251 EPILOGUE Part 1 (Gar & Rika)
~ GAR ~
The morning after their return from defeating the bears, Gar was woken by a sharp intake of breath and the thud of the furs being thrown onto his stomach by a surprisingly strong human hand.
Rika hissed as she pushed herself up to sit and swung her legs over the side of the platform, but he simply reached back and caught her hand before she shoved off the high bed.
“Relax, I already added new coals an hour or so ago.”
She took a deep breath, then her arm relaxed under his hand. But she still didn’t lay down.
“Don’t make me punish you, you aren’t supposed to be walking on that knee,” he growled.
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Rika gave a soft laugh.
She’d twisted her knee trying to flee the bears at one point and almost gotten herself killed for her trouble. When he’d heard the story, he hadn’t been sure whether to be in awe of her courage, or call her an idiot and ground her.
He had some ideas of ways to keep her busy if she was stuck in the treehouse for a month.
“I already added the new embers. There’s no movement. Nothing. Just—”
“But I think I need to talk to them.”
Gar was forced to roll over to give her the full impact of his combined confusion and irritation.
Unfortunately, his mate was even less impressed by his disapproval than his sister was. She just stared at him, like he was missing something.
“I’m sure I’ll regret asking this, but… please tell me why you need to talk to a bunch of eggs?”
“Because! They’re babies! If they were in a mother’s tummy they’d be carted around and stroked and listen to her voice all day long.”
“But, they’re eggs. They don’t get carted anywhere,” he said through his teeth.
“No, they just lost their mother and have been cared for by a bunch of ignorant males for the past week,” she snapped.
Gar’s brows shot up. Rika had a temper—as did he—and they weren’t above arguing. But she didn’t usually leap to anger.
“Babe, are you feeling okay?”
“I’m fine—I just need to go to the bathroom and talk to the eggs!”
He caught her wrist again as she was about to push off the bed, and when she snapped her head around, glaring, he growled. “Let me carry you—the healers said no weight on that knee for at least a week—at least, Rika.”
She folded her arms, shoving out her lower lip, but she waited for him to get out of the bed and walk around to sweep her up.
He didn’t miss the way her cheeks pinked when he lifted her. She’d always liked it when he did that.
He let a growl of approval rumble in his chest as he gazed down at her, carrying her to the water closet on the ground floor. “How are you feeling?” he asked carefully, kindly.
Her cheeks flushed a different kind of pink. “I’m fine.”
He sighed and leaned in to kiss her neck softly. She tucked her chin down and giggled a little bit, ticklish from two days of stubble on his cheeks. “You’re more than fine,” he growled.
“Takes one to know one,” she smiled. But it faltered quickly. She sighed and stroked his shoulders, then turned her chin up to meet his eyes. “Just a few more days, Gar. I’m just… I just need a few more days.”
“Babe, I wasn’t—”
“I know, I just want you to know I’m thinking about it too. I just… I just need to rest a couple more days.”
“You can rest as long as you want, Rika,” he said gently.
“Thank you.” She leaned up and kissed him, slow, but sweetly. So sweetly he was sad when he had to let her down.
He was insisting that she wouldn’t go anywhere or do anything today. At all. And he’d bite the throat out of any one who turned up or tried to say otherwise. But before they returned to the bedroom, he indulged her pleading look and used his thick leg to nudge one of the bigger chairs over in front of the fireplace, then settled her on it while he checked the eggs that all lay in the ash and red-hot coal embers of the fire.
There were three. There had been four. If the Creatures were to be believed, there had been six to start with, but two hadn’t fertilized. Their mother was an unknown Chimera who’d apparently never found—or never joined—those on the peninsula. Instead she’d wandered the Great Plains and even into the desert, before meeting one of the creatures in their human form.
The two were mates.
An impossibility, the Chimera thought. No one had ever heard of a Creature having a true mate. But these had been a pair from the moment they laid eyes on each other.
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A pair who, it turned out, would have eggs.
And a pair whose joy was short-lived. Because the bears found him, and when she’d felt him dying, she’d run to intervene.
No one knew how she’d known. Only that she’d left the eggs that she’d been tending so diligently, on the fire before she left. And when neither of them returned, the eggs were found by one of the other males.
