The First Few Days
Caleb blinked, through the fog of pain clouding his mind. Where was he? Why was he lying on the ground like this, in – was it a warehouse? His vision cleared and he lifted his head to look to his side, where a boy stood over him. It was the boy who had called him "dad". He wasn't sure, but the kid did look sort of familiar…
His heart stopped when he glanced behind the boy and saw her. Rachel. Caleb's wife, the most beautiful woman in the world. Worry had aged her, and she looked at him with suspicion in her eyes, but there she was. He felt like he hadn't seen her in years. Relieved, he tried to sit up, to go to her, but a white-hot pain in his back stopped him and he lay back, gasping. The boy and Rachel flinched at his movement, the woman tightening her hold on the long pipe in her hand, as if ready to bash Caleb with it. That was strange.
"Mom?" the boy spoke again, this time to Rachel. "Mom, he's hurt bad. Should we get him to a hospital?"
Rachel tore her eyes away from the man on the floor and looked at her son. He was pale, still breathing hard, still bleeding from the neck where he'd been bitten…and he was worried about Varek! Or…was it Varek? She'd come to terms with the fact that her husband Caleb was gone, and that Varek had – in a sense – overtaken his body as an evil Skinwalker…but now was Caleb back? The wolf's body was gone, but she had no guarantee that he didn't still lurk inside her husband's body, ready to leap on her and Timothy when he had the chance.
Timothy, not getting a response from his mom, knelt next to the man he'd known for two days was his father.
"Tim!" Rachel protested.
He ignored her, looking into Caleb's eyes. "Dad?" he asked again.
"Son?" Caleb managed to breath before he passed out.
Violent and bloody dreams played themselves behind Caleb's eyelids, and he was powerless to stop them. A man called Varek killed people, ordered the destruction of settlements, and drank greedily of the sickly sweet liquid that was human blood. Caleb wanted to push them away, but he was trapped in his feverish dreams. A woman passed before his eyes, showing more of her skin than he wanted to see and…did she realize he was married? Varek didn't care, and Caleb was treated to seeing violent sex between the two skinwalkers as they changed from wolf form to human, though the relationship didn't appear to extend beyond that. Then Varek was walking slowly across a street, facing two figures that were painfully familiar – the boy and Caleb's own mother. Time slowed as Caleb became aware of a beeping sound that was drawing him out of the vision, and he clung to it with his consciousness, not wanting to see what Varek did to his mother. However, he saw enough to know that the hand that gunned down his mother was his own…
Caleb's eyes opened with a jolt. At first, all he saw was white, but gradually his vision cleared and he saw he was in a hospital room. More specifically, lying in the hospital bed with something attached to and dripping into his arm via IV. The sun shone through the curtains, partially blinding him, and he realized the sheets he lay on were soaked with sweat.
Caleb turned his head to the right, thankfully away from the window, to see Rachel sitting in the chair next to him. She wasn't looking at him, and while she looked more put together than she had…however long ago it had been in the warehouse, her face was still drawn tight. Guilt hit him like a hammer when he realized that he – as Varek – was the cause.
"Rachel…" he attempted to speak. It came out as a whisper, though days of living on-edge had sharpened her senses and she still heard him.
That didn't mean she wanted to talk. "You've been here about two days. Tim convinced me to bring you here. You were painting the house on the second story when a sudden gust of wind knocked you off balance and you fell onto a glass-topped patio table."
The man in the bed blinked. That wasn't what he remembered. "The warehouse…" he breathed.
She shook her head. "You fell onto a patio table. That's what I told the nurse."
"Oh." He understood perfectly why Rachel avoiding looking in his direction, and it hurt. "Where's…" What was his name? "Tim?"
"Sleeping in another room. He charmed one of the nurses so much and he was so tired and worried about you that she took pity on him."
At that moment, a middle-aged nurse bustled in, clutching a clipboard and looking important. She put on a bright smile when she saw that the patient was awake.
