All right dudes and dudettes, last chapter. But READ THE AUTHORS NOTE AT THE END. Seriously, I'm taking a poll that will decide the fate of the next story and want EVERYBODY'S opinion.
I barely felt the car stop as we pulled up to a cabin, a nice one with lit windows and warm light spilling out. My awareness kept flickering back and forth between the cabin and the clearing. I lost pieces of time, one second being in the car, the next Derek was standing in front of me with the door open. I had no idea how I got into the car in the first place, or when Kit had started driving, or when Derek opened my door.
I turned to look at the clearing, feeling fuzzy and disoriented.
"I did this." I thought.
As I watched, a figure took shape ahead of me, starting faint and shadowy but filling out as she moved. Before I knew it she was standing right in front of me. A girl, no more than sixteen, with cold eyes and looking powerful and terrifying despite her ripped clothes and blood and dirt smudged face. I saw movement out of the corner of my eye and saw a faint figure of a man standing beside the girl, his whole body was blood and dirt-streaked, barely a muscle unmarked as his glittering green eyes fixed emotionlessly somewhere behind me.
"Derek!" I realized with a shock, feeling the name rise to my lips but not making it past them. And if that was Derek then the girl was…
Familiar heavily muscled arms lifted me easily and I let my head fall against a chest exactly like the one I'd just seen but Derek was wearing jeans now and his expression held plenty of emotion as he glanced between me and the path to the cabin door. He looked worried, scared even. I wondered faintly what could have him so concerned and wanted to make that worry go away and bring the warm glow back into his eyes.
The cabin door opened and Simon burst out, looking furious, but his anger dropped when his glare landed on me. The same deep concern clouded his features and I wanted to ask what was wrong but couldn't manage it. The best I could do was reach out a hand to him but even that barely made it off my lap before it fell uselessly to my side.
Why did everything hurt? And why did I feel so empty inside?
The girl terrified me, she looked cold and unconcerned as she moved slowly and precisely, raising her arms and I looked behind me to see Liam, pinned once again to the tree. As a piece of him was freed from the bone pinning it a spurt of blood spattered the girl, heavy and dark and she didn't even blink. The blood ran down her cheek and chest and arm, streaking her and staining her skin…
I was passing through the doorway from a cozy living room with overstuffed furniture and into a large camp-style bathroom with a double sink and a mirror in the middle, a door leading to a toilet stall off to one side and two shower stalls on the other, each with small private changing areas separated from the main room by a curtain.
Derek set me down on the bench of the first shower's changing area and said something. I struggled to focus and finally caught most of his words.
"Do you need Tori to help you undress?" He had to repeat it before I got the message and shook my head slowly. "I'm going to be right next to you if you need anything." He just spoke slower this time and I managed to bring most of my awareness back to the moment. I nodded as he pointed to the adjoining stall.
Before he left he turned my shower on, making sure the water was warm and then ducking out, closing the curtain behind him. I pulled the big gray shirt off and folded it carefully and methodically, the boxers following onto a neat stack of towels. It took a huge effort to walk to the short distance to the shower and when I got there I had to sit down.
The tile was cool and wet and I pulled my knees to my chest, letting the shower beat down on my back and shoulders and watching the streaks of rust-colored water mingle with the clear water and swirl down the drain.
Pieces of Liam falling to the ground with little wet noises…
The howl of the undead ripped from his throat…
Entrails uncoiling like slimy rope…
Silencing Liam so he couldn't even scream…
Ordering him to bury himself, watching his fingernails rip from his cuticle, dotting the ground with congealing dead blood…
I turned my face up into the spray, feeling the itching of dried blood flaking and washing away from my cheeks. I could feel the bruised ribs and hip that the skeleton had slammed into and my whole shoulder was already darkening from the impact with the bear and the boulder. A few more inches to the right and I would have hit my head on the rock, killing me instantly.
I hugged my knees, burying my face into them and staring into the water again, now only faintly reddened with blood. I rocked gently back and forth, humming tunelessly in an attempt to drown out my own looping thoughts.
The water above me turned off and I tilted my head slightly to see what did it. Next to me were feet, and jean hems getting dark from the wet tile. I blinked slowly, trying to make sense of what I was seeing. A towel was draped around me and Derek dropped to one knee on the tiles, hair still wet. His eyes dark with something closer to terror than worry.
"Chloe?" He asked hesitantly, lifting my hair off my face so he could see me.
