Leo woke up to the sound of knocking, but he refused to acknowledge whoever it was. They would leave eventually.
He rolled over and put his face into his pillow, but the knocking turned into pounding.
“Open the door, LJ!” Sylvia. Of course. He should’ve known.
“Go away,” he said, loud enough so she could hear him. “I’m sleeping.”
“I don’t care.” She pounded on the door again. “Let me in before somebody calls the cops on me.”
“Ha-ha,” he grumbled but sat up. Given their foster father was the sheriff, the joke had been funny once, but that time had long passed. “Maybe they should.”
“Yeah, yeah, whatever,” Sylvia said through the door, but at least she wasn’t attacking it anymore. She’d probably heard him getting up.
It wasn’t until he was halfway down the hallway that he realized Sylvia wasn’t alone. Damn it. Damn his fucked-up senses and damn his siblings for ambushing him like this first thing in the morning.
Or afternoon, he figured, glancing at the clock near the door.
A big part of him wanted to turn around and go back to sleep, but since he was already out of bed, he might as well get on with it. Sylvia wasn’t going to let up now, anyway.
He opened his door with a “What?” in a matter of greeting and almost closed it a moment later when he saw the small crowd on his porch. Along with his annoying sister were Damien, Luka and Beatrice.
“Hello to you, too, brother,” Sylvia told him and moved forward. When Leo stepped back on instinct, she nodded at him and entered the house. She went to pat his chest, but he sidestepped that in the guise of capitulating and making room for the rest of their little group to come in.
Out of everyone, only Beatrice had the good graces to look vaguely apologetic for the invasion.
“I love what you haven’t done with the place,” Sylvia said as she looked around, but Leo just rolled his eyes. The house was furnished enough to be lived in, and that was what he was doing—living in it. Sure, it had been furnished by a company he’d hired and further accessorized by his mother—their mother—who wanted to make it more ‘homey’, but it was a perfectly fine living space.
Sylvia made it sound like he was living in a shack in the woods.
Which he wouldn’t mind, actually, as long as it had a comfortable bed, but he’d known better than to freak out his family like that. So he’d purchased a house remotely before he’d even moved back to Harrington Hills—and here he was.
Yet his family still found a reason to freak out anyway.
“Give me a minute,” he muttered and went back to the bedroom. He put on a pair of jeans and the first T-shirt he pulled out of his drawer, barely avoiding the temptation to just lie down again. He made a stop in the bathroom without so much as a glance at the mirror then forced himself to return to the living room.
The four of his siblings had sat down on the couch and one of the armchairs, leaving the other empty for him. How nice of them, he thought dryly, and for a second considered ignoring the seat altogether, but finally he sat, putting his hands on the armchair’s sides and resisting the urge to pull his legs up.
“Did you need something?” he asked.
“We needed to talk to you.” Sylvia looked at him then, pointedly, at the rest of their siblings, who nodded.
“We’re worried about you,” Beatrice said, and Leo opened his mouth to tell her there was no need, but Sylvia didn’t let him.
“You haven’t been out on a Full Moon Run since you got here. You’ve skipped all but one of the pack gatherings—”
“Two,” he corrected her. He’d been roped into that second one because he’d bumped into his mother at the store and she’d insisted he help her out, but it still counted, nevertheless.
“Fine, two.” Sylvia seemed to struggle not to roll her eyes—or maybe get up and smack him over the head. Either one or both, really. “In the almost three months since you’ve been back.”
“So what?” He raised his eyebrows. There was no law that said he needed to attend the gatherings. He’d done what was required. He’d gone to see the Alpha once he’d been back and he’d attended one get-together soon after. Then he’d decided to do what he preferred, which was to stay home and not bother with people.
His mood was definitely not suited for interactions with others, which this conversation perfectly conveyed.
“What do you mean, ‘so what’?” Luka frowned. “You’re a part of the pack. We gather as a pack.”
“It’s not mandatory,” he pointed out the obvious, but it looked like it was only obvious to him alone.
“It’s not mandatory to attend every gathering,” Sylvia told him. “It’s unheard of to attend none. And,” she added quickly when he opened his mouth, “yes, I know you attended two, but that’s beside the point.”
“What is your point, then?” Leo dug his hands into the armrests. “I did attend two gatherings, so it’s not like I’ve attended none. I’m not going more because I don’t want to. What’s so bad about that?”
