Roman had never been to the Dark World, which was how he knew this was a dream. But there was no question of where he was. It was impossible to mistake this place for anything else.
The ground beneath Roman’s feet was solid, but it was covered in a fog so dense he couldn’t see his own legs below the knees. The fog itself was the same strange, non-color of darkspace. Over Roman’s head, there was no sun, no stars, nothing.
Roman stood on a flat, featureless plain, but in the distance he could see mountains, sharp and tall, a deeper darkness against the sky. The world around him was silent to his ears, but pulsed and whispered and sang to his nima senses.
Roman wasn’t alone. Before him was the demon from the Borealis. Roman recognized her face, her hair, and most of all, the perfume of roses, spice, and smoke.
As had been true on the ship, her face and sharp teeth were bloody; a body lay twisted in her arms. A woman, dead, with one arm ripped off and her spine bent back unnaturally to give the demon access to her soft belly.
The woman was—had been—impeccably dressed, as though for court. With braided hair worked into the shape of a bird in flight, and the Asher family crest at her collar.
The demon looked up at Roman, licked a drip of blood from her lips. “You again,” she said.
A dream, Roman reminded himself, even as his body reacted to her voice, her scent.
“Perhaps we all dream,” she murmured. Her long braids lifted and surrounded him, brushed against his hand, his thigh, and Roman was suddenly, painfully aroused.
What was wrong with him? This visceral response he couldn’t fight, couldn’t deny—couldn’t accept. The demon was in the middle of eating…a person…and still he wanted…
The end of a braid stroked his cheek. “They’ll call it fraternization,” she said. “Consorting with the enemy. They’ll take away your ship, your sword. Send you to Cradle and watch you for the rest of your life.”
“It’s only a dream.” Which meant he was arguing with his own mind, his own fears. “I’m not here. I don’t want this.”
She raised an eyebrow as her gaze flicked down to the obvious line of his erection. “Don’t you?” Another braid slid over the back of his hand, a caress.
“Please…” But even Roman couldn’t tell if he was begging for her to stop, or to keep going.
Once again, her hair surrounded him in a cloud of darkness. Tiny braids caressed his face, slid in under his collar, up his sleeve. Into the waistband of his pants. “Do I dream you?” she asked, “Or do you dream me?”
Roman was caught—his wrists and ankles bound, with two braids like tentacles sliding around his throat. More braids were inside his clothes, stroking, exploring. A brush under his ribs, down his back, across his chest. His calf, his thigh. Around his balls. Like a dozen hands stroking him all at once.
Fear and arousal twined together, so strong Roman felt light-headed. “I don’t want this,” he managed to choke out.
“No?” She didn’t sound as though she believed him. She dropped the body and stepped forward, dragged him closer, placed a sharp-clawed finger against his chin, then drew it down his neck, his chest, to stop just above the head of his cock. “It seems a part of you wants this very much.”
Roman shuddered. “No.” His voice was weak. “Leave me alone. Stop…”
Stop what? None of this was even real. Just his own mind torturing him.
Roman started awake, trapped in the tangle of his sheets again. The dream was still sharp in his mind, and the demon’s scent lingered in his nostrils.
This was getting out of hand. Dreams, obsessive thoughts, hallucinations. Was this what happened to people? She’d been right, what she said, that Wolves who got just a little too close to the enemy, who let the demons into their minds, got sent to Cradle, isolated, protected—watched. Roman had no real idea what it was like, whether he might be slowly going mad. Whether he was going to become a danger to his pack.
He had to talk to someone, but who could he trust? Especially after Lord Faust had said she needed Roman. He needed a way to fix this without letting down the clan.
Roman grabbed his tablet from the bedside table, sent a message to Satsu. You up?
No response for long enough Roman was almost ready to give up, when he got back a, Sure. You need something?
Another pause, then I can come down. Don’t want to wake Dre.
Roman pulled on some pants and a robe and went out into his tiny living room to wait. He turned on the light, sat in one of his two chairs, and thought about what he was going to say.
Satsu let herself in and joined him, taking the other chair. She was wearing a dressing gown and slippers, and Roman was now certain he’d woken her up. “Sorry,” he said.
“Don’t be. What are friends for?” She ran idle fingers through her sleep-tangled hair and tucked her legs beneath her. “So what are we talking about?”
Roman knew he needed to come clean. He needed the honest opinion of someone outside his head. But that didn’t make the confession any easier. “You remember a few weeks ago when I came back from a patrol and…well, I was shaken.”
“The demon that talked to you,” Satsu said in a carefully neutral tone. “The one you were going to report.”
Roman nodded, tried to figure out how to go on. He sat there in silence long enough Satsu said, “Whatever it is, I’ll listen. And keep it between us.”
Roman took a long, deep breath. “I didn’t report anything. I was going to, but when I went to talk to Lukas, and I found out everything was still…” He shook his hand in the air to represent chaos. “If I’d told him the truth—if I’d even just told Dre the truth, I wouldn’t still be flying.”
Now it was Satsu’s turn to let out a long stream of air. “Okay,” she said slowly. “Same promise. Tell me.”
So he did. From the strange encounter on the Borealis to the dreams that had followed him since. From the way he’d frozen—even if just briefly—when fighting the demon on the rescue mission to the olfactory hallucinations later in the locker room with Andreas. And then, that patrol around Terris, the temptations that seemed only to be getting worse.
When he was done, Satsu leaned back in her chair, studying him, her expression unreadable. “For this, they’d make you stop flying?”
“The clan can’t take risks.”
“The clan can’t afford to lose you right now. They’d ground you, even when the demons aren’t going back to sleep the way they should?”
“Especially then.” Roman gave her a humorless smile. “Demons get in people’s heads. They lure you off into darkspace, or, worse, they whisper and whisper until you can’t ignore them anymore, and that’s when people…well, best case is they hurt themselves. Worst case…have you ever read about what happened to the Hub Mark 4?”
Satsu shook her head. “You’re not suicidal and you’re not homicidal. I can tell that much from here.” She steepled her fingers. “I can understand the risks they see. But it seems like such a drastic reaction. Why not try to help you?”
“There isn’t any help. Not for this.”
Satsu rolled her eyes. “Wolves think they know everything about demons. But it isn’t like they’re the only ones…” she trailed off. Fell into thoughtful silence.
“Satsu?” he pressed after a few minutes had passed and she hadn’t said anything else.
“I have an idea. I need to…” She took a long, slow breath, then nodded, like she’d made a decision. “There may be a way to help you work through this. But I need you to trust me. Can you trust me, Roman?”
“Of course,” he answered without hesitation. Satsu was his friend. She was part of his pack. He trusted her with his life.
“Okay, give me some time to work on this. Try to hold it together in the meanwhile.”
“I’ll do my best.”
Satsu reached out and brushed her fingers down his cheek, under his chin, gave him a smile. “For the pack. And for you.”
Roman lay back down after she left. She hadn’t done anything yet, but simply talking about it, being offered some small hope, was enough to settle his mind and let him fall into a peaceful sleep in which he had no dreams.