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“Resentment is like drinking poison and waiting for the other person to die.” -Carrie Fisher

Raven took a deep sigh, pulling her arms under her head to cushion it from the hardwood floor. The day’s events were still reeling in her mind. She listened to Ezekiel’s breathing as he neared sleep. She hated the sound of it.

She took another deep breath in, exhaling softly from her noise. Her breath tickled her forearms.

“You breathe loudly,” she muttered, knowing he could hear her.

“I’m not going to apologize for breathing,” he responded.

Raven grumbled to herself and shifted around on the floor, trying to get comfortable. Rain still poured outside, sliding from the roof and back to the earth. She watched the downpour from the window.

She listened as the bed creaked with Ezekiel’s movement. She had refused to sleep in the same bed as him, and refused to ask for another bed. She’d rather sleep with Colton than Ezekiel.

“Will you stop acting like a child and get in bed?”

“I’m not acting like a child, and no,” Raven spat back.

A low snarl ripped from his chest as Ezekiel sat upright in the bed. Raven trembled from the noise. “You are acting like a child and I’m sick of it Raven. It’s the first day here and you’ve already picked a fight with their Gamma and disrespected their customs. I thought it would be a good idea to bring you to your homeland, but I was wrong. I should have left you behind.”

Raven sat up to glare at him. She could just barely see the features of his face through the dark. “You may be my mate, but you do not get to dictate how I act. I don’t dictate how you act at LycanMoon. Maybe you shouldn’t have introduced me as your mate.”

“Tomorrow, you are not leaving my side. If you’re going to act like a child, I will treat you as one and I will keep you in my sight where I can monitor you. I refuse for you to ruin anything. Breaking a custom to greet your old friend is one thing, but openly arguing with their Gamma and dampening her reputation is another. As a female from the North, I would expect that you understand just how difficult her position is.

It is your mark on my skin, not the reverse Raven. You can blame no one but yourself for your temper. I know you believe that it’s my fault you marked me, but the reality is if I had let you go, who knows what you would have done? Would you have run back to the pack, and lay your wrath down on the first wolf to look at you the wrong way? I couldn’t let go of you and allow that. You can continue to view me as the villain, because that’s what fits your agenda. I don’t care.”

“It’s not an agenda. What kind of mate fools around with another female when he already has a mate? You left me to fucking rot in an omega house.” Raven was bristling, unwilling to listen to his words.

“I saved you from death, did I not? You have no idea what I was doing outside those four walls in that room. I didn’t have time to come see you, damn it. There was a riot, Raven, and they were chanting for your death. They wanted to drag you out of that house and see you hang. I had to deal with that. Abigale was loved, and you took her from them. I had to take their justice away for no reason other than you being my mate. I had to squash down every little whisper that asked for your death. It was me who made LycanMoon a safe place for you to come back to.” Ezekiel’s voice was quiet, the anger seeping through.

“The only safe place for you to heal was an omega house, where I knew no one would do anything to you. I couldn’t trust anyone else,” he continued. “I visited you as much as I could, but you were barely conscious to even remember it. The other times I tried, I was refused by the omegas taking care of you. What was I supposed to do? Piss off the only ones keeping you safe?”

His words pushed back her anger, leaving her dumbfounded. She’d never bothered to speculate his side of things, only thinking about the things that hurt her. She was beginning to see how much of a fool she had been. “And Grace?” She whispered the question, afraid of the answer.

Ezekiel sighed and rubbed his face with one hand, pinching the space between his brows. He seemed annoyed even at the mention of her name. “I’ve known Grace was my potential mate for maybe a year before you killed Abigale. I’ve never done anything with her, but she’s flung herself on me with every opportunity she could. I wanted to wait for my true mate, but I tolerated her in case I never found you. She always knew she was the back up plan, and it didn’t bother her at all. I was the best opportunity ever presented to her.” He paused. Those words reminded her of her conversation earlier with Blackford, suddenly making her feel bad.

