God of Fury – Chapter 38

BRANDON

The first feeling that surges through me when I blink my eyes open is crushing relief.

Not the burning in my neck, not the sandy feeling at the back of my throat.

As I stare at the ceiling and the four holes from which light shines down on me and hear the machines beeping, my eyes burn from the sense of relief that floods me.

When I lay in my blood and watched Nikolai cry out my name and beg me not to leave him, I regretted everything. I wanted to stay, to think that I could have a future, after all.

But it was too late.

The ink submerged me and I couldn’t take being seen like that by him. I wouldn’t have been able to live it down.

So I did the one thing that could end it all.

But it didn’t end.

The second feeling comes rushing in with Mum’s voice. “Bran…?”

Guilt. That’s what’s etched on her usually radiant face, her eyes bloodshot, her lips puffy.

The guilt she projects in waves slams against my own until I can’t breathe.

“Son?” Dad is on my other side. “You came back, oh, thank fuck.”

He reaches above my head to push something.

Failure. That’s what Dad looks like. He feels a sense of failure. Like I did for almost a decade.

“Bran?” The broken sound belongs to Glyn. She’s crying, rivulets of tears streaming down her rosy cheeks.

Her feelings of grief mix with the myriad of emotions rippling through me until I choke.

What have I done?

“Honey, can you hear us?” Mum asks.

“Yeah…” My voice is groggy and choked as I try to sit up.

The three of them help me carefully, as if I’ll break if they touch me the wrong way. And I hate that I’ve put them through this. I hate that I’m the reason people important to me are struggling.

I single-handedly crushed them because I couldn’t be strong enough.

The doctors come by to check on me and ask me a few questions. The entire time, Mum holds my right hand and Glyn my left one. Dad watches from the side, looking ten years older than his actual age.

What the fuck have I done?

As soon as the doctors leave the room, I look behind them, searching for the presence I need with me the most now.

But I don’t spot a large tattooed man.

You expect him to have stayed after you showed him how much of a fuckup you are?

Mum squeezes my hand. “I’m so sorry, honey. So, so sorry.”

I stare between her and Dad. “What… What are you sorry about? I’m the one who should be sorry.”

“Bran, no.” My father shakes his head, pain erupting in his exhausted features. “There’s nothing you should be sorry about. Absolutely nothing, you hear me? We’re the ones who need to apologize for letting you down.”

“No, Dad…”

“We saw the clip.” The words tumble from his lips like an ancient destructive curse. And I feel myself teetering on the verge of another breakdown.

Only, now, surprisingly, there’s no black ink.

Mum sobs and that makes Glyn cry harder.

Dad strokes her shoulder. “Astrid, get it together, please.”

“I’m sorry.” She drags in a heavy breath and faces me on a long exhale. “I’ll never forgive myself for bringing her into our lives. For not seeing the signs and even pushing you to make her your agent, for not being there for you—”

“No, Mum, no,” I cut her off. “You were always there for me. Always. You respected my decisions and choices and never pushed me to do anything I didn’t want to do. I’m the one who hid myself. I’m the one who decided not to say anything. I never…never blamed you, so please, don’t do that. Please.”

“I can’t.” Fresh tears flow out of her. “I just can’t help thinking that if it wasn’t for me—”

“Don’t.” I shake my head. “Don’t say that, please. That’s what I used to tell myself day in and day out. I used to think that if it wasn’t for me, this family would be perfect. I don’t want to hear you having those thoughts as well.”

“Brandon, son.” Dad sits beside Mum and they both grip my hand tight. “This family can’t exist without you, you understand?”

“I don’t want it without you,” Mum says on a sob.

“Yeah, Bran.” Glyn strokes my cheek, eyes glittering with unshed tears. “I can only be here because of your care and understanding. You’ve helped me countless times. I wouldn’t have gotten here without you. So please, please, let us help you this time.”

“Let us be your family,” Dad says, and I can’t control the tear that slides down my cheek.

All this time, I thought I was the decay of a perfect family. My ludicrous jealousy and inferiority complex toward Lan ate me alive and I let it consume me, which led me to Grace. Things took a nosedive into disaster after that.

The worse my mental state got, the harder I fought to remain afloat. The more sinister my demons became, the more insistent I was about my mantra of avoiding and pretending.

At some point, my mind turned on me and I became my own worst enemy. Through it all, I grasped at straws, fighting and struggling to keep belonging to this family I was lucky to be born into.

I thought if they saw me as a weakling, as the man who said yes then denied it and claimed to be wronged, they’d be disappointed. I thought if they saw me as someone who was not perfect by any stretch of the imagination, they’d turn their backs on me.

