Taïga is up early after spending the night tossing and turning, haunted by disturbing dreams of Derek. Derek holding her against him, Derek kissing her… the dreams becoming nightmares filled with Mrs. Darnell turning into Elspeth, beckoning for Derek, laughing at her, calling her a stupid kid.
Even after waking up, the image of Derek hovering between Mrs. Darnell and Elspeth’s bare legs continues haunting her. She has to get out, clear her thoughts. Silently she gets up and pulls on her jodhpurs and a thick sweater. She tiptoes out of her room, carrying her riding boots in her hands.
She knows that she’s not allowed to ride Chuck’s horse, but after what she saw last night she needs to get away from the farm at least for a couple of hours. Do something reckless that shows that she’s not the little Miss Perfect everybody thinks she is.
She trudges through the snow, kicking up puffs of powdery white with each step. As she has stable duty today, nobody will be any wiser – she has just to get back before everyone starts moving around. Which will be rather late, as it’s Sunday, she reasons. Just a nice jog through the crisp countryside to change ideas. And Freebird needs to get some exercise too, Chuck having been too busy to ride him regularly this week.
She stops in front of the large doors to the barn that also makes office as stable.
Curious, the doors are unlatched…
She rubs her hands, the cold already biting through her mittens, and pulls the door slightly open. There are no sounds coming from inside, except the reassuring movements of the two horses. Hesitantly, she slides through the small gap, unsure of what she’ll find inside.
She doesn’t expect to see the person she wants to avoid at any cost asleep in the hay, with Freebird roaming freely in the stable. She stops on the threshold, taking in the scene.
Wow. He’s out cold… I hope he feels real sick when he wakes up.
Frowning, she closes the door behind her and approaches the sleeping figure.
She studies his face, so peaceful without the ever present frown. She refrains from touching the smooth skin between his eyebrows, letting her eyes roam over his muscular chest and his ripped stomach, his torn pants riding low on his hips… Seeing the red marks on his chest she swallows, backing away.
Mrs. Darnell didn’t go easy on him last night… She bites her lip. Not that I care…
Gratifying thoughts of her transforming the blond woman into something really slimy flash through her mind and she smiles grimly. Freebird is getting impatient. Roughly he nudges the young girl’s back, making her stumble forward and fall. Catching her balance with her hands on each side of Derek’s face, she holds her breath but he doesn’t budge. He just mumbles something incoherent and resumes snoring softly.
God, if I could strangle him in his sleep… But he’ll probably just wake up and… and… Whatever.
She scrambles to her feet, trying not to touch him.
I’ll better get moving before he decides to emerge from whatever condition he’s in.
The horse snorts, nudging her again. Caressing the large head she grabs his forelock, guiding him towards his box.
The large horse follows eagerly the young girl into his box, knowing he’d be brushed. The horse’s long ears twitch, listening to Taïga’s low reassuring voice as she tacks him up.
‘I’ll just take you for a quick jog around the farm, you see. Nothing extraordinary… ’ She strains to tighten the saddle-girth. ‘Not that we will stay out too long, we’ll better get back before everyone wakes up…’
She tries to justify her actions, knowing full well that she’ll be in trouble if she gets caught. With beating heart, she pats the horse on the neck.
She passes the reins over his head and is leading him out of the box when someone suddenly grabs her shoulder. Startled, she gasps, letting go of the reins.
‘Where are you going?’ a familiar hoarse voice asks.
Derek! She goes from scared to angry. ‘Do you have to creep up on people like this?’ She tries to shrug off his hand, ‘Take your hands off me, you… you drunken perv!’
Derek’s hand slips off her as if he just burnt himself.
Furious she turns around to face him. ‘How could you? With Mrs. Darnell of all people!’ Tears are threatening but he mustn’t see her cry… She fumbles for the reins, angrily rubbing her eyes.
