I didn’t know how other mated couples acted after the mating bond settled in place, but Shade and I started our mated life with an argument.
After the bittersweet mating, we’d laid in bed, wrapped around each other so tightly as though if we let go, the mating bond would break or something. Eventually, however, we forcibly untangled ourselves and we settled on an easier position, with his arm around me and me leaning against his chest. He played with my hair and I simply sniffed him in, trying to treasure the moment.
But the moment was kind of ruined when he sighed and said, “We need to get back to Lumen some time soon.”
I winced at the reminder that this safe haven, once hell, was just a temporary sanctuary. But reality was calling, and honestly, now that I felt more... alive again, with my mate by my side, the healer in me was starting to nudge me to get back to my pack. I couldn’t desert them for too long. They needed me. That was why I sighed too and whispered, “You’re right.”
He squeezed my shoulders and I felt his kiss on my hair. “We don’t have to yet if you don’t feel ready.”
He was trying to be considerate, this new and amazing Shade. Still... “No, I think you’re right,” I said and tilted my head so I could look at him. “I’d been too long without my pack because of that asshole,” he tensed under me, and I instinctively rubbed his chest until his low growl softened and he relaxed a bit. “They need me. I can feel it now that I’m not as numb anymore. My wolf, too, needs the stability of pack.” Because werewolves, unlike humans, needed social structure and hierarchy. They needed an alpha to rely on, they needed packmates, they needed a home.
Shade stilled. “I want to kill him for taking it all away from you. Correction: I will kill him.”
That made me frown. I hadn’t thought much about Damon other than what he’d done to me and how I was so affected by it; revenge hadn’t even crossed my mind. Yet now... “I think I’m the one entitled to kill him,” I said, and frowned even deeper when I expected to feel a rise of anger. Yet none came. Was I still numb? Was I still as hollow as before?
“You don’t sound so convinced of that,” Shade said quietly, and I could feel his questioning look on me. I was questioning myself too.
I tried to think it over. “I don’t think I hate him,” I found myself saying. He froze. “At first I did. I hated it so much that it burned. I wanted to rip his head off. I wanted to put a bullet through his heart. I wanted to castrate him. Yet after a while... I realized that it wasn’t that he was evil. There’s a difference between mean and twisted, you see.”
A growl was ripped out of him and I jolted, snapping my head toward him. His face was pure confusion, disbelief and fury. “The Redways were twisted and mean. Sometimes they do go together, Daisy.”
I felt his deep anger and hurt in me too. The mating bond allowed me to feel him more accurately, and I knew that he meant what he said. I also felt his inability to fathom what I was meaning by saying what I did. I barely understood myself, too. “I know they can, it’s not that. It’s about him specifically. The Redways were sinister and mad. Damon is undoubtedly mad, but...” my hands fisted. I had no idea what I was saying.
“Fuck,” Shade said and then grabbed my head and shoved me into his neck, cradling me strongly, all the while growling nonstop. “He’d seriously done a number on you. Fuck. Fuck.”
“W-What do you mean?” It was the first time since he got me here that he sounded unsure. Up until now, he was determined that I could be fixed, that I could be saved from the same horrors that had haunted him. Yet now he said that. What did it mean? Was I really a lost cause?
“Have you heard of Stockholm Syndrome?” he asked, his body still.
Now I knew what he was getting at and fear spiked my spine. “You think I feel some sort of affection toward him,” I said, feeling myself blanching. “You think I like him in some sort of twisted way.”
“I can’t imagine loving the Redways,” he snarled, cupping my face and searching my eyes. “Just the thought is enough to make me feel sick. Yet you look all calm when you talk about him. You don’t feel the need to seek revenge. You don’t hate him even though you have all the rights in the fucking world to be.”
The logic was blatantly clear. And frankly, I was in no mood to get into it. “Drop it for now,” I said, pleading him with my eyes yet forcing myself to look stern at the same time. “Don’t go killing people now that you’re finally... that we’re finally...” My lower lip quivered and I bit it, willing strength upon myself. “Promise me that you won’t go after him until I’m... until I’ve thought it all through clearly. With you.”
