My skin itches, my insides burn, and my lungs feel like they are being torn apart. I try to scream for someone to help me; to stop my pain, but I cannot move. It is as if my body is chained from all sides.
I start to panic and I begin to feel or hallucinate that I am dying. I want to cry, but I cannot.
What truly frightens me, however, is the dark. Ever since I was a kid, I have hated darkness. It brings a peculiar type of fear to my heart. In many cases, darkness was the reason why I had panic attacks. Thus, I try to think about things that would distract me from all the negative ideas that seem to penetrate my mind without my consent. Unfortunately, it is a little too hard to do that when the last thing I remember is fainting in Alec’s arms and seeing the tears in Amoux’s eyes.
His face leads me to imagine myself telling Stefan that the notorious Alexander Cresswell is my mate. At first I picture him freaking out and forbidding me from seeing Alec. But as I think about it, I realize that he would wrap me up and hand me to Alec with a satisfied smirk. He would think that he is punishing me because of the diversion of Alec’s reputation.
I smile at my thoughts when suddenly I feel myself falling into an even pitcher darkness. I do not know how but I scream like my life depends on it.
I cannot see anything, but I can feel myself falling. It is like I am falling over a cliff. The only difference is I have no idea when or where the fall will end.
I reach out my hands and I try to touch something, anything around me but all my hands catch is air. Perhaps this is how one dies, maybe this indicates that I am going to hell, or maybe I am still alive and in pain. If that is the case, then I want to wake up, I want to see Clay and Nick, and I want to have a sleepover with them. I want to see Josh and talk to him so we can make up for all the years we did not know each other. I want to see Alec and tell him that… I do not know what I would tell him. Perhaps I would apologize to him; from all the females in the world he has me as a mate. I would also tell him that he is the exact opposite from what the world says he is. Yes he has a past, but nobody is perfect.
I start reminiscing the first time we kissed, but I abruptly land on a soft couch. Unconsciously, I close my eyes because I am too scared to be met with the darkness once again or of being thrust in a much worse place.
“You can open your eyes now, you are safe.” My mind is playing tricks on me, it is turning against me.
“Shadow, open your eyes.” A warm hand touches my cheek. Thus, I open my eyes before I can stop myself.
“Hey.” He gives me a warm smile. I jump on him and kiss the top of his head. Somehow, I end up on his lap.
“Nick, you are here. I missed you so much.” I cry as I continue to embrace my best friend.
“I missed you too.” He pulls the hair out of my face.
“How did you take the pain away? I was feeling like I was dying.” I look into his eyes waiting for an answer.
“Well, I actually did not know that you were in pain. I just thought that I could enter your mind and talk to you for a while to make sure that you are okay and to tell you what has happened in the last few hours since you fell unconscious.” He pulls me off of him and starts walking around the house; a house I have never seen before.
“You are in my mind? So I am not awake yet?” I follow him, curious to explore the old beautiful house.
“No you are not. Actually, your body is really weak, and your lungs are even weaker.”
“But I am going to wake up right?” I feel the panic finding its way back to my mind.
“Yes, the problem is you will not wake up until your lungs are completely healed which might take a few weeks.” His words scare me but I do not tell him that.
“So where are we?” I change the subject.
“My childhood home.” My eyes widen at that; this is the house Nick and Joshua lived in when they were still living in the Red Eclipse pack. Without a warning, I remember the conversation I had with Joshua about their family.
“Nick…” I stop in my tracks as I recall all the guilt I felt, and still feel, about everything he went through.
“Josh told me that you learned about our family’s past.” He says. Thus he makes me believe that he is capable of reading my mind.
“Why did you not tell me?” My voice is weak and emotional but I do not cry. Nick stops in his tracks, and turns around so he can face me.
“Because it would not have changed anything.” He approaches me and places his hand on my cheek.
“Maybe, but you would have had someone to share your pain with. You would have had someone there for you.”
“I did have someone there for me. I had you, and I had Clay, and I had my friends here in the Open wound pack, and I had my brother.”
“Really? Because Joshua told me that you practically escaped this territory because it was a constant reminder of your parents’ loss.” I give him a look; one that indicates that I know he is trying to conceal his pain.
“My brother loves to talk about things he is not supposed to talk about.” Nick seems a little angry but he shrugs it off.
“Shadow, I think you already know by now that I do not like to talk about my feelings especially when they are filled with numbness and sorrow.”
“Yeah, and I understand that Nick. But… my family destroyed yours. How can you be friends with me? How can you look me in the eye and not be tempted to kill or at least hate me? Nick… you held me as I cried for hours almost every day for months all the while you were dealing with a pain of your own.”
He looks at the photos on the wall, photos of two happily married couple, his parents I am guessing, and two boys with huge smiles on their faces, Nick and Joshua. He stares at the photos as if he is looking at his family in their flesh and blood; like he is reuniting with a long lost part of himself.
