A Wolf Among The Sheep

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"Exactly, a few more days. It'll be so short compared to what we've already been through." He answered softly, reaching out to gently hold his mate's upper arms as he cradled their daughter to his chest. He then stepped forward into the little space that was left to kiss Anders' forehead, a hand came away from Anders' arm to stroke back some of Teddy's hair, after which he also pressed a kiss to her forehead too. He stayed close to them for a breath or two longer, eventually and reluctantly pulling away to let his mate go.

He smiled quietly, inwardly wanting nothing more than to be able to leave with the two of them to join them in their hut. But he knew that wasn't possible, at least not yet. "I look forward to it, an' I can't wait for what we have planned." He murmured, hands sliding into his pockets, all for the reason so he didn't keep reaching out to Anders. The more he did that, the longer it would take for him to leave and therefore for tomorrow to arrive.

Once his mate finally left, Ronan exhaled heavily and reached up to rub the back of his neck. It so felt like they were only in an impossible position at that moment, like nothing would ever be resolved. Of course he knew his and Anders' predicament was slightly different, because at least they had each other to get through their turmoil, unlike Luana who had to watch her mate love someone else. However, Anders' and Ronan's situation could be resolved by a simple announcement... which he could only imagine wouldn't be well received. He, like Anders, was determined for the truth to be out there some day, but that didn't mean he didn't feel sick at the mere thought of it. They were both anxious about how the pack would react, and it wasn't as if they would have anyone 'powerful' on their side when they told all. Luana was out of favour, incredibly so, and Anders' brothers hardly listened to Daisy.

Forcing himself to put aside his worries for at least that night, Ronan made quick work of undressing and changing for bed, slipping under the covers of the spare bed not long after. He laid on his side, facing Luana as she slept with her pup protectively held to her. The paste seemed to glisten slightly in the firelight, but at least it wasn't disturbing her. His mind turned to if that had happened to Anders, having to swallow back a growl at the mere thought. He would willingly bring down justice on whoever thought it wise to touch his mate, not sparing a moment to hesitate.

Having to shove aside that scenario too, Ronan pulled the covers up to his chin to settle down for sleep.




The next morning, it was a miracle for Luana to find Tala still sleeping beside her. Her body shifted so she could scoop to pup back close to her, a hand going to her back to gently scratch at the toddler's back. She could tell it was around breakfast time, with the bustle of the pack clear to hear. The fire was crackling, and there was the faint sound of wooden spoons and ladles banging against pots. Her eyes moved across to Ronan, who was also still sleeping, an arm hanging off the edge of the bed and laying flat on his back, body curving so his head was almost hanging off the bed too.

Kissing the top of Tala's head, she carefully untangled herself from the toddler to head over to the sink, grabbing the jar of paste from the table on her way through. She would need Anders or Ronan's help with the scratches on her back again, but she could at least check her eye.

She washed her face, gingerly doing so around the cut and the swelling which had gone down drastically. However, there was still some remaining, and the cut still had yet to completely heal. But it was close to closing, so that was all she could hope for.

Luana washed the small wound carefully, dabbing it dry afterwards with the hand towel nearby. Afterward washing her hands, she opened the jar and dipped two fingers in to gather some of the paste, which she then used to apply a thinner layer over the cut. She didn't want to saturate it, as it would need air to continue drying up.

"Mumma?"

Quickly, Luana screwed the lid back on the jar and left it by the sink, turning to face her pup who was sitting up in bed and rubbing her eyes.

"Hey, little bear." She whispered, glancing across to Ronan who merely released a heavy sigh and rolled over. The young woman walked over to her daughter and sat on the edge of the bed.

Not one to miss much, Tala's brow furrowed - almost cutely - and she lifted a finger to point at Luana's cut, "Wha' dat?"

She reached for her daughter's finger and leaned forward to pretend to gobble it up, earning herself a shriek of laughter and a giggle afterwards - the noise of which startling Ronan awake, who looked across to make sure all was okay before groaning softly and rolling back over, pulling his blanket over his head.

"Mumma had a woopsie when she was bathing yesterday. I was very silly an' accidentally slipped on some rocks." Luana replied, moving to sit fully back on the bed again as the girl clambered into her lap, clearly still sleepy. "Very silly Mumma." Tala agreed, a yawn appearing at the end of the declaration.

Luana chuckled, a warm smile on her lips and an eyebrow raised, one arm cradled the toddler to her while the other hand stroked the back of Tala's head, "Yes, very silly Mumma."
 

potassiumboron

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The night in his family's hut was nothing short of torturous for Anders, who found that he couldn't really get to sleep no matter how much he tried. He wanted to pin the blame on the snores of both Lyle and Chester combined, knowing that if he fumed silently throughout the night, it was best to do so with that focus and blame pinned on them because the alternative was admitting why he was actually awake and spend the night curled up in bed, his sadness rooting itself uncomfortably within him.

He knew, deep down, that he just missed Ronan and the lack of his presence at his side. He tried, desperately, not to focus on that, blame his brothers and their loud snoring instead, but at some point in the night that desperation faded and the truth of the matter started to sink in. He had had countless nights over the two years apart from his mate where he missed him and craved his touch, but this felt more torturous than those times because now, he actually knew where Ronan was. He could take a step out the hut and see him, lay beside him, hold him.

But he couldn't and that was what hurt the most. It confounded the unfairness of their situation and served to keep Anders up most of the night, hunched over in his own bed and trying his hardest to avoid the temptation of heading over to the other hut. He could potentially do so and make it back to his own hut before his siblings woke - but why risk it? Daisy might know about his situation now but the twins didn't - and they were never the quiet, reserved sort capable of holding secrets. He didn't want to give them any inkling of his feelings for Ronan when it was entirely plausible that they would accidentally blurt the information out.

Or, if they were horrified by it, purposely reveal all to the pack and take away Anders' right to his own coming out story from him.

As badly as he craved Ronan's presence, it wasn't worth ruining their plans when all they had to do was just wait a few more days. It was difficult, sure, but it had to be that way. He had waited two years for him so a few more days was nothing in comparison.

So when the morning finally arrived and he had a legitimate reason to head into Luana's (seemingly temporary) accommodation with the excuse of needing to bring them all breakfast, Anders found it hard to hide his excitement, mirroring Teddy's own eager grin as she skipped on ahead of him. She had only really known about Ronan for a day or two, known that he was apparently her father too for less than that, but she didn't need time to warm to him - he was already impressive in her eyes for his talk of adventures and promises to take her fishing properly. She would warm to him if he was just introduced as a friend of Anders', but the fact he was her father? It was something she took pride in, wanting to babble about how 'cool' her Dad was to others in the pack - but it was a secret for now and she was wise enough to respect that.

The only immediate downside was Tate's decision to head along with them. Any chance of greeting Ronan with a kiss went downhill as a result but Anders made sure to smile across at his mate behind his brother's back. It wasn't much affection, but it was better than nothing at all.

It didn't take long for Tate's eyes to grave over Luana and her cut. He had set the breakfast down and moved to greet Tala with the familiar sort of excitement that his niece displayed for Ronan (which he was fortunately oblivious to) but paused in those movements when the injury came into view. However much healing it had done, there was still an injury visible to the eye and, with a sharp intake of breath, Tate observed the cut in confusion. His immediate suspicion wasn't that someone had hurt her because if that was the case, he liked to think she would have told him so he could reprimand those responsible - that behaviour wasn't accepted in his pack, after all.

Which left the possibility of her simply hitting her head somewhere - but even then, he wanted to know about it. Daisy hadn't mentioned healing her up so the fact she had kept it to herself was lunacy in his eyes.

