Find out in Chapter 26 of The One That Feels!
A little lost? This story nears its end, but you can still read it from the beginning here on the Passion Stroll!
I stood quietly and waited. I could feel the grief, palpable in the air. There was a taste like sorrow, bitter and heavy. I listened in the heavy press of fog until I heard it. It tore at my soul, the power of it, the ache, wailing into the night. I followed the sounds. I wasn’t looking forward to this. I loved Brian more than anything once. To witness the loss he must be feeling….
I found Brian at a tombstone. Two tombstones. He was on his knees, clutching at the stone. I knew which one was meant to be me. He grieved for us both, but his soul belonged to Jordan, and that stone was the one to which he held as he poured his sorrow into the night.
I cleared my throat. It wasn’t fair. I should be approaching him. Setting a hand on his shoulder in comfort. But that could suck me into the Real, and I wasn’t about to allow that. I wouldn’t leave Nem alone. Not again.
I had to clear my throat a second time before he noticed. Before he raised his tear streaked face and turned. He was shaking.
“I’m in a dream,” he said.
Yes. I sent my voice ringing into his mind.
I nodded and walked around him in a wide circle, avoiding coming close.
“He died.” Brian traced words in the stone, his eyes on Jordan’s name, spelled out so carefully in eternal marble. “I watched him fade. I didn’t expect that.”
I shook my head, trying to communicate his error, but Brian’s eyes were on the stone, and he did not see.
“Just before I lost him, I thought I saw him open his eyes. Maybe that was a dream too. Mr. Blackmun thinks so. Blames me for Janice. She didn’t tell him, when she left. She just disappeared.” Brian sighed. “But I saw it, Thom. For just a second, he opened those beautiful eyes, and he looked at me. He could see me, I know he could! I did what you said. I let him see how I felt.” Brian looked up at me. “I think he knew, Thom. At the end I think he.... Oh, God, Thom! How am I going to—” A choking sob silenced him, and then he lifted his face to the sky and screamed. “I miss him so much!”
I wiped a tear from my eyes. Time had jumped in the Real. But how much?
“Th-three m-months.” Brian choked out the words. “I come as often as I can. But Mr. Blackmun, without you and Janice here, he wouldn’t let me come to the funeral.” He gulped. “I guess I should be glad there wasn’t a body, or we’d have fought over that, too.”
Brian let himself cry for a while, wrapping himself around the stone. When the tears were finally dry, he turned and looked up at me. The pain on his face was torture.
“You must listen, Bri,” I said.
Brian screwed his eyes shut and tried to keep the tears from starting again. “I know you tried. I know I should never have asked. Not after all you’ve done for us. I didn’t have a right to ask. I know that.” He turned back to look at the stone, his eyes slowly opening. He hadn’t stopped the tears, a trail still escaped, slowly dripping down his cheek, shimmering in the moonlight.
He’s not dead, Bri. I sent it hard and fast and certain, in a way that would ring inside his head for days.
Brian shook. “But he disappeared. Gone! No more Jordan.”
I set a hand by my throat. “Did you do it, Bri? Did you change the photo?”
Brian’s grasped under his shirt for the locket that was always there. He held it desperately and nodded. “Y-you mean it? He’s—” Brian gulped. “He’s alive?”
I squatted down so our eyes were level, even though I was a good twenty feet away and I nodded. “I found him. He’s safe. I am bound to the Realm, but I have not forgotten my promise. I will get him back to you. Jordan is very anxious. He misses you. Knowing that you love him, having seen it in your eyes, that’s so important to him. He will fight to make it back to you.”
“What do I need to do?” asked Brian.
Be somewhere alone. And keep him in your mind every moment.
Brian nodded. He looked at me uncertainly for a second. “He’s really coming back?”
He loves you, Bri. You’re his mate. When he comes back, you must not wait any longer. Have a ring. Bind him to you. You must anchor him to you in the Real forever.
Brian stood, nodding anxiously. “Anything. As long as I have... he’ll be okay, right?”
I couldn’t promise that, though seeing Brian there, seeing him hurt, I wanted to. You must be stronger than the dreams. Stronger than what he sees here. You must be the center of his universe. He wants you to be. Do that for him.
“I miss him so much. Can you tell him that? Can you tell him that I love him?”
You will see him soon. Keep that thought in your mind. Keep wishing with all your strength to see him again. He must feel it. He must know it. Your love is all he has to find you, Bri. Make it shine like a beacon. You must let it fill you completely.
“That means letting you go, doesn’t it?” asked Brian.
I smiled at him. Yes.
Brian looked at the ground. “Will I ever see you again?”
Perhaps in dreams. Protect him. He loves you. I told you once we were meant to be. And I believed that. But I was wrong. Jordan loves you to the core of his soul. Let him love you, Bri, and he’ll never leave you again.
