Chapter 16 ♕
I’ve always felt comfortable in the dark. There is something about the unknown, the silent, the cold. There is something unspoken about the dark, something I have never been able to put into words. Something terrifying yet beautiful.
That was what I had always thought or what I always tried to convince myself of. But I think it was nothing more than a way to deal with the fact that darkness has become such a big part of my existence. Because when you are thrown into the dark over and over again, what else can you do but eventually become familiar with it.
But I no longer wanted to pretend this chaos felt normal, because it didn’t. My soul is begging for a break from this useless struggle. I need to slow down and feel a goddamn connection with something real.
I longed to connect with her.
But with her, I longed for more than just a simple physical connection. I longed for words and depth. I long for who she is and where she came from, her desires and fears. I crave every part of her beneath the surface.
But she didn’t feel the same. And it was only a matter of time that she too would go. Just like the rest.
I felt my insides contract viciously. Just for once, I wanted someone who was afraid of losing me. I was always the one who was terrified of losing people dear to me, but I doubted there would ever be someone who would fight to keep me in their life.
I felt myself sink even further.
It was now slightly longer than two years ago. It was because of what had happened then that Maximus seemed to have decided that I was no longer worth having a say in anything. Because soon after, I was dismissed as nothing more than a piece of garbage. I was forced to live my life through his eyes.
And ever since then I wanted nothing more than to give up and disappear. But now, now that I had seen her. Her fiery red hair, her captivating eyes, her joyful smile. Now I wanted nothing more than to be found. I wanted to be found by her.
And then, as if she had known, as if she had felt how much I longed for her, her voice broke through everything. Through the darkness, through the silence and the cold.
“Let me meet him” came her voice, “let me meet Alaric”.
And instantly I felt myself getting lighter. It was as if there had been a knot in my throat that without realizing had prevented me from breathing. And that knot was now spontaneously unraveled upon hearing the sound of her voice.
“No,” I immediately heard the voice of Maximus, before I was even able to have the slightest hope, “he can’t be trusted”.
I wanted to cringe at the hearing of those words, but then my mate spoke again.
“Earlier this evening, when the ceiling was about to fall on me, he was there. He promised me that he would protect me. He said I was safe with him. He has kept that promise. So in my case, he hasn’t done anything that made me feel I can’t trust him. So let me meet him”.
There was a pause. I think she could sense how uncomfortable we were because she turned and opened the door to her sleeping quarters. Here we were alone and isolated. After the door was closed she turned to us again and crossed her arms. Apparently she simply expected Maximus to grant her request.
I was just taken aback with the way this girl was in front of me at the moment. She’d been on the floor a few minutes before that, but now she seemed fine.
She must have read the mind on my face because hers was softening. She lowered her arms and seemed to be feeling shy for a moment.
“I can understand how absurd it must seem to you to see me like this now, when before I behaved completely differently. Apparently it took me some time to realise that there was nothing wrong with me, not from the moment you were around. I was probably just overwhelmed and maybe there was also a small part of me that exaggerated the reaction”.
Immediately after those words, her mouth closed, she looked up nervously at me and waited.
She just kept surprising me. I was not used to having conversations with someone, normally people showed very clearly that they were uncomfortable with me, so the urgency of a conversation usually diminished quickly. But she looked straight into my eyes, spoke the truth and waited for me to respond.
But then I got distracted for a moment when I felt the intensity that Maximus was currently dealing with. I turned inwards and let it come over me.
He absolutely did not want to go against our mate. He knew she asked him to do this because she needed a human face. Something familiar in this long rut of one unknown after another.
But he didn’t want to leave me alone with her either. That gave a nasty sting. It just showed how little he actually trusted me. The little happiness I had allowed myself to feel in the presence of our mate faded away.
I let it happen. Our family was torn to pieces because I allowed that. Our father and mother, one of the few people on this planet who accepted us, had been taken from us because I had been too blind to see what was going on. It had all been my fault.
Then suddenly I felt overcome by a scorching heat. I tried not to flinch and looked down. Her hand was on my arm and she seemed genuinely concerned.
It had been years since anyone had looked at us so softly. Our own mother had loved us very much, but since I was who I was I had stopped showing my emotions at a young age. Eventually she experienced that and stopped worrying.
But her look moved us more than our mother’s ever did. It was as if she looked right into us and could see that things were not going well. That we were restless and didn’t know what to do.
Maybe she knew that all Maximus needed was a little push in the right direction. Because her hand moved down until it came to rest in our claw. Feelings rushed through me. Never before had anyone taken Maximus’s hand. I felt his body react immediately and freeze completely.
Magnolia seemed amused by our response as her other hand soon followed, and before I knew it she was holding both of our claws in her hands. She stood there completely relaxed, as if nothing was wrong.
