Benjamin Malone shivered in the dark, praying no one would find him. If they did, they might "help" him, and the last thing Ben needed was the Pack's form of help. Because if they found him, the first thing they'd do would be to return him to his father.
He held still, praying, hoping Steve would just go away. Steven Hoode was his best friend. He knew all about Ben's father, knew about the drinking binges, the fights, the emotional blackmail. The fists that left behind bruises no one else could see.
He always wondered why the Alpha didn't do something about his father. He had to know what was going on! Or the Marshall, the Alpha's enforcer, the one who felt the physical well-being of the entire Pack; how could the man feel what was going on and not do something? The Omega felt the emotional state of the Pack members; why didn't he make it stop?
But no one helped him. No one cared except a few friends his own age. The entire Pack turned a blind eye to his father's blows, the drunken rampages. Walter Malone was careful to keep his drinking to himself, hiding it from others, but there was no way in hell he was hiding it from the Pack leaders. Which, to Ben, meant they didn't give a shit about the teenager hiding in the trees.
He thanked God every day that his parents only had one child. He couldn't even imagine what it would have been like if his father had someone younger than him to hurt. Someone weaker. Someone Ben couldn't protect. Hell, up until her death his mother hadn't been able to protect herself. If the cancer hadn't taken her, his father would have. Trying to protect someone when he could barely protect himself would have been a nightmare.
"C'mon, Benny. They're headed this way."
Shit. If his father found him cowering in the trees like a little girl he'd beat the shit out of him again. He might be a drunk, but his father was damn strong and still a lot bigger than Ben. Ben dropped to the ground, close to where he knew Steve was hiding.
Steve. The full-human boy who lived not too far down the mountain, the one he wasn't supposed to be friends with. The one who knew nothing of Packs and Alphas and men who turned into Wolves. If the Alpha found out he'd let a human onto Pack lands his father would be the least of his worries. The Alpha might even go so far as to Outcast him, turn him out into the world without his Pack.
He'd rather suffer the beatings than that. To be Outcast was the worst form of punishment, forever cut off from the voice of the Alpha, the warmth of the Pack. Forever alone. He'd be a target for anyone from the shifter world who wanted a toy to play with or something to beat on just for the hell of it.
At least here he had hope that someday, when a new Alpha took over the Pack, he'd be safe.
Ben grabbed Steve's hand and started running. Ben was even more terrified now that Steve was here. The Alpha could do serious damage to both of them if he caught them, and if he did catch them Steve probably wouldn't survive. The Alpha firmly believed that humans and shifters should remain separated at all times no matter the circumstances. Anyone caught infringing on his rule would suffer the consequences. They'd probably never even find Steve's body.
If Rick were here he'd help Ben hide the boy. Rick didn't share his grandfather's views on Pack life, but Rick wasn't here. He was housebound, grounded for a week for trying to stand up to his grandfather. Ben had been proud of him. Someday, that scary redhead was going to challenge the Alpha, and Ben had every intention of standing right at his side when he did.
Ben froze. Oh God. Oh no. He recognized that voice. He couldn't be here if the Alpha caught them. Ben couldn't protect him. "Go away, Dave!"
Dave Maldonado, fifteen years old and tempting as sin, stepped out from behind a bush. His light brown hair glittered in the moonlight like it was dusted with gold. His startling amber eyes were wide. He stared at the hand Ben had clamped around Steve's, his own hands clenching. When the boy grew into those hands he was going to be huge. "What's going on?"
Ben didn't want to drag Dave into this. The kid wasn't ready to face Ben's dad, let alone the Alpha. "Go away." He tightened his grip on Steve's hand, ignoring the way his gut clenched at the thought of someone hurting Dave.
Dave's gaze rose to his, the pain in them worrying Ben. "Where are you going?"
"Far away from here," Steve muttered. He looked behind him. "Can we chat later, ladies?"
Ben jerked. He could hear the pursuit behind them, knew they had seconds before the others caught wind of them. "Gotta run. Listen, don't tell anyone you saw us, okay?"
"Dave!" Ben took a deep breath. "Don't tell anyone."
Dave nodded and rubbed at his forehead. "Yeah. Sure. No problem."
And Ben took off, dragging his best friend behind him and leaving behind the boy he knew would someday be his mate.