UNMAKE (Spellhounds Book 2), page 5
I’d been asking myself that for months. I rubbed my face. “If it was just pain, Rosie, I could do it. I would do it.”
“I know you would!” her eyes were filling with tears as she murdered the soft tissue on the underside of my foot. “It’s just such a goddamned waste.”
I felt my throat go a little tight in response. She was saying all the things I wanted to say. She was crying, like I wished I could. But I hadn’t cried in something like seven years. Emotion is a little more acceptable in Korea than it is in the states, and when you have shit English, glasses, and a map of scars on your back, you learn not to give the other kids anything new to make fun of.
Like being a dude who does ballet. But really, they’re only going to call you gay for that, and I never really found that insulting.
“You wanna do something?” Rosie asked.
I’d been staring at her fake cactus. “What is there to do? The doctor made it pretty clear.”
“No, you boobie, I mean like a party. Farewell and all that. Cake. Tequila. Other things with calories.”
I thought about what a farewell party might look like. The company all together, gathered in a place where they were supposed to feel sad that I was leaving…but also having a good time. It sounded like a recipe for lots of different versions of The Look, followed by a night of picking up drunk ballerinas from the floor and a morning of hungover goodbyes and promises to call and hang out. Things that wouldn’t happen, most likely, when our worlds diverged.
“I’m not sure what the hell we’d write on the cake,” Rosie said.
I waggled my foot. “‘Break a leg’, obviously.”
She met my gaze.
A minute later, Jasper—Rosie’s administrative assistant—leaned into the door to assess the noise level.
I saw his eyes go from the artistic director in her leotard and fuzzy sweater, bent double over her premier danseur’s foot, to me. I was slumped in the chair on the other side of the desk, cracking up hard enough to put me in danger of passing out.
“You guys okay?” he asked, sounding certain we were not.
Rosie wheezed and flapped a hand at him dismissively. It felt good to laugh, to have an outlet for all the feelings that had been building up inside me. An outlet that wasn’t going to hurt anyone. Tears of laughter rolled down my face, and that was a relief too. They were the only kind I would allow.
“Fuck, I’m going to miss your wise ass,” Rosie managed, scrubbing her running mascara on the cuff of her sweater. She swatted my leg. “You’ve always been a little shit. You want me to talk to the school? We can probably get you on as an instructor.”
I sobered a bit, wiping at my eyes. I hadn’t expected that. I had no idea if Henard School of Dance even needed a new instructor, or whether I’d be a good one. It might work.
It might also be torture, helping people do something I loved and could no longer do.
“I need to think about it,” I said. “Stages of grief and stuff. I have no idea where I’m going. I should probably switch majors, since sociology is pretty much bullshit.”
Rosie reached into her purse and pulled out a pack of cigarettes. She tapped them on her desk and pulled one out, then offered the pack to me.
I took one, leaning in so we could share the flame from her lighter. I’d gone to an arts academy for high school, and most of the dancers had been fueled by a combination of nicotine, celery, and whey protein. I’d dropped the habit in college, but about a quarter of the company smoked like a grease fire, including Rosie, and it wasn’t uncommon for me to take a drag or two on breaks.
I always paid for it when Helena refused to kiss me after. But there was a nasty sort of knot in my chest that felt a bit righteous about this tiny punishment to her senses. I was suffering, so she could too.
I hated every part of that thought, but it was there. I had to own that.
Rosie fumbled at the window behind her and shoved it open. “Jasp’s allergic,” she explained, seeing my quizzical eyebrow. She rolled her eyes. “Because of course he is. If I didn’t like that tight little butt so much, I’d kick it to the curb.”
A snort from the other room. “I’m calling H.R.!” Jasper yelled, sounding delighted.
“I am H.R.!” Rosie yelled back.
“Then take a report and fire yourself, bitch.”
Rosie winked at me, and raised her voice. “Don’t gays make the best assistants?”
“Biiish,” Jasper called. “You did not just.”
