Her bed felt wrong. It was...squishy? Lumpy? Bryce shifted, elbowing the mattress beneath her as if she could bully it into being more comfortable. A whiff of something drifted to her nose and she froze, eyes snapping open. Bryce sucked in another breath, stomach roiling with sickness and grief as she breathed in that familiar, missed scent.
She was not in her room. Well, not in her most recent room, which was why she could smell something that was...too big for her to think about. Too big, too sad, too stricken with world-ending anguish. Her ceiling was plastered roughly, with little regard to smoothness or neatness, and her brain flashed back to a thousand mornings waking up just like this, her alarm beeping and her head pounding from too much drink the night before, and stumbling into the kitchen for some much-needed caffeine. Where Danika always was, leaning against the counter and smirking with devilish humor.
Something cracked in Bryce’s chest and she jerked up to sitting, tears spilling over her eyes and onto her cheeks. Through the blur, she took in the slightly messy scope of her room: her closet floor crowded with a dress that she forgot to hang up, several others flung over a chair in front of her desk, the sprawl of all her make up products scattered across the surface of the dresser, even though they really belonged in her bathroom.
On numb, unfeeling legs, she climbed out of her bed and stumbled into the kitchen. There was a body there: tall, corn-silk hair, humming but obviously still tired and a little grumpy for it.
A sob wrenched Bryce’s chest.
Danika, she tried to say, Danika, but she couldn’t say anything because her throat closed around all of her grief and all of her confusion and all of her love.
“Danika,” she choked, and Danika whirled, surprise registering on her face before she frowned.
“Bryce? Shit, what’s wrong? What is it?” Danika took two steps forward, and then Bryce’s face was buried in her neck where she could breathe deep the living scent of her dead best friend.
“Danika,” she sobbed, and then she was crying and she wasn’t even trying to stop it.
The last two dark years washed over her in waves of memories that made no sense, because some part of her brain knew that they hadn’t happened yet, that if Danika was alive, then everything was just some fucked up drug-dream and Bryce really had to lay off the mirthroot.
Except mirthroot didn’t cause hallucinations and Bryce hadn’t taken any drugs last night. Her brain struggled for a moment to come up with the memory, crowded with visions of Hunt and the Drop and the SPQM slave tattoo stamped out.
Last night was supposed to be a low-key night with a bottle of wine and some reality TV, but then it had gotten a little out of hand and one bottle of wine had turned into two bottles, three beers each, and at least another three shots.
But there were no drugs.
Bryce dimly registered Danika scooping her up and carrying her to their couch and sitting her on her lap, humming a lullaby that a small part of Bryce’s brain wondered about where she knew it from, because it’s not like Sabine ever sung her lullabies.
Bryce calmed in waves, letting the last of her strange, intense emotions leak out of her. She sniffed a few times and wiped her face, finally blinking up to see Danika’s face clearly.
It was the same on the pictures on her phone, the face on the woman who had launched Bryce high in her Ascent, the same as Sabine’s but better, somehow. (Many people commented how Sabine and Danika looked alike; Danika usually punched them out for it.)
“Well, well,” Danika said. “Look who’s coming back to the world of the sane. Want to tell me what’s wrong?”
Bryce opened her mouth, then closed it. She wanted to tell her it was a bad dream, a hallucination, a vision. But that wasn’t the truth. The truth was that Danika had died and Bryce had lived the last two years in Hel. The truth was that Bryce didn’t know how the fuck she was sitting in Danika’s lap, but she’s too scared to contemplate how for fear whatever god gave this to her would take it away for questioning it.
“Bad dream,” she managed.
Danika raised one perfectly groomed eyebrow, because Bryce hadn’t really ever had much of a problem with nightmares. “What was it about it?”
Bryce shrugged, feeling like a naughty teenager under Danika’s sharp stare. “Not a lot. I...don’t remember it much. Only that it was bad.”
“Mm hm,” Danika nodded.
Bryce narrowed her eyes. “You don’t believe me?”
Danika snorted. “No.” She paused. “I just...don’t want to pry, I guess. It’s your business.”
Bryce crossed her arms, feeling about seven years old from Danika’s tone and defensive. “You’re damn right it’s my business.”
Danika gave her a bright smile. “So! You want some coffee?”
Bryce groaned. "Yes.”
They ate a breakfast of coffee and fruit, and then Bryce ventured off to get ready for work. It took her a while to get used to the bathroom again, her hands automatically reaching for things not there and stepping into corners that were supposed to be in other places. Danika obviously registered her clumsiness, sending frowns her way as she got ready for her day.
Bryce sent her a smile and tried to hold off the vertigo of standing in an apartment that was long-sold to someone else and destroyed by Micah’s vengeful fire. Tried to shrug off the feeling of being back here, with Danika, and couldn’t. A wave of emotion slammed into her and she leaned against the counter, trying to breathe through it and failing. She closed the bathroom door and called Jesiba, her fingers numbly finding the contact by muscle memory.
“I can’t come in today,” she told her.
