Chapter 17 ♕
As a child, you learn like no other how to pretend to sleep in case your parents come to see you late at night. Although I thought I had always been pretty good at it, I could feel that it wouldn’t help me in this situation. But there was simply no other solution. It wasn’t like I could face him after that stunt I pulled.
I had been awake for awhile.
Immediately after explaining the meaning of the word to him, I had realised what I had actually said. And before I even gave him a chance to respond, I had thrown myself into bed with the message that I was very tired and would like to sleep. Like it or not, it was something he couldn’t blame me for. Not after the night I had.
But as good as I thought I was in pretending to be asleep, it didn’t seem to be enough to convince him. I didn’t feel his burning gaze leave my sleeping figure for even a second. He knew I was awake. He probably just gave me a chance to wake up myself to avoid further humiliation.
“Mags” came his voice.
I felt a shudder go through my body. It wasn’t just his voice. No one had ever called me that before. I was used to either Maggie or my full name.
But either way, I still refused to respond.
Instead, I pulled the covers further over my head. I had behaved absurdly towards him. Not only had I been staring at him, but as if that weren’t bad enough I just had to sketched him and written that ridiculous word underneath.
What I also couldn’t get out of my mind was how I had managed to get the resemblance between him and the drawing that way, without ever having seen him before.
Still, I had to admit that my drawing had done him no credit. I also didn’t really think that was possible. He must have been one of the most beautiful things I have ever seen. I wasn’t just talking about his physical appearance, although that was also a sight to behold.
Only then did I notice how quiet it had become in the room. I thought he might have left. Finally, mainly because it had become unbearably hot under the covers, I gave in and let the fabric slide off my head.
I had only moved an inch off the blanket when I saw a hand grab the end of it and pull it away from me. Which brought me nose to nose with him. Literally, I only had to move a bit and the tips of our noses would scrape against each other. For a moment we stared at each other, startled.
Too close, my brain signaled. To which my body immediately responded by moving backwards. I felt a painful stab going through my back when it hit the wooden headboard of my bed.
I heard him make a noise that looked like both a chuckle and a cough. I rubbed the sore in exasperation and growled at him. Not only did that sound seem to silence him, but it also made his eyes look strange. His pupils widened and his eyes narrowed. It was almost as if the noise turned him on. I immediately dismissed that thought and averted my gaze.
However, that turned out not to be the desired response, because a second later I felt his warm hand close around my chin and he directed me to look him straight in the eyes. This time I sat still. It was as if I couldn’t move even if I wanted to.
I was completely absorbed by him.
The truth I never wanted to admit was that I’d always been nervous about the idea of being in a relationship one day. I wasn’t naive. I knew very well that I didn’t look exactly average. Even if you managed to see past my absurdly red hair and say well developed curves, all people saw was my eyes.
It has always made me ask myself what my loved one will look like one day. It was out of the question that a normal person would fall for me, so in that case only other freaks were left and I was not waiting for that either.
But he. I never expected, or rather dared to dream, that I would ever find my way to someone like him. Because, in every part, he was as unique as I am. But unlike me, he was more beautiful than words could ever describe.
Alaric had a rectangular face, with a defined, slightly pointed chin and a firm jawline. Every line on his face seemed sharp enough to make my finger bleed if I would stroked it. Apart from his face, which appeared to be carved from stone, we shared the same unique features but then different.
Where my hair was redder than fire, his was lighter than ice. And while my eyes were two different vibrant colors, his were pale. He also had a scar through his left eyebrow, which broke it down in two parts. My gaze slid down a bit as if by itself. He looked at me with such intensity that I felt another shiver run down my spine.
I remember exactly how he had towered over me the previous evening. Even now seated, he was so wide that he almost took up half the bed. Besides being broad, he was also muscular, almost of the unnatural kind. If one day I decided to hug him, I was sure I wouldn’t be able to put my arms around him completely.
“You are so breathtakingly beautiful” his low, hoarse voice broke through my thoughts. That damn voice. It was as if I just wanted to smile when I heard that sound. I tried to stop it, as I was still in a stubborn mood, but I failed terribly. And so there they went, the corner of my mouth raised and a shy smile appeared.
“You too” had come out of my mouth before I could stop it. Inwardly, I wanted to hit myself in the forehead. But he didn’t seem to care. He didn’t seem to care about anything.
It might not have been that long, but since I met him he hadn’t shown a hint of joy. I didn’t like it when people were hard to read. Maybe it was just because my face was simply always showing everything, but it made me restless. You could never say what they thought or what went through them.
Alaric was a textbook example of this.
That expression on his face, that inscrutable expression, it made me nervous. It was as if he just didn’t feel anything. Hoping to get some emotion out of him, I decided to ask him a question that had been on my mind all night.
