Her skin is getting paler. Her scent is changing. I can smell her body starting to. . . I hold my breath and I bring her hands to my mouth as I rest my elbows into the bed. I don’t know whose cabin this is but I think it’s Sky’s.
I can smell her scent everywhere. It’s nice. It’s similar to Devon’s when she was alive. It’s the only thing that’s holding me together.
Her eyes have been closed for too long. No matter how many times I beg, they still won’t open. I’m not picturing her smile like I thought I would. I’m imagining her scowl. Oh, that scowl. When she narrowed her eyes just a tad and breathed out something close to anger but never all of it. She was never afraid to show that side of her.
She believed that I was the one that made her brave but she always had it. She had it from the moment she ran into those woods. Anyone that can leave their whole life behind is brave.
Maybe that’s why I’m a coward. Because I just can’t seem to let her go.
“Shadow is okay, so is Crasuel.” Kira enters the cabin and nervously walks to my side. “A group have volunteered to go and get more of the herb, to be sure.”
Something jingles in her hands and I see a flash of something shiny from the corner of my eye.
“I found this in Cole’s cabin. It um. . . it belongs to her.”
I look at the seal in her hand and I take it from her gently. I rub my fingers around it before I place it over Devon’s head. Mates aren’t usually buried with it, traditionally I’d take it back and keep it for a future mate. I don’t think I’ll ever be able to look a female in the eyes again.
“It wasn’t the mating bond,” Kira mutters. “The bond is severed, she’s dead. You really did love her. It was real.”
I hadn’t thought about that until now. There is no bond keeping me tied to her anymore. Everything I feel, even if its numbness, is coming from myself.
“You’re lucky in a way. Most of us will live the rest of our lives never knowing if it’s real.”
I don’t feel so lucky. I hoped it had been the bond all along. Anything would be better than having to face these emotions.
“Thorn, look at me. You can’t stay here. They need some time with her too.”
She’s right. I’m being selfish. Sky is out there right now, sitting on a bench with a ghostly look on her face. She’s waiting to say goodbye.
I haven’t said goodbye yet. I can’t. We promised each other no goodbyes. The moment I do it, I know that it’s real. That she’s truly never coming back. And it’s the same if I let any of them do it too.
“We’re just going to go for a walk. She’ll be right here when you come back. I promise.” Kira extends her hand to me and I take it.
My sister leads me away, just like I did to her all those years ago when our father died. I protected her from the pain. I was there for her. Sky snaps out of her trance when we pass her and she numbly starts moving towards the cabin.
Dominic is sitting with his parents on a different bench. Devon’s mother wipes her eyes and slowly stands, following Sky.
It feels wrong to not be with her. I start becoming irritated. I can’t think straight until I’m next to her again.
“You can do this,” Kira says. “Just one step at a time.”
“I’m not a kid, Kira. Just leave me alone.”
I walk away from her, away from everyone. Crasuel’s pack still hate me and I receive some nasty scowls as I pass them. I sit with Pal for a while on the edge of the mountain.
“I went back to our camp at dawn and got this.” He offers me the flask that stinks of something stronger than water. “I figured whatever happened, you’d need it.”
I take a long sip of the alcohol. I can see the entire woods from here. I see the community, the caves where the children are hiding out, the waterfall cave that Devon and I. . . I can’t breathe. If I look hard enough, I can even see our camp. The home that we made for ourselves, that became something incredible for a short time.
“What happens now?” Pal mumbles.
“We go home,” I say.
“It’s been so long, Thorn. Do you think we even belong there anymore?”
I cast my eyes along the woods. “I don’t know.”
“The world has changed. Making our way back isn’t going to be easy.”
“We only have one lifetime left now. We have to try.”
“Hey, I’ve been looking for you.” Balan drops down at Pal’s other side. “What’s going on?”
“Nothing,” Pal says. “Just thinking.”
I give him the flask back and I start walking away. I glance over my shoulder to see Pal putting his arm around her. I always knew that those two were meant for each other, bond or no bond.
I stumble back to the camp. I know that I need to have a talk with my pack about going home, I know that Pal isn’t the only one with fears about it. But I can’t even think past the next few minutes.
“Thorn,” Crasuel calls. I turn slightly and he rubs his hands together before walking over. “We should probably discuss her funeral arrangements, being her alphas.”
“You know what I mean.”
“You knew her for one day. You don’t get to decide anything.”
He inhales a deep breath. “She’s my daughter, Thorn. That makes her a blood member of this pack. We burn our dead, it’s tradition.”
“You’re not putting her anywhere near that fucking fire,” I hiss.
“Okay, no fire. If you’ve got a problem with it then-”
“Yeah, I’ve got a problem with it. I’ve got a problem with all of it! You are not having her funeral on this fucking mountain. It wasn’t home to her.”
Crasuel doesn’t seem offended by that. He nods. “Okay. What was?”
I choke up. I don’t have an answer for that because I don’t know. It’s not like I can ask her. I’m trying to think about what she would want but the truth is that I don’t think she’d even care. I’m not sure what she classed as home, or if she even did. What I am sure of, is that there was only one place that I ever saw her truly happy, so happy she was almost glowing. And that was at the lake.
“I’ll get back to you.”
“You can’t keep her in that cabin forever,” Crasuel shouts after me. “I can’t keep smelling her like that for much longer.”
“Then take a walk!”
I approach the cabin, my knees becoming weaker the closer I get to it. Sky and her mother are still here. Sky is crying while her mother kisses Devon’s forehead. They’ve dressed her in a white gown and cleaned the blood off of her.
“We’ve said our goodbyes,” Madison says. “Now it’s time for you to do the same.” She pats her hand against my chest before smiling sadly and leaving.
