Chapter 15 - Stone (Part 1)
“What’s that noise?”
Sitting upright stiffly, Lance gripped the armrests of the seat as the plane began to move toward the runway. He sat in the seat next to the window with Aubree next to him and Stone sitting next to the aisle.
The pup was sweating like an ice-cold beer on a hot summer’s day. It was pouring down his face as his nails extended and dug into the cushion of the armrests. Tufts of cotton poked out from the cracks.
It had been hard for Elena to let him go with them. She and Eramis drove them to the airport and without an audience of pack members behind them, she let her guard down and held her pup tightly to her bosom. Eramis was stiffer. The alpha’s attitude had changed toward the pup since the discovery of Gwen being his mate. He was tougher and stricter, and it showed on Lance’s face.
Shame at being the weak link in the alpha line.
“Relax,” Stone said, trying not to wrinkle his nose as the stink of Lance’s fear rolled over him. “That’s the gears shifting inside the plane.”
“I-I can’t do this.” Lance’s voice was high-pitched. “I-I have to get off.”
His hands, which were in the early stages of transformation with elongated nails and a millimeter of fur breaking through the surface of the skin, fumbled to unbuckle his safety belt, but all he could manage was to tug on the two ends frantically.
About to reach for him, Aubree beat Stone to it and grabbed his arm.
“Lance,” she said calmly, though sternly, “relax, okay? This is normal. Everything is fine. You don’t need to worry. Everyone is nervous their first time flying. If every plane crashed, then there would be no pilots to fly and no passengers willing to risk their lives. People fly all the time because they know they will get to their destination safely. You can do this.”
His hands returned to their normal human appearance and reached for the punctured armrests again. He whimpered as he slouched in his seat.
“Take deep breaths,” Aubree guided, her hand still on his arm, but her grip was more relaxed.
With clenched jaws and eyes squeezed shut, he nodded as he took deep breaths in and out alongside Aubree.
When he calmed down some as the plane paused at the start of the runway, Stone leaned back in his seat and closed his eyes.
Aubree instinctively reached for Stone’s hand with her free one.
“This is the hard part now,” she announced. “The takeoff.”
Lance whimpered again.
“Keep taking deep breaths, and think of Gwen.”
Stone smiled to himself. [Good idea, Love. But I will be thinking of you and Gwen.]
He peeked open an eye when Aubree lifted his hand up to her lips and kissed the back of it with a slight smirk. [What kind of thoughts would those be?]
The plane lurched forward, making Lance grunt, before it began to increase its speed down the runway.
“Oh Goddess, we’re moving.”
“Relax,” Aubree said again, her attention turning to the pup, gripping the armrests tightly again as the plane jiggled slightly as it picked up speed.
[Quick, reach into my purse and pass me my phone,] she ordered Stone as she angled her body toward Lance. She put one hand on his shoulder and the other on his arm.
Stone pulled her purse up from the floor between her feet and the seat in front of them and set it on his lap before digging into it for her phone. [You don’t share a connection with him, so you can’t pass on soothing feelings through touch, Love,] he said as he held the phone out to her.
She looked over her shoulder with wide eyes. [Really? Then, I hope this will work.]
Releasing Lance’s arm, she grabbed her phone and unlocked the screen with her thumb.
Stone didn’t have to ask what she had in mind because he saw it before she did it. He could read her mind like an open book and he smiled as he watched her pull up a picture of Gwen as the plane left the tarmac and held it up before Lance.
“Forget the plane, Lance. Open your eyes and focus on Gwen,” she commanded as the plane shook in its effort to climb higher and higher.
Whimpering, he forced his eyes open. His once scrunched up face softened a little as his eyebrows raised up, his lips parted slightly as the corners of his mouth curled down, and his eyes widened. He exhaled a shuddering breath, his eyes glued to the photo of Gwen.
“T-Tell me what she likes. W-What’s her favorite color?”
Aubree’s eyes flicked to Stone’s. [Really? It’s so dark.]
“Raspberries and anything raspberry related.”
“Raspberry ice cream, raspberry cheesecake, raspberry lemonade.”
Lance’s mouth closed as the corners tipped up. It was a pained, but sweet expression.
The plane started to level off and the rattling smoothed out.
