30. How to Learn and Listen
I know I had all but told Elijah that I was going to leave him with blue balls for a while, but it took all of my will to not turn around, throw my door open, and jump him.
Honestly, that was probably the worst decision I’d ever made. While I wasn’t sure if the decision in question was kissing Elijah Randon then practically giving him a hand job or leaving him stewing, I think it was safe to assume that both cases were equally fantastic in proving how horrible I was in the act of decision-making.
With a long sigh, I waltzed down the hall, forcing myself to add a spring to my step. Oh, who was I kidding? The Alpha was probably rejected for the first time in his life! By me! Oh, what a glorious, glorious day.
While my brain was simmering with glee, my body was still demanding that I turn around this instant and go to finish what I started.
Nah, I think I’ll pass, for now. Go work off the excess energy in a completely different, non-sexual way. Maybe I’ll find Keith and beat him up. I would serve him right for nearly killing me.
I halted in my tracks, vanishing my thoughts as I came face to face with none other than Laurie Johnston. While I’d only really met the Beta Female once, I’d managed to gather that she didn’t completely hate my guts. Either that, or she’s a nice person with an astonishing gift for hiding her emotions.
Or it could be both. You never know.
“Er - hi,” I needed to find Rebecca and brag to her about my recent achievements. Maybe it would pull the witch-talk out of her brain.
Laurie glanced me over, curiosity shadowing her expression. “Are you okay? You seem a bit... on edge.”
Hmmm, I wonder why that is? Oh, yes, because my goddamned hormones are interfering with the master plan I have yet to come up with.
Yeah... my plan to destroy this pack from the inside, thus taking down Elijah once and for all? I’m still not sure how to do that. I’ve been stuck here for nearly two months, and only have two allies to show for it. Well, Rebecca is definitely an ally. Simon wasn’t as definitive just yet.
But perhaps Laurie... apart from my two allies, Laurie’s the only other werewolf whose first impulse wasn’t to kill me; in fact, she had seemed to be quite against the idea of Evangeline torturing me for information - which Elijah seems to have given up on getting for the time being. But was it possible that Laurie was a little bit of a human sympathizer? Could I get her on my side?
Probably not. She was mated to Luca, the Beta, Elijah’s right hand. To betray Elijah would be to betray her mate, and as far as I knew, that went against every fiber of her being. I think. The mate bond between werewolves wasn’t something I’d ever been too interested in knowing about.
But perhaps knowing how tethered Luca and Laurie were to one another could be interesting. I knew mates were pulled together by an invisible force of some kind. I knew they had this weird biting ritual that apparently solidifies the bond. I knew that being apart from one another for too long was painful for both parties. That was pretty much as far as my knowledge went, gathered from my time as a fourteen-year-old human who had an obsession with supernatural fanfiction.
Laurie was still scrutinizing me, eyeing the way my hands were clenching and unclenching, the way my right leg bounced on the ground. Perhaps she could even hear the race of my heartbeat, the slight labor of my breathing. Obviously, my body hadn’t quite recovered from the stunt I’d pulled with Elijah.
“I’m fine,” I said, allowing the words to flow easily from my mouth. My wonderful improvisation skills come to the rescue yet again! “I just have some pent-up energy from being on bed rest for so long. I was just about to go for a walk.”
“You’re not allowed outside without supervision,” she said, not unkindly. “Alpha’s orders. Were you going to defy him anyways?”
“That seems to be the only fun I’m able to get around here,” I muttered. “He even sucked the fun out of murdering vampires. No pun intended.” When she didn’t respond, staring at me silently, I grew defensive. “I’m not going to stay cooped up inside all the time. Especially since the Alpha wants me to do just that.”
Part of me expected Laurie to rise to her Alpha’s defense. After all, if she was the Beta Female, she had to have done something to gain Elijah’s trust. Unless she only got the position because she was Luca’s mate? I shrugged the thought from my mind before even more questions popped up. I had enough of those already.
To my surprise, though, the corner of Laurie’s lip rose up into a half-smile. “It’s fine, Reese. I was going outside anyways. Would you like to join me?”
Taken aback at the offer, I could only wordlessly nod, falling into step beside her as she continued down the hallway. We moved in silence, the awkwardness between us rising with every second. The air sizzled with want of a conversation, but it seemed neither of us quite knew what to say.
