Kate and Eric went for a hike the day after the skunking. He showed her where the pack hunted as well as were he and Henry had startled the skunk. When they reached the peak of a nearby mountain, they sat in the lee of the summit and ate lunch.
“Oh Eric, it is so beautiful up here. I don’t know if I will want to go home.” Kate sighed and leaned against Eric.
“I feel the same way. So quiet after the chaos of the last week. I’m still trying to take it all in.”
“Last week or the scenery?” she asked with a smile playing across her face.
Eric chuckled. “Both if you must know.” He wrapped an arm around Kate. “Last week was so stuffed full of tension and pain. I feel like I lived a whole year in six days. Now I’m just trying to grasp it all and heal as well.”
“You still have some bruises and cuts that are rather red. I still marvel at how fast you do heal. Most men would still be in hospital with nurses and doctors fussing over them.”
Eric nodded. Turning to face Kate, he brought her face nearer to his. “And how are you doing? We haven’t had much of a chance to talk about how you are doing with all that happened,” he inquired softly.
Kate looked down for a moment at the grass and lichens near her and then back up at Eric. “When it all happened, I didn’t have time to think. Just act. When the police got to the house, I still didn’t have much time to think about it because they were asking all those questions, the dogs were barking, and there were dead bodies all over my dining room. It wasn’t until Zach came and they all went looking for you that I had a chance to think instead of react. “
“What went through your head?”
“Fear. Fear of loosing you. Fear of being alone. Fear of having to explain to Jamie and Mark what had happened to you. Fear of that creature coming back for me and you not being there to defend me. All I could do is cry. I know I was in shock, but that doesn’t help matters. The deputies were trying to comfort me, and all I wanted was you. I crawled into the bed and just held your pillow because it smelled of you. Oh gods! I was afraid I had lost you forever and I didn’t want to go down that path ever again. I did it when David died and I swore then that I’d never get attached to anyone that much again in my life besides my children. Then you came along with Jamie and Mark and I couldn’t help myself but to fall in love with you.” Kate buried her face in Eric’s shirt. The tears streaming down her face soaked the material.
Eric wrapped his arms around Kate and held her tight. He knew that she had been bottling up all the emotion from the last few days. Knew that he had to wait for her to let it out. He’d gone through things like this before and knew what to expect. Eric had done some of his catharsis under the midnight sky the first night they were here. He knew that neither one of them was finished either.
“W-w-waiting for Zach or James to call and say that they had found you was worse than hearing that David was dead. There wasn’t any waiting in terror with him. Just poof and he was gone. But I had to wait for what seemed like forever until the phone rang. Even then I didn’t know what the news would be. To hear your voice on the phone, Oh Eric. I, I wanted to cry and scream and yell all at the same time. I couldn’t get to you fast enough. Poor car, I think I drove it in third gear all the way. Once I got there and saw you… My heart stopped. I swear it did. I didn’t realize until much later that some of the pain I had been feeling was yours. You were so hurt and I just couldn’t do enough. The paramedics were moving too slow and too fast all at the same time. I know that sounds stupid, but it is how it felt.” Kate stopped to blow her nose on a hankie Eric handed her.
“We all get that time distortion when things like that happen. I had it happen in combat more than once. Things are so confusing and so clear all at the same time.” Eric remembered incidents that he had tried hard to forget. He pulled Kate closer to him, so that she was almost in his lap. “What else Kate?”
“ I felt helpless. While the medics were cleaning you up, I kept replaying the whole event in my head. I kept thinking that I should have been able to do better. That if I had, you wouldn’t have gotten hurt. No matter how I replayed it, I wasn’t good enough. You still got hurt.”
Eric took her face in his hands and looked straight into her eyes. “Kate, you did the right thing. There was no other way for things to work out. If you hadn’t done exactly what you did, I’d be a very lonely man and your sons would be without their mom. That beast didn’t care which one of us he killed. He was going for you because you were nearer and I couldn’t shoot. That you got out of the way is a miracle. In the back of my mind as I chased that wolf, I hoped that you were unhurt. I didn’t know. I didn’t know until the morning after. I woke up and sniffed you all over while you slept. That you have whimpered in your sleep told me that your hurts were mental and not physical. Things like this have a way of burrowing into our brains and instead of letting them scab over, you have to talk about them.”
“You, you’ve been through this type of thing before.” Kate was hiccuping as she tried to stop crying.
