A Long Walk Home Ch. 07byJazCullen©
Many thanks to mikothebaby for editing this chapter for me. An extra set of eyes are priceless and hopefully I haven't made any new errors as I tinkered with chapter before posting up.
Dayton was surprised to see Ashleigh talking with Rafe in the main hallway as he headed downstairs following the heavenly scent of breakfast. Cedar had mentioned that she didn't stay at the compound though she visited often. He wondered if it had something to do with Freya and the meeting that had occurred the night before.
The little blonde looked up as he approached, emotion swirling in her big brown eyes as she watched him while biting her bottom lip. He couldn't quite work out what it was but he had a feeling it wasn't good.
The urge to protect her hit him like a sledgehammer. His Beta instincts were kicking in almost continuously since he'd met the children in the forest. It was disconcerting but not something he could easily push away. He had been born to be a Beta, it was in his blood.
Rafe bent his head and said something to her before she nodded and he headed off into the dining room leaving them alone.
She gave him a sad smile. "Dayton," she greeted him quietly, her tone subdued. She appeared to be trying to think of what to say, finally taking a deep breath. "Will you walk with me before breakfast?"
He considered it for a moment and then nodded his head, following her out of the Alpha's house. She obviously wanted to talk in private. He just wasn't sure if he was ready to listen to what she had to say. But she was David's sister and his friend would have wanted him to be there for her if something was troubling her. Which it was very plain to see something was.
They walked a little way into the forest until they came to a trickling stream with some large flat rocks close to the edge. Ashleigh climbed onto the rocks and sat down. Dayton joined her and waited for her to speak.
"This is my fault," she finally said in a quiet voice, staring down into the running water. "If I hadn't come to the gallery then Freya would never have known about you. I'm sorry."
She had a point but he didn't hold the other woman's actions against her. Taking a deep breath, he let the early morning sunshine dance across his face, warming him up a little inside. "You're not responsible for her actions," he sighed. "We're only responsible for the decisions we make, Ashleigh. We can't control other people."
"But we can help them when they need it," she whispered, pain in her voice. "If we know they need our help. I wanted to help you, Dayton. I wanted you to come home so I could do something for David even though he's no longer here. Instead I made things a hundred times worse." There was such misery in her voice that he had to alleviate it somehow.
"You did get me back into the pack," he commented a little dryly. "Probably not how you intended to do it but you achieved something no one else ever managed to do." He wanted to take away her guilt. He could see it eating her up inside.
She had a good soul and he knew she must have been through hell losing her family. He had heard the vampires kidnapped her too, years ago. He could only imagine what they had done to her but she was strong because she had survived it.
She turned to look at him and her eyes held such pain in them that he wanted to touch her, comfort her, but he held himself still.
"I brought you home but I lost Freya by doing so," she said. "I broke my mate's heart because I couldn't leave well alone. All he's ever done is love me and all I ever do is bring him pain and suffering. He's been very unlucky with the women he's chosen to love, first Freya and now me. We're no good for him and yet he loves us unconditionally."
Dayton knew the mate bond, knew that no man would ever regret loving this tender hearted woman at his side. He reached for her, wrapping an arm around her shoulder and pulling her hesitantly to his side. It felt strange touching someone, reaching out to another person who needed his comfort, but it felt right too.
"I'm sure your mate doesn't feel anything but joy having you in his life, Ashleigh," he said soothingly. He asked the question he didn't want to ask but knew he needed the answer to. "You said you've lost Freya?"
Ashleigh pulled away from him, rising to her feet and staring into the thick wooded forest surrounding them. Rafe had said it was okay to tell Dayton what had happened. Taking a deep breath she looked down at the wounded man sitting on the rock.
"She's gone, Dayton. We don't know where or if we'll ever see her again. Nors was angry with her about what happened. We didn't know how fragile she was because she hid it so well. Nors...he's almost certain that Freya has gone to seek a way to end her life." A muffled sob escaped her and she looked away from him again.
"I know what she did was wrong," she whispered. "I know she hurt you but she was trying so hard. She wanted to belong so badly but she just didn't know how to. I don't know why she fixated on you or what it was about you that pushed her over the edge but something did. And now she's gone and Nors' heart is breaking and I don't know how to fix it."
