Vessel

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Nine

Joey hasn’t been able to stop shaking since the moment that man’s hand covered her mouth. She hasn’t been able to get the sound of his voice or evil look in his eyes out of her head. Her only solace was when Andrew showed up and held her. She needs that again. But first, this.

Both Robert and Jessica are staring at Andrew in shock. They’re frozen, still on their knees beside her bed with their hands close to or touching her as if to keep her out of the grasp of any enemies. Their gaze on Andrew is so intense Joey thinks they may be mindlinking him, but then she looks up and sees his intense orange eyes on her.

Joey’s hearing is going in and out because of the shock, but Valerie’s laboured breaths and premature sobs are easy to catch. Her sister doesn’t say a word, she just snatches her hand out of Andrew’s and then stands and storms out of the room. Joey panics, knowing this would happen and absolutely hating that her sister doesn’t want to be anywhere near her now and potentially ever again.

“Val!” She cries brokenly, about to push herself off her bed.

Her mother quickly turns around and stops her by placing her hands on her shoulders. “It’s okay, Joey. Leave her be.”

“I-I didn’t mean to,” she sobs. “I never wanted to hurt her. I don’t want her to hate me, I’m sorry, I’m so sorry–”

“Honey, you didn’t do anything wrong,” Jessica says firmly, but the tears in her eyes leave Joey unsettled. “No one is upset with you.”

“But Valerie–”

“Valerie will need some time but I promise everything will be okay,” she squeezes her shoulders. “Stay here, I’ll go check on your sister.”

She watches yet another family member rush out of the room and away from her with a broken heart. She’s left with her father who still seems to have not quite grasped the situation, and Andrew who’s now stiff as a board with his eyes trained on her. Robert slowly looks away from Andrew and the door to stare off into space, his brows furrowed and lips pursed. Joey hiccups quietly and settles into her bed, tucking her legs in closer to her.

“Dad,” she whispers.

His expression doesn’t change but he lifts his head to look at her.

“You can go, too.”

His lips part slightly and it takes a few seconds but his face softens. He adjusts himself on his knees and shakes his head. “I’m fine right here.”

She smiles tearfully and looks down at her trembling fingers.

“Andrew,” Robert says, turning back around to look at him. “Do you mind giving Joey and a moment alone?”

He nods, almost robotically. His body isn’t moving. Honestly Joey’s half wondering if he’s even breathing. He’s standing like he’s ready to go to war. A sort of awkward silence ensues when he makes no move to leave, and Joey begins to frown while looking into his eyes. She notices his fists clench and relax and his jaw tick before he opens his mouth.

“I’m trying to move, I swear.”

A beat goes by before Robert realizes what that means. He looks between the two of them and then quickly rises and moves out of Andrew’s way. The Alpha just barely makes it to her without knocking into her father, sitting down on the edge of her bed and throwing his arms around her. Joey wraps her around his neck and breathes in his soothing and comforting scent.

Her hands nearly stop shaking and the racing of her heart is somewhat lessened now that she’s touching him. Her eyes close in pure relaxation and content and she lets him hold most of her weight.

“I can’t get the way you screamed my name out of my head,” he says lowly into her ear. “I don’t think I’ll ever be able to forget the fear I felt... Listen to me.”

He pulls back and holds her face in both hands. She grabs onto his wrists.

“We’re gonna find that man and figure out what’s going on. Nothing like that will ever happen to you again, do you hear me?”

She takes a choppy deep breath and nods. “I thought I was gonna die. Or never see any of you again. And now... now my sister can’t look me in the eye–

“Hey,” he wipes her tears with his thumbs. “Valerie will be fine. You’re not gonna lose your sister. Everything’s gonna work out and you’re gonna be safe and we’re gonna be happy and I’m gonna make all the bad stuff go away. And stay away. Okay?”

She sniffles and nods, closing her eyes when Andrew leans forward to kiss her forehead. “I-I, um... I r-really don’t want you to go, I think I need you to stay here. B-But Valerie, a-and I don’t even want to step foot outside–”

“I’ll figure it out,” he kisses her again, and she notices his eyes flicker down to her necklace. “I don’t want to leave either. Stay with your dad, I’ll be back.”

She squeezes his wrists before he lets her go and very slowly leaves the room, making sure to look back a few times on his way out. Her father had been standing by her window the whole time, and he makes his way back over with a solemn smile on his face. When he sits where Andrew had been, he takes both of Joey’s hands in his. “Are you okay?”

