Fur vs Skin

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12.

Don’t be afraid to walk alone. Don’t be afraid to like it.


After Marcus’s introduction for me, he released everyone back to their previous activities. Some lingered near the bonfire –it long burnt out, casting their eyes my way; while discreetly watching me with caution in their eyes. I ignored them all, hiding away the nerves from their prying eyes as Marcus once again strides his way toward me, that friendly, welcoming smile still on his lips.

“Well, how was that?”

“It was good, what was that language? Greek?” I question, feigning innocence.

He nods, stuffing his hand in his pocket, “Yes. Are you familiar with it?”

I shrug, ” Lucky guess? I’ve also heard it before when I was in college.”

As soon as my lips form around the finishing lie, I couldn’t help the sharp zap of pain that sliced the strings of my heart. The mention of the building that brought me nothing, but stress, anxiety, and tears hit too close to home –a place that was ripped brutally from my fingertips. I angle my head bit so that Marcus couldn’t see the smile drop my face with the evidence of hurt in my eyes.

“Come walk with me.”

I shift my eyes back toward him as his words linger in the air. Confusion distracting me from earlier emotions.

“Walk with you?” I say.

“Yes, we won’t go far, just walking outside the perimeter of this clearing.”

I mull it over for a short second before nodding, making the motion to stand on my feet. Arsen, watching the whole interaction, goes to stand to his feet as well when Marcus swings his arm out; stopping him from standing.

“Stay here,” he tells him, “We won’t be long and she isn’t going far.”

Marcus adds that last part, more for his sake bringing the obvious that he was stuck to my hip, never wanting to leave my side. Arsen squints from beneath his lashes, still hunched over as if to stand, he leveled his gaze for a few moments with Marcus. It was when the older man beside me raised his brow, challenging, that he shifted his gaze with an unmistakable angry huff.

His eyes slide to mine, the dusty color the grey clouds brought to the world caused his eyes to reflect their brilliancy, sparkling. My heart skips at the simple act of connecting gazes, with warm blood rushes to the destination in my cheeks, I avert my gaze.

“It’ll be okay,” I mumble, reassuringly.

As if my wandering words were what he needed to hear, he relaxes. Looking between Arsen and me, Marcus chuckles lightly and beckons me to follow, setting his path to where we long come from upon arrival earlier.

“Marcus.”

The voice was low but loud at the same time, stopping him within his tracks, not that many steps taken from the bonfire’s place of non-existence. Simultaneously, we both turn to find where the voice had come from, seeing Marriak; one of the elders, walking towards us. I ball my hands together as his slender frame gets closer, her gazing flickering from me to Marcus.

“Elder Maarika,” Marcus calls out.

“I couldn’t help but overhear you back there,” she answers, her voice thick and evident that she spoke another language besides English. “Do you mind if I join?”

“Not at all.”

Maarika graces him with a tiny smile at his response, coming to stand beside him, our bodies positioned in a tiny triangle. The feeling of penetrating eyes scorching the back of my head, the flames behind this stare threatening my skin as it teases my flesh with its heat, I resist the urge to turn back as the three of us tread through the snow until it became unbearable, I shift a glance over my shoulder to find the other elder – Cade – looked on with narrowed eyes. They lowered further when we locked gazes.

’He doesn’t like me,′ I concluded within my mind, looking away.

We made it to the outskirts, taking the path that walked among the edge line of the forest that separated the endless forest from this clearing. The silence between us all was sort of comfortable, neither one of us wanting to speak yet. I turned my attention to accessing the scene before me, and from this view, I could finally see the structure of this pack; the trees hid away other structured homes, small huts kind of, made from logs and the surrounding area’s materials.

They were all placed away from the clearing yet at the same time close enough, taking on the shape of a circle, the whiteness of the snow and the dark rich color of the bases of the trees with their snow littered tops, everything blended into one mysterious wonderland.

Angling my head, I finally notice the houses that were scattered across the plane of land, of all different sizes: telling stories as they come back full circle to surround the clearing. East, to west, north to south the homes stretched, showing the inhabitants of the woods made from their own community, hidden away from the rest of the world.

“How are you coming to accustom to things?”

I’m shocked by Maarika’s words, her attempt at starting a conversation was unlikely in my head. I round my eyes back to her fine, accessing her staggering walk that indicated age yet she still held her head high, confidence etched beneath her shrewd features.

“I’m. . I’m still coming around,” I answer hesitantly, taking in the weight of her question, “It’s still all a bit overwhelming.”

“As expected,” she mumbles, lifting her eyes to look up at the snow-covered leaves, wind wisping them into a sway before she turns and glances over her shoulder. “It seems you’re taking it well, though.”

I let my lips tug into a small smile, feeling as if they were being pulled by strings in a staggered way; that’s how fake it felt. Falling into another lake of silence, I let my gaze wander the venue before me, watching as the members spoke among each other, the smaller children chasing one another in a game of tag; their bells of laughter drifting it to the light atmosphere that hung overhead. I could identify the different age groups as they splayed across the clearing, invested in their own activities that kept them occupied, the tangling noise of laughter and voices further bringing this community to life.

