Chapter 1: Chapter 1
Mara waits for the full moon to break through the tree line, letting it emerge into the clearing above her house before she heads outside. She feels a bit silly for what she’s about to do, but a promise is a promise. Her mother had been insistent, years ago, that she do this ritual on a full moon before her 25th birthday. Seeing as this is the last full moon before she turns twenty-five, she has waited long enough.
She carries the box of items down the steps of the back deck, walking across grass that is wet with dew. It’s late, and it would be pitch black this far from the city if not for the light of the moon. Mara had never believed in moon magic, spells, any of it. But her mother was something of a witch, and she can’t bring herself to break the last promise she’d made to her.
She drops a towel onto the grass before gently putting the old wooden box down. She can almost picture her mother’s hands opening it as she unclasps the closure, pushing back the top. The book inside is small and leather bound, and she has to use a flashlight to see the pages as she flips through. Her mother’s handwriting is clear, decorating every page.
Mara stops when she gets to the right one, scanning over the title at the top. “To find your place in the world,” she reads to herself, trying not to roll her eyes. She should take this seriously, but some part of her thinks it’s ridiculous. Especially since she’s foregoing getting enough sleep for work the next day.
She fumbles a bit lighting the candle, before filling the wide, shallow dish with water. Then she goes to work searching for the herbs listed out in the directions. Agrimony and witch grass, damiana and nettle. She’s grateful for her mother’s labelling, otherwise she’d be absolutely clueless what she is pulling out.
She follows the directions as carefully as possible, dropping a pinch of agrimony into the candle. Mara then uses the candle to light the small piece of white willow aflame, only to extinguish it in the water now soaked with the rest of the herbs. She shines the flashlight back down at the page in the spellbook, only to hesitate.
“You have got to be kidding me, Mom,” Mara groans to herself. The directions say to take off the necklace she’s worn since she was a child, a carved piece of labradorite that her mother insisted she keep around her neck at all times. But that isn’t the unbelievable part. No, it’s that she is supposed to take everything else off, and to say the spell naked under the moonlight.
She stares off into the dark woods at the edge of the lawn, reluctant and trying not to laugh at the awkwardness of the ritual. “It’s a good thing I didn’t move to the city, otherwise you might be getting me arrested tonight…” she muses.
The house her mother had left to her is fairly isolated, woods surrounding it on nearly all sides. The only other close property is the neighboring home, about a quarter mile down the road. She can see part of that house through the trees, the stream that winds through the woods pushing closer to the neighboring property than hers. But that house has been empty for over a year, and so she reasons there isn’t anyone to see the ridiculous display she’s about to put on.
Mara huffs with annoyance, standing to pull her clothes off quickly. She wants to get this over with, and drops them unceremoniously around her. She pulls the labradorite off last, gently dropping the stone into the water. She reads the words off the page as fast as she can stumble through them, holding the candle up to the moon while her cheap flashlight begins to flicker unreliably.
She looks up into the moonlight to say the last line, as instructed. “Show me my place in this world.”
She stares at the perfectly round orb in the sky a moment longer, as her words vanish to the sounds of the stream burbling somewhere within the trees. There are crickets chirping nearby, and an owl deeper into the woods hoots occasionally. But otherwise the world is silent around her, and nothing happens. Of course nothing happens, what had she been expecting?
She plucks the necklace back out of the water, fastening it damp around her neck once again. The stone comes to rest on her bare skin, and she is surprised that it feels nearly hot on her chest. But the sensation fades quickly, and she wonders if it is only her mind playing tricks on her.
Mara packs up the materials, hurrying back inside now that the strange little deed has been completed. She tucks the wooden spell box back into the closet where it’s been for the last two years, hoping wherever her mother is that she’d be satisfied with the kept promise. Then she drifts into her bedroom, cracking open the window to let in a cool breeze. If she falls asleep right away, she can still get a few hours of sleep before the alarm goes off in the morning.
But the longer she lays against the mattress, wishing for sleep, the harder it is to come by. It’s hot in her room, the weather warming up quickly with the coming summer season. She ends up opening the window wider, before kicking the sheets completely off her bare legs.
Her skin feels strange, like an itch somewhere beneath the surface. She rubs her arms, her discomfort growing, but finds she can’t relieve the crawling sensation. Stranger yet, she feels like her skin is burning beneath the labradorite stone. The necklace somehow feels heavier, weighing against her chest in a way she’s never noticed before.
It occurs to her that maybe she’s having some sort of reaction to the herbs used in the moon water. She takes the necklace off, wandering into the bathroom to splash cool water against her skin. When she returns to bed, she’s able to fall asleep.
Mara hears the sound as she’s trying to find her way in the dark. She’s shuffling forward hesitantly, blinking eyes that can’t make out any of her surroundings, when it meets her ears. It’s a whining growl, something hungry and desperate. Her mind is only half functioning, somewhere deliriously between being awake and asleep.
She puts her hands out, hoping they’ll bump into something. But there’s only the oppressive blackness, pushing against her eyes and skin. She moves forward with another small step when the growl rises, into a deep, animalistic cry.
Her heart starts pounding in her chest, hair raising at the roots, and it’s enough to push the daze of sleep back from her brain. Her thoughts structure themselves into something intelligent, as Mara tries to figure out where she is in her home.
She stumbles forward a larger step, fear making her mind race. The animal’s cry has died down, but she can hear something breathing there with her in the dark. Is it real, or is she still dreaming? It’s so loud, and it feels like it is right beside her.
Beginning to panic, she lurches forward rapidly, only to cry out when her leg connects painfully with something hard. She drops her hands down to find the shape of her dresser.
It takes her only moments to fumble her touch to the top of the furniture, finding the lamp there and clicking it on. Mara whirls around, heart still thudding as her mind tries to process the scary wake up. Her bedroom window is still open, the wind picking up outside enough to stir her hair. But she realizes the heavy breathing sound, like an animal panting, is gone. Had she only imagined it?
She stands there a few moments, her heart beat slowing to something more normal. Had she been sleepwalking? Mara’s certain she’s never done that before, and yet she’d come to walking in her bedroom. Worst yet, the sounds she’d heard had felt so real.
The longer she thinks about it, the more certain she is that she’d been dreaming. Her body had apparently acted out whatever she’d been experiencing while asleep.
Her eyes land on the alarm clock and Mara groans. It’s almost not worth it to go back to sleep. The sun will be up in a few minutes, and she’ll need to leave for work soon after. It’s a long drive into town, and she briefly considers calling off sick in favor of crawling back into bed.
But she chastises herself for the thought, as she hasn’t even been at the job for a year. She needs to make a good impression, and so she settles with shuffling into the kitchen. She rubs her gritty eyes while waiting for the coffee to brew.
Much Later That Day
Mara drains her travel mug as she gets closer to home, having lost count of how many cups of coffee she consumed during the work day. Her job wasn’t exactly the most thrilling use of her time, consisting of data entry and billing. But it was experience, and something to pay bills until she could try for something she might like more.
She turns onto her road, leaving behind the pavement in favor of the narrow gravel path that leads to her home. It’s bumpy, and makes it nearly impossible to keep her car clean for long. The dust her tires kick up seems to permanently coat the sedan. But she appreciates the home she’s inherited, enjoying being surrounded by nature and the peaceful seclusion the property provides.
When she’d been a child, she’d loved to play in the stream, or walk down to the nearby lake. Mara slows to turn into her driveway, the evening sun peeking through the tree cover to leave warm splashes across the ground. She applies the brakes, putting the car into park when she notices something orange through the trees.
She narrows her eyes, getting out of the car and heading up the driveway a bit further. Once she gets a better vantage point, she sees what looks to be a U-haul trailer through the trees, the kind people rent to move. It’s parked in the neighboring property’s driveway, and she has to crane her neck to try to make out the vehicle it’s attached to. It looks like a dark truck, though she can’t tell the model from so far away.
Mara stares, realizing she must be getting a new neighbor. She’s relatively sure the U-Haul or truck hadn’t been there that morning, but she was also barely paying attention as she left for work.
She has to talk herself out of getting into her car to drive passed their house to scope them out. Their road dead ends at the lake, and it would look creepy for her to double past their home as they are attempting to move in. She contents herself with heading inside, ready to make dinner and pass out early for the night.
But she is stopped before she can get to the front door, when something draws her attention near her bedroom window. She abandons her path, instead winding through the rocks and grass towards the siding of her house. When she’s close enough to recognize it, her eyes widen.
There, stuck in the frame of her window, is a tuft of fur. It’s all black, a few inches long and coarse looking. She reaches out before hesitating, her fingers hovering near it uncertainly as the memory of the previous night’s dream returns to her. She’d thought she’d heard an animal breathing in the room beside her, until she’d fully returned to consciousness.
As she finally lets her finger and thumb grasp the fur, pulling it free to examine it, she feels goosebumps erupt across her skin. What if it hadn’t been a dream?
Mara leaves the hall light on when she crawls into bed, in case she has another sleepwalking episode like the prior night. She also leaves the bedroom window closed and securely latched, uneasy regarding the fur she’d found snagged on the exterior of the screen. She’d convinced herself it could have been anything, a raccoon or stray dog perhaps.
She lays down hesitantly. Exhaustion weighs heavily on her mind, but is held back by anxiety over the thought of sleepwalking again. It’s too warm in her room, but she refuses to open the window. Instead she lays without covering up, a short, black satin nightgown the only thing on her skin. Even that feels excessive. Her skin is itching again, some sort of sensation like it is too tight on her body to be comfortable.
Mara tosses and turns, before forcing herself to slow her breathing and try to relax into a slumber. Her hand comes to the labradorite necklace around her neck, running her fingers slowly over the smooth stone. It’s something she’s done since she was small to calm herself, and it works. She falls asleep, until the howl pierces the night.
Her eyes snap open, and she realizes she is standing again. But something is wrong, her feet feel cool and damp. Absolute blackness crushes her pupils as her eyes struggle to adjust and see.
Mara takes a step forward, only to feel the odd sensation of something crunching underfoot. Another step, and her toes sink into something wet and gritty, and she recognizes the texture. Where she’s standing is muddy, dead leaves giving way to messy earth. She’s outside. The air is cool against her overheated skin, and somewhere she hears a lone cricket grinding out its chirps, confirming that she is no longer in her bedroom.
Her pulse starts to race with alarm, hands trembling at her sides. How did she manage this? How far is she from her home?
Mara blinks desperately, relieved when her eyes begin to make out vague shapes in the darkness. The moon might be waning now, but it’s still nearly full. It gives enough light for her to gradually make out the trees around her, and she heads in the direction that seems slightly less dark. She can hear the stream, a reassuring sign that she isn’t too far from her house.
Though she moves slowly, her heart pounding against her rib cage, she still manages to trip. She cries out in surprise when her foot snags the rough bark of a fallen branch, catching herself on her hands as she tumbles. One of her palms lands in water, impacting one of the smooth, flat stones that line the stream. It stings a bit, and she winces.
But Mara realizes she can follow the stream back towards her property. Relief takes the edge off her panic, though she still feels bewildered at waking up outside. At least she hadn’t wandered off too far into the woods, or she’d be in an even worse situation. She feels out each step with her foot before continuing along, using the edge of the shallow water as a guide.
She’s going to have to do something about this new sleepwalking problem, however. She wonders if she should see a doctor, if maybe there is some sort of medication that can treat it. Or will she need to resort to barricading herself into her home every night?
The mental image of herself piling furniture in front of the doors makes her laugh nervously, her giggles mingling with the flowing water. But the laughter barely conceals her anxiety, rising at the notion that she can’t trust herself to sleep anymore.
Why is this happening all of a sudden? Could it be related to the spell she’d done for her mother, some sort of weird side effect?
The farther along she gets, the more she can see lights ahead. Through the trees, she makes out the glowing windows of a house in the night. She recognizes the silhouette, even from this angle, as her neighbor’s home.
Mara picks up her speed now that she can see more of the ground, hoping to get back to her home quickly. She’s nearly cleared the last of the trees, grass replacing cool dirt underfoot, when she freezes at the bright flash of light levelled directly into her face.
She raises her hand to shield her eyes from the harsh flashlight, her heart that had just calmed beginning to race again with nerves. She can’t see the person shining the light at her, but the voice had been distinctly deep. The dark figure beyond the glare looks tall, and definitely masculine.
“I’m… I’m sorry,” she stumbles out an apology, unsure how to explain the bizarre circumstances. “I think I’m your neighbor?”
The light lowers mercifully, as he shines it at the ground between them instead. Bright spots dance in her vision as she tries to make out more of him. He doesn’t say anything, and she shifts awkwardly on her bare feet.
“You just moved in, right? I live right over there,” she tries again, gesturing to her house. It’s so close, yet well on the other side of this awkward interaction.
“It’s two in the morning. What are you doing out here?” he questions. His voice sounds less stern, something like curiosity creeping into its depths.
She can make out more of him now as her vision clears. He’s as tall as she’d first assumed, with long hair that seems black in the night. If she had to guess, she would assume his face is attractive, though she’d need more light to confirm. His shoulders appear impossibly broad beneath the dark flannel he’s wearing, and her eyes dance down to see his pale skin, exposed under the shirt he’s failed to button up.
Mara shifts, averting her eyes before they can linger even more stubbornly on her new neighbor. “I um…I think I was sleepwalking?” she says hesitantly, huffing a slight laugh nervously. “I swear I’m not crazy, this probably looks crazy-”
“Were you wandering around in the woods in that?” he asks.
She looks back, and sees the way his dark eyes drop to her figure. She gulps, biting her lip as she grows embarrassed. The nightgown is short and clingy, barely covering her. She fights the urge to cross her arms over her chest, forcing herself to stand her ground under his searching gaze. When his eyes return to hers, she sees the dark lines of his eyebrows quirk upwards. It’s too dark to tell, but she thinks he might be smirking.
“What did the trees do to deserve that number?” he teases, before shifting his focus away from her body, running a hand through his wavy hair.
“Like I said, I think I was sleepwalking…” she mutters defensively, before looking passed him towards his house. The back doors are opened wide and propped that way, held by a cardboard box on each side. “What are you doing out here so late?” she retorts curiously.
“I have to get that trailer back to the rental place in the morning,” he explains. “I’m still unloading it.”
She looks down, just now able to see the state her feet are in. They’re caked in dirt, the sight making her cringe as she realizes she’ll need to shower before going anywhere near her bed again. Mara considers that the neighborly thing to do would be to offer to help him move his things, but the thought nearly makes her start laughing. She’s not in the right state, of mind or dress, to be helping a strange man move his things in the middle of the night.
“Um… I guess I’ll let you get back to that, then. Sorry for the…well the interruption,” she stammers out, trying her best to not let her gaze return to the toned expanse of muscle that she can barely make out above his jeans. She starts for her house, skirting around him in her haste.
“I’ll walk you back to your door,” he offers, the flashlight shifting to illuminate the ground ahead of them.
They walk in silence for only a few moments before she can’t stand it, already regretting the first impression she’s made. He probably thinks she’s an absolute nut now. “So when did you get to town?” she ventures in an attempt to fill the silence.
“Last night,” he replies. She furrows her eyebrows as she considers that. She hadn’t noticed any vehicles the night before. She hopes he hadn’t been around to witness her naked adventure under the full moon, the thought enough to bring a renewed blush to her skin.
They are close enough to her home now to see her front door, and it is standing agape. She’d apparently left it hanging open as she stumbled out asleep into the world, a sight that makes her worry her lip. “You’re going to want to be more careful,” he warns.
“What do you mean?” Mara asks stupidly, before feeling the urge to smack herself. Doubtless, he’s referring to the sleepwalking. It could be dangerous, but she doesn’t need him to tell her that.
But he surprises her when he answers. “There’s a lot of wild animals out here. I thought I heard howling.”
She stops suddenly, turning to look at him in alarm as her memory returns to her. The sound that had woken her from her dreams, to find herself standing in the beginning of the forest. She’d heard the howling too, hadn’t she?
His eyes are fixated on hers, expression unreadable. She can see enough of him now, between the lights and the moon, to realize he is indeed handsome. His features are striking, a prominent nose and intense eyes offset by lips that are surprisingly gentle looking.
Mara licks her own lips nervously. “Um. There’s coyotes around here, occasionally,” she offers. “But I don’t think they’re very dangerous to humans…”
He only shrugs, stopping near her a few feet from her door. Her hands are sweaty with nerves, something about his presence making her feel intimidated. “Well. Goodnight,” she says uncertainly, stepping towards her door.
She stops at his command, looking back questioningly. His lips curve slowly into a smile, sending her stomach dancing in response. “Don’t I get to know your name?” he asks.
She's taken aback by his tone, the flirtatious quality of his voice unmistakable. “Mara,” she offers quietly, giving him a small smile. He holds his hand out, and she takes it, noting the way her hand nearly disappears in his. A sensation races up her arm from his touch, renewing that crawling feeling in her flesh that she’s been experiencing lately.
The handshake is over quickly, he releases her fingers after the smallest gentle shake. “Is that short for something?” he questions.
She raises her eyebrows at him. No one has ever guessed that her name was a nickname before. “Yes,” she admits. “Amaris. And your name is?”
“Kylo,” he replies. “It’s nice to meet you.”
She nods, watching him retreat before he pauses to give her one last glance. “And remember what I said. Be careful, you never know what’s out there.”
His words send a jolt of electricity down her spine, and she watches him disappear back across the yard towards his own house. When she goes inside, she makes sure to lock the front door before heading for the bathroom. She turns the shower on, stripping the nightgown off as the water heats. When she steps in, she watches the dirty water swirl down the drain, absentmindedly playing with her necklace.
She’s lost in thought, considering searching sleepwalking on her phone to see if there is anything on the internet that could help her. Mara even considers consulting her mother’s spell book, curious if her symptoms could be caused by any of the herbs.
But she’s torn from her thinking by the dreadful sound that pierces the darkness outside. It’s a howl, a deep, aggressive call that makes her blood feel like ice despite the hot water running over her skin. Goosebumps cover her flesh, as she stands frozen in fear beneath the shower head.
Instead of picturing a coyote, or a dog, or even some misplaced wolf, her mind runs to her neighbor. Kylo’s dark eyes and dark hair, his pale chest underneath that flannel shirt, fills her thoughts. Her breath comes quicker as the howling grows louder. You never know what’s out there…
Chapter 2: Chapter 2
Mara doesn’t have any more sleepwalking episodes for the next few days, to her immense relief. She still shoves her couch in front of the front door every night, hoping if she does attempt to wander out again that the physical barrier will stop her. But it is unnecessary, as her sleeping almost returns to normal.
There is still some animal that wakes her every night like clockwork, howling outside in the woods before abandoning its attempts. She can only assume it’s a lone coyote, which is strange. They are usually more of a pack animal, and its been years since she’s heard any this close to the property. She tries to not let it scare her, though. There are bound to be odd animal noises when living so close to the forest.
Her birthday approaches rapidly, landing on a weekend. She wakes up that Saturday morning excited for the plans she’s made to celebrate with her friends from college. Mara takes her time getting out of bed before making coffee, deciding to tidy up the house before getting ready to drive into the city. She’s in a ridiculously good mood as she washes the few dishes that were laying around.
She’s about to take the kitchen trash out when her phone rings. She searches for it a moment before grabbing it off the counter to see that it’s her closest friend, Erica. “Hello!?”
“Hey! Just checking, are we still meeting early to catch a movie before dinner and drinks with the girls?” Erica asks.
“Sure! Just text me which theater you want to go to,” she replies, attempting to hold the phone with her shoulder so she can tie off the trash bag.
“Well that depends on what movie you’d like to see! You should pick, since it’s your birthday,” Erica points out.
“You know me, I’m not picky. You can choose,” Mara insists. “I’m just happy to be seeing everyone! It’s been a while since we’ve all hung out.”
“It’s been too long,” Erica agrees. “It should be fun! I’ll text the address of whichever theater I decide.”
“Sounds good! See you then!”
They say their goodbyes, and Mara scrounges around her entryway closet until she finds shoes to shove on her feet. She heaves the trash bag up once again, shoving the front door open. She only makes it one step out before recoiling at the sight on the stoop.
The trash bag hits the ground with a thump a moment before the shrill scream leaves her mouth. She stares in horror only long enough to comprehend what she’s seeing before tearing her gaze away. There is part of a small deer laying there on the cement, blood pooling beneath where its lower half is missing.
Bile rises up Mara’s throat, sour and acidic. She gags, retreating backwards across her lawn in horror. She shoves a fist over her mouth, attempting to choke down the threat of being sick, before bumping into something solid behind her. A second, shorter scream leaves her when she feels someone grab her shoulder.
She spins, attempting to pull free from the contact. But she stops, gaping instead at the sudden appearance of her neighbor. “What the fuck!?” she gasps.
Kylo ignores her outburst, not even looking at her. His eyes are locked behind her, on the deer carcass at her doorstep. “I heard screaming,” he says finally.
She realizes he is breathing a bit heavier than usual, as if he’d ran over. “I’m sorry…” she mutters, not even sure what she is apologizing for. She hadn’t meant to swear at him, especially if he’d rushed over thinking she might be in danger. Her throat burns from the stomach acid, and she refuses to look back at the dead animal, not wanting to be sick in front of him. “I just opened my door, and…” she trails off.
“Someone left you a present,” Kylo observes, voice low. The tone of his voice catches her attention, and she examines his face closer. She doesn’t know him well enough to tell, but his expression almost strikes her as angry.
“Someone?” she repeats his choice of words doubtfully. “What could do that? A bear?”
“Sure,” Kylo agrees dismissively. But Mara notices his eyes are scanning the trees beyond her house, narrowed. She’s confused at his mood, and the scowl on his features combined with his large build ends up intimidating her. She edges back from him, making the mistake of looking once again at the deer.
She groans, turning away from the sight. “Why did it leave it at my door? That can’t be normal,” she complains, throat working to swallow down the nauseated spit pooling in her mouth.
“Well, it’s not exactly a civil way to say hello,” Kylo remarks sarcastically.
She looks down at his feet to avoid meeting his gaze, and notices his boots are untied like he’d shoved them on in a hurry. “I’m sorry if I startled you, I didn’t mean to scream. I just wasn’t expecting to open my door to see that,” Mara rambles awkwardly, gesturing back at the sight. “Ugh, I think I might actually puke,” she mutters, grimacing.
“Do you have any big trash bags?” he asks.
“Trash bags?” she repeats.
Kylo raises his eyebrows. “Unless you want to leave it there…” he explains slowly.
Mara winces at her own stupidity. “Oh, yes, um… Hold on, I’ll get them…”
She steps around the mess awkwardly, not looking at the poor animal. She feels bad for it, but can’t bring herself to look at its face. She grabs the trash bags from under the kitchen sink before hesitating and grabbing the unused box of plastic gloves as well. When she steps back outside, her neighbor is examining the deer.
He holds his hand out for the bags, and she passes them and the gloves to him awkwardly. “I’ll take care of it. You don’t have to watch,” he offers.
She nearly sighs in relief but holds it back, feeling horrendous about the situation. This is only their second meeting, and it’s proving to be even more bizarre than the first. “Thank you. You really don’t have to, if you don’t want to-” she tries to assure him.
“Go on inside,” Kylo cuts her off. “See if you can find bleach or something, for the blood stain.”
She nods, retreating to her kitchen and searching once again under the sink. She comes up with a cleaner that claims to work on blood stains according to the label she reads after pulling it out. She’s startled slightly when Kylo appears in the doorway as she turns to head back out.
“Sorry,” he says, giving her an apologetic look. “I wanted to wash my hands. I can’t stand how rubber gloves smell, reminds me of the dentist.”
She laughs slightly. “Of course, go ahead. Thank you so much, for doing that…” She trails off awkwardly, watching him wash up in her kitchen sink. His black t-shirt hugs his arms, and she can’t help but notice the muscles stretching the fabric there.
Mara looks away, feeling incredibly uncomfortable. Not only does she find him attractive, but her experiences lately have made her feel foolish every time they interact. They barely know each other, and her only impressions on him have been sleepwalking and nearly vomiting at a torn apart animal at her door. She could groan at her bad luck.
“You know what the funny thing is?” she asks randomly, hoping to ease her own tension. “You called it a present, and it actually is my birthday. Kind of an awful start to it, huh?”
