Chapter 15 - Oakland Clan
From my vantage point on the floor, I caught a glimpse of Ray with weapons in both hands before she simply disappeared from sight. I selfishly was grateful that I could no longer hear her soft heartbreaking cries. I gained my feet, readjusted my grasp on my short sword, and rounded on someone I had grown to think of as a brother.
“How the fuck could you do that to her?” I said in a low, deadly voice, silently reminding myself that Ray was still here and I didn’t want to scare her further. I knew she was still here because she hadn’t collapsed her Shield and we could still see it surrounding the same spot in the kitchen. “She looks like she just went ten rounds with a heavyweight champion. You were on top of her when we came in. Her shirt ripped and it looked like...” I dropped off, unable to ask what I needed to know.
If he had crossed that line, compulsion or not, I would kill him.
Derik refused to look up from the spot on the ground he had fallen when Ray’s Shield had come up. I had a crazy urge to walk over there and start kicking the living shit out of him with every bit of my Strength until he resembled the beat-up mess that Ray did. I heard Max and Blake trying to talk to Ray but I couldn’t concentrate on anything but this right now. I was too enraged. Had too much anger inside of me to be anywhere near my beautiful broken angel right now. She deserved better than me right now.
But Derik was a different story. Derik more than deserved my anger and I wished that he would get up and threw a punch so that I could destroy him. I stepped forward, not one hundred percent sure I knew what I was going to do next when I felt a touch at my elbow and looked down to find Elijah standing by my side. When had he come over here? And why wasn’t he with Ray? Elijah always knew what to say when we were hurting. Ray was hurting right now. She needed him.
“He was Compelled. He couldn’t stop what was happening. It’s not... it’s not his fault,” Elijah said in a strangled voice after pausing to glance over at the kitchen. I scanned the area myself to make sure that she was still safely locked away in her void and then narrowed my eyes at Elijah.
He had been the one who quickly turned the car around when he felt that something was seriously wrong with Derik. That Derik was in an immense amount of pain. But we had been too late. By the time we had barged through our own door, Ray had been beaten to a bloody pulp and one of my closest friends in the world was on top of her while she cried out helplessly.
We had failed to protect her. More than that, my own clan member’s fists were the ones that had hurt her so badly.
What else had he done to her?
I tightened the grip on my sword and turned back to the piece of shit still sitting on the floor. I had to know. And quite possibly, Derik had to die.
“Did you rape her?” I forced out through suddenly wooden lips.
Derik flinched away from my words and then dropped his head into his hands, harshly gripping the roots of his hair. I didn’t like the look of that response and shifted forward but Elijah stopped me once more.
“No, he did not. But he had been Compelled to do so. If we hadn’t shown up when we did, things would have... continued to progress,” Elijah murmured, and I felt my breakfast revolt in my stomach. I rushed down the hall, into the bathroom, and barely made it to the toilet before heaving up everything in my stomach.
Who would ever Compel another person to rape someone they cared about?
Even the thought of it was incomprehensible to me, yet living inside of me was the ability to do so. I had never hated my Compulsion Gift before, but at this moment I wished to my core that I was never born with it.
From now on, I wasn’t going to leave Ray’s side until this sick motherfucker was caught and my sword cuts through his mother fucking neck.
For a while, Max and I quietly pleaded with Ray to come back so that Max could heal her, but eventually, I stopped. I knew that she would only come to us when she was ready. I was holding on to the notion that she would come back to us instead of seeking out help elsewhere because the moment that Max mentioned that he could get a different healer two more Shields popped up to layer around her. To me, that spoke volumes. Even after everything that happened this morning, she preferred us to strangers. That had to mean something, right?
Because if I was wrong and she walked away from us, I am pretty sure I would die inside. I hadn’t meant to, but I had already fallen ass over teacup in love with Ray.
She had been right when she suggested that I wasn’t good enough for her because of the way that I have treated girls in the past, but I was going to show her that I had changed. I wasn’t going to touch another girl that wasn’t Ray for as long as I lived. Whatever it took to show her that I am serious about her and would never tire of being with her.
But now, after this... How did someone even recover from something like this? I felt helpless. I was forcing myself to focus on Ray’s Shield and the beautiful girl that I knew to be inside because if I didn’t, I was going to turn around and kill Derik.
