"Alpha Ben. You remember my beta Thomas, My Gamma Derek and my Delta Clarke."
"Of course. Nice to see you boys again. You remember my Beta Nick, my Gamma Bruce and my son Ryker?" There is a chorus of hellos from the other screen.
"What's this all about, Alpha Cardinal? We haven't been told anything other than to come quickly, and to bring my mate." This must be Clarke, then. His voice is smoky and fierce. Over the computer screen, Alpha Cardinal runs his eyes over my stiff form. He brings his attention back to the screen.
"We need some information regarding an individual that we believe has a connection with your pack." I grit my teeth.
"I don't understand what you mean or what it has to do with my mate." Clarke practically spits. Alpha Cardinal releases a quiet growl, and there's a rumbling on the other side of the screen. "Calm, Clarke." Ajax humms. He growls but says nothing further.
"It has to do with her brother." Ryker speaks up.
"I have no brother." The words are sharp and broken. Her voice is musical, lilting and airy. If it had been from anyone else I might have even called it comforting.
"I don't think that's entirely correct..." Alpha Cardinal responds.
"We need some information about Seth Meyers." Ryker cuts in again. Multiple growls echo through the speaker. "We have done some research and it seems that he knows about werewolves."
"So you just decided to call us and bring up all of the pain and suffering my mate has been through for the last year?" Clarke roars.
Ryker straightens his spine and hardens his jaw.
"Suffering? You think your mate has been suffering? Was your mate beaten and starved, tortured and terrorized for months on end? Was your mate abducted from her life, pushed into handcuffs and forced to endure the sounds of her loved one being brutalized? Was your mate hunted and stalked and gutted like a fish? Was your mate bathed in the blood of her partner and left to rot in a cement hell hole unsure if her torturer would return before her insides splashed onto the floor?" He seethes; each word cuts into my heart. I hadn't known he knew so much. "Your mate doesn't know suffering. That poor girl her brother mutilated was suffering. The woman he nearly killed knows suffering. The man he did kill, knows suffering. Your mate might know pain, but she also knows the reasons for his madness. The least you can do is answer our goddamn questions."
Ryker is shaking so badly that I can see it from here. His father places his hand on his shoulder and both men haul in a deep breath together.
"What do you want to know?" Alpha Ajax calls out.
His voice sounds solemn. He sounds like a young man now, no longer the confident alpha we'd been listening to before.
"Everything." Alpha Cardinal orders. "Start at the beginning."
There is a sniffle through the speaker, and then shuffling. A woman clears her throat- Kelly.
"Ok." She breathes. "I'll tell you whatever you want.... just please, don't call him my brother." She chokes out.
"Why?" Beta Deacon questions.
"He's a monster." She whimpers. "And I don't want anyone to connect me to him. Not after everything he did."
Ryker flicks his eyes up to me. It seems that he believes her. I roll my eyes. This could just be a story to get us to let our guards down.
"Seth and I share a father, but have different mothers. I was born six years before him, and my parents split up shortly after dad met Seth's mom. My dad was a drinker.... He met Seth's mom through rehab when my mom forced him to go. They had Seth not too long after my parents split and he was immediately removed from their care. Seth's mom hadn't stayed sober during the pregnancy, and he came out addicted to crack and some other things. My mom offered to raise him alongside me, after he was clean and able to be sent home. My dad hadn't wanted that, but Child Protective Services thought it was a good idea, so Seth came to live with us." Kelly pauses and I hear someone whispering comforting words to her. I focus back on my breathing as she starts up again.
"When Seth was 11, his mom got clean enough to fool the court system, and she was awarded custody. It started off part time, but eventually Seth moved out to live with his mom and dad. I'd make special visits to see him and make sure he was doing ok, but there was a lot of damage being done by his family."
"What do you mean?" Alpha Cardinal interrupts.
"I mean... he was being beaten, I think. And he wasn't really being fed because he lost all this weight and you could see his bones poking through. And he looked like he never slept. But whenever I would ask him what was going on he would tell me that he was fine, that this is what love is." She sniffs again. "I should have known then that he was being messed up beyond belief. But I didn't say anything and so he stayed in that house." I hear her shuffle and I wonder briefly what she is doing on the other side of the screen. I shake off the thought and focus back on my breathing to keep it steady while she talks.
