Part Three - Fire Meet Gasoline
Hearty laughter bursts out from behind me. Kai, Marius, and DeLoren have lost their composure, keeling over in unabashed hysterics and I glare. I do not see what is so humorous about Lina passing out in my arms.
“Even she’s not immune to your terror,” Kai exclaims, wiping a tear from his eyes.
“Yo...” DeLoren gasps for air between words, “You.... h-haven’t lost... yo-your... touch!” He proceeds to bend over, grabbing his stomach in a fit of laughter.
“Fuck you,” I grumble, returning my attention to the not-so-small she-wolf I remember.
Adulthood has been more than generous to her. Her hair still holds the same light blonde tint but it’s longer, thicker. It glistens under the light of the sun, stopping just above her perky breasts. Her once big, brown eyes have now caught up with the rest of her face, fitting her perfectly. Her long, dark eyelashes rest gently on her pink cheeks, a slight curl to them. Her nose is cute, petite, and no longer the tiny button I recall. Her lips are a pale salmon color, a cupid’s bow sat upon a fuller bottom lip.
She is stunningly gorgeous.
And definitely no longer six years old.
My brothers’ laughter has quieted down to mere snickers as we just now start to survey the extent of the damage around us. Five hunters lay sprawled out in the open grass, still clutching their weapons.
Which means that three, including Alex, have escaped. I curse myself for such a moment of weakness. I had him—primed to tear open his throat but when Kai alerted me to... Well, I knew Lina would be crushed and she was all that mattered to me at that moment.
Yes, I have been gone too long and yes, there might be some barriers between our friendship now, but I am still here. I am still hers. If she needs comfort, I’ll give her all I can and I’ll do it happily because her pain is now mine. I am not under any illusion that I’ll be able to fix this hurt, but I can be here.
Fucking instantly domesticated once again, I also vow to I find the slayer of her father, rip his head off and lay it at her feet like the good dog I am... but that’s neither here nor there.
“I need to talk to you,” Kai’s voice brings me out of my dark thoughts. I look up at him ambiguously, “Now?” Lina is still in my arms and the thought of laying her on the ground and casually walking away doesn’t appeal to me.
Like Deja vú.
“Dude,” he motions a hand towards her body, “look at her! I promise, she ain’t going anywhere any time soon.”
I growl in displeasure. He’s right, fainting spells do not have an exact time expectancy for waking. It could take seconds, minutes, or hours before Lina comes to. Seconds are definitely out the running now though.
But what if she woke and I wasn’t there? What if she thought I left her again? What would she think of me? What does she think of me now? Goddess, why do I even care?
I am Theron, the Ancient.
I care for nothing.
I throw my head back in exasperation. Fuck, I think. Feelings, changes, emotions in general—I. Don’t. Like. It. This is not me and this is not right. But what have I done for the last fifteen years? Oh, that’s right! I’ve felt things, changed, been castrated into nothing more than a lost pup, all because of a little blonde she-wolf that smells nice.
Setting Lina gently on the grass, I find a new determination. I can’t be her shadow. I can’t smother both of us in such a way. She needs time and I need distance... not a lot, naturally, but enough for my self-preservation.
She makes me weak.
Kai rocks back and forth on his heels, hands in his pockets as I step just a few feet away from Lina. I’m not willing to go far and thankfully he knows that because honestly, I am never going to admit it.
“You know we can’t stay here, right?” He asks, one brow quirked like he had been taught by Marius just how to annoy the fuck out of me. “I know that,” I mumble. The house is nothing more than a smoldering pile of ash and the possibility of the Hunter returning with reinforcements was highly likely—I mean, it did seem as if his hamster wasn’t quite spinning that wheel up there correctly.
“So...” he raises both eyebrows now (Damn you, Marius), “where do you plan on taking her?” Well, that is a really good fucking question, thanks for asking Kai. It isn’t as if the quandary we’re in didn’t cross my mind or anything. I swear to Goddess if he moves those shit brows again I will shave them off while he sleeps.
But the truth of the matter is, I don’t know where to go with Lina. We could go back to the safe house in Kentucky but that would be a haul with an unconscious female to carry. I could use Lucan’s old ratty, beat-up truck but I’m not certain it will actually live through the trip. A hotel would come off suspicious to those that saw me with a passed out girl over my shoulder and that’s a headache I don’t need at the moment.
We cannot stay here but we can’t leave either.
