coated everything, though.

The silence lasted until Kobi came back, glass of water and Aspirin in hand, and wearing a purposefully bland expression as if this was just another normal day.  Marcus, at least, seemed grateful for the facade, looking up at the male Beta to murmur a thank you, but also blushing because today’s earlier, unclothed escapade was apparently not forgotten.  Liz giggled and it broke the tension and the quiet.  

“So what do we do now?” the young woman asked the all-important question.  “Not about Marcus’s telepathic problems, but about the police.”

All eyes immediately turned to Declan, and he resisted the urge to look back into the set of blue ones directly to his right.  Still, he reached a hand out to Marcus’s shoulder, squeezing it firmly even as he stated, “Well, first we’re going to have an official authenticate the pack-bond that Marcus has now.  In most cases, it’s a formality, I know-”

“But with Marcus it’s life-or-death,” Liz stated the obvious, laying it out bluntly because there was no sense in beating around the bush.  Her eyes flicked apologetically to Marcus, who tried to give her a reassuring smile that quickly faded.  He leaned almost unconsciously into Declan’s hand.  

Declan nodded, then took a breath to speak the next part of his plan… which he knew would please Marcus less.  Some of Declan’s foreboding thoughts must have slipped through into Marcus’s head, because coming back down the omnipresent link was a wave of unease, and in his peripheral vision, the Alpha saw Marcus cast him a troubled, uneasy look.  Declan spoke anyway without hesitation, “After that happens, we’ll have to go to the police ourselves.”

What?!”  If Declan’s hand hadn’t still been on Marcus’s shoulder, the Omega would have jumped right off the bed like a startled rabbit.  The emotions flooding down the link were like a muddy whiplash of shock, fear, and even confused betrayal creating the most painful sting.

Keeping his grip and finally facing Marcus’s wide eyes as well as his roaring emotions, Declan said firmly and as logically as he could, “It’s inevitable Marcus - for you to be officially recognized as bonded to this pack, your name has to go on record, and I’m pretty sure that the reason Officer Stanford found you here in the first place was because your name came up where he had ears to hear it.”  The most likely culprit was the apartment that Marcus had lived in… until Rob had trashed it.  Everything in the pack had gotten so hectic that no one had cleaned up the mess or tied off those particular loose ends, so it really wasn’t that much of a surprise that the local police had picked up on the name ‘Marcus Rushton’ - and word had traveled further afield, to Marcus’s birth-pack, which still apparently kept an ear cocked for ‘Milo Marcus Rushton.’  “The sooner you’re officially documented as part of my pack, the safer you’ll be.”

“And the sooner I’ll be in jail,” Marcus said in a voice that shook in with equal parts with terror and fury.  His jaw clenched tight enough that the muscles could be seen straining along his cheeks, his lips compressing into a fine, bloodless line.  

It was hard to meet those eyes when they were so angry with him, but Declan did it anyway, and didn’t let go of either his grip or his gaze.  “The only choices we have now, Marcus, are whether we face this storm on our terms – or on their terms.  That wolf from your birth-pack will be back before long, and if he comes back before we get officials to verify your link with me, with the pack, then we’re already going to be at a disadvantage.”

Kobi with his unfailing stoicism stepped in to strengthen Declan’s point, “People have contested pack-bonds in court before, denying that some Werewolves are in certain packs for political reasons.  It doesn’t happen often, but it does, and I bet whoever really killed your pack would want to do anything to make sure Declan can’t stand up and verify before a court of law that your statement is true.”  Kobi’s eyes were calm but entreating, hoping that Marcus would accept the sincerity of his words.  “If we go right now, the people against you will be caught wrong-footed.”

“And if we go now,” Declan took up the narrative again, “there’s a courthouse in a city just over an hour away that employs a Werewolf official - she’s part of a neighboring pack, and would be able to document the fact that you can telepathically hear me as well as literally smell me still on the bite.”  Taking a risk with Marcus’s shaky, anxious temperament, Declan moved the hand he still had on Marcus’s shoulder, sliding it closer to the smaller man’s neck until he could just brush the edges of the vividly bruising mark with the pad of his thumb.  Marcus shivered, but fortunately, some of the hurt anger and suffocating fear stopped radiating from him even as he let out a little breath and briefly closed his eyes.  

“So that’s the only option then,” Marcus summed up tonelessly, looking again like he’d fought too hard for too long and simply didn’t want to anymore.  It was heartbreaking to feel the accompanying feeling of resignation, but Declan comforted himself with the fact that at least Marcus was accepting something good: their help.  

“That’s the best option,” was Liz’s gentle correction.  She added, however, “But we’d really like it if you agreed to it.”

Fear made one more attempt to poison the entirety Marcus’s empathic signature, an emotion that was like a dark radiance - an eye-burning blackness - to Declan’s mind’s-eye.  Marcus sucked in a breath and ducked his head, and for a moment it looked like he’d lose this fight with himself and be overwhelmed.  Voice tight with the effort to control it, a canine whine twined through the words to show just how wildly afraid he was, Marcus whispered, “I’m going back to jail.”

“No, Marcus.  Shh..”  Declan immediately gathered him close, one hand on his shoulder becoming two around his shoulders, an impulsive response he couldn’t stop if he tried.  Marcus immediately buried his face against Declan’s collarbones, hiding within the circle of his powerful arms.  “Look, Marcus, whatever comes, we’re with you.  So there’s no ‘I’ or ‘you’ anymore, all right?  And I mean that in the best way.”  Liz and Kobi had drifted close, and Declan felt Marcus’s little gasp - and felt his shock and wonder - as each Beta laid a hand on him gently, full of support and a pack’s natural instinct to make a member feel protected.  “So if you end up behind bars - at least one of us will, too.  We won’t abandon you anymore than Kobi could abandon Liz.”  The two Betas smiled, and Liz used the hand not brushing Marcus’s arm to wrap around her boyfriend’s waist.  He leaned lovingly into her in response.  Declan scrubbed a hand over the back of Marcus’s hair, secretly thrilled at the feeling of it under his fingers, then realizing with a blushing rush that his emotions weren’t exactly secret even as he felt a little rush of exhaled breath against his throat again - this time accompanied by a whole different slew of emotions.  Changing the subject before he got too tangled up in those new feelings, Declan asked, “So, are you with us, Marcus?”

“Yeah,” he admitted grudgingly, but slumped in Declan’s grip, “Yeah, I’m with you.  Just tell me the plan.”

Everyone sat back, regaining some small amount of personal space but also maintaining the closeness that spoke of camaraderie - if Marcus had reached out, he’d have been able to touch each of his three pack-members at any time while Declan spoke with growing assurance and determination, “I don’t know how easily officer Stanford will get a warrant to come looking for you, considering he’s outside his usual jurisdiction looking for you.  The fact that he came here without one to begin with tells me that he either is having a hard time getting along with the local police, or wanted to handle this wolf-to-wolf first - either way, he knows that we’re ready for him now, and will probably expect us to outmaneuver him in some way.  So he’ll be on the lookout for us suddenly leaving.”

Liz raised an eyebrow and noted shrewdly, “You’ve thought a lot about this.”

“I haven’t even gotten started yet,” Declan grinned, and finally felt Marcus getting caught up in the plan.  The Alpha returned to his topic, “I don’t want to split up the pack - we’re already small, and I’d rather not be divided and conquered right now.”  Everyone’s expressions and postures showed instant agreement.  “But I also don’t want all of us to obviously make a run for the next town.  So Liz-”  He looked to her, and her green eyes grew instantly alert.  “-I’m going to have you drive into town.  I don’t care on what pretext, but groceries might be a good idea.  After all, you’re going to be picking up four hungry Werewolves instead of returning home.”

The redheaded woman caught on quickly, a slow smile spreading across her lips.  “So do you want me to flaunt my time in town, maybe even wave at Stanford if I see him?  Before I pretend to go back home, of course.”

Declan chuckled.  “If Officer Stanford is watching for members of our pack, I definitely want him to be distracted by you.  The rest of us are going to try and slip out under the radar while you do that.”

“And how do you propose we do that?” Kobi asked, but his head was cocked with interest as well.  

“On foot.  Or, rather, on paw.  Three wolves through the forest are pretty hard to track, and by the time we hit civilization again, Liz will be there with the car to pick us up.”

~^~

Marcus was nervous.  Understandably so, considering his personal rule about being in his wolf form out-of-doors.  

“We’ll never leave the trees, Marcus, and all of this land-” Declan gestured to the forest that stretched away from the house seemingly forever, “-belongs to us.  Or, rather, to Liz.  She doesn’t come from money the way I do, but she brought a decent inheritance with her to this pack, and graciously used it to buy us this land to run on.”

“You come from money?” Marcus had to ask, as much out of curiosity as because he wanted to distract himself.  

Declan nodded.  He glanced over to where Kobi had just finished giving Liz one last hug before seeing her off in her car.  Hopefully this small ruse would be enough.  “My mother is from one of the Old Lines - her maiden named is Greywood, and even though she married a Fen, I’m still more than allowed to hark back to the old family name.  The Fens aren’t slouches either, in the shipping business.  New money versus old,” Declan explained with an easy shrug, politely ignoring the way Marcus’s eyes had widened just a bit at the name ‘Greywood.’ Most of the Old Lines hailed from further north, but apparently their more distant descendants could live right in Marcus’s backyard.  

At that point, Kobi had trotted over to them and Liz’s car was disappearing down the winding road and towards civilization.  She had a few supplies packed in the trunk already, out of sight of nosy police-officers.  “Are we ready to go?” the Beta asked, sensible and to-the-point as always.  

Declan looked at Marcus, and after a long moment, Marcus nodded, and then showed his willingness to go along with the plan by transforming first.  He did it slowly, his bones twisting almost agonizingly beneath his skin and snapping with little pops before his muscles pulled them into a new shape.  As his body bent in half, falling onto all fours, clothing was replaced by fur, a coat of white spreading over everything from a lengthening muscle to a newly-grown tail.  Kobi and Declan were still human and bipedal when Marcus had finished his transformation, standing shyly on four paws with his tail tucked uncertainly.  

It was very hard to feel nervous, however, with the open empathic link between himself and his new Alpha.  Beneath his fur, Marcus was blushing even before Declan said in a low, reverent, and utterly unabashed tone, “I should say this more often, Marcus, but you’re gorgeous this way.”

You… you can’t…  People don’t just say things like that!’ Marcus said, startled and frankly scandalized, only remembering a beat too late that he was part of a pack now - and most definitely connected mind-to-mind.  Declan heard it all clear as a bell, as evidenced by the way his face split into a cheeky grin and he promptly started laughing.  Kobi merely shook his head, looking skyward as if for heavenly assistance.  

“I’m going to transform before I’m asked to weigh in on a conversation that isn’t any of my business,” the staid Beta informed his two companions, and then followed Marcus’s example.  Declan was kind enough to stop laughing before Kobi was finished changing, and instead stood and comfortably watched, so clearly proud of his pack that no emotional eavesdropping was necessary to know it.  Kobi shook out his thick ruff of fur, settling into his new skin, and dropped his front half down in a sloped stretch until his catlike claws extended to scratch at the earth.  ‘Ready to go?’  This time, Kobi’s voice drifted to both packmates mentally, and Marcus actually jumped to hear it for the first time.  It was rather adorable and endearing, the way his white ears pricked forward and his eyes went from wide and surprised to indelibly curious.  Kobi noticed, even if he wasn’t getting the emotional commentary like Declan was, and canted his great head in question.  With Declan watching like a patient parent and Kobi standing idle, Marcus stepped forward as if they’d never been properly introduced, until he was close enough to stretch his neck forward - his nose just barely touched the fur off Kobi’s shoulders.  

I can hear you,’ Marcus said in a marveling tone.  Everyone was reminded that this was something Marcus had been missing for four years (disregarding his sporadic communications with Declan).  Suddenly his unwillingness to don his wolf form could be understood from another, more painful angle: not only was he recognizable like this, but he was also without a voice.  A Werewolf without a pack could communicate with no one, cry out for help to no one, so long as they were lupine.  It implied a rather unsettling level of vulnerability, and could even be seen as crippling.  But Marcus wasn’t mute anymore, and he was so shocked and amazed by it Declan found his heart moving painfully in his chest.  To avoid the way his eyes were suddenly prickling in response to Marcus’s emotional revelation, Declan finally transformed, too.  With a wolf now on either side of him - both bigger, both darker, but also both familiar - Marcus relaxed a bit, foregoing his usual habit of keeping his ears tucked low against his head.  

‘Declan.’  The name came across as clearly as a bell, as crystalline as the blue color of Marcus’s watching eyes.

Declan’s jaws parted in a wild, canine smile.  ‘Yes?’

Shyness tumbled together with happiness as Marcus danced lightly on his paws, replying, ‘Nothing’ before edging forward with all the lightness of a fox to push his snout against Declan’s shoulder as he had Kobi’s.  He did it more firmly, though, and Declan was struck by how formal it felt - like some kind of gestural language he didn’t understand.  Marcus’s fur was actually mussed up on the right side of his neck where Declan had bitten him, and it took a physical effort not to lean over and touch his nose to Marcus’ fur in return - if only to smell himself mixed in with Marcus’s smoke-and-vanilla scent.  ‘Are we ready to go?  I’m…  I’m still not sure this is a good idea, but you’re the Alpha.’  Marcus telepathically spoke the last part of the sentence with a bubble of pure giddiness, no doubt having expected to never address someone like that again.  

Over Marcus’s shoulders, Declan could see his Beta standing at ease, tongue actually lolling as he watched all of this but kept his council silent.  His lupine expression spoke of knowing amusement, however, and he merely nodded in response to Marcus’s question (transmitted, apparently, on a broad bandwidth that they both picked up).  Declan stood a little prouder, giving his tail a brisk wag before facing the forest ahead and replying, ‘That I am.  Come on!’

With that, they were off like shots, powerful muscles and sleek bodies streaking through the underbrush.  In that moment, Declan wouldn’t have turned off Marcus’s emphatic link for all the world: the pure euphoria he felt at Marcus’s first real run in the outdoors in years was like taking a shot of something wonderfully addictive right into his veins.  It was a blast of pure sunshine.  Declan would have howled in delight if they weren’t presently trying to be covert, and as it was, he couldn’t help but swerve over, closer to Marcus, brushing against him as if he could gain more of that happiness through physical touch as their pelts just brushed.  

What had been planned as a steady, ground eating lope through the woods to their designated meeting place became an ecstatic sprint, filled with a feedback loop of happiness that spilled over so that to only Declan and Marcus enjoyed it, but Kobi was soon caught up in it as well.  That was the gift, after all, of a good Omega.

~^~

As a consequence of their wild racing, they reached the road long before Liz was expected.  Declan and Kobi were panting heavily and Marcus was even worse, being unused to so much exercise - despite how well he’d been eating at the house, he was also still recovering from years of living paycheck-to-paycheck and missing meals accordingly.  Declan wordlessly nudged Marcus over to a thicket of leafy brush in the ditch, knowing that Kobi would watch the road for Liz, all of them staying out of sight.  Here, the forest encroached upon the road, leaning over it heavily on one side while everything beyond the stretch of tarmac was farmland and then suburbia.  

Marcus dropped down willingly into a little pile of white fur, the empathic bond quieter now - either because of some success on Marcus’s part in turning it off, or simply because exhaustion had simplified the Omega’s mind to a quiet hum of banked contentment and the kind of acceptance that came with desiring rest above all else.  He seemed to trust that Declan would worry about any potential dangers.  Flanks heaving, Marcus stretched out for a second, and then curled up again as if it went against his nature to take up space and leave his belly unguarded.  Saddened by this but determined not to let that thought fog up Marcus’s own blissful mindset, Declan glanced at Kobi - closer to the edge of the threes, eyes on the road, one ear cocked back to Declan and Marcus - and then padded up to Marcus.  One white ear twitched as the Alpha breathed into it, and blue eyes half-opened just as Declan began nosing at him.  Marcus’s paws in particular were given attention, and a blurry, not-quite-verbal question shivered down the link.

You haven’t gone running in ages,’ Declan explained, ‘Your pads are bound to have gone soft.’  He continued to inspect them, eventually using it as a pretext to sit and then lie down, invading the white-wolf’s space when he wasn’t rebuffed.  Marcus even obliged to show all four feet with a little flicker of embarrassed shyness, a movement that required him to roll over and stop defending the soft, pale fur of his belly.  The show of trust was tentative, and Marcus’s tiredness was being pushed back a bit for the sake of watchfulness, but Declan was determined to show himself worthy of that trust - so he carefully brushed his long, black muzzle against each raised paw (letting retracted claws get very close to his eyes, but also finding nothing worse than a few abrasions on Marcus’s tender pads), and then sat looking down at Marcus with intense but gentle eyes.  

Marcus’s eyes flicked to Kobi’s position - he hadn’t moved, and may as well have been ignoring them.  Excitement fluttered alongside hesitance in Marcus’s mind, as he stayed on his back with his paws folding against his body.  His panting had slowed until his breath was merely quickened, and now perhaps that was due to something other than running.  ‘So…’ he hazarded the start of a conversation, ‘About before, when you said you liked me…  Can I ask, how you like me?’  The grass rustled as Marcus’s tail risked a quick back-and-forth sway, the first attempt at a playful gesture that Declan had actually seen - at least directed towards himself rather than his easygoing Betas.  It made Declan’s heart thump.  

Slowly, still keeping his tawny-gold eyes on Marcus’s expectant blue ones, Declan lowered his head.  Marcus made a little whuff of surprise, kicking and wriggling a little, but soon he had a big, black-furred head resting against his chest between his forelegs.  Perhaps out of surprise or habit, Marcus started shifting right then, and not for the first time Declan was startled by some of Marcus’s little oddities - in this case, his unhesitant habit of transforming while in contact with someone else.  Perhaps Declan’s pack was accepting of nudity in a way Marcus wasn’t used to, but Declan had never met a wolf who didn’t avoid direct contact when changing.  One’s body was already in such a state of flux that outside influence always felt strange and scary, yet for some reason, Marcus did it without any signs of discomfort.  

After a few seconds of Declan feeling Marcus transforming under him, Declan had his long snout on a human chest, blue human eyes trying to figure him out, and human hands on either side of his head as if to hold him still for inspection.  Taking advantage of the momentary silence as Marcus just stared at him in frowning bemusement, Declan threw a paw over Marcus’s midsection for good measure, pressing him firmly down into the grass.  ‘I think I like you in an awful lot of ways,’ he replied cheekily, even as he let the depth of his growing emotions spill free, belying his joking words and playful actions.  

Marcus’s blue eyes became bright, then tears escaped them in two quicksilver lines down his cheeks, and Declan released a contented rumble as the lean arms around his head tightened in a desperate, never-let-you-go kind of hug.  

All the while, Kobi kept his back politely turned, but his tail wagged gently against the grass and leaves.  

~^~

Chapter Text

Marcus got nightmares regularly, a fact that was hardly surprising.  Even if he didn’t dream of that moment when he found his pack slaughtered, he had plenty of nightmare-fodder from bad run-ins with other Werewolves since.  Sleeping in his lupine form seemed to help, as if the dreams were scared away by his primitive fangs and claws, but this time he distinctly remembered drifting off in human form, with a very different wolf guarding his sleep.

It seemed that one moment Marcus was closing his eyes to a dove-grey, overcast sky with a black wolf on his chest, and the next moment Marcus was blinking up at a sky too blue to be real, and a familiar, human face staring at him.

The world around him was different, the close, clinging underbrush and darkly lush grass replaced by a rolling hill of sunlit green and nothing else for miles, as if the robin’s-egg sky just swallowed the world at the edges.  There was nothing but grass, the occasional cotton-ball, cloud and smiling, tawny eyes looking his way.  It seemed entirely natural to look back, to take in Declan’s tousled blond hair and too-gold eyes, everything too crisp for reality to touch, and just a sidestep away from normal - like an imperfect picture that his memory had taken and secretly retouched.  It seemed wrong to question those wolf-gold eyes, however, especially when attached to the warm, powerful body draped over Marcus’s torso, the invisible but radiant sun burnishing what seemed like miles upon miles of naked skin.  Marcus’s pale tones were there, too, and he lifted one bare leg to detachedly and curiously view his bare, untanned thigh.  Where were his scars?

You don’t have any.’  Declan’s voice came without his mouth making the sounds, although his lips did move, shaping a smile.  Tucking his brawny arms under his chin so that they folded over Marcus’s sternum, the Alpha seemed to exhale on purpose, just so his breath could gust across Marcus’s chest and make his skin prickle as if this were real.

Yes, I do,’ Marcus argued back, trying to move and look for more scars, but it was hard with all of Declan in the way.  In fact, all that his shifting and wriggling around seemed to accomplish was for the Alpha to fall between his legs, such a perfect alignment that Marcus’s previous topic seemed suddenly irrelevant.  Declan continued to simply watch and smile at him, an expression that could only be called wolfish, and it made Marcus’s heart-rate pick up in a way that he hadn’t experienced in… probably years.

The last time my heart raced, someone was trying to kill me.’  Marcus found himself speaking, or thinking, or whatever it was that made words float around his head without touching his lips.  It felt like more than a thought, less than a whisper.

In answer, Declan leaned forward over his still-crossed arms – making his whole, muscular body shift across Marcus’s abdomen – and pressed his own lips to the center of Marcus’s chest.  The motion did nothing to interrupt the sound of his answer, a sound so reassuring that it was like a drug all its own, ‘That should never have happened.’  Another kiss, this combined with a lick, and Declan turning one of his hands down so that his fingertips could pull and scratch at Marcus’s ribs.  ‘And it will never happen again, not while I’m here.’  Teeth scratched along the line of Marcus’s pectoral, and he didn’t know what made him gasp and arch – the sea of deliriously good sensation, or the intoxicating, addictive promises of safety.  ‘Not while you’re mine.’  Most people would have said the sensations were the most euphoric, but Marcus’s heart was swelling almost to breaking, and when he curled his legs around Declan’s waist it wasn’t to urge the dream onwards, but simply to hold him so he’d never have to let him go.  Burying the fingers of one hand in the thicket of Declan’s hair and curling the other around the back of the Alpha’s powerful neck until he could stretch out his fingertips and knead at his back muscles, Marcus felt like his emotions were pouring out of him – a torrent that burned and hurt and made him feel more whole than he’d ever felt.  He imagined a fire raging, burning out impurities with a horrendous kind of love.

Please.’  Marcus’s words unfurled from his skin in the same way as his emotions, freer than thought and as candid as a wink from the sun.  He looked down at the man bent over him, those eyes and hair like gold, all of him precious.  ‘Hold me together.’

Instead of answering in any way, Declan’s face suddenly… shifted.  The steady, soothing expression became a brief frown, which was at once jarring and more real than the previous expressions.  When his mouth opened, it was almost shocking to hear and see actual words being spoken from moving lips: “Marcus, it’s time to wake up.”  The dream shuddered and broke to the onslaught of spoken sound.

The Omega regained consciousness flailing, the world rushing in like water down a drain-pipe.  He sat up fast enough that he nearly overbalanced, but caught himself with fistfuls of grass, glancing around wildly to see the same thicket he’d fallen asleep in.  Declan, instead of being lupine and on top of him, was human and sitting just a short ways off to Marcus’s left, apparently unbothered by his companion’s violent awakening.  It took a few seconds for Marcus to realize, with a sort of resigned acceptance, that the emotional link was still wide open between them, although at the moment he was sensing only a muddled sort of surprise and embarrassment coming from Declan.  Further thought on the matter – or on the dream – was halted by a shout from the road.

“Are you two coming or do you plan to just walk?”  Liz was standing outside of the driver’s door of her car, a light breeze playing tag amidst her lush red hair.  Kobi (still a wolf) was leaving the ditch in favor of her company, his lupine lope making swift work of the distance, even if his paws were far less useful when faced by the door-handle.  Liz huffed to hide a giggle but circled the still-running vehicle to assist him.

“How are you doing?” Declan asked unexpectedly, when Marcus didn’t respond or get up immediately.

His first glance at Declan made his skin heat up as if someone had turned up the temperature, and Marcus had to swallow first before speaking, “I…uh…  Fine.  I’m fine.  I mean, my senses aren’t trying to go nuclear, so I’ve got no reason to complain.”  Standing up, he winced a little, flexing his legs and arms as he amended, “Although I’m definitely not in the best shape of my life, because I ache everywhere after that run.”

The confusing tangle of Declan’s emotions immediately cleared into a crystal burst of happy amusement a split-second before the other man laughed.  When he reached a hand up, Marcus reflexively gripped it, helping Declan to his feet, involuntarily envious at how easily and smoothly the Alpha moved.  Their impromptu run had clearly not bothered him at all.  Marcus recalled that this emotional sharing went both ways when Declan cast him an understanding look, and reached out to give his shoulder a squeeze.  More quietly, so that his voice wouldn’t carry to curious Beta ears, Declan reassured, “You’ll get back your old stamina in time.  There’s no rush.”

“Unless I have to run from the law again,” Marcus couldn’t help but retort in poor humor, but he obediently turned his feet towards the car, trying not to project the utter terror that was returning at the thought of his future.  At least the promise of being officially recognized as part of the Fen pack had him hopeful.

Kobi was already in the passenger seat, and human again, as if all he’d ever wanted was for Liz to open the door for him.  Liz returned to her spot behind the wheel as soon as she was sure that Declan and Marcus were coming, and she cast a helpfully cheerful smile back Marcus’s way as he slid into the backseat with Declan.  “Ready to roll?” she asked playfully, and Marcus was glad for her infectious good mood.  It made it a bit easier to smile tentatively and nod.

~^~

The drive felt long but was uneventful.  They’d apparently done a good job of slipping away without attracting attention, and Liz in fact admitted to trading cars with a human friend in town.  Officer Stanford would be hard-put to find them anytime soon.  That didn’t stop Marcus from twisting in his seat and looking out the back window every five minutes or so, until Declan gave him a look and then slid an arm across the back of the seat – and therefore across the back of Marcus’s shoulders.  In lieu of his recent risqué dream, Marcus didn’t know how to handle the contact, and therefore sat rigidly, facing forward, until he felt the trickle of amusement from Declan like a babbling brook in his head.  When he flicked his eyes over, he saw the Alpha watching him with a smirk that was already threatening to become a laugh – after that, there was nothing for Marcus to do but roll his eyes, sigh, and slouch.  His head stayed propped on Declan’s elbow but he resisted the urge to look over his shoulder anymore, trusting in the plan.  He briefly considered closing his eyes for another nap to pass the time more quickly, but quickly decided against that, half-afraid that he’d end up sleeping and dreaming.

Liz and Kobi provided congenial entertainment in the form of constant, idle chatter.  Kobi wasn’t a talker by nature, but Liz artfully pulled words out of him, and she was a patient and tireless questioner.  It wasn’t long before Marcus was hearing about himself through Kobi’s eyes, as the quiet Beta candidly but kindly described the way their walk had turned into a race, with Marcus sprinting across the leaves like a ghost.  Marcus found himself flushing at the descriptions, painfully aware of how much smaller he seemed to the other Werewolves, but then Kobi finished his narrative by saying with a front tone but a quiet voice, “It’s a damn shame that we haven’t gotten to see you run more often.”

Declan snickered and Marcus dared to elbow him.  He couldn’t deny that his ears were now pink with happy shyness now, though, and he didn’t miss Liz’s absolutely elated look in the rearview mirror.

By the time they reached their destination in the neighboring city, Marcus was almost calm, the car was filled with an anticipant silence, and Declan’s arm had fallen down so that it was looped comfortably around the back of Marcus’s neck.  Therefore, he could no doubt feel Marcus tense even as his anxiety ratcheted silently higher when Liz parked the car in front of an officious looking building.  “Easy,” Declan murmured.  What helped more than the soothing word was the rush of protectiveness and determined calm that Marcus couldn’t help but feeling, and he looked over at the Alpha thankfully before Liz and Kobi both turned around to face Declan, too.

“So, what’s the plan?” the redhead asked.

Marcus still felt uncomfortable with his unavoidable eavesdropping on Declan’s emotions, but at the moment, it was worth it all to feel the rush of assurance like a wall of incoming summer rain, washing away doubt.  “The plan, firstly, is to let me do the talking…”

~^~

Declan Fen’s little pack entered the courthouse building altogether, a natural formation for Werewolves in a new place.  It took the human receptionist only a glance at them to tell what they were, apparently, because she discreetly bade them pause and left the room – moments later, another woman returned, and she smelled like a Werewolf.  “Hello, how may I help you?” she said with melodious courtesy and a blink of her large, brown eyes.

Kobi and Liz fell back just a step even as Declan, one hand splayed between Marcus’s shoulder-blades, stepped up to the front desk with the Omega beside him.  The Alpha’s smile was nothing short of blindingly charming.  “I’m actually here to officiate a new pack-bond,” he said, nodding to Marcus.  The evidence was pretty obvious, as the receptionist (a Beta) glanced first to Marcus’s face and then dropped her eyes as if they’d been drawn by magnets to his prettily bruised neck.  She actually flushed a little, but her smile didn’t waver.

“When would you like an appointment?”

“I was actually thinking of now,” Declan forged on ahead unhesitantly.  His body-language shifting subtly as he moved close enough to lean and elbow on the counter, his body taking up space like he owned it, even as his smile became less friendly and more formal.  Ordering about the Betas of other packs was rude, but he was making it clear that this wasn’t an idle fancy but a sincere and determined request.

For a moment, the receptionist looked startled, but then she started typing on her computer and nodding slowly.  “Um… Yes, I think that that would be possible.  I’m authorized to officiate such things, and we have enough personnel to bear witness.  Usually people schedule ahead, Mr…?”

“If possible,” Declan said, instead of filling in the blank with his surname, “I’d like to give my name after the bond is officiated.  The name of my new pack-member, too.”

Now the young woman looked up, quite sharply, eyes wary.  “This is highly irregular,” she protested carefully.

Declan showed that he understood, not arguing but inclining his head instead.  “I know, and I promise that just as soon as the bond is officiated, we’ll fill out all of the necessary paperwork, names and all.  But there are pack politics involved.”

Understanding flooded the receptionist’s eyes.  Her shoulders also dropped as heretofore unnoticed tension left them.  She even glanced at Marcus’s bitten neck again, and one had to wonder what she made of all this when she said, “Ah, I see.  I think we can accommodate you – so long as you don’t leave this building without filling in our forms to the letter.”  Pack politics could be anything from dangerous to insane, and chances were high that she thought that this was something of a ‘Romeo and Juliet’ scenario, with two feuding families being united by one bonding-bite, whether they liked it or not.

Clearly pleased and willing to therefore show his appreciation in the form of cooperation, Declan stuck his hand forward with a more real smile.  “Call me Declan.”

The given first name wasn’t entered into any computer.  Instead, the brown-eyed Werewolf – named Ada, all smiles again – lead the group deeper into the building, letting her human counterpart man the desk again as the Fen pack was lead to a series of back rooms.  A few other people were called, all humans, but they would do.  

“As you know,” Ada said, facing Declan and the others serenely and professionally, “testing a pack-link is really quite simple – I can already say by sight and scent alone that you, Mr. Declan, are definitely responsible for that bite.”  The young woman couldn’t help but titter a little as she pointed a lacquered finger at Marcus’s neck, and he raised a hand to cover the mark with a blush, but ended up stroking the bruised skin instead.  That just made Ada smile more, and one of her nearby coworkers hid a smile with his hand.

God, she thinks I’m your illicit lover,’ Marcus couldn’t help but say to Declan in exasperation, reveling in the ability to talk mind-to-mind as he hadn’t in so long.  It felt like finally being able to fully unfurl a pair of wings.

The Alpha made a suspicious choking sound, but somehow managed to keep smiling and keep his eyes forward, ostensibly paying attention to Miss Ada.  ‘I already apologized for leaving such a big mark – I’m not going to apologize again,’ Declan sent back with obvious amusement tangled through every teasing word, not an ounce of repentance left in him.  ‘If you didn’t blush every time someone looked at it, maybe they’d be less likely to jump to that conclusion.’

Marcus’s hand flew up again involuntarily to slap over the mark, eyes cutting across to glare at Declan, even as the contact of skin on bruised skin sent tingles washing down his spine.  He wanted to cow Declan with a look and with the backlash of his emotions down the link, but couldn’t bring himself to even be annoyed, not with the comforting ache radiating under his palm.  He didn’t remember feeling this way after his previous Alpha had bitten him, but he’d been younger then – still a kid – and the result hadn’t been as vibrant and mind-blowing as his new connection to the Fen pack.  Marcus’s mind was lost, pondering this, so that he almost missed it when Ada gave them the last of their instructions.

“As you likely know, the easiest way to test whether a pack-bond has been made is to test the telepathic connections.  Mr. Declan, your Betas will have to stay out here, but I’ll escort you and your new Omega into separate rooms.”  Ada’s expression remained open and inspired confidence, but Marcus still tested the air with his nose, surprising himself when his senses rose up easily to his bidding.  He hadn’t had an episode since being brought into Declan’s pack, and had honestly never expected to have such painfully sharp senses again – now, however, scents hit him hard enough to almost make him dizzy.  Sneezing at the influx of sensory information to his nose, Marcus was surprised twice over when his sense of smell died down again as docilely as a kitten.  Since Marcus didn’t know Ada from a stranger, he wasn’t able to deduce anything from the sudden influx of smells, but he was awed by the fact that he seemed able to control the senses that had once nearly driven him insane.

Declan was looking at him funny, gold-brown eyes openly questioning and his emotions reflecting that, but Marcus only had time to telepathically think at him, ‘I’ll tell you later,’ before he was being escorted into a simple, windowless room, Declan into another down the hall.