“The night I invited you to dinner, I didn’t know she would be there. Colton had invited her and offered the seat next to me. I couldn’t demand her to leave. I was already on very thin ice with the pack at having you there. I tried so many times to talk to you and explain everything Raven, but you avoided me to the point where it was embarrassing. I never fucked her, never kissed her, barely touched her. But you refuse to believe that. No matter what I say, it won’t get through that thick skull of yours.”

Raven rubbed her arms to soothe herself. The truth of things was too much for her. She could feel his resentment bubbling up in her stomach, and she knew she deserved it. Raven had the sudden urge to go and comfort him, but she couldn’t bring herself to apologize.

“Everything that I’ve done wasn’t enough. I didn’t want to push you, and so I watched as my brother helped you heal. I gave you the space I thought you needed, but all it did was make your dislike for me grow. The Moon truly can be cruel.” He turned his face from her to look out the window, watching the rain.

“Ezekiel,” she murmured.

“You don’t have to say anything. This was my chance for you to finally hear my words, and that’s all that I wanted. I’m tired and I want to go to sleep. Sleep on the bed or the floor, I don’t care. I’m not going to argue with you again about it.” She watched as he turned his back to her, leaving space on the bed if she wanted it.

She stayed on the floor for a while, running his words back through her mind. She listened to his breathing as it deepened, filling the room with the sound. She didn’t hate the sound as much as she did before.

Carefully, she crept closer to the bed. She didn’t want to wake him. Raven gently lifted the covers and slid into the bed, laying on her side so her back faced his. Ezekiel shifted in his sleep but remained on his side.

Raven closed her eyes, enjoying the heat from his back. She laid awake for a while longer until his soft breathing lulled her to sleep. It was almost comforting.

When she woke, Ezekiel was already up and moving about their room. He didn’t say anything to her as she watched him.

“Good morning,” was the only words he spoke. Slowly, she stretched her limbs before pulling the cover of the bed back. She peered out the window, surprised to see that the rain was gone. Fat, grey clouds still covered the sky. Almost a threat, as if it could start to rain again at any moment.

Ezekiel moved over to the chair in the corner of the room and plucked the sweatshirt off of it. He brought it over to her. “From Gamma Crossfield,” he said as he handed it to her.

Raven took it. Yesterday she might’ve scowled and cursed at the present, but she didn’t. She brought the soft fabric to her nose and inhaled. The only scent it held was Crossfield. She smelled of jasmine and bergamot.

Raven quietly got dressed while Ezekiel went into the connected bathroom. She debated it for a moment before she slipped on the gift from Crossfield.

Silently she opened the door, knowing where she needed to go.

“Where are you going?” Ezekiel questioned, hearing the door.

“I need to go do something.” She opened the door wider.

“No. We talked about this,” he growled. Raven flinched at the sound.

“Please, Ezekiel. I’m not going to do anything dumb.” She watched as his expression grew more angry, but he didn’t say anything else. She took that as a sign that she could go, and exited their room.

The pack house was empty, most of them gone and already set on their daily tasks. The north for the most part only kept important pack members housed in the pack house, wolves of high prestige and rank.

She knew where Crossfield would be.

Leftover rain that clung to the grass flicked against her ankles as she walked, soaking her feet. As she neared the training grounds, she watched the show playing before her.

Crossfield was on the zeta’s back, her thighs crushing his ribs as her arm went under his chin, tightening around his windpipe. The zeta seemed completely unbothered by her, while the gamma’s face was twisted in a feral snarl. She was flung from his back, landing in the wet sand. A heart beat later, the gamma was on her feet, circling the zeta.

Raven paused, not getting any closer. She didn’t want to disturb their training session. Her eyes were glued on Crossfield, noting everything about her. The female was small, but pure power lurked underneath her skin.

The two circled each other, their feet an intricate dance. As they moved, Raven got a better view. Crossfield was only in her training bra and shorts, unbothered by the chill as sweat glimmered on her skin. Her tattoo swirled in beautiful designs, taking up half of her back and wrapping around her side, disappearing under her bra. Raven was curious about this tattoo; it was unlike any of the tattoos the men of NightBlood sported.