I want to say that I know the feeling; I have felt it every time I imagined Diamanda’s face in my mind. But this is not about me. More importantly, Nick needs me and I need to think about his pain rather than thinking about mine.
“You are not your father, or your uncle, or your brother. You are not me foe, you are my friend Shadow; you are the sister I never had. You are everything your family is not, and I love you for that. I do not hate you, I can never hate you.” I do not know what to say, so I close the space between us and hug him as tight as I can.
At first he hugs me softly, but as the seconds pass his hold gets tighter. Thus, I start counting lowly in his ear in order to comfort him; which is something he used to do for me. When I reach twenty, I feel a slight wetness on my left shoulder. When I reach thirty he is crying quietly. When I reach fifty, his cries are as loud as a siren.
I know from experience that when a person cries like that, they do not need someone who would ask them what is wrong, but rather someone who will hold them tight as they let everything out; someone who they would trust enough to fall apart in their hands.
“It is okay, just let it out. I will hold on as long as you need me to.” I assure him and hug him as hard as I can.
A part of me feels a little uncomfortable. I do want to be there for Nick, and I want him to come to me when he needs company; or when he cannot handle being alone. But I am used to seeing the strong Nikolai Fairchild, the rock for those he cares about, the ones who assists his friends when they are in need.
I have never seen him cry before, and before I met Joshua, I did not know that my friend held that kind of sadness within him. A piece of me felt responsible for every tear he sheds not only because of my family is responsible for his parents’ deaths but also because I was so blind and so involved with my own feelings to see the hurt in Nick’s eyes. I feel some kind of self-hatred because of vanity and selfishness.
He cries for an hour, maybe two; it is hard to track time when we are in one of Nick’s made up worlds. Somehow, we end up in Nick’s childhood bedroom sitting on his bed as he cries on my shoulder. Our backs are leaned on the bed’s cupboard and our legs spread on the duvets.
As I stare at the pictures on the night stand, I feel and hear Nick’s cries start to become calmer but I do not pull away.
“I am sorry.” He apologizes when he fully stops crying and rests his head on my shoulder.
“You have nothing to apologize for. I am glad you felt comfortable and safe enough to let it out on my shoulder.” I want to look at his eyes but I have to move in order to do so and I am way too comfortable to do that. Hence, I just grab his hands and start playing with his ringed fingers.
“How are you feeling?” I finally ask.
“Better, that is for sure.”
“Like you said, I know you well by now. So, I know that your tears were not only concerning your parents. Do you want to talk about it?” I choose to ask him when I make sure that his crying session is over. I can see his tension, it is as if he is nervous to be around me, or perhaps nervous about having to tell me something. I consider the fact that perhaps I am dying but I know that if that was the case, Nick would not be here, he would try to find a way to save me.
“I figured you have to know before you wake up, so you will know what to expect.” He answers.
“What are you talking about?” I let go of his hand and force myself to move away from him in order to look at him. His eyes are really swollen but what concerns me is the fear in them.
“It is Xander, he got triggered by what happened to you and he…” I listen silently as Nick tells me everything I missed.
“Shadow, say something, please.” Nick pleads once he finishes talking. The problem is, I cannot, I do not know what to think. I know that I do not hate Alec but that does not mean I am not a little frightened by what he did.
From the way Nick described it, I have a feeling that Alec tried to stop Amoux he tried to overpower him. I cannot imagine how that felt like; to be in a mental war between two parts of yourself. I just know that if I was in his shoes, I would not handle it pretty well especially if I hurt my best friend. I cannot imagine a world where I would hurt either Nick or Clay and be able to live with myself.
I look at the situation from all sides.
I think about Alec.
I think about the doctor’s family.
I think about Joshua.
I think about Nick.
I think about Chance.
I think about the pack.
And I think about Clay. I cannot help but feel a strong urge to give Alec a piece of my mind for choking Clay, but I sense that he has to handle much more important things rather than myself.
“How is Clay?” I ask in order to distract myself from asking about Alec.
“He is alright. In fact, he is sleeping next to you right now.”
“Well, that is good.” I smile.
“And guess what?” Nick gives me a playful look, but I can see that it is a façade; an attempt to cheer me up. Nonetheless, I play along.
“What?” I give him a grin.
“He actually likes Xander.” I give Nick a look, I wait for him to tell me that he is joking, when he does not, my eyes widen.
“Wow!” I whisper to myself.
“I know right. It is really weird.”
“Tell me about it, now I really want to wake up.” I make a sad face.
“Trust me everyone in the Open Wound pack wants you to wake up.”
“What do you mean?” I give him a confused look.
“Well… it is nothing to worry about.” He rubs his hands against his thighs; a sign that he is hiding something.
“Nick?” I get off his bed and start to walk around it so I can reach my friend.
