Layn stood in his old room looking at the cobwebs and dust that had settled in his long absence. He had almost made himself forget all his memories here, everything that had happened, forcefully forgotten the few good times and the mostly bad ones. He sighed and walked to the window parting the blinds with his fingers and looking out. Thomas used to live next door. He would watch him from his window wishing he could be the other guy. Then again he tried being the other guy and it hadn’t worked well so far.
The pack was searching his old home but Joseph and everyone else were long gone. All they left behind was a wrecked place and Layn’s things. They pulled out all the computer monitors and technical equipment leaving behind trailing wires and a few smoke stained black walls where the equipment had caught fire. They had ransacked the kitchen leaving cupboards half open and bottles smashed on the floor. They had left so fast the multiple stacks of newspapers and pizza boxes in the hallways had tumbled over in their wake leaving a trail of refuge on the floor.
Layn turned and walked from his room and back downstairs where the pack was gathering in the living room. Scattered around were a few old photos of either Layn’s school pictures or some staged ones. Jay hadn’t even bothered to smash those. What did that tell him? He glanced at the only one that was real. When he first came Joseph had taken him to a ball game to make Layn trust him. In the picture he was smiling very cautiously and Joseph was smiling a huge fake grin. It looked real until you got to know them and the story behind it all.
“If Joseph was so bad to you then why are there so many pictures of you two?” Nick asked glancing at one on the wall. Layn scoffed feeling ashamed. He should have had the foresight to get rid of them all before the pack came here.
“Keeping up appearances,” Layn muttered. He let the picture he had absentmindedly picked up fall to the floor and smash scattering glass and ripping the picture at the corner. The ball game Jay had taken him to so Layn, back then Reuben, would trust him.
Silence pervaded the room. Layn shoved his hands in his pockets looking out the window to the street. Kids rode bicycles, a couple walked a baby in a stroller with a little girl clinging to her father’s hand and the newspaper boy rode around fixing the messes he had made when delivering this morning, a perfectly normal street in a perfectly normal town. “The thing is Joseph was never meant to be a father or a mentor. He only cares about himself.”
“I think that’s an accurate assessment,” Nick said lowly. Layn nodded and crossed his arms. The others continued to search fruitlessly. Layn turned towards the kitchen feeling deflated suddenly. He walked letting the swinging door squeak on its hinges behind him. Second later he heard footsteps against the cheap parquet.
“Layn, you ok?” the young werewolf slumped his shoulders and then turned and nodded. It was just hitting him that Noah hated him and he had ruined his only chance with the pack. He liked being around people who cared, or pretended to, and other wolves but when this was over he’d be gone and no one would care. Why did this bother him so much?
“No, you’re not but you will be.” Layn turned to stare at who he thought was Nick for a moment. Antonio. Each man was alike but so different too. Antonio was short where Nick was tall and Nick had more lean muscle where Antonio’s bulged. They had the same joking nature and kindness though and that was what drew Layn to Nick and him in general.
“Where’s Noah?” Layn asked when it hit him that Antonio was here now and before he was with Noah in New York. Was Noah protected? Was he ok?
“Home but I’m here to help, can you trust me?” he asked. Layn hesitated as Nick appeared in the doorway and looked between then two of them. Did he really trust anyone?
“Maybe,” Layn admitted. Nick nodded to this looking at his father.
“I think that is the truest thing you’ve ever said.” Layn flushed and shoved his hands in his pocket looking at the floor. “Come on, let’s go back.” He nodded at Nick’s direction and moved forward letting the man put his arm around his shoulder. It felt awkward and weirdly ok. He had to admit he actually liked it a bit which made him want to shy away from the feeling all together. He wasn’t used to kindness and being liked or cared for. It took time to get used to it but now he didn’t want to be without it.
“Ok, the plan is this. We break up into groups and search for the group or remaining members or evidence of their stay here. I am assuming there will be at least evidence since these mutts were the same as we’ve encountered everywhere. Layn, how many humans have you seen them kill over the years.” Layn’s mouth almost formed an ‘O’ of surprise but he shook it off. Of course they would need to know that.
“Over fifty in a five year period, mutts came and went and they didn’t like to share. Most of them were from the outskirts though and only a few got on the radar of the cops,” Layn explained. He remembered some of it but not a lot. They locked in him in his room until a year or so ago but when they started inviting him to play he locked himself in his own room.
