Of all the alleyways in all the world, Viola thought, he just had to walk into mine.
She shifted her weight slightly, hissing under her breath as the movement sent a spark of pain shooting up her spine, and tried very hard to think non-murderous thoughts.
I’m incapacitated, Sabbat’s unconscious, Amelia’s in the mood to do something stupid, and Adam Avebury’s just so happened to choose this particular alleyway for a not-at-all-suspicious midnight wander.
But aside from that, everything is completely and utterly fine.
“I apologise for intruding, ladies,” Avebury said, somehow managing to sound as smooth as ever despite the circumstances. He stepped forward, smiling as he did so, and favoured Amelia with a courtly bow which wouldn’t have been out of place at one of the Regent’s balls. “But I couldn’t help but overhear that you seem to be in some difficulty. I trust you won’t think me too forward if I offer my assistance?”
If Amelia was as startled as Viola was by the suddenly-appearing-Sinnlenst, she was hiding it well. She nodded graciously in response to Avebury’s greeting, extending her hand and smiling as he kissed it chastely on the gloved knuckles. “Not at all, sir. In fact-” she gestured expansively, the movement taking in Viola, Sabbat, and the alleyway as a whole, “-we would be exceptionally grateful for any help you can give.”
“Of course. Might I enquire as to where it is that you’re headed? I can’t think a young lady such as yourself would choose to frequent such a neighbourhood unless she had rather pressing business to attend to.”
Amelia hesitated, but only for a second. “Butcher Lane. I’m… meeting someone there.”
“A happy coincidence – I’ve just come from there myself.” His smile widened. “Perhaps we have a friend in common, Lady Amelia.”
“Perhaps,” Amelia allowed, though Viola could see the idea had rattled her. “The city’s certainly small enough.”
“Indeed it is,” the Sinnlenst agreed, amiably. “One often runs into people in the oddest of places.”
Smug git, Viola hissed, silently. She couldn’t prove it, of course, but there’d been an edge to that last comment that she was pretty damn sure she hadn’t imagined, and she was equally sure it’d been entirely for her benefit. Unless he hasn’t realised I’m here.
False hope, of course – humans might be damn near night-blind compared to werewolves and vampires, but he wasn’t stupid, and he knew enough of her mistress’ habits that he had a one in two chance of guessing who she’d be travelling with based purely on sheer luck – but she couldn’t help clinging to it, even if only for a moment.
Maybe he’ll give up and go away. If, you know, Amelia hadn’t asked him for help.
That wasn’t entirely fair, and she knew as much: rejecting the offer would only have made the Sinnlenst more suspicious, which was one thing they really didn’t need. But if she hadn’t agreed to it, then-
“I don’t suppose you could-” Amelia started, before cutting herself off with a shake of her head. “No, I’m sorry. I shouldn’t ask.”
“My dear lady, I wouldn’t have offered if I wasn’t willing to stand by my word. What can I do to be of service to you?”
“I-” She bit her lip, looking away from him. “I- I hardly want to burden you with the consequences of my mistakes, Mr Avebury.”
What are you up to, ‘melia? And then, as the details of the other girl’s plan suddenly swam into horrible, horrible focus: Oh hells no. You and I are going to have words after this.
“Believe me, it would be no burden to aid someone as charming as yourself,” Avebury said, with teeth-aching sincerity. “And, if it’s your reputation that concerns you, I can promise to keep everything that passes between us tonight strictly confidential. On my word as a gentleman.”
And how much is that worth, you sanctimonious prick? But, given quite how much Amelia was currently playing up the ‘bashful sheltered innocent’ act, she was almost certainly as clued-in as Viola was to the game Avebury was trying to run. Just keep quiet and hope to the hells she knows what she’s doing, then.
Amelia was still looking away from Avebury, chewing on a bottom lip which was oh-so-slightly starting to wobble. It was a good effect, Viola had to admit, though spoilt slightly by the fact that Avebury almost certainly couldn’t see her face properly in the dark.
