Holy guacamole, guys. That delay in posting was ridiculous. Thank you so much, Averick, for literally waiting months for this chapter. I'm so sorry for that massive pause in writing. I just hadn't been in the writing mood lately, but I'm good now. Please let me know what you all think, and now, hopefully, Averick will have fun writing the next chapter!

He had such little sleep that he was starting to hear things, both sets of ears straining to search for real sounds versus the fake ones. A few times, he could have sworn he heard the sound of the Jeep pulling up, only to have it be a car driving by the house. The rain pattering on the roof helped lighten up the silence of the empty house, which Nyx appreciated, but it didn't help with how absolutely alone he felt here.

Nyx remembered why he didn't like coming over here after Daniel had died. It was made worse by the missing blond and his loyal canine, Max's fragrance still lingering in his blankets and pillows, which Nyx couldn't help but bury his face into.

He didn't really feel guilty about being in Max's house; he felt like he belonged here, despite his favorite person not being here. The house key was still under the faux rock out front where it had always been, and Nyx strolled in there the day before with no intents of staying for more than a few hours, just to get closure on everything. However, once he finished going through everything in the living room, which included old photo albums and homemade movies of all of them when they were younger, he made his way into Max's old room.

All his life, he had enjoyed having a heightened sense of smell; yet when he had walked in there, into the darkened room that he and Max had spent so many hours in, he broke down. His chest tightened like someone was sitting on it, and he wrapped his arms around himself as he meandered around the room, looking at everything that belonged to the blond. Dusty books that he hadn't touched in months, his school textbooks and study guides haphazardly placed around the floor and desk, and a scarce amount of clothes hanging out of the dresser drawers. Thumbtacked to the walls were more photos of their circle of friends, plus pictures of the dogs Max had taken care of at Obey and Deliver, with Aries and Taurus being the center of the collage.

Nyx's long had fingers trailed over everything in Max's room, and he drew his eyes shut as he did, taking in the scent of Max, trying to imagine him still being there. Taking a seat on Max's old bed, he leaned back on it, using his elbows to prop himself up. It was terrible to admit to himself how many times he had fantasized being in this same position, just with Max here. Soon, he found himself balled up in the center of the bed, blankets pulled around him, choking back tears as he tried not to let Max's scent drown him.

"Fuck you, Max," he whispered, squeezing his eyes shut. "Fuck you and Theo and all of this bullshit." He exhaled slowly, scooting up until his head was on Max's pillow, the lingering fragrance of Max's shampoo making him take in a deep breath. "Fuck me for letting this happen." Flopping over onto his stomach, he buried his face into the pillow, letting out a soft scream.

Somehow, he had ended up falling asleep there, bundled up in Max's comforter, several texts from Gareth awaiting him on his phone, asking where he was. Still, he forced himself to go back to sleep after telling Gareth he was just out, a part of him hoping that when he woke up, Max would be there, wondering why he was asleep in his bed. He wouldn't let himself believe that Max just left so easily because that wasn't like the blond.

His hunger was what finally woke him up, and he pushed himself out of bed, blankets still wrapped around him, and he waddled out into the kitchen, searching the pantries for something to eat. Max hadn't cleared out the cabinets or freezer yet, finding fruit gummies and a bag of frozen strawberries; there wasn't much, but it was something to hold Nyx over until he could take Gareth's car to the grocery store. He thought it'd be nice if Max came back to a fully stocked fridge and pantry. Maybe he'd enjoy a clean house, too, Nyx decided, which is why he was now scrubbing the floors around the oven, picking up grime that Max had probably never noticed.

Everything would be perfect when Max came home. It would be more alive, more like what it was like when Daniel was still here. Max would love it. Max would. . .

The bleach fumes stung his eyes more than the tears did. He didn't realize what he was doing until he had his phone out, ignoring how late at night it was. He didn't even have to go into his contacts or texts, already knowing Max's number by heart and dialing it as quickly as he could. If he could hold back tears for just a few minutes, long enough to just hear his voice and know he was fi—"Nyx?" came the steady voice on the other end, sending the hybrid's heart into a frenzy.

