Whenever Kade had pictured seeing Giv again, it didn’t happen like this.
She shoved the dagger through her belt at the back and stalked towards him, all coiled focus and intensity.
“We need to go,” she said. “There’s more coming.”
She reached out to him and Kade backpedalled.
“No, I’m not going anywhere until I know what the hell is going on,” he snapped. He tried to focus but his mind couldn’t get passed Giv being here, right in front of him. Truly here, the same Giv that had been his centre and his rock all those years ago. She’d never looked at him like this, though – hazel eyes cold, face remote and carved out of delicate ice.
Her eyes narrowed and her brows lowered further. “We don’t have time for a tantrum—”
“Is my father dead?” Kade’s knuckles turned white on the knife he was still clutching.
Giv’s mouth twisted bitterly, the expression so foreign to Kade he was taken aback.
“Not to my knowledge. We don’t have time for this, Kade.”
“You can’t just—”
If Kade hadn’t been so out of practice, he would’ve caught the intent in her frame – the tightening of muscles, the gathering of power, the wisps of ecto-mist. But he’d been human for far too long. When Giv disappeared, he jolted in surprise, long enough for Giv to appear next to him, grab his hand, and pull him into the shift.
It was worse than he’d ever felt. His mind screamed as it distended from his body, pulling tighter and tighter until the shrieking tension was all that filled his head. The pressure built as the tension intensified until suddenly, his body snapped and rocketed towards him like a released elastic band. The world snapped back into focus and he immediately keeled over, throwing up the meager sandwich he’d managed to scoff down for lunch. He dry-heaved for a few moments before finally getting himself under control.
He knelt there, on his knees with his head bent, breathing heavily. Slowly, his senses adjusted and he began to pick up the world around him. The first thing he noticed was the red ecto-mist swirling out of the ground, twining around his legs and disappearing into the air. It was the same effect as steam rising from boiling water, except tinged red. He lifted his head and saw he was next to a packed dirt road, red-stained trees staring at him from the opposite side. He was in the Fifth Circle. That would explain the sickness – being a passenger to someone else’s shift was never a nice feeling, and the serum in his blood just made it that much worse.
It was weird, being back in the Circles of Death with no power. The tiny amount of power in his veins that hadn’t been depleted by Claudiel or the serum zinged along his spine, completely ineffectual but recognising it was home. However, it wasn’t enough to give him the great awareness he had once had – he couldn’t feel anything. It was exactly like being in the human world, but his senses were both numb and blind.
This was Death.
He pushed himself to his feet, wavering for a moment before turning to see Giv watching him.
“Good. Let’s go.”
She turned to stalk off but he lunged forward, stomach giving a lurch, and grabbed her arm.
“Hold on, how—”
She ripped her arm out of his grasp, hissing, “Don’t touch me.”
He stared in shock, giving her time to turn and continue walking away, strides long and ground-eating. He frowned and strode to catch up.
“What’s going on, Giv?” he demanded, this time not touching her even though his hands itched to make sure she was real beside him. That this wasn’t some messed up nightmare. “You owe me an explanation, especially after you dragged my ass around half of Death.”
“I dragged your ass around most of it, actually,” Giv said, face blank and emotionless once again. “You passed out.”
Kade grit his teeth. No wonder he’d had such a violent reaction then. And if she’d had to shift that much with him in tow in such a short span of time, then she had to be worried about being followed. Plus, she was bound to be exhausted, even if her face conveyed none of that.
He wanted to shift back to Earth, his mind knew exactly how to do it, but his power was blocked. He was still incapable of using his power and therefore was completely reliant on Giv.
A group of spirits darted out of Giv’s way as she strode straight through them. Kade hurried on her heels.
Then he stopped.
After a few steps, she noticed and spun around.
“We need to get to somewhere safe,” she snapped. “Come on.”
“I haven’t seen you or anyone from the Circles for four years,” Kade said lowly. “Let alone heard anything. I want to know what the hell is going on and where my father is, because something is obviously very wrong if we’re taking shelter in the Fifth Circle and not the Eighth.”
“This isn’t the time or the place,” she said through gritted teeth. “We need to go.”
Kade folded his arms, voice implacable when he said, “I’m not going anywhere.”
Giv was silent for a moment before her lips thinned, pressing together in that particular way that only Giv could do to show just how annoyed she was. The expression was so familiar that for a moment, Kade was transported back to a time where Giv would never have looked at him with eyes this cold.
“I don’t know where your father is,” she said after a long pause. “But I know he’s alive.” Kade’s stomach dropped, even though he had been expecting it. “There was a coup. Someone on the inside. His House isn’t in too much disarray but your father disappeared before they could get to him. That’s why they’ve come after you. You’re their insurance.”
“My father renounced me,” Kade said. “It wouldn’t work.”
“Don’t be stupid. You’re still his son, Kade.” Giv hadn’t seen the look on his father’s face when he’d given him the ultimatum, and Kade had chosen to leave. Then she added, “And did you forget that you left first?” Her expression went dark, but she pressed her lips tighter until her face became blank again.
This wasn’t the Giv that Kade had known. All he wanted to do was take her in his arms again, but there was no way she was letting him near her anytime soon.
He opened his mouth to tell her his reasons, to make her understand and stop looking at him like he was a total stranger and not the man she’d loved all her life, up until four years ago. But in the end, she was right – this wasn’t the time nor the place. They were standing on a road in the Fifth Circle, Claudiel’s own home Circle. They were out in the open, and Kade was a hunted man.
“Let’s go,” he said brusquely. “But I will get answers from you.”
For a short second, the mask slid from Giv’s face – her eyes were vulnerable, full mouth trembling, the beginnings of exhaustion crumbling into her features. It was a minimal change, but Kade had once known Giv inside and out. He knew every expression, every emotion, every hint of body language. In that moment she became his Giv again, scared and lost and he wanted to comfort her so badly that his chest physically ached.
But in an instant it was gone, and her face became implacable once more. Carved out of stone, dangerously beautiful with a savage edge. “I know somewhere where we should be safe for a time.”
She walked off and this time, Kade followed.
The safe place ended up being a plain stone home, owned by a servant from the Fifth Overlord’s House. He greeted Giv with a nod and a murmured, “Giverny,” then gestured down to the cellar, barely sparing Kade a glance. Kade didn’t recognise the man, even though he’d visited the Fifth Overlord’s House many times.
In the cellar, the red ecto-mist that creeped out from everything in this circle wasn’t as noticeable, even when Giv flicked her fingers and the lamps caught alight. The room was sparse, with only one neat bed pressed into a corner, a table, and a multitude of boxes.
“Get some rest. If I’m not back in two hours, Teevon will get you out.”
“Where are you going?”
“I’ll be back in two hours,” Giv repeated.
“You expect me to wait here while you’re out there? You’re being hunted as well—” Kade realised something that made him stop and pause. “You wouldn’t have left my father. Why weren’t you with him when the coup happened?”
Giv’s eyes flared and her face twisted into a hateful expression. “You’re right. I wouldn’t have left him or abandoned anyone in the Eight Circle.” The look in Giv’s eyes was vicious and her barb hit the mark. “I wasn’t with him. I wasn’t where I was meant to be, because of you.”
“What is that meant to mean?” Kade asked, voice rough.
“What, you thought it was just a coincidence that I turned up just when Claudiel attacked?”
Kade’s eyes widened. “You’ve been watching me? For how long?”
Giv looked at him with a sneer and said, “Long enough to know that you are nothing like the man I once knew.”
Kade froze, stiffened in place as the words sunk in and imprinted in his mind.
Nothing like the man I once knew.
Of everything he’d left behind in the Eight Circle, Giv had been the hardest. It was like living with a black hole inside his heart, an area of emptiness that would suck him into oblivion if he thought too hard about it. Every day, the smallest and most inconsequential of things would remind him of her and he would have to forcibly drown his mind in work— anything else.
To know that she’d been so close all this time was bad. To know that this was how she now thought of him was worse.
He couldn’t keep the emotions from playing across his face. Giv could always read him like a book anyway. It was how she knew exactly where to push to cause the most harm. Her mouth parted. She drew in a breath to say something, but stopped. Pressed her lips together. Instead reiterating: “I’ll be back in two hours.”
Kade knew he should rest. He’d just gotten off a 12 hour shift at the hospital. Then there was the mental exhaustion that came from being pulled through the shift. He was running on non-stop adrenaline at this point. There was no telling when he’d next get time to rest. So he slipped off his shoes, bag and jacket, and lay on the bed. Of course, it too him a while to drift off, mind churning and replaying everything that had happened over the past few hours. Eventually, he drifted off to sleep and it was only after waking up for the umpteenth time with a start that he decided to give up all together. It was probably time for his serum shot anyway.
