Before the Fall

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Chapter 5

Gray laves at her wounds with her tongue, cleaning it as best she can. She’s still in pain, but things are slowly improving. She was able to get up two days ago and travel the short distance to the spring she found in her first week here. Maybe a lifetime ago she would have categorized the passage of time before that as somewhere around three or four days since the original altercation. After lapping up some much needed water--hydration encourages healing as well--she was able to catch some small game, filling her stomach for the first time in days. It gave her a boost of energy that had her mind thinking clearer, and now much time later with a steady food supply, she’s better able to process recent events.

She’s able to compartmentalize Sage as just a boy who snuck out on the wrong day, the boy she was there to heal and nothing more.

She’s able to let go of her needling desire for more knowledge about the dark haired man. A name means nothing, it doesn’t matter, he doesn’t matter.

She’s able to forget the deep empathy, the pain she felt for Asher who had no reason to blame himself--but would anyway if he’s anything like Gray.

The one thing that still niggles at her like an itch she can’t scratch is the woman, Sara. There’s just something there. Something, Gray finally pinpoints, about her scent. Something she recognizes, something from a time she tries to forget. She knows that scent. Something musty, something unnatural, unusual for a werewolf. She knew it from somewhere but where where where?

She tries to relax her mind and let her thoughts return to the minutiae of daily life in the vast Washington forestry. She lays her head down and soaks in the warm sun shining down on her, the brother of her unfailing guide, the moon. She closes her eyes and exhales peacefully, finally rediscovering equilibrium. And then--

And then--

And then--


I remember.


Sage tosses and turns in his bed about three weeks after...after it happened. He still doesn’t have full memory of what happened that night and no one will talk about it with him. He tried to ask Asher about it once, knowing he was the most likely to have mercy on Sage, but the look on his face made it clear that wasn’t happening.

But still, weeks later he gets flickers of memories, little snapshots of the night. He remembers feeling what he can now recognize as childish jealousy of his older siblings being able to travel to the edges of the territory, to patrol. He wanted to help protect the pack too, he wanted to be useful. No matter that he was still growing into the finer points of being a fully matured werewolf, he could help!

And also...he’d never admit it, but he was missing his two oldest siblings. They’d been moved out for years, but Sage would never stop missing the years of having a full, noisy house and being able to tug on his mother’s apron strings to get her attention. Even Jason had lived with the family for a while, in the basement with Sara. Then after his mother was was a blow to lose his sister to her mate when they decided to get out and settle into their own space. And then soon after, Slate decided he wanted his own space too. It didn’t matter that they lived only minutes away in the rural property that encompassed most of the Atwood pack. Anything farther than down the hall was too far for Sage.

He missed Sara slipping and sliding everywhere on the slick wood flooring and he missed Slate jabbing his ribs and teasing him with half smiles and winks that felt private and special coming from his stoic older brother. He felt so loved and safe with Slate, and every day was fun and an adventure with his sister. And now he felt like he was never going to get those days back.

But of course, he could never say that out loud. He’s thirteen, he’s not supposed to be a whiny baby anymore. He wants to be grown up and mature like his older siblings. At least Asher still lives at home and Forrest is still there to help him with homework. And Raven is pretty cool too, for a kid.

That particular night, he felt like he would burst out of his skin if he couldn’t just go do something to expend all the extra energy that came from roiling emotions. So on an impulse, he opened his second story window and shimmied himself down, and any ache that his feet felt from jumping the last several feel healed in seconds.

He felt like a sleuth, sneaking through all the shortcuts until he made it to the forest line and he was home free! He enjoyed this victory for maybe five seconds before he realized the journey was just beginning. But, he thought, he was a werewolf, tracking was in his blood. He could do this, easy. He just had to use his senses.

So he went a couple feet forward, then a couple feet to the right to chase that scent, and then he heard something come from the left so he went that way, round and round, and before he knew it he was completely lost in the dark forest. He was just glad his werewolf vision worked better in the dark than the way he’d heard humans describe it. He just had to be brave and not panic. He could do this, he could be a good werewolf.

There! After wandering around, trying to catch a scent, he found fresh tracks. He chased this trail as fast as he could, leaping and flying through the woods like he imagined he would when he was better at shifting into an actual wolf. And finally he saw them! He made it!

And then everything went wrong.

It went wrong so fast, Sage could barely follow what was happening. There were wolves he didn’t recognize and they were fighting, but his brothers were protecting him and his sister was holding his hand and then...his memory is spotty. He remembers a flash of pain and all the sudden he was on the ground and he thinks someone was screaming. His stomach felt...wet, but his eyes were closed, and his body was numb, and yet at the same time there was this distant all encompassing pain.

And then there wasn’t.

