THERON

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FIVE.

Long after Lucan had left and Lina had fallen asleep, Theron knew it was time. Shifting to his human form once he rounded the corner into the kitchen, he scanned the area for the phone. He should have already known of its location as he paid attention to details more than most, however the one time he had been in this room, he was too focused on Lina to notice anything else.

A burner cell would be better, safer, but beggars couldn’t be choosers and apparently, Lucan lived too simply to own such a device. Theron briefly wondered why Lucan had chosen the life of a rogue but swiftly pushed the thought away. It was not his concern and frankly, he didn’t really care enough to ask.

His eyes landed on a pair of sweatpants, folded on the table next to the phone. Running his fingers over the soft cotton material, he couldn’t help but chuckle. It had been quite some time since he had needed material to cover his human form. He preferred his wolf over the other two, and spent the majority of his years in America as such, going unnoticed among the humans here.

His only mistake had been falling asleep after a three-day insomnia bender. He had grown sick of the nightmares and chose to avoid them by not closing his eyes for as long as possible. That decision had cost him dearly. Exhausted and too deep in sleep for his advanced senses to alert him to danger, he had been captured and brought to that horrific facility.

Their mistake had been forgetting one dose of sedation medication.

Only one.

It was a fatal error on their part.

Theron quickly stepped into the sweats and tied them loosely around his waist. He didn’t plan to be in them for very long. He dialed the only number he knew by memory alone and waited patiently for the other side to answer his call.

Three and a half rings later, a gruff voice chimed in from the opposite line, “DeLoren.”

“It’s me,” Theron replied, speaking low so as not to wake the other two occupants of his temporary sanctuary.

“T?” DeLoren asked, doubtful. He was used to his brother’s need for seclusion but Theron tended to check in with at least one of them once a month. When eight months had passed with no word, DeLoren and the others began to worry. They hadn’t felt a break in their bonds so they knew he was still alive but it was unlike him to go so long without contact. His surprise gave way to annoyance and now he wanted answers, “Where the actual fuck have you been, man?”

“Not over the phone,” Theron whispered, “Look, I need you to meet me at the foothills of the Smokies. Come from the north only. Do you understand? Avoid all other sides, it’s vital. Stay in wolf form—”

“What’s going on, T?”

“I don’t know... just... just two days, okay? I’ll find you.”

DeLoren sighed, he knew he would not get any answers that Theron wasn’t willing to give at the moment. It was something he had learned about him very early on in their time as warriors. So reluctantly, he agreed to Theron’s terms, “Okay, two days then.”

Theron didn’t even say goodbye. He put the phone back on the receiver and turned around, hands on the waistband of the sweats Lucan had loaned him. He was ready to shift and return to Lina. How he didn’t scent her before he turned around he’d never know but there, standing in the doorway was that tiny blonde, staring at him with her wide, brown eyes.

Theron froze.

His breath caught inside his lungs as his mind went blank when called upon for action. He had been busted and he was now scrambling for an excuse. How would he explain this? Lina would not take kindly to a stranger in her den. Unfortunately, he ended up resembling more of a deer caught in the headlights. He was blank. He had nothing. Zero. Zip. Zilch. Nada.

“Who are you?” She demanded.

Theron chose to ignore the question, a better course of action presenting itself as he crossed his arms over his massive chest, “Why are you out of bed, Catalina?” Maybe he could steer this in a different direction...

The girl shrugged, padding towards him. Her little feet scuffing the floor as she walked, “Theron is missing. I can’t sleep.” Theron raised one eyebrow in suspicion as she came closer, craning her neck to look up at him, “Have you seen him?” Suppressing a smile, the corner of his lip raised slightly, yeah he had seen him, alright. Theron crouched down to her level, his hands folded in front of him, “I’m sure he’ll come back to bed soon.”

She stared at him in a blinding kind of awe, not really consciously present but her mouth still working. “Is he safe?” She questioned softly, her eyes flicking back and forth between his. He snickered, amused but flattered of her concern for him. He cocked his head to the side, taking a few seconds to stare at her, memorizing her features the best he could. He might not be as heartless as he had been portrayed, for he wished to remember her face, “He will be fine.”

“Promise?”

“I promise.”

