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The Lost Panther

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**I have no idea why there's a content warning. This story does not have stalking.** Annyx Ross feels like something important is missing after she turns eighteen. The mystery of her discovery leads her away from everything she's known, but finding out where she came from feels like the right direction.

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Chapter 1

--Three Years Ago--

“Annyx, honey,” Mom said softly as I held on to my brother’s pillow like a lifeline.

“It h-hurts, Mama,” I cried- wailed, actually.

“He’s not leaving forever, love,” she soothed, brushing my hair back from my tear-streaked face.

“He di-di-didn’t tell me he wa-was leaving!” I sobbed, clutching the pillow tighter. “H-he didn’t tell me bye!”

“I know, honey, but he had to leave really early. You know you hate waking up before the sun,” she said, and I slapped her hand away.

“I don’t care! He always tells me goodbye!” I shouted.

I was being a brat. I knew it and I’d apologize later, but Bash always told me when he was leaving, where he was going, how long he’d be gone... And he always told me goodbye. Even if he had to jump on me while I was asleep and tickle me until I cried with laughter, he always said goodbye and he always told he’d be back soon.

Not this time.

He didn’t tell me anything. His eighteenth birthday was a week ago and when I went to hug him and tell him happy birthday, he pushed me down and wrinkled his nose, like he smelled something bad. He’s been avoiding me since then and now, he was gone. I felt like I had lost my brother. He was best friend, so it hurt even worse.

“I’m sorry, honey,” Mom said softly, her face sad and hurting. It only made the pain in my chest hurt more.

“Go away!” I cried and she got up and left quietly, leaving me alone in Bash’s nearly empty room.

All of his things were gone, like he was never even here. I could still smell him on the pillows, though. And I had stolen his favorite hoodie before his birthday. They smelled like chocolate and mint and something else that made me feel safe and kind of sleepy.

It took me weeks before I felt like I could fake that I was okay. A month went by before I stopped seeing the pity in Mom’s eyes. Two months later, and the first major holiday after he left, Bash returned for three days. I never saw him. I didn’t even know until he had been gone for two hours.

Six months.

It took me six whole months of misery before I made myself a promise not to care about someone who clearly didn’t want anything to do with me anymore. My brother and my best friend were nothing to me anymore.

And it sucked.

Werewolves were real. A lot of the legends and myths about creatures that couldn’t possibly exist were actually quite real, but the most widespread was werewolves. They spanned the whole globe, almost. Let’s say that rabbits had nothing on a werewolf couple. I was actually more shocked that Mom and Dad only had my older brother, Sebastian, and me. Most wolf families had at least three kids in them, and they were typically only about six to eight months apart, thanks to the much shorter pregnancy. So, the fact that Bash and I were three whole years apart was another shock.

My parents were the Alpha couple. Dad ran the show as far as protection and providing things like food and shelter, but Mom was the heart. She cared for the pack like they were family, which was what a pack was. Just one big, huge extended family. Not that we always got along, but families fight among themselves all the time. Our fights just involved teeth and claws and a lot of flying fur.

Sebastian was going to be the next Alpha and after he turned eighteen, he disappeared. Gone off to training so he could learn how other Alpha’s lead their packs, so he would have the skills and knowledge from multiple sources to help him lead the pack for the betterment of all wolves.

And, because he was a male, he would be able to sense his mate, unlike females. We had to wait until either our mate found us on his own or until we turned twenty-one. It wasn’t fair, but a male wolf reached full sexual maturity sooner. While a female could have babies, or pups, before twenty-one, just like a human, the offspring were always stronger after. Or with her soulmate.

I had hoped the Bash would be the protective, overbearing big brother when I found mine, but... He hated me. I just wish I knew why.


“Ann,” Mom called me as I walked in from my morning run around the pack.

“Yeah?” I asked, rolling my neck around my shoulders and flexing my fingers. I felt stiff and uncomfortable in my own skin, but that was to be expected with my birthday coming up tomorrow.

Eighteen. The magic number when all animal shifters met their animal counterparts and shifted for the first time. In the days leading up to the fateful day, the lucky person experiences physical discomfort and aches in the joints. They also have changes in appetite and behavior, mood swings, and start losing the softness of childhood. After the shift, the human bodies develop practically instantly, meaning muscle tone solidified on the males and boobs and hips pop up for the females. While things like weight and tone fluctuate, depending on the lifestyle, the body type makes a full appearance.

Most animal shifters were fit, thanks to the animal side of us needing exercise and the fact that the actual process of shifting burned calories like crazy, but there was no stereotypical body type. Mom, for example, was short and soft and squishy, like a marshmallow. My aunt, her sister, was like a willow, all tall and slim and not nearly as inviting when you need a good hug.

“Honey,” she said sadly, and I looked at where she was sitting next to Dad. They both looked... guilty.

“What is it?” I asked them slowly. “It had better not be a party. I don’t want a big fuss.”