Nyx fell back onto his bottom, dropping the rag he had been cleaning with. "H-Hey," he breathed, suddenly unable to find his words. He didn't expect Max to actually answer, and now he had no idea what to say to him. "W-Where did you end up?" Because he couldn't bring himself to ask where he and Theo ended up. In Nyx's head, Max was traveling with Aries, and he would be back in just a few short weeks. He refused to believe otherwise.

Max's nervous, but familiar, laugh came out through the earpiece. "I'm not too sure where we are, actually. Somewhere with expensive rooms and comfy beds, though." There was a heartbeat of silence, neither of them saying anything, Nyx's heart still pounding in his throat. "Anyway, Nyxie. How are you?" Although he tried to hide the quiet exhale, Nyx still heard it on the other end. "I-I mean, of course you're not. . .fine, or anything, but. . ."

It was weird hearing Max at a loss for words. Nyx had always looked up to him for something to say, always able to fill in the conversation with his own words; neither of them could find the best thing to say, Nyx still sitting on his bottom in the kitchen, listening to Max's gentle breathing on the other end. "When are you coming home?" he found himself whispering, dodging Max's initial question. He knew he shouldn't have, but he needed to know that there was some strand of hope to hold onto for Max returning.

Another heavy pause, and Nyx squeezed his hand tighter around the phone. "Nyx, I'll be home eventually. I just gotta figure some stuff out right now, you know?" There was so much resolve in his voice, as if nothing Nyx could say would change his mind, and the brunette hated hearing it. "Just. . .stuff is really weird for me right now. This is my chance to find out who I really am, and I don't want to give up that opportunity."

Nyx opened his mouth to argue, to tell him that he was Max Rhodes and nobody else. But he snapped it shut, knowing it would be futile in saying anything about it. "Be safe, then," he murmured instead, sprawling onto his back, the tile cold and moist from where he had cleaned it earlier. "Bye, Max." There was a clipped call of his name, but he hung up before Max could even finish trying to stop him from ending the phone call. He didn't want to talk to him anymore right now.

He missed the silence of the house.


Max fell backwards onto the bed, Aries leaping up onto it to lick his face as an attempt to comfort him. "Hey, girl," he whispered, loftily reaching up to stroke behind her ears, these floppy ones so different than Nyx's. "Do you wanna go out for a walk? Yeah? Go get your leash. Go get it." He needed a few minutes to clear his head, away from the hotel room and from the sounds of the running shower where Theo was. Aries was always the perfect company, as well as the perfect guard dog.

He didn't even let Theo know where he was off to since he figured he would be back before the older male was out of the shower. Aries led the way out of their room, down the hall and out into the small courtyard towards the back of the hotel. It wasn't anything fancy, just a grassy area with a small fountain in the center, where Max took a seat. The air was drier here than it was in the City, probably since they were so far away from any oceans or rivers. When he stroked the fur on Aries' back, it actually shocked him, and Aries glanced back at him, seemingly giving him a confused look. "Maybe we'll end up by a river or lake tomorrow," he whispered to her. "Then you can go swimming like you love to do." And if he hadn't have left the City to abandon being the Keeper, how often would he have been able to take Aries swimming? She didn't like the ocean since it was too salty for her, and there weren't many lakes or rivers within the City.

That itself justified them leaving. It was better for Aries. It was better for him and for Theo. In the end, it'd be better for Nyx, Cass, and Quinn, too.

Aries sniffed around for a bit, checking out the fountain and smells from previous dogs, not straying too far from Max's sight. Ever since he had gone missing those few days when he was with Wyle, Aries had been more protective over Max, even more so than after Daniel had died. She rarely strayed too far from him anymore, always staying within about twenty feet of Max at any time, and constantly checking to make sure he was still there.

After she had enough of being outside, she nudged Max's hand, willing him to lead her back inside. He barely got through the room door before large hands were on his arms, shoving him to the wall, dark golden eyes glaring into his blue ones. These weren't the familiar eyes of Nyx that Max was used to; rather they belonged to the tall, muscular Theo. Behind him, Aries was growling, her hackles raised.

"Calm, Aries," Max called, maintaining eye contact with Theo, never having seen him like this before. His arms were beginning to hurt from where Theo gripped, and the brunette showed no signs of releasing him.

