Thirty Two | Cleo
A delicious aroma awoke me.
I sleepily blinked open my eyes, sneezing from the fur that tickled my nose.
Hakota's head snapped up at the noise. I saw him grimace before he quickly changed it into a tight--what I think was suppose to be--smile.
He was sitting cross-legged by a revitalized fire, turning his makeshift spit over the open flames. Hakota had found two forked branches and shoved them deep into the ground, laying a stick between them that was covered in little cubes of venison.
Behind him was a completely skinned doe with select pieces of meat carved out and cut into the pieces I assumed he was now cooking.
The rising sun bathed us in its warm glow, casting Hakota's shadow over me. Sebastian slowly withdrew his tail from around me and my sleepy state started to ware off, bringing me to a higher awareness.
Last night's events came crashing back down on me. I couldn't keep my eyes from straying to Hakota's shoulder, subconsciously checking for sign of injury. Hakota was dressed though, concealing his shoulder. I could only see a hint of his tattoo peaking up from the collar of his shirt and I immediately tugged my eyes away, knowing that had I been in my human form I would be blushing at the memory that had resurfaced from one of my more intimate instances with that tattoo.
Pulling my gaze off Hakota allowed those thoughts to drift away. I knew being in my wolf form made me more susceptible to the bond, but there was no excuse for the twinge of desire I felt. It didn't matter how insanely attractive he was to me, because the fact remained that I could not trust him and I would not forgive him.
When those thoughts too faded off, I felt my annoyance replace it. I looked upon the lycan and his fire and his second offering with frustration.
Was he serious?
Didn't he take the hint that I did not want anything from him?
My lips peeled back from my teeth and I growled.
Hakota removed the stick he was turning over the fire and plucked one of the pieces off. He held it out to me with a flat hand, despite the fact that it must be burning his skin, having just been removed from the open flame.
However, the lycan didn't appear to be in the slightest form of discomfort. He only raised his hand in a coaxing gesture to me.
I flattened back my ears and bared my teeth at him. I was mad he believed I would eat from his hand. Not only was it a sign of trust but also submission. By taking the food from his hand I was accepting him as my provider and caretaker.
Seeming to read my thoughts, Hakota set the meat down just in front of me. I did not fail to notice the way his mouth tightened into a thin line of disappointment and the way his shoulders sagged a little, but he did not push it. He left it alone unlike last night and he said nothing else to me.
What shocked me though was when he tossed the stick full of meat at Sebastian's paws and stood up. "Take it," he muttered, "maybe she'll eat if it's from you. Just make sure she eats something before her stubbornness starves her." There was no aggression in his tone, his jaw was not clenched and his words were not cold. It was a simple statement, a request even.
Sebastian looked up at the lycan with curious eyes, his head tilting slightly.
Hakota only turned his back to us and set to work on the rest of the deer.
I eyed the stick at the werewolf's feet. The fact that Hakota was willing to share his kill with Sebastian was a huge deal. That he would give his food to a male, even for my benefit was no small thing.
I shifted back into my human form and quickly pulled on my clothes, Sebastian doing the same. Unfortunately, we didn't have the same luxury as the lycans who could shift back into clothes.
Sebastian picked up the stick and held it gingerly in his hands, staring at it with awe as if he was holding the world in his hands.
Together we sat cross legged and began pulling the cooked venison off the stick and consuming it. It was absolutely delicious, cooked the way I preferred, rare with the blood still dripping out of the meat. The doe must have just passed her first or second birthing season because the meat was not lean like the younger does who had not yet had their first fawn but the meat was not tough either which usually occurred in the does who were four or five years old.
As I swallowed down my third cube, I snuck a glance at the lycan who was working at the carcass, one foot planted on the ground, on his knee with the other, bending down to finish what he had started. His shoulderblades pulled together and relaxed as he worked, venting out his frustration on the deer with each of his aggressive actions.
I felt that pinching feeling along the edges of my heart and in the depths of my stomach.
Staring at the ground with a frown on my face, I tried to convince myself out of my next actions but for every argument I made, my counterargument was better.
With a heavy sigh, I pushed myself to my feet and quietly walked up to the lycan, stopping behind him. He paused mid-motion when he felt my presence. He did not turn or speak to me, waiting for me to say my peace and go.
Without my consent, my hand reached out and gently laid on his shoulder. The male tensed up under my touch but I only squeezed his shoulder. "Thank you," I said smoothly, surprised by the ease of which the words left my lips. I had thought I'd need to choke the words out but the words had just rolled off my tongue.
A shock of electricity jolted up through my hand from his shoulder, causing me to jerk away and stumble back a step.
