A soft humming sound filled Tina's head and grated on her nerves. Her shoulders tensed and she would have hissed to Damon to shut up if she hadn’t been trying to ignore him. But it was hard to ignore somebody who could intrude into your mind with singing and humming. The jerk.
She peeked around the corner to see if the coast was clear. She saw Muriel at the end of the hallway and she rushed after him. She grabbed his arm and held on tightly.
“I can't help you,” Muriel said over his shoulder.
“I haven't even said anything.”
“I know what you want, and I can't block him.”
“But he is singing, Muriel. ‘Damon’ and ‘singing.’ It’s not a good combination.” Actually it wasn’t that bad, but... It was driving her crazy. “You have to help me. Please.”
“I already told you: For that, your mental abilities have to be more advanced.”
“There’s really nothing I can do.” Muriel peeled her fingers off his arm. “But you don’t have to worry. Macele is coming soon, and after she arrives, Damon probably won’t have time to hum and sing in your head.”
“Macele is coming? When?” Tina moved on his side. “How do you know?”
“I overheard it accidentally.”
“Irene?” Probably, since she was the one who kept in touch with Macele, though not by choice, of course.
“Yes, she asked Tristian to prepare a room for her.”
“Well, we did promise Macele she could spend time with Damon if she helped us, and we have to fulfil our part of the bargain.” Not that she would welcome that girl’s appearance, despite looking forward to seeing how Damon would handle her. “But isn’t Prva coming, too?”
“So I heard.”
“But isn’t it tricky to have both of them here at the same time?”
“Apparently Uriel and Nat don’t think so.”
“Apparently,” Tina said. “Where is Uriel, anyway?”
Muriel shrugged his shoulders and said, “You know, if you stop ignoring Damon he’ll stop annoying you.”
“That's not an answer.”
No, it was not. She took a deep breath. She did tell Muriel everything, didn’t she? Why hadn’t she shared this problem with him, too? “I think he’s trying to have a relationship with me.” A wrinkle appeared on her forehead as she gazed at him. “Actually not with me. With Trinity.”
“I don’t think so.”
“I doubt he even sees me.” She gave Muriel a sad smile. “Not that it matters. Since I plan to get rid of his blood, it would be cruel to offer him anything and then take it away. For both of us.”
“You don’t have to, you know.” He squeezed her fingers.
“Of course, I do.”
“I see the way you are with him and the way you look at him. I know how you feel. Why are you even making this pointless sacrifice?”
“It’s not pointless. And it's not me. It's the mark that makes me behave like that.”
“They are still your feelings even if they are influenced by the mark,” Muriel said. “Don't you want to love and to be loved?”
“Not with Damon, not when... I just can’t...
”Because -- You won’t understand.”
“I can’t understand if you don’t tell me.”
“Because I don’t feel loved for myself when I’m with him. When he looks at me with that gaze... I see his love for Trinity in his eyes and I remember how much he loved -- he still loves her. You didn’t see the way he was after she was gone. Nobody recovers that fast or falls in love again so soon, unless... he found a substitute for her. Me.”
“Do you really believe that?”
“And I want to be loved for myself. For who I am.”
“Tina, I think you’ve got it all wrong.”
“I don’t think so.”
“Don’t, please.” Tina shook her head. “I don’t want to talk about this.” She pushed her hands into her pockets and sighed. “I’ve made up my mind and nothing you say can change it.” She could see that Muriel wanted to say more, but she just shook her head again. “Don’t try to persuade me, I’m not in the mood.”
“You will never be in the mood, will you?”
Probably not. She was about to say that when the slam of the door interrupted her. She dashed behind Muriel, half expecting to see Damon, despite having seen him in the yard not ten minutes ago. A sigh of relief left her mouth when she saw Uriel crossing the hallway. She furrowed her brows. But Uriel... he never slammed anything.
“Where’s Damon?” Uriel asked, his eyes clouded.
“Out in the yard,” Tina said.
The scowl that regularly embellished Uriel’s brow seemed deeper, darker, actually almost sinister. He nodded, turned on his heel and strode in the opposite direction, toward the back door, probably.
Tina stepped forward to follow him.
“I wouldn’t if I were you.” A hand on her shoulder stopped her.
“Something happened, right?”
“Yes, but there’s no point in talking to him when he’s like that,” Muriel said. “You should leave him alone.”
