“Just a few more steps, you’re doing great.”
Joey exhales shakily, staring ahead at Andrew standing within the trees at the back of her house. Everyone in their neighbourhood has a backyard that leads into the forest surrounding the heart of their pack. The forest Joey was attacked in. The forest she’s trying to walk into again.
Dina’s right beside her, clutching her hand and waiting patiently – just like everyone else has been for days. Joey’s slowly starting to feel calm again, and she was making great progress until now. Now she’s standing 10 feet away from the treeline and feels sick. She has to do this, she wants to do this. She just doesn’t know if she can yet.
The unknown man’s face no longer lives in her mind every minute of every day, but it’s making a reappearance. And his voice. And the unrecognizable language. Quia caritas Dei. She has no idea what it means but she can hear him grit the words clearly. She doesn’t realize she’s closed her eyes and started to hyperventilate until Dina tugs on her hand.
“Hey, hey,” she says gently, and Joey opens her eyes again. “If you can’t do this just say the word, no one wants to force you and no one will be upset.”
She huffs and squares her shoulders, staring at Andrew. “I’ll be upset. I need to do this.”
“She’s right, Jo,” Andrew calls loudly for her benefit.
“I know,” she sighs. “I just… Can you tell me again?”
Andrew nods. “Look to your right.”
She does so.
“How many guards do you see?”
She counts. “Six.”
“Now look to your left. How many do you see?”
She turns and counts. “Six.”
“One guard every 25 feet around the entire pack’s perimeter,” as he speaks, each individual on patrol turns gives her an assuring nod. She knows all of them because of their reputation of being the best of their time. Andrew assigned the strongest and fiercest warriors to her area – fresh and new as well as mature and retired. “No one is coming on or off pack land without being noticed. Twenty-four hour patrolling, seven days a week.”
The closest wolf on her right is Thomas. It’s been less than a week since she last saw him and he looks like he’s gained 50 pounds of muscle. They must be training incredibly hard.
Tell me honestly, Andrew says to her privately. Do you wanna go inside?
She looks back at him and raises her chin a little in determination. No. I’m doing this.
He gives her a nod and steps his feet apart. “Come get me.”
“Move further back.”
His eyes widen a bit. “What?”
“Move back until I can’t see you.”
“Joey, are you sure?” Dina asks.
“I’m sure. Go, Andrew.”
He gives her a look, one last chance for her to change her mind, before he reluctantly backs up. He keeps going until his body is shielded by the trees, bushes, and shrubs. Not seeing him makes Joey’s heart pick up a bit, but she has to be able to walk through the forest again. She’s going to be Luna. She needs to be strong for her pack.
And so, she wipes the image of the man’s covered face from her mind and replaces it with Andrew’s. That’s who’s in there. That’s who’s waiting for her. She can do this. When Dina drops her hand, she barely flinches.
“I’m right behind you,” her friend says.
She takes her first step and her leg feels heavy. Her second step is the same. Her legs want her to stay put but she refuses, and slowly her limbs give in to her. She picks up speed and with it, purpose. Andrew’s there waiting for her and she’ll be damned if she leaves him alone. She marches on, breathing heavily but not stopping. Even when she approaches the treeline and passes the guards on either side of her, she keeps moving. Even when she’s surrounded by nature and can no longer see her home, she keeps moving.
When she faintly smells chocolate and hazelnuts, she picks up speed. She realizes it feels like nighttime, when she turns the last light off at home and runs to her room while an imaginary demon chases after her. She knows no one’s there, but she still flees. Right now, her attacker is the imaginary demon and Andrew is her room – her safety.
When she sees him, she lets out a huge breath and keeps running until she can throw her arms around him. He picks her up and spins her around once and she can hear Dina squeal quietly and clap her hands.
“You did it!” Her friend cheers as her feet return to the ground.
She keeps a hold on Andrew and looks around them. They’re close to the edge but it’s not obvious. If she didn’t know better, she’d believe she’s right back where it happened. But she’s not. And even if she ends up in that same spot, it won’t happen again. Andrew and the pack are making sure of it.
So she allows herself to smile in relief and lets her body sag. She laughs to herself. “I did it.”