Luckily, he kept a few in his satchel for emergencies, though he never could have predicted something on this scale. He was just positioning the needle when the door to the cellar opened and Kade froze as footsteps came down the stairs. He relaxed with a sigh of relief when he saw it was only Giv. She was looking more ruffled than before, stray hairs flying out of her bun and a few dirt smudges on her face and bare arms.
“What are you doing?” she snapped when her eyes focused on him and the syringe poised above his arm.
“This is my serum,” he said. “To block the power flow.”
“Are you serious?” she said, voice low and rising. “At the moment you are alone and powerless in Death, with no way of getting anywhere or leaving or even defending yourself. You need your power.”
Kade narrowed his eyes and set his chin. “This is my body and my power to do what I want with.”
“You’re used it to blending in with the humans but we’re not in that world anymore! And it is not just you. If something happens to me and you get taken, they’ll use you to strong-arm your father. So no, it is not yours to do what you will with. You need to consider the other people that this will affect.”
“I can’t use my power again,” Kade ground out. Images flashed behind his eyes, of spraying blood and screaming and the overwhelming need to let the power out and bend everything around him to his will.
“Why not! It’s a hell of a lot harder keeping you safe when you can’t do anything but make an incredibly weak circle of power.”
“I made a vow, Giv. I’m not doing any harm to others anymore. I’m a doctor.”
“No, that’s just a pretty excuse you’re hiding behind. Even after four years, you’re still scared of your power. You ran to the human world so you’d have the excuse of hiding from your power—”
“I ran because I couldn’t be here anymore!” Kade finally stood up, feeling the first stirrings of true anger rush through his veins. “Everything reminded me of my mother and the monster I became to get revenge. I was dangerous, Giv – I even attacked you! I needed to get the hell away and that’s why I ran to Earth.”
“That was four years ago, Kade! I understood that, we all did—”
“Not my fa—”
“Your father might not have liked it at first but he understood. You could’ve stopped taking that damn serum ages ago. You could’ve stopped and come back to heal properly with the rest of us. You seem to be forgetting that you weren’t the only one that lost her. We were all hurting.”
“I attacked you—”
“And you think I couldn’t have defended myself?” She was close to him now, so close he could see the anger brightening her hazel eyes and each individual faded freckle that dotted her nose. Her finger stabbed out at him as she hissed, “I let you get that close because I knew you would never hurt me, so stop this angsty martyr bullshit. I don’t break easy and you should know that by now. Get that through your bloody dense brain.”
“I was a monster, Giv,” he repeated. “I had so much power and it nearly destroyed me and everyone else around me, all because I was consumed with vengeance.”
“What does that have to do with what’s happening now? You’re not the same man you were four years ago. You left, you had time to grieve, and you made peace with her death. But you have not made peace with what you did after and that’s why you keep taking that fucking serum. I’ve had to watch over you for years. Every single fucking day, I had to watch you take that damn serum. I had this stupid, stupid hope that one day, you wouldn’t take it and would come back to us. But you never did.” The anger seemed to drain out of her, leaving her emotions exposed. She slumped her shoulders. Her eyes gleamed, hinting at the unshed tears that made his heart break. Her voice had lost its ferocity. She dropped down to hushed words to mutter, “The truth is, you abandoned us. All of us. And… and you abandoned me. I waited and waited for you but if Claudiel hadn’t come after you and your father hadn’t been threatened, you never would’ve come back, would you?”
Kade opened his mouth, but words got stuck in his throat. He felt her pain like it was his own, as if he’d taken a dagger to his heart. Giv’s earlier bitterness had completely left her. She looked so much younger now, less like the capable warrior that had saved him only hours before and more like the scared girl his father had taken under his wing and raised alongside Kade. More like the girl Kade had once made his entire world. Before it had all shattered around him, at least. The day he’d been out with his mother and a Ninth Circle demon had slaughtered her in front of him changed everything.
Would he have ever returned?
He hadn’t forgotten about Giv. Even buried under work, even at the end of an exhausting 12 hour shift when his mind was so tired he could barely string two sentences together, Giv was at the back of his mind. Always there, his heart aching and body hurting, but always denied.
