Lanie’s eyes turned to Belle. She was so tired, but she wanted to keep talking to the angel. Every bone and muscle in her body had hurt and was now slowly getting better. She was rarely in physical pain, she had to admit that one good thing about being a wolf. Even stress pain went away rapidly, not like when she had been human and suffered migraines constantly. Belle began to speak of Shiloh, her tone was caring and loving, a bit too loving. Was the angel in love with such a beast? Then she suggested him as a mentor. …No, not him. She didn’t like him, but she didn’t want to upset Belle by refusing her help.
"I’m in no rush to meet him again." Was the kindest way she could put it, hoping she was not hurting the angel’s feelings. An angel… She could scarcely believe it. And she had said…she had said she wasn’t damned. If I’m not a servant of the Devil, then… She had so many questions fighting in her mind. “I don’t object,” Lanie said as she sat back up-strait, feeling strong again, “But I don’t want to rush. This is all… overwhelming to me.” She looked at Belle then away into the woods, the forest was beautiful and so was the day, the wind sang its song to the leaves and it soothed her somehow.
Maybe she had to accept Shiloh’s help. She knew nothing of what she was and if an Angel could have such tenderness towards her kind, maybe she could learn to accept what she was. All she could think of was Stephen now, what would he think to know that she had met an Angel? A real one. She wondered if she would ever be able to speak truly freely with her new priest friend. “I have to go to Trinity Lakes for a pilgrimage in some time. They want a Sister there to tend the people who exhaust themselves by their excessive piety… Maybe we could meet there again? I’ll have a lot of free time there and, and… I won’t be such a mess.”
"As I said, he is easy enough to find when and if you desire to seek him out," Belle’s words were gentle, if firm. She would not force a meeting between the two, especially if bad blood existed between them, but of the wolves she knew, Shiloh was the one she trusted the most. In any case, she took no offense at Lanie’s reluctance and let it lie there.
"I did not mean to lay so much at your feet, sister. I only wanted to show you that you are not alone and you are not so lost as you had thought." The huntress gave her new-found friend a smile, her fingers making lazy, unthinking patterns in the grass.
She wondered, in a wandering, idle sort of way, what role the nun would play in a wolfpack. A healer? Though she had been with Shiloh for these past three years, she realized she knew precious little of the actual workings of the social workings of lycanthropes. She knew he was without a wolf pack, and she knew the loss haunted him still, and she would not wish that on this girl and her sweet nature. She also would not see her fall victim to the wolf who so deeply scarred her; for the first time, Belle wished she knew more of the supernaturals who called Athoria home so she could better help.
Attention brought back to the here and now by Lanie’s suggestion, Belle nodded. “I would be glad to join you there; it’s been some time since I’ve been to the Lakes.” Then, placing a gentle hand on the girl’s knee, “Do not apologize. You are facing obstacles others can scarce imagine and you are clearing them as best you can. That courage and determination commands respect.”
"Baghdad, I’ve only been there once. It is absolutely beautiful, the amount of learning in that city is astounding. I was very tempted to settle down there, but my desire to know my father’s family pushed me on." Caden smiled at the memories of the city. There were times when he thought about dropping everything in Athoria and just going back to Arabia, living somewhere like Baghdad or Jeddah. Somewhere where he couldn’t be quite the outsider he was in Athoria.
With her aura, he was willing to believe that she was older than she looked. It wouldn’t be the first time. After all, Shiloh was older than he looked, as was Ian. He wondered if she was perhaps a werewolf or an angel. He wondered if she was also a werewolf. It would make sense why she had met him while hunting.
"Oh, I helped him out on a job that turned very bad. If he wasn’t so disciplined, it would have turned very bad for both of us. Thankfully, we both knew how to do what was needed of us for us to get out of the situation." He didn’t want to think about the idea of Shiloh still being under the control of the Green Man. If he hadn’t been there… Shiloh would likely be stuck. He didn’t like the idea of that, of such a vibrant kind man being reduced to a mindless beast.
"Oh yes, I am a Warlock. My father taught my everything I know." Caden looked over to see Qarīn still holding out a leg puzzled. Then he glanced at Belle and saw her hesitation. He held up the knife he was using to cut the meat.
"Oh no, nothing to worry about. You aren’t a phantom or a demon, I can tell that. And don’t worry, I’ve only ever fought demons and phantoms with magic. Whatever you are, I have no problem with it. Unless you want to eat me… I’d have a problem then." Caden smiled at her, trying to ease her worries.
