It was only 4pm and Kade was wrecked. He finished the last of the paperwork and stood with a groan, stretching his arms up over his head. His back cracked and he relaxed before sighing with relief.

"Got any plans for the rest of the day?"

Kade looked over and saw one of the nurses smiling at him, tugging her bag over her shoulder. He waited for her to catch up then matched his pace to hers as they walked out of the hospital.

"Nah, I'm dead tired," he said. "Think I'll just catch up on some sleep; today felt way longer than usual. That pile-up on the highway had me running flat for the rest of the day."

"I knew it wasn't going to be a good day when it started with calling security on two addicts, one after the other," she agreed. "But hey, we chose this job. We're all a little bit insane."

Kade shared a smile with her, one that conveyed the insanity he knew everyone had been feeling throughout the day. It was hard, working in an Emergency Room, especially on days like today where the number of deaths and the level of uncertainty built up until it was almost too much to handle. It was good to have the other nurses and doctors around him who understood the problems and fears that hung over his own head.

When they stepped outside into the late afternoon sunlight, Kade's shoulders relaxed further as an invisible weight lifted. He'd learnt long ago the many perks of compartmentalization. After a hard day of work, he could leave all his anxiety and stress from the hospital behind. He didn't even look twice at the ecto-mist that swirled into being next to him. The nurse walked straight through it, her human eyes unable to catch a glimpse of it. The mist didn't stir with her passing; instead it swirled with its own otherworldly currents.

Kade couldn't see much these days due to the serum, but if he did, the apparitions and spirits were pale imitations of what they used to be. They hardly bothered him now. He was so used to looking through them these days that he could almost convince himself that he was normal – that he'd always been normal.

Kade parted ways with the nurse at her car, ignoring her subtle hints to get a drink and unwind together. He had a routine, now, one that kept his mind occupied and firmly off the past. It was one of the reasons he loved being an ER doctor so much – it gave him no time to think. Every day after his shift was over, he headed off to run until his lungs hurt and his legs began to drag. Then he'd grab dinner, look up the latest research in medical journals, and go to sleep.

He was halfway to his apartment when he felt his hair stand on end, tiny slithers of ice shivering down his spine. The feeling made his hands automatically twitch into fists. Fortunately, the instincts beat into him long ago kept him walking without pause. In the years since he'd left the Eight Circle behind, he'd only had this feeling a few times, though never as intense as what he was experiencing now.

The serum made him blend seamlessly with the humans around him, instead of his aura being a flaming signal for anyone with a bit of the otherworld in their blood. It had taken a lot of getting used to, flying under the radar, walking past demons and spirits alike with little notice from them. So having the attention of one, of someone powerful, made his breathing quicken.

He swept his eyes casually across the street in front of him, but nothing jumped out at him. From college students to the homeless to businessmen – all he saw were civilians going about their normal human days. Surely even with the serum numbing his senses, he'd still be able to see a presence that strong? Years of training flooded back in that moment, keeping his mind calm as the adrenaline kicked in. His heartbeat picked up, a drum beat in his ears as it chased away his earlier weariness. He was completely alert now.

Keeping his movements slow, he twisted to search in his satchel for his phone. His eyes flicked up, searching behind him until—there.

Shit.

There was no mistaking him: the swagger, the arrogant tilt of his mouth, pale skin contrasting violently with his blood red eyes. He hadn't changed a bit, but then again, the demon was over three hundred years old – these past four years in which he hadn't seen Kade would have passed in the blink of an eye for him.

Any thoughts he'd previously had that had chalked this all up to his senses overreacting were long gone. Not twenty feet behind him, hands in his suit pockets, was Claudiel; a mercenary – an otherworldly gun for hire – and he was tracking Kade.

Seeing as the last time he'd seen Claudiel, Kade had locked him in an enchanted stone coffin in the pits of the Sixth Circle, this was not going to be good. Kade's instincts shivered and rippled, muffled beneath the effects of the serum, still trying to branch out into the world around him at the scent of danger.

Now that Kade knew Claudiel was there, his presence was like an inferno at his back. He didn't have time to wonder who had sent Claudiel or how the demon of the Fifth Circle had even found him. He casually turned into a side street and took off. His shoes thudded against the pavement, jeans stretched and pulled tight on his thighs, but he pushed himself harder. He knew the moment Claudiel turned the corner and saw him – he called out to Kade, but the words were lost on him as the wind pounded in his ears.

He saw another tiny street on his left and ducked down it, immediately throwing himself right into an alley. At its mouth, ecto-mist swirled and a huge form took shape. Kade wasn't going to stick around and find out what was emerging.

The backdoor of a restaurant was just swinging shut as he wrapped his fingers around the edge of it and threw himself inside. He burst into the kitchen, dodging angry chefs along the way, and swiped a butcher knife. Kade shoved it through his belt, along with a tub of what was either salt or sugar – hopefully the former.

In a second flat he was out of the kitchen and into the dining area, weaving around tables before bursting out the front and running straight across the road. Cars screeched and horns blared. One taxi didn't stop and he leapt, sliding across the front hood and, landing with sure feet, ducked into another alley. He saw red-tinged mist billow out ahead and changed directions at the last second, crashing into the doorway of a building and almost losing his grip on the salt before getting his feet under him again. He pushed past a man getting his mail and took the steps three at a time, his thigh muscles straining while his breath panted loudly in his ears.

He used to hate running. Used to think it was the coward's option – rhetoric that had been firmly reinforced by his father. But he'd come to realise it was the smart option. Especially when he had no weapons to fight with other than a tub of hopefully salt and a knife.

He'd climbed up eleven flights of stairs until they stopped and he burst out onto the roof. With sure hands he flicked the lid off the tub and poured it in a careful circle around him. It was a bit shaky, not as perfect as what he'd once been able to do, but it would serve its purpose. He drew another quick circle inside the first before dropping the container and whipping out the knife. A quick slash across his palm had his blood pooling up and, with a murmured word, he slammed his palm down on the outer salt circle.

For a moment, nothing happened. Had the serum been too effective?

Abruptly, Kade noticed something sucking the blood from his wound. Thin red tendrils spread across the curved line of salt. They'd just begun to meet when the door slammed open and Claudiel strolled out. The demon took in Kade's crouched form and the activated circles of power that surrounded him as his smirk widened.

"I'm glad to see that your years slumming with the humans hasn't completely erased your instincts." His hands were still in his suit pockets, though he did look slightly ruffled from the climb. You could only shift laterally – vertically was too hard for most. It was what Kade had been counting on.

