Raiden was at a loss.
How is it that a man who has swum through thousands of pages and climbed endless books can’t plan a romantic evening?
He tried to localize information about romance but couldn’t find much. He was fairly familiar with Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet, but he didn’t think Artemis would appreciate if their date ended with tragedy and suicide.
Would she want to go to a fine restaurant or would she be alright with a more intimate setting?
His thoughts continued to squirm.
“No! That was Sean’s fault!” Karen said in response to a comment Artemis made.
He had no idea what the conversation was about since he hardly knew any of Artemis’ friends. It couldn’t be denied that he was pathetically out of place.
He was planning on meeting more people in order to be more involved in her life, but he knew that it would be a long and awkward journey.
Karen glanced down at her mug. Noticing that it was empty, she got up and walked into the kitchen. Raiden wordlessly trailed after her, leaving Artemis and Sol behind.
“Karen,” he muttered.
She jumped about an inch in the air. With a hand over her startled heart, she shakily sighed. “Goddess, you sure move silently for a tall guy.”
“I’m sorry,” he apologized and glanced at the floor in search of what to say next.
“No problem. So... did you need coffee or something?” Karen asked unsurely.
His eyes forgot about the floor and narrowed in on hers.
“No...” he denied. He set his jaw tightly, hating the urge to pace.
Why is he like this? Why doesn’t communication come easily?
He swallowed hard and tried to correct his posture. “I need you to tell me what Artemis likes.” The request came out sounding more like an order. Remembering that he was talking to Karen and not Sol, he quickly added “please.”
Karen tried to hide her confusion. She knew that while Raiden was physically a boulder, his temper was as fine as a strand of hair. She could see that the guy was trying to become more present in Artemis’ life and didn’t want to discourage him.
“Sure,” she smiled. “Let’s see... she’s always been really into politics, more so than business... uh, uncle Lukas turned her into a metal head at a young age so she likes rock music, she likes to swim, her favorite color is blue... is this what you’re looking for?”
He skimmed his fingers through his hair. “Yes, thank you. What does she like to eat?”
“Oh, that’s easy,” Karen chuckled. “Apple pie. She’s obsessed with it.”
Pie? Could he bake her a pie?
He glanced at his hands. No, he would probably burn it along with the kitchen. He didn’t use cooking appliances since he usually hunted in his lycan form and ate the meat rawly.
But if apple pie made Artemis happy, then it was needed.
Why are you so fucking useless?
He shifted his weight from one leg to another flurriedly as he began to overthink.
Karen could tell that he was catastrophizing the task of baking pie. “Raiden,” she tried to pull him back to reality.
He stopped his squirming.
“Would you like me to bring you an apple pie?” she suggested.
Raiden’s worry deflated.
The next day, Karen stopped by as promised.
He had been a mess all day, scrambling through the wilderness in search of flowers, harassing Sol to give up his best dress shirt, and turning the house upside down in search of a blanket.
There was a colorful spark of excitement within his rainbow of terror. As nervous as he was, he couldn’t deny being excited about spending time with her.
“Thank you for this,” he thanked Karen from the doorstep, still embarrassed by his dependency.
“Don’t mention it,” Karen shrugged. “I’m here if you need anything. Have fun!”
After she walked off, he gave his undivided attention to the clock. Artemis usually arrived home from work around 5PM. It was 4PM, so he had plenty of time to make sure he hadn’t fucked anything up.
To help time speed, he hopped in the shower and tossed on the navy blue dress shirt he stole from Sol.
He scratched at his freshly shaved jaw and turned to the clock. It was a little past 5 so he was expecting her to arrive any second.
His nerves began to decay at around 6PM when he was still sitting on the couch with his elbows propped on his knees and the basket on the table.
At 7PM, dread bloomed just like the roses in the basket once had.
By 8PM, the pie was colder than his excitement.
Contempt and anger joined the party at 9PM.
He didn’t get it. He was trying so hard to be normal and to evolve. So why was the universe so hellbent on keeping him contaminated with negativity and misfortune?
Why did it keep him chained down? All he wanted was to fly beside his raven.
He stood up and began unbuttoning his shirt, ready to turn in for the night.
There was a knock on the door.
With a slump, he walked up to it and pulled it open. Artemis stood there with her laptop in-hand.
“Hey, you look nice,” she grinned.
He nodded. “Welcome back.”
She didn’t seem to notice his dark mood. Maybe it was because it was his usual mood.
“Thanks. I got caught up with work. The council wants to increase the tax of northeastern shipments. Can you believe that? Mom was fucking raging... what’s this?” she asked once she noticed the basket.
“Nothing. I thought we could spend some time outside. I should’ve asked you first. I’m sor...”
