Alex sighed. "Yeah, Mason. It is."
A look of hurt flashed across his face. "And when were you planning to tell me?" He demanded. "I can help you. I can protect you."
"I know you can. In fact, you were the first one I was going to tell, but Justin..." She shook her head. "Well, I'm guessing you heard."
Mason nodded slowly. "So, what now?"
"Now," She said. "We hope that Justin can figure out what's going on."
He studied her face for a long moment. "And what if he can't?"
Alex held his gaze. "Then we figure something else out." There was no mistaking the determination in her voice. Alex Russo was not going down without a fight.
Mason nodded. "Right." He hesitated for a moment, looking her up and down before continuing carefully. "Are you going to tell anyone else?"
She glared at him fiercely. "No." The answer left little room for discussion, which was exactly what she wanted. Sometimes, however, Mason was just as stubborn as his girlfriend.
"Why not?" He asked gently. He was well aware of Alex's hatred of feeling trapped in any way. The werewolf had to approach this carefully, or she would shut off on him completely.
The silence in the room was almost suffocating. He had begun to think she wouldn't answer his question at all, until she raised her eyes to meet his.
"I-" She began, but cut off, shaking her head. "Mason, I-" She took a deep breath in, steeling herself. "I know I can be selfish, and mean, but I love my family. And if they knew what really happened... they would get involved. I can't let that happen. Because I know, somehow, that he would cut down anyone in his way to get to me."
Mason grasped her hand between his own. "I'm not going to let him hurt you, Alex. I promise."
Alex shifted her gaze to her lap. She knew Mason was serious. He would fight to protect her no matter what the cost. Which was why she was so concerned. It was a bit intimidating, having someone who loved her this much, and it scared her more than she would ever admit. She could no longer imagine a future without him, and if she lost him again, Alex didn't think she would be able to survive. Though, she was beginning to doubt her chances of surviving through this anyway.
"I know." She said quietly. Suddenly exhausted, she leaned back into the pillows and closed her eyes.
Her dreams were, surprisingly, not nightmares (she credited Mason's presence for that) but they were confusing none the less. Brief flashes of moments danced before her eyes, one never making more sense than another, but none were frightening. If anything, they were comfortable. Little every day moments with confusing twists.
Alex saw herself examining an elaborately carved ivory comb with confusion and disgust. The wind blew fiercely, tearing at her hair and dress, but dream Alex didn't seem to notice. A lake, oddly calm despite the wind, stretched out in front of her in an endless horizon. She threw the comb into the lake, the disturbance causing ripples across the glassy surface.
Then, as quickly as the scene appeared, it changed, and she was suddenly watching an older man working on a field. Sweat dripped off him in the heat of summer, and she was walking toward him.
The scene then shimmered and Alex was twirling in a red, silk dress, sounds of admiration surrounding her.
She was grabbing an apple from a stand in a market.
She was laughing as she climbed a tree, her dress snagging on twigs as she went.
She was trying to get Justin to dance.
"Come on!" She exclaimed laughingly, tugging on his arm. "I must have at least one dance with my brother before the evening is out."
Justin only looked at her, his eyes warming with fond exasperation and more than a little amusement. "I'll only step on your feet." He says. "Go find a worthier partner, Alexandra." He glances around for a moment before nodding at a young man standing a little ways from them. "He's been staring at you all night, and I'd wager he's a better dancer than I am."
Alexandra spun around and her eyes fell on the man in question. She quickly turned back to her brother, her nose wrinkled in distaste. "No thank you. I would rather not. Ever. He gives me the creeps."
Justin rolled his eyes at his sister and sighed. "If I dance with you," He began slowly. "You will try to 'accidentally' trip me."
Alexandra nodded, a smirk playing at her lips. "It's half the fun of dancing with you."
He shook his head once, then offered her his arm. "If I do this, we're leaving the minute the dance is over."
She pouted at him for a minute before accepting the arm held out to her. "Deal." She said, dragging him to the center of the room like she was afraid he would change his mind. Justin heaved a long-suffering sigh, making her laugh.
I can make leaving the ball early well worth it, She thought with a smirk. If I can get him to fall on his face.
