Before the Fall

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Chapter 6

“So what do we have on our plate now? The rogue factions popping up, harvest season in the apple orchards, managing rotating patrol schedules, sparring schedules, sense mastery classes, shifting classes--and of course, our mystery wolf friend from the forest,” Sara laughs out hysterically. “Am I missing anything?”

Jason doesn’t dare say a word in the face of his wife’s anxious neurosis, but Slate tilts his head casually and says, “Something’s going on with Sage. Asher won’t tell me what it is. And,” he adds, “Forrest says he thinks Raven is lactose intolerant.”

Sara narrows her eyes and asks with exasperation, “How are you so calm about this?”

“One, because there’s no reason not to be, and two,” Slate says with a little smirk, “because it irritates you.”

Jason can’t rein himself in before a little laugh escapes, and Sara turns her wrath on him. “And you! You probably do the same thing, huh? It’s just hilarious to see Sara all wound up isn’t it?”

Jason, having gotten himself mostly under control, tries to placate his pacing wife. “Come on, babe, it doesn’t help to have everyone so stressed out. Everything will be just fine. It will all work out.”

Finally Sara stops pacing and drops exhausted onto the couch in her small living room, where she, Jason, and Slate have been discussing the general state of the world as it pertains to the Atwood pack. “Alright, fine, I get it.” Then she groans and rubs her forehead. “Stress isn’t good for me anyway.”

Jason whines a little in the back of his throat, wolflike. He can’t help it. The last years have been so hard for both him and Sara, but Sara bears the brunt of the pain and he hates it.

Slate looks away for a moment, consciously clearing his face of sadness for his sister and her husband. Once he’s gathered, Slate asks quietly, “How are things?”

Sara knows that question doesn’t just mean “how are things today?” or even “what’s going on?” He’s asking a specific question without saying the words. Sara presses her lips together and looks out the window for a long moment before answering with her eyes still averted. “It’s her anniversary next week.”

Jason breathes deep and presses a kiss to Sara’s forehead. Slate knows just what anniversary it is. He’s one of the very few who do. “I know. Her fourth one.”

Sara’s voice wavers when she says, “And this makes the fourth year of trying.” She swallows hard. “And the fourth year of failing.”

“Sara,” Jason interjects firmly. He turns her head to look at him when he says, “It’s not failing. Your body is not failing Sara. These things just…” Jason closes his eyes and repeats the mantra that’s kept him going, if barely, the last four years, “take time.”

Slate nods, waits a moment. Then, “How are you feeling, Sara?”

Slate watches Sara roll her shoulders like she does when she’s trying to hold back emotions. “Tired, always tired. My head aches sometimes, my back is sore. My stomach turns.” She shakes her head. “I know exactly what Forrest means when he says he feels like a bad werewolf. It’s not supposed to be this way. I finally cracked sometime last week and got Paige to check me out again, but...nothing.”

Slate, in a move that may seem tactless but is normal between the two siblings, asks, “Are you pregnant now?”

Jason, not having the bond that the two siblings do, recoils just slightly at the uncushioned interrogation, but Sara just shrugs sadly and says simply with a tilted head, “My last cycle was regular.”

Slate nods, then nudges Sara’s toe with his shoe and says, “Well, let that baby girl take her time cooking to get it right. After all these years it sure would be a shame if she has all your sass, but Jason’s blonde eyebrows.”

Sara gets it immediately and it surprises a laugh out of her, but Jason’s clueless. “First of all, it might be a boy, and second of all, what’s wrong with my eyebrows?”

Sara licks her thumb and smooths both of his brows down while he wrinkles his nose. “It’s going to be a girl, Slate’s record is three-for-three for our youngest three siblings and two-for-two with Brianna’s twins, and two-for-two with the Whites--need I go on? Just trust him. And no offense babe, but sass is wasted on someone whose eyebrows are invisible.” Then, Sara and Slate look at each other and raise a single brow before she breaks down into giggles and Slate’s brows smooth out and his mouth forms a close-mouthed grin.

“Hey! There is nothing wrong with my eyebrows!” Sara leans back and raises both her eyebrows at him this time and he falters. “Okay, fine, maybe they’re hard to see, but any little girl of ours would be lucky to have my beautiful blonde locks!”

Jason adopts a cocky smirk at the last, and Sara rolls her eyes but plants a wet kiss on his cheek anyway. “You’re right, she’ll be just fine, our beautiful girl.”

Slate nods reasonably, then says deadpan, “Of course she will. Sara will just have to teach her how to use an eyebrow pencil.”

Sara’s laugh trills while Jason pouts and jabs Slate this time. “Well I hope she doesn’t get your eyes.”

Slate narrows his eyes, and Sara defends with indignance. “They’re not Slate’s eyes, they’re my mom’s eyes. Rude!”