“Did you…?” Nick said leaving the questions hanging.
Layn gave him a look before he answered. “No.” No one said anything for a moment until Elena told them what teams they would be on what time they would meet at the hotel. Layn asked why they couldn’t stay there but the Alpha thought it best they were hidden so they would leave the place but monitor it just in case.
Before they left Layn went back to his room and gathered some of his things including his mementoes from childhood but when he turned to the bedside table he noticed that it wasn’t there, the picture was gone. He looked at the bedpost and saw the charms were gone too. Panic enveloped him and walked fast around his room looking in all the old hiding spots behind the closet wall and floor board and then his old pairs of jeans and dresser drawers. Finally he tried in an old book he had carved out the middle of. It was nowhere.
“Layn, you ready?” He hadn’t managed to pack anything. He looked up not being able to school his expression through one of the only things that could make him panic, losing those two things. Nick walked into the room looking concerned and opened his mouth to ask but Layn growled out an answer before he could.
“It’s gone. There both just…there gone. I’ll kill Joseph for this!” he growled and turned around putting both hands in his hair frustrated and on the verge of lashing out.
“What’s gone?” Nick asked setting a hand on his shoulder but Layn pulled away.
“My…” Layn said before biting his lip. He had never told anyone before so why should he now? What did he have to lose though? “I had a picture of my parents from when I was little and my mother’s…she made a charm necklace for me. Joseph ordered me to leave it behind and he must have…” Layn couldn’t finish. Those were important things for when he was Reuben. He could still feel the leather on the cord and smell the herbs. He could feel the groove where he had fingered the picture so many times.
“I’m sorry Layn, we’ll try and find them…,” Nick assured but Layn shook his head and concentrated on gathering some clothes and his favorite books. One last look around the room told him there was not much to his life but he loved everything in here. It hurt now like it hurt last time to leave it all but he had little choice, again as usual.
He walked with Nick downstairs trying to quell his panic and anger into intent, intent to destroy Joseph and his group for everything he had done. Nick kept silent as they rejoined the group but he kept glancing at Layn with a look of concern. Maybe Nick really did care for him.
“We’re clear outside,” someone called and walked in pushing early snowflakes from their hair. Karl. Karl did not like Layn at all so he tried to stay out of the guy’s way but for some reason Karl’s eyes always fell on him and made him feel inadequate or obtuse. When Layn looked away he smelt a faint familiar smell for a split second. He looked up sharply at Karl and narrowed his eye feeling bold.
“Give it back!” he growled leaving the safety of Nick’s side and crossed his arms looking up at the taller man. “It’s mine. I want it now!” he demanded angrily. He didn’t care if Karl could kick his ass or if take him down with a few harsh words.
Karl scoffed and turned away from him to speak to Elena but Layn grabbed his arm and pulled hard. “Karl, what the hell did you do?” Nick demanded walking forward and yanking Layn back by the shirt collar.
“I have no idea what he’s…”
“My stuff, you took it. My picture and my mother’s charm necklace. I want it back now or I’m out and you can find Joseph on your own,” Layn threatened. Elena narrowed her eyes now and looked at Karl demanding to know what Layn was talking about. Karl sighed and pulled the items from his pocket. Layn grabbed them from his hand and pulled from Nick again going to the other side of the room. He fingered the leather and the groove in the photo and his world slid back into place.
“Never take these from me again,” Layn warned turning and glaring at Karl who smirked at him looking amused. “You have no right.”
“I do have a right since you are a mutt under investigation. You are also a child so do not presume to threaten me, boy.” Karl strode forward until he was standing over Layn intimidated. He stood up taller balling his fist and ready to fight. Everything inside him said to defend his territory or what little he had.
“Karl, that’s enough.” Elena growled.
“I am not a mutt or a child,” Layn growled and pushed Karl. He soon realized all his anger was wasted on this man. Karl didn’t budge but he did reach down and grab Layn’s upper arms tightly.
“Karl,” Nick growled walking fast now as Elena was doing.
“Don’t. Tempt. Me,” Karl warned and let Layn going pushing him back. Layn hit the wall hard and growled. Karl gave him one last look before walking away. The anger, hurt and resentment began gathering inside him. He stared at Karl’s back he let it all go in a rush.
