Over the next few days, I found myself feeling anxious.
Under the constant watchful eye of both my father and Gavin, I continued to play along with my usual daily routine. Acting as if nothing was amiss. Doing all the training that was asked of me. But, inside, I was thinking back to that keycard.
The one I’d hidden under my mattress. Waiting for exactly the right moment for when I’d be able to use it.
…A moment I found finally presented itself on the night of the third day.
With my father expected to be staying overnight elsewhere for a late meeting and Gavin only working until seven o’clock, I saw an opportunity to take advantage of the soon-to-be quiet house.
And I devised a plan to leave as soon as the sky grew dark.
A few hours later, I was slowly scaling to the ground from my bedroom window. This being something I did with ease and without being seen. And though I never thought to use my abilities to go behind my father’s back, I certainly couldn’t deny that it came in handy.
Soon, before much time had passed at all, I found myself facing the door I’d been thinking of so incessantly. The door I’d been wondering about every day, contemplating all of the things I could possibly discover once I entered through it.
A door that might just possibly change my life forever.
And I stared at it.
And I kept staring, even while my hand reached out several times to knock, failing every time to go through with it.
…I’d been so certain in my decision and come all this way, only to—.
But then, suddenly, the door opened in front of me.
“…Are you just going to stand out there all night?” came a voice from inside.
It was his voice. I recognised it well now.
“I ah…,” I started, feeling a little awkward for being caught. “I’m sorry. I just… I—.”
“It’s okay. No need to be sorry,” he said, his face then appearing from the other side of the door.
Instantly, that same effect started to hit me, a reassurance spreading throughout as his presence held me. “I get it. If you need more time to think, I can just leave this open. I’m not pressuring you to d—.”
“No!” I quickly blurted out. “No, it’s okay. Everything is okay… I’m ready.”
I came here with determination to get answers. I couldn’t back out now. Whatever happened tonight, at least I could say that I tried. My mistake would only lie in wanting to hope for a better life.
“Okay… well, come on in,” he said.
I was ready to step through the door but was stopped as he held a hand out to me. Just as he had done so once before.
However, the last time he’d done that, I had been too overwhelmed to reciprocate. Too many thoughts and questions holding me back, so unsure of everything that had been happening at the time.
Now, when I looked at his outstretched hand, I saw a possible beginning.
‘”I just need you to trust me,”’ he had said to me that day.
Well, I couldn’t be sure if I was ready for that just yet, but I was at least willing to believe. Believe that there was a chance of this being real… if only for a moment.
…And so I cautiously reached out… hesitating once or twice as I moved… before, finally, those same sparks tingled along my skin in greeting upon contact.
“I’m really glad you came back, Raven,” he said, his voice low and eyes so intense.
And, instantly, I felt as my cheeks began to burn ever so slightly.
…Clearly, I would need to be careful in more ways than one around him. I could see how easy it would be to become distracted from the mission at hand.
“This doesn’t mean I trust you,” I clarified. “And I… I’d like some sort of proof. I’m risking a lot by coming here and I feel it’s only fair that you prove you are what you say you are.”
He gently pulled me forward through the front door and closed it behind me, his gaze never leaving mine. From where I stood, he towered over me, something that I became painfully aware of as I became trapped between him and the exit.
“…I think I can manage that,” he said.
Now that we were completely alone, the way he looked at me only intensified. As if he were somehow devouring me with his eyes. Eyes that I could have sworn appeared darker for a split second.
Or maybe it was just the lighting.
“Make yourself at home.”
He finally stepped back, releasing me, and quickly I walked around him into the living room. Desperately trying not to let myself become too comfortable around him.
Inside, the room was huge. As I’d suspected the other day, the place was definitely some sort of penthouse. Honestly, it felt larger than some people’s houses in here.
Room enough to host an elaborate party without feeling even remotely cramped.
“I would normally advise against doing anything like this indoors but… well, the city isn’t exactly an ideal place to do something where people might see,” he said as he walked behind me.
