For the entire week between Tommy’s escape attempt and the night of phase one, where the human omegas would be changed into beasts, security was so high it was impossible to even dream about running. Alfie continued to ignore Jordan but as the days passed and phase one crept closer he seemed to regain more and more of his fighting spirit. Chase refused to acknowledge what happened during Tommy’s escape – that he had saved Tommy from falling and probably dying, and that Tommy had saved him from drowning. His broken arm and other various injuries from falling into the water while shielding his bond healed within a day and when Tommy hijacked another one of Chase’s blankets and moved his nest from the floor to the couch, Chase didn’t protest. Eric and Brín were how they always were – which means they weren’t. Eric worked through every hour of the day and Brín was left to his own devices. He dozed off during his lessons and Finn, who spent whole days in the library, not only researching flowers but reading up on the history of Lirim. He hoped to find some indication of how bonds had escaped the house before, but there was little to no information about who was bonded to the previous owners of Lirim.
And then there were the bodyguards. They didn’t just guard doors down in the lower levels of the mansion anymore; they shadowed every move of their designated human. There was no time where the boys were alone. At night Finn, Tommy and Alfie slept in the same rooms as their bonds and Napoleon set up a temporary camp outside Brín’s shed. At breakfast they were with Seon, who dutifully escorted them to their lessons. Anywhere the boys went their guards came to guard the doors. Knowing that Irena was always lurking outside the doors of the library made Finn’s safe haven feel invaded. With each day that brought the inhabitants of Lirim closer to phase one, the mood grew fouler.
Eric completely locked himself in his office, trying not to think about being officially bonded to Brín; it was irreversible already but he’d been pretty good at ignoring it so far. He didn’t come to dinner and Brín essentially didn’t see him, which he was grateful for. Alfie did not speak to Jordan and glared at him if he tried to coax him into making up, which led to Jordan giving Alfie his space. Tommy and Chase avoided each other as much as they could; Tommy smoked without interruption and Chase played video games long into the night, headphones on, as to not instigate an atmosphere allowing conversation. He was embarrassed about everything that happened at the cliff, from his nakedness to the way he held Tommy close to his body as they fell. Even Finn gave Alt the cold shoulder. If he wasn’t in the library, he had his nose in a book, giving Alt one-word answers during conversation, which Alt wasn’t very good at starting in the first place. Paired with Seon tip-toeing around the boys and Vicky’s pissed-off attitude at the whole arrangement, Lirim always seemed five seconds away from imploding.
It was the grumpy Vicky who was in charge of preparing the boys for phase one, and the day before it, all four found themselves in the omega boudoir, trying on their ceremony clothes, ‘’I don’t know why they even bother,’’ Vicky grumbled, doing up Brín’s tie, ‘’these are going to get bloody anyway...’’ she paused when all four boys standing in front of her paled. They looked uncomfortable in their brand new, expensive suits – Tommy in a blood-red one that made his black hair looked as dark as the night, with a white shirt and a black tie; Finn in slate-grey that, paired with his silvery hair, made him look a bit angelic; Alfie in royal blue satin that made him look more mature than he usually seemed with his curls and child-like grin; and Brín in a white suit with a turquoise shirt. Vicky had never seen him in fancy clothes and she had to admit he looked hella handsome, ‘’sorry for saying that, but I’m probably the only person in this house who won’t sugar coat it. I might just have you wear shirt...’’
‘’Can you tell us...what it’s going to be like? Truthfully,’’ Finn asked uncertainly.
Vicky sighed, taking them all in, before dropping daintily into a chaise, ‘’phase one consists over two main events. Firstly, the ceremony of change where you will be bitten by your bond. It won’t be pretty. It’ll hurt as much as getting bitten by a beast with fangs will, I won’t lie, but if you try and reject the change it’ll be much worse. The change typically takes place overnight and can span from having a nightmare to a fever-induced, rather painful all night experience. Only some beasts can change immediately; most of you will have to practice for a while before you can control your shift. You will become the beast-type of the person biting you.’’
