It had Alpha Tytus written all over it. He had ‘coincidentally’ chosen a night my father was out of town and my mother was shifted to work at the hospital. This meant it would be just me… and Aleric. It seemed I had assumed incorrectly that Tytus was done trying to play matchmaker with us.
When I had been accepted as a probationary Beta heir, naturally I had thought the surprise dates would come to an end. Did he think I was going to fail in my endeavour to best Alexander? Or was his idea that I could be persuaded to drop out of the running for the title if I fell for Aleric?
Putting all of that aside, I now found myself with less than seven hours to get the entire house ready.
To have the Alpha or Alpha heir come for dinner was considered a high enough honour already, but hosting Aleric would just make things more difficult. I‘d never found him an easy person to please in my past.
I worked tirelessly, from the moment I found out he was coming, to organise everything down to the most minute detail. From briefing the attendants on behaviours to avoid around him, to creating a menu for the cooks so they could prepare Aleric’s preferred foods, nothing was left to chance.
By the time I was finally finished organising, I found I only had an hour for myself to get ready and dressed.
And then, finally, the time came.
As Aleric entered the house, I saw him pause a moment to take it all in. I wondered what was going through his mind and couldn’t recall if he‘d ever come here before. But judging from his face, he didn’t remember either.
“Greetings, Alpha heir,” I said, bowing my head.
“Evening, Ariadne,” he replied.
I looked up and saw him staring at me strangely already. Had I done something off? I wracked my brain but couldn‘t think of anything.
“It‘s an honour to receive you tonight,” I continued. “If you‘ll follow me to the parlour, we can sit there while we wait for our meals to be ready….”
We walked into the large sitting area with two couches. I stood at the doorway, allowing him t o move first to choose where he would sit. When he‘d made himself comfortable, I purposely sat on the opposite couch with just enough distance.
Close enough to not be rude, but far away enough that I didn’t have to worry about flinching at any of his sudden movements.
“So, how have you been, Ariadne?” he asked finally, after several moments of silence had passed. “It’s been… a week since our last meeting?” “Yes, Alpha heir,” I said. “I‘ve been well. Yourself?”
“I‘ve been good…,” he said, his face turning that same odd frown again. “You can call me Aleric, you realise? You’re a Beta heir now. The formalities aren‘t required.” Oh… so this was why he’d given me that look at the door. I’d found it easier to call him Alpha heir these last few months, the sound of his real name on my lips always leaving a bitter taste.
I clenched my jaw, preparing myself to force to words out. “Apologies… Aleric.” He regarded me warily. Obviously, something else was still bothering him that he hadn’t mentioned.
But he didn’t end up bringing it up as, not long afterwards, one of the attendants came in to announce dinner was ready. I breathed out a sigh of relief. At least having food in front of me would give me an excuse to not keep the conversation going. We sat down in the dining room, Aleric at the head of the table, myself to his right; just as it always had been.
I could feel the anxiety begin to creep into my chest at his proximity, knowing I was within arms reach of him at any given moment. But I pushed it aside. I was stronger than that now.
The food started to come out then and I was grateful everything had been prepared exactly the way I had instructed. The spread was diverse enough for even four people, but I hadn’t wanted to leave anything to chance. I looked up to check on Aleric, to gauge his reaction, but he seemed completely fine; this being at least one comfort to my anxiety. I knew I’d never know for sure though since he was impossible to read.
“Is everything to your liking… Aleric?” I asked.
“Yes, it‘s all great,” he said. “Thank you.” That didn’t tell me much but at the very least he hadn’t hated it right away.
And with that, we both began to eat.
However, several minutes in, I realised he still hadn’t said anything… and I was beginning to worry I’d done something wrong. I cleared my throat. “So… how was your exchange?”
He looked directly up at me as he spoke, and I tried not to jump at the sudden eye contact. “It was good. I went to a northern territory called the Opal Tide. It‘s the central pack for the region up there.”
I wasn’t overly familiar with them but I knew they were a fairly powerful pack. Aleric had spared them during his tyrant years. I guess now I knew why. “That‘s… good,” I said before taking another bite of my food.
“Ariadne…,” he said, trailing off. “Yes?”
He looked confused, as if he wanted to talk about something but wasn’t sure if he should.
to the airport
He clenched his jaw and went back to eating his food. A part of me was curious and wanted to know what he’d wanted to say, but I thought better of pushing him for answers.
We ended up eating the rest of our meal in silence after that. I wasn’t sure what to talk about or whether I should even try to start a conversation or not, and so I let him be.
When he was finally done, he placed his utensils on the table. “That was delicious, thank you. Please tell the cook they did a great job.”
“I’m glad to hear that,” I said, genuinely relieved everything had gone as planned. “Do you think I could trouble you for a cup of tea?” Oh, he wanted tea? I suppose I could make him some. I stood up and began walking to the kitchen. “Ariadne, what are you….”
I stared at him confused. He said he wanted tea? I was getting him tea….
“…Nevermind,” he said again, leaning back into his chair. I paused another moment, still unsure over whatever that was, but proceeded on my way to the kitchen anyway. I asked the attendant there to boil me some water as I prepared the tea leaves.
