“I know, Tera, that I told you I explained everything. You just had to watch us, to tell me if you saw anything strange, but that’s not enough anymore.”
Jamie looked up, surprised and a little afraid at the idea of what Ace would make her do. He looked exhausted, his face – which she’d realized was perpetually pale – looked much older than it had only days ago, the tattooed spade standing out in stark contrast. “What exactly do you mean?”
“I had hoped the traitor died that day, that it had been one of the four casualties of the raid, but I was wrong. Zack would never have allowed himself to be caught. Someone alerted the police, set a trap for him, knowing full well he’d be where he was.” Ace paused and Jamie resisted the urge to ask what exactly that had to do with her. After watching her for a moment, red eyes clouded by something Jamie was vaguely sure was worry, he continued.
“Now you need to be a little more active. Somewhere among us – the thirteen of us you’ve met, including my mother – there is a traitor. I want you to identify that person so that we can take action.”
“What if it’s you?” Jamie asked, surprising herself with her own boldness. Only weeks ago she would have sat there, silent, waiting for the moment she could escape to be alone once again, probably planning a route to Ravensgate. Now she almost wanted to be here, wanted to help these people.
Ace actually laughed at her question, his face lighter for an instant. “I don’t expect you to trust me. But you can trust my brother, Zack and Olivia. She’s not the type to be interested in much, but loyalty’s a big thing. And Zack and Blake couldn’t possibly betray one another, no matter how much they fight.”
“If you had asked me a few days ago, I’d have said Zack without a doubt was your traitor, just because I hated him.” Jamie was surprised once again to realize that she didn’t. After she’d made the connection between him and her mother, she’d changed her opinion drastically. Now, it was almost like she sought to impress him, as if his acceptance could undo what her mother had done all those years ago. As if his approval would equate and negate her mother’s hatred and disappointment.
“No. You can’t be swayed by personal opinion in this.” Ace leaned forward, his face too close to hers. “These people are my family, my brother’s family. We have known them for years. If you accuse someone, I expect some sort of proof, or at least strong reasoning.” His face went dark, darker than Jamie thought it could, considering his coloring. His red eyes glared out at her, anger sparking new light in them. “If you tell me someone is a traitor, I will end them. But if you are wrong, I swear you will face consequences scaled to your crime. So be sure.”
Jamie swallowed, not truly afraid but knowing she should be. Some might have thought fourteen years too few, but Ace treated her like any of the others, and for that she was grateful. And, she realized, he’d purposefully let her stay when Blake had collapsed, not through oversight but because, as Tera, she deserved to see every side to her companions.
She resolved to be impartial, to help these people who had taken her from her uncle’s home, who had given her friends other than those tombstones and cold graves.
“Oh, and Tera? One other thing.” She hadn’t noticed Ace rise, but he was already at the door, his hand paused over the handle. “Get some rest tonight, because tomorrow you’re going with Drei, Vier and Dix. You’ve got to get Zes out before they transfer him to somewhere with better security.”
“So he really did it then? Won’t they already know that? I mean, if they’ve got enough evidence the cops don’t really need a confession anyway.”
Ace turned away from the door, and Jamie felt bad for a moment. He was always moving, always talking to someone, planning something, perpetually busy. “Zack, he’d to meticulous and careful to ever leave evidence. Right now they’ve got nothing. No fingerprints, no DNA, no footprints or evidence of any kind besides the cards he leaves. At most they’ve got circumstantial evidence and breaking-and-entering.”
“How can you be sure?”
“You don’t know him like I do, Tera. Even as a child Zack was killing, even before we knew him. My parents took him and his sister Samantha off the streets, and he was bloody even then.
“His mother died in childbirth, bringing him into this world, and his father never forgave him for it. I don’t think Zack ever forgave himself for it either. He developed something of a split personality, breaking away the part of himself he blamed most. That became his ‘monster.’ But after he gave it life, it got out of hand. It would emerge, bloodthirsty and full of rage, and Zack would wake covered in blood. Only his sister was safe around him. He even killed his father when the rage took him late one night.”
Jamie held her breath, listening to the story. She knew she shouldn’t be glad, but in a way she was. In a way she was glad that Zack had the same troubles as her mother, even if his were so much worse. Toward the end of her life, Grace Cunning had broken down, had become two different women – one, the caring, gentle mother Jamie had always known, the other a stranger, violent and dangerous.
“My father taught him to tame the monster, helped him keep it closed away. He became a playmate for Blake, somewhat similar to the way they took Deuce in for my sake. But even then, even when the monster was locked away, Zack could converse with it, consult it and use it to accomplish things no child should have been capable of. Even then he was a killer, through and through. Now that he’s let it out, it’s reemerged with a vengeance, and this is the result. But he’s still there, somewhere.”
“So someone really did betray him, then.” It was a statement, and Jamie didn’t expect an answer. Moments later the door squeaked open, and Ace set off down the hallway, back to his routine of action and reaction, but Jamie barely noticed. She was already busy pouring over what she knew about her companions.
She wanted to blame Vijf, the violent aunt who’d repeatedly struck anyone who went against her, but that was too easy. No one who actually betrayed them would actively make herself more suspicious. Besides, she had no proof, and a hunch wasn’t good enough.
But there were so many of them, and at the same time not enough, and Jamie didn’t know them well enough to judge them. Although, that might be just why she was the one tasked with it. She had no preconceived ideas, no relationships to base her assumptions upon. She was as impartial as it was humanly possible to be.
And Jamie realized then that she really was their Tera, that she was a part of this strange family, and that she cared for the first time in so, so long. Because they were her family, and she wanted to protect that feeling, wanted it enough to overlook the blood and the crime and the sins, to look through that and see the core that held them together, the bonds that made them friends.
And it was a beautiful sight.