[ A Roller Coaster Ride. ]
Zachary didn't say another word as we made our way back to the medical plaza where my Jeep was still parked, though he did lead the way from my side, rather than going ahead and walking a few feet in front of me, which would have made me look like a trailing puppy. It was weird, though, him not saying anything and not even glancing in my direction throughout our walk. And don't get me wrong: I didn't mind the absence of him talking or watching my every move - I rather enjoyed the break, really - but it made some small portion of the back of my brain worried that he was mad at me. And, though I personally didn't really care if he was mad at me, I still had that basic instinct to shrink away a bit or run and hide. I was a werewolf, after all, and he was an alpha, and, even though he wasn't my alpha, my inner wolf still recognized his dominance, and didn't particularly want any alpha mad at me.
Casting a wary glance in his direction, I bit my lip, debating whether or not it was worth it to try and strike up any small conversation, even just to test the waters. "Zach, look..." I started, but could not bring myself to apologize for reminding him that I was not his 'mate'. It was the truth, after all, and I couldn't let him delude himself or misread my signs. That'd be cruel. And, because I knew that I did the right thing, I couldn't bring myself to apologize for it. So I dropped it.
Not another word was exchanged between the two of us until we reached my Jeep. That was when he decided to hop right on into the passenger seat as I was starting the engine. As my gaze locked on his, I let out a low warning growl. He froze.
"Sorry," he said quickly, his startled expression morphing into a sheepish one the second he realized what he had done wrong. "Do you mind? I walked here."
My gaze narrowed and I flashed him a glare, a louder growl reverberating through my chest. Suddenly feeling very territorial, I stiffly turned in my seat, sending a pointed look at him, and at the hand he still had resting on the door. "I most certainly do mind."
For a moment, he seemed to hesitate, his weight leaning back towards the door just the slightest bit. I almost got my hopes up that he was about to leave, but of course that wasn't the case. He did seem to understand that I wanted him to leave, though. "Is that your way of informing me to ask in the future, or telling me to get out of the car?"
I contemplated telling him to get the hell out of the car, but I knew how much of a bitchy thing that would've been to do. At my silence, one of his dark eyebrows arched in question, his lips twitching slightly. Then I seriously contemplated kicking him out. The asshole fucking knew I wanted him out of the car, but also knew I wouldn't verbally demand it, so he went ahead and made it so that I had no option but to drive him back. "That's my way of saying you're fucking lucky we're in public right now, or I would have attacked you," I bit back as I shifted into reverse and started back to the cabin, knowing better than to cause a scene.
The bastard beside me laughed the whole way out of the parking lot. Sending what I'm sure he thought was a charming smile my way, he leaned over and gave my thigh a quick pat, earning another sharp growl from me. "Whenever you want to roll around again, I'm your man."
I scoffed, pretending to take the time to adjust the driver's side mirror, just so that he couldn't see the slight blush that my body had decided to betray me with. "Only you would go and make that sound dirty," I grumbled back.
"Dirty? You're the one who took it the wrong way, love, not me," he said in a falsely innocent voice, as if he was only just realizing the way his words sounded. "Though, I will say that I completely approve of where your mind went with that."
There was no blush on my cheeks when I turned to give him a hard glare, not appreciating his attempt at playing coy. But, not having any particularly witty retorts, I decided to focus back on the road and just remain silent for once. That is, until the lack of conversation forced my mind to start reeling again, and question after question about werewolves popped into my head. Unlike earlier, I wasn't completely overwhelmed by the sheer volume of everything I still wanted - needed - to know, but each and every question was irritating as ever, burning my mind and my tongue.
"How old are you?" I found myself spitting out before I even knew that it was one of the questions popping around in my mind. The second the words slipped from my mouth, though, I had the very strong urge to smack myself, both because I had allowed a question to slip out and because of all the questions I could have decided to ask, the one I chose was as insignificant as what his age was. Seriously?
