Chapter 17 - Truths
I knew my brother better than anyone else in this world, so when I walked up the stairs I knew for a fact that he had been eavesdropping on Ray’s and my conversation. So in classic sibling logic, I decided that meant it would be fair for me to listen in on his conversation. I also was starting to believe that there was more to Ray and the hunks that she was hanging out with than met the eye.
But if I had one guess as to what Ray was, I would put my money on an angel. Either that or she was my fairy godmother.
Amy was in her room, sitting up in her bed, and clearly trying to listen to the loud conversation the guys were having downstairs. But the moment that she saw my tear-stained face and my ‘try to be brave for those that you love’ expression, her features fell. She didn’t cry as her brother had, but I knew that she felt my departure just as deeply as Jack did. Amy didn’t demand explanations or beg me to stay either. It was like she understood better than even I did and knew that this was the right thing to do.
I told her that if she ever needed anything that she should go to Luna for help, and she just smiled sadly at me making her look years older than her real age of fourteen. Life had put Amy through the wringer in the last month or so, just like it had me, and both of us were stronger and different people than we were six weeks ago. When I felt like we said everything that we were going to say, I laid down next to her and she rested her head on my chest and together we just existed side-by-side for one last time.
Eventually, Amy fell asleep and I carefully extracted myself from underneath her. Then I just watched her sleep for a while as I gathered enough courage to walk away from my family. I pushed back into the void and found Blake and Connor waiting for me in my room. A huge part of me wanted to go find Jack just because I couldn’t stand the idea of actually walking away from him, but the very real idea of them getting hurt kept me moving forward. I pushed back into the physical plane and almost instantly I was engulfed in a twin sandwich. But even their unwavering support and clear concern weren’t enough to fill the gaping hole in my heart that was only growing.
Silently, I pushed away from the twins and grabbed my old duffle bag to collect my things. In all reality, I hadn’t spent much time here and it never felt like a home as my bus had. But this move was different, not because of the stuff or the location but because of the people I was forcing myself to leave behind. Even if I was willing to risk the secrecy law and tell Jack and Amy everything, that wasn’t the only thing at play here. I had been thrown into some really dangerous waters and things were only getting worse. This morning’s tribunal was a prime example of how I wasn’t in as much control as I thought I was. I really believed that walking away from Jack and Amy would protect them from potential blow-back that I was going to have to face in my near future. That was the real reason I was leaving, Jack just gave me a reason to do it right now.
When I was all packed up, I pushed the twins and myself back into the void and we found both Max and Jack sitting on the porch. Neither of them was talking and when I glanced at Jack’s face I saw that he looked really upset. I couldn’t blame him for that and I didn’t want to prolong his pain. I pushed free of the void but kept myself invisible. Then I reached out and grasped my best friend’s hand and squeezed with everything inside of me. Jack’s head snapped up but when he didn’t see me, actual tears started to form in his eyes. There was so much that I wanted to tell him, but my throat was too clogged with tears to do so.
“I love you. I will always be here for you,” I choked out before the knot in my throat became too large to overcome.
Jack just stared down at my hand, squeezing back to the point of pain, and replied in a broken voice, “Love you too. I am so fucking sorry.”
Then I pushed Max and myself into the void and together the four of us left Jack and Amy behind.
Connor drove home and both Blake and Max crawled into the back seat with me, each holding onto one of my hands and trying to support me in the only way they knew how. I kept swallowing down my sobs, refusing to break down again but I couldn’t stop the stream of tears exhibiting just how much pain I was currently in. Someone must have told Elijah and Derik what was going on because both of them were waiting for us by the door when we reached the clan house. I knew that they wanted to comfort me too, so I gave each a hug. But then I pulled away and gathered some clothes before going to take a shower. The shower was becoming the one place I could retreat to have a moment to myself.
Almost as soon as I was alone, all of the pain, sorrow, and regret got immeasurably worse and I didn’t last long before I bundled myself in my pajamas and nearly ran to Blake with bleary eyes. I was now fully convinced of the fact that Valkyrie touch was healing and completely necessary when we were suffering. Blake scooped me up and together we cuddled on the couch. Elijah came to sit next to us and I intertwined my hand with his and hung on as I rode the waves of emotion crashing through me. Thankfully, my Gifts seemed to be oddly dormant and didn’t do anything crazy that would fling us into the next dire situation.
