Comfortably Numb

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Chapter 22

When I wake up from my power nap, everyone isstill gathered around the dinner table. The food had been cleared at some point and everyone seems to just be relaxing, talking quietly amongst themselves.

I raise my head from Ryker's lap and everyone stops talking. I glance around me to see that everyone is smiling back at me.

So... can I switch back to human now?

I am briefly worried that they won't be able to hear me, but Ryker brushes his fingers through my fur before I can really start stressing.

"Are you sure you're ready?" He murmurs. I sigh and stretch a bit. My muscles are sore, but the biggest part of me just wants to be in my own skin- my human skin- again. I nod. He sighs and helps me hop down from the chair.

"Arrow, can you grab her something..." He trails off. She smiles and bolts from her seat, following the direction he's given. He leads me back to the kitchen and I fight the urge to frown. He gives me a small half smile.

"It's better to have room when you're changing, and well... I figured you wouldn't want anyone to see you.. Naked..." He flushes slightly as he explains and I feel my own cheeks heat. I hadn't even thought about clothes. Arrow pads into the room with a pile of cotton material.

"I figured this would be better coverage." She winks at me as she drapes the material, a sheet I now recognize, over my massive form. I haul in a deep breath before turning to look up at the twins, unsure of how to start.

"OK," Ryker breathes. He flicks his eyes shut and twirls around so he's facing the other way. After a second Arrow rolls her eyes and does the same.

"OK Andy all you have to do is picture your human form. Your body knows the ins and outs of this, so don't fight it..." He speaks quietly, and I sigh before letting my eyes drift shut to try to do as he said.

I picture my human face, the details I normally try to ignore screaming out at me from my mental picture.

After a few seconds, nothing happens. I huff and focus harder. I think of the heart shape of my face, the thick dark eyebrows and sad blue eyes, the slightly too big top lip that makes me look imbalanced. Still nothing happens.

"Andy... Picture your hands. The skin of your palms against the floor beneath you, leading into your arms. Think of your legs, and the feel of the ground beneath your feet. Think of the way it feels to be human, your skin, your muscles, your body. Picture it, and imagine moving into that shape."

Ryker's voice is rough, husky. Listening to it calms my heartbeat and I slip into my mind, following his words. I think of the parts of myself I try to remove myself from. I picture my human feet, and the sturdy legs that connect to them. Something tingles in my lower half, and I keep going, traveling up my legs to my torso. I picture my stomach, and my chest above that. I picture my shoulders, and my pale arms that lead into dainty hands.

I feel my bones shifting under my skin, and before I can release another breath they fold and suddenly I'm sitting in my skin again. I shift the sheet so it covers me and push to my feet. Exhaustion pulls at me, but I shove it aside.

The second I'm standing, Arrow twirls to smile at me. Ryker hesitates, and my heart skips a beat as I realize he's waiting for me to tell him I'm ready.

"I'm done..." I breathe. My voice is weak but he hears me nonetheless. I know now that with ears as sensitive as ours, he would have been able to hear me even if he were standing outside.

"How are you feeling?" He bites his lip and I feel the weight of his gaze on the top of my head. I shiver, even though I'm not really sure why.

"I'm OK." I whisper. Arrow closes the distance between us. The second I turn from Ryker, he twists and leaves the room. I would be lying if I said that I don't feel the shift of the air as he goes. Something inside of me twists, sad at the distance. I push it away.

"I'm so glad that you know now!" Arrow steals my attention again. I offer her a weak smile, exhaustion pushing harder against me now that we're alone.

"It's been so hard keeping it from you, and we had decided when we followed you to the cemetery that we were just going to tell you, explain that we can protect you, but now you're just like us! It's going to be so awesome just wait until you join the pack officially and then we can start running together and we can go hunting and-"

"Row," I interrupt, "I'm e-excited too, b-but right now... I think I need to c-crash." Her eyes widen and she smacks her forehead.

