CHAPTER 1

Even the weather was shit.

Past the bridge lay a thick, wet smog. Ian shivered, fumbling to zip up the hoodie as he took a few steps forward. His fingers were clumsy against each other, wet and frozen.

He hated it here already.

"Don't stop, Ian." His mother's gnarled, ashy hand curled around his wrist for a brief instant. He missed it almost immediately. "Just keep walking."

"Can't we go back to the car?" he asked, slipping his phone out of his pocket. The signal was too low for any of his texts to send. He scowled.

"We're almost there," came the whisper of her voice. It did nothing to reassure him, but he craned his head, squinting until he spotted her small body. Like the past hour, she was pressed against his father's side, while Mui Mui curled up in the man's arms.

It was intimate, domestic. It reminded him nights spent curled up on the couch, legs crossed over each other, eating popcorn and watching stupid movies. All the things he'd never have again.

He looked away, feeling awful and angry and hurt.

Ian glanced around at the silhouettes of trees that seemed to herd them in, and hurried forward. His water logged canvas shoes gave a loud squelch with each step. "We've been walking forever," he announced loudly, half hoping that despite having driven for eight hours to get here, they'd all get to go back home.

"Be patient."

"We can still go back, you know. We don't have to be here." Back to where Jamie and Wren were probably still wondering why Ian hadn't called as promised, where Pike had probably blocked his number by now.

Ian missed Pike.

"Wai Jan," his father's voice boomed, deep in half a growl."We're not going back. This town is our home now."

Ian's lips pressed closed, and his jaw tightened. If it'd been warmer, his face would have heated up. Instead, he scowled, tugging his hood over his hair and shoving his hands in his pockets along with his phone.

"You call this a home? This is the pits," he said sharply, and received a firm cuff to his ear. "Ow."

"What'd you do this time?" Emmie asked, peeking over their father's shoulder gleefully as he rubbed at his ear.

Ian hunched his shoulders. "Ask him."

"Ian, could you carry me?" his mother asked. It was a warning not to get out of line, and Ian scowled harder.

"Okay. Fine." He took her body from his father, careful not to twist her burnt joints out of place. She was frighteningly light in his arms, and weighed less than Emmie would have.

They barely walked for long before Emmie began to hum. Her small mouth pressed to ther father's shoulder, and her dark eyes peered up at Ian who walked behind. She didn't say anything to him, so Ian ignored her, and tried to keep in stock of what he was seeing around them.

Trees.

Grass.

A droplet fell on his eyelid, and he wiped it away with his shoulder.

Shadow.

Great. What incredible variety.

Another droplet fell on his eyelid. "Emmie, cut that out."

Emmie giggled, but stopped humming.

"Who's meeting us?" Ian asked his father.

"Our landlords will be picking us up here."

'Here' was a clearing surrounded by the woods where the smog had lifted. Concrete had been underfoot the entire walk, but now the ground was soft and earthy, the dew brushing wet stripes against Ian's knees. Someone needed to cut the grass, honestly. Or build a damn road already.

"Better not be sleeping in the woods," Ian muttered. He looked up past the foliage to a starless night, and then down at his mother. "You aren't cold?"

If she could, she would've smiled at him. "I'm fine, Ian."

"We should have bought you a blanket," Ian said, louder than necessary, and his mother sighed. When she didn't answer to scold him, he looked at her questioningly. "Ma Ma?"

"They're here," his father announced.

Ian looked up to see a group of people had appeared on the other side of the clearing. There were six of them, tall and imposing figures wearing shorts and hoodies. One stood in the front, clearly in a position of leadership, while the others congregated behind him.

Nobody moved.

Ian bolted.

"Wai Jan." His father's large hand curled around his bicep, tight enough to yank him back with a strong jerk that made his head spin. Ian's whole body would've nearly bent like a ragdoll had he not been careful. "Don't run with your mother."

"They're shifters," Ian hissed, aware that he was maybe, possibly, holding onto his mother's body too hard enough to hurt her. It was the only reason he loosened his grip. His heart pounded against his throat, and already he could feel bruising where his father was holding onto him. "Why are we living with more damn monsters like you?!"

"Language," his father said sharply, even as Ian could spot several of them standing there stiffen their shoulders.

"Shifters?" his sister echoed, peeking over their father's shoulder to spot their company. The women in the group ignored her, but several of the younger men glanced in her direction with interest.

"Yes, Emmie, shifters." Ian tried to tug himself out of the grip, but to no avail. "Werewolves."

Out of all the things she could've asked about, this was it. Not why they were moving, not the car's battery dying just as they reached the bridge, not about the walk here, and not this creepy place. She decided to waste her breath on giant canines. Figured.

