A Gift from the Goddess Chapter 74

‘Was last night real?‘ I asked myself, staring up at the ceiling in bed.

So many things had happened, so many truths had finally come out.

…And I felt… lighter.

I‘d woken up after deep sleep, unsure how long had passed, but my body had been grateful for the uninterrupted rest.

Though a part of me was angry at myself for taking the risk of their reaction, I would be lying if I said I wasn‘t happy with the outcome. Or I at least meant that in Aleric‘s case. Cai… well, I had to believe that what I did was for the best.

The fact that I wasn‘t locked away in a hospital right now pending a psych evaluation meant that Aleric had actually believed me. It was something I‘d been worried about the entire time I‘d been back.

I knew how insane it sounded when being told the first time. Some days even I still couldn‘t believe it.

I slowly got out of bed, my body still aching in several places, and got changed into some clothes. There would be things I‘d need to start working on and I needed food and water before I could begin anything.

But as I walked out into the living room, I was surprised to see Aleric on the couch reading documents. He looked comfortable as if he‘d been there for some time. It was strange since I thought he would have been out for the day.

“…You‘re finally awake,” he greeted without looking up. “Was starting to wonder if you fell into a coma.”

I frowned, still groggy from sleep. “How long was I out for?”

My voice felt raw as I spoke, causing me to cough from the dryness in my throat. The amount of crying and yelling had probably taken its toll there.

“A bit over a day,” he replied, leaning over to hand me one of the two coffees sitting beside him.

I took it from him and was instantly grateful for the small relief it provided after having a sip. Water probably would have been better but I wasn‘t about to turn down the caffeine. It was nice of him to have gotten me one.

“How did you know I was going to be awake now? The coffee is still warm.”

He laughed a little. “I didn‘t. They were both mine.”

I stared at the beverage in my hand and suddenly felt a little conflicted given the recent revelations. Truthfully, it felt a little weird between us. He had confessed to me and I‘d turned him down, called him a murderer, and now I was sharing his coffee. And yet somehow he was acting as if nothing had happened, his expression not revealing that he felt phased in any way.

“Aleric-”

“Relax,” he cut me off. “I hadn‘t drunk from it yet.”

Instantly, I felt a little stupid for even worrying about something as minor as that and quickly pushed it aside. It shouldn‘t have been a big deal anyway. Though I wished I knew what he was thinking. One of the most frustrating things about Aleric was that he was so unreadable.

“Have you been here long?” I asked, trying to focus on anything else. “I‘m a little surprised to see you‘re still here.”

He snorted and finally looked up at me, amusement in his eyes. “Still? No, I left for a whole day, came

back and you were still passed out. I‘m just taking a shift for guard duty since I was going to be working in my room down the hall anyway.”

My cheeks immediately burned a little from embarrassment, having made an assumption once more.. Really, I just felt a little bad because of the circumstances.

I didn‘t enjoy the feeling of having to be constantly babysat, as if I were a burden on everyone.

I cleared my throat and tried to brush it off once more, deciding to take a look at what he was so focused on instead. I quickly walked behind him and leaned over, scanning the pages over his shoulder.

It looked like a status report on a new Alpha who‘d recently succeeded his father; Harvey Gallagher. Though no one really knew anything about him here yet, I could recall from the past that the boy was around our age and far too naive for the position he held. Mostly, I just remembered how easily he surrendered to an alliance under us when propositioned.

“You could reach out to him,” I said, inputting my suggestion. “Unlike his father, Ruben, Harvey is a complete pushover. Not necessarily a bad thing but he was never really cut out to run the pack on his own at such a young age.

If you were to extend a hand out and send him someone experienced to help him through these first few years, then he would be indebted to you. Though, I should warn you now, the value of their resources never really increases by much.”

He looked up over his shoulder at me and was momentarily confused. “How–? Nevermind. Sorry, I‘m still getting my head around… all of that.”