As kids, Con would occasionally Compel me, either because we were fighting or because I asked him to just to see what it felt like. He never made me do anything bad, but I was always powerless to stop myself from completing the task. But still, it was hard for me not to blame Derik after the way we found them. I couldn't forget the clear fear that Ray had in her beautiful green eyes when he got too close.
After about thirty long minutes, Ray’s Shields dropped back down to only one and it started to move. I knew that the moment she dropped her last Shield we would have no way of knowing where she was, so right now I was grateful that she felt the need for that extra layer of redundant protection. Max and I scrambled out of the way and watched helplessly as Ray’s Shield made a shaky track down the hallway and into the bathroom. The door was firmly closed and the lock clicked into place, practically screaming that she needed to be alone right now. I stood guard outside the door to give her one more layer of protection. I wasn’t going to let anyone get to her.
Connor joined me and together we stood shoulder to shoulder blocking the door and silently torturing ourselves with the small cries of pain that we could hear from inside. The shower turned on and some of the cries were slightly louder. I could only imagine how painful showering with her kind of injuries would be. I wanted nothing more than to barge in there to help her but knew in my soul that wasn’t what she would want right now. A good time later the shower turned off and Max approached us with a pile of his clothes and I understood that he wanted to give them to Ray so that she would have something to wear.
I took the clothes and gently knocked on the door before telling her that there were clothes on the ground outside the door. I pulled Con a few feet down the hall and it didn’t take long for the clothes to disappear from sight while Ray’s Shield appeared briefly in the hallway. After she presumably got dressed, she moved into the guest room that I now thought of as hers and disappeared inside.
Eventually, Con and I slid to the ground outside her door and I silently stewed in my own thoughts, trying to sort out what had happened and who would do this to Ray. I didn’t have enough information, but I refused to leave my post long enough to go demand answers from the only person that might have some, Derik.
A couple of hours passed before there was a knock at the front door. All five of us snapped to attention. Con and I gained our feet as Elijah slowly approached the door. He looked out the peephole, dropped his shoulders, and then opened the door to reveal Mathis and Sean Olsen.
Oh no, what if Ray leaves with them and I never see her again? I thought as my stomach dropped to the floor. They were her family and they hadn’t hurt her as we had.
Sean and Mathis walked into the house with easy smiles on their faces, clearly not knowing what had occurred here. Those smiles slipped off when they looked at our faces and the smashed-up room. “What the hell happened here?” Mathis demanded in a dark powerful voice and I could see why he used to be a clan leader.
When none of us moved or said a word, Sean tried again with trepidation ringing in his tone. “Where is Ray? Where is my niece?”
“We need to tell you about something that happened,” Elijah said in his I’m trying to control the narrative of this story voice. As he was talking, Mathis locked eyes with me and I braced my stance. He was not getting through this door until Ray herself told me it was okay.
“You need to move and let me see my granddaughter,” Mathis demanded in his scary voice but I held my ground. I felt Con tense next to me and knew that we were on the same wavelength. No one was getting by us. Both Mathis and Sean walked around Elijah and came to stand before us.
“Please let us explain first. This is a delicate situation,” Elijah responded but only seemed to piss the Olsens off more.
“We will hear what happened from Ray,” Sean stated in a voice that matched his father’s. “Now move or I will Compel you to move.”
The second that Sean said the word Compel, I knew that he had made a big ass mistake. My thoughts were confirmed when Shields started popping up all over the room. There was one big one around Con and me, and then individual ones around Elijah, Max, and even Derik. Sean gasped in a breath and looked shocked, so I looked over my shoulder to see Ray standing not three feet behind me. If possible, she looked even worse than before, as her bruises were now darkening to a deep black. The entire side of her face looked like it was damn near caved in and her limp arm was tied in a sorry-looking sling made up of her bloody and ripped shirt.
“What in the world happened t--” Sean started to ask in a small unbelieving whisper but Ray’s angry and slurred words cut him off. I could only imagine how much it must hurt to talk with her face busted up like that and I cringed inside.
“Diii you do thisss to meee?” Ray said and I almost flinched away from the agony in her voice.
“What?” Sean replied in a bewildered voice. “I don’t even know what happened? What are you talking about? Who did this to you? Who hurt you like that?”
