Polaris Skies: Ch 22

Polaris Skies: Legend of the Bai Book 3 by Chapel Orahamm, Mobile home in snow with green glow against storm clouds

“Yeller?” Nat asked, shrugging out of his hold.

“Sorry,” Yeller mumbled again.

“Nat, I…” Deck looked away, confused and ashamed at having gone delving in his best friend’s mind without permission.

“I came out to take a break for a while and see how you were doing.” Nat walked around Yeller and sat down on the love seat to look down at Deck. “You look a bit green around the gills.”

“I was doing pretty good for a while.” Deck pulled Sun Hee closer to him.

“Yeah? That’s good. I wanted to tell you Hana went back to sleep for a while, so you should be good. I was going to catch a nap out here, so I didn’t wake her up.” He thumbed over his shoulder to indicate the room. He could feel all eyes staring at him, and it wasn’t related to what he was saying. His skin crawled under the awkward tension. Maybe it was all the gunk smeared on him. “I should probably go see if I can wash this stuff off.” He stood to leave.

“You remember Mason Griswald?” Deck folded his hands in his lap.

The hair on the back of Nat’s neck stood up as a cold chill ran down his spine. “Yeah, who doesn’t remember Griswald?” He put himself behind the armchair, feeling a little more protected from the group’s prying eyes.

“You remember Jeremiah Hills and Luke Amsburg?” Deck pushed further.

“Where are you going with this, Alexander?” Nat hissed, unease slipping down his spine. He hoped by dropping Deck’s first name it would warn him off of whatever bunny trail he was trying to go down. He did not have fond memories of the jocks.

“Do you remember how you got those scars?” Deck flicked a glance at Nat’s arms, continuing with his questions, ignoring the veiled jab.

“Is there a point to this?” Nat bit through clenched teeth, self-consciously trying to hide his arms against his chest. Of course, he didn’t remember when he got the scars, but his parents and everyone else thought he had tried to commit suicide. It had been four years. Yeah, they were fairly obvious and ghastly. Twenty stitches up each arm, they were hard to miss in warm weather.

“You don’t remember doing that, do you?” Deck persisted.

“No. As I’ve told you and every other person here, I don’t. Is that what you want to discuss now? That you think I’m being suicidal about Hana?” Nat guessed.

“You have a memory locked down. Mason, Jeremiah, and Luke cornered you and slashed your wrists to make it look like a suicide,” Deck informed him.

Nat raised a tired eyebrow. “The hell, Deck?”

“I didn’t mean to yell at you earlier about your poetry,” Deck made to apologise.

“No, you did mean it, or else you wouldn’t have done it. Get better at your apologies. What do these,” Nat raised his arms for the room to see, “have to do with fucking poetry?”

Benj avoided the scars, uncomfortable at the proximity to death that they represented.

“Do you remember anything about the day before you ended up in the hospital?” Deck asked. He had seen the memories in Nat’s head, but he wanted Nat to see it, to unlock that memory. He knew, by getting Nat to realise the scars were not his fault, that maybe his friend would value his life a bit more and stop acting so recklessly.

“I was going to try out with the varsity drama team. They had a pretty good scholarship to my dad’s university for the president of the team.” Nat shrugged.

“You don’t remember Mason being mad at you for ruining his best game the night before? Or of Jeremiah calling you the f word that morning in biology?” Deck prodded, working over the memories with a fine-toothed comb.

Slow as molasses, his friend crept through the jarring memories, having put them from his mind. Mason had been the main guy, and Nat was on the way up, soon to oust him. The waif wanted the scholarship promised to the leading player that would be useful for getting accepted to his mom’s university. He knew between drama and basketball at least one of the universities would have to take him.

He did remember Jeremiah being a bigot in biology. It had been right after they started dissecting their frogs, and Nat had felt lightheaded. He wasn’t too good with the rank smell or the visuals. On the way out the door to the nurse’s office, Jeremiah tripped him, whispering the slur in his ear as he pulled him up and tossed him out of the room. Nat shrugged it off. He didn’t need his dad finding out.

Deck paused in the memory, mortified when Nat, younger, skinnier, smaller, pushed at a doorknob in the dark, banging on a door, crying. Fingers traced his cheekbone, a flair of pain cracking along his skull. “I’m not. I won’t. Dad!” The memory dissolved to return to the pressing one dealing with the rats.

