Rhydian slogged through Maddy's front door behind her. He noticed Emma and Dan passed out in the living room. They'd been too tired to change out of their pyjamas. Maddy beckoned him to follow quietly. She took him by the arm and led him upstairs. As they made their way upstairs, Rhydian was surprised when he trod on a step Maddy had just been on and heard a resounding creak. He froze in place as chills crept up his spine. He glanced over at the living room to see Maddy's parents hadn't moved.
"They're out like lights." Maddy shrugged, dropping stealth entirely. "Come on."
"How come that step didn't creak for you?" Rhydian asked as they made their way up.
"I trod on it to the side rather than the middle." Maddy told him. "It's creaked for years and Dad keeps saying he'll fix it. He never does, mind you." They made it to Maddy's room and she let him in. Rhydian could see where she'd turfed her wardrobe apart to find her uniform and had been too tired to put everything back. He'd always suspected that girls in their natural habitats were messy creatures. If Maddy was anything to go by then he was spot on. He couldn't help but feel something he couldn't place as she shoved everything off the bed and patted the side for him to sit down next to her. He didn't know what it was but he'd felt it many times since meeting her. Something in him found the unknown emotion intriguing. It was like an addictive desire to find out what it was.
"God in heaven, that was actually frightening back at that hospital." Rhydian sighed as he collapsed back across Maddy's bed. Maddy noticed his head was hanging nearly off the other side but couldn't be bothered to do anything about it. If that was how he wanted to fall asleep, she'd let him.
"You can say that again." Maddy sighed as she curled up and cuddled into him. Rhydian noticed the way she totally relaxed as soon as she was next to him in this way and couldn't help but wonder if the kiss on the cheek outside the hospital had meant something.
"I still don't understand why we have to go to school." Rhydian shrugged tiredly. "Surely we could get doctor's notes for things like chronic fatigue syndrome and things like that and totally avoid any suspicion on dark moons."
"It's an unwritten law among our kind." Maddy yawned. "There was one girl who ended up doing that about thirty years ago. My mum remembers going to school with her. She got a note written to say that she had a hormone imbalance that led to chronic fatigue every so often and so if she was in school then it would be a miracle. When other Wolfbloods found out they started doing it across both genders with a wide variety of excuses. Then the health freaks stepped in because someone noticed that more and more teenagers were having various hormone problems related to chronic fatigue that were keeping them off school and they wanted to know why. That's why we all have independent territories so there's less risk of being found out and why we're now not allowed to fake illness on dark moon days. It's literally a classic example of teenagers cutting corners that ruined it for all of us today."
"So they passed an unwritten law, but surely there should be more safeguards in place to prevent stuff like this." Rhydian stifled a yawn of his own. "We were in deep there with no cover. What if Tom's mum wanted to keep us overnight and did another test in the morning? I've had nightmares about doctors and stuff ever since my time in one of the care homes when they put me on Ritalin. That was like living it all over again. We got lucky there, but what if we hadn't? We'd have been compromised. Our whole kind would have been exposed. Don't get me wrong, I'm all for embracing what we are. But I also know what might happen if the secret was ever exposed. That's why we don't even tell Tom and Shannon… especially not Shannon. Today alone proved why she can't know."
"I'm fed up of the lies I have to tell her." Maddy muttered, spitting out the word 'lies' like it left a bad taste in her mouth.
"I know, but what can you realistically do?" Rhydian asked. "She's a person of science, Maddy. She's also a bit of a fanatic with it. I have a sneaking suspicion that if she found out she'd turn us in to the government and we'd have to hide until a dark moon then let ourselves get captured and have the test results come back negative. I don't want to have to do all that and I'm sure you don't either, especially since we've literally just been through a cut-budget version of it."
"Yeah, but she can't keep going like this." Maddy countered. "Her parents are starting to really doubt her sanity after today. She told her mum I was a werewolf!"