“He asked where Damon is. Don’t you want to know why he needs him?”
“I’ll found out later.”
“There wouldn’t be any harm in taking a peek, would there?
“I wouldn’t do it.”
“But I would.” Tina scooted away from Muriel. “And I won’t get close to him, I promise,” she threw over her shoulder, then used space distortion to reach the back door.
She carefully opened the door and peered out through the crack.
Uriel and Damon stood beside the wall, intently talking, with Tristian a short distance away. She noticed Uriel’s hands curl and his shoulders become stiffer with every second of their conversation.
Was this about her? It couldn’t be, not when Damon looked the same as always.
Their discussion ended with Uriel storming away. For a second Tina thought that he would go back into the house, but he passed the back door and went around the corner. To the freight-hauler? Maybe.
She stepped out.
Damon’s eyes looked serious as he watched her coming close.
“What did he want?” she asked.
“Look who graciously decided to acknowledge my existence.”
Oh, that. Tina did feel a little embarrassed, enough to fumble with her fingers before she again expressed her curiosity. “Was Uriel mad about something?”
Damon gazed past her in the direction Uriel had disappeared. “He’s upset.”
He raised one brow. “Why should I tell you?”
She would have to bribe him. Why didn’t that surprise her? “I’ll stop ignoring you if you do.”
“You shouldn’t be ignoring me in the first place.” Damon moved closer.
“Well, I...” Tina stepped backwards.
“Well, you...?” Damon’s knuckles brushed her cheek.
She shook her head and took another step back.
Damon’s arm fell to his side. “It’s about Muriel.”
“He found out that the beast can grow up independently from its host.”
“Yes. And he came to me to confirm it.”
From where? From those files Prva sent? “Why would he get upset because of that?”
“Haven’t you noticed?”
“That Muriel is still a child, but his beast is an adult.”
“Yeah?” Was there even a difference between an adult beast and a child beast? And how would she know if there was? She only knew what they told her and what she learned along the way.
“That means that somebody fed him while he was in his beast form. And a beast eats nothing but flesh and blood.”
“But isn’t this normal for beasts?” Okay, she still couldn’t see a connection between that and Uriel’s behaviour.
“Yes. But according to Uriel, Muriel’s beast was fed forcibly and he thinks that’s the reason why Muriel refuses to eat.”
Now it made sense. Of course Uriel would get agitated finding out something like that. “Angelica made a big mess of their lives.”
“Not only their lives,” Damon said. “And if you are correct in what you saw, she’s still out there and she’s going to bring more destruction.” He grimaced. “I thought we got rid of her.”
“I wish we had. But I know what I saw. She’s there, inside Petsha. And we are not doing anything about it.” They should be out there, turning over every rock to try to find her and bring her down, not dilly-dallying here waiting for Prva.
“They are searching for her. For Petsha, actually.” Damon’s fingers slid over her shoulder before he strolled past her.
“They are?” Tina followed him.
“Yes. I’m also using all of my resources, without any results.”
“We were looking for Petsha for months, and the only reason we found you was our connection. I doubt we will find Petsha.” Not even if Damon were leader of the Lost again and had all of his clan at his disposal. That man was too elusive and too good at hiding.
“We might not even need it.”
“Tristian got a report of Shadow activity near here. We might have something that Petsha wants.”
“Like what?” Tina asked, raising an eyebrow. “You?”
“If it were me, they would appear sooner.”
“So what is it, then?”
“I heard that Prva is coming.”
“I heard that too.” A pause. “Oh, you think that’s connected?”
“It could be.”
“Have you talked about that with Nat and Uriel?”
“Why should I?”
Tina darted before him, forcing him to stop. “What do you mean why should you?”
“I don’t see any reason for it.”
She blinked a few times. Selfish, he was selfish.“If you don’t intend to help, then why are you still here?”
He tilted his head like he couldn’t understand why she was asking.
“Because of you, what else?”
“But your beast withdrew now and it doesn’t pose a danger anymore.”
He raised his brows.
She was his Beloved, of course, he wouldn’t have left without her. “You are here because of me?”
“Is there any other reason?” He gently flicked her forehead. “I don’t know what’s going on in your mind -- nothing good, probably -- but you have to know that there’s no way I would leave you.”
