If Shiloh was on the brink of a storm before, she was the eye of one after Finn clamped his mouth shut and Koshar meowed loudly before rubbing against her leg.
She picked up Koshar, rough enough to cause a sad noise to be drawn out of him, her eyes glittering. “This is my- my neighbour’s cat!” she shouted. She held Koshar out towards Gideon, who scowled at the cat and stared into those wide amber eyes before pushing him out of the way. Shiloh brought Koshar back to her chest. “You said Winnie- why are they here? Why is their cat here? What happened, Gideon?”
Knowing Carter was Shiloh’s brother, and that it was Gideon here and not Isha, he should have taken the cautious route. His and Shiloh’s friendship was a tightrope, that was no secret. But instead of doing the right thing, because Gideon had never been known to do what was right, he clenched his fists and felt his anger burn through his veins.
“How could ever berate me for lying before?” he demanded. For a moment, only a moment, Shiloh’s mouth parted, and she looked stunned. Gideon’s nostrils flared. “Whisper isn’t your neighbour, Shiloh. Your closest neighbour is miles away from where you live.” Then he held up a hand before Shiloh could cut him off. “I’m sorry, your closest neighbour is the bastard who strikes your brother!”
Shiloh blinked, having only just started to recover when Gideon had shouted. She looked like he’d raised his hand to her, cheeks bloodless. But then Koshar wriggled in her arms, and her cheeks grew dark.
“My- my-” she breathed. “He does- how is it-”
Finn stepped in between them and shoved them both back. Well, he raised his palm out to Shiloh as a gesture to stop. He shoved Gideon hard enough to make him stagger backwards. “I’m so glad that you two have chosen this opportune moment to argue,” he said, his lips a tight and exaggerated smile. “Isha told me you three had split up and I’m sure Carter’s going to be a perfect image of composed when he realises we’re not alone down here.”
“Carter,” Shiloh hissed, “Gideon, you brought my baby brother here?!”
Gideon reached out just for the satisfaction of hitting Finn’s arm away. Deep down, he took a horrible, twisted delight in the way Finn flinched. His stomach turned and he turned away from them, marching back up the spiral.
“Gideon!” Shiloh called after him, her tone hot enough to scald his ears. He could hear the beating of her shoes against the stone until she grabbed his arm and tried to yank him back.
He forcefully pulled his arm away. “Stay here and shout at the stone if you want to yell so badly,” he snarled, “let the coteries know you’re here, while you’re at it. Corin would be delighted. I’m going to find Isha and Carter, before they get caught.”
Every word made his throat burn with acid, made his tongue bubble like magma, and his lips turn to stone. He knew he should have been thinking before he spoke, knew he should have curbed his tongue and temper. But it was too familiar, too comforting to play the cornered, wounded, feral beast. Isha wasn’t here to get Shiloh and him to back off each other, and he needed to find her before red tainted his mind.
Needles tore into his skin and Gideon desperately wanted to have Finn and Shiloh in front of him, where his back wasn’t exposed, and he could easily fend off danger should it find him. Old habits died hard, too hard. He forced himself to trudge forward with purpose, but his ears were alert for the footsteps behind him.
Bootsteps. He couldn’t hear Finn’s wrapped feet against the ground, which he supposed was their purpose, but it drove him crazy.
They got all the way to the tunnel that led back to the intersection when Isha came sprinting into view and barrelled into Gideon. He barely caught her and kept himself upright, staggering back several feet as he steadied her. She was only a little out of breath but, as she pulled away, he found her eyes wide and brow twisted. “Ish-”
“There’s a labyrinth in there Gideon and they have him,” she gasped, gripping his arms with enough force to hurt. He could feel her nails digging into his skin and winced.
“What?” he asked. It came out sharper than he meant it too, but his head was still reeling and his blood boiling and a dark pit in his stomach that begged for more, begged for the hot spray and copper tang and the way his blade could bite through skin like it was a sheet of paper-
Isha didn’t notice. “Finn and I split up to get everyone, because Corin and- and Vasile caught up with us, and he knew you’d get jealous if he went after Carter so I did but there’s a maze in there, and I got turned around and I only found my way back out after they regrouped but-” Isha shook Gideon as if to empathise her point, “they’ve got Carter, and not just some lackeys but Rémi and Alban, Gideon.”
She took a shuddering breath, her eyes darting around as silence gripped the group of them and held them tight enough to suffocate. Gideon’s lungs, his heart, froze. His stomach clenched, and he felt like he was back in an ill lit room with a dagger too big for his hands and gazes sharper than the blade digging into his skin and kill him, Gideon, it’s him or you.
