Laying on the stained mattress that was my bed, I stared up at the bare boards above me. It wasn't quite dawn yet, but I would need to be up soon to start my day. While I wasn't the only omega in the pack, I had the most work to do, thanks to the fact that my parents had been traitors to the pack. Sure, all omegas were the lowest-ranked wolves in a pack, best suited to various tasks like cleaning and cooking, but all of them, save me, were afforded a salary that allowed them their own home.
I was little more than the Alpha's prisoner. I had been relegated to live in the basement of the packhouse since I was a small child. I had only been four or five when my parents' treasonous acts against our leader had resulted in their death and my captivity. It didn't matter that I was so young; I was the offspring of traitors, which made me tainted. Orphaned children were usually adopted into another family, but I was a reminder of what my parents had done. The only solution the Alpha could come up with was to put me to work as punishment for their actions.
Closing my eyes, I tried to conjure my mother's face. My memories of her had nearly faded away though that didn't stop me from imagining what my life would have been like were she still alive. With what precious few moments I had to myself in the early morning hours, I would try to summon visage and let my mind play out what my life should have been like. The fuzzy image of a woman with brown hair had barely started to sharpen up when a soft mewing at the small basement window shattered my imaginings.
"I'm coming, Mister Whiskers." I whispered, hauling myself upright from the mattress on the floor.
Quietly, I made my way to the small window and opened it, letting my furry friend slip through the small opening. The stray tabby had followed me from school one day a couple of years ago and been my constant companion ever since. It was no wonder considering I had most likely been the first person to offer him food in days. He had been nearly as thin as I was when he found me. His poor condition pulled at my heartstrings so strongly that I had offered him what little I had squirreled away in my pockets from the school lunch.
"I bet you're hungry." I cooed as he wrapped himself around my leg, purring. "Wait here; I'll see if there's anything I can sneak down for us from last night's supper."
As if he understood what I was saying, he pranced over to my mattress and sat down, licking his front paw to begin his customary grooming rituals. Listening as intently as I could for any sounds of the warriors or ranked wolves that lived in the packhouse, I crept up the basement stairs. Food wasn't easy to come by for me. Like everything else, it was either scavenged or stolen. The Alpha felt, given the gravity of my parents' betrayal, a roof over my head was sufficient upkeep. I had altogether stopped growing around age twelve, making it easier to keep myself clothed, but getting food was tricky beyond school lunches.
By some miracle, I made it all the way from the basement to the pack kitchen unnoticed. There were usually warriors coming in from patrols at this hour of the morning, headed for their beds to grab a few hours of sleep before breakfast. There had been no shudder of the ceiling above me to indicate their footsteps as they trampled through, leaving me to wonder if something was amiss or if I had better move quicker heading back.
I didn't dare turn on the light in the large kitchen, afraid that it would attract unwanted attention. My morning duties involved laundry and cleaning; if I were discovered rummaging around in the cabinets, I would be collared in silver for it. My hand fluttered to my throat as I recalled the last time I had been caught. A light scar rested just at the base of my throat, where the silver had sat against my skin for weeks, burning sores into my flesh. The clatter of pans on the far side of the room caused me to stop in my tracks.
"s**t!" A familiar voice hissed. "Damn it all to hell!"
"Rob?" I whispered, relaxing at the sound of my only friend's voice.
I could see his silhouette straighten to a standing position in the darkness. "Chastity, what are you doing in here?"
"I was hungry. What are you doing in here at this hour?"
"I figured you might want something to eat." He laughed. "Actually, I woke up to my parents, erm, well, I'd rather not think about what I heard them doing. Let's just say I had to get out of the house, and I figured you could probably use some breakfast."
"I see." I giggled. "Well, hurry up then and bring it down to the basement. The warriors aren't back from patrol yet, so be careful not to let them see you head down."
"I know, I know." I could almost see him grinning.
"Oh, and bring something for Mister Whiskers too," I called over my shoulder as I slipped out of the kitchen.