I exhaled a cloud of smoke. “I can become a drag queen. Profession sorted out.”
Rosie cackled. I heard the roll of Jasper’s office chair, which stopped in the doorway. “Almost any other dude in the company and I’d say, bitch, yes. But you do not have the appropriate level of…” he wiggled his fingers at me. “Anything.”
I held the cigarette away, trying to avoid hitting him with the curl of smoke. “You’re the one who told me being gay wasn’t a requirement.”
“Then come on, I can do Single Ladies better than any of the girls. I thought that would be a foot in the door.”
“Queen. Yes. But still.” Jasper narrowed his eyes, looking me up and down. “You gonna wax the taint?”
Rosie spluttered, spilling coffee all over her cocktail rings.
I closed my eyes very slowly, processing the horror of ripping all the hair out from…there. And cue full-body shudder.
“Nope.” My voice sounded higher, just imagining it.
“That is what I thought,” Jasper sang, and shoved off the doorframe, exiting on his rolling chair with a gracefully pointed toe.
“Magic,” Rosie said. “Fucking magic. I will pay the two of you to banter.”
“How much will you pay us to make out?” Jasper asked.
Rosie lifted her eyebrows and looked at me. I frowned, then shrugged. “I can probably clear it with the girlfriend.”
I didn’t hear what Jasper muttered, but I assumed it was sassy. Rosie puffed on her cigarette a moment.
“What else do you want to do?” She asked. “I know you’ve got interests outside of dance. That dog rescue?”
“Yeah, it’s volunteer,” I said. “Gives me a place to live, which is awesome, but it doesn’t actually pay anything.”
“What else,” she said. “What do you like? What do you want?”
“I don’t know,” I said. “You don’t have to brainstorm with me.”
“Fuck that. I don’t stop being your mentor because you’re leaving.”
I looked away. Partly because I didn’t know what to say, and partly because I was afraid the tightness in my throat was going to come back.
What did I want, besides dance? A memory flashed in my head. That evening, curled in my bed at home in Chicago, when I’d told Helena I’d always thought I might be a decent cop. I remembered her eyes in that moment, the soft smile on her face. She hadn’t laughed. Maybe Rosie wouldn’t either.
“I don’t know,” I said. “Think the police will take a ballerina?”
“You’ll kick the shit out of their athletics course,” Rosie said. “But they’ll probably give you a nickname.”
“Tinkerbell’s a favorite,” I said.
She stubbed out her cigarette on the rim of her fake cactus. “Do you need a degree for that?”
Helena had already asked Eric these questions, back when we were first brainstorming the ‘what-ifs’ of my recovery.
“I don’t think so.”
“Will one help?”
I shrugged. “Sociology and Criminal Justice have some crossover, and might help if I want to climb the ranks and be a detective or something, but… I don’t know.” I took the last few drags of my cigarette, watching the glow creep back to the filter. I breathed the smoke out my nose. “I’m not sure that’s what I want to do either.”
She patted my foot, which was still on her desk. “Less exciting once you actually see a little bit of violence, isn’t it.”
It was instinct. It was because I was the twelve-year-old who’d jumped on my dad’s back to stop him from hitting my mom. Whose response to thinking the girl I liked was in witness protection had been to pull her closer.
Gwydian had killed a wolf to make me a Spellhound. He’d meant it as a punishment, but really, I think he’d gotten a thing or two right.
Wolves are predators, sure, but they’re also protectors. They defend their pack. Every one of them, down to the omega.
And maybe my natural inclination wasn’t predator, but it sure as fuck was in my DNA to protect people, even if I didn’t have any idea how.
“There’s always climbing cell towers again,” Rosie said. She waved an elegant hand at my knee. “Or is that out too?”
“I haven’t tried,” I said. “Uncle was hesitant to let me do it this summer, with physical therapy and all. Might be possible, but it’s dangerous as hell. Especially if you start getting cocky.”
Then, from the other room, a voice.