“I- I- thought I heard someone crying out, so I ran to try and help. I- It was stupid, I know it was, but I couldn’t just leave them, and- Well, it was a trap, and I ran straight into it.” She paused and took a deep, somewhat shaky breath. “There were… I don’t know how many of them there were, but enough that I certainly wouldn’t have been able to fight them by myself. If my maid and her man hadn’t been with me, I… I’m not sure what would have happened.”
Viola hadn’t thought it was possible for Avebury to sound any more irritatingly solicitous – but, apparently, the Sinnlenst had yet-untapped depths. “I find it’s often better not to dwell on such things.” He reached out, placing a brotherly hand on Amelia’s oh-so-slightly-shaking shoulder. “You’re safe now.”
Aaand cue the waterworks.
Sure enough, there was a pause, a sniffle, and then a small, wounded, desperate sound which, if Viola hadn’t been entirely certain it was fake, would have had her up and on her feet even if both her legs were sodding broken.
“I- I’m so sorry,” the other girl sobbed, words so thick with tears they were almost unintelligible. “I didn’t mean to- I shouldn’t have- I-I-” She turned towards Avebury’s arm – then, as he reached out towards her, she twisted away, hands over her face. “Please, I- I’m sorry, I need to be alone.”
To his credit (and Viola could hardly believe she was allowing him that much), he didn’t push the issue. “Of course. I’ll help the others while you… ah… compose yourself.”
And any lingering hope that Avebury might – just might – have overlooked her curled up and died as he dropped elegantly to one knee, coat-tails whispering softly over the snow. “Ah, Miss Cervanso. What an utterly charming surprise.”
Viola, meanwhile, was finding herself at a loss for words. Not because she was scared (though, if she had to admit it, that wasn’t exactly helping matters), but because she had less than no idea what in the hells she was even supposed to say.
‘Good to see you again, how’s the blackmail racket going?’ Can’t see that ending well, somehow.
‘Hello you rat bastard, do you mind holding still for two seconds while I rip your sodding throat out?’ Satisfying, but the kind of impulsive you live to regret – worse luck, because oh spirits and ancestors would it otherwise be so very very tempting-
“Gloat at me and get it over with, why don’t you?”
Shit. She hadn’t meant to say that out loud.
Avebury blinked, apparently about as taken aback as she was by the sudden outburst. “I’m sorry?”
Ah well. Might as well be hanged for a goat as a kid. “I said, gloat at me and get it over with, why don’t you? You obviously want to, and it’s not as if I’m going anywhere.” She gestured to the pile of semi-conscious assassin sprawled across her legs. “What’s it going to be this time? Another blackmail threat? More assurances that if I so much as breathe wrong you’ll have me dismissed?”
“Nothing of the sort!” the human protested, with an air of wounded innocence which would almost have been believable if she’d not been able to see his face. “Is it so hard to believe that I simply want to help you, Miss Cervanso?”
“Honestly? Yes.” She rolled her eyes (and then cursed silently as the movement sent a spike of pain shooting through her skull). “I’m not stupid, Avebury.”
“Indeed. You’re a credit to your species.”
And you’re trying to get me to do something I’ll regret. He wasn’t even being subtle about it, which somehow made it worse. Exactly how much of a sodding animal do you think I am, you patronising sack of-
“But, pleasantries aside, I really don’t have any intention of harming you at this juncture. For a start, you’re a good deal more useful to me in one piece.”
“Charming as always, if factually inaccurate. I have no desire to make this any more unpleasant than it has to be for either of us, Miss Cervanso – and, I assure you, you have every reason to act likewise. For your mistress’ sake, if nothing else.”
Subtlety be damned, she nearly did go for his throat at that point. “If you fucking dare lay a finger on her, I’ll-”
“Peace, peace. I wasn’t suggesting anything nearly as uncouth and you know as much, touching as that little display was. I simply wanted to remind you exactly the stakes we’re playing for.” He sighed. “I suppose attempting to convince you that your trust is even slightly misplaced is out of the question?”
“Do you really want me to answer that?”
“To echo your earlier response : honestly? Yes. I’m placing a good deal of trust in you, Miss Cervanso.”
