Chapter 19 - Possibility of Us
I was absolutely speechless. I knew that going to Ray instead of Prince Herenan Collins had been a risk simply because Ray was unknown. She didn’t act like a powerful female Valkyrie thus including her in anything was a risk because I couldn’t prepare myself or my pack for the outcome. When Tony had come to my father with the news that he had found his mate, Dad had decided that I was ready to handle this type of situation independent of his direct guidance. I knew it was a test. A test to see if I was ready to lead. And I had decided to take a risk and go to Ray instead of any of our official royals.
It was a risk and the outcome was so far-fetched that I was having trouble deciding if it was a good or bad thing. I mean, it was a fucking miracle that Ray had negotiated for both Renata and her brother to be moved from Mexico, not to mention that it sounded like she was going to allow them to pursue independent lives. But I didn’t know if I could trust this. We wolves were used to being shit on and coping with every horrible thing that the supernatural world throws at us. How was I supposed to react to her clear support and kindness? How did we repay such a huge action?
I didn’t have all of the answers, but I did know that Ray was slowly but surely earning our loyalty and respect.
Max and Santiago had set up a table for us to eat a late breakfast outside, and I was hugely thankful. There wasn’t a cloud in the sky and I loved the feel of the California sun on my skin. My mind was buzzing with questions about the information that Marcello had provided us with, but Elijah had declared that we would have to table a discussion about the moondust factories for later. We had kept the African King and Crown Prince waiting long enough. So as I sat down in our backyard, I forcibly pushed all thoughts of Eli Norwood and the Collinses out of my mind and focused on Ekon and his father, Asha. It would be important for me to have some friends and allies going forward and I had a good feeling about Ekon.
It was time to put my political game face on and try to earn an ally.
The first few minutes after we all sat down was tense and awkward, and I could tell the Ekon wanted to start a conversation but didn’t know how. It was kind of cute to see such an intimidating warrior acting so bashful and nervous around little old me. I took another bite of my delicious waffles and then set down my fork and said, “I have never been outside of the United States before. Can you tell me a little of what Africa is like?”
Ekon’s whole face lit up at my words and was quick to say in a thickly accented voice, “Africa is a beautiful and greatly varied country with both incredible jungles, vast grasslands, and stretching deserts. As Africa was the cradle of life, there are ancient and powerful magics within the land. Our covens of witches wield significantly more power because they can draw on the origin power and we tend to attract rare types of fae. We have Valkyrie clans in each part of the land, but father and I have made a home for ourselves in Kenya, on the central east coast. I would be honored to welcome you to come to see our homeland.”
I actually liked the idea of going to see somewhere as different as Africa and had always had this secret yen to travel, so I didn’t automatically turn down Ekon’s offer. But I was wary that he would take my acceptance of a visit to mean more than I intended. “What kind of relationship and interactions do you have with the witches and fae?” I asked instead because I was curious to know if the class system here was the rule or the exception.
Ekon glanced at his father before he put down his utensils and leaned forward in his chair, indicating that the seriousness of the conversation had just stepped up a notch. “Some of the most powerful supernaturals in the world that call Africa home, but in comparison our numbers are small. In the entire continent of Africa, we have even less than have settled here in the Americas West. Mostly, the different groups of supernaturals or the lone Fae are content and able to remain relatively isolated and we do not have the same social hierarchy as seen in the more populated kingdoms. The Valkyries’ connection with them is more based on respect and companionship than a strict ruling order. Yes, we uphold The Law and will intervene if necessary but that sort of action is rare.”
As I was sorting through his words to make sure I understood what he was telling me, I could tell that both Ekon and Asha were nervous about how I was going to take this news. I wanted to reassure them that I actually thought what they were describing sounded great, but didn’t know how to convey that without revealing too much. I knew for a fact that this house was still being surrounded by spies from both the Americas West and the Northwest Kingdoms. Before I could come up with a response, Ekon spoke again.
