Authors: Lissa Kasey
forest felt so foreign. Not nearly the sanctuary that Id come to bond with these past few years. Yet I kept moving. No direction to my flight. Just that onward movement that meant distance. But I couldnt outrun the pain.
Bloody flashes and the expression on his face rotated in my head, not letting the earth steal the humanity from me. His heart had stopped beating under my hands. Breathing had become almost impossible at that moment when his eyes had clouded over. His death, my madness.
How many days had I wandered, teetering between this life and the animal nature that grieved enough to send me out into the night? Every once in a while I could hear the howl of the dogs pursuing me. Dominion, Trimega, and the Ascendance, all seeking my death.
I deserved it, after all, having killed everything I loved. A dark farmhouse in the distance beckoned as a possible break from the bitter cold. Hopefully no one was home, else Id be forced again to hurt people just to escape. But after trotting around the house and discovering the scent of humans to be old, I carefully slipped inside and pressed myself to shift back into human flesh.
This form felt so pinched and painful now. The emotions rained down harder. A human brain had far too much time for thinking. And my heart ached enough without the extra accusations.
The farmhouse stood silent but mostly clean. The water ran, and the thermostat sat at an even sixty degrees. The fridge barren, a heavily loaded stand freezer and well-stocked pantry proved this was more of a vacation home than a daily one. I pried open a can of peaches and wolfed them down.
When had I last eaten? Days ago, probably. Without him, none of the mundane things mattered. I shoved the can aside and found my way to the only bathroom.
A scalding shower washed away some of the dirt, but none of the grief. Wet footprints followed me as I searched the house for warmth and comfort. A chest in the upper bedroom held flannel shirts that I could wear like an oldstyle nightdress. They smelled a little musty, but heat was more important. The reflection in a dusty old mirror had not been kind. My hair was shorn close to my scalp, eyes shadowed with the lack of sleep only days could bring. And my weight had dropped, giving me more of a sallow complexion and a gaunt stretch to my face.
Was this what Id become? Some kind of fugitive?
Earth Pillar. I laughed bitterly. That hadnt changed anything. Love didnt conquer all. Gabe was dead. Jamie probably was, too, since Id shot him. If I had any sense of morality at all, Id pull the rifle out of the closet—I smelled the gunpowder—and off myself right now.
Yet as my hands began to shake, I couldnt find the strength to reach for the end, despite the tears, the memories, and the pain. I curled up in the foreign bed and cried myself to sleep.
of people will tell you that being in a relationship is a lesson in compromise. For me it was a hard dunk of reality that said real life wasnt like a romance novel. Gabe insisted that someone go with me anytime I left the apartment. Kelly followed me at school, Jamie at work or to the store, and Gabe went wherever I went when it was dark. The constant attention was seriously getting on my nerves.
Three weeks had passed since Id killed Brock. The memory of his attack still brought a cold sweat and endless nightmares. My heart often pounded so hard I thought it would break free of my chest. They kept plying me with medication, and like everything before, it went through my system without being processed. The food and tea became my only line to calm. Id cook or sip flower-flavored water until the shaking went away.
Gabe had learned quickly not to point it out. His expression often guarded or neutral, smile not so easy anymore. I already felt too much like a burden.
The ache in my spine lessened, and walking became easier. But he couldnt hide his worry as well as he thought he could. I heard more than a handful of secret calls. The Trimega had let him off temporarily, but he was not in the clear anymore than I was with the Dominion for Brocks death.
I saw a therapist twice a week. She stared at me and asked questions I found hard to answer. Things about my childhood and about my relationship with Gabe. She obviously had no idea how messed up I was. Today Jamie had dropped me off, quiet and reserved as always, waiting to drive away until I went inside.
Groaning at the brick office building, I opened the door and entered. The receptionist smiled that fake welcoming smile. “Mr. Rou. Welcome. Ill tell Doctor Tynsen youre here. Have a seat.”
I took myself to the far corner, away from the handful of other waiting patients, and plunked down into a chair. After pulling out my book reader, no more than a minute had passed before the whispering began. A glance up through my heavy lashes and I could see some of them staring at me. A woman gripped her daughters hand like a vice. A man ogled me like I was some stripper on display, though Id dressed in normal jeans and one of Jamies sweaters.
Dr. Tynsen stood in the doorway, that tight smile etched to her face. Did she find these sessions as torturous as I did? She was probably in her late thirties and had nondescript brown hair, hazel eyes. Her face was soft enough, though the stain of wrinkles had begun close to her eyes and on her forehead. Too much frowning, my mom would say.