"Oh of course! You must be exhausted!" I nod and grip the sheet tighter to me as her father enters the kitchen.

"We can get a bedroom all set up for you, but for tonight you can just sleep in the room beside Ryker's!" She practically squeals in excitement. My throat closes, not expecting her to have me staying here. My eyes dart to her father and he offers me a small smile, understanding the panic in my face. Or maybe he's hearing it in my head.

He laughs.

"I am surprised that Arrow can't hear you right now." He chuckles into my mind. My face floods with colour. I really need to learn how to control this.

"You don't have to stay Andy. Like I said before you are welcome to stay whenever you want but no one will force you to. And I'm sure Ryker will teach you how to block your thoughts as he drives you home." His voice in my mind is soothing, until he gets to the part about Ryker driving me home. For some reason that has my stomach twisting into knots.

"Ryker will you please drive Andy home?" He speaks out loud. Arrow turns to frown at her dad.

"What? Why?" He rests his hand on her shoulder. "Because, Air, she needs to rest. If she stays here she won't get any sleep with you nattering her ear off all night." He winks at me over her shoulder and I relax slightly, happy that he hasn't told her of my panic struck thoughts.

Ryker walks into the kitchen again, a bundle of fabric in his arms. He keeps his eyes on his dad but holds the bundle out to me. I frown and shift my grip on my sheet so I can reach out with my right hand.
"Of course." He rumbles, answering his fathers request.

My heart thuds in my chest, an emotion I can't name when I realize that he's gotten me a pair of flannel pajama pants and a large grey t-shirt that smells like him.

"Thank you." I breathe. He nods. I carefully walk out of the kitchen, making sure that all of my skin is covered by the sheet as I do.

I dress quickly in the bathroom and turn to look in the mirror once I'm dressed. I gasp at the first look at myself.

My hair is longer than it was before I changed. Rather than hitting the top of my shoulders, it is now resting halfway between my shoulder and elbow. The roots are the dark almost black that I remember from before the incident. My eyes are brighter as well, more blur than grey for the first time in two year's. My face is thinner now, more angular. I have more colour as well, my skin no longer the sickly pale I've been for the last few years. It looks now like I've got a spark behind my skin, warming me from the inside.

When I glance down at my body, I'm shocked to see that my scars have faded. They look decades old now, when just yesterday they were still fresh and pink. I pull my shirt up to examine my belly, and the shock continues. The place Seth had ripped into with his knife the night that Steven died is barely a sliver of silver now. A deep breath pushes out of me and I can't stop the wide smile. My new body seems to be pushing his marks away- maybe I would wake up one day to find that he had never touched me.

I drop my shirt and tug my hair until it looks less messy and then head out of the bathroom, something inside of me feeling... alive for the first time in years. I fold the sheet over in my arms so it's not dragging on the floor.

Ryker is waiting for me outside of the bathroom. He swallows audibly as I come into his view. I offer him a small smile.

"You look...." He trails off. I tug on the ends of my hair, nervous to keep looking up at him. I hear him shake his head.

"Ready to go?" His voice is stronger now. I give a slight nod, before changing my mind and heading back to the kitchen. He follows after me, curious.

"Row." I call. She smiles at me and meets me by the fridge. I offer her her sheet back and she takes it. Her eyes twinkle at me, something I can't quite understand.

"Thank you." I whisper to her. She nods. "Anytime Andy. Go home and get some rest." She jerks her head in the direction of her brother and I smile at her before turning on my heel and gesturing for him to lead the way.

We only pause once more to pull our boots on. With every movement I make wafts of Ryker's intoxicating scent float to me, but I push those thoughts away.

The ride home is quiet. I'm lost in thought, my inner voice distracting me with thoughts of pressing closer to Ryker and getting lost in his heady scent.

He clears his throat.

"Do you.. Do you want to learn how to keep your thoughts private?" His voice is rough again, and I flush. He must be hearing all of the thoughts my stupid conscience is screaming at me and be uncomfortable!

