It starts off so slow that Eben thinks he's still dreaming, a faint tugging around his center that makes him feel achy and uncomfortable in an unfamiliar way. He shifts around on the bed, hoping maybe that'll fix whatever is wrong. But it just keeps getting worse. The tugging becomes painful, and he coughs, hoping to alleviate the pressure building inside him. Sweat gathers on his bare skin, and he kicks away the constricting blankets.
When he opens his eyes to see Drystan leaning over him, he knows it's not a dream, and terror and panic hits him like a freight train.
"No, no!" He gasps, pulling himself up and practically climbing the headboard to get away from invisible hands pulling, tugging, ripping his magic away from him against his will. "No, you can't do that here!" He screams at nothing.
"Eben, what's going on?" Drystan asks. He's breathing harshly, hands trembling when he reaches for his mate.
"Oh my God, oh my God, oh—." He breaks off, hand going to his chest. His expression hardens, and he lashes out with his magic, searching for whatever could be doing this to him. When that does nothing but give the invisible hands more of himself to latch on to, he curls up, trying to physically hold his magic inside.
"Eben, what is it?"
Eben doesn't hear him, can't hear anything over the rush in his ears, saying venit ille cum tenebris, venit ille cum tenebris, venit ille cum tenebris. He falls back against the headboard, sounds of pain tripping past his lips, louder and louder as the pain increases, as the nausea hits him like a punch to the gut, as a migraine feels like it's splitting his head in two. He feels Drystan's forehead hit his shoulder, the alpha's hands gripping his own head like he's in pain, too, and Eben distantly remembers the mate bond. Is Drystan feeling his pain?
He leans over the alpha when he feels sick, hands blindly finding the trash can and holding it up to his face just before he vomits. His hands are trembling, shaking the whole can, and when he sets it down, he just stays that way, with his face pressed against the edge of the mattress and his body laid across Drystan's lap. Drystan's got a hand on his hip, claws drawing points of crimson, but Eben doesn't care. It's a grounding sort of pain, not like the mind-numbing pain in his chest, radiating through his entire body.
He presses his forehead against the edge of the bed, hands finding his hair and pulling, mouth opening to scream into the material. Tears prick his eyes, and just when he think he can't take it anymore, he passes out.
He wakes up hard, snapping upright with a gasp. He startles when he feels a hand on his shoulder, until he turns and sees that he's been lying back on Drystan's chest. The alpha himself looks worn but otherwise fine, leaning back against the headboard. Eben rolls onto his side and buries his face in his mate's chest. Drystan's fingers card weakly through his hair, and Eben thinks neither of them escaped unharmed after all.
"What the hell was that?" Drystan asks after a beat of silence.
"I have no idea." He feels weak, like he always does right after training with the Chases. When he timidly reaches out for his magic, he's shocked, and terrified, to find that it only feebly responds, and he pulls back quickly when he feels nausea twist his stomach up into knots.
Drystan takes a deep breath, like he felt it, too.
"What the hell just happened?" Eben asks the bedroom.
"Surely you have an idea?" Drystan says.
"I… It felt like what that coven did to me. Only they were in a circle last time. They were performing a ritual. They couldn't do that from a distance, could they?"
"You're asking the wrong person."
Eben's quiet for a minute, until he remembers Drystan's head hitting his shoulder. "Did you feel it?" He closes his eyes, focusing on the massaging fingers combing through his hair.
"Yeah. It was weak at first, and then the stronger it got for you, the more I felt it, until I could barely stand it. I passed out when you did, but I woke up before you. Once I made sure you were still breathing, I figured it best just to wait until you woke up."
"I guess we'll have to figure out this mate bond, huh?"
"Mm," Drystan agrees. "That'll be the fun part."
Eben looks up at him with a grin. "Speaking of fun. We probably need a shower. What time is it?"
"Just after seven."
Eben groans. "Okay, I have to get up, then. I promised—the ghost that I'd help her today."
Drystan's hand suddenly stops on his scalp, and Eben looks up to find Drystan staring straight ahead, a concentrated frown on his face.
"What aren't you telling me?"
Drystan leans back a bit to get a better look at him. "I didn't notice it before. When you mention the ghost, there's something you're hiding."
"That is unfair. How can you do that? I wasn't lying about anything."
