Disclaimer: If you recognise anything it's because it's, to my great regret, not mine but Kelley Armstrong's.
Author's note: For the purposes of this story I have decided that the Women of the Otherworld series happened a little before the Darkest Powers series, so Kate and Logan are now the same age as the Darkest Powers characters.
I stared stonily at Sean Nast, CEO of the Nast Cabal since his grandfather's death, as he continued trying to convince me that what he was offering me was truly for the best. He seemed to be completely oblivious to the fact that he'd lost my attention as soon as he got round to telling me what he had in mind.
I was sitting in his office in Badger Lake with my arms crossed over my chest and my legs stretched out in front of me. He'd gotten this office made especially so he could spend more time monitoring us while still fulfilling his role as CEO, which up until now had been to our advantage. Now it simply meant he could badger me about leaving more easily. No matter how he tried to phrase it that was exactly what he was trying to convince me to do - to leave, which obviously wasn't going to happen, ever.
I'd started to trust Sean, against my better judgement, and he'd honestly always seemed to want what was best for my family and I, not seeming to have anything against me for being a werewolf and with that one thing my trust in him had been shattered. After all, how would it benefit me to leave Badger Lake? He just needed an excuse to get me to leave.
I looked down at my shoes and sighed deeply, then looked back up at him as I tried to convey how disinterested I was. It took another few moments but he cottoned on and stopped blathering about how great an opportunity this was, desperation flashing in his eyes before he took a deep breath and slipped back into the calm facade
"Derek, I know this probably just seems like a ruse to get rid of you, but I assure that's not my intention. I honestly-"
I cut him off with a snort. He was essentially asking me to pack my bags and leave the following week. Not trying to get rid of me? Yeah, right. He ignored me and continued as if I hadn't interrupted him.
"- believe this is a great opportunity for you and that you should take it. It's not easy keeping those you care about safe when you don't know the full extent of what you can do."
He looked at me with an expectant expression, clearly under the impression that he'd just played the card that was bound to affect me the most. Only he had it wrong. I was perfectly aware of the things I could do and hadn't slipped up in well over a year. I knew I wasn't a danger to my family, meaning his last method of persuasion had failed. I wasn't leaving. It just wasn't happening.
I narrowed my eyes and glared at him, not saying anything and waiting for him to get the hint. After a minute of silence he gave up and dropped his gaze.
"Ok then. As you wish. I won't bother you about it anymore, but if you ever change your mind please come talk to me."
I nodded, already knowing that was never going to happen, and stood up. I'd finally stopped growing when I hit eighteen, and now stood at 6'2, meaning I towered over most people. While usually I was glad for it, always grateful that it made me look more intimidating so people left me alone more, in some situations it made me feel a bit uncomfortable. It didn't feel right that I was so much bigger than people like Sean, one of the most important people in the supernatural world.
Sean extended a slim hand, which I shook, then shot me a tired smile and sat back down, turning his attention to the piles of paperwork on his desk. I got the message and left the office.
It was a short walk from Sean's office to Badger Lake; the town the Nasts had constructed for us, the Project Genesis and Project Phoenix kids. It used to be a small town with everything we needed and even a school that had the resources needed to deal with my education requirements, and the isolation and the huge forests surrounding our little town had been my two favourite things about it.
Now it was even more isolated, the Phoenix kids having been whisked off to Nast headquarters to start training to be Nast employees for real the second they turned eighteen. They'd been forced to cut all ties to us for some unknown reason, leaving our town an empty shell, the only other inhabitants a few cabal employees that work in the shop and at the small office near us, and everyone but me hated it.
I didn't see what was wrong with the isolation - we were genetically modified supernaturals. The rest of the supernatural world wasn't going to be thrilled about having us among them, so why not keep ourselves to ourselves? The others thought I was crazy and were all getting snippier towards each other by the day. They were sick of being in the company of the same handful of people every single day, excluding the occasional new employee.
I walked through the forest along the well-worn path towards home and felt some of my bad mood evaporate. For me there was nothing like taking a walk through the miles of forest that surrounded Badger Lake and knowing that it was all for me, that no-one else could do anything to it. It was my safe haven, even if safe was a relative term.
I was trudging further into the forest, inhaling deeply when I caught a scent as familiar as my own, and far more exciting. Chloe was near.
We'd been dating for a good three and a half years now, and I still considered myself to be one of the luckiest guys alive to still be with her after so long, genetically modified and branded a freak or not. Every time I woke up to find her next to me and every night I went to sleep without her dumping me was a pleasant surprise, no matter how well I knew we felt the same way about each other, and the way I felt about her was absolutely impossible to change.
