The house is silent when I walk in.
I should be hesitant that everyone is congregated in the same room, giving me the where the hell have you been look... but I’m not.
There’s only one thing on my mind.
There’s only one person I need to see and I need to see him right now.
I make a b-line straight for Theon...
And he does not disappoint me.
He never disappoints me.
His big brown Theron eyes light up from the floor on which he sits, playing. His little body trembles in excitement as he raises his arms, clenching and unclenching his fists, “Uh, uh! Ma! Uh!”
As I scoop him up and into my arms I can’t help but smile, exaltant.
He is safe.
Burying my nose into his neck I inhale deeply, the scent of baby powder and pine comforting to my fried nerves. I allow it to envelope me, a warm blanket that always thaws my icy heart. Relief washes over me and like water to a hot pan it sizzles and smokes away my fears and anxieties... but not without leaving evidence in its wake.
This is one time, the only time, I don’t try to hide my feelings.
I don’t try to bottle them up in hopes that they do not also affect my child.
Theon pulls away, babbling something as his tiny hand touches my damp face and I know he isnt used to this side of his mother. He doesn’t understand the emotions that are falling out of me like a storm cloud and I should cap them off.
I should squash them down.
Box them up.
Lock them away.
But I can’t.
Anthony is the first to approach me, as always, his baseball cap pulled up on the crown of his head. Those tender eyes question my tears and I know I have to speak.
I have to explain.
But I can’t right now.
Everything in my life from the second Theron died has been one big “I can’t.”
The words refuse to flow because if I speak them aloud, if the universe hears even the faintest whisper, it makes every single premonition true. It makes the queen’s warning a rock solid, painful truth... and I can’t accept that I may just lose my son.
But Anthony, like always, understands... maybe not the specifics, but he trusts my two year long aggravating angst. Infact, he is the only one who has never attempted an intervention. Although he has yet to experience the heartbreak that I have, he is somehow still sympathetic... and I think he believes I will eventually pull through if he just waits long enough.
Anthony wraps me and Theon in a group hug and my body reacts on its own accord. The sobs rock me, mercilessly. “We’ll figure it out,” he cooes, “Whatever it is, Lina, we’ll handle it.” And I love him for that, I do. But this isn’t Superlunar. This isn’t a physical entity that we can touch--something we can fight. Mavina has magic and magic cannot be grasped within the teeth and ripped apart.
My breathing is ragged, unsteady and unsure of the words that are about to leave my mouth... the words I loath to utter, “She’s coming for him.”
Anthony pulls back with a quirked brow. His eyes flicker, back and forth, reading me, accessing me and trying to piece the puzzle together because that is who he is. The problem with this puzzle is that it isn’t as simple as a new tech gadget... it doesn’t come with instructions and it won’t be patched up, mended or repaired by a hacker’s finesse. He scans my face earnestly, “Who?”
DeLoren, Kai and Marius are instantly on their feet and ready to pounce. Their own eyes are blacker than the darkest night and their chests rumble with angry anticipation. The atmosphere is suddenly thick and suffocating with tension. I feel the heavy pressure weighing my chest down, making it even harder to breathe than it already is.
And Theon feels it too.
The skin around his eyes flare, turning dark pink and I know the signs, I know exactly what will come next and yet I am helpless to stop it. The tears pool and his mouth opens, his sweet face frozen in pre-wail. His little shoulders shudder as he tries to take in enough oxygen just to allow his cries to escape their secure confines. And as much as I hate to do it, I must hand him off to Keeley. Once he is out of this room, he won’t feel the power of three pissed off Ancients and one fearful mother. He’s not old enough to understand what we are--what he is. He can’t process what his body is feeling. All he knows is that it makes him uncomfortable and an uncomfortable Theon is a loud, monstrous terror.
My gaze follows her as she heads upstairs with his tiny arms wrapped tightly around her neck.
I can feel Rhys burning a hole into the side of my head, watching me closely. Too closely. Almost warily, as if he is afraid to ask what everyone wants to know, “Why do you think that?” His fists ball at his sides, the muscles in his forearms flex and contract in anxious suspense and I suspect what I am about to say will set him off. While I understand his concern for me, he cannot comprehend that I don't always need his help.
But when I relay the news of just who I saw, his reaction is more volatile than I expected... and I receive no backing from my Ancient brethren.
His lip curls in disgust and raw, unfiltered rage, “You went to see her? Alone?! What were you thinking?”
“It’s not like you were here to accompany me,” I snarl. He was in New York. With Marius. Going behind my back without an ounce of guilt so fuck him and the fancy plane he rode in on.
Not that I would have allowed him to tag along with me anyway, but I didn’t need to specify that. I didn’t need to remind him that he’s only human... and I sure as hell don’t need to make him feel any less able to protect me than he already does but I will not be scolded like an insolent little kid when his own indiscretion blows mine clear out of the water.
Keeping a secret from me...
Lying to me.
Yes, I like to deflect and I do it quite often anymore.
But Rhys doesn’t care. He disregards my snideness as if his own travels are not important enough to discuss. His face is ablaze with crimson vexation and the only desire I now feel is the intense urge to knock his fucking teeth out. He seethes, “She could have killed you!”
"She is the only one willing to share her knowledge with me! Unlike my friends who feel I’m too unstable to disclose information with!”
“Lina,” he warns, a human growl resulting from his extreme aggravation but it does absolutely nothing to quell mine.
“Oh, no, you fucking don’t! Do not speak to me as if I am nothing but a child!” I jab a finger straight to his chest because dammit if my words aren't going to hurt him than my fucking hand will, “Someone should have told me about Theron! Someone should have at least said it was a possibility! But you kept it from me. You lied to me.”