‘Mrs. Darnell?’ Derek searches through the foggy goo his brain has become, trying to focus on Taïga’s huge hurtful eyes. ‘Err… She was-’ There? No. That doesn’t sound good, making him look like he’s bedding anyone coming his way. Even if there’s some truth to it – at least last night.
He tries again, ‘She is a… ’ A seductive, kind of attractive woman. Uh-oh, can’t highlight Honey too much either, or she’ll think he’s in love or something. Not that he cares what she thinks.
He clears his throat, ‘… a blonde.’ He grimaces. God. Now she’ll think he’s plain ass stupid.
‘Right. And-’ I had to let off some steam. ‘Shit! I can’t say that.’
‘Say what? That you’re a sucker for blondes? Don’t worry, I’ve already figured that out myself.’ Taïga spits, trying to calm Freebird who’s dancing around, feeling the tension in the air.
OMG. Did I just say that out loud? He glances at the bottle he’s still holding in his left hand. I’ll never drink again. Promise.
‘Err… What? Yeah.’ God… he needs something to drink. Water. Bucket loads of water.
Taïga just stares after him. He acted like a total jerk last night, and now he’s turning his back on her? She had expected anything but this. ‘Are you kidding me?’
‘Geez!’ He passes a hand in his tousled hair. ‘Just forget it, kiddo.’
‘I’ve already told you to stop calling me that!’
‘Then stop acting like one and grow up!’ Derek grumbles, leaning against the wooden plank of the box. It helps some to keep the dang floor from moving in waves… Why does she make him feel so damn guilty? They’re not a couple or anything. Or anything… ‘Shit.’
Taïga holds on to Freebird who is now rolling his eyes and raising his head high, backing a few steps. She pulls at the reins, glaring angrily at Derek.
‘Grow up? I’m more grown up than you would think!’ she blurts out.
Derek suddenly feels completely sober. What the heck did she just say?
‘Has that Fairview moron touched you?’ he hisses.
Taïga avoids meeting his eyes. She didn’t actually mean what he thinks she did, but what the hell. ‘It’s none of your business.’
Derek steps closer. ‘Look at me,’ his voice is a low menacing growl, ‘Has he touched you?’
Taïga stares back, opening her mouth to say something but bites her tongue. If she tells the truth, he’ll laugh at her, and she can’t bear that. Not now when he’s finally dropping that flip attitude of his. It feels kind of good to see him so jealous. If that’s what he is…
Derek stares at her, opening and closing his fists. Suddenly his attitude changes drastically. Backing away out of reach of the prancing horse, he looks her over and snorts.
‘I don’t know why I should bother. You’re fifteen after all, it’s not a crime.’
He squints at her, waiting for a reaction. When she continues ignoring him, the effing horse getting more attention than he does, he raises the bottle and takes a swig. All thoughts about never drinking again are forgotten.
‘But I didn’t think you were that kind of girl…’ he says, trying to provoke her, his lips thin and white. ‘To lose it on a backseat…’
‘Enough!’ She raises her hand to slap him but he bends backwards just out of reach.
‘You’ve tried that once already,’ he drawls. ‘It’s getting annoying.’
Taïga maneuvers the jumpy horse between herself and Derek, swiftly mounting before hungover Derek has a chance to try to stop her. She swings the excited horse round, making Derek scramble back and fall.
‘Go to hell, Derek Vargas.’ She leans down and unlatches the barn doors, ‘Or back to Mrs. Darnell! Or Elspeth! Whoever!’
The horse circles around, prancing, but his young rider doesn’t seem to notice the danger of the powerful animal ready to go, her attention finally on Derek and Derek alone.
Her lower lip is quivering but her voice cuts like knives, ‘I don’t want to see you ever again!’
Kicking her heels into the sides of Freebird, he literally explodes out of the barn, setting off through the falling snow towards the forest…
Derek stops on the threshold, covering his eyes against the whiteness of the snow.
