“… What the f#ck are you doing back here?” Aleric asked.
He stood in my doorway, arms crossed, staring at me like I was insane.
But I didn‘t care. My mind was made up. There was no way I was going to have this conversation tonight.
“No,” I answered flatly.
“No, I‘m not doing this now,” I clarified. “I‘m too tired. We can talk later.”
I rolled onto my side, facing away from him, and pulled the blanket up over my shoulder. Maybe if I closed my eyes and pretended to sleep, he would just leave on his own accord.
“Aria, you need to tell me what‘s going on,” he pressed. “Joseph told me you came back over the border and I thought he was joking until I caught your scent by the stairs. Did something happen? Were you caught?”
“No,” I mumbled, repeating myself once more.
“Stop that. Regardless of how tired you are, this is more important. I need to know if something went wrong.”
I groaned out in frustration but reluctantly sat up, my head immediately pulsing with a migraine.*
“Nothing went wrong, Aleric. Just let it go.”
“Obviously something went wrong or you wouldn‘t be here.”
He was getting angry at me and it was only making me more irritated that we were actually having this conversation.
“Fine then,” I snapped back, turning to look at him. “You want to know what went wrong? The entire thing. The whole plan. How stupid do you think Tytus is that he wouldn‘t find out that you were planning to hide me in the Silver Lake?”
His eyes widened a little in surprise. “You’re joking, right? Cai didn‘t organise to move you somewhere else?”
‘More like didn‘t want to move me somewhere else,‘ I thought, recalling our earlier exchange. And that was only after finding out about Caitlyn.
“Evidently not,” I answered, not wanting to elaborate further on the other reasons I‘d returned.
“So… what? You‘re just going to come back here and pretend everything is normal? That you didn‘t almost get killed here? After risking everything to get you out?”
“I don‘t know, Aleric!” I yelled back. “I don‘t know, okay? I don‘t know what to do about me, or Tytus, or Cai … and I *especially don‘t know what to do about you.”
He paused, frowning. “…About me?”
Ah, f#ck. I’d said too much.
“Wait, are you angry at me because of what I told you in the car?” he asked, piecing together my silence.
I rubbed my eyes, hoping that this was just a bad dream.“…No.”
But I didn‘t sound very convincing.
“Seriously? How is that fair on me? You were the one who was angry at me for originally not telling you.”
… That did it.
His words struck a nerve, igniting me once more despite my exhaustion. Crumbling that final piece inside me that still cared about what he would think once he finally heard the truth.
“Fair‘? I asked him, my eyes now ablaze. “You want to talk about ‘fair‘, Aleric? What you said in that car was not fair– not fair to me. In fact, it was the cruelest thing anyone has ever said to me throughout my lives. I would have preferred it if you had just told me you were trying to get rid of me because at least that would be something I could believe and know how to deal with.” 1
“Did you say ‘lives‘?”
“I‘m sick of whatever this is,” I said, waving a hand towards him. “This version of you who is so goddamn unpredictable that I feel as though everything I learnt the first time around is completely useless. That it was meaningless. That I went through years of hell, living with your abuse, for absolutely no benefit. How is that fair?”
“Aria, what the fuck are you talking about?”
“The truth!” I snapped, moving to the edge of the bed. “I‘m telling you what you always wanted to know! The reason I was so scared of you, the reason I always looked at you as if you were a monster. Because i n my eyes you were, Aleric. You were my torturer, my abuser, and you would parade that bitch Thea in front of me like a prized possession you loved more than anything; never caring what it did to me, never caring that it hurt me. Me, your mate.”
“I gave you everything,” | continued, my eyes now filling with tears. “Everything. Anything that was within m y power to give, I gave it to you. You wanted the world to kneel before you? I gave you the path to do it. You wanted my heart, my soul and complete servitude? I gave it to you.
I let you lock me away, isolated alone in this room with nothing but an attendant who in the end threw me to the dogs. And it did it for you. I did it so that maybe you would love me… so that maybe you would just look at me, Aleric.
I wiped angrily at the tears on my face and gritted my teeth. “And then suddenly I‘m brought back by Selene and told to fix it all, to stop it all from happening again.
That if I don‘t then everyone dies. And so that‘s what I did. I worked hard to stop the same future from happening, to stop myself from becoming your Luna, to stop you from trapping and hurting me again… and to stop myself from ever having to love you again… because I couldn‘t bear the thought of living through your rejection twice. That alone had been more painful than anything else.”
“What the hell is this? You‘re saying I apparently rejected you? Hurt you? …None of this is making any sense.”
