He comes back alone.
Jade is waiting for him when he walks through the door—waiting for her mother. She looks him up and down and she does not hide the scorn—the hatred in her eyes. "It should have been you. She should have let them kill you."
He looks away because he knows she is right. "Your sister?"
"She's still asleep. She doesn't know. I'll tell her."
"No." He wants to let Jade tell Artemis that her mother is dead. He wants to crawl into a corner. He wants to crawl into a bottle and never come out. He wants to die because he cannot imagine this pain will ever end and it's more than he thinks he can bear.
But he can't. He made a promise. A promise to his Huntress. A promise to his wife.
His last promise to her, and this one—this one—he will keep.
"I'll tell her."
Jade hates him. He knows she hates him. And he knows that he deserves her hatred, her scorn. He's never been much of a father, much of a man at all. It's right that she hate him.
He let her mother die.
He can still feel her hands as she pushed him out of the way of the sniper's bullet. The bullet that would have ended his pathetic life and freed his family from his miserable existence. The bullet that took Paula from him forever.
He had held her as she had bled. With her last breath, she made him promise that he would go, that he would escape. That he would find a way to save their daughters from what her death would bring them.
The Shadows would be coming for them.
The Huntress was the greatest assassin they had ever produced. They would want her children. They would want his children.
He will not let them have them.
He will not let them stain his daughters' hands with blood as Paula's were—as his are. He will not let them turn them into killers. He will not let his daughters end up dying alone on a rain soaked rooftop while their husbands flee to save their children.
He couldn't save Paula. He will save his daughters.
"Pack," he tells Jade. "We're leaving."
"Where are we going?"
He half expected her to say that she would not go with him, and he's not at all sure that he could force her to. She's good already—someday she'll be even better than her mother.
If she lives.
"Away. The Shadows will come for you—for Artemis. We have to get away."
"Of course. Running is the one thing you're good at."
His hands ball into fists and she sees this. "Want to hit me again, Daddy dear?"
"Go. Pack. I'll talk to Artemis."
He walks into the bedroom that Artemis shares with her sister. She looks so young, so innocent. So small. It's hard to believe she's got the strength to draw her bow.
"Artemis, wake up."
Her eyes snap open and they're wide with fear when she looks at him.
There had been a time when she hadn't been afraid of him. When she had ran to him when he got home. When she demanded that he tell her stories and tuck her in at night.
But that time is gone—gone like Paula.
"Dad? What's wrong?"
"We have to go, Artemis. Pack."
"Already?" This wasn't the first time they had bugged out—the Life isn't conducive for setting down roots. In her short life, Artemis has already moved half a dozen times.
"Yes, baby." He's surprised the endearment slips out. He hadn't called her that since she was five. "I'm sorry."
Artemis's eyes widen again and he knows it's because he's never apologizes for anything, even when he knows he should.
Be strong, Larry. Real men don't apologize. Apologize again and I'll beat you to death, boy…
"Shut up, Dad," he mutters to that long dead ghost of his past…
"Daddy?" Artemis reaches out with her little hand and touches his large one. "What's wrong?"
He wants to wait, but he can't. He has to tell her now. He has to say the words to someone, and Artemis is the only one here. "Your mother … She didn't make it."
"She got caught? We're going to bust her out, right? I'll get my bow!" Nine years old and she's already planning a jailbreak—under other circumstances he'd smile.
"No, baby. Your mother's gone. She's gone."
He slips to his knees and tears off the mask. "She's gone."
And Lawrence Crock does the thing that his father never let him do. The thing that his father would beat him bloody for doing.
Lawrence Crock cries.
"Daddy…." Artemis wraps her arms around her father's thick neck. "It'll be okay, Daddy! It'll be okay!"
He knows that's not true. He knows that nothing will ever be okay again. His Paula is gone and his daughters have only him to count on—and he knows that he is not enough.
But he hugs his daughter to him and lies. He lies because he knows that it is what she needs to hear. "Yes, baby. It'll be okay…."