“Where exactly am I going to live?” Shanna asked, watching the scenery whizz by. She stretched out cramped legs and eyed the back of Q’s head. In the passenger seat a blonde woman sat, and she’d tried to make light conversation with Shanna until the teenager’s glares had got through.
“Two options,” Q said, taking a country road too fast. Daniela shot him a look which he received with an angelic grin. “You can live with us and a screaming toddler.”
“Ew,” Shanna said, pointedly. Q nodded like he agreed, and was rewarded with another acidic look.
“Or you can stay here.”
Shanna started and snapped her gaze to the window. They had turned into a valley which held an old cottage choked with ivy, and a converted barn. She pressed her nose to the glass and tried to drink in the new surroundings; puddles formed on the gravel driveway, which had weeds peeking out from between stones, and the windows of the converted barn were on the second floor only. Scars on the brick surface showed that ivy had been removed from the walls before it had grown back, and it looked like something out of a storybook. Shanna bounced around in her seat.
“Where is here?”
Danni muttered something under her breath which Q nudged her for.
“There are some other people I’ve come across in my time helping people away from the council. Some of them wanted to learn to fight.” He watched her in the mirror and Shanna sat up straighter.
“That’s an option?” All of her joviality had gone. Q gave a sharp nod. “Then I’m moving in.”
A proud, victorious grin broke Q’s face. “Glad to hear it. Let’s get you introduced to your training partner.”
Shanna arched an eyebrow and hurried out of the car. “You knew I’d say yes!”
“What part of seeing the future don’t you understand?”
“Then why even ask?” Shanna spluttered.
Q snorted. “If I had assumed, your stubborn nature would have reared its head and you’d do the opposite. Besides, apparently it’s not polite to use people like chess pieces without their consent.”
“He’s learning manners,” Danni put in, sarcastically. “But it’s a very, v-e-r-y slow process.”
For the first time since meeting the woman, Shanna laughed. Maybe they’d get along after all. She went round the back to grab her bag, remembering with a twinge that it was Ayr’s, but Q ushered her towards the cottage.
Sound came from the right as someone leaned a rake against a wooden post. Shanna stared into a face of someone she reckoned couldn’t be much older than herself. He glanced at her, nodded, and turned to Q.
“Is this her?”
Shanna narrowed her eyes. “You can ask ‘her’ yourself, dipshit.”
Q swallowed back his laughter and jumped in before the glaring boy could answer with something equally as rude. “Tough it out, Dustin. You’ve got to stick to her like shit on a shoe.”
“At least try not to swear in front of the children, Quinn,” Danni tutted.
“I’m not a child,” Shanna and Dustin said, almost in perfect unison. They transferred their glares to each other.
“Do you think Rogue’s going to be this much to handle?” Q muttered out of the side of his mouth. Danni arched an eyebrow.
“You’re the Seer.”
“Looking ahead to see how the Council will try to kill me is one thing. Looking to see how my son takes puberty? I’m not that brave.”
“What’s the plan?” Dustin interrupted, folding thick arms over his chest. “Do we start tomorrow?”
“Yes. Show her around, alright? I need to go make some plans and commit myself to living in Wales, of all places. God, what have I become?” Dramatically, Q asked this question of the sky, and with a roll of her eyes Danni dragged his arm back towards the hut on the right. Shanna looked at the door and saw a slate propped up which said ‘property of Q: trespassers will do the next chocolate run.’
She felt herself smile, an unknown fear sliding off her shoulders.
“So you can smile?” Dustin asked. Warmth nestled in his dark eyes, and Shanna blushed.
“But can you stop being patronising for a minute?” she wondered rhetorically.
A scowl dropped onto his face. “I’ll give you the tour.”
“Lucky me,” she muttered to his back.
“When do you go back to school?” Kian asked, pressing the newly sharpened knife down onto the pepper. It cut through with a crisp noise, the vegetable offering barely any resistance at all. As always, cooking calmed him; shut out the loud parts of his mind that made his skin buzz unpleasantly.