My head! I’ll never drink again…
He can’t see Taïga anymore, only the cloud of powdery white reared up by the horse’s hooves. Squinting after the vanishing horse, he shudders.
She’ll soon cool down… Better give her some space, I’ll explain -or apologize- later…
Taïga was right about nobody noticing her taking the horse out. Nobody is asking for her whereabouts as it was her turn to do stable duty. Derek thinks briefly about waiting for her, but he knows how stubborn she can be. Better let her cool off alone. And he’s seriously in need off sleeping the alcohol off anyway. His head feels like the brains will fall out with his every move and he’ll need a whole tube of toothpaste to erase the evil taste in his mouth. She’ll never listen to him in this state, and he’ll probably just talk a lot of senseless gibberish like this morning anyhow. Better put all chances on his side, he thinks, sauntering off to bed and soon dozing off into a dreamless oblivion.
Neither Taïga, nor Derek, shows up for lunch and it’s early afternoon when Johnny goes to check on the horses, having heard a blizzard warning on the radio. To his surprise he finds Freebird trotting to and fro in front of the barn, his legs menacing to get tangled in the hanging reins with each step.
Calming the sweating horse, he quickly checks him for injuries. Chuck has heard the newscast and comes to check the barn. He hastens his pace when he catches sight of Johnny and the shivering horse.
‘What the heck is going on? Who took him out for a ride?’
‘I don’t know. He’s OK, but…’ Johnny lets the sentence hang in the air.
‘Take him in and rub him off. I’ll round up the guys to see who’s missing. Who’s on stable duty?’
‘Send her back in-’ Chuck is already half running towards the house, ‘-and don’t forget to secure the doors, it’s a big one coming!’
Chuck rounds up the teens and immediately notices that Derek and Taïga are the only ones missing. He sends Teddy to find his brother, bawling the others out for not telling him that someone took off for a ride. Leaving Johnny and the teens taking care of adding blankets and a first aid kit to the truck, he hurries to call the police from his office.
Teddy comes rushing into their room, intent on waking his brother. When Derek just turns his back on him, pulling the blanket up over his head, Teddy resolutely tears it away. Swearing, Derek hides his head under his pillow, feeling like he was about to die.
‘Go away. Let me die in peace…’ his muffled voice is barely audible.
‘It’s important.’ Teddy shakes the bed angrily, ‘It’s Taïga! I’ll make you some coffee! Get a move on!’
Consciousness assaults him and he almost falls out of bed in his haste to get up. After splashing some cold water on his face, he joins the others in the living room. Teddy puts a mug of hot coffee in his hands and presses him down in an armchair, giving him a quick topo, but Derek has trouble understanding, his headache acting like some effing firewall. Teddy has to repeat everything at least three times before it finally settles in.
Taïga is not sulking in the stables. She didn’t come back.
Taïga has gone missing.
Even though Derek has slept through the whole morning he is still feeling queasy. He tries to gather his spirits but his head aches so much it feels like it’s going to explode as soon as he moves. Everybody’s talking at the same time and Chase is crying. Elspeth is throwing meaningful glances at him every two seconds, but he ignores her, downing his coffee.
Why did she do such a reckless thing? Setting off into a snow storm! But how could she have known when even I didn’t. Fucking alcohol dampened my senses and I didn’t smell the storm coming… Why didn’t I stop her? Or follow her? Instead of trying to hurt her, sending her away…
He debates with himself whether he should tell Chuck about their argument this morning, but decides against it. Teddy has filled his cup again, but he doesn’t think his stomach can take any more of the strong black beverage.
I acted like a real jerk…
He knows full well who’s to blame, he just doesn’t need to hear it…
It’s my fault… I made her leave…
Nauseous, he leans against the window, the cool glass helping some in his attempt at trying to clear his thoughts.
The Sheriff’s office finally calls back and Chuck and Johnny inform the teens about their decision to join the police forces in the search of Taïga, even if it implies leaving them on their own riding out the blizzard. Their announcement rises a storm of protests. The kids don’t want to stay inactive.
