Mitchell feels himself drifting back to consciousness, and he toys with the notion of just letting himself slip once again, back into the darkness that's just nothing. But then he hears it.
"…think he's waking up again. Mitchell? Mitchell, are you back again?" George's voice sounds calm and controlled, but Mitchell's known him for so long to know that its all just a cover. A hand rests gently on his shoulder, pulling him further away from the nothingness.
He opens his eyes, to find George a foot away from his face, and his friend scrambles back slightly. "George," It's just one syllable, breathed out so quietly that Mitchell's not even sure if he's made any noise, but his friend just grins at him in response.
"Do you feel up for a bit of food, Mitchell?" Annie's sweet voice wafts into his awareness, and he nods jerkily, inhaling awkwardly.
Someone sits him up from behind, and Mitchell remembers that he's been sprawled out on the mattress in the middle of the living room for days. It hurts his wound, when he turns to see who's behind him, but he does it anyway—and Nina smiles grimly at him from where she's propping him up against the couch. Annie flutters over, her arms filled with mismatched, lumpy cushions, and Mitchell just stares as she fixes them around him, until he's fully supported.
"So, you've been pretty out of it for the past few days."
Mitchell blinks himself back to full awareness, and looks at George, seeing the way that his friend is struggling to keep a calm expression. He takes another breath, having to remind himself to keep it up, and concentrates on the breaths that George is taking in and out. He'll copy his friend.
If George notices that he's literally only breathing because he's concentrating on his cues, he doesn't say anything. Mitchell's head lolls slightly on his shoulders, but he forces himself to keep it upright. "Yeah… reminiscent of a couple days when—when I was a teenager and we drank our weight in shitty poteen."
That drags a laugh out of George's rough throat, and Mitchell grins weakly at the sound. "Not quite," his friend replies, and they both smile again. Annie pushes a mug of tea into his hands, and he tries his hardest to close his pale fingers around the warm mug.
The tea ends up shaking minutely, but he manages to gulp down a few mouthfuls. Annie smiles at that, though he can see the way her eyes are rimmed with red, a clear sign that she's been crying.
Mitchell shifts slightly then, if only to see how bad his pain is, and is suddenly reminded of how painful a lung can get when it's ripped apart by a stake. He forces air in and out though, hoping that breathing will get easier when he gets more into the habit.
The others start bustling around, and that's when Mitchell realises that they've probably just been waiting for him to come back to himself this whole time. He clears his throat roughly, and manages to turn the moan of pain from the action into a sentence, "H-how long've I been—" Mitchell gestures to the mattress he's currently occupying, surrounded by lukewarm mugs of tea and glasses of water, "—like this for?"
George is the one who replies, after a few beats of silence, and Mitchell can see the weariness in his friend's eyes clearly, "A—a few days maybe. I think… two days?" Nina nods from the corner of Mitchell's vision, and he wonders if she's been here the whole time as well. "How much do you remember?"
There's a whole mess of fractured memories swirling around in his head, that mostly comprise of George leaning over him worriedly, and pain ebbing out from his chest like strong waves that seem destined to continue forever. He glances down at the bandage carefully taped over his wound, and lifts it gingerly, out of some morbid curiosity.
Mitchell ignores how much energy the action costs him, to just reach down and peel back some gauze. He tries to will his fingers to stop shaking.
The site where the stake entered is red and angry still. It's held together with stitches, and looks like it's been cleaned and monitored regularly, something that Mitchell can't remember, no matter how hard he wracks his brain. He blinks slowly, and drops his hand back down to his side with a silent sigh of relief.
He hasn't felt this weak in decades, maybe not even since he was human. Those memories are few and far between, the ones when he'd been alive, and he's not sure if that's a good thing or not. Maybe if he was still in possession of clear, bright memories of his own humanity he would mourn it too much. Instead, all Mitchell has is blurry flashes of his previous life, fleeting sensations of what it's like to breathe and bleed properly.
This weakness now is like nothing he's ever experienced though.
Mitchell looks up to see his best friend looking at him with pure fear in his eyes, at the tremble of his hands and the long blinks that he's been taking. George is scared, that much is obvious, but Mitchell doesn't have anything to say to him, can't conjure up the words to soothe and smooth over the discomfort that he's displaying to the three other occupants of the room.
Maybe he'll never get better.
