I rolled over into a wall of fur, causing an arm to fall over me. Titus tucked my head under his chin.
"How'd you sleep?"
I muttered a reply and buried my face in his chest.
"You've been apart of the pack for almost three months. I thought you'd be used to getting up early," he chuckled.
"Go away." I pulled the blanket over my head.
"Aden." He rolled on top of me, and his cold tongue ran across my cheek.
"Stop it!" I clasped the spot and shot him a glare over my shoulder. "Don't you have somewhere to be. Darius should be by to put your annoying ass to work." I covered my head with a pillow and tried to go back to sleep."
He dropped all his weight on me.
I groaned and fought to escape. "Titus, get off."
"I just want to cuddle with my mate." He slipped his arms around me and practically smothered me.
"You're crushing me," I groaned.
Laughing, he rolled to the side and pulled the pillow away. "Your hair is all sticking up." He patted my head. "Like a little porcupine."
I snatched my pillow from him. "I hate how much of a morning person you are."
Titus shrugged. "Depends on the morning."
"Well today sucks."
Yelling echoed down the corridor. With a sigh, Titus flopped back and draped his arm over his eyes. "Here comes Darius."
"He's been on one lately."
"All week he's been a total bitch," Titus muttered, shaking his head. "Dad thinks it's the alpha hormones coming in." He glanced over at me. "Rose told me Storm almost kicked him out a couple days ago."
I grabbed his muzzle. "You better not start acting like him, or you'll be having a sleepover with your lovely brother."
"Titus! Rupert! Get up now! We're heading out." Darius's footsteps sounded off toward the main chamber.
"Have a good day." I sat up and kissed his cheek."
"Hmmm.." He kissed me back. "Don't sleep in too long."
I pulled the blankets over my shoulder and closed my eyes. "No promises."
I stretched my arms over my head and slowly pulled myself out of bed. After pulling on some pants, I stopped at the dresser with a mirror sitting on top and tried to get my hair to lay down. Titus was right, I looked like a porcupine. Gathering my bath supplies, I headed down the hall. I passed by Peter's room and gave him a wave.
"Aden," he called.
I stopped and backed up.
"Are you going to the hot pools?" he asked.
"Can I come with you?"
"Sure," I said with a shrug.
He smiled and quickly grabbed his things.
I put my arm around his shoulders and pulled him over to me. "How come your hair isn't sticking up everywhere? Like you said, we do share a wall."
Peter shrugged my arm off. "I've been awake longer than you."
Groaning, I rolled my eyes. "You sound like my mate."
"Rupert hates the morning too, so you're not alone."
"Titus hates most mornings," I stated. "Today just wasn't one of them."
We dumped our bags by the rocks near the waterfall. Peter stripped and shifted into his werewolf. He wandered off towards the fall, while I dropped my pants and jumped right in. Emerging from the water, I heard giggling and looked over to see a couple older female werewolves shaking their head at me.
My face blared red. "Sorry," I said with an uneasy smile. Shifting into my werewolf, I went to sit by Peter.
He gave me a smirk as he scrubbed his arm. "I see you gave them a show."
I turned my back to the girls and slumped over. "Werewolves don't have any shame, so I doubt they care," I muttered.
"No, but you do," he laughed. "That's what they thought it was so funny. You're so uptight about nudity."
"You should be too," I exclaimed. "You're human born."
"It's been years, Aden," he said, raising a brow. "With time, you'll get used to it too, or just stay as a werewolf more often."
I picked up one of his soap bottles. "Maybe. The whole covered in fur thing, though; I just prefer being human."
He took the container from me. "Would you like to try some?"
"What's the point? I have some shampoo in my bag."
"This is far better, especially if you put it directly on your fur."
"There's a difference?" I said, skeptically.
"You'll see." He squirted some on the top of my head and started scrubbing it into my fur. "Do you arms."
I groaned, but did as I was told. Peter went down my back and grabbed my tail.
I lurched forward. "Woah." My tail wrapped around my waist.
Peter laughed softly. "Someone's a little sensitive."
Hunching over, I did my tail myself.
"I think you're good." He scrubbed a little harder than necessary on top of my head.
"Alright, alright, knock it off." I waved him off. "You know this whole innocent act has stopped working on me."
Peter gave me a sheepish expression.
Shaking my head, I climbed down the rocks. "I'll go rinse this stuff off." Dipping under the water, I stood up in a ring of suds. The women just gave me amused looks, before climbing out. I went to stand under the falls to get the rest out. Peter had gone into grooming mode. I didn't understand why he needed so many bottles.
A golden blur raced into the chamber.
"River?" I waded over to the edge and climbed out.
"River!" Darius entered and marched over to where the omega was hiding. "You think you can run from me." He picked up River by the back of the neck. "I told you to come here."
"Darius," I hurried over, "stop it. You're scaring him."
"Go back to your room, Aden."
Blood was dripping from River's arm.
"He's hurt." I touched Darius's arm. "Just let him go."
My brother-in-law lowered his head to my level. "Go to your room," he growled. "Now."
River cried out when the dominant tightened his grip. Darius's claws were close to puncturing the skin.
I narrowed my eyes at him. "No."
The area grew still. All the surrounding werewolves sat frozen, watching us.
"You've hurt him enough," I stated. "Let him go."
Darius let out a heated breath, shaking with anger. "One more chance, Aden."
I grabbed River's other arm. "Let go of him."
He clenched his jaw grinding his teeth together. "He's a thief, and I will punish him for it."
"He's bleeding. You've done enough."
"Aden," whispered River. "Just go."
"Shut up!" Darius swung him around and bared his teeth.