“Why did Max say you can’t be trusted? What happened between you two” I asked.
That finally resulted in a response. His warm hand slid from my face and he immediately sat up straight. He rubbed his hands together and looked away. Obviously, this was a sensitive topic for him. I immediately regretted my question. I leaned forward and put my hand over his. The size difference was almost laughable, but I almost immediately forgot when I saw how he looked at me.
“I’m sorry,” I said softly, “I didn’t mean to embarrass you. I don’t want to force you to talk about something you are not ready for”.
He shook his head slowly and absently. “That’s not it. You are my mate. That makes you about the only person on this whole damn planet who can ask me anything. I just didn’t expect a question like that. Nor have I ever really spoken to anyone about it before” he said, running his hand through his hair.
He seemed to think hard for a moment, almost as if he didn’t know exactly where to start, but then made up his mind and started to talk.
“Just over eighteen years ago, when my mother found out she was pregnant with Bethany, both my parents and I were overjoyed. All my life I had always been everything my parents wanted me to, and I had always managed to live up to their expectations, except for one thing. I was their son, their first-born, the heir to the throne. For them as rulers that was better than anything, but they as people had always longed for a girl, a daughter. So, as can be expected, immediately that unborn baby was the whole reason for their existence. I had already built my own life over the years, so I was just happy that they could finally see their wish come true,” he said, pulling a corner of his mouth, probably thinking back to that time.
However, that smile immediately faded away.
“Anyway, over time it turned out that something was wrong. There were complications in the pregnancy and my mother was in danger of losing her baby. Without notifying either my father or me, my mother consulted her younger brother, my uncle, who had been head of the council at the time. He told her about a group of witches who practiced an almost extinct form of magic deep in the mountains. He gave her no warning, but instead assured her that if anyone could save her child, it would be them”.
I saw his jaw harden, his hands turns into fists and a blood vessel in his neck became visible.
“My mother made up an excuse for her absence and left. After a few days she came back, as if nothing had happened. My father and I didn’t suspected anything. Mother had often isolated herself in nature for her mental well being, so we thought nothing of it. But when the months passed and Bethany was finally born, my mother had no choice but to confess. Because their daughter and my sister was not the same as us. Mother collapsed completely and told us everything. Apparently the witch coven had performed a reading on her and found that Bethany’s lycan grew faster than her human side. This had created an imbalance that could ultimately have allowed Bethany’s human side to be completely engulfed, so that her lycan had plenty of room to grow. The witches had told her that her daughter’s only chance of survival was if her lycan side was switched with a weaker presence that of a wolf. Then those sides would then come together and melt into one. My father was at first furious that she had made those decisions without notifying him, but he eventually understood. He did ask what my mother had promised the witches in return. She gave my father the vague answer that no actual specific arrangements had been made. Luckily for me, Mother had always been a terrible liar. I knew there were parts of the story she wasn’t telling us, but at the same time they looked so relieved with little Bethany in their arms that I decided to let it go. And that turned out to be perhaps the worst thing I have ever done”.
Alaric was now physically shaking. I wanted him to calm down, so I put my hand on his shoulder. My touch seemed to help as he took a deep breath and continued his story.
“Bethany grew up to be everything we ever dreamed of. Happy, healthy and fully balanced with her wolf side. No one asked questions about why she was different from her family. Everyone simply loved her. Sixteen years flew by, but then, on the night of her sixteenth birthday, I had come home for both her birthday and for the feeling that something was wrong. During that period of my life I traveled all over the world, mainly looking for you, or rather my mate. I had been everywhere but couldn’t seem to find her anywhere. However, the feeling that I had to return home kept growing, so I eventually gave in. Immediately after returning home, I went to my parents quarters, both to inform them of my return and to share with them the suspicious feeling I had. The witches had been banned from our minds for years. We never talked about it again and simply thought it was done. Obviously, that wasn’t the issue when I found their bodies mutilated and torn to pieces in their bedroom”.
His voice had begun to growl and his eyes darkened. In them I immediately recognized Max who was clearly trying to fight his way forward. Without saying anything, I moved closer to him. In the meantime I had found out that Max could be quite intolerable and wanted to get his way, but those times were over. I wanted Alaric to finish this story. He said he’d never talked about it before and it wasn’t hard to think that Maximus was largely to blame for it. I was sitting against him now. I kept my hands in my lap, but leaned my head slightly to the side so that it rested on his shoulder.
This story was definitely not going in the direction I expected, but now that he was telling it, I didn’t want him to ever stop. I found myself wanting to know everything about him, even the things he preferred to hide. And I was pretty sure there were quite a few things.
