When I woke up the next time, my throat was burning, and my tongue stuck to the roof of my mouth. I peeled my eyes open, glimpsing around in a dark room. Thick curtains blacked a huge window to my right, only a few sun rays fighting through the fabric.
I sat up and groaned. My muscles ached as if I had lifted weights the entire week. My forearms were still bandaged, and the wounds that Vincent had caused me slightly itched. My eyes landed on a bottle of water on a small side table next to me, making my heart jump in my chest. Ignoring the screaming pain in my limbs, I reached forward, grabbed the bottle, fiddled with the lid, and took several big gulps. Water ran down my chin, dripping on my shirt, but I didn’t care. When my thirst was finally quenched, I sighed in relief and placed the bottle back on the table.
Now that I wasn’t distracted by the burning in my throat, I looked around the room properly. A large painting covered the wall in front of me. It was a wonderful scenery of mountains, a white wolf staring back at me with bright blue eyes. It almost felt as if it was real, making a shiver run down my spine. I ripped my gaze off of it and let my eyes roam around. Dark green accents decorated the room, like a fluffy-looking carpet and stripes of paint on the walls. A masculine scent lingered in the room, reminding me of Gunnar, and when the door opened, and he hushed inside, I was certain that this was his bedroom.
His eyes widened when he spotted me, for a moment frozen in place. “You are awake.”
I smiled, tears welling up in my eyes, seeing him again, unharmed and safe. “I am.”
Gunnar rushed forward, placing a plate of apple slices on the small table, almost knocking over the bottle of water, and pulled me into his arms. I leaned into him, wrapping my arms around his broad torso, breathing him in. He smelled like comfort and home.
His voice slightly trembled when he spoke again, pulling me even closer to him. “I thought you wouldn’t wake up again. I was so afraid.”
“How long have I been out?”
He pulled away slightly, his eyes wet from tears. “Three days. Cedric tried all he could, but we were worried that we had lost you twice. You lost a dangerous amount of blood, and the overall trauma from what happened put your body under enormous stress. I’m so glad to see you awake again.”
I nodded, feeling the color leaving my face just thinking about not making it, never seeing him again. Or Tyra, the kids, Joseline and Cedric. “I think it was Balance who helped me survive.”
He raised a brow. “Balance?”
I chuckled and leaned back into the cushions, too weak to stay upright for much longer. Gunnar scooted me over and laid down next to me, his hand softly running through my hair and over my face and neck.
“It sounds crazy, but when we were up there on the ruins, and I felt like all was lost, it felt like my soul split off my body, floating into the sky.”
His eyes grew wide. “That wasn’t a dream then? I swear, I saw you in some sort of golden form floating over me.”
I shook my head. “No, that wasn’t a dream. It was real. And it got even more surreal when a woman was summoned out of the ruins, telling me she was the soul of the ruins. All power places have souls, and they look like golden women with hair that looks like golden water. It was crazy.”
“That sounds out of this world. What did she say to you?”
“She told me the real reason everything had to happen the way they did, and her reasoning made more sense to me than what the ancient mages told us. Especially the thing about my power level, and my selfish actions destroying the ruins, was not true at all,” I said, rolling my eyes. I still felt slight anger boiling in me, even if Balance said they tried to explain it as best as they could with the knowledge they had. “Apparently, not even the ancient mages know everything there is to know about the ruins. Balance said I shouldn’t hold it against them, but it’s hard to let it slide.”
Gunnar leaned forward and pressed a kiss on my forehead. “You know, it’s fine to be angry at misinformation, but at least you know the truth now.”
I nodded. “She said that the reason my pack had to die was that the balance of the ruins had been tilted since the attack on them all those years ago, and it made her suffer and weakened her. To bring back balance, something painful had to happen. She had to sacrifice something she held close, and the protectors of the ruins were the most important to her. They sacrificed themselves to weigh out the damage that had been caused. She said they died because my ancestors didn’t fulfill their task of protecting her, and as a result, everyone had to suffer.”
“It still sounds horrible, but I’m glad the reason for your family’s death was for the greater good, and not because of what the ancient mages said.”
I sighed. “I still can’t wrap my head around it. Because my family wasn’t at fault for what had happened. But I guess that’s just how things are going. The damage to others had to be repaired somehow, and my pack did that. When you think about it, they are the actual heroes in this situation. Without their sacrifice, Balance wouldn’t have survived.”
He smiled. “I’m glad you finally think of them as heroes, not as victims. But you did your part in all of this, too. If it hadn’t been for you, we wouldn’t have won.”
A laugh escaped me. “If it wasn’t for me, you all wouldn’t have been dragged into this mess. But I’m glad you all were there. If it wasn’t for you and your pack, I wouldn’t be here now.”
“It’s your pack now, too.”
I fiddled with the blanket, only now remembering that we fused our packs. But what does that make me now? I wasn’t the alpha anymore. I reached out to my wolf, who sleepily perked up when she realized I tried to get in touch with her. She was still recovering, too, but she didn’t seem to mind having lost power. If anything, she was relieved to be protected. It surprised me because she was so against joining Gunnar’s pack before, not ready to give up the alpha title. But I guess with what we experienced, it would have been crazy to remain alone.
Gunnar took my hand in his and intertwined our fingers. “Amalia, you know I want you to be my alpha. Now that we have fused packs, that hasn’t changed. The territory and with it the responsibility is not all mine now, it’s still yours, too. It belonged to your ancestors, and I don’t intend to take it away from you. I’m fully prepared to share all I have with you. What I own, you own, too. If that is what you want.”
