Soul Mate by Roxie Ray
Noise. There was so much noise.
For a moment, I hesitated. The peace and beauty of the crystal forest had been so welcoming; the woman had been… She’d been… She’d been motherly in a way my own mother (or mothers, I guess, Lisa and Amira both) hadn’t been, and something in me craved that comfort just now. The yelling certainly didn’t help. Something hurt. Maybe everything hurt. My head was swimming but something still called me forward anyways. I had to wake up.
It felt like pulling myself out of quicksand…but that wasn’t quite right. Quicksand wasn’t warm and inviting. It was like being caught in a gravity well, but one made of blankets and happy memories. Again, I found myself uninterested in surfacing from whatever held me back, maybe even opposed to it…but again, there was that niggling feeling. I had to wake up. I had to, even if it would be more comfortable, more cozy to just stay where I was. It didn’t matter how tired I was.
This time, I managed to pry my eyes open, whimpering softly as I was greeted with bright, blinding light. It was nothing like the soft glow of the crystal place and I squeezed my eyes shut again, the light still blazing against the back of my eyelids. I wanted so badly to rub at them, but felt as if my arms weighed ten thousand pounds. I couldn’t lift them. It felt like I was pinned to whatever I was lying on, splayed out like a mounted butterfly. Shifting my head to the side, just by centimeters, felt like a monumental effort. I tried to open my eyes again, glancing to the side as I tried not to stare directly into the light. Even looking sideways made my eyes hurt.
Finally, my brain was able to register one of the sounds. Growling. Someone was growling, so close to me I could practically feel it. I tried to ask who it was, but I couldn’t even open my mouth. My jaw felt like someone had screwed it shut. I couldn’t move my head. Couldn’t lift my limbs. I couldn’t even speak; everything ached, terribly, and all I wanted was some peace and quiet.
Slowly, I recognized the growl. The deep timbre of the voice beneath it. Cal. My heart quivered, lodged somewhere in my throat. I could barely breathe. My mate was right beside me, growling at something, or someone, I couldn’t turn my head to see. Cal! I wanted to cry out. I wanted him to hold me. Even just a gentle squeeze of my hand. I wanted to feel anything besides the hurt.
My eyes started to prickle, but no tears fell. On my other side, I was aware of movement, but couldn’t tip my chin to look. By chance, a man I didn’t recognize stepped into the corner of my vision. I couldn’t make out much, but I could see him talking, even if I couldn’t process the words. There was something in his hand. A tool? A syringe, maybe? I didn’t get a good look, because Cal moved, leaning over me, blocking the other man from my line of sight.
I needed to know what the heck was going on.
I strained to lift my chin, but my head still felt as if it weighed as much as a boulder. I couldn’t shrug a shoulder or lift my arms. Maybe I had to think smaller… With an inhale, I focused on my left foot. No, smaller… One toe. I could move one toe. I could move two toes, and after another moment, I found I could give them all a little wiggle.
But that wasn’t enough. Hands. Move your hands, Liv. I wouldn’t start too big. I focused on my index finger, eyes falling shut again as I tried to concentrate. I can do this. I’d done much harder things! A few breaths later, I lifted my shaking digit; I would have smiled, if I could.
My green eyes opened again at the sound of Maren’s voice; I hadn’t noticed her in the room. Even if I couldn’t see, normally I would have been able to smell my friend. My heart gave another hopeful tremor, and some of the commotion around me ceased. I exhaled. If nothing else, I was grateful for a moment of silence. Relieved tears started to roll down my face unbidden; I couldn’t stop them any more than I could wipe them off my cheeks. I couldn’t so much as sniff.
Cal’s face reappeared in my line of sight, hovering over me tentatively. “Liv. Liv, I thought you were gone.” He sounded hoarse. It was hard to tell, with tears in my eyes, but his dark brown eyes… Was he crying, too? His hands had a tiny tremble to them as he cupped my face, holding me like I was something priceless. Worn thumbs brushed some of the tears away from my eyes as he bowed his head down, placing a gentle kiss to the crown of my head. Something wet landed on my skin. Cal was crying…
My heart gave an unpleasant jerk. I couldn’t even ask him why; had I done that? Had I made him so distressed? The thought was enough to put a crack in my heart.
“Excuse me,” snapped a voice I didn’t recognize. “You need to move, Mr. Meyers.”
