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“Bruises heal, Stigmas last a lifetime.”
-Big Little Lies
My foot taps on the concrete floor beneath me in a thunderous beat, one that matches the static friction of my heart. Everything is tense, every muscle, every nerve in my body pulled tight. I bite down on my lip, hard enough that I taste a tang of coppery metal begin to trickle onto my tongue as people clad in uniform move past me, all in a complete flurry.
The room is almost as static as me, everyone rushing to put things in place. I’d been hooked up only moments ago, a small device planted into my ear and body camera’s so small I forgot where they were stitched into my jacket. I was supposed to be reading through the protocols handed to me by the King by the large pile of paper sat idly in the metal chair next to me, untouched.
I’d memorised it all anyway. I didn’t need to revise the words to know what my task was and how I was to achieve it.
The concrete wall behind me felt cool as I rested my head onto its surface. The entire base we were located in was made up of greys and hard surfaces. It reminded me of the prison cell Marcus was being held in. It made me feel like I was in a cell.
Despite the people stationed around computers and processing multiple plans on large oval desks I still felt that at any moment one of them would make some revelation and call the whole thing off. It would only take a moment, a second of hesitation and I it’d all fall apart.
Hell, the King just had to realise our deceit and we’d be fucked.
“We have motion, Alpha.” A tall woman says, her voice tight and clipped. My eyes move to Roman then, as his blue eyes price through the strands of black hair cascading over his sculpted face. His jaw is clenched as he makes his way to the screen of the woman, assessing its contents with eager eyes.
I’d never seen him working like this, in such a lethal situation. There wasn’t much help I could offer. This wasn’t about diplomacy, it was about war. And from the looks of things… Roman knew what he was doing.
As did the King, who soon sauntered beside Roman to inspect the screen. “They are early, not by much but no doubt they are searching the perimeter before the meeting can commence,” Roman comments and the King nods.
“Let them,” he says, standing away from them both. “Let them look to find nothing, it will ease any preconceptions they may have. We will arrive at the scheduled time, no sooner, no later.”
Their voices are loud, firm, but it is still an effort to fully hear their conversation from where I am sat, especially as the buzz of soldiers only intensifies. The King turns away and I brace myself as he and Roman both lean in closer to each other, whispering something inaudible, even to those around them no doubt.
Roman pulls away, a stern look on his face and nods before the two of them glance my way, as inconspicuous as ever. They glance back at each other and I suddenly become fretful. They soon turn fully to me and begin walking my way.
I rise instantly, meeting them standing as they appear in front of me, both entirely imposing around the crowd of men and women who serve them. “What is it?” I ask eagerly, my gaze flicking between the both of them anxiously.
“I am leaving,” the King announces and my brows furrow almost instantly.
“Why?” I question, not missing a beat. “Is something wrong?”
“There is some trouble arising on the East coast, likely in coordination with this meeting on purpose. Roman will remain here while I go to assess what is happening to the packs over there,” the King replies and my heartbeat picks up once more.
“Is everything alright?” I ask and the King purses his lips.
“A pack has been subject to attack. The rebels expect a leader to go over, they won’t be expecting me. It is likely their intent to separate the two of you, which won’t happen. The two incidents could be completely isolated but there is no way of knowing without going myself. Roman has full capability to oversee this,” he explains and I nod, my gut turning for some reason with the announcement.
For some reason I don’t want him gone, his expertise out the door isn’t a bonus now that I think of it, no matter how capable Roman is.
But I was entirely prepared to go through with this without him before, so I can do so again now.
“How long do we have left?” I ask.
“Fifteen minutes if all goes to plan.” I nod and the King looks at Roman.
“Anything goes wrong, and it’s on you. And if the outcome isn’t you dying in the worst case scenario, you’ll be hoping for a greater mercy.” It was a promise just as much as it was a threat and Roman didn’t so much as flinch, like he expected it fully. Like he was prepared for the backlash, wanted it, if something went wrong.
