Before the Fall

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Chapter 2

Chapter 2

The Atwood family today is sizable. Larger than most, and closer than many. But it started with just two.

Once upon a time, a young and innocent Brett Atwood reluctantly left his home to attend university only a short way away from his pack, though any distance from home was too far from home for Brett. Only, it was during his first week when he laid eyes on one Camille Santiago. The petite but strong woman with latin tan skin and blue-green eyes made a striking picture, the kind that caught people’s attention--but it was more than that for Brett. He had found his True Mate, he was sure of it.

Some werewolves believe more than others in the veracity of honest to goodness “mates”, but the more traditional wolves believe that if you’re lucky, there is one person out there that the moon will lead you to. One that “the heart will recognize,” a common folktale says, such that you will be drawn inexplicably to your Mate. And hearts don’t see bodies, no, they care not one whit for outer casings--hearts see hearts. Souls. Spirits.

And Brett would never believe that a heart could be more drawn to another than he was to Camille’s. No one could ever be more perfect for him than that brown skinned human girl with the blue-green eyes, and Brett believed nothing but the moon could have brought him there. And to all those who said True Mates were too rare, too fantastical in the modern world to be real, well then Camille and Brett were the rarest and most fantastic of them all.

The two eventually married, and spent a few years joyous in union before their oldest, a daughter, came into the world. In stature she took after her mother, but had her father’s deep blue eyes, a trait that would be passed on to most of their children. They called their baby girl Sara. Always dreaming of a big family, two years later brought Camille and Brett their first son, Slate. Sister and brother were a team from day one, partners in crime. Then came their little surprise baby a month premature and eleven months later, Asher. Brett couldn’t see it at first, but from the moment Camille laid little Asher to bed beside his older brother Slate, she could feel that there was something special about them, that they were blessed in a different way than most siblings.

A few years later brought them Forrest, a wolf with rare nearsightedness that made him into a little “four eyes” werewolf very young, Brett teased. And if that wasn’t bad enough, the two parents failed to consider the consequent teasing that would come from naming a child Forrest Atwood. Then the Atwood parents completed their family with little Sage.

Or so they thought.

As a human woman, Camille did not have the advanced healing that werewolves did. This never slowed her down, except when she was pregnant. During those nine months, Brett made it quite clear that the children were to be extra gentle and kind to mommy, that those nine months were very hard on her body. As werewolf children that rarely got sick and whose hurts usually cleared up within a day, this was hard for them to understand. But Brett saw that with every child, the next pregnancy was harder than the last for his sweet wife. Still, it was her dream to have a big family and she always felt like there was room in their hearts for one more little spirit of life. The trauma Camille’s body experienced was very scary for Brett to see, having known intellectually that humans experienced things like this, having known and been close to many humans, but never having witnessed it so painfully and helplessly first-hand. He wanted his wife to be happy and healthy above all else.

But when young Sage was seven years old, Camille found out she was pregnant again. Brett and Camille were joyful, but scared. Camille was older, and they would need to be very careful and they tried their hardest.

But it wasn’t enough.

On June twenty-first six years ago, tiny two-months-premature human baby Raven came into the world, and not even an hour later, his sweet mother exited it.

At twenty-one and nineteen respectively, Sara and Slate adopted many roles that their mother used to fill, and also substituted more often than not for their emotionally decimated father. Losing his True Mate had destroyed Brett Atwood, and there were two things about that time that he would come to always regret. One was, of course, not getting his wife the help she needed earlier, irrational as that thought was because of course he had done everything he could; the other was not being strong enough to bear the responsibilities that his two oldest picked up after they had just experienced the death of their mother.

Life changed forever once again three years later as Brett was bestowed the role of Alpha over the pack that had raised him, watched him grow. Though still grief stricken, he could not refuse. So, while the title of Alpha belongs solely to Brett--and no one would have it any other way--many of the duties of the job are shared by his two oldest as well, even to this day. This pains him, but the quality of life for his pack is better because of it, and he tries to express his gratitude to Sara and Slate every day. They’ve become a formidable team.

As one of his delegated duties as the holder of the title, Alpha Atwood occasionally travels to make and maintain relations between himself and the other Alphas in the area. It’s a time of collecting and sharing information, as well as moral checks and balances between packs.

All these factors came together to create the backdrop for the situations occurring at present day for the Atwood family.


“Slate, I promise I’m fine,” Sage protests again from Slate’s arms. In all fairness, he does appear to be miraculously and inexplicably fine, if a little confused and groggy, but there is no way in hell Slate is detaching himself from his brother until he can find a comfortable, ergonomic bed to confine the thirteen-year-old to for the rest of his long, healthy life.

Sara laughs a little bit hysterically. “Honey there is no way in hell any of us is letting you go until we can find a nice, firm, memory foam mattress to chain you to.”

For the first time since it happened, Slate cracks a smile. No one can deny that Slate and Asher have a special bond, but you’d also be hard pressed to find a pair quite like the two oldest Atwoods. Great minds...

Asher reaches over and very gently ruffles Sage’s hair, all of them still halfway afraid he’ll split in two again if they shift the air in just the wrong way. Asher smiles reassuringly at Sage, though Slate’s keen eye can still see the lingering terror in his eyes. “Don’t worry buddy, I’ll sneak you some ice cream a couple times a day.”

