Chapter 12 - Stone (Part 2)
Behind closed eyes, Stone remembered the vague details as his thumb continued its caress over her knuckles. He let the pain of his heart seep through his touch. It mingled with the fear building up in her. He flattened her palm over his heart again. Her skin was so flawlessly soft. So delicate.
This hand had never killed. This hand had never struggled to stay alive.
This hand was hers, and he loved the way it played with his hair, touched his face, and stroked his flesh.
He didn’t want this hand to shed blood. To kill. To fight for survival.
This hand, like the rest of her body, had to be protected.
And yet, for her sake, he had to train this hand to kill so she could defend herself from threats.
He had to take away her humanity—the innocent, good, and wholesome part of it—and turn her into a beast. Turn her into a monster, like the monsters that killed his parents. Turn her into a strong warrior and Luna like Gwen.
The thought of making her strong like Gwen filled him with pride.
It had to be Aubree’s choice though.
He felt her eyes on him as her muscles tensed. Her heart skipped a beat.
Seconds dragged as he gathered air into his lungs and released it.
“When my parents died in the fire,” he hesitated, trying to recall how old he had been, but gave up. “I was just a small pup. I couldn’t make sense of the world yet. I could only feel the heat growing stronger. The smoke growing thicker.”
He coughed as the memories resurfaced. “I could hear my parents howling and crying for help. We couldn’t escape the den. Both ends had been blocked with wood and lit on fire. We had been sleeping. We didn’t hear them coming.”
Shuddering, he tried not to squeeze her hand too hard as bits and pieces of the past came alive in his mind. Choking him.
“They tried to dig their way out... but the fire consumed the dry wood too quickly. The smoke filled our den, suffocating us. They only managed to dig a small tunnel, just big enough to slip me through. They were able to break the surface of the earth enough to allow air to flow through and once they pushed me to the end of it, they filled the tunnel in behind me with dirt so no smoke would reach me.”
Goosebumps rose on his arms as he remembered hearing his parents digging frantically, trying to create a third exit in which to escape. His own whimpers and cries went ignored as they fought with every haggard, burning, aching breath it took to scoop dirt into their paws and pull it away.
Sucking air into his lungs, he pushed down his emotions and blinked back the sting in his eyes. “They knew they weren’t going to make it and even if they did, they couldn’t leave the den. They couldn’t reveal themselves.”
Swallowing, he looked up at the moon. “It had been a group of humans who had come to kill us. And we couldn’t fight back. Lycans are sworn to protect humans. We cannot kill them. It is punishable by death. That is the Lycan Code. We cannot reveal what we are to them.”
He closed his eyes again. “My parents died to keep our secret from the humans.”
He tried to look up. To meet Aubree’s eyes, but couldn’t find the courage.
There was more to say.
“Amora found me the next day and raised me like I told you. When she left me with Gunner’s parents in another pack, the Schwarzwald Pack, it was then that I learned the truth. That humans had killed my parents. I had always assumed it was vampires like you did. I became so angry. How could humans do this to me? To my family? What monster could do that? I hated humans.”
Aubree’s heart was pounding, but he continued.
“Why did no one come to warn us? My parents were young. They weren’t high ranking lycans but they were still members of the pack. They were loyal to our alpha and luna. They would have fought and died in battle for them if they had to. I didn’t understand it then, but as I got older, it became the biggest feeling of betrayal I had ever felt.”
Entwining his fingers with hers, he tightened their hands into a fist. “I harbored the anger, the hatred for years. I fought with other lycans, both old and young. I didn’t want their pity. Their taunts and teases. I hated them all. I wanted nothing more than to kill the humans who killed my family, but by then they had already died of old age.”
He took a deep breath and released it, relaxing a bit. He smoothed out their hands and pressed them flat on his chest again. He couldn’t make out the emotions Aubree was feeling, but fear was no longer one of them.
Encouraged, he finished his story. “That’s why I matured late. I behaved like an insolent, spoiled, little pup longer than I should have, but I refused to forgive. Refused to protect the creatures that murdered my parents. Refused to grow up.”
He waited for her to say something.
His hand was clammy over hers. His heart thundered away—drowning out the sound of her own heartbeat.
She shifted her weight so that she was leaning more on his chest. Sadness coiled within him, a shared emotion between them.
