I hadn't intended to post this story until I had completely written the sequel but... I suffered an enormous tragedy a few days ago, and today stands to be a very bad day for me so I'm hoping I'll get at least one decent review that cheers me up, if only for a moment.
I hope you enjoy this story. It was written for Torn and Tattered. She had asked for some time for a story involving werewolves, and I finally wrote one. She liked it, but was not fond of the ending. I hope others like it as well.
Warning: This story contains a male-male relationship, as well as references to a sexual relationship involving three men. If this is not your cup of tea, the back button is always handy. Flames will be used to roast marshmallows and then summarily ignored.
The moon glowed, high in the sky, the light cutting through the darkness better than any blade ever could. It illuminated the forest beneath, highlighting the oddities in the trees. Instead of the brown one would expect, the bark of the trees was almost entirely black except for a handful of silver lines that started at the base of the tree and shot upwards in lines that were nearly parallel to each other. The leaves were not green, but a silvery white, the veins in them pitch black, an odd mirror of the trunk.
The forest stretched for many miles in any given direction, so far that the eye could not see an end in any way a person chose to look. The size, as well as the trees themselves, lent the entire woods an eerie feeling – a feeling that made it seem as if one were being watched from the very moment they stepped into the clasp of their branches. Everything in the forest seemed alive and more than merely intelligent, from the grass, which grew a brilliant green but was buried beneath layers of snow, to the animals that roamed it. Anyone who dared set foot into the woods would want a very good reason to be so clearly risking their life.
A lone wolf stalked through the trees, utterly silent as it seemed to glide over the terrain. Its pelt was a brilliant mixture of grey and white, hiding it in the snow nearly flawlessly, its place given away only when it moved. The pale blue eyes, however, were the most intriguing, holding an intelligence that no average wolf had. It would give anyone who encountered the wolf a pause. Luckily, there wasn't a soul in the forest to find it, apart from creatures much like the wolf itself.
The male wolf paused beneath one of the innumerable trees, head tipping back to look through the leaves to gaze at the moon. It howled suddenly, shattering the utter silence of the night. The note was filled with uncommon sorrow, and was not joined by the sounds of others. Instead, it reverberated through the trees for several moments before fading with the slight breeze. From the passing of the odd howl, a feeling of unease lingered in the woods.
Seeming to make up its mind, the wolf moved on, traveling swiftly as it weaved between trees and jumped gracefully over logs and other fallen debris. Finally, some time later, a light was seen ahead, more quickly joining it. As the wolf came nearer, others appeared at its side. They numbered at half a dozen by the time they emerged into the clearing.
The clearing was enormous, the size of a small town, and it had obviously been created by man, a great deal of time taken to clear the area before building started. A few hundred small houses now took up the space, people milling about between them. Some could be seen through the windows, gathered together in small groups to talk.
The wolves stopped at the edge of the clearing, their forms morphing until they too were human. They spoke for a moment as they dressed in rough breeches and tunics, before they parted ways, each of them moving in a different direction. Only one wolf remained behind, the sorrow of his earlier call mirrored for a moment in his eyes before it faded, hidden behind other emotions. Gone was the pale fur, tawny brown locks taking its place; the limber body of the wolf had been replaced by a tall and well muscled physique. His skin was not the pale shade one would expect, but lightly bronzed with a handful of scars crisscrossing his arms, as well as the parts of his body now covered by cloth.
The man stood there a moment longer before he started forward, long strides eating up the ground between him and a house larger than most of the others. He'd just come to the edge of the property when a voice brought him to a halt.
Nathaniel turned, completely unsurprised to see his father standing several feet behind him. He inclined his head, showing his respect to a Beta of the pack, as well as the respect as his father, before he spoke. "Yes, Father?"
"I just spoke with Condry. It seems you went out alone again, even though I've told you time and again not to do so. You need the respect and friendship of those in your age group if you're to take over as Alpha when Iyov steps down. Ignoring those people to run on your own is not the way to gain their support."
Nathaniel closed his eyes for the briefest moment, something his father would never notice, to push down the anger words such as those inevitably caused. His father's plays for power would never end, despite his position as a pack Beta. When he opened his eyes again, an unbreakable calm had spread over his features. "Legos, Morgatan, Corbrian, and Justic all trust and respect me. They're my friends, Father. It's only Condry that thinks someone else would be better suited to the position, and only because he would prefer I warm his bed over someone else's."
A look of disgust flickered briefly across his father's face before he schooled his features into a look of tolerant amusement, striving to make his son's words a joke. Storvin had made his thoughts on the idea of two men sharing a bed clear from the time Nathaniel could walk, and hadn't once wavered in his conviction. Such relationships were accepted amongst their people, as long as a third, a woman, was also a part of the group, so that valuable offspring would not be lost as a result.
