Chapter 3 ~ Softly
Chapter 3: Softly
Jeans felt too tight against my legs and the boots too heavy on my feet, but at least I was a lot warmer. I'd miss my sandals and skirts, but it wouldn't be too long before spring came and brought warmer weather....I hoped. For now I could no longer deal with trekking through the snow and coming home freezing cold, making myself at risk of contracting some illness. Wulver's were immune to many diseases but even we sometimes got the cold.
The smell of bacon, eggs and pancakes wafted through from the kitchen and I picked up the pace. If I wanted to enjoy a good breakfast, I'd have to fill my plate before the males did. I'd woken up earlier than normal, before most of the pack so I could avoid Quillan and the other high ranked as they made their way to the dining room. Cathwulf had invited me to eat with them but it wasn't right. Omegas didn't eat with the high ranked unless the whole pack was together.
Voices and movement had me pausing by the door, taking a moment to gather the confidence to go in before I heard the conversation.
"Did you hear the Omega is training with Sam to become the next healer?" A young male voice asked.
"It's good. This pack hasn't had a healer since I was a small girl. It's a sign that we are returning to our full strength. That lass will be a good healer, she's got a sweet soul, if a little quiet." An older women replied softly, making me smile.
I was glad someone other than my friends had faith in my abilities.
"It's a disgrace! She's an omega, she doesn't hold the rank, or the dominance needed to be a healer. She's not just quiet, she's shy and timid, terrified of males. How will she heal our warriors if she's too scared to even be around them?"
I knew that voice and any confidence that had built up was knocked back down again. Tala had been a good friend of Brenna's and her disdain for me was clear. She knew I was beneath her.
A whacking sound resounded, followed closely by Tala's yelp.
"You young ones have no idea what it means to be pack. You're too caught up in yourselves to remember that every single member is as important as the next! Our omegas are what keep us together, they are the life and soul of the pack. Just because Oria is an Omega now does not mean she is meant to be one always. She needs us to help her grow. Having a healer again is very important and the fact that she has taken on the training is a massive step in itself for her. If I hear you badmouthing that girl, or any other omega, you will face my teeth, Tala." The woman scolded with a violence to her voice that had me scared.
I decided to pass on eating. I couldn't face any of them now, even with someone defending me. Hiding out at Sam's again seemed like a much better idea.
Quietly, I crept towards the door, hoping they wouldn't notice me slip past.
It had snowed last night and the world was blanketed in soft white snow. I zipped up the jacket that Cathwulf had lent me and stepped out into the fresh air. Each footstep I took made a satisfying crunch that had me smiling. Maybe I didn't hate the snow that much.
I smiled and greeted the few wolves I passed on my way to Sam's, still struggling to put names to faces. I'd probably never be able to remember most of them. A few I recognised from them visiting the clinic, needing herbs for various things like help with sleep, which seemed to be most common among the teenagers of the pack. I never went to high school, and from what I'd heard from them, I was glad I never did.
The sound of a crying baby greeted me as I pushed into the clinic and out of curiosity and my own wolf pushing me to meet the new pup, I entered the main room instead of the healer's.
Arianna smiled at me while Sam did her checks on the baby that screamed his lungs out.
"I hope we didn't disturb you, Oria." Arianna apologised, her eyes flicking back to her cub.
I shook my head, tentatively stepping a little closer. Arianna was nice, my wolf felt calm around her, but she was still mostly a stranger to me.
"I just arrived."
Sam tucked stray strands of hair behind her ears as she straightened up and gave Arianna a bright smile, "Completely healthy, nothing to worry about. He's just a loud little lad, but do come back if you have any more worries, it's always better to be safe than sorry, especially in this weather."
"Thank you, Sam. I'm sorry if I'm being a bother." Arianna said, taking her son into her arms.
I stepped closer still, smiling down at the small baby who quieted down, his big brown eyes focusing on me.
"Have you picked a name for him yet?" I asked, reaching out to stroke a red cheek.
"Not yet. You must think I'm a terrible mother, but I want to wait for Stefan to get back so we can pick a name for our son together. For now he is Beag Faol." She laughed.