“I would like to ask for the honor of your company tonight at Regina’s farewell banquet, but I do not have any Shifters that I can give you. We mostly have Lion Shifters and they are a prideful people. They would never consent to work under someone else’s rule. I do have this rare imbued ceremonial athame that contains generations of power that is linked directly to the cradle of life,” Ekon said in a serious tone as he pulled a beautiful and delicate-looking knife from his hip and laid it on the table.
I, however, was too shocked by his first words to give the athame the consideration that it most likely deserved. I sat back in my chair and clenched my jaw so hard that my teeth creaked as I held back the first several responses that came to mind at the idea that I was selling dates for Shifters. I was still reeling from seeing my name on the blood-bound contracts for Renata and Santiago and was unable to react rationally to this information. A spike of power burst out of me and for a fleeting moment the backyard of the Oakland Clan house disappeared from sight, and the manicured lawn was replaced by a thick jungle. I glanced around to see that we were completely surrounded by ancient trees and overgrown bushes, flowers, and undergrowth. A startled movement to our left caught my attention and I saw a pearlescent unicorn. Kid you not, running through the woods, clearly spooked by our sudden appearance, was a pure white horse that had an unmistakable black horn spiraling out of its forehead.
As quickly as the scene had appeared, the jungle disappeared and once again we were sitting on the porch in our backyard. What in the world was that? I thought as I stared at the place where I had just seen a literal unicorn.
Unicorns were real! Holy bananas unicorns were real!
“Everyone else just saw that too right?” Blake questioned from the other side of the table. “I haven’t lost my mind and am hallucinating, right? There were just trees, and- and -”
“A mother fucking unicorn,” Connor finished succinctly for his twin.
I looked between the twins and couldn’t keep the gleeful smile off my lips. Then my gaze shifted to take in Asha and Ekon and I saw that they were looking at me with even more awe and deference than before. This was so not good. I really needed to lock myself away until this whole transition thing ended, because I was pretty sure I just pushed all of us through to a plane of existence I didn’t even know existed until a few moments ago. I was super curious to explore it more though. That wasn’t the void or the Doba. That was where freaking unicorns lived.
“My apologies,” I stated and noticed that all of my indignation over Ekon’s suggestion that I could be bought with Shifters had faded away. It was hard to stay mad when you knew that unicorns were real. “But I can assure you that the very last thing I want is to be offered supernatural beings of any kind. I don’t know where you got the idea that is something I want, but please do me the favor of spreading the word that if anyone tries to give me a person as if they are a possession, I will not take the action kindly.”
Asha very clearly looked over to where Santiago was standing by the glass door to the house and thankfully Max took the initiative to answer the unasked question. “Santiago and his sister have been relocated here because Renata was fortunate enough to find her mate among one of our local packs. They both chose to come here and if they ever decide to move on, they have the freedom to do so.”
I met Santiago’s eyes and tried to reassure him that we meant that. This was not another prison and I most definitely was not his master. He was a person with the exact same rights as I had. And now I would ensure that he got to enjoy them and take control of his life.
“I also have no intention of attending Regina’s banquet,” I added, hopefully directing the conversation away from the Shifters. When I glanced back at Ekon I could see that he was devastated by this news and I felt slightly guilty for making him look like that. “If I was willing to attend after that awful tribunal, I would have said yes to you. No fancy athame needed either.”
That turned his frown upside down and he smiled tentatively at me, “Really?” he said as if he couldn’t stop himself from asking if I was serious.
I smiled back at him. “Really. Tell me Ekon, why aren’t you already married or contracted to be married to one of the princesses? Obviously, you are quite a catch,” I said and his smile only grew in response to my compliment.
“My mother died bringing my little brother into this world,” Ekon said and his smile dimmed. “I have two younger brothers but I do not have any sisters. I am to inherit my father’s position of king one day. Mostly, the princesses are in the same position as me and will inherit the throne and need a king that will come and rule by their side. My brother, Jafari, is contracted to marry a princess from Norway and we could not be happier for him. But I must stay in my homeland. In Africa. I did present marriage proposals to the princess that will not inherit their throne but for most, Africa cannot provide them with the type of lifestyle that they are used to. I had given up hope of ever having a partner to share my life with and have children with. Until we received news of you. I know it is foolish, but you have filled me with a most precious hope.”