She rubbed her forehead. But what if she left him? She sighed. She better not bring that up.
The sound of voices drifted to them and then Tina heard the grumble of the motorbike. Was somebody leaving the house? But nobody was allowed to, not without Nathanael’s or Uriel’s consent, and they refused to give it.
She hurried along the path and stepped onto the driveway just in time to see the taillight of Haniel’s beloved Yamaha.
“Oh, Haniel.” Tina shook her head in disapproval. “We have to bring him back before he does something stupid and before Uriel finds out,” she said to Damon, about to run into the truck to use the car hidden under the large crate.
Damon’s hand curled around her arm stopped her.
“What are you doing?” She scowled at him.
“There are Shadows around.”
“I know that.” While Haniel probably didn’t. “That’s why we have to get him.” She tried to shake his hand off.
“You are not going anywhere.”
“You can’t stop me.”
“I just did.”
Tina’s glowered at him. Haniel was important to her and she didn’t appreciate Damon’s meddling, especially not when Haniel was his son. Muriel had told her that to Damon they were probably just Angelica’s monsters and something that reminded him of the loss of his infant son. But she thought that he had gotten over that while Trinity was still alive and that he had started to care for them. “You should be helping me.”
“Help you get hurt? Not likely.”
“Why do you have to...” She tugged on her arm, hoping that she would somehow be able to tear it out of his hold. “Just mind your own business.” She imagined Muriel’s face before her eyes. Muriel!
“You are my business.”
“Let go of me!” Muriel!
“Stop squirming. Be a good girl.”
“Release me already.” As a last resort she kicked him, once, twice, thrice, and Damon didn’t even flinch. Muriel!
“You are not going anywhere.”
“You are not my owner.”
What is it? Muriel’s voice said inside her head.
“But I’m something very similar.”
She froze. Surely he had not just said that. “You are what?”
“I’m something very similar.” Damon drew her closer. “I’m Gelbeliya, a great master, and you are my Beloved. You belong to me now.”
“I don’t belong to anybody.” She tensed her jaw.
“You are my Beloved.”
“I will leave you.”
“You can try.” He touched her cheek with the tips of his fingers, sliding over it. “You had your chance. You should have killed me that time, but you refused and now you will never be free of me.” His hand glided down over her jaw and neck. “It’s too late for you.”
She couldn’t tear her eyes from his or step away, even though his grip on her arm loosened. She swallowed hard when his lips touched her forehead and he pressed a kiss on it.
“You have such soft skin.” His lips slipped down her nose.
Almost frozen, she stared at him as she wrapped her trembling fingers tightly around the hem of her shirt, afraid to touch him, because she too vividly remembered what had happened the last time. “Please, don’t.”
“Don’t?” He brushed strands of hair off her face. “You look like a frightened bird. What am I doing that is so terrible?”
“You are making me all… messed up.” She pushed his hand away.
“So precious.” He smirked and buried his fingers in her hair, pulling her closer.
“Stop it.” It wasn’t fair. She couldn’t even get angry with him, not the way she wanted to. She wanted to have a full blown tantrum, a storm of kicking, stomping, yelling and throwing things, but somehow he managed to take the wind from her sails with only a few words and gestures. Words and gestures she didn’t know how to react to, which only added to her building frustration and made her even more confused. She slowed down time and slipped out of the hold of his hands. After she put enough distance between them and the world around her resumed its normal pace, she said, “Fine. You win. I won't follow Haniel.”
Tina? Why are you calling me if you intend to ignore me?
I'm sorry I'm just... I can’t get rid of Damon.
“It's not Haniel who left.” Damon stepped forward.
“But it was his bike.” Tina stepped backward.
“It couldn't be him. He's standing by the truck.” Damon tilted his head in Haniel's direction.
And he was right, Haniel was standing beside the truck, staring at the driveway with his arms crossed and a pout on his face. “Who was it then?”
“Uriel?” But Uriel would have never -- He had looked upset, upset enough to need to vent. Yes, it could be Uriel. And Uriel could take care of himself very well, with Shadows around or not. She didn’t need to worry about him, though she couldn’t help herself. Her eyes found Damon, who somehow managed to narrow the distance between them without her even noticing.
“You give him too much attention.” Damon towered over her. “While you avoid me.”
Did he really have to stand so close? She moved away from him, but he followed like they were connected by an invisible chain. And they sort of were. With the Bond of Beloved.