“Please Max,” she said softly, “I want to get to know him. I want to get to know both of you”.
I did not dare to say whether Maximus’s actions were fully thought out, or whether he was simply too taken aback by the touch of our mate. But then something both strange and unthinkable happened.
I felt Maximus withdraw.
It was almost imperceptibly slow, but it did happen. And what was even more unthinkable was that instead of avoiding me, he came straight to me. I felt my body move on it’s own and as we approached each other I could read his face like an open book.
This didn’t change anything.
Then we finally stood shoulder to shoulder. I aimed towards the light, he towards the darkness. Neither of us said anything. While it was clear how his feelings were about the situation, I was grateful that he had decided to give it a shot.
“For her,” he said rough, as if he’d read my mind, “only for her”.
I just nodded. I didn’t expect anything else. I gave him one last look from the corner of my eye, only to see that he was doing exactly the same.
Regardless of our disagreements we would agree on this one subject. We would always do what was best for her.
I was the first to look away and continue my way.
The process was painful. It took considerably longer this time. It was as if every bone had forgotten how to break itself correctly and had multiple tries before remembering what my human form looked like. It felt strange, as if I wasn’t used to the skin I was in. But it had been a long time ago.
After what had felt like an eternity, I could open my eyes again. But I was not given time to get used to everything. Because before I realised it, my mate pulled her warm hands from mine.
It took me a second to get my senses back on track, but then my full attention immediately went to her and I didn’t like what I saw.
She looked up at me with eyes wide in sheer shock. She took a step away from me, and another, and another.
I felt like I was being hit right in the face. She couldn’t even bear to be around me, echoed through my mind.
And right after that, she turned and walked away from me. Instead of jumping to conclusions, as Maximus urged me to in the back of my mind, I decided to wait. I wanted to give her the benefit of the doubt. She herself said she wanted to get to know both of us. Surely it couldn’t be that she found my form more terrifying than Maximus’s.
She went straight to her bedside table and opened the top drawer. Although she did get something out of it, I couldn’t see what it was. Then she kept standing with her back to me. I got more and more nervous. This was definitely not the response I expected.
In my own delusions I had hoped that she would jump into my arms and reconsider her decision not to immediately declare eternal love to me. But instead, I didn’t think she would flinch from me and avoid my gaze.
Then she finally turned around.
She was holding a sketchbook. Her hands clasped around the book so tightly that it wrinkled the paper. I could tell from her face that she was even more nervous than I was. I didn’t know what was going on, nor could I come up with a logical explanation.
“A few days ago,” she began to speak uncertainly, “I was in Bethany’s bedroom. She was preparing for the party and wanted my opinion, when we were done with that I decided to stay a while to keep her company. Out of boredom, I took pen and paper. I’ve always loved to draw. It was a way for me to pass the time. I didn’t realise what I was doing. I thought I was simply drawing someone I must have seen somewhere, but now ”.
Her voice was getting softer. The last two words were nothing more than a whisper I would never have heard if it had not been for my developed hearing.
She seemed to gather all her courage, but eventually handed me the sketchbook. I took it over from her, but my gaze stayed on her. She seemed upset, insecure, and frightened. It seemed like she wasn’t going to say anything more, so I looked down at the cover. It was made of black leather. I took it carefully and turned the page.
Immediately I was robbed of my breath.
What was drawn was correct down to the smallest detail. It was vibrant and realistic. On the paper, sketched in pencil, I was drawn.
She had sculpted my face with soft lines, but my jawline was hard. My eyes were striking. The drawing was made with only shades of gray, but somehow I just knew that even though it was drawn in color, everything would still be right. Then she would have known too.
I was stunned and couldn’t say a word. This was not possible. We had never seen each other until just hours ago, so how could she have drawn me so accurately a few days ago.
“I have no explanation for this,” she said softly.
I was just about to say that I didn’t have one either, when I noticed something else about the drawing. At the bottom was a word scrawled in hasty handwriting.
Her gaze followed mine and her eyes widened, as if she were only seeing it for the first time. She began to speak, but the words came out faltering.
“When I was young, my father worked as a university professor. He specialised in Latin. He taught me everything he knew, but it has been years since I did anything with it. I thought I had already forgotten everything in the meantime”. It was like she was saying this more to herself.
Apparently she couldn’t believe all this was happening any more than I could. I looked at her and was again captured by her beauty. She was nervous, fiddled with her fingers and turned red. Apparently the word had some meaning or else she wouldn’t have reacted this way.
“Domum, what does it mean” I asked.
My voice was low, deep and growling. They were the first words I said to her as myself. I saw the reaction it had on her. She looked up straight into my eyes. She still seemed somewhat shy, but I saw something else too.
“Home” she said then, “it means my home”.