Chapter Forty-Four

Julian knew the precise moment when things went wrong.

The whole fight had been a clusterfuck of emotions, and had he been a little more capable of moving, he would have figured out a way to help. He didn’t know how, but he would have. He had never seen anything close to this level of violence, not in real life at least, and so that alone was terrifying for him. But add in the fact that one of the combatants was one of his dearest friends and it added a whole other level of terror for him.

In other circumstances, he might have even been impressed by the fact that apparently Grey was dating a wizard. How cool was that? Magic, real magic, and not just the kind the street magicians did. But now was not the time for being impressed. No, now was the time for sheer panic.

So many times, he glanced up at Teddy, waiting to see when he was going to jump in. Would he ever? How could he just leave Grey to fight on her own like that? Other times, he’d tried to struggle into a standing position. Maybe he could be a good distraction…but unfortunately, his body was too weak, and the dull ache he’d been feeling before was slowly turning back to the kind of agony he’d felt immediately after the fight. In fact, the more he struggled, the more it hurt and he wondered if it was a good or bad thing.

But Grey had been doing a great job; really she had. There had been a few close calls which had made him worry, but for the most part, her boyfriend seemed capable of covering those moments. Julian was starting to realize that Grey had always been the strongest in their group—physically and mentally. How had he not noticed that before? He’d always assumed that Teddy, with his tall build and broad shoulders, was the leader. Now, he wasn’t so sure.

But then the feeling of wrong hit him and he felt the force of Shepherd’s command even in his muddled brain. He watched in abject horror as Grey froze and Shepherd attacked Alex, bearing him to the ground.

The moment his teeth sank into his throat, Julian could only make a gasp of a sound. The horror was unlike anything. He’d faced death for himself to some extent since he’d gotten his diagnosis. Death itself wasn’t strange. But to see someone go from alive and fighting, to suddenly having teeth sunk into his throat and blood bubbling from his lips was shocking to say the least. Julian felt bile rise in his throat and if he’d had anything to eat in the past several hours, he might have vomited. As it was, he barely managed a dry heave.

Alex, however, didn’t realize he was dead. Through his blurry gaze, Julian watched the other cling to the wolf who had killed him, not so much as budging despite how difficult it must have been. Even dead, Alex was proving more helpful than Julian.

Julian clenched his eyes shut and wished this would all be over already.

It was then that Teddy jumped down from his perch on the catwalks above, taking advantage of the immobilizing efforts of their fallen ally to slip some kind of collar around the wolf’s neck.

What the hell was that? A moment later, there was a flash of light and there was Shepherd, suddenly back human. Julian was getting overwhelmed again as layer upon layer of this strange supernatural world built up and he was no closer to having the answers despite now being a part of it.

“It’s no use,” Teddy said as Shepherd screamed and clutched at his new neck adornment. “You can’t transform again, not as long as you have that collar on. You’re done.”

Grey seemed insensible to all of this, pulling her dead lover into her arms. Julian understood—he didn’t think he’d be able to pay attention to any of this if he’d just watched the person he loved being murdered in front of him, either.

“You think I’m done,” Shepherd gasped, and to Julian’s oversensitive ears it sounded as if he’d just gargled acid. “How wrong you are, Teddy.”

That was the second time Julian felt everything was going wrong, and as usual, his feelings proved spot on. Before Teddy could even react to the statement, Shepherd leapt at him and wrapped his hands around his throat.

Teddy seemed so shocked by this that he fell remarkably easy, and his attempts at swatting Shepherd’s hands off of him proved futile at best against the iron grip.

“Teddy!” Julian shouted, desperate once more to get his stubborn body moving, to get to the blonde’s side. He couldn’t lose Teddy—not now, not after everything—and he knew Grey couldn’t either. She would be destroyed; she was already destroyed enough.

“I would gain so much more power if you had just willingly let yourself be killed,” Shepherd was gasping, grip tightening on Teddy’s throat. “But at this point, I don’t care. I want you dead—the power is irrelevant now. It’s revenge now.”

Grey seemed to be gathering herself. She seemed almost drunk as she set Alex’s body back down on the ground and stumbled to her feet, but get to her feet she ultimately did and before she was even steady, she was drifting back into wolf form and running straight at Shepherd.

This was it—everything was going to be fine. Grey was going to get the surprise advantage; she’d sink her teeth into Shepherd and kill him once and for all. She was going to save Teddy. Everything was going to be fine now.

Then came the deafening crack.