“Why are you being nice to me?” I blurted out, saying the first thing that popped into my head. Honestly, I didn’t really expect that to be the question I asked first, but I guess it was a site of curiosity. Why was she being nice? She knows who I am. She knows who I’ve killed. Surely, out of all the werewolves I’ve killed, she was close to at least one of them.
“Do you not want me to be nice?” Laurie quietly countered. It was times like these I could see how alike she and Luca could sometimes be. Which led me back to my mate-bond questions. If opposites attract, then how could two soulmates be so similar?
“Everybody else here has either tried to kill me or wants me dead,” I said. “I’m just trying to figure out why you don’t seem to have that same desire.”
Laurie scrunched up her nose thoughtfully. “You killed the last male in the Randon bloodline. Naturally, not many people would be happy about that. These old-fashioned wolves haven’t realized that we’re a few decades into the twenty-first century. They’re not pleased with who’s next in line to be Alpha.”
I snorted. “Male bloodline? What is this, the Middles Ages?” then her words clicked. “Rebecca’s next in line?”
“Unless the Alpha has an heir before he dies.” Laurie briefly glanced at the ground. “I’m one of the few who don’t want that to happen. I want change. I think Rebecca would be good for the pack.”
“Who else wants Rebecca in charge?”
Laurie paused, glancing briefly left-to-right, then closed her eyes. I saw one of her ears twitch - she was listening, presumably if anybody was within earshot. And with the heightened senses of a werewolf, I supposed one could never be too careful.
“Evangeline,” she said, her voice dropping to a low murmur. I had to strain my hearing to listen. “Simon.” Her eyes flashed. “Luca.”
“Luca?” shock coursed through me, as though I’d just been stupid enough to stick my hand into an electrical outlet while standing in a pool of water. “But - ”
“Please, quiet,” Laurie said, then proceeded walking as though nothing had happened. “While Luca would support Rebecca, his loyalty to Elijah is... strong,” her eyes flashed. “I would never make him choose between me and his Alpha.”
“Who would he choose?” It was more out of curiosity than anything, but the information would be useful to know.
But Laurie was shaking her head. “It doesn’t matter who he’d choose. The decision alone would put him in more pain than I could bear.” She sighed.
While it wasn’t much of an answer - though I could probably have guessed who Luca would side with in the end - her response gave me an opening to ask about what I really wanted to know.
“How does it work, anyway?” I asked, choosing my words carefully. “This whole... mate bond thing? Is it a physical reaction, a mental one, emotional...?”
She stayed silent for a long, agonizing minute, up to the point where I was beginning to wonder if she’d respond at all. But then she murmured, “It’s kind of a mixture of all there. With wolves, you can smell your mate before anything - they tend to smell like your favorite scent, which occasionally makes me wonder if you always knew, subconsciously, who your mate was. Of course, you know that the bond can only snap into place during a full moon, when our senses are strongest, so you can’t know it’s them before that.
“Then there’s the mental realization - I’m sure you know by now that us werewolves have wolf-like entities in our consciousness, though the lines between our human and wolf halves become blurred over time. The wolf instinctively recognizes their mate and will make it pretty damn clear to you.
“Then there’s the... physical part. When you touch, it’s like an electric shock. It never fades, though you do grow somewhat used to it. And then there’s the whole solidifying-the-bond thing - you know, the mating and the biting. Our instincts will urge us to complete it sooner rather than later, and the longer you wait, the harder it will be to resist.” A small smile crossed her face as she concluded her explanation. “Was that clear, or do I need to explain it differently?”
“It was clear,” I responded. At some point, we’d exited the building and were crossing the campus to where the training area lay; the one I’d been to a few days ago, when Keith had nearly killed me. Up ahead, I could see Evangeline talking to Simon. I was instantly pleased to see him. I hadn’t seen the kid in ages. “So, besides that, how else does it... work? You said you’d be able to tell if he’s in pain... how?”
She glanced at me, amusement shining in her blue eyes. “It’s part of the emotional parts of the bond. If he’s in emotional pain, I’ll feel the same way, though not as strongly. If he’s in physical pain, I’ll feel a dull ache wherever the wound is. There are things that we can do to one another that causes pain, too. Being apart for too long. Cheating produces an agonizing pain across the chest - not that we’d ever do that. Physically hurting one another goes against every cell in our body, and if we do ever do that, it hurts us just as badly.”
“Can you feel one another’s emotions? Read minds?” My thoughts flashed back to the fanfiction I’d been obsessed with pre-Takeover. There had to be some truth to them, right? Writers had to get their ideas from somewhere.