‘The storm is getting fiercer, there’s no way we’re letting you out there getting lost too!’ Chuck explains.
‘Yeah,’ Johnny adds gruffly. ‘Somebody should stay here if she comes back by her own.’
‘Chase and Elspeth can stay, but let us help you!’ Teddy insists, joined by VJ and Thomas.
‘Misogynist crap!’ Elspeth splutters, even if she’s secretly happy about staying at home. Her friends must all be crazy wanting to get out in the cold searching for Taïga of all people.
‘Yeah.’ Chase agrees, not knowing full well what she agrees with.
‘Me too! I can stay!’
Everybody turns and stares at Jupiter, who shrugs.
Derek doesn’t listen. Who cares who’s staying? The sheriff’s bringing in dogs, and they’ll soon get here. Then it will be too late for him to get out. Too late for him to turn.
He doesn’t know if he’s able to transform anyway, hung over as he is. But the only thing holding him back so far is the full moon. He’s afraid that he might not be able to control himself if –when– he finds her. Especially if she’s bleeding. But the storm is rapidly covering her tracks, and if he continues hesitating, he won’t be able to pick up a scent.
I’m outta here…
He pushes away from the window, leaving a misty mark from his warm breath. The discussion about setting up the search party is heated, everybody giving their opinion about who should stay. Chuck tries in vain to get himself heard, his decision that none of the teens are supposed to help searching meeting fierce resistance. Nobody, not even Teddy, notices Derek silently leaving the room.
He takes the stairs in two steps, almost tearing off the handle in his haste to open the door to Taïga’s room. He pulls out her drawers, burying his face in her favorite grey sweater to memorize her scent before facing the blizzard. He gets out through the backdoor, stopping only to watch the dim lights of the Sheriff’s cars approaching. Running off into the thickening snow, his body shifts into a wolf without a break in his stride, his footprints quickly erased by an onslaught of fresh white snow.
The blizzard has effectively covered the tracks, but the wolf’s nose is finely tuned and it knows which direction the young girl took. It follows the track in a steady lope, its big paws leaping easily on the hard crust of the snow. It is running on its toes as all wolves do, lengthening the already long legs and making it possible to run faster, covering the distance to the river in less time than it took for the horse to gallop there. The wolf doesn’t have to stop and listen, it can even hear rodents scurrying away under the thick snow, and it knows it will hear the girl breathe if she’s alive. The wolf’s sensitive nose is never more than a few inches from the ground, analyzing every scent the white landscape has to offer as it mercilessly tracks its prey.
The full moon has not yet risen when the wolf reaches the old abandoned cemetery by the river, but it immediately senses that something is wrong. It stops, pricking up its round ears. The wolf’s attention is drawn towards a huge ash tree, the dead branches unnaturally still in the howling wind. It switches its attention to the almost invisible lump at its roots.
A lump with a faint heartbeat.
The wolf lunges forward, but is whimpering knocked back. It tries again but as the heartbeat grows fainter, the maleficent force surrounding the dead tree increases and keeps pushing the wolf back. Growling, all hairs on end making the grey wolf seem even bigger, it starts circling the tree at a safe distance.
Unable to get through, the wolf rises its nose towards the slate grey sky, all its desperation contained in the mournful howl. It rises and falls, hauntingly clear it marries the wail of the wind.
The heart seems to skip a beat, then it speeds up. The wolf doesn’t fully understand what is happening but instinct keeps it howling again and again until the steady heartbeat has diminished the magic force keeping the wolf out. It senses the breach and whining and whimpering it advances, almost crawling towards the small snow-covered lump.
The wolf sniffs around and starts to dig. It doesn’t take long before Taïga’s frozen body is uncovered.
The dangerous predator smells her face, making sure she’s still breathing. It can hear the girl’s heart beating faintly, knowing she won’t last long in this cold. Her eyes flutter but she doesn’t wake up when he tentatively licks the blood from the numerous scratches on her cheeks, whimpering softly.
