Morningstar: The Malaise - 50. The Times They Are a-Changin'
Morningstar: The Malaise
Two full days had passed since their arrival back at Morningstar. There would be travel back and forth for some, over the next few days, but for now the newly combined pack had all its members in one place. It had been a hectic transition in many ways, but exciting as well. Morningstar had an infusion of new blood, and no one took it for granted. They all knew what it meant to the now hope-filled future of shifters.
“I love your hair when it’s wet,” Tobyn said when Kellar exited the master bath.
“Sweaty wet or shower wet?”
“I’ll take either. Sweaty wet usually means you’ve been working hard at making me happy, and shower wet means you’re all ready to do it again.”
Kellar belly-laughed. “I’m at your service anytime, wet or dry. Should I forget about getting dressed?”
Tobyn grinned as he finished pulling a tee shirt over his own wet hair. “While I prefer you naked, I’ll have to take a raincheck. Duty calls.”
“So, duty means lunch with Warren?”
“Among other things. I’m sure there’s a million things to take care of—hey, maybe we should try to avoid my mom… nah, that’ll never work—and your Vega fans need to see their Cahlar.”
Kellar first chuckled, then pouted, and then rolled his eyes. “Yes, master.”
“That’s my mountain man. Now, get a move on before I change my mind and confine you to the bedroom.” Tobyn deliberately brushed his body against Kellar’s as he left, causing goosebumps to rise.
“Damn! Fine. I’ll be ready in two shakes of a lamb’s tail,” Kellar called after him. “Down, boy,” he muttered to his penis.
“Hey, bro. Sorry I’m late. Hey, Tobyn. I had to give Dougal a hand with a transmission before I could get away. Those suckers are heavy.”
“No worries, man.” Kellar and Tobyn both stood for quick one-armed hugs. “Sit. I ordered the burger and fries for all of us. How’s Dougal fitting in?” Kellar asked, once they were seated in the busy, sun-filled dining room.
“He’s a character… it’s a lot more fun at the garage now that the pressure’s off, and Denver and him keep going down memory lane. Some interesting stories for me to listen to. I’m glad I finally get a chance to sit down and talk with you guys, though. It’s been insane around here, hasn’t it?”
“Yeah, but a good kind of insanity,” Tobyn remarked. “Everyone has a house picked now—without any real arguments—and, for the first time in decades, we have enough members for all the work… more than enough.”
“Yeah, Adelin and I went for a walk at dusk last night, and it was cool to see lights on in so many homes. There can’t be that many empty ones left, are there?”
“Mom says there’s fourteen in good shape, and a few older ones that need work, but that number will increase by a couple, once all the mates are living together. I guess we could soon be looking at organizing a building crew.” Conversation stopped as their food was delivered.
“Isn’t it great how many shifters are in here? I just love it,” Marjorie exclaimed as she fussed over their table.
“Hey, what about me?” Warren asked.
“Oh, sweetie, you’re considered one of us, you know that,” she said, giving his arm a pat. “Anyway, Joanne is much easier to deal with because she has lots of help in the kitchen… well, that’s one of the reasons. That Ian is a delicious drink of water.” A giggle erupted before she continued. “Heather can serve fulltime now, instead of going back and forth, so everyone is happy. We can’t thank you boys enough… yell if you need anything else. Oh, Warren, sweetie, I’ll be right back with your drink. Sorry, I forgot it. Coke?”
“Yes, please, Marjorie. That would hit the spot.”
Kellar watched her walk away, and thought about how everywhere you looked in the dining room, people were smiling and laughing. His eyes settled on Joanne’s ex, Dolan, pleased that he looked as engaged and happy as everyone else. “Back to the mates moving in together… that’ll probably happen in a couple of days at the most. Watching Dirk and Sarah the last day and a half, I wouldn’t be surprised if he’s already given up his place. The man can’t wipe the grin off his face. I don’t think I ever saw him smile before he met her.”
“Yeah, no one can describe him as taciturn now. He was even talking at dinner last night, and, I actually heard him laugh,” Tobyn said with an amused head shake. “I love too, how involved the kids are. They’re like a little pack of their own, running all over the place and helping everyone get settled.”
“And the Vega shifters love having them around,” Kellar added. “Their faces light up whenever they see a kid. Bertram’s a little star.”