Kylo drops the hand towel and leans back onto her counter, watching her fiddle with the nozzle of the spray cleaner. The seconds stretch on before he replies. “Sounds like you might be in for a weird birthday.”
She gives him a tentative smile. “Yeah, I guess so. Hopefully it gets better later on.”
She meets his eyes, which she notices for the first time are a warm brown shade. She finds them appealing, even as she has a hard time holding them. Kylo looks intrigued, asking curiously, “Oh? Do you have plans?”
“I’m going out with some friends from college. We don’t get to see each other much lately, so it should be a good night,” Mara explains, feeling some of her earlier happiness return to her. It’s nowhere near as elated as before the gruesome discovery, but she’s still hopeful the day might turn around.
But Kylo’s body language seems to tense up at her response. When she darts her eyes back to his, he looks concerned. “You sure that’s a good idea?”
She frowns. “…Why wouldn’t it be?” she asks. “Am I supposed to cancel all my plans for the day because some wild animal decided to leave half its dinner behind?”
He shrugs, straightening. “Sorry,” he says. “I just mean, it seems like a bad sign to me.”
Her frown only grows when she wants to disagree, but finds herself unable to. He isn’t wrong, but she had never been one to be overly superstitious. “Well, let's hope the bear doesn’t come back to snack on me next,” Mara tries to joke, grinning.
Kylo’s mood seems to shift at her attempt at lightening the conversation, a slow smile growing on his face. “I could hardly blame the bear if he did,” he retorts.
Her heart races at his obvious flirting, and she instantly wishes she weren’t currently wearing sweatpants with her hair in a messy bun. She stutters over a reply, failing to come up with something witty. She ends up laughing nervously instead. “Oh, right, well, I bet bears get rather hungry,” she says quickly before cringing. Her cheeks grow hot with embarrassment.
Kylo only smirks at her, and she wishes that her kitchen floor could split open to swallow her whole. “I should head back,” he admits. “I hope you enjoy your night out.”
She nods, following him out of the kitchen and back towards her front door. “Thank you again,” she says, holding the door when he opens it to exit.
“No problem,” Kylo assures her, pausing before he steps out. Her breath catches when he looks down at her, their bodies close enough that she can smell something like masculine soap or cologne on him. “Happy birthday,” he says, grinning.
She smiles back, her hands nearly trembling at his proximity. “Thanks,” she says quietly. He hesitates only a second longer, eyes searching hers before he tears them away to leave her standing in her doorway. She watches him go, waiting until he reaches the trees between their houses before rolling her eyes at herself with irritation.
“I bet bears get rather hungry,” she mutters. “Are you fucking kidding me with that…”
Mara sprays the cleaner on the blood stain on the cement, wrinkling her nose up with disgust at the way it bubbles. She’ll probably need to let it soak before spraying it off with a hose. “I bet bears get hungry, who says that,” she continues chiding herself. “You get a guy who wants to flirt and that’s what you come up with?”
She’s still berating herself as she goes back inside to shower and get ready for her night out. Mara picks out a simple black dress, and spends more time on her hair and makeup than she normally would. She ends up nearly running late, draining a second cup of coffee as she shoves her phone and wallet into a small purse. Then she runs out to her car, noticing Kylo’s truck is gone as she backs out of her driveway. She’s got a long drive into the city, but her excitement finally returns at the prospect of seeing her friends.
“That is disgusting!” Erica shrieks in response to Mara’s story about her morning with the deer. She waited until after dinner and a round of drinks to tell the small group what happened, not wanting to gross herself or anyone else out before eating.
“I’m so glad Kylo cleaned it up,” Mara admits, taking a sip of her cocktail. She’s still on her first, while Erica has already nearly drained her second.
“Kylo?” Nicole pipes up curiously. “Is that the hot neighbor?”
Mara nods. “Yeah, that’s him.”
“What would even do that? It has to be a big predator, right?” Erica asks.
Mara shrugs. “I was thinking a bear, maybe? Or a pack of coyotes, I guess. But I only ever hear one.”
Nicole’s eyes widen comically across the small table, as she tucks a strand of her brown locks behind her ear. “You hear coyotes out there? I don’t know how you stay in that house alone, I’d be so creeped out!”
“It’s not usually creepy,” Mara disagrees.
“You should move closer to the city,” Erica advises. “We’d be able to visit more often!”
Mara grins to humor her friend, but the thought of leaving the house she grew up in is unpleasant. She loves that house, and the memories it holds. Some days she feels like it is the only thing connecting her to her mother, wherever she is.
“Where’s Kaitlyn!?” Nicole pipes up curiously, surveying the crowd around them. They’re at a table along the periphery of the room. The bulk of the large space is filled with people dancing, the strobing lights roving over their bodies in a rainbow of colors.
“She’s out there somewhere, I just saw her a second ago,” Erica reassures. She grabs Mara’s hand, towing her upwards. “We should join her!”
Mara groans, but doesn’t bother resisting. Erica loves dancing, and no amount of protesting had ever dissuaded her. They wind through the bodies, the music growing louder as they leave the bar behind and get closer to the speakers. She does her best to dance with Erica, even as she feels self-conscious. She lacks Erica’s confidence, her bold movements to the music. She has this way of shaking her curls, swaying her hips, that looks stunning. Mara feels clumsy in comparison, rolling her eyes at her friend. Erica only laughs and pulls her along, closer to the source of the beat.
Mara winces, as the music sounds too loud. Her eardrums feel like they are bouncing around in her head, and she’s suddenly aware of the cloying excess of smells. So many scents blur together from the mass of people, perfumes and colognes mingling in a cloud that assaults her nostrils.
She needs to get more air, feeling overwhelmed suddenly. “I’m going to get another drink!” Mara nearly shouts to Erica to be heard. Her friend just bobs her head in acknowledgement, and so she begins the trek back out of the throng of dancers.
She’s nearly made it to the side of the room again when the guy bumps into her. At first, Mara thinks it’s accidental. She begins to apologize, moving away, before his hands grab onto her hips rough enough to bruise. She tries to pull away, craning to see whose holding onto her, only to cringe when he grinds against her ass.
“Let go, I don’t want to dance!” she protests, trying to wiggle away. His arm locks uncomfortably around her stomach, keeping her pressed to him.
“You smell so good,” he pants into her hair. She recoils from the stench of his breath, throwing an elbow back into his body to no avail.
Mara’s beginning to panic, wondering if she should fully start punching at the man, when the growl meets her ears. She first thinks it is coming from him, but then she realizes he has frozen, his roaming fingers paused at the sound. It’s loud, somehow reverberating in her ears despite the music of the club. Her chest rumbles with the vibration of it, at the same time the guy drops his hold of her completely.
“I didn’t know,” he snaps out. She pulls from him, turning to see as he is retreating from her. She doesn’t catch his face, but his hair is dark blonde, hanging long and limp on his shoulders. He disappears into the crowd, as the growling finally stops.
Mara has the strange sensation that she’s being watched, her hair prickling uncomfortably as goosebumps rise on her skin. She spins back around, searching, until her eyes land on him. Her lips part in surprise at the sight of Kylo, standing on the far side of the room. He’s immediately recognizable, taller than most of the people around him, his face openly furious as lights dance across his dark features.
Mara starts towards him, but has to look away momentarily when she bumps into a group of girls that are swaying erratically. Their drunken giggles annoy her as she shoves past, intent on reaching him. But when she looks up again, he is gone. She continues to the spot she had last seen him, searching the crowd for his dark hair. But there’s no sign of him.
“Are you sure it was Kylo?” Nicole asks as they make their way towards their cars. “It was dark in there.”
“It was definitely him,” Mara insists. “I know it was.”
“You should have asked him to dance,” Erica contributes, giggling. “I would’ve danced with him, if he’s as hot as you say.”
Erica stumbles a bit before stopping, using Kaitlyn’s shoulder to lean on. The group waits while she pulls her heels off, holding them dangling from one hand instead as they continue on. She’s probably had a bit too much to drink, if Mara had to guess. Erica might be the most entertaining of the group, but she could also be the most irresponsible.
“You don’t think it’s weird that he was there?” Mara asks no one in particular.
Nicole makes a noise of sympathy. “I mean, it’s a little strange. But it really could be a coincidence.”
Mara huffs but doesn’t answer. She’s had a feeling in the pit of her stomach since seeing him, since the random guy grabbed at her on the dance floor. Something seems wrong, and remembering the feeling of that growl in her ears only makes the goosebumps return to her flesh.
Mara heard that growl before, the first time she had woken up from sleepwalking. She doesn’t dare tell her friends that part, though, shying away from including a detail that might sound unbelievable.
“The next time you see him, just ask why he didn’t say hello. Maybe he didn’t even recognize you or something,” Nicole suggests sensibly.
“The next time you see him, ask if he wants to blow your back out. Maybe he could loosen you up,” Erica adds on, laughing.
“Erica!” Kaitlyn hisses. But Mara only rolls her eyes at her friend’s antics.
“Thanks, Erica. You know, you should write greeting cards. You’ve got a way with words,” she quips.
“’Welcome to the neighborhood, please blow my back out. Love, Mara’,” Nicole says. They end up laughing stupidly as they approach the parking lot.
“Whose driving drunky home?” Mara asks, nodding at Erica.
“I’ve got her. Get home safe,” Kaitlyn insists. “And happy birthday!”
Nicole gives her a hug, as Erica takes off at a trot through the lot to find Kaitlyn’s car. “Happy birthday, Mara. And maybe consider the whole moving closer thing. It probably wouldn’t be a bad idea?” she asks uncertainly. Mara nods, giving her a small smile.
“Sure,” she agrees. “Thanks for coming out tonight. Drive safe.” Nicole smiles back, giving a wave as they part ways. Mara buckles up when she gets into her car, turning the radio on to accompany the long drive home in the dark.
The drive seems shorter than normal, as she ends up getting lost in her thoughts. What, or who, had been making that growling sound? She knows now it had never been a dream. She’d heard it twice now, and the man who had grabbed her seemed to hear it too. He had said he didn’t know something. What didn’t he know? What was he talking about?
Mara turns her brights on as she gets further into the woods, turning onto her street to the racket of gravel under her tires. Something strange is happening, she can’t try to deny it any longer. And deep in the pit of her stomach, she partially blames the spell she had done. But why would her mother insist she do a spell that brings some sort of bad luck? What was the meaning of the ritual, anyway?
Maybe she should try looking into the materials she had used. Perhaps they could give her a clue. She pulls into her driveway, putting the car into park. She get out and shuts the door harder than necessary, feeling rushed to get into the house and out of the dark. She feels creeped out, the sensation that eyes are on her returning. Her skin feels like it is crawling again, a deep itch that roves her body.
Mara nearly runs to the front door, only pausing to look when she’s unlocked it, the knob in her hand. She turns it, as her eyes search the tree line passed her house. She wants to reassure herself that it is only her imagination acting up. For a moment, she spots nothing and breathes a little easier.
But then her mouth drops open when she sees the eyes, staring at her from the darkness at the beginning of the woods. They are reflective, some sort of animal that is lurking just beyond the edge of her lawn. She watches as they blink once, adrenaline flooding her blood stream.
It shifts, and she can see something darker than the surroundings there, a shape amongst the trees. Her breath leaves her lungs in a horrified gasp at the size of it. It’s absolutely massive, whatever it is. Mara pushes the door open to her house, tears stinging at her vision as she refuses to blink. Has she gone insane? Is that a bear? It has to be, the size of it alone-
The eyes change as she watches. They grow red, glowing, piercing into her from the night. She’s never seen anything with eyes like that, bright red and burning like some sort of demon.
Mara throws herself into her house, slamming the door shut and turning the lock with shaking hands. She backs away from it, wishing she had something more to secure it. She doesn’t bother turning a light on, her gaze stuck in terror on that entirely too small, too weak looking front door. It’s the only thing between her and whatever lurks outside, and she doesn’t want to think about what lurks outside, the red eyes burning into her brain-
Mara freezes, stopping her steps backwards. Her breathing is shaky, loud in the silent house. But something tells her to try to calm it, to listen beyond her own gasps.
A wet, panting sound meets her ears immediately.
Chapter 3: Chapter 3
Mara’s mouth hangs open as she tries to pull air into her lungs, but they feel like they have deflated in her chest. Her hand searches the wall, dragging over the texture of the paint as she desperately fumbles for the light switch. Her feet are stuck to the floor, jolting sensations shooting up her spine like electric currents. She feels stalled, frozen in terror.
The panting sound grows louder, and she wants to run from it. But she can’t go outside, can she? She’d seen something terrible out there. And yet she knows that something just as bad is in here with her, leaving her nowhere to flee.
Mara can smell something in the air, a fetid stench like rotting meat. When her fingers find the switch, she holds back a sob as she flips it. Light floods the space. Her eyes roam the living room, nothing meeting them at first. Just for a moment, she can catch her breath.
A shifting of movement in the kitchen catches her attention, revealing the location of whatever has invaded her home. She turns, her eyes burning as tears rapidly fill them and overflow. It shows itself, stepping into the doorway from where it had been concealed behind the wall. It doesn’t just step into the doorway, it fills the doorway, and if she’d had enough air in her lungs she would have screamed.
But she can’t breathe, as the burning red eyes meet hers. It’s a demonic version of a wolf, she recognizes that much resemblance. But it looks twisted and sickly, its gray fur is matted and filthy. It is standing on its rear legs as it stares at her, panting that stomach wrenching stench out of its gaping mouth.
Mara knows she needs to move, to run for her life. But the part of her that is prey, that small instinct in the base of her brain, tells her not to. The moment she moves, the predator will chase. She’s locked in place like a deer in the headlights.
The beast drops suddenly, letting its front legs slam into the floor, shuddering it with the weight of impact. It rips those otherworldly red eyes from her, throwing its head back. The sound that comes from its throat is enough to break her from her paralysis, a screaming howl.
Mara darts forward, fingers scrabbling at the lock to fling the door open. It reacts immediately, she can hear its claws tearing at the floor as it fights for purchase to throw itself at her. She’s only a few steps out of the door when she hears it slam into a wall behind her in its haste to pursue.
She screams, running as fast as she can blindly, too panicked to even look where she is going. But it doesn’t seem to matter, as the demented wolf is faster. Barely a dozen steps across the lawn and it catches her, she can smell the sick wave of its breath at the same time the growl vibrates her ears.
Then she’s screaming again, but this time in pain. It catches her lower leg, its claws snag at her skin and tear her flesh. Unbalanced, she tumbles onto the ground, immediately spinning herself to see it. She scrambles backwards, sliding on the wet grass in a futile attempt to escape. It edges nearer, looming above her. Wrecked sobs tear free from her chest as she realizes she is not going to make it.
This close she can see the brutal fangs in its mouth, and it bares them at her as it snarls. A trail of slobber dangles from its jaw, foamed with its rapid breath.
Mara cries out as something slams into the creature from the side. The forceful collision throws the hideous wolf from her before it can attack, sending it tumbling across the ground. Her eyes focus briefly on the gray beast that rights itself, quickly recovering, before darting back to the new shape. It has stopped in front of her, and it is even larger.
It’s another wolf, with jet black fur. Though less distorted looking than the first, it is too freakishly massive to be anything natural. It turns its back to her as it snarls sharply, pacing on huge paws. She crawls backwards across the ground, taking any chance she can to increase her distance from the nightmare before her.
The gray wolf’s eyes dart to Mara, before the black wolf moves to block it from view. Her mouth drops open as the snarl drops into a rumbling growl, her chest shuddering unpleasantly from the deepness of the sound. She gasps as this new wolf throws itself into the first creature, the sound of snapping teeth filling the air as they fight.
Mara doesn’t bother watching for more than a second, enough to see them fall together in a tangled mass of fur. She lurches to her feet, grasping onto the opportunity while they are distracted and running as fast as she can away.
It doesn’t matter where away is. Her mind is careening a thousand different directions, trying to come up with a way to survive. But her thoughts are too chaotic to be functional. Can she lock herself in her home? Could those things break down the door?
She’s already ran too far from her house anyway, her blood rushing to her racing heartbeat, slamming away almost painfully in her chest. Her feet pound into the ground as she pushes forward desperately. She thinks of her car, but it doesn’t matter as she can’t remember where her keys had ended up.
Mara hears one of the monstrous animals scream and she stumbles, daring to look back. She can’t see them anymore, her yard empty, her front door a yellow rectangle of light illuminating nothing. A second scream meets her ears, before it is cut off. Silence replaces it, ticking by for several tense seconds, before a howl rises from somewhere in the woods.
She takes off again, stumbling through the trees onto Kylo’s driveway. The big black truck is parked there, and a glimmer of hope fills her chest. He’s her only neighbor for miles, but maybe he can help. She’s gasping for breath as she runs for his porch, the lantern left on next to the door. She pounds up the few wooden steps only to stagger to a stop.
Kylo’s front door is ajar by a few inches, and she can only stare at it as her stomach lurches with sudden nausea. Her body is shaking spastically, overwhelmed by the flood of chemicals triggered by panic. Mara reaches out a trembling hand, planting her fingertips against the wood near the knob and pushing. The door creaks slightly as it swings wider, showing that Kylo’s house is dark inside as if no one is home.
“Kylo?” she asks the darkness, her voice weak with tremors. Mind racing, she remembers with horror when this nightmare had begun.
It all started on the night he arrived.
Realization battles with disbelief at the conclusion her mind draws. It couldn’t be…could it?
But she doesn’t have time to debate it, freezing as one of the porch steps groans behind her, sounding burdened by a large weight. Something whimpers behind her, a noise that is deceptively soft.
She turns slowly, willing the wolf to disappear by the time she can face it. Her eyes are stinging, the tears long since making her mascara run into them to burn. Mara’s sob catches in her throat as her eyes land on the black wolf, one of its massive paws on the first step of the porch. It’s blocking her in, her only route of escape now is to flee into the house.
But it doesn’t snarl at her like the other had. It is watching her, intelligent brown eyes focused on her face as it cocks its impossibly large head to the side. Mara tries to step back again, running into the door that is still partially closed. Her fingers search it meaninglessly, digging against the wood.
A throaty whine leaves it, and she gasps in surprise as she realizes the wolf is drenched in blood. Its muzzle, throat, and chest are saturated with the crimson liquid, dripping from its fur to leave fat splatters on the porch beneath it.
It climbs another step, that needy whine continuing to trail from it as it watches her. She shrinks in the doorway, picturing how her head would fit quite neatly into its jaws. It is taller than her, an overgrown mimic of a wolf like something pulled from mankind’s ancient nightmare.
“Please,” Mara gasps, voice pleading into the space between them. Its warm breath hits her, and though it is not the putrid scent of the first creature, she can smell blood. Sweet and metallic, making something twist in the base of her spine, a deep-seated shiver.
The brown eyes change, glowing brighter until they are a bright red, piercing into hers. She can’t tear her gaze away, that something in her spine spasming again. Buried beneath the fear and shock, something in her wakes up at the smell of blood and the red eyes before her.
The wolf moves again, as if to come closer, breaking her from the moment so that logic can flood back into her brain. “Please don’t,” she chokes out pathetically, tearing her eyes away to search for a way to flee that isn’t further into Kylo’s home.
To her astonishment, it seems to listen. It shakes its head roughly, sending blood splattering as its eyes dim to a regular brown. Mara watches it retreat, backing its intimidating form down from the porch steps. It turns from her, breaking into a loping run towards the back of Kylo’s property until she loses sight of it.
For a moment she stands there stupidly, before forcing herself to retreat quickly. The forest around her is eerily quiet now as she runs to her own house. It’s like the animals have all been silenced, not even a cricket chirping. The night is still other than her rapid breathing, and she’s shocked to even be alive.
Why had it let her go? What did it want, if not to tear into her flesh, like the poor deer at her doorstep?
Mara locks the door as soon as she gets inside, before running through her home erratically, checking the windows. They are all closed and locked, except for the kitchen one. It is open just a crack, and she doesn’t remember leaving it that way.
Is that how that thing had gotten inside? But how could it have fit through the window? And why or how could it have shut the window back to nearly closed behind itself?
Mara slams the window down, fixing the latch, trembling as she realizes it doesn’t matter. She knows she isn’t safe, those things are still out there. Or was one of them dead?
She remembers the blood soaking the fur of the black wolf, before shaking her head spastically. She doesn’t know what to do, she can’t think straight. She spots her keys, laying on the floor near the front door. Mara grabs them up, picturing herself jumping into her car to drive away in the night and never return. But she hesitates at the thought of going back outside for long enough to even get to her vehicle.
She starts pacing, her breathing coming too fast. Mara realizes she might be hyperventilating, but can’t bring herself to calm down. Her leg gives a throb and she looks down, spotting three scratches curving around her calf.
They are deep enough that blood has trailed from them in rivulets down her skin. Her shoes are ruined, torn up and covered in mud. Should she call the police?
Mara grabs her purse up from where she’d dropped it, phone in hand before she second guesses herself. What will she say? She can’t tell them the truth. They would never believe her. She lets herself drop heavily onto the floor, scooting back until her back hits the wall so she can keep her field of vision on the door and windows around her. Panic lingers as she runs her hands through her wild hair, half tempted to tear at it in frustration.
Finally, she unlocks the phone, dialing the sheriff’s office from her contact list rather than 911. She’s never called the police before, and she immediately regrets it when the operator picks up. She barely registers the woman’s voice, dazed feeling as she ponders what to say. The woman has to repeat herself several times to get Mara’s attention.
“Hello!? Is anyone there? Is this an emergency?”
“I… I’m sorry, I’m here. I don’t know who to call,” she admits, her voice shaking wildly as she forces the words from her mouth.
“Do you need emergency services? What’s wrong?”
The woman’s voice is alarmed, and she feels even more foolish as she tries to answer. “No, I don’t know. There was an animal, it attacked me-”
“Are you badly injured? I can send an ambulance-”
“No, I’m not… It just scratched me,” Mara admits, wincing as tears once again spill over her lashes. She would be embarrassed if she had enough energy left in her body for the emotion.
“Where was the animal? Did you see what it was?”
Mara stutters over a reply, reluctant to tell the woman it was inside her house and a giant mutant wolf. But perhaps a second wolf has killed it, she thinks, so no worries. She feels a hysterical noise start in her chest, something like irrational laughter, and she has to stifle it. She tries to calm herself, to pull her mind back together from shock.
“It was outside,” she finally lies. “Outside my house, when I was coming home.”
“Are you safe now? Do you have the doors and windows secured?”
“Yes,” Mara confirms, but it feels like a bluff. Nothing about her current situation seems safe or secure. Her eyes flit constantly from the doors to the windows, ears straining past the phone call in dread of another howl.
“Did you see what the animal was?”
She wants to sob at that question again, not eager to answer it. A moment passes before she can hear the woman take a breath, readying herself to repeat it a third time. She doesn’t make her.
“I think it was a wolf. I know that sounds crazy, there aren’t wolves around here,” Mara hurries to say. “I swear it looked like one though, and I’m not making it up, please-”
“It’s alright,” the operator interrupts to attempt to soothe her. “It could have been a coyote, or maybe a stray dog. Huskies can look like wolves in the dark sometimes.”
Mara shakes her head but doesn’t answer.
“I need your address. I’ll send a deputy out first thing in the morning to take your report. Are you sure you don’t need medical assistance?”
“I-I don’t need medical assistance,” Mara replies, wanting to cry at the news that no one will be coming until morning. “But what if-its still out there, can’t anyone come now?”
“I know you’re afraid, but I can’t send a deputy right now for a non-emergency. Just stay inside your house and you will be safe,” the operator says, tone pacifying. “Give me your name and address, and I’ll make sure he is there first thing. Then I can stay on the line with you until you calm down.”
Mara gives her the information, but insists she doesn’t need the woman to stay on the call with her. She feels too humiliated, her story making her sound like she is over reacting. But she can’t tell what really happened, can she? Who would believe the true version of the night?
She ends up slumping against the wall, repeatedly talking herself out of calling Erica or Nicole. She doesn’t want to scare them by waking them in the early morning, and part of her doesn’t even want to bother telling the false story again. They will think she’s over reacting too, or crazy if she admits the truth.