It tries to roll and push her away from the huge malevolent tree, but the girl is kept prisoner by forces a simple wolf can’t fight. Realizing it can’t move the body, it raises its head to the sky once again howling mournfully.
Whimpering, the huge wolf lies down as close as it can to Taïga’s limp body. Covering the young girl with its woolly fur, it tries to share its own warmth. Dogs are approaching. And with dogs are men. It knows it has to keep the girl alive until the men comes, hoping there are no guns. The wolf is afraid of guns, it has a scar on its shoulder to prove what happens when men with guns hunt.
The full moon is rising, it can feel it. The wolf knows that the girl will die if it leaves her. But what will happen if it stays, letting the full moon take what is owed? With a sigh the wolf puts its nose on its paws, waiting.
The wolf doesn’t have to wait for long.
The dark skies effectively hide the rising satellite, but the wolf can sense its presence in the sky. It is tearing at his insides, forcing him against his will to change into an unimaginable terror, a wild beast ready to wreak death and destruction along his path.
With a mixture of a howl and a spine-tingling scream of pain, the beast breaks free of its animal bond. The bloodcurdling howl is being heard for miles around, sending the Sheriff’s dogs whimpering back to their masters with their tail between their legs.
The werewolf grunts, smelling blood but also something else it doesn’t know. Something undefinable that unsettles him. He growls, sniffing the air. Looking at the defenseless prey at his feet, he waits for it to run so he can pounce. But it doesn’t move. It looks dead, but he can hear the heart beating. The heart. He wants to rip it out and sink his fangs into the warm bloody organ still pumping…
The werewolf sniffs the air. The smell of Taïga’s blood is unbearable and drooling he pounces, reaching out to rip her head off. But something about this prey makes him hesitate. He draws back, nervously pacing a few feet away. The smell stirs memories – laughter in the woods, chocolate chip cookies, the crashing of waves and joyful screaming. Music. Her body soft and warm in his arms, swaying. Her hair…
Confused he sinks to his knees next to the girl. He sniffs her hair, fighting his instincts with all his willpower not to feed on her. She smells so good… He needs to feed. He must eat. He must kill her. Kill. Her.
Growling he shakes his head. No. Don’t. Kill. Ta-ee-guh.
Bewildered he watches the frozen girl. Taïga.
Tentatively he touches her cold cheek, growling softly. He sniffs her hair, letting his nostrils fill with her familiar scent, awakening memories in a part of him that seemed to be forever lost. He grabs her shoulder with infinite precaution, making sure his claws doesn’t tear into her flesh.
But Taïga’s lifeless body is still held prisoner of the evil forces that are slowly killing her and the werewolf has to use all his supernatural force just to hold her in his arms. Whimpering he rocks back and forth, each movement unchaining the young girl. Hugging her to his chest, it feels like he was made for this moment. Made to save her, to keep her body warm…
Taïga stirs, opening her eyes. She stares at the werewolf in disbelief, wanting to scream but being too exhausted for anything but a faint croak.
‘Please… Please, don’t hurt me…’ she whispers before her eyes roll backwards and she loses consciousness again.
The few seconds Taïga came to her senses were enough for the werewolf to drag her out of the old ash tree’s reach. Hoisting his precious burden on his powerful shoulders, he sets off through the forest.
The werewolf does his best to stay clear of the search patrols, but often he has to change direction or stop. Taïga’s heart is beating against his back, its steady rhythm urging him on. He runs without getting tired but he must reach APYR before the full moon has accomplished its journey across the sky, turning him back to a wolf and then –hopefully- a human again.
Teddy opens the door on a lifeless Taïga. He falls on his knees, checking her respiration. When he looks up, he can see a familiar long-legged, grizzled grey wolf standing a few yards away, watching them intently with yellow eyes gleaming in the dark.