Cal shifted, curling his lips in an ugly snarl as he faced the stranger. A growl started to roll free from him. I sighed, wishing I could hush him, comfort him, reassure him, anything. The other man was far less compassionate, huffing and gesturing until Cal finally peeled himself away from me and sat back down at my side. “If you hurt her…”
“Look, pal, if I didn’t want her alive, I wouldn’t have fucking saved her,” the man snapped, pointing the syringe at my mate. Save me? Was I…? I didn’t want to finish that thought, too alarmed by the implications. A silence had fallen between the two of them, but they must have come to some sort of agreement, because I could hear a chair squeak as Cal inched a little further back.
The stranger finally returned to my field of vision, leaning over me. A blond braid hung from his neck; the man had eyes as blue as ice. If I could open my mouth, I’d still have been at a loss for words. “Hello,” he greeted me, as if he were already bored with the whole introduction period. “Welcome back, Olivia. You’ve really made me work for my keep, you know.”
He moved to my side, and I was vaguely aware of him picking up my arm, rolling his thumb over the inside of my elbow. “My name is Seven. I’m a healer.”
“And a witch,” Cal snapped.
The man snorted, but his concentration did not break. I felt a pinch a moment later and realized that must have been the needle I’d seen earlier. “Yes. I am a witch,” he confirmed, “which is why I know how to deal with silver poisoning in shifters.”
Silver…? Well, that would certainly explain why it felt like my blood was on fire. Even if Cal didn’t seem to be a fan of this man, I was already grateful.
Seven appeared back in my line of sight, leaning over me. For a moment, I thought maybe the man was going in for a hug…but then I realized he was actually helping me sit up on the bed. My neck got hot and I was relieved I wasn’t able to say anything out loud. I blinked rapidly. At least I wasn’t still crying. His brow was furrowed as he took a step back, retreating out of my space as Cal leaned in to help support me, gently holding the small of my back. Someone pulled one of the pillows closer to me, helping prop me up. Despite the assistance, I found myself trembling softly. “There you go. Silver’s much harder to treat. Can’t shift, can’t heal that way,” he told me, still watching my face. “So your stab wound is taking its sweet time knitting itself back up, understand?” I managed to croak some sort of affirmative, and that seemed to satisfy him. He took another step backwards; before he could say anything else, Maren rushed in to fill the space he’d taken. She had a glass of water in her hand, complete with a straw; I had no idea how parched I was until she sat down next to me, holding the straw up to my lips.
“Liv,” she murmured. I could see her lower lip trembling a little and had to fight back the tears. I had just cried! I didn’t want to start all over again. “Liv, you had me so worried! I’m so… I’m so glad you’re here.”
Cal was still silent on my other side, but he squeezed the hand he held, brushing his thumb over my knuckles. He didn’t have to say anything. I knew he was glad I was here too — but no one was more thankful than I was.
I never figured sittingup would be hard; even my worst hangovers were like walks in the park compared to this. I was distantly aware that the fact that all I had to compare a stabbing and a coma to was damn lucky. My father had looked out for me, even if he hadn’t told me everything. The thought left with me a pang of emotion I couldn’t quite name, my heart wobbling in my chest. Even now, I still missed the man. I had so many questions…and I was angry at him, too. Angry he hadn’t told me the truth, even after I’d grown into an adult.
It was a hard thing to reconcile, being angry at him and missing him in the same heartbeat.
Cal’s voice broke through my train of thought and I looked over, offering a weak smile at his concern. “Sorry,” I croaked, glancing down at my hands. I gave my fingers a wiggle, and they did exactly as they were told. Never had I thought such a thing would bring me so much relief.
My mate reached over and took one of my hands in his, giving a little squeeze. He looked dreadfully serious, and it made my stomach clench. “Don’t apologize,” he huffed, shaking his head. “I’m just happy you’re here.”
“Was…” I trailed off. I didn’t need to ask. If it wasn’t that bad, I don’t think I would have had that…experience. The dazzling, jeweled forest, whatever it was. Wherever it was. If it hadn’t been serious, I don’t think I would have drifted there. “I’m…” I trailed off again, realizing I was about to apologize for a second time. My throat felt so tight, like each word was a struggle to get out. I sighed and glanced down at my hands instead. I had no idea what to say.
Cal squeezed my hand again. Maybe he understood. I hoped he understood. “A lot has gone on,” he said instead, releasing me from having to figure out what words I was looking for. “Danny collected twenty or so rogue wolves from the New England area. Some of them were more local; Ben’s been harassing any and all wolves. Some were just friends who owed him one, I guess. They came with me; Ma and my father did, too.” Cal paused then, his nose wrinkling some. “Ben came after us. Or sent someone after us, the coward.”
