Julian drummed his fingers across his lap, staring at them. They seemed smaller than he remembered them being before. Could you lose weight in your fingers? They looked almost skeletal, skin drawn tight across his knuckles. Pale, too. He hated it. He couldn’t wait to get out of here, to be free of the hospital and back to a normal life. He wanted to feel the sun on his skin, wanted to feel the rush of adrenaline he always felt before he went on stage. He wanted to sing.
More than any of that, though, he just wanted to see Teddy. Knowing that he was hurt, he couldn’t handle being apart another minute. Teddy had always been the one taking care of him—worrying about him And Grey, too. He hadn’t even hugged her in ages. She’d sounded so broken when he’d last talked to her…
Sighing, Julian rubbed a hand over his face. He needed to sleep. There really wasn’t anything else that he could do—not now, anyway—and yet his mind just kept turning and turning, stuttering over the sound of Grey’s voice as she told him Teddy was hurt badly and she didn’t know if he’d make it. He’d done his best to sound calm, mostly for her sake, but it had been almost three days since that phone call and he still wasn’t sure how Teddy was doing. He’d texted both her and Ariana, but neither had any solid answers. Only that he seemed to not be dying at present, which was good, but not enough.
Suddenly, the door to his hospital room opened and Ariana let herself in, looking pinched around the eyes and shoulders slumped. “Ari?” he said, the pet name slipping from his lips unbidden. He’d come to rely on the nurse ever since she’d given him the books and helped him understand a little more of what he was dealing with in the supernatural world and that reliance had translated into something like a friendship. It was rare for Julian to make new friends—he wasn’t exactly shy, but he was slow to trust and easy to offend. Still, he’d come to know some of her looks and right now…she looked defeated.
“It’s not good,” Ariana said with a sigh.
Julian’s heart immediately clenched and he sat up faster than he should have, the world going fuzzy around the edges. He was still weak from all the medication he’d taken and his body still ached in general. “What happened? Grey said he was doing better last time she texted me.”
“He is,” Ariana said. “But…his injuries are from a really strong alpha. I’m worried that he’ll relapse and I won’t have enough medicine to fight the fever. Your friend Grey just looked so hurt, I had to give her the good news…I was hoping…maybe it won’t be so bad if she hears the truth from you.”
No, this wasn’t right. Julian felt his eyes prickle with tears. Teddy was the strong one; Teddy was the one that couldn’t be hurt. He and Grey, they were each fragile in their own ways. Grey always tried her best to put up a tough front, but beneath that she was easily wounded. And Julian was…well, Julian. He was nothing; a weak human who had somehow managed to stumble into a cancer diagnosis at a young age. Teddy had always been the one that gave them strength. He was a bright light, a golden ray of sunshine in an otherwise dark and dismal world. He was unflappable, physically the strongest person Julian had ever known.
And he was dying.
Julian struggled out of the bed, tugging the IV out of his arm with a wince at the sharp pain. “I need to see him,” Julian said.
“Jules, you’re still weak. Your body can’t handle too much right now,” Ariana quickly said, trying to push him back into the bed.
Julian grabbed her arm, standing his ground with more strength than he knew he possessed. “You don’t understand. He’s…he’s important to me. I…”
Although it seemed obvious, he needed to tell Teddy how he felt. Teddy needed to know that Julian loved him, that he needed him. There was no way that he could just let him die without so much as a word, no way he could stay in the hospital when Teddy and Grey both needed him.
They had been strong for him. For years, they had helped him and supported him and protected him. The least he could do was be there for them now. It didn’t matter that his body was still recovering; it didn’t matter that he had only just barely managed to escape his own death sentence and still had a destroyed immune system to contend with. If Teddy was in trouble…if he was really dying…Julian had to be there. He wasn’t naïve; he knew that he couldn’t stop it from happening even if he was there instead of here.
And if Teddy did die…
Well, Julian didn’t know what he’d do. He didn’t think he’d survive that anyways. So if this was going to be the thing that killed him, getting sick while getting to Teddy’s side, he could think of much worse ways to die and alone in a hospital was at the top of his list.