"You should have told Daisy about that, at least. You can't let this go without her taking a look at 'ya, you could 'ave done yourself some damage," he muttered beneath his breath to spare Tala from overhearing and worrying about her mother. He folded his arms over his chest in the effort of calmness, despite the rage building under the surface. He didn't appreciate its presence when he knew its intensity came from Luana, as his mate, being hurt. He didn't like to think of her as the one chosen for him, his soulmate, when he had moved on and didn't want to consider her in a romantic way any more.

Yet he couldn't just deny the emotion brewing him in as anything but a response to that bond they held together, however much he wanted to pretend it no longer existed.

"...What happened then? You gonna spill the beans or what? 'Cos if there's a funny story of you stumbling over, I kinda wanna hear it," he smiled as he eased himself into a chair, hoping the more casual, informal and conversational tone would put her at ease and distract from the storm behind his eyes.
 

Viverescribere

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"Just another scar to add to the collection." Luana answered simply, keeping her eyes on Tala as she helped the toddler get dressed. It was more difficult now that Tate had arrived, the two-year-old squirming and wriggling about in her impatience to get the job done so she could run over to her father. It was true, she had earned a fair few from her training at her parents' pack, but of course the ones she picked up at this pack still remained. Mainly the ones of when he fought off that scout during the time of the kidnappings. The scar on the back of her neck was still slightly puckered, visible whenever she tied her hair up. As was the one on her stomach whenever she bathed or was in underwear.

It didn't matter to her though, in fact she liked having them, as it reminded her of a much less complicated time. When, despite the chaos that had been going on, all of her relationships were still good. Happy. Loved.

"Besides, I can look after myself, Tate. Who was the one that told Daisy about that paste anyway?" She added, finally glancing across to him as she kept her voice light, neutral, to avoid him thinking she was being sassy with him. "It's fine. Don't worry about it."

Eventually, she patted Tala's bottom for the little girl to race over to Tate, reaching her arms up and demand: "Up! Up!"

Shaking her head in amusement, Luana shook her head and pushed herself to her feet, walking over to the bed to make it neatly. Meanwhile Ronan sat up in bed with Teddy on his lap, gently bouncing the girl with his legs. Giggles were intermixed with his own low chuckles before the man reluctantly murmured for her to go and have breakfast. Once his daughter (albeit secret daughter) was off his lap, he swung his legs around to sit up, arms stretching above his head. His eyes momentarily lingered on Anders, and he sent his mate a soft smile as he finally stood to collect his clothes for the day.

He snorted humourlessly at Tate's question of what happened, unaware of Luana's desire to hide the events of last night from Tate. "How she got it s'hardly funny, doubt you'd wanna hear it. Or do anythin' anyway." He responded, voice quiet but a sharpness to his words.

Luana looked up hastily to her friend, eyebrows knitting together and a muscle jumping in her jaw, "Shouldn't you be goin' to get changed?" She retorted.

Ronan looked across to her, blinking in surprise at her tone and reaction, "You seriously ain't goin'--" The male cut off at the glare sent to him by his friend, mouth snapping shut as he held her gaze for a moment. Eventually he averted his gaze, submitting to his alpha, "Imma go change." He mumbled, hurrying into the space towards the back of the hut near the sink where a screen stood for him to change in privacy.

Standing there for a moment, Luana composed herself and forced a smile to her lips as she approached the table. "Come on, little bear. You can give your dad cuddles after. It's breakfast time an' you can sit like a big girl in your own chair."

Tala pouted from where she was perched on Tate's lap, arms folding across her chest and remaining that way even after Luana had picked her up and placed her in the other chair besides her former mate.
 

potassiumboron

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If Luana hadn't sharply recommended that Ronan leave the room to change, there was every possibility that Tate wouldn't have just called him out for his remarks but demanded that he be shown even a slither of respect in his own pack. Ronan might not be a part of that but he was still, through status alone, Tate's inferior; he was the alpha and that role came with respect even from those not in the pack under his command. Perhaps it shouldn't have surprised him to learn that Ronan cared very little for that basic respect when he had already proven himself to disregard it entirely, but Tate had naively chosen to believe that they could feign mutual respect; that for the sake of avoiding arguments around the children, they could just paint on a fake smile and keep things amicable.

He would have been pissed off regardless of who was present in that room - a basic lack of respect was going to get under Tate's skin no matter how many people were there to witness it. But for Ronan to blatantly disregard his authority (and beyond that, make negative quips that contradicted the call for peace) around Tala? Tate had to do everything he could not to call Ronan out and get him to squirm uncomfortably.

He could accept criticism, even if such comments were said bitterly with (in his mind) no real reason for it, but he couldn't willingly stand by and let his daughter potentially overhear someone she loved as an uncle talk negatively of her father; not when Tate had promised her that there would be no more fighting and no more arguments. He didn't want to break that promise and he thought that Ronan understood the need to feign niceties in front of the children, spare them from absorbing the bitterness.

Evidently, he had thought too highly of him.

Trying his best to conceal the rage that he inevitably festered in him, Tate only exhaled a breath once the other male had at least disappeared from his eyeline - it wasn't much but it was something. With that allowing for some calmness to set in, he turned his eyes onto Luana in recognition of Ronan's words and the insinuation that there was more to the injury than she was content to admit to - and one glance at Anders with his inability to clear a weary frown in time confirmed it.

With Tala on his lap, he offered her hair a playful ruffle and made the most of the brief cuddle he got from her, at least happy that she seemed oblivious to the tense atmosphere gradually sinking in. Only when she reluctantly eased herself from his lap to eat breakfast did he glance back at Luana, his gaze hardening not out of anger but in seriousness. He didn't like being lied to, whatever the reason for it, especially if it concerned someone hurting her.

"...You gonna tell me what actually happened or do I gotta confront everyone in my pack, Lu? Get them to open up an' tell me? 'Cos somethin' clearly fuckin' happened to 'ya an' I wanna know what that is. So tell me. I'm-- comin' to 'ya looking to help, I'm on your side, a'ight? If someone hurt 'ya, if they did something... you gotta tell me. I won't stand for anyone gettin' hurt here, 'specially not-- especially not you, so just-- who was it, huh? Give me a name."
 

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Luana ignored the look her former mate gave her, but her body grew tense as she felt his gaze on her. Fucking Ronan. She would definitely be having a word with her friend once everything had calmed down, and before he went on his picnic with Anders and Teddy. She recognised it was partly her fault that she hadn't made him aware of what she wanted, that being to leave Tate unaware of the true origin of her cut, but nonetheless, it was her story to tell. Besides, there was also the matter of respect, just as what Tate was thinking.

She appreciated that her friend wanted to protect her and wasn't entirely happy with Tate's reaction and lack of wanting to listen to Luana's side of the story regarding the past two years, but she was all to aware of the increased tension it was causing. In line with Tate's thoughts, she wanted Ronan and her former mate to get along as best as they could, for Tala and Teddy's sake. If Ronan was considering moving here at the end of the week, once everyone had been made aware, Tate would be his alpha and he would have to respect and take orders from him whether he liked it or not.

Beginning to help Tala with breakfast, she looked up at him from under her lashes and with a bowed head, since she was at their daughter's level. Luckily the pup was too distracted with making even more mush out of the porridge she had been given to hear the curse word, not that it mattered to Luana.

"Watch your mouth. I ain't havin' her goin' round screamin' that word because you bring it in to the hut every time you come to see her." She scolded, finally straightening to look at him properly.

A knot in her chest warmed, and her stomach fluttered, at the sound of his words. On her side. He said he was on her side. He especially didn't want her hurt. He had said that, just now, and Anders and Ronan were there to witness it. However, such words left an ache in her throat, a lump formed there, making it difficult to swallow. He wasn't saying that for the reasons she wished and hoped. He was saying that to the mother of his child. Not to his mate. Not to someone he loved. He wasn't on her side, not really.

