I woke up the next morning after the skit, my husband’s arm snug around my waist. It was unusual for him not to be up before me. The man seemed to run on very little sleep. I could almost hate him for it at times.
But this morning, there he was. My lips curled into a smile. It was rare for me to catch him when he was completely unguarded. I slowly rotated so I could face him. I traced a finger gently over his jaw, careful not to wake him. It hit me again, the emotion that grabbed me by the throat at the oddest moments. He was always there for me. Even when I didn’t want him to be. Especially then. And it was when I needed him the most.
“You’re thinking too loud,” he grumbled sleepily, his eyes still closed. I had to giggle a little at the way his voice sounded when he was all cross and sleepy.
“I’m not thinking anything,” I told him, tongue-in-cheek.
“I can hear you. Go back to sleep. Aren’t you the night owl?”
“And aren’t you the one that’s normally downstairs by now, hitting the weight machine?”
“I’m sleeping right now, or I would be if someone would go back to sleep.” One eye slitted open to glare at me, though I could see the way one corner of his mouth was creeping up into a grin.
“What if I don’t want to go to sleep, hm?” I murmured, leaning on one elbow as I gazed at him.
“You awake at this hour? Just what are you gonna do, hm?” he asked.
I leaned over him and pressed my lips to his. It was soft at first, then I took it deeper. I could hear the groan in his throat. He turned over onto his back, pulling me on top of him. I broke the kiss and grinned wickedly down at him. “Do you have an idea now?”
“Yes, I think I do.”
We emerged after noon, hand in hand. I was feeling much better, my head and heart felt… lighter than they had since my little “chat” with Natalya. Roark went immediate to go check on Ryu. Standing there, I saw my brother sitting at the dining room table, leaning back as Calysta played with his face.
I had to grin. I loved watching them together. Watching my little brother’s eyes light up the way they did whenever Cali was near made me one happy big sister. They may have been opposites, but they were perfect for each other. My brother needed someone to get him out of himself every now and again. Left up to his own devices, he’d barricade himself in his room, reading or writing or maybe escape to the garage to tinker on his workbench. All of which were fine hobbies and he was pretty damn good at them. But Cali brought out another side to him entirely. And it warmed my heart.
“Awesome. I’ll be back right after I knock some sense into my brother.” Calysta was saying. Then she leaned down to place a soft kiss on his forehead. “Love you, babe.”
“I love you too, Cali.”
I slid into one of the chairs, giggling even as Calysta wheedled the keys to his motorcycle out of my brother. Little sister certainly knew what she was doing when it came to Alduin. I watched her skip out of the house and then I turned to my brother, grinning wickedly. “She’s sure got your number, pal,” I told him, nudging him with my elbow.
“Yeah, guess she does,” he replied, no shame in it whatsoever.
I laughed. “Oh yeah, you are so totally gone over her.” I put my hand on his. “Good, I’m glad. You two practically give off hearts at all times, ya know.”
He winked at me. “That’s the idea.”
Mom and Dad joined us at the table a few moments later, drawn by the sound of us picking on one another, I’m sure. Alduin smiled at them. “Glad you guys can join us. There’s been something I’ve been meaning to talk to you about since I got back home. Just haven’t been able to do it before now.”
Our parents shared a look between them and then waited for him to speak. “I’ve already said this to Luna, but I wanted you to know before going through with it,” he swallowed a moment, “I’m planning to ask Calysta to marry me.”
They looked at one another again, then Mom told him, “You both are young yet, Alduin, but your father and I are so happy for you. She’s a terrific girl. You belong together.”
Dad nodded in agreement. I could see the pride in his eyes. “You’re a lucky man, son. And she’s a lucky girl. You hold onto her, ok?”
My brother nodded solemnly. “You can count on that, Dad. I’m not letting her go. We belong together.”
It made my throat close up a little to hear him say that. Knowing what they’d gone through together and knowing what that bitch Natalya had planned for them… it made my blood boil all over again. I could see the way Mom looked at me, her eyes narrowing. The only one I’d told so far had been Roark. I hadn’t been able to bring myself to even tell Mom and Dad. I may have been the impulsive one in the family, but let me tell you, I inherited my temper from my Mom. She was just a heck of a lot better at keeping hers at bay. But it was there. And nothing would bring it out faster than someone messing with her baby boy.
I should have known. Even as I thought it, my brother turned to me, his expression utterly serious. “Ok, Luna. Spill it. What happened between you and Natalya?”