I grinned. Beag Faol, little wolf.
"Anyway, I better head back home. My mother is hovering and decided she needs to make a big lunch." Arianna sighed, wrapping herself and her son up warm before standing to leave, "She seems to be under the impression that I can't do anything for myself."
"She's just trying to help. You're her youngest child and this is her first grandchild, she'll relax soon enough." Sam assured her.
Arianna nodded understandingly and headed for the door, pausing to look at me, "You're welcome to join us for lunch if you like, Oria. My mother is a bit of a busy body, she wants to meet you, start getting you involved with the pack, and introduce you to everyone."
Her offer seemed too much like an after thought that she wasn't completely comfortable with, and the idea of meeting new people, of being paraded around as the new wolf, terrified me. Quickly, I shook my head.
"Thank you, but I'm going to be busy around here today. Maybe another time?"
Arianna gave me an uncertain smile but nodded nonetheless before she left. Perhaps I had misjudged her intention and she really did want me to come for lunch...
Sam snorted once Arianna left and my gaze flicked to hers.
"Busy? Are you finally going to clean the herb room?" She teased.
I rolled my eyes but blushed, shrinking in on myself, "I promise I'll clean up."
She laughed and waved a hand, tidying away her tools and tossing her rubber gloves in the bin, "It's maybe good you're here. Cathwulf is coming to see me for her appointment, finally. While I'm sure our Alpha will accompany her, I bet she'd appreciate your presence as well."
"He might have to hold her down, she never did like doctors. I remember when she broke her wrist, she wouldn't let anyone look at it, her father had to pretty much order her to let the doctor reset it." I laughed, shaking my head, "I'll go clean up the herbs, is there anything you need help with?"
Sam bit her lip and looked around, "Everything's in ship shape, but if you get the chance or the urge to make a cup of tea, I would love one."
Laughing again, I nodded.
"I'll make us some tea now."
Sam grinned at me and began setting up everything for Cathwulf while I made my way through the door that connected the clinic to Sam's cottage. It was small but cute and warm. Wooden floorboards creaked beneath my weight, stone walls and wooden beams gave the place an old fashioned feel and I wondered how old the place really was.
Her set up was rustic, completely opposite to the high tech machinery of Sam's clinic and more like the small wing the healer had used. There was electricity of course, for lights and the washing machine, but everything else was simple. Water was boiled in a kettle that hung over the medium sized fireplace, food was cooked in a wood burning stove and the only heating was from the fire in the living room that joined the kitchen and the fireplace Sam had in the only bedroom upstairs.
It was hard to believe she lived like this, it was far more suited to the likes of me rather than Sam who I knew loved her technology. Though Mirren seemed to be enjoying the heat of the fire, she was curled up on the rug, purring contendedly while she slept.
I grabbed two mugs and let the water boil, picking one of her herbal teas that would hopefully calm my senses that had been running rampant today. Keeping myself busy with my task, I tried my best not to think about what Tala had said this morning. Her words had cut deep.
The whistle of the kettle was a welcome sound. Wrapping a cloth around the metal handle, I carefully poured the water into the mug before adding milk, watching the white swirl and mix with brown. I inhaled the scent greedily, letting out a small sigh.
Sam was sitting by what looked like an odd computer when I came back through and she took the steaming mug gratefully.
"Thank you, Oria. I would have made one earlier but I've been rushed off my feet today."
Just as I was about to tell it was no bother, the bell on the front door rang, signalling the arrival of Cathwulf and Roarke whose bickering echoed through.
"I just asked you to take it a little easier, my love."
"You're being completely unreasonable, Roarke. Walking isn't going to harm the baby, if anything it's good for both us."
I gave Sam a look and she rolled her eyes and stood to greet them both, "Alphas."
I stood too, bowing my head, keeping my eyes glued to the ground.
"Sam, Oria. I'm sorry if we're a little late." Cathwulf apologised, stepping away from Roarke.
Sam waved a hand, clicking her tongue, "It's no bother. Would you like to take a seat?"