“Oh?” Jesiba asked coolly, “This better not be because you’re hung-over, or I’ll turn you into a rat.”
“It’s not,” Bryce said thickly, “it’s not—it's—it's,” her breathing went ragged as she tried to come up with something to say. But she couldn’t, brain blank and stomach sick, and then she was on the floor with no memory of getting there. “I can’t, Jesiba.”
“Fine,” her boss’s voice was cold but accepting. “But I better see you in first thing tomorrow.”
“Yes, Jesiba,” Bryce said, and then the phone was disconnected. She stared at the screen for a while longer, vision going in and out in blurs, before a pounding on the door startled her.
“Hey!” Danika shouted. “You good in there?”
“Yeah!” Bryce returned, voice shaky. She stood and opened the door, “I need to get going.”
Danika looked suspicious. “You’re sure you’re okay?”
“Yeah, Danika, I’m fine. Jesiba wants me down there.”
“Okay, well, I’m heading out for patrol. Call if you need me, yeah?”
Danika nodded, turning away from the doorway.
She turned back.
“I love you.”
Danika shot her a smile, bright and beaming, and her voice was soft when she said, “I love you, too, Bryce.”
Her footsteps echoed and then the door shut and Bryce curled up as a wave of panic hit her so hard her vision cut out.
No! Her mind screamed, as if she could take Ruhn’s power and throw it at Danika. You can’t leave! You’ll die!
But the broken truth was that Danika had died right here in the apartment, after shredding the entirety of her pack and turning on herself. The broken truth was that the apartment was no safer than the outside world, that Danika had no safe harbor, no haven, no home. All she had was her burning determination to stand between the few innocents of the world and the slavering jaws of Micah’s greed.
It was not enough.
Bryce sunk to her knees and cried, make-up smearing, chest shuddering, throat burning. She cried for her friend, cried for Connor and Ithan and Fury and Juniper and the city, but most of all she cried for herself, because she had lost her friend and now she was back and Bryce had no fucking idea how to keep living.
She had no illusions that Danika’s life wasn’t in danger. And if the date was what she thought it was, Danika’s life was in danger tonight. Bryce had until tonight to find some way to save Danika.
And that wasn’t to mention that she had to do it without Hunt, without Ruhn, without Fury or even Lehabah. She didn’t even have Syrinx anymore.
Bryce was alone and friendless in a world filled with her friends and she had to figure out a miracle to save the one person she couldn’t live without.
Eventually, she pulled herself together and climbed to her feet. While crying might make her feel better, it got nothing done, and she needed to save Danika. She wiped her face, realized that she had just smeared all her make-up, and then washed it clean. Then she changed into some comfy, stretchy pants, a loose shirt, and running shoes.
Bryce took the long way to her apartment. Technically, it was still Danika’s, but she had always thought of it as hers, since she’d only ever known of it in a world where Danika had willed it to her, and she was too exhausted to correct herself now. She scaled the building next to it using several handholds that were most definitely not for climbing, and then leapt over the slight gap between them.
She hit the roof and rolled, popping up and breathing out a relieved breath. She had been hoping that she wouldn’t break her leg, because that would have sucked. Bryce took a deep breath and held it in, until her lungs were crying for air, and then blew it out. The run over had helped her clear her head, and just being on the roof reminded her of Hunt.
Now, all she had to do was figure out how to kill an Archangel by herself. Yeah, piece of cake.
Piece of cake.
Bryce sat on one of the lounge chairs and scrubbed at her face. What was she going to do? Micah was going to show up at the old apartment tonight with a syringe full of synth and she had to somehow make sure it didn’t end up in any of the Pack of Devils.
Maybe she could just thwart Micah by having the Pack go somewhere else. But, no, it was Pack Night and Danika usually insisted on having everyone in. How would Bryce explain to her that they had to go somewhere else without revealing everything?
So that option was out. Maybe she could prevent Micah from coming. But how would she do that? He was an Archangel; Bryce couldn’t exactly just waltz up to him and bash him on the head.
She leapt up and whirled around to see a shadow on the roof behind her. It was tall, Haloed, and stupidly welcome.
“Hunt!” she rushed at him, not even considering that he might not want that.
Good thing for her, he seemed quite receptive to the hug. He clung to her like she clung to him, tightly and with abandon.
Bryce pulled back to study his face. It was searching, confused and relieved, and she hugged him again. Something in her chest expanded and rushed out, eclipsing all other emotions. Hunt was here; Hunt remembered. Her whole worldview tilted on its side. If he was here, that meant that she had help. That meant she had a chance.
Hunt had killed an Archangel. Suddenly, every small, burgeoning plan that had been forming in Bryce’s head was possible.
“She’s alive, Hunt.” Bryce whispered. “Danika’s alive.”
“I know,” he said. “I saw her patrolling Old Square.”
They were silent for a moment, before Bryce pulled back and wiped her cheeks. “I have to keep her alive. I don’t care what I have to do, I’m keeping Danika alive.”
“You’re going to have to kill Micah.”