“Look, it really is nothing, I do not want you to concern yourself with this.” He jumps off the bed so fast that I do not have the time to catch him. I do have the time, however, to lock the door before he makes his official escape. I push him into the locked door, and place my hand on his chest violently.
“Nikolai Fairchild, if you do not start talking, I am going to let Accalia cut your hands off.”
“Okay, okay, there are rumors among the pack that you are Xander’s mate. He announced a meeting that is taking place as we speak, and he is going to confirm it.”
“What? But…” I cannot create a coherent sentence. Thus, I shut my mouth.
“He did not want to do it, but with everything that has happened in the last few hours…” I pull away from him and sit on the ground and hug my legs like a homeless person who is shivering from the brutal cold.
“Yeah I know, and anyway, I have more important things to worry about, and I choose to face things one step at a time. So first step, I have to wake up. Until that happens, I do not see the point in concerning myself with anything else. All it will cause is anxiety and panic attacks, or perhaps me finally having a psychotic break.” Nick joins me on the comfy carpet in his middle childhood bedroom.
“So, the famous Shadow Prior has found her mate. How do you feel about that?” I look at him expecting to see a playful smirk, I find none. He is serious; he really wants to know how I am feeling, but it is hard to tell him when I myself do not know.
“You can tell me, I will not tell him. Unlike my brother I actually do keep secrets.” He chuckles.
“I know you do. It is just that… I do not know how I am feeling. I mean I cannot feel the mating bond, which I am sure you already know. And to be honest that complicates things.”
“Well, you know my initial thought about mates…”
“Are you saying that you no longer regard mates as a pointless and ridiculous concept.” Nick interrupts me with a genuine smile making me realize that he is actually happy that two of his close friends are mates.
“I am saying that he is the exact opposite of why I did not want a mate, why I believed that it is stupid to wait for the day you meet your mate.” I huff as I try to make my friend understand.
“I do not follow.”
I take a minute to organize my thoughts and calculate my words. If anyone can help me understand this situation, it is Nick.
“You know how males are back home! They are possessive, they are cocky, they are prideful, and they believe they are above and better than women; the list is infinite. The horrible adjectives I can use to describe them are endless. So, I always assumed that when I do find my mate, he will be like them, like my father, like Stefan, and like Oliver.”
“So?” He sounds like he is leading me through a path of realization which in a way he is.
“Of course I want a mate; everyone wants someone to share their life with. It is just I do not want someone who will be like every male I have met…”
“Xander is not like any male you have met.” Nick interrupts me once again with a soft smile on his face.
“I know which is what makes everything so damn complicated.”
“Elaborate please.” My witch friend gives me an unimpressed look.
“It is just he is… he is kind, generous, loving, gentle, vulnerable, humble, cares about his pack, and he respects women. Minus Clay, I have never met a werewolf male who has these qualities until I came here. And…”
“He also has a dark side Shadow.” Nick interrupts me for a third time.
“Well, you did not let me finish.” I give him a glare before I continue.
“And at the same time, I know that he has a dark past, I know he hurt people, and I know he literally has a beast inside. In my opinion, this is completely normal, everyone has a dark side, and it just happens that sometimes he cannot control his.”
“So what?” I start to get a little frustrated with his one word replies.
“I mean, what do you conclude from all of this? And you also forgot to mention that he really wants to be with you even though you cannot feel the bond.”
“Yeah.” I huff.
“So I ask again, what do you conclude from all of this?” he waits patiently for my answer, but I have none.
“I…” I have no words.
“You do not know, do you?” Nick gives me a smile. All I do I nod.
“You want to hear what I think?”
“Enlighten me.” I give him a wave with my hand.
“I think that you want to get to know Xander, you want to know Amoux, and you want to know his other sides; the ones the world does not know exist. I also think that you want to accept him but something is holding you back. What is it?” He looks like he is genuinely curious.
“Honestly, I feel like he is too good of a person to be real. As for his dark side, I do not know, I feel like I should know exactly what I would be agreeing to if I am going to accept Alec. I do not know… I am so confused.” I rub my face with my hands.
“Well, luckily, you have until you wake up to think about it.” Nick puts his hand on my shoulder.
“What do you mean?”
“Well, I figured that I would not be a good friend if I leave you in the dark. So, I did a spell and your consciousness is going to be here until you wake.” At that I hug him really tight, I squeeze him actually, but he does not complain. After a couple of minutes, he pulls away.
“Oh, and by the way, I would not try to communicate with Accalia. She is much weaker than you are and the speed of your recovery depends on her.”
“So if I talk to her she will only become weaker?”
“Well, that sucks.” I mumble to myself.
“I have to go, but I will see you tomorrow, I promise.” I nod.
“Before you go, can you send a message to Alec?”
“Of course.” I wish I could see Alec’s face when he hears what I wanted to say.