Layn groaned and rolled out of his dream opening his eyes, or trying to, to see a huge dark bruise on the inside of the arm his head was pillowed on. Confused he brought a hand up to his face feeling fire run up his muscles when he moved. His eye remained part way shut and felt bigger than normal. With effort he pushed himself up and out of bed stumbling towards the bathroom and trying to ignore the pain in his aching muscles and body.
Finally he made it to the mirror in the bathroom and gazed at his reflection. When he saw his half swollen eye and the scratches on his cheek he suddenly remembered. He brought a hand to his cheek then and sighed. “I don’t think I like you as much today,” Layn murmured to himself and glanced outside the room to a sleeping Noah.
Carefully Layn took off his clothes, still in jeans and a half open button up shirt from the night before, and turned on the shower to scolding hot. He carefully dressed in baggy sweatpants and a tight t-shirt, seeing it was cold and rainy, and headed down to the kitchen. Half way there Layn smelled the coffee and the next thing he knew he was standing in the kitchen with the biggest mug he could find filled to the brim.
“Long night?” he heard and looked up sharply to see Antonio sitting at the table and reading the paper. Layn shrugged and then winced at the pain both from his eye and his body and walked to the freezer grabbing a bag of peas. “Who did you fight with?” the man asked now setting down the paper. Layn took a sip of the caffeinated drink letting the hotness run down his throat and warm his body.
“Noah,” he answered finally looking over at Antonio with slightly less than satisfying vision. Hopefully his eye would heal quickly. Antonio watched him and sighed shaking his head now.
“Hope it was worth it.” Layn heard more footsteps in the kitchen. Instinctively he turned to see Nick walking in with Clay and instantly regretted it as Nick’s face turned from happy to concerned. Immediately he walked over and took the frozen bag moving his jaw from side to side and giving him a critical look. Layn pulled away with a sigh and a roll of his eyes and growled at himself when it hurt too much. Yeah, he was defiantly regretting it.
“I’m fine, just a fight is all. It won’t kill me,” he said dismissively.
“A fight with who?” Nick asked with crossed arms now and an angrier look. Layn pulled the bag of frozen vegetables to his face again and was about to answer when he was interrupted.
“Me.” He watched as Nick turned to see Noah looking even more concerned now. He immediately walked across the room to give Noah the same critical treatment.
“I’m going to kill him,” Nick suddenly said and marched from the room. Layn looked over at Noah with a grin and a shake of his head. Noah laughed as well and came to sit down by Layn. The tension was not completely gone and Layn felt a weight lift because of it.
“Is he always so…” Layn asked trailing off when he couldn’t find the word.
“Anxious? Fatherly? Dramatic?” Noah supplied and Layn nodded with a laugh.
“Not always.” Antonio informed them as Nick came back dragging a sleepy Reese by the upper arm. The Australian looked confused and dazed and shirtless. Layn stared for a few seconds before he turned his gaze away with a blush. Reese was muscled, much more so than Layn knew but he should definitely not concentrate on that right now.
“Do they look taken care of to you?” Nick asked now letting go of the younger werewolf who looked a bit more awake and then cringed when he saw Noah and Layn.
“It’s not his fault, Nick. Noah and I were going at each other and he got fed up. Adam suggested we fight it out and it worked. Noah and I are getting along better now. It worked so you shouldn’t punish Reese,” Layn said directly to Nick now taking a stand. He glanced at Noah to see him looking from Nick to Layn now worried.
“He was responsible for you both,” Nick reminded. Layn watched Nick but looked away quickly before he met his eyes for too long.
“We aren’t children.” Layn countered now not meeting the man’s gaze again. Reese gave him a warning look then and Layn backed off.
“Fine, you’re all punished then,” Nick declared. Noah huffed and sat back with crossed arms looking annoyed and Reese clamped his mouth shut not saying a word. Layn fumed and opened his mouth to protest but snapped it shut after a millisecond. “Today, the outside of this house, garden and lawns better look like it was professional done, got it?” he stated. All three werewolves nodded and made noises of assent before Nick left looking as annoyed as them. When he got the doorway he set a hand on the frame spoke without turning. “Layn, you’ll do the same when we take you back to the Estate, until you learn respect,” he announced and then left before Layn, or anyone, could speak.
