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Crossing the wooden deck in long strides, I quickly reached the door with Luca right on my heels.

“Wait,” Grace interjected softly from her position next to the entrance. “Leander, it’s important that we start Hycinth’s treatment as quickly as possible, and you may not want another male on hand.” Her eyes flickered to Luca for a brief second before returning to me.

Luca’s face fell. He immediately stepped back, his shoulders hunching. “Of course. I can wait to see her another time.”

“It shouldn’t take more than twenty minutes,” Grace reassured him.

Luca’s stricken expression shifted back to hopefulness. He waited for my response.

“As long as Hycinth remains stable through the process, I see no reason to delay your visit any longer.” In my heart, I was hoping Luca’s presence might make a difference. As long as my Wolf remained calm, I wanted him to see her as soon as possible. “Wait here. I’ll let you know when she’s ready.”

“Yes…of course,” Luca agreed, sinking down into a nearby chair and placing his hands in his lap.

Turning toward the entrance again, I inhaled a slow breath and let it out. Not sure how much good it did to steady my frayed nerves. Every moment during the last few days had been consumed with a paralyzing fear of the unknown. It felt like a sledgehammer beating against my chest. But my perilous emotional condition was nothing compared to the raging war that my small and fragile mate was battling, so I pushed my shoulders back and forced every bit of wayward emotion into a locked box. I would deal with it later. For now, I had been away from Hycinth for long enough. My Wolf agreed. Not another minute needed it to be delayed.

We stepped through the doorway. My eyes dilated, adjusting to the soft interior lighting. Sydney was sitting in a chair next to the bed, holding Hycinth’s hand and lightly stroking her limp fingers. Sydney’s eyes flickered up to meet mine. She had questions. I could see it in her hesitant expression. She worried about the future as well. Not just Hycinth but all of us.

Sydney and Hycinth may have had a rocky start, but Sydney had come around to understand and accept my choice in the matter. It had been the ideal outcome after Sydney’s punishment for her bad behavior—a Wolf brought back into harmonious accord with the pack. And now, it has been obvious in Sydney’s words and actions that there was no breach in her loyalty or sense of duty. If I’d had any doubt, I certainly wouldn’t have left her alone with my vulnerable mate.

But I didn’t have the answers Sydney was seeking. I wished I did. Fuck. More than anything, I wanted to say that everything would be all right. But I didn’t know what the future held any more than the rest of them. Not yet.

Lips set in a tight line, I gave no response as I approached Hycinth’s bedside.

In her usual intuitive way, Sydney understood without my silence. She nodded almost imperceptibly and quietly stood to her feet before walking out the door, careful to close it softly behind her.

As soon as Sydney left, grace began softly, “We’ll start with the feeding tube.”

I looked over to find her collecting various sterile packaging from inside one of the medical bags. Working with smooth efficiency that belied her inexperience, gloved hands carefully unpackaged each item and assembled them on a nearby rolling tray. Once everything was in place, Grace picked up the tubing and unwound it. Holding one end at Hycinth’s nose, Grace extended it to Hycinth’s ear and then down to her stomach as she explained, “I’m measuring the appropriate length to insert.” Satisfied she had the correct distance, Grace marked the tubing with a permanent black pen.

“Since Hycinth is unconscious and cannot swallow on command, I’m going to need you to manipulate and flex her neck when I tell you.” Soft brown eyes looked up at me, gauging my reaction to her instructions.

I moved closer, anxiety crawling down my spine as I slid one hand beneath Hycinth’s delicate neck to cradle it. She felt so fragile.

“She won’t break,” Grace murmured reassurance. “Yes, this process is highly uncommon when it comes to our species, but Hycinth’s a Wolf. Her body should be able to handle it much better than any normal human.”

I didn’t know what to say that. Hycinth’s tiny body had already been subjected to more horror than any human or Wolf should have to bear. How much strength could she have left? The answer left me cold with fear.

Tearing open a small lubricant packet, Grace fed the tube inside a few inches before pulling it back out. She glanced up at me. “Ready?”

I nodded stiffly.

With great care, Grace slowly fed the tube into Hycinth’s right nostril. After about 10 cm, she stopped. “I’m feeling some resistance. Flex her neck up slightly and a little to the right.”

I did as instructed, sliding my other hand beneath Hycinth’s head so that I could carefully move her neck.

“That’s it,” Grace murmured, her brows furrowed in concentration as she eased the tubing little by little, further into Hycinth’s body.

It was a slow process, but finally, the tubing reached the previously made mark. Grace exhaled. “Okay. Now, the end of the tube should be in her stomach.” Locating a nearby waiting syringe, Grace attached it to the tubing and pulled back on the plunger. A small amount of greenish fluid filled the vial.

My Wolf and I continued to watch intently.

Removing the syringe, Grace applied to drops of Hycinth’s stomach contents to a small piece of paper. “I’m measuring her pH level to make sure the tube is placed correctly.” Grace held the pH test strip near the results chart to compare the closest color. “That’s good. Her pH is three which means it is positioned correctly.”

Hycinth’s eyelids fluttered, but she didn’t seem to be in any additional distress. I ran my fingertips along her hair and lightly pressed my lips to her forehead, whispering softly, “That’s it, love. You’re doing beautifully. You just focus on getting better. We’ll take care of everything else.”

After I pulled back, Grace positioned the tubing along Hycinth’s cheek and applied tape to keep it in place. When she finished, she gathered the leftover packaging and tossed it in a nearby trash bin.

