ALPHA

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Chapter 4: Fits & Fights


1:36 AM MST

I find it hard to fall into a deep sleep unlike Wyatt beside me who is already snoring peacefully. Although every muscle in my body is tingling with fatigue, my mind is spinning and I lay awake consumed by a cycle of worry.

I’m worried about Dax, how Wyatt is going to help me, and my leg – in particular. Because there are no answers – still so many unknowns – it enhances the fear ten-fold.

I’ve never once been in any kind of predicament or situation that someone else couldn’t get me out of; so I never cared too much about doing things for myself. If I had learned how to track back to camp… maybe there’d be a chance I’d be with my brother at this very moment. Dax always knew what he was doing, and instead of learning from that I just admired him for it and let him do all the work.

These constant reminders of my brother – and the burden of guilt – weigh down my heart. It sinks heavily with a sweep of recollection at my last words to him.

“Hurry back!”

My body tenses with concern. He was supposed to come back for me and didn’t. Not just one or two hours like usual; he was gone half a day! All kinds of terrible scenarios played in my head at the time; maybe there was an accident, maybe he needed my help… before I knew it, my feet carried me farther than I expected and it was just trees and silence surrounding me.

In a flash, I’m remembering the haunting panic that took over. It makes my chest squeeze and eyelids shut tight.

I remember feeling helpless – hunted – as I screamed for my brother over and over…

Dax. Dax! DAX!

5:08 AM MST

“Calix!”

I wake with a gasp to find Wyatt leaning over me. The small part of his face not hidden behind a beard looks white, scared; it’s very unbecoming. His eyes are round and troubled as he looks down at me.

Reality is hot, sticky, and immediately uncomfortable; I’ve been sweating with fever on top of reliving a nightmare.

My intense breathing is making my throat dry, and it’s hard to make sense of the reckless impulse to reach out and cling to Wyatt – get comforted. It’s just like there’s an invisible magnet between us as he lets me sob against him. There are tears, but mostly it’s just a lot of noise from me as I struggle to control this distress taking over. That suffocating feeling of darkness and unknown has followed me to Wyatt’s cabin and is trying to take hold of me again.

“C’mon, it’s okay,” he soothes. There’s hesitation in his voice but then his hand is cupping the back of my head and I’m digging nails into his back just to make sure he’s real – that all of this is real and it’s happening.

I’m not out there alone anymore – but Dax is.

5:22 AM MST

We haven’t moved an inch; I’m still holding on to Wyatt – face buried against a smoky smelling chest littered with fine body hair – but my breathing has been normal for the past few minutes.

“You have a fever,” he says finally, pulling back to look at me. “I’ll get you some water and then you have to rest.”

“W-wait, just a little longer,” I plead as an electric impulse surges through me, tightening my grip.

It works, because Wyatt relaxes into the embrace a little and sighs. “I’m not used to this.”

If he’s referring to the physical intimacy, I understand and stay quiet, reflecting guiltily that after all he’s done, I’m being completely unreasonable. But he’s the best substitute to Dax that I have…

“You were dreaming about your brother.” The way he says it isn’t like a question at all – it’s more like he wants to be reassured he’s right so I simply nod. “Y’know, I’ve been thinking. Are you sure he didn’t leave on purpose?”

Fear – anxiousness; they disappear completely as a hot anger takes over. I push Wyatt away immediately, shooting him the nastiest glare I can manage. “You don’t know anything about Daxton,” I hiss. “He would never do something like that. He loves me more than anything!”

My voice rising makes Wyatt’s bushy eyebrows pull together. “If it were me, I wouldn’t turn my back on you for a second! Wandering alone in the forest – only a fucking idiot –”

“It was a mistake,” I acknowledge. “I know that it was stupid but I was so scared he was hurt and needed my help so I –”

“What could you have done for him even if you found him dying? For fuck’s sake, Calix, think it through…”

The anger is irrational and burning hot. Think things through? Says the man who told me he lives in the moment...