A lump formed in my throat, and my chest tightened. I stared into his green eyes, seeing nothing more than honesty and love from him. I knew I wanted to be with him, too, because almost losing him was one of the most painful things I ever experienced. But was I ready to lead a big pack like his? Would I be a good alpha for all the people here, and would they accept me? Especially after I brought them in danger, too.
“You don’t have to decide on the spot. I know it’s a tough decision to make, which comes with a lot of responsibility. But I want you to know that I fully believe in you. You are fit for the task, and the others think so as well. I love you, Mia, and I want to spend the rest of my life with you. But I wouldn’t want to force you into a position you don’t want to take because of what I feel for you.”
I squeezed his hand. “You wouldn’t force me to do anything, Gunnar. It might have taken a while for me to let it sink in, but I know you are the person I had been waiting for. I love you, and I want to be with you. I only worry that the rest of the pack wouldn’t accept me. Aren’t they angry that I brought you into danger again?”
“No. I mean, I would lie if I would say that everyone was on board with my plan to help you, but most of them saw reason in it. And after you fused our packs, everyone felt the power boost we received from it, and not all of that came from the ruins. Surely, as protectors, we reached another level of power, but a significant part came from you as well. They know you are strong, loyal, and trustworthy. They just needed a reason to see that.”
I smiled. “If that is the case, I would gladly be your alpha, Gunnar.”
The biggest smile I have ever seen spread over his face before he leaned forward and pressed a kiss on my dry lips. He glanced at me through his lashes, an excited sparkle in his eyes. “I’m so glad you said that. For a moment, I was worried that you would decline me.”
I pressed the tip of my nose against his. “I could never imagine a life without you anymore.”
He chuckled softly and pulled me against his chest. I heard his rapid heartbeat through the thin layer of fabric of his shirt, making me smile. He must have been so nervous to ask this question.
I enjoyed the warmth of his body for a moment, dwelled in his love and care when a shocking realization dropped over me like a cold bucket of water.
I pulled away from him, my throat tightening. “What is with George? He got thrown off a cliff. He must be dead! And I’m all happy here, even though I failed him so much.”
Gunnar cupped my face. “Calm down, Mia. George isn’t dead.”
“What? What do you mean? There is no way he survived that fall.”
“The ancient mages intervened.”
“I thought they weren’t allowed to intervene and are only meant to guide us?”
He nodded. “But George is a human. He was never meant to be part of this. They saved his life because the paranormal influenced his life.”
I remembered what Balance told me. That the ancient mages are the barrier between the paranormal and the normal. I suppose they are good for something, after all.
I took a staggering breath, and my heart rate slowly slowed down again. “I’m glad they saved him. He did all he could that day, and I was surprised to see him fighting like that.”
Gunnar smiled. “I told you, he isn’t as weak and fragile as you always thought he was.”
I laughed. “No, but he isn’t an ancient wolf, anyway.”
“Good for me,” he answered with a laugh before his face turned serious again. “I probably should also tell you that they plan to wipe his memory.”
I nodded. “It’s probably best if he forgot about the entire encounter.”
Gunnar swallowed visibly. “It’s not only the encounter they want to remove, it’s everything. They believe it would be better if he would forget about you. You are the connection to the paranormal world, and with everything that happened to him, it would be safer to cut that connection.”
A heavy feeling settled in my stomach. I knew it was for the better, but it still felt weird to know that he would forget about all the times we had spent together.
“I suppose that makes sense,” I muttered.
“I can imagine that it’s difficult to hear. I also wouldn’t know how to react. You didn’t have the best breakup, but all your human years revolved around him. I know how important he was to you during those times, and that it’s thanks to him you never lost hope. As much as I want to hate him for how he treated you in the end, I can’t because of everything he did for you before that. But even if he forgot about all those memories, you can still cherish them.”
I nodded. I knew he was right, and that it was the right thing to do, but a small part of me also wanted to protest. It felt a bit lonely to lose time with him.
“But what about the other humans I have been with? Will they also all forget about me?”
He shook his head. “I worded it a bit wrong, I guess. They will remove the encounter on the ruins entirely, and everything that had to do with your relationship with him, but otherwise they will make him believe you are simply another co-worker at the company. The other people involved will think the same. So, it’s not that you never existed, but that you never had more to do with them than work.”
At least that was nice to hear. I did plan on visiting Stephany again to see how she felt, and I would have hated it if she also forgot about me.
“Can I see him one more time before it happens?”
He smiled and nodded. “The ancient mages waited for you to wake up. They thought you would ask that, and George didn’t utter a single word to anyone about what went down yet. He is still in the hospital, so it’s easy to monitor him, too.”
I scooted out of his arms and sat up, my muscles screaming in pain again. But I wanted to see George and talk to him about everything. He deserved to know the truth, even if he would forget about it in the end, and he shouldn’t have to wait even longer for it.
“Are you sure you are okay, though? Can you leave the bed?”
“I will manage. Besides some muscles aches, I feel fine. But a shower would be great,” I said.
A mischievous smile spread over his face. “I could help you with that.”
A hot rushed through my body, and I kissed him. “I would like that. I doubt I can wash my back properly.”
He chuckled. “Let’s not lose any time, then.”