You what? Viola thought, confusion briefly overruling the anger still boiling at the back of her throat. “Excuse me? You’re sodding blackmailing me.”
Avebury raised a placating hand. “Only as a precautionary measure. If you – and Mr Fest, of course – prove yourselves, I see no reason why this couldn’t be a perfectly functional partnership.”
You’re a patronising speciesist bastard who thinks the whole world’ll roll over and play nice if you stick your nose up at it enough, you think I’m stupid enough to be fooled by this make-nice fake sympathy bullshit when you were all but telling me I didn’t belong in civilized society not even a day ago – oh, and you’re part of an organisation I’m explicitly sworn to destroy. That about do it?
But Avebury didn’t know she was Order – and, if Amelia’s plan was going to have any chance of working, he needed to stay ignorant of that fact for as long as physically possible. So she bit her tongue, shoved the obvious retort to the back of her mind, and shifted her register into as close to icey politeness as she could manage under the circumstances. “If that’s what you’re after, don’t you think you might’ve possibly – just possibly – started off on completely the wrong sodding foot? Given, y’know, the blackmail and all.”
“A necessary unpleasantness,” the Sinnlenst replied, smoothly. “My compatriots and I have reasons for acting in the way we do, I assure you – and, if you do take up my offer, I’m certain that in the fullness of time you’ll come to see things from our perspective.”
Somehow I doubt that.
“In the meantime, will you at least allow me to help you and your… friend here attain something resembling verticality?”
For a moment she had a wild impulse to tell him exactly where he could stick his ‘help’ – but, truth be told, she wasn’t exactly in much of a position to refuse. Werewolf healing might be second to none (which was why she was currently lucid enough to be having this damn conversation) but, absent a ready supply of food to replenish the energy lost in the process, she was still barely able to support her own weight, let alone Sabbat’s.
Speaking of… She risked a brief glance down and swore viciously and silently as she saw the assassin’s right hand move ever so slowly towards the inside pocket of his coat. Oh no you don’t, my stabby friend. I’ve invested too much into this plan to have you derail it now, however bloody satisfying it’d be to watch. Not to mention the fact that, if he dies, so does my entire sodding life.
With a quick prayer that he was conscious enough to realise what she was up to (and smart enough not to fight her on it) she shifted her own hand slightly, fingers clamping down on his wrist in a grip which even a vampire would’ve had trouble breaking. “Fine. We accept.” And, in an undertone pitched just loud enough that Avebury’d definitely be able to catch it: “Not as if we’ve got a choice in the matter, after all.”
“Excellent,” the Sinnlenst said – and, somehow, sounded like he meant it.
“Ugh. This is hopeless,” Fest moaned. “We’ve been through every single bestiary, grimoire and book of demons in the whole damn library, and none of them even mention anything remotely resembling what we’re looking for.”
“I wouldn’t give up just yet,” Anneke countered, appearing from behind the nearest bookshelf with another armful of tomes. “We’ve still got at least a half-dozen more sections to go, not counting all the ones you’re supposedly not allowed to read yet – I’m sure we’ll find something.” They dropped the pile onto the table with a thud and grinned widely, eyes sparkling. “If nothing else, this is providing me with some excellent new research material.”
Fest rolled his eyes, though he couldn’t help grinning as he did so. There was something oddly infectious about the priest’s enthusiasm, even if the sheer intensity of it was occasionally somewhat disconcerting. “And here I was thinking I’d have to bribe you to even get you through the door of this place.”
“Bah! I might think the University’re a bunch of stuck-up, stuffy, hidebound-”
“I get the picture,” Fest interjected, hastily.
“-but I’m not about to turn down the chance to raid the best magical library this side of Efir.” They paused, obviously considering something. “I don’t suppose they’d miss just a few books, would they?”
Um. “No. No, they absolutely would. And, given you’re not even supposed to be here, I’d really appreciate it if you didn’t get me into even more trouble.”
“Spoilsport.” They stuck their tongue out at him and, before he could retaliate, disappeared back into the stacks.
He wasn’t unconscious, though unconsciousness would’ve been preferable. At least then everything wouldn’t fucking hurt.