‘’The second part is the party held the next night, where you’ll be formally introduced into the beast society. There’s a strict order of hierarchy. Alfie, out of the four of you, you’ll be the lowest ranking as the only one bonded to a leading family, but house Branham is the highest ranking house out of the leading families – the Betancourts are your branch family and they will be at your disposition. The other leading families – Villanueva, Andrade, Rowan, Zhang, Quezada and Artis – and all their branch families are all lower ranking than the bear-beasts, and if you bow your head to them it would be considered humiliating for Jordan, so you must carefully watch what he does. You are only to incline your head to ruling families, though of course the other leading houses are to be respected.’’
‘’For the ruling families, there’s the three ancient houses followed by four predatory ones. The lowest ranking here are the wolves – house Yamamoto. They will pay respects to all of you, so be prepared. Then it’s our house – the Fredriksens, so Tommy and Brín. We are in charge of all wild cats in Europe and the Americas. Our branch families are Thorpe and Hanna, so be sure to remember those. All the leading families and house Yamamoto will be required to show their respect to you two as the newest additions to the house. And then there’s you, Finn – from tomorrow on you’ll be the second most important person in the beast world. If you produce an heir, you’ll drop to third. Don’t be surprised when people come to directly show their obedience. Just stick to Alt and do what he does.’’
‘’Does that mean they will be expected to be bowing to me all the time?’’ Finn frowned, pointing at his friends.
Vicky shook her head, ‘’no. All the show of respect and obedience is for formal events, business meetings or something to begin a meeting with when you’re not well acquainted with another beast.’’
‘’Wait, can we back-track a little bit,’’ Brín requested, ‘’what do you mean by ‘painful experience’?’’
Vicky sighed, ‘’it all depends how your body reacts. Judging by your attitudes to your mates, you’ll subconsciously try to resist the change, which cannot be stopped, but you body will produce anti-toxins in hope of eradicating the change in your hormones from the bite, and that is rather painful, especially as your body will not find anything it can fight. The best thing to do is follow instructions, relax before the bite and do whatever your bonds tell you. They’re well educated on this and they’ll try to do everything they can to make it as painless as they can. But, well,’’ she shrugged sadly, ‘’the shift is never pleasant.’’
The four humans exchanged looks. That didn’t matter – they weren’t planning on sticking around for it anyway.
‘’This is our last chance to run. Our grand escape,’’ Alfie said heatedly. He sat sandwiched between Brín and Tommy, with Finn next to the latter, behind the couch in the library. They were speaking in whispers, hoping the bodyguards crowded outside the doors would not overhear, especially with the couch between them, ‘’we’ve been trying to do it separately so far and maybe that’s why we failed. Four are harder to catch at one time than one or two and even if all of us don’t make it...’’
‘’We will,’’ Brín said in a determined whisper, ‘’no going home, no contacting families. We go straight for Ireland and call them from there.’’
‘’How do they expect us to stay after all that talk about the biting?’’ Tommy shuddered, ‘’Chase would probably just chomp my arm off from spite.’’
Finn groaned softly, ‘’it’s all well and good talking about an escape, but none of our brilliant plans have worked. From what Tommy has said, going deeper into the valley won’t work, especially since we can’t navigate it.’’
‘’Our best bet is to go out to Brecon and go from there,’’ Alfie said, ‘’I remember the way out of the valley if we follow the road.’’
‘’The minus side of that is that they’ll expect us to run there,’’ Brín said, ‘’but it’s our best bet. We’ll need a distraction, and a good one.’’
‘’And we need to immobilise them. If they’re forced to run after us, they might not catch us,’’ Finn interjected.
Tommy suddenly raised his head. He had ‘epiphany’ written all over his face, ‘’I know. Let’s set Lirim on fire.’’
Finn cringed about that, ‘’ I don’t mind if Chase and Eric get singed into leopard-kebabs but what about Seon? And Napoleon? And the two maids, and Vicky? I’d rather...not...’’
‘’You’re both right,’’ Brín said, ‘’if anyone got hurt in our fire, we’d be liable to criminal charges by both human and beast courts. But fire...’’ something sparked in his green eyes, ‘’fire is good.’’
The bodyguards never even had the chance to realise the boys had sneaked out of the window.
