I woke up with a long, satisfied stretch in bed, feeling more content than I had in years.
The last few days had all blended together so much that I could barely keep track of time anymore. Was it a Tuesday? Morning? Night? I didn‘t know. All I knew was that my last week had been spent with Aleric, living and breathing every moment he could spare for me.
I continued to stretch, trying to wake up but, as I did so, I suddenly felt a pulse of pain emanate from my shoulder. Something I‘d been ignoring the last few days despite my actual purpose in coming here.
Well, if it gave another reason to stay here a little longer, it couldn‘t be all that bad, right?
I didn‘t want to leave. Of course, I didn‘t. It was so easy to ignore all my impending problems waiting form e at home, choosing to just live inside my own little bubble instead. I was happy here. Actually happy. Something I hadn‘t felt in so long. Given everything I‘d endured, surely I deserved even the tiniest bit of respite?
And Aleric seemed happy, though he hadn‘t explicitly vocalised it. Not that I expected him to. He wasn‘t one to normally express feelings through words unless he was prompted, usually choosing to convey things in his actions instead. But I could tell by how he was acting that he seemed to be enjoying himself, appearing lighter and more relaxed in his mannerisms.
Thinking back now, it seemed crazy that I‘d spent so many years of this life trying to run away from him. I had even planned to reject him. And I knew from previous experience how much that hurt, more than would warrant the benefits of going through with that process. The constant empty void it created inside was tortuous.
It made me wonder how good things could have been from the beginning if we‘d just been allowed a chance to live our lives the way we were meant to. If there were no prophecy pressures, no Selene, no markings, or Thea. Just… two people from the same pack who found each other. Would the Aria and Aleric of that timeline, though no doubt very different from the people we are now, find themselves happily together too?
However, it was strange to even think of the person I once was. My first life felt more like a bad nightmare and so did the person from that timeline. I‘d lived such a sheltered, structured life that the girl from back then could barely be considered anything more than a doll.
And whilst I couldn‘t say I enjoyed‘ the journey, I couldn‘t exactly deny that the misfortunes I‘d experienced since dying hadn‘t matured me either; hadn‘t helped me grow up from the naïve, juvenile Luna I‘d once been.
It was probably most evident in the way I‘d acted upon returning. As if I were sometimes more a bratty girl than a woman who had once held a high status. Far too much freedom and trauma given to a child all at once, driven by an intense motivation to escape and be their own person finally.
Yet, all the while that was happening, also dealing with the basic body changes that came with being a teenager once more.
So, who was I actually? Without Thea, without the naivety, without the fear and pain? If, by some miracle, I somehow survived this until the end, living to see a world where I was finally free of Thea entirely, what did that even look like for me? When I could finally just be myself without pressures or manipulation? Who will I eventually become?
…But would I even survive? Selene coming to retrieve what was hers seemed more than likely for when this was over. She‘d told me herself how she considered the other saints, the ones that came before me, mistakes. Did victory mean getting to live? Or was that expiration still waiting for me regardless, only buying my time the more I procrastinated facing Thea?
…Would it mean saying a final goodbye to Aleric before we left to fight her?
Trolled over and threw my legs over the side of the bed, no longer wanting to think about it anymore. The outcome for that was not something in my control so there was no point in mulling over it.
For now… I just wanted to be happy for the time I was certain I did have.
And so I left my room, walking down the stairs to the only place I wanted to be right now.
“What are you reading?” I asked softly, standing in the doorway of the living area.
It was gently raining outside, the sound of the drops hitting the roof in a soothing way. The clouds outside were also darkening the sky enough that, once again, I couldn‘t be sure what time it was.
Aleric was sitting by the windowsill, book in hand, and only looked up after I spoke, a small smile warming on his face as he did so. His eyes reminded me of the moss and trees within the woods when he looked genuinely happy, almost as if he were a living personification of my little cottage sanctuary outside.
“Nothing really,” he answered. “Did you have a good sleep?”
“I don‘t know if I can call that ‘sleep‘, since there wasn‘t much of that happening… but it was good. Some might even say… great.”
“…Is that so?”
And I crept closer until I stood in front of him, intending to look at the book in his hands, but instead he reached out and pulled me into his lap, forcing a squeal of surprise out of me at the sudden movement. Not that I was complaining though.
And, as he positioned me to sit comfortably against his broad chest, I‘d never felt so cosy and safe before.
“This looks like one of my books,” I said, reading the words on the page. “Only a small portion of this is in the common tongue though.”
“Well, it‘s raining and there isn‘t much else to do for entertainment around here…”
And I felt as he then tilted his head down towards me, proceeding to nip at my ear. “Unless you had something else in mind.”