"Same as you," came his casual answer, seeming much less concerned over my choice of random question than I was. I took the opportunity of a stop sign to steal a glance in his direction, narrowing my eyes when he looked back at me oddly. "What? Love, if that's your way of telling me you think I'm too handsome to be-"
"You don't know how old I am!" I interrupted hotly, my body tensing as my grip on the steering wheel tightened considerably. I had not told him my age. But then again, I hadn't told him anything about my financials but he sure as hell managed to have all of my assets frozen. Perhaps he was just making it up that he was as old as me, or perhaps he truly was more of a stalker than just someone with powerful connections.
"You're twenty-six," he stated confidently, rising to the challenge and flashing me a victorious smirk, "and your birthday was August fourth, a little over a week ago."
"Wrong. My birthday is August first," I informed him proudly, overjoyed to see the smirk fall from his face as his brow wrinkled in confusion. I had forgotten that I should have been creeped out that he thought he knew my birthday, instead entirely too focused on the fact that he was wrong and I was right.
"That's not possible."
"What, you've never made a mistake reciting something you creepily memorized before? Get over it," I scoffed, rolling my eyes at the very obvious frown on his face.
"No, you don't understand, mates always have the same birthday; it's not possible for one of them to be born into the world at a different time than the other. Ava, are-"
"So there you have it: we're not mates."
"No! Ava, we are! Are you sure that's your birthday?"
"Am I sure that I know my birthday?" I snorted at the very idea of him thinking he knew my own birthday better than I did. "Of course I fucking know my birthday, dumb ass!"
"Who told you, Ava?" he asked, his tone desperate as he reached over me and gripped the steering wheel, pulling it to the side and causing my jeep to quickly dart off of the road.
"Hey!" I shouted in exclamation, slapping his hands away from the wheel as I quickly pressed down on the breaks and brought the car to a complete stop. Shifting into park, I turned and glared at the man beside me. "Are you trying to get me fucking killed, is that what's going on?!"
"Who told you?"
"Who told me when my birthday was? My parents, obviously-"
"You told me you weren't raised by werewolves!"
"I wasn't! And why the hell are you yelling at me about this? I didn't lie, if that's what you're trying to insinuate here, because I'm nothing like-"
"Then they didn't give birth to you?"
"That doesn't make them not my parents, you son of-"
"Ava, how did they know your birthday?"
"They- oh. But... no. No, they wouldn't lie to me about that. No."
"I'm not saying that they lied to you, love, but maybe whoever arranged the adoption told them the wrong date. I promise you, your birthday is August fourth."
I wasn't sure if he was expecting me to be grateful or happy to be told that I didn't know my own birthday, but he sure as hell didn't seem to be expecting my reaction. "Are you fucking kidding me right now?" I snapped, lashing out and violently punching him in the arm and the face before jumping out of the jeep and angrily storming off in the direction opposite the road.
"Ava!" he called after me, his tone holding more than a small amount of surprise.
"Fuck off, Mr. Stidolph!" I responded without even taking the time to glance over my shoulder. Though it was harder to hear than usual, what with being located pretty close to a highway and all, I was still able to make out the sound of the crunching grass behind me. The bastard didn't know when to let things go.
"We're back to the 'Mr. Stidolph' thing again? Ava, come on, I'm sorry!"
Infinitely more pissed, I stopped in my tracks, spinning around so quickly that he was still coming to his own stop right before me. Had his reflexes been those of a normal human, he definitely would've run right into me.
"What exactly are you sorry for, then, huh? Are you sorry you grabbed the steering wheel and nearly caused us to crash? Are you sorry you thought it was a good fucking idea to harass me about a goddamn birthday right after I just had a fucking panic attack less than an hour ago? Are you sorry about that, you bastard? Or are you maybe sorry that you're keeping me here against my will? Are you sorry you had all of my assets frozen? Huh? No, you're not sorry about any of those things, are you? You're just sorry that they pissed me off - nothing more!"
"No! I'm not done yet! You want to know what I'm sorry for, Mr. Stidolph? I'm sorry that I thought I might have known something as basic about myself as my birthday. I'm sorry that I made that huge assumption! I'm sorry that I don't know all of these stupid intricacies of the werewolf world. I'm sorry I wasn't raised by werewolves. No - I'm not sorry for that, I'm sorry that my parents had to deal with raising a werewolf when they didn't even know werewolves existed. I'm so sorry that they had to deal with all of that bullshit. But most of all, I'm sorry I ever crossed the border into your lands. I'm so fucking sorry that I ever ran into you!"
