It was around noon by the time Damian awoke, probably due to the delicious scent of food wafting from the kitchen. I sat in a plush armchair, Mr. Skullcrusher at my feet, and looked over at him. “Good morning.”
Damian blinked, his eyes darting around the room. “Where am I?”
“Maryland,” I answered.
His eyes widened as if his memory was coming back all at once. “The Nether. Taryn! Are you going to heal her now?” Damian asked, and, before I could answer, he added insistently, “You promised!”
“I know I did,” I replied.
Damian didn’t let me finish. “Go heal her, now!”
“Woah, woah, woah,” I said, holding my hands out placatingly. “So little faith in me. I already did.”
“I already healed her,” I said easily.
Damian fumbled for the blanket, tossing it off and swinging his legs off the couch. I didn’t stop him. So little faith, so little thanks.
“Second door on the left,” I said helpfully as he went sprinting up the stairs. If anything, he seemed to have recovered from the draining use of the shadows nicely.
Ok, I did not want to be witness to a sappy reunion, really. I was only eavesdropping because I had to make sure good things were said about me. That’s all. It’s not like I was invested in these two at all. Seriously.
Damian was panting a little by the time he arrived in the doorway, his energy still a bit lacking from the night before. He skidded to a stop, gripping the doorframe before straightening. “Taryn?” he breathed. When there was no response, he moved closer and repeated, louder, “Taryn?”
This time, she opened her eyes. Damian’s face morphed into one of wonder and relief. He took the final few steps to her side and spread his arms wide, going in for a hug.
“Wait!” Taryn croaked at the last second, her voice still scratchy from disuse.
Damian paused comically, his arms still open. I laughed from downstairs. “What?” he asked, drawing back.
Taryn managed a weak smile. “According to your demon friend, my ribs are broken.”
“He’s not my-“ Damian began, then broke off, frowning. “How’d your ribs get broken?”
“Sirio hit me with some light thing,” Taryn explained.
Damian’s face hardened as he sat on the edge of the bed. “He should never have gotten you involved in this. I’m sorry I couldn’t protect you.”
Taryn smiled again. “It’s alright. I’ll be fine. Are you okay?”
“I think so,” Damian replied. After a pause, he added, “Wait. How’d you know Sirio’s name?”
Taryn’s brow creased. “Baxel told me. When he was explaining the plan.”
“Explaining the- Wait. Start over. Tell me everything that happened from the time he woke you up.”
“Okay, well I woke up, cursed at him some and tried to fight him, but I was really weak, and he just kind of stood there, which was weird. Like, he didn’t even get mad.” Taryn looked at Damian who just gave a half-shrug and nodded for her to continue. “And so he told me about the ring and about Sirio, and said that you had come up with this plan to get it from him. You were going to be somewhere else, Baxel was going to pretend to be somewhere else, then really be hiding here because he figured Sirio would go after me for leverage over you. And then you were supposed to come, you and Baxel were supposed to fight Sirio and when I saw my chance, I was supposed to get the ring off him.”
Taryn nodded towards the bloody knife and severed hand on the floor. Damian stared at it for a long minute. “So Baxel has the ring. I hadn’t noticed.” He frowned, looking back to Taryn. “He lied to me. I thought the plan was to get me attacked. I would never have put you in danger like that. How could you believe that?”
“I…” Taryn frowned. “He told me that you suggested this because you trusted me. You trusted my skills and thought I was good enough to hold my own.”
“I do, but not at the risk of you getting hurt.”
“Well, when am I ever going to use these skills that doesn’t involve a risk of me getting hurt?” Taryn replied smartly.
Damian ignored that. “Did you just accept that I was helping him get a weapon like that? Why’d you go along with it?”
“He told me he’d kill you if I didn’t,” Taryn said. “I guessed you were helping him because he said the same thing about me.”
“Well, more that he wouldn’t cure you, but same difference.”
“What happened to me anyway? He didn’t really explain.”
Damian briefly summarized how the Nether worked, and how the shadows had begun to corrupt her before Baxel got them out. “But you’re safe now. I’m so glad,” he said with a smile of relief, then glanced towards the door. “I smelled food downstairs. I’ll bring you some.” Shifting, Damian got up off the bed, pausing when Taryn reached out to grab his arm.
“Damian, wait,” she said, frowning again. “You… you seem different.”
Damian was quiet for a long time. “I guess maybe I am.”
“Was it something Baxel did to you?”
Without hesitation, he shook his head. “No. Well, maybe in a way, but not how you’re thinking. He’s really not as bad as he seems.”
Taryn seemed unconvinced. “I mean, he just gained the power to control the human race, so I sure hope not.”
Damian gave a wry smile. “I’ll do my best to keep him in check.”
“What?” she asked, moving to sit up, then wincing in pain and relaxing back down into the bed. “You’re staying with him? But Damian-“
“I don’t have a choice,” Damian said apologetically. “In order to get you out of the Nether, I made a promise to him. I have to stay with him.”
“Well break your promise!” she encouraged. “He’s a demon, that’s a perfectly valid reason to compromise your word.”
“I can’t,” Damian insisted. “I’m sorry, Taryn. He did say he’d let me out of it, though. I’m hoping he keeps to his word this time. We’ll see.”
Yes. We would see. It was true; I had said that, but now I was kind of rethinking it. In some strange way, I would miss Damian. I kind of didn’t want to see him go, and I knew I could stop him if I wanted to.
The question was, did I?