It was a rough night, filled with what if’s and a lot of second-guessing myself. I spent the night sandwiched in between the twins in the blue room that I really hoped Elijah was still okay with me using because I think I just moved into their clan house without even really ever talking to them about it. Max was sleeping in a sleeping bag on the floor, and while I knew that he should go sleep in a bed, I was really happy that he was here too.
At two-thirty seven A.M. I looked at my watch for the millionth time and I noticed that Blake was wide awake too. I figured that if we were both up, that this was as good of a time as any to talk. Talking would also be a great distraction from thoughts about Jack and Amy. I turned so that I was facing him and tucked my hands under my head. He looked over at me and gave me a sad little smile and I knew that he was hurting simply because I was hurting. Somehow that made the pain slightly more manageable. “Tell me about when you and Connor became linked?” I asked because I was still curious about the whole linking process.
“We weren’t supposed to do it, and our father got really mad when he found out. Linking is supposed to only happen after you have received formal approval because the royals like to have the final say over who joins what clan. But Connor and I understood that our father and Edison wanted to split us up and we knew that we never wanted that to happen. So we raided Edison’s house and got the correct ceremonial book that described what had to be done. Honestly, it doesn’t take much to complete a linking. Just a full moon night, a summoned Valkyrie blade, and a very specifically worded chant. I think it is really a spell that some witch designed for the Valkyries a long time ago and we continue to use it today because linked Valkyries are stronger and more stable than unlinked ones. Also, it is our way of generating families. Keeps us from splintering into a horde of rouges because we don’t have enough females to connect us together.
“When that link actually clicked into place it felt like the bond that I have always felt with Con, just stronger. More tangible. So having a link is kind of like having a twin. You don’t always agree with them or get along with them, but you never feel alone. You are a part of something that can’t ever be broken,” Blake said in a low voice and I tried to imagine what that would feel like.
“Were any of your foster parents good ones? I know that the one you are supposed to be with now is downright awful. Were they all like that,” Blake asked and it took me a moment to switch gears and think back over my time in the foster system. Those years hadn’t been great, but they had been a vast improvement over living with my father.
“Umm, well my second one was pretty good. They were one of those couples that took in foster kids because they believed in helping, not because they needed a monthly check from the state. She was a school teacher and he was some big finance guy and they made decent money. They bought me this entire wardrobe of clothes when I first got there and more times than not the entire family sat down to dinner together and just took turns talking about their days. It was nice,” I told him, trying to remember what the couple even really looked like. Those memories felt like an entire lifetime ago.
“What happened? Why didn’t you stay with them?” Blake asked in a careful voice, like if he wasn’t sure he should be asking me this.
“They had a daughter that was two years older than me and the apple of their eye. We were out at a mall one day and she shoplifted. When she got caught she somehow turned the whole thing around and blamed it on me. Said that I was the one that stole stuff and I was forcing her to do something she didn’t want to do. When push came to shove, the couple believed their daughter and I was removed from the home for her protection because I was such a bad influence. From that point on I was labeled a troubled child and the foster homes only got worse.”
Blake’s brow was furrowed and I knew that he was going to get defensive on my behalf. While I appreciated the thought all of that had happened a long time ago. Getting upset about it now and playing the blame game wouldn’t do anyone any good. A question that I had often wondered about slipped from my lips and it definitely worked to change the subject.
“Why do you and Connor always date the same girl and why do your relationships never last very long?” I asked and felt a nervous knot start to tighten in my stomach. This was important. I needed to know that if I started something real with the twins that I wasn’t going to be put on a timer. I needed to know that we didn’t have a deadline. An end date.
Blake’s eyes widened slightly at my abrupt question and I watched as he licked his lips as the knot continued to grow. Blake’s lips were still pursed together when I heard an almost identical voice answer from behind me. “That was something I insisted on,” Connor stated and I wanted to turn to face him, but the expression on Blake’s face held me captive. It was filled with an incredible amount of emotion that I couldn’t identify. I had a feeling that I had never experienced whatever he was feeling at that moment, and it did nothing to ease my nerves.