"What? Am I making you angry? Are you going to attack me again if I don't shut up and play nice? Do your fucking worst, go ahead! I'm already in hell, and I can't possibly hate you more than I do now, so go right head. Attack me, kill me, rape me - whatever you keep threatening to do, just fucking do it already and stop threatening!" I finished, throwing my arms open wide and my head back to emphasize my point. Eyes closed and body still vibrating slightly in anger, I waited for him to make his move.
The silence stretched on for a solid few minutes before I started to wonder if he was still even there. I hadn't heard footsteps signaling he had moved, but I also hadn't been listening particularly well. But then I took in another deep breath, this time through my nose, and I knew without any doubt that he was still right in front of me. What I didn't know was why - why he was still there, why he hadn't said anything let alone done anything. Sighing, I dropped my arms to my sides and opened my eyes, rolling my head forward again so that I could look at him, confusion no doubt gracing my features as I took in the sight of him standing there, eyebrows raised and a hand covering his mouth as if he was hiding a smile.
"Are you done now, love?"
I took in a breath, more than ready to snap at him and give him another piece of my mind, but instead I ended up just letting it out in a deep sigh. I was still incredibly pissed, but I at least had reached the point where I recognized that I was throwing a tantrum like a two year old. "Yeah, I'm done now."
"Did you actually think I was going to attack you?" he asked, the steady look he was giving me making me feel inclined to answer. Shrugging, I lowered my gaze to the ground and avoided eye contact. "Ava," he exhaled, pain obvious in his tone as he stepped forward and placed his hands on my shoulders, squeezing them once to get me to meet his gaze, "I will never kill you or rape you or do anything to intentionally hurt you - and I know that sounds like bullshit because I know I have snapped and scared you, but I promise you, even if it's the wolf half of me in control, both of those things will never be an option. I need you to know-"
"I know, I know. It was a stupid thing to say, and you don't need to explain yourself," I interrupted, completely embarrassed by the fact that I had a man standing in front of me trying to convince me that he wouldn't rape me. How ridiculous was that? How had I even managed to say that in the first place?
"No, Ava, I do," he corrected, closing his eyes for a second as he took a deep breath. "I'm sorry that I scared you that night - and don't look at me like that, I know that you know exactly what I'm talking about because it's clearly been bothering you since then. I'm sorry that I lost control then, but I need you to understand that I was not going to hurt- damn it, I wasn't going to rape you, Ava; I could never do that. I almost marked you, which probably would have hurt you, yeah, but that's it. Okay?"
It took me a minute to figure out how to respond; I didn't want to admit that I had been afraid he was going rape me - how embarrassing would it be to admit that? - but I also wasn't quite sure a response of 'yeah, no big deal, bro - don't worry about it' was appropriate, either. I mean, he just admitted he was planning on hurting me... indirectly, but still. That was a big deal. Frowning in confusion, I took a calming breath. "What do you mean you almost 'marked' me?"
His expression fell even more than it already had. "I know, Ava, I know how terrible that sounds. Believe me, that is not something I want to do without your complete permission, that's why I stopped as soon as I had control again, love. I know it's no excuse, but I was just scared and desperate, and I swear I'm trying my hardest to make sure I don't ever lose control like that again. I really am sorry that I lost control like that," he stressed, leaning forward a bit and searching my face for something. He must have found it, for he sighed and nodded his head sadly, releasing my shoulders and taking a deliberate step backwards. "You don't look like you believe me, and I guess that's fair."
"I- damn it," I swore, taking a deep breath and grinding my teeth a little bit. I wanted to just be pissed at him and call him out for lying, but his voice was dripping with genuine shame and sincerity, and I couldn't not believe him. I was still pissed at him, though. I weighed my choices for a second before just huffing in irritation and deciding to bite the bullet. "I do believe you, I just still don't have any idea what you're talking about. What do you mean 'mark'?"