Telepathy was the most obvious and tangible thing shared between pack-members.  No one outside a pack could communicate in such a way, and even though the level of telepathy varied – it was rare but not unheard of for a telepathic link to be weak upon its inception, and grow over time – it was always present if the bond took.  The way that this was tested was simple: Declan, in one room, would be asked questions and shown pictures.  Marcus, in another room, was responsible for answering those questions and describing whatever pictures he was prompted to.  There were cameras in both rooms that would send simultaneous feeds to Ada in a third room, but the only input and cues that Marcus had would come from Declan telepathically.

Stop being so nervous, Marcus,’ Declan’s voice was a gentle nudge in the Omega’s head, ‘I can feel you being worried from here.  If nothing else, you have to admit that the telepathic bond is damn strong.’

The room Marcus was led into was unadorned save for a desk and chair, and the middle-age, male human who was there to make sure he wasn’t cheating in some way.  When the man indicated the chair, Marcus shook his head and waved away the offer, because Declan was one-hundred percent right about his stress levels.  Pacing seemed more fitting.  ‘I’m going to worry, Declan,’ Marcus stated back, firm but resigned.  He glanced at his present watcher, who in turn raised an eyebrow, clearly a bit perplexed by how obviously anxious the Omega was getting with the increased distance from Declan.  ‘Because I know that at the end of this, police are going to be involved the second my name gets out.  Even if Ada doesn’t recognize my name as that of a wanted criminal, we already know that my old pack is watching all of the databases.’

Declan cautioned back patiently with a soothing wave of warm, steady emotions, ‘One step at a time, Marcus.  Or should I call you Milo?’

Almost without noticing it, the Omega stopped pacing, facing one of the walls and rolling his head back on his neck with a sigh.  He closed his eyes and thought back tiredly, ‘I’ve been Marcus for four years.  The last people to call me ‘Milo’ before all of this are dead.  Let’s just stick with my middle name, okay?’  He didn’t expect the pleading note in his voice, but it was there, and he wanted all of this to be over so badly that his chest ached.  Declan’s returning worry washed over him, soothing and a bit cloying, like a too-tight hug that was nonetheless holding his many jarred pieces together.

We can do that,’ Declan agreed without hesitation, before Marcus felt a heightening of Declan’s alertness like a shiver down the link.  It was almost disturbing how crisply he could feel what the Alpha was feeling, and Marcus’s own shoulders tensed in response even as he straightened up his posture preemptively.  The official in the room noticed, looking faintly bemused until Marcus turned to look at him suddenly, swallowing thickly to clear his throat before saying succinctly and clearly, “The answer is a playing card.  The nine of spades.”

The questioning continued, Marcus waiting impatiently during every pause between Declan relaying what he wanted Marcus to say.  The Alpha didn’t take the time to telepathically word the question, but when Marcus concentrated, he could almost hear an echo of it in Declan’s head a heartbeat before clear, concise words came his way for him to repeat.  It was something of a relief to realize that he didn’t have an all-season pass to every thought in Declan’s head, although Marcus had the sensation that he was answering the questions with more ease than anyone expected.  He was able to give detailed replies every time, and the only thing that made him hesitate was the omnipresent worry buzzing in his own head.

Stay focused, Marcus,’ Declan took a moment to recommend.

The Omega sighed out loud, folding his arms as if the Alpha were standing next to him instead of back-seat-driving in his head, ‘Easy for you to say, since you’re not the one being put to the test.  What happens if I fail?’

You won’t fail, Marcus.  You’ve already answered everything correctly; I can tell that even from where I am down the hall.’

It wouldn’t be the first time that someone didn’t believe me,’ Marcus reminded, running a hand over his face.  ‘The last time I answered questions asked by officials, I was deemed not only a liar but a murderer.’

Declan’s answer was prompt and unexpectedly familiar, ‘And it will never happen again, not while I’m here.’

‘Not while I’m yours?’ Marcus echoed back the words from his dream on instinct, eyes widening in shock.  He turned suddenly, facing the northwest corner of the room even while his attention turned entirely inwards, to the voice and presence sharing space in his head.  He didn’t know why he chose that direction, but if he’d asked, he’d have been told that he was staring a straight line through the walls towards where his new Alpha was being held.  Completely ignoring all thoughts about the test for a moment, or even that he was being watched in person and on camera, Marcus started arguing out loud because he’d had four years to get used to not having telepathy, “You said that in…  You were in my dream!  You heard that?”

Uh…’  Even as Declan’s verbal thoughts grew muddled, the emotions rioted behind them, impossible to hide: citrus-sharp embarrassment, with an ammonia-like punch of chagrin at being caught, all wrapped up in some of the very arousal that Marcus had been feeling.  ‘Look, I didn’t mean to-!’  Declan started to think back, and there was a funny echo to the thoughts – as if they were being said aloud, too, but still thought strongly enough for Marcus to hear the telepathic reflection of them.

“Well, I didn’t mean to either!  I’m not responsible for what my mind does when I’m sleeping,” Marcus snapped back.  His shoulders arched as they would if he were a wolf, although he didn’t have any hackles to lift and bristle in defensiveness.  If it were possible to die of mortification, he would have as he realized just what a show his dream had given Declan.

Emotions an uncomfortable briar’s patch, Declan said back, ‘And I’m not responsible for what comes down the link when it’s that strong!  You were projecting it too loudly for me to ignore!’

Voice going a bit shrill, Marcus tossed his arms up in the air and continued his argument with the Alpha across the building, “That doesn’t make it better!  Fucking shi-!  You know, I wish the ground would swallow me up right now, I really do.”

Well, at least it wasn’t a nightmare.’

“No, it was just my subconscious putting us both in sexually compromising positions and then telegraphing it.”

Declan’s emotions gave an unexpected ripple that made Marcus’s skin go hot, and it seemed almost accidental that the Alpha’s voice mused back, ‘Subconscious or not, it was more than a little sexy…’

Just when Marcus thought that he’d immolate on the spot from the blush heating up his cheeks, another voice entered the conversation – Ada’s, coming through what sounded like an intercom.  “Sorry to interrupt this… conversation… but I believe we can call and end to the telepathic test.  We’ve got that data we need.  If you’d both follow your escorts, please, we’ll meet in my office to fill out the final paperwork.  Thank you.”  The intercom clicked politely off.   

 

 

Chapter Text

It didn’t take telepathy to discern Liz and Kobi’s clear concern as all four of them converged again, following Ada to her own personal office, the placard next to it denoting her full name (‘Miss Ada Summerfeld’) and her certification to sign all documents relating to Werewolf affairs.  There wasn’t time to explain the full breadth and width of what had just happened behind closed doors (and between entirely too-open minds), so Declan just flashed a small but encouraging smile before they all sat down.

Ada slipped quietly to the other side of her desk without meeting anyone’s eyes, her steps quick and economical.  Marcus acted much the same but with an added level of unease, his movements anxious and almost feral, especially to Declan, Kobi, and Liz, who were used to his mannerisms – it was heartbreaking to see him reverting, even just a little bit, to the painfully shy thing he’d been at the start of their relationships.  He sat deep in his chair and seemed to resist the urge to pull his legs up into it, instead keeping his head down as if his hands in his lap were fascinating.  Notably, he also had a stubborn blush of color that refused to leave his cheeks and made the tips of his ears stand out pinkly against his dark-brown hair.  Declan might have looked uncomfortable a few moments ago, nervous and visibly off-balance, but it seemed that the moment he sat down to Marcus’s right, he shed everything but the natural assurance of a powerful Alpha.  He sat proudly but serenely, his expression a perfect match to his posture, eyes half-lidded as if he wasn’t worried at all.

The room was designed to accommodate Werewolves – meaning there were lots of chairs, more than enough for a small pack like Declan’s.  Kobi and Liz found chairs flanking the other two, Liz to Marcus’s left, Kobi to Declan’s right.

For a long moment after the door closed them all in there, Ada didn’t say anything.  She seemed to be busying herself with something on her computer, the screen of which only she could see, but her typing seemed more like fretful movements of her fingers, and she was blushing just about as hard as Marcus was.  There was a little ripple in the room that felt not unlike an air conditioner finally kicking on after a long day of working in the heat, and everyone’s shoulders relaxed in tandem.  Ada looked up and immediately smiled in Marcus’s direction, and when his eyes flicked up to look at her past his lashes, she said, “Thank you.”  Only then did everyone realize that the sensation of relief had had nothing to do with temperature and everything to do with an Omega’s emotional abilities.  To be fair, however, Marcus looked equally surprised at his own success, head jerking up and blush deepening as he glanced around to his staring companions.

Finally, the Omega just shrugged, looking uncomfortable, and murmured, “Thought it might help.  Didn’t mean to overstep my bounds.”

“No apologies necessary,” Ada was gracious enough to be unoffended.  What Marcus had done amounted to unasked for emotional manipulation, but the effects had been mild, and something about the way Marcus made no attempt at subtlety was endearing.  “We’re all professionals here, and I see no reason for us not to proceed with a positive, calm outlook.  Speaking of positive-”  Ada finally turned from her computer and cast her bright smile to Declan and then the rest of his pack.  “-The results of your joint interview are very clear.  Since this is generally a pass-fail type of test, I’ll go ahead and say congratulations.  Mr. Declan, you now have a new Omega bonded to your pack.”

Liz made a little squealing sound that was part cheer, part restrained happiness coming out in pure, audible form.  Kobi immediately grinned wider than anyone had probably ever seen him smile, stoicism disappearing in the wake of their success – Declan looked over to share the look, while Marcus sagged in his chair and threatened to slide right out of it like a liquid.  His relief was crystal clear.

Ada seemed to share in the joy, as she had every right to.  She even commented, “Beyond signing off that I’ve verified the existence of your telepathic link, I’m going to note that this is one of the strongest connections I’ve ever seen – you’re very lucky, all of you.”  Like someone signing off on a marriage, Ada signed the papers in front of her with a flourish before pursing her lips again.  “Now, I believe there’s the small matter of your names.  I’m not letting this paper or any of you out of my sight until everything is filled out to my satisfaction.”

Marcus tensed visibly, his relaxed posture from before hardening like water in a sudden freeze.  His eyes darted involuntarily towards Declan, who’s poker-face was decidedly more intact, and Ada clearly noticed.  Liz, likewise noticing Marcus’s swiftly increasing agitation, reached out and squeezed his hand, making him jump but fortunately seeming to calm him a bit.  When Ada asked his name and date of birth first, however, he froze, swallowing audibly.

“It’s okay, tell her,” Declan murmured very gently.  There was clearly telepathic communication going on when Marcus snapped his gaze to him, mouth forming a thin, white line and eyes as sharp and blue as shattered sapphire.  Eventually the conversation became verbal again, with Declan’s confident but soothing tone never wavering, “Trust me.  It’ll be okay.”

For a moment, it looked like the smaller young man would argue, but then he sighed, searched Declan’s face a little bit longer, and turned to Ada.  The aura of calm that he’d been projecting wobbled a little, an almost physical sensation that made everyone shift uncomfortably.  “Milo Marcus Rushton.  December twenty-sixth, nineteen-ninety.”

For a moment, nothing happened after that besides Ada first writing the name down manually, asking for spelling less because she needed it and more out of reflex.  However, when she began to move the information to her computer, the inevitable happened – everyone knew that there were computer systems involved in this process that ran a general background check on incoming pack-members.  Usually, this was a formality, because it was assumed that packs researched new arrivals on their own, getting to know them before admitting them to their family.  If someone had a criminal record, it was their pack’s business how they dealt with it, if they knew it at all.

However, outstanding warrants superseded that aloof outlook.

Ada’s eyes widened, proving that Marcus’s full name had indeed set off alarms in the system.  The young female Werewolf turned immediately to stare at him, eyes huge, before her eyes darted to Declan’s flat expression.  “Do you know-?” she started to ask in a half-gasp.

“That Milo has been accused of multiple murder?” Declan finished for her, choosing to use Marcus’s given first name for clarity’s sake.  While the Omega next to him flinched hard, lowering his head and clenching his hands on the arms of his chair, Declan went on unflinchingly, “Yes, I’m aware of his wanted status.  I’m also aware that he’s innocent.”  Declan raised on eyebrow, although his eyes went as cold as chilled steel.  “Unless you’re questioning my ability to detect lies from someone that you’ve confirmed to be a member of my pack.”

“No!” Ada said hurriedly, then seemed to look at the assembled Werewolves again with new eyes.  She seemed understandably anxious, but Declan’s last sentence had gotten through to her, and instead of looking at Marcus like a rabid dog, she simply gave him a troubled, questioning look, as if she wished that she could tell more by sight alone.  He looked truly pathetic at the moment, starting to shake with nerves and fear, but his crystal-blue eyes were steady, and when Ada met them, something in her seemed to soften.  She still spoke to Declan, a natural deference turning her attention to the Alpha of the pack, “So he said he didn’t have anything to do with what he’s being accused of?”

“He did escape arrest, but he didn’t kill anyone,” Declan assured.  He reached over and placed a hand on Marcus’s shoulder, and Ada’s eyes flicked over, too quick to miss the way Marcus leaned into the physical sign of reassurance.  It was also clear that the two Betas were struggling to stay politely quiet, protectiveness practically radiating from them as they sat tensely in their seats.  Only Declan seemed calm, like a mountain amidst a rough ocean.

Now Ada looked regretful as she said, “You know that I have to report this, yes?  And detain Mr. Rushton until authorities arrive?”

“I do,” Declan nodded, then added with a protective squeeze to Marcus’s shoulder, “Just be sure to mention to the police what you’ve already noted – that Marcus is a new member of my pack, so I won’t take kindly to them dragging him off alone.”

Seeing the way Marcus looked at Declan with such grateful relief, Ada smiled just a little.  She seemed to be calming down after her shock, and even went back to her paperwork with a mischievous tilt of her mouth, “How about we at least finish the paperwork before I have to call?”

Declan’s smile was sudden and predatory.  “Let’s.  I assume you want my full name next?”

“Yes.”

With rather obvious relish, Declan stated, clearly and slowly, “Declan Brin Greywood-Fen,” carefully hyphenating his family surnames.  He was gifted by Ada once again stuttering over her work, eyes widening again as she stared.  The Greywood line was well-known, especially in this part of the country.  “My mother’s maiden name is Greywood,” Declan offered lightly as Ada recovered.

She murmured under her breath, “Well, aren’t both of you just full of surprises.”  Tone growing a bit less shocked and a bit friendlier, she went on, “I think I’m starting to see your plan here.  Are you going to call your old pack now, and let them know that there’s a threat to your new Omega pack-member?”

Declan may as well have been a cat – he all but purred, content and nearly smug, “Now that you mention it, I should, shouldn’t I?  I mean, what’s the point of a powerful family name if I don’t throw it around a little for a good cause?”

Smiling conspiratorially now, Ada finished filling in Declan’s name and replied, “I see your point, Mr. Greywood-Fen.  And if I do say so myself, your Omega partner is a good cause indeed.”

“Oh, I’m not his…!” Marcus started to argue, but then just gave up.  “Never mind.” Sighing gustily, he leaned forward in his chair to rub his hands over his face.  No one but Declan had any way to decipher if he was more relieved or panicked still, because he looked a lot like he wanted to either vomit or laugh hysterically.  When Declan’s hands returned to his lap, Liz reached out to rub a hand helpfully across Marcus’s bent back, and he arched into it halfheartedly.

Ada filled out the rest of the paperwork with gusto, happily taking everyone’s information and only looking slightly nervous as she ran all of their names through the computer.  When no one else raised any red flags besides Marcus, she looked regretful, but picked up the phone.  Marcus hadn’t moved, still bent over with his face hidden, but he went so still that he barely seemed to be breathing as Ada called the police and explained that she had a wanted mass-murderer in her office.  She didn’t say it so crassly, of course – in fact, she seemed to take pains to explain the situation delicately, and very clearly enunciated the fact that Marcus was freshly initiated into the Greywood-Fen pack.  In fact, she even hinted that the police be careful of their approach in this situation, considering the backlash they could get from the Werewolf community if things were handled in a brash or careless fashion.  Werewolf ears being as keen as they were, everyone heard as the man on the other end of the line stressed the possibility of violence when apprehending a killer, so Ada asked, “Will you come quietly, Mr. Rushton?”  Her face was sad and worried.  

Marcus’s chest expanded and collapsed in a sigh that seemed to drag air from the soles of his feet up to leaden lungs before rushing out, and he finally lifted his head to rest his chin on his folded fingers.  His face looked ragged, his eyes red and tired, hair mussed from his fingertips pushing up into it.  “If Declan comes, too, I will,” he said very quietly.  Ada relayed the message for non-Werewolf ears at the police-station, while Marcus closed his eyes and exhaled again like someone facing the executioner’s block.

He’d dodged the executioner once.

He didn’t think he’d do it again.

~^~

Things happened very rapidly.  To be honest, Marcus had never had a head for legal matters; there was more protocol and red-tape than he knew how to process, and the slightest detail could make the biggest difference (or mean absolutely nothing).  His entire knowledge of the law had been a crash-course soaked in grief and terror, and he was petrified that he was about to face more of the same as he sat tensely between Kobi and Liz and waited for the police to arrive in one of the empty back rooms (ostensibly to keep Marcus from running away).  Declan was only a few meters away, unable to sit still as he made his phone-call to his parents.  Marcus could have easily listened in, but he didn’t want to.  The last thing he needed today was to hear how his wreckage of a past was explained to his Alpha’s powerful family.  Eyes squeezed tightly shut to hold back the tears that had been threatening since what felt like forever, he pressed his head back, focusing on the thump of his head against the wall.  He couldn’t ignore Declan’s emotions, of course, because the damn link was still overactive: therefore he knew that Declan was fighting to remain positive and encouraging just for him, but was deeply worried beneath it all.  The one overwhelming constant was protectiveness, however, and Marcus tried to smother himself in that.

Distracting him was Liz, leaning suddenly against his right side.  The arms of their chairs offered something of a barrier, but Liz’s chummy weight nonetheless tipped Marcus to the left, so that he in turn pressed against Kobi.  He blinked at them, mouth opening in wordless question, but when Liz just gave him an insuppressible smile and Kobi merely squeezed in a little bit tighter from his side, Marcus accepted the support for what it was.  He felt like he could breathe just a little bit easier with the two Betas – his new packmates, something he still had trouble believing – squishing him awkwardly between them.

Eventually, there was a rush of triumph and pride from Declan, and he hung up his phone to say that they now had the support of the Greywood pack behind them – to say nothing of the Fen side of the family.  Marcus had no idea how he’d managed that unless he’d lied, so he remained wary, but hopeful.  His skeptical hope became sudden mortification when Declan flushed with embarrassment, ran a hand back through his unkempt blond hair, and also mentioned that some of his family might also be coming to offer their support in person.

Apparently Marcus was going to meet the family, and he and Declan hadn’t even officially admitted to having mutual amorous feelings yet.  Dream-sharing did not count.

The actual arrival of the police was… traumatic.  Marcus chose not to remember it, but if he wasn’t practicing selective memory loss, he recalled that things didn’t stay civil.  He’d very nearly forgotten that not everyone was like Declan, Liz, and Kobi, believing him when he said that he was innocent and harmless – many more were like Rob and Clarissa, convinced that he was a mass murderer and therefore too dangerous to treat mildly.  To be fair, Marcus had panicked a little at the sight of handcuffs.

Now Marcus lay in a thin cot in a jail-cell, looking up at the ceiling and feeling almost physically hollowed out as daylight faded outside the tiny, reinforced window.  “Is it normal to black out memories during a panic attack?” he asked listlessly, delving into his mind for the past few hours and strongly doubting that he could recollect everything even if he did want to.  His brain felt full of hot tar, painful and messy.

From where he stood on the other side of Marcus’s small room, Declan murmured back, “I think you’re allowed to forget, Marcus.  But don’t worry, tomorrow will be better, I promise.”

“You make a lot of promises.”

“Yeah, well, I promise to try my best to keep them all,” Declan said back, complete sincerity wafting off him like a breath of fresh air.  He turned away from inspecting the door and wall to approach the bed, which Marcus hadn’t moved from since being coaxed there.  He vaguely remembered trying to sit in the corner, and his cheeks were still wet with tears.

“I don’t want to be here,” he whispered, feeling another set of hot wetness track down his cheeks.

The feeling of Declan’s emotions was almost overwhelming, but at least it completely overshadowed Marcus’s feelings for a moment, swamping him with heartbreak and sympathy and something so comfortingly warm that Marcus wanted to melt in it.  The other young man came right up to him and sat down next to his hip on the bed, and for a moment he paused there, shadows deepening his eyes and outlining the sweep of his cheekbones.  The overhead light had already been turned off manually from the outside, and soon they’d lose the ambient light, too.  “Can I share the bed with you, Marcus?” Declan asked, voice gentle and hesitant but emotions surprisingly not.  Marcus, for once, pulled the link and tried to make it stronger, wanting to understand the gentle ocean of emotions behind this request – but it was all a riddle to him.  Sometimes, sensing emotions wasn’t the same as interpreting them.

Desperate for some sense of stability and safety, however, or at least the addictive sense belonging that came with being physically close to someone, Marcus nodded only a beat later, even as he felt more wetness dampen his lashes.  He moved over hurriedly as Declan stretched out, the two of them struggling for a moment to share the narrow cot with Marcus willing to do anything to still the shrieking, helpless fear in his head.  It wasn’t until Declan lay down and dragged Marcus with him, locking his arms crushingly tight around Marcus’s shoulders that the Omega remembered that Declan could hear his emotions, too – and even if he couldn’t, Marcus was sobbing.

“Easy, easy… shhhh.  Shh.  You’re all right,” Declan murmured into Marcus’s hair as the smaller man gasped and keened against his chest, letting go of the firm self-control that he’d been keeping up all day.  Reclining underneath Marcus, Declan crooked a leg, cradling the Omega with all of his body and rubbing a hand up and down his back and rucking his shirt gently in the process.  They’d been allowed to keep their own clothes, at least, even if they’d been relieved of their belongings when Marcus was incarcerated and Declan demanded to go with him – as was his right as a new, insanely protective Alpha.  By the look on the human police officer’s face, he clearly hadn’t had a case like this before, but thankfully Ada had stepped in and cited precedence: newly made telepathic pack-links could be fragile, so it was an Alpha’s prerogative to prevent separation from his new pack-member.  Ergo the shared jail cell now, although Liz and Kobi had promised to meet up with Declan’s family and arrange bail.  Apparently with a name like Greywood, nothing was legally impossible, but that didn’t stop Marcus from fearing that he’d be stuck in here for the rest of his life – and if that happened, how long would Declan stay?

“Hey, I can feel your emotions taking a dive for the worst – so whatever you’re thinking, stop it,” Declan admonished.  One of his hands gave Marcus’s back an encouraging, soothing scratch between the shoulder blades, and the other cupped the back of Marcus’s skull.  It was something that usually would be used to soothe a child, but Marcus found himself quieting anyway, unable to completely ignore the Alpha’s efforts – both physical and emotional.

“I’m s-s-sorry.  Sorry,” Marcus scraped the apology past a tight throat, ducking his head until his face was hidden, his brow pressed against a firm pectoral. “Sometimes I forget that this link-problem goes both ways.  I still haven’t found a way to fix it.”

“Oh, it’s not so bad.”  Only the faintest flicker of embarrassment belied those words; for the most part, Declan sounded sincere.  He left his fingers buried in Marcus’s hair but began to start carding through it, slow and smooth.  His other arm relaxed so that it was a warm weight across Marcus’s lower back.  “I mean, since when has anything good come from hiding emotions?” he went on, blithe as could be, enough so that Marcus chuckled despite himself. “I’m pretty sure that my mother has been telling me not to bottle things up and hide things since birth, so this will be quite a gift in her eyes.”

Grudgingly, Marcus lifted his head, finding just enough light to see Declan’s impish smile by.  “The scary thing is, I know that you mean that,” he retorted.

“See?”  Declan smiled a bit more broadly, teeth flashing whitely.  “This saves us both the time of trying to convince each other that the other is telling the truth, too.”

Briefly, Marcus considered moving and finding a less compromising position to lay in, but Declan took up basically the whole cot anyway, and disentangling himself would be more embarrassing than staying.  Arms resting alongside Declan’s shoulders for support, he at least pushed himself up enough to look Declan in the eye, saying quietly, “You believed me even before this.”

The smile remained.  Warm fondness and happiness flooded the link, though.  “I know.”

“Even before you were able to tell if I was lying.”

“You just never seemed like the lying kind of guy.”

For a moment, the two just stayed like that, Marcus’s fragile hope blossoming again under the warmth of Declan’s solidity and assurance even as that smile put out the brushfire of his fear.  Marcus still felt terribly burnt underneath, but no longer was choking and blinded by the smoke of it.

Then mischief entered the link like the sharp crackle of a carpet-spark, and Declan asked with faux innocence, “Soooo are we going to talk about the fact that you dreamt about me naked?”

“No!”

The infamous shared, erotic dream remained an unspoken topic between them, but Marcus nonetheless ended up falling asleep under a half-hour later, exhausted and draped over Declan so that he could drink him in like a source of safety – so that he could feel him there like a solid promise that wouldn’t disappear without him knowing it.

 

 

Chapter Text

The color was washed out of the world, and Marcus was standing in the doorway to the worst memory of his life.

Their bodies lay strewn across the floor like wheat after a threshing, artistic and macabre all at once.  All twelve of the Werewolves who had been his pack, his second family.  While the house around them seemed leached of all vibrancy, the blood was such a bright and lurid color that it stood out like a field of scattered fiery lilies - the color so sharp that it stung Marcus’s eyes and burned itself into his retinas, so that even when he squeezed his eyes shut the image remained.  It was like his eyelids had never closed.  Choking on grief and sadness, he tried to stumble back, but when he hit the door his hands couldn’t find a door-knob to turn.  The blood was starting to spread like a stain - a tide - and Marcus felt his anguish turn to panic.  Twisting away from the sight within the house, he began fighting with the door, pounding against it and clawing at it with desperate hands.  He tried to transform, but it was like his bones wouldn’t move, and for the first time he felt trapped in his human body by forces beyond his control rather than choice.  The nightmare developed a voice, just enough to slip a thought into his head, telling him that this was what happened when one denied their wolf side for so long: they lost it.  It rebelled.  

Hearing something like a low chuckle behind him, Marcus stopped fighting the door to spin around, seeing… himself.  White-furred and four-legged, he stood in his lupine form, bent over the body of his Alpha with viscous ruby redness smeared across his entire snout almost up to his ice-blue eyes.  It smeared down his throat, sticking his fur together, and as Marcus watched in horror, he bent down and plunged his snout again into the belly of his old Alpha.  

Marcus!  Marcus, stop it!’

The blood was rising.  It covered the floor now, and was the only color in the room except the blue of Marcus’s wolf-form’s eyes.  The eye-searing redness spread to lap at Marcus’s feet, staining his skin with new color even as he tried to jump away from it - the door felt nearer to his back than before, the wall closer.  

Marcus!  For the love of-!  Dammit, Marcus, you’re dreaming!’

Like memories being submerged, each of the twelve bodies started disappearing beneath the tide of red.  And all the while, Marcus’s wolf - something that had always been a part of him but now felt like a separate entity ripped away from his morals and soul - kept gorging itself on human flesh, tearing into it like a beast that grew more hungry with every mouthful.  It ignored the rising blood that now licked at its belly and rose up over its mouth and eyes every time it ducked down for another bite.  

Helplessness became fever-fright fury, and Marcus heard his own shout like a distant ringing in his ears a second before he charged towards himself.  He didn’t know what he intended to do: stop the wolf that was as much a part of him as his own limbs or try and drag the bodies of his family free of the flood before they were lost.  Either way, he never found out, because seconds after splashing incarnadined waves everywhere - something dragged Marcus back and the world abruptly shifted.  

Vertigo made the Omega’s head swim, but everything was crisp when he opened his eyes.  Everything was… subtly off.  The colors were still wrong, but he head felt better able to recognize everything around him as a dreamscape.  Turning his head, Marcus took in a wheatfield as brilliant as if it were all made out of spun gold, and a tree with leaves like emeralds arching like an umbrella above him, making its home in the golden field’s center.  Instead of the dead silence of his dream or the muffled shriek of his screaming, Marcus heard only the gentle susurrus of the wind in the wheat-heads.  

Confused as to how he’d gone from one scene to another so quickly, Marcus made to stand up, but arms around his waist kept him still.  With a jolt, the Omega turned and saw Declan looking at him, a rueful expression twisting his mouth a little.  He looked tired and worried beneath that, but Marcus realized that, for once, he couldn’t read his emotions.  

“Where is this?” Marcus found himself asking, dazed and starting to shake with the aftermath of his own dream.

Declan glanced around, his eyes reflecting the golden wheat like coins.  The lines and angles of him were subtly different than they were in Marcus’s head, but he still looked handsome - and most of all, comfortingly familiar.  “This used to be my favorite place when I went to visit my father’s side of the family.  There’s not really all that much forest-land in the United States, and most of that is already owned by the old packs - but the Fens have made themselves comfortable as ‘prairie wolves’.”  Declan’s smile became fond with the memory, even as he started to looked pleasantly surprised.  “I think that we’re in my head.”

Glancing around with new eyes, Marcus admitted that nothing here could have come from his own memories, and it certainly didn’t resemble his nightmares.  Declan’s hands shifted and clasped over his stomach, and the Omega decided to relax, his back finding a solid resting place against Declan’s chest.  “So… you took us… me… here?” he hazarded as his heart began to slow from its painful pace.  

“I honestly have no idea.  I was…”  Declan paused, and Marcus turned to find the Alpha biting his lip, looking suddenly horrified and sad.  Before Declan finished, Marcus knew what he was going to say: “I was in your dream for a moment, and all I could think was that I had to get out of it.”  Golden eyes refocused and fixed on Marcus with new determination, and the Alpha stressed firmly, “I had to get you out of it.  You were tearing your own mind down around yourself and I could feel it.”

Uncomfortable and aching inside from that very same psychiatric damage, Marcus looked away, seeking out a change of topics before the memories came to haunt him again.  “I can’t feel you now.”

“Well, maybe that’s because all of me is out there,” Declan suggested.  He freed up on hand to gesture at the fields around him, which shifted in a sudden gust of wind, a flexing sheet of metallic yellow.  “Honestly, I haven’t a single fucking clue what’s going on, but I know that this is my dream, and that I’ve got control over it,” the Alpha finished with a noticeable sliver of pride in his voice, and Marcus felt a tiny smile fight its way onto his face even before Declan leaned forward to rest his chin on Marcus’s shoulder.  “Do you like it?”

“Do I like the inside of your head?  Sure.  I like it a whole lot more than mine,” Marcus answered honestly.  To soften the prickly edges of his answer, the Omega dared to lean back into Declan a little bit more, feeling a little flutter of pleasure when Declan hummed contentedly and took his weight.  After a moment of quiet, Marcus noted, “Your mind is… very peaceful.”

Declan didn’t answer, either to preen at the compliment or to explain how hard he was working to keep it this way for Marcus.  The field continue to wave and shift in a hypnotic dance that Marcus lost himself in for what felt like eternity, each second erasing a drop more of blood from his mind - or from his wolf jaws.  

“Marcus…” Declan broke the quiet, then paused uncertainly.  The tree above them rustled, as if a heavier wind had caught the edges of it.  A few shadows slipped across the sea of living gold, although the sky remained eerily cloudless.  Before he went on, Declan held Marcus a little bit tighter and closed his eyes as if concentrating, and the world around them shifted until the winds had stilled and the shadows had disappeared.  It was hard to feel anything but safe with this atmosphere wrapped around him, to say nothing for Declan himself doing the same.  “Marcus, could you show me what happened?  I saw your nightmare, but would it be possible to walk me through your memories?”

Being dragged out of peacefulness back into recalling painful things, Marcus flinched as if stung, and fixed Declan with a betrayed look that swiftly faded.  Declan didn’t look any happier about asking this, but he was determined, and Marcus could see why.  “Even if I could - and I don’t know it’s possible, because what we’re doing is way beyond the kind of telepathy that everyone grows up using - it wouldn’t be admissible in court,” Marcus argued weakly, “It would be the equivalent of asking a… a clairvoyant or something!”

“Except you’re not a clairvoyant,” Declan reminded calmly and steadily, squeezing his hands around Marcus’s middle comfortingly, “You’re an incredibly gifted Omega.”

“I’m not sure that ‘gifted’ is the word for me creating a totally screwy link between my head and yours,” Marcus muttered, but he was already losing the argument and he knew it.  He wanted someone to know.  As terrible as it sounded, he wanted someone to share the burden of these memories with him - not only so someone else could tell him that he wasn’t either guilty or crazy, but so he could look at another person and know instantly, ‘Yes, they understand how much I’m still hurting after four years.’  

“But could you do it?” Declan coaxed, “For me?  I want to help.”  He also wrapped his arms a little higher, so that Marcus was sure his new Alpha could feel the thumping of his heart - if dreams transmitted that kind of thing.  

Just thinking about the fact that he now had an Alpha of his own again gave Marcus mixed feelings on opposite sides of the spectrum: on one hand, he’d had four years to learn what it meant for an Omega to be alone, so he was almost giddy every time he realized that he was part of a pack again, but on the other hand, he kept thinking of the wolf’s muzzle - his muzzle - tearing into his old Alpha, a vision that brought with it a tangle of horror and guilt.  

“Marcus?” Declan prompted, as gentle as the new breeze that was just rustling the heads of wheat.  

Curling closer to Declan and trying to absorb as much comfort as he could from this little world in his mind, Marcus closed his eyes and shakily replied, “Okay.  I’ll try.”

~^~

One thing had to be said for Fen’s birth-pack: they moved fast when family was involved.  By the time Liz and Kobi were allowed to visit Declan and Marcus, they already bore good news, namely that Mrs. Greywood was sending a lawyer down - and the rest of the pack would be soon to follow.  

