Heart of a Beast

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Chapter 12 - Tiberius (Part 2)

Sprinting out of the library, Tiberius raised his nose up in the air and ran around the building, across the field and toward the cluster of trees that was too small to even be called a forest on the other side of a pond.

The werewolves working in the community garden and gathered around the pond stared at him as he passed by in a flash. Their attention was of no interest to him.

He needed to feel the wind through his fur and the adrenaline pumping through his veins. He’d been stationary for too long and the look in her eyes pushed him over the edge.

Crystal knew how he felt about her. He saw her eyes register it as her scent shifted.

But she didn’t see it the same way.

Not that he expected her to feel the same way about him yet. That wasn’t what set him off.

It was the fact that she didn’t even love herself.

Worthless.

That was what she called herself.

In her world—her mind—she’d never be good enough for anyone. She would always see herself as a burden.

It broke him. Shattered his heart as he slammed himself against a tree trunk and collapsed to the earth as pain shot through his entire body.

Closing his eyes, he groaned, welcoming the familiar ache over the breaking of his heart.

How could she see herself as worthless when he needed her more than anything else in this world? She was his air and he would die without her.

How could she ever love him if she didn’t even love herself? If she couldn’t see the value of her existence?

Dragging himself into the shadows as his cracked ribs slowly healed, he cried for her. The amount of loneliness she suffered seeped into his bones like an infection. Sick with grief.

Not only that, but he saw himself in her from months ago. Drowning under the ice. Hopeless. Powerless. Unable to help pull himself free and breathe.

But this time, she had him. She wasn’t alone like he had been.

He shook his head and reminded himself that he hadn’t been entirely alone. The Goddess was with him, watching over him, enduring his struggle with him.

In the story of Narcissus, the boy hadn’t seen his beauty until he gazed into the lake and saw his reflection.

Crystal couldn’t see her own beauty, her own worth. He had to be the lake to help her see it.

And through her, he would be able to forgive himself for doing this to her.

He wouldn’t let her drown.

He heard her coming before she called out to him. Her delicate scent mixed with worry wafted toward him.

“Tiberius?”

Lifting his head, he looked over his shoulder as she approached, glancing around her as every pair of eyes in the vicinity followed her. The book was clutched tightly in her hands in front of her, her black hair falling around her like a cloak.

Once she entered the shade of the trees, she took a deep breath and tucked her hair behind an ear.

“Are you okay?”

He huffed at her question and looked away, but kept an ear perked toward her.

“So, um, the librarian let me take a break… I don’t have to hurry back. She said to take as much time as I need.”

She sat down on the ground a few feet away, looking down at nothing for a minute before she seemed to remember the book in her hands.

“Um, I think I understand why you wanted me to read that passage.”

She ran her thumb over the weathered corner of the pages.

“I think… you fear I won’t come to see and understand the real you. And that I…” she hesitated, debating on her words. “I said, I would try, that I would give you… us… a chance…”

She hung her head, chewing on her bottom lip. The bitter stench of guilt and shame washed over her and Tiberius tried not to wrinkle his nose at it.

He dug his claws into the earth, knowing that that was indeed one of his fears, but he saw the deeper root cause of her fear and hesitation.

Lifting his paw, he pressed the tip of his claw into the dirt and began to write.

‘When you open your eyes, you will see the truth.’

When you open your heart and soul to me, you will know me.

She stuttered as she read the words he wrote.

He swiped his paw over the soil and smoothed it down to write his next thought.

‘When you understand your worth, then you will understand why my soul is hurting right now.’

She stared for a moment at his words before looking away. She swallowed, blinking away the moisture gathering in her eyes.

No words were uttered for several minutes as she drew deep breaths into her lungs, fighting to pull herself out from the depths that sought to drown her.

“This… This is how I am,” she said slowly, carefully choosing her words. “This is all I’ve ever known. I’ve always been different. Never as strong or as fast as the others. Never interested in sports because I couldn’t keep up. Always the last one picked for teams…”

Her lips trembled for a second. “I’ll never be good enough for the pack…” She hesitated, swallowed, squeezed her eyes shut, took a deep breath and released it. “Or you.”

Anger unfurled in a rumble of distaste, the bile bubbling up and making his lips recoil. Smoothing the dirt, he hastily wrote, ′You are not worthless.′

He underlined the four words and looked up to see her reaction.

Her eyes looked at it as she rubbed her arms, but there was distance there, hollow and disbelieving.

He underlined it two more times before he wiped it clean.

’I didn’t travel across the continent because I wanted to.

’I didn’t let the lake swallow me up when I fell in.

’I am here now because of you.

’I am still alive to this day because of you.

’Because I never gave up on you and I never will.

‘Look at me and tell me now that you are worthless.’

Trembling, she held herself as a tear dripped down. She mashed her lips together and wiped her cheek, only for another tear to trickle down in its place.

“I’m not worthless,” she said in a choked whisper.

He got up and sat behind her and wrapped her in his arms. To his surprise, she turned her body to lean into his, burying her face in his fur and letting her tears fall. He curled his body around hers, whimpering, as her years of insecurities dribbled freely down.

I’ll help you see the truth. That you are beautiful, loved, and cherished—and not just by me, he vowed. And I’ll do my best to help you see your worth and love yourself.

“I’m scared,” she whispered as she kneaded her fingers through his fur. “You’re my mate and I… I want to help you. But… What if I fail? What if I can’t help you?” She took a shuddering breath. “How can we live like this?”

He nuzzled her cheek, drying it with his fur before holding her with one arm and leaning forward to write in the dirt with the other.

‘Give us a chance.’

He gave her a moment to read it before leaning back and holding her again, listening to the steady rhythm of her heartbeat as she relaxed.

“I told you I would,” she said. “I just… I don’t want to disappoint you.”

He nuzzled her cheek and gave it a little lick of reassurance.

Easing up on his hold on her, he looked around them for the book. He found it at her feet, picked it up, and held it to her.

“Thanks,” she murmured, not understanding that he wanted her to open it.

He brushed his claw over the edge of the pages and tapped on it.

She wrinkled her nose. “You want me to read this now?”

He nodded.

Sniffling, she wiped the last bit of moisture from the corner of her eyes and nose with the back of her hand before shifting in her seat and leaning her back against his chest. She sat cross-legged with his own legs encircling hers.

She opened the book up and skipped the prologue to the next page, but he motioned her to keep turning the pages.

“What? You don’t like this part or something?”

He huffed and shook his head and motioned for her to turn the page. He was looking for something that he wanted her to read first and later they could read the book together.

There were numerous passages he knew he could select from throughout the book, but when he found one sentence near the beginning, he stopped her from turning the page. He pointed to it and she read it aloud.

“It’s the possibility of having a dream come true that makes life interesting.”

He tapped it and pointed to her.

Warmth rushed through her and the scent of it was so wonderful that he couldn’t help but close his eyes and press his nose against her neck.

He covered her hands with the callous pads of his paws and closed the book. They could read later, but right now, they needed this moment.

He took the book from her and set it on the ground before tilting her chin up. He didn’t want to press her, he just wanted to be with her.

Closing his eyes, he pressed his forehead to hers and relished in all that she was in this moment.

His dream come true.

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