If it was difficult to run in a straight line from due-south of the community, it was twice as hard when you were rushing an injured she-wolf so she could get the medical help she needed.
Trying not to jiggle her too much—I was certain she had some cracked ribs and other broken bones—I took long, sweeping strides through the meadow before having to slow down a bit through denser underbrush and thick tree trunks. The woods here were rarely ventured upon, and the trees at times grew close together, making it difficult to keep me from bumping myself—or her, whoever she was—against them.
Another stray wolf, I linked to Dr. Denario. Think she fell over the cliff, just like the last one.
I had to wonder if someone upriver was throwing wolves off the cliffs to the east of us.
I also had to wonder if anyone was searching for these two as well. The tiny one had yet to come to, and this one—though she wasn’t much bigger than the other—was making me start to think that something was seriously getting fucked up in the territories east. I was glad our pack was surrounded by high mountains to our north and west, and sheer, daunting cliffs to our south. They kept us pretty much cut-off from the outside world. We were pretty self-sufficient, though we did make supply runs to stock our own small grocery store a couple of times per month.
How bad? Broken bones? Abrasions? How far out from the hospital are you? Doc was in full medical mode, thankfully.
I flipped into inventory mode and took a best guess at the medical shit he asked.
Pretty bad, but I can’t see internally. Some ribs cracked I think. Maybe a broken leg. Her shoulder’s at an odd angle, but it might be just separated from the joint. I’m about ten miles out as the crow flies.
I’ll have someone meet you with a stretcher at the south road. We can put her in the back of my old pick up truck on a mattress, just in case she’s got back injuries. Can’t promise more than that. She breathing?
I listened to her rasping, jagged breaths and winced. If some of the broken ribs had punctured her lungs she might be bleeding internally and I’d never be able to know it. Still, it might have been the pain that was making her suck in air so shallowly. I remembered the strange breathing techniques that helped some females tackle the task of child birth. It seemed to help, so I shook my head and answered the doc.
It’s shallow, but her heartrate seems okay from what I can hear. If she was bleeding out, I think it would probably be slower.
I trust your judgment, West. And I’ve seen enough injured shifters to know that what you’re describing sounds manageable. If anything changes, let me know.
Though I knew he couldn’t see, I nodded my head anyway, purely on muscle memory.
Right, doc. I’ll tell you when I’m within a mile of the south road.
To be fair, there was only a small web of roads that ran through the community, and, when I said roads, they were more like paths. Glorified trails that were barely wide enough for an F-150 to make it through in the best of circumstances. When the pack grew, we just drove ourselves a new path, and voilà—makeshift new road. Caltrans would have had a shitfit at our primitive ways.
It took me about an hour to make it to within a mile of the south road, and I reached out to the doctor. He let me know that Paul was aware we had another injured visitor, and it was him that was waiting with the pick up truck with one of his old mattresses lying in the flatbed.
“Christ, West—do you seek drama like this out or are you just the unluckiest son of a bitch around?”
“Shut it, bro,” I gritted out as I placed the girl gently onto the mattress. “Her breathing’s gotten shallower. I could barely tell, so I don’t know if it’s because we’re losing her or because she’s comatose.”
“Why didn’t you just shift? It would’ve taken you less time to get back if you’re so fucking concerned.”
“Do I look like I was carrying a fucking saddle or rope so she could ride in style?” I asked as I shooed him off to get into the front of the doctor’s pick up. “Now get moving. Doc D is expecting us.”
We rode off with a shift of moist dirt, the back tires sliding a bit until the front wheel drive kicked in and thrust my ass forward until I almost faceplanted into the window of the cabin.
“Sunday fucking driver,” I muttered as I laid low in the flatbed to both keep myself still and check to see if the girl’s heart was still beating.
A few hours after Dr. Denario had pulled her into emergency, he came out, looking none the worse for wear.
“She’s fine now,” he said, pulling off his booties and facemask as I jutted up from leaning my elbows onto my knees. I had been a fucking nervous wreck since I’d let her go with the nurses and the doctor, and I only had a slight intuition as to why.
“She awake? I need to speak to her.” I walked over to Denario, who gave me a puzzled look before his face smoothed out into his usual flat countenance. I was starting to think that doctors would make the best poker players on the fucking planet.
“She should wake up any minute now,” he told me, moving to the side to let me pass. “We didn’t have to use a heavy sedative to put reset her shoulder or anything. She’s got a compound fracture in one leg. Over all, she’s pretty lucky. If she’d landed on her head, we wouldn’t all be standing here, yucking it up like old frat bros.”
Sometimes I loathed his snarky, sarcastic ass.
Paul walked up from behind me and I glanced back at him before following the scent of roses—slightly muted from all the prevalent medicinal smells that threatened to overpower it. I moved quickly toward the back of the facility, past the nurse’s station and the other room with the other stray she-wolf.