"Yes please." I whisper, mortified. He nods once, quick and jerky.

"Ok," he clears his throat again, "So focus for a second, and try to clear your mind.." I nod, and try to do as he says. His voice floats to me a second later.

"Picture a wall in your mind. You want to keep your thoughts in, but you don't want to lock everyone out. Once the door is in place... there you go. Your thoughts are your own again." I flick my eyes open and frown at him. That's it?

He smiles at me for a second before turning back to the road.

"I can't hear what you're thinking anymore, unless you want me to."

"W-what do you mean?" He offers me a lopsided smile.

"Well we can still share thoughts," he pushes into my mind. "But I can't hear everything." He finishes out loud. I smile and close my eyes again.

"So you can hear this?" I picture angling the thought at him, and I somehow know it reaches him. "Yes, loud and clear." He brushes into my mind again.

"So... you c-can share any thought w-with anyone whenever y-you want?" He frowns.

"Well, not exactly. If you want to keep someone out, you can keep them out by focusing harder on blocking your mind, and then no one can reach you. And you can't talk to humans or to someone outside of our pack."

"What do you mean, p-pack?" He smiles at me and turns onto my street.

"Our pack is called Silver Mountain. It's what groups of werewolves guarded by an alpha family are called. It's kind of like an extended family."

"And I'm p-part of that?" He nods and pulls to a stop in my driveway.

"You don't want to be?" He offers me the same lopsided smile and my heart skips a beat.

"I t-think I do.. But I'm kind of w-worried." He frowns. "Why?"

"S-Seth..." I breathe. His jaw locks. After a second he nods.

"Andy, he won't hurt you. I won't let him." I frown.
"B-but what if he c-comes for me and s-someone from the pack..." I trail off, unable to finish the thought. He turns to me and something is burning in his eyes, a light that draws me in. It's starting to get harder for me to breathe, but I can't look away.

"Andy... IF Seth comes, we will be ready for him. And no matter what, I promise you he won't get ahold of you again."

My throat is too tight to get air through. I can't explain to him that I am already dead, not when I feel so alive, to explain to him that my falling is better than any of these new people in my life, in my family, in my PACK getting hurt because of me. So I push it away and try not to think about it.

"I'd better let you go..." He says eventually. I nod and brush my hair back from my face. I reach blindly for the door handle. Ryker stops me with a hand on my other arm.

Electricity shocks down my arm, stronger than I'd grown used to. My eyes collide with his and that light is burning brighter.

"You can keep that shirt." He breathes. "It looks better on you than it ever did on me." I swallow and suck in a deep breath. The air feels charged, and I feel like I'm spinning faster than I ever had while dancing. Ryker leans towards me and my breath catches. My inner voice dances inside of me, excitement and something I can't put a name to making me dizzy. I hold my breath as his lips get impossibly close to mine.

The door opens with a click and I exhale, disappointment that I quickly shake off deflating my chest. He'd just been opening the door for me.

"T-thanks for the ride." I force out, straining to keep my voice steady. Ryker smiles at me and the heat behind it stops my heart or the briefest second.

"Anytime Andy. Get some sleep." His voice is husky again, but I push thoughts of it aside in favour of hopping out onto the pavement. I trudge into my house and the second the door closes behind me I hear him start his engine back up. He pulls out of the driveway quickly and before I'm ready the sound of his engine is too far for even my sensitive ears to hear.

Frustration pulls at my chest, but I push it away. Instead, I trudge up the stairs and throw myself into my bed.

It takes hours, but eventually I do cave in and fall asleep to face extremely vivid nightmares.

--------------------------------------------------------------

A few days later, we are sitting in our last period history class, and I am not paying attention at all. Rowan had done something to infuriate Arrow during lunch, and I am now busy trying to figure it out.