“Please,” he said, “Take me to him.”
Ariana looked like she wanted to argue. “You’re such a brave boy,” Ariana said finally, reaching up to touch his cheek. “You would really do anything for your friends, wouldn’t you?”
Julian nodded resolutely. “Anything.”
Finally, she smiled. “Even die for them?”
Julian’s brow scrunched up then, a warning sign going off in his brain. He knew going out unprepared in his current state of health meant that death was a possibility, but that seemed a bit…certain, the way she said that.
“Um…yes?” he said uncertainly.
Then he felt a sharp prick in his arm and he glanced down in time to see a needle poking into the flesh of it. “Wha…” he began, then the world went topsy-turvy and he felt his legs begin to crumple beneath him.
Ariana caught him, murmuring soft shushing sounds as she lowered him onto a gurney he hadn’t noticed being wheeled into the room by another orderly with a squirrely expression on his face. He didn’t know what was going on, his mind trying desperately to make sense of the situation, but his thoughts kept drifting away every time he reached for them and everything was going dark around the edges.
He saw Ariana’s face before he went completely under, and the smile she wore was like a knife to the chest. Then there was nothing.
Spinning. Everything is spinning. Words follow him, but they sound as if they’re being spoken in a foreign language, though the cadence seems like it should be more familiar. Faces pass in and out of his vision, expressions of worry and sadness gracing the features of everyone he sees. He thinks he feels someone grab onto his hand, but he’s being pushed along too quickly to latch onto it.
The ceiling is bright, too bright, the white of the lights burning into his irises and leaving a spike of pain in their wake. His hands feel like they belong to someone else, grasping and ungrasping at nothing, trying to cling to something. Anything. He needs to anchor himself he needs…
He needs to sleep. His eyes droop and the darkness is comforting after the vibrant agony of the whiteness before, and he’s pulled into something that feels almost like an embrace.
When Julian woke up next, he was somewhere unfamiliar. His hands were bound in front of him and he couldn’t see anything in front of his face. His first thought was that maybe they’d put something over his face, but then he realizes that whatever he’s in is covering his whole body. He tried to move, experimentally shifting his leg, and it came into contact with the edge of something.
Then the smell hit him and it took everything in him not to gag as the realization hits him: he’s been put in a body bag.
He opened his mouth to cry out, to tell whoever is rolling him away that he’s not dead—not yet—but the words won’t come. It was like his mouth couldn’t connect to whatever part of his brain controls his ability to speak and all he could get out was a soft moan, which was silenced almost immediately by a sharp jab to the side.
There were only a few times Julian could remember being truly terrified. The first time he left his home for school, his first solo, when Teddy got sick at the beach, and when he got his diagnosis.
None of those could quite compete with the overwhelming and suffocating sensation of pure terror he feels coursing through his veins now. What’s going on? How had this happened? Why would Ariana let this happen? Where was Teddy? Grey?
After what felt like an eternity, however, he felt a hand latch onto the body bag’s zipper and begin to pull it down. Finally, he could taste air—air not tainted by the scent of decay—and he wanted nothing more than to suck it all in, but he was too afraid. Too certain that the reality of what he was about to see would be far worse even than the body bag suffocating the life out of him.
He wasn’t wrong.
Golden eyes—but cold, not at all the warmth one would expect from such a hue—twinkled delightedly at the sight of the terrified Julian, who can do nothing more than gasp out before the man takes him by the throat and lifts him easily off the gurney. “I must say, Jules, I expected more of the man who captured the heart of my precious beta,” he said, his voice a purr as he clenched tighter, cutting off what little air Julian had managed to take in. He dropped him to the ground, turning to face Ariana.
“Call Teddy tomorrow,” Shepherd told her. “Let him know that I’ve got his darling.”
“Why tomorrow?” Ariana asked, eyes narrowing. “Why not tonight?”
Shepherd glanced at Julian with barely concealed glee. “I’d like to spend a little quality time with our guest,” he said, and Julian knew that this was going to be the worst night of his life.
Again, he wasn’t wrong.