The smell of breakfast drew Clayton from his sleep. He was groggy at first, his entire body ached and he was so warm, he didn’t want to get out of bed. But the heavenly smell of food had his stomach gurgling.
Slowly he rose from the small cot he usually used when he slept over. He grimaced as he stood, his back arched, his ribs were sore and his jaw throbbed. He glanced over at Artemis’s bed and found it empty. Which wasn’t unusual, his friend was an early riser.
He folded his blankets, setting them neatly on the cot before dragging his feet down the small hallway, past the bathroom door and the door to Mr. and Mrs Steele’s bedroom before making his way downstairs.
Sunlight filtered through the open windows, fresh morning air blew in and he inhaled deeply. The smell of the woods always calmed him, it helped him to feel at peace even if his life was a turbulent mess.
He slowly entered the kitchen, Artemis and his father sat at the table talking about sports. Artemis’s mother was standing by the stove flipping pancakes, turning bacon and shuffling hash browns in a pan. Artemis glanced over at him and smiled, his gray eyes lighting up as he was happy his friend was feeling better. “Morning,” He said.
Brandon, Artemis’s father, glanced over and smiled, it was welcoming and warm. Clayton wished his own father could be like that. Instead he often received glares, scowls and growls. His father seemed more beast than man when around him.
Clayton returned both their welcoming smiles with one of his own, “Morning”
Angie, Artemis’s mother, turned on her heel to look at him, she was such a beautiful heart warming woman. She beamed at him “Good morning Clayton, take a seat. Breakfast is almost ready”
Clayton moved to obey and sat across from Brandon and next to Artemis at their small wooden circle table. Their home was always so bright and open, he loved it. “Did you sleep well?” Brandon asked.
“Good” Brandon said, “How’s the bruising? Does everything feel as if it’s healing properly?” He asked and it took Clayton by surprise that he was genuinely concerned for him. Again he nodded.
Artemis looked at him “After breakfast we should go hunt”
“Okay” he easily agreed. As almost every werewolf, he loved to hunt. He loved the chase. He loved the catch.
Brandon frowned and looked at Artemis, a sudden serious tension surrounded them “Be careful son. There have been hunters roaming about recently. It’s deer season and you don’t want to get caught in the crossfire”
Artemis nodded listening intently to what his father said.
Angie called them to breakfast and they all ate at the table surrounded by small talk. He actually enjoyed not eating in the dining hall. It wasn’t necessary but most wolves went anyways , seeing as they didn’t have to cook and it was a place for socializing.
There was a knock at the door just as Clayton finished the last of his syrupy pancakes. He’d already devoured his bacon, the best part.
Brandon rose from his seat and sent his mate a secret look. Clayton didn’t understand the way grown ups could talk to each other by simple facial gestures.
Angie suddenly seemed nervous and she rose from her seat as her mate went to answer the door. She began picking up the kitchen and it was then that Clayton froze, the orange juice he had in his hand paused midway to his mouth. A shiver of fear slithering down his spine.
He willed the tears that threatened to spill away.
“Good morning” his father’s gruff, irritated voice rang through the house and Clayton couldn’t find the will power to turn around. He could feel the heat of his father’s stare boring into his back. “Clayton my boy, it’s time to go. Say goodbye”
The air around them crackled with tension and anger. Not just from Trevor but from Brandon.
“You’re not taking him home,” Brandon said, stepping in Trevor’s line of sight. That sickening growl had the hairs on the back of his neck standing on end. He knew he was going to get beat so much harder than he ever had before.
He stood from his chair, the soft scrape of the wood chair against the wood floor signaling the others of his movements. He got off the chair and locked eyes with his father and couldn’t hold back the shudder of fear. He could smell the sickening scent of his own despair and the wild look in his father’s eyes told him he’d smelt it to. He walked towards him only to have a small hand grab his upper arm, halting him from going any further.
Artemis held onto him and shook his head, he didn’t look at him though, instead he set an angry look towards Trevor.
“You can’t keep my son from me. I’m his father!” He raged stepping up to Brandon.
Trevor was delta, a third in command to the alpha and he held more power and authority over Brandon who was a simply middle ranked wolf. Clayton could tell Brandon tried to hold his stare for as long as he could before his eyes drifted off to the wall behind Trevor.
Trevor laughed, a low humorless sound “step aside before I put you in your place”
Brandon didn’t budge and thankfully before Trevor could make a move, another knock sounded at the door. Neither male moved as a power play was battling between them.
Angie kept her eyes downcast as she made her way to the door and opened it. She stepped aside immediately as Alpha Normus walked in. He was built, his wolf was strong but there had always been something lacking with his authority that Clayton couldn’t put his finger on. He didn’t seem to care much about the pack and as an alpha that was supposed to be your number one concern.
His bald head shined and his hazel eyes assessed the situation before glancing at Trevor, “What’s going on? Why was I summoned?” He asked, glaring at Brandon.
“This male has been beating his pup”
Clayton blanched and welcomed the ground to swallow him whole. The alpha glanced at him before looking at Trevor, “Is this true?”
