. . .
I was in pain. Quite a lot of pain. Not that I wasn’t accustomed to pain, but that didn’t make it enjoyable. As I slowly came to, I could feel that I was on a padded surface. A couch maybe. I pried my eyes open and smelled the rich scent of coffee in the air. I was instantly more at ease.
Gradually turning my head, I felt a shocking stiffness shoot down my spine and withheld a groan of discomfort. Sitting a few feet away on the floor was the boy. Ronan, I recalled his name being. Vyctor’s brother. What a small thing. I blinked my fatigue away and very slowly pushed myself up on my elbows to get a better look at him.
Ronan looked like his brother in some regard. The whole family had raven hair, but Vyctor’s eyes differed from the others. Their rich, warm green color was the one thing I couldn’t get out of my head. There were other things, of course, but those damn eyes haunted my dreams. His little brother’s eyes were a warm blue, like his father’s, and they were looking right at me.
“Can I help you?” I said, a dry rasp in my voice.
Ronan shrugged, raising his brows inquisitively. “You’re one of the bad people,” Ronan said.
“That’s what they’re all saying.”
“Really? Then you should be somewhere far from me, shouldn’t you?”
He shrugged again, completely unafraid. Turning his head, I caught a good glimpse of the rigid scar stretching across the boy’s neck. Yet another similarity he had to Vyctor. I was halfway convinced that the Hale family was cursed. One son was kidnapped and tortured and experimented on for years and bore the scars to prove it. The other appeared to have at least been acquainted with death and at such a young age.
I couldn’t withhold a groan as I turned to place my bare feet on the floor. Damn, my body was in a world of physical hurt. I hated the inconvenience and rolled my shoulders to stretch the torn muscles. I really did it this time. I was usually the level-headed one. Of all my sisters, I was the focused one. The rational one. At least I was before I met Vyctor and my brain was torn to bits. I sighed, shaking my head at the ridiculousness of it all.
“So?” I asked, massaging my neck. “What’s with the scar?”
“Slayer,” Ronan said, unphased by the question. “He cut my throat open, but I survived.”
“Lucky you,” I said flatly.
I admired the boy in a sense. Or rather envied him. He’d gotten the bitter taste of death out of the way and likely couldn’t even remember the shock. I watched him pick at the edge of the rug he was sitting on for a while before scanning the room for any other lifeforms. I wanted to scan in a more thorough way, but I swore that I wouldn’t. It was the hardest promise I would ever have to keep. I made it and I intended to hold myself to that.
“Where are your parents?” I asked Ronan.
“My mom is sleeping. She stayed up a long time to fix you. Dad is fixing the other cabin so Vyctor has his own place. Vyctor is in his room,” he finished, pointing down the hall.
“He doesn’t want to stay here with you?”
“He needs his own space. That’s what they’re all saying.”
“Mmm.” I nodded slowly. “So? How weird is it to have an older brother?”
Ronan flashed an innocent smile. “I like it. My parents told me about him. I’m really happy he’s alive.”
“I bet you are,” I said under my breath, a shallow pool of guilt surrounding me.
I didn’t allow the pool to deepen, but I could acknowledge it was there. I’d never seen a family so disgustingly caring. It stung to know I aided in breaking them apart.”
“Are you really here because you love my brother?” Ronan asked.
I lifted a brow, impressed with the boy’s straightforwardness.
“Love is a strong word,” I said.
“You said it, though.”
“Did I?” I rolled my eyes. “Gods, I say a lot of weird things these days.”
“So why are you here then?”
“I don’t know,” I huffed, slouching deeper into the couch cushions. “I’m a big mess, that’s why, and your brother is the cause. Well, my mother really did the brunt of the work, but Vyctor didn’t help.”
Ronan suddenly jumped to his feet with a smile and walked straight to the sofa to sit himself down beside me. His feet dangled off the edge and he swung them back and forth. I side-eyed him, leaning away an inch or two with confusion.
“Look,” I said. “I’m really not a fan of children.”
Ronan reached out and patted my arm twice with his hand and lifted his chin.
“You are now,” he said. “I’m Vyctor’s brother. You have to like me.”
“Is that right?”
“It would earn you a lot of points. You want points, right?”
“You could say that.”
“Then at least act like you’re nice.”
“Ha! Me?” I said, pressing my fingers to my chest. “I’m incredibly nice.”
Ronan narrowed his eyes, not fooled for a second.
“I’m good at reading people,” he said. “And I’m going to need some time to figure out if you’re good for Vyctor.”
“A tad overprotective, aren’t you?”
“Right now, Vyctor’s scars are bigger than mine. You tell me who needs protecting,” he said with a bit of a scowl.
Ok, maybe this kid was tolerable. He definitely managed to catch me off guard more than once in the past couple minutes and that wasn’t normal.
“I guess Vyctor’s lucky then,” I muttered. “To have a brother like you.”
“I’m lucky to have him. I never thought I’d meet him.”
The corner of my mouth quirked a bit. I wasn’t used to feeling good about other people’s good fortunes, but this boy’s joy over Vyctor was rubbing off on me a bit. That damn face was so innocent and that scar across his neck made him all the more interesting. Such a little thing. A little thing that had already looked death in the eye.
“Ronan,” a deep voice said, snapping me out of my thoughts.
My eyes wandered over the young Draak’s head to see Vyctor standing at the mouth of the hallway. He and his father made that cabin look small and cramped. He was tall and despite being a little slender compared to his Draak brethren after years in induced coma and captivity, he was still a solid mass of strength. Ronan glanced back at him and hopped to his feet.
“Why don’t you go see if father needs help,” Vyctor said, stepping further into the living room.