Tina rubbed her neck and rolled her head before she raised her arms to loosen her stiff shoulders, her eyes on the high wall in the distance.
“Tired?” Muriel asked.
“A little.” She gave Muriel a smile and combed through his uneven black bangs. “And I feel sore too. I guess I overdid it.”
“You pushed yourself too much.” Muriel leaned into the touch.
Yes, she had thrown her body into exercise, hoping that would hush the fears and worries that tumbled inside her head. She wrapped her arms tightly around Muriel’s shoulders.
“Is something going on?”
“There’s always something going on.” Tina leaned her cheek against Muriel’s.
“Yeah, that’s true. But you know what I meant -- there’s something bothering you.”
“Yes.” Tina furrowed her brows. “And you might already know what.”
“The people Michael found in the caves?”
He meant the handful of humans, Aradmas and Deadeaters Michael had found in the labyrinth of tunnels and caves hidden in the area around Aral Sea while he searched for the entrance to Petsha’s lab. She had only learned about them yesterday. Then, when the Dumes joined her in the lab, one of them had brought a transmitter that showed the exact location of cave where they had held Damon. But Michael -- who got the task of finding the lab -- had trouble locating the entrance to the caves and then finding the path through the labyrinth.
“Uriel said that the Numuns are going to change the humans into Aradmas, and that the existing Aradmas are going to become members of the Damned.” And she didn’t care what they did to the Deadeaters. Despite Uriel’s and Damon’s objections, she had seen pictures of the tunnels, and she had seen the massacred bodies of the unturned. A small shiver shook her body.
“Petsha made a mistake leaving them behind,” Muriel said.
“Or maybe not. You said it yourself, they don’t remember much.”
“It’s the trauma. They have been down there for more than a month without food, hiding from Deadeaters.”
“Yeah, the humans, but most of the Aradmas are fine.” They just refused to talk, out of fear, probably, of Petsha and his Shadows or of the Elder to whom they belonged. But that would change as soon as they realized that the Numuns could protect them and that becoming their Aradmas was their best alternative. “I just hope that they have some useful information.”
“But that doesn’t really worry you, does it?”
“I thought you might be worried about how the Numuns dealt with the captives, or that we still don’t have any new information about Petsha or what he was up to in those caves, but that’s actually not what’s bothering you.”
“Well, the Numuns are going to change the humans, not kill them, and without learning anything new... is this really surprising?”
“So what’s really bothering you?” Muriel tilted his head.
“What do you think?”
“Who else?” She rubbed her forehead. She had been so focused on rescuing Damon that she hadn’t thought beyond that. And now that she had him, sort of, she didn’t know what do to with him. “But it’s not just him.”
“It’s also Uriel and... just the whole Beloved mess. I don’t know what to do.” Tina pressed her lips together. “Actually I do know what to do, I just don’t know how to do it.”
“Does this have anything to do with your planned talk with Uriel?”
“Yes. I don’t know how to start.” How do you ask if somebody is in love with you and then tell him that you don’t feel the same? “Do I just blurt it out or what? And there’s also the problem of getting him alone. He is avoiding me, isn’t he?”
“He’s just busy. He is organizing Prva’s pilgrimage with Nat.”
“That’s just an excuse,” Tina said. “He’s really avoiding me. He doesn’t even cook for me anymore.”
“That’s because Tristian has taken over the kitchen.”
“It’s not like I expect him to wait on me hand and foot, but I got the impression that he likes doing that, and ...” She loosened her hold on Muriel and stepped back. “Since I told him that I love Damon our relationship hasn’t been the same.” In loving Damon, it seemed, she was losing Uriel. And as selfish as it was, she wanted their relationship to be like it was before. “He is distancing himself, and I hate it. I know why he must be doing that and...” She rubbed her temples. “I just need to clear the air between us.”
“Yes, you need to do that. And the sooner the better,” Muriel said.
Why aren’t you answering my calls?