Me being close seemed to work wonders. His muscles relaxed and a moment later I felt his head resting on mine. It couldn’t have been easy for him due to the drastic height difference, but he didn’t seem to care. He just seemed happy that I was here.
“When I saw their bodies, I lost all grip on the reality I had. And worse, I lost control of Maximus. He didn’t know how quickly to blame me for the whole situation. He went all out and in my moment of weakness, he manages to take full control. He assumed his own form without any deliberation and threw me so far away in our consciousness that I had nowhere to go. He wished he could separate himself completely from me. That I wasn’t worthy of being part of him, or even being allowed to breathe. He said he wanted me to be the one who had been killed instead of one of the few people who had loved us. I couldn’t ignore him or shut him out because I knew he was right. We had been taken over by desperation and rage. We were blinded and needed an outlet. When news spread that the king and queen had been murdered, my uncle and his councilors immediately fled. My mother had never mentioned which coven had helped her, so that came to a dead end. With a lack of anything better, Max decided to go after his own family. We immediately gave in to the chase, without first providing Bethany with an explanation, without saying goodbye to her. We just left her”.
I could tell from his voice that he still blamed himself.
“For the next two years, we spent every second tracking down the scum that called itself my uncle. They’d split up, hoping to lead me and Max astray, but it had been pointless. We found the first of them within a week. We had taken out much of our vengeance on them, but the real punishment we had preserved by my very own family. He was admittedly more difficult to find. He knew I was coming after him, so he had sought refuge with a circle of witches who had previously given him favors. After wiping out most of them, the last of them told me where to find him. I tortured him mercilessly. I wanted him to suffer like my parents did, like I did every second. But when I finally dropped his dead body among those of the witches, I didn’t feel any better”.
He stopped talking for a few seconds, then continued.
“It’s true that I lost my parents and they will never come back, but so much time had passed by since then. Yet the pain had still not subsided. It still feels like an open wound, like it had happened yesterday, like something that was never going to be right. So much time had passed, but I hadn’t gotten any better”.
He seemed to sink into a pit of despair again. This went deeper than I initially expected. Tears came to my eyes. At the same time I thought about my own problems. It had been three years since I had been forced to say goodbye to my parents, but as with him, the pain had not eased in the early years.
“You know,” I said, “it is a myth that time heals all wounds. Time doesn’t heal anything. It’s what we do with time. What choices we make, the people we surround ourselves with, the life we create and share. That makes the difference”.
I could feel him staring at me. The unspoken question that he wanted me to look at him burned between us. But I was so absorbed in my own thoughts that I kept staring straight ahead.
“Tell me about you now,” he said, probably both to draw attention away from himself and to seize the opportunity to understand me better.
He had exposed a whole part of his soul to me, so it probably made sense that he expected the same from me. I didn’t like to hear that he apparently had no qualms about taking lives, so I chose to share a less pleasant side of me with him.
“I don’t like to depend on other people,” I said immediately, “because at the end of the day everyone leaves. And then you only have yourself, and that should be enough”.
“I would never leave you,” he said immediately. It must have been instinctive, because there was no way he could have come up with an answer to my dialogue so quickly.
His voice, on the other hand, was enough to get me out of my dream world. I blinked my eyes twice and felt myself return to his side. Then I looked at him from over my shoulder, with a sad smile on my mouth. It was sweet that he seemed to believe that, but I knew better.
“You’ll also leave me one day, Alaric. That’s the simple truth. And that’s okay, because it’s just the way it should be. I’ll take a deep breath. I’ve survived before, and I’ll do it again”.
I could just feel the emotions take over him and in that same second he was on his feet and his whole face was a mask of rage. He turned to me. For a moment I felt the urge to cringe under the intensity of that gaze, but held back.
He seemed to want to say something but couldn’t seem to get it out. But I could see it was about to erupt. I gave it another full second, and off he went.
“If you even dare to think for a second that you are not stuck with me for the rest of your life, I suggest that you change that very quickly, because that is exactly what your future looks like. We are meant for each other. You are mine as much as I am yours. And there’s nothing you can do to change that,” he raged on.
It was almost confusing to see how drastically fast he switched from sensitive to dominant. It gave me a headache, although on the other hand I also found it amusing. I had gotten used to my days being predictable and somehow even made peace with the fact that that was what the rest of my life would be like. But this man before me would most likely change that.
I couldn’t help but smile. So I got up and crossed my arms. Then I looked up at him and looked straight into his eyes.
“So you say there is no other way that you will stay with me for the rest of my life, whatever I personally believe in,” I began.
He frowned. He knew he was being challenged, but apparently decided to play the game because he nodded firmly.
“If that’s really how you feel about it. Then I look forward to seeing you prove me wrong then” I said with a devilish smile, before turning my back on him and leaving the room.