When Alex woke up the next morning, she first became aware of voices talking quietly around her. She couldn't make out what they were saying, but there was no mistaking the anger in both voices. They were arguing.
She slipped her hand, now slick with sweat, from Mason' s and opened her eyes. The argument stopped instantly and her boyfriend and her bother looked over at her.
"Sorry," Justin said after a minute. "Did we wake you up?"
Alex shook her head, but didn't say anything. Waking up to Mason and Justin totally and obviously having a fight while she was sleeping was a difficult thing for her to compute in the morning. Sure they had their differences, but Alex was under the impression they liked each other.
"What were you guys talking about?" She blurted out, then winced. Smooth, Alex, She thought. Real smooth.
Justin and Mason looked at each other guiltily.
"Nothing you need to worry about, love." Mason said quickly, earning a glare from Justin and Alex.
"I think I can decide what I need to worry about, Mason." She said evenly.
Mason had enough sense to look properly chastised. "Right, of course, I apologize." He stuttered. "We were just discussing the- uh- we were just trying to-"
"Mason and I were just trying to figure out our best course of action after...what happened." Justin interrupted.
Alex raised her eye brows. "Really? Because, to me, it sounded more like you were fighting."
Mason flushed. "Yes, well, Justin and I were having a...slight disagreement about-"
"Who was having a slight disagreement with you?" Harper's voice sounded from the doorway of the hospital room. Oblivious to the shocked and horrified expressions of the people in the room, she crossed the threshold and plopped a fast food bag onto Alex's lap. "Figured you wouldn't want hospital food. I got you the greasiest stuff I could find."
Alex laughed and hoped no one noticed how she clutched at her ribs after. "Thanks Harper. And don't mind Mason and Justin, they're just arguing about baseball and cricket or something." She said with a dismissive wave of her hand.
Harper's smile dimmed when she heard Justin's name. "And what's Justin doing here?" She rounded on him, and Justin took a step back. "I thought you went with your parents and Max to get breakfast."
"No, I-uh-wasn't hungry."
"Harper," Alex cut in. "Retract the claws, we're good. He forgave me, I forgave him and now we're back to being our happy, dysfunctional selves."
Harper sighed. "Fine. I have to go anyway, I'm meeting Zeke pretty soon. I just wanted to drop off your food."
"Fine! Go make thousands of people sick with your icky dork love." Alex wrinkled her nose. "I'll just be here."
"Not for long," Harper said, backing towards the door. "You're getting checked out as soon as your parents get back."
"Forget that," She said, climbing out of the hospital bed. "I'm eighteen years old. I'll check myself out." She looked down at the hospital gown she had been given to sleep in and made a face. "But first, I think I'll change."
"Alex you should probably wait for Mom and Dad to-" Justin began, but his little sister ignored him as she grabbed her clothes and slammed the bathroom door. "Get back." He finished, lamely.
"Well," Mason spoke up after a minute. "At least she hasn't lost her fire."
Justin glared at him.
"What?" Mason asked.
After coming back from the hospital, they had immediately run up to Justin's room to do some research, much their parents' surprise (and suspicion). Alex had quickly made herself at home, to Justin's annoyance, and plopped down on his bed. He only mumbled under his breath about annoying little sisters and threw a book on the bed for her to go through.
"Justin!" Alex whined. "I'm not reading this. It's as big as an encyclopedia."
"That's because it is an encyclopedia, Alex." The former wizard explained, exasperated. "It's an encyclopedia of every monster and creature known to wizard kind. If whatever attacked you wasn't human, it will be in there."
Alex pouted and looked about a moment away from stomping her foot if she hadn't been lying down. "How do you even have this? I thought all our wizard stuff had poofed out of existence."
"It did, but I have a theory."
She rolled her eyes. "Of course you do."
"Now, I think the spell they used focused on one area, the lair. Everything in the lair vanished, but the spell couldn't tell if the books in my room were magical, or just books, so they got left alone." He explained animatedly.
Alex's forehead wrinkled in confusion. "But I had magic stuff in my room." She argued. "And it disappeared with the lair."
"Yeah, because your stuff actually had magical properties. I might have had half the wizard library in my room, but none of them were magical." He shrugged. "They're just books."