I attempt to sit up, but my head swims and a pounding headache makes me wince and lay back. Wyatt takes this opportunity to get up and get some water, but I’m shaking head to toe. I want to sob again, but the headache gets worse as my eyes squeeze together and I battle against Wyatt’s words. He really thinks I’m stupid… he must hate this; hate me for finding out his secret and burdening him. He’s probably never cried a day in his life and here I am; all tears…

It hurts.

“Drink up.”

Wyatt is back at my side, offering me a cup, but I bury my head deep into the dusty old pillow and refuse.

“Calix.”

“Leave me alone,” I snap – words muffled as I speak stubbornly into the pillow.

There’s an audible sigh and Wyatt twists my elbow so that I’m forced to face him.

“Hey, I’m sorry about what I said, okay?”

There’s no way I can meet his eyes, or reply to him. I know I’m being juvenile, but if I open my mouth I’m sure I’ll either burst into even more pathetic tears, or shout at him and set off his axe-murdering side. Instead, I press my lips firmly together and stare at the bed, even as he jostles me.

“I don’t know why I said it,” he continues. “I don’t like seeing you like this... and maybe I’m blaming your brother when I really have no reason to. Of course he loves you. I’m just an insensitive jerk sometimes.”

Wyatt admitting this prompts me to finally meet his eyes.

“You are,” I agree bitterly – but far from getting angry Wyatt puts on a smile and leans forward with the cup.

“I know… so it’s new… being nice to someone.” As I down the contents of the cup, Wyatt reaches out for my head and I expect him to pet me, but he takes the back of his palm and presses it right to my forehead to gauge the temperature. “Hmm – you’re getting too warm.”

It’s true that I haven’t even crawled under the quilt, there’s no fire going, and in fact, by all logic I should be freezing. Instead, I’m aching and sweating all over – so hot that I’m practically a radiator.

Wyatt takes the cup from me, places it on the bedside table, and then moves forward, reaching for the buttons on my shirt.

“Wait –” I begin, moving a weak hand to Wyatt’s wrist and attempting to stop him. “What –”

He doesn’t bother stopping, and my strength is nowhere near enough to make him, but he explains as he makes quick work of my shirt. “You’ve soaked it through,” he comments. “You’ll be thanking me later.”

“I can – do it myself,” I mumble, but as I say the words, I’m not too sure myself.

“Just shut up and stop making a big deal out of it,” he demands – that assertive edge warning me not to argue any more. He peels off the button-down, and then the Under Armour base layer underneath until my upper body is completely exposed and glistening with a sheen of sweat. There’s immediate relief. Even though I’m burning up, being exposed to the chilly air creates a nice counterbalance… but I’m conscious of the way Wyatt is looking at my body. There’s a perplexed look on his face – complete with twitching bushy eyebrows as he leans forward.

“I – I’m sorry,” I say for some reason even I don’t understand. Maybe I’m just sorry I’m so weak and skinny in comparison– but why that matters at all is lost on me. It’s hard to keep sense of my own thoughts with the fever...

Wyatt ignores me and points near my abdomen. “What are these from?”

I prop myself up on elbows slightly, wincing once again at the blood rush that prompts my headache to throb painfully in my temples. Staring down at my torso, I can barely make out what Wyatt is pointing at in the dark.

All kinds of bruises have appeared on my body.

"I fell down a hill,” I remind as my head swims with foggy recollection.

Wyatt laughs. “Yeah, I saw that. Guess you’ve been too distracted to notice anything but the leg…” Then, proving he’s not insensitive all of the time, Wyatt gets up, grabs a wet rag, and dampens my face. “This will help regulate your temperature,” he explains.

“It doesn’t feel cold,” I complain.

