“Its better to burn out then fade away,”
The sheets feel crisp underneath my barren skin, cooled by the breeze that wanders in from the terrace, filtered by the thin summer curtains that were yet to be replaced. Each morning the air was becoming cooler and soon it would be droplets of rain that would wake me rather than the biting wind.
My bones ached as I moved, each muscle in my body tightening at the strain of even a slight movement. I should’ve taken that bath last night, soaked my body like Roman suggested and relaxed just a little. He’d said that training once yesterday morning was enough but I’d insisted on more, craved learning another skill to protect myself despite the obvious ramifications that now have me coiled with pain.
I lay still, letting out a grunt of pain muffled by the soft pillow under my head just as the bathroom door opens to reveal Roman, covered only at the waist in a plush towel. My eyes move quickly up to his eyes, past the washboard stomach and the defined chest, connecting with his piercing blue eyes in an instant.
“Are you alright?” He asks, his husky morning voice sending shivers down my spine.
I tear my eyes away from his and nod, relaxing back into the bed, making sure the covers are now tightly around me. I’ve seen his naked body, seen every square inch of muscle that makes up the Alpha of the continent yet still, letting my eyes linger on him for too long…
“I can run you a bath before I leave if you’d like, our first meeting won’t be until midmorning,” he says, able to pick up on my pain from a mere glance.
“I should go with you,” I protest, moving to sit but tensing at the ache.
Roman’s thick brows narrow, “I have to attend to some other things this morning anyway, I’ll just meet you there,” he says before pausing for a second, “you need to relax a little, Mae. All of this stress is hard enough without the training. Take this morning off,” he suggests because that’s all he really can do now. There isn’t the option of command anymore, not now that we are equal. It should bring me comfort, I should be rejoiced that another of my shackles have been released but perhaps the cost was greater, is greater.
I pull the covers tighter to my chest. “Alright,” I mummer and his footsteps sound on the marble floor before the tap turns on. He’s seen me bare to, many times now, but still, whenever daylight seeps into this room, whenever the veil of darkness offered by nightfall is gone I close up again.
I know he see’s my hands gripped so tightly around the fabric my knuckles turn white, I know he noticed my gaze skipping over his torso with fervour only moments ago but he doesn’t bring it up. Ever. And neither do I.
We continue in the day as normal, as though nothing has changed between us and at then some nights, when raging thoughts become too much to bear and the world feels like it’s going to come tumbling down above us, we forget about it all. And that’s simply how it works. If work can even be used to describe it.
If I think to long about it, if I let his name even enter my mind for too long I just want to shut down, I become so enveloped in darkness that the world turns pitch black and the only guiding light out of my misery is Roman. When I think of laying my lips on the man I loved my stomach coils like wire that has been stretched too far, tangling into a mess of confusion too intricate to unscramble. It’s fucked up.
It’s fucked up, but it’s the truth. I don’t think I love anyone anymore-I don’t think I know how.
“Maeve?” My attention snaps to Roman emerging again from the bathroom with a concerned furrow marring his soft features, “are you alright to get in yourself?” He asks and I nod.
“I’ll be fine,” I say, the lie slipping right through my teeth effortlessly. Three words. A simple answer to a simple question that happens to hold a magnitude so easy to overlook.
“Okay,” he concedes, a small smile lingering on the edge of his plush lips, “If you need anything just text me,” he says and I stiffen as he walks towards me.
He leans down and places a soft kiss to my forehead. “Rest. You deserve it,” he says softly and I offer him a tight smile in return, enough of a gesture for him to walk over to the dresser and pick up his phone before leaving.
I don’t deserve it. I don’t deserve anything in the realm of serenity. I release the confines of my covers from my body and walk into the bathroom stiffly, ignoring the biting pain of my muscles that roar with each step until I’m in front of the steaming water.
The sight of the blood red petals blanketing the boiling water greet me, reminding me of the fate I know I deserve. The smooth white marbles above shining like the pearly gates that will no doubt slam shut at sight of me and all my sins.
I let my skin soak until the tips of my fingers scrunch and turn ghostly white, the water that once warmed me now turning icier with each passing second. My body felt looser and the strained parts of my body had recovered immensely, mostly due to the healing effects the bond provides.
It didn’t take long for me to dry my hair and shield my body from the brisk air with jeans and a jacket and before I know it, I’m walking down the halls with the two guards positioned for my safety at my side. It was an improvement from the near twenty that used to flank me everywhere I went. As the weeks went by, their grip loosened, pack borders tightened and although people weren’t clearly positioned to protect me, they were still there, ready to strike any oncoming threat.