A shiver ran through me, sending endless possibilities to run through my mind… though it was shortly followed by another dull ache in my shoulder, a reminder of why we were here. I had healed a lot since we‘d arrived, but our recent activities were probably regressing that process.
“I need a little break… I‘m still healing, after all,” I said laughing, and I squirmed away from his teeth. “I‘m pretty sure these last few days have been the opposite of allowing my body to rest.”
Much to my own disappointment, he then eased off just as I‘d asked, and went back to looking at the book instead. It was a situation where I didn‘t particularly want to be the responsible one.
In fact, I could think of several more irresponsible things we could be doing right now….
“Aria,” he said in a low voice behind me. “Make up your mind.”
And I felt my cheeks redden, realising we were back at square one.
I needed to be more aware of myself.
“Umm, anyway.. can you even read this?” I asked, quickly changing the subject.
He flipped it over to look at the cover and back to the page he was on. “Not really. I didn‘t really bother with languages during study. I‘m mostly looking at the pictures and reading the small bits of common tongue that pop up.”
“…Did you want me to read it to you?” I offered. “I can‘t say I’m fluent anymore but I‘ve been getting a lot better over the last few months.”
I felt as his body then chuckled behind me, the vibrations making me want to melt against him more
“…Sure,” he said.
And even though the book contained nothing but factual retellings of pack dynamics several centuries ago, he sat and listened diligently to me anyway over the next hour or so that followed.
A moment that only ended as I failed to stay awake, my lack of sleep finally coming to catch up with me. I‘d tried so hard to fight against it, willing myself not to let the moment go. But, in the end, it proved too much.
…And I fell asleep in his arms.
I woke up to the feeling of my hair being gently played with, the strands delicately tugging in a pleasant way, and a smile slowly crept on my lips.
“…What are you doing?” I murmured softly, waking up to see Aleric next to me in bed.
His eyes instantly locked with my own, looking as if he‘d been caught doing something he shouldn‘t. A reaction that would have made me laugh if not for it being a bit sweet.
My chest instantly tightened at the scene before me and I grabbed his hand in mine.
“Do you like it?” I asked. “I never really did as a kid. The silver is like an old lady‘s.”
“…It‘s a pretty colour,” he replied. “I‘ve always liked your hair. Even when I was younger, I thought it was interesting.”
He pulled me closer until I was flush up against him, resting my head on the pillow next to him so we could face each other.
“…What else do you like?” I whispered, though a little nervously.
Truthfully, apart from the mate bond, I had no idea why he‘d be interested in me. From what I could tell, it wasn‘t as if I‘d given him many reasons to. It was something I‘d been wondering about for a while now, always secretly speculating why, but in true Aleric fashion, he hadn‘t said anything yet.
As awkward as it was, getting this sort of information from him was probably going to be impossible unless I directly asked him.
He shifted a little next to me and cleared his throat, a small frown forming between his brows. Was he uncomfortable?
“…I think…,” he started and then paused, silently considering my request before continuing.
“I think you‘re… beautiful… funny… smart… or at least, smart *sometimes,” he teased.
I playfully hit his shoulder as he laughed, but, before I could do much else, he then quickly grabbed my hand in his and kissed it to restrain me.
“I think… I think you helped me to become a better person, whether intentionally or not,” he continued, now back to being serious once more. “I think… you became someone I looked forward to seeing every day, who I genuinely enjoyed being around… someone to give me a reason to get out of bed and try to do better than the day before.”
I felt as my eyes began to brim with tears, feeling overwhelmed by his response. I hadn’t expected him to go into such detail.
“I admire your confidence and strength,” he continued, “your ability to change things around you; both people and the pack. You have a way of setting your mind to do something and sticking to your convictions, despite others who might try and stop you.”
“…I think that last one is called being stubborn,” I chimed in lightly, though my voice betrayed how emotional I was feeling.
“That‘s probably true,” he said and cupped my face, placing a quick peck on my forehead. “Speaking of which… were you going to train today? I couldn‘t help but notice you haven‘t done that in a few days now
“I‘m on a break,” I grumbled as I averted my eyes to the unwelcome change in topic. “Let me have this for just a little bit longer.”
He started to silently chuckle though, and I quickly looked back to see him watching me with amusement, his eyes holding that warmth to them I adored.
“No,” he said flatly, a smile on his lips. “Go train today. Just like how I have to patrol. Which..“He then looked out towards the window, gauging the time. “… Which is probably about time I do so.”
“No00000,” I whined softly, enjoying our lazy day in bed too much.
Just an hour or so more would be fine, surely. I didn‘t want him to go yet. Not after all the sweet things he‘d said to me just now.
“Yesssss,” he replied, mimicking my tone, and pulled himself away to sit up.
“Just stay in bed with me for a little bit longer,” | said. “We can fight off intruders from here, if need be.”