"Oh. Oh, man. I should have known you wouldn't know what that means. Here, let's... let's just go sit down over on the other side of that hill, okay? Just so we're not standing right next to the highway and having this conversation."
He hesitated, waiting until I nodded before stepping closer and placing his had gently on my elbow in order to lead me over to the spot he had in mind. And, oddly enough, the second that we got there, he immediately dropped his hand and stepped away from me again, dropping down onto the grass and waiting for me to do the same.
"Alright, now that we're not being stared at by every single person driving up the interstate... what exactly do you know about mates, Ava?"
"Nothing, alright?" I answered in a low growl, not happy to be admitting anything to him. "I don't need a Wolf 101 lesson from you, Zachary, I just want you to answer my question."
"Okay, okay," he said softly, lifting his palms in surrender, "but I do have to explain a little bit for it to make sense then. I just told you - albeit in an insensitive way, and I do apologize for that - that mates can't be brought into the world at different times, right? They also can't be taken out of the world at different times; when one of us dies, Ava, the other one does too. I mean, not in the same way, obviously, not exactly at the same second or anything, but it happens, and we as a species can't explain it yet. Anyways, a marking from a mate is meant as an added form of protection; it not only tells other weres that they need to back the hell off, but it... reinforces the bond between mates, I guess you would say."
Still trying to get over the whole 'if I die, you die' concept he was throwing at me, and also trying to remind myself that whatever he was saying didn't matter because he was not my mate, it took me a minute to let all of that information sink in. "What do you mean reinforces?"
"I- it's apparently extremely hard to explain. Perhaps Charlotte and Ryder would be better able to word it, but my understanding is that it makes the wolf halves of the pair better able to sense each other. I'm not a hundred percent sure, Ava; I haven't experienced it, obviously. It's not like telecommunication or anything, it doesn't connect the pair's minds and - it's just not like anything else that's known, okay? Shit, I am sucking at explaining this. The stories I've always heard that involved it included one of the mates being in danger, and the marking allowed the other to get there in time to help. I can't tell you the logistics, Ava, I can only tell you that it's a hugely instinctual thing, and it's apparently extremely intimate."
"What exactly is it?"
"Essentially a bite mark, right above the collarbone off to the right. It-"
"But wouldn't that heal in all of... four hours?"
He smiled, sending me a look that clearly showed his amusement at my naiveté and quickly told me that he had been expecting such a question. "No," he countered, "not if it's done by your mate. Anyone else biting you, then your body heals it naturally and there are no scars or anything left behind. If your mate marks you, I mean the wound heals, but there's always a marking left behind. Hence the name."
"Clever," I replied, unamused.
"I never claimed it was. But that's essentially the idea. It's something that's permanent, and, as I've said, apparently really reinforces the bond between a pair. It's not something I would ever want to do without knowing you wanted to just as much as I did, Ava, but it is instinctual, and that makes it... difficult to prolong-"
I scowled, telling myself I shouldn't have been surprised by this. "So it really doesn't matter what I want, because your wolf half will do it anyway?"
"No, Ava. I said difficult, not impossible. Believe it or not, no part of me wants you angry at me, and no part of me wants to force anything on you... but my wolf half is more likely to resort to marking you if I'm terrified I'll lose you. I know..." he paused, closing his eyes again for a second. "I know you still plan on leaving as soon as you manage to get the legal aspects cleared up, but I really need you to stop threatening to vanish every time we're arguing with each other, because when I'm already that instinctual, I can't promise I'll be able to fight that urge, okay? For both of our sakes, please compromise with me on that."
I blinked a few times, watching as he ran his palms over his face before meeting my gaze with his own steady one, blue eyes seeming to beg me to agree. "Are you saying that you'll agree to let me go once all of this is settled?" I asked in astonishment, fairly certain I had drawn the wrong conclusion from his statement but still hoping that it might be correct. I could even feel my heart constricting in anticipation.
