I lay in bed and just think about all of the things I had experienced over the last couple of hours. I think of my goodbye with Steven, and for the first time thinking about him doesn't cause a streak of pain across my heart. I will always miss him, but now I can allow myself to miss him while also moving on with my life. This goodbye was exactly what I needed to be able to put him to rest. We had needed this, to have one last peaceful moment after his violent end. So we could both remember the happiness our friendship had brought and all of the things that we had meant to each other.
I stand and stretch my limbs, the slight cracking of my back a satisfying sensation after hours of stress and depression. I brush my hair out of my face and glance down at the length of my body. I am still wearing Ryker's shirt, but I had thrown on a pair of plaid pajama bottoms before crawling into bed last night.
I quickly pull a pair of leggings out of my suitcase and swap them for my pajama pants. I follow by lacing my sneakers snugly onto my feet and pulling my hair up into a sloppy ponytail. Once I am ready, I check my phone on my dresser before grabbing it and my headphones.
I make my way to the door, and pause to listen quietly. I smile at the sound of Ryker's deep breathing on the other side of the door. Slowly, carefully, I pull the door open.
Ryker slumps to the ground, but thankfully doesn't wake up. I hesitate for a second before gently stepping over him, careful not to brush him as I go. I practically skip down the stairs- feeling lighter than I have in years- and make my way into the kitchen.
Silently, I make a pot of coffee and grab a pop tart from the box Arrow had shown me weeks ago. After I have my breakfast in hand, I sneak down to the basement to squeeze in a run before the rest of the house wakes up.
I pull the treadmill out of its hidden compartment with some difficulty, as the machine snags on another more complicated machine when I tug. After a moment of struggle though, I successfully lay out the treadmill and start running.
I get lost in the quiet humming of the machine, the soft burning of my muscles and the steady thrum of the music in my ears, and for the first time in a long time I run because I like it instead of running for my life.
"Time to get ready for school!" Ryker booms behind me. I jump and practically slide off the treadmill in surprise.
"Jesus!" I scream. I'd been so focused I hadn't heard him come down. I rip my headphones out of my ears and hop off the treadmill, turning to glance at the intruder.
Ryker's expression is unreadable when I turn to him. He has his massive arms folded across his chest, and he is wearing the same clothes he'd had on when I'd stepped over him this morning. His eyebrows are furrowed and he is frowning down at me.
I smile at him before turning back to face the machine to flick it off.
"Leave it," he grumbles when I start to fold it back up, "I'll put it away." I frown but do as he asks, turning and walking around him. He stops me by grabbing my arm.
"Sorry for scaring you," he mumbles. I smile brightly at him. "It's ok" I breathe. I reach up and squeeze the hand that still lays on my arm before dropping my grip and trying to walk away once again.
"Why didn't you wake me up?" I pause this time because of his words.
"This Morning?" I question. He nods.
"I just wanted to run a little. Didn't think it was worth disturbing you." He narrows his eyes and takes a step closer to me.
"I was worried." He grumbles. I frown and he sighs. "The last time you disappeared while I was sleeping... you walked home and tried to cut us out of your life." I purse my lips and reach for his hand. He lets me grip it but his face doesn't relax.
"I'm sorry..." I whisper. He shivers, but says nothing. "I w-wasn't thinking. But you don't have to worry." I reach up with my other hand to trace the length of his face from his temple to his chin.
"I'm ok." I breathe. His gaze becomes unreadable, and my heart takes off in my chest. He reaches up and brushes a loose piece of hair from my face, and finishes by cupping my chin in his hand. I feel my face flush for some reason, and his lips curve up ever so slightly. He leans a little closer to me, and without thinking about it I turn and run away.
Behind me, he chuckles like he knows the reason I am sprinting away from him, even though I don't really.
I can't stop the smile that breaks across my face at the sound of his laugh. In fact, the smile keeps its place until after I'd hopped out of the shower, after I'd dressed for school, and after I'd sunk into the front seat of Ryker's massive black truck.
