Teddy’s whole body was a road-map of agony, each pit-stop another injury that should have killed him but somehow hadn’t. How? Why wasn’t he dead? The last thing he remembered was Shepherd’s claws, sharp and deadly, poised to rip his throat out. Had he heard Grey?
Soft, cold hands touched his cheek, the smell of vanilla overpowering him for a moment as he turned instinctively towards the cool touch. He knew the hand belonged to Grey; she alone could smell so clearly of vanilla and misery. He wanted to say her name, to let her know he was here, but his voice wouldn’t work and he slipped back under the heavy warmth of unconsciousness before he could muster the nerve.
Someone is talking, their voice low and hushed. He can feel candlelight pulsing against his eyelids and a storm is raging outside, soft rumbles of thunder causing the voices to halt momentarily before they’re back again. The power must have gone out, he thinks. Usually, Grey would be tucked into his side but nobody is there when he reaches a hand to feel the bed next to him.
He wants to ask where she is, but once again his voice fails him and he slips into a dream.
Julian is standing in front of him, mouth quirked up in a teasing half smirk. It feels like winter here and Teddy worries that Julian will get cold because he’s only wearing a thin black shirt, the sleeves too long and half falling off one slim shoulder.
He’s all skin and bones now, but his eyes are electric and his bowed lips are moving as he says words that Teddy wishes he could understand. He takes a step forward, but Julian is already backing up. His hand is held out for Teddy, enticing him to follow, to keep up. Teddy tries, but he’s just a little too slow, a little too uncoordinated in this strange place where gravity feels different somehow.
Train tracks wait behind him, snow delicately piled on top of them, and Teddy hears the sound of a train, chugging closer. Julian steps onto the track and stops, tilting his head as if listening. He doesn’t move even as the train whistles, dark eyes locked onto Teddy’s.
Teddy opens his mouth to call out a warning, but there is no sound and Julian is lost as the train trundles into the picture, blasting cold air into his eyes and blinding Teddy momentarily. When he opens them, Julian is gone.
The woman above him is unfamiliar, yet something about her screams that he should recognize her. She lifts his head softly from the pillow, but her grip is strong as she guides his lips to the rim of a cold glass.
Cool, refreshing water passes his lips and it’s so good that he wants to suck it all down in a single gulp. “Easy, easy,” she says, and there’s a sort of amusement in her voice. She’s got a beautiful voice—husky and low—but there’s an edge of something else, something other, in those sultry tones. He thinks she might be an angel, or maybe a devil. “You don’t want to drink too fast or you’ll make yourself sick.”
“He’s awake?” Grey asks, and he can hear the tears in her voice. His first thought is something must have happened to Julian. The dream is still present on his mind, and he wants to ask, needs to know that he’s safe, but the words die in his throat as he starts to cough.
The glass of water is removed and he’s maneuvered into a sitting position. Agony pulses in time to his pounding heart and he can’t stifle the sound of pain the movement elicits from him.
Grey’s hands are on his face, forcing him to look at her, and she gives him a tearful smile before pulling him into a hug. Her arms around him cause more pain, but somehow he doesn’t mind.
The next few minutes are a blur of hushed voices, soft hands moving him to lay back down and smoothing the hair off his forehead. He drifts off to sleep like that, his worries for Julian still on his mind but seeming somehow far away because he’s never seen so much concern in Grey’s eyes—concern for him—and he doesn’t want to make her worry even more.
Teddy groaned, coming to with the sound of laughter in the next room. He brought a hand up to his face, feeling the familiar planes of it marked by gashes that he knew should have healed already. What was taking his body so long?
“Finally,” said the unfamiliar voice from before. The woman. She stood up from the chair next to his bed, setting a glossy magazine onto an end-table.
“Where am I?” Teddy grumbled. His mouth felt like it was full of cotton balls and the taste was even worse—a cross between cabbage and copper; the copper, he dimly recognized, must be blood.
