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An Unfamiliar Path

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“Are you sure?” He whispered, lips brushing against his neck with every word.

He held him close, arms around his neck as he nodded, feeling the warmth of the other pressed against him.

They were in a forest clearing, the full moon high above them in an empty sky surrounded by glittering stars.

Kei was laying naked underneath Kai, his red hood laid out beneath him to protect him from the cold forest ground.

“I am.”


 

Kei shivered, bringing his red hood closer to him as he trekked through the woods. He gave a soft curse when he tripped on an exposed root and saved himself before he fell.

He understood the need for his mother to get this basket of goods to his grandmother but he wished he didn’t have to go right now , in the freezing night, with the full moon covered by thick, passing clouds and hardly letting any light go through the canopy.

Kei took his time, ducking branches when he could, mindful of his steps and careful not to drop the basket. It was filled with warm goods and delicious food his mother made that he hoped wouldn’t attract any unwanted attention as he crossed the woods.

His grandmother of course, had to live on the other side, her little cottage only to be reached if someone crossed straight through the forest instead of going all the way around.

Kei huffed, bringing his slipping hood up to shield himself from the cold wind that breezed through the trees, knocking leaves down and swirling them in front of him, reminding him that they were close to winter and already the temperatures were dropping. Leaves crunched under his steps, twigs snapped here and there, constantly alerting any potential wildlife of his location.

Kei took a break, when he was about halfway through the forest. He’d been making this exact trip for so many years now that he’d remembered the path he’d practically worn through the forest. He sat in a small clearing, the moon peeking its silver light to illuminate all of it—a few minutes of rest wouldn’t hurt.

He could hear some wildlife in the otherwise silent night and he hoped he’d steer clear of them. Kei silently recited to himself the words to some poems he’d been studying in school to keep his mind busy. Next time, he was going to ask his mother if he could instead make this trip in the daylight.

He should probably get through the forest as fast as he could to escape the cold but he figured it would be fine.

He wondered if he’d be bringing anything back for Eriko from their grandmother. His younger sister was sick often, so their mother forbade her from crossing the forest in the winter, so Eriko always begged her brother to bring her something from their grandmother or help her grandmother come visit them. Their grandmother liked to knit lots of things for Eriko, especially once it started getting cold out.

Kei settled the basket beside him on the ground and sighed to himself.

Another person might be scared to be where he was, in the forest at night, alone and possibly surrounded by nocturnal creatures.

But he wasn’t scared; he was too used to this and nothing ever happened—

A twig snapped somewhere behind him in the trees, causing his attention to startle towards it.

Something gold flashed and Kei’s heart raced for a second—he gathered his basket and rushed out of the clearing, making his way back to the path, away from the light of the moon.

Just because he’d been lucky so far not to encounter any predator on his forest trips didn’t mean he wanted to tempt fate this time.

Maybe it had been a trick of the faint moonlight or just another forest animal, but Kei didn’t want to stick around to find out.

Kei stumbled as he rushed through the trees, wincing when he didn’t manage to duck or avoid a branch in time. One of the lower-hanging branches knocked his hood down, but at least it didn’t tear it.

The feeling of something watching him, something behind him, wouldn’t leave him alone.

The path so familiar to him seemed to stretch endlessly before him, turning and winding here and there in ways that surprised him. Had he always taken this route? This particular cluster of trees had always delineated this path, right?

Any rustling or movement or howling made him tense and made him long to get to the other side safely.

He wasn’t running, but he felt like he wasn’t advancing as much as he’d like.

Then he saw it.

His grandmother’s little white cottage at the end of the forest.

And then he tripped when he heard something rustle through the trees behind him.

Kei winced but kept a grip on the basket as he sat up, catching a flurry of movement dash in front of him, standing between him and the cottage.

He gasped when he stared into a pair of bright, golden eyes.

The same ones he’d seen earlier.

He had been followed.

A wolf stood before him, fur dark even in the faint moonlight, height imposing and fangs bared, standing a few feet from him.

The wolf didn’t move—it didn’t snarl at him or shift towards him but Kei’s grip on his basket tightened.

He didn’t even have time to chastise himself for debating whether or not to throw the basket at it.

The wolf watched as Kei slowly stood up, trying to regulate his breathing as this beast before him cataloged his every move.

Kei was certain the wolf could hear his heart racing in his chest.

He opened his mouth to speak—he didn’t know what he’d say, but he had to say something—but something rustled in the background and the wolf darted out of sight a second later, jumping into the darkness and leaving Kei alone in the forest.

Kei’s heartrate still hadn’t returned to normal but he quickened his pace to the cottage. He promptly knocked on the door and eventually his grandmother opened it, smiling and delighted to see her grandson.

He greeted her calmly and as she closed the door behind him, he glanced back into the forest and saw a pair of golden eyes pinpricking the darkness, staring back at him.


 

Kei woke up early the next morning, just as the sun was starting to the brighten the skies.

He hadn’t slept enough but he was used to waking early and he needed to get back home anyway.

Those golden eyes haunted his dreams all night and he was grateful the wolf hadn’t attacked him.

Kei didn’t know what the wolf was thinking, just watching him like that. He wasn’t sure why, but although he’d been frightened, at some level he didn’t think that wolf would hurt him.

Maybe the wolf hadn’t known what to make of this scared human walking alone through the woods at night.

Kei left after he prepared breakfast for him and his grandmother and after receiving some things to put in his basket for Eriko and his mother. He put on his red hood and trekked back out into the forest.