"What do you want?" Kade asked. With his blood sealing and activating the circles, he rose up so that he could look Claudiel straight in the eye. His gaze flicked to the side as two of his apparition lackeys formed out of swirling ecto-mist.

"I've come for you, little princeling. What else would I be here for?" he mused. He took a hand out of his suit pocket to rest on his hip, the tips of his white fingers stained red. "You have a price on your head and it is my intention to collect. It seems it'll be easier than I'd first thought – I didn't expect you to be so… weak."

Kade's mind flew, trying to figure out what the hell this could all mean. "Who would put out a price on the Eighth Overlord's son?" he questioned. The title felt foreign coming from his mouth, rusty from disuse.

Claudiel smiled, teeth pointed and gleaming in the late sunlight. "Did I forget to mention daddy dearest is no longer Overlord of any circle?"

Kade pushed down his initial rage and pain, knowing that if he lost his head now then that would be it.

"Don't play games with me, Claudiel," Kade said roughly. "If you're about to take my head, the least you can do is be straightforward beforehand."

Claudiel lifted one shoulder nonchalantly. "It's all the same for me. But I respect you, Kade, or at least I respected the man you once were. Now you're just a poor imitation. Human," he snarled before pausing. "No, I don't feel like setting your mind to rest. Now we can be even for when you left me in that cursed box, hm?"

Claudiel didn't wait for an answer. He stalked forward, holding his hand out to the side as a slender blade of gleaming red materialized in his grip. He twirled it around once then, with both hands, swung it at Kade. It smashed through the first circle but the second one held, making Kade grunt and rock back on his feet from the force of the blow. He could feel what little power he still had draining from his body. He planted his feet and gripped onto his near-useless knife tightly, body coiled and waiting for the shield to break and Claudiel's sword to descend.

The shield shattered, but not by Claudiel's sword. Kade rocked forward at the sudden loss and brought up his knife, but Claudiel had already begun stumbling backwards. His red-tipped fingers clutched at the blade protruding from his eye. The demon shrieked as he pulled it from his socket. Someone flew past him, blades flashing, and Claudiel barely managed to bring his sword around in time. He made a sharp sound as the apparitions descended on his saviour. A few quick swipes and they'd been dealt with but in that second, Claudiel instead had managed to shift away.

Suddenly, the rooftop was silent bar the sound of panting and Kade's heart thundering in his ears. His eyes finally focused on the person slowly turning towards him.

Blonde hair, tightly pulled back into a severe bun. Boots, jeans, shirt – all black, the short sleeves revealing slender toned arms. A thick silver short sword that exuded fluorescent blue ecto-mist was in one hand. The other hand, densely ringed, clutching a black stained dagger.

It was Giv.

.

Whenever Kade had pictured seeing Giv again, it didn't happen like this.

She shoved the dagger through her belt at the back and stalked towards him, all coiled focus and intensity.

"Giv…"

"We need to go," she said. "There's more coming."

She reached out to him and Kade backpedalled.

"No, I'm not going anywhere until I know what the hell is going on," he snapped. He tried to focus but his mind couldn't get passed Giv being here, right in front of him. Truly here, the same Giv that had been his centre and his rock all those years ago. She'd never looked at him like this, though – hazel eyes cold, face remote and carved out of delicate ice.

Her eyes narrowed and her brows lowered further. "We don't have time for a tantrum—"

"Is my father dead?" Kade's knuckles turned white on the knife he was still clutching.

Giv's mouth twisted bitterly, the expression so foreign to Kade he was taken aback.

"Not to my knowledge. We don't have time for this, Kade."

"You can't just—"

If Kade hadn't been so out of practice, he would've caught the intent in her frame – the tightening of muscles, the gathering of power, the wisps of ecto-mist. But he'd been human for far too long. When Giv disappeared, he jolted in surprise, long enough for Giv to appear next to him, grab his hand, and pull him into the shift.

It was worse than he'd ever felt. His mind screamed as it distended from his body, pulling tighter and tighter until the shrieking tension was all that filled his head. The pressure built as the tension intensified until suddenly, his body snapped and rocketed towards him like a released elastic band. The world snapped back into focus and he immediately keeled over, throwing up the meager sandwich he'd managed to scoff down for lunch. He dry-heaved for a few moments before finally getting himself under control.

He knelt there, on his knees with his head bent, breathing heavily. Slowly, his senses adjusted and he began to pick up the world around him. The first thing he noticed was the red ecto-mist swirling out of the ground, twining around his legs and disappearing into the air. It was the same effect as steam rising from boiling water, except tinged red. He lifted his head and saw he was next to a packed dirt road, red-stained trees staring at him from the opposite side. He was in the Fifth Circle. That would explain the sickness – being a passenger to someone else's shift was never a nice feeling, and the serum in his blood just made it that much worse.

It was weird, being back in the Circles of Death with no power. The tiny amount of power in his veins that hadn't been depleted by Claudiel or the serum zinged along his spine, completely ineffectual but recognising it was home. However, it wasn't enough to give him the great awareness he had once had – he couldn't feel anything. It was exactly like being in the human world, but his senses were both numb and blind.

This was Death.

He pushed himself to his feet, wavering for a moment before turning to see Giv watching him.

"Good. Let's go."

She turned to stalk off but he lunged forward, stomach giving a lurch, and grabbed her arm.

"Hold on, how—"

She ripped her arm out of his grasp, hissing, "Don't touch me."

He stared in shock, giving her time to turn and continue walking away, strides long and ground-eating. He frowned and strode to catch up.

"What's going on, Giv?" he demanded, this time not touching her even though his hands itched to make sure she was real beside him. That this wasn't some messed up nightmare. "You owe me an explanation, especially after you dragged my ass around half of Death."

"I dragged your ass around most of it, actually," Giv said, face blank and emotionless once again. "You passed out."

Kade grit his teeth. No wonder he'd had such a violent reaction then. And if she'd had to shift that much with him in tow in such a short span of time, then she had to be worried about being followed. Plus, she was bound to be exhausted, even if her face conveyed none of that.

He wanted to shift back to Earth, his mind knew exactly how to do it, but his power was blocked. He was still incapable of using his power and therefore was completely reliant on Giv.

A group of spirits darted out of Giv's way as she strode straight through them. Kade hurried on her heels.

Then he stopped.

After a few steps, she noticed and spun around.

"We need to get to somewhere safe," she snapped. "Come on."

