THERON

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FOURTEEN.

Anthony is the first to exit the bedroom. Not sparing me or my brothers even a glance, his eyes find Keeley and Rhys immediately. “Follow me,” he motions his head towards the stairs.

“Uh, Rude,” Kai mutters beside me.

I had not interacted with Anthony much at all so this behavior does not seem suspicious nor concerning as his normal demeanor is unknown to me. The only important person I considered worthy of my concern is the one still standing in the doorway of our makeshift torture chamber.

Lina’s eyes are dull, the sparkle I’m so used to seeing now nothing more than barely smoldering embers. Her lips flattened in a straight line and her body seems almost deflated as if gravity was pushing upon her shoulders just a bit too hard. While I have seen her at her most devastating and vulnerable of moments, this seems different somehow... but I cannot pinpoint it, exactly.

Obviously, the fucking Alpha had said something unsettling and I debate whether or not to kill him. The logical part of me knows he’s already dead but the vengeful side doesn’t mind a second attempt if only because this expression of defeat on such a cherubic face feels too wrong and unfair for my beast to cope. We have seen a lot of injustices throughout our time, but this is almost unbearable.

So yeah, I am going to murder that motherfucker—twice.

“We have a problem,” she states.

DeLoren huffs, “I’m really starting to hate that sentence.” Understandable, since the last time she used it Gatlinburg was in the midst of an apocalyptic blood bath. It’s as if when Lina says “problem,” she means fucking severe world-stopping problem.

Maybe I’m beginning to hate those words too.

Suddenly, and without warning, my old friend Annoyance decides now is the most opportune time to pop in and remind everyone of Its existence, “How about you first explain why the need for all the cloak and dagger.” Lina appears slightly confused but today she’s just in luck because I can not stop the explanation even if I wanted to. My aggravation is somewhat like a snowball and once it starts rolling, there’s no halting the speed and girth it will pick up during its descent. “Don’t do that,” I growl. “Do not act as if you didn’t purposely try to keep that fucking conversation under wraps. So how about you explain yourself first, then we discuss this current ′problem.’”

“Imma just interject real quick,” Kai slides an arm between Lina and myself as some weak-ass attempt as a barrier like he didn’t fucking know me well at all. “Can we just recognize how cool it is that Lina can mindlink an Alpha, not her own? I mean, Goddess! Only we have the power to do that! This is fucking awesome!” And to him, it is ‘fucking awesome’ because it proves his theory is correct: Lina is a created Ancient. To me, however, it is fucking infuriating because it proves Lina is a created Ancient.

“Shut up, Kai,” DeLoren, Marius, and I snap simultaneously. I am not the only one that has reservations about Lina’s little stunt. Kai drops his grin, puts his hands up in submission, and returns to his place along the wall.

As for the she-wolf, she looks like a deer caught in the headlights. Her eyes are wide, flittering back and forth across the small space within the hallway. Whether she’s searching for an explanation or an exit, I’m not sure, but how she ever thought we wouldn’t question her actions is beyond me.

So here we now are with no clue how it came to this: her with no faith in me and me with no trust in her.

“The others didn’t need to know at the time,” Lina whispers.

“Others? You mean your friends? Oh, come the fuck on! Surely you can lie better than that, Lina,” DeLoren rolls his eyes.

“I’m not lying,” she claims, earnestly.

And I know she’s not lying. Words had meaning but wording meant something entirely different and now I’m not certain if I am pissed or impressed, “When she said ‘others,’ she meant us, asshole.”

DeLoren’s face contorts in confused disgust, “The fuck, Lina?”

“We’ll discuss that later,” Marius crosses his arms, his eyes narrowing at my she-wolf, “tell us what was said.”

So, she did; the Alpha and what he was promised by Superlunar, how they reneged on that deal, how remorseful he was, blah, blah, boring, blah. Stupidity and immaturity did not grant free passage in my book and I cannot care any fucking less how sorry he was. Xavier Thomas was a disgrace as far as I am concerned—a traitor, who, infuriatingly enough, did not actually receive a Traitor’s Death but that was now in the hands of the Goddess and she could do whatever she saw fit. It isn’t until the disclosure of the diseased bullets is discussed that all hell breaks loose.

“Fascinating,” Marius gawks.