“Don’t know if I will.” Isabelle picked slowly at a peeling lip of plastic on the bottle next to her. Kian was used to her despondency by now, and really, could he blame her? He remembered his own too well. Trying to coax her into a false reality of heroes and villains hadn’t reassured her as much as it had him.
Kian sneaked a glance at her face. She sat on the breakfast bar and hadn’t moved since he’d started cooking. Though he hadn’t kept track of time, it was a long recipe. The smell of fresh food carried on the late summer breeze from an open window.
“It’ll be hard, but you’ll regret not doing it.”
“You don’t go to school,” she pointed out, resentfully.
Kian wiggled his shoulders as if it would get rid of the burning shame. “No, I don’t.”
He sighed as his knife fell through the last chunk of pepper. Smoothly he pushed the chopped array into a pan, and then returned to his board. Carefully, he aligned the blade with its side, as if the methodical nature of tidying up would help arrange his thoughts in a similar fashion.
“I was afraid.”
He heard her move – of course he did, as attuned to her as he was – and felt the warmth of her at his back even though she didn’t press into him. He remembered the last time she had with a blush.
Cold fingers jolted him to the present. She peeled back the corner of his hoodie and traced her icy skin over the dead numbness of his Mark. He gritted his teeth and swallowed the bile.
“What did they do to you?” she breathed.
Kian pressed his fingers into the side of the counter, hard enough that it felt sharp. “A lot of things, Isabelle.”
She snatched her hand away. “What happened to Twig?”
The wounded voice made him wince. He turned around to face her. Slowly, he ensnared her waist. She didn’t pull away; somehow, that surprised him.
“I didn’t know if that… was appropriate.”
“I want things to be normal.”
Yes; that was a wish he understood well. “You have to make a new normal. If you spend your life wishing for the old normal you’ll never get that time back.”
He saw her eyes start to swim and regretted the advice. When she bowed her head he tugged her closer.
“How do I do that?”
“Take it an hour at a time, twig.”
“What is Q planning, exactly? How many people is he training?”
Dustin puffed his cheeks full of air and blew it out in one big huff. “A lot of questions for someone so short.”
Her eyes flashed and she marched up to him, stepping on her tiptoes to meet his level gaze. “Screw yourself.” She jabbed her finger into his chest as hard as she could, jarring her own bones. “With a sharp, metal, prickly object.”
“I didn’t realise they made dildos like that,” Dustin said, smirking. Shanna couldn’t control the blush that charged her at his words, which made her see red.
“I can’t wait to punch you,” she snarled.
Dustin gave a bark of a laugh. “Ha! What do you know about fighting? The day you land a legit punch on me is the day I’ll retire, ‘cause you’d only manage that if I was old and slow.”
“Just. You. Wait.”
“With baited breath,” he promised. He jerked his thumb to the stairs beside them. “Bedrooms are up there. There’s just me here right now. Q has trained others in the past which are off on his orders. Sometimes they come back in if they need a place to lay low. Otherwise you’ll have to put up with me.”
“Oh, joy,” she snapped.
Dustin grinned and showed teeth. “Q has a network of spies.”
Both of them jumped and turned to see Q leaning against the wall and watching them. “And now I know where I’m going from here, this is all just practice.”
“For?” Dustin asked, with interest.
“Something bigger and better. Training whole teams to take down the Council. I haven’t ironed out the details yet.” He paused, his lower lip pushing out. “Just better not be in Wales.”
“What’s wrong with Wales?” Shanna asked, looking out the window and into the rain.
“Good God,” he said in his native tongue, “what’s right with it? It’s too wet and the names are made up.”
“All names are made up,” Shanna pointed out.
Q gave an exasperated shout, threw up his hands in defeat, and marched out the barn.
Dustin was grinning at her. “On second thought, this is going to be great.”
A string of frustrated curse words were bitten out from the kitchen. Kian winced at another clatter as glass shattered on the floor, and stood to investigate.
