Before the Fall

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Chapter 37

Six months ago, north Washington wilderness…

Silas is standing in the safe house his people had built for him while he sojourned in Canada and it is glorious to not sleep in a tent anymore. He currently stands in what they call the war room, facing what he’s told is a map of all the confirmed and rumored locations of a gray eyed wolf.

Using different symbols, there have also been possible locations of the Holt siblings marked. So far, neither of the groups had overlapped at all. From this, they can extrapolate that the oldest--Grace--has separated herself from the others--Alexander and Aria, and somehow all three of them have managed to prove themselves to be difficult to locate.

However, they’ve finally ruled out all but one last logical predicted trajectory for the two younger siblings. They’d figured out that the Robertson pack in Wyoming had met an untimely demise, but were unable to get information on which pack members had stayed and which had defected. They’d finally sent someone out there to do the legwork, only to find that there was no trace of the Holts and no one had paid attention to where they’d gone.

Slowly and painstakingly, they’d sent men and women out to packs in the surrounding areas to investigate their newcomers. They were finally at the west coast, and if the children weren’t with the Atwood pack, they would have to entertain the idea that they’d travelled internationally or died.

On one hand, it would be incredibly convenient for the sought out individuals to be right here in Washington, and on the other it would be incredibly infuriating and humiliating to know they were under Silas’ nose this whole time.

They’re finally starting to send out scouts to get a feel for the area before engaging with any werewolves. They’d developed a system wherein they’d send out a few of their rogues with a handler following them at a great distance or waiting at a specific checkpoint that the rogues were supposed to report to--assuming they had been trained and handled correctly. The handler would be expected to take care of any...messes.

In the meantime, they’re still working through the rumor mill, verifying or dismissing information. It seems that the gray-eyed wolf is bouncing around on the west coast, if the data they have is to be believed.

Silas isn’t worried. He and his little girl have waited nearly a decade. They could wait yet another few months, now that the end was in sight.

:::::

Present day, Atwood territory…

It’s odd, going out with Gray. So many things are odd these days. Going out to the orchards, knowing there’s a pack of adversarial wolves in his forest. Spending hours staring at a computer crunching numbers and shifting schedules, knowing there’s people out there who most assuredly want to hurt him and/or the people he cares about. And going running with Gray, knowing she has no real idea what’s going on.

She and Sara and Jason are living in a happy bubble of obliviousness. The other day Slate had approved an email sent by his father to inform the pack of the looming threat and the measures they are taking to defend against it. Slate was hesitant to leave Sara and Jason in the dark, but as cruel as it seems, Slate knows they would try to get too involved. Sara can’t just leave things alone and relax. Sara is only marginally better than Slate at relaxing.

As for the Holts, Slate doesn’t know why Zander hasn’t told Gray anything, but he has undoubtedly kept it to himself, otherwise things would not be proceeding as they are. Another week has approached and it’s Gray’s day to join Slate on his run. Interesting, he reflects, that he has reserved one day a week in his mind as “Gray’s day” to share with him. That day as they’re just finishing up a harder run than he’s taken Gray on before, Slate finds that his mind is still too crowded. For once, he has the desire to talk to avoid his own mind.

“Why do you come out here with me?” The words tumble out of his mouth before he knew he was thinking them.

Gray straightens from where she was bent over trying to catch her breath. With a few more deep breaths, Gray finally answers, “I’m trying to speak your language.”

Slate pauses in the action of mopping some sweat off his forehead with the bottom hem of his shirt. When he drops the fabric, he asks, “And what language is that?”

Gray studies him for a moment, as she is wont to do with him, before admitting, “I’m not sure yet. But specifically the reason I asked to come running with you is because I think your love language is quality time.”

Perhaps when he was still fifteen, the prospect of a beautiful girl talking about speaking his “love language” would make him blush, but adult him is much less hormonal, much more reasonable, and much more flummoxed by an entirely separate thing. “What makes you think that?”

She shrugs. “It’s how you’ve shown me you care. You spend time with me at Sara’s when you don’t have to. Whenever we meet, it’s always somewhere I feel comfortable, or somewhere you’ve made me comfortable being. You brought me out to the apple orchards to a special place without even the intention of talking about it. Just the action of doing it, of being present with me there was enough. I figured it’s a good way to start learning how to show you I care too.”

Yes...this is very odd. Talking about feelings and love languages and affection, all the while with a malicious camp of werewolves just miles away, likely trying to poach the very woman he’s talking to right now.

He wishes he had the energy to show her he appreciates her effort. He wishes he had time to spend with her too. If he wasn’t under so much stress, he might even ask her just to sit with him at home for a bit to coexist the way he can only with select few people and not feel overstimulated. But now is just not the time to explore that relationship.

So Slate meets her eyes and nods meaningfully. “Okay.”

It’s so dangerous to depend on a “later” in times like this, but that’s what it has to be. He’ll have more time, more energy, more effort to spend on her, but it will have to wait. Right now, this is all he can give.

:::::

Brett Atwood just watches Slate breathe for a moment, like he and Camille did when he was just a newborn. Just to make sure he was still breathing, still warm and alive and unique and special and their son. Looking at Slate now makes him sad and proud in turns.

He has become a strong, mature, wise beyond his years young man. At this very moment, he’s overworked, overstressed, and emotionally and physically tired. He looks as put together as ever, but the way his body fidgets incrementally, the way his mind wanders and his focus falters sometimes, and the way he sinks deeply into every seat he sits in all evidence deep fatigue.

“Slate,” he says quietly, feeling equally as tired. “I think we have to do it.”

He nods. “At the end of the day, we have what they want. We can catch their attention, we just have to prepare for every possible outcome when we do.”

Brett nods. “I’ll gather a few representatives and we’ll all strategize together.” He claps his son on the shoulder. “We’ll figure this out together. It’s going to be okay.”

“I know,” Slate says matter-of-factly.

Brett is Slate’s father, has been for twenty-five years, but sometimes those eyes even catch him off guard. Maybe especially him. They’re mirror images of the eyes he sees every night in his dreams. Perhaps that’s what makes Brett believe his son so deeply now, but Brett can’t reduce his beloved son to what things about him remind him of his wife. Brett believes Slate because he knows with every fiber of his being that Slate will do everything in his power to make it come true. There is no price Slate would not pay for the ones he loves, and that’s why he can be so confident.

They say pride goeth before the fall, but there is nothing more humble than priceless love.

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