“I know,” she said. “I know that. But how? Hunt, he’s an Archangel. He’s...”
Powerful. Archangels were near-gods. They weren’t supposed to be easy to kill.
“You killed Sandriel. How did you do it?”
He shrugged. “I was angry. I just blasted her with as much power as I had. Ripped off her head.”
Bryce scowled. “That doesn’t fucking help me. I don’t have any power, remember? I haven’t made the Drop yet.”
He dropped his head in a nod. “I know.”
“What?” she snapped at his look.
He shrugged again. “You’ll come up with something.”
“Not in time,” she muttered, fingers twisting together. “I have until tonight.”
“Have you talked to your brother yet?”
Bryce shook her head.
“Maybe he remembers.”
Bryce laughed a bitter sound. “C’mon, Hunt. I’m not that lucky. I already got you. I don’t get Ruhn and Danika, too.”
“Yes, you do. I’ll make sure you do.” He stepped forward, ducking his head a little to meet her eyes.
“No,” Bryce said forcefully. “Don’t go doing stupid things, Hunt. You’re not free anymore, remember? Don’t go around doing hero shit, not when it’s going to get you killed.”
He brought his hands to her face and gripped it hard. “I don’t care, Bryce. You can’t lose Danika again.”
“But I can’t lose you, either. Come on, Hunt, be smart about this. You’re better for me on the inside of the legion, where Micah is. Be the Umbra Mortis and then come home to me tonight.” She kissed him, hard and demanding, her lips trying to convey as much as she could to him.
Hunt kissed her back, gentling it until their lips lingered together softly. He pulled back and rested his forehead against hers; she breathed in his scent.
Finally, she drew away. “I have to get to Ruhn’s.”
“Okay. I’ll take you.”
They landed at Ruhn’s apartment and Hunt departed with haste. He didn’t want the Umbra Mortis to be seen outside of the Fae Prince’s door because they still hated each other, and it would be suspicious. She pushed it open with one hand and stepped inside to a house trashed from some party. Beer pong cups on the table, scattered and mostly empty, broken glass on the floor, the stale scent of booze, bodies, and bad combinations thereof.
“Bryce?” Ruhn sounded concerned, but Bryce supposed that her visiting him would be a cause for concern. “What’s wrong?”
She turned her head to look at him, and saw no recognition. No extra memories that said, yes, I remember you. Just the love and concern he’d always held for her.
Bryce broke. She hurried to him and clutched him tight, a small part of her brain wondering at all the hugs she’d been giving lately. She and Danika were huggers, no doubt about it, but she and Ruhn hadn’t ever had quite that kind of relationship. More like sluggers.
But she wanted a hug from her big brother to fix the shit day she’d had. There’d been a time when Ruhn had seemed so powerful and scary, like he could fix anything that came her way. Of course, that changed when she’d met the Autumn King and figured out that Ruhn wasn’t quite as out from under him as he’d like to be, but some young part of her still remembered the feeling and missed it.
Ruhn returned the hug, but pulled back too soon. “What’s going on?” He sounded concerned and bewildered.
She gave him a smile and said, “I need a favor. Several favors, in fact.”
His face immediately became wary. “What did you do this time?”
Bryce gaped. “Why would I have done something? This is slander!”
He laughed. “’Cause that’s what you do, baby sister. You get in trouble!”
“Oh, like you’ve been a saint all your life,” Bryce scoffed.
He sobered a bit. “What’s your favor?”
She bit her lip. “How many people can you shadow-walk at once?”
He lifted a shoulder in a shrug. “Never tried more than three.”
“Can you do nine?”
Ruhn paused. “Maybe. Why?”
“I...” Bryce didn’t want to throw Danika under the bus, but the truth was that Ruhn was going to deal with the Pack of Devils eventually. Telling him it was them at the last minute remained a good idea or not. “I might’ve gotten myself into some trouble.”
He crossed his arms and gave her the flattest look he possibly could.
“I know, I know!” she muttered. “Okay?”
Ruhn thought for a moment, then snapped his eyes back to her. “Let me guess...this involves Danika.”
“What has the little wolf gotten herself into this time?”
“She’s not little,” Bryce shot back.
He rolled his eyes. “Okay. What has the Big Bad Wolf gotten herself into this time?”
“It wasn’t her fault,” Bryce said softly. “She was trying to protect the city and a very powerful person got pissed. He wants to kill her.”
Ruhn sobered. “While I might not like Danika, I will admit that she’ll do just about anything for Lunathion.”
Bryce nodded. “I need your help. And one other thing.”
Ruhn looked at her, reading the gravity in her eyes. “What is it?”
“I need you to steal something for me...”
Bryce’s phone rang just as she headed for Griffin Antiquities. It was Hunt, inquiring about her need for a ride, but she waved him off and told him that she had some business with Jesiba. Then she called Fury.
“Hey,” Fury’s voice was mostly flat, as it usually was.
“Hey,” Bryce said. “If I told you that some shit involving synth was going to be going down tonight, what would you tell me?”