Hakota whipped around, looking at me with accusatory eyes, telling me he had felt the same thing I just had. I clutched my wrist to my chest staring back at him with wide eyes. "What the hell was that?" I breathed.
The lycan narrowed his eyes at me, "You tell me," he said, "it came from you."
My mouth dropped open. "What? It didn't come from me!" I denied, "I felt it come from your shoulder up into my hand."
Hakota didn't look like he believed me but instead of arguing further he only turned his head to look at the deer before the rest of his body followed and he crouched back before the carcass. "Whatever, it doesn't matter anyway."
I watched him work, wondering why he was taking all this time to try and harvest the deer that we wouldn't even be able to take with us. "Hakota, leave it. We can't take it with us."
The lycan only grunted in response, "I'm not going to waste a perfectly good deer."
I huffed, "And what are you going to do with it? We don't have time to dry the meat or cure it and the same goes for the hide. Leave it here."
With jerky movements Hakota wiped the blade clean on the grass and shoved it back into his pack. Standing up, he dusted off his thighs and held his hands out on either side of him, "Fine. I'll leave it. Happy now?"
Before I could even reply and comment on his unnecessary attitude, he slung the bag over his shoulder and strode past me to the fire, kicking dirt into it and then stomped atop the dying flames to put it out. When he was finished with that he stormed away, heading back towards the road we'd been traveling on.
Not appreciating his snark or the fact he had turned his back on me, I chased after him with a growl, trusting that Sebastian would see that we were leaving and trail behind us.
"What were you going to do with it then?" I demanded, walking at a clipped pace to catch up with him. He didn't respond which led me to grab his shoulder again, and judging by the way he groaned slightly by my intense grip, I figured I really had injured him last night. "Don't walk away from me," I seethed, "tell me what the hell you planned on doing with it."
Hakota whirled around and knocked my hand off his shoulder with the back of his hand. "Walk away from you?" He snarled, "I've been walking behind you this whole damn way and didn't utter a single word about bringing that werewolf with. I didn't step in when you were cuddled against him all night, I gave you your damn space this morning so why don't you return the damn courtesy?" He was breathing heavily by the end of his rant, the spark in his eyes glowing with a fire that reminded me of the look in his eyes after he'd ripped out my throat and called me a mistake.
The memory made me swallow thickly, taking my fear with it. I stepped back, "You want to talk about walking away?" I asked lowly. "Why don't I count the number of times you've walked away from me?"
Hakota let out a guttural sound and shook his head, annoyed I was turning this on him.
"I'll start with the most recent being the day you left me to die," I snapped, "you walked away then." I waved my hand in dismissal, "If you don't like that one, there was the time you locked me up in that cage, collared me, and muzzled me. You shut me in and walked away."
Hakota said nothing, the sound of his teeth grinding together filling the short silence.
"Then of course there was the time I was being mauled by rogues, you looked on and then walked away."
His hands balled into tight fists, the veins in his arms and back of his hands popping with his barely contained fury.
"And you did so after that when you made that stupid deal with Eric Farland. You walked away again." I felt tears pushing at the backs of my eyes but I shoved them away, summoning Rala to take Cleo's place. Cleo was too full of betrayal to have this conversation. "Or we can talk about the very first time you ever laid eyes on me." Hakota sucked in a sharp breath and stepped back. "You gave me back to my father, you left me with him knowing what he planned for me. You've been walking away from me since day one Hakota."
"How do you know about that?" The lycan breathed.
"Does it matter?" I asked bitterly. "It just goes to show that you will never be the mate I need. You can't support me Hakota, you can never stay by my side, so why should I stick to yours?"
I waited for Haktoa to respond. To give me an answer, an explanation of how I was wrong.
He lowered his gaze to the floor, his jaw jutting out in frustration I knew was directed at himself. I shook my head, in disappointment.
As I was about to walk around him and take the lead once more, Hakota suddenly reached out and snatched my chin, raising my eyes to his own.
"It's because I did those things that you can trust me. It proves I'm loyal."
I laughed at first, expecting this to be some sort of cruel joke but I could see he was dead serious. I scoffed, unable to believe he actually thought what he was saying was plausible.
"I'm serious Cleo. I did all of those things, each and every one, for my pack's benefit." I snorted and moved to pull away but he held my chin tighter, increasing the pressure on the side to force me to look back up at him. "The day I muzzled you, collared you, and caged you, I did to protect my pack. You were volatile, you attacked Frayah to get at me. I explained that to you the day I locked you there that I couldn't let them be caught up in our war. And I didn't walk away Cleo, I came back time after time, no matter how much I was rejected by you. I didn't leave you in that cage. In fact, I let you out even against my better judgment. I let you go even though you hadn't submitted to me and I put my pack in potential danger by doing so."