The very idea of an Alpha choosing a man over a woman, however, was akin to blasphemy. It was his responsibility to rear powerful and intelligent boys, so that the pack would have a strong leader for the next generation. Their current Alpha, Iyov, had a son, but Alecto had never showed signs of his wolf, something that was beginning to happen more and more often with the males born into the pack. Women couldn't take a wolf form, but males had always had the ability to do so. Over the last few generations, however, the numbers that could turn had begun to decline, leading some to believe the blood was losing its power.
Nathaniel prayed it was nothing but a fluke. His future relied upon it.
"When you become Alpha, you can put such things out of your mind Nathaniel. No one will dare insinuate such a thing once that power in safely yours."
A power I will never have, Nathaniel thought bitterly, so my wants and desires are safe. My future is safe, away from you, away from here.
"I hope so Father," Nathaniel said quietly, the lie flowing naturally from his lips. So much of his life was a lie; he'd ceased distinguishing between it and the truth a long time ago. Only in his thoughts did he acknowledge how different the image he projected to others was from the person he really was.
"So," Storvin said after a brief pause, "do not disregard my words again Nathaniel. The ceremony is only a few weeks away, and then all our hard work will pay off. Bradt will have lost his chance to take over the pack. Not that his son would have been a good Alpha, not with how sick he's been lately." Nathaniel repressed a sigh, and told himself to visit Artemis. Though the two of them had been at war since they were very young, he had never known Artemis, except for the occasional comment such as this by his father. Now, it seemed, it was time to rectify that.
"Is he all right?"
Storvin looked surprised at his son's words. "He'll be fine, I'm sure. He always is, though it's been particularly violent this time around, from what I understand. It should keep him back enough that few people, if any, will consider him for Alpha." Storvin shook his head. "That wasn't the point of our conversation however."
Nathaniel nodded once. "Very well Father. I will make sure to spend extra time with them over the next few weeks." It was another lie. Though they respected and trusted him, as he'd told his father, there had never been a connection between them, something he was oddly grateful for. It would only make his plans that much easier to put into action.
"Good." Storvin nodded as well, and, after a few more advisements, left his son alone. Nathaniel watched him leave before he slowly turned back to the house he had been about to approach. He had intended to go and speak to Iyov, perhaps attempt to persuade him to fight the challenge that had him stepping down, to give Nathaniel more time, but it seemed that it would be a useless inquiry. Instead he would make plans to visit Artemis within the next few days, at a point when he was sure Artemis would be alone.
Two nights later found the same pale lone wolf wandering amongst the trees. On this night, however, the moon was shadowed by clouds, barely a sliver of it visible in the dark sky. It cast the woods into blackness, making each moment seem the same as the last. Had Nathaniel not been intimately familiar with so much of the forest, the lack of light would have been a cause for worry. As it was, it only gave him more freedom, the need to constantly search his surroundings waning somewhat.
It was this lack of attention that allowed Nathaniel to be caught by surprise. He'd stopped, curling himself beneath a tree to rest for a while before beginning the journey back, when he heard the sounds of someone, or something, approaching. Mentally, he berated himself, knowing if he'd been on guard, as he usually was, he would have heard it long before now, and been on his way. As it was, the sounds were close enough that he had no choice but he wait for the other to show itself, or risk turning his back on something that could end his life.
Nathaniel was surprised to see the other wolves, even more so when he realized he didn't recognize either of them. They weren't wolves he was familiar with, at the very least. They had to belong to his pack, but they clearly weren't people he'd dealt with recently, if at all. Both of the wolves were strong, one with a level of strength so close to his own that he couldn't tell who the better between the two of them was. The other was more powerful than him. Not by a great deal, or even a lot, but enough to worry him. The knowledge increased his surprise even more, as he knew of very few wolves that were stronger than him. It was one of the attributes that made him suited towards the position of Alpha: few wolves would be able to challenge him and win.
He'd thought that he knew all the wolves that could pose a threat to him, but clearly Nathaniel had been wrong. He waited until the two of them were closer to seek out their eyes, and found himself unsurprised to see they were the same pale blue as his own were in wolf form. It was a sign of the power they wielded, both in and out of wolf form. It was something few people knew: wolves with power like this, power the other two had just as clearly as he did, had abilities that translated into human form. As far as Nathaniel was aware, no one else in their pack knew, or shared the same abilities he did. Now, he wasn't so sure.
