Chapter Five

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Zee woke before dawn, feeling caged and trapped within her own skin. It had never been this bad before and it scared her, but she throttled down the fear, because that fed the things inside her. Any strong emotion fed them.

Rising from the bed, she grabbed a swimsuit and changed into it, lingering only long enough to send Donner a text

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Rising from the bed, she grabbed a swimsuit and changed into it, lingering only long enough to send Donner a text.

He responded back within seconds.

Wait for me. I finish my patrol in hour. I'll go with you.

She blew out a breath.

No. I need to be alone for a while. I'll be fine. Don't tell Meri.

She ignored the response and threw the phone down on the bed, trying not to think.

It was better that way, better to keep her mind blank, to just...move.

Her father was gone.

She'd felt it, somehow, despite the fact that they hadn't spoken in more than ten years. The bond between them she'd thought gone had still existed after all, but it had been a stunted thing and the pain, when it came, had been a twisting phantom, like a deformed limb with nerve damage being wrenched from her body. And it ached.

There were other aches within, too. Her brothers, reaching for her, the love from them almost enough to make her want to buckle. She ignored them all, because it was easier to pretend those connections were as dead as the bonds.

They'd fade, these aches. Just like they had when she'd ran out of Appalachia, her tail literally tucked between her legs, the broken animal within her crying with loss and agony and confusion.

Pain faded. Sooner or later, it always did, changing into a deep ache, like the dull, heavy weight of her heart.­­­

She dove into the water off the private pier behind the building where she rented an apartment, the cool water closing over her like a glove. Kicking hard, she went deep and swam for as long as she could without surfacing, then emerged, already nearly a half-mile from shore.

She was five miles out when she saw the big, deadly form that was Donner approached, his dorsal fin sailing up out of the water, his muscled form sleek and dangerous. Shaking her head inwardly, she ignored him as he swam with her until he finally fell back, forced to return and give report to whoever was assigned to take over.

Her muscles started to burn shortly after.

She ignored that and kept on as the sun rose and stroked over her skin.

And still, she swam, channeling the fiery hunger, the misery, the physical ache that set into her like claws into each stroke, each kick of her legs.

It wasn't until a deep pervasive weary numbness sank into her that she began to cut toward shore, not recognizing anything in sight. The angle of the sun was now high overhead and her quivering muscles held only long enough for her to reach the wooded area just beyond the sandy beach. A trail marker told her where she was and for a second, she just stared, not comprehending.

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