Cathwulf begrudgingly slipped onto the bed, kicking her feet up with her hands resting on her small bump. Roarke's presence was overwhelming to my senses and when he got closer, my whole body tensed up. Something between a gasp and a whimper left me when his fingers gripped and lifted my chin up.
"Meet my eyes, healer." He ordered, a slight growl to his voice.
With nails digging into the palms of my hands and my heart beating so hard I thought it would burst through my chest, I lifted my gaze to meet his. He gave me a smile and a nod before going to his mate's side and taking her hand. Cathwulf was smiling at me.
"Right!" Sam chirped, "Lift up your shirt and we'll get a look at the little one."
With more grumbling from my friend, she tugged her shirt up to reveal her bump. I felt awkward, standing slightly away from them all, like I was intruding. Quietly, I slipped from the room and back to my herbs, finishing my cleaning. This was a moment that should only be shared between mates.
The spot by the door still held Quillan's scent and suddenly I was replaying the moment from a day or two before. Shaking my head, I picked up the the mortar and pestle and finished the job he had interrupted, crushing some herbs.
I got lost to my work until I heard the thrumming of a heartbeat that echoed from the monitor in the other room. My head tilted and I smiled at the delighted voices of two happy parents. Unable to help myself, I stilled, my ears straining to hear the conversation.
"Do you want to know the sex?" Sam asked.
"No." Roarke said at the same time as Cathwulf cried out, "Yes."
More bickering between the pair had my lips twitching into a smile before Roarke conceded to his pregnant mate.
"Congratulations, Alphas, you're to have a beautiful baby girl."
"A girl?" I heard Roarke murmur, and suddenly I felt worried.
Most alpha males probably wanted their first born to be a son, an heir to their pack. I wondered how Cathwulf would react if Roarke was disappointed but all my worries washed away as Roarke repeated the words in a far more delighted tone.
For some reason, I couldn't find the joy I knew I should have. My heart ached with a longing for what they had. Roarke didn't care his first born wasn't a male. He didn't care that Cathwulf had him wrapped around her little finger now she was carrying his cub. They were ecstatic with each other, completely happy. They were creating a family, sharing their lives together.
Gently, I shut the door, unable to listen anymore. Part of me was horrified at myself for being more jealous of, than happy for my best friend. What was wrong with me?
Crushing herbs with more force than necessary, I almost didn't hear the soft knock on the door. Cathwulf popped her head around, a grin plastered on her face.
"I'm going to have a daughter, Oria!" She announced gleefully, stepping into my space, my territory.
I smiled, seeing her glowing so much finally had me finding my joy for her.
"I heard! Congratulations, Cat. Really, I'm so pleased for you." I said honestly, tugging her into a hug which she gratefully returned.
When she pulled back, her nose scrunched, "Was Quillan in here?"
I froze, unable to find words. Cathwulf narrowed her eyes.
"I think you and I are in need of a good catch-up don't you? Why don't we go have lunch at Lucie's cafe tomorrow? I'd talk now but Roarke insists that I have overexerted myself today, I'm to go back home and put my feet up." She huffed, rolling her eyes.
I laughed and nodded, "Lunch sounds good."
She grinned and hugged me again, rolling her eyes for a second time when Roarke called her name.
"I better go, I'll see you tomorrow." She laughed, pressing her cheek to mine before running off to placate her mate.
The sky was streaked with colours of brilliant pink and red when I finally decided to trek back to the house. The herb room was now completely in order and to Sam's satisfaction so I didn't feel bad for leaving a little before the clinic closed.
I paused from rounding the corner to go into the house at the sound of a small voice calling for the male I had been trying to avoid. Pressing myself against the wall, ignoring how the wool of my jumper stuck to uneven brick, I spied.
"Quillan, Quillan!" The small voice called out excitedly.
I dared not move more than I had to, just so I could see what was happening, yet still remain hidden.
Little legs moved quickly, barely taking the next step before the small girl toppled over. Quillan caught her, steadying her with a gentle smile. She couldn't have been older than five, with chubby arms and legs, big doe like eyes, tanned skin and dark hair. She could have been related to Quillan for all they looked alike, she was his double in every way.
"Slow down, Fenna." Quillan warned, "You'll trip and hurt yourself again."
