I asked her like the world didn’t depend on it. But my world did.

She seemed to think about it first. “You’ll have to untie me.”

“I’ll risk it.”

“Promise you’ll tie me up again after?”

That was the last thing I wanted to do. I didn’t want to become like her family. I couldn’t treat her that way, no matter what she had done.

“I don’t want to.”

“But you have to,” she pleaded. “Or I won’t go. I don’t want to hurt you again.”

“Even though I deserve it?”

“You deserve something. But not that.”

I breathed in deeply. I didn’t have much choice here. “Okay, deal.”

I leaned over and slowly untied her left arm. I was so close to her now, closer than I’d been so far. She didn’t quite smell the same—it was a far cry from the shampoo scent I used to smell on the sheets. But there was this musk, this primal essence of her that came off her skin. It was there, pushing through the mask. It gave me hope.

And, if we’re being honest here, a bit of a boner.

Now’s not the time, I told myself and concentrated on getting her free.

Her hand came free first and she wiggled the feeling back into it while I untied the other. With her entire upper body free, I was bit wary. If she was going to bite my face off like some bath salt junkie, there wouldn’t be much I could do about it.

She shot me a knowing smile. “I’m okay.”

I nodded, chewing on my lip before I untied her legs. When I finished, I gently slid my arm underneath her back and lifted her up into a sitting position.

“Here, up you go. Easy...take it easy.” She was weak as anything but fuck it felt good to be touching her again.

She twitched a bit and started rubbing at her temples. I cupped the back of her head, so small in my hand, and tried to support her. She shut her eyes and pointed at the rope I had just freed her from.

“Tie me up,” she said, her voice straining.

“Right now?” I just undid her.

“Please, Dex.”

I sighed and reluctantly started wrapping the rope around her wrists and ankles. I trusted her to know when things were going to get rough, but it pained me to do this to her. I couldn’t even pretend that this was something kinky, that’s how far gone I was.

“Do it tighter,” she admonished me.

See. I couldn’t even make that into a joke.

I reached over and tilted her chin up, forcing her to open her eyes and look at me.

“What?” she asked. “You saw what I did. Your throat is practically blue.”

Blue throat or not, this was the hardest pill to swallow. Even she didn’t trust herself. “I don’t like this.”

“And I do?”

Her eyes pleaded with me and I had no choice but to do what she asked. I tied them as tight as I could without cutting off her circulation.

“I’m obviously going to have to carry you,” I admitted.

“Obviously.”

I put my arms behind her back and knees and lifted her up. I had always found it easy to carry Perry, even though her boobs did make up the bulk of her. But now, with the new body, it was much, much easier. Would it be petty to admit I felt cocky at a moment like this? Probably.

She didn’t seem to notice or care. She just rested her head into my neck, her breath tickling my skin, and I nearly died inside.

I took a shaky step, then asked if she was okay.

She nodded and I ignored the fact that her lips brushed against my neck as she did so.

“Here goes nothing,” I said to myself. I got a better grip of her in my hands, then opened the door to the hall. There was a dim nightlight down the hall near her parents’ room, but everything else was dark. I could tell from the way she was tensing up that she couldn’t wait to get rid of this house of horrors.

I walked as smoothly and as quietly as I could with her in my arms, making my way down the hall and the stairs. So far so good. We needed luck on our side tonight and had to get out of the house without anyone seeing us. I didn’t even know where Maximus was, but it wouldn’t have surprised me if he was sleeping on the living room couch like the traitorous freeloader that he was.

Step by step, we made it to the hardwood floors. The front door was so close.

But we weren’t alone.

A dark figure approached us until the light from upstairs illuminated her eyes.

Ada. Still fully clothed, like she’d been waiting for us.

“What are you doing with her?” she hissed.

“I’m taking her. This is part of the plan.”

“Taking her where? You never told me the plan.”

“You guys, shut up!” Perry whispered harshly. “You’ll wake Maximus.”

She jerked her head in the direction of the living room.

So I was right. I went on, lowering my voice even more. “I can’t tell you the plan. When your parents find out what I’ve done—”

“They’ll call the fuzz!” she shot in.

“Exactly. And you’ll be grilled until you tell them the truth.”

“I can keep a secret.”

“No she can’t,” Perry whispered to me. I felt a surge of warmth at her sudden camaraderie and had to hide my smile.

“See, Perry knows. Just trust me, Ada. You called me here for a reason, didn’t you? I’m saving your sister the only way I know how.”

“And how is that?”

The million dollar question.

“She needs an exorcist.”

Exorcist. The word seemed to bounce off the walls as the two of them chewed it over in disbelief.

“An exorcist?” Ada repeated.

“Yes,” I said with a sigh. “You know. You’ve seen the film.”

