15. How to Suffer From Consequences
He didn’t say a word.
Neither did I.
We stared one another down, daring the other to be the first to speak.
Well, I wasn’t going to let it be me. He’d spoken first, anyways, approximately five minutes ago, but stayed silent after my (soaking with sarcasm) response. His creepy grin had faded in that time, and his glare had grown sharper. And - I think - his brows may be furrowing with every passing second of silence.
Part of me wanted to break the silence. It was already pressing down on me, even more so each time he tried to be more intimidating. Safe to say, the intimidation tactic was working. I was thoroughly intimidated. Already, I was running through my archive of small talk I’ve learned over my twenty-three years on this not-always-forsaken planet.
My, what wonderful weather we’re having!
Have you seen Georgina’s new baby? She’s simply adorable!
Hmm, yes, waffles are delicious! Indeed, the perfect Sunday breakfast. Have you tried them with whipped cream?
Have you heard the hot gossip? The Hunter’s been captured!
If I had to pick, I’d probably say the last option.
Unfortunately, - or maybe fortunately, depending on your point of view - I didn’t get to say any of the options of small talk I’d dug up out of my memory banks. Why is that? He spoke first!
And just like that, I have the upper hand.
“Reese Hearne,” he repeated. A muscle in his jaw twitched.
“You already said that,” I crossed my arms, jutting out a hip. The look I was going for was one of intimidation, to show that I was going to be the one in control, but I think I actually looked like a teenager about to throw a tantrum. “I know my own name.”
A growl resounded in his throat, a low, warning sound. He took another step towards me. I didn’t move. Show him you’re not afraid, even if you feel like wetting your pants.
Great, now I have to take a piss.
“I’m sorry to insinuate otherwise,” he mirrored my position, right down to the hip. Is he making fun of me? “However, since you’ve been calling yourself Isabelle Sage for the past three years, it’s only natural to make assumptions on your intelligence.”
My hands balled into fists. I wanted to lunge at him, rip him apart from limb to limb, sink my dagger right into his -
Oh, right. I don’t want to do any of that - since my damn Hunter instincts are still dormant.
“I’ll have you know that my intelligence is above average,” I shot back. He chuckled - he was amused.
“Oh?” Another step. “I seem to recall a rather enjoyable phone conversation that took place a few hours ago. And how did that conversation happen...?” he tapped his chin, as if in thought. “Hmmm... could it be that the city’s most wanted human was stupid enough to answer her phone while on the run?”
It was my turn to growl. Ugh, I still sound like a pouting teenager - no, wait, I’ve downgraded myself to a pouting preteen. They’re much worse.
Though, as much as I hated to admit it, he did have a point.
I mean, yes, I was on the run. Yes, I had told Opal not to call me. Yes, I had stupidly answered my phone when her number called - though, to be fair, I had thought it was her.
There was a long lull in the silence as I rapidly thought of what to say. The silence was also awkward now - every moment I didn’t speak was just accentuating his point.
Small talk, Reese, pull out the small talk!
“Umm... My, what wonderful weather we’re having!” I craned my neck to look around him. It was a difficult task, seeing as how he was twice my size - both vertically and horizontally. And yet, he’s still in better shape. How is it that all werewolves look like they’ve just stepped out of workout magazines? Can’t there be at least one with a pot belly?
Stop it, now you’re focused on the wrong thing. You’re awkwardly talking about the weather, remember? “Of course, I can’t actually see what the weather is. For all I know, it could be downright lousy. Say, would you mind if I just popped outside for a few minutes... or years...?” Okay, now you’re rambling. Abort! Abort!
He didn’t say anything - though he did raise an eyebrow. I took that as a sign of encouragement and continued talking.
“Have you heard the hot gossip? The Hunter’s been captured!” What the hell am I saying? I shifted my weight. I wanted to wring my hands together, but I didn’t need to downgrade myself even further. Toddlers are annoying enough. I didn’t want to join their ranks. That being said, I did happen to glance down at my shoes. Ugh, what is wrong with me? Stop being a child and be your fantabulous self!
I glanced back up - and he was much closer than he had been. He was close enough to touch me - which he did. He grabbed my chin, keeping it in a firm grip, and lifted my head so I was forced to meet his eyes.
I relished in the contact. I tensed every one of my muscles so I wouldn’t do anything rash. Like, say, jump his bones or something else that was rather inappropriate for the moment - or, ever.
Also, I really do like his eyes.
“Yes,” he spoke slowly, his voice suddenly soft. I hated his voice. I hated how I liked it. I hated how I wanted him to keep talking like that. I hated how I hated him. “It’s rather good news, isn’t it?” he paused. “Of course, I don’t just have you, Little Hunter...” don’t shiver. “I also, as I mentioned before, have your accomplices.”
