Through the Woods - Leo
Running across the Grove in a group of old wolves made me feel powerful. I wanted to bond with Rafferty’s friends, but I could sense Dagen would prefer to feed me to the demons. Only his deep sense of honor propelled him down the pathway to help me.
Twenty minutes of Dagen’s enraged energy boiling in my direction drained the excitement from the experience. He doesn’t understand my relationship with Alerie. I love her—I love her enough to accept she wants him in her life.
We reached the packed earth border of the Yolk. Gar and his ancestor wolves were already patrolling the area for demons. Rafferty scaled a small rock hill to communicate with Gar and his pack. The rest of us were told to head into the cover of the trees and relax. I found a cool place under an evergreen bough and coiled my wolf body into a comfortable position.
Dagen and his friend Bruce dropped into human form, laid on the forest floor, and began talking. My first thought was to make myself known and move away so I could ignore him. But the urge to eavesdrop on their conversation was uncontrollable.
“Never has any woman so completely fucked with my head. The one thing I want from her—she splits her heart up and tosses it around like it’s a fucking toy. How can she think this is any way to live?”
“They share—we don’t. The younger generation keeps meaningful associations with several people at once. Not all of them are physical, but the connection is still deep. Maybe it’s not something you can handle. Go find yourself another woman.”
“It’s too late. I’m stuck, and she’s going to fucking end me.”
“Rafferty is the same way, and he didn’t even raise her. Genetics is amazing shit.” Bruce absentmindedly picked apart a pinecone.
“Raff is my oldest friend, and I would die for him, but my God, this is punishment for envying all his beautiful friends.”
“A human buddy of mine explained it. It’s not monogamy, it’s not swinging, and it’s not sneaky or mean spirited. Everyone knows about everyone else, and it’s all good with everybody.”
“It’s not all good with me.” Dagen dropped his hands over his eyes.
“Exactly, why can’t you share her attention?”
“Attention, I can handle it’s the fucking that makes me want to murder them all. We need to run into some demons so I can rip something apart.”
“Have you tried fighting with her?”
“Over what? She doesn’t think she’s done anything wrong. She was raised with kid gloves as a human. I doubt she’s ever fought a wolf. Plus, she’s much stronger than me right now.”
“Ha, sucks for you, Old Man,” Bruce laughed and tossed a handful of pine needles at Dagen.
“She’s the fucking chosen sacrifice augmented with demon blood and fortified by an angel. I don’t even think she realizes what that means. And for fate to send her to me with less than two hundred years left in my tank is unbelievably cruel. I need to get her ready for when I’m gone.”
“You are fucked. You are already planning on taking care of her after your worm bait?”
“Yes, but I need to pay attention to now. My businesses are suffering. The boys are handling things, but I need to pay attention to the money. I can’t fucking think straight because of this shit with her.”
“I understand, brother, but you can’t love something that’s killing you. You need to let her go.”
“Probably the only thing I won’t be able to do. Murder, on the other hand, those possibilities are limitless.”
Rafferty called everyone to the edge of the Yolk. I moved out of my hiding spot last and stood at the back of the group. Gar looked at me and then at Dagen before he cracked a sideways smile. I stood tall and shook out my fur, getting ready to run.
“We are headed right—toward the high pile of corpses. Don’t eat any fetid skin. Single file should be less obvious. The black bastard runs point everyone else roll in the dirt to dull your fur,” Rafferty growled, as the others laughed. I assumed there was a private joke I missed.
Everyone followed Rafferty’s instructions. Including Dagen. His wolf form looked like mine, only dingy white. Standing in the shadows of the Grove trees, the wind whined an unnatural eerie tune. Dagen and Rafferty let out loud growls, followed by Gar’s howl.
The wind stopped.
A streak of black fur shot into the Yolk. Bruce held tight to the days-old pile of decaying demon carcasses. His midnight-black paws kicked up charred demon chunks as he dug into the soft Yolk floor. The sharp smell of decay burned my eyes and filled my nose with oily putrefaction.
Henry patrolled the air above the entrance to the White. With a flash of light, four angels hovered overhead clad in blue metal with sharp wicked-looking armor covering all but their wings. The air under my paws and the wind in my fur startled me. I was up above the group and moving quickly toward the White.
Without any ceremony, Henry and I dropped just inside the White veil. I shook off my wolf form and looked at my lifeless looking statue resting next to my father. He was shocked to see me and jumped up to greet me.
“Leo, I thought you were arriving tomorrow. Your mother just went home. She will be upset that she missed you.”
“Plans changed.” My father looked at me with suspicion. “Long story for another day. Before I forget, Al will be here to meet you in the morning, Henry. I can take a message to her if you want to change anything.”
