Twenty Four | Cleo
The ability to speak left me when I saw those mix matched eyes, her mouth dropped open in utter surprise. When tears started to well up in her eyes, I swallowed thickly, unsure what the cause of them was.
Was she frightened of me, thinking I was coming to take my revenge?
Was she happy?
Doubt filled me and I took a step as if to leave.
But when a strangled sob left her lips and she was suddenly running towards me, the tightness I felt on my heart loosen as she crashed into me, wrapping her arms around me.
"You're alive," she breathed, "You're alive!" She sobbed harder into my shoulder repeating those same words over and over again.
All I could do was hug her back tightly, swallowing back tears of my own. I fully realized then how much I had missed this female. Even though our interactions had diminished in our last weeks together, the quite moments we stole, playing chess or checkers, going on walks, shopping together, and making food were moments I cherished.
"Lune has answered my prayers," she whispered as she pulled away, her hand cupping the side of my face. Her kind smile instantly warmed my heart and I found myself so grateful that this female had never held any animosity towards me, not even when I had attacked her years ago. She had always believed in me, trusted me, which was more than I deserved from her.
"Hakota," she said, "does Hakota know?" She bit her lip as her thumb traced down my neck and then across the scars that lingered at its base.
I nodded stiffly, "He knows."
Frayah asked no more questions and simply enveloped me in another tight embrace.
The clearing of a throat was what broke us apart.
I looked up to see Sani standing at the edge of the room, two bundles in his arms. He was looking at me warily, but he made no move to separate us.
I gave him a nod in greeting, offering him a small smile.
He stiffened but nodded back. I didn't miss the way he clutched onto the bundles tighter.
When Frayah finally pulled away she turned to her mate. "Oh Sani come here!" Her tone was light and teasing but there was still a command in them that her mate grudgingly obey.
He angled his children slightly away from me but Frayah quickly snatched the one on the left, earning a disgruntled choke from her mate. The female ignored the male and cooed at the baby in her arms. "Cleo, please meet Sasha."
I peered at the little male, his eyes a solid brown color not different like his mothers. I took the baby in my own arms when she offered him to me. I smiled down at one of the newest members of my pack.
"And this is Cahtta," Frayah introduced me to the other. I gave Sasha back to his father and took the baby girl into my arms. Her eyes were also brown like her brother's.
"They're beautiful Frayah," I breathed, cradling the baby in my arms.
"They're only alive because of you," Frayah replied to which her mate gave a none too quiet snort.
I looked up at the male, our eyes clashing. He didn't trust me, that much was obvious but at least he didn't loathe me. "How do you feel about the security you have right now?" I directed my question at the male, forcing him to interact with me.
The male glanced down at his child in his arms. I know he wanted to say he was more than enough to protect them. His male honor and paternal instincts demanded it of him, but he also knew what I was offering him. I'd give him more protection if he admitted he needed it.
And he wouldn't put his own pride above the lives of his children so he raised his eyes from the boy held securely against his chest and said, "It's not enough, there can never be enough."
I nodded my head, "The attacks against you will only increase now that you have three people to watch over rather than one."
Sani curled his lip, not at me, but at those who would think to harm his family. "It doesn't help that those mutts have been evolving, they're becoming more of a pain with each passing encounter."
Handing Cahtta back to Frayah, I backed up and opened the door where Roshan and Syn had been waiting patiently for me invite them in after I had greeted the new parents.
Roshan and Syn quickly greeted the others and Frayah briefly introduced her children. There would be time to celebrate and catch up later, for now we had more pressing matters to deal with. The safety of this pack was compromised and I was desperately trying to come up with a solution other than eliminating the Lunars entirely.
"They're injecting humans with werewolf, lycan, and hunter DNA but the combination is killing them within a few days. I've been supplying them with the hunter DNA in order to find out more and try and establish a base of trust but Camilla has only been lying through her teeth."
Sasha began to fuss, his hands reaching up towards his father's face as he let out a small cry. Sani absently gave the child his finger. Those pudgy baby hands reached up and wrapped around the finger, pulling it towards his little mouth.
The child was only happy for a moment before he let it go and started to cry. His crying set off his sister and soon Frayah, was lifting her son away from her mate, excusing herself to go and feed her children.
Sani asked if she needed help but with a single shake of her head, Sani returned to the conversation. "So what do you know?" he asked me.
"Her motives are purely selfish, she's trying to carry out her own vendetta while claiming to be patriotic."
Roshan cocked his head, thinking my words over. "If we kill her will this war end?"
I shrugged my shoulders, "It could, but not for long. Another rebellion will start, if not here in one of the other overtaken territories, but that will always be the case. To all be under one ruler is going to piss people off, especially because you've taken them all at once."
"So this war is pointless?" Sani growled, crossing his arms over his broad chest.
"Not necessarily," I shook my head, "if you bring down the hammer, and bring it down hard you'll spark fear and less will be willing to go against the lycan rule. You'd need to establish an imposing force that will enforce your new rule though. It's safer to be feared at first and work your way towards love. People are too angry right now for them to feel anything else other than fear."