“Swear it,” she insisted while shoving her teensy pinkie finger in front of his face. Theron blinked. He looked from her to her finger and then back to her again, his heart slowly further thawing at her fervor. He hated to use the word adorable again—despised it, actually—but it was the cold and honest truth.

Ah, fuck it, he thought.

Very slowly, he linked his big finger around her tiny one. They stared at each other in acknowledged silence before he slowly pulled his hand away. Lina, on the other hand, was not finished.

So entranced by the beauty of the man before her she couldn’t help but scan his features. His dark blonde hair was messy. Short on the sides and longer at the top, it stood upwards in every which way. Under two full eyebrows sat large brown eyes, round and innocent-looking, though something told her he was anything but. His nose was smaller, like her father’s, and stubble lined his prominent jaws, crossing over his full lips. On his chin, was a cleft, something Lina had never seen before. Curiously, she placed her first finger between the indent that separated his chin. Staring at it, she had to ask, “What’s your name?”

His features softened as he removed her finger from his face. He smiled at her, mischievously, “What do you think my name is?” Had she put two and two together yet? Could a girl of six years of age correctly correlate him, his wolf form, and her father’s story?

He was just pondering, of course...

Her lips pursed and her brows knitted together as she thought deeply about his question. She didn’t know his name but she could give him one! She had the perfect one! “Angel,” she stated, confidently. Theron threw his head back and laughed. Angel? Oh, he was far, far from that! “Why would you think that?”

Lina grinned shyly, “Because you look like an angel.”

Theron’s humor halted instantly, studying her silently. She watched his jaw tick and his adam’s apple bob as he swallowed. She wondered what he was thinking. Had she said something wrong? She was confused by his cold reaction as she was only being honest, one thing she had been taught from birth. He was too handsome to be human and the only other beings she knew of with such unfathomable beauty were angels, so it seemed fitting.

“It’s time to go back to bed now, Lina. I will send Theron to your room as soon as he returns,” he said stiffly, as he stood, towering over her.

She wanted to speak to him more. She wanted to get to know him. She wanted to see him smile and hear him laugh over and over again because it was the most glorious thing she had ever seen or heard but she also realized that he was done with her now. Her expression saddened at the thought and she forced the tears to stop welling in her eyes. Maybe she was spoiled... Not used to being rejected or dismissed. It made her heart ache not to be given what she desired. She was not accustomed to such things. More importantly, she did not like it but for some reason, unknown to her, she knew he wouldn’t take well to her objection so she turned to walk away.

Theron watched her go, their conversation echoing inside his head. What he did not expect was for her to turn around once more with the one question he wouldn’t think properly about before answering, “Will I see you again?”

“Yes, but not soon.” It was such an automatic response, something that flowed from his lips so easily he questioned whether he had been possessed by someone else when he said it. Shocked by his words, he couldn’t react quick enough to correct it before she was gone.

What would ever bewitch him to say such a thing?

***

Those two days came and passed and Theron was now completely healed. Waiting for DeLoren at the edge of the forest, he had had time to think through his situation. It did nothing to quell his urge for vengeance but it had given him time to consider the bigger picture.

And it was not a pleasant one.

Somewhere close there was a covert operation that had begun under all their noses. Though the Ancients were responsible for werewolves and lycans everywhere, no one had ever been smart enough to discover the truths of their kin. They had lived within the cover of fables and scary stories, never to be entirely confirmed by humans. Though there had been accidental sightings here and there, the enforcers of the council had always taken care of those loose ends.

However, Theron knew he wasn’t the only wolf that had been captured and experimented on. He was just the only one that had survived. He had been able to differentiate three different scents among the fifty-eight wolves that came through the facility, which meant to him that three different packs had unwittingly lost members. He wondered how they had been caught so easily. Which packs were missing their wolves? Were these packs located within relatively close distance to each other or had they been brought from states farther away? Different countries even? If it was an isolated incident, then it could be easily contained... if not, well, that was a whole other problem altogether.

Theron was the only Ancient who had never reproduced, never touched another woman but Cera, and therefore had no family, thus no pack by extension. He wouldn’t dare forward this curse through his bloodline; it was just unfair. He would need to know which of his brothers’ packs were being affected and if they were aware of it themselves. Not a lot occurred within the packs that his brothers were not informed of.