Arrow is sitting to my left, scowling at her notebooks. I turn to look over my shoulder. Rowan is sitting behind her, also scowling at his binder. I turn back to Arrow.

I sigh before tearing a page out of my notebook.

Does it ever get exhausting hating Rowan that much?

I toss the note perfectly into the crook of her arm and then turn to stare at the teacher to pretend I'm listening. I listen for the rustle of the paper as she unfolds it. I glance at her from the corner of my eye and almost smile when I see that she's scowling deeper at me.

She doesn't pass anything back, so I rip another page out and try again.

So does this mean I'm going to have to help you bury his body later?

I hear her sigh the second the note unfolds. Her pencil scratches against the paper.

I don't want to talk about it.

I roll my eyes and scribble back to her.

Please. I know you, Arrow. I bet you're dying to talk about it.

She growls and I turn to shoot her a teasing smirk.

She rolls her eyes before focusing back on the paper.

He's an idiot, what else is new?

I sigh. I missed whatever happened during lunch. What did he do?

She rolls her eyes at me again.

I definitely don't want to talk about it.

I shoot her my best unimpressed look. She sighs before whispering into my mind.

"It's hard to explain..." I shake my head at our stupidity of passing notes when we're able to communicate like this.

"What is?"

"It's a wolf thing...." she drifts off "And my dads and Ryker told me not to tell you anything else yet."

My eyebrows furrow. "What? W-why?" She sighs and flicks her eyes over my shoulder, no doubt looking at her brother.

"Nothing bad, just... it's complicated."

"C-complicated how?" And how does it relate to whatever Rowan did? She sighs.

"I can't really explain." "B-but Rowan did something wolfy at lunch that made you m-mad?" She flicks her eyes back at her brother before focusing back on me.

She hauls in a deep breath before starting on a massive rant.

"OK I'm going to explain as much as I can around the gag order my dad has me under, but it might be a little... vague. Rowan didn't really do anything wolfy at lunch that pissed me off. Basically it was just Rowan being Rowan. The part my dad told me not to tell you about is the wolf side of what makes him so incredibly annoying."
" B-because he has an aversion to wearing c-clothes and he c-catches you whenever you're s-setting up a new prank?" I interrupt. She shoots me a glare before continuing.

"Something like that." She growls. I smile softly at her and she rolls her eyes. "No basically... Rowan is a giant pain in my ass because he thinks we're going to... end up together." She scrunches her nose up at me and fakes a gag. "And I would rather hump a bunny rabbit then ever treat him as anything... dateable." I flick my gaze over my shoulder at Rowan for a brief second. He's still scowling down at his books. I turn back to Arrow.

"R-Rowan was hitting on you at l-lunch?" Her eyes widen comically.

"No! He was just.. Thinking about me. In a" she clears her throat, "Compromising position." A sharp snort pushes out of me. No wonder she'd been so strange all afternoon!

She glowers at me and I try to suppress the laughter. I feel the teacher's eyes on me from my strange snort, but thankfully she doesn't question me, continuing on in her lesson.

"It's not funny!" She whines. I turn to smirk at her and wiggle my eyebrows. Her frown grows deeper. "SHUT UP!" She squeals. I suppress my chuckle and shake my head.

I glance over my shoulder at Rowan again and have to stop myself from laughing once again when our eyes collide. He's frowning at me and I can pinpoint the second that the reason for my amusement clicks in his head because his look turns murderous. He turns to glare at the back of Arrow's head and I push my chuckle down once again.

"Y-you know weirdly," I push into her head, " I t-think you two w-would be really cute together." She gasps out loud. My smile widens while her scowl deepens.

"Don't say shit like that where people can hear you." She mumbles out loud. I chuckle and finally focus on my notes.

Class ends twenty minutes later, and Rowan storms out of the door before the bell is done ringing. I shake my head at him and move to stand from my seat. The heat from Ryker's body envelopes me a second after I'm on my feet. My breath catches, but I turn to look up at him.

