THERON

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SEVENTEEN.

Theron’s hold on me loosens.

His arms fall slack at his sides and his eyes stare straight ahead, a look of awe painted upon such a beautiful face. I follow his gaze to the dingy white wall in front of us, confused as to what he finds so interesting in the peeled and chipped plaster.

Is this how men act after an orgasm?

I expected him to want a snack, not new fucking paint on my wall.

“Theron?” I ask, cautiously, as I slide up and off his still hardened cock. My painful groans do not seem to bring his attention back.

His head tilts in what appeared to be astounded amazement. “Veritas,” he whispers, a small smirk tugging the side of his mouth.

I frown, befuddled by one single word that has no meaning to me. Waving a hand in front of his face, he doesn’t even blink. It’s as if he’s in some sort of trance... seeing but not really perceiving.

Surely this is not normal.

Suddenly he inhales sharply, his eyes coming back into focus. His head snaps to me, those same eyes now sparkling with undisclosed secrets. “Veritas,” he repeats, before pointedly adding, “you marked me.”

Instant warmth fills my cheeks as I watch him touch my mark tenderly. The wound has already healed, scabbing over red and inflamed skin.

I did mark him... and I did so without prior discussion.

Technically, this was more than likely a common occurrence between mates. However, Theron is not my given mate, nor I his. That kind of mateship probably has different rules...

I cannot rightfully defend myself with excuses of how I was told to mark him—it had still been my decision, and mine alone.

“I... I-I...“—have nothing. There’s no rhyme or reason and certainly no explanation. Though I am just now realizing that I should have thought this through better...

His brows furrow. Through clenched jaws, he questions me, “You marked me without knowing what would happen afterward?”

Shit.

Theron’s eyes instantly soften as he continues to study me studiously—the blush on my cheeks, the wideness to my eyes. I can only imagine the obvious embarrassment that must be showing clearly on my features. I’m not very good at hiding my emotions and I know it... I just never took the time to school myself in the art of stoicism that Theron had perfected centuries before me.

The intensity that resides beneath his brown irises becomes too much for me to tolerate. Instead, I find my own eyes drawn to the path of dried blood that streaked his chest. Down his neck, I follow the trail, currently coagulating to resemble something that looked more like candle wax than blood. The route streams passed his collar bone, over his strong, defined pectoral and jumping to his stomach like a skipping stone over water. From there it continues as if never having been interrupted in the first place. A semi-dried track of dulled crimson paints his stomach, moving further down his left hip and thigh only to drip and pool upon the bright white comforter that covers my queen-sized bed.

Theron gently lifts my chin with his finger, forcing me back into chocolatey goodness, “Your father meant well, Lina, please understand that. But in his blinding obsession to keep the outside world outside, he failed you in so many ways.”

Yes.

I’m beginning to realize that... exhibit one: my inability to properly mind link.

“Come here,” wrapping his arms around me, he pulls me to lay on the bed with him. Effortlessly now hovering above me, he continues to explain, “Veritas means truth. Every dream, every thought, every indiscretion, no matter how minor, is projected into your mind’s eye after the marking. Imagine it like a movie reel—one only you can see. The purpose is to give mates a clean slate to start their lives together... to know everything about one another. There will be no secrets.”

Pushing a strand of hair behind my ear, he caresses my cheek, his attention on every movement his thumb makes on the dying heat of my face. He smiles softly—sweetly... an act very un-Theron-like. “Did it ever seem questionable to you how two different beings could come together, mate and mark without really knowing one another? It’s very illogical, isn’t it? How do you truly and completely fall in love with a stranger? It doesn’t work. Just because they are predestined for each other, doesn’t mean they automatically and naturally know one another. During Veritas, you are subjected to every fear, heartbreak, and burden they carry. There will be no more secrets—vincit omnia veritas—truth conquers all.”

“But... I was always told that it didn’t matter. You were soulmates and love would be inevitable,” I whisper, entranced by that all-consuming wonderment I still experience every time a glimpse of happiness abates his hardened look.

I don’t believe I’ll ever get used to it.

Like always, however, it’s quick-lived and replaced with the deadly scowl I have come to know so well, “Yeah, I’m not entirely sure when that bullshit began spreading but that’s not how it truly works... sadly, even those who have marked, don’t understand—you have a choice to love. Two wolves are not picked for pairing because the Goddess played fucking cupid. Matches are dished out due to their DNA. Genes play a major part in mating and preventing inbreeding so wolves are paired based on specific criteria. This is the reason you never see same-sex mates—they can’t reproduce with each other. Do not think for one second that that fucking whore goddess gives a damn about love. It’s all about the continuation of our species.”

“Wait...” I have so many questions, I’m not sure where to begin now. The only thing I can do is shake my head in denial because that is not my moon Goddess. She loves and cherishes us. We are her creations, spawned from revenge but loved nonetheless. “No, that can’t be right! She wouldn’t—”

“Oh, she would,” he interjects, “and she does. I have spent centuries watching Marius live a lie... tormented and agonized every time he breeds. He was not given a choice, only a body that he cannot control! His heart yearns to be free from the chains that shackle him—to live as he was born to live... to love as he wishes. Your goddess did that and she continues to do so to this day.”