Nathaniel did not bare his throat, or his stomach, as he normally would have, his wariness superseding his need to show respect. Instead, he continued to watch them as they moved closer, until they were close enough to rub lightly against his sides. Shock billowed through him, as touching another wolf in this form was something reserved for only the closest of friends or lovers. That these two would so casually do it meant one of two things: either they knew something he didn't and assumed they would be in that position at some point, or they didn't care. He very much hoped it was the latter. It would make things less complicated in the future.
They moved past him, clearly wanting him to follow them somewhere. He paused for a moment, weighing the possibilities, before he trotted after them. One of the wolves, the one he knew was more powerful than him, was pure white, with only one spot of gray on his right foreleg. The other was a mixture of grey and white like Nathaniel himself, though more grey than white, almost a reversal of his own pelt.
The paler wolf moved ahead of them, picking up speed and forcing them to do the same to keep up. The steady speed ate up ground, eventually taking Nathaniel into an area of the forest he wasn't familiar with. The trees here were older, scarred with more silver lines down their trunks. Nathaniel was filled with something close to reverence as he moved between them, in awe of the power clearly held there. He'd always been taught to avoid this part of the woods, told by those older than him that these parts were best left to the trees. The easy way the other two moved told him not everyone had listened to those teachings.
After some time, the pale one finally slowed as they came upon a river that split the forest. It was about fifteen feet across, the waters moving rapidly around the rocks Nathaniel could see. Though it was winter, he longed to enter it. He hadn't seen such a river in some time, though he knew there was one a distance away from his home. He'd never made a habit of visiting it, however, choosing instead to go to the smaller one to wash or get water.
The grey wolf took over now, following the river upstream, clearly headed towards a particular destination. Nathaniel didn't follow, instead stopping beside the river to examine it. Given the season, it wasn't completely frozen, though parts of it still were. He leaned forward, his nose a hair's breadth from the water, when one of the other wolves tackled him to the ground. Teeth sank into his throat briefly, not enough to draw blood, but enough to warn him not to do something such as that again.
Nathaniel growled low, making his displeasure clear, but acquiesced, moving his head to the side to bear his throat to the other wolf. He was released and scrambled to his feet. He growled again, before abruptly turning away from the two waiting wolves and heading back in the direction they had come. He heard a low growl behind him, followed by a whine, but ignored both sounds. He didn't feel inclined towards companionship at the current time, be it just for one night, or something longer.
It was a simple mistake that would cost him far too much in the long run.
The sun was beginning to rise by the time Nathaniel returned to the clearing, so instead of going home, he shifted into his human form, dressed, and climbed a tree. He did it on occasion, so anyone that saw him wouldn't be surprised. What they didn't know, however, was that he had a reason, besides boredom, to do so. He always climbed the same tree, and Nathaniel was one of the few people who did climb them, so he stored his bag in a hidden spot between two branches.
In it, Nathaniel had stored all the money he'd earned for as long as he could remember. While they used bartering to get what they needed amongst themselves, a small group of wolves left twice a year to buy things that they couldn't get themselves, journeying a small city a month's time away. As they had little regard for money, Nathaniel had been able to store quite a bit here. If his calculations were correct, he should have enough to live for a few months once he got to the city. That time should be more than enough to secure some type of job for himself to continue living.
He also stored several books and most of the clothes he owned in the bag, along with a dagger and a smaller knife. Food he could get on his own and he could sleep in his wolf form for the most part, or find a tree and secure himself in it somehow. Nathaniel was confident that, if he just waited a few more weeks, until just before the ceremony, he would make it. It was already spring, despite the snow, so he wasn't worried about the weather. He just couldn't afford to depart until he was sure no one could follow and force him back.
Nathaniel was prepared to leave. He wished more than anything that he didn't have to, but there was no other choice. His father would force him into a position he didn't want, one he wasn't worthy of. He would never be able to make his own choices if he stayed here. That was not something he was willing to settle for.
He yawned, stretching as much as he could while in a tree, before beginning to climb down. Nathaniel needed to seek out Artemis, as both of his parents were out until later today, his father on a run with most of the older males, and his mother with the group of women that always got together when their husbands left. It was the perfect chance to speak to him, to tell Artemis of his plans so he wouldn't be blindsided when the time came.
Nathaniel was about to drop to the ground when he saw Artemis coming towards him. He blinked in surprise, but gave no other outward reaction as he let go of the branch and landed in the dirt. Artemis stopped a few feet in front of him, seeming to study him. Artemis was at least six inches shorter than Nathaniel's six foot four, with a slim body that bordered on being sickly. It concerned him slightly, as did the whitish color of Artemis' skin, but it was not Nathaniel's place to say something. Pale blond hair and silvery-grey eyes completed the picture. Had it not been obvious that Artemis was sick, Nathaniel would have thought him ethereal.
