Chapter 1 - Jana's Insight

Maddy wasn't sure why she was even going. What's the point? She's just as sad as me. No… sadder. The young she-wolf didn't want to prove that awful cliché, 'Misery loves company.' She kept telling herself that's not why she was going. Yet the more sensible part of her kept insisting that she was being melodramatic and should just turn back anyway.

What if Mam and Dad wake up and notice I'm gone? The sickle-shaped shard of the moon hung low in the night sky like a lop-sided smile, as if to say 'Don't worry.' The smell of the woods calmed Maddy's wolf as she ducked below a branch right before it smacked her in the face.

There it was. Finally. Jana's mobile home. In the daylight Jana's little dwelling looked pathetic, rundown. Here at night though, framed with the eerie glint of moonlight and embraced by all the shadows, it looked more like a secret hideout—like someplace that might even hold hidden treasure.

"Jana?" As Maddy neared, she could hear Jana's sobbing, it didn't take a wolfblood's hearing to puzzle that out. And why shouldn't Jana? She'd lost her dad today. She'd had to fight off her own dad and side with her best mates over him. She'd sided with Maddy to protect Rhydian, and for that Maddy was in so many ways grateful. I was right about Jana. She's all right. She cares about Rhydian. Sometimes TOO MUCH her jealous wolf-self grumbled, but there it was.

"Jana?" the brunette rapped on the door again, but still no movement. Just more sobbing.

A less stubborn person might have left well enough alone, but Maddy Smith and stubborn went together like frosting and donuts. Maddy perched on her tiptoes to see through the window to confirm it was Jana, then to rap on the glass. She wobbled—her foot slipped on a loose rock.

"AAAHHH!"

With a yelp Maddy pitched sideways. It was too late when Maddy saw the patch of mud yawn to swallow her up. She landed smack-dab in the middle of it, and even though the soft mud cushioned her fall, it also covered the left side of her face, plus all down the left side of her shirt and trousers with a generous coating of muck. Maddy felt like mashed potatoes covered with her Mum's awful gravy.

The door to the mobile lurched open. Jana jumped out, shocked, concerned, mouth agape before she could cover it with a hand.

"Maddy?! Are you all right?" She helped Maddy up, temporarily amused as Maddy sputtered and coughed out a piece of dirt.

"Maddy, it's after midnight. What are ya doin' here? Never mind that, just come inside. I may not have much, but I do have towels…and a bucket of water. I was going to do laundry, but you look like you need the help more than my clothes do."

"Thanks." Luckily it was too dark for Jana to see the flaming-red blush on Maddy's face. The brunette let her friend help her up the front step. Inside, Jana was careful to hold Maddy's mud-splattered hair away from the rest of her face while Maddy wiped off. She then helped Maddy clean her hair before getting Maddy a change of clothes. A simple T-shirt two sizes too big and joggers was all she could scrounge up on such short notice.

"Where'd you get the shirt?" Maddy asked. The shirt had a wolf howling in a noble yet forbidding pose, with a blood-red moon looming in the background.

"Rhydian lent it to me," Jana shrugged. Immediately Maddy stiffened and had to fight down the stab of jealousy that tore right through her. Hearing his name just reminded her of what had happened. She'd returned home with Rhydian from the big battle with Alric only to find that her bloody parents had thrown all of Rhydian's stuff into boxes! They were forcing him to move back in with his foster parents. They claimed that the foster parents had requested it, but Maddy was downright suspicious. She knew better.

Suddenly the pain in Maddy's heart ripped free. She hadn't meant to hurl it at Jana's feet, but suddenly her lips were moving:

"Rhydian doesn't deserve this. He doesn't!" Tears gathered in Maddy's eyes. The wolfblood girl's cute face crumpled. "I told him he was part of our pack. You and I, we defended him today. You were amazing, Jana. I'm so sorry about Alric. I can't…I can't begin to know what that feels like." Maddy tried to hold back more tears, but they came anyway, like a flood, streaking down her face. "I just wish…it seems like whenever Rhydian gets a break, just when things are starting to look better for him, something else has to go wrong. And now, after the whole mess with my parents kicking him out of our pack last term, here they are again, making him feel welcome just long enough for him to get his bearings, and then kicking him out. Shunning him all over again!"

Jana's face turned from sad to confused. "Wait, what?"

The pretty brunette collapsed onto the ratty-looking couch. Jana appeared at her side in an instant.

"Wait, you're saying your parents kicked Rhydian out, as in, today?"

Maddy nodded, sniffling a bit and hating herself as more tears leaked out. "Yes! They're making him move back in with the Vaughans." Maddy shook her head, her fists clenched as one more wave of guilt tore through her chest. "He just…he doesn't deserve that, Jana. He's been through so much. I know I shouldn't have come here tonight, to lay my burdens on you. You've lost your dad. What am I doing? Just whining 'cause my best mate can longer live in the same house with me anymore…it's not like I won't see him every day. But it's just…"

Maddy sighed, and that's when the incredible happened.

Maybe it was easier for Jana to avoid focusing on her own grief by refocusing on someone else's pain. Maybe that was why Jana did what she did; later Maddy would think back at what happened tonight and wonder…

The redhead reached out. Maddy stilled as Jana gently wiped away the tears on her right cheek. It was almost too intimate. There were still dried tears on Jana's face too, so the two wolfblood girls looked ridiculously well-matched.