My phone started buzzing in my pocket and I stopped short, the guards halting with me. Romans name came onto the screen and I answered it straight away, a crinkle forming on my forehead.
“Hello?” I ask sceptically, nerves beginning to bundle in my stomach.
“Maeve, there’s been a change in plans,” Roman rushes and the tight knot in my stomach doesn’t unravel.
“How so?” I ask.
“Things here are taking longer than I expected. Dr Matthews has been meaning to see you again to run over some things anyway so I figured you could go there now,” he suggests and I swallow the tang of dictate that arises at mention of that man.
“Would he not be busy,” I ask, a tad too hopeful.
“I’m sure he’ll make the time to see you,” he responds and its accurate, I’ve been avoiding a visit to the hospital wing too long now.
“Alright, I’ll head over now but we need to get some other work done too, get to the office as fast as you can,” I say, my tone holding a sharper edge.
“I’ll be as quick as I can,” he replies and I mutter a goodbye before hanging the phone up and sliding it back in my pocket with a huff.
“Change of plans,” I announce and the guards don’t give me a verbal response, just a curt nod that tells me they’ll take me wherever I want to go.
We set off together towards the hospital wing and I glance out at the walled gardens through the windows, staring out beyond the stone and into the forrest. This side of the castle is the only one that attaches to a nature reserve, the other extending into the pack grounds, a concrete jungle that seems to grow more and more each day.
I went out there the other day with Roman, both of us eager to leave the pack ground-me more so than him-but we never made it past the stony wall. Neither of us. I’d never seen Roman glare so hard at a person, not even me, as the guard patrolling relayed the information. It shocked me too.
Under order of both Beta’s together and the security council of the pack, we weren’t leaving unless there was a comprehensive safety plan in tact and a squad of armed wolves going with us. I didn’t know that anyone could overrule Roman and the fact clearly triggered him considering the explosive argument he had with Jayce and Elijah in his office straight after. It wasn’t just me who was trapped now, he was too.The fact alone should’ve given me a sick sense of satisfaction but it didn’t. Because he’s been trapped here a lot longer than I have.
The scent of the hospital whirls me into memory lane, nostalgia never failing to arise at the familiar white floors and beeping machines. I remember the first day stepping into a hospital as a student, the only other times I’d been within the walls were as a patient, as a child waiting to be looked at, waiting for the service officers to come and pick me up again, waiting with the only people to help being nurses and doctors. Every time I ended up in a place like here it was an experience tainted with pain and yet I still looked forward too it. I would hope that something awful would happen just so I could get a moment in the waiting room chairs, pampered with a stuffed animal, sweets and sympathetic smiles. I wanted it because I saw it as a fresh start, like a board wiped clean of its markings ready for something new, something better to come along. I yearned for the little bit of hope it gave me and I wanted to give that to someone else.
I don’t feel that way now, of course, not when the nurse attending the main desk tells me that Dr Matthews is available and in his office.
She goes above and beyond what she needs to, guiding us all the way to his office doors with a sweet smile and admiration glinting in her soft eyes. Her pasty white skin, light from lack of sun no doubt lingers on the brass handle that shines brighter than her for a moment too long, like she is soaking up her precious time.
Its only when I she her closed eyelids open to a glossy white that I realise she wasn’t swooning.
“He’d ready for you now, Luna,” she says with a large smile.
“Thank you,” I reply before walking into the office, Dr Matthews cheery grin greeting me and making my smile vanish.
“Luna, what a pleasure it is to see you again,” he says and I don’t reciprocate the courtesy, “Please, sit,” he offers, gesturing to the plush chair in front of his stacked desk, papers scattered in organised chaos.
“If I’d have known you were visiting I would’ve made more of an effort to clean, I apologise,” he says jovially.
“It’s fine,” I reply and he smiles in return before opening up his laptop.
“Alright, how have you been feeling since we last talked?” He asks, turning his attention onto me.
“Fine, nothing too out of the ordinary. I’ve been slightly more tired, my muscles hurt mainly due to my training but its nothing that doesn’t heal eventually,” I say and he lets out a hum, clicking his screen and typing.
“For a fully mated human to an Alpha Superior, you shouldn’t be experiencing pain for a prolonged period of time. How many dosages of your medication have you been taking?” He asks and my eyes flick to my hands under his scrutiny, avoiding the clear judgement masking his eyes.
“The amount you told me too, one capsule twice daily,” I reply and he types more into his computer.