Jason throws one of Sara’s mischievous smirks back at her. “Well on your mom they looked beautiful, on Slate they’re just creepy. Thinking of looking down at a baby who sees the deepest pits of my soul makes me shiver.”

This makes Sara throw her head back and laugh, and Slate thinks if he has to be the butt of a joke to make her sister laugh in the next two weeks he’ll gladly take it. But still, he can’t help but banter back with an offhand remark. “That’s not what your sister says.”

Jason’s eyes narrow dramatically and Sara’s jaw drops before the former glowers deeper and the latter dissolves into cackling hysterics, and Slate wishes he could take a picture of that moment. In fact, delightedly he mutters to himself, “Sending that image to Asher for sure.”

He absorbs the details of the moment and sends the picture through that iron tight bond that always stretches between the two brothers. Almost immediately he feels Asher laughing and demanding to hear the whole story later.

Jason, calmed down, comments while shaking his head, “It will never not blow my mind that you two can do that kind of stuff. My grandparents have been married sixty years and they can’t do half the stuff you guys do.”

Slate shrugs and speaks honestly, “It’s not me, it’s Asher. I don’t know why only I get the full effect of his abilities, but even outside of him and me, he is far and away the best bond-communicator I have ever met.”

The boys’ werewolf hearing detects Sara’s stomach growling and right on cue, she gets up and walks to the kitchen area. Though too far away for a human to be comfortable hearing, Sara speaks at a normal volume while she opens and closes cupboards loudly. “It’s true. I swear he sent me straight up the feeling of apology the other day. Whatever the heck that even feels like, but I swear he did it. He and I had a little spat and gave each other the silent treatment for like two hours, and then all the sudden I feel Asher’s energy sending me an apology.”

Slate nods and adds, “I bet you anything he was trying to send an image of himself with puppy dog eyes too.”

Sara’s eyes go wide with realization and she pauses with the fridge door still open. “You know, there was a fuzzy image, but I could mostly only see colors at the time. Now I can see how that could be a pouty Asher.” She hums. “Dang, it would be cool to get the full force of that like you two do.”

“Yeah well, it has some downfalls too,” He says with a shrug. Then he watches Sara piddle around aimlessly for another couple seconds until sighing and calling her out. “You’re just waiting for me to make that casserole you like, aren’t you?”

Sara turns around slowly and clasps her hands together and smiles sweetly. “Yes, please!”

:::::

“Asher, I think I feel…that weird feeling again,” Sage says faintly, feeling like half his brain is somewhere else.

Asher, just feet away on the other side of the couch reading his book with the TV on in the background for his three younger siblings, drops everything immediately. “Yeah?” He spares a glance at the clock on the wall: 6:27 PM. “This is way earlier than normal. Is there anything different this time?”

Forrest startles and adjusts his glasses. “What? What are you guys talking about?”

Raven doesn’t even look away from his legos when he says, “Sage is feeling weird again. But it’s extra weird ’cause it’s only s’posed to happen at night.”

Asher gapes for a moment at Raven and wonders if his brother is the Oracle of Delphi or something. And even more odd, Forrest appears placated by this pronouncement. “Oh yeah, that. Hopefully they’ll keep happening earlier so that Sage doesn’t wake up the whole house stumbling across the top floor.”

Asher is gobsmacked.

Oblivious, Sage frowns and feels his mind getting overwhelmed with words, but he can’t quite make them out. “I think it’s...she’s...whatever it is is trying to say something.”

Asher stares for a long moment, takes a deep breath, and makes a decision. “Alright, I guess now that everyone knows, it’s time to bring in the dynamic duo. Slate’s with Sara and Jason at theirs already, we’ll meet them there.” He stands and puts an arm around Sage. “Alright, let’s get to the car.”

“Don’t forget about me!”

Raven races to the back door and stands stalwart, blocking anyone from exiting. Asher closes his eyes. “Aw, I’m sorry buddy, but we really have to go quick. Forrest will put you to bed--”

“Dude come on, I’m obviously the worst babysitter ever, why do people keep setting me up for failure?” Forrest complains. “Asher, just get Raven’s shoes on, I’ll get Sage to the car.”

And just like that, all of Asher’s control is lost and he can only follow the rolling tide, so he does as he’s told, feeling more than a little disgruntled. “Alright Ray, we gotta be quick, where’s your sock--”

“Ready!” And sure enough, there Raven stands, with one sock inside out and his big-boy laced shoes tangled in a poor imitation of a knot, but he’s got something on his feet and that’s enough for Asher.

“You’re definitely going to be the genius of the family,” Asher mutters. “Alright, everyone in the car!” He says louder.

Sage’s awareness goes in and out, but he tries to stay present as Forrest gets him situated in the passenger seat and distantly he registers Asher turn the key and start down the gravel driveway. “How’re you feeling, bud? Talk to me.”