“Ssssomeone Compeeelled a perssson I trusst to beat the livvinnng ssshit out of meee ssssso I would leavvvve this clan,” she forced out and I wanted to turn and plead with her to stop talking and let Max heal her.
“Itssss ssstraaaight out of my fffaafaathers playbooook. Did you do thisss to meee?” she repeated looking daggers at her uncle with her one good eye.
“No, of course not,” he said in a horrified whisper.
“Ddddoo you know wwwwhhhho did?”
Sean stepped back at the accusation, but Ray remained as straight and steady as she was able while she waited for an answer to her question. I had no doubt she was checking the truthfulness of every word out of his mouth. Would she turn and question us next? I don’t know how I would survive if Ray looked at me like she was looking at her uncle right now.
“No,” Sean replied a little brokenly and Ray turned her angry one-eyed stare to her grandfather.
“Ddoooo yoooou knowww?” She demanded in the same broken voice and Mathis actually flinched backward a little.
“No, child. I do not know. But when I find out, I will kill every single last one of them,” Mathis vowed in a dark voice and Ray studied him for a long moment.
Ray returned her stare to Sean and said, “Gggettt outtt.”
“What?” Sean said in a disbelieving voice.
“I tolllld you whhhat would happpennn ifff you Commppppelled me agggain. Evvvver trrrry it on my cllllannn andddd I wiiilll killll you. I donnnt wantttt you here. Gggettt outtt.” Ray slurred out, clearly finding it more and more difficult to talk, but she had made her wishes clear. Connor stepped forward menacingly and the Shield stretched to move with him, forcing both Olsens back a step. Connor raised his chin at the two men who were still obviously trying to digest everything that was happening.
“I’m not leaving you, child,” Mathis declared, and I glanced back to see that Ray was contemplating her grandfather while starting to sway on her feet. I wanted to sweep her up into my arms but knew that wasn’t what she needed right now. I did back up slowly until I was only a couple of inches away from her, so she could reach out if she needed help. Ray finally gave one barely noticeable nod of her head telling us that Mathis could stay.
Connor continued his stalk toward Sean and I knew that my twin wanted the clan leader to fight back just so he would have a reason to hit someone. But Sean took one last defeated look at Ray’s broken face and then turned to leave. The second Sean was out the door the individual Shields dropped and one huge one formed just inside the walls of the house, protecting everyone inside. I glanced back, but Ray had disappeared from sight again. I looked through the crack in the bedroom door to see that the entire bed had also disappeared and prayed that she was going to get some rest.
Hours later, Con and I were back sitting on the floor outside of her room when I felt a small touch on my outstretched hand and whipped around to see nothing but an empty hallway. I would have thought I imagined it, but the delicate pressure was still there. I turned my hand over and felt Ray move her small hand into the center of my palm. The clan bond surged to life and I nearly cried in relief. She was here. She was here and she trusted me enough to reach out and ask for some sort of support.
Oh, thank God!
“Hey, pretty lady,” I whispered, and Con turned to stare at the same spot I was looking. We still couldn’t see her, but if I could touch her that meant that she had come out of her void. That was a step in the right direction.
“I cannnttt slllleeppp,” Ray’s sad broken voice rasped out and Connor jerked in surprise.
I gently curled my hands around her small hand, not wanting to spook her, and said, “That’s pretty understandable. If you want, we could come in and watch over you while you try to get some rest.” I prayed that I wasn’t pushing too far but sitting outside of this door knowing Ray was inside and hurting was driving me crazy. She remained quiet for so long that I was sure I had screwed up, but then all of a sudden she was sitting next to me, fully visible.
I forced myself not to react to how broken and battered she looked because I knew that wouldn’t help the situation right now. “It’s good to see your beautiful face,” I cooed, and she turned her face away from me, hiding behind the curtain of her hair. Guess that had been the wrong thing to say.
She started to struggle to get up, only using her one good arm and I immediately rose to my knees and helped her up. Once she gained her footing, she entwined her fingers with mine again and walked through the closed door of the bedroom, pulling me along with her. Well shit. I guess we are in the void. Connor followed us and inside the room, I saw the queen-sized bed covered with a comforter that was now stained with blood. Ray led me to the bed and sat on the side while looking down at the ground. She looked so defeated, that it broke my heart. The Ray I knew was all light and defiance and strength.