I’ll never understand their willingness to receive reprisal.
The King looks at me again, a solid certainty in his eyes. “Good luck,” he says and he doesn’t leave room for me to reply, turning and leaving Roman and I stood staring at each other.
“Does he mean that?” I ask, nerves lacing my tone. The more I mull the King’s words over in my mind the more uncomfortable I become. The idea of Roman… I shake my head.
“Nothing is going to happen to me, or you,” he says and I nod, accepting his fruitless promise because navigating the bond right now isn’t what I need.
“Is he there? Have you seen him yet?” I ask, my eyes moving to the screens behind him.
“There is movement but he hasn’t been specifically identified, the second he is we will move in,” Roman says and I lift my hand to run it through my hair, noticing how shaky it is.
“It’ll work out. Just remember to tap the centre of the amulet if things become hostile. Stick to the manuscripts and don’t make any deals without my verdict,” he says and I nod again.
His arms wrap around my waist and he pulls me tight to his chest. I don’t return his affections but I do allow the comfort of his hold to calm me, reassure me in the strange way that the bond allows it.
“You are going to get him back and then return here, to me. Then things will start again, our lives will be as they should and they won’t have anything over us,” he says, more to himself than to me and I think about how much he has at stake with this. What it means to him, too.
I wrap my arms around his torso and rest my head against his chest.
“Alpha, Luna, we have eyes on the subject.” We untangle ourselves in an instant, turning to the woman who showed Roman her screen before and the room tenses for a moment.
“There are two people in the clearing, everyone else has left as per the meetings conditions. They appear to be in conversation, waiting for the arrival now,” she says, her tone clipped and professional.
There were, in fact, two men waiting in the clearing. One significantly more buff than the other and both deep in conversation. I couldn’t tell if it was Carter from the distance of the footage but I presumed- hoped, even- that it was. And since hope was really the only thing I had to go off these days, I loosed a breath and ran my sweaty palms down my pants.
“So they’re early,” I conclude and she nods. “Do we go now then?” I ask and Roman shakes his head.
“No, you will arrive at the scheduled time. They’ll know we are watching otherwise.”
The next fourteen minutes feel like days as the people in the bunker swarm around each other, making final notes and plans. A short man with glasses had been explaining to me all the fine details of using the amulet, of how I just needed to picture the place I wanted to appear and I would go there with a touch.
He’d shown me the place I was to be leaving from and adamantly instead I return exactly there. This kind of magic was old and untested. Going outside the reaches of distance calculated by him could be catastrophic. Needless to say, I didn’t find his words very comforting.
I could bring Carter back. All I had to do was hold onto him and touch the amulet. Simple. Easy. I just had to get to him, or get him to me rather.
I stood on a small x on the middle of a platform and Roman walked up to me and let that Alpha facade slip for a moment, letting me see the vulnerability in his eyes, the fear he held. His hands moved to cup my face and he pulled me in, placing a tender kiss on my lips like it was the last time he’d get to before pulling away without a word.
I didn’t expect him to say goodbye. Didn’t want him to.
To say goodbye was to admit, even if only partially, that something was going to go wrong.
I wasn’t going to let that happen.
“Are you ready Luna?” The short man asked, looking down at his watch before peering at me from behind a computer screen.
“Yes,” I reply, my voice firm despite the fact that my resolve is shattering on the insides and my hands are becoming more clammy as the seconds tick by.
“You know what to do, in five, four, three, two,” I press my hand to the golden amulet on my chest and a ripple of energy passes through my body, my vision turning black. It feels like I am being ripped apart but without any pain, like my body has turned to ribbons that are being thrown through the wind.
And in an instant, I am stood on solid ground again, opening my eyes to the bright outdoors.
It takes a moment to adjust, to blink into focus the two men staring in front of me but when I do, my throat tightens and I have to bite down a sob.
There, in front of me is Carter, his face bruised and bloodied, pure anguish masking his features as his eyes connect with mine.