"Where the hell were you, Maxim?" Theo hissed, voice colder than usual. "Do you find it wise to stagger outside at night when you're aware of people trying to kill you?" He was leaning in closer to Max now, making sure Max had nowhere to move. Aries released a loud bark, followed by a soft whine when Max called out to her again, still keeping a gentle tone.

"Aries needed fresh air. She's been stuck inside all day," Max responded, squirming some with how tight Theo's hands were around his arms. "This hurts, Theo. Let me go." As much as he adored being touched and how close Theo was right then, he hated that it came with pain and anger. He didn't know how to react with Theo being like this, but when the taller man finally let him go, he offered him a stiff smile. "I'm sorry, I didn't think about it. Aries has always been my protector, so I knew I would be safe."

Theo glanced back at Aries, finally kneeling down to pet her. It was the first time Max noticed that he wasn't wearing a shirt, adorned only in sweatpants, and he couldn't pull his eyes away from the broad shoulders or how the Theo's muscles undulated beneath lightly tanned skin. "I would prefer not thinking about what Liam would do to your poor pup," Theo murmured, rubbing behind her ears, Aries instantly reverted back to her excited mood when Theo kissed the tip of her nose. "Point being, Maxim. You can't stroll around by yourself anymore. And besides. . ." He stood up and faced Max again, catching his chin between his thumb and index finger. "I thought you were tired of being alone. For two long years, alone at your house, craving the touch of another human. . . well, I'm human enough. But I'm here, and I can touch you, feed that desire you have." His fingers brushed over Max's lips, Max's breath hitching at the intimacy of all of this.

"I-I should. . .shower," Max muttered, sidestepping from Theo. "We should probably, uh, sleep some more, too. I'll drive tomorrow since you did today."

While he was showering, he repeated the conversation between him and Nyx, remembering the hurt in his voice and how tired he sounded. Relief filled him for a moment, taking comfort in knowing that Nyx wasn't angry enough at him not to call; quite the opposite, actually. Nyx was concerned for him and wanted to know where he was, and his heart fluttered a bit. Maybe Nyx still cared for him, despite all that he had done.

When he got out of the shower and pulled on a new set of pajamas, he found Aries and Theo snuggled up in bed together, both of them under the covers and Aries' head on Theo's pillow. "I'm starting to get a little jealous," Max teased, toweling his hair dry. "I didn't think you would warm up to her so fast."

"What can I say—she has a really good owner," Theo whispered, Aries lazily picking up one of her eyelids. After they had gone to dinner, they brought her home their leftovers, much to Max's protest since he hated feeding Aries human food. She enjoyed it, though, and Theo seemed to enjoy feeding her the table scraps. Max thought it was endearing how much Theo was taking to Aries. "Why don't you come lie down, Maxim? We're going to try to leave before dawn."

Max swallowed hard, debating for a split moment if he should sleep in the other bed or just sleep beside Theo like he had done before. Biting his lip, he sidled up next to Theo, pulling the covers over himself. Barely any time passed before Theo maneuvered himself around Aries and was now lying in between her and Max, pulling Max closer to his warm, hard body. "Are we still heading to Nevada in the morning?" Max whispered, so easily melting against Theo as if this was something he had been doing forever.

Theo kissed Max's temple, one hand sliding up Max's shirt, pressed to his stomach. "I think that's a good starting point. I know you weren't born there, but there have been reports of a man who looks like Tom living in Carson City. It's a small desert town, perfect for someone trying to escape their previous life." Theo's hand inched further up Max's stomach, heading towards his chest, stopping once it was over Max's thudding heart.

"How did you find out about all of this?" Max whispered, hoping Theo didn't feel how his breath hitched.

"Have you forgotten that I haven't officially resigned as a member of the Shadows? We have members who travel internationally, and they're always happy to share some information with me." His nails dug into Max's skin a bit when he felt the blond grow rigid. "What's the matter? I thought you had gotten over me being a part of that group. You know I'm trying to leave it, but until we track down Tom, I think it's better if I stay with them."

