After the freedom of my time with Bear, the underground halls of the Den seemed even more claustrophobic. But we would be leaving soon. Willow was healing quick and her stitches would be removed in just a few days.
We hadn't told Vivian yet. She had been so busy with the other co-leader, Talon. The two of them ran the resistance together, side by side, without fail for the most part.
Bear and I got in the habit of taking almost daily trips to the surface, just to enjoy the sun. I found that I needed the freedom, the escape.
We sat under the shade of an old tree, a small creek bubbling not far off.
"We're leaving soon..." I mumbled, picking apart a clover.
"Once Willow's stitches come out we're heading north."
Bear just stayed silent, just listening.
"I don't really want to go... But they're my family..." I looked over my shoulder at him. "What do you think I should do?"
"You're no help..." I muttered, laying down in the grass, my silver hair falling in my face.
I lay there listening to the creek gurgle past, the birds singing in the trees about us. I felt so at peace in the forest, it was home for me anymore.
"We should head back soon...." Bear murmured as he stood up, stretching. "I have to talk to Vivian."
"Oh..." I sat up. It seemed that every time we had to go back he had to find Vivian, or Vivian wanted to talk to him. It made me wonder
"Come on..." He held out a hand to help me up.
Taking his hand, he pulled me to my feet, catching me around the waist as I stumbled forward into his chest.
Blushing, I stepped back, brushing a loose piece of silver hair back behind my ear. "Thanks." I glued my eyes to the grass, my mind a whirl of thoughts.
"No problem." He started walking away, his hands in his pockets. It made me wonder if he was sharing my thoughts in his head.
We walked in silence, side by side. The cave was just a head now, so soon I would be returning to the dark. I wasn't ready to go back.
Suddenly, Bear stopped, turning to look at me ever so slightly. "Echo. If i ever had a choice to make... I would always choose my family first..." And with that he walked into the hidden entrance to the dark.
I thought about his words as I followed him in to the Den's underground darkness, the sun's warmth replaced with the damp cool of the tunnels. It made me sad to enter the dark.
Rusty was talking to the two Shifters on guard duty, Bunni and Ace today, when we set foot in the halls. His hazel eyes turned on us as our steps echoed around the hall. The anger and hate on his face shocked me.
"Echo, Shade has been looking for you for hours!" He snapped. "Go on! see what he wants."
Frowning, I nodded, giving Bear a small wave and smile before heading off down the hall alone. Why was Rusty so angry? Did I do something?
I knocked on Shade's door before entering. He was sitting in the corner, his eyes closed.
"Shade?" His gray eyes seemed so old as they opened slowly, looking at me.
"Rusty said you wanted to see me?" I shut the door behind me, walking to his side.
He let out a short laugh. "Our family is falling apart all because of those Hunters. We come here and we fall apart a little more each day..."
"What do you mean?"
"Jasper and Willow aren't speaking, Faline and Salem are fighting, Rusty and Brooke are snipping at each other every time I turn around, your always gone, off with that Bear... And here I sit complaining." His words seemed to be more of a random self rant than a conversation with a packmate.
I lowered myself to my knees, sitting back on my heels. "Don't get down on yourself, Shade." I set my hand on his knee. "Our family will be fine."
His gray eyes connected with mine. "Where do you go when you leave?"
"The surface." I said softly, keeping my gaze steady.
"You leave the Den?"
I nodded cautiously. "But I only go with Bear, never alone and never with anyone else."
His eyes took on a dangerous spark. "You spend a lot of alone time with that man."
I twisted uncomfortably. "Is that a bad thing?"
"Echo..." His voice was solemn. "Have you considered taking him as your mate?"
I was shocked by the question. "We're just friends, Shade, nothing more." I watched his face, noticing the heavy purple bruises under his eyes and the paleness of his skin. "Do you feel ok, Shade? Are you getting sick?"
He smiled weakly. "No, I'm fine, Echo, you can go now." He dismissed me with a wave of his hand.
As I walked away I took note of just how thin and frail he looked, sitting in the dark by himself.
Was Shade ill? or was I just seeing things?