It was pitch black outside. The moon was covered by dark clouds, but the world was about to get a whole lot brighter.
Because Lirim was so isolated and there was no chance of tanking the cars, the beasts kept petrol in massive canisters around the side of the house where two vehicles were parked. Tommy found them on one of his many ventures around the house. The two cars belonged to Alt and to Eric. Chase, apparently, didn’t have his licence and the two cars Jordan had rented had long since been driven back by the guards, ‘’which one are we setting on fire?’’ Finn asked nervously. His heart was pounding so hard he was sure Alt heard it up in the bedroom.
Brín, on the other hand, grinned like a maniac as he hefted the petrol canister on his shoulder and marched over to Eric’s car. He poured the liquid over the car and then jogged backwards, wetting the grass in an uneven line leading to the car. By the time he tossed the empty canister away, his friends were in Alt’s car – Tommy was in the front seat, Finn and Alfie in the back. Brín slid into the driver’s seat just as Tommy finished hot-wiring the car, something he learned in university – a residue of his passion for all spy things. The car rumbled to life, ‘’seat belts on, I don’t have a licence,’’ Brín wet his lips nervously. The rumble would alert the guards of their escape. They had seconds, but with his friends with him, Brín felt less scared than usual. He gripped the steering wheel. He was a good driver – ever since he ran away from home, he’d been driving stolen cars. He crashed a couple at the beginning but now he was confident he’d get his friends out of the valley. He rolled down the window, ‘’now, Tommy,’’ he said, beginning to pull out of the driveway.
Tommy pulled his lighter out of his pocket and flicked the light on. At the last moment, he tossed it out of the car window. The trail of petrol on the grass caught fire and began curling down to Eric’s car, ‘’gun the engine!’’ Tommy yelled and Brín did.
They shot out into the valley, gravel spraying from the path as the car rumbled down. They were halfway down the path when the ground seemed to tremble and an explosion sounded behind them. Finn looked out of the window. A small fire illuminated Lirim, sending black smoke into the sky, ‘’now they definitely know we’re gone,’’ Finn said. His voice trembled with adrenaline and nerves.
‘’Let’s make every second count, then,’’ Alfie said darkly as they plummeted between the hills. He kept a lookout for the tunnel and directed Brín towards it. It was hard to find in the darkness. Suddenly the ground trembled again and a roar, twice as loud as the explosion, reached the omegas all the way in the car.
Finn sank down in his seat, eyes wide, ‘’Jesus, that’s Alt...’’
But it didn’t matter because just then they shot through the tunnel and finally all four of them were out of the valley. Tommy stared ahead, his breath catching, ‘’we made it...’’
‘’Not yet,’’ Brín grinned, shooting towards Brecon, remembering the directions Alfie gave him, ‘’but we’re close.’’
Tommy laughed breathlessly. Finn clutched the seatbelt across his chest; he didn’t think he’d let go till they were in Ireland. He tried not to think about the fact that he was, most likely, registered and that there’d be complications with him crossing the border. Nearly an hour later when they were speeding down the dark road towards Brecon, he still held onto the seatbelt. He was thinking one step at a time – first get to Brecon, worry about the border when he got there...
‘’Did you hear that?’’ Alfie asked suddenly, sitting up in his seat.
The boys listened. The roar of the car, freshly tanked before they had used up the petrol to blow up Eric’s, was deafening. But there, just beneath it...the rumble of...
‘’Shit,’’ Alfie whispered, ‘’we forgot about Jordan’s bikes...’’
‘’Brín, faster!’’ Tommy all but yelled, panic making his throat close up. Brín pressed the pedal as fast as it would go. It was dangerous but the sound of motorcycles pursuing them scared him to death. Not again. Not when they were so close. The lights of Brecon twinkled up ahead.
‘’We’re going to make it,’’ Brín said through gritted teeth, even as the rumble of the motorcycles grew louder. Brín didn’t look at the rear-view mirror, knowing the lights of the bikes far behind them would only make him panic.
