Morningstar: The Malaise - 54. Reversal of Fortune
Each and every day.
Morningstar: The Malaise
“The bloodline is unbroken,” Kellar uttered, trying to comprehend what those words meant for him. Surely they couldn’t expect him to actually….
“Yes, doc. We thought the bloodline ended with Fendral, but we were wrong. Talk to me. Are you all right?”
“I have a birthright?”
“Yes, you do, and it means you are Morningstar’s alpha.”
“I… I heard that, but, I can’t be.”
“Yes, you can. You are.”
“No, I’m a healer.”
“You can be both, Kellar,” Elinor said. “This is great news for the pack.”
Kellar couldn’t help it. He was horrified at the thought of that kind of birthright. “I don’t want this.”
“You don’t want to be alpha? Why in heck not?” Tobyn asked.
“I already told you. I’m a healer. I am not a leader.”
“That’s not what I see, young man,” Miss Sybil interjected. “I’ve always seen the leader in you, and now we know why. You were born to it.”
“I have a grandfather.”
“Yes, you do.”
“An alpha grandfather I can’t talk to, who’s nowhere to be found.”
“Yes, but we’ll find him again. He always comes back.” Tobyn said, staring intently into Kellar’s face.
“He was here a little more than a week ago. I caught his scent for a moment in the evening,” Elinor said with concern in her voice.
Kellar focused his attention on that voice. “We caught an old scent of his too. Because I’m his grandson, I’m an alpha? Just like that?”
“Just like that,” Elinor said. “It’s our tradition for a reason, Kellar. Alphas possess different qualities… qualities passed down that a pack needs. Think of Clarence, and what you’ve seen in him. The same things you’ve seen in Logan.”
Kellar was slowly getting over the shock, and part of that statement helped. “I don’t agree.”
“I don’t mean about Clarence or Logan, necessarily. Elinor, think about it. It was a decision made by alphas that had packs isolating themselves in the first place. How was that kind of leadership something packs needed? It almost caused our extinction.”
“Alphas aren’t perfect, Kellar. They make mistakes like anyone else, but they learn from them.”
“That may be, but it doesn’t change what happened, or what it cost us. Alphas shouldn’t make arbitrary decisions like they do. I’m sorry. I don’t see it the way you all do.” Kellar forced himself to calm down. He could see his little outburst had thrown them. “Look, Elinor, you’re a proven leader, and Maynard and Ingram and you make a good team. I might have alpha blood in me, but I know I could never do what you do.”
“Yes, you could, doc. Do you remember the speech you gave when we took Arthur over to the Vega meeting and introduced him as who he really was for the first time? I know you do. You were pure alpha then, and the whole room felt it.”
“They thought I was Cahlar’s reincarnation.”
“It wasn’t what they thought, it was what they saw. The dominance and strength of an alpha. I saw it too. Look, I know this takes some getting used to—I get that—but the pack will be ecstatic to learn we have an alpha again.”
Again, Elinor nodded her agreement, obviously perplexed by his attitude towards the news.
Kellar looked each person in the eye before speaking. “I’m sorry. I hope you all understand… I can’t be alpha. I don’t want this. For starters, if I’m alpha, how will we continue our search? And it doesn’t make sense to fool with what has been so successful. Morningstar has adapted like it should have, and I’m not going to help it go back to some old ways that almost destroyed us.”
He turned his focus to the woman he saw as a consummate leader. “Try to see it my way, Elinor, without the tradition coloring your view. For God’s sake, you were going over old ledgers when we got here, trying to spot trends… that’s why Morningstar is a success, and it’s just one example of why you’re what this pack needs. They might want an alpha, but they don’t need one… and they don’t need me.”
He stood, facing the shocked scrutiny of four shifters. He didn’t care. They thought he would be honored to learn about his heritage, but there was no way in hell he was going to accept the role his lineage supposedly dictated. He hadn’t grown up in a pack, and he didn’t see their customs the same way. He was a healer. “I need to... go for a walk or something... and think. Can we not mention any of this to anyone… please? I just found out about my family—my mom and dad, and my grandfather—I don’t want to deal with anything else right now.” He turned to a still sitting Tobyn when he got to the door. “Are you coming?”
“Oh, I thought you wanted to be by yourself for a while?”
Kellar shook his head and mustered up a smile for his mate. “Don’t be ridiculous. How am I going to think if you aren’t with me? Come on.”