They all chuckled at the thought of the irrepressible little fellow who seemed to have springs for legs.
“The new members are a nice bunch of people, that’s for sure, and it doesn’t faze them one bit that I’m human. I’ve never thought much about kids before, but I couldn’t imagine a place without them,” Warren mumbled around a mouthful of food. “That must have been a tough situation to live with every single day. No wonder they keep saying how much they like it here. Speaking of which, you guys realize you’re everyone’s heroes, right? It’s all Tobyn this, and Kellar that. You’ve rescued two packs now. And what’s all this stuff about a prophecy, anyway?” he asked with a poorly concealed smirk.
“Oh, jeez. Is that going around?”
“You bet it is. I had to ask why some of the Vega members were mispronouncing your name, and was told about how you resembled some famous dude’s wolf in a painting. They call you the savior. Good job on the healings, man. Do I need to start bowing when I see you?”
“Don’t take this too personally, Warren, but fuck off.”
“Oh, touchy, are we?”
“Don’t push your luck,” Tobyn warned with a grin. “Kellar thinks all the talk will disappear, but between you and me, not a chance. Your brother may hate attention, but he’s become a bit of a legend.”
“Oh, come on, babe. Not you too,” Kellar said with a groan.
“Sorry. Okay, let’s talk about something else.”
“Hey, not before I say how proud I am of you, bro. I get cred when I introduce myself as the exalted one’s brother.”
“Not as good as being the savior’s consort,” Tobyn said smugly, and Warren laughed.
Kellar almost choked on his french fry. “Okay, you’ve had your fun. Can we stop now? Please?”
“What do you think, Warren? Remember, I’m the one who has to live with him.”
“I say, okay… for now.” Warren grinned, and Kellar had the urge to throw something at him.
Instead, he said, “Thank you for small favors.” It was time to change the subject. “Where’s Adelin, dude? You guys are usually glued at the hip.”
“You’re one to talk. Someone could tie your and Tobyn’s hands together and you wouldn’t even notice.”
“True that,” Kellar said around a mouthful of burger. “So, Adelin?”
“Oh yeah… she worked at the store this morning, training Millie and Ulrich. Right now she should be at Logan’s house helping Tilly go through it.”
“Which house did he end up picking?”
“The three bedroom across from Miss Sybil’s and Arthur’s place, one down from the school. The girls think it’s great, and apparently Logan likes being close to the old guy.”
“I thought Tilly loved her house,” Kellar said.
“She does, but it’s only a two bedroom.” Tobyn wiped some ketchup off the corner of Kellar’s mouth with a napkin. “The times, they are a changing.”
“That, they are.”
Warren was watching the two of them, and his expression was serious.
“What?” Kellar asked.
“Nothing. Okay, something. I need to ask you a favor… actually two favors.”
“All right. Ask away.”
“Would you consider being my best man?”
“You’re getting married? Awesome! When?”
“Well, that depends on you guys. We know you’ll be traveling, so it‘ll have to be when you’re home. Maybe after your next adventure?”
“For sure, I’ll do it, but don’t you have to pick a date and do a lot of planning and stuff? Hell, I don’t want to hold you back, or….”
“Doc, take a breath. Weddings are pretty casual for us. There’s not a lot to plan. We don’t do the flower thing, other than a bouquet of wildflowers sometimes, and there’s no venue, because weddings are held outside, at night, usually during a full or almost-full moon. There are old stories of weddings for our pack being performed a few hours before sunrise when Venus, the morning star, shines brightest, but that was centuries ago. It’s not a thing anymore.”
“Oh. I didn’t know any of that. Will I need fancy clothes?”
Tobyn snorted. “Just your finest pelt. Our tradition is those who stand with the couple do so as wolves if they can shift. Everyone in the pack is invited, from kids to adults, in whatever form they choose, so there’s no guest list, and of course there’s no photographer.”
“Dude, it’s the smartest thing ever. If I was a shifter, we’d go for a run right after the ceremony, which brings me to the other favor.”
“Wait… who performs the ceremony?”
“An alpha or his designate always did in the past, but in our situation, weddings are done by my mom, Maynard or Ingram. Vows are whatever the couple want them to be. There’s this nice verse about the blessings of the earth mother which usually gets recited. It’s a pretty simple event, but it means just as much to us as human weddings.”