Nina starts speaking them, but Mitchell isn't listening to her. His fingers twitch as he thinks of the thrumming of her pulse, and even though it would be wrong on a primal basis because werewolves are much different to humans, he still can't drag his thoughts away.
The room is tilting marginally, slowly becoming more blurry, so Mitchell forces his head to turn to George again. George always sets him back on track.
His friend looks sad, as he reaches forward, and Mitchell wants to tell him that it's okay. But there's no air in his lungs for some reason—because he'd lost track of his breathing, and it hurts when he draws in a ragged breath. He repeats the motion, letting out a groan as George holds on gently to his shoulders, and smiles a watery smile through the tears in his eyes.
"I'm sorry," Mitchell rasps out, and the words sound cracked and croaked.
George gets him lying down again, curled to one side in an attempt to alleviate the agony thrumming through his chest cavity once again, and he mutters words that slip through Mitchell's consciousness without making any impact, all except one sentence that he tries to cling onto.
"Don't be gone for too long this time."
He feels selfish and guilty, but also thankful as he watches Mitchell drift off once again, his chest rising and falling with more regularity than he'd had in days. Nina leans over to kiss George gently on the cheek, a constant reminder of his support, and Annie traces a circle on the back of Mitchell's limp hand.
"That was more lucid than he'd been this whole time. He's making progress."
George nods at the words, feeling the weight of Mitchell's side as he settles into a more comfortable sitting position beside the body of his friend on the mattress, "Yeah. It—it's great. He should be up to run the marathon by the end of the week." His cheerfully sarcastic tone of voice annoys even him, but he can't help it. A second later he relents, "Sorry, I'm sorry."
It doesn't escape his mind that he'd just repeated after Mitchell.
Mitchell's eyes flicker beneath closed eyelids, and George wonders where his mind is. He'd described it as 'drifting,' or floating away in memories, and each time his friend slips back into the façade of unconsciousness, George hopes desperately that he has the strength to find his way back to them and their faded pink house.
He leaves Mitchell with Annie, as she chatters away quietly to him, and stands beside the window with Nina. "Full moon's coming soon," she says softly, and George nods while he slips one arm around her waist. He's been feeling it coming for days.
"He is doing so much better," George replies, but it's more of a comfort to himself. He doesn't want to turn around and see the still body, doesn't want to notice the next time Mitchell forgets to breathe, and he doesn't want to leave his friend for the transformation.
So George just stands there, stock still and weary, and peers out at their street. A few figures move around outside, but he feels sheltered and secure inside their house, hidden by the grime of the window pane.
Nina moves closer into his side, as if sensing his need for stability, and they both just stay there for long minutes. The clock in the kitchen ticks in the silence, and their enhanced hearing can pick up the noise despite Annie's whispering. It's all the sound that they can bear, even though they know that things will never be the same until Mitchell fills the room with laughter again, or swears at the top of his lungs due to some mundane mishap.
"We'll get him back," Nina says quietly, and George nods into his shoulder.
He draws in a shuddering breath, bottling inside all his emotions, "But at what cost?"
Because it seems like this is killing Mitchell. This complete breakdown, physically and mentally, of their friend was distressing to watch, and the progress was so slow. It feels like George is clinging onto Mitchell with his fingertips, begging him not to leave, and he's not sure if its selfishness or desperation that's making him unable to let go.
It feels like both.
They leave at an hour to the full moon, and Annie swallows hard and waves them off from the couch as they go out the door.
George takes one last look at the mattress and the figure laid out on it, and his heart hurts as Mitchell raises a hand in goodbye, and winks, "You two crazy kids have fun," He says weakly with as much humour as he can muster.
There are still mugs of tea dotted around the living room, and a half eaten pizza box on the couch, but the room feels lighter already. Nina waves in return, and goes to start the car while George lingers in the doorway.
"You'll both be okay? There's—there's takeaway menus on the table and money, and—and lock the door behind us, don't forget, and don't answer it until the morning when we're back… unless of course you order something, but obviously, just—just…" He trails off sheepishly, and Mitchell rolls his eyes.
His friend ghosts a hand over his stake wound unconsciously, and says in a dry voice, "I think we can manage between the two of us, George."
It's an exaggeration, of course, because Mitchell still can't make it off the mattress without at least two pairs of hands helping him, and Annie still cries into her tea when she thinks no one notices, but it's enough.