Tobyn was at his side in an instant, and after thanking Miss Sybil again, they walked out the door.
“I’m sorry if I disappointed you back there. I’m sorry I don’t see alphas in the same way as the rest of you.” It was the first words spoken since they’d entered the truck.
“What are you talking about? Disappointed? Is that what you thought?”
“You looked shocked when I said I didn’t want to be alpha.”
“I was surprised, yeah… I was blown away by a lot of things today. To find out Gigi was your mom? I mean, I never knew her because she had left years before I was born. But, her name was spoken every once in a while, like so many we lost were… and I did know how special she was to my mom. And Fendral? Jeez, man, he’s your grandfather! I always thought of him as mine, and here he turns out to be my mate’s. Wow. So yeah, I was shocked, but no way was I disappointed.
“Okay, I admit I was confused at first. I was happy about your heritage… about your connection to our pack, and I did assume you’d want what was your right, but I get it. You’re a healer, and if you don’t want to be alpha, then I don’t want you to be either.”
“Don’t you want the cred of being the alpha’s consort?” Kellar said with eyebrows raised.
“Shut up. Being the healer’s mate is good enough for me.” Tobyn smiled as he pulled into their driveway, but the smile faded right away. “I’m not going to ask you if you’re better now, because I know you’re not. Just tell me what I can do to help.”
“You’re doing it already. I trust you’ll back me in any decisions I make, and I believe you get that I see some stuff differently because of being raised outside the pack. I’m on emotional overload to be honest, and I’m starting to feel guilty about not wanting to take on something my grandfather might expect me to. I know you understand, but I wonder if he would. I wonder if my parents would. They died to save me.”
“They died to save their son, doc. Not to save a future alpha. And if they knew about the prophecy of Cahlar, you’ve already succeeded in shining that light into our darkness. You’ve figured out the malaise, saved two packs, and given us the ways to save more. It’s been fulfilled, and you don’t owe anyone anything. And, as far as your grandfather goes, while he was sad much of the time, he still managed to be kind and caring, especially to us kids. I’m not sure he would expect anything, but maybe when he comes back you’ll be able to ask him for yourself.”
“If he comes back, and if I can undo the damage of years of wolfing out. I was able to increase the burnt umber in Arthur, but does that mean I’ll be able to reduce it in Fendral? I can take from plants, and I can take from metals, but I’ve never tried to give anything back to them.” Kellar hung his head, fighting to ignore his fear. He could feel Tobyn’s concerned gaze.
After a few seconds, he met it, and forced a smile he didn’t feel at the moment. “We have to keep extra copper necklaces with us in case we come across him. Come on. Let’s go inside. Would you be adverse to laying down with me, and maybe having a nap? I’m feeling too tired for a run… probably from all that sun out on the lake.”
“Now who’s being ridiculous? I can’t think of anything I’d rather do than to crawl into bed with my mate. I’m tired too. Kellar?”
“Yeah?” He had his hand on the door handle.
“Your mother was really pretty. We should watch that ‘Gigi’ movie one day.”
“Thanks. I would like that.” Kellar felt a sting behind his eyes as he opened the truck door and got out. Yes, his mother was beautiful… he could picture her, finally, and he could hear the sound of her voice. The memory was locked in and he would never lose it again, just like a signature pattern. He looked over and gave his mate a genuine smile this time.
It was two days later when Kellar caught Fendral’s scent through the open window of their truck. They were just coming back from having lunch with Adelin, Warren, Tilly, and Logan. It had been their first time socializing with anyone since he’d had learned the truth about his family. Tobyn had picked up some old photographs of Kellar’s mother, grandparents, and his two missing uncles from Elinor the day before. Kellar had perused the images for hours, going back to them over and over again. He hadn’t seen himself in any of his relatives, but he’d memorized every picture. He still felt unsettled enough to want to continue to keep his lineage under wraps, and his wish was being respected by those who knew the truth.
“Yes,” Kellar answered before Tobyn’s question was complete. “He’s a few miles from here… maybe six or seven.”
“Are we going after him?”
“Let’s get home and see how close he comes. If he starts to get farther away, we’ll go searching, okay?”
“Yeah, good idea. We don’t want to spook him, and he’s come right up to our house before. I’m just relieved he’s still… still around.”
“Me too, babe, me too. I hope he’ll stay on pack lands, but I can’t force him to listen to me, or let me try to help him.”