"Nathaniel," Artemis said finally, inclining his head slightly.
Nathaniel did the same, meeting Artemis' eyes as he spoke. "Artemis. I can say that I am surprised to find you willing to speak to me. I had thought it would take some time to convince you."
Artemis shook his head simply. "I have no qualm with you. It is our fathers who force us to be enemies in a war neither of us are inclined to fight."
Nathaniel kept his face carefully blank, not wanting to show how much the words shocked him. He simply nodded once, giving Artemis the chance to explain why he was here, and why he'd chosen such a telling statement to begin the conversation with.
He sighed. "I ask only for the chance to know you, while such a choice is still available to the both of us. In a few weeks…" Artemis let himself trail off, but Nathaniel didn't need him to continue. After the ceremony, when one of them would be chosen as Alpha, everything would change. Or it would, if Nathaniel had intended to be here still.
"I understand," he murmured. "I would relish the chance. Perhaps you would be willing to meet me tonight? We can talk as much as we like away from prying eyes and ears."
"Very well. I have but one request."
"Name it," Nathaniel said evenly. Do not let him ask something I am not willing to give, Nathaniel thought.
"I would like to bring someone with me. He is a good friend of mine, and I believe he could contribute. Also, he would like the chance to know you as well."
Nathaniel nodded again. "I do not know Alecto well, but I do not think he would do anything to harm me, despite our position, so very well."
"Thank you," Artemis said quietly, and turned away from him, and spoke over his shoulder as he began to move away. "I will meet you here tonight, an hour after the sun sets."
That night, Nathaniel waited beneath the tree, his nerves singing as he did so. Though he doubted either Artemis or Alecto were out to harm him, the possibility was there, and he had no intention of allowing himself to be trapped, if that was the case. Neither man had earned his trust, and he saw no reason to give it blindly.
He heard the quiet sounds of someone approaching, and put himself on guard, eyes seeking out their figures in the darkness. He had the eyes of a wolf, even in this form, and he caught sight of them easily as they moved nearly silently towards the tree he knelt beneath. Nathaniel gave Alecto a slow once over, cataloguing the details in his mind.
Alecto nearly glowed in the moonlight, the near white of his hair proclaiming him a descendent of the great white wolf. His eyes, Nathaniel knew, were frosted green, the color startling in the daylight. His body was slim, though not to the point Artemis' was, though he too was shorter than Nathaniel, though taller than Artemis. Nathaniel wished, more than anything, that Alecto had a wolf form, for he longed to see it. Fate, it seemed, was fickle, for the son of the current Alpha was one of the increasing many with the inability to shift his form.
Nathaniel realized with a start that neither man was tense, or seemed nervous. They were both at ease, as though they trusted him already. It was not something he had encountered in others, used to having to give favors and attention to a person before he earned their trust. With these two, however, it seemed he may have done something to earn it already.
When they caught sight of Nathaniel, they both seemed relieved to find him there, as if they had expected him to forget about the meeting he and Artemis had discussed. Nathaniel wondered why they cared so much, and felt vaguely as if he were missing something gravely important. He put that thought aside to examine later, and instead pushed himself to his feet.
"Artemis, Alecto," he murmured, inclining his head slightly in respect as they did the same.
"Nathaniel," Alecto said, the tone of his voice immediately catching his attention. Something was wrong, and it set Nathaniel even more on edge. Alecto glanced behind himself and went abruptly rigid.
Nathaniel scented the air, disregarding most of them until he found the one he should have expected: his father. To discover the man had followed him and was watching was no surprise, but the underlying fear in his father's scent was something that shocked him to the core. There was only one reason for Storvin to be that fearful of Nathaniel speaking to these two.
"What do you know?" he asked, voice barely a whisper.
"The information is yours for the taking, but we cannot share it here," Artemis told him, his eyes searching Nathaniel's. "If your father were to discover what he know, he would likely kill us."
Nathaniel nodded once, and then closed his eyes, concentrating on his father's wolf, which he could feel was just beneath the surface. The man was indeed ready to kill. Inhaling slowly, Nathaniel forced his will upon the man, commanding him to stay here, to see following them as too much of risk of exposure, and to decide upon a course of action after he saw how Nathaniel reacted. There was, after all, a chance that Artemis and Alecto knew nothing, and giving himself away now could only make Nathaniel suspicious.