He looked torn, between what exactly I wasn't sure, but his expression was sad and he was clasping his hands in front of him, twisting them around and straining all of his muscles as he fought whatever internal battle he was having. When he looked up at me, there was something burning in his gaze that I couldn't name but was able to recognize as something I'd seen in his gaze before. "I... I don't know that I can promise you that, Ava. I don't want to keep you with me against your will, I really don't... but if that's the only way I can keep you with me? I- I just don't know if I could stand either option. I do know that if you ran now, I can promise you I would spend the rest of my life tracking you down if I had to, but if you legitimately gave us a chance and still absolutely hated me? I don't know."
I sighed, letting that thought sit in the air for a minute before weighing my options once again. I was leaning away from the option of telling him to fuck off and that I was going to leave as soon as possible, taking his earlier warning to heart, but I couldn't exactly figure out what the best of the remaining options was. The way I saw it, best case scenario, I was still stuck here until Remington figured everything out... could it hurt to compromise and have a chance at him letting me leave when that happened? "What if I told you I'd be willing to try, Zach? I understand you can't make any promises, and neither can I, but if I tried, completely tried until my lawyer got here, would you try to let me go?"
He had perked up when I had started the offer, but by the time I had finished, he was back to giving puppy-dog eyes. Bitterly, he shook his head and tried to laugh off the tension. "It's not trying if you're only biding time. You can't try if you're only seeing one possible solution."
I wanted to growl at him for how he was going about making assumptions about what I could and could not do, but then I realized exactly what I had said and I knew that he was right. Cursing under my breath, I forced myself to really think about what I was suggesting. If I was asking him to try and let me go, it was only fair that I try as well... but could I really risk that? Could I really, sincerely try, and not think for a minute about how I was going to up and leave as soon as I got the chance? Could I really give him a chance? I wasn't even entirely sure what that would entail. "I'm willing to try, Zach. I'll do it. But you have to promise me that when my lawyer gets here, you'll at least try to let me make my own decision, and you'll at least try to honor it, okay?"
"Only if you promise not to - or at least try not to - even think about leaving until then. If you promise that you won't keep putting up walls and making sure we don't even have a chance."
"Then so will I. No promises, though, right?"
"And do we need to talk about the rest of all that shouting earlier?"
"I'd really rather we forgot that ever happened."
"But we wouldn't want there to be any leftover animosity between us, would we?"
"I overreacted, alright? Stop grinning at me like that! I got defensive and then let my anger and fear get the better of me. I threw a tantrum and I'd like for it to be forgotten. Please?"
"I haven't the slightest idea what you're talking about."
So... How many of you actually expected me to post another chapter of this? I honestly didn't. I was just having the absolute worst time writing anything, and had completely given up with writing, and then one day I got bored and happened to pop back on. And you know what I saw? More than 1000 views on this story every month, almost eleven months after the last update. New reviews. People still wanting to see what happens with this story. I've got to say, I have never been so inspired to do something in my life. This chapter is for you guys - all of you who stuck with me through the past eleven months, and all of you who just discovered this story today.
I apologize if the style is a bit different than it was a year ago, but people change, you know? Also, I know that this probably seems extremely out of character in several different ways. I'd like everyone to keep in mind:
1. Remember their bickering from several chapters ago? The teasing banter isn't completely new.
2. Ava was extremely overstressed, both from the panic attack, and then from realizing not only how much she doesn't know, but how much she might incorrectly know. She has a tendency of getting defensive and snapping, and with all of that tension, it was about time she exploded in a very non-Ava way.
3. Ava said she'd try... well, technically, that she'd try to try, but let me make it even more clear: she is not submitting and giving in. Yes, she's exhausted with arguing in circles, and yes, she is still feeling bad about drugging him and is still grateful for him helping her during the panic attack, but her feelings haven't suddenly changed or anything. Most of all, the trying thing is an escape route.
That in mind, if you still think they were extremely out of character, please do tell me. I struggled with how the chapter went as well, but I finally got it to go somewhere that made a hell of a lot more sense than the other attempts, and I thought, what the hell: rather than struggle with it more, you guys deserved to see it.
So yeah, comments, critiques, and reviews are, as always, completely loved. It's honestly all of you that ever keep me writing, even if I can be amazingly slow most of the time. Once again: your words mean the world to me.
Also, AveAve, I hope I didn't make you fat by taking so long to update. :D