“I need rum!” Matt cried.
I scowled as I redoubled my efforts and searched every nook and cranny of the bar. I eventually found a bottle in the shadows of a compartment, and brought it back to Matt.
He took it from me gladly and unscrewed the lid, pouring the rum into a glass. Then, he pinched the stem of a flower from his pouch and slipped his thumbnail down the middle, opening it up. Clear sap trickled out and he squeezed it into the glass. Then, he took a leafy herb and tore off a wide leaf, shredding it before he scattered it in the concoction. It had a light smell and as the aroma drifted to my nose it lifted my mind. Matt curled his hand around the glass and lifted it to his nose, breathing in the scent of the aroma. He swirled it and then took a sip, winced, arched his eyebrows and then nodded.
“Is that going to save him?” I asked.
“I hope so,” he said. He gently lifted Buck’s head and pressed the glass against his lips. The liquid slipped in and Matt had to tilt Buck’s head from side to side to induce him to swallow the liquid. Some of it trickled out and spilled onto the floor, but most of it went inside. My chest tightened as I hoped dearly that Buck would be saved.
“We need to get him somewhere more comfortable. Do you think that you could help me carry him?” Matt asked. I looked at Buck’s bulky body and then down at my own tiny frame and gulped.
“I can try,” I answered. I was already feeling weak from the ordeal and had to force myself to stand. Neither Matt nor I were the strongest, but we struggled to get Buck up, trying to use whatever we could to help support us. We hooked our arms underneath Buck’s body and it was like trying to tip a mattress, but in the end we managed to get Buck on his feet. His weight almost crushed me as I slung his arm around my shoulder and wrapped my other arm around his waist. Matt groaned too as we slowly moved him to the back, to his own room, where we placed him on the bed. We placed him there as softly as we could, but even so he landed with a thud and the mattress creaked.
When I was free of him, I straightened my back and my hands immediately pressed against my lower back and hips as I tried to massage the pain away. I groaned in pain and Matt offered a weak smile. His face was creased with lines of worry for his friend.
“Do you think more Hunters are going to come?” I asked.
“I sure as hell hope not. It took all I had to take care of them,” Matt said. He ran his hand across his chin and his head dropped. He looked defeated and haunted, as though he had given up something of himself in that fight.
“You did well Matt. It was very impressive. If you hadn’t come in-”
“I did what I had to do,” he snapped in a terse voice, his head twisting around to face me. “I’m sorry, I don’t mean to bite your head off. I just…I took an oath a long time ago to help people. That’s why I learned from Mom. She told me that we had to take care of people just like we take care of the world. Balance…it’s all about balance…but the Hunters turn everything upside down and make us do things we thought we’d never dream of doing…”
I could sense the anguish in his voice and my heart went out to him. In a way, I thought, I was looking at him for the first time, although perhaps it was more because I had changed within myself that I was looking at things in a new way. I moved closer to him. We were both looking at Buck with worried expressions. I tugged at Matt’s shirt. It was a comfort to be close to him, to know that there was someone else I could count on in all of this. I hoped that he would feel the same way about me.
“Matt I wanted to say thank you again for everything that you’ve done for me,” I began. “Giving me the chance to speak to my parents and then saving my life and just…just being kind. I’m sorry for the way I treated you and how I betrayed your trust.”
“It’s okay Trish,” Matt interrupted, “you’ve said it before. You don’t need to say it again.”
“No, I do,” I pressed my lips together firmly and summoned a steady footing. “I didn’t understand what all this meant until I spoke to my parents, and that was only possible because of you. I didn’t understand my place in the world, but you did. You were honest with me and kind. You shared with me as much as you could and you tried to teach me how everything has a place in nature. You knew before I did that my place was here, and I know that too now. I’m just sorry that I had to hurt you. I don’t know if I can ever repay you for what you’ve done for me. Without you I wouldn’t be here, not in body and not in soul. You’re one of the very few people who have provided me with clarity and direction in life, and you have such an impressive skill. You want to take care of people and make the world a better place. I’m sorry that I didn’t appreciate that at the beginning.”