His throat was the worst – no surprise there, given Caine’d made a fucking good go of trying to throttle him. Every breath, however shallow, hurt like hell, and any attempt at swallowing sent his already-blurred vision grey around the edges, the dead man’s phantom fingers tightening around his windpipe as he choked on spit and bile.
Next to that, the pain arcing down his spine was almost bearable.
It hurt, aye. Of course it fucking did. But he’d broken enough bones in his time to know what that felt like, and he was fairly fucking certain (or as certain as he could be when half his thoughts kept splintering off every time he took a breath) he’d managed to avoid that this time. Helps when you’ve got someone to land on, turns out.
The fall’d done shit-all to help with the injuries he’d already been carrying, mind – from the way his leg was feeling, he doubted he’d be able to put weight on it any time soon, even if his back’d been sound – but no broken bones meant at least he wasn’t looking at weeks laid up, which meant-
-that the next time that fucking dead bastard shows up, I’ll be ready for him.
And all Caine had to do was be polite and stupid enough to sit around with his thumb up his arse and wait, rather than pressing the advantage and coming after wounded prey. Which, of course, he’d definitely be inclined to be doing, him being a complete fucking idiot and all.
I’m not the prey, I’m the sodding predator. Fuck this.
Course, he hadn’t needed to be able to walk to deal with Caine the first time (second, he supposed, if you counted assassinating him in the first place). But he’d dropped the remains of the bottle of acid somewhere around the time he’d been being thrown off a roof, and knifing the bastard likely wasn’t going to do much more than piss him off, even assuming he managed to get a blade in hand before-
His foot caught on a loose cobble and a jolt of agony lanced up his spine, shattering the thought into razor-edged splinters and sending the world spinning dizzily off into darkness for a short, sickening moment. Fuck fuck fuck it hurts it hurts it hurts it hurts
When things came back into focus again – or, at least, as much focus as he was currently fucking capable of – he was sitting on the ground, back against a wall, and someone was trying to talk to him.
Wasn’t Archer’s voice. Too rough for that. Hells, too female for that.
“Hey. Still with me?”
Ah shit. It’s her. Well, least it solved the mystery of who the fuck’d been dragging him the past however long. Could’ve been worse. If Archer’s right, she ain’t likely to try and slit my throat when my guard’s down. After all, he trusts her. “Ngh,” he grated, the edges of the sound torn ragged by the broken glass filling his throat. “-off.”
The werewolf – fuck, Cervanso, that was her name – huffed out a laugh. “Good. Figure you wouldn’t be trying to swear at me if you were actually dying – and don’t you dare go trying to prove me wrong out of spite.”
“-ck you.” Even that many words hurt like hell, but fuck if he was letting her get the last word on this.
“Sorry – not my type.” She sounded a half breath away from actually laughing, though he didn’t get the feeling it was directed at him. “Too damn male, for a start.”
For all he knew she didn’t know why it mattered, that earned her the right to keep talking.
“Avebury’s up ahead chatting to ‘melia – something about a shortcut, though far as I can tell it’s mostly an excuse to try and get information out of her. Given that’s exactly the game she’s playing with him, I reckoned I’d hang back and let her work.”
Avebury? Who the fuck-? A memory surfaced, pain-muddled and blurry, but clear enough for all that. “Bl’ckm’l?”
“That’d be the one.” She growled. “Which is why we’re not sodding killing him right now, much as I’d like to.”
Speak for yourself. But, hells, even he knew the thought was halfway instinct. Archer’d made it clear enough back at the war council what’d happen if he just up and started slitting throats and, even if pissing off the Council would’ve been worth it, the last thing he needed was another reason for the vampire to go getting all high-and-mighty at him. Six-fucking-dammit. When’d this all get so sodding complicated?
Cervanso was talking again, words low and hurried. “-don’t reckon he knows who you are, though ‘melia apparently thought telling him we were walking out together was a good idea.” She paused for long enough that Sabbat could tell, even without seeing her face, that she was rolling her eyes. He didn’t blame her – he’d’ve been doing the same if he didn’t know how much it’d sodding hurt. “I also don’t reckon he knows you’re awake yet, which we can use.”
