Chapter 1 - Aftermath
Now lets get into book 5! I hope you enjoy!
I sense there’s something in the wind, it feels like tragedy’s at hand.
And even though I’d like to stand by him, I can’t shake this feeling that’s deep within!
The worst is just around the bend!
And does he notice my feelings for him? And will he see how much he means to me?
I think it’s not to be...
Does he see how much he means to me?
And will we ever end up together?
I think it’s not to be...
-Amy Lee (Sally’s Song)
Chapter 1 - Aftermath
“I love you Brandon...”
It had literally only been a good three minutes since Ezekiel had let the simple confession fall from his lips. Brandon didn’t know what was going on. He didn’t know what had happened with Hovel and Jacob. He didn’t even know how he had awoken in Ezekiel’s embrace.
But undeniably....the first and only thing that overcame Brandon as he looked into the strong eyes of the Guardian.....was utter joy. A swell of emotion so strong that warmth and pain became synonymous. Then Ezekiel lips touched him and softly devoured him.
If there was anything that could have unbalanced and settled him more in that moment it was the touch of the man, he had feared he was never going to see again.
The sharp graze of fangs on his lips had Brandon shivering as his body slowly came alive and his mind emerged fully from the funk of pain and darkness that he had been lost to for an untold amount of time. Ezekiel drowned him in his gentle taste...then he pulled back.
Brandon was left feeling both awake and dazed. And even as Brandon knew that Ezekiel was most likely awaiting his response to his confession Brandon.....unconsciously hesitated to spill out the words he had held secret in his soul for weeks.
Because even as his body was coaxed from the edge of death and his soul was lit up....Brandon couldn’t help but think about everything that was boiling back in the darkness.
Erin’s screams had tortured him in his unconscious state. Drin’s bloody face had chased him. The soft buzzing life of Erin’s unborn child had seared his heart. He once more felt the gushing blood from Erin on his hands and he felt a ghost of his own blood raining down from the gaping hole in his throat. The thick essence of his body fleeing, and flooding his lungs feeling like bricks smoothing the life from his body.
The unbeatable flush of power in his body as the Flame healed him and destroyed him with agony.
Still more then all of these feeling and memories....there came the chocking sensation of undeniable guilt and responsibility for every single thing that had transpired. For every single terrible thing that had happened to Ezekiel and his family.
His fault. All of it was his fault.
If Ezekiel’s confession had given him some joy and wind beneath his wings....everything else crashed and crushed such feelings into dust in his heart and replaced everything with sorrow.
Leaving Brandon feeling weak and lost...and anxious to fill in the gaps about just what had transpired
Against his will Brandon felt painful tears prick his eyes and with a weak, but desperate motion Brandon tangled his fist in Ezekiel’s shirt and asked.
“Are you okay?” he felt a sharp ache in his core and in his throat, but for the moment Brandon’s thoughts and eyes were only for Ezekiel. He glanced around the Guardians face and chest looking for injuries.
Ezekiel smiled softly and calmly replied. “It’s okay. I’m perfectly fine Brandon. Take your time. You must be disoriented.”
Brandon let Ezekiel pull his fist from the cloth of his shirt, lift it to his lips and press a kiss to the back of it. Brandon subconsciously noticed that his hands were bare, but even as the warm brush of Ezekiel’s kiss settled on his skin Brandon urged himself forwards with more questions. “What about Erin....? Drin? Everyone? Are....are they okay too?”
“Yes...” Ezekiel easily replied lifting his eyes to Brandon’s. It was quite obvious that something heavy lingered between them, something that Brandon was purposefully ignoring. But for now Ezekiel wasn’t demanding anything of him or pressing. He seemed to simply want Brandon to come down from the confusion and panic.
“I’m sorry....but can you tell me what happened?” Brandon begged him. “I’m a little confused. I can’t remember too much.”
A part of Ezekiel didn’t want to rehash the things that had happened nearly a week ago, but at Brandon’s request Ezekiel knew he couldn’t leave him in the dark.
“We all went to the meeting....” Ezekiel softly began....then he proceeded to outline everything that had transpired with him and his family and Hovel out in the woods. Wishing that he could gloss over the details, but respecting the fact that Brandon deserved the truth, Ezekiel strived to concisely lay out everything that had transpired. Ezekiel told Brandon that Glen and Lander had both suffered grievous wounds, but he was sure to inform Brandon that both Glen and Lander were now fully healed and in no pain.