“That was great,” Andrew kisses her head.
“Can we…” she looks around him and studies the scenery. “Can we go further?”
“You want to?” He asks in surprise.
“That was kind of like a high,” she explains, looking between him and Dina. “I think I can keep going. Feels really good.”
Andrew shrugs. “I don’t see why not. But neither of you can leave my sight now, alright?”
They nod and then the three of them get themselves set up once more. Andrew walks a few yards ahead and Joey takes a few moments with Dina to work up to being able to follow him. The original plan for that day was for Joey to just step foot into the forest. Even being outside and looking in that direction Andrew thought was a huge achievement. But now she’s exceeding expectations. And she continues to until they make it all the way to the pack.
Other than building up Joey’s strength and courage and helping her recovery along, they did have a reason to help her back into the forest. Alpha Charles has scheduled a pack meeting to announce Joey as Andrew’s mate and true Luna to the Sumas Pack. So she needs to actually be in the main square with everyone.
The two days leading up to the meeting were spent at Joey’s house. Andrew “helped” her with the homework her friends dropped off for her, she watched hockey with her parents, she spoke at length with Andrew about whether or not she should even go to school if she’s supposed to be Luna, and then ended up getting her application to UBC’s biochemistry undergrad program in just on time.
Andrew’s head nearly exploded when she told him what biochemistry actually is, and that she only chose it because she’s already quite advanced in biology and physics. She likes knowing that her mate is impressed with her – it makes her feel like her pack will be, too. Hopefully.
Now she’s holding onto that thought as she, Andrew, Luna Rita, and Alpha Charles loiter in the large Alpha House foyer while the pack gathers just outside. Her breathing isn’t very even and her hands aren’t steady, but having Andrew next to her running his hand up and down her back is extremely comfortable.
She’s been to the Alpha House several times, but she’s seeing it differently now. This house is passed down from generation to generation as new Alphas take over. This will be where she and Andrew live, and the excited part of her mind is already figuring out how they’re going to decorate it.
The interior has a nice beige and brown tone. It’s very homey for being such a large structure. Despite the size, there’s nothing really pretentious about it. The foyer’s a relatively empty space with just a carpet, a couple decorative tables, a shoe rack, and a coat closet. Further into the house is the living area with a TV, comfortable brown couches, a couple matching ottomans, some plants strewn about, and a coffee table. The kitchen is attached, and Joey’s always loved the island that spans the length of the actual attached countertop. There are stools there, but there’s also a wooden kitchen table just a few feet away.
She’s never been in the Alpha and Luna’s office, which is left of the foyer. The door, as usual, is closed, but she knows it’s a rather professional-looking room with history and mythical texts, charters, legal paperwork, and stuff she’s going to have to become familiar with. There are two desks in there, rather than just one for the Alpha. As Luna, she’ll have her own place to work for the pack. She loves that.
She’s never been upstairs. There was never a reason for her to be there. Now there is. And there will continue to be. She’s going to be Luna. Luna for a pack that she’s been part of her whole life but wasn’t supposed to be part of. Now she’s supposed to be part of it. Now maybe the odd looks people give her will stop.
“Joey,” Luna Rita stands in front of her with a soft smile. “You have nothing to be nervous about. This is your pack and they will love and respect you.”
She just takes a deep breath and nods in thanks. Rita moves back to her mate and leaves Andrew and Joey alone. He kisses her temple and pulls her closer.
“You’re not wearing your necklace,” he says.
“Didn’t think it would get me a lot of points with the pack tonight.”
He sighs. “People are afraid of what they don’t understand. The truth is, your differences are exactly what’s gonna make you a strong Luna.”
“No, I mean it.”
“I can’t fight for this pack. I can’t sense danger.”
“You have the mind of a genius. You’re going to be a literal lifesaver. Your pack will protect you where you can’t protect yourself. And so will I.”
She closes her eyes and rests her head against his chest.
“My dad and I will do all the talking. They’re only expecting to hear from us anyway. You just need to stand there and look pretty.”
She laughs and he cups the back of her head gently. There’s a knock on the front door and Beta Jeremy appears. “Everyone’s here.”