Fury hissed. “Stay away from synth, Bryce. That shit’s nasty. Highly addictive and destructive.”
Bryce hummed contemplatively. “What do you think it would do to an angel?”
“What it does to every other Vanir that’s taken it: destroy them. I’m serious, Bryce. Stay the fuck away.”
“Hm,” Bryce hummed again. “Thanks, Fury.” Then she hung up.
She walked her way down Central Avenue towards Main Street. She had to talk to Jesiba today. While the sorceress wasn’t the warmest or fuzziest person, she was damn powerful and, as far as Bryce knew, didn’t much care for Micah.
On the way, she got lunch at the lamb kofta place she and Danika loved. She picked up an extra helping for Danika and texted her an invite for a food break at a nearby park. Danika showed just a few minutes later, stalking smoothly and grinning. She wasn’t covered in nightstalker juice yet, so that was a good sign.
“So!” she said brightly. “What brought this on?”
“What, I can’t buy lunch for my best friend?” Bryce asked with offense.
Danika gave her a suspicious stare. “This is about this morning, isn’t it?”
“No,” Bryce denied. “Also, I have a bone to pick with you.”
“I told you I’m sorry about those noodles!”
“And fuck you for that, too, but that’s not what I’m talking about. This damn tattoo still hurts.” Bryce hadn’t actually noticed all that much, but had needed to talk to Danika about the tattoo, and this was a good segue as any.
“The artist told you it was going to be sore for a few days.”
Bryce snorted. “I was too drunk to write straight. You think I was in any state to comprehend what ‘sore’ meant?”
Danika grinned. “But it still looks badass.”
Bryce grinned back at her, but it faded when she thought about the tattoo. The Horn. “Why the words? Those words specifically?”
Danika shrugged, looking out across the park. “I never really had much love in my life. I had the pack, but...Sabine isn’t the best mother, as you know. I like to imagine there’s some kind of love out there that’s so powerful it makes anything possible.”
It’s the most sentimental thing Bryce had heard from Danika in a long time. She—very dimly—remembered past Danika giving some bullshit excuse about how the phrase sounded good. Bryce wasn’t prepared for the honesty.
“There is,” she said. “We’ll make it so.”
Danika smiled at her, and for the first time, Bryce could see the sadness in her eyes. It was marked by stress in her mouth and tension in her shoulders, the way Danika never quite relaxed. Her gaze kept scanning the park like she expected an attack, and she didn’t seem very inclined to have both hands full at once. One hovered near her thigh at all times, moving out and away from her body so she could draw her sword quickly.
Danika left soon after for more patrolling and then the meeting with the City Heads. Bryce got up too, heading for Griffin Antiquities. She had some business to discuss with Jesiba.
Redner Industries loomed over Bryce like a cliff, tall, glass, and as intimidating as possible. As one of the only successful human-run companies in Valbara, Redner Industries tried to make themselves as untouchable as possible. She had come immediately from Griffin Antiquities, hoping that she still had time. Bryce checked her phone. One text from Hunt, and no texts from Reid. As expected.
She entered the building and walked up to the receptionist’s desk, smiling pleasantly. “I’m here to see Reid,” she said. “It’s important.”
The receptionist glanced up. “I’m sorry, but Mr. Redner is busy right now.”
Bryce knew this would happen. “I’m aware. I’m his girlfriend; I have something very important to discuss with him. Is there somewhere private I could wait?”
Behind her, the doors opened and Micah entered, for once alone. Bryce glanced back and watched him with baleful eyes as he entered an elevator.
The receptionist studied her. “Yes. Please come with me.”
Bryce was left in a meeting room with many chairs and—bingo. No cameras.
Bryce lounged in a chair and pulled up a game on her phone. It was going to be a long wait.
45 minutes later, Reid came in. Not a hair was disturbed, but he still looked harried. “Bryce” he said irritably. “What are you doing here?”
She smiled. “Reid. I came to inform you that I’m no longer your girlfriend.”
He stared at her. “What? Bryce—what do you mean? We have a date tonight.”
“Consider it cancelled,” she said.
“Oh, my gods,” she muttered. “Are you seriously asking me that?”
He crossed his arms. “Yes,” he ground out.
“You’re always on your phone. You’re almost always late to our dates, half of your attention is always somewhere else, and you care less about me and more about the fact that I’m a distant cousin of the Fae prince. I want someone who loves me, not what connections I can bring to the table.”
Reid stiffened. “Fine.” he snapped. “Get out.”
Bryce rolled her eyes, but got up. It was very much like Reid to wield the one small thing he could tell her to do as a weapon. She left. Bryce had only a few more hours until Micah confronted Danika, and a lot more to do.
Thank the gods for Ruhn, Bryce thought, as she moved through the walls of the apartment like a shadow.
Micah was already there, and bore a smug expression on his face that made Bryce want to punch him in the fucking jaw.
He was talking, of course. It was probably a veritable monologue, at this point. Micah was just one of those people.
Danika half-crouched across the room from him, but because it wasn’t that big, they weren’t very far apart. The rest of the Pack of Devils stood around them, looking fight-ready and furious.
