‘So handsome,‘ I thought to myself as I watched Cai sleeping next to me.
I wasn‘t sure how long I‘d slept for but I‘d woken up to find him by my side. He looked so peaceful; his hair had tousled into a mess as his chest softly rose and fell. I could have watched him for hours.
I lost track of time as I recounted the events that had transpired the evening prior but soon Cai stirred next to me. In his slumber, a strand of hair fell across his face and I couldn‘t help but reach out and gently brush it away back into place. It was so silky to touch.
As my eyes drifted back to his face though I froze, realising he was now awake and watching me.
“Morning,” he mumbled sleepily, reaching out to pull me close to him.
Thad fallen asleep in one of his t–shirts but could still feel his warmth through the fabric. If not for the confusion of his words, I would have melted myself into his touch willingly. But the nagging in my mind prevented me, forcing me to pick up on the oddity. How could it still be morning when I knew I‘d slept for a t least a few hours?
“…Morning?” I asked slowly. “How long have I been asleep?”
“Just over a day. You were dead to the world, completely comatose.”
I tensed up immediately realising that, if that were true, then I‘d disappeared without notice for over an entire day. Were my parents freaked out? I knew I was exhausted from using that newfound authority but I hadn‘t realised I‘d be out cold for so long. The tax it took on my body must have been far more severe than I thought.
I sat up and knew I needed to leave as soon as possible. If they already had people out looking for me then this was the last place they should find me.
“Why didn‘t you wake me?!”
I tried to squirm off the bed but he held me back, his arm around my waist.
“Relax! I already handled it all. I told your attendant you were safe but had a rough night and were staying with a friend.”
I turned back to look at him. “…No one can know I‘m here, Cai.”
With a sleepy sigh and completely unphased by my stress, he shifted into a sitting position to tighten his grip on me. “I already figured you‘d say that so I told her to be discreet with the information.”
It took a few seconds to fully process his words but finally, I exhaled in relief knowing that Lucy would make up an adequate excuse to appease my parents. At least there was no search party out looking for m
“Come on,” he said, guiding me to lie back down again.
He pulled me up against his chest once more so we were face–to–face and softly kissed my forehead between my knitted brows. I could already guess what he was thinking.
“You worry too much,” he grumbled, confirming my suspicion.
“You need to take this seriously, Cai,” I said quietly. ‘Do you realise what would happen if word got out?”
“I‘m aware,” he replied, much to my surprise.
“…If you know then why did you pursue me in the first place? …Why come back to the Winter Mist?”
His eyes were serious, a sharpness to them I rarely saw. He was like a different person when he was this focused, so contrasted to his normally playful manner.
“Because it‘s avoidable,” he said. “The issues are surrounding our positions and Aleric, right? There are ways around it.”
I looked at him incredulously. If he knew the ramifications of this so well then he was just as insane as m e for trying to pull this off.
“…Is being with me really worth starting a war, Cai?”
He avoided my eyes as he remained deep in thought. “…Maybe,” he said distantly.
His gaze then softened, his normal demeanour returning. “Maybe… Well, since one of the issues is because of my future status, then maybe I‘ll just… let it go. Personally, I think I‘ve missed my calling in life t o become a trophy husband. You can be the breadwinner Beta if you really want.”
Even if he was joking, I still stared at him in disbelief. He really was mental.
“Cai, you can‘t just abandon your pack like that.”
“Being an Alpha seems overrated but okay, sure,” he said, not even trying to hide his smirk anymore. “But who said I‘d want you as my Luna anyway? You‘d probably be terrible at it. Only those with *seven years o f Luna experience need apply for the future entry–level job offered at the Silver Lake pack. Unfortunately, you‘re one year short of the minimum application requirement, ma‘am.”
I hit his shoulder and started to play fight him much to his amusement. He quickly restrained me within his arms though, laughing the entire time.
“But in all seriousness,” he said, finally continuing, “it doesn‘t bother me. If it means being with you then I‘m happy to do whatever, Aria.”
“Then you‘re just as crazy as me,” I replied. “This is literally the worst decision I‘ve ever made and I‘ve done a lot of dumb s**t recently.”
He shrugged. “Possibly, possibly.”
“… really don‘t see a way where we can ever be public–.”