“Ann, sweetheart,” Dad said, but then he closed his eyes and shook his head with a heavy sigh. “I’m so sorry.”

“It’s a party, isn’t it?” I said flatly.

“No, it’s... It’s not that,” Mom said, wringing her hands on top of the table. “I think it’s time we told you something that... Honestly we should have told you a long time ago.”

“That I’m adopted?” I asked and they looked at me with wide eyes. “I know. Kind of hard not to figure it out, sine I’m literally the only one in the family that doesn’t look even the slightest bit like the rest of you do. But I’ve known for about two years. We did a biology assignment about inherited traits, and I had questions, so I sent samples to a lab.”

“You... You knew? And you didn’t say anything?” Mom asked.

“What does it change?” I shrugged. “You’re still my parents. So what if I didn’t come from you?”

Mom’s mouth trembled and her eyes watered as she smiled, and Dad put his arm over her shoulders with a tender kiss to her temple.

“Is that all? I’m kind of sweaty and want a shower before Tyson gets here,” I gestured to the stairs.

“No, that’s not all,” Dad looked down and away from me and I narrowed my eyes.

“Dad,” I said slowly.

“We... We don’t think you’re a wolf, honey,” Mom whispered and wiped at her face. “At least, not from a local bloodline.”

“So... What? I’m from Alaska or something?” I lifted an eyebrow.

“We don’t know,” Dad answered, and I moved to sit at the kitchen table across from them.

“It’s... not easy for me to have children,” Mom flinched, and Dad gave her shoulders a squeeze. “It took years for us to have Sebastian and I didn’t think it would happen again. But then it did. Our little boy was born, but he never took a breath. He was gone before he was brought into the world.”

“What?” I gasped.

“It happened while I was fighting off some rogues that had gotten too close to the packhouse. I scattered the women and children to the safehouses,” Dad said. “He was early, but he should have been fine.”

“I had been attacked and... Well, it killed him,” Mom said quietly.

“Oh, my Goddess,” I gasped, my hands over my mouth. “Mom.”

“We found you a few days later,” Dad said. “Back then, we were having a lot of issues with rogues in the area, so when an allied pack called, we went. We got there in time to run them off, but as we were chasing them out of the area, we came across a woman. She’d been torn to bits by the rogues, but she had protected a bundle under her body.”

“Me,” I whispered, and they nodded.

“You were only a few days old, then. You were born the same day our little boy was,” Mom sniffed. “You still smelled like a fresh baby when your father brought you to me.”

“No one knew the woman and we assumed she had been traveling and had the misfortune of running across the rogues,” Dad continued. “It wasn’t until recently that we started to suspect that you might not even be a wolf.”

“There are so many packs around here, we just assumed you were,” Mom said. “It doesn’t change anything, though. You’re still our daughter and we love you so much. But your shift tonight... We don’t know what will happen. When we shift, our animals just know who is and isn’t family. Even when adopted children shift, their wolf recognizes the ones that raised it. Still, there’s a chance that, in the first few minutes of confusion, that...”

“That I could attack you,” I nodded, understanding.

“If you were a wolf, I could keep you from hurting anyone, but... Honey, you don’t smell like a wolf. You could very well be from up north, but-,” Dad said, and I held up a hand.

“The wolves around here are a lot smaller than the ones up north,” I finished. “I understand. I think I should shift alone, then. Just in case.”

“It’s going to hurt, honey,” Mom reached across the table and took my hand, squeezing it.

“I’ll be with you,” Dad said firmly.

“What? And possibly hurt you?” I frowned. “I know it’ll hurt more without someone to help call my animal forward, but if we don’t even know for sure what animal that is, it might not even matter. I’m not going to risk hurting either of you.”

“Bu-,” Mom said.

“No,” I interrupted her. “I won’t allow it. I’ll deny the shift if I must.”

“Annyx!” Mom gasped, covering her mouth and Dad paled.

“I’ll be fine on my own,” I gave her a confident smile that I did not feel, but I’ve gotten really good at hiding what I felt over the past three years. “It’ll be better this way, I think. I’m not too keen on my dad seeing me in the buff now that I’m not in diapers.”

Dad flinched and I giggled as I got up and kissed his cheek.

“It’ll be fine. You raised me to be strong,” I said and kissed Mom’s cheek. “I’m going to take a shower. Tyson will be here in a bit to take me out.”

Dad hummed and Mom patted my face before I left to go up the stairs to my room.

I hesitated slightly at the door next to mine, like I always did, and I hated it. It’s been three years since I saw him. He comes home often, but he never shows his face around me. Everyone else was fine, except for me. When I found out about being adopted, I kind of understood. His wolf would have been able to tell I wasn’t his real family and would have reacted to it that morning, but... It’s been three years. Apparently, we weren’t as close as I had thought we were.

My lip lifted as I turned and went to my room to get ready.

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