**After the cliff of last week, here’s another episode that picks up right where it left off. This time from Sean’s POV again. Check out the tags to read the first four parts if you’ve missed it. This is the penultimate episode. We’ll wrap things up next week. But for now, enjoy!**
I lunged and caught Jamie before he hit the floor. Thank the gods for my enhanced reflexes. And superior strength, because even though he wasn’t that big, he was dead weight. The thought had panic coursing through me, but no, he wasn’t dead. Just unconscious. He was breathing, though shallowly, and his skin was so pale I could see the veins at his temples.
Before I could really panic though, his eyelids fluttered and he took a deeper breath. I scooped him up and carried him to the nearby couch. Instead of laying him on it though, I kept him in my arms, not wanting to let him go. He needed my body heat, I was sure. I wrapped one of the throws around us–faux fur that was particularly soft–then barked out an order for more water. The rest of the pack was hovering close, though out of sight, on my order.
Kai brought the water, and more food, and set both on a nearby table before scurrying off again. It was just in time too, because Jamie finally cracked his eyes open. His confused expression would have been adorable in any other circumstance but since I was downright scared for him, I’d have to appreciate it later.
“There you are,” I murmured as he blinked at me, working to keep my voice calm and neutral.
“What?” he croaked. His lips moved more, but no sound came out, so I wasn’t sure what he was asking. It didn’t matter.
“You passed out there, sweetheart. Nearly gave me a heart attack.”
He just blinked, looked around, then focused on me. He looked like he couldn’t string his thoughts together, and it was no wonder. The brain needed fuel as much as the body did, and he had zero reserves at the moment. Anything he managed to take in as a wolf he’d burned through with shift. I needed to get him to eat,
I knew that wouldn’t happen if I was in the room.
“Here.” I grabbed one of the bottles of water and handed it over. And though he took it, his hands were shaking, so I helped him drink. “Slowly.”
Jamie listened, taking small swallows until the bottle was gone. When I handed over the second one, he was able to hold it and drink it down. Hydration was just as important as calories, and would go a long way to helping him feel better. And already he looked better, not as sallow. But he needed food, and lots of it.
Kai had heaped a plate with a little of everything we’d had at the pack dinner last night, with extra portions of protein and carbs. I eyed it, wondering if he’d let me help, then decided it was better he get the calories in rather than trigger his issues. So reluctantly, I eased him to the couch beside me, made sure he was still tucked under the blanket, and handed over the plate.
“You need to eat.”
Jamie looked down at the plate in his lap, then back up at me. “Sean, I–”
“Later, sweetheart,” I said, not unkindly. My most pressing concern was that he didn’t pass out again. Everything else could wait. “I’ll leave you to it, and then come back and check on you in a while. Please eat as much as you can, okay? You’re safe here.”
I wasn’t sure why I added that last part but it seemed the right thing to say, because Jamie nodded, and took a deep breath, then picked up the fork that had been tucked under the roast beef. But even though he stabbed a bite, he didn’t lift it to his mouth. Instead, he peeked up at me through his lashes.
“I’m sorry, Sean.”
“I know,” I said softly, and leaned down to kiss his head. The soft sigh he let out clued me in that my touch was welcome. So I ran my fingers through his hair, rubbing his scalp gently for a minute, before I stepped back and turned toward the door. “I’ll be back in a little bit.”
Jamie nodded and took a bite.
I gave Jamie almost an hour, but then I couldn’t stand it anymore. Not that I hadn’t stayed close. After I’d gotten dressed, I hung out nearby so I could hear if he got into trouble. But everything sounded fine. I was the one who was antsy to get back in there.
I sent the pack on their way, assuring them all I’d give them an update on Jamie. He wasn’t particularly close with any of the pack members, but they all cared about him. And they were nearly as worried as I was, now that they saw just how much help he needed. Jamie had been good at keeping everyone at arm’s length, making everyone think he was fine. They all fell for it. I had too, to a degree.
But I didn’t want him to be overwhelmed, and I knew he’d feel more comfortable if they weren’t around for the time being, so I shuffled them off to their homes. While the pack house was a gathering place, and my home, no one else lived there full time. So it was easy to shoo them out the door.