I sat gently by her side and was beyond relieved when she didn’t hesitate to lean into me and rest her head on my shoulder. I wrapped my arm around her small frame, careful not to touch her injured shoulder, and slowly leaned back until we were laying back on the stack of pillows behind us.
Ray curled into my side and started to tremble and shake. I looked at my twin in desperation and anguish. Connor understood that I wasn’t strong enough to carry this burden alone and moved to lay down on her other side and gently stroked the hair from her face.
How the fuck did this happen and how in the world were we going to make it right?
The twins had disappeared and I could only assume that they were with Ray, because both of them had silently vowed not to leave her side. Max was puttering around the kitchen trying desperately to find some way to be useful. He must have prepared half a dozen different things for Ray in case she wanted something to eat or drink. I knew that it was driving him insane not being able to heal her but he also would never force the issue, especially now. The bottom line was Max was hurting and confused like the rest of us, but I knew that eventually, he would be okay.
The same could not be said for Derik.
He clearly needed to remain in the line of sight of Ray’s room in case she needed anything, but was also too distraught and filled with an incredible amount of self-hate to do more than cower in the farthest corner of the room. Through our clan link, I felt that he was in an immense amount of pain. From his thoughts I knew that he was in a place so dark I had no idea how to reach him.
Derik and I have been friends since we were kids, but it wasn’t until his older brother went on a murdering rampage that we really started to become close. He was my person in this world. Someone that I knew would love and care for me unconditionally no matter what. I had thought that Derik had reached rock bottom during those horrible days following what Eino had done, but this was so much worse.
I needed to figure out a way to express my support and love. I needed to let him know that he wasn’t alone. I needed to take some of the weight off of his shoulders. I needed to show him that this didn’t change the way I felt about him, that he was still loved in this world.
I approached where he was sitting on the floor with his head in his hands. I heard that he wanted me to leave him alone in his thoughts, but I wasn’t about to do that. Whoever had done this could have picked any of us to attack Ray. It could have just as easily been me on the floor wishing that someone would come over here and dish out a punishment he believed he deserved.
I sat down on the floor next to him and when he scooted away, I slid sideways until our shoulders were pressed together. Valkyries needed contact with other Valkyries, plain and simple. And I was hoping that my familiar touch would do something to ease the hurt inside of both our souls.
Inside his head, Derik was screaming and unbidden tears started tracing lines down my cheeks. Eventually, his tortured screams died down and I tried talking to him. He remained silent, choosing instead to respond solely through thought.
“Who did this to you?” I asked, my voice cracking halfway through.
I can’t remember. He Compelled me to forget his face. I can only remember his voice. I will never forget his voice or the words that he used to describe to me exactly how to hurt her.
I swallowed down the knot of emotion that had formed in my throat and asked, “Any ideas of who he was working for or why he did this?”
He wanted me to hurt her. He wanted me to humiliate her. Destroy her in such a way that she would never be the same and be unable to ever trust us again. God, what have I done?
“This wasn’t you. You didn’t do anything. I think -” I started to say that I think that Ray might understand this but he started screaming at me in his head and I had to force myself not to flinch away.
IT WAS MY HANDS. MY FEET. MY FUCKING TEETH. IT WAS ME. I DID THOSE THINGS TO HER.
I let out a breath and found myself at a loss as to what to say. He was right and he was wrong. He didn’t choose to do those things, to hurt Ray, but he did have to live with the memory of them.
It was a fate that Derik would consider worse than death. He was gruff and nonchalant on the outside, but this man felt things deeper than anyone else I knew. I knew that he cared a great deal for Ray. We all did. She had breathed new life into our small family and every single one of us was better off for it. I would do anything for her, as would each member of my clan. But this could very well be the thing that rips her away from us.
The mystery Compeller might get his wish after all.
I didn’t know what to do with myself.
The twins had disappeared with Ray into the void and my brother was in the corner with Derik radiating out misery. My power was surging against my control, begging to be used to heal Ray, but I couldn’t sit still for hours as the twins had outside of her door. I was really worried about her. What if she was bleeding internally? What if she had a brain bleed and was right now slowly slipping away from us in the void, unable to ask for help. My Healing Gift would only allow me to heal something that would eventually heal with enough time and medicine. What if things progressed to a point where I could no longer help her?