"A couple of years passed, and when I was 22, and Seth was 16, I met Clarke." At the mention of her mate, some of the sadness leaches out of her voice. "And he started chasing after me and pursuing me. Eventually we started dating and I introduced him to my family, Seth included. Seth got... really weird after he met Clarke."
"Weird how?" Ryker rumbles.
"Weird, Like he watched him constantly, not in a curious way, or even in a protective brotherly way, but like he was trying to figure out what he was thinking when he looked at me. And he would do things like trace his eyes along the places where we touched, and he always seemed so... angry about it. After a couple of weeks I confronted him, because he was acting cold and distraught whenever Clarke was around, or if he was even mentioned." She pauses, lost in thought.
"What did Seth say when you confronted him?" John questions.
"He said he didn't understand how someone could act the way Clarke does with me. He said he treated me like glass, like I was something precious rather than controlling my movements or forcing me into submission when I was wrong." She sniffs. "I asked him if his parents did that stuff to him and he said 'well that's love'. I cried and told him that that stuff isn't love. Love is being kind and patient, love is support and warmth and fluttering butterflies and sparks whenever your skin meets the person you're meant for." her voice gets higher as she starts crying, but she presses on. "I told him how I felt about Clarke, and how Clarke showed me he felt about me and explained that this connection is true love. We talked for a really long time, and at the end of it we decided that Seth was going to move back in with me and my mom, so he could get away from his abusive parents." She sniffs again and someone whispers soothing words to her again. Her voice cleares again, as her tears get back under her control."But it was too late, clearly. His mind was twisted. I mean, You know what he did to that poor woman....." she whispers.
Ryker flicks his eyes to mine, checking if I am ok. My heart splinters at the gesture, half of me feeling comfort and the other half screaming for this to stop.
"How did Seth find out about werewolves?" Alpha Cardinal brings us back to the main point of the call.
"Our bad decision, unfortunately." Ajax sighs.
"When Clarke asked me for permission to bring Kelly into our world, I agreed without hesitation. Human mates are allowed to know about us, as you know. She took it well, all things considered. And after a few weeks, Clarke and Kelly got engaged and he marked her."
"We found out after he marked me that I had a relative that was a wolf. My grandfather." Kelly continues.
"You shifted?" Alpha Cardinal sounds surprised.
"Yes," I hear her shifting and figure she is probably nodding, "surprisingly enough. It was incredibly painful and completely unexpected, but as far as we can tell from our research I had enough latent werewolf genes that when Clarke marked me it brought them forward and turned me."
"Does Seth Share this grandfather?" Ryker growls. I freeze.
Could he be supernatural as well as completely unhinged?
"No. He was my mother's grandfather. Seth is completely human, as far as we can tell." I release my breath.
"But when She shifted, we thought we'd better check into Seth's past, just in case the same thing might happen to him. Part of that was our decision to bring him into our world." Alpha Ajax finishes.
"So you explained everything to him? The shifting, the pack, the mates?" Alpha Cardinal speaks up.
"Yes. We accepted him into our pack and taught him about all of our ways. But when we explained about Kelly and her shift....." Alpha Ajax winces in the back of his throat. "He thought we were going to change him as well." Kelly finishes.
"He got so excited, thinking that we were going to make him stronger and faster and more resilient. He kept saying that no one would hurt him after he was a wolf. When we explained that he wasn't going to change, that I only had because of the mate bond and the recessive genes he got really sad, but accepted it."
"Well we thought he'd accepted it." Alpha Ajax growls.
"What do you mean?" Ryker glances back over the screen at me as I shudder. I know what they mean- He'd gone off the deep end.
"A couple months after Seth became a part of our pack weird things started happening. Young unmated females reported that they kept feeling like they were being watched, and some reported that they'd had clothes of theirs and other personal items stolen. They also complained about their rooms being rifled through but there was never a scent that told us who it could be. I ordered that no unmated female was to be out alone after dark to protect them. Seth started volunteering to walk them home after pack meetings, and wouldn't come back after. He also started acting really suspicious, in hindsight. He would come around smelling like developing material for photographs, and the forest around us, or a slight cleaning solution. He would miss pack meals or call Kelly and say he'd be late because he had a date but his car would still be on pack grounds. Finally," Alpha Ajax growls.