But as I look at their faces, at the grief mixed with relief, I know without a shadow of a doubt that was never the case.

I let dark thoughts infest my head and drag me into the black hole of self-hatred. And in doing that, I failed to see just how much I mean to these people. How the thought of losing me has left them shell-shocked and unrecognizable.

I never thought my larger-than-life father would look to be on the verge of collapsing because of me. And I want to hug him. I want to tell him how grateful I am to have him.

But first…

“What…” My words get stuck in my throat and I gulp before I look at Mum. “What about your exhibition? I ruined it, didn’t I?”

“Fuck that. I don’t need it or my whole career as long as I have you, Bran. I need you to know that.”

I hug her then, burying my face in her neck, trembling in her hold. “Thank you, Mum.”

“No, thank you for coming back to me, hon. Thank you…thank you…”

Dad pats my back and Glyn leans on my shoulder as she cries softly, her body shaking.

And I know, I just know I’ll be fine as long as I have them.

It’ll hurt.

But it won’t be as painful as hiding myself from them.

It’s time I properly say the words I should’ve shouted eight years ago.

I pull away from Mum’s embrace and suck in a sharp breath. “Mum, Dad. I have something to tell you.”

“Anything, son.”

“I think I need help. Please help me get better.”


I spent what seems like hours spilling my guts to my parents and Glyn. Everything that I couldn’t say before, everything that I buried in my chest and swallowed down with air.

There was a lot of crying and hugs, but I didn’t feel sad afterward, no. More like hopeful and light. As if I finally breached the surface of the inky lake I’ve been drowning in for eight years.

Dad said he’s pressing charges of sexual assault of a minor against Grace, and Mum said she’ll have her banned from the arts council that she currently presides over. She’ll have her stripped of her peer title in the House of Lords and drag her through the mud.

The thought of courts and a legal process gives me a headache, but I want justice.

I want to finally give fifteen-year-old me what he always wanted—justice—and hope that one day, he’ll forgive me.

He’ll one day look at me in the mirror and smile. Even if only once.

I know it’ll take time and a fuck ton of therapy, but I can wait. He waited for me to catch up for eight years, the least I can do is be patient as he leaves the cave I shoved him into for so long.

Earlier, I spoke to the therapist the NHS sent me and it was hard, but I blurted the words out.

I want to get better not only for myself, but also for the man I love.

The man who’s nowhere to be found. Dad told me Nikolai is the reason I’m alive. He’s the one who kept the pressure on my neck as if his life depended on it and carried me to the car before they drove me here.

He stayed for the entire seven hours of the operation, but apparently, he left as soon as they were told I was stable.

Thinking about the possibility that he wants nothing to do with me makes me jittery.

It’s why I did what I did in the first place. The thought of him seeing me differently and hating me gave me that shove over the edge.

I stare at Glyn and she smiles as she cuts me some avocado. Dad is talking to the police. Mum is with the doctors.

But my sister refuses to leave my side.

“I don’t suppose you know where my phone is?” I ask.

“Nope. But you can use mine.” She unlocks it and passes it over.

“Thanks.”

I type Nikolai’s name and call him. The longer the phone rings in my ear, the louder my heart thumps.

My chest falls when it goes to voicemail. He doesn’t check those—ever. I don’t know why he even has the service.

“You mean I could remove it?” is literally what he replied when I asked him that once.

“I’m sure he’ll come around.” Glyn offers me an encouraging look. “I’ll kick his arse if he doesn’t…or maybe like send Kill because he’s really scary.”

I smile and give her back her phone.

The door opens and I look up, hope blossoming in my chest with a force that hurts.

But that’s the thing about hope, it exists to be crushed.

It’s not Nikolai who walks in.

My disappointment is short-lived, however, when my eyes clash with my identical ones. I gulp, my heart swirling in a puddle of my own humiliating feelings that I confessed to my parents not too long ago.

I wanted to ask about Lan, but I didn’t dare to. A part of me is relieved that he’s here. The part that held on to the fact that he does care, even if everyone said he didn’t.

His face looks the most distraught I’ve ever seen. Lan doesn’t do emotions. At all. I thought the only exception was Mia, but as I stare at his worn-out gaze and the lines of relief around his eyes, I think maybe I was wrong.

“You okay?” he asks as he stops beside me. His voice isn’t right. It’s too careful. Too restrained. Definitely does not fit the Lan I knew my entire life.

I nod.

“Glyn, get out,” he says.

