Dean laid there silently watching over the girl as she slept while he replayed everything that had happened in his mind. In a matter of hours he had become a rogue, dishonored his deceased father’s memory, narrowly escaped a painful death by nearly half a dozen werecats, and was now snuggled up to an injured seven year old in a dreary cave.
That apparently loves me, he added to himself.
While he knew better than to think too much into what the child had uttered in her languid state, he couldn’t help but feel his heart flutter at the thought of such kind words being directed toward him.
In all honesty, he couldn’t remember the last time someone had told him that they loved him. While he had a seemingly healthy relationship with his parents growing up, his mother was never the overly affectionate type and his father was far too manly for such an open display of his emotions. As an Alpha, his dad was expected to be ruthless and intimidating, not lovey dovey and mushy.
His mother on the other hand, had an obligation as Luna to be seen as fair and kind. Her job was to care for and play second mother to their entire pack, which in turn left her cold and distant when she was meant to be nurturing Dean. Her feelings of resentment toward him only seemed to intensify with the loss of his father, and while it pained him to admit, this caused him to loathe her. After years of being ignored and constantly feeling as though he was battling with her for his father’s affection, he grew to thoroughly despise his mother.
His mother had never wanted children, and she had made that abundantly clear after admitting that she should have never had a child. He was certain that she only birthed him in an attempt to keep his father happy. He began to wonder if his father ever really loved his mother or if he simply stayed loyal to her for the sake of them being true mates. As he pondered the reliability of the true mate bond, the girl moved in her sleep.
He faced downward and studied her intently. She had buried her head deeper into the soft fur of his neck and began to snore softly, releasing warm breaths that radiated through his follicles and seemed to melt his very soul.
She has no idea how much those words meant to me, he established.
His throat clenched as he fought away the tears that burned his retinas. Before he had come across this sweet little creature, he’d been alone and scared with nowhere to go. Meeting her had given him a purpose, if only for the night. His sole job was to keep her safe and something told him that he would guard her for as long as she needed him to.
A strange feeling crept over him as he watched her sleep. His body tensed and the muscles beneath his thick fur seemed to ripple at the sight of her. As hard as he tried, he couldn’t seem to put a name to what he was feeling. He had this overwhelming need to protect her and for some unknown reason he felt confident that he would keep this child safe at all costs. The more he tried to make sense of this staggering sensation, the clearer the severity of the situation had become.
He had imprinted on the little girl. He couldn’t for the life of him remember when these feelings for her had appeared, but he did know that they would be permanent. An imprint is described by lycans, as an intense inclination to protect and serve a specific person, and such a bond can be developed overtime or occur almost instantaneously.
It was considered normal for parents to imprint on their children, and an Alpha was rumored to imprint on every wolf in his pack. While imprints are common amongst his kind, Dean had never imprinted on anyone before. He knew he loved his dad and some of his adopted siblings growing up, but he’d never felt the need to protect them in any way. This was all new to him and he was shocked that he had imprinted on some kid he’d found in the woods.
His father used to say that a wolf’s first imprint is always the strongest, and at this point in time Dean couldn’t help but agree. His unrelenting desire to guard her and the intoxicating feeling that coursed through his veins, knowing that he was protecting her at that very moment scared him as much as it brought him a small thrill.
He knew that no matter where this girl went, he would have to assure that she got there safely. She had become his responsibility and it was as if every moment he spent with her caused him to be on high alert.
He found himself studying her. He was beginning to feel attuned to her needs and emotions as he analyzed her breathing carefully. While Tessandra slept peacefully, he knew deep down that she wasn’t doing well. Her ankle still throbbed as it rested on his oversized paw and it radiated a vicious heat. It had also swollen to nearly twice its original size since removing her crimson rain boot.
She probably couldn’t get it back on if she tried now, he thought.
He knew the girl needed medical attention. She had developed a deep rooted cough that sounded soupy and caused her to wheeze a bit after each merciless hack. He worried that she may have caught pneumonia despite his best efforts to keep her dry and warm.
I need to find her parents.
He knew that seeking out her family would likely be the brilliant idea that got himself killed.
I can’t leave her here.
He understood that if they so much as caught a glimpse of him anywhere NEAR the girl, he’d be dead on the spot.
Better me than her.
His last thought frightened him. Quite frankly, it shook him to his core. Where the hell had that come from? He’d only known this girl for a few hours and yet he was more than willing to lay down his life for her.
If I do this, I’ll never be able to go home and possibly become Alpha. I’ll never get to grow up. I’ll never have the chance to meet my true mate and start a family.
He tried to reason with himself, but at that moment he was willing to risk everything for the tiny angel that nestled into his neck.
That’s okay, he determined. If I can get her out of these woods alive, then I’m okay with dying.
Maybe that was the imprint talking but at the time, nothing mattered more to him than getting this child help. He began to devise a plan while he came to terms with his impending demise.
I’ll carry her out of here as soon as the rain lets up. I’ll go back to the gas station and track her father’s scent from there, he promised himself. If they kill me, they kill me.
He watched the glittering droplets plummet from the sky in heaps, knowing that as soon as it showed the slightest chance of receding, they were gone. He curled himself tighter around the girl and did his best to keep her warm in the meantime. His heart skipped a beat when she nestled her face deeper into his neck and took a deep fistful of his coal colored fur.
