Chapter 18 - Tiberius
She pulled away after her tears subsided and a calmness fell over them. Taking his paw in both of her hands, she urged him to follow her back to her parents’ house, where she curled up with him on the floor of her room.
An ache still clutched tightly to Tiberius even after holding her small body against his and she finally fell asleep.
He had overheard her conversation with her best friend. Heard her face one of her betrayers who turned her back on Crystal and contributed to her years of self-abuse and self-destructive thought processes.
He should be proud of her. Proud that she had faced one of her bullies, but the hurt still consumed him and he turned his back to her when she found him.
He wanted to be alone and stew in his own self-pity and let his own demons take hold of him.
He had fought them off long enough, always giving Crystal the support she needed and over-looking himself.
Her dismissal hit him hard.
He had tried so hard to be everything she needed.
And it wasn’t enough.
Even though he didn’t want to see her, didn’t want to hear her confession, nor feel her fingers kneed through his fur as she cried out her brokenness—deep down, he was happy. Happy that she had come for him. Happy that she hadn’t turned her back and instead chased away the demons that sought to consume him.
He was broken too. He had been betrayed by those he cared about as well. He understood her struggle and he had shared all of his with her—minus the witch who had cursed him. He had been building up to that, working through his own thoughts and feelings with his family in the process.
It was a process—he recognized that. He had thought about it during his travels alone and when he talked with Crystal about it, a weight had been lifted from his chest and he acknowledged the role he played through it all.
It wasn’t that his family had turned their backs on him. He couldn’t communicate the issue properly, even with the mind-link. How could they understand when he couldn’t explain it? Why couldn’t he write it in the dirt like he had with Rhonda?
They had relied too heavily on verbal words and telepathy, overlooking other forms of communication and that was his fault for not trying hard enough.
He shouldn’t have blamed them when it was his fault for getting into this mess in the first place.
As he held her and listened to the steady beating of her heart and breaths as she slept, a rush of homesickness crashed over him and he missed his family. He wanted to call them and apologize. Confess that he’d been blaming them for not helping when he needed them, when it was he who withdrew from them and turned away from them.
She stirred as his whimpers shook him. Barely even awake, she snuggled closer to him and sighed. Brushing her fingers through his fur, tingles trailed across his flesh.
“Don’t cry,” she murmured. “I’m here.”
He tried not to, burying his nose in her hair and inhaling her delicate violet scent, but he couldn’t rid himself of the images that plagued his mind.
The way he treated his family was inexcusable. He projected his frustrations onto them when they didn’t understand.
His last memories were of his mother—the strongest female he ever knew—crying because he had lost his patience with her and snarled.
She had taken some of his burden the way mothers did—wanting to help him and trying to do everything in her power to help him and failing—taking the blows of his pent-up frustrations in streams of silent tears.
She never cried before he was cursed. The only other time he had heard of her crying was when his sister—their firstborn—died hundreds of years ago before he was born.
She never said it, but now he realized the death of his sister must have plagued her thoughts that she kept tightly guarded. The helplessness and inability to help him only brought back those same emotions that she kept locked away in her iron-tight heart.
From the floor, he looked out the window to see the moon in the corner, shining brightly through the sheer curtains.
He knew he didn’t pray enough to the Goddess. Knew that he didn’t worship Her properly through the rituals his parents had ingrained in him since birth. Knew that he didn’t thank Her for walking alongside him on this path and turning to Her for guidance when he should have.
He closed his eyes and cleared his mind of all thoughts and opened himself up to Her, asking Her to stay by his side and show him the right path.Comforted, he managed to fall asleep.
He got down on his knees and bowed his head. Pressing his claw into the soft earth, he drew a circle around him and threw his head back in a long, low howl that rose in pitch. His fur stood on end as he reached the highest note his throat would allow.
With the crescendo, the ground began to shake and crack like ice.
Before he could cry out, he fell through the ice.
He fought to swim back to the surface. Bubbles escaped as he opened his mouth and water flooded in. He grasped at the icy edges of the surface, but they broke off and he couldn’t pull himself out.
Fear and panic ate away at him, as his strength lessened and he began to fall away.
The moon stared down at him as he reached out to Her, his silent pleas unheard.
Until she appeared.
Her face blotted out the moon, save for the silver halo that encircled her head.
Her hand plunged into the water, reaching out to him as she called his name.
He kicked forward and stretched his paw out, watching it change into human flesh and grasp hers.
“I won’t let go!” Crystal shouted.
With strength found only in dreams, she pulled him out of the water and knelt next to him as he gasped for air on his hands and knees. Collapsing to the ground and rolling onto his back, the tightness around his chest snapped open and he stared at her as he dragged lungfuls of air into his starved body.