“Speaking of cocky, have you considered underwear modeling? Or nude modeling?” A pause. “Yeah, I’m gonna go there. Just do some porn, girl. I’d watch.”
I frowned, then turned my gaze back to Rosie and squinted. “Let’s go with ‘no cake’,” I said. “I’m scared Jasper will find a way to pop out of it.”
My official cover at the police station was as a forensic artist. Fortunately, it was something I could reasonably do, so despite my fake credentials and fake business cards and fake age, anyone who peeked inside my sketchbook would find what looked like gang-signs and composite sketches of criminals in various states of age and disguise.
My own face was familiar to the other officers by now, so when I stepped up the department stairs with two cups of coffee and a messenger bag, no one looked at me sideways.
“Hey, D’Argent,” the officer on desk greeted me. “Eric’s in back. One of those for me?” He made a mock grab for the coffees.
“I don’t need to suck up to you,” I said, "unless you suddenly got power to write department checks.”
I wove between the desks, heading for Eric’s office at the back of the station. I passed an open door, where a couple of guys sat around a table, but it wasn’t until the sharp whistle that I realized who had been inside. My brain staggered backwards, reassessing. I pivoted and returned to the door.
“That’s great,” said Ritter, smirking from one of the seats facing the door. “She comes when you whistle.”
De Vries vivid blue eyes shifted from me to his companion, and there was a whiff of irritation to it, as if the joke had been beneath them. Ritter continued to smile, having missed the look.
Eric was sitting near the door, his bulk twisted around to face me. His face was calm, but there was a twitchiness to the way he gestured me inside, like he was pissed off, but too professional to do anything about it.
“Close the door,” he said. I didn’t take my eyes off De Vries as I nudged the door closed with my heel and plunked Eric’s coffee in front of him.
They were both in plain clothes, and without the bulk of the bullet-proof vests, they looked narrower. Ritter looked more like the sort of sorcerer I’d gotten accustomed to with the guild—mandala tattoos and magic glyphs down his bare arms, enough piercings and clothing studs to set of a metal detector at ten paces. He was approaching thirty and dressed, much as Isaac had been, like an off-duty punk guitarist.
De Vries was dressed like an off-duty lawyer.
He was in his mid-twenties, with very thick, very dark brown hair, and a serious down-turn to his mouth. I was fairly certain he was covered in ink beneath that button-up, but the fabric was hearty enough to be opaque. I couldn’t see any outlines like I sometimes made out through Eric’s shirts. He was bigger than Ritter. Lean as any sorcerer, but in a wide-shouldered, long-boned sort of way. Standing, I wagered he’d be about the same height as Jaesung.
Despite the fact that De Vries wore only a heavy ring on his right hand, and that button-up was a very proper shade of pink, my senses tagged him as the more dangerous. Memory of his incredibly-accurate shooting from yesterday did not help.
“Sit, Helena,” Eric said, nodding to the chair beside him, directly across from De Vries.
I shoved my bag onto the table and, stiffly, sat down.
Ritter snorted, took a breath, and turned toward De Vries. Good old Officer Blue Eyes lifted an imperious hand, wincing as if even the anticipation of Ritter’s obvious “sit” joke caused him physical pain.
Then, before I had a chance to react, that same hand had tugged my sketchbook from the open flap of my messenger back and flipped it open.
Embarrassingly, to a picture I’d drawn of Jaesung, shirtless and asleep on the couch, with one arm flung over his eyes.
Jesus, that guy was fast. I smacked the cover shut and shoved my bag onto the floor next to me.
“Talent,” De Vries said.
“Eidetic memory,” I snarled back. “And practice.”
“Let’s call it skill, then.”
“What do you want?”
Eric’s hand found my knee, which was jumping frantically below the table. I stilled, glaring at De Vries.
He contemplated me with those lightning-colored eyes, then folded his lips inward.
“Ike liked you,” he said. “I didn’t see why. Training you was a step too far, in my opinion, but I can see the thought-process behind it. Or I could, while Gwydian was alive. I told myself I would leave you alone unless you got in my face. The whole D’Argent thing is a complication my family didn’t want to get into.”
