I awoke to a surprise, by which I mean I was surprised to be waking up at all. I had kinda figured the afterlife would skip on making you go through the whole waking up thing, given how awful it usual is in the land of the living.

But here I was, distinctly feeling that I had just woken up.

My eyes felt heavy and puffy, reminding me exactly of the time I'd had an allergic reaction to a face cream. Still, with momentous effort and focus, I could open a little crack and see a tiny bar of the world, like peering under a blind that won't open all the way.

I was rewarding by piercing light that seemed to stab right into my head, so I shut it again and gave an involuntary little groan.


I reopened the crack, this time rewarded by a chin. I tilted my head back, and realized the chin was attached to Thaddeus's face.

"I am so glad you're awake. We were afraid that thing's poison might be too much for even you."

"Am I back home?" I asked, trying to turn my head. You'd think this would be a small task, but apparently it was beyond my present capabilities.

"Yes, you're in your room."

The light was becoming painful again, and since trying to move my neck again seemed pointless, I closed my eyes again.

"You wanna tell me what happened? I seem to be missing some essential plot points here." I swallowed thickly. "But maybe water first, please?"

I heard liquid being poured and felt a cup pressed into my hand.

"Can you do it yourself, or do you need help?"

I reopened my eyes to try to see my hand, as if somehow that would give me an idea of my current competence.

"I think I might need help sitting up so I don't choke to death and make all this miraculous poison healing less of a cool story."

He shuffled some pillows and propped me up. I had forgotten how simultaneously nice and awful it is to be so sick you actually need help. Mostly awful, to be clear, especially when my whole back decided to inform me that moving now meant I would feel like I was being set on fire. Thanks, back.

I stared down through my slit of vision at my hand. The glass was only half full, and therefore it shouldn't be too heavy. I made a tentative attempt to lift it. One of my fingers twitched, but nothing else happened. Well, that's not good.

"Yeah, I think I need help."

He removed the glass from my fingers and helped me take a few sips. I seemed to have full control of my mouth, so at least I didn't drool any of it.

"Not to freak out, but I can't really move my fingers."

"I mean, again, the fact you woke up seems like a good sign. It'll probably take a while to get back to full functioning."

"Is that a 'when' or an 'if'?" I looked at his eyes. "As honestly as you can, please."

"I really don't know, but Gideon seemed to think that if you just woke up, you'd probably be through the worst of it. He's still trying to do some research on what exactly it was that poisoned you."

"You mean 'Giant Snake' isn't a common monster?"

"No, it's actually rather too common. It's a pretty popular animal to make giant, demonic varieties of. Also crocodiles, birds, and rhinoceroses, fun fact."

"Very fun fact."

"But which exact type or how it was made is the real question. I did bring him back a tooth and some venom, and he's sent it off to his people for testing, so hopefully we'll hear back soon."

"You didn't get bitten?"

He pulled back his sleeves. His forearms and hands were covered in gauze and bandages. "Not from the fangs, I didn't."

"Maybe you'd better tell me what happened."

It wasn't a very long story. I'd leapt, yelling like a banshee (although I don't remember that part), straight into the snake's mouth. It had closed its jaws on me, biting into my back, but not before I had stabbed up through its brain with my two dagger stakes. The snake had collapsed, and Thaddeus had been left to try and pry its jaw open (hence his injuries) and pull me out before I drowned in sewage. Which is great because that is not a way to go.

Of course, once he got me out, he wasn't actually sure I was alive, given I'd been crunched and munched near my spine, plus the fang that had been stuck in me was still dripping venom. So he'd sensibly done a little CPR until I threw up sewage and started breathing, radioed Gideon, yanked out the tooth, and carried me fireman-style out of the sewer.

Skipping the boring parts, being Gideon and Thaddeus doing research, hooking me up to IVs, continuously mopping my massively sweaty and puffy brow, and covering my monster hunting shifts for about two weeks, here I was, at least 85% alive.

"Well, thanks, Florence Nightingale. I think I owe you one now."

"I'm just really happy you're alive."

"I think I agree, but as I currently feel like as gummy and awful as microwaved leftover fries, I'll get back to you on a final call."

He laughed softly.

"At least we have matching cool scars out of it?" He unexpectedly reached out and touched my neck. "A giant snake's teeth has to be even more badass than a vampire's."

I held my breath until he removed his hand. It's not that I have anything against being touched or hugged, but my personal space bubble is big enough to park a U-Haul in. I never enter anyone else's when I can help it, and it always rattles me when people enter mine so cavalierly. It was something I was only just getting used to with Violet, Patrick, and Bethany.

Plus, as I recall, I had established pre-snake that I might have a crush on this dude, which always makes things extra weird. So there's that.

I can't wait until he leaves. Or will I hate it when he does? Either way, probably the usual agonies of senseless infatuation. I'm too old for this. Actually, I'm too sore for this.

"Can you grab me some crackers and an Advil or something? I'm not even going to pretend I'm too tough to feel pain right now."

"Gideon had hooked you up with the good stuff," he said, "but I think the nurse he'd contacted might want to know you're awake before we administer anything. I'll go see if I can get a hold of her."

He hurried out the room, and I gratefully closed my eyes again. Seeing was exhausting. Being conscious was exhausting. Despite the pain and my desire to maybe talk to this nurse, I could feel that this conversation had taken a lot out of me, and as the seconds ticked by, I gave up, letting myself drift back into sleep, glad that this time the darkness was blurred and formless, distinctly un-jaw-shaped.