“When we were fifteen, Regina started paying me more and more attention and my teenage self ate that shit up. We started fooling around and she kept telling me that she had real feelings for me. That we were meant to be together. That she would talk to her mother and they would alter her marriage agreement so that she could keep me as, well as whatever the male equivalent to a mistress is so that we could be together long term. The one thing she asked for in return was that I abandon Blake. And I was just stupid and hormonal enough to almost fall for it. I almost destroyed everything for something that wasn’t even real because to her, it was all a game. She made sure I was very aware of that by the end. After that, I swore to never let a girl become more important to me than Blake. I swore that the only way I would date is if we both dated the same girl. To ensure that she approved of and cared about both of us. That she was a part of us instead of the thing that destroyed us.”
I was still staring directly into Blake’s eyes and he was still trying to convey an emotion that I just couldn’t understand. “I wish that we could tell you that we only ever date them for a short amount of time because they were never good enough or didn’t keep our attention. But in reality, Ray-Ray, we always cut things short before we could develop real feelings even when we did like the girl because we didn’t want to get attached,” Blake said and I was starting to understand that at least a part of what he was feeling right now was fear.
“We knew that a long-term relationship with a human is impossible because we would have to keep too many secrets,” Connor picked up seamlessly where Blake had left off. “We do it because we never want to feel what you are feeling right now. We didn’t want to develop real feelings and then have to walk away for their protection.”
My heart throbbed in pain and Jack’s heartbroken and disbelieving face flashed through my mind. “What about a Shifter or a fae? Have you ever tried dating someone in the supernatural world? They are already part of our world so you wouldn’t have to keep anything secret” I said in a hoarse whisper.
“No,” Blake replied with finality. “I know that you have been connecting rather seamlessly with the witches, Shifters, vampires, and even the fae but that is really rare. Usually, the different groups really don’t get along and inter-species dating is really rare mostly because our instincts clash so much. A good portion of the time our first response is to fight with the other supernaturals.”
I let the conversation drop after that as my over-tired and emotional brain tried to process how I felt about the twins’ dating habits. After a few moments had passed in thoughtful silence, I felt Connor turn on his side and he pulled my back and hips into his body, making me very much the little spoon in this equation. He tucked his head next to my ear and said in a very serious voice, “Everything with you is different. Everything with you feels different. This is real. What I feel, what both of us feel for you is real and we want this more than we have ever wanted anything, including linking together. I do not want a relationship with you so that I can strengthen my relationship with Blake. I want a relationship with you because I am falling in love with the person you are becoming. The fact that you have a big enough heart to love not just Blake but the rest of our clan too, only makes me want you that much more. Not because I think you will be the answer to all of our problems but because I love my brothers too. I want what is best for them and Ray, you are the very best this world has to offer.”
Once again I was staring into Blake’s eyes and I listened to Connor’s incredible words and I saw that overwhelming emotion again. I was now starting to understand that Blake was looking at me with love in his eyes. With all-consuming, empowering, empathetic and harrowing love. My chest felt tight and my heart was beating so fast that I could hear it playing out a background staccato to Connor’s breaths that were whistling past my ear. Right here and right now, I felt loved. I felt supported. I felt important.
And while I felt all of those things, I finally was able to fall asleep.
I took a deep breath and clean, cool, and crisp air filled my lungs. I tipped my head back and eyed the moon that almost looked too large and too clear to be real. I gently moved my fingers side-to-side in the soft soil underneath my palms and when I looked down, I saw a very familiar-looking valley.
“This is my favorite place,” a deep and powerful voice said to my left and I turned to see that I wasn’t alone. Nahuel was sitting about three feet to my left, Indian style, and all of his focus was trained on me instead of the aerial view of Awenasa. “Wiyot told me he took you here. He was the first to bring me to this place too. This is where he told me about Gatekeepers and explained that my destiny was to protect everything our ancestors had built here.”
“Did you kidnap me again?” I asked without feeling the appropriate amount of worry that should accompany that idea.
Nahuel laughed and it almost sounded more like a growl of some sort than a normal laugh. “No, Tehya. You are not really here. Neither am I. You are finally dreaming and I am manipulating them because I wanted to see you again,” Nahuel said with his signature intensity and I felt a shiver run down my spine.