“We can’t really feel one another’s emotions, apart from pain,” Laurie explained. “That’s a myth. As for the mind-reading, it’s the same as communicating with the rest of the pack - it’s like building a bridge between our minds and shouting across it. We can only do it when we’re in range and both minds are open. But we can’t just rummage through one another’s heads and read whatever thought pops into our head.”
“Telling her all of our secrets, are you?” Evangeline said as we came up to her, hearing the end of our conversation. “Why is she here, anyway?”
“Don’t be mean,” Simon protested. “Reese is nice.”
“No, I’m not,” I muttered. Simon raised his eyebrows at my words, and I shrugged in response. It was true.
“She was going to leave one way or another. Bringing her with me was the only way for her to leave while following the Alpha’s orders,” Laurie said.
“And before you say anything,” I added with a warning glare in Evangeline’s direction. “I would have much rather been defiant and piss him off, so don’t get snarky.”
“Goddess, it’s like she knows me already,” Evangeline turned to Laurie. “Is she joining us, or what?”
Laurie gave me a thoughtful look. “Do you want to join us?”
I exchanged a look with Simon, who suddenly seemed on edge. “For what?”
Evangeline let out a snort. “We’re in the training area, Hunter, what do you think we’re doing?”
I blinked. “You want me to train?” Because that went so well last time. I realized that was why Simon’s mood had shifted so quickly. Since he’d witnessed the last time I ‘trained’... I sent the kid a reassuring look.
“You said you have some pent-up energy,” Laurie reminded me. “You probably just need to hit something.”
I’ve been in the infirmary twice in the span of a week. It probably wouldn’t be a good decision if I joined a training session with the werewolf who wanted to - and tried to - torture me. A werewolf who definitely dislikes me.
Then again, I was kind of on a bad decision-making streak at the moment.
But there are a few occasions where I was known to make a smart choice. They don’t happen often, but it’s possible for me to be rational every once in a while.
“That’s probably not a good idea right now,” I decided. “Maybe I’ll just watch for a while?” If I watched them train, I might learn a thing or two about their fighting styles.
Knowing your opponent was always important.
Just as long as you didn’t know them too well.
I was wide awake as Mom’s words registered in my head.
“What do you mean, he’s missing?” I demanded. “He’s not in the safe house?”
Mom shook her head. “We’ve searched everywhere. If he was here, we would have found him by now.”
Something registered in my sleep-ridden head. Something Cedric had said after his argument with Mom.
“He wanted to go out to patrol tonight,” I said. “Badly. He said he thought that the full moon was the best night to go out vampire hunting. You don’t think...” I trailed off, unable to finish the sentence.
Mom visibly paled, the blood draining out of her face as realization dawned. “No...” Abruptly, she stood up, pushing her hands through her hair. “What was he thinking? Doesn’t he know...” She glanced down at me. “We need to go after him.”
I blinked. “Me? But I can’t - ”
“There’s no time to get anybody else, Reese, we need to go now.” Mom stepped back to the door. “Be ready in two minutes, okay?”
When I nodded wordlessly, Mom quietly backed out of the room, the door closing with a soft click behind her. In a flurry, I removed my baggy, worn-out winter pajamas, the cold air briefly biting into my skin, before I threw on my usual patrol attire - a pair of hand-me-down leggings that used to belong to Mom, a hoodie Mom had taken from my closet two years ago that was big then but fits me now, and a pair of worn-out running shoes we found in an abandoned apartment during a patrol last year. I didn’t own a winter coat or anything that would keep me warmer when I actually left the safehouse. Living in hiding was always fun.
Lastly, I grabbed three stakes from the small pile that was building next to my bed and stuffed them into my hoodie pocket. I didn’t have anything that could be used to kill werewolves - Cedric had the silver dagger, a rare thing to come across since anything silver was outlawed in the city.
Before I left the room, I paused in front of the door. Was I really doing this? For two years, we’ve always been told that going on during a full moon was one of the most dangerous things you could do nowadays. Not only are the senses of werewolves heightened, making it so they can track you down more easily, but the reports of physical and sexual assault are higher during a full moon than any other time of a month, due to the high sex drives of the dogs. New werewolves have difficulty controlling their transitions - it takes years to gain full control. And all werewolves out searching for their mates are in hunting mode - which means if you cross paths with one in its wolf form, it might think of you as prey, not a human. Which, nowadays, pretty much means the same thing.
