The Council Ch. 17byJazCullen©
Andrei didn't speak the entire drive home to his house. Loretta watched him from the corner of her eye, wondering what was going on in his head. She tried to feel his emotions through their bond but got nothing. He was either able to block her completely or he just wasn't feeling any emotions at all. She didn't know which one unsettled her the most.
He pulled up outside his house and was out of the car and around to her side before she could step out. His eyes roamed her face quickly before he slipped an arm around her waist and picked her up in his arms.
"I can walk, Andrei," she said quietly, not surprised when he ignored her completely and headed into the house. She wanted to be annoyed with him for treating her like something fragile but she was uncertain of his emotional state so she let him have his way. He appeared to need to be taking care of her.
He took her upstairs walking straight into the bathroom. "Take it off, Loretta," he said in a low voice, lowering her to the floor gently before turning to start the bath running.
The sight of her in the dead vampire's shirt was killing him. It had been necessary at the time because his clothes weren't any better so it had been pointless putting his shirt on her. But they were home now and he wanted the offending garment off her body.
He turned to see she had complied immediately and he swallowed hard against the rage that was swiftly building up inside him. Her body was marked just about everywhere. It reminded him of the night he had first met her only this time the bruises where so faded, as if they were days, instead of hours old.
He reached out and slowly traced each mark with his fingers, his touch so gentle he was barely grazing her skin. He counted them, memorised every moment of his failure.
"Andrei," she whispered softly, feeling his sorrow through their bond, which he appeared to have stopped blocking now they were safely home. "Don't do this to yourself. This isn't your fault."
His eyes met hers and there was denial in them but he didn't speak. Instead he ripped at his wrist and wrapped an arm around her, cradling her gently as he pressed it to her mouth.
Loretta suckled at his wrist, not because she really needed it to heal but because he needed the marks to be gone. Her changed DNA had healed her almost completely as it was. She knew the marks would be gone in the morning but he needed them to be gone now, so she did it for him. She could feel the tension in his big body, knew he was struggling badly with everything that had happened. They needed to talk about it but she was afraid to push him because he was so on edge she didn't think he could handle it at the moment.
Andrei held her close, brushing his lips against her hair as she healed that last little bit with the help of his blood. The marks faded completely but they were burned indelibly into his mind. He would never forget them, ever. He had promised his wolf that no one would ever hurt her again as Sandro had. He had failed her. He didn't deserve the peace of having those memories erased. He deserved to see them every day as a constant reminder of his failure.
When she had healed completely, he released her and silently finished preparing her bath, pouring in her favourite bubbly stuff that she loved so much and then picking her up and lowering her into the tub. "Relax," he whispered. "When you're finished get into bed. I'll be back soon."
"Where are you going?" she asked a hint of worry in her voice. She had no idea what he was thinking and it was concerning her a lot because he wouldn't open up to her.
"I'll shower in one of the other bathrooms," he said with a slight grimace, looking down at his bloody clothes. They weren't too bad considering the amount of killing he had done tonight but he felt defiled just having Roberto's blood on him. He picked up the shirt from the floor and left the bathroom.
Once alone, the rage he had been barely containing swept through him and he tore the shirt apart with a low, vicious growl. His talons came out as he shredded the garment furiously. His wolf had worn a shirt of someone who had hurt her. It was an outrage that she'd been put in the position of having to do so.
He satisfied his rage, tossing the fragments of the garment in the nearest bin he could find. Then he showered quickly, throwing away his own clothes too. Loretta was still in the bath when he returned to their bedroom. He dressed quickly and headed downstairs.
He knew she wouldn't have been fed when she was being held by Daniel. He was no cook but he set about fixing her something from the refrigerator. He found he couldn't stop moving. If he stopped then he would have to deal with everything that had happened and right now he couldn't do it. So he kept moving, kept himself busy taking care of his wolf. It was the only way to keep the rage at bay.
Loretta closed her eyes and rested in the bath. She could feel the turmoil racing through her mate and her heart broke for him. He was struggling so hard to deal with all the conflicting emotions running through him. She could feel his love for her pulsing through everything but the feelings of self loathing, remorse, guilt and fury were so strong that she didn't know how he was coping with them all.