For what felt like a long moment, Julian didn’t realize what had happened. It seemed everything was in slow-motion as he raked his dark gaze from the forms of Teddy and Shepherd on the ground over to Grey, and then towards the doorway.

A woman was standing there, a very familiar one although she seemed to be coated in blood. Her gaze was wild, but there was no mistaking her: it was Ariana, and she held a smoking gun.

With a sinking feeling deep in his gut, Julian tracked the direction the gun was pointed in and saw to his horror that it was Grey.

Her eyes locked onto his, frightfully human and terrified despite the wolf features, and then she crumpled, transforming back into a human as she hit the ground, a pool of blood forming beneath her.

“My debt is paid,” Ariana said mysteriously before a sharp claw hooked into her ankle and dragged her screaming into the previous room.

Everything was wrong, so wrong. Julian felt his mind start to strain under the onslaught of everything, of Teddy’s face turning disconcertingly red as he beat weakly against the older man’s grip on his throat, each hit getting progressively weaker; of Alex’s already cold blood congealing beneath his dead body; and finally, to Grey’s prone form, her own life’s blood leaking steadily from her body.

He didn’t know where the strength came from. One minute, all was chaos. Then, blissful silence and a sudden surge of strength. He pushed himself off the ground, using the beam to help stabilize the upwards progress. Then, slowly, ever so slowly, he stepped forward. One step, then two. He seemed to be gaining strength with each step as his feet carried him over to Shepherd. Nobody saw him—how could they, considering how occupied they were either dying or killing—but it didn’t matter.

His nails were no longer his nails. They were sharp, long and dark. He recognized that that must have been some of the pain he had felt; during the panic, something had triggered inside of him. Somehow, a part of his transformation had happened. He had no way of knowing that was highly unusual, or why it had happened. All he knew was that it had, and he was the only thing that could save Teddy now.

As he got closer, he heard Shepherd’s muttering voice. “Yes, just give in Teddy. Your friends are all as good as dead now—I can’t even hear your bitch whining in the background anymore. I could die happy now, knowing that I have my hands around your throat. I would die willingly for this.”

Shepherd was clearly insane. He was out of his mind, either with pain or something else, but Julian didn’t care. As the man continued to boast over Teddy’s quickly fading life, Julian crept closer. And as soon as he was close enough, his hands shot out and his nails plunged through Shepherd’s back.

The alpha stiffened in shock, a gasp escaping his lips. His grip on Teddy’s throat tightened briefly, but then the fingers were slipping away, slowly drifting to his sides as he cocked his head to get a look at who had gotten the best of him.

The surprise on his face was almost worth every bit of pain Julian had experienced to get to this point. Felled by the weakling, Teddy’s so-called bitch.

What Julian hadn’t expected was the sudden rush of strength that filled his body as Shepherd slumped to the ground. He didn’t care about that though. All he cared about was his friends.

He fell to his knees by Teddy, shaking him. “Teddy!” he shouted frantically, hoping he wasn’t too late. The other wasn’t moving, his eyes closed. With fingers still shaking with residual adrenaline, Julian searched for Teddy’s pulse. There, he found it. A breath of relief fell out of him and a moment later, Teddy sat up with a gasp, choking and coughing.

Julian would have liked to help ease him back into things, but he couldn’t. Not now. They had to get to Grey.

Quickly, Julian dragged Teddy to his feet. “Come on, no time to dawdle,” he gasped.

When he fell to his knees beside Grey he saw that her injury wasn’t so bad, either. There was a lot of blood, but already the skin was knitting itself closed; thankfully, Ariana hadn’t been packing a silver bullet.

“Grey?” Julian gasped. “Can you hear me?”

“J-jules?” Grey asked, eyes fluttering open.

“Yes, it’s me.” He tried to smile.

“Teddy?”

“Right here,” Teddy said, his voice rough from his near-strangulation.

Everything was going to be fine for real now, Julian decided. The three of them were still alive, still breathing. As long as they had each other, they could handle anything…

“A-alex?” Grey said then, and Julian’s heart plummeted as he glanced mournfully at Alex’s still form laying on the ground.

He was a fool. Nothing was going to be the same—he knew that. It wouldn’t just be the three of them after this. It would be the three of them and all the horror they’d been through, all the losses they’d accrued.

“I’m sorry,” Julian said, watching her face crumple a bit. “I’m so sorry.”

“Come on,” Teddy said, helping push Grey into a sitting position. “The sun’s about to rise.”

Maybe not everything would be the same. But it could still be okay; they would rise.

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