“We’ll just have to make do with the space we have here.”
Space? Space for what?
But as I turned to look at him, I had to fight the urge to i just spin right back around again.
Because he stood to the side as he watched me, slowly starting the process of unbuttoning his shirt.
“What are you doing?” I yelled in surprise, unable to stop myself from looking.
He didn’t seem phased in any way though, his lip twitching into a smile.
“It’s my favourite shirt,” he said, as if it were chylous. “11 don’t want it to get ruined.”
My eyes caught sight of his chest as he continued unbuttoning, his actions undeterred from my cries in protest. The skin that was revealed seemed moulded around perfectly sculpted muscles underneath. A sight I never would have expected to be hiding behind his shirt. Sure, I knew he was strong… but this?
I swallowed and quickly tried to refocus my thoughts.
“…Ruined?” I asked feebly.
“Yeah… for the shift?” he said almost a little confused. ” You asked me to prove we were the same, remember?”
But, wait… he wasn’t going to do that in here, was he? And my mind immediately recalled the massacres I would wake up to post-change.
“Isn’t that… dangerous?” I quickly asked. “Do I need to lock you inside a room?”
This immediately made him laugh, much to my embarrassment.
I was here for answers. Right now, I could only make assumptions based on the knowledge I had. And that knowledge… it wasn’t pleasant.
I glared at the ground, becoming lost in thought over my prior experiences. So lost that I didn’t even notice when he appeared right in front of me. And, instantly, a shiver ran through me involuntarily.
“Raven,” he said quietly, drawing in my attention. “I promise you, there is absolutely nothing in this world that could ever make me hurt you. I am the last person you will ever need to worry about.”
And a part of me wanted so badly to believe him.
Before I could respond though, he moved past me to start pushing couches and other pieces of furniture out the way, clearing an area in the middle. By the time he was done, there was a semi-large open space in which he stood looking at me expectantly.
“Are you ready?” he asked.
I took a step back cautiously and nodded my head. …And then… something unbelievable happened.
I stood in shocked silence as I watched him shift forms in a mere matter of seconds. Changing and transforming effortlessly until all that was left was a wolf.
A large dark brown wolf that stared at me knowingly, a look embedded within those familiar hazel eyes.
But I didn ‘t feel like running or feel even remotely afraid, as I thought I would. Instead, I felt recognition from deep within myself. As though this felt… right.
Slowly, I started to walk towards him, moving until I was crouched right in front of him. And, in response, he laid down on the ground, presumably trying to make himself appear less threatening.
Was he really in control right now? Would this wolf move if he instructed it to? He looked at me as if he knew exactly who I was, knew exactly what he was doing.
And, ultimately, I decided to trust that instinct… reaching out hesitantly to touch his fur.
“So soft,” I mused aloud to myself.
His eyes closed upon contact, allowing me to continue feeling the different textures. And though I didn’t feel the same sparks as when I touched his skin, I still felt an unexplainable connection.
“Will this really be something I can do?” I asked.
It seemed impossible to think that I could go from blackouts and bloody murders to anything even close to this level of control. But Kieran apparently disagreed with that mentality.
To my question, he raised his head and gave me a nod, confirming that this really was something attainable. My chest ached with new possibilities.
“…I want to learn this,” I whispered. “I don’t want to be so afraid anymore.”
I’d always felt so lonely, thinking I was a freak all these years. But seeing Kieran like this now… knowing that he could teach me and was willing to help me learn about who I really was… It honestly felt like the final piece of the puzzle was coming together.
These problems I had were apparently completely normal. Natural. No lies or nefarious intentions… just purely a part of being this species.
And if he had been telling me the truth so far… did that mean I really could trust him?
Abruptly, Kieran then stood up, shaking his fur and running off into a room I couldn’t see. I was taken a little off guard by the sudden movement but tried not to react. He had clearly proven already that he had no intention of mauling me.
When he did finally emerge again, he was back to his normal self and tugging on a shirt.