"Hey. SSSHH, no more crying. I've been doing enough of that today for the both of us. A whole funeral's worth of crying," Jana said firmly. "So…now that you're here, I'll make you an offer. If you don't cry, I won't cry. Deal?"

Maddy managed a furtive glance to see if Jana was really serious.

"And one more thing," Jana said stoutly. "Don't…feel sorry for me. I didn't ask for that and I don't want it. I'm an alpha, just like you. I don't need or want your pity, especially from a tame." Maddy's eyes leapt to Jana's, but just as Maddy's wolf was about to snarl, she saw the teasing glint in Jana's green eyes. Jana's hands grasped onto Maddy's and pulled the brunette's much smaller hands into her lap.

"All right. Now start from the beginning. What happened when you got back with Rhydian? What did your parents say?"

"Jana, you don't have to…I think I came here because I thought, well, somewhere in my stupid brain I reasoned that you'd lost your dad and that I'd lost Rhydian, so we'd both lost someone." Maddy blinked back a few more threatening tears. "But that sounds ridiculous. I mean, I sound like a spoiled brat. Rhydian's not going anywhere. It's just…I won't get to wake up and have breakfast with him every day. I won't get to see him all cute and adorable in his sleep-shirt in the morning when he's stumbling downstairs half awake. I sound like a total idiot, don't I?"

Jana's keen emerald-green eyes narrowed. She gave a resolute shake of her head. "Not at all. You sound…" Jana stopped, her bottom lip trembling just barely as her eyes darted left and right, anywhere except to meet Maddy's questioning gaze.

"What?" Maddy now regretted coming. She'd been a selfish brat to come. She should be the one comforting Jana now. She should be—

"You love him." Jana's beautiful face put up a brave front, as if she hated the taste of her own words.

Maddy's mouth fell open. "Jana…" Maddy didn't know what to say. She just felt her heart galloping in her chest. Her hands suddenly felt very warm in Jana's grasp.

"No…I mean you don't sound like a spoiled brat. Not to me. You know why?" Jana's powerful alpha's gaze held Maddy enthralled for a moment.

"You're not upset because you don't get to cuddle with him in bed or something stupid like that. I think, deep down, the real reason you're upset is because Rhydian finally felt like he had a home. The same thing I'm looking for too." Jana sighed. "You and your parents, you created one for Rhydian. This safe place for Rhydian, where he could feel like himself, where he might actually have a future." Jana smiled sadly. "There's a reason that when I asked Rhydian to come back to the wild with me, he turned me down. He turned me down because you've created a home for him, Maddy Smith. Stoneybridge is his home…all because of you."

Maddy suddenly felt too self-conscious. She forced herself to battle through it. She leaned in and clasped Jana in a firm hug.

"You're being too nice," Maddy mumbled. "I'm supposed to be the one comforting you. I'm horrible."

Jana hugged Maddy right back. She rubbed Maddy's back and shook her head as a few stray tears slipped down her cheek. The agony of losing her dad still throbbed. It hurt like a hole in her chest filled with acid. But oddly enough, Maddy's scent—the scent of her fellow packmate—it took the edge off the pain. Being able to comfort the fellow wolfblood erased some of that agony. Jana took a deep lungful of air and felt a spurt of hope she didn't dare fully acknowledge.

"I think the only right thing is to recognize what you really feel." Jana drew back, making sure Maddy was looking at her and listening to every word. "I made the mistake of denying what I felt, deep, deep inside. What I knew. I knew that my dad…that he wasn't himself anymore. That he might hurt Rhydian." Jana's brow furrowed in pain. "But I ignored it. I didn't trust my gut, my heart, I forced myself to believe what I thought I was supposed to believe. To trust Alric just because he was my dad."

Jana bit back a sob and forced herself to continue. "But the stupid thing was, Maddy, I was trusting in my father not because I really felt a bond with him any longer…but because I wished for something that wasn't even there. I pretended something still existed, when I'd already lost it."

Maddy's vivid brown eyes twisted with guilt and concern. She hugged Jana with a fresh and ferocious burst of warmth. She nuzzled Jana's hair, surprised at her own display of affection.

"It doesn't matter," she muttered. "We're your pack now, Jana. We'll never leave you. I'll never abandon you."

"I know you won't," Jana replied softly. She wiped at her tears. "But I don't want to talk about me right now, I want to talk about you—and face the 900-pound gorilla in the room. You. Love. Rhydian."

Maddy stood up abruptly and paced back and forth in the cramped cabin. "What are you trying to say? Fine, let's say I'll admit you're right. Even if that's the absolute truth, as far as he knows we're just friends, Jana. We're just—"

Jana's snort cut her off.

"The hell you are."

Now Maddy and Jana glared at each other as flecks of amber erupted from their irises like tiny sparks. Their wolves rose up, ready to rend, claw, clash, and bite. Two alphas prepared to leap at each other's throats.

A/N - Hey wolfblood fans. I'm officially and truly back from hiatus. I hope you enjoy this story because it was inspired after I watched 'Ancient Grudge' from season 2. This'll explore what would have happened if the story had taken a very different turn after the fallout from Alric's double-cross against Rhydian. I hope you enjoy! Please comment if you're feeling generous or just want to give me a bump of encouragement.