Fighting Fate - EXCERPT

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Chapter 3

Anna blinked her heavy eyes open. She blearily looked around, noting that she was lying on a bed that wasn’t her own with a white privacy curtain pulled around it. She couldn’t see much but she knew that this room was completely unfamiliar to her.

Anna looked down her body, which was dressed in a thin, cotton gown and covered in a soft, white blanket. She lifted an arm to rub at her eyes and felt a pull, looking down to find an IV line taped to the crook of her arm. The light above her bed was off but on the other side of the curtains, she could see bright, fluorescent lights and there was a stench, like an abrasive cleaner, that seemed to fill the air.

Anna became aware that hushed voices were speaking somewhere in the room. She closed her eyes, tilting her head to the side, trying to make out the words, but her head started to ache with the effort. She coughed, her throat feeling extremely dry and scratchy, and almost immediately the voices fell silent. The curtain right in front of the bed twitched and a woman, with black framed glasses on the tip of her nose and a messy bun piled on top of her head, poked her head through, smiling at Anna. “Oh good, you’re awake! Let me just notify Zach and then I’ll be right back to check on you, okay?” She disappeared before Anna could answer, so she waited patiently for the woman to come back. A few minutes later, the privacy curtain was pushed against the wall, revealing the rest of the room. There were three other beds placed around the room and various pieces of medical equipment, leaving Anna to make the connection that she was in the den infirmary. The woman came into view as she stepped towards the side of Anna’s bed, dragging a blood pressure monitor behind her. She was quite petite and dressed in white scrubs, with a stethoscope hanging around her neck. She smiled at Anna, lifting up the blood pressure cuff, asking, “do you mind if I check your vitals?” Anna responded by lifting her arm up, which the woman efficiently wrapped the cuff around before pressing a button on the monitor that made it start increasing. While the healer waited for blood pressure result, she picked up Anna’s other hand, pressing a heart monitor clip onto her index finger. She wrote all the results down on a piece of paper that she tucked into a pocket on the front of her shirt, before taking the cuff off and sitting in a seat placed next to the bed.

“I’m Natalie, head healer for the pack.” Natalie’s voice was kind. Anna felt drawn to her and she wondered if the was a part of the healer’s talents in her field.

“I’m sorry to be such a bother,” Anna murmured huskily before coughing, her voice feeling rough in her dry throat. “I don’t know what came over me.” As she finished talking, Natalie stood and left momentarily, returning with a glass of water and a straw, which she held to Anna’s lips. Anna gratefully sipped at the water.

“Don’t be so hard on yourself.” Natalie said softly as she sat back down on a chair, putting the glass of water on a bedside table next to her chair. “You’ve been out for almost four days.”

“F-four days? Are you serious?!” Natalie nodded her head, leaning forward with her elbows leaning on her knees.

“Piper came and saw me not long after you were brought here. I hope you don’t mind, but she shared some of the conversation that you had with her. She told me that you had never properly linked with GreyWing…” Natalie trailed off as Anna nodded.

“That’s right. I was blocked or shielded in some way. I was never fully connected to the pack but I had no idea it would be like that.”

“That’s the thing, it isn’t always like that.” With her elbow still on her knee, Natalie lifted one hand up and tapped her index finger on her chin thoughtfully. “While SilverRiver is a much larger pack, coming into the pack bond shouldn’t have affected you that much. However, GreyWing shutting you out of the pack bond for so long meant that you were deprived of the full energy that every shifter needs to survive. You must have had a small connection to the pack. I know this, because if you didn’t,” Natalie paused and took a deep breath, glancing at Anna carefully, “if you didn’t, you wouldn’t be alive right now.”

“You mean… what GreyWing did, shutting me out like that… it could have k-killed me?” Natalie nodded slowly and Anna felt like the breath had been punched out of her. She had known that her family had despised her but she would never have guessed that their feelings ran deep enough to actually kill her. Anna’s eyes began to burn and she quickly sucked in her lips, biting down hard to distract herself. She refused to let a tear fall for people that had never loved her in the first place. Anna hated that this was hurting her so much.