Sara seems to forget the intensity of the situation for a moment and squawks just like she would on any other day--it makes Slate smile again. “A couple times a day, Asher? I mean, the werewolf metabolism can do wonderful things, but we’re not trying to test how many ice cream cones it takes to give a werewolf diabetes.”

Sage frowns distantly and rubs his eyes. Slate worries the lingering confusion and amnesia is starting to clear and he’s remembering what happened. It’s already going to haunt his three oldest siblings’ nightmares for a long while, it doesn’t need to plague Sage as well. If Slate had his way, Sage would never remember.

“Alright,” Sara says as they approach the big Atwood house. “We’ll get you set up in bed, bud, and we’re going to have a long talk in the morning. Right now you just need to rest, okay?”

Sage frowns and pouts a little when he says, “Fine. I don’t need to be babied though.”

Sara raises an eyebrow and scoffs. “If I’ve changed your diaper before, you’re always going to be a baby to me.”

Sage groans and they finally walk up the long driveway leading to the comfortable home the Atwoods have resided in since their father became Alpha. “Okay, okay, let me down now! I can make it to my room by myself.”

Slate growls a half-wolf, half-human growl and says, “Fine, if you want to get yourself up there you can, but Asher’s going to sit with you until you fall asleep.”

Slate and Asher exchange a knowing glance and Asher nods and says, “Yeah buddy, let’s get you to bed.”

The current Atwood house is a downsize from the one Slate spent most of his youth living in, but then, Sara and Slate have each moved out, so they don’t need the extra space anymore. It’s an off white little roman style home on a large property with a lot of wood detailing on the inside. The four Atwoods climb the two steps up to the porch and into the entrance hall where Slate places Sage carefully on his feet and they pause a moment before he and Asher will split off to go upstairs to Sage’s bedroom.

Slate squeezes Sage on the back of his neck in a wolf-like show of affection he subconsciously adopted from his father. Sara herself can’t help but pause Sage at the base of the stairs too, to give him a little kiss on the forehead. “Goodnight buddy, we’ll be here in the morning to see you first thing. Sweet dreams.”

“Eugh,” Sage recoils and wipes his forehead off as though he’s allergic to affection. Then he softens and gives his only sister a quick hug before darting off and throwing a, “Goodnight Sara, good night Slate!” over his shoulder.

Asher hugs Sara and squeezes Slate on the shoulder before following his little brother. “You two take some time to figure things out, I’m just gonna…” Asher shrugs and swallows thickly and hooks his thumb over his shoulder, “I’m gonna stay with the squirt for a little while.”

Sara looks at her brother with empathetic eyes and brushes her hand over his hair as though he isn’t the strong twenty-four-year-old individual he is. “Goodnight Asher, take your time. Me and Slater have things covered, we always do.”

Asher dips his head once in acknowledgement, and lets his eyes briefly skirt over Slate before muttering one last time, “G’night.”

If Slate’s heart hurts a little bit at that, well, it’s one of those moments of weakness that no one will ever know he feels. The thing is, Slate has his mother’s eyes. That uncanny blue-green shade. He knows it’s hard for people to look at him and not see his mother at times. Slate guesses it’s amplified because he has been told many times that he carries a certain eerie intensity with him. Asher has told him that to other people it feels like Slate looks into their eyes and sees their soul with those uncanny blue-greens, the eyes of a ghost of a woman who died too young.

But tonight Slate lets go of the hurt because he knows his brother, and there’s another reason Asher won’t look into his brother’s eyes tonight. Slate knows Asher too well not to see it. He says in a low voice, one so low that his brother’s strong werewolf hearing will just barely be able to hear from the top landing, “Don’t you dare blame yourself for this.”

He knows the message has been received with the intensity with which it was delivered when Asher pauses and shivers once before continuing on down the hall to sit vigil over their little brother.


Gray knows she’s breathing too loudly, that any predator within a five mile radius can probably hear her--okay maybe that’s a slight exaggeration--but she can’t bear to think about regulating her breathing right now. The compartment her mind is fixed on right now is right foot, left foot, right foot, left foot--well, paw. She just needs to put enough distance between her and the clearing that the one living rogue won’t be able to retrace its steps and track her right to her base camp, her little haven for the last months.

The only problem is that she’s still dripping blood.

The positive spin is that some of it is that boy’s blood--Sage--so to any tracking animals, the scent trail will indicate two individual scent identities. If she can just make it to the river to wash off, try to slow some of the bleeding from her abdomen, the two scents will be carried off down the river and she can disguise the trail she makes when she splits off from the river with practiced ease.

She just has to get there first. One paw in front of the other. More than a few times, Gray finds herself stumbling, her path wavering, vision blurring, but pain has never stopped her. All she has to do is wait it out. She’ll do what she can herself, but if she just gives it enough time, her werewolf healing will stitch her body back together. Pain is just a byproduct of healing. Pain means growth. Gray’s suffering means someone else’s pain is gone, and she will trade her own wellbeing for someone else’s ten times out of ten. She has taken enough from the world, maybe if she keeps giving long enough, one day her debt will be repaid.

Finally sometime in the early hours of the morning when the moon is slowly starting to approach the horizon line, she makes it to the river west of Sara’s pack’s territory. She washes off, lets the river clean her wound, trying not to disturb any clotting that has started easing the blood flow. She traverses the shallow side of the river for a mile or so before splitting off, and by sunrise she is finally able to collapse into her den, home. Her temporary home, she reminds herself.

It’s only later that a thought will dance on the fringes of her memory. Sara, something about Sara. Something about the way she smelled...

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