The Otherworld gave me a creepy chill that I couldn’t shake. I was here for Tinley, and I didn’t know how long we would stay. After the confrontation at Dog River, Grace and Levi brought Callum back to the Winter realm to help purge his mind of the corruption that Araxia had hammered into him. He had moments when he wanted nothing more than to hug Tinley and hold hands with Sully.
Then, there were moments when it took Finley, Levi, and me to hold him down from lashing out at everyone. Whatever the witch had done, had sank deeply into his soul. There would be no quick fix for Callum.
I knew that he would pull through, because of the network of support and love around him. While it caused many tears for Tinley and heartbreak for Sully, I saw Grace. She blamed herself. In the quiet moments, Levi reassured her that there was nothing that they could have done differently to prevent it.
On top of it all, we hadn’t heard from Winnie since she’d gone on her excursion with Seamus. I hated that our friendship had been so affected by the decision not to be together. Then, she had Kyrie ripped from her much like Callum. I just hoped that when it came down to it, I didn’t have to kill a pirate. That is, if Grace and Levi didn’t beat me to it.
Rory had visited a few days ago to inform us that Raphael, Winnie’s new friend from the Wild, had reported that Winnie went to Wonderland to rescue Callum, who clearly wasn’t there. She’d gone with Seamus, and from what Rory said, they had been gone for over a week. I told myself that Winnie could take care of herself. But I also knew that she was hurting. I just hoped that pain didn’t cloud her judgment.
“How is he today?” Aydan asked as he approached me. I sat outside the room where they kept him on a bench. Aydan had remained in Dog River to help Nick but had visited daily.
I stood up to greet him. We shook hands. “Not much change.”
“Have they let Killian try?” he asked.
His brother, Killian, had come up with the idea to transport himself into his brother’s mind to clear the corruption. However, he wasn’t sure how dangerous it would be to do such a thing. Aydan believed it to be the only thing that would save Callum. I agreed. Killian possessed a sight that none of us could explain or had ever experienced. The son of a Winter Queen whose blood mixed with the Wild and a Bard King who had the influence of a love talker. Combined Grace and Levi created a child whose heart seemed larger than both of theirs combined. He had a depth of maturity far beyond his age, and a wealth of wisdom that even Aydan, the Thunderbird, admired.
I believed that Killian was the answer.
Sully stepped out of the room. He looked pale and thin.
“Sully,” Aydan said, stepping up to embrace him.
Sully leaned into him and hugged back.
“You need to rest,” I said.
“I can’t sleep. He’s in there, but he’s not. I keep thinking if he wakes up and I’m not there that I might miss him or something terrible might happen. My mind won’t shut up,” he said.
“Let Killian help you,” I suggested.
“He said he could make me sleep peacefully,” Sully admitted.
“Not only that, we will come to get you if something changes. I swear it,” Aydan promised.
“Me, too. I know Tinley will not leave, and I’m not leaving her,” I said. I’d talked to the pack leaders, and they agreed that I should stay with Tinley. The point for them was that she might be their Queen one day, but for me, it was love. I’d grown more attached to her with every passing moment. I hated to see her in pain, but I knew pain was a part of life. The best way to heal pain was to share it. So, I’d be here and take what I could.
Killian walked out of the hallway across the main room of the royal quarters. He’d slept. He seemed to know that Callum would get better.
“Killian, get over here and put Sully to sleep,” Aydan said.
“You know I can’t do that without his permission, but Sully, he’s right. If you don’t rest, you are no good to him. It won’t be long, and they will allow me to heal him. Until then, I promise you that beyond the outbursts, he is in no pain. She cannot reach him or influence him here,” Killian said.
Sully huffed, then nodded. “All right. I’ll sleep. I need to call Nick and give him an update.”
“I’ll call Nick,” I offered.
“Thanks, Mark,” he replied, then followed Killian back across the room to the hallway.
“Now, get her out of there,” Aydan said.
“Why? She’s been sleeping,” I said.
“I’m about to have a tough discussion with my parents, and I need her out. I’ll call you if we need your help with Callum,” Aydan said.
“So, their son isn’t going in there. The Thunderbird is,” I surmised.
“Unfortunately, yes,” Aydan said. I saw the dark, sadness in his eyes. He hated to be the one to push his parents to risk one son to save another. Aydan moved to go into the room but stopped. “Have you heard from her?”
I knew exactly who he was talking about. “No.”
“Do you still have a connection to her?” he asked.
“I haven’t tried that in months. Once she was with Kyrie, our bond weakened,” I replied.
“Kyrie will come back, but he will not remember them as a couple. He will remember her, but not their relationship. I spoke to the elders, and they have done everything they can do for him. They have to erase the relationship in order for him not to be forced to kill her,” Aydan said.
“Does anyone else know this?” I asked.
“No, and I probably shouldn’t have told you, but I know how much you care about her. I know you are in love with Tinley. I see that, but your heart was connected to Winnie. I worry that she won’t handle this very well,” Aydan said.
“She will be fine,” Killian said, reappearing in the room.
“Damn it, Kill. I wish you wouldn’t do that!” Aydan huffed.
“What? Port? We all port,” he said. “It’s not my fault you are telling secrets to my sister’s ex-boyfriend.”
“You make it sound bad,” I said.
“It’s not so much bad, as she has a different support structure now. Seamus is an enormous part of her life, as is, Raphael. Plus, our sister is the strongest woman I’ve ever known,” Killian said.