“You’re his grandson, but he knows me best. If we get close, maybe I should be the one to talk first. I honestly think he feels a kinship with you, but he doesn’t know why.”
“You think?” Kellar was pleased with that thought. So, he hadn’t imagined it. Tobyn felt it too.
“I do. I’ve always wondered why he ended up down at your cabin. That’s a long way from here.”
“Not for a wolf, it’s not. You’re right, though. It’s a heck of a coincidence, isn’t it?”
“Uh huh. It seems like something drew him there.”
“The work of the earth mother?”
“We’re beginning to think each other’s thoughts,” Tobyn said with a chuckle. “She’s our go to.” He pulled the truck into the shady driveway and turned the engine off. “Why don’t you go sit in the back yard, and I’ll bring us out some cold drinks? I don’t know how sharp his senses are, but maybe your grandfather will scent where we are and make his way closer. You have the copper?”
“Yeah, they’re in my pocket. Let’s hope he wants to find us.”
For two hours they sat at the picnic table, sometimes conversing, sometimes silent. The breezes were cooperating, making it easy to follow Fendral’s movements with their noses as he meandered on the outer edges of pack lands to the west. Kellar was somewhat concerned his movements were erratic, as if they had no purpose. Their place was eventually one of the closest to the old grey, though. Kellar was getting antsy, but then the scent became noticeably stronger. Fendral was now moving faster, trotting along the well-worn path that, if he stayed on it, would lead him to their private backyard. A tension Kellar had been enduring for hours, released its grip when a big grey head poked out through the line of clumped-together pines. Intelligent eyes met theirs.
“Hello, Fendral. We haven’t seen you in a while. Would you like a drink of water?” Tobyn asked nonchalantly. Fendral stepped further out, and Kellar saw he was lean to the point of alarming. He flickered and evaluated the wolf’s condition, fear rising at what he saw.
Tobyn rose from the bench and walked to the outside tap. Turning over an upside down stainless steel pail, he rinsed it out and filled it. Kellar had been thinking for days of what he wanted to say, but he sat there uncertain, staring at a wolf whose days appeared numbered. He’d seen the old grey on a number of occasions, but this time he knew their connection, and it changed everything. Had he come for one last goodbye to Tobyn? To him?
As much as he didn’t know how to begin, there was no lull in conversation. While the wolf drank, with a curious break between each small lap of his tongue, Tobyn talked a blue streak. Kellar stayed sitting, observing his grandfather as Tobyn explained about the new pack members, and how they came from Vega, and did Fendral remember Vega? Not pausing for a reaction, he went on to talk about how his mate had figured out the malaise, and he did know Kellar and him were mates, right? And how much healthier they all were now? He proclaimed Kellar the most incredible healer there had ever been in the shifter world, and would Fendral like him to ease any of his aches or pains?
Kellar watched as the wolf’s ears constantly moved in all directions. It appeared he was listening to every word as his mate rattled on in an impressive display of one-sided conversational skills. Another time, Kellar would have been chuckling.
It was only when Tobyn touched on his mate’s opinion Fendral didn’t shift back anymore because he couldn’t, that the old grey started retracing his steps. Tobyn had obviously touched a sore spot, and Kellar stood up, panic filling him. This might be his last chance to connect with his only living relative on his mother’s side. His father’s side was a big unknown, and he had filed it away for possible future investigation. If he had a connection to Cahlar, it must lay there.
Fendal had reached the edge of the yard, his nose pointed to the forest ahead when Kellar found his voice. “Grandfather?”
The big head, its size accentuated by the emaciated body, turned at the same time Fendal came to a halt. He stared at Kellar as if waiting for an explanation.
“Gisla… she was my mother. I… we just found out. Miss Sybil had a vision, and it’s true. I’m your grandson. Tobyn’s right. I’m a healer, and I think there’s a chance I can help you. I know you have arthritis in all your joints. I can see it because I can see colors. I know that sounds strange, but I can also see the cysts in your intestines. It’s painful to eat and to defecate, isn’t it? You have trouble holding down food, and it’s why you’re so thin. I can fix all that, and I think there may be a way to reduce a color that’s preventing you from shifting. Will you let me try? If I don’t do something, you won’t have much time left….” Kellar stalled after the last words, hearing his own despair.
Fendral stood motionless for a time, his eyes still focused on his grandson. There was no way to tell what he was thinking, or even how much he could grasp of the words spoken. Kellar’s heart sank when the old grey pointed his head back to the woods and disappeared.