My gaze slides over to where Arsen still sat, surprised that his gaze wasn’t fixated on me but staring out into the woods. I took this short moment to let my eyes wander, taking in his appearance; his frame loomed at a towering height despite him sitting, his shoulders were structured broad and eye-catching adding to his height.

The black shirt, taken from Marcus’s set of clothing, fit him snuggly, every breath intake that accompanied his body causing the material to expand — contrasting beautifully with his golden skin and denim jeans.

It wasn’t his build that made him stand out from others though it was an addition, his facial features were chiseled sharply, bringing his chin covered in a shallow layer of hair, the slenderness of his noise compatible with the full and pulpiness of his lips; those dark eyes replicating the night sky, clouded with darkness and specs of yellow, swirling with a story of their own within them. Rationally, this was a gorgeously made man, his features more defined when up close and it wasn’t a surprise when others began to notice as well.

His inability to speak and unwillingness to interact with everyone else makes him stick out like a sore thumb. His face was unapproachable for anyone with the thought of walking up to him.

My gaze flits to the group settled behind him, in a smaller circle of make-shift benches, the woman access Arsen with their calculating eyes, the look of interest not too far from the surface. As if feeling their gazes upon his skin, licking the awareness of their stares to his attention, he turns around; immediately met with the casted eyes of the members, starting a conversation as if they weren’t staring.

‘Like I’m doing.’

I shake away the thought, crossing my arms under my chest, and try to shift my eyes away from his daunting frame. Attraction causes me to look back, my body jerking with shock when I come find him looking in my direction; the collision of our stare was intense, the distance between us doing nothing to stop the buzz of electricity to circulate the air and bring my body to a flushed hum.

“Enjoying the view?”

I yelp, startled, at the voice that breathes near my ear. Whipping my attention to my side, I find Marcus’s mirth filled face staring down at me, casting a glance toward Maarika, I slouch deeper into my coat to hide the redness in my ears.

“What view? I’m not sure what you’re talking about.” I muttered, embarrassed.

He only chuckles airily, and eventually, we come to a stop, our path taking us in a full circle to where we started; the walk a good exercise on my legs and mind. Instead of trudging back where the others were, we stood there, the trees looming over our heads with their bare appearances. Marcus strides through the snow, his short bid goodbye, meeting up with Santha at the pile of blackened branches that centered the area.

“To make this known,” Maarika begins, the bamboo materialized shawl over her shoulders, crinkling with her movements. “don’t take it to heart when everyone doesn’t immediately warm up to you, they aren’t that well acquainted with the existence of your. . . kind.”

“I understand. I don’t expect them to,” I answer, skipping my gaze across the field.

The weight of her stare plaster itself on the side of my face and I dare meet her head-on not a second later, the brown of her eyes was calculating, inspecting my form and demeanor just as she had when I first arrived; the mission behind them unknown to my consciousness. Gradually, her eyes light with a gentle look something close to acceptance. She turns away to look out toward her people.

“I’ve noticed your interaction with the male, Arsen.”

I agree, bobbing my head up and down.

“That’s the first I’ve seen him in his human form, the last time being when he was a child,” she says, almost in wonder and sparking my interest. “You must be his mate.”

“I’ve been told,” I respond, the word awakening a deep unknown sensation in my chest, spreading to the ends of my veins.

“Then you’re aware of his Lycan form then?”

The image of Arsen shifting from the towering beast that had chased me down the first moments I had awoken here, slid to the forefront of my brain, reminding me of the other side that lied beneath the flesh of his skin.

“I am.”

From the corner of my eye, I watch her shift her attention to Arsen’s frame, watching as he watched me, the corners of her mouth twitching with the apparent amusement at the male’s inability to keep his eyes off of me.

“He wasn’t always like this,” she says, accessing his character “he was a wild child with an impressive imagination back then, always willing to help. . .”

Within the short walk, I found myself comfortable in her presence, my interest in her words as flow with a story close behind with the first insight of Arsen’s past. She had my full attention, my body angling toward her.

“What happened to him?” I couldn’t help but question.

Her gazes meet mine, “His parents were killed."

Shock rockets off inside me, the sad look stretching to her eyes. I was breathless, the information striking me still with the well-known emotion of grief. Not one, but he lost both his parents, left with no one to care for him.

“Wha. . .?”

Maarika shakes her head, “The trauma of it forced him to shift into his Lycan form early, being that we have a certain age that we have the ability to do so. Ever since his first shift, he has trapped himself in that form, no matter how much we begged him to turn back.”

“Until you.”

Turning away from her, I return my gaze back to Arsen, the newfound information striking the heartstrings that connected deeply with my emotions.

They squeeze and constricted the organ within its cage, a deep part of me calling out to the pain that still lingered within him — plucking at the thread in the back of my head. He looks on in wonder, confused by the state of empathy that settled on my face.

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