A Long Walk Home Ch. 19byJazCullen©
Penultimate chapter people :-) I did Tweet and get an overriding Yes to posting the last two chapters back to back...no surprise there LOL. If time permits I MAY post chapter 20 this week. I will update my Bio if it becomes a confirmed thing.
mikothebaby thank you so much for editing for me once again. I so appreciate all your time and effort.
Freya wasn't entirely surprised to see Nors waiting for her when she left the meeting with Rafe. The house was quiet for once and he was sitting on the stairs with his arms resting on his knees. He looked up when she came out, his expression concerned.
She bit back the disappointment that welled up inside her. Her brother had been through countless centuries of her fuckups. It was only to be expected that he would have anticipated that she'd screw this up too. It was all he'd ever known from her.
"I didn't hurt him." The words came out defensively.
Surprise crossed his face, his brows drawing down in a tight frown. "I didn't think you would, Freya. That's not the reason I was waiting for you."
It was her turn to be surprised. She watched him intently for a moment and then crossed to sit down beside him. "Then why are you here?"
Nors swallowed hard reaching out to take her hand in his. He stared down at their joined hands as he swallowed again. "I wanted to make sure you were okay, that Rafe wasn't too hard on you." There was an edge to his voice as his eyes rose to meet hers. "Was he?"
She sucked in a deep breath, seeing the hard glint in his eyes. Wonder rose up inside her as she realised the reason for her brother's concern wasn't because of her but was for her. He was sitting here waiting to see if his Alpha had hurt her. What he would have done if that had been the case was anyone's guess.
"We have come to an agreement," she said, squeezing his hand gently. "He is quite impressive...for a wolf. I can respect that in him. This being part of a pack may not be as difficult as I first thought."
Nors' breath whistled out harshly and he relaxed. "So I don't need to speak with him. I'm glad about that. I like Rafe immensely and would have hated to be at odds with him."
He took another deep breath and met her gaze again. "But you are my blood and you will always come first. The last time you needed help I chose the pack over you," he said quietly. "I was wrong, Freya, and it almost cost me your life. I will never make that mistake again. I ask your forgiveness."
Tears welled up in her eyes as she reached out and touched his cheek gently. She'd never deserved his forgiveness, knew what drove him to try and save her over and over again. He was a good man, one of the best she'd ever known, and he had to stop punishing himself for what couldn't be changed. Dayton had taught her that. She'd just never realised she would have to teach her brother the same thing.
"Nors, forgive yourself," she whispered softly, stroking his cheek. "As I forgave you so very long ago. What you did was done out of love and no desire to cause me pain. You know that. You've paid the price in regret and suffering for too long now. It's time to let it go."
She watched the denial cross his face, saw anguish enter his beautiful green eyes.
"If I hadn't been so selfish, too afraid to be alone without you...Freya, none of this would have happened. All your pain and loneliness, all the hurt you've been through for so long..." His voice trailed off as he looked down to hide the moisture in his eyes. A tear slipped free, falling on their joined hands.
Freya felt her own tears fall and she didn't hide them from him. Her voice cracked as she spoke, opening herself completely. "When I look back, the happiest times in my life have been when you were with me. You have loved me endlessly, picked me up when I've fallen down and kept me going even when I didn't want to. All your life you've given to me, Nors, and never have you taken from me. Let me give this to you now, my brother. Let me grant you this absolution so you no longer have to look back at the past in sorrow. For once in your life let me be there for you, to be your strength, your support."
His huge shoulders shook, his head bent as he wept silently. Freya wrapped her arms around him and held him tight. "I love you, Nors. I have always loved you and I always will. Nothing will ever change that."
She held him as his tears dried slowly and then he embraced her tightly, his hand stroking slowly through her hair. "Thank you," he whispered into her hair as he buried his face in the side of her neck. The words were simple but the wealth of emotion in them was clear.
They sat together for a while longer and then Nors finally straightened up and gently brushed his sister's hair back from her face. He searched her expression intently and finally fully relaxed. "You look the same and yet you look so different as well. The shadows are gone from your eyes."
