“The ache for home is in all of us,”
Round two. Considering how the last dinner event with these exact people went… I curl a little further into Romans hold. My mind is telling me there surely can’t be that many bombshells, but logic says otherwise. Especially when Keira smirks like she’s just getting started with her meddling.
I glance down at her inflated stomach again and tear my eyes away like the very sight of it burns me. Pregnant. Not heavily like Jenna’s but pregnant nonetheless.
“Luna,” My head turns, following the voice to find Harper enter from a hallway, peeling herself away from the clutches of her clingy mate.
“Harper, its nice to see you again,” I say, my gaze automatically floating down to her flat stomach, not a hint of a child swelling from underneath her dress with a tight-fitted waistline. My sigh of relief is subtle and goes unnoticed by the people gathered in the foyer, especially when her mate Gabe links back up to her again, his hands resting on her hips as he leans down to peck her cheek.
To the naked eye they look infatuated with another, Gabe’s contentment a show of his undying love but in this world nothing is ever as it seems.
“The staff should have our dinner ready to be served in just moments. If you would like to freshen up you are more than welcome to, we can have someone sent up to navigate you to the dining hall,” The packs Luna suggests and Roman shakes his head.
“There’s no need, we will eat with you all now,” Roman responds, his voice firm and full of that unflinching power.
“Very well,” The Alpha says with a smile, taking his mates hand in his own, “Right this way.”
The dining hall is far smaller than the one we first ate in together back at the palace but it is just as extravagant. To think that a place like this existed when I was living in the lowest sector is almost unfathomable even though I knew of the luxuries those higher up enjoyed.
Plates of steamed vegetables and sliced roasted meats are served in front of us all and I pick up the polished silverware, rolling the cold object in my palm. I turn my attention to Noah, “Have the two of you decided on names for the baby?” I ask and the two share a glance.
“Not yet, we’ve had a few heated debates over it but as of now we are still divided,” Noah says and Jenna smiles sheepishly.
“You should ask the leaders their thoughts on your options, having a child named by our Superiors would be an honour,” Jenna’s father pipes in and I turn my attention to him, forgetting the man with greying hair existed and wishing it has stayed that way.
I notice the way Noah clenches his jaw at the suggestion, how an almost crestfallen glimmer passes over Jennas face at the clear divide between the two. “That isn’t necessary, the Luna and I will support any name that the two decide on,” Roman intervenes, his words soft and cool.
The former Beta merely nods his head respectfully and the Alpha clears his throat. The action causes my head to snap over at him and for a moment I feel my chest tighten, the memory of him standing atop a stage on the day that Noah was claimed flashing before my eyes then vanishing.
But the principal of it sticks. The man that I was once forced to obey is now sitting across from me like those years just never happened, like I didn’t watch people suffer at his command, die at his command.
“We are very excited to show the two of you the latest modifications to pack life that have been made. Our teams have prepared the itinerary of your tour so that it is as enjoyable as these things can be. We expect that both of you will be pleased with the differences you see now compared to when you were here last,” he says and my words lodge in my throat.
When I was here last. I look over to Noah again whose attention is transfixed on his mate and wonder if coming to this pack first was a blessing or a curse. I get to see one of my only family members left but I man also going to have to face a time that was nothing if not traumatic.
“Lets hope so, the Luna has made her pledges clear and as the first pack being examined the standard you set will need to be high is you wish to retain standing amongst the other leaders,” Roman says casually, biting into a large piece of broccoli as my former Alpha gulps.
“Of course, Alpha Superior, of course. We have followed very closely the guidelines set out by our Luna and we would be humbled to have our flaws pointed out so that we can fix them as soon as possible,” he explains and Roman nods.
“Speaking of flaws, I’d like to have a meeting with you once this dinner is finished about the security of the pack. I know my Beta received a briefing before our arrival but I’d like to go through them personally with you before I go to sleep… put my mind at ease if you will,” Roman says and the Alpha surprisingly doesn’t pale at Romans condescending tone.
I know which flaw he refers to and for a moment I try to consider what is running through the mind of the man sat next to me. I wonder if just as my mind relays the horrors of discovering I had a mate in this very pack his mind is readying how he almost lost his.
The dinner doesn’t last for too much longer and despite Keira’s claims that everything would erupt as it did the first time we all sat down together, nothing happens. Blake kept her temper checked each time she tried to make a rise out of something and no one fed into her words regardless. The people sat around this table had clearly already endured enough time with her to understand what game she was playing at.