A humourless laugh then escaped my lips, realising I‘d forgotten the best part.
“Oh no, haha…Oh no, no no, not just rejected,” I said, a smile slowly creeping onto my face. “You see, to be reborn, you don‘t just get plucked out of thin air by Selene and sent back. No, no… you have to die first, Aleric. I died. And guess whose face I saw in my nightmares every single day?”
He could see where I was going with this, his face quickly starting to pale, and my smile only grew despite my tears.
“Yours,” I answered. “It was yours, Aleric. It was you who believed Thea over me, you who convicted me of crimes I never committed, and you who held the sword as it came crashing down, slicing through my neck at the trial grounds. You killed me, Aleric.
You killed me once I was no longer of any use to you anymore. And you wondered why I was so scared of you for so long? Why I‘m so angry at you now given
everything you put me through?”
He opened his mouth to speak but no words came out. Instead, he just looked at me, his eyes full of confusion, and, slowly, my breathing turned into sobs.
I quickly glared down at my hands which were now balled into fists, tightened around the blanket beneath me, and watched as my tears hit the fabric.
“…You don‘t get to dictate what‘s unfair this time…,” I choked out slowly. “And you don‘t get to say that you love me. It‘s nine years too late for that.”
I heard him step closer towards me but, even once he kneeled down to eye level, I still refused to raise my head.
“Aria, look at me,” he said.
But I shook my head, wiping at my face. “No.”
“Aria, *look at me,” he repeated.
Another sob escaped me but I just shook my head once more.
Losing patience, he gently grabbed my chin and raised my head up to finally meet his gaze, to meet his green eyes that were only too familiar.
“If what you‘re telling me is true… then there is literally nothing I can say that will make what happened to you okay,” he said, his expression serious. “Because the reality is… it‘s not okay.
And I can apologise for those things if you want, to say that I‘m sorry but, at the end of the day, even if I did, it wouldn‘t mean anything.
Yes, I‘m sorry that those things happened to you, but I can‘t look you in the eye and genuinely apologize for something I never did, and I guarantee you that it wouldn‘t make you feel any better even if I did.”
“…You‘re still young,” I whispered. “You have time to change, time to become that person.”
I pulled my chin out of his grasp and looked back down at my hands, making him sigh.
“You told me that you were wrongfully convicted of crimes you had no part in, that you died for those very charges,” he continued. “And yet you want to persecute me for sins I‘ve never committed? When have I, me personally, ever hurt you, Aria? When have I ever given you a reason to not trust me? It‘s true that there is nothing I can say to make right what happened to you, but I hope that my actions over these last few years have at least proven to you that, whoever the fuck you‘re talking about… they‘re not me.”
…I knew he was right.
It was the very same thing I had been trying to convince myself of, but it still didn‘t lessen the sting. The cold truth was… I was never going to get my sincere apology. And the things that I went through were never going to be okay. Because the person I needed to hear the apology from was dead in another timeline that was now destroyed. My Aleric was gone. And, knowing him, it was likely that he didn‘t regret what he did to me, even during his final breaths.
But this Aleric in front of me had never given me a reason to not trust him. In fact, he had proven to me time and time again that I could. And yet I still refused to let myself give in. On even the small chance that things turned bad once more, I knew that it would break me beyond repair. It would be the final betrayal I couldn‘t survive.
“… I‘m sorry, Aleric, but… regardless of who you are this time, I can‘t be the person you want me to be,” || said, moving away from him. “I can‘t become a Luna again, always living in your shadow and hoping that what I do ensures my survival for one more day. I refuse to live in another war–torn world created by us.”
…Then don‘t,” he said, making me look up sharply in surprise. “I never expected you to sit back passively in the shadows as a Luna anyway. I just want you to help me make this pack the best it can be.”
I frowned, not seeing how it was all that much different. It still sounded basically the same as what I did for him in the past.
“I know you want change, Aria. That much is obvious,” he continued. “You think I haven‘t noticed how messed up things have been? Hate me for the rest of your life if you want, but I would rather we work together than end up divided in a civil war for power, something that benefits neither us nor the pack. I‘m not so naive as to assume you haven‘t at least considered taking over once you‘re of age. Especially after what Tytus has done to you.”
He wasn‘t wrong. Only days earlier I‘d had this exact conversation with this but had turned her down knowing the impact it would have on Aleric. At the time, I couldn‘t risk tarnishing our current relationship for fear it would lead to the very doom I was trying to prevent
But it was clear now.