“So you are literally the man of my dreams right now?” I said, trying to lighten the suddenly heavy atmosphere between us. However, Nahuel didn’t seem to understand my sarcasm.
“Right now this is a dream. But I am not made up of dreams. I have the power to enter and change dreams. It is one of the Gifts that the Elementals blessed me with,” Nahuel said, sounding slightly condescending. Like if I was too dense to understand what was going on right now. I turned away from him and looked down at the sleeping village in the lush green valley.
“Why did you call me Tehya?” I asked when Nahuel seemed content to just sit in silence.
“It means precious. I think it is a good fit for you,” he stated as if it was no big deal that he gave me such a sweet nickname. “Your energy is sad. What happened?”
I eyed the strange and intriguing man for a moment and tried to figure out what his motivations were. When he had kidnapped Elijah and took away my Cloaking Gift, I had been really angry with him and had immediately labeled him as one of the bad guys. But now I was not so sure. What did Nahuel want from me? Was he like all of the other royals that just wanted me for my power? Did he think that he has some sort of right to me because I was a Gatekeeper and should have grown up within his plane of existence? Or could he really be invading my dreams just because he wanted to spend time with me?
“I had to do a sad thing,” I told him. I didn’t want to share what happened with Jack and Amy yet. The guys were already sharing that burden with me, but the rest of it belonged to me and I wasn’t ready to be that vulnerable with him yet.
“Over the last day, the way I treated you and the information I shared with you has sat heavily within my soul. I do not like that I hurt you. I do not like being the reason for your pain or sadness,” Nahuel and there was no corresponding buzz in my head. Either he was telling the truth, or my Gifts didn’t work in my dreams.
“Do you know Constance?” I asked because as much as I tried not to, thoughts of my biological mother filled my mind since discovering the story of my conception.
“Yes,” Nahuel growled out, no longer sounding sweet or sincere. “Kanza was right that you do resemble her and she was one of the five who had children with the stolen, but I have a very hard time believing that woman is your mother.”
“Why?” I questioned and looked up to the moon while reminding myself that in reality, I was safe and asleep between my twins.
“She is anger and vindictive intent. You are strength and protective instincts. You do not match. You do not seem to be from her,” Nahuel said with confidence, and a palpable tension within me lessened.
“What are you?” I asked because I liked his descriptions of people. They were unique but oddly insightful.
“I am honor and protective warrior. We match.” I turned to look him in the eye and studied him. He was right. There was a part of me that I recognized in his agrestal nature. Maybe we did match.
The next moment I felt a touch across my forehead and when I blinked the world around me instantly transformed into the blue room. Elijah was sitting on the edge of the bed and he didn’t have his color contacts in, so I could see the vibrant spearmint green color of his eyes. “I wish that we could let you sleep as much as possible, but you have some visitors. I don’t think they will leave until they get a chance to see you,” Elijah told me before reaching over to pick up a cup of coffee that he had placed on the bedside table.
I sat up, took the cup from him, and tried to think about both my dream conversation with Nahuel and what Elijah was telling me in the here and now. Even though I couldn’t usually remember my dreams with any clarity, I remembered everything about our short conversation on the hilltop. I took a drink of coffee and focused on Elijah. “Who is here and why are they here?” I questioned, wanting to avoid another tribunal incident.
“Several different people are here and they are all waiting for a chance to speak with you privately,” Elijah said, being vague about whatever this was for some reason. “But you have time to shower. Everyone is waiting in the living room.”
After that, he just left and I wondered what Elijah was thinking about everything. Ever since I accidentally forced him to tell me the truth about what he thought, I have this fear that I am not living up to his standards. Like I am failing him somehow. I feel like yesterday I had some pretty big come to Jesus moments with everyone except Elijah. We needed to find some time today to talk and get everything out on the table.
After taking a quick shower and changing into a nice set of clothes that I am pretty sure Elijah or Max had bought for me and put in my closet, I hesitantly walked into the living room to see who this mystery guest was. The singular use of the word guest was grossly incorrect in this instance. The living room was completely packed with people, but the moment I entered the room my eyes were drawn to one particular person. He looked up and met my gaze causing my blood to start to boil. After having to leave Jack last night, Jonas Pope was one of the last people that I wanted to see right now.
