Misfits and Healers
"You're a werewolf," I whispered, my voice low. "What happened to you?"
Bram smiled humorlessly, his teeth flashing white in the darkness. "Just got into a little spat is all. You know how it is."
"No, I don't," I mumbled as I peered down at his leg again. Sure, Pack wolves got into fights all the time, but they were usually resolved before someone lost a limb.
Bram's smile quickly turned sour. I waited for him to tell me that his business was nothing to concern myself with, but he surprised me by offering me his arm like a gentleman would in the eighteen hundreds.
"Care to take a walk, milady?" He wheezed, covering his mouth with his opposite hand, coughing wetly into it. He closed his fingers into a fist before letting his hand fall back to his side.
"You coughed up blood, didn't you?" I asked him as I took his arm, covered in a black cloth jacket. He was quite warm, despite what his lips displayed. His muscles flexed underneath his jacket as we moved, letting me know that he was in good shape like most werewolves were. Many male werewolves were often the burly, Boflex types, but Bram, although muscular, was much leaner then most.
Not that that was a bad thing. I quite liked that he didn't look like he was hopped up on steroids. It was a nice change. I appreciated differences in my fellow werewolves, as I was the farthest thing from normal. Neither was Bram, judging by his shocking blue eyes. Another rule in the Wolven world: Only young wolves had blue eyes, which faded into another color when they were about a year old. Bram was an exception.
"You've got blue eyes," I observed artlessly as we hobbled through the snow, my companion leaving a fresh trail of blood in our wake.
"And you have gray hair," Bram murmured. "Looks like we're two of a kind, then."
"Yippee!" I tittered in the most enthusiastic tone I could muster. Bram raised an eyebrow at me. "It was a joke," I told him flatly.
"Oh," was all he said.
We were quiet after that, two misfits wandering through a snowy forest desperate for a way out. I imagined what we would have looked like to a stranger, a seventeen year old girl and an older man, from what I could tell, strolling along arm in arm. Bram was also a lot taller than I was, so when he needed to lean on me for support, my knees buckled and my head was ducked down so we wouldn't end up colliding with each other. Concussions were the last things we needed.
The good thing about walking with Bram was that I wasn't as cold as I was before. His warmth spread over me like a sickness, infecting every cell in my body until I felt comfortably toasty. The wind still blustered, making the snow swirl at our feet, but the cold wasn't as unbearable.
The farther we walked, the weaker Bram became, the more he had to rely on me for support. I wanted to help him, yes, but he was so heavy. Muscle weighed more than fat, and boy did this man have a lot of muscle. I longed for my true self, the wolf that slept inside of me, awaiting the call of the moon to reveal itself again. We could Change at any time, but doing it during a New Moon or on a night like this one, when the Moon was just a thin wisp in the sky, was a bad idea.
It made the Change more painful than it already was , made it much, much slower. On average, going from human to wolf took about three minutes. Changing tonight would have meant suffering for a good five minutes or so. I knew by the way Bram was coughing and hobbling along that we didn't have five minutes to spare. I needed to get him somewhere safe before the chill got to his wounds. If it hadn't already. I needed a doctor or at least a first aid kit. I needed Bryony Thornwood.
Bryony was a twenty eight year old "New Age" healer (as she let humans think) who joined our pack about a year before I was born. She was only twelve years old at the time, abandoned by her parents about three miles from the inn. She was the runt of her family, small and sickly. Even though most don't practice it anymore, back in the Old Days, some werewolf families would either kill or disown the smallest and weakest of their children because they would not be as beneficial to the pack in the long run.
My father took pity on little Bryony and gave her a home in our Pack. As it turned out, she was incredibly gifted with herbs and healing and has been taking care of my family and I ever since. Bryony was a kind and gentle soul, if not a bit jumpy. She would help Bram.
"You never told me your name," coughed Bram, looking at me through heavy eyes.
"Oh," I blinked. "Sorry, I didn't realize. I'm Melanie Cromwell."
Bram laughed, shaking his head, snow falling from his shaggy hair.
"What?" I asked, eying him suspiciously. I glared into the darkness and saw that the forest stopped a few yards away from where we were walking. Almost there.
"I have a feeling your family won't want to help me," Bram explained quietly, a chuckle in his voice.
"Why is that?" I asked, sounding more defensive than I would have liked. Still, I wanted to know. What did he have against my family?
"It's nothing, Melanie," Bram replied, keeping his eyes on the ground in front of him.
