Moonstruck: Awakening

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Chapter 12

Later that night found me back out on the porch, unable to stay inside, antsy for some unknown reason and not happy about it. Gabe came in earlier for dinner and the three of us shared a pleasant meal. Then Laura made herself scarce and Gabe pulled me close for a bone-crushing hug.

“Can’t. Breath!” I’d gasped out the words, only half joking.

“Oh, you big baby,” Gabe drawled in response, probably only half joking too, using one of his giant hands to mash my face into his sternum.

I would’ve given him the stink eye if I could’ve moved any part of my body away from his.

“I have to go out tonight,” he said on a more serious note.

“Yeah, I figured you probably would.” I had mixed feelings about that.

“You know, I’d love more than anything to take you with me, but this’ll be the first full pack meeting since you woke up and I’ve got a feeling it’s not going to be completely smooth sailing. It might be a bit much for your first introduction to the pack.” His voice was gentle and I agreed in theory with everything he was saying. He did need to discuss me with the pack and it wouldn’t be easy to do with me there, but every instinct I had screamed at me to go to the meeting and prove to everyone that I wasn’t weak. To show them like I showed James. It wasn’t my logical human side talking, but the wild part that seemed to have come along with the wolf genes. Understanding didn’t make it easier to bear.

“I know. And I agree. I just hope this thing with me hasn’t caused you too many dramas.”

His chest vibrated with his chuckle and he loosened his grip enough for me to lean back and look into his chiseled face.

“Oh, you’ve caused me nothing but drama,” he laughed as he leaned in. “But it was all worth it,” he whispered a second before taking my lips in a hot, possessive kiss. I didn’t mind the possession, I felt it on my side as well.

“Yo, Gabe. Stop sucking face with your girlfriend and come on already.”

Raising one arm from behind Gabe’s neck, I held it high and allowed James to closely examine my middle finger, which was now standing to full attention. Ending the kiss when we were ready, I pulled back as James’ laughter rose from below us.

“Have fun. Play nice with the other furries,” I said, nipping once at his chin, then stepping back.

“You know, you’re either going to introduce a much-needed levity into this pack, or just start a lot of shit, I can’t quite figure out which.”

“Well as long as I’m not boring,” I replied with a shrug and watched with an unnamed tension as he jogged down the stairs to join James before they disappeared into the woods.

As it neared midnight my agitation only increased. In an effort to distract myself I tried reading and watching TV, even Laura tried to keep my attention, but I just couldn’t focus. Finally, she gave up and went to bed and I found myself out on the veranda, killing time till Gabe got back.

Leaving the lights off because being in the dark suited my mood, my eyes shifted, allowing me to see just as well in the dark country night as I could on an overcast day wearing dark sunglasses. It was easy enough to make out the trees at the back of the property and I could even pick up the flashes of movement within them. I assumed it was the pack, watching them for at least fifteen minutes, observing their movements. The way they stayed hidden, it was likely Gabe had probably forbidden them to come up to the house. But if I had to guess, I’d say that some of the pack were curious, hence the loitering in the trees. None of them came out into the open and I couldn’t scent them because I was upwind, but that meant they were getting a heaping snootful of my unique brand, for whatever that was worth.

Doing some pacing of my own, my eyes glued to the tree line, my tension level rose. Their energy, hummed along my nerve endings, brushing along my senses and I knew there were more than a dozen wolves concealed by the trees, watching me.

Aggression flooded me and a low growl erupted from my throat. My fingertips started to tingle as I clenched my hands into fists. I didn’t like this waiting. They should either come out and challenge me or leave me the fuck alone. Hell, maybe I was being paranoid and they were simply frolicking in their wolfy way and had no interest in me. My instincts screamed otherwise; they were there to take my measure, look for weaknesses, to inspect the freak. I’d more than had my fill of assholes watching me, waiting for me to do something interesting like some monkey in a lab!

Grabbing the railing in a white-knuckle grip, I faced the trees, leaned forward and glared out at the rude wolves hiding like cowards in the trees. There was a flash of movement and I felt a sense of triumph as I realized some of the wolves had turned tail and ran. Whether because they were afraid of getting caught or afraid of me, the result as the same and I was grateful. They were weak and so insignificant in this instance. But there were still some out there, hiding in the shadows. Some sixth sense told me there were about seven or eight wolves still pacing, just out of sight.