He was not completely sure that the push of his authority would work, as he was not truly the Alpha, though Storvin acknowledged him as so. Nevertheless, he signaled the other two forward, and they melted into the trees, a lifetime spent blending in and hiding serving them well. Nathaniel led them deep into the forest, far enough that no one would stumble upon them, but easy enough to get to even while in human form.
Nathaniel stopped in a small clearing, carefully surveying the area before he was sure it was secure. He sat against the base of a large tree, unconcerned with dirtying his clothes or those of his companions as he gestured for them to sit as well. They did so, sitting close enough that their thighs touched, and Nathaniel wondered for a moment just how close these two men were. Touching was uncommon amongst their kind, even with relatives, an honor reserved only for spouses and, occasionally, lovers of long standing. The thought sent a pang through him for some reason, but Nathaniel pushed the feeling away before it could take root. He could not afford attachments.
"What do you know of your father and his history?" Artemis asked after a moment.
Nathaniel shook his head. "I know very little, apart from the stories I've heard of his arrival as a young man."
Artemis nodded as if that fact did not surprise him. "Your father came from another pack of wolves that once resided in this forest alongside us. It was much smaller, only a few dozen wolves at the height of their numbers, and stayed away from us for the most part, living on the edge of the forest and interacting more with humans and their counterparts than other wolves. They relied more upon them than we do, and, as such, many viewed them as a disgrace to our kind and shunned them. So, when a single wolf arrived, claiming his pack was being wiped out by a disease, our ancestors were exceedingly wary and spent far too much time discussing their choices before decided to send aid. When they finally did, the pack was gone, every one of them dead, with the exception of the single wolf who had come to us."
"My father," Nathaniel murmured, having heard this story many times in the past.
"Yes," Artemis said with a nod. "However, what you do not know, what nobody discovered then, was what disease had caused such destruction. It did not spread to our pack, and Storvin never showed any signs of it himself. Our healers suggested it was a human disease, one that the others caught only through such repeated exposure to it. It wasn't."
"It wasn't a human disease at all," Alecto said, voice quiet. "It was a human curse, created for use by your father." He pulled a small book from the bag at his side and handed it to Nathaniel. "Read this if you refuse to believe us. It is how we learned of your father's treachery. It's the journal of one of the women of the pack. The symptoms of the curse began shortly after they chose a new Alpha, a man who beat your father out for the position. That night, Storvin disappeared for two days, and, when he returned, the deaths began."
"He killed them all," Nathaniel said, not truly surprised. He required no persuasion on the matter, and returned the journal to Alecto. His father was a ruthless man, demanding what he wanted, and retaliating brutally when denied it.
"Yes. And he'll likely do the same again if you lose," Artemis replied.
"What do you plan to do about this?" he asked, gesturing toward the journal Alecto had returned to his bag.
"There's nothing we can do," Artemis sighed. "He's cursed us both already and, should we go to someone with this information, we would likely be dead before the sun rose the next day, along with whomever we chose to tell."
"Yet you chose to tell me."
"You may be able to help us."
"How?" he asked, confusion just barely lacing his voice, before realization dawned. "He cursed you already; your inability to shift," he said, nodding towards Alecto, "and your persistent illness. You think I can help somehow."
Artemis and Alecto glanced at each other before Artemis nodded. "Yes. I believe you can help me, though I am loath to ask it of you. As for Alecto… his curse is different, and we have yet to decide how to proceed in breaking it."
"Why have you not broken it already, if you know what must be done?"
"It is no small thing to ask a person," Artemis murmured, sighing quietly. "It is something that requires you, personally, and I do not anticipate you agreeing to it."
Nathaniel stared at the man for a moment before be shook his head. "What is it?"
Artemis closed his eyes, take a deep breath. "You must bond with me. Only an act of love by someone of your blood, an act that purges the body of the influences of others, can break the curse for good."
"I understand why you hesitated in asking," Nathaniel said after a moment. To bond with another wolf was a sacred act, signaling a love and devotion that transcended all else. The two melded their minds, bodies, and souls in a ceremony witnessed only by the moon herself. None in their pack were bonded, none willing to tempt fate in such a manner. Those that attempted the bond must be compatible, their very souls able to intermesh, or they would die.
Instinctively, however, Nathaniel knew that a bond between them would not result in death, that they could intertwine themselves in such a manner and live to tell the tale. He had no way of knowing how he was so sure, but he somehow he still was.
"How can you be sure that the curse would break? That the bond wouldn't just result in our deaths?" Nathaniel asked, needing to know if they too possessed this instinctive awareness, as he felt that, if they were to bond, it would not just be out of a sense of duty on his part, or a desire to be free of his curse on Artemis'. He felt that, should they bond, it would include Alecto as well. Some part of him demanded they break ancient law and form a triad.
