Twenty Seven | Cleo
Coda was already at the front of the camp when I returned. He walked straight at me, prowling towards me with a scowl plastered across his face. He grabbed my arm and yanked me behind him, trudging back the way I had come without so much as a word.
I resisted the urge to sigh, wondering if I would ever make it into the camp at this rate.
Instead of dragging me a mile out as Sitka had, he merely stopped between two of the sentry check points. Whether that was because he was satisfied with our distance from any prying ears or because he simply couldn't hold it any longer I didn't know, but the moment he let me go he exploded.
"Goddammit!" He started off, "If I knew you weren't so smart, I'd think you were an idiot!"
I blinked calmly at Coda, knowing he was referring to the fact I had left the Lunar camp and come here without letting him know or taking him with me. I rubbed my sore wrist that had been crushed in his vice like grip. "I get that you're mad but did you have to be so rough?" I whined, cradling my wrist to my chest and giving him my best pout.
"Mad?" Coda's brows rose incredulously. His face immediately softened and he took a step towards me. He cupped my face in his large hands, "Don't misunderstand me Cleo," he whispered, "I am not mad at you."
"You aren't?" Now it was me who was surprised.
"No, Cleo, of course not," he said in the same soothing tone. His gentle hold on my face suddenly became a lot less comforting as his hands moved down my neck to my shoulders to dig into my collarbone. "I'm mad when you roll your eyes at me, I'm mad when you run that smart mouth of yours, I'm mad when you refuse me over and over to return to our pack." Despite his utterly calm tone, the hard gleam in his eye was making me uneasy. "Mad, is the wrong word to describe how I feel towards you right now. Believe me," he said, "when I say that I am not mad at you for doing something so completely reckless and stupid." His soft tone was hardening with every word, his teeth grinding together with every syllable that left his mouth. "I am absolutely livid," he bit out the words through his clenched jaw, gritting his teeth so viciously I thought his teeth would crack under the pressure. "I am beyond furious with you!" He was shouting at me now, no trace of his calm demeanor.
"Relax Coda, I'm alive aren't I?" I tried to calm him down but my word choice had the opposite effect.
"Don't you tell me to relax you brat!" Coda snarled out, shaking me. "I've been in a panic for the last week! I don't think all of my years of living have felt as long as this damn week!"
I couldn't help but grin, "Were you worried about me old man?"
Coda whacked me upside the head, "Don't patronize me kid." He grabbed my chin between his thumb and forefinger. "What you did was stupid and dangerous. You know better than anyone what Hakota is capable of and you knew damn well about his mental state. Walking in here alone was--"
"Stupid," I cut him off, knocking his hand aside, "I get it."
Coda only glared down at me, not happy about my attitude.
"I'm not a child, Coda," I eyed him seriously. "I knew what I was walking into and I was prepared."
My mentor was already shaking his head, "No Cleo. You will never be prepared when it comes to him."
I huffed, annoyed he was still treating me like a child. "Just because he's my mate, it doesn't mean he has some magic power over me. I'm not blinded by love or hoping he'll weep at my feet and apologize and ask me to come back."
There must have been enough venom in my words because Coda pulled me into his chest, crushing me against his large frame with one arm banded around me to cage me in. "That's not what I meant Cleo. I never said you were naive, and I know that you won't just fall into his arms and forgive him."
I sensed a but coming.
"But," he continued and I rolled my eyes, "you can't tell me that you didn't hesitate when you saw him. You can't tell me that some part of you wouldn't falter if he apologized."
I bit my lip, thinking back to the day in the tent when Hakota had told me he was wrong for what he had said to me. I remembered that feeling of hope that had flared in my chest, the moment of weakness I had felt when a flash of a future of him had played in my head.
Coda was right, even if I steeled myself against him and his manipulative ways and his false words, there would always be those moments in which I would let my guard down.
"What you have to understand Cleo, is that Hakota won't hesitate. That is why you will never be prepared, you will never be prepared to make the killing strike, but Hakota will."
I pushed Coda away then. "You're wrong," I said, "I cut Hakota's throat, slit it before he could dig his claws into my back. He's the one who hesitated and I was the one who made the killing strike." I smirked up at Coda, gloating.
