She’d gone from being walking death to being able to touch me with tender, non-death inducing hands one moment later. “I hate to break it to you, but Immortal isn’t a literal meaning of the word.” The other side of her cheek she wasn’t biting the hell out of curved higher. “Not because you’re Immortal, but because you’re so damn ornery. The cantankerous ones never die.” And then, as her hands continued to stroke over my forehead, those same hands that had just dealt a death sentence to the four men lying around us, I came up with what was perhaps the most ingeniously stupid idea to date. Since most every idea of mine fit into the ingeniously stupid category, I knew for this one to sit at the peak of the others before it, it had to be especially perverse.
“Change me,” I said before I allowed myself to think about it. I didn’t need to.
“What?” she said, acting like she didn’t know what I was talking about.
“You know what I mean,” I said, shifting my head in her lap. “Don’t play dumb with me. I’m impervious to it.”
“Playing dumb is the only way to respond to someone saying something as dumb as you just did,” she replied, smiling tightly at me.
“Make me Mortal, Bryn,” I said, trying to sit up. Yeah, sitting up wasn’t going to happen. “You can do it. You’re the only person who could.”
“What?” she said, the skin between her eyebrows pinching. “Please, Patrick Bartholomew Hayward.
Please tell me you’re not saying what I think you are.”
“Damn right I am,” I replied, staring at her without blinking. I needed her to know how serious I was
—how there was no regret or hesitation in them. “Change me.”
“What?” she said again, scooting away from me, but not before gently resting my head on the ground.
“Why, yes. Yes, I am.” I tilted my head back. She was scooting on her backside away from me. That meant she was thinking seriously about my serious request. “Would it help if I said please?”
“Would I be more clear if I said Hell, all the way to Hades, no?” she threw back, her voice a few notes higher than normal.
“Come on, Bryn,” I said, making like a snake and trying to slither towards her. Okay, so like a wounded snake. “You know I don’t take no for an answer.”
Her eye shifted to the side as she took one more scoot back. “You did once.” Her voice was a whisper, but it was deafeningly loud.
I cleared my throat, which was more like running razor blades down it than clearing. “Well, once is all I can do,” I said. “I won’t take any more nos, most of all coming from you.” I knew this blow was about as low as they came, but I was desperate. If Bryn, for no other reason than her pent up guilt at choosing William over me, agreed to phase me from Immortal to Mortal, it was worth it.
“Why?” she said, wiping her arm over her eyes, still looking away.
It was a simple answer.
“You’re doing this for a girl?” she said, trying to sound insulted.
“Not a girl. The girl,” I clarified, working to keep myself calm. If I went all frantic on her, I’d never convince her to do this. At least, not before the rest of my family showed back up, and I already knew not a single one of them would be on board with the whole Patrick Mortalization Project.
Bryn snorted, shaking her head. “You’re an idiot.”
I smiled, wishing I had worn the shirt. “Positively.”
“Patrick,” she began, likely about to break into some plea to get me to change my mind, but I lifted my hand to stop her. It didn’t matter what Bryn said, I was beyond listening.
I saw the way to give Emma the normal life she’d always craved. I saw the way to spend our days together and, with a little help from the big man in the sky, die in the same decade as the other. I saw a life I wanted.
And it didn’t matter the price it would cost to live it.
“Don’t look at me like that,” I said, sliding closer to her. She was still a good twenty feet away.
“Don’t look at me like I’m an immature, ignorant, lovesick chump because you and I both know if our roles were reversed and William was the Mortal you wanted to spend your life with, you’d be on your knees begging me for the exact same thing right now.”
Another low blow, but I couldn’t back down now. She was caving. Bryn had almost as hard of a time saying no to me as I did to her. Whatever we’d shared in life had melded us together in a way that went beyond friendship. It went beyond the connection of family even. It was almost like our souls both recognized we were mates, matches for the other, but hadn’t been joined because we weren’t the match for each other. It was a bond I’d cursed until the day Emma Scarlett marched into my life.
Now, it was the bond that would allow me to give Emma the life she deserved.
“Please, Bryn,” I said. Well, I begged. “I’d do it for you.” Her fists clenched into balls, one of them punching the ground. When her eyes shifted to me, staring right through me, I knew I’d won.
I was already smiling when she said, “Okay.”
I collapsed, not sure if the exertion from moving or battling Bryn had exhausted me more. “Thank you.”
“You shouldn’t thank me when I’ve got a ninety percent chance of killing you,” she said, crawling in my direction. Her eyes were red, but she was keeping the tears contained.
“You won’t kill me,” I said, resting my eyes. “You like me too much.”
“Ha! If liking you has a direct correlation with killing you, then you’re toast, buddy.”