Her eyes burn as she fights against letting them close. Her body feels like it is crashing into exhaustion as the adrenaline wears off, her head nodding towards her chest until she forces it back up. She should move, get up from the floor. But she can’t bring herself to budge, muscles feeling drained of the last reserve of energy. After a while, her eyes start to slide closed.
Mara jerks awake, her heart hammering in her chest as she realizes she’d let herself drift off without meaning to. Dawn has come, weak morning sunlight entering through the front window. Mara shifts, her back aching from sleeping hunched against the wall. She tries to move her neck, wincing.
Nothing had broken down her door while she dozed, but that fact fails to reassure her. Her head aches, face sticky feeling with the residue of tears. As she stands, her calf gives another throb of pain and she cringes at the dried blood from the injury.
Mara forces herself into the bathroom, washing up quickly to remove the blood and streaks of makeup from her face. She still feels dazed, disconnected from her actions. Her mind is somewhere else, pondering the open door to Kylo’s house.
Yet again, she can’t help but think that this all started on the night he said he arrived in town. The noises in the woods around her house, the howling that woke her up every night. Could it be connected to him? Did she dare to let herself think of supernatural stories, of the horror movies she’d watched as a teen?
Mara can’t even bring herself to say the word aloud, feeling stupid for thinking it. But at the same time, it is the only explanation. Unless she’s simply lost her mind.
But she’d heard that rumbling growl from the huge wolf before. It had been in the club, as Kylo had glared at her from across the dance floor. And she feels renewed dread, realizing she recognized the black wolf’s eyes before they had glowed red. They had been the same warm brown shade as her new neighbor’s.
She doesn’t believe in things like that, though. Does she?
She's tempted to consider that she is going insane, but reasons that she can’t be imagining the wound on her leg. Something had done that to her, it had been real. The previous night’s events weren’t in her head, and Kylo’s empty house seems to suggest his involvement.
Mara tries to bandage the scratches on her leg, before putting clean clothes on and leaving the ruined dress on the floor near the shower. She’s startled when there is a loud banging at the door, edging out from the bathroom to stare at the entrance to her home.
“Mara Resnick? This is Officer Dameron. You called about an animal attack last night?”
She breathes in relief at the voice calling through the door, hurrying forward to unlock it and pull it open. The officer surveys her once. “Mara Resnick?” he asks again.
She nods. “Yes, sorry. I called last night. I don’t know if I should have-”
“It’s alright. You said it scratched you?” he asks curiously, eyes roving over her in search of the injury. They land on the bandage on her leg, visible as she’d pulled shorts on after showering. “Did it get you bad?”
“It’s not that bad. I cleaned it,” Mara replies, shrugging. He’s handsome, his demeanor suggesting he finds this to be a standard affair. It makes her regret calling, wishing she hadn’t even bothered. What good would it do? She can’t tell him she suspects her neighbor might secretly be a giant, black wolf.
“Well make sure you keep it that way,” he advises casually. “I got bit by a stray cat once and got a nasty infection.”
She nods once again, unsure what to say. He gives her an easy grin. “Anyway, you mind if I come in? I’ll take your report while my partner looks around the property.”
“Of course, come on in,” Mara agrees, opening the door wider for him and stepping back so he can enter. He does, but not before giving a glance back at the cement in front of her door. She notices the way his eyes look down at the stain there, now turning a rusty brown shade of red.
“What’s that mark from?” he asks curiously.
“It’s…It’s blood,” she admits. The officer’s face doesn’t show any surprise, leading Mara to conclude he had already suspected as much before ever asking. “It was a deer. Half a deer, I mean,” she adds quickly.
“Half a deer?” he repeats, that part getting a slight eyebrow raise from him as he steps through her doorway.
“It was there yesterday morning, when I went to take the trash out,” Mara explains. “My neighbor-”
She’s cut off by static coming from his radio before a voice comes through. “Dameron! I-I need you back here, at the rear of the property.”
Mara assumes it is the other deputy, but his voice sounds shaken. Dameron looks curious, unclipping the radio from his belt to speak into it.
“You got something?” he asks.
The radio buzzes with static once more before the voice comes through again. “I… I’ve got a body down here.”
Chapter 4: Chapter 4
Mara paces her living room, arms crossed so her fingers can dig into her own skin in a bid to keep herself together. She hadn’t thought to look at the time when Dameron had taken off to meet his partner, so she’s unsure how long she’s been waiting.
Had the officer found the body of the gray wolf? Mara hopes that’s it, but something about the way he’d referred to ‘a body’ seemed to imply it was a human body.
Who could it be? Had someone been visiting the little lake at the end of their road, and had an unlucky encounter with one of the wolves? But it had been the middle of the night, why would anyone be at the lake then? Unless…
Mara freezes, lips parting in dismay as she realizes she might have been mistaken in blaming Kylo. What if his door had been open, because one of those monstrous predators had chased him into the night? What if it was his body, laying down the road?
Stomach acid surges up her throat as she remembers the deer at her doorstep, trying not to imagine her neighbor being discovered in such a state. There is movement outside her living room window, and she can make out three more police cars on the road through the trees. Rumbling along behind them is an all-black van with something written in white on the side. It seems to confirm the body they’ve found must be human.
Mara can’t stand it anymore, grabbing her phone up from where she’d left it on the coffee table. Neither Erica or Nicole answer, and she leaves half intelligible voicemails for them. It’s a Sunday, and they had been out late. They likely won’t be up for several hours still, and must have their ringtones silenced.
She forces herself to try to drink some water, her throat feeling like it is burning from the bile. Mara holds a hand over her mouth, pressing as if it can help her to keep the liquid down. When she no longer feels as imminently nauseous, she returns to her anxious pacing.
What if Kylo had been killed by the wolves? And she saw his front door hanging open, and hadn’t told anyone? What if she could have gotten help for him, before it was too late?
But she’d been so foolish, thinking about werewolves and blaming him. It would have been logical to assume her neighbor was in just as much trouble as she was…But no. She’d deluded herself into believing that black wolf had Kylo’s eyes.
Guilt weighs down on her chest, tightening the muscles around her ribs as she tries to breathe. When the harsh knock comes on the door for the second time that morning, Mara nearly throws it into the wall in her haste to open it.
She doesn’t think she’s imagining that Officer Dameron looks a lot paler in the face than he had earlier. His carefree, easygoing attitude has disappeared as he eyes her up.
“Ms. Resnick, I’m going to need to ask you some questions,” he begins.
She nods, stepping back to allow him once more into her home. She can’t help herself from blurting out her own question before he has a chance to speak again. “Is someone dead?”
Dameron nods, gesturing at her couch. “Why don’t you have a seat?”
“Who is it? Do you know?” Mara presses, ignoring his request.
The officer surveys her, and though his expression is unreadable she feels like he is studying her. After a long moment, he shakes his head. “No. There’s no ID on the body. Can you please have a seat, Ms. Resnick?”
“You can call me Mara,” she corrects, allowing her weight to drop obediently onto the couch cushion.
The deputy stays standing. “I’d like for you to tell me what happened last night.”
“I got home late, and when I got out of my car there was this animal in the trees-”
“How late? Do you remember a time? Where were you coming home from?” he interrupts.
Mara’s mouth hangs open for a second at his tone, which is much more abrupt than it had been before. “I was downtown, celebrating my birthday with friends. I’m not sure of the time when I got home, but probably around 2 am?”
He gives her a nod, the only encouragement for her to keep speaking. She continues uncertainly. “There was this animal, and it chased me. It caught my leg, but I was able to get inside.”
“And you said it looked like a wolf?” Dameron asks. She nods. “Have you ever seen wolves before?”
Mara shrugs. “Only at the zoo.”
“And was this about the same appearance as the wolves you saw at the zoo?” he asks skeptically.
His gaze is beginning to make her even more nervous, and she clasps her hands to keep them from shaking. “Well, no,” she admits. When the officer only raises his eyebrows, she struggles to explain. “It was…It was bigger than them. It was really big.”
Dameron nods, his eyes finally dropping from hers as he seems to be considering what she’s said. His radio buzzes with static, and he moves quickly to silence it. “What can you tell me about your neighbor?”
“Kylo?” Mara asks. “He just moved in, I don’t really know him well.”
“I don’t know his last name,” she replies. “I’m sorry.”
“He lives alone, though?” he checks.
“I think so. I’ve only seen him over there.”
“When’s the last time you saw Kylo?” Dameron asks, finally joining her in sitting. But he takes the armchair, leaving a good amount of space between them across the coffee table. He sits at the edge, as if poised to rise again without warning.
“Last night?” Mara replies before wincing. She’d answered without thinking, and stutters over trying to correct herself. “At least, I think I saw him last night? At this club, with my friends, but I don’t know for sure.”
The officer looks curious. “Do you know what time that would have been?”
“Maybe 10:30 or 11?” Mara tries to guess. “I don’t know... It was dark, but it looked like him.”
“And before that?” he continues.
“Well, I saw him in the morning yesterday. He’s the one who cleaned the deer up for me,” Mara explains. “I screamed when I saw it, and he must have heard and come running.”
Dameron nods. “Right, you mentioned the deer… Did he put it in the trash can?”
Mara shrugs slightly, eyebrows knitting together in worry. “I would assume? I was in here looking for something to clean the blood, so I didn’t really see.” She frowns as the words leave her mouth, realizing this probably doesn’t look good for her. She tries searching the officer’s face, but it is still locked to give nothing away.
“We’re going to search your trash. If it’s in there, we might want an expert to examine the remains,” he explains. “I’m afraid I need to ask you to do something that might be upsetting.”
Mara only raises her eyebrows questioningly at him, confused. The officer stands quickly, his brown eyes lingering on hers. “Your neighbor’s house is empty, the door was open when we arrived. It’s going to be easier to have you identify the body here, before we load it up for transport. Otherwise we’ll have to drag you all the way to the coroner’s office,” Dameron explains.
Mara feels her stomach flip at the news, trying to take a deep breath to steady herself. “Identify the body? Meaning you think it’s Kylo?”
For the first time since he began his nerve-wracking questioning, Dameron’s composure seems to break. He sighs, before throwing a hand in the air. “I don’t actually know what I think, Ms. Resnick. Mara,” he corrects. “But your neighbor is missing, so it would be a logical assumption that it could be him.”
“Alright,” she agrees. “I can…I can look. At the body.” Her heart starts beating faster, disagreeing with what she’s said aloud. She’d rather do just about anything else with her morning but look at a dead body. But she dutifully shuffles out of her house, following Dameron to his car.
The car ride passed Kylo’s driveway takes only a minute or two, before they pull to a stop on the gravel behind the black van. Mara gets out, following the deputy as he leads her by the line of police cruisers and towards the lake. The water looks peaceful today, the morning sun warming its surface.
She’s already convinced herself the body must be Kylo. He is the only neighbor around for miles, and the way his house had been left dark and open the night before seems like a bad sign. Mara tries to ignore the guilt, but is tempted to blame herself for not doing more. Instead of being logical, she’d jumped to the crazy assumption that her neighbor was a werewolf. And it had most likely cost him his life.
They turn, slanting away from the water’s shore and along a path amongst the pine trees. The ground here is covered in dead leaves and needles, making their steps noisy as they crunch through the shade. It isn’t long before yellow tape comes into view, and a small crowd of police officers and individuals with cameras and equipment.
“Just look long enough to tell us if it’s him,” Dameron advises. “We’ll figure out next of kin for a formal identification.”
Mara nods as they approach the scene, her eyes falling to something on the forest floor, though she can’t make it out with all the people crowded around. But they part when they see the deputy leading her, falling back to make room for her to approach the crime scene. She tries to control the shake in her body, crossing her arms once more to wrap herself up.
She’s expecting to see Kylo, her stomach flopping erratically in her abdomen with the urge to be sick. She doesn’t want to see his handsome face covered in blood, but forces herself to edge forward regardless. Mara has to clamp her hand over her mouth when she finally sees the body, recoiling in horror. She backs right into Dameron, his hands falling to her shoulders to steady her.
“I know it’s a bad sight,” he says sympathetically. “But I just need you to tell me if it’s your neighbor.”
Mara shakes her head. “It’s not him,” she insists against her hand. “It’s not Kylo.”
Her gaze darts back to the dead man’s face for a double take, his gray eyes glassy and wide open. She stares at him, at the faded brown hair that looks filthy against his skull. He looks nothing like Kylo, and for a moment she is intensely relieved that her neighbor is not dead because of her stupidity. But the relief only lasts until her brain reminds her, she must once again be suspicious of Kylo.
“Have you seen this man before? Maybe around the area?” Dameron asks.
She shakes her head. “No, I’ve never seen him,” Mara answers. She can’t seem to tear her eyes away now though, as they are stuck in horror on the rest of his body. Unlike his face, which is mostly intact, the rest of him is not so lucky.
The man’s neck is shredded open, the pit of his throat nearly black with coagulated blood. More blood is drenched underneath him, dry now from where it had soaked the underbrush. Her eyes fall down, long enough to see the organs visible in his abdomen before she is stumbling back. There aren’t any clothes on him as far as she can see, nothing to stop whatever killed him from ripping him apart.
Officer Dameron guides her retreat, keeping her upright until she makes it far enough from the body to drop to her knees. Mara manages to withhold the dry heaves, but she feels like she is trembling with disgust. The deputy attempts to comfort her, leaving a hand awkwardly on her shoulder. “You did well, I appreciate you doing that,” he tries to reassure her. “I know that was awful, I’ve never seen anything that bad myself.”
She shakes her head, forcing herself not to cry. “No, I can’t stay here. I can’t… Not with that…that thing around.”
“Whatever it is, we’ll catch it eventually-”
“I can’t, it’s not safe,” she rambles. “I have to get out of here.” She doesn’t know how to make him understand. Something terrible is happening, and she can’t begin to explain sufficiently. The officer kneels in front of her, his brown eyes kind as he catches her gaze.
“Stay inside at night, keep your doors and windows secured. We’ll figure out what did this,” Dameron assures. “But if you really can’t stay here, I’m going to need to know where to find you. You’ve got to give me a name and address for whoever you stay with, in case I have more questions. Okay?”
She nods, but his tone is much more comforting than it had previously been. It diffuses some of her panic, and she accompanies him back to the car to watch him take down information for both Erica and Nicole.
It’s late in the afternoon, practically evening by the time Mara gets off the phone with her friends. She managed to scare both of them with her frantic voicemails, though they hardly blame her once she tells them about the body. She’s decided to pack up enough things to stay away for a while. Erica has a more comfortable couch than Nicole, and has offered it up indefinitely.
Mara is pulling her suitcases out of her bedroom closet when her stomach gives a rumble. She realizes she hasn’t eaten yet, heading into the kitchen to make toast. Her appetite is lacking, and she makes slow progress forcing down a few bites of bread.
Then she returns to her messy bedroom, attempting to plan out a week’s worth of clothing for work. Mara ends up packing far more than is probably necessary, filling the large suitcase and a duffel bag with toiletries, clothes, and shoes.
On some level, she has a desire to take enough so she doesn’t have to come back to the house for a long time. The memory of the wolves is too fresh, the terror urging her out the door. Even though she still doesn’t understand why the black one had let her go, it hardly matters to her. She wants to get far away from the woods.
When she’s satisfied with her preparations, she takes the duffel bag out to the car first. Mara tosses it onto the backseat before popping the trunk of the sedan. Then she heads back inside, dreading how heavy the suitcase is. She’d barely managed to heave it out of the bedroom. Mara makes it a few steps inside the door before coming to a stop suddenly, at the sight of a large man in her living room.
She retreats back a step towards the door before her eyes can recognize him from behind, the tall body and shaggy black hair giving him away. Kylo is staring at her suitcase as he asks, “Are you going somewhere?”
Mara says nothing, gaping at his boldness. Had he just strolled right into her house? She thinks briefly of the police, but she’d seen their line of cars retreat up the road not long ago. Kylo turns around at her silence, quirking an eyebrow questioningly when his eyes meet hers. He’s wearing another flannel, the sleeves rolled up his muscular forearms. Everything about him is muscular, broad. She feels minute in comparison, his stature imposing in the small space.
She realizes his hair is damp, as if he’d just showered. The memory of blood-soaked fur flashes in her mind. She tries to not give in to the intimidation his presence brings, but the fear is inevitable. Where had he been, when that massive black wolf had snuck up behind her? Or was it possible she already knew the answer? Mara clenches her hands into fists, trying to not show weakness.
“Are you okay?” Kylo asks hesitantly, taking a step towards her.
Mara retreats again, just a single step left to the door in case she needs to run. “What are you doing in my fucking house?” she spits out.
Kylo’s brows furrow for a moment. “Sorry, I guess I should have knocked,” he admits slowly. His lips quirk downwards in a frown as he takes in her angry face.
“Yes, you should have knocked,” Mara snaps back in disbelief. “You need to leave. I don’t want you in here.”
“I wanted to make sure you’re okay,” Kylo says. She picks up on something in his voice, the way it’s pitched lower like he’s trying to soothe her. “I thought you might be upset.”
“Upset!?” she repeats indignantly. “The police were here all morning, and there is a dead body by my house! Yes, I am upset! Where have you been? They were looking for you. Your truck was here, but you weren't home!”
He’s snuck forward a few steps during her rant, so subtly she barely noticed. But it’s enough to close the distance between them, and Mara realizes she can smell him. That scent she’d picked up on before, something clean but masculine, reminding her of the woods. Something coils in her belly, something bizarrely like a spasm of pleasure.
“I’m sorry you’re upset,” Kylo breathes, and she freezes as he dares to come even closer.
“Where were you last night?” Mara asks, attempting to conceal her nerves with a demanding tone. “I came over and your door was open, your house was dark…” She trails off uncertainly, her heart beating faster.
Kylo makes her wait for a moment, before he shrugs one of his shoulders. “I was around,” he says vaguely.
She swallows, licking her lips that feel too dry. He’s watching her, brown eyes searching over her face. She feels cornered, even with the door behind her. Mara knows then, looking back into his gaze, that she hadn’t been imagining it. That black wolf had Kylo’s eyes, before they had burned red in the night.
She tries to take a deep breath, but it only fills her nostrils with his scent again. It floods her brain, hazing over her thoughts and dulling her fear. The logical part urges her from beneath the fog to get away from him. Her hands begin trembling as she reaches behind herself for the doorknob.
She barely gets the door open a few inches before Kylo prowls forward, his hand rising beside her head to press against the wood. The door is forced closed easily, her pull on the handle no match for his strength.
Mara stares up at him, their eyes locked in some sort of silent battle. Fear still lingers enough to make her breathing shaky. But there is something else now, too. A feeling in her body that shouldn’t be there, given the situation.
Kylo leaves his hand on the door, and slowly matches it with the other, both his palms planting on either side of her head. She’s caged in between his arms, but the panic it should cause is restrained by strange excitement. That’s the only word that seems to fit, excitement. It rises in her muscles at his closeness. Mara’s confusion at the sensation only grows when she realizes Kylo is breathing heavier, his pupils dilated.
“Did I see you last night?” she ventures, before she can stop the words tumbling from her lips. “On your porch…Was that you?”
Kylo says nothing, only presses closer to her. Pleasure twists again in her core, catching her breath. Her body is responding strongly, hushing her mind that wants to cling onto fear and retreat. She’s held in place by the bizarre longing to press against him, to arch up into his body while he towers over her.
“I wouldn’t have hurt you,” Kylo says, the words nearly lost in how softly he speaks. He’s so close to her, their breath mingling.
Mara curls her hands against the door behind her back, to stop herself from reaching for him. What is she thinking? She should be running for her life, and yet every instinct is urging her the opposite way. A scraping noise captures her attention, and she turns her head up slowly to the side. Her eyes find his fingers, digging against the wood. His nails catch in the door, and she gasps in horror when she sees that they aren’t human nails anymore.
The scream is halted in her throat when Kylo leans down suddenly, taking advantage of her exposed neck. Mara freezes at the feeling of his nose nuzzling into her pulse point. “You feel it, don’t you?” he asks, and her eyes want to flutter closed at the sensation of his lips brushing over her skin.
She forces her eyelids open, clinging onto whatever shred of sanity is still ruling her mind. He’s breathing her in like the smell of her is a drug, his shoulders slumping into her. A harsh noise sounds from beside her head when his claws dig once more into the wood, as if he’s literally tearing into it for restraint.
“It’s waking up. That part of you that’s calling to me,” Kylo says softly, trailing his lips along her skin after he speaks.
Mara’s frozen, horrified as she realizes she’s aroused. Her body is tensed in anticipation, waiting for more. Longing for those lips to catch and kiss, for his teeth to sink in-
That thought is enough to make the panic surge finally, the fear chasing back whatever had taken over her momentarily. “I don’t know what the fuck you’re talking about,” she insists, her voice coming out harsh. She pushes weakly against his wall of a chest, wanting to escape.
Mercifully, he lets her. He moves, letting her dart out from under his grasp and retreat further into her home. Kylo lingers by the door, turning to face her. He’s watching, eyes hungry and face predatory as she breathes heavily.
“I think you should go-I want you to go,” Mara stutters out. “I don’t want you in my house, I don’t want to be anywhere near you.”
Kylo finally tears his gaze away from her, shaking his head slightly as if trying to regain his senses. Then he’s still for a long minute, staring down at the floor. “I won’t hurt you, but I can’t say the same for the others,” he says.
“The others?” Mara gasps out. But he’d killed the other wolf, hadn’t he? The gray one that had snarled at her… Was that the body the police had found? Had he somehow been returned to a man in death? Were there more like him?
Kylo opens the door before he looks back at her. “If you leave, I can’t protect you,” he tells her. Her mouth drops open in shock, thoughts reeling at what he's said. But Kylo doesn’t add anything else, his eyes holding hers for just a moment longer before he walks out.
Chapter 5: Chapter 5
Mara stares at the gouges in the wood of her front door, trying to make sense of Kylo’s warning. Was he lying? He could be trying to scare her into doing what he wants. But something about his words seems to click, making sense of the bizarre series of events from the previous night.
Had Kylo been protecting her?
It would explain the lack of aggression that black wolf showed her, the way it put itself between her and the gray wolf. But why? And why had the gray beast been so ready to sink its fangs into her, when Kylo’s monstrous alter ego was not?
She has the sudden urge to march herself over to his house, to demand answers from him. He'd all but confirmed her ideas, but in a way that told her nothing. She wants to put him on the spot, to make him admit aloud that more of him changes than those curving claws he’d sunk into her door.
But Mara talks herself out of it the moment she acknowledges that lingering flush to her skin. He’d been affecting her, in a way she’s never experienced before. The very smell of him nearly overruled her brain, silencing logic and replacing it with something…hungry.
She’s torn. Does she leave anyway, as she had initially planned? Or does she stay home, in case Kylo isn’t lying about there being others? Mara is overwhelmed with indecision. If there are others, and they are anything like that gray demonic creature that had chased her… she would stand no chance alone.
She decides to throw caution to the wind, driven by frustration. She needs answers, and she needs them now. She heads outside, and practically stomps over to his house. Her body is an odd jittery mess, tired from too little sleep and a conflicting bundle of emotions. She is afraid of him, but she's also confused by the swirling nightmare that has become her life. If forcing some answers from her terrifying neighbor can make sense of things, it's worth it.
Mara ducks beneath the branches of a tree, passing by his truck to head for his porch. She’s trying to psych herself up to question him, to not let her fear stop her, when she notices the porch is clean of blood. She distinctly remembers the droplets of it falling from the wolf’s fur onto the wood, but it is bare now.
She furrows her brow at the observation, before knocking on his door. Her fist makes a pathetically timid noise, and she waits only a moment before banging her hand against the door harder. “Kylo!”
Mara gets more and more frustrated as the seconds tick on, and he hasn’t opened the door. She resorts to peeking in his front window, seeing no movement in the house. Is he not home? Where had he gone?
She ends up heading back to her house when his is clearly vacant, and tries to keep herself calm. Kylo had said he wouldn't hurt her, right? And really... if he'd wanted to hurt her, he had multiple opportunities already. Which meant perhaps she would be safe for the time being.
She texts Erica, telling her friend she’s decided not to come over for the night. Maybe it’s the wrong move, but part of her wants to trust her intuition. And it’s stuck on what Kylo said, on the feeling that he wasn’t lying.
She hopes she doesn’t regret the decision.
