I am not junco omnibus b.., p.43

I Am Not Junco Omnibus: Books Four – Six, page 43

 

I Am Not Junco Omnibus: Books Four – Six
 



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  I lean into him and it takes me back to Fledge. When Isten and I were up in the observatory looking out at space and he told me about his first kill.

  It was the very first time I had him to myself.

  And this might be the very last.

  So I lean in and enjoy his love for as long as I’ve got it.

  Chapter Nine—JUNCO

  We sleep a little longer and then Isten makes me get up. He’s cooking breakfast when I look out the front window and see HOUSE sitting at the end of the dock. “What’s with HOUSE?”

  “She’s mad at me for leaving you.” He stops what he’s doing at the stove and looks over his shoulder at me. “For dying.”

  “Well, that’s hardly fair.”

  He says nothing, just goes back to cooking bacon.

  “Did you die on purpose?”

  “No,” he scoffs. “You think I wanted to die? To leave you and my brothers? Lucan? No. I never asked for my Destiny either, Junco. It’s just the lot I drew. And even though I could shift my fate around to meet my Destiny in my own way, I was never gonna come back from Earth.”

  “So you knew that when we twined?”

  “Yes. I knew. But I wanted you. I’m selfish and I’m not gonna apologize for it, so don’t wait for that moment. I’m not sorry.” He shoots me an angry look this time.

  “I’m not sorry either, Isten. I love you.”

  “You should go tell HOUSE that, Juncs. Because she needs to hear it. She’s got a Destiny too, and right now she’s not on board. She wants to tell you things about us. Things that will make you hate me and Tier. Make you not trust us.” He turns away from the stove and walks towards me, grasping my shoulders. “We love you. If we lose this fight with the High Order then none of this matters. But if we win, Junco, if we win, then there will be something for you on the other side. I promise.”

  “Will it be Tier?”

  He hesitates.

  “Isten, please. I’m a grownup. I can take the truth. If he’s not gonna be there, please, just tell me the truth.”

  “If I knew for sure, I’d say so. But I don’t know. I can’t say. Only Lucan knows that, Junco.”

  I sigh and look back out at HOUSE. “What are the odds, then?” I look back at my twine and search his eyes. “That Tier and I will be together at the end?”

  He just looks at me.

  “Isten.”

  “Not good, Junco. The odds are not good. You each have a role, he has his, you have yours. And there’s no way to know for sure that things will go one way or another.”

  “But Lucan knows?”

  “If it’s possible to know, then yeah,. Lucan knows. But I’m not sure it’s possible for him to know this. There’s so many variables.”

  “I need to talk to him, Isten. Where is he?”

  “It’s too late, Juncs. He’s already in their possession. The High Order arrived on Amelia today. That’s why Sera is impatient. They’re close, Junco. Practically here. Earth could be at war at any moment. This is it. It’s here. It’s now. And all of us have a job. Tier is in charge of Lucan, I’m in charge of you until you activate the Halo, Ashur is in charge of the war… we all have jobs. And these jobs all need to be done.”

  I look out at HOUSE again. “What’s HOUSE’s job? And Sera’s?”

  Isten is shrugging when I turn back. “I have no idea. They’re not alive and can’t be seen. They have Destinies because every soul has a Destiny. But how they’re connected to this, I’m just not sure.”

  I turn away and walk out of the cabin. My little friend never turns. Not even when the weight of my body bounces along the old weathered wood of the dock and shakes her. I sit down next to her at the edge and slip my feet into the cool lake water. “Hi,” I say.

  She doesn’t turn. “Hi.”

  “Isten says you have something to talk to me about.”

  She gives me a sideways glance. “What’s the point? He’s already poisoned you. You’ll always take his side. It doesn’t matter, so what’s the point?”

  “I still want to know.”

  And then she’s clawing her way into my lap, her little arms wrapping around me and her face pushing into my neck. “Junco, they’re using you. They’re using you. Please don’t let them do this. They’re making everything worse.” I lean into her and hug her back until she loosens her grip and relaxes against my chest. “We’re all gonna die, Junco.”