“Maeve,” he whispers, his voice gravelly and I move to step forwards but stop myself. Remembering the rules. Keep the distance, at all costs.
I turn to the man next to him and my heart stops beating in my chest. Emerald eyes, green and piercing bore into my own and my chest tightens. His features are worn, hardened by years of existence and the similarities he bears to Carter, to Ollie are so striking I choke on my words.
I’ve seen him before. In photos, the very few that Oliver ever had.
His father. Their father. The father in law that I never had the chance to meet in person, stood right in front of me with a calculating smile.
“What are you…” I whip my head to Carter, confusion masking my face. “What is he…”
“It’s nice to finally meet my daughter in law,” he says, gesturing to me with his hands.
I don’t respond. Don’t know how.
The manuscripts didn’t prepare me for this.
His eyes focus on the amulet hanging on my chest, then to the distance between us, like he is sizing it out. “I see you came prepared,” he says, his voice gruff and strong.
“There wasn’t any conditions against it,” I reply and his
“Smart, you know I’m starting to see what my son found so captivating about you,” he says and my nerves heighten.
“Are you okay, Mae?” Carter rushes out, unable to contain himself a moment longer. “Does he… are you alright?”
I look over his wounds, the purple gathered around his eye and my stare becomes hard as I turn to his Father. “I’m fine, Carter, everything is fine. How could you do this? To your own son?” I ask vehemently.
“We needed to get you here, to discuss what we need from you,” he says, cooly, his voice so gathered it puts mine to shame.
“And what is that?” I ask, preparing myself for his price.
“We want to help,” he starts and I furrow my brows. “We want to give you Carter, in one piece and bring about an end to this war but we need some things in return for that. Starting with a supply of food and medicine, enough to feed a large number of men and guns among other types of armoury. We also want a base, one of the many your mate has acquired, left without any items removed. Fulfil those demands and Carter will remain unharmed, given to you just as he is now.”
My face twisted, shocked that he would have the guts to propose such ludicrous demands. Even more shocked that he’d continue to harm his flesh and blood over them not being met. The man was mad.
“You want us to supply your army just so you can fight against us?” I ask and I hear a muffled sound in my ear.
“We want an army to defend against you. Fighting isn’t at all our intent. All we want is safety, known protection against the wolves that want to tear this world apart. Give us what we ask for and Carter is yours, Luna,” he replies, his final word coming off with an edge that makes my skin crawl.
My ear fuzzes again and a voice enters my mind, as if hearing my internal question on what to do. “Don’t accept.” Roman’s voice is firm and solid, so strong that I don’t think I could turn against it even if I wanted to. Which I don’t.
This group is willing to cross lines that shouldn’t be crossed and I can’t trust them. I barely trust Roman but still, that slither of understanding is there.
“You are making an offer you know I am going to have to refuse,” I point out and his face doesn’t flinch or falter, like he was expecting my insert word for word. Like we are merely playing a game and he is two steps ahead. “What you want, peace and safety and security for humans,” I start, swallowing the thickness in my throat.
“I want those things too,” I say, keeping my eyes connected with Oliver’s father. “And I am going to get them. There is another way to this all, an option of coexistence and harmony.”
He snorts. Laughs in a sarcastic way that is an answer in and of itself. “I’ve been dealing with wolves for a very long time, young lady. And after everything that you’ve been through I think you can understand me when I say that our interests are far too conflicted to ever achieve a peaceful coexistence. They want territory, control. They want to possess things and people just as they have you, it is in their genetic makeup.
“Humans don’t work like that and they never will. Even should we have our own separate lives, they would want to control it at some point, just like they strive to control everything.”
My ear buzzes again and Roman’s voice fills my head. “Maeve, make sure you stay on task, don’t let him pull you away from what matters here. Get Carter and get out.”
“That’s not true,” I rebut, my expression hardening as I shake my head. “If that were true then everything I have been implementing would have been impossible to achieve.”