Teddy mouths ‘Thank you, bro,’ before turning around and calling into the house for help, ‘It’s Taïga! Come and help me! And call Chuck!’
When he looks again the wolf is gone. He can just hope his brother will be all right and not getting caught or shot at…
Taïga is transported through the blizzard to Appaloosa Plains to get an X-ray and eventually a transfer to the nearest big hospital as there’s just a rural hospital in town. The intense snowstorm having caused an increase in car accidents, the emergency ward is in need of all beds available so a couple of hours later, Taïga is sent home again. She has against all odds escaped frostbites and got away with only a concussion and bruises.
Derek is back again at dawn, exhausted but alive. He goes straight to the bathroom, taking a long hot shower, followed by his brother who gives him a running update all the while trying to pump Derek for information. With no result, his taciturn brother being more clammed up than usual.
‘Why didn’t they keep her at the hospital?’ Derek asks, rubbing the grime of his lean body.
‘They didn’t need to… Where did you find her?’
Derek ignores his question, ‘Are you sure? She might need a CAT scan or something.’
‘Chuck said on the phone that there is no suspicion of an “intracranial structural injury”, so she’s being sent home. We just have to make sure she’s conscious. Waking her up regularly and stuff.’ He hesitates, ‘And err… how did you find her?’
‘Did he say when they’ll get back?’ Derek gets out of the shower, dripping water all over the floor, as usual.
Teddy sighs. ‘No. Why can’t you dry off while still in there? Just look at the floor…’
Derek looks at his feet, vigorously toweling his hair. ‘Yeah, sure. Let’s get something to eat… I’m starving.’
Derek wolfs down his breakfast. Everything seems so normal, but there’s a tension in the air, everybody frequently checking their watches and glancing out the windows. He concentrates on listening to VJ’s account of the past night, doing a great job avoiding Elspeth’s probing questions. Then he just has to do as the others. Wait.
The jeep drives up, honking impatiently, and he hurries after the rest of them, anxious to see how Taïga is doing. He’d like to push everyone aside and pick her up himself, but hoovers in the background, holding the door for Johnny who’s carrying her, enveloped in a thick blanket.
He has to bide his time while they install her in her room, Chase and Elspeth fussing around way too long, helping her into a pajamas. Finally he gets clearance to see her.
Chase hushes at him at the door, ‘She’s asleep, don’t wake her up.’
Derek glares at her. What? Who does she think he is? Some kind of jackass? The jerk part might be right, but he has no intention of disturbing Taïga, so he just nods and presses past her into the dimly lit room closely followed by Teddy.
Seeing her bruised face something bursts in him, and a little shakily he caresses her black silky hair.
‘Just a concussion? It looks worse…’
‘Yeah. Dr. Pinkerton said she was lucky…’ Teddy looks over his shoulder to see if someone’s around. ‘Where did you find her?’
Startled Derek looks up from his hunched position over Taïga. ‘Found her? I don’t remember, by the river I think,’ he says absentmindedly.
‘And how did you get her home? I mean you can’t have carried her in your jaws err… mouth…’ He scratches his head, searching his brother’s eyes, ‘Or can you?’
Derek doesn’t answer, he doesn’t even look up when Teddy leaves, he just pushes an armchair closer to the bed and slumps down, intently scrutinizing the sleeping girl.
The hypothermia has brought along a high fever and the young girl slips in and out of an agitated, delirious sleep. Derek watches over her, giving her water when she wakes up and toweling her feverish forehead. He tucks her in, covering her in blankets, then taking them off again as she’s sweating too much. Taïga tosses and turns, whispering his name over and over again while fighting the demons of her nightmares.
‘Nonono… Don’t let it take me!’ Taïga wriggles, shaking her head from side to side. ‘Please… Please… Derek? Where are you?’
Derek blinks away the sleep from his eyes, leaning towards the agitated girl on the bed.
