providence or atoms – 2.5

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Raine didn’t say a word. She didn’t need to.

She stood up, the change in attitude evident in every shift of muscle and posture, instant and electric. She flexed her right hand, the one in the modified glove, curling and uncurling a fist.

From anybody else it would have seemed empty showboating. A ridiculous, playground gesture. Except I’d seen Raine beat a monster to death once before, grinning and flushed and loving the violence. My mouth went dry and my heart hammered all the faster. A tiny, squirming part of me acknowledged how attractive I found her when she did this.

Another part of me laid down the law: that response was deeply unhealthy.

“Let me in, Saye!” a voice called through the door, unmistakably petulant. Twil jerked the handle. The lock held.

“You’re not talking to Evelyn, you’re talking to me,” Raine said, voice rock steady.

“Let her break it down,” Evelyn hissed.

“Yeah, I know. I know you’re all in there. Open the door, we need to talk, face to face, right now.”

“Like earlier?” Evelyn called out. “Go get knotted, Twil.”

Raine grimaced. “Evee, ugh. Sick.”

Twil growled, long and low. She rattled the handle again, then thumped the door. “Open up or I’ll pull the hinges out of the wall.”

“Be my guest, please. Huff and puff and blow the door in,” Evelyn said. “We’ll get you thrown off campus and the university will charge you with property damage. This is the real world, you addled mutt.”

“Quite right. Go away, you … you horrible person!” I said.

Raine shot me a suppressed grin. I shrugged, desperate to contribute.

“Yes, hear hear.” Evelyn said. “Go away, Twil, you’re not wanted. Sod off back to your kennel.”

Twil whacked the door again. The impact shook the frame, the floor, and my nerves.

Raine stuck out a hand and lowered a voice to a whisper. “Hey, Evee, hold up, hold up.” She tiptoed to the door and reached for the latch, every muscle wound tight and ready to spring. The tip of her tongue poked from the corner of her mouth.

“Are you mad!?” I hissed and scrambled to my feet. “You can’t be serious. Yes, go ahead and let the werewolf in here, great plan! Raine, stop!”

“You’re in the way,” Evelyn added.

Raine inched toward the handle. “Twil? Tell me what you want, maybe we can talk. Gimme an explanation, gimme something to work with here.”

A second of silence, then Twil spoke again, but her voice carried less confidence. “ … save a life, maybe. Saye, the girl with you earlier, what have you done to her head-”

Raine burst into motion.

She slapped the latch down and whipped the door open, jammed her arm through the gap and yanked Twil inside by a fistful of her collar. Twil yelped in surprise, all wide eyes and windmilling arms, and I thought she was about to sprawl onto the floor or crack her head off the edge of the table, but Raine wasn’t even remotely finished with her.

Raine kicked the door shut, pulled Twil around before she had time to recover her balance, and slammed her against the wood, almost lifting her off her feet. Twil grunted, a deep oof of air forced out of her lungs.

Raine shoved the exercise glove in Twil’s face, silver wire an inch from her eyes.

Twil yowled. The most awful noise I’d ever heard from a human throat, inside or outside of a psychiatric hospital. She flailed and thrashed, hands scraping at the door as if trying to dig through the wood and away from the silver.

“You think I don’t come loaded for bear?” Raine said.

Zero aggression. Blank and flat.

Then Twil twisted like a fish, jackknifed a leg up, and booted Raine in the chest.

Raine staggered back winded and wrong-footed, her grip dislodged. Twil sagged and shook herself from head to toe, then growled and flexed both hands, fingers open wide like claws.

Between her hanging curtain of hair and her hunched posture, Twil looked the picture of a comic-book savage, halfway to animal already – but the effect was more than mere acting; a second figure was overlaid on her, ghostly half-flesh enveloping her own like an afterimage, fingers too long, bared teeth too sharp and too numerous, the front of her face too snout-like. From a distance one might mistake Twil’s additions as figments of a stressed imagination, a half-glimpsed hallucination.

Up close there was no mistake.

Raine grinned, flushed and bouncing on the balls of her feet. She raised her hands in a classic boxing stance.

Violence is never easy to watch. One is pulled between a very sensible desire to hide, and a desperate need to help one’s friends. I’d mythologised Raine for two weeks straight. She was unstoppable, she was invincible; she’d killed a monster and she’d done it for me and here she was after a kick to the chest, her opponent easily as frightening as she was. Incensed, shaken, confused, I almost broke – which way, I never found out.