They, too, gave me an odd look that I still couldn‘t decipher. Several moments later, I was on my way back with his tea in hand, walking straight up to him.
I was about to place it on the table in front of him when suddenly his arm shot out towards me.
I jumped, not expecting him to have moved so quickly, and dropped the teacup…
…Right onto his leg.
He stood up immediately and cursed in pain. I realised too late that he had actually just been reaching for the cup in my hand, but I hadn‘t expected it. I hadn‘t thought he would move so abruptly. “Oh, Goddess, no…,” was all I could say. Instinctively, I had already begun pacing backward until I found myself up against the wall. “Please… no, I’m so sorry.” He was patting at his leg with a napkin, wincing from the pain, when suddenly his eyes looked up to meet mine. I had messed up.
I had messed up so badly. “I’m sorry, please, I’m so sorry,” I kept repeating, my body beginning to shake. “It‘s fine,” he said. But I could barely hear him as I was so scared over whatever he would do to me.
He saw how I was, how my face had completely paled. “I said it’s fine, Ariadne,” he repeated with a tone of irritation now. And then he started walking towards me, looking unsettled by my reaction as I continued to apologise over and over again. “Are you not listening to me? What’s wrong with you?” I recoiled away but there was nowhere to move. I was already trapped by the wall. And then finally he’d had enough.
“Why do you always have this reaction to me, Ariadne?” he snapped, frustrated. “I don’t get it! What have I done to you? What could I possibly have done to always make you fear me this much?”
I stared at him mutely, unable to find my voice.
“Before you became Beta heir, we literally had only spoken maybe five times growing up. So, what the hell did I do?”
And then I saw him. Really saw him for the first time since coming back.
This wasn’t the adult man who had gone on a killing spree. This wasn’t the man who had trapped and used me. This was a teenage boy who was probably still learning who he was himself.
He had the same midnight curls and green eyes, but his face didn’t have the same lines from battle he’d acquired over the years. He was younger, purer. I’d been so caught up in the past that I’d been unable to look at him in the present.
“Help me understand, Ariadne, because I can’t take it anymore.”
He looked at me then with a sad desperation, as if this had been something piling up inside him for a long time now. “Because whenever I look into your eyes, all I see is a reflection of myself, seen in the form of some kind of monster. And it makes me feel sick. Like I need to be apologising for something when I don’t even know what I’ve done wrong.”
I wanted to say something, to give a plausible explanation for why I was so scared of him. But there was no good reason I could think of that didn‘t involve mentioning my past life.
What could I possibly tell him? Because he glares at me in meetings? Because he was sarcastic at me that one time? Because he gets angry when other men carry me off?
“Ariadne! Please, talk to me,” he said and grabbed at my arms gently. “Help me understand what it is I’ve done. I’m sick of having to feel so disgusted by myself whenever I’m near you. What did I do, Ariadne?” I couldn’t focus, I couldn’t think anymore.
My head was spinning… and my vision was beginning to blur. And I realised then what was happening… but it was too late. This wasn’t trauma anymore.
No… now, I was having a vision.
I clenched my teeth to hold it off as long as possible. I knew I couldn‘t let him see me when I eventually appeared to pass out. Too many questions I didn’t want to share answers to. “Ariadne?” he called again, still waiting for me to reply. He didn’t even realise anything was off about me. Aleric probably just assumed I was ignoring him. so
many great But I could barely see him now, struggling against whatever it was that caused the visions. It was pushing at me, trying to overpower my body, but I held on as much as I could.
I shook my head. It was the only thing I could muster as there was no way I could reply with actual words. Not now anyway.
He sighed in annoyance, finally letting me go.
“I don’t know why I even tried to organise dinner,” he said before I heard his footsteps begin to leave Aleric… organised the dinner? Not Tytus? I didn’t get time to think on it further though, as suddenly I felt myself falling, and my eyesight evaporated. …And then… there was blood.
So much blood. All over me.
I couldn’t see it but I could feel it. The hot sticky sensation on my hands I knew could only be one thing. I was sure that if I looked down that I would find it everywhere.
But that wasn’t all. I was standing with the weight of someone leaning against me, their neck against my shoulder. I couldn’t see their face, or even their head, but I could feel they were heavy.
And then I realised this wasn’t like any other vision I’d had previously. No, I wasn’t watching it happen to someone else this time. I was here, present at that moment. This was happening in my future.
But it was strange though… it was like my vision was frozen, a snapshot in time, allowing me a moment to get a grasp on what was happening. I couldn‘t move or speak and everything around me was eerily paused in motion.
I tried to keep calm and looked around, hoping to figure out where I was, but I didn‘t recognise the area at all in the dark. I could only see the tree line of a forest and a pathway leading from a dimly lit area at night. None of this was helpful. Suddenly, the person against me groaned out in pain and everything began to move again; time resuming.
They grabbed at my shoulder and pushed themself off me, falling to the ground in front of me. And it was then that I realised what was happening. What my vision was showing me.
Because in my hand was a knife. A hot, sticky knife that had caused the source of all the blood.
…And in front of me laid a dying Aleric, slowly bleeding out.
I understood why I was here this time, why I was a participant and not a spectator. …Because I was going to kill Aleric.