She stared back at him before scooting closer and leaning over him slightly.
Fingers touched his face without feeling him, her eyes tracing along the trail her fingertips made over his eyebrow, down his cheek, and along his jaw.
Even in the dream, her soul drew him to her and he wished he could feel her touch across his skin. She was looking at him differently. Looking at him in such a way that he thought his heart would burst.
“I see you.”
It hit him and he jerked away, rolling over and covering his head with his arm.
“Don’t look at me, Cris! Please, don’t!”
“Too late. I already saw you.” There was a hint of humor in her voice. “Why are you so against me looking at you, anyway?”
He squeezed his eyes shut and curled his hands into fists. “Regardless of what form I take… I want you to love me for who I am, not for how I appear.”
There. He had said it. Put the truth out there on the line for her to take or leave it hanging.
“Well, yeah. That’s what love is, right? You love someone for who they are on the inside. Lust is loving the outward appearance. That’s not love.”
Lust wasn’t love. He knew that.
Did Catherine love him when she set her eyes on him? No, she lusted after him. Set her eyes on him and devised a plan to make him want her.
And it backfired.
“Would you feel differently about me if I was stuck in my human form and you still didn’t feel the connection of the matebond?” he asked.
He lifted his arm from his head and peered up at her as she hung her head and looked away.
He put the question out there even though he already knew the answer.
Strands of hair fell in her face and when she didn’t brush them away, he pulled himself up and scooted closer to her before settling next to her and tucking the hair behind her ear.
“I’m sorry,” she whispered.
His fingers lingered against her cheek. “Don’t be, Beautiful. The curse was meant to drive you away from me.”
She flinched and he withdrew his hand.
“What?” he asked.
“I’m not… beautiful.”
Smiling, he touched her cheek and drew her face toward his. Pink shaded her cheeks and he waited for her blue-green eyes to meet his.
“Is that what you think?” he asked.
She looked away, but he tilted his head to catch her gaze again.
“You are beautiful, inside and out,” he said. “You’re a talented artist, and you’re honest, except when it comes to yourself and hurting others. Then you avoid the truth so you don’t have to hurt someone’s feelings because you know what it feels like to have your feelings hurt. The truth can hurt sometimes, but lies hurt more. And you lie to yourself all the time. Why? Why do you lie to yourself?”
She looked away again, but he didn’t chase her gaze this time. “I don’t lie to myself.”
“Yes, you do. When was the last time you paid yourself a compliment? When was the last time you validated your existence? When was the last time you affirmed that you are you and that you are special and no one can ever replace you?”
She rubbed her arms and didn’t respond.
“How many times do you tell yourself that you’re worthless? That you’ll never be good enough? Even if you’ve only said it to yourself once, it’s too much—and I’ve heard you say these things and they’re not true, Cris!
“Sure, you’re not as physically strong as the others and you can’t run as fast as them, but they have grown into their wolves. Yours has been suppressed by a curse. How is that your fault? How can you hold that against yourself?”
He shook his head. “You’re stronger than you give yourself credit. You’re plagued with seizures every time your wolf tries to come and save you from whatever stresses you out. They’re exhausting and make you feel like shit, but you know what? You may beat yourself up about it, but you haven’t given up on life when others in your situation would have.”
She buried her face in her hands and his heart fell.
Getting to his knees before her, he pulled her hands from her face and cupped her cheeks in his palms and brushed his thumbs over her flushed cheekbones. He searched her eyes—the most beautiful eyes he had ever seen—and beheld the sorrow and shame that consumed her.
“How? How could you even think about giving up on yourself?”
“How could I not?” she asked in a small voice. “My seizures were becoming more frequent. I would have multiple ones a day and be bedridden because I couldn’t stop them. Some days, they would come, one after another, and I thought I would die because it was so constant. What kind of a life would that be? How could I not wish for the pain to end?”
His soul was crying as he pressed his forehead to hers.
The amount of physical, mental, and emotional torture she had suffered over the years—the very thought of it—crushed him.
“I’m sorry, Cris.”
How could he have done this to her and expect her to forgive him? How could she love him when his actions brought this suffering upon her?
“I’m so sorry.”
He brushed his fingers through her hair and kissed her forehead.
“It will get better, Beautiful. I promise, everything will get better. Believe in me. Believe in yourself. Believe in us. And slowly you will see everything become better.”
He continued to brush his fingers through her hair as he pressed his forehead to hers again.
“You’re all I have, Cris. You’re everything to me. I won’t give up on you. Even if you give up on me—on us—I won’t give up on you.”
He pulled her into his arms and held her as she clung to him and buried her face in his shoulder.
“I believe in you,” he whispered and nuzzled the side of her head.
I love you so much, Crystal.