I almost forgot.
“You’re bluffing,” I mumbled - it was hard to speak with him holding onto my chin like a lifeline.
“Yes,” I jerked away from him, glad when he let me go. If he didn’t relax his hand, he probably would have broken my jaw. “It was a trick to try to get me to surrender. Unlucky for you, it didn’t work.”
“Ah, the Little Hunter thinks she has me all figured out already,” he chuckled. Again. “We speak for ten minutes and you already know everything about me?”
“Well... I am pretty thorough in my research, and contrary to your beliefs, I am rather intelligent...” stop floundering, I scolded myself. Just shut up and let him stroke his ego.
“I have reason to believe as I do, Reese Hearne,” he stepped back, towards the window.
“I’ve managed to stay one step ahead of you and every other supernatural being in this city for three years.”
“True,” his hand went to the blinds. “But you’re instincts are off. I’m not bluffing.”
He threw the blinds open.
It took me a minute to comprehend what it was I was seeing.
The room wasn’t flooded with light as I had expected. Though I could now see out the window, I still didn’t know what the weather was like... is it lovely? Dreadful? Average?
Well, the sight definitely was not lovely or average.
It was, without a doubt, leaning towards dreadful.
The window was now, per se, a window. In fact, I strongly believed it was a one-way mirror.
Why did I think this?
The window showed another room, one that seemed rather similar to the one I’d woken up in.
In the room, clutching one another, was Opal and Kyle.
They obviously couldn’t see us. If they could, Opal would have definitely made eye contact with me, then started shouting something along the lines of, don’t be a hero, don’t be stupid! Kyle would have agreed with his wife, no question, but he wouldn’t have been as enthusiastic.
Elijah turned back to face me, a smug grin spreading across his annoyingly attractive face. “Believe me now, Little Hunter?”
I opened my mouth to speak, then closed it again. Then opened it. Then closed it. You look like a goldfish. Pull it together.
“I must say, the human was quite easy to incapacitate,” he continued, his tone conversational, like we were just talking about the weather - which I had been. “The witch, on the other hand, put up quite a fight,” he pulled up the sleeve of his shirt, revealing a rather nasty-looking burn. “Werewolves heal quickly, as I’m sure you know. But your dear friend Opal seems to have found a way around that,” he paused. “How did she do that?”
“She’s talented,” I muttered. “As I’m sure you’ve managed to discover.”
“Ah, yes. She has a certain talent for fire magic, doesn’t she?”
“Why ask a question you already have an answer to?”
“Trying to avoid an answer by asking a question?” he shook his head, tsking. “An amateur’s tactic, Little Hunter.”
I ignored him, my gaze shifting back to stare at my friends - my family - who stood on the other side of that window.
“They were quite easy to find,” he said, his green stare fixed firmly on me. Gauging my reaction. I refused to give him one. “You see, though your scent is quite faint - which is another matter we’ll discuss later - their scent is quite strong. All I had to do was follow it from your apartment...”
Damn it. I was so focused on getting myself out of the city, it had slipped my mind that Opal and Kyle left a trail of bread crumbs in their tracks - not literally, of course.
“What should I do with them?”
My eyes unwillingly jerked back to meet his. “What?”
His expression had darkened from the somewhat-mockingly pleasant one he’d been wearing earlier. It was a mask, I realized now. His eyes, a brilliant shade of emerald, had darkened into a near-black color... no, wait, they are black. His jaw had tightened, his hands balled up into fists.
“Well, Reese, you’ve killed my brother. You’ve killed dozens of my pack members. Just hours earlier, you tried to kill my Beta. Given the chance, I’d bet you’d try to kill me,” he tilted his head. “Though it’s probably in your best interest for me to stay alive.”
I frowned. “What’s that supposed to mean?”
He smirked. “Let’s just say that my death would probably weigh more heavily on you than you’d expect. The rest is currently irrelevant.”
Remember when I had the upper hand earlier? When he decided he’d speak first?
Yeah... you’ve lost your upper hand. Or cut it off yourself without noticing. Or maybe you never had to begin with, and you’ve been living in a fantasy land for the past fifteen minutes.
It was the last option, obviously.
“Anyways...” he glanced back at the prison-room for a moment. “What should I do? Killing them out of revenge is obvious. But how should I do it? Quickly? Slowly? Together? Or should I make one watch as I kill the other? Hmm... so many options...” he grinned.
My calm demeanor was rapidly slipping away. Actually, it probably wasn’t even there to begin with. Your head’s really out of the game today, Reese.