I wait until Sky leaves and I close the door. I kneel down at Devon’s side. I take her hand again and I kiss it. My tears soak her skin.
“They’re right. I can’t keep you here forever. I have to let you go. I just don’t know how to do that. I saw our whole lives together once that curse was broken. You came back with me to England and we had so many years. It’s not fair. I’m the one that’s lived for a century, it should have been me. Your life was just beginning.” I break apart when I glimpse her pale face. Her eyes are still firmly closed, her chest isn’t moving. It all feels wrong. “I’m sorry.”
“That was beautiful. Inspiring, really.”
The voice comes from the corner. I straighten my body slowly until I see the woman walk out from the shadows of the cabin. I recognize her long white hair and her evil-ridden hazel eyes. She is an old woman but I still find the motivation to charge across the room and grab her throat.
“Malese,” I snarl.
“Hello, Thorn,” she says. “You need to listen carefully.”
“Why the fuck should I listen to anything that you say?” I squeeze her throat tighter. “Give me one good reason as to why I should spare your pathetic life.”
Her eyes move over my shoulder and she stares at Devon. She looks back to me and I release her. She cranks her neck and rubs her throat.
“I deserved that.”
“You deserve more than that.” I pace away from her. “You finally got what you always wanted, to see me in the same pain that you felt.”
“Devon isn’t dead, Thorn.”
I squint my eyes as Malese walks over to Devon and trails a finger along her arm. “What are you talking about? She’s dead.”
“Devon came to see me. The moment that I touched her, I saw visions of her future. Her death. I saw Cole stabbing her. I saw her lying here in this exact position. I saw you burying her in the woods. I saw everything.” She sits down in the chair and takes Devon’s hand. “There was this part of me that was glad because I could see you suffering. The kind of suffering that I’d always wanted for you. But then I heard this voice. It was Atticus. He was so angry with me. He was begging me to spare her.”
I don’t particularly care about this, I just want to know if she’s alive or dead. I’m still tempted to snap her neck but I allow her to continue.
“I hated you for a hundred and twenty-six years.” Her eyes are teary as she looks up at me. “And in that hatred, that cold and dark place, I abandoned my son. I left behind my entire bloodline because I couldn’t let go. I’ve spent my whole life alone and I don’t want to be alone anymore.”
“I know the feeling,” I mutter.
“I’m sorry,” she says. “Seeing Devon and her siblings, it brought back so many memories of my son. He died before ever knowing me. He never got the answers he was searching for and I was a coward that couldn’t face him. That is why I couldn’t allow myself to die because I knew that if I saw him again, he’d be so ashamed of me. But I can put this right now.” She smiles down at her lifeless descendant. “For her and for every future generation that comes after her.”
“Is she alive or not?”
“I cast a protection spell on her. She appears dead, she even smells dead, but the spell protects her from death. It preserves her soul. There is a price to pay for that. I never wanted her to die, Thorn. I just wanted to hurt you.”
“If she’s alive then why isn’t she waking up?”
Malese leans her lips down to her forehead. “She won’t wake up until I’m prepared to pay that price. It’s time to be with Atticus again, with my son. As I take my last breath, she will take her first.”
If she wants some help with dying then I’d gladly offer, but it seems she wants to do it on her own terms. Malese has been at the center of my rage for a long time but for the first time in a century, I actually understand it. I get why she did what she did. If Cole was still alive somehow then I’d do worse things to him than lock him in a prison. I’d do worse things than tear his head off. Vengeance isn’t a choice.
“Don’t take your freedom for granted. There are many, many ways to be trapped,” she says. “Devon will come into her powers one day. It’ll feel like a prison until she learns how to control them. Be patient. Support her.”
“Goodbye and good luck.” She smiles wryly. “You’re going to need it.”
Malese vanishes before my very eyes. I wait a little while before I feel brave enough to go closer. She could change her mind; she could keep Devon in this death-coma for years. It could be her last and final attempt to truly hurt me. The wait is killing me.
And then. . . I hear the muffled sound of a heart beating. I jerk forwards desperately and I take her hand. She’s getting warmer. Colour is returning to her cheeks. I press my finger into her throat, her pulse is getting stronger. I almost faint when she opens her eyes and looks at me. She takes her first breath, it’s like a gasp.
“Thorn,” she says. She rubs her eyes and yawns. “What happened?”
I’m too paralyzed by the sound of her voice to respond.
“Why are you crying?” she whispers. “Say something. You’re scaring me.”
I rest my head into her chest and she tangles her fingers into my hair. I lift my face up and I kiss her. My fingers move over her hair softly, I memorize every tiny cell of her beautiful eyes. She stares back in confusion.
“Where have I been?” she says.
“I don’t know but I’m glad you’re back.”
The door bursts open. The light blinds Devon and she hisses as she covers her eyes.
“I knew it!” Sky squeals. “I told you, I told you that I felt her. You’re alive!”
I have no choice but to distance myself as Sky dives on top of her sister and embraces her. Devon doesn’t know what to say or how to react. Dominic stands in the doorway, his face is pale white. There’s a small audience gathering behind him.
“I told you, Dominic,” Sky says.
“It’s good to have you back, sis,” Dominic says.
“Okay.” Devon gently pushes Sky away. “Why do you all keep saying that?”
“You died,” Sky says.
Devon stares right at me, almost for confirmation. I can’t say the words but she seems to be working it out. “No, I didn’t. . . I couldn’t have. . . how. . .” She leans back into the headboard and rubs her temples.
“What do you remember?” I say.
“I remember Cole stabbing me.” She swallows. “I remember being with you under that tree. I can’t. . .” She looks across the cabin to the crowd that’s witnessing her resurrection. Her heart starts to race, she’s getting overwhelmed.
“Come with me,” I say, extending my hand to her. “Let’s go for a walk.”