I spotted her just as a breeze blasted her scent at me extra strong. She was stretched out on a branch right above my head, grinning at me widely. Then she rolled off the branch, knowing without a shadow of a doubt that I'd be there to catch her. I set her down on the ground gently and started leaning down as she wrapped her arms around my neck. While she'd definitely grown since we'd first started dating she was still tiny compared to me, so she still had to stand on tiptoes to get to me. I closed my eyes and leant in further, then realised she was leaning past me.
"Only if you go to the Pack like Sean suggested," she whispered, sweet as anything.
My eyes flew open and I pulled back to stare at her, completely baffled for a few seconds as to how she'd managed to find out about Sean's idea. He must have called her as soon as I'd left, or they'd planned it together. The manipulative bastard hadn't played his best card yet after all.
I growled and Chloe just laughed and pecked me on the cheek then danced away a couple of steps. It looked like I was paying the Pack a visit.
"Let me guess; the flights have been booked already, all arrangements have been made and we'll be in Syracuse by next week. Did I get all the details right?"
Chloe stayed silent and chewed her lip for a minute with a worried expression before she hesitantly broke it to me. I was going alone, like Sean has suggested to begin with. I was about to start arguing, but seeming to already know what I was going to say she cut me off.
"Look Derek, Sean really does have your best interests in mind, and you have to admit it would be nice to be surrounded by werewolves who can teach you so much you don't know. I know the Nasts have been trying to provide you with as much reliable information as possible, but there's only so much they can find out. At this point the only thing you can do to learn more is go to Syracuse and stay with them for a bit. It's only for a few weeks, so no big deal. Right?"
She looked up at me with a hopeful expression and as much as I wanted to refuse, that expression somehow stopped me from yelling at the top of my voice that no-one could make me leave her behind, my mouth instead opening of its own accord to start agreeing before I caught myself. I would agree to go, on one condition - that she came with me. I knew it was dangerous for her, being surrounded by werewolves, but right now I wanted to be selfish. As much as I wished I could do it without help, I couldn't do it on my own and she was my best support system.
"Well, it looks like we're going back to Sean then. It seems he's going to need to arrange for an extra guest to visit the Pack," she sighed, smiling a little.
I grinned at her and took it as a mini victory. I now saw it as an educational holiday with my girlfriend instead of a few weeks away from my family and worrying about them constantly. I grabbed her hand and pulled her back in the direction of Sean's office, suddenly eager to get everything sorted. After all, it wasn't always equally easy to track him down.
We were there in less than five minutes, arriving at Sean's office just as he was shoving a stack of papers into his briefcase. Apparently he was preparing for another visit to the main office.
I knocked on his door to get his attention, and he looked up with a smile. "I take it everything went to plan?"
Chloe smiled back and nodded, then laughed at the glare I shot her. She'd gotten what she wanted so she was happy to endure a few of my meaner looks for a while, especially since I couldn't hold them for long around her anyway. I let my face relax into a neutral expression, but I was determined not to grin back. I still felt betrayed.
I turned to Sean and told him as firmly as possible that I refused to go anywhere without Chloe. His smile slipped and he rubbed his mouth for a few moments.
"You do realise that's not the best idea, don't you? It could be quite dangerous for her, and it's already hard enough to convince the Pack to take in even one person they don't know, werewolf or not. They're very territorial you know."
I gave him a cool look and said, "I know the risks, and so does Chloe. You want me to go there? You're going to have to make it a trip for two. It's bad enough that you're asking me to leave the rest of my family behind, but asking me to leave her behind is just stupid. I don't see why I have to go visit the Pack to begin with, not when I already know everything I need to."
Chloe just turned to Sean and started doing a little dance, remarkably cheerful considering I'd just ignored everything she'd told me not to do so I wouldn't seem rude.
"I told you! I told you he'd refuse to leave without me!"
She beamed at me as Sean slumped his shoulders in defeat behind her. He explained that he'd first told Chloe his idea to get her opinion on it. She'd thought it was a great idea, but with one major problem - she seriously doubted I'd go for it if it meant leaving her behind. Sean had thought she'd been a bit presumptuous, but she just knew me well. Unfortunately, I really was that clingy, and thank God she doesn't let it get to her.
We left the office again shortly after and walked back, Chloe already chattering away happily about all the things she wanted to do in New York. We didn't get to leave Badger Lake often, and the prospect of leaving for at least a month was like heaven to her. I wasn't quite as excited by it, but I smiled and agreed anyway - if it made her that happy I was hardly going to ruin her mood by sulking.
When we got back to our little cottage Chloe raced off before I even got the chance to close the door behind us. I'd barely taken two steps towards the living room when she reappeared in front of me, bouncing up and down with excitement and holding a small vaguely familiar looking folder. She grabbed my hand and pulled me towards the couch, then shoved my down onto it, still looking ridiculously happy.