“Marius is gay?” I look at him, quite shocked by such a revelation. The majority of our kin are from his line, “But he...”

Fuck.

What do you even say to that?

I’m speechless.

Theron nods, solemnly, “He is... has been ever since he could remember.”

“Then how...”

Hell... I am really bad at this!

“Because who you are—truly are, to your very core—doesn’t matter to your goddess,” The word ‘your’ is given a disgusting emphasis. “To her, all wolves are meant to breed. Matters of the heart are not necessary for such things. Marius’s body tells him to reproduce, but his heart isn’t in it. It can’t be because that’s not who he is. Imagine, doing what we just did, without emotion... without feeling or caring... just a need to sow your seed.” Theron sighs.

I can’t fight the urge to comfort him, even if his pain is only an extension of the agony Marius experiences daily. The world could claim to know the Ancient named Theron but I am certain I’m the only one who sees the deep love he has for his brothers. Their pain is also his; another weight upon his already heavy shoulders... though he will never admit it.

With another loud sigh, Theron falls onto the bed beside me.

I lay my head on his chest, the rhythmic beating of his heart soothing an aching sadness I now feel for all my kind. “Poor Marius,” my heart goes out to him. What must it feel like to have your choices stolen from you? To be only at the whim of your body? Your primal instinct? How many others experience the same every day their lungs draw breath?

My life suddenly seems like a falsity.

“Yes,” he replies as he runs his fingers through my hair.

Silence settles comfortably between us while I process this new discovery.

I want to argue with Theron—to tell him he’s wrong, though I know he isn’t. The Ancients were the only ones to ever meet the moon goddess so if anyone knew her true nature it would be them. Even with Theron’s hatred of her running deeper than the rest, I refuse to think he would lie to me about such a topic.

I need to come to terms with the fact that everything I have ever known, everything I was ever taught, is pure fiction.

My world had crumbled beneath me.

Taking into consideration that no help from my goddess was given to spare the fate of my father and the nonexistent blessing of a mate, I am no more special to her than any other werewolf or lycan. One might argue that she has been more spiteful to me than the rest of my species since it now appears as if I am also a cursed Ancient.

Thinking back on my life, however, brings forth a new, disturbing question that nags my brain, twisting my gut in haunting dread. I think I know the answer but I still have to ask, if for nothing more than verification, “Why is Veritas performed after marking? Shouldn’t it be before the mark?” Shouldn’t one know who exactly they are marking? A mark cannot be rescinded if you change your mind.

Theron’s hearty chuckle fills the room, bitterness lacing the tail end, “As you well know, marking comes during the orgasm.”

“After you’ve already bred,” I assume, flatly.

“Yep,” Theron bitterly stresses the word. “If you had the choice before Veritas, you might not have sex and therefore not contribute to the growing gene pool. It’s all a huge conspiracy that wolves and lycans buy into thinking they’re finding their soulmates and life from then on out will be euphoric. It’s quite barbaric, really.”

My heart sinks, now knowing full and well just how diabolic the moon goddess is. My entire existence has revolved around praying to what I was told to be a loving, kind and merciful goddess.

So much time wasted...

Silence covers us once more, a warm blanket of bittersweet bliss.

I hate to ruin it...

But I have to.

“Are you mad at me?” I ask softly, uncertainty full and thick in my wavering voice, “Ya know... for marking you?” I tread the waters carefully here, not certain if I want a definitive answer. The last thing I need or even desire is a cross Ancient... especially the most murderous of the four. Obvious reasons aside, I can’t bear the thought of making Theron mad.

Surprising me with his light-hearted sincerity, he scoffs, “No, Lina. I’m not mad.”

Relief washes over me in waves.

He isn’t pissed.

That’s a good sign.

“A little warning would have been nice but...” he exhales heavily, lacing my fingers through his. “I’ve been yours since the moment I met you. This mark changes nothing. Though initially, those feelings were quite different than they are now, you have owned my heart for almost fifteen years...” he trails off, leaving me to feel as if a “but” is to follow.

He confirms my suspicions quite quickly, “But, I explained all this so you would understand the reason why I will not mark you in return.”

I shoot upwards in response to the stabbing pain that instantly paralyzes my heart, “What?”

My eyes search his.

I don’t need to confirm that what I heard is exactly what he said—his eyes speak volumes. Dull sadness has deadened the sparkle I witnessed not moments before.

It’s true.

He has no plans to mark me.

“Lina,” he implores urgently, almost feverishly, “I just spent seconds seeing your life pass before my eyes and you’re only in your twenties! I have centuries on you—centuries of blood, hate, and despair, and you would experience every second of it. I won’t do that to you, Lina. I won’t put you through it.”

His explanation stuns me.