As far as Sabbat was concerned, the thing he’d be particularly interested in using Avebury’s current ignorance for was the one thing he’d been expressly asked not to do (and it had been an ask. Archer wasn’t stupid enough to try ordering him not to do something). Otherside, it wasn’t as if killing the Sinnlenst was the only way to fuck with him…
“…You’re smiling,” the werewolf said, turning her head to fix him with a look which, even through the blur, was fairly obviously concerned. “Should I be worried?”
Depends on whether you reckon the brat’s smart enough to notice a supposedly-unconscious man trying to pick his pocket, Sabbat thought. And whether you’re smart enough not to get in my fucking way.
Would’ve been easier if he could tell her what he was planning, of course – but, given he was currently halfway choking on anything more than a syllable, that wasn’t going to happen. Just hope to the Lady she’s got half the brain Archer’s convinced she has, or this is going to be a fucking shitshow.
Fest reached the end of the paragraph he was reading, pulled his focus away from the book just long enough to turn to the next chapter – and stopped, the hairs on the back of his neck standing up on end as his awareness of his surroundings suddenly flooded back to him in a rush of disquiet.
Something was wrong.
The library was quiet.
There was silence from the other side of the shelves.
Fest swallowed, stomach lurching with a fear that was both sudden and unexpectedly sharp. If something’s happened to them…
Slowly, carefully, he put down the book he was holding and stood up, ears straining for the sounds of anyone else moving among the stacks. Theoretically, there was very little chance anyone could have got into this corner of the library without either of them hearing – but, then again, there’d been very little chance of anything which’d happened over the past forty-eight hours happening to begin with, so he wasn’t about to start making assumptions.
Nevertheless, there didn’t seem to be any sounds of movement coming from the shelves around them. Although…
He closed his eyes, concentrating harder, and reached out with his other senses, bypassing his own heartbeat and breathing, the ticking of the watch in his waistcoat pocket, and the creaking and groaning of the library shelves settling under the weight of books, until he found- there!
A small, solitary thread of sound, at the same time disconcerting and deeply, deeply reassuring.
It was Anneke. And they were snoring.
Thank the gods, he thought, and then wondered for a brief moment why exactly it’d mattered so much to him to know that the priest was safe. Yes, they were a fellow Order member (and the fact he could call himself that was still a concept he was having trouble getting his head around, to start with), and yes, they’d been nothing but friendly to him since they’d met, and yes, they’d pretty much saved his life, but he’d still only known them since that morning.
On the other hand, it wasn’t as though he got his life saved by people he barely knew every day. Maybe this was exactly how attached you ended up feeling in those circumstances – and, after all, he’d only known Viola a day or so longer.
And maybe I need to stop introspecting about the fact I might accidentally have friends now, and actually go and do something useful with my time. After all, just because Anneke’s fallen asleep doesn’t mean I need to stop researching.
…I should still probably go find them, though. After all, it’s not as though they can defend themselves properly while they’re asleep.
Still moving quietly, he stepped around the corner of the shelves and headed for the reading table deeper in the stacks, where he’d last seen the other vampire. Anneke was still there, unsurprisingly, and still surrounded by piles of books – in fact, given the way their head was resting on the open pages of one of the larger and more boring-looking volumes, it looked like they’d fallen asleep pretty much mid-sentence. They were snoring, quietly, and their headdress had slipped sideways so it was covering half of their face, making them look a good deal younger and a good deal less imposingly priestly.
They were also, Fest noticed, about to start drooling on the book.
This was a problem. On the one hand, he’d known them barely a day, and touching a sleeping person without their consent was not the kind of thing a gentleman did. On the other, the book looked old, dusty, and very much like the sort of book the library would have a fairly serious problem with anyone getting spit on, no matter how accidentally. And, on the biologically improbable third hand, most of the ways he could think of to attempt to wake them up without touching them might very well end up with them jumping, starting, or doing something else which might actually cause worse damage to the book.