"I was forced to leave Baghdad when it was sieged and sacked by the Mongol horde. The destruction of the Grand Library, the needless death of innocents …" Belle shook her head; it was clear the memory of it still troubled her. "The cruelty and wanton destruction of Man has the power to astound even still …"
Head and mood lifted with Caden’s explanation, cagey though it was, as to how he knew Shiloh. Her relationship being still so new and fresh, and so firmly in the honeymoon phase, she was eager to learn more of the man who had so entirely won her heart. Her curiosity piqued at the mention of a mysterious job for, as near as she knew, the wolf only worked odd jobs down on his beloved docks.
However, the revelation that her host was a Warlock cast a new light on the thing. For all her travels and long years of life, she had never come into close contact with a magic user before now. Self preservation fed into a prejudice against those so touched by magic; few things could harm one of heaven’s own like a well-crafted spell. But, stripped now of that weakness, she found her initial revulsion replaced by a sort of inquisitiveness.
Belle visibly relaxed and even ventured to once more meet one of Qarin’s questing legs with an outstretched finger. Caden’s gusses as to her nature helped put her at ease, too.
"I am no ghost or spirit or Hellspawn, Warlock, and I have no wish to consume your flesh." She smiled at him and a thought occured.
"I believe introductions, properly made, are long overdue. My name is Belle. If you can guess that I am, or was, once something more than human … Be not forgetful to entertain strangers: for thereby some have entertained angels unawares." She tilted her head to one side, resting a cheek on one curled hand. "I do not know that there is a corresponding quote in the Quaran and even this one isn’t quite true. I am angel no more, though it would seem something of my divinity still clings to me, unseen by the mortal eye."
Shiloh listened to Belle talk with a careful intensity, wanting to work out the best way for him to answer her questions. Not to be deceitful in anyway, but that he knew they were struggling with a species road block of how they saw things. And the last thing he wanted was to lose her because he missed the real reason for all the stress she was feeling over them. He couldn’t stand the thought of not being with her. Even as a friend wouldn’t ever sedate the yearning he had for her.
When she brought up Abaddon he nodded in understanding. Knowing the feeling better than anyone about that one who stood out above all others. A soul mate so intertwined together that time mattered little. They would always harbor some level of love for them, even with the terrible moments woven in the fabric alongside it. The more she spoke about her explanation from her past, the more he realized he didn’t find the draw to only be hers exclusively. He enjoyed seeing the effect those two names had on her, and he wondered if they filled her with pieces that he could never hope to fill. Maybe that was another wolven trait he never thought on before.
Upon the biting of her lip a smile broke and took over his face. Finding the act of her determination to get her thoughts in order ridiculously distracting and his chest warmed with his own harbored love for the woman that he reached out to touch the smooth skin of her bottom lip to release the hold her teeth had on it. “Alright, let me say this first,” he said in instant response to her question, "Caden is a friend, no more than that, I promise." He shifted over closer so his entire side contoured with hers. Always needing her touch as an anchor for this emotions, keeping him clear headed so he didn’t fuck things up.
"Emery is my brother for need of a label, we are the closest to actual related family than Ill ever see," he said first, fingering along the hem of her attire but giving her full attention. "That story, well, our story, what we are going through. Lets say I need you to trust me that its worth it. I’d do anything for him. I’d die for him, take any amount of pain, torture, nightmares…He is my shadow, as much as my light. And I need him desperately in my life…what happened to us…what is happening..only him and I can deal with. But he is my brother, a true one.” Shiloh felt the inkling of the mountain want to haunt him, the fingers of Michael’s hand around his throat, the threats of death and hate that fell into black sails and sent for the emergence of his brothers beast.
He came back to the present. Not realizing his breath had hitched. That thinking about Emery and Michael consumed everything around him. Reaching for her hand to lace their fingers together he worried his own lip this time. “Why him? I thought I made it clear what he was to me. I love him of course, but god, we wouldn’t ever actually share that moment together. The vampire would rather fight me than declare something like the word love. Even brother is a new one for him. But I mean I have many that I am loyal to, that I would fight for no matter the consequences. Is that what bothers you as well?”
Though she had named him as a concern, Belle was not terribly surprised when Shiloh reassured her that Caden was no more than a friend. The others, though, did weigh more heavily on her heart and mind. She knew the wolf was exceedingly close to his vampiric companion and, if she were truthful, Belle wondered if their similar natures made the bond between them even deeper. For, surely, they would have more common ground than a wolf and a fallen angel …
Still, despite these doubts, Belle strove to listen to what Shiloh told her and divorce it from her internalized emotions. Some reprieve did come from his insistence that he and Emery were brothers, though it served, too, to make Belle feel small and silly in her incertitude.