Does she feel the bond too? He wondered.
He knew that imprints tended to be mutual, and that they could happen to any wolf.
Wolf, he clarified to himself.
This little girl isn’t lycan, she was the exact opposite in fact. She was Ailuran, a werecat, the mortal enemy to his entire species. Their kind detested one another and that deep rooted hatred could be traced back for centuries. Yet here they were, huddled together in a soggy den, clinging to one another for warmth.
And I imprinted on her, he added to himself venomously. And she might feel it too
She had admitted to feeling safe with him. Nevertheless, he knew that while an imprint may not be as strong of a bond as that of a true mate, it was very much permanent. From this night forward, he would have an immense need to protect her anytime she was near.
This girl will be the death of me, he sighed.
His doom seemed to be brewing closer as he watched the heavy rain drain from the sky until it was no more than a slight drizzle. With the blissful peakings of morning light beginning to paint across the murky sky, a jolt of anxiety ran through his nervous system.
They said that they would head home by morning!
His blood ran cold.
Suddenly realizing that his time to find the girl’s family was limited, he readied himself to spring into action. After carefully untangling Tessandra’s stubby limbs from his own and prying her tiny talons from his fur, he hurried out of the dwelling and into the crisp morning air. He quickly navigated his way back to where he had dropped his nifty trash bag of belongings and took a cautious scan of his surroundings.
Once he decided that the coast was clear, he began to shift back into his human form. He let out a deep breath and urged his wolf into the deep crevasses of his mind. It would be another year or so before he and his wolf would begin to separate into different conscious beings, allowing his shifts to be almost instantaneous.
Until then, he was forced to urge himself back on his own. He took another breath and shuddered. Before long, he felt his long nose and bushy tail begin to withdraw into his body. His bones cracked and ached as they shortened in length. His fur receded until it was no more than puckerings of gooseflesh upon his tanned skin.
He fell to his knees and sunk into the frigid mud as his hands and feet became recognizable once more. He urged his canines into his gums and let out a content sigh at completing the shift. He took several breaths before forcing himself to stand on his own two feet once again.
He was tall and built strongly for a boy his age, as many Alpha descendants were. His curly black hair flopped over his emerald green eyes in a sopping knot. He took a moment to stretch out his aching limbs while acclimating himself to his human form before flinging open the plastic bag.
He managed to tear out a pair of wrinkled sweatpants and slung them onto his nude form in a matter of seconds. He then made his way back to the girl. He stopped in front of the cave and decided to bury his bag of belongings in front of the small canopy. He then carefully crawled inside of the dwelling that had sheltered them for what seemed like an eternity.
Hovering over the child, he was mindful of her belongings and silently gathered her rain boot and put it into her small yellow backpack that was covered in dainty sunflowers. He then slung it over his shoulder and gently scooped the girl up into his arms, holding her close in an attempt to keep her warm.
He slowly backed out of the cave as he cradled her while braving the elements once again. Small sprinklings of rain still fell from the sky and he skillfully hunched over her small frame, making himself into a human umbrella. A shiver traveled down his spine as the chilling wind licked his damp back that lay bare.
Being sure to avoid jostling her injured leg too much, he held Tessandra tightly as he made a slow jog back to the abandoned gas station that he had last seen here family. As the familiar sound of heavy traffic infiltrated his ears, he came upon the abandoned gas station at long last.
He noticed that a van remained in the parking lot that he didn’t recall seeing earlier in the night. Blood still littered the pavement where Tessandra’s mother had taken out her frustrations on one of her mates and he sighed in relief. Whilst holding the girl, he awkwardly crouched down to sniff the faint coppery aroma. Most of it had been washed away by the rain but it was still enough to track.
He stood carefully and looked down at the little angel he cradled in his muscular arms. In all of his sixteen years of life, he had never felt so protective over anything or anyone. He stared at the sleeping beauty for a few moments, knowing that this may be the last time he’d be able to look upon her. His first imprint.
And my last, he thought cryptically.
He knew that he would likely die after bringing her to her parents. If he were to find the two men that remained in the weary woods, which was incredibly likely considering he had memorized their scents, they would kill him. He didn’t have a doubt in his mind about it.
They would be willing to kill him on the spot and that worried him. Not so much because he was afraid of dying, but due to the idea that they may try doing so while he still held the girl. What if they shot him while she still rested in his arms? He couldn’t let her get hurt. It became imperative that he found them before they found him.
If I find them first, at least I can try to explain what happened.
He looked down at the sweet child and lowered his head to hers. He inhaled her scent deeply, feeling immense comfort in her vanilla aroma. With their foreheads pressed together, he made her a promise.
“Don’t worry little one,” his gravelly voice spoke. "I’ll get you home safe and sound. Even if its the last thing I do.”
The half smile the girl made in her sleep seemed to solidify their bond in his eyes and the imprint pounded against his very being, forcing him to sprint toward the general direction of the men in order to honor his oath.
His legs carried them through the dense forest at wolf speed as he clung to the girl for dear life. Dread began to consume him as he sprinted barefoot through the relentless thicket following the bitter scent of coppery ammonia and the crude path of broken twigs and flattened leaves. He couldn’t shake the feeling that he was running right into his very own execution.
Save a seat for me dad, he thought sarcastically. I’ll be there soon.