"I hope we didn’t bother you,” A man with thick black hair sat on the chair that was pulled out for him by Greta. The others were already seated and making themselves comfortable, eyes darting between Xerxes and I.
“It is quite early,” The man, Luke, continued. “But we wouldn’t have been able to meet on the date you asked. School is starting back for the young ones on that day and most of us are parents, so we’d be very busy.” His eyes looked up to Xerxes. “So this isn’t a problem, is it?” The last statement, or rather, question, was asked carefully.
Xerxes wanted to show that he truly did care about what the humans wanted and I had a feeling that if Xerxes would reply negatively, it would cause the persons inside the room to have a bad impression of him.
“No. Not at all.” There was an almost simultaneous exhale amongst the small gathering and I felt a smile on my lips.
“But I had intended to speak before everyone." Xerxes continued. Luke nodded, threading his fingers together.
“I know. But we sent out emails and they wrote out questions they wanted you to answer and speak about. You see, the twelve of us here,” Luke gestured around the room. “Are representing the persons who aren’t here.”
“A cup of tea anyone?” Greta’s voice was soft and polite, so unlike her usual tone and I almost broke my neck trying to look at her. I shook my head, a bubble of mirth forming in my throat; she never speaks to me the way she does to these strangers. I wonder if Xerxes had told her to be nice to these people.
She gave everyone tea but me, but not because she was trying to be her usual spiteful self, but instead I refused it, too eager to get into and listen to the conversation that was beginning to take place.
And as time passed, I noticed that most of the questions were directed towards Xerxes. I stayed in the background as they shot question after question, which was answered quickly or was debated for a while before an agreement occurred.
I noticed that most of these questions were centred around how werewolves treated humans, and specific details about how exactly Xerxes wanted to change that.
Inquiries about homes and wages were also tossed to Xerxes. They wanted another increase in pay and asked why most of the businesses were run by werewolves assigned by Xerxes.
“There needs to be some diversity,” A lady said, looking over to a man who nodded in agreement. “It’s always been the werewolves who are the supervisors. I’m sure that any human man or woman should be able to step up into that role.”
I eventually decided to leave the table, my eyes feeling heavy and burning. I had only slept for three hours and was in dire need of sleep. No one noticed that I slipped away to the living room.
I rested my head on one of the many cushions, turned on the television and watched commercials until I allowed sleep to take over.
And once again, I was awoken rudely from my slumber. Someone was prodding my shoulder roughly and I managed to open my eyes, scowling when I saw George’s smiling face. “You’re taking up most of the sofa.”
I tried speaking, but it came out garbled, so I cleared my throat. “They’re plenty of couches in here, George.” I could hear the voices of the people and it sounded like they were getting ready to leave.
I jerked up, uttering a soft ‘whoah’ when the room began to spin and waited a couple seconds. When I eventually stood, I headed to the hallway where I could see them. They smiled tightly at me and I frowned, watching as they left.
“It seems like you’ve charmed them.” I told Xerxes as we both stood in the doorway. Guards came up to escort them to the exit of the neighborhood and it was then that I closed the door.
“Penelope called,” Greta’s voice startled both of us. “She’s coming over with the baby.”
My frown deepened. “Surely she’s tired from giving birth?”
Greta shrugged. “If she’s coming here then she musn’t be tired.” She drawled almost rudely. I narrowed my eyes, hearing Xerxes laugh softly beside me.
“You’re pushing it, woman.” I muttered. I brushed past her, sighing when I saw that both George and Alyssa were now in the living room, watching a show that was far too loud.
Penelope’s baby boy was so tiny. He was swaddled in a white blanket, his pale face smooth and soft as he slept. His tiny lips moved in his sleep and his fingers were slack when I placed my pinky in his palm. Flynn watched me carefully, as if he expected me to harm the baby.
“He’s just being over-protective.” Penelope whispered to me when I questioned her about Flynn’s attitude. Her hair was in a messy bun and her eyes looked tired, but also full of joy as she stroked the little fuzz of hair on the baby’s head. She lifted the bundled baby slightly towards me. “Would you like to hold William?”
My first reaction was to say no. My chest tightened at the thought of him waking him up when Penelope placed him in my arms, but I must’ve jerked my head in a nod for she carefully handed him over. I watched as his face redden and scrunch up. My eyes widened as he let out an ungodly wail, his mouth opening wide.
I quickly gave him back to Penelope, who was laughing quietly at my surprised expression whilst trying to hush her baby. Her arms rocked the baby gently and it only took him a few seconds to relax, softly smacking his lips together and closing his eyes one more.
I could practically feel Flynn’s glare as I looked down guiltily at William. “Did I do something wrong?”
Penelope was quick to shake her head. “I don’t think so.” She said, continuing to rock him. “He probably just missed my touch or something.”
Many minutes later, Penelope offered me the baby again. When I took him this time, the baby’s eyes opened, but there was thankfully no screams that followed.
He stared at me for a long while, squirming every now and then as I held him to my chest. Xerxes was watching when I managed to drag my eyes away from the baby and I stilled at the look in his eyes, face feeling hot.
I blinked as a stench began to come from William and Penelope asked if there was a place that she could change his pamper. Greta showed her to a room and I followed, in disbelief at how Penelope didn’t flinch from the smell as she took off the pamper.
“You’ll soon be having a baby too I hope.” Penelope said after securing the new pamper. I scoffed, leaning over to gently stroke the baby’s forehead.
“Nah. Not anytime soon anyway.”
Penelope grinned, cleaning up and getting rid of the dirty pamper. "Sure. Just remember to use a condom when you and Xerxes get it on.”