Clearing her throat, attempting to dislodge the lump as she did so, Luana pulled her sleeve down over her hand to wipe at Tala's mouth before the toddler took another bite.

"I ain't goin' tell you what happened, no. I don't need a fuss bein' made over this, Tate. I don't want a fuss bein' made. The only reason why these two know is cause they were lookin' after Teddy an' Tala while I was out." She waved nonchalantly in Anders and Ronan's direction, the latter having finally changed and sitting near (but not too close) to his mate. "They'll just hate me more if you start tryin' do somethin' about it. Leave it. It's the moment they lay a finger on this one that I'll lose my shi-- mind. I don't care what they do to me, so long as it ain't done to her." She kissed the top of Tala's head, smiling warmly at the pup as she in turn looked up to her Mumma, chewing messily on a spoonful of porridge.

Luana chuckled, shaking her head in amusement, "Mouth closed, little bear."
 

potassiumboron

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According to most who knew him, stubbornness was both Tate's greatest attribute and his most obvious flaw. There were times in his life where his stubbornness had its advantages - he would never give up protecting his pack, both as a collective and to individuals should they need his protection, his past dedicated actions standing as evidence for that. On the other hand, there were times when his stubbornness had greatly impacted his life in the most negative of ways. His stubbornness and flat-out refusal to even accept the possibility of one day having children had driven Luana away - as had him declining to accept the pack she had been born into and now lived with.

Yet, he wasn't the only one to exhibit such traits and even if the situation was tense and his anger simmering away beneath the surface, he couldn't help but inwardly remark on Luana's present stubbornness and how similarly determined she was to stick to her guns as he had been in various moments in his life. This wasn't an instance where he could crack a smile and make note of it (he wasn't sure he was even ready to be that playful around her just yet) but the moment had been noted regardless.

It did remind him that they did have those similarities - though he forced that admission from his mind as quickly as it had arrived. All pondering on that did was allude to how good of a match they were; that they were fated to meet one another and unite as one. It was what everyone wanted, to find their fated mate, but acknowledging it when he was no longer involved with Luana romantically and had moved on to someone else? It wasn't a good idea; far from it, in fact, so he chose to ignore how close he had come to acknowledging it.

Instead, he focused on the fact she was continuing to keep him in the dark to avoid furhter retaliation against her and, more pressingly, possibly against Tala. The child was hardly going to be the target of such anger but she could get caught in the crossfire, so of course Tate understood his former girlfriend's desire to stay silent and let the moment go.

That didn't mean he had to like it, however.

"If there are idiots out there who think they can go about attackin' 'ya, I'm gonna find out who they are, Luana. Do you think I'd just waive this aside and pretend it didn't happen? Let myself interact with my pack despite knowing I could be chattin' with someone who hurt you? Nah, fuc-- forget that, that ain't how I do things. I ain't lettin' our daughter go out there and potentially talk to someone who attacked her mother, Lu. That's ridiculous, all you're doin' is protecting 'em when you should-- be at my side, making sure they know not to mess with 'ya."

Doing his best to keep his voice low and tone calm to avoid disrupting his daughter and niece from their breakfasts, the only real sign of the anger starting to grow were his fists: tightly clenched and forced to rest on his knees, even if that action just caused the muscles in his arms to tighten in turn.

"...Anders mentioned a picnic or somethin'. You should come, I ain't letting 'ya stay here with a bunch of-- idiots," he amended, the urge to just spit out a few swear words intense but he had already slipped up once that morning; he wasn't going to do so again so soon. "Come with us, Lu. I mean-- that's a demand, I ain't asking. Ain't no way you're staying here by yourself, not gonna happen. It's my pack so you kinda gotta do what I say. If I say you gotta get your ass to a picnic with the rest of us, then that's what you're gonna do, darlin'."
 

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"You can, an' you must. I ain't about to give them the satisfaction, an' I ain't about to give them a reason to hate me, or even you for defendin' me." Her gaze remained on Tala, watching the toddler eat her breakfast to make sure she had it all. Her hand softly stroked the back of her head, running through the small curls that bounced back immediately after being released. Hearing him just use phrases such as being at his side hurt more than she should have allowed it. Luana knew he would probably reflect back on the word choices and regret them, so she wasn't going to pay them much attention, regardless of how much it made hope ache in her chest.

"If I wanted them to know they shouldn't mess with me, I would have dealt with them there an' then, Tate. I ain't the little weak wolf that I left as. I didn't do anythin' because they would have lied, don't you get it? There is no way I come out of this without a-- another mark to my name." She finally raised her eyes to his, the hurt lingering there for a split second before she had the sense to hide it.

She dropped her attention to his hands, recognising the signs that were being shown from their time together. Her one hand twisted anxiously into her shirt, uncertain as to what to do. She didn't want him to take that anger out, especially on members of his own pack. Not to mention, she didn't feel it was half as bad as what she had caused him to do. A part of her was glad it happened, as it felt like a punishment she deserved.

Hesitation was obvious at his demand for her to come along to the picnic. It had been something she wasn't certain about when Anders suggested it, let alone with Tate ordering her to join them. She didn't appreciate him telling her what to do, especially after everything that had happened since her arrive. However, her head snapped up to look at him again at the pet name. At the name he gave her when she first arrived. She stared at him for a moment, caught up in the memories that the name had evoked before she cleared her throat and turned her head away as Tala put her spoon down.

"All done!" The toddler announced, looking between her parents. She clambered out of the chair and crawled back up onto Tate's lap, "We go now? Mumma come too?" She questioned, looking from her dad to her Mumma. Luana smiled quietly, ruffling Tala's hair softly, "Mumma'll come."

Luana caught a glimpse of Ronan and Anders, leaving her to exhale heavily, and look back to Tate, "I'll come, so long as you don't do anythin'. Those are my conditions, alrigh'?" She told him, keeping her voice hushed to avoid Tala overhearing as she scrambled from Tate's lap to go across to Teddy to tell her cousin the good news. It wasn't that she didn't want to go anyway, she wanted to spend time with her family, even if she would have been nervous about ruining the time for Tate. But she knew she could use it as leverage, and she would.
 

potassiumboron

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Her justifications for keeping things to herself rather than call out those who had attacked her made Tate want to pull out his hair in annoyance... even if he knew, deep down, that she had a point. He might wholeheartedly believe that she had been hurt in spite of the lies from the perpetrators that would inevitably arise to counter such a claim if they were called out on, but who else in the pack would?

Would they honestly believe a word she said when she had proven herself to be a liar in the past? She had promised that she would return to them after a few months of enjoying the reunion with a pack and parents she had never known, yet spent an entire two years from them. The chance of them believing any word she told them over the words of members of their own pack who had been nothing but loyal and trustworthy was incredibly slim, if that.

Having reached that understanding was hard for Tate when he despised the idea of letting members of his pack think that behaviour was appropriate, letting them unjustly continue on without consequences, but he had to listen to what Luana thought was best. Ultimately, she was correct in her reasoning, however unfair it was to have to settle for letting those that hurt her get away with it unpunished and unreprimanded.

Relentingly, he nodded in agreement with her terms and averted his gaze to the happily chatting toddlers nearby, happy to distract himself with their excited babbling. It was either that, or be forced to focus on the fact he had absently used the pet name for Luana from their time together. A word that had once been used mockingly and patronisingly during their initial meeting, but becoming warmer and more affection with time until it was just... their word for one another, epitomising the love that had blossomed quickly in their time together.

To revert to its usage now wasn't something either of them needed: it only served to compound Luana's hurt and embarrass Tate, but it had said and Luana's reaction to it meant he couldn't even pretend she hadn't taken it in. He cringed to himself in annoyance for letting the word slip past his lips, unable to even deny the fact an affectionate tone had lilted at the word's departure, but the worst part of it all?

He liked it.