Luke, well, Luke was Mason’s crony. Nat didn’t share any classes with him, but he was rather well known around the school for being prejudiced against Latinos and the LGBT group. His father was a member of the school board and the one who always put a stop to the LGBT group getting their own support club.

Nat worked through the fog of memories. Deck watched, wary of his position on the sidelines of Nat’s brain. Pops of pain and dark memories of a not-so-shiny home life blistered under the deluge.

The group knew when Nat had unlocked the memory. He sank to the floor behind the chair, out of sight of everyone but the tall blond. Yeller watched Nat grip down on his shoulder to hide his shaking as his cheeks turned blotchy red and tears crystallised in his eyes.

He pulled in deep gulps of air past the sudden rise of panic.

Dijete? Sven rubbed.

Not now, Sven, I can’t. Nat bit back, trying not to sob.

Deck sat quietly, listening to Nat sniffle behind the armchair. He ducked a glare from Yeller.

Was that such a wise move, human? Dietrich quipped.

He needs to be free from hiding from himself. Deck flinched.

I thought he was doing rather well. Dietrich stated in a philosophical tone.

He shouldn’t have to bear that feeling of guilt for something he didn’t do. He shouldn’t have to question himself. He needs to realise that we are here for him and his family now. He needs to know that we’ll be by his side, and have always been by his side. Deck told his wolf. He made himself stand up, though he was shaky, and the floor tilted and shifted under his feet. Shuffling, he made his way to where Nat sat.

Deck sank on one side of Nat while Yeller sat protectively on the other. “I need for you to realise that you aren’t alone out here, Nat. We’re here too. And we’ll catch you if you’re falling.”

“I know,” Nat mumbled.

“We all need a bit of stability here. We’ve had too many ups and downs this past month, and we need a break,” Deck continued.

“‘Kay,” Nat replied, his head throbbing.

“Yeller was the one who found you in the locker room.” Deck fingered one of the scars. Nat watched his hand rub over the ridge of the skin. “We are here for you, Nat. Don’t push us away. You’ve never had a reason to. Don’t start doing it now. Okay?” Deck asked.

Nat nodded, his brain fuzzy around the edges. “That’s why you yelled at me earlier and why you all were looking at me weird. You thought I was losing it,” he whispered under his breath.

“I’m sorry I went eavesdropping in your brain without telling you, Nat, but you had me concerned, and Yeller and the rest of us. Yeller said you were reciting poetry in there.” Deck thumbed towards the door.

“We all assumed-” Sun Hee began.

“You assumed the worst.” Nat filled in her sentence. She bit her lip.

“You’ve been an emotional roller-coaster. We all have. We need to settle down for a bit, and you know, get our bearings.” Benj squeezed past Yeller and sat down across from Nat.

“What do we do now?” Nat asked, still wanting to crawl into himself.

“We stay here for a while. Let’s calm down and get to know our wolves. Use this as a temporary home base of sorts,” Deck supplied. “We need to give Hana time to finish her transformation. So, don’t worry so much, okay? We’ll take up the rest of the rooms of the house. It might be a bit of a challenge finding food, but I shouldn’t think it would be that difficult.”

“Okay,” Nat responded mechanically.

“For now, we’re gonna take over the other two bedrooms. Yeller told us he’d take over the living room. Mind if we leave you to it?” Benj asked as he eased toward the door.

“I’d – it’s okay, I’d appreciate some time.” Nat waved Benj off. He and Zola disappeared from the room to the first small closet of a bedroom.

“We’re here for you. If you need to talk, we’ll listen. About anything, all right?” Deck patted Nat’s shoulder before he and Sun Hee left him.

Nat and Yeller sat behind the armchair in the living room, staring at the stringy cracks running up the walls. “I don’t know what to think anymore,” Nat gasped out to the room, heat flushing his face as his throat closed up. Tears brimmed at the surface. He had been stripped bare to everyone, his every hidden secret and fear aired to the world.

Tá brón orm, mo mhíle breá. I never meant for you to re-experience those memories. I was worried for you. I – I…” Yeller trailed off. He glanced over at Nat, noticing the exhaustion ringing his eyes and smudges of black gunk and blood. The bruise on his cheek from Deck had turned a series of ghastly green, black, and yellow colours.

“Let’s see about getting you cleaned up.” Yeller gained his feet, left to the kitchen, and rummaged around the cabinets.