Max pursed his lips, forcing himself to relax. He was fine with Theo being a part of the Shadows—sort of; yet every time Theo reminded Max of what he really was, or what organization he was a part of, a pang of guilt, combined with fear, filled Max's chest. The only way it was relieved was by reminding himself that Theo was gentle with him, that he was aiming to be his own independent man. "I-I understand," Max murmured, glad that it wasn't a lie. "It's just hard disassociating you with the same group Wyle is in. I know you're nothing like him, but i-it's still hard for me."

A little whimper escaped him when Theo suddenly, bur gently, grabbed his face, turning it towards the brunette. Theo's mouth hungrily covered Max's, the forked tongue taunting Max's, something the Keeper was beginning to enjoy more the longer he stayed around Theo. The taller man's skin was hot to the touch, despite Max's own warm face, and he matched Theo's possessive groan with a small laugh in the back of his throat. "What was that for?" he asked, pulling back from Theo, a small gasp caught in his throat when he saw how dark Theo's eyes had gotten, more of an ember than the familiar honey gold. "Theo? Are you okay?"

Growling lowly, Theo squeezed his eyes shut, and when he opened them again, they had returned to their regular color. "Sorry," he murmured, running his knuckles along Max's jawline. "It seems I'm beginning to grow more possessive of you the longer we spend together. I suppose that's normal since you're mine."

Flipping onto his back, Max pushed himself up onto his elbows, staring hard at Theo, blond eyebrows furrowed. "What do you mean, that I'm yours? I never agreed to be yours. I-I don't even know what that completely means, but I don't think I'm ready for us to be. . .each other's." His heart was racing now, confused as to how Theo thought they were together. Max had never agreed to this; they shared a bed and kissed, but that didn't mean they were an item. Max had slept with people in the past that he hadn't even been with, so why was Theo jumping to conclusions?

Max let out a surprised yelp when Theo straddled him, two fingers beneath Max's chin to raise his face up to his, those eyes dark once more. "Come now, Maxim, don't play hard to get. We're meant for each other, don't you think? Both of us from strange backgrounds, both of us Creatures, both of us trying to run from our fates. It's no coincidence that, while running from our fates, we happen to meet. Stop resisting me, Maxim, and just let me have you already. Mentally, emotionally, and physically."

Max swallowed hard, starting to enjoy the weight of Theo sitting atop him. He didn't know what to respond, his breathing becoming unsteady the longer they stayed in this position. Seeing the hesitation, Theo took it as an advantage, once again pushing his lips to Max's.


Despite the bandages wrapped around Nyx's fist to remove the pain of the punches, his knuckles were freely bleeding, leaving traces of red on the freestanding punching bag. Sweat stung his eyes and got into his mouth, but he only gritted his teeth and kept punching. This had been the only way to get his frustration out all day, choosing this instead of actually talking to the three women who sat in the living room. Every now and then, he'd feel their eyes on him, looking out at him in the backyard, wondering when he would have enough.

"I've never seen him like this," Cass murmured, she and Quinn sitting in Morgan's kitchen, both of them sipping tea and watching Nyx. "Has he said anything to you?"

Quinn shook her head, watching as Nyx wiped the sweat from his forehead, leaving a small streak of blood. "I asked him how he was when I picked him up this morning, and he just grunted like an angry dog," she said, finishing up her tea. "He was at Max's again when I got him. I don't think it's healthy for him to be there all the time." She only kept her eyes focused on Nyx when Morgan poured more tea for her. "Do you think we should have Gareth keep him at their house?"

"He'd still find a way to get back to Max's," Cass murmured, pushing her full teacup away from her and taking a deep breath. "He makes me feel bad about my lack of training."

Behind her, Morgan gave a soft cough, enough to get Cass to raise an eyebrow at her. "Perhaps we should begin again? I realize that the Keeper missing has delayed us some, and it made us lose our morale, but Max will return. In the meantime, we need to continue your training, especially since Wyle has been a little too quiet for my liking. We were all lucky last time, but I would rather us be better prepared for our next encounter with him." She placed her hands on Cass's shoulder when the younger girl grew rigid, subconsciously reaching up to the fading bruise around her eye. "So I think today, we'll work more on Cass's visions and trying to train her to be able to predict things immediately before they happen, a handy tool in battle. And Quinn, we're going to focus on your speech with the Creatures and try to strengthen that mental link you have with them."