Freya smiled softly, her eyes lighting up in the same way Nors was used to seeing Ashleigh's do when she looked at him.
"I love him, Nors," she breathed softly knowing she didn't need to elaborate on who they were now talking about. "I can't breathe without him, can't imagine a world where he isn't at my side. He is home to me, everything I've ever wanted and never dreamed was meant for me. He completes me."
Nors smiled back at her, finally letting go of the past now he knew she was safe and happy. Dayton Alexander was perfect for her in every way. He reached in and drew out his sister's goodness in a way no one else could ever do. He would have to find some time to get to know his new brother better, to thank him for all he had given to Freya.
"He is a welcome addition to our family, sister mine," he smiled. "I am honoured to call him brother."
It was as if he'd suddenly given her the moon and stars the way her face lit up with such happiness. For a moment Nors was stunned by just how radiantly beautiful his sister was when she genuinely smiled, and then he was hugging her close. Everything was going to be all right now. He could feel it in his heart. Finally they could both be happy and look forward to the future.
Freya left her brother and headed over to the community centre. Her emotional moment with Nors had been tough but also liberating. But she was still in need of her mate, just to make sure he was okay. Not that any harm would come to him in the middle of the compound.
He was helping with the young ones, making sure they weren't traumatised by the length of time they'd spent in the tunnels. Not that they were. There had been sufficient adults with them taking care of them. To the children it was all such a big adventure.
Dayton looked up when she entered and handed off the child in his arms to a female beside him. He strode across the room to her, his expression curious but not worried.
"Everything go okay, honey?" His arms slid around her and pulled her tight against his chest, his lips brushing the side of her neck softly. He inhaled deeply and then sighed. "God, I love the scent of cherry blossoms."
Freya could feel herself melting under his touch, his own scent of pine trees and the forest sinking into her pores and making her feel safe. "I am reporting to begin my Beta training," she laughed softly, trying not to moan out loud as his hand slid to the nape of her neck and tilted her face up to his.
"You've been crying." The words were terse as he examined her face minutely, waiting for her to deny it.
"Nors and I had a talk after the meeting with Rafe. It was a bit emotional but therapeutic too. Your Alpha did not upset me, Dayton, quite they opposite in fact. I think I may even find myself liking him a little."
A slow smile crossed his lips before he bent his head to graze her mouth gently against hers. "I love you," he whispered. "Thank you, sweetness."
She knew why he was thanking her and it made her heart soar that she'd pleased him, made him proud of her. It was for this very reason that she would succeed with her integration into the pack. Because this feeling inside was priceless and something she wanted to experience every day for the rest of her life.
"I love you too...honey." The endearment felt strange on her lips but the total joy in his eyes was worth the awkwardness she felt saying it. Still she flushed, conscious of intruding eyes on them. Turning her head she saw the young males she'd growled at earlier trying very hard to look as if they weren't watching them.
Slipping out of Dayton's arms she took a deep breath. "Go back to what you were doing. I will help as best I can."
Dayton wanted to laugh at the disgruntled expression on her face. She looked like someone was about to torture her but he couldn't help grinning at her calling him honey. It was the most perfect thing he'd heard in a long time.
"Let me get finished up here and then we'll get to work on what you need to be learning. It won't take me long." He kissed her again and then headed back over to finish helping with the evacuation of the tunnels beneath the centre.
Freya watched him leave and then turned to face the youths again. The community centre was obviously a focal place and there was a kitchen area off to the side. Not wanting to be standing around doing nothing, she headed over to the boys. They immediately went to scatter and she hissed in frustration before she took a deep breath.
"Stand still." It was nothing short of an order and the four young males froze on the spot, fear crossing their faces. Not the desired result she'd been hoping for but it was a start.
"Names and make it quick. I don't have all day."
The sandy haired male swallowed loudly but squared his shoulders. They looked around eighteen; young men rather than little ones.
"I'm Foster; this is Squid, Moose and Dawg." He indicated his friends as he spoke.
