Before the Fall

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Chapter 39

Asher panics in the face of the two wild wolves in front of him. He’d managed to surprise one of them, tackling it and wounding it pretty severely, but rogue werewolves tend to fight until they breathe their last breath, so it was still kicking when another rogue entered the fray. Fortunately, Asher and those with him were prepared and had shifted into full wolves. They would be faster that way, and their surprise attack strategy counted on speed. Plus, it’s always awkward and exponentially more difficult to go up against a wolf as a human than to match it on four feet.

Kimberly comes crashing into the scene and bulldozes into the rogue who’d gotten Asher on his back and he sends her a quick thanks through the bond. Asher and the wolves with him had been able to head off the enemies before they reached the last line of defense wolves at the edges of their property so the battles were still occurring in the forest which could be dense in some parts, making things more difficult. The good thing about that was that the rogues had a hard time working together as well.

Out of the corner of his eye, Asher sees Aaron fell a wolf who is noticeably different from the rogues. When he goes down, a few of the rogues in his area falter and become confused for too long moments that lead to their death. Asher realizes this man had been controlling or influencing the rogues enough to be in that odd in-between state where they were still indubitably feral but also able to work together and employ strategy.

He sends a quick message to everyone he can reach, look for the pack wolves, focus on them, not the rogues.

Not too long after that, Asher feels Slate nearby. He hopes that means his battles ended up okay. With the new knowledge and the additional help, the Atwood pack starts to more easily dispatch their attackers. Once the fight starts to noticeably favor Asher and his packmates, a few of the wolves start abandoning each other and escaping toward where they came from. As more wolves escape, more rogues become confused and weakened.

After that, it’s a matter of putting down the poor animals that had been used as weapons. Asher soon is able to lower his guard and catch his breath and it seems like...it’s over. Asher’s chest heaves as he drinks in air. It’s hard to process the fact that this nightmare might be...over, now.

Trying to shake off the shock and adrenaline from battle, he shifts back to human and starts methodically going through their group and checking everyone’s injuries. As he gets nearer to the edges of the forest, he starts to see a group gathering in a circle...and he starts to get a bad feeling.

He pushes his way through people until he finds his father sitting next to Forrest, still a pretty brown wolf, who rests on the floor, bloody and bruised. It looks like...it looks like his breaths are coming in shortly and unevenly, and when Asher slowly lowers himself in shock next to his father and brother, he sees that it looks like a few of Forrest’s ribs are out of place, probably causing the trouble breathing.

Asher feels like he’s in a bubble, barely hearing anything, not seeing anything other than Forrest..

The second Asher touches Forrest’s arm, his brain comes back online and he can hear their father calmly speaking to Forrest. “You’re going to be okay, son, just stay quiet,” he murmurs. “I do love you, my son, you just rest. Just rest.”

:::::

Slate feels something buzzing in his brain, like it’s begging to be seen or heard, but he has no time. He has to find his family, to make sure they’re safe. He sees Asher moving from person to person, checking on them, and he sees his father doing much of the same, but...Forrest was one of the wolves waiting as the last line of defense, he should be here. Where’s Forrest?

Suddenly, the buzzing becomes too much and he whirls around to try to figure out where it’s coming from until he sees...Gray in the distance, running toward them. He jogs forward to meet her. When they come close enough, Slate asks, “What are you doing here?”

She spares him a glance, but continues marching forward. “I’m a healer, I’m here to heal. And I’m the reason you’re all out here, right? I should have been here in the first place.” When he starts to speak, she cuts him off. “This is what I do, okay? This is what makes it worth it.”

And he can’t say anything to that, so he just follows her. At first, she just starts touching people’s arms or grabbing their hands and healing, even though it’s obviously hurting her and making her bleed. Slate quickly grabs her before she can get too far and stops her in her tracks.

She looks up at him angrily and tries to pull away. He lets go of her arm, but blocks her from moving away from him with his body. “Slate, I told you--”

“I know, Gray, I know.” He says patiently. “I’m not trying to stop you. I’m trying to help you.”

Gray narrows her eyes at him, still suspicious. “How?”