Absurdity saved me, as I pushed the last puzzle piece into place.

They both tensed, ready to bash each other senseless over a stupid misunderstanding.

“Stop!” I yelled. “Stop, both of you. Oh my goodness, stop fighting.”

I forced myself to step forward, shaking, palms sweaty, dismayed to find that I’d unconsciously slid behind the armchair.

Raine spared me a sidelong glance and Twil blinked at me, teeth bared. I had only seconds to de-escalate this. I focused on Twil.

“They haven’t done anything to me.” I spoke fast, concentrated on not tripping over my words. “You called me a zombie in the library, but I’m not being mind controlled or coerced or seduced or anything like that. You asked what Evelyn has on me? Absolutely nothing. I saved her life, not the other way around. I’m Evelyn’s friend, and I’m Raine’s … friend, too. My name’s Heather Morell and I know what you are and I can probably mind-zap you into another dimension if I try hard enough, and if I’m completely wrong about what you’re thinking and instead you’re determined to hurt my friends, then I will do exactly that.”

For a split-second I thought I’d got this all terribly wrong. Staring Twil down was like trying to intimidate an actual wolf. I shook so hard I was certain my knees would give way.

Twil lowered her hands; the fight went out of her. She straightened up and swept her hair out of her face. Human again, as if those bestial additions had been a trick of the light. She narrowed her eyes at me, an intense scrutiny that shifted in turn to Raine and then Evelyn – who had gone very quiet and pale.

“Yeah, what she said,” Raine added. She shook her arms out and rubbed her chest where she’d been kicked, then shot me a questioning look.

“It was pretty obvious once I thought about it,” I said. “She thinks I’m a victim here.”

“You’re sharp,” Twil said. “That is why I came up here. Look, I don’t … I don’t wanna fight, I just wanted to … ” She gestured at me, as if for help. “I thought … ”

“You ever threaten my friends again,” Raine said. “I’ve got a lot more silver with your name on it.”

“Oh fuck off. You started it.”

“Raine,” I said, gently as I could. “Less of that, please, for me? This is all a misunderstanding.”

Twil scowled at me. “It might not be. How do I know you’re not too scared to speak up? Heather, that’s your name, right?”

“Scared? Of what?” Raine asked.

Raine spoke with a smile, but she did a poor job of hiding her tension. She was ready to throw down at the slightest wrong move from Twil. I could tell she wanted to, she enjoyed it on a level I didn’t understand, and I had to keep talking unless I wanted to witness an actual fistfight.

“I think you should explain this in your own words, Twil.” I injected just enough scold into my voice to make it clear what I thought of all this. I put my hands on my hips and did my best to look stern and unimpressed despite the pounding adrenaline in my head and the painful ache in my chest and the fact I was standing in front of a bloody werewolf. The alternative was sit down in a hurry.

Twil grumbled and crossed her arms, looking for all the world like a moody teenager.

“I saw you and Saye go into the library together, down to her … stuff. What was I supposed to think?”

Evelyn and Raine both opened their mouths at the same moment.

“Ah!” I held up my hands. “Stop, stop, just listen. Listen, please. What did you think, Twil?”

She squinted at me, as if she thought I was an idiot. It wasn’t an easy look to take from such a stunningly beautiful face, but I was too shaken to care much right now.

“I’m new to all of this,” I said. “Humour me. What did you think?”

“ … that Saye had recruited a minion. An easy fool to … I don’t know, sacrifice, use for magic. Something worse.” She shrugged. “Wasn’t gonna let her get away with it. Still won’t.” She shot a dark look at Evelyn.

“There we go. That’s what I thought. Well, I’m not. I’m here of my own free will. Very happily, in fact.”

“Should have said that in the first place, shouldn’t you?”

“You made it quite difficult,” I said.

Raine grinned and shook her head. “You absolute spanner, Twil.”

Sacrifice?” Evelyn finally piped up, scowling like thunder. “That’s the sort of thing your lot do. This is all so much bullshit, Twil. Why on earth were you watching me in the first place?”

“I just happened to be in the library, alright? It’s a free country, last I checked.”

“No, I don’t believe a word of this. A very creative excuse, that’s what this is. You shouldn’t even be in the city.”

Twil bared her teeth and growled. Raine raised her fists. Evelyn flinched and almost squeaked. I felt an uncontrollable urge to duck behind the chair. All my hard work undone.

