I stared at him for a few moments, then asked, “Why nobody calls you Weston?”
He gave me a piercing look that made me tense. “Because Weston was an abused, weak kid.”
And I got it without him having to say anything else. Names were crucial for one’s identity. Your name defined who you are. Shade felt his given name was not his the moment he was hurt by the people who were supposed to protect him, and so now he went by his surname, owning to it as a way to leave the past in the past and move forward.
He’d done it with his name, because as a young kid who’d be hurt so badly your name meant something. I’d done it with my hair, because my name was already a part of me, yet my hair wasn’t anymore.
I looked him in the eye, hoping he would see my understanding. He gave me a faint smile in return.
Then I looked away and began exploring the gallery. The paintings were all different, some darker, some more hopeful, but they all had the gritty undertone that was Shade’s style. On some, the signature was Weston and on others it was an unreadable scribble. I guessed the Weston signature belonged to painting he’d painted when he was younger. They were surely darker than the ones with the scribbled signature, because he’d been in a seriously dark place back then.
I found that I made an entire circle around the gallery and reached the last painting. This one made me pause and stare at it longer. It was of a small wolf, a pup really, with bald spots between his thin brown hair. The pup’s eyes were silvery and full of tears. Before him crouched a woman, with long wavy dark brown hair and sad blue eyes. Her hands cupped the pup’s face, and a soft white aura emitted from her palms. The two were in the middle of a forest with trees towering over them, and the moon seeming brighter than it did in other night-themed pictures in the room.
My hands raised and I found myself touching the wolf in the painting. Was this how Shade looked, truly looked in wolf form? Because that would mean that he wasn’t only physically scarred as a human, but also as a wolf, and I realized there were still a lot of things I didn’t know about his past. About what went on in that Godawful community with the Redways. All I knew was what I heard from Damon. I never heard it directly from Shade.
Turning around, I went to ask him about it but instead I froze. A big wolf padded hesitantly toward me. He was the adult version of the wolf in the painting, scarred and bald in places, hair thin, and eyes as silver as they were when the wolf was present in the human. He looked at me with an inscrutable look, but I think I knew why he was being reluctant coming over.
He was afraid that I wouldn’t be able to look at him. That I would find him ugly and disgusting. It was an instinct that told me that’s what he was probably thinking. He believed himself to be undesirable, because of how his wolf looked.
Like in the painting, I crouched. Shade padded closer, still hesitant, and I cupped his face, feeling for his hair. He stilled, unmoving, barely breathing as I touched him, petting his thin pelt. “I don’t find you ugly at all,” I said, the words coming from an unfamiliar place inside me, “scars are a sign of strength. If people look at scars and thing they’re ugly, then it’s their problem.”
He leaned his head against me, his wet nose rubbing against my palm. I knew what he was asking of me silently a moment later and I tensed. I dropped my gaze to the floor, my hands falling from his face. “I can’t, Shade,” I whispered, “I can’t shift. My wolf... she’s angry with me. With us. She’s...”
His tongue flicked out and licked at my nose. Startled, I fell on my butt, looking at him with wide eyes. “What are you doing?” I demanded, sunned.
He went between my thighs and with determination I’d never seen in his eyes before, he leaned down and licked at my neck. A shocking shudder went through my body. I closed my eyes, trying to fight that shudder, and when I suddenly felt my wolf coming to the surface, I gasped. It was as though she was hypnotized, needing out of my skin to feel... something.
And because I’d never felt her in this way in God knew how long, I forced my muscles loose and let her seek answers for whatever it was she needed.
The shifting was never so agonizing, never so painful mixed with relief. Werewolves needed to shift regularly; it wasn’t healthy to stifle one’s wolf. Mind had been stifled for three months.
My legs and hands curved and shortened, my body lengthened and became more graceful and agile, and when I opened my eyes, everything looked sharper, brighter. And before me, Shade was nipping at my neck, now jugular, with command. I went stiff almost on instinct. Wolves were particular about who bit their jugular. It could be interpreted in my many ways, depending on the dominance of the one who did the biting. Since Shade was way more dominant than I was, my wolf had a hard time understanding what he was doing. Was he acting as an alpha, even though he wasn’t my alpha? Was he trying to be a friend? Was he pushing for intimacy far more than I could give?
But then he got his teeth off me and stared at my intently. And as his scent washed over me, filling up my nose, taking away everything else, I knew what he was doing, and I relaxed and let out a soft whimper, lying down before him almost submissively. But it wasn’t submission in a way that aggravate my own dominance; no, it was submission for the comfort he wanted to give.
The comfort I didn’t think I would need again, would require again.
He leaned down and licked my face, nuzzling at my throat. I whimpered again. He pushed himself close, his fur touching mine, and I let him. I let him curl around me protectively, let him engulf me in his scent, a scent I wanted to feel deeper, to have under my skin, to have to feel every time I wanted.
His paw was on mine, his wolf connecting with mine on both physical and psychical plain. I closed my eyes and let him bring me warmth that had been gone from me for so long. I let him nudge his head to mine, bringing me closer to him, until our wolves were flush against each other.
