Ch 12 A change in perspective
Koz was pacing. He'd been doing a lot of that lately, and Sandy was secretive as to why. I knew that tiny man had an inkling, if not the whole story, about what was setting the Captain on edge, but he wouldn't tell me. Every now and then, over that last month I'd since noticed his behavior, I'd try my hardest to listen in, but was thwarted at every turn- by Aster of all people- Pooka! He'd just shake his head and whisk me away, growling softly at my protests.
It was interesting, learning how to read him again.
As a human, my lover had been stoic. Most of his communication was body language- angry scowls or closed off stances, the muscle in his jaw would twitch when he was angry, and he ground his teeth when he was annoyed. With his true form, one I was quickly learning to thoroughly enjoy, it was so much easier! His ears spoke for him when his voice wouldn't.
He and Koz had been speaking privately, much more so than usual. It was hard to sneak up on them, as I had tried nearly half a dozen times only to be shooed away angrily by the Captain. Aster would tell me nothing about their conversation, which was endlessly frustrating. But, he's never been much on sharing information. I'd resigned to sitting just near enough to catch snippets of what they were speaking about.
Most of what I could hear were harsh whispers; whatever subject they'd broached was a sore one, apparently. Every so often I would hear Aster's rumbling growls as the Captain whisper-shouted, but one word was said clearly enough that I could make it out; a name, Erickson.
Why would they be talking about him? Erickson was the one who had started our fearful escape across the ocean.
"…won't be abl….. us. What…raid…." That was Aster, his accent gave him away.
"You…. Be…him safe." Koz hissed.
A deep growl punctuated their pause.
"I'll… You're the one….. Ya know what his father did!"
I crept closer, keeping as silent as I could. Thankfully the walls of the cabins were thin, and I was able to make out quiet whispers between Koz and Aster.
"This is not up for discussion!" Aster hissed.
"Why not? That bastard's got us on the run, and it's the only place that we can be safe. The cove is probably so overgrown no one would even be able to tell what is was anymore. Aster, we have no other choice!" Koz said, trying to reason.
There was silence in the room and I held my breath in anticipation; I had no idea what they were talking about, or where this supposed safe place was, but it seemed like a weight had settled on my chest and the anxiousness that settled over me was a bit overwhelming.
I bit my lip as a grow rose in the silence, signaling Aster's displeasure.
"I haven't been back to the island in… in over fifty years, mate. There's no way to know what the land's become, what the magic's turned it into. We could be in more danger there than running from Ericson." Aster whispered. It tugged at my heart to listen to the defeated ton of his voice, but I was shocked to hear that he'd been to this place before. Fifty years before!
Sandy's words drifted across my mind, about Aster being older than he looked, and I was instantly reminded on just how little I truly knew about Aster.
The ship creaked and groaned as we traveled, soft winds filling the sails while the ship glided in an unnatural silence. I had stopped trying to listen in after my last attempt; the urge to know our next move squashed by my internal revelation. Sandy noticed, of course he would. He was the clever one on the ship, and though he tried to get me to talk to him… I couldn't bring myself to do it. How could I tell him that I barely knew the man I loved? Looking back it was almost comical, if not for the utter sadness of it. Oh, poor little street urchin- the little whore who was given to a criminal in exchange for his loyalty to an ever more sinister captain. The poor kidnapped victim falling in love with his kidnapper, doing his best to please his master-
I jerked from my thoughts to look at Aster. It was probably a good thing, too; the path my mind had wandered to was not one I wanted to complete. The first mate sat crouched on his haunches, his ears up and alert as he gazed at me with furrowed brows.
"What's wrong, pet?" He questioned as he sniffed the air and huffed.
I considered just ignoring him, walking away and find something, anything else to busy myself with to avoid the snide and cynical thoughts that plagued me. But I knew Aster would follow me, I knew he would he would corner me into talking if I tried to run. I sighed and settled on just pretending.
"Nothing. I'm fine, Bunny."
I glared as he laughed, the loud bark of it harsh in my ears.
"No, yer not. I don't even have to look at you to know it. I can smell it, Jackie."
"Smell it?" I asked. That was an odd thing to say. How could someone smell emotions?