“You bastard,” Connor snarled, lips drawing back to reveal too-sharp teeth. The skin around his nose rippled and wrinkled, so he looked like a wolf snarling.
“There’s no way you’ll get away with this,” Danika said tightly. “The Asteri charged you with the well-being of the people of Valbara. Leaking synth isn’t keeping them safe or healthy.”
Micah’s chuckle was deep. “How naïve can you be, Danika? The Horn can open a portal to whatever universe anyone who commands it wants. They won’t care about Valbara or her citizens when they have whole worlds to conquer.”
Danika’s lip peels back in disgust. “You creep. You horrible, colonizing creep.”
Micah laughed. “Call it what you want, Danika Fendyr. It’s power, and that’s all that matters.”
“We can fight you,” Connor said. “We can stop you.”
At this, Micah laughed even harder. “No, pup. You can’t fight me. But you won’t have to.” He raised a hand and Bryce saw that he was holding a syringe. Her heart seized and she struggled not to scream. “You’ll be fighting Danika.”
Her eyes widened and she went ash-pale. “No,” she said, and Bryce thought it was the closest she’d ever come to begging.
And it’s the closest she’ll ever come, Bryce thought fiercely, before stepping out of the shadow right at Micah’s side.
“No,” she said, snatching the syringe from his hand, “they won’t be fighting anyone tonight.”
And then, using all of her Fae speed, she plunged it deep into his neck. Micah gaped at her as his neck tensed. She depressed the plunger and yanked the needle out. Micah’s face turned from shocked to enraged as what she had done registered.
His hands came up and slammed into her abdomen, throwing her hard enough that she sailed across the room and hit the wall, falling to the ground.
”Now, Ruhn,” she choked, struggling to her hands-and-knees, and then the world was sliding to that peculiar gray scale.
Bryce looked up and saw Micah flinging his power at them, but he faded away with alarming quickness, as though he was just a memory and not a true flesh-and-blood angel, and then Bryce knew they weren’t in the building anymore.
Transporting nine people must have strained Ruhn’s power, because it was less walking through shadows, and more hurtling through them. Bryce’s feet hit grass and her body kept going as she tumbled, rolling over and over. She came to a stop on her side ad struggled up on one elbow, coughing roughly and looking around. They were in a small park just across from the apartments, really just a strip of grass, and they had the perfect view of the building as it went up in flames.
Bryce staggered to her feet, gasping as fire licked up the sides and the windows exploded outward.
“Bryce!” Danika shrieked, and then they were colliding and Danika was shaking her. “Are you fucking crazy? You could’ve gotten killed!”
“And you would’ve,” Bryce said, looking her friend over for injuries.
Danika opened her mouth, probably to swear at Bryce some more, but then Hunt was slamming to earth beside them. He did truly look like the Shadow of Death, dressed in his black battle-suit and already clutching a gun in one hand.
“Where’s Micah?” He asked.
Danika snarled, taking one large, predatory step in front of Bryce. “Wouldn’t you like to know? What are you doing here, Hunt Athalar?”
He barely glanced at her. “Bryce, are you okay?”
“Fine,” she said. “Micah’s in the building.”
Hunt glanced over and then swore. “Well, fuck, Quinlan. What did you do?”
“Injected him with his own synth. I think he went a little crazy trying to kill me.”
“Yeah, no shit,” he muttered, but holstered his gun. “Think he’s still alive?”
“No,” Danika said. “No Vanir survives the synth.” She crossed her arms. “Want to tell me what’s going on? Bryce?”
“Danika, may I introduce you to my new friend, the Umbra Mortis.”
Danika growled. “I don’t want a godsdamn introduction, Bryce. I want an explanation. How do you know him? Why the fuck is he here? Why are you talking to him like he’s any ordinary, off-the-street average joe instead of an incredibly dangerous assassin that you shouldn’t even be looking at?”
Bryce smiled at her. “He helped me.”
“Yeah, but why?”
“Because he’s my friend.”
Danika threw her hands up in disgust and stalked off, swearing up a storm. A smile tugged at Hunt’s mouth as he watched her go. “She’s nice,” he told Bryce and she snorted.
“Don’t lie, Hunt. No one has ever described Danika Fendyr as ‘nice.’”
“Yes, but I was trying to be diplomatic.”
Bryce raised one single eyebrow. “And no one has ever described Hunt Athalar as ‘diplomatic,’ either.”
He sniffed. “I can be diplomatic when I want to.”
“This is coming from the guy who punched my brother in the face. At an official meeting.”
“That was different,” Hunt tried to defend, but Bryce shook her head.
“Bryce,” Ruhn called. “We need to get out of here.”
She nodded, because he was right, they really needed to get out of there, and the pack transformed in flashes of bright light. They circled Bryce with protective aggressiveness, but all she did was roll her eyes.
“Go on ahead,” she told Ruhn, handing him an address. “I’ll meet you over there.”
He raised an eyebrow. “You sure about that? You sure you won’t find some other stupid way to get yourself killed?”
