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39. How to Have Character Devlopment

“Would you stop pacing?”

Evangeline’s annoyed voice snapped across the room and through my thoughts, forcing my legs to freeze mid-step. Irritation rushed through me for the blue-headed werewolf, along with violent fantasies of my taking my silver dagger and shoving it down her throat.

Ah, if only wishes became reality.

I turned to face her, allowing an overly-sweet sarcastic smile to spread across my face. “I’m sorry, was I distracting you from creating half-baked plans?” To punctuate my point, I batted my eyelashes. I don’t think I looked as cool as book characters did, though, since I got a lash stuck in my eye and had to blink rapidly to remove it, my eyelid twitching against the intruder.

Evangeline raised an eyebrow. “Are you done making a fool out of yourself?”

Bitch. I smirked, flourished my arm, bowed, and seated myself on the edge of Opal’s bed. The witch herself was lying against the headboard, idly picking at her nails, a nervous habit. “Now I’m done.”

“Reese is right, though,” Opal said. “There’s still a bunch of holes in your brilliant plan to overthrow Elijah and make Rebecca the Alpha. Like, have you thought about the pack rebelling against her? Refusing to accept her as their leader? Things could be worse off than they are now.”

“This is a fabulous example of how little you know about werewolves.” Evangeline sniffed. “They won’t be able to rebel against her. That the point.”

“What Evie is trying to say, however rudely,” Rebecca interjected. “Is that werewolves are utterly loyal to their Alpha - present company excluded, of course, though since Evie and I are related to him, his authority has less of an effect on us.” She glanced at Opal. “So while I appreciate your concerns and know you’re coming from a place of experience, werewolf politics are different from that of a human government. Most of us are physically unable to disobey our Alpha. If Evie were to be given a direct order, even she, our cousin, would be forced to follow through.”

“Oh.” Opal frowned. “What about you, being his sister?”

“Would I be forced to obey him? I’ve heard that close relatives - siblings, parents, and children - follow orders based on loyalty alone because they have the same blood, but I’m not completely sure how accurate that is. It could be that orders have even less impact on them. But since I’m not a shifter, me listening to his word would be the same as Reese obeying orders from a human authority figure.” With a shrug, Rebecca leaned back against the sofa. She nodded in my direction. “Even if Reese was able to shift, as Elijah’s mate, his orders wouldn’t have any impact on her, either.”

“I take it the same goes for him, then.” It was somewhat disappointing that I wasn’t able to boss Elijah around endlessly, but expected. “How many people know that we’re... mates?” As usual, I said the word with the same tone one might use to convey disgust. Even though the thought still sent up a thrill of delight through the not-so-sane part of me.

“Eli hasn’t been very vocal about it,” Rebecca said. “I’m pretty sure he’s as in denial as you are. Though there’s a chance he’ll tell people tonight at the meeting.”

“Right.” The meeting. Where we’d stand - or sit, you never know - around and plot how best to get Christian Roy’s vampire clan under control. I still wasn’t certain what the problem was, though I was pretty sure it had something to do with them snatching more humans than usual off the street. This meant that Elijah probably had a quota on how many people were able to go missing before he got himself involved.

What a wonderful mate I had.

“Are you going to Christian’s tonight?” Opal asked. “After your little meeting?”

“Why, want me to bring you back a souvenir? Perhaps a vampire fang?” Evangeline was running her fingers idly through her blue hair, fidgeting with the strands. “I can guarantee that the negotiation will end poorly. Christian is awfully stubborn.”

“And how well do you know him?” I was momentarily surprised by the casual way she spoke of the vampire leader.

“I know a lot of people,” she said simply. “That’s one of the pros - sometimes a con - of being me.”

“You need to convince Elijah to be civil,” Rebecca glanced pointedly at me. “Or everything will go south very quickly.”

I wanted to roll my eyes, but I didn’t. Still, how did she think I had any influence over Toronto’s esteemed Alpha? If anything, the werewolf had a considerable amount of control over me. My mind briefly flashed back to last night, a whirlwind of tangled, heated limbs, mindless kisses, overcome by passion...

Opal cleared her throat. I jerked away from the memory, catching her raised eyebrow. “Well?” She tossed a pillow at me. I caught it. “Any idea on how you’re going to play the convincing, gentle-hearted mate?”

I made a face at her. “Can we revisit plan B? That one sounds more fun.”

For once, Evangeline agreed with me. “I’d love to, but Miss I-Don’t-Want-To-Kill-My-Brother over here isn’t as keen on the idea.”

