The Beauty of Grey

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Chapter 38

I dreamt of Zacharias even as he lay next to me.

I couldn’t quite understand what had happened in the dream of him—perhaps nothing had happened at all. What I remembered was him smiling at me one moment, frowning at me the next, and his teeth bared back in a snarl as his hand reached up to strike me. Just before he hit me I awoke as though I was falling to my death. I wondered if the force of his hit would’ve been enough to make my heart combust.

It was early yet when I jerked myself awake, gasping as I opened my eyes and came face to face with Zacharias who was still fast sleep. My room was dark, the indigo sky yet to give rise to the lemon-yellow sun. My nocturnal vision kicked in quickly, however, allowing me to make out all the contours of his face.

I had almost forgotten how regally handsome he appeared, and never before had I appreciated how delicately peaceful he looked in rest. The constant furrow of his brows were relaxed, his lips parted in such a way that he appeared childlike. His hair was unkempt and messy, loose strands falling into his shut eyes. I didn’t think I’d ever caught him asleep before. If I had it eluded my memory.

I wondered how many times he had watched me sleep. We hadn’t spent long together, twenty-four days if I remembered correctly. Seeing him made everything I had tried to push back flood forth again. I thought back to the time I had awaken after he had t-boned me and he told me that I was perfect and he could never get sick of looking at me. I remembered how creepy I had found his admittance.

What I was doing was hardly any less creepy, but it was better than admiring him while he was awake. I liked the relaxed look on his face, the inner-tranquility that nearly had him appearing as gentle. He seemed benevolent, well-meaning. If he were awake he would smirk and upset me because his expressions of happiness were always complimented by arrogance.

I clenched my fists that were tucked underneath my pillow, a sudden flash of anger sparking in my veins. Him sleeping was a sharp juxtaposition to him awake. It nearly sent me into denial, my mind trying to downplay what he had done. When he was lucid there was a certain look in his eye—something hard to describe and pinpoint, but it was not kind. With his eyes closed that glint was curtained, leaving me wonder if there was a certain glint at all or if it was just in my head.

I scrutinized him carefully, squinting my eyes, trying to look for any sign of malevolence. Pessimistic, I was disappointed to not find any. It made me question if I was going to make the right decision, if when he awoke I would still hold true to my plan. It seemed set in stone, but stone was not the highest declaration on earth.

I was still tired, feeling like I hadn’t slept at all. I found that my dreams often did that. It had gotten worse after I was imprinted, as though my brain used my body’s energy to create clear, crisp images.

I stifled a yawn as I tentatively reached forward, my fingers, for once, not trembling. I hesitated, afraid to wake Zacharias even with the most featherlight touch. I held my breath as I brought my hand to his forehead, my fingers finding the stray strands of inky hair that had fallen into his face.

Demurely, I smoothed them back. His skin glowed bronze in the moonlight, making him appear as steely as he truly was. He was beautiful, so beautiful that it was a curse. I wished he had tried to woo me. I might’ve fallen in love with him...I wanted to fall in love him. But could not.

I stared at him the same way an artist stares at their muse, eyes discovering new valleys and contours as I took him in for what he really was—perfection. He was ethereal in his appearance. I supposed he was gifted on the outside to counteract the torrent, tarry inside.

I pulled my hand away and rested it on my pillow, laying my cheek on the back of it. Sleep was beginning to stain the corners of my vision grey and I knew I needed to rest again. I would have to make phone calls and such tomorrow, end my new life to trade it back for the old one. I supposed history does repeat itself.

As I realized how severe my decision was a single tear fell from my eye, crossing over the bridge of my nose. Thoughts galloped and raced through my mind in a constant loop with no finish line. I did believe in fate. I believed we all had a starting point and an ending point, and no matter what we did throughout our lives we would always end where we were meant to.

Even if we didn’t think we were capable of such self-mutilation.

I awoke to the sounds of sparrows and chickadees chirping outside of my window. Slowly I peeked my eyes open, squinting at the brightness in my room. The indigo had been traded for blinding gold sunlight. Shadows and contours had been traded for glows and highlights, Zacharias angelic as he still slept.

We both laid the same way we had been when I woke up earlier, remaining still even as time moved on. I hadn’t dreamt of anything, which I thought was a blessing. My last stretch of sleep in my home was one of good terms. I was afraid if I had dreamt of something unpleasant then my home would feel lacklustre and foreboding upon departure.

