|My Protector's Claim
Author: WA0520 PM
Anna didn't know she was a shifter until she was kidnapped and caged like an animal.But now she's free,saved by a man with glowing green eyes.The only problem now is,she doesn't know who she really is;or entirely understand her connection to her savior.Rated: Fiction M - English - Romance/Supernatural - Chapters: 31 - Words: 140,761 - Reviews: 134 - Favs: 181 - Follows: 101 - Updated: 06-26-12 - Published: 03-06-11 - Status: Complete - id: 2896746
|A+ A- Full 3/4 1/2 Expand Tighten|
17: The Party Turns Sour
Between the time Ty left and came back, I didn't do a whole lot. For a few moments, I just stood in the middle of the room. I had this ridiculous idea that if I touched anything the house might implode in on itself. The stupidity of the thought made me roll my eyes at myself; despite there being no one around to witness it.
Still, my steps were hesitant as I made to cross the room. On my way, though, my gaze caught sight of my reflection in a mirror hanging over a low dresser and I frowned. I'd noticed it while we were at the hotels every time I passed my reflection in the thousand of mirrors they have but here, surrounded by the pristine room, I looked considerably worse. I didn't look like myself anymore. My cheeks were more hallow, my eyes sunk in a little more and my black hair hung like curtains around my thin face. Plus, my skin looked like a thin sheet of paper covering my bones with nothing in between. The two weeks with Ty had probably done some good since I'd eaten real food for a change, but I had a hard time believing I could have been worse. I suspected my stomach was more concave than normal under Ty's shirt but I didn't feel like looking too closely into that.
Wait . . . Ty's shirt?
Dull red splotches spread over my cheeks as I flushed; realizing I'd been walking around in one of Ty's shirts and the plaid sleep pants. Now Ty's comment before he'd left about wearing pajamas tonight made more sense. Thankfully, no one else had mentioned it. Unless that's why they kept asking if I was his mate.
Shaking my head, I walked more quickly over to the door on the far side and opened it. A little relief swept through me when I found out it wasn't a walk-in closet. I'm not sure I would have been able to handle that. In all eighteen years of my life, I've never felt the urge to become obsessed with clothes. The relief was short lived, though, when I realized what was in it. My eyebrows shot up into my hairline in shock and I think my mouth might have dropped as well.
Almost three quarters of the entire closet was taken up by weird looking dresses. Some that no person would be caught dead in if they weren't at some kind of renaissance fair. Or if it was Halloween, of course. Maybe it was supposed to be a joke or Devlen's idea of women's clothing hadn't caught up with the times. Either way, I'd rather keep wearing the clothes I was in than try to put one of those . . . monstrosities on. Luckily, there were jeans as well as different t-shirts, tank tops, button downs, and a few sweatshirts shoved into the last quarter of the closet. I was surprised all of it looked like it would fit, but I wasn't about to question it.
Grabbing out a pair of jeans, a tank top, and a sweatshirt, I walked over to the dressers and started going through the drawers. I found some socks and underclothes folded neatly in the top drawer of the long dresser under the mirror. It was a bit creepy knowing someone had bought these with me in mind. Then again, it was more likely they bought it with my mother in mind and I just happened to be her double.
It probably wasn't best to dwell on it but I'd have to ask Ty about it. At least, I'd have to ask about the dresses. Did they really expect me to wear those?
I tried to imagine myself wearing one of them for a moment and failed miserably. Dresses had never been something I particularly enjoyed wearing and these were like dresses on steroids. Pushing the images away, I shook my head again and headed towards the bathroom door. I opened it and stepped inside, setting down the clothes in my arms on the clean, white marble countertop. Sometime during the day, my sleeve had slipped down over the bandages on my right arm—which explained why no one had asked about it—and, instead of pushing it back up, I carefully eased off the button down Ty had given me. The place where the wound was twinged a little with the movement of my arm, but, other than that, it wasn't too painful. Actually, the whole area around it—an area about as big as my hand spread out—seemed remarkably numb. I couldn't see any blood coming through the bandage, so maybe it was healing already. I didn't want to take the wrappings off yet, though, just in case it wasn't.
Once I'd checked it over to make sure it wasn't coming loose, I took a moment to search through the cabinets under the counter until I found what I needed. As best I could with one hand, I took one of the small, plastic garbage bags and wrapped it around where the white gaze covered my arm. It wasn't perfect but it would help keep water off of it while I took a shower.
After it was finished, I turned the water all the way to hot and stripped off the rest of my clothes. I didn't bother closing the door since it wasn't likely anyone but Ty would come in and I didn't have to worry about him walking in on me. He would notice the shower running.