“Yes. More times than I want to admit. It isn’t easy, but talking about it helps. Kate, you did the right thing. So did Zach. So did I. Bad shit just happens some times and we can’t do anything except deal with it. I am so sorry that my past endangered our family. I am sorry I hurt you. I love you so much Kate.” Eric wrapped his arms around her and hugged her tightly. Kate’s arms came up around him as well. The two of them sat there for a long time. Kate cried until she had no tears left. Eric felt tears roll down his face as well.
Kate was the first one to break the embrace. They had been holding each other long enough for her leg to fall asleep. As she moved it, it was full of the pins and needles sensation. “Eric, I need a drink.”
Eric reached into his pack and got out his water bottle. Kate took it and drank half. She handed it back to him and he finished it off.
“Thank you. I feel better now.” Kate smiled through the tear streaks on her face. “Better in a way I haven’t felt in a week. I didn’t realize just how much I was bottling up inside. I kept telling myself that everything would be alright and that I was handling it okay.”
“You’ve done a good job of keeping everything together. Most women would have been in hysterics for the last week. Then again, you have surprised me time and again over the way you handle odd situations.”
“Yeah, well it isn’t every day that you find yourself in love with a werewolf who has more spy-guy connections than a James Bond movie.” She smiled. “Besides, the boys always did say I was ‘Super-Mom’, the tree hugging, dirt worshiping goddess of the kitchen.” Kate started giggling and both of them laughed until they could barely breathe.
The sun was setting just below the trees as they came within sight of the hotel. Henry was standing on the porch with a pair of binoculars. Eric waved at him and Henry waved back. Nice to know that they’d been missed.
“Beginning to wonder where you were. Josie was getting anxious.”
Eric knew that it was Henry that had been anxious, but didn’t say anything. “We climbed that peak over there and got lost in conversation for a few hours.” He pointed back over his shoulders.
“Ah. Well, supper is in about thirty minutes. There’s time for a shower if you hurry.”
“That sounds good.” said Kate. “I’ll go get started and you can join me as soon as you tell Henry all about the big horn sheep we saw.” She smiled as she walked away.
“Sheep? You two saw sheep?” Henry asked with curiosity.
“Yeah. Half a mountain away, but we saw them. Kate first to be honest.”
“Cool.” Henry watched Kate enter their room from the deck and turned back to Eric. “How did the rest of your hike go?” Henry’s tone was more serious.
“Good. We had a long talk up on the mountain. It was like Josie figured. Holding in a lot of pain and too afraid to share it. I’m just glad that Josie noticed she was whimpering in her sleep. I certainly hadn’t noticed. Should have but didn’t.” Eric was still a bit miffed with himself for not seeing it as clearly as Josie had that Kate was hurting. Then again, he knew that he was still dealing with all the emotional stuff as well as physical aches and pains.
“Josie said to tell you not to be too hard on yourself. You two have been through a lot more than most lately. You’re bound to miss a few things. And to be honest, Kate is a very strong little lady. Not surprised that she kept things buried where you didn’t see them,” Henry finished and then put his hand on Eric’s shoulder. “Now go get cleaned up before dinner.”
Dinner was roast venison, potatoes and green beans. Eric ate more than he should have, but didn’t care. He was happy, full and sleepy. He woke up to the sound of laughter at one point and realized that he had fallen asleep mid-sentence.
“Eric, I think it’s time for Kate to haul you off to bed,” Josie said with a smile.
“But what about dessert?” Eric remembered that Josie had made a berry pie.
“It’ll be in the kitchen if you wake up in the night. I don’t think you could stay awake long enough to eat it.”
“You’re probably right Josie.” Eric took the last bit of venison off his plate and stood up. “Are you ready?” he asked Kate.
“I’ve been finished for ten minutes. Just been watching you try to eat that last bit and not giggle too loudly.”
“Oh great….. some mate you are!” Eric said teasingly.
Kate kissed him on the head and then offered her hand to help him up from the table. Henry grabbed the plates and Josie got the silverware and napkins. “See you in the morning,” Kate said as they left the dining room.
They walked down the hall and were in their room in a few minutes. Kate started to get undressed, but Eric just flopped across the bed. He was tired. It had been a long exhausting day in many ways. The last thing he remembered was Kate pulling off his shoes and saying something about getting undressed.
Eric woke up in the middle of the night cold and on top of the covers. He realized that his clothes were still on, and that Kate was under the covers. He finished getting undressed and crawled in to snuggle Kate. She pulled his arm around her as he touched her side. Spooned up tight, he fell back asleep.