I blinked a few times, trying to flutter my sleep-hangover away. After a few blinks, when I opened my eyes, I met Zacharias’. Even through my thin sheen of grey haze I could make out the way his expression changed subtly; the return of his furrowing brows, the clenching of his jaw and the automatic disapproval of his lips. I longed for him to just sleep once again.

His needlepoint pupils allowed for his gem-like irises to steal my breath. I had forgotten just how lovely his eyes were—the deep, scintillating emerald green. The nickel-silver section in the bottom of his left eye. I had always thought that the way Zacharias looked at me the first time we met was of the greatest intensity he could look at me with.

But the way he looked at me that morning, both of us bathed in sunlight, was so intense that my mind couldn’t comprehend how someone could hold that much power in their stare.

It was both magnificent and frightening, liberating and subduing. But it was not intimidating because instead of looking away I embraced the visual intimacy, burying my mouth into the pillow as I looked at him through the tops of my eyes. Although I would never tell him this, the way he looked at me made me feel desirable. I hadn’t felt that way in so long.

“Good morning.” He greeted me softly, his voice gruff. The expression on his face and the intensity of his eyes didn’t nullify as he spoke, and despite myself I couldn’t stop the small twitch of my lips.

“Good morning.” I said into the pillow before pulling my face from it. I rested my cheek back onto my hand, tugging my shoulder forward as I pulled it out from the blankets. The covers fell in such a way that they exposed my breasts. I had done this on purpose, though I didn’t understand why.

Naturally his eyes gravitated towards my chest, causing his needlepoint pupils to expand and engulf the green. I lifted my arm a little higher, exposing more of myself to him. The muscles in his jaw and temples tensed as he, with great strain, pulled his eyes from my chest back up to my face. I hid my smile.

“I think this is the first time you’ve greeted me warmly,” he appraised to me, blinking slowly. He shifted his body, bringing himself closer but not yet touching me. “Unless I’ve spoken too soon.” He said half-jokingly.

“You haven’t spoken too soon. A little hospitality never killed anyone—” I thought about it for a second. “—well, not on purpose at least.”

He offered me a small, weary smile. His eyes were full of mirth. “I know I shouldn’t take a good thing for granted...” his eyes scoped my face. “But why do you want to come back, Edie? I can’t help but wonder why after all this time, and after all you’ve established for yourself, you would want to come back. Why do you want to come back? You’re throwing so much away.”

Slightly dejected and rejected I gave a frown. It shouldn’t have mattered what he was saying, and I knew that, but a selfish part of me wanted to hear him praise me for my decision—for him to tell me I was doing the right thing. The fact that he was questioning me, almost like he was watching my back for me, made me feel like I was doing the wrong thing.

And although it wouldn’t change my mind, it wouldn’t make what I wanted to do any less challenging. But those who walk through flames either burn to ash or become forged in fire.

“It’s hard to explain,” I said to him, curling my lips in thought. We still held eye contact. It felt like we were now engaging in a battle of deception to see who could play who the longest. “I don’t know if I can put it into words.”

His hand skimmed my bedsheets before finding the inside of my thighs. I spread my legs for him as he rested his hand near my womanhood. I closed them after, allowing his hand to remain there. It was callous and warm...strong. It was hard not to see him as the man he was to me years ago, but it was easier to ignore it.

“Don’t you find that’s a common thing people say? Before they even attempt to explain something they say well I don’t think I can, but the moment they begin they speak with perfect analogies and craft,” he seemed encouraging. “You can only try.”

I took a deep breath, mouth open and speaking before my brain could find the words. “I remember when you asked me if I believed in soulmates I told you I didn’t. Even before you marked me, Zacharias, that ideology shifted. In less than twenty-four days I believed in soulmates. I had never believed in forces beyond our control; chance, luck, fate.

“When you proved to me that soulmates were real all my theories shifted to the opposite end of the spectrum. I believe in soulmates because of how the moon threads our souls together. I believe in chance because what were the odds of you and I running into each other, realistically? I believe in luck because in such a large world our chances of meeting were very, very small.

“Fate I still struggled with, however. I struggled to believe that I had an entire destiny set before me, and no matter what actions I took in my life that destiny would still live out. I—” I tapped my fingers to my forehead, squinting my eyes shut briefly before opening them again. “I consider myself an existential person. I think about the meaning of life all the time. A philosopher once said that life is a joke without meaning because it always ends in death.