Rebecca pouted. “I said to only use that as a last resort, and even then it might not be worth it now. If he dies, Reese, your spirit practically dies along with him.”

“I know that.” The concept had been drilled into my skull dozens of times over the past week, whether it was from debating on whether to use plan B or from the ridiculous amount of overthinking I’ve been doing. Do I kill him, and myself along with him? Or do I let him live, hoping that he’ll eventually listen to me and set up a Human Protection Act or something? Actually, the Human Protection Act was something Rebecca had been talking about starting during one of my ‘training sessions’ a few days ago. It was in the early stages of planning, and right now it was only a list of things we’d decided should be illegal. No abducting humans from the streets. No using them as living blood bags. Those who work shall be paid fair wages. No using them for magical experiments. No killing them for sport. Actually, no killing them at all. You know, things that were illegal before the Takeover. Except for the no magical experiments rule. That one was new. “But is my life really worth millions?”

Nobody had any response to that, except for Evangeline, of course, who shook her head. I bet the bitch wanted me to kill her cousin just so she could watch my soul shatter. It was funny how most of my confidence lay in Evangeline right now just for that reason. At least she wouldn’t try to stop me from murdering my mate.

“Promise me you’ll try to talk to him first,” Rebecca said, shattering the brief silence that had fallen over us.

“Right, because talking to him has been so successful in the past.” I shook my head.

“I’m surprised you’re not fighting us more on the whole killing your brother idea,” Opal remarked. “Your family is kind of messed up.”

“It’s a matter of priorities,” Rebecca murmured. “Yes, Elijah is my only living family member, and I do love him, sort of, but...” she paused, taking a deep, shaking breath. “Right now, he’s our biggest obstacle in trying to rebuild this world that he broke, that Nick and my father broke, while I just stood by and watched. I’ve wished every day since then that I’d spoken out, rebelled against their idea to turn the tables on humanity. I should have warned the Hunters what was coming for them, that each of them would die in order to leave the humans unprotected. When I saw you on the subway, Reese, when you were trying to flee the city, I should have tried to protect you, the last defense between us and them. I’m done standing still. We need to act, and if my brother won’t step aside and let us, then we need to get rid of him altogether.”

“But you can’t just... lock him up? Drive him out of the city?” Opal glanced at me. “Call me selfish, but you’re my best friend, Reese. Excuse me if I don’t want you to become a lifeless shell.”

“As much as I love the idea of not being unintentionally devastated by my sociopathic mate’s death, it’s not that simple,” I said. “He may have shown hesitation against the Takeover at first, but that was seven years ago. Whatever doubts he had, they’re long gone now. He enjoys ruling over everything, loves having one boot hovering over humanity, ready to crush them like an ant.” I sighed. “I read that werewolf mates are meant to balance one another out. That may have been true for Elijah and I, once upon a time, but time and circumstances changed us. Whoever he was meant to be is not who he became. As am I. Can you look me in the eye and tell me that you can still see a hint of a fifteen-year-old who would never dream of hurting anybody?”

This speech was becoming more personal than I had intended. What a long way I’ve come from shooting sarcastic comments at everybody who looked my way. I glanced around at the group, two of which had surprisingly become friends - well, calling Evangeline a friend was definitely a stretch. We’d all grown and changed in the past two months. There was a steely determination in Opal’s eyes that hadn’t been there before the loss of her husband, Kyle. Rebecca had opened herself up more, dropping the perfect façade and revealing how much pain she really was in because of who she was. Plus, would we have been able to convince her that killing her brother was the best course of action a month ago? And Evangeline... okay, well maybe Evangeline didn’t go through as much of a metamorphosis as the rest of us.

It was like I said. Circumstances changed us.

“You’re right,” Evangeline said. “You’re far too murderous now. Are you sure you’re not just making stuff up?”

I rolled my eyes. Okay, so maybe Evangeline wasn’t as fixated on physical torture as she was when I got here. My hand drifted to my upper right arm, where, beneath my sleeve, was a pale scar from Evangeline’s wickedly sharp claws. Ah, the good old days. I definitely do not miss them.

I turned to Rebecca. “You say that I’ve been protecting humanity, but that’s not exactly true. Yes, killing supernatural beings was, in a way, keeping humans safe, but that wasn’t my motivation at the time. I wanted revenge. My entire family died because of them. My father was killed in front of me by a werewolf. My mother was slaughtered before my eyes by a vampire. My brothers...” I broke off as my voice caught in my suddenly dry throat.

