She Dies at the End (November Snow #1) (28 page)

BOOK: She Dies at the End (November Snow #1)
6.86Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

“My decisions are none of your concern, child,” he replies.

“She asks for you in her sleep.  Every day,” Pine says with quiet seriousness.  "It's the only time she talks."

 “Every time she hears a footstep in the hallway, she looks for you.  For a moment she brims with love and hope, and when you don’t appear, it curdles to pain.  And then she pretends she doesn’t care.  She’d be recovering so much faster from her trauma if only you would help her.”  The empath is wringing her hands.  “How can you do this to her?  You feel something for her!  I can sense it.”

“A vampire does not love a human.  It’s like loving a butterfly.  They’re pretty and fragile and understand nothing and then they die.  Now get out,” he growls with fangs bared, finally turning to face his tormentors, “before I do something you’ll regret.”  Having said their piece, they flee their king’s wrath.

As soon as he is alone, he drops his forehead down to rest on November’s bed.  An hour later, when he finally rises to leave, he leaves behind two tears of blood on her pillowcase.

November looked around her room as she came back to the present.  Something thawed inside of her.  She wanted to laugh and cry at the same time.  So, she got in the shower to muffle the sound, and that’s exactly what she did.  When she finally emerged, she felt clean and raw and renewed.  She felt like herself again, just sharper and harder somehow, with the softness all burned away by the pain of Lilith’s attack.

She stood for a long while, examining herself in the mirror, reflecting on the previous days.  She had been hiding from her pain.  She could see that now.  She had been afraid of feeling, so she had walled her heart up and felt nothing.  It was a coping mechanism she had used many times before, but this time, she’d nearly lost herself in it altogether.  She had survived New Years Eve only to refuse to live, and regardless of how the rest of her day played out, she was determined not to continue that mistake any longer.

She got dressed in an embroidered white tunic and leggings, a Christmas gift from Savita called a
.  With long white sleeves and a smattering of gold embroidery, combined with her shorn scalp and illness-heightened cheekbones, she looked like some kind of avenging angel or warrior monk.  She briefly considered wearing some makeup to cover up her pale skin and dark circles but quickly rejected the notion.  She wanted to be herself, the way she really was.

Zinnia's classes were back in session, so only Pine was waiting for her in the hallway.  “Let’s take a walk,” she said to him nonchalantly.  She didn’t wait for his reaction to hearing her voice before she headed purposefully down the hallway.

“Yes, ma’am,” he replied after a shocked pause and leapt up to follow her.  “Where are we headed?”

“The copy room in the office wing.”

“Okey-dokey,” he said as they took the stairs two at a time.

“It’s where he hides until the other vampires wake up, when he wants to be alone.”  Pine raised a questioning eyebrow, but she did not elaborate on how she had come up with that tidbit of information.  They entered the government wing, passing a few busy fairies who widened their eyes but did not question the human they now called the Oracle.

When they entered the cavernous supply room, Pine turned to her and asked, “Now what?”

“Now we wait.”  November lifted herself up to sit on a scarred wooden desk hidden in a remote corner of the room.  This was where the King spent his solitary hours these days, reading or working on his laptop or staring off in thought.  She’d tried not to spy on him over the previous days, both out of respect and out of her fear of feeling things, but she hadn’t been able to resist the occasional peek.  There was something strangely endearing about a king hiding out amongst the highlighters and paper clips.

They did not have to wait too long.  The king must have smelled her and heard her breathing from out in the hallway, as he already looked guarded when he caught sight of her sitting on the desk.  He looked accusingly at Pine, who quickly spoke to defend himself.  “I said nothing to her.  This was all her idea.”  The king cocked his head toward the door, sending November’s bodyguard into the hallway.

He looked at the seer, sitting on top of his desk, her arms wrapped around her shins, her chin resting on her knees.  To his shock and relief, she spoke.  “I’ve missed you.”  Happiness and relief skipped across his face for an instant before his customary hauteur returned.

He fought with himself before responding frostily, “I’m quite busy.  If I wished to see you, I would have summoned you.”