“Anna, you’re going to be fine, okay? You transferred to us just in time, because your body is completely worn down. That small trickle of energy kept you going, but once you became of age, you needed to be completely a part of a pack.”

“Why? And what happens to wolves not part of a pack or the pack bond?” Anna could feel her heart steadying but her mind was still whirling, filled with conflicting emotions.

“There are wolves who survive, but their minds seem to be designed differently from the average shifter. They’re what we call lone wolves. A normal shifter, however, needs the energy that comes from the bond. The energy is psychic connection that links the pack member to the alpha and, through them, every other member of the pack. Each member feeds energy into the connection, so that there is enough for everyone, and also for the young and vulnerable who don’t put as much into the bond. A wolf shifter who is deprived of the pack bond, as you were, or who doesn’t have a pack bond at all, will either die or turn feral.” Natalie’s tone was matter-of-fact but she watched Anna carefully, monitoring her reaction.

“So I could have turned feral?” Anna’s voice was small as she tried to understand everything that Natalie was telling her, aware that this was something she should have learnt a long time ago.

“No,” Natalie reached over, her hand hovering as she waited for permission to touch Anna, who nodded stiffly. The healer laid a comforting hand on Anna’s shoulder, squeezing softly. “You were too far gone, Anna. I don’t think you would have survived long enough to turn feral.” Anna looked down, clutching the white blanket covering her legs and twisting it between her fingers.

After a long moment, Natalie stood and smiled down at her patient. “We’ll talk more about this later. Let’s get this out of your arm and get you cleaned up and dressed. Zach should be here any moment.” She gripped Anna’s arm as she spoke, quickly ripping off the tape that held the IV in. Anna flinched, but she couldn’t say whether was from the pain or mention of the alpha.

Once Natalie was finished, Anna slowly got out of the bed, feeling extremely weak. By the time she had walked a few steps, however, she could feel her strength returning. She was beginning to feel even stronger than she had and Anna looked at Natalie in question, who seemed to know exactly what Anna was thinking.

“Now that our pack link is feeding you all the energy you were deprived of, and then some, you will most likely be stronger and more able than before. That’s one of the reasons you were so swamped, your body couldn’t handle all the energy at once and shut down against the assault.” Anna nodded, accepting the explanation before moving to the bathroom on the other side of the infirmary.

After showering, Anna changed into a plain black shirt and black cargo pants that Natalie had given her. She brushed her teeth, grimacing as she caught sight of herself in the mirror. There were dark shadows under her eyes and her skin was pale, almost sickly looking. Anna ran her fingers through the wet strands of her hair, trying to untangle the knots, before pulling it into a messy bun.

She finally returned to the other room, pausing to look around. There were obviously no windows, no natural light of any kid and Anna began feeling claustrophobic. She desperately wanted a fresh breeze on her face and to be able to smell the trees, feel grass underneath her feet. Her throat tightening, Anna turned to the healer to mention how she was feeling. Natalie nodded in understanding.

“You need to go for a run, and you need to shift. It’s been six days since you arrived, have you shifted at all?” Anna shook her head no and watched as Natalie’s face tightened sternly. “Our bodies need to shift, it’s essential to us. If you were deprived of energy for as long as you say, it would have sapped your strength levels in both human and wolf form, and the wolf needs a lot more than the human ever will. This may have decreased your need to shift, but that is definitely not a good thing. The wolf and human are not separate entities… if we lose one, the other can’t survive. Straight after your visit with Zach, go outside, okay? It will heal you more than anything else.” Natalie smiled softly, trying to take edge off her serious words and how concerned she was.

“Anna can go for a run now, I’ll accompany her.” The deep voice seemed to fill every part of Anna’s soul and she inhaled sharply, the scent of sandalwood and citrus overriding the rest of her senses. Anna felt her heart beating sharply in her chest and was grateful that there was no heart monitor on her. She prayed that neither of the other shifters had sharp enough hearing to pick up on the fast beat. It was a silly hope, though because ff anyone had sharp enough senses to pick up a heartbeat, it would be an alpha or a healer.