“This formula has a high nutrient and electrolyte content.” Grace held up a bag of creamy, light-caramel colored substance for me to see. “It will deliver the nourishment Hycinth’s body needs to maintain her own health and that of the young pup.”

“Okay,” I murmured.

“Before and after feeding, we need to flush the line.” Grace attached a small vial of clear liquid to the tubing and pressed down on the plunger.

My Wolf’s and my attention was riveted to Grace’s every move as she then unscrewed the empty vial and deftly attached the bag of nutrition. We memorized the procedure so that we could re-create it when the time came.

Grace hooked the bag to Hycinth’s IV pole. She pointed to a small plastic piece on the tubing. “The nutrition is being fed via gravity but the flow rate is controlled by this clamp. It has six adjustable positions.”

“How frequently do I feed her?” I asked.

“We’ll go slowly to start. We don’t want to overload her currently empty gastric system,” Grace responded. “Things like urine and stool output as well as abdominal distention, vomiting, diarrhea or constipation will help us assess the frequency. In general, we would like to deliver about thirty-five energy calories and one-point-two grams of protein per kilogram of Hycinth’s body weight per day as well as two-point-five liters of water. These amounts are on the high-end of the spectrum, but we are having to consider the pup’s nutrition as well.”

The pain in my chest increased. I lightly stroked Hycinth’s swollen belly and worked to keep my voice from trembling, “She still isn’t…moving.”

“I know,” there was worry etched in her voice as Grace extended her hand to place it on my arm, but she stopped before she reached me, her fingers hanging in midair, and then she pulled away, thinking better of the action. “But maybe this will help.”

I appreciated the concern I saw in Grace’s eyes, but she was right not to touch me. My Wolf did not take favorably to any female contact other than our mate at the moment. He’d reacted violently in the past. The pain of our loss had just been too great, too overwhelming and all-consuming.

Refocusing my attention, Grace continued, “Now you just need to decide how you want to handle her bodily excretions. Up until this point, the waterproof pad beneath her has been more than sufficient since her bodily functions have slowed to almost nonexistent. However, once we administer optimal nutrition, her gastric system should return to somewhat normal.” Her tone was gentle, easing into the conversation, but it didn’t quite match the elevated beating of her heart, revealing her increased anxiety over my reaction to her words.

“What do you recommend?” I asked tightly.

“One option is to insert a urinary catheter,” Grace explained carefully. “This would ensure complete emptying of her bladder, but there is an innerant risk of bladder or urinary tract infection and physical damage.”

My teeth ground together. Fiery anger ignited inside of me. I glared at her. Grace had been right to be concerned over my response. I didn’t like the idea of any more foreign objects invading that area of Hycinth. She had already been through enough violating trauma to her sensitive tissues. I understood this wasn’t the same. Grace was only suggesting a simple medical procedure. But the problem was I didn’t know the extent of emotional and mental trauma Hycinth had endured. Would she even understand what was happening to her body? Or in her unconscious state, would Hycinth believe someone was violating her all over again?

To a certain extent, I could determine her emotional state through the mate bond, particularly when she was agitated and projecting. I could stop the procedure is Hycinth got upset. But my ability to interpret her emotional stability was really secondary when it came to my unwillingness to take any risk of adding physical or mental strain. That just wasn’t going to happen.

Correctly interpreting my unhappiness with her first suggestion, Grace continued quickly, “Or the least invasive option would be adult diapers. Considering adult diapers would be the optimal choice for keeping bowel movements contained to a smaller portion of her skin, using them to collect urine as well would work just fine. The only potential additional work would be having to change it more frequently.”

I rubbed a hand against the back of my neck. “Okay, let’s go that route.” I didn’t care about any additional work I had to do.

Grace walked to another bag of supplies and unzipped the top. She pulled out a diaper and two additional containers. Returning to Hycinth’s bedside, she deposited the supplies onto the tray table.

“I will be the one taking care of her needs in this matter,” I stated firmly. I didn’t mind Grace showing me what to do, but it would be my responsibility to handle it going forward.

Grace’s motion stopped. She looked up at me, a question in her eyes, silently asking me if I was sure of my decision. Willingness to help was written all over her face. It was commendable and nothing less than I expected from her, but I was done with people touching Hycinth in a private manner, even for medical or caregiving purposes. Hycinth’s choices in regards to who touched her in that area had been brutally stripped from her. I didn’t know what damage had been done to her psyche as a result so I would give my mate the only power back I could. Until she was conscious and could make her own decisions about who touched her intimately, I would be the only one.

I held my ground without speaking.

A slow moment when by. Finally, Grace nodded and handed me the diaper.

I held it tightly while she pulled the blanket aside and lifted the sheet from the bottom, exposing the lower half of Hycinth’s naked body. “Roll Hycinth onto her side, facing away from you.”

Setting the diaper on the edge of the bed, I carefully eased Hycinth to her side.

“Okay, open the diaper and place it on the bed. The tabbed end will go under her bottom.”

I fiddled with the garment for a moment, looking for the tabs and then settled it into position.

“Very good. Now, slightly roll the edge of the diaper, and then slide it under her hip.”

I did as instructed and tucked the rolled edge beneath Hycinth.

“That’s good,” Grace encouraged again. “Return her to her back again and close the diaper.”

From there, it was fairly easy to complete the process of moving Hycinth to her back, pulling the front of the diaper up through her legs and attaching the tabs to secure it.

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