His mention of Oakley had an effect on his friend, and Atlas hadn’t missed the change in his mien. He hoped that Poet didn’t harbor guilt over it, after all this time. As if witnessing her death hadn’t been bad enough, afterwards he’d been forced to become the bearer of bad news.
Still, he seemed to take the change of subject in stride, and Atlas was relieved to move on to a less grim stretch of conversation.
Until suddenly the worst thing that could possibly happen… happened.
Having reached the cache, he’d started pawing at the ground, upturning snow where he knew the remnants of a hare to be buried, but a simple question from Poet was enough to make him totally stop what he was doing. He stood with one forepaw dangling in the air, hovering limply over the dent he’d created in the snow. His gaze went unfocused, staring blankly down at the half-uncovered carcass, while all of the blood seemed to drain from his face.
Somewhere in the back of his mind, he had known this was coming. He just hadn’t thought that it would have come so soon.
Poet was going on about how Valentina probably despised him now, totally oblivious.
For a long, moment all Atlas could do was stare down at the carcass in the snow.
Right now Poet was blissfully unaware of the truth. A few seconds from now, he’d be crushed. Possibly in a way that he never had been before. And dimly, Atlas realized that he could save him from that. He could spare him. Make something up. A lie. Anything. Anything to keep him from having to face that reality.
And for a minute there he considered it.
In the end, though, he’d only be delaying the inevitable. Poet would probably find out one way or another, sooner or later. Atlas felt sure of it. Someone would mention it in passing, or maybe he would slip up somehow. Or maybe Poet would take it upon himself to go looking for her.
No… he deserved to know the truth. It would be a shock, and it would hurt, but he didn’t deserve to be led on.
Although only a few seconds had passed while he weighed the options, it felt like he’d been hovering there in silence for an eternity. Slowly, Atlas put his raised paw down on the ground, but he kept his back to his friend.
“Poet,” he spoke his name in a low, soft voice. “I don’t know how to tell you this…”
And clearly he was telling the truth — because those words trailed off into nothing. Already his throat was beginning to tighten, both at the memory of Valentina’s death and the prospect of informing her mate of it.
There was no way to sugarcoat this, and there was no need for it. But even though he knew this, Atlas simply couldn’t find the words to say. Every possibility abruptly fled from his mind, leaving him with a horrible blank: an emptiness that extended to the very pit of his stomach.
In the end, though, he swallowed hard and forced himself to turn around. He faced Poet without another word, his expression strained, but between the silence and the sadness in his eyes, it was clear that what he had to tell him wasn’t anything good.
Sep 27, 2017 12:09 AM — Post #8
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