Throe came awake in a void. He had no sight, no hearing, and no feeling in his body, as if the surrounding darkness had claimed him in his entirety.
Ah, so this was Dhund, he thought. The opposite of the illuminated Fade. The shadowy place where those who had sinned upon the earth were locked for eternity.
This was the Omega's hell, and indeed, it was hot.
His belly was on fire -
"No, you're wrong. That lesser was shot from above, too. Someone else was at the scene."
Throe's senses came quickly upon him, ushering away the void sure as sunrise over the landscape - but he was careful not to change his breathing or move: That male was not one of his fellow soldiers.
And neither was the second who spoke: "What are you talking about?"
"When I went over to stab him back to the Omega, he was riddled with bullets, some of which could only have been discharged from a vantage point above him. I'm telling you, the top of his skull, his shoulders, that shit was a mess."
"Any of our boys up there?"
"Not that I'm aware of."
A third voice said, "Nope. We were all at ground level."
"Someone else took the fucker out. Tohr put some lead into him, sure, but that wasn't all - "
"Shut it. Our guest's come around."
With the ruse over, Throe opened his eyes. Ah, yes. This was not Dhund - but damn close to it: The whole of the Black Dagger Brotherhood lined the walls of the room he was in, the males staring at him with aggression in their marrow. And that was not all. There were some others with them, soldiers, clearly... as well as that female, the one who had killed the Bloodletter.
As well as the great Blind King.
Throe focused on Wrath. The male had on dark spectacles, but even so, the consuming stare behind those lenses felt very obvious. Indeed, the most important vampire on the planet was as he had always been, a massive fighter, with the cunning of a master strategist, the expression of an executioner, and a body strong enough to follow through on both of those accounts.
Aptly named, he was.
And Xcor had chosen a very, very dangerous adversary.
The king stepped up to the bedside. "My surgeons saved your life."
"I do not doubt it," Throe rasped out. Dearest Virgin Scribe, his throat was sore.
"So the way I look at it, under normal circumstances, a male of worth would owe me. But given who you're in bed with, the normal rules don't apply."
Throe swallowed a couple of times. "My first allegiance, my only... one... is to my family - "
"Some fucking family," the Brother Vishous muttered.
"My blooded relations, that is. My... beloved sister - "
"I thought she was dead."
Throe glared at the fighter. "She is."
The king stepped in between the pair of them. "Yada, yada, yada - here's the deal. You'll be released when you're well enough, free to go out and tell the world that me and my boys are as compassionate and fair as Mother fucking Teresa, in spite of who your boss is - "
"Whatever. Bottom line, you're welcome to stay in one piece - "
"Unless you pop shit," Vishous interjected.
The king glared at the Brother. " - as long as you act like a gentleman. We'll even get you someone to feed from. The sooner you're out of here, the better."
"And if I wanted to battle alongside you?"
Vishous spit on the floor. "We don't take traitors - "
Wrath's eyes whipped around. "V. Shut your motherfucking face. Or you're out in the hall."
Vishous, son of the Bloodletter, was not the kind of male anyone addressed like that. Except, apparently, for Wrath. In this case, the Brother with the tattoos on his face and the perverted reputation and the hand of death did exactly what he was told. He shut the fuck up.
Which said volumes about Wrath. Did it not.
The king turned back. "But I wouldn't mind knowing who cut you."
Wrath's nostrils flared. "And he left you for dead?"
"Aye." On some level, he still couldn't believe it. Which marked him as stupid. "Aye... he did."
"Is that the reason your own blood is your allegiance now?"
"No. That has e'er been true."
Wrath nodded and crossed his arms over his chest. "You tell the truth."
"Well, good thing you quit them now, son. The Band of Bastards is kicking at a hornets' nest the likes of which they will not walk away from."
"Verily... there is nothing I can say that you do not already know."
Wrath laughed softly. "A diplomat."
Vishous cut in with, "Try dead animal - "
Wrath's hand shot up into the air, the black diamond of the king's ring flashing. "Somebody get that mouth out of this room. Or I'll do it."
"I'm fucking leaving."
After the Brother marched out, the king rubbed his forehead. "Okay. Enough with the talking. You look like shit - where's Layla?"
