THERON

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FIVE.

My head is pounding.

My whole body hurts.

Wait.

Am I dead?

Memories come flooding back to me—Sara, my mortality, Mouse...

Shit.

I’m fucking dead, aren’t I?

I crack my eyes open and peer to my left, the only side that smells enticingly familiar. There, with my arm draped over her shoulder is my little blonde beastie. I immediately realize that I am not even fucking mad she is here... a bit embarrassed and humbled to be rescued by a female but I’ll swallow that pill with a smile. It’s when I look to my right that all happiness flies out the fucking window.

Turning back to Lina and ignoring the urge to chew my right arm off, there is only one question I need an answer to right this fucking second because now I am doubtful, “Lina, am I dead?”

She chuckles, “No, You are very much alive, Theron.” Her face turns downward and her brows furrow as she grunts, “But you’re heavy as fuck.”

I’m going to ignore the fact that she may have just insinuated I am fat. I have a point to make and I am not about to allow her to take me off track. “Well, I had to ask because I’m pretty fucking certain the only way I would ever allow a hunter to touch me is over my dead body,” I declare, impassively.

I am Theron.

I do not need an explanation as to why I am sandwiched between a deity and a hunter.

I do not need to be convinced that I shouldn’t burn these hunter cootie-infested clothes.

I sure the fuck do not need reasoning and logic to guess that we are now on the backside of the mountain and moving ever closer to the entrance of Superlunar... Fuck all, I probably do need to know why we’re going in this direction but at this current moment, it is pretty damn low on my priority list.

And I am not fucking fat.

Sweeping Alex’s legs out from beneath him, I whirl around quick enough to see him fall on his ass. Snarling ferociously, I take a defensive stance ready and more than willing to drain every ounce of despicable blood that is held inside that fucking lab experiment’s body. So, imagine my surprise and confusion when I receive a slap to the back of the head, courtesy of one Catalina Bakkas.

“No!” She scolds me like a bad dog, instantly transporting me back to a single solitary smack on the nose from a tiny six-year-old. A mixture of emotions surge within me... anger, shame, and a sudden willingness to obey I have never had in my entire fucking life that brings about a strong sense of self-loathing. Her fiery eyes meet mine and suddenly I am well aware that I am about to get my ass handed to me.

“Theron Sirius Valerius!”

Did she just...

No...

She did not just middle name me.

“Alex is the only reason I am here—the only reason you are standing right now! So stop acting like a feral dog and show some respect you arrogant, self-centered prick!” Lina is yelling at me, rage rolling off her in waves and leaving me speechless. “You didn’t get yourself out of there—he did,” she points to the hunter. “And if not for him, I would probably never see you again! You chose to leave me. Again. And without even a discussion better yet a single word! And now? We’re reunited and the only thing you can think of is killing a hunter? A hunter that betrayed his oath? Helped us? Helped you? I won’t stand for it, Theron. I won’t!”

I think, if I look hard enough, I can see the smoke billowing from her ears—something I caused, and yet I am not sure why. Her words are a jumbled mess to my less than coherent head and I struggle to comprehend what’s happening here. Maybe I should change my approach? “Lina,” I implore, reaching for her face. I just want to touch her...

She swats my hand away, “Don’t! I am mad and rightfully so and if you ever pull a stunt like that again, I swear to Goddess I will neuter your ass so fast you won’t have time to snarl!”

“You can’t actually neuter an ass—”

“Shut it!” She snaps a bit more belligerently than necessary if anyone wants my opinion on the matter.

But shut it I do, “Sorry.”

I am so bad at this.

“Are you?” She quirks a perfectly darkened brow.

Am I?

Am I what?

Bad at this?

Most definitely.

Sorry?

If it gets her to stop fucking screaming at me then yes! I am sorry! Extremely fucking sorry!

Ugh, my head is killing me...

And now her hands are on her hips, eyes glaring and making me nervous, “Are you really? Because all I sense is an unwillingness to admit that you were wrong and a severe lack of guilt you should be feeling for doing something so fucking stupid.”

Well shit, no need for name-calling...

“Lina,” I sigh, a new, familiar emotion now consuming me: annoyance. Welcome back, old friend!

I do not know how men deal with this and I don’t have the fucking patience to learn the mysterious inner workings of the female brain.

Tears of vexation begin to well in her eyes and the need to hold her is stronger than ever. This absurd amount of conflicting emotions inside has me feeling less than confident. “You’re so fucking stupid,” she shakes her head. This time she allows me to place my hands on both sides of her face, my thumbs erasing the tears that have escaped their prison. My eyes search hers, the softness in my voice an attempt to calm the storm, “I did it to protect you.”

I want understanding...

I want acceptance...

I want forgiveness.