“It’s not. Room temperature… body temperature… that’s the best way to get you back down to normal,” Wyatt informs. His face is serious at first, but then he looks back at me and a really evil smile takes over. He leans in for effect on his next words. ”Want to cuddle?"

“E-excuse me?”

But before I can clearly refuse, Wyatt is squeezing into the space beside me and adjusting so that we’re side by side. With a pull on the same elbow he twisted earlier, my body slides on top of his. I have absolutely no energy to fight him as he works me between his legs and our chests touch. In fact, my nose is right up against some of the fine hair swirling across his upper body and I struggle to push myself off him.

Way too weak, I flop back down.

“What is this?” I ask him finally.

“I just said body temperature is the best way to make sure you don’t overheat. So just stay like this for a while. Don’t make it weird. Go back to sleep.”

As annoying as the assertive tone is, I’m thankful that Wyatt knows what he’s doing. I try to relax against him, but this is the first time I’ve been flesh-to-flesh like this with anyone and even though he said to not make it that way, it’s weird. On top of that, where I can feel my heartbeat pounding away like crazy, Wyatt’s is a consistent thump against my ear – steady and calm as ever. I breathe deeply to try and get myself together, but instead, the strange mixture of Wyatt’s scent fills my nostrils. It’s smoky, and kind of sweet – but also unmistakeably combined with body odour and copper – like the blood spattered here some time ago is still there even though he’s wiped it away.

“You smell.”

Wyatt’s chest lifts as he laughs.

“Yeah, well, fuck you too.”

9:00 AM MST

The beeping in my wrist-watch brings me out of my deep sleep.

I’m groggy and unaware of my surroundings as I turn off the alarm and lift up slightly, blinking around the small cabin. The events from the night before come back in a rush and I stare down at Wyatt who looks dead to the world. One arm is across my bare back, and the other is stretched above his head at an odd angle. There’s no question he’s still sleeping; his bearded jaw is slack as he continues breathing deeply.

Embarrassingly enough, there’s a little bit of drool on his chest where I was undoubtedly laying against. The cabin is flooded with light for the first time; rays of morning sunshine piercing through the dirty window panes, illuminating the dust and other particles in the air.

My leg is aching in a dull kind of way, but I don’t feel nearly as hot as I did before and I’m glad that, the latter part of my sleep at least, did not contain any nightmares. With a lot of effort, I manage lift off Wyatt but when I do I nearly topple off the small bed. Thankfully, my good leg catches the floor just in time.

As I struggle to pull myself back up, Canuck appears at my side with a growl.

His bright yellow eyes are set on mine, but his nose is dipped slightly to sniff at my exposed foot. I yank it out of his reach before he can lock it in his jaws. As if this is some kind of challenge, Canuck gets onto his rear legs and places his front paws onto the mattress to follow me. The wolf’s nostrils are going crazy; with Wyatt behind me, and Canuck in front of me, there’s nowhere to run as the beast’s snout presses into my body.

The shriek that comes out of me is blood-curdling and wakes Wyatt. He lifts off of the mattress with a startled shout and almost pushes me onto the floor in his haste to scramble out of bed.

“What’s wrong?!”

“I-it’s Canuck – he’s going to bite me!”

I manage to twist further away, but Canuck jumps onto the mattress to follow me and bares his teeth in a threatening kind of way.

“Hey hey! Get down!” Wyatt shouts, that unmistakeable boom to his voice echoing around the small cabin, somehow making even me flinch. Canuck shoots me one last menacing look before hopping down and swishing his tail in my direction. “Don’t fucking freak out like that, geeze Calix… shit… you gave me a fucking heart attack,” Wyatt snaps.

“Well your dog gave me a heart attack!” I complain, clutching my chest for effect. My heart is hammering away but this response just pisses Wyatt off even more; he’s woken up on the wrong side of the bed.

Dark blue eyes are as dangerous as Canuck’s as they turn on me. “Maybe if you grew a pair, he’d back off. Reacting like that is just encouraging him to get close.”