If what he was offering was true then this was the best way forward
No secrets, no power struggle, no ruined friendship He was oftenng me mutual control, something that was the last thing I ever expected to hear from his mouth This would mean no Alpha commanding servitude from a Luna But more like split Alphas working together towards a common cause
It was a guarantee that, no matter what happened, whether it be Thea or some other imposing threat per Selene‘s warning, that I would still maintain enough control to handle it the way I needed to, all the while ensuring Aleric didn‘t fall back into the path I feared.
The only concern now was whether our interests would be aligned come time to make difficult decisions … and whether he would end up betraying my trust anyway. A trust that came at the price of more than I could afford to lose
It was a leap of faith that demanded the most risk, yer offered the highest reward The kind of ber that was either all in, or nothing at all,
So just how much was I willing to gamble?
I slowly got up on my feet and stood before him on unsteady legs, my exhaustion still weighing heavily on me.
“Then swear to me,” I said, and watched as he followed in standing up too. “Swear to me on your name and title that you will do night by me, that you will honour this pact for mutual control that you will allow m e to have equal say in all pack matters and, in return.”
| paused for a moment, my heart pounding In return, I will personally ensure that you receive my full support in bringing prosperity to this pack, as well as pose no direct threat to completely remove you as Alpha.”
It was a deal I couldn‘t believe I was making, an offer I had promised myselí I would never give to Aleric again Was I going to regret this in the moming once I‘d had time to sleep? Was any of this even real right now?
“But make no mistake, Aleric,” I continued, turning away from his gaze. “I offer you my hand but nothing more. I once made the mistake of giving you everything I had to offer, my heart, my soul… my life. This deal is for my co–operation alone, to keep a peace that we both know is in the best interest of the pack. Because even though I trust you right now.
I still don‘t trust your future. Not yet, at least. I‘m sure you wouldn‘t either if you were in my shoes, after seeing the things you were once capable of..*
I took a deep breath before looking back up, doing my best to maintain my composure and shake off the
memories. “These are my terms for this alliance. If you break your oath then I make no guarantees for the
repercussions that may result. Are these terms agreeable to you?”
He then placed a hand over his chest, a sign usually reserved for showing respect among allied packs, and lowered his head ever so slightly in a bow.
“I swear, upon my name and future Alpha title, that I will uphold this agreement we have made for mutual control and promise to do right by you.”
| scrutinised his face but could sense that he meant the words genuinely, that he intended to keep this pledge. It was an ethereal experience, all things considered.
And even though I stood a foot shorter than him, I couldn‘t help but feel as though we were on equal footing for once; a first in our history.
There was no fear, no deceit, no questioning his ultimate goal anymore… just two people who were once again forced together, bound by fate, now attempting to sacrifice something for the greater good; Aleric with his birthright, myself for my trust in him once more.
And so, despite the compromise, and despite my extreme fatigue, it was the best I‘d felt in over ten years. My head was spinning, yet I felt very much alive inside.
A sense of calm then started to wash over me, feeling as though I‘d finally won at least one of the battles I‘d been fighting for almost a decade. And whilst it could easily still prove disastrous, for just this moment, I allowed myself the tiniest bit of respite.
Unexpectedly, my legs then gave out from under me, too tired to support myself anymore, and my vision blurred.
“Aria,” Aleric said, quickly reaching out to stop me from hitting the ground.
“Sorry,” I mumbled. I could feel as my brain was starting to quickly switch off, hungry for the sweet nothingness that sleep would provide; something it had been sorely deprived of too much recently. It seemed as though the debt was finally being collected and faster than anticipated. “I‘m just… really tired
He quickly helped me back into bed and threw the blanket over me, settling me in for the remainder of the night.
“There won‘t be any warriors in the packhouse for another few hours,” he said, crouching down to speak to me. “I‘m going to crash on the couch in the other room until they‘re able to take over guarding you. I‘ll be in there if you need anything.”
He stood up to leave but I reached out to grab his arm before he could go.
“Wait,” I said, my eyelids becoming too heavy to stay open. Everything was quickly turning to black but I fought against it for just a little bit longer. “…Aleric… about tonight….”
“Aria… don‘t. You need to rest.”
“… Thank you for believing me.”
Theard him quietly sigh. “It‘s fine. Get some sleep and I‘ll come to see you once you‘re awake.”
“…Night, Aleric,” I mumbled, finally letting him go.
The light then turned off, absorbing me fully into the darkness.
“…Night, Aria.” And sleep immediately carried me away.