“I’m sorry for what happened,” she said. “I’m sorry you had to go through all that at such a young age. Humans have done so many bad things in the world. So many wars have been waged between countries and religions. They have committed genocide after genocide, enslaved other humans, killed, tortured, and raped...”
She pulled her hand away from his chest and reached up to cup his cheek, tilting his head toward her. Her eyes caught his. Her emotions reflecting his.
“But not all humans are bad.”
He swallowed, his eyes searching hers. “I know. Still, it made it harder to accept you even though I knew you wouldn’t be like those humans. They were scared of what we were. They didn’t know if we were actual wolves or monsters, never mind that we were actually protecting them from vampires.”
Aubree was nodding. “We attack what we do not understand out of fear.”
“Yes, it is a basic survival instinct,” he said. “It took me some time to accept that lesson. It was Gunner who told me that. He put it into perspective for me because he had lost his mate before I was even born. I had lost my parents, but he had lost the one created just for him, to share his soul and live his life with.”
Pulling her hand away from his cheek, he looked away. “I never knew pain until I experienced that myself. Losing Arthur as well made me understand what my parents would have thought before they died. I would have given my life so that he could have lived instead.”
“But then I never would have met you.”
He squeezed his eyes shut. “You would have been happy with Dan if I were not here. While you were not soulmates, I know you loved him. I could feel it in you. See it in your eyes and the way you smiled at him. That love came from the heart and you would have been blessed with him, I know it.” His heart clenched. “I apologize for causing you that pain.”
“Stone, I was born for you. If you died instead of Arthur, then there would have been no reason for me to exist, right? Our souls would exist in the Spirit World, wouldn’t they?”
She touched his cheek again, brushing the back of her fingers against the stubble of his jaw.
Gradually, he turned his gaze to meet hers. “I don’t know.”
She didn’t add to it. What could she say? Anything else would have been pure speculation.
He held her gaze as he reached up and pulled her hand down to his chest again.
Yes, she was born for you. And the Goddess made her human to test you.
Gathering courage, he pulled himself up from the ground and crossed his legs. She followed, leaning in towards him, but keeping a bit of distance between them at the same time as their knees brushed against each others’.
“I wanted you to know this before I claimed you. Before I make another mistake and hurt you.”
He rubbed his face with one hand while holding her hand with the other. He looked down at their entwined fingers. Her small, delicate hand in his big rough one felt so natural and comfortable. Connected.
His heart squeezed.
“You were made for me, but now you have to give up even more for me in order to seal the bond.”
He hesitated, but only for a moment as his heart constricted. “I know the thought of becoming a lycan is frightening... I-I wanted to tell you this before we seal the bond because I want you to know that even as a human, I fell in love with you. Even if you stay a human, I will always love you.”
He looked up into her eyes. “I don’t want to claim you and have you later find out about my past. I can only imagine what you might think of me if I were to do that. What if you thought I didn’t love you as a human? That I couldn’t love you as a human?”
He reached up and touched her cheek, brushing the back of his fingers across her cheekbones. His eyes refused to stray from hers.
“Aubree, I love you. I love you as you are now and I will love you as you are fifty years from now. I will love you no matter what form you take. I don’t want to force this upon you. I want this to be your choice. I will hold back my urges. I will bite myself over and over. I will buy fifty thousand boxes of condoms if I have to. I will wait until you’re ready, even if I have to wait fifty years for it. I love you and I don’t care if you’re human. I just...”
He trailed off as emotion blocked his throat and he couldn’t swallow it down.
He slipped his hand from her cheek to the back of her head and pulled her forward. Pressing his forehead to hers, he took a shaky breath, inhaling her beautiful scent as he listened to her quickening heartbeat.
“I love you too.”
Tilting her head up, she pressed her lips to his.
He breathed into her, relishing in the soft, gentle strokes of her lips on his.
Her heart skipped a beat as she pulled away, only to climb onto his lap, straddling him. She dug her fingers into his hair and clasp his mouth with hers once more.
His stomach twisted as desire sparked a fire that rushed through his veins as her tongue met his.
A soft moan crept up her throat, drawing a groan to rumble through his chest. Sweet heat radiated off her skin, the smell and feel of it making his head swim.
She rubbed herself against his hardening maleness, eliciting a small rumble of pleasure to vibrate within him. Gasping, she pulled away momentarily before catching his mouth with hers again.
“Claim me now.”