"I haven't seen you or anyone from the Circles for four years," Kade said lowly. "Let alone heard anything. I want to know what the hell is going on and where my father is, because something is obviously very wrong if we're taking shelter in the Fifth Circle and not the Eighth."

"This isn't the time or the place," she said through gritted teeth. "We need to go."

Kade folded his arms, voice implacable when he said, "I'm not going anywhere."

Giv was silent for a moment before her lips thinned, pressing together in that particular way that only Giv could do to show just how annoyed she was. The expression was so familiar that for a moment, Kade was transported back to a time where Giv would never have looked at him with eyes this cold.

"I don't know where your father is," she said after a long pause. "But I know he's alive." Kade's stomach dropped, even though he had been expecting it. "There was a coup. Someone on the inside. His House isn't in too much disarray but your father disappeared before they could get to him. That's why they've come after you. You're their insurance."

"My father renounced me," Kade said. "It wouldn't work."

"Don't be stupid. You're still his son, Kade." Giv hadn't seen the look on his father's face when he'd given him the ultimatum, and Kade had chosen to leave. Then she added, "And did you forget that you left first?" Her expression went dark, but she pressed her lips tighter until her face became blank again.

This wasn't the Giv that Kade had known. All he wanted to do was take her in his arms again, but there was no way she was letting him near her anytime soon.

He opened his mouth to tell her his reasons, to make her understand and stop looking at him like he was a total stranger and not the man she'd loved all her life, up until four years ago. But in the end, she was right – this wasn't the time nor the place. They were standing on a road in the Fifth Circle, Claudiel's own home Circle. They were out in the open, and Kade was a hunted man.

"Let's go," he said brusquely. "But I will get answers from you."

For a short second, the mask slid from Giv's face – her eyes were vulnerable, full mouth trembling, the beginnings of exhaustion crumbling into her features. It was a minimal change, but Kade had once known Giv inside and out. He knew every expression, every emotion, every hint of body language. In that moment she became his Giv again, scared and lost and he wanted to comfort her so badly that his chest physically ached.

But in an instant it was gone, and her face became implacable once more. Carved out of stone, dangerously beautiful with a savage edge. "I know somewhere where we should be safe for a time."

She walked off and this time, Kade followed.

.

The safe place ended up being a plain stone home, owned by a servant from the Fifth Overlord's House. He greeted Giv with a nod and a murmured, "Giverny," then gestured down to the cellar, barely sparing Kade a glance. Kade didn't recognise the man, even though he'd visited the Fifth Overlord's House many times.

In the cellar, the red ecto-mist that creeped out from everything in this circle wasn't as noticeable, even when Giv flicked her fingers and the lamps caught alight. The room was sparse, with only one neat bed pressed into a corner, a table, and a multitude of boxes.

"Get some rest. If I'm not back in two hours, Teevon will get you out."

"Where are you going?"

"I'll be back in two hours," Giv repeated.

"You expect me to wait here while you're out there? You're being hunted as well—" Kade realised something that made him stop and pause. "You wouldn't have left my father. Why weren't you with him when the coup happened?"

Giv's eyes flared and her face twisted into a hateful expression. "You're right. I wouldn't have left him or abandoned anyone in the Eight Circle." The look in Giv's eyes was vicious and her barb hit the mark. "I wasn't with him. I wasn't where I was meant to be, because of you."

"What is that meant to mean?" Kade asked, voice rough.

"What, you thought it was just a coincidence that I turned up just when Claudiel attacked?"

Kade's eyes widened. "You've been watching me? For how long?"

Giv looked at him with a sneer and said, "Long enough to know that you are nothing like the man I once knew."

Kade froze, stiffened in place as the words sunk in and imprinted in his mind.

Nothing like the man I once knew.

Of everything he'd left behind in the Eight Circle, Giv had been the hardest. It was like living with a black hole inside his heart, an area of emptiness that would suck him into oblivion if he thought too hard about it. Every day, the smallest and most inconsequential of things would remind him of her and he would have to forcibly drown his mind in work— anything else.

To know that she'd been so close all this time was bad. To know that this was how she now thought of him was worse.

He couldn't keep the emotions from playing across his face. Giv could always read him like a book anyway. It was how she knew exactly where to push to cause the most harm. Her mouth parted. She drew in a breath to say something, but stopped. Pressed her lips together. Instead reiterating: "I'll be back in two hours."

And left.

.

Kade knew he should rest. He'd just gotten off a 12 hour shift at the hospital. Then there was the mental exhaustion that came from being pulled through the shift. He was running on non-stop adrenaline at this point. There was no telling when he'd next get time to rest. So he slipped off his shoes, bag and jacket, and lay on the bed. Of course, it too him a while to drift off, mind churning and replaying everything that had happened over the past few hours. Eventually, he drifted off to sleep and it was only after waking up for the umpteenth time with a start that he decided to give up all together. It was probably time for his serum shot anyway.

Luckily, he kept a few in his satchel for emergencies, though he never could have predicted something on this scale. He was just positioning the needle when the door to the cellar opened and Kade froze as footsteps came down the stairs. He relaxed with a sigh of relief when he saw it was only Giv. She was looking more ruffled than before, stray hairs flying out of her bun and a few dirt smudges on her face and bare arms.

"What are you doing?" she snapped when her eyes focused on him and the syringe poised above his arm.

"This is my serum," he said. "To block the power flow."

"Are you serious?" she said, voice low and rising. "At the moment you are alone and powerless in Death, with no way of getting anywhere or leaving or even defending yourself. You need your power."

Kade narrowed his eyes and set his chin. "This is my body and my power to do what I want with."

"You're used it to blending in with the humans but we're not in that world anymore! And it is not just you. If something happens to me and you get taken, they'll use you to strong-arm your father. So no, it is not yours to do what you will with. You need to consider the other people that this will affect."

"I can't use my power again," Kade ground out. Images flashed behind his eyes, of spraying blood and screaming and the overwhelming need to let the power out and bend everything around him to his will.

"Why not! It's a hell of a lot harder keeping you safe when you can't do anything but make an incredibly weak circle of power."

"I made a vow, Giv. I'm not doing any harm to others anymore. I'm a doctor."

"No, that's just a pretty excuse you're hiding behind. Even after four years, you're still scared of your power. You ran to the human world so you'd have the excuse of hiding from your power—"

"I ran because I couldn't be here anymore!" Kade finally stood up, feeling the first stirrings of true anger rush through his veins. "Everything reminded me of my mother and the monster I became to get revenge. I was dangerous, Giv – I even attacked you! I needed to get the hell away and that's why I ran to Earth."