“But I disagree. I think that everybody has a starting point—birth—and an ending point. But I think this ending point occurs before death. Death, I believe, is the final destination—not the final point. I think everybody is born to follow a certain path, and even if one day that fourth-wall is broken and you’re aware of that path you still cannot reroute yourself. It’s like an epiphany, you know? Like, once you’re past a certain point you just can’t go back.

“Last night with you I broke through my fourth-wall and had my epiphany. And it took only a second, Zacharias, but I knew my mind was made up. I wanted to go back with you. In that moment I didn’t have my own life—in that moment I had an existential crisis, and as desperate as this sounds the only way for me to feel grounded again is to leave what I’ve done behind and go back to you.

“My path does not keep me here, and I realize that. My life is a joke without meaning if I do not go back with you. God, that sounds so cheesy. It makes sense in my head and it just comes out wrong—” I pursed my lips, shifting. “But that’s the only way I can describe it. I simply cannot stay here. My fate does not call for it. And I, as every living creature on earth, do not possess the omnipotence to fight fate. I can only concede and follow the path it lays out for me, even if it leads me right back to you.”

I had rendered him speechless, an unreadable look on his face as he tried to comprehend my rambling theories. I had put this all together in the heat of the moment and, true to Zacharias’ word, managed to describe it predominantly the way I had wanted to. Minus a few hiccups I believed I had gotten my point across.

His hand squeezed the inside of my thigh possessively before he removed himself. His hand cupped my cheek as I looked up at him confused, my brows furrowing as he leant down and pressed a warm, lingering kiss to my forehead. I closed my eyes as he did this, proxy wars battling in my head as two superpowers headed off against one another amidst other smaller thoughts.

When he pulled his lips away I opened my eyes and secured the blankets to my chest as he slid out from underneath the covers, sitting on the side of my bed. He stretched, his back to me as his muscles clenched and expanded impressively. I resisted the urge to reach out and trace his spinal cord, his shoulder blades.

My eyes followed him as he lumbered around my room, finding his strewn pieces of clothing before putting them back on again. He hadn’t said anything to me yet which began to make me feel cheap and ridiculous. Had my theories been that absurd? Was Zacharias going to throw a curveball at my perception of fate?

He looked at me as he stood at the foot of my bed fully clothed and I pulled myself up into a sitting position while still keeping the blanket to my chest. “I have some matters to deal with. I’ll be here at seven pm sharp.” He said curtly.

“Are you running away from me because of my theories?” I blurted. I felt my cheeks heat with embarrassment. I had blurted my theories to him like I had blurted my life with my father to him that one day after he marked me. He had a way of making me feel guilty for opening Pandora’s box to him, not that he owed me anything more or less. It just reminded me how different we still were.

“I’m not running away from you.” He said, avoiding eye contact as he rested his hands on my wooden footboard. Well, of course he wasn’t now. But I knew it was only because I had drawn it to his attention.

“Yes you are,” I prodded unequivocally. “You couldn’t get out of my bed fast enough.”

“It’s not your theories, Edie, I don’t want you to think that. You’re not my issue—well, I guess in a sense you are. But it’s because of a matter outside of your control. It’s my fault, really. Completely. You are absolved of any responsibility. It is my own doing.”

I felt offset and apprehensive. Without the context it felt like he was going to break some bad news to me, like a doctor telling a patient they had only six months left to live. “What are you talking about?”

“Goddess, I haven’t danced with these thoughts in so long,” Zacharias said, rubbing a hand to his forehead like he had a headache. It took all I had to not reach out to him. “After hearing you talk I just thought of it. It’s hardly even related.”

“Well, what is it?” I asked cautiously.

“It’s going to make you hate me more than you already do. I shouldn’t tell you. I should leave. If you want to know bad enough then I’ll break the news to you when you’re back at our home. That way you can’t change your mind about coming.”

“Just tell me now, Zacharias,” my voice pleaded against my will. “You’re making me nervous.”

“And even after everything,” he began. “You still can’t tell me that you don’t hate me.”

I rolled my eyes. Now wasn’t the time to be petty or knit-picky. “You can’t just drop that grenade on me and expect the pin-ring to slide back in. Please, tell me now. I told you my theory on fate—no matter what happens I’m still coming back to you.”

The tendons in his forearms tensed and he leaned forward, upper half of his body hovering over the bed. Amidst the golden light his physique emitted black shade, as if revealing the vileness he buried within himself. In that moment he seemed small, even forlorn. It made me want to hold him.

“Fuck, Edie.” He breathed, sounding fatigued. He removed his hands from my footboard and ran one through his hair. He stepped around my side of the bed before sitting on the edge near my hips. He seemed nearly manic, his head desperately trying to ease whatever he felt for the situation. It scared me a little to see him like this.

