Shifted

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Chapter 22

“You’re late,” stated Bennett as I grumpily approached his car.

It was freaking cold today, and little puffs of air appeared in front of my face every time I exhaled.

“You don’t say. Am I not allowed to go to the bathroom now?” I mumbled sarcastically, stepping on the spot while trying to warm myself up enough to fight off the shivers that were shaking my body.

As I grudgingly found out, lateness was the only way to show I, in fact, did not agree with being ordered around. I tried to bail on Bennett. I really tried. But I barely managed to stall for a few minutes before I was forced to move my feet in the direction of his car - almost as if I was under some weird werewolf mumbo jumbo.

I guessed it was precisely as Bennett warned - werewolves had to obey the orders of more dominant individuals, and, obviously, I wasn’t an exception. Emmie’s cousin was seemingly above me on whatever mediaeval hierarchy werewolves adhered to. The fact I wasn’t able to defy him was derogatory. I couldn’t even imagine how others were able to live like that.

So, here I was, exactly as he wanted, for better or for worse.

Bennett motioned for me to get in his truck, and I did just that, but not at once. If stalling was my only option to keep my independence, then be it.

The boy rolled his eyes but didn’t comment on my antics or rushed me altogether - fortunately for him.

Finally figuring I actually looked stupid standing like an idiot in the freaking cold when I could be in the warm car instead, I climbed inside and fastened the seatbelt. Bennett had an engine already on, so hot air was blowing through ventilation, subduing some of my shivers.

I might have been a tiny bit thankful - not that I would admit it out loud.

“How come people are actually okay with blindly following orders?” I asked, turning towards Bennett and crossing my arms over my chest.

“You sure do have a knack for dramatic,” he sighed.

“I don’t. I’m only stating the truth. I couldn’t bail on you, however much I tried. I just had to do whatever you asked me to, which is absurd, by the way. Where I come from, such thing is called a grave abuse of power and the right to freedom.”

“So sue me, Matthews,” he said, looking up. “But I can assure you, it’s perfectly right by the werewolf standards, especially if the order is issued on somebody who threatens the safety of the pack.”

“I’m not threatening anything. I don’t even know how to threaten anything,” I argued, exhasperated.

“And that’s exactly my point, Gemma. You know shit, and, so far, you have shown no desire to learn, which is a danger in itself. You’re my bloody mate, a beta female, for fuck's sake, but you are purposefully being ignorant. And just so you know, I’m actually obliged to introduce you to our most basic customs and make sure you won’t put yourself in harm’s way. I owe it to the pack, but most importantly, I owe it to you. But how am I even supposed to teach you when you cut yourself off from anybody who tries to help you? Say Emmie, what did she even do to you to deserve such treatment? Told you the truth?”

“Oh no, you will not make me feel bad for trying to hold on to my sanity through all this madness!” I yelled, thoroughly pissed, feeling my nails exploding and the hair on my arms standing on end.

“Hold on to your sanity? The only way to hold on to your sanity is to accept what you have become!” He countered, his wolf peaking through his eyes. He gripped the wheel so hard his knuckles turned white. “Tell me, does it really bother you so much that you are my mate that you wanted to separate yourself from all of us?” He asked, hurt lacing his words.

I felt a pang in my chest, and the wolf-being whined pitifully. I closed my stinging eyes, exhaling loudly.

“Why now, Zack? Just why? When I was still human, you treated me like a bug, and now that I magically turned out your mate, you had a change of heart? Why?!” I cried out, only just realising how much I wanted him to answer. How much actually depended on his answer.

He, too, must have realised it, for his face turned into a mask. Only his eyes betrayed the swirl of emotions that tore him from within. I somehow felt them all - the sadness, rage, fear, anticipation, and hope - and my heart broke a little.

“I never treated you like a bug, Gemma,” he admitted quietly. His words rang true. “Even while you were a human, I felt the need to protect you. My wolf wanted me to protect you. It was like I couldn’t help myself - I always had to make sure you were okay. That time Keely fouled you? It wasn’t Emmie who asked me to return your bike. I did it to check on you. The truth is, I didn’t want you to hang out with Emmie because I knew that if you mixed with her, mixed with us, you could get yourself in trouble. And it terrified me. You were never ready for the world you’ve been thrown into. None of the humans are. There are just so many differences in the way of our species, so many dangers...” He paused, closing his eyes for a second. “But when I found you in that ravine, changing, dying... You have no idea what it did to me, how I prayed it wasn’t true,” he said, his emotions raw. “That’s when I knew for sure, Gemma. That’s why I did everything to bring you back... So, please, don’t forsake it. Just give us a chance. Give me a chance...” He pleaded, looking at me. His eyes were so open, so sincere I was lost.

I felt something warm blossom in my heart. It was like the first ray of sunshine after a very dark, cold night... something that might even seem like love.

I bit my lip.

I could give it a chance - my new life - I guessed. Because the truth was, Bennett was right. I never actually made any real effort. And I needed to master this werewolf shit if what he said about the wolf taking over was correct. No way I would forgive myself if I harmed any of my parents while losing control.

I exhaled loudly, running a hand through my hair.

“Okay. I’ll give this...” I motioned at myself and Bennett, “...a try. But don’t ask me to be enthusiastic about it.”

It was all I could give him.

Bennett nodded slowly, and I sensed his relief.

We didn’t talk much after that.

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