Before the Fall

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Chapter 12

Sara walks out of the bathroom with shower-damp hair and frowns at the distinct lack of husband in the bedroom. She can’t hear him out in the living room, or the kitchen, or the yard, or anywhere at all, really. She had only managed to force herself into the shower because Jason was already late and she knew, for her own sanity, that she had to be doing something while she waited or she would stress herself into ruin. Because what if something happened? Werewolf healing isn’t fool-proof, I’m the prime example of that, Sara thinks bitterly. What if I’m left alone?

Sara normally isn’t half as paranoid, but with tomorrow looming...the mortality of humans and werewolves alike is too fresh in her mind to not go there, mentally. It’ll be the fourth year since Sara delivered her and Jason’s first baby girl. The first time Sara’s body had ever so cruelly failed her. But not the last.

At least with the other miscarriages, she hadn’t gotten far enough along to face the physical reality of a life being lost. Sure, it still wreaked havoc on her body and mind every time, but never again was it quite so brutal. Her body had been able to exorcise what it treated like a poison before it had fingers and toes after the first time. Out of her control, Sara’s doctors had told her not to worry, that her body would flush it--her baby, clump of cells though it was--out of her system naturally.

So maybe she should be grateful.

Now here she is, with a broken body, a broken mind, and a cold side of the bed where her husband is glaringly not. He’s always exhausted after a seven-to-seven night shift, he should be home by now. As is common when you’re not her two freak-of-nature brothers, Sara’s bond connection with Jason is faulty at distances. If he was on pack land, she’d be able to reach him easily, but even if the connection could stretch as far as the hospital, it’s bad for a nurse to suddenly have their mind somewhere else while on shift at all, so she doesn’t dare try it for the fear that he’s still hung up at the hospital. Normally, she might be tempted to just try, but right now...she doesn’t want to bother him. This week of the year makes her second guess everything about herself. She never quite knows how to be what her husband needs, how much of herself she can afford to give without falling completely apart.

Sara purposefully shakes her head to clear it of those thoughts. She could call his cell phone too, but of course, he never answers at work and he never answers if he’s in the car. And he wouldn’t answer if he were kidnapped at the bottom of a ditch either.

So she goes with the next best option.

:::::

Slate has been getting some weird feelings through his bond connection with Asher for the last hour, and he has enough practice by now to know that it’s not intentional, it’s bleed-through. He’d gotten an odd flash of excitement before it clamped down like a mouth shut in a panic before it said something it shouldn’t. Then gradually he’d gotten ebbs and flows of nerves interspersed with purposeful calm. Somehow the calm didn’t quite feel like Asher, it was more...airy--ethereal, if he was being dramatic. Over time, the bleed-through had gotten more and more intense, like it does in either of two situations: either Asher had gotten too distracted to fully maintain the usual barrier that kept nearly his entire consciousness from blending into Slate’s (highly disconcerting and uncomfortable) or his emotions got so strong that they made it through the cracks (less uncomfortable but still less than ideal).

So when Slate’s phone began to ring with his sister’s name on the screen, he’d felt his nearly unfailing sibling-sixth-sense tell him there was no way it wasn’t connected.

Now he picks up his phone and answers the way he would only do in the company of himself and would deny vehemently if anyone asked. “Hey, Sara-Bear.”

Slate hears and does not appreciate the conscious effort to prop up her voice for him. “Hey Slater, how have you--

“Sara,” he interrupts bluntly. “Start over and try again, babe.”

Sara actually huffs a laugh at that, both because it’s so typical Slate and also because they both know exactly what he means. Much more tired this time, a tinge of worry in her voice, Sara says, “Hey Slate, my day is absolutely trash already. I have a killer migraine, pathetically red eyes from crying, and my husband is gone.”

Inappropriately, Slate’s mouth quirks up in a half smile at his sister’s usual dramatics. Contrary to what many people would say for themselves, Slate much prefers the latter attempt than the first. Bluntly and genuinely, Slate says, “That sucks. I would--”

Take it from me if you could, I know. That’s what you always say,” is Sara’s somewhat humored response.

“And I always mean it,” is his completely sober response.

He hears the faint smile in her voice now. “I know you do. I believe it every time.” She laughs and he can picture her shaking head. “Don’t ever change, Slate.”

Slate raises an eyebrow that he knows she won’t see but knows him well enough to imagine all the same. “I don’t think you’ll ever have to worry about that, Bear.”

She’s fully smiling now. “Love you, bro.

He lets himself smile right back. “Love you too. Alright, hit me. Jason’s not back, you said?”

Sara sighs and slumps her shoulders. “Yeah. He’s never this late, Slater. And he knows better than to be late this week.

:::::

Sara sighs and slumps her shoulders, puts a hand to her forehead. “Yeah. He’s never this late, Slater. And he knows better than to be late today.”