"Do not deny that you feel it, just as we do," Alecto murmured.
Nathaniel shook his head. "I do not. I am simply asking how you can be so sure of yourselves. You know very little of me, how can you certain that you want me?"
Upon hearing his words, their eyes lit with a level of heat that took Nathaniel's breath away. The desire there was blatant and unbidden, daring in its suggestion. Clearly, they wanted him a great deal, and had for some time. How they had managed to hide it so well, he did not know.
"We know a great deal about you," Artemis said, creeping closer as his voice grew deeper with want.
"About how you hide beneath a façade of submission to fool everyone into believing you are weak, despite the obvious strength of your wolf. How not one of those that call you friend are called friend in return. That, despite what you say to others, you have no desire to become Alpha."
"About the way the sorrow never really leaves your eyes. That, even amongst so many, you feel you are alone. You hope for but one person to see and understand, even as you desire to remain removed from us all."
"That you plan to leave, never to return, before they can force you to become Alpha."
He froze, not sure how to respond, how to begin explaining, but they weren't finished.
"That you want us just as much as we want you," they intoned together.
Nathaniel shuddered, the mask he wore so often falling away as Artemis and Alecto settled on either side of him, and hissed out a breath as he felt the whisper soft caresses across his flushed skin. He could feel their desire as keenly as his own, pressing down upon him, begging him to give in and accept what they were offering. But at what cost…
"No," he whispered, jerking up and away from them, eyes closed as he fought the desires of his body.
He heard a quiet laugh, the sound causing another wave of desire to crash through him. "Why must you fight, Nathaniel?" Alecto asked, sounding richly amused by it. "You plan to leave in mere days. What's wrong with giving in to something you know you will enjoy, something you desire so deeply and clearly?"
"It costs me too much," Nathaniel said softly.
A quiet sigh. "Very well." A finger traced the line of his jaw. "We'll wait for you. But think quickly, little wolf."
There was a pause, and then Nathaniel heard the sounds of their retreat. Moments before he opened his eyes to see if they had disappeared, Artemis spoke.
"Trust us, Nathaniel."
His eyes snapped open. "Trust you—" But they were gone.
Ten days and nights passed before Nathaniel saw either of them again. He didn't question their sudden absence, instead taking the time to think, to consider what had been said. He knew what he wanted, the choice he desired more than anything, and he also knew he could not take it. In less than a day he would leave. Nathaniel would be gone, ending the farce that was his life and starting anew. He could no more leave them if he started something than he could take them with him. He had the resources and supplies for himself, and no one else. He had no choice in the matter, and to think he did was preposterous.
Nathaniel sat on the rocks near the river, legs crossed beneath him as he considered the water before him. Some part of him wanted to shed his clothing and enter it, another argued for shifting his form and allowing the water to carry him away, to drag him under and end things in a different manner. However, both aspects of his personality had yet to win the battle. It was the memory of the white wolf pulling him away that kept him on the rocks, that kept him out of the water.
"It's beautiful, isn't it?"
He did not need to glance behind himself to recognize the voice, but Nathaniel did so anyway. "Alecto," he murmured, his tone one of dismissal.
Alecto spoke as if he had not heard him. "It is, however, deadly to our kind." The way he said the words, however, made Nathaniel shiver slightly. He spoke as if they were the only two in existence, as if they were something much different than the others who lived in the trees. In a way, he supposed, they were.
"If we ask you to trust us, we should be willing to prove that such trust would not be one sided, or given in error. So I will give you the only piece of me that will prove such a thing to you."
Nathaniel turned slightly, so he could see Alecto, and shook his head. "That's un…" He trailed off, staring at the pure white wolf that now stood in Alecto's place. He recognized it almost immediately as the white wolf that, with the grey and white wolf, which had likely been Artemis, he had followed to this very river days ago. While it was nice to have that mystery solved, Alecto's sudden shift had created a bigger one: why had Alecto lied?
"If you can shift, why tell others differently?" Nathaniel asked aloud. The wolf didn't answer, not that he had expected it to. Instead, Alecto came forward, rubbing himself against Nathaniel's seated form. He wasn't stupid, he knew what this meant; putting his scent all over Nathaniel claimed him and forced him to acknowledge Alecto as the stronger wolf. He did so without thought, baring his throat to the white wolf in a gesture of respect as old as time. As soon as he did so, Alecto's teeth clamped down on his vulnerable skin. It wasn't painful and he drew no blood, there was barely enough pressure to leave a mark, but it showed Nathaniel that Alecto was, without a doubt, an Alpha.