Layn stared at his coffee mug playing with the half empty cup in his hands and concentrating on it so he wouldn’t say a word. He didn’t think he would be getting along so well with Nick. “I’m sorry,” Layn said looking up at Noah now. The other werewolf watched Layn confused but he didn’t wait to see if he had anything to say to this. Instead he stood, gulped down the rest of his coffee and strode out of the kitchen and towards the front door. Pulling on his shoes and his coat he stepped outside and walked across the porch and down the stairs.
Ten minutes later Layn was raking up stray fall leaves in the yard with a vengeance and cursing when the wind blew at his pile belaying his efforts. Finally he let the rake fall to the ground and sat down in the pile. Not for the first time he had so many doubts about what he was doing. This was so frustrating. He kept running into brick walls with whatever he did. Nick hated him apparently. None of them trusted him and Jay was probably about ready to kill him.
Layn was so lost in his thoughts that he didn’t hear the crunch of leaves or the person standing above him clear his throat. He looked up seeing Noah standing above him with his hands in his hoodie pocket. “Want some help?” the older wolf asked, technically Noah was only older than him by half a year but it would make a difference hierarchy wise.
Layn nodded and stood now with a small smile. He watched as Noah pushed a lock of dark brown hair away from his deep soulful green eyes seeing that Noah trusted him much more now but it was only a general surface trust. There was not a deep bond between them but there was room for one to grow. Silently at first they began clearing the yard until Layn broke the silence by asking about Nick. The man he seemed to eternally keep bashing heads with.
“He’s cool once you get to know him,” Noah answered raking leaves into a pile. Layn sighed and picked up a garbage bag while Noah pushed them inside. “He tries really hard and sometimes he gets it right but sometimes not. When I first came he had no idea what he was doing but now he does. He just needs to get used to you.” Noah shrugged.
“That’s the thing Noah. I’ve been with guys like Nick before, foster dads who always have to be right or think they know how I feel or know what’s best. They don’t like me on principal or because they see me as too big a challenge or getting in the way of the other kids, maybe his real or favorite kids. I don’t think Nick and I will get along is all,” Layn said and bit his lip. Instantly Layn chastised himself and stopped his old habit. A habit from a previous life and not one he liked at all. It made him look weak.
“No, Nick is frustrated but there isn’t anyone he doesn’t like. Well, he doesn’t like our enemies but he likes you…,” Noah said with persistence in his eyes. Layn saw that this guy really wanted him to believe in Nick and in Nick’s goodness. Why? Was he really good or was there an ultimate plan?
“He’ll go and cool off or a bit and then he’ll be back and he will apologize and ask how he can do better. Nick is good. Better than most,” they heard. Layn saw Reese standing there with crossed arms watching him. His eyes dared the younger werewolf to insult the man he seemed to worship and Layn took the hint. No Nick bashing. He didn’t hate the guy but he was worried the guy hated him. “Maybe, there shouldn’t just be apologies on his part though…” Reese said not too tactfully. Layn stiffened but again said nothing choosing to go back to work instead.
Noah sighed beside Layn and started raking leaves in again and out of the corner of his eye he saw Reese pick up a second rake and begin to help as well. When Nick said clean the whole yard did he mean the whole yard? Layn wondered as he looked around at the expansive grounds. When the younger werewolf looked back at Noah he noticed the other wolf glancing at Reese once in a while to take his cue. Reese may or may not have noticed this, Layn couldn’t tell, but if Noah was completely focused on Reese to figure out how he should act and what he should do it wasn’t good. How could he get through to Noah if Reese had such a tight hold on him?
The answer came to him a moment later when Noah asked Reese, apparently for the hundredth time, if he wanted to try a certain video game. Layn listened carefully as Reese, politely declined seeing Noah looked a bit crest fallen. Suddenly Layn had an in. Reese was three years older than Noah and on a completely different wave length. What Noah needed was a younger friend who knew exactly where he was coming from. Usurp Reese’s position in Noah’s life to a degree and maybe he would gain that much wanted trust.