"That was four years ago, Kade! I understood that, we all did—"

"Not my fa—"

"Your father might not have liked it at first but he understood. You could've stopped taking that damn serum ages ago. You could've stopped and come back to heal properly with the rest of us. You seem to be forgetting that you weren't the only one that lost her. We were all hurting."

"I attacked you—"

"And you think I couldn't have defended myself?" She was close to him now, so close he could see the anger brightening her hazel eyes and each individual faded freckle that dotted her nose. Her finger stabbed out at him as she hissed, "I let you get that close because I knew you would never hurt me, so stop this angsty martyr bullshit. I don't break easy and you should know that by now. Get that through your bloody dense brain."

"I was a monster, Giv," he repeated. "I had so much power and it nearly destroyed me and everyone else around me, all because I was consumed with vengeance."

"What does that have to do with what's happening now? You're not the same man you were four years ago. You left, you had time to grieve, and you made peace with her death. But you have not made peace with what you did after and that's why you keep taking that fucking serum. I've had to watch over you for years. Every single fucking day, I had to watch you take that damn serum. I had this stupid, stupid hope that one day, you wouldn't take it and would come back to us. But you never did." The anger seemed to drain out of her, leaving her emotions exposed. She slumped her shoulders. Her eyes gleamed, hinting at the unshed tears that made his heart break. Her voice had lost its ferocity. She dropped down to hushed words to mutter, "The truth is, you abandoned us. All of us. And… and you abandoned me. I waited and waited for you but if Claudiel hadn't come after you and your father hadn't been threatened, you never would've come back, would you?"

Kade opened his mouth, but words got stuck in his throat. He felt her pain like it was his own, as if he'd taken a dagger to his heart. Giv's earlier bitterness had completely left her. She looked so much younger now, less like the capable warrior that had saved him only hours before and more like the scared girl his father had taken under his wing and raised alongside Kade. More like the girl Kade had once made his entire world. Before it had all shattered around him, at least. The day he'd been out with his mother and a Ninth Circle demon had slaughtered her in front of him changed everything.

Would he have ever returned?

He hadn't forgotten about Giv. Even buried under work, even at the end of an exhausting 12 hour shift when his mind was so tired he could barely string two sentences together, Giv was at the back of his mind. Always there, his heart aching and body hurting, but always denied.

You abandoned me.

He hadn't thought of it like that. He'd thought staying away would be better. At first, he had left because it had been his only option. He was spiraling into a black hole and he'd known if he had stayed one more day, he wouldn't have been able to get out of it. He thought that if he moved away from where it had all happened and numbed his power, he'd get better. But the terrified look that had been on Giv's face when she'd stood in his way – provoking him to attack her – had haunted him. Every time he closed his eyes it was always there— a blink away. And he couldn't do it. He couldn't not take the serum, couldn't return. He'd had to live with this torture every day penance.

"Giv . . . " he breathed. The needle dropped from his nerveless hands as he raised them and cupped her face. Her skin was warm and soft and so familiar it made him ache. Her eyes were still shining, tears on the cusp of overflowing, face achingly beautiful as she tilted it up to look at him. There was no pretense between them now. Giv was open, laying her soul bare to him. There were so many words to say but he couldn't form them, couldn't form the right ones in his mind.

He leant down and kissed her. Her lips were warm beneath his and she responded immediately, opening up to him. Her hands lifted, running up his side to clutch at his back as she stepped into him. Their bodies pressed tightly together, and she was all soft skin and curves over the coiled power of her muscles. His mind calmed, flattening out as the women he loved melted into his arms in a way that was as familiar to him as breathing.

Suddenly, she stiffened and pulled away. Kade opened his eyes and saw that her head was cocked, as if listening intently to something. For the length of an indrawn breath, she was still. Then she spat "shit" and burst into motion.

Her hand shot out and blue ecto-mist swirled into being as her sword materialised in her hand. She spun and headed to the stairs, saying over her shoulder, "Get your shit together, we need to leave now."
He whirled around and grabbed his jacket and bag, shoving his feet into his shoes.

"How many are there? And how the fuck did they find us?" he said, moving to follow her.

She spun and put her hand on his chest. "You have to stay here and no, no arguments. You can't do anything to help; you'll just get in the way. They must've followed me back from the House earlier . . . stay here. I'll take care of them and then shift us out of here."

She took the steps two at a time, bounding up them and out the door at the top. Kade stood there for a moment, turning her words over in his head, before turning and searching through the room. As he rummaged, he heard the sounds of fighting above – loud thumps, the ringing of metal against metal, cut-off shouts. He finally found something useful – a fire iron from a full set of fireplace tools.

There was no way in hell he was going to listen to Giv on this.

He raced up the steps and took in the scene. Teevon was struggling with a Third Circle demon, his brown fingertips clutched around the servant's throat. Giv was spinning and ducking between three Third and Fourth Circle demons, blue sword and black dagger flashing. Kade gripped the fire iron in two fists, took a deep breath, and slammed the iron into the head of the Third Circle demon. The blow sent the demon reeling, enough that Teevon could stumble to his feet and plunge a dagger into his heart. The demon stilled for a moment before crumbling into a pile of ash, a plume of brown ecto-mist billowing up from the remains like the mushroom cloud of an atomic bomb.

The other Third Circle demon turned towards them, a distraction that was long enough for Giv to lop off his head. Another brown mushroom cloud rose up to the ceiling, soon to be joined by two others as she finished them off quickly. Her movements flowed like water, as if they were a rehearsed dance and not a deadly series of moves beaten into her since she was young.

The house fell silent and Giv stood for a moment, panting lightly before turning on Kade with a frown.

"I told you to stay downstairs."

"And you must be delusional if you thought I actually would."

"You . . . " Her mouth worked angrily for a moment, before she gave up and turned to Teevon. "Thank you for your hospitality and sorry to bring Claudiel down on you like this. I'd advise shifting to your House before he gets here."

Teevon nodded and smiled at her, "Of course, it is no trouble. You always manage to bring a little bit of excitement into my life, Giverny. Until next time."

He shifted away, and Kade could feel the faint currents of power in the room as he hopped across Circles and back to the Fifth, to his Overlord's House.

"Time to go," Giv said, striding towards him and taking him by the arm.

"Hold on, give me time to prepa—"

He was yanked through the shift. Again, there was that rising tension and feeling of his body being left behind, that stretching, then the snap and solid ground beneath him as he keeled over.