I needed to see her.
I picked up the plate of fresh fruit and chicken soup that I had made and took it to the closed door before knocking lightly. I didn’t hear a response and even though it might have been an invasion of her privacy, I tried the knob and opened the door. The room was empty. No Ray. No twins. And no bed. I had to assume that they were all tucked away in the void.
I cleared my throat and talked into the empty space. “Ray, I know that you are hurting and need time to process, but please -” I had to stop to take a deep breath and steady my breathing. “Please let me heal your wounds. There is no need for you to remain in so much pain. Please let me help you,” I pleaded not caring how the words might make me sound.
It must have worked because in the next second I could see the bed with the three of them huddled to one side. Ray looked so small sandwiched between the massive bodies of the twins. My breath caught when she raised her head from Blake’s chest and I saw once more the damage that was done to her face. She slowly sat up with significant help from the twins and together they scooted to the side of the bed. I placed the tray of food on the floor and carefully approached trying my best not to spook her.
I wanted to talk to her. To tell her how much she meant to me. Explain how sorry I was that we hadn’t been here to prevent what had happened. I wanted to promise to always protect her in the future, to always be that person she could count on to be at her back. But none of those words left my lips. I remained perfectly silent as I stepped up to her and gently brushed my fingertips across her temple where a large gash was crusted with dried blood. Almost unbidden by me, my Gift reacted and the skin started to knit back together leaving a barely visible silver scar.
Ray looked up at me with the eye that wasn’t swollen shut and I saw nothing but complete trust within its depths. That look was enough to break through my resolve and I felt tears start to stream down my cheeks as I moved my hand to heal her black eye.
But this injury pulled at my Gift and I knew that it was much more serious than the gash. I reached inside of myself, letting my power wash over Ray’s face, and tried to sense what was wrong. It was more of a feeling than being able to actually see what was wrong. As my power gently probed the black and blue area of her face I could sense she had a spider web of hairline fractures that radiated from the crest of her cheekbone and out towards her eye and lower jaw. I couldn’t imagine Derik being able to inflict this kind of damage with his fists. Images of him either kicking her in the face or striking her with one of his weapons flashed unbidden in my mind. If he had used a bladed weapon, he would have killed her instantly.
My power demanded to be used now that it had contact and a full flood of my Gift surged into Ray, unfiltered by my control. She grunted in pain burying her face into my chest. I felt her pain-filled sound deep within my soul. I hated that I was causing her more pain, but if her injuries weren’t fixed they could result in permanent damage. As long as she was strong enough and didn’t pull away from me, I wasn’t going to stop.
After her beautiful skin turned back to its creamy unblemished shade, I let my fingers trail downwards until they rested gently on the finger-shaped bruises that encircled her neck. I probed with my Gift again and sensed no serious damage, but the markings told a definitive story. I had to swallow down the bile that was fighting to push up my throat as I considered what Derik had done to cause these.
After healing her neck, I paused and looked over at Connor who was sitting on the same side as her injured shoulder. I knew that this was the worst of her injuries and it was going to hurt to heal. Furthermore, I didn’t think that I could do it alone. The bone was visibly out of the socket and I was going to need Connor to hold her as I set the joint.
Connor paled slightly when I told him what I needed from him and he quietly asked Ray if she was okay with it. When she gritted her newly healed jaw and nodded at us with steel in her eyes, I knew that she was the strongest person I had ever known.
Connor wrapped his arms securely around her other shoulder and whispered a soft, “I’m so sorry Ray,” before I carefully positioned my hold on her wrist and forcefully brought her arm up and to an angle that my trainers had taught me. Ray let out a gut-wrenching scream and I heard the distinctive pop of the joint resetting. However, the moment I tried to remove my hands because Ray was starting to sob and I wanted to give her a moment to recover, I could feel her arm slipping back out of the socket. There was so much damage to the surrounding muscles and tendons that her arm wouldn’t stay in place until I healed it. I looked to Connor and hoped that he knew that this was the only way before I pushed my healing power into her shoulder and guided it to start repairing the damage.