"All you have to do is tell her mum about the fire in the chemistry lab." Rhydian said easily. "She smacked her head. She was breathing in fumes. Even if her mum decides she still needs medical help, it probably won't be psychological. It would be genuine medical help for fume inhalation."
"And what if that doesn't work?" Maddy asked.
"Have you heard of the placebo effect?" Rhydian asked back.
"Yeah, that's where they give you stuff that doesn't actually work but don't tell you that so the thought that it'll cure you is actually what makes you better and they only really prescribe it because they get a free pen each time they do." Maddy shifted her head so it was resting on Rhydian's chest. He could feel the shockwaves from his own heartbeat against her cheek. He couldn't help but notice she was being very daring with the physical contact and it also struck him as odd that he hadn't protested. Normally if someone tried that, he'd have literally run a mile. But something about it being Maddy actually calmed him.
"Yeah, well it's basically the same principle." Rhydian carried on as if nothing had changed. "Hopefully if she comes to think that's all it was and she gets treatment for it she can close the matter."
"It's a good idea." Maddy nodded. "Will you back me up?"
"You know I will." Rhydian meant it. He'd never stuck around this long anywhere before. For some reason, he couldn't imagine ever having to leave Maddy. Something told him that leaving her would tear him apart. Maddy pulled herself even closer. Rhydian wrapped his arms around her and rested his head on top of hers. He could hear gentle breathing drifting up from her. It was only when he glanced sideways and saw her eyes closed that he realised she was asleep. Since there was no reason to stay awake anymore, he closed his own eyes and finally let himself relax. As he drifted off to sleep, he could swear he heard Maddy mumble something.
"I love you."
The Next Morning…
Rhydian opened his eyes sharply as the energy that his body had almost forgotten coursed through his veins. He let out an audible sigh of relief when he looked down at his arms and saw the black veins running up them. He looked over at Maddy and saw the same thing. She was still asleep and clinging to him though. He couldn't help but notice how tightly she was gripping his shirt. It struck him that she must have really been terrified yesterday. As if on cue, she yawned and stretched. Rhydian heard several clicks as her back re-aligned.
"Good morning." Rhydian muttered sleepily.
"Do you smell that?" Maddy was instantly alert.
"What?" For a second, Rhydian was worried. Then he took a second to check the air. The scent of bacon, sausages, eggs, beans and black pudding invaded his nose. "God, I wish Mrs Vaughan's breakfasts were that good!" he muttered.
"You haven't even eaten yet!" Maddy playfully elbowed him in the ribs.
"I know, but I know it's going to be better because it's got meat in it." Rhydian countered.
"You could try just buying meat and cooking it yourself." Maddy suggested.
"She won't have it in the house." Rhydian shook his head. "Also, I'm probably the only person who can burn boiled eggs."
"You never learned to cook?" Maddy couldn't believe it.
"I tried once since moving in with Mrs Vaughan." Rhydian told her. "I thought I was putting sweet red pepper in the stew. It wasn't my fault those things looked like giant chillies and it wasn't my fault the actual chillies were right next to them!" Maddy cringed.
"It went that badly?"
"We got robbed of our sense of taste for two weeks." Rhydian replied. "The day it came back was the first day I was actually glad to be eating something vegetarian. I didn't care as long as I could taste it in the first place. Before that, we mostly ordered pizza or Chinese in the care home. The chef there was supposed to teach us how to cook, but he was too lazy to cook in the first place. That went on until I was about twelve by which point I was considered stupid for not knowing how to scramble eggs."
"Well, how about I teach you how to cook?" Maddy asked.
"Are you sure?" Rhydian asked.
"Rhydian, the second half of this year is the time we start Home Economics." Maddy rolled her eyes. "You'll probably hurt yourself if you don't know what you're doing. The last thing we want is you having a serious accident and being taken to see Tom's mum again."
"Don't even mention that!" Rhydian growled. "I feel sick just thinking about it!"
"So, I should teach you how to cook!" Maddy pressed.
"Well if it keeps me away from that woman then I guess it can't hurt." Rhydian shrugged. "If our backs are against the wall like that again, she's liable to go missing."