I smiled at him but was so numb I didn't even feel his fingers against my cheek. "I can't feel anything Fido." I whispered.
He dropped to the ground then, tucking me in between his knees and wrapping his arms around me. When I let my head fall back he kissed my forehead.
"Did you feel that?"
I shook my head mechanically. He tilted my face up to his and kissed me, brushing the backs of his fingers against my cheek.
"Did you feel that?" He murmured.
I shook my head again and felt a knot of fear in my stomach, what if I never felt Derek's touch again?
As if reading my mind he pulled me tightly to his chest, pinning the towel in place with his body and encircled arm and kissed me again, this time harder. His hand wrapped around the back of my neck as he pressed me against him and deepened the kiss, brushing my numb mouth with his tongue.
"Did you feel that?" He asked again, his voice huskier and his eyes burning with a combination of concern and something deeper, more primal that did make me feel a fluttering in my stomach where the knot used to be.
I bit my lip, trying to force feeling into it. Tears prickled the back of my eyes and I closed them, shaking my head again.
Without warning his mouth was against my neck, pressed to my pulse, teeth scraping lightly against the sensitive skin there and I gasped. I definitely felt that, but Derek didn't stop there. He dragged his teeth down the curve of my neck almost hard enough to hurt then kissed the base of my throat, pulling me forward with the hand around my neck and pushing my head back with his thumb.
My heart was pounding so hard I knew he heard it and he brushed the back of his fingers over it before pulling back and looking down at me.
"Did you feel that?" His voice had dropped to a near-growl and his eyes were dilated as he kept me pressed to him.
I felt his heart thudding against me, I felt the tingling hyper-aware skin on my neck where his mouth and teeth had been, I felt his roughened hands holding me fiercely and gently as if I was going to fall apart if he let go. I felt his eyes, looking straight through me and slamming emotions into the space inside me that had felt so empty. I felt my body react to these feelings, gasping with the desperate worry, back arching up with the desire to keep touching his skin, heart pounding with so much love I ached.
I wrapped my arms around his neck and pulled him to me, kissing him and pulling on that emotional strength he offered. I kissed him like he was air and I was suffocating, I kissed him like he was the only real thing in my shifting life. I kissed him like I loved him more than anything else in the world... And I did.
I broke away, the need for oxygen forcing me to come up for air. I drew in deep shuddering breaths and felt the tears I had been forcing back spill over onto my cheeks in big drops. I lay still and let them come, running down my face and onto Derek's chest.
It was shortly thereafter that I realized that Derek was on his back and I was laying on top of him, towel slipping. Before I had time to even blush he had taken another dry towel off of the bench and pulled it over my shoulders, eyes fixed on mine as I tucked the first in around my chest and kept the second like a shawl.
Once decent-ish I scooted off of him, letting the blush color my cheeks. I didn't feel the overpowering lustful urges that I had felt before, this hadn't been about hormones or anything so light, it was Derek reminding me why I did what I did. That there was something I wanted so badly that I would kill to protect it. I felt everything because of that, the bruises everywhere, even on my lips from the several instances of rough kisses throughout the night and I was acutely aware of the friction between Derek's hand and my leg as he wrapped it around my calf.
"Did you feel that?" He asked in that not-completely-human tone with his wolf's smile, trying to hide the concern still hovering behind his eyes.
I smiled and wiped the tears from my face. I still felt the raw horror and disgust for what I'd done but I was able to recognize and process it now. I knew that I didn't have to go through this alone and that chased away the last of my shock.
"Thank you." I whispered, barely able to use my voice after all the strain and power that had passed through it. I leaned over and kissed him again, a short kiss before either of us could get lost.
I got unsteadily to my feet and Derek pushed up on his elbows, keeping his hand on my calf to steady me. I pulled the same shirt I'd been wearing on over the towels before unwrapping them and letting them drop. With the shirt coming to mid-thigh on me it was as modest as the towels and I pulled on the boxers without feeling exposed.
Even so, Derek watched each movement like it was the last thirty seconds of the super bowl, and that brought color to my cheeks. I stepped into the main part of the bathroom, leaving him on the shower floor. I made it about three steps before he was behind me, hand catching mine.
"Are you going to be okay now?" He rumbled quietly, catching my chin and making me meet his gaze.
"No, but I'm getting there. Just… stay with me and I'll be fine." I turned back to look in the mirror over the sinks and do an inventory of the night's injuries.