Then Ezekiel began to rounded the story back to the encounter between him and Nate, with Hovel and Jacob.
“When we got here...Hovel was attempting to escape though a portal, the same black ovals he used to invade the forest with Ghouls.” Ezekiel outlined. “He was attempting to escape with you and Jacob.” Ezekiel hissed as he recalled seeing Jacob holding Brandon bloody and bruised in his thick arms, Brandon’s blood on his lips and chin.
With a small shake Ezekiel swallowed an intense wave of hatred and murmured. “Jacob had....injured you deeply, bitten into your throat. Me and Nate engaged him. Somehow he hurt Nate, but in the ensuing fight I nearly decapitated Hovel and Jacob was driven away and nobody was killed.”
Ezekiel took a deep deep breath and finally finished his tale that had taken more then a dozen minutes to recount.
“As of right now....” Ezekiel shrugged. “We are all kind of in limbo waiting for the next shoe to drop. We don’t know if they will return for you, but if they do? We are all going to be prepared for a fight this time...”
Ezekiel stopped and looked to Brandon as Brandon took a weary sigh, lifted his hands and whispered.
“I remember Jacob capturing me now.” Brandon informed, swallowed and blinked rapidly. “Jacob took me to my father. Soon I realized that they had taken Erin and Drin and hurt them....so badly. I....I went to try to protect them, but I couldn’t! Hovel and Jacob were too strong! Then Hovel used his Alchemy on me.”
Brandon clenched his hands so hard that the small bit of blood in his palms fled. “I also remember that I used my power against Jacob somehow. I just wanted him to stop trying to hurt you so I just..." He stopped with a small shiver as if he were disgusted with himself. Finally he continued in a hollow whisper. "After feeling his body crumple beneath my hand Ezekiel I don’t remember much?” Brandon swallowed, and looked into Ezekiel’s eyes, begging for an answer. “Did I kill him?”
Instantly Ezekiel sensed that Brandon was both frightened by the possibility and hopeful that Jacob had fallen. Once more sensing the undeniable connection that bound Jacob to Brandon Ezekiel ignored his own feelings and tried to sooth the man’s chaotic heart.
Wanting him to focus on him and not Jacob, Ezekiel ran his fingers down Brandon’s cheek, eliciting a small shiver as the tightness in his body suddenly unwound. Then Ezekiel replied.
“You inured Jacob deeply....” Ezekiel slowly informed. “But because Jacob had taken your blood in...He was able to survive. He didn’t die, but he was forced to retreat.” Ezekiel answered.
“The other Guardians and the entire Clan have been scouring the woods for days, but there hasn’t been any sign of him.” Ezekiel growled feeling his inner Leopard snarl at the memory of the cocky Lion. “For now It’s safe to assume that Jacob had scrawled back to his master by now....If Hovel survived his own wounds that is.”
Brandon didn’t reply. But there was a definite battle in Brandon’s eyes as both relief and anger mixed. Brandon still loved Jacob and he abhorred death. So he couldn’t fully hide that he was happy Jacob had lived....but the pain and hatred that he also seemed to hold for the Lion was there in his gaze as well.
Knowing that he couldn’t simply erase the things that existed between them in the past, Ezekiel tried to turn the conversation to a new topic.
So capturing his troubled green eyes “Brandon explain everything that happened. Why did Jacob take your blood? And how did you manage to do what you did with your power? I saw you turn it on Jacob and him....broken apart beneath you. How?”
“How?” Brandon softly repeated looking so lost and unhappy. “I...I don’t know....” He stuttered to express himself. “I just copied Hovel.” Brandon stopped, then he lifted his hands and put his palm up.
“I witnessed Hovel using his Alchemy like a gun. Shooting his power into me.” Brandon put his hand to his heart and took a shaky breath. “It was some kind of an Alchemic attack I think? He called it something strange too. Wading, Wafting....no...no.” Brandon eyes squeezed shut for a moment in concentration, then with a small gasp he suddenly cried out. “Warding! Hovel called it Warding.”
“Warding? Odd name. Like putting up a block or turning away from something?” Ezekiel tried to sues out. But rather then agree with him, Brandon sent him a hopeless shrug.