"The way you describe what you have with Emery … It reminds me of how Azrael and I ar-once were," she quickly, softly, corrected herself. "We are not nor were we ever bound by blood, but rather it was a mutual love and sympathy that held us together. It shames me to say so, but I am reminded, too, of the similar gossip that once swirled ‘round us; there were those who mistook our closeness for a romantic attachment though nothing could have been further from the truth. It would seem I have fallen into a similar mindset and I do not like it."
A frown furrowed Belle’s brow and she again chewed on her abused lower lip as she sorted through her mind’s turmoil. Her earlier thought, of bonds shared between supernatural beings, came forward again, this time throwing the others into a sort of focus.
"It has been weighing more heavily, as of late, the thought, the knowledge, that I am mortal and destined to die. I do not take this as an ill premonition, but an acceptance of certain facts. I worry that I will be forgotten, left behind … There is such a large span of history you share and it makes what we have seem so small, insignificant."
Even as she said the words, Belle grew impatient with herself. Plainly, she did not like sharing these thoughts even though it was she who initiated this talk.
"I just want to know that we have is enough. That I am not failing you, forcing you to find what you are lacking with me elsewhere. I do not like saying this, and I dislike even more that I think it, but it would seem I cannot help myself. I lost my first lover to closely guarded secrets and my second to a jealous maker; I do not want to lose you, too, Shiloh."
As a general rule, Belle disliked cities. She disliked the crowds and the buildings breaking up the sky and the stench. She disliked the motions one was expected to go through, the haggling with merchants and constant vigilance required to guard oneself against thieves (even if she did, on occaison, count herself amongst the latter). Nothing good, in recent memory, had come of her stepping foot into a city for anything other than business.
No, by her reckoning, she was better off in the expanses of Athoria’s still virginal woods. Or, if she mustneeds be in civilization, she much preferred the ports or even, strange as it was, the slums she still called home. In those places she was known by the locals and she, in turn, knew them. They, too, reminded her just a little of the settlements and camps she remembered from man’s past, before he builded himself permanent stone and wood homes behind fortified walls.
Still, that trek had to be made with some regularity. The furs from her hunts needed selling and trading so she could continue living in her meager rooms and feed and arm herself. The minutia of mortal life had never weighed on Belle’s mind before she found herself not just living as one, but existing as one.
This mid-September day marked one such journey. Belle ventured from her home, intent on getting all her business settled in one day and then coming back to a more familiar setting. Her haul was a good size one; hunting had been plentiful in the months before and she had been able to display some discretion in her pick of prey. The gold paid out would still be hard won, but she felt she was on firm footing in asking for top price. Never mind the favor she had done for one of her regular buyers in tracking down his missing goods and the trouble that had lead to …
So it was with a more generous helping of confidence that the huntress set herself to her task. Concentration focused solely on what needed getting done, she worked her way through the ever-growing crowds, employing an elbow or two when a politely worded request to make room went unheeded. Bag and bow jostling with her halting steps, she met with a particularly thick knot of citizens. The trouble seemed to be stemming from one of the constable’s men having apprehended a thief; the sight brought a twinge of nostalgic sympathy to Belle’s mind. Not so long ago she had nearly been in the same spot; if it hadn’t been for the swift thinking of -
And as if by magic, there the girl was, likewise caught in the slow-footed, gawking crowd. Sympathy for the caught cutpurse gave way to something approaching melancholy; even more recently, she had had words with Shiloh as to his relationship with the girl. Still, in their one meeting Iris had been nothing but kind, and Belle would not repay that past kindness with current rudeness. Besides, she did genuinely like the other girl and had, once, fostered a hope for friendship.
Deftly manuevering through the block of bodies, Belle raised a hand in greeting and called out, “Iris! What a happy co-incidence this is!”
Shiloh’s fingers laced around her hand on his cheek drawing her in closer as she spoke the things on her mind. He was so lost in the moment, unable to see or feel anything but the woman in front of him that the second she dropped her hand, the rush of cold stung his skin as a slap would no matter the lack there of. The wolf’s instincts took in her nervousness, the traits so obvious between two hunters that he wanted to grip her hands to stop the fidgeting. It bled into his own person, forcing him to take a step back, knowing the stance would end in him running if he didn’t keep listening. Every sentence said threatened to send the wolf spiraling into a panicked fit, but he couldn’t find the mental strength to let it happen because they were valid concerns.