River's ear folded back as he stared at the werewolf wide-eyed.
"Not in my pack," he growled. "Especially not an omega." Darius claws pierced River's skin and let out a agonizing howl.
"Leave him alone." I drew my claws and sliced into Darius's forearm.
The red werewolf released the omega and ripped back his hand. I grabbed River and made a run for the exit. A wall of red and black blocked our way. I skidded to a halt and looked up at the alpha. River tucked in behind me, still sobbing. Blood was dripping from his elbow and pooling on the ground.
Darius was heaving with anger and charged us. The beta quickly blocked his way and held him back. Titus and Rupert were sprinting toward us. I kept River behind me and backed up to the water's edge. The omega dropped to his knees and cradled his arm.
"Darius," breathed Titus, going to his brother. "Stop it, just stop."
"The omega a thief, and your mate attacked me." Darius shoved Titus back. "I want him punished."
Titus's eyes went from his brother's arm to me. The wound had nearly healed, but there was still the scent of his blood in the air.
"Aden, what are you doing?" pled my mate. "Come here." He reached for me.
I shook my head. "He was hurting River."
"He stole food!" snapped Darius. "I have an obligation to punish him."
Taking a deep breath, I held my ground. "He was already bleeding. You have done enough. Besides, the pack has plenty of food. River's the only one who doesn't get enough to eat."
"That's not the point, Aden," said the alpha. He turned to River. "Come here."
I was a little surprised how quick the omega jumped up and went to his alpha. He was trembling and scared to death, but he went. Bowing his head, he clasped his arm as his tail wrapped around his leg.
"I was so hungry," he wept, wiping his muzzle with his good hand. "The deer was in the hallway, and I just took a little."
Xavier grabbed the boy's chin and made him look up. "Why didn't you come to me?"
River's breath was ragged. Panic filled his expression as he glanced at Darius.
"River," said Xavier sternly, jerked the boy's head forward. "I am the alpha, not Darius."
"I was scared," he whispered. "Everything I do is wrong." He peeked up at the taller werewolf. "I'm sorry."
"You should have came to me," Xavier stated. "Instead, you broke the rules and stole. You stole from the pack, and ultimately from me."
"I'm so sorry, Alpha. I'm sorry." The omega's crumbled to the ground and started to sob.
This was what being a low ranking member of a pack was like. Starving, scared, and powerless to men who could easily kill them. It wasn't right.
"Do you pierce the skin?" asked Xavier his eldest son.
"Barely," spat Darius.
Xavier sighed. "Your punishment is over. Deep breaths." He patted the golden werewolf's head.
The omega did his best to calm down. Darius rolled his eyes.
"You're partially to blame for this." Xavier pointed a clawed finger at his son. "He knows to tell me if there isn't any food left for him, but every time the boy says a single word, the last few days, you've yelled at him."
Looking away, Darius shook his head. "Fine, I'm satisfied. It's done." His eyes flicked over to me. "I may be partially to blame for River, but Aden still attacked me."
"Darius," hissed Titus. "Enough."
"He's right, Titus," said the alpha, letting out a deep breath. "He disobeyed an order from a higher ranking member. The next alpha of Northern Ridge."
The surrounding werewolves glanced around at each other, whispering back and forth. It had just been confirmed that Darius would be the next alpha. I really didn't want to be a werewolf anymore.
"I don't want to punish him, but it needs to be done. He is your mate, though. So I'll let you choose. Let him experience my toxin and wait one day, before I heal him, or demoted."
"Demoted," whispered Titus. "To what?"
"Omega, for three weeks."
My chest tightened, and I glanced at River. He was laying on his side, holding his wounded arm. Neither of those sounded fun, but I could take the toxins. One day of horrible pain, but I had Titus's healing enzymes in me. I should be fine.
"Demoted," said Titus's lowly. "But since he is my mate, I want him to spend the night in my room."
My mouth fell open. "No," I snapped. "I'll take the other."
"It's not for you to decided," said the alpha. "The choice is up to Titus."
I looked to my mate. "Choose the other."
Titus shook his head. "I can't."
"I can take it. I know I shouldn't have hurt Darius. I'm sorry, but if I have to be punished for it, then one day is better than three weeks, especially as an omega."
My mate wouldn't look at me.
"Titus!" I exclaimed. "Listen to me."
"Titus," said Xavier softly. "What's your final answer?"
The black werewolf swallowed hard. "I can't see Aden in that kind of pain. I rather he be demoted, so that's my choice. Demoted."
I narrowed my eyes at him, feeling rather hurt myself. "You're such an asshole. I can take the other."
Titus's ears splayed to the side. "I can't."
Hot tears started to pull. I was so mad at him. "I hate you," I stated. "I might be a sub, but I'm still a man. I'm not going to break."
"I'm sorry," he replied. "I just can't."
"Then it's decided," announced Xavier. "Starting today, for the next three weeks, Aden will be viewed as an omega. To everyone," he looked directly at Titus. "Only at night while he's in your room is he to be treated different. Am I understood?"
"Good, because if you break the rules I'll extend the punishment. This is a learning experience for both of you. Aden needs to respect his leaders and you," he breathed out through his nose, "as a future leader, you need to stand by your decisions."
"Yes alpha," my mate whispered, looking off across the room.
"Three weeks," I muttered. "Why not just make it indefinite?"
Pain filled my mate's eyes, but I didn't care. He hurt me first. If he was going to make me an omega, fine, I'd be one. I jumped into the water and swam across to the other side. I climbed off and marched off to the back tunnels.
I'd had it with these werewolves, and their stupid laws. Hurting people wasn't right. Nothing about this world was right.