“You clawed my fucking boots. My favorite boots!”
“Whatever. You have like fifty of them.”
“I have one favorite pair. One! I know you did it on purpose, Dane. This is because your crybaby brother had another hissy and you just have to stick your nose in everything. Stop fucking with my stuff!”
A slam vibrated loudly through the wall and cut off the arguing voices. Zander’s eyes flew open and he gasped. He jolted upright with yellow eyes wide in fear as he looked around the unfamiliar room. It was bright. Really bright. Sunlight streamed in through softly curtained windows and illuminated the bedroom in light and warmth. Another bed sat on the other side of the room covered in a bright pink and purple bedspread. The wall was littered with posters of rock stars with crazily dyed hair and tight, black clothes.
Zander’s gaze drifted down and the world took on a surreal edge. He was covered in a blue bedspread, but more alarming were the clothes he was in. He couldn’t remember the last time he wore clothes.
The room tipped drunkenly the longer Zander stared unseeing at the plain bedspread. For a lost moment he was in his own bedroom with the sounds of his mother making breakfast clinking in the air. The light was dimmer and slanted from the other direction where the windows used to be. Zander squeezed his eyes shut but it only made everything worse. Reality slipped away completely and was replaced with a dizzying echo of life long gone and never to return.
Zander squinted his eyes open and edged sideways. He slid down the side of the bed until he was on the hardwood floor and the mattress was flush against his back like a shield. He took five steadying breaths and then allowed his brain to try and figure out where he was. He couldn’t smell anything familiar, not a thing. He wasn’t in the cage. He wasn’t even locked in a room.
Zander’s mind drifted and he pulled at shadowy threads of memory. There was a man, a sorcerer. A wolf shifter. A door. He stepped through a door that led outside into a world he didn’t know anymore.
He was outside. He was outside the Rothtons’.
His breath came out in frightened gasps as Zander grasped his bent knees and dug fingernails into the flesh beneath the new pajamas. He needed the world to make sense and pain worked better than his frantic thoughts. Zander’s hands shook from their painful grip and his knuckles turned white from the strain. Eventually, the fear began to abate.
The floor was hard beneath his butt and bare feet, and warm from the sunlight streaming in the windows. Zander closed his eyes as his muscles slowly unfurled and unclenched. He ran trembling fingers through his hair and his eyebrows furrowed when he noticed how sleek and clean the locks felt. He paused and turned his hand to catch the hot rays of light dappled around him.
Sunlight. When was the last time he saw the sun? The Rothtons always kept the blinds shut even though Zander was never allowed out of the cage until night.
“Damn it, Dane, I’m going to fucking kill you!”
“Ha! Maybe if you weren’t wearing those stupid heels all the time, idiot!”
Zander started at the renewed yelling and peered between his fingers where the door was ajar on the other side of the bed. He couldn’t see it fully from his place on the floor, which he was perfectly fine with. It meant whoever was out there wouldn’t see him either. Zander took another nervous look around the room while he chewed on two of his fingers, oblivious when they became soaked with saliva.
He was in a bedroom, a really normal looking bedroom. It was big enough to fit two beds with lots of room in between. There was a closet on the furthest wall and the slider door was open to reveal it was stuffed with clothes. A bureau was on the perpendicular wall with a large mirror in the middle of the towering piece of furniture. Although one side of the bureau was clear, it looked like it was done hastily because there were bottles of things knocked over and a pool of what he could only guess was dry glitter nail polish.
Zander’s gaze was drawn to the other bed where a pile of mostly black leather boots could be seen in the gap between floor and box spring. He bent down and pressed his face to the smooth floor so he could get a better look underneath the bed. There were a lot of shoes. He didn’t think he mom ever had so many shoes.
From his new position, Zander let his eyes wander as he listened intently to the bickering voices. They were right outside the door, and they were only getting louder as footsteps creaked heavily on an unseen stairway.
“Breakfast,” a voice of utter patience called. Zander blinked and turned his head as he tried to place the confusingly familiar sound.
“I’m not hungry. Edward, Dane ruined my boots! The ones with the great heel!”
Someone sighed. Zander peered at the crack of the door where he could see a pair of nicely fitted slacks and the socked feet of Edward. “Bring them downstairs and Clive will repair them when he has a moment. Dane, if you could kindly collect your brothers for breakfast, we might actually be able to leave on time for once.”
“Wait, aren’t you going to punish him? You’re not seriously going to let him get away with…?”
“Mika, did you see Dane claw your boots?”
Mika huffed loudly. “I know he did it. He didn’t even deny it! Edward, come on, I know he…”
“You know the rules. Unless there’s proof, I can’t interfere. There are three cats of the same size who run around here, all of who have been known to claws things.”
“Then punish all of them,” Mika snapped vindictively. “I wouldn’t be surprised if his brothers helped.”
“Breakfast,” Edward repeated, this time as an order. “Dane, let me make it clear we have a new guest and going into anyone’s room—proven or not—is not acceptable without the occupants’ permission.”
“I didn’t… Oh.”
