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Chapter Twenty Three

Nobody said anything for a few minutes after Victor left.  The cold wind blew in through the door Victor hadn't been polite enough to close before flashing himself back to Majestic, blowing snow into Stark's living room.  My mom was the first one to move, getting up from the couch to finally close the door.


"Well," she said, trying and failing to sound cheerful, "at least Amber made it back safely, right?"


"Yeah," I agreed.  I reached into my pocket and pulled out the pills Petunia had given me. "And I got the medicine like you asked, Stark."


Stark was staring into space, like he'd fallen asleep with his eyes open, but hearing his name seemed to wake him up.  He looked at the pills for a few long seconds, and then nodded.  "Good.  Take one now."


I twisted the lid off and spilled one of the pills into my hand.  It was small, and its plastic shell was half green, half blue.  Ramidreju fur, Dr. Munse had said.  I'd never heard of a ramidreju before, but I was slowly coming to realize that there were a lot more things I didn't know than I had ever thought.  Every time I thought I'd figured this crap out, life threw another curveball at me.  No, not a curveball.  Normal people got curveballs.  This was like... having someone throw a paper mache model of Mt. Rushmore at you during a baseball game.  Except it weighed more than paper mache.  And hurt more.


Yeah, that about summed it up.


"You first," I said, holding the bottle up to tip a pill into his hand. "Alpha eats first, remember?  You've got to keep up your strength and—"


"Amber," he snapped, and I saw anger flash in his eyes, "take the freaking pill right now!"


I froze, the bottle halfway between me and him.


"I- I'm sorry," I mumbled, and did as he said.  I popped the pill into my mouth and tilted my head back, swallowing it without any water.  After that, I looked back at him again, too afraid to say anything.


Stark sighed, but I couldn't tell if it was in relief or frustration. "Go give one to Kimberly," he said. "You go help her, Jennifer.  You'll probably have to force it down her throat, but once you do she'll be fine."


"All right," I said, taking a step back. I glanced at the bottle in my hand again. "Are you sure you—"


"I will take mine after the rest of my pack is safe," he answered without looking up at me.


I nodded and headed down the hall, Mom following right behind me.


"I'm worried about him," I heard her mutter. "I've never seen him like that before."


"Victor's good at that," I said wryly. "He'll be fine."


"I hope so."


You know what?  I'm glad Victor didn't die when that truck blew up on top of him. That wasn't nearly painful enough for him.


I paused when I came to my bedroom door.  Mom probably couldn't hear it, but Kimberly's breathing on the other side was loud and clear to me.  Her breathing was labored but regular, which both comforted me and made my skin crawl.  She was still sick, but at least it wasn't life threatening or anything.  I looked down at the bottle in my hand, and the two little pills inside it.  Smaller than my thumbnail, but both Stark and Dr. Munse claimed it could heal literally anything.


A miracle in a bottle.


I pushed open the door and walked inside.  Kimberly was still right where I'd left her, sleeping fitfully in her bed.  Sweat glistened on her brow, even though the room was chilly.  She looked so helpless there that I could almost forget the way she'd turned into a giant wolf the other night and tried to kill me.  Some things matter more than others, and... well, everyone was trying to kill me these days, so maybe I was getting used to it.


"You hold her mouth open," I said, spilling another pill into my hand. "I'll push it down her throat."


Mom's hand touched my shoulder. "Be gentle, honey.  Don't hurt her."


"I will," I promised her, kneeling down at her bedside. "Even if I do hurt her, Stark says these will cure anything."


"Even so..."


"I'll be careful, Mom.  Now hold her mouth open."


Mom did as I asked, leaning over Kimberly's head and tenderly easing her mouth open.  I half expected that to wake her up, but all she did was let out a big, loud snore.  I snorted with laughter, but when I looked up at my mom I saw tears in her eyes.


"What's wrong with the world?" she asked when she saw me looking. "She's way too young to be going through any of this."


I looked at Kimberly's prone form, and wilted a little. "That's exactly what I've been asking myself for the past two months, Mom."


"Amber, It's not—"


"Hold her still.  I'm going to give her the pill."


Mom stopped talking and carefully tilted Kimberly's head back to make it easier for her to swallow.  Taking a deep breath, even though I don't know why I was so nervous, I eased my fingers into her mouth with the pill clasped between them.


She could wake up and kill me.


My pulse spiked, and my breath caught in my throat.  My hand stopped before it was even halfway into her mouth.  That wasn't true, was it?  She was out cold from the fever.  She wouldn't wake up until after I'd fed her the pill and it'd had a chance to heal her.  My hand refused to listen, though.  I couldn't make myself reach any deeper into her mouth.  Thoughts of her wolfing out, growing to gigantic proportions, and biting my entire arm off flashed through my head, and I jerked my hand back out again with a gasp.


"Amber, what's wrong?" Mom asked, letting go of Kimberly's head.


