Chapter 22 (Part I)
"This is the moment..." Will sang on stage, beginning the song that led up to the part they were all dreading. Cei had reached over and put her hand on top of Evey's, just as worried as she was about Will drinking the formula. She could only pray that they would be able to save him.
As for the angels, Sarah seemed to be thoroughly enjoying herself, despite knowing the others' fears. She sat eagerly on the edge of her chair, trying to get the best view possible of the stage. Jared, on the other hand, could have been asleep for all anyone could tell, as he was sitting quietly, listening to the music. He knew it was difficult for Cei and Evey, but he kept his calm nonetheless.
Evey wound her fingers through Cei's. She was stiff and aching from how tense she was. She watched Will, her gaze caressing him, willing him not to drink at all, but toss it all together. Like over his shoulder or something.
She knew he wouldn't. But she still prayed he would. She had a pounding headache from her tension. She gave Cei's hand a squeeze.
"We'll get him back," Cei psychically told her friend. "We won't let Carmilla take him."
They watched quietly as the applause for the number faded and Will began to act out Jekyll's experiments. Cei subconsciously held her breath as he held the formula up to the light, proving to them that it wasn't just water and dye.
Evey wanted to close her eyes. But she didn't dare. God, couldn't he see it? But even if he did, Carmilla's command would be too strong for him to ignore. Evey felt her eyes water, and the image of Will began to blur. She had to let go of Cei's hand or she would start squeezing too hard. Evey was having a hard time breathing. Her heart was pounding hard and fast.
Will, oh, Will, she thought. I don't want to lose you.
Just after she thought this, Evey could have sworn that Will looked straight in her direction. Even if he had heard her, there was little that could be done. For a moment, he hesitated, and both women knew that this was not part of the act; Will was truly having second thoughts about drinking the formula. His arm shook, as if he were fighting against it, but a second later he'd brought the mixture to his lips and drank the whole glass.
Evey closed her eyes. Tears spilled silently from them, dripping onto her clenched fists. She berated herself as she sat there, trapped and unable to do anything. Yet. Yet, she repeated. You can't do anything now, but you will once this is over.
Carmilla was not getting Will. She wasn't! Evey would fight to her dying breath to keep Will. Her nails dug into her hands.
I'm going to protect you, Will Keatting. Even if I die trying, she thought fiercely.
Amelie looked over at Cei and Evey. Then she glanced at Jared and put her hand over his. It was done. Will was lost for the moment. At least until Carmilla was dead. The game was now afoot.
It was all... almost over.
It was a little more difficult to focus on the rest of the first act now that the worst was over. Eventually, the curtain closed and the lights came up for intermission. Sarah looked over at Evey.
"Can we get a snack?" she asked sweetly, though her brows were furrowed, understanding why she was upset.
"Yeah, sure," Evey rasped. She got up, taking Sarah's hand. She was numb, and trying hard to build up her courage and her strength so she could fight this and protect Will from Carmilla. She tried not to think of what would happen now that Carmilla had him.
Carmilla would have him as her stallion, so she could spit out an army. She would've taken over so he couldn't fight her. And if by chance Evey shivered Will did fight and was conscious, but still had to do what Carmilla said... Then she would be raping Will on a constant basis.
The thought made Evey want to vomit in her horror. She couldn't think of all these 'what ifs.' They were going to drive her insane. She knew it was going to happen.
She was going to get Will back. Period.
Meanwhile, Amelie after giving Jared a peck on the cheek vanished from the theatre for a short while. She used the information Jared had given her about Ashton to adjust her 'plan' for the cruentus. The information was vital. And just having it made her feel more prepared.
She was back before Evey and Sarah were and took her seat again beside Jared. She was smiling.
"I take it your plans are going well?" Jared asked, turning towards her. "All things considered, you seem happy."
Amelie looked at Jared.
"I canna help being excited 'bout gettin' rid o' that evil vampire."
She paused. Cei was there, so she couldn't say why else she was happy. Instead, she just lay her head against Jared's shoulder.
Cei stared off at the stage, completely ignoring the other two. She'd never been so nervous before. After a moment, though, she stood, turning to look at Jared.
"I'm going to go get a drink of water and see how Evey and Sarah are doing," she said softly. In truth, Cei just needed a moment away from the theater, so she slipped past them and out into the hall to get some fresh air.