“I love you too, Bryn,” I said, lacing my fingers over my chest, ready for whatever fate had in store for me.
Her hands moved beneath my head, replacing it into her lap. Her fingers hooked into my hair, combing through it. “I love you, too,” she said, choking on a sob.
I opened my eyes, looking up at her. She was terrified, beyond every degree of terror I’d ever seen in a person, but she found the strength to smile down at me.
“Ready?” she asked.
No time for losing my iron resolve now.
She nodded, weaving her other hand through my hair. Her fingers scrolled over my scalp, like she was trying to read my thoughts. “You’re so weak already. They nearly killed you, Patrick,” she said, closing her eyes in focus. “I pull too much or too hard from you and I’ll kill you instantly.” A tear slipped from her closed eyes, which was promptly swiped away with her arm.
“I have faith in you.”
She chuckled tightly. “I’ve never done a reversal before, you know that, right? The only thing I know about reversal is what your father and I have discussed. All theory. No practice.”
“You’re about to get some practice below your belt then,” I replied, for the first time feeling the weight of everything I risked losing attempting this. It wasn’t only my Immortality I was giving up—I risked losing my life, my family, Emma, if this didn’t go how I hoped.
“I’d rather practice on someone I didn’t care about so much then,” she said.
“Ah, Bryn. Are we having a moment?”
“Looks like we’re about to,” she said, her fingers stopping, drilling into my scalp. “Are you sure this is what you want?”
“Yes,” I said, gritting my teeth because I knew what was coming. I’d felt Bryn’s touch once before and to say it was something I’d never forget was an understatement. A vast one.
Her face morphed from terror to determination. The lines of her forehead drilled with concentration.
She could do it. I knew she could.
“See you on the other side,” she said, leaning down and kissing my forehead.
“See you there,” I replied, putting my Immortality and Mortality in Bryn’s hands.
The instant the shocks of pain radiated through my body, I realized this wasn’t one of my better moments, but as the life started streaming out of my veins, I also knew it was one of my best moments too.
I knew I was close. More on the side of dead than alive. I could sense that as I watched Bryn’s face screwed in concentration, but I was past the point of vocalization. I was long past the point of movement and about two seconds away from cognition altogether.
The pain was so scalding, it crossed the realm of pain into something else completely. As the life drained from me, sucked away by the first girl I’d ever loved, the face of the girl I’d love for the rest of eternity—no matter where I spent it—was the only thing my mind clung to. I clung to her face with such ferocity Bryn’s face began to morph above me. Her dark brown hair lightened, falling in gentle waves over her shoulders. Her sapphire blue eyes grew larger, taking on the unique shade of green that was all Emma’s. Her skin lightened in color, a smattering of freckles dotting her nose.
As I knew my eyes were about to close for the last time, Emma’s face shone above me, smiling down at me. I saw the life I wanted in her eyes, the life I’d waited two centuries for, and the life I had to let go.
I winced, trying to summon whatever strength I had left to say farewell. To say the only thing there was left to say. To say what I should have always known I’d have to one day say to the fiercest, most fragile girl I knew.
Something worked its way up my vocal chords. “Good—” I stammered, the last word lost as I lost myself.
I slipped into a black void, getting sucked into it until I was nothing, had been nothing more, and wouldn’t ever be more than the void swallowing me into its depths.
And then, when the dark was blackest, when no light could cut through its depths, I was snapped out of it. Like the arms of god himself had reached down and found me, pulling me back.
My eyes burst open as my lungs gasped for breath. My lungs gasped for breath.
Because they needed oxygen. Because those lungs would require oxygen every day until I died. What was the average lifespan of a man these days? Seventy? Eighty?
Who the hell knows, and besides, it was a little late to be concerned about these kinds of details.
I was Mortal.
I could feel it thundering to life inside of me. My heart beat with intention, with a purpose now, no longer out of pattern. My breath came regularly, delivering oxygen into my bloodstream. My skin crawled with sensation, feeling… cold. I felt cold, chilly. I hadn’t felt cold or hot like this in two centuries.
A face leaned over mine, a shaky smile decorating her face. Bryn looked like she was in worse shape than I imagined what I looked like. The upper half of her face was still lined in terror, but the lower half was relaxing into relief.
“That better not have been good bye you were trying to get out, you stupid, stupid boy,” she said, her voice wavering as she worked her fingers out of my hair. She lifted them in front of her, surveying them like she couldn’t believe what they were capable of.
I cleared my throat, not because it felt like I was choking on razors, but because it was dry. Parched even. “Would you believe me if I told you I meant that to be a good job?” I asked, my voice not as smooth as it had been, my ears no longer digesting it with pitch perfect precision.