Marcus was awake and aware and had been for some time. He had no idea how long he had been unconscious, but he was thankful for every moment of it. If he had dreamt he did not remember it, and he was thankful for that also. Now came the hard part. It was always the aftermath that had troubled him, the time to reflect on what had happened. This time there was so much more to think about.
There was no going back. The Fraternity was closed to him. While mostly he felt vicious pleasure in that, a part of him was terrified. He felt adrift. No longer did he have creeds and orders to make sense of his life. He knew that they were wrong. Maybe sometime in the past they had served the good, but now... now they were the monsters, not the otherkin they tried to obliterate. That was the problem. They spoke of the evil of such creatures, and yet none of the otherkin he had met had been monstrous. That was not to say that they were all like that. There had been times when the kills he had made as a member of the Fraternity had saved lives. Werewolves on rampages, fey who led the unwary innocent to their death, vampires who left a trail of bodies.
But what about Persephone? She was no danger and yet Marcus had rescued her from the Fraternity before. Then he had saved her from Alex. She had fought as well as she could, but she was no fighter. Her mother had been slaughtered before her eyes when she was only a child. She was still a child.
Then there was Greg. A doctor. Greg could have killed him that first night in the alley, but hadn't. And now Greg had saved his life literally. It was what Greg did every day. He had looked out for Xennie.
No, he wasn't ready to think about Xennie.
The Fraternity were the monsters. Not only did they slaughter innocents, but they experimented with them. They had made him. A hybrid, that was the term he had seen on the information Flicker had found. Fey and werewolf. A combination that should not exist, the child of captives. He had not known they had kept captives.
Marcus was just like so many he had slaughtered in misguided righteousness. No, he was worse. Those he attacked and slaughtered had been true to themselves, at least. They had understood what they were, the truth of their existence. In contrast, he had been blinded. Lies had been accepted as truth. He had swallowed everything the Fraternity had taught him, never knowing that he was an abomination that should not have been born, or at least not should not have survived. Yet he had.
That felt rather questionable at that particular moment, of course. Everything hurt. That battle with Alex was one he had not expected to survive. In the stillness of his inner self he admitted that he had not wanted to survive. Not really. He had not wanted to live to face everything. Killing Alex should have meant killing himself as well. He had known his condition when he went into the fight. Yet he was breathing, heart beating.
What had the Fraternity made him? How could he possibly survived?
For just a split second Marcus wished they had just let him die. Greg, Persephone, all of them. Xennie. He had seen her, just for a moment, standing over him like an avenging angel. She had been wondrous and terrible all at once.
She had gone through the first change. There was no going back for her either. It was his fault, what had happened to her. Now she had seen him, seen the beast he had only recently discovered. Thinking about it, he had felt it the moment he had seen her lying on the grass, her shoulder and neck a meaty mess. Something within him had stirred then, snarling to get out. He had thought it was just that he had failed her, a true innocent. But now he knew it was more.
He heard her breathing, was aware that she sat beside him. It was a struggle not to be aware of her, this woman who had always seemed so fragile, so naive. Silently she had accepted his refusal to tell her anything, his constant attempts to keep her at a distance. He nearly laughed, except that it would hurt and would alert her to the fact that he was awake. It was rather laughable; in the end, there had been enough steel in her not to let her give up on him and it was only now, when he knew himself for the monster he was, that he recognized that somewhere along the way he had fallen for her.
Now, though, Marcus had nothing. He would be hunted by the Fraternity; no one left except in a body bag. You remained, you served, and if you lived long enough you became an elder. Not to mention the fact that he was their experiment. They would not want him telling the truth.
He had seen the way Greg looked at Xennie. Hardly a surprise, that. Marcus did not realize that he had looked at her exactly the same way for a long time. But he knew. Greg was a better choice. Safer. They could have little werewolves and she could look after him while he looked after others.
Marcus, on the other hand, simply had days that were numbered and a need to do as much damage to the Fraternity as he could before they finally managed to kill him. No, even if she could accept him as a monster, accept him after seeing what he had done, what he had become, he could not let her become involved.
Xenia, sitting beside Marcus, also considered the events that had so recently come to pass. Less than 24 hours after the first time she changed, the first time she had purposefully injured another human being, she had attempted to kill one. Word had filtered through the ranks that Alexander had been removed by the Fraternity. Whether or not he had survived was in their hands. She was not going to count him dead.