“I might know of a place,” the mystery in his tone sets me on edge. I cock my head, studying him questionably. He had been in this area longer than me so it made perfect sense that he would have a better layout of the territory but my gut tells me it’s more likely that he’s withholding pertinent information from me. “What do you mean?” I grumble, anger stemming from the annoyance simmering inside me. The nonchalant shrug he gives me does not lessen my aggravation.
“Oh! By the way, I have something for you.” I snarl at his tactical change of subject, “What?” I’m not done discussing this little idea of where to take Lina. I have questions I want answers to first. Where will we take her? Will she be safe there? Will we?
Before I can even open my mouth for debate, Kai’s fist comes flying towards my face. The quick little shit doesn’t give me any time to react, one of the many things that make him deadlier than he looks. The force of the impact snaps my head to the right, my body following right behind as I fall, face-first into the soft, green grass.
The fuck?! Did he just—
Immediately back on my feet, years of training and lycan instinct not allowing me to stay down long lest death find me. I spin around, hands fisted at my sides ready to pounce on a threat that looks rather too pleased with himself for my liking.
I roar in fury, anger bursting like a balloon inside my body and partially shifting me lycan. I feel my teeth elongate, my vision goes red around the edges. I’m going to tear the disrespectful little bastard apart. The innocent look on his face does not help to curb my desire one bit.
Hands clasp around both my biceps, restraining me as I snarl and flail within their strong grasp. One Ancient doesn’t stand a chance of holding me back, but two is a different story and DeLoren and Marius will not loosen their hold. “Chill man,” DeLoren demands.
Also, not helping.
“He punched me,” I seethe.
DeLoren chuckles, “Yeah, I saw, T... and you probably deserved it.”
“WHY WOULD I DESERVE IT?!” I roar again, my voice deep, gravely from the beast yearning for blood.
Kai’s face contorts from sly innocence to frustrated indignation, a look that doesn’t appear correct on such a normally young and carefree face. “Why? Why?! Let me tell you why,” Kai steps up to me, dangerously close but far enough to still be smart. He shoves his finger in my face, scolding me like that bad canine I am, “because fuck you, Theron—that’s why! Do you even understand the amount of shit that girl has put me through?!” He moves his finger to point at Lina and it instantly halts my desperation for release from the hands that bind me. “Here I imagined some sweet, innocent, quiet girl to watch over. You told me it would be simple! Now I will tell you, it was far from simple! She is a stubborn, willful, little brat!”
I growl at the insult. That’s not Lina! As if reading my thoughts, he continues, letting out years of pent-up aggravation, “It is not debatable! You weren’t here! You don’t know her! You didn’t watch her grow up! You didn’t save her ass every time she got in trouble! I did! And she got in a hell of a lot of trouble! So again, fuck you because... you know what? Just—Fuck. You.”
My eyes soften as I watch Kai stomp away. He fists his hair in frustration, pulling at the thick dirty blonde locks. Finally, he bends over and screams, releasing the tension inside him.
I look at Lina, still unconscious and seemingly very innocent and peaceful. I cannot imagine her being anything else... But Kai’s right. Six-year-old Lina and twenty-year-old Lina could never be the same. When she wakes, I will basically be meeting her for the first time all over again. I wasn’t here and I hadn’t been since I left. I have no idea what her favorite color is or what makes her laugh. I don’t know her dreams and aspirations and have no clue as to what she’s passionate about. If I am unaware of her virtues, how can I argue against her vices? I want to believe that she is just as simple as she was when I left but that would be naive.
I am not naive.
I hang my head, guilt eating away at me. I was so caught up in making sure she was safe that I didn’t consider the implications it would have on others. Kai’s personality isn’t as lighthearted as before and DeLoren regards me warily. Marius never says much but his eyes tell a different story—he is worried about me. Fifteen years of thinking rarely of myself, fueled by only a desire to protect a girl I didn’t really know had left a crack in the foundation of the only friendships I have. Even Lina, who had not known or seen anything I went through to get back to her, would still feel abandoned by me.
What I’m only now realizing is that those closest to me, who knew me the longest, are affected the most by my selfish actions. I know my brothers can smell the shame pouring off me in waves but... I will never admit to it either.
Sensing Kai’s stress had put a damper on my anger, Marius and DeLoren loosen their grip, still primed to grab me if they’re wrong.
They aren’t wrong this time, though.
Ripping my arms from their grasp I stomp back to Lina. Scooping her up, one arm under her knees, the other behind her back, I turn to my brothers, “So, where are we going?”