“Doesn’t it sound cool, bro? I don’t even have to sweat over picking out the right ring.”
Kellar grinned at his brother. He’d always hated weddings… all that fuss in a stuffy church. As a kid he’d thought them stupid, but something like this sounded… right. “Very cool. I’m in for sure, Warren. I’d be honored.”
“Awesome. What about you, bro-in-law? Will you stand up with me too… on your four feet?” he asked with a chuckle.
“I’d be honored too, Warren. Count my four paws in. Who are you asking to preside over it?”
“Elinor… and we already did. Well, Adelin did the asking, and your mom said she’d be happy to. She mentioned there hasn’t been a wedding here in a really long time.”
“No, I guess there hasn’t, come to think of it.”
Kellar caught the momentary frown on Tobyn’s face before it dissipated. “I think we’ll have a flood of them soon, right, babe?”
A smile lit his mate’s face. “Yup… to quote Bob Dylan one more time… the times, they are a changing.”
“So, what’s the other favor?”
Warren wiped his mouth with a napkin before speaking. “You remember me saying I was going to do the blood exchange and become a shifter?”
Why did his brother look sheepish? Kellar nodded. “I remember. Are you having any second thoughts?’
“No, that’s not it. Adelin and I have talked at length about it, and I have no reservations at all, but… I don’t trust myself.”
Kellar leaned forward slightly. “What are you talking about?”
“When I become a wolf for the first time. Denver told me there can be a lot of anger the first few minutes, until a shifter gets used to it.”
“He’s right… there is. So?”
“Well, I remember yours… your first shift… and bro, seriously… I’ve done a whole whack of drugs. What if my brain’s screwed up from all those chemicals? No way do I want Adelin there—just in case I go loopy—but she wants to be. She’s insisting.”
“She is your mate, Warren. Do you honestly think you could hurt her?”
“I… I don’t know. I do know I don’t want to take the chance. She’s really adamant about being at my side, but the only way I could have her be there is if you are too… your big wolf. I want you there to kick my ass if you have to. Stomp on my head if I get out of line.” Warren’s expression held a plea in it, but there was also embarrassment at having to ask.
“I wish you could sit on this side of the table and hear yourself. There’s nothing wrong with your brain, and there’s not a chance in hell you would hurt anyone, especially Adelin, but I’ll gladly be there if you want me. Not because I’m worried, but because you’re my brother, and I would love to share that moment with you.” Kellar smirked. “After all, you shared my first shift.”
Warren smiled, and then started laughing. “I sure as hell did. You were one scary fucker. I was such an ass back then. I’m lucky you didn’t….” Warren’s laughter ended and his words trailed off as a different emotion showed on his face… regret? Shame?
“That’s the past. We’re in a different place now,” Kellar said softly. “Right?”
Warren cleared his throat. “Right.”
“So when are you planning to do this? Before the wedding or after?”
“It doesn’t matter, not to either of us, but we’ve been told it can take as long as a couple of weeks for me to become a shifter. So it’ll have to be when you’re here for at least two weeks.”
Kellar gave Tobyn a questioning look. “What do you think, babe?”
“It’s up to you. We talked about heading out in a week, but it could wait. We know from Mom that Arthur remembers something about the Thunder Bay area, so we only have a vague destination anyway.”
“He might remember something more specific in the next day or two.” He turned back to Warren. “You know you can’t miss a day of blood exchange once you start?”
“Yeah, we’ve been told the change won’t take if we do, and apparently we only have one chance. We’re not going to screw it up, but like I said, there’s no hurry. We know you’re under pressure to find more mates, so leave when you were going to, and we’ll wait until you guys get back.”
He could tell his brother was sincere, and they did feel a lot of pressure, from guys like Dougal and Percy especially. Even Dolan, who’d lost the most in their first search for earth mates, made a remark yesterday about not forgetting him.
Kellar, too, had picked up on Maynard’s wistful looks as he’d watched the closeness of Ingram and Dot. He was now the only leader without a mate. “Let’s see what happens in the next few days. It’ll be easier to travel and cover more ground in the summer, so fall makes more sense. I doubt we’ll be traipsing off anywhere in the winter. Who’s to say it won’t take three weeks of blood exchanges, so I want us to have plenty of leeway. I would hate to miss it because of some timing issue.”