The zeta charged the female, landing a rough blow to her ribs. The gamma coughed and half curled over, clutching that side. Yet she continued their dance, gasping through the pain. “I gave you plenty of warning, Fang. I’m a big burly man, I’m easy to dodge,” the brute laughed and taunted.

Crossfield growled, blood on her lips. She spit out a wad of it, landing in the sand. In a sudden movement, the zeta’s leg came out and slammed into her thigh, sending the gamma back into the sand. Crossfield rolled out of the way of the zeta’s foot, which had come down to stomp on her. She struggled back to her feet.

Out of the corner of her eye, she spotted him. He stood a far distance away, surveying his wolves. His attention, however, was purely on Crossfield. He didn’t notice Raven watching, though she was not far from where his attention lay.

Even from here, she could feel him. The power that oozed from his skin. He was not the boy she had grown up with. It sent a shiver down her spine.

Her attention was pulled back to the gamma and zeta. Crossfield had advanced on him, taking the lead as she showered him in powerful hits to his side and stomach. The zeta couldn’t move fast enough to block her.

Another snap of his leg to her thigh. She half kneeled with the pain but remained standing, the muscles in her thigh twitching with the exertion. Another hit to her ribs had her backing off, both hands going to her side to clutch the area.

“Enough,” the zeta’s voice boomed. Crossfield looked relieved, more blood on her lips. She lowered to her knees, her face in a great expression of pain. “What did I say about being in the sand, Fang? Get up.” The female complied and rose back to her feet.

The zeta now seemed to notice Raven. He murmured a few words to Crossfield that Raven couldn’t hear. The gamma’s eyes snapped to her, her bright green eyes cold and unrevealing. Raven took that as her cue that she could approach the pair.

The zeta bowed as he would to address a luna, but simply greeted her as, “Moros.”

“Zeta Kirch,” she greeted him back. Crossfield was still catching her breath, unable to say anything. Her lips were parted, revealing her teeth in an unthreatening way. The gamma was missing one of her fangs, the gum empty as if it had been ripped out.

“Did you enjoy the performance?” He goaded. Raven picked up on the unspoken pride he held for the gamma.

“Yes, it was quite impressive,” was all she said. She kept her tone light and said nothing else, being respectful.

“I’m sure you didn’t come simply to watch, so I’ll leave you two to talk.” He bowed again and gave a respectful nod to the gamma before leaving them.

Crossfield’s eyes flicked over Raven, noting her own sweater, but her eyes didn’t linger. She spat another wad of blood to the side, clearing her mouth so she could talk. Her lips were tinted red with her own blood. “Do you have more questions?” Her voice was strained, and Raven knew it was from the pain the female was in.

“Yes, but that’s not why I came. I’d like to apologize for yesterday,” Raven said. Crossfield’s eyes narrowed on Raven’s face, searching for something. With a quick glance over her shoulder to see if anyone was watching, she nodded her head for the females to start walking away.

Blackford was nowhere to be seen.

Silently, Raven followed behind her. Crossfield’s pale skin was littered with scars, some old and silver while others newer and still pink. As she lowered her arms to her sides, Raven noted the scars there too. It looked like someone had laid silver chains over her arms.

“I’m sorry for how I acted yesterday,” Raven started as soon as they were far enough away. “I was out of line and it wasn’t my place to question you like that. You earned your rank as Gamma here, and I trust that.”

“I don’t want your apology, Moros,” Crossfield grumbled. For some reason, Raven wanted to be this female’s friend. She was drawn to the strength of her, jealous of it.

“You don’t have to accept it, but I am sorry.”

“Fine,” was all she said. Raven continued to follow her, unsure where the female was going. As they walked, a cottage came into sight. A female was on her hands and knees, her black hair pulled up into a ponytail while she dug with her hands in the soil. The female cursed as she worked.

“Lota Stovall,” Crossfield introduced the female. Stovall practically jumped out of her skin, collecting herself as she sat back on the heels of her feet. She turned her attention to the two females, her eyes finding Crossfield first.

