The young wolf looked between the two human Alphas, his head angled to the side in silent contemplation. He hadn't understood most of what the two men had said. They seemed to be words he could not hear, and they seemed to be seeing images that he could not see.
There were different names used that were unfamiliar to him. Jack and Kerr. The humans answered to them as if they were their own.
These two men had a strong bond. Wolves could see such things, the language of relationships in the unspoken; the way they stood when they were together, each always aware of the other, and each protective of the other.
Sharp-Eyes sniffed, taking in their strong scents. Alpha males. The odour was strong, dominant, and good for marking territory. The wolf didn't understand how they could have two Alphas in the same pack, but these were humans, they often did things that did not make sense. He puffed out a sharp breath and the Avon human brushed his face absently.
The wolf liked Avon. For a human, he was very bright in the ways of a wolf. He made a good pack leader and he was clever with his hands.
Something important had just happened. Sharp-Eyes could feel it in his bones, the truth was like a warm rain soaking through his thick dark fur.
"Avon," said Argus. He rubbed his neck, kneading a knot at the base of his skull. "Do you…" Glancing over at the silently listening man, he hesitated.
Should he ask this obvious question? Would Avon answer it? Had his memories recovered enough? But most important of all, could he handle it?
Argus remembered what happened during other triggers of Avon's memory, the dangerous cascade that shut down his mind.
A light jab of pain in Avon's head made his jaw tense as his mind completed the interrupted question. Do you…remember what happened to you?
Given what happened to Argus, it was a logical progression.
A light headache was developing, a squishing pain at the base of his skull radiating inwards, as if his head was in a vice, clamped into place, ready for the pressure to begin. He shook off the thought for now, feeling the pressure ease, and his pulse slow.
Why didn't this happen during the memories of Jack?
Ah. Because they were focused on Jack, not himself. The most important secrets they wanted to keep from him, were the ones concerning himself. The other boys were secondary.
The encouraging aspect was that his mind appeared strong enough now to break through those memories without ill effects. He absent-mindedly rubbed the base of his thumb. His own were still problematic. "There is no memory beyond our meeting at the Academy."
Argus glanced over at him. There was a blankness on the other man's face, but not the non-expressiveness he normally wore. This was a forced nothingness.
"I won't ask then." He nodded to himself, keeping his voice even, knowing Avon would prefer it that way. Avon wasn't ready for this yet. He might be better off not knowing.
The flood of memories had slowed, just floating beneath, ready for him to access now if he wanted to. He didn't but he couldn't help it.
The cage. Argus shook his head, rotating it to work out the stiffness.
Avon's head tilted to the side as he concentrated on something else other than his own dark memories. "They put you with wolves, to desensitize you to the act of killing, to fool your mind into accepting it as natural."
Exhaling in a burst of forceful disgust, Argus said, "I suppose so. It worked."
"But…" The anguish was never far away and guilt was an old friend. "I've killed a lot of people, Avon." He could feel each one like a stab to the chest and faceless, accusing eyes stared at him.
The pain of the boy inside touched Avon again, as if there were no barriers between them. "Jack, they never fully succeeded. You fought them."
“I...” Eyes closed as Argus searched through newly awakened memories. “...must have fought...but I don’t remember. I...” He pressed the heel of his hand against his forehead, trying to ease the pressure. The cage. “I was in a large enclosure. There were...men. I was...” Argus groaned as memories became the reality of his mind and his body felt the burning fires that were inside him that day. “...ordered to kill them. But...they were unarmed.”
“I...knew I could kill them. They…didn't stand a chance.” The orders were drums inside his head; pounding a beat that threatened to split his skull. His hands went to both sides of his temple, rubbing it. “Avon...they tried to kill me.”
“The men in the cage?”
“Y-yes." The eyes were staring at him in hatred. Soldier boy. "I...couldn’t let them.”
“No, you couldn’t.”
A long-haired man with several days growth of beard lunged at him, a thick fist flying through the air at his head. Argus grabbed Avon's wrist. "I…" His eyes closed tight as, in the reality of his mind, he grabbed the man's hand, squeezing it until the man winced and his knees buckled. No. His voice was cold, tight, trying to contain the rage inside. The skin on his body was tingling, the energy already bursting through.
He flung the man aside like a rag doll, his lips pulling back in a feral snarl of warning, his voice barely human. Leave me alone. I…don't want to hurt you…but…I will.
Avon gasped and stifled a cry as the hand clamped harder on his wrist. Sharp-Eyes growled and pounced up, baring his fangs.
"No," said Avon, his jaw tensed in pain. Argus was holding onto him tightly, a man needing a lifeline, just as he had needed Cally.
He is hurting you, said the wolf worriedly.
Don't do anything.
A low rumble formed in Argus chest as the other prisoners yelled in anger, rushing him at once, determined to bring him down. The dam inside him broke and red fury clouded his eyes as he fought like a demon possessed, growling and snarling as the wolf was unleashed. Bones cracked and men screamed as they were tossed against the metal bars.
In seconds, broken men lay on the ground moaning, some trying to crawl away on shattered limbs. The soldier lifted his head and howled in victory, splashes of blood decorating his body and eyes glowing in the overhead lights. But the pressure in his head did not ease. Kill. Kill. The imperative was stronger than ever.
No! He yelled in anguish, his hands going to his head as he sank to his knees until the pressure squeezed the light from his eyes and darkness came.
"Avon…" Argus opened his eyes, his lungs panting, and he let go of Avon's arm, shock turning to horror as he saw the band of red, the imprint of his fingers dug into the other man's flesh. "I'm sorry. I was remembering…"
Avon held his bruised wrist against his chest, rubbing it lightly. Sharp needles of pain made him hiss as the blood flowed back. "I gathered that."