“Wait, you play Planet of Combat too?” Layn asked with a half grin and a raised eyebrow. This was the game Noah had asked Reese about. Truthfully Layn didn’t have a clue what this game was about. He’d have to research it later. Noah chuckled and nodded then blushing a bit at this. Layn could tell he didn’t share this interest with anyone else in the house so he was definitely on the right path. Soon Layn felt his worries melting again as they fell in and out of easy conversation for the next few hours about various video games and books as well as girls. Noah didn’t even look at Reese once.
He watched the boys out the kitchen window as they raked and cleaned up the yard. Noah seemed to be having an animated conversation with Layn now as Reese watched them from further away and raked up leaves. Nick studied Reese’s face to try and tell if he was jealous of this or was he suspicious of Layn’s attention? No, it didn’t seem like it. Reese watched them carefully with an attentive gaze and curious eyes but he didn’t seem to have any feelings either way. That was just the kind of guy the Australian werewolf was though. Good through and through.
Since Reese had come to live with them he had seen nothing but kind, strong, courageous and gentle. He was the best mentor that Nick could ask for when it came to Noah and Morgan and a natural born leader, an enforcer in training and maybe an Alpha someday far in the future. Someone they trusted 100% and, despite his relative youth a friend Nick could depend on. Not that he couldn’t depend on Elena and Clay, who were his best friends but things were different now. Elena was an Alpha and they had children. Nick wasn’t as high up on the priority list, and he shouldn’t be, but he needed something too. The boys gave him a new purpose and a new outlook as well. Being in charge also made him feel like less of a disappointment and less like a play boy spending dad’s money and being useless. He knew no one felt this way about him but it was how he felt about himself and it was hard to shake those feelings.
“I never used to catch you staring off into space a few years ago. Not until the boy’s came along.” He heard a chuckle and felt his father’s hand on his back. Nick sighed and let himself enjoy the gentle touch of father’s reassuring hand. He might be much too old for this treatment but he didn’t care. His father would always be his best friend in a way and he’d always feel loved when they spoke like this. He knew his father would not always be around but at these times it felt as if they were all immortal.
“I didn’t have a lot of purpose until them,” Nick admitted and then turned to his father. Immediately Antonio looked concerned and took Nick shoulder pulling him into a quick hug. Nick had been taller than his father since he was 15. He shot up in a few weeks but his father wasn’t as happy about it. When children suddenly grow taller or stronger than their parents it’s a changing point in their relationship.
“I’m worried about them and about Layn especially,” Nick admitted. He felt Tonio nod and pull away from him now to look up at him.
“I know but you’re doing just fine. Reese and Noah are happy, Morgan is recovering and Layn, well Layn is a bit of a wild card right now. None of us know much about him or his real intentions. All we can do is watch and see what happens.” Tonio assured. Nick nodded and sighed pulling away from his father. “I believe in you Nicky but this kid might need some tough love,” he suggested. Nick nodded not looking forward to that.
“Elena sent me to tell you she can talk now if you still need to,” he informed. Nick nodded and smiled slightly before taking off. That morning after he had left the kitchen and cooled off a bit he had went to find Reese and speak to him a bit. He could see the sense behind the younger werewolf’s reason but it was the wrong way to go about it. Reese had good intentions and it actually seemed to have worked but fighting in the pack was never condoned. Never. They had too many outside forces that wanted to kill them so fighting in the pack, like when he was a boy was not condoned, ever.
Still, when Reese watched the fight he started to become suspicious of Layn and his so called fighting ability. He said he couldn’t fight but according to Reese the boy’s moves were a bit too timed and a bit too faked. Why would he pretend not to be able to fight? What was the motive? Why? Nick desperately wanted to know and wanted to be the one to tell Elena and get this sorted out but Layn was not talking. Whatever he thought he was doing here he was continuing on this path. Nick shook his head as he walked to the study where Elena waited with Jeremy and Clay. Behind him Antonio came in as well. Across the room he just noticed Adam and Savannah who must have been there to speak to Elena about the werewolf problem they had been tracking before Layn but, it was also the perfect opportunity to ask them about the dubious werewolf.
Nick walked forward and sat on the couch opposite Clay and looked at Elena. Behind him he heard his father shut the door and saw him walk towards him sitting down beside him. “Reese is suspicious.” Nick said telling them everything. Elena nodded and asked if anyone else had doubts and got the same answer from everyone. This wasn’t good.