On the other end of the line, Slate hums. “He was supposed to be back, what,” he undoubtedly checks his watch, “not quite two hours ago now?”

“Mmhm,” she says with her lips tightly pressed.

Slate considers this for a moment. “I’ve been getting overflow from Asher on and off for an hour now. How much you want to bet he’s getting Jason into some kind of trouble?”

Sara groans and presses her forehead harder. “If I was a betting woman, I would put my life savings on anything involving my brothers getting some innocent bystander into trouble.”

Slate sighs into the receiver, making the connection crackle. “I’ll get a hold of Asher and see what kind of tragedy he’s inflicted.”

As much as she hates that her grief makes her painfully not herself, as much as it feels like her fire is flickering, she knows someone who will carry her torch with her as long as she needs him. So yes, she feels vulnerable when she asks her brother quietly, “Will you come be with me while we wait?” but she does not feel guilt, fear, shame, or anything her grief tells her to be.

She is what Slate tells her she can be. Remember, you are brave, his eyes tell her. His eyes so like their mothers’. Remember, you are heard, his silence says. Remember, you are strong, his tight embrace tells her.

Because he is her oldest friend, because he has never needed words, because he will never be anything other than himself, he just says, “Yes.

And it’s exactly what she needs.

:::::

Asher completely forgets about anything not having to do with himself, Jason, Sara, or Gray. He and Jason lead her to the humble home Jason and Sara share, thankfully not too far from the edge of the forest. Gray’s as stoic as ever--if you don’t know where to look.

As they had walked along through the forest, her gait had slowly loosened, her arms moved more naturally, her eyes became less blank and more calm. Nearly the moment they crossed the threshold where trees had been cleared and civilization grew in its stead, though, her movements became less fluid and more mechanical again. Engineered to look as much like natural human movement as possible. It was a fairly good impression, but an impression nonetheless.

It might be that “forgetting” that is his undoing. Because his mental control had never been particularly foolproof with Slate, and under stress like this, he really is set up for failure.

Asher, whatever trouble you’ve gotten yourself and Jason into, you should be more subtle next time if you don’t want Sara and me in the middle of it.

The bond message makes Asher stumble a little, and both of his companions look over at him, but he waves them off, knowing that Jason is used to him and that Gray in all her mysterious wisdom is probably perceptive enough to infer what’s happening.

Asher gets a sinking feeling in his stomach. Slate, where are you right now?

Slate sends back with a raised eyebrow, Shouldn’t I be asking you that?

No really, Asher sends back urgently, Slate where are you?

A short pause. With Sara at hers.

Asher stops dead in his tracks. His eyes focus back on the present and he looks wide eyed at Jason, studiously avoiding Gray. “Um, J, we might have a problem on our hands.” Asher quickly throws a thought at Jason in the hopes that Gray won’t notice the nonverbal communication. A big problem. A Slate sized problem waiting for us at your house.

Jason’s eyes bulge. His adam’s apple bobs up and down as he swallows thickly. Aloud, he responds, “Okay, so we rendezvous at another point.” Then he glances at Gray and improvises. “For neutrality.”

Gray narrows her eyes at him, astute as ever. Then she slowly turns her head and inflicts the same hard stare at Asher and takes a couple defensive steps backward. To both of them, she says. “You are hiding.”

Asher winces and curses his and Jason’s inability to be subtle. More appropriately he should probably be cursing Gray’s near supernatural powers of intuition. All in all, he really should have known better.

Then Slate is back in his head. Asher, you need to give me something. Sara’s stressed out of her mind over Jason.

Asher’s jaw clenches and he knuckles his forehead in frustration. Yes, Jason’s with me. Yes, he’s safe and well, we both are. I just need a couple minutes.

When Asher can focus again, Jason seems to be coming back to his normal mild and rational demeanor. He flicks his eyes at Asher very briefly before meeting Gray’s eyes strongly. “Yes, there’s...there’s something we need to tell you. We can take you to Sara. In fact,” he adds with a tilt of his head back over his shoulder, “she’s home right now, only about a five minute walk away now.”

Gray blinks, lets Jason scan her face for a reaction and find...basically none. Unperturbed, he continues, “She’ll be happy to see you, there will be no trouble there. What we were, ah, trying to hide from you,” he says regretfully, “is that her brother Slate is there as well.”

That gets a reaction. Every muscle in her body seems to tense, but only for a flash of a second. She collects herself remarkably quickly and her eyes go unfocused for a moment, but it passes equally as quickly before her gaze becomes sharp again. With a brisk nod, she shoulders past Jason and Asher who become completely flummoxed as she says matter-of-factly, “Okay. You wait here.”

And then she’s a blur of motion until she rounds the last corner before it’s a straight shot to Sara.

And Slate.

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