I feel stronger after my proclamation but his dry laugh erases that in an instant and it is chilling. He already controls this conversation, where it goes and how I react. And it strikes a nerve that shouldn’t be struck, not when I am dealing with my families life.
“Really? Then why is it that you have your mate whispering answers in your ear as we speak? Why do the very words that come out of your mouth, the very thoughts that you process have to be filtered through him?” He asks and I don’t have an answer, his jab so carefully placed its hard to think of one. “You are a possession to him, a mere piece on a chess board to me moved in a way that fits his agenda.”
I am silent again, not because I think he is right but because I don’t want to admit, with Roman here to bear witness that I am fully aware of that. I know what I am to the wolves and the pack system, I learnt my place a long time ago.
But the more they think I’ve accepted that and am living within those confines, the easier it is to make my own moves under their snouts. And that’s the truth.
“My mate has made clear his agenda. He wants what I want. We all want the same thing so why not achieve it without the death and destruction?” I ask and he glowers at this.
“We want to live separately from them and they want to live with us, over us. That is not the same thing,” he says and I can’t hide the wince that crosses over my face.
Because he is right. And of course I’d thought of that before, of the fact that even with assimilation and peace humans still wouldn’t have the right to vote. To choose who leads them. But that’s an entirely different can of worms and I’m not going to open up those problems before I resolve the others. It isn’t worth compromising what I have now.
“Change doesn’t happen overnight,” I reply.
“No,” he says, “It doesn’t. Which is why we want to be prepared until it does,” he says and I realise just how much I underestimated my opponent.
“We know about Alpha Nicholas, about the link your forces have. You can’t expect me to believe that the only reason you want to fuel an army is to defend yourself. Let’s not play any games here,” I say and he raises a brow.
“I see,” he replies and I notice that I’ve caught him from the look on his face but he covers it well.
“So surely you can see why that is a demand that can’t be met,” I continue and his jaw tightens.
“Those are the terms. If you can’t agree to that then I’m sure you know what is going to happen, something none of us want,” he says and I don’t miss the threat. I’m starting to see why Oliver never introduced me to the family.
I look to Carter, stood at arms length from his father. He doesn’t look shocked by it and he should. His own father standing next to him threatening his life should make him feel something and it clearly doesn’t. It makes my stomach twist with discomfort, at the thought of what he must have been through to act so passive to it all.
My ear buzzes once more and it is Roman again. “We cannot cave to their demands, Maeve. It is imperative that we come out on too, if they get to us on this they’ll use as many innocent lives as they see fit to achieve their goal.”
But I knew that without him having to tell me. I’d give my soul, my entire world and everything I had to see Carter safe but I can’t give away others. I can’t put a stop to all the progress I have made so far for one person.
“What do you stand to gain from harming him?” I ask instead, narrowing my eyes.
“Your compliance for a start, something I could get quite used to,” he replies, not missing a beat.
“I can’t. I can’t give you what you want. Just let Carter come with me and stop this unnecessary war. It doesn’t need to happen, the wolves can coexist with us, it is possible,” I say and Carters features soften but I can’t quite tell if it is out of pity or understanding. Or resignation, perhaps. Maybe he has accepted his fate, but I haven’t.
“There is something else you could give us instead,” Carter’s father muses, his body relaxed with a lethal calm. A slither of hope enters my system but my nerves remain, almost sensing the issues that he is about to create. “If you hand yourself over to us, free yourself from the monster that keeps you chained and work for humans with us, beside us, all of this will go away,” he says and my gut sinks.
This, I expected. Dreaded.
“No,” Roman growls in my ear, ferocity lacing his tone.
I hesitate, my logic getting snagged as I glance at the bruises marring Carter once more, at the hell they’ve put him through. Neither of my options are great, Roman has killed people for Christs sake but at least I know what to expect from him, I’ve seen his change, witnessed it with my own eyes. My opinion on the hunters has only become progressively worse.