“No.” Her gaze is alarmed as she looks at me.

“It’s okay,” I say with a smile. “Go.”

She gives me an unsure glance before she hugs me and narrows her eyes on our brother. “You better not say anything funny, Lan.”

He doesn’t reply or even look at her. His intense attention remains on me until the door closes behind her, his hand curling and uncurling into a fist.

“You’re going to punch me for daring to hurt your identical twin?” I try to joke to break the tension.

That only manages to make a vein throb in his neck, nearly popping from the skin. “I’d kill for you, I’d shoot myself if that makes you breathe better without me shadowing you, but I’d never…ever hurt you, Bran.”

My lips part and I stare at his tight expression and know that he means every word.

“I was kidding,” I breathe out.

“Don’t joke about shit like that. Your life is not a fucking joke. Fuck!” His chest rises and falls in heavy succession and I’m seriously scared he’ll pop a vein or have a stroke.

I shift in the bed, the injury in my neck burning and itching for some reason. “Lan—”

“I’m sorry.”

The words nearly split me open. It’s different to hear that from Mum and Dad or even Glyn, but this is Lan. He never, ever apologizes. Not even when he nearly drove Mia away for good.

I thought I’d come down from the emotional high, but they rush back to the surface until my own chest is heaving.

Our harsh breaths echo in the damn hospital room that witnessed me at my lowest.

“What are you sorry for?”

“For not pursuing you that night. For thinking it was because of the rumors and letting it go at that. I’m sorry for allowing you to hate me without doing anything about it.”

“I never hated you, Lan. I hated myself, yes, but never you.” I release a mock laugh. “You were the half I looked at whenever I needed hope. Seeing you being your unapologetic, confident anarchist self made me believe I’d eventually be okay. You gave me strength, even unknowingly, so you shouldn’t apologize. This isn’t on you, it’s on me. You couldn’t have known when I didn’t let you in. And I didn’t let anyone in.”

“What can I do?” he asks with a wretched expression. “What can I do to stop you from doing that again? I don’t understand emotions, but you do, Bran. You do spectacularly well, and I’m asking, no, I’m begging you to tell me what I can do to make it better. Should I fuck off out of your life? Cut contact? Not visit Mum and Dad while you’re there? Will my disappearance stop you from having that nonsensical inferiority complex?”

“That’s about the worst thing you can do, Lan. I need you by my side. I always have. Pretending I didn’t is what shoved me into that dark hole in the first place.” I smile. “I never felt happier than when you asked me to teach you empathy. I was proud that you needed me for once.”

“I always needed you, idiot. I used that as an excuse to spend time with you because you’d made it your mission to avoid me for the past eight years. I fucking hated that. You were supposed to be the one who understood me best, but you turned your back on me.”

“I’m sorry.”

“Don’t apologize. Just…stop doing that. Give the middle finger instead. Works so much fucking better.”

“If I do that, will you stop being so agitated? You’re starting to creep me out.”

He expels a long breath and nods once.

“Come here.” I open my arms and I suspect he’ll push me away since he’s allergic to showing affection.

However, my brother slides right between my arms and hugs me for the first time since that night eight years ago.

He breathes shakily against my shoulder, his hands pressing me so tightly that it actually hurts. But I must be hurting him, too.

“I love you, little bro,” he whispers. “I need you to know that. I need you to know you’re the first person I loved unconditionally and always will. I might annoy you, might act like a dick to get your attention, but that’s only because the thought of losing you scares the living fuck out of me.”

“Love you, too, Lan.” I exhale against his neck, my chest nearly bursting with emotions.

We remain like that for what seems like forever before he reluctantly pulls back. “You tell anyone what I said just now and I’ll deny it till the day I die.”

I laugh. “I got you, bro.”

“Damn straight.” His charming smile spills through, and my brother finally returns to sporting his eternal cockiness.

Honestly, I wouldn’t have him any other way.

“Hey, Lan?”

“I don’t like that tone. What?”

“Since we’re sharing our feelings—”

“Lord, no. Please no. What is it now?”

“I think you know already since, well, you went to the States and, uh, Nikolai was there… Point is, I love him and I want to be with him. If he’ll let me.” I blurt out the last part so fast, I’m not sure if he hears it, and if he does, whether or not he understands a word I’ve said.

“Why the fuck wouldn’t he let you?” He lifts his nose up with an air of arrogance. “The peasant should be honored and worship at your feet for you even looking in his direction.”

“You…you’re okay with it?”

“I don’t like the idea of anyone taking you away, let alone that distasteful brute, but I guess I can try to tolerate him for your and Mia’s sake.”