Kai, instantly now sobered by my shame-filled stench, smirks at me, “I’m going to introduce you to some very important people.”
I stare up at the two-story, dilapidated house and frown. Kai has brought us to the middle of nowhere, hidden deep in the woods. The building is old, lucky if it was built in the 1800s though I somehow doubted it had been constructed that recently. The wood is weathered with age, no longer brown but a brittle gray. It appears very much abandoned.
Beside it, runs a small but powerful river, lined with large round boulders. The huge wheel on the side of the house indicates it was once a water mill. The wheel is currently working, the river producing the liquid and force to spin it, creating an energy source.
I lift my head, sniffing the air around me. Varying scents tangle and morph together, drifting in the wind and making it hard to discern what is what. Obviously, I smell the river, mold, and mildew of rotting wood and the multiple trees that line the whole area; stone from the mountain the house was built into, and gasoline and oil from the two all-terrain vehicles parked out front... maybe a rabbit and some squirrels nearby.
Trying to ignore the strong whiff of Lina, I sift through the smells once again—deeper this time. While lycans and werewolves carry a strong scent gland, Ancients had the ultimate one, multiplied by ten because we are the Originals. Odor masking does not work on us... though whoever found this spot made it very difficult with the numerous other smells assaulting my senses. It’s almost hard to pick up on the lesser scents inside.
Coconut and sunshine, motor oil and sandalwood, and lastly, dial soap and new techno gadgets.
Three distinct mixtures.
“It doesn’t look like anything from the outside but the inside is... different,” Kai says softly, his eyes locked on the building before us.
“How do we do this? Just bust the door down?” DeLoren inquires, a frown on his face as he cannot pry his eyes away from the building either. Kai snickers, “Nah, they already know we’re here.” Leaving us gawking after him, he trots towards the mill, giving us no choice but to follow in his footsteps. I scan our surroundings for an exit plan. If things go wrong I need a quick out to lessen the chance of Lina becoming a target. I just got her back, I have no intentions of losing her again.
I wait with bated breath as Kai raps on the steel door. Yep, all this rotten wood and a brand new shiny steel door is the only way in or out... like that isn’t an obvious sign that someone occupies this mill.
A female voice calls sternly from the other side, “Who the fuck are you?” I sniff the air—tension, and anxiety. I can hear their hearts beating frantically within their chests. The occupants are concerned, but also scared.
They should be.
“Friends... of Lina’s,” Kai replies casually. In fact, it’s so casual that he’s examining his nails while replying. I frown when he finds a hangnail and starts picking at it. While he is comfortable around whoever these people are, I am not. I snarl, “If I ripped those nails from their beds would that change your careless attitude?” Seriously, like this kid doesn’t realize the danger we could all be in?
“FRIENDS?! Is that why you’re clutching her lifeless body? Because you’re her friends?” A male voice speaks. His tone is dripping in anger and despair. Did he care for my she-wolf or was he feeling the impending doom that would be brought down upon him if they fucked us over? Honestly, I don’t like the thought of either.
Mine, mine, mine, my inner beast roars.
“She’s good, just fainted but... she’s in trouble and needs somewhere to hide. Can you open up please?” Marius answers, trying to soothe the tension in the air. Fucking Marius... Do we really have the time to be diplomatic? I’m getting antsy and this is taking way too long. I opt for the Three Little Pigs strategy—let’s just huff and puff and blow the damn thing down already.
“And why would you bring her here?” The unknown female asks.
DeLoren throws his head back in exasperation. His patience must be running out as well... not that he has much to begin with, “This is her safe house, is it not? Shouldn’t she be safe here, as the name implies? Or did we read too much into that?”
Only silence comes from the other side.
DeLoren pounds on the door, his massive fists sending vibrations through the hard steel. “HELLO?” He mocks, “No? Okay, cool, we’ll just chill out here until you’re done looking through your dictionary—no rush or anything.”
The door flies open, welcoming us with a barrel of a gun. I glare, instantly on guard and ready to carry my bounty to safety. My muscles tense, my lip curls upwards and I pull Lina closer. My eyes quickly scan the humans before me, assessing the threat.
Standing behind the .45 is a leggy girl, her long hair dyed unnaturally to mimic the colors of fire. Ruby red lips and too much makeup coating her dark eyes, her look is fierce—determined. But the slight shake to her hands tells me she’s never shot anyone before so it’s rather unlikely that she’s going to start with us. Coconuts and sunshine invade my flaring nostrils.