Sage closes his eyes and rests his forehead on the cool glass window. “I just feel swirly again, and itchy. I have the feeling like I’m forgetting something. Or like there’s a word right on the tip of my tongue that I can’t find.”

Asher spares a glance at his brother, notes his coloring and his breathing. Both seem normal. He doesn’t seem to be in any distress, except for that uncomfortable feeling he always talks about. This will be the fifth episode since the first one. The first couple were sporadic, but they’d been getting closer together. In fact, Sage had had a short episode yesterday, waking Asher in the early hours of the morning like normal. But today...Asher checks the time again: 6:39 PM.

Yeah, he thinks, something’s definitely screwy this time.

He pulls up the driveway to his sister’s modest home and Slate is already waiting for them outside with his arms crossed across his chest. “Asher, you’ve been bleeding over for the past ten minutes.” He steps off the porch and observes the procession of siblings piling out of the car and raises an eyebrow. “Care to explain?”

Asher winces. Sometimes he does this thing with Slate where he feels really strong emotions and they bleed through the bond to Slate accidentally, who gets bombarded with the transfer. “Yeah, it’s a long story, but there’s no going back now. Everyone’s along for the ride this time.”

Like always, Slate adapts remarkably quickly. “Alright, come here Raven. Forrest, get Sage?” Walking briskly through the doorway with Raven trailing, Slate turns to Asher and gives him a look that says he’s got a lot of explaining to do. In the next breath he announces to the house, “All Atwoods present and accounted for.”

The five boys all get hustled into the house and sat down wherever they can find space.

Sara, frozen on the couch with a fork halfway to her mouth, finally comes back to life while everyone settles down. “Okay, somebody better start talking or I’m kicking you all out--and by the way, none of you are getting any of Slate’s casserole!”

Jason rolls his eyes. “I don’t think anyone is interested in casserole right now, babe. And if they were,” he adds, “no one is facing you down for it if they have any sense in their brain.”

Meanwhile, Slate’s attention has not left Sage. He seems okay, but obviously dazed and not completely in control. Asher sees irritation at being left out of the loop building in his older brother and starts talking quickly. “Okay, so this thing has been happening with Sage--which apparently everyone in the house knew about--usually at or around midnight, where he gets...like this. Hey dude, how’re you doing?”

Sage turns his head to face the direction of Asher’s voice, but it doesn’t look like he’s seeing anything. “Still weird.”

“Weird?” Sara intones with furrowed brows, not catching the drift.

“Weird,” Raven confirms seriously.

“Yeah,” Asher winces, “he hasn’t been able to come up with a better word for what happens. But I have a theory.”

“Which is?”

“I think our gray-eyed wolf is trying to talk to Sage.”

Chatter bursts through immediately, but one comment sticks out to Slate. Forrest exclaims, “I knew it had something to do with the gray-eyed wolf!”

Slate narrows in on the nineteen-year-old. “Where did you hear about a gray-eyed wolf?” he demands.

Wide eyed in the face of everyone’s focus now pinned on him, Forrest says, “Well I knew something happened in the forest that night Sage snuck out, so I did some research. There’s conspiracy forums--and not even just werewolf ones--about this wolf in different parts of the west coast. Some say they’ve been able to communicate with her through their minds somehow. It sounds a little like bond communication, but honestly I thought that was a little far fetched, but...maybe Sage has something different to say.”

Sage feels frustrated that he finally has something special about him, but he can’t even do that right. “Well I can’t hear anything,” he huffs.

Asher frowns and considers things for a moment while conversation drifts on around him. After a moment, he gets Sage’s attention while the others are preoccupied. “Hey Sage, I want to try something, but you have to do exactly what I say, okay? Trust me.”

Sage looks wary, but nods. He trusts his brother.

“Okay,” Asher breathes. “You need to imagine your thoughts as a ball of energy in your head, can you do that for me?”

Sage groans. “Asher, I already know I can’t bond-communicate yet, there’s no hope.”

Asher sends a bond message to Slate, an understanding of what he’s trying to do with Sage and why they need the attention off of them for a little longer. Slate doesn’t even look at Asher, just sends him a short affirmative.

Asher shakes his head firmly at his younger brother. “You said you trusted me, Sage. Now imagine your thoughts as a ball of energy.” Sage sighs and closes his eyes, nods. “Okay now imagine me in your head as another ball of energy.” Sage frowns, but nods, keeps his eyes closed. “Got it? Now gather up your ball really tight and throw it at me. As hard and fast as you can. Okay?”

Sage swallows and tries. He does. But it just doesn’t work. He doesn’t work.

“Hey,” Asher says with an edge. “Stop feeling sorry for yourself, Sage. You can do this. Try again. Hard and fast.”