Standing, unmoving, unblinking, waiting for something to change, I was wound as tight as a crossbow string, vibrating with energy and ready to take them on.

With a snarl and another flash of movement, an enormous shaggy brown wolf stalked out of the forest. The size of a small pony, any sane person would be very afraid to see it coming towards them in the dark at midnight.

Guess I wasn’t sane. At the sight of the wolf, I bared my teeth in a defiant grin and leaned forward over the rail to watch its progression up the small hill.

The brown wolf lifted its muzzle and snarled again, a movement filled with menace and large, pointy teeth. It may not be speaking English, but its intent was clear. I recognized a challenge when I saw one.

My primal brain seemed to take over. Before I knew it, I’d vaulted over the railing with no concern about physical damage. I landed in a crouch, more than a story below where I’d been moments before, aware of nothing other than the adrenaline that flooded my system. After my little acrobatic routine, I should’ve been feeling some serious pain, but other than my ankles stinging a little, I was no worse for wear.

Stalking forward, I stopped about ten feet from the wolf, still well within its range, but not so close as to be too tempting. Tilting my head, I studied it as if it were an oddity I’d come across on a walk.

“Huh. I thought you’d be bigger.” Now that I was closer, I was able to scent the wolf. A picture of Redneck Douglas popped into my head and I knew who it was in front of me was.

Another snarl was the only response to my taunt. I smirked. “What’s the matter, afraid to face me as a human?”

Douglas started pacing back and forth in front of me, gnashing his teeth and snarling, trying to intimidate me, but I found his display amusing. Guess I was made of sterner stuff.

Taking my eyes off him- something I instinctively knew was an act of disrespect, a way of showing I didn’t see him as much of a threat- I scanned the tree line, trying to find the others I knew were still out there. I could feel them, taste them at the back of my tongue and if I concentrated a little, it was as if there were an invisible string between myself and those other unseen wolves.

Curious, I experimentally tugged on one of those strings in my head and in my mind’s eye, it became tangible, a thin glittering gold filament, stretching from me into the woods on my left. There was an answering flutter to my tugging, so I did it again, more firmly this time, like reeling in a fish, pulling it towards me in my mind. The shadows shifted and a smaller grey wolf hesitantly stepped out from the trees, head lowered almost to the ground, tail tucked so far between its legs it looked tailless. A submissive wolf, either very young or permanently at the bottom of the pack, either way, not particularly powerful.

The brown wolf in front of me growled louder, agitated by either my lack of attention or whatever I was doing with the other wolf, I didn’t care. It felt right to me. Turning to my right, I picked another thread, this one feeling more like a rough hemp rope. When I tugged, there was an answering jerk in response, the roughness abraded my mind as it pulled away. Growling, I got a better mental hold of the rope and pulled harder, sending my will down the connection, dragging the reluctant wolf to me. It fought, struggling against my hold, but I was stronger. I may not have known exactly what I was doing, but I was determined that wolf would come to me.

A howl broke through the night, drowning out the snarling wolf in front of me, an angry, eerie sound full of frustration. It was the wolf I was calling to me, desperately fighting the inevitable. Moments later, it emerged from the trees, another shaggy brown wolf, not quite as big as Douglas, dragging its feet and shaking its head back and forth as if the mental rope was a physical thing that I was using to drag it forward.

Douglas lunged at me, snapping and snarling, bringing my attention back to him, incensed by my actions. I felt like laughing at his foolishness, the strange power riding me, I felt almost high. Douglas did indeed have my attention, but he didn’t realize that all it had done was bring into focus the connection between us.

Dispassionately I studied the link, appraising the mental line joining us, weighing it- and him- for weaknesses. The mental connection appeared to me as a twisted metal wire, not quite barbed, but with plenty of razor sharp edges none the less. I stared at Douglas, growling myself, taking a step forward, then another, till mere feet separated us, meeting his gaze the entire time. The eyes that stared back at me were all wolf but it was human calculation I saw in them. I could tell he thought I’d made a mistake by coming closer, opening myself up to his attack.

