Quinton opened his eyes. For a split second all he could see was the dark, but his eyes quickly adjusted. He slowly made out the room around him. It was early morning and the moon fading against the early dawn light .He turned to where Nora should have been sleeping. Her place was empty. He sat up in bed and rubbed the sheets - cold. It was as if she had not been sleeping there at all. He had remembered tucking her into bed the night before. She had been very restless and he had tried his best to soothe her.
Yesterday had been a bad day.
The past few weeks of her metamorphosis had been going well enough. Apart from a couple of mood swings, a ravenous appetite, and occasional patches fur she was doing fine. However, this month's full moon, as it drew near, began to change her. Yesterday, on the night when the moon was at its roundest, Nora had been ill with a fever. Quinton had called the physicians and Cora gave her best hypothesis, saying that most likely the full moon was triggering this episode. Quinton wanted them to do more but he understood that Nora was a rarity and her condition needed the ultimate care and delicacy. So, with the assistance of Mary, Quinton made sure that she was cared for and attended to. It had been a long twenty-four hours but she managed to fall asleep around midnight. She had whimpered in her sleep, tossing and turning.
He got out of the bed and went to the bathroom to check for her but she was not there. He went to his room and wrapped his robe around him, placing slippers on his feet. He stepped out into the corridor and walked down the staircase, heading towards the kitchen. It was chilly, especially with it being winter. It was dark and empty. He went to the refrigerator where he expected to find her, but it was closed. Lately she had a tendency to do some late night snacking. He opened it and everything was neatly stacked, labeled and organized. It did not look as if Nora had been here at all. He felt uneasy. Where could she be? He left the kitchen the way he came. Once he exited the dining room he stopped in his tracks. He saw, at the farthest end of the hall that the doors to the patio were ajar. Mary always made sure to shut the doors and have them locked and bolted at night. His heart accelerated and he thought the worst possible. Could she have been kidnapped again? It had been tried once before and he was horrified at the possibility that the villans could be successful this time around. However, how had they been able to enter into the bedroom and steal her away without him ever being alerted?
He paused as he came to the foyer and drew closer to the breach. The door seemed to be opened from the inside with no sign of forced entry. He poked his head outside and peered out into the darkness. His breath condensed in the cold air as he breathed in and out harshly, panic settling in. He looked to the ground and he gasped in dismay. He saw a set of footprints in the light layer of snow that covered the steps - the indentations barely visible. It seemed to be only one set of tracks leading away from the door. He scanned the premises but it was futile. He tried to sense her but his heart was silent and she must've been to far off. Quinton cursed and ran back up the stairs two by two. He rushed to Tifa's room and knocked on the door incessantly. In a couple of minutes, she opened the door, groggy and tired. He didn't let her get a word out, saying:
"Nora is missing. I believe she's in the forest. I need you to wake up Mary, and have her turn the flood lights on. I'll begin searching. Wait here in case she returns."
With that Quinton took off, his heart pounding. He'd have to change into his wolfen form in order to find her more quickly. Who knows where she could have gone...especially in the state she was in. Quinton bounded down the stairs and began transforming as soon as the door was in sight. He jumped into the air and when he landed his hands and feet had turned into paws. He was taking off into the forest, in the direction of the tracks Nora had left. Behind him the floodlights turned on, illuminating the grounds.
Running. Running. Running. Panting. Running.
Quinton was no more. It was just the beast - focused and determined to find its mate. The beast paused and raised its snout into the air, breathing in and out. Nothing. He howled in fear and agony. He continued onward, occasionally pausing to catch whiff of a familiar scent in the air. The strong scent of iron flooded his nose and the beast was sure that he smelled blood. The scent was heady and hung in the air. He followed the scent, wanting it to lead him to his mate, yet afraid of the outcome. Darting through the trees, the smell grew stronger and stronger until it nearly overwhelmed him. He stopped suddenly, catching sight of a crumpled form that lay at the base of a tree. He circled the figure, barking in order to illicit a response. The figure moved and showed its face. Nora. Quinton instantly transformed back into his human figure. He did not care if his naked body was exposed to the elements. The blood in his body was still rushing and it distracted him from the cold. He crouched near her, her scent saturated by blood but he could smell that it was not her own.