Theron, himself, stayed out of wolf politics, only ever sitting on his designated council seat when requested and that had been just once in his entire existence. Usually, they chose to ignore him as if he was nothing more than a myth... a legend. It suited him just fine as the Council of Elders consisted only of his brothers and the oldest of their lineage. He had none and he had no interest in changing that. Their laws were none of his concern and he also suspected they never missed his presence.

No one did.

It was at that moment that Catalina crossed his mind. What would her future be like if this continued? Technically, she was labeled a rogue because of her father’s actions and therefore born without a pack. Would she ever become a target?

It didn’t matter that she hadn’t shifted yet. There was an aura about her that sucked him in, her scent like nothing he had ever smelled before in all his immortality.

Actually, that wasn’t entirely true...

There was an underlying scent that was reminiscent of something he had once come across but he couldn’t remember enough to pinpoint it.

No, it wouldn’t be long before they found her as well and he refused to allow her to experience the torture that he had. While his thirst for vengeance was strong, he knew he would need to annihilate whatever this threat was for future wolves, like Lina.

No.

That wasn’t right either.

Fuck future wolves and lycans. He was only concerned about Lina if he was being honest. He would do it for them—him and her.

A yip sounded to his left, cutting through Theron’s thoughts and making his head snap towards the sound. A big black wolf crept slowly from the underbrush, the white marking on his forehead confirmed this was the brother he had been waiting for. ”DeLoren," Theron acknowledged.

DeLoren huffed in aggravation, “Why the cloak and dagger? What’s happening?” He was annoyed and a bit unnerved that Theron hadn’t explained what was going on. If DeLoren had traveled all this way for absolutely nothing of any real concern he would be beyond pissed. It was good to see his friend whom he had not laid eyes on in decades, but he also did not take kindly to having his time wasted. Ironic since all he had was time...

Theron considered his question, there was much that needed to be shared. However, he was curious about Lina and wanted to get DeLoren’s opinion on the matter while he was here. Maybe he would know what she was because it was definitely not a full werewolf.

He trusted his brother and was absolutely certain Lina would be in no danger with DeLoren. That thought had him speaking his next words, easily and without contemplation, ”Change of plans. Follow me, there is someone I want you to meet."

DeLoren shook his huge head in disappointment but didn’t voice his impatience. Theron wouldn’t keep his friend in suspense much longer but he also didn’t want to stay in one spot for very long. Yes, the cover of the forest kept them concealed from prying eyes but Lucan’s cabin seemed safer. Whether that was because of Lina or because it was the truth, he didn’t know. ”I’ll explain on the way,” Theron muttered as he led DeLoren through the dense forest and up the jagged mountain towards an unsuspecting, young she-wolf.

***

Lina was outside, marveling at a tulip that had started to sprout its yellow petals. Snow was long gone now, leaving only a cold, wet ground. Not caring about the mud squishing underneath her boots, she stepped forward and touched the soft petals. She smiled, feeling the plant’s life source course through her veins and into her heart, like a gentle tickle to her insides. She sent her love to the small flower in return, relishing in their silent conversation.

“Lina, go inside,” her father spoke firmly, completely out of nowhere.

Turning her head in surprise to his presence on the back porch, she noticed Lucan staring straight ahead into the woods. Puzzled, Lina spun in the same direction and watched as Theron and a second wolf stepped out of the tree line. Their massive paws glided over the muddy landscape effortlessly, heading straight towards her and her father.

Lina took in the details of this second wolf. The same size and color as Theron, only instead of a maroon tint, this one had a tinge of green that reflected off the sunlight in the unseasonably warm day. The wolf also had a unique marking on his forehead, only instead of claw design like Theron, it was a simple, upside down, hollow triangle.

Theron’s eyes were on Lina as she stared at Deloren, wide-eyed and mouth slightly agape. He smirked, wondering what she must be thinking... her imagination tended to run as wild as she. As they got closer, her gaze snapped to Theron and she squealed, “You’re back!” Throwing herself at him and instantly forgetting whatever opinion she may have had on the second wolf by Theron’s side, she wrapped her arms around his thick chest and squeezed him tightly. He gave her a quick lick on her cheek. Lina giggled and Theron ignored the bemusement on the faces of her father and his brother. Let them judge him. He did not give one single fuck.

DeLoren eyed the small girl warily. ”You sure you haven’t been playing house for the last eight months, T?" He teased.