Firmly taking hold of the metal wire in my head, I imagined that my mental hands were encased in gloves and those sharp edges couldn’t hurt me. I didn’t draw him towards me. No, he was close enough for my purposes. Instead, I edged forward, slowly, just a bit, holding tight to the link between us. As big as he was as a wolf, I was still taller as a human, so the closer I got, the more he had to tilt his head to look up at me.

This time it was Douglas who was twisting his head back and forth in agitation, his continuing snarls getting louder and he shifted from foot to foot, wanting to move, but refusing to back away from me in a show of weakness. Or maybe he couldn’t back away, my hold on him too tight.

With that mental connection firmly in hand, so to speak, I looked down at the wolf and uttered one command. At the same time, I shoved my will as hard as I could down that imaginary wire into the brown wolf.

“Kneel,” I whispered.

Howls erupted all around me, from Douglas, from the other brown wolf, from deep in the forest, coming closer with every second. Douglas bucked and twisted as if he were in pain and I felt that wire in my mind, tugging, pulling, desperate to get away. But he couldn’t. True, I was straining more with him than the other two I’d called to me, but he was no match for me and I stepped forward again, almost close enough to touch and spoke again, louder this more, more forceful.

“Kneel!” Yanking hard on the wire and pushing more of my will along it, I could see Douglas wavering, his ears flat to his head and tail starting to lower. Just as his front legs started to buckle, there was a flash and a naked man took the place of the wolf, rage, and desperation clear on his face.

“No! Abomination!” Douglas shouted as he fought to stand and I felt the link between us weaken considerably.

“What’s the matter, Redneck? Having some difficulties,” I taunted him in a rough voice, panting slightly from exertion. At my side, my fingers throbbed, my hands felt like they were on fire and I fought not to take a step back, to put some room between us. For some reason, Douglas the man seemed more of a threat to me than Douglas the wolf.

“You fucking bitch,” he spat, both verbally and literally, the muscles in his body tense and straining. “You think you can dominate me? You’re a filthy mistake that needs to be wiped from the face of the earth, there’s no way you’re better than me.”

“Turn back to your wolf and we’ll see, shall we?” I returned calmly, baiting the raging shifter.

An evil chuckle escaped from his mouth and sent goose pimples over my spine. Yeah, I was confident, but I wasn’t stupid. I was fully aware that the man in front of me was both dangerous and unstable. The fact that he seemed to be suddenly happy with the situation rang alarm bells in the back of my mind.

“You’ve put yourself out there now, little girl. Can’t hide behind the alpha anymore. He may have said you’re off limits, but apparently, you didn’t get that memo. I don’t know what the fuck you’re doing right now. Something unnatural. But that’s a challenge if I ever felt one. One I’m more than willing to take up.”

More wolves came out of the woods, surrounding us, forming a loose circle, like kids at a schoolyard fight. Some were hesitant like the small grey wolf, still hanging back by the trees, others were snapping and snarling, like the other brown wolf. All of them still in wolf form and I took a second to reach out once again with my mind, finding connections to each of those wolves in front of me, each unique, no two the same, running off in all different directions. I focused a little harder and there were more imaginary strands, leading past those that surrounded me, leading into the forest, so many I couldn’t count off hand.

One, in particular, caught my attention. Strong and thick and glittered like diamonds, but flexible like silk. An experimental tug got me an answering pull in return, along with an echo of emotion. Gabe. Somehow, I knew it was him. For just a moment, his worry and anger coursed through me, a roiling mixture that rode him, urging him faster as he ran full out through the trees, desperate to get back to me.

My concentration on Gabe weakened my hold on Douglas. The mental grip I’d had on that sharp wire loosened and Douglas broke free of the connection. Able to move freely again, he used my distraction and took a step towards me, raising his right arm over his left shoulder, hand clenched into a fist. Putting his entire upper body into bringing that fist down, he connected with my jaw in a vicious, stunning back-handed blow.

Unprepared for the move, my neck snapped to the side and black dots floated around the edges of my vision. I was pretty sure that the hit I’d just taken would’ve snapped a normal humans neck. Agony radiated out from my jaw and blood flooded my mouth. The hit knocked me sideways and I fell to the ground, my arms stretching out to catch myself on the cool grass.

