Before the Fall

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Chapter 10

Gray meditates, breathes deep, clears her mind--

His eyes see through me, they see too much, all of them saw too much too much too much--

Gray lets the wind rush past her face, feels the grass beneath her--

What have you done? You always run, that’s all you know how to do, what have you done?--

Gray keeps her eyes closed, erasing visual stimulus--

She was terrified, she’s sick, she needs help, it will only get worse, why did you have to run--

Gray opens her eyes and if she had only a shred less control, she would have screamed. She knows it has to be all in her head, but it feels like she can’t breathe in this body--like she forgot how to be human.

The past four days have gone as such:

Day zero: Gray remembers howling from somewhere deep within her soul where pain lives, and then running for miles, for hours, for years. The only reason she stopped was because her paws couldn’t keep up anymore and she tumbled head over tail through whatever section of forest she ended up in. She lay there where she fell, chest heaving, letting out keening cries involuntarily. She remembers just wanting to escape in that moment. To be somewhere else, to be someone else. Just disappear so she didn’t have to deal with this entanglement of feelings and emotions she was left with. It was too much all at once. So she spent that whole night, dusk ’til dawn, laying there feeling sorry for herself.

Day one: Gray spent several hours of that day sleeping, hoping things would magically be better when she woke. She finally did wake when the sun was in the West, somewhere between afternoon and evening, and things were not better. In fact, she was very certain she had an emotional hangover and she had no idea where she was--quite hard to do in this particular forest, considering how much time she’d had to mentally map it. Gray was just lucky a predator hadn’t come across her to take advantage of her vulnerability--actually given her state of mind last night, she might have let them--but then, she should know by now that higher intervention will prevail for her as long as there is someone out there who needs her help.

So she retraced her steps and found her way back to her den a little after sunset. She was still so exhausted, in body and mind, that she was able to collapse and drift into sleep with ease.

Day two: Gray woke up with the sun, finally rediscovering her regular circadian rhythm. Hunger gnawing at her stomach, she ventured out in search of some small game, maybe wild berries for dessert--she deserved it. At that point some time removed from the actual event, Gray was able to reflect more rationally about what happened in the clearing two days ago.

Things had gone about as well as she could have expected them to up until that moment of realization, but now Gray realized that moment may not have just been one moment. She thought back to that first day, a month ago now, how her curiosity had been piqued by the four of them. She’d been fascinated by them as a whole, a family unit, but it was also more than that. Sara, Gray rationalizes, she had reason to ruminate about, and Sage as well. Asher was unique on a level Gray had not quite encountered before: she had not as of then been exposed to that sort of moon-gift aura. So the fourth, Slate, should have been a minor character next to his extraordinary siblings. But he wasn’t. Against her will, he was a major player in her thoughts in the days following.

Then the second contact, two days ago, she had felt this nagging pull to look at him, stare at him, think about him, touch him, talk to him--everything with him. She’d had so many other things so much more deserving of attention and yet.

And yet.

Gray should have known better than to ignore such feelings. She doesn’t know how she didn’t see it, it was so obvious. Maybe...maybe Gray hadn’t felt like she deserved it. Maybe she didn’t feel like he deserved her--to be stuck with her, that is. There were moments throughout that morning on day two that she felt like...like maybe she could be good for him. Like if she tried hard enough she could be something he deserved. Like this might be her shot at having a family again. And then there were moments where she felt hopeless, like the best thing she could do would be to leave him alone, let him find a love he chooses, not one that fell upon him, that he never asked for. He probably doesn’t even believe in True Mates anyway.

But in the end there was one thought that cut through the rest. In a moment of painful self awareness, Gray realized that she could not possibly do justice to a relationship right now, even if the two of them were a perfect match. Her thought patterns, the way she sees herself, the way she approaches life--it’s all fine for survival in the wilderness. It’s not fine for living in the real world.

Gray thinks it will be a long time before she is able to come to terms with that inner struggle, but she was able to put it in the back of her mind eventually. Once she’d sufficiently mulled over the situation that day, the next step was to fix what she had broken.

A day she knew was coming but hated to think about had arrived. It was time to learn to be human again.

:::::

Present day: Jason was content to lead the way until they reached the forest line, but that was where the boundaries of his domain of expertise ended and where Asher’s began. So Jason slows to a halt and looks expectantly at his companion. “Where to now, boss?”

Asher shrugs his shoulders and hums that universally known sequence of sounds that means I dunno.

Jason lifts a brow. “What do you mean you don’t know? You’re the one who has apparently been dreaming about this for the past four days.” He suggests, “Use your magic or something.”