Rising from my seat and packing things up, I then followed her down the stark-white hall into her small office. The window behind her desk proved that winter had begun, the light snow covering and clouds making the city look barren. The gloom was a mirror of what I felt most days.
She motioned me to the large leather recliner. I vaguely wondered how many had used that seat before me. Would she be offended if I took out my little stack of wet wipes and wiped it down? Probably.
I sat down and gripped my bag in my lap. She shut the door firmly and moved to lean against the desk instead of sitting behind it. “What do you want to talk about today, Seiran?”
“Nothing,” I told her the truth. I wasnt a talk-out-myfeelings kind of guy.
My surly responses never seemed to bother her. She still gave me that tight smile. “Tell me how you first felt when you discovered Jamie Browan was your brother.”
Wed done this one before. I knew the drill. “Afraid that he was seeing me as something Im not.”
“What did you think he saw in you?”
“The perfect little brother. But he has to know the truth by now.”
“About what you are?”
“What do you think you are?”
That was an easy one. “A needy, messed-up person who cant get a handle on who he is.”
She smiled like Id made progress. “Tell me about something from your past. Something with your mother, perhaps.”
These were the worst. Shed pushed my memory into overdrive to get some of this stuff. Most of it nightmarish. “Id rather not.”
“A few times, youve mentioned a pet. But youve never told me the story.” She moved to sit in a chair diagonal to me. “Tell me about your pet.”
I snorted. “I had a dog for a day. A golden retriever puppy. She threw it in the river.” The memory of the puppy, frantically trying to paddle out of the current, still stuck with me. Hed bobbed a few times before going under and not coming back up. My mother had held me the entire time, arms locked to my sides. Tears had streamed down my face. It still made my heart hurt to remember.
“How old were you?”
“Seven, maybe eight.
“How did you get the puppy?”
I couldnt recall. The event of its death was etched in my brain, but not the moments leading up to it. She must have known from the look on my face because she nodded, like she understood.
“Did you want a dog?”
“I dont know.”
“But when this one died, you grieved.”
“I cried, yes. I was seven. I still am very sensitive to seeing anything die.” Even Brock, whose death replayed in my head about forty times a day. “Isnt that normal?”
She didnt answer. “Your mother put you in military school shortly after that. An all-boys school.”
“You lived on campus, correct?”
“How often did you see your mother?”
“We were sent home every weekend.”
“Did the two of you talk about anything when you came home? School? Friends?”
I shook my head and closed my eyes, trying not to think of my mom in those days. Not that the memory was vivid. Most everything before I was thirteen was just a fuzzy patch of scattered images. Like the dog.
“Seiran, what do you hope to get out of our meetings?”
I opened my eyes. She was close again. Had the habit of invading my personal space, which bothered me a lot. But Gabe and Jamie said I had a bigger bubble than most and got overly sensitive when it was breached. “Im completing the counseling requirement for the Dominion.”
“So youre only here because you were ordered to be here?”
“Ive been messed up my whole life, Doc. I dont see how talking about a few things is going to fix anything. The past is over and done with. Brock is dead, and I cant bring him back. I am Pillar, and I cant undo that.”
“So you feel that the only true way to make amends would be if Brock was still alive and you werent the Pillar of Earth.” She glanced at the clock, probably eager to get rid of me.
“I want you to reflect on your past until our next meeting. Write down ten things you would change if you could, and how your life would be different now if you changed those things. You will need those things to help you begin to take your life back. Think about what you want to gain from our time together.” She got up from the chair and opened the door.
Wed only taken a half an hour today. I was happy to get out early, but only if she logged it as the full time since I was required two hours a week of counseling. “Do I need to come in before Thursday?”
She shook her head. “No, but I do want you to e-mail me your ten changes before Thursday. So spend some time on it.” She paused. “How are the meds working?”
“Fine,” I said. Same as always, they didnt work at all. Shed already given me a half dozen to try. I was really tired of being a guinea pig.
“Okay. I will see you Thursday.”
I left the office without a backward glance. Always they seemed to stare, the staff, the clients, whoever was around. Jamie wouldnt be back to pick me up for another half an hour. At least at home I didnt stand out so much, not next to Jamie, the ex-model, and Gabe, the super vampire.
Exiting the building, I headed to the corner to cross the street. The Caribou Coffee at the edge of the mall had a Caramel High Rise that called my name in cold weather like this.