He wanted to weep with relief. He wouldn't be forced to become Alpha if he stayed, he could do whatever he liked. He was free.
On the heels of that thought was another, and he realized how wrong he was. His father would never allow that to happen, would force the pack to elect him or kill them, as he had once before. Alecto had lied for a reason, had allowed everyone to think him weak for a reason, likely the same reason Nathaniel had: he had no desire to be forced into a life he did not want, and he had no desire to die at the hands of Nathaniel's father either.
This changed nothing, except for perhaps his desire to keep Artemis and Alecto with him. He wanted nothing more than to take them when he fled, but someone had to remain here to take his place. He could not abandon the pack completely. They did not deserve that.
"Thank you for trusting me," Nathaniel said quietly, "but this changes nothing." Because Alecto had not been expecting it, the command worked as well as it should have, and the white wolf collapsed against his body, now unconscious. Though he knew Alecto would hate him for this later, he moved the wolf carefully, covering him with his clothing, and headed back towards home.
Nathaniel was shaken awake later that night by his father. "What the fuck do you think you're doing?" the man yelled, shoving something into his face.
"Father, what—" he stopped when he saw what his father held; it was the bad that contained everything he'd meant to leave with. He had no idea how his father had discovered it, but he knew what this meant.
He was going to die.
The cell was small, barely enough room for him to lie down in. When he stood, his head brushed the ceiling, and if he held his arms out, both touched the walls.
It was as he'd feared. His father had discovered that he'd meant to escape and had gone to the Alpha, who had taken it to the council of Elders. They were to make a ruling about him today, barely a day after his treason had been discovered, but it did not matter, for Nathaniel knew what they would decide. Wolves that tried to leave, especially in an age where the number of those who could shift dwindled, were considered weak, unable or unwilling to bear the responsibilities of being what they were and, as such, were stripped of their wolf.
It was one of the few powers exclusive to the Alpha and the process was dangerous. Few who lost their wolf survived to tell the tale. The stronger your wolf, the more it would hurt to lose him, and the higher your chance of death. Given how strong he was, Nathaniel did not expect to survive through the night.
He knelt, debating on his next course of action. Technically, it was forbidden and no one would think capable of it, but Nathaniel could not ignore the call. Sighing quietly, he shifted to his wolf form slowly, savoring each aspect of the change, each part morphing from human to animal. He stretched each muscle slowly before curling into himself and laying on the thin pallet given to him. Even with so many gifts available to him, Nathaniel could do no more than lay in wait for his death.
Slowly, color bled into the sky and illuminated the cell. Nathaniel did not move from his position, content to simply watch as he was. No one spoke to him, not even the man who came to deliver the ruling to him that evening. The scroll of paper, a precious commodity for them, was thrust into his face. When he refused to shift his form to take it, the man simply dropped it on the floor beside him and left the cell once more. Nathaniel shifted his form quickly, reading his sentence without feeling, already having expected it. He was to be stripped of his wolf that night, in only a few short hours, on the first night of the full moon, when the Alpha's powers would be at their highest.
He tossed the paper into a corner before he resumed his wolf form. Nathaniel watched emotionlessly as the sky darkened and became blanketed with stars, as the circle in which he would die was constructed and wondered idly if the cell window had been placed there just so people in his position could have the privilege of watching their death come for them. It wouldn't have surprised him to find those amongst which he'd lived so callous.
Eventually, someone came into Nathaniel's cell and pulled him out, dragging him into the circle and dropping him into the dirt. He was in his human form once again, this time because he had no other choice. However, he stood tall and proud, refusing to allow those around him to think him beaten or broken. He met their eyes one by one, finally coming to the last and stunned to find Artemis and Alecto standing there. For a moment, he considered the idea that it had been one of them who had betrayed him to his father, but dismissed the idea immediately. His father would have discovered it some time ago if they had been responsible and, as much as he hated to admit it, even to himself, he trusted them that much.
A ribbon of awareness prickled through him, the vast planes of another mind brushing against his own. He controlled his reaction, not wanting to give anything away. He'd never known a wolf capable of this, a power spoken of only in legends: to mesh someone's mind with their own, a power reserved only for an Alpha who could control not only his own pack, but others as well. For Alecto to be this powerful made him near god-like in the eyes of any intelligent wolf.
Fear not, Nathaniel. You will survive this intact.
Alecto's voice was soft and soothing, the attempt at reassurance anything but. As much as he would like to deny it, he feared this, the loss of his wolf more so than the loss of his life. He and his wolf were melded in ways few people achieved, and ripping them apart would be devastating. Before he could respond to Alecto's words however, pain overwhelmed his senses.
