(AUTHOR NOTE: Just a reminder that single quotes’ are things only said in Aria’s head when they appear like speech.)
‘Stop them,’ my mind hissed at me as I watched the children laugh and jump all over Aleric. He had scooped a few up and was playing happily with them. They ran around him, tugging at his clothes while he pretended to be a scary monster. Every time he would roar, they would all squeal and run a few steps away, having the time of their life.
“He is a murderer,’ my mind reminded me. ‘He is dangerous. Don’t let him touch them.’ But the scene in front of me was baffling, freezing me in place. I had never seen Aleric around children before and so his affectionate behaviour towards them was shocking, to say the least. Would he have been like this in the past had he been given a child of his own? …If my body had been capable of such a thing?
As the thoughts urging me to protect the children continued to hound at me, I did my best to push them away. I had to remind myself that a sixteen year old Aleric was not yet the man he would be one day. He didn’t have blood on his hands… yet. Myra could sense I was suddenly extremely uncomfortable at his arrival and gently touched m y hand. She probably didn’t understand but it was nice of her to try and comfort me regardless.
Finally, Aleric looked up towards the tree and saw us sitting there. I flinched as his eyes caught my own, hoping more than anything he would leave. 1 But, to my dismay, he immediately put down the kid that was thrown over his shoulder and started to walk to where we were. My heart started to race but I told myself I was more mentally prepared this time. I wouldn‘t let the trial ground memories haunt me like the last time.
I took several deep breaths, calming my mind, but with every step he made towards us, the more I began to doubt my ability to handle it. Would I actually be able to keep it together this time? It had been so many months now since I’d seen him… so many months since I had died. Would the memories still be as fresh?
But standing in front of me, I realised just how weak and insignificant I still was. As he towered over my small frame, I knew that, even with all of the training I‘d done over the last few months, it would still not even be remotely good enough to defend myself against him.
“Ariadne, Myra,” he greeted. His voice made my stomach drop and I instantly felt sick and weak. My name on his lips felt more like a curse.
Myra and I were both already on our feet by this point and we bowed our heads in respect upon his greeting.
“Alpha heir,” Myra said, welcoming him. “We are honoured to receive you at our event today. Thank you for coming.” I couldn’t get the words out of my mouth to return his greeting, my head pounding at the internal conflict happening within. I was sure he had noticed my silence though. He had to have. Aleric smiled. “It is a pleasure to be here and to finally meet you, Myra. My father extends his regards for the invitation and wishes to thank you for your family’s continued hard work at the facility.”
I couldn’t bring myself to look at his face, choosing to keep my eyes cast down. It was taking all of my concentration just to not visibly shake from just being so close to him.
“Thank you, Alpha heir.” Myra bowed again quickly.
“However, unfortunately, it seems I will need to find you later to talk further. I have some matters to discuss with Ariadne right now. But I look forward to catching up properly and please let your parents know that I have arrived.” My breath stopped mid-exhale from surprise. Why would he need to talk to me of all people? I could feel Myra hesitate for a second, but we both knew there was nothing she could do to help me here. With one last final bow, she left, looking back several times with a worried expression. Soon, I was suddenly facing the man who still haunted my nightmares.
And an icy silence hung between us.
“Are you going to at least talk to me this time?” he asked, finally breaking the quiet. “Or should I call for Caius to come back and whisk you away again?”
It was like his facade of being polite in front of Myra had instantly fallen like a curtain. Now that it was only the two of us, he became closer to the Aleric I knew. Unnecessarily cruel, and occasionally sarcastic to the point of trying to put me down.
I grabbed at my wrist to stop it from trembling. I needed to be stronger than this. I needed to b e able to least speak to him. He sighed in mild frustration, his tone suddenly changing. “Look… I‘m sorry. I didn‘t ask to talk with you so I could start an argument.”
I could see him cross his arms together and shuffle on his feet. It was as if he were uncomfortable with how to say whatever it was he needed to say.
“The truth is,” he continued, “my father informed me of what happened with Myra and the Jade Moon pack. I realise now that I need to apologise for how I acted after you met with the council. So… I am sorry, Ariadne. You had been badly injured and it was no way for me to have spoken to you.” This caught me off guard. Aleric was… apologising to me? For something he had said? I couldn’t ever recall a moment in our past he’d done such a thing.
“But, all of that aside… I’m here to request that you have tea with me.” My eyes then snapped t o his face, wide in disbelief.
Why would he, of all people, want to willingly have tea with me? I didn’t have to wait long for my answer though.
“Or rather, my father suggested that we have tea together,” he clarified. “There are still a few hours before the main event for the fundraiser and he’s asked if you could lend me some of your time.”
I needed to speak, to say something. Anything. “Um,” I feebly said, before clearing my throat. “I‘m sure you have far more important things that require your attention today, Alpha heir. I would hate to keep you from those.” His green eyes narrowed at me and I instantly looked back down again. “Sorry if I didn’t make it clear enough before,” he said, “but this wasn’t really a.. suggestion.. from my father. He’s actually insisted on this.” I then understood the meaning behind his words. This wasn’t an innocent request. This had been an order from his father. We were both now bound to abide by the Alpha’s wish. And so, that’s how I suddenly found myself sitting for some tea… opposite the man who murdered me.