"So?"

"Werewolves don't like witches." Again. "Which we are. Ma Ma is. I am. You, half." Ian stopped pulling and glared fiercely up at his father. "Let me go."

"But Ba Ba is a werewolf," Emmie murmured dreamily. She pressed her face happily against their father's neck, which seemed to mollify the anger. "I don't want to go."

"Then you both can go be with them, I don't care." Ian yanked, one last time, and his father released him. "But don't forget whose fault it was that Ma Ma became like this."

"Ian." As it was, she was still a burnt husk of flesh and bone with a mouth and arms. He hated it. He hated looking at her and knowing what she'd had and been. He hated that one thing meant he had lost everything. "That's enough."

"Ma Ma," Ian said insistently, hotly, but even at her words the anger in his stomach crumpled into the burn of shame at making a scene. "We can't stay here."

"We will." His father's voice was loud naturally, but now he was minutes away from exploding. "Wai Jan, I won't have you being rude to our hosts."

The warning held clear in his tone, and Ian instinctively flinched. He clenched his fists tighter. The emotion that had coiled in his stomach was now at his throat.

They didn't look anything alike; his father was tall, barrel-chested, broad-shouldered, and could bench press a truck, never mind physically beat Ian's ass. Ian had taken after his mother with longer fingers and a sharper cheekbones...and the inability to throw anything but a verbal punch.

Ian hated this.

"We had a life there," Ian said, turning his gaze up to look him in the eye. "Aren't you just ashamed you just never fit in?"

His father's nostrils flared. A tint of red flashed in his eyes.

"Ian," his mother said sharply, and her hand grasped his wrist. "What is wrong with you?"

Ian clenched his jaw. "He started it," he said, not moving his gaze from his father's. He refused to show submission to someone who didn't deserve it. Besides, Ian wasn't a shifter-why the hell did he have to subscribe to pack behaviour anyway?

His mother tightened her grip. "Ian. I didn't raise you like this."

At once, he could feel her magic. Thrumming, despite the corpse that was her body, under the layers of burnt, brown and decaying flesh.

Stand down, it told him.

No.

Stand. Down.

He fought it for as long as he could, until he felt like his lungs were filling with water and he was drowning.

Say it, the magic coursing into his body ordered. The pressure kept up, strong, fierce, until Ian thought he might almost pass out.

"Sorry," Ian said, tightly, and then her magic withdrew as fast as it had entered. It winded him, he choked and coughed, and he found himself breathing hard. "That was too much."

Too much," Emmie echoed in quiet, sad agreement, and Ian's cheeks heat up in lowered his eyes to the right, away from her. He could feel the gaze of the shifters on him, and the absence of his mother's hand on his wrist.

His mother said nothing.

"We will talk later," his father said, at last, voice testy, and as though he knew what she wanted, took his mother from Ian's arms and gave him Emmie. Emmie was heavier in Ian's arms, but she was softer, and she didn't look at Ian like he was being trouble, either, and she didn't shove magic into him to make him obey, so he didn't fight it.

Ian watched just until his father walked to greet the head of the pack, and then turned around and promptly sat down.

"Are you okay, Ian?" Emmie asked automatically. She always did this. Always knew, somehow.

She was likely staring at him now, but Ian didn't meet her gaze. He shifted her so that she just sat on his lap.

Emmie turned herself around so that he had to brace her back with his hands. "Ian?" Her small hands came up to pet him anyway, smooth palms brushing against the underside of his jaw and his cheeks.

"Whatever," he told her, voice managing just not to crack. Goddammit, he was going to cry.

He hid his face in her hair.

Emmie probably heard it anyway. "You smell sad, Go Go."

Ian felt like laughing. He'd been sad from the beginning. Angry too, but Emmie was still just learning how to read emotions through scent, and wasn't good at that yet. "Yeah?"

Through the gaps of her unruly hair, he stared at the blades of grass at his feet. His jeans were probably going to have a big wet stain on the back, but he didn't care anymore about that. Fuck all of this. He hated it here. He wanted to go home to where Pike would be angry but would welcome him back anyway, he wanted to reach Wren and tell her he was sorry, text Jamie and get the stupidest emojis and stories.

"Ian," Emmie said, "Why are you sad?"

"I miss home," he told her. "Don't you?"

"Home is with Ma Ma and Ba Ba," Emmie said. "Home is with you too."

He would've said something to her, but he had nothing to say. She was too young; she didn't know what loss was like.

"Room for one more?" someone asked.

Ian looked up to the eyes of a goddamned shifter.