Argus's head bowed and he stood like a mute statue of a brooding man. Tense muscles stood out like thick-bunched cords on his neck and his shoulders rounded protectively.
The stark silence of their cabin waited for a conversation Reya hoped they would have. She would wait for him.
The room was functional, almost bare, reflecting a military lifestyle where neither expected to stay in one place very long. Permanency had never been in their vocabulary.
She wondered why that had never changed. They'd known each other over a year. Fought together. Fought each other. Stood side by side against the enemy. Shared their lives.
What was it Sester said? Argus had many characteristics of a wolf. Wolves mated for life. So did she.
It was time for a little permanence.
She was looking forward to the bonding ceremony. In the past, she'd never considered it important. Had scoffed at the meaningless ritual that did not guarantee the words that were spoken.
Her attitude had changed and she wasn't even aware of when or how. She did know why. It was because of him, but not because he would have wanted an elaborate ceremony. In that, they were both alike. A few words spoken in commitment had been all they wanted or expected. Simple, functional, direct and swift. Like a quick military strike.
There was something about an official ceremony that she wanted for him. His life had never been his own. He had always served someone else, even as a rebel. It was his choice but it wasn't really for him. It was a debt he owed to those he had killed and those who gave their lives for him. It was because of a heart that would not allow him to be still while others suffered.
He had never done anything solely for himself.
This would be for him. Just as she was for him.
It was hard to see him suffer. It was like a knife piercing her heart. She couldn't imagine how he was feeling now but she wanted to understand; she wanted to help him.
Reya laid the flat of her hand on his broad back and felt a shiver run through him. "Do you want to talk about it?" she asked.
Argus was hot to the touch, like an engine overheating, and the tension was a current of energy beneath his skin. His chest expanded, pressing against her hand. He exhaled like a slowly deflating pump and turned around to face her. His eyes were troubled, searching hers for answers he could not find himself.
He said, "I know what you said before. That your feelings will never change no matter what happened. But we didn't have proof about the wolf. We do now. If you…"
She pressed her fingers to his lips. "Don’t."
“Do you believe me when I say that I am also mated to you for life?”
She brushed the tips of her fingers gently across his lips. “Do you want me, for life?”
“More than anything, but Reya...”
Her eyes were earnest and her love surrounded him like a warm blanket. “Then there is no need for buts.”
The Wolf in him leapt for joy as he gathered her in his arms.
Afterwards as they rested safe in each other's arms, Argus wondered what he needed to say to the Wolf. He wasn't sure if he could get used to sharing his head or his body with it.
The creature intruded into his thoughts, Does one not like Wolf?
Then why is one troubled?
Wolf, I need you to promise me that you won’t kill anyone unless I agree.
The creature puffed out its chest and raised its head. Wolf is Alpha. No one gave it orders or controlled its actions.
I know. We both are, but this body is human. There are certain customs humans follow that wolves don’t.
Silly customs. One must hunt.
I know you hunt to feed the pack but we have food dispensers that take care of that.
One does not like dead food.
Don’t wolves kill their prey before they eat?
The Wolf erupted in barks of laughter. One cannot eat prey if it is moving.
Argus sighed. He had a sneaking suspicion this discussion might be like the one about clothing. It was going to take some getting used to having the Wolf in his head. I meant, when you eat prey, it's also dead. Just like the dispenser food. What's the difference?
Machine food has no life.
You mean it was never alive? I don't think you can tell the difference.
One can tell.
It was strange but Argus could almost 'see' the creature's amber eyes in his mind. They shone with different intensities as it spoke to him, depending on its mood. Now they were glowing with insistence.
That's only because you can see it coming out of the machine. Argus refrained from rolling his eyes as his imagination gave him the scene of a taste test with freshly killed meat next to the more appetizing, cooked, dispenser food.
Oh. He groaned and his tongue curled up in distaste. I don't think I can eat raw meat.
One does not understand why one must burn food.
"Are you talking to the Wolf?" Reya asked, startling them. She had been awake for several minutes, watching his animated face and the faraway look in his eyes.
Argus flushed pink with embarrassment. "Yes. Did we wake you?"
"You were making sounds. I was worried."
"We'll try to be quieter."
One did not wish to wake Reya-mate.
Argus conveyed the message, "Wolf said he's sorry too."
Her interest was piqued. "He can hear me?"
She said, "Can you tell him it's alright? I don't mind."
The Wolf leaned forward and licked her cheek in affection.
Argus yanked his head back, yelling, "Stop that!" Obviously, they needed to set some boundaries; no licking of people with his tongue being a top priority.
Reya was more curious then repulsed as she wiped her cheek. "That was the Wolf?"
"I'm sorry, Reya. Sometimes I can't control it."
"It's alright." She touched the corner of his eye, wondering if there was a difference when the Wolf was dominant. It would be less confusing if she could tell. "Wolves are affectionate creatures." A smile softened her face. "Just like someone else I know."
Argus grinned and hugged her. "Anyone I know?"
"What were you talking about before with the Wolf?"
That surprised her. "Food?"
"Wolf doesn't like our dispenser food."
"Then it has good taste. I never liked it either. There's a dead taste to it. I prefer fresh food."
The creature inside his head harrumphed in a clear indication of, 'I told you so.'
I don’t think she means raw meat, Argus told it.
One has never asked.
I'm not going to ask if she wants to eat raw meat! This is embarrassing enough as it is!
Why is one embarrassed?
Argus rolled his eyes.
Reya wished she could hear the missing part of the conversation. "The Wolf again?"
Argus nodded. "It wants…" His jaw tightened. "It wants to know if you like raw meat."
Reya considered her answer carefully. It was strange having a second hand conversation with the Wolf. She felt as if she was meeting one of Argus's in-laws. "I don't like burnt meat. I prefer mine rare to medium-rare."
Argus said, "I do too."
The creature snorted. Then one does not understand why Argus-Alpha was being so difficult.
Reya said, "That must have been the Wolf."
"That…" Argus flushed red, "was me." He sighed. "I don't know if I can do this, Reya. I think I'm going to go insane."
"We'll all help you."
"That's what I'm afraid of." The last thing he needed was 'helpful' suggestions from Avon, Vila and the constant thorn in his side, Sester.