“I left the hydrogen peroxide and vodka in Hana’s room. That would probably take this stuff off,” Nat offered, moving to get up.

“Sit; you’re tired. I’ll get it,” Yeller told him firmly. He returned with clean towels, the peroxide, and the half-used bottle of vodka. “We never really even cleaned these out that well,” Yeller mumbled when he poured out the first bit of the peroxide into the towel and went to work on the wounds in Nat’s shoulders. Nat pushed himself up against the back of the armchair, his eyes clenched shut, his breath hissing between grinding teeth at the searing pain of the chemicals biting away at tender skin.

Yeller moved away from the wounds to scrub away the other spots from his skin. He gained familiarity with every inch of Nat’s chest, gentle around the holes in his shoulders.

Nat relaxed into the messaging attention, easing from his pensive hold against the armchair. He eventually found himself sprawled on the ground, watching Yeller work out of half-closed eyes.

Finished, Yeller mutely made his way to the kitchen to put the bottles away and throw the towels in the sink. They’d have to find some water at some point to see about washing the rags out. He stared at the Formica counter, fully aware of the happenings from the day before that had changed his position in the group dynamic. He glanced out the window at the rising sun, surprised that they had found a safe place to hide for a while. Thin strips of pink and gold speckled the horizon behind him, leaving a residue of deep blue and purple in the west-facing yard.

He pulled in a deep breath, steadying his nerves. Just the feel of Nat’s skin under his calloused fingers was enough to set him on edge. After sucking in another breath, he turned back to the living room. Nat had fallen into a deep sleep in those few short minutes. Yeller sat down next to him, brushing the hair from his face. Nat rolled to his side, curling around Yeller’s thigh, laying his hand on his lap. Yeller rested one of his hands around Nat’s shoulder, brushing gently at the base of his skull, his other hand settled on Nat’s hand, tingling from the warmth of his skin.

He didn’t realise he had been so exhausted, but it was late in the afternoon when he woke to the sound of footsteps in the hall. He had slid from the back of the armchair to curl around Nat protectively. The man slept heavily, not having moved much from when he had drifted at dawn that morning. Yeller found himself profoundly at peace, admiring the white semicircles of Nat’s eyelashes and his thin, shapely brows. He leaned his forehead against Nat’s, enjoying the moment of intimacy, savouring his warmth. He closed his eyes and allowed himself to escape into a half-sleep.

It was a light hand on his shoulder that woke him next. Dusk speckled the bungalow in gold. He rolled one eye over to see who was interrupting his sleep. Hana knelt next to him, her fingers to her lips. She looked pointedly at Nat, who had still not stirred. His cheeks were flush, and his hair clung to his forehead. Yeller put a hand to his forehead. He was burning up.

Yeller glanced over at Hana as he inched himself away. Nat continued in peaceful bliss. There very well could have been an atomic blast a mile off, and he wouldn’t have awakened from the shock wave.

Yeller followed Hana over to the kitchen where she had dug up an old single-cup coffee topper, a cup, a filter, and amazingly some coffee that hadn’t gone stale. There was a noticeable lack of boiling water, but she had found a lighter and a pot, so she had some kind of plan.

“What’s up?” Yeller asked, rubbing at his arm, feeling a bit sheepish for having been found lying next to Nat by Hana.

“This was burning.” She indicated an elaborate orange power mark circling her collarbone like a tattooed feather necklace.

“That’s Nat’s, I take it?” Yeller asked, having come to an understanding of the marks from Deck’s connection and Sun Hee’s and Zola’s. Hana nodded mutely, scrutinising the gas oven closely.

“I wouldn’t.” Yeller nodded at the oven.

“God, I’d kill for a cup of coffee, even ‘mud-in-my-cup’ brand.” She stuck out her tongue.

“Figure out how to make some, and I’d take a gallon.” Yeller eased against the counter, analysing the woman that had captivated Nat’s wolf so thoroughly. “So, what’s the mark for you?”

“He, well, I think it’s actually Sven’s, but anyway, he gave me his life force back in the city. I guess this is a link to, I don’t know, his actual physical wellbeing? Maybe? Who knows? I just know that he’s been running full-on, and those wounds in his shoulders are probably not helping matters. I would have thought they would have been healing faster. Most of your guys’ wounds seem to heal fast because of the wolf gene thing,” Hana confided as she rummaged through cabinets, trying to find hidden water bottles. “Geez, do these people have nothing other than herbs?” She pulled out mountains of vacuum-sealed bags of plant materials, all carefully labelled.