They shot into Brecon like lightning. The town provided a bit more cover than the open road but at the expense of speed. Brín slowed to accommodate the unfamiliar, narrow streets, the houses and cars parked in front of them. He realised too late that the motorcycles, being smaller, were at an advantage. As Brín went as fast as he could through the sleeping Brecon, the motorcycles came closer. Brín couldn’t stop himself; he looked into the rear-view, and swore. The beasts were in a neat formation behind them, ready to surround. Brín’s heart clenched as he realised they weren’t going to make it.
At least not all of them.
‘’Get ready to jump out when I say,’’ he told his friends.
Tommy and Finn stared at him, ‘’what!?’’
‘’Jump out, roll to absorb the impact and run. Split up, you’ll be harder to find.’’
‘’What about you?’’ Alfie’s voice went high-pitched with desperation.
‘’Don’t you worry about me,’’ Brín gave him a grim grin, ‘’I certainly don’t.’’
The beasts had been trailing after Alt’s car, waiting for their bonds to get to the town where they’d be easier to surround. Alt was at the head of the column, his body a massive, hulking shape. Eric and Chase were on either side of him, Jordan behind. Eric had never seen Alt that angry. He’d very nearly shifted right there and then while Jordan and the maids scrambled to put out the fire. The whole week had been so event-less none of the beasts had expected the boys to do a runner right before phase one. Eric gripped the handlebars of his bike. They’d all gone through a motorbike phase, thanks to Jordan’s life-long obsession, so they managed to keep themselves upright on the road. Eric was pissed about his car being blown up – undoubtedly Brín’s idea – but he was more pissed that they hadn’t realised the boys wouldn’t just accept being changed that easily.
Eric slowed his bike as they entered Brecon, the car slowing also. They were nearly upon it and once they had it surrounded, it was game over. Eric stared through his helmet at the car, trying to pin point when Brín is.
It happened so suddenly.
The car slowed, making Alt veer sideways to avoid a direct crash. Three out of four doors opened and the boys jumped out. They were outlines in the darkness, there one second and then gone, in three separate directions if Eric’s nose was correct. But Brín remained in the car. And Eric watched with wide eyes as suddenly the car sped back up, going straight for...
Eric shot forward, full speed, as Alt’s car rammed into a street lamp. As if in slow motion, Eric watched the mask crumple, the front window break as Brín slammed into it. Eric scrambled off his bike just as the front mask exploded. It was a small explosion but it made Eric’s heart stop – and it promised another explosion that would wipe the car, and Brín unconscious inside it, off the side of the earth. Already, the fire was consuming the front. The distraction Brín had thought up worked – all four beasts stopped their bikes and jumped off them. Eric didn’t think as he ran for the car, ‘’ERIC!’’ Chase screamed. Eric had never heard his half brother sound so terrified but he didn’t stop.
The heat was stifling around the car. The handle of the driver’s doors crumpled and the muscles of Eric’s arm bulged as he yanked the doors out of the car’s frame and tossed them aside. Brín was indeed unconscious, his temple bleeding. His arms were slightly burned but he didn’t look too badly hurt. Eric didn’t register that. He wasn’t thinking straight. He was completely and utterly taken over by the simple instinct to save the one who was bonded to him. He grabbed his helmet and pulled it off, settling it on Brín’s head so he wouldn’t breathe in the stifling black smoke that came curling in through the broken windshield. Eric coughed, chocking on the black mass. His eyes watered as he fought to pull Brín out.
He only came to when he was breathing in proper oxygen, a safe distance away from the burning car, kneeling on the pavement with the beasts crowded around him. The wail of fire-fighter vehicles filled the air. Eric blinked and looked down. Brín was lying on the ground with his head in Eric’s lap. Eric’s head spun. He didn’t know how to breathe properly. Brín didn’t look too badly hurt but he was bleeding and, shit, his arms were burnt and-
The beast looked up at Jordan, unaware that he had been calling him, ‘’calm down.’’
‘’W-Where are the others?’’ Eric asked half-consciously. He wasn’t fully aware where he was. The fact that his bond was lying hurt in his lap made his mind shut down. He’d never felt like that. He was the level-headed one, calm and calculating. He knew the way out of any situation so why...why was he...