He stared at me back, a storm in his jungle eyes, before he embraced me again and leaned his chin on top of my head. “Every instinct in me wants to go after him,” he said so quietly, I barely heard him. “They’d been put on hold for you because my wolf recognized the need to help you. But now that we’re mated and the man who hurt you like I was hurt is still free and out there, I see him as a constant threat that I need to get rid of as soon as possible.”
That was an odd statement. Sure, males, especially extremely dominants like Shade, were over protective of their mates. If Damon was anyone else, that shouldn’t have been a problem. The problem started with Damon being a Deity, and Deities were immortal, meaning you’d probably need to be stronger than anyone else in order to get rid of one.
But that wasn’t the oddest part of it all. Even dominants know when to back away when the threat is too great for them to fight off, because that would mean they would be easily killed and their mate would die too, either from sorrow at losing their mate or because they would be killed by the threat as well. Only alphas were suicidal enough to try that. And I suddenly recalled obeying Shade soon after we found out we were mates a few months ago, and what Damon told me about him...
“He told me, you know,” I said, bracing myself, “about how you were meant to be the next Alpha of the Millennium. The One True Alpha.”
His probably instinctual reaction was to freeze. I felt how stunned he was that I knew that in my mind, through the mating bond. But then he must’ve realized that I was his mate, that we were officially mated, and I could feel him working to loosen his muscles and get more relaxed. “Raphael didn’t randomly come to Redway Island when I was there,” he said, face bland, “he told me that a few months after the rescue. He got tipped of by the Deity of Immortality, a man called Adonis, who was the one who changed Raphael into the One True Alpha, the first immortal werewolf on Earth whose mission is to be responsible of the balance and stability among werewolves. Do you know why the Deity cared?”
I shook my head, entranced by the story.
He sighed and seemed to unconsciously to play with my hair. “He gave Raphael a time limit to his job. One the millennium was over, he would have to pass the title to the next chosen one who would replace him. He would stay immortal, since reversing immortality is impossible, but he would basically be retired.”
I got it now. “Adonis chose you as the his next in line.”
“In a sense, yes,” Shade’s gaze was intent on me. “Raphael began training me. I was... not entirely there because of everything that happened to me. I didn’t even bother going against the Deity’s wishes of having me be the next One True Alpha. I just went along with it because I didn’t know what to do. And the training helped. I didn’t feel as helpless and humiliated. I felt like I could protect myself if anyone tried anything. I secluded myself from women, from everyone, and focused completely on training until all emotions I felt closed off. Then...” his face turned grim. “Then I finally realized I didn’t want the job.”
“Because being the Alpha of the Millennium, while a great honor, meant living for eternity.” Shadows passed in his eyes. “The last thing I wanted was to live forever. I didn’t want to see more of the ugliness of this world. I didn’t care for the beauty parts of it. I cared nothing about the world and the werewolves in it. I didn’t trust anyone, I felt like everyone were evil, and living forever with people... It was not for me.”
The explanation made sense, yet... “There’s more.”
His jaw clenched. “No, there isn’t.”
I narrowed my eyes, growing irritated. “Yes, there is. I can feel it. You can’t hide your emotions from me anymore, Shade. I can feel you, just as much as you can feel me. Besides,” I lowered my gaze. “You promised not to push me away again.”
He swore and nudge me to look at him again. “You’re right,” he said, even though he didn’t look too pleased about it now. What he said next, however, explained why. “I felt unfit to be the strongest werewolf in the world, after everything I’d been through. I was raped, and not just by men but by women, who were supposed to be less insane, yet were just the same as men in that aspect. I felt useless and worthless. I didn’t want everyone to look up to me when I could barely look at myself in the mirror.”
The pain he felt when he said it was reflected in me, and combined, it was magnified. And I understood now completely why he denied the job meant to be his; because when you feel so helpless and worthless for as long as he did, nothing could change his mind. No amount of therapy could’ve made him feel differently about himself. He was too dominant and too stubborn. He couldn’t be controlled and couldn’t be forced to feel differently. His belief in his inability to perform the job was so great, it’d become deeply ingrained until he was consumed by it.