“Your turn,” he said, walking over to me. But this immediately made me freeze.
“Wait, no. I thought that there’d be like… exercises or something to do first. Some way to practice safely,” I argued, slowly getting back up to my feet. “I don’t think it’s a good idea for me to just jump right in and do that here.”
“There isn’t any way to learn other than to just do it. I’ll be right here to help talk you through it. Nothing bad will happen, I promise.”
I started to feel sick at the thought of blacking out, wondering if it would be Kieran’s body I’d find dead upon waking this time. Or worse, what if I didn’t black out and was forced to watch helplessly as the wolf attacked?
I quickly shook my head. “I… I really don’t think that’s a good idea. You’ll get hurt.”
But he just smiled as if he didn’t believe me.
“Raven, I guarantee that your wolf won’t hurt me,” he said.
How could he be so sure though? I’d seen the aftermath for myself, seen what happened whenever I shifted. To just… jump in and do it without any safety precautions…? It was suicidal.
But before I could protest again, he grabbed my hands, stopping any more arguments from me. “I know what I’m doing,” he reassured me. I met his eyes and, slowly, I tried to calm myself down.
He really did seem sure of himself… and he had been telling me the truth so far. Didn’t I owe him this much, at least?
“…Okay,” I finally agreed. And we got to work
Within ten minutes, I was standing in the middle of the living room wearing nothing but a dressing gown; complimentary of the hotel, and a necessity so my clothes didn’t get torn to shreds.
I could feel the anxiety in my chest bubbling to the surface as every second passed. Wondering just what would happen this time.
“Calm down. It’s going to be fine,” Kieran said for the millionth time.
He stood in front of me as he gave instructions, allowing me no more time to object before starting.
“It’s important that you focus on my voice and do everything I say. Let’s start by closing your eyes.”
I looked at him one last time, hoping to absorb a little of his confidence, before doing as he asked.
“Okay, good,” he said. “Now… you need to visualise your wolf. Reach deep within yourself and talk to her.”
Talk to her? I didn’t know that was a thing. I hadn’t ever felt another presence before. But… per his orders, I attempted to do as he requested, reaching out to the beast I’d tried so hard to suppress.
“You need to stop being so afraid of her and start viewing her as an extension of yourself,” he continued. ” You are both the same person. She will follow your lead if you want her to.”
Right. I just needed to forget about everything she’d done and just… move on? What were several gory murders in the grand scheme of things….
“Now, visualise yourself changing and becoming her. Then relax… and let go ”
The nausea came first, making me want to throw up. But it didn’t take long before….
I cried out in pain as I felt something breaking inside and, within seconds, one of my legs began to buckle.
“Breathe and focus on my voice,” Kieran said. “Just let your body do what it needs to. Don’t fight it.”
But the nausea quickly turned into pain. Pain that was unbearable and only became worse as I continue to hear every bone inside slowly break, feel every bit of flesh reforming.
Before long, I was unable to stop myself from screaming as it became too much.
“…Raven?” I vaguely heard Kieran say near me.
I writhed around on the floor, clawing at my body as I begged for the torture to just end. In that moment, I would have been grateful for death.
“I thought you said you’d shifted before…” he said as if talking to himself, a tone of confusion in his voice. “…It shouldn’t be this painfuL…”
But I couldn’t respond, my entire thoughts already consumed by the hell I was experiencing.
Already, my vision was flickering to darkness, threatening to make me blackout at any second. It was taking everything I had inside to hold on for as long as was.
“Hey… Raven? Raven!”
Kieran was grabbing me now, trying to stop me from hurting myself further, but it did little to help. Even his touch wasn’t enough to stop the pain now, no longer able to feel the sparks 1’ had come to expect from his touch.
Just… a little bit… longer….
I needed to do this. To become stronger. I… could learn to control this.
…But, in the end, I wasn’t strong enough.
With one final cry of agony, I felt the last piece of restraint completely slip away.
And, soon, I was met with only darkness.