His breathing sounded worse today. Even with the oxygen mask, Titus still seemed like he was gasping for air. I brushed his hair off his forehead. So many tubes and machines had been packed into our room. It didn't seem nearly as big anymore.
Ringing out a wash rag, I dabbed at his face to clear away the sweat. He was so pale.
Hearing footsteps, I glanced at the door.
Darius gave me a weak smile. "How's he holding up?"
I shrugged. "Same, worse. He won't even open his eyes anymore. He just so tired."
Nodding, he sat down on the overhang above the bed.
I adjusted the blankets and kissed my mate's forehead. "What did Oscar say?"
My brother-in-law stared off across the room.
"Tell me, Darius," I said firmly. "Don't keep me in the dark just because of my rank. He's my mate."
"He said no." Bowing his head, he let out a shaky breath. "Jet demanded you as compensation, so Titus dying is a good thing. If we don't want a war, then we're to hand you over."
I rubbed my forehead. "Okay."
"Okay?" His brows pinched together. "What do you mean okay?"
Sucking in my lips, I peered down at my husband. "I've thought about every possibility. If I want to save him, I know what I have to do."
"We're not going to give you to Jet," his voice started to grown louder.
"Titus's healing enzyme is in me," I stated, meeting the next alpha's gaze. "Mating with Jet would do the same thing. I could bring it back."
Darius grew still, thinking it over. "Mate with Jet?"
I nodded. "Then escape, and heal Titus myself."
"He's not just let you go. Jet's an asshole, but he's not stupid. He's not going to let you just come back with the one thing that can save my brother."
"I'm not planning on doing it alone."
We sat in silence for a moment, watching the rise and fall of Titus's chest.
"What if we can't get you out?" Darius asked.
"I'd rather give it a chance than sit here and watch him die."
"You'll be Jet's mate."
"I'm going to have a dead one if we just sit here talking about it!"
The black and red werewolf sat back, gripping his knees. "I can show you the way, but we tell no one. I'll handle everything here."
"Okay." I took a deep breath. "The rest will be up to me."
It was well into the night when I leaned down and kissed Titus's cheek. "I love you." I cupped his face. "Hold on until I make it back." I kissed him again. "I'll bring the cure, and everything will be fine. Okay? Don't worry."
Kissing him once more, I pulled the blankets further up his chest and stood. I could do this. I do it for him.
Sneaking outside, I spotted Darius standing by the forest edge.
"Let's go." He nodded toward the east.
I jogged after him until we were out of sight of the cave. Taking off my clothes, I shifted.
"Last chance to change your mind."
"No." I inhaled slowly. "I've decided. I'm going through with it."
Darius hugged me. "I know I tease you and can be an ass at times."
I laughed. "Yeah, that's true."
"Watch it," he chuckled, tightening his hold on me. "Just be careful, Aden. I want my brother to be okay, but I don't want anything to happen to you either."
"I will. I mean I put up with you. Bloodhound shouldn't be too hard."
Smiling, he nodded. "You're tougher than you look." He bumped my shoulder. "For a sub."
We lowered to all fours and ran through the forest to the distant border. Every step made my nerves rise. Somehow I was going to have to get back with a pack of werewolves chasing after me.
Gasping for air, we reached the top of the last hilltop which was coated in the first snowfall of winter. The first light of the morning was starting to touch the sky. Darius rose onto two legs. I did the same.
"Their cave is in that mountain." He pointed across the valley.
"That's not too much further," I breathed.
Darius looked behind us. "I doubt they'll stop just because you reach the border."
I nodded, swallowing the lump in my throat. "You'll be waiting, right?"
"Make it here, and I'll step in so you can get to the cave." He put his arm around my shoulders. "I mean it. Be safe."
His fingers brushed against my scar. "You'll know if you don't make it in time."
I clasped my mating bite.
"You'll feel him go. If that happens, decided from there on what to do. Just know, even as Jet's mate you're still human born. I'll make sure you get back to your parents and protect you from Bloodhound, if that's what you want."
"Good luck." He patted my back.
I staggered forward, feeling my heart pounding even more than it did climbing the mountain. I could make it through this. I had to, or Titus would die.
Snowflakes filtered down through the treetops. It was well past dawn now. I rubbed my hand along my arm to generate some warmth. The temperature had dropped the last few days. I scanned the area. I didn't really know if I was even walking in the right direction.
A branched snapped. I jumped and spun around. What if they thought I was a rogue? I'd be killed before I even got to the cave. I backed away from the noise and right into a tree. Snow fell onto my head as a deer leaped out of the bushes. I toppled to the ground and glared at the way the animal fled.