A small, innate part of him warmed in satisfaction at the suggestion of affection remaining within him for Luana, the acknowledgement of its existence in the form of 'darlin' being clear. He could argue that it was just a word he used, a part of his lexicon that had no hidden meaning or emotional attachment, but that would be a lie. The innermost part of him that glowed satisfactorily at using it with Luana couldn't be ignored, however little it did to ease the storm of emotions he had to deal with since the other's return.

The last thing he needed was to consider whether he still liked her or not, whether the flame between them had yet to be fully distinguished in spite of all that had happened. He had Leah, a pack to lead, a daughter to get to know.

Debating whether he still cared for Luana just wasn't something he wanted to give his energy to.

"...Right, yeah, I can let this go, that's-- if that's what it takes, I'll do that. You won't hear me go on about it again, promise," he eventually piped up once returning his gaze to the woman, shrugging casually as though it wasn't even that big of a deal to him anymore. "Why's Ronan gotta go with us, anyway? Not that I don't like 'im or nothin', just... this is a family day, ain't it? An' I know he's close to Tala an' all, but... I dunno, someone should stay in the hut, make sure nobody comes in an' disturbs anythin' for you guys. I'm tryin' to think logically."

"I, uh-- that's a good idea, but-- well, Teddy wants to go fishin' an' Ronan's good at that-- apparently. Luana was saying he was anyway. He said he'd teach 'er an' I'm cool with that. She was never gonna learn from me so if Ronan's volunteering to help, I... i don't mind, Tate."

"Nah, I can teach her. I'm her uncle, I ought t' be the one teachin' her if anyone is. Besides, I'm the alpha; she won't get better tutoring from anyone else, Anders," grinned Tate as he folded a leg across the other and took a spoonful of oats from the bowl, humming appreciatively at the good work the cooks had done - as usual. "You don't mind stayin' back here and keeping an eye on the hut do 'ya, Ronan? I trust my pack but clearly there's a few members who want to mess with Lu, so... you get what I'm sayin', yeah?"
 

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Luana glanced hesitantly towards the other two men in the hut, not wanting to agree to what Tate said really. It wasn't her idea to go fishing today, nor was it Tate's. It was Anders and Ronan's, she and Tate were merely the tag-alongs. She didn't want to tear the family (albeit unknown to Tate) apart because Tate wanted Ronan to stay behind to look after the hut.

That being said, a part of her didn't want to disagree with him, not when things were going so well. That hope had fluttered alive again the moment the word 'darlin'' came out of his mouth, that innate side of her that clung to the bond that fated them together nothing but pleased and ecstatic to hear their mate call her that once again. She fear her arguing to bring Ronan with them would make him retreat back into the hatred he had made sure she knew about the moment she set foot back in the pack.

There were so many emotions for her too to sort through, and after all that had happened so far, Luana was exhausted. Of course she longed for Tate to love her again, desperate to have mate back and finally let go of all the torment and pain and hurt she had been holding on to over the past two years. But then there was the fact that he had tried to kill himself, and the guilt she felt despite everyone telling her it wasn't her fault. They could repeat that until they were blue in the face, but Luana knew that if she had been by his side, he would have had someone to listen to, let alone not even been at that point in his life were he felt so unwanted. How could she ever begin to be selfish enough to have him love her again when she clearly didn't deserve it?

The emotion warring within her was clear to see in her eyes, the woman briefly too caught up in her hectic thoughts to even begin to realise that the emotions they caused were written all over her face. However, as Ronan began to speak up, clearly about to reluctantly agree despite not wanting to, Luana gently nudged his leg under the table to shut him up.

"I-- I wouldn't feel comfortable with that. They dislike Ronan just as much as they do me. If they find him in here alone, it would be just as bad as if they found me." She shook her head, averting her eyes as her finger found a hole near the hem of her shirt. She would need to sew that later. "Let 'im come with us... it's just as important for Teddy an' Tala to see their father an' uncle gettin' along as it is for Tala to see her parents." She raised her eyes to Tate slowly, anxious about his reaction, "I really ain't goin' feel comfortable leavin' him alone here. I'd rather him come with us too. They won't touch anythin' of Tala's, an' that's all I care about."
 

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"He's always spendin' time with Tala - an' he ain't nothing to Teddy, he got nothing to do with her, so why's there such a big fuss about him spendin' time with them? There ain't no reason for it as far as I can see. You being so desperate to have him there's a bit weird, Lu-- ah. Right. No, I get it. S'all cool, I get what's going on," the alpha suddenly concluded as he folded his arms and eased back against the chair in what appeared to be smugness at catching them out on something - even if the corners of his lips didn't quite tilt up into the smug smirk he was hoping for.

Rather, they faltered into a slight frown; one that matched the storm brewing behind his eyes. It wasn't necessarily anger; rather some indeterminable emotion that even he wasn't quite sure he could diagnose himself. His feelings on Luana were complex enough as it was, hatred intermingling with immovable desire and care. It was that reluctant admission of the latter that caused the sudden inexpressible emotion in his eyes; the acknowledgement of the slightest lingering feeling towards her now becoming clouded by a belief that perhaps Luana and Ronan were more than friends.

He had absolutely no right to feel any certain way about the possible union when he had moved on with Leah, but feelings sprung up regardless, a desire to act casual about it clashing with a sudden, irrational anger towards Ronan who he now glanced at sharply.

"If you're datin' her, least you can do is admit it, y'know. I don't really care, it ain't anything to do with me. But her desperation to have you come with us when, on the surface of it, you ain't got no right to is just... kinda gives the game away, dude--"

"You think he's-- dating Lu?" Anders snorted, making sure to keep his voice down so the children didn't hear but he couldn't really stifle his laughter, his amusement over the claim incapable of being held back. "That's-- nah, you're way off the mark, they're not-- jesus, Tate. Ronan can come, I'm fine with it. He's Tala's uncle, an'... Teddy likes him a lot, she wants to be taught how to fish by someone who's pretty great at it. That's it, it ain't deeper than that."

"Sure, okay. I ain't even gonna bother asking you why you're so eager to have him around 'cos it makes no fuckin' sense - he's the guy that had you tied up at his pack, keeping you from us all, Anders. I'm surprised you forgot all about that so quickly," the elder brother muttered, his tone indicating that he didn't desire a response; not when he wasn't too fond of Anders' amused dismission of his theory.

"I don't care if you're datin' him, Lu. Some transparency would be nice though, I ain't gonna lie."
 
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Luana stared at her former mate, dumbfounded by the accusation he had made, and hurt even briefly appearing in her eyes at the fact he even thought she'd move on. At first she felt panic, and anxiety, for both Ronan and Anders as she feared that Tate had figured it out what was going on between the two males. However, it was when he thought he had figured it out and said she and Ronan were an item, that Luana wasn't sure whether to feel grateful her friends' secret was still just that or desperate to get him to realised she hadn't moved on with anyone. Unlike him.

Then there was his frown, and the look in his eye. She couldn't figure out what Tate was playing at in the slightest. He looked almost... disgruntled at his supposed uncovering of the truth. Her lips were parted at his words, eyes fixated on him as she attempted to figure out just what he was thinking. But for the first time ever, Luana was incapable of reading that emotion in his eyes. Instead she settled on believing (whether rightly or wrongly) that he was almost upset at the prospect of her having moved on. Accusing her as such and seeming to be put out that she had when he truly had no right to, even if she had done.

"Watch-- watch your language, Tate. I ain't goin' tell you again." She retorted, keeping her voice hushed as everyone else did for the sake of the children.

