Comfortably Numb

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Chapter 21

Whispering voices startle me awake. The pain is gone, but I'm not sure if that is because I am still hazy from sleep or because my emotions are now back under my control.

I groan, but the noise comes out sounding weird.

The world around me seems to have shifted, something I can't quite explain has changed.

There are noises I can't quite recognize, and everything is brighter, more colourful.

The sun is filtering in through the big kitchen window, and it takes me a second to realize where I'm sprawled out. I focus on the sharp details I have never noticed about the Cardinal's kitchen. Like the fact that the walls aren't white like I thought, they have a purple undercurrent that goes perfectly with all of the accessories Mr Cardinal has pointed out to me on previous trips.

I also notice that the air smells different... I can't tell exactly what it is, but there are things I have never noticed before like a deep wood grain, and the honeysuckle sweetness, and something that tickles my nose.

"You're awake." Ryker rumbles from somewhere behind me, and I try to spin to see him, but my muscles groan under the attempted movement. It feels like they aren't really under my control, like my body is not really my own. I scrunch up my face, trying to tell my legs to work, but still nothing happens.

"It's ok" he cooes, finally walking in front of me so I can see his legs, "don't try to move just yet." He is so tall, it takes everything I have to lift my head up enough to collide my eyes with his.

The second that I manage it though, the floor falls out from underneath me.

Everything fades to black except for his glowing brown eyes. I feel like I can't breathe, because no air is good enough unless it comes from Ryker. My heart stutters before taking off the fastest it has ever beat, and my mouth goes impossibly dry. Without my permission, my arms automatically reach out for him. Before I can reach him, I freeze.

Those aren't my arms......

I tear my eyes away from Ryker, which makes my inner voice whine, and glance down at my body.

"Now don't freak out..." Ryker whispers. But it is too late. I'm freaking out.

My body isn't my body anymore. Gone are my arms and legs, my skin and scars. All I can see is long black fur, and four stocky legs. I open my mouth to ask what the hell is happening, but what comes out is frantic barks. This only causes me to freak out further.

Turning anxious eyes to where Ryker is, I notice that he has sank down to his knees. He holds his arms out to me, and without me telling it to, this strange body crawls into his awaiting arms.

"It's ok, Andy. It's ok." He breathes into my ear. I feel it twitch back and forth, and my panic seems to spread and rescind at the same time. Half of me is so excited to be in his arms, and the other half is having a meltdown over the fact that my body had somehow been switched with one of a dog.

"Not a dog," Mr Cardinal's Voice echoes from behind me, "a wolf." He steps into my vision, and smiles. He sinks to the floor beside me and offers no further explanation. I glower at him, not understanding.
It occurs to me that there is something weird going on here, and apparently everyone but me already understands it.

"You, my dear, have transitioned from your human form to your wolf form." I stare at him. What does he mean? I don't have a wolf form.

"Yes you do" he laughs, "that's why you are covered in fur and having so much trouble controlling your body. You aren't used to your wolf form yet, it's to be expected." He smiles at me again. I just stare back. It seems that he is reading my mind- which while it is not cool, seems like the only option I have right now for voicing my questions.

"It's called a mind link." Ryker whispers. I shiver as his voice hits me, going straight to my centre. He laughs and pulls me tighter to him. My inner voice sighs, beyond elated at the feeling of him pressed against us.

Wait can he read my mind too?

Ryker laughs again, and that answers my question. I glower at him.

Get out of my head!

He smiles down at me. I'll teach you how to block in a bit.

I gasp as his voice echoes in my mind. He can do that?

"We all can" Arrow pops out of nowhere, causing my heart to take flight once again. "Sorry" she giggles. Ryker rolls his eyes at his sister. He smiles down at me again after a second.

"Your thoughts are kind of loud right now. It's expected of a newly shifted wolf."

But it won't always be like this?

He laughs. "No, I promise. You'll learn to control it." Suddenly, I feel like I'm being watched. I twist until I find the source.