I suddenly feel less, as if he assumes I’m not strong enough to handle Veritas. It doesn’t matter that we just had sex... in his eyes, I will always be nothing more than a defenseless, six-year-old girl he abandoned so long ago.

Theron, upon seeing the hurt on my face, swiftly sits up as well. His hands cup my cheeks, forcing me to face him in a way that I just do not want to fucking do right now. “I am me,” he says gently, as if coddling my inner child, “and I was never... good. Do understand, I’m not ashamed of my life and I have hidden nothing from you, I just...” His hands drop away from me, leaving me longing for the warmth and comfort they had previously given. His eyes stray, however, apparently finding the bed cover more appealing to look at, “I do not want you to experience it first hand, Lina. It would be brutal and inhumane.”

“So you are mine but I am not yours?” I do not attempt to hide the aggravation in my voice.

I want his mark.

I need it.

“You are!" His eyes flash to mine, bellowing with barely restrained fury. “With or without a mark changes nothing. But you also are free to take whoever you want. I do not have that luxury. If you ever tire of me—”

“—Never.”

“—You are not tied down.”

I stare at him, appalled by the thought of ever desiring another man. In all my twenty-one years, I have never wanted anyone else. I would never want anyone else! It infuriates me that he would ever think such a disgusting thought, “You don’t get to make that decision for me, Theron.”

Theron stares right back, undeterred by my insistence. Through clenched teeth, he exhales, “This is not negotiable. This is not something you can win with a challenge, Lina. That’s not how marking works! I am not bound by mateship and cannot be forced to mark you. I will not do it!”

He closes his eyes in clear frustration and... indecision maybe?

No, that’s definitely indecision.

There’s still a chance.

“But you want to?” It’s meant to come out as a statement rather than a question but unsurety leaves me in a disarrayed sort of state.

“Yes,” he squares his jaw. His eyes are harsh and deadly as if an internal battle rages within him. It gives me hope, as dumb as that sounds. Just because he’s intent on not marking me now, doesn’t mean it will always be that way. I just need to wait.

And while I don’t understand his reasoning, what makes sense to me doesn’t matter. He’ll do what he wants when he wants to do it and there will be no movement in an attempt to sway his opinion. Arguing will do nothing but ruin the little time we may have left with one another...

Though I hoped his opinion on leaving has changed as well.

“If Veritas does what it’s supposed to, shouldn’t my dad have known all about my mother?” Changing the topic as if it’s less important to me than what it is, seems like the best play. Truth is, this is also important. My dad should have known about Arthur Grimes... about the friendship he once had with my mother yet he never spoke about such things with me. There was a possibility that he had discussed it with the Ancients...

“Yes,” Theron’s brows turn downward in confusion, “but he didn’t seem to know anything about her past.”

“How is that possible?”

“I really cannot say. There is no blocking, altering, or shortening Veritas. It’s not even possible to forget what you see. It will forever reside in your unconscious, stored deep within the pineal gland. Even if your recollections become foggy, the imprint remains, spurring your instincts to remember what’s true.”

“He didn’t know though,” I insist. “I know he didn’t.”

“I believe you,” Theron kissed the crown of my head. He pauses for a moment before continuing, “Let’s talk about something else instead, though... I’m thinking Ian Malory or all the boys you kissed or maybe all those dirty dreams you’ve had about me? Not gonna lie, I’m leaning more towards the latter.”

Veritas.

Fucking Veritas!

He now knows everything...

Frozen in horrific embarrassment, I can do nothing but stare as Theron’s mouth slowly morphs into a mischievous grin.

If I thought for even the slightest second it couldn’t get worse than this very moment, I would have been wrong.

He squeals, over dramatically. His voice raised octaves beyond my own as he unabashedly mocks me for nothing more than his own sick enjoyment, “Oooh! Angel! Yes! Yessss! Don’t stop!”

“THERON!” I shriek, ignoring once more my blushed cheeks. “Oh, my Goddess! Shut up!”

“Yeah, you said that too! Not the shut up part but—” his sentence is thoroughly snipped as I swat his chest for good measure.

Hard.

His laughter booms throughout the small room as his hands go up defensively to protect the small area of the chest I’m now rapidly slapping.

As if it would actually hurt him...

Pft.

Suddenly, his hands engulf my own, the laughter dies to mere chuckles and mere chuckles subside to a lopsided grin... which then turns into a seriously heated gaze, “What I really want, however... is to hear you scream my real name.”

Lips on lips.

Skin on skin.

The room becomes saturated in the smell of sweat and sex as Theron gets his wish.

Over and over again.

***

The morning sun is bright.

Piercing through the window, it gives no mercy to my waking eyes. Outside, I hear the birds happily chirping their daily tunes while I groan at the dull pain that throbs between my legs.

But inside, the silence deafens me.

I don’t have to turn over to know the bed only hosts one body now.

I can feel the coldness in my bones and the ache in my heart.

My tears flow without mercy, unable to accept that Theron is gone.

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