It’s nearly nightfall when someone knocks on Mara’s door. She jerks upright from where she was dozing on the couch, blinking in confusion. The sound comes again, impatient, and she stumbles forward towards the window. Looking outside, she sees Erica’s car parked behind hers in the drive.
Mara opens the door to her friend’s smiling face. “What are you doing here?” she asks, withholding a yawn that wants to fight its way out. She’s exhausted, and her brain hadn’t fully turned off even as she napped. Her sleep had been punctuated by half-lucid dreams, and she kept waking herself up.
Her friend holds up a bag of take out food. “I brought dinner and wine. We’re going to have a sleepover.”
She moves over to make room for Erica to enter. “You didn’t need to do that…” Mara says. Part of her is paranoid about putting her friend at risk, even as there's a substantial amount of relief at the thought of not spending the night alone.
“It’s fine. I could tell you were still upset when you cancelled, so I thought we’d hang out here,” Erica insists. She’s already headed into the dining room, dropping the food onto the table. “I also took off work tomorrow, so if you want to do the same… Maybe we could take the day to check out apartments for you?”
Mara can’t help but give Erica a grateful smile. “And I brought your favorite wine. Moon Dreams,” Erica says. She brandishes the wine, shaking it free from the paper bag so Mara can make out the full moon on the side of the bottle. The irony of the imagery doesn’t escape her, but it is indeed her favorite.
The night is quiet as they watch movies and talk. There is no howling, nothing unusual. Mara hadn’t dared to go back over to Kylo’s once the sun set, telling herself she’d save that confrontation for the day time. The visit manages to brighten her spirits, and she gets sleepy after a second glass of the red wine. Erica is already dozing on the couch, so Mara shuffles into the bedroom and leaves the door open.
Mara falls asleep early, comforted by having someone nearby. As the night transitions to very early morning, she gets cold. But she’s too deeply asleep to wake up all the way. She tugs the blanket up higher, falling back into her dream almost instantly.
There’s something calling to her, something she was headed towards in the dream. The urge to move to it returns as soon as the dream starts back up, and she’s wandering blindly in the dark. She can’t see anything, somehow able to move without falling. But the longer she walks, the colder she gets. The blanket isn’t helping, she’s shivering as she presses on.
She feels whatever it is growing closer, and she trips as the ground becomes uneven. Mara recovers in the dream, righting herself to continue, but she’s stopped by a wall of fur. Something warm and soft presses her backwards, nudging into her shoulder to turn her. She’s confused, stumbling, but it’s right there. She leans against it, the heat warming her chilled skin. There’s a whimpering sound in response to her contact, a soft whine that lingers.
A comforting, masculine smell stirs something in her, however the logical part of her brain doesn’t speak up. It’s sleeping too heavily to interfere, leaving her to rely on instinct. She lets that mass of muscle and fur guide her, chasing the way she feels warm and safe with it against her side. It’s taking her away from where she had been headed, but she trusts it.
A howl pierces the dream, somewhere in the distance. She knows it’s meant for her.
Mara wakes up to the smell of coffee, opening her sleep-blurred eyes to see Erica waving a mug in front of her face.
“Wake up, sleepy head. You’re sleeping away the whole morning,” Erica chides, but she’s grinning good-naturedly.
She tries to suppress the giant yawn, but it pulls itself free from her anyway. When she finally recovers, she takes the cup of coffee and sits up. “Thank you. I’m still so tired, I feel like I dreamed all night,” Mara complains.
“You probably needed rest, after all that crazy yesterday,” Erica muses.
Mara nods, practically gulping down the caffeine. She stops when it nearly scalds her mouth. “I think I might try to get an apartment in the city. It would get me away from whatever is happening out here,” she thinks aloud. She tries to ignore the way her intuition flares up, disagreeing with what she’s said.
“Well it wouldn’t hurt to look at what’s available,” her friend agrees.
Mara nods uncertainly, deciding to go along with that plan. She could always back out later if needed, still quite determined to get more information out of Kylo. She throws back her covers to get out of bed, only to give an alarmed glance at Erica when her friend gasps.
“Mara, what the hell!?”
“What?” she asks, even as she follows Erica’s gaze down to the mattress. Her feet are filthy, caked in dirt against the light-colored sheets. Her mouth falls open in shock.
“How did that… What did you do?” Erica stammers in confusion.
Mara ignores her for a minute, struggling to recall her night of dreams. But only flashes come back, bits and pieces that make up no coherent memory. “I…I don’t know,” she stutters.
Erica looks horrified. “Were you sleepwalking? I thought you said that stopped!”
“It did, I don’t know-”
“The front door was closed when I woke up, I looked right at it! How did you get out and back in without waking me up?” Erica asks in confusion, but her voice soon grows stern. “Mara, this is serious, you can’t be sleepwalking outside when some wild animal is on the loose-”
“I know!” Mara interrupts. “Please just-stop for one second, okay, you’re making me freak out.”
“I’m sorry,” Erica whispers. Silence falls between them as Mara’s mind races. Had it not been a dream? She fights to recall more than the feeling she’d been headed somewhere in her unconscious state, but only comes up with the smell of Kylo and warmth against her side.
“What is happening to me,” Mara whispers, breaking the silence. “I think I’ve actually lost my mind.”
Erica frowns. “When exactly did the sleepwalking start? Is there something that could be causing it? Like maybe a new medication or something?” she wonders.
“No, not a new medication,” Mara disagrees. But a matching frown is twisting her features as she lets herself admit something. “But I did do a spell…”
“I’m sorry, you did a what?”
“A spell,” Mara repeats with a groan. “Remember how I said my mom was kind of a witch? There was this spell she wanted me to do, before my birthday…”
“What was it for?” Erica asks curiously.
She shrugs. “I don’t actually know…I mean, it said ‘To find your place in the world’…”
Her friend looks like she’s biting her tongue from making a snarky remark. “Well, do you have what you used still?”
Mara stands, sitting her coffee down on the nightstand to wait until she’s cleaned up. “Yeah, it’s in the hall closet. You can look if you want, I’m going to…well, wash my feet.”
Erica nods, leaving her to shuffle into the bathroom and shower quickly. When she emerges, wrapping a towel around her damp hair, she finds Erica out in the living room. Her mother’s spell box is open on the coffee table, and Erica is consulting her phone.
“Half of this stuff is toxic if ingested in large amounts,” Erica announces, scrolling.
“I wasn’t chowing down on it,” Mara grumbles, plopping next to her friend on the couch.
“What did you do with it then?”
She watches Erica shuffle through the materials, punching something new into Google, before answering. “I put it in the moon water.”
“Ooh, right. The moon water.” Erica’s voice is lightly mocking, implying she finds the whole thing to be ridiculous.
“Yes, the moon water,” Mara repeats, rolling her eyes. “I don’t believe any of this junk either, but I promised my mom-”
“Woah, did you use this stuff?” Erica interrupts, holding up a little bag of dried leaves. Mara squints, reading the label her mother had left on it, “damiana” written in her slanting print.
“Yeah, I think so. Why?”
“It says eating its leaves is an aphrodisiac. Was your mom’s spell to get you laid?” Erica teases.
Mara huffs an impatient sigh. “I didn’t eat it, Erica. I don’t think my mom was concerned about my sex life.”
“Okay, well it also says it’s used in spells to attract potential lovers,” Erica continues reading off her phone screen, before pausing to give her an eyebrow wiggle. “Passion, sensuality… Yeah this sounds like a really horny weed.”
Mara slowly closes her eyes in irritation. “I’m sure that’s not it. What about agrimony? I remember using that one too.” She forces herself to drink her now-cold coffee, already feeling the beginnings of a headache.
There’s a moment of pause before Erica reads off the results. “It says agrimony’s properties make it useful in hex breaking and the reversal of spells.”
“Reversal of spells?” Mara repeats, confused. Her hand rises, gripping her labradorite stone that dangles around her neck as she tries to remember the night she’d done the ritual. The necklace had felt different after the spell, though she’d brushed the observation aside at the time.
Mara realizes she’s a little angry, something she hasn’t felt towards her mother since she’d left. They hadn’t always gotten along well. They could go from having so much fun together, to heated arguments very easily. But now she suspects her mother had left her in the dark, taking off without bothering to clue her in. It makes those familiar feelings of contention come back. Resentment rises as she considers the possibility that her mother's spell got her into this mess.
“Hmm?” Mara forces herself to focus, noticing Erica’s quirked eyebrow.
“I said, it mentions using agrimony with some kind of candle to break a spell. Did you use a candle?” Erica repeats slowly.
Mara remembers the candle, even remembers dropping a pinch of agrimony into the flame. But she shakes her head instead. “Enough of this crap,” she says suddenly, snatching the bag of herbs up off the table. She tosses everything back into the wooden box, shutting it a bit harder than necessary. “I’ll make an appointment to see a doctor or something, but this isn’t helping.”
Erica frowns sympathetically, sitting her phone down on the couch cushion. “Alright. But it did say some of this stuff could be psychotropic in large amounts.”
“Yeah, like it affects your mind? And the damiana, it said can cause tinnitus,” Erica adds.
Mara just stares at her. “Tinnitus? Like ringing in the ears?”
Erica bites her lip, dropping her gaze. “I just mean… I didn’t hear any howling last night? And maybe, what you thought was howling-”
“I know the difference between my ears ringing and a freaking howl, Erica,” Mara snaps, suddenly annoyed. She regrets it immediately when her friend cringes, holding up her hands in a placating gesture.
“Fine,” she agrees. “I’m sure that’s not it, anyway. It’s not like you did shots of the moon water or anything.”
Mara can’t help the weird laugh at the mental picture of that. Erica grins, knowing she’s successfully defused the situation. She’s good at that, at breaking the tension and making someone laugh. Mara gives her a reluctant smile, but she’s grateful again to have Erica with her. It’s keeping her feeling somewhat sane, more rooted in reality.
“Come on, let’s head out. I’m excited for this apartment hunt!” Erica exclaims, jumping up from the couch with her enthusiasm. Mara follows, but not without remembering again what Kylo had said. If you leave, I can’t protect you…
Late That Afternoon
They’ve spent a large part of the day checking out apartments, and Mara even added her name to a wait list at one particularly nice complex near Nicole’s home. Eventually they decide to humor their stomachs and get some food. They eat in the outside food court, enjoying the warm weather of the day.
She’s thankful that Erica is quite talkative, as it keeps her mind from thinking about the spell. But when Erica decides to get ice cream, Mara is left alone at their table. She absentmindedly swirls a fry in ketchup, her brain immediately going back to what they’d read about the herbs.
Was it possible that spell she’d done had somehow attracted the wolves…? Had it attracted Kylo? He’d said something in her was calling to him. But she remembers him saying he’d arrived in town that same night. Surely that would be too fast to suggest a cause and effect between her spell and his arrival?
Mara sighs with frustration, letting the fry drop. If it were somehow the spell’s fault, then maybe she could undo it. She finds herself wishing, for the first time in months, that she could get a hold of her mother. But her mom hadn’t even bothered to leave a phone number, ruling that possibility out.
A shiver shoots up Mara’s spine suddenly, and she jerks with the uncomfortable sensation. She looks around, the perception that someone is watching her abruptly overtaking her thoughts. She searches the tables around her, but can’t see any eyes on her.
“You have some kind of luck lately,” Erica remarks, distracting her.
Mara turns back around from where she was twisted in her seat to look behind herself. Erica sits down, sitting a dish of ice cream onto the table. “First you get the hot neighbor, then you get a random guy giving you his number,” her friend explains.
Mara furrows her brow. “What?”
“Some guy wanted me to give you his number,” Erica explains, tossing a napkin down onto the table. It’s folded over twice. “Bugged me about it in line.”
She’s instantly suspicious, staring at that napkin with reluctance until a breeze threatens to push it from the surface. She snatches it up, asking, “What did he look like?”
She’s half expecting a description of Kylo, so she’s surprised by Erica’s answer. “Kind of tall, thin. Had really long hair for a guy. Like he’s going for a dirty Thor thing.”
“He was blonde?” Mara asks, confused. Erica only nods, happily scooping her dessert up to her mouth. Mara looks down at the napkin in her hand, unfolding it with a feeling of dread in the pit of her stomach. There isn’t a phone number on the inside.
Rather, there is a series of four numbers with a slash in the middle, above a cryptic warning: You are running out of time.
Goosebumps cover her skin, her hair on her scalp prickling uncomfortably at what looks to be a threat scrawled onto the innocuous napkin. And the numbers…Mara realizes it might be a date. The month matches, the day only a few weeks away. Erica seems to notice something is wrong, her plastic spoon pausing halfway to her mouth. Melting ice cream drips from it before she lowers it back down.
“What is it?” she asks.
Mara shakes her head, handing over the napkin. “It’s not a phone number.”
Erica takes it, looking at it briefly before shaking her head. “What the fuck. That’s a sick joke to play on someone.”
“Well he must be trying to mess with you, right? What a creep,” Erica concludes. When Mara says nothing, she crumples the napkin up. “Don’t let that bother you, seriously Mara. It’s just some jerk getting his rocks off messing with girls.”
Mara nods, but only a minute passes before her eyes start roving the people around them. She’s looking for the long blonde hair, that sensation like she’s being watched staying with her. But she sees no one out of place, nobody that is watching her despite what the chills that race along her skin tell her.
Erica drives her home, and Mara is anxious at the thought of seeing Kylo again. Ironically, it isn’t just her suspicions of his night time activities that make her anxious.Though the worst part should be having a neighbor that turns into a supernaturally large wolf, she’s actually more alarmed by the way he affected her. The way she’d thought of his mouth as he trapped her against her door, imagined his teeth biting into her skin… Didn't she have any self preservation instinct? How could she feel anything other than terror towards Kylo?
Mara shivers, reaching out to turn the AC down in Erica’s car. They’re rambling down her road now, gravel bouncing up behind them as they go. “Thanks for going with me,” she says. “Really, I appreciate you doing this today.”
“Of course!” Erica reassures with a grin, slowing down to pull into Mara’s driveway. But the grin turns hesitant about the same time Mara’s gaze lands on the car already parked there. Behind her sedan is a big black car, the windows tinted dark.
Erica stops the car, giving Mara a questioning look. “Do you know who that is?”
Mara shakes her head, her anxiety only rising when the driver side door swings open. A man steps out, turning to shut the door behind himself and survey their vehicle. He’s tall, his hair a reddish brown. Though sunglasses hide his eyes, she can see his beard, trimmed neat on the lower part of his face.
“…Is he a cop, you think?” Erica asks, opening her car door.
Mara’s frozen, not even bothering to reach for her handle. But she realizes that Erica might be right. While he isn’t wearing a police uniform, there is something about him that suggests authority. And as she watches, he sweeps his jacket aside to unclip something from his belt. He holds it up, the sun glinting off what looks to be a law enforcement badge.
“United States Marshal,” he calls to identify himself, as Erica rises from the car. “Are you Mara Resnick?”
Erica turns to give Mara a panicked look. Mara forces air into her lungs, before stepping out of the car. “No, I’m Mara Resnick,” she admits.
The guy’s attention shifts from Erica to her, and he strides forward. She’s frozen by the car, her mind reeling as she tries to recall what she knows about federal marshals. Why would one be at her house? Of course there was the dead man, but that wasn’t anything a U.S. Marshal should be involved in. Even with her limited knowledge of law enforcement, Mara knows local police should be handling the investigation.
“I need to ask you some questions,” he insists. His head slides back towards Erica before he adds, “Alone.”
“Um. I can go,” Erica says quickly. Mara shoots her a terrified look, but her friend only returns it with an apologetic expression. “Call me, when you can. It’s going to be okay,” Erica says, trying to sound reassuring. She gives her one last frown before climbing back into the driver’s seat.
Mara nods, stepping away from the car as Erica starts the engine back up. The man only watches the car back up, before his sunglasses turn to Mara. She’s relieved when he takes them off, revealing a critical blue gaze.
“Can we go inside? This might take a while,” he asks.
She nods again, starting forward hesitantly. He turns to lead the way to her front door, and she catches the sight of his holster on his hip. She swallows nervously. “What did you say your name was?”
“I didn’t. But it’s Armitage Hux,” he replies. “Did you need to see my badge again?”
“N-no, that’s okay,” Mara stutters. Her eyes dart over to Kylo’s, noting with bizarrely displaced comfort that his black truck is still in the driveway. “I thought marshals did…witness protection, and stuff like that.”
“Witness protection is one of our roles, yes,” he agrees. They reach the stoop and he hangs back, letting her creep passed him to unlock her front door.
Mara tries to still her shaky hand to turn the key, pushing the door open. He gestures for her to enter first, so she does. She lingers in the living room, waiting to see what he does.
Her breath catches when he shuts the door, examining the gouges in the wood. Mara’s waiting for him to ask about them, or about the red stain in front of her door that he’d stepped right over. He doesn’t, finally turning his cold blue eyes back to her.
“I’m going to assume you’re here because of the body they found,” she begins uncertainly, unable to hold her tongue. “But I don’t understand why that would be a federal thing-”
“The dead body they found belonged to a fugitive I’ve been chasing for over five years,” he interrupts coolly.
Mara’s mouth is left hanging open before she closes it. “What…? What was he wanted for?”
The marshal’s eyes are searching her house, roaming quickly before he looks at her once again to answer. “He was a serial murderer. He left bodies in seven states.”
She feels like her breath isn’t quite enough to fill her lungs, the news surprising her. She sits down heavily on the couch, staring at the floor. Mara’s taken aback when he sits beside her, jerking to look up at his face.
His blue eyes catch hers, and she is trapped in his gaze. He’s intimidatingly close, and she has to force herself to not edge away from him. “As you can probably imagine, after years searching for him, I was rather surprised to hear he was found dead out in the middle of nowhere. I’m hoping maybe you can tell me why his body was less than a mile from your home.”
His voice is suspicious, his eyes daring her, prying into hers. “I-I gave a report, to the deputy-” she begins to explain before he cuts her off curtly.
“When I read your police report, Ms. Resnick, I couldn’t help but feel that there was a lot missing. A lot that you left out.”
Mara’s trying not to panic, but she is worrying. What if she’s a suspect? Though, how could she be? There’s no way she could have killed that man, the way he’d been ripped open-
She clenches her hands, trying to stop them from trembling with nerves. “You’re not going to believe me if I tell you what really happened,” she protests weakly. “It’s crazy.”
The marshal’s expression changes, almost relaxing the smallest bit. But his eyes narrow on hers as he replies. “I think you’d be shocked at what I would believe.”
Chapter 6: Chapter 6
Mara can’t bring herself to start talking, to say aloud for the first time everything that’s been happening. The marshal seems to sense her hesitation, and he leans back from her. He mercifully looks away, and she feels like she can breathe fully again.
“All of his victims were women,” he says, as if making conversation. “Women who lived alone. They told friends or family about strange occurrences happening in the days before their death. Howling sounds at night. Animals scratching on the windows.”
Mara stares at him, horrified that she isn’t alone in her experiences. But he doesn’t meet her gaze now, continuing on in a somber tone. “A few mentioned dead animals being left at their door. But they all died the same way. Torn apart, throats slashed open. Autopsy reports say animal attack. But I knew…”
Mara’s eyes are welling with tears, picturing women just like her whose encounters with the twisted gray animal had ended differently. The marshal, Hux, raises his eyes to her slowly.
“I knew it wasn’t that simple. I tracked him, but I was always a step behind,” he says. “And as glad as I am that you’re alright, Ms. Resnick, I’m a little confused… How is it he ended up dying just like his victims?”
She swallows, shaking her head. “I had never seen him before…before Officer Dameron showed me his body,” she stammers out, her voice trembling.
But he shakes his head, his blue eyes now steady on hers, almost calming. All air of intimidation is gone. “I believe you, Mara,” he reassures her. “But I need to know what you saw that night, before his body was found. It wasn’t just a wolf, was it?”
The tears spill over, a warm trail running down her cheek. “N-no,” she agrees. “It wasn’t just a wolf.”
Her words linger between them, but he’s silent now. Patient, waiting. “It-it was in my house,” Mara admits. “When I came home, I could hear it breathing. I turned the light on, and it stood up…It was standing on two legs, in the kitchen. It was-it looked like a-“ she cuts herself off, shaking her head as more frustrated tears escape her lashes.
“It’s alright,” he says softly. “I believe you. Go on.”
“It looked like a... a werewolf,” she finally says the word, spits it out like it’s a swear word. “It had red eyes, and its legs were… too long? I don’t know how to explain, it was this mutated looking thing. It chased me, so I ran outside and…”
She stops herself, the next words catching in her throat before she can speak them. The marshal’s eyes search hers, still waiting patiently for her to keep going. But she’s torn. Something in her is holding back from mentioning the black wolf, from exposing Kylo.
“And what happened next?” he prompts gently.
Mara looks down at her hands, focusing on them to answer. “And I got away, I lost it somehow in the woods. I ran back inside and locked the door.”
His gaze shifts immediately, the gentle expression giving way to returning suspicion. “That’s it?”
She nods. “I called the police, and I just waited and tried to not fall asleep until morning.”
“You only saw one wolf?” he asks.
She swallows, clenches her hands together. She should tell him, shouldn’t she? That there was a second wolf, that she nearly knew it was her neighbor…But she can’t bring herself to do it. If Kylo was protecting her, and if there were others…
“I only saw one,” she agrees.
His eyes burrow into hers, searching, for a long minute. Mara tries to not recoil from his scrutiny, and he sighs. “Strange. Normally wolves are pack animals.”
She raises a hand to wipe under her eyes, attempting to get rid of the tears clinging there. He stands, walking over to the doorway of her kitchen. His head cocks as he examines the floor there, and she knows he’s spotted the grooves its claws left. It had torn into the floor in its pursuit of her.
“Is there anything else you didn’t tell the deputy? I saw about the remains of the deer, but anything else strange from the last few days?”
“Howling,” she admits. “I heard howling at night…”
His head snaps up to her. “Every night? Even last night?”
“No,” she denies immediately. “Last night was the first night I didn’t hear it. Erica-that was my friend that brought me home just now… She was here last night. She can tell you, she didn’t hear anything either.”
Something about her voice is a little too frantic, she can hear it herself. But the marshal doesn’t call her out on it, disappearing into her kitchen instead. Mara tries to take deep breaths, to settle herself. But she thinks of those women, the ones who had been killed before her… She knows exactly how terrified they must have been. She’d come so close to the same fate.
When he reemerges from her kitchen, she’s surprised to see he’s filled one of her glasses with water. He sits beside her again, handing her the glass and a napkin.
“Thank you,” Mara murmurs, using the napkin to try to tidy up her face. She takes a sip of the water, before making a face and sitting it down. It’s got a strange taste to it, something oddly metallic.
When she looks back at the marshal, he’s watching her raptly. Something about it makes her suspicious, and she suddenly regrets opening up to him. There’s a knot in her stomach, unease growing at the way he’s tensing up himself. Her eyes flit down to his hand, noticing the way it’s hovering near his hip. Her eyes widen, remember the holster she’d spotted there.
For one terrifying moment, she imagines him pulling his weapon. But it passes, and he relaxes easily. His posture returns to normal so fast, she almost second guesses herself. But she knows she’d seen it, his body preparing itself for something. What had he been expecting out of her?
“I’m going to be in town for a while, Ms. Resnick,” he says. “I want you to know that if there are more of these things, more like him… You don’t have to worry.”
“You think there are more?” she asks. He nods once.
“I do. And I’ll take care of them,” he replies simply. Then he’s standing up, walking briskly to her front door.
“Wait-Is there anything I should do? I mean, should I-” she’s rambling after him, startled by his sudden retreat from her home.
He pauses at the door to look back at her. “Consider getting out of here, before the next full moon. You’ve got three weeks.”
Mara watches the black car with the tinted windows retreat from her driveway, before she realizes she doesn’t have any ways of reaching him. What if she needed to contact him?
She finds her phone, pulling it out of her bag to dial the sheriff’s office once more. The woman who answers assures her Deputy Dameron will return her call, and it’s only a few minutes before he does.
“Mara? Is everything okay?” he asks when she picks up.
“Yes, everything’s fine. I just spoke to the U.S. Marshal, and I realized I didn’t get his number,” she admits. “I thought maybe I should have it, in case anything else came up?”