Blake comes into view, leaning against the doorway. He looks pensive, like he has something he wants to say but is struggling to find the words. I hear a slight whine and after a second realize it's coming from me. Blake shakes his head.

"Alpha Cardinal," he rumbles, "May I have a few moments with my sister?"

"Of course." Mr Cardinal replies. "We will clear out and let you explain some things." He gestures for the family to leave the room, but Ryker ignores him, holding me tighter.

"Ryker." His dad calls. He sighs before I feel him squeeze me closer.

"I'll be back" he murmurs, pressing a kiss to the top of my head. I know that if I was human, I would have been blushing.

Moments later I hear the front door close gently. I know they're trying to give us privacy, but I feel bad that we have basically kicked them out of their home.

"Andy...." Blake trails, coming to sit across from me. I whine in response, knowing I have no other way to respond. He smiles at me, shaking his head.

"I'm sorry that I didn't warn you about...." he waves his hands at me, "all of this. I just didn't know if you'd believe me, or if you could handle it, or if you would ever have to....." he sighs. I whine back at him again. What does he mean?

"I figured that you likely weren't ever going to change, because some wolves never do. It's rare, but it happens. It made sense that you would remain human because you were surrounded by humans all the time. Most wolves shift around puberty; Between the rise in hormones and the emotional whiplash teenagers go through, their wolves are awakened. When yours didn't come out after mom and dad died, and then everything you went through with Steven.... I just assumed that you were going to stay human. I should have known that you were just repressing all of your emotions."

What does that have to do with anything?

"Well it's why you changed yesterday." He breathes. I blink up at him, causing him to smile once again.

"Andy you were on an emotional roller coaster for the last few days. First with the fact that it is so close to Steven's birthday, and then being forced to relive all of your trauma with Alpha Cardinal, and then going to the cemetery... And then you came back here and were looking through all of the documents... It just became too much for even you to hold back. And with the connection you have with Ryker..."

A tight band winds around my chest. We're not connected.

"Right." He shakes his head with a smile. I feel like he's holding something back, but something tells me not to push for those answers right now. "It just all became too much for you, and your wolf took over."

So I was always meant to be like this?

Blake chuckles. "Yes. Just like everyone in our family, mom and dad... and just like this family is." I watch as he gestures towards the front door.

"Everyone here are werewolves. Mr Cardinal is the alpha of this pack, and his husband is his Luna. They have welcomed us into their pack so that we didn't have to drift around and become... feral."

Why does it matter that we be in a pack?

He runs his fingers through his hair. "Wolves aren't solitary creatures. We need others to help us function. A lone wolf is a dangerous wolf. They start losing themselves, losing their minds... I didn't ever want to become that..." Something in his eyes swirls, an emotion I can't identify. He shakes it off after a second, focusing back on me.

So we're stronger together.

"Yes," he nods, "much stronger, and much safer." I think of the words he's said, about being dangerous... I couldn't stand the thoughts of losing myself more than I had, and causing more damage to more people. After everything I had done....
Not what you'd done. My inner voice whispers. What was done to you.

I flick my eyes up at Blake.

He smiles down at me. "Do you have questions?" I nod. He smiles "for me, or can we let all of the others back in? They seem anxious to help welcome you to the wonderful world of werewolves." I sigh, and it comes out more like a huff.

Just one more before they come in... Was Steven... like us?

Blake sighs and runs his fingers over his face.

"Steven was... complicated." My jaw clenches. What do you mean?

"Well... he was a werewolf, yes. But after he shifted for the first time... he pulled away from the pack. He stopped changing and ignored the wolf inside of him. Eventually, he lost his wolf because he neglected it for so long."

Why didn't he change?

"I don't know. He never explained it to me. Only Steven understands why he shut out the wolf part of him. But I know he wouldn't have done it lightly. The history, the connection with the wolves is sacred... It's hard to explain without giving you a full rundown of the beliefs and stories. But Steven was on his own journey. Whatever reason for choosing to stay human he had, those were his to understand and stand by." I sigh and rest my head on my paws.