Instead, conversations were kept civil and primarily focused on subjects that didn’t incite an argument. Roman rises out of his chair just as the plate of food before him is taken away and the rest of us follow suit. “We can have someone escort you to your room if you’d like Luna or otherwise a few of us were thinking of heading over to the gaming room to hang out and have some desert. You’re more than welcome to join,” Jenna says and I look to where she stands, surrounded by Keira, Harper and their mates like a group of tight friends. They honestly seem like the kind of crown Noah would have gravitated towards had he not been too occupied working from dusk until dawn then maybe he would have.
“Yeah, I mean sure, I’ll come with you guys. That’s not a problem is it?” I ask, turning to Roman who smiles.
“Not at all, have fun,” he replies, resting his hand on my waist before leaning down and kissing me briefly on the cheek. The second he does my eyes find Noahs and we share a look before he averts his gaze and smooths the furrow that forms between his brows.
“Well lets get a move on, my pregnant ass is going to get real mad in a minute if I don’t get some chocolate in my tummy,” Keira exclaims and I try not to seem bothered by her declaration, like her announcing it makes it more true but it strikes me and I can’t deny it.
The group all agree and I follow closely behind them, trying to make sense of the conversations they start up unsuccessfully. There is this energy that floats around them, growing with each inside joke or playful jab that suggests the torn and tormented group of young adults I left before have changed considerably. It’s just a matter of finding out what exactly, sparked that change.
Last time I was with them all, Harper was barely coping with Gabe, Noah was conflicted about his feelings towards a pregnant Jenna and Keira looked like she wanted to rip Blakes guts out ninety percent of the time. So gifting out what the hell happened between then and now… It should be interesting to say the least.
“Yes! Finally they got some damned ice cream. I’ve been pestering them for days to get me some like god, depriving a girl of her sweet companion for years is bad enough, the least they could do is be efficient,” Keira says and rushes over towards a bowl of ice-cream, accompanied by various other desert selections.
“Do the curse words not bother you? I say so much as hell and Roman gets triggered,” I say to Blake who stiffens slightly at my casual question.
“I think I’ve heard every curse word under the sun enough times to learn how to cope with it. Perhaps you just need to be more persistent with the Alpha Superior and wear him down,” he suggests and I let out a laugh. The idea itself isn’t that bad but the fact is my effort has reduced to bare minimum, I won’t go out of my way to swear in front of Roman but I’m not going to stop myself if I feel it necessary in the moment.
“Why is it that bothers your kind so much anyway?” I ask and he shrugs.
“There are a lot of factors that play into it I guess but us wolves are pretty rigid in our beliefs, asking why we feel a certain way is like asking why humans feel the need to accumulate their own greed and power, we simply don’t understand it because in our belief that isn’t an issue for the most part. Sometimes it’s better to just accept differences for what they are rather than try to change them,” he says and I ponder his words.
I look at him and give him a kind smile, “Sometimes.”
“Blake!” At the sound of Keira’s voice, her mate snaps his attention to her and he excuses himself, half walking-half jogging to Keira who juggles packets of popcorn and candy pitifully.
“Maeve,” I turn around to find Noah separated from Jenna bearing a smile. My eyes glance behind him and they catch on a small jar with honey scribed across the front in paint.
I walk over to it and hold the thick glass in my hands, running my thumb over the smooth textured outside that bumps where the thickly scribed paint lays. It’s like yesterday the four of us were fighting over the last drip of honey from the sacred jar, a jar we’d then go onto keep sat atop our fireplace like a prized trophy, waiting to be filled again.
I remember Noah and Carter wrestling it out for the final lick of the jar, throwing low jabs and swear words whilst Oliver and I looked on with a frustrated sort of humour. I remember it not mattering who ended up licking the jar either as it rolled off the counter into a full basin of dirty dish water, sparking a never ending feud between the brothers.
The same jar, perched on the mantel piece of this room meant so much more than a good memory. We kept that stupid jar up there as a token of good luck, thinking that maybe if we revered it like a monument to god it would bring us more honey. Even though it never did.
“Your pretty at home here, hey?” I ask, but it’s more of a comment as Noah nods.
He hangs his head slightly, “Its not so bad.” Is his only response.
“Is that the new standard?” I joke, “Not so bad?”
He laughs and leans up against the frame before that same silence develops again. “I mean it though, Mae. There are parts of being here that I hate but Jenna, our child… it’s different. I’ve been offered a job training in logistics and coding with the packs security forces, a job that I really wanted in all honesty. I’m starting up in a couple months, after everything with the newborn settles in and I’m excited, for the first time in a long time I can actually look at my future with happiness,” he says and I can tell from the look in his eyes that he means it, truly.
I debate, in that very moment telling him about my meeting with Oliver, about the night that I am trying really hard to erase because coping has proved to not be an option. But in the end, I decide not to, turning my attention back onto the sweet refuge the honey jar provides.
“Have you been back there?” I ask and he shakes his head.
