Most nights, we met in our colorful valley past the glowing forest. Other nights, we met in a field of flowers or somewhere equally relaxing and beautiful. Tonight was no different.
Warm sand surrounded me and the sun above me danced on my skin. The sound of water slapping the beach in front of me made me smile. I looked down at myself as is usually did when I dreamed like this - always surprised by the clothes I wore. Most days it was a high quality dress that hugged my curves and complimented my tan skin. Tonight though, I was wearing a simple strapped swimsuit and my hair hung free around my face.
I looked around eagerly, searching for Paeris. He was standing at the edge of the beach not far from me, his toes in the water and his hair slick as if he had just finished swimming. The shorts he hung from his hips in the most delicious way. I sighed as I watched him gaze over the vast waters in front of him.
"Is the water nice?" I called out playfully, laughing to myself as he jumped in surprise. It was as if he wasn't expecting me to be here.
He turned to me, smiling brightly before jogging over to my side. As he flopped down comfortably beside me, I couldn't help but smile to myself. It was so easy to be relaxed and carefree around Paeris.
"It feels great, actually. I was hoping you would swim with me." He said softly, throwing me a playful smile. "You look beautiful like this." I couldn't tell if he meant the way I looked on the beach or if he meant how relaxed I was, sitting here with him away from the rest of the world.
"You don't look half bad yourself, sir."
"You leave tomorrow." He said, surprisingly happier than I would have imagined. Maybe subconsciously I was more excited to leave than I thought I was. "You will do great."
"I don't know... I'm definitely not the princess they are expecting." I said sadly, digging my toes into the sand and enjoying the moistness of it on my feet.
"Exactly. You will redefine the standard." He seemed so sure of himself. I loved his confidence. "They may not see someone they want, but you're someone they need."
I reached over, finding his hand and entwining our fingers slowly. It felt so natural.
"I don't even know the basics of what I'm getting myself into, other than what we've discussed. I know of the Council, of the basics of the whole system of the High Wall and the little things you have taught me, but I have never been there." I sighed. The only Pack member who could go before the Council was my father and even then, it was only when they called for him. "What if I stick out like a sore thumb?"
"You will." I glared at Paeris, silently voicing that he wasn't helping my anxiety. "No, it's a good thing. You bring an element to the table that no one else could."
I hadn't thought of it that way. I had never thought of myself being an asset to the Council.
I lifted then, pulling him with me as I stood. He seemed surprised that I was cutting off the conversation where it was, but he didn't object.
"Let's swim. I want to know if you were telling the truth about that water being so nice." I said playfully, releasing his hand to run to the edge of the water. I dipped my toes beneath the cool surface, a shiver racing up my spine. "You liar! It's freezing!"
As Paeris ran up behind me, I lurched forward as his hands pushed into my back and water splashed over me. It was shallow enough that the water didn't cover my head, but deep enough that my body was completely engulfed.
"Hey!" I yelled at him, splashing him as he shot me a wicked smile. Surprisingly, the water wasn't as cold on my body as I thought it would be. Maybe this was another one of my 'talents'.
I floated further into the water on my back, looking into the deep blue sky as I swam. I felt weightless and entirely at peace.
"It's not so bad, is it?" Paeris asked cheerfully, standing over me with water up to his navel. I splashed him again as he covered the warm sun on my face with his shadow.
"Why do I dream of you?" I asked then, knitting my eyebrows together as I pulled my body upward to stand on the sandy ocean floor. It was a simple question, but one that I had been asking myself since the first dream when I had first met Paeris.
"Well.." He said softly, a look covering his face that almost looked guilty but sincere at the same time. "I think you need to process this change in a delicate way." He said then, tipping his head to study me.
That would make sense. I had always had vivid dreams that confused me. In a way, I was sure that I was secretly hoping this was all reality and I would be able to wake up to Paeris in the flesh, a real addition to my life.
"I wish you could be with me. For real." I said softly, swimming to hug him closer to me. I enjoyed the way his strong arms surrounded me. Something about this man made me feel safe and comfortable, even though he was just a dream.
After all, this was my dream. I could do whatever I wanted with no consequences or judgement.
Testing this theory, I ran my fingers through his wet hair, smiling to myself as he closed his eyes and turned his face to kiss my wrist.
"I will always be with you, Ray. In one way or another." He said softly, leaning forward, his lips just a breath away -
I woke up with a start, eyes flashing open and vision blurry as I yanked my subconscious from my dream. I cursed softly under my breath as I could almost still feel Paeris' lips on mine.
Blinking away the fogginess of my dream, my eyes narrowed in on Cage outside of the window in front of me. The moon gleamed behind his dark hair as he waved to me, clearly motioning for me to come out to him. He had visited me in the night before, but he hadn't done this in weeks.
Especially not since Allie had arrived.
I sighed, wanting nothing more to ignore him and lay back down and go back to the dream I was so rudely ripped from. Instead, I untangled myself from my blankets and tip toed through the house, careful not to wake anyone up. Thankfully, Allie was a deep sleeper and didn't even stir as I walked past her.
She snores too. I thought to myself with humor.
I closed the front door quietly and whipped around, nearly running right into Cage's hard chest. I quickly lifted a finger to my lips to silence him as his mouth opened to say something to him.
Instead of demanding to know what he was doing and what he wanted, I simply rolled my eyes as Cage motioned for me to follow him. He wanted to run in the night, like we had done our whole lives.
