Twenty | Cleo
The tent flap had barely fallen closed behind me when I already regretted my choice of not staying on the other side of it, because there before me, were those ultramarine colored eyes, boring straight into me without so much as a flash of emotion.
They devoured me, pulling me deep within them. I was hypnotized by the blue, trying to get past the layers of ice, looking for any sign of feeling.
Deep in my chest the dead and forgotten heart that lied there slowly began to beat again, each pump sending a new wave of longing, of anger, of grief, of betrayal, of feeling through me.
Hakota took two strides forward, easily eating up the distance between us. He reached a hand out, and I immediately ducked away, taking several steps back.
"Don't," I finally managed to get a word out. "Don't touch me," I told him.
His jaw clenched in annoyance as his outstretched fingers curled into a fist in the air where my cheek had been moments ago. In a tight voice he replied, "I need to know you are real."
His words surprised me. I was not ignorant to the fact that according to the rumors he talked to my 'ghost' but I had never really believed those rumors. Hakota was too strong to be haunted, and since he didn't regret it I wondered why he would see my apparition which would just be my image that he conjured in his head, often a sign of guilt.
But looking at the powerful male that clearly earned his title of alpha of the lycans, despite the fact he seemed to have lost weight and a few shades of color--as to be expected because of the stress of campaigning a war--I saw nothing that pointed to regret or guilt on his end.
In my moment of observation, my mate took the opportunity to close the distance and touch my face. The moment his skin touched mine I was pulled from my assessment and became hyper-aware of his touch. I felt each one of his fingers on my cheek as he grazed them lightly over the skin there, a look of awe breaking through the cold exterior of his face. Then that awe flashed to fear, those blue eyes widening and clouding with the hundred thoughts that went through his head in that second. He pulled his hand away as that stone mask slammed back down into place.
A long silence stretched between us until finally, "...you cut your hair."
My hands immediately went to the shoulder length strands that were jagged and uneven. I had cut my hair not long after I had assumed my new identity of 'Rala'. It was partly a reflection of the sharp edges of the broken pieces of my heart. "I did," I answered.
We lapsed into more silence.
I did not fail to notice the way his eyes continued to find their way to my scarred neck. I pulled up the collar of my turtle neck that had gone askew and allowed a peek at the scars half hidden there.
His eyes flicked up from my neck when he could no longer see the mangled mess of skin because of the turtle neck I was wearing, hiding the proof of his actions beneath. "I'm sorry." He said.
"I know." I replied, continuing our two word exchanges. And I meant what I said, I knew he was sorry that he had let emotions take control over him for that split second. His actions were probably the cause of his many visions of me. Lycans were strange when it came to mates, their rules and laws were dictated by Lune and she cared much more for the love and respect between mates than Fate did.
I closed my eyes for a split second and sucked in a sharp breath upon hearing that name from his lips.
I love you Cleo. I love you with every fiber of my being, every bone in my body. This mark means the world to me. You are my world.
Those long ago words rang through my ears, echoing through my body and bouncing off the walls where my shriveled up heart was slowly beating.
"What do you want Hakota? Surely you didn't go through all of this trouble to simply apologize?" My words were cold and detached, snapping like a whip.
The silver blade still hidden in my sleeve was warm against my skin. I waited for the alpha to make his move, to come at me and try and dispose of me properly. Looking up at the male, I was reminded of my pitiful height compare to the giant that he was.
Everything about us was wrong. We couldn't possibly have been made for each other, perhaps it was best that things had turned out this way.
Hakota stepped forward once again, ignoring my previous warning and suddenly I was encompassed by his heat. His strong arms banded around me as he pulled me into his chest and buried his nose in my hair, inhaling me.
I was too surprised to react and so I simply froze, tensing up in his hold.
Of all the scenarios that could have played out, this was not one that I had been prepared for.
My mate's grasp tightened, squeezing the breath from my lungs though I wasn't entirely sure if that was from his constricting hold or had something to do with the thundering of my heart. "I should never have said those words to you," he murmured, "it wasn't your fault."
Just for a second I had hope that he finally believed me, and knew I had nothing to do with my father's plans, that I was as much of a victim as he was. But then his next words brought me back to reality and I came crashing down from the high.
"Your father is the one to blame. He poisoned you, I should have known better than to let you out of my sight."
Although he was taking partial blame, it still wasn't what I'd wanted. I didn't want him to blame himself or anyone, really. I just wanted him to understand, to see that I was not tainted by my father. To know that this version of me that he had conjured up in his head was not who I was, and was not real.
I was heartbroken to hear that he thought of me as this puppet, this broken doll, that was constantly in need of a master. I was angry that he was treating me as a troubled child that needed to be watched. I didn't want to be a burden to him. I never wanted him to think of me as more of a child, a responsibility, rather than a partner and a mate.
"I'm sorry that things have to be this way Cleo, I apologize for the cruel hand Fate has dealt you."
I remained silent even though every part of me wanted to scream.