Ronan, meanwhile, sat awkwardly beside Anders, unknown to Tate that the youngest brother in the Rivers' family was in fact the mate of the man he was accusing of being with his former mate. It was a little bit of drama, and one that Ronan didn't really care for. "Look, dude," he repeated the term Tate threw his way almost sarcastically, frowning deeply, "Lu an' I get along well an' I may have been keepin' an eye on her for your pack, for Anders, for you, for the past two years but-- but trust me when I say she ain't my type." Ronan snorted, but kept his eyes averted after the tense moment between him, Tate and Luana earlier that morning.

The bubble of anger that had been sat in Luana's sternum since the abusive welcome she had two days ago was straining, ready to burst. It had been a mere two days, but so much had already happened. Keeping her emotions bottled up, in check, while trying to put on a brave face for everyone who did care for her and for Tala was starting to come back to haunt her.

At his re-mentioning of Ronan's involvement in the kidnapping of Anders, Luana's hand slammed down on the table. Bowls and spoons rattled on the table, and the conversation between the two little girls on the floor by the fireplace immediately stopped, their heads swivelling around to stare up at the adults at the table. Luana's hand curled back into a fist, nails scraping lightly against the wooden surface as it did so.

"Stop-- just stop havin' a go at him for that. Anders has clearly let it go, so why can't you? He's been mature, moved past it, forgiven 'im, an' is now lookin' to move forward with his life." Luana told Tate sharply, even now still keeping a rein on her anger.

Her eyes, which were on her fisted hand on the table, moved up to look at Tate where she held his gaze with an intensity that promised more emotion from where that came from if he wasn't careful. There was so much she longed to tell him. That for the past two years the only people in her heart were him and Tala. That she hadn't been with anyone else, in anyway, since leaving him because she had always thought she'd be back with him when she returned. That even if that wasn't the case, he'd have no right to comment or judge since he'd made himself comfortable with someone else himself. But she couldn't tell him that, not knowing what she knew about what he'd done because she didn't want to hurt him again. He was happy with Leah too, so what difference would it make anyway?

Eventually she tore her gaze away to look towards Ronan and Anders, the former looking slightly astounded by her brief lapse of emotional control, "Are we goin' fishin' then? We ought to be headin' off soon if we're goin' to be catchin' anythin' if we leave it too late in the day." Luana stood, movements stiff as she moved around the table to pick up Tala, "No point sittin' round here while more stupid accusations are thrown about."
 

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The sudden explosion of anger, the expulsion of all the pent-up emotions that had thus far been held back behind the surface, did cause Tate to sit upright and clench his jaw together tightly in surprise. He hadn't been aware that his words were gradually allowing that anger to rise until their inevitable conclusion, but he didn't regret anything he said. He may not have a right to know about Luana's love-life and whether it existed, but he at least wanted to know if there was one.

He had a daughter who he had an instantaneous love for. He wanted to protect her, to develop that father-daughter bond and ensure that Tala knew that she had a Dad who would always seek to give her the best he could - so if someone was entering Luana's love in a romantic context, forming a sort of father-figure for Tala when Tate himself wasn't around, he felt he deserved to know about it.

He would do the same with Leah... had Luana not already discovered their relationship.

The atmosphere was understandably tense after the outburst even if the other decided to stand from the seat and continue on as if it hadn't happened; a fact Tate stared in disbelief at. Had he slammed his hand down and alerted his own daughter to the conversation, probably worried her in the process, he could imagine he would be reprimanded pretty severely for having the arrogance to continue on as if he hadn't done such a thing.

He wasn't going to start an argument but he wasn't able to disguise the anger; he was seething, in fact. In contrast to the indeterminable emotion behind his eyes just seconds prior, there was no mystery over his current emotion, his eyes narrowed at the table as he tried to keep as much control of himself as he could. There was no good time to argue with Luana - but in front of their daughter really wasn't one of them.

Eventually, he stood abruptly from the table, indifferent to the chair clattering to the ground as a result, and set his gaze on Luana, aware of the proximity between them but while that might have helped the acknowledgement of his lingering feelings for her just minutes ago, it now only reminded him of how utterly infuriating he found her to be these days.

"Do what you what. I'm not hangin' around to listen to you be a poisonous little bitch, Luana. Fuck that. Just-- get back before it gets dark, yeah? Don't want to go being clumsy and gettin' yourself hurt again, do 'ya?" The alpha muttered, voice low to avoid his daughter picking up on the words but the lowness only aided the anger he was currently riddled with. With his fists clenched at his sides, he was tempted to throw a punch at the wall and really emphasise how disgusted he was - but he knew that would be childish, unnecessary and ultimately only serve to scare his child which he really didn't want to do.

So he left, turning and leaving the hut and the sour atmosphere left behind, Anders far too stunned by the deterioration in the mood to really say anything. Tate had arrived in a good mood, joking with Luana and even bringing up an old pet name in that comfort that had been found... so to see how badly things had gone in such a short time would have been disbelieving had he not witnessed it himself.

"We... don't have to go out if... if it's not... something you want to do now, Lu. I mean, I... I'd get it if you preferred to just... stay in the hut, that's fine. We can go another day, or..."

"Nuh-uh, I wanna go today. I wanna go fishin'." Teddy protested, her uncle's abrupt exit causing momentary confusion but replaced instead with panic that the day's plans were changing. "...You... You said we could. It's not fair to say no!"
 

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"W-why dada leave?" Tala asked quietly, wide brown eyes focused on the door that her father had just stormed through barely a moment ago. "Thought... fishin'?"

Luana's body shook lightly as she digested Tate's final words, both surprised and disgusted by what her former mate had spat back at her in the form of words. She was already furious with herself for slamming her hand on the table, for losing her anger in the way that she did. She had been doing so well to keep all negative emotion hidden from Tala, but there mere idea of her former mate accusing her of moving on with someone else when all she was trying to do was keep two mates together for an afternoon (of course unknown to him) with their daughter, had been nothing but loyal to him for the past two years and then bringing up the past again had been the final little thing that broke her resolve. Even if only for a split second.

"Y--you-- Mumma mean to dada? That why dada leave?" Luana immediately looked down at Tala who was already looking back up to her, lower lip trembling, "Why not nice? Why mean?"

Her stomach clenched at her daughter's words, lips parting as she attempted to think of the words to correct her daughter, but came up empty. This seemed to only infuriate Tala, who began to squirm, "Down! Want down! You been mean. Want down now!"

Hurt bloomed within her chest as Tala continued to wriggle and kick her legs, but Luana did as her daughter requested and watched as she ran over to her uncles to climb into Ronan's lap and bury herself into his chest, "Don't want fishin' with mumma. Want dada." The male werewolf stared up at Luana, arms having automatically lifted to wrap around Tala but froze as he wasn't certain how to respond.

"Lu-- you know she ain't goin'..." Ronan trailed off as Luana's hurt melted into anger again, eyes shifting to the door Tate had walked through a moment ago. The fury and pain that had been residing in her chest since the first hurtful words being spat at her finally popped. It enveloped every fibre of her being, leaving her to forget about the guilt she felt regarding Tate and his attempt to take his life. She was fed up of being the villain. Especially now she was the villain to her own daughter, who didn't even remember Tate's first reaction to her.

Her hands slowly curled until they formed fists, her lengthening nails biting into the fleshy heel of her palm as she fought to keep the transition at bay. She attempted to control her breathing, but was soon incapable of staying still and simply fighting the anger off again.

Luana felt numb as she strode for the door, pulling it open and heading down the steps. She walked with purpose, fast but not hasty, ignoring the looks that she was receiving from members of her former pack. "Tate!" She yelled, the sound carrying back to the adults in the hut she just left. Ronan sharply looked across to Anders, panic immediately lighting up in his eyes, "Oh hell." He muttered, wishing he could say something a lot worse as he stood, keeping Tala held to himself. He realised he couldn't go out there though, not wanting to let either of the girls see what could happen between the two former mates.