“Hey,” I soothed selfishly, wanting him calm enough to spill his guilt. “I won’t be upset.”

He looked me in the eye, searching to verify my honesty. He sturdied himself as he leant against me, hand beside my rear as his chest pressed to mine. Our proximity had my breath catching in my throat regardless of our endeavours last night. Something about this was more nerve-wracking, probably because I hadn’t the slightest clue to what he was having trouble telling me.

He cupped his hand around the nape of my neck, obsidian eyes honing in on mine before pulling his face away a few inches. He maintained our proximity but left me room to breathe. “Do you remember the first full moon we shared together—the one at my cabin after I had marked you?”

Goodness, how could I not? I remembered the agonizing pain and the overwhelming fever. I remembered thinking something was going horribly wrong and I was going to die—or I had wanted to just to put an end to the pain. I remembered stripping myself because I was sweating through my clothes.

“Yes.”

He pursed his lips, looking down at the covers with shame before looking up at me again. It was weird, seeing him humbled. “You understand that the full moon means female werewolves go into heat, correct?”

Well, I did now. “Yes.”

“During the estrus cycle, the heat, is the only time a female werewolf can become pregnant. She is fertile right from midnight to midnight, leaving a twenty-four hour window to conceive.”

I raised a brow. I wasn’t aware that he was going to give me a sex-ed lesson.

“No, this is part of it,” he addressed. I lowered my brow slowly. “During the estrus cycle the female werewolf is supposed to bleed. It sounds horrifying, conceiving, but it’s normal to our breed. There is nothing more unifying.”

I couldn’t hide my grimace. “...I...bet...”

“I go against my better judgement asking you this. Edie,” the way he looked at me changed. It seemed to become almost...hopeful. “Were you ever pregnant?”

My cheeks burned red at the question. Initially I wanted to get offended, but I realized the question wasn’t unreasonable. Additionally no matter the answer it impacted Zacharias as much as myself. “No, I was never pregnant.”

He let out a sharp breath. “I shouldn’t be relieved, but I am. I don’t know what I expected. You’re not cruel or anything,” abortion, I realized. He was referring to me getting an abortion without his knowledge. “And with what I know it would be impossible for you to become pregnant, anyway.”

Before I could stop myself I asked him, “are you infertile?” I had failed to take into account what he had explained to me earlier—female werewolves bled during the full moon. They bled.

He shook his head slowly, eyes becoming glossy and bloodshot. He held such sympathy for me. “No, I’m afraid it is you that is infertile.”

I gave him a look of surprise. I had never tried for a child before, thus never had I considered that I would be infertile. Again, I ignored how he had told me that female werewolves bled. “Oh...I’m sorry?” I apologized awkwardly.

His eyes were pink, making him appear as though he was stoned. “It is me that should be apologizing to you. I made you infertile. I’m sorry, Edie, I’m so, so sorry.”

It was a plot twist that he hard warned me about in advance. Simply I could not wrap my head around how...unsavoury it was to have sex while one bled. “How did you make me infertile?”

“Even before a female werewolf goes into heat she needs to be claimed by her mate—she needs to be marked in order to initiate the process. It makes her go from infertile to fertile on every full moon,” he paused, looking away from me. “With you it had the opposite effect. You didn’t bleed, Edie. And you haven’t bled since, have you?”

I shook my head.

“I made you infertile. There’s something about my DNA and your DNA that is still too different, even after I marked you. Essentially—” he paused, a croak in his voice. I almost felt bad for him. “I made your reproductive system useless. You’ll never be able to reproduce. Not with me. And not with anyone else. I didn’t think I’d take our—your right to children away. And I’m so, so fucking sorry, Edie.”

I remembered being in the bathroom in his cabin while he made me wash him, having him tell me that one of my obligations to him and his pack was to bear him a heir whether it be male or female. I wanted to laugh now because if only he had known. If only he had known that claiming me for himself would eliminate any possibility of a child between us. It seemed like karma, a force in my favour.

And I already knew my fate, so I couldn’t be upset. I knew I should’ve been, but I wasn’t. I never had the desire to have kids. I never woke up one day thinking I sure wish I had a little one. And going back to fate...there was no children in my fate. I couldn’t envision children in my future because they had no purpose there. Even if I was still able to bear children I was only running on borrowed time.

“I forgive you.” I said.

To which he began to sob.

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