"Nora." He said, calling her name, cupping her frozen face in his arms. She was cold and her skin like ice. Her lips were blue and her eyes were closed. "Nora." He croaked. His heart filled with dread. He lifted her limp body into his arms and saw the crimson liquid coating her. He sniffed and he realized that he knew that scent all too well. Deer? He questioned, looking about. He followed a trail of blood that was led behind a bush. There lay a gutted deer, the snow soaked with blood. He hugged her to his body and rushed back towards Gillans, his feet tearing and slicing on the rocks. Quinton was terrified as he ran as fast as he could back to his home. Quinton could only pray that he had reached her in time. He was so thankful when he saw the lights of Gillans getting closer and closer. Quinton called for Mary, his voice hoarse as he took her up the steps. Mary met him at the door and gave a shout of fright. Tifa stood a couple steps behind her, her hand over her mouth in shock. He stood before them, naked, yet unaware. He could only focus on Nora.
"Bring blankets, Mary. Have someone bring a change of dry clothes and call the doctors. Tifa, can you start a fire? "
Tifa followed Quinton into the game room and instantly turned her attention to the fire place. Quinton placed Nora on the settee and began removing the damp clothes that she wore around her. She was still unresponsive but Quinton lay his head against her chest and heard the dull beat of her heart. Her heart was beating, albeit slower. Mary came through the door, followed by attendant. They carried a number of blankets in their hands.
"Wrap them around her," He commanded. Mary, himself, and another woman worked to arrange the fabric around her chilled body, applying layer after layer of warmth. Another attendant held out clothing for Quinton as well. He donned the clothing rapidly and then turned his attention back to his mate. Tifa had managed to get the fire started and it illuminated the room, instantly bringing warmth.
Quinton kneeled 0pre Nora, securing the cap on her head and the mittens on her hands.
"She reeks of blood," Tifa said.
"I found her covered in it. Deer's blood. I have no idea why and I do not care at this point. We will deal with that later. For now our primary concern is her temperature."
Tifa nodded in agreement and went to get the heating pad while Mary fussed about Nora, trying to find any extra way of getting her heated up. She placed a blanket on Quinton's shoulders.
"Is there anything I can do for you my dear?" She asked, her voice not hiding her worry.
"No. Were the doctor's called?"
"Yes. I will asked Olivia what she was told."
Mary left the room in search of Olivia and Quinton was left alone in the room with Nora. He looked at her buried underneath the mountain of quilts, sheets, and blankets. Her head poked up from underneath and he placed a kiss upon her cold lips. She was still so cold. She had yet to open her eyes and Quinton felt that death was pulling her away from him every second that passed. He clutched her mitten covered hand and laid his head on the arm of the seat. It was an uncomfortable position - his back arched and his neck laid at an awkward angle - but Quinton didn't care. It was the best he could do at the moment and he wanted nothing more than to be next to her, waiting for the second she would open her eyes or whisper his name. He dug his hand underneath all the blankets until his hand was where her heart should be, and he kept it there, feeling for the slow beat of her heart, making sure that she was still amongst the living.
"I've a strange feeling with regard to you. As if I had a string, somewhere under my left ribs. Tightly knotted to a similar string in you. And if you were to leave, I'm afraid that cord of communion would snap. And I have a notion that I'd take to bleeding inwardly..."
Quinton had spoken those words to her before, and they never rang truer than today. If she did not overcome this Quinton did not know what he would do with himself. Perhaps it would be he who walked off into the dark night, never to return. He would have no need to.
He didn't know how long he remained in that position. Time meant nothing to him at that moment. All the clocks in all the world could have disappeared from and it would not have made a difference. People came and go, trying to cater to him but he paid them no mind. He simply kept his hand over her heart, feeling the rhythmic beating, slowly beginning to augment its pace. All he could do was pray to the Lord above. When his strength and will was nearly spent he saw her face twitch for just a moment. He was instantly on his knees, his face mere inches away from hers.
"Nora?" He pleaded.
He saw her eyes moving behind her lids, and he could see that she attempted to open her eyes. Nora's mouth gaped open and closed, over and over as if there were words that she was struggling to find and use.
"Water" She managed to croak out, her eyes open just a smidgen.
He called out for water and cupped her head in his hands, kissing her all over - eyes, nose, lips, chin - whatever inch of skin available. She followed him with her eyes and attempted to speak.
"No no no. Keep quiet. Keep quiet. We will have plenty of time for talking later on." He said with a smile. An overwhelming amount of emotion poured forth from him and he knew that she would sense it too. From Nora, on the other hand, he could sense confusion, fear, and acute pain. He was worried for her but her waking up was the best sight he'd ever seen.
Mary brought in a tray with a cup and kettle.