The disappointment of watching him slip through the trees was immense. If he left, Kellar knew he would never see him again… not alive. “Don’t go,” Kellar called out in desperation. “Please don’t. I haven’t had a real family since I was four years old. Please, Grandfather. My mother… your daughter… Gigi… what would she think of you walking away from me when I need you? She died saving me when we were on our way here. She said she wanted me to meet my grandpa Fendral… she was bringing me to you. All I’m asking is that you let me help you.”
Kellar was distraught, and Tobyn moved closer. He accepted the offered hand without acknowledging his mate because all his attention was concentrated on the other side of the thick stand of pine and spruce. Fendral had stopped moving, and he was standing no more than fifty feet away. Kellar waited. His grandfather had to come to him. It was the only way with the wolf’s instincts at the fore. It was likely a battle of wills at times, but the man was still in there. He’d seen it in those eyes.
The wait was interminable. Tobyn finally asked softly, “Should we go through the trees?”
Kellar shook his head. There was nothing to be gained from trying to force his grandfather into a decision. It could, and most likely would, backfire. It did cross his mind how easy it would be to overpower the severely weakened old wolf, but he hated the idea of disrespecting him in such a way. Fendral moved a few feet farther from them, and Kellar’s hope plunged. Should he?
The question didn’t need to be answered as, seconds later, the whispering brush of branches preceded the old grey’s head coming back into view. Stiff-legged, he advanced toward them both, one hesitant step at a time. Kellar sensed the possibility of flight was not out of the question, so he allowed Fendral to decide where they went from here.
The silver wolf sat tentatively when he got within a few feet of them.
“Will you let me help you, Grandfather? Will you allow me to touch your wolf… trust me to put you to sleep until the healing is finished?”
Eyes, so dark they were almost black, studied him. Fendral started to lay down, and then stopped. There really was a war going on. Finally, he yawned and sank to the ground, licking his muzzle in a sign of submission. He was assenting, and Kellar let out a held breath. Tobyn did too.
“I’m guessing doing the healing inside the house is out of the question?” Tobyn asked, his question directed at both of them. Fendral’s response was to lay his head on his paws and close his eyes. It was apparent he wasn’t budging.
“Here is fine,” Kellar said as he sat down on the grass. An ear flickered toward him, but there was no other movement. How hard was Fendral fighting to override his strong instincts and stay vulnerable? He wasn’t going to wait to find out. He felt a slight stiffening beneath his hand before the old grey succumbed to the blast of energy, rolling easily on his side. Kellar slumped in relief as Tobyn joined him on the ground. Strong arms wrapped around his waist from behind, and a chin rested on his shoulder.
“Fuck. That was touch and go. He looks terrible, doc. How sick is he?”
“He’s in rough shape, but he’s sucking up our mate energy like nothing I’ve seen before. It’s good, though, because he needs it. I honestly think he came back to say good bye. There’s almost no flesh left on him.”
“Are you in time? Should we start now?”
“Already have. Working on him in wolf form is different. I’m healing his whole body with my hands on his neck. Don’t worry, babe. I’m not going to let anything happen to him… he’s a tough old wolf just to have made it here in his condition. He hasn’t eaten for a while, though, not anything solid anyway.”
“What about his burnt umber? Are you working on reducing it?”
“No, I want to give him some time… get rid of his cysts, and all the joint inflammation first, before I attempt the other. The more mate energy he soaks up, the better. I’ll probably need to draw from your strength when I get to that point.”
“I’m here when you need me, and I’m not going anywhere. You know, you don’t zone out the way you used to.”
“I will when I get into trying to reduce the burnt umber. I’m not sure how that’s going to go, but I don’t expect it will be easy. Doing this other stuff is a breeze now.” He leaned back into his mate, needing more contact. “I’m worried I’ll fail,” he admitted.
“Have you failed yet?”
“Answer the question, doc.” Tobyn’s breath on his neck had the power to soothe the fear and give him welcomed reassurance.
“No, I guess not.”
“Damn right… doesn’t matter what it is… cancer, tumors, deadly mixed poisons that were killing you… whatever. You always come through. Look what you did for Arthur. Don’t doubt yourself, Kellar Haylan. You are your name, and you’ve proven it over and over again. You’re scared because he’s your grandfather, but I’m not. I have enough faith in you for the both of us.”
