In sum, I’d made him feel totally alone.
Jared didn’t function as others did. I knew that being raised by a narcissistic mother who emotionally and physically abused him had made him shut down in many ways. I knew that he didn’t share his pain with others because, in Evan’s words, emotions had always gotten Jared in deep shit. I also knew that, as a result, unless you literally dragged it out of him, Jared would bury it all deep. But I hadn’t expected him to do that with me, I’d thought we’d gotten past that. I was wrong. He’d buried the extent of his pain as deep as he possibly could. Oh I’d felt echoes of his pain and fear and anger through the bond at times, but I hadn’t realised the extent of it until now. All that optimism he’d shown had been his smokescreen.
I’d worked so hard since we got together to help him defeat this psychological impulse to hide his pain. I’d actually been making progress, but I’d clearly gone back a step because by not being there for him through all this, I’d made him retreat. He’d once described me as his refuge. Well I clearly hadn’t been that this time.
Maybe some would say that he needed to buck up and deal with his shit like an adult. But he’d become emotionally independent at a young age, was used to taking care of himself and not needing anyone. He’d let himself need me, and I’d gone and let him down. First by mentally retreating from him, and then by being pissed with him rather than being understanding. He hadn’t sulked, he’d just withdrawn. That, for me, was even worse than being cursed at or given the silent treatment.
Determined to ensure he didn’t feel alone any longer, I went out onto the balcony. To anyone else, he might have appeared totally relaxed lounging in the hammock, watching the waves lap against the shore. But I knew better. I could feel his turmoil, and it caused a hollow ache in my chest.
I stood beside him, but he didn’t say anything. He didn’t look at me or acknowledge my presence in any way. Yes, he was trying to irritate me by ignoring me like this. But he wasn’t being a hurtful prat. This was actually one of his sneaky little avoidance tactics; he was hoping that if he annoyed me, I would walk away and then we wouldn’t get back to arguing.
“I don’t want to fight again,” I assured him softly. “I’m done with that.”
His gaze flicked to me, examining my face. Then he effortlessly dragged me on top of him with one arm without even slightly unbalancing the hammock. Sad hazel eyes stared into mine as he brushed stray strands of hair away from my face. “Good. Neither do I.” That was one great thing about Jared. He didn’t brood endlessly or expect a dramatic apology before backing down. He’d easily accept a peace offering and happily move past the dispute.
“I just…I don’t want to watch them die, Jared.”
“Me neither, but I’m not going to change my mind.”
“I’m not here to ask you to. Like I said, I’m done with bickering.” His answering kiss was so gentle that it was more of a whispering of his lips over mine. “Please tell me you have some kind of plan because I’m all out of ideas.”
He sighed, returning his gaze to the ocean. “So am I, baby.”
And he hated himself for it, I could sense. He was literally wading in guilt. “Stop it, Jared. You did your research on The Call, you consulted several people, you surfed the V-Net, you spoke with Quentin Foy – you’ve literally done all you can to try to find a way to help them.” Apart from one thing, and I would bet my life that having me hound him about not letting Paige West come here had made him feel even guiltier. Crap. “Nobody blames you. And everyone who knows about Paige understands why you don’t want her here.”
His eyes darted back to mine. Wariness and doubt was swirling in their depths. “Even you?”
“You’ll really stop fighting me on this?”
“What you need is for me to be here for you, and I haven’t. First I disappeared into my head. Then I fought you instead of being more understanding. But like you said, I’m stubborn – I can get so set on one path that I almost develop tunnel vision.”
The pad of his thumb breezed over my bottom lip. “We’re both guilty of that.” He exhaled heavily, looking like someone with the weight of the world on his shoulders. “It’s possible that she couldn’t have helped anyway. Covington said that he couldn’t be sure. I could have brought her here and put you in danger for nothing.” Again his thumb stroked my bottom lip. I bit the digit gently. He smiled, but it was strained. “Even if it had worked, Evan would have kicked our asses for taking the risk.”
“Exactly – you have nothing to feel guilty for because he would sooner reprimand you for taking risks than blame you for being careful.”
Scrunching his hands in my hair, he tugged so that my forehead rested on his. “I miss him,” he whispered. “We can’t help him, can we?”
“It’s not looking good,” I admitted.
“A part of me wonders if I should just end his life now. It isn’t a life. He’s suffering, he’s in pain, and he’s lost most of who he is. But I just can’t. I still have a small bit of hope that I’ll find something that will help him, and I won’t stop trying. But I have to make peace with the fact that I might not be able to do anything, don’t I?”
“We have to make peace with that,” I corrected, knowing that without that peace, the guilt would swallow us whole. “Stop shouldering all this. You told me I didn’t have to go through shit alone anymore. Well, same here.” I buried my face in the crook of his neck and snuggled into him the way he liked it. His arms closed tightly around me. “We should have had this conversation sooner. I would never have told you that it’s your own fault that you’re hurting. I wouldn’t use your emotions against you like that; I’m not your mother.” I lifted my head to meet his gaze. “I always want to know how you feel, even if it’s about a subject that we’re at odds on. Got it?”
“Got it.” Cupping my chin, he kissed me gently. “You’re the only reason I haven’t totally lost it. You’re my only weakness…but you’re my strength, too.”
“Right back at you, Michaels.”
He chuckled softly. “Stay here with me for a while.”
So I did. It wasn’t until dawn that he teleported us both to bed where he proceeded to make me come over and over. When he finally slid inside me, he kept every thrust slow and sensual, refusing to release my eyes. It was so f**king intimate, it was scary. As he exploded deep inside me, he gave me those three little words that he didn’t often say, being the emotionally awkward person that he was. Unsurprisingly, I fell asleep with a huge smile on my face.