Amelie watched her carefully. She shook her head and then looked up at Jared.
"In truth, luv, I be gettin' tired o' the lie ya all be tellin' the girls. An' I be happy because that's almos' over too. They need ta see 'im. So they know they're no' alone."
She wrung her hands in her lap.
"Bu' Evey... I planned this so he gets his chance at Ashton, an' Cei will see 'im. But Evey will no' get that chance, will she?"
She looked up Jared. He shook his head.
"Not unless their paths cross at the right moment. At least we know she'll find out soon enough."
Out in the lobby, Cei found Evey and Sarah and walked over to them. She touched Evey's shoulder gently to get her attention.
"Are you ready for after the show?" she asked. Evey nodded.
"Yes. I spent the entire morning practicing. I'm sure I can follow cloaked invisibly. Will nor Carmilla will know that I'm following until, I'm there."
"Carmilla is powerful enough that she might sense something, but she won't be able to see, hear or smell me until I drop it."
"I'm not sure I like you going alone," she said. "I know Jared will be close, but he has to hold himself back. What if she sends Will to attack you?"
Sarah tugged on the cruenta's dress and giggled.
"Don't worry, Cei! I'm going too! She's my mother too, after all."
Evey's eyes widened. God, this was the first she'd heard of that. Evey bent her knees, until she was at Sarah's eye level.
"Sarah, no. You can't go."
She held the girl's hands.
"I don't want her to hurt you. You're still just a little angel."
She touched the girl's soft curls.
"It's going to be very dangerous. Carmilla is... she's evil, Sarah. Very evil."
The child pouted, looking more shocked than upset.
"But Sis, I'm not that little!"
Sarah looked around for a moment to see if anyone was listening in, then lowered her voice a bit.
"I'm twenty years old, you know. That might be young for an angel, but I know how to take care of myself. It isn't like you have to babysit me..."
Twenty? Evey blinked. Sarah must've been born right after Carmilla disappeared. Evey shook her head. The woman didn't even probably give a shit when she found herself in another plane, her husband and child gone. She'd just gone and slept with probably another caelestis there and had Sarah. For what purpose? Just to prove she could?
Evey pressed her forehead against Sarah's.
"I'm just scared, little sis. My father is dead, my mother is evil, the man I thought of as a brother is dead... I don't want to lose my little sister too. I'm just afraid she's going to try to hurt you."
She looked up at Cei for a moment, then back at Sarah.
"You can come, as long as you stay hidden. I don't want Carmilla to know you're there."
"But Evey," Sarah protested. "That defeats the purpose! I don't want to just watch; I want to help!"
"Hey," Evey said, giving the girl a firm look. "The only advantage we have is surprise. We want her to think she's won. She's got Will. She's going to want him to come to her. He'll go. We'll follow. I'm going invisible so she doesn't know I'm there. You have to be invisible too, so when I need you, you can just pop up and help, and she won't be expecting it."
"But I haven't learned how to be invisible yet..."
"But you can hear me when I call for help with my mind right? I can reach you telepathically? I promise I'll call you when it's a good moment and you can just pop in?"
Evey was stretching. She didn't know how Sarah could help. She was too afraid that Carmilla would use the little girl against her somehow.
"But what if you can't call? What if you forget?"
Sarah seemed very skeptical of this idea and raised her eyebrows.
"You're just trying to keep me from coming along, aren't you?"
Evey shook her head and smiled.
"No, no, I'm not. I'm just trying to figure out a way we can keep the element of surprise. It's the only advantage we have over Carmilla. She underestimates us."
The five minute warning was announced, and Cei cut into the discussion.
"Sarah," she said. "You know you can trust Evey. Just pop in when the time is right, okay?"
Still not entirely convinced, the child nodded, wishing it weren't so difficult to help them.
Evey gave Sarah a kiss and straightened. Taking the girl's hand and Cei's hand, the three walked back to their seats. Evey looked at Jared and Amelie who were quietly talking together and released Sarah's hand so she could head to the two.
Evey looked to Cei.
"You ready for the last half?"
The vampire nodded as she returned to her seat.
"I wish it were over already."
The play began again, the opening of the second act the ominous number Murder, Murder. While they watched, Sarah told Jared and Amelie quietly that she was going to help Evey with Carmilla too, if she needed it. Jared seemed as apprehensive about the idea as Evey had been, but nodded.