Clearing it, I continued on. “What I’m trying to say is that I’m not the protector humans made me out to be. They weren’t what was really on my mind when I stepped out into the night with my dagger, as much as I tried to convince myself otherwise. But now? I know that whatever I need to do next, it’s because it will benefit humanity, not just me. I came here intending to dismantle this pack from the inside, to get close enough to Elijah to kill him. But instead, I came to see that it’s not the pack that’s poisoned. It’s the head. So if I kill Elijah, it will be because it’s the right thing to do, not the selfish thing.” I closed my eyes. “And if I end up hurting myself in the process, in a way that means I will never recover? So be it.”

As my words hung in the silence, I felt a small sense of momentary peace wash over me. The air around me felt lighter, and for a moment, a brief moment, all parts of me were in sync. The past seven years had been a battle inside my own head, between supernatural, human, and Hunter. But now, accepting that I had to convince Elijah to stand down or lose myself trying, the battle was too insignificant to take any more of my time.

However, in Elijah’s study, I momentarily abandoned the new, improved version of myself and took up the role of the snarky Hunter who had the terrible luck of being mated to her worst enemy.

I glared at him from across the room, leaning casually against the wall as he was seated behind his desk, pointedly ignoring me, tension crackling into the air between us. Despite the events from last night, the tension was probably sexual. It always was.

Still, as much as the stupid, lust-driven part of me wanted to launch myself across the room and ride him till we both collapsed, I reminded myself that we were not alone. Scattered around were some of his best and brightest; Luca, of course; Rebecca; Evangeline, the bitch; Keith, whom I thankfully haven’t seen in quite some time - from the way he stared claws at me, he definitely still hated me for killing his brother. Laurie, who would be looking after the pack while we were gone, was also here, along with a few others whose names I didn’t care to remember. Obviously, they weren’t significant enough to be memorable.

It was only when the door clicked shut behind the last person did Elijah lift his gaze up to mine.

“And what are you doing over there?” He raised an eyebrow like he had expected me to be any closer.

Hah. Just because we’d slept together twice - okay, more than twice - didn’t mean I wanted to be near him. Besides, being in close proximity to him is what made me lose control over myself - and that wasn’t necessarily a good thing. Especially, as I’d already mentioned, when we weren’t alone.

“Standing.” I crossed my arms. “Is that a bad thing?”

“Please, don’t start.” Rebecca pinched the bridge of her nose. “Can we get this over with?”

“Have someplace better to be?” Evangeline bumped her shoulder against Rebecca’s. Rebecca bumped her back, rolling her eyes subtly.

Elijah’s green eyes flashed dangerously, for a brief, fleeting moment, as a half-grin appeared across his lips.

Not that I was looking at his lips.

“I’d just like my mate to not be quite so far from me,” he purred. “Come closer, will you, my dear?”

I froze as a few startled gazes landed on me. Keith, whom I haven’t seen since he tried to kill me, looked especially surprised, as did Laurie. Besides Evangeline and Rebecca, who’d known since I found out, Luca was the only one who still looked unfazed.

“Mate?” Keith spat out. He looked like he either wanted to vomit or revolt. Perhaps both. “She’s your mate?”

“Keith,” Luca said softly, a hint of warning in his voice as Elijah’s expression darkened. “Now is not the time.” His hand brushed against Laurie, who was flashing me an encouraging smile. Elijah beckoned me to come over, which of course ignored.

Instead, I decided not to take Luca’s words to heart and flashed a sweet smile at Keith. “Don’t look so surprised.” I nodded toward Elijah, whose fingers were tapping impatiently on the edge of his desk. “He hasn’t been very subtle about it, but I suppose it’s not entirely your fault your senses might not work properly.” I snapped my fingers. “If you were more observational, perhaps your brother might still be alive!”

Rebecca brought a hand up to her forehead in exasperation at my words. I felt an intense rush of satisfaction as Keith’s hands balled into fists, his skin turning white at the knuckles as he fought to maintain control over himself. Since he was still on shaky ground with Elijah after the stunt he pulled with me, it wouldn’t have done him much good to attack me in the middle of his study.

Me, who had more power over everybody in the room. With the exception of my darling mate, of course.

I must admit, it was a euphoric feeling.

