Chapter Forty

The building itself wasn’t nearly as imposing as Grey thought that it would be, considering what they were doing here. The thought of Julian being trapped inside, used in whatever sadistic games Shepherd had planned made her stomach twist uncomfortably inside of her. Hadn’t he been through enough already? It seemed the universe had it out for them, pushing the limits of their bonds as far as they would go.

If Julian survived this, would he ever be able to forgive them for dragging him into this crazy world? They hadn’t wanted to; they had tried their hardest to keep him separate from it all, safe. But that plan had backfired spectacularly. Instead of telling him about it themselves, Julian had been forced to seek out the knowledge of an enemy, for that was clearly what Ariana was. How had they been so blind to it all? Now Julian’s first introduction into their world was one of violence, possibly death. She hated it.

The knowledge of the collars was a heavy weight in her heart as well. The thought of ever using such horrible devices was truly repulsive. They went against everything her upbringing had taught her. Did Shepherd even deserve such a thing?

The answer was of course he did; he had it coming if anybody did. But that didn’t make her feel any better about even stooping to such things. Alex stepped up behind her, taking her hand in his. Teddy and Kol were behind them, Teddy doing his best to not look like he was about five seconds from passing out, a fine sheet of sweat coating his skin despite the poultice they had applied to his wounds earlier. Could they even survive this? Even with the collars, even with the magic Alex and Kol possessed…

“Are we ready?” Kol asked.

“No,” everyone said at once.

“But we have to be,” Grey finished for them. She squeezed Alex’s hand. “For just a few hours at least, we have to be invincible and ready for anything.”

Teddy squared himself up a bit more, pulling a pair of thick leather gloves out of his pockets and slipping them onto his hands. Kol reached into the back of his jeep and pulled out several glistening silver collars, handing a few of them to Teddy who winced slightly but otherwise managed to keep his expression calm. The gloves would no doubt prevent the collars from burning him, but just being around the things in the car had caused both him and Grey to feel nauseated. Neither of them wanted to consider what prolonged exposure to them might bring, so for Teddys’ sake, she hoped he found a beast to leash quickly and got the first collar away from himself. The second in his hand, was of course for Shepherd himself.

“You remember the plan?” Kol asked steadily, glancing between them all.

They nodded; Grey hated the plan, but she remembered it. “Are you really going to…”

“It’s fine,” Kol said, shrugging. “I’ll be fine.”

He reached into the car and pulled out a skin. She knew what that skin represented; Kol had explained it to her as they drove. It was his birthright apparently, a gift from his grandmother or something. It gave him incredible strength and vitality, but it came at a cost. She didn’t want to see the cost.

As much as Kol could be ridiculous, working together as they had had created a friendship between them, one that she couldn’t really describe in any way that made sense. It wasn’t like with Alex, who she’d felt a sexual and physical attraction to right away. And it wasn’t like Teddy or Julian, whom she’d known since she was very young and had come to love and rely on as brothers. No, what she felt for Kol was more like the bond created from shared near-death experiences; it came with an intensity of emotions that was hard to describe. She imagined it was a lot like the bond between brothers in the military, who had to rely on one another in life-death situations whether they normally would have liked each other or not. You came to depend on them—even if it was just their witty banter or risqué jokes.

“Promise?” she asked. “I don’t want to lose you too.”

No, Grey had lost enough already. Her father’s vacant expression still haunted her when she closed her eyes, and the shell of her mother as well. Teddy, bloody and limp in the bed as she frantically tried to stave the bleeding of his injuries alongside Kol and Alex; Julian, the night he told her that he’d been diagnosed with cancer, the feel of his bones through his shirt as they hugged that last day before he’d gone into the hospital…

These were things that she didn’t know if she would ever be able to forget. She didn’t want to add any worse memories to the mix.

“Hey, I’m a badass,” Kol said in reassurance, smiling at her with a cocky expression. “If my dumbass loser of an uncle can go into a blood rage and survive, I sure as hell can, too.”

“You’re sure? Don’t take unnecessary risks, Kol. Blood rage makes you a formidable fighter, but we need you to be able to come around after. Maybe we should…” Alex began, biting his lip, but Kol was already shaking his head and clapped a hand on his best friend’s shoulder.

“I got this,” Kol said. “Now let’s go. Teddy is looking worse by the minute.”

Alex looked like he wanted to argue, but one look at Teddy showed him that Kol was right. He reached into the jeep and pulled out a couple of collars as well, buckling them to his belt before grabbing a couple slips of paper, strange words and scents coming off them. It had been a long time since he’d used these particular brands of magic, more common in Eastern cultures than the Native American culture he had grown up around. He’d spent a summer in Japan, learning scroll magic more for fun than anything, but now more than ever he needed every trick up his sleeve. He just hoped he could still do it right.

They all looked at each other, then, each of them wordlessly assessing one another and seeing only determination there. If this was the last they would see of each other, Grey could at least say that she was proud of all her boys.

“Let’s go,” she said at last, and without further ado, she turned and transformed into a wolf. As one, the group surged forward and into the warehouse, ready to tackle whatever came their way.

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