Half an hour later, I stumbled away from
Tristan’s body and into Asher’s warm embrace.
My legs had been reduced to jelly, and my magical reserves drained so low they might never recover. I could only imagine how much blood and rest it would take before they were back to normal again.
Asher’s voice washed over my shoulders, his breath fluttering against my cheek, but the blood roaring in my ears kept me from hearing.
I’d poured everything into Tristan- everything.
Holly and Giovanni remained rooted in place, searching for any sign of life whether it be a heartbeat or an influx of breath. The inky strands of my half-sister’s hair cascaded down Tristan’s shoulder, hanging off the side of the table he’d been placed onto.
With her ear placed against his chest, she waited and waited.
I understood her worry. Really, I did. Her mother had to sacrifice ten witches just to lock my father’s soul into my body. While I didn’t have ten innocent people to slaughter, I did have something else on my side.
That otherworldly and very much feminine presence that had taken over just minutes before, allowing me a split second of control when I needed it most, hadn’t left me. It was still here, bubbling in my veins and wrapping itself around my body in a shroud of silk.
As I used it to strengthen my own magic, I swore I heard its whisper ring in my ears before vanishing completely, melting into the night sky and the stars that watched over head.
“…just this once.’ It had said.
When it left, and I felt its absence ringing in my soul, I whispered a quick thank you to the Moon Goddess.
During the walk back to the house, Asher recounted what happened the moment I slipped away. Half of the story he told with words, while the other came in the form of memories dancing down the mate-bond.
Witches had poured into the pack, concealed by Angelica’s twin sister, who had also survived the battle. In fact, the two of them were currently in the living room, watching television like two normal children. The witches had split into groups, some attacking the town while others came to the house, beckoned by Cassidy’s call.
Those who went into town were met with not only warriors, but pack members who took it upon themselves to defend their own.
Even my dad, who was now safe with Flora visiting grandma in the hospital, had joined the battle.
As for Cassidy herself, I witnessed her death in Asher’s memory, and relished every gruesome second.
The witch that had slithered her way into the pack at the ripe age of seven years old, replacing the real Cassidy who had been kidnapped and murdered days prior, was torn limb from limb by the same men she’d befriended and betrayed: Brandon and Asher.
The two of them had banded together and worked as one for the first time in over ten years. Cassidy might have been responsible for tearing them apart, but in the end, she’d also been what brought them back together.
With Asher’s arms wrapped around my torso, so tightly that nothing could dare pull us apart, we waited in the silence for life to blossom in Tristan’s chest.
It came with a quiet thud, so soft that it could’ve belonged to a bird perching on a branch, or the first droplet of rain colliding with the hard ground. Holly’s ragged gasp told me it was neither of those things.
One beat turned into two, which turned into ten, and then fifty.
An entire minute had passed when Tristan’s chest moved, and a gust of oxygen surged into his lungs. The sound was deafening, a clash of cymbals that made my ears ring and eyes water. It was the sound of a soul awakening, taking control of a body that should’ve belonged to the earth.
The wound in his chest had been hard to heal. It was a wound created by dark magic; one I knew would leave a terrible scar.
Tristan’s eyes fluttered open, and instead of the bright blues that belonged to my father, I was met with a familiar shade just a few touches lighter.
“Holly.” Her name fell from his mouth, quiet like a prayer.
The others remained outside, helping the warriors and Asher’s Beta dispose of the dead. I’d been too focused on Tristan to notice the bodies, but from the scent of blood and decay, I could tell there were plenty. Breyona, Giovanni, Asher, and I remained inside, witnessing this reunion between Holly and Tristan-between two people who clearly loved one another, but never once acted on it.
Tristan’s hands rested on Holly’s face, quickly becoming wet with tears. Holly’s shoulders shook, and while her hair created a barrier between us and them, I could still see the raw emotion playing across her face.
I hadn’t realized I was crying myself until Asher’s soft lips grazed my cheek and the rough pad of his thumb smoothed over my face.
“Go to them.” He whispered.
By the time I approached, having taken a moment to compose myself, Tristan had his sights set on Giovanni. Breyona watched with the same awe and anxiety as I did, both of us wondering if this would turn into a reunion or another fight.
Giovanni stared down at Tristan with eyes of molten amber, nearly pitch black until the light hit them just right. I never could tell what Giovanni was feeling, and now was no different.
“You did good, brother.” Giovanni admitted, emotion seeping through the rough cracks in his voice.
Tristan’s lips, which were still regaining their color, quirked up at the side. The movement was a bit slow, but he had just come back to life. Not one of us knew how long it would take him to recover fully.
“I did, didn’t I?”