“What type?” Yeller took a few that she held out to him. “Lavender, pine needles, calendula, hyssop, willow bark, meadowsweet? Hey, did you find any water?” Yeller took the baggies back to the counter and pulled out a heavy ceramic bowl and a couple of spoons.

“Not yet,” she replied before glancing back at him. “What are you doing?”

“Give me a sec. Just find the water. I’ll help you get a fire going. I’m gonna need it,” he added as he continued with his measuring. She shrugged and returned to her search through the kitchen. Yeller went back to the cupboard and pulled out as many baggies as he could fit on the tiny counter space and inventoried them.

“Jackpot!” she almost shouted when she found two whole gallons of unopened water in the cupboard above the washer in the laundry room.

“Perfect, there’s a wood stove in the living room. Take them in there,” Yeller commanded. He had a tea tray out with several cups, strainers, small bowls of mashed-up plant matter, and a tiny loose-leaf teapot. He set them down in front of the hearth and went back to the kitchen to pull out more towels, though he noted that the farther down he got in the stack of dishtowels, the more frequent holes he found from the mice chewing away at the corners. He tore one of them into strips and another into squares. Hana sat quietly, watching him, waiting. “Feel up to finding some dry wood?” Yeller asked as he checked the latch in the flu.

“Okay,” Hana agreed as she made for the front door.

“It’ll be around back if these people are the type I think they are,” Yeller said cryptically.

“What do you mean by that?” Hana asked as she followed him back through the kitchen and the laundry room that served as the mudroom where the back door was located. The door caught on the latch, and it took some jimmying to pry it free of its rusted, snowed-in encasement. Right under the kitchen window, where Yeller had suspected, was a snow hill. Brushing away the frost, he found a blue plastic tarp. To his relief, the split wood underneath was dry, and a box of kindling huddled in the corner between the jut-out of the garage and the laundry room.

“Here.” Yeller held out an ash bucket. “Fill this with the sticks in that box. It’ll help us get a fire started.”

Hana did as she was told, finding the cold of the fresh snow penetrating, if not outright numbing. Yeller stacked up a heaping armful of split wood and waited for Hana to let him back in the house.

They set a fire blazing after fifteen minutes of futile effort with the lighter and another hour of the old-school spin method. Thankfully smoke didn’t back into the house. Hana huddled next to the fire as it glowed to life. It was going to take time for the stove to heat up enough to boil water.

“So, what’s all that for?” Hana waved at the collection of tea things.

“Poultice, antiseptic wash, a numbing agent.” Yeller waved over the various materials. He set a kettle on the top of the stove.

“How do you know how to do that?” Hana asked.

“My folks were missionaries for quite a few years. They had this firm belief that the world was going to end as they knew it. Anyway, they learned all these natural medicines and grew their own garden of the stuff. They taught me in case I ever had to deal with a shit-hits-the-fan scenario, and they weren’t around. I guess for once, they were being helpful with teaching me something rather arbitrary. I’m hoping that I’ve got the dosages right. Some of this stuff can be toxic at too high a dose. Then again, anything, even water, can be toxic at a high enough dosage.” Yeller smiled more at himself than at her.

“I’m glad I met you,” Hana said.

Yeller glanced at her, puzzled by the admission. “Glad?”

“I may not be able to just sit down and talk with everyone on some deep philosophical level, but you’ve all been nice to me. Well, I mean, that one outburst might not count. You’ve been nice to me. You’re always watching out for Nat. Even when he’s not paying much attention to you. I’m glad that he has someone as devoted.” She fingered the little loose-leaf teapot.

“You seem to be taking this rather well.” Yeller poked at the fire, trying to goad it into a hotter flame.

“I have to say that it leaves a pang of jealousy in my chest,” she admitted. Yeller twitched at the admission, not sure if he had suddenly cornered himself. “The thing is…” Hana trailed off, glancing over at Nat. She could only see his feet from behind the armchair, but he had yet to move from his position.

“What?” Yeller asked nervously.

“You love him. I don’t,” she admitted.

The boulder of that admission settled heavily across his shoulders. “It’s a friendly arrangement.” Yeller cast his eyes down at the woodgrain, shuffling closer to the wood stove. His hands had gone icy cold, but the heat from the fire did nothing to warm his skin.