It was a bit of a surreal experience. The last time we had sat together, as just the two of us for a meal, was not long after our rise to Alpha and Luna… Though, back then, he had stared daggers at me the entire time and left after twenty minutes to go see Thea. A small area in the adjacent garden had been set up specifically to enable us to have a private gathering. The outdoor table and chairs had already been a part of the decor, however, some attendants had gone out of their way to make the area look more ‘suitable’.
Flowers had been picked and arranged in a vase on the table, and a trolley next to this showed off a large array of tea and snacks that had been prepared. Surrounding us was also a mixture o f colourful flowers and fauna growing in the garden, all perfectly maintained. It really would have been beautiful, if it weren’t for the company I would be keeping. But after several minutes had passed, still neither of us had spoken a single word to each other.
I knew what this setup was, of course. Alpha Tytus was forcing Aleric and I to spend time together so we’d hopefully ‘play nice‘ and become close. This was probably some weird version of a surprise date in the hopes I’d concede to becoming Aleric’s Luna one day. Tytus probably assumed, and correctly so, that I would decline to a real meetup, and so chose to force us to participate during a time we would both already be dressed up and nearby. I wondered how many more of these ‘dates’ I was going to have to endure before he finally respected my choice not to be with his son.
Aleric then cleared his throat, bringing my attention back to him. “So, my father wanted me to thank you for your recommendation over handling the Jade Moon pack,” he started, breaking the silence finally. “It turned out to be successful in the end. He said your actions during the fight and your solutions for handling the aftermath were
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hanter Thirty Threpe commendable.”
I nodded. “Thank you, Alpha heir.”
Silence again. All I could think about was the seconds as they slowly ticked by. I wanted nothing more than t o run far, far away from here.
“Is the food not to your liking?” he asked, noticing my plate. “You’ve barely touched anything.
I looked down at the small piece of cake that sat in front of me with only two tiny bites taken out of it. The entire time we’d been sitting together, I had been so nervous that I’d barely been able to eat or drink from the spread provided. I wouldn‘t have been able to even tell him the flavour of anything I’d consumed so far; I hadn’t been able to taste a single thing from the stress of being in this situation. “The food is delicious,” I lied, having no idea. “Thank you, Alpha heir.” It was clear his father had ordered him to talk nicely to me. They both probably realised they needed me on their side and Tytus would have known how his son’s usual behaviours would have been perceived by me. Aleric wasn’t exactly known for his patience. But, if I was honest, the forced attempt at trying to talk politely to me was by far one of the most unnerving experiences I’d ever had. Never had I received any courtesy from Aleric before and so this new persona of his was unpredictable to me. I found Aleric far less frightening when I could tell exactly what he may do next. Abruptly, he then sighed and brought his hand up so fast my body couldn’t help but react. I flinched at his sudden movement. He frowned at me for a second, but continued to brush the hair out of his face, finding my reaction strange. The teacup in my hand had almost completely spilled all over myself in my fright. “Are you sick?” he asked. He could see how much my hands were trembling now.
“N-no,” I stuttered out, cursing internally at my body for betraying how I felt. “Thank you for your concern, Alpha heir.”
“Ariadne, I can see you’re shaking,” he said. He stood up and went to reach for me. “Here just put this down for a–.”
I didn’t hear whatever he was about to say though because I recoiled so quick from him that the plate in front of me smashed against the trolley, falling to the ground in pieces. My arm had swept across the table so fast that there hadn’t been any time to stop it from falling. I turned and stared up at him in a panic, petrified of what he would do to me for my show of carelessness. I wanted to apologise, to beg him to forgive me, but I felt like I couldn’t breathe. Nothing would pass my lips as a coherent sentence. “Ariadne,” he said in an annoyed tone. And then he reached towards me again and I turned my face to the side, shutting my eyes as tightly as they would go to anticipate whatever he was about to do to me.
…But nothing ever came. It felt like an eternity waiting before I finally heard him sigh again. I carefully opened my eyes to look at him, but not fast enough to anger him further. He was rubbing his face in frustration, clearly irritated over everything I‘d just done. “Okay, I tried,” I thought I heard him whisper under his breath. He looked back up at me, forcing a smile on his face, and stood up. A chill went down my spine at seeing that familiar smile. I knew it so well; the kind that said h e was hiding his true emotion from me.
“Thank you for your time today, Ariadne,” he said, going back to being overly polite. “It was a n absolute pleasure. I hope we can do this again some time.”
It was all a lie and we both knew it. He was following formality to not incur the wrath of his father when he returned home.
He waited several seconds for me to reply, but I couldn‘t bring myself to speak. It was only after I eventually managed to give him a half bow of my head in acknowledgement that he took it as good enough confirmation to take his leave.
I sat staring into space for a long time after he left, unsure how to process everything that had just happened. I felt just like the broken plate that laid shattered next to me; both of us having no idea how we became like this, but both feeling like only minutes ago everything had been just fine.
I’d thought I was ready, that I was stronger now. But I was wrong. It was clear that Aleric was still so very much in control of me.
And there was only one way I was going to be able to change it. There was no other option. I needed to become untouchable.