Wolf's Lullaby

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Brazen Twerp

PHILIP

It was cartoonish really. The way the two of us jumped up, trying to disentangle, limbs flailing around, and I almost got a split lip as Tara smacked me with her elbow. As I tried to help her move off my lap, she slid off to the side, falling on her ass, hair covering her face and she huffed a breath, sending strands flying.

“Shit! You ok?” I reached out to help her up, grabbing her forearms and pulling gently. Smoothing hair out of her face, I cupped her cheeks, looking her over.

Hands closing over my wrists, she squeezed lightly, giving me a shy smile, her lips still red, swollen, a proof that I didn’t imagine what unfolded just moments ago. That it was real.

“Yeah... I’m fine.” Her smile widened, and she giggled, “I think universe would turn on its head if a day goes by and I don’t stumble, fall or make a blunder of a sort.” I huffed a laugh. That was probably true.

“Pip?” my nickname said in a questioning whisper, turned my attention on the tiny intruder. Big green eyes, the shade the same as my own, on a small round face, blinked and darted between me and Tara with undisguised curiosity.

Never in my life would I have thought I would refer to my little brother as a cockblock. But here we were. Though that wasn’t the reason I wanted to give him a spanking.

I narrowed my eyes at him, and the warm, tingly fuzzies eddied and fell away as I dropped my hands from Tara’s face, angling my body so I fully faced him. I could sense my hackles rising, along with the tone of my voice, and blood pressure, my pulse thudding in my ears.

“Theodore Alexander Constantinov! What in the ever loving fuck are you doing here? How did you get here? Where is your babysitter?!” I cringed at how harsh I sounded, way more than I intended. And as I stalked closer to him, he shrank away under my intense gaze. His lower lip wobbled slightly as he balled the hem of his shirt, looking at his feet.

“I... I-I..” His voice cracked and with it, so did all my anger. Melted away by the slumping of his small shoulders, the shaking of his tiny fists holding his shirt in a death grip. I knelt in front of him, slouching to get to his eye level. Gently lifting his chin up so he’d face me, I softened my tone of voice. “Hey, bud. I’m sorry, ok? I didn’t mean to yell.” His lower lip quivered as he looked at me, eyes brimming with tears, and my gut twisted at the sight of them.

“You’re not mad?” he asked timidly, voice barely above a whisper.

“No, I’m not mad.” And I wasn’t. Not really. But if my assumption was correct…

“Where is Olivia?” At my question about his babysitter, he pouted, averting his gaze, so I repeated myself, this time in a firmer voice. He started squirming, pulling on the strands of his messy sandy brown hair, still not looking at me, not uttering a word in answer. Why this little cockblocking twerp!!!

“Ok… Now, you listen to me carefully. You have about three seconds to spill it, or I’m calling father. What’s it gonna be?” Yeah, that was a cheap shot, but you gotta do what you gotta do.

Theo’s eyes grew two sizes, his mouth opening and closing in panic, before he blurted, “Um… No! I-I... I slipped out, ok! Dad said you were sick, and, and I w-wanted to see you Pip… You didn’t come over in a month and I didn’t wanna wait till my birthday so… I-I snuck out of the bathroom window, and... and... came here on my own.” he finished with a huff, panting. His explanation tore through my heart. He did this to see me? Fuck…

Absolute horror and guilt warped my insides.

He could have gotten hurt!

The nutcase!

That window was on the second floor! And I know that he climbed down the branches of that huge tree in front of it, like a gods-damn monkey! If he slipped and fell... I shuddered at the thought, coldness spreading through my veins. He was too young. His regenerative abilities were only a dash above those of a human child. He could have fallen, he could have broken his neck, for Gods’ sake! And I would never, ever forgive myself if he got hurt on my account.

Still, I was an ass for yelling at him.

I tugged him closer, wrapping my arms around him, hugging him tightly. When we pulled away, he looked at me with obvious guilt. I sighed, resigned, the flames of any anger mixed with utter terror completely dosed under the spell of his puppy-dog eyes. “Don’t ever fucking do that again, ok? That tree is old, the branches could snap, you could slip and hurt yourself. Got it?” He nodded obediently, an unsure smile tugging at the corners of his lips. Then his eyes caught sight of something behind me.

Tara stood where I left her near the couch, pulling on the hem of her shirt, uncomfortable, fidgety. Like she was unsure what to do. Theo tilted his head, pointing a finger at her.