“Dude—what gives?” Paul asked as he hurried to keep up with me.
“She smelled funny when I first came upon her,” I said, my voice hard, biting out the words.
“Well, she spent a good amount of time in the water or on that riverbank. You can’t expect her to smell like roses, can you? And she’s not rogue or I would have scented it.”
“She’s not rogue,” I growled. “And she did smell like roses to me. As in the literal kind that come on bushes or in bouquets of a dozen.”
“To you?” he asked, and I could tell I had surprised him. “Wait, if you—”
“No one else could smell it.” Further explanation of what had happened on that riverbank. “No one else could smell her like I could.”
“So, you’re saying that this girl—”
“Could be my mate—a second chance one—if I’m lucky.” I walked into the girl’s room, lowering my voice. “I need her to wake up and look at me to be sure. And…I want to know her name. She said something when she opened her eyes. Rejected or rejection. I need to know what it means.”
“Like if she fucking knew that you were rejected? Or that she wanted to reject you?” Paul asked.
Christ. I hadn’t thought about her rejecting me, and that pulled me up short of her bed where I was reaching out with one hand to cup hers.
“No. I was wondering more if she was rejected and had jumped or fell off the cliff,” I told him, angered that anyone would take their life because of a rejection. It was a waste of a good life, in my opinion.
“Right,” Paul pondered. “It’s been known to happen, especially if the bond is a strong or if one of the pair is a ranked wolf.”
We both stood still for a moment, quiet. The beeping from the monitors were low, though there was an alarm if she started to code of if she was about to—
No. The doctor said she would be fine.
Still, I was glad safety measures were put in place.
“I want to be alone when I meet her,” I told Paul. “I need to know…”
My voice trailed off. Fucking Paul. Now he had me thinking she might want to reject me instead of thinking she somehow knew about me or was, in fact, herself rejected.
“No problem, brother,” Paul said, slapping a companionable hand on my back and pushing me forward. I was no slouch, but the kid didn’t know his own strength. “I’ll get out of your hair and get back into Cass.”
My face twisted at his overshare.
Not the time, dude. Not the time.
“Thanks for that. I really needed to know you plan on defiling your Luna’s pussy right now. It’s been a treat, as always, talking to you.”
“Just think,” he said with a wink. “If this sweet young thing is truly your second chance, you can finally get some of your own pussy and stop complaining and being such a damn spoilsport whenever anyone else mentions getting their dick wet.”
“Not a spoilsport. I simply do not need, nor want, your constant reminders about your own mated status.”
Paul stopped at that and froze in place.
“Sorry, man. Didn’t mean to bring a sore subject up.” He looked at me, studying my facial expression. “You think she really is, don’t you? Fuck, man—if she is, that’s great. But find out what the fuck that rejection bullshit she was spouting off about is before getting your hopes up. So far, you’ve had shitty luck in the mate department. Should’ve fucking cast Carla out rogue the moment I found out she rejected you.”
I shrugged my shoulders, the sharp, jagged ache that her name induced completely absent this time. It didn’t hurt—not even a little bit. Carla’s name would always bring a sour taste to my mouth prior to this, but I found it was more related to the two syllables now. Like having a bully named Keith in school and therefore writing off all Keiths as bullies henceforth. It wasn’t fair, but it was an accurate description.
“It’s cool, bro,” I told him and pulled a chair up from the corner to place next to the bed, right by the unknown female’s left arm. There, I waited, watching from the corner of my eye as Paul left the room and told the nurses and doctors not to come in unless it was urgent. I appreciated it and thanked him through the mindlink.
The ten minutes it took for her to open her eyes seemed to take forever. I had only glimpsed just a small portion of the grey-blue irises that had left me flat on my ass earlier that day, and I kept looking up to her face to see if they were open. All the other time, I just sat next to her, her hand inches away from my own and trying not to grip it in the event she’d bruised a bone or…
Or if she truly wasn’t my mate.
My heart faltered, the hope that had swelled in my chest dropping into my stomach to stew about in anxious waves that coursed throughout my body. If nerves could power our small community in the mountains, I’d have saved up enough from the last several hours to keep us running for a couple of years.
My stomach was a tight knot in my gut. Though I should have been hungry, I don’t think any of the coiling snakes that were slithering around in there would have allowed any food to pass without punting it right back up my esophagus. I should have eaten, but I didn’t want to move from my place, before or after she was being tended to by the doctor.
The beeping became a tiny bit faster, and a soft moan made my head snap to the face I’d been waiting to see for hours—to verify our possible bond. Her eyes were still closed, but her lashes fluttered prettily against her cheek, as if struggling to open. When they finally did, the blue-grey of them immediately sought me out as my heart flipped and breathing came to a dead stop.