He didn't make it to the ground. Giv caught him and shifted again. This time, the tension rose until Kade blacked out.

.

He was on the ground again when he woke. He shifted and groaned – his whole body felt sore and stiff, the ground hard against him. It would be nice if, for once, Giv didn't deposit him on the ground after a shift. In saying that, he felt better this time after the last, his stomach only rolling and not coming up – his power must be coming back.

He felt something pinching at his hand and he cracked open his eyes. And came face to face with a chicken, pecking at his hand and in between his fingers at the floor.

"What the fuck . . . " he grumbled, pushing himself up and wincing as his head pounded. The chicken jumped away and fled. He looked around, frowning. He was in a small house. It was dark, the corners almost unseen and walls grimy. There was a pile of pillows and blankets in one corner, a cooking area with a small fire and pots in the other. The door was open, white light shining through and blinding him. He saw movement out of the corner of his eye and watched as a small kid appeared out of one of the dark corners and ran outside.
Where the hell was he?

He blinked and realised there was no ecto-mist rising from anything. He was back on Earth.

A shadow obscured the bright light and Giv was standing there.

"About time you woke up, sleeping beauty," she said.

"Where are we?"

"China."

"What?"

"More specifically, a tiny village in Xinjiang province."
"Why?"

"I know where your father is. We're going to meet him."

Kade pushed to his feet, noticed that Giv looked pale and drawn.

"How long was I out? Did you get any rest?"

"About half an hour. And no, I've got all our supplies. We can head out as soon as you feel well enough."

Kade reached out hesitantly and cupped her cheek. He needn't have worried – her head tilted and pushed into his palm, eyes softening and stress lines relaxing. It just made her look more exhausted.

"We're almost safe," she said softly. "I can rest then."

Her eyes slid shut, only for a moment, and when they opened again they were like steel again. She straightened and hitched the pack on her back higher.

"Ready?"

"How far away is he?" Kade said, eyeing the pack. "And we can't shift?"

"It's halfway up a mountain in a dead zone. Should take us half a day."

It didn't take long for Kade to get his bearings and stretch out his muscles. They set out. They really were in a tiny village, filled with rectangular wooden huts and roaming chickens. They soon left the village behind, trekking up into the mountains. Kade's loafers and the rest of his attire wasn't really up to it, but he kept walking regardless.

They were silent, the only sound the chatter of birds and rustle of wildlife. There were a lot of things Kade wanted to say but once again, couldn't put into words.

So he kept silent.

The sun was low in the sky, the hot afternoon sun searing the back of his neck, when the path leveled out and opened up. Above them, at the top of stairs cut into a cliff, an ancient Chinese monastery was carved out of a cliff face. It looked like it had grown right out of the rock, delicate and beautiful, the warm orange sun setting it aglow.

It was also eerily silent.

Kade found that he couldn't take another step. His father was up there. Could be even watching him now. The explosive argument they'd had last time Kade had seen him echoed in his mind, until—

"Kade," Giv said firmly. "We need to keep moving. The light's gonna go soon."

His gaze jolted to Giv's, standing a few steps ahead of him and squinting in the light. Her hair was wild now, some sticking to the sweat on her neck and more flying in wisps around her head.

She was beautiful. And she managed to bring Kade's mind back to the present.

"Yeah . . . yeah. After you."

Giv cocked an eyebrow, but turned and continued on anyway. The stairs up to the monastery were steep and uneven, and Kade's thighs were burning by the time they reached the tall wooden gates blocking the way.

It was still completely silent.

Giv had a frown on her face when she turned to glance back at him. He met her eyes and she turned back, hand out to the side as the blue blade appeared in her grasp. She pushed open one of the doors and it swung open easily, the creaking of the timber loud in the stillness. Kade tensed, beginning to wish that he'd kept the fire iron on him.

She took a step forward, then threw herself to the side as something whistled through the air.

"Giv," Kade gasped, lunging to grab her before she fell off the side of the cliff. He hauled her to his side, then put their backs into the corner the gate made with the cliff face. Kade knelt in front of where Giv had slide down the hall, eyes immediately lighting on the thin throwing blade protruding from her shoulder. Her black shirt was wet with blood. His hands hovered over the knife but he knew not to pull it out.

"Run," she said, using her good arm to haul herself up against the cliff. "I'll hold them off—"

"Are you fucking insane?" Kade hissed. "I'm not leaving you here! Now give me a goddamn weapon."

Giv grimaced, but gave her black dagger to him. The dagger warmed his palm, sending slight jolts up his arm as the Ninth Circle weapon adjusted to him.

"Fine. We need to run."

She kept the bad side's arm curled up to her body and pushed Kade ahead of her with the hand holding the sword. He took the steps as fast as he could, concentrating hard on keeping his feet under him.

"How did they find us?" Kade asked. "That was not my father."

"They must've gotten to someone on the inside, I don't know. If only we could bloody shift!"

Kade came around the corner of the cliff and stopped dead, so suddenly Giv ran into him and he had to catch his balance on the wall.

"Hello there," Claudiel said, a happy smile on his face. Sadly, his eye was already healed. "Imagine seeing you two here, so far from home."

Kade glanced behind him, saw other demons racing down from the monastery. They were caught.

"Kade, I have someone who would just love to meet you."

"What happened to just killing me?" he asked, shifting so he was completely blocking Giv from his view.

Claudiel laughed, the sound grating on Kade's ears. "Dear princeling, that was never the case. I wasn't going to kill you. That's not what the Master wants at all. No. Plus, you're hardly a worth opponent, blind, deaf, and dumb as you are. You wouldn't have lasted anywhere near this long if it wasn't for your lady friend over there. And darling, if you think of using that sword, just remember that my orders are to bring you back dead or alive."

.

Claudiel had them walk down the mountain in the middle of his group, both their hands tied tightly behind their backs. Kade kept checking over his shoulder, watching in growing horror as Giv turned paler and paler, and her shirt began to drink with blood. Both of them could heal much faster than any human, but not with the constant push and pull on the wound. The blade was still in there, probably tearing the flesh more with every step. Giv kept her eyes down and her face blank, even though her eyes were tight with pain, movements jerky.

Night had fallen hours ago by the time the fires of the village came into view. They continued walking for a bit until Kade felt a familiar tingle up his arms and Claudiel stopped, breathing in deeply and letting out a happy sigh.

