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Blood and pain. 

Rafe slows the car as we get closer to Draven University as I ignore my bond’s whispered threats, taking a deep breath to focus on my control. It writhes furiously underneath my skin, seething with anger when I refuse to submit to its’ demands.  It woke the moment Noakes walked up to my desk at the Council offices, ignoring my secretary’s protests at his lack of appointment, and told me my Bond Group flagged in the blood screening. When it first tried to take control, it was easy enough to hold it off while I met with Maria Benson’s husband to collect my Bond’s information in person but the moment he handed me the file my bond took on a whole new level of defiant within me. 

Go to her now. 

I can’t give in to its’ demands, no matter how desperately I want to or how furious it becomes at me. It’s only been this angry and insistent once before and it’s the fallout from that nightmare that’s delaying me from going to her now. Whatever it takes, this chaos needs to be dealt with before I find my Bond. 

My gaze flicks back down to the small photo taped to the file clutched in my hands and the protective surge in my chest knocks the air from my lungs in its’ ferocity. 

She’s the same age as Gabe, a freshman in high school, and now her parents are all dead, ripped from her in one fell swoop. It’s almost impossible to believe the Resistance had nothing to do with it but by all accounts, it was a tragic accident, one that came close to killing my Bond. Too fucking close. 

My skin itches underneath my suit, from the back of my neck and all the way down until my toes involuntarily scrunch up in my soft leather shoes to fight the discomfort. 

I loathe fidgeting, even when it’s a perfectly reasonable reaction. I did it a lot as a kid, forced to sit through dinner parties with people who smiled at my parents as though they weren’t holding knives behind their backs and waiting for the chance to plunge them into their hearts. It’s not that I think I’m too old to still be shifting in my seat, or that I give a fuck what anyone thinks of me, but the action has my mother’s disapproval ringing in my ears. 

Any reminder of that woman is dangerous to my control and should be avoided at all costs. 

Motionless for as long as I can stand it, I smother a growl of frustration when I finally shift in my seat. My arms flex as though it’s possible to find some give in the fabric, but it was tailored to my specific measurements to look like the perfect councilman; comfort wasn’t part of the consideration. The irritation only spurs my bond on. 

Go to her before it's too late and they take her from us. 

The photo wasn’t taken at the hospital and by the staging of it it’s clearly a school photo someone’s pulled from her records. There’s not a lot of information in the file but there is a long list of schools dotted around the country. No indication of why her family has moved around a lot, no obvious patterns of Resistance interference or suspicious activity, nothing for me to go on but the smile on her face in that photo. 

How the fuck am I supposed to keep the thing that lives inside of me from her? How do I stop the nightmare creatures that roam rabid at the first sign of danger from terrifying a child who just lost her entire family? I can barely stop it from tearing the entire faculty and student body of Draven University and all the simpering councilman apart daily for how they treat me and my brother… what devastation will it wage the moment someone breathes wrong around her? Or even just looks in her direction? 

I have far too much experience seeing a traumatized Gifted child through their teenage years, and I know the process of learning control, the slips that inevitably happen and the unpredictability of grief. If anyone in the community speaks to her the way they’ve whispered about my brother, I’ll level a building without my bond’s input. 

The car turns and the library of Draven comes into view at the end of the street, the traffic even worse than it usually is as people flee the grounds by the dozens. 

“Jesus fucking Christ,” William mutters under his breath before he glances at me, his eyes flicking down to both of my hands and letting out a slow breath when there’s no visible signs of my gift slipping. 

The black, writhing, sentient smoke covering the entire building before us is enough for even the saintliest of men to question themselves. I'll forgive my uncle for such an open display of frustration when he's usually so careful about hiding them from us. 

He takes a breath, his thought process carved into his face as he attempts to redirect this train-wreck of an argument until we’re both on the same side instead of pushing me into my brother’s corner. Too bad I’ve never left it— never, no matter what chaos he’s thrown at me. 

“How exactly are you going to talk him down from this? If you have a plan, North, I need to hear it.” 