I’m busy. Can’t you wait a little?
“It’s Damon,” Tina answered Muriel’s stare. “He wants attention.”
“You should be used to it by now.”
Yes, she should. “I just have to let him out.” Tina wished that she had her mobile phone with her. That way she could call Tristian and let him know that Damon was awake and wanted to go out. Or set the Sarniikzi’s lid so that it could be opened from the inside. Since Damon no longer posed any threat, she didn’t know why they hadn’t done that already. She went toward the house’s back entrance.
“You should go shower.”
“I don’t stink.” Tina lifted her arm and sniffed it. She could smell sweat mixed with the deodorant she used. And it didn’t exactly smell.
“I didn’t say you stink, I said that you should go take a shower.”
“I will. As soon as I let him out.” She sighed. “He’s really impatient and ... I don’t want to listen to his nagging.” She opened the door and walked through them onto the hallway. I’m coming. I’m coming.
Do you really have to be so slow?
Do you really have to be so impatient? Tina went toward Damon’s room.
But I’m lonely without you.
Damon, lonely? Yeah, right.
“He’s still in his beast form.” Muriel was close behind her.
She pushed the door open and went into the room. “Yeah, and?”
“He is sensitive to smells. Actually all his senses are heightened.”
“But I don’t smell.” She nodded to Tristian. “He wants to go out.”
“You do smell. Like you, just stronger.”
Tristan went to the crate and lifted up its lid.
“Well, what is that supposed to mean?” Tina glanced at Muriel.
Something cracked, something black surged from the Sarniikzi and in the next moment she found herself pressed against the wall with a damp snout pressed against her neck, sniffing her.
“Damon.” Her voice came out of her mouth as a squeak.
You smell good.
He hadn’t just broken his chains, had he? He couldn't have. But that didn't change the fact that he was holding her imprisoned in the embrace of his arms. She shoved against the furry mass, but it was unmovable. “Damon. Let go.” What was he trying to do?
Just a minute.
“Muriel.” She pushed herself on her tiptoes and looked over Damon's shoulder at Muriel and Tristian. “Help.”
“No, let me... ” Damon said.
“Don’t be difficult.” Wait a minute. Since when could Damon speak in his beast form? She looked at him, and where a moment ago she had seen fur was now unblemished pale skin.
He glanced at her with his red eyes before he buried his face back into the niche of her neck, his arms still framing her, holding her trapped.
Her breathing became shallower. When had he become human? And so fast. He had told her that he would need at least another month. “What happened?”
“It’s just temporary.” Damon nudged her chin with his nose, forcing her to arch her neck.
He was too close. Definitely too close. She wiggled her arms between them and elbowed him, not that it helped. “Come on, what are you doing?”
“Can you get away from her, please?” Muriel stepped closer.
“I don’t think I can.” A tongue slid up Tina's neck.
Her heart fluttered in her chest and time slowed down. She could feel the wetness of Damon’s caress so clearly as it slowly, so slowly slipped upwards before his lips covered hers.
Electricity zigzagged up her spine and warmth pooled in the pit of her stomach. Not good. Not good. Her hands curled against Damon’s chest and she lost herself in the pleasure of the kiss, of the hot mouth that seduced her, tempted her, so painfully slow, melting all the objections trembling on the tip of her tongue. What was happening to her?
Damon cupped her cheeks, tilted her head and deepened the kiss.
She pressed herself closer. She wanted to feel more of him, to crawl under his skin. To own him, to claim him. He was hers.
The kiss ended, leaving her dazed and breathless. She opened eyes she didn't even remember closing.
Damon's face was a blur before her as his lips hovered over hers and his thumbs caressed her jaw.
She could feel his strong heartbeat under her fist and she leaned back to see him more clearly despite wanting only to snuggle closer, to offer her lips, her body, her soul. Everything she was and everything that she would become. His. It was all his.
He curled his lips in what looked like something between a satisfied grin and a smirk.