I stiffened, a hard lump forming in my throat as I recalled the two times Xerxes and I had sex...with no condom. How could I be so careless? I almost sunk to my knees in fear and Penelope looked at me wide eyed as I fought for breath, momentarily forgetting that there was a baby in the room as I uttered,
“It’s in Oak Lane forest. Gary’s living in a house there with his fiancé.” Sinclair’s words rang in my ears even after we left the shed that night. He had finally broken, revealed where Gary was hiding. It was in a heavily forested area, a place which I hadn’t even thought of.
Idina’s howl of anger had followed after Sinclair’s confession, furious that he had broken and submitted to Xerxes. The bars of her cell had bent outwards when she rammed herself into them and she had to be quickly sedated and carried to another cell which was much more stronger.
And despite the late hour, Xerxes called for at least twenty of his soldiers to come with us to the forest. As we waited, I recalled some of Sinclair’s further words.
Gary had tried to convince many people to join his cause. He had been hoping that there would be enough werewolves to stand by him on the day he planned to attack, but had quickly came to realize that many refused to do so. Arthur had been right; Gary had underestimated how many werewolves were loyal to Xerxes.
Soldiers arrived in five minutes and listened intently as they were given specific directions to where they hoped to find Gary. For all we knew, it could be some trap, so precautions had to be made.
The journey to the forest would take two hours and we would be travelling to it from different roads; persons would become suspicious if they saw a whole line of vehicles following each other.
When they were briefed, I entered a car with Xerxes and Kesley and another soldier who I came to know as Bennet. The wind stung my eyes as Kesley speedily drove the car and I more than once had to lean forward, to hiss to her slow down, that she was bringing us too much attention.
I moved from the window when I saw the sky beginning to darken as we finally approached the forest. Night was rolling in and I regretted my decision on not wearing a coat.
Headlights were turned off and I spotted a couple cars park outside the forest. I got out on shaky legs, palming the pistol in my hand. Xerxes watched me with a frown as I laced up my boots and I knew that he wasn’t happy about me being here, but I shook it off. It was too late to turn back now anyway.
With a flashlight gripped in my hand, we ventured into the forests, boots crushing dead leaves and walking on soft grass. The night air was cold, so much so that I felt my fingers slowly losing feeling and I hissed softly, catching Kesley’s attention.
I shook my head, not wanting her or Xerxes to get distracted. Our heads ducked under overhanging branches, and my fingers pushed at leaves and bushes as we moved deeper into the forests. I could hear the footsteps of some of the soldiers nearby and cursed softly; if I could hear those noises, I’m certain that Gary would be able to as well.
“Rebecca.” Xerxes hand on my back made me pause and I glanced up at him and then to where he looked at. He crouched, inhaling deeply, eyes darkening as he picked up Gary’s scent. His hand brushed the floor of the forests as he shone a light onto it.
Large footprints were embedded in the murky wet ground. Xerxes quickly gave some commands through a walkie-talkie, telling the others what he had discovered. He waited to hear back from Flynn before we continued walking.
I would’ve enjoyed the singing of the crickets if we weren’t in the position that we were in now. It was a loud, almost rhythmic sound that began to make me lose focus, until I snapped out of it. Raindrops fell from the sky lightly and my fingers wrapped tightly around the flashlight when I heard something ahead scuttle.
My heart throbbed almost painfully in my chest, all of us freezing in position as we earnestly listened for the noise again. The tree branches blew in the strong gusts of wind, some of the small ones knocking together noisily, but those sounds weren’t similar to what we had heard.
The pattering noises of feet against earth made Xerxes jerk forward automatically and I caught a glimpse of the scarred face man as he delved behind trees. Xerxes didn’t have to go far, however, because Gary came to realize that he was surrounded.
Lights and guns were now aimed towards the tree he cowered behind. I could hear his shaky breathing, the noises of him beginning to panic. I stepped to the side, tilting my head and making eye contact with Gary, whose lip curled in disgust.
“You!” He snarled, fingernails lengthening into claws as he resisted the urge to shift and maul me. Squeezing my gun, I said nothing when he took a step forward, but then retreated backwards until his back pressed against a tree. Xerxes came to stand beside me, regarding his stepbrother with something akin to fury.
“Step forward with your hands up, Gary.” Xerxes told him, his voice low. The tall werewolf hissed threateningly when a soldier stepped forward.
Gary slipped a shaking, nervous hand into the coat he wore and Xerxes stepped up in front of me protectively.
“What are you doing?” Xerxes demanded. Gary fumbled for a while and Flynn and I exchanged a look of confusion, our eyes snapping back to the werewolf when he lifted a pistol that looked like mine, but grey.
“Everything I have tried to do has failed!” Gary’s yell rang in the quiet forest and I noticed that even the crickets had became silent. “You’ve won, Xerxes.” His voice cracked and his eye glimmered with unshed tears. “No one is willing to stand by me.”
Xerxes muscles were tense when he stepped towards Gary, the pistol which the werewolf held aimed to the ground. “Perhaps we can talk about this, Gary,” Xerxes voice became soft, almost pleading. Gary’s sharp eye narrowed in on him and he flinched away, his large body pressing further into the tree.
“There’s nothing to talk about,” Gary rasped. “You won’t change the ways to how it was in the past. And if I were to kill you, werewolves will carry on doing what you would’ve wanted. I thought many would understand that it’s wrong, that I would convince them, but I can’t.”
Flynn bared his fangs as Gary lifted the pistol, but not at Xerxes, but himself. His eye locked on my own and his face twisted into a sneer. “And I’d rather die than live under these new laws.”
Gary lifted the pistol so the barrel faced upwards, resting it under his chin and my blood ran cold as I watched, horrified, when he pulled the trigger.