The way back to Still Waters is a blur. I’m in and out of consciousness the whole journey. The first time I wake up is when we pause for a break, collecting our wounded from before the battle.
I’m surprised to see Luke, the poor Omega looks exhausted but his wounds don’t look too bad. I don’t recognize the tall man with the fiery beard that is dressed in green like Wright though.
She has been attached to Derek’s side since they met up again, clearly they knew each other. Based on red beard’s reaction he also knows Derek.
I don’t have much time to consider the group dynamics before my eyelids are heavy again and the abyss of sleep claims me once more.
Chris wakes me again and presses a bottle to my lips, urging me to drink. Obediently, I drink the whole thing, earning a satisfied smile as he hands me some sort of granola bar.
“We’re almost there, it won’t be long now,” he murmurs, stroking my hair. He hasn’t let me walk or let me go since he got me back, not even when Jace tried to give him a break. Truth be told, the safety I feel in his arms is everything and I never want to let it go...
The next time I come to, I’m in the pack hospital. The noise around me is dizzying as the warriors are triaged. My head feels foggy as questions bombard me but I can’t pull myself into focus to make sense of them.
A team of Doc and nurses push Chris away but the lack of contact sets me on edge in my altered state, fueling my panic. To calm me back down, they order him to the far side of the bed. His hand on my shoulder sends constant reassurance as they poke and prod me, trying to get answers to questions that don’t register.
My head snaps to my hand as pain brings me out of my fog momentarily. The nurse looks startled as we make eye contact. My eyes narrow then relax as I realize she’s just starting an IV line and doing her job.
I look at Doc, seeing him clearly for the first time since I got here. “We need to run a few tests. Is anything broken,” he asks, realizing he’s finally gotten through to me. I shake my head no. “What’s hurt the worst?”
I frown, hurt? I ache everywhere, but mostly I’m exhausted. I raise my cut forearm, but Doc just furrows his brows, looking at it funny. I follow his gaze, equally confused by his reaction. My arm is covered in dried blood but the open gash is starting to form new pink skin already.
He orders a full panel; blood, CT, you name it, they are checking it. “I think I need a rabies test,” I mumble. “He licked my blood after cutting me,” I clarify with a shudder.
Doc’s professional demeanor cracks slightly with a look of disgust as he adds more tests to the list. Chris just stiffens and growls.
Nurse Lily walks up to the side of my bed, nervously glancing from Chris to me then back. “Um Alpha, I should probably ask the Luna this next round of questions in private,” she trails off with a look and tone of voice that are both apologetic.
His eyes narrow, but I don’t understand what she is going on about. “No, he can stay,” I mumble, not ready for Chris to leave me alone. Light of recognition shines bright in her eyes as she finally catches onto my confusion.
“Luna, I need to ask about your assault, to figure out what treatment is needed,” Lily presses on delicately but I’m still lost. She’s trying to be subtle to not anger Chris but in my state I’m not catching what she’s getting at. “There’s a limited window that some medications can be administered and still be effective,” she says slowly.
I can feel Chris starting to shake, his energy is stifling as anger, outrage, and guilt roll off of him. Dropping my gaze, I suddenly realize that my tattered clothes paint a certain picture. I just shake my head.
“No. It stopped just short of that,” I mumble, which lets Chris relax slightly. The relief on her face is clear as well. “They got there in time.”
Blood draws, x-rays and a cat scan follow, while IVs steadily drip antibiotics and nutrient fluids, replenishing my depleted body. With nothing else but to rest, my heavy eyes close and I fall into sleep.
When I wake up again, things have quieted down greatly. I’m in a private room but can still see the triage ward, where a few warriors are left and still being treated for minor injuries. Slight movement catches my attention as my eyes land on Chris flicking through his phone.
“Hi,” I rasp out, drawing Chris’ attention to me.
“Hey baby,” he replies, grabbing me the glass of water sitting on the side table. The relief is clear in his eyes, as he brushes the hair away from my face tenderly. “How are you feeling now?”
