It just couldn't be true. I'd talked to her just this morning, laughing and chatting over breakfast as we did every Friday; there was no way she could be dead. But as much as I wanted to refuse that which was right in front of me, I couldn't. The truth was sinking in, pressing down on me as if the weight of the world was on my shoulders.
She was dead.
She. Was. Dead.
My mind was on repeat, my mouth opening and closing to speak, but saying nothing. I was consumed by sobs, my cries and keens loud and piercing, the grief feeling as if was going to tear me apart.
I would never talk to Aunt Cass again. We would never do anything again. Cass, the woman who'd help raise me, who had been the person I'd gone to about everything, was gone. So what if she wasn't my aunt by blood? The pain I was feeling was just as fierce, if not stronger, than what I'd be feeling if she was.
Pain that was only growing sharper – if that was even possible – as another truth slowly began dawning on me.
This was no accident.
The gaping wounds across her stomach were proof of that, the thick red blood unquestionable evidence. It was one thing to know she was dead, but another thing entirely to know that someone had killed her. The thought made me moan, the tears that were already pouring down my cheeks somehow managing to flow even faster.
Why? How? Who? It was too horrible to even think; almost as sickening as the thought of how painful it must have been. My stomach churned at the idea, another pained moan escaping my quivering lips.
She hadn't deserved this; no one deserved this. To be murdered in your own home; it was horrifying. What evil, remorseless being would do such a thing?
That was the million dollar question.
I would find them. I would find who had done this. Not now, of course, but I would; eventually.
But for now, I would mourn. I would stay by her side until the pain lessened enough that I could bring myself to leave; if it ever did lessen.
But almost as soon as I decided, that plan was ruined by the hands and arms that lightly grabbed me, and pulled me away.
I didn't fight the warm fingers that grasped my shoulders, too grief-stricken to care. Too weak and crushed to fight, all I could do was sob harder as I was tugged to my feet and across the room; away from Aunt Cass. I let out another wail at the sight of her body as we reached the doorway, stretching out a blood covered arm for her, taking a step back inside; I wasn't leaving. She might be dead, but the least I could was stay with her. Then, at least, I could feel like I'd done something. But whoever had me in their arms wasn't having that, and all too easily pulled me backwards once again.
Still sobbing, the heaves wracking my body almost violently, what little resistance I'd managed to muster faded as they drew me away. My eyes were so filled with tears that I didn't even attempt to look around me; or try to discover the identity of whoever was keeping me upright. It was hard to care about anything when I was reeling from the loss of my Cass.
My Cass. Two words that made me keen for what was probably the millionth time, somehow being able to make my already burning heart ache even worse. I felt my legs crumple, and would have fallen to the floor if the arms holding me up hadn't strengthened their hold, half carrying, half dragging me through the woods. For what purpose, I had no idea, but I didn't really care; I didn't care about anything.
Not until the emotional pain that was searing through me was overshadowed by the sickening cold that suddenly washed over me, as if I'd jumped into a frozen pool in the middle of winter. Tremors suddenly took control of me, my whole body shaking from the icy feeling. I could feel my limbs stiffening, my chest tightening, and would have croaked out a question as to what the hell was going on, if not for the sudden horrible sensation of being stabbed in the stomach.
Stab. Stab. Stab.
It wouldn't stop, the agony driving me to my knees as I let out a hoarse scream. It was a hot knife, it was a freezing cold blade, and it seemed like it was never going to end. Again, and again, and again, making me cry out every time as it sliced through me, pierced me, crippled me.
And with every stab there was a voice, a voice saying my name. I would hear it, I'd be stabbed, and I would scream. Over, and over again.
'Thea, wake up.'
I sat up fast with a soft cry, my eyes flying open as my left hand instinctively grasped for the knife tucked in the small of my back, slashing it in a wide arc in front of me before I had the chance to even think about what I was doing. My mind was still locked in my horrifying dream, and so I couldn't even muster any surprise when a warm hand suddenly grabbed my wrist, disarming me of the blade so fast that it seemed as if it had simply vanished into thin air. Widening my eyes in an effort to help them adjust to the darkness quicker, it took me a few seconds to make out the large figure in the darkness, perched on the bed in front of me and looking at me with an expression that was a mixture of concern and surprise.
'I'm sorry!' I gasped at Jake, blinking frantically to try and clear my head as I clapped my free hand over my mouth in horror. I couldn't believe that he was right here in front of me, sitting on the bed in nothing but jeans, let alone believe the fact that I had just attacked him. My brain seemed stuck in the all too vivid memories that had haunted my dreams, refusing to snap back into reality; I was still half convinced I was still in danger from the torturous stabbing. Even though I knew I was safe with Jake, the imprint reassuring and comforting with his close proximity, I couldn't seem to relax. I was tense, alert; waiting for the attack.