I swallowed and tried not to let his words affect me. He was sweet and honest and I genuinely liked him as a person. But I didn’t think it was fair that he was putting all of his crushing hope on my shoulders. I was just one person and I could only do so much.
“Do you know anything of my background?” I asked because the other day it seemed like everyone at breakfast knew that I had been raised in isolation and had spent the last several years living among the humans. I wasn’t really comfortable with everyone knowing things about me and wanted to know what information had been told to Ekon.
For some reason, it was Asha that responded and his voice had an accent that sounded more middle eastern than his son’s. “We know that your father is from the Americas Northeast and disappeared twenty years ago. We know that you were not treated well under his care. We know that you have Gifts that were thought to be lost to legend. We know that you have lived among humans and were not granted the life you deserve. You would be treated right with us. We will protect you and care for you. You would be welcomed into our family and loved as such.”
I hated the fact that my abusive childhood was common knowledge. It made me feel weak and vulnerable. “With this knowledge of my past, I hope you can understand that all of this is new to me. I am still learning about the supernatural community and Valkyrie society. I was raised with human views about marriage and I can tell you right now that I am not ready to even consider making such a move. Right now I am just trying to learn as much as I can and meet people. The only thing I can offer you right now is friendship. And in my opinion, friendship is freely given and doesn’t come with any strings or grand gifts. Is being my friend something that you are interested in? Knowing that I cannot give you any more right now?”
Ekon placed his large hand over his heart and said in a serious voice, “Yes, matumaini yangu. I would very much like to be your friend.”
“Matumaini yangu?” Elijah asked with a curious note to his tone.
Ekon didn’t look away from me as he translated, “My hope,” and I couldn’t help but feel affected by the intensity in his eyes.
Ekon and his father left soon after that and I felt exhausted even though it was still technically before noon. So much was happening and everything was happening at warp speed. I leaned back in my chair and looked up into the clear blue sky and noted that there wasn’t a single cloud in the sky. “We should go to the beach,” I said to no one in particular.
“Fuck yes! That is a great idea Ray-Ray,” Blake exclaimed and I was happy to see him getting back to his normal excitable self. I glanced around to see that the rest of the guys were nodding their agreement and before long we were all packed up and loading up one of the massive SUVs that would hold all of us plus Santiago. There was a small standoff between Santiago and Derik about who was going to drive, Derik declaring that he didn’t need a high schooler to drive him around, and Santiago stating that it was his job. After a moment, a grumbling Derik got in the back next to me and I smiled over at him. It was nice that he was letting the boy feel important.
When we pulled up to the beach, we found that it was rather busy for a random Friday in the middle of spring, but it really was a nice day. The boys set up their insane amount of chairs, towels, umbrellas, and even a net for beach volleyball while I admired how well they all worked as a team. Even Santiago who had just met the guys today seemed to work seamlessly with them without needing spoken direction. After the net was set up, Connor challenged us to a game and we split up into two teams. Derik, Elijah, and Blake were on one team while I convinced Santiago to join Max, Connor, and me on the grounds that I was really bad and we could use his help.
We played for nearly an hour and while everyone was clearly into the game, no one got overly competitive about it. Blake teased our team light-heartedly and eventually goated me into agreeing to a bet with him. If our team won he would jump into the freezing cold ocean, but if we lost then I had to do the same. We were neck and neck for a while, but even with the extra person, my inexperience coupled with how well Derik and Elijah played together lead to our defeat. Blake did a single victory lap around our makeshift court and then scooped me up in his arms and started running towards the ocean. I knew from dipping my feet in the water that the Pacific Ocean was always incredibly cold and I started to regret the bet.
I clung to Blake’s neck and held back my reactionary protests. A bet was a bet and I wouldn’t renege. If our team had won, I would have expected Blake to keep up his side so I was going to see this thing through. When Blake reached the shore I expected him to let me down and demand that I jump in as he watched from the sidelines, but instead he slowed his pace and started walking into the waves with me still in his arms bridal style.