"You felt guilty."
"You can tell when I feel guilty?"
"Are you avoiding answering the question?"
Drystan narrows his eyes.
Eben makes a pained expression and leans back, pulling the sheet up to cover them, because this is not a conversation he's going to have with his dick showing, thanks very much. "I can't tell you. I know!" He holds up his hands to stall Drystan's protests. "I know I should. I really, really should. I'm pretty sure you'll hate me when I finally tell you everything. But she made me promise, okay? So just—let me figure out how to get people to see her, and then we can explain everything together, okay?" Eben hesitates. "You can't read my actual thoughts, can you?"
"No. Just emotions." He looks unhappy with this turn of events. "You're hiding things from me again."
"I'm not. I swear I'm not. I mean, I am, but I'm not. She swore me to secrecy. It puts me in an awkward position. She just doesn't want anyone to know who she is."
"Because if people know she's there but no one can see her, it'll upset them. So, we're waiting to announce who she is when everyone can see her."
"Why is keeping a promise to this ghost more important than being honest with me about it?"
Eben can't handle this. He literally cannot. If Drystan keeps pushing, Eben will cave. He knows it.
"When you know who she is, you'll understand why," he says.
"Look, just give me today. I think we might have a way of making the potion work. Whether it does or doesn't, I promise I will tell you everything tonight, okay? By the end of this day, I'll come clean. I just don't want you to be too angry with me when I do."
"Why would I be angry at you for telling me the truth?"
"It's more like you'll be angry with me for keeping it a secret. I'm pretty sure."
"Well, I'm already irritated about that."
"No, I mean, you might hate me. You might—oh, God, you will hate me." Drystan will hate him, and maybe they shouldn't have slept together yet, because what if Drystan doesn't want Eben for his mate now, and it's too late, and they're stuck together forever with Drystan hating him for keeping his sister a secret from him? He can't handle Drystan hating him, or giving him back the engagement ring, or regretting what they did last night.
"Eben, calm down," Drystan says, reaching out to frame his face with both hands. "I'm not going to hate you."
"You can't know that."
"Is it that bad?"
Eben cringes. "Just give me today, to try the potion."
"And then you'll come clean."
"And then I'll come clean," Eben swears.
Drystan kisses him, slow and lazy, and asks, "Do you want a shower?"
"Yes. But I don't think my ass is ready for another round yet."
"Mm. I'm sure we can think of some other way of entertaining ourselves."
"I just don't know how I feel about this," Celina says later that evening. They've got some kind of beagle mix trapped in the kitchen. "And who gives wolfsbane as a birthday present, anyway? Are you sure you should be friends with that girl?"
"She knows I make potions. Wolfsbane can go into a lot of potions."
"But you're both in a werewolf pack. Wouldn't it be wiser to stay far away from the stuff?"
"Do you want Drystan to be able to see you or not?" The dog has, up to this point, not noticed that Celina is there, perking up only when Eben speaks to her.
Celina huffs. "Fine. Kill the dog. But I want it on record that I was not on board with this."
"Fine." They glare at each other, and then Eben turns away to draw some of the freshly made potion into a dropper. "Here, doggie doggie doggie."
"You really cannot keep calling her 'doggie'."
"Shut your face. I'm not naming her in the event that I kill her. I don't want to get attached."
The dog trots over at the sound of his inviting tone. Eben quickly grabs her snout, pries open her jaws, and squirts the potion down her throat. She licks her chops unhappily, grumbling a little in a way that reminds him entirely too much of the pack on the full moon.
Celina hops off the table, bends down and claps her hands, saying, "Here, doggie doggie doggie," in a similar tone that Eben used.
The dog turns toward her, tail wagging, and walks right to her, nose out to sniff her. Her tail just wags harder when she can't seem to touch her, like Celina is playing some kind of game with her.
Celina looks up. "It worked."
"Do we move up to werewolf test subjects?"
She bites her lip. "I want my brother to see me again," she says earnestly. "I really do. I want to be able to talk to him again—so much. But not if it means hurting him or someone in his pack."
"Well, I don't have any other werewolves running around town that'll let me squirt this down their throat." He brandishes the dropper for emphasis. "Any other ideas?"
"It's too much of a risk, Eben."