I realised why the folder looked familiar just as she snuggled in next to me, and immediately tried to distract her as a general feeling of dread started to set in. She was having none of it, however, and wriggled away from me, settling herself again on the opposite end of the couch with a businesslike expression.
"Ok, let's go over exactly what you want to find out from them and how you need to behave when we're there. You ready?"
I looked at her with all the sadness I could muster, eyes wide and head tilted slightly to the side as I tried to convey just how little I wanted to do this. She just beamed back and continued as if I'd just given her the confirmation she needed.
"Well then, it's been a while since you last cooperated enough to let me update this properly, so we're going to have to start from scratch."
Although she seemed all business I could see the barely concealed grin blazing beneath the surface. While I was watching one of my nightmares unfold before me, she was seeing one of her dreams come true. She'd been trying to get me interested in my werewolf heritage for years, and for years I'd been telling her I knew everything I needed to and was perfectly happy with just that. Now that she'd won she was pretty damn pleased, and clearly she wasn't planning on easing me into it gently either.
I leant back against the couch and said, "Let's get it over with then."
The next week found Chloe feverishly packing three days in advance, alternating randomly between folding everything neatly and placing it in the suitcase just so, and shoving clothes and other items in anywhere she found space, trying to get me to do the same all the while. I really had no idea what the hell she was taking with her that took up so much room. I'd only need about ten minutes to shove everything I needed into a bag about four times smaller than Chloe's trunk, and planned to do so just before we were due to leave.
We hadn't even told the others we were leaving yet, and bad only just settled on a way to break it to them. We doubted they'd like hearing that we'd be gone for at least a month while they stayed behind in our deserted town. Even though we'd had enough adventure to last us a lifetime they'd most probably still be unwilling to let us go without them. We'd decided to leave a note - more personal than getting Sean to pass on a message, but less likely to backfire if we told them we were leaving in advance.
It seemed perfect, until we realised there was a slight flaw in our plan. Simon and Tori came to our cottage on a near daily basis - it was only a matter of time before one of them walked in and saw Chloe madly throwing things into her suitcase from across the room, a slightly manic expression on her face, and put two and two together. In Simon's case though, he put two and two together and got five.
He thought Chloe was leaving me and flipped out. Chloe had been too busy to pay attention properly, intent on finding whatever object she was hunting through the drawers for, and by the time I got there Simon had worked himself into a complete state. He had seemed just about ready to knock her out until I got there so we could 'work things out'.
Even when I'd assured him that wasn't the case, and had gotten Chloe to pay attention to the situation for a couple of minutes so she could confirm it, Simon refused to leave until he got a full explanation. So I gave him one, telling him that Sean wanted to send me to the Pack for a while, hoping I would be accepted there and that I might even choose to become a part of it. Both him and Chloe thought I would be safer there than if I were to continue living in cabal custody, because as safe as it seemed now there was still a whole supernatural world that didn't tolerate and feared werewolves.
I had some firsthand experience with that from when I was sixteen and the person my dad had trusted above all had worked together with others to try to get rid of me, permanently.
I explained that Sean had some connections to the Pack, like his younger sister Savannah (a witch-sorcerer hybrid like Tori), and had used them to convince the Pack to allow us onto their territory for a while.
Simon accepted it all without a word then walked over to the phone, dialled and waited patiently.
"Hey Sean, I just heard that Derek and Chloe are going to visit the Pack, and I'm afraid we're going to need the Pack to accept an extra person onto their territory because there's no way I'm letting them go without me."
He listened for a bit, nodding to himself every now and then until eventually his face lit up in a brilliant smile.
"Alright, thanks. Just by the way, the chances of Tori finding out about this too are quite high, and if I know my sister at all there's no chance she's going to pass up an opportunity like this so I'd start convincing the Pack to let all four of us come. Bye!"
Simon hung up before Sean got the chance to reply, then turned his grin onto us. He waved cheerily, and left to pack his bag before he said goodbye to our dad and the bits of town he wasn't going to miss. As nice as our town is, it's still our prison, and none of us had ever forgotten that.
Simon didn't wait for Tori to find out what was going to happen by herself and simply told her, effectively proving his prediction right. She hit the roof and spent a full hour yelling at Sean down the phone, demanding to be given permission to join us and listing a dozen reasons why she should be allowed to come, none of which made much sense to me. In between the frequent howls of "It's not fair!" she managed to get out a lot of profanity, and while she still annoyed me I couldn't deny that I was impressed. No-one else would ever dare scream and curse at the CEO of the biggest cabal like that, no matter how nice Sean seemed, and they would definitely not be making demands the way she was while they were at it.