When his gaze drops down to the file in my hands I shut it immediately, a seething, jealous, rage writhing in my gut at the thought of him looking at my Bond. I don’t want anyone looking at her, or speaking to her, or even knowing her. I want to get her out of that hospital and bring her back here, to provide for her care while keeping everyone else the fuck away from her until she’s healed from whatever injuries she has and processes the deaths of her parents. Then I want her to go to school and finish growing up safely, without thoughts of the Resistance snatching her from the streets or fears for her future. I want all of this to happen without any whispers of the Bond Group she’s matched with reaching her ears. 

The first dickhead to call her a monster will be torn apart by the most vicious nightmare within me, and I’ll take out the whole council next if they come for me. 

William tries again, using his most reasonable tone but it only irritates me more. “North, you need to tell me what we're dealing with. When we step out this car, we need to be on the same page or he’s going to take the whole building out.” 

Taking a deep breath to help my own control backfires; the oxygen only feeds the fire within me until the heat consumes me. “If you want to do something then call Noakes and tell him to disappear or there won't be a body left for his family to bury.” 

William blanches, groaning under his breath as he watches the cars in front of us finally move out of the way. There’s yelling and the screech of tires as the other students scramble to flee. We’ve worked so hard to convince this community we’re not monsters, but I stare at them all with cold eyes as Nox tears it all down around us. 

I really don’t give a fuck. 

My only concern right now is my brother… and my Bond. 

“North— “ 

I cut off William's very reasonable tone with a snarling one of my own. “He called Nox and told him. We made it clear that I was the only person who could give my brother that information and the safety of everyone around us was at stake, and he chose this instead. That spineless, slimy dickhead has torn my brother’s very fragile mind in half and probably put us back ten fucking years of therapy. I’ll kill him on sight. That’s not a threat, William; it’s a promise.” 

He stares at me for a moment before slowly nodding, his eyes flicking down to the file and staying there when he sees my fingers tighten on it. “What are you going to do about the Bond then, North? If this is Nox’s reaction just knowing she exists, then what the hell are you going to do about her? The hospital seems to think she doesn't have any other family, but I have far more resources to— “ 

I cut him off again. “She’s coming back here.” 

William blinks at me like I’ve lost my mind, but I stare back at him without an inch of remorse. When he realizes there’s no room in my resolve for him to negotiate with me, he groans under his breath. 

“I don't know what to do anymore! You’re determined to protect Nox at every turn— don’t look at me like that, North, I understand that perfectly— but you can't protect him from this. You can’t have them both under the same roof. No one will be able to protect his Bond from bearing the brunt of what that vile cunt did to him, not even you. There are other options; you said she has another bond. Who is it? Could they watch over her until Nox… accepts this?” 

I’ve been very careful to keep the identity of the fifth Bond who matched with my Central Bond a secret from everyone outside of my Bond Group and when I level William with a stony look, he grimaces. 


More than likely but I won't even say that to him. I’ll protect the Bassinger boy just as I protect Gryphon and Gabe, as I’ve always protected Nox, and now my Bond as well. I’ll use the Draven name and my father’s blood-soaked legacy; I’ll wield every inch of power and prestige and rumor I can if it means keeping her safe. Maybe then I can coax my brother from the ledge he’s been balanced on his whole life, and the monster whispering in my mind can calm down, and the shadows within my chest can come to heel. 

It sounds impossible even to me, but I’ll do it. 

The car finally pulls up to the parking lot and I step out of it without another word, ignoring William’s curses as I shut the door on him to stalk through the courtyard directly towards the smoke. There’s a small crowd of Tac Team personnel at the perimeter with Vivian Wentley at the center of it, a small stroke of luck for this cursed situation. He scowls up at the black cloud enveloping the building with a tension in his body that screams of his need to go in there and sort this mess out but out of respect and confidence in me, he’s waiting. 

Gryphon is already waiting there with him, arms crossed over his chest and his eyes glowing white as he uses his Gift. Workout gear is spilling out a bag at his feet, he’s dressed like he was out on a run when he heard about this and came straight here. When he started at Draven he became my biggest ally and confidant, taking over the position William held for years. It’s only natural for that to shift into my Bond Group but my uncle clearly isn’t taking the adjustment so well. 

