Twenty Three | Hakota
She was gone and no one knew where she went. She had disappeared already, taking two of my lycans with her and leaving Terrin here.
It was only because of Terrin's presence that I knew she would come back.
With that knowledge, I used the space and time to re-think my strategy instead of using my time to search for her.
As my beta had so kindly pointed out, killing Cleo was just never going to happen. Even if I did kill her, my pack would never come back from it. There was no way that Syn and Roshan would ever forgive me. Having gone into The Wild was the only reason they had been the slightest bit understanding in the first place.
And besides that, I didn't want to kill my mate. Sitka had opened my eyes, made me realize that they never had expected me to sacrifice my mate for their safety. They had never asked me to shoulder that kind of burden. We were a pack, a unit, a family that was supposed to work together and find the answers together.
I had forgotten that, maybe even used it as an excuse.
By admitting to all of this, there was no escaping the truth of my unforgivable actions and the workload I had dumped on my plate to atone for them.
But, instead of confronting the problem head on and beginning to make some headway, I picked the easier option and ignored it.
Cleo wasn't here which meant I didn't have to deal with her. So instead I focused on the war.
Even though my mate should be my number one priority, I again made her second. The war was easier to understand. I could deal with death, bloodshed, and total annihilation, preferred it even to trying to figure out the puzzle of my feelings, emotions, and the mate bond.
And really what it came down to was I didn't want to admit I was wrong. I didn't want to admit to myself that I had made a huge mistake.
I wished I could just start over. I wished I could go back to that very first day I had first seen Cleo hiding in a cabinet and have taken her with me this time.
I couldn't though. My actions and my choices had led me down this path. It was never Cleo, or even her father's fault things turned out this way. It was mine.
I knew that.
Damn it all, I knew that!
The blame rested solely on my shoulders and there was no escaping that truth.
I ran from it anyway though and I hid behind my false accusations.
I groaned, lifting a hand to my throbbing head. I had forgotten about this, the rush of emotions and never ending clouds of thoughts and doubts swirling through my head. The mate bond scrambled up my brains, made it impossible for me to think clearly and simply come to a conclusion or find an answer to my question or problem.
Having a mate was dangerous. For lycans especially.
They could also be a lycan's greatest strength. To have someone tied to you, that level of connection, that level of understanding, meant everything to my kind. A mate kept you from being alone.
I had traded that kind of relationship for the leader position of my pack. I tricked myself into believing that one could be substituted for the other but I was wrong.
Because as much as I wanted to pretend there wasn't a gaping hole within me that longed to be filled, I couldn't ignore it when Cleo was around.
She reminded me that there was more to my existence. That there was a reason for me to live other than ruling and protecting.
I was also meant to love.
Lune made sure that we had love, could feel that emotion and experience it ourselves so that we didn't turn into something else entirely.
Something that I had turned in to.
Power, not having any weakness, had led me down the path I was now on. The one where I was tearing apart my own pack. One where my friends no longer trusted me or believed in me. One where I had killed my mate to save myself from the weakness she brought.
And only now that Sitka had finally pulled the veil from my eyes, forced me to see what I was doing, what I was becoming, did I realize.
Now I was in a war, one that I had to finish.
The only question is, would I put Cleo aside until I was finished with this and deal with her like another problem, another fight to be won? Or would I confront this torrent of emotions swirling inside me, and ask my mate to help me understand them?
The first choice was so easy.
It was so, so easy that it seemed the only real option.
Because then I wouldn't have to face my fear.
The fear of feeling something again made my breath catch in my throat. The last time I had let myself indulge in the mate bond, in the comfort it brought me, I had grown too attached. I had craved it, let those desires rule me and I had payed the prince. My emotions had been so strong one way and then whipped to the other end of the spectrum at the same level of intensity that day Eric Farland had died.
I had loved Cleo so much it hurt, that I couldn't help but spill my guts out to her even when I knew I had no time to waste and my pack's life was endanger but I had taken that risk just to tell her how I'd felt.
Then in the next moment, I had been filled with a stinging pain. The thought of her betrayal ripped a hole in me, one that had never repaired.
I knew now that I had been wrong to believe Eric over her, but fear did strange things to people.
In my mind it had seemed more logical that Eric was telling the truth. Cleo had certainly hated me enough in the beginning, all of the things I did to her didn't help matters, so why wouldn't she forsake me for her pack?
I had done it to her after all.
But mostly, I think that I was afraid.
Those strong feelings woke me up. They made me see the power she held over me. How her actions affected me, what her choices did to me.
She held my heart in her hands, and I was scared to give her that power over me so I snatched it back.
And going after her now, choosing her over this war would mean giving her that power back and honestly, I wasn't ready for that.