DeLoren does not share in his awe, “Fascinating? Are you fucking kidding me right now? Fascinating?! What in the actual fuck is fascinating about that, exactly? Please enlighten me!” He throws his hands in exasperation, “You do realize what this means don’t you? In case the answer to my question was an actual ‘no’ then let me break it down for you—they have weapons! Weapons that can and will kill our families! And guess what else Marius? Bare with me because this is quite the shocker: We. Have. No. Weapons! If we take our kin into a war they will be slaughtered! And do you know why, brother? Because we have no weapons!” His last sentence comes out a bit fast and choppy, his voice raising a couple of octaves which would be kind of funny under different circumstances. Regardless, it’s fucking clear that DeLoren has lost all sense of patience and tranquility.

Not that he was known for such things to begin with.

“Um... there’s more,” Lina grimaces. Her sole attention falls on me and it takes everything inside me not to roll my eyes and wonder what the hell I did this time. “Alex, the hunter, is Arthur Grimes’ nephew. You killed his father.” Her statement is more of a question and less accusatory, which stills the beast inside me... and not in a good way.

I feel like a kid whose hand just got caught in the cookie jar.

“Did I?” Arthur had a brother but for the life of me, I could not remember his name. Quickly flipping through bloody memories, I try to recall who she’s talking about, but in the end, my only question is why in the world I would have allowed someone related so closely to any of my victims to live. Unless the hunter hadn’t actually been in the vicinity when I caught his father, I saw no other option.

“Ah shit, man!” DeLoren exclaims, “Daniel Grimes! He had that kid we told to run...” He looks at me with wide eyes, like I should be connecting the dots... but I got nothing. He sighs, heavy with disappointment that what-the-fuck-ever he’s referring to doesn’t register with me since obviously, I am disappointing everyone lately. Speaking slowly, he leans in to remind me, “You cut his dick with paper..”

Oh...

Oh!

Ming Dynasty!

How did I forget that guy?

I can’t contain my amusement, “Right, I distinctly recall you vomiting all over his living room.”

“Ugh, don’t remind me.”

Daniel Grimes had a son... a son that weakened me because he was so similar to Lina at the time...

The only reason I let him go.

Fate is a fickle thing.

Lina, now extremely privy to this tidbit of information, wrinkles her nose in repugnance, “I don’t wanna know.”

Yeah, she really doesn’t.

Though I have to say, it was one of my more creative moments. Not that the history books will record that now—you know, with all the worrisome talk about werewolf extinction and such I seem to have fallen below the line in order of importance. But, no matter, my bloodlust of late has not excited me as much as it used to anyway. It’s all becoming rather redundant and my heart just isn’t as interested as it had once been. Odd how it has switched allegiances, now beating for an entirely different purpose.

As if on cue, Lina’s eyes meet mine and the traitorous thing pumps a little harder and a little faster.

“Okay, so he killed Daniel Grimes,” an unusually quiet Kai finally speaks, shrugging his shoulders, “big deal. Theron killed a lot of people. There’s no way this is retribution-based.”

Lina cocks her head, “No, probably not. I just thought it was noteworthy since Arthur’s whole family seems to have been wiped out by werewolves.”

“Not his whole family—Alex is still alive... if you want to call that living,” Kai argues, referring to the image of a new and more deadly Alex still paused on the flatscreen downstairs, “But Theron didn’t do that. That was all Arthur.” And Kai is right, again. I may not have killed Alex (yet) but it wasn’t me who used some super wolfie serum on him in some fucked up science experiment meant to end the world.

I do have standards.

It’s strange how Arthur took his only living relative and decided he was qualified to become a guinea pig... feels kind of like a family betrayal to me, but what do I know? I don’t have a family. While DeLoren, Kai, and Marius are considered my “brothers″ we aren’t bonded by blood. They’ve never stabbed me in the back and I never expect them to do so. Maybe it is a common fucking norm in human familiar structures but not in lycanthropy. Of course, there are the occasional defects–exhibit one: Xavier Thomas. But it was always dealt with swiftly and justly. So, for me, the textbook definition of ‘betrayal’ is something I cannot grasp, regardless of how many times that particular word reminds me of Cera.

“Why would he turn on his own nephew? His only living relative?” Lina’s curiosity peaks. While it is a question that should be expected from one so young, my brothers and I have experienced too much in our time to be as affected.

Marius shakes his head in discontent.

Kai shrugs in nonchalance.

And DeLoren grumbles in annoyed frustration, “Humans are assholes.”

We never truly cared for the why of human behavior. The why’s of any situation are just explanations. Excuses mostly. It never changed the fact that whatever happened, happened. Whys were reasons and we didn’t need them. What mattered to us is, regardless of Alex’s new form, he’s not immortal. His throat can still be ripped from his neck and that’s what we intend to do.