You abandoned me.
He hadn’t thought of it like that. He’d thought staying away would be better. At first, he had left because it had been his only option. He was spiraling into a black hole and he’d known if he had stayed one more day, he wouldn’t have been able to get out of it. He thought that if he moved away from where it had all happened and numbed his power, he’d get better. But the terrified look that had been on Giv’s face when she’d stood in his way – provoking him to attack her – had haunted him. Every time he closed his eyes it was always there— a blink away. And he couldn’t do it. He couldn’t not take the serum, couldn’t return. He’d had to live with this torture every day penance.
“Giv . . . ” he breathed. The needle dropped from his nerveless hands as he raised them and cupped her face. Her skin was warm and soft and so familiar it made him ache. Her eyes were still shining, tears on the cusp of overflowing, face achingly beautiful as she tilted it up to look at him. There was no pretense between them now. Giv was open, laying her soul bare to him. There were so many words to say but he couldn’t form them, couldn’t form the right ones in his mind.
He leant down and kissed her. Her lips were warm beneath his and she responded immediately, opening up to him. Her hands lifted, running up his side to clutch at his back as she stepped into him. Their bodies pressed tightly together, and she was all soft skin and curves over the coiled power of her muscles. His mind calmed, flattening out as the women he loved melted into his arms in a way that was as familiar to him as breathing.
Suddenly, she stiffened and pulled away. Kade opened his eyes and saw that her head was cocked, as if listening intently to something. For the length of an indrawn breath, she was still. Then she spat “shit” and burst into motion.
Her hand shot out and blue ecto-mist
swirled into being as her sword materialised in her hand. She spun and headed
to the stairs, saying over her shoulder, “Get your shit together, we need to
He whirled around and grabbed his jacket and bag, shoving his feet into his shoes.
“How many are there? And how the fuck did they find us?” he said, moving to follow her.
She spun and put her hand on his chest. “You have to stay here and no, no arguments. You can’t do anything to help; you’ll just get in the way. They must’ve followed me back from the House earlier . . . stay here. I’ll take care of them and then shift us out of here.”
She took the steps two at a time, bounding up them and out the door at the top. Kade stood there for a moment, turning her words over in his head, before turning and searching through the room. As he rummaged, he heard the sounds of fighting above – loud thumps, the ringing of metal against metal, cut-off shouts. He finally found something useful – a fire iron from a full set of fireplace tools.
There was no way in hell he was going to listen to Giv on this.
He raced up the steps and took in the scene. Teevon was struggling with a Third Circle demon, his brown fingertips clutched around the servant’s throat. Giv was spinning and ducking between three Third and Fourth Circle demons, blue sword and black dagger flashing. Kade gripped the fire iron in two fists, took a deep breath, and slammed the iron into the head of the Third Circle demon. The blow sent the demon reeling, enough that Teevon could stumble to his feet and plunge a dagger into his heart. The demon stilled for a moment before crumbling into a pile of ash, a plume of brown ecto-mist billowing up from the remains like the mushroom cloud of an atomic bomb.
The other Third Circle demon turned towards them, a distraction that was long enough for Giv to lop off his head. Another brown mushroom cloud rose up to the ceiling, soon to be joined by two others as she finished them off quickly. Her movements flowed like water, as if they were a rehearsed dance and not a deadly series of moves beaten into her since she was young.
The house fell silent and Giv stood for a moment, panting lightly before turning on Kade with a frown.
“I told you to stay downstairs.”
“And you must be delusional if you thought I actually would.”
“You . . . ” Her mouth worked angrily for a moment, before she gave up and turned to Teevon. “Thank you for your hospitality and sorry to bring Claudiel down on you like this. I’d advise shifting to your House before he gets here.”
Teevon nodded and smiled at her, “Of course, it is no trouble. You always manage to bring a little bit of excitement into my life, Giverny. Until next time.”
He shifted away, and Kade could feel the faint currents of power in the room as he hopped across Circles and back to the Fifth, to his Overlord’s House.
“Time to go,” Giv said, striding towards him and taking him by the arm.
“Hold on, give me time to prepa—”
He was yanked through the shift. Again, there was that rising tension and feeling of his body being left behind, that stretching, then the snap and solid ground beneath him as he keeled over.
He didn’t make it to the ground. Giv caught him and shifted again. This time, the tension rose until Kade blacked out.