“Mmm, tempting,” he said, bending back over to k!ss me.
Immediately, little butterflies filled me as I reveled in the sensation his touch offered, and I grabbed his shoulder to draw him closer.
If it were up to me, it wouldn‘t have stopped there but, before I could initiate anything further, he then quickly pulled away.
“It is tempting,” he reiterated, “but I prefer to be focused when fighting, not distracted by a lazy seductress in bed.”
“I‘m not lazy,” I pouted, and I sat up as he went to get changed.
Then feel free to prove me wrong,” he laughed, throwing on some loose clothes. “Go train.”
And I quietly grumbled again, making him laugh harder.
“Alright, I‘m off,” he said, coming back around to my side of the bed. “Stop looking so forlorn. I‘ll see you soon.”
And with that, he quickly kissed me, a tiny spark erupting from where our lips met, and left before I could say anything else.
I wondered how long it‘d be before he came home today, knowing sometimes he was gone for a few hours. He was right though… I probably should train
I quickly brought a hand up to my lips in confusion.
I‘d felt that. I‘d felt that.*
That was definitely a spark from the mate bond. Just a small one. But it had happened.
I jumped out of bed, tripping over my own legs in haste, and made it to the top of the stairs.
…But, before I could follow after him, I heard the front door to outside open and close.
…He was already gone.
‘Then I guess I‘ll have to tell him later,‘ I thought with a smile.
It would be something to look forward to. What better progress could I tell him than to say I‘d finally felt a spark? And it would definitely be cause for some… scientific research. To test when I could and couldn‘t feel it, of course. Probably some ‘extensive physical contact‘ would do the trick.
I bit my lip knowingly and went back into my bedroom, throwing myself down against the sheets once more.
Somehow, I was feeling better than ever. Better than even before I‘d put on the ring. I was feeling stronger and more fulfilled, my shoulder feeling basically completely healed. Things were really great.
In fact, now I thought about it, my shoulder did feel healed. Not even an echo of an ache was coming from it now… which was kind of strange considering just yesterday it had been hurting me.
I got up and walked towards the mirror, pulling my shirt to the side to inspect the wound. It probably still had another few weeks given I was wearing silver…
…But, as I finally saw it, I immediately frowned in surprise.
… Because it was healed.
Fully healed. Now only an undertone of a bruise remaining on my skin.
But then, didn‘t that mean….
I quickly looked down at my hands….
…Only to find they were completely bare.
The ring was gone.
“No…,” I whispered in disbelief, staring at the place the ring should have been. “No… no, no no, no.”
I was so used to the feeling of silver that I didn‘t even register the burn anymore. How long had it been missing? A day? Two?
…Had Thea realised?
I ran down the stairs, an overwhelming panic fuelling me as I scrambled to find it and started looking everywhere I could. Under and behind furniture, the laundry amongst my clothes, literally anywhere! could think of.
When had I seen it last?
…Hadn‘t it been there yesterday?
I looked up sharply to where we‘d sat together the day before… and saw it.
Nearly entirely hidden by a pillow, it was there. Glinting as the sun hit the exposed surface, almost as if mocking me for losing it.
This meant it must have accidentally fallen off my finger when I fell asleep.
How many hours had passed since then though?
However, as I started to run towards it, suddenly I felt a familiar sensation I hadn‘t felt in months.
One that filled me with dread. Something I hadn‘t felt in so long yet hadn‘t particularly missed.
Everything around me instantly began to blur, my legs giving out from under me.
And, before I could completely wrap my head around what was happening, suddenly, I was in the woods.
…And I became trapped within a vision.
The sounds of birds and nature surrounded me as if I really were there, even the scent seemed indistinguishable. Everything felt so real… and familiar.
With a lurch to my stomach, I realised these were the woods outside the cottage.
spun my head around frantically, searching for the one thing I desperately didn‘t want to find. …But, of course, they were there. I‘d suspected as much the second I‘d seen where I was, but I‘d fervently hoped I was wrong.
Because I knew what this meant now. How could I not?
Aleric stood by a tree, surveying the area around him, looking the same as when he‘d left not even twenty minutes earlier. Even his clothes were the same. Which told me two very crucial details.…
One; that it was happening today.
And, two; …that he hadn‘t even shifted yet… meaning it was literally happening any second now, if not already
“Aleric!” I screamed out, running towards him.
But he didn‘t respond, being unable to hear me inside the vision. It was yet another cruel restriction that came with this ability,
I immediately felt myself begin to cry, my breathing becoming shallow as I watched helplessly in mute terror.
Because there was one other very important, yet cruel restriction that came with having visions. One knew painfully well, having experienced several over the last few years. ..And that was that they always* brought bad news.