THERON II

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FOUR.

LINA

I feel his presence enter the kitchen before he speaks.

I know what he wants as I have been dreading it for some time now.

"We need to talk, Lina," Kai says softly. He leans against the entryway, arms folded over his chest. It's hard to believe how different he is now...

How different we all were.

I act oblivious, "About what?" Turning back to the stove, I continue cooking dinner because it's a job in and of itself feeding three male Ancients, three humans and myself. Needless to say, our grocery bill is astronomical.

"You know what."

"Do I?" Of course I know, I just don't want to discuss her.

My thoughts stray to the window and beyond as the snow blankets my once luscious green earth. It falls in large, fluffy white flakes and clings thickly to the evergreens, dampening my mood further... not that much really makes me happy these days.

My displeasure of Snow is still the same, so I guess not everything changes.

Something deep within my empty heart whispers, "something is coming" and I am concerned that that something might just start with a "w" and end with an "itch."

"You understand why I offered the punishment I did for Evie, right?" His question hits me like a fist to the face and instantly months of worry and anxiety and weeks of anger and frustration become too much. Like water in a cup, it's overflowing and I know my eyes are swirling with the same beautiful colors I used to be so enraptured by... the same colors I crave so desperately to see from the one Ancient I never would again.

Fury engulfs me.

I fling the pan of fried potatoes off the stove and across the room. Whirling around, my beastly eyes boring into him, "No, Kai, I do not understand! Actual dogs get treated better than she treated you! Did you forget how she chained you to the floor? Cursed you to your werewolf form? Prevented you from mindlinking? How she starved you? Tortured you with her magic? Has her taunting laughter slipped your mind? You made a mistake yesterday. A mistake that will affect us all so no, I do not understand why you did what you did and honestly, I don't even care anymore. It's over and done with." I aggressively point the potatoe coated spatula at him, not entirely certain I won't chuck it at his stupid head, "But I sure as fuck bet you're going to explain it to me anyway, aren't you?"

DeLoren appears behind Kai at this point, obviously assessing the situation and if he needs to intervene but I pay him no mind.

He is on my shit list too.

Kai eyes me, his face no longer carefree lately and it shows in his hardened stare. He looks older somehow, as if time has finally caught up with his youthful appearance. He runs a hand across his mouth before saying, "Not everything can be avenged, Lina. Those that can, do not always need to end violently. You're hurting and I get it, I do, but you're letting it consume you and--"

"Your business with Evangeline doesn't hurt me one bit."

"I'm talking about Theron's death," he gently clarifies.

And there it is.

The one thing that can still me.

The one name that makes my heart skip and my breath hitch and my face instantly crumble into despair.

I am hurting.

I've been hurting.

And no one can help me.

Kai pulls me into his arms as I fall apart and I can't... I just can't.

I can't talk about him.

I can't think about him.

I can't face the fact that the world is still turning and people are still living and I am stuck.

I am stuck in this crushing agony that death has gifted me and I can't climb out... I can't tear myself away from the ledge I am so close to falling over.

Every day is a little darker, a little more unbearable and a shit ton more monotonous. I coast through life as if on autopilot, hoping--praying--I am not immortal because I sure as fuck cannot handle this misery for eternity, "I miss him, Kai."

I can't help it now, I can't hold it in any longer. I miss him desperately. I could do without the air in my lungs. I don't care much for the food that is supposed to sustain me and I curse this heart that is still beating... bleeding... breaking. None of it seems important because if I could trade any or all of those things for Theron, I would. I fucking miss him and I fucking want him back and I cannot tolerate one more fucking day on this planet if he is not on it with me.

Kai strokes my hair murmuring something about knowing how I feel but I don't think he does.

I don't think any of them really do.

"Sometimes, Lina," Deloren lays a hand on my back, "just sometimes, gone doesn't always mean gone."

Hiccuping through shedded tears, I look up at him, "What do you mean?" His words confuse me and I am not sure where he is going with whatever he is trying to say to comfort me this time.

But I swear on everything the moon touches that if he uses that 'he's always in your heart' bullshit I will tear his tongue clean out of his idiotic mouth.

It is the exchanged glances between him and Kai that immediately sobers me. "What do you mean, DeLoren?" I am quite a bit more forceful this time.

Gone definitely means gone.

No longer present.

Departed.

And in this case, never to return.

DeLoren's eyes soften and I know he is about to speak to me like I am a two year old who needs to chill out, "Bodies don't just disappear into thin air, love... They go somewhere."

A flash of remembrance invades my thoughts, forcing me to replay Theron's deceased body disappearing in an eerie bluish light that haunted my dreams for months after.

I narrowed my eyes, shifting them from him to Kai and back again, "What are you trying to say?" Because, obviously I need it spelled out. Because, obviously someone needs to grab a crayon and draw me a picture and slowly and loudly explain exactly what is going on and they need to do it now.

Kai loosens his hold on me, peering down at my flushed cheeks and reddened eyes, "We think that Theron may not be dead, afterall."

I feel the color drain from my face, "what?"

Is this some sort of cruel joke?

"There is a lead in New York that we need to invest--"

I silence DeLoren with a wave of my hand, "No!"

This is not happening right now.

This. Is. Not. Happening.

"Lina--" Kai starts...

But he does not get to finish.

"He is dead!" While the logical side of me understands I may be overreacting, the emotional side of me hasn't one shit to give at this point. How dare they do this to me! How dare they suggest there is hope when there isn't! "Dead means dead! Theron is DEAD and he is not coming back!"