“Hey Zach, that was quick,” Natalie grinned at the Zach. “I expected you to get waylaid all the way here.”

“I did,” Zach gave the healer a wry smile. “I told them I had something important to attend to, which I do. I was quite worried about our newest pack member.” His bright blue eyes turned to look at Anna, the smile still on his lips. She shivered, meeting his glance for a second before looking down at her feet.

“I’m sorry,” she muttered, her cheeks flushing as it hit her again that not only had she passed out right in front of him, but also in front of the entire pack. “I don’t know what happened.”

“Natalie has filled me in. Believe me, I have a few words I’d like to say to Blake Williams about GreyWing’s treatment of you, but we’ll save that for another day. Come. We’re under healer orders to go for a run.” His voice was grim and contrasted with the small smile he directed at Anna when she chanced a glance up at him. Her eyes darted towards Natalie, seeking a way out of the current situation, but the healer only smiled encouragingly at Anna. She was feeling way too vulnerable to go for a run with the alpha... Anna had never met anyone quite like him. Power and authority exuded from him, filling the room and seeming to suck out the oxygen. Zach turned and strode out of the room, obviously expecting Anna to follow him so she quickly rushed after him. When she caught up to him, she had to maintain a slow jog to keep up with his long legs. After a minute, he glanced down at her flushed face and smiled wryly, shortening his strides.

“Sorry, I forget not everyone walks as fast as I do.” Anna shrugged her shoulders, looking down and focusing on where she was putting her feet. Zach didn’t seem phased by her silence, greeting each pack member that they passed on their way through the cave system. They reached the steep incline leading to the cave entrance and Zach stopped, waiting for Anna to go first. She wondered if he thought she would trip or pass out as she went up and so was behind Anna, preparing to catch her.

Anna inhaled deeply as she reached the top of the incline - without falling - and left the cave. Her eyes closed as her lungs expanded, the air clearing her head. The ventilation system in the case was top of the line, but it honestly just could not beat the real deal. Zach stood beside her quietly and Anna could feel his gaze on her, almost like a burn. After a moment, he shucked his plain white shirt over his head. Anna had grown up in a pack and so knew full well the lack of modesty that wolves had. Clothes that weren’t removed would disintegrate during the shift and replacing destroyed clothing quickly became an expensive business, so it was common practice to strip beforehand. In fact, many pups spend their early years naked, their shifting almost impossible to control until the age of five.

Anna tried to fill her mind with useless knowledge so that she could avoid focusing on the large male beside her, but eventually her curious eyes glanced at him. The first thing she saw was a broad chest that was as tan as him arms, showing that he spent a lot of time outside without a shirt on. She noticed that his body was very well-defined, his muscles clearly defined under a dusting of white, curling hair. Anna’s eyes followed the hair as it gathered to create a narrow trail down over his abdominal muscles, past his belly button and straight into the waistband of his blue jeans. She gulped, watching his large hands move around, reaching for the button on his pants. Her whole body seemed frozen, even as she mentally yelled at herself to look away from the beautiful male, her eyes still trained on his fingers… which hadn’t move. They were still holding onto the button but Anna realized a long moment had passed and her eyes jerked upwards, straight into bright blue ones. Zach was completely still, staring back at her. As she watched, one eyebrow cocked up and a small smirk tilted the corner of his lips. Lack of modesty there may be in wolf packs, but it didn’t quite extend to gawking at your alpha as he removed his clothes. Anna felt her face flame and she quickly turned on her heel and moved towards the boulder in the middle of the clearing, not stopping until Zach was hidden from view.

After a moment, she heard a rustling and knew that Zach was removing the rest of his clothes. She heard what sounded like an electric current, an almost buzzing noise. It lasted for barely half a second but Anna knew that the alpha had shifted.

Anna took a deep breath, her fingers clutching tightly at the hem of her shirt but not removing it yet as she closed her eyes and turning all her concentration inwards, searching for her wolf. She turned her thoughts towards shifting, imagining her bones breaking and extending, imagining fur growing out of her skin and her teeth elongating into fangs, she imagined her senses expanding and improving from what her human self could offer…

After more than a minute had passed, Anna opened her human eyes, her head hanging in disappointment, feeling grief welling up in her body so that she almost felt strangled by it. She took a large breath before turning and moving back towards where she had left Zach standing.

