'Wake up. Please, you have to wake up.'
There was a voice. A soft but urgent voice, whispering in my ear; but I couldn't make out the words. I hurt too much. I couldn't think, couldn't process it; couldn't do anything.
'Thea. Thea, can you hear me?'
It didn't make sense. Nothing made sense, not anymore. There was only pain.
And a hand. A burning hot, large hand, covering my own.
I flinched away, whimpering as I recoiled. My body protested the movement, pain flooding through me and making me cry out.
'I'm not him, Thea. I'm not him. He's not here.'
That made me pause, my breaths hitching. The voice; it was unfamiliar. It wasn't Leon; I would recognise his cruel drawl anywhere. But if it wasn't him…
'Who…' I managed to gasp, my voice quieter than a whisper. I'd meant to ask 'who are you', but I couldn't croak out the rest of words. Fortunately, he still understood my question.
'I'm Brady. I'm part of Jake's pack.' There was only one word that stood out in his reply.
'Jake.' I breathed with a sigh; only to find myself freezing as the rest of the voice's words sank in.
I'm part of Jake's pack.
Oh my god. The man talking to me was the shapeshifter. The shapeshifter I had tried desperately to reach, but had failed as I sunk into a world of roaring pain, was awake.
My eyes flew open in a rush, my vision swimming as my head spun. I stifled a groan at the feeling, blinking wildly as a dark figure slowly materialised before me.
'I'm going to get you out of here, okay? I'll get you to Jake.' His words... his words were making more sense now. Enough sense for me to understand that what he was planning wasn't going to work.
'No.' I murmured. He gave me an incredulous look.
'No? Thea, I'm trying to save you.' I knew that. And god, I wanted to be saved. But–
'He'll stop you.' I gasped. There was reason Brady had been unconscious when I'd found him. He hadn't found me by accident. Leon was planning something, I was sure of it.
'He's not here.' Brady said softly.
'He'll be back.' I said, shaking my head; he always was. And he certainly wouldn't let us leave without a fight.
'So we'll leave before he returns.' Seeing the lack of conviction in my expression, he gave me a sad look. 'We can't stay here, Thea. We have to go.'
I froze, realising what we'd have to do. Brady couldn't leave with me, not if he had to fight Leon. But if he left without me, he could make it. He could get Jake, and come back.
Except that would leave me with Leon. I cringed at the thought, holding in a frightened cry.
This was the only way.
'You have to go. Not me.' I said quietly. His expression turned into one of horror and shock.
'You mean leave you here? You must be joking; Jake would kill me.'
'You have to, Brady. You have to bring him back to find me.' There was no need to specify who he was. But even though I knew my idea was the only one that would work, Brady wouldn't agree.
'No. Thea, I'm not leaving without you.' He said firmly, his face set, though his expression softened at the desperate look I gave him. 'It'll all work out, okay? Trust me.'
I did trust him. We had never met before, yet I trusted him; but not with this. Because I trusted Leon more. Decades of experience told me that he always appeared when you least expected, least wanted it; which was now. Every part of my body was on edge, trembling on the ground, because I was that sure he was going to appear.
Any moment now.
'I'm going to help you up, but it's probably going to hurt.' Brady said apologetically. I didn't really process the words though; my eyes were too busy searching the room, over and over again, for signs of him.
That was until Brady pulled me off the ground, and my eyes rolled into the back of my head.
Oh god, it hurt.
I couldn't hold back an agonising scream as my body exploded with pain, falling completely limp against the man that was holding me up. I heard Brady's voice, but not the words, my head spinning too much to register whatever he had said. Hell, I could barely even process the fact that we were moving now, Brady tugging me through the darkness. I closed my eyes tight to try and get rid of the dizziness that had assaulted me, but I couldn't stop myself from reopening them just seconds later, searching the room.
Searching for Leon. But there was nothing, nothing but darkness and Brady's soft voice, murmuring words I couldn't understand; until the soft sound of approaching footsteps suddenly reached my ears.
I whimpered at the same time Brady froze, his whole body tensing as he swore softly.
'Dammit.' He changed direction, moving away from the tell-tale signs of approach, not stopping until we were backed against a wall. He shifted so that I was slumping against the hard wall instead of him, his eyes frantically scanning the darkness as he stood in front of me.
God, this was bad. This was very, very bad. I couldn't think, couldn't figure out what to do. Panic was taking over, the only thought in my mind that Brady had to go, go now, before it was too late; because it had suddenly and horribly occurred to me that I wasn't the only one in danger here. I could think of half a dozen ways this could play out, and none of them, none of them, ended well. But I couldn't say it; I couldn't find my mouth. It was taking all my energy just to stay upright, my body quivering as I breathed heavily. Somehow, though, I managed to croak out the words.