“I have found only one thing out but I have not confirmed the suspicion yet,” Jeremy told them and the Alpha. Elena nodded now and listened to the possible connection but it seemed so farfetched that it couldn’t be true. “Layn doesn’t seem to exist before five years ago, anywhere. There are a few people with the same surname but Layn himself seemed to have arrived out of thin air. I have compiled a list of boys at that age from various areas that match his physical description though most of the connection don’t seem possible or would be very hard to link,” he said and nodded to the list that Elena then read.
When it came to Nick he glanced down at the name too before looking at Jeremy. “None of these boys are from Canada or America,” he pointed out and Jeremy nodded.
“That is because Layn is neither nationality. The slight lilt to certain things he says as well as how he sometimes looks as if he is trying to put a sentence together or translate it to English before he says it is an indicator. I only noticed because I work in linguistics,” Jeremy said and Nick nodded. He glanced at the list again reading the various countries: Poland, Germany, Czechoslovakia and Russia were amongst them.
“Can we ask the Russians if they know anything?” Antonio asked looking at Elena now who nodded.
“Roman will be calling me soon. In the meantime don’t alert him to any suspicion on our part. Pretend we believe him and don’t tell Noah. Reese I am fine with them knowing but I’m afraid Noah may get a bit jumpy or not be able to hold in his feelings so I’m going to keep him out of it for now. Plus, he is the main person who may be able to get something out of Layn.” She emphasized. Nick nodded to this knowing it was directed at him. He didn’t like lying to Noah or leaving him out of stuff but he knew it was best for now.
Nick left the meeting feeling both hopeful and like dread was welling in his stomach. He wanted to come right out and ask this kid who the hell he was and what he was doing here but he knew he couldn’t. That would not work especially well and Elena would be pissed. As he walked through the house and down the hallway out the back door his thoughts turned to how to protect Noah from all of this. Noah never had a lot of friends and even in school now the friends he had he kept at a distance. He was afraid to let anyone too close but a pack brother. Reese and himself was the closest persons to him but now he seemed to be letting himself get close to Layn. This kid may not even be staying here permanently. Whatever happened Noah might be hurt. He wanted so badly to protect Noah who he considered a son but he also wanted to help Layn. Obviously he was a young mutt who was either mixed up or being pushed to do something he didn’t want to do. Who was doing this though and why? He was old enough to make up his own mind but he was also young and impressionable. Nick had no idea what to do.
As he reached the boys Reese looked up and gave him a small smile while tying his garbage bag full of leaves. He nodded to Noah who were semi working but deep in conversation about some game not paying attention to anything and rolled his eyes. Nick chuckled and then cleared his throat making both of the younger wolves look up surprised. The twin expressions of ‘oh shit’ on their faces made Nick wanted to laugh and grab Noah to give him a noggie but he remained stone faced and looked at Layn specifically. Layn looked away after a few moments and bit his lip but quickly looked irritated and stopped this behaviour almost immediately.
“We all need to talk,” Nick announced to them. Separating them would do no good and be a waste of time. He may as well speak to all of them at once. “I’m not exactly pleased with any of this,” he said looking around. Layn looked at the ground then and over at Noah guilt written in his eyes. Um, that was interested. Why did Layn seem guiltier than the rest of them?
Reese sighed then and prodded Layn nodding towards Nick now. Nick crossed his arms and looked at Layn with what he hoped was a piercing expression. Layn looked up at him with his one good and one swollen eye then frowning. “I started it all. I…I paid a girl to pay attention to Noah. It was stupid but I felt so bad.” Layn said and explained about the girl before who had kissed him and how that went to hell as well.
“Be that as it may, we don’t solve problems within the pack with violence. We use words. I understand that it can be difficult and we can send mixed messages with fighting mutts but, here we don’t fight one another. It’s important to work as a team and work out our issues as adults. No one takes kindly to us fighting one another and as you all know, it’s forbidden in the pack.”
“I know and I’m sorry Nick. I was in charge and I screwed up. I didn’t know what to do and Adam’s idea sounded good since I was at my wit’s end. They just wanted to kill one another. I should have called you.” Reese said and Nick nodded.
“Yes, you should have. I don’t expect you to be a parent to anyone Reese. If you can’t handle something then call me or someone, no one will think any differently of you,” Nick said and Reese nodded as he set a hand on the younger werewolves’ shoulder.