Throe began to shake his head. "I have no need for blood - "
"Bullshit. And you are not dying on our watch just so Xcor can accuse us of killing you. I'm not giving him that kind of weapon." As the king started for the door, Throe realized for the first time that there was a dog at the male's side - wearing a halter that Wrath grasped. Was he truly blind? "Needless to say, this is going to be witnessed - Oh, hey, Chosen."
Throe's entire brain shut down as a vision entered the room. An absolute... vision. Tall, and fair of hair and eye, dressed in a white robe, it was indeed a Chosen.
Such a beauty was she, he thought. A sunrise that lived and breathed... a miracle.
And she was not alone, as was appropriate for a gem such as herself. By her side, Phury, son of Ahgony, was a wall of protection, his face screwed down so tight, it appeared as if mayhap she was his? He even had a black dagger in his hand - although it was discreetly held by his thigh, undoubtedly so the female did not see it and grow alarmed.
"I'll leave you to this," Wrath said. "But if I were you, I'd watch yourself. My boys here, they're a little twitchy."
After the great Blind King left with the blond dog, Throe was alone with the Brothers, the soldiers... and that female.
As she came forward into the room, her smile was a wellspring of peace and femininity in the midst of the vile trappings of war and death, and if he hadn't been lying down, he'd have sunk to his knees in awe.
It had been so long since he had been 'round any female of worth. Verily, he had grown too used to the whores and the prostitutes, whom he treated like ladies out of habit, but not concern.
His eyes teared up.
She reminded him of who his sister should have been.
Phury stepped up in front of her, blocking the view as he leaned down and put his mouth right to Throe's ear. As he squeezed Throe's biceps until it screamed in pain, the Brother growled softly, "You get hard and I'll castrate you as soon as she leaves."
Well... if that wasn't crystal clear. And a quick glance around the room suggested that Phury wasn't the only one who would come after him. The other Brothers would fight for pieces of his dead carcass if he became aroused.
Straightening to his full height, Phury smiled at the female as if there was nothing of any concern going on. "This soldier is very grateful for the gift of your vein, Chosen. Aren't you."
The "asshole" went unsaid. And the grip that once again tightened on Throe's upper arm was just as hidden and emphatic.
"I am e'er grateful, your grace," he breathed.
At that, the Chosen smiled at Throe, stealing his breath. "If I may be in even a small way helpful to a male of worth such as yourself, I am blessed. There is no greater service to the race than fighting the enemy."
"I can think of at least one more," somebody said under their breath.
As Phury motioned her to come to the bedside, Throe could only stare up into her face, his heart struggling to decide whether to pound or stop altogether. And whilst he imagined what she could possibly taste like, he tried not to lick his lips - for surely that would fall under the prohibited-activities list. He also sternly reminded his sex to stay flaccid or lose its two stupid best mates.
"I am not worthy," he said softly to her.
"Damn fucking straight," someone growled.
The Chosen frowned over her shoulder. "Oh, but surely he is. Anyone who wields a dagger with honor against the lessers is worthy." She looked down at him again. "Sire, may I serve you now?"
Her words went straight to his cock: Right up the shaft, which thickened instantly, to the tip, which promptly stung with need.
Throe closed his eyes and prayed for strength. And bad aim for the Brothers. Neither of which would likely be granted -
Her wrist was close to his lips - he could smell it.
Eyes flaring open, he saw her fragile vein within striking distance - and, merciful Virgin Scribe save him, all he could think about was reaching out to her, caressing her smooth cheek -
A black blade forced his arm back down. "No touching," Phury said darkly.
Well... at least if that was all the Brother was worried about, obviously he had not caught on to the issue below the waist. And short of agreeing to have himself neutered, Throe would do anything to have this happen - so no touching was good.
No touching was fine with him....
As Tohr lay in his bed, he came awake with the thought it was a little early to be sleeping. Shouldn't he be out fighting? Why was he -
"Get Layla in here stat," a male voice barked. "We can't operate until his blood pressure is up - "
Say what? Tohr wondered. Whose blood pressure was bad...?
"She'll be there ASAP," came a far-off response.