A frown crossed his face at her words. Part of him felt a moment's satisfaction that the vampire was hurting so much but another part of him couldn't bear to see and hear Ashleigh's pain. She loved Freya Eriksson and it hurt her that she had lost her. How anyone could love the cold-hearted vampire he had no idea, but she must have had some good qualities if the little blonde and her mate did.
"Maybe she'll come back," he finally said picking up a loose pebble and throwing it into the trickling water. "If she stays away from me I won't make an issue out of what happened. Not for her sake but for yours, Ashleigh. You've lost so much already. I don't want to be responsible for you losing anyone else."
Ashleigh wiped at her face jumping down from the rock to stand before him. "I don't think she's ever coming back," she admitted. "I can't tell Nors that because it would break his heart even more. He needs to believe that she will, that when she does everything will be just fine."
She gave him another sad smile and then tentatively reached out and touched the side of his face. He let her, knowing she needed the comfort of touch at that moment.
"One day I'd like to talk about David with you, about my family. I hope we can do that. Not now, when your own pain is still so raw, but maybe one day soon."
He saw such yearning in her eyes, the need to connect with someone who knew her family and had been part of them. He felt his own pain and sadness at losing such a wonderful family build up inside him, but he pushed it down and placed his hand over hers on his cheek. "I'd like that," he smiled gently.
"Welcome home, Dayton," she said softly, the sad smile still gracing her face as she turned and headed back to the house.
He stayed on the rock, digesting what she'd told him. Freya Eriksson was gone. There was no need for him and Rayne to remain at the compound. The threat was no more. He should have felt glad about that but he didn't. Ashleigh's pain ripped at him.
He found it strange that she could affect him when he didn't even know her, and yet she did. She was the last surviving member of a family who had taken him into their hearts and welcomed him as their own. His need to protect her was overwhelming him on all levels.
Dayton felt as if he was on the verge of an emotional meltdown. It was all too much, too soon. Everyone was reaching out to him, offering love and support. He didn't deserve it, not after he'd hurt his family so much. Just as Freya was hurting her family right now. The thought made him snort out a harsh laugh. If Ashleigh's words were true then he had more in common with the missing vampire than he'd known.
They were both outsiders looking in, both hurting because of their past, neither of them feeling that they deserved the unwavering love and support of their friends and family. He hated having anything in common with the woman who had taken Faith from him. He didn't want to acknowledge any kind of empathy with her, have any kind of understanding of what she may be going through right now. He wanted her to burn in hell for the rest of her very long life.
'Nors...he's almost certain that Freya has gone to seek a way to end her life.'
Ashleigh's words echoed in his head and his wolf let out a vicious snarl catching him completely off guard. He subjugated the animal ruthlessly so was unused to it surfacing outwith their agreement. Something about the vampire irritated the beast within him. Something about Ashleigh's declaration infuriated the man.
"You don't get the luxury of eternal rest, Freya Eriksson," he whispered into the quiet morning air. "Not after taking Faith from me." The words made him feel better, an idea taking shape in his mind as he whispered his oath to the forest. The bitch of a vampire deserved to suffer for her actions and he would find a way to make it happen. And to hell with the consequences.
Rayne sensed an inner resolve in Dayton as they sat at the large dining table eating breakfast with the Alpha and his heavily pregnant mate Lacey. Nors and Ashleigh were sitting a little further down the table. She knew the other couple had a child, a hybrid little boy with a scent that teased her and begged her to come to him. The boy was absent from the table and she knew it was because his parents didn't quiet trust them. It didn't offend her, she would do the same if she had young and was concerned about them.
It was probably just as well the child wasn't there because it meant she could focus more fully on the growing hardness she sensed deep inside Dayton. The other emotions were still there but something was starting so supersede them, something very worrying. On the outside he looked calm but on the inside she could feel a growing hate which had the power to take over and destroy her friend completely.
She knew he'd spoken to Ashleigh before breakfast. She had considered following them and listening in but decided against it. If they had sought privacy then they had the right to it. She wondered if they'd spoken about Freya Eriksson.