Warren beamed. “Thanks, bro… I would hate it too. I’m counting on you to be there, and fall sounds good to me.”
They waved goodbye to Warren as he drove away, and proceeded over to Tobyn’s vehicle. It was a perfect day to be on a boat, according to Tobyn, and he wanted to check if one was available at the marina. Kellar was excited at the possibility of his first ever outing on water. They had just opened their doors when one of the big dually farm trucks pulled in beside theirs. It had a large wooden pen on the back, and in it, a horned sheep was visible. The musky odor of the animal assaulted Kellar’s sensitive nostrils. Hugh was the driver, and he hopped out and walked around to their side.
“Hey, bud,” Tobyn said. “Stopping in for some lunch?”
Hugh shook hands with them both. “No, I’m not hungry… had a big breakfast, and there’s, ah… something I have to take care of first.”
“Does it have anything to do with that critter in the back of your truck?”
Hugh chuckled. “Kind of. That critter is a Canadian Arcott ram we’ve traded to a local farmer so he can improve his meat production. Today’s as good a day as any to deliver him… the horny bugger’s already primed for the fall breeding season, and he’s annoying the hell out of our ewes.”
Kellar was watching Tobyn’s friend, and it was plain he was nervous about something; his words were coming out in a hurried ramble. Another one anxious for them to find his mate? He sensed a request coming.
“It is a beautiful day, isn’t it? We’re just headed over to the marina. Kellar’s never been out on a boat before. Can you believe it?” Tobyn shook his head in mock disgust.
“Oh… okay… ah… okay. Well, I’m sure you’ll enjoy it, Kellar. There’s nothing like being out on the lake on a warm, sunny day. You guys sure have earned some relaxation time after all you’ve done for us. I’ll leave you to it, then. See ya later. Have fun.”
He turned back to his truck with shoulders slumped. Kellar didn’t know him well, but his body language showed disappointment. “Something on your mind, Hugh?” he called out.
“Yeah, what’s up with you, man?” Tobyn asked. “Is anything wrong? Did you want to ask us about looking for your mate?”
Hugh turned back, his expression clouded. “No… it’s nothing like that… I… shit… I think I might have found my mate.”
It certainly wasn’t what Kellar was expecting to hear. Mate? He knew every shifter pattern here, and none matched Hugh. “Why do you think that?”
“Ah, I’m not sure… look, I don’t want to hold you guys up. We all have stuff to do. Don’t worry about it.” He went to turn away again.
“Hold on, bud. If you think you’ve found your mate, Kellar can verify it. The lake can wait, right, doc?”
“Absolutely. It’s no one on pack lands, though. You know that, don’t you?”
Hugh nodded. “I do… it’s… he’s not a shifter… he’s human,” he uttered quietly.
Tobyn glanced quickly at his mate with eyes widened. “He?”
“Yeah, he. That’s why I believe he has to be my mate. I’ve never been attracted to a guy before. That stuff we did as kids doesn’t count.”
“What?” escaped before Kellar could prevent it.
“Cool your jets, doc. It isn’t what you think.”
“I’m not thinking anything.”
“Aren’t you?” Tobyn asked with a smirk. “So, you’re attracted to this guy? Maybe it’s love, Hugh.”
“I don’t think so… but hell, I don’t know. He’s taken over my whole brain. I can’t sleep, and I can’t eat. I lied about having a big breakfast. I’m on my way there now, and the last thing I want to do is eat.”
“On your way there, where?” Kellar asked.
“Davidson’s farm. It’s a few miles from here. He lives and works at the place.”
Kellar saw now, just how tired Hugh was. “When did you first see him?”
“Ah… that would be a couple of months ago, but he was fixing a fence way up behind the barn when I went to pick out a couple of young ewes as payment for Bob. My eyes hadn’t improved yet back then, so I didn’t get a good look at him, but I felt… like… a pull. I thought I was just curious, so we marked the ewes and I left. I had this weird feeling when I drove away, but it wasn’t a big deal; after a few days it wasn’t as noticeable. I didn’t know much about mates back then.”
Hugh jerked his head toward the back of the big dually. “Him.”
“Oh, right. So, what happened to change things to where you couldn’t eat or sleep? Did you finally talk to the guy?”