The scene was familiar. The frame to which I was meant to be strapped. The curled lengths of lash. The implements of pain, resting in hot coals. The king who stood and watched me enter the dream. I had been meant to appear on that frame, meant to appear ready for him to exact his price and punishment. He knew it, and his anger was plain.
“Return to me my son!” He growled the words.
Instead of appearing lashed to the frame, ready for his abuses, I had coalesced seated in a large, comfortable chair. “I thought,” I said calmly, my eyes locked with his, staring down the red malevolence within, “that we should talk.”
“I have no interest in you,” he snarled.
“No interest? When I am Prince Consort of Zaharoth?” I said the words casually, but the effect was immediate. A mask of anger. The malevolent red of the king’s eyes suddenly surrounded by white. An audible growl that was almost animal.
“It will be undone.” He spat the words between tightly clenched teeth.
“Your son has chosen me as his mate.”
The king shrugged. “You are of the Real. It is fleeting. You cannot stay. You will not stay. It will be undone.”
I looked at the advancing form of the king and shook my head. “I am Lord Thommas of Ashe. I am the Lord of the Plains of Fire, the Keeper of the Tower at Egelbaroth. And by the laws of the Realm, I am the duly taken and wedded husband of Prince Nem of Zaharoth.”
“No!” His advance was sudden, hands firmly on the arms of my chair, his face inches from my own. “I won’t allow it. I can’t!”
I looked calmly into those eyes. Red and angry and swirling not unlike Nem’s eyes, but lacking the softness and luster of the mercurial in Nem. These were angry eyes. Mad eyes. They were the king’s eyes, and so I kept my calm. “You must, highness. The Lord Nem did not choose me as a mere husband. He chose to take me as his mate. There can be no other.”
I watched the bob of his throat. “His mate?”
I nodded, just slightly.
The king shoved himself away off the arms of the chair, turning his back upon me. “You were named Traitor of Garuth.”
“How can I know that,” the king said, turning to glare at me over his shoulder. “How can I know you will not betray—”
“I will not. My loyalty is not to Zaharoth. I will not pretend that. You will not believe it, and it would not be true. My loyalty is to my love and to my mate. And you can trust that. Did I not suffer torment at your hands to protect him? I assure you, he is safe, and protected.”
“Return him then!” barked the king. “Perhaps I will consider your status when he is back in Zaharoth.”
I laughed. “To a king and a father who tortures him in the night during his dreams?”
“He is mine.”
“No, he is not. He will be a worthy heir for you. I will groom him and help him be strong. I will help him realize the leader that cries deep within him, unseen. But Nem is mine. And you will never hurt him again. You will never touch him again.” I stood, banishing the chair with a thought. “You will swear to it.”
“He is my mate. He is my Nem. I will hold him safe forever. If that means forsaking the lands of Zaharoth, then that’s what we will do. I am a lord in my own right. And I have no need to fear the might of Zaharoth.”
The king gulped. “I fought the trolls on the Plains of Fire.”
“And you lost,” I said firmly. “Do you really seek to deny the man who won?”
“He is my heir! The prince of Zaharoth!” The king turned away. “He is all I have left that I love.”
“He is my mate. I will not bring him near a man who beats him. Even if that man is his father.”
“I tore the flesh from your back. I can do it again.”
“You can try. But you will never do it to him. Not in his dreams, not to his flesh. He is my mate, and by all the power of the Realm, I will see him safe. I swear it.”
The king paled then, for even in dreams oaths had power.
“If you wish to see your son again, if you wish for him to be your heir, to rule Zaharoth when you’re gone, you will swear,” I said.
“And you’ll protect him how? The One That Feels! There is no power in a feeling!”
“Of course there is. You think your anger that burns in your eyes like an ember, glowing, you think that does not give you power? You know that it does.” I shook my head. “You loved once. Nem is not a child born with lack of love. I can feel it in his heart. I can feel it in his capacity for hurt and loss. He was loved once. You loved him once. Love him enough. Care for him enough. Let him go. You do not need to hurt him anymore.”
“And if I refuse?” asked the king, his eyes narrowing.
“Then you shall need to pray that Zaharoth never feels the power of wrath.” I said it with certainty and poured forth into the mind of the king memories of what that wrath had done to the trolls.
The king reeled backward. “He was mine!”
“No longer,” I said. I stepped up close, almost nose to nose. “Swear it.”
He turned his face away. “By what right do you dictate terms to a king?”
“I am his mate, his husband. I am his future. Do you care so little for him that you would deny him the happiness of having his father in his life? He loves you. I do this for him. His love for you is stronger than his fear. I would be content without you in our lives. He would not be. Swear to it! This is the one and only chance I will ever give you.”
The king hesitated. “You’ve really taken him from me.” He closed his eyes. “I love my son.”