All these words filled Alex’s head. He thought he was dying. He wished he was, but deep down inside he knew differently. He wasn’t dying. He was being fucking punished for pining after a woman he could never have.
Another roll of intense pain ripped through his body, forcing his breathing to become harsher and harsher with every passing second. The next wave crested, following closely behind the previous one, leaving Alex’s body weak and convulsing.
His eyes cracked open, breaking the crust of sweat and tears that had sealed them shut. The sun was long gone having probably set hours ago. Alex knew he should have been cold—it was the middle of winter after all—but the snow around him had turned to slush where it was in direct contact with his body. Lifting a hand to his forehead, he ignored the shake and placed his palm against his damp skin.
He was burning up.
The bite on his right hand had finally stopped bleeding, but not before making the ground around him turn pink. In front of him was a trail of blood that would lead anyone who bothered to look for his sorry ass to the tree he was currently propped up against. He didn’t expect anyone to come looking for him though. He didn’t have any friends left.
Ever since losing Saskia, he had turned into even more of a bastard than before. His subordinates at work avoided his eyes whenever he stalked through the office looking to pick a fight just so he could feel again. There was only one man who would meet his eyes and Alex wasn’t even sure he was human.
Vaile Wolfe seemed to watch his every step, looking at him like he was a stray dog that needed to be put down for being a nuisance. Hell, Alex even felt like he was a stray. Nobody wanted him.
Nobody would notice he was gone.
He winced when another wave of pain traveled up his arm and into his chest. Lifting his hand up close to his face, Alex inspected the wound that he had no doubt would kill him. If he had the strength, he would have gotten his ass up and out of there, but what was the point? He had nothing to live for anymore. What was he going to return home to, an empty apartment? A job he fucking hated? He was living in a world without a sun because he had lost Saskia.
“Yeah, good one, Alex. You’re having a fucking pity party all on your own.”
He heaved a sigh and kicked his legs out. Letting his head drop, he closed his eyes and waited for death to take him…
He woke up with a deep breath, the crisp morning air trickling in through his nostrils. Birds twittered in the trees around him, but instead of enjoying the noise, it was like nails down a chalkboard. He shifted his legs feeling the blood sloshing about in his limbs after being still for so long.
Alex looked down at his chest, surprised to see he was still breathing, still functioning as a human being even though he felt far from it. He squinted against the weak sun filtering past the bare branches above his head, feeling like his retinas were getting a once over with high-grade sandpaper. Scrunching them up tight, he dropped his chin to his chest and took in a deep breath.
“Christ, even that hurts,” he grumbled to himself since no one else gave a good damn about him. His lungs burned as he filled them with fresh air, settling into a steady simmer when he concentrated too much on the sensation. Lifting a hand to his forehead, he wondered whether the fever had broken overnight.
He took another hit of the fresh morning air, wincing when the scent of death carried into his nostrils. His eyes swiveled around, searching for the source. His gaze eventually dropped down to his mangled hand. Bringing his hand closer to his face, Alex sniffed at the wound.
“Fuck,” he muttered. The thing was infected now. Well, if exposure didn’t kill him, the bite sure as shit would. “Fuck,” he repeated, letting the back of his skull roll back into the tree trunk behind him. It was going to a long, slow, painful death. His lids slid shut again, waiting for the end to come…
Alex jerked awake; something had woken him. He tried to sit forward only to feel all the muscles in his body seize up. He would have screamed, but even his tongue was useless. The best he could do was make some feeble mewling sounds at the back of his throat that sounded as weak and as pathetic as he was. Breathing heavily through his nose, he waited for the pain and the paralysis to subside.
That was when he heard it: the sound of softly tread footsteps, and they were getting closer. Moving just his eyes, Alex glanced around the clearing and realized that neither the wound, nor the cold was going to kill him; it was going to be a goddamn wolf or cougar. He was a sitting duck—crippled, surrounded by blood and dripping in fear. A branch snapped behind him, and he tried to move his hand, finding his fingers had finally unfrozen from their repose. He tried his other hand, able to bend it at the wrist and then the elbow. His body was slowly starting to function again.
Trying to remain calm, he looked around for something to use as a weapon. His gaze landed on his Ka-bar sitting half buried in the snow a few feet away from him. That would be his only choice if he were to defend himself against whatever wild animal had decided he would be an easy meal.
With a grunt of pain, he pushed himself off the tree. He landed on his side. Cold snow pressed against his cheek, sliding down the collar of his shirt. His major muscle groups obviously didn’t want to play nice yet. Forcing his mind on his arms and legs, he coerced them to start moving, his heart rate ratcheting up to oh-fuck speed when he heard the predator getting closer, curious about his obviously impeded movement.
Spreading his fingers out, Alex tensed his muscles and pushed his upper body up off the snow. Dragging his feet underneath him, he attempted to lift himself up off the ground. But his legs had other ideas. With a bitten-back curse, he collapsed onto his hands and knees.
Breathing heavily, he looked up at his target. The handle of his hunting knife was sticking out of the snow like a taunt. His fingers curled into the snow under his palms and he growled in frustration before freezing as a giant off-white paw appeared in his line of sight, not more than an inch away from his knife. With a lump in his throat, Alex’s eyes drifted up until the beast’s giant head was in focus. Its bright orange, intelligent eyes stared back at him.
“You’ve got to be goddamn kidding,” Alex said softly. It would figure that the animal that had given him the wound would come back to finish the job. Ignoring his more base instincts to stay still and lower his eyes, Alex pushed himself up into a stand, propping himself up against a nearby tree trunk when his legs threatened to give way. He stared the animal in the eye, not giving up his right to live just yet.
His legs shook violently, but he tried to hide the shake from this animal that seemed more intelligent than any regular wolf. Opening his arms up wide, he said, “Go on then. Finish me off!”
The wolf stayed where it was, cocking its head to the side in what looked like confusion.
Enraged, Alex lunged for the animal, but it only danced back a few steps and watched as he fell into a heap. He hauled himself upright and glared at the beast with contempt. “Get out of here and let me die,” he spat, leaning back against another tree trunk, defeated. He groaned as a dull throb began in his frontal lobe, his lids sliding shut to stop some of the light still irritating his eyes from getting in. What he was really waiting for was the wolf to just finish him off. He couldn’t understand how one little bite could incapacitate him so completely, other than thinking the infection was moving quickly through his body now.
When Alex opened up his eyes again, the wolf was gone.
“Fucking figures,” Alex mumbled, eyes sliding shut once more. “I’m not even worthwhile being eaten.” A moment later though, he was woken by the rich metallic smell of blood. At his feet lay a dead rabbit; its pure white fur was spattered in scarlet blood, its black eyes like buttons buried in all that fur. Alex felt hunger bubble up within him. Falling to his knees, he took the carcass with both hands and brought the torn open belly to his mouth. Warm blood and fresh meat saturated his tongue. His jaws clamped down on the fresh kill, taking it into his body, letting it nourish him.
He groaned around his mouthful, chewing only twice before swallowing. He felt it hit his stomach, and he groaned again at how good that felt. He hadn’t realized just how hungry he had been. When he was down to chewing the bones of the rabbit, he sat back on his heels and looked at his hands. They were red up to his elbows, small chunks of flesh and entrails hanging onto his skin and in the fine hairs on his arms. An indescribable urge overcame him to lick the small morsels from his body, and he didn’t fight it.
He dropped the skin of the rabbit onto the ground beside him and leaned back against a fallen tree, simply staring out into the lonely forest. Fatigue began to weigh heavily on him, forcing his brain to turn off from any higher thinking. Heaving a heavy sigh, Alex let his eyes slide shut.