She smirked at him a little.  “Not too busy to spend an hour leaving vampire tears on my pillow last night.”  He closed his eyes for a moment, horrified that his weakness had been witnessed.  She continued more gently, “I’m sure you have your reasons for wanting to keep your feelings secret.  I can hardly blame you if you’re trying not to feel anything.  That’s what I’ve been doing ever since I woke up.  I’ve spent whole years of my life like that.  Not as many as you have, I suppose.  I’ve screwed up the courage to choose to live again.  I’m pretty sure that if I can do it, so can you.”

“Are you calling me a coward?” he asked with some heat.  “You understand nothing.”  He looked like he wanted to break something, or a lot of somethings.  He brought his face very close to hers, his fangs gleaming and sharp.  She supposed she should be frightened, but she wasn’t.

“Like a butterfly?”  He had the good grace to step back and look slightly abashed.  “Look, I can’t pretend to understand what it’s like to be you.  Objectively, us having any kind of romantic relationship would be pretty inappropriate.  I’m not asking you to declare your eternal love for me.  I don’t want to jump into bed with you.  You’ve known me about two weeks, and you’re about a million years old.  That would just be stupid.  

"But the fact is, I’m happier when you’re around, and I think the same goes for you.  You earned my loyalty the way you took care of me the other night.  Bloodthirsty vampire you may be, but you’ve been nothing but kind to me.  You stayed when I needed you even though you barely know me.  I’ve never had anyone take care of me the way you and Pine and Esther did.  I’ve always suffered all alone, but you stayed.  Without your help, your care, I would never have survived Lilith’s attack.   You were my anchor.  I would have chosen oblivion without your voice to lead me back.  Even if my body had survived, the rest of me might not have.  

"And then there’s what I know of the future, a future when you will spend a day buried in a grave so that I won’t be afraid when I wake up to a new life in the dark.”  She took a deep breath.  “I just feel safer when I’m near you.”

“You’re not,” he replied darkly.  “You are a fool if you love me, and the more fool to trust me.”

“Look, I feel secure with you and uneasy when you’re gone.  I feel like I’m at home, like you’re some kind of sanctuary.  The fairies seem to think magic from the knife and from the healing has something to do with that, that it bonded us somehow, like fairy children bond with their kin.”

“So it isn’t real,” he concluded starkly, “what we – what you’re feeling.”

“That’s not what I said.  Of course it’s real.  I mean, fairies really love their families, right?  They said that the magic can’t make something grow if the seeds aren’t already there.  They think it just speeded up something that was already beginning,” she replied, and reached out tentatively to touch the scar on his cheek, so similar to the one on her own arm.  He pulled away.  “Now, if you didn’t want me at all, that would be one thing.  If you thought I was ugly or stupid or weak, I would be sad, but I would get over it.  But knowing that you feel something that you’re trying to suppress out of some need to protect me or you or both of us – that I have trouble accepting.  After what I just survived, I don’t want to waste any time or any chance to be happy.”

“Vampires of my age do not have feelings about human children,” he said in a hard voice.  “You forget your place.  This conversation is over.”

?  My place?  What, are my words not worth listening to?” she asked.  “Or do you just hate yourself so much that you think you don’t deserve to be happy?”  Her face flushed with anger.

In the blink of an eye, he grabbed November by the shoulders and shoved her against the wall.  “I caution you, do not provoke me further,” he whispered through bared fangs.

She still wasn’t afraid, merely furious.  “You do realize that you’re not the only person you’re consigning to loneliness?  I don't have the option to go find someone else to be happy with. No one is going to get near me for fear of offending you.  Except, perhaps, your enemies.  I'm not even allowed to leave the house.”  To this, he said nothing.  

“You know, I’m starting to think I was better off in the carnival.  First your ridiculous son pretends to love me when he doesn’t, and now you pretend not to care about me when you do.  I save your life and countless others.  I suffer and nearly die for you people.  I offer you a chance to be happy again.  And what do I get in return?  Threats and scorn.  You're an emotional cripple and a pathetic excuse for a man.”  Still, he said nothing.  He merely clenched his jaw.  