He exhales and meets her gaze sincerely. “I’m helping you help the most people. Don’t go around taking everything from everyone. Find the people who need you most first and heal the most pressing wounds. Not everything and everyone all at once. We’re werewolves, we can heal from most things ourselves.”

Gray sighs and looks at him with an odd expression, but lets him lead her around and heal only a few here and there and only a little bit at a time. Sometimes Slate disentangles her hand from someone to stop her going too far and she glares at him, but he just looks back calmly. As they go around, they leave people with dropped jaws and awe in their eyes, but they know enough to know that now is not the time to ask questions.

Then suddenly Asher is in his mind and it’s obviously not by choice because he sees a group of people and he feels worried, so worried and confused and scared, and then in a flash he’s crouched on the floor next to…

“Gray,” he says quickly. “My brother needs help. Badly.”

She must see something in his face, because her eyes widen and she hurries after him, weaving through bodies. Then, not quickly enough, they’ve broken the circle around Forrest to find his father with sad eyes whispering gently and Asher with tears in his eyes that are almost ready to drip down his face.

“How can this be happening again, Slate? Why…?” Asher asks desperately.

Then Gray sits quickly next to Slate and takes hardly a moment to assess the situation before nodding to herself, like she’s resigning herself to her fate. Slate curses at himself for not realizing earlier what exactly he was bringing her to. He can’t expect her to sacrifice herself for this. He would be no better than her father if he did.

Then words are tumbling out of his mouth before they’ve even formed in his mind. “Share it with me.”

“What?” Gray asks, eyes flicking between his.

Share it with me. I can take some of the pain,” he says. He’s not sure how he knows it, but he does.

“Slate--” Gray starts shaking her head.

He takes her face in his hands and cradles it gently. He puts his forehead to hers and closes his eyes. Calmly, in the intimate space between them, he explains, “It’s like what I do with Asher. I don’t have any of the power--the moon gift, you call it. I can just feel some of it through him. It’s like a radio. Asher--and you--have all the power, I’m just the one who can turn it to the right frequency to receive it.”

Gray breathes deeply and wraps her hands around his wrists where his hands are still cradling her face. “Okay. I trust you.”

He kisses her forehead once, gently, before taking one of her hands and nodding at her. She nods back, but wastes no more time before laying a soft hand on Forrest’s forearm.

Slate feels it immediately when she starts healing him. The pain is immense, but that might be because he’s focusing on taking as much as he can--Gray has already healed several people today, she can’t take much more--but he tries not to show it. He can’t hide a sharp inhale at the sudden onslaught that makes Asher look at him curiously for a brief moment before returning his eyes to Forrest. Otherwise, Slate just closes his eyes against it and tries to welcome the pain, love it, because it means Forrest will be okay. One of his ribs breaks in his chest and he can feel the pressure it puts on his lungs, but it doesn’t move far enough to puncture anything. He can feel blood start to stain his chest.

He opens his eyes when he hears Forrest start to breathe more regularly. One of his ribs must have been in his lungs, and now that the rib is back in place, his body can slowly start to heal the lung. Forrest’s eyes open and it’s clear that he’s still in pain, but he’s not in danger anymore. Slate would take everything from him if he could--and maybe now he understands Gray in a way he never could before--but he can’t let Gray channel all that. He gently lifts her hand from Forrest’s arm and catches her eye.

“Thank you,” Slate says quietly.

Gray looks pale, but oddly sort of confused. “It feels weird...seeing the healing happen but not feeling it. It’s…” she hesitates. “Thank you.”

Slate can only smile at her in relief, despite the waves of pain that crash over him with every breath. He shouldn’t be thanked, but he understands her need to say it. When Slate looks up, he can see Asher staring at him. in confusion. What? he bond communicates.

Asher shoots right back, Your breathing is off. It was fine before.

Slate sighs and tries to shift so there’s not so much pressure on his lungs, but it just makes things feel like they’re grinding together unpleasantly.

And you’re bleeding, Asher continues, frown growing and worry intensifying. As if something has just occurred to him, Asher’s eyes flick to Gray’s and all in a moment, understanding dawns. He opens his mouth to say something, to exclaim, but Slate quickly cuts him off. Later

Asher’s mouth closes slowly. But--

Later.

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