“We learned our lesson Nick, we won’t do it again and Layn and I are friends now. Isn’t that enough?” Noah asked quietly. Nick looked at the two and sighed before he nodded. He was happy that Noah and Layn were not at each other throats but he was worried that Noah may put more trust in Layn then he should.
“Ok, once you guys are done the yard work you’re free. I assume the pain you’re both in and the guilt is enough of a punishment,” Nick said. Layn started to smile cockily but stopped quickly when Nick eyed him. Instead he coloured a bit and looked away shuffling his feet. That’s better Nick thought not willing to take any attitude off of any of the younger wolves. Finally he turned and went back towards the house leaving the boys to finish up.
By the end Reese left the two to finish the windows while he went in search of Nick or someone else. Layn wasn’t really paying attention to him that much. He wanted to get into Noah’s head and figure out what the other boy was thinking or where his thoughts were at. Really, he could care less about Reese right then.
Layn planned his next actions carefully as they sprayed and wiped windows dirty from the summer time storms in the area. Finally he felt confident enough to go ahead and make his next move hoping to gain Noah’s trust. He had a lot of things working against him such as the fact that Noah knew he could manipulate people and that the pack was probably cautioning Noah against putting any trust in Layn. If this didn’t work he would try something else but he had a feeling this would play just the right amount into the other boy’s feelings and needs.
“So, I wanted to ask Noah…,” Layn tailed off as he set down the Windex trying to look anxious. Noah looked over at him and blinked looking concerned but said nothing yet. “Um...I need some help. It’s stupid but technically your six months older than me and I’m hoping that makes a difference,” Layn said and looked up at the other boy now. Noah looked curious as well as a bit proud at being older which worked perfectly for Layn. “I need someone to be my mentor of sorts. I know we have Reese but your closer to my age. I don’t know how a pack works and I seem to keep getting into trouble or messing up. Can you help me out?”
Noah looked shocked for a minute before he grinned. From what he knew of the other boy he longed to be noticed and put in high regard or special he supposed. If he made Noah feel special then he would have the advantage here. This would be the perfect opportunity to do so. Play himself up as a bit weaker or unsure and place Noah in a position over him. Maybe it was sneaky but right then he needed sneaky to form an alliance with this boy. “I was going to do that anyway.” Noah shrugged not totally truthful but Layn pushed it aside.
“Good, I just have no idea what I am doing when it comes to the Alpha or older pack members. It’s hard to make myself listen to them and obey,” he admitted. Noah nodded totally understanding this or so Layn gathered. “I guess maybe you know what it feels like joining the pack later and not knowing you were a werewolf at first.” Layn shrugged putting just the right amount of emotion and sympathy into the sentence to make the other werewolf pay attention and sympathize with him. Layn looked over at Noah to see how he had taken the ploy and while he saw sympathy in his eyes he also looked confused.
“How did you know that?” he asked with a bit of bite to his voice. Layn stared at him for a moment before he realized his mistake, cursed himself silently and scrambled to think of a way to remedy this before it was too late.
“I’m sorry Noah,” Layn apologized and set down the paper towel he was currently wiping with. Inside he saw that Jeremy was talking on the phone to someone and Logan rushed into the room and grabbed a sandwich with Kate on his heels trying to grab the snack from him. Jeremy tried to grab the snack to stop them from fighting as he spoke on the phone but Logan was too quick for him as distracted as he was and the twins ended up barreling out the kitchen as the older werewolf twisted and almost lost his balance.
Layn glanced at Noah again to see the other boy was stone faced. Finally he got up and grabbed the Windex bottle with a purpose turning to leave. “You told me never to mention him again,” Layn said quietly standing now. Noah stiffened and said nothing making Layn think that he had gone way off course but finally the older boy turned looking both furious and impatient.
“What? What is so important you need to mention him? Why does he always need to be involved?” Noah practically shouted. Layn took a deliberate step back then seeing Noah’s eyes darken and his skin tighten. Joseph really put Noah on edge and brought him from zero to enraged in seconds it seemed.
“You asked,” Layn said back in a tight voice. “You want to know how I know?” he said now and Noah nodded fast and angry before Layn went on feeling his own skin tighten and the wolf within him growl. “Joseph told me. He told a lot of people about it and that’s how I know, but…in his stories the pack kidnapped you and pushed him away,” Layn explained.