"Yeah, I'm sure it isn't," I grumbled, bringing our conversation to an end.
Silence again. I didn't bring up the subject of my family again, even though I still wanted to know what he was talking about. Cromwells weren't bad people. We were just the same as any other family, minus the werewolf part.
It took all I had not to say anything. I didn't need to be fighting with a halfway dead man. Luckily, the forest had dropped off, giving weigh to nothing but snow, the jagged peaks of the Cascades looming in the distance, silhouetted against the black sky. The inn wasn't far from where we were standing, looking the same as it was when I left. Glowing and warm, tempting Bram and I, both totally exhausted, toward it. I wanted to just run back to my home and flop down on my bed with a nice cup of hot chocolate. I couldn't do that, though. I had Bram to take care of, whether I liked it or not.
"That's your inn," Bram observed as we shambled past it, clearly admiring the beauty of it.
"My dad built it before I was born," I explained, glancing in the giant picture window that gave you a nice view of the first floor from the outside, and from the inside, you saw nothing but snow and tree covered mountains.
"Aren't we going in there?" Bram coughed into his sleeve, casting a longing, yet somewhat weary glance at the toasty inn.
"Nope," I shuddered as the wind bit through my coat. "Bryony lives just down this hill in one of our cabins."
"Wonderful," he breathed. I tried to smile encouragingly at him when he cried out in pain, his free hand clutching at his injured leg.
"Are you alright?" I frowned, stopping to take a look at his leg. I made sure he was steady enough to stand on his own before getting down on my knees to get a better look at his wound. Carefully, I lifted up his bloody pant leg and there, underneath the ripped fabric, was the thing that was giving him so much trouble. There was a deep bite mark near his ankle, glistening with red with blood. It was another werewolf that attacked him, I knew. It was obvious by the size of the holes in his calf, the way that his attacker ripped and tore at his flesh.
The stench was awful. I fought back the bile that licked at my esophagus and pulled his pant leg back down over the wound before rising to my feet.
"C'mon, we really need to get you to Bryony," I said quietly, swallowing more vomit.
"Who's Bryony?" Bram panted as I urged him forward. Snow crunched and sloshed around us.
"She's our, uhm, doctor," I said, slowing my pace as we descended the hill that lead to Bryony's cabin. "We're almost there, see?" I pointed with my mitten at the tiny home covered in snow, windows glowing with candlelight.
Out of the corner of my eye, I saw him nod. I tried smiling at him, but the result was only a shaky grimace. Bryony was good, talented and skilled, but I didn't know if she could fix Bram's leg. He was getting sicker and sicker with each step we took, warmer and warmer despite the temperatures. He was contracting a fever, if he didn't have one already. Fevers only complicated things, and Bram couldn't afford any more complications.
He and I made it down the hill, driven by urgency. By the time we made it to Bryony's door, Bram was gasping for breath and my heart was pounding violently in my chest, sweat beading on my forehead underneath my hat.
"Bryony!" I shouted over the wind, pounding on her door. "Bryony, are you there?"
Reliable as ever, Bryony Thornwood answered on my second knock. She stood in the doorway, short and slim with chocolate brown hair and wide brown eyes. She was wearing gray sweatpants and an old white shirt with yellow-green stains all over it. She smiled when she saw me, but then her gaze drifted to Bram and her smile quickly faded into a frown.
"Melanie, what's wrong? Who is this?" She asked wearily, fidgeting nervously.
"Bryony, this is Bram Sullivan. He...I found him in the woods over there," I motioned toward the clump of trees Bram and I had just exited. "He's got a really bad injury, and we could really use your help."
Bram was leaning against the cabin, his complexion pale and sickly. His hand was grasping at his injured leg and his eyes were closed, his chest rising and falling shallowly. Bryony pursed her lips in consideration. I held my breath in anticipation, hoping she'd say yes and invite us into her home. Not only was I freezing and rather exhausted, I felt something close to kinship with Bram. He wasn't your typical werewolf and neither was I. It was because of this fact that I felt obligated to help him. Birds of a feather and all that.
"Alright," Bryony said finally. I exhaled loudly, relief calming my pounding heart.
"C'mon, Bram." I slung his arm over my shoulder and helped him inside. Once the two of us had entered, Bryony shut the door behind us and motioned toward the bed that sat up against the far corner of the cabin.
"Put him there," she ordered, her footsteps silent on the wood floor as she went into the "kitchen," which was really just another corner of the cabin filled with a stove, a counter with a sink built into it, and a trash can. Bryony wasn't exactly materialistic. She preferred to live off the land.