“What’s so bad is our mom, who makes your favorite pie every time the pack gathers at the house because she thinks you’re going to be there,” Damien spoke up and, damn it, he’d always been the best at guilt-tripping.
None of them had ever wanted to disappoint their mom, the woman who had opened her heart and arms for them even before she’d opened her home.
Leo might feel like a monster some days, but he’d never purposefully hurt the most important woman in his life.
“I never promised her I’d come,” he said, but even to his own ears the excuse was a weak one.
“Yeah, because that makes it all better,” Damien muttered.
“You don’t have to promise anything. She’s always going to be waiting, and you know it.” Sylvia sagged in her seat as if she were a balloon that had lost all its air. “Seriously, what did you expect, moving back to Hills?”
He’d been looking for a place to survive. Somewhere to hide in, to forget his old life, forget—
So he’d returned to the last place he’d felt safe, the place he’d called home long before Chicago. But even here, nothing felt like it once had, because the memories had come back home with him.
He’d been trying to bury them all, but they refused to let go. They kept him up at night, trapped him in his nightmares and suffocated him until he ran, and ran, and ran for miles through the forest surrounding the town—and farther, too. He’d caught himself more than once outside the Harrington Pack grounds.
He’d never run far enough to outrun his head, but sometimes his thoughts had quieted for a while, at least.
He couldn’t do it on the pack runs, not really. Someone would notice he wasn’t shifting or running for pleasure, and he never wanted to have to admit to anyone—his parents, his Alpha, his siblings—that he was running for his life these days.
“LJ?” Sylvia’s voice penetrated his thoughts. It sounded softer than anything she’d said so far today, and when he looked up, he met her worried gaze.
He forced himself to let up his grip on the armrests. At least he hadn’t extended his claws.
“I expected some peace and quiet,” he said after he remembered the last thing she’d said before he’d gotten lost in his head. “I get that you like to gather until there’s a crowd, but crowds are the opposite of what I want.”
“How about we organize a family dinner, then?” Beatrice spoke up and he turned to her. She seemed…sad, and Leo didn’t have to guess why. That had been a part of why he’d stayed away—not wanting his family to worry. “Not the whole pack, just the Tomilsons? We hadn’t had one of those in a while.”
Leo wanted to protest—‘just the Tomilsons’ still meant close to thirty people, including all the significant others and the kids—but he figured it was actually a compromise he could live with. He would sit through the family dinner, make his parents happy and hopefully get his siblings off his back.
“Fine,” he said with a sigh when he saw Sylvia opening her mouth. “Let’s do that.”
Sylvia narrowed her eyes. “Really?”
“Yes, really.” He shot her a glare that hopefully conveyed ‘don’t push your luck’. He got up. “Now, is the intervention over?”
She shook her head but got up as well.
“This wasn’t an intervention,” she said, and the trio on the couch looked from one of them to the other and back, staying silent. “It was a warning. We’ll settle for a family dinner now, but you skip the next after-the-run barbecue and we’ll be back. And that’s going to be an intervention.”
He wondered briefly what she considered the difference between the two but dismissed the thought quickly. He’d worry about it later. Now, he just wanted them out of his house, so he could go back to bed.
Or maybe eat something.
He should probably eat. It had been a while.
“Is that all?” he finally asked, since everyone’s gaze was now stuck on him.
It was the politest ‘get out of my house’ he could come up with, and he hoped it would work, because he truly didn’t want to fight with them. He just wanted to be left alone.
Sylvia looked from him to their siblings on the couch before nodding slowly. “Yes,” she finally said with a nod. “I’ll text you about the family dinner, so don’t pretend you’ve lost your phone or I’ll come here and drag you out myself.”
Leo pushed his suddenly sweaty hands into the pockets of his jeans and forced himself to swallow through his tight throat.
There was no smoke, no fire, no pain.
Sylvia was just being Sylvia.
“Fine,” he said slowly, carefully, making sure his voice would hold. He walked to the door and opened it. “Bye now.”
Beatrice and Luka sighed, Damien rolled his eyes and Sylvia looked like she wanted to say something but closed her mouth and walked out without another word.
Soon, Leo was alone again, with only the fading scent of the pack and his family members lingering in his house.
Maybe he should actually invite his family over one day to make the whole place smell like them?
He snorted to himself. Yeah, right.