Fate? What did Fate have to do with anything? Lune was the one in charge of this mess. I thought she was supposed to love her children, the lycans. She seemed to be as horrible as a parent to the lycans as my father was to me.
"If these weren't the circumstances I wouldn't have chosen this path," my mate continued to try and explain to me as if he wanted me to understand and believe his messed up delusions and excuses that same as he did.
"This was never suppose to happen," he whispered hoarsely and I wondered if he was crying.
I tried to pull away and catch a glimpse of his tears but he kept me tightly pinned to his chest.
"Hakota," I tried to tug away but he only clutched onto me tighter as if he were afraid I'd disappear just like my ghost always did. "Hakota," I reached up and grabbed his bicep, pulling on it to get him to loosen his hold.
When he finally shifted, moving his face from where it was buried in the crook of my neck, I held his face in my hands, brushing my thumbs across the strong cheekbones there. He looked at me with glassy ultramarine eyes, and I could see the turmoil there.
I could see how tired and exhausted he was, how utterly defeated he looked.
I gave him a small smile, my bottom lip quivering with the effort to hold back tears of my own. Not because his words moved me, or because I was happy to finally be in his arms again, but because of the determination I saw in his blue orbs.
He had made a decision long before my arrival and Hakota was not one to not follow through with his choices. He had no intention of letting me live, he would not let me walk out of here breathing. And although it was obvious this decision was hurting him, he refused to change his mind and find another way.
Because killing me was the easier and safer choice. He didn't want to try for me, he didn't think I was worth the risk, and that was what truly destroyed me.
Because I felt the opposite. To me, Hakota, my mate, was worth everything. He was worth the risk, the sorrow and the work because Hakota was all I had left, all I'd ever really had. Terrin was my friend and I cared for him. But he was a responsibility and I felt the need to protect him. And Sebastian, Sebastian would never be enough for me. He could never fill this empty void, he couldn't handle me. He didn't challenge me, he was too accommodating and kind.
These blue eyes in front of me were my only salvation, my only hope and I would fight to keep that hope. Rala was gone now and Cleo was back in full force. Instead of caring about nothing, I cared about everything. However, Rala hadn't disappeared. I had learned some valuable lessons during my time as Rala and I would be a fool to just throw those away.
I wasn't going to crawl back to Hakota and beg him to believe me. I would not try and make him see the truth because no one could make him do anything. He had to learn, to see, for himself and I would help him do that.
And the first step was not letting him kill me.
I could sense the moment he let his claws slide out, ready to end me for real this time. So I stood up on my tip toes, making him hesitate for just a moment when he thought I was about to kiss him. But instead of my lips making contact with his, he felt the cool kiss of my knife as I dropped it from my sleeve into my hand and quickly sliced a line across his throat.
I dropped back down onto my heels, pulling away and stepping back from him as his hand went to the blood that was leaking uncontrollably down his neck. He looked at me with utter betrayal before staggering back, banging into a table and crumpling to the ground.
Taking the knife already stained with my blood, I drew a line across my palm, staining the blade with a bountiful amount of my blood as I wiped my hand across its surface. Then I dropped the knife before him, kicking it away before he could grab it.
"I think you owe me an apology, Hakota," I drawled, looking down at him. He had flopped onto his side, reaching out for that knife that was just a few feet away. "After all, you wrongly accused me of plotting to harm you." I crouched down, balancing on the balls of my feet as I followed the line of his arm to the knife that lay just beyond his grasp. "Well, now you can actually believe those things with a bit of truth." I smiled to myself, rising to my feet. "This scene seemed eerily familiar doesn't it?" I mused. "But I think I gave you an unfair advantage. Your wound won't kill you for at least another fifteen minutes. That's almost double the time I had."
I gave him one last look over, making sure that the cut across his neck wasn't deeper than I'd intended it to be. After all, my objective was not to kill my mate. I simply had a lot of anger to vent and since he was the source, it was only fair he took the brunt of it.
I turned to leave, causally tossing out my advice over my shoulder. "That knife has my blood on it. Better hope you can reach it in time to heal yourself, or that one of your lycans will come and save you like Coda had to do with me."
With that, I swept from the tent, ignoring the surprised looks I received upon stepping out of the tent alive and unhurt. Sitka was standing in the front of the crowd and tossed a look of concern and confusion at the tent I had left before he looked back at me.
I brushed past him, making sure to knock into his shoulder, earning a small grunt from him. I had noticed the way he was hunched over slightly, eluding to the fact he was wounded. With a wry smile and flippant tone I told him, "You should probably go check on your alpha, he might not be able to take what he dealt."
I flashed him a smirk, and Sitka's eyes widened in panic before he shot off towards the tent, dashing inside.
I looked around at the werewolves who hadn't dared to move, still gaping at me, the tent, and the spot Sitka had vacated. Rising my voice I addressed the soldiers, "Now," I said, "can someone please tell me where I might find Syn?"