“Shhh,” he said, silencing my lips with a kiss. “Let‘s just enjoy the moment for a second. We have plenty of time to argue about whether we go public or not. And besides, it‘s not really much of an argument when I could just….” He started kissing his way up from my chest, along my shoulder… up until I could feel his warm breath on my neck. “…Do this.”
He licked the side of my neck, the exact spot where a mate mark would go, and a shiver of pleasure spread throughout my whole body. I could picture it so clearly and knew how amazing it would feel to wear that mark. It would bring us together in ways no one else would ever be able to compare again.
That mark was how mates completed their bond, a requirement for showing full commitment and becoming one. But a mark had its own complicated downsides; one of which was that if we were to go through a mate rejection post–marking, the process would potentially kill us. Our wolves were unlikely to survive the intense heartache associated with rejection from a mate already fully bonded; a rejection considered more painful than the death itself.
However, aside from rejection, a mark meant that there could be no other mate until one of the bonded died. It was unquestionable, final. And whilst the normal death of a mate was painful, it did not mean the surviving party would die also like during the rejection process.
It meant that my life would be fully tied to Cai and, by extension, his pack; something that Tytus would want to prevent at all costs… And yet a part of me wanted him to do it. To quell any doubts in my mind
over whether being with Cai was okay because by that point it would be too late. By taking the choice away, it would free me in a way.
“…Cai,” I moaned out, the internal battle inside me raging as he continued to kiss me along that area of m y neck. “… Stop that.” It was a weak request.
“Make me,” he replied.
I knew he wouldn‘t actually do it, not here and definitely not today, but the excitement it caused was involuntary. That feeling of knowing it was so wrong that it made it feel even better; as if tempting fate.
I felt his hand creep up under the fabric of his shirt I wore, working its way along my waist and upwards towards my chest. These feelings he gave me, this… intense… desire to be close to him, as if he were a force of nature pulling me in via gravity… It was intoxicating. The more he was near me, the more he touched me, the more I felt my addiction to him increasing.
And so, when he proceeded to take me just as he had the morning prior, forcing my body to feel unimaginable highs, I knew I was only falling down a rabbit hole I should have walked away from.
...And yet, when we were completely exhausted once more, wrapped in each other‘s arms, I couldn‘t help but want more.
“If you could be anywhere…,” Cai asked softly afterwards, holding me against him, “doing anything at all right now in a perfect world, where would you be? What would you be doing?”
It was such a strange question. There was no such thing as a perfect world, just one where death was lurking around every corner.
“…I‘ve never thought about it…,” I said slowly.
“Isn‘t there anything you‘ve always wished you could do but couldn‘t? You‘ve lived two lives but it feels like you‘ve barely lived for yourself from what you‘ve told me.”
I paused to think. What would I want to be doing…?
And, after another few moments, I knew.
“… Nothing,” I finally answered. “I would be doing absolutely nothing and have nothing I needed to do. I would be living as far away as possible from the pack and all associated responsibilities. I would be living a quiet life where no one knew me or was looking for me… and where I wouldn‘t need to worry about abandoning the people I care for because there would be no impending doom or warrant over my head for treason.”
He nodded his head thoughtfully as he took it all in. “Living in a house? Whereabouts?”
I could picture it clearly now, a small smile forming on my lips as I envisioned it. “In the woods. A small house just big enough for me that no one would find. I‘d be sure to spread rumours of a witch living theret o scare off any wandering strays who might think to come looking.”
“Just big enough for you? No partner?” he asked, hinting at the fact I hadn‘t included him.
I laughed. “You want to join me in my little cottage? I thought you‘d be too busy in this alternate reality, living up a more exciting life. Why bother entertaining a forest witch?”
“I could maybe get behind the idea if it meant I got you to myself. In this world maybe no one will come looking for me too. I don‘t exactly enjoy the responsibilities involved with this life either.”
“…I should probably tell the house planner to build some extra rooms then. I‘ll definitely need the extra space if it means putting up with you twenty–four seven.”
“If we ever ended up having kids then the extra space is probably a good idea.”
Instantly I felt sick, the unwelcome reminder assaulting me over something I‘d become uncertain about.
“Cai…,” I started hesitantly, unable to meet his eyes. “I need to tell you… I‘m not sure… … -” 1
His arms tightened around me and he quickly kissed my forehead to interrupt me. “It‘s okay, you don‘t need to explain. I already had a feeling based on the things you told me about Thea. There are other options though if we really wanted… or maybe I‘ll decide not to share you with a bunch of ungrateful pups.”