And it explained everything else, too. Why he didn’t want a mate, why he recoiled from society, why he was such a loner. But there was one thing it didn’t explain and I just realized I needed to know, too.
“You’re the Gamma of the Millennium,” I said, “yet Zachary is the Beta. Why weren’t you the Beta? Obviously you were longer with Raphael than Zachary was, and you’re evidently stronger. The Beta comes before the Gamma. So why are you the Gamma?”
“After I turned the offer down,” he said, looking away, “Raphael took Zachary under his care. Zachary had been a mess then; a strong werewolf who couldn’t fit into a pack’s structure. It was such a rarity and almost a disgrace, that Zach became almost feral. He needed to feel needed, because that is one of the basic things a werewolf needs to feel, and he’d never felt it with his pack. I already formed a certain bond with Raphael that I felt comfortable and secure in my place. Zachary needed to feel even more needed. He’s clingy this way.” A snarl entered his voice. “So I stepped down from being Raphael’s right hand and became his left one while Zachary could preen and feel proud at being second-in-command to the One True Alpha. Also, it helped keeping the fact I was stronger than people believed I was under the warps. Nobody needed to know that Alpha of the Millennium’s business. Heck, nobody needed to know he was ought to find a legacy. So the fact I became the Gamma was better for all reasons; keeping it a secret that I should’ve been the next Alpha of the Millennium, and helping Zach overcome his own issues.”
While he believed in this decision and stood by it loyally, I could feel some sort of resentment coming off. “You don’t like Zachary much, do you?”
He wasn’t surprised that I noted it. He seemed to get the hang of this mating bond thing. “No,” he said, shaking his head, “I don’t like him much. He’s childish and petty. While his issues were no less serious than mine, he didn’t handle them well. He’d been melodramatic and such a diva, it was a wonder Raphael somehow found a spot in his heart to feel care for him. Besides, it’s not one-sided,” he gave me a bitter smile, “he doesn’t like me much either. It’s jealousy, you see; he knows I’m stronger than him and he knows about the whole One True Alpha issue, not to mention that I’ve been with Raphael longer, and it’s enough to make him feel inferior. That’s why we’re not very close.”
For some reason, it made me laugh. “Are you even close to anyone?” I asked, thinking about Claire and Zach. He didn’t seem like the petty child Shade pictured him to be when he was with Claire. If anything, he was like a purring cat whenever he was near her. But I guess that was exactly what he needed, as a person who required feeling needed.
Shade’s answer to my question, however, erased any lingering though I had of Zach from my mind. “Isn’t being close to you enough?”
My eyes threatened to get misty and I fought it. I was tired of being a sappy baby. Gazing up and catching his eyes, I said softly, “If you think it’s enough, then it is.”
His eyes turned cloudy, but this time he wasn’t angry. The conversation took a turn both of us did not expect to so soon after we mated, and the air thickened heavily with tension. In his eyes, I could see the lust. In the mating bond, I could feel his shock at being able to feel such lust. I, too, felt a sudden stir of sexual need that had been lost to me for a long time, and it startled me as well.
We were not ready to have sex again just yet. Both of us shared the same thought, I could tell. We weren’t like most couples who soon after the mating bond was formed, they couldn’t get out of bed even to eat. Our bond wasn’t all encompassing in this manner like Eve and Raphael’s or Claire and Zachary’s. No, our bond was different. It was built on different things. The sex was only the technical finish that brought it to life. But sex was only a sub-part of our mating at the moment. It would become a more permanent part of our life within time.
But now that we overcame our sexual fears, it was still not the time to conquer them again. We needed to settle first into the mating, then encounter everything else one thing at a time.
And that returned me to our first issues. “We need to go back to Lumen,” I said in an effort to break the intensity between us.
But my attempt failed. It only got thicker. Shade closed his eyes in almost pain. “Yes, we do.”
And so it was settled. We’d already made the first major step to recovery for both of us. It was time to take the second one and go back to the people who needed us.