"Just be careful. You haven't earned your weapon yet."
Evey heard that and looked worriedly from Jared to Sarah. Oh, damn. What had she agreed to? She had completely forgotten that the child had nothing to defend herself with. Her apprehension grew. Lord, she hoped she wouldn't need Sarah's help so the child wasn't in any danger.
The musical seemed to drag on forever, no matter how much they would have otherwise enjoyed it. When at last the curtain call came, they couldn't help but notice that Will seemed overly eager to leave the stage... and somewhat worried. Almost as soon as the applause ended and the house lights came on, Evey received a text message:
"2807 West Church Ave. I'm sorry."
"I have to go."
She didn't wait for anyone. By the time she was out of the door, Evey was cloaked in the mental shield that blocked her entire existence from everyone around her.
Amelie was up after Evey had fled. She looked at Jared.
"I must go now too."
Her gaze seemed to fade out, as if her mind was elsewhere.
"Ashton was here and he's leaving now out the back of the theater."
She gave a nod to Cei and vanished.
Seconds later, there was a loud explosion from the front of the theater. Jared jumped to his feet.
"That was likely Ashton's distraction," he said as the theater crowd began to panic. "If it's out front..."
"Then he's probably out back," Cei finished. "We know where we're headed."
Sarah tugged on Jared's sleeve as they began to leave for the backstage exit.
"You need to watch after Evey," she said. "I'll stay with Cei until I'm called, but Evey shouldn't be alone. She'll need help."
The demon nodded his agreement and vanished before they reached the door. Cei was pushing her way past actors and actresses, who didn't seem interested in these patrons moving backstage.
The shadow who had been lurking outside the theatre for the last few hours had seen the cars explode at the front of the theatre. Knowing that it was Ashton's flair, he quickly deduced that Ashton would be at the back of the theatre to halt them from going after Will. Knowing Evey though, she was already after the Keatting without Ashton being the wiser.
Now was his chance.
He hurried to the back lot, eyes glowing wolf gold, as he scanned the area for the vicious cruentus. Amelie's information earlier had helped. He wasn't going to hold back on the fucker now that he knew how much the vampire was capable of. He still had the element of surprise. Ashton wouldn't know what hit him until it was too late.
And there he was, perched atop a low section of the roof, watching the backstage door like a sniper. Ashton seemed like he was prepared, his hands already morphed into claws.
Ashton never heard him coming. The last thing the vampire would've expected was to be attacked from behind by a powerful wall of muscle and thrown from the roof.
Ashton landed, and the man who had attacked him landed with a crash right before him, the asphalt breaking around his feet from the force. He ripped back the hood, his expression feral, his teeth sharp, his gold eyes glowing.
"Surprise," he growled at Ashton.
His clothes tore apart as he grew an extra two feet. The clawed feet burst from his shoes. His shoulders widened, his arms and legs matched the rest of him. Fur rippled and sprouted all over his body, his face became long and muzzled.
He roared at Ashton just before he leapt at him again.
Expecting this attack, the vampire jumped nimbly out of the way, landing next to a car. Ashton bared his fangs, eyes burning crimson with his anger.
"You sneaky bastard..." he growled, lunging to get his first strike in across the werewolf's back.
The wolf took the slash across his back so he could get Ashton close enough. Lashing out fast and hard, he whirled around and slammed the vampire into the nearest car. Snarling, the werewolf moved toward Ashton while the slashes on his back healed. His own claws shown in the streetlight as he ripped the door off another car and tossed it at Ashton's head.
He moved fast after it, fully intending to pin down the vampire and rip off his head.
Ashton slipped into the shadows of the parked cars, effectively vanishing before the flying door reached him.
"You clever, clever prick! I should have made my orders clearer!"
The light shifted suddenly, Ashton appearing next to a street lamp and tearing it loose, swinging it full force at the werewolf like a giant, metal club. As he did, he growled something completely incoherent.
The werewolf walked into line of fire, stopped the street lamp, snarled a wicked, feral smile and slammed it back into Ashton, knocking him against the brick wall of one of the buildings beside them. The lycanthrope tossed the street lamp and kicked the car he was closest to at Ashton, sending the vehicle flying at the vampire.
Even the vampire's reflexes weren't fast enough to dodge that, but before the car hit him, Charon appeared, materializing and blocking the attack... although it did not look happy to have been summoned.