Hugh winced, and then nodded at Kellar. “I went back to Davidson’s a couple of weeks ago with the small trailer so I could pick up those ewes, but he wasn’t there. I could have waited until I delivered the ram, but….”
“Who wasn’t there?”
“Old man Davidson. His name’s Lorne, but no one calls him that. He was in the hospital for a knee replacement, and apparently he’s recuperating at his sister’s, so Connor, that’s his name, is in charge of everything. That’s when we officially met.” He groaned, looking dismayed. “I think I may have freaked him out.”
“Why do you think that?” Tobyn asked.
“Because I held onto his hand too long for starters. I don’t know what happened… he had to pry his hand away. He asked me what the fuck was wrong with me.”
“Yeah, shit. You know me, Tobe. That’s not me. I freaked myself out too, but I told him ‘sorry,’ and said I was preoccupied with something, and had a brain freeze moment. He kept looking at me weird. I didn’t know what was happening, so I chattered on like an idiot. I asked him a bunch of questions about sheep… stuff I already knew… and I don’t even know what else. He probably thought I was on drugs or something.”
“Relax, bud. I’m sure it’s not that bad. So, you really believe he’s your mate?”
“Yeah… I tried to convince myself it wasn’t possible, but after I went a few days without sleep or food, yeah. It’s the only explanation, right? What the hell am I going to do?” Hugh rubbed his face in exasperation.
He didn’t look all that far away from collapse, and when Kellar flickered, he saw a pale aura that backed his impression up. “We are going to see if you’re right. All I need is a glimpse of Connor and we’ll go from there.”
“You’ll do that for me? What about your plans?”
“What plans? Of course, we’ll do this for you. You can’t go on like this, not knowing. I take it he’ll be there now?”
“Yeah, he will. Well, he should be… thank you. You’re right that I need to know, although I’m not sure what I’ll do if he is my mate.”
“One step at a time,” Tobyn said. “Is he from the area?”
“No, he moved up from the Lake Simcoe area… somewhere around Orillia, if I remember right. He’s kind of skittish, and he doesn’t say much, but that could be my fault. He’s the only worker Davidson has, and he has sheep, cattle and poultry to look after. Kellar?”
“Why would the earth mother give me a human male earth mate? I don’t see any sense in that.”
“Seriously, Hugh? You’d ask such a question when you know what earth mates mean to our survival? The energy we all need?”
“But a man? Why not a woman… at least then we could have children?”
“Dig yourself a little deeper, Hugh,” Tobyn interjected with an edge to his voice. “Kellar and I can’t have children either, and I never question the earth mother. I just figure she knew my heart better than I did.”
“I didn’t mean….”
Tobyn cut him off. “Tell me something. Have you ever been seriously interested in a woman?”
“Look, I’m sorry. You’re right. It was a stupid thing to say. I’m sorry, Kellar.”
“No worries, but why don’t you answer my mate’s question. He’s only trying to help you understand something.”
“I’m not trying to give you a hard time,” Tobyn added, with a little less edge this time.
“You’re asking because you’re saying I’m gay?”
“I’m saying if Connor is your mate, it means you stand the best chance of being happy with a man. I’m saying the earth mother knows this, just like she knew it for me and for Kellar. And if this guy isn’t your mate, then chances are you’re gay as hell.”
Kellar snorted, and a contrite Hugh followed suit. “Yeah, I guess that’s what it will mean alright. I hope you guys aren’t mad at me for being such an idiot.”
“It wasn’t exactly smooth sailing for me either, bud. I fought the idea for a while, but I know now I never would have been happy with a woman. Kellar’s my mate because he’s everything I want. Now get in the damn truck and let’s go.” Tobyn grinned at Kellar. “You think we got him straightened out?”
“I don’t think straightened out is the right choice of words, babe.”
The little bit of tension left disappeared in the laughter that followed from all of them. Kellar winked at Tobyn before he slid in next to him and yanked the door closed.
Hugh turned into a leafy lane and drove for about a hundred feet. He came to a stop at a standard wire farm gate chained shut to a sturdy post. On the other side, the hard-packed driveway continued through pasture land up to a huge barn and numerous outbuildings, with sheep-wire fence bordering each side. Tobyn’s childhood friend took a deep breath before laying on the horn for a good five seconds.
Kellar noticed the sign nailed to a tree that said Davidson Farm: Lorne Davidson-Proprietor. It looked to have been put there recently, the painted letters fresh. His roving gaze took in cattle grazing in the fields ahead, to the right, while sheep dotted the opposite side.
Movement from between two of the smaller buildings caught his attention. He squeezed Tobyn’s hand at the sight. Walking, or more accurately, limping towards them was a rangy, lean, dark-haired man. A quick flicker verified the pattern was an exact match for Hugh’s, except for the lack of burnt umber. He’d been right. Connor was definitely his mate. Kellar turned his head to look past Tobyn, and the movement drew Hugh’s attention away from the advancing man. Curious, apprehensive eyes met his, and he nodded.
Tobyn sighed, and Hugh groaned.
“You should be happy, bud. There’s nothing in this world better than finding your mate.”
“I know, Tobe. I am, but… what the hell do I do now? How do I tell him he’s my mate, and oh, by the way, I can turn into a wolf whenever I want? Are you absolutely sure, Kellar? Forget that. Of course you are.”
Kellar gave him a sympathetic smile. “Relax. The last thing you want to do is scare him off. It might not be easy, but it’ll be worth it, I promise you. Remember, if he doesn’t already, at some point he’s going to feel the same pull you do, so just concentrate on getting to know him. In the whole scheme of things, don’t forget he has free will, though. You can’t just rely on the fact you’re fated.”
“Yeah. I hear you. I have to do this right, or the rest of my life will be miserable.” Hugh opened his door and jumped out of the tall, still-running truck, shutting the door quickly to stop the door ajar alarm from chiming.
Kellar watched him move to the locked gate and wait. “He’s right. There’s a lot at stake, and it’s not going to be easy.”
“Hell no, it isn’t. Warren had three years and a lot of drugs to get used to the idea. We must seem like aliens to humans when they first find out our secret,” Tobyn muttered, staring at the man as he came closer. “He’s cute. Really cute.”
“What? He is. They look like a good match, don’t they?”
“Uh huh, they do. Connor could use some meat on his bones. It looks like he’s been through a lot.”
“What do you mean?”
“He’s had a bunch of broken bones… some recent. A broken leg, broken ankle, broken wrist, three broken ribs… wow… I wonder what the hell happened to him. He’s upset about something too.”
“I can see that.”
Connor had arrived at the gate, and after peering into the truck, began a conversation with Hugh, who looked back at the truck as well. Now he looked upset.
“Something’s wrong, babe. I heard Connor say someone had a broken leg. Someone named Alice.”
As Connor unlocked the huge padlock on the gate chain, Hugh opened the truck door to get in. “Sorry. I need to help him with something. One of Davidson’s best ewes broke her front leg, and Connor’s freaking out.”
“Ah, so that’s who Alice is.”
Hugh nodded, his attention still on Connor.
The gate swung open and he drove the big vehicle through. The young man certainly looked distressed when his eyes passed over them as they went by. Tobyn turned to Kellar. “You could heal her, doc.”
“I could, but how do we explain it to Connor?”
“Tell him the truth. That you can heal with plants and a touch.”
“I probably won’t need plants… not for a simple break… not anymore.”
“Okay. We’ll tell him that. Is that okay with you, Hugh?”
“Absolutely. Anything you can do would be great. I don’t like seeing him like this. He’s really worried about disappointing Davidson.”
“Is his boss a jerk?”
“I think he can be… Davidson comes across as gruff any time I’ve talked to him, and he got real pissed when I refused to budge on one of the ewes I’d picked out in the trade for Bob.” Hugh was watching through his side mirror. “Here he comes.”
The rear door opened on the driver’s side, and Connor got in. Introductions were made, and it became obvious Hugh’s mate was painfully shy. Eye contact was fleeting and his words came out in mumbles.
“Do we put Bob right into the pasture?”
“Um… no. Behind the barn is a pen with a few older ewes in it.”
“You want him in there?’
“Yes, please. I don’t want him fighting with the younger ram. I’ll give them a few days to get used to one another before I put him in with the flock.”
“Sounds smart,” Hugh said, a little breathlessly. “Breeding season isn’t here yet, but they’re sure to go at each other if you put them together now.”
“So, Connor, Hugh says you have an injured sheep,” Tobyn said, turning partway around. “How bad is it?”