“You father was a bit disturbed to hear about Clarissa, but I wasn’t sure how to explain this whole situation without bringing her up,” Liz said with a wince from where she and Kobi were sitting in chairs on the opposite side of a viewing window.  The local constabulary had allowed for the Werewolf rule of keeping an Alpha with his new pack-member, but they were otherwise taking no chances, and Marcus had had to submit to handcuffs again the moment they’d opened the cell door to escort him and Declan out for this visit.  A human would have been allowed handcuffs in front of him, but when dealing with someone who could shift his hands into paws, stricter measures had to be taken - in other words, Marcus now sat rather uncomfortably with his hands tightly restrained behind him.  If he shifted shape, his lupine form wouldn’t be able to handle the new posture without dislocating both shoulders.  It was a wise move on the part of the police, but it made it harder to try and feign normalcy.  It seemed like overkill, but considering that Marcus was accused of twelve counts of homicide - not to mention escaping jail - no one could be faulted.  

Declan dragged a hand heavily over his face at the mention of his aunt.  “I guess it was inevitable.  She's my dad’s sister, after all, so I guess I should just be lucky he hasn’t called her.”  Dropping his hands to his lap again, Declan added with wan optimism, “At least it seems like the order I gave her is still working, if she hasn’t gone and called the family about Marcus yet.”

“They seem excited to meet him,” Liz supplied.  Marcus immediately raised both eyebrows, surprised and disbelieving, but Liz refused to retract the statement.  In fact, she sat up straighter on her side of the glass and said with a smile, “You may not know it yet, Marcus, but you’ve gained yourself a whole new bunch of allies.  After what I told them, I think that a few people are already in danger of falling in love with you.”

Marcus’s expression grew more alarmed.  “God, what did you tell them?”

“That you’re adorable and already sleeping with their son.”

Marcus and Declan nearly had simultaneous heart-attacks, and the choking noises they made could only be loosely translated to shocked and horrified sentences.  The guards at the door looked alarmed until they heard Liz laughing, and also saw Kobi waving them off calmingly.  “What Liz really told them,” the other Beta was kind enough to take mercy on Marcus and Declan, “was that Marcus is fighting an unfair accusation of the murder of his pack, and that Declan has already assessed that he’s telling the truth about being innocent.  They know that you’re a victim, Marcus, and that you’re our friend.”

At being called a friend so easily, Marcus blinked and felt a sudden rush of emotion, knowing that Declan felt it, too, when the blond-haired Alpha next to him twitched a little.  It had been an exhausting night and day so far, but at least one success was that they were getting accustomed to the permanently ‘on’ empathic link - it was still there, but easier to ignore, like the ticking of a watch that you’d grown used to wearing.  Little things still burst through at embarrassing moments, like now, when Marcus was knock speechless by something so simple as the word ‘friend.’

“The lawyer should be here within an hour or so,” Kobi finished.  

~^~

Marcus got out of his cell a few more times to converse with the Greywood pack lawyer, who arrived almost exactly an hour later, dressed trimly as if he hadn’t just driven all the way from Declan’s home town to here - an overnight journey.  The young man seemed almost painfully posh with a droll expression that bespoke not only an ability but a desire to rip apart other people’s defenses, although he smiled smoothly enough when he and Marcus first met.  He accepted Marcus’s innocence without a hitch, and without ever giving any indication that his belief was part of his job or if he sincerely believed it.  

By and large, Marcus decided that he wasn’t a bad guy, but had no doubt that he’d be scary as hell in a courtroom despite his young age.

At the behest of both Declan and the Greywood lawyer (who was introduced as Alan Holt and had short-cut auburn hair so dark that the red tint only turned up in direct sunlight, and the lean but elegant body of a borzoi), Marcus was no longer handcuffed every moment he was let out of his cell.  Apparently there was legal precedent for keeping dangerous Werewolves with their hands restrained behind their backs, but with Declan taking official responsibility for him, Marcus threat-level was lowered to the point where he could at least be uncuffed in closed rooms.  Marcus did overhear one guard say, “If his lawyer is idiot enough to request to be in the room with a rabid dog - why not give him what he wants?”

Of course, both Declan and Holt had heard those same lines, and their heads had swiveled simultaneously even as Marcus had flinched and kept his head down.  

While something very close to murderous outrage had vibrated down the empathic link like an emotional growl, Holt had limbered up his tongue and had proven just why he was employed by one of the most influential packs in the United States.  

“As you’re obviously not a Werewolf, I’ll forgive you just this once for not realizing that even the softest voices carry.  However, if this is the level of professionalism you practice at all times, I can’t help but think that either your superior is unaware - in which case I should make a note of how cavalier you are regarding alleged criminals - or your superior is incompetent, in which case I’m not afraid to go higher up on the food chain,” Holt had said softly but smoothly, in a tone that reminded Marcus uneasily of a well-oiled rapier sliding out of its sheath.  To make it worse, the young man didn’t blink the entire time, his cognac-brown eyes measuring the guards and obviously finding them wanting as he sat across the table from them, long-fingered hands demurely folded.

The guards had left without a word, although with their faces flushed red and a definite scent of fear in the air.  All told, it was perhaps the wisest course of action.

Telling his story to Alan Holt was harder than telling it to Declan, but it had to be done.  For his part, Declan said nothing, keeping his mouth carefully shut so as not to disrupt the painful story.  Haltingly, Marcus told it from start to finish, swallowing his emotions down and wondering if there would ever come a day when these memories wouldn’t feel like a whole briar-bush going down his throat.  His knuckles were white on the arms of his chair by the time he was finished, and it was only the constant influx of Declan’s emotions - compassion, sorrow, determination, and a sun-bright, sun-hot emotion that could only be pride - that kept him from breaking down during the most painful parts of the retelling.  Holt was quiet, too, fingers laced together in front of his mouth and face expressionless but intensly watchful.

Finally, after Marcus forcibly relaxed his bowstring-taut muscles and sat  back with a ragged sigh - finding Declan’s arm waiting behind him, immediately wrapping over his shoulders - Holt spoke, “Mr. Greywood-Fen, would you be willing to swear right now that your Omega was not lying at any point in this discussion?”

“Of course.”  Declan’s face and voice were smooth, but Marcus noticed that the Alpha bridled a bit at being asked.  His protectiveness was fierce and warm, and Marcus tugged on the emotion as if it were a blanket he could wrap around himself.  Declan squeezed his shoulder in response.  

Bringing out a paper as if by magic for Declan to do just that, Holt went on, “If it were up to me, that would be enough - unfortunately, there have been cases in the past of Alphas lying to hide the falsehoods of their pack-members, and not everyone in this world is a Werewolf.  To that effect, I’ve got to ask you some questions now to clarify.”

Holt was not a gentle person by nature, but he was practical and knew the difference between doing a thorough job and being mercilessly cruel.  Therefore, the interrogation that followed was only as painful as it had to be, and on the occasions when Marcus had to stop and just breathe - head in his hands, breathing ratcheting up to unhealthy speeds - the lawyer would sit quietly as if someone had pushed ‘Pause’ on him.  With Declan there as a source of emotional support and Holt being largely analytical, pressing for facts but not for sore-spots, this second, more grueling bit of storytime was survived without crying or panic-attacks.  Marcus still felt on the verge of both, and didn’t know whether he was grateful for Holt’s help or if he viciously hated the man for making him relive this in such detail.  

And the worst part was, he knew that he’d have to relive it again, because he and Declan were starting to get better at this dream-sharing business.  

~^~

It felt like it took forever before Marcus was finally brought before the bail magistrate, although everyone was speeding the process up as much as they could.  Being a newly minted Omega in Declan’s pack helped a lot, actually, with all of his allies citing the ‘fragility of the new bond’ and therefore keeping Declan with him basically twenty-four seven and away from undue stresses such as the press. It also meant that Declan himself only got the briefest of chats with his family when they also arrived, but it was enough to make him feel more powerful - he had not only his own little pack behind him, but all of the Greywoods and the Fens at his back.  He was actually rather eager to introduce Marcus to them formally.

Of course, no one outside of their small pack knew that Marcus’s link with Declan was anything but weak.  Therefore, Declan felt Marcus’s pain acutely as he was charged with twelve counts of murder, one count of resisting arrest, two counts of obstruction of justice, four counts of evading arrest, as well as charges from assorted jurisdictions that included: seven counts of disorderly conduct, two counts of shoplifting, and three counts of panhandling.  Declan, who was swiftly learning more of the nitty-gritty details of Marcus’s past four years than he thought he could handle, knew that the majority of those charges came from run-ins with other Alphas - in fact, if Marcus’s status as a packless Omega hadn’t had so many Alpha Werewolves out for his blood, he might have avoided the law almost entirely.  There was also starvation to take into account, of course, as Marcus had admitted shamefacedly that jobs weren’t always easy to come by while on the run, so he’d done a good number of shady things to keep himself fed, and digging around in dumpsters for scraps had not always been an option.  The murder charges, however, he maintained vociferously to be false.

Hearing the charges was hard, but Declan actually swayed with the impact of Marcus’s disappointment when the magistrate denied him bail.  

“Milo Marcus Rushton, you have been charged with multiple capital crimes, making you a danger to the community, and have proven yourself to be a flight risk,” the magistrate stated with all the solidity of a lead anvil, his expression not only immovable but faintly showing outrage at this whole proceeding.  Marcus’s disappointment had given way to a cornered sort of fury that felt like static charges down the link, and where his hands were once again manackled behind his back, his fingers had curled into fists so tight that they shook.  Declan frustratedly reflected that if people really thought Marcus was so violent, then they should be expecting violence now, because if the smaller Werewolf didn’t get wild under strain like this, he likely never would.  

Of course, Declan wasn’t in a position to speak, even as Marcus’s Alpha.  

But Holt was another matter.  

“Your Honor,” Holt addressed when he was given the floor, his voice mild as ever but holding a Pandora’s box of trouble beneath the benign lid, “Ignoring for a moment the precedent of releasing wolves into the custody of their packs, may I ask just how Mr. Rushton is considered a flight risk?”

The magistrate looked at Holt as if he were daft, and Declan almost giggled.  Marcus, noticing the flicker of sudden, giddy amusement, glanced over with a bewildered look.  Declan sent back telepathically as he hid a smile with his hand, ‘Just watch.  I’ve seen Holt at work before, and he’s just getting started.’  

“Barely a day into his initial incarceration, after being arrested for twelve counts of homicide,” the magistrate answered after an annoyed sigh, stressing the murder charges, “your client escaped custody and has been on the run ever since, for four entire years.”

Holt was now smiling politely, and it was just about the funniest damn thing Declan had ever seen, because he knew that Holt’s smile was not unlike that of a crocodile: capable of grinning and biting at the same time.  He was so excruciatingly polite that he could be a bore at social functions, but it was fun to see all of that lazy charm being put to its intended purpose: lulling opponents into a false sense of security.  “Your Honor, my client’s new Alpha, Mr. Declan Fen, has reported that the last, and only, time he has run with Mr. Rushton, the Omega in question was far below the usual expectations for Werewolf agility.  While on his own, Mr. Rushton has been living a less than ideal life.”

“As I can see by the charges of stealing.”

Pending charges,” Holt enunciated, teeth flashing, although he turned it into a smile.  “But Your Honor, have you ever considered what such a life would do to even a durable Werewolf body?”  Glancing back and catching Declan’s eye, who nodded, Holt stretched a hand out to Marcus while asking, “Your Honor, if I may, I’d like to show you why my client is not a flight risk, as well as less dangerous than you seem to believe.”

Marcus had been vaguely briefed on how this would go, but everyone had been hoping that it wouldn’t come to this.  There were plenty of cases where Werewolves were remanded into the custody of their packs, and in the most extreme cases, two packs - just to ensure that everyone was held accountable.  Since the Fen side of Declan’s family was also on its way, this could be easily done, but apparently only if Holt showed a few more cards.

The fact that those cards included Marcus made Declan a little sick to his stomach.

At the magistrate’s allowance, Marcus came to stand by Holt, looking even smaller than usual next to the tall Werewolf and with his own posture imploded with anxiety and a desire to be anywhere but here.  ‘It’s okay,’ Declan reassured the only way he knew how, repeating the phrase as Holt continued to play his audience.  

“I know it’s hard to believe, but even Werewolves can suffer from very human maladies - such as malnutrition,” Holt explained as docilely as he’d said everything else, as if he were sitting in a lounge reciting bad baroquian poetry, “Also keep in mind that my client had just lost his entire pack, an event that is not only deeply emotionally and psychologically traumatic but also physically dangerous for Omegas like himself.  Are you aware that it’s instinct for Alphas to attack Omegas if they sense that they are without a pack?  It’s an instinctual, evolutionary response, meant to keep a pack safe from outside influence.”

The magistrate was starting to look leery, and although he didn’t answer either way, it was fairly clear that this was either new to him or something he hadn’t considered.  

Holt turned to Marcus as if just noticing him and pleased to find him magically there.  “Mr. Rushton, if you would be so kind as to remove your shirt?”  A gesture and a few more words called a guard over, with keys to remove the cuffs on Marcus's hands.  

Trepidation, anxiety, and a sick sort of shame filled Marcus like tarry smoke even before his hands were freed, and Declan had to work very hard not to cough or gag as it rolled involuntarily into his head, too.  As Declan struggled to keep his own emotions positive and reassuring, Marcus complied, reaching down and grabbing the hem of his shirt hesitantly for a moment before skinning it off when the magistrate didn’t stop him.  The magistrate actually gasped when the article of clothing was removed, revealing Marcus’s bare torso and all the scars that were hidden there.  

Holt had already seen it, but Declan - who was watching - still saw the brief, minute widening of the lawyer’s eyes before he carefully controlled his expression again.  It was a shock, even when seen for the second time.  Since Werewolves were naturally such fast healers, all of them were conditioned to expect smooth skin on one of their own kind, with the exception of very serious injuries.  The fact that Marcus was littered with them was downright disturbing.  Even to a human, it was enough to have the magistrate sitting back and gaping for a moment.  

“Some of these wounds are recent,” Holt went on, voice even quieter than before because one could have heard a pin drop in this atmosphere.  Careful not to touch - both out of respect for Declan’s not-particularly-subtle claim on Marcus, and because Marcus was just about fragile enough to fall apart at the moment - Holt indicated the wounds that Clarissa had given Marcus.  His explanation was purposefully vague because everyone had agreed that dragging Clarissa into this would only make matters worse, not better, “Mr. Fen actually witnessed these wounds being inflicted, and he’d be willing to state, under oath, that Mr. Rushton did practically nothing to defend himself even when he nearly had his throat taken out.”  Holt’s long fingers rose to Marcus’s neck, where the fading scars of Clarissa’s teeth made a cruel counterpoint to the bonding-bite still vibrantly marking the other side.  The magistrate had thankfully been briefed on that particular mark, although Marcus’s shirt-collar had been hiding it, too.  

“As you can see, the trauma that Marcus has suffered didn’t end at the loss of his pack or the horror of being blamed for their murders - it extended to every day afterwards.  I should also note,” Holt raised a finger, “that the only way for Werewolves to scar this badly is for them to have severely compromised health.  Mr. Rushton has been diagnosed as malnourished and underweight, and out of fear, he also has rarely transformed and run like a Werewolf should in the past four years, meaning he also has significantly less muscle mass and general endurance.”  Marcus’s embarrassment tripled, but it was all for the best: the magistrate was startingd to look more sympathetic, or at least shocked.  “Combine this with the fact that both the Greywood and elder-Fen packs are willing to take responsibility for Mr. Rushton, and I can’t honestly believe that there’s any chance of Mr. Rushton running.”  Then Holt’s  voice dropped, and it went from a conversational tenor to a thunder-low base so fast that it was almost physically startling, especially from so slender a man.  The magistrate paid close attention as Holt said, “Also, in labeling Mr. Rushton as a danger to the community, I’d like to note that beside the counts of alleged murder, which my client denies, the only other violent crime charges against him can be relegated to self-defense.  Combine that with the fact that he’ll barely even do that when attacked-”  Again he indicated the marks Clarissa had left, and Declan’s head swam as he felt an echo of Marcus’s helpless fear at just the memory.  “-And I believe that you’ve no grounds upon which to deny my client bail.”  

And so it was that Marcus’s bail was set.  

And so it also was that the Greywood pack paid it without so much as batting an eye at the astronomical price, proving quite solidly now that they supported Marcus - or at least they supported Declan’s choice in pack-members.  With documents signed that legally made Declan Fen, Moira Greywood, and Leander Fen all responsible for keeping tabs on one Milo Marcus Rushton, Marcus was eventually released from jail.  

At that exact moment, as the two of them walked out to meet Liz and Kobi, Declan wasn’t sure what worried him most: the legal fight ahead…

Or the realization that he was about to introduce someone who was potentially his boyfriend to his entire family.

~^~

 

Chapter Text

As they stepped out into the midday sun, Declan smiled wanly at the sight of Marcus scratching at his inner arm.  Declan’s own right forearm was still a tad tender, but he could understand why the court had demanded that the chips be inserted subcutaneously.  For any human person of interest, a tracking anklet would serve just fine, but when it came to a person who could also transform into another animal entirely, the idea of fixed anklets was ultimately tossed.  The subcutaneous chips would at least stay with their wearers through every change in shape, and while it was less effective for actively tracking someone (by dint of the fact that the chips were obviously smaller), the court had decided that this was safety enough.  Having the word of three Alphas, saying that they’d watch Marcus, helped.

Marcus, of course, disliked the whole idea on principle, and Declan would have felt terrible for him if he didn’t find the Omega’s disgruntled whine somewhat adorable.  It sounded precisely as it would in Marcus’s lupine form, and while some people no doubt found Marcus’s feral tendencies unsettling… Declan liked them.  It was like there was no split in Marcus, no true delineation between when he was human and when he was wolf.

Fortunately for Declan, they met up with Liz and Kobi before Marcus could notice the threads of fond amusement woven through Declan’s sympathy.

“Your chariot awaits,” Liz said brightly, getting out of her car and indicating back to it with a brisk bow.  Kobi remained in the passenger seat, but could be seen hiding a smirk behind a casual swipe of his hand.  Liz immediately straightened and rushed forward, gathering Marcus into a hug that outwardly startled him and made him stiffen, but Declan was glad for the persistent emotional link, because it allowed him to feel the overflowing warmth of gratitude and affection that infused the Omega’s mind as he was wrapped in willowy arms.  Not in the least bit bothered at the lack of a returning hug, Liz eventually pulled back, looking so happy and relieved that it was palpable.  “If anyone else asks, I’ll deny it, but I seriously missed you two while you were having sleepovers in jail.”

“I won’t deny it,” Kobi called out laconically through the open window.

While Declan stood a little straighter at being missed, Marcus at least stopped itching at the chip under his skin and got into the car.  Everyone else followed suit, happy beyond words to be leaving the jail behind them.  “So, where are we headed?” Declan asked, sitting forward.  He was pretty sure that they were going to visit his family, but since this wasn’t precisely his home town or theirs, he had no idea where that meeting would take place.

“Actually…”  Liz said, and then pointed ahead of them triumphantly as a sleek black car pulled out and flashed its lights before moving slowly away from them.  The redheaded young woman followed.  “Your lawyer friend’s been working double-time – not only has he been defending Marcus, but he also found a few spare moments to get a place for your folks.”  She glanced back significantly in the mirror, raising her eyebrows when Declan’s tawny eyes rose to meet hers.  “He must have had a time of it, because that’s two packs.  Two.  I think that from what I heard, only some were left behind to watch things, and that still left an entourage of over a dozen Werewolves.”

Marcus sat forward with a flash of surprise, blue eyes widening in clear disbelief.  “Seriously, Declan?  I thought it was just your parents and your aunt who were coming, to show support.”

“My family has never been averse to overkill,” Declan admitted, choosing his words and only admitting to himself that this was a bit extravagant even for his parents and for Aunt Moira.  He wasn’t sure why exactly they’d each brought their packs with them, but he suspected that it meant they definitely supported him inducting Milo Marcus Rushton into his pack.  This was the equivalent of them all accepting him, and protecting him now like one of their own – with all of their amassed strength.  It was unexpectedly humbling.  “I’m also the favorite of the family,” he added, if only as a believable – and coincidentally true – excuse.  When Marcus turned to look at him curiously, Declan was forced to explain, blushing uncomfortably, “Aunt Moira hasn’t been able to have any kids, and her sister – my mother – has only had me, so sometimes… well… the maternal instincts from both sides overflow my way.”

“What he means to say,” Liz chuckled as she continued to follow Holt's sports-car into traffic, “is that his Aunt Moira doesn’t have anyone else to smother and has enjoyed doting on him since before he could walk.”

“You didn’t even know me as a child,” Declan accused, in a tone that was most definitely not petulant.  He cut a glance at the other Beta in the passenger seat, hardening his tone a little to add, “Kobi did, but if he speaks up, I’m going to tell my cousin on my dad’s side that you’ve got a motorcycle and will gladly give rides to young, impressionable, and coincidentally smitten young girls.

Kobi, to his credit, didn’t flinch.  He did, however, raise a belaying hand and promise sagely, “You won’t hear a word from me about how you grew up with two mothers.”

By this point, a lot of Marcus’s anxiety had gotten tangled up in humor, to the point where the latter was starting to strangle out the former.  His nose had even started to wrinkle up around a well-restrained grin.  It was still frustrating and more than a bit worrisome the way that Marcus bottled things up, but years of being self-contained and constantly guarded wouldn’t be fixed in a couple of days – or probably even in months, Declan realized.  It sobered him, but at the same time made him increasingly eager to show off Marcus to his family and not only let his kin know that this new person was important to him, but also show Marcus that he could have a family again, a family that spread beyond just Declan, Kobi, and Liz.

Hoyt led them almost to the edge of town, finally turning down a long driveway paved in white stone, a manicured lawn appearing as soon as they passed between vine-covered brick walls.  Liz whistled.  “I need to have this lawyer set me up with a vacation spot sometime,” she marveled, “What did you say his name was again?”

“Alan Holt,” Declan replied distractedly as he, too, blinked at the place.  It sported a yard massive enough to temporarily house a family gathering of Werewolves, and indeed, a few four-legged shapes immediately trotted into view.  He saw Holt wave out his window, and one wolf immediately spun and loped on ahead, towards a building that could only be called a mansion.  The remaining three wolves were little more than pups, and started running alongside the car.

Marcus immediately started to get nervous.  He drew self-consciously away from the window even as he looked out it with caution ruling his every move.  It was as if he were afraid of even this preemptive glimpse of the Werewolves ahead of them, and it made Declan’s heart crack painfully to see (and feel) Marcus so afraid even when he’d been repeatedly assured that this meeting would go well.  It was more than a simple meet-and-greet, of course – on multiple levels – but it was sad that Marcus didn’t know any other way to respond except for defensively.  Declan tried to emote waves of reassurance, but it was like Marcus was ignoring him.

Soon they were parked, Holt’s tall frame sliding out of his car with a natural grace that belied his long limbs.  The sunny day picked out the red in his dark hair and turned the cognac-brown of his eyes to an almost orange color as he glanced back, but as soon as he confirmed that his job as guide was finished, he took off into the house – presumably to avoid the tumble of young Werewolves that was starting to swarm the vehicles.  Declan didn’t recognize some of the youngsters until they began transforming back into their human selves, all grinning hugely and looking a lot older than when he’d seen them last.

“Come on, Marcus,” Declan called quietly, but with a reassuring smile, snagging Marcus’s wrist.  Despite Marcus’s ‘don’t-make-me-go-out-there’ look of desperation, Declan firmed up his grip and tugged him along in his wake as he opened the door to see family members that he hadn’t visited with in what felt like eons.

Declan had never really doubted that the youngest Werewolves would be as accepting as… well… a bunch of friendly puppies… but he’d never expected them to come out all this way, so the surprise was universal.  These were Fen-pack youngsters, two girls and a boy who’d shot up like weeds since Declan had last seen them, and they swarmed Declan.  Kobi, having also been Fen-pack born before leaving with Declan, received similar treatment when he got out.  Liz followed along calmly, her nature unfazed by three rambunctious children, but Marcus immediately drew in close to Declan’s side and watched the kids with worry.  He was deeply insecure about his position in this world, and Declan could feel it like a mortal ache in his chest, one that sharpened when the youngest of the little girls came so close that she nearly stood on his toes.  While she gazed up at Marcus’s face with a guileless, gap-toothed grin, the Omega turned away, painfully nervous, and backed up as if afraid of touching and breaking something he wasn’t supposed to.

Marcus was very nearly hiding behind Declan’s back by the time a familiar base voice rang out from the doorway, “You’ll never make it in the door at this rate, son!”

Marcus was pressed close enough that Declan could feel his body tense even as the Omega spun around, fixing on Leander Fen standing and smiling on the porch of their temporary residence.  Declan turned more naturally, and for a moment he couldn’t even sense Marcus’s continued trepidation as his own mood brightened.  His mother soon stepped into view at Leander’s side, grinning her familiar, wry smile as she clapped her hands at the children, “Come on, the lot of you!  It’s time to wash up and eat anyway, and Declan’s pack will still be here when you’re clean.  Come on!”

The children gave the new faces lingering, longing looks before doing as they were commanded, the boy pausing when Kobi ruffled his hair, radiating crystal-clear contentment in a way that said he loved the attention.  Declan was pretty sure that that was Marya’s boy, a little Omega who’d always been voraciously hungry for contact like a flower was for the sun.  He looked to be blossoming now, and chased contentedly after his pack-sisters at Mrs. Fen’s behest.  Natalya and Leander Fen stayed on the porch, however, obviously drinking in the sight of their son and his small, young pack.  He hoped that they were proud.

Leander Fen was a big man, as Alphas tended to be, and Declan had gotten his gold-brown eyes from him.  The older Alpha’s hair was darker, however, except where the sun had streaked it in places and where age had striped grey through his beard.  He was still a muscular, robust man, and would doubtlessly be so for years to come.  His wife, Beta Natalya Greywood-Fen, was made of curves where he had angles, her frame built with a generous hand.  She had a friendly smile that had tolerated Declan at his worst and just about overflowed his heart when she praised him with that smile at his best.  She’d cut her honey-blonde hair short recently, and it clung in crisp, gentle waves against her head, complementing skin that was tanned from a life spent primarily out-of-doors.

Both Leander and Natalya Fen had smile-wrinkles that they showed liberally as Kobi and Liz gathered around Declan and Marcus, creating a little portrait of a new, tightly-knit family.

Marcus was still virtually humming with apprehension, standing with all of the spring-loaded poise of a deer.  He watched the elder Fens awkwardly, too long alone having eroded his memory of how to interact with others of his own kind.  Declan gave him a physical nudge and a reassuring emotional nudge, but all that served to do was get Marcus to look at him, a miserable war of nerves taking place in his thoughts and his expression.

Before Declan could figure out how best to deal with the situation in a way that wouldn’t embarrass anyone or exacerbate Marcus’s unease further – because beneath it all, he could sense the other young man’s desperate need to be liked, to be accepted – he heard someone else approach from the miniature forest of trees on the property’s east side.  Everyone’s head turned just in time to see a magnificently large, steel-grey wolf trot into view, her every paw-step fluid and full of confidence that bordered on arrogance.  Declan couldn’t help but smile, because he knew that his aunt Moira had every right to be a bit proud.

While still a few meters away, she transformed, regaining her bipedal shape with a supple stretch.  Whereas Natalya’s hair had stayed blonde all these years, her younger sister Moira’s had gone from grey-streaked to almost completely white in just the past few years.  ‘Prematurely grey,’ Moira had labeled it while making a face, but ‘grey’ was definitely a misnomer when it was so pale.  Her hair always looked a bit rough and windblown, some of it perhaps going brittle with the wear and tear of the years, but it still made a nice-looking tail when she tied it back, as she had it now.  Her sharp grey eyes flicked from face to face with accipitrine intensity, but then she smiled, putting hands on hips.  While Natalya had motherly curves, Moira was instead more muscular, and her body moved with an ease that went beyond natural Werewolf limberness.  “I’m hoping I haven’t missed the introduction to my favorite nephew’s boyfriend?”

While Marcus turned a rather horrifying shade of red, Declan called back his usual answer, “I’m your only nephew, so I hope that I’m your favorite.”

When Moira laughed, it was a fearless noise, and she chuckled freely now even as she stalked closer.  Declan finally gave into the urge to wrap an arm around Marcus’s back, if only because he sincerely feared that the Omega would make a run for it, proximity-chips and court-orders be damned.  Marcus had been having a hard enough time dealing with harmless pups and Declan’s admirably laid-back parents, but Aunt Moira was neither harmless nor laid-back.  If there was a reason that the Greywood name had remained so powerful, it was because she made it so, her confident attitude matched only by her head for pack politics and her utter ruthlessness when something threatened her or her pack.

Ostensibly, she’d already accepted Marcus within that circle of her protection, but Marcus hadn’t been given reason to believe that yet, and Moira moved like a wolf even when she was on two legs.

“Aunt Moira, you already know Kobi and Liz,” Declan introduced in a calm and quiet tone, purposefully deciding not to mimic Moira’s boisterousness.  Out of the corner of his eye, he not only saw his mother and father watching carefully, but also another wolf further back in the trees – following in Moira’s footsteps but further behind.  He was nearly as black as Declan was as a wolf, but Declan knew him to be more sable-colored, and with white on his chin and toes.  Generally, those ‘domesticated’ traits were taken as signs of poor breeding, but Declan had always pitied those who looked down on or underestimated this Werewolf.  His name was Seth Loch – Seth Loch-Greywood, to be precise, and if Moira hadn’t married him for pure love then she’d married him to spite those who looked down on him.  Declan was sure that love had at least something to do with it, because the only thing more dangerous than Moira was Moira and her Omega husband together.  Right now, however, he was just watching quietly from the shadows, his canine body-language and moss-green eyes giving nothing away.

His hand sliding up Marcus’s back to squeeze his far shoulder, Declan murmured quietly but firmly, “And this is Milo Marcus Rushton.  Marcus, this is my aunt, Moira Greywood.”

If Marcus had been a wolf right now, his ears would have been flat against his head, and Declan could feel him breathing swiftly and shallowly in the lee of his arm.  It was lucky that Moira liked to take the reins in a conversation, because Marcus never would have taken the lead – the older Alpha flashed another, intrigued smile and stretched out a friendly hand, “So this is the famous Mr. Rushton.  Do you mind if I call you Marcus?”

This was going to force Marcus to finally use his tongue, and Declan looked over at him worriedly.  Fortunately, instead of mentally calling for help, Marcus cleared his throat and wet his lips before reaching out to tentatively take Moira’s hand.  “I don’t mind,” he said.  Declan had to hide a wince, because he knew Marcus’s tone as the excruciatingly polite, submissive one that he’d first used when forced into close contact with Kobi, Liz, and himself.  There was probably nothing for it now, however, until Marcus relaxed on his own.

Aunt Moira seemed contented, though, and as she dropped Marcus’s hand, Declan’s mother and father took their cue to descend the steps and exchange cordial handshakes as well – cordial on Marcus’s part, probably friendly on Leander and Natalya’s part, but a positive first meeting over all.  Declan had to leave Marcus’s side just enough to give all three of his family members hugs, but nothing catastrophic happened in those seconds.  Of course, for the first hug, he actually felt Marcus’s hand brush his back, as if reassuring himself that Declan was still within reach.  By the time Declan had finished his last embrace, Marcus had backed off a bit, but probably only because Kobi had slung a heavy arm over his shoulders and was half comforting him, half holding him in place.  Marcus looked so small in that moment, almost as slim and light as Liz, and with his blue eyes so painfully uncertain of everything around him.  He ducked Kobi’s arm and came forward immediately, however, when Declan stretched a hand towards him invitingly.  Declan could see instantly how this won points with his family, because it wasn’t exactly required that every new pack-member be absolutely obedient right from the start, and yet Marcus was as attentive to Declan as if he’d walked years by his side.

“The rest of our pack should be getting ready to eat,” Natalya said, her voice low but warm.  Something sparkled in her eyes as she glanced at her younger sister, however, adding, “But I think that Moira’s kith and kin are still out exploring.”

“Don’t worry, none of us want to miss lunch,” Moira assured with a slantwise grin.  Some telepathic speech must have ensued, because barely a beat later and everyone was alerted to Seth's presence: the white-marked black wolf tipped his head back and let out an echoing howl.

Assured that everything was in hand, Natalya turned back to Marcus.  Indecision only flickered in her dark-grey eyes for a second before she gave him a smile, too, and said quite gently, “And you know, Marcus, that you are of course welcome at our table.  Declan?”

Declan immediately straightened, as he had since he, too, was a pup and his mother’s word was law.

“You do plan on staying here, yes?”

Natalya had barely finished asking when the next most memorable icon from Declan’s childhood called out from still inside the house, voice cracked with age but still as firm as a hickory stick.  “Of course the boy is!  This is family – and he doesn’t live here anymore than we do!”

Everyone except Liz (who was originally from another pack, lured away by Kobi’s love) and Seth (who was still wolf-shaped and less capable of laughing) immediately tried to stifle chortles, Moira even going so far as to cover her mouth with her hand, even if her eyes crinkled with laughter above it.  Kobi’s usually stoic expression was lost entirely, and in a rare show of emotion, a grin ate up his entire face.

Before Marcus could ask what was going on, the wind shifted and everyone smelled a third Omega – the elder-Fen pack’s Omega, Melba Claudette Smith-Lancaster.  She was older than the hills and came from two family lines with no more prestige than a bucket of slops, but a smarter, more vibrant, prouder old woman the world had never seen.  Now, she came hobbling out of the house, bent in half and thumping her gnarled cane across the deck.  The whole shaft of the cane was smooth, because all of the Fen pups liked to touch it and hold onto it (never pulling), keeping ‘Old Melba’ company wherever she went.  She hadn’t changed an iota since Declan had last seen her, from her tight frizz of curly, snow-white hair to her bright eyes nearly hidden amidst wizened-apple wrinkles.

