"Jeko challenge you?" The young hybrid munched thoughtfully on his apple. We were alone atop the castle walls, I had dismissed the sentries to allow us some privacy. Malik's legs kicked back and forth, dangling down from the wall whereas I leaned comfortably against the sturdy brick and looked out across the city.
"Well it wouldn't work, wouldn't it?" I shot the white-eyed boy a glance. Malik didn't answer my question and just took another bite of his food. I shifted my eyes back to the city scape. It was mid day but yet there was no sun in sight thanks to the cloudy and gray skies. The air smelled of rain but it had yet to storm. "We could twist it to look like I would have let his mating stand but his ego and insecurities couldn't handle the thought of competition. His death would be in his own shoulders."
This was the best plan I had so far. Winter and I had discussed it a long length last night before pushing the male to the back of our minds to focus solely on us.
"The Forest Kingdom will still see it as a lycan killing their own." The boy told me, examining his apple core to see if there was a final bite to be had.
"But mate fights are a part of their culture, it's a tradition. How can they excuse all of the others who killed for their mates but not me?"
"Because you're a lycan?" He replied blandly through a mouthful of fruit.
I slapped the wall in frustration, "Then what the hell do I do?" I hissed.
Malik leaned forward, peering down the castle walls and spotting a werewolf guard below. Winding his arm back he took aim and before a word of protest could leave my lips he had launched it at the unsuspecting female. It whizzed through the air, hitting the back of the werewolf's head. The female whipped around, a hand raised to the back of her head, her eyes scanning for the culprit. When she glanced up at us, Malik waved innocently.
My eyes bored into the boy, unamused. Feeling my gaze on him, Malik's white eyes shifted over to me. His grin fell in seeing my dry expression. "Why are you even asking me?" He demanded, getting to his feet and now standing on the lip of the wall where one misstep could send him plummeting to the ground. He stretched his arms above his head and yawned, "I'm only fourteen."
My flat look in response had him sighing dramatically. With his hands behind his head, he began to walk along the top of the wall, placing his feet one in front of the other as he tottered along. I followed him on the battlement walkway, ready to grab him if he was to lose his balance. "You are looking at this all wrong Sitka," he drawled, "the issue here isn't Jeko's death. It doesn't matter how you kill him or who kills him." The boy stopped and turned to me, his arms dropping down to his sides. "The issue is the Forest Kingdom getting angry about it and declaring war."
"I know that," I said, frowning thoughtfully at the ground beneath my feet.
"Then why are you trying so hard to find a way to deal with him?" Malik jumped down from the wall and came toe to toe with me, tipping his head back so he could meet my eyes. "The person you need to pacify is not Jeko or even the Forest Kingdom but the male who rules it and calls the shots."
"You think he's going to be sympathetic towards my cause? He would be delighted to know two lycans are suffering and our hands are tied from doing anything."
Stepping aside, Malik shrugged, "Then I guess you'll just have to give up." The hybrid made to leave, sensing Hakota approaching just as I did.
"So then what would you do?" I asked him as he strolled away in the opposite direction our alpha was coming from.
The white-eyed teenager only raised a hand as he continued walking, "I already told you Beta, you don't want to do what I would."
I stared after Malik, my lips pressed into a displeased line. He trashed my plan but gave me no solution to replace it. I blew out of breath, squeezing the bridge of my nose. His words about giving up had been a taunt and his final statement had been a warning. He was telling me to figure out something fast because if I didn't act sooner, he would. And by the sound of it I would not care much for what he had planned.
"You really are talking to Malik." Hakota's voice did not startle me. I had been waiting for him after all. "Nahta and Kieran told me that he was actually quite friendly with you."
I braced my hands on the wall, "He's alone," I replied.
Hakota stepped up beside me, "I know," he murmured sadly, "and you feel that way too." His voice was almost lost in the soft blowing wind that carried his timbre out to the city.
I swallowed, uncomfortable lying to my alpha. How was I supposed to tell him that I wasn't depressed about being mateless, but I was sad that now that I had found her, I couldn't have her without causing another war?
"Sitka," Hakota placed a hand on my shoulder. I hesitantly twisted my head to meet his concerned gaze. "Sitka, I don't know how to help you. I can feel you slipping through my fingers but I am helpless to grab onto you."
My throat was filled with a sudden thickness and I had to look away from his electric blue eyes as I managed to choke out, "I'm fine."
"Don't," my alpha squeezed my shoulder in a bruising grip. He closed his eyes and sucked in a breath, "Don't lie to me." When his eyes finally peeled open they were pained and stricken. I couldn't meet his eyes, not when he was looking at me like that. Hakota pulled us together so our foreheads touched, one hand cradling the back of my head. "Tell me how to help you, Sitka. Let me save you before I can't."
I exhaled a shuddering breath, praying to Lune that Hakota wouldn't start crying, because if he shed tears for my sake I would give in and just tell him everything.