"Fine,” she spat, “have it your way.  Enjoy your endless misery,
your grace
.  I’ll go find some other way to be happy.”  Ilyn stepped back when she tried to shove him away.  "Know this:  if you think I'm not worthy of you while I'm alive, you're sure as hell not worthy of
after I'm dead."

She strode toward the door and turned back to add, “And if you ever lay a hand on me in anger again, so help me God I will make you wish you hadn’t.”  And then she was gone.

November found Pine waiting around the corner.  One look at her face was enough to prompt him to say, “That could have gone better.”

“Your king needs a shrink.”

“No comment,” the fairy replied.  “Are you alright?”

“I need to get out of this house before I lose what’s left of my mind.”

“We’ll all be leaving to go Las Vegas tomorrow or the day after, I think,” Pine answered.

“Not soon enough.  I won’t sleep another night in that room.  I’ll go stay in the Livermore house until we have to leave.  We're flying out of Livermore anyway, right?”  She stopped and turned to look straight at him.  “Can you make that happen for me?  Please.  I thought this place was a sanctuary, and now it feels like a prison.  I have reached the limit of my tolerance, and if I don’t get a break, I will flip a lid in the middle of this Assembly.”

“I think I can manage it.  I’ll go talk to my betters,” Pine promised.

“Thank you,” she said sincerely.  She squeezed his hand.  “I don’t know what I’d do without you and Zinnia.”             

“It isn’t that he doesn’t care about you.  He’s just not ready to let go and start over.  And I think he genuinely believes that you’re better off without him.  You know that, right?” Pine said gently.

“Well, maybe he should have thought about that before he made me love him,” she retorted.  “Don’t worry, I’ll go back to feeling sorry for him one the rage wears off.  Speaking of which, any chance this fairy magic thing will also wear off?  It’s putting a serious cramp in my ability to remain infuriated.”

“It doesn’t fade for fairies.  It just grows stronger over time.  But I’ve never heard of it happening to a human before, so who knows?”

“How encouraging.”

By the time Pine returned with permission to head out to the ranch, November already had a bag packed.  An hour later, the two of them were shooting arrows into hay bales and watching the sky get dark behind the hills.  November felt a bit more free already.  Even the car ride itself had been a little thrill, though she’d had to curl up on the floor of the back seat until they got on the interstate.  She hadn’t even minded the traffic between Pleasanton and Livermore.

To her happy surprise, Savita appeared as soon as it got dark.  She’d given up the search for Luka until the Assembly ended.  The trail had gone cold.

Savita must have been warned by Pine or her brother, because she was careful to avoid the king as a topic of conversation until November brought it up herself.  They were sitting on the stone patio behind the house: November, Pine, Savita, and Noemi.  Greg turned up as well, joining them after he chased down a coyote for supper.  They lit the gas heaters for November’s benefit and sat around while she snacked on fruit from the garden.  “Savita,” she demanded bluntly, “what can you tell me about these crazy men you’re related to?”

“Hey, now,” Greg protested.

“Present company obviously excepted,” November allowed.  “You are definitely my current favorite,” she added, smiling.

Savita laughed.  “William and Ilyn can be a bit hard to take,” she answered.  “My father wasn’t always this difficult.  Marisha’s death undid him.  She kept him young, somehow.  Most vampires of their age, they become sort of ossified.  They stop being interested in changing, in the world that’s changing around them.  But Mother always kept up with the latest human doings, and somehow, she never quite got as heartless as most of us do.  You frighten him because you make him feel things he thought he’d long since left behind, like love and happiness and guilt and concern.  He thought he was done with all of that.  Of course, his human life wasn’t easy, either.”

“I saw him placing his wife and his son on a pyre, when I was unwell,” November said sadly.  “And I saw when Marisha turned him, but I didn’t see anything in between.”

BOOK: She Dies at the End (November Snow #1)
6.86Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

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