"Gee, thanks." Snorting, Aric bade them farewell and continued in the direction of his living quarters.
When the red wolf was out of earshot, Kalen said, "Do you think he was sincere this time, or was he just trying to keep the peace with you?"
"I believed him. You should too."
"Aric's not an easy guy to get to know, or like, but he wouldn't have made the offer if he didn't mean it. I've known him for years, so trust me on this."
"All right. Then I'll go along, unless he proves me wrong." Stepping close, he stole a leisurely kiss, then released her with regret. "I hate to interrupt our afternoon, but I've got a couple of people to see."
"For one. And then Sariel, if you think he's up to a visit from me."
"I'll ask him. But as one of his doctors, I have to tell you that if your visit upsets him and sets back his recovery in any way, you'll answer to me and Melina. It won't be pretty."
He grinned. "I hate to tell you, baby, but you're just not that scary. Doc Mallory on the other hand . . ." He gave an exaggerated shudder. "She probably flosses her teeth with her victims' bones."
Mac snorted. "And on that note, I'll see you later. Thanks for lunch-and dessert."
She turned and started for the infirmary. But not before she'd glimpsed the total satisfaction in his green eyes at her suggestive parting comment.
Looked as though she'd snagged herself a Sorcerer. Now the question was how to keep him safe.
* * *
Kalen's steps slowed as he approached Nick's office. His gut clenched in dread at the thought of what might await him on the other side.
Did the boss believe Kalen was beyond redemption at this point? No, he told himself. If he did, Kalen would be dead already. The man wasn't the type to delay justice. It would come swiftly and painlessly.
With that bit of hope bolstering his spirits, he knocked. The commander issued a firm order for whoever was there to come in.
Kalen poked his head around the corner. "Got a minute?"
Nick looked up from some paperwork on his desk and sat back, stretching. "For you, I've got five. Close the door and have a seat, and put a shield over your thoughts."
Kalen followed the first order, wiping his palms nervously on his jeans. Concentrating, he turned his magic inward and searched for the wall he'd erected earlier between himself and Malik. He found it to be wavering some but in place-though how long he'd be successful was anyone's guess. He met Nick's gaze. "I'm ready."
The man studied him for a long moment, expression hard as stone. "I know where you went last night. What I don't know is all of what happened while you were there, so why don't you start at the beginning?"
"How much do you know?"
"I know you watched him kill a man-and that you were seduced into enjoying it," he replied in a saddened voice. "Why, Kalen?"
Kalen swallowed hard. "He gets his hooks in me when my defenses are down. Then he showed me what Billy had done to his family and fed my rage. I went to him in the first place because I felt drawn to go to him last night. Compelled."
"Where is his hideout?"
"Where?" He frowned. "Deep in the forest, away from civilization. It's this really fabulous, rustic cabin that he told me is an illusion. I'm not sure I could find it again if I tried, unless he wanted me to."
"All right. Then what?"
"At first we just talked over a drink."
"Talked? That's it?" Nick's dark brow arched in clear skepticism.
"Yeah. He's quite the snake oil salesman, something I didn't realize before. Well, at least not firsthand."
"Most of your mad-dog, power-hungry world leaders are great at swaying the masses," the commander observed. "They start small, one soldier, one convert at a time, and before anyone truly catches on, they've decimated millions."
"Like Hitler." Kalen picked at his jeans. "Malik's a close comparison. Given enough time and resources, he could have every bit as huge an impact on history, with his super-shifter soldiers as the new Third Reich. In fact, he admitted that's his goal, to rule the world and make paranormals, the Fae in particular, the top of the food chain. He made some persuasive arguments for his cause and the way he wants to go about it."
"I'll just bet he did." Nick's face darkened.
"He had me half believing him, Nicky," he said quietly. "Now I know how masses of people can fall victim to that sort of tyranny."
Picking up a ballpoint pen, Nick tapped it on his desktop thoughtfully for a few moments. "Okay, so why you? Why does he want or need your help, in particular?'
"He . . . God, this is so wacked." Elbows on his knees, he clasped his hands together tightly. Nick waited patiently. "He claims that I'm Fae."
The commander's jaw dropped and his blue eyes widened. Obviously the boss hadn't seen that one coming. "What the fuck?"
"My reaction exactly." He gave a humorless laugh. "He told me that my grandmother was pure Seelie. In fact, he claims they knew each other ages ago, from when they were on opposite sides of issues between the Seelie and Unseelie courts."
"Do you believe him?"
"I'm not sure." He shrugged. "Grandma never told me about my heritage, and if she meant to, she died before she was able. I have magic, but I don't have wings like Sariel. And I know for a fact my blood runs red and not blue," he said, thinking of his father's fists and the many occasions they'd split his lip.
"What about your parents? Did he claim they were Fae also?"
Thinking back to the conversation, Kalen frowned. "He never really addressed my mom and dad in that respect, and I was so blown away by everything he was telling me that I didn't ask. He just said that I'm Fae down to my last drop of blood. His words. So I assumed my folks were Fae, too. Or at least my mom, since Grandma was her mother."