"What do you want?" the demon drawled, glaring back at Ashton. Again, the noctis growled, jumping to his feet.
"You didn't do as ordered!"
Charon only shrugged.
"You never specified when."
Arishtat, who had been watching from the shadows, moved a little forward. It was still in darkness, watching and listening, but Ari could move to stop Charon if the fifty percent chance didn't go in their favor.
Happily ignoring the demon, the werewolf used the distraction to jump over both, using the wall as a spring and come crashing down on Ashton. He was not planning on wasting any time trying to kill the vampire.
Ashton caught him just as he made contact, and with all of his strength, threw the werewolf off across the lot. With that out of the way, he turned back to Charon.
"Kill him now!"
The demon hesitated, looking towards the werewolf, but did not move.
Arishtat breathed a sigh of relief.
The werewolf got up, grinned, and faded into the shadows. He had gotten quite good at that after all. When he appeared again, he was slashing at Ashton with his claws from the side, snarling as he went for the vampire's throat.
Ashton caught the creature's jaws with his hands, fighting to throw him off again. He grasped the werewolf's snout firmly as he yanked down on the lower jaw, making an audible crack just as the skin ripped along the edges. Pushing him back, Ashton tried his command again.
"I don't care how many times I have to say it to get you to obey!" he growled. "Kill him now!"
Charon hesitated again, but this time the taiaha materialized in its hands. The demon frowned as it started its attack.
Charon's attack was stopped by Arishtat's staff. The fierce gaze of the angel bore into the demon's eyes.
"I cannot let you, young one," it said. "You will kill no more of those who are not meant to die."
The werewolf had snapped his jaw back into place by now. It was still healing as he moved almost as fast as a vampire toward Ashton, bypassing both of the divine beings without looking at them. He set his claws into Ashton's side, tossing him across the lot as the vampire had done to him earlier. Fur fraying as the beast growled it headed toward Ashton again.
It was about then that Cei and Sarah came out the backstage door.
"What the...?" the cruenta found herself saying as she looked from one side of the lot to the other: at one end, Arishtat and Charon were battling one another, the demon doing more blocking than attacking as it tried to get past the angel and at its true target; at the other end was Ashton and... a werewolf? Cei had not expected a lupine to be the one fighting her brother.
Sarah stepped in front of her.
"Stay behind me, Ms. Cei," she said, and before Cei could ask, added. "I may not have a weapon, but I can put up a shield if they come too near."
Arishtat kept Charon busy. It let out no opening for the demon to get near the werewolf to kill him. She noted the presence of Sarah and Cei and hoped the two would stay clear. If they could help, they should, but otherwise she did not want Cei distracting the lycanthrope.
The wolf slashed the vampire across the chest, tearing the clothing to ribbons and leaving some horrific bloody gashes as Ashton made to get away again. He didn't let the vampire get far. Growling, he twisted his body and came at Ashton again too fast for the vampire to get away and clamped his now healed jaw on Ashton's arm.
With a vicious jerk, he ripped the vampire's arm off his body.
The cruentus made a horrific growl of pain, leaping on top of the roof again as soon as the limb was completely gone. Morphing his remaining hand back to normal, he touched the gashes across his chest as they healed, sneering down at the lupine.
"It's just a flesh wound!"
More furious than ever, Ashton returned to the fray, dashing from one side of the werewolf to the other with several quick strikes from the claws on his remaining arm. A dark energy began to crackle around him, as if he were drawing strength from some dark reserve. It pulsed with electric energy, and sparked each time a strike was landed.
Cei recognized it immediately.
"The tainted aura..." she mumbled, stifling a gasp. The last thing she wanted to do was draw attention her way.
The werewolf tossed the arm into the rubble of mangled cars. He snapped once with his bloody jaws at Ashton as the vampire flashed around him slashing. Then he struck, dropping and swinging the huge powerful legs to knock the vampire off his feet and sent him flying. Ashton's own speed and the speed of the wolf's attack made the strength of the attack double.
On his haunches, the lupine snarled, before it slowly stood to his full height of over eight feet.
Undaunted, Ashton staggered to his feet again, climbing out of the rubble he'd crashed through. The aura flared as he held out his hand, various pieces of shrapnel rising with his telekinesis. Each object crackled with the same aura, as if he was transferring that power to it, and came flying at the lupine in a furious barrage.
