A Long Walk Home Ch. 15byJazCullen©
Once again mikothebaby thank you for the excellent job on editing. I've lengthened this chapter a little, adding in some things that I found lacking within Ch 14 so the additions are all my own as are any errors :-)
Thanks so much for all your comments and votes! To my Tweeps, you guys just rock! Special thanks to the Guild for walking through this story to completion with me. Your comments have been invaluable :-)
She felt pain. It was a hot, rushing agony running through her but it wasn't physical. Physical pain she could cope with, understand it would heal eventually but this mental anguish was something she didn't know how to combat. She knew she had to open her eyes, to face it, but she didn't want to.
The feminine voice startled her so much she did open her eyes, staring in surprise into the cold green depths of the stunning woman who was lying on some fancy sofa beside the bed. Rayne knew who she was instantly, having seen Freya Eriksson at a distance. What the vampire was doing in her room she had no idea, then she realised she wasn't in her room but was in Dayton's.
She couldn't remember much that had happened after her memories had come back. Gard's betrayal had been all that had registered before her mind had gone blank. She reached out with her senses and knew she was alone with the vampire. Not a good thing judging from what her friend had said the night before.
"Dayton had to talk to the Alpha," Freya said when she didn't speak. "He asked me to watch over you. You are safe, cat. I take my responsibilities seriously."
Rayne swallowed; her mouth so dry it almost hurt. The vampire moved then, rising with a fluid grace that was mesmerising to watch. She really was stunning even with her clothes rumpled and her hair slightly tangled. She used an economy of movements as she vanished from her line of sight and returned with a small tray with some toast and condiments and a glass of fruit juice.
"When Dayton was injured he recovered quickly with food," the vampire remarked, a smile tugging at her lips as if she was reliving a memory that pleased her. "The wolf that came to make breakfast was not pleased to find me in her kitchen."
Rayne blinked slowly, staring at the other woman in confusion as she placed the tray on the bed beside her and then retreated back to her own 'bed'. "You made me breakfast? Why?"
"You're in his bed. You need to recover quickly so you can leave it before it becomes intolerable to me."
The words were cold and brutally honest. The vampire didn't want her sharing Dayton's bed and wasn't afraid to come right out and say so. Instead of making her afraid of Freya, the vampire's honesty actually impressed her. Dayton was right. Freya was close to accepting the mating bond. Her possessiveness was that of a vampire but it was also that of a mate.
"I know he's told you there is nothing between us other than friendship, Freya," she answered after taking a sip of the juice to wet her throat and ease the dry ache. "You can trust what he says."
There was a long pause and then the other woman nodded slowly. "I know he speaks honestly. That is why you're still alive."
Another blunt truth; which caused a deep well of pain to rise up inside Rayne. Being alive didn't feel so great at the moment, not with the agony fighting to claim her soul and destroy her completely. Tears filled her eyes and she looked away.
Her reaction had Freya hissing in annoyance. "When I am given a task I perform it, cat. You remain safe because he asks me to watch over you. I do not go back on my word."
"Maybe I wish you would," she whispered back not looking at her. She knew she didn't mean the words but they tumbled out anyway and was greeted with silence. She sipped at the juice again and then forced a bite of toast down her throat.
Freya watched her eat, fighting down the need to remove her bodily from Dayton's bed. She knew her reaction was irrational. All she had to do was think 'one kiss' and she remembered just how Dayton had proven to her that she was all he was interested in. But it was so hard to let go of the old ways, particularly when she saw Rayne as a threat.
She had to remember that this woman was someone he cared about, that hurting her would be hurting him. She tried to focus on something else. "You are over three millennia old?" She remembered Caleb's tale so long ago about the first hybrid child who was supposed to have died. If Rayne really was that child then she was older than she was.
The response was dull and lifeless and caused her to frown. Rayne's wound was not physical. Freya knew how very much mental wounds could fester. She also knew what loneliness felt like. She heard it in that one word and felt a strange kinship click into place.