Freya's eyebrows rose sharply as she stared at them. She seriously doubted their parents had named them anything so ridiculous. They had most probably picked the names for themselves thinking it made them special in some way. It was on the tip of her tongue to tell them just how stupid the names were but she took another deep breath instead and bit down the urge.
"I'm Freya. Seeing as you four are so interested in what I get up to in this compound you're as well as helping me. That way you can stare all you want without being sneaky about it."
Her words had them blushing furiously and looking away, making her feel slightly chagrined at her bluntness. It was hard to be subtle about things when she was used to just saying what came to mind. She didn't sense any malice in the boys, just too many hormones for them to think straight.
"I'm sure you had some food in the tunnels but it probably wasn't nutritious enough for the little ones," she said in a more gentle tone. "We should make ourselves useful by preparing something for the pack to eat. You will come with me to the kitchen area."
"Girls cook," the one called Moose exclaimed in complaint, obviously feeling brave because of her softer tone. He appeared to feel the task was beneath him and a quick look at his friends echoed that impression.
Freya gave him a hard stare and slowly elongated her fangs. She held them out for a full ten seconds before she put them away. The boys appeared both fascinated and fearful at the same time.
"Those fangs mean I don't have to eat," she answered levelly. "And yet I still know how to cook. It is not a gender thing but a need to provide for those you care about. If a vampire can learn to cook then a male Were can too. Protecting your future mates and offspring is not all about fighting and being a dominant male. It is about nurturing and loving your family. A real man knows how to do that without worrying about how 'manly' he looks. Anyone interested in learning that can join me in the kitchen."
She turned her back on them and headed over to the cooking area, smiling as she heard four pairs of feet begin to follow her. She was right; they weren't bad kids, just misguided. They could be taught.
Dayton choked back laughter as he watched Freya shame the boys into following her. He'd never seen four young males be so obedient before and yet she had them in the kitchen and going about tasks they would most likely have kicked up a fuss about if anyone else had tried to get them to do it.
As he continued on with his own tasks he kept shooting a glance into the kitchen to see how she was doing. His heart turned over as he watched Freya's beautiful face light up with a smile when Dawg did something which she approved of. The young male almost puffed up with pride under her approval and his friends were suddenly more dedicated in their own tasks.
His woman was simply amazing the way she unconsciously wove her spell around the boys and taught them to have pride in what they were achieving. He was so damned proud of her he wanted to go over and kiss her senseless. Instead he decided to wait until later and show her just how proud she'd made him. When they were alone...
Demetri sprang up the steps leading to the large white mansion's front door. Without knocking, he opened it and paused for a fraction of a second before turning to the right and heading into the kitchen. The smell of coffee permeated the air as did the noise of the coffee machine.
He couldn't help smiling as he watched Rhianna fuss over the ornate coffee machine, studiously preparing coffee. It was such a normal sight, was what he was used to despite everything that had transpired over the last five years.
When Caleb and Rhianna had revealed themselves to him and Mara, his heart had almost stopped at the sheer enormity of their revelation. His instant concern had been for his adopted sister. She was so new to being a vampire and suddenly she had the memories of a long dead queen inside her as well as a powerful magic that came with them. She'd appeared to be too fragile to cope with it all.
But underestimating Rhianna Armand had always been one of his faults. He'd done so when they'd first met and she'd proven him wrong. She'd done so again as she'd worked to integrate the two separate parts of her personality and remain as close to herself as she possibly could.
She had her moments when it wasn't always easy for her but for the most part, she remained Annie to her very core. He was proud of her. Hell, after Mara she was his favourite woman, someone he would give his life for without ever being asked too.
They'd kept Gard's existence and involvement in things a secret but he supposed they had their reasons for doing so. He assumed it was because of Rafe and the little redhead had been worried about how her brother would react to his presence. They should have known he would never have let it slip to Rafe and he was slightly put out that they hadn't confided in him. Still, what was done was done he supposed.
"Coffee's ready," Rhianna smiled, turning to face him.
He should have been surprised that she'd known he was there but he wasn't. His smile widened and he fully entered the kitchen, moving to the large wooden dining table closest to the door as she carried the coffees over.