It was a powerful statement considering what Grace had gone through in her long life. Winnie had been through some crap in a short amount of time, and she had weathered it all. I feared at some point she would break. We all have that point where enough is enough.
Killian tilted his head at me. “What?” I asked.
“She will break, but she will rise stronger than ever. She is the Phoenix. She was always meant to be the Phoenix. It wasn’t a fluke or just luck. That spirit embodies her. You of all people should give her some credit,” Killian scolded.
I didn’t dispute him. He was right. I’d protected Winnie when she really didn’t need protection. She spread her wings and flew away from home. She’d mingled with sirens, witches, demons, and other monsters, and she’d come out stronger each time. She would this time, too.
Tinley stepped out of the room, breaking my thoughts about Winnie. I reached out to gather her in my arms. She leaned into me and hugged tightly.
“Can I get you anything?” I asked.
“No, I just needed a breath of air. He’s been resting most of the day. Levi and Grace look worn. Grace is about to pop out babies, and Levi looks like he’s about to pop holes in the wall with his sword,” Tinley said.
“Things are about to change,” Aydan said.
“Yes, they are,” Killian added.
“Guys, they’ve said no so many times. Why will this time be different?” Tinley asked, knowing that they were going to try once again to convince their parents to allow Killian to heal him.
“It just will,” Aydan said.
The brothers walked into the room with their brother and parents, shutting us out of the conversation.
“Would it be wrong to sit and listen? I’d like to know how they are going to convince them,” Tinley said.
“So, you are on board for this Killian thing?” I asked.
“Yes. In my gut, it feels right,” she replied.
I coaxed her over to my bench, and she curled up in my arms resting her head on my shoulder. We stilled our breath as if we were on a hunt and opened our ears to hear the discussion on the other side of the wall.
“Aydan, welcome home,” Grace said.
“I come back every day,” he replied.
“And every day I am happy to see you,” she replied.
We heard a pause and a pat on the back. Levi had greeted him, too.
“We need to talk about this again,” Killian said immediately.
“No,” Grace said firmly. The wall behind us shook gently with her fierceness.
“Mother, I’ve tried to reason with you both,” Aydan started, but Levi interrupted.
“Aydan, we are your parents.” Even though Levi wasn’t Aydan’s father, and there had been contention between them, I knew Aydan loved Levi and looked-up to them.
“And about this you are wrong. We know that Killian has abilities that none of us can fathom. I just got back from talking to the elders. The news about Kyrie is bad. They cannot separate the curse of the witch to kill Winnie from his mind. They will have to erase their relationship. They might have to erase her completely from his mind. That just barely touches what Araxia has done to Callum. He’s been reprogrammed, and if anyone is going to fix it, it will be Killian,” Aydan said.
“Are they sure about Kyrie?” Levi asked. I heard the concern in his voice. I knew he cared more about Winnie than Kyrie’s actual outlook.
“Yes. Nothing can be done. He will still be the same man, but his memories of their relationship going back to childhood will be erased,” Aydan replied.
I heard the bed in the room move like someone had sat on the edge. “He will not be the same man. Winnie had a profound effect on his life,” Killian said from deeper in the room. He had sat down next to Callum.
“Winnie will need all of us when this happens,” Aydan said. “She will need me, Killian, both of you, and Callum. We cannot let him lay there in darkness any longer. Killian can get him out. Your fear of losing a child is unfounded, but you are on the verge of losing two. If Winnie comes back, clearly without Callum and finds she’s lost Kyrie, too. You will lose her. We will lose her. Killian and I will not allow it to happen.”
“You can say no, but I will not obey,” Killian said.
Tinley gasped next to me. A temperature drop accompanied the silence in the room. I knew what that meant. The Winter Queen was about to pull rank.
“Maybe we shouldn’t be sitting here,” I said.
“Just wait,” Tinley replied.
“I do not appreciate my children accusing me of choosing between them. I am aware of the dangers that you each face. Callum fell victim to our fears for you. Our fears for our unborn children.” Her voice cracked. “However, I’m aware that you are grown and mature enough to make your own decisions.” Her sobs filled the room.
“What she is saying is we agree with you. We believe that Callum’s only hope is Killian,” Levi finished her thoughts.
Tinley placed her hand over her heart, and I hugged her tighter. “He will be okay.”
“Yes, I will get my brother back.” She paused, and I knew she wanted to say more.
“You know you can say anything to me,” I said.
She raised up and held my hand. “What about Winnie?”
“Winnie will be fine,” I said.
“Mark, if you were taken from me, then came back not knowing us, I’m not sure how I’d survive that,” Tinley said.
“You and Winnie are powerful women. As the lucky man in your life, I’m very aware that you can hold your own. I know Winnie can, too,” I said. I loved her even more for worrying about Winnie. Tinley’s heart was so large that she accepted my first love.
“We should be there for her. You should call Nick. She will need all the support we can drum up for her,” she said.
I smiled and kissed her on the forehead. “I’ll call Nick, and if you want to be there for her, then that is what we will do.”
“Callum will be better tomorrow, and we can go back to our pack,” she said.
“Our pack?” I asked with a hint of tease.
“Well, I mean. It’s my pack. And it’s your pack,” she said.
“Riiiiiight. Our pack,” I pressed.
“Oh, Mark,” she said and lightly punched me on the shoulder. My heart pounded in my chest. She had let it slip, and I would hold on to that until the perfect moment. When it came, I’d ask her to lead the pack with me. Now, I had the confidence that she would say yes.
(Mark's story will continue in the epilogue of Triple Threat.)