Stepping into the shower, I let the scalding water pound against my skin, burning it. It turned my skin red from the heat and steam rose from each droplet. I didn't care too much, though. The thing I had missed most in the last year was being clean. Even after so long of being told I was nothing but an animal I never believed it. Psychological games didn't work on me too well. Still, that didn't stop me from smelling like one. It was something that had irritated me to no end. Despite the fact I'd taken showers most days since meeting Ty, I always felt the need to take another as soon as possible. Standing under the spray, I let the heat burn away the memories of those days. The days when the only thing I had to look forward to was the silence of the night and the company of the stars.
After a while, I forced myself to move and grabbed the shampoo someone had place in a holder attached to the tiled wall in the corner. I poured some in my hand and scrubbed my hair clean as well as I was able. There was conditioner and body wash as well and I used both just as thoroughly. None of it had any type of smell, but I could understand that since most of those who lived here had a much more advanced sense of smell than humans and things like perfumes and scented shampoos would be annoying. I remember one woman standing on the other side of my bars, staring like most did, when the wind changed and brought her scent straight towards me. I had to fight the urge to throw up at the mixture of the other smells around me and some sickly sweet perfume she'd coated herself with.
An hour had passed before I could make myself get out of the shower. My skin was flushed a deep red from the hot water and my fingers were like raisins. Grabbing a plush green towel from the cabinet built into the wall next to the shower I wrapped it around myself before stepping out onto the brown rug covering the tile. I dried off as quickly as possible, and then dressed in the clothes I had picked out. The jeans were a little loose but not by much and the black tank was just tight enough to make it noticeable that it would be an easy thing to count my ribs. It didn't matter, however, since the scarlet sweatshirt covered that easily.
The drawers in the bathroom, like the closet, had been stocked full with everything I needed to feel normal. Plus, some things that were completely unnecessary and others that were just embarrassing. I really hoped someone other than Devlen had done the shopping. There was no way I would be able to look him in the eye if he was the one picking out the feminine products. Ignoring that thought, I took a minute to brush my teeth, the mint of the toothpaste stinging the inside of my mouth, before I tried to do my hair.
After drying it as best I could, I hung the towel up on a hook next to the shower and then found a brush in one of the many drawers. For the past week and a half I'd been using my fingers and flimsy hotel combs to keep it from getting out of hand. Before that, it had been untouched since I'd been left in my cage. So, it wasn't much of a surprise when I ran the brush through my hair and there was a ripping sound as it caught on the knots in the tresses, pulling at my scalp. If I hadn't just taken a shower, it probably would have been worse but I still had to drag the brush through my hair and it still didn't work out too well. The fact that it was so long didn't help much either. Every time I let it grow out past my shoulders the waves became more defined and it was a lot more difficult to get the kinks out.
Five minutes later, I was still nowhere close to done despite the amount of hair I knew I had pulled out by the roots in my impatience. Sighing heavily and putting down the brush—more like throwing it down—I walked out of the bathroom and started going through drawers at random. Opening and closing them a little harder than necessary. I went through the nightstand, both dressers, and the small desk that was situated in front of one of the windows and still couldn't find what I needed. Just as I was slamming the last one closed a voice came from the now open doorway.
"What are you doing, Anna?" I spun around, still kneeling on the ground in front of the taller dresser, hands flat against the bottom drawer where I had pushed it close. Ty was standing just inside the room, leaning casually against the door frame with a slightly amused smile.
I frowned at him and stood up from my crouch. Of course, he'd think my frustration was amusing. "Do you know where I can find some scissors?"
He raised an eyebrow at me but answered anyway. "There is most likely a pair downstairs. Why?" he asked, cocking his head to the side.
"I need to cut my hair. It's too long." It wasn't hard to hear the irritation in my voice but the amusement didn't fade from his eyes.
Ty pushed himself away from the wall and walked slowly over to me until there were only inches between us and I had to crane my neck to look at his face. I didn't even notice him lift his hand until he was running his fingers through the still damp strands. His eyes followed the movement as he pulled them over my shoulder and watched as they fell across my chest. The longest of them falling all the way to the bottom of my ribs. "I like it like this," he said, seriously.
Of course, you do. "It's impossible like this."
Something between a laugh and a snort came out of him as he rolled his eyes at me. "Here," he said, pulling one of the chairs away from the window and spinning it around. "Sit." He pushed me down into the chair and then disappeared into the bathroom. When he came back he had the brush in his hand and he pulled the second chair around so he was sitting behind me.
"What are you doing?" I asked, starting to turn my head before he stopped me.