“No, Jenna went once, she thought I’d like some kind of token and I don’t know why she only grabbed this only but she did. I know it’s hard for you to see her as I do, I get it. Whenever I look at the Alpha Superior it makes me…” he sighs deeply, reigning his anger, “seeing the two of you together bothers me like nothing else, not just because of Oliver. But I get your position, I understand it,”
The word catches me a little but I don’t let it stagger my path, remaining composed. I wish he understood this, because if he understood it then that’d make us similar and if we were even slightly similar then perhaps when I looked into a future of my own I wouldn’t see pain and destruction.
“I know. I’m happy that you are happy, even if I wish it were under different circumstances,”
A burst of laughter followed by a groan of annoyance sounds behind us and we both look over to Keira and Blake who play fight as the others look on with mirth. They wrestle slightly but the altercation ends in a stony glare from Keira who wins unsurprisingly.
“What changed that?” I ask and Noah glances down.
“Apparently it was her temptation and a lack of contraception but the story changes everyday. Sometimes she tries convincing me that she became a temptress and lured him to bed so she could kill him and others she was too infatuated with his beauty and so sexually frustrated that she just jumped his bones. I guess we’ll never know,” he answers and I look back over at Keira, her calculated gaze examining the pool table as she decides her next move.
“And now she’s pregnant,” I point out and he nods.
“They say that ties you to a wolf, makes the bond too difficult to escape for even the most reluctant of people but honestly, I think that just makes her even more annoyed at it. It’s strange, one minute she wants the child, not from the duding force of the goddess or whatever bullshit they say but because she legitimately, loves the child grown from her and Blake. And the next… the next she just recoils into herself, frustrated at the world and full of blame ready to dump all over her mate or me or her family or just anyone,” he says and I notice the bump under her shirt as she leans over the table to shoot.
She lines up the shot, her eye level with the table and strikes hard, sinking three balls into their slots with precision before turning and giving Harper a high five, who has to detach from her mate in order to comply with the celebration.
“And what about them?” I ask, pointing at Harper and Gabe.
His hands rest gently on her waist and he smiles down at her, pulling her body closer to his own in protection. “Harpers different. She still… I think there is still a part of her that is waiting for her parents to swoop in and save the day. She’s grown, there is no denying that I mean the fact she doesn’t cry every second of the day is proof enough but she’s been sheltered a long time. And I guess that need to be protected works in Gabe’s favour in a way because as much as he terrified her to begin with, he is now one of the only people she trusts to be around. He hasn’t hurt her, hasn’t touched her beyond what the public see either,” he says and I think back to Harpers story, how she was sheltered by gang leading parents who are now god knows where.
“She must miss home,” I say softly and he looks at the honey jar, then at me.
“I think we all do, but there comes a time where you have to make home a feeling, not a place,” he says and I stare at that jar for a moment longer before turning to him.
“Well you’ll always have a place in my home, Noah, no matter what you are always going to be a brother to me,” I say and he smiles.
“I’d hug you but unfortunately I have a very moody pregnant mate who might suggest otherwise,”
I laugh deeply and the action feels foreign in my chest but welcoming nonetheless.
The pack tours walked us through the same hospital showcased to Roman the day he found me, those stark white walls so strikingly similar it took me aback. But the halls themselves were much different. Instead of the barren spaces, the empty rooms lines with fresh linen had actual bodies lying atop them. Human bodies.
The sight alone of people being escorted out of the hospital with smiles and faces worn with relief was enough to make my heart stop beating for a moment. I hadn’t seen it for so long. Not since I was studying years ago. But I didn’t enter the hospital for training, nor to give aid to the sick. I was there to make sure promises were being fulfilled and that is exactly what I did, critically with a firm fervour.
I tried not to let myself be affected by the familiar faces of patients I had once helped myself with tonics and herbs that were now hooked up to machines, looking far more healthy than they were with my aid. They would stare at me in slight astonishment, some with gratitude and a small few others with resentment. It was to be expected, though.
We also went to a factory, one located just on the edge of the forrest outside the second sector to review its improvements. I had never visited the place before personally but I knew from talking with other people that it was notorious for its mistreatment of workers. Whenever I brought up to Ollie that perhaps I should get a job that would give me higher income than medicine he would shut it down instantly, bringing up the horror stories from factories like the one I visited today as evidence.
The place I toured today however, was anything but the decrepit cruel building everyone made it out to be. The workers who I spoke to told me their truth about how things had changed. They detailed the time span in which everything had evolved, how much their pay had fluctuated and how it affected the lives of other humans.
Roman stayed a safe distance away as I talked with them, maintaining his watchful gaze but giving enough distance so the workers spoke relatively freely with me. I didn’t know many of them, has never had to visit their family members or them but they said they knew of me.