“Better,” I say blinking the sleep out of my eyes. “How long was I out?”
“On and off, almost a day. It’s one in the afternoon,” he replies, checking his phone.
“Jonah?” I ask.
“Dead,” Derek answers, walking in and sitting on the foot of my bed. “It was not fast and it definitely wasn’t pleasant.”
“Good,” I say grimly.
I know I should be repulsed but I’m not. I’m glad he’s dead, he didn’t deserve mercy.
“They’re all dead,” he said with finality. “But we still need to figure out who put them up to it.” I nod, he had mentioned that he suspected Jonah was a puppet.
“Looks like you have a visitor,” Chris says nodding towards the door. Jace is waiting patiently for the go ahead. At my smile, Chris nods and the door opens, ushering in a relieved Beta.
Jace gently wraps me in a hug, tenderly holding me like he thinks I’ll disappear if he lets go. “I’m sorry it took us so long,” he apologizes.
“I’m just glad you came-”
“We will always come for you,” he replies with determination, locking his stormy grey eyes on mine.
Before long, the visit is cut off by Doc as I fight sleep. “When can I leave,” I ask. Doc just gives me a skeptical look. “I just want a shower and a good night’s sleep.”
He frowns, looking at my chart. “I can release you into the Alpha’s care, but I want to see you before bed and first thing when you wake up tomorrow morning.” I nod, eager to agree to anything to get me out of here.
“A quick shower, you need to eat, drink and rest, understand?” His tone is very serious but I’m on board one hundred percent and simply nod again.
I wanted to walk out but Chris insists that I not waste my energy. He simply wraps me up in a blanket and carries me to his room. Part of me is frustrated that he’s coddling me, but the other part of me appreciates his concern.
I have never been so happy to see a shower in my life!
“Are you sure you’re okay?” His concern is clear. “I’m more than happy to help you.”
“Thanks but I’ll be fine,” I mumble.
In all honesty, I’m afraid of what my body looks like and don’t want to cause him any more stress. I know the hospital staff wiped me down when I was admitted but swear I can still smell Jonah on me and need to get this stink off.
When the door clicks shut after Chris leaves me, I strip out of the hospital gown and turn on the shower, quickly steaming the room up. A quick glance in the mirror shows me too much grime to get an accurate idea of damage below.
The hot water feels great against my skin, I lather up and rinse but can still smell him. I turn the water up and lather again, not caring for the reddening of my skin. I’m so focused on cleaning off these stains I don’t hear Chris calling me. The door smashes open as he bursts into the steamy bathroom.
“The fuck Jess,” he hisses, jumping into the scalding water and blocking it from me as he changes the temperature setting.
He turns back to me and looks ready to chew me out. His eyes look full of anger, confusion, and concern but he stops dead in his tracks. As his eyes widen, I freeze while looking at him, fully clothed and soaking wet. Shame burns my cheeks and I cover myself the best I can.
“Jess, baby, what’s wrong?” He asks, furrowing his brows. “Please talk to me, that was dangerous,” he whispers, checking me over carefully.
“I can’t get his scent off of me,” I say, fighting to maintain control. “I scrubbed but I can still smell it.” I hate that I can feel my lip tremble, that my resolve is crumbling.
In an instant, his eyes soften, he wraps me in his arms, and pulls me close. “Here, let me help you,” he whispers, begging for permission.
Slowly and carefully, he moves behind me, letting me stand in the water as he grabs a new wash cloth. He carefully washes me, starting at the back of my neck at the hairline and works his way down my shoulders and back.
Silently he works away, washing and rinsing me. I feel him sniff occasionally and touch up a spot that doesn’t meet his approval. He moves me deeper under the shower head to wet my hair before lathering it up. My mind goes blank as he takes care of me.
His careful gentle hands wash away all traces from my body while his caress soothes my soul. I turn to face him, risking a look into his eyes, they are full of such emotion, guilt, concern and love being the most prominent.
