The door to his classroom clicked shut before Sean Pendleton could so much as look up from his desk, and the sound of the lock being turned followed immediately after. He expected to find Dean Blaine staring back at him, here to offer news about their off-campus activities or perhaps dole out a covert assignment. Instead, Sean found himself looking at his half-brother: Professor Blake Hill. They hadn’t spoken since Alice chose to go into Subtlety, not even nodding at one another in the halls. Alice’s decision was only the latest in a long line of problems between the two, although it did manage to reopen some old wounds.
“You finally here to do this?” Sean wasn’t sure who was stronger, he or Blake. As the older sibling, he’d been the first to get and train his abilities, but they were a long way from the playground now. Most likely, it would come down to reaction time.
“I wanted to see how she’s doing.” Instead of his usual sneering confrontation, Blake’s face was turned downward. It was the most humble Sean had seen him in years, and he didn’t trust it for a moment.
“I submit my weekly reports just like everyone else, I’m sure Blaine will let you browse them.”
“For god’s sake, Sean, she’s my niece too. I’ve got the right to make sure she’s handling the program well,” Blake protested, a bit of his usual fire coming back into his eyes. Now that was more like the brother Sean knew and couldn’t quite stop himself from blaming.
“Maybe so, but I don’t even trust that you’re really the one asking. Did your owner jerk the leash and tell you to come sniffing around?” Sean asked.
Blake froze in his spot, turning his head the rest of the way upward and meeting Sean’s gaze with a fierce expression of his own. “Charles Adair is my friend, not my master. And no, he’s not the one checking in on her.”
“Of course he isn’t. Since when does Charles give a fuck about his daughter?”
“And what would you know about it? Where were you when Alice was diagnosed, growing up with a power that put her at risk anytime she got a little too happy or excited?” Blake’s voice was rising, and Sean said a silent prayer of thanks that the rooms in the HCP had thick walls. This would get worse before it got better. It always did, and neither of them could seem to stop it. “Oh that’s right, you were in jail! Because you went off the deep end and started robbing people when Shelby died.”
“I went off the deep end when Charles Fucking Adair destroyed her, and then tried to cover it up!” Now it was Sean who was yelling, leaping from his chair so fast that he knocked a coffee mug to the floor. It’s shattering didn’t reach either man’s ears over the sound of their own voices. “I was funding my search for proof, because your friend hid my sister away and I wasn’t going to stand for it.”
“She was my sister too.” Blake lurched forward, hands half-closed like even they weren’t sure if they wanted to be fists or not. “Shelby was my twin; you think I don’t miss her every day? That I don’t love her as much as you? Go fuck yourself, Sean. We both lost her, but instead of leaning on each other like a damn family, you couldn’t accept it. You had to fill your head with insane conspiracy theories and start blaming everyone around you.”
“So you don’t blame him?” The tone of Sean’s voice fell, he was barely above a whisper anymore. For the first time since he’d arrived at Lander, he seriously considered the possibility that he might be about to get thrown back in jail, depending on his brother’s answer. “You like to call me crazy, Blake, but I’m not wrong about who it was that took Shelby away.”
“Shelby made a choice,” Blake shot back, his own voice growing quieter as well. “We both know that. She talked about it with us. Hell, do you even remember her in those final days? It was barely even her; she was a ghost of the woman we knew. I’m damn sure not happy with how things turned out, but what she was going through… I don’t blame her for taking a longshot.”
“I don’t blame her either,” Sean agreed. “I blame him, for giving in, and I blame you, for introducing them in the first place. She’d have never met that son of a bitch if you hadn’t played matchmaker in college.”
“Goddamn Sean, why not blame our parents for birthing us too, if you’re going back that far.” Blake shook his head and stepped backward, putting some space between he and his half-brother. “You know, I’m the one that should be throwing the blame around. As awful as what happened was, you made it so much worse. I’d just lost my twin sister, and then you took away my brother. In one year, I lost almost all the family I had left. And you are the one responsible for the second part. Not Charles, or me, or anyone else.”
“A man does crazy things when his family is threatened.” Sean slowly stepped back toward his desk, forcing himself to get under control.
“We’re family too.”
“We’ll be family when you tell me what really happened to Shelby. Until then, you’re a stranger to me.” Sean slumped back into his chair, looking at the desk in an effort to keep his temper in check.
“She died, Sean. I don’t like it any more than you did, but running from the truth just makes it worse. She died, and we’re still stuck here, having to deal with it the best we can.” Blake turned and began walking over to the classroom door. “I’ll just read your reports about Alice, but if she needs anything I can help with, please let me know. I think we can at least agree that we want the best for our niece.”
“You know, I was in jail,” Sean said, remembering Blake’s earlier accusations. “But you weren’t. You should have been a presence in Alice’s life, someone she trusted and cared about. Yet she had no idea who you were when she got to Lander. So tell me, great uncle, where exactly were you when Alice was growing up?”
“I was avoiding her, like a coward.” Blake’s voice had no shame in it, this was a truth he’d clearly made peace with long ago. “Probably for much the same reason that Charles does. She looks so much like Shelby. Every time I so much as glance at her, I see the fact that we failed my sister. It just hurt too much for too long.”
“Well,” Sean said, noticing for the first time the shards of broken mug on the ground. “That just sounds like a wet pile of bullshit to me.”
“Of course it does,” Blake agreed. “Because of us all, you’re the one who always told her not to try it. So you get to walk through life without the crushing weight of guilt. Even though you should, and deep down you know it. If Shelby had listened to you, she’d probably still be dead. And we might have lost Alice too.”
Blake didn’t wait for a reply, he just threw open the door and strode into the hall, leaving Sean behind with nothing but a slowly cooling temper and a shattered mug to clean.