He inhaled deeply as soon as he realised he could smell sweet pastry. Ayr stood at the counter. His shoulders heaved, and by the way his hand was white knuckled on the knife Kian assumed it was out of anger rather than sadness. He clocked a few more things quickly; Ayr’s lips moved to utter silent curses and he glared down at his hands. Kian cleared his throat.
“I can do it.” Ayr snapped the words with a ferocity that made Kian hesitate.
“Yes,” he agreed, “but anything is easier with a second hand.”
“Well do yours work properly?” Ayr muttered, flinging the knife down to the counter. A peeled orange skittered to the floor in the aftermath.
Kian didn’t know why Ayr asked, but from the tone he gathered it was a loaded question. Instead of answering he stepped up beside the boy and picked up the knife. “I’m happy to cook.”
“Maybe I wanted to do it,” Ayr retorted, folding his arms so tightly that his shoulders brushed his ears.
Kian took a measured step back. “You’re welcome to – I only wanted to help where I could.”
“Yeah, me too.” His words were inaudible to human ears, but Kian’s hearing had always been good. He pondered on what to say while picking up the orange from where it had rolled to. In the end, he didn’t need to say anything else; words began to spill out of Ayr’s mouth like Kian had triggered the avalanche.
“I just wanted to do something, to be useful! Shanna’s gone, and that was the only thing I could ever help with, and now – now there’s lots to do but I’m so fucking useless because I can’t – can barely – GAH!” Ayr shook his hands wildly.
Kian frowned. He unpicked Ayr’s statement like it was a knot in wool. The real problem was always deeper than it seemed.
“The only things of value you can contribute are physical?”
“You said you’re useless because you can’t work with your hands. I assumed. Since you were staring at them so harshly.” Kian waved the tip of the knife in Ayr’s general direction, studying his face to see how his words had been taken.
“I have dyspraxia,” Ayr mumbled, shoving hands in his pockets and toeing the floor with a petulant air. “I’m medically clumsy.”
“Ah. Why do you have to cook, if it’s difficult for you?”
“Because it shouldn’t be!” Ayr burst out. “And I want to – to contribute, I guess. I don’t know!”
“It’s a very capitalistic belief that to be worthy you have to contribute in some physically tangible way.”
“That’s a lot of words,” Ayr moaned.
“You’re worth more than what you can do,” Kian said. “Is this because Shanna’s not here? Or…”
“It’s… everything.” Ayr settled onto a bar stool and cradled his head in his hands. “I want to be doing. Not thinking.”
Kian weighed his responses, thought of their potential, and then discarded all but one. “Instead of a dessert, would you make bread for dinner?”
“I’ll show you how. I hate kneading. To make a good bread you need anger.”
The corner of his lips twitched in a sardonic smile. “Well shit, that one I can do.”
Quinn lay in the sun with the shadows of the fence crossing his arms. Every time he began to drift off he wrenched his eyes open. As safe as they were – or had been assured they were – Quinn still felt bare when he left the house.
He cracked open an eye and sighed as he guessed the distance to the walls. Three metres? Four? His hyper vigilance was ridiculous.
He thought about the virus’ DNA melded with his and puffed out his cheeks. Never in all his years of playing fantastical games and reading the same type of stories had he thought he’d ever be in one, and a treacherous part of him hated that his father had encouraged the love. It made no different in the grand scheme of things, not after drinking the foul tasting (and temporary) cure. Law would make something permanent soon, he trusted that, so nothing would be different.
So why did it unnerve him so much? He felt like his body had betrayed him – an utterly ridiculous belief and yet one he kept returning to, between bouts of deep, heavy grief.
Quinn heard the rustling through the grass and tensed. He knew how his siblings walked and this wasn’t them, so he snapped into a seated position to glare at the intruder.
Behind her glasses, Mia’s eyes widened. She raised her hands in surrender. “You can tell me to leave,” she said, with a smile that offered an apology, “or you can have a few homemade cookies with me.”
Quinn stared at her, wondered if he’d have been able to smell them had he not taken the cure. Eventually he nodded – if only to get out of his head – and patted the grass next to him. With relief she lowered herself down.
“I got your texts.”