She frowns but nods a few times, looking down at her lap. Then she stops and lets herself not be okay. When she really starts crying, Robert wraps his arms around her and she grasps onto his shirt.

“You’re safe, Joey,” he tells her. “Whoever that man is, he’s not coming back for you and no one will let anyone else either. I can’t tell you how proud I am of you, getting away from him.”

She sighs. “He got scared when Andrew growled. That’s why he let go of me.”

“But still,” he moves back so he can look at her. “You remembered to call for help, that can be an easy thing to forget in a situation like that.”

She doesn’t want to talk about that anymore. She can’t keep thinking back to it, but she doesn’t have peace otherwise anyway. “Dad... I’m sorry.”

He frowns. “Sorry for what?”

She huffs. “I just... my whole life, I’ve been so much to handle. When I was a kid, if I wasn’t throwing up I was falling everywhere and getting myself hurt. So many kids at school weren’t allowed to be around me because of the silver thing and the late shift. I’m strongly urged not to leave pack boundaries in wolf form because I can literally fit through a doggy door. And let’s not forget the fact that we have absolutely no idea where I came from and that I don’t really even belong here. And now... now I stole Andrew from Valerie and went and got myself nearly kidnapped. I’m just a huge burden, and I have no idea how not to be. I never asked to be different, I never asked to be abandoned as a baby, I never asked for Andrew to be my mate. I just don’t know why I keep getting the short end of the stick.”

“You really feel like that?” Robert asks quietly. “Like a burden?”

She shrugs and avoids his eyes.

“Josephine, bringing you home and taking you in as our own was the best decision your mother and I have ever made. I don’t care where or who you come from, I don’t care how small your wolf is or if you can touch all the silver in the world. You’re my daughter, and I have never once... ever... thought of you as a burden.

“This is a unique situation. A hard one. Things are going to be difficult and your sister isn’t going to be okay for a while, but Andrew is your mate. You’re meant to be together. He and Valerie are not, and I’m sorry if that makes me harsh but it’s the truth. You’ve done nothing wrong and you’re not too much to handle. You’ve never been.”

The left corner of her mouth twitches. “Really?”

“Really,” he smiles. “I love you, kid. Me, your mother, and your sister. You know she slept with you every night for the first year of your life.”

She laughs softly. She does know that. Valerie was at a friend’s house the night Joey’s parents found her, but the next day, when the older girl laid her eyes on her little baby sister for the first time and learned that whoever her parents were just left her alone and ran away, she immediately developed a fierce protectiveness and barely left her side.

“Valerie will never stop loving you. You’ve never done anything to hurt her. She’s hurt now, but just by the situation. Not by you. Okay?”

She sighs and feels a little lighter, nodding and beginning to accept that she hasn’t done anything wrong. When she hears footsteps approaching the door, her body tenses and all she can see is black clothing and brown eyes and a knife pointed at her face.

“It’s okay,” Robert calms her. “It’s just Mom.”

She calms down a little but when her mother appears in the doorway her heart races for a different reason. Jessica smiles softly and joins Robert on the edge of her bed.

“Is she okay?” Joey asks.

Jessica shrugs. “She’s mad. Hurt.”

Joey squeezes her eyes closed and feels her mom grab her hand.

“But she’s not mad at you,” she continues. “She’s just mad. She didn’t have anything bad to say about you. It may take her some time to come around but she will.”

“Okay,” she purses her lips and tries to curl in on herself.

“Andrew’s with her right now. They have some... things, to figure out.”

Everything they’ve planned for the wedding. Their living arrangement. All of Valerie’s things at the Alpha House. All of Andrew’s things here. All of Valerie’s Luna responsibilities. Yeah, they have some things to figure out.

Joey braves a glance up at her parents. “How do you guys feel... about this?”

They share a look between them before looking back at her with slightly uneasy expressions. Her mom speaks first. “Well, it was a shock. I-I think we all became so accustomed to... them. It’s just been so long, we always knew there was a chance one of them would find their mate but after a while we just stopped worrying and figured they’d be together. Now, that doesn’t mean this is a bad thing. I’m so happy you found your mate, and it may take some getting used to, but you know I love Andrew. I’m grateful the Moon Goddess paired you with such a sweet and caring wolf. I mean, you’ve had him wrapped around your finger since you were three.”