I shook the doubts out of my head. My brother was missing. Cedric probably did something stupid, and now Mom and I had to find him before he got himself killed.
That how I found myself, thirty minutes later, nearly freezing to death in the brutal winter air in the middle of the night, searching for a brother who probably didn’t exactly want to be found at the time.
Mom was more on edge than usual, her hands continuously balling into fists. More than once, she asked me if I had my stakes with me, and each time I reassured her that yes, I have stakes, I’m not an idiot. I’ve never left the safehouse without at least one on me. Then she’d nod, somewhat relax, and the whole thing would start all over again.
“Where are we even going?” I asked after we’d been walking for a while. “I thought the vampires were close.”
“We had to detour around Cedarvale Park,” Mom said. “One important thing to remember, Reese, is that if you’re ever out during a full moon, stay away from the parks.”
“The werewolves tend to gravitate towards the parks while searching for their mates.” Mom’s stride didn’t let up as she spoke. “The werewolf concentration in the parks will be higher than normal tonight. As for our destination, the vampire den is where Forest Hill Public School was.”
“What is it with supernatural beings and having their central hubs in schools?” I muttered, of course referring to the werewolf pack taking over the University of Toronto. “How does Cedric know where they are?”
“He’s the one who found it,” Mom said, then froze. “Quiet.”
I fell silent, pausing next to her. Mom tensed, her hand flying to the stake concealed in her hoodie sleeve. My own hand slipped into my pocket, gripping my own stake reassuringly, my senses straining as I tried to find whatever had Mom suddenly afraid.
At first, I heard nothing out of the ordinary. There were just the typical city sounds, cars, the occasional scream, the howl of a werewolf rising over everything at irregular intervals.
“What are you - ” I began.
“Hush,” Mom ordered. I frowned, but closed my eyes and focused harder on extending my senses.
Then I picked up on something else. A silent boot scuffing the pavement. A raspy breath. The tang of blood hit my nose the moment a figure leaped out of the shadows at us.
There was no time to check on Mom. In the milliseconds between noticing the vampire and it being upon me, I exploded into action, a stake in my hand one moment and stuck in the vampire’s chest the next, piercing its heart. It was probably a good thing that I’d spent my days cooped up in the safehouse practicing my aim. In the year since our patrol was ambushed and Kenny died, I was no longer relying solely on adrenaline and beginner’s luck. I knew what I was doing. Nobody would be dying on my watch.
A hiss sounded from behind me. I spun, kicking out with a foot as my arm grabbed my second stake. My foot connected with the vampire’s chest, sending it staggering backward. While it tried to regain its balance, My other foot hooked around its ankle, sweeping its feet out from under him. I staked it as it was falling.
Two down, more to go. There was no time for me to grab my stakes that were stuck in the rapidly decomposing vampires. I had only one left.
Mom’s voice pierced through the battle-induced haze my mind had set itself in. I spun around - just in time to spot the vampire rushing towards me, its fangs extended, already lining up for a killing bite.
The last stake in my hand, I threw, my aim true.
And... I missed.
I was consciously aware of my empty hand at that moment. I was out of stakes. I was defenseless as the vampire leaped at me. I was going to die. Because I didn’t hit the target.
Then I was being pushed back, out of the way, and Mom was suddenly there, separating me from the bloodthirsty vampire who was hell-bent on killing me.
Mom, whose stake was lying a few feet away, buried in the chest of a vampire whose body was slowly decomposing - a younger vampire.
Mom, who came out here with minimal weapons and protection in her frenzy to get to Cedric.
Mom, who even in the middle of a life-or-death situation, had a primal instinct to keep her children safe.
I didn’t have time to move. I didn’t have time to save her. I could only watch as the vampire gave her that killing bite that was meant for me. A strong bite to the spinal cord in her neck, severing it, killing her almost instantly.
I think I screamed as her body crumpled to the ground.
It was happening again. My parent was being killed in front of me by something out of the ordinary, while I was powerless to stop it.
I remember my vision blurring. My muscles beginning to give out. Blood roared in my ears, and everything felt as though it were far away. Happening in another world. Like I was floating underwater, oblivious to what was happening on the surface.
A burning pain exploded in my neck.
I didn’t care. I was too busy staring at the lifeless body of my mom.
She was dead.
Because I missed.
Because I couldn’t save myself.
Because I wasn’t fast enough.