When Gar and the others came for Rika, when they learned the true depth of the way the bears had undertaken genocide against the Creatures, they’d sent their trackers, scouts, and Chimeran messengers out to find them.
And when they’d come to see for themselves if the bears were truly dead, they’d brought the eggs with them, sadly breaking one on the way.
Rika had taken one look and offered to take them.
Now she sat on the chair staring into the glowing coals at the deeply speckled shells—mostly bright blue, but burnt orange in spots, with veins of black and gold that rippled through them, glowing brightly sometimes, and dying almost completely at others, just like the hot coals they needed to stay warm. There was a brightness in her eyes that made Gar a touch nervous, and belied her casual tone when she spoke.
“You didn’t tell them about the eggs last night.”
“I thought it might be a little too much after everything else. And…” He trailed off.
She turned wary eyes on him. “You don’t think they’ll survive.”
He shrugged, but it was true, that was what made him nervous. She’d only had the eggs for two days, but she was already so focused on them. He couldn’t help wondering if she thought this was… some kind of balm for their loss. And if he could be certain that healthy offspring would result, that they would indeed be surrogate parents for… whatever these things were… he might have been excited right along with her. But as it was, with these eggs so fragile, and unknown creatures within them… he feared only more loss for his mate’s soft, scarred heart.
“I’m not stupid, Gar. I get it.”
He went quiet, looking down at her, Traced her jaw with a finger and tried to smile because she looked so stern.
Her eyes closed for a moment at his touch, then her chin trembled. “I’m not… unrealistic,” she said. “I’m a very logical person. I know we don’t know what we’re doing and we might kill them. I know they might just… not live anyway. I get it. You don’t have to worry. I’m not going to… fall apart if they don’t make it. But I want to try. And I don’t want to hide them. These… I want to talk to them. And I want other people to talk to them, too. And I want… I want them to know they’re loved. So if they do make it, they don’t feel like… like creatures instead of Anima.”
He nodded. “Okay.”
“Don’t humor me, please.”
“I’m not. I just don’t know what to say.”
“Say you love me, and say you won’t make me hide them, and say that you’ll still love me even if we can’t have kids.”
The fear that suddenly clouded her eyes shocked him.
His brows flew up and he leaped forward to gather her to him. “Rika… babe…”
“I know you always wanted kids. And—”
“Rika, it’s just as likely to be my problem as yours—the Anima struggle—”
“Your family didn’t!”
“My father was an only son! And Behryn could never—”
“And the wolves sometimes have three. The point is, we don’t know, right? So just… just… don’t stop loving me if… if it doesn’t happen for us. Please.”
“I never would.”
“I know, but—”
“No, Rika. Look at me. Look at me!” he said, his voice rough with emotion. He’d pulled her into his lap and settled them both on the chair. She was looking down, away, at the eggs, his chest, anywhere but at him.fr𝚎𝘦𝘄𝙚𝗯𝗻𝗼𝐯e𝗹. 𝑐o𝒎
He tipped up her chin and made her meet his eyes. “I love you today. I will love you tomorrow. And I will love you forever. No matter what. Children or not children. Eggs or no eggs. You are mine, Rika. Forever.”
Her eyes welled, but she smiled and threw her arms around his neck.
He held her tightly, heart pounding, but also lifting with joy.
She believed him. Good. Good. She needed to believe him. Because it was only true.
But as they sat there quietly together and she rested her head on his shoulder, her hands playing along the lines of his chest, Gar prayed. He prayed, for her sake, that the eggs would hatch. That they would contain… persons. Anima, Chimera, Protector… whatever. He just prayed that no matter what, she had the chance to give that sweet love of hers to someone other than him.
And he prayed she’d stay safe forever. That they would die old and in bed, both so weary that they were more than happy to shuffle off mortality and go to paradise with his other loved ones.
Because looking into her beautiful eyes, he couldn’t fathom facing a single day without her.
When she buried her face under his jaw, he wrapped his arms around her and held her there, staring into the glowing coals, at the eggs.
Live, he willed them. Live. For her. Live and love and… whatever you are, just live. Please.
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