One thing that had changed, however, was that Declan was now old and wise enough himself to detect when she extended her empathy across the group, radiating calmness like the gentlest blanket of cool fog.  Next to him, Marcus shuddered and then relaxed, his mind sending Declan wordless signals of impressed surprise.  ‘I’ve never met an Omega as powerful as her,’ Declan sent back telepathically, proud of his adopted grandmother even if he was no longer officially part of her pack.  ‘They tell stories about her as a young woman – how she got into the middle of a pack-war, and literally stopped it, all by herself.  She becalmed an entire battlefield, and then scorned both packs.  That’s how she’s an Omega under my father’s rule now – because she demanded to be released from her old pack.’  Declan reflected on the stories, and smirked in impish glee.  ‘I believe she told them that any Werewolves stupid enough to fight each other like children over the last cookie didn’t deserve her respect, or her presence.  Regardless, they made peace after that.  But her first pack had to release a powerful Omega.’

Too late, Declan realized what Marcus would take fromm that story: it implied that Melba was temporarily packless, as he’d been only she somehow did it by choice.  A more terrifyingly ludicrous situation Marcus probably couldn’t fathom, and it showed on his face when he whipped around to demand, ‘She demanded to be released from her pack-bonds-?!’ He didn’t get to keep going though, because everyone else was still talking, ignorant of the tiny conversation that had just started to go nuclear.

“Melba, did you set up rooms for them?” Leander asked, probably trying to make it clear that he didn’t like people doing things behind his back, but mostly just sounding fondly amused.  No one argued with Melba if they knew what was good for them, and Leander was a wise man himself.

Thump-thump went Melba’s worn cane on the deck, and somewhere amidst her wrinkles, she perhaps smiled.  “That I did.  I also have something else to say.”

Her tone was so firm that Declan felt Marcus tensing up again, and he reached his arm out to give his shoulders another squeeze of reassurance.  If Declan knew Melba – and he was pretty sure he did – then there was no way that she’d show an ounce of unkindness towards someone she’d just met, much less someone whom she knew to be having a hard time in life.  Considering that Marcus’s last interaction with an Omega had been with Declan’s aunt Clarissa, however… perhaps his wariness in that category was understandable as well.  Declan winced both in sympathy for what his own aunt had done to Marcus (nearly murdering him) and in dread for the conversation he was doubtlessly going to have with his father about why he was returning with a new Omega but minus Rob Karly and Leander’s sister.  A fun talk that would not be…

Still with that warm tone that spoke of years spent in one another’s company, Leander replied pateintly, “And what is that?”

Without missing a beat, Old Melba replied with another thump of her cane for emphasis, “If you don’t all come in, a certain old lady is going to starve, and you sure as heck don’t want to see my dried out old husk curled up on the kitchen floor like some expired cockroach.”  And with that, she shuffled around with a swishing of layered pastel skirts and thump-thump-thumped back into the house.

Shocked and clearly unsure what to make of this, Marcus leaned closer to Declan’s ear to whisper out loud, “So… that’s your grandmother?”

“No,” Declan corrected, then snorted and shook his head in a marveling fashion, “But I damn sure wish she was.  Come on, we indeed cannot let Melba starve.”

~^~

Lunch went… surprisingly well.  The Greywoods and the Fens didn’t get together but once in a blue moon, but they coexisted well when they did, apparently.  The Fens numbered ten including the three children, and Moira had brought twelve, adding up to more than Declan had been lead to believe.  With Holt and Declan’s little crew also dining, that made for almost thirty hungry Werewolves descending upon the table at once.  It turned out that this house was owned by the nearest resident pack, and therefore about as equipped to handle such numbers as any building should be – apparently Holt had seen a resource in Miss Ada, and through her had gotten into contact with her pack, the Kinley pack.  While both Moira and Leander commanded over twenty wolves each back home, the Kinley pack numbered at eighteen at the moment, but had invested in enough properties to loan one out for awhile.  Declan’s family was, of course, monetarily grateful.

Grateful or not, the dining area had no hope of ever feeding thirty Werewolves at once, so a buffet was instead the eating-method of choice.

Everyone mingled and chattered as they filled their plates, most of them proceeding to find niches to eat in either around the house or outside.  By default, that meant a lot of Werewolves brushing shoulders with Marcus, and that upset him so badly that before he’d even gotten to the food, Declan had to drag him off to another room.  Declan wasn’t sure exactly what precisely had set it off, but by the time Declan closed the door on both of them, Marcus was hyperventilating, his shoulders hunched up so high around his ears that it looked like it hurt.

“Marcus – Marcus, it’s all right.  You’re okay now,” Declan soothed, not caring what words came out of his mouth so much as the sense behind him, the calming influence he was trying to radiate down the empathic link they shared.  Marcus still saw the permanent link as a curse, a deformity latched onto both of their minds, but Declan would happily call it a blessing if it would draw Marcus back from the panic attack he’d tumbled into.  Marcus had his face in his hands, breathing raggedly against his palms, and he paced in blind little circles while seeming immune to Declan’s words.

Or maybe not entirely immune.  The utter fright and panic coming off Marcus like heat off a kiln stuttered for a second, a break in the clouds that let a ray of something like sanity through.  That bit of sanity came out via broken sentences and stuttered words, all say haltingly, “She… She came up and…”  Marcus’s shoulder bumped up against the wall and he slid along it for a moment, leaning more heavily as his legs shook.  When Declan came up and stood helplessly beside him, Marcus pressed his palms hard against his eyes and tried again, “Sh-sh-she touched my neck.  The bite-mark.  She said…”  Marcus keened, high and distressed, and Declan couldn’t stop himself from taking hold of both the Omega’s shoulders and drawing him away from where he’d huddled himself against the wall.  Fortunately, Marcus came willingly, folding like a wet origami figure into Declan’s chest and whimpering out against the hollow of his throat, “She said it…it…it was beautiful, but I-!  I didn’t-!  I can’t-!”  The next word should have been ‘breathe,’ because the hyperventilation got worse, and Declan had to frantically talk Marcus through the simple act of inhaling and exhaling for the next few moments.  By now, Liz and Kobi were asking telepathically whether everything was all right, and Declan did his best to explain and reassure them even as he deal with the crisis to the best of his admittedly inexperienced capabilities.  He also wracked his mind for who might have reached out to stroke the bite-mark that Declan had left on Marcus’s neck, because while it wasn’t precisely rude, it was a rather bold thing to do – not unlike overtly complimenting someone on a love-bite, honestly.  Declan had been watching Marcus like a hawk, and it took only a bit of thinking to recall Susan Fowler-Fen walking by Marcus and smiling, and her arm stretching out in what Declan had thought was a shoulder-pat.  Susan was Declan’s cousin on his father’s side, and the same one who had chased (and still did occasionally chase) Kobi relentlessly even when it was clear that he had his eyes set on a certain red-haired girl from another pack.  Sighing, Declan decided that he’d have to have a talk with Susan, who was a bit too forward for her own good, and a natural fighter besides – she’d learn better when she got older, but in the meantime, he didn’t want her inadvertently pushing Marcus’s fragile boundaries until they broke.  “I know that she meant it as a compliment, Marcus, because it means that you’re mine and I won’t let you go,” Declan said, once Marcus was breathing evenly again and folded up right to the young Alpha’s broad chest, “but she won’t do it again, I promise.”

Marcus whimpered a little and shifted uneasily, but since Declan wasn’t all that interested in letting him wriggle away, Marcus gave up after a moment and sagged closer.  It brought his head up alongside Declan’s, and also inadvertently let Declan’s breath ghost across those same imprints of his teeth – now a very lovely shade of purple and rose.  Fortunately, Marcus didn’t startle this time, but instead shivered a little and pulled in a slightly more controlled breath.

“God, I wish I could just disappear into your head right now,” the Omega eventually admitted in a hoarse, low voice, words a bit wet from almost crying.

Declan chuckled just a little at the odd compliment, but dared to stroke his hands up and down Marcus’s back, curling his fingers with possessive reassurance against the slimmer young man’s arched shoulder-blades.  “I’m glad you’re still eager to do that, considering that the last time we shared head-space, you brought up some pretty painful memories for me,” Declan conversed quietly.

Again, Marcus shivered, the little tremor running down his back beneath Declan’s splayed hands.  “It had to be done.  You were right – I needed to show someone what happened,” Marcus replied breathlessly.  He sounded like he was trying to convince himself as much as anything, and spoke quickly as if to outrun the knife-sharp pain of the event.  “If only so that I knew I wasn’t going crazy, or just remembering things wrong.”

“You’re not crazy,” Declan admonished, and finally gave into the urge to turn his head, just pressing his closed lips against the bruise he’d made.  It was a light touch, and probably felt more in his warm, steady exhales.  For a moment, that was what the whole world condensed to: the slow synchronization of their breaths as Marcus held himself so very still beneath Declan’s hands.  Compared to what they’d shared in dreams – both the unexpectedly erotic one and the educational one that had contained Marcus’s memories of what had happened prior to him becoming a fugitive – this was hardly intimate, but somehow it felt as intimate as letting their souls fall into sync.  By the time the moment passed, Marcus was hugging Declan back, his fingertips scratching at the Alpha’s ribs through his shirt.

“Ready to go back out there?” Declan asked.  ‘You don’t have to,’ he added telepathically as he drew back and met Marcus’s eyes.

Marcus looked away, lips unhappily pursed, but he still nodded.  “Yeah.  I’m not really hungry anymore, but I should at least make an appearance, yeah?”  He tried for a weak smile that didn’t reach his eyes, and Declan knew that was Marcus really wanted to do was find a quiet place to tuck his nose behind the tip of his tail.

Wanting desperately not to drag Marcus through what was obviously torture to him, but also not wanting to argue and thus add a whole new level of upset, Declan frowned but soon nodded.  He compromised by saying, “I’m going to stick a little bit closer to you.  And whatever is left on your plate, I’ll eat – deal?”

“You’re going to be eating two full plates.”

“Sounds fine by me,” Declan shrugged, then turned towards the door, slinging an arm around Marcus’s shoulders.

For a moment, he felt a flicker of… something… go through Marcus’s emotions.  It was like a silver fish rippling the surface of a gloomy pond, there and gone again.  Even as he turned a questioning look Marcus’s way, however, the Omega reached around to grab his hand and purposefully slide it lower, until Declan’s palm cupped his flank.  “You didn’t argue when your aunt called me your boyfriend,” he pointedly out without lifting his eyes, as if the placement of Declan’s hand was imminently more interesting – which perhaps it was, because the feel of Marcus’s belt-loop under his hand had just about short-circuited Declan’s brain for a second there.

Quickly getting his synapses to blink back on again, Declan tripped over his tongue to reply, “Er… well, Aunt Moira is pretty hard to deny, and Liz is right in that we have already slept together, so… uh…er…”  He petered off when he realized that Marcus was simply listening, his mind as close to contented as it seemed able to be: the kind of contented that came from finding a life-boat in troubled waters and trusting it to stay afloat until the storm passed.  Marcus was also using the new positioning as an excuse to lean more heavily against Declan, where no one would dare reach for him – either to benevolently touch his marked neck, or to strike out to hurt him.  The latter would never happen here, not with three Alphas on his side, but Marcus had lost his belief in the benevolence of the world, and it would take time to repair that.

Determined to repair it bit by bit, even if it took a lifetime, Declan curled his arm tighter, until their sides were flush and he could feel the curve of Marcus’s hipbone beneath his fingers.  “All right then, Milo Marcus Fen,” Declan said, feeling the kind of surety that usually people just saw in his father – or his mother, or his aunt.  At this moment, Declan didn’t give it much thought, even as it infused him like the calmness that Old Melba had spread.  “I may not have asked you out properly, but you’re mine now, and I’m yours.  Got it?”  He added with just a touch more levity, “Now, lets go out there and show everyone what my Fen pack looks like, preferably before Liz and Kobi worry themselves to death.”

~^~

 

 

Chapter Text

Before today, Declan would have been able to count on one hand the number of times he’d heard his father swear, but now he’d have to count on two hands, because the news about Aunt Clarissa hadn’t gone over well.

“My sister tried to kill your Omega?”  The cursing had petered off, but Leander’s head was still in his hands as he tried to process this.

Unsure what to address first as he sat next to his father on the back porch, Declan decided to awkwardly remind, “Well, technically she was my Omega at the time…”

The shake of Leander Fen’s head cut Declan off, tacitly making it clear that that made no difference - attempted homicide was still attempted homicide.  “Damn,” the older Alpha muttered into his hands, adding another swear to the list and making Declan jump involuntarily.  He’d known that this conversation was coming from the moment his family had arrived, and really, this was the best set of circumstances Declan could have hoped for: just him and his father, talking calmly while everyone else politely ignored the missing people in his pack.  

“Rob doesn’t surprise me,” Leander grunted, then finally lifted his head and added apologetically, “I’m sorry, son, but Rob Karly always had a bit too much bite behind every smile.  It wasn’t my place to tell you - some things you need to learn on your own, and I didn’t know that he was quite that bad.”  

The assessment stung but Declan couldn’t deny it.  As much as he wanted to defend Rob, he realized that most of it was his own pride talking: he wanted to defend his choices as an Alpha, which had included bringing in not one but two pack-members that he had had to expel.  Declan sighed tightly, looking out onto the verdant lawn with its border of artistically wild trees.  The property was almost entirely cleared of Werewolves for the moment, even Aunt Moira respecting the need for privacy as father and son had this talk - only Melba and Marcus were still near enough to theoretically eavesdrop, but that was because Marcus had an invisible tether he had to mind, and no one told Leander’s old Omega what to do.  “I commanded Rob and Aunt Clarissa not to give Marcus away, but I should have called you,” Declan said by way of apology, discomfort feeling like a texture in the air.  At times like this, he still felt like he was a child, always seeking his father’s approval.  He always had it, true, but now he feared that he’d lost it.

Fortunately, when Leander sighed, it was a noise of letting things go, letting tensions ease with an escaped breath.  His big, weathered hands dropped to his knees, and he sat back on his white-washed chair to say solemnly, “Well, you’ve told me now.”  After a heavy pause, he added, “And I understand why you did it.  Telling too many people that you were harboring a wanted fugitive could have gotten… dicey.”

Declan would have said ‘fucking complicated,’ but he was glad that his father was backing off on the swearing again.  Leander Fen was a calm and controlled man, one whose language was as level as his temper - neither were prone to getting away from him.  His wife was the same, to an even greater degree.  Actually, Declan was pretty sure he remembered his father swearing once when everyone was much younger - Declan almost too young to remember - and Natalya popping him on the head with a wooden spoon.  

Smart, thoughtful man that he was, it took only a moment of pondering for Leander to note something that had been wearing an ulcer in Declan’s stomach for days already, “Do you plan to call her in for the trial?  You might have no choice, but I don’t know whether her word will be a hindrance or a help.”  

Declan felt the start of a frustrated, troubled noise in his throat, and wondered if Marcus was rubbing off on him, because it was a very lupine noise.  He quickly got his voice under control to answer, “After talking to Holt, we’re going to avoid mentioning Aunt Clarissa as much as possible, if we can’t keep her out of this entirely.  This is already complicated enough, and…”  Feeling his heart stutter twice, Declan looked over to meet his father’s soft, gold-brown eyes, trying to convey that he was stuck in a maze with no way out that didn’t include thorns, “...And I don’t want to have to put Clarissa in jail.  She’s my aunt - and your sister!”

“Declan,” Leander raised a hand, cutting him off.  He looked so calm now, so steady, like a lake in the arms of a mountain.  There was a lot more grey in his hair than Declan remembered, and more wrinkles around his mouth and eyes, but his eyes hadn’t changed an iota from the ones that Declan remembered always looking into for strength.  “She is my sister, but that doesn’t make her exempt from laws - or from morality, for that matter, and I can say that if my sister acted so amorally as to try and kill another person…”  Leander’s jaw tensed, and something dark entered his eyes.  His voice lowered to a growl that he just barely contained, “Then she’s not a sibling that I recognize.  Leave her out of this if it saves you and Marcus some trouble, but don’t do it just because you’re afraid of what I’ll think.”

Declan relaxed, not having realized how much he needed to hear those words.  It was like he could breathe again.  “Thanks, Dad.”

“Don’t mention it, son.  Now, tell me more about this new boy of yours…”

~^~

Declan’s ‘new boy’ was presently in the kitchen, watching the curious sight that was Melba, her cane tap-tap-tapping as she moved around, making him wonder if she was blind or if she just liked the sound of it.  Despite how hunched over the ancient old woman was, she actually only put weight on the cane in sporadic bursts, leaving a lot of room for her to keep it moving like a twitchy extra limb.  It made him a bit wary, actually, but he was warier still of denying her request for his help in baking a pie.  

‘Request’ was the wrong word…  What had actually happened was that Marcus had holed himself up on the window seat of the empty living room while Declan went to talk to his father, and suddenly Old Melba was shuffling in, her button-dark eyes amidst their wrinkles fixing on him in a way that said they were the opposite of blind as she stated, “You’re helping me in the kitchen.  Come on.”  And with that, she turned away, and thanks to how slowly she moved, Marcus had had a few moments to sit and blink in shock before deciding that the safest option was to scramble after her.  He’d been politely and silently shadowing her ever since, always out of reach of her cane but theoretically close enough to catch her should her spindly old legs give out.  

“Get me that pie pan,” she demanded, voice as sharp and unapologetic as the taste of citrus.  Her gnarled finger pointed to the top shelf of the cupboard beside the fridge.  “Whoever set up this blasted kitchen didn’t give a second thought to old ladies like me, so young men like you may as well reach up and get it.  Go on.”

Marcus was already following the order with alacrity, although in all fairness, Melba had yet to wave her cane at him in an even vaguely threatening fashion.  Much like with the kids, he was far more worried about upsetting or hurting her in some fashion than he was afraid of being hurt himself, although the two fears tangled up together quite naturally - he knew that a step wrong with Werewolves he didn’t know could lead to a lot of trouble for him.  Liz and Kobi had gone out with the rest of the Werewolves, and Declan, for all that the two were empathically attached, was on the other side of the house.  There were still days - more often than not - when Marcus felt like Declan was his only ally in the world, and it was a very lonely thought.

He felt the tiny, elevating nudge against his emotions, and immediately recognized it as something different from his link to Declan.  Since the last time Marcus had felt a nudge like this had been with Clarissa in the room, he immediately spun around, almost dropping the glass pie pan and jamming his shoulder hard into the fridge as he backed up.  Old Melba was already facing him, and the emotional urge dissipated as she leaned her cane against a chair and raised both wizened hands in a show of peacefulness.  “Easy does it, boyo,” she soothed in her crackly old voice, an accent slipping into it even as the sincerity rang true, “It was just a reflex on my part - something we Omegas do for our pack everyday, hm?”

“Not me,” Marcus shook his head, not sure if he meant that he didn’t regularly project emotions onto his new pack, or if Melba shouldn’t be doing the same to him.  He didn’t realize how wildly he’d reacted until he took a second to catalogue the visceral tightening in his gut and the rapid thump of his heart.  He closed his eyes and took a deep breath, forcibly shaping his thoughts into something calmer before he had Declan running his way.  From what he could tell, Declan was busy enough, emotions rioting and torn on his end of the link, vacillating between mortified, uncertain, and embarrassed.  

When Marcus focused on Melba again, her head was tilted in a curious fashion.  She plucked up her cane again in remarkably deft hands so that she could fold both palms over it and lean comfortably.  “You’re talking to your Alpha?” she guessed, starting to smile.

Uncomfortable, Marcus steadied his grip on the pie pan and purposefully walked past the older Omega to deposit it on the table.  “No,” he answered.

The brief reply didn’t put Melba off in the slightest, and she scooted around to keep watching him.  Her next remark was shrewder than her last, “You’re remarkably sensitive, aren’t you?”  When Marcus glanced back at her, caught off guard and confused by the question, Melba elaborated with a tiny, creaky shrug, “I barely brushed against your emotions, but you turned like I’d cracked you across the head.  Are you not used to your own kind?”

Marcus felt his cheeks heating, and realized that he was going to have to explain himself - which would be extra tricky, because he didn’t have all of the answers.  And the ones he did have he didn’t like to talk about.  “The last Omega I dealt with tried to…”  Marcus took a breath and didn’t think about it as he raised a hand to his neck - not the side with Declan’s teeth-marks but the side with Clarissa’s.  He could feel the scar-tissue under his fingertips, even as his Werewolf healing continued to try and smooth it over.  “...To physically kill me.  When she couldn’t do that, she shifted the fight onto a different spectrum,” he condensed the story, then finished anxiously with his hand dropping sharply to his side again, “I’m not sensitive, so I guess I’m just paranoid.”

For a moment, the old woman just watched him, not moving a muscle even as Marcus paced around the kitchen like a caged thing.  The other ingredients that Melba had started gathering were soon moved to the table as he sought something to do with his energy, and it wasn’t until he’d found a knife to start paring apples that Melba spoke again, “You’re selling yourself short, boyo.”  She came around to the chair on Marcus’s left, and he eyed her with a wariness that he didn’t know if he could turn off anymore.  However, something about her accent was soothing - and after a quick internal check, he deduced that she wasn’t empathically pushing him to feel that way.  Perhaps it was simply the tacit gesture of openness and truthfulness that eased his nerves a bit, hearing this canny old Omega slipping into her old ways instead of hiding behind learned speech patterns and adopted tones.  Having washed her hands already, Melba began mixing the slices of apples together with brown and white sugar in a broad bowl, her gnarled fingers working confidently and soon covered in sticky sweetness.  “I think you’re plenty sensitive.  My Alpha tells me so.”

Marcus wasn’t sure whether to be curious or worried by that.  He couldn’t leave it hanging, though, so he asked obliquely, “Oh?” even as he kept his eyes on the careful movements of his knife.  

“Well, it’s a curious thing, actually,” Melba went on, mimicking Marcus in pretending not to be interested - only she did it better, not glancing over constantly to check on her companion.  “When I scared you a moment ago, I was actually the one who spoke to my Alpha - and you know what he said?”

Recalling Melba’s long pause, Marcus realized that Leander Fen could have telepathically said quite a lot to his Omega.  Not knowing those words, Marcus felt his stomach clench worriedly, and his hands stilled.  “No.  What?”

“That the second you got spooked, Declan was on his feet, tenser than a fox with kits being threatened,” Melba stated frankly, finally glancing up with eyes that were entirely too intelligent within their wells of wrinkles.  “And yet you say you weren’t talking to him?”

Damn.  The link.  Now Marcus was wishing that he’d lied and said that, yes, he was passing words between minds to Declan - because that was a helluva lot more normal than what he was going to have to explain now.  He was sure that backtracking and trying to fool Melba at this juncture would be pointless, because she had the look about her of someone who wasn’t easily fooled, and she’d no doubt seen a lot of lies in her time.  Swallowing, Marcus put his knife down and rested his hands flat on the table, humiliation creeping slowly but hotly up either side of his throat and face.  Because he lowered his eyes to watch his long, faintly shaking fingers, he missed the look of concern that came to Old Melba’s face.  “I…  It’s a different kind of link, all right?  When Declan took me into his pack…”  Marcus didn’t want to tell this story.  Even as he felt his own emotions surge dangerously against the calm he was trying to maintain, he felt worry from Declan, a suddenly unwelcome reminder of exactly what he was talking about.  ‘Go away!’ he snapped in his head, shaping it into words this time.  He felt Declan’s surprise and flash of anger at being rebuffed, and dropped his head lower as if hiding from it.  

His fingers curled against his palms as he went on, “...I was messed up.  Omegas aren’t supposed to be without a pack, but I was.  My senses were on the fritz and I don’t think that my Omega abilities even worked.”  That last part was unproven, but he was pretty sure that he’d been too damaged and broken to be remotely useful as an Omega - and he still doubted that he would ever be a useful Omega, because he certainly wasn’t whole or normal again.  “I was pretty much out of my mind because all of my senses kept ratcheting up to the highest setting, and Declan was nice enough to…”  Marcus’s voice dropped to a whisper, because this part still awed him, still surprised him - he couldn’t understand it, even as he started to explore the feelings he and Declan shared for one another.  “...To save me.”  Giving his head a shake, Marcus shifted his focus from what Declan had done for him to what he’d done to Declan.  In response, his voice grew harsher again, and his hands tightened into more earnest fists than the loose curl they’d been in before.  “But I think I had one last episode while he was bonding me to his pack, and I literally knocked us both unconscious.  When we woke up, we found out that… that I’d…”  Marcus swallowed.  He needed the table for support as he leaned forward, shoulders hunched up around his ears, “We’re linked telepathically, but I also made an empathic link somehow that continuously transmits emotions.  It doesn’t turn off.”  He’d been trying constantly to find a way to do just that, but with no luck.  The best that he himself could do was ignore it, and he hoped desperately that Declan was learning to do the same instead of slowly chafing under the influx of Marcus’s feelings, day-in and day-out.  “So that’s the story,” he spat out the ending, pushing away from the table and walking shakily across the room.  He buried the fingers of one hand in his hair and blew out a sigh that felt like he was dragging the last of the air from his lungs.  “Declan probably thought I was having a panic attack or something because he felt my emotions when you… surprised me.”

Melba always seemed to be thinking over her words, but now, Marcus wondered if her pause was actually her conferring with her Alpha on a wavelength that he couldn’t hear.  Eventually she said, voice calm but unreadable, “Do you have panic attacks often?”

No reason to lie now.  Tiredly facing the cupboards, Marcus nodded, “Yes.”

“But no more sensory overloads?”

“No,” Marcus admitted to that little win.  

Melba hummed and accepted the answer, but startled Marcus just about out of his skin by calmly going on, “It actually took me weeks before my senses went back to normal, but methinks my connection to Leander was less profound than the one you’ve forged with his son.”

Marcus spun around so fast that he nearly lost his footing.  Looking at Melba with new eyes, he suddenly remembered Declan's story: Old Melba, who’d been powerful enough to cripple two packs in the middle of a battle, and who had then voluntarily made herself packless, demanding to be cut loose from her bonds.  Marcus had felt a current of second-hand terror run through him at that thought, but somehow, he’d never connected it to his own situation - and the side-effects that had nearly driven him insane.  “How long?” he finally choked out, meaning, ‘How long did you suffer alone like I did?’

“From what I gather, not nearly as long as you,” Melba answered calmly, then tapped the table, “Sit.”  Only when Marcus did so, sliding into the chair next to her, never looking away, did she continue, “I think I only started to experience the side-effects of being packless - because while I understand what you are saying, my senses never overloaded as dangerously as what you just described.”  Marcus mantled, feeling weak suddenly, having just bared his previous conditions to an Omega who understood them only too well.  He glanced up through his lashes as Melba said, “I’m not meaning to belittle you, boyo.  You’ve suffered enough.”

When Melba reached across to pat his nearest hand, Marcus looked down again, suddenly feeling the inexplicable urge to cry.  Here was an Omega who’d undergone what he had - only she’d survived it better than he had.  She was what he’d aspired to without knowing it, but now he could see that he’d fallen short.  

Melba’s gnarled old hand gripped his, not letting go.  “You’ve got scars, don’t you?”

Looking down at his lap again, Marcus nodded helplessly.  He turned his head away further when he felt wet heat slip down the side of his nose.  

“Shush, boyo, we’re not comparing,” Melba voice lowered to a soothing rumble like the purr of a cat, and she squeezed his hand again, “I’ve got scars, too.  But I want to tell you something, so look at me.”

The old Omega’s odd mix of bossiness and compassion was the only thing that had Marcus grudgingly lifting his face, steeling himself and even bristling a little in preparation for… he had no idea.  He didn’t really know Melba, and she could say anything to him.  She certainly feared nothing, no repercussions.  The last Omega he’d met had been unilaterally opposed to him, and he was in the territory of a whole new one now.  He felt Declan’s concern rising in the back of his head, and he was already pushing out telepathic questions about what the hell was going on.  Marcus had four years experience in dealing with things on his own though, so it was too hard now to change his ways and let Declan in as Omega stared down Omega.  

But Melba’s eyes, for all that they sparkled with vivacity and ferocity, were warm.  “Let me tell you something, Milo Marcus Rushton,” she stated, and as Marcus frowned, the wrinkles at the corners of her mouth deepened around the start of a smile, “It’s not every Omega that’s as sensitive as you, and after learning about that empathic link you’ve got, I think that you’re a damn sight stronger than you think.”  While Marcus tried to get over hearing the old woman swearing, Melba went on, “You know what my Alpha tells me?  That I’m lucky.  That I’m a rare jewel because going through the trial of packlessness doesn’t break Omegas - it hardens them, like steel, like stones.”  Melba’s hand was tight enough now that Marcus almost imagined that he could feel her old strength sinking into his hand.  He felt frozen in place and pinned beneath what she was telling him, as her words took his view on life and forcibly turned it one-hundred-and-eighty degrees.  “And you survived more than I did, boyo, so if my Fen thinks me strong…”  She chuckled, a throaty ‘churring’ noise like the wise laugh of an old owl.  “Then your Fen has the crown jewel in his hands, and anyone who thinks that your empathic link is a curse-”  The sudden glitter in Melba’s eyes meant that ‘anyone’ included Marcus, too. “-Is a fool.”  Melba let him go with one last pat across his knuckles, and her smile was grandmotherly as she sat back, “You and everyone else will realize that I’m right as time goes on and it becomes obvious that you’re more powerful than even I am.”

Marcus couldn’t find his tongue, but even if he could have, any further conversation was cut off by the sounds of running footsteps.  The kitchen door swung open almost violently a split second later, and while Melba just continued smiling, Marcus spun in his chair to see two Fens in the doorway - Declan looking a bit wild and already through the door, and his somewhat flustered-looking father in his wake, clearly confused.  Marcus had been feeling Declan’s growing worry for awhile now, but only opened himself up to the full force of it now, and was stunned speechless twofold as he felt just how frantic Declan was.  

Looking around, bristling so visibly that Marcus was half-surprised that he was still human-shaped, Declan demanded, “What’s going on?”

Melba, as unflappable as ever, indicated the table.  She’d actually smeared apple juice and sugar all over Marcus’s hand, collaborating her story as she truthfully said, “We’re making apple pie.”

“I’m fine, Declan,” Marcus managed to say in a voice that, miraculously, actually sounded calm.  As he was turning, however, preparing to explain more, he felt… a tickle at the back of his mind.  A nudge.  Even before he saw Declan’s metaphorical hackles lowering, Marcus registered that Melba was exercising her powers again, but more strongly than before and on Declan as well as Leander and Marcus himself - and without even thinking about it, Marcus clenched his teeth… and negated it.  It was like a rush of something shivering down his spine, a sensation that, if he were in his other form right now, he’d recognize as a wind skating over his pelt and then disappearing, but otherwise it was a totally alien sensation.  In fact, Marcus wasn’t even entirely sure what he’d just done besides a gut feeling - until he spun back to look at Melba again, finding her watching him with knowledge hidden in every wrinkle.  She nodded so fractionally he almost didn’t see it.

All of this passed in just a handful of seconds, and when Marcus looked back to Declan with helpless surprise on his face, the younger Alpha was only just starting to emote more confusion than protective worry.  “Marcus?” he asked slowly.  

What did I just do?’ Marcus didn’t realize that he’d telegraphed the question until Declan replied back in the same fashion.

You tell me.  I felt you…  It was like you were bleeding inside.’  Intense sadness flowed down the link, and it showed on Declan’s face, too, and in the way his arm twitched - wanting to reach out and touch.  ‘Something was hurting you and you wouldn’t let me in to tell me what.’

Suddenly Marcus felt a wave of regret - his own regret, and he slumped.  “I’m sorry,” he whispered.

Melba and Leander, spectators in all of this, looked only faintly surprised at the pauses and unexpected words, no doubt aware of the telepathic chatter going on beyond their ken - and slipping into the audible spectrum.  Seeing both young men calming down now (without help), Melba spoke as well, even as she made a shooing motion with her hand, “Marcus and I had a talk.  It hurt a little, so you should go run with him, Declan - or better yet, hug the lad.”  Totally immune to the pair of blushing, scandalized faces that turned her way, Melba began to add cinnamon to her apple slices.  “But I’m going to need help with this.”

From the doorway, Leander made his continued presence known by snorting.  “I’m about to be inducted onto your pie-cooking team, aren’t I?”

“If you refuse to help a frail old woman cook a single pie, then you don’t deserve to ever eat a pie again.”

“You’re far from frail, and if this is the only pie you plan to make, then I’m not Leander Fen,” the older man retorted, but also moved into the kitchen.  He repeated a more oblique version of Melba’s dismissive motion, smiling cheekily at his son as he gave his shoulder a squeeze.  Marcus received a wink from Melba, and wasn’t entirely sure that he’d not spontaneously combust before quitting the room.  

Both Declan and Marcus managed to make it out of the kitchen, however, and the previous storm of emotions was temporarily forgotten - lost under a very mutual haze of embarrassment.  

 

Chapter Text

“So,” Melba said, as she rolled out the dough for her pie-crust.  She was aware of Leander washing up in the sink behind her, covered to the elbows in flour from helping her make said dough.  “Your sister has made some poor life-choices.”

Leander puffed out a sigh that sounded like he was dragging it all the way up from his toes, a long and gusty breath.  “That’s one way of putting it.  She’s honestly lucky that my son didn’t turn her in on an attempted murder charge.”

“Or try to kill her.”  Out of everyone in the pack, Old Melba was the most qualified to talk about killing and death.  She’s seen the most of it.  “I’ve seen Alphas makes themselves judge, jury, and executioner before.”  Melba listened as Leander made an unhappy sound before she added more gently, “Your son is a better man than those others, however.  His capacity for mercy is a rare gift, and a testament to his parents.”

Leander murmured “Thank you” from the direction of the sink before turning the water off and drying his hands.  “And his Omega?  What did you think of him?”

Now it was Melba’s turn to make a wordless noise, but hers was thoughtful, intrigued.  “He’s interesting.”

Snorting, Leander returned to the table to help his old Omega press the crust-dough down into the pan, his big, calloused hands in contrast to her small, arthritic ones.  “You’re becoming something of a mystic, Melba.  If you get any vaguer we’ll have to get you a crystal ball and brush up on our riddles.”