He didn’t know how long they had stood there in silence, but Isha’s eyes lit up as she looked past him and immediately let go of his arms. “Oh, thank God, Shiloh!” she cried, and unceremoniously threw her arms around Shiloh’s neck while Shiloh stood frozen. Her face was the perfect picture of somebody’s whose worst fear had just blossomed, and Gideon wondered for just a moment if she was petrified, doomed to stay like that forever.
“We should get back to Whisper,” Finn said, breaking the silence. Just as Gideon had never seen Finn’s anger, never had he heard him so soft either. He turned to meet his now quieted, pale blue eyes. Gideon had never realised how drawn Finn’s expression was, or the nick in his left eyebrow that hadn’t healed quite right.
Both Shiloh and Isha looked pale as they drew away from each other. Koshar’s face was pinched, and Gideon could see the whiteness to Shiloh’s knuckles as she gripped him. Isha’s face glistened in the distant golden light and there was an almost green tinge to her cheeks. Her normally glistening fawn eyes were darkened and dull.
He released the fists he’d forgotten he was holding so tightly and forced himself not to wince at the pain as he removed his nails where they’d been digging into his palms.
“Let’s get back to Winnie and the horses,” Isha said, sounding a lot more composed than she had just moments ago and more alive than she looked. “And then we go after Carter.”
Finn led them with Isha and Shiloh just behind him, and every one of them was coiled far too tightly. Gideon trailed behind them, trying to not to be sick. He had to pull himself back together, piece by piece, even as agonising as it was because he couldn’t explode again. He wouldn’t.
He wasn’t sure if he was so nauseated because he was pretty sure if a grass blade moved to loudly, he’d stab it, or because he wanted so badly to chase after Carter and tear apart anyone who got in his way.
The urge- no, it was scarier than that, it was a need to destroy. To violate, to warp. His hands were shaking, and Gideon had thought he’d forgotten how it felt but it was consuming him now, his body trembling like a leaf. He hated it, hated the feeling – all of them – and how little control he had over the situation – but then, when had he ever had control over anything.
“Weapons are made to be used, not to be loved, not to feel, and not to serve another purpose. You’re a weapon, Gideon. Don’t forget it.”
Adrienne had said that to him once, when he still couldn’t see blood without throwing up. When he still thought he could one day aspire to be something more than the runt of the litter, more than a weapon.
Isha threw him glances, but she was glued to Shiloh’s side. Their arms were wrapped around each other, not speaking but just sharing company and warm. A distant, foreign niggling in the back of his mind wished – unwarranted – that Carter was here. He didn’t know what to make of it, so he pushed it away.
They were back under the cover of the forest when a twig snapped, and Whisper was suddenly springing towards them. Koshar leapt from Shiloh’s arms and ran to his owner but Whisper only acknowledged with a soft “Koshar!” before turning back to the group. Behind them, Reese, Fabella, and Achille lifted their heads to peer at them. Napoleon and Villa remained unconcerned.
“Shiloh,” Whisper greeted. Their voice was soft and, for the first time since having entered the cave, Gideon let his shoulders drop and let out a breath he didn’t know had been trapped in his lungs.
Pulling away from Isha, Shiloh allowed Whisper to wrap their arms around her before she pulled away. Gideon couldn’t see her expression, but the way she gripped Whisper’s arm went lengths to describe her mood.
“Winnie,” she breathed, “why is Carter here? Why did he come?”
Whisper blinked. “Because he was confused,” they said with a frown. Then their eyes swept over the group and her brow twisted. The expression on their face made Gideon’s stomach drop again, like he’d been tossed from a great height. “Where-?”
Before anyone could respond, Shiloh’s hand was off Whisper’s hand and she had whirled around. All the rage from earlier, in the cave, had flooded back, and her glare pinned Gideon to the spot. “You brought him here, you let him get taken! He’s delicate- how could you?”
Gideon felt the hairs on the back of his neck stand up and tried not to let himself reach for the handle of his dagger. “I did not bring him here,” he said, fighting to keep his tone under control. “And if you don’t remember, I wasn’t in a state of activity to be preventing his capture.”
The words felt like the lie that they were as soon as he said them. He should have tried harder, he could have prevented it. He’d gotten caught up and he’d like pointless emotions cloud his judgement. Nostalgia could be pretty but, in the end, it was a poison and he shouldn’t have forgotten.
“He’s right,” Isha leapt in, “Shiloh, Gideon told Carter not to come. And really, if anyone convinced him, it was me. I don’t regret bringing him, but I shouldn’t have let him go alone.” Her tone was far more controlled than Gideon’s, and she even reached out to rub Shiloh’s arm. If that had been Gideon, Shiloh might have screamed.