When I went back to check on Jamie, I was pleased to see he’d nearly cleared his plate. The only thing left were the pile of peas and a small piece of chicken. I knew he had to have been starving, but I’d been concerned he couldn’t have managed it all. I was ridiculously proud that he had.
He’d gotten dressed too, which was a shame, but now was not the time to be thinking about his lithe, sweet body.
“Hey, how’re you feeling?” I asked as I padded barefoot back into the room.
He was startled, and I was surprised, because he was usually so aware of his surroundings. We all were. It was part of being a werewolf. But I supposed he had a lot on his mind, and he was, after all, safe here.
Jamie tried for a smile, failed, and then sighed. I opened my mouth to tell him it was okay, that I was proud of him, but he surprised me and spoke first.
“I was raised in foster care, did you know that?”
It was my turn to blink in confusion. It seemed like a non-sequitur, but clearly he had a reason for bringing it up, so I just shook my head and sat at the other end of the couch. Jamie spared me a glance, but then returned to gazing at the far wall as he pulled the blanket tighter around him.
“A werewolf pup in human care. It was…” he pursed his lips. “Well, it could have been a lot worse, that’s for sure. I knew what I was, but I couldn’t tell anyone. But I was hungry all the time. So hungry. Because I just wasn’t getting enough. Even as a pup, before the first shift, werewolves need more calories.”
My heart broke for him, because with a sinking feeling, I thought I knew where this was headed. But I didn’t interrupt his story, and just acknowledged his statement. “I know.”
He nodded though he still didn’t look for me. “I was in one home where they fed me well. Even took me to the doctor to try to figure out what was wrong. Why I was eating so much but didn’t gain weight. But then the lady got sick and I got moved and…” He looked at me then, the pain in his eyes. “Will you hold me?”
I was across the couch in a flash, wrapping him up tight in my arms. He sighed and clunked his head down on my shoulder. For a few minutes, he just breathed and I wanted to tell him he didn’t have to continue, didn’t have to rip open this old wound, but he’d started this and maybe he needed to get it all out. So I sat quietly, holding him as tightly as I dared, and breathed with him.
Eventually, he started talking again. “That new house was…not great. And they had a bunch of us and it was hard. They constantly berated me because I wanted to eat all the time, until eventually, I stopped.” He blew out a breath and it gusted across my skin. “I only ate when no one was around and only enough so I could survive.”
“Oh, Jamie, sweetheart,” I began, but didn’t know what to say.
“I was fourteen when one of my teachers recognized what I was. He wasn’t a wolf, but his wife was, and he knew I was in foster care, so he was concerned. He told his wife, who told her alpha, who got me out. But by then it was a habit, and habits are hard to break, and every time–” He voice broke, and he swallowed hard. I could feel his heart pounding against me, and I rumbled out a soothing sound that helped him relax. Helped him continue with, “Every time I eat around people, I can’t help but think I’m being judged, even though I know I’m not.”
“You aren’t,” I said fiercely, squeezing him even tighter. “You aren’t, Jamie.”
He nodded, his forehead rubbing against my neck. “I know. I do. But It’s hard.”
“What can I do to help you?” I asked softly.
“I don’t know.” His voice was barely more than a whisper. “It’s been a long time and I’ve tried to talk to a therapist, but it only helps for so long. But it’s easier with you. I ate in front of you. I ate from your hand.”
I tucked a finger under his chin and raised his gaze to mine. And when I was sure I had his full attention, I loosened my hold and leaned down, giving him time to pull away if he wanted. But he pushed closer instead, lifting his chin a fraction more.
I kissed him, softly and gentle, even though I wanted to maul him. To wrap him up tight and keep him close and never let him go. But it wasn’t the time for that. And more importantly, he had to know I was there for him.
“We’ll figure it out,” I vowed as our lips parted. “I promise, Jamie. We’ll do whatever we can to help you.”
He nodded, closed his eyes, and pressed his face against my neck. He sucked in a deep breath and within seconds, he was asleep.