When we emerge from the water, we find Chance, Clay, and Nick anxiously waiting for us.
Where the bloody hell were you? Clay screams in my mind as he runs towards Shadow and hugs her tightly. I walk to Chance and Nick who hug me briefly before Nick slaps the back of my neck.
“OW! What the hell was that for?” I pull away from them and defensively rub my aching neck.
“Well, answer the man.” Nick demands.
“It is a long story. To summarize it, we learned that the portal to the other realm or whatever it is only opens at dawn.” Both Shadow and Clay come and stand beside us. All five of us form a circle as we talk.
“So you got stuck there?” Chance asks.
“Yeah, it was my fault.” Shadow takes the blame. Thanks to Amoux I know that she already gave Accalia a lecture for her recklessness.
“It does not matter whose fault it is. What matters is that we learned that the castle is not abandoned and that we are back home.” I give her a look and order her to not hug the blame.
Wait, I thought Shadow said it was abandoned!
“No, I said it seemed abandoned Clay. Also, the first time I went there, I did not go into the castle.” Shadow whispers the last part.
“You went into the castle?!” Nick yells. Thus, Chance pinches his waist.
“What the…” Nick glares at my beta.
“I think you should yell louder. Owen did not hear you!” Chance hisses at him. At that, Nick’s face turns pale and he remains silent.
“Where are the others?” I ask.
They wanted to be here, but they did not want to make Owen suspicious. We were barely able to cover for you yesterday. Clay answers me, and his eyes tell me that the day before was not an easy one for them. As much as I want to ask about it, I want nothing more than to go to my bed.
“So what else can you tell us?” Nick is thirsty to know anything that can help us with the situation we are in. He, however, gives us some space when he notices our exhaustion.
“I know we have been gone for an entire day, but do you think I can stay in bed for the next week? You know what, I do not care, I am going to sleep.” She mutters and walks away from us. All four of us watch her back before we look at each other and laugh.
I told Chance that after what happened in the other realm; I want to have a free and peaceful day with Shadow. Therefore, I grab a huge bowl of gummy candy from the kitchen and go to my room where I can hear Shadow moving around.
Why did you bring that much gummy candy? You fucking hate this kind of candy Alex!
I know that Amoux, but Nick told me that Shadow loves gummy candy, so I am getting our mate something she loves. Would you rather have me return it to the kitchen?
Do not fucking dare! My wolf growls at me. After that, he remains silent, but I can feel him in my head very vividly; he does not block me or hide in the deepest parts of my mind.
When I enter the room, I find Shadow sitting on the bed about to put her hair in a ponytail. She seems both tired and frustrated, and in a way I can relate. I hope we will improve each other’s moods by staying away from everyone for a day. I know that hiding from our problems can be regarded reckless, but if we are going to save our pack, then we have to have clear and undistracted minds.
“Can I do your hair?” I ask her as I announce my presence. She looks at me and gives me a fake smile. I know that I am not what is bothering her so I do not take it personally.
“Sure.” She shrugs.
“This is for you.” I watch in amusement as her eyes glow when she takes the bowl from me. I chuckle before I go to my left nightstand and pull two bands from the third drawer. I then go to the bathroom and get my hairbrush which she has been using ever since she got here.
I like how she uses our stuff. I sense Amoux’s delight I can practically almost see him wiggling his tail.
Yeah me too.
“Why do you have hair bands?” Shadow asks me as she gets off the bed and stands before me.
“Well, there is a little girl in the orphanage, her name is Emily, I brought her here a few times before. She taught me how to do French braids; she actually has some stuff from hers in that drawer.” I point at the drawer in the nightstand.
I sit on the couch and open my legs for her to sit between them. I place the bands and the hair brush next to me before I allow my fingers to go through her platinum locks.
“So I assume you are giving me a French braid?” She hums when the tips of my fingers touch her scalp.
“I am giving you two French braids.” I brush her hair as a comfortable silence hovers around us. When I start doing the right braid, she decides to break the silence.
“So what is Emily’s story?”
“You mean why I brought her to my house?”
“I mean, what makes her different compared to the other children in the orphanage? Surely, there must be a reason why she would have her alpha as her friend.” For a few seconds, I do not know what to say or what to share.
“I do not know. I mean she is only three years old and she has a tragic story. However, every child in the orphanage has been through at least one tragic event. I guess it is because she has been in there since she was an infant, and she always seemed to love me more than the other children.” After that, silence consumes the air once again. I can tell that she does not know how to reply.