Then Twil jammed a hand into her blue-and-lime coat pocket and pulled out a folded piece of paper. She shoved it toward Raine, a faint blush in her cheeks.

“That’s why I’m here, alright? My life doesn’t revolve around you lot all the time. Go on, open it. Fucking wasters.”

Raine took the paper, unfolded it, and snorted a suppressed laugh. I peered over her shoulder.

A Sharrowford University Open Day flyer.

Come all ye prospective undergrads; see the departments, talk to professors, wander around the campus. No exclusion for secret werewolves.

“Yeah go on, yuk it up,” Twil said. “You’ll see, I’ll get in and I’ll beat all your marks as well. I’m getting a fucking first. You think I’m just some idiot living in the woods.”

“I’m not laughing at you,” Raine said. She showed the flyer to Evelyn.

“You so are. Bitch.”

“What course are you applying to? And stop being so rude,” I said. Twil blinked at me in a frowny-squint. “It’s a serious question,” I added.

“ … bio-med science.”

“What were your A-level results?”

“Three As.” She jutted her chin high, then wavered and lowered her gaze. “Okay, one A, two Bs. Predicted.”

“Predicted? Wait a moment, how old are you?”

“What’s that supposed to mean? I’m eighteen. I’m an adult.”

“I had assumed you were a little older.” I spread my hands in a silent apology. “With those A-level grades, you’ll probably get accepted. Next year?”

“Yeah, keeping my hopes up. Here, maybe Manchester. You know, get a little further away from home.” She frowned at me. “Why the hell are we talking about this?”

I shrugged. “Because a little normality goes a long way. Because not everything needs to revolve around supernatural nonsense and … werewolves.” I struggled to keep my voice free of pique. Twil smirked, showing too many teeth.

“Told you all about me, did they? Good.”

“That we did,” Raine said. “Didn’t think you’d developed a white knight complex though. Impressive.”

“Oh fuck you, you saddo. You can talk.”

Raine laughed. “It was a compliment, dumbass.”

“From Raine, it probably was,” I muttered.

Twil snorted, barely a laugh at all.

“Sorry about the old rough and tumble, you know?” Raine mimed throwing punches. She didn’t sound sorry. “Got a little too carried away, I guess.”

“Got you good too, didn’t I?”

“Meant what I said though. Don’t hurt my friends.”

“If I wanted to hurt anybody – and I don’t – who’s gonna stop me? You and what army?”

Raine shrugged, expansive and theatrical, playing to the crowd. “Silver runs about fifteen quid an ounce these days, I think.”

I knew it was unhealthy, chest-thumping nonsense, but the way Raine stared her down, that casual look, as if the outcome would never be in doubt, was far too attractive for me to deal with right now. Raine could use that look for evil if she wanted, I knew she could, and if she ever turned it on me in private I doubt I’d last long.

Too bad Twil was staring right back.

I was jealous.

What on earth did I have to be jealous of? They were ready to knock each other black and blue, and on Raine’s side that was at least partly in my defence. But I didn’t like them looking at each other, butting heads with familiarity behind their words.

I knew it was petty and stupid but I couldn’t help myself. Raine wasn’t my lover or my partner and I’d known her for less than a whole month. I felt like a hormonal teenager, and I knew why: because I’d never been allowed to be one before.

I told myself off and resolved to be sensible, measured, and diplomatic.

And to remind Twil I’d already scored a point against her.

“I apologise for slapping you earlier,” I said.

Twil shrugged. “Hardly matters, does it? S’cool, whatever.”

I opened my mouth to request an apology for her attempted punch, but the words died on the way up.

There wasn’t a scratch on her.

No bruise, no slapped face, no broken nose.

The only evidence of our clumsy slapfight was the red stain down the front of her hoodie, diluted and smeared about. She must have scrubbed at it with a wet paper towel in one of the toilets.

Twil cocked an eyebrow at me. I realised I’d been staring.

“Werewolf, right.” I huffed a sigh. It just wasn’t fair. “Broken noses shouldn’t heal in thirty minutes.”

Twil barked a laugh.

Even sullen and rude, she was far, far too pretty.

How could I, frumpy shapeless pullovers and daytime pajamas and sallow stress-ruined complexion, compete with that?

Twil watched me watch her, slow and thoughtful. I shrugged at her in silent question, not trusting myself to speak in case I snapped out jealous teenage nonsense.

“So why are you here?” she asked.