Standing, I brushed myself while muttering under my breath. A chill made my fur stand on end along my spine. I slowly turned and stumbled back as the tall werewolf growled at me.
I nodded. "Sorry, I... I was..."
He reached down and snatched my arm, drawing a yelp from me. Sniffing my neck, he smiled. "I thought Northern Ridge was too proud to hand you over. I guess not." He dragged me forward.
We walked through the forest for aways before starting up an incline. I was shaking so badly, I would have fallen a couple times if the werewolf didn't have such a tight hold on my arm. The ground leveled out, and I stared into a large opening in the side of the mountain. Werewolves darted around the entrance. I swallowed hard, as regret started to work its way into my head. I knew it had to be done, but I was still terrified.
"Move." He shoved me forward.
Regaining my balance, I entered the cave. My heart rate was picking up. What if Jet had been lying about wanting me? He could just order me to be killed as a way to get back at Northern Ridge. Voice came from in front of me. Two deer hides were draped across an opening. Light was shining from inside the room.
The werewolf pushed me toward it. He parted the hides and waved me inside. "Alpha, I found something."
The reddish brown werewolf lowered his glass. "Aden?"
I bowed my head, ringing my hands together.
"I didn't expect Xavier to give in so quickly?" He waved to the man. "Get Jet."
The man nodded and left the room.
"So Aden you might want to start explaining?"
"Darius doesn't want a war," I said softly. "He'll be alpha soon."
He tapped his claw fingers on the armrest of his chair. "So he willingly gave up his own brother's mate?"
"I don't want any more people to die." I met his gaze. "Not for me."
"Very noble." He smiled.
Jet entered the room and stared at me in disbelief. "Xavier said yes?"
Oscar shook his head. "Darius and Aden's plan to prevent any more people from dying. Smart man." He took a drink from his glass. "Do you want him or should I just make an example of what happens to packs that go against Bloodhound?"
My chest tightened. I peeked over at Jet.
"No, he'll be mateless soon. If I don't take him now, the humans will just hide him somewhere."
I swallowed the lump in my throat.
"Very well. Do with him as like." He waved us off.
Jet snatched my wrist and pulled me out the door. I had to jog to keep up as he led me through the cave. He pushed me into a room with a skylight in the middle.
"Move." He pointed to the bed.
Panic and fear rushed forward, and I dropped to my knees. It was hard to breathe. I knew it had to be done, but being faced with the prospect of having sex with Jet, in reality, was worse than I expected.
I climbed to my feet and shuffled across the room with my tail wrapped around my leg. I sat down on the bed which was situated in an outcropping in the wall.
Jet stood in front of me. "Shift."
Struggling to hold it together, I did so and sat still. His hands ran up and down my arms. I closed my eyes as he cupped my cheek.
"He didn't deserve you." The fur pulled back as Jet changed forms. He kissed me gently on the lips. "Remember that."
I nodded as a couple tears slipped out. Jet brushed them away before pulling me to him. I felt his breath warm my left shoulder.
"I'll make my own mark here, and one day this will be gone." He ran a finger along my scar.
I braced myself, but it did nothing for the amount of pain that flooded my body. Jet released my shoulder and licked the bite mark. More tears of pain and fear started to pour. I fell back on the bed, gasping.
Jet finished tending to it. "I have things I need to do, but tonight we'll confirm it. Rest until then." He threw a hide over me before shifting into his black werewolf and leaving.
My skin still prickled and ached.
"Titus," I whispered. I had to do it for him.
I laid curled up in the corner by the pillows. Sleep had come and gone throughout the day. I kept jarring awake when I remembered I wasn't in Northern Ridge anymore, and Jet was planning on making me this mate that night.
The large werewolf entered holding a tray of food. "I brought you something." He set it on the bed and leaned against the wall.
"I'm not hungry," I whispered.
He moved the tray next to my feet. "Don't lie."
Sticking a hand out of the blanket, I grabbed the roll. Jet just sat there, outstretched. He looked at me and then around the room or into the hallway. It was creating an awkward tension on top of everything else I was feeling.
"I won't do it until you want to," he said, standing. "If this is going to work, you're at least going to be willing when we become official. My mark will be enough for now." He left the room.
My mouth hung open. I had to be willing? I dropped the bread and covered my face. I had to act like I wanted it? I never would. If my mate died, he would be the man who murdered him. Even if I could love another, it would never be him.
I touched my shoulder, making the pain worse.
But this mark wasn't enough. I needed more.