- Death-Major Character
James kissed along Quinn’s neck, his warm hands gliding along the planes of the werewolf’s bare chest. His head lolling back, Quinn soaked up the sensations: the scent of his lover—ink and parchment with a hint of citrus and that delectable muskiness that was just him; the feel of his smooth writer’s hands; the sound of his breathing, labored even now. He drowned in James, and he hoped he never surfaced. Needing to see his Guide, Quinn opened his eyes.
Light blinded him, and he squinted as reality jarred him. He wanted to weep when his nose brought him the scent of etching acid and ink atop the underlying musk of Professor Lyall, not his lover. Quinn’s chest ached, and he squeezed his eyes shut again. He was too aware of everything—the abrasiveness of the air circulating through his cell, the shuffle of the Beta’s feet, even the tang of the metal bars surrounding him.
“Quinn?” Lyall asked softly, his voice pitched so low most would be unable to hear him.
A broken sob was the only answer Quinn was capable of giving. A hand settled on his shoulder, and he flinched before he felt calm seep into his skin, spreading along his nerves. He took a shaky breath and raised his head, gratitude shining in his eyes as he met Professor Lyall’s gaze.
“Thank you,” he muttered.
A smile flitted across the Beta’s lips before his head tilted, his warm hazel eyes studying Quinn. The Sentinel was aware of the Guide’s probing, the way he was sensing his emotions, testing Quinn’s control. He was also aware of the way his stomach seemed to be trying to eat itself, and he wondered how long it had been since he had run away into the night.
“How long have I been out?” he whispered.
Lyall swallowed, looking reluctant. “A week tomorrow.”
“A week?” Quinn exploded. His thoughts raced, and fear coursed through his veins.
Oh God, James! Where are you?
“How? Why? I….” Quinn’s thoughts were scattered, anxiety clawing at his gut and his mind despite the Beta’s soothing presence.
“You went feral,” Lyall said apologetically, his face contorting on the last word. It was rather distasteful among the werewolf community, for obvious reasons. “I thought it best to keep you under until you were more yourself.”
“But … how?” Quinn repeated, curiosity beginning to win out.
With an abashed smile, Lyall let his hand slip from Quinn’s shoulder down his arm. Quinn could feel calm radiating from the point of contact, making its necessity clear enough.
“I am a shaman,” he explained. “I have been Awakened since birth, which often resulted in quite an uproar, from what I understand.” The professor’s vulpine face reddened, and Quinn found his embarrassment rather charming. The last thing Randolph Lyall ever wanted was to cause a fuss.
“I didn’t know.”
Lyall nodded with a half-shrug. “I prefer it that way. Those who knew me as a child are at least three-hundred-years buried. I am known to be a werewolf, a Beta, a Guide…. One can bear only so many labels.”
With this information, the Beta slid into a bit more focus for Quinn. The conversation and his reassuring presence were doing wonders for distracting Quinn’s mind, helping him recover from the madness of the previous week.
My God, a week!
The thought brought a stab of panic, resulting in the Beta squeezing his hand and making a soft shushing noise.
“How are you feeling?” Lyall asked gently.
“Wrecked,” Quinn admitted, “and starving.” A tingling near his neck caught his attention, and he reached up. Lyall caught his hand gingerly, giving his head a small shake.
“You have a rash,” he explained. “Thankfully, your werewolf nature has managed to keep you healed and alive, but you are in rather … well, ‘wrecked’ shape, to use your term.”
Quinn tried for a smile that crumbled into a single sob. His shoulders shook, and he steeled himself with deep, even breathing.
“Why did you let me wake now?” he asked, trying to distract himself.
To his surprise, Lyall blushed once more, glancing away. “Your … mental state changed. You seemed more yourself.”
Quinn’s eyes widened. “Myself … how?”
Lyall sighed and seemed unable to meet Quinn’s eye as he explained, “You spent most of the last week in sensory overload. Your mind felt … scrambled. Scattered, but focused at once. It can be very difficult to explain to one who is not a Guide,” he apologized. “This evening, your energy shifted. You became more focused, but less manic, and you were….” He trailed off, clearing his throat lightly. “Forgive me for saying so, but you were aroused, and that seemed like a rather positive change.”