“Thank you, babe. I don’t know what I would do without you, and I never want to find out.”
“You’ll never have to. How’s he doing now?”
“Good. The two biggest cysts causing the most blockage are almost gone, and that’s the last of them. Getting rid of tissue growth is a lot easier than working on bones. His kidneys have suffered, but they’re still working. He was likely doing a lot of vomiting, so there would have been dehydration, and that’s hard on them. Another twenty minutes for the inflammation in his joints, and I’ll be ready to start the next step. Can you put the copper necklaces on him please?”
“All of them?”
“Put six on for now. That should be plenty.”
Hours later, Kellar was truly doubting Tobyn’s faith in him. It wasn’t working. No matter how hard he tried, he couldn’t get the copper to accept the excess shifter color. He forced with everything he had, but he couldn’t lessen the dark strand of burnt umber. He rose out of his trance, feeling defeated. Sweat was pouring off him despite the shade of the late afternoon.
“Kellar? It’s been hours. Are you done?”
“No. I can’t do it. It won’t work no matter what I do. I can only draw from plants and metals… I can’t add to them. God, it hurts to say that.”
“I’m sorry, doc. Take a breather… you looked exhausted. So, was there any change?” Tobyn got up off the grass with a groan, and removed his tee shirt. He walked over to the pail of water and dipped the corner of it in.
Kellar flickered and viewed his patient’s colors before he answered. “No change at all. I couldn’t even establish a connection between the copper and the shifter strand.” He gave his mate a thankful smile when Tobyn returned and wiped the sweat from his face and neck.
“I felt the drain on me, so I thought it was working,” he said as he returned to his position on the grass behind Kellar.
“No, I was hammering away at the copper, but it turned out to be a waste of time.” His smile at Tobyn’s caring gesture faded.
“Is that the same way you did it with Arthur?”
Kellar snorted. “No. That was a lot simpler. I already knew how to draw from raw materials, so the connection was easy once I got his strands rejoined.”
“So, do that again.”
“I don’t know… get the connection started and draw from the copper, and then, like, reverse it, maybe?”
Kellar sat dead still. What Tobyn said made sense. He knew how to both slow and speed up, and increase or decrease the materials he took from plants. Fine tuning was something he did all the time during the course of a healing, once the healing began. Was that the key? He needed to start the process before he could control it? Feed the copper into the burnt umber first? He could hear Tobyn’s voice, but he was already back in his trance. Tentatively, he pulled from the copper as if he was coaxing a fish in closer to the boat, gently drawing and directing like he’d done for years. He was in a different frame of mind now, no longer wrapped up in who his patient was… no longer were his hopes clouding his abilities. He was pure healer, examining, gauging, and letting those special instincts guide him.
There was no ramming or trying to force this time, and he watched the thread form and build between the strand and the metal. Without thought, he slowed the pull from the copper until it stopped, and gently nudged the other way. It was like one of those little waves out on the lake, hitting the boat and sliding off in another direction. Soon, the flow was steady. The entwined necklaces were accepting one of the earth mother’s elements… slowly, very slowly, but surely. Not for the first time, Kellar was struck by the magical aspect of what he did… how connected living things were to the natural world around them.
Aware his mate had his back in every way, he settled in and allowed his energy to do its thing. The drain was constant—dealing with metals was more challenging, and took more of his reserves—but this time it wasn’t wasted. He drew from his mate in small increments, before his own levels dipped too low, knowing this part would take them well into darkness. It looked more and more like he would get to know his grandfather after all, and he owed it all to his mate. With the reversal going well, he allowed his mind to wander.
It wasn’t just Tobyn’s faith, his lent strength, or his ability to calm him. No, it was the deep thought he put into everything, even when it seemed he wasn’t. His mate never looked for the easy way. It was part of his stubbornness… his determination, and it used to stymie and sometimes frustrate Kellar. Now, though, he saw just how much it contributed to his own development as a healer. His musing went to the day he’d fought Reznick’s dual poison, and how ready he’d been to give up and accept his advancing death.
Tobyn wouldn’t let him… he’d pushed him out of his conceived limits, insisting he could find a way. His mate saw something in him Kellar had never seen for himself. His mate was still doing it. Each and every day.
Kellar, as contented as he’d ever been, and with confidence now brimming, continued the job of healing his grandfather.
As always, a huge thank you to my editor, Timothy M., and to all those who support this story.
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