We stayed laying on the floor together, catching our breath. My teeth were chattering loud enough to annoy me. “I can’t stop shaking.”
“The adrenaline’s wearing off. It’ll pass.” Dastien’s voice was a weak rumble, and from what he was feeling, it was with good reason. I’d never seen him so exhausted before. “I’ll be fine. Just give me some time.” Dastien said as he squeezed my hand.
I tried to squeeze back, but even my fingers felt weak. Dastien wasn’t the only one exhausted.
This was so messed up. I never wanted to go back to that place again, and since that place was kind of in my head, I wasn’t sure how to stop the demon from taking over again until I broke the tie he had on me.
I swallowed the lump in my throat. I was scared.
No, scared was too tame a word. Terrified fit better. “How long was I out?”
“What? What time is it?” I tried to sit up, but couldn’t gather the energy.
“Just after midnight.”
“Shit.” I’d been in that abyss for hours. “Where’s my phone?” I needed to talk to Claudia. Maybe she’d know more about demon ties and what I should do.
“On the coffee table, but I can’t get it for you. I’m not sure I can move yet.” He was a blob on the floor, eyes only half-open.
I wasn’t much better off. It was probably better to wait anyway. I wouldn’t be able to hold the phone until my shaking stopped. I gripped my hands into fists, hoping that would help, but it only used up precious energy.
I licked my lips and winced as I tasted the coppery-yuck of dried blood. “Why do I have your blood all over my face?”
I couldn’t reach you with my bond, so I called Claudia. She told me that my blood would renew and strengthen our bond. I grabbed the first knife I found in the kitchen.
I felt flashes of his panic through the bond. He’d been frantic as he sliced his arm, way too deep. If he’d have been human…
I reached over, grabbing his arm. “It’s healed.” I couldn’t tell what exactly was under the dried blood, but I didn’t feel any cut.
Yes. I knew I’d be fine. But… He sighed. You’re a mess. Worth it though.
“Agreed.” Once I had some energy, I’d see about washing my face. The floor felt wet with blood, too. But I was less worried about cleaning that up. “Any chance she’s still on the phone?”
No. The call failed right as she was finishing her spell.
Right. Because that would’ve been too easy.
After a few minutes of laying there, trying to get ahold of myself, I realized I was having zero luck because I wasn’t feeling just my own fear. I’d thought the terror I was feeling was all mine, but it wasn’t.
I’ve given you CPR twice in one day. It’s going to take me some time… Dastien said through the bond. So, no. It’s not just your fear.
Wait, what? Twice?
The last couple of minutes, you weren’t breathing. And the phone was dead. I wasn’t sure if the spell worked and if you’d… His fear blossomed again. The shaking stopped all at once as it hit me. If I hadn’t been breathing, then that meant I’d almost died. Or kind of had died. Again.
My teeth chattered again, and the shakes returned full-force. “What are we going to do?”
I don’t know.
That was enough sitting around. I couldn’t just stay here swamped by fear.
I groaned as I sat up. Every muscle throbbed. It took everything I had to reach for my phone on the coffee table. When I relaxed with my back against the couch, a sheen of sweat covered my body. It took me three tries to unlock my phone, and then a few more to call Claudia.
The ringtone filled the living room before her voicemail picked up. “Hi! You’ve reached Claudia. Leave a message, and I’ll get back to you when I can.” I waited for the beep and started talking.
“Freaking out over here. Thank you so much for helping. Are you okay? Also, I need to know how to break a demon tie. Call me back.” The phone slid out of my grip and clattered to the ground. “Shit.” I wasn’t sure if I’d hung up, but I was leaving it.
He felt pretty confident, but why? “How do you know?”
“Because Lucas’ bond is still among the pack.”
That was excellent news. If Lucas was okay, then Claudia was okay. Or at least alive. She was probably doing the same thing we were—recovering. That had to be why she hadn’t answered.
I wasn’t sure what kind of demon he was, but I knew for sure he was stronger than me. When would he come back again? I had to pray that if I were this drained from the whole experience, he had to be at least a little exhausted from it. Maybe that meant that it’d take a while before he showed up.
Taking me over like that had to have been a massive power drain. I wasn’t sure why he had so much power at his—
Do you really think so? Dastien asked.
The timing… Muraco had been drained by something with Luciana-esque magic, and then not a few hours later, the demon who helped Luciana drain me of my magic and power took over my mind. It can’t be a coincidence.