"It is difficult to walk alone," she finally said, her tone a little softer and drawing the other woman's gaze once more. "I have always been alone despite having Nors trying to keep me alive. Until Dayton."
That brought a slight smile to Rayne's face and a bit of warmth. "He has that effect on people," she conceded. "I too was alone until I found him."
Silence fell again and then Freya sat up watching her intently. "May I scent you?" she asked curiously. "I've never met a being as old as you before. I'm intrigued."
Rayne nodded after a brief pause and Freya moved forward, inhaling softly against the side of her neck. The wildcat was tense but allowed her to indulge her curiosity. She was impressed. Baring one's throat to another was a mark of extreme trust.
"I know he belongs to you, Freya." The words were a whisper so soft they were almost undetectable.
She relaxed slowly and pulled back enough to look down at Rayne. She smiled and there was a hint of warmth in it. "He belongs to you too," she conceded. "He loves you. For that reason alone I will protect you. I will not have his heart broken again for any reason."
"Have you told him you're in love with him?"
The question made her freeze in shock, confusion crossing her face for a moment before she suddenly softened a bit more and sank down onto the bed beside her. "Does he require me to? I don't know how to react with your rituals. In my world everything is so clear cut. You see what you want and if both parties are agreeable you take it. Weres are more complicated. Your social structure is confusing."
Rayne held her breath, staring in awe at a vampire with eyes so old they shone with the knowledge of millennia. Freya Eriksson may be Ancient but she was completely out of her depth when it came to something as simple as falling in love.
She pushed away her own misery and reached out to the other woman. She couldn't help herself from doing so, she'd been reacting to other people's hurt her entire life. "It's not so complicated, Freya. You just need to let him in completely. Take a leap of faith. If you find it difficult to believe in yourself then believe in him. He will catch you if you fall."
The vampire regarded her intently for a long moment and then the tension slowly drained from her body. "Eat your toast," she ordered. "I still want you out of his bed as soon as possible. But I will not drag you out bodily." She rose and returned to her sofa.
Freya mulled over Rayne's words, silently conceding that she could see why Dayton found the cat so intriguing. Up close to her she could scent the pain the other woman was trying to force down. She could understand the misery she lived in at the moment because she had been there herself. Despite that, Rayne still tried to reassure a vampire who could just as easily rip her throat out if she wanted to.
The wildcat was strong. She would adjust to whatever was hurting her. She had Dayton at her side and she now had an Ancient vampire watching over her too. Freya's lips twitched in a derisive smile. She was growing soft. She would never admit to the other woman that her thoughts had changed, but she admitted to herself that she would now protect Rayne, not just because Dayton had asked her to, but because she wanted to.
Dayton flew up the stairs hurrying back to his room. He'd left Freya alone with Rayne while he sought out answers from his Alpha. Rafe had been reluctant to talk but he'd held his ground until he'd gotten the truth. He'd had to appeal to his Alpha to get the information, arguing that it was in Rayne's best interest if he had all the facts. That had finally swayed Rafe and he'd told him the whole story.
It was a heartbreaking tale all around, not just for Rayne. He could understand Gard's reaction the night before even if he still wanted to rip the other man apart with his bare hands for hurting his friend. He was intelligent enough to know that it had been an impossible situation, two core loyalties battling against each other. He didn't know if Rayne would be able to understand it though.
His concern for Rayne was twofold. He didn't know if she could heal from the discovery her mate had abandoned her as a child. And he wasn't wholly confident of leaving her alone with Freya. He felt guilty for doubting his mate but she was still so new to her emotions. He wasn't sure just how far she'd come.
He entered the room and his eyes went first to Freya who was watching the door expectantly. She would have heard him approaching so he wasn't really surprised. The slight smile tugging her lips warmed his heart and he relaxed instantly. His gaze turned to the bed and he saw Rayne was awake and eating breakfast. She looked shattered but she was functioning. It was a start.
He strode across the room, bending down to rub his lips gently against Freya's. He kissed her at every possible opportunity. He knew it grounded her, soothed her, and he loved the taste of her mouth. He was honest enough not to pretend he was being altruistic.