Dameron is silent for a moment. She frowns. Should she not ask for his contact information? Surely that was a reasonable request, given the ongoing investigation?
“What U.S. Marshal?” he asks finally.
“The-the one whose investigating what happened to the dead man? He said he’s been chasing him for years, because he’s a serial killer-”
“Mara, I don’t know what you’re talking about,” Dameron admits quietly. “Where did you hear about this?”
Mara’s heart feels like it’s dropped out of her chest. “He was just at my house! He said he was a U.S. Marshal, his name was Armitage Hux!”
“Did you see a badge?”
“I…I saw one, but I didn’t look close,” she admits. “But he said that dead man was a fugitive, he was wanted for murder.”
“We haven’t been able to identify the body yet,” Dameron insists. “I don’t know who you just talked to, Mara, but I don’t know of any marshals involved with the investigation.”
Mara feels like her head is spinning, all too familiar panic returning to her body. “Who the fuck was he then?” she exclaims. “He was just in my house!”
“I don’t know,” the deputy replies. “It might have been a reporter, or one of those supernatural conspiracy theorists. Sometimes they will try to insert themselves into weird cases-”
But she’s tuning him out, her breathing shaky as she tries to keep it together. She can’t take much more of this, she’s so confused.
“I can come out there tonight,” Dameron offers, seeming to pick up on her panic. “Mara, I can come check on you-”
“No,” she says quickly. She has other plans for who she needs to talk to tonight. “No, that’s fine.”
“Are you sure? I could have an officer swing by-”
“No, it’s alright. I’ll be alright,” she insists.
“Just don’t talk to anyone else without calling me first, okay? It was probably a fake badge. Guy’s probably harmless.”
“Right,” she agrees. “I understand.”
“Okay… Here, I’m going to give you my cell phone. I want you to call me, if anything else happens. Okay? Don’t hesitate.”
She agrees to reach out if she needs him, writing down the number on the envelope of a bill on her kitchen table. When they hang up, she adds it to her contact list. But then she sits her phone down, and readies herself for what she can’t put off anymore.
The sun’s already nearly disappeared outside, the woods pitching into twilight quickly when she leaves her house. As soon as she closes her front door, she feels like eyes are on her. She ignores it, walking as fast as she can without running to Kylo’s.
Mara is nearly to his truck when she hears rustling in the trees that line the side of his property. She picks up her pace, rushing for his porch when she hears a twig snap somewhere in the brush. She pauses in front of the steps to his door, turning to search the trees.
Red, glowing eyes greet her, a hulk of shadow concealed amongst the trunks. She squints, but can’t make out more as night has descended rapidly.
“Kylo?” Mara calls hesitantly. The red eyes only blink at her. “Kylo, I swear, if that’s you-”
“It’s not me.”
Mara jumps, turning around to realize Kylo has come up behind her silently. He’s pulling a flannel on over his bare shoulders, his eyes dark with anger. She looks away from him, back at the red eyes. They’re just watching, whatever or whoever they belong to is staying at the edge of the woods.
“Get behind me,” Kylo orders.
He doesn’t need to tell her twice, and she skirts around him, only stopping when her ankle bumps into the bottom step of his porch. Kylo takes a few steps forward, and her breath quickens when she hears it. That low growl like she’d heard at the club, vibrating in her belly. It’s an angry sound, something aggressive, rumbling from the man in front of her.
The red eyes blink again, before they vanish. She searches the trees, trying to see the shadow of the animal’s movement. But it’s getting too dark, everything passed his lawn is blurring together in the night.
“Get inside,” Kylo says, still facing away from her.
Mara hesitates, but he rounds on her, his dark eyes narrowing. “Go inside,” he repeats. She’s stumbling up the steps immediately, something commanding in the low pitch of his voice that she finds hard to disobey.
She steps into his house, warily keeping her eyes out on the tree line until he joins her and shuts the front door. Mara looks around, spotting stacks of boxes he hasn’t even unpacked yet. Nothing about the interior of his home suggests anything unusual. Then again, she doesn’t know what she’d been expecting. Obviously the guy’s couch wouldn’t be werewolf patterned or something.
Mara huffs slightly, almost too tired to find the thought humorous. It catches Kylo’s attention, and he pulls his eyes away from the door to focus on her. He reaches up, raking a hand through his hair to push it back from his face. She notices the way his eyes trail down her body before returning to her face, appraising.
“You okay?” Kylo asks quietly.
She’s about to say that she’s fine, to repeat the assurance she’d just given Dameron about her current state. But she stops herself when his eyes catch hers. They affect her, stalling the lie before she can bother to say it. She backs up a step, trying to clear her mind with more space between them.
Mara ends up shaking her head. “No. I’m not okay.”
Kylo takes a step towards her, and she dances back another step in turn. She’s feeling timid, paranoid about what happened the last time they were close. She’s already trying her hardest to ignore how much of him she can see. His jeans ride low, shirt hanging open. The muscles of his chest are visible, that dark trail of hair leading from his belly button to disappear down under his waistband.
She tears her eyes away, rolling them at the wood floor of his living room. Her neighbor’s a monster, one she’s relatively certain has killed a man, and she’s standing there checking him out. What is wrong with her? She’s literally shaking, probably at the edge of a mental breakdown, she shouldn’t even be noticing his body.
At least now she knows she’d be the one to die first in a horror movie, if the villain was hot. Though, Erica might give her some competition. Mara laughs at that thought, a trembling, unstable sound.
“I feel completely insane,” she admits, the laughter turning into a desperate huff that hints at tears. She holds them back, trying to not embarrass herself.
“You have no idea what’s happening, do you?” Kylo asks gently. She looks back at his face, reading concern and some amount of surprise in his features.
Mara shakes her head. “Does it have to do with the spell?” she guesses.
Kylo’s eyebrows raise up curiously. “Huh?”
“A… a spell that I did? Is that why you’re here?” she guesses. “I did this spell, with… damiana and a candle…and moon water.”
“A spell…” Kylo repeats slowly, before something seems to click for him. “Is that what you were doing naked in your backyard?”
Mara’s mouth falls open in horror, her cheeks reddening. “You saw that!?”
Kylo’s lips quirk up, as if he’s fighting to withhold a grin. He fails, the smile taking over his face. He at least has the decency to drop his gaze from hers as he admits, “Yeah, I saw that.”
Somehow, that one fact manages to be the tipping point, and she throws her hands in the air. “You know what? Fuck it. I’m just going to go out there and let that thing kill me.”
Kylo’s smile fades, and he shakes his head. “He’s not going to kill you…”
“What?” She frowns in confusion. Isn’t that what the gray wolf had been about to do? Kill her? “What does he want, then? What do you want!?”
Kylo sighs, rubbing at his neck uncertainly before he shrugs. “Do you want some coffee?”
“…Coffee.” Mara gapes in disbelief.
“I could use some. I haven’t been getting a lot of sleep lately.”
She stares at him, trying to process. Nothing about this confrontation has gone how she might have imagined. She certainly wouldn’t have imagined an offer of coffee. “Um. Sure. Why not,” she says finally.
Mara follows him into his kitchen, making it a point to sit in one of the stools on the opposite side of the island from him. She crosses her legs, one of them shaking with nerves as she watches him make their drinks. She waits for him to sit two mugs down on the counter, the coffee inside still steaming, before speaking again.
“You didn’t answer my question. What do you want?” she asks.
Kylo plants his elbows on the countertop, hunching over to rest his weight there. She freezes when his brown eyes lock onto hers. Her attention is pulled downwards, however, when he catches his bottom lip with his teeth, biting it only to slowly release. That intoxicating scent of his registers in her brain, mingling with the coffee all too pleasantly. She has to stop herself from breathing deeper to take it in.
“I’m going to tell you something you don’t want to hear,” Kylo says quietly.
His voice sends shivers down her spine, and she can’t tell if it’s from fear or attraction. She licks her lips, trying to ignore that she’s feeling pulled to him again. What is that? Why is she being so irrational? She looks away, scooching back the stool to escape the scent of him. It’s not enough.
“I just need to know what they want, what all of you-whatever you are…want,” Mara stammers out nervously. “I need to know how to make it stop.”
“It’s not going to stop,” Kylo says immediately.
Her eyes snap back to his, desperate at how assured he sounds. “What? Why? What did I do?” she asks quickly.
His pupils are blown wide, she realizes. The black is nearly blocking out the brown of his irises, his lips parted as he breathes in. Mara considers retreating from his kitchen, remembering how he had seemed drunk on proximity to her before. She should back off, she thinks. They’re too close, and it’s changing something in Kylo. His demeanor is shifting, the man who had just casually made her coffee disappearing, eaten up by something far more animalistic.
He takes his time answering, shifting even closer almost imperceptibly. His upper body dwarfs the counter between them. “It’s not what you did, it’s what you are. They won’t stop. Not until you’ve been claimed,” Kylo explains slowly.
Mara stands up suddenly, shoving the stool back with a screech. She’s not liking that look that’s taking over Kylo’s eyes, something wild that makes her heart race. “Claimed? Claimed for what?” she asks, edging back from the counter.
Kylo stands straight, rounding the island slowly. His body language is different now, his walk somehow predatory. “For a mate,” he answers.
In some other situation, she might’ve laughed at the ridiculousness of that. But now, with Kylo stalking towards her as she retreats across his kitchen, it’s more threatening than laughable. She doesn’t dare scoff, fear gripping her as she continues to back away from him.
“They can’t control themselves. I don’t blame them,” Kylo admits. “I can barely control myself lately. Something’s changed.”
She backs into the wall when he doesn’t stop, her heart now frantically beating in her chest. Kylo’s ravenous eyes are terrifying her, almost as much as the memory of his claws. “Stop,” she pleads.
He listens, his advance paused before she is completely trapped. “I don’t understand… Please,” Mara says desperately. She can’t make sense of what he’s saying, and worse yet, it’s happening again. She can feel the fog of lust creeping back into her, hushing reason and replacing it with instincts that lurk in the base of her brain.
“It’s been years since there’s been a woman like you…I almost gave up,” Kylo says, his tone so husky with need that she's stunned by the sound. “And then I find you. And you’re gorgeous, you’re fucking perfection…” His chest gives away his heavy breathing, his fists clenched so tightly that veins are standing out against his hands. True to what he’s said, he looks barely in control.
Mara struggles with her thoughts, with organizing them into a response. It takes her a moment to dispute him. “I’m pretty sure there are millions of women...”
Kylo prowls closer, and her body tenses with excitement, her breath catching. “You aren’t like them,” Kylo tells her, just his deep voice managing to stir her arousal. “You’re like me.”
Mara shakes her head slightly, enough of her brain still functioning to refuse what he’s said. “Like you? I’m not-”
“You are,” he growls impatiently.
She flinches when he lunges forward that last step between them, pinning her against the wall. There’s no escaping the scent of him now, the warmth of his large body pressing so close to her. Mara feels intoxicated, and judging by Kylo’s feral eyes, he’s in no better state.
“Do you want me to prove it?” Kylo asks. “One bite, and I can wake up that animal hiding inside.”
She’s trembling as he presses closer, bending down. She doesn’t realize she’s planted a hand against his bare chest until she registers the heat on her skin. She can’t stop her searching gaze, flickering with confusion between his challenging eyes and his lips.
“I don’t-I can’t think,” Mara mutters helplessly. The smell of him, she can’t block it out, it’s making her mouth water. She wants to taste him, wants him on her tongue.
Kylo’s hand comes to her chin, tilting her face up to expose her throat, and a fresh wave of fear hits her at the thought of him actually biting her. Her eyes well up with tears, overcome with conflicting urges. Whatever part of her wants him is raging with frustration, while the rest is terrified. “Don’t-please don’t,” she whimpers frantically.
But he holds her there, his face drawing close enough that she can feel each soft exhale from his lips. “I won’t,” Kylo says roughly. “When I take you, you’ll be begging for it.”
Her eyes widen at what he’s said, her hand sliding from his chest to grip onto the edge of the flannel. Kylo’s brown eyes hold hers, searching, desperate, hungry. That lust that’s taken over her brain only grows, body needy with desire. “Kylo,” she breathes.
Mara sees the flicker begin in his irises, a spark like a flare that grows. The red glows brighter, until it overtakes the brown, his eyes burning into hers. She cries out in alarm, but the sound is muffled by his lips catching hers, his kiss dominating.
Chapter 7: Chapter 7
She freezes for a moment as Kylo overtakes her. His warm, hungry lips move against hers. His arm is around her back, he’s pulling her towards him, and she clings onto his flannel. Her fingers twist in the material when his tongue slips against her lips, and then she can taste him. She parts her lips willingly, licking against his tongue, the sensations hijacking her brain with arousal.
For one delirious moment, she’s clinging to him, wanting more. But then Kylo recoils. He tears away from her, throwing himself backwards. His hand raises to his mouth, wiping as if to get the taste of her off his lips.
Mara’s confused, breathing hard to catch her breath. She doesn’t understand why he pulled away. Had she done something wrong? Kylo’s eyes are accusatory, as he stares at her like she’s hurt him.
“Silver,” he spits out. “Did you think it would kill me?”
His eyes narrow in a glare, and she flinches as he pushes her to the wall, furious. “What did you do!? Did you drink it?”
Kylo grabs her neck, and she panics, digging her fingernails into his forearm. He doesn’t release his firm hold, towering over her with his anger. She imagines him squeezing much harder, knows how easily he could choke the life from her with one hand.
Mara nearly sobs with fear at his sudden change of mood, scratching at his arm enough to draw blood. Kylo doesn’t even seem to notice the wounds she’s inflicting, his eyes burning red again as he stares her down.
“Why would you?” he growls. “Don’t you know I’m the only thing keeping them from tearing into you? They won’t stop just because you beg.”
“I don’t know what you’re talking about!” she pleads, voice pitching high in terror. “Please, I don’t know!”
Her tears overflow, and Kylo’s eyes flicker between hers before his anger seems to diminish. His eyes become human once more, the scowl falling from his features. “Silver. I’m talking about silver,” he breathes.
“Like the fucking metal!?” she gasps in disbelief. But then she drops her eyes from him, as she remembers how strange the water in her glass had tasted earlier. It had left a metallic tang lingering long after she’d swallowed. “Did he put it in my water?” Mara asks, confused.
“Did who put it in your water?” Kylo demands. But his grip lessens on her neck, mostly releasing her so just his fingertips linger against her skin.
“The marshal-the marshal who wasn’t a marshal,” she tries to answer before wincing her eyes closed in irritation at her tongue-tie. “He came to my house, said he was investigating the dead body the cops found. He got me a glass of water because I was upset. But when I called the deputy after he left, Dameron said there was no marshal on the case.”
Kylo’s touch leaves her, and he steps back. “He was testing you.”
“Is the glass still there?”
“It’s still there,” she confirms. “But what would-”
“Show me,” Kylo demands.
Kylo picks up the glass, barely getting it close to his nose before he makes a disgusted expression. Mara watches him dump it down the sink drain, fidgeting anxiously next to her fridge.
“Does this mean he’s suspecting me? Who is he, some kind of.. like…werewolf hunter?” she asks, cringing at the corny phrase.
“Well, you drank it. So if he was suspecting you, he’s probably not now,” Kylo answers, leaning against her counter to look at her. “Did you tell him about me?”
“No,” Mara shakes her head, but Kylo’s eyes narrow suspiciously.
“Mara,” he says, tone warning.
“I didn’t,” she insists. “I thought about it. But for some reason, I just…didn’t want to.” She sees some of the tension relax from his body at that. “Who was he? Do you know?”
“Best case scenario, he’s a hunter. Worst case scenario… Well, let’s just hope it’s the first option.”
Mara raises her eyebrows at how he seems reluctant to finish his sentence. “What’s worse than a hunter?”
Kylo’s expression is unreadable. “It doesn’t matter. Either way, I’ll take care of him.”
“You’ll take care of him?” she repeats in alarm. “What does that mean!? You’re going to kill him?”
He shrugs. “He’s a threat to me and mine.”
He starts to cross the kitchen, to come closer to her. Mara throws up a hand to try to halt him. “No. You stay on that side, and I’ll stay on this side.”
Kylo cocks an eyebrow. “What?”
“We do a lot better with some distance between us,” she insists.
“I think we were doing just fine, as close as we were,” he argues, tone flirtatious. She has to look away from the grin that quirks his lips, finding it entirely too appealing.
“I need to be able to think,” Mara says. “I still have a hundred questions for you.”
Kylo groans. He looks tired, she realizes. “Do I have to answer them all, right now?”
“I’m sorry, is my entire life becoming a shit show an inconvenience for you?” Mara retorts sarcastically. She takes a deep breath, unable to stop herself from unloading on him just a bit. “None of what you said made any sense, by the way. I feel like I’m losing my mind, and some fake cop just tried to drug me with silver. Which, I should have known he was fake with a name like Armitage, so maybe that’s on me. But I’m sorry for wanting to understand.”
Kylo gives a huff. “Fine. Can you at least make some coffee, though? The stuff at my house is probably cold by now, and I’m exhausted.”
She nods at the compromise, turning on the coffee maker. “Why haven’t you been sleeping enough?”
“Well, last night I had to stop this beautiful woman from sleepwalking herself off a cliff,” he drawls.
Mara gives him an incredulous look. She knows there’s quite a few ledges and steep slopes out in the woods, but they are pretty far from her property. “You’re serious?”
She swears colorfully, ignoring Kylo’s hushed laughter. “It’s not funny. Do you know why I’m sleepwalking? Is this a normal thing when someone’s being stalked by your kind?”
“First of all, its our kind,” he corrects. “And they’re calling you, to lure you off my territory.”
She narrows her eyes in disbelief. Is he that arrogant, that he already assumes she will ask to be turned into some sort of monster? Or is he implying, or more aptly, threatening that he won’t back off until she gives in? Either way, Mara finds herself glaring at him indignantly. She can’t deny Kylo has some strange effect on her, but she resents his assumption.
“It’s not our kind. I haven’t been bitten, and I don’t plan to get bitten, despite whatever you seem to be so cocky about.”
Kylo smirks. “If you’re so sure about that, come over here. Get a little closer.”
Her mouth drops open at his voice, deliberately seductive. Is a werewolf really standing in her kitchen, flirting with her…about biting her? Is this really her life right now? Mara shakes her head, completely exasperated.
She’s tired enough that her thoughts keep almost making her laugh, in a crazy sort of way. So many freaky things have happened lately, that Kylo seems to be the least terrifying thing around. Which is saying a lot, she thinks…given that he’d just pinned her to a wall with one hand, while his eyes burned like the hounds of hell. He still scares her plenty, but she is at least growing used to his presence.
“I’m good, staying human, over here,” she snipes back.
His smirk lingers as she pours the coffee into a mug for him, leaving it halfway between them before retreating to her side of the room. Kylo rolls his eyes, retrieving it. “You already aren’t human, not entirely. It’s called latency. You were born one of us, it just takes a bite from an alpha to bring it out.”
She scoffs in disbelief. “Well, now I know you’re full of shit. I might not know my dad, but I’m pretty sure my mom would’ve mentioned him occasionally turning into a giant wolf.”
Kylo’s face grows more serious, the smirk falling away. “It wouldn’t have been your father that mattered. The child takes on the nature of their mother.”
Mara stares at him. There’s no way. She would have noticed, wouldn’t she? At some point in her entire life, she would have found out if her mother was secretly a werewolf…right?
Kylo clears his throat, and she looks up to see him studying his coffee cup intently. “Look, I don’t know how to say this better-”
“You’re trying to tell me my mom was a fucking werewolf, and I just didn’t notice?” she snaps.
Kylo’s eyes widen, and he lifts the coffee cup. She stares as he drains it quickly, setting the cup down and running his hand through his hair as though delaying an answer. Another moment passes before he awkwardly tries again. “I imagine this must be a lot to take in…”
“I’m not taking it in, because it isn’t true. My mom isn’t, wasn’t…” Mara stumbles over the wording. She falters as emotions surge up from somewhere she didn’t know they were buried. “I don’t even know where the fuck my mom is, okay? I don’t even know if she’s alive. But I know she wasn’t a werewolf.”
There’s silence between them, as she tries to fight the tears that want to appear. She’s tired, she realizes. Tired on a level that isn’t even physical, that sleep probably won’t help. She feels like she’s caught in a nightmare version of Wonderland, a place that didn’t bother to make any sense.
When Kylo speaks again, his voice is softer. “I can feel it there, Mara… It’s buried deep, but I can feel it in you.”
She bites the inside of her lip, feeling desperate. She doesn’t want to think about the implications, if what he is saying is true. When Mara lets herself meet his eyes, they’re sincere. And she knows, deep down, that he isn’t lying. Her instincts urge her to trust him, against all reason. But she hates the thought of trusting those instincts, the same ones that had reacted with a surge of arousal picturing his teeth against her skin.
“I’ve been feeling it for months,” Kylo continues quietly. “It’s why I came here. I came for you.”
Mara shakes her head, the tears finally falling. Kylo starts for her, but she recoils and he seems to take the hint. He stays back, frowning.
“You came for me? And that gray wolf, the one you killed, he came for me too?” she rants, her voice quickly becoming hysterical. “And whoever is out there right now? You all came for me, because you all want a mate, right? Like I’m some piece of meat up for grabs-”
“That’s not it-”
“Isn’t it!?” Mara yells back, surprising herself with how loud her voice grows. She pauses before continuing, voice shaky now as she tries to contain her frustration. “That’s all this is, right? You’re just after me like I’m a bitch in heat!”
Kylo’s eyes darken with anger. “Don’t fucking say that.”
Mara searches his eyes miserably. She can’t bring herself to voice the worst part of all this, the part that guts her. If he’s right about her, that means her mother never told her. That she knew all along, what Mara was destined to become. And her own mom hadn’t bothered to warn her, to prepare her at all. She’d left her ignorant, defenseless, waiting to be blindsided.
It makes her want to rage as much as it makes her want to crumple into sobs. And she can’t even begin to tell Kylo the depth of betrayal she’s feeling. But maybe some of it shows anyway, as his gaze softens against hers.
“I wanted to do it the right way…the human way,” Kylo murmurs, edging closer. “Before it ever got further. But something changed, I don’t know what…It’s driving me crazy, my instincts are stronger than I’ve ever had to handle.”
Mara reaches down to her necklace, lifting the labradorite stone up to run her fingers over the smooth surface. She’s thinking of the spell, the one she’s stupidly performed without understanding what she was doing. Was it to blame for what changed? But why would her mom do this to her? Surely this couldn’t be what she had planned, when she’d written out the ritual and made her promise?
Mara leans against the wall behind her, sliding down to sit on the kitchen floor. She has to force herself to stop thinking about her mom, her chest beginning to hurt. “What if this is my fault? What if the spell I did is what made it this way?” she asks faintly. “I don’t want this. I don’t want any of this.”
Kylo shakes his head, coming forward. She doesn’t even bother to argue with him this time, too defeated feeling to protest his closeness. He drops down in front of her, searching her eyes. She notices his hands clench into fists, but he seems to be in control for the moment.
“If it’s who you are… I don’t know that you can turn away from that, Mara,” he says gently.
“It’s not just that…You said they won’t stop,” she says, huffing with exasperation. “How long can I even make it? What if another one tries to attack me?”
Kylo swallows, she watches his jaw clench as he looks away. “Then I kill them.”
Mara hears a noise that is a bizarre mixture of hysterical laughter and sobbing tear from her throat, and she presses a hand over her mouth to stifle the sound. “This can’t be real,” she mutters from underneath her fingers.
Kylo shrugs, his eyes landing back on hers. She tries to look away, but ends up glancing back, feeling ensnared by his gaze. She finds it comforting, his eyes pleasing to her. Something shivers in her spine at the way he draws a little closer, something that is becoming familiar now. It quivers with pleasure at his handsome face, his dark hair.
She looks down to his lips, thinking of that brief taste she’d gotten earlier. What would have happened, if he hadn’t tasted silver on her tongue?
Kylo stands abruptly, pulling away from her without warning. She watches him pace, his hands balling into fists still, and realizes he’s working to keep himself under control.
Mara takes a shaky breath, letting her head fall back to thud into the wall. Her mind can’t handle anymore, so overwhelmed that she feels like she’s at the verge of spacing out. She’d like nothing more than to stare, unseeing, at the blandest wall to ever exist.
