Therianthropy: After Burdened

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Freedom: Fiona

After the hell I’d just been in, I would have claimed being chased by fire was equally as bad, but it did have one good effect. Going through the flames was bleeding the poisonous silver from my veins. I was coated in sweat before I knew it, even as I coughed at the smoke that was smothering us and the black that covered my vision as effectively as any veil, I could feel the strength returning my limbs to their normal power. How long I was carried I’d no knowledge of, but I did recognize when his feet changed pattern from tearing through forest to the solid road. A deserted road, as I couldn’t sense any traffic nearby, but as I blinked tears away I could vaguely make out the space between what we’d just come out of and what we were now passing back into. The distance the road provided could give us enough of a head start we shouldn’t be headed straight back into the inferno.

It was only once my vision had cleared all the way did I truly realize how out of it I’d been, there was some boy following along.

Chase had grown up running track his whole life, so I knew when his breath started laboring he’d been running for quite some time. The poor kid beside us, while not exactly out of shape, was sweating and panting but still keeping a relative pace. I would have offered to run myself ages ago, if the spasms that continued making me jerk around in my boyfriend’s arms would stop. When we did finally come to a rest, it was to the sound of rushing water. Glancing down, we seemed to have come across a little creek. Chase gingerly set me on the ground, double checked to make sure I could sit up properly on my own, before stumbling the last few feet and dunking his face into the semi-clear water.

The other boy was a little more subtle by scooping up a bit and running it across his face before pooling it more gently in his hands and slurping from that. I’d admit my throat was parched, and ignoring how humiliating it made me feel I scooted myself over and began mimicking him as well. Once we’d all quenched our thirst, I finally cleared my throat for the last time and asked with only a slight cracking in my voice “who’s he?”

“Name’s Evan,” he responded, while politely avoiding looking at me. Whether to continue obviously not glancing over at me or some other reason, he directed his attention to Chase and continued, “thanks for coming back for me.”

He sat back on his heels, brushing his hand across his still dripping lips and shrugging like it was no big deal he’d just committed a near-kamikaze act, and that was just my guessing. I couldn’t wait to get the whole story on it. “No problem, honestly since you had come in awake I was hoping I could use your help in getting around until I got a hold of that other stuff, then I just did it out of pity.”

Evan nodded and thanked him again anyways, then he got wearily to his feet and cast his eyes up towards the tree tops before shuffling his feet a bit and saying, “well, ah, good meeting you I guess. Let’s not do it again sometime.”

“Wait,” Chase called, springing to his feet with much more energy than I would have thought. “Ah,” he paused and glanced over to me, but I had no idea what he was doing so I just raised an inquisitive brow at him, encouraging him to keep going. “Where do you live kid? I’d feel awful if you turned around and got caught again.”

He gave us a wane smile, shaking his head sadly and saying, “no thank you. I’ve got some other plans I need to follow up on.”

“Oh come on,” Chase persisted, running his hand through his sweat-slicked hair, “whatever petty argument you had with your parents can’t be worse than what you just almost went through, right?”

Evan gave a slight snort of amusement, shaking his head from side to side like ‘yeah, you keep thinking that’ but aloud he insisted, “nah man, I’m kind of looking for someone, and I don’t want the help. I really do appreciate what you did for me, but I’ll manage.”

I pursed up my lips and shifted away from the water’s edge, feeling a cold chill come over me that had nothing to do with the cool autumn breeze that blew around. Chase swallowed hard, glancing over at me again, before huffing and muttering something under his breath. My hearing must not be back to full quality yet, because our distance really should have allowed me to hear that. Then he said in more normal tones, “well then how about we help you find a recruiter?”

The surprise and beginnings of fear that welled up inside me stayed very well bottled up, I didn’t even allow myself to glance over at him but continued eyeing the boy, who now looked like he thought Chase was playing a joke on him. “The what now?”

“You know,” Chase looked at him in just the same way, like he thought Evan was being funny. “Those shifters that wonder around the country trying to help us keep a low profile, I heard they got some kind of connection all over the US. If you’re looking for someone, I’ll bet they can help you find them. Until we find one, why don’t you stick with us.”

He sighed and bit at his lip for a moment before shrugging and saying, “yeah, I guess, I mean I’m not going to stop you. It’s really not that big a deal; don’t think you have to go out of your way for me.”

“Nonsense, might as well stick together for while right?” Chase shot back in a way to chipper tone of voice. He continued with a snap of his fingers, like the idea had just come to him, “would it be too much to ask you to go see how close to a road we are? I’d really like to get her a set of clothes, until we can figure out how to get these things off” he finished with an eye roll and a needless gesture at the bracer that was vividly shining on his upper arm.

Evan glanced wearily between us, but I’d give him credit for being pretty smart. He clearly understood we wanted a little alone time, so he didn’t argue the point and went to search for a laundry mat in the middle of the forest. The second he was out of sight, Chase was back at my side, wrapping me tight in his arms again.

It took a moment for my brain to catch up with the rest of me and realize I was still breathing pretty hard, but not from physical exertion. The collective trauma from what I’d just endured seemed to have chosen now to catch up with me at the same time my boyfriend decided to spring this waiting catastrophe.

He began rubbing his hand up and down my back, tucking my head into the crook of his neck as he whispered, “Fifi, relax. We’ll find a Recruiter, get directions to the Founders. We’ll plead and beg for asylum, I’m sure the High Alpha won’t hold it against us. Hey, listen,” he continued just a little louder at the shudder that possessed me. “It doesn’t even have to be permanent; we just need a place to lay low until we can pick up a new habitat.” He paused and moved his hand from my back to my face, tracing the ridge of my eye with his thumb until I could feel myself start to relax again, then he gave me a gentle kiss.

My only response ended up being to nod my assent, truly not in the mood to argue the point, and that was all the answer he needed. Safe in the comfort of his arms, I couldn’t help but let a few tears escape as the whole world seemed to just continue crashing around me at once, but I refused to let it last long.

Fumbling for a moment, I found his hand and squeezed it in reassurance before untangling myself and leaning into him for a moment before taking to my shaking feet. I heard a horrid choking noise behind me, but I refused to let my skin flush with embarrassment. The marks would fade, this shouldn’t be permanent.

“Fiona,” he groaned, grabbing hold of my elbow and waiting until I turned back around to face a fiery look blazing in his eyes as he hissed, “What did they do to you?”

I forced a slight smirk to cross my lips, but couldn’t put that into my voice as I responded, “doesn’t matter now, does it?”

“It matters to me,” he insisted, eyes lingering on one mark in particular near my navel.

“You can fix it,” I told him gently, giving my elbow a little shake that he released at once, only for me to grab hold of his hand again, “by promising not to ask that again. Just let me forget it Chase, we’ve got other things to deal with.”

He swallowed hard, and the fact that he didn’t automatically agree didn’t bode well, but for now he didn’t argue the point.

We had to wait a few more hours, which by that time Evan had circled back to us and seemed to have come across a campsite. No one had been there at the time when he’d snuck in and grabbed me a few things. They were slightly too big on me, but I wasn’t complaining. Then we set off again, now looking for a road and the nearest town where we hoped to come across some help.

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