I listened, simply rubbing my thumb over his knuckles as he spoke. It was easier than doing anything else. It was a lot. All of this information, it was just so much.
Cal kept speaking. “They’re here now. Working with Corin; they know how to take care of themselves, but it’s working with others, you know? They’re glad to be here. They’ll help us take back the Bridgehaven pack, and once we have the pack, we’ll be able to do something about these faerie courts…Seelie and Unseelie both.”
My head jerked up and I narrowed my eyes. His expression could only be read as ‘what?’ and I scowled. Who had he been scheming with? “Who the heck is going to lead all these wolves? You? Danny?” The rogues were Danny’s friends; would the rogues accept Cal? Would the Bridgehaven pack accept Danny?
Cal’s brows knit together and he gave me a look like I had started speaking in French. “You’re going to be the alpha, Liv. You are Bridgehaven’s alpha already.”
I balked and shook my head. “Don’t be ridiculous. I look nothing like an alpha.” I scoffed, shaking my head. I knew the prophecy — probably even better than my mate did — but there had never been a female alpha before, at least not one I’d ever heard of. Surely if I had alpha powers, I would have noticed them by now.
My mate simply lifted a brow. “What does an alpha look like?”
I opened my mouth and then I paused, pursing my lips. Ben looked the way he did with the help of some power potions from a nearby coven. My father could have passed for your average North Shore dad with silver hair. He looked fit, but not like someone who worked out. In shape. And Cal — I didn’t know for certain, but my mate had some damn powerful vibes, and I’d bet money on it — Cal was perhaps a bit fitter than my father. An inch or two shorter. Curly hair, a few tattoos…dark brown eyes. Dad’s were brown, too.
But that was it. Now that he’d asked, I realized I’d never met any other alphas to compare them to. Even when other pack alphas visited, it was usually only Dad who met with them. Mom — er, Lisa — might entertain their mate, if they came. Ben and I were firmly instructed to mind our own business and not bother the adults.
I ignored Cal’s smug look and shook my head. “Even if the pack would listen to me…” I had to pause for a sip of the water Maren had left me before she’d followed Seven out of the room to give me and Cal a bit of privacy. “This is crazy. We can’t… And my brother…” He wasn’t going to go belly up and just give over the pack because I asked.
Cal growled softly, hand tightening around mine. It almost hurt. “We have more friends here than you think,” he said, pushing back. “Witches. Fae. The few wolves here, too. Ben’s just juiced up, he doesn’t even really have a hold over the pack.” He had a point there, but I didn’t want to say anything. “If you ask them to, they’ll come with us.”
He tipped his head to one side. “Why what?”
“Why me? I’m not trained.” I bit the inside of my mouth. I had barely survived my encounter with the Unseelie Queen. Before that, Storm had kidnapped me with the ease of just picking up a child. “I’m not…tough. Or powerful. I’m no good at fighting.”
I was never any of those things. Prince Malachi had told me I was a quick learner, but so far I could only summon smoke. It wasn’t exactly useful, unless I wanted to put on a magic show.
Cal studied me for a moment, piercing eyes roving over my face. After a moment, he shrugged one shoulder. “Because you care about people. And you’re smart. Ben might be strong, but your brother is a fucking blockhead, and that Unseelie Queen?” He shook his head. “She’s mean as shit. Can’t speak for the Seelie Court, but if Malachi and Finola would rather throw behind you than their family, I’d take it.”
I sighed; it was my turn to squeeze his hand. “I could never be like her.”
My mate gave a firm nod. “Exactly. Exactly. That’s why. I mean, there’s the whole prophecy, sure.” The whole queen’s daughter thing, there was that. Female alpha. It meant something. “But you’re good people, Liv, and I think they’re tired of being led by people who aren’t.”
I worked my jaw for a moment, and then I gave a small nod. I couldn’t really argue with that. No matter how mediocre or average I felt in that particular moment, Cal was right. I’d never be like Queen Amira. I would never treat my pack the way Ben did, either. That was something I could hold on to.
After another moment, I gave a small nod, and tugged him a little closer. I stifled a yawn. “Stay with me?” I asked, voice small.
“Of course,” Cal said, letting go of my hand long enough to stand and kick off his shoes. He crawled beside me, as dainty and careful as I’d ever seen him.
My heart stuttered as I leaned back, wriggling into the sheets and the pillow. I tucked my head against Cal’s chest and inhaled deeply. Cal.
As long as I had him on my side, I’m sure we could figure out the rest.