"This nursemaid act is becoming a habit," he teased lightly against her lips. "You're going to ruin your reputation."
"Not if I toss you out the window I won't," she remarked drolly, but pleasure danced across her face at the approval in his tone.
"Now you know Rafe asked you to play nice, Freya," he laughed softly, kissing her again just because he wanted to, smiling as her lips curled against his.
"This is me playing nice," she retorted. "If I was being mean you'd already be laying out there rueing the day you ever met me."
He bit her bottom lip hard, his tongue laving the nip he'd given her. "You are going to be so much trouble," he chuckled breaking away from her. His eyes shone with excitement as he ran a thumb over her bottom lip and then turned to Rayne who was watching them intently.
His gaze turned pensive as he took in her wounded expression. "How are you feeling?"
The silver in her eyes pulsed dully as she met his gaze. "I've been a whole lot better," she admitted.
He sat down on the bed, moving the tray when it became apparent she wasn't going to eat any more.
Freya took it from him. "I will leave you to talk." She didn't wait for anyone to object, simply strode from the room leaving them alone. It was hard to do, especially when she had seen the softness on Dayton's face when he looked at the cat. But she knew Rayne would talk better without her being present and she wanted to prove to Dayton that she could be rational about things, that she could accept his friendship with the other woman even if it did make her gut clench painfully.
Dayton relaxed as the door closed behind her turning his full attention to the woman in his bed. Although he wanted Freya close to him, he knew Rayne needed his undivided attention. The pull of two opposing needs helped him understand Gard's dilemma a bit more and his anger ratcheted down another notch.
He moved up the bed, silently opening his arms as he rested against the headboard. It was a testament to just how fragile Rayne felt that she flowed into his embrace with barely any hesitation, her arms coming around his stomach to clutch tightly.
"I talked with Rafe," he murmured softly. She stiffened in his arms and he dropped a soothing kiss on the top of her head. "You need to hear this, Rayne. You can't make any decisions without knowing the full facts, no matter how painful facing some of them will be. Isn't that what you've been trying to bang into my thick skull all these years?"
She knew what he said was true. It didn't make her want to listen to him though. Her emotions were all over the place, so screwed up that even her cat was skittish and unsure. The need to run was a compulsion so deep it was only Dayton's arms that anchored her to the bed, hell even to the compound.
He started talking quietly, holding her close as he told her a fantasy tale of Kings and Queens, of a race of beings so beautiful and powerful they could have been great if not for one small flaw; they were corrupt to their very core.
It was mesmerising even as it was so cruelly tragic. He was talking about her birth, her parents, about how a vampire queen tried to save their lives but ultimately failed. This wasn't a fantasy. This was reality, a history that she was part of.
She could understand now why she'd recognised Caleb and Rhianna. They carried the souls of that king and queen even though their faces were different. She was from their era; she felt the pull of those souls deep within her. She'd heard the tales of the end of the vampire royalty when she was still young, long before their memories had been erased by the Vampire Council. It had made her sad at the time, not realising why it affected her so much.
Why she hadn't recognised Gard she didn't know. Had her subconscious mind tried to protect her from the knowledge her mate had chosen another over her? The three vampires together exuded a power and magic never before witnessed. Had it taken all three of them being present at the same time to spark her long dormant memories of her childhood?
"The bond those three shared was like nothing we've ever experienced," Dayton interrupted her thoughts, his arms tightening around her. "They had magic as well as a more complicated type of mating bond we know." He stroked her hair gently as he talked, offering his comfort as he walked down the road that caused her heart to ache so badly.
"You remember Gard falling, Rayne. Every time he fell it was because he felt another piece of Anakatrine being ripped apart. He kept going, kept trying to save you as his sister died slowly under the assault of their people. He felt Callain fall, knew she had no one left to protect her. He was her Guardian but he was her brother too. It was an impossible choice to make, one I don't think I would ever have been able to. He had to go back. He had to try and save her. He thought he'd hidden you well enough that he could come back for you later. He was too late to save Anakatrine and you were gone when he returned."