His voice was hoarse, and upon hearing it’s rasp Holly turned and snatched up one of the blood bags from the cooler Asher had placed on the table. My mouth watered as the scent hit the air, rich and sweet in a way that reminded me of dark chocolate and nectarines. It was easy to ignore the pull to feed when Tristan’s eyes swept over
Giovanni and Holly, finally coming to a rest on me.
Those were his last words-the very ones he uttered as his life slipped through my fingers.
“You sacrificed yourself for me. Why would you do that?” As hard as it was to force the words out, I needed to know.
As his eyes softened, I swore I saw the ice that encased them thaw ever so slightly.
“You know why.” He replied.
“Don’t tell me it’s because I’m your Queen, because that’s bullshit. You knew Freya’s spell would break. Why did you do it?”
He spoke slowly at first, every word carefully chosen in the way that only Tristan could truly master. I wanted to believe it was the acceptance in my eyes and in Holly’s that gave him the confidence to speak freely, to let go of the restraints that held him back.
“I wanted to claim you in the beginning. You were beautiful and powerful, the perfect weapon. I never thought that I’d grow to love you, but I did. It was my mistake believing there was only one type of love. You made me realize there wasn’t one, but many. You are a force of nature, something this world has needed for centuries. Every challenge you’ve faced, you met it head on. You are strong, compassionate, and care for people you don’t even know. Someone needed to die for you to continue the work you started. It couldn’t be Asher. His death would’ve destroyed you. Mine, on the other hand, you would have survived.
I love you, Lola, but not in the way I always thought. Not in the way that I love your sister. I know something happened between you two, and I won’t ask you to let that go, but I will ask you for something else. I ask you for your blessing.”
Holly’s eyes fell shut, her lower lip quivering as she slowly sucked in a stream of air. Despite the way my heart reached out for her, I kept my eyes and attention on Tristan. I forgave Holly for her betrayal, but I wasn’t sure if I could ever trust her again. I wasn’t sure what the future would look like between me and her.
“Stop. Please, don’t ask for this. You have no idea what I’ve done. I’m not-I’m not good, and you deserve good.” She whispered, carefully extracting her hand from his. “Do you want to know what I did? I sold her out, Tristan. I’m the reason all of this happened.”
There was a decision before me, a chance to control what path two of the most important people in my life descended down. I held their hearts in my hands, and that kind of power should’ve felt good, but it didn’t. It felt heavy, too heavy.
I’d made up my mind. Their future would be theirs to shape.
“There isn’t a person in this world that’s purely good, Holly. You made a mistake and people were hurt, but none of us would be here without you. You lost your mother and your sister tonight. I think you’ve been punished enough. I forgave you for your mistake. The only one left to forgive you is yourself.”
Since having Holly walk into my life, I became used to her shy and reserved nature.
Like Tristan, there was always this part of her that was closed off, hidden from the world. Whether it was the tears brimming in her eyes or the way they reminded me of a diamond cracked in two, I realized that part of her was long gone.
With one final squeeze to Tristan’s hand, I gave him a swift peck to the cheek and a smile that conveyed my answer.
“Be happy, Tristan. You both deserve it.”
The time had come for me to leave, to let the two of them work things out amongst themselves. I turned and locked eyes with Asher, taking him in inch by inch. Holly and Tristan would build the future they wanted, whether it be together or alone.
As for me, I was looking at my future. For once, I couldn’t wait to see what it held.
“Lola-“Holly’s interruption came at a surprise, but with one glance it was clear she hadn’t forgiven herself, even with my blessing.
“We all have light and dark in us, Holly. It doesn’t matter if we get lost on the wrong path. The light is always out there, and it always forgives.”
I sank into my mate’s arms and let him lead us from the house. Breyona, my best-friend and protector, and Giovanni, my second-in- command, followed close behind.
Stepping outside, where dusk painted the sky in an alluring mixture of powder and navy blues, we met up with the others. There were still hints of carnage here and there, pieces of heartbreak and loss, wounds that would never truly heal. The dead were gone from this world, and regardless of what side they resided on, they would be missed.
As the ones left behind, it was our responsibility to make sure no one else followed.
Mason and Clara approached. The curvy witch had a cut along her forehead, it’s blood long died. Mason, the only other best- friend I’d ever known, had a burn wound down his arm that was slowly on the mend.
Ember and Brandon, along with Tessa and
Zeke, followed suit. They too had their own wounds, but nothing that wouldn’t heal with time and care.
The ten of us stood there in silence, basking in the quiet that came after a long battle. As much as I wanted to relish this until the sun began rise and the early morning mist crept along the forest floor, I couldn’t.
I took a deep breath, holding it for ten seconds before slowly letting it out. All eyes, whether they were Vampire, Werewolf, or Witch, fell on me. For the first time in my life, I didn’t buckle under the pressure.
“We have work to do.”