One second. One leap. One sword.
That was all it took for the unthinkable to happen.
I knew I was missing something. I knew, when I saw the sword that had come from nowhere lying next to Thea, that I didn't know everything. I knew, when Leon dodged my lunge and dived for that same weapon, that I was dangerously out of the loop. And I knew, when I saw Leon's cruel, calculating smile, that not knowing was cost me.
But I hadn't known just how much.
When he lurched forward, swinging the sword in a practiced sweep, I didn't think twice about pouncing, ready to once again sink my teeth into his skin. I didn't spare even a second of worry for the blade, because what harm could a simple sword do to a shapeshifter? Instead, I was focused completely and utterly on something far more important; protecting Thea. On protecting her, keeping her safe, keeping her away from him, no matter what.
And yet somehow, somehow, I didn't notice what she was doing until too late.
In the split second before Leon and I collided, she was leaping in between us. No, not in between, into Leon. She was crashing into him, shoving him out of my path so I went flying past them both. It took less than a second for me to turn around, to lock eyes on the two of them–
Time slowed. I saw, with fear I'd never known before, the sword that Leon was pressing against Thea's chest. And I knew, before I'd even processed the terrible sight before me, exactly where that blade was headed; her heart.
Before I'd even finished the thought, I was throwing myself towards her, towards him. Towards the shapeshifter I should have killed, but hadn't, though right now I couldn't think of a single reason why not; I was overcome by the horrifying and awful realisation that I wasn't going to make it.
It would take less than a second. It hadn't even been a second since Thea had leapt, and everything had suddenly gone terribly wrong. But I knew that even though I was moving faster, and more urgently, than I ever had before, I was going to be too late.
Because even as my furious and panicked roar tore through the air, the sword was already being driven through her body.
I heard the sickening slick as it pierced her, all but drowned out by her pained scream. I watched, transfixed with terror, as inch by inch of the blade disappeared, only for the now red tip tear through her back, skewering her. And I felt the sudden, gut wrenching pain as my own body was torn apart, a hole being punched straight through my chest.
Agony. Unbearable, awful agony was exploding, assaulting me from all sides. It was both hers and mine, the imprint slamming into me even as my own pain consumed me in an onslaught. My body wanted to crumple, wanted to collapse and fall under the hurt, but I fought the almost overpowering urge back.
This couldn't be real. I'd give anything, anything, for this not to be real; for Thea not to be kneeling on the ground with a sword plunged right through her chest. It shouldn't be real. It shouldn't have happened, but it had.
Because of him. Because of the shapeshifter that was kneeling over my imprint, grinning as he took in the sight of her skewered on his blade.
He was still grinning when my teeth sunk into his throat.
One crunch. One savage snap of my jaws. One dead shapeshifter. His body falling to the ground under my attack, his blood in my mouth, his skin ripping as my teeth tore into his flesh. Motions and actions I didn't know I was carrying out, and wouldn't remember later, because my mind could think, could see, only one thing.
Thea. Thea, who hadn't moved, hadn't made a sound. Thea, who looked so small and delicate, her head bowed as she stared at the sword hilt sticking out of her stomach. Thea, whose hands were ever so slowly pressing against her chest, before falling away, her palms now stained with blood.
In a mindless rush, I lunged towards her, finding myself human instead of wolf as I dropped to my knees in front of her. Thea didn't seem to notice, didn't even blink; she was too busy staring at her now red hands. But my own eyes; my own eyes were locked on something else.
'Oh god, Thea.' I breathed, my pain and horror making my voice thick. But again, she did nothing, said nothing in response, and I knew, somehow, that she wasn't going to. I could feel it, feel it through the imprint; I could feel her fading.
Fading, and dying.
She could not die. I wouldn't let it happen. I would save her; and I would start by pulling that godforsaken sword out of her.
My hands moved forward, reaching tentatively for the hilt; I didn't want to touch the sword she was impaled on, to feel the sword moving through her body when I yanked it out. But it couldn't stay; I couldn't stand to see it plunged into her for another second. And yet before I could, before I could even touch the wood, Thea was stopping me.
'Don't.' She whispered, the word nothing but a breath. Her hands weakly touched my own, all but limp. Surprise made me freeze, my eyes finally tearing away from the blade to meet her own pained gaze. Her face was drawn and pale, tight with hurt that tore a soft whine from my throat. God, seeing her in pain was almost worse than feeling it.
'Thea.' I said softly, the word almost a whimper. 'I have to take it out.' I croaked, my voice breaking. Her hands were in mine now, the feel of her warm, sticky blood on my skin making my stomach churn.
She shook her head slightly at my words. 'No.' She breathed. 'The blood… I'll lose… too… much...' Every word was a challenge, her voice barely there as she forced out an answer. It wasn't one that I liked; seeing the sword stuck in her body was torturous. But if I took it out, I could kill her; a thought that was immeasurably worse than the sight that was tormenting me now.
She could not die.
But her words had put the thought in my head, and now that it was there, I couldn't get it out. There was already so much blood; I could all too easily lose her if I didn't stop it. Hell, it might already be too late–
No. She could not die.