Yes, I know.
The idea of losing either Opal or Kyle - or both - set off a stabbing pain in my chest. I couldn’t lose them. I just couldn’t. They’d been there for me for three years... let me be the awkward roommate living with a married couple... helped me out when I went on murderous rampages...
For them, I’d abandon my pride.
“Please...” I allowed my eyes to fill up with tears - most of them real - for good measure. “Just leave them alone. I’m the one you wanted. I’m here now - against my will, sure, but I’m still here. Torture me, not them.”
Something flashed across his eyes, but it was too quickly for me to read. His expression twisted again, and he stalked forward, grabbing my wrist and yanking me towards him.
“As much as I’d just love to do that,” he hissed. “I’m unable to. You’ve killed my family, then failed to surrender when I offered you the chance. Every action has its consequences; you made your choices, Little Hunter. Now deal with the aftermath.”
Still keeping a vice-like grip on my arm, he dragged me over to the window - then held me there as a door opened and Keith walked into the other room.
“Stay back, dog!” Opal shouted, pushing Kyle away as he went to stand in front of her - which would have been a noble gesture, if not for the fact that Opal was much stronger and more capable of holding off Keith than he was. “Not one step closer.”
“It was quite easy to rope Keith into this,” Elijah murmured in my ear. “You did just kill his brother, too, after all.”
The pissed-off werewolf shifted one of his hands into a claw.
“I’ve ordered him to kill them, by the way,” the Alpha continued.
“Don’t...” I whispered.
He, of course, ignored me, tightening his grip on my arm. I was definitely going to have a lovely collection of finger-shaped bruises later.
“It’s nothing personal,” Keith said conversationally, then paused. “No, wait, it is. Your roomie killed my brother.”
“She does that,” Opal said drily. “Plenty of other people hate her, too. Get in line.”
“Brave friend,” Elijah said. “Though is that a personality trait, or because of her magic?” he chuckled. “Guess we’re going to find out.”
“What did you do?” I said hoarsely.
He said nothing.
He lunged, claws stretched, for Opal.
I can’t watch this. I can’t watch my best friend be ripped apart.
It happened in slow-motion.
Opal raised a hand, intent on stopping the werewolf in his tracks.
She stared, perplexed, down at her hand - I watched as realization dawned on her.
She doesn’t have her magic.
She could only watch, suddenly terrified, as Keith began the motion of sinking his claws into her throat...
Only, that didn’t happen.
Her husband - her loyal, human husband - dove in front of her, pushing her out of the way.
Keith’s gigantic, wickedly sharp claws slashed his throat.
I watched, mute with horror, as the scarlet color of blood coated his neck.
He took several gasping, gruesome breaths through his severed windpipe. He coughed violently - more blood gushed from the wound.
He was unconscious within a few seconds.
He was dead within thirty.
Blood roared in my ears.
Keith turned on the witch, grinning wickedly, his claws glistening with blood - Kyle’s blood.
I turned desperately to Elijah - I couldn’t watch Opal die. That would utterly destroy me. I’d thought I’d be okay with leaving them behind to take their chances against the werewolves... but that had been a lie. Something to reassure myself that I wasn’t attached to anything in this city.
It was a lie.
“Please!” I was begging. I didn’t care. My pride had died with Kyle - though I’d probably reincarnate it through some emotional necromantic ritual later. “Please, spare her, please! I’ll do anything!”
He stared at me for a long, agonizing moment. I met his gaze, pleading with every ounce of my being.
Something passed across his expression then. Regret? Sympathy? Another mask? All of the above? Whatever it was, it worked in my favor.
“I’ll spare her,” he began. “If you promise you won’t try to escape - ever.”
What? That’s it? That’s all I have to do?
Easy-peasy. I’ll just make the promise now and break it later. It’s nothing I haven’t done before.
But... I’m here. Inside the packhouse. I’m on the inside of the largest pack in the city. The country. Perhaps even the continent. I’m a prisoner of the Alpha who initiated the Takeover that spread across the rest of the world in a ripple effect.
I’ve been so focused on taking this pack down from the outside... killing werewolves, working my way up the chain, taking down more and more powerful supernatural beings as I grew stronger.
But what if I could take it down from the inside?
My mind was made up. I wouldn’t escape. I’d use my imprisonment to my advantage. Besides, there were worse prisons to be in. I doubted Christian Roy looking freaking swoon-worthy and smelled amazing.
Though my mind was racing, my expression was carefully kept blank.
Am I actually going to do this?
Yes. For Opal. For Kyle. For yourself. For your family. For humanity.
With those two simple words, I signed away my freedom.