Home > The Chosen (Black Dagger Brotherhood #15)(9)

The Chosen (Black Dagger Brotherhood #15)(9)
Author: J.R. Ward

His own voice echoed in his head: Do I understand you correctly? Do you want this … to end?

By the time Selena’s final moments had arrived, she could no longer speak. They had had to rely on a previously agreed-upon communication system that presupposed she would have control over her eyelids right up until the end: one blink for no … two for yes.

Do you want this to end …?

He had known what her answer was going to be. Had read it in her exhausted, distant, dimming stare. But that had been one of those times in life when you’d wanted to be absolutely, positively sure.

She had blinked once. And then again.

And he had been by her side when the drugs that stopped her heart and gave her the relief she needed had taken her away.

In all of his years, he never would have imagined that kind of suffering. On both their parts. He couldn’t have created a worse death out of any sort of nightmare, and he couldn’t possibly have fathomed that he would have to give the nod to Manny to administer the shot, to be screaming in his head as his love faded away, to be left on his own for the rest of his nights.

The only comfort was that her suffering was over.

The only reality was that his was just beginning.

In the immediate aftermath, he had found solace in the fact that he would rather have been the one to have to miss her as opposed to the other way around. But as time had continued, he had overused that panacea, as it was the only one he had, and now it didn’t work anymore.

So there was nothing to relieve him. He’d tried drinking, but alcohol only served to uncap what fragile hold he had on his tears. He didn’t care for food at all. Sex was completely out of the question. And no one would let him fight—it wasn’t like the Brothers and iAm didn’t recognize he was unhinged.

So what was he left with? Nothing but dragging himself through the nights and days, and praying for the most basic of relief: a breath unhindered, a stretch of mental calm, an hour’s worth of undisturbed slumber.

Reaching out, he touched the angled glass pane that was his window on what he considered was the other world, the one outside his insular hell. Funny to think that what he now considered as “other” had once been “real” … and even without the separation of species, age, and this lofty perch above the club’s fray, he was so far apart from all of them.

He had a feeling he would always be apart from everyone.

And honestly, he just couldn’t keep going like this.

This mourning had broken him, and if it weren’t for the fact that those who committed suicide were denied entrance unto the Fade, he would have put a bullet in his brain about forty-eight hours after the death.

I can’t keep going one more night, he thought.

“Please … help me …”

He had no fucking clue who he was talking to. On the vampire side, the Scribe Virgin was no more—and in his current frame of mind, he could totally understand why she would want to drop the mic and walk offstage from her creation. And then as a Shadow, he had been raised to worship his Queen—the only problem was, she had mated his brother and praying to his sister-in-law seemed weird.

A veritable declaration that all of this spiritual stuff was just a bunch of bullshit.

And yet even so, his suffering was so great he had to reach out.

Leaning his head back, he looked up at the low black ceiling and poured his broken heart into word. “I just want her back. I just … I only want Selena back. Please … if there’s anyone up there, help me. Return her to me. I don’t care what form she’s in … I just can’t do this anymore. I can’t live like this for one more fucking night.”

There was no answer, of course. And he felt like a total asshole.

Come on, like the vast emptiness of space was going throw anything but a meteor back at him?

Besides, was there even a Fade? What if he had just been hallucinating during the cleanse and had only imagined seeing his Selena? What if she had just died? As in … simply ceased to exist? What if all the crap about a heavenly place where loved ones went and waited for you with patience was just a coping mechanism created by those left behind in the kind of agony he was in?

A mental fallacy to bandage an emotional wound.

Leveling his head, he regarded the human crowd below—

In the glass, the reflection of a huge male figure standing right behind him made him spin around and go for the gun he kept tucked into the small of his back. But then he recognized who it was.

“What are you doing here?” he demanded.

SIX

The five-acre meadow rose from a vacant country lane like something created by an artist with a discerning eye, all natural aspects of hill and dale seemingly subject to the rules of pleasing visual standards. And atop the gentle, snow-dusted ascent, as a crown upon the head of a benevolent ruler, a great maple tree spread its branches in a halo so perfect even winter’s barren reveal did not diminish its beauty.

Layla had dematerialized to the base of the field from the mansion, and she made her way up to the tree on foot, her bedroom slippers no match for the frosted ground, the cold wind cutting through her robe, her hair whipping free of its braid and flying around.

When she reached the top, she stared down at the roots that grounded the glorious trunk unto the earth.

It had been here, she thought.

Here, at the base of this maple, she had come to Xcor the first time, summoned by one whom she’d thought was a soldier of honor in the war, one whom she had fed down in the Brotherhood’s clinic … one whom the Brothers had failed to inform her was in fact foe rather than friend.

When the male had called upon her to provide a vein, she had thought nothing about doing her sacred duty.

So she had come here … and lost a piece of herself in the process.

Xcor had been on the verge of death, wounded and weak, and yet she had recognized his power even in his diminished state. How could she not? He had been a tremendous male, thick of neck and chest, strong of limb, powerful of body. He had tried to refuse her vein—because, she liked to believe, he had seen her as an innocent in the conflict between the Band of Bastards and the Black Dagger Brotherhood and had wanted to keep her out of it. In the end, however, he had relented, ensuring that both of them fell prey to a biological imperative that knew no reason.

Taking a deep breath, she regarded the tree, seeing through its bare branches to the night sky beyond.

After Xcor’s true identity had come out, she had confessed to Wrath and the Brotherhood what she had done, tearfully seeking their forgiveness—and it was a testament to the King and the males who served him that they had pardoned her for aiding the enemy readily and without punishment.

In turn, it was a poor testament to her that she had gone back to Xcor after that. Consorted with him. Become emotionally attached.

Yes, there had been an initial coercion on his part at the time, but the truth was, even if he hadn’t forced her hand? She would have wanted to be with him. And worse? When things between them had finally ended, he had been the one to break their meetings off. Not her.

In fact, she would be seeing him still—and the heartbreak on her side at the loss of him was as crippling as her guilt.

And that was before he had been captured by the Brotherhood.

She knew exactly where they were keeping him because she had witnessed him in his wounded state in that cave … knew what the Brothers planned to do to him as soon as he awoke.

If only there was a way to save him. He had never been cruel to her, never hurt her … and he had never approached her sexually in spite of the hunger within him. He had been patient and kind … at least until they had parted.

He had, however, tried to kill Wrath. And that treason was punishable by death—

“Layla?”

Wheeling around, she tripped and fell to the side—just barely catching herself on the rough trunk of the maple. As pain flared in her palm, she tried to shake it off.

“Qhuinn!” she gasped.

The father of her young stepped forward. “Did you hurt yourself?”

With a curse, she wiped at the scratches, brushing debris away. Dearest Virgin Scribe, it hurt. “No, no, it’s fine.”

“Here.” He took something out of the pocket of his leather jacket. “Let me see.”

   
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