It was like he could read her mind, like he knew. He was gloating, she was sure of it and... she didn't care. He could do anything that he wanted with her, anything, as long as his eyes continued to look at her, as long as his hands continued to touch her and as long as he kept giving her the sweet delight that tightened her chest, that made it hard to breathe. She wanted more, so much more. No, she needed it like her lungs needed air.
Damon’s fingers tiptoed across her cheek and neck before he cupped the back of her head and drew her closer.
Tina gladly closed the distance between them, her mouth slightly opened.
Tina. Blue wisps forced their way into her mind. They spread, wrapping around her mind and delicately stroking it. You have to stop this.
No, get away. Tina’s lips almost touched Damon’s.
The blue retracted then shoved back in.
Her body curled and she gasped in pain, cradling her head.
I’m sorry I had to do that, Muriel said.
She slid down to the ground.
“Tina?” Damon squatted down, his hands pushed her hair away from her face.
But if I hadn’t, you would have ended up mating with him. The blue withdrew from her head, taking the pain with it.
Mating? She raised her head and noticed that Damon’s eyes, which scrutinised her so seriously, had started to lose their ruby glow. Her gaze slipped down to his lips. Her tongue darted out and wetted her mouth and the warmth hushed by the pain started to pulse inside her again. But it was nothing like a moment ago when molten lava had ran in her veins.
You were getting high on each other.
Was that even possible? How? Why?
“Tina?” Damon’s knuckles brushed her cheeks and she could sense the brush of fur against her skin.
She pushed herself to her knees.
“We should go.” Damon's hand glided down her neck. The red sheen covered his green irises again.
Tina's skin tingled and she felt hot. “Where?” she asked, even though it didn't matter. If he led, she would follow.
The thumb of Damon’s free hand grazed her lower lip. “Somewhere private,” he said before his forehead touched hers, his mouth a breath away.
Listen, you are getting high on each other, Muriel said. You have to stop, please, for your own good.
If Muriel would just shut up and leave them alone... Tina wrapped her arms around Damon’s neck. “Yes.”
The blue invaded her mind again like a thousand needles, piercing it, stabbing it like a pin cushion. She sagged against Damon and closed her eyes as the dull pain hammered in her temples.
Like a roll of the sea erasing footprints in the sand, the ache washed away the urge to touch and to be touched by Damon, and the sensuous joy that burned in her body. The blue disappeared and she could think clearly for the first time since Damon had pressed her against the wall. Well, as clearly as she could think with a headache throbbing in her skull.
She should really thank Muriel, but... My head hurts. She rubbed her temples. Why did you have to do that? No, that wasn’t what she wanted to say. Why couldn’t you have done that to Damon?
I would have, if I could get into his head.
She took a deep breath before she opened her eyes. Damon’s almond eyes were green again. She gave him a small smile and almost leaned closer to him before she caught herself. She wiggled out of his hold, pushed herself up and darted out of his reach. She went behind Muriel using him as a shield.
Damon stood up, too. Wrinkles marred his forehead as he gave Muriel a dark look. His face started to get the animalistic features of his beast form and short thin fur covered his skin in small patches.
Tina shuffled her feet, gazing everywhere but Damon’s eyes. A hint of voracious hunger lingered in the deepest recesses of her being, and she feared it could surge forward again. She put her hand over her heart. Wanting him, needing him... But she probably always wanted him, not as desperately as this, but... She raised her head and glanced at him. A mistake, since his eyes seem to call her, draw her to him... I still want him, she said to Muriel.
Muriel wrapped his fingers around her wrist and pulled her out of the room with him. “We’d better go.” Before you do something you will regret.
What is happening to me? Tina obediently followed him, surprised at how Damon just watched them go, not trying to stop her -- actually that disappointed her a little.
It’s his beast.
But he wasn’t a beast.
“No, but he is synchronised with it.” Muriel pulled her into the first empty room, Haniel’s room. “For the first time probably.”