His dream came rushing back, and Quinn closed his eyes, a small sound of longing escaping him. He could well imagine why he had been aroused, but now he felt only despair.
How can I survive without ever knowing James that way again?
“He is still himself, you know,” Lyall offered. His voice was timid and kind but apologetic, as if he were unsure how his words might be taken.
“I can’t,” Quinn rasped, unable to articulate what he couldn’t do. He couldn’t talk about James, not right now, and he wasn’t sure he could see him. He couldn’t wrap his mind around James … gone. No matter what remained, he could never again see his Guide’s emerald eyes, bright with life and teasing. He would never smell that pure fragrance of James or taste his sweet lips.
Quinn cast about for a change of subject. He was dangerously on edge, and a wrong step along this precipice would plunge him headlong into instability, leaving him a feral beast for who knew how long.
“Why did Lord Rabiffano come that night?” he said at last, more for something to say than out of true curiosity.
Lyall ducked his head. “He is the Alpha,” he said simply, but Quinn sensed more there. At his raised eyebrow, the Beta paused, his hazel eyes hiding his shrewd thoughts before he offered, “We argued.”
The implication was clear: Biffy won. He was the Alpha, and he won any contest, even without pulling rank. It was instinct, pure and simple.
Still, something in the Beta’s manner was not quite right, and Quinn narrowed his eyes. “You knew I would bolt,” he accused.
Lyall shrugged, trying to hide his faint smile. “There was only one place for you to go. I knew I would be more use at the Pack house than at the docks. Although I did little good either way.”
“You caught me,” Quinn argued, “and put me under.”
He glanced around then, allowing himself to take in the details of his surroundings for the first time. Unsurprisingly, they were beneath Chateau de Poupe, in Quinn’s cell for full moon nights.
“Was I a danger?”
“Mostly to yourself,” Lyall reassured him, “but that was too dangerous for us.”
Quinn swallowed, studying his hands before he nodded once. “Thank you.”
When the silence stretched, Lyall cleared his throat. His voice was barely audible, even to Quinn’s Sentinel ears, when he finally said, “I lost the man I loved once, not so very long ago.”
Frowning, Quinn glanced up at his Beta. “I didn’t know.” He heard the repetition of his earlier words and marveled at how little he truly knew about the second-in-command of the London Pack.
Lyall’s brow furrowed as he shifted positions so that he was more comfortably sitting against the wall. Leaning his head back against the bricks, he sighed. “Most don’t.”
Quinn heard the unspoken “and I prefer it that way.”
“It’s fine,” he said. “You don’t have to—”
“It’s not a pain many can understand,” Lyall interrupted gently. “Sandy was not a very nice man, but he was brilliant and passionate, and he protected those he cared for. He … he died because of me.”
With that, Lyall pressed his lips closed, seeming almost startled by how much he had revealed and afraid he might share more. Quinn was fully engaged now, fascinated by this image of Professor Lyall as a man with a past. Quinn was ashamed to admit that, before his somewhat recent relationship with Biffy, he had never considered Lyall’s life outside his role in the Pack and at BUR. It was rather like growing up and realizing that your parents had once been separate entities with lives that had led them to meet and produce you, rather than simply figures who sprang into existence when you did and seemed to be put on this earth only to force you to eat vegetables.
Lyall ran his fingers through his messy sandy hair. “I will not go deeply into it, but I wanted you to know that I understand that … emptiness, the way the world seems duller and life seems hopeless. It is not,” he finished summarily. “And as difficult as that fact is to face, you have perhaps a harder one to deal with at the moment.”
Quinn made a noncommittal noise in his throat. He struggled not to focus on the Beta’s words, worried that, if he did, he would feel the pain of losing James all over again.
“You must decide,” Lyall continued, “how to deal with your Guide. He is currently in the Pack house, which will make it difficult for you to return there unless you are able to … work something out. If you need time, we could see about a tour with the Coldsteam Guard.”
