Shades of Midnight (Chapter Thirty)
Seth's dermaglyphs were still dark with angry color, his fangs still protruding behind his slack lips. Although his eyes were closed, beneath the lids, his pupils would still be elongated, his irises still swamped with furious amber.
All marks of the Bloodlust that had owned him and that declared him an enemy to every law-abiding member of the Breed. All the more so to the warriors of the Order, who were sworn to rid the population of all killers in their midst.
Yet despite that, Tegan and Chase lay Seth down with reverent care on the snow-covered ground before Kade, while Hunter went to the edge of the crevasse and surveyed the deep chasm far below. He turned a level look on Tegan and gave a mild shake of his head. "I can find no sign of life whatsoever down there. The Ancient is surely dead."
Tegan nodded. "Good. Even if the fall didn't kill him, a few thousand tons of snow and ice will certainly finish the job."
Just then, Alex walked back from the plane with a folded blanket in her hands. She had tears in her eyes as she glanced at Kade, then began to gently shake out the shroud that would cover Seth's bloodied, broken corpse.
Kade held up his hand. "Wait. I need to see him like this. I need all of you to see him, and to know that this could have just as easily been me." He glanced at the grim faces of his brethren from the Order, from Hunter's impassive golden eyes, to Chase's narrowed scowl, and then to Tegan's steady, unreadable regard. Finally, Kade looked at Alex, the person whose opinion mattered more than any other. "Seth–my twin–was a killer. I've known it for a long time, but I didn't want to admit it. Not even to myself. What I really didn't want to admit was that he and I were not so different."
"He was Rogue," Tegan said. "There is a difference."
"Yes." Kade lifted his shoulder in acknowledgment. "But it took many years for him to fall. And during those years, he hunted like an animal. He killed in cold blood. Seth was sick with a wildness that he couldn't curb. I knew he was, because the wildness lives in me, too."
Kade saw Alex swallow hard, saw her hold the blanket to her as if she suddenly needed its warmth. He felt the little spike in her pulse as she stared at him in wary silence. Through his bond to her, he could feel her fear as if it were his own.
He hated like hell knowing that he was causing it, and the urge to soothe her worries with a comforting lie was nearly overwhelming. But he was through with secrets. He couldn't hide anymore, or pretend he was something stronger than what he was, even at the risk of losing Alex here and now. She had to know the truth, and so did the group of Breed males standing before him.
"From the time Seth and I were boys, we let our talent rule us. It was hard to resist the freedom it offered, and the power. It was heady stuff back then–to command other deadly predators, to run alongside them. To hunt with them. Sometimes, to experience the precision of a kill as seen through their eyes. And once the wildness had called to us, it only got harder to rein it in. At times, it still is." Although Alex didn't so much as blink, Kade felt the twist of her stomach as she listened to him. She was repulsed, not by Seth this time, or by some misunderstanding that Kade could smooth away with charm or well-meaning promises. She was seeing the truth now, at last, and as terrible as it felt to know that he was pushing her away with his honesty, he couldn't stop until she knew it all.
"Too much power is never a good thing," Chase interjected into the long silence, the ex-Enforcement Agent's voice deep with reflection. "It corrupts even the strongest."
"Yeah, it does," Kade agreed. "It corrupted Seth early on. I don't know when he first started killing humans. It doesn't really matter now. Eventually, I found out, and I should have stopped him then and there, but I didn't. Instead I left Alaska. I got the call from Niko that the Order was looking for new recruits, and I couldn't get out of here fast enough. To save myself from turning into what Seth had become, I ran to Boston and left him to fend for himself"
Tegan eyed him gravely. "That was just last year. Seth was no child then. How long would you have considered him your responsibility?"
"He was my brother," Kade said, casting a pained look at the corpse of the Rogue that had once been his mirror image. "Seth was a part of me, almost an extension of who I was. I knew he was sick. I should have stayed here to keep him in line. And if he didn't quit the killing, or if it turned out he couldn't, then I should have made sure he was stopped for good."
Tegan's green eyes narrowed. "It's no easy thing, to kill a brother, no matter what he's done. Ask Lucan, he'll tell you."
"Is it any easier to break a father's heart?" Kade scoffed, a bitter sound that grated in his throat. "My father would have expected this of me, not Seth. All his hope and attention has always been pinned on Seth. He'll be devastated to see him like this. Just as he would have been if I'd exposed Seth's secret instead of protecting it all this time."
Tegan grunted. "The truth only gets uglier the longer you try to hold it down."
"Yeah. I know that now." Kade's gaze strayed to Alex, but she had turned away from him. Handing the blanket over to Chase, she strode back to her plane in silence with Luna trotting at her heels. Kade cleared his throat. "I need to take my brother home to his family. That's where he belongs. But first I want to make sure Alex is all right. Her friend Jenna, too."