‘’Stay with him,’’ Alt told Chase, voice was cold, fury lurking just below it, ‘’I’ll get Tommy,’’ he was off, running to wherever Finn’s scent led him.
‘’We’ll be right back,’’ Jordan promised, disappearing into the darkness, too.
Chase sank down to his knees next to Eric. The human fire-fighters, putting out the car, didn’t dare approach them. They were beasts. They weren’t even meant to look in their direction. For once, Eric wished they would. He had no idea what to do, ‘’is he okay?’’ Chase’s voice trembled slightly as he stared, shocked, at Brín’s bleeding forehead. He liked Brín. Out of the four rebellious humans, he was the one Chase thought would be okay to hang out with. And now he was...
At the sound of Chase’s scared voice, Eric’s protective instincts kicked in. He only ever had them for Chase but now they pulled him out of his bubble of confused terror. He pulled his long sleeved shirt over his head, not caring that he was shirtless in a public place, and ripped up strips, making a make-shift bandage that he wrapped around Brín’s forehead. He looked helplessly at Brín’s burned arms and turned to his brother, ‘’can you bite him?’’
Chase flinched. Biting someone else’s bond was considered barbaric by higher-rankers, even if it did speed up healing. Eric couldn’t do it himself because a second bite to his bond would automatically begin his shift from human to beast, but if he was asking Chase to do it instead, he must have been pretty desperate. But after a moment of hesitation, Chase nodded. He would never say no to his brother and he did like Brín. Even if the injuries weren’t life threatening, if he could help him get better faster... Chase picked up Brín’s limp arm. He felt his canines elongate. He gingerly turned Brín’s hand around. He never dealt with sick or hurt people. Sure, his pack had gotten hurt before but they always healed by themselves, and right then, Brín looked bad... pale, sweating, breathing ragged...
Chase’s canines sank into Brín’s wrist. He pulled back quickly, wiping his mouth, as Eric took Brín’s hand and bandaged his wrist, too. And that’s when the screaming began.
It looked like once again the humans had been caught.
The beasts didn’t risk taking their bonds back to Lirim on motorbikes, where they could jump off easily – besides, Brín wasn’t in any shape to sit upright by himself. Once again, they rented cars – two. Alt drove one, Chase in the seat next to him. For the first twenty minutes, Tommy yelled, cursed, tried to break the window twice and force Alt to open the doors until finally Chase barked at him that if he didn’t shut up, he’d bite him there and then. Finn, on the other hand, was absolutely silent, curled up in the back seat next to Tommy, trembling the whole way. Alt had an aura of anger around him and Finn was terrified that he’d explode when they were alone. The roar after Alt saw the burning car and Finn gone still echoed in the omega’s ears.
Jordan drove the other car. Though he had a calm exterior, Eric was still a little shaken up. He was shocked, by Brín’s actions and by his own strange instincts. Alfie ignored both beasts. Brín lay across the back, his head now in Alfie’s lap. Alfie stroked his hair. He had no idea what Brín was planning when he jumped from the car. Even though it wasn’t anything life-threatening, Alfie wished he’d talked Brín out of the idea. He concentrated on Brín, studying his face for any signs of waking up, instead of on the fact that they had just blown their last chance to get away from their bonds before they became beasts.
Finn didn’t get the chance to say anything to his friends, to check if Brín was okay or to see what happened to them. As soon as he was out of the car, Alt had an iron-strong grip on his wrist, ‘’that hurts, Alt...’’ Finn said feebly. It didn’t really, but he hoped it would get Alt to drop his wrist. It didn’t. The beast didn’t even acknowledge Finn as he dragged him roughly towards Lirim. Irena, Napoleon, Bob and Miss Medrano stood by the doors. They inclined their heads in respect as Alt marched past them. Finn glimpsed the wrecked, burned carcass of Eric’s car before he found himself inside Lirim.