As I get closer, I find Kieran Black standing at his side, a Transporter who’s showing great promise in TT. They’re both in the same classes at Draven, fast becoming close friends, and by the training gear Black’s wearing it’s pretty obvious he was with Gryphon when he got the news, both coming straight here to run damage control until I could get to my brother. 

The file with my Bond’s photo in it is still clutched my hands, impossible to leave behind with anyone, and I duck down to shove it into the bag at Gryphon's feet. When Kieran raises his eyebrows at me, Gryphon steps over it protectively as if it's our Bond in there and not just a photo of her. 

He gives me a firm nod, his voice loud in my mind, heads up; the General’s on the other side of the building. He’s trying to put together a Tac Team to go in thereafter him. Vivian already put out orders that they’re only maintaining a perimeter but the longer this goes on the twitchier they’re all getting. 

Fucking perfect, just what this situation needs.  

I’m careful about keeping that off my face, aware Gryphon struggles with his relationship with his father but I loathe the ground that asshole walks on. If he takes one step near Nox I’ll have him dead before either of our shadow creatures have the chance to react. 

I strip off my jacket and Gryphon takes it with ease, shoving it into the bag as well and shooting a look over my shoulder as his eyes flash white. 

You should head in there now so I can run interference without people laying eyes on another Draven, otherwise it's going to descend into panic, and someone will get hurt. 

I follow his gaze and find three other council members standing there, all of them dressed for the same meeting William and I were on our way to. 

I answer Gryphon in an unforgiving tone and loud enough that they all hear me, “The only Daven nightmare this campus should be concerned with is me if anyone dares enter this building before I get Nox calm. I've covered up enough scandals and reckless behavior for Gifted too arrogant to give a fuck about anyone else that I’ll bury anyone who questions a control slip when we've just been given the news like this.” 

One of the students clustering nearby murmurs something about finding Bonds being a good thing, not the reason for an outburst like this and Gryphon turns on him with the type of quiet fury that has his name whispered about within our community already. “Four people are dead; our Central Bond’s entire family, Lucas. You don't think that's going to be a little traumatizing for someone who’s also lost his entire fucking family?” 

Kieran blows out a breath, looking between the two of us and then glancing at Vivian as though waiting for orders. A year in Tac Training is all it’s taken for the chain of command to sear into his bones, and even if he wasn't one of Vivian's brightest pupils, he’d certainly be climbing his way up my list of potential operatives from that one gesture alone. 

“I can start transporting people out, clear the area a bit more if you need. I know Transporters are thin on the ground.” 

Vivian glances around and then meets my eye. “You deal with Nox while Shore monitors the area and Black will be on stand-by for evacs. I’ll take point and deal with the dick-swingers; it’s been at least a week since I last tore a frat boy a new asshole, maybe this is the universe telling me I’ve become too lenient.” 

I roll my shoulders back, then push my sleeves up in case I’m forced to grapple with one of Nox’s nightmare creatures on the way in, and I drawl back to him with every ounce of arrogance my father gave me, “Make sure you remind them all that this is Draven University and if Nox needs to demolish a couple of buildings to work through his grief then it’s none of their concern; not the Council or the General. As long as there’s no casualties, they can get the fuck off my land.” 

My bond whispers again, more insistently than ever, go to her now. 

Waves of agony and despair roll out of the building, washing over me and scratching at my mind though my bond keeps it from harming me, and it strengthens my resolve. Kieran Black is ready to take me to her once this is over with, I have a private plane being fueled right now to bring us back here more comfortably, and the moment I can get my brother calm once more, I’ll go to her. 

There’s no way I can bring my Bond back here while Nox is like this, or he’ll pose a danger to her and that can’t happen. I can’t stand the idea of him hurting her. 

With every inch of my soul, I know someday he’ll feel the same way. 

He has to. 

Taking a deep breath, my eyes flash to change to the voids that terrify any Gifted who hear of them, but I keep my bond from taking over. I step forward into the black cloud of my brother’s chaos manifest, his trauma come to life as his mind breaks at the mere idea of finding himself Bonded to another; a prospect worse than death to him now, even if this time, the bond is true. 

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