I heard a sigh from behind me. "Sit still, Anna." I huffed but did as he asked. It was a moment before I realized he was already running the brush through my hair. I could barely feel the tug of the teeth against it. There wasn't any pain like there was when I did it by myself. It was almost soothing in a way. "I used to do this for my sister after our mother died," Ty said, quietly.
"How did she die?" His hands faltered for a moment and I was glad I wasn't facing him right then. He continued brushing my hair but it took a second for him to speak.
"It was not uncommon for our people to die back then," he said, casually, but there was a waver in his voice he couldn't quite hide. No matter how long ago it was it was obvious he still missed her. I turned around in my seat so I could look at him, stopping his hands before taking the brush and setting it on the ground. Then my eyes locked on his and I rested my chin on my arms crossed over the back of the chair. "My mother got sick when I was ten. There were not many casters living here then. And even those that did were not healers. She died within weeks. A month later my father went with the Hunters into the woods just outside our territory. He got shot through the heart with an arrow. A one of the tribes was closer than we had realized and a group of their own hunters crossed his path when he split off from the others." A humorless laugh passed his lips and I frowned. "Not a bullet. A stupid arrow. Something he could have easily managed to dodge; if he had wanted."
My eyebrows creased in confusion at the last part and I couldn't help asking, "What do you mean?"
Ty looked at me with a week attempt at a smile, but he couldn't quite hide the pain in his eyes. "My father was not the same after our mother passed. There are some that believe he took that arrow on purpose. So he would not have to go on alone."
"And what do you think?"
His eyes drifted away from mine so he was staring over my shoulder. There was a brief moment of silence and then he said, "I would like to think it was an accident. However . . ." He brought his gaze back to mine and I could see the betrayal and understanding swimming in his eyes. "From the moment I realized you were my mate, I have known he meant to take that arrow. It would take a lot of strength to resists the opportunity if I were ever to be in his place. I admire and pity Devlen for his inability to take the same road."
"You—" I started but the sound of someone's footsteps on the stairs cut me off.
"I think it is time for us to go," he said, standing up and offering me his hand to lift me from my own seat. Then we walked out of my room, him one step behind me and neither of us touching the other.
Maybe I had the wrong image in my mind when Devlen had said 'celebration,' but it was more like a family reunion than anything else—if you had a really big family, that is. Most people were clueless as to the reason for this get together but they seemed excited all the same. I was just impressed they'd managed to put everything together with only a few hours notice.
The bonfire I'd seen while we'd been walking had been built up enough to keep it going the whole night; lighting a large circle around it. It was made even more eye-catching by the sky behind it. The sun had just started to dip beneath the horizon, making the west sky glow with reds and pinks that looked as if someone had painted them over the normal blue while the east was turning a deep purple. Smaller, cooking fires were set up around the outskirts of the main one with different types of meat roasting over them. Near the fires was a table over thirty feet long and filled with any type of food you could imagine. Seeing my astonishment, Ty had leaned down to me to explain that Colton, the one responsible for cooking most of the food in front of us, had been doing this for so long he could probably make a meal for two hundred in under an hour. In his sleep.
While I was amazed at the whole thing, though, on the inside I was freaking out. If I hadn't gotten so good at not allowing others to see my emotions when I didn't want them to, I think I might have had a panic attack. There were more people here than there was in my entire school. Hundreds of them all crowding into the lit area. Despite there being tons of houses, I couldn't imagine them fitting all these people. What made it worse was since I was with Devlen, every one of them was staring at me.
When Ty and I had come downstairs—right behind a boy who had come up to get us only to turn and run back around at the sight of us—Devlen was there, waiting. He had beckoned me to his side as we reached the bottom step and then led me towards the door. Ty stayed close behind me but I wished he could just walk next to us. I had the sense I'd feel a lot more comfortable if he could and less like an awkward duckling. Devlen tried talking to me. He asked if I enjoyed my tour and whether or not I liked my room. Other than that, however, we didn't have much to say to one another. Devlen still needed to know what had happened to me before we had a chance of getting anywhere close to a having a relationship of any kind. But, even if I could bring myself to tell this stranger my story, it would have to wait for another day.
So, after the initial small talk, we walked in relative silence the rest of the way. Like everything else, it wasn't far from Devlen's so at least it wasn't a long walk.
By the time we got there, everyone else had already positioned themselves around the circle. You would have thought that, at a celebration, the people would be celebrating. However, as we walked closer, I noticed every single person was standing still and silent. Even the children. Despite their passiveness, they looked excited for not knowing why they were there and the air around them was practically humming with energy. Still, the fires burned all around, filling the air with the smell of cooking meat, and not one person moved to touch the food. They were all just waiting.