"So winning this war is just the first step," Syn summarized.
Sani puffed out a breath, his cheeks puffing out as he absorbed all of this. "We're not ready to keep our empire together. The wars are one thing but after that--"
"We're too broken within ourselves. We have to reestablish order in our own pack before we can enforce it on the rest of our conquered people." Roshan finished for him.
My folded arms uncrossed and fell to my sides as I took in their facial expressions. "It's worse than I thought isn't it?" I asked. There was no way I was the only problem in the pack. Not with the way they were being careful with their words around each other, the tension that filled the room when someone was mentioned in a conversation.
Syn scratched the back of his head, unable to meet my eyes, "We are...at odds, some of us. We--"
"We are a mess," Roshan cut in bluntly. "The pack was divided in half after we thought Hakota killed you. Our interests were split from there and we've been falling apart." His green eyes pierced sharply into me.
His eyes weren't blaming but they were filled with unspoken words. He was telling me to fix it, to fix their pack--my pack--and their alpha.
"Roshan's exaggerating," Sani tried to downplay Roshan's alarming news that was building up anxiety within me.
"No he's not," Frayah's voice floated from the doorway of which the frame she was leaning on. She pushed off of the wooden frame and joined us in the center of the room. She gestured around us at the small room, "Just look where we are, Sani. We are not supposed to be living in a small town house. We should be in those castles that belong to us. Those castles that belonged to the ancestors of our race. Our pack, no matter how small, should be feared enough that no one would dare attack us. We should not be fearing for our children's lives. But here we are, hiding," she spat the word our with so much hate, my eyes widened in surprise. I had never heard her so angry before. "Even though we don't have scores of guards and soldiers patrolling our halls, watching over us, I should have enough faith in my own pack protecting me and my own to not be afraid. But we are broken, we are split up and divided."
To that all of the lycans lowered their eyes and found really interesting floorboards to stare at.
To hear that the lycans were so much worse off than I had believed them to be these last few years induced a whole other layer of guilt on me. This was my pack that was hurting, these were my family members that couldn't even rely on each other anymore. This family that had been through so much and was now dissolving crushed my soul.
This was my fault.
This was my mate's fault.
As the alphas we had let them down.
This was both of our mess and I would clean it up, but not by myself, oh no. Hakota would pull his head out of his ass and focus on what was actually important for once. There would be no more deflecting from him. I would pull him by his ear through my mission to mend everything that was broken.
And after I fixed the pack...
Then I would fix us.
After that we would focus on the empire Hakota had been building but that was my last priority. That could wait because we could always come back to it, but our family would never be the same if we didn't fix this right now.
And I was done asking for permission. I was taking my spot as alpha female and I was going to be calling the shots until Hakota could be trusted to make wise decisions again.
I met the eyes of the lycans in the room, willing them to see the apology in my eyes, the promise I had made myself and was now making them. "Call the twins back," I said to no one in particular, just making sure the command was clear. I pulled out my most authoritative tone that broke no room for arguments.
"Roshan, you and Syn will stay here with Sani and Frayah. I want the twins here too. I'll send Innoko and Terrin your way too."
Syn began to protest, "We can't all stay here. Hakota needs us on the front lines, besides there's not enough room--"
"If I'm not mistaken I heard a castle being mentioned several times. I want you all to move back into the castle."
Sani was already shaking his head, "No, it's too risky."
"I'll be sending some of the forces on the front lines your way with Innoko."
"But what about the front lines!" Syn exclaimed, "Hakota needs them to keep pushing back the Lunars."
I dismissed his concern with the wave of my hand, "I'm putting Hakota's campaign on hold."
"You can't do that," Roshan told me softly.
I gave him a feral smile. "I'm the alpha female, I can do what I want. And since Hakota's made a mess of things, it's my job to clean it up." Seeing the doubtful look on his face I added, "If it's Hakota that you're worried about, don't. I'll take care of him."
"What about the front lines?" Sani demanded.
"I have full faith in Sitka. He's been in a war or two from what I've heard. I just need him to hold fort while Hakota and I...work some things out. In the meantime, it sounds like some of you need some time to reconnect so I'm giving it to you. Plus, I won't be leaving the two newest members of the pack in such a dangerous situation. All of you together will dissuade any attacks on you."
"So that's it, you're just going to leave again?" Syn hissed, his eyes narrowing.
Shooting him an apologetic smile I nodded sheepishly. "Just for a little while, but I'm taking my mate with me this time. We need this to help you." Taking in a deep breath I met each set of eyes in the room. "I'm asking you to trust me."
The lycans all looked at each other, seeming to communicate silently between themselves. Finally Roshan spoke, "Alright." He looked back at his pack members who all nodded at him. "We'll do as you say."
I smiled, all of my pearly white teeth showing.
Coda had wanted me to embrace the alpha within me.
Well here goes nothing.