Were they talking about him? Nah, they couldn't be -
As he popped opened his eyes, the industrial chandelier hanging right over his face cleared things up fast. This wasn't his bedroom; this was the clinic in the training center. And they were talking about him.
Everything came back in a flash. Him stepping out from behind that Dumpster. His body getting drilled as he walked forward, opening fire. Him shooting until he stood over the slumped, stinking form of that slayer.
After that, he'd wobbled back and forth, like a stick only partially drilled into the ground.
Then it had been lights out.
With a groan, he went to push himself up, but his palm slipped on the padding of the gurney. Guess he was leaking -
Manello's handsome puss popped into his line of vision, replacing the bright-and-shiny of the light fixture. Wow - check out that expression. The bastard looked like someone had just gotten him tickets to Disneyland. Surprise!
"You shouldn't be conscious."
"That bad, huh."
"Maybe a little worse. No offense, but what the fuck were you thinking?" The good surgeon pivoted and jogged to the door, shoving his head out into the corridor. "We need Layla in here! Now!"
At that, there was some conversation, but he couldn't track any of it, and not because he was injured. In spite of all the owie-owie, his body had a huge opinion about who he was going to feed from - and as far as it was concerned, as lovely as the Chosen was, it was not going to be her.
And it was a shock to realize why.
He wanted No'One. Even though it wasn't fair -
"I shall do it. I shall take care of him."
At the sound of No'One's voice, Tohr gritted his teeth, and felt a surge go through him. Turning his head, he looked past the rolling tables of operating instruments... and there she was in the far corner, her hood in place, her body still, her hands churning under the robe's sleeves.
The instant he saw her, his fangs elongated, and his body filled out its own skin, the residual numbness receding and revealing all kinds of sensation: pain at the side of his neck, his ribs, and under his arm; tingling at the tips of his canines sure as if he had already struck; hunger in his gut - for her.
Starvation in his cock - for her.
He quickly camo'd the arousal by yanking the surgical drape around and holding it to the front of his hips.
"Okay, you shouldn't be able to sit up," Manny muttered.
Was he? Oh, hey, check it... And as for the doctor's second dose of surprise? Nice guy, but he was being a dumb-ass human when it came to the feeding thing. With this kind of hunger for that particular female? Tohr was frickin' Superman, capable of bench-pressing a Hummer while he juggled Smart Cars with his free hand.
He was worried about No'One, though. Last time had been such an epic fail.
Except from across the room, she just nodded at him, as if she knew exactly what he was worried about, and was ready to follow through anyway.
For some reason, her courage made his eyes sting.
"Leave us," he told the surgeon without looking at the man. "And don't let anyone in until I call for you."
Cursing. Muttering. All of which he ignored. And as he heard the door finally shut, he took firm control of his instincts, the knowledge that he was alone with her tempering all that drive to feed: He was not going to hurt or scare her again. Period.
No'One's reedy voice cut through the silence. "You're bleeding so badly."
Oh, man, they must not have cleaned him up yet. "It looks worse than it is."
"Then you should be dead."
He laughed a little. Then laughed a little more - and blamed the ha-has on blood loss. 'Cuz none of this shit was funny.
As he rubbed his face, he hit a raw patch and had to lie back - which made him wonder whether he might be in trouble - and not the sexed-up variety. How many bullets were in him? How close had he come to dying?
No offense, but what the fuck were you thinking?
Shaking all that off, he extended his hand and beckoned her. As she closed in on him, her limp was pronounced, and, when she reached the table, she leaned her hip against the edge like maybe her leg was bothering her.
"Let me get you a chair," he said, making a move to get up.
Her delicate hand eased him back. "I'll do it."
As he watched her limp across the way, it was obvious she was in pain. "How long have you been standing?"
"You should have left."
She rolled the stool over and groaned as she took the weight off her feet. "Not until I knew you were home safe. They said... that you walked into the line of fire."
God, he wished he could see her eyes. "It's not the first time I've done something stupid."
Like that somehow made things better? Idiot.
"I do not want you to die," she whispered.
God. Damn. The heartfelt emotion in those words left him nonplussed.
As the silence ruled once again, he stared into the shadow created by the hood, thinking of that moment when he'd stepped out from behind that Dumpster. Then he went back farther into his memory....