I did as I was told and guided my drifting companion to the bed, which was covered with a dark blue quilt embroidered with moons and stars. The springs creaked loudly as Bram settled onto the mattress. I grabbed one of the extra pillows that was sitting idly on the floor and used it to keep his leg elevated. When he was taken care of, I decided to attend to my own needs. I tore my hat off, which was soaked with melted snow and hung it onto a chair by the fireplace to let it dry. My gray hair, thick and ratty, tumbled limply down my shoulders, the angled fringe of my bangs poking at my brown eyes.
Next, I peeled off my coat, which was also wet with snow, and threw it on the back of the chair where my hat was. I pulled the mittens off my hands, letting the long sleeves of my sweater engulf my fingers. I stood huddled by the fire, my eyes gazing intently at the orange flames smoldering in the mouth of the stone fireplace. Bryony was muttering something to herself as she prepared whatever things she needed to fix Bram's leg.
Bram himself wasn't making much noise. All his concentration was focused on the simple act of breathing steadily. I tore myself away from the warmth of the fire and dragged the chair that my coat and hat was sitting on over to his bedside. His blue eyes found my face the instant I sat down. The look I found in them was that of gratitude.
"You're welcome," I smiled, reaching over to pat his scarred, clammy hand. For a moment, I contemplated holding his hand. That would, at least, comfort him, wouldn't it? I frowned at my own misgivings. I wasn't exactly maternal. I wasn't good at taking care of people. That's what Bryony was for. But, that didn't mean I couldn't hold his hand, right?
Feeling a little strange, I wrapped my fingers around Bram's, his skin rough and warm. He responded by weakly squeezing my fingers in his palm. We sat like that for no more than a few seconds, because Bryony shoved her way between us, asking me if I could move my chair so she could work. I obeyed her, as she was a healer and of much higher rank than my lowly Omega, but was baffled by her apparent hostility toward her newest patient. She put a wet cloth over his forehead with a grimace on her lips, lifted his pant leg roughly. She frowned deeply at his wound and began dabbing at it with a cloth wetted with green paste. Bram, like any good patient, let her work without complaint, even when it was obvious that she was hurting him.
I was standing at the foot of the bed, watching Bryony as she grabbed yet another cloth soaked in warm water, and began to clean out the wound with all the careful precision of any surgeon. In all the times I had visited Bryony for one of my various injuries, she was always warm and friendly, but with Bram, she was just as cold as the blizzard outside.
"Bryony?" I asked quietly. She grunted in response, but did not turn from wrapping Bram's leg in white gauze. "Is...is there something wrong?"
That got her attention. She wrapped the final piece of gauze around his leg and wiped her hands with a tattered rag before she got to her feet. She grabbed my shoulder and steered me toward the bathroom, a tiny little room shooting off the side of the main part of the cabin. She shoved me inside and shut the door, yanking at a string that dangled down from the ceiling. The one lightbulb in the room turned on, shining dimly, flickering and wavering on account of the wind.
"Why did you bring him here?" She hissed, sounding madder than I'd ever heard her.
"Because he was hurt?" I replied, not seeing the problem.
"He's a Loner, Melanie." She seized my shoulders in her hands. "Do you know how angry your father is going to be? I'm healing a Loner, Skadi help me!"
My cheeks burned with embarrassment. I hadn't even noticed or cared about his Loner status. I thought Bryony wouldn't have cared either, but I guess I was wrong.
"We don't have to tell him, Bryony," I pointed out quietly. "Besides, I couldn't just leave him there like that. He might have died or something."
She bit her lip. She knew I was right. She wouldn't have been able to pass him by either, especially since she was, you know, a lifesaver and all that.
"I don't like lying to your father about things, Melanie," she said slowly, her hands falling from my shoulders.
"I don't either, but you're right. He would get more than angry if we told him. So, we just...can't."
"You should go back to the inn," Bryony opened the bathroom door and shut off the light. She pushed me back out to the cabin and shut the door quietly before gliding back to Bram's side. "He'll be fine here. Come back in the morning."
"Okay," I muttered, gathering my things from the chair, putting them all back into place before heading toward the door. I didn't want to leave, but Bryony knew best, I supposed. "Bye, Bram. Get well soon."
I slipped out of the warm cabin and back out into the frigid wilderness, my eyes resting on the glowing inn atop the hill.