"You're up! Good!" she declared, coming over and laying her hand on his forehead. "Feels like you're fever's broken, here say ah…" She stuck a thermometer in his mouth when he obediently opened it.
It was at this time Caleb realized he was wearing only a hospital gown with the sheets on the bed pulled up to his waist. And if he had been unconscious for the past two days, it was probably this nurse who had put him in it. And bathed him and…awkward.
The thermometer beeped, and the nurse took it back, nodding approvingly. "Very good," she said, before turning to Rachel. "We got his blood work back from the lab, and while he doesn't have any lingering infection, there was a trace of something unusual, like he's had a blood transfusion."
"Oh?" Rachel remarked, her face schooled against giving anything away. How it pained Caleb to know that he was why she had had to learn such deception!
The nurse nodded. "It looks as if his body is rejecting a blood transfusion, which would cause the fever. I'll have to talk to the doctor, but it looks like he's improving. Your husband is very strong." She then bustled out, continuing on her rounds.
Without the nurse, silence fell between Caleb and his wife.
"Thank you," he finally rasped out.
Wordlessly, Rachel held out a cup of water. When she realized Caleb could get his hand to it but couldn't hold it, she helped him get the straw to his lips so he could drink, which he did gratefully. He felt much better when he finished and she put the cup back on the stand next to the bed.
"You know what she was talking about, don't you?" she finally murmured, still not looking at him. "The blood transfusion your body is rejecting?"
He thought. "Skinwalker blood," he realized. Then he realized something else. "Rachel, I'm sorry I didn't tell you before…" he trailed off when he saw her shaking her head.
"You didn't tell me, Jonas didn't tell me, no one did. Not until…all this happened. And it's not over yet."
He was confused. "But…the boy…"
Rachel glared at him, the first time she'd looked his direction since he'd woken up. "Yes, the boy," she snapped. She was tired – she only snapped when she was tired, he knew. "Your son. Our son. For his thirteenth birthday his blood became the cure for Skinwalkers."
"We ran into one yesterday, outside the motel we're staying at. Luckily it was daylight when he attacked. And Tim…he seemed to just know. He stood his ground, and as soon as he was bitten…it was over."
Caleb was thoughtful for a few moments. "Well if his experience is anything like mine, he'll know what Hell is."
Rachel didn't know what to say to that, so she didn't say anything. Instead, she stood and headed for the door. "I'll get Tim," she said. "He'll want to know you're awake."
Caleb stayed in the hospital for two more days, so the doctors could be sure he was all the way recovered, although his rapid healing had them scratching their heads.
The only thing I'll miss about being a werewolf, he thought to himself sourly as Rachel helped him to a taxi outside the hospital. Now I actually have to suffer when I get hurt.
Rachel and Tim had been staying in a ratty motel room for the past few days, which was where Caleb came with them. It was small and cramped, and looked as if only one of the beds had been slept in.
They've been through so much, he thought as he looked around, all they had was each other. He didn't ask, but somehow he knew that the rest of his family was dead. And from the way Rachel looked at him – when she thought he didn't notice – he knew it was his fault.
It was Tim who started conversations between them, and it was his idea that they keep moving and find other Skinwalkers to cure them. It was dangerous for them to stay in one place, but at the same time they needed to make known their whereabouts. Caleb was proud of the way his son thought and acted, though he was pained when he thought about how he had had almost no hand in raising the boy – Jonas, his mother, and others had done that. And now they were gone.
Rachel was terrified of him. She acted brave, but he saw it in the cool manner with which she regarded him, in the way she wouldn't look into his eyes, and how she slept between him and Timothy. She would share a bed with the boy, her back turned to Caleb as they slept. How vile he must have been!
Such thoughts whirled in Caleb's head as he sat on the balcony of one motel room late one night, just looking at the half moon and thinking while Rachel and Tim watched TV. The kid stuck to the news and weather, knowing it was the only thing his mom could handle. The shows his peers watched were too violent, the rest was too…normal.
The glass door slid back, the sound startling Caleb out of his thoughts. He looked back to see Tim, who sat next to him and held out a book.