Ray started screaming again and I felt Blake grasp my arm, trying to pull me away from her. I ignored his pull, refusing to have to put her through this again, and closed my eyes to try to concentrate. It took longer than it should have to heal her arm. I had a suspicion that the only reason that I was able to do so in the first place was that I had experienced a huge power boost when Ray shared her life force with me and thankfully that boost still hadn’t faded. If a less powerful Healer had tried to repair her shoulder, I am afraid they would have declared it a lost cause and Ray would have lost full function in her dominant arm.
When it was finally fully healed, Ray was softly sobbing into my chest and the rest of us were not far behind her. I prayed that was the last major injury she had because I was starting to feel the power drain, not to mention that I was loathed to cause her any more pain. But when I gently asked her if anything else hurt, Ray refused to meet my eye, and dread unfurled in my stomach.
What else could possibly be wrong? Ray continued to stare at the floor and I tentatively held my hands out over her skin, not touching but searching for any more serious injuries. I started at her head and worked my way down. I gasped when I felt what was on her chest. I noticed where my palms were hovering in front of and quickly snatched my hands away because I was inches away from practically feeling her up.
“I tried to fight,” Ray said in a low vulnerable voice that I instantly hated. “I swear that I tried to fight. But he had already hurt me so much and my Gifts kept ---” she broke off on a sob and my heart shattered for her. “Please believe that I tried to stop him. That I did my best to fight,” Ray pleaded and I hugged her shaking body to my chest.
“Shhh,” I said into her hair. “I believe you. I know that you fought with everything that you could. This was not your fault. Okay, Ray, this was not your fault.” My voice cracked and my eyes blurred with tears once again. God this sucked.
“What the hell are you talking about?” Connor growled and Ray sobbed harder into my chest. I gave Connor a scathing look and ignored his question. I didn’t know what had happened and even if I did, it wouldn’t be mine to tell him. All I did know is that there was a gaping wound on her left breast and there were only so many scenarios that would lead to that kind of injury. Images of how we found Derik holding her down as he groped her unwilling body flooded my vision and I squeezed her closer to my body.
When her breathing started to even out, I spoke to the far wall, unable to look into her face as I said what I needed to say. “Ray, Baby... That needs to be looked at. It doesn’t have to be me. It can be another healer or even a human doctor, but we can’t just let it fester. If you do choose me, just know that I have to maintain touch to heal,” I told her and felt her tense in my arms. I didn’t pressure her and gave her time to really think about what she wanted to do here. It was her body and her choice, but my Gift really did not like the feel of that wound.
Eventually, she murmured into my chest, “You. I choose you,” and I both loved and hated her answer. I loved that she trusted me enough to do this for her, but I hated that I was going to have to touch her in this way, under these circumstances.
I took several deep breaths and slowly pulled back enough that I would be able to place my hand between us. I felt the twins’ heavy stares and hoped that they wouldn’t murder me when they saw what I needed to do. I checked Ray’s face to double-check that this is what she wanted, but she refused to look up at me. Better to get it over with.
I brought my shaky hand to gently cup her injured breast and quickly released my Gift to heal the torn tissue. I can only imagine how much pain she must be in, but Ray just clenched her jaw and tensed every muscle in her body as she rode the waves of pain, refusing to make a single peep. I knew that this was her small way of taking back some control and power after what had happened.
When I was done, Ray slumped in my hold, panting with effort. I reached down and picked her up bridal style and walked to the far side of the bed so that I had room to climb in. Once I was settled in the middle of the bed, the twins slid back to sit on each side of us and reached out until they were touching both me and Ray. The clan bond sizzled to life between the four of us and I prayed that it acted as a small comfort to her as she fell into a fitful sleep on my chest.
Hours passed after Max walked into Ray’s room and there hadn’t been a single movement or peep from the hallway since. I had mostly convinced myself that the four of them had simply left and were right now reporting my actions to either Blade or the Collins Royal Clan. But I couldn’t find it within me to get up off the floor and check.
I didn’t think I could live through Ray looking at me with so much fear and pain ever again. I would gouge out my own fucking eyeballs. I deserved it and so much more after what I did and said to that poor girl.
She is only seventeen for fucks sake. She is just a kid and I had held her as she was bleeding and crying to the ground and tore into her with my teeth. I am a fucking monster. Worse than even Eino.
These thoughts swirled around my head. I was tempted to just start hitting it as hard as I could to the wall behind me, just to stop the images that were playing on a fucked up loop in my head. Braindead people couldn’t remember. Braindead people couldn’t be Compelled. A brain-dead person couldn’t ever hurt her again.