  “I know, HOUSE. I know. But I’m not sure it matters then. Because if I don’t do what they want, we’ll all die anyway. So even though it sucks, and even though it’s not fair, and even though it’s sad that this is how it’s gonna end… we still have to be brave and do our best.”

  “Don’t leave me, Junco. Sera says I have to stay with her and you have to go back alone. But I don’t want to stay with her, Junco.” She pulls back and cups my face with her little hands. “I’m scared,” she whispers.

  I swallow down the sadness and try to put that brave face on for her sake. “I know, HOUSE. I’m scared too.”

  “I don’t want you to be alone when it ends, Junco.”

  “Awww, HOUSE.”

  “You told Tier not to let me die alone. You told him to take care of me. And he did, Junco. He took me to Sargassum, and we went to the beach, and—”

  “What?”

  “—and I don’t want you to be alone at the end either. It’s not fair.”

  “Tier took care of you?”

  She nods. “Yes, I was very sick. He got drunk on the beach while I was swimming and making sandcastles, but then he realized I was sick and he took me back to the Sagitta Building and shot me up into the Pillar so I could bring you a message.”

  “What message?” I breathe.

  “He said to tell you that Gideon told you the wrong story.”

  “What story?”

  “He said the Magpie Bridge is real, Junco. And Aquila gets to be with the Swan Princess forever, not just one night a year.”

  “He said that?”

  “Yes. And he hugged me and it felt good.” She slumps against my chest and then her back hitches with her little-girl grief. “Don’t go back without me, Junco. Please. Please.”

  I want to tell her I won’t. Just like Isten wants to tell me he won’t leave me.

  But I will leave her. And Isten will leave me.

  Because this has all been written already. We are nothing more than specks of dust floating out in the cosmos, being pulled by forces greater than ourselves. There is no way to escape Destiny. All we can do is try to go forward without fear and meet it with courage. On our own terms, with our heads up high, and our regrets behind us.

  “Junco,” Sera says from behind me. “It’s time to go now. HOUSE needs to come with me and you need to go with Isten to raise your Pillar. It’s almost too late, Junco. And as much as I hate Lucan, he’s already in custody. We’re so close to missing our only opportunity.”

  “HOUSE,” I say gently. “When Lucan asked me for his help back on Sargassum I asked him if what he wanted me to do was hard. His answer was no, it just requires accurate timing. And I told him I’d help. And the time is now.”

  I get up, keeping HOUSE in my arms. Sera reaches for her and I reluctantly hand her over and watch my little friend clutch Sera with the same intensity as she did me. She is so, so scared.

  I look up at Isten and he’s frowning so hard it makes me want to cry.

  This is it.

  This is goodbye and I’m not ready.

  “Goodbye, Junco,” Sera says.

  “Goodbye, Sera.”

  And then she disappears with my HOUSE and Isten and I are alone. “Now what?” I ask him.

  He pulls me to his chest and picks me up and holds me close, just like I was holding HOUSE. I wrap my arms and legs around my other half and start to panic. “Isten, please…”

  “Please what, Junco?” he says back, and I can feel his sadness so acutely, it’s like we are together again. Our minds merge one last time. But instead of maki
ng me happy, I break down and cry. Because we’re sharing our pain and loss and there is nothing we can do to save ourselves. “Please what, Junco?” he repeats.

  “Please, tell me it will all be OK. Lie to me, Isten. Please, just tell me one more lie.”

  “It’s all gonna be OK, Junco. I swear. I’ll see you again if we win. And then it will be OK.”

  Chapter Ten—ASHUR

  On Ship, Orbiting Earth

  “Ashur?”

  “Yeah?” I turn to Arel, who is standing just outside my quarters with his tablet open, his mind occupied with his fingers flying across the screen. “What?”

  “There’s movement in Pillar Seven, not a lot, but more than there was after Tier came out of the Sagitta Building.”

  Arel irritates me to no end. He’s good at what he does, he keeps us safe from a whole bunch of shit, and he’s not bad with a rifle. But him and his computer shit just rubs me the wrong way. “I’m supposed to do what with that info, Arel?”