She knew her own emotions must feel just as erratic to him too and probably wasn't helping him any. She had to come to terms with being kidnapped, beaten, watching her friend almost die, and believing she'd killed her own child. All that weighed down on her soul and she wanted to surrender to the awfulness of it all but she couldn't. If she did so, she had no idea how Andrei would react to it.
He had forgiven her for shifting. He had told her so at the chambers but she hadn't forgiven herself for doing so. How could she? She hadn't known that her child would survive the shift. She had been thinking like a Were at the time, completely forgetting that her baby would have some of Andrei's vampire genetics and could possibly survive the shift.
Rightly or wrongly she had made the decision to shift to protect their secret, to protect Andrei and her pack. It was something she was going to have to live with for the rest of her life. She could deal with the kidnapping and the beatings. It hadn't been any worse than what Sandro had done to her and she had survived that. She was tough as old boots, just as she'd told Caleb. But shifting when she knew she was pregnant? That was unforgivable.
She bit back a muffled sob, her hands resting on her stomach under the water. "I'm so sorry," she whispered forlornly. "It wasn't that I didn't want you, little one. Don't ever think that I didn't want you."
"Don't, Rose," Andrei said quietly from the bathroom doorway. "Don't do this to yourself." His expression was concerned, his eyes intent on hers as he grabbed a towel and pulled her out of the bath, wrapping her securely in it. "You did want needed to be done. Sometimes the right decisions are the ones that are the hardest to do. Punishing yourself for having to do them isn't going to change anything."
"But I didn't know the baby was strong enough to live, Andrei," she sobbed.
"Any child of ours is strong enough to deal with anything," he said softly. "Do all Were babies die during an early shift?" He was gently rubbing her dry as he spoke, trying to find some way to soothe her anguish which was slowly killing him inside.
Loretta hiccupped. "A few have been strong enough that the shift hasn't hurt them. But the instances of loss are so great we don't shift to protect them."
"So in the back of your mind you must have known there would be a chance, even if it was a small chance?" he pressed as he dried her hair and wrapped her securely in another dry towel. He framed her face in his large hands. "Somewhere inside you, you believed that she had some chance of survival?"
"I hoped," she breathed shakily. "I prayed that the baby would be one of the lucky ones but I didn't truly believe it, Andrei." She had to be honest about it, she couldn't lie to him.
"But you knew there was a chance and you made your decision with that in mind," he said gently. "It was an informed decision and a very hard one." He wrapped his arm around her and led her into the bedroom, settling her into bed and sitting down beside her.
"Loretta, if you had to make the same decision again I have no doubt that you would do the same and I would stand by you then as I do now. You did what you had to do. I know how hard it was for you and I don't fault you for it. The situation was impossible. If we had lost the baby we would have coped with it. But we didn't lose her. She's still here with us and that's what we need to be thinking about now."
Loretta stared into his eyes, seeing nothing but love and support there. He truly didn't fault her for what she had done. "You don't hate me." It wasn't a question, more a stunned statement.
"I could never hate you, my Rose," he groaned softly leaning forward to kiss her lightly. "You may drive me to insanity sometimes but hate is an emotion I could never feel where you're concerned. I love you." He gave her a little smile and tenderly brushed her cheek.
"Just as you don't hate me for keeping the baby a secret," he added gently. "I wanted to tell you but I only found out what was wrong with you last night. Caleb told me things which shocked me so badly I didn't know what to do. There was another mating like ours millennia ago. The Vampire Council killed the mated pair and the child. I wanted to tell you about the baby, Loretta, but Caleb needed time to get things in place to take down The Council before it became public knowledge. I thought I was protecting you both by keeping silent."
His eyes pleaded with her for understanding and she leaned forward to wrap her arms around him. She was now beginning to understand his reluctance to touch her last night and again this morning. She couldn't even begin to imagine the turmoil he had been going through trying to deal with all the sudden changes going on in his life. She couldn't be angry with him even if she wanted to.