Oddly enough, this wasn’t a scenario any of his previous experience had really prepared him for. For a brief moment, he stood there, frozen with indecision, before realising that standing and doing nothing was going to be a very good way of getting both of them into at least minor, if not fairly major, trouble.
With a brief prayer to Ashkenta that this wasn’t about to go horribly wrong, he pulled off his neckscarf, stepped forward and, gently and very very carefully, slipped it under the side of Anneke’s face, between their skin and the pages of the book. The priest stirred a little as he did so, but didn’t wake and, when he stepped back, they turned their head slightly, nuzzling their cheek against the fabric in a way which made something in the bottom of Fest’s stomach twist in a way he didn’t quite understand.
It’s fine. I’m just tired, that’s all. Just… need to sit down for a moment. Close my eyes. Can do more research… in a little bit.
There was a chair at the other side of the table, and, technically, he could have got there. But the floor was so much closer, and (this with a yawn which felt as though his jaw was going to dislocate) it wasn’t as though he was planning to do more than just sit down for a second or two. Just… take the weight off his feet.
After all, it had been a very long day.
“Should I be worried?” Answer your own damn question, Viola: you’re in one of the worst rookeries in the city, in the middle of the night, in the company of your dangerously impulsive mistress, an injured Order assassin who may or may not be about to do something incredibly fucking stupid and Adam fucking spirits-and-gods-damned Avebury.
If you’re not worried, you haven’t been paying attention.
She winced, blowing out a breath in frustration, and shifted position slightly, prompting a choked-off groan of pain from somewhere in the vicinity of her left shoulder.
“Sorry. You’re not exactly light, y’know.”
This time the groan sounded distinctly insulted – though also slightly more choked-off, which was worrying in and of itself. How long does strangulation take to kill humans? If I’ve miscalculated this, things’re going to go bad fast.
“Look, I’m the one carrying most of your damn weight right now. I get to complain about it.” And, because Archer’d never forgive her if she didn’t check, “You can still talk, right?”
Another groan. Then: “…Hurts.”
“Worse than before?”
“…That’s fair. Unhelpful, but fair.” She thought for a second. “Look. If you start feeling like you can’t breathe – more than you do right now – just… tap me on the shoulder or something, will you?”
“Because it’ll mean your throat’s swelling shut, at which point either I cut a hole in your neck or you choke to death – and if I let that happen, Archer’ll probably murder me.”
He made a strange gasping, wheezing sound at that, and for a horrible moment, she thought she’d somehow actually killed him. Then she realised that he was trying to laugh.
Which, she supposed, was probably a good sign. “I’m glad you can see the funny side of it. Personally, I’d just as rather not get my head ripped off by an angry vampire, so if you can see your way clear to not dying on my watch, I’d appreciate it.”
The barest of nods, followed by… exactly the kind of face she’d probably pull if she’d been trying to move her neck after some bastard had made a very good go at throttling her.
“Well, suppose I can’t ask for more than that.” I mean, I can ask for a hell of a lot more. Doesn’t mean I’m going to get it. Although… “Back a moment ago, when I told you Avebury didn’t know you were awake, you started grinning. Assuming you’re not a complete fucking idiot, which I don’t think you are, that means you’ve got a plan that doesn’t involve killing him.”
Another barely perceptible nod, and another sideways grin (which, if she was honest, looked even less bloody trustworthy now his jaw was skewed).
“And doesn’t involve injuring him in any way? I mean, I’m not against fucking with the bastard, but if he gets it into his head to start-”
Sabbat might’ve been temporarily all-but-mute, but it turned out that ‘are you a complete fucking moron?’ wasn’t exactly a difficult sentiment to get across non-verbally.
“Fine. I’ll stop questioning your motives, you stop making me want to bloody question ‘em.” She sighed, reached up to poke tentatively at her still-healing nose, and then swore violently as it turned out it was still whole lot less bloody healed than she’d been hoping. “Fuck’s sake! Don’t suppose you’ve got any food on you, do you?”
That just got her a confused look, which, while novel, wasn’t exactly any help.
“Damn. I’d heal faster with something to eat, and it’s not exactly as if we’ve got time to go find somewhere doing all-night pancakes.” And now I’m wishing I hadn’t said that. Sodding hells, in pain and hungry is not a good combination.