"I'm really sorry, Avon."
"What was the memory?"
"We should get you to the medical unit."
"No, you're not. Look at it…" He took Avon's hand gently in his, holding it out, looking at the deep red grooves.
Avon pulled his hand back. "And how would you expect me to do that?"
Argus winced. "Sorry. I'm..." Claiming he forgot sounded silly. "...an idiot." He looked down at Avon's wrist and the spreading purplish hue. It would be an easy thing to lift Avon up on his shoulders and carry him to the medical unit but not a smart one. Argus sighed. "I know you hate people worrying about you, but I don't want Cally hunting me with a sharp instrument if I let this go untreated."
"Tell me about the memory."
"Then will you go?"
"I will consider it."
Argus shook his head. "You're a stubborn man, Avon."
"I've been called worse."
Keeping it brief, Argus told him about the cage and the men. Afterwards, Avon said, "You didn't kill them."
"I couldn't. They were…unarmed. I couldn't." Anguish choked the words in his throat.
"Then the conditioning wasn't completely successful."
"That's not much comfort considering the other things I did. I hurt them, Avon. I broke their arms, their ribs…but…I couldn't kill them." Fists clenched.
"Jack." There was something about this man's pain that was echoed inside him and punched through his thick walls. "It was never possible to prevent them from conditioning you. No one can resist it." Avon wished he could see him, to see if the words were having an impact. "But they were never able to change you entirely, that is why you were able to break away. You continued to fight them. That is all you could have done."
The anger was hot. "I should have fought harder…I…"
"Don't do this to yourself."
"I hate it, Avon…"
Just like his own. The hatred was a sharp taste in his mouth, an anger that churned inside his stomach. "I know." He did. "You have to get beyond this."
Argus lifted his head, his tortured eyes looking into ones that were unseeing. "Like you do?"
A quirk of a smile appeared briefly on Avon's face. "Demonstrably."
"I don't know if I can."
"The rebellion needs you."
The tone was as impassive as ever but there was something in Avon's eyes, even his sightless ones. Argus asked, "The rebellion?"
He smiled. "You'll help me."
"I would hardly let you do it on your own."
Sester gingerly lowered himself into a chair in the dining area, glancing around to make sure no one else had entered when he wasn't looking. These new 'games' with Kirsten were fun but a little hard on the body. He pulled the tray closer, picking up a steaming cup of tea, letting the aroma of calming camomile soothe frayed nerves before taking a sip.
Nothing like a good cup of tea. He took another drink before setting it down and carefully leaning back, wincing slightly, and thought better of it.
Would Cally give him a pain blocker or would she laugh and send him packing, saying he deserved it?
He picked up a slice of toast and spread a generous slab of butter on it.
"Hurts does it?" Kirsten's not-too-dulcet tones made him wince, and filled him with excitement.
The knife sliding on the bumpy toasted surface slowed to a gentle caress as he turned towards the entrance. "Only my heart."
"You loved it."
"And what gave you the idea I like to be tortured?" he asked, light outrage in his voice.
She looked at his hand, the toast and the stroking knife. "Are you making love to that or are you going to eat it?"
"Are you jealous?" There was a naughty twinkle in his eyes as he put the slice of bread to his lips and teased a bite off the end.
"I think…you haven't had enough punishment yet," said Kirsten, taking the knife from his hands.
He grinned, even as he eyed the utensil warily. She leaned down and kissed him, tasting the golden butter melting on his tongue.
A sharp cough parted them.
Jenna walked in, cold haughtiness in her eyes. "I think I'm going to lose my appetite."
Kirsten said, "Sorry, he was being bad."
Looking at them suspiciously and thinking Kirsten needed some lessons on proper forms of punishment, Jenna said, "Isn't he always?"
Grinning, Sester said, "You should join us."
Eyes narrowing because the request was far too suggestive to just be a simple invitation for breakfast, Jenna said, "I'd rather die."
"Oh, don't worry, he'll be wishing that soon," said Kirsten, her fingers sliding along the butter-slicked blunt edge of the knife.
"Now, ladies, I was only having some breakfast. What could be more innocent than that?"
"It's not the what," said Jenna. "It's the who."
"I am so misunderstood," sighed Sester.
"I think we both understand you perfectly. Now, if you'll excuse me, I'm going to get some food before I lose my appetite altogether." Jenna walked off towards the dispensers.
"You're terrible," said Kirsten.
"You helped. Face it, we're two of a kind."
"I'm not sure that's a compliment."
He took her by the arm, pulling her downwards. "Now where were we?"
She pressed against his chest. "Shouldn't we be doing this in our cabins?"
"You started it."
"I think we need more butter and maybe some whipped cream and jam."
"Condiments only?" he asked as he got up slowly.
"You're the main course."
"Do I get to eat without the handcuffs this time?" he snagged a tray as he went to get the items.
"Depends on how good you are."
He sighed heavily, with the right touch of the melodramatic before smiling. "I guess that means no."
"Don't forget the coffee."
"You're such a slave driver."
"Make that iced coffee."
Sester winced and decided to keep his mouth shut.
Jenna shot him a hard look as he neared but he only grinned at her as he gathered the necessary items.
"The invitation is still open," said Sester.
"Bite me," she said with venom in her eyes.
"I'm fairly certain that will be involved." He smirked.
She rolled her eyes, picked up her tray of pancakes and coffee and left.
"I don't think she likes me," said Sester as he returned to Kirsten.
"I don't either."
"Why don't we go back to my cabin and you can show me how much you don’t?"