‘Hey… I’m right here…’
Derek sits down by her side on the bed and Taïga, feeling his reassuring presence, calms down and falls asleep again. Yawning he installs himself a little more comfortably, resting against the headboard with his legs on the bed. His eyelids grow heavier and heavier.
If I just lie down a little…
The bed is narrow, and he hesitates. Taïga lies with her back turned to him so he slides down, folding his arm so he can lay on it. He lies a moment watching the back of her head, her hair all over the pillow, trying not to touch her. But the temptation is too great. Holding his breath he puts a hand on her hip. Taïga sighs contentedly and snuggles up to him. Derek sighs too, wrapping his arms around her waist from behind they fit perfectly into each other’s nooks. Pushing all worries aside, he enjoys the moment, letting himself drift off to a very much needed sleep.
When Johnny and Teddy come to check on Taïga they find her soundly asleep, spooning comfortably with Derek. Giving each other a meaningful glance, they leave the exhausted couple alone.
Derek is the first to wake up from a disturbing dream. He doesn’t remember much of his night with Honey Darnell, apart from how he imagined that the older woman was Taïga. He was so drunk he probably wouldn’t have got it up otherwise – a fact that he’s not proud of. And now the dream is back to haunt him, except now he’s holding her in his arms for real…
With a sigh he buries his face in Taïga’s neck, wanting badly to kiss the slightly damp, smooth skin. Lying so close to her, breathing in her special scent, makes him uncomfortable and he pulls away a little.
His withdrawal wakes Taïga who starts fighting him off, knocking him off the bed with a sudden movement of her elbow.
‘Derek! Help me! The monster is back! It’s coming for me! DEREK!’
Scrambling back up, he gently rubs her shoulder and progressively she calms down.
‘Hush, babe… It’s just a dream… Shht…’
Taïga stares at him with unseeing eyes, ‘Derek?’
‘Hush, I’m here now. Nothing bad can happen to you…’ Cautiously he sits next to her, careful not to scare her, but he needn’t worry, she clings to him as if her life depended on it.
‘It’s here for me. It will…’
He lies down beside her again and she cuddles up to him, leaning her head on his chest. She entwines her leg with his as if she can’t get close enough.
‘Promise you won’t leave me…’ she murmurs, her hand searching his.
‘Promise,’ he murmurs back, kissing her hair. ‘I’ll never leave you.’
Taïga soon falls asleep but Derek doesn’t dare moving in case she’ll wake up again and withdraw. His arm goes numb, but he doesn’t care. He would never have thought that it would be enough just lying next to such a gorgeous girl as Taïga, but this is all he’d ever wanted. To be held and to hold her close, listening to her regular breathing, knowing he’s the one she calls for when she’s afraid.
‘I’ll let nothing in the world harm you,’ he mumbles, knowing she can’t hear him but feeling the need to reassure her anyway.
‘I’ll ward away all your nightmares…’ Such a corny thing to say, but it feels nice saying them. The entire world looks better from where he’s lying by her side, forgetting everything, pushing tomorrow away. He finally drifts off to sleep, his fingers entangled in hers.
When Taïga wakes up, she doesn’t know where she is at first.
‘Granny?’ she whispers, trying to focus on the room. APYR. Of course. What a strange dream…
Seeing Derek sleeping in the armchair by her bed makes her sit up straight, a little too fast.
‘Ouch! My head!’ she touches her forehead, feeling a Band-aid. What happened to her?
She looks over at Chase and Jupiter in pajamas huddled together on Chase’s bed, deep in discussion. So it’s evening. Or morning. Whatever. Her stomach churns at the sight of a plate with buttery toast, tea and a cup of black coffee on her bedside table. Black coffee – for Derek.
‘Why is he sleeping on a chair in our room?’ she croaks.
Oh, my God! She’s awake!’ Jupiter squeals, jumping off Chase’s bed and pulling her along with him.
‘You’ve been running a fever for two days now, and he’s never left your side.’ Chase muses.