"Look, Dad! There are two books about me!" he said, handing the book over and smiling.
Caleb realized the volume was a Bible, the kind that was in all the hotel room drawers. Tim had opened to the table of contents and was pointing to the New Testament.
"See? I flipped to them earlier, but I couldn't really understand what was there. It's still cool though!"
Caleb smiled. "Sure is. How's your mom?"
Tim's face fell, and he too turned to gaze at the moon. "She's…been through a lot," he said.
The thirteen-year-old looked at his father. "It's not your fault, you know," he said quietly. "I know Mom blames you, but I don't. It wasn't really you doing all that, it was…we saw it with Kat…it was just something else."
Caleb nodded thoughtfully. "I just wish I could make things right."
"Well," Tim said, punching him in the arm. "She hasn't kicked you out yet. That counts for something."
His dad affectionately tousled his hair, which led to a father-son wrestling match. Caleb was just letting Tim get the upper hand when a sharp pounding on the door startled both of them. They ran inside, Caleb grabbing a 9-mm loaded with bullets tipped with Tim's blood as he approached the door, standing in front of Rachel – who also had a gun – and Timothy. Making sure the door was chained shut, Caleb braced himself against it and turned the handle slowly.
"I'm here…to be cured." The timid voice came from the other side of the door. It was a woman's voice.
Caleb turned to Rachel, who nodded. He returned the motion, closing the door to unchain it before opening yet again.
A gunshot sounded, causing the three of them to drop instinctively, Tim rolling behind a bed. A tall, middle-aged woman with heavy, dark makeup barged into the room, holding a smoking semiautomatic and letting three hulking men, who also held weapons, follow her into the suddenly cramped room.
Rachel, as soon as she was on her feet, cocked her .45-caliber and leveled it at the woman, freezing as she looked down the barrels of the four weapons pointed at her.
"Where's the boy?" The intruding woman demanded, glancing around the room. She noticed Caleb and her eyebrows went up. "Varek," she said coldly, "So strange to see you here."
Caleb froze. If he raised his weapon, Rachel was a goner. "Liza," he growled menacingly, "Get out."
She smiled at him, amused. "Oh, Varek," she said. "A pity you joined with them. You were once the best commander I had."
The men who'd followed Liza all looked at him. "Varek?" One of them asked incredulously.
"That's not him," the second snorted.
"He smells like a human. Definitely not one of us," the third agreed.
"Shut up!" Liza roared. Then she turned back to Caleb. "Where is he, Varek?" she cooed. "Where is your son? Don't move!" she warned as he took a step forward. "If you move, she dies."
Rachel's nostrils flared. With a shout, she shot at Liza, dropping to the floor in the same motion. While her marksmanship had improved, the movement threw her aim off and instead the bullet lodged in the arm of one of Liza's back-up men. He cried out and returned fire, along with his comrades, and the balcony door shattered.
In the same instant, Caleb had raised his 9-mm and fired at Liza, who went down with an angry screech. By then Tim had left his hiding place and was also leveling a gun at the intruders.
"Don't, Tim!" Caleb roared, leaping in front of Rachel and continuing to fire on the invading skinwalkers. A bullet grazed his arm, but he didn't feel it. Instead he drew another handgun from a holster at his hip and leveled it to fire at those who had threatened his family.
The cry came from Liza. The room went eerily silent as everyone looked at her, though Rachel, Tim, and Caleb still had weapons aimed at the skinwalkers. No one dared to breathe.
"Get out, Liza," Caleb finally growled again.
She looked at him, the fierceness leaving her eyes as she did so. Tim's blood was working from the bullet lodged in her hip. From the sound of it, the other injured skinwalker had undergone a similar experience.
A snap drew Caleb's attention, and he saw the two uninjured werewolves drawing more weapons. Acting swiftly, he shot them both, instantly killing them. He turned back to Liza.
"Don't. Threaten. My family. Ever. Again."
Her eyes were wide as she nodded, though he realized she probably didn't remember a thing. However, she would in a few days, and that was enough for him.