No more secrets between us. Felt weird to finally be able to speak freely without needing all the excuses for how I knew what I did. Strangely as though I‘d removed restraints, allowing me to work as efficiently as possible now.

| sat down on the couch beside him and grabbed the documents from his hand to look at them more closely. All the things he was looking into weren‘t that major and all of them could be easily resolved. Though, I could probably write up a few pointers to nudge him in the right direction and give insight into how certain paths would sway…

“So, are you going to finally tell me what happened with Cai?” he suddenly asked.

He‘d posed the question just as I‘d taken another sip, causing me to almost choke on the coffee.

I coughed violently, struggling to clear my airway for a moment, all the while the thick smell of caffeine filled my nose in an unpleasant way.

‘I should have stuck with water,’ I thought bitterly to myself and patted my clothes down with a tissue.

“Aria?” he prompted after I continued to ignore his question.

“Nothing happened,” I said to which he just looked at me, waiting for me to tell him the truth.

I then sighed and leaned back into the couch, hugging my legs to my chest a little.

“…He found his mate,” I finally admitted.

“Ah.”

He would know what that meant, know how it would affect me. Even if Aleric supposedly had feelings for me now, he already knew about my prior relationship with Cai. How could he forget? He‘d literally caught u sin bed together.

“I‘m sorry, Aria,” he said. “I didn‘t know. I just figured it would make the most sense to contact him urgently since… well….”

Since we were romantically involved.

“Yeah… I know.”

In my head, I started recalling the whole ordeal with Cai and my chest ached a little. I missed him. I shouldn‘t… but I did. Was it wrong of me to even feel that much? Would it be okay if I still wished, even just a little bit, that I could still be with him?

After everything we‘d been through, it felt so… abrupt. Final. Though maybe that‘s how things were always fated to end between us. With painful finality.

A quiet humourless laugh then escaped me thinking back on it all.

“What‘s so funny?”

“…No, not funny,” I clarified, a small smile on my lips. “Just… It‘s crazy how things turned out. The very fact I was involved with Cai at all is bizarre.”

“What do you mean?”

I then turned to look at him, my expression turning more serious.

“Because we were the ones who killed him in the other timeline.”

His eyes widened a little before turning into a small frown. “What? Why?”

I shrugged a shoulder. “As your first major act of Alpha, you decided to kill his father, Tobias, during a meeting being held in the Winter Mist. Tobias came to negotiate the alliance tax given their large increase in pack size but your only counteroffer was his head. Never made any sense to me… Though that didn‘t stop me from helping you to finish his son off anyway.”

“… The f#ck? Wouldn‘t that make things between you a bit… awkward?”

I paused to think on it for a second before answering. “… Not at first. You had me working from only within the Winter Mist so I had never met Cai personally. Because of that, I had no idea who he was in this life until after we‘d already become friends. He was training me in fighting for a while before his exchange was over.

And, well… then he came back and confessed to me… and then Myra died… and then….” I took a deep breath, steadying myself. “…It was an extremely dark time for me. Cai helped me through the worst o fit and made me remember that not everything had to be so… shit.”

…And now he was a reminder of how quickly that could change.

“Because of the other version of… me… right? Because of what he originally did to you?”

I could tell he was uncomfortable hearing about it but he was trying his best to understand it anyway. Who could blame him in his position? It was probably a form of morbid curiosity.

…And so I proceeded to tell him everything.

I started at the very beginning from before we were even officially mates, then moved on to Thea, the Goddess, about our time together and what we did, and finally about some of the things I’d done up until now since coming back. But unlike the first time I told Cai about the past, I didn‘t hold anything back from Aleric.

I told him about every horrible detail as if finally confessing my sins… and it felt weirdly liberating; natural even.

Though not technically the same person, it was easy to blend them into one when it came to recalling our history. And whether he hated me or not afterwards, it didn‘t have nearly the same weight as when I‘d feared Cai‘s judgement.