She snorted. "Congratulations, Justin, your love of all things boring has finally become useful."
Justin rolled his eyes and chucked a piece of crumple paper at her.
"We're not going to find anything in these, you know." She said after a while.
"Why would you say that?" Justin glanced at his sister and winced at the expression on her face. She looked so- so sad, defeated. Justin couldn't remember the last time Alex had made that face, and he didn't like it.
"Because, I-" She bit her lip thoughtfully. "I know this isn't a monster. It was a person." She glanced down at the burns on her arms. "He had hands. He spoke to me."
Justin looked at her sharply. "What did he say to you? Tell me again."
She wrinkled her forehead in concentration. "Uh-something about how he wanted me to see him. That I used to be a wizard so I should be able to see him." She shook her head. "None of it made any sense."
Justin's eyes darkened. "Call Mason." He told her, his voice welling up with some unidentifiable emotion. "Now."
She stood up, but made no move to do what he said. "Why?" The confusion and fear she felt at his reaction leaking into the question. "What's going on?"
"I don't know, but I might have an idea. I can't believe I didn't think about it before. If I'm right-" He broke off, raking his fingers through his hair and looking up at her. "Let's just hope I'm not right." Dropping his gaze from her, the fire in him went out. "Call Mason. He should be here." He said softly.
"Not until you tell me what's going on." Alex crossed her arms. "We can fill Mason in later, but I deserve to know what's going on."
He gaped at her, his mouth opening and closing, an action which would have been comical if she weren't so frustrated.
There was a pregnant pause as they stared at each other. Neither of them moved and Alex could practically hear her brother thinking everything through. Finally, he blew out a breath. "Fine. You're right. You deserve to know, even if it's just a theory."
She took a step closer to him. "Justin?"
"I think that you were attacked by a wizard using astral projection." Noticing the lost look on her face, he continued. "It's one of the most difficult and draining spells you can ever use, and no one has ever used it for good. It's difficult to pin the person down with magic and it will be nearly impossible without. A wizard can send out his essence to any place in the world if he has enough power. The last known case of astral projection ended in the Salem Witch Hunts but there could be tons of attacks that went unreported over the centuries." He paused to take in a breath. "This is really dark magic, Alex, and the Wizard Counsel has banned it one hundred times over."
"So what do we do?" Justin studied her for a moment, as though he could gauge her reaction before he said anything.
"I don't know," His hands clenched at his sides, frustration oozing from him.
Alex set her jaw. "Well I do."
Justin's teeth snapped together with a sharp click."No."
She looked up, eyes widening at the fury and terror the word carried. Shaking off the initial shock, she stepped closer to him. "Justin," She began carefully. "It's the only way." One step took her even closer to him, and she watched as his face smoothed into a blanker, more neutral expression. Alex wasn't going to lie to herself and say that didn't terrify her just a little. Justin was always very expressive. Seeing his face blank after he had such intense emotions on display creeped her out and spoke volumes about how angry he was.
"No, Alex," He repeated lowly. "I won't let you deliberately put yourself in harm's way. I can't."
Why not?" She demanded, suddenly a bit hysterical. "He's going to come back anyway! Why not take advantage of the situation?"
"Because," Justin looked like he was about to bust an artery. "I'm your older brother, and for once in you life let that mean something to you and listen to me!" Alex looked at him, shocked, and he stared back evenly, his breathing heavy. "I can't just let you do that when I'm supposed to protect you." He continued, quieter this time. "I'm supposed to protect you."
She closed her eyed and let a careful, frustrated breath out. When she opened her eyes she stared him down. "You can't protect me from everything. You can't protect me from this." And with that, she stormed out of the room.
A/N: Hey guys! I'm so sorry it took so long to update, I'm really bad at time management. I really wish I could guarantee more frequent updates, but the truth is I can't. The good news is I know exactly where I'm going with this story, so that might make it easier to update.
In other news, I am currently looking for a beta to help me out with my stories, so let me know if you are interested. Maybe if I have another person to be accountable to, updates will probably be a more regular thing. I also want my readers to have the best experience with my work, and a completely edited finished product will hopefully help with that.
Anyway, sorry about the ridiculous wait, and I will hopefully update soon. Thank you guys for your amazing support.