From the moment she'd watched the vampire enter Dayton's Gallery with the wolf she had known that the moment had been fated. She had never sensed a soul more damaged than Dayton's until she'd reached out and taken the emotional makeup of the two women. Freya's pain had been enough to make her knees tremble violently. How the vampire walked around with such a serene expression she'd had no idea.
Something told her in that moment that the vampire was the key to unlocking her friend's pain. He connected automatically with others who suffered whether he knew it or not. He had sensed her own loneliness, her own need for belonging and that was why he had never been able to successfully keep her out. She knew he still wondered about that even after all these years.
Freya and Dayton had been meant to meet. She felt it deep within her bones. Their mutual anguish was a commonality they couldn't deny, even as they denied each other. She had no idea what path it would take them down but she knew it was necessary for both their souls.
Freya had done something to him to force him to come home to the pack. It was a start but only a beginning. Her friend still had a wealth of pain and soul searching to go through. She imagined the vampire did too.
Rayne watched Dayton fuel his hate of the vampire with every passing moment. She wanted to intervene but she knew she couldn't. Only when a wolf and a vampire looked deep inside each other's souls and see the anguish within, would they ever heal. It would be a painful lesson for both of them.
"Oh crap!" Lacey suddenly said putting down her fork and turning slightly to look at her mate. "Can you help me back upstairs, baby?"
Rafe was instantly on his feet, concern on his face. "Lace?"
"I'm fine, I just need to lie down," she said soothingly. "Though if you could get Mallen that would be a help. You'd think these little horrors would have at least let me finish my breakfast."
Ashleigh jumped up suddenly a wide smile crossing her face. "Nors, run and get Mallen," she gasped hurrying around to help her Alpha to stand. She shot a reproving look at Rafe. "Don't just stand there. The babies are coming."
Rafe stared at her blankly for a moment and then his eyes went to Lacey's and his expression turned to one of wonder. "The babies are coming?" he echoed quickly supporting his mate around her back.
Lacey blew out a long breath and laughed shakily. "Either that or their having a game of tag in my belly." She let out a low groan that had Dayton at her other side.
"Let me, Ash," he said firmly adding his support to his Alpha Bitch while Rafe got over the shock of his imminent fatherhood.
His Alpha gave him a grateful smile a moment later before he swept his mate up into his strong arms. He kissed her gently, his face glowing with excitement. "Guess there goes the peace and quiet," he murmured softly.
Lacey let out another shaky laugh even as she stifled down a groan of pain as another contraction swept through her. "Seems so," she whispered against his lips her pale green eyes full of love as she looked up at her mate.
Dayton followed them upstairs automatically. It wasn't as if his Alpha needed his help carrying his mate but it was instinctual to protect his back while his attention was otherwise engaged. They met Aaron on his way out of his rooms.
A wide smile crossed the Beta's face as he accurately took in the scene. "About time too, gorgeous," he smiled at Lacey. "Jen!" His mate came out and was immediately at her friend's side climbing the stairs to the third floor with them.
"Watch the kids, honey," she called over her shoulder. Lacey had been with her throughout her own birthing and she was going to be there for her too, if Rafe let her. She didn't think he would object and the smile he quickly shot her appeared to bear that out.
In no time Rafe was lowering his mate carefully onto the middle of their bed covering her with a sheet as he sat down beside her. Jen moved to the other side of her and smiled as she brushed Lacey's silvery blonde hair back.
"You're going to be an amazing mother," she smiled softly.
"If I do half as good a job as you're doing, Jen, then I'll be happy," Lacey answered quietly and then groaned again.
"Dayton, can you let Aaron know to cancel the meeting we had scheduled for eleven? He'll know what it's about," Rafe said. "If you can also round up someone to help look after the kids too, so he can sort out any Pack issues that need to be taken care of in the next few hours, that would be helpful."
"Will do," the other man answered immediately. "Is there anything I can do to help which is Pack related?"
"Ask Aaron. He knows what needs to be done."
Dayton was halfway down to the second floor before he realised that he was acting like a Beta. It came as naturally as breathing to him even after five decades. His head shot up as he heard a slightly more tortured sound emanate from the room above. He sensed Rayne approaching and turned to look at her.