Hours later, we are sitting outside of Mr. Daemente's chemistry class, squeezing a few last moments of studying in before the exam. Well, I'm studying.
Ryker is busy flicking back and forth in his textbook, scribbling things on random pages. I am watching in amusement between questions, seeing him writing things like "turn to page 123" and "now turn to page 7". I smile and laugh when he twists the book to show me his little doodles.
"Ryker!" I whisper, calling for his attention. He smirks but keeps his focus on his pages. I scoot closer to him and whisper his name again. He glances up at me and rolls his eyes, finally giving into the urge to smile at me. I return the look and pull his textbook out of his hands and closer to me. He laughs as I flick over the pages he's done. Once I've read through them all, I roll my eyes and grab my eraser. Ryker protests as each sentence starts to vanish.
"Hey you're ruining it!" He whispers, catching my hands in his.
"That's the point." I murmur back, tugging on my hands. He threads his fingers through mine, stopping me from pulling away.
"It would have been a really great waste of time for whoever has this book next." He whispers to me, flicking his eyes down to where our hands are connected. I roll my eyes and squeeze his fingers.
"Well now it's just a waste of time for you!" I whisper back. He smiles brighter at me.
"You're the best kind of time wasting." He pushes into my mind. Immediately, my face flushes bright red and I rip my hands out of his. He chuckles but lets me go.
"Red looks good on you...." he pushes into my mind again, making my face burn hotter. He leans towards me, eyes flicking between my lips and eyes. I gulp but hold still, my own eyes betraying me to drift down to his full Cupid's bow lips.
"Am I interrupting something?" Mr Daemente rumbles above us. I gasp, my mouth falling open in surprise before quickly dropping the look and turning to face the teacher. Ryker does the same.
"Nothing, sir." I smile as best I can at him, and he narrows his eyes briefly before turning to Ryker.
"I think you might just be a bad influence, Mr. Cardinal. Perhaps I should split the two of you up." Ryker rolls his eyes and stands so he is taller than the teacher.
"I don't think that would be necessary, Sir." He spits the words out, voice mocking. Mr Daemente rolls his eyes before turning to his classroom.
"I would have hoped you'd be paying more attention to your notes, Ms. Romans. You never know what you're missing when your head is clouded by young men."
I scowl and focus down on my notebook, feeling like there is something more to the man's words, but unable to find any hidden meaning.
Two weeks pass and with each day I feel stronger.
My stutter falls away, only resurfacing when Arrow would tease me about my connection with Ryker, or when someone would catch us staring at each other.
Because we were, a lot.
I am finding it harder and harder to refrain from touching him, and my wolf is no help. We track his every movement and almost every time we'd start staring at him, he would slowly turn to return the look. The air would spark between us and it always feels like there is an invisible rubber band wrapped around us, drawing us together.
It is worse when we train. I'd joined in on the pack training regiment when I'd moved in, learning how to defend myself as a wolf. But as I got stronger, and my wolf in turn got stronger, the urge to press myself into Ryker's side and never leave got stronger too.
"Andy! Pay attention!" Alpha Cardinal roars from his spot in the field. I'd been focused on Ryker- he'd taken his shirt off not two meters from me! I couldn't be blamed.
"S-Sorry Alpha!" I call back, shaking my head to get the images my wolf is pushing at me out of my brain. I focus back on Arrow with narrowed eyes.
"Don't." I growl. She smirks and shrugs her shoulders at me. We are sparring in our human forms- or rather we're supposed to be but I had gotten distracted once again.
"If you'd rather spar with my brother-" I cut her quiet teasing off with a growl and kick out at her left side. She dodges easily, dancing out of my reach.
"I'm just saying it seems you can't keep your eyes off him. Might be an easier target for you to hit." I snap forward and strike her square in the stomach, catching her by surprise. She winces but dances out of reach before I can strike her again.
"I don't" I pause to kick at her again, "want to be near your brother!" I hiss, mindful of the volume.