“I need to just… sleep. Or become catatonic. Either or,” she sighs. “I can’t deal with all this.”
“Then sleep,” Kylo suggests.
“Yeah, maybe if I’m lucky, I can make it off a cliff tonight,” Mara retorts sarcastically. At least then, she wouldn’t have to deal with the inescapable mess of her life.
Kylo stops his pacing to give her a tired look. “I’ll make sure you don’t make it that far. Hell, let me crash on your couch and I’ll make sure you don’t make it out the front door.”
“My couch?” she repeats cautiously. “Are you sure that’s a smart idea?”
He studies her for a moment before he comes over, stopping in front of her again. This time, he holds out his hand. Mara hesitates at the sight, before daring to take it. He helps her to her feet, before dropping her hand from his grip.
“Either I’m up all night on guard, and you go wandering off again. Or I get some sleep here, and we make sure you stay put,” Kylo offers her a choice.
Mara’s uncertain, torn by the thought of letting her guard down completely around him. But if that dream the previous night was real, then she knows she’s already been asleep around Kylo. And he’d gotten her back home safely, hadn’t he? Perhaps the part of her wanting to trust him is reliable.
“You’ll stay on the couch?” she asks hesitantly.
Kylo rolls his eyes. “Yeah, I’ll stay on the couch. Or maybe the floor. You’ve got a tiny couch.”
“Is it tiny, or are you just massive?” Mara retorts. That earns a slight laugh out of Kylo, and he heads into her living room.
Mara grabs some blankets from the hall closet, following him only to see he’s stripped the flannel and his boots off. She freezes at the sight of his back, broad and muscular. She feels her face heat up, realizing her eyes are stuck to his body, but she can’t seem to drag them away.
Kylo turns, eyeing the blankets in her hand. “I don’t need blankets,” he says.
She shrugs, darting forward to sit them on the chair anyway. “If you’re stuck on the floor or couch, you can at least take blankets.”
“I’ve slept in a lot worse spots than this,” he replies, unconcerned.
Mara’s retreating, pulling herself away from a view that is entirely too tempting. “Right. Um, goodnight,” she says awkwardly, turning to leave the living room.
“Goodnight,” Kylo sighs.
She darts into her bedroom, heart pounding in her chest. She shuts the door, hoping it can at least block out of the scent of Kylo, that maddeningly delicious smell. She can’t tell what it is, something masculine and woodsy, but she is quickly craving it. Almost as much as she craves the sight of him shirtless, something he seemed too prone to providing.
Could the spell be affecting her too? Was Erica right, was it the damiana? Or was Kylo right, and there was something inside of her calling to him? Something urging them both on, closer? Mara feels half crazy with the hormones rushing through her, combining with stress into something that’s sure to give her heart palpitations.
She tries to calm down, pulling a night gown out before her eyes widen at the sight of it. Short, tight, nope. Rethinking that, she pulls out shorts and a t-shirt to sleep in instead. She washes up quickly, brushing her teeth. Mara sets an alarm, after considering calling off work for a second day in a row. But she doesn’t want to mess up her reputation at work, and dutifully double checks that it’s set.
Then she turns out the lights, climbing into bed. For a few minutes, she is restless, her mind wanting to fixate on the huge amount of questions buzzing around it. For every answer she’d gotten, she felt like she only had a dozen more things to ask.
But quicker than she’d expected, Mara’s mind starts to shut down. Once it starts, she gives in happily to the pull of sleep. The thoughts are silenced, everything hushing down as her brain gives in to blissful nothing.
The Next Morning
It’s in those beginning moments of waking up, where her mind is struggling towards awareness, that Mara feels her arms are trapped. She moves, pulling at them, to no avail. But shortly thereafter, she realizes the pillow under her head is moving. Rising and falling.
Her eyes snap open, Kylo’s scent flooding her senses about the same time weak morning sunlight hits her pupils. She squints her eyes, her body overheated, and tries to move one of her arms again. She freezes when Kylo groans softly under her, releasing his grip of her arm. Though his other arm pulls tighter around her waist, urging her closer to him.
How had she ended up here? They’re on the floor in the living room, in a tangle of pillows and blankets. She doesn’t remember leaving her bed, not even a flash of the previous night.
Mara tries to keep her breaths small, but Kylo’s skin against her face is too appealing. Mara closes her eyes, gulping nervously. She fights the random urge to rub her face against his chest, to press her lips to him. A fantasy fills her mind, of climbing on top of him, straddling his hips. Arousal floods her body, and she realizes she’s woke up already turned on.
The fantasy changes as she imagines Kylo rolling her over, crushing her down underneath him. There’s a throb of pleasure between her thighs, and Mara moves to free herself from his arms. His grip doesn’t budge, however, and she struggles.
“Let go-Kylo! Let go,” she protests, wiggling.
Kylo groans, louder now, but his arms drop from her. She sits up, pulling herself away from his body, dragging one of the blankets with her.
He turns onto his side, one of his hands rising up to rub at his eyes tiredly. “I was behaving,” he grumbles.
“How did that happen?”
“You were sleepwalking again, I think,” Kylo answers, covering the huge yawn that pulls his mouth open for a moment. “You walked out here and dropped on top of me.”
Mara’s embarrassment is enough to heat her neck up as well as her cheeks, a scorching blush as she imagines the scene. She avoids meeting his eyes as he shoves himself up to a seated position. “You didn’t try to wake me up?” she asks.
“You know, I heard that you aren’t supposed to wake sleepwalkers,” Kylo replies, giving her a sleepy smirk. She rolls her eyes, preparing to make a smart remark. But Kylo’s face changes suddenly, stopping her before she can get the words out.
He turns his head towards the front door, expression becoming wary. He stands, turning his whole body towards the entrance to her home.
“…Kylo? What is it?” Mara asks, his odd behavior starting to alarm her.
But Kylo says nothing, striding to the front door to throw it open. She stares, disturbed to see what looks like red paint on her door. It’s dripped down in some places, running before it had the chance to dry. But it’s marking a symbol, branding the door to her home with a large hexagon. Inside the hexagon, a circle is filled with lines that point in, like the spokes of a wheel.
“What is that!?” she gasps, standing up to move closer.
Kylo is frozen, staring at it, his hands curling into fists. When he finally answers her, his voice is so low she barely hears him. “The First Order.”
“Huh?” Mara searches his face, sees the way his muscles are clenching in rage. What is he talking about? Who put that on her door?
Kylo turns, striding to her quickly. He snags her arm, pulling her back from the door. “We’re getting out of here. Now.”
Chapter 8: Chapter 8
Mara pulls her arm free from Kylo’s grasp, confused at why his mood has turned so swiftly. His expression is furious, his eyes wide enough to even suggest fear. She looks back at the red symbol on her door. The paint looks like it is still tacky, perhaps not entirely dry. Though it is creepy, she can’t understand what about it would make him afraid. What must it represent, to intimidate a man like Kylo?
Mara gestures at it questioningly. “I don’t understand, what is the First Order?”
But Kylo’s eyes have landed on her suitcase and duffel bag. She hadn’t gotten a chance to unpack them yet, leaving them sitting by the door. “Grab anything you need that isn’t in these, you’ve got five minutes,” he orders.
She stares at him, mouth falling open with confusion. Kylo shoves his boots on, before shrugging on the flannel shirt. He grabs her bags and hauls them out the door. She hurries to put her own shoes on, following him across her lawn. “Kylo! Wait!” she calls, practically running to catch him.
She’s surprised when he storms right passed her car, headed towards his truck. “Kylo, stop!” she tries again. “What are you doing? I’m not leaving because of some graffiti on my door!”
He ignores her, opening the back door of the extended cab and depositing both her bags on the backseat. “I’m getting you out of here,” Kylo growls, spinning around to face her. “Last chance, is there anything else you need?”
His eyes are wild, his hair a ruffled mess, jaw set. She staggers back a step, alarmed by how worked up he looks. Mara fumbles for a response, unable to find words. He can’t honestly be expecting her to just take off with him? What the hell is going on?
“I need to know what has you so freaked out!” she manages to spit out. “What is the First Order!? Who put that on my door?”
“I don’t know who put it there, but it’s a warning,” Kylo snaps. He turns his head sharply to the side, his eyes sliding away from hers and towards the road. When he looks back, his gaze has darkened ominously. He takes a step towards her.
“Get in the truck, Mara,” he orders.
“No!” she exclaims, voice incredulous. “No, not until you explain-”
“We don’t have time, get into the truck!”
Kylo raises his voice, and she flinches. It’s there again, that feeling like a twisting, deep-seated heat. It’s in response to something in his tone, his voice taking on some strange power over her body. She’d felt it the night before, when he ordered her into his house. It’s even stronger now, an urge to listen to him.
Mara shakes her head, trying to force her legs to back up. She isn’t going anywhere with him, not when he’s acting completely irrational. But she’s frozen in place, torn by that strange desire to obey him that conflicts with her will.
She hears it then, the sound Kylo must have already detected. Car tires on gravel, getting louder. Someone’s coming down the road.
Kylo gives a frustrated growl, lunging for her. She tries to dart away, but her reflexes aren’t as quick as Kylo. Mara only makes it a few steps before he snags her, hauling her backwards off her feet. “Stop it! Kylo, what the fuck, stop it!” she protests loudly.
He’s pulling her back towards the truck, ignoring her shouts, and panic kicks into her brain. Is he really about to abduct her?
Mara starts flailing, kicking her legs and pounding her fists into his arms. His arms feel so solid wrapped around her, her blows are useless against him. “KYLO! Please, stop!” she sobs out, desperately wiggling in his grasp. His behavior is scaring her, pushing her mind beyond reason as she struggles harder.
“You don’t understand,” Kylo growls impatiently, lifting her higher when she tries to drag him down towards the ground.
She only succeeds in throwing his balance off when he attempts to wrench open the passenger door of the truck. He shifts forward to recover, allowing her feet to find the ground again. She pushes off, throwing her weight back into him as forcefully as she can. She almost wrestles free from him for one fleeting moment. Mara catches sight of a sheriff’s car passed Kylo’s shoulder, pulling onto his driveway.
Kylo snags her arms, restraining her easily, and Mara cries out in frustration. Gravel goes flying as the police car brakes hard, and she feels Kylo freeze. She can’t see beyond his chest, but she hears the car door slam shut.
“Let go of her, get your hands up in the air!”
Mara recognizes Officer Dameron’s voice with relief, even as Kylo’s hands hang onto her stubbornly. She looks up, confused tears escaping her eyes, to see his face. He looks distraught, his eyes wrought with desperation.
“You have to leave town. Mara, you have to get out of here,” Kylo insists, breathing hard.
“Let go of her! Get your hands in the air! NOW!” Dameron shouts.
Kylo’s hands drop from her, and he hesitates before slowly raising them up, fingers splayed. But his eyes stay locked on her.
“They’re coming, or they’re already here,” Kylo says urgently. Mara sees a second police car turn onto the driveway, lights flashing. Her brain barely registers it, however, stuck on what Kylo is saying. Who’s coming? The First Order?
“Back away from her, keep your hands in the air!”
Kylo obeys, pacing back. It gives her enough room to now see Dameron behind him, gun levelled at Kylo’s back. Beyond him, another deputy jumps out of the second car and rushes up the driveway. “They’ll kill you, or worse. You have to get out of here,” Kylo says. “Please, please, Mara-”
He’s cut off when the deputy grabs his hands, pulling them behind his back to slam him onto the hood of the truck. Though he scowls, Kylo doesn’t resist. He cranes his head to keep his eyes on her, and she registers that Officer Dameron is speaking. But she doesn’t hear him, too focused on the brown of Kylo’s irises, where something red shimmers. It’s pulling her in, the dancing red makes her instincts stir.
“Run, Mara,” Kylo orders, voice low.
Her muscles twitch and jump with the need to obey him, her heartbeat accelerating as if preparing to take off. It takes every bit of self-control to fight her body, to battle against that urge to listen to his command and flee.
The deputy stands Kylo up, hands secured in the cuffs behind his back. He holds her eyes until the officer turns him, forcing him back towards one of the waiting cars. Kylo practically has to crumple himself in half to fit through the door into the back of the cruiser. Something clenches painfully in her chest when he disappears from view.
Mara’s left next to his truck, and she ends up leaning against the side of it, trembling. Adrenaline has flooded her system, her energy so amped up that she feels like she’s vibrating. She stares out at the trees beyond the scene, a blur of green, wavering in the wind. Her eyes don’t want to focus, stale fear scrambling her thoughts.
Why had the police shown up for Kylo? Why was he acting like he lost his mind? She realizes maybe she should listen to him, and leave. For him to be acting like this, surely it meant something bad? But should she be trusting him? She barely knows him, despite whatever she feels. Her thinking fails to reassure her, as her body is practically screaming for action. Run.
She jumps at the sound of Dameron’s voice, tearing her gaze away from the woods. He’s hovering in front of her, face concerned.
“Are you okay? Did he hurt you?” the deputy asks.
Mara shakes her head. “No. He didn’t hurt me. Where are you taking him?” Her eyes trail the cruiser as it backs down the driveway, and out into the narrow road.
“The station. I was coming out to take him in for questioning. Guess we had good timing,” he replies, voice tense. “What happened?”
She just shakes her head again, unsure how to explain. She is reluctant to say anything against Kylo, despite how terrified he’d made her. She needs him, doesn’t she? The thought of more wolves like the gray one, ready and waiting to take her, makes her eyes flit back to the trees. She searches them, her breath catching with renewed fear. What else was out there?
“Nothing,” she forces out. “I know it looked bad-”
“It looked like he was overpowering you,” Dameron argues, voice full of disbelief.
“No,” Mara insists. Her eyes leave the trees, trailing over towards her house to land on her front door. The red symbol is clear in the morning sun, and she clenches her fists with anxiety. Every moment, more fear is creeping into her at the unknown.
There’s a shiver in her spine, something nearly painful. Why isn’t she listening to Kylo? He told her to leave town, every frantic instinct in her body wants to do just that. Run. Her head starts aching, a dull throbbing.
“It wasn’t that, really,” she says, but she can’t seem to think straight long enough to come up with an alternate explanation. “I’m sorry, I should have said something sooner, I was being stupid.”
Dameron’s eyebrows creep higher, his eyes clearly communicating that he doesn’t believe her. He forces his expression into something more controlled, his voice dropping to a patient tone. “It looked like your neighbor, who you told me you barely know, was forcing you into his vehicle. And you were struggling to get away from him.”
“I-I know him a little better, now,” she replies weakly. Dameron’s cool stare is his only response. “How long will you have him? I mean if I’m not pressing charges or anything, you’ll release him, right?” she presses anxiously.
The deputy shakes his head. “It’s not that simple. We’ve got a lot to discuss about your neighbor.”
Later That Morning
Mara sits on one of the chairs in front of Dameron’s desk, trying not to pick at the faded upholstery. She’d gotten dressed and grabbed her things in a hurry, not wanting to keep the deputy waiting on her. She called work while he drove them to the station, letting her supervisor know she wouldn’t be in again.
Mara feels like a ball of anxiety, her headache now developed into a full throbbing. She pulls her fingers from the torn fabric near her thigh, and fiddles with her phone instead. She’s tempted to message Erica or Nicole. But she doesn’t, unsure where to even begin with filling her friends in.
She pushes the phone back into her pocket, looking around the station. Her feet shake where she’s crossed them under the chair, as she observes the two other officers. They’re both working at their desks, distracted. She doesn’t see the one who had handcuffed Kylo, and so her eyes keep searching. Is he with Kylo? She doesn’t know where they are holding him, but Mara is nearly certain he’s in the building.
“Sorry it took me a minute,” Dameron apologizes, coming around the desk. He sits a cup of coffee down in front of her. “I made a fresh pot.”
She murmurs a thanks, reaching out to wrap her fingers around it. Dameron sips from his cup, before sitting it down with a sigh.
“I guess to start out, Mara…I want to reassure you, that you don’t have to be afraid of Kylo Ren,” he says carefully. “If that’s why you don’t want to tell me what happened, I mean.”
“I’m not afraid of Kylo…” Mara says nervously. She takes a sip of the coffee, only to make a face as it mixes unpleasantly with the mint in her mouth. She’d rushed brushing her teeth, and the toothpaste does not compliment the beverage.
“Alright. I just want to make sure you know that you can speak up. We can protect you,” Dameron insists, shuffling aside folders on his desk.
She watches as he seems to grow more annoyed with the mess on top of his desk, before finally grabbing up the file he must be searching for. He opens it, turning it around to lay down in front of her. Mara leans forward when the picture catches her attention.
It’s a picture of Kylo, though he looks to be a lot younger. She scans the document for a date, only to frown with confusion at the name printed beside his photo. “Ben Solo?” she asks.
“It’s his birth name,” Dameron confirms. “He’s been using the alias Kylo Ren since he was a teen.”
“…I don’t understand,” Mara admits. “Why is he using an alias?”
The officer reaches forward to shut the file. “Probably because he’s been in a lot of trouble with the law. It’s what caught my attention, he’s got a rap sheet a mile long.”
Mara’s mouth falls open. “What!? What for?”
“Most of it is older stuff that’s pretty typical for a runaway kid. Breaking and entering, vandalism, petty theft… Some is a little worse.” Dameron’s eyes are scanning her, reading her reaction.
Mara forces herself to take a deep breath, sitting back in the uncomfortable chair. She’d woken up that morning on top of a criminal. Worst yet, if she was really being honest with herself… it had felt good, being close to Kylo like that. She shakes her head, trying in vain to dispel the conflict she’s feeling. “Why are you telling me this?” she asks.
“So you know exactly who it is we’re dealing with, here,” Dameron replies. “I don’t know if you’re protecting him, or scared of him. But your neighbor’s not a good guy. Especially not when I looked a little deeper into his history.”
Mara furrows her brow, her heart sinking.
“Ben Solo’s father died, almost ten years ago. I was curious, especially since cause of death was ruled an animal attack,” he continues. “Autopsy report says Han Solo’s chest and abdomen were torn open, his throat slashed. He bled out in a matter of seconds.”
She sits the coffee cup down, her hands shaking too much to continue holding on to it. She feels sick to her stomach, swallowing down a wave of nausea.
Dameron’s gaze doesn’t relent, as he watches her from across the desk. “Does that sound familiar to you?” he asks quietly.
Mara lets her eyes dart up to his. His eyebrows are in a stern line, the rest of his face unreadable. She swallows hard. “You…You think Kylo…?”
“I do,” he confirms.
She shrinks under his scrutiny, hating every moment of silence that begins to pass between them. He’s waiting for her to break, to start talking. But she doesn’t know what to say. Is it possible Kylo could do something like that? Could he kill his own father?
“Hey, uh, we got some visitors,” one of the deputies near the front of the station announces, looking towards the door. His desk is nearest the entrance, the frosted front window behind his chair.
He stands up, pacing towards the door to look outside, face curious. “I think the Men in Black might be here,” he jokes.
Dameron stands, looking confused. “What do you mean?”
“I don’t know, man, a bunch of blacked out cars just pulled in the lot,” he replies, shoving the door open.
“Wait a sec-” Dameron tries to halt his colleague, but the man steps outside, calling out towards the parking lot. Mara can’t make out what he’s saying.
The other deputy Mara doesn’t know shifts in his seat, looking thoughtful. “Could be the bureau? Maybe they got something on our weird death.”
Officer Dameron says nothing, his face uneasy. He starts towards the door, and she notices the way his hand reaches back. It hovers over his holster, and chills race up Mara’s spine. She stands up, already edging away from the front of the station. Something feels wrong, and Dameron must sense it too.
Her hair stands on end when she hears the growl, reverberating from somewhere far back in the building.
“Kylo,” she breathes out. Mara’s heart speeds up as she knows, somehow, that he’s warning her. Run. She backs into the corner of a filing cabinet, not looking where she’s going, and stumbles around it. Her eyes are fixated on the door, as Dameron steps closer to it, hand resting on his weapon.
For one moment, there is a thick silence in the air. Then, it is interrupted by the unmistakable noise of a gunshot. Blood splatters on the frosted glass, a second before a dark shape collides with the window. It slumps down, dragging the blood into a messy smear before disappearing below the pane. The deputy still at his desk bolts to his feet, grabbing for his weapon. Dameron shouts from the front, gun trained on the door.
“Call for backup, now! Anyone on patrol, everyone available!”
Glass shatters, a moment before someone opens fire. The receptionist, eyes wide in terror, dives from her seat. She takes the phone with her, swiping it down off the desk and cowering. Dameron is still yelling, the other deputy is shouting into his radio. Mara hears her name, but it doesn’t matter. She’s already retreating, starting down a hallway without a destination in mind. She just wants to get away, escape her only goal.
Mara flinches at a loud bang, her vision flashing bright for a moment. She stumbles, disoriented, her ears ringing. But she doesn’t let it stop her, forcing herself down the hallway, passed locker rooms and locked doors. As soon as the ringing in her ears starts to clear, she hears more gunfire. Some of it is different, louder.
There’s some kind of smoke filling the air, and she chokes on it, coughing. It’s stinging her eyes. The receptionist’s strangled screams come from the front, as she wails in terror. Mara throws herself into one of the last rooms off the hallway, an office.
She slams the door shut, fumbling to lock it. Then she backs away, recoiling from the gunshots that still periodically assault her eardrums. Can she get out? She turns, searching the wall of the office. The windows are narrow, and situated high on the wall. She won’t be able to crawl through them. A strange noise leaves her throat, before another loud bang shakes the walls.
Mara’s eyes fall to the desk and she shoves the chair out of the way, crawling underneath in a pitiful attempt at hiding. Her breathing is loud, rasping. She shoves a hand over her mouth, digging her fingers into her cheek. She knows whoever is attacking the station has come for her. Knows it deep down, and knows that hiding won’t work for long. But she’s paralyzed with fear, sobs catching in her chest. She doesn’t know what to do, and so she cowers.
Something collides, hard, with the office door. There’s a splintering crack, and it gives way. Mara freezes, barely daring to breathe, at the sound of hurried footsteps entering the office. Just on the other side of the desk, they come to a stop.
Chapter 9: Chapter 9
Her hand falls away from her mouth at the sound of Kylo’s voice, calling for her. “Kylo!” she cries out. She barely has a chance to crawl out from under the desk before he’s there, pulling her upright.
“They’re here for me-aren’t they?” Mara gasps, babbling in a panic. “What’s happening-how can they attack the police-I don’t-”
She stutters to a stop when Kylo traps her face between his hands, a low growl issuing from his throat. She looks up, met with bright red eyes. Whatever questions had been ping-ponging around her brain fall away, and she grabs onto his wrists desperately.
“You do everything I say,” Kylo orders. “Everything. Do you understand?”
Mara nods mutely, clinging onto him. She feels useless, her mind drowning in the turbulence of shock as gunfire continues carrying down the hallway.
“Stay close to me.” The red leaves her vision, but Kylo’s hand encircles her forearm, pulling her across the office.
Mara stumbles stepping through the remains of the office door. It’s shredded apart into jagged shards of wood. The hallway is thick with smoke, it’s much more clouded than the office had been. Her eyes tear up immediately, stinging painfully.
Kylo’s already pulling her down the hallway, and she struggles to move her legs fast enough to keep up. Down another, shorter hallway, and there is a break in the commotion from the front of the station. There is a sound of distant sirens, lots of them, and what she thinks might be Dameron’s voice yelling.
Kylo pulls her through another doorway, and she nearly steps on a fallen officer. He’s crumpled on the floor, a thin trail of blood leaking down his forehead from where it looks like a goose egg is already growing. She hesitates, but Kylo doesn’t let her stop.
“Move, Mara!” He tugs at her arm and she has to step over the man, stumbling passed a row of three holding cells. The third is hanging open, the bars of the door bent. The entire metal panel that holds the locking mechanism is twisted, distorted from being forced open.
Kylo leads her to the door at the rear of the building, not pausing before he throws it open. The doorway is blocked by a man wearing all black, he turns quickly at the sound of it opening. Mara barely glimpses the gun in his hand before he moves to aim it at Kylo’s face.