‘What? Two days? Have I been out two whole days?’ Taïga looks from Chase to Jupiter and back again, swinging her legs over the side of the bed.
‘Yes. It was so exciting.’ Jupiter gushes, ‘Cops everywhere with dogs and everything. And Teddy found you on the doorstep! Can you believe that? It’s a mystery how you-’
Derek stirs, making Chase take a protesting Jupiter by the neck and admonishing steer him out of the room.
‘We agreed on giving the lovebirds some space. Remember?’
The door shuts on them.
She searches Derek’s face for a clue, but he’s just looking anxiously at her.
‘How are you feeling?’
‘I don’t know… Like I’ve passed under a herd of buffalos, I guess.’ She tries to smile but her lips hurt too. Chase said I’ve slept for two days-’ Derek nods. ‘-and you’ve kind of slept here too.’ He nods again. ‘In that chair?’
Derek looks embarrassed, leaning his elbows on his knees, ‘Well, it’s not what you think. I… I mean we… err… It was nothing important. Just spooning, you know.’
‘Have I been spooning with you for two days?’ Taïga bursts out, chocked.
Derek chuckles, ‘Of course not! Just an hour or two, then you almost broke my nose pushing me off the bed.’
Taïga giggles at the absurdity of it all.
‘I think I need to use the bathroom. Could you…?’
Derek looks at her a little astonished, ‘Don’t you think it’s better if I call Chase? Or Elspeth?’
It takes a second for it to sink in, then Taïga blushes beetroot. ‘Oh, no! I wanted to ask you to leave!’
Relieved Derek stands up, drying his hands on his pants. ‘Sure.’ He smiles his lopsided grin, ‘Well, then… err… I’ll be right back.’
Frowning she watches him walk away. What on earth happened to her? She has been spooning with Derek and doesn’t remember it. Shit! Just wait til she tells Linn.
Taïga stands up and the whole world disappears in a blur.
‘Hey… Take it easy…’ Derek is by her side in an instant, helping a dizzy Taïga to regain her balance.
‘I’m OK. I can-’
Taïga’s legs give way under her and she would have fallen if Derek had not been there to catch her. For an instant she’s clinging to him, and that’s it. He can’t help himself. With a muffled groan he pulls her closer.
Suddenly it all comes back.
‘Let go of me!’ Violently she withdraws and staggers backwards, heavily sitting on the bed. ‘I can’t believe your guts!’
Derek stands in front of her, his impossibly blue eyes searching her face.
‘What happened?’ he asks calmly.
She stares at him. ‘What happened? You know darn well what happened!’
‘I was going to kiss you, yes, and I’m sorry. It won’t happen again.’
‘What? Kiss me? You can’t be real… Not after what you did!’ He doesn’t say anything so she continues, spluttering with anger, ‘Sleeping with Mrs. Darnell when you’re about to become… to be…’ She stops helplessly, her eyes brimming with tears. She can’t bring herself to say “a father”.
‘I’m sorry if I upset you.’ Derek rolls his eyes. ‘But you assume way too much. You should stop being so damn judgy.’
‘I’m not judgy!’
‘Humpf… You are just a kid after all.’
‘What? A kid? Of course I am. Compared to Mrs. Darnell we’re all kids. Or should I say “cubs”.’
Derek stares at her for a second. Taïga lifts her chin and stares back. Without a word, he turns his back on her, walking out of the room. He pauses on the threshold with his hand on the door handle as if he wanted to add something but instead he sighs contemptuously, shakes his head and leaves.
Taïga watches the door close with a silent, definite click.
He wanted to kiss her… She swallows. He’s having a baby with Elspeth, has sex with an effing cougar and spends hours spooning with her. What kind of person is he? And he accuses her of being judgmental?
She tries to be angry, but the only thing she can think of is that he wanted to kiss her. Falling onto her bed, she finally breaks down…
Part II – End of Chapter 09