“Yeah, I guessed. Wasn’t going to bring it up since I gathered you weren’t answering for a reason.”
“I didn’t know what to say.”
“Guessed that too.” Mia lay onto the grass and twined her fingers with his, briefly, and pulled away. Warmth had nestled deeply into his skin, and yet he still shivered at the loss of hers.
“Is there anything I can do?”
“Nothing anyone can do,” Quinn said shortly.
“Yeah,” she agreed with a sigh.
They ended up back to back, which felt strangely intimate, watching the clouds drift through the serene sky, blue as cornflower. Quinn didn’t realise how glad for Mia’s lack of social decorum he was until that moment, where there was no pressure to make conversation or answer inane questions on his emotional state.
Eventually he rolled over onto his side. Mia twirled around him and raised an eyebrow.
“Thanks for not talking to me.”
Mia laughed, surprised. “Not so good on the chatter front.”
“I appreciate it.”
She smiled at him, and the corners of her eyes crinkled – just barely. “I’m here. You know that.”
“I do,” Quinn nodded, settling his head on her shoulder. Fingers carded through his hair slowly, just like Echo would have done, and still Mia said nothing as Quinn cried silently, dampening her shirt until it stuck to skin.
Law leaned against the cold, polished stone. He could smell dense earth and decaying pine needles and the damp feathers of a pheasant he’d startled earlier. He could pick out the veins of the yew tree, the gnarled and twisted trunk a traditional and yet pleasant feature of the graveyard.
What surprised him was how little changed now that he was a vampire. During the day, Law could easily forget his newfound nature, and after the first night he’d quickly grown used to the dizzying strength of his senses. His awareness of blood was disconcerting, but Q had assured him it was a stage quickly passed and something he wouldn’t experience unless he was suffering from blood loss. There was none of the intense craving he’d expected, though he had developed a fondness for rare meat over the past couple of days, and it amused him how much teen novels had got wrong.
The euphoria of having the change go easier than expected was dangerous, though. Law knew he had to keep himself grounded, because there were plenty of negatives to this. He’d effectively signed away his life in the long term, and would be unable to stick with his job, his true name, and even his family and friends not in the know after a couple of decades. There was only so much make up could age someone.
“I hope I’ve made the right choice, Echo,” Law murmured, pressing his back into her headstone. He’d never understood why people visited and spoke to the graves until he’d dealt with the cruel reality of having his loved ones snatched away. He didn’t think for a second that it would do anything but fall on deaf ears, but it reassured him to talk. “I wonder what Lukas would think if he knew.”
Law stared up at the rising moon. Another mental note was added to his list. Werewolves? A thing? How much had stories got them wrong? And what about all the other creatures that supposedly went bump in the night? Unfortunately Q was harder to corner with these questions than Law had anticipated. Once he and Chase had been Turned (no graves of their own included, thankfully, just significant blood to blood contact, which had gone against everything Law wanted to do) and Shanna’s custody handed over, he’d driven away and contacted them sporadically from a different number each time. It was annoying, but Law supposed the man hadn’t survived this long by getting lazy.
“I promise if anything happens to Shanna, I’ll gut Q myself,” Law said to nobody, narrowing his eyes. Q had suggested a quick sparring session to test Law’s reactions, but after a minute of running rings around the older vampire, they had agreed to leave it for the sake of ego. In a rare moment of seriousness, Q had said most vampires were at his own skill level.
In that case, Law had thought, he could easily take down anyone that thought of hurting his family. Including Q himself.
When it came down to it, their loyalties were different. Q cared about stopping the Council more than anything, and Law about protecting their family. If those two were to ever conflict then Law would be showing Q exactly how fast and how low he could punch.
“And yet…” Law said aloud, whispering the words to the velvet night. And yet he trusted the genuine love Q showed for children who hadn’t been born, wouldn’t be for years, of the pride for future generations and what they would accomplish. The words hadn’t been said, but Law sensed that stopping the council and protecting his family were one and the same, and the implications of that were terrifying.
I had a lot of fun playing around with photoshop with these pics as you can see! Hope you enjoyed ❤