“Thanks.” My heart beats faster. “Despite his violent exterior, he’s really a teddy bear deep down, you know. A golden retriever through and through. He’s extremely affectionate and respectful and makes sure I’m comfortable and happy.”

“What type of voodoo did he use on my control-freak brother? More importantly, why did it have to be him? You’re allergic to violence and I’m pretty sure he’s illiterate.”

“Lan! I’ll have you know he has a 4.15 GPA. Don’t make fun of his intelligence again or I’ll be really cross with you.”

“Jesus Christ. You’re defending him?”

“Get used to it. I won’t allow you or anyone else to insult him.”

“Wow. Okay. Bring down the protectiveness a notch. It’s revolting.”

“No. Deal with it.” My good mood slowly withers as I clear my throat. “Can I use your phone to call him?”

“There’s no need. He was with me and is currently waiting outside your room like a moping wanker.” He stands up. “I’ll fetch him for you.”

Fire spreads through my chest, and for some reason, it’s hard to swallow, but I nod anyway.

Even if that nagging feeling remains.

What if he doesn’t want to see me? What if Lan forces him?

My brother stops at the door. “One more thing.”

“Yeah?”

“Please tell me you top the motherfucker.”

I let my lips curve into a smile as I shake my head. Lan’s face falls and he looks like he’s on the verge of a heart attack.

“Bloody fucking hell!” He throws the door open and then shouts, “Nikolai, you fucking wank, come here.”

There’s a bit of a commotion and I’m scared they’re fighting. I stand up from the bed and grab the IV drip, but before I can move, a presence that’s larger than life is shoved into my room.

Lan winks at me before he closes the door, trapping me with Nikolai.

My hand slowly falls to my side as I study him. He’s in different jeans and T-shirt from the ones he wore last night, his hair is tied into a ponytail, and his face is…fuck.

Anguish and displeasure war into a tight knot. His lips are pursed, and his eyes are dark and enraged.

But at least they’re not empty. I can deal with rage.

One problem.

He’s not looking at me.

Not once has he looked at me since he walked in. His gaze is fixed on the floor and both hands are shoved in his pockets.

“Nikolai…?”

A harsh breath rolls out of his expanded chest, his jaw clenching and his biceps tightening, causing the tattoos to ripple.

“Are you going to look at me anytime soon or do you prefer to stay outside—”

He lifts his head and the words are cut off in my throat. The fear and rage that lingers in his eyes leave me speechless, completely taken in by him.

“How could you?” He strides toward me, his voice vibrating with fear instead of anger. “How could you try to leave me? Don’t you know I can’t live without you anymore?”

The moment he’s within reach, I take his hand in mine. The feel of his skin is like a shot of dopamine right through my veins.

“I’m sorry. I thought… I thought you’d find me weak and revolting. The idea of you seeing me differently haunts me, Nikolai. I don’t want to lose you.”

“But you’re okay with me losing you? I’m a shell without you, Bran.” He drags my hand to him and slams it against his chest. “This thing only beats for you and because of you. I used to live an aimless life where adrenaline was my god, but you came along and tamed my demons. You balance me. You complete me. You’re fucking in me. So seeing you bleeding out on the floor was no different than watching myself die. No, it was worse. I’ve never felt so scared for my life, but you…you’re my everything. How could you do that to me? To us?”

“I’m so sorry. The last thing I want is to hurt you.”

“Don’t apologize. Tell me you won’t do it again. Promise me.”

“I promise, Niko. Never again. I’ll do everything in my capacity to get better. I’ll go to therapy and pick myself apart to be strong enough to deserve you. Just don’t leave me, please.”

“Not even if you beg for it. I love you, lotus flower, and that means I’ll be by your side during all of your battles with your demons. I’ll kill them for you if you let me. I’ll listen to them if you want me to. But I’ll never leave you, so you’re stuck with me.”

I stroke his cheek over the stubble and try to stop my heart from bursting into flames. “You’re the one who’s stuck with me. There’s no one on this earth who’s able to understand and love me like you do. It’s why I gravitated toward you without even noticing. Falling for you was effortless and final. I thought I was unworthy of you, I fought myself to be with you, but it was pointless. I never loved myself the way I love you, baby.”

That beautiful grin breaks through the pain and I can feel my heart soaring. “Does that mean you’re mine now?”

“I think I always have been.”

“Thank you for coming back to me, baby.”

“Thank you for never giving up on me, Niko.”

And then I let him feel how grateful I am by pressing my lips to his.

The first kiss of our new life together.


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