"Well, sometimes you have to take a risk! And I promised Drystan I'd come clean tonight. He's known I'm hiding something ever since this morning. He can tell when I feel guilty now, and I really feel bad about lying to him. He picked up on it fast. I'm done lying to him about this. Either he sees you tonight with this potion, or I tell him anyway, only he doesn't get to see you."
She shakes her head, tears in her eyes. "That's not fair. You can't ask me to choose between maybe hurting my brother and absolutely hurting my brother."
Eben sighs, but resolutely says, "I'm telling him. He has a right to know." And he hates this part, because he does know it's dangerous, but he adds, "And I'll let him decide if he wants to risk taking the potion himself. He's an adult. He gets to make that decision; not us."
Her jaw clenches furiously, and he thinks she'll argue for a second. But then her shoulders slump, and she nods. "Fine. But only because I came back to see him one last time."
Eben puts a dose of the potion in a vial and carefully puts it in the breast pocket of his flannel shirt. He picks up the dog—his dad told him, if he didn't kill her, he had to take her back to the humane society, because neither of them is around enough to take care of her—Celina appears in his passenger seat when he steps out onto the front porch. He puts the dog in the backseat and tries not to fidget.
"How do I ease him into it?" Eben asks on the drive over, after dropping the dog off. "This is going to be a shock. He's going to hate me."
"No he's not. He's never looked at anyone the way he looks at you."
"I've also never lied about something like this," Eben says. "This is a pretty serious offense. I think I might hate him if he could see my mom and didn't tell me. I mean, think about it in the opposite. If he were dead, but hanging around, and I didn't tell you…"
"But I made you promise not to."
"Pretty sure that's not going to matter."
She sighs. "I think you're expecting it to be a lot worse than it actually will be."
Eben just shakes his head. He knows how Drystan reacted this morning to the knowledge that his mate is hiding something. He'll be even less happy to find out just who he's been hiding.
He doesn't knock when he gets there, just keys it open with his spare and steps inside. Drystan is shoving a pan full of chicken in the stove, and Eben pauses to admire the view. Celina rolls her eyes at him, and Eben just grins.
"As promised," Eben says, announcing his presence as he draws near, "I come bearing news that you're not going to like." He slides up beside Drystan, so when the alpha turns, Celina is behind her brother at the breakfast bar, watching them with a lopsided smile. To his surprise, Drystan is also smiling.
"I guess so."
"The potion worked." He pulls out the vial of orange liquid. "The bad news is it's got wolfsbane in it."
Drystan scrunches his nose in disgust.
"Erastus said it would work in small doses. We tested it on a dog—don't look at me like that—and it worked on the dog. She ran right over to the ghost after I gave her some. So, I can either tell you who the ghost is, or you can risk taking this potion and maybe see her yourself."
"Or maybe die horribly," Drystan says dryly.
"That's a possibility that we discussed, yes. I'm hoping it's one of those extremely unlikely 'what if' scenarios, because I plan on keeping you around for a long time."
"Is she here right now?"
"Yeah, she's right behind you, at the breakfast bar." He nods his head, and Drystan turns reflexively.
He goes so still that Eben immediately knows something is wrong. Celina's expression goes slack, eyes wide and almost childlike. Eben steps around Drystan to see them both. Drystan is staring directly at her, his face a mirror of her's, disbelieving and pained.
Eben nearly drops the vial. "You can see her?"
"You can see me!" She cheers.
"Oh," Eben says. "The mate bond. My magic must have…" He chokes on his words, because Drystan turns such a single-mindedly hateful look on him that he doesn't even remember how to speak.
"You kept this from me."
"Why wouldn't you have told me it was my sister? After she's been here all this time, following you around. And you never once thought about telling me the truth?"
"I…" Eben can't speak. He doesn't know how, doesn't know what to say, doesn't know where to start. The words get stuck in his throat, and he's bombarded by such intense feelings of agony and fury and betrayal that tears spring to his eyes. He's feeling Drystan's emotions, and it's even worse than he feared. Drystan hates him, just like Eben expected he would.
He looks at Celina, wants to say 'I told you so,' because he did. He told her that this would be the one thing Drystan couldn't forgive. But she'd made him promise, and he'd been so torn between the two that he thought maybe it would all work out if he did what she wanted, because she's the sister, right? She knows Drystan like the back of her hand. They lived in each other's pockets for ten years, surviving on the road with each other. Now, she looks miserable, shaking her head at him like she wants to apologize but doesn't know how. That seems to be going around.
