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If the Alpha General caught us out here hunting with guns, he’d kick our asses. You were only meant to hunt in your Beast; the weapons of humans were only good against humans. But I’d seen members of the Legion with guns, and honestly, we needed the damn practice.
Not that Beckett or me needed to train to be Legion. We didn’t want to be soldiers, or the whipping boys for the Alpha General.
“Corvin, I’m starving,” Beckett grumbled. “Can we just go home now?”
Beckett wasn’t much of a hunter. But he was so fucking smart, which I think was worth way more than being able to throw a punch. It was because of Beckett that I hated the Alpha General. Beckett’s Mama was a Legion Widow, and the Alpha General had come around when his dad hadn’t even been in the ground a year, and tried to insist that Beckett’s mother remarry as soon as possible and produce more offspring. Preferably with him.
It was only by luck that we’d arrived home when we had, with the Omega Raiden, and he was forced to accept the fervent no she was saying. Because he might be able to brush our concerns aside, but Raiden’s dad was a fucking Legion General.
“You think we should try and court Raiden?” I whispered to Beckett, who just frowned.
“What the hell does that have to do with food?” I gave him a pointed look and he sighed. “He’s nice. I like him. But my Beast doesn’t think he’s right.”
I hummed in the back of my throat. Yeah, neither did my Beast, but… “There aren't many left, and Raiden is nice. He’s pretty cool as well.” I grinned. “And not too bad to look at.” My gaze travelled back to the trap we’d set in the woods. Even though we were hunting for deer, it wouldn't hurt to catch a few rabbits for Beckett’s mom. It wasn’t a particularly clever trap, just some grain spread over a net. I just needed one or two stupid rabbits to set it off though.
“I dunno, Corvin. Do we need an Omega so bad that we’d settle?”
I shrugged. “It’s what we’re supposed to want. It’s the ‘Manix Dream’.” I did air quotes around the words.
Beck snorted. “The Manix Dream is an Omega pair and a whole house full of cubs, but that’s never gonna happen. Why don’t we settle on a Beta or two?”
Fucking hell, now I wished I’d never brought it up. This conversation was too heavy for a hunting trip. “We’re only seventeen, I guess. We got time.”
Beckett seemed relieved I was letting it drop, so I went back to focusing on the trap and ignored Beckett sifting through my pack for more food. The dude was always hungry, and I wasn’t surprised because he was a hundred feet tall and I swear he had hollow legs because he ate like a pig and never got any bulkier. I’d met his dad once, though, so I knew he'd eventually grow out instead of up. Then I’d catch up to his height; I couldn’t fucking wait. He gave me so much shit about being three inches shorter than him.
Until then, he’d continue to eat everything in sight.
An odd scent on the wind had me stilling. “Shh,” I said, the Alpha in my voice coming to the fore. Beckett just rolled his eyes, because he was an Alpha too, but he stilled completely. My nose twitched, because the scent was another Manix. Fuck, I hoped it wasn’t the Legion, or worse, the Alpha General.
Out of the trees stepped another Manix alright, a half-blood, and a fucking girl. Beta though. But not one I recognized, and I knew everyone. I looked at Beckett, who’s eyes were wide with surprise.
“Who the fuck is that?” he mouthed.
I shrugged, and then she wandered straight into our rabbit trap. Reacting more than thinking, I loose the ropes so the net snapped up around her. The noise she made was ear-piercing and animalistic as she got caught up, and I jumped down from our perch, Beckett right behind me.
When we made it to the net, she was thrashing around like a stuck pig.
“Jesus fuck, calm the hell down. We’ll let you out.”
She didn’t say anything, just growling and hissing, more beast than girl. She looked like she was ten, and she smelled bad. But under that was the unmistakable scent of manix.
“Still,” I growled, throwing out my Alpha voice. I wasn’t as powerful as I would be one day, but I wasn’t a weakling either. The girl stopped thrashing. “We’re gonna let you out, okay? Don’t run away.”
She was saying something unintelligible, and as I cut her down, she was already trying to run. “Stop!”
This time I put more Alpha in my voice than I’d ever used, and the girl fell to her knees with a pitiful whine. Beckett threw me a scolding look, and squatted down in front of her. She lashed out with her human hands, and I wondered if she even had a Beast form. Surely if she had, she’d have turned by now, right?
Beckett held up his hands. “Easy now, Kitten.”
I laughed. “Kitten?”
He shrugged. “She’s tiny, angry and hisses. I think it’s fitting.” He looked at the girl. “Hey, kid. Do you have a name?”