“Pathetic,” Douglas spat and took a step back, waiting for me to get up. Either he was grandstanding or he wanted the fight to last as long as possible. Regardless of this motive, it was a tactical error that I took full advantage of it. Drawing back my leg, just like James taught me, I kicked out, aiming for his knee, imagining the blow going straight through his knee, snapping it backward. Unfortunately, my aim was off, my vision a little blurry and instead of connecting with his kneecap, I hit just below, on his shin. There was still a loud crack and a howl of pain and he staggered back a step, favoring his left leg, but the hit didn’t topple him as I’d planned.

It gave me the second I needed to get up on my feet, and I turned to face him, waiting. The whole point of my training with James had been so I could learn to defend myself against an attack from humans. There had never been any plan for me to fight wolves, I’d damned well never planned to find myself in a dominance fight with one of them. The moves I’d learned were mainly defensive, enough for me to stun or disable an opponent long enough to give me time to get away. I had nothing in my bag of tricks that would help me, no handy, sure-fire secret hits to take down a rampaging werewolf.

Better to let him make the next move, let him think I was scared and defenseless, helpless and weak. I almost laughed at his blindness, a strange surge of power and self-confidence coursed through me, dulling the pain in my face. How could he ever think I was weak.

There was another tug at that connection between Gabe and I. I knew he pushing himself to get there, but he was too far away and too much of a distraction. Ruthlessly, I shut down the connection between us, needing all my concentration for the man before me. A mournful cry sounded in the distance, but I pushed that aside as well.

Douglas lunged at me, a testing move, hoping to get me to react. But I didn’t back down and he snarled in frustration. Watching him warily, I could pinpoint the exact moment he lost all patience. With a roar, he rushed me. I sidestepped, using an aikido move and his own momentum, I twisted his arm behind him. Adding in a kick at his damaged leg, I managed to get him down for a split second, his left arm and shoulder hitting the ground hard with his right arm still behind his back. His size and weight caused me to lose my grip as he fell and though he went down, he was up again in a moment. My opportunity was lost.

Snarling, he staggered back to his feet, making a grab for me and connecting with my shoulder. Fingers dug in like claws and he dragged me towards him. The angle he held me at gave no leverage to break free.

In seconds, he had one of those ham size fists wrapped around my throat, slowly cutting off my oxygen. He lifted and my feet left the ground, the force of my own weight strangling me just as much as his grip. My mouth opened wide as I desperately tried to draw breath, but his grip was relentless.

My jaw was a ball of agony, his crushing grip exacerbating the radiating fire from where he’d hit me with his fist. Black spots danced in my vision and I realized it wouldn’t be much longer before I passed out from pain and lack of oxygen. There was no doubt in my mind it would be the end of the fight. If I passed out, Douglas would kill me.

No! I was never going to be that weak again, I’d vowed it to myself. Fighting the hurt and blackness, I struggled to focus, my vision narrowing to the feral face of the man holding me.

My fingers burned for a second, a bright flare of pain and I knew my claws had come out. There was a yip of warning off to the side, but no one was prepared for what I was, so Douglas made no move to protect himself as my hand lashed out. The way he held me, arm up, extended towards the sky, my arms were short enough that my reach only went so far. Jabbing forward with my hand, I sank my claws into his exposed armpit, ripping open the major artery hidden there.

Douglas bellowed in pain, his hand reflexively releasing me as he struggled to protect his vulnerable places. I fell, landing on my knees with a painful thud, one hand going out to brace myself, the other already pulling back for another strike. Before he had a chance to defend himself, I threw my entire weight behind another blow, raking my claws over his stomach, disemboweling him. Feeling the hot, squishy liquid of his intestines slithering out against my hand, I dodged back as fast as I could, an ungraceful movement that was more of a hobble than anything, darting back out of range of the enraged behemoth.

Staggering back, desperate for air, I gulped in a much-needed breath. Douglas fell to his knees, his hands clutching at his ruined abdomen, holding in his bloody viscera, eyes burning with hatred. He may have been down, but he wasn’t out for the count. Not yet. For just a second, our eyes met and I connected to that ragged wire in my head, fainter now that he wasn’t in wolf form, but still there.

From that connection, I knew he wouldn’t stop till I was dead. In his mind, I was a freak of nature, an obscenity that needed to be eradicated from the planet and he was more than happy to be the one to do it. He was determined to see me dead and next time we met, he wouldn’t worry about the fair rules of engagement.