Alpha Charles looks at Joey. “Are you ready?”
She peeks up at Andrew who gives her a nod, before turning back to the Alpha and nodding herself. “I’m ready.”
“I’ll prepare the crowd,” Beta Jeremy says. “Wait for my cue.”
He closes the door and heads back outside. Seconds later, the hum of the crowd disappears and Joey’s heart just about stops.
At that, Alpha Charles opens their front door and ushers his mate out first and then follows. Andrew grabs Joey’s hand and squeezes as they follow. He lets her take one step in front of him to pass through the door first, but when it’s shut and they’re outside, they’re attached at the hip.
Joey can’t see the bulk of the crowd past the Alpha and Luna, but as they walk down the path from the house to the main square, the standing crowd gets more and more visible. She shakily follows everyone to the temporary low-rise stage they prepare for every pack meeting. The Alpha and Luna get there first and wait for Joey and Andrew to catch up. Andrew helps her up. She knows she would have fallen if he hadn’t. She looks out at the crowd she can fully see now and sees many eyes on her. Confused eyes. She tries to find her parents or her friends but instead, she finds Valerie.
Her heart lurches at the unreadable expression her sister wears. She’s off to the left, about halfway back beside the friend she’s been staying with. Joey suddenly feels incredibly guilty, standing there with the Alpha family and holding hands with Andrew. Valerie looks away first, averting her eyes to her feet. Joey just squeezes her mate’s hand.
When the four of them are settled and Beta Jeremy stands off to the side with Tyler, Alpha Charles steps forward and invites everyone to be seated. Joey takes another scan and realizes Dina’s sitting at the front. Of course she is, she’s the Beta’s daughter. Dina gives her a smile and a thumbs up, which makes Joey’s chest deflate a little.
“Welcome, everyone,” Alpha Charles greets. “Thank you for joining us here tonight. We just have a few updates for you regarding curfew and my family before letting you return to your day. Halloween is in just a few days, and as it’s my favourite time of year, I’d hate to be the one to take it away from anyone. However, with the recent disappearance in Alberta and the attempted abduction of one of our own, we have to make some changes for the safety of our people.
“This year, we will be celebrating during daylight. You are all invited to make your way to the main square that day between 12:00 p.m. and 12:15 p.m. to ensure the forest is densely populated on everyone’s way here. From 12:30 p.m. until the sun is about to begin setting, we will be providing lunch, hosting festive activities, and carrying out our own special version of trick-or-treating.
“Each family should come ready with candy – we can always provide some if need be – and you will be assigned a station upon arrival. When the trick-or-treating starts, please make your way to your station to receive trick-or-treaters as they work in the round. If you have trick-or-treaters of your own, please ensure they are accompanied by a mature wolf. I know it sounds like too much control, but we have full faith that it’ll be a successful alternative. We just want to make sure every single one of you is safe.
“You are free to leave whenever you’d like, but we will be announcing a time frame in which we intend to populate the forest again if you’d feel more comfortable waiting for that. As always, our guards will be manning the perimeter. Make sure you come in your best costume, because I hear there will be a contest at some point.”
“What’s the prize?!” A young boy asks from the second or third row.
Alpha Charles smiles. “Well that’s a surprise for now, young man. That will be announced in the next few days.”
He hasn’t thought of one yet, Andrew says privately to Joey. She has to try really hard not to laugh in front of everyone.
“We will open the floor to more questions at the end of the meeting,” Alpha Charles continues. “Now, my son, Andrew, has a very important announcement of his own.”
Joey feels her body tense up and Andrew gives her hand a squeeze before letting go and replacing his father in front of them. He stands so confidently. He’s made for the Alpha position. Well that’s a stupid thought, Joey chastizes herself. He was literally born to be Alpha, stupid.
“Hello, everyone,” he greets. “There have been many changes in my life over the past two weeks, and as I’m your future Alpha I feel it’s imperative that you know about those changes. It was no secret that I hadn’t met my fated mate. I was set to be married to my chosen one, a woman whose love and compassion I’ll never forget. Together, we would be your Alpha and Luna, but recently that changed. I’ve found my fated mate in our very own Josephine Bennett.”