I stared at Kimberly as shame built up inside me.  So, it had come to this.  I was actually scared of this little girl.  No, not scared.  Freaking terrified.


What's wrong with me? I thought, fighting back tears. She's just a little girl.  She's my responsibility.  If I don't do this...


"I'm a failure," I mumbled, and then ducked my head and cried.


I don't know what I was expecting, but when I felt Mom's fingers tenderly brush my own, I jumped.  I looked up and saw her taking the pill away from me.


"You're not a failure," she said gently, putting her other hand on my cheek. "You did a great job tonight."


"But Kimberly..."


"I'm proud of you, Amber."


I sniffled.  I felt like a stupid three year old having to be comforted by her mommy, and I hated it.  Every time I thought I was getting stronger, something came along and crushed me.  I was tired of being the one who couldn't take care of herself, who always needed someone to come to my rescue.  I was sick of other people getting put in danger because I was too pathetic to help myself.  It made me want to throw up, to pull my hair out, to run outside and get Stark's gun and shoot myself in the freaking...


"Amber!" Mom's voice cut through my thoughts like a flashlight in a dark cave.  I opened my eyes and saw looking at me with the most loving-yet-mad expression I'd ever seen. "I am proud of you, I love you, and I don't want you saying things like that about yourself anymore, do you understand?"


My face was a mess now.  My tears were smearing the dried blood on my face, and Mom's hand was getting soaked with both. I hiccupped, and tried to talk. "I can't..."


"You stop right now, or you are grounded, young lady!"


I blinked, so surprised that I actually forgot to be sad.  Did... she just threaten to ground me?  With everything that was going on, all the demons, and Slayers, and giant hyenas, had my mom really just said she was going to ground me?  The ridiculousness of it was enough to make me laugh.


That seemed to satisfy Mom, because she let go of me and went back to Kimberly's side.


"You're just tired," she said as she gently slipped the pull into Kimberly's mouth. "You've had a long night, and you need rest.  I'll take care of this..." she gave Kimberly's throat a light stroke, and she must have swallowed because Mom said, "There.  Now, you get into bed, all right?"


I sniffed again, and nodded.  I stood up, not really feeling better, but determined not to worry her any more.  I'd need a nice long shower before bed, of course, unless I wanted to get crispy pieces of dried blood all over my sheets and pillow.  I shivered blissfully at the thought.  After everything that had happened over the past few hours, a hot shower sounded gooood.


I started to strip out of my bloody clothes, but stopped when I saw that Mom was still leaning over Kimberly, her hand still positioned right over her mouth.


"Did she swallow it all right?" I asked.


Mom jerked her hand away from Kimberly like she'd been caught trying to steal from the cookie jar, and when she turned to look at me her face was bright red.


"Oh, no, she's fine, honey," she said, wrapping her robe around her finger to dry the saliva off of it.  "If these things work as well as Stark says they do, she'll probably be better by morning.  How do you feel, by the way?"


I shrugged.  "No change, yet.  I guess my mouth might feel a little better than..." As I was talking, my tongue instinctively ran over the empty space where my tooth had been yanked out.


Only it wasn't empty anymore.


"Holy crap," I whispered.


Mom gave me a concerned glance. "What's wrong?"


Tentatively, I pulled my cheek back with my finger again and looked into the mirror above my dresser.


"Ishh bah!" I exclaimed, staring dumbly at the pearly white canine that had sprouted from my gums without me even noticing.


"What?" Mom asked, circling around to look at me. "What happened?"  She stopped when she saw what I was looking at. "Oh my.  I... I guess those pills really are magical."


I let go of my cheek. "You thought Stark was lying?"


Mom shook her head vigorously. "No, no, of course not!  Sometimes it's just hard to believe that all this is real, I guess."


I sighed and nodded. "I know what you mean."


As Mom headed for the door, something clicked in my head. "By the way," I said, stopping her again, "what was Stark doing in your room earlier?"


Mom froze so suddenly that I almost thought I'd given her a heart attack. "It's nothing," she said, speaking so quietly that I wouldn't have heard her without my sensitive hearing. "Don't worry about it."


A pit formed in my stomach, and I took a step toward her. "You're not acting like it's nothing, Mom."


"One of my bed's legs was loose," she snapped. "Made my bed wobble whenever I turned over.  He was tightening it for me."


I narrowed my eyes, and Mom looked away from me.  I followed her gaze, and saw that she was nervously rubbing her thumb and forefinger together.


"Mom..." I said, the pit growing even heavier in my stomach.


Before I could react, Mom grabbed the pill bottle out of my hand. "I'll give this to Stark," she said sharply. "You get to bed.   Now."


I opened my mouth to protest, but she shut the bedroom door in my face before I could.



NEXT TIME: Everyone’s okay.  Amber’s alive, the pack has their medicine, and Kimberly’s going to get better.  What’s going to happen next?  Any ideas?  Let me hear your predictions in the comments!

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