Almost an hour later, both of Shadow’s French braids are done and she runs to the mirror in the bathroom to see her hair. I follow her and stand by the bathroom’s door frame as I admire her glee as she checks out her hair. I feel a sense of pride and joy that I managed to draw such a wide smile on her face. It is a sign that I can still make her happy even if she cannot feel our bond.
Since this is the first time I see her hair pulled away from her neck, I notice a few tattoos she has on the back of her neck and upper back.
“Thank you, no one has ever done my hair before.” She turns around to face me, and I cannot help but walk to her and wrap my arms around her as I look her in the eyes through the mirror.
“You are welcome.” I smile. My hand moves until it brushes against her inked skin.
“I like your tattoos.” I whisper in her ear.
“Well, this is the first time anyone has told me that.” She chuckles. It is obvious that she actually likes that no one likes the ink on her body, but I do not know how she feels about me liking them.
“What does it mean?” My fingers choose a particular tattoo.
“It is amusing how some masks get broken when we start to think that someone is worth our friendship and trust.” I read what is written on the back of her left shoulder.
“All my tattoos are phrases I wrote that represent a key moment or aspect of my life. This one represents the first time I learned how rotten my family is. I remember how betrayed and scared I was of them. To be honest I still am; they are so wicked that you can never guess what they will do next.” I do not say anything, I feel like there is no need for words because my eyes say everything I want to say.
“Walk with me?” I untangle my arms from around her, and I offer her my hand.
“Of course.” She smiles. I take her to witches’ garden where the witches grow all their herbs and plants.
“I know you are the alpha, but for some reason I feel like we are trespassing or something.” We sit in the middle of the garden without paying any attention to the mud.
“Oh come on, what could happen. Besides I informed Josh that we are here so no one will intrude and ruin our escape day.” I give her a smirk.
“So, tell me more about your tattoos.” I grab a branch from the tree that is beside me and start to play with it along with many others.
“This one.” She shows me a sentence that is written on her right wrist, and I read it out loud.
“A person’s anchor is a constant reminder of what people try to forget.”
“Yeah, this one is about Diamanda. She is my anchor even though I always try to pretend that I do not remember her or what happened to her. That way, the pain is not as bad. Still, no matter how hard I try, I never forget her, and I never will because I channel my strength from her.” I begin to understand why Shadow has her tattoos; they are so much more than a rebellious sign, they are her story. Her tattoos show the ugliness that she has faced; she does not only carry her bad memories in her mind and soul, but on her body as well. In my opinion, that defines bravery and strength.
“And this one.” She pulls her shirt up a little until I can see a sentence that is a few millimeters away from her pants.
“It is actually about you, well my mate; I had it before I met you. Sometimes you have to force yourself to expect nothing because you hope for everything.” She looks at me as she waits for me to understand what she has written about me before she even knew me.
“You wanted a mate who would get you out of the Red Eclipse pack and away from your family. You wanted a man that is different from every male you came across because you wanted him to give you a better life. However, you always repressed these dreams because the entire nation is shallow and anti-feminist.”
“It was like a nightmare that persistently haunted me. I was so scared that my mate would be like Stefan; that would have ruined my life. No, that would have ended it. I was so scared that I will die before my soul forsakes my body.” A tear slides down her cheek, and I immediately get close to her and lean in. I lean in until there is little space between my lips and her cheek and I kiss away her tear.
“I promise I will make sure that you live your life to the fullest. “ I whisper against her skin. I kiss her for a second time before I pull away.
“I made this for you.” I put the flower crown that I just made for her on her head. The purple flowers that I picked from the ground and added to the crown blend well with her platinum hair.
“Did you just make this?” She giggles.
“Another thing Emily taught me.” I shrug as I feel my cheeks heat up.
“I love it when you blush.” She giggles once again as she reaches out to the crown and runs her fingers on it.
“Thank you.” She smiles at me, and this time her smile is genuine. She moves closer to me and sits on my lap.
“It is alright if the first few strides are dark. After all, every single day starts in the middle of the night.” I read the tattoo that is right under my mark on her neck.
“I do not remember this one being here when I marked you.” I give her a perplexed look.
“That is because it is my newest tattoo; I had Clay do it for me about a week ago.” It takes me a few seconds before I understand the meaning behind her words.
“Wait, is this… This is about me.” I do not ask; I am certain.
“Every time I look back to first few days after I met you; I realize how broken your eyes were every time you looked at me. Now I understand that it is because I could not feel the mating bond. Even though I still cannot feel it, I believe things took a turn that you did not foresee.” She leans her back on my chest as my arms wrap around her waist.
“I love you.” My voice breaks. Shadow turns around and faces me. Her hand ruffles my hair playfully before her lips touch mine in a kiss that assures me that no matter what is coming our way, we will eventually be okay because we will have each other.