Instead of seeing surprise on his face I saw something I definitely didn't want to see. He was looking down at me with pity. "I'm serious," I growled, pissed that he didn't believe me.
"Cleo," he said softly but that only ticked me off more. Now he was trying to soothe me like one would a wild animal.
I crossed my arms and looked away from him, ignoring him as I acted like a child.
Coda grabbed my crossed arms and pried them apart, flattening my hands out to my sides. "Look at me," he said.
I scoffed but kept my eyes averted.
"Look at me," he squeezed my hands and I tilted my head mockingly and lazily lifted my eyes. "Look me in the eyes Cleo and tell me you struck him with the intent to kill." I swallowed but did not lower my gaze. "Look me in the eyes and tell me that you walked straight to him and slashed his throat, that you did not stop, that you did not let him speak before you did." He shook me when I said nothing. "Tell me Cleo."
I clenched my jaw, my teeth groaning under the pressure. I looked away then, angry with myself because I couldn't. I couldn't tell him what he wanted to hear and was proving him right.
"I'm not trying to hurt, you or make you feel like I don't think you're strong. I'm not trying to make you feel bad. I just want you to understand. I want you to see what I am talking about, why I worry so much about letting Hakota anywhere near you." I didn't say anything, didn't acknowledge that I had heard or understood anything he was telling me. With a heavy sigh the hunter said, "Just promise me that you will keep your distance from him."
I looked at my feet, sucking in my lower lip, "I can't promise you that Coda, and you know it."
A wounded sound clawed its way from Coda's throat. It sounded damn close to a whine, but this was Coda we were talking about.
I looked up at him then, "You know I can't stay away."
"You managed for two years," Coda rebutted and clutched my hands, "you were doing so well. With Sebastian and Terrin I know you can do it." He was pleading with me now and it hurt me that I was causing him pain. "Please," he whispered, "please Cleo, I cannot let him destroy you too."
"He won't," I promised but even I knew it for the lie it was. I couldn't promise him anything where Hakota was concerned because I didn't know myself when I was around my mate. I did stupid things, I didn't think clearly and emotions controlled my actions.
"Cleo--" he tried again but I turned my back to him.
I couldn't let him convince me out of this. Coda was the only one who would be able to deter me but even then he was just prolonging the inevitable. "You need to go back Coda. Those hunters need you."
"You need me more," Coda instantly replied.
I closed my eyes and let out a shaky breath, "I promised them, Coda. I promised them I would try to fix this."
"It's not your responsibility!" Coda shouted and I cringed, glad I didn't have to see the molten fire in his eyes. "They abandoned you Cleo. They left you to die," he attacked me mercilessly.
His words hit me deep but I wouldn't yield and see reason.
"Why?" He snarled, "Why is it your responsibility to clean up their mess? Why do you have to do it?"
"I'm their alpha!" I cried out and whipped around. "They are my pack, Coda! How can I just let them suffer?"
"They let you suffer," Coda retorted.
"If we all constantly repaid a wrong with another wrong we all would have been dead a long time ago."
"Cleo." He said harshly, giving me his best alpha voice.
"Coda." I returned evenly.
We had a stare off neither one of us backing down until I started making faces at the serious male. Although a smile never cracked through he eventually sighed and rolled his eyes, running a hand through his hair. "You are going to be the death of me brat." I smiled and reached up on my tiptoes to pat his cheek. He caught my hand and pulled me into him for another spine snapping hug. "If you get your throat ripped out again, you'd better make damn sure that you are covered in Hakota's blood because I'm not going to wipe a knife off on your tongue again."
I chuckled and squeezed the male, "That's fair."
I was relinquished with his partings words of, "The second you even think you need me, you find a way to contact me, do you understand?"
I nodded, taking his words seriously. Then to lighten the mood I said, "Don't worry so much old man," I poked his cheek, "you'll get stress lines on your serious face."
Coda smiled down at me fondly and ruffled my hair like I was but a young apprentice again. "Be safe, kid." He patted my head, "And don't let your mates kill each other."
A breathy chuckle left my lips. We shared one last smile before Coda nodded in farewell and left without a backwards glance.
A sign that he was placing trust in me to do this myself and come out alive.