"But what if he could?" DeLoren raises a brow and bites his bottom lip and all I can think of is how satisfying it would be to see that lip busted by my knuckles. "We've been looking into this since it happened. We've done a shit ton of research! The old texts speak of gods who can--"

"Don't."

"Lina, just listen for a sec--"

"SHUT UP!" My voice is too many octaves too high and I can hear that I've woken Theon. He's crying in his crib but I can't leave just yet. I can't walk out of this room without saying what I need to say. If I don't, it will just fester inside until I officially lose my mind which I am certain is not far away. "Don't you get it? Do either of you understand the consequences of what you're claiming? You're going to say the impossible is possible and soon I will believe the impossible is possible and when it turns out that the possible is actually impossible my heart breaks all over again and if you haven't noticed, I am not handling the first time around all that fucking well!"

They are speechless at this point and I am not even the least bit ashamed of my words. I know they cut deep, it wasn't intentional but as I have found out recently, misery loves company and all I seem to do is unintentionally pull everyone around me into mine.

I don't deserve their patience and friendship.

I don't deserve their love.

And yet, they never stray far from my side no matter how many times I shove them away.

I should apologize.

Part of me wants to but the more dominant side does what it always does and ignores the elephant in the room, "Where is Marius?"

They look at each other once again before turning back to me.

"New York," They replied.

***

"Aw, baby," I lift Theon out of his crib, "I'm sorry I was angry, please don't cry anymore." I bounce him in my arms as he kneeds my shirt with his pudgy little hands. "Momma loves you, Theo," I pat his back, gently rocking him back and forth in my arms.

"Hey pretty lady," Keeley smiles through the cracked door just as Theo's tears begin to dry. His eyes are big and wide and he watches Keeley like he always does. We all joke that he has a crush on her but honestly, I think it's her bright colored hair that draws his eyes in... hair the semblance of fire.

I smile at her the best I can. I imagine that even when I try, it doesn't reach my eyes.

She sits in the rocking chair and crosses her legs, "Wanna talk about it?" Like she doesn't already know what's going on, like DeLoren hasn't informed her of their suspicions, like each and every one of my friends did not know before me.

"You should have told me," I say in the calmest way possible. Theon is currently in my arms and I'm not looking to transfer my negative emotions to him. It wouldn't be fair. No child should have to share their parent's burdens.

She tilts her head to the side, studying me studiously, "So you could react exactly the same way you did today?"

"Someone should have told me," I hug Theon a little tighter, needing the comfort his presence always instantly provides. This is why Keeley is broaching this subject with me now, after all. She knows I will not flip out with Theon so close. It is a dirty tactic, but I can't blame any of them for exploiting it as often as they do... I am extremely explosive now.

She sighs, "We needed to be sure first. No one wanted to get your hopes up if we were wrong."

"And now?" I can't believe I'm entertaining this hairbrained idea.

"It is possible that a god or goddess can remove a being from this realm and move them to another and back again though it has only been done one other time in recorded history."

Not that I care but I'll humor her, "And who was that?"

"The vampire queen."

Her words startle me.

My head snaps to attention, "What?" I don't recall any of my father's history lessons claiming the vampire queen was brought back from the dead, "Apollo cursed her. He never brought her back from the dead."

"And Theron was said to be fifteen feet tall, with a necklace made of his victims' teeth and armor carved from their bones," she rolls her eyes. "You, of all supernaturals, should know how histories are twisted and distorted over time."

I really have nothing to say back to that.

"Regardless," she waves a single, perfectly manicured hand carelessly, "you also know how vengeful gods are. The problem is, if the moon goddess did take him, which everyone obviously believes she did, she took everything. Not just his soul, but also his body. That just doesn't happen for no reason, right! When the guys started questioning this, they found the story of Apollo... Now they think that maybe the goddess had every intention of bringing him back. They just didn't know where to begin searching." She eyes my reaction to which I give her none, but even that does not sway her, "Three days ago, Marius received a phone call from a rogue in New York. He claims there's a homeless man there who looks very much like Theron."

"No one looks like Theron."

"Exactly!" She smiles, softly, "So Marius and Rhys went to check it out. No one told you because we just want to bring him back. Just place him in front of you and--"

"And yell surprise."

"Yeah!" It takes her less than half a second to realize what I said before her excitement plummets and she's instantly backtracking, "What? No, no, no, of course not, Lina! We just didn't want to get your hopes up until we had him."

"Well, good for you. Mission accomplished," I grimace through the fake politeness I don't really feel like giving. Her expression falters and now I feel as if I just kicked a puppy but most of me doesn't care enough to apologize.

"He's dead," I grumble impassively, sick of repeating the same mantra over and over again.

But Keeley, ever kind and ever loving, ignores my reproach, "And I never believed in werewolves and vampires and yet, here we are. Is it so out of the realm of possibilities that maybe, just maybe, he could come back? We live in a world full of wondrous things that shouldn't rightfully exist! Why not this, too?"

I do not want to sound like a broken record so I turn my back on her, done with the conversation now.

I know Theron is dead, it doesn't matter what DeLoren and Kai and everyone else might suspect--he's dead. If he wasn't, nothing would stop him from getting to me. Nothing would prevent him from coming home.

And yet, I fall asleep in that huge king size bed every night, alone.

I wake up, alone.

I take care of my son, alone.

I eat, alone.

I live every endless, miserable, horrific day, alone.

So, yes, Theron is dead because I am still alone.




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