They are only a few feet away from us and while he is currently focused on Rowan.. One wrong word and he'd catch on to what we're whispering about. She smirks at me and glances over her shoulder, allowing me to move closer with her distraction. She snaps her head back at me before I can connect though, and aims her own attack at my legs. I dance away from her, my years of ballet aiding my speed and balance.
"That's too bad," she pauses to smirk at me again before launching herself towards me. I dance away again but she distracts me by whispering into my mind.
"Cause he wants to be near you." My jaw drops in shock at the accompanying image she flashes at me. It's from a few days ago, when Ryker and I had once again gotten lost in each other's eyes. We'd automatically gravitated towards one another, and the air between us is practically non-existent. My wolf pants in my head, enjoying the memory of just how close he'd been. Arrow takes advantage of my distraction, striking me in the ribs with two quick fists. I growl in pain and frustration, whirling around.
I catch her arms as she tries to twist away and yank her towards me. Her eyes grow wide as I tug us both to the ground, pinning her beneath my smaller frame. She hadn't expected me to catch her.
"You are so frustrating." I growl. She smirks up at me, not even trying to kick me off of her.
"I'm pretty sure what's frustrating you is not being draped around my brother." I growl down at her again and she laughs louder at me.
"Everything ok?" Ryker rumbles behind me, and instantly I freeze. Arrow laughs impossibly louder at the look on my face, no doubt sheer panic. She rolls us gently so I am laying beside her, and I let my eyes drift shut before they start tracing the ridges of Ryker's abs that are no doubt within grabbing distance from the sound of his voice.
"We're fine bro. Andy finally got the drop on me, that's all." She taps my arm and I growl in her direction. She only giggles in response.
"Are you ok Andy?" He rumbles to me, closer than before. I close my eyes tighter.
"I'm fine." I squeak. It feels like he is waiting for me to open my eyes, but I can't. Not with the graphic images that my wolf is salivating over in my mind. I can feel my cheeks heating up but ignore it, instead listening to hear if Ryker is going to walk away.
Sadly, he doesn't.
"Are you... mad at me or something?" He murmurs, and I feel him sink into the grass beside me.
My eyes fly open in shock. "No!" I practically yell. I blush brighter before directing my gaze to his face. And ONLY his face. "No I'm fine." I clear my throat before turning to look for Arrow. She smiles wickedly at me before standing up.
"We were just talking about how Andy should spar with you, Ryker." She smiles cruelly at me and I glare in return.
"With me?" I gulp at the sound of his voice. He sounds confused, and there is a hint of something else... something I don't want to identify.
"T-that's ok. I'm s-sure you're b-busy." I rush out, desperate for him to say no and walk away. Touching him with my current wolf's thoughts is a bad idea. Even if that touching is meant to be an attack.
"No," he clears his throat, "no I think we should spar. Give you a chance to practice on a stronger opponent."
"Hey!" Arrow squeals, outraged at his insinuation that she is weak. I force a smile and hold in my groan of defeat.
"O-ok." I breathe, pushing myself to standing. I clear my throat and keep my focus on his face as he stands as well.
"Go spar with Rowan, Arrow." Ryker's voice is rough, leaving no room for argument. She whines but slowly retreats, leaving me completely alone with her very hot brother. I gulp but remind myself to keep it professional.
We're sparring, that's it. I remind myself. My wolf purrs in my chest, flashing images of Ryker's arms wrapped around my waist, holding my against his shirtless chest. I shiver but otherwise don't respond to the image.
Ryker stares at me, contemplating. I stare back. I refuse to look anywhere but his face, choosing to focus on the skin of his cheek rather than his eyes. I know from experience that if I look in his eyes I would be a goner. This sparring match would quickly go from violence to other more.... inappropriate activities.
Suddenly, he snaps towards me. I rip myself backwards away from him faster than I can breathe, dancing out of his reach. Somewhere on the field around us I hear twin laughter from Arrow and Rowan. My jaw twitches but I otherwise ignore them.
Ryker snaps forwards again, and again I dance away.