She shuddered at the thought of what the Vampire Council was capable of. She could understand the need for time to try and neutralise the threat and she could also see where both of them had gone wrong in the decisions they had recently made.
"This maybe could have been avoided if we hadn't kept secrets, Andrei," she sighed against his chest. "We should have told Jared straight away when we mated. He would have told Caleb and then Caleb would have shared what he knew about the matings. We could have had the pack and our vampires protecting us if only we hadn't kept it secret."
She raised her head and looked into his troubled face. "I'm not blaming you, Andrei. We both did this. I know a vampire's instinct is to keep things hidden but a Were's instinct is to share with the pack. We do that because we are stronger as a pack than as individuals. We come together to protect each other. I know you don't really understand that concept right now but you're pack whether you like it or not. You're going to have to start learning to trust others, not just Alexei and me. You need to let the pack into your life, Andrei."
He could understand the logic, could understand where they had gone wrong. Maybe she was right and they could have avoided what had happened if they had been more open about what had happened between them. His gut instinct was Daniel would have still acted as he had, that the situation would have played out just the same, but he could see the wisdom in her words when it came to learning to trust.
His mate was a wolf and his daughter was going to be some kind of hybrid. He carried the wolf gene within his body so he was now more than just a vampire. Loretta needed pack life. She lived and breathed it, it was who she was to her very core. He couldn't ask her to leave that so he had no choice but to join her. He had to embrace the pack mentality somehow. He had no doubt that he wouldn't find it an easy transition but he was willing to try, for his Rose.
He gave her a rueful smile. "Can't believe I have to join a bloody wolf pack," he grumbled half-heartedly. "You do know I'm going to fuck this up spectacularly?"
His light tone and mock pained expression lightened a lot of the heavy burden on her soul. She smiled softly and tightened her hold on him. "I'll be there to help you, Andrei. You don't give yourself enough credit. You have so much love and loyalty deep within yourself which you guard so zealously, only giving to those you think deserve it. You've just never reached out to others and learned that there are so many more people out there that are equally as deserving of it."
Andrei snorted and kissed the top of her head. "I think you credit me with way more than I'm really capable of, my Rose," he said in a derisive tone.
Loretta pulled back to look into his face, cradling him gently in her hands. "I know you, Andrei," she breathed softly. "I know what you're capable of and I know what you can achieve if you set your mind to it. You just need to want to do it, love." Her voice rang with total conviction. She knew he could do this. He had a reason to want to succeed and when he had a reason he had the power to make anything happen.
A little frown crossed her face as she thought of the reasons he would want to succeed at this. Her and their baby. The baby that had almost died because of her actions.
"Don't, Rose," he whispered, his voice anguished as he gathered her back into his arms and crushed her tightly to his chest. "Don't keep going there. Our baby lives and soon we will know the joy of having her in our lives. She will be the first of many and she will be treasured by both of us. Stop thinking of what might have happened. Think of what we have here and now. Forgive yourself."
She struggled to do so but she knew she had to let it go. If she kept thinking of it then her emotions would disturb the baby and it would keep reminding Andrei of what had happened. He'd never adjust to pack life if she was constantly agitated about her decision. She knew it would be a long time before she truly forgave herself but she pushed away most of the guilt, burying the last little bit deep inside her. One day she'd be able to let that last little piece go but today was not that day.
Her expression was clearer as she looked up at him, a feint smile on her lips. "You keep saying her," she said softly her hands caressing her stomach. "It's a girl?" Her tone was awed.
A wide smile crossed his face and his eyes lit up with joy. "Can't you scent her, Rose?" he whispered, moving further onto the bed and pulling her onto his lap so she rested against his chest and he could rest his hand over hers on her stomach. "She smells of lilacs. It's the second most wonderful scent in the whole world."
Loretta inhaled deeply, feeling mildly disappointed that she couldn't scent the lilacs he spoke of. "I'm amazed you can scent anything yet," she remarked. "I'm only just pregnant. There's ages to go yet."