“You shut up,” she told him. “I had it all under control. Now, go.”
He went, shadows wrapping around him like snakes, and Bryce turned to Danika. “Ride?” she asked hopefully.
“Sure,” Danika said. “Because I’m a horse.”
Bryce snorted, patting her side. “And you’re the prettiest horse I’ve ever seen. We’re heading to your hidden apartment.”
“How did you know about that?”
Bryce smiled beatifically. “I had Declan break into the city’s records of your holdings.”
Danika choked. “Bryce—”
“Come on, Danika. We gotta leave.” Bryce bent her knees, fisting her hands in the gray fur of Danika’s back, and then leapt. With a little bit of maneuvering, she was seated on Danika’s back. She turned her head so she could see Hunt.
He nodded at her, raising one hand in half a wave. “Go on. I’m going to stay here, meet Isaiah. The 33rd is going to want to investigate.”
“Yeah, and Sabine, and the Fae Aux,” muttered Danika. “The farther away from this clusterfuck we get, the better.”
“Well, the cameras got us in this park, and the landlord has the records of our rent,” Bryce pointed out.
Danika tossed her head in frustration. “I know,” she growled. “That’s why I want us away from here.”
Bryce waved to Hunt as Danika took off, the rest of the pack following closely. The streets were dark and cool as they ran, the wind pulling Bryce’s hair like streaks of blood. Danika took the most direct route possible, leaping fences and darting through yards.
They got to the apartment quickly, the building looming up out of the gloom. It was so dark that even Bryce’s Fae eyes had trouble seeing it, something she found disconcerting. Then she realized it was probably Ruhn trying to hide them from street cameras.
Danika changed to talk to Marrin, and Bryce smiled at him before she remembered that he didn’t know who she was.
They got up to the apartment and the pack transformed back. Ruhn was waiting for them, leaning against a wall with a casual stance that made Bryce aware of the fact that he looked very tired. Bryce knew for a fact that the apartment was warded against magic users—including shadow-walkers—so whatever magic he used to get into the apartment had drained him.
And it’s not like he had a lot of magic beforehand, Bryce mused, what with the whole shadow-walking the whole pack thing.
That didn’t seem to have stopped him from trying to show off, though. Bryce immediately went for the kitchen and got a big glass of water, guzzling it down as the pack transformed. Then she filled another one and gave it to him. He gave her a surprised, searching look, and then drank it down. Danika searched the apartment, footsteps sure and strong as she ducked in every room and opened every door. There was no one there, though.
“Okay,” Connor snarled, when both Bryce and Danika converged back in the living room. “What the fuck was that? Why the hell was Micah in your living room? And what did you do to him?” He fixed his eyes on Bryce.
Danika growled. “Chill, Connor.”
He snarled, but didn’t meet her eyes. “Chill? The Governor of our home just attacked us!”
“Yeah, he’s been raring to do that for a few days now,” Bryce said wearily.
Danika looked at her, clearly surprised. “How the fuck do you know that?”
“Oh, I know a lot more than that, sweetheart,” Bryce purred at her, and she suddenly realized how angry she’d been at Danika.
Angry that she’d done such stupid things and never let Bryce know.
Danika crossed her arms. “Whatever you think, there’s more to the story.”
Bryce mirrored her position. “What, so Micah didn’t blackmail you to steal the Horn after taking pictures of you busting one of the boats he had leaking synth into the Meat Market?”
Danika stared at her, shocked. In her defense, she had done a really good job of hiding all this from everyone. If Bryce hadn’t had an extra two years of knowledge, she wouldn’t have known.
The whole pack perked up like sharks scenting blood in the water.
“Blackmail?” Connor asked softly.
Thorne looked like he was going to put his fist through the wall. Zelda and Zach wore matching expressions of dead anger. Bronson puffed up until his already big body filled the room and Nathalie looked like she was going to head right back to the apartment to behead Micah herself.
Danika sighed, deflating against the counter. “Look, guys, it’s really complicated.”
“Not really,” Bryce remarked. “Micah’s a piece of shit who wanted to use synth for himself—to heal the Horn. He thought that leaking it was the best way to get on to human/Vanir tests.”
Danika ogled at her. “How the fuck do you know that?”
Bryce gave her a sweet smile. “I told you I was looking for the Horn.”
Ruhn had been quiet through all the revelations, but now he asked, “Heal the Horn? How?”
“Synth is a drug that gives humans the abilities of Vanir. It’s artificially made, through science, but it acts like magic. Light that is not light, magic that is not magic. This is what those prophecies were talking about,” Bryce explained.
“Fuck,” Ruhn muttered. “And Micah figured it out?”
She nodded. “And it worked, too.”
Danika straightened up. “What do you mean, ‘it worked?’”
Uneasiness rolled through Bryce. She hadn’t really meant to say that—too much to explain. But Danika wouldn’t leave it alone, either. “I’m just saying that all the trials indicated that it would work.”
“But you said ‘worked,’ past tense.”
