Fit For Fire

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A Woman Worth Saving

Beep. Beep. Beep.

Groggily I opened my eyes, head pounding in time with the constant beeping that had plagued my dreams like the rain in the ravine. The bright light that assaulted me once I pried my eyes open goaded a hiss from my dry mouth. Bringing my hand up to shield my face, I noticed that my wrist felt restrained and a little heavier than normal. Not understanding where I was at first I panicked. Trying to sit up, I groaned as a sharp pain radiated from my rib cage. Large hands appeared on my shoulders, gently pushing me back down. Turning my head I searched for who they belonged to. “Hey, I’m here with you Ade. You’re safe.” Zach reassured when my eyes found him standing by the edge of my bed.

Remembering where I was and what had happened I reached for my leg, half expecting to find an arrow still protruding from it. My hand met with a heap of blankets instead, and tired, I satisfied my mind with the fact that although it throbbed, it didn’t hurt like before. Lifting my hand again I saw that the weight I had felt had been the IV that had been placed on the back of my hand. Following the line of clear plastic tubing to the bag of fluids that hung over my head, I grimaced. This brought back memories. “Will I ever be able to take a run in this place without ending up in the hospital?” I whispered to myself. Turning back to Zach I watched him watch me. Lifting his hand he slowly pushed my hair behind my ear and offered me a small smile. “One day, for now maybe you should just stick to long walks.” He joked. “How are you feeling?” He asked me quietly. ‘Like I was hunted, shot, and then half drowned.’ My mind supplied. My lips however settled on “Tired.” Nodding he asked “Does anything hurt? I can get the nurse.” My everything hurt, but I felt like being awake, so I just nodded my head ‘no’. Lifting an eyebrow at me, I knew that Zach knew I was lying, but instead of calling me out on it he took my hand instead.

Swallowing hard, my hand raised to my throat. The few words I had uttered made my throat burn. “Here.” Zach said, taking a large bottle of water from my bedside table. He bent the straw towards me and I took a long, greedy drink. When I was finished, he put the bottle down and handed me a small packet of saltines. “The nurse gave me a few of these for you. She said the medicine may upset your stomach so you should try to eat something small first.” I did feel a bit queasy but I wasn’t sure if it was because of the medicine, or if it was my body’s response to everything that had happened. I tore the small packet open and slowly nibbled the crackers. My throat still hurts but eating something gave me something to do. Distracted me from the elephant in the room.

Finishing Zach took the empty wrapper and laid it next to the water bottle. Threading his fingers with mine, I stared at our hands intertwined. His thumb slowly started to caress my knuckles, and the small act felt so loving in the moment that I could have cried. Thinking back on everything that had happened, I pictured myself propped up against his bare chest as he leaned against the tree, desperately trying to keep me warm. His lips brushing against my ear as he told me that I was his. That I belonged. The world around me had been hazy but his words had been clear. Although he had told me everything I needed to know, I still didn’t fully understand.

“Are you okay?” I asked him, breaking the silence between us. “Why wouldn’t I be? You’re here with me.” Zach responded with a smug rise of his brows. The amount of cheddar on that omelet could gag a mouse. Still a small smile tugged at the corner of my dry lips.“You could have been hurt, or even killed by that hunter coming after me. You could have caught hypothermia taking care of me in your human form. You risked yourself so much for someone you barely know.” I said to his response. “Of course I did. You’re my mate Ade.” Locking eyes with his I tilted my head slightly bewildered. ” I may be your mate but I am still a stranger. You risked your life today because I’m tingly and smell nice.” Zach laughed. Frustrated, I realized that as medicated as I must have been, my words probably sounded a lot more ridiculous out loud then they did in my head.

“I’m sorry.” I said looking down at our locked hands ” I’m just having trouble wrapping my head around this whole thing.” I knew I didn’t need to elaborate. “I know that it may seem strange to you, but to wolves mates are sacred things. We could spend our whole lives searching for our mates. To us they are our true chance at happiness, our other half. We don’t need to know our mates well to risk our lives for them because we know we were made for each other.” Placing his head against mine he took a deep breath, as if trying to breathe me in. “I know this will be hard for you to accept. That’s why I haven’t pressed it. I wanted you to embrace this on your own.” Placing a chaste kiss on my forehead, I could feel his lips pull into a smile. Lifting my chin up so that I was looking him in the eyes he continued “If it makes you feel any better though, even if we weren’t mates I still would have come for you. Knowing everything I know about you now would have been enough for me because, Adeline Harris, you’re a woman worth saving.”

I blushed and laughed quietly at his words. I winced slightly as the action hurt my ribs. He had just said the cheesiest, most wonderful thing anyone has ever said to me and I had no idea how to respond to that. How do you follow that? He laughed with me and settled back into the seat next to me. After a few minutes of silence, I spoke, having made up my mind. “Zach, I can’t deny that there is definitely something between us. I could feel it constantly trying to pull me to you, but I was embarrassed that I may be wrong about what I was feeling. I already feel like a defective wolf, I didn’t want to humiliate myself further if I was just overly attracted to you or something . . .” I mumbled out quickly.