“I didn’t really understand it Ezekiel.” He replied softly. A faraway look filled his gaze and he put a hand to his temple and cringed as if in pain. “All I knew was that It hurt....” He softly murmured. “IT burned so badly that I collapsed to the floor. I couldn’t do anything. I couldn’t fight with the Flame. After that Hovel started taunting me.”
Brandon bit off next with a voice strained with anger and pure malice. “Hovel said that I needed to learn how to properly wield my power...and that I couldn’t hope to stop him because I didn’t know enough about Alchemy. Then he hurt Erin and Drin....and I begged Ja to stop him.”
Brandon bit his lip and seemed to fight not to succumb to a strong emotion. After a moment he let out a harsh breath and continued.
“But Jacob didn’t stop him.” Brandon slowly explained looking betrayed. “Instead he got Hovel to focus on escaping rather than killing Erin.” At this point Brandon’s jaw tightened and he glanced away.
“After that Jacob was instructed to put me out of commission by....by cutting into my throat. I asked him not to drink my blood, because I remembered what it did to Nora when I gave her too much of it. But before Jacob bit me....” Brandon frowned and put a hand to his nape.
“He told me....that my blood would not hurt someone of his Clan.” Brandon’s face scrunched up in intense confusion. “Ja said that Lion Shifters thrived on the energy they got out of feeding on blood somehow. He said....they needed it to survive. Then he just attacked me and started drinking it....”
At this point Ezekiel let out a small hiss, and hoping to get Brandon’s mind off of the memories’ that were no doubt causing him pain Ezekiel quietly sighed. “So, I guess the Myths are true.” Ezekiel rolled his eyes and breathed. “At least some of this is starting to make sense right?”
Brandon blinked, his eyes jumping back from the dull painful past and centering on Ezekiel in present. “What makes sense? What Myths?” He echoed softly.
Instantly Ezekiel saw the no comprehension in Brandon’s eyes and tried to explain.
Reaching out, Ezekiel caressed an errant strand of hair behind his ear and looked him in the eyes. “I keep forgetting that there is a lot about this world that you don’t know....” He gently teased. Still with a small sad hitch he was once more reminded that Brandon had not received a formal education and that he still remained largely ignorant of much of the supernatural and archival history of the known world.
Brandon’s gaze softened at his touch but he didn’t smile. He only asked again. “What Myths?”
To this Ezekiel nodded solemnly and he informed Brandon of a conclusion he had already come to a few days ago, after the attack and after reviewing everything he knew about Lion Shifters with Mantilo and the rest of his family.
“There are Myths about every Shifter Clan. Most of them are circulated by Mortals and most of them are complete bull. ” Ezekiel partially smirked. “But there are some Myths that are undeniable.” Ezekiel answered.
“Now...It is not widely known to Mortals, but it has always been believed in Shifter society that the Lion Clan holds some deep dark secret. Their People are not long lived, but they are monstrously powerful.” Ezekiel frowned and said. “They are deadly fighters and ruthless killers and in their long sordid history, the Lions have never even known defeat in War.” Ezekiel sighed.
“But unlike other Shifters.....The Lions die from all kinds of diseases and sicknesses. They are considered the most powerful of the Shifters in brute force....but physically they degrade quickly. It is as if they are all carrying a disease of some kind.”
Ezekiel shook his head and finished. “So....I guess it makes sense that Jacob bit you and drank from you. IT proves in a way that the Lion Shifters are in fact the bogymen from Mortal legends who feast on blood to gain power and energy.”
“Still I don’t understand Ezekiel” Brandon cried out after he stopped talking. ” Is this all about my blood for Jacob and Hovel? It can’t just be the blood!?” Brandon rubbed at his forehead and pressed. “Why? Why do they seem to be after something else? None of this shit makes any sense!” Brandon cried and clenched his fists in dejected frustration and outrage.
Deciding to give him a moment to breathe Ezekiel rumbled in soft support and just waited. A minute or two passed, before Brandon pushed his emotional turmoil away sighed and looked Ezekiel in the eyes. His eyes looked heavy as if they were hold something back, but soon enough Brandon unburdened himself.
“Ezekiel Hovel said something odd to me during the attack.” Brandon looked at his hand, opened and closed his fist and said. “It was his words that kind of helped me do what I did to Jacob.”
Surprised by his words Ezekiel simply replied. “What did he say to you?”