“Neither of us are upset about this, Jo,” her dad says. “It’s a shock, like your mother said, but nothing we can’t accept.”

“Did you find out on your birthday? Is that why you were in bed crying the whole next day?”

She nods. “Yeah. S’why I had so much Nutella, too. It was his scent. I thought smelling it meant I wanted to eat it. It was just Andrew.”

“So I guess the way he acted when you were shifting that day makes sense,” her mom smiles. “He looked so serious. So determined. And he told us he’d be the one to stay with you. Well, actually, he demanded it of us.”

She feels her cheeks heat up and she smiles down at her lap.

“Is, um, is he staying here tonight?” Jessica asks.

Joey gets more uncomfortable then. “I-I don’t... I do want him to stay with me, but I don’t want to be with him with Valerie here. And I’m not that eager to go back through the forest after... you know. He said he’d figure it out.”

“Honey, I think Valerie’s going to stay at her friend Janet’s place tonight.”

Her eyes widen. “Isn’t she the one who lives in Chilliwack?”

Jessica nods and Joey’s guilt eats away at her.

“Great.”

“She just needs some space.”

“I forced her out of the city.”

“You didn’t do anything. She just needs time to absorb. Please don’t feel guilty about this, sweetheart.”

All she can do is try. When the comforting scent of chocolate and hazelnuts invades her senses and relaxes her, she looks up and sees her mate in the doorway. Her parents turn to look and then stand, giving her a quiet goodbye. Andrew nods to them and moves out of their way as they leave the room, gently closing the door once they’re out. He doesn’t say anything yet, and Joey can see how stressed he looks. Not knowing exactly how she should react in front of an Alpha in a bad mood, she simply holds her arms out slightly.

His smile, though small, ignites a fire in her heart. He walks forward and lowers himself onto her bed, sitting against the pillows beside her and pulling her close with an arm around her shoulders. She makes sure her hair acts as a barrier between his bare arm and her necklace. She can’t describe the calm he brings her in such a stressful time.

“So?” She asks.

He sighs and runs his fingers over her upper arm. “Well... she’s not happy. We didn’t talk much. I just watched her pack her things to stay at her friend’s place. One thing I could tell, though, was that there’s no resentment. And she did say she was sorry for not being able to really talk about anything.”

Joey nods against him.

“She also wanted me to tell you she loves you.”

She inhales deeply and looks up at him. “She said that?”

“Are you surprised?” He raises his eyebrows. “Joey, this’ll be hard but she’s your family. She’s going to need space for a while but she’ll be back.”

“What about you? You’ve been attached at the hip for almost 20 years.”

He frowns deeply. “I think... I think above everything else, she’s always been my best friend. I don’t feel the way I used to, but I still want her in my life. And now, now you are my life. So I get to live every single day with you by my side as my mate and my Luna, and Valerie and I can work on being normal friends. I’ve come to realize that the two of you are kind of a package deal.”

She smiles. “She’s pretty rad, isn’t she?”

He chuckles. “The raddest.”

She needs to be closer to him, so she sits up and removes her necklace. His hand runs up and down her back when she leans over him to place it on her bedside table, and then she properly cuddles into his side with no silver endangering him. “Are you staying?”

He kisses the top of her head. “I’m staying.”

“Have you heard anything about... about the guy?”

He takes a deep breath and her upper body moves with his. “They couldn’t catch him.”

She squeezes her eyes closed and surprises herself with a whimper.

“But he’s not coming back. We’re doubling patrols. Tripling them. My dad said he’s already sent more warriors to the perimeter – even retired ones. No one who doesn’t belong here is getting in. I’ve already told him you’re getting a guard when I can’t stay with you. If I have to sit through physics again and be told I’m lucky I was born to be the Alpha because I’d never make it as a scientist even though I didn’t want to do that anyway, I will.”

She can’t help but laugh. When she looks up at him, he’s looking at her with a gentle and yet serious expression.

“I mean it when I say nothing like that will happen to you again.”

Serenity. “I believe you.”

“Go to sleep for a bit. I’ll wake you up for dinner.”

She closes her eyes. “You promise you’ll stay?”

“I’m not going anywhere, Joey. I promise. You’re stuck with my not-a-scientist ass.”

She smiles and smushes her cheek against his chest. “That’s okay, I’ll be the smart one.”

.

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xx

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