The Rise

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Chapter Forty-Three

The pup didn’t say much to Ashur the whole night, just stared wide-eyed. He looked like he was in absolute awe. “Come on, hun,” his mother said as she waited for him by the door.

Ashur and Henry were chatting with each other about a video game. She stared at them with a smile on her face.

“Hold on mom!” The pup tugged on my arm. “I needa ask a question.”

“What?” I asked, a sudden sleepiness washing over me. He pointed at me, then himself, then the other room. I didn’t want to move from my spot, my body felt too heavy to move far, but I sighed and followed him.

Valerio watched me intently. “Mae, be careful.”

I raised a brow at him and took a deep breath. I knew he was worried about me, but I had work to do - keep this pack safe and happy. When we made it to the other room, the pup shut the door and locked it. I furrowed my brows down at him.

He threw his hands up in the air. “Okay. I have question.”

“What is your question?”

“Is that what happens when someone dies?”

My eyes widened. “What?”

“Mommy said that Ashur died and was running with the wolves in the clouds,” he said. “But how can Ashur be back? And why is he different? When you die do you become different? Because I want to be different. I want to be a big strong man!”

I nearly facepalmed. This little guy had so many questions that I didn’t know how to answer. I squatted down to his level. “Well, it is a little bit complicated. Usually when people die they do run with the wolves in the clouds, but Ashur is different.”

“Yeah, Ashur is huge now!”

“No… I mean, something happened to Ashur that I can’t really explain. I was able to bring him back again.”

“Can you make me different too? I want to have huge muscles.” He flexed his arms.

I laughed. “Oh my gosh! Those are already the biggest muscles I’ve ever seen!” I pinched his little arms.

“No, they’re small. I want muscles as big as Sammy.”

“As big as Samuel’s?”

“Yeah, so she will like me more than Sammy,” he said. Immediately, I knew he was talking about his little girlfriend. He loved Samuel, but was obviously jealous that he was stealing his girl without even knowing it. He grabbed my hand. “Please! Pleeeease!”

I held my hand up. “Okay, okay.” I leaned closer to him. “Here’s the first trick.”

He leaned closer to me and scrunched his brow together like he was about to take clear mental notes.

“Tomorrow you need to march your little butt to the pack house and make Sammy take you on a run,” I said. “Get some good exercise with him.”

He nodded his head. “Then what do I do?”

“Ask Sammy about what to do next. He knows trick two!” Sammy definitely wouldn’t know, but I think he will have a good time trying to figure out what this little pup was talking about. I could just imagine him nodding politely to the pup with that animated expression, like he knew exactly what trick number two was.

The pup saluted me. “Thank you Moon Goddess. I will not let you down.” He ran out of the room.

I laughed and stood up. Dizziness washed over me as the room spun. I stumbled a bit and promised myself that I would not collapse onto the ground. I fell into the fridge and grasped it with all my might to hold myself up.

Breathe, Mae.

I took a few deep breaths, listening to the distant howls in the night that floated through the kitchen’s open window. When I knew I wouldn’t fall over, I release my death grip on the fridge.

Valerio immediately appeared in the kitchen, swinging open the door. “Are you okay?”

I nodded my head.

“No, you’re not.”

“Then, why’d you ask?” I snapped at him before I could stop myself. Then, I sighed, feeling bad about it.

He closed the door behind himself and walked over to me, grabbing my hand. “It’s okay to ask for help, Mae. It doesn’t make you look weak.”

I raised a brow at him, giving him a it-definitely-makes-me-weak-and-you-know-it look. He let out a small growl. “Fine, it does, Mae. Is that what you want me to tell you? You just saved Ashur, used your powers to bring him back to life - back from the dead. Yes, right now you’re weak, but how strong do you have to be to do something like that?”

I swallowed hard, taking in his words.

“I’m tired of you brushing off this kind of thing after you help. Nobody can be strong all the time. And even if you think you can, keeping up with it is tiring, isn’t it?”

I gazed down at my feet, not wanting to admit it to him. “Yes,” I whispered. “It’s hard.”

His fingers brushed against my chin, lifting it to meet his gaze. “I know that my brother stupidly made you think being weak is a terrible thing, but he was fucked up and he took it out on you.”

“I’m fucked up too.”

“Mae, what you can do is incredible. Don’t think that being weak from saving people makes you any less a person,” Valerio said.

I swallowed hard. For a few moments, I stayed quiet. Valerio and I rarely fought. Hell, he rarely raised his voice to me. But I needed this. I needed him to call me out, make it all better for me. I was fucked up from my past and thought I constantly needed to be strong for my species.

But being mentally strong and being physically strong were two separate things. I needed to accept that physical strength never over powered mental strength.

Intelligence always overpowered physical strength - every single time...

I giggled and shook my head, thinking back to my date with Brett months ago. “Except in the bedroom.”

“What?” Valerio asked.

My face tinted red. Oh, god. I actually said that out loud. I shook my head. “Nothing…” I rested my forehead against his chest. “Thank you.”

He took my hand. “Come on. Let’s go say goodbye.”

When we returned to the living room, everyone was waiting at the door. The pup had a glint in his eyes that chanted I’m a big strong man! I’m a big strong man!

After we said our goodbyes, we watched them depart as one big happy family. I never thought that I would see Ashur’s mother smile as widely as she did. I nearly teared up at the sight of it.

I wrapped my arms around Valerio, just enjoying the happiness that Ashur had brought us all. It was a bittersweet moment for him and I. He wrapped his arms around me and rested his chin on my shoulder.

We stood watching the car leave our driveway. When it was gone, we still stood there just taking in the deep forest that surrounded us. It was calm and peaceful and I didn’t even try to think about what could ruin this moment.

There was always something that could and would.

“I’m happy,” I said quietly.

It was true. I didn’t think I would ever get to this point again, but I felt completely content here. We had taken a turn for the better. Sacrifices had been made, but they were sacrifices that needed to be made. We now had two new additions to the family.

Valerio’s fingers slipped through my hair and massaged the top of my head lightly. Such soothing little touches, I loved them. I heard a wolf howl into the night, and I immediately took a step closer to the door. “Let’s go out.”

“No, Mae…” he said. “You need rest.”

I pulled his hand and opened the door. “Come on, Valerio. Just for a little bit.”

“No,” he said more sternly, but let me pull him out the door. “We should go back in and get you into bed.”

I pressed my lips together, thoughts that I knew I shouldn’t be thinking forming in my mind.

“Just sit under the moon with me,” I said. I sat down slowly, reaching for the ground beneath me so I wouldn’t tumble over. Valerio gazed over at me before sitting next to me and resting his hands behind him.

“I can’t wait for the day that we can be free, when our pups can live their lives in anything but fear. Our families could let them run around at night, they won’t have to be nervous around their own pack members... I think it will be blissful.”

“That day will be soon,” Valerio said.

“You think so?”

“Yes.”

I stayed silent for a moment. “Tell me you know it will be alright. Tell me that we will survive - we’ll thrive one day. Tell me that someone will be there to lead our wolves when I’m gone.”

“Someone will be there to lead our wolves and that person is going to be you, Mae,” he said. His fingers brushed lightly against my own. I closed my eyes, feeling the skin of another soothing me.

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