She jumped up and down, uncaring of his warning words, too caught up in the joy that lit up her whole face.
"I hunted with mammy today!" She cried out happily, her little fingers curling into his shirt.
I stayed hidden, only my head peering round the corner of the house to watch the tough male crouch down to the small cubs height. He seemed far less intimidating like this, with her. His body was relaxed for once with a smile on his face that seemed to get rid of the shadows that often darkened his features. I didn't think I'd ever seen him smile like that, with genuine carefree happiness. This little girl obviously held a special place with him.
"And what did you catch, mighty huntress?" He asked, grinning down at the dark haired cub who grinned back in childlike delight.
"A rabbit!" She announced proudly, her chin jutting up, hands on her hips.
She was so sure of herself for such a small thing. I never had such confidence when I was her age, but there she stood, her eyes holding Quillan's with no hesitation or twinge of fear.
"A rabbit?" Quillan exclaimed, feigning his disbelief, "All by yourself?"
I smile tugged at my lips. Maybe the big bag wolf wasn't so big and bad.
"Yes, all by myself! I crouched down very low just like you and mammy taught me and I moved very slowly." She explained, her body hunkering down in demonstration, "and then I jumped very very far and I caught it!"
She clapped her hands together, the sound scaring a bird that had settled in the trees with a flurry of wings and leaves that fell from being so disturbed.
Quillan laughed, a rumbling sound that came deep from his chest and had me captivated by its timbre. A small inhaled gasp from me, my body reacting in new ways, had his head twisting in my direction. I held my breath, quickly pressing myself flat against the wall, hard brick digging into my spine.
"I'm very proud of you, well done, Fenna. Maybe I can take you hunting again and you can show me how you caught the rabbit?" Quillan suggested, his tone still light.
The delighted squeal that left the cub drew yet another smile from me. No, I decided, he wasn't the big bad wolf after all. Not around this cub at least. That didn't mean he was any less intimidating and terrifying to me, he set my instincts off, but seeing him so calm and sweet, I didn't think he had a bad bone in his body.
I watched him with a melting heart.
"Mammy wants me to invite you around for tea again, will you come?" Fenna asked, jumping up and down.
Just as quickly as the ice had begun to melt, it froze again. Quillan often wasn't at the table in the evening, was this why? Had he been eating in a female's home, spending time with her cub? Something whispered about how I'd noted similarities in the cub and Quillan's looks...was this his child?
Stumbling away, propping myself against the brick wall, I tore myself away.
I couldn't go back into the house. I couldn't face seeing him.
Running, letting my feet guide me, I wasn't surprised when Sam's cottage appeared before me. I hesitated, staring at the wooden red door, the black knocker staring back at me. Taking a deep breath, I knocked.
Sam opened the door, looking surprised before concern blossomed. She opened the door wider and ushered me in.
"What's wrong, Oria?" She asked softly, motioning for me to take a seat in an oversized patchwork arm chair.
I sunk into the cushion, watching my fingers thread and wind around each other.
"Can I stay here tonight?"
Sam's eyes bore into my face but I couldn't lift it, I was worried when my eyes met hers, she would see my pain, I wouldn't be able to keep the tears from falling.
"Of course you can. You'll have to sleep on the couch but it's comfy and the room's warm. I'll find some blankets for you when you're ready to sleep. Would you like a drink? Or to talk about what's wrong?"
I shook my head, still staring at my hands, "I think I would just like to sleep."
I could feel Sam's gaze linger on me before she stood and disappeared before returning with blankets and a pillow. Standing to help her make the couch for me, I managed to mumble a thank you.
Her hand grasped my shoulder and gave a gentle squeeze.
"When you're ready to talk, Oria, I will listen. I may not have great advice or know how to solve what's bothering you, but sometimes just talking is all you need to do to begin working through it all yourself." She advised me gently, "Try and get some sleep."
She left me to it and I heard the creak of the wooden stares as she made her way to her bed. Shimmying out of my jeans, I slipped under the scratchy blankets. The crackle of the fire and the warmth it gave off meant for the first time in many days, I slept soundly.
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