The werewolf roared, but charged through the barrage, taking the pain and going straight for Ashton. The stabs and gashes left by the shrapnel were dark and vivid. Blood oozed from the wounds, but that didn't stop the lupine. Nothing would stop him. He reached Ashton bloody, and in less than a second and swiped the vampire hard in the face, leaving four vicious tears in Ashton's face. The wolf kicked the vampire as he flew, tearing some more gashes into his side. The lupine snarled as the muscles and flesh healed itself, pieces of shrapnel from Ashton's barrage that had been stuck inside of him now falling out. But it was slow going. The shrapnel had embedded itself deep.
The vampire's wounds were healed sooner, fueled by the stolen energy in his aura. Seeing the lupine slowed by his last attack, he put all his strength into rushing back towards him, retracting his claws as he ran. Soon, Ashton was right up next to him. The dark energy crackled even more viciously as he focused his attack, slamming his hand into the werewolf's chest, extending his claws through him just as he made contact. It was the same thing he had done that had killed Jon, only now surrounded by his dangerous aura.
Cei covered her mouth so that she would not scream, the memory of Jon's death becoming vivid in her mind. Sarah, however, did scream when she saw the attack.
The lupine howled in pain, but then his face was right in Ashton's. A feral grin split over the bloody muzzle. The huge clawed hands grabbed the vampire, keeping him in a death grip against him. The golden eyes glowed, and with a roar, the werewolf bit onto Ashton's neck.
The noctis realized his mistake too late, eyes widening as he struggled in vain to tear away. The werewolf's fanged maw and powerful grip trapped Ashton there. He wasn't dodging this time.
His jaw locked hard over the vampire's throat, and with a deliberate slow tear, began to rip Ashton's head right off his shoulders. The werewolf's grip was tight on Ashton's body, keeping him in place against him, his speared hand through the wolf's body and used that as leverage. Then with a sharp jerk, the werewolf tore the head off the body and then spat it out, tossing it as far as he could.
Ashton was dead.
At last, dammit.
With a grunt of agony, the werewolf pulled the body away from him. He let out a low, painful howl as the nasty appendage was pulled out of his body. He let the corpse fall. His hands went to his chest, where blood gushed from, and he fell to his knees.
The lycanthropic form began to fall away as the man was revealed. Still halfway through the undoing of the transformation he fell back, half conscious from the blood loss and the pain as his body tried to slowly recover.
Charon practically collapsed with him, heaving a sigh of relief.
"Oh thank god..."
"What the hell?!" Cei shouted, walking around Sarah to approach the others. "My god! Was this your plan, Arishtat? Fuck, what in the..."
She trailed off, now near enough to the werewolf to get a good look at him. Her expression quickly softened, a gasp at last escaping her. Cei stepped hesitantly closer, not sure if her eyes were deceiving her. There was no possible way...
The last of the transformation fell away. He still had some shrapnel that was working its way out of him, and he was pale as he lay against the floor, his blood pooling around him. His hands were covered with his blood, holding closed the gaping hole in his chest. He was bloody everywhere with both his blood and Ashton's.
"Could..." he said, his breath shallow and weak. "Someone please... burn the fuck... so he can't come back?"
"Leave that to me," Arishtat said. Ari put a hand of Cei's shoulder.
"I think he needs you, Cei."
Then it took off to collect the head to burn first, and then the body.
The cruenta was still a little apprehensive about getting near. Slowly, she worked her way next to him, falling to her knees in front of him.
"God damn it, Brendan," she said, her brows furrowed as she fought back tears. "You promised not to die, then you pretend to be dead, then you almost actually get killed! God damn you! What the fuck were you thinking?"
She was so shocked he was alive, she didn't know what to think of him as she started to sob. Charon came over to them, standing behind them both with its wings folded back.
"Would you like me to help you heal?" it asked Brendan.
Brendan freed a raspy laugh.
"That sounds a little weird comin' out of you," he winced and then groaned. "All things considered."
His gray eyes moved to Cei, caressing her features. She looked so beautiful. He hadn't been able to get close to her in weeks. It seemed almost surreal that it was all almost over. Except for Carmilla. And Will.
"I had to," he said, his voice still harsh from pain. "If not, Ashton would've killed me if he had the slightest thought that I could be alive. And I would've had no chance. Charon didn't follow the first order tonight thanks to Will, Jared and I finding the contract Lios had and destroying it. But the second time he had to."