“You’re safe, for one,” the woman said. “How do you feel?”
“Like I’d rather be dead,” Teddy answered honestly.
“Your friends might think differently,” she stated.
“Probably,” Teddy agreed, “Who are you, anyway?”
The tall blonde tried to maneuver himself up off the pillows, his arms weak but his willpower steely. Eventually, he managed to put himself into some semblance of a sitting position, his chest heaving with exertion. The woman reached over and fluffed his pillows behind him expertly. “Ariana,” she introduced herself. “I’m a nurse.”
That was where Teddy recognized her, he realized belatedly. “You were with Jules.”
She nodded. “Glad you remember,” she said.
“Are you the one that gave him those books?” he said, narrowing his eyes at her.
“And if I am?” she asked, her lips quirking up at the sides. Everything about her was daring him to challenge her, to threaten her. Teddy knew that if he had even the remotest interest in women, she would be his type. Where Grey was mostly soft and compassionate, this woman was all double-edged smiles, poisoned words dipped in honey.
“You were different,” he realized then. “At the hospital. You were softer then. What changed?”
Ariana laughed. “Nothing changed. A girl just shows different sides when she’s off duty. I admit, though, I’m a little surprised.”
Teddy shifted in the bed, closing his eyes briefly when the movement sent stabs of pain through his body. “What of?”
“I thought the first thing you’d do is ask if Julian was okay. You were calling his name in your sleep.”
Teddy blushed a little. Had he really? He supposed it was to be expected, but it was still a little embarrassing to show that side of himself to this woman. “Is he?”
“Better than,” Ariana said, and she smiled the soft smile from before, the one she’d worn at the hospital. Teddy didn’t know which side he should trust, but her words sent a flutter through him. “His results came in. He was excited to share them with you and Grey, but you guys were too busy getting yourselves nearly killed.”
“It wasn’t by choice,” Teddy said, but still, the relief was palpable. If Julian had been excited to share his results, it meant two things: one, that the results had been good and Julian was cleared of cancer; and two, he may have been angry at Teddy, but he still loved him and that meant more than Teddy could say. He’d been so afraid…
“Still, I imagine you’ve got a lot to talk about with your friends and I’ve got to get back to work. Julian may be cancer free at the moment, but he’s not out of the woods just yet and I’ve still got other patients to take care of. Your own injuries should heal up completely in the next few days or so—you had a bad infection and wounds inflicted by Lycans take longer to heal. If I hadn’t come when I had, or if you hadn’t completed your marriage rite, you’d probably be dead.”
“Thank you,” Teddy said, and meant it. He may not love his life, but he knew what his death would have done to Julian and Grey and that was the last thing he wanted to ever do to his beloved friends. Still, he was ashamed. He’d wanted to avenge his packmate; he also wanted to avenge Grey’s father and all the other innocents that had been slaughtered. But when it had counted, he’d fallen short.
As Ariana picked her purse up from the nearby table, Teddy realized something. “How do you know all of this stuff? What’s your connection to us? I don’t smell wolf on you,” he asked.
Ariana paused, glancing at him with that poisoned smile again. “Let’s just say it’s something of a family hobby of mine,” she said, heading towards the door. She paused again. “Oh, and Teddy?”
“Tell your friends I said thank you, too,” she said.
But before he could ask what she meant by that, she was gone and Grey was running into the room, throwing herself into his arms, Kol and Alex following behind her and stopping just inside the room, watching the two of them with tired—and relieved—smiles.
Teddy held her close, ignoring the pain because he knew it would all be fine now. Julian was cancer free, his injuries would heal, Grey was alive and safe…everything was going to be okay. They still had to take care of Shepherd, of course, and there was the tiny matter of a massive all-out war threatening to overwhelm them.
But for now, everything was fine. For now, he could allow himself to feel just a little bit of relief. It was small, but it was his, and he would hold onto it as long as he could.