Again, Elijah beckoned me over, his hand tapping a rather impatient beat now. Any faster and I’d probably be able to sing along, which would be a terrible idea. I can’t sing to save my life. This time, I put him out of his misery and made my way over, regretting the choice immediately as he grabbed my arm and tugged me down into his lap. Fuck, no. I went to move away, but his arm only tightened around me. I kicked him in the shin instead, hearing a quiet but sharp inhale next to my ear. A smirk of satisfaction graced my lips.

“Right,” Luca said, one eyebrow raised. He probably saw me kick his Alpha, though he said nothing about it. “We need to keep this brief since we’re set to meet Christian in an hour. Is anybody unclear on what we’re doing?”

“It’s pretty straightforward.” Evangeline was twisting a section of hair into a rope braid as she spoke. “Talk, negotiate, threaten, kill. Easy to remember, not too many steps.” She tossed a brief but meaningful look at me, and I gave a brief nod to her and Rebecca.

“I’m not so sure we should be killing them,” Rebecca spoke. “Is that really the best way to obtain peace?”

Keith let out a sharp snort. I really hated that guy. “Who said anything about obtaining peace? We’re trying to teach those disgusting parasites a lesson!”

“That’s not exactly true,” Laurie said. “With tensions rising between the vampires and us, it’s only a better of time before they revolt, which could start an all-out war between us and them. This negotiation could help to prevent innocent deaths.”

“Of what? Humans?” Keith rolled his eyes. “Who cares if a few hundred humans die? Collateral damage, if you ask me.”

Every muscle in my body tensed as I forced myself to keep from flying across the room and stabbing him with the first object that appeared in my hand. Unfortunately, Elijah had hidden my dagger away somewhere since I’d last been here. Smart thinking on his part, to be honest. I would have used it on him and anybody else who stood against me without blinking an eye.

Feeling my tension, Elijah’s hand dropped to my hip, his thumb rubbing circles against my clothing. My hand itched with the urge to swat him away, but I settled for shifting my position on him instead. I fought to keep a smile back as I heard him inhale softly in response. Sometimes, I loved being me.

Just sometimes, though.

“You agree with me, right, Reese?” Rebecca glanced at me. “Killing the vampires would be counter-productive.”

I took a deep breath as Elijah stilled, waiting for my response.

“I do,” I said. “However much I enjoy killing supernatural beings - ” Let the room take note on how I didn’t exclusively say vampires. " - It’s not a smart move.”

“Ah, and you know all about smart moves, don’t you, mate?” Elijah whispered in my ear. I gritted my teeth and elbowed him sharply in the ribs. “Rebecca and I will be doing the talking. The rest of you are there as a show of strength, for both intimidation and if things get bloody.”

When things get bloody, you mean.

“Then why is the Hunter going?” Keith jerked his head at me, his lip curled in distaste.

“Am I not intimidating enough for you?” I tilted my head, blinking innocently.

“I know you’re practically harmless without your precious dagger.”

“I’m coming because I’m amazing at pretty much everything. Duh.”

That was completely a lie, but he didn’t have to know that. In reality, killing was probably the only thing I was really good at. Well, that, and I had a particular gift for pissing people off. What can I say? I had a rather infuriating type of charm.

“She’s coming,” Elijah said. “Because she’s the Hunter, and Christian will know what it means when he sees that I have her at my side, willing to kill for this pack.”

Well, about that...

“Damn,” I said, folding my hands. “I thought you were bringing me along just because I’m nice to look at.”

Evangeline glanced me up and down, then shrugged. “I guess you’re not bad.”

Did... did Evangeline Smith just compliment me? And agreed with me? In the same sentence?

“Right.” Elijah’s tone turned the subject off, and his arm loosened from around me. Quickly, I stood up and darted out of range. He didn’t pay much attention to me this time. “With any luck, we should be there for no less than two hours. If things go our way, we’ll be able to intimidate him into giving in to my terms.”

“And if he doesn’t?” Rebecca challenged her brother.

He only grinned. “Then the clan will find itself without a leader, with a pack of bloodthirsty werewolves tearing it apart.”

His words stayed with me as we started to file after the study. Elijah left before me, but Evangeline hung back by the door, waiting for the room to empty. I wasn’t sure why. Was she going to take back the compliment? Too bad. It was too late for takebacks.

As I passed Rebecca on my way out, she gave me an encouraging nod. I smiled softly, then made my way to the door.

When I reached the place where Evangeline stood, she caught at my sleeve, halting me for just a moment to press something into my hand.

Without another word, I tucked it into my pocket as an unexpected surge of dread rose up within me.

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