I understood why, though, once we got closer. Those nearest to us started moving out of the space in front of us, making a path to the center of the circle for Devlen. This was most likely what they always did before the festivities began; waited for their leader to kick it off. For a second, I hesitated at the edge of the crowd but Ty pushed me forward lightly to follow after my father. I did so, reluctantly. Whispers started up amongst those we passed at once, spreading out towards the ones who couldn't see all of what was happening and melting into a jumble of different voices. I didn't have to look at them to see what had broken their silence; I could already feel their eyes on me.
Crowds and attention don't bother me. Not usually. I've never had stage fright before. Being there right then, however, I would imagine it is similar to what I was feeling at that moment. My hands felt sweaty and dry all at the same time and my heart was skipping around like an offbeat drum. I'm sure over fifty percent of those around me were able to sense my nervousness, despite the fact that I was keeping my face carefully blank. Surprisingly, even knowing Ty was standing right behind me wasn't much comfort once we were standing in the middle of the circle and I was forced to turn to face the hundreds of pairs of eyes trained on me.
Thankfully, at that moment, Devlen spread his arms wide as if to give everyone around him a hug and a hush fell over the gathered people. His eyes swept over them and when he spoke his voice could only be described as regal. "Brothers and sisters. Friends. We are not strangers to misfortune. Every one of us has been faced with loss or hardship at one point in our lives and it is likely we will go through it again," he said slowly while the crowd stood before him in silent rapture. "I myself had my daughter taken just at the beginning of her young life. Not long after, my mate left this world in search of the next.
"But today is not a day of remorse but of rejoice and celebration. Today, a new member, Aryanna, joins our clan. Despite her brief time on this earth she has suffered much. More than many, much older than her can claim. Until recently, she has been unaware of our existence, but now she has returned to us." Devlen was speaking so smoothly I almost didn't notice the implication behind his words. I hadn't said anything about not knowing about shifters before my change to him. My eyes flickered over to where Ty was standing, but he casually avoided my gaze. Clearly, I knew what their little discussion had been about now.
Devlen continued, still in the same steady voice, though now it seemed to echo in the evening air. "And yet, she stands before us whole, despite spending the last year in confinement. Our world is strange to her though she is not a stranger to us." Some of those gathered seemed to have caught onto the double meaning in his words as well and started whispering again. "We do not only welcome her, but also welcome her back. For sixteen years she has been absent from our folds and now she has returned; safe if nothing else. My daughter has finally come back to us."
Silence greeted the announcement, everyone stuck in astonishment and disbelief. Then someone in the middle started to clap and it pretty much snowballed from there, sending people cheering. I saw one woman start crying but most others were smiling. The children that didn't really know what was going on were giggling together while they watched the adults. Looking over at Ty, I saw him grinning from ear to ear. He caught me watching and winked, his green eyes glowing brighter in the firelight. I doubt he realized what I was feeling just then, though.
Why were all these people so happy that I was here? They knew nothing about me. I was a stranger, even if Devlen didn't think so. And yet I stood here before them with their eyes fixed on me like I was their best friend come back from the dead.
I'm not sure how long the celebration lasted. The full moon had almost reached its apex in the sky by the time I looked up again. It reminded me of the night I'd howled to the moon nearly a month ago, the night the wolves had answered my call with Ty. It also incredibly ironic since I was in the middle of a bunch of shifters and not one of them seemed affected by it. How disappointed would the humans be if they knew?
Ty hadn't been joking with me when he said that shifter celebrations were purely casual. Once the shock of everything had worn off I noticed what those around me were wearing. Or more like what they weren't wearing. Almost none of the men had shirts on. They wore pants but, other than that, nothing. Not even shoes. And the women wore dresses or shirts that were either backless or only covered half of their back. It didn't take long for me to figure out they were showing off the designs etched into their backs, each one with a remarkable amount of detail. Some were elaborate enough to cover their entire backs and more while others only had the image burned into a small area like Ty's. Those that hadn't shifted yet, which I could easily pick out from the faintness of the wild in their blood, wore normal clothes like me and Ty. It was something of a blessing when Ty kept his own shirt on. I'm not sure I would have been completely in control of my actions had he chosen not to.
Devlen introduced me to a lot of people and many more came over to meet me themselves. Only a few of them truly stuck in my head, however.
The most vivid was Kaia. As soon as things had calmed down and people had spread out to eat while a small group began making unfamiliar music on a kind of drum I'd never seen before, she had walked right up to us. She didn't even say hello, just came over to Ty and hit him in the back of the head. My eyes widened in alarm but then she started chastising him in such a way that it sounded like she was his mother. Ty didn't seem hurt so my only worry was trying not to laugh when he looked over at me and rolled his eyes.