“i’m going to suggest we do a blood test, just to check over how the wolfsbane is processing in your system. Being human means it shouldn’t affect your vitals greatly but the chances of side affect for a mated human differ,” he says and I nod, squirming a little in my chair.
“Okay,” I reply and he types more before closing his laptop screen, turning to me with a serious look.
“If I could be curt with you, Luna, this might be easier to discuss,” he says and I nod.
“Speak you truth.”
He lets out a harsh sigh. “I understand your situation with the Alpha, the… trickiness of it,” he starts and I brace myself. “But wolfsbane is a very serious medication to be taking. Even as a short term option, I was very reluctant to prescribe it and I sincerely think that the longer you take this, the more damage it could potentially do. Given the current situation, your health needs to be a priority as I’m sure you are aware,” he says and I stiffen.
“I am,” I reply and he nods.
“Exactly. Which is why I do not think that it is a good idea to continue with this. The testing isn’t substantial enough and the very practice breaches multiple pack laws. Supplying you with wolfsbane is bad enough but jeopardising the packs future… You can see where I am coming from here?” He says and I nod.
“Roman and I have both talked about this, you have no need to feel fear of repercussions,” I retort but relief doesn’t take over his face. It becomes even more grim.
“Its not you I’m worried about,” he says and my gut twists.
“Who?” I ask and he sighs.
“Many others. Beside the point, I need to figure out if it is worth continuing at all,” he says and I furrow my brows.
“What do you mean?” I ask and he gives me a look.
“Well, for starters, how sexually active are you and the Alpha?” He asks and a blush rises to my cheeks followed by a startled look.
“I mean…” I start, entirely uncomfortable.
“I’m not here to judge you Luna, but the cost here may definitely outweigh the reward,” he says and I nod.
“Not very,” I reply and he remains waiting, “We’ve only done it a couple of times in the last month, it depends I guess,” I say and he nods.
“So not regularly then?”
“No,” I reply, perhaps a little too fast.
“Well if that is the case then I really suggest refraining from using the medication, I’m sure the Alpha will understand if it harms you,” he says and I don’t know how to feel, those pills, no matter how damaging, are my safety net.
“I’ll decide once the results of the blood test come in,” I state and I swear I see relief flash through his eyes.
“Perfect, I can have the nurse take you to get that done on your way out,” he says and I smile, standing up from my seat.
“Thank you for your time, doctor,” I say, beginning to walk away.
“Luna,” he says and I turn around, my hand hovering over the handle, “I know it might not be my place but given what may very well be coming, you may want to consider securing an heir, or at least think more on the subject.”
I debate biting back, snapping at his clear breach of boundaries but instead I turn my gaze back to the door and storm out, leaving him sat in silence.
“Nothing?” I hear Roman before I see him, his abrupt tone enough to make me walk faster.
“We’re chasing leads that take us to dead ends,” he huffs and I notice their backs straighten as I turn the corner, their attention turning onto me.
“Maeve,” Roman says, walking over to me, completely cutting his conversation off.
“What’s going on?” I ask, hope lacing my words and he glances to Jayce before letting out a sigh.
“Just more trouble with finding the base, nothing unusual,” he says, the last part aimed at his Beta who glowers.
“Alpha we have troops-”
“Save it. I want you and Elijah to find information that is actually useful. Try again with the prisoners,” he commands and I notice Jayce flinch.
“Alpha we’ve already done the most within law to him-”
“I don’t care if you move him to the brink of death. Get. More. Information,” he snaps and Jayce bites his tongue before lowering his head in submission.
It was weird seeing the shift in their relationship, ever since the two Beta’s confined Roman and used the council against him things had been off. I could tell Roman was more angered by the slither of power he lost, the action not settling well within his Alpha blood. He was supposed to call the shots and if he wasn’t-in a rare case such as now- it wasn’t supposed to be for long.
“We should go, the meeting is about to begin,” Roman says, his tone mildly softer now that I’m on the receiving end.
I just nod and he envelops my hand in his, holding onto it gingerly. Everything he did was softer now, more tender. Almost like a fear had been erased entirely, like that night and all that followed meant a shift greater than anything else to him. I doubt he thinks I love him for it but then again, maybe now he’s hopeful, maybe it reinstalled that goal of us together in his mind.
I wouldn’t know for sure though and I might never because we haven’t talked about it and we probably won’t. Which is for the best. Let him think that I might love him one day, even if it is a pipe dream. Let him think that my new indulgence means more than just the physical. The more emotionally invested he thinks I am in him, the better.