Concentrating for a second Brandon glanced to the side, then he seemed to echo his father. “He spoke of the Flame being this amazing thing...He called it the...‘The Precursor to Alchemy’...” Brandon replied intently.
“Precursor? What? Like the origin or the beginning of something?” Ezekiel asked tilting his head slightly. “What does that even mean?”
Brandon scoffed bitterly and chuckled.
“You think I understood anything that maniac said? Ezekiel I told you Hovel was dangerous. He’s insane. He.....He was going to kill all of you to get to me. I knew he was dangerous...but if I had believed for even one second he would try to murder anyone that tried to help me I wouldn’t have put you guys in danger....I’m so sorry...” Brandon swallowed and swallowed again, his gossamer gaze misting over with unshed pain.
The soft sob hidden in his voice both upset Ezekiel and made him melt.
“Brandon stop blaming yourself for what Hovel and Jacob choose to do!” Ezekiel hissed. “You don’t deserve to be hunted like an animal. They had no right to attack my family! I don’t blame you...or your power. Your power Brandon...The power to regenerate from death or heal others with you blood and your touch. IT is....nearly angelic in a way and very unique.” Ezekiel told him gently. He placed his hand on Brandon’s cheek and leaned into him slightly.
“No one on earth can do what you do and your Father was never going to let you go.” Ezekiel softly spoke “WE all pretended like this matter could be fixed with some diplomacy and strong words, but Hovel and Jacob have killed and were ready to kill again. They had to be confronted eventually. Violently.”
Ezekiel shrugged and shook his head. “Am I saddened that the people I love were put into harm’s way? Yes. But we don’t blame you. And I’m not unhappy that you were with us when they came after you Brandon.” Ezekiel confessed. “I’m thankful that you were with us. With people who were willing to kill to keep you safe. You should be thankful too. Not drowning in agonizing guilt....”
Brandon sighed, glanced around, then he looked straight at Ezekiel and whispered. “So...what happens now? Am I just supposed to wait for then to return?”
Sensing the pure vulnerability behind that question Ezekiel pressed a knuckle beneath Brandon’s chin, and went to claim him in a kiss. "Hey, try not to think about that for now. Just be in the moment, here with me. Everything will be okay..." he whispered as he pressed forwards, and a bolt of longing to taste the man shot across his senses as their lips brushed and the moist heat of thier breaths began to tangle.
“Don’t...” Brandon whispered harshly and flinched back as if burned.
Feeling that rebuff...from the tips of his toes all the way to the depths of his heart Ezekiel pulled back, and after a moment he asked the one last question that they had both been skirting around for the last half hour. “So is this your answer?” He quietly hissed, tracing Brandon’s lips. So plump, beautiful and inviting, but their sweet torment denied to him. Ezekiel had to cull the small fire he felt begging to burn free, then looking into his suddenly guarded green eyes Ezekiel sat back fully to speak.
With a sure air of defensiveness Brandon said back. “My answer to what?
Unwilling to play games or drag out something that couldn’t afford to be danced around anymore Ezekiel growled back in a bold clear voice. “Brandon I said I loved you and you didn’t respond to it. I don’t think you misheard me....”
With a deeply deflated voice Brandon stiffly nodded and said “No....I heard you loud and clear Blue Boy. ”
Felling a creeping sense of apprehension Ezekiel pressured him. “Well...normally one responds to that kind of thing you know?” Ezekiel couldn’t fully deny the slight bite in his words.
But if Brandon was bothered by his tone....He only showed it by becoming even more withdrawn and unstable. “I cant respond....Ezekiel listen to me. Try to understand....” He started off with a soft breath as if he were fighting to breathe.
“Ezekiel my father and Jacob just showed up here and tried to murder your entire family. Do you see? Do understand how fucked up that is!? My father? My FATHER and Jacob...my...my...” Brandon stopped and a slightly hysterical chuckle fell out of him in a painful fashion. “Shit! I don’t even know what Jacob is to me anymore!” He exclaimed, and rolled his eyes.
“So what.....What should my response to all of this be!?” Brandon demanded then he put his hands through his hair mussing tussled gold and brown curls and cast Ezekiel a pained and regretful look. He looked so beautifully flustered and stressed out that all Ezekiel wanted to do was hold him.
“Right now....I’m not sure how to deal...I’m sorry.” He finished and without another word Brandon leveraged up onto his elbows and broke eye contact. Moving away.