Liv was trembling as Noah helped her into her bed a little while later. He didn’t know what they’d done with her over at Roman’s, but her hair was still wet and she smelled herbally and fresh. He went to stand up as she laid down, but her hands slid down his arms and gripped his good hand so tightly that it almost hurt.
Her voice was barely a whisper, and he could see the fear in her eyes in the dim light. They were alone in here. Andrew was still working with Celine on securing the house itself and Roman was walking in circles in the living room with Mia, who’d woken up crying during the commotion. Cleo was in the kitchen, calling Olivia’s mom, who was out of town for a few days. But with the door closed, all of that fell away and it was just Noah and Olivia in here.
He nodded and Olivia closed her eyes tight against the tears. But within seconds she was sobbing again, loud, painful sobs that he’d never heard from her before.
Noah slid under the covers beside her and gathered Olivia into his arms. His heart ached as she clung to him, and he reached up to stroke her wet hair. “It’s okay,” he whispered in her ear. “Liv, it’s over, it’s going to be okay.”
She took a shaky breath like she was about to say something, then faltered. He gripped her harder, the vision of her contorted face and rolling eyes flashing into his mind. She had some kind of necklace on her neck, a simple cord with what looked like a coin on it. It was laying on his chest next to where her head was tucked against his collarbone. Noah didn’t know anything about these things, but he prayed that it would be enough to keep Liv safe from possession again. Because he sure as hell wasn’t able to protect her any more than they already had.
She went quiet a few minutes later, falling asleep on him. Despite everything, he was asleep a few minutes later with his fingers still tangled in her hair.
It was in her head, scooping out what made her her. But this time she was in her home, her room. Mia was playing in the next room as the spirit tested out its brand new limbs, bending them in unnatural positions as Olivia screamed and screamed inside her head.
“No!” she choked out as she woke up.
She was lying in bed, flat on her back and staring up at the ceiling. Her limbs trembled and she couldn’t help flexing them just a little, thinking of the way they bent and cracked in the dream.
Noah was beside her, blinking awake. He turned his head and looked at her.
Not even a little. But she nodded, tears pooling in her eyes. “Fine.”
He rolled over and slung an arm over her. The weight was too much, like maybe it would smother her too. So she gently nudged him off as she sat up.
“Nightmare?” he asked as he sat up too.
She nodded, and he winced in sympathy. “Can I do anything?”
“No, I’m fine,” she said. “Go back to sleep. You don’t need to stay if you don’t want to.”
His response was cut off as the door opened and Andrew poked his head in. “Everything okay?” he asked.
“I’m sorry,” Olivia said. “I didn’t mean to wake you up too.”
“I was still awake,” Andrew said, stepping into the room.
He shuffled awkwardly by the door for a moment, then sat down at the foot of the bed. “Can’t sleep?” Noah asked him.
Andrew shrugged. “Nothing new.”
“How can you stand to be near me?”
The words were out before Olivia quite realized what she was feeling. The two men looked at her. “What are you talking about?” Andrew asked.
Before she could respond, the door opened a little further and Cleo stepped in. “Group meeting?” she asked, rubbing her eyes.
“Something like that,” Andrew said, motioning her to the bed.
She sat down and took Olivia’s hand, giving it a firm squeeze. While the embrace had been too much, holding hands felt right. Like it was tethering her in place when she might otherwise get lost.
“What did you mean, how can we stand to be near you?” Andrew asked.
How could she explain it? How they’d seen her body being controlled like a puppet. She’d been gone, but her physical body was there. And she’d been so exposed and used. She’d never been so aware of her body as a physical thing. Like a sack of meat that could be taken at any time. That could rot away.
“I feel so gross,” she murmured instead. “You saw me like that. Like, I wasn’t me anymore. I was just…meat.”
Cleo squeezed her hand while the other two looked like they didn’t know what to say to that. Olivia didn’t even want to picture it. She could remember seeing them, but it was like she was looking through a keyhole in her own consciousness. They’d watched this thing control her body. What had she looked like? What kinds of things had the spirit made her body do?
And then she was crying again and Cleo was scooping her into her arms, holding her tightly as she sobbed.
Olivia fell asleep against Cleo a few minutes later and Noah helped Cleo ease her back onto the bed. Tucking the blanket in around her shoulders, he looked at her face. She didn’t look peaceful. It was more like her body had forced the issue and made her get some rest. But hopefully it would help.
He was powerless to do anything here and he knew it. And looking at the expressions on Cleo’s and Andrew’s faces, he knew he wasn’t the only one who felt this way.
That urge to get drunk flared up so quickly that it was almost painful. If he was drunk, he wouldn’t have to deal with any of this. Noah took a shuddering breath and tried to shove it aside. There wasn’t time for that. This wasn’t about him. But he also wished desperately, childishly, that the others would stay with them tonight.
“Hey, I can stay in here with her if you want to go get some sleep.”
Cleo was looking at Noah now. He wanted to say thanks and get up. He wanted to go into his own bed or out onto the couch and think only about Liv and how he could help her. Not how he could get a drink and what it would take to get one right now. But he wasn’t about to turn this into his own need for comfort.
“I’ll stay,” he said, hoping the nerves in his voice weren’t audible to anyone but himself.
It was Andrew who shattered that illusion. “Noah, are you alright?”
He nodded rapidly. “Fine, fine,” he said. “Just shook, that’s all.”
In the dim light of the room, Andrew caught his eye. And Noah realized he hadn’t hidden anything. “You know what?” Andrew said. “I reckon we might as well all stay in here. Mia’s asleep in my bed, let me go get her. Cleo’ll take the trundle bed with her and I’ll take the floor.”
“I’ll take the-”
“Shut up and let me do this for you.”
Andrew’s voice was pleasant as he said it. He nodded toward Olivia. “I’m doing it for her too.”
Cleo pulled the trundle bed out from under Liv’s bed. It was a little small for her frame, but before Noah could even offer to trade, she’d pulled the blankets up to her chest. “Fuck off, this one is mine,” she said.
Noah laughed, the screaming under his skin fading out now as he looked around at all of his friends in this room together. Andrew was carrying a sleeping Mia in on his shoulder and Noah’s breath caught as he watched Andrew gently put her down next to Cleo. He then went back out and came back a minute later with an armload of blankets.
“Everyone set?” he asked.
Moments later, the room was quiet. Noah settled back in to sleep, feeling better than he’d felt since Olivia and whatever was possessing her had come home that night. He reached over and took her hand. She gripped his in her sleep, and he squeezed back.