Deliverance Page 25

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“I was following orders! Whipping my father to death wasn’t enough to reclaim our family’s honor.” His voice shakes. “To pay for his crime. Not with the tech in enemy hands. I had to reclaim the tech and punish those who took it. I had to make it clear that no one should mess with Rowansmark again. Sylph wouldn’t have had to die if—”

“If you hadn’t killed her to make a point!” I pull my arms tighter across my body to keep myself from lunging toward him. To keep him from defending himself and killing me before I get a chance to go after Rowansmark’s tech. “Do you understand what you’ve done? You took mothers from their children. Sons from their fathers. You ripped families and friends apart and for what, Ian? So that Logan would feel pain? Is that really worth ruining so many lives?”

“Logan ruined my life!” The pain in his eyes disappears in a blink, replaced by the hard, vicious brilliance of undiluted rage. “Because of him, I’ve had to become the kind of person who could do those things. And then I saw a way out. You would give me the controller. I would take it back to Rowansmark, restore my family’s honor, and I would be done. I could stop killing and walk away. But you didn’t keep your word. And I couldn’t stop. I couldn’t stop!” His breath hitches, and two bright spots of color burn against the paleness of his cheeks.

I recognize his fury, the well of impossible darkness that stretches beneath his words, consuming logic and spewing lies in its place. A small voice in my head whispers that Ian is my future if I let the hatred I feel for the Commander and the deep need I feel for revenge become everything that I live for. If I run on desperation and vengeance, forgetting to count the cost to others and to myself, I’ll dishonor the forgiveness Eloise gave to me for the death of her husband, the sacrifices Quinn made for me, and the steady belief Logan has in me even when it seems I’m proving him wrong.

Once upon a time, I would’ve ignored that voice. Shoved it into the silence inside of me and refused to consider it because it would only slow me down. I was so sure vengeance was the answer. So sure my pain would mean something if I could deliver the same.

I meet Ian’s eyes and speak slowly as I fumble my way through something that feels like a truth I should’ve realized a long time ago. “Logan didn’t ruin your life, Ian. When something is ruined it can never be rebuilt. It can’t recover. The things others do to us can break us, but we can heal. But when we twist the pain and use it as justification for the choices we make, we lose ourselves. We hurt ourselves by shoving the pain away like if we just don’t look at it, it won’t exist. By using it as the fuel that gets us through every day.”

“What a bunch of . . . I didn’t hurt myself. Logan did.” Ian sounds furious, but the pain is back in his eyes. “My mother was so busy grieving for her lost child that she never saw me. Barely spoke to me. I tried to reach her. I tried, but one day she just decided life without Logan was too much to bear. It didn’t matter that she had me or that I loved her. She was gone.”

His voice shakes, and a vein bulges in his neck. “And my father was so busy trying to get Logan back that he didn’t care that his actions could leave us permanently disgraced. And what did Logan do after all of that? After my parents gave their lives for him? He took the controller back to the man who started all of this misery in the first place.”

“Logan didn’t know any of that. You’ve lost yourself, Ian.” I let my arms fall to my sides, and though I still see the boy who killed Sylph, I also see the boy who only wanted his mother to love him and his father to think of him. “You took that misery, you multiplied it a hundred times over, and you spread it over people who never hurt you. Never wronged you. The Commander’s actions cost you two people you loved. Three, if you count Logan.”

“I don’t love Logan.”

“You would have if he’d been allowed to grow up in Rowansmark as part of your family.”

He stares at me in silence.

“Ian, you lost two people. And you used the pain of that loss to justify killing thousands.”

“You and I are the same.” His chest heaves as if he’s been running, and he shoves his words at me like he wants to hurt me. “We’re the same, Rachel. You said as long as it didn’t cost you the few people you loved, you’d do anything to destroy the Commander. You understood that justice requires sacrifice. Don’t pretend to be better than me.”

A chill spreads across my skin as I think of the narrow line between justice and revenge at any cost, and of how close I came to crossing it. How I didn’t care that the line existed.

How having Logan, Quinn, Willow, and Sylph in my life saved me from making the kind of choices that would leave me just as broken and desperate as Ian. Ian needed someone to keep him from crossing that line, too, but all he had were fanatics who told him a pain atonement bloodbath during his quest to retrieve the missing tech would restore the only thing he still had left—his family’s honor.

“You’re right. I did say I’d do anything to destroy the Commander.” I wrap my hands around my ankles and feel the comforting weight of the knife pressed against my left one. “But I was wrong. Justice and revenge aren’t the same thing.”

His laugh is cruel. “It’s a little hard to take you seriously when just yesterday you promised to keep coming after me until you kill me to make me pay for what I’ve done.”

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