Zander held his breath and tensed when the dark form blocking the door moved. The door creaked as it swung open. Zander quickly squeezed his eyes shut and tried to disappear. It was dumb—he knew it was fucking dumb. It was just a bunch of disturbingly normal people on the other side of that door. Logic couldn’t stop Zander’s heart from racing or the sick wave of sweat that broke over his skin when he heard a sharp intake of breath that revealed he was discovered.
“Downstairs, the both of you. Now.”
Zander counted the footsteps, hyper-aware when the two previously bickering boys didn’t actually go all the way down the stairs. He wanted to hiss in frustration but didn’t dare. He was glad he kept quiet; Edward’s half familiar scent washed into the room when he pushed the door open completely.
“Zander, I don’t know if you remember me. My name is Edward Varg; we met briefly the other day. You’re in the house of Clive Drowan. You met Clive too; he helped you walk. He’s the sorcerer with the purple tinted glasses who found you. Clive runs a place for shifters in trouble. That’s where you are. You’re in the Haven, Zander. No one is going to hurt you here.”
Zander didn’t dare speak, didn’t dare open his eyes. His heart raced uncontrollably while his entire body shook. He wasn’t sure what was wrong with him but it felt like he was either going to shake apart or pass out. He just wanted to be left alone. The Haven meant nothing to him; it didn’t tell him where he was or who these people were, or most important, what they wanted from him.
The Rothtons always wanted sex when they visited. Once they were done and locked him up again, Zander was able to be alone and no one wanted anything from him then. He wanted to be alone now and not have anyone want anything from him. Fear was a weight on his chest, shoulders and stomach. It was something bigger than him and he couldn’t overcome it, just be crushed beneath.
Edward shifted from one foot to the other and Zander braced himself. Still, the man didn’t cross the threshold of the doorway. “Zander, I’m going downstairs now. It’s time for breakfast and we all eat together. We’re like a big family here. You’re more than welcome to join us when you’re feeling better. You don’t have to say a word. You don’t have to do a thing, okay?”
Edward paused, clearly waiting for some sort of response. The silence filled in with the sound of Zander’s pulse pounding in his head from his frozen spot on the floor. Even if he could think of something proper to say, there was no way his throat would let the words out.
“I’m going to leave the door open a crack,” Edward eventually said. “You can shut it if that’s what you need to feel safe right now. We’ll be downstairs if you need anything.”
Zander swallowed the saliva in his mouth but made no other move. Dark colors flashed behind his eyes from how tight he was holding them closed. Edward did indeed shut the door, and Zander jolted when the door hit the molding but didn’t latch. Edward’s footsteps padded to the stairs and three sets of feet slowly creaked down the steps. In less than ten heartbeats, all the sound faded from upstairs.
In the silence that followed, Zander lost a few tears. It was so dumb; nothing he felt at the moment made any fucking sense to the situation. He was scared, lost and didn’t know how to handle any of it. It was too bright in the room. It smelled all wrong, even if it smelled way better than his disgusting cage. Still, the same way he grew used to knowing he was safe when the worst was over, he missed his cage because he knew no one would touch him as long as he was inside.
Zander scrambled across the floor before he even realized he was moving. With a trembling hand, he pushed the door until it latched shut. He sighed in relief and slumped forward so his head rested heavily on the door.
Safe. Safe for now.
He turned and fell back on the door, his chest heaving for breath as he tried to calm his racing heart. At the same time he kept his ears alert for any sign of someone upstairs. It was after he thought he was okay, after he could breath and not feel like he was going to vomit, that he saw his hand and tears blurred his vision. He was so thin. His fingers looked like tree branches, his arm barely any better. He was impossibly pale and his hands wouldn’t stop shaking no matter he tried to steady them on his legs.
This wasn’t human. He wasn’t human anymore, just twisted, and left over, and barely even here.
Zander wrapped his too thin arms around him and clawed at his shirtsleeves as he fought back sobs. He shouldn’t have left. He never should have left his cage. He didn’t know where he was or if these people were trustworthy. There was too much—too much to see, hear, smell, and get lost in and it was all in this one room. There were more rooms outside the door, and even more outside this building. He’d have to go out. He’d have to be unsafe outside without walls or bars or anything to protect him.
What would the Rothtons do once they found out he was gone? Trouble. They’d punish him. Hurt him.
Zander pawed at his face and whimpered when he found his skin wet with tears he didn’t know he was crying. He needed to go back before they realized he left. They couldn’t know. Jasmine and Clark kept him alive; they kept him safe. As long as he was in the cage in the dark room, the world was simple. Terrible and lonely, but at least it was simple.
Zander didn’t know how to survive without the Rothtons. He wasn’t sure he was supposed to continue living without them. He was no one, nothing; the told him all the time. They told him they were the only reason he existed.
They were going to be angry he left. Maybe, they’d be so angry they wouldn’t take him back. Zander hissed and clawed at his too clean hair. Then what? How was he going to keep going if they didn’t take him back?
Zander screamed into his cupped hands. The strangled noise died faster than his ability to breathe. He hid in the dark, palm pressed over his eyes until he saw colors.
He needed to go back. He needed to go back home.