Amelie appeared again as the body of Ashton was engulfed in flames behind it.
"Brendan, let Charon heal you and stop talking."
Ari nodded to the demon, before turning to Cei.
"The plan was to let Brendan deal with Ashton. He was the only one who could kill him who had the chance. He had the element of surprise Ashton would not have any silver on him because he assumed Brendan was dead and he had the strength. Brendan is an Alpha male. He is far stronger than most werewolves. I was here to make sure if our fifty percent chance that Charon would not kill Brendan didn't work I had to stop Charon from getting involved."
"You needed to see he was still alive, and that he kept his promise, even if he had to lie to you for a little while in order to do it."
Charon began to heal Brendan as Cei just sat there, shaking uncontrollably from her crying.
"God, don't you ever fucking do that to me again!" she choked out. "Do you have any idea what Evey and I went through? Or, god, was she in on this too?"
Brendan shook his head.
"No, no. God, no. You and Evey were the ones directly connected to Carmilla, Lios and Ashton. You were the only ones who had to be convinced I was dead so that Lios and Ashton believed I was dead too."
Arishtat crouched by Cei and pushed back her hair gently.
"I understood why the lie needed to stand, Cei, but I disliked seeing you and Evey suffer. But you two are not alone. Brendan has been watching over all of you from the shadows. He is the one who saved Ju from Ashton."
"Trust me," Brendan said with a rasp. "This was no picnic. I never want to do this again. I only did it because I wanted to stay alive."
He got quiet and finally looked away from Cei. Why was she so upset anyway? It wasn't like she gave a damn about him anyway. Will had told him how badly Evey had taken his death. It both hurt and was refreshing to know how much Evey loved him. But Cei? He had told Cei about his imminent demise, and she hadn't given a damn.
Ari frowned at Brendan and gave him a poke in the shoulder with its staff.
"Why don't you tell her your doubts?" it asked, as if it'd heard his thoughts, which it had. "It is so easy to say the truth, but you all skirt around it like it could hurt you."
"It doesn't matter," he grumbled, looking up at the sky.
Cei looked at him expectantly.
"What doubts?" she asked. "Damn it, Brendan! It was bad enough when you were playing dead. I thought I'd really lost you when you were just in hiding! You left me alone, Brendan! Evey at least had Will to comfort her; I don't have anyone else I can turn to. It was hard enough facing Lios after that. Now you're hiding something else from me?"
Cei began sobbing again.
"I suppose nothing has changed then, has it?"
His body tensed.
"I was really proud of you when you killed Lios, Cei," Brendan rasped. "Do you think I wanted to do this?"
He looked away and his body slumped again. Like he was giving up.
"I didn't want to hide. But I had to. If I hadn't, I really would be dead. If Ari hadn't been here to fight off Charon, I'd be dead. If I had gone to the ball and let everyone know I was still alive, I'd be dead. You had Evey, and Will, and Ju and Jezz. I had nobody. I was sleeping in the streets and living off garbage for the last month and a half because I couldn't be anywhere without risking your lives. I had no one to talk to, no one to tell me this would work, no one to comfort me. I was completely and totally alone, Cei."
He sat up, groaning. His body still hurt.
"Because if I didn't go through that hell I would've really left you all alone, and I couldn't bear to do that. I promised you I wouldn't die. So I was going to do everything I had to keep that promise."
He leaned forward. His hair, messy from the fight, matted with blood and longer than usual fell forward and hid his face.
"Even if you didn't care about me."
Cei's sobs abruptly stopped. She stared at Brendan for a long time, trying to read his expression through the mess of hair.
"Is that what you think?" she asked, barely getting the words out. He'd only done it because of his promise, she thought. Nothing more. Cei carefully rose to her feet, walking away from the three of them and back over to Sarah by the stage door, sitting down on the steps. Even if she had been able to apologize for getting upset with him before he faked his own death, it wouldn't have mattered, would've it? Cei began to cry again, this time silently. It didn't matter that Brendan was alive and well. Nothing had changed at all...
Arishtat looked from one to the other and became upset. It was hard to upset this angel, but these two were making a find mess of what was painfully obvious to everyone but them, apparently.
Ari walked over to Cei and sat down beside her.