“Fuck, Ray-Ray. This water is freezing. I don’t think you should really go in,” Blake said and I could feel his warm breath caress my cheek and neck, sending a shiver of awareness down my spine.
“A bet is a bet,” I said and pulled away enough that I could look into his eyes.
Blake searched my eyes for a long moment causing my heart rate to pick up before saying, “What if I want to change terms?”
“And what did you have in mind?” I said and was a little embarrassed by how breathy my voice sounded.
“How about a kiss?” Blake said in a soft voice that was immediately stolen away by the wind, making me almost sure that I had imagined the words.
I looked into his eyes and saw longing and hope and attraction. I was insanely drawn to Blake. Always had been and most likely always would be. We had almost experienced this exact moment on a different beach before everything had gotten so much more chaotic and for a split second, I wondered what would have happened if we would have kissed that night. If I had shared my first kiss with someone that I knew I could always trust instead of someone that was spying on me and had betrayed me. Would Blake and I have started something that night? Would I only love him and not his entire clan? Would our lives have been drastically different than they are now?
But even though it was insane and complicated, I was getting more and more excited about the possibility of being with more than just Blake. More and more attached to the idea. Falling for each of them in different but equally intense ways.
I wasn’t sure what would have happened if I had kissed Blake last month, but I did know that I wanted to kiss him now. Right now, in full view of all of the other guys because I wasn’t going to hide how I felt, and I needed to know if they could really handle this before I got any more invested. Before I lost myself completely to the possibility of us.
I was still staring into Blake’s eyes and slowly inched my face towards his until I felt my lips press against his soft ones. The moment our lips touched the clan bond sparked causing Blake to audibly gasp and to freeze into one mass of locked up muscle underneath me. It wasn’t exactly an encouraging response and I slowly pulled my head away, worried that I had completely messed everything up. My stomach dropped at the wide-eyed look on Blake’s face and I tried to scramble out of his hold.
His grip on me tightened and I heard him say my name, sounding almost tortured. I stilled in his arms and focused on his face. “You have to promise me you won’t let me fuck this up,” he said in that same emotion-filled voice, like if he was pulling these words out of his soul. “I care about you so fucking much. I know without a shadow of a doubt that you are the best thing that has ever or will ever happen to me. And I am scared to fucking death that I am going screw something up and lose you. I can be an idiot, but I desperately want to do everything right with you. To give you everything your heart could possibly desire and treat you like the fucking queen you are. I love you Ray and I am terrified of losing you.”
I didn’t need my Gift to know that Blake was telling me the absolute truth, and I fully understood where he was coming from. I felt like my entire world had imploded over the last six weeks and the only thing keeping me sane was the guys. I trusted them and needed them in my life. If we tried this whole complicated romantic thing and it ended badly, there was a very real risk that it would damage the foundation of friendship that I was so desperately reliant on. But I also believed that we had already irrevocably crossed that line. I didn’t know if I could stand by and watch them move on with other girls. I was already in love with them.
“I am scared of losing you too,” I admitted as a larger than normal wave crashed into the shore and splashed up on my back. I flinched away from the cold and Blake hitched me higher in his arms and backed out of the water, but didn’t release me. “I can’t see into the future and I can’t tell you that everything is always going to be unicorns and rainbows. But I can tell you that I trust you, Blake Berg. I trust you to not hurt me. I trust that you will always treat me right. I trust that you value me and will fight for me and I pray that you feel the same way about me. Because of that trust and the love that I feel for you, I think that we owe it to ourselves to move forward. I think we will all just end up suffering if we don’t. I think -” I started but my words were cut off as Blake’s mouth crashed down over mine, literally stealing the words away from me.