She should have killed him, but saving Marcus had seemed so much more important at the time.
Lightly she rested her fingertips on his shoulder, finding one of the few inches of skin that was not swathed in bandages. It had been quite obvious that he had only barely survived. They still weren't absolutely sure that he was going to recover fully.
She had almost lost him. Worse than when he had walked out on her. At least then she knew he was still alive. But he had nearly died right in front of her. It was that thought that finally gave her the courage to grab the pipe she and Persephone had found, to walk up behind Alexander and swing it at his head with her newfound strength. The moment it connected the beast within her had flowed with savage joy, its rage urging her on, demanding she beat him until he was nothing but meat.
At the same time, however, the beast had wanted nothing more than to wrap itself around Marcus and look after him, hide him away until he was strong again. That was the instinct that had won out. It seemed even the beast that now lived within her shared her feelings for the man lying before her.
During the fight Xenia had finally seen what Marcus had been. In Alex she had gotten a pretty good idea of what it was the man she had shared an apartment with had done. A part of her knew that Marcus would never have been exactly like Alex. He would never have toyed with someone like Persephone in a sick game. Had he gone to kill her he would have done it out of duty, not enjoyment.
Swallowing, she felt bile rising in her throat. What Alexander had done to Persephone terrified her. The thought of losing the girl tore at her. Earlier, when Persephone had curled against her, had spoken to Greg about being family, sisters, it had given Xenia new resolve. She would embrace what she had become and learn to fight. And she would protect Persephone. Not the way Marcus had protected her, but as equals. She would be worthy of the bond Persephone had gifted her with.
The question was still unanswered about Marcus. She had seen what he became, seen his beast exposed. He had been uncontrolled rage, and yet he had only attacked Alex. She had recognized within him the destructive urge that led him to throw himself into a battle he felt he could not win. It had torn at her heart.
He was not the monster, no matter how he looked. No matter what he was, or what had been done to him. He had chosen to fight the Fraternity, to save quite a few otherkin. Orion had told her a few things while he kept her company earlier.
But Xenia still had no idea if he would be able to accept himself. Let alone her. Even if he fought the Fraternity that did not mean he was comfortable around the otherkin. It did not mean he would suddenly change his mind about her. She was one of them now. It was still disconcerting to her, but after watching Persephone and then Marcus protect her she understood that now she could do that too. She did not have to bend until she felt like she should have broken. There were things she could do. And she would. Her beast gave her the strength.
But could Marcus accept himself and her?
She glanced down at him, then frowned slightly. Something was different. Panic rose in her throat and she looked over at the IV, down at his body. His chest still rose and fell, so he still breathed. What was wrong then?
His breathing had changed. Not as shallow, not as slow. Her eyes widened and she pulled her fingers away. He was no longer sleeping, or at least he was coming closer to waking up. The last thing she wanted was for him to catch her touching him like that.
Well, not the last thing, but she wasn't sure she was ready to see regret in his eyes when he looked at her. Not again. Not anymore.
"Marcus?" she whispered, hands curling into fists to keep from brushing his hair back from his cheek, keep from checking for a pulse. Wetting her lips, she leaned forward a little closer as she saw his lips move slightly.
"Xennie?" His voice was rough, barely there, but saying her name felt good. He had missed her. The removal of her fingertips had left him chilled as though it had been more than such a simple, innocent touch. But he wasn't ready to think about that. To see fear, or worse, disgust, in her eyes. So he kept his own closed.
"I'm here." Xenia tried to keep her voice even, not say more with such an innocent statement than she was ready to say. "I'll get you some water. Greg said you'd need some. And get someone to help you sit up a bit. Greg will want to check you over, see how you're healing."
The mention of the doctor hurt Marcus after his thoughts, and he wasn't ready to give her up, not quite yet. Instead he grabbed her wrist, biting back a harsh rasp of pain the movement caused. Not as bad as he had expected, however. At least his body responded.
Xenia paused, then sat back down. Marcus's grip eased, but he didn't release her. It felt good. Too good to make him let go. Instead she called in Persephone. "Can you go get Greg? Marcus is awake."
The young shifter's eyes's widened and she nodded, hesitating for just a moment before she raced off. Let them have a moment alone before everyone descended on them.