No. This could be good news, actually.
How could this possibly be good news?
Because it means that he doesn’t have that much power at his disposal. So theoretically, we should have time to regroup. Unless he drained someone else of power, we should be okay. For now. If I was right.
I was under no illusion that he wasn’t coming back. It was only a matter of time. And when he did, we had to be ready.
For now, that meant we needed food. I’d burned a lot of calories pulling all that power. At this point, the shaking in my limbs wasn’t exclusively fear-based.
“You pulled enough power from me that I’m useless, too.” His voice was a little slurred. “But you’re right. We’re going to need food.”
“Know any djinn that can magic us some?”
Dastien huffed. “That would be handy, but even if I did, you wouldn’t want to mess with a djinn. They’re tricksters.”
I filed “djinn” away as something to ask about when we weren’t so weak. “I guess I’d better get my ass up.”
He gripped my hand harder. “You don’t have to. I’ll get up in a second. I swear.”
Dastien’s skin usually had a golden tan to it. Now it was ghostly pale. He was covering his eyes with one of his arms. He hadn’t even turned his head to look at me.
He was wrong. I definitely had to get up. My legs were wobbly, threatening to give out, so I stood still, holding onto the edge of the couch just in case they did.
He moved his arm just enough to see me, his gaze still a glowing amber. “How are you moving?”
“Sheer stubbornness. Plus, I still have a bit of energy left from everyone else.” That was the only explanation for why I was only eighty-five percent useless, and he was one hundred percent zonked.
He grunted and closed his eyes. I figured since my legs hadn’t given out yet, it was safe enough to drag myself to the kitchen.
Even if I was better off than Dastien, it wasn’t by much. Being this weak made me nervous. I couldn’t protect myself. But feeling Dastien so weak was even more unsettling.
I tried to funnel him some power, but he shut it down. “Stop. One of us needs to be strong enough to get food. You give me your energy and we’re both going to be blobs on the floor.
You don’t have enough to spare right now.”
“I’ll be okay. Just work on food.”
I licked my lips and winced. They still had the coppery tang of Dastien’s blood on them. I stumbled to the sink and turned the water on hot. I couldn’t do anything else before washing my face. The scent of dried blood wasn’t exactly appetizing. It was in my hair a little too, but that would take a shower. I didn’t have the energy for that yet.
I splashed my face until the water was clear and then rubbed some more. I could still smell the blood. Trying not to cringe too much, I squirted a tiny dot of dish soap in my hand and lathered my face up. After I was done I smelled like fake lemon, but that was better than old blood, so I was calling it a win. I dried my face with a dishtowel and threw it on the counter.
Just that little bit of effort had me out of breath.
Time for food.
I leaned against the counter, trying to figure out what we should have. The fridge was fully stocked, but I didn’t have the energy to make anything. Before I became a werewolf, a large part of my diet had been taken up by yogurt and Zone bars or avocado toast and eggs. Now I had to eat so much more. Learning to cook was part of surviving. Over the course of our honeymoon, I’d upped my chef skills, but everything I could come up with was going to take too much time and require too much effort. And we needed so much…
The room swam as I stepped toward the fridge. I grabbed a chocolate bar from the door and ate a few bites to get some instant energy. Even eating my favorite thing, I had to force myself to chew. This was so messed up.
I followed the chocolate with a swig of OJ straight from the carton and then dug through the freezer until I found a few meat-lovers pizzas. Minimal effort with a decent amount of calories.
I took another swig of the OJ and tried to think of what I should do next, but all I could picture was the demon’s face. The smile that sent fear rushing through every fiber of my being.
Everything in me was urging to run but what good would that do if he could get inside of my head and take control. I couldn’t—
Stop. Dastien’s voice cut through my panicked thoughts. We need food first. Then we can figure out what’s happening.
Right. I’m on it.
I slid the pizzas onto the baking trays and put them in the oven, skipping that whole pre-heating nonsense. Then I grabbed a few mini-cakes and fed them to Dastien.
He gave me the tiniest of nods. “More food, though.”
“I’ll be back.” I went back to the kitchen and started grabbing everything out of the fridge and dropping it on the couch. It took me a few trips and I made a mess. Cheese and deli meats and mini-cakes and pickles and fruit and anything else we had in there were strewn all over the couch and the floor beside it.