It must have shown in my eyes and posture, because as I stared at him, and he stared at me, his worry only intensified, his dark brown eyes searing as his free right hand cupped my cheek, tilting my head up slightly as he spoke.
'Thea?' His voice was slow, deep, cautious, the only sound in the room apart from my fast and loud breaths. Just the sound of it made me pause for a moment, my breathing slowing in pace and my eyes closing for a moment as it rolled over me.
'I'm fine.' I whispered, so quiet I was surprised he heard it. Opening my eyes once more, his worry was now mixed with a touch of disbelief and amusement.
'Really?' He asked, his dubious tone showing the same emotion I'd seen in his expression. I opened my mouth to respond 'yes', but closed it almost immediately, because I was sure he knew as well as I that I wasn't; at least, not completely. Involuntarily letting out a low whining noise, I debated what to reply.
'No. Yes. Maybe? I don't know.' I said softly, shaking my head slightly.
'What were you dreaming about?' He asked carefully, and I was sure he noticed my breath hitching.
'Nothing.' I murmured, and once again he levelled me a doubtful look.
'You and I both know that's not true.' He replied quietly.
'I was just…remembering something.' I said glumly, lowering my eyes as I shuddered slightly. I was sure he felt it, because his body tensed beside me. Reluctant to answer him in more detail, I changed the topic. 'How did you even get in here?' I asked, and he smiled slightly, though I could tell he knew what I was avoiding.
'Through the window.' I glanced over his shoulder, and sure enough, the window was propped open wide, the curtains fluttering slightly in the light breeze. There was a pause before he spoke again. 'I could feel your emotions from across the rez, so I came to check on you.'
'Thank you.' I said softly, my gaze flicking back to his. I gave him a small smile in gratitude, but his eyes were still fierce as they watched me, and I could tell that he was thinking about what kinds of emotions he'd been getting; fear and shock, pain and grief. I could feel his concern through the imprint, and I knew that it would take some convincing to dissuade it.
'I'm okay, Jake.' I whispered, placing my right hand over his where it still cupped my cheek. He gave me a slightly pained look in return, hiding it so quickly that I wasn't sure he'd mean to let me see it.
'Maybe I'd believe that, if you weren't still trembling.' He said carefully. I stiffened at his words, my right hand falling back to my lap. I sighed before I replied.
'I will be fine, eventually. But I need to stop thinking about it. Distract me?' I asked quietly, and his gaze softened.
'How?' He rumbled, and I shrugged.
'Talk to me.'
'About what?' I smiled slightly.
I had been almost scared by the intensity of her emotions as they had pummelled into me through the bond, a confusing mess of grief, fear and hurt. The wolf had reacted instinctively, snarling furiously and sending me flying across the ground in her direction before my mind even had the chance to process what was going on. It took more effort than it should to reel in the wolf part of me, the part that wanted to rage and kill whoever was responsible. But eventually I did, because the wolf knew as well as I did that she was sleeping, and as much as I might want to, I couldn't kill someone that was in her dreams. I could, however, do the next best thing. And so I had slipped through her window, waking her panting and frantically tossing body from the nightmare that was terrorising her; only for her to suddenly attack me with a knife she had seemingly grabbed from nowhere.
It wasn't that attack that worried me; I was fast, faster than her, and even then the knife was no real threat. What was far more worrying was the reason she had a knife on her to begin with, and why exactly she had apparently trained herself to attack anyone in her bedroom at only the slightest sound or movement.
And then she had given me that look; her eyes so fear filled and panicked as they stared practically through me that it made my worry sky rocket. That was until I touched her, spoke to her, her body calming almost immediately. Another time I would have grinned knowing I had that kind of influence, but not today. Because her body was still tense, still prepped for a fight despite my presence, and that was deeply, deeply worrying.
Almost as worrying as the fact that I still didn't know what she'd been dreaming about to begin with. But she didn't want to tell, didn't want to say anything about it, and as my imprint, there wasn't much at all I could do if it went against her wishes. She did, however want me to stay with her, and that was enough to quell my concern for now, even though she was, as I'd said, still trembling.
Thankfully, over the next half hour, what little panic that remained from the dream disappeared. Just as she'd said, our conversation was exactly what it took to calm her down, so much so that her composure was flowing through the imprint to me, the calmness making it hard to worry about anything when she smiling at me like that. Stretched out on her side across the bed, her hair splayed across the sheets as she gazed up at me; it was more than bit distracting, and it was easy to forget my concerns.
That was until she rolled onto her back, stretching her arms up above her head, her thin singlet rising up to show a few inches of her lightly tanned stomach.
A stomach that was marked with four thick, deep scars that ran diagonally across her skin.