I instantly tightened my hold around his neck, pulling my face up towards his and deepening the kiss that was lighting my entire body on fire. Blake ran one hand up my leg and gripped my hip with his massive palm, allowing me to reposition myself until I could wrap my legs around his waist. I clung to my playful twin like a monkey as he ran one of his hands up my back while the other took a firm grasp of my ass. I moaned into his mouth and I felt both of his hands tighten in response. I could have stayed like that for hours, fully immersed in the pleasure of finally indulging in Blake, but a sharp wolf whistle brought me back into reality and I remembered that we were putting on a show on a public beach.
I tried to pull away from Blake in embarrassment but he held fast, refusing to let me go before he was ready. I wasn’t really okay with this much of a display in public and playfully bit into his lip. He flinched away from the unexpected move and I saw his amusement and pure happiness in his eyes. “I can’t wait to get you alone somewhere more private so that we can pick up exactly where we were so rudely interrupted,” Blake rasped out and I could hear just how much I had affected him by the roughness of his voice. Completely different and very pronounced evidence that Blake was most definitely affected by me was pressed in between us, and I forced myself not to think too hard about it.
I couldn’t help the blush that crept up my neck and colored my cheeks. Blake was very much experienced while I was just barely above a novice. I looked away from him and leaned forward to bury my face by his neck, not knowing how to respond to such a bold statement. Blake started walking and ran his hand up and down my back a couple of times.
“Hey,” he said in a gentle whisper, clearly reading my embarrassment. “We will take everything at your pace. There is absolutely no rush and all you have to do is say that you don’t like something or you are uncomfortable and I swear that each and every one of us will back off. Okay?”
I nodded my head against his neck and released a sigh. I would be lying if I said that I wasn’t a little worried about being so much less experienced than the guys. Not to mention I was having some serious doubts that I would be enough for even one of them, let alone all of them. But I hadn’t been lying before. I trusted them. I trusted them enough to take this journey with them.
An hour later I was sitting in one of the beach chairs, digging my feet into the sand, and watching as the Three Musketeers tossed a frisbee between them when I got a distinct impression that I was being watched. The little hairs on my neck stood on end and I scanned the beach to try to find who was setting off my instincts. I already knew that two members of the Blade Clan were watching us from the parking lot and the group of Northeast Hunters that Darron Deverroe tasked to protect me were sitting on the beach about a hundred feet away. But they had been here the entire time. Someone else was causing this reaction in me now.
I scanned the beach, searching faces for anyone that was especially interested in us but I didn’t see anyone. I was about to tell Derik about what I was feeling and maybe ask to go home when my eyes traveled across the surrounding people again and I saw someone that wasn’t there before. Nahuel was standing on the beach at the edge of a large family that had taken up an almost unacceptable amount of space. The feeling of being watched disappeared and I had a suspicion that my Gifts were trying to tell me that someone else was in the void. That was handy.
I locked eyes with Nahuel and once again I felt that punch of power that seemed to be a natural part of his wild energy. I wasn’t exactly thrilled that he was here and I didn’t fully trust him not to pull another misguided stunt, but a part of me was relieved to see him again. After he stared at me for several tense moments, he disappeared from sight and the feeling of being watched returned full force. Nahuel was in the void and if I had to guess, I would say that he wanted us to join him. I thought it over for a while before reaching out and placing my hand over Elijah’s hand, and he looked up from his book.
“Nahuel is here. In the void. I am going to shift us there to see what he wants,” I stated but gave Elijah enough time to object. Excitement lit within Elijah’s eyes, making me wonder once again what was going on between him and the Gatekeeper. From the very start, Elijah had acted differently with Nahuel than I have ever witnessed him act with anyone else. I pushed those kinds of thoughts away because they weren’t the most important at the moment and pushed all of the guys and myself back into the void. As soon as the entrance was sealed, ensuring that we were invisible and inaudible to everyone around us, I called out to Connor. All three of the Musketeers and Derik turned towards me and I nodded my head towards Nahuel, who was in the exact same place as I had seen him moments before.
Derik jumped up from his chair and stepped between me and Nahuel, causing a warm, gooey feeling to seep into my soul. I could always count on Derik to keep me safe. Blake, Connor, and Max quickly walked over to us, and Elijah and I stood from our chairs to greet Nahuel. “Why are you here?” Derik growled and Elijah reached out and placed his hand on Derik’s biceps.