Karl hit the wall with a satisfying crunch and Layn smiled not sure how he did it but pleased all the same. Layn hated this guy. He had no idea down the road Karl would be one of his greatest supporters and allies. For now all Layn saw was an enemy.
“Layn!” Elena growled and started forward to help. Karl waved them off and turned giving Layn an icy cold stare. It almost made him run. Almost.
“You ok?” Nick asked sending a glare Karl’s way. Layn kept his eyes locked with the other wolf until Nick pushed his shoulder forcing him back.
“Ok, that won’t happen again. Control your powers Layn. ” Elena warned.
“I don’t know how.” He gritted his teeth annoyed.
Elena sent a look in his direction before turning away from them to have a private moment. Layn reached into his pocket and clutched at his mother’s charm. “It may be prudent to ask him why he has a witches’ charm,” Karl said lowly. Layn looked up at Elena and swallowed but spoke before she forced him.
“I already told them. My mother was a witch and my father a werewolf which is why I’m different.”
“Witches only have girls.”
“Maybe one never had a kid with a werewolf.” Elena smirked at this but held up her hand to stop the conversation. That wasn’t important now. Finding Joseph and the rest was.
Half an hour later he found himself in an alley sniffing for scents and writing down all the information he could remember on every one of them. They would compile a database along with letting the pack sniff their scents so they would know who was who. He had written all the info on the things he remembered about the pack but he was sure that Joseph’s pack had changed. Things had to have become different since he had left. Joseph had probably changed plans and members too so Layn’s info would not be important but even the most insignificant things could change everything. So, he wrote down everything about Joseph such as him liking his stake rare to one of the members, Chaz, hating the colour yellow. He was a really odd one and Layn noted that too.
“How you holding up,” Nick asked and Layn shrugged.
“Fine, still making my revenge plan to get Karl back,” he said and clutched his charm bag tightly. He instantly relaxed feeling his world shift back into place ever so slightly.
“Take it easy kid, I know your angry but later on we can combine our hate for Karl and really get him good.” Layn looked up surprised and grinned at this surprising himself and Nick who smiled back.
“Nice to see the real Layn come out.”
Layn rolled his eyes. “Shut up,” he scoffed and bent down to sniff again finding nothing new.
“So, what do you think you’ll do after all of this?” His tone was casual but Layn could tell he was fishing.
“Not sure, maybe travel or whatever.” He shrugged. He didn’t dare look at Nick to see how he felt. He was sure the animosity between him and Noah would be too much for the pack and since Noah was there first he couldn’t ask him to leave. He’d go then, just as soon as this was done.
“You know you’d be welcome…,”
“Don’t Nick, please…,” Nick looked over at him confused for a moment. Layn sighed standing up straight and crossing his arms, “It will make everything that much harder so please, just don’t.” Nick opened his mouth again but then closed it shaking his head. He knew the matter was not dropped and he’d hear about it again, very soon.
They searched in vain finding nothing but old trails and quite a few trails leading nowhere. It was like Joseph had known they would be searching and deliberately laid some nonsense trails for fun. Layn voiced this opinion. Nick groaned but told him to call it a day. They walked back to the house where Elena and Tonio were still looking. Layn shoved his hands in his pockets and got lost in thought. He had to get on Noah’s good side and he was thinking that he may be able to do that easily with some quick exaggerations.
They had just turned the corner when the smell hit him, smoke. Layn looked up and tuned his ears to the crackle coming from a few blocks away. He began to run immediately feeling panic quell in his stomach. He ignored Nick behind him. He made it onto his street and to his old home just as Nick caught up with him.
“Shit!” Nick started forward but a voice from the west side of the street stopped them.
“Nicky, we’re ok.” Both werewolves turned to see a singed Tonio in the mouth of the dark alley made by the house next door crowing Layn’s old home. They both started towards the space and followed Tonio inside. The man’s shirt and hair was singed and he was covered in black soot. Layn glanced at Elena to see she was in the same boat but a good inch was gone from her hair and the ends were blackened.
“They set the fucking house on fire?” Nick asked incredulously.