Luana, meanwhile, ignored the growls and low snarls that proved to her the displeasure of her presence, and the cut around her eye throbbed as a reminder of what could be done. However, she kept her sights on the alpha's hut, following her mate's scent and uncaring to the rule that she knew he had. She stormed up the steps, shrugging off a rogue attempt to stop her from a random face in group, and shoved the door open.

"You have a real fuckin' nerve, callin' me a poisonous little bitch when it's your fuckin' petulance an' immaturity that led to members of your pack thinkin' it was alrigh' to pull this kind of shit. I'm fuckin' fed up of you makin' me out to be the villain here, Tate. I'm punishin' myself enough for what happened to you--"
 

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The last thing Tate anticipated was for Luana to storm from the hut and chase after him to continue the discussion, if only by airing how offended she was by his insults - which she had every right to be. Upon leaving the hut and faced with the bitter morning cold, he was immediately regretful of the words he had spat at her. Perhaps not the sentiment because he felt he had every right to be annoyed with her and communicate that, but the actual words that he had uttered weren't the way he wanted to speak to the mother of his child.

He might dislike Luana, those feelings ultimately reigning supreme over any fonder feelings that lingered within him, but that didn't call for insults that were mostly spat out not solely because of anger, but in a childish attempt to hurt her.

Assuming he now had distance from her, he headed for his hut in the hope that the privacy and comfort of his own home would allow him to relax because the adrenaline fuelling through him at the vicious words, and the residual anger that remained, weren't feelings he wanted to experience for too much longer... even if the replacement was a fundamental sadness at having just given up on the chance to spend the day with his daughter.

All he wanted to do was be around her and tighten that growing bond after two years of it not even existing - so just handing back a chance to do so wasn't ideal. But how could he go out and act as though everything was normal when the simmering tension between him and Luana would inevitably continue throughout the day? He couldn't -and wouldn't- risk Tala being exposed to the actual anger that resided between her parents; it was a miracle that she remained mostly oblivious to it thus far.

He had only just taken a seat in his home when hearing the rumblings of a commotion outside of it; the unsubtle, low growls of several members of his pack presumably discontented by Luana's demeanour and calling out of their alpha. Regardless what he might have done, she had no right to address the pack's alpha in the way she was; not when she no longer held any position of authority within the community. His head had already tilted up towards the door in confusion before it was slammed open, the action inevitably catching him by surprise and causing him to rise to his feet in preparation to defend himself, even if that faded when he saw Luana.

As angry as he was, he wasn't prepared to launch into any attack against her. He didn't entertain any thoughts of that nature against members of his pack, and while she wasn't part of that anymore, she still held some importance to him - and while he liked to think that was solely because of Tala, there was more at play than that. So defending himself by going on the attack wasn't an option whatsoever, however easily he would have threatened violence to defend himself if this were anyone else.

"Right, you need to fuckin' shut your mouth, right now. You ain't speakin' like this to me with my pack listening, 'ya got that? Shut the fuck up," he hissed sharply as he waited for the door to at least shut behind her before even considering continuing the conversation; one he had desperately wanted to end the moment he left the other's temporary hut. To have her storm after him and perpetuate it wasn't... great, but he could hardly expect her to sit and take what he had to say without returning some of it in his direction.

"My petulance and immaturity, eh? I mean, I think it's quite fuckin' petulant to keep my daughter outta my life for two fuckin' years, but go off, Lu. Say what you wanna say, don't worry about your own hypocrisy, s'all cool. You really--"

The pause, once he fully absorbed her words, was inevitable as the dawning realisation set in. There wasn't anything she ought to feel she had to punish herself for that happened specifically to Tate except for one thing, and the idea that she knew about it horrified him, his stomach churning as nausea immediately set in. A smile broke on his face soon after, not because anything was remotely amusing but because he was stuck in denial and disbelief, refusing to accept that she was actually stood before him and referencing something he had assumed she would be kept in the dark about.

Yet, it was obvious she knew; the way her sentence cut off abruptly once she realised what she had let slip was all the evidence he needed.

"...What the fuck's that supposed to mean, then? What happened to me, Lu? Go on, spit it out; I know you fuckin' know, you've made that blatantly obvious," he snorted as he folded his arms across his chest in a show of composed calmness, even if everything else currently betrayed him, from his wavering voice to the hurt starting to show up on his expression. "Seriously, say it. Don't go alluding to shit like a coward; come out and say it."
 

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Her face paled as he cut off, watching in horror as the realisation dawned across his face. The words had just slipped out, she hadn't meant for them to. She had just been so desperate for him to understand that her punishment was enough. She had been miserable from the moment she had been turned away by the pack, by him. Then to find out her own mate had attempted to take his life... it was enough to make anyone break. She had been trying to piece herself back together ever since, but how easy was it when every dirty look and harsh word he gave her just reminded her of what she was blamed for and it sent her crumbling again.

"I-- I am not a coward. Stop. Calling. Me. That." Luana retorted, her own voice breaking as she listened to the hurt in his. She watched as it seemed to sink into his every being, and Luana wasn't entirely certain as to why he was hurt. Because he realised someone he trusted obviously told her, or because she had called him out on it.

But she feared he was right. He had called her a coward before she left two years ago, and he had called her again now. Perhaps she was a coward. She left with her new pack because she was afraid of being weak and never seeing her parents again, she didn't tell him about Tala because she was scared of his reaction, she hid in secrecy in the hut because she was frightened for their wellbeing. How could she argue she wasn't exactly what he accused her of being, when all she had done was be just that? Cowardly?

She swallowed hard, muscles tight as her body remained tense and alert, uncertain as to where the conversation would go next. The pain in his expression wasn't something she could just ignore, both as a mate and a being she knew he hated. She wasn't at all sure how he would respond to her from here on in, and felt the urge to be ready for anything. However that innate side of her, that still clung to the bond, wanted her to go forward and bring her mate into her arms, to just hold him and be with him.

"I-- I know what you did... or tried to do," she finally answered, voice hushed and strained, "That you...tried... tokillyourself." The words came out in one big rush, leaving her in one heavy breath. Tears soon pooled in her eyes but she was quick to look up in order to dry them, knowing he would not care for her tears. But saying the words out loud... it was worse than merely thinking it to herself. "I know you tried to-- an' it didn't work. I know that everyone, everyone, in this fuckin' pack blames me."

Luana forced herself to look back at him, eyes still watery but brow furrowed, colour staining her cheeks, "I blame myself too. I've been fuckin' ashamed of myself and punishin' myself from the moment I found out, Tate. But I-- I never meant to be spiteful or cruel an' I would never, ever, hurt you. I-- I've never stopped lovin' you. After findin' out what I caused you to do... I--..." She took a moment again to compose herself, forcing herself to get a grip of her emotions before any tears were actually spilled, "I would never want you to feel that way. I did that unknowin'ly, but you... right now... you're intentionally settin' out to hurt me an' I ain't ashamed to admit it's workin'."

Despite her words, Luana believed she knew what to expect next. After her confession of knowing what he had attempted, she suspected her mate to shut down and shut off from her. Perhaps even from the rest of the pack, at least for a day or so. He would, so she thought, would demand that she leave, and that would be that. So in her preparation for her assumptions, she took a step back towards the door.

"So-- so you know what? You win. I-- I give up. Genuinely. Tala wants you, not me, since she now sees me as the villain 'ere too. So take her out fishin', I'll be sure not to have any 'clumsy moments' while you're out with her."
 

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He had asked her to spit out what she knew, all but demanded she tell him what she had accidentally alluded to just seconds prior - but that didn't mean hearing those specific words aloud was something Tate could ever prepare himself for.

His breath hitched the moment she blurted out what she knew in one hurried, rushed breath of her own, and once the words settled in, once he absorbed her confession, everything just seemed to slow down around him. Her words, though he could hear them, sounded hushed as though they were taking place in another room of the home. His vision seemed to blur and while he would presume that to be because of a build-up of tears, one cursory wipe of his eyes with the back of his hand showed that no tears existed there.