He's frowning, but the light in his eyes tells me that he's as amused as I feel.

"What were you guys talking about?" He murmurs. Arrow growls lightly from beside him, so I shrug. I gather my binder and pencil case from my desk and start heading for the classroom door.

"Andy..." He calls. I glance over my shoulder at him. He hasn't moved from the spot I left him in, but his eyes are shining brighter in a way that causes my heart to skip a beat.

"J-just Rowan's interest in-" "Politics!" Arrow cuts me off with a glare. I raise my eyebrows at her. "Right, Andy?" She stresses. I shrug and turn back to her brother.

"Yeah. R-Rowan's interest in politics." Ryker narrows his eyes at me but I turn and finish exiting the classroom. He follows behind us, and I can feel his eyes as they rest on my back.

"Dude!" She whines in my mind, " I told you I was under a gag order! If Ryker finds out I told you-" "About Rowans i-interest in you?"I interrupt. She glowers at me. "He would tell my dad and I would be grounded for like, a month!" "B-but you didn't even t-tell me anything I d-didn't already know." She slams to a stop in the hallway, mouth agape. I roll my eyes at her before stepping to the side. She follows me a second later.

"You knew?!" She hisses outloud. Ryker frowns down at her, obviously wondering what he's missed. I roll my eyes at them both before resting my back against the lockers behind me.

"I-it's not like it's a w-well kept secret." I shake my head at her. Every time he looks at her, you can practically see the hearts in his eyes.

"WHAT?!" She screeches. I wince and reach up with my right hand to rub my hand over the ear she's just screamed into.

"Row." I chastise. She rolls her eyes before stepping closer to me, invading my space. My heartbeat quickens and my palms grow damp, but I push away my anxiety. It's just Arrow.

"I don't know what you mean." She clips out. I roll my eyes and then turn to look down the hallway, where I know Rowan is standing beside our lockers. Even though he's annoyed with me and Arrow, he's still waiting for her. He's propped carelessly against the lockers, but his eyes are zeroed in on our conversation. I smile and shake my head.

"Later," I whisper into her mind, nodding in his direction. Her eyes flick to him before darting back to me. She scowls but steps back from me, falling beside her brother who is frowning down at the two of us, confusion clear on his handsome face.

"Later then." She whirls on her heel and stomps away from us, headed towards her locker. I can't help but notice that Rowan traces her movements as she approaches him, and even from this distance I can see the warmth in his eyes growing brighter.

"What did I miss?" Ryker murmurs to me. I start walking again, headed for my own locker, and he follows beside me. "N-nothing important." I can practically feel his frown at my unsatisfying response, but he doesn't push for more and for that I am grateful.

When I reach my locker, Arrow is already snapping her lock shut. She's got her jacket and bag on. I smile at her and she rolls her eyes, but does give me a small one in return. I focus back on my locker and spin the combination for my lock as quickly as possible. It opens with a click.

Ryker and Rowan start chatting over my head as I open my door about some run they're going on later, but I can't focus on it. Unfortunately, all of my attention is swallowed up by the heavy scent of roses and plastic wafting at me from my opening locker.

When the door is fully open, my throat closes.

Because there, on the bottom of my locker where I had thrown my backpack after lunch, is a dozen roses the colour of blood. There are 11 deep red roses, wrapped in a silk ribbon, and at the centre is one red plastic rose with a white card nestled in it's phony petals. Without my permission, my fingers lock around the card and tug it free.

It's just like the other notes, I think to myself. Solid cardstock with black ink that twists around my chest more efficiently than any rope. The words swim in front of me, but I barely make them out.

It's nice to see you dance again....

The card flutters from my fingers. My head is swimming, the words reaching into my chest and ripping me to shreds, and my skin crawls with the need to escape.

I feel the world tilt beneath me, but can't find the strength to straighten myself up. Before I hit the floor the world fades to black.
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