His face and tone were both doubtful, and Quinn knew that was hardly a viable option. The Guard would not allow an unstable Sentinel with an unresolved bond and a ghost Guide.
Quinn buried his face in his hands, resting his elbows on his knees. Lyall’s hand moved to his back, gently settling on his shoulder blade. He needed James. God, how he needed James.
The problem was that, when he thought of James, he thought of the flesh-and-blood man, not whatever would be waiting for him at the Pack house. He wasn’t sure he was strong enough to face his ghost.
“Would you like me to put you under again? You look exhausted.” Lyall’s offer was kind, but Quinn shook his head. “Perhaps some food then? You must be famished.”
Quinn swallowed bile. He was starving, but the thought of food turned his stomach. Still, he had to take care of himself if he were ever going to overcome this monumental hurdle before him. Perhaps food would clear his head, if not heal his heart.
He managed a nod, covering his eyes with his hand before resting his head against the wall behind him.
“Hemming?” Lyall called, and Quinn sensed the werewolf approaching. His senses were still unpredictable. The sound of Hemming’s feet was far too loud, but he could barely smell the man. Ironically, he could taste him on the air—perfume from the women in the hat shop, a hint of sweat, the remnants of the lamb he’d had for breakfast.
“How is he?” Hemming tried to whisper, which was useless around a werewolf Sentinel at the best of times.
“He will live,” Lyall said simply. “Will you have one of the clavigers bring some sustenance for our packmate? He could use beef, I think, and a spot of tea, along with whatever else they deem appropriate.”
“Of course, Professor,” Hemming answered. He hesitated, and Quinn could practically hear the gears in his brain turning. He felt the weight of Hemming’s eyes on him before the werewolf raised his voice and said, “Robin and Gracie were asking after you. They miss you. We all do.”
At the mention of the Pack’s adopted children, Quinn bit his lip as his eyes began to sting, but he kept them resolutely closed. It was impossible. All of this. Patently impossible.
With a soft sigh, Hemming slipped away. The cell remained silent for long moments as Quinn sat with his eyes covered. The darkness was soothing, and he was glad that it was Professor Lyall by his side. The Beta rarely felt the need to fill a silence, and he left Quinn alone to his thoughts while offering a calming presence.
When the claviger arrived, Quinn listened to the clang of the bars as the cell door opened and closed. The scent of fresh meat hung heavy on the air alongside the earthy fragrance of the tea. His stomach rumbled, but he waited until the claviger’s feet retreated before he opened his eyes.
Professor Lyall shifted away a bit, resting just his fingertips on Quinn’s knee as he sipped his own tea. He gave Quinn space and time as he ate, and Quinn was almost surprised when he was able to put away all the food provided for him—which was a considerable amount. After he’d downed the last of the tea, he wiped his fingers on the napkin and folded it neatly before placing it on the tray. Just because he was a werewolf eating on the floor of a subterranean cell did not mean he was not also a gentleman.
As the food settled in his stomach, his senses settled as well. He felt somewhat more in control, and though his thoughts were still scattered and he had no idea what he was going to do, one impulse was steadily rising above the others.
“I want to see James,” he said gruffly.
“Formerly James,” the Beta corrected gently.
Quinn winced, swallowing hard. “Please, can I see him?”
Lyall studied him, hazel eyes absorbing all. Quinn could tell the Beta was weighing everything he could sense rolling off of him, including the tiny emotions tucked into the corners that he wasn’t even aware of himself.
“Are you sure you’re prepared?”
“No,” Quinn admitted. “I don’t know how I ever will be. But … I need to see him. He’s my Guide.”
Left unsaid was the way Quinn loved him like no other. They both knew.
At long last, Lyall nodded slowly. “Very well. I will send a message to Biffy. In the meantime, what do you say we get you cleaned up? Can’t very well meet him like … well….” Lyall waved a hand at Quinn’s state of undress. He could smell sweat and desperation clinging to his skin.
For the first time in far too long, he managed a laugh.