The nauseated feeling started to overwhelm him, particularly when his head grew light and, in the distinct possibility that he would either throw up or faint (or, if fate was really against him, both), he quickly took to sitting back down at the small handmade table in the corner of the room to prevent it. As regrettable as it was, his hand began to shake as eh reached for the glass of water nearby, downing it entirely in one go and allowing the liquid to cool the slight burning in his throat and the acrid taste in his mouth.

Questions understandably raced through his mind - mostly who had betrayed his privacy by informing Luana of an incident he wanted to keep to himself. The fact the entire pack knew about it was regrettable enough; he didn't want Luana to find out too. Not because he didn't think she had a right to know, but because he didn't want her to know for her own sake. He had seen how the news had affected those he loved and cared about most: Daisy had been a wreck, Gio hadn't known how to even talk to him afterwards, Anders avoided his gaze and seemed to be on the verge of tears any time they interacted.

Why would he want to put Luana through anything like that? Even if they weren't dating, she hadn't hid how much she still cared for him, even now admitting it to his face. He might be out to be a little cruel to hurt her a little but he would never want to hurt her this badly; never would he want to see her... like this. He might dislike her actions and despise some of the behaviour she displayed - but he wasn't so cold towards her that he could willingly hurt her this badly.

"I didn't want you knowin' this shit, Lu. Not 'cos I... I don't think you should know or that I don't think you're close enough to me to know, but-- but 'cos I didn't want you hurtin' over it. Blaming yourself. Punishing yourself. I was tryin' to avoid that. I didn't-- the fact everyone fucking knows is bad enough, it's mortifying, but you knowing? I-It, ah... that doesn't-- I didn't want that," he eventually mumbled as he refilled his glass and clutched it tightly, his gaze set upon the water rather than at her. He could sense her drifting towards the door and her words were clearly made in parting but contrary to what she seemed to think his next course of actions would be, he was open to continuing to talk rather than shut down and withdraw within himself.

It was that behaviour that had caused him to hurt himself in the first place and that wasn't somewhere he ever wanted to be again.

"Sit down, you're making me fuckin' nervous standing over there like that. I ain't... gonna do anything, I ain't gonna start an argument or call 'ya a bitch again," he promised midway through a faint sniffle, the back of his hand now successful in wiping away a tear or two, the tears having arrived upon the realisation that he had to be honest. If not, they would continue in the cycle of pain, blame and subsequent anger and guilt - and Tala didn't deserve that, as much as they themselves didn't. Honesty wasn't easy for him, it never had been with his tendency to just bottle things up, but if it was the only way of making some emotional progress with Luana, he knew he had to swallow back any resistance and just... be as truthful as he could.

"I don't... like you knowing this, I ain't gonna lie. I just-- I fuckin' would never hurt you in this way, L-Lu. I wanted to hurt 'ya, yeah, but I'd never want you knowing this 'cos I wanted to-- protect 'ya from it. 'Cos no matter what, you're my mate; we got that bond, right? When I hurt, you hurt, and I... never would want you hurtin' as badly as I did. So you-- don't go thinking you were at fault 'cos you weren't, you know? You being hurt just, ah... I don't like that. I don't ever want you hurtin'."
 

Viverescribere

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As anger dissipated, a hand slowly moved to her opposite lower arm. There it began to pinch lightly, a reaction to the one that she had caused. Luana didn't know what to do, as he seemed to just collapse into the nearest chair and pour himself a glass of water. Her eyes soon averted from him, staring down blindly to her hand as her habit continued to work away at her arm. The guilt and the shame of what her words had done to him made it all too painful to continue looking at him. She wished she had kept her mouth shut, or even better taken his words as she had done previously and just stayed in the hut.

Her lower lip began to wobble at his words, causing her to sharply look to the side as her hand raised to wipe roughly at the tears that had escaped onto her cheeks. Luana sniffed quietly, shaking her hand afterwards as if that alone would rid her of the tears once and for all, but it wasn't long before her hand returned to her lower arm, the pinching now being achieved with her nails. She withheld the dry laugh that bubbled in her throat at his confession of not wanting to hurt her, finding that very hard to believe after the past two days alone. Luana was aware that she hadn't been much better, but she liked to think she had only reacted that way when he had provoked her. When the words had become too cruel for her to ignore.

It came as a major surprise that he told her to sit down, instead of leave. But even through her surprise, she didn't feel comfortable with sitting all cosy with him at the table during their emotional confession. She may still love him, and still care deeply for him, and that innate part of her may have longed to sit beside him and take his hand in hers... but Luana knew better. She wouldn't get close and allow herself to hope any more, she had told Anders as much.

However, she did take a small step to the side, away from the door, just to settle his mind.

It felt odd, seeing Tate cry. She couldn't even recall seeing him cry when she left two years ago. Yet here he was now, crying in front of her. It came to her realisation how they had both flipped. He used to bottle things up, but was now revealing all to her... when two years ago, she used to be totally honest with everything she was feeling when she was feeling it, but now bottled it up until she exploded dramatically.

"You've just gone an' completely contradicted yourself, Tate." She whispered, shaking her head as nails continued to press into her skin, "You said you wanted me to hurt, but then in the same breath say you'd never want to see me hurtin'. I... hurt... in more ways than I thought possible. Not just because of your-- your words an' the pack's actions, but... but because of what I know I've done to you now. It ain't somethin' I can ever take back, an' I'll be payin' for it for the rest of my life..."

She didn't say how she knew she'd be paying for it. To her, that much was obvious. She was paying for it through losing him. Losing her mate, losing her only love. Punishing herself by watching him be happy with Leah. Allowing herself to get hit because she felt it was what she deserved. Hating herself for what she felt like she had pushed her mate to do. Luana's hand raised again to wipe at her cheek, another sniff accompanying it.

"Just please stop sayin' you didn't say anythin' cause you knew it would've hurt me. I know that ain't the real reason. I know it's cause you despise me in every little way an' didn't want me to know. I deserve that, at least, don't I? The truth?"
 

potassiumboron

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"I never wanted to see you hurt like this, Lu. I wanted you to hurt, to feel like shit, I ain't gonna say otherwise - but to hurt this badly? Nah, I-- I never wanted that," he clarified weakly, having to reiterate and therefore remind himself of the hurt she might be suffering (a hurt that had reared its head for him too) only making his nausea grow more intense. The urge to rush into the nearby bathroom and hurl up his guts, however, wasn't something he particularly wanted to be seen doing in Luana's presence - both because he didn't need her to worry about him any more than she already presumably did, and because... well, he wanted to try and rebuild his reputation as much as he could.

Throwing up and sobbing at the same time really wouldn't go far to help that desire.

"Oh, you know that ain't the real reason, do 'ya? Are you that arrogant or just-- fuckin' stupid, Lu? You don't know shit, you haven't got a clue why I didn't tell 'ya. I didn't want to, alright? I didn't wanna hurt you, I didn't want to bring it up and have you think I was... unwell or in need of pestering an' help 'cos I ain't, I'm fine now. I was trying to be considerate - how would you have felt if the moment you stepped into the pack, I stormed up to 'ya and said 'Oh hi Lu, just thought 'ya should know I tried offing myself'. I kinda thought I'd spare you from that, sorry if that was outrageous of me," he grunted sarcastically under his breath, perturbed by the assumption that there was something else that had held him back; that his hatred for her had somehow been the overarching reason for his silence.

Granted, it played a part and he wasn't denying it but there was genuinely an attempt on his part to try and limit the emotional damage that had been caused by his actions. Him trying to end his life didn't remove his pain; it just moved it onto others and he had come to realise that his actions had deeply hurt those he cared about. Why would he ever want to put Luana through that when he had witnessed what it had done to those he loved?