He growls at me, and I fight the shiver that tries to dance down my spine at the powerful sound. I straighten my spine, resolved. I just know that the minute his skin touches mine I'd be done for. It is better to not let him lay a hand on me.
The dance continues for several moments, until I start getting out of breath and I can see a bead of sweat dripping down Ryker's face. He has growled a few more times, no doubt growing frustrated with my continued avoidance.
"You do know the point of the spar is to take down your opponent, not run away from Them, right?" Rowan calls from his spot on the sidelines. It seems that he and Arrow had never started their own match, preferring to stare at ours. I growl at him at the same time that Ryker does.
"You haven't tried to hit me once." He growls, surprising me by sweeping into my mind. Stunned, I just stare at him, still moving gracefully away from him. He stills all of a sudden, face turning a deep red. I stop moving too, confused- and then gasp in realization.
He is in my mind. He can see what I am thinking about- or more specifically what my horny wolf is thinking about. I turn and sprint away, dodging other sparing pairs and heading to the woods. He curses and then I can feel him chasing after me, exciting my wolf. I growl at her and push her away. I'm not ready for what she wants to happen, and now he is going to think.... I shake off the thought.
I can feel that he is hot on my heels. My wolf barks in my mind, enjoying the chase too much. I push myself faster, desperate to reach the tree line. I break through fifteen seconds before he does and immediately sprint between trees.
"Andy!" He growls, closer to me than I had hoped. I feel his hands reaching for me and drop to the ground, rolling out of reach. I jump back to my feet and shoot away, back towards the training grounds.
Behind me, Ryker growls. He had continued running past me, not expecting me to dodge and turn. I smile at my bright idea and continue fleeing.
I push my legs faster, but I can still hear him close behind me. Without thought I shift into my wolf form, running faster as soon as my front paws hit the ground. My wolf whines at me to take over, but I force her back. If she was in charge we'd stop running. I'd only taken this form to get away. I shoot off, weaving between the pack members and only growling at the twin idiots that have collapsed where I'd left them, laughing so hard tears are falling down their cheeks.
"Andy!" He screams again, further back but still too close for comfort. I ignore him again, sprinting off Into the opposite woods.
I run and run and run until the pack is far behind me, and until I am sure that Ryker has given up. I can't hear him behind me anymore, thank god. He'd stopped somewhere after I'd slipped into the forest again, apparently deciding that whatever he had been planning to do when he caught me could wait. For that I am thankful.
I stop sprinting straight out and take stock of my surroundings. I recognize this area- I'm not too far from my home. Deciding to check on the place, I jog in that direction.
A minute later I break through the trees and enter my backyard. Immediately, my hackles raise. The scent of blood is everywhere- fresh blood. I follow the scent, listening for any sounds around me but nothing stirs. Anger, sadness and fear rip at my insides.
The scent is coming from inside the house. I growl and sniff at the back door. There is only one scent- a wolf I have never met that matches the scent of the blood.
I reach into the pack link and call for Alpha Cardinal. He responds immediately.
"You'd better bring a team to my house," I sniff some more. "I'm p-pretty sure there's a body inside." His growl rips through my mind, causing me to shiver and bow my head.
"Are you inside?" He seethes.
"No, I'm at the back door. I can smell blood, a lot of blood. And something is telling me that there's a wolf in there, but I can't hear a heartbeat." I whisper back.
"Stay there. We'll be there soon." With that the connection cuts off. I sink onto my haunches, and sniff around again, checking for any other signs around me. The normal scents of my home are there, my neighbors at their homes a ways away. But no new scents other than this one wolf's. Desperation is clawing at me, but I push it back. There will be time to fall apart later.
Something hits the ground in front of me, startling me. I drop my eyes to it and ice drips into my veins.
Laying in the grass in front of me is a small piece of paper. It is the same as the last two notes. The handwriting is the same. I search the air around me, but like last time no one is there. I sniff the paper but there is no scent other than the card stock and ink.
I lean my head down so I can clearly see the words and immediately feel myself shake and tears pour down my face.
It would do you good to remember
just who you belong to, Andromeda.