“It was them!” Jacob could have sworn he shouted it, but the sound that came out of his mouth didn’t match the words his head was spitting out.
“Jacob, Jacob, I’m right here.”
Jacob gasped and tried again, but more gibberish escaped him. His tongue felt thick, wrong, as if it just didn’t fit in his mouth anymore.
“Honey, I’m here, you’re okay. I won’t leave you.”
Cali. Cali’s here. Cali’s here. Cali’s here. All the other words were gone and those two were the ones that mattered. Every time Jacob thought them, the terror that had been suffocating him began to edge back, and his vision started to cooperate—possibly because he worked so hard to get his eyes open. He hadn’t known they were closed, hadn’t known Cali was there. His brain was sizzling and popping, and that finally told him what he needed to know.
He’d had another seizure, and judging from the chaos in his head, it’d been a bad one. Despair sunk into his bones; he was so fucked up and scared. He’d never heard of any wolf having seizures. What if the next one killed him—or worse, left him some kind of barely-living thing? A body that was dying with a brain trapped in it that was cognizant of what was happening? What if he lingered, hurt, suffered?
What if he hurt others?
Would Cali mourn him if he died?
Jacob tried to focus, but his thoughts were all over the place, and many of them were jumbled up words that made no sense at all.
But the pervasive feeling of fear and worry were unmistakable.
As were the feel of Cali surrounding him, holding him, rocking Jacob and murmuring nonstop reassurances to him.
Jacob might have hallucinated the kisses to his brow, the soft caresses to his cheeks and forehead. The subtle brush of Cali’s thumb over his lips.
“You’re going to be just fine, Jacob, I swear it. I’ll move heaven and earth if I have to. I’ll find a way to help you.”
Jacob blinked. He’d closed his eyes again. He licked his lips. His tongue didn’t feel too fat for his mouth anymore. But everything was dry—eyes, tongue, mouth, throat. He coughed and Cali had a glass pressed to his lips.
Sweetheart? Sweetheart. And honey. He called me sweetheart and honey. The last of the chill left Jacob’s body. He sipped at the tepid water at first, swallowed, then took a bigger drink. His mind was still a mess, but there was something he needed to pull from it, some memory he had to share with Cali. It was important, and trying to bring it up sent fear shrieking through his body.
“No, I’m here, I’m here.” Cali set the cup down, then he moved, and Jacob was stretched out with Cali half-on him, warming him, securing him in place and inside. With Cali all around him, Jacob had to be safe. Maybe not from his own body, but—
“The men,” he whispered. “They came for us.”
Cali brushed some hair off Jacob’s brow and stared at him, worry clear in Cali’s eyes. “Your pack—”
“No.” Jacob struggled to articulate what he needed to say. “This is important.”
“Yes, and so are you,” Cali murmured. “I’m not discounting anything you say, Jacob.”
“The men.” Jacob’s pulse doubled and he thought he might pass out. “The men.”
Cali nuzzled him. “You can tell me, but try not to panic. I’m here. No one will hurt you.”
Jacob gulped. Calm. Calm. Calm. I have to tell him. Calm! “The men—” He ignored the spike of fear. “Not the pack. Here. Here. This pack!”
Cali’s expression blanked. “The men that you saw, the ones by the south fence?”
Jacob tried to nod but his muscles and tendons weren’t cooperating and his head bobbled like crazy.
“They’re the same men that came after your pack?”
More bobbling, and a whimper that Jacob couldn’t conceal. “They came for my pack, they wore black, and smelled…nothing. No scent. Their guns murdered everyone in seconds. Shifters, human form or not, adults, children…pups and babies, all cut down in seconds.”
“Assassins. Someone sent assassins.” Cali cursed. “Fuck. Someone knows about shifters. That has to be it.”
“I’m sorry. I’m sorry, I must have brought them here—”
Cali cupped his cheek. “You have nothing to be sorry for. I could be wrong. This could be something other than humans coming after us. If humans knew, they wouldn’t be silent about it.”
“They might,” Jacob countered, though he hated disagreeing. “Exposing us to the world would give us a chance to hide. To plan, to escape. Sneaking up on us and murdering us in seconds…”
“Goddamn it.” Cali closed his eyes for a moment, sighed, then opened his eyes again. “We’ll figure it out. I’m going to reinforce the refuge. Those fuckers won’t get in here.”
“I’m scared,” Jacob admitted.
“You’re smart. Fear is a good thing when we have enemies like the ones you’ve told me about. But they’re not going to win.” Cali stroked his fingers over Jacob’s cheek. “We’ll find out what’s happening, and we’ll keep everyone safe. I’ll keep you safe, Jacob. I swear it.” He touched his lips to Jacob’s.
Jacob stilled, all the chaos silencing as he locked gazes with Cali.
Cali kissed him, gentle, lips barely there, then pressing, firmer, his tongue slipping past Jacob’s lips, into his mouth.
Jacob had never heard of a magic kiss any more than he’d heard of a shifter seizing, but that kiss spread peace throughout his body with each glide of Cali’s tongue.
The care Cali took with each touch, his hands smoothing over Jacob’s chilled skin, warmed Jacob’s heart along with his body.
He didn’t know how long Cali kissed him, and it didn’t matter. When Cali raised his head, his eyes gleamed with affection that Jacob couldn’t miss but wasn’t sure he should believe in.
But Cali hadn’t ever lied to him. Cali had cared for him since the moment Jacob had arrived, half-dead, fucked up, damaged in ways they didn’t know how to fix.
“Jacob.” Cali kissed him again, and when he raised his head a second time, that affection was still there, and Jacob was going to trust it, like he trusted Cali.
He didn’t know why Cali cared for him, but the lion did.
“Jacob, I…” Cali bit his bottom lip, let it go. “You aren’t just another shifter here. You mean…so much to me. I…care a great deal about you. No.”
Jacob wanted to cry out though he tried his best to look impassive, to hide the pain that ripped through him. What had he done to make Cali stop caring from one instant to the next?
“I love you,” Cali whispered. “I love you.”
“You—” Jacob found the strength to prop up on one elbow. “Love me?” He wanted to ask why, but Cali nodded, rasped, “Yes. I do.”
Questions could wait. Jacob threaded the fingers of one hand through Cali’s hair, pulled him down, and kissed him with all the need and gratitude and yes, love that he felt. It washed over him like a great wave, igniting in his heart and soul, binding him to Cali in an ancient gift long forgotten by shifters. But Jacob knew it the instant it happened.
And he felt the knowledge roll through Cali.