“Well sooorry, it’s not like I almost got eaten alive yesterday or anything,” I bite out sarcastically. “So excuse me for freaking out a little like a normal fucking person."

“I should have let it happen,” Wyatt growls, almost as if he’s commenting to himself. “Would’ve made my life easier...”

“You’re being a jerk again.”

"Good,” he seethes. “And don’t forget you owe this jerk big time – so you’d better fucking learn your place.”

Once again the reminder of Wyatt saving my life takes over any desire to continue arguing. He’s done so much for me that I can’t even count it all on my fingers – yet this awful personality of his continues to get in the way. I like Wyatt much better when he’s smiling and joking – not bossy and unpleasant. I’m sure it has to do with being on a mountain for so long – I know this, and yet it’s difficult to come to terms with.

It takes several deep breaths before I’m calm, but by then Wyatt has gotten out of bed, stretched and dressed. As he reaches for his jacket, I’m aware that he is heading out – leaving me behind.

“Where are you going?” I ask, suddenly extremely uneasy. I’m not sure where it comes from but the anxious, knotted feelings crawl from deep inside the pit of my stomach and up my throat until it tightens. The last time I was left alone…

“To get breakfast,” Wyatt grumbles, definitely still angry. He works at the cuffs of his jacket instead of looking me in the eye and then, with a sharp whistle, Canuck races to his side. When he reaches for a shotgun, instead of his rifle, I’m aware of an assortment of firearms I didn’t notice the night before hanging on a rack right beside the entrance.

As he opens the door to leave I bite back the words to tell him to hurry back.

After all, I don’t want to jinx it.

10:13 AM MST

Snooping has been made difficult due to a bum leg, though it doesn’t stop me from trying.

It’s been an hour since Wyatt left, and I need something to distract me from an overworked imagination that is coming up with all kinds of scenarios in which Wyatt never returns.

I’ve found secret little storage areas and cupboards in the kitchen; lots of old looking tins and containers that have all kinds of dried fruits – Saskatoon berries, raspberries, elderberries. I sneak a handful and chew the tarty, raisin-like treats gratefully. I find the ice box that Wyatt mentioned the night before and I’m left unimpressed. It’s very small, no larger than a few shoeboxes side-by-side and it’s empty.

On the other end of the small cabin – across from the small kitchen and cupboards, is a sort of sit-down area. There is a small couch and its frame looks hand-built; knitted cushions adorn the back. When I grope blindly under the couch there are more tins that contain everything from buttons, needles and more thread to crochet hooks and large spools of yarn.

There’s no interest in admiring Wyatt’s collection of firearms so I hobble past them without a glance, reaching the fireplace. On the small hearth are a few picture frames in varying stages of dust collection. I grab one and give a sharp blow to scatter the particles before resting my eyes on an old, black and white wedding photo. The couple featured must be Wyatt’s grandparents, but with no beards on either of them it’s hard to make out any kind of resemblance.

The next photo is the biggest surprise. It’s a colour photo, and features a young looking boy – with chocolate brown hair and dark blue eyes – side-by-side with an older looking gentleman. The boy has an axe swung over his shoulder, and I’m positive that it is a young Wyatt. Even the smile he’s giving the camera is incredibly proud – all, “Look at me! I’m chopping wood with Grandpa!”

I’m mesmerized by the photograph – so when Wyatt nearly kicks the door down on his way back in, I’m sent into a cardiac arrest.

The slippery frame somehow shoots out of my hands in my blind panic, and it falls to the floor with a clatter. Wyatt stares down at it, and then glances up to me, dead serious.

“What are you doing? You should be resting.” In his hand are the carcasses of several dead, pigeon-looking things – his other hand rests the shotgun on the rack and I notice a bundle of flowers protruding from his jacket pocket.

“Um – I was just… looking?”

My vocal chords stop working as Canuck darts between Wyatt’s legs and approaches me.