“In general?” Too much mocking hostility in my voice. I tamped it down. “Or you mean Sharrowford, or here in this specific room?”

“I mean what the hell are you doing hanging out with these two? What’s your deal?”

“I don’t think that’s any of your business,” Raine said quietly.

I crossed my arms. “Quite right. Any answer to that is long and complex and very personal. I’m not comfortable talking about it, except with close friends.”

“Oh, uh, right.” Twil blinked and looked lost. I felt a little sorry for her. She did mean well, after all. My jealousy wasn’t her fault. “Can I like, talk to you alone for a minute?” she asked. “Out in the hallway?”

“Twil,” Raine said, a warning note in her voice.

“Whatever for?” I asked.

“Without these two listening in.” She indicated Raine and Evelyn with a jerk of her chin. “How can I be sure you’re not getting conned?”

I was about to say sure, why not? Twil’s only real desire here was to make sure a timid-looking college girl wasn’t being exploited by a pair of scary clued-up supernatural types. Well, that, and she probably wanted to irritate Evelyn. She was awkward and slightly intimidating, but I had a hard time imagining her actually wanting to hurt me. Also, that lost expression made her look even prettier. I wasn’t immune to that.

Raine spoke before I could open my mouth. “No way, no how, Twil. Absolutely not.”

“Raine.” I heard an unintentional whine in my voice. I killed it, not liking where that was going. “I can make my own decisions.”

“Yeah, maybe you should listen to her?” Twil narrowed her eyes at Raine.

“I’m not trying to control your decisions,” Raine said. She stepped over to my side. “My danger senses are still tingling, really.”

“Danger? Talking with her in the corridor for five minutes? Twil just wants to make sure I’m not being coerced.” I glanced past Raine. “Am I correct?”

“Right,” Twil said. “This ain’t convincing me, by the way.”

Raine leaned in close, cupped my ear, and whispered. Her warm breath tingled on my scalp.

“Heather, this could be a set up for a snatch job. Everything out of Twil’s mouth is suspect.”

“What?” I said out loud.

“It’s not impossible that the Brinkwood cult knows about you somehow. I didn’t mention it before, didn’t want to scare you. Do not let Twil get you alone. I was skating on thin ice earlier; without the silver, she could pull my head off if she wanted. Kidnapping you would be easy.”

Raine straightened up and squeezed my shoulder. I knew that look. I’d trusted it on a sick and lonely morning in a dirty Sharrowford cafe, and it had saved me.

“I-I think you’re wrong,” I said. “But I trust you. Okay.”

“Well?” Twil growled.

I shook my head.

“Fine, whatever. S’your funeral. Can’t say I didn’t try.”

“I appreciate the sentiment, it’s very sweet of you, but I’m fine, I’m safe. I don’t need saving. Probably for the first time in my life.”

“Yeah, I think we’re done here,” Raine said. “Time to go, hey Twil? You leave us alone, we’ll leave you alone. Non-aggression pact, all that good stuff?”

Twil grunted, then looked hard at me. “I don’t trust anything these two do. Like, I dunno what exactly they told you about me and mine, but Saye’s infinitely more fucked up than I am.”

I felt myself bristle at the implied insult. “That’s hardly a mark against her, even if true.”

“Whatever. Don’t let her do any magic to you, that’s for sure.”

Twil must have seen the silent question in my expression. She frowned and glanced between Evelyn and I.

“Woah, shit, that’s not why you went down to the books, was it?”

I cleared my throat. “Well-”

“Was it?” Raine asked. “Evee?”

“Oh no fucking way,” Twil said. She unfolded her arms and flexed her hands, glowering and baring her teeth. “Nuh uh, not letting you mindfuck this girl.”

“For pity’s sake,” I said, cursing my own open-book face. “It’s fine, it’s to help me.”

“I’ll believe that when I see it.”

Raine stepped forward, raising her gloved fist again. “Hold up, Twil.”

Evelyn cleared her throat.

“This is all very dramatic and edifying, I’m sure,” she said. “But you seem to have forgotten something, you dense mongrel.”

Twil frowned at her. “What?”

“Yeah, what?” Raine said.

“Your reasons are irrelevant,” Evelyn spat. “Apologise and leave. One chance.”

“What? Fuck you Saye, you-”

Twil’s eyes went wide. She lunged for Evelyn. Raine yelled and leapt for her. I jumped so badly that my heart achieved escape velocity.