It came down to him or me. If I wanted to survive, I had to end this here, now. Part of me revolted at the thought of taking a life, but a larger, more pragmatic side of me recognized it was the only acceptable outcome. Maybe I’d always been this ruthless or maybe my callous indifference had been born in that dark cement box that was all I remembered from before. Either way, there was a choice to be made. And I chose me.

Lunging forward with a snarl of my own, my hand went for his throat. He couldn’t move fast enough to block me and the snarl froze on his face as I slashed, ripping out his throat.

For a moment suspended in time, our eyes locked. Douglas’s shock in his last second of life was absolute. It never entered his mind that he might lose to me. Balanced there on his knees, arms still clutching his wounded gut, head tilted slightly back exposing the red gaping hole created by my clawed fist, blood pulsing in gushes as his heart helped speed along his death by pushing his lifeblood out. Slowly gravity took hold and time seemed to resume as the giant body toppled to the ground, the light gone from his eyes by the time he hit the blood-soaked grass.

Movement at the corner of my eye caught my attention and I snapped my head around. To my right the brown wolf I’d called earlier was in a frenzy, lunging and gnashing, howling in fury as it tried to get to me. Honestly, I didn’t think I had another fight in me, the dizziness in my head and blurriness of my vision was a pretty good indication I was seriously injured, maybe a concussion. But I wasn’t about to lay down without a fight either.

Gathering all of my flagging strength, I stood straighter and readied myself for an attack. Strangely the other wolves wouldn’t let the brown wolf through, using their bodies to hold it back and nipping at its face and flanks to keep it back.

There was a thrashing sound from the woods and Gabe, in wolf form, broke free of the trees, bounding across the lawn separating us, leaping to stand in front of me, howling a long, loud, forceful sound. Some of the wolves immediately dropped, others bowed their heads and hid their tails. A dark grey wolf, I assumed it was James, had come from the woods with Gabe and was standing at my side, lowered his gaze, but otherwise stood strong under the alpha’s command.

The brown wolf dropped, snarling, but submissive. A surge of dizziness hit me and I wavered, tilting to one side. Strong arms gathered me to a naked chest, holding me upright when my legs felt like they were about to give out, keeping me on my feet.

“What the fuck happened here?” Gabe’s roar echoed through the clearing.

A few wolves changed back to human, naked men and women scattered through those that remained in animal form.

“It was a challenge,” called one hearty soul I couldn’t see.

“Who challenged who?” yelled James. Apparently, he’d changed back as well.

“It wasn’t really clear,” came another voice. “But it was mutual. He may have physically thrown the first punch, but she did something first, I’ve never felt it before. And she fought back. It definitely looked like a challenge to me.”

Gabe growled and glared at the figures around us. God, I wish he wouldn’t move, I was going to throw up.

“Is everyone satisfied with the fight?” he demanded.

“She killed him, there’s no questioning that. There was no cheating, at least none we could see,” called a woman’s voice and though the statement was supportive, the tone seemed to indicate the speaker was reserving judgment.

“Is there any challenge to the outcome?” growled Gabe. “Come forward now and speak your piece.” There was silence from those gathered around us, though I could hear some shifting around. The adrenaline was fading from my system and I was gonna crash really soon. I squeezed Gabe’s wrist, hoping he’d understand the signal and wrap things up.

“Then it’s done. A challenge was issued and accepted and the battle was fought. Emma is the victor, uncontested. We have a lot to figure out, as a pack, together. But not now. I’m calling a pack meeting, informal, for two nights from tonight. Anyone has any concerns, that’s the place to air them. Until then, I don’t want to hear a word spoken about what happened tonight to outsiders. Anyone discussing pack business before the meeting will be considered a traitor and dealt with accordingly. Am I understood?” Gabe’s voice wasn’t loud, but I was pretty sure that every member of the pack in the clearing nodded their ascent.

“James, take care of the body,” Gabe growled, before shifting me to his left side, his arm under mine, supporting and guiding me. Turning, we slowly made our way back up to the house. I realized then that the way Gabe had been holding me had made it seem that he’d just been keeping me close and disguised the fact that he’d basically been the only thing that had kept me upright. Not wanting to show weakness, I took as much of my weight as I could, heading to the stairs leading up to the back deck.

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