Chapter 5

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.

~^~

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