"You know what? I've been mad at you for years." As she appeared to recoil, he tempered his tone. "I just couldn't believe what you did to yourself. We'd come so far, the three of us, you, me, and Darius. We were a kind of family, and I think I've always felt like you betrayed us in a way. But now... after I've lost all I have... I understand the why. I truly do."
Her head dipped down. "Oh, Tohrment."
He reached out and covered her hand with his own. Except then he noticed his was bloody and stained, a horrific travesty against the purity of her skin.
When he went to pull away, she held on and kept them together.
He cleared his throat. "Yeah, I guess I understand why you did it. At that moment, you couldn't see anyone but yourself. It wasn't to hurt the other people around you - it was ending your own suffering because you simply couldn't fucking stand it another minute."
There was a long moment of quiet, and then she said quietly, "When you walked out into those bullets tonight, were you trying to..."
"That was just about the fighting."
"Yeah. Only doing my job."
"Given the reactions of your Brothers, they appear to think that is not in the description of duties."
Shifting his eyes upward, he caught the reflection of them in the stainless-steel contours of the operating chandelier, him laid out and leaking, her curled in and hooded. Their forms and figures were distorted, bent, twisted out of shape because of the uneven reflecting surface, but the image was accurate in more ways than one: Their destinies had been such as to make them both grotesque.
Strangely, their two hands clasped were the clearest of all, that image being caught on a straightaway.
"I hated what I did to you last night," he blurted.
"I know. But that is no reason to kill yourself."
True. He had more than enough cause for that from elsewhere.
Abruptly, No'One took her hood off, and he instantly zeroed in on her throat.
Shit, he wanted that vein, the one that ran up so close to the surface.
Chat time was over. The hunger was back, and it wasn't just about biology. He wanted to be at her flesh again, drinking not simply to cure his wounds, but because he liked the taste of her, and the feel of her fine skin at his mouth, and the way his fangs punctured in deep and let him take part of her into him.
Okay, maybe he'd fibbed a little about that bullet shower. He absolutely had hated hurting her - but that wasn't the only reason why he'd walked into all that lead. The truth was, she was calling something out of him, some kind of emotion, and those feelings were starting to turn gears inside of him that were rusted and cranky from lack of use.
It terrified him. She terrified him.
And yet, looking at her strained face right now, he was glad he'd come back from that alley alive. "I'm happy I'm still here."
The breath she exhaled was relief made manifest. "Your presence eases many, and you are important in this world. You matter a great deal."
He laughed awkwardly. "You overestimate me."
"You underestimate yourself."
"Ditto," he whispered.
"You know exactly what I mean." He punctuated that with a squeeze of her hand, and when she didn't reply, he said, "I'm glad you're here."
"I'm glad you are here. It's a miracle."
Yeah, she was probably right. He had no idea how he'd gotten out of that one alive. He hadn't been wearing a vest.
Maybe his luck was changing.
Little late in the game, unfortunately.
Staring up at her, he took in her lovely features, from her dove gray eyes to her pink lips... to the elegant column of her throat and the pulse that beat beneath her precious skin.
Abruptly, her gaze went to his mouth. "Yes," she said. "I will feed you now."
Heat and raw power resurged in his body, jerking his hips up and oversolving that blood pressure problem of the surgeon's. But all the off-the-chain was still a no-go. The part of him that wanted things from her, things that she wasn't going to be comfortable giving anybody... things that were all about what he had done in the shower and in his bed alone during the day... was not getting airtime here.
Besides, his mind and his heart weren't interested in any of that shit, and this was another reason she was perfect for him. Layla might well take his body up on the arousal; No'One never would. And there were worse betrayals to his shellan than wanting the unattainable. At least with No'One, and thanks to his self-control, those impulses would forever be just a fantasy, a harmless, unrealized, masturbation fantasy that had no more substance in his real life than porn on the Internet -
God help you, a small voice pointed out, if she ever wants you back.
Too right. But as she appeared to hesitate, he was certain that was never going to happen.
In a guttural voice, he told her, "I'm in no hurry. And know this, the lights will stay on this time... and I will take from your wrist only as much as you care to give me."