"Ah, there it is. We're back. And now it's time to really get this show on the road, hmm?" Claudiel said, turning back to them. He nodded at someone behind him and Kade turned in time to see Giv hit across the back of the head and crumple to the ground. He lunged forward, snarling, but Claudiel grabbed his tied hands and yanked him back.

"Nuh uh uh, not so fast, princeling."

There was a sharp pain and nothing.

.

If Kade never again woke on a hard floor with his head pounding and stomach shift-sick, he'd die a happy man. He pushed himself up, looked around as the last few moments replayed themselves in his head.

He was in a dark room, the only light coming from thin slits in the top of the walls. It was stifling, not overly hot but just that claustrophobic feeling from being underground. Another cellar, then. And the blue ecto-mist swirling in the shards of sunlight gave away where he was – the Eighth Circle.

He was home.

Kade was fairly certain his father was still alive – because if he was dead, what use had they for Kade? So that meant Kade was being used to control his father. Whether or not his father had gotten free or not was the real quandary.

He realised, with sudden clarity, that he could feel the world around him again. Not overly much, nothing like he used to, but he could feel the shifting mists and Giv in the room with him.

Giv.

Kade scanned the room and found her crumpled against a wall. He dropped to his knees next to her, brushing her hair off her face and feeling wet blood at the back of her head. It wasn't much, and had already begun stitching itself together. The knife was still sticking out of her shoulder.

"Bastards," Kade hissed. He shrugged out of his jacket and threw of his shirt, then tore it into a few pieces. The light was shit and it was terrible working conditions, but Kade had dealt with worse.

They'd taken his dagger and her sword, so he ripped open her shirt. He wadded up one of the strips of his shirt and, when he pulled out the knife, pressed it tightly against the wound. Her blood flow was getting sluggish, and the cloth didn't soak through as quickly as he thought it would. He took one of the thinner strips and wrapped it around her shoulder, binding the cloth to the wound. He sat back and examined the rough bandaging. It wasn't the best he'd done, but it was suitable.

He cradled her head in his hands, and his eyes landed on the thin throwing knife. A weapon. They'd confiscated their other weapons, but had forgotten about the slender blade inside Giv. He put his jacket back on and hid the blade up one of the sleeves.

When Giv's eyes cracked open they were bleary and unfocused, before centering on Kade.

"Hello," she mumbled, voice hoarse.

"Hello," he said back, a helpless smile creasing the corner of his mouth. She struggled to sit up and Kade pressed her back down gently. "No, you need to rest as much as you can."

"At least let me sit up," she said crossly. Kade finally remembered that Giv made for one of the worst patients ever. He pressed his lips together but helped her anyway, keeping her wounded shoulder as steady as he could. Her hands were bound together behind her back with heavy iron manacles, enough to dampen any power Giv tried to call. Thankfully, they'd left Kade's wrists unshackled, since he was as useless as a human at the moment.

"Where are we?" she asked, her face even paler than before.

"Somewhere in the Eighth Circle," Kade said, standing up and scoping out the rest of the room. There were no other doorways or anything, except for one staircase that went up to the roof. When Kade tried the door, it rattled against a lock and stayed firmly shut. With his senses coming back, he could feel that it was magically bound as well. "No luck," he called down to Giv, then descended the stairs and sat with his back against the wall, next to her.

"What the hell are we going to do?" Giv said, blowing out a breath.

"Wait, I guess. See what the situation is. I'd say they're either holding us hostage to my father or setting up a meet." He paused for a moment. "Why did you think my father would be at that monastery?"

She turned a glare on him.

"He was there. We set up a system, in case something like this happened. There are meeting points like that all around the world and the Circles. The message I got was for there and it could have only come from him. He must've left before we arrived. And Claudiel must've somehow tracked him down before that. The Overlord would not have left if he knew we were coming and Claudiel was waiting there."

Kade blew out a slow breath. "Fine. There's another traitor in father's House. Great. In that case, we shou—"

Kade felt it before he saw it – the magical lock undoing, then the trapdoor banging open. Light spilled down, making them both squint at the figure coming down the stairs. Kade rose to his feet, holding out a hand to keep Giv seated.

"Sorry to interrupt, lovebirds, but I have need of Romeo over there," Claudiel said, that charming smile on his face once more. "Come along now."

Kade stayed where he was.

"I'm not going anywhere without Giv."

Claudiel sighed dramatically, then gestured at someone outside the trapdoor. Two demons, Fifth Circle like Claudiel, came down the stairs.

"It makes no difference to me," he said. "It'll keep you a touch more in line, I suspect. Now, we have a meeting to get to."

The two demons hauled Giv up, making her cry out in surprised pain, and Kade started forward. He stopped when one held a blade to her throat.

"If you do anything, princeling, she'll be the one to feel it. Understand?"

Claudiel's voice was closer than before, and when Kade turned to direct his glare at the demon, saw he was only a few feet away.

"I understand," he said through gritted teeth.

Claudiel smiled again. "Good. Now follow along like a good princeling. Your father is dying to see you."

Kade clenched his fists but followed Claudiel up the stairs. They emerged into a larger room, the place completely devoid of any furnishings except for a chair. The trapdoor was slammed shut behind them.

"Hands behind your back," Claudiel said, waving zip ties in front of Kade's face. Kade set his jaw and did it, standing rigidly as Claudiel stepped behind him and did them up. They were a touch too tight, cutting into the skin of his wrists. Suddenly, Claudiel pushed him back and Kade flailed, falling into a chair that rocked violently before staying upright.

"And now we wait."

They didn't have to wait long. Only five minutes or so after they'd emerged from the cellar, the door kicked open and in walked someone from the House of the Ninth Circle. It wasn't the Overlord – Kade remembered him well – but bore a slight resemblance to him in the thick black hair and wide, dark eyes. He wore a ring on his finger with the crest of the Ninth House, and the saber at his side exuded black ecto-mist.

Giv recognised him, though.

"Ebenos?"

"Hello, Giv," he replied, his voice deep. His gaze switched to Kade. "And hello, prince. You and your father have been giving me quite a lot of grief."

"Does your uncle know what you're doing?" Giv asked. "Trying to upset the natural succession for a domain of your own?"

"Of course he doesn't," Ebenos said mildly. "I wouldn't be standing here if he did. But nevertheless, I am doing the work he is too cowardly to do. After your Circle belongs to mine, we'll move onto the others, until the rightful order is established again. That used to be the natural succession, did it not? Under Lusivar's reign?"

"All stories," Kade said. "Myths and legends from many millennium ago that no one can confirm. That doesn't justify what you're doing here."