"Why aren't you hitting him, and kissing him and thanking the stars that he's alive and whole? Why aren't you happy that he suffered so you would be safe? Why aren't you happy that he saved you and your Ju from Ashton? Why are you sitting here, pretending that you don't love him, when your heart is breaking? Don't you know that he has done all of this for you? Because of how much he loves you? Didn't he tell you that he loved you in the car before he 'died'? Why are you sitting here, leaving him abandoned, letting him believe that you don't love him?"
Cei lowered her head, wrapping her arms around herself.
"He did it because of his promise," she said softly. "And... and I don't want him to know. If I get attached... If I let myself admit that... What's going to happen when he really dies?"
The cruenta looked up at the angel, tears rolling gently down her cheeks.
"He's mortal; I am not. He will age; I will not. He will die, and I..."
She looked down again.
"I don't want to be hurt again..."
"I swore I wasn't going to let anyone hurt you."
Brendan had limped his way over to her. There some color back in his cheeks, but he was still too pale. He was still holding his chest, while both his body and Charon continued to heal him.
"I swore to you I wasn't going to die. I didn't die, Cei. I'm here. Ashton tried to kill me, and I made sure he couldn't. I won't let anyone hurt you. I don't care about anything else. I just... I just need to know if even care about me a little. The last thing you said to me... I thought you wouldn't care whether I died or not. That made it easier to lie, thinking no one would miss me. But I missed you. You were never alone for a moment, Cei. I was always there. I was never far from you. But it hurt thinking believing that I didn't matter to you."
Ari poked his leg with its staff.
"Doesn't matter, say it again."
Brendan's face crumpled. Once again he was baring his heart and soul, and even after all this hell, she still wanted to hear that he gave a shit even though she didn't. God, he'd already said it, he'd proved it, and she still wanted to hear the damn words again? For what purpose? To rub it in that she didn't feel the same way.
"I love you, Cei."
Brendan didn't stay to see her reaction or what she said or did. He didn't want to be hurt anymore. The woman didn't want anything to do with him, then fine. He had a friend to help. He limped away, headed toward the front. The cops should be there by now. He was going to find Mike and grab his car.
Cei looked away at first, and Sarah kicked her shin when she didn't move.
The little girl pouted, folding her arms.
"Stop being silly! Go after him!"
Hesitantly, Cei chewed on her lip and didn't stand until Sarah glared at her again. She walked after Brendan, at first keeping herself a few paces behind. Eventually, she picked up her pace so that she was almost on his heels. Charon had stepped aside so she could be closer, and once close enough, Cei wrapped her arms around Brendan's chest.
"God, Brendan... I love you so much... I don't think I could bear to lose you again..."
She buried her face in his back, crying gently.
"Please, don't go again..."
Brendan had stopped walking the moment he had felt her arms slide around him. He had been stiff, trying to hold back his own breaking heart, until he'd heard her words.
His eyes widened. His hands shook as he took her hands and pulled them away from him, so he could turn and face her. Brendan still held her hands as he searched her tear streaked face. His expression was desperate, hopeful, and painfully open. He was out of breath when he spoke.
"Wha-what? You-You what?"
Cei blinked, trying to clear her eyes of tears. She tried to smile, but a sniffle choked up instead. She closed her eyes and leaned against him, not caring how bloody he was.
"I love you, Brendan," she said. "Please, don't leave me again..."
Brendan felt his heart soar. He wrapped his arms around her and kissed the top of her head. She loved him. She loved him. He didn't know how or when she came to that realization, but he didn't care. She'd come after him and said she loved him. She'd cried for him.
He was still hurting, but he didn't care. He lifted her up, and kissed her. It was the first time he'd been able to kiss her in the open with everyone watching and not having to worry about the repercussions. He held her a foot off the ground, against his body, his arms wrapped around her holding her up, and kissed her. Yeah, he was bloody. He still kissed her. He kissed her until they were both breathless.
Then he put his face in the crux of her neck and shoulder and kissed her there. He just held her.
"Please... don't leave me either..." he whispered.
Cei laughed softly, kissing his ear.
"Don't you give me a reason to, mister."
"Pardon me," Charon interrupted. "But there are still a few more wounds to take care of. We still have more work to do. It isn't all over yet."
Brendan winced and put down Cei. Yeah. He still hurt. Like hell. He nodded.
"Yeah, let's get those fixed."
Ari had followed, holding Sarah's hand.
