Twenty

Grey couldn’t believe it. Her future husband was alive after all. They’d had to drag both Shepherd and Malik out, which hadn’t been an easy task. Thankfully Ulfric and Barrett were mostly uninjured and Alex had regained some of his energy so that he could help Grey out of the old hospital’s morgue tunnels; though injured, Teddy insisted on helping his packmates drag the alpha out.

Grey knew that this had been a victory—they’d set out to find the alpha and coven leader and here they were—but she felt as if they had been defeated. She called her father to find out where they should take Shepherd—the hospital seemed like a bad idea when they didn’t know what all was wrong with him and of course the fact that Shepherd wasn’t exactly human could potentially come up when they took him in—and he’d told her and Teddy to take him to one of their safe houses.

There’d been a bit of a debate then about whether or not they could take Alex and Kol with them to the safe house. It seemed like a bad bit of information to give to someone that could potentially become an enemy one day. Surprisingly, Teddy believed the witches had earned their trust; Barrett and Ulfric were understandably of the opinion that trusted or not, if (or when) it came to a war, they’d be more likely to side with their coven and as such shouldn’t know anything that could be damning to the werewolf cause. Even if they believed they wouldn’t betray them—and they did, as Ulfric and Barrett both swore—there was no evidence that they could even keep the information hidden if someone wanted to pick it out of their heads.

“It’s safer for them and for us if they know less,” Barrett explained. “We’ve already broken about a hundred supernatural laws by allying with them in the first place.”

Ultimately, they decided that Alex would simply wait for Grey at the old hospital while Kol took Malik somewhere safe. Grey noted that they didn’t tell her where that was, either.

It was unbelievably cute that Alex wanted to wait for her, but Grey couldn’t help the swell of guilt she felt. Here she was, leaving the guy she was just genuinely beginning to enjoy spending her time with so that she could see to the health and safety of her (admittedly unwanted) future husband. It felt wrong to her.

Still, she did what was expected of her. The ride to the safe house was far too quiet, Barrett taking care of Shepherd in the backseat with Ulfric and Teddy driving with one hand while the other continued to hold onto his injured chest. There was a fine sheen of sweat on his forehead as his werewolf metabolism worked to get rid of the poison coursing through him. “Are you sure you’re okay to drive?” Grey asked, brows knitting in concern.

Teddy tossed her a quick, tired smile. “Keeps me awake and focused. Otherwise, I’d be about as useless as him,” he said, meaning Shepherd. He sounded almost as bitter as she felt; she knew he wasn’t any happier than her about the turn of events. She could also tell that he was eager to get home to Julian and would much rather be with him than taking the bane of his existence somewhere safe to recover from whatever the hell had been done to him. “How are you doing?”

Grey had had some difficulty getting back into her clothes because her body was hurting so much. She could feel her healing abilities working hard to knit the bones back together, but it was slow-going. Even being a Lycan, broken bones took a few days to heal completely. “I’ve been better,” she admitted. “I just feel like I failed…I couldn’t do anything to help.”

“Grey, hush, you did great,” Teddy said. “We wouldn’t have gotten there as fast as we did if not for you.”

“Yeah, I led you all right into the waiting arms of a lesser demon. You could have died.”

“But I didn’t, and neither did you, and we found what we were looking for. Even if…” Teddy didn’t finish the sentence; she knew it was because he didn’t necessarily want Shepherd or his packmates to hear the rest of it, but Grey understood well enough: even if neither of us really wanted to.

But they’d done their job. Grey’s father would probably commend Teddy on his hard work and give him the highest honor afforded a non-Lycan werewolf: a marriage to a second child of a Lycan council member. He’d be an alpha by title, if not by blood.

Of course, Teddy wouldn’t want that, either. Grey wished she had an older sibling—maybe then she’d get to marry Teddy and could continue her life the way she wanted and so could Teddy: all their problems solved.

Well, almost all their problems. “We should call Jules,” she said. “Let him know we’re okay.”

“I already did,” Teddy admitted. “He’s probably sleeping.”

“I bet he left the phone on the coffee table,” Grey said, smiling a little as she pulled out her own cell phone and called Jules up. He didn’t answer as expected, so she tucked it back in the pocket of Ulfric’s jacket.

“Are we almost there?” Barrett called from the back. “Shepherd’s not doing so hot and I don’t have the right equipment to take care of him back here.”

The alpha in question moved restlessly and Ulfric had to hold onto his legs to keep from getting kicked in the face. “What’s wrong with him, anyway?” Grey asked. “I didn’t see any injuries on him except for the minor ones caused by his bindings.”

“Silver poisoning, by the looks of it,” Barrett said. “Whoever took him injected him with liquid silver. It’s going to be a rough ride.”

“So he could still die?” Grey asked. “After all we’ve done to save him?”