We walk hand in hand to the office and a feel another wave of exhaustion wash over me as the sight of newly stacked papers on my desk comes into view. “So no new advancements, hey?” I ask as we both take ours seats.
“No,” he replies and I lower my gaze to the desk once more, “We’ll find him Mae, and if we don’t it’s only a matter of time until they contact us.”
“I know,” I mummer, gulping the emotion that surfaces in my voice, “I’m just worried.”
“We will get him back, I promis-”
The sound of a phone calling cuts us off and Roman pulls his phone from his pocket before taking out a remote from his drawer. “The meeting is about to start, we can discuss this later. It will work out Maeve,” he reiterates and I swallow my words before I get too caught up in my emotions. The more I mill over how Carter is in my mind the worse it gets. Thinking about him is like opening the floodgates to an ocean of scary thoughts.
The television turns on and Roman presses a few buttons on his laptop until the face of the Alpha King emerges, looking as grim and annoyed as ever.
“Nice of you to two to join me,” he quips and Roman’s back straightens.
“My apologies your highness,” Roman replies, earning a scowl and a slight nod from the King.
“Very well. I need to know the update on your military strength, I’m hoping you have reached the new required standard set by the council but then again…” he says, glancing at me briefly. But then again we never fail to disappoint him is what he’d rather say.
“The standard has been reached, my Beta is currently working on training and adjusting some of the bases to handle such a large intake of cadets. Our numbers are growing past the amount of enlistments now and we haven’t even made the declaration of war, people are already eager to defend the pack,” he says and the King nods.
“And what of your reforms, Luna? The council is still expecting your updated package within the next few week,” he reminds me, like I’d forget the thing that has been keeping me up with stress.
I release a shaky sigh. “It hasn’t been the easiest considering peoples panic. Like Roman said, there are already people eager to join the effort and its caused friction. Some packs are doing better than others but the humans are sceptical of the wolves and the wolves are sceptical of the humans, it’s going to take less war and more time to resolve this,” I explain and he thinks over the news.
“I see your point, Luna. However, this struggle must be fixed, even if things are only smoothed over partially. The last thing we need if for more humans to join the cause and more wolves to instigate the shift,” he answers.
“I understand that, I have a team working on trying to fix the problems as we speak. Harmony doesn’t just happen overnight,” I answer and he looks back to Roman.
“Perhaps if the two of you became less private with your own relationship,” he suggests and I bristle. What does he want us to do? Start a reality tv show?
“I don’t see how that will help the cause,” Roman intervenes and the King seems to acknowledge the legitimacy of his words. Showcasing the utterly dysfunctional relationship Roman and I hold won’t exactly set a great standard for the nation.
“Then become more public with the aspects that people need to see, your Luna has done her fair share of acting let’s not forget,” he says with a slight smirk, “I’m saying to take up more news segments, let the press see you together and happy and smiling. A child would be a perfect way to showcase your love but unfortunately, that’s off the table. Unless I’m mistaken,” he says and Roman goes deathly quiet. If the King found out about wolfsbane…
“If tensions weren’t already high enough with the hunters-” Roman starts but the King glowers.
“From the messages I’ve seen, the hunters already believe you two are star crossed lovers. The world might as well join in on that understanding,” he says and his words leave no room for debate. Roman and I don’t particularly have a choice in the matter, and I can understand why.
“As you wish, your highness,” Roman says stiffly and I tense up over it. At the idea of pretending to the masses again.
“I expect to see your improvements soon. The next meeting will be with the other Alpha Superiors on military first thing tomorrow morning on the military advancements and I expect at least one of you there on time.”
“Yes, Alpha,” Roman replies and I stay silent as the screen goes black.
“He doesn’t understand, Maeve, I’m sorry,” Roman says turning to me instantly.
“He’s right, we have to do something,” I concede because it’s true, even if it’s not the solution, going against the king is a foolish idea.
“But if you don’t want to then we can figure something else out,” he says but I just clear my throat and open a file on my desk.
“It’s just pretending right? It can’t be that hard,” I reply, not looking to see the hurt that no doubt flickered across his face.
“Right,” he agrees, letting that silence settle once more, “pretending.”
A knock sounds at the door and I glance at Roman whose eyes gleam over in a shade of white before the door opens to reveal both Beta Jayce and Elijah along with Gamma Christopher and two other burly men I remember from the Gamma council.
“What is it?” Roman asks and all the men straighten, especially the Alphas.
Elijah clears his throat and takes a step forward from the others, “We’ve received a message from the hunters. They have given us a meeting place and time.”
And so it begins…