Unfortunately, it very clearly appears that I have hit the big red button because she explodes, forcefully shoving me away, “I don’t need protecting, you idiot! I didn’t ask for it and I don’t want it. I am not six years old for goddess’s sake! I am a grown woman and I should be allowed to make my own choices—experience life and make mistakes! I am not a China doll to be put under glass, clothed in twelve layers of bubble wrap, and shoved in an iron safe!”

Alright...

Fair.

But I will still make the same decision a thousand times over if it means her safety is assured.

“Your passion is one of the many things I love about you but you’re reckless! This—” I motion with arms held out wide, “—this is reckless.” I am not only referring to her little stunt to free me (which I still do not know the details of) but also Ian Malory, the hunter, the vampire queen, and everything else she has ever done since the first day I met her—since Veritas ratted her out. Lina acts on emotion and only on emotion and while she is smart and cunning, she is also naive and impetuous.

“Well, next time you think I’m being reckless, maybe you should ask yourself why, because everything has a cause and an effect, Theron! You are the cause and my recklessness is the—” I’ve had enough at this point. I actually cannot remember the last time anyone dared to yell at me and I’m honestly not sure how to handle this but for the love of fucking Pete (whoever the hell he is), my head fucking hurts, and all her female blah, blah, blahing is pissing me off.

So, I kiss her.

I stomp straight up to her and channel all my annoyance and lividity into one single, passionate, and mildly aggressive kiss.

She can’t yell at me now, can she?

I can claim that had I not just recently obtained my consciousness, had I not just got verbally Chuck Norris-ed by the love of my existence, and had I not been so thoroughly fucking lost in the taste and feel of her mouth I would have smelled that nasty green apple scent wafting through the air a fucking mile away.

But excuses do not change circumstances.

Lina is ripped away from me violently, leaving my lips feeling dejected and cold. Sara has a fistful of Lina’s hair in one hand and in the other both wrists are clenched in that slut bucket’s iron grip, pushing Lina’s shoulders unnaturally upwards. I am certain it’s a painfully uncomfortable position but I am incapable of assisting her. If I move even the slightest inch, I fear she might end up exactly like Arthur Grimes and I cannot stand the thought of witnessing her head detached from her body.

“Lover’s quarrel? Shall I come back later?” Sara smirks at me, her ruby red lips outlined bright white and sharp, grotesque teeth. The more I see her multiple, partially transitioned stages, the more I am terrified to ever discover what she really is.

“Sara,” I growl viciously in warning. I may be petrified about Lina’s current predicament but I’ll be damned if I allow Sara the satisfaction of knowing it.

Surprisingly, Alex also reacts.

“Don’t,” he demanded. We exchange looks—mine is probably a bit more confused than his but... Okay, okay, maybe I should ask questions first next time I wake up to find a hunter helping me.

Sara’s attention turns from me and Alex is now in her sights, “Ah, the traitor has revealed himself.” She violently yanks Lina’s hair, exposing her neck and making her wince. “If you can’t trust family, who can you really trust.” Sara asks her, “Am I right?”

Alex ignores her sarcasm, “You got what you wanted! She has nothing to do with this!”

“You’re correct, dearest nephew,” she shrugs, carelessly, “she is worthless to me but to Theron... well, she holds more value and you know how I just love to get my hands on those shiny things.”

“Sara, stop.” I raise my hands in surrender, “Please.” Flashes of what happened to the mad scientist and the sweet, innocent Mouse play through my mind’s eye... I will not allow that to happen to Lina.

“Oh, fuck you, Theron!” She shrieks. “Why do you get a happy ending, hm? Why do you get a mate? What have you ever done to deserve one?”

Her questions still me, freezing any further thoughts or actions. Gripped by the fear that she may have a point, I say nothing. The truth is, I don’t deserve a happy ending and I don’t deserve a mate and I especially do not deserve Lina. And I could waste time dwelling on the implications of such luck but I refuse to waste any more time wallowing in self pity.

Sara has caught sight of the mark behind Lina’s ear—the mark I gave her when she was no older than six. “The protective insignia of Theron the Ancient,” she shoots me an accusing glare, “Now, why wasn’t I given one of those, darling?”

Is she for fucking real right now?

Oh, I don’t know you heartless, evil cunt, maybe because your scared weeny fucking ass shattered my heart and did the Mexican hat dance on it? Just taking a shot in the dark here... I smile sweetly because I’m a charmer like that, “They don’t look real fucking good on unstable menstrual monsters such as yourself, my love.”

My love?

Ugh, I just threw up in the back of my mouth.

“Sticks and stones,” she sings, “and to think you would be so mouthy while I am posed to kill your mate. Shame.”

Fine. She had me there. “Let’s comprise then,” I suggest. “You let Lina go and... and I will pretend I am sorry and act as if I did not just really mean every fucking word I said.”

Sara pauses, her demeanor changing quizically, “Is she aware of who I am, Theron? What you did to me?” She cocks her head to one side in query, “Did you tell her how much you loved me? How you showed me each and every night that you are mine? You will always be mine.”