That earned the Alpha a light swat from doughy fingers.  “Impertinent pup,” Melba chastised while her face crinkled around an impish smile.  Leander himself looked ten years young when he met her scolding with an impulsive smile.  Melba turned her swat into a pat, pretending to be totally unaware that this smeared bits of dough into his dark-gold, grey-touched hair.  “Fine then.  You want a riddle?  What’s as old as a dragon and twice as mean?”

“You?”

“Correct,” Melba actually replied, which made Leander grin again, a bit more wryly this time, “And I’m telling you that that boy Declan brought home has the potential to be twice what I am, but at a fraction of the age.  Your son brought home a baby dragon, but he’s got it tamed to his hand.  And it gets better.”

Becoming more wary now that Melba was smirking, her wizened-apple-face managing to look almost gleefully wicked somehow, Leander sat down because he had a feeling that would be a good idea.  Slowly, he replied, “It gets better than you comparing my son’s new Omega to a fire-breathing lizard?”

“Oh yes.”  Melba tipped the container of cinnamon-covered apple slices into the prepared pie pan and poked a few pieces that weren’t sitting quite right when it all settled.  “That dragon-boy of his doesn’t even know that he’s got fire to breathe, but let me tell you - that boy’s already as powerful as me.”

Leander’s face went blank with surprise, then disbelief rose up.  “You’ve got to be kidding me,” he said incredulously.

But Old Melba shook her head.  “I said that he had the potential to be twice as strong as me at half the age - did you think I was just talking about physically?”  Melba made a vague gesture to her withered frame, making it clear that she hadn’t been a physical contender in decades.  Omegas weren’t coveted for their muscular strength, however.  “Did you know that I was trying to calm the room when you and your son barged in?”

Leander’s eyebrows lowered, but he answered, “No.”

“Exactly.  Because as soon as I started, Declan’s boy noticed - and stopped me.”

It was on reflex that Leander stood up to take the pie out of Melba’s hands.  It was all finished, the top layer draped over it with a star-pattern of holes quickly poked in, but it was easier for Leander to carry it and slide it into the oven.  He was just withdrawing his hands from the oven when Melba finished her sentence, however, and jerked back so fast that he scraped his knuckles against hot metal on the way out.  Yelping like a pup half his age, the Alpha darted over to the sink, turning on the cold water.  Werewolf healing was a wonderful thing, but it didn’t make burns hurt any less.  

While water soothed the reddened skin, Melba shuffled over to shut the oven door in an unhurried, unbothered fashion.  She watched with mild eyes that said she took no responsibility whatsoever for her Alpha hurting himself.  “Marcus is also as sensitive to emotional manipulation as a raw nerve,” she noted, a bit more soberly, “The boy’s undergone more trauma than I have - more trauma than anyone ever should - but he sure as hell has gotten stronger for it.”

“Declan didn’t mention,” Leander said in return.  His expression and words were tight, either because of the throbbing, singed skin on the back of his hand or because he felt hurt at not being told this.

Perhaps guessing that it was the latter, Melba shook her white-haired head and replied, “I don’t think that Declan has anything more than the slightest idea what he has on his hands.  Even Marcus didn’t seem to realize that every day he survived on his own made him that much more potent as an Omega.”  Melba patted her Alpha’s brawny arm, and perhaps exuded a pulse of calmness, like a flash of color from her aura to his.  Leander relaxed, still feeling the pain of his burnt hand but finding that it didn’t bother him as much.  “I bet they’re talking about it right now,” Melba stated, then tapped her cane on the floor for good measure.  

~^~

The sounds of pawsteps fell like rain upon the little grove of trees that called the area home.  It wasn’t a large enough space by far to contain so many Werewolves long-term, but for now it was a nice, wild space to stretch one’s furry legs.  The three pups were tumbling all over one another in their excitement to investigate a new place, and all three packs (Liz and Kobi being in attendance as well) were having fun.  The only absent members were Leander, Melba, Declan, Marcus, and Holt (who had legal duties to attend to, but was also known for being a pup-magnet, a fact that was twice as hilarious because the one thing he couldn’t handle was children).  

Right now, under Natalya Fen’s benevolent and canny eye, the three packs were mingling as comfortably as they had around the dinner table.  Moira should have perhaps been watching over things as well, but instead she was stalking on her own through the trees, the shadows dappling her steel-grey coat to the color of dark iron, and her pale eyes to an almost silver color that made her look monochrome.  

Her nose plied the air, catching scents like ribbons on the wind and leading her further from the packs, further from the sounds of her kith and kin cavorting as they wished - on two legs or on four.  The rest of the semi-cultivated wood was quiet, but Moira’s ears flicked as they detected the most elusive of sounds ahead of her.  Parting her jaws around a predator’s smile, she thought to herself that the creator of that noise would have to try a lot harder if they were hoping to remain unnoticed.  Tail swishing back and forth with clear pleasure, Moira began to hunt, trusting the safety of her pack to the Werewolves behind her as she slipped off on her own.  

The sounds in front of her resolved into pawsteps not long after, and Moira had to fight to keep her pace steady and even, her body itching for speed but practiced at patience.  All Alphas were dangerous, but Moira above all was a hunter and predator, and she felt as alive as a brushfire as she circled carefully, making not a sound despite her formidable size as she kept her nose to the scent and her ears cocked forward to the fleeing sound.  

Moira’s prey took a path to the right, circling away and further into the trees, where the brush grew wilder, but the Alpha knew that the property wall would pen the other wolf in, and she growled appreciatively when she was proven right - her prey struck off along the boundary like a river diverted by a dam.  It was only after Moira knew that the packs were lost behind her, leaving the artificial forest to just herself and the one who ran before her, that the Alpha sped up, going from a trot to a racing dash that had her overtaking the other wolf in seconds.

Showing neither fear nor surprise, her mate Seth Loch halted and awaited her, taking the rush of her charge as payment for leading her on such a merry chase.  Moira growled out a lupine laugh as she tackled the smaller wolf, her larger frame bearing Seth to the ground with enough force that many would have called it violent instead of loving.  But Seth and Moira were a special pair, and the wildness in Moira was something that he’d never sought to tame - and that’s why she’d taken him when the world had told her not to.  

Moira knew Werewolves who thought only in terms of fangs and almost forgot that they had catlike claws.  She’d grown up using all of her weapons, though, the most warlike of the Greywood daughters, and her half-extended claws hooked into the lush grass for purchase as she pushed forward and sent Seth rolling.  He took the roughhousing without any fuss, rolling from shadows to a patch of sun that picked up the sable-brown tones in his dark coat and flashed upon his ‘domesticated’ spots of white.  When he came to rest on his  back, however, he replaced his white-tipped paws with hands and his fur coat with a soft green sweater and dark-wash jeans.  Moira was on him within a second of his bones settling into their human shapes, and he sighed out an almost imperceptible breath of… perhaps bliss… as the massive grey wolf landed astride him and immediately affixed ivory fangs around his vulnerable throat.  One paw rested on Seth's sternum, claws extending and flexing to snag at his sweater and prick at his toned chest beneath.  

No one had ever called their relationship normal.  

For all the world as if he were just relaxing for a picnic in the sun, Seth let his eyes fall closed, and tipped his head back as Moira’s jaws tightened enough to dimple the flesh on either side of his neck.  Her breath rushed warm and intimate against his throat, and it would be so easy for her to press harder - with either her teeth or her curved white claws - and draw blood, if not kill him altogether.  Moira’s Omega was calm and serene, however, and let his hands lie limp in the grass at his side until the she-wolf over him released a basso rumble of wild, primordial pleasure.  “Happy hunting?” was all Seth decided to say then, in his slightly accented, soft voice.  He opened almond-shaped eyes with a warm smile, fixing Moira with a gaze as green as new ivy.  

The most dangerous of the Greywood clan released another low noise of approval and released her mate, pulling back far enough to nuzzle under his chin with her nose, forcing his head back to its full extension.  He let her, then grazed her snout with a kiss when she let him incline his head again.  In a gesture that was incredibly loving for all its subtlety, Seth finally lifted a tanned hand and stroked the paw that had relaxed upon his chest, ending with his fingertips upon the arch of his mate’s claws.  

It’s always happy hunting when I have pleasant prey,’ Moira replied, keeping to her wolf form, revelling in the power imbalance.  She revelled even more in Seth's smile, which had never once failed to make her heart expand until it felt too big for her chest - a sun going into glorious supernova at nothing more than an upward tilt of lips.  It was a foregone conclusion that she could crush Seth's throat with little trouble, even if he did fight back, but Seth had the power to crush her heart, and they each held this power over one another with equal respect and inward awe.  

She nuzzled his face, settling down to lean her body against his side, one forelimb still throw across his chest because she loved his hand upon her paw there.  Seth managed to move his other arm before she lay on it, and buried his fingers in her iron-grey ruff like they belonged there - which, as far as either of them were concerned, it did.  Seth had always preferred his Werewolf form, ever since he’d come ashore in Miami and made his way North (at first in a rag-tag pack of mongrels, then alone), and Moira always felt smug that she saw more of his human self than anyone else.  

And how was your hunting?’ Moira went on with increased curiosity.  Her ears tipped forward and she backed off so she was no longer mouthing at Seth's ink-black hair (which would probably stay that dark until the day he died at this rate) and instead watching him avidly from a jaw-span away.

“As it always is,” he replied aloud.  

Moira huffed and bared her teeth in a smile that would frighten most.  ‘I take that to mean that it was boring to the untrained eye, but actually incredibly successful,’ she retorted wryly down the telepathic link.

Now Seth's smile became more of a smirk, and he forewent spoken words for secretive thoughts as well, ‘Despite everyone thinking that I spent the day with you, I now know that your brother-in-law’s sister is in a heap of trouble and your favorite nephew has a very interesting new boyfriend.’  

Oh, how Moira loved Seth's unflappable, droll voice inside her head.  She grinned with more teeth and leaned down to scrape her lower canines against the side of Seth's jaw.  His fingers tightened upon her coat - not to push her away but to pull her closer.  The one-armed hug made Moira’s heart warm all over again.  ‘A good kind of interesting?  Or the kind of interesting that means I’ll have to have a pointed talk with my favorite nephew about what kinds of friends he makes?’

The first kind,’ Seth assured her.  ‘If nothing else, your nephew has a high opinion of him, and Melba seems to as well, although I’m not quite so skilled an eavesdropper to have heard that conversation.’

People had always underestimated the ‘mutt’ with the white-tipped paws.  Even the people who knew him tended to forget that he was there, and Moira had learned to use her mate’s ability to fade into the background to her advantage.  Seth, in turn, revelled in the fact that his pack was twice as deadly as everyone thought it was, thanks to his secretive assistance - other packs looks at the Greywood pack and saw Moira’s jaws, and got so distracted by them that they missed Seth's keen ears. Seth wasn’t an idiot, however, and while he’d trusted in his ability to listen in on Leander and Declan without being discovered, he greatly doubted his ability to sneak up on Leander’s old, shrewd Omega.  Moira didn’t even consider upbraiding him for it, because she respected Melba, too.

And feared her a little.  And feared for Seth more, because Melba already didn’t get on well with the Greywood pack’s Omega, and if it ever came to a fight between the two of them, it would be the old woman who won.  Wrinkled and frail she might have been in body, but Omegas tussled via different means.  While Moira didn’t pretend to understand those means, she was uncomfortably aware that her own Omega wouldn’t win against a veteran of Melba’s caliber.  

“You’re thinking hard enough for me to feel it without telepathy,” Seth's gentle voice tugged her back, Moira’s snout coming around and her ears flicking forward from where she’d been staring off into the trees tensely.  Seth Loch - her Loch, the lock to her key - was watching her knowingly, with a content expression that said he’d follow her wherever she went and whatever her decision was.  It was a heady feeling to have that much power over another person, but only fools thought that that power was a one-way thing.  Moira turned her head to press the tip of her nose to Seth's hand (still resting atop her paw, atop his slowly rising and falling chest) in the lupine version of a chaste kiss.  

So what is your opinion?  On my nephew’s choices?’ Moira changed subjects.

Seth glanced up towards his hairline for a moment as he thought, but he replied readily enough, as candid as always to the lady of his heart, ‘Well, in regards to cutting Clarissa loose, I can’t say I blame him.’

Moira licked Seth's knuckles.  ‘Do tell.  No one has explained that story to me yet.’

Obediently, Seth repeated what he’d heard between father and son, culminating with a troubled frown and equally troubles words, ‘She was defending her position in the pack.  I can understand her fear…’

Just the mention of Seth being afraid of anything made the dark grey fur at Moira’s neck stand up in an impressive ruff, but she pushed the reaction down.  ‘But?’ she prompted her husband to go on.

Green eyes met hers, unblinking and insistent. ‘I wouldn’t kill for it.

Moira’s long snout dipped up and down in a nod of understanding, digesting this news about Leander Fen’s sister and the grievous wrong she had done in the name of fear.  Omega politics were about as opaque as their powers to Betas and Alphas, but Seth was perhaps more open on such matters than most, and Moira had had long conversations with him about things like this: low-scale but pervasive manipulation of entire packs or single members, the jockeying for power that accompanied each removal or acceptance of an Omega into a pack, and the paranoia that could come when one’s position seemed threatened.  Seth had faced stiff opposition when it became known that Moira Greywood was starting a new pack and wanted him beside her when she did, but he hadn’t gone so far as to attack other Omega candidates - although goodness knew he’d been given reason to a time or two.  An absolutely disgusting level of ass-kissing and even attempted wooing of Moira’s person had gone on even after she’d made it clear that she’d have Seth Loch, the nobody mutt, for her Omega - or no one.  

So what about Declan’s other choices?  By that, I mean Marcus,’ Moira continued her curious interrogation.  This time, as she listened, she laid her massive, sleek skull down on the chest of her favorite spy.  

Well, we know that he’s accused of killing his entire pack,’ the jetty-haired Omega started thoughtfully.

Moira huffed and lashed her tail to one side as if washing away the old news.  ‘Unlikely.  That’s twelve Werewolves to take down.’

Old Melba has reputedly incapacitated more than that,’ Seth reminded in a grimmer tone.

Sobering as well, going still upon Seth's torso, Moira replied, ‘Touche.’  Sitting up, Moira finally pulled away from her companion long enough to transform, giving her hair a shake and pulling it back into a pale ponytail after absentmindedly straightening her clothing.  She flashed a smile that was somehow still wolfish, however, as she loomed over Seth and added to her previous thought, “It wouldn’t do for me to go around underestimating you Omegas.”

Seth tried to keep a laugh trapped in his chest, but it slipped out when he smiled.  “No, it wouldn’t do at all.  In fact, my kind would be running the show within the day,” he agreed, and after that, serious-talk gave way to playfulness again.  In human form, Seth and Moira were more evenly matched in physicality, but the latter was still the more ferocious one, and Seth had always revelled in losing to her.  After five laughing minutes of tumbling one over the other in the grass, none but the birds to hear or see them, Seth ended up on his back again with his Alpha rising up above him - with a few less articles of clothing between them.  Moira knelt astride his lap with all the voracity of a she-wolf in her prime and all the patient cunning of age, and leaned down like a conqueror to share his first soft groan between their lips.  

~^~

“You’ve got apple juice and brown sugar smeared all over the back of your hand,” were actually the first words that Declan and Marcus shared after leaving the kitchen.  

Despite Melba’s advice to go for a run, the two were still in the house, and had wandered in aimless silence all the way to what looked like a wing dedicated entirely to bedrooms.  Everyone was sharing rooms - some as much as four to a room - and Marcus had followed his nose to the scent of Liz and Kobi without even thinking about it.  There were two beds in the golden-hued room, and a few bags that had yet to be unpacked but smelled familiarly of the two Betas, so Marcus walked in.  No one was around except the two Werewolves they’d left in the kitchen, so Marcus hoped that Liz and Kobi wouldn’t mind the intrusion into their assigned space just because Marcus wanted a safe place to discuss things.  

Glancing down at his hand, Marcus’s brows beetled and he sighed as he realized that Declan was right.  Seeing nothing nearby to wipe it off with, Marcus just brought the back of his hand up to his mouth to lick it off.  He didn’t realize that Declan was watching until he sensed some emotion that felt like fire and velvet and smelled like amber.  Glancing up, his tongue still pressed against the back of one knuckle, Marcus found Declan staring at him rather stupidly, and very belatedly realized just what he was detecting from the other young man.  Marcus was so caught off guard that he promptly choked on his own spit and nearly died of that instead of embarrassment.  

By the time Marcus stopped coughing and wiped off his mouth and hand on his shirtsleeves, Declan at least looked awkward, too, and wasn’t making any effort to appear oblivious.  “Sorry, I just-”  The young Alpha made a helpless gesture towards Marcus and finished weakly, “I never would have thought of that as erotic before if anyone had described it, but suddenly it was.”

Marcus’s stomach gave a little flip as the unconscious flattery slipped between his defenses and hit home.  

“So, uh, do you want to talk about what happened out there?  With Old Melba?” Declan tried to save Marcus’s pride by changing the subject.  He lifted a hand to scrub at the hair at the back of his head, making a hopeless mess of it before adding, “You said you did something, but I haven’t the foggiest idea as to what.  All I know is that you were freaking out.”

Rubbing a hand of his own over his straight brown hair, Marcus sighed, “Sorry about that.  I wasn’t really doing anything…”  He paused, reminded himself that lying was not only stupid but downright difficult with an empathic link, and amended defeatedly, “She and I got talking about what my time without a pack did to me.  It started when she tried to project calmness and I took it about as well as a slap to the face.”

Declan winced, but it was a sympathetic wince.  He seemed to sincerely understand.  “I’m sure she didn’t mean anything by it.”

“I’m sure she didn’t,” Marcus agreed magnanimously, then moved to sit down on the bed farthest from Liz and Kobi’s bags.  He had no idea where he and Declan were sleeping, although he selfishly hoped that they’d be sharing a room.  He puffed out his cheeks on another slow exhale before clasping his hands between his knees and saying, “So I’m afraid your knight in shining armor routine was all for nothing.”

Declan snorted, but the room was bright enough despite the drawn blinds to show his tanned cheeks flush before he turned his head.  “Is this the part where I get a lecture about how you’re not a damsel in distress?” he asked, only half sarcastic.  

Marcus snorted but ultimately let it go, forced to admit that most of the occasions in which Declan had come racing in at the drop of the hat, his assistance had been pretty damn necessary - with the exception of the incident five minutes ago.  Realizing that he’d have to relay that whole talk, Marcus’s mood was dampened significantly, but this time Declan didn’t mention it.  In fact, despite sensing the waves of depressed feelings, the blond-haired Alpha didn’t do anything more than shift from foot to foot as Marcus bowed his head and battled with his thoughts for a moment.  Well aware of his habit of not asking for help or letting anyone in, Marcus purposefully gathered his courage, lifted his head, put on his best calm expression, and said as if the words didn’t lodge in his throat, “If you want to know what happened in the kitchen, it would be easier if I just showed you.”

It didn’t take empathy to read the surprise that went through Declan, and for a moment he looked at Marcus as if to say, ‘Who are you and what have you done with the distrustful, wary, handshy Omega I adopted?’  After a moment to regain his mental equilibrium, however, he followed Marcus’s example by pretending that this was totally a normal chat with nothing to be nervous about at all.  “Sure, if you think that’ll be easier,” he replied just a beat too late to be entirely natural-sounding.  Still, he followed through, “Just remember that last time was pretty hit-and-miss.”

Marcus nodded, remembering.  ‘Last time’ had also occurred during the long hours that they were stuck in lock-up, and had dug up memories that Marcus would never be able to touch without feeling lacerated and raw after.  Still, he’d made it through that, and was ready to try again… if only because two heads really were better than one.  The conversation with Melba had been not only unsettling but confusing at points, shaking the foundation beneath the way Marcus thought even as it tested his credulity.  That, and he didn’t know Melba - but Declan did.  So the Alpha would probably pick things up in the memories that Marcus would missed through lack of experience with the other Omega.  

Game for the idea even if he wasn’t sure why talking it out wouldn’t be easier, Declan came over to sit on the bed next to Marcus.  For a moment, they sat there awkwardly, the emotions between them a complicated, abstract tangle - a Gordian knot of feelings that refused to unravel.  “Last time we did this, we were lying down,” Marcus finally said to break the silence.

Pursing his lips, Declan admitted that this was true.  They’d only been doing this thought-sharing for a few days now, and some of that had been done accidentally in dreams, but a few things were pretty clear: it involved total mental dedication to their task, and neither of them had much sense of the physical world while they were using their mental links to the utmost capacity.  Even a basic, normal telepathic link between pack-members could sometimes send images, but what they were doing was much more involved, leaving no extra attention for even simple things like sitting.

So they lay back.  But neither made any move to stretch open the link (or links, plural, if one decided to be specific about what they shared) and start the frustrating process of sharing memories.  Instead, Declan cleared his throat and said to the ceiling, “My dad’s surprisingly okay with the whole Clarissa thing.  Well, not okay…”  When Declan shrugged, it rubbed his left arm and shoulder along Marcus’s, as the two lay in mirrored poses, hands meekly folded across their bellies.  “Basically, he agrees with my decision to make her leave.  So he’s on our side.”

“Good to know,” Marcus murmured.  A bit more silence evolved and grew, but finally Marcus took it upon himself to make an admission, too, “That Omega… Melba.  She says that our kind actually grow stronger when we’re packless.  I didn’t believe her until I shut her down.”

“Pardon?”  Declan twisted his head.

When Marcus rocked his head to face Declan squarely, it put them so close together that there were barely millimeters between their noses, and Marcus could smell cinnamon on Declan’s breath - courtesy of the cinnamon roll he’d eaten off Marcus’s abandoned plate at lunch.  At this distance, Declan was also way too adorable when his brows beetled with confusion, so Marcus really had no choice but to explain, “She used her powers, then I used mine, when we were all in the kitchen… but I used mine reflexively, in a way I don’t think I was meant to.”

The furrow between Declan’s brow grew deeper.  “I still don’t understand.”

Explaining Omega things always went like this, so Marcus rolled his eyes, not really noticing the way his sigh ricocheted off Declan’s face until the link vibrated like an emotional purr.  Marcus’s eyes went from looking upwards to looking straight at Declan’s tawny gaze, and for a moment the two just froze there, staring, emotions rolling slow and warm and electric between them.  It took some of the mystery from the situation, but at least there were fewer questions about whether the attraction was mutual.  “I…  I turned her power off,” Marcus kept trying to explain as he grew increasingly distracted, “Or not really.  I felt her affecting the emotions in the room and I stopped her from doing that.”

“How?”

“Hell if I know.  I just…”  Marcus’s eyes dropped, then rose again, but not before tracing Declan’s nose, jaw, and mouth.  “I didn’t like her messing with my emotions, and my gut reaction was to keep her from affecting yours as well.”

Something in Declan’s expression and emotions just… leveled.  It eased and grew steady, like a turbulent stream reaching an old river and smoothing over.  His smile likewise grew softer and more relaxed.  “So who’s the knight in shining armor now?” he teased quietly, and when Marcus just frowned at him, Declan eased just a little closer until he could slide the tip of his nose against the other boy’s.  Marcus shivered and the empathic link seemed to crackle.  “Good to know that I can be the damsel in distress from time to time, even if I might not know it.”

Marcus was thinking decidedly less about dragons and damsels and decidedly more about the smell of Declan’s skin, the warmth radiating off his body from this close, and especially of the emotions that said Declan was as turned on as a lit match.  It had been a long while since Marcus’s world was this clearly defined, and he’d definitely never been in a position where he wanted someone and knew just how much they wanted him back.

“Marcus…?” Declan murmured just as the first quivers of uncertainty leaked out from his mind, and the smaller young man suddenly had the urge to smother his Alpha's hesitancy with everything he had.  The Omega surged across the tiny distance as if he were jumping a precipice, and caught hold of Declan’s mouth with an unskilled but fervent kiss.  

 

Chapter Text

If Declan had been a gambling man, he’d have betted that any intimate interactions between Marcus and himself would have to be initiated by the latter.  Marcus had been hurt too many times and much too badly for Declan to be surprised by his distrustfulness and chronic hesitancy.  Just a week ago, Marcus had been afraid of just about everything related to his own kind, to say nothing of how afraid he’d been of Alphas in particular.  It was still all too easy to remember the way that Marcus had watched him, fear a sickly scent on his skin and acid-sharp adrenalin dilating his pupils.  

Now, as Marcus’s mouth landed on Declan’s without warning, it was something else entirely making his pupils dilate.  

Sometimes, Declan though that Marcus worried too much about the nonconsensual empathic link they shared, because while Omegas had a natural understanding of emotion, most of it was Greek to Declan.  Now was no different, but what he could understand - he liked.  It was a wave of spice and heat and velvet, and it made Declan groan even as he thrilled at the unexpected kiss claiming his mouth.  It was a double whammy, a combination punch fit to knock all of the sense out of his head, and the Alpha found himself reacting far quicker than this kind of shock usually warranted.  Body twisting, angling determinedly so that he could move without breaking contact with Marcus’s mouth, the larger of the two rolled onto his side and reached out blindly with his right hand, finding a trim waist and ribs that were still too sharp against the skin beneath Marcus’s T-shirt.  The Omega sucked in a little breath of surprise, but the empathic link was still overblown with emotions as hot as a summer haze, so the shock barely made a ripple.  The kiss, instead of breaking, stepped up a notch, Declan changing the angle and Marcus pressing closer with an almost contact-hungry desperation.  

Declan definitely wasn’t diverting the brainpower necessary to scrutinize Marcus’s emotions, but he reacted on instinct well enough when he felt that vulnerable desire stretching out to him.  Later, when he had thoughts in his head again, the Alpha would logically recognize that of course Marcus was ravenous for attention, for touch, for something.  Werewolves were pack creatures, and just the thought of living alone for any stretch of time made Declan’s stomach clench, and he leaned over Marcus a bit more just to press down into the kiss, shuddering at the almost painful wave of happiness that flared up from Marcus as a response.  No one should be that happy just because someone was paying attention to them for a quick kiss, Declan thought, and in some hazy part of his brain decided to make all of this worthy of Marcus’s fire-bright emotions.  Marcus was emoting as if a touch meant the world to him, so Declan gripped him tighter, suddenly possessive hands rucking up the Omega’s shirt as Declan pulled them closer together on the bed.  This time he felt Marcus’s gasp as his ribcage moved beneath his hand, but instead of anything resembling ‘No’ coming from Marcus’s mouth or down the link, deliriously happy surprise radiated outwards like a bone-deep shiver.  It was such a guileless response that Declan felt his heart squeeze painfully in his chest.  

Marcus noticed, and only then did he break their lips apart with an unexpectedly wet sound, expression troubled in the dim lighting.  “Is something wrong?” he asked, husky and concerned.  

There were so many things wrong, but none of them had anything to do with this moment - everything wrong had to do with the past that had made Marcus this uncertain and this starved.  Emphatically sure of himself, Declan shook his head and stated a firm, “No,” before proving his point and rocking forward the last few inches needed to put himself on top of Marcus, his new Omega emitting a sound of surprise before letting Declan swallow up the sound in another kiss.  Declan had to let go of Marcus’s side in order to brace himself, but the new angle allowed him to lean down and taste the other young man’s mouth at his leisure.  

It must have been reflex for Marcus to reach up in turn, although Declan felt his touch as a there-and-gone brush against his flank.  Uncertainty and embarrassment threatened to poison the emotional atmosphere filling their heads like honeyed smoke, and Declan released a little growl into Marcus’s open mouth before shifting his weight, reaching back, and grabbing his companion’s wrist.  He felt Marcus freeze, unease slicing through him like ice, but Declan thought clearly, ‘I’m not pushing you away,’ before pulling Marcus’s hand back in closer.  

Coincidentally (or not so coincidentally), this left Marcus with his fingertips sliding up under the hem of Declan’s T-shirt, and the Omega’s eyes grew wide as he searched Declan’s hovering face.  Then, in a show of reciprocation that matched the warming of his emotions again, the brunet leaned upwards and pecked Declan’s lips in shy invitation.  Declan grinned like it was Christmas and renewed his previous, pleasant task.  He made sure to transmit his approval when Marcus’s hand grew more bold, sliding up under Declan’s shirt and testing the skin of his lower back, right hand joining the adventure of its own accord.  

Marcus deserved attention like this.  That was Declan’s humble and probably biased opinion.  It both broke his heart and resealed it all with gold to realize that this was the first time that Marcus had really gone out of his way to ask for such attention, though.  Marcus had a lot of inhibitions, enough so that he’d been too nervous to even let the pack pups touch him, but apparently one could only stay emotionally bottled up for so long before something broke free - and blossomed in ways that made Declan’s heart thunder excitedly in his chest.  As he felt Marcus’s long fingers carefully trace the hem of his trousers, slide up along his spine in a subtle embrace that tightened as it rose higher, Declan hummed appreciatively and returned the favor by deepening the kiss.  A sharp inhale denoted Marcus’s surprise as he felt a tongue join in the fun, but he parted his lips, then his teeth, finally groaning loudly as Declan began mapping the inside of his mouth with curious, intent strokes.  The sound got trapped between them, but Marcus’s fingers also curled down delightedly against the muscles of Declan’s back, his shirt by now pushed up nearly to the level of his nipples.  

I should have done this ages ago,’ Declan had enough brainpower to speak mind to mind, having a totally immature moment where he thought about how nice it was to have telepathy when one’s mouth was otherwise occupied.  

Wordless, pleased thoughts were the response he got, the delicate pleasure of someone being complimented unexpectedly and out of nowhere.  Declan could have told Marcus that this wasn’t ‘out of nowhere’ by any stretch, but if he had to stop and explain just how many times he’d caught himself staring, they’d be there all night.  

Which, come to think of it, wasn’t really a bad thing.  

The wicked turn of Declan’s thoughts must have been clear enough to seep into Marcus’s psyche, because his hands clenched again, catching at the arched edges of Declan’s shoulder-blades, and the Omega shuddered enough for Declan to feel it.  He’d started licking back, but just stopped for a moment now with his eyes closed, head back, and mouth open as he caught up on lost air.  Declan gave him exactly two seconds before leaning down again, initiating a sloppy, open-mouthed kiss that was definitely more filthy than what they’d tried already.  It made Marcus jump a little, but then he started laughing, eyes opening up to show bright rings of shadowed blue in the unlit room.  

“Oh, laugh at me, will you?” Declan teased, nearly drunk on the ecstatic mood that Marcus was definitely projecting - and possibly through more than just the link.  Considering the conversation that had started this, about Melba’s suspicions about Marcus’s strength, Declan wondered if he should be a little bit afraid, but couldn’t find the energy to be.  Maybe later.  Right now, he decided that some playful payback was in order, as he shifted on the bed and stopped holding himself up quite as much.  His plan was to squish his companion just a little bit…

But neither of them had quite taken into account just how hard all the kissing had gotten them.  

The sudden friction was startling, and made cognizant thought totally impossible for a throbbing heartbeat or two as both Werewolves froze awkwardly in place and moaned.  “Well, that’s nothing to laugh about,” Declan quipped breathily, indeed trying to joke, but finding it hard when he was… well… hard.  He’d always been pretty turned on by simple kissing, but never quite this… efficiently.  He’d never had an Omega as a boyfriend/girlfriend before, of course, but he had to think that this was all because Marcus was Marcus, and there was something addicting about every facet of him.  

Marcus’s eyes had briefly rolled up in his head, and he tried and failed not to writhe a bit, torso arching slightly on the bed while his hands slipped down absently until they played along the sides of Declan’s ribs.  “I wouldn’t be opposed to more of that,” he said instead of keeping up with Declan’s line of conversation.  

“I know you wouldn’t be.”  This empathic link was officially awesome: Declan had always been worried about consent when it came to Marcus, not only because of his previous vulnerability to orders (which had ceased, thankfully) but because he often acted subservient out of fear instead of actual understanding and desire.  There were no underlying, negative emotions to be found right now, however, and Declan even thought he sensed subtle, empathic fingers stroking against his mind - an Omega’s power, being used idly but skillfully.  Declan thought that this was what a cat must feel like when it got its head stroked, and he just barely resisted the urge to tilt his head into the phantom sensation.  Instead, he buried his face in Marcus’s throat, drowning himself in the vanilla-and-cedar scent of him.  This time, they were both a bit more braced for the added weight and contact, but an indecent noise still rose up Marcus’s throat; Declan imagined that he could feel it vibrating against his mouth.  

It was unlikely that he needed to, but Declan asked anyway as he resettled his body again, “Is this okay?”  

Blinking his eyes open, Marcus looked around to see their new positions for himself, as if he couldn’t already tell by touch that Declan was settling down with more of his body over Marcus’s, shifting one leg to nudge between Marcus’s thighs.  For the briefest second, Declan felt Marcus’s nerves sizzle uncertainly, but then he wet his lips and replied, “If this means I don’t have to talk about my run-in with your dad’s Omega, then certainly.”

Snorting, Declan leaned in to nip at Marcus’s throat - right over the bite-mark he’d already left, the vivid bruise still tender enough to make the Omega yelp indignantly - then suddenly rolled and dragged Marcus with him.  With Marcus in an inelegant sprawl across his chest, and Declan’s shirt still bunched up under his arms, both of them probably looked like quite a sight, but that only made the Alpha grin more broadly.  Tawny-brown eyes sparkled as Marcus’s surprise faded to something that felt suspiciously like fond amusement and tolerance, and the Omega gave that signature half-smile of his that barely twitched his mouth, but made a little wrinkle appear on the bridge of his nose.  