It took a lot of 'persuading' to get Sean to give in, but two days later we were on a plane to New York with a very satisfied Tori, the fact that she'd lost her voice the day after the 'persuading' not dampening her mood even slightly. Although she could talk almost normally now, it had been nice while it'd lasted.
Before we left we were treated to a rather repetitive lecture from Sean, telling us everything we could and should do and the things we needed to avoid doing at all costs. The general gist was that we would under no circumstances do anything that could be perceived as a threat to the Alpha - if we seemed like we wanted to cause her harm it would most probably end in our immediate deaths.
The Pack had a clear hierarchy, and we were right at the bottom of the heap, meaning we had to respect the Alpha and the rest of the Pack and follow any commands given to us. While I was the only werewolf in our small group they would still expect the others to do as they were told, something Simon and Chloe accepted easily. Tori, however, seemed like she'd get into trouble a few times before she got it.
Sean would be staying with us for the first couple of days as we got settled, but as much as we'd protested, Kit and Lauren wouldn't be coming with us. The Nasts needed a guarantee that we wouldn't try to run again and we couldn't really blame them - we didn't have a great track record of staying put when we didn't want to or had a chance to escape.
We arrived in Syracuse in the early afternoon, the weather perfect, not even a wisp of a cloud in the sky, and I couldn't have been in a worse mood. It wasn't until I was at the bottom of their drive that it hit me - I was about to meet the Pack, people I'd only ever heard bad things about, and I was expected to stay with them for at least a month.
My heart started beating faster and I stared breathing erratically, my breaths shallow and hitching constantly until I started to see black spots. I was dimly aware of Chloe squeezing my hand comfortingly, but I was most aware of how I could feel my muscles starting to writhe under my skin and how when I looked down at my hands I could see that the nails were starting to sharpen and curve round my shortening fingers. My body had registered panic at had used the best defence mechanism it had - Changing.
I let go of Chloe's hand fast and she seemed to sense something was wrong and snapped her gaze up to mine, her mouth forming a small o shape when she saw the planes of my face already starting to shift. She grabbed my arm and dragged me over to the nearest line of trees, whispering that she'd be right there as she turned back to the others, presumably to tell them where we were going.
The last thing I heard before I reached a small clearing and collapsed to the ground was Tori complaining bitterly about how she had to she already had to trek through miles of a stupid forest and that she'd now have to spend even longer surrounded by green squishy stuff because I couldn't control my Changes and had to 'go wolf', which was completely untrue. It'd been over a year since I'd Changed unexpectedly. She still had regular outbursts of magic when she got pissed off.
I pushed the thoughts from my mind when Chloe came into the clearing and started tugging my clothes off with quick and precise movements that showed she'd had plenty of experience with this, murmuring encouragements as she did. I'd been Changing for about three years now and was long past needing her there to rub my back and whisper to me soothingly to get me through it, but it still helped.
As soon as it was over I collapsed against her, panting with the exertion as she combed her fingers through my fur. I started to relax and lean into her hands when I heard a noise that made me tense completely, ears swivelling round to try and catch the noise again. Chloe reacted to my stillness by going completely silent, her fingers no longer working through my fur as she looked around us carefully to see if she could find what had made me tense up.
I heard the noise again and leapt to my feet, positioning myself between her and the oncoming threat. I could hear running paws heading our way. Three sets. All splitting off into different directions, not bothering to hide any of the noise they were making, or to stay downwind from us, meaning they were pretty damn confident. I finally caught their scent and wheeled round to face Chloe, a difficult manoeuvre on four legs instead of two, to find her already standing and looking completely focused, not even the slightest flicker of fear in her eyes.
I jerked my muzzle at her, trying to tell her to turn around so she could face one of the wolves coming our way. Somehow she understood and turned as instructed. I turned back to face the other two and took up a defensive position, head down and teeth bared. It took less than five seconds for the wolves to burst through the bushes surrounding us, just as Chloe yelled at them to stop at the top of her voice.
All of them seemed a little startled at being demanded to stop advancing by such a little thing, and in their confusion they all did as she'd said, giving me time to look at all of them more closely. Judging from their scents and the fact that they were all blonde I decided they must be related, the biggest one probably the oldest.
The one facing Chloe curled back his lips and growled at her, making my fur bristle, but I knew she wouldn't appreciate me jumping in to protect her so stood my ground. She could handle herself just fine. Chloe repeated herself again, more quietly, and started to explain who we were when the one who'd growled at her launched himself at her.
Chloe dropped and dove out of the way, screaming, "Now!" as the wolf twisted in midair and came at her again. I dropped into a crouch and was about to leap at him when I saw a huge branch lift into the air and swing at the wolf, splitting in half with a loud crack as it hit the wolf in the head.
It looked like Liz was back.