“Why are you avoiding me?” His fingers curled around her shoulders and squeezed them almost painfully.
She needed to get away from him before she did something embarrassing like pressing her body against his, the way something inside her urged her to do. To wrap herself around him, to crawl under his skin. It was the Bond. It was all the Bond and she needed to get rid of it before... Before she lost herself in her addiction to Damon, before it was too late. She sped up her heart, but this time Damon, his fingers trailing upwards to rest against the pulse in her neck, followed her into the time bubble.
“Why do you need to run away from me?”
She squirmed in his hold. “Because you scare me. Because these feelings are scaring me.”
His hands caressed her shoulders. “Why?”
“Because I’m not her!”
“I never said you were.” He dug his fingers into her skin.
She winced. “You are hurting me.”
He released her and tousled his hair, glaring at her. “I don’t know what your problem is, but you better solve it. We will leave this house soon and you have to stop pushing me away.” He turned away from her.
“I’m not going anywhere with you.”
“Of course you are.”
“No, you can’t make me. Uriel won’t allow it.”
“There’s nothing Uriel can do about it. The deal we made still applies and he can’t break it,” Damon threw over his shoulder before he strode toward the house.
What deal? she wanted to yell after Damon, but then she remembered. When Uriel was still tied to Angelica with the Binding Promise, he and Damon had made a deal that Damon would take care of her, Haniel and Muriel, giving them all the freedom they needed. But things were different now. Uriel was free of Angelica, and they didn’t need protection from Angelica or Prva anymore.
She was not going with him. Her jaw set, she stomped toward the Freightliner and climbed inside. There was no way she was going to leave the Dumes behind.
“What was that?” Haniel peeked over the motorbike on which he was working.
“Nothing.” Tina stepped to the part of the counter where Uriel had stored the potion. She hoped he hadn’t thrown it away.
She opened the cabinet door and to her relief the black, pear-shaped bottle in its transparent cylinder with gold marking stood on the shelf. “Was that Uriel on your motorbike?”
“Yes,” Haniel answered. “What are you doing down there? You know how Uriel hates us going through his stuff.”
She took the bottle out. “He won’t mind this.”
“Well, if he does, you are the one who’s going to have to suffer his anger.”
“He was angry just now, wasn’t he?” Tina turned, hiding the bottle behind her back.
“Yes, something ruffled his feathers. Not that he has any feathers on his wings.” Haniel chuckled.
“That’s not funny.”
“Umm... I’m just going to go and rest a little.” Tina pointed at the front of the truck and when Haniel nodded, saying that he would try to make as little noise as possible, she went to the corner that formed their living quarters. She threw herself on the couch, removed the wrapper and put the bottle on the table.
So this was it. Not the moment of decision, since she had planned this from the start, but the moment of execution.
She gazed at the bottle, almost glaring at it. She just needed to drink this and the attraction toward Damon, the need for him, the urge to be his and the feelings that washed over her every time he was near would be erased. Gone like they had never existed.
She lifted the bottle. Gone forever.
She opened it and the smell of lemon scented the air. Lemons? Like some sort of kids’ drink. She took a sip. But it tasted like herbs and lemon mixed with soapsuds, with the texture of melted ice-cream.
Not that that would stop her. She took a deep breath, her eyes fixed on the bottle. She wasn’t ready, she definitely wasn’t ready, not when her body still craved him, but this was for the best. She leaned the bottle against her lips and tilted it.
She gulped down the liquid, grimacing, until nothing was left.
That was it.
It was done.
She set the bottle back on the table and wiped her mouth. She burped and frowned at the way the ground under her started to rock. An earthquake? The first hint of pain started to hammer inside her skull. Just what she needed. She stood up and wobbled into the back of the truck. “Haniel!”
“I...” She had just passed the wooden box when a pain cut through her middle. She fell on her hands and knees. She tried to stand up again, but she couldn’t even move anymore and everything before her turned blurry. “I don’t feel so good,” she whispered and frowned when she felt something wet and sticky dripping out of her nose. It burned.
Hands pushed her upright and in the distance she could hear the thundering footsteps and Damon’s voice calling her.
She touched her nose. Hot, so hot. It was blood. It must have been blood. Her blood. She closed her eyes. Was this supposed to happen?
* * * * *
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