"There's also the added problem of one dead trooper back in town," Chase put in. Kade nodded. "Not to mention several more people on ice after the attacks by the Ancient, and a unit of Staties currently on the way in from Fairbanks to look into those recent killings in the bush."
"Shit," Tegan said. He gestured to Chase to cover Seth's body. "You and Hunter bring him to the plane. And be careful, yeah? Rogue or not, Kade's brother saved his life today. What Seth did more than likely saved all our asses up here."
The two warriors nodded in agreement as they carried Seth away. When Kade took a step to follow them, Tegan held him back with a meaningful look.
"Hey," he said, his voice pitched only for Kade's ears. "I know something about what you're dealing with, so you're not alone. A long time ago, I gave in to a similar wildness, only my drug of choice back then was rage. It nearly killed me. It would have, if Lucan hadn't pulled me out of it. Now it's Elise who keeps me grounded. But it's always there. The beast never fully goes away, but I'm here to tell you that it can be mastered."
Kade listened, recalling what he'd heard of Tegan's own struggles, both in the Order's earliest days in Europe centuries ago, and the more recent events that had brought Tegan and his Breedmate Elise together in the past year.
"I'm not gonna say I'm happy to hear all of this today," the Gen One said, "but I respect that you trusted us enough to put it out there."
Kade gave him a short nod. "I owed it to you."
"Damn straight you did," Tegan replied. "You need to remember one thing, my man. You lost a brother in Alaska today, but you're always gonna have family in Boston." Kade held the intense gem-green stare. "Yeah?"
"Yeah," Tegan confirmed, his broad mouth breaking into a brief smile. "Now let's get the fuck off this frozen rock and go take care of business."
Alex could not pretend that hearing Kade's admission hadn't frightened her. Seeing his brother–the twin who looked so much like him–transformed into the same kind of monster that had killed her mother and Richie only made things worse.
Could Kade one day turn into a monster, too? He certainly believed he could, and the worry put an ache in Alex's chest, not so much out of fear for herself but out of concern for Kade. She didn't want to see him in pain. She didn't want to lose him to the disease–or to the addictive wildness–that had claimed Seth.
With the exception of Jenna, whom she could only pray would be all right, Alex had already lost everyone she loved. Now Kade could be next. He feared the seductive nature of his talent. Seeing what it had done to Seth, Alex feared it, too. She wasn't sure she could handle letting herself fall any deeper in love with Kade, only to lose him later to something she could never compete with and hope to win. But the problem was, she did love him.
It was the depth of that love that terrified her the most as she flew him and the other warriors back to Harmony. She couldn't dismiss the knowledge that Kade's Rogue brother lay dead and shrouded in the cargo hold, a grim warning of the future that might await Kade one day.
Losing her loved ones to Rogues had been difficult enough. Losing Kade to the same vicious enemy that had robbed her of her family was a prospect too terrible to consider.
Alex dragged her thoughts away from those dark worries and searched for a place to land near Jenna's cabin outside town. They had decided on the way to avoid using Harmony's airstrip when it would Jenna's cabin outside town. They had decided on the way to avoid using Harmony's airstrip when it would risk drawing more undue attention from the upset residents. Instead, Alex brought the plane down in a small clearing not far from Jenna's property.
"The trail to the cabin is just through those trees," she told Kade and the others as she brought them to a stop and killed the engine.
Kade turned to look at her from the passenger seat, the first time he had done so since they'd left the mountain to head back into Harmony. His eyes flicked down for a moment as he cleared his throat. "After we sort things out here in town, I'd like to return Seth to my family's Darkhaven near Fairbanks. I know it's a lot to ask of you. Too much, probably, especially after–"
"It's not too much to ask," Alex replied. "Of course, Kade. I'll take you there whenever you're ready." His expression was sober, contrite. "Thank you."
She nodded, feeling a bit sorry herself for the way he seemed to be pulling back from her with his silence, and his carefulness when he did speak to her. Or maybe it wasn't so much that she felt him pulling back but, rather, pushing her away.
Alex climbed out of the plane with him and the other three Breed males, leaving Luna to stand watch over Seth's body while the rest of them went to check on Jenna and Brock.
As soon as her friend's cabin came into view with the door smashed open and Zach's blood still visible beneath the freshly fallen snow, the reality of what had occurred there rose up on Alex in a swell of emotion.
"Oh, my God," she gasped, breaking into a run as they drew closer. "Jenna!" Brock appeared in the open doorway, his huge Breed body blocking the entrance as Alex dashed up the steps of the porch. "She's doing fine. Confused and not exactly coherent yet, but she's unharmed. She's going to be okay. I put her in the bedroom so she could rest more comfortably." Alex couldn't help herself from throwing her arms around the big male's shoulders in a grateful hug.
"Thank you for taking care of her, Brock."
He nodded solemnly, his dark brown eyes warm with a kindness that seemed incongruous with the warrior's immense, lethal appearance. "What happened?" he asked as Alex moved past him into the cabin and Kade and the other warriors came in behind her. "Did you find the Ancient?"
