Conflicted

Lora Belle

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The cat stirs, content and warm.

She knows, deep in her bones, where she belongs. She belongs with Him. She bound herself to Him, without thought or care, recognizing only that she had been waiting for Him. There is no thought in her head of others - that is the way of the pride. She knows her sister by scent; accepts that there will always be others, for both Him and Her. There will only ever be one for the cat; she is content with whatever she is given. She knows her place.

It is the woman who feels the pain, the confusion.

It is the woman who needs reassurance and does not dare to ask for it. It is the woman who recalls one moment when she might have gained that reassurance and yet acceded to His wish for her not to weep. In her heart, she knows she loves; yet she sees she was never enough. She fights against the resentment inside her; forces herself to offer compromise, to try to make life easier for those in her heart who love one another just as deeply. Yet each time she tries, the pain grows, and now she knows she is the one to blame.

She knew her place, once. She was His. Yet he found in her sister something greater that he needed, and without even realizing it, her place was lost. The shock when she saw and felt that loss struck deep, and yet she had no words to express it, no courage to share the pain that festered and grew deeper over time. She does not begrudge them their love, nor does she want to be set aside. She compensates too much, pushing them together, accepting her misery as her reward for not being cast aside when He discovered she was not enough.

She is Omega, the lowest in the pride; her will is His, both sides of her nature submitting by instinct. The cat understands, accepts that fact. The woman cries out in silence, demanding answers to questions she does not dare to ask. The woman does not want to cause pain with her confusion, yet the confusion is hers to bear. How is it that she was not enough and holds faithful still, when the other who is a sister to her loves Him and yet is free to enjoy others as She will? How is it that, being not enough, she is still held onto, not cast aside in favor of that sister who was chosen to replace her?

She does not wish to be set aside, her heart bleeding at the very thought, and yet the thought often comes that if she is not enough, then surely it is not love that holds Him to her. She fears His pity, that He does not know how to set her aside if that is what He wishes. Her will is His; her only true wish is His happiness. If that happiness can only be found with Her, then she should make that clean break. Her heart rebels against that thought; her cat snarls at even the possibility. And there is her conundrum.

Neither true woman nor true cat, she is caught between worlds, torn between human insecurity and animal instinct. As a woman, she loves and is not enough for the one that love was given to. As a cat, she is mated, and will never countenance leaving Him, no matter the hierarchy of this strange pride. Both ways cause pain to the woman, so much pain that her control has failed her. The cat has found a way to take control once again, clouding the pain, pushing it aside. Perhaps she should stay this way, a presence in Their lives yet not a rival, nor a lover. A pet, to be loved at a distance and mourned briefly when she dies, no longer bearing the human mind that causes such confusion, such awkwardness.

Perhaps that would be best, to stay furred and four-legged, where the confusion does not exist, where the pain is negligible. Where she knows her place as lowest in the pride, living for the scraps of affection given her way, not needing explanations or offers of love. Over time, the human mind will fade away entirely, leaving only the cat, and then, surely, all the harm she has caused will be gone. A faithful pet, no more, and no longer a drain on His time, on Her energy. No longer the cause of all hurts and upsets, no longer to blame for the awkwardness that radiates from her.

The cat stirs, and curls tighter, willing the woman to silence. If she cannot express herself even to her own being, how can she do so to Them?
 

Lora Belle

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So here she was.

The woman and the cat both, reacting differently to the same situation, the same pain. The decision had been made, and probably long before it had been put into action. Though it was good for Him, and good for Her, it had left both woman and cat reeling along a dangerous course.

The woman understood why it had to be so. She had pushed too hard, she had made it dangerous to be around Him, and she understood that His decision was made for her own safety. It hurt, even so, to be set aside; to know that her jealousy and upset had prophesied the ultimate end. Though they could color it any way they liked, the ultimate end had been foreshadowed long before now. She had been replaced, and that would hurt for a long time to come.

The cat did not understand. All she knew, all she saw, was that her mate had abandoned her, taking away from her the will that dominated her own, leaving her bereft. That abandonment had further reaching consequences, too ... the mating bond that had been formed would never dissipate. The cat looked at the world, and knew she would be alone until her death, unable to bear kittens without her chosen mate. She hissed and snarled, angry and in pain, in mourning for what would never be, yowling at the human mind that held her in check. Her only course was to wait for death, to speed it along with neglect of herself. She could not live so alone.

It was this duality of nature that made it harder still to bear. The woman knew that, had she been fully human, the course of a broken heart was a long one that promised healing at its end. With her feline nature so adamant that their mate was gone, however, she also knew that she would be alone for the rest of her life. It was a bitter pill to swallow, one she did not know if she could survive. Her grandfather and his pride stood prepared to declare her outcast and outsider, useless to them without the means to continue her bloodline.

Hope had come with her reluctant appearance at the Temple, where a good friend with knowledge and power had suggested a better course to take. If the bond truly could be broken, undone, then there was hope for the future to come - a future where she might be allowed to follow the human course of grief and loss, where she might heal in time, though she might never form another bond with anyone. That mistake had been made once; given the opportunity, she would never make it again.

Time was what was needed. Time for the preparations to be made, for her courage to rise and overwhelm the howling pain that begged for death. And afterward, time would still be needed, for her heart to mend, for her to learn to forgive and perhaps be forgiven in turn. To rebuild the friendships she had so damaged in her pain and torment. Perhaps even, in time, to share some affection with someone who was not a friend or sister. To feel loved again, no matter how briefly it might last.

But that would not be for a long time yet. Now she was here, within the Temple, and here she would wait, for death or for freedom to heal alone.