Cai had been an innocent, his death a byproduct of my own naivety, but the person it all started with was the very person sitting next to me on the couch… or rather, his other self was.

It was the same underlying feeling of false trust I‘d had after Myra died. I‘d driven myself to find Aleric first because I‘d felt he couldn‘t judge me for my mistakes given the weight of his own.

But they weren‘t * his*. It‘s just that his features gave me that false impression, helping me to pretend whilst I unloaded the truth to him.

…So what was this Aleric thinking now? What would he think after finding out who I really was? Because whilst it might not have been him personally who did the things I was telling him about, there was no mistake that it had been me. That this was my past I was telling him about and, unlike him, I actually had done these things.

He sat and quietly listened to me the entire time, his face unreadable as he took it all in without interrupting. The things I told him couldn‘t have been easy to hear if he truly was different now.

Our combined death toll was easily in the thousands by the end, his own insanity being the driving force of that.

But I needed to be completely honest with him about everything if this new partnership was going to work. How was I meant to convince him of why certain decisions would end terribly if he didn‘t understand why I thought that way?

And so I spoke for hours, my voice almost completely gone by the time I was finished. I spoke for so long that the sky had turned dark outside.

And when I was finally done, we sat silently for a few minutes, both of us needing a moment to take in everything I‘d just told him.

“… Tell me something,” I eventually said after he still hadn‘t said a word since I‘d stopped speaking. “I‘ve been completely honest with you, telling you every painful detail of my past… and now I‘d like you to show me that same courtesy.”

“…And what did you want to know?”

“I need you to tell me why…,” I said slowly, wincing at the thought. “…Why you hated me so much growing up.”

He looked at me confused, his brow furrowed. “Aria, I didn‘t–.”

But I put a hand up to immediately stop him. “I‘m not talking about right now or comparing you to him. I‘m talking about #you* and how you acted towards me when we were kids.

You think I didn‘t notice how you never seemed to like me, even before I was sent back the second time?”

He brought a hand up to his face and rubbed at his mouth, taking a moment to think about his answer. “…I didn‘t ‘hate‘ you, Aria. I just… I don‘t know.”

I quickly shook my head. “No, that‘s not good enough. I need to know the truth. I need to know because this is the one question that you‘re actually capable of answering for me, the closest explanation I‘m ever going to get for why those things might have happened to me in the past.”

He sighed but looked away. “I am telling you the truth. It wasn‘t you, personally, who I hated, Aria. I barely knew you. I just… I don‘t know what else to call it. Jealousy? Frustration? Misplaced anger?”

He then stood up and began pacing the room, thinking about how to phrase what he needed to say.

And I sat quietly the whole time, giving him as long as he needed to start telling me.

Because I knew that these sorts of emotional discussions weren‘t going to be in his comfort zone, even if he was different in this life.

He was the kind of man who always kept himself hidden, rarely ever betraying how he actually felt inside. Just being able to even somewhat read his expressions in the past had become a skill I‘d had to quickly pick up in order to survive. But now I was demanding that he open up to me completely; no more facades.

“For my entire childhood… it felt like the only thing people would talk to me about… was you,” he started.” I was young, stupid… but it used to piss me off.

Every goddamn day there would be someone telling me about how well you were doing in your studies, how smart and pretty you were, how I was so lucky that the Goddess was going to match us together one day.

Their words never acknowledged my own hard work though. Instead, I was just always compared to you.

And pretty quickly, I started comparing myself as well.”

He stopped pacing and finally looked at me, clearly uncomfortable with the topic. “You can imagine that my upbringing wasn‘t exactly pleasant, what with having Tytus for a father.

And I‘m not sure if you remember this since you were really young when it happened, but my mother, the prior Luna, killed herself. To be honest, I still don‘t even know if it was intentional or not.

She just stopped eating one day, wouldn‘t sleep, wouldn‘t go out… she would just cry for my father all day. And Tytus? Well, he‘s not exactly a family man.