I bit the inside of my cheek, not liking how much sense his calm words were making. I also didn't like the soothing effect his baritone voice had on me, slowly draining away my anger.
"As for the time you were getting mauled by rogues, you passed out before you saw what happened. I sent the twins around back to get the rogues off you, I couldn't let them see us coming in case they decided to cease their toying and kill you then and there. We killed those rogues, not your father's pack." His grip on my chin lessened and I could feel his thumb and forefinger lightly caress my skin but not yet letting go. "Then there was the same day that I made the deal with your father. I came back to get you Cleo, I was ready to go to war, but then you crashed into me and your eyes were so full of hate I knew I could never win a battle to get you out when you yourself would refuse to leave. I couldn't fight you and your pack at the same time so I made the deal to save my pack members from injury or possible death. I knew Eric wanted me to take you, I knew he would eventually give you to me when he believed you to be ready. I may have walked away that day Cleo but I had every intention of coming back."
His thumb moved from the underside of my jaw to my cheek, tracing along my cheekbones until he was now cupping the back of my neck, his thumb lightly placed just beneath my eye. I reached up and grabbed his wrist, intending to pull it away but unable to once I made contact with his warm skin. I could feel his heartbeat through his wrist and it only aided in calming me.
"The very first time I met you, you were just a tiny pup. I was still going to take you with me, regardless of the fact you were a Hunter. I had you in my arms, refusing to let you go despite what my pack kept telling me. But then your father got the upper hand and my pack and I would all have perished if I didn't relinquish you that day. What would have been the point of fighting to keep you when I'd end up dead and lose you anyway? I took the loss and promised myself I would come back for you again. And I did Cleo. I kept my promise. I came back to Eric Farland not only once, but twice for you. So don't tell me I have always walked away from you. I've come back to you just as many times if not more."
I was finally able to muster some willpower and pulled his hand away from my face. However, I didn't let it go far and forced his hand to rest on my collarbone, right above the mess of scars from where he had taken out a chunk of my neck. "And this?" I questioned him. "How did you come back to me after this?"
Hakota's eyes were full of confliction. For the first time I could see guilt in them and I realized in that moment just how much he had changed from renouncing his alpha title.
Both of Hakota's hands were on me, cupping the back of my neck while his thumbs painted a line across my collarbones. "I never apologized to you for this, not really," He mumbled more to himself than me. "This isn't the time. I'm not apologizing for this right now." I sucked in a sharp breath, upset that I had just for a second believed he had changed. Hakota's eyes went wide as if he realized he had said the last part out loud. He rushed to correct himself. "No, no Cleo," he squeezed my cheeks with urgency, "I didn't mean it like that. I just meant I can't apologize for everything in one day. I cannot ask you to forgive me of everything all at once. Today, right now, I just want you to understand that I have not walked away from all those times like you believed and I hope you can forgive me for the times that I have. That's all I ask of you right now. Not to forgive me of this," his palm grew hot on my skin where it covered my scars, "not today. I know you can't today. So just try and forgive me for walking away."
I did not answer him but by his small smile it appeared he hadn't expected me to.
He took in a shaky breath, "All I have to say for this is that I was really hurting Cleo. I know it's no excuse and that you were hurting too, but I had just admitted to you and myself that I loved you and then your father came in saying all those things and it all seemed so real and I couldn't help but let years of insecurities creep up and drown me. What your father was telling me was just so much more likely than what you were saying." He was rushing through his words, slurring some together in his haste. "And my pack was suddenly all on their knees ready for execution and there was nothing I could do and I blamed myself for letting all of it happen. I slipped into The Wild and I couldn't think of anything other than saving my pack and my mate's betrayal. I know it was wrong of me to say those things to you, to do that to you after what you had done for my pack, for me, but I wasn't in my right mind Cleo." He was frantic as the words kept pouring out of his mouth with so much sincerity and emotion I had no idea what to make of it. "I haven't been in the right mind for some time," he admitted softly.
For a moment we stood together in the middle of the road, with me staring up at him and him looking down at me. My hands holding his wrists and his hands holding my neck. Then finally, I found my voice and uttered the words that had been nagging at me for the last two years, "You will always put your pack above me," I whispered and Hakota's face fell and filled with anguish.
I pulled away from the lycan and dropped my eyes to the ground.
This was too much.
This was all at once and too much.
So I did the very thing I had just accused him of and I turned my back on him and ran.