I could feel my control on my Gifts start to slip as my power responded to my flash of anger, but before I could do more than give my cheating ex a death glare, someone else in the room jumped to their feet and exclaimed, “Little Val!”
I turned to see that it was Logan a moment before he wrapped his arms around me and engulfed me in a tight hug that didn’t last more than a few heartbeats. Then he pulled away and held me at arm’s length. “The last time I talked to you, you told me you were going toe-to-toe with an out-of-control Siren and a master vamp. Would it kill you to send a text to let me know you weren’t reduced to fanger food,” Logan said in a teasing tone, but I could read the real worry in his eyes.
Someone else in the room loudly cleared their throat at Logan’s over-the-top comment and I finally took the time to look around. Other than the guys and Jonas, I recognized a group of Shifters that included Lawerence, Tony, Renata, plus another boy around my age that I didn’t know. The huge warrior prince from Africa, Ekon, was here with an equally large older man standing by his side, and in the corner was a person in a pure white suit that I had never seen before.
“Umm, what are you doing here?” I finally said a little awkwardly, because I still had no idea what was going on right now.
“Well, other than to see that you are doing okay with my own eyes, I wanted to invite you to this event my pack is having,” Logan was saying but Derik stepped forward before he could elaborate about what he was inviting me to.
“Let’s move this conversation to the library,” Derik stated bluntly and I looked around at all of the people in the room who all looked uncomfortable and unsure. Elijah nodded his agreement and made a gesture for all of the Shifters to follow him down the hall to the large room filled with books that had a sturdy desk sitting catty-corner to the far corner of the room. I shared a wide-eyed look with Blake who just smiled encouragingly back at me and then followed the trail of Shifters. When we were all inside Derik closed the door and Elijah motioned for me to sit in the chair behind the desk. Renata and the boy I didn’t know took the two seats in front of the desk while everyone else found a spot to stand. This was starting to feel oddly formal.
“Valkyrie Olsen, please let me introduce you to Santigo, Renata’s brother,” Tony said and the boy shot back to his feet even though he had just sat down seconds before. Then he bowed at the waist and I started to get a bad feeling about this. Nothing good ever happened after people started bowing.
“Please, call me Ray,” I reminded Tony. “And it is wonderful to meet you Santigo. Was your trip from Mexico okay?”
“Si, ma’am. Prince Romero sent for me with his personal jet. He asked that I give you this,” Santiago said and handed me a large leather folder. I tentatively accepted it from him and looked over to Elijah to see if he was going to give me any direction here.
“Well, before you guys get too distracted by business,” Logan hedged and I got the distinct impression that he didn’t want to be in the room when I discovered what was in this folder. “Dad wanted me to come by and ask if you wanted to come out to Fremont for our full moon celebration later this month.” Lawerance stiffened at this and turned his whole body to look at Logan, making it impossible for me to see his face. But Logan’s face looked the smallest bit smug.
Once again I was at a loss. I had no idea what a full moon celebration was and this felt like something that had hidden implications attached to it. I turned Derik because I could always trust him to tell it to me straight. Derik was also eyeing Logan with suspicion and my anxiety about the whole situation rose several notches. “As far as I know, moon celebrations are an extremely important and personal thing for the Shifters. Being invited to one is considered a great honor and a tangible demonstration of friendship and trust,” Derik told me, but his answer lacked his normal confidence.
“We would like to formally thank you for saving me,” Logan said in the same easy tone. “And to be completely honest Little Val, we want to be friends with you. You are a friendly person and we are wolves that know how to have a good time. Come on, it will be fun. You can meet more of my pack and let loose a little. You look like you could use a little more fun in your life.”
I could tell there was more to it than that, but Logan was not lying. I visually checked in with Elijah and Derik to see if they had any issues with this, but when they didn’t show any objections I decided to agree to go to this moon celebration. I believed that Valkyries needed to strengthen their relationship with the Shifters, so I figured this was as good of a place to start as any. Logan gave me a wide smile and told me that he would text me the info. Then he also bowed, completely taking me by surprise because Logan was never formal or serious, before walking out of the room.
What in the world was going on right now?