"You're never going to teach us how to actually fight, though, are you? Not like Nyx," Cass muttered, eyes returning once again to the bloodied hybrid outside. "If you're so damn worried about Wyle and that stupid Shadow group or whatever, you should be training us to use guns or knives or something like that." She glanced at Quinn, holding out her hand in inquiry. "Right? Like it makes a ton of sense to me that you and I need to know how to defend ourselves."

"That's going to come in due time, but for now, with Nyx and Max being the Warrior and Keeper, you two need to focus on your mental strength," Morgan countered, already gathering her textbooks from one of her myriad of bookshelves. "Eventually, I will teach you how to wield weapons, but with you learning to instantly predict someone's next movement and with Quinn being able to speak with the Creatures, you two serve as a vital part to this quartet."

"But what if Max doesn't come back?" Quinn murmured, finally drawing her eyes away from Nyx. "Are you going to have to select a new Keeper? And if so, how's their training going to go? We'll have to completely start over with someone new." She felt an odd anger towards Morgan, one she hadn't ever felt towards the old Sage. It wasn't fair that they were continuing on with their lives while Max was somewhere else with a member of the Shadows, abandoning his life in the City.

Morgan appeared flustered for a moment, then took a deep breath, settling herself at another chair around the circular dining room table. "We can't just quit training because of an absent Keeper. I will not pick another Keeper because that isn't how this works. The prophesy that I read pointed to someone that aligned with either Cass or Max, but nobody else, not someone who has the sort of mental caliber that these two possess." Looking over her shoulder, staring out at Nyx doubling over and panting, she sighed. "If he does not return by the official announcement, Cass will have to serve as the temporary Keeper."

Quinn and Cass shared a look before Cass stood up. "I need to pee. The tea went right through me," she murmured, walking off towards the living room and the lilac colored bathroom.

"That's asking a lot of her," Quinn said, looking at Morgan. "You keep changing your mind about this, and it's frustrating to me, so I can only imagine how it is for her." She swirled her tea around in its cup, scowling at her reflection. "I always thought being a part of the Trifecta was this mystical, honorable title. The day we got those letters, we were thrilled. Then come to find out, you were wrong, yet you still think it's okay to keep flip flopping on who you think should be Keeper. It's tiresome."

"This isn't an exact science, Quinn," Morgan responded, hurt in her voice. "You all have to understand that there is a lot of focus on who is chosen as the Trifecta, one that takes me months to figure out. I have to read tea leaves, read the messages on the Gate, find out the current state of the Creatures. It is not easy, which you will found out when you're my age and have to decide on the Trifecta that follows you. It is the job of the Sage to figure out who will be assigned the roles of the Trifecta, and doing this lies in beliefs in mysticism and very traditional, folk values."

"It's all so stupid. It's put so much strain on our friendships and has put us all in serious danger." She heard the backdoor slide open, announcing that Nyx was returning to the cool comfort of the house. "I wish you never would have sent me that letter."

"Go fix up the Warrior's hands and serve your duty that was assigned to you," Morgan snapped, lips curling back angrily. "If that Gate opens because of your resistance in listening to me and my decisions, you will have no more friends to even quarrel with. Now go."

With a muffled scream, Quinn shot up out of her seat and stomped into the living room. Without saying a word, she tugged Nyx towards the same bathroom Cass was coming out of, Cass immediately turning on her heel to return to the bathroom when she saw the expression on Quinn's face. "I can't stand that old bat," Quinn hissed, forcing Nyx to sit on the edge of the bathtub. "Stupid old woman, thinking she can just use us however she wants." She tore off the bloodied bandages around Nyx's knuckles and hands, tossing them into the waste bin.

"Hey, be careful," Nyx whined, hands red and sticky from the punching bag. "What happened?" He greeted the wet washcloth Quinn was now pressing to his cracked knuckles, gently pressing down on each finger to try to staunch the bleeding.

"She said that I can fill in for Max if he isn't back by the Feast of the Honored," Cass said, leaning against the bathroom counter, trying to stay out of the way of Quinn and Nyx. "It's so stupid. He'll be back long before then, so I don't get why she's getting so pissy. I don't wanna be the Keeper—that's all on your boyfriend."