The strong words take Sage aback and he opens his eyes for a moment just to stare. He blinks, once, twice, then takes a breath and inhales. Under his breath he mutters, “Hard and fast.”

He gathers up all his energy and throws it at the Asher he’s envisioned in his mind, and it’s like trying to throw a wiffle ball at a cement wall. Idly he compares it to being a wizard in your first year going to Hogwarts, running up to Platform 9¾ and getting a face full of brick for your troubles.

Asher leans in close and presses his forehead with some amount of pressure to Sage’s forehead, lays his hands on Sage’s shoulders, and closes his eyes. He sees Sage’s essence in his mind’s eye in that place where bond connections live, a world that comes so easy to him. He breathes in and widens his own energy as much as he can, stretches it from end to end, ready to receive any fragments of Sage that make it through the barrier.

“Again,” he commands.

Sage tries again. And again. And on the third time he feels something...crack. Something starts to give, so he tries again with all his energy of soul, panting with the effort. Then all at once, the dam breaks and he feels this welcoming embrace that he somehow knows is from Asher.

“Yes,” Asher breathes through a relieved laugh. “That’s it, that’s right, you’ve got it, bro.”

Sage opens his eyes and grins widely at his brother. He pffts and scoffs, “Yeah, of course I’ve got it. I never doubted myself once.”

Asher rolls his eyes, but claps his brother on the back once. Absently, he gets a stop motion vision of events from Slate, his older brother having tracked everything going on with Sage and Asher, and Asher realizes he had probably been bleeding over. The stop motion continues and he sees Forrest start to look at Sage weirdly, noticing Asher whispering purposefully to him. In the vision, Slate assesses the situation and makes an executive decision that Alright, let’s take this outside. Forrest frowns and opens his mouth to say something contrary and probably argumentative, but Slate pins him with a look and repeats, Let’s take this outside.

Asher, now alone in the room with Sage following the events of the vision showing Slate’s version of events, feels like there’s more room for energies to take up space, unconfined. Slate has always had an uncanny ability for knowing just the right thing to do. “Alright, Sage. Still trust me?”

“Yes.” No hesitance.

“Alright, are you still feeling that weird feeling?” Sage cocks his head and his attention starts to waver, so Asher guesses, “Once you stopped focusing so hard on me it came back?”

Sage nods with brows almost meeting in the middle. “Okay, what I need you to do now is stop fighting it. Open up your energy to receive it.”

Sage grimaces, “I don’t...it’s--I’m scared.”

Asher exhales and softens just a touch. “I know, bud. You feel out of control and that’s scary, but I’m right here. I promise I won’t let anything happen to you. You’re going to be able to get your mind all to yourself after this, I promise. No more feeling weird.”

“How do you know?” Sage pleads.

“You know how dad says I have some magic? Well my magic is telling me this is it. This is what we’ve been waiting for,” Asher says with wisdom that comes from that certain something that lives in him. From what their father calls magic.

Sage swallows and closes his eyes, nods once.

Asher nods back. “Alright, are you opening up real wide?” Sage nods, and Asher can feel that it’s true where they’re still connected. “Are you feeling it really strong?” Asher can see Sage’s eyes flicking back and forth under his eyelids, like stage five in the REM cycle. “Okay, now let that feeling flow through both of us. This time send it slow and steady. Okay?”

Sage’s breathing grows slow, light. “Yeah. Yeah it’s...it’s so strong I feel like I wouldn’t be able to hold it all myself anyway.”

“That’s good. Now, slow and steady.”

Something happens in Sage’s consciousness that Asher can only feel peripherally from their still somewhat tenuous connection. Then slowly Asher begins to understand what Sage meant by weird, only Asher can tell it’s different because his something is able to receive it and make more sense of it. Asher sees flashes of images in that same stop motion style that passes between him and Slate. He sees what Sage has described in fuzzy detail a few times before. He sees their she-wolf walking away from them that night in the forest, and then she turns and lays her eerie gray eyes on Sage’s perspective, where Asher is channeling from. Then something happens and she turns human. He feels words fly through his head at full volume, like a scroll reader on the news but spoken aloud. It fills his head full almost to overflowing and in the back of his mind, he realizes Slate’s head most probably feels much the same because of the overwhelming intensity of the experience.

Come to me come to me come to me come to me.

:::::

Gray paces frenetically. A woman from a lifetime ago would have swatted at her shoulder and wondered how she could ever find focus like that, but in the next breath she would admit that she couldn’t argue with the results Gray produced.

Tonight is the full moon, and Gray thinks that’s why she felt the pull to start earlier tonight. That she didn’t need the full effect of the moonlight tonight, that she could use the dimness of sunset and it would have just as much effect. She breathes deeply, in for three paces, out for five. Tonight it will work. Tonight will be the start.

Tonight will be the end.

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