More garbled words. “You think she’s, you know, not all there? In the head?”
I wasn’t sure she understood my words, but she must have understood my tone, because she hissed at me again.
Beckett watched her, his head tilted to the side. “I don’t think so? I think…” He frowned. “Name?” He pointed to himself. “Beckett.” Then he pointed to me. “Corvin.” Then he pointed back to the girl.
She said something in a mumbling slur, and Beckett shook his head. “I think she’s saying girl. In latin.”
“Her name is Girl? And why the hell do you speak Latin? Who the fuck speaks latin?” I didn’t need to see Beckett’s face to know he was rolling his eyes. “Fine, so she doesn’t speak English, but she speaks Latin. How does that make...Holy shit.”
Beckett looked up at me, his eyes wide. “Lorso.”
The girl stopped her struggle at the name. Oh god. I began to hyperventilate on the inside, despite the fact I was trying my best to be a calm Alpha on the outside. “Does he still live on the border?”
Beckett shrugged. “I thought he was dead.”
Lorso was the last of the old, old guard. The ones who remembered a time when the Manix thrived and we had wars with Lycanthropes over some bullshit. When we were stronger than we were now. He’d had both a female and male Omega. His female Omega was the last of the females Omegas.
When his Omegas had died of old age, Lorso had withdrawn from society to die right along with them, and the Legion Generals had let him, happily. His power was too great, and he had no desire to be Alpha General. But if he had, he could have taken it easily.
No one had seen him in decades, and honestly, I’d thought he was just an urban legend by this stage, pulled out by old timers at Pack gatherings so they could lament how far our species had fallen with the introduction of human blood into our gene pool, blah blah.
I stared at Beckett. “Tell her to take us home, in Latin. Otherwise we’re gonna have to take her back to Maxton.”
He winced, and I got it. She was a half-blood, and a female. The Legion didn’t give a shit what happened to half-bloods, and the Alpha General strongly believed in survival of the fittest. If she couldn’t hold her own in the Legion group homes for half-bloods, she’d be fucked. We’d seen the older kids kick the shit out of one of the new half-bloods, who’d been unfortunate enough to appear in his teen years. Beckett and I had been about to go kick some ass when Gatlin and Finlo had stepped in. Gatlin was the Alpha General’s kid, but if anyone hated the Alpha General more than me and Beckett, it was those two.
Nah, we couldn’t take her back to Maxton.
Beckett said something in Latin, and the girl cocked her head to the side. “Don’t think she understands, Beck.”
“I said I knew latin, not that I could speak it, Corvin,” Beckett said in his pissy voice.
Finally, either he got the pronunciation right, or she finally understood, because she froze and looked at us warily. Or more specifically, me.
I raised my hands. “I mean you know harm,” I said softly, and then I thrummed deep in my chest. Her eyes went wide, her pupils blowing out. Aw, yeah. I’d been working on my thrum.
Either she’d decided she liked us, or she just didn’t know any better, she stood and pointed back into the trees. She gave me another wide eyed look, and started to jog out of the clearing along an animal trail.
We followed along behind her. After about twenty minutes, we were nearing the edge of pack grounds, and I was beginning to wonder if we were jogging into a trap. But just as I was about to grab Beckett and head back, we were in front of a tiny shack. It was little more than a rough hewn shelter, though now we were this close, I could see a small amount of smoke.
The girl pushed through the door, there was no doubt this was her home, and basically chirped something to whoever was inside.
We stepped cautiously in behind her, and there was a deep growl from the darkness that made every hair on my body stand on end.
The smell of Manix and Alpha permeated every inch of this cabin. “Lorso? Um, we mean no harm? We come in peace.”
“Seriously, Corvin? He’s not a fucking alien,” Beckett hissed, and the girl bustled around the one tiny room.
“In,” came the grunted command, and Alpha or not, I obeyed. Beckett and I stood in the middle of the room, and that’s when we saw Lorso. He was so fucking old, his body withered and gnarled, as he laid on a pallet on the ground.
He looked ancient, like a gnarled tree, but his eyes glowed brightly even in the darkness. “Who are you?” His voice sounded rough, like he didn’t speak much.
“Uh, I’m Corvin Fletcher, and this is my Packmate, Beckett Reid. We, uh, stumbled across the girl in the forest.”
The girl said something incomprehensible and the old man grunted back. “She says you caught her in a trap.”