I hesitated. He had a right to know, I knew that. But I didn’t want to tell him. My brother was normally very calm and collected. But I knew that where he and Cali were concerned… something like this would set him off. He stood up, leaning over the table, getting into my face a little. “Luna, c’mon, tell me!” There was a bite to his voice now, enough that my eyes narrowed as I considered him.
I tried to dredge up some anger, or at least something other than the dread that was curling around my spine and creating a shiver that ran through me. I stared into his red eyes, eyes like my own and knew I had to tell him. I shut my eyes and let out a breath. As I did, Roark came out of the nursery and sat down next to me, taking my hand.
Grateful for his presence, I opened them again and looked at my brother. Haltingly, I told him what I had learned about what the sorceress’s intentions had been for him. How her ‘help’ would consist of her replacing the missing pieces of his soul with nothing but hate and revilement for the woman he loved. For a moment, after I finished, my voice trailing off, he just… froze.
I could see the way the fury lit his eyes, and the tremor that ran through his arms as they held him up. I’d never seen my brother this way. He’d always been… gentle with a romantic side that he covered with a lot of charm and smarm. But this… I never cowered and I didn’t now, but something about him, something about seeing him this furious broke my heart.
“Alduin,” I murmured, reaching for him. My touch on his arm seemed to snap him out of it enough that he stumbled back, basically just falling back into the chair.
His gaze looked down at the floor. I shoved my chair back and got down in front of him. “Hey, hey,” I soothed. As I touched his arm with my hand, my eyes widened. He was ice cold. “Alduin!” There was no response…
I heard my mother release a whimper. I whipped my head around and all the color had drained from her face. “Watcher, no. Please, no! Not my baby!” Her hands clutched at the table as she watched my brother, tears swimming in her eyes. I watched her dissolve into tears.
I shook Alduin’s shoulders, even slapped him across the face, trying to get some kind of response. But his eyes were… vacant.
“Alduin!” My voice was sharp, made more so by fear. Something was terribly wrong… I couldn’t read him. At all. There was just… nothing there. “Damn you, Alduin! Snap out of it!” I shouted.
Roark pulled me away, gently. “Let me try, babe,” he murmured. I could only nod, trying to hold in the sobs that were threatening to burst forth. He took my place in front of Alduin and touched a hand to either side of my brother’s temple. He closed his eyes and I could feel him extend his own senses. But a moment later, he staggered back, shock written all over his face. That scared me more than anything. Roark was always certain, always… steady. For only the second time, I saw him unsteady, even afraid. “I-I… there’s nothing there. It-it’s like he’s just… gone.”
I paced around the entrance to the house, wanting to hit something or rend something apart. But all I could do was hang my head. It had been an hour or more since I’d told Alduin what I’d learned from Natalya. An hour that he’d gone completely unresponsive.
Dad had checked all his vitals, tried a couple tricks he’d learned. But Alduin still hadn’t snapped out of it. Everyone had tried. I had, Mom had, even Roark had tried again. But none of us had any luck. Even Nan and Pop had tried. We were all at a loss. I couldn’t sit still. And I couldn’t do anything else. I walked back inside. Nan and Pop were leaning in the doorway, their faces unreadable, even for me.
None of us said it aloud… we didn’t have to. We all knew this had something to do with the Netherworld. I knew about the pain. Mom did too. She could feel it. But there wasn’t anything we could about it.
Cyn had come out, and she stood there, looking a little lost as she stood next to her brother. I looked at my husband. He’d been silent since the last time he’d tried to reach my brother. I knew that look. He was thinking about Alaric. He’d gotten close to Alduin in a short amount of time and being unable to reach Alduin, as he’d been unable to reach Alaric… He couldn’t even look me in the eye.
Mom hadn’t been able to stop crying. She was curled up in Dad’s lap as he held her. None of us knew what to do. We were at a loss.
“Call Cali again,” Nan finally said softly as I stood next to her and Pop in the archway. “Call her, get her back here.”
I swallowed and nodded. I prayed for all I was worth as the phone rang. It went to her voicemail. But I kept calling. Pick up, Cali, pick up! I ordered in my mind. Watcher, pick up!
“Luna? What’s going on?” I could hear the worry in her voice.
“Cali, we need you here. We’ve tried everything. Alduin…” I couldn’t stop my voice from cracking, no matter how hard I tried. I couldn’t hide the tears that were threatening to erupt at any moment. “-he’s just… gone… We can’t get him to respond to anything… Please… just come here.”
I hung up and sat at the table, willing Cali to hurry.