"Long story," Tegan said. "We'll fill you in later, but suffice to say the Ancient is dead. Unfortunately, not without casualties on our side. Kade lost his brother in the battle."
"What?" Brock's expression fell as he put a comforting hand on Kade's shoulder. "Ah, Jesus. Whatever happened, I'm sorry."
Alex was moved by the true emotion–the tight bond–shared between Kade and Brock, between all of the warriors gathered in the small space of the cabin. It humbled her to see such strong men–men who were, at their core, something far more extraordinary than that, in fact–looking out for one another like family.
Feeling something of an outsider in that moment, Alex drifted into the bedroom where Jenna lay curled up on the bed where Brock had placed her.
Jenna stirred as Alex sat down gently on the edge of the mattress. "Hey," she murmured, her voice groggy, barely above a whisper. Her eyelids lifted the smallest fraction.
"Hey." Alex smiled and swept a bit of hair from Jenna's pale cheek. "How are you feeling, honey?" Jenna murmured something indecipherable as her eyes fluttered closed once more.
"She's been in and out of consciousness since you guys left." Alex turned her head and found Brock standing behind her. Kade and the other warriors came into the bedroom, as well, all of them looking on Jenna with quiet concern.
"She's still weak from blood loss," Brock said. "The Ancient must have been with her long enough to feed from her. She's luckier than most. At least she's still alive."
Alex closed her eyes at that, regret for Jenna's ordeal squeezing some of the air out of her lungs.
"I put her in a light trance to calm her," Brock added, "but something's not quite right. The trance isn't keeping her down completely, which is particularly odd, considering she's human."
"Not a Breedmate?" Tegan asked.
Brock shook his head. "Just your basic Homo sapiens from what I can see." Tegan grunted. "I guess that's good news, at least. What's going on with her?"
"Damned if I know. She's not in any pain, but she keeps drifting awake, mumbling a lot of nonsense. Not even words, just a strange, incoherent rambling."
Alex glanced back down at her friend and caressed her softly. "Poor Jenna. She's been through so much. She didn't deserve this on top of everything else she's endured. I wish I could just snap my fingers and erase everything that happened here today."
"That can be arranged, actually," Tegan said. When Alex pivoted a startled, questioning look on him, he went on. "We can scrub her memory of all of this. It's painless, and it's fast. She won't even know we were here. We can make it so that she remembers nothing of the past day, or two, a week … longer than that, if necessary."
"You can do that?"
Tegan shrugged. "Comes in handy from time to time."
Alex looked at Kade. "What about me? Can you erase my memory of all this, too?" Kade held her gaze for what seemed an endless moment. "Is that what you want?" There was a time when Alex would have jumped at the chance to toss away all of the awful memories that had plagued her. To be able to blink her eyes and recall none of the loss or grief, none of the fear.
There was a time, not that long ago, in fact, when she would have given anything to forget all of it. Not anymore.
Her past was part of who she was now. The things she witnessed, terrible as they had been, had shaped her life. She couldn't willingly discard her memories of her mother and Richie, not even the memories of the night they were killed. To do that would be just another form of running away, of hiding from the things she didn't feel strong enough to face.
She didn't want to be that person anymore.
She couldn't go back to living that way, never again.
Before she could say as much, Jenna began to toss on the bed. She flexed and contracted her limbs, her face pinched in a frown, breath huffing through her parted lips. She murmured something unintelligible, then her movements became more agitated.
Brock moved up beside Alex and placed his big hand on Jenna's back with the utmost tenderness. He closed his eyes, concentrating as he caressed her, and some of Jenna's distress seemed to ease under his touch.
"Brock," Tegan said, giving a faint shake of his head. "Don't trance her just yet. I need to hear what she's saying."
The warrior nodded but kept his hand on Jenna's back, still stroking her with a light motion. She relaxed on the bed, but her lips kept moving, whispering more of the peculiar ramblings as she drifted into a calmer state.
Tegan listened for a moment, his face growing more grave with every strange syllable that spilled out of Jenna's mouth. "Holy shit. We can't scrub this female's mind of anything. And we can't risk trancing her any more, either."
"What's going on?" Alex asked, worried by the stunned look on the warrior's normally impassive face. "Is something wrong with Jenna after all?"
"We won't know that until we get her back to Boston."
Alex stood up, alarmed now. "What are you talking about? Take Jenna to Boston? You can't make that decision for her. She has a life here in Harmony–"
"Not anymore," Tegan said, his voice brooking no argument. "When we leave here, the woman will be coming with us."
Kade moved over to stand beside Alex. "What is it, Tegan?" The elder Breed male tilted his head in Jenna's direction, where she continued to murmur softly under Brock's gentling hand. "Alex's human friend is not incoherent. She's speaking in another language. The Ancient's language."