But how could I? How could I be so selfish to ask the pack to go to war for me? They would without hesitation, just like I would for any of them, but it wasn't fair of me to ask them to put their families on the line for the sake of mine.
"Please," Hakota begged me, pushing the back of my head so our foreheads connected more forcefully, "just tell me what you need for me that can make this better."
I squeezed my eyes shut, so tempted to just spill my secrets but fear ate at me. Winter was his daughter and I was sleeping with her when we weren’t even properly mated. Together we were lying to the whole pack. Alone we were trying to solve the problem that with one false move could plunge us into a war. Hakota was my oldest friend, he was Winter's father, but I was scared that if he knew the truth he wouldn't allow our mating. He was an alpha above all and he had to protect the pack. If that meant Winter I could not mate, I did not doubt that he would ask this sacrifice of us.
After all, he himself had given up a lot for us. He nearly lost his mate because of it, and for a while he had truly lost his mind. But I wasn't as strong as him, I couldn't give up Winter for the good of the pack. However, for the good of the pack, I would not ask for their help.
A raindrop fell from the gray sky, a smattering of water following afterwards, but instead of letting me go so we could escape the rain before it turned into a downpour, my alpha only asked me quietly, "Do you remember the promise we made in Hemlock?"
"I do," I replied lowly. It had been a moment like this.
Hakota and I had been too late to get to one of the last remaining lycan packs. All of the houses had been set ablaze. Shattered glass and debris had been everywhere. The heavy rain had set out the fires long before we got there. Water had flooded the roads and ran red with blood, collecting in puddles and staining rocks.
Within the houses, the water trailed the blood from the slain bodies that had not been burned into blackened husks.
There had been only one survivor that day, a baby no more than a few months old, trapped underneath her dead mother. The fire had clogged the baby's lungs full of ash and the humidity of the rain had cemented it, slowly suffocating her. Hakota had been the one to end her misery.
Soaked in the rain we had sat in that room, the roof half collapsed and charred into shambles. Hakota kept the baby cradled in his arms, whispering softly to her as he covered her nose and mouth to prevent any more of the child's attempts at wheezing in breaths. And he continued to hold her after she had passed.
"Sitka," he had called to me, "if it comes down to something like this between us, I will not be strong enough to relieve you of your suffering. I will give up my alphahood, I will sacrifice my limbs to keep you alive, but I will not send you from this world as I have this child. I will selfishly ask you to live despite your pain." He had looked at me with eyes red and puffy from crying, but also fierce and commanding as he ordered, "Swear to me that you shall never take your own life and leave me alone in this world. Promise me that you will fight until to your last breath to live. That you will not give into the darkness, even if darkness is all you can see. Do not give up because we can survive as long as we have each other. I will hold your hand in that darkness but you have to promise me you will not let go and abandon me there."
There had been no denying that stubborn and superior gaze.
"Swear it," His voice echoed in my memory.
So I had. I had sworn all that he had asked of me that day.
"Do not forget your oath to me," The Hakota from the present said to me, reaching between us to grab my hand. "I am still here Sitka." He lifted our clasped hands for me to see. "I have not let go and if you keep holding on, I promise we will escape the darkness. I found my light but I will follow you until you discover yours."
The heaviness that settled in my chest from the memory and Hakota's strong reminder overwhelmed me with emotion. I was still full of so much sorrow. I held so much anger and grief for what had been done to our kind. I was full of guilt for being unable to stop so much death and pain.
And Hakota, my alpha, my friend, my brother, who was willing to carry me when I was no longer able to walk, to breathe for me when I no longer wished to draw in air, to pull both of us from the dark depths that I was drowning in because I had forgotten how to swim, Hakota who refuse to give up on me, the male I had abandoned for twenty years.
No, I could not ask anything more of him. This was my battle to win and my sacrifice to make. "Give me my beta duties back," I said. While it was true that I had my own issues to work through, I still had an obligation to the pack. "Send me to the Forest Kingdom. Syn and Terrin need to be with Malik, he needs his parents."
I had waited this long for Winter, I could continue waiting until I figured out a solution.
"Will this truly help you?" My alpha inquired.
I nodded, "Let me be of use Hakota."
With a broken smile he forced upon his face for my own benefit, he puffed out a breath, "You won't stay for more than a few days at a time because the Foresters get restless when a lycan stays too long at the border."
"It doesn't matter, just give me an assignment." The best way to avoid suspicion from my pack was to have a true motive to go there. If I just left for the Forest Kingdom with nothing but my own personal agenda, there would be questions.
"As you wish," Hakota agreed.
We did not go our separate ways after reaching an accord, but stayed atop the castle walls in the rain. As the water poured down, washing over us like it had so long ago, we stayed side by side in silence, Hakota never once letting go of my hand.