Fit For Fire

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Tell Me You Want to Stay

The crisp scent of grass, wet earth, and heather dominated the mid-morning breeze. My eyes stayed trained on my sneakers as I traversed the well worn trail in front of me. This image, the shock of my white shoes against the muddied earth burned into my retinas as I committed it to memory. This was the morning I made a decision that would shape the rest of my life. If only I knew whether or not I was making the right one.

Each step I took was an opportunity to perfect the speech I had stayed up all night practicing. The bags under my eyes were a testament to the long hours I spent pacing my room, wondering what to say. How did you break it off with someone who considered it their duty to protect you? How do you reject someone who knows the answers to your life’s biggest questions? More disturbing than those questions, was the feeling that this was all wrong.

“Ade? Are you even listening?” I jerked my eyes from my shoes and looked up at Jeremy. His light eyes narrowed as I struggled to remember what it was we were talking about. “I’m sorry.” My eyes sunk back to my shoes, and I bit my lip. I couldn’t even pretend I had been listening. I had been so caught up in my own thoughts that I forgot Jeremy was even here.

“It’s okay. I was only talking about the full moon ceremony.” He smiled at me. Jeremy was walking me to the compound today. I asked Zach if I could do my final talk with Brenden alone. I didn’t want Zach in the room when I rejected him. I felt that would be cruel.

He understood but he didn’t feel comfortable leaving me alone so he sent Jeremy. Rogue and Pack relations was technically part of his job after all.“Cheer up kid.” Jeremy said, bumping into me with his shoulder. “Some people never find their mate and here you are with two” he joked. I looked over at him and tried to smile. His goofy expression fell away instantly.

“Everyone keeps talking about this like it’s going to be so easy, but the bond makes it difficult. Choosing this, knowing the kind of past Brenden and I have is hard. I know I don’t know the person he is now, but knowing what he was to me, and everything he has done . . .” I stop, no longer knowing where my words start and my feelings end. I’m also aware that this is probably really awkward for him. “I’m sorry, you probably don’t want to hear any of this.”

Jeremy shook his head. “Please don’t apologize. I can’t imagine what you’re feeling but I know that none of this is easy. I do get that you need to talk to someone on the outside of this crazy love-triangle though. I’m sure Zach is a wonderful listener, but he’s probably just a teensy bit biased.” He rolled his eyes.

“Just a bit. It’s not like he’s trying to keep his mate or anything.” I smiled. He laughed warmly, an easy smile stretching across his face. I wanted to join him. I wanted to share his carefree mood but I couldn’t. “Thank you for letting me vent.” I smiled at him as our eyes met. I wanted to let him know that I really was thankful for his company.

He opened his mouth to say something when suddenly a deafening ‘BOOM’ sounded on the other side of the forest. I screamed and my arms raised in an attempt to steady myself as the earth shifted beneath my feet. A cloud of flames and smoke mushroomed up over the tops of the trees. The compound was right in front of us, and we ran to it, Jeremy half dragging me as I had been frozen in place. As we approached the door slammed open and guards spilled out, each one looking tense and ready to jump into a fight . “Are all the prisoners accounted for?” Jeremy yelled towards them. “Yes!” Home destroyer, who happens to be in charge of running the compound, cried out. I squealed as the earth shook again, and another cloud of smoke and flames rose up next to the original fire. “Ade! Run inside the compound. Go up to the office and close the door. The front door will automatically lock, you’ll be safe there!” Jeremy commanded sharply. I stood still for a moment just staring at him. His behavior reminded me of the first time I met him.

Shaking myself from my daze I followed his instructions. I ran inside the front door that Home Destroyer held open for me. Once inside I turned and watched them run off towards the smoke and flames as the door closed behind me. Turning around, I wrapped my arms around myself as I walked towards the stairs that led up to the offices. I was half way there when the power suddenly went off. It was instantly pitch black. I stopped and raised my hands out in front of me, waiting for my eyes to adjust . A moment later, I heard the ‘hum’ of the background generator turn on and dim emergency lights began to flicker overhead. Walking over to the staircase I grabbed the rail and rested my head against it to help settle my racing heart.

For one horrible moment, I had believed that I would be trapped in here in the dark, until someone came to get me. “Still afraid of the dark?” A voice asked from behind me. Turning, my jaw dropped. Brenden was walking towards me with a loose grin on his lips and laughter in his eyes. All the bruising from the beating he had received when he arrived had healed. The only evidence of Zachs' brutality that remained were the blood stains on his white shirt that was rumpled from days of wear. Although his jacket was unzipped his hood was up. “Why do you look so surprised? You’re not the only person who can break out of locked cells you know.” He kept moving forward, still smiling. “How?” I asked, curious. “The power surge. This whole place is wired. When the power went off my door unlocked. I only had 30 seconds before the back-up generator kicked on and locked all the doors again.” He unexpectedly started to laugh. “Can you imagine the looks on their faces when they see my empty locked cell? Bet it takes the meat head in charge forever to figure out how I got out.” I smiled. I hated to admit it, but seeing the perplexed expression on Home destroyers face would be pretty funny.