And my wolf, at that moment, breathed a sigh of relief so sweet, my head was afloat with it. Mate, she whispered for the first time since we found him, my mate is here, and he’s keeping us safe.
The mating bond, the one that bonded between two mates, came closer to fulfillment. It was obvious why; my wolf gave her trust consciously to Shade, and Shade had already give his to mine while I was gone. It brought the bond closer to being put in place, drawing a line between us, a line that pointed on one thing that was still missing.
A mating bond could only be brought to its fullest when the pair mated.
But while I was still not in that place of trust just yet, not in that place of willingness to give away, it was still a huge step. For both of us.
And a small flame of hope burst through the darkness the muddied everything, and I let myself stick my nose in his jugular and sniff long and deep, his scent lulling me to rest.
A few days passed in quiet and almost peace at Shade’s therapeutic home.
After our snuggling at the gallery, Shade let me watch him paint. It’d been mesmerizing, watching him sit and paint on a canvas, focused only on what he was doing. It’d made me feel a sense of peace I’d been missing.
The days after went by in much the same way. We woke up, ate breakfast, I would watch him paint, then we would talk through lunch and then shift into a wolf form and run through the fields, stretching our legs. We weren’t playing yet, which was a way of courting in the wolf sense, but it was another step forward, another piece falling in place.
We also talked about nothing and everything. For the first time, we actually talked about interests and things we liked or didn’t, about our childhood – his after everything that went on in the community – and we learned to know each other. We didn’t talk about the rape, however; instead, we talked about more positive things. The darkness could come later.
Now I was sitting in the balcony, reading a book. There was a small library in one of the rooms, where Shade kept all of his favorite books. We’d talked about our genres – I usually liked mystery and thrillers, but he was, surprisingly, into fantasy. He recommended for me to read a book about a fantasy world where assassins were a big part of it. I listened, and now I was reading it. It included both what he liked and I did, and it made me feel even more connected to him than before.
It should’ve scared me, how I was beginning to rely on him, to be dependable. Instead, it made me calm in a way I had never been, even before the kidnapping. It calmed my wolf, soothing the ache in her, and it calmed me too. People were funny that way, I think.
Shade was currently taking a shower after we’d run earlier, before it got dark, so it was just me and the book. He did leave his notebook here, though, and I found myself curious to look inside. However, I didn’t want to broach his privacy. Still, I was kind of curious.
Eventually, I couldn’t concentrate on the book because of that curiosity, and being the bad person that I was, I snatched the notebook from the table and opened it.
Then I stared in shock at what was inside.
First of all, it wasn’t truly a notebook. No, it was a sketchbook. Shade’s sketchbook. Inside were drawings, all extremely potent, drawn very carefully with that pencil he used. The lines were perfect, the shadowing was professional, but that was just the mechanic side of it. The drawings themselves were... of me.
Shade was a very realistic artist. I could tell that the one he drew was me. Me sitting on the bed, me talking to him with a frown on my face, me drinking coffee when I actually found it tasteful, and when I reached the last page, it was me... touching myself, my legs spread open, breaths leaving my mouths, my eyes sleepy and Hazed, looking right at the viewer. At Shade.
I stared at the drawing, and even though I knew it was me, the Daisy there looked alien to me. Like it was me in an alternative universe. Me when I saw everything through pink glasses. Me when I was... better.
Not the broken me who couldn’t be anything.
“This is my favorite,” his voice came from behind me and I jolted, spinning around to see him walking forward, his hair glistening with wetness from the shower, wearing gi pants and a tank. “This image wouldn’t leave my head after you were gone, so I needed to put it on paper. I didn’t want it to disappear.”
His jungle eyes were on me, the emotion in them inscrutable. And I needed to swallow hard. “I’m sorry,” I said softly, “that I pried, I mean.”
A ghost of a smile lit his face. “I left it here for you to see. I needed you to know.”
“Why?” I asked, the question loaded with things better left unsaid. Why did you want me to see what’s inside the sketchbook? Why did you want me to see your gallery? Why are you trying so hard for me?
And he answered. “Because you tried twice as hard for me.”
My gaze fell to the floor and I put the sketchbook back on the table, along with the assassin novel. “I didn’t try hard enough.”
“You’ve done more than anyone ever did,” he said, voice hardening, “even when I constantly rejected you, you still tried. You still pushed. You still chased. You didn’t give up.”
“But I didn’t – “
His hands were on my face, lifting it so I was forced to look at him. His eyes were almost angry. “You killed the Redways without even knowing the extent of what they did. You were attuned enough to me that you felt they were dangerous. You killed them because of that. You’ve done it solely because of me. Even Raphael didn’t catch that, and Rafe is one hell of an observant bastard. Heck, he’d been to that community to save me that day sixteen years ago. Yet he didn’t recognize the Redways, didn’t connect the dots. But you, without knowing anything...”
He dropped his hand from my face and clenched his jaw, looking away. “You know you’ve done everything you could, Daisy. You know. And it’s my time now to do just as much for you.”
I jerked, gazing away from him. “You don’t need to repay me any favors, Shade – “
“It’s not a favor and you know it,” his voice lured my eyes to him almost against my will, and his jungle eyes were silver. “You feel it too, don’t you?”