"Perhaps I just want the power. Or perhaps my uncle does know about this after all, and he ordered it. Either way, it was startling easy once I knew whose ears to whisper in. Some have named my Circle treachery, and maybe that was why it was so easy to get particular people to turn. Or perhaps people are just fickle by nature, human or otherworldly."

Ebenos seemed to like the sound of his own voice. It didn't bother Kade at all, since during it, he'd slipped the blade into one of his palms and began sawing at the zip tie.

Ebenos stopped, and cocked his head to the side. Smiled.

"Ah, I do believe that is your father on his way. And not quite alone like he promised, either. Nevertheless, this makes the game that much more fun."

Ebenos stalked towards Kade and he shoved the blade back up into his sleeve. The zip tie hadn't broken, but he'd sawed through most of it. Ebenos grabbed his arm, hauling him to his feet and out the door. Kade rushed to keep up as they walked only a few metres before entering a great hall, completely empty as well. It was a huge, cavernous space, and their feet echoed loudly around the room. Kade glanced back and saw Claudiel and the other demons following with a stumbling Giv. Her feet could barely keep up and he frowned, hoping the bandage hadn't soaked through yet or she'd done more damage.

Big double doors on the opposite end were flung open, and a lone figure came through. He was powerfully built, taller than most men and carrying an aura that brought everyone to attention around him. He'd grown out his red hair so it was more of a mane, down to his shoulders. And Kade knew, when he got closer, than his eyes would be the same piercing, roiling blue as his own.

It was his father.

"Lovely of you to join us, Eighth Overlord," Ebenos said, his voice booming down the room. "Too bad you couldn't follow simple orders."

A dagger appeared in his hand, exuding black ecto-mist, and spun once around his fingers before he brought it down in a blur.

Straight into Kade's thigh.

The pain blurred his vision and he knew he cried out. His nerve endings were on fire and he was collapsing when Ebenos grabbed him and hauled him upright. The pain drowned out all other thoughts until he managed to think above it, employing the meditation and pain lessons he'd learnt years and years ago. He imagined the extreme pain as a ball of vivid red, then he made it smaller and smaller in his mind. He breathed through it, deeply and slowly, until he regained enough of a handle on his own body to open his eyes.

His father was a few feet away now, the expression on his face thunderous. Kade was against a hard body, Ebenos', with the same dagger that now dripped with his own blood at his throat.

"I've called them off, now you can let him go," his father was saying. "The trade was my throne for my son and I'm here. Now let him go."

"It was, wasn't it?" Ebenos said. "But I can't have you wondering around, powerful and free and throneless. Which is why it was a stroke of luck that I came across these a few years ago, in my travels around the Ninth. Claudiel, if you will."

In his peripherals, Kade saw Claudiel come forward with two thick, iron bracelets in a hand. As he stepped forward and came more into Kade's field of vision, he saw they were covered in frost, melting around Claudiel's red-tipped fingers.

"Judecca's Bracelets," his father breathed. "Those are meant to be lost!"

The name sent a bolt of fear down Kade's spine. He'd heard of them, in rumors and books about myths. Judecca's Bracelets – formed from the merging of iron and ice, they dampened the wearer's power and ate away at their ability until they were nothing but human.

"Not so lost, after all," Claudiel said jovially. "Hands out, please."

Kade stared hard at his father, willing the man to meet his eyes. The man's eyes went from the Bracelets, then slowly to Kade. Kade widened his eyes, trying to convey his meaning. The man paused.

Kade let a slow breath out, relaxing his body, and at the end of that breath, he moved.

He ripped open his arms, breaking the zip tie, and grabbed Ebenos' forearm that was around his neck. He pulled it down, bringing the blade away from his neck, then slipped out from around him. Ebenos tried to jump away but Kade followed, lunging forward and thrusting his arm back until it snapped.

Ebenos screamed and all hell broke less.

Kade glanced to the side, saw that Giv wasn't anywhere near as injured as she had pretended and was dodging between the two demons. Kade's throwing knife buried itself in the throat of one, making it promptly disintegrate. He spun again on his good leg, grabbing Ebenos' other arm and keeping them both locked behind his back. One hand kept Ebenos' wrists together while the other relieved him of his knife. Kade glanced to the other side and saw his father pinning Claudiel to the ground, hand inside the demon's chest.

Kade looked away as Claudiel gave a gurgling scream then fell silent, following a sickening wet sound.

"The others are outside?" Giv asked the Overlord, coming up to stand beside Kade. She was carrying one of the demons' swords, a slender and long blade with a curved tip, that exuded red ecto-mist.

"They are, but they don't need any help. I need to get you two to a healer," he said. He wiped his bloody hand on his black dress pants, walking over to Giv and taking her manacled hands in his. She'd managed to break the chain connecting the two, but the iron still dampened her power. With a few murmured words and a touch, they fell to the ground.

"Hello to you too, father," Kade said.

His father turned to him with a faint frown on his face, looking much more like the disapproving man Kade knew well.

"Kade. This isn't how I expected our reunion to go."

"I'm surprised you expected to even have a reunion. What were those words you last said to me? 'If you choose to leave, you can get the hell out of my sight and stay there'?"

"Words said in the heat of the moment – is this really the time and place?"

Ebenos lunged to get free, and Kade put his pent-up aggression into hauling him back and kicking him to the floor.

"That's bullshit. You can't just erase all that shit because you think those words are a mistake now."

"Kade," Giv hissed. "We can argue about this later but right now, you're bleeding out."

He glanced down and saw that his trouser leg was dripping onto the floor, a small puddle of blood surrounding his shoe.

"Fine," he said shortly. He nudged Ebenos not-so-gently towards his father. "You can deal with the errant nephew."

Giv breathed a sigh of relief and came to his side, placing her good hand on his shoulder.

"I'm sorry about this in advance."

Then she pulled him through the shift with her. His eyesight went red, pressure building up in his head like a boiling kettle until the pain became too much and he blacked out.

.

Kade was sat up in the bed, satchel open and spilling its contents onto his lap. He was rolling a vial of serum in his palm, deep in thought. The door to his room opened and he dropped the vial into his satchel as Giv came into the room. Her arm was in a sling, but had healed fast. Kade's leg was slower going – he was still consigned to bed rest, even after two days, since his power was slowly trickling back and not fully restored yet.

It was still the first time he'd seen Giv.

"Hi," she said, lingering at the end of his bed.

"Hi," he replied.

"Has your father visited you yet?"