“Yes, he could still die,” Barrett said. “The most we can do is increase his chances by getting him somewhere safe and helping to keep him alive long enough for his own healing to get rid of it. If that doesn’t work…we might have to drain it.”

Grey made a face. That didn’t sound pleasant at all.

They arrived at the safe house a few minutes later. Barrett and Ulfric hurried out of the car, Shepherd between them, and disappeared inside. Then Teddy turned the car back around, heading for the old hospital where Alex was waiting for Grey.

“He could still die,” Grey said, as if Teddy hadn’t heard the same thing she had. “We did everything we were supposed to and he could still die.”

“I know,” Teddy said.

“If he died now…we would have done everything we could for him. Nobody could possibly blame us for it. Right?”

“Right.”

The words were oddly comforting. It meant that no matter what came down, the responsibility was squarely off Grey and Teddy’s shoulders. She felt like she could breathe again.

It was a slightly hopeful, but exhausted, Grey that climbed out of the car when they got back to the old hospital. Alex stood from his place on the steps. “You’re going back home now, right?” she asked Teddy.

“Yeah, definitely. You’ll come by later?” Teddy asked. “Jules said he has things he wants to do with us before he goes into the hospital.”

“Of course,” Grey said, feeling a lump swell inside her throat. With all that had gone on, she’d almost forgotten the very real, very present threat of the cancer inside her best friend. She could very well be losing him over the next few weeks and she was sat here worrying about her own impending marriage to someone she hadn’t chosen; it made her feel awful. “Should I go ahead and say goodbye to Alex? I can go with you now.”

Teddy shook his head. “Spend a little more time with Alex. Get a little sleep. Jules wouldn’t want you missing out on this for his sake—besides, he probably won’t be up for another few hours anyway. Just make sure you come by later.”

“I’ll be there,” she promised, pressing a kiss to Teddy’s cheek. “Bye.”

Teddy left and Grey made her way over to Alex, sitting down on the steps with him. He wrapped an arm around her shoulder and she leaned into him, eyes closing. “Shepherd might not make it,” she said.

“I’m so sorry to hear that,” Alex said.

She shook her head, smiling slightly. “You really shouldn’t be,” she said.

“Why? Isn’t he a friend?” Alex asked. “One of your own?”

“Werewolves aren’t really…friendly. Not outside of our own packs, anyway. We’re very territorial, and it’s actually crazy what we’ve managed to do. My father, he’s the leader of the Lycan council, and they sort of keep the packs together. But there’s a lot of bitterness, a lot of in-fighting. The council itself is always at odds. I really shouldn’t be telling you all this…”

“No, it’s fine. I want to hear about your life. What is it about Shepherd that’s so bad?” Alex asked.

This was it, the moment of truth. Grey took a deep breath. “The thing is, in order to try and make us more friendly with each other, there’s a lot of…arranged marriages.”

“That’s insane,” Alex said.

“Right? We’re not in the eighteenth century,” Grey said.

“No, well, I mean, yeah, that’s true but—more than that, it goes against a wolf’s nature. Wolves, they choose their mate. They stand by them their whole life. Forcing a marriage between two werewolves who aren’t chosen by each other…it’s wrong.”

Grey smiled, though it was a sad smile. It was truly touching to see him getting so worked up about the natures of a creature and how that was being violated; it was rare to find someone who cared so much about things like that. “There’s more,” she added softly. “Because I’m my father’s only daughter, and I’m of age, they arranged a marriage for me.”

“What? To who?” Alex said, reaching for her hand.

“To Shepherd,” she said. “Today, we saved the life of my intended husband. And as bad as it makes me feel…I can’t help but hope that he doesn’t make it.”

“Why? Is he really so bad?” Alex asked after a long pause.

“No. I mean, yes? Maybe…I don’t know. He always creeped me out. It’s just…” Grey stopped.

“What?” Alex gently prompted.

“I want to choose,” she said. “I want to be with someone that I…that I love. And I know it’s cheesy and that fairy tales don’t exist and we barely know each other but…”

“But?”

“But I kind of think that…me and you…if given time…maybe one day I could love you.” Grey knew her look was more hopeful than it should be. She knew that what she was saying didn’t make much sense, that them being together was pretty much impossible given their individual circumstances.

But when Alexian gently reached down and tilted her chin up with a finger, their eyes locking, she knew she’d meant it. And when their lips met in the second kiss of the night, she knew she wanted to see where this path went more than ever.

As they parted, she sighed and then curled up, resting her head in his lap. His hand moved to run his fingers through her hair. “We’ll figure it out,” he promised. “Let’s just watch the sunrise for now, yeah?”

But Grey was already half-gone, lulled to sleep by her own physical exhaustion and the comfort of Alex’s company.

 

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