After she left, a woman I hadn't seen before walked toward us. I guess I remember her more than the others because she was so much older. Well, she looked older at least. While most of those that surrounded me looked as if they couldn't have been more than twenty-something, this woman was clearly in her late fifties. Her auburn hair was streaked with strands of white and gray and wrinkles marred what once must have been a beautiful face. She introduced herself as Amelia and, Ty explained she was one of the casters that had taken refuge here. Or to be more precise, a Wiccan; one of the casters that specialized in healing spells. She only talked to me for a minute but she made an impression even if she wasn't trying. When she said goodbye, however, I wasn't sure if that impression was good or bad.
There was also the couple we'd come across earlier, Oliver and Lenna. Now that they realized who I was, the suspicion left their eyes completely. They looked nothing but happy as they welcomed me back. Oliver reached out to give Ty a slap on the back murmuring words I almost didn't catch. "I'm sorry I doubted you." He may have looked a tad bit guilty as well as Ty smiled and waved off the words, though I may have imagined that.
The last was a man. He was a shifter and, judging by scent alone, he didn't turn into a fluffy bunny when he changed. I couldn't have guessed how old he was but I had the feeling he was at least younger than Ty. His hair was a strange mix of brown and blond; like he'd gotten highlights, though considering where we were it was most likely natural. He had it cut short on the sides and just a bit longer on topped, spiked up so the different colors were clearly visible. Below that, he had blue eyes as dark as Devlen's were light. The deep night almost made them look purple, black even. However, the most startling thing about him was the intricate designs that spread over his skin. Not just on his back but over his chest and face as well. Plus, instead of the design being black or silver like some I'd seen or just scarred skin like Ty's, they were a dark blue that matched his eyes. Not one other person around had tattoos like he did.
Devlen seemed especially pleased by his presence for some reason. Ty, on the other hand, looked to be the complete opposite. In fact, I think he'd rather rip the guy's throat out than be near him. It was weird to see when Ty was usually so calm. The only time I'd felt anger like that coming from him was just after I'd been shot and he'd wanted to go chase down the ones who'd done it. But this man, Troy, hadn't done anything but say hello. At least not until Devlen had turned his back. Then he glowered at Ty with such hate it would have surprised me if Ty wasn't looking at him with the same expression.
I don't think Troy meant for me to see it because as soon as he noticed my gaze he smiled brightly and bowed in front of me, his right fist coming up to cover his heart. Then he said he would see me soon and left without another word.
"What was that about?" I asked, turning to face Ty. He didn't answer the question. Just shook his head saying he'd tell me later.
After a while, Devlen left me to enjoy myself. In a way, I was glad for that since I still had no idea what to make of the man. Ty stayed by my side the whole night, though. And I was grateful he did. While I'd rather not have Devlen hanging over my shoulder I still had no idea who anyone was and it was nice to know that I at least had him there. The only bad thing was his protectiveness seemed worse since I'd run away.
I couldn't really blame him for that though.
A few times people had grabbed me by my bad arm in order to get my attention, since I was holding a small plate of food in the other, and Ty would tense beside me each time it happened. At first, it had been a bit painful, like getting pinched in the same spot over and over, but as the night wore on the numbness spread so that it was hardly noticeable. Just after the last one left, a man with a surprisingly strong grip that had circled my arm just above the spot where the bullet wound was, Ty stepped forward and placed his hand lightly on my shoulder. Lowering his voice so that be the only one who could hear him he asked, "How is your arm?" for what was probably the millionth time.
Instead of just saying fine like I had every time before since the night began, I took a moment to think about it. "Numb," I said, finally. My voice came out a little softer than I'd meant it to and Ty cocked his head to the side as he looked down at me. While I'd been unaware of it, the numbness in my arm had spread away from my elbow, creeping into the tips of my fingers and up towards my shoulder, slowly stretching farther. Suddenly, I felt a little dizzy. The music coming from the drums felt like it was beating against the inside of my head and the people dancing looked blurred around the edges.
I looked away from them and back at Ty since he was the only thing that really seemed solid now. His brow creased as he watched the expressions on my face. He opened his mouth but if he said anything it was lost on me. Blood was pounding in my ears, blocking out the rest of the world. I tried shaking my head to get rid of the feeling but it only made it worse. My vision narrowed further and the vertigo made me sway on my feet. Ty caught me before I could reach the ground, but I still felt like I was falling, somehow.
The last thing I remember is Ty's anxious face as he mouthed soundless words. Then darkness closed over my sight completely and the world faded into nothing.