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Rejected Mate and Following Fate novel Chapter 27

I pick at my tray of food in the mess hall, pushing my salad around, completely distracted. Counting down the minutes before I can head upstairs, already on edge, unable to think about anything else despite telling myself I'm only making it worse. My nerves are already shot.

Meadow is keeping her distance, sat down the far end of the long table because she knows she won't be able to hold it in if we sit close. She isn't really doing a great job of acting natural either and I can almost taste her tension waving this way. I catch her eyes on me a couple of times, but she looks away quickly, as though we've had some sort of lover's tiff and I wish she would stop before someone picks up on it. I think she's the reason I'm on such high alert because she's adding to my stress levels.

The rest of the sub pack are dotted around me, although still grouped in an obvious unit. I'm stuck between the twins, who decided they were flanking me in here today and they are arguing about who got more coleslaw with their potato jackets while reaching over me in a bid to steal one another's food. Radar watching them silently across the table, like an amused parent who is not inclined to intervene, until I can't take it anymore.

"Here. Just take mine okay. I'm not hungry and you're making me crazy." It's a despairing snap as I push my tray at Remi on my left and skid my chair back to escape this nonsense. Not really caring if all eyes turn to quiet little me in surprise, because they're behaving like a couple of toddlers.

They behave like this at every mealtime, but I'm on edge and tetchy, and my nerves are pulled taut with the knowledge I have to get going soon if I'm going to be ready by dusk. I have so much going on in my head, my heart is in eternal conflict, and I just need time out.

I stand up, ignoring the enquiring glances but no one questions, probably guessing I finally got as fed up with them bickering, as everyone else, as they do it almost daily. Everyone has been feeling the strain of late, with more trucks arriving this afternoon, more prisoners carried in from around the mountain, so I can be forgiven for the random outburst at the two most irritating of this sub pack. They may be older than me physically, but it's obvious the twins are the two most juvenile among us.

The mess hall is full of Santos chowing down at this hour before they get called out to assemble for evening chores and duties. Patrols get pulled out on the main field an hour before dusk so that gives me a window of opportunity. To pack, get out, and move before the first patrol starts walking the perimeter. We have a rest and refresh hour in our rooms after meals, and for me that signals the last time I carry out my normal routine I have fallen into the past few days. It's my window of opportunity.

I'm supposed to help with the cleaning crews every day after our evening meal and tonight I'm in the laundry hall for the first time ever, as they like to rotate duties. It says so on the checklist I got given a few days back, but as I've never been in there before, I doubt I'll be missed.

"I'm going to get changed and freshen up before chores begin." I say it to no one in particular, trying to act natural and weirdly, Jesus, is the one to reply. Eyeing me up in that odd paternal way he has become accustomed to doing lately.

"You should eat, keep your strength up. You've been looking pale these past few days." It's more of a stern command, than a suggestion. Blinking at him, unsure if I heard him right, I throw a subtle smile his way. Confused, but appreciative of the unexpected care. He does sound like a dad, or a big brother in this moment. Something I'm not used to.

"He's right. You look tired and eating well is part of fixing that. Here, sit, we'll behave." It's Remi this time, pushing my plate back at me, and as I glance from him to Domi who is nodding in agreement, both equally apologetically, guilty, and it hits me so hard it makes me choke up. There's no malice or deviousness in their expressions. They genuinely are trying to advise me for my own good. I catch nods around the table as all eyes fall on me, the subtle expressions of agreement, that they've all noticed I'm not myself these past days and telling me they care enough to point it out.

They've accepted me as part of the sub pack, while I wasn't even paying attention. This is pack care; this is how it's meant to be. Watching out for one another and guiding one of your pack when they need it. Being a family.

I almost break, tears hitting the back of my eyes, and I have to try so hard to push them away and stay visually unaffected. To not crumble and show them it's gotten to me, because for them, its natural behavior and they don't know how overwhelming it is or how absent from my life it's been. No one cared if I skipped meals in the home. If I looked pale, tired, or even just plain sad. No one mentioned it, no one pushed me to take care of myself. So invisible for so long and now I feel like these people see me, really, see me.

"I'm okay, and you're right…I'll eat later. I just need some quiet time to think." I play it off coolly but inside so many warring emotions are kicking me in the ass, ripping my heart to shreds at the realization I have a chance of a real pack family with these people, and I'm leaving them behind. It's hard to swallow, words sticking like glue in my throat, and my face aches with the effort of keeping my expression neutral.

"Are you coming to the com room after chores?" Cesar startles me with this one, and I blink at him, completely non-plussed. Panic starting to set in that we might have some sort of meeting I have to show face for, or Colton will suspect.

"Yeah, we decided we needed some pack hang time, a few beers, movie… all chillin together." Radar finishes it for him, all eyes on me, standing awkwardly, poised, and I hesitate. Struggling to think up an instant refusal, while dying inside that I'm literally being asked to initiate, to bond, and I can't. If ever there was a moment, I wanted to kick the fates in the ass, it's now.


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