'Brady, you need to go.' My voice was so quiet I almost thought he didn't hear me. But then he turned to meet my gaze, his eyes torn; only for his head to suddenly whip back away as a cruel voice spoke.
'She's right.' I couldn't stop myself from flinching, my heart stuttering as Leon's tall form materialised from the darkness. His eyes were bright with malice as he smirked, and I saw Brady stiffen.
'You should listen to her, little wolf. After all, she's done this before.' His smile widened. 'How many times now? Ten?' He asked smugly, giving me a satisfied look.
'Eight.' I whispered hoarsely, my legs buckling as I slid down the wall a few centimetres. Leon grinned.
'Eight. More than enough times for her to know what she's doing.' He threw Brady a falsely sympathetic look.
'You really should have gone.' It didn't escape my notice that Leon was talking in the past tense. 'Of course, I wouldn't have let you go anyway, but still; staying here was stupid.' He said happily, stepping forward and making Brady growl.
'You think your pack will find you here? They won't; they have no trail to follow.' He pulled a bunch of crushed leaves from his pocket, holding them up for us both to see. 'Wearing this gets rid of all trace of our scents.'
'Why did you bring even me here in the first place?' Brady asked, his voice sounding strangled.
'You were getting dangerously close to finding us.' Leon said, his tone hardening. 'And I couldn't have that.'
'I would have liked to just kill you then, but the rest of the pack would have quickly found your body, and that would have caused all sorts of trouble. So, here you are, still alive.' His eyes flashed dangerously then. 'And if you want to stay that way, you should move aside and let me have her.'
For a moment, Brady seemed stunned by the malice in the threatening demand. His eyes flicked between my face and Leon's, his gaze showing a hint of desperation he was trying to hide. Somehow, that look made me feel stronger, a feeling I channelled as I gave Brady a fierce stare.
'Brady, go.' I said as strongly as I could muster, and he shuddered slightly, stepping to the side unwillingly. He gave me a tortured look that was mixed with surprise, and I realised that the movement actually had been involuntary. Had I just alpha ordered him? I ignored the confusion that flooded through me at the realisation though, because Leon was speaking again.
'Wise choice.' He said with a cruel smile, turning his attention away from Brady and stepping towards me. I felt fear rise up in my stomach, hot and wild, my hands trembling as I pressed against the wall at my back. Somehow, I forced my eyes away from Leon's calculating gaze, my eyes finding Brady's scared ones.
'Leave.' I urged him. He shivered again, reluctantly moving further away. Leon, who was close enough to touch me now, paused in his advance, turning to look at the now fast retreating Brady.
'I wouldn't try that if I were you.' He snarled quietly, and I squeezed my lips together to keep them from trembling. I slid down the wall another centimetre as Brady paused for a moment, before stepping again; Leon's eyes flashed with anger.
'If you take one more step, you won't live to take a second.' Leon said dangerously, putting his back to me as he stepped away. I could only just see Brady now – he was at the other side of the room – his whole body visibly shaking. His gaze was pained, his eyes narrowed in concentration; he was trying to fight the order I had somehow managed to give him. I felt bad about that; about forcing him leave against his will, even though I knew it was the only option. If he stayed, we would both be trapped; and I was sure I wouldn't be the only one Leon hurt. So I pushed my sadness away, shoving it deep down within me; right now, I needed to focus.
Because with Leon so focused on Brady, for once he wasn't watching me.
Granted, I wasn't in much shape to utilise his lapse; I was just seconds from falling to the floor, and my whole body was a trembling mess. But this was the only chance I would get, and I was going to make the most of it.
Breathing deeply to try and steel myself, my left hand fumbled behind my back. I bit back an agonised groan as my fingers accidently brushed my savaged skin, but the pain didn't matter; I had found what I was looking for.
Pulling it out with a shaky hand, I clenched my fingers around it in a chokehold. I closed my eyes for a moment as I sucked in a huge breath, leaning my head back against the wall; this was going to be hard. And Leon was probably going to hurt me in the process, a thought that made my already trembling legs weaken. But I would do it any way; I would still try to kill him.
I had been waiting too long not to. Years and years of hating him, of being scared of him; it had to stop. And even if I didn't succeed, Brady would still get out; I would save him, and then he could get the pack and save me.
All I had to do was hold off Leon.