“It is a win, win. You get to continue to fight for the freedom and liberation of humans and spend time with your husband who misses you dearly by the way,”
“Do not bring him into this,” I grind out, his words striking a nerve and he smirks.
Roman doesn’t speak into my ear but I can imagine how he is reacting.
“Not a day goes by where he doesn’t talk of you, of rescuing you from the clutches of the man that stole you from him. Take this deal, Maeve. Take it and you’ll be back with the man that loves you, truly loves you.”
“That is impossible and you know why,” I reply and he raises a brow.
“Because you’ve moved on from him?” He asks and it is like a knife to the gut.
“No,” I say firmly and shake my head. “Things are different, complicated,” I get out.
“I’m sure he will be ashamed to hear that,” he replies.
“Leave him out of it,” I manage, clenching my hands into fists at my side.
“I think it is my duty to inform my son that his wife is having an affair,” he says, “After everything he has been doing to get you back, to save you-”
“I don’t need saving,” I say, my voice firm. “I am more than capable of handling things myself.”
“If it is independence you are after then I’d suggest staring by leaving the wolf that decides your every move,” he says and my face twists in anger. How he can twist my words so effortlessly, comment on things he has no idea about as if he knows absolutely everything. It makes my blood boil.
“Considering you would threaten one son, I don’t trust that you’d do anything for the other,” I say and he nods, giving me credit in my assumption.
“Perhaps you’re right, maybe we should just get back to it. After all, we don’t have all day,” he says and I glance at Carter with fear, my heart beginning to beat faster.
Two options. That is what I have, two options and I can’t say yes to wither. Negotiating isn’t going to work, figuring out an agreement isn’t going to work. Hell, I don’t even think I’m going to get any useful information out of the guy at this point.
Everything is falling to shambles and Carter…
“Please,” I beg, falling to my last resort. I reach into my ear just as it starts to faintly buzz again and pull out the piece, discarding it to the floor.
“There is another way. Trust me, just give me a month, let me show you that what I’m implementing will last. Just let Carter come with me, don’t hurt him anymore, please,” I beg again, my voice wavering.
I glance at Carter, noticing the flash of pain that crosses over his face and it tears my heart even more. I can’t let him keep going through this, the torture written on his face in bruises may as well manifest into a fist and punch me too.
“I can’t agree to empty promises,” he says and I become more frustrated, so much so that I have to refrain from taking a step forward.
“What do you stand to lose from letting him go?” I nearly yell at him, my throat thick with emotion. “Just please, I am begging you hand him over. Don’t hurt him anymore, you don’t have to,” I say again, trying my absolute best to reason.
“Hand yourself over.”
“I can’t,” I whisper shakily, my resolve slowly breaking.
“Hand yourself over and this will all go away,” he reiterates and I hesitate, my breathing accelerating as I look between him and Carter.
“Don’t do it!” Carter blurts and I turn to him, my brows furrowed.
“Close your mouth, boy,” his father snaps, glowering at him.
But Carter doesn’t turn to him, he just keeps his pained eyes trained on me.
“Maeve don’t listen to him,” he says and in once motion he lifts his sleeve to his face and a large chunk of his bruise completely disappears.
My brows scrunch and I take a tentative step back. “Its a ploy, Mae. Don’t listen to him, don’t trust him, you can’t-”
Carter’s father pulls out a gun and my heart plummets to the pit of my stomach.
“Let’s start this again shall we?” He asks, holding the black gun directly at his child. “The name is Sir Hunt, but since we are family, you can call me Arthur.”
Ummm guys, it is actually Sunday. I have actually updated on time what in the universe is happening? That being said, expect a bit of chaos in these next like two months-probably more-because your girl is currently bombarded with assessments and has final exams coming up wayyyyyy too soon.
And like, after that… I have to start life. Like life, life. So just say a prayer for me, or do a little dance or bake me a cake and eat it for us, because… corona.
See you next time!
Ps: I really just tried to act all normal after that crazy bombshell of a plot point didn’t I? Eek oopsie….