SHERRY L. BROWN
STATE OF INDEPENDENCE
The pain in my shoulder is more than I can really bear. Fire radiating in waves from the center, making me dizzy and nauseated and unable to do much more then grit my teeth and breathe in short convulsing breaths, anticipating the pain that comes with each wave.
I try not to breathe or move at all. Any movement causes the pain of a hot poker in my back shoulder blade. It is unbelievably mind numbing. I try concentrating on taking shallow breaths – but feel like I am not getting enough oxygen – and panic is setting in.
I must black out. Time moves. Disoriented, I look around to see a large bathroom that is in chaos. A plastic bin has been placed near my feet, and since my head is angled down, it is the first thing that registers. Towels haphazardly hang out of it, as if they were thrown at the bin in haste. I am shivering even though my back feels inflamed with heat. My left shoulder is digging into…plywood. I see its wood pattern as I glance down and I see my right hand there too. It seems disassociated from my body, and it takes me a few slow seconds to recognize it as my own.
Gingerly drawing my head back to take in what I can, I have to pause for what feels like hours while the pain simmers back down to something manageable.
Directly across from where I lay is a dual sink countertop with white cabinets beneath it. I can make out the mirror and the lights above it. A bathroom then. I can hear voices, whispers really, from somewhere above my head. I breathe shallowly and try to concentrate on them, but I am not able to concentrate beyond the pain and frustration swirling in my stomach.
I must make some infinitesimal sound, alerting someone to my consciousness, because footsteps sound on the tile. A pair of legs enters my plane of vision, clothed in dark slacks. Those legs bend, and a handsome face replaces them in my field of vision. The handsome face of my brother-in-law swims blearily in front of me. His brow is furrowed in concern and his hand stretches out to claim mine. It is warm. But comforting.
“Indy. Listen to me. You have to shift.”
His eyes are iridescently blue. I know he is trying to tell me something important but I just can’t seem to hold on to any of my thoughts, they are too nebulous. Flitting at the back of my mind, but I can’t grasp one.
I feel some strange energy tingling up my hand into my arm. I don’t want to shift, I want to die.
This energy Grayson pushes into my body gives me clarity. I have found a thought. And I can see him. His brown hair is sticking out in odd angles, his dark eyebrows angular slashes above his eyes, his straight nose with it’s one bump, and this close up I can make out the individual hairs that make up the stubble on his angular jaw. Lucky bastard. He’d been hit with the pretty stick. This is only the second time I have met him. The first was when I was five at the funeral for my mother. My gaze had been glued to him then. He was an imposing figure in his dark suit. The only superhero I’d met in my short life. I probably shouldn’t have such an ingrained memory of him from twelve years ago. But he made an impression. And he hasn’t changed at all. I still feel a flutter of hero worship in my heart.
“Grayson.” I feel my lips curve in a smile. I feel triumphant for being able to speak.
“Grayson,” I start again. “Let me go. I’m ready.” I feel euphoric. This is right.
A questioning look crosses his face, then is quickly replaced with anger.
“No.” He yells and squeezes my hand, another stab of energy reverberating up my arm. This one feels like I have shaken hands with one of those jokers that puts an electric buzzer in the palm of their hand. It travels up to my elbow and over my shoulder reverberating as it goes. But it is still enough of a jolt that fresh pain from my shoulder blade has me breathing through my nose.
Ah. Poor hero. He doesn’t understand. They never do.
Another set of footsteps on the tile. These are sharper – high heels. Grayson has not let go of my hand. A pair of legs appears behind Grayson’s head. These are very clearly feminine and encased in a silk dress - fancy.
My sister’s face appears next to her husband’s. We don’t resemble each other at all - products of two different fathers. Where she is dark haired and regal with warm honey eyes, I am short, with golden blond locks and green eyes.
Every muscle in my body tenses, some to the point of shake. I can feel the change coming upon me, but I am in so much pain I am beyond focus. I have shut my eyes against it, but bursts of light fly behind my eyelids. In addition to the fire like pain radiating out from my right shoulder to encompass my whole body, I am feeling sick to my stomach. Grayson must see and understood my facial expression, because before I can say anything I am staring at the pitiful little bit of yellow bile my stomach splatters on the white tile floor, while he holds my hair back.
The nausea passes, and I gratefully lay back on the makeshift operating table. I am able to take a somewhat deep breath and slow understanding dawns that Grayson has stopped pushing his energy into me to force me to shift. The respite is pure relief. I close my eyes.
I must pass out then for when I open my eyes the first thing I see is an upside down forest and the sight forces me to squeeze my eyes shut as another wave of nausea overtakes me. I focus on other sensations to take my mind off the pain and dizziness.
I am chilled; a strong arm at my back and below the crook of my knees. My head bobbing like a cork as whoever holds me walks along. The usual quietness that accompanies a forest at night and a werewolf walking through the woods are all that can be heard. His breath is easy, I am no burden for a him. My shoulder and arm are numb, and when I take an accounting of the rest of my body, I can neither feel my right leg nor my right side, numbness has taken the place of the pain, and I am terribly tired. I know I would not be able to walk had the man carrying me set me down. And he does just that; placing me softly on my left side. I can smell the clean scent of pine needles and when I crack my eyes open can see the darkened canopy of treetops silhouetted against a lighter night sky. Maybe closer to dawn then. Grayson’s worried visage comes into my field of vision. He doesn’t say anything. His lips are pressed into a grim line. He wears no shirt.
Even in my state, I am momentarily distracted by this. The epitome of the male form. His skin is hot liquid over polished steel. His lips are pressed into a grim line. He drops down beside me and puts the palms of his hand to each side of my head. Warmth and strength suffuses me. His eyes are electric, staring straight at me. He doesn’t say a word, only inhales deep. Closes his eyes. And with his exhale I am hit with the full force of his power, the electric pain forcing me to squeeze my eyes shut.
I awake slowly, in wolf form. I shakily climb to my four feet and whimper at the pain that slices through my shoulder at the movement. The pine needles below my feet smell heavenly, and the warm fur next to me even more so. It smells like home. I am able to take a deep breath.
The first since Emily’s dagger plunged into my back.
It burns and aches, but the fire is cleansing, not poisonous. Grayson licks my face in obvious happiness. Dark clouds encroach into my outer vision, and though I shake my muzzle in an effort to stave them off, it is a wasted effort and the blackness claims my consciousness.
I spend the next three weeks in a weird haze. My brain seems disjointed from my body, perhaps because the pain and healing are too much for it to comprehend. I alternate between sleeping in the guest bed to sitting on a wicker chair on the porch – where I can breathe the fresh air and see the forest and it’s varying states. From shadowy dawn to golden twilights I watch. Some days I sit in the grass of Glory’s garden, looking up to the sky, thinking my body isn’t enough to hold me, that I can just float up and away, joining the clouds. A numbness has permeated my body and despite the efforts of Glory, Grayson or Marc, I remain numb.