Slipping my hands from Thea's, I once again reached forward, intent on stopping the blood spilling from her body. But again she stopped me, her hands trembling slightly as they blocked my movement.
'Don't… touch…' She gasped, and I gave her a puzzled look. 'The… venom…' She let out a whimper, a tremor running through her body as her hands clutched at my own. I wasn't paying attention though; I was frozen with horror at the words she'd just breathed.
At first, I'd had no clue what she was talking about. But then, like an avalanche crashing down upon my head, I'd understood.
Vampire venom. Because of the sword she had been stabbed with, she now had vampire venom in her system. Vampire venom, that was supposedly more agonising that anything else imaginable. Vampire venom, that was deadly to all, turning humans and killing werewolves.
'No.' I whispered hoarsely, staring at her with terror. Oh god, what would it do to her? She was different, a rarity; no one knew what happened when a hybrid was poisoned with venom. Would it turn her into a full vampire? Would it kill her? Or would something else, something new and terrible, happen instead? I didn't want to know. I didn't want to know.
But regardless, I was going to find out.
Burning. I was burning. The venom was fire in my veins, making my whole body tremble as it scorched me. I was clinging onto Jake's hands for dear life, because they were the only thing I could focus on in the agony that was searing through my blood, as wave after wave of pain shook my frame. Even now a new shudder was tearing through me; but this one was different.
It wasn't the pain that was making tremble, though the agony was no less fierce and capable of making me shake. No, the feeling that rolled through me was something else. Not hurt, but cold ice, sending shivers through my dead body as a sharp and familiar pain suddenly flared in my stomach, only disappear almost instantly. But the chill remained, trickling through me, flowing downwards; as if ice water had been dumped over my head, and was now draining away.
Before, with a sudden jerk, it was gone; as was a heavy pressure that had been pushing against me. A weight I hadn't known was there, suddenly vanishing into nothing.
For a moment, I was stunned, reeling from the strange and unknown sensations that had flooded through me. The lightness was unexpected and confusing, my body crumpling at the sudden change. But then, with a start, I realised what it was about it all that had been so familiar. I realised, with as much disbelief as I could muster through the pain, what had happened.
The poison was gone. The barrier, the protection, the magic that had kept me off Quileute soil; that was the pressure, the weight, that had now disappeared. And the pain, the stabbing pain; it was the pain that meant I had stayed too long, the pain that meant death. And it, too, had vanished.
It was all gone.
Panic. Fear. Terror. All of them filled me at once, consuming and overpowering, all centred around one all-important thought.
Thea could not die.
It couldn't happen. I refused to let it happen. But there was so much blood, so much pain, and she couldn't stop shaking–
No. She could not die.
But even as I tried to reassure myself, yet another shudder wracked her body. And then she was falling forwards, her body crumpling, only my fast hands stopping her from collapsing on the ground. Instead, she fell limp against my chest, my arms delicately wrapping around her broken body.
'It's gone.' I almost didn't catch her words, her voice muffled because her face was pressed into the bare skin of my shoulder. Carefully cupping her cheek and turning her face up to mine, fresh fear bloomed in my heart as I saw her half-open eyes struggling to meet my gaze.
'It's… gone.' She repeated, her voice dazed and weak.
'What's gone?' I asked quietly, feeling myself frown in confusion; what was she talking about? What was gone? In an instant, an awful answer occurred to me.
No. No, she couldn't mean it. She couldn't mean that she was the one that was gone. She was still awake, still talking, still living; she was not gone.
But perhaps she didn't mean it that way. Perhaps she meant instead that she was too far gone, that she couldn't be saved anymore; an answer that was nearly as terrible as the first. I refused to believe it, refused to accept it. I would not lose her, not again.
She could not die.
'Gone…' She breathed a third time, her eyelids flickering as she let out a heavy breath.
She could not die. But as much as I hated to admit it, it looked like she wasn't far off. Her entire body screamed death; the blood, the sword, her frailty. And then there was her heart, its beats slowly but surely slowing; a worrying fact I could no longer ignore.
She. Was. Dying.
Once again turning Thea's face to mine, I gave her fierce look. 'Thea, you need to stay awake.' I told her, urgency making my words sharp. But she didn't seem to even hear me; her gaze was unseeing as she stared.
'You are not going to die.' I said firmly, the words almost a growl as the wolf came bubbling to the surface. Yet still they had no affect; instead of replying, her eyes fluttered closed. I tried and failed to fight back my panic.
'Thea, don't you dare die on me.' I ordered fiercely, unintentionally injecting the alpha command into my words as desperation seized me; anything to get her to respond, to live. And, somehow, it worked; she heard me. A light tremble ran through her body, her breaths hitching for a moment before returning to soft exhales. I didn't have the energy to be surprised, or to wonder what it meant; to wonder if she really had been influenced by the alpha command. If it had even a chance of working, I would use it.
'You hear me? You will not die.' I growled. 'You. Will. Not. Die.'