Trevor shrugged, “I’ve had to teach him simple lessons. He’s far from a great wolf. He’s troublesome, I’m simply doing my fatherly duty and scolding him. Brandon here, let’s his pup and bitch walk all over him”
Brandon snarled , his gray eyes flashing with flecks of silver, and his canines descended. “He’s a boy! A child! And speak of my mate again and I’ll kill you!”
“Or die trying” Trevor sneered.
The alpha looked thoughtful for a moment before looking at Clayton then back at Trevor and Brandon once more. Angie walked around them coming to stand behind both boys. “I don’t see a problem here. My delta has decided to raise his pup with a different standard than you Brandon. If you have a problem with it, I suggest you look the other way otherwise you can count yourself eight feet under” the alpha decided and strode towards the front door.
There was a deafening silence before Trevor stomped his way past Brandon and grabbed Clayton. Angie had no choice but to drop her hand from his shoulder as Clayton was pulled roughly past his friend and his parents before being dragged outside. He tripped and tried to keep up with his father’s long strides.
They didn’t make it far before the front door to Artemis’s house flung open with a loud crash. Brandon’s chest was heaving and his eyes were intense and murderous. “I challenge you Trevor O’Conner”
Clayton looked up, squinting against the bright sun , his father’s sickening smile spreading across his face “I accept” he let go of Clayton’s hand and pulled his clothes roughly from his body.
The two wolves were not going to wait to get into the challenging circle. They were going to fight right in front of the house. Pack members who must have heard the commotion began to descend from their own homes and the pack house, making their way closer to the commotion.
Brandon threw his clothes to the ground and both males began their shift.
Clayton’s eyes went as wide as saucers. He glanced across the way and caught Artemis’s mirrored expression. They’d never watched a challenge before, this would be a first. Clayton was surprised when he caught sight of the alpha striding back down to watch the fight, a gleeful expression on his face.
Trevor didn’t waste anytime. Before Brandon had time to gather his wits, Trevor attacked. His dark gray and white fur bristled, standing on end. He drove forward, his claws unsheathed and he dug them deep into Brandon’s deep dark brown furry shoulder before dragging them painfully down his leg, tearing and shredding skin.
Clayton wanted to vomit. He’d never witnessed the brutality of a challenge before and now he wasn’t sure he was ready to watch this. Artemis seemed riveted in the fight.
The smell of the first draw of blood stirred something in him, his body itched to shift. His canines ached as they threatened to lengthen into long pointed teeth, ready to rip into his pound of flesh. The wolves around him looked as eager as he did, their wolves shined through their eyes as the addicting aroma swept across the entire pack. The alpha looked on steadily, Clayton watched as he inhaled deeply, his large body shuddering like an addicts.
Trevor snarled, sinking his teeth into Brandon’s shoulder.
Brandon howled in pain, his head swung back, snapping at him repeatedly. His large sharp teeth inches away from Trevor’s face.
Trevor thrashed his head from side to side, tearing flesh and pulling out fur. More blood spilled onto the ground. Brandon’s body shook like a rag doll from side to side.
Trevor planted his paws firmly on the ground and used all his strength to lift his contender off of the ground, threw his head to the side with a great force and let go of Brandon’s limp form.
Brandon flew through the air a little ways before landing with a hard knock. He didn’t move and it hardly looked as if he were breathing. Trevor sauntered over to him just as Clayton’s mother came to stand behind her son, her hand rose and rested on his shoulder.
Looking back at her he never realized just how much he hated her but in that moment everything came rushing to the forefront. His hate for his weak mother came like a fast moving train. She never protected him as a mother should, she never spoke out or attempted to put a stop to it. She’d stood by and watched as he’d been beaten and because of it, a male who wasn’t his father was standing up to his tormentor attempting to protect him, a pup who wasn’t even his own son.
Clayton shrugged off his mother’s touch and ignored the look of surprise on her face. He watched as his father stalked closer to Brandon’s still form and it was only then that he caught the slight rise and fall of his belly.
Artemis was struggling against his own mother’s hold, his small child like roars echoing across the way as he looked ready to kill Trevor or die trying.
Trevor leaned over Brandon’s body and gripped his neck between his teeth. Brandon let out a small sound of pain as Trevor applied a punishing grip before he let go and began to shift. Standing once more as a man covered in blood that wasn’t his own, he glared down at Brandon’s dark brown coat matted with blood. A nasty sneer coming across his face as he spoke loud and clear “the boy is mine. Know your place” he spat before turning and making his way back towards Clayton who began to shake in fear.
He knew he was really going to get it now.
Artemis and his mother ran over to Brandon to help as Clayton was taken away by his parents and the pack departed.
His father gripped his upper arm in a harsh grasp and practically dragged him away, his small feet tripping over themselves as he tried to keep up with his father’s large steps. His mother trailed behind them in her usual silence.
That night, Clayton received a beating he would never forget. The scars that rained across his back would never heal. He slept in a pool of his own blood that night, freezing and shaking, wishing the moon would help him.