Scrunching up his face Zach held out his hands for me to stop. “Okay, so what you’re saying is that you’re incredibly attracted to me. Like, crazy attracted to me.” My mouth dropped open and before I could respond he laughed. “I’m sorry Ade, I couldn’t help it. You looked so serious. Whatever you need to tell me right now doesn’t need to stress you out. I promise I can take whatever it is that is on your mind.” Somehow he had known how worried I was about telling him how I felt. He knew it more than I did in the moment. ” What I am trying to say is that I want to give whatever bond we may have a chance, but I can’t just . . . I’m not . . .” Flustered, I looked to the ceiling as if seeking divine intervention. “Can we go slow?” I finished lamely not knowing how to put everything I was thinking and feeling into words.

I wasn’t sure how to treat our relationship now that I knew what we were. Our relationship frustrated me before. He took me away from my life; that to me meant my ability to dictate my own future. Growing up my life lacked stability, I never had a say in where I was going, or what would become of me. From that stemmed this want to be in a position to make my own decisions. This need to be in control of my life. I grew up never wanting to be caught under someone’s thumb again, thrashing and squirming just waiting for the moment they decided to apply pressure. When I came here, Zach was that thumb. Yet, I couldn’t despise him the way I wanted to. I knew I needed to play nice to increase my chances of getting what I wanted, but I didn’t need to think nice too. I didn’t need to feel anything other than hatred and disgust for the people that held me, but I did. I felt stupid and naive for being beguiled by his twinkling eyes, and the hormonal response of my traitorous body.

Now that I knew why I was harboring this unlikely attraction, I wasn’t sure what to think. Could I use this as clarification that my feelings for him were fake? That they were nothing more than instinctual want and I can continue on with my original plan? Gain their trust then high tail it out of here. Or did I believe that ‘mates’ were more than lusty looks and enticing aromas? What did I want to be? What would falling for him mean? Was I a woman who was easily influenced by her feelings, despite her moral standings? Or was I the woman who could turn her back on her own heart to do what she felt was right?

Mate bond aside, how did I feel about Zach? Despite his tremendously misguided handling of me trespassing on his packs land, he seemed to be a decent man and a fair leader. He wasn’t a bad guy, he was just operating under an unjust system. Did I like him as a person? All abduction transgressions aside, yes. Also, it would be a lie if I said I wasn’t excited by the prospect that I could be with someone , really, be with someone in my entirety. Did I want to give this, whatever this was a chance? Yes. That didn’t mean I was going to just accept that we had to be together and this was my life now. If I decide to be with Zach it will be because it was what I wanted and because the feelings we had were real.

“Of course we can Ade, I wasn’t planning on asking you to let me mark and mate you right this second. Mating is still a choice, regardless of the bond and it is a choice you deserve to be able to make on your own.” His words pulled me from the tumultuous waters of my inner dialogue. Nodding, I could feel my shoulders relax. Then thinking back on his words something bugged me. “Marked?” I asked, confused about how he used the term. “Mates mark each other so that other wolves know they are taken. The act of marking your mate also creates a deeper bond with them, allowing you to communicate without words.” Zach said simply. Something told me that there was much more to being “marked” then what he was letting on. A dozen questions came to me. The most prevalent being, how do mates mark each other?

Thinking back to what I knew of wild wolves and dogs, the phrase ‘marking their territory’ came to mind. Knowing how they did that, I was suddenly very worried. “Ummm, how do you mark your mate?” Looking me over Zach said ” I can tell you have a lot of questions, but you are barely keeping your eyes open, so we should talk about this another day.” Great. I thought to myself. I was right. He’s avoiding the question because he doesn’t want to tell me. It’s pee. Then another question popped into my brain. Was R. Kelly a werewolf? I was seriously contemplating this when Zach cleared his throat interrupting my thoughts. ” I can tell you from the look on your face, that marking is probably not as bad or as weird as you may be thinking it is. I will call the nurse to give you some more pain medicine. Then you should get some rest okay?” I nodded, totally not believing him.

I thought about just straight out asking him, but remembering how out of it I was, I decided to wait until tomorrow when my thoughts were less muddled. The nurse came into the room shortly, which I felt was weird as Zach had never physically called her. She administered more medicine to my IV. Even though I wanted answers to my question now, I was a little relieved. It was getting harder and harder to ignore the pain in my body. My upper thigh had its own pulse, and each beat of my heart brought with it a twinge of pain. Within a matter of minutes the pain in my body had started to subside. Settling back into my pillow, I thought about everything Zach had said while he talked to the nurse. Within minutes, my eyes were closing and I gratefully gave into sleep.

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