Xerxes' hand gripped mine tightly as Harold advanced towards us, blocking the entrance to the room we wanted to enter.
His eyes were shifty, shoulders hunched as his mouth opened and closed several times. He knew that we had seen the exchange between Sinclair and himself, and was trying to form some excuse or reason for that to have taken place.
A pissed off Xerxes shouldered past him, his hand moving to my back to push me gently in front of him and away from Harold.
“We shall speak later.” Xerxes promised him. Harold said nothing, his gaze flickering to a bare wall behind us and then to me. His shoes echoed against the floor when he walked away.
I walked into the room, choosing to sit on the carpeted floor, which only earned me a confused look from Xerxes, who sat on one of the many dark sofas. He said nothing, just watched as I gathered my thoughts, trying to push away the disappointment I felt towards Harold, knowing that he now couldn’t be trusted.
His hesitance and forced ignorance regarding those rings when I asked him about it had been obvious. I didn’t miss the fact that the persons who wore those rings hated Xerxes. Harold must somehow be associated with them and probably agreed with their ideas.
Sweet cupcakes of many flavours rested on a plate. I took one up, eating it slowly. I was still very much unnaccustomed but yet in awe of many sweet, sugary goods. There was only a handful of times in which I had ever eaten some of these delicious snacks such as cakes and chocolate, something which werewolves had ensured to make humans deprived of thirteen years ago.
“How is your neck?” Xerxes’ voice was a low rumble, instantly making me give him my full attention. My fingers tentatively danced around the skin, feeling some of the remnants of the concoction which had been placed there. The Alpha’s eyes followed my movements, darkening with a strong, hair-raising emotion.
“It doesn’t hurt.” I answered eventually, dropping my hand away and resting it onto my lap, regarding him quietly. His jaw was still tight, his head tilted as he too watched me.
“The rings which your mother and Sinclair had,” He stiffened at my words and I paused, but soon continued. “Did you recognize them? Or do you know anything about them?”
The shake of his head was slow.
“No.” He told me. Silver eyes watched as I rose from where I had rested, moving to sit closer to him on the sofa, my voice becoming a low whisper as I spoke to him, revealing my encounters with Matthew's mother and the men who had thrown rocks at the home which had been recently built. When I told him of Harold’s reactions to me trying to talk about these rings, it only infuriated Xerxes.
“He cannot be trusted, Rebecca. He knows something we don’t and clearly has no intentions of revealing whatever it is.”
Xerxes fingers caressed my cheek, the mark on my neck flaring at the warmth from his touch.
“Would you like to return back to the house?” He asked, his voice low with concern. I shook my head. I did not want to go back to the house or stay here either. I had promised both Alyssa and George that I would buy them some sort of gift whilst I was here and I didn’t intend on breaking that vow.
“Flynn shall stay with you.” Xerxes spoke after I told him my plan. “I have to stay, to sort out a few issues but he will escort you and Penelope to where you want to go.”
Penelope lifted a small pair of baby socks, waving it in my face. “It’s so tiny.” She whispered. I nodded, my attention wavering away from her as I stared at the endless toys on shelves, the necklaces hanging on walls. I winced as a loud screeching noise pierced the air. Flynn dropped the firetruck he had taken up, watching it clatter to the floor.
The siren on it wailed continuously, until a shop attendant came over and switched it off, shaking her head at a flushed face Flynn, who shuffled over to his mate.
I touched the soft fake fur of the teddy bear, wondering if Alyssa would like it, but then remembered her dislike towards toys and moved it away, deciding on a necklace instead. And for George, I bought him a watch.
Again, I was drawn to the toys. I was five years old when the werewolves had taken over my town, and only had one doll, which my father had bought. I remembered tucking her in beside me as a child in bed, pretending to have tea parties. But those little joys were soon stripped away when I turned eight years old and had little choice but to leave my home, my mother having to give it up to the werewolves, who chose to relocate us to a densely area.
As we left the store, I noticed a table, books laid out on the surface. A woman’s face, one which seemed oddly familiar caused my blood to run cold. I ignored Flynn’s questions as I stalked past him, grabbing one of the many books despite the protest of the young lady who was selling them.
Recollections of the woman who Xerxes had shot came to mind as I studied the face of the woman plastered on the cover. It was her.
“You’ll have to pay for that, miss.” The woman behind the table quipped. Penelope walked up behind me, looking over my shoulder.
I ignored the woman and flipped over the book, reading the summary hastily. It didn’t give away much of what would be in the book, but I wanted to read it anyway. I handed the woman a twenty dollar bill, telling her to keep the change.