My last trip was the hardest. I grabbed a two liter of Coke and two cups. The bottle might as well have weighed a million pounds. It took me a second, but I managed to get some liquid in the cups.
I held the one out to Dastien and he just looked at me. He was thinking about how much effort sitting up would take and was the soda really worth it.
“Shit.” I’d really drained him.
I set the sodas on the coffee table and then bent down next to him. I grabbed his forearms and jerked, but he didn’t move at all. “Come on. Help a little.” I tried again and managed to get him sitting up, resting against the bottom of the couch. My breathing was a little too labored. The guy was heavy, but I was a werewolf. I should’ve been able to bench press him without much effort.
“Here. Drink.” Water probably would’ve been better, but it also didn’t have calories. I handed him the glass.
The soda sloshed around as his hands shook. I looked at the sea of food on the couch as I slid to the floor next to Dastien. “Here,” I said grabbing a package of cold cuts. “Eat this.” When he was chewing, I figured I should find something myself. I grabbed a pound block of cheddar and tore the wrapper open with my teeth.
Then it was a bag of potato chips. A pile of Bimbo cakes. More cold cuts. A jar of pickles. I made a few more trips to the kitchen to empty out the pantry.
By the time the oven dinged, we’d gone through basically everything except the condiments. I dragged myself up and went back to the kitchen.
I didn’t mess around with plates. We’d inhale the food too fast to need them. I grabbed the mitts and pulled the pizzas from the oven. They smelled so good that my stomach growled.
“How am I still hungry? I just ate an entire jar of Nutella with a spoon.”
“Do you want me to answer that?”
“Shut up.” I thought about cutting the pieces but decided against it. We were going to eat the entire thing anyway. It would be easier just to fold them like a taco and dig in. I headed back to the couch, where we continued our eat-a-thon.
I didn’t usually care for meat lover’s, but I couldn’t stifle a moan of happiness as I ate the first hot bite. “This is much better than I thought it’d be.”
No, it’s not. You’re just starving. He swallowed. “I’m feeling a lot better already. Thanks.”
“Least I could do.” I looked around at the mess we’d made—wrappers and crumbs littered the floor. “But you know, it’s a good thing we’re leaving in three-ish hours because we’re pretty much out of food and it’s not like we can walk to a store from here. We’d need a boat and a car.”
Dastien laughed and the sound warmed my soul. For the first time since I’d woken up, I took a full breath. “Why did you let me take so much of your power?”
“It’s what you needed,” he said without hesitation.
He was right. If he hadn’t given so much, I probably wouldn’t have survived, but I still didn’t like it. I’d drained him so much and that made me wonder how the rest of the pack was fairing.
“I’m fine. The pack is fine. We know the drill. We’ll eat everything in sight and by morning, we’ll all be okay. But trust me, it’s better for them to get drained one time than for them to try fighting this demon by themselves. They won’t even think twice about it. By helping you now, the pack ensures that you’re around to protect them. That’s why we have packs. That’s why there are leaders. Like it or not, you’re an alpha. The Alpha.”
“I’m not The Alpha. I’m an alpha at best. I don’t have a pack to rule over.” And I was pretty sure I never wanted one.
“I know, but you’re too strong and—”
That was bull. “You’re stronger than me.”
“No. I’m really not.” For a second I thought he was being nice, but his tone wasn’t nice. It was dead serious. “I’m not being polite, chérie. I’m a better fighter than you, but I’ve had my whole life to train and you’ve only just turned. In a few years, you’ll be able to best me.” He squeezed my hand. “And one day you’ll have a pack. You won’t be able to help it. Alphas draw betas to them. It’s just in their nature.”
I could believe that was the case for other Alphas, but I wasn’t sure that applied to me. I knew I was a strong werewolf, but that didn’t mean that I had to be a pack Alpha. That was a lot of responsibility. Would I ever want to tie myself down like that?
For now, all I really wanted was to get away from the demon.
“You got away.”
“No, I didn’t. Not for long.” I shook my head slowly. “I think I just mostly pissed it off.” What are we going to do?
We’re going to take it one step at a time, like we always do.
That was a good plan, but the first step was figuring out who the demon was, what exactly its powers were, and how to break a demonic tie. I wasn’t sure what seal the demon had been talking about, but if the portal was to Hell and I was somehow the key, then there was much more on the line than just my soul.
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