  I irritate him just as much, and it shows. “Hey, dickhead, I’m just doing my fucking job. You’re sitting up here on ship gazing lovingly down into your girlfriend’s face. At least I’m fucking working. You’ve got an entire island of warriors partying down on Sargassum and I just got word from the Band that Lucan was taken this morning. So why don’t you walk your sorry ass out of your fucking quarters and answer me properly?”

  He turns away and I laugh a little.

  Fucking Arel. He’s so damn sensitive.

  I check Selia to see if she’s awake, but her breathing is slow in the rhythm of sleep, so I follow Arel out and down the hall. He waits for me at the elevator and we descend to the war room.

  He sits in his assigned seat at the half-moon table and I take mine. Which puts us on opposite ends because I’m sitting in Tier’s old spot and he’s way over in Braun’s old place. It’s pretty stupid since no one else is here, but it keeps things in perspective.

  “Go,” I say once we’re settled.

  “At approximately eighteen hundred hours, almost exactly one hour after Tier did his hocus-pocus shit up in the Sagitta Building, the growth rate accelerated—”

  “Arel, do I look like I’m interested in the fucking details? Bullet points are your friend, dude. Now.”

  He doesn’t take my bait, just continues with his details like I never spoke. Blah, blah, blah…

  “—and now the acceleration has picked up to fifty percent of normal.”

  “Uh-huh. Now say it in bullet points.”

  He squints his eyes at me in anger, or maybe dislike. I’m not sure. “It’s growing at a pretty good clip. I think we need to send in teams to collect the Siblings in case they really do come back. Most of them will be dropped in the ocean, and with the wings, well, you know how fucking helpless they are, except Moju and Junco. They’ll probably fucking drown.”

  “Where the fuck is Ryse? He said he was taking care of this.”

  “No, asshole. He said he was taking care of Esta, not the rest of them. So do you want me to send in teams, or what?”

  “Yeah, OK. Send Annun’s team in to take care of that.”

  “Nope, you’re behind again, Ashur. Annun is with Tier in the Polar Friendly and Tier gave Tessen, Merk, and Pike orders to save that demon spawn baby out in the Stag. Annun’s team is out.”

  What the hell, Tier?

  “Fine. Send a legion of warriors for each.”

  “OK, I’ll take care of this, but I’m not your bitch, Ashur. I’m intel and I don’t take orders from you, so don’t get used to it. You, Ryse, and Tier had better pull your heads out of your asses and forget about these damn girls and babies and what the fuck ever, because the shit’s going down as we speak.”

  And then he flips the cover over his tablet, pushes back from the table, and walks out.

  He’s right. We’re so fucking distracted. Ryse is livid over the whole Junco Pillar thing. Livid. Tier’s been messing around with that baby Junco clone, HOUSE, or whatever that thing was. Is? Was? And I’m sick with worry about Selia.

  Not one fucking thing has gone according to plan since Junco came out of that fucking tank. Not one fucking thing.

  Sometimes I wish her ass would’ve just stayed in there. And I’m definitely glad she’s stuck in that Pillar. Keeping her out of the equation for as long as possible is like a dream come true for me.

  But if it’s growing again, then that means Isten has made contact and talked her down off the fucking ledge and she’s ready to do something. The only problem is, it’s most likely not going to be something we’re on board with.

  Junco.

  Why? Just why does everything we do have to depend on this little maniac? She’s never been reliable, she doesn’t trust us, we don’t trust her, she’s insane most of the time, and she’s fucking dangerous.

  Very, very fucking dangerous.

  She’s a full-fledged High Order Archer with skills that would make most warriors shudder. She’s killed more people than me, that’s for sure. Maybe even more than Tier. If not more, then she’s damn fucking close.

  But Lucan has complete faith.

  I laugh at that as I walk back to my quarters. And look where he is right now. In fucking custody.

  I feel bad. I mean, Lucan’s gonna come out of this, I know that’s true. There’s no way he’d set himself up for dissipation by Junco. So whatever he’s got going, he’s confident.

  But the rest of us are another story. We’re expendable. That’s the only reason we exist. So he can use us as he sees fit.

  Selia is sitting up drinking from a bottle of water when I walk in. I smile at her and she smiles back.

  “How you feeling, Sel?”