"Cubs, breakfast is ready!" Emma called.
"I'm not a cub!" Maddy bellowed back.
"Well, if Rhydian wasn't awake already, he certainly will be now." Rhydian was still blown away by how strong Wolfblood hearing was. He could easily hear Dan muttering from downstairs. He guessed his ears were more sensitive now because they were readjusting to having his wolf back.
"Come on." Rhydian was snapped out of his thoughts by Maddy's voice. She'd moved over to her door and was getting ready to go downstairs. He followed her and walked into the kitchen, slightly nervous at the thought that Maddy's parents had known he was here and probably could work out that they'd fallen asleep together. But he was pleasantly surprised. They were sitting there with grins on their faces.
"Is everything alright, Rhydian?" Dan asked, seeing his hesitation.
"Yeah, I just…" Rhydian knew what he wanted to say but didn't know how to.
"Rhydian, it was a dark moon yesterday and since it's early in the morning now I don't doubt you slept here last night and I'll bet it was on Maddy's bed since I know she's too much of a softie to let you sleep on the floor." Dan gave him a pointed look. "Seeing as you went through a lot yesterday and we instantly know nothing happened, we'll let you off."
"Dad, what the hell are you on about?" Maddy snapped. "We've barely known each other three months!"
"I was only joking." Dan laughed. Rhydian managed to force a grin but Maddy could tell he was unsettled.
"Here we are cubs. Tuck in." Emma said as she placed full plates on the table. Rhydian sat next to Maddy and went to tuck in. Suddenly, she locked her ankle round his under the table. Rhydian jolted at the unexpected contact.
"Are you okay?" Dan asked.
"Yeah, those hospital beds are really uncomfortable." Rhydian lied as he tried to hide the heat flaming in his cheeks.
"Okay then." Dan shrugged as he cast a sceptical look at Maddy. He knew. Rhydian could sense it. Not wanting further conversation, he dug into the food. It was the first time he'd eaten proper food in so long and to him it was a light at the end of a tunnel. Emma and Dan had clearly already eaten since Emma had just washed up their plates, but she was obviously glad he was enjoying the food.
"Okay cubs, we're off to see Mike and Laura for a bit."
"Have fun." Maddy nodded. "Also, I'm not a cub!" Emma and Dan got up and headed out to the car. Once they'd pulled away and Maddy knew they were out of hearing range, she turned back to Rhydian.
"What is it?" Rhydian asked.
"Did you mean what you said upstairs?" Maddy asked. "You'll definitely back me up with Shannon's parents if it comes to that."
"Maddy, have I backed down from facing anything with you yet?" Rhydian asked rhetorically. "I'll always be here for you one way or another."
It was mid afternoon when Dan and Emma got home. As soon as the door closed behind them, they looked over at the kitchen and took in the mess. In the middle of it all stood Maddy and Rhydian, fussing over the oven.
"Rhydian, I promised to teach you how to cook and now that we've sorted out the salt from the sugar we've finally got something oven-worthy. Just turn the thing on to two-hundred."
"Okay, but if this goes south then it's not my fault." Rhydian shrugged. He went to turn the dial only for it not to budge. He tried harder, but it still didn't move. In frustration, the black inky blood of his wolf swamped his veins as his eyes ignited. He twisted the dial as hard as he could only for it to rip free from the cooker with an audible crack.
"Oh, that's just great!" Maddy muttered.
"How the hell do we sort this out before your parents come back?" Rhydian was starting to panic.
"I'll just tell them it's my fault and the dial got jammed." Maddy rolled her eyes. "It's not my fault the oven wouldn't work. How hard can it be to turn a stupid dial?"
"It would be much easier if you push it in before you twist." Emma said as she and Dan walked over. Maddy and Rhydian nearly jumped out of their skins. "Some ovens work differently. Some dials you just twist and others you have to push in first." Maddy looked sheepishly at her parents, knowing that her plans to clean up before they got home were now shot.
"Okay… I bet you've got questions…"