I never would be.
"You're thinking so hard I could hear you across the camp," Sitka said by way of greeting as he brushed past the tent flaps that kept me sealed away from the outside world. "What's on your mind?" He asked walking over to the table where a bottle of liquor and some glasses were located.
"I don't know what to do," I admitted, placing my head in my hands.
Sitka uncapped the vile and sniffed at its contents. "About the war or about your mate?"
I ran a hand through my greasy strands of dirty blond hair. It had been days since I'd had a proper bath and months since my last haircut. "I think they are relatively tied to one another," I said, my eyes sliding over to him.
"So both." He concluded, pouring himself a glass.
"What would you pick?" I asked, not answering his question directly, but asking for his advice on the matter.
Sitka pursed his lips, the glass already raised to his mouth. "Why pick at all?" He asked over the rim before downing the shot. He wasted no time in pouring himself another while saying, "The way I see it, you don't really have control over one of them."
I cocked my head, "Control?"
Sitka eyed me, taking in my hunched form from where I sat on my pelt covered cot, my elbows resting on my spread knees, my hands dangling loosely between my legs. "You have to give the choice back to her," he told me as if that gave me any sort of clue.
"What do you mean?"
"I mean you can't run after her, begging for her forgiveness." He said, walking over to me with two shots in his hands. He took a seat on my right, handing me a glass. "She will decided if she wants to forgive you. Guilting her into it would be fake. Let her do it because she wants to. Let it be genuine Hakota or the slightest breeze will tear you both apart."
I took the shot from his hand, frowning pensively at the amber liquid. "So I shouldn't apologize to her?"
Sitka huffed out a laugh. "I didn't say that. All I'm saying is that she's gonna be the one choosing whether she forgives you and wants to move on with you or apart from you."
A low growl escaped from my lips before I even realized what I was doing.
Sitka chuckled lowly, "Don't get your tail all in a bunch. A little prodding never hurts. Give her a reason to forgive you, Hakota and give her one hell of a reason to want to stay with you." He grimaced as he lifted the glass to his lips and mumbled, "Lune knows you sure as hell have given her numerous reasons not to."
I gripped the glass in my hand, "Last I recall you wanted me to dispose of her and had no problem with how I ended things."
"Everyone makes mistakes," he dismissed.
"Why are you suddenly on her side?" I demanded, throwing back the shot.
"I'm not. Just because I'm not telling you what you want to hear, that doesn't mean I'm not on your side. I'm just giving you my advice. You've already made a mess of things, just don't muck it up any more. That's all I'm saying."
I eyed him suspiciously, "For someone who despised my mate you certainly seem to be sympathetic towards her."
Sitka rolled his eyes. "I already explained to you, Hakota. She's good for you even if I don't like it. Your happiness matters to me and you'll only be at your happiest if she's by your side. I'm trying to help you because Lune knows you need it."
I jabbed him in the ribs, earning a grunt from him.
The corner of my mouth tugged up in a smile.
It had been a very long time since Sitka and I had joked around like this and poked fun at each other. It felt good to act like our young adolescent selves even if just for a moment.
"So you want me to focus on the war then? Leave it up for Cleo to decided about our mate status?"
"I think you can focus on both. While you figure out what to do next in this war let Cleo decide what to do next in your relationship."
"How is that focusing on both? You're telling me to ignore her."
Sitka sighed exasperatedly, "No," he said, "I'm not." He gave me a hard look as if glaring at me would make me understand better. "I'm saying you need to interact with her, give her a reason to make the choice you know deep down you want her to make. Just make sure that you're not the one making decisions. You have to always leave the door open for her. And avoid the commands and demands you always make."
Silence ensued between us. It wasn't uncomfortable between us though, just thoughtful emptiness. "She's not going to believe me you know," I said after a while. "She'll never trust me ever again."
Sitka exhaled a breath, unable to disagree with me, "It's going to take a lot of time for you to ever get that, but never is a very, very, long time Hakota."
I turned my eyes on my friend, staring into those light blue eyes that were dimmed. I placed a hand on my beta's shoulder, squeezing in silent words of comfort.
I knew Sitka wanted a mate, he'd waited a long time and since I had recently found mine and Syn had as well I knew he was struggling to hold on to hope.
I knew there were nights where he'd stare up at the stars and wish. I heard his whispered words meant to help himself to keep waiting. Never is a long time but forever is longer. It never really made any sense to me but he understood them and that was all that really mattered.
I never approached him about it because those were private moments I was not supposed to see.
Taking life one day at a time was all any of us could do. Life would throw at us what it would, the good, the bad, and the ugly.
But life seemed to have a really twisted sense of humor because what it threw at me next was not something I ever wanted to face.