The mating bond. He was talking about the mating bond. He felt it, too, nudging at the forefront of our mind, needing us to complete it by the actual act of mating. “I’m not ready yet,” I whispered almost brokenly.
“I know,” he nodded, his eyes turning even stormier. “I’m not pushing you, Daisy. You can take as long as you need. If you feel like seeing some therapist, even, I’ll be there with you. If you need take years to heal, I will wait. Maybe I’ll even join you to heal myself just as well.”
He came around the chair and crouched before me. I turned to him, my lips quivering a little. “But we’re not human, Daisy,” he said softly, gently now, and took my hands in his. “We’re wolves. You were used to contact, sexually and otherwise, before the kidnapping. You know how life is with actually skin-to-skin contact with a person that is not coerced. Your body will eventually catch up on that, and I believe the consequences will not be very easy on you. I’m trying to prevent that from happening.”
“You’re a therapist now?” I bit out, my hands fisting in his.
He gave me an unimpressed look. “After I realized my impotency should not be what it is, I read psychological books meant for werewolves. I’ve been rereading some things before I came to you. Believe me when I say this; if your body goes without touch for more than a few months, you’ll be going into some sort of nerve shock that would make you go mad. Your body would be tormented by the need of touch, but your mind would rebel against it. It can drives a werewolf to insanity, even turning them rogue. I don’t want this to happen to you.”
“So what about you?” I found myself shouting, something inside me snapping at his words. “You haven’t had any sexual touch in sixteen fucking years!”
Something flickered in his eyes but it was too fast for me to analyze. “My situation is different,” he said hoarsely, “I can only connect sex with abuse because of my experience as a mere child. That fucked me up mentally so much so that it affected my body. Psychosomatic is the term for that. But I suffered in a very young age and that’s why my body was never used to feel anything good from sex, was never used to having human contact. That’s why I managed to survive so far without being Hazed or drowning in lust. That’s why I can’t feel these.”
“So what makes you think I can change it?” I barked, my nails digging into his palms.
He didn’t flinch away and didn’t let go of my hands. “We’re not human, Daisy,” he repeated lowly, “and we’re not just some wolves. We’re mates. Mates have the power to change each other in an almost magical way. That’s part of having a mate. That’s why every werewolf on Earth wants to find their mate and be with them. That’s why mated couples can’t live without each other.”
“But I can’t!” I was on my feet before I knew it. “I can’t give it to you! Don’t you see?” Tears welled in my eyes. “I’m not the old Daisy anymore! I can’t ever be her again! I’m fundamentally changed and I don’t think even you can change me back!”
He rose too and let my hands go. “Daisy – “
“No, Shade!” I sniped, angry tears spilling out. “Although I wish I was the old me again, I can’t be, and that means I can’t fight for this mating bond. I can’t fight for this relationship. Fuck, just thinking of sex makes me want to pee myself!” I laughed hysterically, suddenly unable to control my emotions in the slightest. “I didn’t change you; you changed yourself! I didn’t fight for you; you fought for yourself! And I don’t need you to fight for me. I need you to let me be!”
My fisted hand punched his chest. He didn’t move. “I’m lost,” I cried, “I’m so fucking lost that I can’t find myself. I thought I could do this; I actually believed in this for the past few days. I mean my wolf is back in shape, and I spent time with you, feeling better and better, yet the there’s still so much darkness left inside,” I couldn’t see anything anymore; my sight was completely blurry. “I feel like myself, like who I used to be, only sometimes, and even then it’s gone as back as it was back, and I’m so fucking scared I won’t be able to be me again.”
My hands were now clenching his shirt and I was looking at him with humiliating desperation. “Ever since I found out you were my mate I wanted to mate you. I wanted you to choose me. I wanted you to melt for me, to crave having sex with me and actually have sex with you. Now I can’t imagine those things without feeling like it’s a stupid wishful thinking of a dream!” I sobbed. “And now when you’re finally willing to take this step with me, to be my mate, to be everything I’d ever wanted, it’s too fucking late!”
A growl exploded out of him and suddenly his arms were around me, hugging me so tight I was almost unable to breathe. “It’s not too late,” he snarled, “I refuse to believe it’s too late.”
I punched his chest, trying to get my vulnerability out in some way. But he wasn’t budging. “You still haven’t tried anything again. You’re still drowning in the memories of the past three months. And I understand it. I get it. I’ve been there. I know how hard it is. It’s not about me pushing you; it’s about you pushing yourself.”
My punching stopped, my body freezing. “Pushing myself?” I asked in utmost disbelief. What the fuck was he talking about?
He leaned back and stared at me furiously. “Stop thinking you can’t get better. Stop feeling so negatively about the situation. Stop thinking you would never be able to have sex again. Once you stop that, you’ll finally take the first step. But first you’ve got to stop.”
I felt the command in that last word, the alpha command in it, and I growled, letting my eyes flash neon-blue. “Don’t you dare give me orders!” I found myself shouting right in his face. “Don’t you just will me to get better because you did, you son of a – “
My body froze at once because he leaned closer.
And his lips were on mine.