He stills, resolve evident on his features. He is willing and ready to argue the reasoning behind their decision like I give a soaring fuck, “We didn’t lie--”
“Lying by omission is still a lie, Rhys!”
“You wouldn’t have handled it--”
I toss my hands in the air, immediately consumed by exasperation, “Really? That’s the excuse we’re going to use? I couldn’t handle it? This is not a Few Good Men! I can handle the truth!”
“Yeah? Okay,” His body leans in, his stance is threatening and my wolf wants to challenge the steely glare he burns into me, “Let’s test that theory then! What would you say if I told you he’s alive?”
The audacity in his question makes me snort.
“We found a guy who said he’s seen him,” Marius has now jumped on the Rhys train and suddenly I’m feeling like the lone wolf. “The man said he left almost three days ago, headed south east. We have confirmation, Lina.”
Oh? Well then, in that case it must be true! Random strangers are commonly known for their reliability! Give me a fucking break. “A guy? On the street?”
“Yes!” They nod excitedly... and their enthusiasm makes me want to puke, hopefully expelling my very nauseated annoyance in the process. I pinch the bridge of my nose as if somehow, someway, there’s a tiny button there that just might give me an extra ounce of patience, “So you asked a drunk hobo if they saw Theron?”
Kai gasps at my crudeness, “Lina! That's stereotyping!” My eye roll comes in response as I have very little tolerance for his social justice warrior bullshit today. Yes, I am aware that not every homeless person is an alcoholic. I know that but right now, at this very moment, I don’t want to be politically correct... not when something so dire is turned into the biggest unamusing satire of my life.
I shush him with the wave of my hand keeping only my focus on Rhys. My human friend’s jaws tighten, clenching under the revelation of my question and I have my answer.
I bet my canines that they paid the drunkard for that little tidbit of info too.
“If Theron were alive, don’t you think he’d be here? Do you think, for just one second, that anything would stop him from getting to us? To me?” I throw my arms out, motioning around the expansive living room, “Do you know what’s missing in this room? Theron! Theron is missing! He is missing because he is dead! For the last time, he is dead and gone and never coming back and I don’t know how to protect my baby without him.”
And there it is.
The veracity is cold and harsh and I have never spoken such candid feelings aloud. While I know these four men have a profound and bottomless love for me and Theon, they are not Theron.
They are not my mate.
They are not the father of my child.
They would not waste fifteen years of their lives trying to protect me.
And they would not throw themselves in front of another Cera for me or Theon.
I witness the hurt they all immediately experience in response to my jarring words. Each and every one of them flinch as if I physically slapped them in the face and I hate that I truly feel this way. I hate that I compare them to him. I hate that I think they fall short in that comparison... but it’s true.
They are not Theron... and they never will be.
DeLoren seems to recover from my harshness the quickest--he always does. Cradling my face in his large hands, his dejected hazel eyes gaze deep into mine, “We can never replace Theron, Lina. No one can. But Theo is just as important to us as he is to you. He is part of our pack and we protect our own. We won’t let anything happen to him, Lina, I swear it.”
The sudden blaring of our security alarm cements his words as null and void and my hackles raise in a sense of dark foreboding. DeLoren’s eyes widen in surprise as the room goes dark. A scarlet hue flashes throughout the house, keeping tempo with the wailing symphony of the alarm.
Our perimeter has been tripped.
Instant panic overtakes me and I know it’s her.
Mavina is here for Theon.
I blink away the blurriness that coats my eyes, my voice is scared and weak and I completely fucking detest myself right now as his name comes out as nothing more than a feeble whimper, “DeLoren?” And while I cannot think of the correct words to explain my reason for calling for him, he still knows. He hears my heart skip fearfully, smells the anxiety that suddenly permeates from my pores, knows where my dread lies.
“I’m on it,” he confirms as he rips himself away from my skin and tramples up the stairs to Keeley and Theon.
He will be my last line of defense.
Marius and Kai have already shifted into their wolf forms, their clothes nothing more than torn scraps upon the wooden floor. They stampede out the front door with Rhys hot on their tails.
I fly around the corner, slipping and sliding in my socks. Anthony is already in the security room checking the monitors. He rolls the chair to the keyboard and pulls up our territory map. The little blinking dot on the screen confirms the breach is at the east end of the property and I mindlink Marius and Kai to let them know exactly where they should be headed.
I got no response but I didn’t expect one either.
Anthony clicks the mouse, bringing up the thermal imaging camera and I gasp at the video before me. “Oh my god, is that...” his words fade into silence but I sense what his question is because I have the intense need to ask the very same myself even though I know the answer.
There are two bodies, one small and one very, very large but that is not the reason for my shock and awe and lack of air that refuses to enter my lungs.
What confounds me is the thermal difference between the two.
The camera doesn’t lie. The heat signature of the smallest body is definitely human, the light it emits is not nearly as bright in contrast to the second--it’s blinding, making it damn near impossible to view the outlined figure. I am aware of only one other type of being that carries that kind of body heat so the answer to Anthony’s question is both easy and bothersome at the very same time.
“New player. Game change-er. Be ready,” the queen’s words echo repeatedly inside my mind and I must decide quickly...
“Good or bad. Up to you,” she chimes...
Good or bad...
It’s my responsibility to determine what role this new player is going to play and if I’ll even allow him to live another day by entering my territory.
He should have known better.
He should have sensed the line and understood not to cross it without permission.
And yet, he braved it anyway... but for what reason?
So when I see Marius, Kai and Rhys on camera skid to a stop right in front of this newcomer and his friend, I can longer keep the answer to Anthony’s question a secret.
“A werewolf,” I whisper affirmatively.
"Lina... DeLoren," Kai’s voice pierces the uneasiness that hangs like fog in the air, his words of tentative wonderment resound inside my head, ”get here now.”