"We found him camped out in a tree a few hundred feet from the bedroom window of one of our pack members. He had an extremely fancy camera pointed at the window, and while we were investigating what he was doing we saw she walked out of her bathroom in a towel, dropped it and continued on to her drawers. When we went to his house we found stacks of photographs of each of the unmated women of the pack. He'd been taking pictures of them for weeks, and we found the door to his basement locked. When we broke the door open it was obviously a dark room, but it reeked of semen and bleach. Stacks of the photos had obviously been used while he was... pleasuring himself. When we went upstairs, We found a journal as well, with detailed schedules for each of the women and a grading system that Ranked each woman in order of his preference. We also found all of the missing clothes and trinkets under his bed, covered in semen."
My heart is fluttering with how fast it is beating. I am struggling to catch my breath, and the floor is spinning beneath me.
Is this what he did when he followed me? All the months on tour, in each city where I would have flowers delivered to my hotel room suite, was he watching? Did he capture pictures of me while I'd been showering? Did he sneak off with the things that I'd previously thought were just misplaced, forgotten in a frenzy of packing? Did he lay in bed at night and fondle the things I had worn?
My skin crawls and I feel myself slipping. Images of him standing over my bed while I sleep, of him standing just outside of my bedroom while I change, of him slipping his pale fingers up and down the skin of my stomach and thighs while I dream flash in front of me, making me blind.
"Ryker!" Someone screams, but they sound so far away. Everything is closing in on me, spinning wildly. Air refuses to enter my lungs and I feel myself fading, but I fight it- I can't slip into the darkness this time because I know he's waiting there for me.
I can't face him right now, so I struggle to push the blackness away.
"Andy! Look at me, Andy. I've got you."
As brown eyes drift into my blurry vision, air reluctantly makes its way into my lungs. Immediately, I start screaming.
I fling myself backwards out of my chair, toppling it over. My arms and legs flail around me- not under my control. Something smacks against my side but I can't turn my head to look. My screams echo around me and I find myself lurching away from the sound, trying to escape this feeling. Terror grips me and I feel the blackness leak further into my consciousness.
"She's gotta calm down or she's going to hurt herself!" Someone screams. My vision fades completely, darkness seeping in. Terror has me in its grip and won't let me go. I scream louder, and fight to get away from the searching fingers I can feel tugging at my chest and hips. Phantom freezing metal dances along my bones and I scream louder.
My skin feels like it's on fire everywhere he touches me. His laugh floats to me and I whip in the other direction, desperate to escape.
"Andy!" I roll away from the voice, hitting my head against something solid and cold. Pain ricochets through my skull but I can't stop- something else is controlling me.
"Get away!" I scream. Ghost fingers dance along my chest and I fight for control of my arms to push them off. I rake my hands across every inch of skin I can reach. I hear material tearing and feel a rush of pain along my chest but can't bring myself to stop.
"Get off of me! Leave me alone!" I cry. I twist and yank myself away, smashing my head against the cold surface again. I feel fingers trying to catch my own but my arms move too quickly, too wildly to let them get any purchase.
"We need to get her out of here. She needs space before she puts her head through the wall. Ryker, Take her to the basement." Someone orders, their voice just reaching me past the screaming I know is my own.
"Andy..." someone breathes against me. I feel my hand collide with warm skin, and a hiss meets my ears.
"Get him off me" I beg, "Seth No! Someone PLEASE!" Someone whimpers somewhere around me and I flail away again.
Solid fingers wrap around my wrist, and I try to rip myself away. My wolf whimpers inside me- I feel her try to push against the other worldly fear that is controlling me, but it is too strong. I can't feel anything beyond this endless blackness and mind numbing terror. She whimpers again and tries to rip the control, but I feel someone brush against me and any ground she's managed to get snaps back away from her. Arms wrap around my legs and pin me against something broad and warm.
"DON'T TOUCH ME. Someone please. My God don't let him take me again!" Another set of hands presses against my back and I scream again, agony ripping through my skin. "Andy I've got you, it's me...."
"HELP ME" I scream. Arms twist me so I am flush against a firm body. I struggle to get away, twisting and pulling everything I can. I feel my hands smacking against something hard and whip them in the other direction as fast as I can.
"Andy." Someone roughs out. They press their forehead against mine at the same second, and something in my brain clicks. I feel my wolf surge forward, taking advantage of whatever has just sparked through me, and suddenly I am in the back of my own mind. Fear and misery clutches me, but my wolf holds her position.
Pain starts to register, and I feel my eyes drift closed.
After a second, my wolf blinks them open and I can see again. Warm brown eyes stare down into my own, and I realize it is Ryker, not Seth, I have been struggling so hard against. The instant I recognize him, my wolf hands me back control with a whimper.