After getting my drink and sitting beside the fire inside the shop with my reader, I texted Jamie where I was. His text back had been an angry retort of, “Dont do that again without me.” Do what? Get coffee?
The heat of the drink seemed to warm me from the core outward. In the little shop I could pretend no one saw me. Hide around the huge center fireplace and jot things down in an empty notebook. Ten things I would change. And how would my life change if these things had been different?
1. What if I had a mother who’d loved me?
2. Or if I’d had Jamie around as a kid to help me with the hard stuff?
3. What if I’d never met Matthew at military school?
4. Or if Brock hadn’t raped and tried to kill me?
Jamie dropping down beside me with his overstuffed lunch bag made me nearly jump out of my skin. He smiled lightly, patted my back, and pulled a ton of food out of his bag. He always made so much. Grouched if I couldnt finish it all. I dont think he got that I was not a big guy, and there was only so much I could eat.
“Please dont do that again,” he said.
“Get coffee? It was just across the street. I waited for the walk sign and everything.” Besides, Brock was dead. Its not like there was a line of people out there waiting to kill me. Granted there were a lot of people unhappy with me being Pillar. They could protest all they wanted, but they wouldnt act on it since I was Pillar, and hurting me could cause a natural disaster. Brock had been lucky that when he had killed Rose there hadnt been more than a few tremors throughout the world. Minor damage compared to what could have happened.
“People could be out to hurt you.”
“I know. I just think whatever they do will be emotional, not physical. They are more likely to shout curses at me than throw a knife or a bomb.” Jamie and Gabe tried to keep me shielded from the news. But I had the Internet on my phone. I read the papers. Watched the broadcasts about the upset it caused. The Ascendance was making a stand, demanding that the Dominion hand over some of its power and create an equalized governing body.
Kelly had rejoined the Ascendance to try to keep tabs on them. Though the Dominion supported him, Gabe and Jamie didnt like it at all. I just worried. Kelly was a nice guy, and Id learned quickly over the past few years how the world liked to eat up nice guys.
My phone buzzed with a new text. I tilted it enough so Jamie couldnt see.
You’re scum, and have no right to be Pillar!
Deleting it, I stuffed the phone back in my bag, trying to keep the fear and hurt off my face. Thered been dozens of angry texts and e-mails since becoming Pillar. Each one added to the growing anxiety that sat chewing away at my gut.
How they got my information, I didnt know. But telling Jamie and Gabe would make things worse. They already treated me half like a prisoner. It really was time to take my life back.
“Can you take me over to Furness?” I asked Jamie, while choosing what I was going to eat. Half a sandwich and a handful of trail mix was enough for me.
“I have an appointment at three to look at an apartment.”
He was already shaking his head. “Whats wrong with staying with Gabe? If you need a break from him you can stay with me.”
I needed a break from them all. Until these past few weeks, Id never realized just how much of an introvert I was. Sure, I could flirt and party with the best of them, but I needed time in just my head. “I will call a cab if you dont take me. Its just a tour. Not a commitment.”
Jamie reacted as if Id hit him. He let out a heavy sigh and started packing up all the food. “Fine. Whatever.”
Hed almost taken away what Id picked to eat, but Id snatched it back in time and followed him as he stomped to his car.
Days like this really made me feel like no one wanted me around. The angry reaction Id expected. In fact, it had taken awhile, but I knew it would come. Unrealistic expectations and all. I guess he was finally starting to see that I wasnt the brother he wanted. But he drove me to the apartment building.
The tour went well. It was a ground-level one bedroom. It felt old but spacious and looked out into a nice wooded area. Not someplace I could run since it was in the middle of the city, but I could afford it, and there was plenty of room for all my books, though the kitchen was small.
By the time we returned to Gabes, he was awake and at the computer, working on some spreadsheets. He smiled at me, that glittering flash of teeth that had hooked me so many years ago. Even now my heart seemed to speed up in my chest, and I longed to jump in his lap and kiss him silly.
Jamie stormed past us and into the kitchen where he began yanking everything out of the lunch bag and putting things away. He hadnt said anything the entire tour or drive home. His attitude brought me spinning back down.
Gabe raised a golden brow in my direction. I shrugged and headed to the shower. Not that I really needed one, though Id been outside and felt that I was gross just from breathing the city air. Dr. Tynsen told me to acknowledge when I knew my OCD was pushing me to do something like change the sheets, clean the kitchen, or shower excessively. Not that it made me any less likely to do those things.