Between the nervousness she was sharing a deep honesty with him and for once he didn’t turn around. Desperate for her to understand something people didn’t try to with him. It was easy to take advantage of this side of him, or ride the wave of his loving personality until he was used up. He was tired of people not letting him make his own decisions, and then standing by them no matter the fall out if it was eminent. Shiloh’s thoughts confirmed as she spoke so highly of him yet, told him of his short comings. He knew what they were, and he didn’t know how to fix how he felt.
"Let’s get a room, and Ill tell you…if I can manage to find the words to describe the people who mean the world to me. You included…you all are just indescribable to everything I need…because of what I am. What I was made…punished for, I can’t fill it. What I had Belle….family, friends, lovers, all in the same forty wolves. You can understand the hole I feel better than anyone I know, I am…" Lost with out you all. Shiloh paused his thoughts, dropping his eyes until they closed but then reached for her to navigate them to an Inn. “Here,” he said the second the Inn keeper came into view, the old man handing him a key to room five without trouble.
A sickness crept up on him when thinking about his pack. He hadn’t felt this bad in the last year but he felt the haunting memories of loyalty, duty, and pride swell in his chest that he still wanted to be with them. No matter what. The conditioning thought made it impossible for the yearning of his pack life to be trumped by anyone. It was a cruel irony to being ronin for Shiloh, and he was trying to break his makers hold on him. That he still didn’t see the effects he had on him until moments like this. When he felt like his claws were gripping under his jaw, yelling at him in the powerful tongue of the Garou.
The key clicked loudly in the empty hall, and he stood there staring at the metal in his hand as the sickness made him almost pass out. How could he explain that this was how he was taught to love? That he couldn’t lose her or anyone else because they all made up those pieces he was missing from his pack. The good and the bad, loyalty and love. It was all meshed into one entity for him, and to choose would be beyond painful for him but worse, would send him off balance. He pushed the door open, the room quaint and furnished with the bare necessities. His feet took him to the bed and he laid down on it, pressing his face into the pillow while his body sprawled out. Taking in all the scents of the Inn, Belle, the room. Hearing the chatter below, the creaking of floor boards, and the ever present beat of her heart.
"Come lay with me," he said quietly, peering up from his position, with a hand out reached for her as he sat up enough to give her the right amount of attention. "What do you want to know? What can I do? I don’t know what to do Belle. What to say? How to explain anything? I just don’t know love, help me get there."
Once in the private, quiet space of their small inn room Belle felt her doubts and insecurities heighten and intensify. It was an unpleasant sensation, the knotting of her stomach and the quickening of her heart, and almost wholly previously unknown to her. Prior to this, she had counted herself self-sure and confident. She knew of the footing on which she stood. Even her follies, and they were great, she owned as her own and refused to be undone by them.
This newfound weakness, and over such a trifle as one man’s affection, sat ill at ease with her sense of self and identity.
Or was it so silly? That she loved Shiloh was a fact, and one that resonated deeply through her every day life. Shouldn’t she be certain, then, of where they stood? Of the sincerity and depth of his affections for her? Ahh, but there was the rub, for hadn’t he proved to her time and again how much he cared for her? How selfish and stupid it made her feel to doubt him … And ‘round and ‘round she went, her emotions a dizzying circling maze.
At Shiloh’s beckoning, she climbed onto the bed next to him, removing her floral crown so as not to crush it and placing it out of harm’s way. She curled up beside him, skirts an evergreen field against the plain white blankets they lay atop of, her hands gingerly curled in the space between them.
"I don’t know myself. I understand, in a way, what you said about your pack. Before, in Heaven, it was much the same; my friends and siblings and comrades were all the same, but … It was Abaddon I loved above all others. It was only him I wished to be with, to hold, to, to make love with." This last part was spoken even softer than her previous words and the color rose in her cheeks. It was a revelation only recently revealed to her concious mind and she still wondered if it was a hold-over from previous emotion or a product of a corrupted, mortal shell.
"There remains a block, in my mind, that keeps me from fully understanding the nature of your love, Shiloh. I loved Abaddon for more years than man has walked the earth. Julian I came to love over the course of decades. Both, in their time, were the only ones for me. You, I have never been so brash as when I fell in with you, but you are the only one I wish to have, here and now. I-" Here, she stopped, biting her lip as she worked the problem over in her mind. Shifting, she propped herself on one elbow and looked down at the wolf’s face.
"How many of the others - Emery and Iris and Caden and the others whose names I don’t know - How many of them are your lovers?"