  “Good,” Selia replies as she swings her legs out of bed. Her shirt rides up a little and I spot the scars on her torso. A wave of sadness washes over me so thoroughly, my body heats up and feels weak for a moment. Those marks should make me happy—she’s been claimed by Him, after all. That’s who healed her and I can only assume it was a personal favor for Lucan, or maybe me.

  I am part of the trinity, after all. For all intents and purposes, Caleb, Tier, and I are brothers.

  But it doesn’t make me happy. It makes me sad. Because that means she’s going to cross when she really does die and I’m never gonna cross that Bridge. I’m not the chosen one. Only Tier gets that reward. Not that I’m resentful. He deserves it. Because his sacrifice is greater than all of the rest of us put together.

  I walk over and put my arms around her so I can pull her close. If someone had told me two years ago when we came back to Earth that I’d fall in love with a human, I’d probably have shot them.

  I laugh at that.

  “What’s funny?” Sel asks me with a crazy beautiful grin.

  “Us, Selia. We’re funny.”

  “Ashur, I’m not staying here, OK? So help me get dressed. I’m going with you.”

  I grab the uniform on the chair and hand it over. “Go ahead, get dressed. You can hang with me—because I don’t plan on leaving the ship. We’re fighting from up here.”

  “That’s stupid, Ash. We can’t fight Angels from space.”

  “Which means we won’t be fighting.” I laugh at her scowl. “Selia, I’m staying right here and you’re staying with me. I’m a loser in this battle. There’s almost nothing for me to do except die. They’re gonna show up in force, kick our asses, Junco and Tier finish them off, we all die, Lucan lives. End of story. It’s over.”

  She shakes her head at me. “You know that’s not how it’s gonna go down.”

  “Yeah, but that’s the plan, anyway. Might as well stick to it as long as we can.” I slip my hands under her long blonde hair and caress the back of her neck. This makes her moan just under her breath, like a whisper moan. And this drives me fucking crazy every single time. I’ve dated a few girls, mostly back when we were younger before we went on that five-year mission to Earth looking for the Siblings. But I was no Isten when it came to getting laid.

/>   I’ve never wanted to protect a girl before. Never. Not even Junco—shit, she’s the last girl who needs my help.

  But I’d give my life for Selia right now. I’d put her above Lucan. I’d do anything to keep us together. Anything.

  I lean down and kiss her on the lips. Just a soft one. She leans in to me and then ducks her head into the crook of my neck and lets out a long sigh.

  “What’s wrong?” I ask in a low growl.

  “It’s over, Ashur. And I’m just not ready for it to be over. I didn’t do enough. I didn’t live enough, I didn’t get married or have a child or do anything. And really, before you, I never thought I’d want any of that. I thought work was enough. Even after I ditched reporting and became a soldier, it made me happy. It made me complete.”

  She pulls back and looks up at me with those giant blue eyes open wide.

  “But you make me want more, Ashur. You make me feel like I’ve missed the whole point of living.”

  “I guess we just have to be satisfied, Selia.” I want to tell her something else. I want to tell her I’ll be with her forever and that forever isn’t approximately two days in length. But I can’t. Because that’s about all the time we have left.

  “I want to talk to Caleb, Ashur.”

  “No,” I say sharply. “No way. I don’t give a shit that he saved you, Selia, he’s not anything good. He’s Tier for the other side of the Bridge, Sel. He’s the fucking Angel of Death. The fact that he brought you back is scary fucking shit. It means he wants something from you, Sel. It means he’s gonna try to use you. We’re not seeing him.”

  I stare into her eyes but she remains defiant.

  “Selia, listen to me, OK? Just listen. I’ve known Caleb since we were small children. He’s Tier’s opposite, I’m Tier’s complement, so we grew up together for several years when we were very young. You’re not understanding what he does.”

  “But if Tier’s the same thing, then—”

  “No. That’s not how it works. Tier’s job is to save us, Selia. Tier is Lucan’s weapon. So what he does is not the same. Caleb’s job is to kill the best people we have and take them away. That’s it. That’s his only job. And you’re already on his radar, Selia. He took you, healed you, and brought you back. You’re marked and if you present yourself to him, it will not end well, understand? It will not end well for you.”

 

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