“Gamma Crossfield,” she dipped her head. She held some resemblance to the zeta. Next her attention turned toward Raven, curiosity filling her eyes.

“This is Moros, mate of Alpha Ezekiel of LycanMoon, a pack in the South.” Crossfield introduced Raven as best as she could. Raven could see the confusion in the lota’s expression at this introduction.

The lota turned back to Crossfield. “How can I help you, Gamma?”

“Broken ribs,” she responded as if were part of her daily routine.

“You’re Gamma, you really should make it a point to start seeing our Theta,” Stovall scowled. Raven could tell the two were friends.

“They’re only broken ribs, not a big deal. Unless that’s something you can’t help with?”

Stovall rose from her knees and dusted the wet dirt from her hands. Her eyes narrowed at the challenge. “Fine, come in.” She gestured to both of them.

Hesitantly, Raven followed inside. These were the introductions she missed from yesterday because she was too stubborn and childish.

Crossfield seemed to already know where to go, helping herself onto the table in a separate room. Stovall’s home smelled of the earth, and herbs.

Crossfield lowered herself to lay on the table, her hair spilling over the sides of it. Stovall washed her hands in her kitchen sink, watching Raven without saying anything. Awkwardly, Raven stood next to the table and took in her surroundings.

Much like the exterior, Stovall’s home was full of plants and jars full of various medicines and herbs. Fresh vegetables sat on the countertop in her kitchen. At last she came over and pulled a chair with her, seating herself in it to the left of Raven.

With gentle hands she felt up Crossfield’s side. Now that the female was laying down, she could see where her side began to cave in from the broken ribs. Crossfield didn’t wince as Stovall poked and prodded her ribs. Raven noted the crescent moon that had been burned into her skin, just above her hip. It was still healing.

“You have three broken ribs and one is cracked,” Stovall spoke and broke the growing silence. “This one,” she said as she prodded the skin, “is close to puncturing your lung. You’ll heal just fine, there’s nothing that really can be done. Lay off training for a few days, or else this will puncture. No cardio, either.”

Crossfield glowered at the news. “My ceremony is tonight.”

“I’m fully aware. You should be fine participating in the run if you take it slow. If you feel pressure, stop immediately. Let me go get you something for the pain.” The lota reeled back and disappeared.

“You said you have questions?” Crossfield moved into an upright position, favoring her good side.

“Your fang,” was all she said. It wasn’t a question in itself, but it was clear enough what she wanted to know. Crossfield nodded as if she expected it.

“It was part of my punishment,” she started. “I came to NightBlood as a spy for my uncle, unaware of anything. They knew what I was the whole time, yet they still kept me here.” She laughed then winced at the action. “When I went to leave, that’s when I was caught. The normal punishment is death, but instead they ripped my fang out and sent it to my uncle as a warning.”

“And you decided to become the Gamma of the pack that ripped your fang out? Why not go back home if you were free after your punishment?” Raven was confused.

“MistFang abandoned me. I could go back to them, but it’s not my home anymore. They left me to rot here, knowing that the usual punishment is death. I was given a second chance of life here, I’m not going to crawl back to the pack who left me to die. This is my revenge. I will be the Gamma of the pack that destroys them and burns their bones.” Crossfield moved her legs over the edge of the table.

Stovall returned a moment later with something in her hand, giving it to the gamma. “Now shoo, I have things I need to be preparing.”

“Your words hurt me, Lota. I thought we were friends.”

Stovall propped a hand on her hip. “Do you know how many wolves are going to crawl into my home tonight because of your ceremony?” She scoffed and turned to Raven to explain. “It’s not a NightBlood ceremony if blood is not spilled in honor of the occasion.”

Crossfield grinned, showing her teeth. She licked her remaining fang, as if excited by the idea of bloodshed.

“Now go,” Stovall made a motion with her hands to shoo the females from her den. “I have to hide everything that I don’t want blood to get on.”

“Fine, fine.” Crossfield moved to her feet and gestured to Raven to follow. “I’ll see you later, Lota.”

The females exited the lota’s den.

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