“Who’s that?” the question prompted Tara to unglue herself from her spot, albeit awkwardly, approaching, nervously wringing her hands.

She bent down to Theo’s level, using the full force of her dimpled smile on him, “Hi. I’m Tara.” She extended her hand to him, the other tucking the strands of her hair that spilled over her shoulders behind her ear.

Theo tracked the movement, wide-eyed, enthralled as he placed his hand in hers, blushing. “Theo…” He muttered, the blush on his cheeks intensifying as he inhaled deeply. He snapped his head in my direction, surprised, as he blurted, “Oh, she smells like Lara’s mom.” The Gods must have decided on an untimely death for me. First with that idiot, now this twerp. Lara, who I knew to be Theo’s classmate, was a half-blood werewolf. Her mother was a human.

I chanced a glance at Tara, who looked aghast, but my brief worry was for naught as she promptly started sniffing herself, raising her arms, and I barely contained a laugh.

“Oh, my god! I’m having a flashback! A little girl once told me on the street I look like a drowned poodle! It was unfortunately true, it rained that day, and I had no umbrella! I got soaked! Do I stink?! I didn’t have time to change!” She whisper-yelled to him, panic and embarrassment in her voice as she glanced my way. But as our eyes met, she averted her gaze, wincing.

She was so fucking adorable.

I smiled, opening my mouth to tell her there was nothing wrong with how she smelled, to reassure her, but the little player in making beat me to it giggling, “Oh, no! You smell very, very nice. You’re so silly!” He flashed her a toothy grin, which she returned, and once again, he looked mesmerized. “Pretty… You’re pretty, too.” And she was. She was adorable, and cute and... beautiful. I was miffed he said it before me, though. Wow... this was a new level of petty jealousy unlocked.

“Aw, thank you. You’re very handsome yourself.” She ruffled his messy hair, and he puffed out his chest. “Of course I am!” he stated brazenly, arrogance incarnate. Both Tara and I laughed.

“I’m like Pip, of course I’m handsome!” he added mater-of-factually, eliciting another wide dimpled smile from Tara and she glanced my way, a tinge of pink on her cheeks, “There’s no doubt there.”

Something squeezed in my chest at that, and a conga line opened in my stomach. Maybe, just maybe, the thing from before wasn’t a one off. I sure as hell hoped not. In fact, I prayed to all the gods it wasn’t.

Even now, as she stood next to me, I had to reign in the urge, the itch, to touch her. Brush her hair out of her face, twine my fingers with hers. Anything to sate the need for that connection, however small it was.

Hope was a fickle bitch, but a gluttonous one at that. And with each glance, each smile in my direction, she grew.

“Are you Pip’s girlfriend, Tara?” Theo’s question caught both of us off guard. What’s more, Tara was at a loss for words, which was a very rare occurrence and I… I couldn’t calm my thudding heart, couldn’t hear any thoughts whirling in my mind at how loud my heart beat in anticipation of her answer. But when no words came out right away, that hope she fed shriveled, doubt crept in and what flew out of my mouth so fast I couldn’t stop it was, “She’s a friend.” I regretted those words the moment they were out. The moment I saw Tara’s hurt expression, which she covered up with a nod and a tight smile, averting her eyes, my heart dropped. That little gesture seemed so fucking final. Like a door closing, locking, and I dropped the key.

I wanted to fucking scream. You blew it! You mother-fucking idiot! This was your chance!

Theo, blissfully unaware of my crisis, swooped in with a smooth, “Oh, well, then you can be my girlfriend.” Her brows rose in surprise. A laugh bubbled out of her and I wanted to die. How the fuck was a six-year-old better than me at this? Why am I a fucking hopeless dumbass?

“Sure I can. I wouldn’t say no to such a handsome face.” She pinched his cheek, and Theo, the cheeky little shit, said, “Of course you can’t. I’ll be even better than Pip.” He grinned at her and winked. He winked at her! Tara giggled, not sparing me a peep. “Aren’t you quite a charmer?”

The fuck was that?! Was he spending time with Luca and I didn’t know? I’ll have to nip that in a bud!

The brazen twerp took her hand, guiding her to the couch. “Do you like video games?”

I was ignored, left to gape, playing a flytrap with how unhinged my jaw was.

“Sure, but I’m bad at them.” Tara said, taking a seat on the couch, and Theo joined her.