"...Do 'ya really think I'd not tell 'ya 'cos I hated you? If I hated you that much, I'd tell you and see you in pain, that'd cheer me up, yeah? But I-- I don't hate you as much as you seem to think, or as much as I claimed. I despise your actions, I... I hate what you did, Lu. There's a difference. I dislike you, I'm annoyed and angered, but... I can't hate 'ya. I wouldn't hide this shit from you for any other reason than to spare you the... the consequences. You don't understand how long it took for my brothers and Daisy to let me do stuff on my own; they were always following me 'round, scared of leavin' me on my own. They'd make food for me and watch me eat it so they knew I didn't slip in some fuckin' deadly nightshade. It-- it disrupted their lives, lookin' out for me like that, scared I was on the edge. I would never want to put that onto you so that's why I didn't tell 'ya. It... It wasn't something I thought would do any good, alrigh'?"

The admission left Tate sighing heavily to himself as he came to terms with the fact the secret was out in the open; that Luana knew about the lowest moment of his life that he had hoped he wouldn't have to ever reveal to her. The fact someone had done so behind his back (even if their intentions were good) infuriated him but he couldn't start interrogating Luana for the information, unable to even bring up the energy it would take to convince her to do so.

"It wasn't your fault, an' that's the truth. I've always-- y'know, thought about this stuff. Got in my head and thought it was the only option, well before you came into my life. This ain't the first time I've tried this, just the closest I've come to-- a-ah, it, uh... it's not your fault, that's the headline right here. The take-away from all this. That, an' the fact I... I don't hate 'ya, Lu. Far from it. You've-- got this hold of me, I can't be mad at you. On the contrary, I... I'll always care for you. Always. That won't change."
 

Viverescribere

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"Oh fuck off, Tate. What else am I supposed to believe? You've done nothin' but show how much I disgust you from the moment I walked into the clearin'." Luana snapped back, shoulders hunching at the sarcasm he provided, "What else do you expect me to think? You've looked at me like I was the shit under your shoe for the past two days an' I've been tryin' so hard--" She cut herself off again, voice becoming strangled with emotion. She turned partially away from him, knowing that it probably wasn't wise to gave the majority of her back to him. But she hated what she was showing him, the emotion the confrontation was causing her.

"It wouldn't have been any worse than the way you greeted me. The whole pack took from your example an' because you didn't-- you didn't give me a chance to explain, or even talk to you privately... they followed you. Your lead. You-- you have no idea how much that broke me."

Releasing a heaving, shaking breath, Luana pressed two fingers against her lower lip, which wobbled as she struggled to believe his words. It was hard, after the past two days alone, to believe that he didn't hate her as he claimed. The harshness outweighed the moments of awkward softness.

Her eyes moved only to focus on the wall opposite her, her hand dropping from her lips to reach back for her lower arm, slipping under the sleeve to continue with her harmful habit as he confessed he had always had such thoughts in his mind. Seemingly even during her presence in his life, as well as before and after. She squeezed her eyes tightly shut for a moment as she fought to swallow down the hurt, the pain, the anger and the sadness that threatened to overwhelm her.

"You've... always... thought about it. Even when we were together..." Luana nodded slowly, the thought draining even more energy out of her, "Well I-- I guess that just proves it all, don't it? That someone up There clearly fucked things up for ya an' gave you the wrong person to be happy with. L-Leah is clearly the right one. She makes you happy. Y-you... l-love her-- I ain't fishing for reassurance, here. This ain't about me, but about you. I'm just-- I'm just glad you're happy... now... finally."

Her voice became strained towards the end, a step back being taken so she could lean against the wall. It simply added another puncture to her heart, imagining him going through those thoughts and not even feeling able to talk to her about it. Even when they were... good. If she couldn't support her mate, the one person she was supposedly destined to love and cherish and be with forever, then what hope did she have for doing that for Tala.

"P-please don't. Please don't talk to me about-- about having a hold on you or-or you always carin' for me. I-- I can't listen to that an' then see you go out there to be with-- with--" A soft breath was pushed between her parted lips, nails digging into her arm. "B-But... but this ain't about me. T-This is about you bein' happy now. That you ain't goin' do anythin' like that again because you... you... have... L-... Leah an'... she don't make you feel like that's an option." Her tongue rolled over her lips as she forced the words out, as difficult as it was.

Luana shoved the hurt back, nodding quietly to her own thoughts as she forced her emotions back in their box. She couldn't keep talking about how much pain she was in, it wouldn't solve anything. And what right did she have to feel that, knowing that her mate had felt even worse and she wasn't there to support him. She shouldn't be listening to him apologise to her for him hurting her, that was for certain. She didn't deserve his sympathy, his apologies.

"This ain't about me. This-- this is about makin' sure you're happy now, an' L... Leah makes you happy. The three of you should... be a family."
 
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potassiumboron

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"You can't ask me for honesty, beg me for the truth, an' then go and dispute it when I oblige, Lu. That ain't fuckin' fair. Do you think I want to complicate my relationship by admitting all this to 'ya; telling you I still care? Fuck no, I... I ain't interested in causin' anyone anymore hurt, but you asked for the truth an' that's it. I care about you. I'm pissed off with 'ya, I hate a lot of what you've done to me whatever your reasoning, but I love 'ya..."

Much like how Luana had brought herself to an abrupt stop earlier in their conversation upon realising she had let vital information inadvertently slip through her lips, Tate now repeated that action, the panic spreading like wildfire across his features. For a moment, he wasn't even sure he had admitted that the love he held for her hadn't been extinguished; that a flame of their former passion still remained and probably always had. He had just willingly let it dim by ignoring it and throwing his focus on other matters to distract himself of how badly he missed Luana - and how that meant he had always loved her in spite of her prolonged departure.

He didn't feel comfortable harbouring things from Luana necessarily. Even if they weren't together, she had been the only person he had ever really been vulnerable around; the only person who he felt comfortable opening up to. It wasn't easy to abandon that mindset and not see her as a person he could be honest with when she had once been the only one he could be that way with. Hell, she probably still was because he didn't really find himself capable of doing so with Leah or his own siblings.

But admitting a love he might still possess for her wasn't something he wanted to be honest about when it complicated the life he had build for himself in her absence. It might be everything she had longed to hear since returning but he hadn't quite expected those feelings to reawaken, assuming his hatred of her actions would overshadow anything else he felt for her.

Evidently, that had been a wrong call.

"I mean, I-- I'm not good at this, you know that," he grumbled as he rested his head in his hands for a moment, breaths deep and somewhat laboured as he gave himself a much-needed moment of silence to contemplate his next step. He could hurriedly take the admission back and preserve the life he had for himself, with Leah at his side... even if acknowledging his feelings for Luana aloud was opening up a box he couldn't just put the lid back on easily. Which was the second option; leaving that box open willingly and doubling-down on his confession, admit that he loved her and see where things went from there regardless of the consequences and hurt he might cause for others by doing so.

And in the end, he opted for the latter. He may have excused her of cowardice two years ago but he knew he was guilty of it himself. Had he been brave enough to just talk about their options, to let go of his stubbornness and hear her out, she might not have left in the first place. He couldn't risk bottling everything up again, letting Luana leave and possibly start a life with someone else when deep down, he knew they were meant to be together.

"No, I... I do. I love you. God knows it's probably going to fuck up everything in the pack an' make me public enemy number one, they'll think I'm some sleazy two-timer or somethin', I don't fuckin' know, I just... I love you, Lu. I can't lose you again, I can't let you leave and find some guy to be with when-- the thought makes me-- nah, you and I are-- we're meant to be, yeah? We're soulmates, ain't nothin' gonna change that."