“I’m fine,” he said, and forced a smile. He groaned and stretched out his limbs, and then groaned in pain some more. The scars and claw marks were still evident upon his flesh, joining an array of other scars that formed a pattern across his broad chest. His eyes were sunken and like two pieces of coal set in his skull.
“Buck! I’m so glad you’re awake. I didn’t think you’d make it. How are you feeling?”
“About as well as you can imagine, but I’ll be okay. Matt came in at the nick of time.”
“Yeah, he did,” I smiled, although a pang of guilt erupted in my heart once again as I thought of how I had treated him and rejected the kiss he had offered with such an open heart. “Thank you Buck. Thank you for defending me. I…I don’t know what would have happened had you not been here.”
“They would have taken you away and prevented us from having you,” Buck said. “But you’re welcome. I was just doing my job.”
I scowled. It had only taken moments within him regaining consciousness for me to be reminded of why he frustrated me so. My brow furrowed and I glared at him. “Oh yes, because the pack is the only thing you care about,” I spat.
“Pretty much. Jack gave me orders and I followed them,” he said.
I let out a dry laugh and shook my head. I couldn’t believe that I had shed tears over this man, or waited by his bedside. “You really are one of a kind aren’t you Buck? Isn’t there anything that you care about other than the pack? Don’t you ever want anything more?”
“There is nothing more,” Buck replied. “And as for Matt don’t worry, he’ll get over it. He seems more sensitive than he actually is. As long as he gets his time among the flowers he’s happy. Just be careful and make sure that what your heart wants is good for you.”
“You’re a philosopher now? Or just a poet,” I asked, crossing my arms and sitting back, trying to put as much distance between me and him as possible. I crossed my legs as well and turned my gaze away from him. I couldn’t believe that a measure of affection had actually begun to enter my heart for him, that as he was unconscious, I actually believed he was handsome. It was rare for anyone to inspire such a deep cut of emotion within me, but Buck was one of the rare ones who could do such a thing. I was also feeling vulnerable as I hadn’t realized he had been listening.
“Anyway, you weren’t supposed to hear that,” I muttered.
Buck let out a soft laugh. “There’s nobody else in the room you were talking to.”
“I wasn’t talking to anyone. I was just…talking. Anyway you clearly don’t care about my problems so you don’t need to bother yourself with thinking about them. I’m glad that you’re awake. I shall take my leave of you now and go and tell Matt. Maybe he can come up with something that can put you asleep again…” I said under my breath.
“No, wait,” Buck thrust out a hand and grabbed my wrist, pulling me down as I began to rise. There was an urgency to his voice that hadn’t been apparent before. “I’m sorry Trish. Thank you. I’m just glad I was able to hold off the Hunters,” he said in a measure of magnanimity that was sorely welcome. I tilted my head to the side and arched my eyebrows, nodding sharply in a haughty manner.
“That’s all well and good, but surely you must know that you can’t go through life this way. If you really believe that nothing matters but the pack, what if the pack gets destroyed?”
“As long as one of us survives, so does the pack,” Buck said through gritted teeth. “It’s not something an outsider would understand.” He leaned his head back on the pillow and closed his eyes. The way he addressed me as an outsider so casually stung me more than I thought it would.
“Have you forgotten? I’m not an outsider,” I said.
“You may have the blood of the wolf, but that doesn’t make you one. Jack has deluded himself because he sees what he wants to see when he looks at you, and he’s never going to get over the hero worship of Jake. Matt is too soft to doubt anything. But you and I both know that you’re not your father. You said it yourself. You don’t know why people keep treating you like you’re special. Maybe the cold hard truth is that you’re not.”
I hadn’t been prepared to hear the doubts in my mind vocalized so forcefully and so bluntly. My mouth hung open, agape, not quite sure what to say to that. Buck had a way of getting under my skin that was unrivalled by anyone aside from perhaps my Mom, and he certainly didn’t have her privilege in getting away with it.
“I don’t know why you think you have the freedom to talk to me like this, but you don’t. You might not agree with me being here, but the fact is I am here, and I’m going to be here for a while longer so you’ll have to get used to it. What happened to you Buck? What made you like this? For someone who values the pack over everything else you’re very quick to push people away, or is it that you don’t care about the pack at all; you only care about yourself.”
I could bite back as hard as he could. He snarled and his upper lip curled. I have no doubt that if he had been stronger he would have risen from the bed and paced angrily around the room, perhaps even smashing his fist into the door. As it was he stayed rooted to the bed, his body betraying him for a rare moment in his life.
“You have no idea what you’re talking about,” he said, and turned his head away from me.
“Oh no? Then maybe that man does?” I pointed to the picture on the wall. Even though Buck didn’t turn to face me I knew he knew what I was pointing to. His face remained impassive and he breathed in slowly, trying to keep himself calm, but my blood was raging. I was tired of how he could get to me so easily and how he always seemed to say the wrong thing. “You can try and tell me otherwise Buck, but clearly you’re just a selfish person who only cares about his own self-preservation. I thought for a moment I had seen something different inside you, but now I see that was just a lie. Maybe you don’t know what it means to be a part of a pack at all.”
That certainly got to the heart of the matter. He twisted his entire body around and seemed to internalize the pain he must have been in as he didn’t cry out or even flinch, and I knew he must have been in a lot of pain as he moved far more quickly than he should have. His dark, bloodshot eyes stared at me with the pain of an anguished soul and a dark cloud swirled around his mind. When he spoke he hissed at me. There was no slanting smile to be seen. No cocky smirk. All the natural ease with which he conducted himself was absent and he was just a man in emotional turmoil.
“I am nothing like that man. The pack is the only thing that matters to me. It’s the only thing that has ever mattered to me. Don’t you dare insult me by speaking about matters that you don’t understand.”
The vehemence of his reaction was more than I expected and it actually made a sliver of fear creep through my body. I flinched and realized that I had pushed him too far without properly understanding why. After what happened with Matt it seemed as though I was on a run of insulting the wolves closest to me, and I wondered how long it would be before I did the same to Jack, although in that case the opposite had taken effect as I didn’t appreciate the way he had left me without saying anything. We needed to have words when he got back; that was playing on my mind too and everything else came out in this wave of awkward emotion.
But it wasn’t fair. As much as Buck was irascible and drove me crazy he had still put his life on the line for me and what I said about him being selfish was blatantly untrue. He had proven that to me twice and I wanted to take back my words.
“I didn’t mean it Buck. I know that’s not true, but I don’t
know why you’re so defensive towards me. Tell me what made you react like that,” I said.
Buck remained silent for a few moments and I wondered if he was going to speak to me again at all. The tension in the room was terse and I wasn’t sure how much more of it I could take, but I wanted to persevere. Despite everything that seemed to go against it, a connection had formed between us. As much as he drove me crazy I couldn’t help but think of the way he fought for me, the way he had bled for me, and the way he had almost died for me. That meant something deep and profound, and I wasn’t about to let it go easily.