“Yeah, when we were in the basement checking things out so we didn’t notice for a few minutes,” Elena said explaining how Jay had locked them in and by the time they noticed the fire and realized Jay was long gone. The fire spread quickly and had reached the basement by the time they managed to find a window big enough for them to break and get out.
“They’ve done that before.” Layn supplied. “It’s easier for them to burn the evidence and the people than dealing with them.”
“Assholes!” Nick hissed but Tonio held up his hand to silence him. Nick crossed his arms angrily.
“As long as everyone is ok and we got a bit of a lead. Did you find their trail?” Elena asked Antonio who shook his head and opened his mouth to answer but Layn beat him to it.
“They covered so much of the perimeter with gasoline that it’s impossible to find their trail.”
“Exactly,” Antonio sighed and rubbed his jaw smearing soot.
Layn ducked out of the small alcove between houses and watched his old house for a few moments. The flames licked the roof and behind his bedroom window he saw his curtains go up in white hot light. He took a step forward absentmindedly. “Layn,” Nick said behind him and set a hand on his shoulder to stop him.
A wave of heat hit him from the shifting wind and Layn gasped feeling the paralysing fear and clenching his fist to control it. He breathed deeply smelling more fire, hot air and smoke which didn’t help but he shook his head getting back to himself.
“Yeah, you seem like it.”
“He’s fine Nick. We need to go,” Antonio said and Layn felt himself being pulled back.
Nick gave him a look but said nothing as they took off away from the area. At the end of the alley between the two houses was a brick wall separating them from the houses on the other side. They climbed over and dropped to the other side running along the alley way and to the next street.
“Walk, don’t look suspicious. Karl is waiting at the end of the next street.” A street Layn used to bike down to play with his friends when he didn’t want to go home to an empty house or Jay.
They picked Clay and Reese up a few blocks over before proceeding to the hotel. Clay noticed the singed pack members immediately and had to be ordered not to go after the mutt. He was still pissed. Layn stayed silent ignoring Nick and wishing Noah was here for the first time. That was it. Noah. He had to get Noah up here somehow. He just had to convince them it was the right course of action, or make them think they thought of it themselves.
Layn felt like he hadn’t eaten in days, which was the general consensus of the others as well. They headed for the hotel restaurant when they got back and would order room service when they were in their room again. Elena and Antonio had gone in the back way and freshened up before joining them. That included a haircut for Elena to take the few singed ends off and a funeral for their sooty clothes.
He had thought carefully about how to start the conversation he needed to have with Elena because he knew he had only one chance to both convince her and make it up to Noah in a small way. “We need Noah.”
Reese and Nick stopped speaking and Antonio looked up from the newspaper he was perusing. Karl was speaking to Elena and ignored Layn until Elena held up a hand for him to stop and turned her attention to him. Clay was just getting to the table with another plate full of food. He sat and started eating turning to Elena to speak when he noticed all eyes were on Layn. With a mouth half full of food he scowled and turned to the younger werewolf. “What did you fuck up now?”
“Why do we need Noah?” The Alpha sounded a bit past annoyed.
“Because Joseph won’t take any bait like he’ll take Noah. He won’t take me now. We wouldn’t have to put him in any situation where he will get hurt.”
“He will get hurt if he comes here.” Nick’s answer was a growl of protectiveness.
“Noah and I are the same age but you don’t seem to be concerned about me getting hurt. We’re not stupid just because we’re eighteen. Yeah, we are young but we’re smart and resourceful. We need Noah for the good of the pack because without him we can’t catch the boogey man.”
“We can get him without Noah.” Elena insisted. Layn took a drink of coffee before he answered thinking carefully before he spoke. This was much too delicate. He wasn’t good with delicate. He’d always been the take action and charge right in type.
“No, we can’t. You forget how obsessed he is with Noah. The only thing that will draw him out is Noah. The only way we can go home…you can go back home, is to go drastic. Trust my knowledge of him and we can get this over with.”
“I don’t like using him like this,” Reese put in playing with a spoon in his mug. Nick nodded. In Elena’s pack everyone was allowed to have a say as long as they knew the final decision was up to the Alpha and that there were times when she didn’t want or need their input.
“Fight fire with fire. He used me and he uses everyone he comes in contact with. The only way to get him is to turn the trick around on him,” Layn averred. He looked around at the pack still shovelling in their food. Just because they were having a meeting didn’t mean food would not be eaten. It was obviously one of the most important things.