I swallowed back at the tears stinging in my eyes before nodding my head, grateful he was so understanding. But I didn‘t have the heart to tell him yet about my suspicions. Suspicions I‘d been thinking for a while now regarding a certain dead rogue doctor in a cave. However, if it turned out to be irrelevant then I didn‘t want to give him false hope prematurely… and besides, it was way too soon to be thinking of anything like that. We shouldn‘t even be together right now, let alone thinking of possibly having a family one day.
“What about you…?” I finally asked after a few moments of silence. “If you could be doing anything right now in a perfect world, what would you be doing?”
“What would I be doing…?” he repeated as he thought. “…You. I‘d be doing you in your little forest cottage.”
I sighed, tsk–ing at his response. “Not allowed. I want to hear your own answer.”
He laughed for a bit before finally replying. “Hmmm… maybe lounging around on the couch at home without constantly being interrupted for work. My mum would be cooking one of her amazing meals whilst my father talked to me about something mundane.”
“Your mum cooks?” I asked, surprised that a Luna would be doing something like that.
“Yes,” he said, chuckling at my reaction. “She enjoys it as a hobby when she‘s not too busy.”
It was smart of her to find an outlet like that given how busy a Luna‘s life could be. My time had always been spent reading strategies, working, or doing something for Aleric.
“…Sounds like you‘re all really close.”
He nodded. “Extremely. Not just me though, but the entire Silver Lake. We‘re all family there.”
It gave me more understanding as to why Cai retaliated so relentlessly after Aleric killed his father in the past. He loved him more than just out of respect for being his Alpha. I highly doubted Aleric would have cared as much if Tytus was killed; their relationship had always come across as very… formal.
But it was information that helped give a good holistic view of the war between Cai and Aleric. Aleric‘s strength and power had always been his edge in the war, capable of incredible feats that still impressed m e to this day. And then there was Cai, still pretty strong, but his edge had been in his numbers with the unwavering support of his pack. The Silver Lake moved as one lethal unit with complete loyalty. With Cai‘s explanation, it sounded as though Tobias, Cai‘s father, was greatly beloved, aligning that idea of unquestionable support.
It was Cai‘s greatest weakness in the end though. I had researched their previous battles with the Winter
d that most of the stalemates occurred when the Silver Lake had enough time to prepare and organise warriors. It was then just a matter of making a plan to separate the bulk of the pack from Cai, allowing for Aleric to finish the job.
I worked out their communication route quickly enough and had their encrypted messages intercepted and decoded within the week. So when they finally had their full attention on a battle we‘d set up as a diversion, I created a fake letter informing them of an ambush to the west and made sure to give key information regarding Aleric‘s absence. It forced him to head out with minimal supporting warriors and a sense of false security… only to be met face–to–face with Aleric waiting for him there, thirsty for victory.
“What are you thinking about?” Cai suddenly asked, snapping me out of my deep thoughts with a jump.
I stared up with wide eyes to meet his, willing my heart to stop racing from the small scare. ‘Nothing! just uhh… was just thinking about how easily things change.”
“Are you sure? You look like
He didn‘t finish his sentence though as he abruptly froze up instead, turning his head to the side as it listening to something.
“What is it–”
“Shhh,” he hushed, continuing to focus. He sat up as he intently listened, poised as if ready to more
It was silent for the longest few seconds of my life before he finally reacted.
“…F**k,” he hissed as he started looking around the room frantically, searching for something ‘F**k f**k, f**k… Aria….”
He turned as if to tell me something but when his eyes finally rested back to meet mine they just softened instead.
It wasn‘t out of relaxation though. No, it felt more like defeat
“…I‘m so sorry, Aria,” was all he said quietly.
““Sorry‘ –? But I didn‘t get to ask him what was happening as the bedroom door then suddenly burst open and Aleric stood at the doorway.
In the background, I could hear as several other footsteps busily occupied the wooden floorboards within the rest of the house, but it was Aleric who I was most concerned with
He stared at me in complete shock as none of us moved. It was as if time itself was frozen
All until Aleric‘s voice finally spoke out, breaking us all from the spell.
“...Aria?” he asked softly, confused. His words were so quiet it was almost a whisper And instantly, a waking nightmare ensued.