I wanted nothing more than to lie beside him in the nest I’d created with cushions from the couch, cosy blankets from the games room, and pillows from a few beds upstairs.
I didn’t have the strength to drag him up the stairs. There was no bedroom on this level. Therefore, I’d compromised. I’d made a bed on the plushest carpet I could find, made him comfortable and clean, wrapped him in a soft blanket, and sat vigil while he suffered things I couldn’t heal.
“Maliki, no—” He jolted with a belly-clenching groan.
Frazzled tears rolled down my cheeks as I cupped his cheek. “It’s okay. You’re safe.”
He threw himself away from my touch, rolling in the blankets, knocking me off balance.
I swayed and crashed to my elbows. My bleary stare and bone-weary body begged to lie down. My eyes closed even as unwelcome sleep suffocated me.
Wrenching my eyelids up, I forced myself to focus.
You can’t sleep.
Not while he’s dreaming.
He’d fallen still again, his chest rising and falling with rapid breaths, his hands clenching as if he held invisible weapons.
My heart fisted with pity.
I’d done everything I could for his physical healing, but his mental health seemed entirely unfixable.
“Anon, it’s time to wake up, okay? Open your eyes, and you’ll see you’re alright. Nothing will hurt you here.” I shook his shoulder for the billionth time, my words slurring with tiredness. “You need to eat and drink.” Pinching the bridge of my nose, I fought off a throbbing headache. “If you have a concussion, you shouldn’t be sleeping so much.”
I had no way to refresh myself on symptoms of a concussion. No Google or doctor websites, but it seemed as if he was displaying most of them.
Inability to be roused.
As if to prove my point that he’d sustained a significant head injury, he mumbled again, rolled to the side, then vomited.
His back curled, the beads of his spine evident as he wretched up an empty stomach.
Worry made me sharper than I intended. “Dammit!” Scrambling to my feet, I hastily removed the blanket he’d soiled and tossed it into the corner. Grabbing another one that I’d stacked close by, I shook it out and spread it over him.
Kneeling by his head, I brushed aside his long, wild hair, my fingers coming away damp from his clammy skin. “Hush, it’s okay.” I bowed over him, instinct directing my motions instead of common sense. Pressing a soft kiss to his forehead, I murmured, “It’s me. Gemma. If you can hear me, then let’s start again, okay? I forgive you for what you’ve done to me if you forgive me for what I’ve done to you. We can be friends—”
His eyes soared open.
His hands launched for my throat.
He tackled me to the ground.
His gaze was overly dilated, his pupils black as coal. “You want to be my friend?” His voice wasn’t his. It was black and tainted, icy and sharp. “I’m sick of friends who think they can fuck and hurt me.” His fingers tightened on my throat. “I think I’ll kill you instead.”
“Wait!” I dug my fingernails into his wrists, gasping for air. “I’m trying to help you!”
“Help?” He laughed. “I don’t want your version of help.” His thumbs crushed my larynx.
You’re going to die, Gem.
Dark spots danced over my stare.
My legs jerked, trying to get purchase and run far away from him.
Pure panic chased away my exhaustion, replacing my blood with electrifying adrenaline. Shooting my hips up, I prepared to fight for my life (again), only...he collapsed on top of me. His fingers went loose, his face slack.
He was out.
I gulped oxygen and shoved him off me.
Kicking him with a burst of hysteria, I crawled on my hands and knees, coughing and swallowing, never taking my eyes off him.
How many times must this happen, you idiot!
When would I learn?
No matter what happened between this man and me, I could never let my guard down.
I’d deserved that.
He’d successfully reminded me that, once again, I’d been unbelievably stupid. I’d romanticized this entire damsel taking care of the beast scenario.
I’d forgotten that he wasn’t just a man who’d chosen to live in a forest, alone.
He was a man with serious issues, a trauma he hadn’t dealt with, and a mind that, quite frankly, seemed unable to be reasoned with.
And you’re in danger if you leave him untethered.
My knees wobbled as I slowly pushed to my feet.
It went against every caring part of me, especially as I looked down at a man sprawled on the floor, his belly flat and hollow from lack of food, his skin scarred with silver mementos, his face looking far younger unconscious than awake.
I took a step toward him, wanting to pull the blanket over his nakedness. One minor act to provide some comfort before I tied him up.
But he twitched again, his eyebrows tugging low as his head thrashed side to side. “Nyx, don’t. Don’t—!”