The forest was a lot less intimidating with the sunlight scattered through the trees and lighting up his path. There were more sounds now; louder and echoing more than they had at night but it felt more natural.

Kei took his time getting home, knowing his mother was expecting him back sometime before noon, and he watched the leaves fall and swirl before him with the light wind that passed through, just barely chilling him.

He felt the change in the air the second he felt that pair of eyes on him again.

They didn’t stop watching him until Kei had almost crossed the entirety of the forest again, nearing his home.

Kei’s heart had raced at first, certain the wolf had regretted not acting last night and was coming back for the kill, but as time passed and nothing happened, he allowed himself to relax.

He felt safe, for some reason.

Kei stopped at the edge of the forest and turned back, catching a flash of gold that disappeared into the trees not a moment later.

“I know you’re there.”

He spoke before he even really had a chance to think—what was he thinking , acknowledging the beast? Tempting it to come attack him?

Did he think it would reply back to him?

There was a faint sound, then nothing.

Kei’s chestnut eyes scanned the woods but he figured if the wolf wanted to keep out of sight, it would.

“Were you,” Kei cleared his throat, obviously not having learned his lesson moments ago, feeling silly at the way his voice cut through the sounds of the forest, like it didn’t belong. “Were you watching over me?”

Because that’s what it felt like.

No answer, until—

A sound to his right drew his attention, as a large wolf with dark fur and gold eyes slowly walked towards him.

Kei stiffened, instincts telling him to run , to hide and never set foot into the forest again.

But before his eyes, the wolf changed. The fur receded, replaced by tanned skin, the fangs shortened, the gold eyes stayed the same but looked distinctly more human as the wolf shifted from four legs to two.

A young man stood before him, with dark brown hair that shone gold if the sun hit it right; he looked to be roughly Kei’s age with liquid sunlight in his eyes.

Kei took in a breath as his thoughts raced, his heart following right after. He’d heard of shifters before, of those beasts that dwelled in the forest and lured the innocents into their domain using their human forms before devouring them once they’d trapped them in the darkness of the forest. He’d thought they were fairy tales, just stories told to keep the children from wandering by themselves into the woods.

But here was one right before him, had been one the entire time, watching him.

Kei stepped forward, betraying his fear, and stopped when the two stood a couple feet apart. The stranger watched him, never once making a move to step back.

Something drew him to this shifter, and if this meeting ended in death, then at least he’d satisfy his own curiosity.

“It’s dangerous out here, in the forest,” the shifter spoke, his voice warm and comforting and not at all like the thick, rough voice Kei had expected.

Kei felt the wind lightly pull his hood back and he let it fall from his head. “Somehow, I think I’ll be ok.”

The sun rose higher now, the blue of the sky dotting through the canopy, the warmth of the daylight seeping through the forest despite the chill.

“Just wanted to make sure you made it safely to the other side.” The other admitted, eyes never wavering.

Kei should’ve felt intimidated, should’ve ran when he could, but he didn’t. “I’ve walked through this forest many times, and I’m not sure I needed it, but thank you.”

“Maybe I’ll see you again, then,” the shifter said, taking a step back.

“Wait,” Kei called out as the shifter started walking back into the forest. “What’s your name?”

The wolf-shifter glanced back at him over his shoulder. He smiled. “Kai.”

“Kai,” Kei tested on his lips. “I’m Kei.”

Kai nodded, then in a blur of movement, he vanished into the forest again.

Kei waited a few more moments, then turned back and walked towards his home he could see in the distance.

It wouldn’t hurt to go back through the forest every once in a while.

He felt like he found a part of himself in there, something more.

And it had golden eyes.


 

It had been a couple years since they met and after many meetings, where Kei willingly went into the forest, where Kai followed him out a few times, hiding from Kei’s family that he was a shifter, they were friends. They were close.

Kai only had Kei in his life, he’d once told him.

Kai had also finally admitted to wanting him as a mate, if Kei would have him.

Kei had wondered if that was the connection he’d felt when they had first met.

The moon shone bright above them and Kai was holding back his shift, but he lightly bit at Kei’s neck, fangs scraping it gently.

“You’re sure?” Kai asked again, needing to know that Kei wanted this as much as he did.

“I’m sure.” Kei looked up into golden eyes that distracted from the dark night around them.

Kai kissed him as he thrust inside him, sliding into Kei after spending so long making sure his mate would be able to take him. He felt Kei tighten around him once he was fully inside.

They’d made love before, but never on a full moon, never with the chance Kai could lose himself.

Tonight was different.

Their orgasms hit some time later, with the cold of the night contrasting with their overheated bodies. Kai’s knot filled Kei seconds before Kai’s fangs sunk into Kei’s neck, sealing them as mates forever.

Kei yelled out Kai’s name into the silent forest as he and Kai finished together.

The forest quieted down when they did, after they finished.  Kei felt a rush of heat emanating from the bite mark, spreading throughout his whole body in pulses that aligned with his heartbeat before finally dying down.

Kai moved them over so he was under Kei, his mate resting on his chest since they were still connected.

Kei’s red eyes glowed and Kai smiled, kissing the top of his head.

“I love you.”

“I love you too.”

Kai took the red hood and settled it over his mate who fell asleep on him, soft breaths tickling his chest.

To think, this human had walked through his forest and turned out to be his mate.

Kai wrapped his arms around Kei who shifted and settled comfortably on his wolf-shifter mate. He lifted the red hood to cover Kei from the chill of the night.

Kai looked up at the moon, golden eyes gleaming under the soft, silver light.

The forest was his home.

Kai kissed Kei’s forehead.

The forest was their home now.