One man in a group that claimed to recognise me from before I was taken and another younger man said he knew Carter which took me aback. He told me of how they’d pass each other in the workers hubs sometimes and chat. He asked me about him and at my absent response he didn’t respond, merely giving me a solemn nod of understanding before talking about a cousin of his that was mated.
It made me consider that whether humans liked it or not, wolves were apart of our lives now and would be forever, even if the dynamics of power shift.
We had been travelling in a car to the last destination of the day for a solid ten minutes and Roman had only just finished up on his phone conversation as the car came to a close before turning to me.
“Its getting pretty dark and this stop is only developmental so it should only take a maximum of one hour, if that,” he says and I nod, stifling a yawn that threatens to arise. Talking with people gets tiring, there is no denying that, but I didn’t think it would deplete me as much as it did.
We exit of the car and the construction site, filled with trucks and workers stations comes into view. Everyone is busting around the tent we are parked in front of that holds refreshments and a large table in the centre, set up specifically for us no doubt. Roman rounds the car and walks next to me, holding out a bottle of water that I take gratefully. “Thanks,” I mumble and he nods, “What is happening here again?” I ask and he swallows his mouthful of water.
“Developments on a new school, one that can accomodate for both wolves and humans,” he explains and we walk over to the blueprints on the table, laid out meticulously.
“Alpha Superior, Luna Superior, it is our pleasure to have you join us here today,” A woman says, emerging with a floor vest and and high pony, a clipboard tucked under her shoulder, “I am the manager in charge of this latest operation and if you have any questions about the procedures please don’t hesitate to ask me,”
“Thank you,” I say, moving to look over the same layouts that I’d already improved in terms of design weeks prior. I look over the paper and as my hand moves along the sheet, a second sheet is revealed from underneath.
“What’s this?” I ask, pulling out the blueprint of houses surrounded by forest. The trails and set out look so familiar that my brows scrunch and I inspect the lines further.
“This is a current map of the site, we are planning demolition to start by this afternoon. We are slightly behind schedule but we should have everything you see gone within the next week so the building process can start,” she explains and I snap my eyes up to hers.
“What about the residents of these homes?” I ask and she fumbles with her paper work under the pressure of my questioning.
“They are all being relocated with generous subsides. Their homes didn’t meet the new safety measures either so the move was going to happen regardless,” she says and I look back at the sheet, “Most of the houses in this sector will be removed similarly to either be replaced or modified. Replenishing sector three is our priority,”
I slowly let the paper drop back down onto the table as her words registered and the pattern of the blueprint fell into place. We were right near, my old neighbours, my old home.
“Where are we now?” I ask and she promptly points to the sheets centre. My eyes follow her direction to the edge of the map, where one lone house sits by the edge of the forrest, only a short walk from here.
I turn to look at Roman who is examining a file, comparing the contents with a sheet in front of him before looking back at the construction manager. “Thank you for your help, I’m sure you have everything under control,”
She smiles broadly at me, at the faith I put into her judgement. “It is an honour, Luna,” she says which I find stupid but don’t press. I can’t see anything honourable about someone with my qualifications amending her on construction.
I feel a knot tighten in my stomach as I walk up to Roman and place my hand on his back, my touch igniting his strong muscles instantly. He turns around and peers at me with those piercing blue eyes and I smile. “Are you ready to leave already?” He asks and I nod.
“There isn’t much else I can do to offer help, they seem like they have it under control,” I say and he nods, closing his file as the butterflies in my body flutter with increasing velocity, “Roman,” I blurt and he turns his attention to me.
I entwine my fingers together, distracting the nerves in my body. “Is it…” I let out a heavy sigh, “Is it alright if I go for a walk?” His eyes glimmer with a swirling darkness and his face becomes stony.
“Not funny, Mae,” he replies, picking that large file off the table and tucking it under his arm. Before he can move I reach my hand out and grip his bicep, turning his attention to me once more.
“I’m not joking. You can come with me if you really want I just… I need to go and see something one last time,” I say and his rigid body doesn’t relax, not for at least a minute as he contemplates my words.
“What is it?” He asks and I suck in a shaky breath, not ready to admit it out loud.
“You’ll find out, I’m sure,” I say and his eyes scan over my face again, trying to detect any deceit if it should arise. But it doesn’t. Because I am not being deceitful, not this time.
“Fine,” he concedes, facing his body towards mine once more, “But we are on a time limit, the pack expects us back before night fall,” he says and I nod, trying to surface the raging emotions of fear and relief and pain that surge through me at his response.
Because truthfully, I don’t know what to feel going back into the place that was my home, my sanctuary for years before I was taken. Especially because this is most definitely the last time I’ll ever get the chance.
I just really don’t know what’s happening with me at the moment and I can’t say much else besides that.