"How exciting," she smiled. "I love newborn babies. They're so warm and soft, just made to be cuddled."
She looked genuinely excited at the prospect of being there for the birth that Dayton had to smile back at her. There was something intrinsically magical about new life coming into a pack, especially when it was the Alpha couple being blessed. It also gave him an idea.
He knocked on Aaron's door and ducked his head inside. "Rafe asked me to find someone to sit with the children so you could take over running the pack," he announced grabbing Rayne's hand and pulling her inside with him. "I thought Rayne could do so until you found someone else?"
His brother grinned broadly and gestured towards the living area. "That would be a great help, if you wouldn't mind, Rayne?"
She blinked at him slowly, slightly startled by her sudden 'volunteering' to babysit and then she scented the sweet scent that tantalised her so much and she smiled. "I'd be glad to help," she answered softly, already heading towards the enjoining room which appeared to be set up as some kind of playroom.
"Can I help in anyway?" Dayton asked his brother.
Aaron clapped him on the shoulders already making his way outside, totally relaxed about leaving the children in Rayne's care. "I was scheduled to take some of the younger ones out on a training run this morning. If you could do that it will free me up to see what Rafe had planned that may need taken care of."
A training run meant letting his wolf out outwith their agreement and for a moment Dayton balked at the idea. But he knew how important it was for the Pack young to learn to embrace their wolves and how to read the forest. It was crucial in their development. He nodded his agreement as he headed downstairs with Aaron.
"Rafe also said to cancel the meeting at eleven. Said you'd know what he was talking about?"
Aaron's glance shifted up the stairs for a moment and then he smiled. "Yeah, I'll get onto that. And arrange a reprieve for Rayne as quickly as I can. Thanks, Day. I'll get organised quickly and find someone to relieve you of the young ones as soon as I can. Really appreciate your help. I guess old Beta instincts really die hard."
With that he disappeared into the library leaving his brother staring after him with a confused expression on his face. "I guess they do," he finally murmured before he headed outside to go round up his charges.
Rayne stood in the doorway of the playroom and watched the little ones play in blissful happiness. Aaron's three mixed easily with the hybrid children, hovering almost protectively over the younger ones despite their own young age. It was so obvious they would be strong wolves, no wonder their parents were so proud of them.
Her eyes fell on a little red haired boy jumping up and down on a child's trampoline, closely ringed by Aaron's three in case he fell off. Clearly he belonged to Ashleigh and Nors as he looked so much like his father it was uncanny.
Two young blonde girls with a mass of long curls sat puzzling out a jigsaw with the brown haired girl from the forest. They all appeared to be of around a similar age though it was clear that the two blondes were not twins, unless they were fraternal.
The boy from the forest was lying on his stomach beside them, colouring in what she first thought was a pre-drawn book but then realised was his own drawings. Even from this distance she could see that he was already very talented.
As one, all eyes suddenly turned from what they were doing to look directly at her and she felt her heart stutter as she looked into the eyes of the hybrid children. A feeling of such belonging washed over her that she felt tears spring to her eyes and run unchecked down her face.
"Why are you crying, Rayne?" Rowan asked curiously running across the room to take her hand. "There's no need to be sad. Come and play with us."
The little red haired boy climbed off the trampoline and followed his friend, his arms reaching up to her. She didn't hesitate to pick up the beautiful child, feeling his arms snake around her neck trustingly.
"She's not sad, Rowan," he said with a little laugh. "They're happy tears."
Rayne had no idea how he could tell the difference but he was right. The joy she felt in her heart was indescribable, simply overwhelming as she hugged his fragile body against her as the rest of the children rose and came over to her.
"I'm Liliana and this is my brother Kallum," the dark haired girl pointed to the boy beside her. "Our parents are Loretta and Andrei. That's Dara and that's Cassia," she pointed next at the two little blonde girls. "Their parents are Aunt Cedar and Uncle Alexei. You know DJ, Thorne and Rowan already because they told us. Oh, and that's Liam you're holding. His parents are Aunt Ashleigh and Uncle Nors."