Eric tapped his fingers on the table. “You coming around to a point, son?”
“Yes,” De Vries continued. His voice was very calm, very precise and low. It demanded attention. He glanced at the table a moment, seeming to contemplate the thick ring on his left hand. It looked a little like a class ring, only I couldn’t see any school initials on it. His jaw flexed.
“I wanted you to be a monster,” he said. “It made hating what you are a lot easier. It would have made sending my testimony to the Twelve easier.”
I didn’t know what that last part meant, but Eric’s whole body went rigid. That was a bad sign.
“Sorry I don’t fit into your binary world of Monsters and saints,” I said.
His smile stopped at the lips. “Yes. Well. Life refuses simplicity, doesn’t it? No one is all monster or all saint. You were very narrowly balancing the scale until yesterday.”
I gave a hollow laugh, resentment boiling up my throat. “Yesterday. When I saved your life. After you tried to shoot me.”
Ritter gave me a patronizing smile. “He was shooting at the sanguimancer, love. He’d have hit him if someone hadn’t put a shield-”
“Call me ‘love’ again and I’ll give you a reason to shoot at me.”
Eric cleared his throat. “Whether you were shooting at her or not, she did pull our asses out of the fire,” he said.
De Vries looked grim. I wondered if he had any other expressions. “You don’t know what would have happened,” he said. “Ritter and I have handled worse than one blood-flush sanguimancer.”
“So have I,” I said. “His name was Gwydian Lochly. I handed him over to you. For a trial. Which he didn’t deserve, because he fucking killed about a hundred people, including my parents.” I slapped the table, as if just remembering something. “Oh, wait. Except my mother’s death was actually the Guild’s fault, wasn’t it? Right. You guys handled that.”
De Vries’s eyes flashed a bit. His body tensed, and I thought he might stand up and lean over the table, but he stayed perfectly still, perfectly composed and grave.
“I would rather die than be saved by blood magic,” he said. Beside him, Ritter nodded. Something grim and haunted entered his eyes—a shadow I couldn’t place.
“And if I’d been able to save Isaac with it? Would you rather he d
De Vries’s finely-carved nostrils flared. I think if he could have shot me right there, he might have.
“I know what he would have said.” That voice had gone to subterranean depths, digging low in his fury.
“I want to know what you would say,” I whispered, making my own fury quiet in response to his bass-note anger. “Would you condemn your friend because you’re too stuck in zero-tolerance to see that sanguimancy is the most effective way to fight-”
His hand flashed in the air. I cut short, startled into defense by the sudden movement. My hands were half off the table, ready to deflect before I realized he hadn’t intended to hit me. It was just that imperious, silencing gesture he’d used earlier on Ritter.
I suddenly hated myself for letting it shut me up, even for a misinterpretation.
“I didn’t come for a philosophical debate,” he said. I was gratified to see the artery in his neck pulsing quick against his shirt collar. “I came as a courtesy, to tell you that I’d submitted a report to the Twelve, informing them of your use of sanguimancy.”
I felt the rush of blood kick in the hollow of my throat.
“That report should have gone to Sorceress Iyengar,” Eric said.
De Vries gave a nod of acknowledgement. “That is the protocol, yes. But as she has a personal interest in Helena D’Argent, it seemed the only responsible course of action was to go above her head. I’ve sent her a copy of the report.”
I wanted to throw my coffee on him, but it wasn’t hot enough anymore to do any damage. I didn’t really know what The Twelve was, but they were over Deepti’s head. Which meant this thing was going to be big. It was going to be up to people who didn’t know me, and didn’t know what I’d risked and lost and suffered to claw my way to this glass-half-empty version of freedom.
De Vries stood up, smoothing the front of his shirt. I was almost surprised to see he was wearing jeans, and not perfectly-creased slacks. I was not surprised to note the pink button-up was tucked in. I didn’t let myself lean sideways to get a look at his shoes.
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