Whilst Penelope and Flynn ate later that day in the mall, I flipped through the pages of the book, my stomach twisting as I read the life of the woman who Xerxes had killed. Shock wasn’t even the right word to describe how I felt as I took in some photographs which only proved what was being recounted in the book.
The woman, who I had believed to be an innocent hungry woman, who had little choice but to steal food than to starve, was a mass murderer. She had slaughtered many men and a couple female werewolves, who she had lured into her home by offering ridiculous sums of money in exchange for medicinal drugs.
It seemed, from what I read in the book, that Xerxes had known this and had planned her murder. He had arranged with the employers at the mine to have the workers there whilst he killed her.
The smell of pastries tickled my nostrils and I glanced up to see Flynn eyeing the book. I snapped it closed, but he studied the cover anyway, releasing a small grunt.
“Ah. Lily Anderson.” He commented. “A controversial and wicked woman.”
I said nothing.
When we returned back to the house, I left the book on the bed in the room which Xerxes and I shared, making sure that it would be the first thing he would look at when he arrived.
And when he did, I took in the complexed emotions as he lifted the book, tipped it to the side and glanced at the words written on the back.
“Why did you do that?” I asked, not raising my voice, or allowing any of my own emotions be heard, composing, for now, a cold facade. “Why would you call an audience to watch you murder her?”
Xerxes lowered the book, allowing his back to press against a wall a few feet away as he studied me quietly, stormy eyes piercing my soul.
His voice was a low growl when he spoke, “It is easier to control people when they fear you. The action of murdering that woman before the miners only heightened the dominance I had over them, reminded them that I could easily take away the life of anyone I wanted to.”
The cold, harsh words were spoken carefully and I cleared my throat, straightening from where I sat by the bedside table. My fingers shook as I hid them in the oversized pockets, my palms cold as I replayed his words in my mind, words which only confirmed what I had already known.
“Would you have killed Brandon?” My voice was strong when I questioned him. “The young boy who you made come forward with her. Would you have shot him too?”
His snarl rang in my ears and I winced.
“No.” Xerxes spat. “I have never killed a child.”
My teeth grinded together. “So you were pointing the gun at him as a show of power-play?” I snapped, this time allowing me anger to show as I marched across to him, feeling my blood boil. “Do you know how traumatized that boy must be?”
Xerxes’ exhale was slow, his warm breath tickling my face. “He is not traumatized.” His eyes softened, the darkness in them ebbing away. “His parents were the first people I looked for when I returned to the town after Gary was killed. I explained to him and them about what that woman had done and we both agreed that ending her life was for the best.”
I wiped a hand across my face, feeling the heat of my skin against my palm. “Even if you believe your actions of killing that woman was justly, it doesn’t change the fact that you had kept humans in dire conditions and some individuals, including Brandon, had to steal food from the wealthy in order to survive. People were on the brink of starvation. I, many times, had gone days without eating anything. Had many sleepless nights because I was too fucking worried about whether or not my mother or my siblings would have something to eat the next day.” My words were choked, eyes stinging as I with-held my tears.
Xerxes visibly flinched at my words, the fingers around the book clenching, knuckles turning white. I shook my head, stepping away from him.
“Why would you even allow the system we were forced to live by happen?” My voice cracked and I wiped away the tears which had managed to escape. Xerxes watched me, his face guilt-ridden. I didn’t wait for an answer and left the room, tears beginning to blind my vision.
My head pressed onto the soft pillow, legs curling until I was in a fetal position. It was late at night and Xerxes nor I had managed to sleep. He was restless, moving under the sheets, as if trying to find a place which would be comfortable.
My back faced him, eyes staring ahead towards the closet which held my clothes, listening to each intake of breath he took, the slow release of breath.
“Rebecca.” He had sat up now, and I could feel his eyes on me. I grunted, not bothering to move from the position I was in.
“I know that if I were to apologize, it would do nothing to make up for the decade of ill-treatment that you and others received.” His tone were low, gentle. “I understand your anger towards me, perhaps your disgust. I can only promise you that I will continue to change the system, will make lives better for everyone.”
My head turned, eyes latching on to his own. “Why did you decide to start changing the way humans lived by recently? Was it because of me?”
Xerxes said nothing. The sheets moved as he stood. The floorboards creaked as he crossed the room. A drawer slid open, papers rustled. He approached the bed once more, laying sheets of paper on the desk beside me, the smell of ink and something old, making my nose twitch. The light from the moon outside, shining through the window made it easy for me to see what he had placed down.
“These should answer your questions.” Xerxes said to me, showing me his back. Muscles pressed against the fabric of his shirt, as if his body was beginning to shift. “I’m going for a run.”
I glanced at the papers, but turned my head, listening to his footsteps as he left the room, a heavy feeling settling in the pit of my stomach. I would read those papers tomorrow morning.