"Yes, well," He fumbles for words and twists his bag of supplies around in his hands, "We'll see you tomorrow then."
The door closes behind him, a rush of fresh air is blown into his face, and George immediately wants to head back inside. But he grits his teeth and gets a handle on his emotions, body beginning already to ache in anticipation of the Change, and walks over to where Nina is waiting in the car.
Mitchell had lent them his old black car, one that George is fairly certain he'd bought new decades ago, but he isnt sure because he doesn't quite have the guts to ask. The past is a tricky subject with Mitchell, and George is never quite sure which way the conversations will go, so he tends to just leave it. Occasionally, his friend will mention a random piece of trivia about some decade or another, some gem that had to be experienced to be believed and passed on—and George just files all the small titbits away to appreciate them later.
He smiles tightly at Nina as she starts up the engine and they go speedily out of town, towards the woods and the safety that the trees provide every full moon. Nina had gone ahead the previous day to lay the chicken trail, but that was the last thing on George's mind.
For once, he didn't fret about all the things that could go wrong during his time as the wolf. He didn't have space in his head to worry about dozens of scenarios and possible disasters. All he wanted was to get back to their pink house and his friends.
The screams that were ripped out of him hardly seemed to matter, in comparison to the horrors of the past week. His body breaks and mends again, his musculoskeletal and nervous system change as quickly as his physical appearance—but George can't find it within himself to care.
He thinks of the warm mugs of tea as his consciousness slips away and is replaced by another. He spares a thought for Nina and her helpfulness while he throws his head up to the sky for the last time, as George. And he remembers his own voice screaming Mitchell's name as a howl is forced out of his lips.
And then he doesn't think anymore.
Mitchell makes fractured conversation with Annie for as long as he can, before he drifts off—and then finds himself blinking awake to the low sounds of the television that hadn't been on the last time he was aware. Before he even really knows he's awake, there's the sensation of his hair being stroked gently, and a cool feeling around him.
"Annie," he chokes out between ragged lips, and is pleasantly surprised to find that there had been air in his lungs. He'll take that as a win.
She presses her lips down to his forehead, and it's almost like he's a child in a fever dream, her touch is so ethereal and fleeting. She mutters something down to him, and he strains to hear it through the fog in his ears. There's something important weighing down on his mind, something that had jerked him out of the seemingly endless drifting, something that he needs to know.
Annie laughs at his attempt at a question, and simply nods to one side, gesturing for him to look to his right. He turns his head with some difficulty, trying to coordinate the movement with a deep inhale, and ends up squinting in pain by the time his gaze has turned to the right.
The sight makes the pain alleviate slightly, and he grins properly for the first time in forever, the forever that had been created when he'd started this meaningless drifting. The movement tugs on the muscles in his face, feeling so uncomfortably unfamiliar—and he loves it.
Because there, sprawled half on the floor with his upper body resting on top of the mattress and drooling slightly, is George. He looks completely worn out and beaten from the transformation, with dirt smeared on one cheek, but he looks almost like the normal George that Mitchell knows practically better than himself.
"He's been there for a few hours, since they got in. Couldn't even convince him to have a shower before he sat down beside you… and then he just wiped out," Annie explains, and it's clear that she's content with both of them, even if they look ragged and a bit broken, "Nina is upstairs. I think it was a rough transformation for both of them."
Mitchell clears his throat slightly, and props himself halfway up into a sitting position. The movement costs him some energy, depletes his strength more than he'd expected, but he refuses to let it show.
"Yeah, well—that's our George."
She laughs quietly in agreement, and they both share a smile. Beside him, George lets out a sigh in his sleep, twitches his fingers and Mitchell reaches over to pick some remnants of his night in the forest out of the creases of his clothes.
He purposefully diverts his thoughts away from the constant ache that haunts him, the circles beneath Nina and George's eyes, the number of mugs of tea that has increased exponentially since last week. Mitchell especially doesn't think about the threats that likely still lurked outside the door.
There'll be time later to figure out who wanted him dead and gone.
Long wait for this chapter, I know. But I'm out of school, finished my exams, and ready to write all day now. Thanks for all the favourites, follows, and reviews—any feedback on this chapter would be greatly appreciated while I work on the next chapter!
Thanks for reading,