There was no pain left but a slow ache, he could feel his body, and his eyes were open. The first thing he saw was this huge red wolf above him, but he wasn’t sure if that was real because it lasted for half a second and then it was gone and Slate was carrying him home. He remembers feeling embarrassed and confused, and his emotions were kind of dulled. And then somehow he got up to his room and in his bed. He thinks Asher may have sung him a song that their mom used to sing to Sage when he was really young. It felt like his mother was giving him a hug. He wondered absently if Asher had been using the bond to communicate, if that’s what that felt like. He had never really felt it before, but he knew Asher was really good at it. Like, the kind of good that no one else ever could be.

But tonight he’s feeling kind of...weird. He continues to toss and turn, trying to get rid of that feeling. It feels a little like his stomach is dropping on a sudden decline on a rollercoaster, but it’s not his stomach. It’s coming from somewhere more...inside. Then when he thinks he’s finally starting to fall asleep, he starts to get these images of that red wolf. First it’s that same scene, when he was on the forest floor and she was above him and all he could see was her face. Then he saw her lock eyes with him for the smallest moment and he thought...he thought maybe her eyes were gray. But that couldn’t be, people don’t have gray eyes like that. He needs to stop dreaming.

But it won’t stop.

He starts feeling like he’s back there in the forest, only he didn’t just get whisked away, he sat up and he watched the wolf walk away. And the color of her coat looked almost like someone else’s coat, someone who...

His mind is spinning so much he can barely feel his body. He needs to tell someone. He keeps seeing the wolf walk away, and then it changes and she turns back to look at him and then there’s a brown-red haired woman standing where the wolf stood. He needs to tell someone. His Dad, probably, but his Dad’s room is downstairs and he’s too dizzy to make it down there. Asher’s room is right across the hall from his. He can make it that far. He stands and stumbles from wall to wall until he reaches Asher’s door, opens it, and leans back on it to catch his breath.

“Sage?” comes a croak from Asher’s bed. Then Asher’s brain registers that it’s Sage who’s pale and wavering at his door and Asher is out of bed and in Sage’s face in a second. “Sage, what’s wrong? What hurts?”

Sage’s vision starts to clear and he feels more steady on his feet. “No, I’m...I’m okay. I feel fine, just kind of...weird.”

Asher, hands squeezing Sage’s shoulders tightly, starts to ease up. “Weird? Come sit down with me. Let’s figure it out together.”

Asher walks barely a step behind Sage the whole time, just far enough that it can’t be called hovering--but barely. By the time Sage sits on the edge of Asher’s mattress, his mind is totally clear and he wonders if he somehow made it all up.

“What’s up Sage? What woke you up?”

Sage can see perfectly well in the dark room and considers his brother for a minute, lips pursed. If anyone knows anything about “weird” feelings and visions, then Asher does. He takes a breath before starting. “Well, I was trying to fall asleep, but I started feeling like I was on a roller coaster.” Asher frowns. “And then I was remembering things about...about that night, that I had never remembered before.”

Asher dips his head and locks eyes with Sage. “Tell me what you remember.”

Sage frowns a little at Asher’s intensity, but then, what could be more intense than the time he almost died? “Well, first it was just flashes of what little I’ve remembered before, but then I was seeing this...this…”

“What were you seeing, Sage?” Asher prompts gently.

Sage wrings his hands together and asks hesitantly, “Well, was there anyone else there that night? Besides the rogues, I mean.” Sage shudders at the mention.

Asher perks up a little. “Yes, there was. Do you remember her?”

“Um, yeah a little,” Sage says warily. What happened that night that no one has told him? “She was there after I got hurt, and then I saw her walking away, and then...well, did she ever shift human that night?”

Sage’s brother’s eyebrows shoot up and he leans even closer. “No, she didn’t. Tell me exactly what you saw and what you felt tonight.”

So Sage recounts his night in detail and feels exhausted by the end. Asher obviously wants to keep probing, but he sees Sage wilting, so he moves out of the way and tucks his little brother in his own bed. Asher won’t be sleeping tonight anyway, he has too much to think about.


Gray paces back and forth in an open patch of grass a nearer to the river than the clearing where the fight happened. She uses the movement to focus her energy and channel it all to the tender bond she feels with the boy, Sage. She pushes her essence into him, knowing that it will show him whatever it is that he needs to see. She pushes all of herself and the sole message of come to me.

Over and over she does this, but like the past three nights, nothing happens and Gray is absolutely spent by the time morning comes. She uses the moonlight to her advantage, the time when she feels most in sync with her preternatural ability, but somehow it still isn’t enough. All it has done is leave Gray exhausted and ready to collapse in her den for the majority of the day.

She keeps thinking if she just tries hard enough, if she proves that she wants it enough, she will bring Sage and his family to her. She needs this. She now knows why her feet have kept her here, in this forest by this pack. She has a duty here and it’s not just to heal one boy one night. Rather, he gave her the connection she needs to get their attention once more.

She trusts the pull of the moon. She trusts that it will bring her where she needs to be, and she knows that where she needs to be is with that family. All she has to do is keep trying. It will work. It has to. There’s no other choice.

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