Someone was standing on his arm, and there was nothing Matthew could do about it. He thought someone might be sitting on his right leg, but through the pain of his broken left leg, foot, several ribs, and who knew what else, he couldn’t tell without looking. The person on his arm kept moving, sending fresh waves of pain rolling and screaming up it.
He couldn’t see anything now, but he remembered how bare the shipping container had looked before they’d been boarded in here—when? It felt like years ago. Probably days. He vaguely remembered seeing light streaking the gray walls above him as the metal box had been opened. He couldn’t remember how often.
Food would have been tossed in, but it hadn’t reached this far back. The shipping container was packed so tightly with starving omegas, it was every person for themselves. Those who weren’t strong enough to defend their place at the front got pushed to the back. Like him.
The stench of several days of refuse clung heavily to him. The ammonia of piss, the fetid stench of vomit and shit. Probably a couple of dead bodies. He’d seen it from the outside before. He’d imagined what it must be like to be trapped, beaten down like this. He’d just never imagined it would actually happen to him. He’d been a good agent—a damn good agent. He’d been hidden in the cartel for years, keeping his head down like a good little thug all the while sending information back to the FBI. Maybe he’d gotten cocky. Complacent.
No. It wasn’t his fault his cover had been blown. He’d been surprised when he’d seen his old friend Chad Deamer talking with one of the bosses—Manuel Diaz. Chad and he had been in Quantico together. Come up the ranks together. But Chad had gone the desk route, Matthew the field route. But hey, they were both agents. You never knew when someone had the particular expertise needed to swap them in or out for a mission.
And then Chad’s eyes had widened. He’d leaned in to Manuel and whispered something. Matthew had known then, years of training and instinct kicking in all at once, he’d been made.
He’d tried to make a run for it. But it was too late.
Someone stumbled, stepping on his nose, sending blinding pain shooting through Matthew’s already pain-ridden mind. Guess that was broken, too.
He was going to die here. He knew it. He wouldn’t make it out of this hellhole. Had they intended to kill him like this?
No. If they’d intended to kill him outright, they would have just put a bullet in his brain. They’d wanted to tear him apart inside and out. Death was a possibility, but not their goal. They wanted him to dread his very existence.
He wouldn’t give them that satisfaction, no matter how much his physical body was in pain. He had done his duty. He’d gritted his teeth and borne it through all the atrocities he’d been forced to witness and not act on, all because he knew his position and information would save more than a moment of heroics could.
And they had. He knew his information had saved hundreds of omegas from the fate he now faced. That the unknown bodies around him faced.
His only regret was not seeing Chad pay.
What connection did his former friend have with the cartel? What had changed in him, taking him from the eager young cop-turned-FBI to…
His reasons didn’t matter. Not to Matthew. There was no way you could justify working with those who treated any life—human or shifter—with such disregard.
The soft sound of liquid trickling to the floor was followed swiftly by a fresh wave of ammonia. Matthew couldn’t even wrinkle his nose without pain shooting through the nerves of his face, straight into his brain. The blockers that had effectively made him human had faded.
Definitely a couple of days, then. Too bad they hadn’t faded sooner, when he would have had the energy to shift despite his injuries. He’d had to hide the fact he was a shifter—an omega, specifically—and the only thing that did that as completely as he needed for this job had the unfortunate effect of blocking his shifter abilities as well. No shifting. No improved senses. No heats.
Now, his abilities had returned, letting him enjoy the full horror of his situation without being able to alleviate it.
His mind was still his, though. For however long that would be. Not long, he suspected.
He couldn’t feel the pain in his legs anymore. That wasn’t a good sign. At least he’d be gone before he had to suffer the indignity of his heat surging in the absence of his blockers.
Light bloomed in the slivers of spaces between bodies and the crowd surged forward at the prospect of snatching a scrap of food from their captors. Matthew struggled to breathe one last breath of a hint of fresh air, but all he could manage was a short gasp that sent him into a weak fit of coughing that deprived him of what little oxygen he could reach.
Space was clearing in front of him, and he was alone. That only let him see the garbage he was lying in more clearly.
He closed his eyes. This was it. The end. He hadn’t realized that they’d been moved, but they must have reached their delivery point if they were being unloaded. No matter who had bought them, they wouldn’t put effort into healing a half-dead omega. If they were kind, they’d put a bullet in his head. If they weren’t, they’d shovel him out with the rest of the trash, leaving him to die at the bottom of a pit of refuse.
Matthew couldn’t bring himself to care which way he went. Quick or slow. It all ended the same.
A soft breeze tickled his face, bringing a sweet scent.
Ohhh. That was beautiful. At least his last memory wouldn’t be filled with refuse and terror. The scent reminded him of a warm summer day. Of a lazy picnic beside a stream.
He let the dream whisk his mind away. Screw a bright light. Give him the image of a grill and the scent of a barbecue and he’d happily drift off into eternity.
Arms scooped beneath him, surprising him and breaking the vision. His body screamed with pain, but he had no air to voice it. His eyes flew open, latching onto the most beautiful hazel eyes he’d ever seen.
“Mate,” a voice growled, the words vibrating through Matthew’s broken bones.
This man wasn’t an omega. He wasn’t cartel. He was something else… home and safety and… something more.
The pain was taking over Matthew’s mind. He had to tell this man who he was before he lost consciousness. Had to alert his superiors!
“I’m… Special Agent… M—”
Matthew didn’t get a chance to enjoy his first breath of open air. He fell unconscious, unaware of the whispers that followed the alpha who carried him, of the stares of the man’s teammates as Jonah McKiernan carried his dying mate to safety.