Either way, it would be alone.
 

Lora Belle

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The cat was angry.

No, scratch that. The cat was furious, incandescent with rage. And she was fighting hard for control. Setting aside the pain of abandonment, even for a moment, there was little that could assuage that fury. One of her own, a member of the pride she had accepted years ago and made hers, was hurt. Someone had harmed the one person she was absolutely certain loved her and would never abandon her. Such an action could not go unavenged. That she might die in the attempt was icing on the cake - the end of all her problems in one, glorious battle.

The woman was angry with her, but with that anger came cold hard sense. Dying in an attempt to take on a being who may or may not be what she believed her to be would solve nothing. It would cause more harm to the one person she had trusted and who had never hurt her. And she would not give the cat that freedom to die, not when the solution was so close. But it was so hard to resist. The anger coursed through her, hot and icy, setting her hackles high, tempting her claws to come out.

Someone had hurt Thea. Someone whom Thea had considered a friend, someone whom Thea had trusted and befriended, had given her time to ... that someone had hurt her, and hurt her badly. There were no wounds you could see, not anymore. The Temple's Infirmary were good at their job. Though all she had seen were bruises, she knew from the way they spoke that there had been other injuries Thea might not ever admit to. But the real damage was deeper; a breaking of trust, a betrayal of the easy-going warmth that Thea gave to everyone, something that might well haunt her for a long time to come.

It was unforgivable. It did not help that it was the same someone who had caused that first shift, that first control the cat had taken in years, and in so doing, had caused the cat to be abandoned by her mate. At least, in the cat's mind. No one had needed to say the name - she knew the scent, however off it might have seemed at first. It was only the cold iron control of the woman that kept them both there, seated by a dear friend's side, determined that she should not be alone when she finally woke from her nightmares.

How could she leave now? Even if the breaking was successful, even if she regained control of her own destiny, how could she leave the friend who had done so much for her, been there for her for so long? No matter the recommendation made that she take even a short vacation, neither the woman nor the cat would leave their one loyal, faithful friend at such a time. Whatever the pain that came with staying, whatever the awkwardness and discomfort, some things were more important than anything. One thing she had learned the hard way, both human and feline, was that friendship, love, could not be forced.

For this friend, whom she loved ... she would stay, and damn the consequences.
 

Lora Belle

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The cat slept.

Calm and quiet, subdued within the encompassing consciousness of the woman she inhabited, she slept the easy, comfortable sleep that had been denied her for what seemed an age. There was no ache of loss to disturb her dreams, no pain awaiting her when she woke. No need to awaken until she was ready, for there was no heartbreak or turmoil within the woman to draw forth her feline nature, to protect against the very human pain that had brought her forth in the first place.

The woman sat on her borrowed bed at the Temple, paper on her lap, pen in her hand. She did not know what to write. It was over, and in truth, she did not quite know how to feel about it. Chryrie's touch, Khoom's care ... they had freed her from the inevitability of a lingering, self-inflicted death; from the prospect of being alone for her lifetime; from the pain that coursed through her whenever she thought of them.

She did not recall much of the process. Khoom's gently reassuring presence dominated what little she remembered, and a moment - just a moment - when she'd felt the awesome power of Chryrie's touch through him. A touch that had sifted through her, severing the mating bond that held both she and her cat in thrall, granting them freedom. And more, that she had not expected. That touch had not simply done what was necessary, but had reached out to soothe the lingering pain of a human heartbreak. No longer did memories of that time bring an ache to her heart, tears to her eyes. She remembered being in love, but they were memories only. Somehow, Chryrie and Khoom had freed her heart from the months of hurt she had been expecting, shortened her natural time of grieving for what she could not have. Together, they had both saved her life, and taken away the despair that was natural to a healing human heart. She truly was free.

It would take time before she could say she was wholly healed, she knew. If nothing else, her pride had been dealt a blow that would have to be reconciled somehow, and no power she knew of could remove the sting of the events that had led her to this moment. But that was her problem, her issue, and though she might not yet have the confidence in herself to stand up and look them in the eye, she had faith that she would not always feel that way. Her natural cowardice might keep her from willingly entering certain presences, but that, too, would be better than to force herself to see the happiness that had never truly been hers to enjoy.

The pen faltered on the paper, barely two words written. She owed it to them, to tell them that it was done. The friend, who had been so hurt by her lashing resentment; and him, who would be hurt that she had chosen this path at all. Despite everything that had gone before, she hated that she would be giving him pain with the knowledge that she was no longer in love with him, that her will was once again her own, and yet ... wasn't that what he had wanted? He had made his choice. He could not expect her to walk willingly into death, simply because he had no place for her in his life. He had another, one who suited him, one who could share with him everything he had and more. She would soothe the hurt.

Let them be angry with her for taking this path; let them think badly of her for making a decision that took her away from the pain and the awkwardness. She had lost herself in those months - first in love, and then in pain. She would find herself again, and if that was a crime they could not forgive her for, then so be it. She had a purpose beyond merely breathing in and out for the first time in a long time. She would not let anyone hurt her friend again.

The pen renewed its path across the page, writing lines that were necessary, that she hoped would not read as cold or detached. There would always be love in her heart, for them both. The cat would not recall the bond that had ruled her for a time, and that, too, was good. There was hope that such a bond could be remade, with another better suited, in the time to come. If she allowed her cat to do it.

But for now, there were letters to be written, goodbyes to be said. It was time to go home, to a place that had been provided for her in love, with the friend who needed someone close in her life, even if she never admitted it aloud. The cat slept peacefully, and she was calm.

The conflict was over.
 
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