“You’re just a big puppy, aren’t you?” Marcus accused dryly, even as he turned his head with a hint of coy shyness, his own words embarrassing him but tumbling out anyway.  Perhaps to redeem himself, now Marcus shifted his weight, actually managing a fair level of adroitness as he slung a leg over Declan’s waist and sat down on his bare stomach.  Declan was pretty sure that Marcus was blushing furiously right now, even if the poor lighting hid it, but couldn’t help being turned on by it all.  He got even more interested when Marcus hesitantly put his hands down, his dexterous fingers splaying over the bottom edges of the Alpha’s ribcage, feeling the subtle rise and fall of a hitched breath.  Toned stomach muscles tensed as want curled even hotter in Declan’s groin.

“Right now,” Declan said with utter sincerity, “I’m anything you want me to be.”

~^~

Holt had known that he’d made a good decision in avoiding the ‘mass exodus’ outside, and not just because he was wary of being swarmed by overeager pups.  Most of the Werewolves were still outside, enjoying the day, but Holt had returned as if he had a fire at his heels, and was now sitting at the kitchen table with Natalya and Leander Fen, Melba Claudette Smith-Lancaster, Moira Greywood, and Seth Loch-Greywood.  

He knew that he’d have to tell the younger Fen as well as his Omega, Marcus, this information soon, too - but technically his employer was Moira, and the last report of Declan and Marcus was that the former had gone off with the latter to calm down.  Of course, when Moira had gone to look for them, she’d returned with a smile that said a thousand other wicked things, and Holt had felt disinclined to ask precisely what she’d learned.  Regardless, when Moira had declared the younger Werewolves ‘busy,’ no one had questioned it.  Sometimes, information was best heard first by older and wiser heads.  

“So, you said that you learned something about the Rushton boy?” Leander asked, getting the ball rolling.  

Holt was a man who watched his words and used them carefully, but he only had to pause for a brief moment to collect himself.  Hands folded atop the table (the smell of apple pie was wafting distractingly on the air, tickling at his nose and threatening to destabilize the calm he practiced so hard to keep), Alan nodded, replying, “I got a phone call just under an hour ago suggesting that new evidence has been found in his case - or, rather, old evidence that was misappropriated until now.  It seems that guilty consciences exist in more than just children’s fairy tales.”

“So what are you saying?” Natalya asked.  She was as shrewd as her husband, but often came across as soft - an appearance that led to her being underestimated, not unlike Seth was underestimated.  All of the Alphas in this room had mated powerful but subtle partners.  “That there was evidence stolen at the time of the original investigation?”

“I did some preliminary digging, and it sounds like it’s more complicated than that,” Holt cautioned, then lifted a hand to tip it back and forth in a seesaw motion, indicating the uncertainty of it all - he wasn’t a man to encourage hope when the facts weren’t all in.  Facts were the foundation that hope stood upon, in his world.  “It would appear that a lab technician removed evidence - some of Marcus’s blood samples, in this case, taken right after he was discovered at the crime scene.  The chain of custody hasn’t been broken, however, and apparently the reason for this pilfering was because the lab tech caught wind that someone was going to tamper with the tests.”  

Moira gave a low whistle while Leander pulled in a brief gasp of surprise.  Only the Omegas in the room seemed untroubled, but Melba could hide a lot of emotion behind her plethora of aged wrinkles, and Seth was such a cool customer that Holt had actually thought he didn’t speak English when they first met - it was as if he didn’t understand the shocking words being spoken, but the lawyer knew from experience that Seth both heard and recollected everything with dangerous efficiency.  Holt was often very, very glad that Seth wasn’t a lawyer… because he’d probably be very good at it.  

“What lab tests are we talking about, precisely?” Natalya was the one to bring the conversation back on track again.  Her shock showed in her eyes, but she leaned forward intently, lips pursing.  

“Well, the tests were originally done to prove whether or not Marcus had any drugs in his system at the time of the murders,” Holt began the tedious but necessary process of simplifying his legalese into understandable terms, also dumbing down the extensive forensics lesson he’d gotten in order to understand all of this in more detail.  “He claims to not recall anything between the bar and suddenly finding himself at the scene of the crime.  At the very least, proof of a drug in his system would prove that he was not responsible for his actions.”

“Or that someone else drugged him and is responsible for this,” Leander hazarded.  

Still wary of hope, but thinking the same possibility himself, Holt nodded, his cognac-brown eyes flicking around the assembled faces and reading various levels of thoughtfulness from them all.  He was used to Moira’s level of thoughtfulness, of course, a predatory sort of focus that said she was analyzing weaknesses in a way that was somewhat more physical than Holt preferred.  She was a carnivore through and through, and he made an absent mental note not to let slip any names if a suspect was ever discovered.  It wasn’t really a question of whether Moira had the guts to take matters into her own hands (or jaws) if that seemed most efficient - the danger was that she did and probably wouldn’t get caught.  It was a weird and dangerous pack that Holt lived in.

He loved it.  

“This could be doubly good for Marcus’s case,” Holt went on, sitting back and stretching out his long legs, “It shows that someone tampered with evidence, which hints that there’s someone out to get him.  It casts reasonable doubt quite effectively.  Also, the so-called original evidence showed no drugs in Marcus’s system to corroborate his story of not remembering anything - but now we can possibly get that evidence thrown out altogether, if we can prove that it was tampered with.”

“This witness - this lab technician - says that it was?” Moira cocked her head like a pale-plumaged eagle, cool but intense, aloof but curious.  There were claws behind that look, but Holt was used to it, and was able to deliver an answer to his Alpha swiftly.  

“Yes.  Details are still filtering in, but from what I know already, he literally overheard someone saying that they planned to at least attempt a bit of foul-play with Marcus’s blood samples.”

“Why didn’t this person speak up before?” Melba spoke up for the first time.  Holt turned to regard her.  He didn't know the old Omega well, but her reputation preceded her.  She was a soldier, a tactician, beneath the wizened-apple look.  

It was entirely possible that Holt over-analyzed everyone he met until he deemed them all dangerous.  Including the children that seemed to flock to him for some godforsaken reason.  

His face remaining mild and as pleasant as a used-car salesman’s, Holt answered her, too, “Apparently, he was afraid for his life if he spoke up.”  

That caused a stir around the table, and Holt would have been lying if he said he didn’t like theatrics a little, so he sat back and quietly watched the show until everyone settled down again.  He maintained his genteel facade and began to quietly explain himself, meanwhile strategizing in his head - he’d always been a good multitasker.  “I’m waiting for an opportunity to question this witness myself, but what it amounts to is this: something was going on in that lab, and someone was not only jeopardizing evidence but doing so in a threatening enough manner that his or her coworkers have been afraid to speak up.”

“Until now,” Seth spoke up for the first time.  His voice was very quiet, but everyone turned to him anyway, as if startled to realize that he was there.  

“Bingo,” Holt nodded again, folding his hands across his lean stomach, “I’m thinking that no one was really quite prepared for Mr. Rushton to come back and defend himself.”

~^~

Marcus lay on his back on the bed, feeling more contented than he could ever remember feeling.  

Of course, his left arm was falling asleep, but that was because Declan had decided to conscript it as a pillow.  The Alpha was curled like a protective bulwark against Marcus’s side, lightly dosing with one arm tossed casually over the leaner man’s chest.  To be fair, Marcus was taking liberties with touch, too, his left forearm bent so that it curled up around the back of Declan’s head, fingers buried in gold-blond hair and playing with it distractedly.  The petting seemed to be keeping Declan from falling into a true, deep sleep, but the empathic link was still pulsing warmly.  Declan also had every opportunity to complain if he wanted to - he was an Alpha, for god’s sakes, and hardly mute - but instead he just continued to inhale and exhale slowly and deeply with his nose tucked in against Marcus’s neck.  Every warm rush of air tickled across the bite-mark there and made the Omega shiver.  At this rate, the bruise would never fade, because Declan kept coming back to it - even now, the larger Werewolf tilted his head just to brush his nose and mouth against it, although at least he didn’t put his teeth to use again.  

Well, maybe he had a little bit.  

Declan’s continued interest in the bonding-mark… in all of him… had Marcus’s heart warming from the inside out until his chest felt like it was overflowing with simple, burning contentment.  For the moment, he didn’t have to think about the outside world or the future, so he wasn’t going to.

“Hmm,” Declan hummed lowly, the vibration reaching right through Marcus’s side, “I could get addicted to all of these happy-feelings you’re radiating.”

That startled the Omega into finally opening his eyes and glancing over in surprise.  “Addicted to wha-?  Oh.”  Midway through his sentence he realized what he was doing, and with a flush of embarrassed color he struggled to find the switch within himself, but before he could stop using his inherent Omega abilities, Declan’s hand slid up his chest until it was cupping the far side of Marcus’s neck (where Clarissa’s bite was finally healed).  

“Hey, I didn’t say stop!” Declan protested drowsily.  His tawny eyes did indeed look a little bit drugged as he levered his lids open, but only for the first few blinks.  After that, alertness returned, although he didn’t change his opinion.  “It’s not like you’re hurting anything.”

Still a bit uncomfortable at the realization that he was manipulating the mood, Marcus frowned and said uncertainly, “All right then.”  He couldn’t help but think of Clarissa Fen, however, and how she'd used her powers with literally no regard for the free will of others.  It made Marcus decidedly leery of doing the same, so he fidgeted a moment before swiveling his head to catch Declan’s swiftly closing eyes.  “You’re not bothered?  You’re sure?  How do you know-?”

“That I’m not just agreeing with you because you’re making me feel good?” Declan finished with uncanny accuracy.  Then he shrugged, tipping his head back as if to encourage Marcus to play with his hair again.  “No frickin’ clue.  But so long as you don’t ask me to make any life-altering decisions right now, I don’t think it matters.  Omegas do this stuff all right time, right?  Didn’t you?  With your pack?”

The last sentence was said carefully, aware that this would never be an easy topic to discuss.  Marcus didn’t react negatively except to clench his jaw briefly, however, and then he was answering with defeated honesty, “Yeah, I guess I did.  But not often and not well.  Mostly I just stopped fights and stuff.”

“Sooo....”  Declan still had a hooded look, but his eyes remained entirely too sharp behind that as he dragged the first word out, “You also have no idea about this new empathic link?”  When Marcus scowled at him, Declan admonished, “Hey, I didn’t say it just to stroke you the wrong way,” and reached out to catch Marcus’s chin in strong fingers, pulling his chin swiftly forward to startle him with a close-lipped kiss.  “It’s just that we still have no idea how this happened, or why it’s never happened to anyone else, that we know of.  Did Melba say anything about it?  Did you tell her?”

Marcus nodded, almost as surprised as Declan that he’d shared that information.  In the heat of the moment, it had seemed like he needed to; now, the urgency was gone and the emotions far away.  He found himself slowly, slowly, slowly explaining, eyes drifting closed as he sought out the memory in all of its details…

 

Chapter Text

Things happened quickly after that.  

Holt was like a hound on a scent - a particularly vicious yet well-spoken hound, somehow managing to maintain manners even as he did his job with ruthless efficiency.  With this one witness stepping forward, the case against Marcus was already becoming shaky, and Holt was monopolizing on that like the lawyer he was.  It was becoming increasingly clear that the new evidence was going to trump the old: Marcus’s initial blood test had shown no drugs in his system, making his claims to ‘not remember’ anything seem fraudulent.  However, Werewolves all had a notoriously swift metabolism that worked hand-in-hand with their healing abilities - meaning if blood wasn’t collected fast enough or tested correctly, false negatives were easy to come by.  The new witness was coming with the blood sample that he’d stolen and preserved reportedly with great care, and Holt was already tentatively optimistic that this blood would show what the other had not: drugs in Marcus’s system.  The previous lab-tech was also being tracked down, and would be questioned closely regarding his methods.  

Tests took time, so in the meanwhile, Holt went over Marcus’s story with a fine-toothed comb.  Declan also sat in, and while Holt was still skeptical about the Alpha’s ability to ‘share memories’ with his new Omega, he didn’t stop Declan from chiming in and pointing things out that Marcus had glossed over as unimportant.  Nothing Declan said would be admissible in court beyond his ability as Marcus’s Alpha to play lie-detector, but every time the story grew more fleshed out, Holt gleaned another piece of information that might be useful.  

That, and being in Moira’s pack had taught Holt not to question Alphas when it came to their Omegas.  

When Marcus's tests came back, it was a major breakthrough, and there was actual cheering in the house and an impromptu celebration: preliminary findings showed that this newly recovered blood sample showed the drug called Soporilethe.  It was a fairly rare drug, but was known to work on Werewolves.  Specifically, it had amnesiac qualities.  Holt immediately began researching whether or not someone with this drug in their system would also be mobile enough to take down an able-bodied adult Werewolf, let alone a whole pack of Werewolves.  

“And clean up afterwards,” Holt pointed out, catching on to something that had been suspiciously ignored up until now.  “There were no fingerprints recovered at the scene beside those of the pack that lived there - which makes it rather convenient for anyone who wants to blame this all on you, Mr. Rushton.” He paused for a moment as a thoughtful expression molded his features. "Speaking of test results, I've just thought of something else that seems odd. I'll follow up on it and let you know if it bears fruit. Until then, timelines..."  The lawyer went back to prompting answers from his client, previous thoughts tucked away beneath the practiced mask of his polite smile.

Marcus still couldn’t account for his actions after his argument with his now-deceased Alpha or before coming back to himself at the scene of the crime.  So while Holt focused on the drug, tracking down not only its effects and uses but also how one might hypothetically acquire it, Declan put his focus on Marcus’s memories - specifically, any memories that could include how in the world he got drugged.  “Come on, Marcus.  You said you were angry.  You went out…?”

The memories hadn’t lost their sting, but with Declan by his side, Marcus was getting increasingly better at wading through them.  “The bar.  I went to a bar I knew…”  At this point, Holt showed that his foresight was worth his stipend (or at least worth Moira’s high accord), because a sketch artist was brought in.  All of the faces that Marcus recalled were laboriously transferred from his memory to paper.  All the while, Declan (following Holt’s finely worded request) offered as much help as he could without doing anything that might be misconstrued as tampering with Marcus’s words.  Honestly, Declan knew some of Marcus’s memories well enough at this point to describe faces, but Holt had made it crystal clear that it was Marcus who would be on the stand, not Declan.  And if the prosecution got it in their heads that Declan was molding his Omega’s responses, it wouldn’t end well.  

So while Declan couldn’t lead, he could nudge.  “Look to your right, Marcus, in the bar - imagine yourself sitting there again.  Who is on your right?”  ‘Imagine’ questions like this were met by Holt nodding quietly, and without exception, Marcus’s eyes would widen a touch and soon he’d be describing another person.  Declan and Marcus had walked through these memories together, and it was similar to doing so again, only with Declan a few more steps removed - instead of being in his head with him, Declan was sitting next to him like a particularly unassuming tour guide.  

Just about every day after that saw Holt out of the house.  It was shocking how fast he began putting names to faces, although he cautioned that he wouldn’t do anything until he had more information.  Marcus made it easier for him by naming at least three people he knew, and Holt was appalled that this hadn’t been followed up - no one had really looked into what happened at the pub, which all read of a shoddy investigation and a subsequent cover-up.  “Simon,” Marcus named one in particular, “Simon Roen.  He’s a Werewolf - an Omega like me.  He was there, I remember him now, and he could definitely corroborate my story!”

Holt raised an eyebrow but looked interested.  “Do you think he’d be able to tell us about the time you can’t account for?”  Marcus only remember entering the bar, really - even with Declan’s help, some of his memories were totally unrecoverable, and the amnesiac quality of the drug had caused him to even lose some of the memories prior to ingesting it.  Holt had learned that Soporilethe was almost always a liquid, and unless Marcus had somehow been injected with it (unlikely, considering the public setting), he’d drunk it.  Until he could question the lab-tech suspected of tampering with evidence, Holt’s main focus for the moment was on reconstructing the timeline of  what had occurred from the bar onwards, because there had to be witnesses.

Marcus nodded rapidly, and leaned to one side seemingly without thinking, until his shoulder brushed Declan’s in the chair next to him.  “Simon and I have been friends since we were kids.  I actually considered seeking him out when… when I ran.  But I had to get out of town, and his pack lived too close to everything.”

“Which pack?” Holt asked, pen and paper in hand, even though his memory was like a steel trap when it came to information.  

“Ruben.  His birth-pack was the MacLinn pack.”

Head lifting, Holt observed, “MacLinn.  That’s an Old pack name.”

Marcus admitted that it was, although he’d never really thought about it.  He and Simon had always been close, to the point where they’d both stuck together even when it became obvious that they’d have to leave and find new packs for themselves.  Shortly after Marcus had been accepted into his own pack - the Westerly pack, which he even now said with a hushed voice - Simon had joined the Ruben pack.  Simon’s pack was very small, a new pack not unlike Declan’s, which presented challenges for tracking it down, even after Marcus recollected his old friend’s phone number.  “Last I knew, they had a small corner of territory near our… near the Westerly territory.  But they could have moved,” Marcus cautioned, painfully hopeful that his old friend could shed some light on the subject but terrified that he’d be difficult to find, because small packs regularly jostled for territory.  Declan’s family name (along with a certain amount of family money) provided him with stability, but the Ruben pack could be downright nomadic.  Simon was from an Old pack, but not related to the MacLinn name by blood, and he wasn’t the Alpha anyway.  

Much of the strain Marcus was under got balanced out by the party.  This was prior to Holt running off to hunt down names from the bar, so he had little choice but to attend - he still tried to escape when it became clear that he’d have to socialize with the packs’ members, but Moira (with a gleam of what could only be called pure evil in her grey eyes) physically restrained him from leaving even as the party crescendoed into full swing.  With a glass of wine in one hand and her other arm occupied by Holt’s neck (slung companionably around his shoulders in what looked like a friendly embrace but which was inches away from being a headlock), Moira smiled beatifically at her pack and her sister’s pack, and perhaps smirked a bit wider when the three pups magically gravitated towards her lawyer’s person.  He squirmed, muttered only vaguely polite things, and gave awkward head pats that somehow didn’t dissuade the children in the slightest.  

Old Melba shuffled throughout the entire proceedings, working with both Natalya and Leander Fen to cook and set out food.  Leander was known as a good cook, and Melba a great one, and Natalya was more than happy to chime in and assist now that Moira had offered to watch the children (or, rather, Moira had volunteered her reluctant pup-magnet, Alan Holt).  Seth Loch had somehow become the person in charge of alcohol while no one was looking, as often seemed the case with him - Moira’s Omega got an awful lot of surprising things done when no one was paying him any mind.  In fact, there was some worry that this party would be largely non-alcoholic until Seth walked into the kitchen unannounced with a bottle of Scotch in one hand and a pricey brand of wine in the other.  “I’ve got more in the car,” was how he announced himself, quiet as always, but Melba (who’d been bent over cutting potatoes) nearly jumped out of her skin as he spoke up behind her.  

Leander was decently aware of the tension shared between his sister-in-law’s Omega and his own, but as a rule, he let Melba handle her own problems unless she brought them up as pack-business.  Therefore, he simply looked up from setting the oven and raised one eyebrow as the old woman turned stiffly, scowled up at Seth’s blank expression, and informed the young man bluntly, “You’re one spooky sonofabitch, you know that?”  

Seth chose right then to pretend he didn’t understand English, and slid past Melba to deposit his spoils on the counter.  He managed to startle Melba a total of four more times as he traveled back and forth delivering alcohol.  Since this was pretty much par for the course for Seth and Melba, Leander ignored it and his wife Natalya ended up laughing.  “Oh, go ahead,” Melba huffed, looking out of sorts as Seth disappeared again, “Laugh at the poor old woman who’s going to die an early death of a heart attack.  Don’t say anything about how Moira’s shadow is a wolf in sheep’s clothing.”

“Melba,” Natalya fondly deadpanned, leaning against a chair, “we all are.”

“Yes, but you don’t eavesdrop on nice folk.”

“Since when have you caught Seth eavesdropping?”

Melba’s frown deepened until it looked like part of her face would be permanently lost to wrinkles, but she avoided answering by asking back instead, “Look me in the eye and tell me that that sister of yours would disapprove of eavesdropping to begin with.”

Leander interjected while trying to hide a smile, “Old Melba’s got a point, love.  Your sister would just love a bit of intrigue, and god knows she’s cheated every time we’ve ever played cards with her.  She’s shameless.”

“Careful, husband,” Natalya flicked her eyes to him to say with cool pleasantness, “That’s your wife’s sister you’re talking about.  This might not be our house, but you can still find yourself sleeping on the couch.”

The light banter continued, bouncing between topics that seemed serious on the surface but were ultimately old paths their words had walked many times before.  Moira was renowned as a cutthroat, and her shamelessness was her advantage; Melba didn’t like Seth because for some reason she never sensed him coming, as if he somehow occupied a gap in her otherwise eerily keen senses (in everyone’s senses, to be fair); Seth, in turn, was always careful not to push the older Omega too far lest her annoyance and distrust catch fire and become something more… incendiary.  The Fens and the Greywoods only mingled en masse like this rarely, but it was always an amusing and delicate dance of powerful personalities when they did.  

Marcus had never felt so accepted as when the party came to life all around him, finally forcing him to admit that he had the support and affection of not one pack - but three.  

This is incredible,’ Marcus thought telepathically to Declan, as he sat on the couch sandwiched between Liz and Kobi - who were acting as body-guards, because sometimes Marcus still got insecure and overwhelmed if strangers got too close.  The young Omega was rubbing absently at the scar on his neck while watching Holt stalk slowly across the room - no longer being held forcibly still by his Alpha, the poor Beta was still trapped, only now his manacles took the shape of three children scurrying along in his wake like smiling seagulls.  Marcus found himself giggling wickedly, his jaw almost cramping with the effort it took not to outright smirk at the sight, ‘That poor guy.  Why do they like him so much?

No idea,’ Declan said.  He was across the room but still in view, discussing something verbally with his mother but somehow keeping up a second conversation in his head, ‘I’ve never met the guy, but you’d think that someone told the kids he was made of candy or something.  I think it’s like cats always making a beeline for the most allergic person in the entire room.’

Holt’s utter discomfort notwithstanding, the evening went wonderfully.  

Another thing that Marcus had to get used to, besides having so many Werewolves around him once again, was the sleeping arrangement - because it turned out that he was going to share space with his pack.  With his whole pack, in fact.  The bed that he and Declan had fooled around in actually turned out to be theirs.  

The declaration that Liz and Kobi would be sleeping in one bed and Declan and Marcus the second bed in the same room was at first met with some mortification and embarrassment on Marcus’s part.  His own pack, the Westerly pack, hadn’t been quite as ‘touchy-feely’ as all this, and despite the fact that he’d almost ended up naked with his Alpha already (and had shared a bed with him more than once before), Marcus balked.  

To be fair, everyone was a bit off their game: Liz and Kobi had been conscripted to peel the pups away from Holt and then try and get them back to their respective parents, which had turned difficult when the little Omega pup had shape-shifted and turned it all into a game of hide-and-seek.  Liz also tended to get sleepy when she drank, so while she was still quite sober, she was eager to sleep, and Kobi along with her.  Declan, for his part, was confused and a bit frustrated that now was the point at which Marcus decided that they couldn’t even share a bed - despite the fact that the entire house was filled to capacity, and that they were hardly the only ones sharing rooms.  

The second that Marcus felt Declan’s snap of bewildered temper, the Alpha could see it: he could see the way the smaller man flinched, his lean lines drawing up into hard angles and his body language tightening into something afraid.  Remorse replaced exasperation, and Declan quickly backed down.  

“You can have the bed to yourself.”  Declan was careful to make his tone non-judgmental, and hoped that he succeeded in getting his emotions to reflect that - because the last thing he really wanted was to force Marcus into doing something.  Even if he thought that the other Werewolf was being stupid about the matter, that didn’t give Declan the right to be an asshole about it, not when he knew full-well how hard it was for Marcus to interact with others in even the best circumstances.  The Alpha gestured to the bed that he and Marcus had somewhat monopolized earlier, even as he sent a few subtle telepathic messages to Liz and Kobi to just go with him on this one.  “Seriously, it’s not a problem,” he added, and meant it, “I’ve shared a bed with Liz and Kobi before, and if nothing else, this place has huge beds.  Three will fit.”  When Marcus, looking and feeling torn - gutted, almost, anxious to the point where Declan could almost smell it like burnt oranges on the air - opened his mouth to protest, Declan gently cut him off, “We can always rearrange ourselves tomorrow.  It’s just one night.”

Marcus closed his mouth, looking like he’d just lost something.  For a moment, Declan hoped that he’d argue or change his mind - but instead of reneging on his earlier decision and asking Declan to share a bed with him, the Omega backed up skittishly.  His gaze deflecting away, Marcus dragged a fidgety hand back through his hair, the dark strands sliding through his fingers and falling ruffled across his brow, and his mind became about as closed off as it possibly could be with the empathic link still stretched between them like an inescapable cord.  

Liz and Kobi were both waiting with questioning expressions when Declan tore his eyes away from Marcus to look at them, and he sighed in defeat and thought at his Betas, ‘I think he just needs time and space.

Want to talk about it?’ Liz asked back.  She angled toward their designated bed, and was polite enough to turn her back on Marcus even as she skinned off her shirt to reveal pale, freckled skin and a navy-blue sports-bra.  It was almost amusing to feel the spark of shock from Marcus, meaning he’d had his eyes turned this way just long enough to get a good look at Kobi’s girlfriend shirtless.  

Well, the joke was on Marcus, because Declan, Kobi, and Liz had all undressed often enough in each other’s presence that there was going to be a bit more near-nudity before everyone settled into bed.  The three of them did turn to give Marcus his privacy, though, aware that his scarred skin leant itself to a body-conscious attitude.  As Declan fought his own shirt off over his head and then looked around hoping that someone had dragged his bags up here so that he didn’t have to sleep in his jeans, he thought back tiredly, ‘I’m not sure how much there is to talk about. If he wants to be self-conscious, he’s allowed to be,' before spotting his stuff at the bed-foot.

Marcus could be heard shuffling around and presumably dressing behind them, but all Declan could feel from him was a dark cloud of unhappiness and worry, all of it tangled into a stubborn knot that he didn’t think he was up to untangling at this hour.  The three Werewolves continued preparing for bed, stripping down to underclothes and then pulling on attire of a more comfortable sort, Liz settling for shorts and a soft tee, the boys both managing to find sweatpants but Kobi opting to go barechested as he more or less fell into bed.  From his position, belly-down on the blankets, the broad-shouldered Beta asked sleepily, ‘He remembers that we’ve all caught him sleeping with you before, right?  And he’s slept with Liz and me, too.’

Feeling his heart warm at the sight of Liz crawling into place next to Kobi, both of his Betas happy as they briefly struggled for the blankets, Declan outwardly sighed but telepathically answered, ‘He remembers.  And…’  Casting a brief glance over his shoulder, just enough to see Marcus sliding under the covers of the other bed, Declan scratched at the back of his neck in embarrassment before hurriedly admitting, ‘...He and I might have already slept on that bed.’

Wine might have made Liz sleepy, but that was worth her attention as one green eye popped back open to angle Declan’s way.  ‘And by ‘sleep’ do you mean the really acrobatic kind of sleeping…?’

Declan almost choked on nothing, then glared at his Beta as she smirked.  Kobi, smart man that he was, hid his face against his girlfriend’s neck so that any grins of his own were expertly concealed.  ‘No,’ Declan replied with ample grumpiness filling his mental tone even if his emotions were doing little back-flips instead.  He could feel how that was confusing Marcus, but the Omega was slowly getting better and getter at strangling off the empathic link between them - which was sort of nice, but also rather frustrating, because Marcus was enough of an enigma without Declan also losing this one insight into his head.  Trying to push aside his desire to share space with Marcus and just accept that he didn’t want company, Declan slid onto the bed and forced the other two to make room, Liz ending up in the middle with her back spooned against Kobi, a tiny bit of polite space between her and the Alpha Werewolf in front of her.  ‘As soon as I know exactly what’s going on between Marcus and me, believe me, I’ll let you know,’ was the last thing he mentally grumbled about before turning his head stubbornly into the pillow and closing his eyes.  He felt little flickers of sympathy from the two Betas, but ultimately, they were tired, too.  That, and Werewolves could be pretty decent about minding their own business, even though their noses were good enough to have scented sex (or lack thereof) before this conversation even started.  

Focusing on the sounds of two - now three - familiar heartbeats and the susurrus of even breathing all around him, Declan tried to settle down and find sleep.  He’d known that Marcus would be hard to handle from the moment he met him, but he’d wanted him in his pack anyway, so they’d deal with this as they’d dealt with everything up until now: patiently.  And preferably after a good night’s sleep had cleared everyone’s heads.  Liz and Kobi radiated contentment like the smell of dandelions on a hot day, Kobi’s arm finding its way around Liz’s waist where her shirt was already riding up to reveal a pale, flat stomach; some of Liz’s hair was spilling across the blankets to just tickle Declan’s hand where it rested laxly in between them, vibrant red against white sheets and tanned skin.  Just by listening to Liz and Kobi’s hearts, beating nearly in rhythm with one another, Declan could tell how close they were to sleep - he just wished that Marcus was the same, because even without his heartbeat giving him away, the Omega kept shifting around restlessly across the room.  

Just when Declan couldn’t help but be a bit annoyed by the sound, he heard blankets being tossed back and feet thump softly on the floor.  

Marcus’s emotions felt like a nest of barbed-wire, tightly coiled and painful to touch.  It was such a miserable feeling that Declan lifted his head, even though the light had been flicked off, severely limiting what he could see amidst the shadows of the room.  As he started to prop himself up, however, he heard the familiar twist and crack of bones shifting and remaking themselves, Marcus grunting just a little because he still didn’t transform nearly as often as a Werewolf should.  Moments later and paws were very quietly padding across the carpeted floor, the lupine equivalent of tip-toeing as the Omega moved with exquisite but hurried care.  Declan felt like he had his heart in his throat in sympathy, feeling the onslaught of Marcus’s increasing nervousness.  Like someone trying to act before their commonsense caught up with them, however, Marcus crossed all the way over to the second bed, and even in the darkness Declan could see the sleek, pale head of Marcus’s lupine form as it peaked over the edge near everyone’s feet.  

The well of emotions… tightened, like a fist around the heart, and Marcus looked smaller than ever with his ears flattened into invisibility against his skull and his body held low as he snuck close.  Liz and Kobi were starting to notice now, because even if they didn’t have a permanent window into Marcus’s emotions they did have noses, and they knew the scent of another Werewolf in distress.  Just as Liz frowned and opened her eyes, a question on Kobi’s lips, Marcus bunched his haunches and leapt up onto the bed, claws out nervously to needle the blankets.  

Declan was propped up on one elbow by then, and he met Marcus’s eyes for just a second before the white wolf’s snout dipped down and he broke eye-contact.  ‘I’m sorry,’ Marcus thought quietly, although exactly what he thought he was apologizing for, Declan had no idea.  Legs splayed awkwardly and tailed tucked up against his belly, the Omega glanced back and forth in a cowed sort of way between the rest of his new pack, then very slowly folded himself down until he was curled up at everyone’s feet.  His eyes remained wide and watchful, alert for reproach, even as he tucked his legs in and made himself as compact as possible.

And begged to stay silently with his eyes.  

“Oh, Marcus,” Liz said, her voice so sad that it hurt to hear, summing up the travesty that she, Declan, and Kobi all felt: Marcus didn’t have any reason to be so timid.  

When Marcus just stayed where he was, silent and as inconspicuous as a leverett in the grass, Declan pushed into a sitting position and reached forward wordlessly.  As expected, Marcus’s instinctual reaction was to duck away, his eyes following Declan’s hand even as he lowered his head until he was all but burying his nose beneath wrinkles in the blankets.  His tail coiled with nervous tightness against his flank, the pads of his paws briefly showing as he scrambled to tuck them in impossibly tighter against his belly, although his claws never peaked out again.  A pacifist, Declan recalled yet again, and wished with sudden fervor that he could just scream that at everyone who had ever thought this young man a murderer.  

Marcus almost but didn’t quite roll over to show his belly, but probably only because Declan got a fistful of his scruff in hand first.  “Come on, up you come,” the Alpha murmured quietly, and pulled as gently as he could while also trying to overcome Marcus’s reluctance to move - Alpha strength won out, and Marcus half-skidded, half belly-crawled up and over Liz and Declan’s legs and into the space between the two of them.  It made Declan relax to immediately feel Liz and Kobi’s approval and happiness being sent his way, but he still had a very conflicted Marcus struggling to figure out where to put his paws.  “If I let go,” Declan asked calmly out loud, meeting Marcus’s pale-blue eyes in the dark, “are you going to leave?”  

I… um…’  Marcus’s thoughts stumbled over themselves, and his shoulder-blades slid beneath his soft ruff as he shifted his weight.  ‘I don’t know?’ he finally finished with a helpless little swivel of his ears.  He seemed uncertain as to what the correct answer was.  

With a wan smile and a secret hope that they’d someday get past all this - the wariness, the desire to only gives answer that Marcus thought others wanted to hear - Declan murmured, “Well, in that case…”  Leaving his sentence hanging, Declan lay back down again… and took Marcus down with him.  Marcus whined and resisted the downward tug, but Declan had one free hand, and that was all it took to scoop the Omega’s slim forelegs out from under him.  It felt like deja vu from the last time he’d forcibly convinced Marcus that he was wanted, only this time Kobi and Liz reached out simultaneously to help, the young woman actually tugging on one of Marcus’s ears and Kobi reaching right over her to place one big hand across Marcus’s back.  Between the three of them, Marcus was soon manhandled into lying down, so snug that he was touching someone on all sides.  

Marcus didn’t know what to do, and that was obvious even without the empathic link.  He’d tipped over on his side enough so that his hind paws were braced against Declan’s thighs and his lower back made a curve parallel to Liz’s stomach.  He still had his forelegs braced a little, and his head lifted so that he could swivel his head and give everyone else rather appalled, anxious looks.  In the room’s dim light, his fur seemed almost to glow, and Declan didn’t even try to stop the urge to touch it: as he belatedly released Marcus’s scruff, he let his hand stroke downwards over shoulder and ribs.  Marcus whined again, confused and sad, when Declan reached up to cup his hand over the bridge of the Omega’s sleek snout, but it was only so that they were eye-to-eye.  