Bryce scowled. “I misspoke, alright? It’s been a long day.”
“Oh, no you don’t,” Danika growled. “Don’t think I don’t see you trying to escape all my other questions. The Umbra Mortis? Seriously?”
Bryce groaned. “Do you really want to talk about Hunt right now?”
“Oh, so he’s Hunt, now?”
Connor, who had been pacing from the information revealed, stopped and studied Bryce closely.
“Uh, he’s my friend,” Bryce said. “I usually call my friends by their first names, Danika.”
Danika scowled. “The Umbra Mortis doesn’t have friends.”
“How would you know? You’ve never talked to him in your life.”
“Because I see him at meetings and stuff! Sometimes he’s acting as Micah’s bodyguard or something.”
He must love that, Bryce mused. Out loud, she said, “Well, seeing him is very different from actually talking to him. He does have friends; most of the angels in the triarii actually respect him quite a bit.”
“Respect doesn't equal friendship, Bryce,” Danika growled.
Bryce opened her mouth to snap something back when Thorne interjected. “Okay! I think that’s enough. If Bryce says she’s friends with the Umbra Mortis, we should believe her.”
Danika leaned back and scowled, but didn’t say more on the subject.
“On a more pressing note,” Nathalie put in, “what about the 33rd? They’re going to come looking for some answers as to why Micah was in our apartment. They know we were close. We’ll be suspects.”
Bryce shrugged. “It’s not our fault. Ruhn came to confront me about a fight we had; Danika got involved. She tried to fight him, but Connor and Thorne were holding her back. Nathalie, Zelda, and Zach were trying to interfere with Ruhn. I was holding onto both Ruhn and Danika because they were close to each other and I was trying to keep them apart. Bronson was trying to make sure I didn’t get hurt. Ruhn wanted a place to fight Danika that wasn’t so crowded, so he tried to shadow-walk, but since he was holding onto me and I was holding onto Danika, and the pack was also holding onto one of us, everyone inadvertently came with us. We didn’t even know Micah was at the door due to the commotion.”
Connor considered it. “Not too bad.”
Bryce glared at him. “Got anything better?”
He opened his mouth, but shook his head. “No.”
“That’s great and all, but what about cameras, surveillance?” Ruhn asked.
Bryce smiled. “That’s the beauty of such a shitty apartment building, Ruhn. There are no cameras on the inside. And all the recordings will have been destroyed in the fire. And if the fire doesn’t get one, then Hunt will make sure it’s gone.”
“What the deal with him, anyway?” Connor asked. “Why is he helping you? Micah was his master; you must have something good on him if he betrayed him.”
Bryce tried to keep a glower off her face. “Did it ever occur to you that maybe Hunt doesn’t like being a slave? That perhaps he happens to resent his master for owning him?”
Connor looked grim. “That did occur to me. But the Daystar’s rebellion failed. I doubt that he’d want to try again.”
Bryce snorted. “Well, you doubt wrong. If Hunt ever got the chance, he’d fry all those fuckers alive.”
“So that’s what you offered him?” Nathalie asked. “A second chance at rebellion?”
“No,” Bryce said. “I told you, he’s my friend.”
“Are you seriously saying that Hunt betrayed the Governor for some friendship?” Danika sounded derisive.
“Yes,” Bryce snapped. “Hunt has no loyalty to them and much loyalty to me. Why is this so hard for you shifters to understand? You’re all about loyalty!”
“Maybe it’s because angels aren’t known for theirs,” Bronson said.
Unfortunately, he was right. Even Hunt hadn’t been loyal to Bryce, at the height of their friendship. She’d thought he was helping, and he’d been planning to betray her and everything she had planned. It still hurt, now that they weren’t in immediate danger.
Bryce pushed off the counter. “I’m done with this conversation,” she snapped. “When you assholes stop questioning me and my judgement, then maybe we can talk.”
She stormed into her room, frustration boiling in her gut. One, because the pack didn’t seem to trust her, and two, because they were right. In the back of her mind, Bryce would always harbor the question if Hunt was going to betray her again. A bitter taste spread through her mouth.
He might, she thought, but not this time.
She washed her face and changed into pajamas, scowling at the unmade bed. She’d forgotten that there weren’t any sheets for her to sleep on.
Her phone pinged. She checked it: a text from Hunt, telling her that he was on his way.
She went to the rooftop door. Hunt landed on the rooftop (much lighter this time) a few seconds later, tucking away a blade into his pocket. She opened the door wide and stepped to the side, letting him pass. Bryce could feel the pack’s eyes on her; she didn’t acknowledge them.
“The 33rd found no evidence except the fact that the apartment the fire originated from was yours,” he said softly. “I took out any recording devices that survived the fire, but there weren’t many.”
Bryce let out a breath and dropped her chin in a nod. “Good.”
“Micah’s powers must have gotten out of hand. The whole building was on fire in seconds.”
It would have, Bryce thought, with synth coursing through his veins.
Hunt rolled his shoulders and made his way deeper into the apartment. He ignored the pack’s boring gazes. “The legion is on their way, by the way.”