I fold into him as he wraps me in his safe embrace. In that moment, something in me breaks and crumbles away. My body trembles as I cry, the water washing away the tears. He just stands there, holding me and rubbing small circles on my back as I sob and break down. All of the pain and suffering from this last week mix with pain resurfacing from my past, wash over me, and threaten to swallow me whole.
“Let it out baby,” he murmurs, “We can stay in here all night if we need to.”
I don’t answer him, just lean into his support. After what feels like forever, I run out of tears and he turns the water off. Chris steps out and returns with a big fluffy towel to wrap me in. After a week of nothing but cold and hardship, I relish in the warm softness that my mate offers me.
A quick glance in the mirror shows me not looking as bad as I expected. After drying and brushing my hair, I braid it. I step into the closet, slipping on undergarments, yoga pants, and one of his big hoodies. Chris has the blankets already pulled back for me when I come out and has changed into dry clothes too.
A knock at the door reveals Doc. Apparently Chris summoned him instead of bringing me there. He checks my vitals then orders me to stay in bed and eat. With a final sympathetic smile, he reminds us to see him first thing in the morning and heads out.
Chris raises a brow in surprise when Derek shows up next just after Doc left. He looks to be nearly completely recovered.
Damn that Guardian strength must be potent.
“Nice to see you out of that place and back where you belong,” he teases with a crooked grin.
“Really?” I ask, quirking a brow.
“What, you thought I was gonna go easy on you now that we’ve been cell mates? If anything I’m just gonna get worse,” he laughs and I groan. Chris, however, does not look amused at all as he glares at his brother.
Derek’s face breaks into a smirk as he hands me a cup and sits at the end of the bed. I can’t help my laugh as I realize he brought me hot coco and is starting a foot rub. I set the cup down and throw myself around his neck, burying my face in his shoulder.
How close we both came to dying in there hits me all over again. I feel him pull me onto his lap and wrap me in a tender embrace, like a child as I softly cry.
“I told you you were stronger than you thought,” he whispers, rocking me ever so slightly. “They underestimated you and you showed them,” he says with a light chuckle. I just shake my head, unable to accept that.
“No? You and I both know I’d be dead if you didn’t step in when you did. You bought us time, you found a way to get the collar off, don’t dismiss yourself so easily.” His tone leaves no room for argument.
He tenderly wipes the last of my tears away. “You are so strong,” he mumbles, his deep chocolate eyes scanning mine, like they are reading my very soul. “You just have to trust in yourself.”
Chris silently sits down, letting us have our moment. I smile once more and murmur thanks again, but I’ve spent too much time with Derek and all I want now is Chris. I shift over to him, where he gladly scoops me up and wraps me in his loving embrace.
Derek takes his signal to leave, but stops at the door. “Take your time tonight, but tomorrow the work begins, Brother,” he cautions in a tone that does nothing to settle my nerves.
I’ve been so wrapped up in my own shit I missed something big.
“Chris, where’s Jude?” I ask, pulling back to look at him.
His expression sours instantly as his face falls into a deep frown.
“What aren’t you telling me?” I press on, feeling my nerves grow.
“We had a confrontation when you went missing,” he trails off as a sense of dread washes over me. Chris purses his lips as he pauses to find the right words.
“Jude had nothing to do with this,” I shoot up, suddenly pissed.
“How well do you know him Jess?” Chris asks, his eyes searching mine.
“Well enough, he’s a good man!” I retort.
“Jess, look at things from my perspective. He just happened to step out right before we were attacked. He’s always around you but suddenly when you needed him he wasn’t there... And now we can’t find him. He’s gone, won’t return our calls, not a trace.” The tone in Chris’s voice sets me on edge. There’s anger there, but also disbelief, like even he’s shocked.
“He could be hurt,” I protest weakly.
“There’s no sign of trouble at his place, it looked like he packed quickly and blew town,” Chris replies with a frown. I look at him, gauging his reaction. He’s not enjoying saying this and he genuinely looks betrayed.
Could I be wrong about Jude? I was so sure of the goodness in him.
If I’m wrong about him, what else am I wrong about?!
But if I’m right, then where is he?