Fur vs Skin

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18.

There’s a reason I’m alone.


“How’d I do?”

The day trended by slowly, the hours consisted of practicing my handy work on the task given to me by Dyani. A few forgotten attempts lied in the snow by my feet, showcasing how often I’ve failed to create something so simple, all while Arsen created his own tower of make-shift leaf bowls. A tinge of jealousy shoots through my veins as I contain myself from pouting like a child at his obvious skill set.

Dyani shifts her eyes away from the child before her, briefly releasing the child to return back to their own task as they scurry back to their seat.

She examines my work— the holes poked through the texture of the leaf too big and wide for anything to be held together. Her brows slim brows twitch before she spares me a reassuring smile.

“You’ll get used to it soon enough,” she tells me.

I only sigh in response, relaxing my shoulders as my hands fall into my lap. I also take the small moment to give rest to my fingers, placing the horribly constructed bowl to the side as I bring them to my lips, blowing on them to warm the blood that’s frozen beneath.

My gaze darts around the area, soaking in the atmosphere that has in a way, comforted me; my eyes wander to the far side of the clearing where Marcus and Santha still stood near the elders, their faces hidden from my sight. Are they talking about me? To interrogate me about the nameless... vampire? my mind wonders, still stricken at the exact that such a thing exists. Yet, here I subject myself to a community of Lycans.

Movement from the corner of my eye catches my attention as a small dark-skinned, ginger-haired boy removes himself from his seat on the log, darting in our direction to stand before Grey. He outstretches his hand, presenting his lopsided bowl with pleading green eyes. I watch as Grey sets aside her own work, soundlessly taking the bowl from the boy and easily fixing what he couldn’t: tightening a know that was causing the loose framework. The child watches her as well, learning silently with his eyes.

Not even a minute later, she hands him back his artwork, not fully fixing what he couldn’t yet leaving enough to where he could try on his own. An uncharacteristic smile forms on her face, her features not their usual scowl as she runs her fingers through his hair before ushering him away. The action surprises me, my gaze gliding across her face.

Maybe she wasn’t as bad as I thought.

As if feeling my eyes brushing her skin, she flicks her gaze to the side, catching mine in a stare. The smile disappears the second we make eye contact, the look of disgust shaping and forming her face. The grey of her eyes molt to silver, narrowing as her lip curls up into a snarl and I make the quick decision of glancing away.

I take it back.

Her eyes burn through the surface of my flesh, her unhidden dislike for me radiating through the air and slicing at my skin like tiny needles, pricking me. I clench my hands in my lap, unsure of her reason for such dislike for me when I haven’t done anything to earn it.

The word ‘half-breed’ unknowingly rings through my ears.

Arsen rumbles beside me, seeming to have caught her stare as I catch a glimpse of him glaring at her with his own sense of emotion from my peripheral. A small tsk is followed by the sound of shuffling snow about as she rises to her feet. The wind within the area picks up, brushing her tresses over her shoulders, squaring them with a rise of her chest.

“I’m done for the day,” her words glide smoothly off her tongue, directing them toward Dyani, “If Santha asks, I’ve went to join the other warriors in the woods for training.”

With one final side-glance at my form, she saunters forward, crossing the clearing with her slim legs before she breaks through the forest line; gone from sight, her dark tresses the only thing illuminating in my vision. A breath I hadn’t realized I was holding exits my lungs in a deep exhale, the tightness in my chest vanishing and the pressing weight of her presence lifts from my shoulders.

“Don’t worry about her,” Dyani says after a moment and I turn my attention toward her.

The freckles that dotted her cheeks expand as she smiles, brows furrowed in reassurance. “She’s always been like that.”

“Yeah,” I mumble, staring off into the space where she disappeared to, “I’m sure she is.”

Arsen shuffles closer to me from his sit in the ground, thick leaves scattered in the shape of a blanket beneath him, used to keep his clothing dry from the snow. His warmth reaches through the layer of clothes, extending the gentle wave like a hand that embraces me within its hold and ripples a rush of tingles down my spine. I slant my eyes, his hazel ones colliding with mine in a question I’ve come familiar with identifying, his project long forgotten by his side.

