Page 115 of Court of Nightmares

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I start to go after him when Nathair steps inside, watching him go. “Leave him, he needs some space. He will come back when he’s ready.”

“I don’t understand,” I say, trying to dart around him.

Nathair catches me and effortlessly flings me into the pit of cushions. Lycus is there, and he pins me down with a grin, his big body holding me captive. Reve prowls in and sits next to Simon, who seems worried. Osis and Azul flip into the pit as well, surrounding me, but my heart aches because a piece of me is missing. I feel his agony and horror, and it calls to me.

I struggle, but Lycus bites my stomach, making me freeze. “He’s serious, Thea. Leave him, he needs it. Even I wouldn’t go after him right now. He will come back to you; he always will. Give him time and trust because he needs to push back some memories.”

Frowning, I look at the door, and even when the movie starts, I can’t focus or relax. I reach out for Zale, trying to find a way into his mind to tell him I’m here, but he’s locked down tight, rejecting me, and it rips my heart open, leaving me gasping in the dark.

“Shh,” Lycus murmurs, holding me tighter. “Do not take it personally.”

“He pushed me away,” I mutter, old insecurities rising to the surface.

“It’s just while he deals with his memories, I assure you,” Lycus offers, trying to comfort me, but it’s no use. I bury my head in his wide chest, hiding my tears. I hate the sting of rejection, and I work through everything I could have done differently until Lycus finally snarls and rolls to his feet.

“Hold her,” he tells the others, and then he, too, is gone.

I watch the door in confusion, and a moment later, Lycus strides in with Zale over his shoulder and tosses him into the pit with me, his arms folded and angry. “You fucking apologise to our queen right this second for making her feel like you rejected her. I don’t give a shit what you’re dealing with right now,” he snarls before he softens. “We understand, brother, but she does not, and she’s hurting. I cannot stand it.”

“Me either,” the others say.

Zale turns to me on his knees, looking wounded, and when he sees me, he cries out and crawls towards me. I freeze, not reaching for him because I don’t want to be rejected again, fearing that more than anything.

He buries his head between my breasts, holding me tightly. “I’m so sorry, Thea.” He tries to surge his mind into mine, but I back away. If he wants space, I will give it to him. “No, no, no, please, my queen, please, I’m sorry. Please don’t pull away from me.” He lifts his head, tears flowing from his eyes. “Do not cut me off. I’m so sorry. I didn’t mean to, please, Thea.” It’s the broken, raw edge of his voice that causes me to soften, and I wrap my arms around him, feeling his mind slide through mine as he lets out a sob, pressing closer until nothing exists between us.

“Sorry, sorry,” he repeats as I relax, realising this wasn’t about me. I took it the wrong way, and now I’ve made it worse.

“Shh, it’s okay,” I promise, stroking his mind with mine, and then Lycus climbs into the pit, pressing against Zale’s back.

“You’re safe. You’re okay. She’s okay,” Lycus tells him, and Zale slowly relaxes. I struggle to focus on the movie, and I feel Simon watching us, but I continue to hold Zale against me along with Lycus.

When the movie is over, Simon whispers to Nathair, who nods, and then Simon crouches near me at the edge of the pit. “We are going to leave.” His eyes go to Zale. “We will be back tomorrow, okay?”

I nod, taking his hand, and he smiles and squeezes my fingers before leaving with his mate. When they are gone, Zale finally relaxes.

I open my mouth to ask, but Lycus shakes his head. I lie back, just holding Zale, and someone else puts another movie on. Slowly, lulled by the music on the film and their body heat, I begin to drift to sleep, surrounded by my family.

* * *

I wake with a start, a howl jerking me upright. I flip over, the pillows in the pit trapping me, and I fight against them before I finally manage to get to my knees to see Zale’s arms pinned by a struggling Lycus, while Azul covers his legs with his whole body. Everyone else is awake and worried as Zale howls and screams and twists.

“Help him,” Nathair demands, gritting his teeth as he looks at me.

“How?” I whisper, my hand covering my mouth.

“He needs to remember where he is. Touch him, Thea,” he begs, so I crawl towards Zale, but I’m unable to touch him due to his struggles. I give up and just fling myself over his lap, straddling him. He bucks once, twice, before freezing and turning his head towards me, his eyes shut tight from memories or nightmares, I’m not sure.

“Zale?” I murmur, and his eyes snap open and lock on me. He completely softens, like a puppet whose strings have been cut.

“Althea?” he croaks, his voice hoarse from screaming.

“It’s me. It’s me,” I murmur, leaning down to stroke his sweaty face. Lycus and Azul still don’t release him, as if they are worried he will attack or change. I ignore them and focus on his terrified eyes. “It’s me. You are okay.”

With a cry, he jerks up and dislodges them, wrapping himself around me. I hold him tight, stroking his back, and the others slowly relax. I eye them, wanting to demand answers, but from the hard glints in their eyes, I know I won’t get them. Whatever this is, it’s Zale’s story, so I simply hold him as he clutches me.

The others filter from the room, leaving just Zale and me. Pulling back, I cup his face, noticing his eyes are red and swollen and his lips are trembling. “Shh, baby, I’m here. What’s wrong? Tell me. I can’t fix it if I don’t know,” I tell him.

“You can’t fix it. You can’t fix me,” he whispers.