“No, morning is fine. Gives me a few more hours here.”
“Can you tell me how long I will need to stay in the Grove to heal?”
Henry waved his hand over my head and closed his eyes. “You will only need a few days, but you will choose to stay longer.”
Rafferty and Bruce entered the White. Rafferty shifted into human form and smiled at Henry. “Thank you for helping my daughter. She’s alive because of you.”
“As much as it pains me to say. Alerie is alive because of the demon who covets her and her deep desire to live. I shared my grace with her. I’m thankful it helped, but it was her will that saved her.” Rafferty smiled and nodded his head.
Henry put out his hand to shake Dagen’s. “You did what needed to be done, thank you.” Dagen looked at Henry with conflict on his face. Henry is an angel, but he’s also Dagen’s rival.
“How does this work? Just like before I touch myself?” The room erupted in laughter. I rolled my eyes, took a deep breath, and grabbed my lifeless shoulder.
The air in my lungs felt hot. The core of my chest quivered like a plucked guitar string. I was out of my body for too long. Henry sat me upright and pulled a knife from his thigh.
“Trust me, this will help.” Henry poked a hole in my shoulder with the blade. The warm fluid spilling down my chest didn’t feel like it belonged to me. “Now a drop of my blood. Stay still. Too much will harm you.”
Henry pricked the side of his finger and touched it to the blood gathering on my chest. He pressed the mixture back into the small wound, reciting words I found barely audible. Henry’s hand hovered over my heart. Once he finished, I felt whole, happy, and full of energy.
“Thank you, I feel perfect.”
“The feeling will last a few hours, then you will need to sleep. Everything will be fine, Leo, relax.”
Bruce popped into human form at the edge of the veil. “The Yolk is still clear. Let’s move out.”
I grabbed my father’s shoulder. “Call Al. She can get you in the Grove. Come visit me.” My father slapped me on the back. I dropped into wolf form and followed Bruce back across the rotten smelling battlefield.
Once we reached the Grove, several of the men peeled off for the hedge maze at the MacTernan estate, including Dagen. I followed Rafferty down the dusty path as he picked up speed toward his home.
“Where’s Dagen?” Alerie asked, looking down the path.
Rafferty stood up from the grass in human form. One of his smiling female friends brought him a towel, and a glass of herbal tea.
“Leo, can I get you a drink?” The woman called out.
“Yes, Leo, come inside and get situated. I think Bruce needs to speak with my daughter.”
Bruce’s black fur tore down the path toward the house. Alerie sat on a bench at the side of the courtyard next to a small trickling pond with two cold drinks in hand.
“Can I talk to you, Alerie?” Bruce approached wearing jeans, carrying his socks and shoes with him.
“Sure thing.” A tinge of fear filled my mind.
“You’re Raff’s daughter and all but.” Bruce accepted the glass I offered and took a long drink.
“It’s okay. Say what you need to say.”
“Please leave my friend alone. He’s neglecting his life. You have too many problems to be good for him.”
“Dagen deserves a woman who has her shit together,” I nodded.
“I’m not qualified to judge you, but he’s changed over the past weeks. His life needs his attention, and it’s suffering.”
“We skipped over a major chunk of the dating paradox because of our wolves.”
“What do you mean?”
“They claimed each other? Sex is phenomenal when they take over. It’s pretty great when they don’t too.”
“If your wolf claimed his or his claimed yours, there isn’t anything to be done. He will follow after you.” Bruce smiled at me. I could tell he understood.
“Are you the same age as Dagen?”
“I’m a few years younger but close enough.”
“How does it end? I mean, we could live five hundred years.”
“Personally, I hope to die in battle, but I dream about a quiet death warm alongside a beautiful woman. I’m not that lucky, though.”
“The thought of Dagen dying.” Tears floated in my eyes. “My father showed me a memory of him with a dead woman and child. It broke my heart.”
“His first wife,” Bruce whispered. “She was younger than you. Killed in the Grove.”
“I want to be everything he needs, but I don’t know how. I grew up with the idea of two or more partners in my Clan. It’s normal for us—expected. Dagen needs someone who will focus on only him.”
“I don’t pretend to know what Dagen needs, but I understand now why he can’t stay away from you. We’re from a different time.”
“My life is complicated, but I can see it settling down. I want Dagen in my life. I want him happy. But I can’t ignore the people already in my life. I’ve never asked anything from him.”
“That’s part of the problem. Let Dagen do something for you. Let him provide for you even in some small way, so he feels like he deserves you.”
“Deserves me? I want so many things with Dagen, but I have no right to ask for them.” I dropped my head and felt the knot in my stomach tighten.
“Ask anyway. Because you two are speaking different languages. The old way and the present day. My friend is losing his mind.”