"We need to follow Jared and Evey. To make sure they're all right. Ashton probably blew up our cars."
"I can grab a truck from Mike that we can head there in. Do we even know where they're at?"
Cei held up her cell phone.
It beeped. She flipped open the cover to read the text.
"2807 West Church Avenue," she read, closing the phone. "Thanks Ju."
"You're all set, Brendan," Charon said as it finished. "And with Ashton now gone, any orders he made are null. As long as Carmilla doesn't think to call me, we should be alright."
Sarah poked at the demon's side.
"How are you supposed to help us? Your last guise technically died."
"I've already figured out a new one. Just haven't had reason to introduce him yet."
Brendan, who had been stretching and checking out where the hole had been in his chest (once Charon had said that he was healed), arched an eyebrow at the demon's last statement.
"Well, you've had plenty of time to think up one since you've been camping in my apartment."
He looked down at his clothes. Or more like his pants. What was left of them.
"I'm going to need clothes," he muttered. He scratched his beard.
"Come on. I'm going to give Mike a heart attack."
Ari looked to Charon. The angel put a hand on the demon's shoulder.
"You have learned much, young one. At a high cost. Thank you for helping us."
Charon lowered its head in a humble nod.
"It is my duty to right the wrongs I've committed. And my pleasure."
Cei couldn't help but giggle as she hooked her arm around Brendan's.
"I kind of like this rugged look," she teased. "It's fitting for you. Shows off some of your nicer assets too..."
"Are we going yet?" Sarah asked, growing impatient. "We haven't exactly got all night, you know."
"I already said come on," Brendan told the child. He smirked, and holding Cei's hand, headed toward the front of the theatre where the cops had clustered.
Arishtat transformed back into Amelie and stayed by Sarah, holding the child's hand as they followed Brendan and Cei.
Brendan released Cei when they got close, giving her a wink, before he barreled through the other cops. About one or two of them looked in his direction and did a double take.
One outright fainted.
"Mike," Brendan said, grabbing the young man's shoulder.
Officer Mike turned around, his brow furrowed. The voice had sounded familiar. He saw the bare-chested man with the torn pants, wild hair and beard, and covered in blood. It took him a minute before he went white.
"Detective... Graham... You're... God, you're... alive..."
Brendan grabbed Mike's arm.
"Look, we need to talk."
He pulled him aside. The techie had gone from just a computer nerd cop to leading the task force on Ashton. He'd done well. Everyone at the precinct would've been proud.
"Yeah, I'm not dead," Brendan said. "Ashton the guy who took out our precinct was gunning for me. I faked my death with a lot of help to I could get close. I'm the one who called you and told you where he was the other day at the warehouses."
"I'm the one who broke down the door for you so you could get in."
"Jesus Fucking Christ, Detective. What the hell are you? What the hell are we dealing with?"
"Well, for one, Ashton's dead." Brendan said it with such finality, it brooked no argument. And Mike wasn't going to say a damn thing about it. He was glad. And he was very glad that Brendan had been the one to do it. Brendan jerked his head toward the theatre.
"The body is in the back parking lot, probably still smoldering."
Oh, god, Mike thought. This was like the other week at the warehouse. Stuff out of horror movies.
"But I need a car and uh, maybe a coat, so we can get to West Church Avenue."
"What's at West Church Avenue?"
"Grant is there facing off with the mastermind behind this whole mess, and who kidnapped her boyfriend."
"Well, fuck. Do you want us over there?"
"Yeah half an hour. No later than that. I want to scare the shit out of her. Make her think she's about to be exposed to the whole world for what she is. There'll be plenty of evidence at the place too to prove Ashton, Druclerd and her are involved."
"You know, somehow that name gives me the creeps when you say it. Like, end of the world creeps."
"Oh, fuck, Detective, don't tell me that shit."
"Half an hour," Brendan said. "Keys."
Mike gave him the keys to the small SUV.
"Good luck, Detective. Make sure nothing happens to Grant."
"She's my partner. She isn't going to die on my watch."
Mike called the other cops over, ordering them to go around the back to look for anything suspicious. Half of them wanted to arrest Graham, but Mike told him he was the only other survivor of Station 63. He gave them a quick lie saying he and the Feds had faked his death so they could track down the murderer, because Ashton had wanted Graham's head specifically.
Brendan got back to Cei, Amelie and Sarah and pointed to the SUV.