“This is what it means to be in my pack, Marcus,” Declan leaned in close to say, noses almost touching.  White ears hesitantly tipped forward.  Declan smoothed them back again with another caress as he drew his hand up over Marcus’s skull and down his neck so that he could pull the bewildered little wolf in close.  This time, Marcus came without a fight, eyes closing and legs pulling in so that his forepaws just nudged Declan’s broad chest.  Feeling a wet nose against his throat, Declan finished, “It means we always want you as close as we can have you.”

Marcus’s claws extended just enough to snag in Declan’s shirt, and they all drifted off that way, four Werewolves of various shapes and sizes sharing a too-small bed and only shifting closer as the night wore on.

~^~

 

Chapter Text

The case for Marcus’s innocence was building momentum, and Holt was riding at the head of that momentum like some sort of shark at the crest of an incoming wave.  The news that Marcus had been drugged was just the start - next, Holt demanded to talk to the investigator in charge of the initial case, and suddenly the case against Marcus began to look as shady as fuck.  

“Looking at the records, I see that you had Marcus’s blood taken immediately for testing but not any of his deceased pack's blood,” Holt said, long fingers splayed over the pile of files that he’d acquired copies of.  His cognac-brown eyes flicked up, sharp despite his otherwise pleasant expression.  He smiled with a flash of too-white teeth that somehow managed to look more dangerous than the mouth full of canine fangs he was capable of wearing.  “Ignoring for a moment how mishandled Marcus’s blood samples were, can you tell me why no other samples were taken?”

The investigator was a middle-aged man with a strong jaw, hair buzzed short, and presently a rather nervous expression on his face.  Just like everyone else, he’d been warned that Mr. Rushton’s lawyer was a Werewolf, but it was entirely possible that Alan Holt would have been one scary sonofabitch even if he were one-hundred-percent human - as the chief investigator was.  “It was deemed that there was no need,” he replied awkwardly.  

Holt just kept smiling.  If anything, he smiled more congenially, but Holt was at his deadliest when he was at his friendliest.  “See, I find that strange,” he went on, straightening out his papers idly without looking at them.  Everything was already indelibly in his head.  “Because I’d surely think it necessary to take blood samples and test for the presence of drugs, considering how borderline impossible it would be for one person to kill off twelve Werewolves without some sort of chemical assistance.”

Bristling now, the investigator replied in a harder tone, “The Rushton kid could have done it - he was their Omega, he had their trust.”

“If one of your trusted family members came in and started systematically killing off people in your house, would you just sit by and let them do it?” Holt asked.  Despite the politeness of his tone, the police department’s lawyer watching over the proceedings took offense to Holt’s question, so the Werewolf backed off, lifting a hand in a mollifying manner as he amended, “I apologize.  However, let me assure you, a Werewolf Omega is not quite so exceedingly trusted that he or she would be allowed to just waltz in and commit multiple murders unchallenged.  Marcus’s Alpha, if nothing else, would have commanded that Marcus stop - if you’ve read up on Werewolf lore at all, you know that an Alpha’s word is literally law to any member of his or her pack.”

Clearly the investigator was growing contentious in the face of Holt’s strategic criticisms, because the man cut back harshly, “So even you would have to answer to your Alpha if he told you to roll over?”

The police department’s lawyer ran a resigned hand over her eyes and sighed to show she gave up on her client in this moment, even as Holt’s eyes hardened and his smile turned cold.  However, he didn’t demur from replying fluidly, “My Alpha is a she, and yes, she could command me.  Then again, if you’d ever met her, you’d realize that just about any sane person would ask ‘How high?’ if she said ‘Jump’.  Then again, you and I aren’t talking in sane terms, are we?  Because thinking that an entire pack of Werewolves could be slaughtered without them being first incapacitated in some way is truly insane.”

Holt regained control of the conversation then, his xyresic words together with a clear ‘don’t fuck with me’ tone serving to keep the investigator from making further antagonizing statements.  Ultimately, Holt agreed not to file suit for gross investigative negligence, police misconduct, evidence tampering, and willful denial of due process for his client, in return for cooperation in exhuming at least two of the victims’ bodies.  Werewolf metabolism might have worked against Marcus with his delayed blood samples, but the other members of his pack probably hadn’t had time to metabolize anything, if they’d been killed with something still working in their systems.  It was a long shot, since many drugs still decomposed swiftly in a dead body, but the prosecuting team owed Holt some considerable leeway considering the gaps he was finding in their initial investigation.  

This was only the start of those gaps, actually.  

After attacking the lack of decent blood tests (and also promising to hunt up the morgue technician, because Holt found his report distastefully vague, too), the Greywood pack lawyer went on to ask about how in hell Marcus had escaped custody anyway.  This had riled up the investigator all over again, but in the midst of shooting back that Marcus was guilty of that, too, the investigator had showed a lot of chinks in his armor regarding the whole event.  “Milo Marcus Rushton should not have been able to find himself at liberty in the first place,” Holt summed up.  

“He’s a Werewolf-” the investigator tried to defend, but Holt just lifted up a hand.  

“Werewolves are incarcerated all the time, Mr. Webber, and they don’t all escape like water through a sieve - and those that do are usually those with prior records and therefore knowledge of the system,” the lawyer made his point clear smoothly, then paused to just smile a moment at the investigator’s clear surprise.  “I’ve read the statistics,” he said as innocently as a cutthroat lawyer like him could.  He continued to smile benignly in the face of yet more excuses, all of which came to nothing.  Marcus Rushton, young and honestly naive, shouldn’t have escaped so easily - and that was without accepting that the Omega was also in the throes of grief, which Holt maintained to be the case regardless of what the prosecuting attorneys said.  “Unless you’re a complete, pure psychopath, you’re going to feel something when you systematically wipe out twelve people who have been more than family to you for years,” Holt stated flatly.  Mr. Webber wasn’t willing to argue with him on that, either because Holt had made too solid a point, or because the investigator had realized that winning an argument with the pack lawyer just wasn’t going to happen.  

“The entire case against Marcus is weak,” Holt returned to the pack to report candidly.  He was in a room with Marcus and Declan, as well as Leander and Natalya Fen, Old Melba, and his own pack Alpha and Omega.  Leaning back against the wall with his ankles gracefully crossed and his hands stuffed into his suit-pockets, Holt went on without any apparent concern, “They don’t want it to seem that way, but if the case had gone to court when the crime actually happened, I think that Marcus would likely have been cleared - or, at least, there’d be no way that the persecuting team could have proven his guilt beyond a reasonable doubt.  I’m actually starting to think that it was entirely too convenient that you made a run for it, Marcus.”  Just as everyone’s eyes turned to the Omega in question, who radiated sudden, fearful worry as obviously as neon light, Holt waved the topic off by continuing, “Later.  We’ll talk about that later.  Right now, I’ve got a mixture of good and bad news.”

“Spit it out, Alan, if you please,” Moira requested.  She was lounging on a couch directly to Holt’s left, and flicked his elbow without diverting his gaze, which was idly watching Declan and Marcus’s interactions.  

Holt had lived in Moira’s pack long enough not to take exception at the flicking.  Moira could play a lot rougher than that, but she was fair if her people gave her respect and obedience in return, which Holt gave with a little nod.  “There’s been an order to exhume your Alpha, John Westerly, and one of his Betas, Melissa Wilder.  I’m betting that we find the same drug in their systems that was found in yours at the time of the murders.”

Marcus didn’t move except for a visible shudder that seemed to go through his entire frame, and the look on his face was that of one whose footing had just gone completely out from under him.  Holt, where he stood between his Alpha and Omega, sighed softly in pity, even though he’d known that there was absolutely no good way to break this news.  

~^~

“Marcus,” Declan sighed, lifting up the tablecloth in one of the abandoned back rooms, where Marcus had slunk off to the moment he could excuse himself from the extended family meeting.  Under the table, which was pushed up against the wall, lay a blue-eyed white wolf, ears swiveling in embarrassment and body contorted into a familiar, tight curl.  Marcus was getting damnably good at muffling the omnipresent empathic link between them, but Declan could still feel the shredded mass of feelings coming off him like shrapnel thrown out by a tornado.  In actuality, Marcus had handled himself quite well in front of everyone else - he’d choked out a few words that showed he understood and saw the logic of things, and then had quietly excused himself.  Declan had sensed his Omega’s overwhelming urge to flee and had quickly followed him out, unsure if Marcus was going to legitimately make a run for it, which would be inconvenient considering the court order that they remain within a certain range of each other.  

Fortunately, Marcus seemed to have realized that, and had just sought out an empty, quiet place instead - no small feat in a house crammed full of three packs’ worth of Werewolves.  

“So, Marcus, you gonna come out?” he asked with no real hope for a positive answer.  

He also had no real hope for a telepathic answer, because another thing Marcus had showed an increasing skill at was closing off his thoughts like an all-inclusive fortress - meaning he was as mute as a regular wolf.  However, he did deign after a moment to jerk his snout to the left and then to the right.  A definite negative, although tempered by ever-hesitant eyes and limbs that gave a little quiver, as if he’d move if Declan didn’t seem to like his first answer.  

Heaving out another resigned breath, wondering if he’d ever see the day that Marcus let go of this fear he had of disappointing figures of authority, Declan dropped fully to his knees and said, “All right then.  Move over.”  And without waiting for recognition, Declan slipped under the table, too, letting the tablecloth fall back into place behind him while jostling for space with a very surprised canine.  They finally settled into place side-by-side, Marcus still in much the same position, although now his lower spine and rump were pushed up against Declan’s right thigh.  It only took a slight extension of his arm for Declan to reach out and hook his fingers around Marcus’s tail, unwinding it a little and feeling the soft brush of it under his palm - he hated Marcus’s habit of tucking it in so tightly to his haunches that it may as well have been carved from the flesh of his hind leg.  It was the most transparent sign of fear that Declan could think of, save the memory of Marcus flipping over on his back, flashing his belly in a desperate bid for mercy.  

The recollection was disturbing, and prompted the young Alpha to move his hand from Marcus’s tail to instead stroke it down his back.  He didn’t know that he himself wanted comfort until he found it in the silky sensation of soft white fur and a still-too-skinny body.  Inhaling deeply and just staring at his hand, Declan dug his fingers deeper into the thicker ruff of fur at the base of Marcus’s neck, and was a little surprised when he heard a whine and saw a dark nose come into his narrowed range of view.  In the shadows under the table, Marcus watched him carefully but worriedly, and pressed his cold nose with careful purpose to the skin of Declan’s wrist.  Another whine peeled up his throat.  ‘Declan, what’s the matter?’ Marcus broke his silence not for his own pain, but for Declan’s.  

Declan would never cease to be struck by how remarkable Marcus was.  He even started to feel a little tingle at the back of his mind, warm and flickering, like a candle imparting what small heat it had - and in this case, it was imparting a manufactured feeling of peacefulness that only Omegas could create.  Marcus was trying to make it better, and that made Declan smile a wan, marveling smile.  “You’re a wonder, you know that?”

Since that wasn’t an answer to Marcus’s question at all, his ears swiveled like two unmoored boats - signs of bewilderment - and his control on the empathic link slipped a little to show increasing confusion there, too.  He didn’t answer, but his nose was still pressed against Declan’s arm, so he rotated his hand to cup the smaller Werewolf’s lower jaw in his hand.  He scratched against the underside of it absently, and felt the manufactured peace blossom between them as it became a little more real.  Marcus’s eyes drifted closed and his ears relaxed back.  

Only then did Declan decide to answer the question at hand, and contemplate exactly why he’s under the table when he’s not the one whose pack's about to be dragged up out of their graves.  In the end, the answer was pretty simple, and he said it as such: “You’re hurting, so I’m hurting.”

Blue eyes flicked open again, and alert ears - one with a nick in it, Declan realizes with a pang, a sign of some fight Marcus had probably never wanted to be in - rotated fully forward.  ‘It’s that damn link I made, isn’t it?’ his transmitted words were full of frustration and remorse, the kind of useless temper turned inwards like a self-harming knife.  

Declan was quick to remove that metaphorical blade from Marcus’s grasp.  “No,” he shook his head, then slid his hand up along Marcus’s furred cheek to fondle an ear.  Most dogs, Declan knew, would be a bit annoyed by that, but Marcus took it without a twitch, just watching Declan steadily as curious fingers stroked along the fragile concavity of one white ear.  “I don’t need a rogue empathic link to feel sympathy, Marcus, and I don’t need to be empathic at all to know that what Holt said back there would hurt like hell.”  He felt the twitch under his fingers as Marcus’s ear tried to lie back along with the other one, but he didn’t let it, and felt Marcus’s flicker of fond annoyance even as the Omega kept doing what his kind did best: tried to brighten up the situation.  It was actually working, to an extent, with Declan feeling increasingly like someone who, after being tossed a life-raft, floats atop an ocean of trouble without being connected to it anymore.  Declan had never really known when his aunt Clarissa was manipulating the emotional atmosphere of a room, and found it rather refreshing that he could tell now with Marcus, even if he couldn’t do anything more about it than he could have with Clarissa.  

He left Marcus’s ear alone in favor of stroking his hand from the tip of that black nose, between those blue eyes that continued to watch him like he’d become the whole world, and over the short fur of Marcus’s skull until he could repeat the process.  “I’m sorry that this has to happen,” he murmured, still wrapped in that peaceful haze that Marcus was weaving.  He wondered briefly if Marcus benefited from it at all, or if this was the great irony of an Omega’s skills: that they could raise everyone’s spirits but their own.  

A few more strokes and Marcus got up, his paws as gingerly placed as always.  He walked more like a cat than any Werewolf Declan knew, each step incredibly purposeful but also featherlight, as if the ground were made of eggshells.  His claws retracted and extended in little flashes of white against white, as if he were always arguing with himself about whether he needed to grip the ground or not, to keep the world from shaking him off.  His left foreleg still showed pink skin - scar-tissue where the fur hadn’t grown in after Clarissa’s attack.  It would hopefully heal with time, because it was rare for Werewolves to ever have scars forever, although Marcus already carried far more than his share.  Marcus stood carefully, as if unwilling to dislodge Declan’s hand from his neck, and turned until he was sitting against Declan’s side - and then promptly transformed, right inside the loop of Declan’s arm.  

That was never going to become less startling.  

Now sitting with a human Marcus tucked under his right arm, Declan relaxed slowly.  The cloud of good-feelings had broken a little, Marcus losing control of the skill as he changed shape and his whole skeleton realigned - but it was already coming back, feeling stronger and more natural than before.  Marcus himself felt calmer and more relaxed, and when Declan squeezed his arm in closer, Marcus leaned into him without a fight.  

While the two of them sat beneath the table in seclusion and silence, Declan reached out with his mind, finding Kobi and Liz.  They were with Holt now, acting as his eyes and ears, and he was able to regretfully report to Marcus after a brief bit of telepathic communication, “It’s all scheduled for Monday, as soon as they can get the equipment and necessary people there, not to mention the paperwork.  You’ll have to sign some stuff.”

“When did you learn that?”  Marcus sounded jaded, but not surprised.  

“Just now.  Liz and Kobi are keeping an eye on things.”

The empathic link flared with shy warmth.  Declan smiled, enjoying the budding relationship between his new Omega and his long-standing Betas.  He himself had always been happiest when all of ‘his people’ got along.  Squeezing Marcus’s shoulder, Declan leaned his head over, and felt contentment that had nothing to do with Omega abilities suffuse him as Marcus allowed himself to be nuzzled.  

More information came in, via Liz.  Declan frowned and Marcus twitched, proving that she’d spoken to both of them.  

Apparently some scheduling problems were arising, and Holt was blaming it on the prosecuting team: there were quite a few people that Holt was wanting to bring in and question regarding Marcus’s appearance at the bar, but the prosecution wanted to be present, too.  This wouldn’t have bothered Holt or anyone else unduly, except now some of those interviews were falling in and around the same time that the exhumation was supposed to take place, forcing Marcus to choose between where he was needed most.  

“Holt’s going to need me to I.D. people,” Marcus said what they were both feeling, voice subdued.  The emotional sense of well-being that he’d been creating dissipated like mist under a morning sun, fading as if it had never existed and leaving raw clarity but also sadness and pain underneath, making Declan flinch in sympathy.  

On a whim, he curled his arm in closer, his hand transferring from Marcus’s shoulder to his cheek to gently turn the other young man’s head.  He caught Marcus’s lips in an impulsive kiss as soon as they were within reach, then said as he drew back, “You go… to the graveyard.”  As Marcus jerked back in surprise, far enough to meet his eyes with a startled look, Declan explained uncomfortably, “This isn’t exactly the best way to grieve… but I know you said you never got the chance before.”  Marcus’s face fell and the link flooded open with sorrow, but Declan managed to scrounge up a sad smile anyway and give Marcus one-armed hug that was hopefully encouraging.  “I’ll stay here and sit in on the interviews.  I’ve been through your memories, remember?  It’ll be like you were there.”

Still radiating distress, Marcus searched Declan’s face before giving a small, hesitant nod - and then stretched his neck forward to return the kiss, a quick brushing of lips that Declan had to fight not to deepen as hunger rose up in him.  Too late, he remembered that the empathic link was very much there, as Marcus sat back with slightly glazed eyes and a shallow inhale.  “Oops.  Sorry,” Declan said without feeling particularly remorseful, “Forgot you could feel that.”

“You’re not subtle,” was Marcus’s best retort on the matter.  

Declan just grinned.  “Well, in my defense, this is an exceedingly romantic setting.”

Marcus’s focus came back a beat after that particular line was dropped, and then he stared stupidly at Declan for one more second before choking on a laugh.  The laughter grew until it pulled Declan in, and before long they were both giggling like a pair of pups in their make-shift fort.  It served to keep their minds off the long, hard road to come.  

~^~

Old Melba decided to accompany Marcus to the exhumation for moral support, as did Liz and Kobi, as his pack-members.  Holt was going to be interviewing one of the people from the bar - Marcus’s friend Simon, ironically, who couldn’t meet up with them at any time except when the bodies were being dug up, which Holt said was just about the most underhanded tactic he’d ever seen by a prosecution team.  Declan had to agree with this assessment, but hoped that it would be a moot point with him taking Marcus’s place at the interview.  The court had agreed to temporarily suspend the court order regarding Declan and Marcus’s constant proximity, with the agreement that another Alpha take responsibility - Moira stepped up to the plate without hesitation.  With her, of course, came her husband Seth, providing Marcus with a respectable escort.  

The night before the event, just as every night since the first, saw the entire younger-Fen pack tangled together in one bed, seeking and providing comfort and warmth.  That last night saw everyone in their fur, blankets tossed aside in favor of pelts.  Marcus’s fur stood out sharp and pure against shades of brown and russet and deep, ink black.  

And before everyone parted ways for the day, Declan made a point of pulling Marcus to him in front of practically everyone, and cradling his head close for a soothing kiss.  Marcus’s breath puffed out against his face as the kiss ended as they rested their foreheads against one another, but the link bloomed with warmth that spread beyond either of them - a blanket of soft emotion that encased the room.  

Everyone split ways.  It was still early but it already felt like one of the longest days that anyone could remember.  

~^~

Simon Roen was a pale-skinned young man with white-blond hair that curled a little, slight freckles on his cheeks echoing the slightest hint of reddishness in his hair-color.  He had blue eyes, like Marcus, but they were so pale as to be nearly colorless, like the rheumy eyes of an old man - but sharper, quick to follow Holt into the room and then fix questioningly on Declan as he stepped in behind.  “You’re not Marcus,” was his first response.  

Aware that the prosecuting attorney and Simon’s lawyer (who’d arrived before them) were staring and probably thinking the same thing, Declan shifted uncomfortably and wished that Holt hadn’t insisted he dress nice.  Slacks, button down, and tie made him feel far more out of place than jeans and a tee would have.  Still, he recalled his purpose here, and stood up straight, saying evenly but proudly, “No, I’m not.  I’m his new Alpha.”

Surprise flashed across Simon’s face, his pale brows jumping upwards towards his forelock.  Before he could say anything, the prosecuting attorney, a woman with short black hair, addressed Holt tartly, “Mr. Holt, I was under the impression that your client was indisposed today.”

“He is,” Holt said, leaving out the accusations that this was entirely her fault.  The Greywood lawyer sat down and settled a few papers in front of him, doing a grand job of hiding how irked he was.  “Which is why Mr. Fen is here.  He represents Mr. Rushton’s interests as much as I do, and will happily relay anything necessary.”  Holt cast deceptively guileless eyes towards Declan as he finished, “Won’t you, Mr. Fen?”

It was a smooth way to hide the fact that Declan had been walking in Marcus’s memories, but a necessary deception, considering that what Declan and Marcus did was so far outside the realm of normal.  Nodding his acquiescence, Declan picked a chair in the simple conference room.  This was supposed to be a fairly informal and congenial talk, with the two opposing lawyers promising to play nice as Simon told his story as he remembered it - more specific questions would likely be asked in private interviews later, but just in case, Simon’s pack had provided him with a lawyer of his own, who looked more like a bodyguard, sitting in the background.  Declan’s nose told him that it was another Werewolf, although whether or not he was from the same pack, Declan couldn’t tell from across the room.  

“Are we ready to begin?” the prosecution spoke up, flexing one hand on the clipboard on her lap.  

Simon Roen didn’t take the cue, instead trying to look around everyone and see Declan at the far side of the room.  “Is Marcus all right?” he asked in a small voice.  

Once again, everyone looked to Declan, who swore quietly in his head and tried to think of something to say.  Holt had coached him a bit on how to act and speak during all of this, and he’d purposefully picked a seat out of the way in the hopes of avoiding exactly this: direct attention.  Alphas were always seen as domineering and outspoken, but right about now, Declan felt like slinking away from Simon’s worried, intense look, but there was nowhere to hide.  Holt was giving him an unreadable look… but then nodded his head almost imperceptibly.  

Declan managed to jump-start his vocal cords, clearing his throat.  “He’s fine.”

The pale-haired Omega didn’t seem mollified by the brief answer, and in fact frowned and stiffened.  “Did you hurt him?” he suddenly demanded, “I know what Alphas will do to Omegas outside the pack, and if you-!”

“Mr. Roen,” Simon’s lawyer cut him off quietly from his side of the room.  

The Ruben pack Omega glanced over his shoulder and appeared briefly chagrined, although he looked almost regally stubborn when he turned forward again and said in a less accusatory tone, “A lot of people don’t know the first thing about Omega politics, or what it means for one of us to be alone.”   He leveled his gaze on Declan again, and this time the Alpha knew how to answer.  

“We are more than our instincts.”  He met Simon’s pale eyes without blinking.  “And he’s a valued member of my pack now.”

Simon looked very reluctant to believe him, but eventually the Omega looked away, realizing that he had other reasons to be here - and baring fangs at a foreign Alpha over his old friend wasn’t at the top of the list.  “So you want to know what happened at the Westcorner Bar four years ago?”

“If you please,” the prosecuting lawyer dipped her head.  

Thus, Declan heard the story of what had led up to the worst event in Marcus Rushton’s life from the mouth of Marcus’s oldest friend.  It was eerie to hear the events laid out even as he went over Marcus’s memories in his head, feeling as though he were walking through a half-familiar scene with an utterly strange guide.  Simon admitted that Marcus had called him, sounding angry and upset and wanting a drinking buddy - and someone understanding to complain to.  “Omegas have to stick together,” Simon shrugged, “God knows that Alphas can drive us all insane, although it sounded like Marcus was having a harder time with his than I was having with mine.”  Declan purposefully ignored the dig, becoming more aware by the day that Omegas lived by different rules than other Werewolves - or at least learning that things were a lot more complicated for them than he had ever imagined.  Briefly, he wondered how Old Melba, Seth, and Marcus were getting along, since Declan had never thought about having so many emotional manipulators in such close assemblage before.  Simon was still talking, pursing his lips as he scrounged up the memory, “I wish I remembered it better, but I didn’t know that that day was going to lead to multiple homicide, you know?”

“So you believe that your friend, Milo Rushton, is guilty?” the prosecuting attorney couldn’t help but interrupt.  Holt didn’t say anything against her, but Declan saw the way his shoulders tightened fractionally in annoyance.  So far, everyone had been behaving, but apparently the good mood was doomed to end.  

“Marcus,” Simon corrected.  His spine straightened but he kept his eyes on his hands, staying focused.  “He goes by Marcus.  And all I know was that he came to the bar mad as hell, and was still mad when he left an hour later.”

“Did he talk to anyone other than yourself?” Holt asked, despite his previously stated intentions of keeping his questions to himself until a more secluded interview.  “Did he leave under his own power?”  

Simon scratched at his chin, but replied after barely a beat of thinking, “Yeah, a few people.  I guess I wasn’t quite enough of a shoulder to cry on, you know?  I tried to tell him to be grateful for the pack he had, to not complain.  He had a pack with decent influence, after all.”  He folded his hands on the table again, and his face became shadowed as he said in a more subdued tone, “I shouldn’t have said any of that, should I?  If he wasn’t mad at his pack before, hearing me prattle on about influence and all that crap would have just stung.”

Declan didn’t know that he had his metaphorical hackles up until he heard himself snap, “That wouldn’t have been enough to turn him homicidal.”

Things devolved from there.  

Bits of information continued to be gleaned, but there was far more sniping than either Holt or the other attorney had planned, and Declan found himself on edge from there on out, as if claws were scratch-scratch-scratching at his bones.  Simon handled it pretty well for being sporadically attacked from both angles, but couldn’t recall who else Marcus had spoken to that night.  He said that Marcus had been perhaps a bit tipsy when he’d left, but - unfortunately for the defense - he hadn’t been accompanied, and he had definitely been under his own power.  And it looked like the bartender, whom Holt had hoped to question next, just as soon as they could meet up, wouldn’t be much help either.  Marcus had gone out the back way while the Westcorner Bar was doing a lot of business.  That meant lots of potential witnesses, but a heavy chance that none of them would recall anything of note from so long ago.  

By the time they left, Holt was as close to fuming as Declan had ever thought he’d see him.  The tall Werewolf was tense and tight-lipped.  Declan, still a bit riled himself, commented, “That did not go as planned.”

“No,” Holt succinctly agreed, tone dark, “No, it did not.”

~^~

 

Chapter Text

It was fitting that the day was a dreary one, because chill and stormy fit Marcus’s mood pretty accurately as he prepared to see the graves of his pack for literally the first time - and to see the dead bodies of two of them for the second time.  The thought of them being dragged up out of the earth, rotted by time, had him sucking in a shuddering breath and fervently reminding himself that he didn’t need to see that part.  Then again, he didn’t necessarily need to be there for the exhumation at all, but Declan had had a point: Marcus needed closure, and even if this was the most fucked up way to get it, it was something.

Declan had just left, looking collected and powerful next to Holt’s greyhound frame.  Marcus trusted that everything would go well on their end; he trusted Declan with his memories, although he felt a twinge of regret at the thought of not getting to see Simon.  He hadn’t seen anyone from his old life in years, so maybe it was silly to feel a spark of yearning at the mere thought of a childhood friend, but Marcus’s heart gave a little jerk in his chest anyway.  

Maybe when this was all over… when he got his life back… he could smile at old friends again like a normal person.  

The chilly dip in the weather meant that Marcus was a bit underdressed, and he still hadn’t had an opportunity to really go shopping and expand his wardrobe.  Melba, who was at his side like a bent-backed shadow, suggested that he just go in his fur.  Marcus nixed that idea almost without thinking, then flushed and dissembled, saying something about how his fur wasn’t all that thick and he’d be cold regardless - it wasn’t entirely a lie, and sounded better than trying to explain that he still felt a punch of panic in his gut whenever he thought about going outside in his lupine form.  So instead of admitting that his years on the run had given him a phobia, Marcus admitted to a marginally less embarrassing coat condition that also came from being on the run, and not taking care of himself like he should.  Melba’s frown-lines joined her usual wrinkles, but she sighed and didn’t push, which either meant she’d accepted the lie or had seen right through it - and accepted it anyway.  

Finding warm clothes was easy when the two packs had so easily accepted Marcus’s presence, although it turned out that Marcus’s small frame made borrowing a jacket difficult, of all things - as an Omega, he was small for his kind, and the closest coat to his size was actually Liz’s, at least until Seth turned up.  The other Omega appeared like a wraith right at his side, extending a hand and murmuring, “Here,” with no further explanation.  

While Melba jumped so hard she nearly lost her cane, and fell back to muttering profanities at Seth, Liz and Kobi helped Marcus into his new coat.  It wasn’t until later that they realized that it was Seth’s coat, because he didn’t say another word to take credit.  

“Spooky pup,” Melba grumbled one last mild insult Seth’s way - which Seth magnanimously ignored as he did all such things - and then their little group headed off for the long drive.  

~^~

Being away from Declan hurt more than Marcus had expected.  The mandate that they remain within a certain distance of one another had been lifted, although now Marcus had to stay within range of Liz, or violate the conditions of his bail.  He didn’t have any problem with that, but somehow he still felt Declan’s increasing distance like an ache, and the moment that he finally got far enough away that their unorthodox empathic link faded to nothing - it struck him hard enough to yank a little whine from his throat.  

All eyes turned to him, from Liz in the rearview mirror as she drove, to Melba in the passenger seat, to Seth and Kobi on either side of him, scrunched into the back.  Moira was in the other car, the extreme imbalance of passengers caused by various factors: they couldn't all fit in one, and Liz wanted to drive her own car; having Seth in Liz's car allowed them to communicate with Moira via telepathy, and Kobi and Liz both wanted to be with Marcus.  Melba, presumably, took over Liz's passenger seat purely because she and Moira would make a very awkward pair, alone in the other car together.  Moira stayed close enough so as to stay within proximity of Marcus, as the court had mandated.  

“Sorry, it's nothing,” Marcus mumbled, feeling suddenly like his skin didn’t fit him right, like a shirt on backwards, the tag scratching at the hollow of his throat.  

Liz didn’t believe him, but at least she kept her interrogation telepathic, sparing the further embarrassment of an open discussion, ‘Come on, Marcus, that wasn’t nothing.’  Her eyes flicked between the road and the rearview mirror, the corners of her mouth stretching downwards.  

It was,’ Marcus stubbornly replied.  When he folded his arms, his elbows nudged Kobi’s thick bicep on one side and Seth’s slimmer frame on the other, and made him awkwardly unbend his arms again.  The other two showed no indications of minding, but he felt like apologizing anyway, out of his depth and deeply uncomfortable with Declan’s presence gone.  The little moment of clumsy wriggling gave him time to rethink his strategy of not telling anything to anyone, and the blue-eyed Omega sighed.  Briefly, he explained to Liz the sensation of no longer feeling Declan anymore, struggling to use telepathic words to describe something so visceral and new.  Honestly, he didn’t have words for the feel of it, because he’d never accidentally created a permanent empathic link with someone, and therefore had never felt it fade to nonexistence either.  

Liz seemed to understand anyway, and didn’t press after that.  Instead, she merely reminded him that they’d meet up with Declan again before long.  Plus, where supernatural abilities failed, cell-phones were perfectly acceptable communication replacements.  

Of course, Liz had never been one for empty platitudes, so while she left Marcus alone, it was possible that she started talking to someone else: a moment later and Kobi shifted.  While Marcus looked at him in query, the Beta silently pulled his arm from in between them as if he’d been planning to do so for hours, causing some mild jostling.  Seth just leaned a bit closer to the window, moss-green eyes idly on the road swishing by, but Marcus was left a little bit startled when Kobi only stilled again after looping his arm over Marcus’s shoulders.  Making a noise of bewilderment that everyone politely ignored this time (except Liz, whose smile might have been visible if she’d turned her head), Marcus found warm muscle and bone looped around behind him.  It curled him in companionably a moment later, making the youngest Omega in the car swivel his head to give Kobi a very confused and wary look.  

Warm brown gaze flicking Marcus’s way, as unflappable as always, Kobi just spared a few telepathic words: ‘I’m part of your pack, too.’

Marcus immediately flushed to his ears, feeling shame and embarrassment turn his stomach inside out for a moment.  All the while, Kobi just watched him impassively, unable to read Marcus’s emotions as Declan (usually) could, but probably more than capable of watching the other young man’s expression to glean information.  The reminder that Marcus could turn to other people for comfort other than the Alpha who’d taken him in… was a lot to swallow.  Thankfully, Kobi was a magnanimous kind of guy, and he merely pulled Marcus in closer while also leaning up against the car-door on his side.  While Seth continued to watch the world outside the window like nothing was happening, Kobi rocked his head against the glass and closed his eyes, making a pillow of himself for his new Omega - who was very, very slow to relax and accept the offered closeness, but didn’t have a lot of other options, considering the enclosed space he was in.  Eventually, glancing around as if to see that no one was watching and prepared to tell him that this was just some big, cruel joke, Marcus eased a bit to his left, towards Kobi, letting the brawny arm loop like a loose scarf around his shoulders and letting one muscled shoulder serve as a pillow for one wary cheek.  

Despite his expert facade of napping, Kobi was awake enough to direct a quick telepathic note directly to the driver of the car, his thoughts soft with concern, ‘He’s still as shy as a rabbit.’

He’ll come around,’ Liz reassured.  She refused to let uncertainty get a toehold, and a few minutes later spared a peak in the rearview mirror again, just to see how two of her boys were doing.  The ‘rabbit’ in question finally had his eyes closed, and seemed to have relaxed.  In the close confines of the car, it was easy to tell the emotional atmosphere by scent, and Marcus’s unique smell had leveled out into something less spiked with acidic discomfort.  It was like feeling a wound close over, not healed but no longer open and raw.  Kobi, doing a great job of playing the metaphorical ‘band-aid,’ cracked one eye open to meet Liz’s gaze immediately, sensing it like a touch.  