Kylo reacts a second too fast for the man, shoving his arm upwards. The gun fires off target, hitting somewhere on the ceiling. Mara screams, recoiling back from the pair, but the struggle is short lived. There’s a sickening crack when Kylo snaps the man’s arm in a way she’s never seen an arm bend before.
Kylo relieves him of the weapon easily, and she looks away a moment too late. She sees it when he fires, and the gory aftermath. Bile burns her throat as her stomach threatens to empty its contents. Kylo had aimed for the head, the man’s torso clad in a bulletproof vest.
Kylo pulls her roughly through the door. She nearly loses her battle against nausea as her foot slides in blood. The scent of it strikes her, harsh and metallic. It makes the nausea stop immediately, replaced by something disturbingly close to excitement. It makes no sense to her, but Mara breathes deeper on instinct. The iron smell hazes over her brain, numbing her panic, focusing her senses.
“Keep up,” Kylo growls. He urges her along as they emerge into the alley behind the station. Harsh sunlight strikes her eyes, the sun now perfectly overhead. She blinks against it, struggling to think coherently.
Kylo is leading them towards a police car, parked not far away. The legs of an officer are visible on the ground behind the car. He doesn’t look to be moving, both his black shoes motionless next to one of the front tires.
They’re almost to the car when tires squeal behind them. Mara spins around. A black sedan is pulling into the end of the alley, identical to the one the supposed marshal drove. It comes to a stop, and for a moment she stares stupidly at the dark tinted windows.
Kylo shoves her backwards. “Get behind the car! Now!”
She runs the last few steps, cringing when Kylo uses the handgun he’d taken to open fire on the black car. She dives behind the sheriff’s vehicle, met with a metallic ding when a bullet collides with the hood. Someone is shooting back.
Mara cowers, trying not to look at the fallen officer’s body. He’s only a few inches away from one of her feet, laying facedown. There’s too much blood around him. The smell of it floods her brain. She can detect it too strongly, it’s overpowering. Kylo swears before he joins her, hunched in back of their only cover.
“It’s out,” he grunts.
Mara is staring, not comprehending. What’s out?
Her eyes fall to the officer for the second time, as Kylo checks the holster on him without luck. His weapon is missing.
She cries out when more bullets collide with the car, and Kylo pushes her down further. For a moment she’s crowded underneath him, shaking against his chest. But then silence falls, the onslaught stopping as suddenly as it started. Kylo’s arms leave her, he takes a harsh intake of breath. “This is about to be a cluster fuck,” he mutters.
Mara doesn’t understand what he’s talking about, she doesn’t understand anything. Are these hunters? Do they think she’s a werewolf? Why would they do this, just for her? She grabs onto Kylo, like a drowning man might cling to a life preserver, terrified.
“Kylo…?” she gasps, voice pitiful.
Something roars, so loudly it is shaking the metal of the car against her back. It’s a primal noise, full of rage. She can’t tell where it’s coming from, but it sounds near. Kylo pulls her hands off of him. “Stay down,” he orders.
Mara sobs when he pulls away from her, rising up to peak in the window of the police car. “Watch out,” Kylo warns.
She flinches away when he smashes his arm into the glass, shattering the window. Gunshots meet her ears again, but they aren’t dinging off the car this time. What are they shooting at now, if not her and Kylo?
Kylo reaches through the broken window. Her shock only grows when he pulls a rifle out of the car they’re crowded behind, slamming a magazine into the bottom. “See if the keys are on his body,” he instructs her.
Mara looks to the dead officer at her feet, understanding what he wants her to do. She reaches out, reluctant at the thought of rolling his corpse over. But she’s distracted when there is another animalistic roar, and Kylo stands. He shoulders the rifle, dropping his head down to the sight.
Mara dares to peek up through the broken window, to see what is happening. The black car is still at the end of the alley, the passenger door held open. Someone’s crouched behind it, someone else visible in the driver’s seat. She can’t make out much more of the assailants, but they still aren’t firing towards her and Kylo. Rather, she sees a shower of dust and stone as a bullet clips the top edge of the building. They’re shooting up, aiming at the roof of the sheriff’s station.
Mara shifts her eyes up, just in time to see something massive hurtle itself downwards, leaping from the roof. It slams onto the top of the black car, and the metal gives way underneath its heavy body. The windows shatter, the space inside the car rapidly reduced as the roof collapses underneath the weight.
Whoever was hiding behind the passenger door stands, and Kylo fires. The man drops. The beast on the car turns to survey them, and Mara chokes on her scream. It’s another werewolf, its face hideously scarred and snarling. It’s dark brown or black, she can’t tell. Its red eyes are focused directly on her, and for a moment she can’t move.
But then someone tries to extricate themselves from the driver side, crawling out of the shattered window. The beast’s attention shifts, the red eyes pulling away. It snaps its jaws down onto the man crawling from the wrecked car, ripping him out forcefully. The wolf’s mouth covers the man’s entire head and part of his shoulders, before it hurls him sideways. He collides with the brick wall of the alleyway too hard. He falls into a broken heap.
The wolf takes a step down onto the hood of the black car, the metal creaking and denting beneath its paw. Mara can’t breathe as its eyes lock back onto hers, lips curling back in a snarl. She can see its fangs, even from this far away.
“KEYS, MARA!” Kylo roars at her, firing again. This time he’s aiming for the wolf.
Mara scrambles to roll the officer’s body over, grabbing at his shirt without aim. She spots his key ring, attached to his heavy utility belt. Her fingers are sticky with his drying blood as she fumbles with the keychain. The sound of Kylo repeatedly firing the rifle hurts her ears, loud enough that it feels like it’s stabbing into her eardrums.
“I have them!” she cries out when she pulls the keys free. She looks up at the wolf barreling towards them. A well-placed shot strikes it in the throat, and it stumbles.
Kylo lets the weapon drop from his shoulder, snatching the keychain from her hand. He yanks open the door, sliding across into the driver’s seat. Mara stares at the wolf, pulling itself up from the pavement. Blood drips in a steady pace from its neck, but it isn’t stopping.
“Get in the fucking car!”
Kylo reaches out to snatch her arm, tugging her after him into the passenger side. She yanks the door closed as Kylo turns the keys in the ignition, throwing the car into reverse. They’re accelerating backwards down the alley as the wolf lumbers towards them. Its pace increases, despite the blood still trailing from its wounds. It somehow seems to be recovering already.
“Hang on,” Kylo growls. Mara looks over, but his eyes are focused on the rearview mirror. “Fuck!”
She turns her head to see what he’s swearing at. There’s another black car, pulling up behind them. They’re stuck, between the wolf bearing down on them and another one of the tinted cars.
Kylo hits the gas pedal hard, twisting the steering wheel, and Mara tries to brace herself. They slam into the black car, the impact jarring her. She cries out when Kylo grabs her hair roughly. He forces her head down, a second before the back window of the car shatters with a gunshot.
“Stay down!” Kylo orders, and she complies, smashing herself as low in the seat as possible.
He switches gears, trying to pull away from the collision. But the wolf isn’t giving up. There’s a horrendous screech as it lunges for their car. Its claws catch in the metal, ripping, before more gunshots sound. Mara's head is screaming in pain, her heart pounding hard enough that she can hear her blood rushing in her eardrums.
Kylo’s speeding up, pushing the car to accelerate as fast as possible. She dares to look back, out of the broken rear window. There’s a dazzle of red and blue lights down the street, in front of the sheriff’s station. They turn a corner, leaving behind the sight of the monstrous wolf, staggering into broad daylight.
“Are you hurt!?”
Mara turns back around, staring at Kylo in shock. He’s surveying her, his eyes flitting between her body and the road. Words don’t want to form, her brain absolutely stunned.
“Are you hurt!? Mara!?” Kylo asks again. He grabs her hand, pulling her slightly as if he can shake her out of her daze.
“N-no,” she stammers out.
She recognizes the road they’re on. He’s headed towards the highway, the road out of town. But she spots the black car parked on the side of the road, at the last intersection before the on-ramp. It’s the same as the others, a large sedan, tinted windows. Kylo’s hand tenses on hers, as he sees it too.
As they get closer to the car, the driver’s side door opens. A man steps out, and she instantly recognizes him. Tall, reddish brown hair, bearded face. The fake marshal.
Kylo pushes the car even faster, and they shoot by the man. But Armitage Hux does nothing. He doesn’t shoot at them, he doesn’t even raise a weapon. He just watches.
Mara lets herself collapse down into the seat, trying to shrink away from reality. Her dazed eyes fall to Kylo’s hand on hers, still gripping tightly. The metal of the broken handcuff dangles around his wrist like an ugly bracelet. One link of the snapped chain hangs on uselessly.
They left the battered police cruiser half off the road between their properties, not bothering to hide it. Kylo had tossed the keys back into it, after fumbling with them to get the remains of the handcuffs from his wrists. Mara doesn’t know how long they’ve been driving, the freeway vibrating beneath the tires of his truck. She doesn’t even remember getting into his vehicle. Though, she vaguely remembers Kylo leaning over her to buckle her seatbelt.
She’s in a daze, staring without seeing. All of the frantic thoughts that had been flying around her brain are hushed, smothered down. She only notices what is going on when the truck slows down suddenly, coming to a stop.
Mara looks up, her eyes landing on picnic tables arranged around a small pond. The trees beyond the manicured little area are bright with afternoon sun.
“W-where are we?” she murmurs, pushing herself up straighter in the seat. She turns to look out the passenger window, spotting a building in the distance. They’ve parked as far from it as possible, tucked around the side from the main lot.
“A rest stop,” Kylo explains, reaching over to release her seatbelt.
“Why did we stop? What if they’re following us?” she asks, craning to look towards the other vehicles in the lot. She doesn’t spot any of the tell-tale black sedans, but her heart is already pounding at the thought.
“I haven’t seen anyone following us. We’ve gone pretty far, I figured we could spare a few minutes to stop,” Kylo says, his deep voice soft.
“Mara…” The sound of her name finally pulls her eyes away from the parking lot. She looks at Kylo. His expression is concerned, his eyes search hers a moment. “You’ve been staring at your hands for an hour. I think you might be in shock…”
Her eyes well up with tears immediately, but she shakes her head. “Shock? Why would I be in shock?”
She means it to come out sarcastically, some demented attempt at a joke. But her voice stammers and breaks with a sob. Even acknowledging what just happened seems to be too much. The wolves had been terrifying enough, but this new threat… They had just laid siege to an entire police station. What are her chances of surviving?
The sobs tear free from her chest. They're ugly noises that she tries to muffle with hands over her mouth. Kylo shifts closer, pulling her against his side. She hides her face against his shoulder, gasping for air around her strangled crying. It’s like all of the fear she’d just experienced is ripping itself free, in each shuddering sob.
Kylo is silent, holding her. She tries to stop herself. “Was-was that the First Order?” Mara asks.
“Yes.” Kylo’s arms tighten around her. “It’s going to be okay…”
“No, it’s not,” she whispers, voice hoarse. “It’s not fucking okay…”
“We got away,” Kylo says firmly. “You’re safe, and I’m going to make sure you stay that way. You hear me?”
Her shoulders shake as she tries to calm herself, nodding. She needs to think clearly, if she wants to have the best chance at making it to another day. Right now that means she can’t let herself fall apart. Mara tries to wall the emotions back up and stave off the inevitable breakdown. Her eyes are burning badly, irritated from the smoke inside the station and her tears.
She allows herself a few more minutes against Kylo’s chest, focusing on the rhythm of his breathing to slow her own. The closeness to him is soothing, and she’s reluctant to pull away. But she realizes with embarrassment that her nose is running. Her whole face is now sticky with tears and sweat and snot. Ridiculously, it seems to be that realization that allows her to finally regain control of herself.
“I’m so sorry, I’m getting snot all over your shirt,” she admits, pulling back from him. She tries to wipe her face clean.
Kylo just laughs, a soft little sound. “I don’t care.”
Mara hesitates to look up, but when she does, she finds him watching her. His eyes are gentle, warm. She feels a rush of gratitude towards him. She wouldn’t be here if it weren’t for him.
Kylo’s gaze pulls away from her, and he shifts to reach for the door handle. “Come on. Let’s hurry up and get out of here.”
He steps out of the truck, and Mara takes a moment to try to wipe her face clean again. Her eyes don’t seem to want to stop tearing up, however, so she gives up. Kylo takes her hand as she awkwardly hops down from the seat. She’s surprised when he keeps it, leading her towards the rest stop.
They split up at the restrooms, and Mara ignores the concerned look a woman gives her as she enters the women’s side. But when she goes to wash her hands in the sink, she understands why the woman had looked alarmed. Her face in the mirror is not pretty. Her eyes are red and puffy, nearly swollen looking. Even her nose has turned bright red, the skin of her face splotchy.
Mara takes time to splash copious amounts of cold water onto her face, hoping it will help. She dries off with scratchy paper towels before emerging to find Kylo.
She doesn’t have to search for long. He’s waiting for her near the bank of vending machines. He holds out a bottle of water, and she murmurs a thanks as she takes it. Then he’s ushering her back outside, his arm around her shoulders to steer her through the other travelers.
They break free of the crowd as they approach the truck. Nearly no one is on this side of the rest stop, save for a woman playing with her dog near the picnic tables.
Mara feels her phone vibrate in her pocket, and she hurries to pull it out. She’d nearly forgotten she had it on her, and a quick glance at the screen shows numerous missed calls from Erica. She unlocks it, scrolling quickly through texts. News of what happened at the station must be spreading, and she can see Erica’s alarm growing in the messages she sent.
Mara shuffles the water to the crook of her arm, beginning to type a text back to her friend. She’s interrupted, however, when Kylo yanks the phone loose from her hand. She makes a noise of protest, only to fall silent when he throws it.
Her phone arcs in the air, coming down with a splash into the pond he’d apparently aimed for. The woman playing with her dog looks from the pond over to them, seeming confused.
Mara stares at the pond, the surface still rippling from the disturbance. “That was an iPhone,” she says weakly.
“We’ll get you another phone, one that isn’t in your name,” Kylo replies, shrugging.
She turns toward him, giving him a look of disbelief. Kylo’s gaze is unconcerned, and he holds out one of the snacks he’d gotten from the vending machine. “Pretzels?”
Mara continues staring at him. Somehow his innocent offer of a snack seems incredulous in the face of everything that’s already happened in the day. Her entire life is disintegrating before her eyes, her only coping mechanism to currently ignore the too fresh memory of dead bodies and gunfire. She won’t even be functional if she allows herself to think at all. But somehow, it’s the pretzels that sets her off.
“Fuck everything,” she huffs, passing him to stomp towards the truck.
They leave the rest stop, merging back onto the freeway that heads away from the city. Mara stares out the window, trying to hold her tongue until she can’t anymore. She whirls towards him.
“I’m sorry, how are you doing this right now?”
Kylo pauses, eyes on the road. One hand is on the steering wheel, the other sunk into the bag of pretzels. “Doing what?”
“We’re fleeing for our lives, and you’re… you’re casually, fucking snacking, like this is…some sort of road trip!?” she rants, her voice wavering near hysterical tones.
Kylo shrugs slightly, his eyes flitting to his mirrors before he changes lanes to pass a minivan. “I’m hungry,” he says, as if that explains it all. She’s struggling to fathom how he’s so unaffected seeming, when she’s barely hanging onto sanity.
“Don’t get me wrong, I’m grateful that you’re handling this better than me. I have no doubt I’d be dead right now if it weren’t for you,” Mara tries to explain. “But how are you not panicking right now? Because I feel like my heart is about to explode.”
“First of all, you need to eat something. Your blood sugar is probably dropping after the adrenaline rush,” Kylo points out. “Secondly, this is kind of just…how life is, for me.”
“You’re kidding me. Life is just shoot outs and snapping people’s arms in half?” she rebuts, voice incredulous. She forces herself to take a handful of pretzels, mechanically chewing them.
“Life is running or hiding,” Kylo corrects. “I thought maybe it was all over, but I guess they’re back… The First Order…They come after people like us. Anything supernatural.”
Her mouth is dry, she has to keep sipping the water to get the food down. “How are they not all over the news? Attacking a bunch of police like that…” she muses, but regrets the line of thought. The memory of rolling over the dead deputy, pulling keys sticky with blood from his body makes the food toss in her stomach.
“They’re normally a lot more subtle,” Kylo replies. “I guess they really want you…”
“What the fuck for?” Mara chokes out.
Kylo’s eyes are sympathetic, darting over to give her an apologetic look. “I don’t know…”
Chapter 10: Chapter 10
They only stop twice by nightfall. Once to get gas and food, and the second time to pull into a place to stay for the night. Kylo pulls the keys from the ignition and reaches into the glove compartment. He removes his wallet and a plain white envelope.
She watches, half curious, as he stretches into the backseat to tuck the envelope into a large duffle. She’d noticed his bag earlier, buried beneath hers, but hadn’t asked anything then. Now she can’t help but question it.
“Were you planning on this?” Mara asks skeptically. “You already had a packed bag in your truck…”
Kylo sighs, zipping the bag closed once more and turning back in his seat. “I always have a packed bag. Running or hiding, remember?”
“Oh…” Mara stares off, across the dark parking lot. The hotel they’ve pulled into is back off the highway, surrounded by nicely maintained lawns and flower beds. But passed that the trees begin, wooded areas that she stares into. Her mind supplies the image of the wolf from earlier, and she pictures it waiting just passed the warm glow of the parking lot lamps.
Were there more? Could she ever get away from them? Or was her fate inevitable? She wonders why Kylo seems so different from the other werewolves. The others had come after her like feral monsters, relentless, uncaring if they terrified her. Why was Kylo helping her instead?
“Let’s get a room for the night. We’re going to need to take off early,” Kylo suggests, swinging his door open.
Mara nods, fumbling to find the door handle before climbing down from his vehicle. The air smells humid, like rain just waiting to fall. The moon and stars are blocked out, the night sky hidden behind dark clouds.
She protests when she notices Kylo already pulling her bags from the back. “I can carry my own stuff…”
“This suitcase weighs more than you,” Kylo remarks.
“I can handle it,” Mara insists, tugging obstinately at the handle. Kylo shrugs her duffle bag down off his shoulder, holding it out to her instead. She takes it, accepting the compromise.
They head into the hotel lobby. Mara hangs back by the little seating area while Kylo approaches the front desk. Her mind is jittery, unable to settle or think clearly. Her eyes keep darting from the oddly shaped sofa to the art on the wall, to some weird misshapen vase on the front desk. Why do chain hotels always have the weirdest décor in their lobbies? She huffs at the fact that she’s even pondering such a thing. Her mind feels like a scrambled egg, fixating on anything meaningless it can find.
Mara drifts closer to the desk with impatience, hoping they’ll be able to get a room. The parking lot hadn’t looked full, surely there is something open.
“And here’s your room key,” the man at the desk passes a little envelope over. “I hope you enjoy your stay, Mr. Zimmerman. Please don’t hesitate to call down if you need anything.”
“Thank you.” Kylo takes it, before leading Mara towards the elevator. He ignores her questioning stare.
She waits until the elevator door slides shut to ask, “Who is Mr. Zimmerman?”
“I’m Mr. Zimmerman.”
She stares at his profile suspiciously. Is he using someone’s credit card? What if the card gets reported stolen? It seems like a dangerous move, and not altogether necessary. Surely the First Order wouldn’t be able to know if she’d used her own credit card?
Kylo finally looks away from the numbers by the door of the elevator, his eyes sliding over to meet hers. He winks, as the door slides open.
Mara follows him out, down the hallway. “I’m not okay with defrauding some poor guy-”
“I’m not defrauding some guy,” Kylo cuts her off, stopping by the room that must be theirs for the night. He holds up the plastic key card, and there’s a click as the door unlocks.
She steps in behind him, searching for the switch to turn on the lights as the door swings closed. “Okay, but I know that Zimmerman isn’t your real name. It’s Ben Solo.”
Kylo drops their bags onto the little loveseat by the bed. When he turns around to face her, his demeanor has changed. He looks tense, expression guarded. “Did the cop tell you that?”
“Yes,” Mara admits.
“What else did he tell you?” he demands.
She searches Kylo’s face, not liking the edge of anger to his features. It suggests he’d rather she didn’t know that fact about him. Was he planning on hiding his real name from her? What else was he hiding? A criminal record, a father who died under suspicious circumstances…
Nothing she learned about Kylo was reassuring, and yet she was stuck. She had to rely on him for help, not knowing where else to turn. And there was that intuitive urge, the one she kept stuffing back down and trying to ignore. It told her to trust him, despite every logical argument she could make to not do just that.
Mara shrugs, deciding to not reveal the extent of what Dameron said. “He told me a lot more about you than you have…”
Kylo’s eyes narrow at her accusing tone. “I’m sorry we haven’t exactly had a chance for small talk.”
Mara’s temper flares, her stress from the day snapping loose at Kylo’s excuse. She can't contain the sudden anger she feels, unleashing it on him. “We had the chance for small talk, when you moved in next to me! But you acted like you weren’t some fucking monster! You didn’t warn me, you acted like everything was normal-”
“I told you, I was trying to do things properly!” Kylo interrupts harshly, stalking towards her. “I wanted to get to know you, to ease into things, but then everything went to hell! And now you’re calling me a monster?”
She tries to not recoil at his matching anger, refusing to back up towards the hotel room door. She holds her ground, staring up at his angry brown eyes. “You turn into a wolf the size of a grizzly bear, what else would you prefer to be called!? You killed a man-”
“He was insane! He would’ve mauled you, he was so far gone,” Kylo snarls. “It’s what happens when the human side of us gets lost, the instincts get twisted. Nothing matters but taking what you need.”
Mara falters. That brief, stress-induced rage slips through her fingers. Exhausted confusion is quick to take its place. “Then why are you not like that? Why aren’t you just taking what you need?”
Kylo’s jaw clenches before he unclamps it to take a breath. She hears him hold it, like he’s trying to calm himself down, before he lets it out slowly. When he talks again, his voice is even. But his eyes are still darkened with emotion. “Because I’ve spent years trying to be in control…To not be a monster,” he says. “And it matters to me… That you feel it too. That you trust me.”
“I don’t even know you…” She shakes her head slightly, looking away. The fake names, the shady past… How can he just expect her to overlook all of it? Based on only a feeling?
Kylo is silent, and she can feel the tension that’s descended between them. It makes her uncomfortable, even as Kylo retreats from her. He crosses the room, tugging a hand through his dark hair.
“I’m sorry,” Mara murmurs. “I shouldn’t have used the word monster…”
“You don’t have to say sorry,” Kylo sighs. But he’s avoiding looking at her, face still guarded.
Guilt builds in her chest, and she fights frustrated tears. “But I am, if I hurt your feelings-”
“You need to rest,” Kylo cuts her off. “You’re overwhelmed, I can smell the stress coming off you.”
“You can smell stress?” she repeats.
Kylo huffs, a small noise that doesn’t really count as a laugh. “Yeah. I can also always smell the nearest fast food joint. McDonalds, if you were curious.”
“That’s useful,” she quips.
A small smile quirks her lips at how sarcastic he had sounded, before it turns to a frown. Mara remembers the way she had smelled the blood earlier in the day. It had been too strong, nearly overpowering. She opens her mouth to say something to Kylo about it, before stopping. She doesn’t want to think about that now, or what it means.
“I’m going to grab a shower…” she says finally.
He nods, as she closes herself into the bathroom. She showers quickly, only to freeze in awkward realization as she’s drying off. She hadn’t been thinking, and hadn’t brought any clothes into the bathroom with her. Mara wraps up in a towel, edging out into the room towards her suitcase.
Kylo’s standing at the window, peering through the curtains. When he turns around, he’s silent at the sight of her. His eyes trace down over the towel, lingering on her damp skin. His fingers curl up, hands balling themselves into fists as he can’t seem to drag his eyes away from her.
“I forgot to take clothes in, sorry,” Mara rambles, trying to ignore his stare. It’s making her heart race, and she roughly shoves aside items in her suitcase. She can’t seem to find a shirt, coming up with everything but as she digs through it randomly.
“No that’s, uh, that’s fine,” Kylo assures quietly.
She blushes at the way he fumbles for words. It’s different from how he’s been in the past, assured and flirtatious. She finally spots a t-shirt rolled up, and snatches it.