"Your father would have to be Fae as well, if you're a pureblood." Nick chewed on the cap of his pen.
"Which doesn't make sense at all if you knew my father. He's about as anti-magic as a person can get. He forbade my mother to even speak of such things, and I watched her slowly wither away trying to be what he expected." Kalen shuddered, remembering those awful years. "He kept an eagle eye on me, too. He was adamant that I'd be a 'normal' boy, not an aberration. Shortly after Grandma's death, when my powers began to grow, he kicked me out."
"He used that word, aberration?" Nick asked, puzzled.
"Yeah, and a lot worse."
"His attitude doesn't make sense if he's Fae."
"Tell me about it."
"It sounds almost as if he was afraid of your magic once it developed." He paused. "Do you know if your parents are still alive?"
"I've been gone for so many years, I have no clue." He looked away. "Even as badly as they treated me in the end, I'm ashamed to admit that I don't know and don't care much if they're still breathing or not."
"Hey, you were a minor when they kicked you out. You have nothing to be ashamed of where your feelings about them are concerned, kid. But we do need some answers about why Malik is so focused on you. I have a feeling your parents, if they're still around, have a couple they could be persuaded to share."
"Are you suggesting we pay them a visit?"
"I think that's a very good idea. And I think we should do it soon."
Kalen sensed their conversation was drawing to a close, and there was one other thing weighing heavily on his mind and heart. "What about Billy, the guy I watched Malik murder? You could take me out for my part in that-in fact, I'm surprised you haven't."
"I haven't because Malik was going to kill that man anyway, and I saw that there was no way either of us could've stopped him. You were under Malik's influence and you didn't touch Billy. But know this-if you kill out of pure bloodlust, and not in self-defense or defense of the team, I will terminate you. It'll kill me to do it, but I won't have a choice."
"I understand," he said softly. Christ, Nick didn't deserve to have the blood of one of his own men on his hands. If it came to that, Kalen prayed he had enough of his own mind left to take care of the deed himself.
Nick steered the topic to the present again. "Back to your parents. Give me your former address and I'll see if they're around. I might know something by this afternoon."
"Okay." Standing, he took his cue to leave. First he took the pen and a scrap of paper from Nick's desk and wrote down his parents' names and address, if they were indeed still there. Then he reached out and shook the commander's hand. "Thanks for giving me a chance. I don't know how I'm gonna pull it off, but somehow I'll get rid of Malik for good."
"You won't be alone. We'll be there with you every step of the way."
That so closely echoed what Aric had said, Kalen's throat got tight. With a nod, he left Nick's office before he embarrassed himself by losing his composure.
Now for an overdue visit that he'd put off as long as he could.
* * *
Nick sat back in his chair and ran his hand down his face with a weary sigh. "Fuck!"
The kid was in so goddamned much trouble. All of them were. And he didn't have a fucking clue what to do next. Where was the line between doing his job and interfering with the future, the one thing he'd sworn off attempting? It blurred more with each passing day.
Suddenly a familiar buzz began in his head. A tingle began in his spine and the room went fuzzy as the oncoming vision gripped him. One he'd been plagued with before, but this time in more agonizing detail.
Nick was kneeling in the middle of a field, racked with pain as cold rain lashed down, stinging like needles. Lightning split the sky, took a jagged path to the soaked earth, scorching it in spite of the downpour.
All around him, his Pack battled the Sluagh. His brave men cutting a swath through Malik's batlike Unseelie minions, losing ground with every passing second. There were hundreds of the terrible beasts, swarming, screeching. Far too many for either fierce wolves or men with magical gifts to defeat.
They were all going to die.
High on a pinnacle stood the Sorcerer with his staff, holding it aloft. Screaming at the Unseelie enemy and at the heavens for help that would not come.
And then a bolt of lightning streaked from the boiling black clouds, making the night as day just before it hit the end of the Sorcerer's staff. A massive detonation shook the ground and the world fell away.
Fell and fell. Taking Nick and his men into the abyss.
Nick jolted back to himself, sucking in great gulps of air. His heart slammed against his sternum, wild with adrenaline. Fear.
"Oh my God."
That had been the end. The ceasing of life. But the question was, whose? Which side had Kalen chosen in that final act, that last devastating second? Eternal darkness or light?
One thing was for certain-unless Nick made a phone call right this minute, neither he nor the rest of the Pack would ever know that answer.
And he knew then that, for the first time in many years, he was going to break his vow never to interfere with destiny.
He picked up the phone. Hit speed dial. Within seconds, his friend answered. And he uttered the words he'd never thought he would say, not to this man.
"Jarrod, I need you here."
Instantly, the general barked, "When?"
"How many teams?"
He let out a sigh of relief, though he was careful not to allow Jarrod to hear. God bless the man. "Several. Don't mobilize them yet, just have them ready."