Aster smiled gently at me and nodded at me. "As a human, most of my senses were muted. I couldn't see or smell as good as I can now. Emotions have smells to me just as food does to you."
I stared at him with a raised brow and fought a smile as he laughed and continued.
"For example, if you smell something good- let's say," He paused, glancing about the deck, " fresh baked bread. It makes you feel comforted and almost safe, yeah? And it's the same with bad smells, like rotten fish or soured fruit. Human emotion has a certain smell to me."
He paused and sighed, no doubt seeing the confusion on my face. "When you're happy you smell like citrus, like sweet and tart and brightness and sunshine. I love you're scent when you're happy. But now? Right now you smell bitter, like the peel of a lemon that was left in the sun to shrivel, like the medicines that go bad in the infirmary when they've sat too long. I know you're upset about something, and I wish you would tell me what's made you this way so I can fix it."
I took in three aborted breaths, trying to find my thoughts to organize them into something coherent. I wanted to ask him if he loved me, or if he was just playing with me until something better came along. I wanted to know if he truly didn't care about my past, seeing as he knew everything about me. What came out, startlingly, was the truth.
"I don't know you." I replied, voice wobbling as I picked at the dirt under my nails.
Aster looked puzzled before understanding stole across his face. His ears swung back as his sighed and dipped his head. Silence stretched between us, and the fear that I had been swathed myself in came flooding back. What if he didn't want me to know? What if he didn't think I was worth the whole story? I watched his eyes dart to mine as he thrust himself up and took hold of my elbows.
"Whatever yer thinkin, stop. It's wrong. I haven't told ya because I didn't know you wanted to ask. Beauty, all you have to do is ask me. I'll tell ya everything, give you anything you ask for. But you have to voice it. For everything I am, I cannot read minds."
He was right, of course. I hated that he was, but he inched closer and laid a hesitant forepaw under my chin. It took barely any pressure for me to lift my gaze.
"Tell me what you want to know." He said softly as his eyes searched mine.
"Everything." I whispered.
Aster told me all about his people, his past, before and after the fall of the Pooka. I was enthralled, at first, when he spoke about his life and quickly realized I could listen to his stories for days, but then I was completely heart broken. He explained about Erickson's father, and grandfather; how they each wanted different things from his people. It was because of that difference that the Pooka fell and burned. It was horrid that one person could justify such cruel acts for power and status, but Ericson's father seemed to coerce his way into doing just that. There was an abundant lack of discourse, the Royal family siding with Ericson's father, Corbin, against the Pookan Elders. A surprisingly quick massacre followed, killing off all but Aster.
My pirate told me he'd been arrested at a meeting between the two peoples for a supposed wrong, and had heard of the destruction of his people in snippets from the passing guards. And one bastard child wanting to gloat on his father's success.
He was quiet after his tale; ears flat, eyes narrow and stony. Aster took a handful of deep breaths to quiet the aborted growls fighting to build in his chest. "I've tried everything to get to 'im. To that bastard Ericson. His father's dead, now I just need to end the son." He hissed.
"I'm so sorry Aster." I whispered, at a loss for what to say. And what could you say to something like this? Oh, I'm sorry you lost everything and everyone that you ever cared about, loved, or hated; I'm sorry you're the last of your species? There was no condolence I could give him for this. But I was touched that he had told me.
"Anything else, pet?"
"Why did the Captain choose me for you?"
That was one of the questions that had kept me up at night. Why me? Why was I chosen for this? Why couldn't it had been someone else- anybody else?
Aster stared, green eyes flickering over my face. He studies me for a heartbeat or three before answering, ears twitching to the sides of his head as if embarrassed.
"Yer scent. You don't remember seeing me around the town the week before the attack. Ya were too busy with the inn keep and his wife, not to mention the littles that seemed to orbit ya. But I was there. I… It's hard to explain to someone who isn't Pooka what scent means, and how important it is." He trailed off, looking away with a frown.
"Can you try?" I urged.
"The first time I saw you we'd been in the town for nearly a week and a half; you were runnin' around the back of that old inn in an apron. Covered in soot. You were laughin'; a big and bright smile on yer face.