"Have her sit up." She said. Quinton arranged the blankets and moved Nora into a sitting position. She was too weak to move on her own and he held the cup of warm tea to her lips as she sipped gingerly, rivets of liquid falling down her chin. He wiped her face once she finished drinking the cup and Mary promptly poured another. The second cup woke her up a bit more and she fully looked at Quinton and Mary.
"Where am I?" She asked, obviously confused.
"You're in the game room at home, love." Quinton said, stroking her cheek softly.
"Darling...I am not so sure but I found you outdoors, in the woods, covered in blood."
Her brows furrowed.
"I thought I had been dreaming...my dreams are often so real to me, but..."
"How...I don't understand." She placed a hand on her forehead and groaned.
"Do not worry about it for the time being, Nora. Rest. That is all you need to do." Mary advised.
"Mary is right."
"Can I go to my bed?" Nora asked.
"Certainly. I think its best we have you bathe first, love."
They began the process of removing the coverings from atop of her. Once she was free, Mary and Quinton helped sit her up, giving her a moments rest before having her stand. On her feet she was unsteady and Quinton held on to her tightly as they walked, steadily towards the upstairs. Reaching the staircase, picked Nora up in his arms and carried her the rest of the distance, seeing that she was tiring and losing what little strength she had.
Quinton showered with her - Nora leaning against his body as he soaped them both up and scrubbed all the grime and dirt of the night away. She dozed lightly as the warm water cascaded down from the overhead shower. Quinton watched as the water turned red and circled the drain. It was a much needed shower and Quinton bundled her up in warm clothing before placing her on the bed. Mary was there already with pillows and blankets and whatever else Nora could possible desire. Once comfortable she fell asleep, and Quinton watched as she dozed off, with a slight fear that she might not wake up. Quinton, fatigued, climbed into the bed and pulled her body towards his. He wrapped himself around her, as if he was forming a cocoon, and he too, went to sleep.
Nora's eyes flickered open. She sat up in bed, rubbing her eyes. She yawned and stretched a bit before clambering out of bed. She paused once she got to her feet, so surprised at how sore she was. Every muscle and joint in her body was aching and Nora didn't quite understand where the pain came from. She shrugged and removed the layers of clothing that she was dressed in.
"How peculiar?" Nora wondered and she wrapped her blue satin robe around her. "Is Quinton playing a prank on me?"
She sat down to take a look at herself. The reflection in the mirror wasn't too unsightly but she decided to fix herself up a bit, combing down her unruly bed head and washing her face in the bathroom to be a tad bit more presentable. There wasn't much she had planned for today. She was going to eat breakfast and maybe sit in the library and catch up on her reading. Seeing as she was so sore there was nothing intensive that she was willing to do.
Nora left her room and began making her way to the breakfast nook where she took her first meal. In passing she saw Blaine and she gave him a cheery "Hello." He stopped in his track and looked at her, mouth agape as she walked by. Nora gave him a curious look but kept on, driven by her current appetite. She was famished and her mouth was already watering in anticipation of the food she was going to eat. Upon arriving to her usual seat, she was surprised to find the table empty. Typically, there would be bread, jams, cereals, and fruit prepared and ready to be devoured - Blaine and Annabelle begging Nora to have her last piece of bacon or sausage. It was disappointing but she sat and waited patiently until more than fifteen minutes passed and no one seemed to be coming out to serve her. Exasperated, she went to the kitchen. There were people doing their work - chopping, cutting - or just milling about. Nora tapped on the shoulder of one of the cooks that she was familiar with.
"Gina, when is breakfast going to be out?" She questioned.
"Breakfast?" Gina gave her a confused stare. "Why it's half past three now, miss."
"3:30? In the afternoon? Really?"
"You can bet your bottom dollar. Look at that clock right there on the wall."
Gina was in fact, correct. It was 3:30 and now it was Nora's turn to look confused.
"Breakfast came and went but we can fix you up something now if you'd like. Pancakes?"
"No no. I'll just have whatever you're serving for dinner later. Do you mind if I fix myself a tray for the moment though?"
"Go right ahead."
Nora uttered her thanks and began picking from the kitchen some food that she could eat to keep her satiated until dinner. "Strange. I never oversleep." Back home in Wicks, Nora had to be the early bird if she was going to put breakfast on the table and get a couple errands done around the house. The thought of wasting the day never sat right with her but she what could she do about it now? Nora didn't bother to leave, standing to eat at a counter in the kitchen (making some eyebrows raise). After three peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, five whole pickles, a bag of chips, and two apples, Nora felt the hunger subside. She licked her fingers, washed her dirty dishes and said good bye to the kitchen staff. She was on her way out when Quinton slammed open the doors and confronted her.
