Vessel

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Six

The next day, she doesn’t get out of bed. She woke up and then just rolled over to face the wall. Part of her is excited to have met her mate and to know that it’s Andrew, the strong and reliable future Alpha of the Sumas Pack. But the other part of her is dreading the consequences. Valerie may never speak to her again. She could lose her sister. And if she doesn’t want that to happen, she could lose her mate to her sister.

This is all so fucked up.

She takes a deep breath and tries to think of anything else to get rid of the sick feeling in her stomach. School. School is good. She still has some chemistry homework to do but that’ll be a piece of cake. She can get that out of the way in an hour. She also has to formally apply to Sumas U. There’s no reason why she wouldn’t be accepted but for their records, she has to have her application in by Friday – five days from now.

What else can she think about? Shopping. Maybe she’ll go out to the mall today. She needs to go to La Senza to replace some old bras. She also saw a sweater from American Eagle online that she really wants. And she needs shower gel from Bath & Body Works. And maybe she’ll pick up a few books from Coles.

She’ll offer to make dinner tonight. Baked potatoes. Can’t go wrong with that. She can clean today, too. Her parents have demanding jobs that leave them in need of a total break every weekend so she knows how appreciative they are when Joey and Valerie step in. Her mother is an accountant at the local human hospital and her dad’s a landscaper, so they could use the extra hands.

All these things she plans to do and she’s still in bed at noon.

She feels her nose sting and rolls back over to face her room. Everything looks exactly the same, but everything’s different. Her closet is full of her clothes, but now they’re Andrew’s mate’s clothes. The pictures on her wall are of her and her friends and family, but now they’re of Andrew’s mate and Andrew’s mate’s friends and family. The makeup on her vanity is hers, but now it’s Andrew’s mate’s makeup. She doesn’t even want to look at herself in the mirror.

And then there’s the necklace. The silver necklace with a heart at the bottom that Andrew and Valerie bought for her all those years ago. She doesn’t wear it anymore because people don’t know how to act around her when they see it touching her skin, but it’s on full display in her room, hanging from a pin on her wall by the window.

She still remembers the way Andrew winced and groaned when he put it on her for the first time. He didn’t have to, but he did it anyway and hurt himself in the process. Before she could put it on herself, when she used to wear it almost everyday, Andrew would be the one to do it for her no matter what.

She feels a pull to it, and that’s what gets her out of bed. She walks across her room and snatches it from its place on the wall, unclasping it to wrap around her neck. When it’s locked into place, she sits at her vanity and stares at it in the mirror. She doesn’t make eye contact with herself, she just looks at the pretty silver heart that captured her attention when she was six years old.

Then she gets back into bed and continues wallowing the day away.

Eventually her mom comes to check on her. She repeats the same story Andrew came up with the night before: She’s sad that Thomas isn’t her mate, and that she didn’t find her mate right away. It seems Valerie had already shared that information with her, because she doesn’t seem surprised. Jessica sits on the edge of her bed and smooths her hair back.

“You’re wearing your necklace,” she points out.

Joey shrugs. “Felt like it.”

Her mother smiles. “Don’t let anyone’s fear of the unknown dictate how you live your life. I love that necklace. You should wear it more often.”

It reminds her of Andrew. She’ll wear it everyday.

“Do you feel like getting out of bed today?”

She groans and pulls her sheets over her head, clearly forgetting about all the plans she proposed for the day. Not happening. Not when she feels like literal trash.

“Hey,” that’s Valerie coming to join them. Just when Joey thought she couldn’t feel any worse, she does. “You, too?”

She frowns and lowers the sheet to look at her. “What?”

Valerie sighs and drags her feet into the room, making her way over to sit on the bed with their mom. “Andrew’s just in the absolute worst mood and I can’t do anything to help him.”

Joey takes a deep breath and remembers how calm Andrew made her feel last night. Channel that, remember that.

“What’s going on?” Jessica asks.

“I can’t...” Valerie pauses and runs her hand through her hair. “I’m not supposed to say anything yet, but a, um, a young female from the Sawback Pack is missing.”

Joey’s heart drops and she sits up in her bed. Sawback is in Alberta, part of the Canadian Rockies and near Banff National Park. They’re not far from the British Columbia border. Most importantly, this is the first female wolf abduction in Canada.

“O-Oh, my God,” Jessica stutters. “When?”

“Alpha Charles got the call this morning,” Valerie explains. “She was last seen last night around midnight their time, 11 p.m. here. She had gone to bed but snuck out to go to her friend’s house. Her younger brother caught her leaving and tried to stop her but she just took off. They live exclusively in the wilderness, she didn’t even make it to her friend’s place. She’s the first to go missing in the country so Alpha Charles is going to call a meeting later today to go over some new regulations. Andrew’s been helping all day.”

A heavy silence falls upon the three of them. Joey’s terrified. She wonders if any of the emotions she’s been feeling since she woke up are coming from Andrew. Something in her chest ignites and she suddenly has an overwhelming urge to get out of the house. She needs to leave. She needs air. She needs to shift.