“Won’t they have noticed that the power has gone out?” I asked, looking around the concrete compound nervously. “I doubt it, everyone is outside trying to put out the fire.” I froze. “That was you?” My tone knocked the satisfied expression off his face and he stopped a foot away from me. “Not technically me, but all part of the plan just the same. Did you think I came here to rescue you with no exit plan?” He asked with raised eyebrows. My breath hitched as I took in his handsome face. Damn cocky looked good on him.

“To be honest, I never really thought about it. I thought I was rescuing you.” I said quietly, my gaze leaving his face and drifting towards the door. Brenden came closer, and my eyes snapped back to his. Noticing how close he was getting I took a step back. It never occurred to me to be scared of him before, but now that I was completely alone with him I wasn’t sure how I felt. Besides, he was semi-responsible for the explosion. “You know people could have been hurt.” I said nodding my head in the direction of the bomb. “No, we made sure the area was remote. They wouldn’t have carried out the plan if there was anyone there.” He answered seriously.

“So pack lives matter to you?” I crossed my arms, thinking of the stories I had heard of rogues hating the idea of packs and those who belonged to them. My rehabilitation booklet had been filled with such stories, each one ending badly for the rogue, with the victimized pack always getting justice in the end. “All lives matter to me Adeline, that doesn’t mean I won’t fight back when I have to though.” He held my gaze, the laughter in his eyes momentarily replaced with exhaustion.

“Now that I no longer need to be rescued, you no longer need to make any rash decisions about being marked by that mate of yours.” Brenden said, breaking the loaded silence between us. “Ade, you’ve waited long enough for the answers to all your questions. Come with me.“. He knew my family. He could tell me everything I wanted to know. He reached for my hand and I started to give it to him. Thinking of Zach my hand froze. Our fingertips were so close to touching that I could feel the build up of potential energy between us. “What’s wrong?” Brenden asked softly while his eyes roamed my tense stance. ” Well . . . Zach . . . ” my hand dropped as I tried to figure out how to put my thoughts into words.

Brenden laughed darkly. “Your alpha.” Dropping his hand, he kicked the ground before turning to me, and closing the distance between us. “Your abductor” He shook my shoulders softly, his eyes flashing dangerously. “Ade look at me. You are his mate, right? His mate?” I nodded my head numbly as his sparks assaulted my senses. “Are you allowed to leave here?” He asked, his eyes darkening. “What?” I mumbled, not sure how to answer. “If you asked, would he let you go? Knowing how important this is to you, would he let you leave? Are you even technically allowed off of pack lands right now?” My mind flashed to the moments that I had asked to go home. I bit my lip. Technically, I shouldn’t even be seeing him right now.

My head dropped, ashamed. He hadn’t let me leave. After Zach took care of the hunters I could have my freedoms back right? Feeling Brenden’s fingers under my chin I allowed him to bring my eyes to his. “Are you his mate or his prisoner?” My eyes started to get misty as my own question left his lips. “Did he treat you like his mate, or like some random rogue in need of rehabilitation?” His sea green eyes sparkled under the dim lighting. I was briefly reminded of sea glass. A copper curl stuck out from under his hood and his movements had it dancing across his forehead. For a moment I could see the little boy who held me in the dark, and the kind stranger who guided me back home when I had started to stray.

A hot tear fell to my cheek. He had acted as my guardian and protector my whole life. Perhaps I should be listening to what he had to say now. I had been much more forgiving after I found out that Zach and I were mates. It was almost as if I was afraid to burn a bridge that could be my only link to true acceptance. I knew what was happening was wrong, but I had been too afraid of what I may lose to fully fight it. Another tear rolled down my chin. Had I forgotten who I was while flying around in this gilded cage?

“Ade.” Brendens voice softly coaxed me from my thoughts. I looked back up at him, and wiping my tears away he continued. “I’m sorry I stayed away as long as I did. I’m sorry I left you alone. I figured it would be better this way. I was wrong, I’m sorry. ” I nodded. I heard him, but forgiving him for leaving me in the dark, for letting me believe I was alone would not be easy. “Maybe everything was supposed to happen this way.” I shrugged. He laughed darkly, guilt still heavy in his eyes. “You’re too forgiving Ade. It’s my fault you’re here. ” He said as he pushed a hair out of my face. ” I never said I forgive you, but you are being too hard on yourself. It is hard to protect someone who doesn’t know they are being protected, and my life isn’t your responsibility. I decided to take a run on pack lands. Me. Maybe it is time you forget about my life and start living your own.” I said, working up to formally rejecting him. To set him free. “Is that what you think or what he thinks?” He asked angrily pointing towards the door.

“You can’t move on unless I reject you. I’ve made my choice. Please don’t get caught or waste your life on me.” I said weakly, my determination returning. If I stayed a rogue I could be caught again, and who knows what would happen to me. This was my chance at a normal life. I could be happy with Zach once he loosened up.“No! You’re just scared Ade. Tell me the truth, are you ready to be marked? Do you really feel like you’re making this choice because you’re ready? If your alpha came up to you right now and said he wanted to do it now, how would you feel?” He gripped my shoulders again, giving me a small shake with each question, his eyes examining my face as if he was searching for signs of life.