The few days reprieve ended all too soon. Eric had taken the packs down to the car and was coming back up the stairs when he met Kate and Josie on the deck. The two were talking and didn’t stop when Eric joined them.
“Oh, I know this place down by you. It’s even shifter friendly,” Josie said.
“What?” Kate asked, rather puzzled.
“Yeah. They don’t know that they are shifter friendly, but it’s a great place to go.” Josie smiled.
“What are you two talking about?” Eric asked.
“Josie said that there is this pizza place she and Henry go to down by us. Said it’s about an hour’s drive south. I’ve just been trying to figure out where. She can’t remember the name of the place though.”
“Henry will remember.” Josie turned and went looking for Henry. She didn’t get far as he was coming down the hall towards them. They walked back over to Eric and Kate.
“Henry, what’s the name of that pizza place we go to down towards Eric and Kate’s?”
“Umm… I don’t know it’s real name, but everyone around there calls it the Dog Bar,” Henry said. He put his arms around Josie as he spoke.
“The Dog Bar?” Kate asked with a funny look shadowing her face.
“Yeah. Up in that little ski resort town with dirt roads.”
“Kate, do you know the place?” Eric looked at Kate, trying to figure out the expression on her face.
“Oh yes. I just never thought of it being shifter friendly. Zach and Andy go there all the time. The reason they call it the Dog Bar is because you can take your dogs in there. They even have things on the menu for your mutts.” Kate began to smile as she thought about the whole idea of taking Eric there in wolf form. “It’s also known for it’s wild parties and back alley fights.”
“I take it that Zach and Andy are sons of yours?” Henry asked Eric.
“No, not mine. Kate’s. Kate has four sons and those two are the oldest. I thought we’d mentioned that before.”
“No, I must have missed that. I know that there are two younger ones, but missed that there were any others.” Henry shifted from foot to foot which rocked Josie back and forth.
“I have a daughter and a son. Jamie and Mark. Kate has Zach, Andy, Pat and Jon. She also has a bunch of feral children.”
“Feral children?” Henry was really confused by this point.
“It’s what I call the kids that have drifted into my life via the boys or my work with the homeless shelter. They are like feral cats,” Kate started to explain.
Henry nodded as the concept caught. “So, do all of the kids get along well?”
Kate laughed. “Not exactly. Jamie and Mark are eight and ten. My youngest is fifteen and the oldest is twenty-five. Mine tend to see the two youngest either as pests or babies.”
Henry blinked and took another look at Kate. “Are you sure you didn’t just adopt them? You don’t look old enough to have a son that old, let alone four.”
“Henry, you are a sweet man. I’m nearly forty-seven. I think I’m more than old enough. Besides, if my guess is correct, I’m going to be a grandma in about seven months.” Kate smiled, and watched Eric’s face as he digested this information.
“Kate, which one?” Eric asked.
“Anne. She smells pregnant if that makes any sense.”
Eric thought about it. “You know, I think you’re right. Does she know yet?”
“I think she suspects. Zach is clueless, but then again, what male isn’t at first?”
Henry laughed and Eric nodded.
“So, if we head your way, we can all head out and enjoy the Dog Bar?” Josie asked, redirecting the conversation back to where it had been.
“Sounds good to me. I figure the last of the stuff should be cleaned up in a week or so. I go back to work then and maybe one of the weekends after would be a good time,” Kate was calculating things in her head. “School will almost be done by then too.”
“Hey… Wait a minute. Do we get to go as four-legs or two-legs?” Henry asked as he let go and stepped away from Josie.
“Well, Josie and I were speculating that she and I could go in with two beautiful wolves and then if you wanted, the two of you could show up later. Especially as I don’t shift very well.”
“That sounds like a possibility. We will get ahold of you before we head that way. Our vacation time is limited, but we do run away for the odd weekend,” Henry looked around as he spoke. “Are you two all packed?”
“Yes. It has been an interesting and relaxing couple of days. Thanks for everything Henry, Josie,” Eric stepped forward and started to shake Henry’s hand. Henry pulled him into a bear hug. Eric returned the hug. Josie and Kate hugged and then turned to the men. Kate barely came up to Henry’s chest. Josie hugged Eric and then tousled his hair.
“It has been wonderful getting to know you. Especially after such a rocky start,” Josie said.
“I agree. We’ll keep in touch,” Kate said as she turned to go.
Eric and Kate climbed into the Subbie and with some final waves goodbye headed down the mountain.