“Leg’s broke, and it’s my fault,” he said with head down. “She’s an escape artist and she got in with the cattle. One of them must have kicked her.”
“Kellar’s a healer. He could help her.”
“Healer?” The man's head came back up.
The truck lurched on the uneven ground as Hugh turned and backed up to the pen Connor had pointed to. “Yup. He has a magic touch.” Tobyn smiled at the guy who had half his attention on him, and half on the positioning of the vehicle.
“That’s good, Hugh,” he said, and the truck stopped. Turning to Tobyn, he asked, “Are you saying he can heal a broken leg?”
“That’s what I’m saying. My mate is a special guy.”
Connor’s gaze shifted to Kellar. “Your… mate?”
“Yup… my partner. Kellar and I are a couple.”
“Oh… ah… cool.” He opened the door and hopped out. Hugh, with a quick glance at them, pursed his lips, blew out a long breath, and did the same.
“Was I too in your face?”
Kellar chuckled. “No. There’s no other way to say I’m a healer.”
“I meant the mate thing.”
“Oh. No. There’s no wrong way to say that. You caught him by surprise, but mate, couple, partner… it all means the same to him, and judging by the way he looks at Hugh, I doubt he’s giving us much thought at all.”
“True. I noticed that too. Should we help them out there?”
“Nah, let’s stay here until they’re finished. The more time they spend together, the better it’ll be for Hugh. For Connor too. He’s feeling the pull as well; maybe not as strong, but there’s definitely something there.”
Hugh opened Kellar’s door a few minutes later, after Bob was safely ensconced with his own little flock. “Connor would appreciate it if you could take a look at Alice. Would you mind?”
“Not at all. Lead the way.”
The black-faced, black-legged ewe was standing forlornly in the corner of a large wire pen inside one of the smaller outbuildings. One front leg was held awkwardly, with only a minimum of weight on it. With a quick flicker, Kellar saw the clean break in the front cannon bone. Nothing was out of position, but inflammation surrounded the fracture itself. “This will be easy,” Kellar stated as he glanced over at a kneeling Connor.
“Trust him. I’ve seen him heal people, and he really does have a magic touch,” Hugh said in a soothing tone.
“We’d like it if you kept his ability to yourself, though,” Tobyn said with a direct look.
“Oh, for sure. I would never tell anyone,” Connor said in earnest. “If you can do anything at all, I would be so thankful.” His voice carried more strength than it had previously. He really cared about this animal.
“What kind of sheep is this one? She looks different from Bob.”
“She is different. She’s a Suffolk. They grow really fast…,” Connor stammered out, his countenance showing how upset he was. “I hope you can help her. She can’t survive with a broken leg, so Lorne will want me to put her down and harvest her. I promise I won’t mention anything about any healing you can do.”
Kellar nodded. “I believe you. Don’t worry—you won’t have to do that—she’ll be able to put weight on her leg in about half an hour. I just need her out of the corner. I need some space around her so I can put her to sleep.”
Connor gaped at his confident words, but then shuffled closer to Alice, nudging her gently out of the corner; she acquiesced reluctantly, on three legs. He gaped again when Kellar touched the ewe and she dropped immediately to her side on the clean-smelling straw.
The actual healing felt easier than it ever had, and required no deep trance at all. It was soon apparent how effective his talents had become when Kellar flickered to assess his progress. Not ten minutes had passed, and the bone was already knitting together. If he stopped right then it would continue to heal on its own, but there was no reason not to finish the job. As he worked, he divided his attention between Alice and Connor. Studying the man’s numerous healed injuries, he soon reached the conclusion these fractures had occurred over time. They were not from one catastrophic event. No, these had to be signs of drastic abuse. Who had done this, and why? Something else caught his attention. Something tiny that put Hugh’s mate in peril. Crap. Why did the earth mother keep doing this to him?
It was fixable, but how was he supposed to explain what he saw to the young man? Hugh was sitting cross-legged beside Connor, a few feet off from Kellar and Tobyn. His gaze ran over the fated pair whose shoulders and knees were in close contact, and knew he had no choice in the matter. He was a healer above all else, and this was the earth mate of a shifter and a friend.
“We have a problem, babe.”
“No. With Connor. He’s in serious trouble.”
A huge thank you to my editor, Tim, aka Robin. Thanks, too, to those who read this story and support my efforts.
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