“Actually, I haven’t.”

Are you kidding me? What was wrong with this girl? “Well, you should. It’s very good.”

“Guys,” Perry whispered again. “Maximus!”

“Please, Ada,” I begged her, ready to go into grovel mode. “Just let us go. You know I’ll do anything for Perry. She’s safer with me than with anyone else.”

“My dad will call the cops the minute you’re gone,” she said, but I could tell she was relenting. “They’ll come after you. For, like, kidnapping or something.”

“I know.” It was worth it.

Ada folded her arms and stuck her leg out in front of her. “Then I’m going with you.”

Yeah, so I can get two kidnapping charges. “No. This is nasty business, Little Fifteen.”

“I don’t care. There wouldn’t even be a dumb plan if it wasn’t for me. I’m going with you. She’s my sister and you need someone to watch over her while you drive. And if you don’t take me with you, I’m just going to march over to your little ginger friend over there and—”

“Fine. You can come. But we’re going now. Right now. Before it’s too late.”

She beamed at us in victory then crept quietly to the front door and opened it. With Perry safely in my arms, I ran out into the rain and dark. My feet splashed in the puddles beneath.

As I held her, I whispered into her ear, “I’m just around the corner, a few more seconds.”

Ada quietly closed the door behind us, and within seconds she was at our side as we approached the Highlander. She opened the back doors and I gently placed Perry on the seat. Ada hopped in on the other side, choosing to keep Perry company. And maybe keep her in her seat.

I got behind the wheel and eyed them both in the rearview mirror.

“Last chance to get out and live a normal life,” I said.

“Are you kidding? I gave that up for Lent,” Ada answered, rolling her eyes to the heavens. Perry managed a small smile, and together we sped off down the road to Idaho. One step closer to safety. One step closer to getting Perry back.

***

It was early morning, the sun inappropriately bright, when we finally made it to Lapwai. The drive hadn’t been an easy one. No, it was the most fucking terrifying drive I ever had to take, and I had to drive with Jenn and her mother for twelve hours once.

We made two pit stops, the first to wrap Perry up in duct tape like a kidnapped worm thanks to her attempt to jump out of the car while we were on the highway. The second involved a swarm of wasps coming out of her. I panicked, thanks to my wasp allergy, and we totally crashed. The car wasn’t damaged too badly and somehow I wasn’t hurt except for a minor blow to my head, but that didn’t explain what was happening. She was getting worse, and every time I looked back at her in the mirror, I didn’t recognize the person there. Instead there was thing, this malicious, dark and evil thing that seemed more and more familiar by the second. It wanted to destroy me, destroy Ada, and most of all, destroy the host. It wanted Perry dead in the end.

We thought we could get her to hang on just a little while longer, just so she could explain to Bird and Roman what was going on. But at about the time dawn broke over the rugged hills of eastern Washington, the Perry we knew and loved had ceased to exist. Instead, Ada and I were left with this creature that writhed and screamed and spoke in tongues. I didn’t know whether to be horrified or angry. At times, I was both.

When we pulled up to the small rancher in the middle of butt fuck nowhere, I nearly collapsed from relief. We used the remaining amount of duct tape to secure her to the seat—she even had a strip over her mouth, to keep her from spewing her venom at us. If she had grown any stronger during the journey, I don’t think we would have made it there alive.

A reed-thin native man with small, calculating eyes came out of the old rancher, the door banging back and forth against the wall.

I ran out of the car and approached him.

“Roman?” I asked, holding out my hand.

He shook it, firm and quick, then held it out for Ada.

She shook his hand, looking surprised at how young Roman looked. He was probably in his mid-thirties, tops.

Roman was followed by Bird. Bird looked almost the same as when I last saw him, strong despite the long grey hair, and confident despite the worry lines on his forehead. Seeing him gave me more of a boost. Finally, Ada and I were not alone. Perry was finally going to get the help she needed.

I smiled for the first time in ages. It made the wound on my head sting.

“Dex,” he said, giving me a single, hard pat on the shoulder and squeezing it firmly. “I’m so glad you made it. Though, your head…”

I shrugged it off. “Minor car accident. We’re fine. But Perry isn’t.”

He looked over my shoulder at the car and headed straight for it.

I opened the door and Bird peered inside. I could feel him tense up at the sight of little Perry wrapped up in duct tape, breathing violently out of her nose, her eyes batshit crazy and slicing into everyone.

Roman took one look at her and then began muttering something in his native tongue. To my surprise, Bird understood him and answered back. I had a feeling that Perry was too much for Roman to handle and it felt like every hope I had in the world was about to be crushed to death.

“Excuse me?” I asked, trying to hide the rising horror in my voice. “But what’s the problem?”

***

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