I don't know why you were so filthy, but ya ran right past me and down the street. And underneath the smell of wood smoke and sweat… was a freshness I hadn't been privy to in a very long time. You smelled like possibility, like untapped potential, wild and fresh and powerful. I couldn't get ya outta my head. Koz got tired of hearin' about ya." Aster chuckled and ducked his head, ears swinging back in embarrassment.
I smiled as he spoke. Listening to him stumble over his words, I was hard pressed not to coo and cuddle him. He went on about how he followed me at a distance, watched me interact with Nick and Tiana every day, and would return to Koz and Sandy to recount the day.
Apparently Koz had had enough of listening to Aster's lovesick rambling and decided that his oldest friend wouldn't be happy if I wasn't with Aster when they left the town. Aster told me that Koz had seen something in the way he talked about me, something in his eyes he said, that led him to believe that I would be it for Aster.
"How could you possibly think of forever with me when we hadn't even met?" I asked, incredulous.
"Because," He smiled sadly, " you smelled like home."
Home. I smelled like home to him. Home is comfort and warmth and safety and love, all of those things Aster no longer had, but had somehow found again in me. It was something I wasn't accustomed to feeling, and it made my chest ache. My heart seemed to swell and beat wildly as my throat constricted and my breath escaped me.
"Jackie, you remind me of everything I thought I lost. I never thought I would be able to have something like this after the end of my people. You pieced my soul back together, made me realize that happiness isn't a box of cold metal, or the revenge I've chased for so long."
I closed my eyes, willing away the wayward tears as Aster gently grasped my arms at the elbows. He huffed a breath as he nuzzled my forehead, the beginnings of a quiet purr vibrating the air in our closeness. His breathing was deep and calm as he continued.
"I… Ya have to understand, pet. I can't let Ericson have you. It nearly killed me watch you with him, to see his hands on ya and I couldn't do a thing to protect you."
"Then why not end it? Why let him keep terrorizing everyone weaker than him? He won't stop, Aster. You know he won't, not until everyone on this ship is dead." I argued, leaning back with a defiant glare.
Aster growled lowly, "I'm not gonna put you, or anyone on this ship in his path again. If that means hiding you away like coward then so be it."
"But you're not a coward! You're one of the bravest men I know, one of the most loyal, and strong… the most amazing and beautiful soul I've ever known. Don't let him take your, our, our future from us. We can think of something, can't we?" I pleaded, pulling away from him and pacing about the deck. "Your island has been basically untouched since the Gable's invaded, right? So everything of your people is still there, and I'm willing to bet you know your way around your home even though you've not set foot there in however many years." I smiled slyly at my pirate as his ears twitched up and a guarded look settled on his furry face.
"Ericson is expecting us to run and hide, hell- he's probably expecting you to take us back to the island. There has to be something there we can use against him. Some magic that you could still access." I countered, folding my arms over my stomach with a smirk. "You can't tell me that some part of you hasn't yearned to go back, to go home again."
Aster was silent for a handful of heartbeats, ears swiveling this way and that in thought before he closed his eyes and sighed heavily. "This whole idea of yers depends solely on something that isn't certain. It's all 'If's' and 'But's' Jackie. We don't even know if he'll go there, and if he does- what's to say that I can even call the magic up? If there's even any left.
"But," He continued, subdued, "yer right about one thing. I do want to go home. I have for years."
I watched his eyes soften and go blank in remembrance. I knew he was worried, and I knew there were ghosts to face once we made it to his island, and Aster looked almost lost as he sat silently in front of me. His ears were laid back and still, not twitching like I was used to; it was the picture of loneliness that clenched around my ribs and made my heart ache for him, and everything and everyone he'd lost.
He barely twitched as I approached him, cradling his large and furry head to my chest. "You're not alone any more, Aster, and never will be again if I have any say. If this is something that will hurt you we can find another way." I murmured, stroking a long ear.
"No, pet," Aster sighed, "I don't believe there is another way to end this. It. Going back will hurt, there's no getting around it," He nuzzled under my chin and licked across my cheek, "I'd go to the ends of the universe to keep you safe."