Finn didn’t dare speak again as he was dragged up the stairs, towards Alt’s bedroom, but his heart pounded wildly in his chest. He had never been so scared. His skin was cold and clammy with sweat, his lips and fingers trembling, his breath coming out in tiny terrified puffs. Alt all but tossed him inside the bedroom and closed the doors behind them. Finn raised his eyes to Alt, his trembles turning into shaking. Alt stared at him, fury radiating from his dark eyes. Finn almost forgot how huge he was. Finn’s head barely brushed his shoulder. He could probably snap him in half, or, if he wanted, there were other ways of breaking him... ‘’stop it, Alt...’’ Finn whispered, his eyes stinging with unshed tears. He put his arms protectively around himself, ‘’stop, you’re scaring me.’’
Alt, at least, averted his eyes. He clenched his jaw and fists, ‘’I thought you were giving me a chance,’’ he whispered bitterly.
‘’How, Alt?’’ Finn asked, voice cracking, ‘’you’re keeping me here against my will, a-and with the ceremony tomorrow...shit, Alt, I got scared. I’m still scared. I don’t know what you are, I don’t know if you get angry enough that you could...do something to me and I-‘’
‘’I wouldn’t,’’ Alt said, taking a step forward. Finn took a stumbling step back in response. Alt’s face crumpled a little, the anger replaced by resonating sadness that was almost worse. He reached out, brushing a large finger against Finn’s cheek, ‘’I wouldn’t. Never. I’m not angry at you, I’m just...I’m angry at myself for messing it all up, again...and...it just hurts that you don’t want...me.’’ Alt dropped his hand and Finn stared at his feet. His arms were still wrapped tightly around his small body, ‘’can I...show you something?’’
Finn looked a little reproachful but followed Alt out of the room when he opened the doors. They walked down the corridor until they reached the stairs leading up to the mystery attic that Brín said was always locked. Alt walked up to them, producing a key, but Finn hesitated at the bottom of the stairs, ‘’what’s in there?’’ he asked quietly. What if this was a trick and Alt just wanted to lock him up somewhere to make sure he didn’t escape? Or, worse, what if it was something freaky like a sex dungeon or-
‘’It’s my garden,’’ Alt said quietly, ‘’want to see it?’’
Too stunned to question why Alt had a garden in an attic, Finn ascended the stairs. Alt pushed open the attic doors and stepped back to let Finn inside. Finn’s violet eyes widened as he walked into a jungle of flowers, trees and plants, ‘’oh...’’ he whispered, in awe.
Alt left him to do as he liked, walking over to his little toolbox by the doors and picking out a water spray, made from an old window cleaner bottle. He walked around, spraying the flowers and planets that needed it. For a while, Finn watched him and when it was clear that no reaction, no words, were required of him, he nestled down between two small trees growing along the wall. He tucked his legs up to his chest, folded his arms underneath and propped his cheek up on his knee. He watched Alt’s broad back as he bent down to nurse little buds of flowers not yet fully grown. Once again he had expected Alt to go off like a bomb, and once more he had done the exact opposite. Maybe Alt didn’t have a ‘beastly’ side to him. Maybe he was just as he appeared – quiet, introverted, kind. Tucked in between the two trees, Finn’s nerves finally calmed. The garden made him feel at ease. He glanced around, taking in the various flowers, their cups closed for the night. So this was where Alt got his flowers.
‘’Ah!’’ Finn flinched away from the soft, cold mist that was suddenly sprayed on his face. He looked up, surprised, to find Alt smiling at him gently, having almost playfully sprayed the water on him. Finn stared at Alt’s smile, stunned, until Alt knelt down by him and extended a long stalk with green cups to him. Not really a flower, not really a twig...not really anything, ‘’bells of Ireland,’’ Finn said automatically, remembering the strange looking stalk from The Language of Flowers. He took the bells from Alt.
Alt tilted his head, ‘’do you feel a little bit better?’’
‘’I know you’re scared,’’ Alt said quietly, ‘’but I’ll make sure it doesn’t hurt. And you’ll love what you’ll become. I do.’’
Finn looked at him uncertainly, ‘’what will I become, Alt?’’
For a moment, it looked like Alt would give him a straight answer. But then the man shook his head and rose, ‘’let’s get some sleep.’’