Asher rolls back on his heels and winces. “Dude, I really haven’t thought this far. No one has been willing to bring up the situation at all, so I didn’t even really envision getting this far.”

Jason sighs and pinches the bridge of his nose. Gathering himself and putting his hands back at his sides, Jason reasons, “Okay, then let’s go back to the place we last saw her and see if you can…” he falters, “feel some lingering energy or something.”

Asher shrugs and says, “It’s as good an idea as any. Lead the way, boss.

I’ll never be able to get my baby girl back, Jason thinks, but if this can bring my wife back, I’ll walk through a thousand forests until I find her.

:::::

Day three: Gray sat on the grass, folded legs beneath her, in clothes she pilfered the day before. Everything was so constricting, it felt like she could feel every single nerve ending where the clothes touched her skin. She tugged at the collar of her shirt again with clumsy fingers. Her limbs weren’t working right. Or if they were, she was going to develop a cyborg human body, because if people dealt with this every day, it was just ridiculous.

The experience of shifting from wolf to human was not pleasant either. Werewolf bodies have looser joints and more flexible tendons to allow for the trauma to the body with each shift--that said, there’s also no denying that some level of supernatural is involved. There’s no amount of science that can fully justify the shift of a human skeleton to a wolf one. That said, Gray could guess that her tendons had lost some of their elasticity from the years without shifting often or at all, causing a fiery sensation in her body, like she was about to snap from the pressure. But Gray was very familiar with pain, so as with anything else, it was just a matter of time before the fire eased and her body healed itself. The trick with shifting, she remembered, was to relax and let the shape overtake you. The shift only slows if one tries to control it.

It is...significantly more difficult to relax when it feels like you’re being scorched from the inside out, but it’s all over now so she can put it aside.

So she found herself now back at her spot by the river. Once she had gotten her two feet relatively under her, she decided to stumble back here, where she was used to meditating. She had thought the familiar place would be comforting, but Gray realized now that nothing would be familiar in this body for a long time.

She didn’t know how to sit. Did she kneel? She’d seen humans sit with their legs criss-cross, remembered doing it herself, but she’d like to keep as much dignity as possible, so she was not about to set herself up for failure like that. Gray didn’t know what to do with her arms. Did they just hang? Could they fold? Did her fingers fit when they interlock? Why was everything so clumsy?

Why is everything so stupid is more like it, she grumbled to herself. And that’s another thing. She hadn’t dared try open her mouth. She didn’t know what would come out if she did. As uncomfortable and insecure as she was, she could rationalize that her mouth probably knew the shapes to take to make certain sounds--certainly she hadn’t regressed that far--but to string words together? Signs pointed to no.

Gray sighed and gave up on finding inner peace and calm and trudged (stumbled) back to her den to--crap, am I swallowing too often?

:::::

Present day: Jason has no idea how far from their destination he and Asher are. Jason had started into the forest in the vague direction of where he thought Asher took them four days ago, and then mostly relied on tracking the destruction the Atwoods had left in their wake along the way. Some ways in though, Asher started unconsciously redirecting their trajectory to a slightly different path. Jason only assumes Asher doesn’t realize what he’s doing because he keeps up a rambling commentary, a stream of consciousness, without pause or indication that he’s focusing on something.

Jason, not wanting to psych him out, does not acknowledge the flux of behavior and just plays along. In fact, he encourages the absent commentary to keep Asher distracted from the task at hand which he doesn’t seem to realize he is accomplishing. “So,” Jason proposes, “why do you think her eyes are gray?”

Asher tilts his head back and forth. “Could be a lot of things. I think the first question is, ‘did they start out that way or is it new?’ Arguments could be made for both. It’s certainly not normal...

Jason can feel that Asher will keep himself busy with that one for a while, so he only gives it one ear and lets his mind wander. He tries to place where he is in the forest. Certainly the Atwood pack has done its fair share of mapping and traversing much of the forest--they own a fair bit of it, actually--but here in Washington, the forestry goes on forever in some places. Jason can tell this is definitely beyond where the patrol teams track the boundaries of their part of the forest. Perhaps they’re in a more northwestern quadrant, if Jason’s spatial awareness hasn’t failed him.

“--hey did you hear that?” Asher interrupts himself, but Jason doesn’t seem to hear. Asher stops and grabs his brother-in-law’s shoulder somewhat roughly.

“Hey--”

“Dude, shut up and listen.”

So he does. They both do. A long ways off, maybe a mile away, they hear disturbances that aren’t normal nature sounds. Asher excitedly lifts his nose to the air, and it very well could be psychosomatic, but he swears he can smell their wolf in the air.

Asher grins manically at Jason and puts his hands on both his shoulders. “J, I think we’re gonna have some good news to bring back home tonight.”

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