“I don’t like your mouth,” She hisses.
“Lady,” DeLoren smirks as he leans arrogantly against the door frame. His hand gently covers the barrel of the gun as he pushes it, along with her arm, downwards, pointing to the floor, “my mouth could end up being the only thing you like about me.” He winks at her.
Immediately understanding the sexual innuendo, her eyes widen and her cheeks flush furiously. She stands, stunned and frozen in her spot just inside the door, her mouth slightly agape.
Kai crinkles his nose. “Gross,” he grumbles, obviously not keen on the mental image. I can’t say I blame him, but I don’t feel bad for his discomfort either. I’ve had to deal with hearing about their sexual escapades for years.
Now he understands my pain.
Two men stand behind Coconut. The first is around six feet, muscular and putting on his best death glare. His blonde hair falls in front of his eyes causing me to take him less seriously than I’m sure he would like. He’s the one that smells heavily of Sandalwood.
The second one, Dial Soap, is shorter, small for a male but lean. He reminds me somewhat of Kai, though I don’t know why—they look nothing alike. His black hair curls out from underneath the baseball cap he wears backward, his eyes watching Lina closely. I can almost see the wheels turning inside his head.
I don’t like it.
I let out a low rubble from my chest in warning—keep your eyes to yourself, kid. His brows furrow as his gaze meets mine but he doesn’t speak. He only studies me.
However, the other male—not so much. Sandalwood steps forward, mean-mugging me like he has any chance in the world of intimating me. “Give her here,” he demands, hands stretched outward to take what is mine.
Beast mode burst forth without hesitation or consideration. I snap and snarl viciously. “WHOA!” All my brothers shout, immediately stepping in between us. Sandalwood jumps backward, a look of bewildered horror upon his face. “What the fuck!” He cries, quickly turning his wide eyes away from me, looking towards my friends for an explanation, “What the hell is wrong with your guy?!”
DeLoren slaps his large hand upon Sandalwood’s shoulder and grins, “You know how possessive a dog can get over a bone, right, kid? It’s kinda like that. If you’re partial to any part of that body of yours, I suggest you keep your distance. Capiche?” DeLoren makes his way through the door, pushing the three humans out of the way with his forearms like he was holding back a crowd. “Wide berth, extremely wide berth,” he warns them. Stunned into silence, they do as he orders, allowing me to pass through without objection.
When Kai said the inside was different from the outside, he wasn’t lying. It’s as if as soon as I step through that steel door I’m transported to a different place completely. The decor is modern but still holds a cabin-type flare. The wooden floors have been cleaned, sanded and polished, sealed with a light gray bamboo stain. The walls are painted red, contrasting with the stone that adorns the fireplace.
It’s an open concept layout—massive square beams painted to match the floor, run the length of the building, from floor to ceiling six feet apart. The kitchen is to my left, the living room is on my right. But those two sections only take up half the first-floor space.
The other half is set up with eight small security monitors, two desktop computers, and one laptop on a long wooden work desk to the left. A large meeting table is in the middle, chairs facing the right side of the building. That wall stages two dry erase boards, one hung to the wall and one rolled into the corner, multiple mug shots and surveillance photos taped to them. The name Ian Malory is written in red on the wallboard and circled numerous times.
I should be questioning every single thing in this space. How it looks abandoned from the outside but the inside is fully furnished and functional and... Nice. How are they powering all this technology? Can the water wheel handle that much output? Why is this considered a “safe house?” Who or what is it supposed to hide these humans from? Who’s Ian Malory? Why is he important? Most concerning though, what the fuck has Lina gotten herself into?
Ignoring the nagging questions, I place Lina gently on the couch and cover her with a throw blanket that hangs over the back. I then push the couch to the far side of the room, right up against the wall. If danger is coming, it will only be from one side. Grabbing a chair from the dining table, I bring it in front of the couch where I plop myself down. Danger will also have to go through me.
Crossing my arms over my chest, I stare at the six gawkers in the room with murderous intent. They were welcome to chill and make themselves at home but it’s going to have to be a far distance from me and Lina.
Coconut clears her throat, and leans towards DeLoren who stands stoically beside her, “Should I be worried about him pissing on her leg as well?”
I glare at her.
I may joke about being a dog, but I have no plans on using my urine to mark my territory. I’m not a heathen.
DeLoren snorts, “Probably.”