Especially when there’s a blood-covered and incapacitated human leaning on my shoulder.
She wasn’t going to try taking a bite out of him, of course. For one, she wasn’t a sodding animal, despite what half the humans and over half the vampires in the city seemed to think. For two, Archer’d probably kill her for trying it – or, at the very least, be disappointed in her, which might possibly be worse. And, for three, if she was going to try taking a bite out of anyone, Avebury was right there.
But damn if it didn’t make the entire situation suddenly a whole lot more awkward.
She closed her eyes, slowing her breathing, and focused on the smell of her own blood and sweat, blocking Sabbat’s scent from her nose. She wasn’t even close to losing control – hadn’t been for months – but the faster she could turn her brain away from the idea, the less likelihood of even a minor slip. And with Avebury around, she couldn’t afford to be off her game, even for a second.
Speaking of… Even with her eyes closed and her attention focused elsewhere, she could tell that the footsteps crunching over the snow towards them didn’t belong to Amelia.
“Did she agree to your shortcut?”
“Of course.” Spirits, but she could hear the self-satisfied smirk in his voice. “Your mistress is nothing if not alive to the dangers of our current situation.”
Don’t rise to it. It’s deliberate provocation and you know it. “Great.”
Somehow, he actually sounded wounded at her lack of enthusiasm. “I would have thought you’d be happier. By the looks of yourself and your… friend, anything which shortens our journey should come as a welcome relief.”
Which was, admittedly, true, but she wasn’t telling him that. “It’s not as bad as it looks. Hells, give me something to eat and I could carry him by myself.”
“I’m afraid I don’t carry dog treats as a matter of course. Though if you’re willing to wait, I’m sure I can find a butcher somewhere around here who could be persuaded to part with some offal.”
…I am going to kill him.
“I’m sorry, that was uncouth of me. Though if your kind do eat offal, I’m sure I could-”
“Y’know, if you were going for ‘not a speciesist bastard’, you missed by a country mile.” Aaaand score two for things I didn’t mean to say out loud. This is getting to be a habit.
“Then I suppose it’s lucky for me that I wasn’t.” He paused, obviously waiting for her to say something, and then, when she didn’t, went on: “Be that as it may, I do actually want to help you.”
“Because I’m useful.” She couldn’t keep the snarl out of her voice, but if he noticed it, he didn’t seem to react.
“Because you’re useful. And competent.”
Cocky git. Let’s see how smug you are after I’ve ripped your sodding head off.
“And, apparently, sulking.” He sighed. “Come now, Miss Cervanso, there’s no call to be childish about this. I’m paying you a compliment.”
Yes, and I’d still rather bite my own tongue out than acknowledge it. “Good for you. Are you going to give us a hand up, or are you just going to stand there being smug?”
“My apologies. I didn’t realise you needed the help.”
She opened her eyes – and, very briefly, had the satisfaction of seeing him flinch away from meeting her gaze. Easier to denigrate someone when they’re not looking at you, isn’t it? “I’m fine. But he’s still out cold, and I can’t lift him by myself.”
“Of course.” He bent down, pulling Sabbat’s unresisting arm across his shoulders. “You must be worrying about him.”
“What’s it to you?”
“Am I not allowed to be concerned for your… friend’s wellbeing?” And, as he straightened up, “What’s his name?”
Shit. She hadn’t thought that far ahead – and, she was willing to bet, neither had Amelia. Which at least meant they weren’t likely to be contradicting each other. “Again, what’s it to you?”
“There’s no need to be so defensive, Miss Cervanso. I simply wish to know what to call your-”
“My boyfriend?” Oh ‘melia, I could actually hate you for this. “That’s the word you’re avoiding, isn’t it?”
“I didn’t want to presume.”
“Didn’t want to admit a werewolf might be walking out with a human, more like.”
“Perhaps.” He smiled, though the expression looked more than a little strained. “Shall we, Miss Cervanso?”
Copyright © 2020 by Finn McLellan. All rights reserved.
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