Wincing against the obvious pain of her hair being pulled from her scalp, Lina asserts, “Finders keepers, bitch.” If the situation were not so dire I would fucking laugh. However, I have been told that in moments such as these, it’s very inappropriate.

Sara sneers, too arrogant for her own good, “Ooh, Fiesty little thing, aren’t you?”

She has no idea.

“You have no idea,” Lina slyly leers.

Ha-ha.

That’s my girl.

In a blink of an eye, that little blonde beast swings her leg high in a graceful backward roundhouse kick and now I’m wondering why I didn’t test the possibilities of that flexibility two nights prior. Her toes connect with Sara’s nose, sending that demonic harpy flailing backward with no other choice but to release her hold on Lina.

“Go!” Alex exclaims and he didn’t need to tell us twice. He shifts quick as lightning and pounces on Sara with a deadly snarl. Thoroughly impressed, part of me wants to stay and watch the show but instinct tells me to flee, so flee we do.

I can only hope that he is stronger than whatever the fuck Sara is.

I hear howling in the distance, a signal that a battle has begun around the front of the mountain. We move fast through the woods, jumping over fallen trees and parkouring the treacherous rocky terrain. I assume my brothers are involved but dare not try to mindlink for fear that breaking their concentration will have disastrous effects. And when we crest over the hill, the scene below me fills me with trepidation—something I am also not accustomed to.

Wolves.

Lycans.

Men.

Mayhem.

Hundreds of humans have corraled hundreds of lupines in a huge circle, guns aimed and ready for execution. I easily locate my brothers, still in their human forms. They can’t protect all sides of such a huge group but they are trying, staring down the barrels of guns and looking death right in the eye. I know their immortality will spare them, but it does very little for their kin. My breath catches in my throat as fear and uncertainly hang thickly in the air. I may not be able to help them but I am willing to try.

Lina links her pinkie around mine, giving it a gentle squeeze. Our eyes connect and everything that we have never said weighs heavily between us but I know that she knows and she knows that I know.

Fueled by urgency alone, we descend the hill. Time slows and while actions seem to have ceased motion, sounds have not. I can hear triggers being pulled. The explosions that erupt from the barrel of each and every weapon below pierces my eardrums and I now know what the meaning behind “you can hear a pin drop” means.

But there are no pins.

Only bullets.

Firing at quick succession.

My heart is slower to comprehend what my mind already understands and I watch helplessly as the slugs are released. Like a ball from a cannon, they soar through the air, intent on hitting their targets.

And I can do nothing...

But the witches can.

Stopping only mere inches from my brothers and their lineage, the bullets come to a screeching halt. Suspended magically in the air, they hover for half a second and I wait with bated breath. Slowly but surely, they flip head over heel, somersaulting to face the direction from whence they came.

No one speaks.

No one breathes.

Even though Time has felt slow and bogged down for only seconds, it takes even a smaller amount of it before it speeds back up.

Zipping back to their owners, every bullet finds a nice and comfy home between the eyes of each gunman. They crumple to the ground where they stand... then chaos ensues.

The second line of defense is now defenseless as their weapons refuse to fire and that means we get to play hand-by-hand combat. Lupines burst forth from their circular confines, surging forward like the ripple a pebble makes when dropped in water.

A torrent of adrenaline overwhelms me, bringing with it a temporary truce between me and my beast. For once in our lives, we are one. It was as if everything finally snapped into place. No longer is he fighting me and I fighting him—we had finally resolved our disdain for one another. Working in tandem, instinct is our bitch. We do not need to be consciously aware of what is going on around us because intuition guides our every move, punch, rip and tear that assaults human flesh.

And it is intuition that causes us to locate Lina.

It is intuition that knows sour patch bitch is still alive.

It is intuition that accelerates our haste to intercept the two because now there is no question as to what Sara is.

There is no question as to what Sara is about to do.

We know this is it. Immortality is no longer and cannot save us now but the beast and I are at peace with that as long as we get the chance to tell Lina one final thing.

She spins around just as we reach her, eyes widening in surprise to see my face so close to hers. She doesn’t know where Sara’s monstrous tail is headed and that’s okay.

A single, solitary moment of tranquility overtakes me and I do not doubt this choice for even the slightest second. I just understand, somewhere deep within me, that this is the path I am meant to take.

“I love you,” I whisper. My mouth crashes into her’s, a kiss that speaks more than words ever could. If this is my last minute on earth with Catalina Bakkas, I could not have imagined a better way to end it.

And when her lips respond in kind, I know I am ready to leave.

A sharp stabbing pain plunges into my back, the force jerking me and shattering the most memorable declaration of love that ever was.

My body loses all function and I fall against Lina, happy and content that I had listened to Mouse and followed my gut.

My fate was sealed—it had always been sealed. And once I finally decided to quit fighting against Destiny, I found my peace.

I found my purpose.

I found my light.

But when I see that moon goddess again, she is getting a fucking earful.

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