I reached out and squeezed his hand. As soon as I did so his face lit up so brightly, as though I had flicked the switch to a thousand flickering lights.
“I forgive you Trish,” he said, and when he looked at me I was filled with an overwhelming sense that I knew exactly what was coming next. He tilted his head to the side and leaned in. I wasn’t sure. I didn’t know. Part of me wanted him. I could feel myself being drawn to him, but then there was Jack and so much uncertainty. I had so many things to figure out in my own mind and heart. The easiest thing to do in that moment would have been to kiss him, but I was afraid that it would complicate my world to an even greater extent than it already was. His lips brushed mine in a light caress. Arousal and warmth spiked in my soul, but I couldn’t surrender to this feeling.
I pulled myself away, and as I did so I immediately saw the pain flicker in his eyes, and he went rigid with tension once again. He clenched his jaw and looked away from me, focusing on Buck.
“He’ll need more. I should go and prepare some for him, and more in case the others return needing treatment,” he said in a numb tone. I had hurt him once before by hitting him with a thick branch, but me pulling away did more damage.
“Matt I…” I began, but what words could I have said? He shook his head and left the room. I decided I would stay there with Buck, wondering how I was getting even deeper into complication. I pulled up a chair and sat beside Buck’s bed, wishing that I knew the path to keep everyone happy.
As I sat by Buck’s bedside my mind was alive with thoughts about the battle he had fought for me. This had been the second time he had come to my rescue. The first had been with Jack and Matt in tow, but this time he had been the only thing standing in between the Hunters and me, and he’d managed to hold them off for long enough for Matt to arrive and aid him. Buck had shown so much stamina and prowess that I couldn’t be mad at him, and I hoped that he would recover. Matt had left before he told me what the chances were of Buck making a recovery, but given his mood I didn’t think it was a foregone conclusion. The room was small and shadows danced upon the walls. There weren’t many personal touches to the room, just a single photo of a man whom I assumed to be Buck’s father.
“Oh Buck, I know you can’t hear me but I do hope you’re going to recover. I couldn’t handle it if you died because of me. This whole thing is stupid, and it’s getting stupider by the second. I don’t know why these Hunters want me. I’m not even that special. I know everyone thinks I am be
cause of my father, but that’s not me. I haven’t done anything in my life to warrant this special treatment. I’m just a girl and I wish that everyone would stop fighting over me. All I want is a nice quiet life and for people to go around without having to be afraid that other people are going to come after them. I’ve already angered Matt because…oh, I don’t know.” I buried my head in my hands and let my hair fall about my fingers like a golden river, groaning loudly. I still hadn’t figured out the specifics of my emotions and what my place in this pack was. Jack had already intimated that I needed to breed with a harem of wolves and that he couldn’t keep me to himself. Did I even want that? Could I be with more than one man? Could I be with one man?
Whenever I thought of romance I always just assumed I’d meet the right person and everything would fall into place, but now that I was part of a wolf pack the previous rules went out the window. I wasn’t living in a human society any longer and I couldn’t hold myself to the same rules that governed them. They needed someone to breed a new generation, but part of me was still beholden to the idea of being faithful to one man. Then again…there was a deep affection in my heart for Matt as well and the way I hurt him hurt me too. It felt as though my heart was split in two already…and then there was Buck. I didn’t know what my feelings for him were yet. Was it just gratitude, or was there something more? My mind was in a whirl and I felt as though I was teetering on a precipice and I had no idea where it might lead.
These anguished thoughts ran through my mind and came out in mutterings.
“Why can’t there just be a simple solution to everything?” I eventually said.
“Because then it wouldn’t be life,” Buck replied. His voice was weak and hollow. My head snapped up and I smiled, but the smile quickly fell from my face as I saw how pale he was. I turned my head to call for Matt, but Buck placed a hand on mine and shook his head.