In his place, an extremely large wolf stood instead. His head was level with her shoulders and the fur that covered his body was the same colour as his human hair, except it was definitely closer to white than grey on the wolf. His eyes were an even brighter blue in this form and they were currently watching her questioningly. Anna could only shake her head miserably, looking at the ground, as she muttered, “I’m sorry.” Her voice was very quiet but she knew his ears would hear it. “I tried. I haven’t been able to shift for so long, I don’t even know if I’m even a wolf anymore.” She felt her eyes burning but started when the wolf let out a snort. He padded over to her, his large body bumping against her leg. Anna stumbled back, Zach’s action unexpected, and her hand tangled into the fur around his neck. She knew that she should probably let go of him but her hand seemed to have a mind of its own, tangling further into the fur. She began feeling comforted and before she knew it, she had sank to her knees next to the large wolf and wrapped both arms as far around him as she could. A wet snout nuzzled into her shoulder and Anna sighed. Physical touch was so important for their kind, but her pack had never been physically affectionate with her.

“We will discuss the shifting later.” Anna immediately pulled back and looked at Zach in shock, the voice in her head completely surreal. Piercing blue eyes just stared back at her without blinking. “Speaking like this is part of being a pack. You have missed a lot being a part of GreyWing. For now, let’s walk as we meant to.” Anna nodded, still feeling completely unnerved at a voice echoing in her head that wasn’t her own. She stood up but kept a hand tangled in the fur of Zach as he walked beside her. She stopped questioning why she felt so comforted by him. All she knew was that it had been such a long time since she had felt so safe, and she wasn’t ready to let that go by thinking too hard about why it may be.

***

They walked steadily for about an hour, winding through trees and bushes. Anna smiled every time she looked down at the wolf’s long legs matching her human stride. He looked almost comical. Her hand stayed firmly entangled in Zach’s fur and she was grateful that he didn’t ask her to remove it. After a while, they reached a break in the trees and Anna saw that they had reached the cliff she had been sitting on just five days ago.

Anna finally took her hand away from Zach’s fur and went to sit at the edge of the cliff, in the same spot she had been when Mitch had come across her. She heard the wolf moving just before feeling his solid weight laying down right behind her back. She leaned back against him and for a long time they just sat there, neither of them saying anything. Anna had so many questions but as she looked out over the infinite world in front of her, she didn’t want to break the silence. She thought about the tiny world she had left behind. The extent of what GreyWing had done to her was a creeping realization, but it left her confused, though. If GreyWing had been so intent on blocking her, not just out of the pack, but out of the shifter world itself, why had the alpha, Blake, insisted on her transferring to SilverRiver?

“I’m wondering the same thing.” Zach’s voice in her head startled Anna out of her thoughts and she looked at him over her shoulder. His eyes were closed and his head resting on his paws, his body completely still against her body. “I believe that they intend to use you as a weapon.” Anna frowned, sitting forward and turning her body so that she faced Zach completely, sitting up on her knees. He didn’t move or look at her.

“How could I be a weapon if I can’t even shift?” Anna felt her throat start to tighten once again but she steeled herself against the tears. She was already weak in the alpha’s eyes, she would not make it worse.

“I don’t think you’re weak.” Zach did move now, his large head lifting from his paws and turning to look at her. “Although I will teach you to block your thoughts better. You’re broadcasting almost everything.” It took a moment for his words to sink, but when they did, Anna gasped and felt cheeks start to burn again. This must be a record amount of blushes for one day.

“You’ve heard everything I’ve thought?” If a wolf could grin, this one would be doing so right now. He was downright smirking at her.

“Pretty much. I really liked the ‘beautiful male’ thought, although less of the beautiful and more of the ruggedly handsome, please.” Anna immediately huffed, standing up and quickly stomping away from him and back towards the trees. It didn’t matter how far away she got from the stupid wolf, though. She could still hear his laughter echoing in her head.

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