Marcus didn’t twitch.  He’d finally drifted off, the anxiety of being suddenly empty in his head assuaged by the promise of closeness.  Kobi’s touch was a constant reminder that he hadn’t gone back to being abandoned again.  

~^~

Seth’s jacket was a blessing, because it was even colder at the graveyard when they got there.  Everyone piled out of the car, stiff from the long ride, Old Melba complaining in particular as she shuffled out.  Liz came around to help her, although when Melba cast about for where her cane had gotten to, it was Seth who extended it in his hand - how he’d ended up holding it, no one knew, and for once it wasn’t just Melba who looked at Seth and wondered just what kind of witchcraft the quiet Omega had beneath his skin.  Most people gave Seth the side-eye because he was a mutt, but the people who actually knew him looked at him askance because he kept doing things that average, boring people honestly didn’t do.  

To all appearance, Seth didn’t notice.  He just stuffed his hands into his jacket (similar to the one he’d leant Marcus, but brown instead of black) pockets to keep them warm as soon as he’d delivered his prize.  When asked where Moira was (her car nowhere to be seen), he said that she was having car-trouble but had made it to the adjacent lot - still close enough that Marcus was technically within range of her.  The fact that she wasn't worried about him being out of sight said something for her trust of him.

There was nothing left to do but step into the rows and rows of gravestones, the soft grass bending beneath their shoes, and Marcus feeling like he was walking into a six-foot hole inside of himself.  

The next hour was torture.  Most of the digging had taken place before they arrived, but Marcus and the others were still stuck waiting on the sidelines for what felt like forever, before even the first casket was lifted out of the ground.  The noise of the machinery involved, the mechanical callousness of it all, had Marcus wanting to back away - then turn and run.  Every noise felt like it was a weapon honed just for him, and he had a moment of throat-tightening panic when he feared that his senses were going all wrong again - but it was just in his head, a natural but terrible sensitivity as he became hyper-aware that his pack was being heaved out of quiet graves by people and machines who had never known them.

He would have run had not Kobi put a warm, gloved hand on the back of his neck, squeezing gently; had not Liz, standing behind him also but close enough to feel her jacket scrape his, reached forward to smooth his hair back with one soothing hand; had not Melba and Seth also closed in, like unlikely paladins at his front.  Eyes red and tears soon slipping down his face, Marcus watched between the other two Omegas’ shoulders as a coffin rose up like a ship at high tide, dirt sliding off it in irreverent clumps.  Despite his best efforts, Marcus couldn’t help the wet gasp that threatened to become a fully-fledge sob in his throat.  

The excavation team moved on to the next grave, and for the first time, Marcus looked at the headstones: John Westerly, now resting on a mat of felt next to a yawning hole, Melissa Wilder, a back-hoe leaning over her resting place like a vulture, and the string of uninterrupted dead beyond that, all wearing names that Marcus knew.  

He felt something crack open in his chest and bleed and bleed and bleed.  

There was no way that he was dragging his eyes back to the efficient digging; that part of this trip had been a mistake.  Sniffling loudly, however, and blinking rapidly to try and contain just how much he was crying, Marcus did determinedly turn his body and slid past Seth, feeling the other Werewolves grab after him for a moment before following him down the line, towards some of the graves that would not be disrupted today.  Here, the noises seemed quieter, as if he could turn his back on them and close his ears, instead kneeling down on well-tended grass and grazing his fingers over carved letters: Kendra Lindsey.  

“She had the sweetest smile.”  He didn’t realize that he’d said the words until he felt his lips press closed again.  

And from there, he couldn’t stop.  

Erick, who’d married Kendra and deserved her; Lena Laroux, who’d been getting on in years but still spry; Russell Westerly, who’d been with his brother John since the latter left to start his own pack; Mitchell Clayton, who’d proven once that Werewolves could get drunk, and had fallen asleep on the hood of Davis’s car…  He went on and on, realizing in some distracted part of his brain that the pain was being muffled, delicately.  He could sense Liz and Kobi standing at his back like two anxious but caring mourners, making him aware that he wasn’t alone, but he could also detect the two other Omegas standing just behind the two Betas - Seth’s touch on his emotions was feather light, but with the effect of fingers coated in lidocaine, while Melba’s control over the ambiance was a bit stronger.  Both were being respectful, however, not taking away Marcus’s pain so much as… as making it the kind of wound he could survive.  With Melba and Seth playing puppetmaster to everyone’s feelings just the teensiest bit, Marcus paused, made a conscious decision to accept the gesture, and then loosed his tongue again.  Like someone drunk but at the same time strangely sober, lucid, Marcus began relaying the second chapter of the scores of stories that he’d never been able to share with anyone since that terrible day.  

It was like an exorcism.  

It felt like lancing a wound and feeling the poison wash out.  

Only it didn’t taste like poison on his tongue, just some old flavor that he’d forgotten that he liked, but now remembered.  

By the time Marcus’s words petered off, enough stories let free that they were no longer pounding against the door of his mind, he had tears in streaks down his face and past his chin, the wind hitting the furthest of the wet droplets and chilling his neck.  He probably looked a mess, but surprisingly he didn’t feel like one, and he wondered how much he’d regret Seth and Melba’s intervention later.  Now, it felt damn good.  

“Trouble.”  Seth’s voice seemed to come in another language, but no, he was speaking English, his words the first to break the quiet after Marcus’s monologue ended.  

Everyone had just enough time to glance back at Seth’s alert posture and shuttered expression before another voice was ringing out from another direction, calling over the continued background noise of digging: “Milo!”

The fabricated calm shattered completely, all in one blow.  It actually took a second for Marcus’s real first name to register as something other than a nonsense pair of syllables.  Marcus felt his nonexistent pelt rise, like a ghost image over his skin - like the fur on the back of a cat.  He hadn't been a wolf very often since going on the run, but he always remembered the feel of his other body, and right now he could imagine the sensation of his ruff standing on end from the back of his skull right down to his tailbone, itching and tingling beneath his skin.  Meanwhile, his very human lungs ceased to work, and his heart tried to do the same, stuttering in his chest as if a vice had squeezed it.  

Gabriella Rushton, Alpha of the Rushton pack, was striding his way through the rows of headstones, with two of his relatives in tow, like a hard slap from the past.  

While Marcus just stared, too drained and wrung out emotionally to do anything, and Seth backed away as if not liking strangers, Liz, Kobi, and Melba exchanged glances that said, ‘What the hell do we do about this?’  The shock of it all startled muttered words right out of Kobi, who could just be heard to ask under his breath, “What the fucking hell are they-?”  

“Who are they?” Melba asked the logical question.  She’d noticed Marcus’s colorless pallor, the way he looked frozen in space, and placed a gnarled hand on his shoulder as if to reassure herself that he hadn’t turned to stone.  

Liz and Kobi must have done their research, or else they realized that precious few people called Marcus “Milo” with such familiarity.  Liz’s lips were pursed so hard that they’d lost all color, but she murmured, tone edging on a growl, “That’s Marcus’s birth-pack, I think.”

Marcus had a better answer.  His mouth just felt too numb to say it, but he somehow wrapped his tongue around the sounds as his voice-box kicked into motion to say hollowly, “That’s my mother.”

A second dose of shock went through the little group, and suddenly no one had any idea what to do.  Generally speaking, relations between pack-members' blood-families was meant to be cordial, but usually, those families weren’t split up due to falsified murder charges and four years of one family member being on the run.  While Liz and Kobi hovered uncertainly just behind Marcus on either side, like a pair of flanking and uncertain statues, Melba swiveled her head… and realized that Seth had somehow managed to disappear entirely.  “You shady bastard…” she snapped in a fierce undertone as she tried and failed to locate him.  Eventually, the old Omega seemed to realize that there were more important matters at hand then finding the fifth member of their party, and soon a brittle sort of calm began to extend outwards like a thin fog.  Marcus wasn’t helping matters: his body was entirely still, his eyes glazed over in shock, but his emotions were creating a roiling tangle in his gut, the kind of radiating empathic turmoil that felt to Melba like a mass of eels that she was trying to get a grip on.  

She’d said that Marcus was strong, and right now he was choosing an inopportune manner in which to show it.  Despite her experience and power, Melba just barely managed to paste a thin veneer of tranquility over the situation by the time the three newcomers came within polite speaking distance.  

Kobi’s emotions were hooked by Melba’s empathic claws, keeping him from doing anything drastic, but his hand was on Marcus’s shoulder, and something hot and unhappy roiled in his gut.  Without realizing it, he growled, low and soft, but throaty enough that Melba’s old eyes gave an alarmed flick in his direction from where she stood between the two Betas and a pace back.  Swiftly, thinking on her feet - her brain still spry even if her body had grown calcified and slow - Melba reached out a hand and placed it in turn on Liz’s shoulder, and was able to almost physically see the female Beta’s expression even out.  Liz, seeming not to notice, dropped her hand before it reached Marcus’s other shoulder.  

That still left Kobi, however, his grip subtly tightening, his face growing more expressive than it was wont to as he frowned.  “Who are you?” he rumbled like a poised storm above Marcus’s head.  

The woman in front of them was matronly and getting on in years, but still carried the sort of overt vitality that signified an Alpha even when her scent didn’t.  Her eyes, brilliant blue like Marcus’s, flashed up to Kobi’s as if shocked by his tone or question.  She looked between Marcus and the Beta for a few moments, frown-lines forming like scores in pale stone, but when it became clear that Marcus wasn’t going answer for her, she replied tightly, “Alpha Gabriella Rushton.”

“My mother,” Marcus’s mouth moved belatedly.  His face remained blank, but something wild and almost panicked was pacing behind his eyes, and Kobi’s hand spasmed on his shoulder again, a puppet with its strings shaken.  Marcus didn’t appear to notice.  

Mrs. Rushton’s face softened, but somehow the lines never left it.  It matched her iron-grey hair, pulled into a bun at the back of her head, something imperious about her that made her eyes seem colder than her son’s.  “Yes, I’m Milo’s mother.  And this is his brother, Brett.  And-”

The last was George Stanford, the police officer who’d stumbled upon Marcus right before the hunted Omega had attached himself officially to a new pack.  The man’s expression was shuttered, but he interrupted a bit quickly, “We’ve met.”  His unreadable expression faltered a little as he met Kobi’s eyes, which looked like something strange lurked behind them.  He didn’t know why it unsettled him, but it did.  

Liz looked like she didn’t recognize the look on Kobi’s face either, and it was seriously making her worried, but one of the new names distracted her from studying her boyfriend’s face.  “You have a brother?” she looked down at Marcus, stepping forward, and in that moment, Melba lost her grip on her.  While the old woman tried not to swear, Liz reached out on reflex to gently touch Marcus’s other shoulder, and seemed to freeze for a moment as if she’d dipped her fingers into a mild electric current.  

All this time, Marcus never looked away from his mother.  Her image held him like fishhooks buried in his eye-sockets, and he didn’t even know if he was so elated that he thought he’d burn from the inside out… or so hollowed out and mortified that he didn’t even care.  This was the family he hadn’t seen in four years; this was the family who’d thought he was a murderer and disowned him.

Mrs. Rushton was recovering, her sense of smell perhaps telling her that multiple packs were present right now, although she’d quickly deduced that she wasn’t facing any Alphas.  That, perhaps, relaxed her, enough that her smile became diplomatically friendly.  “Yes, and a father, too.  And a sister, although she’s made her way into a respectable pack.”  She flicked a hand as if waving this off, although her expression revealed pride.  “We’re his family, after all.”

Marcus barely felt his lips move, and his voice was so soft that only the Werewolves nearest him were able to hear his low, cracked murmur, “Since when?”

Missing the susurrus of sound, Mrs. Rushton went on, planting her hands on her hips in a fashion that denoted the stern, motherly chiding now entering her tone, “You’d think that Milo here would at least tell his own family that he was back from…”  She stumbled here; perhaps the recollection that all was not well, had not been well in four years, was a bit hard to shrug off with nonchalance.  Her words picked up after a slight stutter, though, “You’d think he’d have at least told his family that he was here.  Instead, I had to hear it from a second party.  Were you even going to call?”  Finally, the Alpha of the Rushton pack addressed her son directly, and her words took on a harsher, almost desperate edge, “We’re your family, Milo.  If you were coming…”  Another verbal trip-up.  “...Coming out of hiding, why didn’t you call us?  No one’s phone number has changed.  God knows you’ve had the time to at least tell us that you weren’t dead before now - and yet only now, and from someone else, I hear that your name is going to be cleared?  Come now, Milo, all of these big changes and you don’t even contact your own mother?”

Over the course of Mrs. Rushton’s soliloquy, Marcus had started trembling, and the frozen look on his face slowly melted into something more heated.  The two Betas - now on either side of him like flanking wings, a hand on each of his shoulders - started to reflect the look like eerily perfect mirrors, wearing different masks but matched emotions heating up beneath.  Further back, Old Melba was shaking her head and pursing her lips, realizing very quickly that things were going to get out of control.  And the worst part?  She was already doing all she could to prevent that, but still Marcus was affecting those around him - or at least those in his pack, who were probably bruising him with their unconsciously tightening grips.  

Milo Marcus Rushton had had a storm building ever since that day four years ago, when he’d been stripped of his pack and all that that entailed.  A storm that was now rolling in.  

Mrs. Rushton was oblivious.  She was still eyeing her son with something like yearning but with too much pridefulness mixed in, a failing of many Alphas who forgot that even heads with crowns on them could bow.  “Milo?  Milo, when were you going to tell your own family that you were innocent?”

“I would have told you four years ago, but you disowned me,” Marcus finally ground out loudly enough for everyone to just barely hear.  It was like dragging bits of ground glass up his throat, but he did it anyway, and Kobi growled again with Liz echoing the sound a beat later.  

For the first time, Mrs. Rushton seemed to notice the true depth of the animosity from the two Betas, although she didn’t appear to connect it with her kneeling Omega son.  Radiating some threat of her own with a shift in her stance, the older woman looked between Kobi and Liz, gaze  going flat and brutal.  “Be careful who you bare your teeth at when your Alpha's not around,” she warned.  Kobi and Liz fell silent then, but Melba didn’t relax; Omegas knew better than most that Alphas were stronger… but Omegas could be meaner.  “Who are these two, Milo?  What kind of friends are you keeping?” she asked while her own two Betas shifted defensively.  “They hardly seem polite.”

Marcus swallowed thickly, but he still answered with all the firmness of a bell tolling, “They’re my pack.”

“Nonsense,” Gabriella Rushton dismissed, looking sincerely incredulous.  Then, when she saw the edges of the bruise on Marcus’s neck just peeking past the high collar of his jacket, she grew less certain, frowning.  “Really, Milo?” she reacted sharply when she realized that perhaps she’d read this situation incorrectly.  Her own embarrassment made her sharp, “You joined another pack?  When were you going to tell your own flesh and blood any of-?”

“I was going to tell you when I wasn’t disowned anymore like some unwanted pet left in a box on the side of the road!” Marcus suddenly shouted.  

Clearly, it was useless to try and manipulate the situation from backstage.  Melba shuffled forward, trying to insert herself between the two parties as things got more heated.  “Now then, why don’t we wait and discuss this somewhere more private?” she tried to placate, “We’re in a place of the dead, and should give them more respect than shouting over their graves.”

And then Mrs. Rushton’s younger Beta - Marcus’s brother, apparently - had to shatter the piece once and for all.  His tone was offhand, and Melba wanted to slap him almost as soon as she saw his mouth open, “Respect… Like digging them up?”

Marcus didn’t move a muscle, but Liz and Kobi simultaneously peeled their lips back from their teeth, human faces emulated lupine snarls.  Their chests bubbled with snarls that human lungs were ill-equipped to handle, the noise scraping up their throats oddly but carrying threat loud and clear.  It was as if shock and pain had driven Marcus so far back into himself that he was mostly paralyzed, but had made mouthpieces of his packmates without trying, their hands on his shoulders an informal conduit.  The Rushton pack reacted in turn, startled and offended, but recovering quickly - they had an Alpha on hand, after all.  

“Milo!” Mrs. Rushton snapped, “Milo, I raised you better than to surround yourself with Wolves who don’t know an ounce of respect.  What’s come over you?”  Before Marcus could answer, the female Alpha took a threatening step forward, and her hands twitched like the bones in them were bending.  Her attention switched to Kobi and Liz, who were probably the only Betas to threaten her like this in a long, long time.  “I don’t care whose pack you're in - you’ll learn a lesson about respecting your betters if you don’t back away now and let me talk to my son.”  

Then the most eerie thing happened.  Marcus’s mouth twitched but didn’t open, as if his lips were sewn shut by pain and anger, but then Kobi spoke, cold and mechanical - and Liz finished the sentence as smoothly as if they were reading out the same script.  

“How am I your son now-?”

“-When you haven’t claimed me as family in  four years?”

Old Melba had known a lot of Alphas, even if she’d only served under two.  Therefore, she knew that many of them had similar character flaws that came with the biological advantages of physical strength and an ability to control their pack with their words alone: pridefulness, unyieldingness, and a certain hatred for anything that caught them by surprise.  Mrs. Rushton seemed to be suffering on all three counts, and the shock of hearing her son’s answer through the two Betas beside him was enough to make her eyes widen like she’d just seen something unholy, and suddenly her bones were folding and snapping, clothing disappearing in favor of grey-brown fur and unsheathed claws and canines.  

Before the entire scene could devolve into a fight, there was a roar off to the left.  Everyone turned - even Marcus, jolted out of his haze for a moment - just in time to see another wolf charging in.  Moira.  Melba (who’d been on the verge of transforming herself, since her frail human form was useless now that things had gone past verbal negotiations) had never been more shocked to see the steel-grey Alpha in all her life, but had also never been more elated.  She'd almost forgotten that Moira had come with them, but she was here now, and that was what mattered.  

All Alphas were big, but Moira was bigger.  Her fur standing up along her spine like a steely palisade of fine spikes, she shouldered her way in between the two parties, forcing Marcus’s mother to back up.  For a moment, immovable object just about met unstoppable force, and the two Alphas eyed each other - then Moira pulled her lips even further back from black gums, a skull’s-head grin of slick, naked teeth, as if to say, ‘Bring it,  I’ll paint my teeth red with you.’  

Seth, who apparently hadn’t tucked tail and run like a coward after all, came walking coolly up a moment later, having trailed along in Moira’s wake - as if he’d pulled her like a rabbit from a hat, and was now joining her on-stage.  His expression remained calm and still as a mountain lake as he walked right up to his Alpha’s side, not sparing her bared teeth a single glance, just like she didn’t so much as twitch an ear as her mate’s hand came up to rest upon her thick, grey-furred neck.  Despite the fact that he was very vulnerable - human-shaped, without weapons or defenses to speak of - he didn’t look tense or wary, probably because he'd feel perfectly safe even with Moira’s fangs against his neck, and there wasn’t a chance in Hell that Moira would let anyone else try that trick on her mate.  

Fortunately, Mrs. Rushton did the smart thing, and before more people could transform into wolves, she herself took a step back and reverted to her human form, looking more than a bit ruffled as her spine snapped upright and her fur transformed back into clothing again.  Her eyes were a bit wild, and her Betas shifted behind her in obvious uncertainty and more than a little bit of alarm even before Mrs. Rushton snapped, “Who are you?”

“Moira Greywood.  Or, at least, that’s her name,” Seth answered easily in his slightly accented, soft voice.  His fingers buried themselves deeply in thick fur, and Moira’s low growl seemed to take on the characteristics of a purr.  Her teeth were still bared, glistening ivory spikes in her mouth, but it was hard to tell if she was snarling or grinning.  

The name clearly unsettled Mrs. Rushton, but not enough that she kept herself from pushing, “And who are you to speak for her, Omega?”

Now it was Seth’s turn to smile, just the tiniest upward tick of his mouth on one side.  “Her mate.  And right now, as her mate and translator-”  Moira’s low rumble dipped back into clearly threatening octaves, and her claws flexed outwards and dug at the grass.  “-I’m telling you to kindly leave-”

“But I’m talking to my son-!”

“-Before this gets messy,” Seth finished implacably, and Mrs. Rushton’s mouth snapped shut with an audible click even as she paled.  She glanced between Seth and his mate again, perhaps finally accepting the lethal reality that she was dealing with: not only an Old Name pack, but a female Alpha who was as ready to fight as a hungry barracuda.  When Mrs. Rushton didn’t immediately turn and leave, however, instead standing indecisively, Seth stepped forward.  Moira made a grunting noise that might have been disapproval, but held her ground, watching like a mother hen… a very scary mother hen.  For her part, Mrs. Rushton tensed as if she were being approached by a baby piranha, and her Betas actually stepped forward to intercept Seth.  The dark-haired Omega paused, looking slender and small with his Omega physique, but the second before Stanford’s hand touched his shoulder to hold him back, a snarl like an avalanche ripped from Moira’s throat.

No one touched Seth, and after a brief pause, Seth kept walking until he was practically standing on Mrs. Rushton’s toes.

Very quietly, tone polite and confidential as if he weren’t standing in the middle of a thunderstorm of tension, Seth informed Gabriella Rushton, “Your son, Milo, also happens to be the mate of my Alpha’s favorite nephew, so I’d consider that carefully before pursuing this further.”  Leaving Mrs. Rushton wide-eyed with shock - now staring over at her son with a whole new level of shock, as his relation to the Greywood pack was revealed in blunt clarity - Seth stepped back, dipping his head in a respectful little bow, before turning and walking back towards Moira.  

Who looked a mixture of protectively threatening and grudgingly amused.  ‘Did you enjoy that, husband?’ she asked wryly, even as Mrs. Rushton began to make clumsy overtures that might have been goodbyes.

Seth did not smile.  Quite.  ‘Whyever would I enjoy standing toe-to-toe with a woman who clearly has more pride than sense?’ he returned in a mild telepathic tone.  ‘Did you have fun, appearing out of nowhere like you hadn’t been shadowing us all along?’

Moira’s teeth were still showing, and they showed a bit more as her lupine expression twisted into a grimace and she replied, ‘That I enjoyed.  But what I am not enjoying even now is the fact that one of you Omegas is making the very air taste like blood.’  Moira rolled a sharp eye in the direction of her mate, who met her glance with a brief worried look of his own… before both of their eyes moved to Marcus.  Since Moira knew more about Omegas than most Alphas did, courtesy of her unorthodox mate, she also knew when something was going on beyond anyone’s ken.  Turning her focus to the retreating Rushton pack, all Moira grimly said was, ‘Get him to stop before one of us tries to dismember Marcus’s so-called family members.  Young Marcus might be favored by my nephew, but he’s getting a bit dangerous right now for my tastes.

If Moira was calling someone dangerous…  Seth didn’t reply, just nodded sharply, and trotted quickly over to where the rest of their little group was assembled in a tight huddle.  Beyond them, the team of regular humans excavating graves were all staring in shock, and probably wouldn’t get any more work done until the Werewolves went home.

~^~

 

Chapter Text

“Declan... Declan, your pups are fine,” Moira reassured with so much natural calm that she sounded almost bored as she spoke into the phone, “We’re at a motel.  We figured it wouldn’t be wise to travel back-  No, Declan, that doesn’t mean anyone is hurt.  The reason no one is answering your calls is because your pack is resting.”  Moira listened to her nephew worry at her over the phone for a few sentences more before finding a pause to insert words into again, “Meeting Marcus’s family was just about as stressful as you’d expect, Nephew.  Nobody got hurt, but…”  Moira paused, looking to the closed door between the adjoining rooms.  While she talked on the phone, Melba and Seth were handling Declan’s pack in the other room.  It had been a hectic ride to the motel, but it was quiet now… which hopefully meant Moira could get some answers soon.  Until that time, she told Declan what she knew to tide him over and keep him from jumping into the nearest car and driving their way right now.  “...Your Omega did a neat trick with emotions before I arrived, and it rattled everyone pretty good, but no one got hurt.  I promise to have them all call you as soon as they wake up.  How about that?”

It was a hard sell, but Moira regularly navigated the politics of a very sizeable pack, so she knew a lot of ways to get a Werewolf to listen to her.  Therefore, a few soothing sentences later, and Moira hung up, just in time for her husband to appear from the other room.  He slipped through the door with more than his usual quietness, easing the door shut behind him.  “They’re asleep,” Seth said, meaning Declan’s pack, “Old Melba’s watching them.”

“So are you going to tell me how you got three Werewolves to just go to sleep at five in the evening?  Or what the hell happened back there with young Rushton?” Moira cocked one eyebrow but otherwise remained as patient as ever.  And as watchful as ever.  She knew her mate very well, and could see how unsettled he was, beneath the calm, unflappable demeanor.  He hovered by the door a moment, dragging a hand back through his inky hair, before sighing and coming to sit down on the bed next to his mate.  

“Melba knows more than I do, but she was nice enough to explain,” Seth sighed, looking aged beyond his years.  The impenetrable fortress of a man who had stood on the toes of Alpha Gabriella Rushton was gone, his defenses down now that his only audience was his own Alpha.  “It seems that Omegas who have gone through what Marcus has - being packless - can be left with some incredible strengths, if they survive.”

“What does not kill them makes them stronger?” Moira guessed.

Seth nodded soberly.  “Melba lived through it, so she’d know.  It seems like Marcus is strong enough now to project not only emotions but his very will through his packmates - right before you and I arrived, he pulled off a puppetmaster act that was apparently spooky enough to be worthy of a horror film.”  The mutt dragged a hand over his face.  “Anyway, that’s why Marcus and his Betas were so upset by the time the Rushton pack left.  He’d superseded the autonomy of his own packmates, and to make matters worse, he did it all without thinking.”

Moira raised an eyebrow, impressed despite the circumstances.  “Out of curiosity,” she had to ask, lowering her voice to a pitch that wouldn’t carry even for keen Werewolf ears, “can Old Melba do that?”

After a moment’s hesitation, Seth shook his head.  “She didn’t say so, but I get the feeling that Marcus is in untrod territory, skill-wise.  I sure as hell can’t do that.”  A shiver traveled down Seth’s back, and his mouth twisted into an unsettled frown.  “Anyway, what you saw on the ride over was poor Marcus mad with guilt, and his two Betas too stunned to really mollify him.”

“But you and Melba got them… to just take a nap?”  Moira was hearing a lot of shocking things this evening, but was doing her best to digest it all as it came.  She still had a lot left to wrap her gullet around, though, and was almost wary of asking more questions.

But Seth nodded, running another hand back through his hair, until Moira lifted her own hand to tangle it in the short, dark strands at his nape - a reassuring gesture.  Her mate answered her question then, eyes hooded, “Old Melba might not be able to puppeteer other Werewolves when she’s furious, but she’s got other skills that I’ve never heard of.  She was able to selectively calm down Marcus, Liz, and Kobi to the point where I’d almost call it hypnotic… a suggestive state.  Fortunately, unlike Marcus’s trick, she explained it as she worked, stating that she needed the cooperation of the Wolf she was focused on.”

“In layman’s terms?” Moira prompted, still not following, but sensing the tension beneath her fingers in the form of tense tendons down Seth’s neck.  

“When Liz and Kobi let her, she was able to calm them down so much they were basically dolls.  Then she told them to go to sleep, and they toppled over on the spot.  I’ve never seen anything like it,” Seth finished with something very like fear.  He finally turned from staring off into space to look his mate in the eye, green eyes bright with unease.  “It was harder for her to do to Marcus, and Old Melba even admitted that influencing another Omega in this way is nearly impossible even for her, but it worked.  Melba is damn strong.  Stronger than I am.”

“Shh,” the Alpha immediately reassured, squeezing her mate’s nape and leaning her head in to nuzzle at his cheek.  He took the comfort with a soft sigh.  Moira went on, as steady as a mountain, “You’ve your own skills, love, skills that I value above anything we’ve seen thus far today.”  She smiled, pressed her cheek to his, and said sincerely, “There’s a reason the Greywood pack is the strongest in the region, and it’s not all because I’ve got a nice set of fangs.”  Moira felt her heart warm and relax as Seth chuckled, flattered by the implication of her words - the reminder that, even though he was a mutt Omega of no particular strength, and discounted by most, he was of great value to Moira.  

That was just how the Greywood pack functioned: Moira had a strategic mind, a war-like mind, and it served her well even when they were at peace.  Ever since she was a child, she’d assessed everything and everyone around her, and that knowledge had served her well when she’d ascended to become the Alpha of her own pack.  By treating every interaction as a move on a chessboard, or a battle waiting to happen - someday - she was never unprepared, even if that meant discussing her brother-in-law’s Omega as if assessing a threat.  Because that’s what Melba was, if the elder-Fen pack and the Greywood pack ever had a falling out: a threat of considerable power.  Moira sincerely hoped that it never came to a fight between their two families, but she’d learned to be careful.  She had to be, when leading a pack as large and well-known as hers.  ‘The bigger they are, the harder they fall’ was a very real statement for Alphas of repute, and the only reason Moira hadn’t been deposed in her years of rule was precisely because she was capable of treating her own friends as enemies.

All except Seth.  They were two birds of a feather, she and he, and Moira pulled him closer in a hug now.  He folded into it easily, her quietly powerful shadow.  “Is everything all right now?” she asked after a moment.

Seth nodded against her shoulder.  “There will be more emotional fallout when everyone wakes up, no doubt, and Old Melba has some questions about how you turned up so magically-”

“She should know by now that I’m paranoid and like to keep an eye on things,” Moira said wryly and not at all falsely.  Paranoia was a tool of the trade for upper-class Alphas.  

By the shudders of Seth’s ribs, he was laughing silently.  It was good to feel him relax.  “-But overall, I think that everything is under control.  Marcus is a wild card, but right now he’s an unconscious one.”  Pulling back and sitting up on his own again, calm demeanor back in place, Seth admitted frankly, “If Marcus can do what he did without trying, I shudder to think what he’ll be capable of once he’s stable in Declan’s pack and learns how to actually use those skills.”

“Well, thankfully,” Moira shrugged, leaning against her mate’s shoulder, “my nephew has an almost annoyingly straight moral compass.  More so even than his father Leander.”

“Those Fens and their annoying moral compasses,” Seth deadpanned, face perfectly smooth.  

“Seth Loch-Greywood, are you mocking me?”

“Maybe a little.”

“Admit it,” Moira twisted her head to press a kiss to the hinge of her husband’s tanned jaw, “you love my questionable moral compass.”  She tilted her head for another kiss, and this time Seth turned his head so that his lips met hers, brief but sweet.  Moira finished softly when they pulled away, “It always points to you.”

~^~

Aware that Seth was probably reporting everything to his wife even now, Old Melba eased her bones down and sighed, wondering how this day had gone so bad so fast.  Marcus’s birth-pack arriving had probably been the biggest factor, but no one had expected Marcus to suddenly start sprouting unsettling new abilities like a Hydra growing heads.  Melba was sitting now on the bed Marcus occupied, the other bed filled with Liz and Kobi, all three collapsed into a deep and hopefully dreamless sleep.  Even so, they somehow looked exhausted and strained.  

Melba didn’t need a telepathic link to know that Marcus felt terrible, horrified by what he’d done.  The moment the danger had passed back at the graveyard, Marcus had sagged and gasped as if a knife had been drawn out of his belly, the blade the only thing keeping him upright until then - for a moment, he’d been silent, as Liz and Kobi had jerked their hands back from his shoulder and blinked as if coming out of a dream.  They’d looked shell-shocked.  Moments later, Marcus had released a wet gasp as if he were choking, and then the tidal wave of guilt had crashed down.  

He’d been inconsolable.  Usually, Melba would have recommended the comfort of one’s pack at a time like this, but Declan was too far way and Liz and Kobi remained dazed.  They seemed fine, mentally, but shaken enough that they couldn’t offer proper consolation and support - not even to offer a heartfelt “We forgive you, Marcus.”

Melba suspected that part of Marcus’s agony came from the fact that his tenure in the younger-Fen pack was so young.  The bonding-bite on his neck was still fresh and bruised, for god’s sake, and now he was faced with the realization that he’d essentially forced his way into his packmates’ heads and taken over, no questions asked.  Marcus was so guilt-ridden that you’d thinked he’d raped his own Betas, and even with Seth and Old Melba working together to project an aura of calm, it was a flat-out miracle that they’d managed to drive everyone to the nearest motel.  By the time they arrived, Marcus was nearly unresponsive, curled in on himself against the door and crying into his hands - also by that point, Liz and Kobi had recovered enough to try and comfort him, but he wasn’t listening anymore.  

Breathing out sadly, feeling the heaviness of her own heart in her chest, Melba reached back to gently stroke the little Omega’s head.  He was so young… so young, and bearing an amount of pain that even an old Wolf like Melba wouldn’t want to shoulder.  Still dressed in his jacket and shoes, Marcus was curled up on his side, his breathing slightly fitful even in sleep, his brows drawn together to create a line of worry between them that wouldn’t go away.  The skin of his face was still blotchy from crying, his cheeks and lashes wet.  Melba had just barely managed to convince him to go to sleep, and even then, she suspected that the only reason he’d allowed himself to be put under was because his body longed to shut down.  It wasn’t a trick that Melba usually used outside her own pack, and even then, the last times she’d used it had been to gently coax the pack pups to sleep, using a combination of words and emotional pushes to help them back to bed after nightmares.  It was a kind of compulsion that came with being very powerful and very attuned to what emotions could do, but it had drained her, and now Melba felt tired beyond even her advanced years.  

And by the way Marcus’s feet started twitching in his sleep, tiny rabbit-kicks, it hadn’t even worked perfectly: while the two Betas were still and restful, it looked like Marcus was still fighting his demons in his sleep.  

Even though she’d heard Moira Greywood talking soothingly on the phone to Declan, Melba shifted her old joints and got to her feet, heading to her phone.  Usually, Melba wasn’t very good with new-fangled tech like this, but her old fingers punched in the number she wanted easily enough.  The voice on the other end picked up almost immediately, “Yes?  Melba, is that you?  What’s going on?  Aunt Moira said-”

M