When he can finally speak around the ball of excuses in his throat, he chokes out, "Drystan, I'm—."
"Don't say you're sorry. Don't you dare. Do you have any idea—?" He breaks off, carding his fingers through his hair. His eyes are glowing, and this is the only time Eben isn't happy to see it. If Drystan loses control right now, Eben will be the one to pay for it, in the worst way possible. "I would've given anything to know she was here, and you kept her from me."
"I didn't mean—."
"But you did! I've asked you over and over to just be honest with me. You always keep things from me, and I've had it."
Eben's going to be sick. Or pass out. Is Drystan breaking up with him? He thought they couldn't do that. What's going on? He's so confused, but he has the worst feeling about it all, like someone stuffed his stomach full of lead.
"Just get out."
It feels like a slap in the face, those words.
Celina takes a tentative step forward. "Drystan—."
"Get out, Eben!"
Eben stumbles back into the door, startled by Drystan's volume. He trips over his own feet, fumbles with the doorknob, and then he flees, slamming the door shut behind him. He trips down the stairs, and he can barely see to get the engine of his car started. Once he's far enough away from the apartment building, he can't keep it together. He can still feel every single one of Drystan's emotions—the hatred, the hurt, the unyielding sadness at the sight of his sister as a ghost—and it's all too much. He can't handle it, knowing, feeling all of those emotions directed at him, because of his screw-up.
He pulls over on the side of the road by the forest and gets out, gets around to the passenger side and throws up in the grass. Is it possible to die from heartache? He thinks he might. It's not enough that he intellectually knows Drystan hates him. No, he's got a two-way connection going strong, letting him know every single one of Drystan's feelings about him now. What makes it worse is that he knows Drystan can feel how bad he feels, and it does nothing to sway him.
"I don't want this," Eben says miserably to himself. "I didn't want this, it wasn't supposed to feel like this." He can't see through the tears, can't breathe through the knot in his throat, the emotions pounding in his chest.
It takes several minutes before he's able to calm down and focus on something besides the fury swirling like a vice around his heart. He wipes his face with his sleeve and tries to decide what to do now. He doesn't want to go home, doesn't want to see the potion in the fridge and the dirty pot in the sink that he cooked it in—further evidence of his betrayal. All the pack will be able to sense Drystan's emotions, and he's not sure he's ready to face them yet. No, he knows exactly where he'll go.
The police station is buzzing with activity, just like usual. Eben bypasses everyone and waves away their concerns—he can only imagine what his face looks like. He goes right to his dad's office in the back and lets himself in once he makes sure he's not meeting with anyone. His dad looks up and goes still at the sight of him.
"Eben? What happened?"
Eben collapses on the small leather couch against the wall and recounts the whole sordid affair, complete with quotes from Drystan. He manages not to start crying, but it's a close call for a minute, voice shaking when he describes the emotions he could feel coming off Drystan in waves.
"It was supposed to be great," Eben whines. "It was supposed to be a permanent link to each other—and it is—except now he hates me, and that's all I can feel anymore. I don't know how to make it go away, or dampen it. I don't think I can. I think it's stuck like this forever. I'm stuck forever with someone who hates me. And he should hate me, because I lied to him about his sister. I lied to him last year about my magic. I went after Sebastian alone, and I went after Quentin alone. He doesn't want me anymore, because this was the last straw, and now we're stuck together forever because I should've come clean before we completed the bond!" He's going to hyperventilate and pass out. He can feel his own hurt emotions mixing with Drystan's, and he doesn't know how to handle feeling someone else's emotions. What the hell is he going to do?
"Okay, okay." His dad comes over, pulls Eben into his arms, and lets him cry. "I'm sure he's just angry right now. He'll calm down later. Maybe Celina can talk to him and explain that she made you promise not to tell him. I don't think he hates you, Eben."
Eben shakes his head. "You didn't see him. You can't feel this."
"I know. But I know how much he cares about you. I don't think this is bad enough to make that go away."
AN: Gaaah, this chapter hurt so bad to write. Emotional drama, while interesting, is sometimes really painful. Ouch.