My shoulder was already purpling nicely and I lifted the shirt up to check my ribs but didn't know the difference between them being bruised, cracked or broken. I was pretty sure they weren't broken but I did want Derek to check. Keeping the shirt up I folded down the top of the boxers to look at the bruise there. It wasn't nearly as dark as my shoulder but it was bigger, stretching in one long continuous bruise along my whole side.
"Could you check to see if my ribs are cracked?" I asked, looking up to meet Derek's eyes in the mirror.
His expression made me jump. He looked livid with his jaw clenched tight, eyebrows lowered and nose crinkled slightly in an almost snarl.
"What's wrong?" I managed and he blinked, shaking his head to clear his expression like an etch-a-sketch.
"We went too easy on Liam." He growled, eyes still furious and jaw clenching and unclenching.
My eyebrows shot up. "Sweetheart you broke his arm off. That wasn't enough?"
"Not by a long shot." There was more wolf in his expression than human and I excused his vindictive streak, chalking it up to the wolf's protective instincts.
"I… I ordered him to bury himself." I swallowed hard. "I think he's plenty punished." A new wave of guilt and horror washed over me and Derek's expression finally softened.
"Chloe." He said firmly, putting both hands on my shoulders and making me meet his gaze. "Liam wasn't just in deep with The Pack for The Edison Group. He'd been on their list for a while, he was a really really bad guy."
"But that doesn't give me the right to play judge, jury and executioner." I shook my head. "No one deserves that."
"Chloe. He… he had a… he liked to… hunt girls. Young girls." Derek's eyes went distant and sad for the victims and I knew from that look that Liam hadn't killed them quickly. His eyes hardened again as he glared down at me. "Trust me, compared with what he's done… he got off lightly. Really lightly."
It did help to know that he had been such a bad man but I still couldn't erase the fact that I had taken a life. I would always feel the guilt for killing him and I had to either learn and grow from the experience or let it weigh me down and prove that I was the victim that Liam had thought I was.
I pushed Derek's hands off my shoulders and straightened. "We should go talk to the others."
He sighed but didn't answer, just crouched in front of me and lifted the hem of my shirt to look at my ribs. "Does it hurt to breathe?"
"A little, like an ache."
He touched my ribs with his fingertips and despite his care I sucked in a breath when he put pressure on my side.
"What kind of pain is it?" He asked with a frown but didn't look overly worried, a good sign.
"Dull, uh… I guess kind of like a sprained ankle… but on my ribs." I glared at him when he raised an eyebrow at me.
"I'd say there's over a ninety percent chance that they're just bruised." He gave me a small smile that turned a little wicked with a slightly crooked curve to his lips and I got nervous. He kept his eyes on mine but leaned forward and pressed his lips to my ribs and kissed there, then the bruised side of my stomach and finally he hooked a finger in the waistband of the boxers and tugged just enough to expose the bruise on my hip again. That last kiss on my hip lingered and my breath hitched.
"N-None of that n-now." I tripped over the words as his green eyes glittered up at me, hands sliding around my calves.
A knock on the door made us jump and I stepped back quickly while Derek was distracted. He rose to his feet as I reached for the handle. Elena was standing in the hall, arms crossed and fingers tapping her bicep.
"Indeed none of "that" now." She said it quietly so only we heard—and of course Karl who smothered a laugh across the room—and I blushed scarlet. Her mouth twisted in a wry smile and she ruffled my wet hair. "How you doing munchkin?"
The blush disappeared and I glared at her. "Just because you werewolves are freakishly tall does NOT make me munchkin material."
She laughed. "Good to see your spunk back. Now go update your dad before he fidgets himself to death."
The last was directed at Derek and we both looked over to see Kit and Simon on the couch talking, Kit with his knee bouncing impatiently and Simon moving his foot in a similar jittery gesture. Tori sat in an armchair facing Karl who was leaning comfortably against the fireplace mantel. There was a loveseat and one last armchair free and I let Derek get situated on the love seat before burrowing next to him.
Elena folded her long limbs into the arm chair. "Okay kids, who wants to start?"
Derek glanced down at me and I sighed. "Fine." I sat up a little straighter, relinquishing my burrowed spot for a slightly more sophisticated cuddle. "Liam is the werewolf who first approached me and Derek on our way to Andrew's house. He and his partner Ramon were working as mercenaries for the Edison Group though we didn't know that at the time. I stabbed him in the leg, crippling him enough for us to escape."
Derek squeezed the arm around my shoulders, tucking me into the curve of his body.