“Oh, I’ll show you! It’s easy.” He said, delving into the explanation of the game to her. Tara indulged him, nodding, asking questions, but it seemed her mind was elsewhere. Only once did she glance at me and immediately turned away. I hated it.

My phone started ringing, and I answered without checking ID.

A panicked female voice, which I recognized as Olivia, spoke, “Hello, varis Philip?” I flinched at the ridiculous title, meaning heir in an ancient language. The one only the staff in the house used as it was a pompous old tradition my grandfather insisted on. Complete bull-crap. We weren’t heirs of anything except an imperious bloodline and the pressure it carried. None of which fell on me. I was defective. But, Theo…. Seeing him wave his hands around talking to Tara, smiling... carefree, happy… I wished him to always stay that way. And if I had any say in it, I would see to it. I won’t let him turn into David.

“Yeah.”

“Is varis Theodore with you, by any chance?”

“Yeah, I was about to call. He’s at my house. Don’t worry. You can pick him up whenever you want.” But do hurry it up before the Casanova in training steals my girl.

My girl? Not yet, but if I fix my blunder from earlier, then hopefully. If I don’t somehow make it worse.

Olivia sighed, relieved. “Oh, alright. I’ll be there soon. I’ll run some errands and come get him.”

“Sure.”

The next half an hour of my life seemed to pass in slow motion, like a freaking fun times movie montage. Except there were no fun times for me. On edge, with an apology and explanation of my earlier actions churning in my gut, hacking away at my nerves, I couldn’t follow the animated chatterboxes that were Theo and Tara. The duo laughed and giggled, and somehow I wasn’t sure how, but we went from playing games to drawing.

“Tara, do you like it?” Theo beamed at her, showing her his drawing.

“Oh, my! Is this the three of us? How great, you’re very talented.” Tara praised him, ruffling his hair, and he wiggled in his seat with pride, but then his smile fell, his shoulders slumped. “But Marco says I suck at drawing and that the teacher says it’s good only because she feels sorry. Are you just saying it too?”

I frowned at that. “Well, Marco is a jealous little piece of shit. Bet he can’t draw a stick to stuff it up his ass... What?” Both Theo and Tara gaped at me wide eyed. “You shouldn’t cuss Pip, it’s bad manners.”

“Oh, really? Why come here, you sophisticated menace!” I grabbed him in a headlock and gave him a noogie. “In this house we cuss. When you go home you can pretend to be all prim and proper, alright?”

“Okay, okay!” he giggled, squirming, trying to get out of my hold.

“Marco is a big butt crack!”

I let go of him, ruffling his hair for good measure. “Better. We’ll work on your cuss repertoire.”

Tara opened and closed her mouth, not sure if she should join in on the youth corruption going on or scold me, judging by the torn expression on her face

“No one says my kid brother can’t draw when I have proof that says otherwise.” I winked at him and gestured with my thumb over to the kitchen.

“It’s waiting on its frame right now, but that is an impressive picture. Just next time use blue, yellow washes me out.” Tara laughed, shaking her head at me, but holding my gaze for a moment longer this time. And that gave a little hope back to me.

“Oh, you saved it?!” Theo asked, elated, and I nodded. “Of course. Now let me show you something.”

I took a pen and notebook he was drawing in. “Now sit still.” He obeyed but immediately started giggling as I was holding my pen in front of me like some great artist, tongue lolling out at the edge of my mouth, my eyes narrowed, like I was in a deep thought. With brisk, erratic, exaggerated movements that had him laughing, holding his tummy, and Tara chuckling, I drew a stick figure with googly eyes. Then I presented my masterpiece to my judge.

“Now this! This is how sucks looks like!” I announced. “But don’t tell anyone, otherwise I can’t be like the hero you drew.” I tapped the notebook with my pen as he was looking it over, still laughing his little ass off.

“Yeah, you suck big time, Pip!” He toppled over, smacking his knee, cackling.

When the laughter subsided, he took the notebook and asked, “Can I have this?”

“Sure you can.” Plucking the page out, I handed it to him.

“Thanks.”

I caught Tara staring at me, her expression something I couldn’t decipher, nor did I have enough time because Theo got her attention. “Can I have yours too?” He gestured at the weird-looking fuzzball in an explorer hat she drew, which I had to confess looked pretty good, cute even.