I have no doubt that he loved my mother, I saw how he used to dote on her in the rare moments they actually were together, but I know he loved the pack more, always giving it more attention than her.

I‘m sure losing her was the last thing he‘d needed in order to stop holding himself back and completely envelope into his work.”

“… That‘s horrible,” I whispered, my eyes brimming with tears. I’d had no idea how the former Luna had died, only that she had passed when I was still a child.

“And then there was you,” he continued. “You seemingly had the perfect life with parents who, not only loved you, but also equally loved each other.

And all the while I was going through this hell of losing my mother, of losing my father, people still compared me to you, still constantly reminding me of how amazing you were and how ‘lucky‘ I was. Like they didn‘t even realise or care what I was going through. And so it didn‘t take long before I started to resent even the very idea of you.

You became a symbol of everything that was going wrong in my life. And I knew it wasn‘t even your fault… but I blamed you anyway.”

I then slowly stood and walked towards him, looking up into his eyes. “So then what changed your mind?”

He swallowed, his frown deepening.

“…You did,” he said. “That day I briefly came back from exchange, a week after the Jade Moon attack. Your face… the way you looked at me. I‘d never seen anything like it. You had more fear in your eyes than I‘d seen even a dying man show.

And I saw myself reflected back in them. No, I saw Tytus and my mother‘s desperation saw what I could become… and it terrified me. It made me wonder if I’d accidentally done something to you without realising, whether I‘d unintentionally put you under the same pressures I‘d lived with up until then.

But, more importantly than that, it made me wonder what the pack was going to think of me.

Because if everyone could place you on such a high pedestal for my entire life, what were they going to think once they saw how you couldn‘t even tolerate standing next to me without flinching?”

I wiped away a stray tear that had fallen down my cheek and grabbed his hands within my own.

“…And do you think that was enough? Enough to justify his actions?” I asked him softly. “Do you think that it would have been enough for him to do those things he did to me?”

He shook his head, teeth gritted. “No. I mean… I don‘t know. I‘m not him. But if he never stopped looking at you like a symbol of his problems instead of a human being? I guess it‘s possible.

Who knows what sort of path that mentality would eventually lead a person down? Even though I didn‘t know how to best deal with it at the start, I realised soon enough that it was childish to keep blaming you for something that wasn‘t even your fault.

And whilst I didn‘t understand at all how things had gotten to that point, I still did my best to try and fix whatever the hell I‘d apparently done anyway. Anything just so you would stop looking at me the way you did.”

I gently reached up and touched his cheek against my palm, making him close his eyes in response.

He‘d been working so hard to fix something that wasn‘t even his fault. Paying for the crimes of someone else. He‘d even made it a mission of his to support me, no matter what that might entail.

It made me see how messed up this world had become. How messed up the people had become

Because maybe in this timeline, Aleric was meant to have ended up with his Aria and they would have been happy together. Unlike his counterpart, this Aleric actually seemed capable of learning compassion and maybe could have eventually learnt to reciprocate her feelings too, even despite his initial resentment growing up.

But instead, I‘d stolen his Aria‘s place. Had my traumatised, hideous soul infused into her innocent, fourteen year old body, taking over completely and erasing her from her own timeline.

And so I pulled his face down to my level, his eyes still closed, and, ever so lightly, I k!ssed his cheek. An apology for something I was never going to be able to fix, for something I was never going to be able to give back to him. It was a mourning for his Aria that he was now never going to meet, and an atonement for how I‘d treated him.

“Thank you for looking out for me,” I whispered, “… and I‘m sorry for what I put you through.”

And as his arms then tightened around my waist, his head finding the nook of my neck, I did my best to remain as still as possible, allowing him this moment I felt he so desperately needed. Just for one night.

Because whilst I couldn‘t give him what he actually wanted from me, and couldn‘t give him back someone who was already gone, I could at least give him this one final thing. 1 Forgiveness… and closure.

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