I only nod my answer, resisting the pressing urge to reach forward and grasp his hand, still restricting myself to the new way of feeling, knowing what we were to one another.

“Trust,” Dyani giggles, drawing my focus back to her form, “she’s not as bad you think she may be.”

I swallow the scuff that tickles the roof of my mouth, “That’s a little hard to believe when she stares at me as if I sicken her.”

Dyani sighs causing me to finally glance at her face, noting the solemn look that shades her features, her eyes swirling with the appearance of sympathy; not for herself but for the dark-haired female.

“Though I don’t agree with Grey’s choice of action, she has her reasons. .”

Her eyes also glisten with something more than sympathy, a dark abyss taking hostage of her lively irises, briefly sucked into her thoughts. I say nothing more, letting her final words echo in the walls of my mind, again facing the reality that something darker lies beneath this place and the people that inhabit it. They hold more than the eye can see, my own case of demons not as prone as theirs.

“Anyway, Amelia,” Dyani starts, setting aside her bowl to turn to face me, giving me her full attention.

The dark atmosphere that clouded above dispersed with the sudden clap of her hands, her happy attitude returning.

“I hope you don’t mind me asking you a few questions, it’s not every day that the village gets new visitors.”

My lips tug, letting her positive glow affect me, pushing my thoughts to a place in my head I dared not to venture.

“Of course,” I accept, watching the way her eyes lit up, “I’ll answer them the best I can.”

She beams, nodding before rocking herself from side to side, adjusting her frame in her seat, her lips parting to speak. “To start things off, you’re very beautiful, I couldn’t help but notice you’re distinct features. . are you mixed with anything?”

My cheeks begin to flame at her words, my hands finding the ends of my hair, wrapping it lightly around my finger before pushing the strand behind my ear.

“Yes,” I answer, “I’m half Chinese and half African-American,” I answer, averting my gaze temporarily.

“It’s funny that you say that,” I add quietly, gazing off as memories begin to play, “while growing up, many weren’t too fond of me for being what I was.”

“Why?”

I shake my head, “That’s the way people were and I didn’t try to change their vision of me.”

A hand closes over the top of my knee, the same gentle warmth that radiated from Arsen was coursing through Dyani, different, but distinctly familiar as her grip tightens. Breaking myself from my daydream, I turn to hold her eyes once more, expecting sympathy but caught off guard when acceptance shone from the depths of them. Bright and strong like the rays of the sun breaking through the clouds.

“In this village, we don’t objectify ourselves in categories because of our skin or who our parents decided to mate with,” she explains, “we all bleed the same and worship the same ones who created us.”

My eyes cast to the others that walk across the clearing and some sitting in groups of other activities. It wasn’t the noise of constant chatter or the giggles of passing children but the difference in skin tones and features that brought this place to life, all merging into one big family.

“Humans function weirdly, I might add,” Dyani shakes her head.

A chuckle rises from my chest, “I couldn’t agree more.”

Her smile returns as she removes her hand, crossing her leg over the other as she leans back.

“If I’m not prying too much, how was your childhood?”

My shoulders rise then drop as I reach up to scratch at the nape of my neck, “Besides the few disheartening people, I had a pretty okay-ish one,” I shrug again, not sure how to word things. “My parents loved me to the fullest but were very. . . tight-ropped when it came to me, being that I was their only child.”

Dyani smacks her hands on her exposed thighs, “Ugh! I wished I was the only child. I have four other siblings and they’re a pain in my rectum.”

I snort, shaking my head, “It gets pretty lonely, I sometimes wished I had a sibling to bond with.”

“Take mine, please.”

Another round of chuckles escapes me and Dyani smiles. A small moment of silence encases us, my gaze once again cutting across the clearing before they land on the elders, Marcus and Sanath. They still seemed to be in deep conversation, their mouths moving around the words of their language; my distance made it hard to hear anything they were saying.

A dark shadow took hold of Marcus’s face, his lips moving furiously, his posture calm but his eyes telling a different Staley. Sanath sits beside him, her hand resting on his forearm, her own features at a standstill.