Joey takes a deep breath when hushed murmurs break out and people start making eye contact with those around them. As well as her.
“Joey and I are very happy, and I know she’s as honoured to be your future Luna as I am to be your future Alpha.”
He’s about to continue speaking when his head snaps to the right. Joey tries to follow his eyes and sees a boy a few years older than her looking right at Andrew with a terrified look on his face. The girl beside him looks just as frightened as she stares down at her lap. She realizes Andrew caught him whispering something he didn’t like.
“Any concerns you have about my mate, her age, or her genetic makeup you can bring straight to myself. Is that understood?”
The boy nods several times before bowing his head and sinking into his seat. Andrew turns back to the crowd.
“That goes for everyone. No questions about Joey will be taken at this point. They come straight to me. Goodnight.”
He turns and snatches Joey’s hand, leading her off the stage. Instead of heading back to Alpha house, he leads her past the crowd and into the trees. Alpha Charles and Luna Rita are left answering questions about Halloween while the two of them escape the crowd and head to Joey’s place.
“You okay?” She asks him.
“I’m fine, that stupid kid just got to me,” he huffs, slowing down a bit.
“What did he say?”
“Just a snarky comment about you and silver.”
She doesn’t say anything. She knew people would have a problem with that. Hopefully her plan to become a doctor gets her some respect, but then again she’ll be studying away for school while she’s supposed to be the Luna. She doesn’t think she’ll be able to do anything right – anything that will get her pack to accept her as their Luna. And a good Luna.
She thinks back to her birthday party. All those people – even though many of them were there because of Valerie – were there to celebrate her. She felt so supported and surrounded by good people. But that was before this. Before they learned the adopted girl who can touch silver was going to be their Luna.
Minor setback but other than that, it was great, she hears Dina tell her.
Guess it could’ve been worse, she says.
You’re going to be a fantastic Luna. I can’t wait for you to boss me around. And believe me, once the pack gets to know you and they realize how selfless and kindhearted you are, they’ll love you. Plus, everyone our age already has your back. The kids at school know how great you are, it’s the older generations. Alpha Charles will whip them into shape.
She smiles to herself. Thanks, Dina.
You still sound sad. I’m coming over tonight to drill this into your brain. Make sure you kick loverboy out because I’m not gonna be a third wheel.
Yes ma’am. Bring snacks.
Be there at eight.
When Joey and Andrew get to her house, Andrew goes straight to the kitchen to grab a jar of Nutella and two spoons. Joey smiles and leads him up to her room where they sit side by side on her bed. They don’t say anything for a while, leaving just the gross sounds of licking and swallowing to fill the room. After a while, Andrew gets up from the bed and walks over to where Joey’s necklace hangs beside her window. He grabs it with a hiss and starts walking back.
“What the hell are you doing?” Joey panics, throwing her spoon into the jar and jumping to her feet.
“Turn around,” he grimaces, still holding the silver.
“Turn around, Jo, this burns.”
She huffs and turns quickly, seeing the pendant come down onto her chest. After a few seconds, it’s secured and she turns back around to see Andrew shaking out his hands.
“Wear it,” he tells her. “From now on, no matter what you think people will say, wear it. Don’t be who they think you should be, be who you are. You love this necklace. I love this necklace. Don’t take it off.”
She stares up at him, wondering if this is a good idea but also admiring how much Andrew cares about her. Before she can respond, he leans down and presses his lips to hers. She wraps her arms around his neck and he cups her cheeks, slowly running his hands down to feel her skin until–
“Ow,” he hisses and steps back, shaking his hands out again. She covers her mouth to stop from laughing and he smiles. “Maybe take it off in certain situations.”
She giggles. “You got it.”
His face falls slightly and he turns toward her window. “Someone’s here.”
“No, just one person.”
He inhales deeply through his nose just as the front door opens and footsteps sound. Andrew’s eyes widen.
Joey jumps and turns toward her door at the sound of her sister’s voice. Her footsteps continue up the stairs until she appears in the hallway. Valerie looks between her sister and Andrew, both frozen in a bit of shock and surprise. She fidgets with her fingers and takes a step into the room, smiling shyly.
“Hey, little sister.”