“I am checking in with Ray. Transitioning is a difficult process and I needed to make sure she was coping okay,” Nahuel said without trying to step closer to us. “This is good. She is happy. You all are happy. Happiness is the best emotion for transitioning Gifts. Anger, fear, extreme arousal are dangerous.”
“What is going to happen when I finally fully transition?” I asked because we had been remiss for not asking before this.
Understanding and compassion filled Nahuel’s expression as he said, “The waves of power that you have been experiencing will finally crest in one incredibly powerful surge. Whatever Gift you use in response will be inordinately strong and the extreme use of power will leave you drained. You will feel weak and be vulnerable for about a day as your reserves of power recover. During this time your Gifts will be mere shadows of their natural strength. But when they fully rebalance you will be stronger and more balanced. The power surges will stop and you will be more able to fully control your abilities once more.”
Elijah took a step towards Nahuel and the two men shared a look filled with intensity, “Do you have any suggestions of things that will help Ray through this transition?”
“Keep her happy and calm. This will not be easy as she will feel everything more powerfully and be more sensitive as she travels through this journey. Ray can try to vent out the increasing power levels by using her Gifts but unfortunately, this is something that all Gatekeepers must endure,” Nahuel said, sounding regretful and understanding.
There was a beat of silence marking the end of that particular topic of conversation before Derik demanded, “Have you heard anything from the Northerners? Do they know about Ray?”
“They did not and will not learn of her from me or those close to me,” Nahuel growled back, no longer sounding kind. “But I will admit that their reach and influence is great. If they do not already know, it will not be long until they discover her presence. If nothing else, as Ray transitions into more power, Valerie’s power will be lessening. I have no doubt that she at least knows that the fourth Gatekeeper is alive.”
Connor swore and Max walked over and intertwined his hand with my own. Nahuel’s eyes followed the movement, but he didn’t look angry that Max was offering me comfort. More like he looked relieved. “Is there anything that I can do?” Nahuel asked, sounding almost desperate to help in some way.
Derik and I shared a look and I knew that he was leaving this up to me. Nahuel was a Gatekeeper and might be useful to have around as I transition, but it wasn’t fair to ask him to risk exposure to the human-bound Valkyries. Plus, I knew that Awenasa depended on him. He was needed there. I had the guys. I would be okay.
“What do you know of Eli Norwood, the King of the Americas South?” I asked because I couldn’t get the information that Marcello had shared with us out of my head.
Clear disgust ripped across Nahuel’s features and he took an aggressive step towards us. Derik called a blade and Nahuel stopped in his tracks before practically growling, “Norwood is a sick and depraved man. Why do you ask this question?”
“Explain,” Derik replied in an authoritative voice.
“The King of the South keeps a menagerie of supernatural creatures that he takes great pleasure dominating,” Nahuel said in a voice that was laced with disgust and hate. “Why do you ask?”
I was fairly confident I knew what Nahuel was trying to tell us and my stomach rolled at the idea of cold and creepy Eli Norwood keeping actual living people for his personal enjoyment. “We have information that he is responsible for the production of a drug that is produced by draining blood from Shifters and vampires,” I told him point-blank because I honestly would trust Nahuel’s word of such a thing over a master vampire that I only met once.
Nahuel pursed his lips and studied my face before saying, “I will ask Pala. It is her job to track and be informed about the human-bound Valkyries. If anyone knows, she will.”
“Any evidence to support such claims would be greatly appreciated,” Elijah said and Nahuel’s face softened. Nahuel took another small step towards us before nodding his head.
“I can do this,” he said in a serious voice and held out a card towards Elijah who didn’t hesitate to take it. “If you need me. Call that phone and leave a message. Pala will check the messages and report back to me. It may take a day, but if you need me I will come. I am here for you.” He said the last while looking at me and I once again felt that intoxicating punch of power. In the next moment, he was gone and when I Tracked him I felt a very faint tug, suggesting that he was very far away.
Teleportation was such an awesome Gift.