Guilt strikes at my heartstrings. Before I could allow my thoughts to lure me, Arsen suddenly shifts his weight until his head is leaning against my thigh. A small rumble vibrates his chest at the contact, his attention still focused forward. I inhale sharply, the intensity of the tingles shocking as they run up and down my leg, spreading to my toes and filling out the rest of my body. My fingers itch with the notion to run them through his dark tresses.

Dyani awe’s beside me, “That’s so cute. Are you both mates?”

My heart drums a beat along my ribcage, his closeness racking havoc within my mind. The pull of our connection weighs heavily, butterflies fluttering about in the pits of my stomach at the awakened and strengthen bond from the simple touch.

Dyani awe’s beside me, “That’s adorable. Are you both mates?”

I slowly nod my answer, “Yes,” my voice flies with the wind but I’m certain she heard me.

It felt almost surreal for me to admit it out loud, confirming the feelings associated with said word, furthering linking Arsen and I than him being someone that saved me from the eager hands of the cold that would have taken me that fatal day. It was one thing to it hear from Santha, but for it to slip from my tongue was another.

“Of course,” she whispers, mostly to herself.

I finally took up my body’s urge to plant my fingers at the base of his head, scratching and rubbing circles. His eyes close, the curl of his lashes brushing the tips of his cheekbones as the rumbling in his chest rises an octave.

The prickling sensation of eyes falling upo my skin causes me to raise my head, the stares of the woman that sat among the log beside Dyani burn as they stare at Arsen and I: realization clouding their irises. It seems everyone has had the same thought process, curious as to who the large male that followed closely behind me was to me.

Dyani’s smile stretches from my peripheral, “May the goddess bless you.”

“Thank you.”

Her questions came to an end as the day grew quieter, though, from the glimmer in her eyes that never dimmed, she still wished to question me; her thirst for the knowledge of my existence not quite quenched and for that I thanked her. The sun began to dip below the horizon, bringing forth the canvas of orange, pink, and white as if someone stroked the skies to give it its wispy look and with light residing beneath the seams, the temperature began to drop. The children were long gone, residing with their families before nightfall completely fell.

The other members of the village were beginning to light the bonfire, the embers of the flames crackling as it grew tall, its orange glow brightening with each passing second. It flickers back and forth by an unforeseeable wind, dancing to its own song as life egged it into its early stages of life.

Arsen somehow fell asleep— my fingers massaging through his hair being the source— and I didn’t dare move an itch, my bottom screaming from the hardness of the log as his shallow breathing lulled my own tiredness. I tried my best to keep my shivering at a minimum but as the night grew darker, the coldness nipped at my skin, reaching through my clothes and seeping into my bones; my limbs becoming stiff.

It wasn’t until my gaze cast across the clearing did I notice Santha beckon for Arsen and me. I would be lying if I don’t say a current shot through my heart, excited to be engulfed by the warmth of the cabin that waited for our return. With a start, my hands find the structure of Arsen’s jaw, caressing him awake, my fingers rubbing at his hairline before they traveled to his shoulder: shaking him.

“Arsen,” I whispered, “we’re leaving now.”

He awakes with a stir, his eyes fluttering open as he lifts himself up. I immediately stand to my feet, noticing Marcus and Santha’s figures stalking in our direction. Reaching for the sky in a stretch, Arsen removes himself from his spot on the ground and towers over me, the sleep not too far from his eyes as I turn toward Dyani.

“Thank you for today,” I tell her, a smile gracing my lips.

Her own grin plays across her mouth as she stands, and I acknowledge the difference of our height by a few inches. She grabs ahold of a leaf bowl, handing it to me.

“You’re welcome, hope to you see you again.”

With one final wave, I swing around and let my steps guide me to the middle of the clearing where Santha and Marcus wait for us. Just before we were out of earshot from Dyani, she calls out to me, my gaze shifting over my shoulder.

“Don’t worry too much about being accepted here,” she informs me, “you’re already one of us more than you think, inside and out.”

Half-breed flashes in my mind’s eye once again.

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