“Of course. Here, I entrust Mr. Floof to you. Take good care of him.” She gave him the drawing. He giggled at the name, tucking it in his backpack.

A few minutes later, there was a knock on the door. Olivia came to pick Theo up, and I was proud of him for not throwing a tantrum. But I guess that had more to do with Tara being present.

“I’ll see you on Saturday, bud. And remember, don’t pull this shit again. No climbing down any trees. You tell Olivia to call me.” I looked over at the lithe, middle-aged brunette, who always had kind words and warm smiles for me and my mother. Even though the other staff in that house were less than welcoming. “I’ll go pick you up from preschool, ok?”

“Okay.” Theo nodded, a picture of obedience. “Ooh, can Tara come too? To my birthday party. You can bring her Pip!” He looked so excited at the idea. The three of us tensed, albeit for different reasons. Olivia might have seemed a tad faint.

An event such as this in my family wasn’t a kids’ party. A freaking gala, a parade of all the elite brown noses of Blackwood, and occasional guests from the other four big packs. It was a posh as fuck thing. It had little to do with celebrating and a lot to do with pack business. And a human barging in… That would be an inconvenience.

“Oh, um…” Tara fidgeted, troubled, eyes darting between me, Olivia, and Theo. He was blasting his cute pouty face at her and she crumbled under the pressure of it. Unable to outright reject him, she promised him with an awkward smile, “Um.. sure. I’ll be sure to make it.”

“Oh, great!” He hugged her, then waved her closer to him as if he was about to whisper something. Instead, that little player kissed her cheek. “See you on Saturday!” He yelled, waving back at surprised, chuckling Tara and me as he ran down the porch. Olivia nodded at us and followed the paragon of Mr. steal your girl that was my six-year-old brother.

As the car drove away, and I closed the door, it was only the two of us again. Alone, standing in the foyer. The tension was through the roof, heavy in the air, depriving lungs of oxygen. Tara stared at her feet, pulling on the hem of her shirt, and I could hear and see her pulse beating erratically in the pale column of her neck, almost in sync with mine.

Palms sweaty, throat drier than sand, I cleared it to settle my mind, wiping my palms on my sweatpants. But she lifted her eyes to mine, jump starting my nerves as she gave me an awkward, tight-lipped smile, “Um… Theo’s adorable. You are very good with him. You’re a good big brother. Well, if we scratch the cussing lessons,” she laughed nervously, pulling on an end of a strand of her hair, focusing her gaze on it. A few beats of silence passed, and she heaved a heavy sigh, her hand dropping to her side, and a nervous chuckle spilled out of her.

“Damn it. I’m stalling,… Um… You know, my grandma always used to say stress was a silent killer. That it takes years of your life, and to avoid it, express yourself properly to others, communicate. It took about 3-5 years off me now. But my point is, the one that I have been avoiding by going in circles now and digressing is… Are we friends, Philip?” She emphasized the word friends, looking me straight in the eye. Her candidness, even in this roundabout manner, surprised me, leaving me slack jawed.

“Um.. No, no we are not friends... Wait... That’s…” I groaned, running both hands through my hair in frustration. Squatting, I pulled on the messy strands before I covered my face with my palms. “Dear fuck, I suck at this! Even Theo has better game than I do, for fuck’s sake! I’m sorry...” I felt Tara squatting next to me and peered at her through my fingers. There was a teeny tiny amused smile on her face as she tilted her head, crossing and resting her hands on her knees. “So, we aren’t friends?”

I covered my face again like a freaking girl in a teen drama, embarrassed. “No. I mean, yes we are, but… But I want more...” I got my primate brain to roll those words out in a semi-coherent way. “I’m sorry I blurted shit out like that earlier.”

Warm fingers pulled my hands away from my heated face, and I dared a peek at her. And there it was. That radiant dimpled smile. I almost sighed at the relief of being in its graces again. Granted, she could still tell me to go fuck myself.

She held my hands, squeezing lightly before she placed them on the sides of her face, nuzzling into my palms. “Okay. I’ll forgive you. I also want more.” My heart soared at that and the soft look in her eyes. “You’re so cute when you’re embarrassed, Crabby Pants.”

I frowned, pulling her closer, muffling her giggle at my expression with my mouth.

“I’m not cute.” I said against her lips, resting my forehead on hers, eliciting another giggle from her, “Yeah, you are. Boop.”

“Did you just boop my nose with yours?”

“Yep.”

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