Andrei stiffened slightly and then shot her hesitant smile. "Actually, there's something else you need to know about this pregnancy," he said softly. "It's more like a wolf pregnancy than a human one. The reason I can scent her is because she's due to be born in sixty odd days or so."
"What!?" Loretta shrieked clambering out of his arms to kneel on the bed, staring at him in shock. She looked down at her stomach, stunned, her thoughts whirling madly. Sixty days? She was having a baby in two month's time? Two months! She shook her head in denial. "You're kidding, right?" she ground out. "You're not serious, Andrei. Tell me I'm not having this baby in two month's time."
He burst out laughing, climbing off the bed and quickly stripping off his clothes. "You're the one with the wolf gene, my Rose," he laughed softly. "I'm sure you'll find some way to blame me for this shorter pregnancy thing but it's the wolf gene within you that's driving it, not my vampire DNA."
He pulled her back into his arms, reaching over to grab the food tray he had made up earlier and placing it on the bed beside them. She was so stunned that she let him do as he wanted.
"Eat," he growled, pushing the plate of cold meat sandwiches towards her.
Loretta took a sandwich and chewed at it mechanically until her stomach growled at her in pleasure and she realised just how hungry she was. "I can't believe this," she groaned between bites of food. "We only have two months? You know what this means, don't you? In thirty days time I'm going to be fat!"
Andrei laughed harder at her disgusted tone. "From what I've read up about pregnancy, yes you will be, my Rose," he agreed smugly. He stroked her stomach lightly. "I, for one, can't wait to see our baby growing inside you. You'll be so radiantly beautiful that I'll be fighting to keep my hands off you all the time."
"I'll be fat!" she half wailed, throwing the last of her food onto the plate and drinking down the glass of milk he'd poured her. "I won't be able to do my Beta duties. No training or anything. Jared will make me do desk duties!"
Andrei kept laughing as he removed the tray and pulled his wolf back into his arms and snuggled them under the covers. "You'll be beautiful, my Rose," he soothed, his love for her radiating in his tone. "You'll be nurturing our child inside your gorgeous body. You can teach me about pack life while you're out of commission, so I don't make a bigger ass of myself than I usually do. It will be fine, Loretta. It will be perfect because we'll be together."
The shock was starting to wear off, Andrei hands soothing her until her heart started beating a bit more normally. His joy was seeping through their bond, transmitting to her and she smiled softly as she pressed herself against him. He was so happy about the baby. He couldn't fake his feelings. She could feel them through their bond and by the way his hands touched her so reverently. The love and joy in his voice was unmistakable. Andrei wanted this baby so badly.
Loretta's smile widened, peace washing over her and she shot a shaft of love towards the precious little life within her. 'You are wanted, little one, so very much. Mummy and Daddy are waiting for you, our precious little daughter.'
"Yes, we are," Andrei echoed with his own mental touch, leaning down to kiss his wolf, slowly and very thoroughly until she was breathless.
"We need to think of a name," Loretta sighed softly. "We don't have a lot of time to do so." She giggled slightly at the thought. Two months to prepare for a baby? That was no time at all. There was so much they had to do. Maybe she'd ask Jared if she could take her maternity leave early.
"Can I name her, Loretta?" Andrei asked softly, his heart thumping loudly in his chest. He'd gone from not knowing how to deal with the thought of having a child, to thinking he had lost her. Now his heart swelled with love for the tiny little being he hadn't even met yet. The strength of that love overwhelmed him completely and made his voice husky with emotion.
"Whatever you choose will be perfect for me," she whispered, her own heart full of love for her beautiful vampire. The way he was totally embracing their child told her so much about him. He had such hidden depths of love within him. He was probably only just discovering that fact himself. If he wanted to name their child then she would gladly let him.
Andrei swallowed hard, feeling a lump in his throat and tears gather in his eyes. He thought of the only other woman he had ever loved. It had been so long since he had thought of her, so long since he and Alexei had even spoken of her but she had always been in his heart and had been for over fifteen centuries.
"Liliana," he whispered shakily. "Liliana Rose Romanov."