Taking a deep breath, he turned back to his wife and son. "Come on," he said. "We're getting out of here."
They took a late-night bus into the next town, Tim falling asleep on the way. Caleb envied him, and at the same time regretted that the boy had learned how to block bloodshed from his dreams. Rachel sat with her son's head on his shoulder, not showing any of her emotions except the whiteness of her knuckles where she clenched her fists in her lap. Caleb tentatively wrapped an arm around her shoulders, getting Tim as well and gently shushing her when she stiffened.
"Sleep," he murmured. "You need it."
She nodded and tried to relax, though she didn't sleep.
When the bus stopped, Caleb carried a still-sleeping Tim piggyback as he followed Rachel to another motel. This one was a bit nicer than the others they'd stayed at, and more expensive, but it was safer. The room was divided so that there were two separate bedrooms; Caleb gently lowered Tim into a bed and closed the door, rejoining Rachel in the main room.
"Amazing he can sleep through all that," he said, trying to make conversation.
Rachel nodded. "He's always been amazing."
"He gets that from you."
She looked up at this remark, a slight blush spreading across her cheeks. Her heart ached as she gazed at him; it always had. She had been in love with this man once, and loved him still. Why couldn't she trust him?
Caleb decided he was going to have to make the first move if things were ever going to be mended between them. "Rachel," he said, shrugging out of his jacket, "I want to –"
"You're hurt," she interrupted, seeing the blood on his shirt. "Your arm."
He looked down. "Oh. Thanks."
She retrieved the medical supplies they traveled with, coming to stand next to him as he sat on the bed. He'd removed his shirt and held out his arm as she tended to the wound.
"Thank you," she finally said. "For helping us. For saving us."
He looked at her seriously. "Rachel," he said. "I love you. Both of you. You and Tim saved me…from Varek."
She nodded, tears threatening at the corners of her eyes. Finished bandaging his arm, she turned to go into Tim's room. Caleb caught her arm.
"Please," he said softly. "I know…I can't make it right. But I want the chance to be your husband again. If you'll let me." He spilled to his knees before her.
Rachel's eyes widened. He still held her hand, and she felt him press his lips to her fingers before looking up at her again. She nearly melted as he looked at her, such burning desire in his eyes, and such pain. He regretted everything he'd done as Varek, even though he hadn't been aware of his actions at the time. "Caleb…" she whispered. "I…" Then she burst into tears.
Caleb stood, putting his arms around her and drawing her close. She sobbed into his chest, memories flooding her mind as she cried. She saw him standing next to Jonas at their wedding, remembering how Caleb's family had disapproved of their marriage but gone along with it when they found she was pregnant with his child. Their house had been so small, but it was just big enough for three. Caleb even smelled the same now as he had then, which made her cry all the harder.
He sat on the hotel room bed and cradled her in his arms, rocking her back and forth and occasionally kissing her hair or forehead. How he loved her! He didn't deserve Rachel, he knew it, not after what she'd gone through. And yet she had allowed him to stay with her and their son. It had been so long since he'd held her in his arms, and she fit perfectly.
"Caleb," she finally breathed as her sobs quieted, "I love you. I'm so sorry…"
"Shh…" he nuzzled her nose with his. "I love you, too. Now you should sleep."
She nodded, not protesting when he maneuvered them under the blankets. He lay down with her and tucked his arms around her, holding her close.
"We'll make it," he whispered to her as she drifted to sleep. "We can make it."
Tim woke late the next morning, which was strange. Frowning at the clock next to his bed, he sat up and looked around, grinning to himself when he realized his mom hadn't joined him like she usually did. Had his faking sleep on the bus and hotel actually worked?
He got out of bed and tiptoed to the door to his room, easing it open and peeking into the main room.
There were his parents, curled together and fully clothed under the blankets of their bed. It made him happy to see them together, even though it was kind of weird. But he was a thirteen-year-old and knew what adults did in bed, and made a mental note to – if he ever had his own room again – knock before finding his mom and dad.