Not having a wolf in her head makes it hard to know when she needs to shift. Despite not having a second presence, she does still have a physical counterpart. However, where a normal wolf would be able to communicate that they need to stretch their legs, Joey either has to be reminded by someone or wait until moments like this – when her body is overwhelmed with the need to shift before her physical wolf becomes weaker than it already is.

Not the best timing, as they’re discussing a female wolf that’s gone missing in the forest.

All she knows is that she needs to get out of bed and head into the trees. Maybe it will help her clear her mind. That would mean she’d have to go alone. And that’s nearly impossible at a time like this. Maybe she should just wait for a more appropriate opportunity.

Valerie sighs. “I just wanna help him calm down, he’s so stressed and worried today. How am I gonna be a good Luna if I can’t help the Alpha relax and clear his head?”

Yeah, she definitely needs to go now. In fact, she may not have a choice. She can feel the change trying to happen already. Every time she blinks her vision goes from human to werewolf. It’s like there’s a cracking in her ears, like a record scratching and trying to run smoothly. She’s overcome with a myriad of scents, many coming from outside. This is happening, and it’s happening right now.

Without paying any mind to the women in her room, Joey whimpers and starts climbing out of bed. Her shaking hands hurriedly unclasp the necklace from around her neck and she lets it drop on the floor of her room as she starts stumbling to the door. She doesn’t need it to snap when she transforms. She can faintly hear her mom and sister question her and then realize what’s happening, but she just continues her way out of the house.

No shift has ever been enjoyable for her. Her first one was by far the worst, but none have ever been painless or easy. Right now she feels like she’s about to throw up. Her head is pounding. Her joints are tingling in anticipation. She’s dizzy. She can’t hear. She can barely see. She’s fairly sure she ends up falling down the stairs and crawling to the doorway.

She feels hands on her but she flinches away. She doesn’t want anyone to touch her. She doesn’t want anyone near her. She doesn’t care about the news of the wolf from Alberta. She wants to be alone. She tries to articulate that to her family. She knows they mean well but the times they allowed her to shift and roam the forest on her own have been her favourite. She wasn’t followed. She didn’t feel pressured to shift back. She didn’t feel like a child. She needs the freedom, especially when it isn’t necessarily her choice to shift.

When she doesn’t feel the hands, hear the voices, or smell any other wolves she knows they’re letting her go alone. She makes it to the trees behind her house before a bone breaks and she has just enough time to strip. By the time she’s naked, she can’t even sort of stand up. She drags herself through the dirt and bushes as more bones begin breaking.

She’s crying. Heaving. Screaming. And then she flips over and just lets it happen.

Joey.

She doesn’t know who it is. She’s not even sure she’s really hearing her name.

Joey, it’s mom.

She sobs, her whole body feeling like it’s being sucked into a vacuum – a side effect of being so small.

Stay with Andrew.

She cries out again and opens her eyes wide. After a few seconds, his face appears above hers. That’s all she needs for a significant amount of the pain to just disappear.

“W-What...” She tries to speak but she can’t, and Andrew shakes his head anyway.

“Don’t, just breathe.”

She closes her eyes and focuses on breathing like he said. She keeps her eyes closed through the whole shift, every broken bone, every new smell, every stroke of her hair from her mate keeping watch over her. Until finally, she’s no longer human.

She waits a moment before looking for Andrew again. He’s still right above her, but now he’s a massive dark brown wolf. Her heartbeat quickens and her body fills with excitement. Against her will and lying on her back with her paws curled like a happy puppy, she barks up at her mate who immediately surges down to sniff and lick her neck.

She squeals and rolls over to stand up, turning to stare at him head on. He’s sitting calmly, watching her. She sits like him and tilts her head. A wolf of her size should be terrified of him. She’s only 50 pounds in wolf form, and he could easily take down a large pickup truck and then some. Instead of fear, all she feels is protected. He’s holding back, though, because his eyes are still green.

What are you doing here? She asks.

I felt your shift coming. I was on my way to get Valerie.

She whines and hangs her head. Andrew runs forward and lifts her head up with his snout, licking her ear a few times.

Sorry, he says sincerely. My father’s holding a meeting and we both need to be there.

Oh, she feels disappointed and takes a few steps back. Do you have to go?

No, I’m not going anywhere. I got here just as you made it into the trees and told your parents I’d stay with you. Valerie’s on her way to the pack land. The meeting isn’t until later anyway.

She looks up at him and takes a few steps closer again. About the missing wolf in Alberta?

She told you?

Joey nods, but then realizes that her wolf doesn’t do that very well.

Andrew rubs his cheek against hers. I’m not leaving, and when you’re ready I’ll bring you home. I only offered to come get Valerie so I could see you. She told me you couldn’t get out of bed.

She whines again and presses her head into his chest. I missed you. And I feel terrible.

We’ll figure this out. I’m sorry I haven’t said anything to her yet, I just–

You’ve been together since you were teenagers, it’s not that easy. And you have bigger things to worry about now anyway.

You’ll always be my priority.

But I’m right here in front of you. She lifts her head to stare up at him. Those girls are disappearing and it’s getting closer to us.

You’ll always be my priority, he repeats.