It wasn't what he wanted to hear.

He switched his gaze to out the window. His room looked onto the courtyard where he and Giv had played as kids. He was in the medical wing, thankfully on the other side of the house to his old room.

"No. Is he meant to?"

"Of course he is, Kade." He could hear the frustration in her voice, could easily imagine the furrowed brow. "The nurse is still giving him hourly updates on how you're going."

This startled him enough for his gaze to flick back to her.

"Why?" he asked bluntly. "It's only a stab to the thigh, no major damage was done or arteries pierced."

"You can't be serious, Kade." When he remained stubbornly silent, she huffed in frustration. "Because he loves you! I watched over you to protect you, yes, but also so your father would know exactly how you were. Every year, on the anniversary of your mother's death when you would lock yourself in your bedroom and get drunk, he would stand vigil and be with you, even though you had no idea he was there. He never abandoned you. He might be stubborn as all hell and have a wicked temper, but he loves you. And if he weren't as mule-headed as you, you two would've made up years ago."

"I appreciate what you're trying to do, Giv. I do. But those words are just pretty words coming from you. If they came from him, they would mean something."

"That sounds as if you'd be willing to listen, if he said something. Would you?"

Kade caught the tone in her voice and looked at her suspiciously. "What are you—"

"Because he's almost here."

Kade opened his mouth angrily but was cut off by a brusque knock on the door, then it swinging open to reveal his father.

Perfect.

"Now, what was it you were saying to me earlier?" she directed at his father. Kade was secretly glad he wasn't the subject of that withering hazel-tinged gaze.

His father had his arms behind his back, chest broad and jaw set.

"I wanted to tell you that I meant what I said two days ago," he said, the words sounding as if they were being ground out. "Those words I said to you came from anger and grief, not from the truth. I . . . I'd just lost Lavella. I didn't want to lose you too."

"You told me it was all or nothing. I've heard nothing from you for the past four years. Why should I believe you now?"

"Because this is the truth. I wanted to reach out to you. It didn't take us long to find you, but we decided that you needed your time. It had to be your own decision, to come back."

Kade looked at his father, eyes flickering to Giv and back. Remembered hurt welled up, old and bitter and leaving a sour taste in his mouth. His father's words echoed in his ears, as they had thousands of times since that day.

"And now I'm back, but it wasn't my decision," Kade said.

"I know . . . which is why Giv has offered to shift you back to that human city you were living in, Seattle, as soon as you are better. But I won't let you leave without knowing that you are always welcome back here and that I—I am truly sorry. For my words then."

Kade was stunned – not once, in his life, had he ever heard his father apologise. His words sounded raw, ripped from some honest place inside of him that Kade had never glimpsed before. His father was normally proud, stiff, an unbending warrior that held honour and virtue above all else. But while he could still see that side of his father before him, he had softened now, become vulnerable with his words.

It made Kade want to believe him. No, it made Kade actually believe him.

Which is why, when he opened his mouth, no words would come out. His father nodded and left the room. Kade's eyes were locked onto the door as it clicked shut, and his father's presence disappeared from power around him.

He only remembered Giv's presence when she stepped up to his bed and put her hand on his.

"Thank you for listening to him," she said softly.

He turned back to Giv, saw that her eyes were downcast and posture stiff.

"You offered to take me back, huh?" Kade asked, eyes trained on the wisps of blonde hair that fell around her face.

"Yeah . . . when you're better. Whenever you wanna go, really."

"I'm kind of glad I had these two days of rest, by myself."

The sudden change in conversation made Giv look up, sadness vanishing in an instant with an involuntary smile as she said, "Really? I talked to Healer Patrik. He said you're one of the worst patients he's ever had. I told him he had to expect that from a doctor."

"Yeah, well . . . I know for a fact you're just as bad as me."

Her lips curved up further.

"Maybe."

"I had a lot of time to think. Not much else to do when you're stuck in bed all hours of the day. And I thought about what happened. And my father. These last four years. And . . . " The last word was harder to get out, but he managed. "You."

Her smile died, face becoming guarded.

"Me?" was all she said.

"I missed you," Kade whispered. "I missed you every second of every day. I wanted you so badly, it hurt, Giv. But I would take that for eternity, if it meant I would cause you no more pain."

"I'm not a fragile doll, Kade!" Giv cried. "I'm not going to shatter to pieces the next time you go into a temper. I am stronger than you think I am."

She turned away and Kade grabbed her hand, saying, "No, Giv, I don't . . . I don't think that. Not at all. You're the strongest person I know. I just . . . " She was still turned away, and the thought that she would turn away from him, forever, walk away and not look back made the words bubble up and spill out of his mouth. "I love you. More than anything else in this world, I love you. If something happened to you . . ."

Giv ripped her hand away, backpedalled a few steps.

"You can't say that! You can't say shit like that and then leave in a few days time and disappear from my life again."

"Giv—"

"You do not get to do that! Fuck you, Kade."

"Giv!"

Too late – she was out of the room, door slamming behind her. Kade growled, pushing out of bed. His legs almost collapsed beneath him as he put weight on them – he'd lost too much blood – and he swore. Giv was moving fast, probably running, and there was no way in hell he'd be able to catch up to her on his two feet.

Gathering every strand of power that had come back to him over the past three days, since his last injection, he shifted. It came much easier than he'd thought, his mind flying up and hovering as he jumped Circles. He timed it with a precision come from years of practice, shifting through just the right Circles to place him right in Giv's path.

She stumbled back when he appeared before her, favouring his bad leg.

"You didn't listen to me," he growled. "I love you, Giv. And it's about damn time I came back here."

Her mouth opened to a perfect 'o', eyes wide with surprise. After a moment, she gathered herself enough to say, "Well, I guess that means I take back what I said. You want to stay? Here? In the Eighth House?"

"That's what I said, isn't it?"

She was still for a moment, then her face lit up. In a second, she was jumping into his arms. He stumbled against the wall, hands automatically cupping her thighs and holding her up. With his weight against the wall, he could support them both with his good leg, but he didn't really give a shit when she was in his arms, face alight with a joy he hadn't seen in too long.

"You're staying," she breathed. Then her mouth descended on his and words fled his mind.

.

A/N: This is my ADoR Star-Cross'd entry for round 9, the running picture, weeeeee. If you hadn't picked up on it, this was inspired a lot by Dante's Inferno with a lot of my own creative license mixed in. I really liked writing in this world – I might set another story here one day!

Hope you guys enjoyed!