“That doesn't tell me much.” Tina shook off his hand and threw herself into the armchair that stood by the bed scattered with Haniel's toys and tools.
“I don't know how to explain this to you.” Muriel sat on the ground before her. “I'm not exactly sure how the whole symbiosis with the beast works and if it is the same for everybody. But I do know that beasts aren't evil and that they don't posses any negative characteristics. They are pure beings and they can’t feel anger, greed or envy, but they are drawn out by those feelings, and their actions are always guided by their owners’ subconscious desires. So they are never really in control.”
“That tells me even less.” Tina rubbed her face. Not that she really wanted to talk about what had just happened with Muriel. About the pull that she felt. About how easily she would have given herself to Damon. “Why did he change?”
“You mean into a human form?”
“It’s because of the bond, I think. I talked with mom about it, and she said that bond is the strongest while... you know.”
“Yes?” Tina made a gesture for Muriel to continue.
“You know.” Redness dusted Muriel’s cheeks.
“Yes.” Muriel nodded. “And even other physical contact strengthens the bond, just not as much as... you know.”
Tina moved at the edge of the seat. “Why did you talk about that with Trinity?”
Tina raised her brows.
“I’m supposed to be helping you.”
“And you are,” Tina said as she gently squeezed his shoulder. “You don’t have to tell me if you don’t want to.”
“It’s because I was afraid.” Muriel put his hand over Tina’s. “And I still am.”
“Afraid of what?”
“Finding somebody to love.”
“Like a girlfriend?”
Muriel nodded. “But mom said that I don’t have to worry. She said that at any hint of ‘excitement’ the beast always withdraws.”
“You were worried about that?” Tina wrapped her arms around his shoulders.
“Yes. I am what I am, I’m fine with it. But I am different and I have to accommodate that difference in my life.” He sighed. “The problem is that no matter how much in harmony I am with my beast, I don’t really know its influence, and unfortunately there’s no instruction manual.”
“Did the talk with Trinity help?” Tina pressed her cheeks against his.
“Very much,” Muriel said. “She was there, you see, when Damon’s beast was out of control, so she knew quite a few things about it.”
“She probably helped him get it under control.”
“Not exactly her, but the feelings that Damon felt for her.”
“I see,” Tina said. So negative feelings drew the beast out and positive calmed it down. What did that mean for her?
“And he didn’t get it under control. He just sealed it in again.”
“He will probably do that now too.”
“Probably. But he shouldn’t. By doing that he is depriving himself of the beast’s strength and powers. And he can’t even use his family power without it.”
Family power? Tina frowned. Then she remembered. Macele’s clone ability was a power of her family. It had never crossed her mind that other families of the Lost clan had to have powers like that too. Too preoccupied with other things. “What is the Blackdart’s family power?”
“I don’t know.”
“What? How can you not know?”
“They haven’t been able to use it since the ninth generation. The beast seal and all. And it’s not like they are advertising it.”
“But you knew about Macele’s.”
“Well, it’s different now. It’s easier to get that kind of information than it used to be.”
“Hmmm.” Tina straightened. “Do you then by any chance have any information as to what to do so ‘that’ won’t happen again?”
“You mean your little show with Damon?”
“Not a thing. Well, except Uriel’s concoction.”
She nodded. He was hers. An echo of her thoughts appeared in her mind. And it was true. He was hers. But she could change that with one easy stroke. Which she planned to do as soon as Damon mastered his beast, or so she told herself. She had to, otherwise... with the way her attraction to him was becoming an addiction ... and then this growing distance between Uriel and her -- it was like she was losing her new-found stability and it frightened her. She would have to drink that potion. It was just...In this moment when Damon’s taste still lingered on her lips, when she could still so vividly remember the press of Damon’s mouth on hers and when her skin still tingled where he touched her, she didn’t want to free Damon or to free herself of Damon. Not even when she knew that all he saw in her was Trinity.