The lab rats will die.

Superlunar will, of course, make more and we will do it all again.

A vicious cycle...

Unless we find a way to cut the head off the snake, which has proven trickier than we thought when we started this mission so long ago. Arthur is a slippery bastard and we never can quite catch him.

“Welp, boys, I’m hungry. Let’s bounce,” DeLoren says with a lazy wave of his massive hand, effectively ending any and all future talk within the small hallway. I watch them clamor down the stairs, thankful for a small minute alone with Lina... no matter how hard I try to ignore it, something is bothering me about her conversation with the Alpha.

It all seems too short, too perfectly boxed and wrapped with a nice fucking bow. And while I can’t quite put my finger on it, staying behind to figure out this nagging feeling is all that makes sense to me. I trust my instincts and my instincts say Lina is hiding something. What’s that old saying? ‘I wasn’t born yesterday’?

She looks at me.

I look at her.

Scratch that.

I study her.

Arms crossed over my chest, I watch intently for the tiniest sign she feels uncomfortable under my steely gaze. While it’s normal, albeit mostly natural, for anyone to become uneasy when a look of scrutiny falls upon them, there are small, unconscious signals the brain sends to the body to perform and attempt to alleviate such feelings.

“What else?”

Lina’s pupils dilate. Her nostrils flare slightly and her breath hitches, “What?”

Caught.

While I know that only one other emotion, desire, can cause the same reaction, I push that fleeting thought to the side. I will stay this course, distractions be damned, and see where it leads me. I doubt very much that my fucking gut would detect lust over untruthfulness in this exact moment. Then again, if there are such feelings there, it can work in my favor.

Manipulating Lina to get what I want feels blasphemous, and I can’t help the guilt of performing such a deed gnaw at my heart, but it’s too late.

I am a predator.

She is the prey.

And this is the game we will play.

Fuck the consequences.

Ever so slowly, I move closer, speaking low, “You’re intentionally leaving something out, Lina. So if my question wasn’t clear enough, I’ll ask one more time, what else did the Alpha say?”

My hands fall on the wall beside her head, effectively boxing her in. Her eyes are wide, unsurety painted her features in contrition... but it would not dissuade me.

Dipping my lips close to her ear, I ignored the mouth-watering scent her body radiates, “Don’t lie to me.”

Like an undertow in the ocean, her heat pulls and pushes, taunting my senses. Her body stiffens. A vein throbs wildly under the skin that covers her slender neck and I know I got her.

The mark I had left behind her ear when she was only six catches my eye like a neon sign in the dark. It calls to me, a beacon in the night, tempting me to take things further than necessary. The space between her ear, that mark, and my lips are minimal, and it would take little to no effort to place my mouth exactly where it yearns to go.

Restraint is not my strong suit if I’m being honest, but my heart speaks the voice of reason my body has seemed to abandon within this close proximity to one Catalina Bakkas: do not take advantage.

“You,” she whispers, her tone thick and begging, “They want you.” Confusion and disbelief freeze my body and for a split second, I have to discern who wants me and what the word “they” specifically refers to.

Pulling out of the trance I’ve somehow fallen into and away from the mark I so badly want to kiss, our eyes connect. Sadness and fear swim within her large brown eyes as she confirms just what I’m trying to piece together, “Superlunar. When I asked the Alpha what they wanted...”

“They already had me,” I snap.

I can never forget. Chained, restrained, tortured for pleasure and genetic altering blood, I lived through months under their thumb. What more could they possibly want from me?

I am only vaguely aware of the chiming sound coming from downstairs. A melodic, pleasant ringing that pokes at my brain, persistent I pay attention and explore the meaning behind it.

But it’s Lina who keeps me rooted in place.

Lina, whose magnetic aura will not loosen the grasp around my body. It envelopes me, warmth and comfort surrounding me like a blanket I want nothing more than to spend the rest of my life covered in.

“Alex told me I was bait for a bigger fish.” Her eyes search mine, ”You are their fish.”

There’s not much time to process the weight of her words, nor the reasoning behind her pleading eyes because I am Theron and I am always fucking interrupted.

“Yo T, you got a Zoom call!” DeLoren yells from the bottom of the stairs.

Instantly, and most unwillingly, I am ripped from my cozy blanket and chucked back into a reality I never asked for, let alone wanted. All previous thoughts come to a screeching halt, leaving me with only one question, “What the fuck is a Zoom?”
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