"He isn't. . .He'll be back by then," Nyx murmured, ignoring the stinging that was now occurring on his knuckles from the antiseptic Quinn was rubbing over the wounds. It hadn't even been a full day since he last spoke to Max, but he knew he would never tell the girls what he knew. Max wasn't returning, at least not for a long time, longer than the two weeks that he had promised. Nyx tried hard not to think of him as a liar, but when he heard Max's voice the night before, heard how happy he was while being away from the City, it just confirmed everything Nyx needed to know: he was probably never going to see the blond again.

He blamed the bleary eyes on his burning wounds.

"It looks a little silly, but they'll heal nicely. Don't use the punching bag until those have healed up some," Quinn said, finishing up the bandaging around Nyx's fingers. White cotton bandages covered all of his fingers and down to the tops of his wrists. Quinn rubbed her fingers through Nyx's sweaty black hair, smiling when he nudged her hand like her cat, Jingles.

"What brought this on, anyway?" Cass asked, folding her arms around her chest, peering at Nyx. "You've never trained like this before, not even to impress Max."

Nyx avoided her gaze, pushing hair away from his forehead. "I-I just want to show that I've made progress when Max gets back," he muttered, some of him still hoping that he would have that opportunity again soon.


For someone who could look rough around the edges and had such a deep, commanding voice, Max had to admit that Theo looked rather gentle when he slept. He was quite happy with the long open road they were presently on, speeding through the desert with no other car in sight; it gave him a chance to stare, uninterrupted, at Theo in the passenger seat, his body limply sunk down into the seat, head lolling to the side on the head rest, and dark eyelashes occasionally fluttering as he dreamt.

Max thought about all the times he had watched Nyx sleep during the restless nights they would sleep over at each other's houses, recalling all the times he wanted to reach out to touch his ears or maybe check if there were unseen whiskers on his face. Now, with Theo, he was thinking the same thing, but the apprehension was still there. This time, he was worried about making him angry if he were to accidentally wake Theo up, but a part of him knew that Theo would welcome the touch.

Still, he kept his hands on the steering wheel and drove forward. They passed signs for Las Vegas and signs pointing them in the direction of California, and occasionally, another car would speed past them, heading in the opposite direction. Max kept the radio turned down low so as not to wake Theo, but after a while, he had to turn it up just a little louder to keep himself from zoning out. The desert around them was hot and vacant, and there was nothing interesting to catch Max's eye. Sometimes he would talk to Aries in a whisper, and she would squeeze between the seats to lick his face, then return to the backseat, head out of the window again.

Finally, after resisting the constant urge to pull over and stretch his legs, the sign for Carson City finally showed itself in the distance, and right beyond that, what seemed to be like its own little island in the middle of the desert. Max spotted trees and tall buildings, and there were cars and people buzzing around. The backdrop of the city were titanic mountains, ones Max was surprised to see. Whenever he thought of Nevada, it was never this image. As he drove further into the city, the thought occurred to him that he would be happy staying here for a while.

Along the way to the hotel the GPS was taking them to, they passed busy restaurants, plenty of shopping centers, and two or three pet stores Max figured may be interesting to put applications into if this truly was a long-term stay. Nobody looked scared or apprehensive here, not like the citizens in the City of the Gate. Here, everyone believed themselves to be far enough away from the Creatures for it to affect them; Max couldn't help feel guilty that there was one sitting in his passenger seat, and potentially one driving his own car.

Potentially, Max thought bitterly to himself. He was still having a difficult time coming to terms with what he very well may be, despite all the proof Theo had put in front of him. Tom was the key, though. If this city had Tom, Max may finally have all the answers he had been looking for ever since he was a toddler. Maybe he could finally figure out if Daniel's death was actually the cause of a heart attack, or if it was brought on by the same person who killed his mom all those years ago.

Beside him, the sound of Theo groaning drew Max from his own thoughts, and he glanced over at his passenger as he sat up straighter, eyes the same dark ember as the night before. "It seems my sources were correct," he murmured, eyes darting around the area, lingering on every face for just a moment before moving on. "There's another Creature here besides us." His hand landed on Max's thigh, a smirk forming on his lips. "Oh, Maxim, I'm so thrilled you came along with me. We're going to learn so much."