“We were after rabbits, I swear, Sir. We couldn’t have known…” That an ancient fucking Manix lived in the forest with a kid.
“No.” He let out a deep sigh. “I’m glad. The Ancestors have been calling me home for awhile now, but I couldn’t leave her out here defenseless. Couldn’t send her there. You’ll take care of her now.”
His breath rattled like he was moments from death. “What, no, wait. You can’t die!”
A grunted laugh. “No ones dying this minute, boy. Sit down and ask your questions.”
Oh man, did I have a million goddamn questions.
Six years later
It was hard to believe the girl in front of us was the same creature we caught in a net over half a decade ago. She sifted through the box of essentials we brought with us, cooing at the things she liked as she packed away the food. Beckett watched her, his eyes shining with affection.
She hadn’t had a name when we met her, but now we called her Kitten. Lorso had just called her Girl.
Fate was funny. Lorso had died days after we first met him and Kitten, like he was waiting for someone to shoulder the burden he’d been carrying. Turns out, Kitten was actually teen when we met her, not a child like we thought. She was just tiny for her age, a little due to malnutrition, and a little because of genetics. Lorso said he’d found her abandoned on the northern perimeter of the Packlands, close to death by exposure, only a few months old. He’d intended to take her to town, but he’d run into Legion Soldiers bragging about beating the shit out of a half-blood for fun, and the Alpha General just laughing when the half-breed had complained; he decided that a life as a hermit was better than a life of torment.
So, he’d raised the baby, and taken care of her long after his spirit became restless and ready to move on. But he’d held onto life, because in his own way, he loved her.
After his death, we’d started bringing her food and clothes; she’d been wearing rough dresses fashioned from Lorso’s scraps when we’d met her. We taught her to speak English, which was its own hurdle. She was fiery, our Kitten. And easily frustrated. But then we’d introduced her to books, and it was like she was a sunflower in full bloom. You couldn’t help but stare at her brilliance.
Every week we’d visit, until it became the best part of our week. “Oh, I’ve been waiting for the author to release the sequel. Thank you, Beckett.” She hugged my Packmate, and he held her tightly.
It was hard to tell when we stopped being kids raising another kid, and started acting like a Pack, but at some point it just occurred naturally. Not officially, though, because Lorso had instilled a fear so deep into Kitten, it was part of her core nature. That fear? Maxton and the other Manix.
We hadn’t tried to dissuade her, and partly it was because we liked not having to share her. She was our Kitten, and we were inherently selfish.
But everything changes.
“Yes, Corvin?” she mocked, mimicking my deep voice.
“Do you want to be part of our Pack?”
She froze, then turned slowly toward me. “Would you move out here?”
I chewed my lip. We couldn’t. I had a construction business, and Beckett taught at the highschool. Plus there was–
“We can’t. You’d have to move to Maxton.”
She frowned. “No. You move here.”
Beckett shook his head. “We met an Omega, Kitten. He’s agreed to be part of our Pack. We want you to be a part of that Pack too.”
She gasped like we slapped her. “You found someone else?” She paused. “Do they know about me?”
There was real fear in her voice, under the pain. But we’d sworn, first to Lorso, and then later to Kitten, that we wouldn’t tell a soul about her. We wouldn’t break our word, but it burned to keep secrets from Darius and Cooper.
“No one knows. We keep our word. But they’d love you, if you just gave them a chance.”
I watched as she shut down, and began building the walls inside her to block us out. Beckett made a low noise in his throat. “Please, Kitten. Think about it. We love you.”
She looked between us, but she was already shaking her head. “I love you too. Both of you. But I won’t go. I won’t be part of a Pack.” She stepped back into the cabin, which we’d been steadily improving over the years until it was actually comfortable, with a solid door.
She shook her head furiously. “Leave. Don’t come back.”
Then she slammed the door in our faces. Beckett knocked, thudding against the oak wood, until I grabbed his fist.
“Leave it, man. Let her think about it. We’ll talk to her next week.”
I’d been so fucking wrong though. Next week, she hadn’t been home when we arrived. Or the week after. It was like she knew when we were coming, even when we mixed it up. Week after week, she wasn’t home, and if it wasn’t for the lack of supply boxes, or the subtle signs that the cabin was inhabited, I’d wonder if she left.
For a whole year, we went back every week. Then, we’d go back every month with supplies. We mated Darius, and cemented the Fletcher-Wiley-Reid Pack. We were happy, and our monthly trips became bi-monthly, until we stopped going at all.
But Kitten was a ghost that left behind a wound that refused to heal.