They can come in.

He nods before calling out to the family that is waiting outside their own front door.

They all come rushing in together, Ryker at the front. He smiles down at me, and again my heart stutters before taking off in a sprint. I hear everyone chuckle, and I feel embarrassed that they likely can hear my stupid hearts response to the grinning boy above me. He quickly sinks to the floor, and again pulls me into his arms.

I wonder why I'm ok with him touching me. Normally I'm an anxious mess when people even brush my skin, but with Ryker.... I never want him to stop touching me.

Everyone laughs again, and I feel embarrassed that they had all just heard my private thoughts. Ryker squeezes me and presses a kiss to the top of my forehead, and I forget the embarrassment.

"So I guess you have some questions for us Andy?" Mr Cardinal sinks to the floor beside his husband. I nod and shift so I can rest more comfortably in Ryker's lap.

Blake mentioned the history of werewolves?

The Cardinals share smiles.

"Werewolves have been around since the dawn of man. We are trusted worshipers of the first gods, and the caretakers of the Earth. Throughout the years, people have tried to understand the way in which werewolves are born, but ultimately it is magic passed down through our ancestors."

"The first werewolf was born a man." Mr Cardinal speaks up. "Born in a tribe in what is now known as Nunavut, he was like all the others of his homeland. He was a warrior of his tribe, and he was tasked with protecting the chief's daughter on her journey to their neighbouring tribe. Along the way, they were ambushed by nightwalkers. A people that believed only in themselves, and that they were to be held in higher esteem because they did not rely on the gods or the Earth. Instead they took from others to make their people thrive. As the warrior fought to protect his charge, he begged the moon goddess to help him. She heard his prayers, and seeing the crowd he was up against decided to intervene. She sent one of her most loyal creatures, a wolf, to help." He pauses and smiles down at me.

"The wolf and the warrior worked so well together, they managed to gain the upper hand against the nightwalkers. The chief's daughter was safe, and they managed to make it the rest of their journey without any more excitement. This wolf continued on with the warrior for many years, until he became old and sick. They had forged a friendship throughout their many journeys, and seeing the wolf suffering hurt the warrior deeply. He prayed to the moon goddess again, begging her to restore the wolf to health. The moon goddess heard his prayer, but could do nothing to stop the hands of time. Instead, she tied the wolf and warrior's souls together. This meant that the wolf would always be with the warrior, and even though the wolf's body was forced to give out, he lived on inside of the warrior."

"This gift was passed down to all of the warriors' children, and their children after them. What started as one man with the soul of a wolf, turned into many. " Mr. Cardinal continued where his husband left off. "It wasn't long until the nightwalkers learned of the gifts bestowed by the Moon Goddess. They grew jealous, and started a terrible war to eradicate the tribes. The war waged for many moons, and more and more of the moon goddess' children were dying. She realized she needed to help them, or they would be wiped out entirely." He pauses to share a look with his husband, and then turns back to me.

"When the next attack came, the Moon Goddess reached out to the Chief. He was the son of the first warrior she had blessed. She gave him a gift, on the condition that he share it with his people and protect her children."

What was her gift? I wonder. Mr Cardinal smiles at me. "She shifted his body to match the wolf's soul that lived inside of him. When he was finished changing, he was faster, stronger, and healed more quickly than his human foes. The rest of his tribe fought at his side, and when the last nightwalker was scared way, the chief did what the Moon Goddess had asked and shared her gift with the rest of his people. And the first werewolves were born."

"We are the children of the moon goddess. Our abilities, speed, strength, agility, advanced healing, increased senses, all come from her. We are blessed with these gifts and the understanding that we are supposed to protect the world and the innocent from those that wish them harm." My heart soars as Mr. Cardinal finishes his story. A sense of pride has its grip on me.

We sit together in the silence for several minutes, absorbing the history of our people. Suddenly, my stomach growls. Mr. Cardinal stands claps his hands.