She listened silently, trying to imagine the anguish Gard must have been feeling at the time. Her own pain was a hot knife deep within her and it fought against the words she was hearing. The rational part of her could understand, the mate part of her couldn't. She had come second to Anakatrine. She may have been a child at the time but she had been his. She should have come first.
The ugly, selfish nature of the thought ripped her apart. But so did the many years of being alone, of not knowing who she or even what she was. So many years of only being able to soothe the ache within her by helping others find peace from their own pain.
Now she was expected to ease Gard's anguish. The person who was responsible for every tear she'd ever shed; the clawing aloneness deep within her.
She didn't have the strength to forgive him. She didn't have the strength for anything any more. All she had was a well of pain so deep within her that if she were to start screaming she wouldn't ever be able to stop. Gard had abandoned her, left her helpless and alone.
The memory of the cold, pitch black forest, the terrifying sounds around a little girl so afraid she couldn't even whimper any more was all that surrounded Rayne at the moment. That feeling of terror had haunted her dreams every single night of her life, even though she had never understood why. It most likely would until the day she died.
She remembered the darkness and then a pain so terrible she screamed until she was hoarse. Her next memory after that was of her human parents bathing her, her mother singing softly with tears in her eyes, her father stroking her head soothingly.
She had always known they were not her real parents; something deep inside her seemed to recognise that right from the very start. But they had bathed her with love for the twenty years she'd lived with them and she had loved them just as fiercely.
They'd been an older couple, too old to have had a child her age. Sometimes she'd seen her mother holding a child's blanket to her chest, her eyes far away as if reliving something from her past. She'd never asked her parents about it, somehow sensing they had a grief so strong they were unable to talk about it.
With her memories returned to her and the wisdom of age, she now began to suspect they had lost their own child. Possibly her father had heard her scream when she was attacked by whatever had caused her the pain that night. He could have rescued her, taking her home to ease his wife's grief and his own.
She knew she would never truly know what had happened after Gard left her that night but she thought her speculation was probably pretty accurate. And she didn't fault her parents for taking her in and loving her so unconditionally. Those first two decades of her life had been what had shaped her into the person she would eventually become.
She couldn't regret that part of her life even if her heart had broken as she'd buried first her fragile mother and then a bare handful of months afterwards her father. They'd loved each other so much they couldn't bear being apart from each other once their mortal bodies began to fail.
After they had passed was when the real misery had set in, the aching need to belong somewhere, to find out who she was. She had walked alone since the night she'd buried her father until the day she'd met the man who now tried to comfort her, afraid to let anyone else in, the fear of losing them too much to bear.
But Dayton had proven a true friend and finally a sense of belonging had begun to settle over her. She'd allowed herself to trust in someone and that in turn had brought her to Gard. She'd lowered her defences to her vampire, accepted him into her heart only to discover that he was the very reason she'd been so lost. How was she supposed to forgive that?
"Rest some more," Dayton sighed when she didn't speak. "Think on it when you feel a bit stronger. Just don't make any rash decisions. Don't run, Rayne. We need you. Gard needs you."
She remained silent until he left, the tears falling when she was finally alone. She curled into a ball and wept silently as her soul felt pulled in a thousand different directions at once.
Gard was her mate and he was hurting. She wanted to go to him and yet she couldn't make herself do so. The frightened, abandoned child deep within her couldn't forgive the man who had left her to die even as the woman ached to ease his suffering.
After a long time she rose silently, moving to the window to stare out into the forest. The sounds of the pack were all around, the pack who were welcoming her into their fold. They offered her protection, a sense of belonging she'd never had before. The children needed her to teach them so they could remain safe. Her skills were valued here. She was being offered the one thing she'd craved all her life, a home.
But her heart was a shattered wreck and she would only cause heartache and damage in the long run. She had stayed so long because Dayton had needed her. Now he had Freya. He was well on the road to recovery and she knew his life would be different now. He would know a joy that would heal his every nightmare. He would be happy.