“I-I don’t know.” I yelled out, angry that he could see through me so easily. “Ade, marking is for life. This is a lifetime commitment, are you ready for that?” He yelled at me. “No!” I screamed back at him. He smiled. “Tell me you don’t want to go with me. Tell me that you want to stay again.” He commanded. I stayed silent. I couldn’t bring myself to say anything so I just looked at him. All I wanted was to make a decision that truly felt like it was mine.

Placing his hand against my face, I closed my eyes enjoying how calming his touch was. “I understand that you’re scared. I won’t force you to try to leave now. You’ve told me everything you need to.” He said before pulling me closer. Leaning down, he kissed me passionately. The kiss only lasted for 30 seconds but it left my knees weak. “You have no idea how long I’ve been dreaming of doing that.” He said beaming at me. “Stay strong Ade, I’ll be seeing you soon.” He winked. “Oh and try not to get marked before tomorrow night okay?” He asked with a laugh that didn’t quite reach his eyes. I nodded at him weakly.

“If I were you, I’d find a way to get my scent off of you.” He said before ruffling my hair. Walking passed me he waved, opened the front door to the compound and was gone.

***

After finding the restroom in the upstairs offices and washing my hands and face, I sprayed a fine mist of air freshener and walked through it. Going back to what I came to know as ‘the interview office’, I walked in and locked the door behind me. Deciding that the desk chair behind the desk on the far side of the room would be the most comfortable, I walked there, sat down and just stared into the room. What had just happened? Did I just let a rogue, who had made plans to bomb pack land, escape jail after cheating on my chosen mate with him?

Who am I? I thought to myself as I laid my head down on top of my arms. Thinking about the kiss, my cheeks burned. The desk was cold and hard and moving my hands, I let my cheek rest on its cool surface for a moment, hoping it would help put out the fire. Although the cold felt good on my skin, it did nothing to ease the flames of unease that burned inside me. I didn’t feel guilty about letting Brenden escape, and I knew I should have. I was about to become the luna of this pack, and I let something that could potentially endanger them happen. By proposing that Zach mark me, I was choosing to commit my life and loyalties to him as my partner, and instead of sticking to an agreement we made, I let Brenden walk out the door. I also let him kiss me. My hand momentarily moved to my lips, and the thought of Brenden’s lips moving against mine pushed to the front of my mind once more.

Moving my face to my hands I groaned. Remember when life was simple? I asked myself, yearning for my bed and that tray of brownies I never got to fully enjoy. I tried to give myself some grace, there were a lot of gray areas I could claim as my base of operations here. First off, I don’t know the first thing about being a luna, secondly, Brenden is my mate, well, one of them, and I do happen to owe him for the ways he has helped me in my life. Third, I’ve known Zach for what, a month? A month and a half? Although I think I know enough to trust him, I don’t. He took me from my home and was forcing this life on me. Who knows if Brenden would have made it onto that bus, regardless of how we marked and mated?

I tried to use this roundabout form of reasoning to ease my guilt, but all it did was inspire deeper questions that my shallow view on the situation hadn’t allowed room for. The way I had answered Brenden’s questions had made me uncomfortable. I was about to make a really big decision that I was in no way ready for. At some point during my inner struggle I had considered Zach’s will and my own, and somehow, I came to the conclusion that I had no chance of winning. I was just holding out on my loss, and when I saw that loss could save Brenden, I used it. I played my own defeat like the winning hand in a high stakes’ poker game, and I did it shamelessly.

Who was I? I had fought so hard for everything I had wanted, I believed in myself when there was no one to do it for me, yet somehow in the midst of all this, I had given up on myself when it had mattered most. I had argued that this wasn’t surrender. That this was giving myself something more, that this was inevitable. Inevitable or not though, I’m not ready for it. Brenden made me realize that not only am I scared of what this kind of commitment means, but the actual process of it. Being bitten hard enough to physically brand me, not only made me feel like property but sounded horrible. What part of being bitten so hard it forever scars you sounds nice? The easy answer? None of it.

If I told Zach I wasn’t ready he would wait right? A part of me said he would. A part of me didn’t want him too. The part of me that wanted him at every hour of every day wanted this so bad it hurt. It hurt almost as much as the self loathing those thoughts created. The very human side of me though was too wrapped up in the minutiae of it all to subscribe to all that. Closing my eyes, I tried not to focus on Brenden’s words, on my own fears or on Brenden’s soft lips against mine. I tried to focus instead on my breathing, and making my thoughts as steady and sure as every inhale and exhale.*

***

Hi there,

I'm sorry for the wait. This week got really busy, and when I went to post this chapter, I realized I had been so tired when I wrote it, that it was lazily written. I was unhappy with it so I ended up going back through and fixing it up. So here it is, I hope you are all hanging in there.

-Sheisthestorm

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