I stripped out of everything and was lathering up my hair when Gabe came in. His expression was neutral, as always. He took off his clothes and stepped in beside me, taking over the shampooing of my hair. His hands massaged my scalp like a pro hairstylist. He pressed himself against me, proving he was happy to be there. But I was somewhat tired of the babying. Sometimes I wanted him to just get mad at me. At least that was honest.
“Do you want to talk about it?” he asked.
“Isnt that what you pay the doctors for?” I snapped.
“Hmm.” He pushed me under the spray, which poured soap over me. I had to keep my mouth shut until it had passed. By the time I was wiping the sting out of my eyes he was on his knees, kissing my stomach. “Do you want to fight? Or have sex?”
“You should be mad at me like Jamie is,” I told him, winding my hands through his golden curls. He was classically handsome. Like Michelangelos David, with more muscle definition and fangs. Being a vampire gave him plenty of time to build his physique. Thankfully, he was nowhere near as big as Jamie was. I wasnt into the bodybuilder thing.
“Because you want your own place? No, I expected that. Though I wish youd wait until some of the press dies down.” His tongue dipped into my belly button and then his lips left a trail of kisses down to my groin. He nipped at my balls, and the stubble on his face made me painfully ready when he chuckled, pressing his face to my cock.
But with all the pleasure came fear.
We hadnt had intercourse. That was the main reason I was seeing a shrink. Dominion be damned. Gabe and I could suck each other off or masturbate together, but the minute he got near my ass I froze up, often lost my erection, and had flashbacks of being raped on that damned metal table.
I pulled him up. Gabe leaned over, bending his knees enough to keep me from standing on my tiptoes to reach those beautiful lips of his. He wrapped one of his hands in my long hair and kissed me hard enough to make me fight for breath. One of his fangs nicked my tongue, and we both tasted blood. He fed at my mouth and wrapped his other hand around both of our cocks at once.
Quick, long strokes had us writhing against each other. His strong grip ran around the both of us in pulsing circles. His heat pressed to mine. He felt like a candle burning against me. His thumb had a magic touch that teased over the head of me, using the leaking precum from us both to create more sliding friction.
The water beat on our backs from the multiple showerheads, but nothing could have gotten between us in that moment. For all the trouble I caused him, he still held me like I was his very last breath. I gripped him around the waist, pressing into him as though I could be him.
I thrust my hips against him hard enough that he had to release my hair and wrap his arm around my back to keep me up. He kissed me over and over, tasting and nipping at my lips while his hand worked, and our cocks ground together in a crazy fury.
“Close,” I whispered between kisses, loving the feel of him around me.
“Together,” he replied.
I surrendered to his hands, feeling my balls draw up and praying his did too. Another strong pull and we spurted out heat that we let wash away under the heavy spray of the shower.
I panted in his arms. My back ached a little from standing too long and arching against him. Another reminder of Brock, the bruising to my spinal cord was still fading.
Gabe scrubbed my back and held me tight while I cried. We both pretended the tears were just the water pouring down on us.
After the shower we lay in bed together, me in one of his T-shirts and my sleep pants, and him in just boxers and socks. I should have gotten up. Gone to work. Done something. But even after the day of dreaming of that alone time, I couldnt pry myself out of his arms. Gabe had called Mike to cover the bar. Jamie had left, mumbling something to us about going out.
I would have been lying if I said his growing distance didnt hurt.
My shrink notebook sat beside me. Id put down only those few things to change. Gabe had already read them. Six more to go. Finally he rose from the bed, kissed me on the forehead, and stepped up to the closet to dig out some clothes.
“Are you leaving?” I asked.
“Just for a while. Doing some vampire stuff.”
“The Trimega?” Did my voice sound a little higher pitched than usual?
He let out a heavy sigh. “Eventually it will be over, and they will leave us alone. Anyway, I told Jamie to take the night off. So you have some time to yourself. Call me if you need me, please.”
“Okay.” I watched him button up a green Gucci shirt that matched his eyes. “I dont deserve you.”
Gabe laughed, turning back to me. His amazing smile almost seemed to make his face glow. “Ive been telling myself the same thing about you for years. I feel like Ive caught a unicorn and should share it with the rest of the world. Only I dont want to.”
A jackass, more like it. “Heh.”
He leaned down to give me a quick peck on the cheek. “Make something sweet. Ill share a drink with you later and taste the dessert on your lips. Kay?”
He left, and I lay in bed for a while, thinking about my list. I wrote down: