Despite my resolve, it still took another two months before I finally worked up the courage to begin the difficult journey of becoming Beta. The rest of Myra’s charity event had gone well that day and I didn’t see Aleric for the remainder of the fundraiser, which was perfectly fine by me. I could tell Myra was a bit worried about me though and I had to palm it off as no big deal. I didn‘t want to worry her. It was her first time seeing me so scared by anything and I could only imagine what might have been going through her mind. In the two months that had passed, I somehow had reached my fifteenth birthday. I requested that it be kept a quiet affair and so we ended up celebrating it with just my parents and Myra. There were minimal gifts, also per my request, and we all sat and had a nice dinner at my house. Really, I was just happy to be amongst all the people who genuinely cared about me. I’d spent too many birthdays in the past being almost completely alone and forgotten. And so finally, today, I stood at the door of my father’s office, peering in nervously. He was concentrating on reports in front of him and I was scared of disturbing him. From here, I could see his silver hair and violet eyes, and I thought about how similar we really did look. If it weren’t for me having mostly my mother’s face shape, I would have looked like a cut and pasted female version of him. “I can feel you staring at me from here,” he called out without even looking up from his work.
I jumped at the sound of his voice, having not expected him to know I was here. He looked up and finally met my eyes. “What can I help you with, Aria?” I stepped inside the door cautiously, clearing my throat. “I need to talk to you, Father. Do you have a moment?” I could hear the slight quaver in my voice as I spoke. I needed to get a hold of myself though. I wouldn‘t be able to convince him I was suitable for this if I didn‘t sound like I believed it myself. But it was a bit strange how nervous I was. Exploiting a foreign government for money? No issues. Asking my father to hear me out while I explained why I wanted to be a Beta? Terrifying. His opinion mattered to me and I didn‘t want his perception of me to change because of this. It didn‘t help that I was also having to constantly remind myself that this version of my father was different from the one I had been with before my death. He was almost ten years younger than the father who had cried with me inside the jail cells. At this point in our lives right now, our relationship was very formal. I remembered how scared I’d been of ever disappointing or annoying him… a feeling that didn‘t change up until he had himself arrested for defending my honour. He looked at me closely, a curiosity in his eyes. “Sure, take a seat on the couch.” I followed his instruction and he walked over to join me. Sitting like this together, casually on the settee, I honestly couldn’t tell if it made me feel
comfortable or even more nervous. Perhaps if I could have treated this as a business negotiation and sat across from him at a desk, then I wouldn’t have been so afraid. “You haven’t come to my office like this since you were little,” he mused. “Did you want some
I shook my head, knowing I wouldn‘t be able to drink at a time like this. I couldn’t even recall the last time I had dared to disturb his work but I knew I’d procrastinated this conversation long enough. Time was running out if I wanted to be given a chance to earn my spot as Beta heir. I also knew that I would need help in training if I had any hope of improving my skill in a fight. I’d reached a plateau and hadn’t seen any real difference in my strength for over a month now. I realised the only way I was going to get better from here would be to have someone show me how to improve and, with Cai gone, it meant there really was only one person in my life that could help. My father.
I watched as he poured himself a tea and settled back into the couch. “So, what did you want to talk about?” I hesitated, unsure where to start. I’d practised what I had wanted to say in the mirror almost every day but, now it was actually happening, it was like my mind had gone blank
“Um,” I started.
‘Brilliant, Aria. So intelligent,’I scolded myself internally.
Quickly, I pushed my thoughts away, trying to refocus. “…I‘ve been thinking a lot about the future,” I said. “We haven‘t really had a conversation about it since the night after the Alpha’s summons, back when Myra was attacked.” He raised an eyebrow at me. “Did you want to finally discuss why you told the Alpha you didn’t want to become Luna? Why you kept your mother and I in the dark about your intentions?”
I paused. It sounded like he was still irritated about the whole thing. I could recall the argument we got into vividly and remembered how they had been so furious at my decision. It had scared me off enough to start keeping more secrets from them. “It wasn’t my intention to hide it from you,” I said. “I hadn‘t planned to tell the Alpha anything of the sort, but this mark on me changed everything. I needed to establish that I wasn’t a threat to Tytus or Aleric.” I then took a deep breath. “But, Father…I need you to know that, from the bottom of my heart… I really don’t want to be Luna. What I said to them that day was the truth. I really am sorry I kept it from you and Mother.”
I almost said ‘don’t want to be Luna *again*’ but managed to stop myself right before I spoke. What a disaster that would have been. “…Why?” he finally asked, after he’d taken some time to think. “…I don’t have any desire for the position.”
He frowned. “I doubt you would have come all the way in here to tell me this without a reason.
There is obviously something else you wanted.” I bit my lip, my nerves threatening to take over. “The truth is… I’d like to take over for you one day… and become Beta,” I said slowly. To his credit, he didn’t outwardly refuse me immediately. Instead, he just nodded his head, placing his teacup back on the table, and reclined into the couch in thought. I was too scared to say anything in case it just made his rejection quicker. After some time, he looked over to me and stared down at my hands, narrowing his eyes. “So, for how long now?” he asked.
I didn’t know what he was referring to.“‘How long‘…?” I repeated. “Your hands,” he said, nodding towards them. “I‘ve just realised how calloused they look How long have you been training in secret?” It was a question that would have been answered eventually, but nevertheless, I wished it had been something he found out about only if he had agreed to support me. I tightened my hands into fists on my lap, staring at them. “Maybe… eight months now? Nine? I started not long after the Alpha summons.”
He was silent again. I wished he would just talk plainly to me instead of making me guess whatever he was thinking inside. It was excruciating.
“So, this is something you’ve taken a few months in deciding to pursue then?” That wasn’t exactly correct. I had started training with the original intent of defending myself from Aleric, not for the purpose of becoming Beta. But it was true I had spent the last two months thinking through my options thoroughly. This was something I wanted to do. Something that I *needed* to do. “I‘ve weighed all of my options with great care, Father” I replied. “This is the only choice I have that allows me to both refuse the Luna position and protect myself from those threatened by my mark” He was silent once again. “I can see why you may think I might not be worthy,” I finally said after he hadn’t said anything for an extended period of time. “I understand that you would want to see me succeed, and becoming Luna would be viewed as the highest honour for your daughter to achieve. I also realise that being a female, you may think I‘m not up to the task.”
I looked up to meet his eyes and saw he was looking at me, a crease between his brows. “Aria, you don’t need to become a Luna for your mother and I to be proud of you,” he said. “I also don’t care whether you’re a male or female. To me, any child of mine naturally has a right to succeed me as Beta.” My heart leapt at hearing his words. I was pleased to know his stance on my position hadn’t changed in ten years. He really did care. Had the wall between us been only something I created in my mind the entire time?
“Thank you, Father,” I said, wholeheartedly.
I felt out of breath. It was a relief to finally hear the words from him, to know that he supported me.
“But, Aria,” he continued, his tone serious. “I‘m disappointed that you kept this from me – from us. I thought you understood how much we didn‘t appreciate you cutting us out after last time. Keeping secrets from me was not the way to gain my support in this.”
I froze. Had I really made a mistake in how I’d handled it? This entire time I thought I was doing the right thing, scared of what they might think of me if were to tell them of my real desires and worries. “A Beta is someone trustworthy, someone who can be relied upon,” he said. “Someone who is able to fight and support those around them as a team. Your actions have shown me that you prefer to work alone without the support of your fellow pack. I don’t see how others will respect or follow you when you refuse to be transparent in your motives. You need more than intelligence to be a leader, Aria.”
If I felt like I was out of breath before, then it really felt like I was drowning now. I had always worked alone, always from the shadows forgotten. But having him say it outright like this made it extremely clear; the barriers I’d made around myself were in complete contrast to the person I needed to be in order to become Beta. I hadn‘t opened myself up enough to others, wanting to avoid putting myself in a vulnerable position to be hurt or rejected again. I could see now how my attempts at protecting myself could actually hold me back in my pursuit of becoming Beta.
I glared down at my hands, unable to look at him, and could feel the start of angry tears begint o bubble at my eyes. I was furious at myself for not realising earlier how my father would view the decisions I’d made. There was no way for him to have known why I was the way I was. “So, Aria,” he said, breaking me from my thoughts. “Are you going to tell me the truth now?” I quickly looked back up at him confused.
“If you want my support then it’s about time you start being honest with me.”
“…But I‘ve been truthful. I‘ve finally told you what I‘ve been doing and how I don’t want to be Luna,” I replied.
He exhaled slowly, obviously disappointed in my answer.
“Well… to start with, you could tell me about what happened to you ten months ago, when I suddenly found out my daughter had been marked by the Goddess. Something that, for generations now, we had all grown up thinking was just a myth.” And then I realised what truth he wanted. He wanted to know what had happened to me. Why I had changed so much in such a short period of time. Why I was no longer acting like the quiet diligent daughter I had been my entire life.
In order to become Beta, he was asking that I tell him about my past…. …A past that was also my future. I could feel the tears begin to fall down my face and I shook my head. “No… I can‘t,” I said, gritting my teeth. I could see it all again so clearly. The cells, my father, the trial ground, the sword… and Aleric. I realised then that, a part of the reason I hadn’t told anyone about my past before now, wasn’t only because I needed to keep myself safe, but because I physically couldn’t talk about it before. It was too painful. It felt like if I said the words aloud then it would be making it real….
…And if it was real, then there would be no way I could even remotely say that maybe, just maybe, my past life had been just a bad dream.
“Aria, you need to be honest and upfront with me now if I’m going to be backing you here. The journey for you to become a Beta will be hard enough as it is.”
“It’s not that simple,” I said, still shaking my head in denial. “You need to trust me when I say I can’t become Luna, that becoming Beta is the only way forward.” “Aria! No,” he said sharply and began to raise his voice, irritated that I was still deliberately being difficult. “Enough is enough. I will not help you until you tell me the truth! So, what the hell happened? Why won’t you tell me,”
“Because I died, Father!” I yelled, cutting him off. “…I died.” The words had fallen out of my mouth before I could stop them. But once they were finally out, they hung in the open between us, never to be taken back again. As soon as I’d said them though, I gasped at the air; a weight lifting from me as I told the truth, finally allowing me to breathe again.
His face was beyond confused, having been taken aback by what I‘d just told him.
“I‘ve lived this before already. All of this,” I said through my tears and heaving breaths. “I became Aleric’s mate. I became the Luna. I even helped lead us all to become the country’s most powerful pack there ever was, just as the Elders predicted. I did everything that was ever asked of me! But it wasn’t enough, Father… I wasn’t enough.” “…I don‘t understand…” His eyes were wide. This probably wasn’t the sort of confession he had been expecting. “How could…?”
I wanted to explain further, to give him the kind of explanation he could understand, but instead, all I could do was break down in front of him, my body crumbling into complete heart -wrenching s**s.
“…Because he didn’t love me, papa,” was all I could choke out. “…He didn’t love me.”
It was the words that been ingrained in my mind for far too long. Since coming back, I had told myself multiple times that my past feelings for Aleric didn’t bother me anymore, that I didn’t care. But the truth was, even though this body didn’t know yet of the void left by Aleric’s physical rejection, I still remembered.