‘’Stop! Stop dragging me! Brín is hurt...I need to...I need...’’ Tommy struggled as best as he could against Chase’s grip on his forearm. He dug his heels into the floor. Nothing – Chase pulled him down the corridor as if he was a sack of potatoes.
‘’Brín will be fine,’’ Chase said through gritted teeth.
‘’With Eric!? I doubt it,’’ Tommy yanked on his arm and Chase yanked back. They reached his door and he kicked it open. As soon as Tommy was inside, he locked it. Chase set about looking for something. Tommy sank into the pristine white couch, now full of blankets and pillows, feeling like a limp noodle. How could their plan not have worked? If all four of them blew up a car, stole another, managed to get all the way to Brecon and still failed, how could they even dream about running away again, especially if they would be registered from tomorrow?
Tommy was so lost in his miserable thoughts that he didn’t hear the ring of chains until Chase knelt in front of him and grabbed one hand, locking a handcuff around his wrist. Tommy’s hazel eyes widened behind his glasses, ‘’what the hell are you doing!?’’ he demanded, sounding more frightened than he wanted to.
‘’Making sure you’re here in the morning,’’ Chase said gruffly, locking the other handcuff around his own wrist. The cuffs were linked by a long metal chain. Tommy yanked his hand out of Chase’s hand, feeling his heart rate rise.
‘’Take it off...take it off!’’
‘’Fuck off, Chase, I’m a fucking person, start treating me like one!’’ he felt his eyes sting. He’d had enough. He took everything Chase did with sarcasm and an uncaring attitude, but this was the last straw. He was close to losing it after their failed escape and Brín’s injury anyway, ‘’take it off, you asshole, take it off, fuck, just-‘’ his voice cracked. He knew if he started bawling, he’d never stop.
And then Chase was in front of him, leaning on the couch, balancing on his knee now resting between Tommy’s legs. Chase had both his hands on Tommy’s cheeks, not gentle by any means but not completely rough either, forcing Tommy to look at him, ‘’calm down, flame-brain! I’m trying to make sure you don’t...I’m just trying...’’ Chase grunted in annoyance, unable to formulate what he was thinking properly. On the plus side, at least Tommy was too stunned to start crying, ‘’look, do you have any idea what happens to bonds that run from their beasts? Have you ever met one? Ever even heard of one?’’
Now that Chase mentioned it, Tommy hadn’t. He lived opposite the beast university, so he saw a whole bunch of beasts on a daily basis, way more than normal humans did, but he’d never heard of a bond running away. Not on the news, not in the papers or on social media – he never even heard anyone gossiping about it, ‘’exactly,’’ Chase said, as if he could read Tommy’s mind, ‘’there are none, Tommy. Even if a bond escapes their beast, there are...people within the beast society that will hunt them down, even if they’re in Ireland or whatever, and make sure they don’t disgrace the beasts by running away and living separately against their wishes. Those people...even Alt can’t control them. They’re crazy. They just crop up if someone runs away. They drag the bonds back and if the beasts don’t want them...I don’t know what happens. I know a lot of our society is messed up. I get that. I never wanted to have a bond, especially not someone like you. So get it through your thick skull, if you choose to run away you’re going to be running for life. From cops, from the law, from pissed off, self-righteous beasts...so just bloody settle, will you? It’ll get better from here.’’
Tommy stared at him, something like disgust shining in his hazel eyes, ‘’those crazy beasts sound an awful lot like you.’’
Chase’s eyes shuttered and he dropped his hands. He didn’t say anything else, but he produced a small key and unchained Tommy and then himself, tossing the shackles in the corner, ‘’Medrano’s outside anyway,’’ he grumbled eventually and went to bed.
It was probably the first time they went to sleep at the same time, even though Tommy lay awake for the rest of the night.
‘’I’m not doing this to hurt you, Alfie,’’ Jordan said when Alfie, as soon as they returned to Jordan’s bedroom, went for the bed and curled up on it with his back to Jordan, ‘’if we don’t work this out, we’ll both be miserable. If you run you’ll have a criminal offence and even if you get to Ireland or some other place, you’ll never be able to be with anyone, Alfie. I’m talking physical repulsion – no kissing, no touching...even the thought will make you want to be sick. I get it, I messed up, but you can’t break the bond so just stop trying, alright? When phase three is over you’ll be able to go home and go anywhere you want so just...’’