"Woah." Simon gawked. "You stabbed him?"
I nodded. "And apparently he held a bit of grudge." This got a soft snort of a laugh from Derek. "Later on, after the security team attacked Stonehaven, I was kidnapped by Liam and his pals with more Edison cronies. Derek may have broken Liam's face…"
"A bit?" Simon supplied when I hesitated, eyebrow raised.
"Ah…" I looked up at Derek and he shrugged. "A lot. Werewolves heal quickly and when he took me this time he still looked like about half the bones in his face were broken."
Karl let out a low whistle and looked at Derek. "Remind me not to kidnap your girl."
"Don't kidnap my girl." Derek rumbled back, giving Karl a blank assessing look.
I elbowed him in the stomach. "Let's lose the testosterone shall we?" I glowered at him when he shrugged, eyes still shuttered. "Anyway. So because of kidnapping me when The Pack had already given protection to both me and Derek and working for a Cabal on top of that, Liam was supposed to be executed. That's why Elena and Karl are here. He kidnapped me—again—to try to barter with them, my safety for his life. The fact that a complete moron like Liam came up with this plan made me think that as long as any of us were seen as a bargaining chips we'd be used as one." I lowered my eyes, keeping them on my lap and tried to find the courage to finish.
"So she did something awful enough that it wouldn't be worth it to try to attack any of you." Elena finished for me.
"Liam's dead." I mumbled without looking up.
"And your pack is safe." Elena countered softly.
There was movement from across the room, then footsteps approaching me. I looked up hesitantly to see Kit standing in front of the loveseat. Derek took his arm off of my shoulders and Kit knelt, pulling me into a hug.
"Thank you." He said, giving me a gentle squeeze then rocking back on his heels.
I felt a hand on my shoulder and looked up to see Tori. "You did the right thing."
I felt my mouth fall open in surprise and got a wry smile from her. I'd never seen Tori so sincere or serious.
Simon stayed seated, giving me a dark look, body absolutely still.
"Simon?" Kit stood and looked back at the couch.
"That was stupid." Simon managed to spit out through his teeth. "So fucking stupid."
He glared at me some more while everyone stared at him except for Derek was smiling slightly at his brother.
"You two always think you have to do everything on your own, protecting us, keeping us safe. Have you ever considered that we want to protect you just as much?" Simon's fists clenched in the material of his sweatpants and he had to work to get his anger under control enough to speak again. "As fucked up and weird as we all are, we're a family. If you two can't see that then what the hell are you trying to protect?"
I stood, moving to stand in front of Simon and he stood too, glowering down at me. He wasn't as tall as Derek but he still had close to a foot on me. He opened his mouth to yell some more and I wrapped my arms around his waist, going up on tiptoes to kiss his cheek.
"I'm sorry we didn't give you a chance to help us." I murmured as his hands clenched to fists at his sides. "And I love you too."
Finally his shoulders relaxed with a shudder and he wrapped me up in a bear hug, burying his face in my shoulder. He took a deep breath then stood up straight again, trying to find his glower.
"If you ever EVER come home looking like you did thirty minutes ago… I'll… I'll get BOTH of you micro chipped!" He shot this at Derek who hadn't moved from the loveseat.
I went back to sit with him and nervously looked at his face, not sure how he would react to my interaction with his brother. Warm green eyes met mine and he smiled, kissing me lightly on the mouth.
"My family." He murmured, so quietly only I heard him.
"Our pack." I corrected him with a smile.
All righty, sorry to spring the last chapter on you like this but this is ONE in a series and I need to get started on the next. If you haven't figured it out, I'm writing a back-story for the pictures mentioned in the WBT epilogue. Next story is about their high school graduation and I want you to VOTE IN THE REVIEWS for who's POV you want it to be written from, either solo or alternating with one other character.
List one or two characters in your review, the faster you guys review, the faster I can get started. And I do want EVERYONE TO VOTE, not just my regulars. Honestly you can post a one word review such as "Kit" and that's fine.
Sam, DofD, Boat Gal, Lilly 87 and D&C4ever- Thank you so much for continuing to make me smile with your flattery and quirky comments, hope to see you when I post Snapshots 2!
Horses and Vampires, Suzi, Winkadink, Suria, Seiya, Silver Bird, Anastasia, Riley and Black Heart- Being some of my more opinionated reviewers I really look forward to hearing what you want in Snapshots 2, as always, thank you!
Look for an update soon!