While his attention had been elsewhere, Iyov had started the ritual to strip him of his wolf. The pain ripped through his mind, through his body, through every aspect of himself, leaving him a withered husk. Before he could even register anything, let alone begin to fight, he collapsed, descending into darkness.
Nathaniel hissed as he did just that, every part of his body throbbing in pain. He was confused for a moment before the memories flooded back, and then he wondered how he could possibly still be alive. Close behind that was the stunned realization that he still had his wolf.
Slowly, he opened his eyes, seeing nothing but darkness for a moment before Artemis appeared in his line of vision. "Hello Nathaniel, welcome back. Give it a few minutes and the pain should fade enough for you to be able to move. Be careful though, your body has had quite a shock."
"How?" he managed. Even speaking caused pain to blossom across the upper portions of his body.
"I used my own power to hold your wolf within you, against my father's power. The two opposing forces wreaked havoc with your body, and that's why you're in so much pain. It should fade within the next few days. However, we'll have to move before that, so as not to be caught. While everyone believes you to be dead, the same is not true for Artemis and me."
Nathaniel stared at Artemis, who still hovered above him. "My bag?" he asked, voice barely a breath of air.
Artemis leaned over and grabbed something before showing it to him. "I stole it as we were leaving." He sighed, setting the bag down. "I'm so sorry Nathaniel. Your father found your bag, and we knew, and we didn't tell you. We thought you were safe. He found it after the last time you were in your tree, and, since he had yet to do anything about it, we assumed he had not discerned what you meant to do with it. Clearly we were wrong.
"However, when all this happened, we could not save you, so we did the only thing we could: we killed you. And now you're free."
Nathaniel was silent for a moment as that realization finally sank in. "Thank you," he gasped finally. They'd done this for him, they'd set him free. It was a gift that paled in comparison to anything else he'd ever received, and one he could never repay.
"You're welcome," they murmured together.
"Now that everything is explained, and all that is behind us, what will you do now?" Alecto asked quietly. When he received no response, he continued to speak. "I have a friend who would be willing to help us. If you'd like to come with us instead of going off on your own, he would welcome you just as he will welcome us." He was quiet for a moment once more, and then whispered his next words, "I promise you Nathaniel, you will never regret it."
And Nathaniel made the first impulsive decision of his life, the first decision not carefully weighed, one based upon what he wanted, and not what was logical. "Okay."
They moved at random for several days, allowing Nathaniel's strength to return before they started to travel in earnest. Miles lay between them and the rest of the pack within only hours, and they ate up ground in both human and wolf forms. It was almost three weeks later that they reached the edge of the forest, at which point they stopped for a few days before beginning to move again.
This time, they wove along the outskirts of the trees, traveling steadily north and hiding amongst the forest at night. It was another three weeks later when they finally found what they were looking for.
The group was small, no more than a dozen men, but Nathaniel knew they could likely take down a group ten times their size with relative ease. Alecto bowed when he stepped into their camp, and Artemis and Nathaniel quickly followed his lead. One man emerged from a large tent and stopped before them, giving Alecto a half bow of his own. The man was stunningly handsome, with hair neither red nor brown, but some mix of both. His eyes were eerily perceptive, and glowed golden amber as they ran quickly over their little group. He was taller than even Nathaniel, likely somewhere around six foot seven, with broad shoulders and a body that was slim, but in no way weak. The muscles that flexed as he moved spoke for his strength.
"Alecto," he said with a small smile. His voice was dark, the kind men and women alike swooned over. "It is good to see you again my friend. I was beginning to lose hope."
"It is good to see you as well Attyk. As you can see, my endeavor was successful. I present to you Artemis Crane and Nathaniel Levey… my bonded."
Attyk grinned and turned towards Nathaniel, and it was only then that he caught sight of the tattoo inked into the man's left cheek and above his eye. It was comprised of a handful of swirls and sharp angles, with a sprinkling of dots as well, and seemed to seep from his very pores, as evidenced by the way the ink, which Nathaniel suspected was truly blood, ran just slightly, but never enough to ruin the design.
He'd heard of marks like these, though he'd never seen one. And he had a very good idea of how this man was. If he was correct, they were either in a great deal of danger, or were safer than he'd ever imagined they'd be.
"I am Crown Prince Attyk LaRose, of the demon lands. It is a pleasure to meet you."
As stated, Torn and Tattered was not fond of the ending. I intend to write a sequel for this story, and it will be posted once it is finished.
Beta-ed by Torn and Tattered as well. Shout out to her.
-Shadowed and Shattered