“You can have the bathroom. I mean, if you need it. I’m done in there,” Mara offers.
She avoids looking at Kylo until he disappears into the bathroom, the door clicking shut behind him. Mara waits until she hears the water start before dropping the towel to pull her clothes on. As soon as she’s dressed, she lets her curious eyes rove towards his bag. His wallet is sitting on top, and she doesn’t even try to resist snooping.
Mara grabs the leather bifold, opening it and hurrying to pull the cards loose. Her eyes widen as she shuffles through them. There’s an assortment of names. There’s Kylo Ren right on top, but underneath she finds Philip Zimmerman, Phillip Altman, Clyde Logan…
“What the fuck,” she breathes, shoving the cards back into their slots. She drops the wallet, searching in his bag for the envelope he’d removed from the truck. It only takes a moment to find, and she peeks into it. It’s full of hundred-dollar bills.
Mara shoves it back into his bag, zipping it closed and pacing the room anxiously. A clap of thunder rumbles outside, causing her to jump. A minute later she sees a flash of lightning where the curtains still hang open a bit. It’s chased by more thunder. She tugs the curtains closed, her nerves beyond frayed. Normally, she enjoyed thunderstorms. But now it just seems to be pushing her further from being able to settle down.
Mara grabs the remote to the tv. It doesn’t take long before she lands on a news channel. She wraps her arms around herself, pacing back and forth at the foot of the bed.
The news shows a reporter standing in the middle of a dark street downtown. She recognizes it immediately as her city, the camera crew set up a few buildings down from the sheriff’s station. The reporter is backed up against yellow tape, her hair gusting in the wind.
“-can’t get any closer to the scene, but I’m told the damage is substantial. Again, I’m on site at Henderson County Sheriff Station, where earlier today an organized group of assailants laid siege to the station. Four officers are confirmed dead, with more in critical condition. We have no leads on who-”
Mara flips the channel, trying to swallow against the lump in her throat. But she only lands on another news channel, this one showing a man and a woman at a desk. The picture behind them shows the shattered front window of the sheriff’s station. It must have been taken earlier in the day, as bullet holes are visible in the sunlit façade of the building.
Her chest feels crushed, like she’s struggling to breathe against something wrapped tight around her ribs. The fear comes back, like it never left. How long can she run from the First Order? What do they want with her? Her life is never going to be the same.
“Over a dozen bodies were recovered, four of them local officers. We have no number on how many more were wounded,” the newswoman says.
“This is a very bizarre case,” the man takes over. “There’s a lot of conflicting rumors right now on social media, and I know we’ve all seen the videos. But I want to be clear in what we at Station 4 News have confirmed. There was an individual in custody who is now missing, sources indicate a police vehicle was-”
Mara jerks when Kylo pulls the remote free from her hand, shutting off the television. She hadn’t even heard him come out of the bathroom, looking up to find his eyes on her. He’s shirtless, only wearing athletic shorts. His wavy hair is still damp, curling back from the edges of his face.
“You don’t need to hear that right now,” Kylo says, walking over to set the remote down on the nightstand.
She jumps again when an even louder rumble of thunder sounds. The television had at least blocked out the sound of the storm. The skin of her cheek tickles, and she reaches up to find her face is wet with tears. She wipes them away self-consciously, avoiding Kylo’s gaze.
“Ignoring it isn’t going to make it go away,” Mara points out. But her voice is quiet, trembling. She’s searching the floor of the hotel room, restless feeling.
“No,” Kylo agrees gently. “But throwing yourself into hysterics won’t help either.”
She says nothing for a moment, trying miserably to hold back another wave of emotions. She can feel Kylo’s eyes on her, and she’s humiliated to look back at him. She doesn’t want him to see her desperation, how badly she’s doing at holding herself together.
“I’m scared,” she admits in a whisper.
“Come here.” When she doesn’t move, his voice drops. “Mara.”
Her belly flutters at his tone, and she can’t stop herself. She catches his eyes once again, and the shimmer of red there sends a shock of heat racing through her body. Her feet move on their own, carrying her towards him at his command.
Kylo pulls her against his chest, her head fitting neatly under his chin. The effect is immediate, his embrace calming her the way it had earlier. His arms are warm around her, the closeness to him taking the edge off her nerves.
“It’s okay,” Kylo breathes into her hair. “You’re safe…”
His hold is so encompassing, she feels like she could hide from the rest of the world there. Everything about it lures her body into relaxing, the tension releasing in her muscles. The adrenaline that’s been racing through her veins all day finally abates. She lets herself practically fall against him, eliminating any last millimeter of space between them.
“I don’t know what to do,” Mara murmurs, trying to explain herself. But she’s hushed by one of Kylo’s hands, cradling the back of her head.
“That’s okay,” he insists quietly. “I’ve got you…”
His voice is so soft, so tender. Something stirs in her brain, but she can’t seem to find the right word for it. It’s like recognition, waking up to his voice, to everything it means.
The longer he holds her, the headier she feels. He smells so good, she turns to tuck her face more snugly against his clean skin. Her hands slide over the broad muscles of his back in search of a place to cling on. The storm picks up outside, the window flashing with lightning, thunder rocking the atmosphere. But it all seems so far away now.
She knows, distantly, that it’s happening again. Whatever effect he has on her is creeping back in, hijacking her brain. But for the first time, Mara doesn’t fight it. It feels good, to not struggle against it. To let herself press against him, to breathe in his scent and let it take over her thoughts. After everything that has happened, she surrenders with relief to the comfort she feels with Kylo. She’s safe here, isn’t she? She’s safe with him.
His hand on her back slides down, finding the gap between her t-shirt and shorts. His fingertips rove her lower back, sliding up under the fabric to flatten his palm against her bare skin.
Mara hears a noise, and vaguely realizes it came from her. A whimper, or a moan, she doesn’t know. Some pitiful little sound as the lust blooms at his skin against hers, at his scent flooding her mind yet again. The recognition builds, urges her on. She knows him, doesn’t she? Knows exactly what he is to her.
Kylo’s fingers tangle in her hair, his other hand creeping up her spine, searching for more skin to touch. He shifts backwards, pulling her with him to the bed. He tries to sit, to settle her next to his side, but she makes a noise of protest at even that little space between them.
Mara climbs onto Kylo’s lap, straddling him, burying her face against his neck where his pulse is racing. His blood is rushing, she can feel it, can sense his heartbeat thudding in time with her own. Her mind is barely functioning. All she knows is that she needs to be closer, closer… her nails drag against his back, and a soft groan escapes him.
“Mara,” he chokes out. “I can’t…”
Can’t what? She doesn’t process what he means, it doesn’t matter. His hands roam her back, her sides, falling down to cup her bottom. His fingertips dig into her flesh deliciously, and he pulls her, forcing her pelvis tightly against him. She whimpers again, feeling him beneath her. He’s hard, so hard, just for her. The heat floods her body, pleasure spasming in her spine, curling tendrils through her body.
There is no part of her that is thinking anymore. It’s only instinct, and she’s hungry, starving. She nuzzles into his throat, dragging her nose against his skin, taking in his scent. He’s hers, and she needs him... needs him in her mouth, between her thighs…She needs the whole world to be Kylo, surrounding her, inside of her...
She lets her lips trail over his skin, licking at him, sucking. An animalistic growl vibrates from his throat. It’s deep, frustrated. But it sends her core clenching with anticipation, her nipples hardening as she presses herself even tighter to him. Her hips are twitching against him, longing to rock for him.
“Mara,” Kylo groans. His voice is tight, pained even. She doesn’t understand why he sounds so strained, why his hands pull away from her. She’s his. She knows it, now that she’s lost to her lust. Why isn’t he taking her?
Mara growls, impatient. She sinks her teeth into his flesh, where his neck meets his shoulder. Her hips buck against him, finally finding some of the friction she needs. She sees red, in the form of a pleasurable haze clouding her vision.
But it’s shattered when Kylo snarls, grabbing her and throwing her off of him. She lands with a soft thump onto the mattress, blinking in confusion as the world is forced back into reality. Her rational mind stutters back into existence with fragmented thoughts, startled to see Kylo snatch the room key. He doesn’t even look at her, storming out of the door.
Chapter 11: Chapter 11
Mara stares at the closed door, trying to understand what just happened. She makes a face, disturbed, as her brain recognizes the taste in her mouth. Coppery, but oddly pleasant. Blood.
Her body flushes hot with embarrassment as her memory returns in disconnected flashes. She’d crawled onto Kylo’s lap, that’s the last distinct thing she remembers. Everything else is fuzzy, like her brain was completely disconnected from her actions. She’s never felt that way before, not even while drunk. It’s disorienting.
She crawls off the bed, trying to ignore the lingering evidence of her arousal. Her embarrassment only grows as she admits what would have happened, had Kylo not tossed her off of him. She shoves her feet into her shoes, leaving the room. The door clicks shut behind her before she realizes she doesn’t have a key.
Mara’s half expecting Kylo to be in the hallway, but he’s not. She wanders without a destination in mind, just wanting to clear her mind. What had happened to her? It was like all rational thought took a vacation. She’d practically been grinding on him… She groans and walks faster. Maybe she can leave her humiliation behind, if she just moves quickly enough.
The elevator takes too long for her liking, and she ends up using the stairs. Mara pounds down them, slamming her feet into the steps. When she reaches the bottom landing, the rain sounds loud outside. She doesn’t even hesitate. A few steps out the door, and the storm is absolutely drenching her.
She stops, standing there and bizarrely enjoying it. She hadn’t even realized how hot her skin is, she feels feverish. The cold raindrops are refreshing, and she turns her face up with a sigh.
“What are you doing?”
She freezes at Kylo’s voice before turning around to spot him, only a few steps away near the building. He’s absolutely soaked from the rain himself, his hair plastered down. The water runs in rivulets down his bare chest, and she notices he hadn’t even bothered to put shoes on. Had he been in that much of a rush to get away from her, that he’d ran outside half dressed?
“What are you doing?” Mara retorts.
“Nature’s version of a cold shower,” he replies sarcastically.
“Well, same,” she answers, rolling her eyes and turning away.
“It defeats the purpose if you’re out her with me, while I’m trying to avoid you,” Kylo points out.
“Oh I’m sorry, I didn’t realize you had dibs on the parking lot,” Mara snaps.
Thunder claps overhead, and the rain gets heavier. Still, it reminds her of when she was a child. Her mother would let her dance in summer rain storms, only encouraging her as she twirled through puddles like a ballerina. She sighs, looking back at Kylo when he doesn’t answer her.
She struggles with reading his expression, with identifying the emotion he's holding back. He lifts a hand to shove his soaked hair back from his face, staring at her confrontationally.
“I’m sorry,” Mara admits. “I didn’t mean to do that.”
“I know. That’s why I walked out,” Kylo explains. “I wasn’t going to keep it together, not when you were so…” he trails off, looking away.
“So what? What was that?” she asks, drifting closer to him. She feels better now, strangely. Apparently standing in a storm in the middle of the night was just what she needed.
Kylo only shrugs, the motion causing water to drip from the tip of his nose. “You know what it was.”
Mara doesn’t bother to hold in her incredulous laughter. She laughs like he’s made the best joke she’s ever heard. “No, I don’t! That’s the entire problem, I don’t know anything, I don’t understand anything-”
“I told you what’s happening already, you just want to deny it,” Kylo cuts her off, irritated.
“What-That I’m what? Born to be a werewolf?” she argues, incredulous.
“The human side of you lost control,” Kylo explains. “I guess at least the wolf has decided how you feel about me…”
Mara scoffs, but can’t find motivation to continue the argument. As much as she hates to admit it… There was something else that had taken over. Something that didn’t care about anything but Kylo and that feeling he stirred in her. What was that? It seems distant to her now, and she still can’t identify the proper word for it.
Kylo crosses the last bit of space between them, and she spots the marks she’s left in his shoulder. A crescent of red imprints from her teeth, where she apparently broke the skin. She stares at it in disbelief.
“I’m sorry,” she repeats, giving him a horrified look. “I can’t believe I bit you that hard, I’m so sorry.”
Kylo laughs, surprising her. A small smile twists the corners of his lips. “It’ll be gone by morning. No worries.”
“Do you heal faster or something?” Mara asks skeptically, still frowning with guilt.
“Something like that, yeah,” he confirms.
“Of course you do…” she mutters. The rain is letting up a little, reduced now to a steady drizzle. The storm seems to be moving past them.
“I’m not handling this well, am I?” Mara asks suddenly, before laughing at herself. She probably doesn’t need to ask that. She's been stubborn and relatively useless, that much she's sure of. She's going to need to do better, and apparently that starts with believing Kylo's theory about her.
Kylo’s dark eyes survey hers, a humorous glint lighting them up. “No. You really aren’t,” he teases.
She sighs. Kylo shifts his attention over her shoulder, his eyes raking along the trees that surround the parking lot. “We should head in,” he suggests.
“I’m in a mood where if this asshole doesn’t back off, I’m going to murder him,” Kylo explains.
Mara’s eyebrows shoot up in confusion, and she turns around to search where he is looking. She doesn’t see anything. Just the foggy lights of the lot, and cars with misty windows. The woods are dark beyond. “Is someone out there?” she asks.
“Someone’s been out there, but he’s getting closer,” Kylo says tersely. “Maybe he wants his throat ripped out.”
Mara sighs with frustration, throwing her hands up in the air. “Could you please FUCK OFF!?” she shouts at the trees.
“Wow. Why didn’t I think of that?” Kylo drawls sarcastically.
Mara rolls her eyes again, turning to head back to the building. “Come on.” She snags Kylo’s arm, attempting to pull him back to the door. But he doesn’t move a muscle, staying put stubbornly. His narrowed eyes are locked onto the trees, tracing whatever threat he sees that she can’t make out.
“We aren’t leaving a breadcrumb trail of dead bodies, come on,” Mara insists.
Kylo gives a growl of frustration before yielding, letting her tug him towards the door. She feels guilty as they slink up the steps, for mucking the place up. Water is dribbling from her soaked strands and clothes, landing all over the carpeting.
She grabs the towel she used before as soon as they enter the room, attempting to dry off. Then she digs through her suitcase yet again, searching for something to change into. “Maybe next time we should get two rooms…” she thinks out loud.
“I’ll be fine, as long as you behave,” Kylo mutters defensively. But she notices he shuts himself into the bathroom when she turns away to peel her wet shirt overhead.
Mara wrings out her hair before giving up and laying down to sleep. She doesn’t even care that it’s still damp. She’s exhausted, and it’s already too late. As it is, they’re not going to get much sleep before morning comes. She falls asleep listening to the shower running through the bathroom door.
Hazy morning light brightens her eyelids, and Mara burrows her face deeper into the pillow. She feels warmth behind her and shifts backwards, her sleepy brain content to feel his solid chest against her back. Sleep fights to reclaim her, and she fidgets, subconsciously seeking to press herself to Kylo more firmly.
“If you keep wiggling your ass against me, I can’t be blamed for my actions,” Kylo complains, voice sleepy, from somewhere above her head.
Mara just murmurs a nonsense noise, fighting the pull of consciousness. She wants to sink back into sleep, but the blankets have shifted off her at some point in the early morning. The skin of her arms is chilled, and she tugs at the sheets to pull them up higher.
“Mm cold,” she whines.
Kylo wraps his arm around hers, and his skin feels nearly hot. She sighs happily, even as she starts to wake up more. The sun is getting brighter, the curtains at the window doing almost nothing to filter it. She feels Kylo nuzzling into her hair, his breath stirring it against her neck.
It sends shivers dancing along her body, and she makes a quiet noise of pleasure at the sensation. “Good morning,” Kylo greets softly.
His arm tightens, locking both of hers against her waist. She presses her hips back against him on impulse, a reaction to the feeling of his arm pinning hers. Kylo groans softly in response, rolling them a bit so he’s shifted partially on top of her. His weight presses her down to the mattress. Mara wakes up fully but doesn’t move, wanting to stay like this but knowing she shouldn’t get carried away. She doesn’t want a replay of the previous night…does she?
Kylo takes the opportunity, releasing her arms to pull her hair aside. He bends down, his lips finding the back of her neck, teeth grazing dangerously. Mara tenses, worry creeping into her mind for a moment. But he trails kisses, working his way to the sensitive spot near the crook of her neck. She relaxes, eyes fluttering back closed when his lips close on her skin to suck, releasing with a light nip.
Mara plants a hand on the mattress to turn herself, working her way more fully underneath him. His weight on top of her is turning her on, his teeth teasing at the same spot on her body where she’d bit him. She shouldn’t be doing this, she thinks. It is too risky. But it feels good, his mouth marking her neck up, his hips pressing his arousal against her.
Kylo covers her hand with his, pushing it down into the sheets as he props himself on top of her. She uses any bit of leverage she can find to press up against him, urging him on, only for his hips to crush hers back down. A soft sound slips through her lips, taken aback by how much she likes this simple pressure between them. He pulls his lips from her skin, his fingers interlacing with hers.
“Fuck,” Kylo rasps, burying his face against her neck once more, and breathing deeply. “I want you…”
His admission makes pleasure twist deep inside of her, and she has to bite her tongue. Any number of dangerous things could slip out if she were to speak right now. Things she couldn’t take back, that would push them both over the edge. She holds onto restraint, refraining from bucking her hips up into his.
Mara knows what she should say. That they should stop, that they should get out of this bed and get going. But she doesn’t, prolonging the heat of his body covering hers, his warm breath on her neck. She doesn’t want it to end.
Kylo seems to get it together before her, pulling himself up. “I'm already sick of cold showers,” he grumbles, rising from the bed.
She turns to see him, a soft smile breaking out on her face at his grumpy expression. His hair is wild, eyes puffy with tiredness. “I’m sorry…” she mumbles half-heartedly, tugging the sheet up to hide the lower half her face.
He narrows his eyes. “No, you’re not,” he says, stretching. “You tease.” His voice is humorous, despite his attempt to sound annoyed, and her smile grows.
Mara does her best to avoid staring at the crotch of his shorts, at the evidence of his arousal. She forces her eyes up to the ceiling, trying without a bit of success to get her mind out of the gutter. She apparently woke up with her mind in the gutter, and it was there to stay. Now she knows how Erica must feel. “Well the sooner we check out, the sooner we can get coffee,” she points out, trying hard to change the subject.
“Now you’re speaking my language,” Kylo agrees.
Later that Morning
They stop at a diner for breakfast, when it becomes clear that Kylo’s cranky mood is not going to improve without caffeine. Mara is quickly learning he isn’t much of a morning person, and unfortunately she’s not much better. She didn’t get enough sleep, and there is a background level of anxiety any time she thinks about what they are running from.
She works on eating as much of her waffle as she can, drowning it in syrup and butter. Kylo downs his third cup of coffee, his eyes finally seeming to brighten up. The diner isn’t very busy, probably because it’s a weekday and most people are at work. There’s some older couples scattered in the booths, and a mom with two kids.
Mara turns her attention to the television over the bar, watching some commercial for a medication transition into a morning news show. The anchors are dragging on about something, but the volume is on mute. Mara is too lazy to read the captioning, about to look away, when the image changes.
Her mouth falls open, still partially full of waffle, at the video being shown on the television. She shoves it back closed, only to clap a hand over her lips instead.
The video is of her city, showing the street downtown that the sheriff’s station is situated on. It shows a monstrous wolf, the very same wolf that had chased them as they fled the station, staggering down the road. Blood drips from its wounds, a crumpled police vehicle in back of it. The view shakes spastically when the wolf freezes, its eyes seeming to stare straight into the camera. The cell phone video then cuts off, as whoever had been filming must decide to run.
The news show replays it a second time, and Mara smacks out blindly for Kylo’s arm. “What?” he asks, confused. When he follows her gaze towards the television, he notices the video.
“Well, that’s not good,” he remarks, grabbing a piece of bacon off a plate.
Mara finally forces the food in her mouth down with a painful gulp, taking a sip of water when her eyes water. “Not good?” she repeats. “That’s a fucking disaster.”
Kylo shrugs. “They’ll find some way to Bigfoot it.”
“You know. They’ll get an expert to come in and say it’s fake,” he explains, unconcerned.
Mara stares at him a moment longer, unable to understand how he is so calm about everything, before glancing back at the television. Her eyes widen in horror at the sight of her own face.
“We need to go,” she whispers urgently. The captioning beneath her face is flashing too fast for her to read everything, but she gets the gist of it. She’s been reported missing.
“I’m not done eating,” he protests.
“Look at the television,” Mara hisses under her breath, eyes darting around the diner. Nobody seems to have noticed her presence, and the resemblance to her portrait now displayed on the screen. But she’s suddenly incredibly paranoid.
Kylo looks back up at the television, before the surprise registers on his face. “Fuck.”
He stands, fishing his wallet out of his jeans pocket to drop some bills onto the table. Mara joins him, and they make a hasty retreat from the diner. “I can clear this up, right? If I just go to the police-”
“I don’t think that’s a good option,” Kylo cuts her off. “The First Order’s probably listening to the scanners. How else would they have found you at the station yesterday?”
Mara climbs into the passenger side of the truck, silently contemplating that. “Great. So I’m just a missing person now.”
“Better to be a missing person, than let the Order find you,” Kylo says, backing the truck out of the spot. They pull out of the diner, leaving it behind to merge onto the freeway. Mara’s lost track of where they’re even headed at this point, but she knows they’ve crossed at least one state line.
“What is the Order, anyway? Are they just some supernatural hunting… club?” she asks lamely, unable to find a better word.
But Kylo shakes his head, reaching down to crank up the AC. The temperature is rising as the summer day pushes closer to afternoon, the inside of the cab warmer than they’d left it. “No. They’re like a cult, I guess,” he answers. “A magic cult.”
“A magic cult,” Mara repeats, tone deadpan.
Kylo makes a face. “I know, it sounds stupid. Their leader says he’s a 400 year old alien.”
“Of course he thinks he’s a 400 year old alien,” Mara retorts sarcastically. “And I’m sure some comet will be circling Earth to pick him and his followers up, any day now.”
Kylo’s hands have tightened on the steering wheel, and Mara notes the sudden tension with a confused frown. “You haven’t seen him…” he mutters.
“And you have?” she asks, surprised.
Mara bites at her lip, not wanting to say the wrong thing. Kylo’s easygoing mood has vanished, so clearly something about their current conversation has him on edge. But she can’t seem to stop herself before the curious question tumbles out between them.
“You weren’t in the magic cult, were you?”
Kylo’s eyes flash over to hers in a glare, his jaw setting. “No.”
She regrets asking immediately. “I’m sorry, I-”
“Just drop it for now,” Kylo snaps, before sighing. “Please,” he adds.
“Sure,” she agrees, turning to look out the window at the scenery flashing by. They sit in silence for a while, and eventually she sees the anger ease from Kylo’s posture. His shoulders relax the longer they drive, until he signals suddenly, pulling over into the exit lane.
“Um, where are we headed?” Mara asks, surveying the road they’ve pulled onto. All she sees are some food places and an outdoors store. Surely, he’s not hungry again already, right? The man ate a breakfast that came on three plates.
Kylo points at the outdoor supply store. “Might as well stock up.”
“On what? Kayaks?” Mara quips.
“Ammo,” he corrects.
She spins around in her seat, confirming that the stolen rifle is indeed shoved under the backseat. She had almost forgotten him stowing it there when they made their escape, the memory lost in the daze of her shock yesterday. It’s barely visible, and combined with the tinted windows wouldn’t be noticeable from outside the truck. Their bags block all but a bit of the stock from view.
“Are we going to need that?” Mara asks faintly.
“In case you haven’t noticed, it takes a lot to stop one of us. If we get a pack on our heels…yeah,” Kylo explains, pulling into a parking spot.
“I don’t know if bullets are even going to work, in that case. Maybe a tank would be a better option,” she remarks, attempting to lighten her own mood with humor. It fails.
Kylo just huffs. “Yeah, I’ll see if they have any of those in stock.” He swings open the door. “Stay here.”
“What, I’m not allowed to go in?”
“You’re forgetting the part where your face was plastered all over the news,” Kylo reminds her, hitting the lock button on the door before closing it. He gives her a shrug through the window, before taking off towards the doors.
Mara groans, leaning back in the seat and closing her eyes. “Can this situation get any more fucked…?” she wonders aloud.