"You're awake?" He cried, grasping her by the shoulders.
"Um...yes. I know I know I over slept but its your fault for letting me sleep in. I just ate, thankfully. I was starving. Between you and me I can go for seconds," she said with a smile. When Quinton didn't return the expression, she frowned.
"What's wrong...have you no remembrance?"
"Goodness, Nora you cannot pretend to ignore what happened two days ago."
"Two days ago...what are you talking about?" She said, bristling now at his accusatory tone.
The whole staff began looking at the two and Quinton took her by the hand and led her out of the kitchen and to his study. Once there, faced her again.
"Nora, think hard. Do you not remember?"
"Remember what?" She said, crossing her arms.
"Nora, sit down please."
She obliged and he continued speaking.
"You've been asleep for over twenty-four hours."
"What?" She said in disbelief. "No way."
"Nearly two days ago, I found you. On Tuesday morning, in the woods, laying in the snow covered in blood."
Now she understood why he asked her to sit down. Nora was floored and she felt like the wind had been taken out of her.
"I-I don't understand."
"Me neither. No one I consulted has a clue how you arrived there, but the evidence points to you. You woke up, unlatched the great door, and headed into the forest. I do not know what happened in between but I do know that a deer ended up dead - gutted - in the process."
Nora's hands flew to her mouth and she let out a little squeal of shock.
"How is that possible...I do not remember a thing about that."
"I remember. Thank God I woke up that night because had I hadn't, you might not be with us today. You nearly froze to death. I got back here just in time to warm you up."
"My gosh! I have no clue but if you say so...I just don't understand why I would think to do that."
"Well, Cora, Harold and I concluded that you were not actually you in that moment. They believe that you were in a trance, perhaps. They concluded that you have yet to transform fully yet but you're getting closer and closer. Your metamorphosis manifested itself in a new way - a dangerous way."
"I don't know what to say or think." Nora said, shaking her head back and forth. "I feel so confused and scared, yet so grateful that you found me just in time."
Quinton knew very well how she felt because he had felt the exact same way upon finding her.
"You had all of Gillans in a whirl wind."
Nora looked down at her hands and Quinton sensed her emotions becoming full of sadness and guilt. She closed her eyes as a headache formed. She tried to think but her mind was blank only conjuring a few scattered images of trees, and snow, and redness.
"I'm so sorry. It wasn't my intention and I swear I didn't mean to do it on purpose," she covered her face with her hands. "I feel like I'm just a big problem for everyone here."
Quinton was next to her in a second, kneeling so that his face was level with her's. He forced her to turn her head and look at him. He wiped the few tears that ran down over her cheeks.
"Do not for one moment consider yourself a problem or a burden. It was not until you entered my life that I realized I was never actually living. Your presence is not a problem...it is the solution."
"What are we going to do? I mean I do not even remember getting out of bed. This can't keep happening."
"No it cannot. I'm discussing with Tifa as to what we can do to prevent this because I will not have you on the brink of death ever again."
"A few...but I'm reluctant to implement them."
"Reinforcing the locks to your room...or placing you in restraints...motion senors."
Nora felt her stomach drop. All those devices just for her? She felt like she was a criminal who needed to be placed in a maximum secruity prison. Quinton could read her face and sensed that she was not particularly fond of those suggestions.
"I know they are not very appealing ideas but Nora you are not aware of the state you were in when I found you. If you were fully human you would not be here before me."
"I guess I understand the needed for things like that but...I still don't like them."
"Tifa and I are still putting our heads together so hopefully we can come up with a better solution than those we have. Hopefully, whatever happened was a one time thing."
"Better safe than sorry." Quinton rose to his feet and pulled Nora up with him. "I am just happy that you are alright - alive and with me." He stated, pulling her close to his body, rubbing her back and placing soft kisses all along her face. Nora relaxed into him, closing her eyes, and enjoying the moment.
"At least now I have some answers. I guess that's why I'm so sore...I fell like I was run over by a truck."
"I will give you the best of massages tonight." He whispered, biting the outer shell of her ear.
"That sounds lovely."
"Indeed. I called your family and they will probably want to be stopping by soon, now that you're awake."
"It will be a surprise for them...I've never told them that I'm transforming."
"Really?" He said, pulling her back so that he could see her face. "Why not?"
"I don't know. I just...I'm scared I guess. Keeping it to myself just makes it seem less real. But, it seems that there's no point in being in denial anymore. It's happening one way or another."
They were both silent then, just enjoying being in each other's company for a couple minutes more.