"Fuck you," Theron’s chest rumbled with a low growl. Lina immediately dropped her arms and pulled away. Theron wasn’t directing his irritation at her so she wasn’t scared of his grouchiness, she honestly had just become more interested in knowing who the green wolf was. It was obvious to her that it was another Ancient, but who? “Daddy, which Or-ginal is that?” She asked as she pointed to the new wolf in their midst.

Lucan studied the marking on the second Ancient’s forehead. Why another one was at his home, he didn’t know. Maybe he didn’t want to. He never imagined he would meet one in his lifetime, better yet two and two in the same spot at the same time could mean nothing less than trouble, he was almost certain of it. “DeLoren,” he mumbled, unenthused and a bit on edge. Lina nodded in recognition and waved shyly at the green-hued wolf. DeLoren only cocked his head and stared dubiously at the girl.

"Why are you here, DeLoren?" Lucan linked. He couldn’t help but ball his fists. One Original made him nervous enough... Now there were two.

Not good.

DeLoren snorted, shifting his eyes away from Lina and landing on her father, ”When you figure it out, let me know ’cause your guess is as good as mine, rogue.” That was the moment both chose to turn their attention to Theron, expecting an explanation and expecting it fast. Theron sighed in exasperation, ”Sniff her, D."

His brother looked between Theron and the girl, bewildered, ”What? Why?"

"Just do it!” Theron snapped.

DeLoren raised his snout into the air and took a quick whiff. And then another. ”What the fuck?" Snorting to try to clear his nose, he shook his head and tried again, only this time he moved towards Lina, shoving his nose into her stomach and inhaling deeply. A confused Lina stood as still as possible not knowing this particular wolf and not as instantly comfortable in his presence as Theron. Her eyes found her father’s, quietly trying to convey her discomfort.

"Mind telling me what the hell your interest is in my daughter, Ancients?" Lucan asked, with a clenched jaw. He was becoming increasingly irritated with these wolves. She was not an animal in a zoo to be prodded and gawked at. Lucan knew he had no choice but to allow these beasts to quell their curiosity as he did not wish to lose any limbs today. However, that did not mean he couldn’t voice his indignation.

DeLoren backed away slowly, keeping his eyes on the girl. He studied her. Maybe, if he looked hard enough, answers would present themselves.

Maybe...

What he found most difficult was controlling his urge to stay buried in her scent—a scent that smelled of hope and home. Oddly enough, he knew this smell and he knew it well. He would never forget. He couldn’t, even if he tried. But why would a young she-wolf carry such an aroma? ”Why does she smell like the moon?" He looked at Theron, confused and a little appalled. He wasn’t going to question why she specifically smelled of the moon goddess herself as DeLoren knew it was still a touchy subject for Theron even after all these years. Why his brother had not yet torn this little girl apart was beyond him. Theron out of all of them held the most hatred towards the goddess. How he had been able to tame his beast around this kid was mind-blowing.

Theron was taken aback. The moon? Now, why hadn’t he thought of that? Recognized it? The underlying odor that he, himself, had detected within Lina was simple—she smelled of the moon goddess. How had he missed that? It should be front and center in his memory bank as he had come to despise that traumatizing scent. It only served to remind him of the starlit bitch that ruined his life. Maybe Lina’s more prominent aroma, a delicate mixture of cashmere and almond, diluted the third into something more tolerable for his nostrils because there was absolutely no way in hell Theron would have wanted anything to do with this child had he caught a whiff of the moon.

Of course, now, it didn’t matter. He was trapped. Chained to Lina until death. The revelation did absolutely nothing to change Theron’s feelings towards the girl. However, he did need to ponder what type of torturous game the goddess was subjecting him to this time.

Tricky bitch.

Which brought him to his second question, one that he hoped desperately DeLoren agreed with. It may have been wrong for misery to love company but Theron had never claimed to ever be right, ”Do you sense it too?”

"The pull? Yeah... like, I need to... protect her or some shit?" DeLoren spoke slowly, unsure of what was going on. Turning his attention to Lucan, he had to ask—had to know, ”What is she?"

Lucan’s eyes softened as he looked at his daughter. He could give them the only answer he knew and this time, he said it out loud, “What she is, is her mother’s daughter.”

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