Not that I would ever give myself the chance to even breathe the same air as she was after today. I was going to leave and remove myself from this situation before anyone had to ask me to go. But first, I had to make sure she didn’t need anything from me. I would give her anything. If she wanted me to turn myself in, I would. If she needed to rip me apart as I had done to her, I wouldn’t lift a finger to stop her. If she needed my life, I would kneel with a bowed head before her sword.
I was thinking of different ways Ray could inflict the most damage to me when the door to her room opened. Ray strode out of her room with the twins looming behind her like some sort of enlarged double shadow, promising pain to anyone that dared even look at our girl wrong. I focused on their hard-set faces because I couldn’t bring myself to look at hers. I lost the right to ever look at her again.
Elijah jumped up from beside me and carefully walked forward to greet them. From the edge of my vision, I saw that Ray didn’t hesitate to walk directly into his arms to embrace Elijah. The fist that had a vice grip around my heart squeezed and I bit the side of my cheek until the tangy taste of blood overwhelmed my senses. It was a good thing that she wasn’t afraid of Elijah or the boys. It was a pure miracle that I would be forever grateful for. At least my actions hadn’t taken that away from my brothers.
What I wouldn't give to be gifted with the same miracle.
“Can I get you anything? Or do anything for you?” I heard Elijah ask as I watched Max bring some empty dishes to the sink. Did that mean that she had eaten something? God, I hope so. Ray was too thin as it was. She couldn’t afford to stop eating.
“I want to go for a walk,” Ray said in a clear confident voice that sounded so normal that I almost looked at her before I caught myself. If she sounded normal, then she was one hell of an actor. There was no way that she would ever be normal again after what I did to her.
“Okay,” Elijah responded, sounding a little unsure. “Do you want me to go with you?”
“No, I want Derik to join me,” Ray said, and I jerked back. Before I could stop myself, I was looking directly into her eyes and what I saw there literally took my breath away. Not one ounce of fear. Not one iota of hate. Not a single trace of betrayal.
I didn’t understand.
“Over my dead body,” Mathis growled from his spot at the kitchen table. I was thankful for the distraction so that I could tear my eyes away from Ray’s piercing green ones. Something was wrong. I must be hallucinating.
“That can be arranged,” Ray said flatly in a voice that finally held the cold fury and distrust that I had been expecting. But when I glanced up, I saw that she was standing with her back to me while glaring menacingly at her grandfather.
What fresh hell is this? Did she not remember what I did to her? Did I traumatize her so much that her mind literally broke? Or did she actually have brain damage and had some sort of amnesia? My body ran cold at the idea of having to tell her what I had done. But she deserves the truth. She deserved to know what kind of monster I am. Once she figured it out, Ray would never turn her unguarded back to me again.
After a beat, Ray turned back around and I quickly dropped my gaze to the floor. I was beyond surprised when I saw her well-worn boots in my eye line. I couldn’t believe that the guys were actually allowing her to get this close to me. What the fuck were they thinking. We were going to have a serious talk about her safety before I left.
“Will you please go on a walk with me?” Ray asked with a gentle voice that cut deeper than any of her screams could. How evil did I have to be to hurt a sweetheart like her? “I have some things I need to say to you.”
Ah, I couldn’t deny her now. This was it. She did remember and this is where she took me away from the others to tell me how much she hated me, how she never wanted to see me again, how she wished that she had never even met me. This was my punishment and I had sworn that I would give her anything that she needed. I had no choice but to stand, careful not to get too close to her, and walk out the back door. If she was going to pull her weapons to slit my throat, we would need the privacy of the backwoods.
Both Blake and Connor tried to follow her out the door, but she turned to have a quiet word with them. I was beyond surprised when she continued out alone. First, that she would be willing to be alone with me, and second that the twins would allow such a thing. I was half-convinced that Connor was going to murder me just hours ago. I would have welcomed it.
Ray strode past me with sure steps and I moved to follow a couple of paces behind her with my hands tucked into my pockets and my head down. When a twig snapped behind me, I saw that both of the twins were shadowing us. It was bittersweet to see them there. Rationally, I was happy that they were taking Ray’s safety seriously, but I hated that it was me that she needed protection from.