Bryce sucked in a breath. “Who?”
“Isaiah, Viktoria, and Justinian. I told them they shouldn’t send any random legionnaires to deal with Danika Fendyr.”
Bryce hurried back to her room. She rifled through her bag (which she’d had Ruhn hold onto for the duration of the confrontation with Micah) and dug out two pieces of paper. The doorbell rang.
When she came back out to the living room, the atmosphere was filled with enough tension that she felt like she could grab it and twist. True to Hunt’s word, Isaiah, Viktoria, and Justinian were standing in the entryway, tense and somber.
Isaiah was talking. “We just need some information, Miss Fendyr. Records show that Micah was in your apartment. We found his remains in a pile. We had to use DNA testing to figure out who it was.”
Danika raised an eyebrow. “Tragic,” she said flatly. “Unfortunately, I don’t have any information for you. We didn’t even know Micah was in the building.”
Isaiah stared at her with disbelieving eyes. “Oh, really? Please, do tell me what happened.”
Danika explained in a flat voice, almost word for word what Bryce had said. No one else interjected, not even Hunt.
“Well,” Isaiah said when she was done. “That’s quite the story. May I ask why Prince Ruhn is still here, then?”
Ruhn scowled. “My cousin’s house just went up in flames. I’m not leaving until I know who did it.”
Ruhn did know who did it, but that was beside the point.
Isaiah regarded him. “I’ll expect all of you to come to the Comitium tomorrow for official statements. Hunt, come on.”
“No,” Bryce said. “He won’t be going anywhere with you.”
Bryce felt Hunt tense at her side. Isaiah stopped. “And why is that?”
Bryce held up two pieces of paper. “Because he is mine.”
Isaiah raised an eyebrow, then blanched when he saw what she was holding: a transfer of ownership, and a deed of ownership, both for one Hunt Athalar, signed and dated for that day. Bryce gave him a sickly-sweet smile. It had been a bitch to get Jesiba to forge Micah’s signature, but it was totally worth it to see Hunt’s eyes go wide.
“Hunt goes where I tell him to,” she said. “And I say he stays here.”
Isaiah took the papers and examined them thoroughly. “Viktoria, is this in the system?” he asked softly.
She opened her mouth, closed it, then opened it again. “I—I don’t know. Let me check.” She pulled out a phone and dialed a number, turning away.
Bryce waited patiently, willing her heartrate to stay calm. If Declan did his job properly, everything should go just fine. She caught Ruhn’s eyes across the room. He gave her a nod.
Viktoria came back, “Yes,” she said faintly. “We have a digital record saying that Micah sold Hunt this afternoon, at 2:42 pm. It just finalized this evening.”
Bryce felt Hunt slump slightly beside her. Isaiah blew out a breath and ran a hand through his short hair; Justinian’s eyes blazed with jealousy. Viktoria seemed a little shell-shocked. Bryce could understand why; she got the sense that selling one of the Fallen outside of the ownership of the Archangels was something just not done. But she and Lehabah had searched every single book they could find on the laws of slavery pertaining to the Fallen; there was nothing that said they couldn’t be sold to someone who was not an Archangel.
Isaiah raised his eyes to Hunt’s. He opened his mouth to say something—a congratulations? An I’ll miss you?—but didn’t manage to get anything out. Hunt nodded to him. “I’ll be by in the morning to collect my things.”
Isaiah turned, marched out. Viktoria and Justinian followed him with numb movements. They were shocked enough that their normal grace was interrupted.
As soon as the door was shut, Danika wheeled on Bryce. “What the fuck,” she snarled.
Bryce crossed her arms. “Chill, Danika.”
”Chill? You’re a slave-owner, Bryce.”
Bryce sighed. “For one goddamn day. Jeez, Danika. Did you think I was going to keep him?”
“Well, I don’t know, since you didn’t deign to mention it!”
“For your information, I’m taking him to a medwitch tomorrow morning, so kindly fuck off,” Bryce snarled, then whirled and stalked back to her room. She was really tired of territorial shifters trying to get all up in her business. And maybe just a little insulted that they thought she was seriously not going to free him.
She felt someone at her back, following her into her room. She turned to see Hunt closing the door.
“Is it true?” he asked.
She nodded. “I had Ruhn steal the papers this morning, and Declan hack the Comitium’s system to legitimize it. I’m impressed that he got it done so fast.”
“There are no cameras showing that he met with you.”
She smiled a little bit. “That’s why I had Declan put down a time when Micah was at Redner Industries. I also made sure I was at Redner Industries at the same time, breaking up with Reid in a very private room.”
Hunt blew out a breath. “Fuck, Bryce.”
She felt her smile grow wider. “We’ll get that Halo off, first thing tomorrow.”
And then that tattoo stamped out.
Hunt took one step forward and hugged her, burying his face in her hair. She inhaled his familiar smell, remembering nights on the couch watching sunball with him. Something deep inside her unwinched for the first time since she’d woken up.
“Thanks,” he murmured softly.