There are scary and important things going on in their world, but their conversation is getting too dark. Right now, Joey needs to stretch her legs and get rid of all the excited energy she’s built up. And her mate’s with her. She needs to run around.

She steps away from him and her tail starts wagging. She lowers her body into a crouch, ready to pounce on him as her tongue flops out of her open mouth. Her high-pitched bark gives her away just before she jumps, nipping up near Andrew’s neck. He playfully nips back at her but doesn’t move.

She bounds around him, stumbling and tripping over her own feet as she nips at his arm, his hip, his tail, his tummy – just trying to get him to react. Instead, he stays relatively still and stiff. She doesn’t like that. She walks around him and ends up back where she started.

Play with me, she begs.

He shakes out his fur. I want to, Jo, trust me. I’m just on edge and I want to make sure you’re okay.

I’m fine. I’m more than fine. You’re here. Just play with me. Let’s run to the lake and back.

He huffs and licks her cheek but says nothing.

Well if you won’t play with me can you let Cyrus?

She watches his eyes closely. It takes a few moments for him to give in, but eventually he blinks and his eyes turn orange. Joey jumps up and down in excitement just as Cyrus – who has fully taken over both physically and mentally now – starts gently nipping at her ears. Joey barks, all the stress and fear and guilt from earlier completely gone, and she turns to run. Cyrus follows after her and stays close, jogging to keep up with her sprint.

She turns every few steps to make sure he’s still there, just as happy as can be. She hasn’t shifted in a few weeks, maybe longer. And now she’s finally getting her fix with her mate by her side. She’s ecstatic.

Cyrus speeds up so he’s leading Joey instead, and she becomes obsessed with trying to bite onto his tail. He makes it a game for her, running in a zig-zag path, swinging his tail from side to side, lifting it up so she can’t reach. She can’t even find it in herself to be annoyed. She just never wants this moment to end.

When they get to Chadsey Lake, they play a little more before they just curl up together. It happens when Joey’s small body gets tired from all the activity and she collapses on her side. Cyrus joins her and wraps his body around hers. Their heads are stacked, and Joey can push hard enough every once in a while to get him to lift his head so she can lick under his chin. His scent’s been following her the whole time, obviously, but she gets a good whiff of it then with her nose so close to his neck.

Cyrus growls and pushes his head back down until hers is flat on the floor and hidden by his fur. Joey laughs to herself and wiggles around until he lets up. She rests and closes her eyes in absolute bliss. She doesn’t know how much time passes because it doesn’t feel like it is. Being with Andrew is effortless and makes all of her worries fly out the door.

I can’t explain to you how much better you’ve made my day, he tells her.

She rolls onto her back like a puppy again and stares up at him. His eyes are still orange. He’s still letting himself relax. I was just thinking the same thing.

Yeah?

Yeah. I don’t want it to end.

Neither do I. Let’s skip the meeting.

We can’t do that, she laughs. New regulations, right?

Right. There’s gonna be a 9 p.m. curfew, and no young female can travel through the forest at any time without the appropriate escort.

A male or mature female.

Exactly, he rubs their cheeks together. I promise I’ll be yours as often as I can. I don’t want anyone else to watch over you.

But you have a very important job to do, and if it means figuring this out and putting a stop to it as soon as possible then I’m perfectly fine having another chaperone on some days while you do Alpha stuff.

He sighs. I don’t like it.

I don’t either, but that’s the way it is.

I’ll assign guards to you. They’ll rotate. Your sister will be one of them. She wants you protected as much as I do.

You can’t do that, you can’t give me guards.

You’re the future Luna of this pack.

No, she rolls onto her stomach. Right now Valerie’s the future Luna. She can watch me on the days she’s available. Other days I’ll just tag along with the girls who live close to me.

When I’m not with you.

Right, she noses his cheek. She looks up at the sky, knowing that most of their full pack meetings start at sunset. We should go. You have a meeting to lead and I have a meeting to attend.

He huffs but stands anyway, shaking out his fur and stretching his legs.

We should hop in the water. Should be fine if we kinda smell like each other, but we shouldn’t smell so much like each other.

Race ya.

He takes off running before he’s even finished speaking and Joey sprints as quickly as she can. Wait! No! You know my legs are a quarter the length of yours!


Andrew brings her to the treeline behind her house, grabbing both their clothes before helping her shift back as peacefully as possible. Despite having been totally nude in front of him a few hours ago, he very graciously leads her to a bush which she can lie down beside and just leave her head visible to him. When they’re both in human form, they smile. But they can’t get close.

They change and very longingly say goodbye, continuing to look behind them as they walk in opposite directions until they can no longer see each other. An hour later, though, Joey’s sitting in the main square with her parents and the rest of their pack listening to Alpha Charles and Andrew share the details of the incident in Sawback. Beside Alpha Charles is Luna Rita. And beside Andrew is Valerie.

Joey refuses to let it bother her. They agreed not to tell anyone until they tell Valerie and telling Valerie will be extremely hard. So for the time being, she has to be okay with the circumstances. That doesn’t mean she can’t clench her fists so hard blood nearly bubbles from the nail marks on her palms. That’s one thing she can do.

That, and think back to her amazing day with her mate.

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xx

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