"One of these days I'm going to succeed in creeping up on you, Red," he laughed softly, wrapping an arm around her shoulder and dropping a kiss on the top of her head before he sat down and reached for his coffee. She slid into the chair beside him.
"Not going to happen and you know it," she countered with a smile which didn't make her eyes sparkle the way they usually did.
It was a sign of her concern even though she was trying to appear at ease. He reached out and rubbed his cheek against her hair, wanting to soothe her worry. He didn't like to see her upset any more than her mate did.
"And stop rubbing your scent all over me. You know it only pisses Caleb off."
Demetri laughed loudly, deliberately brushing his cheek against her again before he sat back and concentrated on his drink. He knew how hard it had been for her not to go running to the pack when Mara had reported that the twins had taken off like there was a fire in progress.
He was surprised when she'd called him and asked him to check out the wolves rather than going herself. His expression must have conveyed his unasked questioned because she sighed deeply.
"Caleb says I need to take a step back." Her tone was miserable, her brow drawing down in a small frown. It was clear she was unhappy about not going to the compound. He wondered if Caleb's edict was the reason why she hadn't called her mate to investigate the problem.
"They're fine, Annie," he soothed automatically reaching for her free hand to give it a little squeeze. "Some vampires did try to breach the compound but Rafe has it all in hand."
"What?!" Rhianna's horrified expression ripped at him and he abandoned his coffee to give her another hug. To hell with Caleb being pissed at his scent being on her, she needed the comfort.
"They're safe, Red, calm down. The vampires were dead and although I scented Freya's blood there were no casualties on the wolves' side and Rafe didn't report Freya's injuries as being fatal. They have it under control and Gard was there too. That's the only reason I left them."
Rhianna pulled away from him staring down at her mocha as if it was suddenly the most disgusting thing on the planet. Her heart was pounding hard in her chest and she had to fight back tears. She trusted Demetri. If he said the pack was safe then they were. Knowing Gard was there too helped soothe her anxiety a lot but she still wanted to be with them.
"I should be there," she whispered, taking a deep breath to try and get a grip on her spiralling emotions. "What will Rafe think of me, Demetri? I tell him about Anakatrine and then the first time the pack needs help I'm nowhere to be found."
"Caleb needs his ass kicking," the man at her side bit out, anger lacing his tone. He hated seeing her so distressed, couldn't understand why his friend was being such an idiot. He had to know that keeping Rhianna away from those she cared about would crush her spirit.
When she didn't automatically jump to her mate's defence his frown deepened. Usually Rhianna wouldn't hear a bad word said against Caleb, even in jest, but she was thinking so hard it was as if she hadn't heard him.
"Annie, is everything okay with you and Caleb?"
Lavender eyes met his and she blinked slowly at him before her lips curved slightly. "Yes, we're fine. Caleb just feels that I get so involved in everything that's going on around us that I lose sight of my own life, our life together."
"Fucking idiot!" The words came out on a harsh growl her expression went from surprised to irritated.
He relaxed slightly at the automatic censure in her words. She'd obviously missed his first dig at Caleb due to being lost in her own thoughts. Now he saw the Annie he knew so well, the one who would defend her mate against anyone and everyone.
He bit back the other curses he wanted to issue and touched her cheek gently. "That's who you are, Annie. You live to be there for others, to love them and protect them. If Caleb takes that from you then you won't be you any more. I know he thinks he's protecting you but he's being an ass, whether you want to admit it or not."
She didn't answer him, merely looked away and sipped at the coffee she no longer wanted. But it was something to do other than look at the anger in Demetri's eyes. She didn't want him angry with Caleb, not because of her. She needed to get a grip on her emotions. Demetri's over protectiveness was almost as bad as Caleb's at times.
He said the pack was fine, that they'd been able to defend themselves. That proved they didn't need her and Caleb was right. She didn't have to be involved in everything that went on. They could manage just fine without her. And yet, she wanted to be at the compound to make sure everyone was safe and well. Just to check with her own eyes.