Alfie gritted his teeth. It sounded so placating, freedom at the end of those three months – Jordan was ignoring the fact that by then Alfie would be a beast with his body at Jordan’s disposition, expected to try for a child. He curled in harder on himself. He waited for Jordan to give him all the pros of the situation, to ignore how he was hurting by trying to coax him into believing this situation would turn out okay in the end. But the bed just dipped as Jordan sat heavily behind Alfie and whispered, ‘’I’m sorry.’’ His bond didn’t reply so Jordan reached out, sliding his hand gently into Alfie’s curls, ‘’I’m sorry, Alfie. I’m trying my best.’’
Alfie lost it. He slapped Jordan’s hand away and sat up quickly, eyes flashing as he faced his bond, ‘’don’t make me laugh,’’ he said coldly, ‘’trying? You’re not trying. You’re bribing me with freedom that I should be able to have anyway.’’
Jordan flinched and then dropped his eyes, ‘’I’m sorry,’’ he whispered again. He didn’t know what to say to make it all better, ‘’you’re right I just...I don’t know what to do. I’m scared if I let you go too early, you’ll disappear again.’’
‘’I don’t know why you’d expect anything different,’’ Alfie snapped and Jordan flinched again.
‘’Yeah...’’ his voice was so quiet Alfie couldn’t even hear it properly. He raised his head and reached out, sliding a hand against Alfie’s cheek. Before Alfie could stop him, he pressed a soft, lingering kiss to his forehead, ‘’get some rest,’’ he murmured, got up and left the room.
The doors, at least, remained unlocked.
Brín woke up. To be honest, when he’d rammed the car into the pole, he hadn’t expected to. Back in high school, before he ran away, they’d been lectured on car safety and shown fatal videos of drivers slamming right through their windshields. He was either very lucky or very unlucky, Brín decided, depending what he woke up to. He tried to judge where he was hurt but nothing hurt particularly. He realised, however, that he was on a bed, way too soft for his liking. He opened his eyes. A dark ceiling. It was still night. He reached out, touching his forehead which throbbed ever so faintly. He came upon a bandage. His eyes shifted to his arm. Angry red welts rose on his forearms, as if someone had smacked him with a belt, but they didn’t hurt. Brín tried to sit up but his head spun.
‘’Stay down,’’ came a soft, tired voice.
Brín looked at Eric, sitting shirtless in an armchair he must have hauled from somewhere, ‘’what happened?’’ he managed as Eric went in and out of focus. He must have been concussed.
‘’You tried to kill yourself,’’ Eric’s voice was not matter-of-fact, as Brín would have expected; it was quiet, barely a breath, like Eric couldn’t quite believe it.
Brín frowned. Had he? He tried to save his friends and he didn’t care if he made it out alive, since the alternative was being dragged back here, but suicide... who had gotten him out of that car? Had he been at the hospital? Was everyone else alright, had they been caught? He had so many questions but...
‘’Lay down, Brín,’’ Eric murmured, ‘’or you’ll faint.’’
For once, Brín didn’t argue. He sank back into the bed, his vision going grey. He closed his eyes and let himself be swept into unconsciousness.
By the time Finn was in bed, with Alt sound asleep on his side, the sun was beginning to rise. Finn felt bone-tired, weary, but he couldn’t fall asleep. He kept looking at the bells or Ireland that he had set on the small bedside table. Finally, unable to take it anymore, he dug out The Language of Flowers, which he had brought down to the bedroom, from under the bed and flicked through the pages quietly as to not wake Alt. He finally found the old, faded illustration of the bells and skimmed the page to find its meaning.
Finn frowned. He knew what Alt meant by it – he was cheering Finn on for tomorrow but just the idea that he’d need luck to get through it made Finn shudder. Clearly, Alt had to work on what he wanted to communicate even when it came to flowers. Still, the intentions hadn’t been bad so Finn just sighed and tucked the bells into the folds of the book for them to dry.