“No, what I have is a friendly arrangement out of necessity for these crazy wolves. I still don’t know you all. I’m not a true member of this group, the eighth wheel to this caravan. If it wasn’t for the partial wolf inhabiting my body, I have fairly high doubts that I would even be here right now,” Hana confided.

“I don’t know about that.” Yeller tried to reassure her. He had a tinge of glee creep into the back of his brain though at her admission.

“Yeller?” Hana asked. Yeller quirked an eyebrow at her, waiting for her to ask any number of heart-pounding questions. “Is he a good guy?” She picked up a cup of mashed plant matter and sniffed it, recoiling at the acrid punch. She handed it to Yeller when he reached for it, happy to be rid of the offending sludge. He added it to a small cheesecloth and poured boiling water into a bowl that he set the bag in. A tar brown liquid leached from the bag, the mixture smelling heavily of a timber forest floor.

“I want to say yes, he’s a good guy, but I’m sort of biased.” Yeller tapped the bowl, brown tannins swirling. “If I had to look at it from anyone else’s perspective, he has his edges. He gets moody, and even if he acts like a total dork some days, he really is pretty smart,” Yeller confided. He added boiling water in small increments to the other bowls. “If you’re looking for some perfect superhero, he isn’t,” Yeller forewarned.

“I’m seeing that,” Hana agreed.

“How’s your…?” Yeller motioned to his collarbone.

“Still warm, but not as bad as when it woke me up.” Hana fingered the feathery shapes that curled along her neckline.

“Hmm,” Yeller glanced back at the bare feet behind the armchair. “We probably should drag him over here where the fire will keep him warm, keep his body from overworking itself.” Yeller rearranged his plates and tray before getting up to move Nat. Hana moved to help but found herself not needed. Yeller lifted Nat like he was nothing more than a doll. Hands calloused from years of work held pale skin like precious porcelain. She knew. She watched Yeller take him in, his eyelashes sweep down with the subtle intake of breath. Fixation.

Yeller knelt in the ring of plate ware, gently laying Nat on the floor. Eyelashes fluttered, pale green against translucent skin rested on Yeller’s eyes for a moment before closing again. Yeller checked his forehead, wishing he had found a thermometer in the cornucopia of medicinals. He took one of the cups, verified the temperature, and with slow force got Nat to drink about half of the mixture. “What was that?” Hana asked, fascinated.

“Willow bark tea. Willow bark has the same stuff that Advil or aspirin has in it; I forget which one. I gave him a fairly thin mix. Hope I didn’t overdo it. Mom only had me do this once before…” Yeller trailed off. He was nervous about overdosing Nat, but he also did not want to start a disinfection process with some fairly acidic ingredients without Nat being sort of numb to the situation. The pine bark tea was going to sting, but not as bad as the vodka and hydrogen peroxide mix he had used earlier.

He dabbed away at the skin with a viscous liquid from a bottle labelled “clove oil”. It burned the sinuses, but not in a too off-putting note. “Usually used to numb out teeth, I’m hoping it’ll somewhat numb out the flesh around these wounds,” Yeller mumbled, hoping for some reassurance from his audience. Cashia was being more than normally quiet.

Hana watched, enraptured in the process. Yeller licked his lips, a cold sweat trickling between his shoulder blades. “Well, no time like the present to see if this pine tea works as a disinfectant like I’ve been told it should.” He took one of the strips of cloth and dipped it in the dark brown liquid that had cooled down to a little above room temperature. He washed out the wounds before flushing them with boiled, cooled water. He sat for a moment, debating on if he needed to leave the wound to air, cover it, or try suturing it.

“How goes it?” Deck asked, startling Hana and Yeller.

“Running up against a brick wall,” Yeller answered, looking up at Deck pleadingly.

“What’s up?” Deck asked, squatting down next to Yeller to inspect the mess that was Nat’s shoulders.

“He’s got a fever, and I think these wounds have gotten infected. I gave him willow bark to take the edge off. I used clove oil to numb the skin, I hope. Lastly, I flushed with pine tea and boiled water. Earlier, well, I guess this morning, I washed them out with vodka and hydrogen peroxide. Your grandparents were into this whole preppers thing with my folks. What the hell do I do now?” he asked.

Deck lent his knowledge to the process. They were able to clean out Nat’s shoulders and set them to drain. It was a long night’s wait for Nat’s fever to break.

Chapel Orahamm (C) 2022-2023. All Rights Reserved.

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