I would regret this in the morning when the Council came to collect me, but the thrill of a run was too great to pass up. This would be the last time I would see Cage for a very long time.
I didn't even think he would come to say goodbye.
I watched quietly as Cage shifted, marveling in the way his skin quivered and distorted as his inner wolf took over. I followed in suit, warmth flowing through my joints and flesh covering with thick dark fur as I shifted, my feet pushing forward to follow after Cage as he trotted down the dark path that lead to the forest's entrance.
We ran through the dense trees, bobbing under branches and through leaves as we playfully ran together. Occasionally, Cage would nip at me playfully, causing me to chatter at him and run faster.
To any onlooker, we looked like two young pups playing in the woods. I felt like a child again, running these woods with Cage.
I slowed as we came up on the clearing in the woods, shifting back to my flesh form as I waited for him to catch up to me. This was our place. This was where we had spent our childhood playing and telling each other our secrets. This was the place where Cage had kissed me for the first time.
This is also where we would say our final goodbyes.
He caught up with me, panting lightly as he slowed to my side. He was out of shape from training with Allie, but he still could almost keep up with me. Maybe I was a little out of shape as well, from all the sleeping I had been doing over the past week.
I pushed thoughts of Paeris out of my mind as I walked into the clearing, sitting down on the forest floor and beckoning for Cage to follow me.
Paeris wasn't real. Cage was here with me, in the flesh. Cage was real.
Why did this feel like a betrayal?
"Are you excited to leave tomorrow?" He asked softly, sadness clear on his face. I could tell this would be hard for him. My heart broke for the future we were supposed to have together.
"I guess so. It will be different. I don't know what to expect."
He nodded, looking away from me as if I had said the wrong thing.
"I'll miss you though." I offered, bumping my shoulder against his playfully. "Besides, you have your hands full with your new mate." I added, studying his face.
He scoffed, shaking his head. "Yeah, Allie..." he started, but looked at me with sadness in his eyes. "She's not you, Ray." He whispered, bringing his hand to my cheek.
I looked away from him, distancing myself from leaning into him. This wasn't supposed to happen. Cage was no longer mine. Sure, he would always have a piece of my heart, but we couldn't be together.
I didn't feel the spark with him that I did with Paeris.
I sighed to myself at the thought. Even though my dream man didn't actually exist, I knew now that without that spark, that chemistry that was so hot and comforting, Cage and I would never last.
"I see the way you look at her. She is good for you." I said softly, returning my gaze to his. "You care for her. You look at her differently than you have ever looked at me." I added, trying to make him understand.
He sighed with frustration. "But she's not... Ray, you are a part of me. You have always been the one I saw forever with."
I shook my head at the words. It was the duty that held us together. Sure, I loved Cage, but not in the way he deserved.
"Cage. Think about it," I started, turning his head with his finger tips to look at me. "I am sitting here naked next to you and you are totally unaffected." I added, shaking my head. "There is no... spark. You know it, I know it."
He nodded then, understanding falling over him.
"We would never make it." I added, trying to make him understand. I could see the spark in the way Cage and Allie looked at each other. If it were Allie here now, I knew things would be different. She was one that could actually affect Cage.
"I know.." he said softly, tears welling in his eyes.
I hugged him then, knowing that we were both in understanding of what our futures held.
We laid in the damp grass together, holding hands and enjoying each other's silence until we both drifted off to sleep.
I awoke slowly, shivering against Cage's warm body beside me. The morning light shone over us faintly, the birds chirping in the trees around us.
We had slept out in the forest all night.
I growled at myself for being so careless. I had known the Council would come to get me this morning and I had stupidly thought that I would wake up and be back home and ready for them.
"Cage!" I growled at him, shoving him in the shoulder to wake him up. He bolted awake, clearly just as confused as I was. He groaned, holding his head like he hadn't slept a wink. "I can't be here right now!" I exclaimed, cradling my head as I stressed about how I would get home without drawing negative attention to myself.
How would this look to Allie? Cage and I, slipping out of the woods in the early morning, naked and disheveled would not make a good statement to her or the Council.
My dad was going to kill me.
Maybe Allie would beat him to it.
"Well, we can't just stay here and wait it out..." he said slowly, knitting his eyebrows together in thought, almost as if he had contemplated doing exactly that. I could loan you clothes, but we have to pass your house and the training field to get to it." He said pointedly. That was out of the question. Regardless of what we did, we would have to pass by every person I was trying to avoid seeing me like this.
"I've got it! It's not the preferable idea, but it's an idea at least." Cage said, lifting to his feet and extending his hand out to me to help me up. "We can get the skin from the training field. At least then you would be covered until you could get home and put something on." We had always had a wolf skin hanging as a makeshift flag on the outskirts of our training ground. Honestly, I didn't even know what it stood for, but I assumed it was a territorial mark. This definitely wasn't the preferable option, but it was something.
"Hopefully the Council isn't there yet."
I was wrong.
Cage and I had gone and gotten the skin just like he had suggested, but as I walked back with the fur surrounding me, Cage by my side in his wolf form, the Council stood waiting for me outside the house.
But it wasn't the scattered pale men and women who stood around looking at me with disappointment that bothered me. Not even my sister, who looked away from us and excused herself to disappear back into the house.
Not even my red faced father who looked like he wanted to kill me.
No, it was the man with breathtaking green eyes who's face had just a touch of stubble, wearing a satin purple shirt and black pressed pants.
The man whose sad gaze broke my heart.