"Ok, well I think that we should get dinner started. Who's hungry?" My stomach rumbles again in agreement. Once again everyone laughs, before splitting up to start different tasks. I stand on shaky legs, focusing on each leg to try to get them to move.

"You're thinking too much about it Andy," Ryker murmurs, drawing attention back to me. "Just don't think, just come towards me." He moves back a few feet, and I slowly try to follow. I focus on my front right leg, trying to make it more forward, and yip excitedly when it works.

Ryker laughs at me, shaking his head. "No Andy, don't think about it. Your body knows what to do, just let it take control." I frown, thinking that that seemed impossible. I feel Ryker's amusement, and roll my eyes. I focus again on my legs, but once again have difficulty moving even one.

Laughing, Ryker comes back towards me. He leans down to my ear and whispers so that only I can hear him.

"You're cute when you're trying to hard." I soak it in for a second before my temper flares, and Ryker laughs before sprinting out of the kitchen, towards the front door. Without thinking I lope after him, my legs following my command without me even realizing.

By the time that I realize I am running, I am already out the front door, chasing after the smirking idiot. He moves smoothly in front of me, letting me get close enough to smell his delicious scent, but not close enough to catch him. His laughter floats back to me as I skid to a stop, entranced that not only had I been moving, but running.

Ryker laughs ahead of me. "I told you that you were thinking too hard about it." I glare at him before spinning away and walking carefully back towards the house. I really want to keep running, but that little bit of exercise has exhausted me.

Moments later, Ryker sinks down beside me, smiling down. "It's because you just changed for the first time." I blink up at him, confused. He reaches out and runs his fingers through the fur of my head and neck. A shiver passes through me.

"Changing takes a lot of energy, especially the first time. It's why we all eat so much. After we eat, you'll feel a lot better." He brushes his lips against my head, and my eyes close of their own accord. A whimper escapes into the air, and after a minute I realize it has come from me.

Ryker wraps his arms around me once again, and I sigh, feeling that strange peace and happiness once again.

"Dinner!" His pop calls through the open front door. Excited at the thought of food, my body lurches forwards, moving quickly to the table. Ryker is right, when I focus on trying to move too much, it becomes too difficult. If I just... move to where I want to go, I get there.

Ryker follows quietly behind me, and soon we are both standing in the dining room. It smells heavenly.
I can smell beef, and eggs, and hash browns and sausage and peppers and cheese... my mouth waters.

Ryker laughs behind me before pulling out a chair and gesturing for me to get up. I frown up at him, or rather try to frown, wondering how he thinks that my massive body will fit at the table. He rolls his eyes before bending down and scooping me into his arms.

Before I can swoon from the fact that I am in his arms, he has dropped me into the seat of the chair he had pulled out. I turn to glare at him, and he shrugs before planting another kiss on my head. I feel like blushing again.

Minutes later, everyone is seated around the dining room table, passing plates filled with delicious smelling food back and forth. Ryker is filling my plate for me, loading it fuller than I have ever imagined I'd be able to eat. But with how hungry I am now...... my stomach grumbles and a deep whine builds up in my chest.

Ryker laughs before adding a final sausage to the top of my plate.

"Ok, go ahead." He laughs, quickly moving his hands out of my way. I turn to give him my best attempt at a smile, hoping that conveys my gratitude before digging into the food in front of me.

Eating as a wolf is another new experience. It is weird not being able to use my hands, and takes me a minute to figure out the logistics. But once I get it, I eat every morsel and lick the plate clean.

Once I am done, Mr Cardinal offers me seconds. I huff, too full for a polite response. Everyone gathered around the table laughs, and I lay my head onto my paws, embarrassment and exhaustion making it too hard to keep my head up any longer.

Ryker reaches over and grabs my head, guiding it into his lap where he softly starts stroking between my ears. I sigh, enjoying the feeling of the heat and electricity too much to pull away.

Moments later, I am completely asleep.
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