We walked for several minutes in silence and a dozen different scenarios played out in my mind. At least imagining my demise was better than reliving what I had done to her.
“I was eleven years old the first time Samuel Compelled me to kill a boy,” Ray said in a flat voice and I jerked my head up to look at the back of her head. What the fuck! “He was a shifter boy maybe two years older than me. He had mousey brown hair and a nose that was too small for his face. His eyes were a clear light blue that did nothing to hide how scared he was and he had a scar just below his jawline. I tried to find out, but I never learned his name.” Ray paused to swallow down a bout of emotion and turned to face me. The sorrow, regret, and guilt in her face hit me like a physical blow.
“We were scheduled to fight as entertainment before the big-ticket fight in Nashville, but I was starting to get too good at fighting. The establishment was complaining that I ended the fights too quickly by simply knocking my opponent out with a single blow. They wanted more blood and gore. So my father Compelled me to fight to the death while only using exactly half of my strength and ability. It wasn’t pretty and it wasn’t fast. I remember watching from inside my head as my fists slammed into his face over and over again. Hard enough to pulverize his face but not hard enough to knock him out. It took nearly two minutes of constant punching before his skull finally cracked and his brain matter splattered over my face.”
Ray abruptly turned away from me and rested her fisted hand against a tree trunk. She leaned into her fist, no doubt causing the rough bark to push into her skin. I wanted to grab her hand and rip it away from the tree because she had been through enough pain today, but I didn’t dare touch her. After a moment, she turned to face me again, and once again I was too slow to dodge her shame and guilt-ridden eyes. They captured me and refused to let me go.
“I am a murderer. A child murderer,” she stated simply and the intensity of her pain broke my soul into pieces. This was so much worse than a physical blow. Why couldn’t she just take her pain out of my flesh?
“No,” I croaked out, the word catching in my throat because I had gone so long without uttering a word. “That wasn’t you. You were just a child and you were Compelled. No one could have stopped it. It isn’t your fault,” I told her and the emotion within her eyes morphed from guilt to kindness and understanding.
It was only then that I understood what I had just said to her. How dare I imply that it wasn’t my fault. What happened today was one hundred percent my fault. I was the one that hurt her. I was a monster. I tried to drop my gaze, but she rushed forward and cupped my chin in her outstretched palm. The clan bond burned and I tried to pull away but she simply increased her grip until the smallest amount of pain mixed in. I stopped trying to get away.
“I do not blame you for what happened this morning,” Ray stated in a clear, confident voice and my breath hitched. “That wasn’t you. You were Compelled. No one could have stopped it. It isn’t your fault,” she said, throwing my words back in my face and I stepped away from her. This time she let me go but still held me captive with her eyes.
“What was done, was done to both of us. And I know that you are in just as much or even more pain than I am right now. At least my injuries could be healed. It’s not easy to be a survivor of this type of attack. Some days the self-hate and guilt will try to swallow you whole and you will question the point of moving forward. You will believe down to your bones that the world would be a better place without you in it,” Ray told me and I flinched as her words tore through me. How could she know?
“But if the world is too good of a place for you Derik Risberg, then it is most definitely too good of a place for me. I am still here. A little banged up but still living and breathing. My victims died a slow horrible death at my hands,” she said while holding up her small, scarred hands.
“If you leave, I leave,” Ray declared and I understood that she somehow knew of my plans to end it all to ensure that I wasn’t capable of causing that kind of pain and suffering again. For a second I doubted that she meant it, but when I focused on her brilliant green eyes I saw the truth. If I did anything to end my misery, she would follow my lead.
My breath hitched again and before I could stop it, Ray had plastered herself to my front, wrapping her arms around my waist. I couldn’t help the next sob that was forced from my lips as I felt her willing embrace. I had been convinced I had violently killed all chances of ever feeling this again.
Slowly I brought my hands down to lightly wrap around her small body and shuddered. “I’m so sorry. God I am so sorry. I tried to stop. I did everything I could think of, but it wasn’t enough. I am so fucking sorry Ray!” I cried into her hair. My knees buckled and together we slumped to the ground. I sobbed like a fucking five-year-old and Ray never released her grip on my middle. I repeatedly apologized and eventually heard her soft reply.
"I forgive you.”