“She likes to read in the sunroom,” Stone continued as Lance began to relax. “She likes listening to music and singing. She was my little princess for decades after her first shift. She wanted to wear nice dresses and perform plays with Alistair—her mother’s brother. She learned to sing and dance so she could make us smile. Always wanting to please. Always wanting to see us happy.”
He paused as emotion gathered in his throat with the memories. Gwen had always been his bright, shining star. Brilliant like her mother and as energetic and playful as her uncle. She couldn’t wait for her first shift and spread her wings. She loved her wolf form, but she loved all the things humans could do as well, like sing and dance, read and write, cook, and drive a car at the turn of the 20th Century. She wanted to learn it all and do it all, and no one could tell her otherwise.
Stone felt Aubree’s gaze on him as he struggled to swallow. “She’s still like that, but she changed after her mother and brother were killed. It’s important that you understand that, Lance.”
The light she radiated diminished. She didn’t shine as bright when she smiled. The sparkle in her eyes disappeared, and it wasn’t until Aubree entered their lives that he began to see hints of that sparkle’s return.
Lance looked over to catch Stone’s eye, but Stone turned to Aubree then. [You can’t replace her mother, and I know she doesn’t want, nor expect you to. But it’s because of you that she can laugh for herself instead of always trying to make me laugh.]
He brushed his knuckles gently across her arm. [She’s been genuinely happier since you came. Frustrated at first because neither one of us would accept the bond, but when I acknowledged the fact that I didn’t want to lose you after that first vampire attack...]
He paused, her emotions silencing him as she smiled a small, sad smile. [I know. She cried for you before I met you on the terrace. She loves you so much.]
“She’s strong,” Stone said, more so to Lance than to Aubree, but he knew Aubree would agree. “She’s strong because she’s had to be strong. She won’t let others know when she’s hurting inside. And she does hurt. You would too if you lost your mother.
“Pain is something we all share, that we all must endure at some point in our lives. We all deal with it differently in our own ways that can make us or break us. She won’t be broken, but if you hurt her, she might not be able to pick herself up.”
He watched as Lance’s eyes widened as fresh fear began to seep out of him.
Aubree leaned back in her seat and shook her head with a knowing smirk. “Fathers are all the same. So protective of their daughters, I swear.”
[I mean it, Love,] Stone said. [You haven’t seen her at her best, nor her worst. It will be interesting to see how she reacts to Lance.]
[She’ll love him. I know she will.] Aubree smiled. [Heck, I love him already. He’s adorable.]
She reached for her purse and pulled out Lance’s cell phone and handed it to him so she could retrieve her own.
Lance immediately pulled up Gwen’s picture that Aubree had sent him and curled up into a ball in his seat and stared at it.
Aubree put her phone back in her purse at her feet and leaned over on Stone’s arm, resting her head on his shoulder and entwining their fingers together on the armrest.
[I wish this was a direct flight. We’re going to have to do this all over again in a couple of hours.]
He kissed her head. [I know. I’m sure, he will be better the second time.]
She nodded. Her thoughts flitted back to what Gwen’s favorite color was. Why Indigo? It seemed too dark for her personality.
[Like I said, Love. After the death of her mother and brother, she changed. We all did. Before she liked pink, magenta, and violet. It darkened after that.]
Aubree nodded in understanding. [I lost my Grandpa a few years ago and my Grandma shortly after that. I was pretty close with my Grandma, but she was older, you know? I knew she wouldn’t live forever. I knew they lived long, loving, fulfilled lives, and that made it easier to deal with the pain. But that can’t compare to what you all went through. Adelaide and Arthur didn’t die of natural causes. They were murdered. You guys don’t grow old and die from natural causes. Death is more unexpected and when that happens, it’s harder to cope with. Plus you all share special bonds, so that must make it harder to let go as well.]
He nodded, pulling his hand from hers and wrapping his arm around her shoulders. She leaned against his chest and closed her eyes as she listened to the steady thumping of his heart.
[I hope everything works out when we get home,] she said.
With his free hand, he reached over for hers and held it on his thigh, stroking her knuckles with his thumb.
[I better teach you how to shield and project your thoughts. Traditionally, when new members join the pack, they have to make a connection with the other members, but since you already share a connection with all of them, I’m not sure what to expect. So, it would be best to teach you now while I can.]
She snuggled deeper into his chest. [Okay.]