He didn’t miss the frown on Whisper’s face as they watched Isha. She was still too pale, and she still had a sheen of sweat across her brow.
“Regardless of why who is here, perhaps it would be more productive to- well, I don’t know,” Finn’s voice was dry and cutting, “maybe talk about trying to recover Carter?”
For all his attempts at composure, something drove a nail under Gideon’s skin the second Finn spoke. Why was he the one trying to get them to go after Carter? Why did he get to be the one to kick them into saving Carter? Why did he have to sound so stupidly sarcastic about it?
“Maybe it would be more productive if you shut up,” Gideon growled before he could think better of it. He could feel everyone’s gazes snap onto him the moment the words left his mouth and he bristled under them. Stop looking at me! He wanted to scream and fought not to bring his hands up to tug at his hair. Leave me alone!
The stone-cold glower was back on Finn’s face. “Just because I don’t have dreamy grey eyes and plush black curls and you can’t stab me with the dagger in your-”
“Finn,” Isha spat.
“-It doesn’t give you the right to be awful just because Carter’s not here to take your frustrations out on. You wouldn’t know what to do with yourself if he did swoon over you because there’s a distinct difference between killing and-”
“Shut up!” Gideon thundered. His chest was tight, his hands were shaking around the hilts of his twin daggers, and he was breathing unevenly, stuttering, like sobbing without any tears. His head pounded, and he could hear his pulse taunting him through his ears. He stared at Finn and swallowed hard, his cheeks blistering with heat. “Shut up,” he repeated.
There was a small, young part of Gideon that felt like crying.
When he next blinked, Isha was standing in between all of them. “Everyone needs to step off each other’s toes. Nobody’s helping Carter if we’re standing here arguing-” but Gideon didn’t hear any of her words after that. Shiloh was staring at him.
Her eyes were shining gold.
“What did he mean?” she asked. Her voice was quiet, but it demanded a presence that shouldn’t have come from a human. Isha turned around, mouth still open and Shiloh must have interrupted her, but she closed it when she saw Shiloh’s eyes.
But she recovered a lot faster than Gideon. “Everybody needs to calm down for a few moments. We’re all, understandably, worked up right now. Let’s take some breaths before we take anything to heart.” Isha shot Gideon a glance over her shoulder, but he couldn’t pull his eyes from Shiloh.
“No, you don’t say something like that just because,” Shiloh said. Her eyes never left Gideon’s and he felt all the strength sap from his body like a leech had latched onto him somewhere and sucked it all away. “I want to hear it from Gideon. What was he talking about?”
Gideon’s stomach rolled. He swallowed back bile that rose up to scald his throat and finally tore his gaze away from Shiloh’s. He looked down at the grass crunched around his feet, glowing softly in the light that was radiating from Shiloh’s eyes. Light like the pool in the cave, like after the earthquake.
“Nothing,” he murmured. He let go of the daggers.
The night air was frigid, and it clung to his skin the way his brand did. It made him ache, made him hurt, and made him shiver.
“It better be,” Shiloh said, her voice as icy as the night. “You might be the assassin, but if you touched my brother, I would kill you. I’ve seen you do it enough times.”
She’d been trained to, not to the extent as he or Isha, but he could see the dig for what it was. She hadn’t learned how to injure from him, but it drove her point home.
“Shiloh,” Whisper’s voice was as a warm breeze in a cold autumn. It grew warm again, but Gideon was still shivering. The cold was deeper that the air, then his skin. He didn’t look back up, even as Whisper said, “this is accomplishing nothing. We must-”
“-find Carter, yeah,” Shiloh sighed. She sounded gentler now again, but Gideon made the mistake of glancing back up to meet her gaze. Her eyes were no longer glowing, but they still weren’t the normal stormy blue-grey. She stiffened, and for a moment, Gideon thought she was going to say something else.
Instead, she turned towards Whisper and nodded absently.
He could feel Isha’s gaze on him, hot and questioning, but he didn’t return it. He didn’t even turn to scowl at Finn, who had perched himself on a nearby log and was roughly undoing the wraps around his feet.
Maybe it would have been better if he had crushed the hope they – he – might ever escape the coterie’s grip before it had a chance to flower. How could he? They were melded onto his skin, their poison deep in his veins no matter how much he tried to purge them. They would never stop hurting, never stop taking, and Gideon was kidding himself if he thought he could separate someone he had never been from what they had made him.
“You’re a weapon, Gideon. Don’t forget it.”
word count: 2,801