I sag against him, suddenly exhausted. My breathing changes and my screaming cuts out. I shift to press my eyes into Ryker's chest and he holds me tighter.
"Welcome back." Alpha Cardinal speaks from somewhere behind Ryker. I struggle to lift my head up and Ryker rolls me in his arms to help. Alpha Cardinal is frowning when I am finally able to see him.
"I.... I'm s-sorry" I whimper. It takes all of my strength to speak. Surprise shoots across his face.
"Whatever for dear?" I let my eyes drift shut, not answering. After a silent moment, he sighs. I hear footsteps drifting away from our spot on the floor, and after a second someone climbs the stairs. I figure Alpha Cardinal has left us alone, probably going to deal with the aftermath of my panic attack.
"Is everyone a-alright?" I whisper as soon as we're alone.
"Everyone else is fine, but you've got some pretty serious gouges...." Ryker's breath hits my face and I focus on the feel to keep my mind from straying back to the darkness I'd narrowly escaped. I blink up at him and he sighs.
Carefully, he slides his hands away from where they are wrapped around my arms and gestures towards my stomach.
"You scratched yourself up." I lower my gaze to see what he means, and gasp.
My shirt is in tatters and blood coats my skin. My entire torso is sliced in shallow ribbons, evenly spaced from my fingers. I try not to dwell on the pain; too scared that it would send me spiralling again.
"S-Sorry..." I breathe again. Ryker gently lifts my chin so I am looking at him again.
"You scared me." He breathes. Tears are welling up behind his eyes, and my breath catches. I force my right arm to lift and brush against his cheek. He leans into my hand.
"I couldn't feel you... it was like you were so lost in yourself your soul disappeared.."
"I-I'm Sorry." I whisper. He leans down to press his forehead to mine. My hand drops from his cheeks and I let my eyes drift shut. I focus on matching my breathing to his.
"I was so scared you weren't going to come back to me." "I wasn't s-sure I would be able to f-find my way out either..."
We sit like that in silence for a few minutes, the both of us needing the other for comfort after that whole ordeal. Ryker traces his arms up and down along my back, and I sink into the feeling. Warm fingers dance along my spine sending sparks down to my toes.
"Andy...." Ryker breathes. I nod against him to let him know I am listening.
"Whenever you're ready, I have to go back and talk to Ajax and his pack." I shudder against him, and he rubs his hands up and down my back again.
"They were still on the line when the attack started, and although my dad closed the computer I'm sure that they heard enough to cause questions."
"They are g-going to find out who I am." I say, positive of this. I feel Ryker shake his head.
"I'm not sure what we're going to do, but if you don't want them to know, we won't tell them. But Andy... I don't think they're the ones helping Seth." I haul in a deep breath.
"How can you be sure?" I whisper.
"It's just a feeling. From how angry they all were with the mistreatment of their pack mates, and the way they're talking about him, I don't think they're helping him to hurt you. And how sad they all looked when I was talking about all of the things that you went through." I suck in a deep breath and open my eyes.
"I d-didn't know you knew so much." He presses a kiss to my forehead. "You dream about it a lot..." I sniff and a tear falls. "You s-see my dreams?" He leans his forehead back down to mine. "Not on purpose. Sometimes they're just so bad... and my wolf wants to help calm you." I frown and he sighs. "I'm the only one that can see them." He whispers. I shake my head. "Why?" "It's the mate bond. Your wolf knows I can help, and she's been reaching out subconsciously."
"I'm s-sorry about that."I push away from his grip and wipe my face dry. He sighs again. "I'm not. I don't want you to suffer." I sniff. "And I d-didn't want you to hurt." He grips my chin and tilts my head back up. "I was hurting even before I knew what I do. At least now I know what I'm fighting against." I sob and he holds me to his chest again.
After I calm down again, I think back to what he's said about the Midnight Rising pack. I pull back from the safety of his arms and stand up. I glance down at my chest and stomach and feel relieved when the wounds are already almost healed. I glance back to Ryker and force a deep steadying breath.
"L-let's go then."
"You don't have to, if it's too much for you..." he breathes. I square my jaw and offer him my hand.
"N-no. I need to h-hear the rest of w-what they have to say. I need to s-step up and face this." He nods and reaches up to grab my hand. He stands fluidly then tugs me into his arms.
"I'll sit beside you then, and we'll do this together." I give him a weak smile.