“Looking?” Wyatt repeats as I scramble back to the bed as fast as my bad leg will carry me. The mattress is my safe spot – everything else seems to be Canuck’s territory. It’s almost like playing that game where the floor is lava… “For what?”

“The bathroom?” I offer, still unsure what I’d been after in the first place.

If Wyatt was mad before he left – or if he had been when he walked in finding me almost breaking his things – then he isn’t anymore. He laughs out loud at my words and I can’t help but notice how short and rough it is.

“Yeah Calix, because even though I don’t have a fridge, or any electricity, I somehow have a bathroom with running water and plumbing.” Putting it that way makes it sound pretty dumb but Wyatt rests the dead birds onto the kitchen table and then approaches me.

There’s a brief moment of silence; Wyatt looks like he’s finding the right words to say. Finally he gets onto his knees beside the mattress so we’re eye-to-eye and I know what he’s going to say is serious. My mind spins with over-imagination – he’s probably trying to break it to me that he won’t help me anymore… we can’t get along after all… I need to be more dog, less human…

Before he can say anything, an unidentified impulse to throw myself at him carries me away. I wrap my arms around Wyatt’s neck and open the gates of emotion wide before he can even get a word in.

“I’m sorry Wyatt!” I declare, squeezing him too hard. “I’m sorry about this morning! I didn’t mean to wake you like that… I didn’t mean to call you a jerk! I’m so thankful you’re going out of your way for me – please… don’t be mad…”

“Woah woah woah,” Wyatt begins. He pats my back in an unsure kind of way before clarifying. “Where’s this coming from? I’m not mad.”

“You’re… not?”

My grip loosens and Wyatt pries me off of him so he can look at me seriously again. “Even if I was earlier, I’m over it now.”

“So, what’s this about then?” I ask, glancing down to indicate Wyatt’s formal position on his knees in front of me.

He takes a deep breath to re-focus. “After I cleared my head a little, I realized something has to change. Canuck is really important to me, and you’re not going anywhere anytime soon—” I frown at the statement, but Wyatt continues. “I don’t like playing mommy. I need you two on good terms – it’s about the pack’s health.”

I’m immediately wary. “But… I don’t want to be part of your pack…” I begin quietly.

Instead of getting upset, Wyatt just offers a gentle smile – almost like he’s trying to be encouraging while thinly veiling the authority dripping from his voice. “You already are.”

I know - from how quickly things have escalated between us before - that I’m a few choice words away from starting anotherfight. Yet, just seconds ago I threw myself at Wyatt and practically begged him for forgiveness; so isn’t it understandable that I comply? I pull and bite at my lip before finally giving in.

“Okay…” I agree, apprehension obvious in my voice as I glance to Canuck who is yawning over in a corner. “I’ll try whatever you want...”

The result is much better than any kind of fight. Instead of facing the wrath of angry Wyatt, I get a happily violent patting from his rough hand. “Don’t worry okay? It’ll be really safe. We’ll start after breakfast.” His blue eyes trail down my exposed leg to the soaked through rag-bandages. “And maybe after we re-dress that… how was it walking around?”

“Tough,” I admit, welcoming the change in topic. “It’s okay when I put all my weight on the good leg, but I was only up for a few minutes and it’s really hurting.”

“You need to go to the bathroom?”

“Yeah.”

“Okay – just let me get breakfast going and I’ll help you out. Oh! Guess what? I brought you something special…” Wyatt’s excited smile behind his beard has my heart racing with anticipation. Suddenly, I’m really glad that I gave in and we’re not fighting anymore.

The gift, however, is the bundle of thistle-looking flowers from his jacket. Wyatt holds them out proudly, watching my reaction. At first, I seriously think he’s giving them to me. I don’t even think of a reason why; just the way he’s holding them has me reaching out with unquestioning hands until he finishes with, “Ever had Clover Soup before?”

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