“That’s not true,” Noah said and Layn nodded taking a step forward.
“I know that now,” he confirmed and put a hand on Noah’s arm. “The point is I know now and you need to accept that I know people from your past. Not mentioning them won’t help. You need to know everything you can about him so you can protect yourself,” Layn said watching Noah for his reaction.
“How would you know?” Noah asked through gritted teeth and clenched fists.
Layn sighed debating whether to give away his secret away or not. Noah might tell the others and that would lead them to who he was a lot easier. On the other hand he needed to gain Noah’s trust too. It was all about doing that and making sure that when the time came he could him to go wherever he needed him too.
“My parents were murdered when I was a toddler,” Layn admitted lowly. Noah looked over at Layn a bit shocked then. Layn shoved his hands in his jeans pockets before he continued looking at the grass under his sneakers. “After it happened I missed my parents so much I tried to forget them for a long time, I forgot who I was too. For years I lived as a human refusing to find out who my parents were and who I really was. It just hurt too much. Eventually when Jay the last guy I was with, urged me to find out stuff I did. I learned who my parents were and who I was. I learned they were murdered and those people could still be after me too. I armed myself with knowledge. It hurt but I had too. You need to as well.” Layn prodded.
Noah said nothing to this and instead looked away and took a deep breath calming down. Layn watched as his skin went back to normal and his eyes went from dark to forest green again indicating he was calmer. “I don’t want to talk about it.” Noah sighed and then picked up his cleaning equipment and turning to go inside.
Layn chastised himself and turned back to his work. He still had the side of the house and the front to do and now he had managed to piss off his work partner. Yeah, he was smart alright. For the next hour Layn did the rest of the cleaning without complaint. When he finally walked inside the air was turning chilly and dark was falling. Crickets and cicadas filled the night. Layn shivered realizing his sweater wasn’t enough for the night but as he turned to walk towards the porch and the front door it opened and Morgan walked slowly out shivering a bit and shutting the door gently behind him. Layn watched as he got to the porch steps and lowered himself down and then sat unmoving and breathing hard.
Layn walked forward and Morgan looked up surprised to see someone there. He offered a small smile and sat down on the porch beside him setting down the cleaning supplies. Layn stayed silent and watched the trees listening to the man’s breathing and wondering what he was thinking. Wondering what exactly happened to him or if he’d get any answers.
“Are you…ah, going to be ok?” Layn asked finally. Morgan said nothing to this for a few moments.
“That’s what I’d like to know.” Morgan finally murmured as the door opened. Layn growled to himself. There were way too many people here. He ignored the person behind him and concentrated on the woods, the smells and sounds and Morgan’s breathing beside him.
“Morgan, you should be inside,” Nick’s voice came from behind them. Layn glanced at Morgan who with a concentrated effort and Nick’s help got up. Nick murmured something to him and escorted him inside before Layn could hear the man’s footsteps back on the porch and see him sitting down beside him from the corner of his eye.
“Noah is incapable of keeping a secret, you know. He’ll tell me anything. I just need to look at him and he spills,” Nick said. Layn sighed and glanced over at the man seeing his open and trusting eyes and knew what Nick wanted.
“I’m sure Noah already told you all about it,” he said looking away but not before Nick nodded. Layn concentrated on the trees then and swaying of the branches he could focus on for a few moments before his vision went back to normal. Being a still young werewolf he didn’t have his wolf vision for long. It came and went.
“Yes, I’m sorry that happened Layn. We can talk…” he trailed off but Layn shook his head and stood. He had barley ever mentioned it to anyone before and he wasn’t about to do it now. It was like a secret buried so deep inside that it physically hurt to pull it out.
“No, nothing to talk about,” Layn shrugged and looked at Nick seriously. Nick studied him and then nodded seeing his resolve was unbreakable about this issue.
“Alright, we’re taking off for Sorrentino’s Estates tonight. Be ready.” Nick said next and stood. Layn nodded feeling his stomach clench. He wasn’t exactly comfortable with moving but there would less people there and he’d have an easier time getting to Noah that way. Maybe he could even hurry this along and do what Jay wanted done already. Maybe.