I made my way back to the basement as quickly and quietly as possible to wait for Rob. We had met on the first day of first grade, me having not attended kindergarten due to the Alpha barely remembering my existence. He had been the only one that didn't care what my parents had done, ignoring all the dirty looks shot our way by the other children. We became fast friends, his parents even tolerating my presence in their home on the rare occasion I had time to visit with him. It didn't hurt that I excelled in my academics and Rob did not. If anyone questioned why the traitors' child was allowed in their home, tutoring was an acceptable answer.
As we grew older, though, Rob's mother had softened a bit toward me. While I was certain it was because of my apparent poor condition, I wasn't going to complain about it. She would allow him to bring me food if there weren't a risk he'd be caught, and she often placed trash bags of clothing on the curb two days before pick up, a convenient rip in the bag for me to see that it was only clothing. This allowed me to take what I needed. Anything more left them open to punishment from the Alpha. It was common knowledge among the pack, especially as I grew closer to the age wolves had their first shift, that I was not to be acknowledged or helped in any way. The taint of my parents' sins might rub off on them, and they would find themselves banished from the pack or worse.
I wasn't really sure why it had been decided that I would be a risk to the pack once I had my first shift at sixteen, but it didn't matter. The Alpha had decided that whatever it was my parents had done was so awful that their only offspring would surely take up their cause as soon as they had access to their wolf. I suspected that had quite a bit to do with his refusal to provide me with the basic necessities beyond a place to sleep. As I had grown closer to my sixteenth birthday, he had begun to offer less and less to the point that even being caught stealing scraps would result in another collaring.
Plopping down on the hard mattress, I pulled mister whiskers into my lap to wait for Rob. As I stroked his soft fur, the cat purred under my hand, a welcome distraction from my thoughts. I knew it was no use trying to figure out the reasoning for my current situation. If there were answers to be had, the Alpha wasn't likely to share them. All I could do was continue to survive until I graduated. My grades were good enough that had I been anyone else, I would be a shoo-in for valedictorian and the potential scholarships that came along with that. As it were, I was still on track for some sort of financial help with college, and I intended to use it to get away from the pack.
Quiet footsteps on the stairs let me know that Rob had made it to the basement without notice. Mister Whiskers stood and stretched in my lap before trotting off to greet him at the bottom stair. My friend reached down and patted the cat on his head before moving to sit beside me.
"I managed the good stuff." He beamed, revealing a variety of fruits, pre-cooked pancakes, and bacon in his shirt. "I couldn't find the syrup, though."
"That's ok, this is wonderful. Thanks." I smiled back.
"Of course." He shrugged, unloading his haul into my lap.
Crumbling a couple of bacon pieces on the floor beside us for the cat, we ate in peaceful silence. I had barely nibbled at the food before I had my fill. Rob frowned at me briefly before taking what was left and stashing it behind the potted plants I was allowed to keep.
"I know you don't get to eat often, Chas, but you really do need to try and eat more." He sighed, moving to sit beside me again.
"I don't know what you want me to say. It's not like I don't try; I just can't. More than a few bites makes me feel sick."
"Have you heard your wolf yet?" He asked though we had had this conversation enough times for me to know he wasn't changing the subject.
"Not yet, but my birthday is still a week away."
"You should already be hearing her." Rob shook his head. "If you don't eat, you're not going to have the energy for her to make the connection. You'll never get your wolf."
"I'm trying," I whispered, but further argument was cut off by the thunder of footsteps above our heads.
We listened in silence while the returning wolves passed through to their rooms.
"I better go." He said once the last of the footsteps had faded. "I don't want to get either of us in trouble, but I mean it, Chastity. I want you to try and eat everything I stashed today. Not tomorrow, not over the next few days. Eat it all today. I know you're going to do what you think is best, but I'm just trying to make sure you survive."
Sadness settled over me like a weighted blanket as I watched my friend make his way toward the stairs. He was right, but that didn't change how my body reacted to food. I had to find a way to make him understand that I just needed to make it through the next two years, and then everything would be alright.