“He’ll see it coming. Unfortunately he’s not stupid,” Tonio sighed looking at Elena. He had folded the paper beside him open to the business section.
“I’m all for sniffing out his trail and taking more pictures. You did get me that gas power chain saw darling.” Layn shivered at this but the others laughed. Reese was the only one who looked a bit put off when Layn met his eyes. A shared moment of discomfort.
“He does deserve it,” Layn said quietly catching Reese’s eye again. Reese nodded but Layn could tell there was no way he would be watching it. Layn didn’t want to either but he would like to get a few punches in before the blood shed started.
“So we use Noah and you scurry off safely somewhere?” Elena asked and Layn shook his head.
“No, I’ll be wherever you want me to be. I’m here until this is done. You can trust that.” He met her eyes for the count of three seconds and then looked away. Any longer and he would have been issuing a challenge.
He looked up again after a few seconds. Elena watched him for a time before taking a bite of her toast. Layn looked from her to Antonio and Clay and the others impatient. “I’ll think it over and make a decision.” With that everyone went back to talking and eating but Layn knew he hadn’t done well enough. This would not work if he didn’t try harder.
“Please, I can lay out all the reasons you need to listen to me….,”
“Layn,” Nick hissed. He coloured and gripped his white hotel issued coffee mug tighter.
“Ok, Layn lay it out for me. If you were the Alpha how would you do this?”
He looked up surprised and around at the others. He had their full attention. He swallowed uncomfortable and thought about everything he had planned and intended to tell her but his mind was blank. He swallowed and took a drink reordering his thoughts. “Ok, we know that he is ruthless, he’s not afraid of death or of anything happening to him. That makes him reckless but the fact that he used to be a pack member makes him dangerous and cautious. He knows how the pack operates and he knows how to avoid or outwit the pack…us. The most treacherous enemies are the ones who know who to avoid and how to work with or against their enemies.”
“Therefore we need to use this knowledge against him. We use his obsession, Noah, against him. He doesn’t think you will use Noah but we should surprise him. We throw him off his guard. He probably thinks you’ll send me away too but we don’t. Instead of sending Clay after him like he suspects we send Nick or someone else and Clay can lie in waiting instead. We just need to confuse him and complicate the situation. Then we have him.”
No one said a word for a good twenty seconds and Layn assumed he had screwed up royally. “He has a point,” Antonio began sitting back and crossing his arms. Pride welled in Layn’s chest instantly. He had won the admiration of the oldest pack member. That was definitely something.
“He does,” Elena finally agreed and then sat forward looking right at him critically. “Layn, I am going to consider what you said but you need to be in the plan fully. No back tracking and no running away. You do exactly what I say, when I say, got it?” Layn nodded emphatically.
“I can do that. Believe it or not I am good at taking orders.” It took a second but the pack members finally chuckled or laughed. Layn grinned. Elena smirked but he could see she was dead serious. Meaning he was dead if he disobeyed, again.
“On to the next order of business,” Nick suddenly said. “Are we going home for Christmas?” Elena and Clay both answered “yes”.
“We’ll lose the trail,” Layn protested annoyed.
“No, he’s not going anywhere. We’re leaving for a few days and then coming back. We all need a little grounding anyway and I am not leaving the kid’s without us on Christmas,” Elena said determined with a ring of finality.
“You’ll come back with us for Christmas day and then we’ll join the pack on Boxing Day,” Nick informed. Layn sat back and crossed his arms thinking quickly.
“No, I can stay here. I don’t do Christmas so I can keep tabs on Joseph’s trail. He doesn’t celebrate either so he’ll be hard at work. This way we can keep on top of him.”
“A) We’re not leaving you alone here. Joseph will find out and you’ll be dead when we see you next, if we even find your body and B) this is non-negotiable.” Nick emphasized.
Layn opened his mouth to argue but Reese and Nick both gave him a ‘quit while your ahead look’. They were right. He got his way so he should just stop pushing. The Alpha would not stand for much of it anyway. It was only a few days and Layn could work on Noah while the festivities went on. It still sounded odd to him. Gather around a dead tree and open presents or take things out of sock and then eat until you explode. Well he got the whole eating thing but everything else was out of his realm.