“Don’t finish that sentence,” Artemis glared. She dropped her laptop on the couch and then walked over to him. “It’s not your fault. You are so sweet for thinking of this.”
He nodded, knowing that she would argue if he responded any other way. He glanced at the basket with dejection, still feeling like a failure.
Artemis snuggled into his arms. “Hmm... you smell like Sol. Are you cheating on me?”
Raiden chuckled at her silliness. “Yep. You caught me.”
With a laugh of her own, she grabbed his hand and walked over to the basket. She picked it up and then began guiding them to the door.
“What are you doing?”
“I’m going to enjoy the date that a sexy, adorable lycan prepared for me. Then I’m going to kiss him and fall asleep in his arms.”
“Adorable?” he questioned with an arched eyebrow.
“Of course. How else would you describe Sol?”
His growl shook the nearby trees. “Don’t do that.”
With a giggle, she pulled the blanket from the basket and spread it on the grass. As soon as Raiden was seated, she found comfort on his lap.
“Artemis, the purpose of the blanket is for you to sit on it.”
She nuzzled her face in his neck. “Mmm but you’re so comfy. My personal blanket.”
Raiden had no problems with having her seated on his thighs so he held her tight and observed the wind stroke the nearby trees.
“How mad was Zena about the tax proposal?”
Artemis laughed. “She told Councilmember Vance that she’ll take a leak on his tomb when he dies. She then proceeded to comment that judging by his age, it’ll be any moment now.”
“Your mother is wild.”
She nodded. “Yeah. Bless her heart.”
A few drops of water fell from the sky and found refuge on Raiden’s face. With a frown, he concluded that it was raining. As if the date couldn’t have gotten worse. They now had cold food and a storm underway.
Without looking at him, Artemis knew that he was beating himself up over the rain. In all honesty, she really didn’t mind eating cold and wet pie as long as she did so in his arms. To remind him of this, she hugged him tighter and dropped a kiss at the base of his neck. “This is so nice. Thank you for going through the trouble to plan it.”
“I messed up. It should’ve been as perfect as you,” he countered with displeasure.
Artemis growled. “How many times do I have to remind you that I’m not perfect? I’ve lost patience with you, I’ve looked at other mates and wished that our journey was as easy as theirs, I’ve lied to my parents...”
She kissed the corner of his lips. “And you are not perfect either. But you’re selfless and kind. I just hate that you can’t see it.”
Raiden looked down to meet her eyes. Strands of her hair were matted against her face and her stomach was grumbling. She was wet, hungry, tired, but she still smiled as if this shitty date meant the world to her.
Slowly, he rose to his feet and pulled her up with him. Once they were both standing, he returned to his knees.
“What are you doing?” she asked, pushing her wet hair behind her ears to get a clearer view.
With his head down, he bent his elbows against his sides and opened his palms.
This was the pose of defeat.
It’s the one Lust struck a few days ago when he begged them for help, it’s the one that Raiden and Sol struck when they begged the Moon Goddess to forgive them.
And now, Raiden stood at Artemis’ mercy. He never thought that he would bow down to anything other than the moon. But here he is: Wet, desperate, and in love.
“You are a bad influence for me,” he accused as he remained in his position.
“What? Come on, get up,” Artemis tried to tilt his head up. She hated seeing him in the clutches of vulnerability.
“I inherit every sin when I’m with you, Artemis. The thought of another man having you makes my fists ache; Wrath and Envy. The fact that you only want me makes me feel like an almighty god; Pride. Your touch makes me consider overdosing on pleasure; Lust. You make me want to neglect the Moon Goddess and worship you instead; Sloth. I can’t seem to get enough of your attention; Greed and Gluttony.”
His voice was deep but it wavered in volume as he spoke. Artemis nearly crumbled with sadness. Her sweet, insecure, beat up mate was afraid of getting rejected.
“But as dangerous as you are, I love you. So much that I’d wait any sentence to be with you. Be it 625 years or until the moon stops rotating.”
Usually, Raiden was the one who struggled with words. But it seems like tonight was Artemis’ turn to gape like a fish begging for water.
Her knees gave out.
With shaky hands, she tipped Raiden’s face up and connected their lips.
This was the most ferocious kiss they ever shared. Artemis’ hands were everywhere with the clear intention to dip into unexplored territory.
Raiden could both smell and feel her need. And as much as he wanted to connect the part of him that throbbed for her just like his heart did, he needed to make one thing clear first: He wasn’t ready for fatherhood.
With a hard kiss, he pressed their foreheads together. “Not today. We don’t have protection and I... I can’t be a father yet. I’m sorry.”
Artemis smiled patiently. “That’s okay. I would wait for you until the sun stops burning. I love you, Raiden.”
They remained in each other’s embrace until the sky stopped crying and the moon became the sun.