“Oh,” I mouthed, before Evelyn cast the spell we’d all forgotten about.

She twisted her fingers against the blood-smeared mirror, completed her infernal circuit, and spoke a rush of words which sounded like they hurt to pronounce, all throaty consonants and hard inhalation. Her maimed left hand thrust forward and squeezed into a fist.

The air temperature plummeted several degrees in an instant, enough to draw a gasp and shiver from me.

Static electricity sparked off my fingers and crackled across my jumper.

And Twil slammed to a halt.

She froze mid-step, fists clenched, mouth half-open on an unfinished snarl. Her eyes bulged with blinding rage. The muscles on her face twitched. Sweat beaded on her forehead and she vibrated all over, as if fighting to fill her lungs. Her right arm jerked up, millimetre by painful millimetre.

Raine caught herself on the edge of the table to avoid touching Twil. Static jumped from her hands to the metal table legs and she swore under her breath.

Evelyn shook and panted, dripping with sudden cold sweat. She grinned at Twil, ugly and triumphant.

“You forgot what I can do,” she said, effort in every word.

Disgust and fascination fought in my heart. I stared at Twil and then at the blood-thing in Evelyn’s lap. This was impossible, my mind said, but there it was, evidence of my own eyes. And Evelyn was enjoying it far too much.

“Evee, you’ve made your point,” Raine said. “We don’t want a body on our hands. Let it go.”

“Body?” Evelyn choked out a laugh. “Oh, I think our doggy friend can take a lot more than this.”

Twil was gritting her teeth, hissing a sound halfway between a broken gas pipe and a dentist’s drill.

“Yeah, but maybe you can’t,” Raine said.

That snapped me back to the moment. “She can’t- Evelyn, she can’t breathe,” I said.

“That’s the point.”

She clenched her fist tighter, knuckles white. Twil was so red in the face she looked ready to burst. Evelyn shook and quivered, a flu patient with the chills, about to collapse, blinking rapidly just to stay conscious. Raine looked wary of touching either of them, as if they carried live current. For all I knew, they did.

“Evelyn, stop!” I cried. “I won’t let you do this to somebody over me. It’s not worth it! I won’t have it. Not even a rude, ridiculous person like Twil. Stop!”

“Not about you.” Evelyn had to force every word. “About respect.”

“I don’t care! I won’t have much respect left for you or myself if I stand by and let you commit torture. Stop!”

The tug of war collapsed.

Evelyn sagged and her fingers slipped on the bloody mirror. Twil crashed to the floor. Her chin bounced off the ground and she yelped like a kicked dog. I flinched, my own tension pulled piano-wire tight. Evelyn slumped and started to slide out of her chair, but Raine ducked forward and held her under the armpits, pushed her back into the seat. She was coated with sweat and shivering all over. Her eyes found mine, guilty and ashamed for a split-second before they fluttered shut.

“Raine, what- what do I-” I stammered, hands half-raised in a please-let-me-help gesture.

“It’s okay, I’ve got her, I’ve got her,” Raine said. She clicked her fingers in front of Evelyn’s face. “Evee. Evee, open you eyes. Don’t go to sleep. Evelyn, open your eyes.”

Evelyn coughed and grunted. “I’m fine. Stop clicking at me.”

“Dammit, Evee.”

Twil struggled to her knees, sucking in air like she’d run a marathon. “Oh yeah, nobody worry about me, just over here getting my guts fried. You shower of utter bitches.”

“Come off it, you’re basically invincible,” Raine said, but she stood up and offered Twil a hand.

“Yeah, but I can still feel pain. Fucking hate you, Saye.”

“Good,” Evelyn grumbled, eyes still closed. “Perhaps you’ll show some respect.”

“Evelyn, shush,” I said, an unfamiliar lash in my voice. She opened bleary, confused eyes on me.

“Bet you’re out of ammo now, you-” Twil started.

“And you,” I rounded on Twil. “Sit.”

“Yeah yeah, don’t have to tell me twice.” Twil winced as Raine helped her into one of our armchairs.

Even in the heat of the moment, it wasn’t an easy sight for my fragile self-esteem: Twil with her arm over Raine’s shoulders to help her stand, Raine frowning at her with at least a modicum of care and attention. I told myself it didn’t matter. We had bigger things to deal with now. I could be immature later. In private. Alone.

“Can’t believe I have to be the adult in the room,” I said, and took a deep breath. My hands were shaking, quite badly, and I clasped them together to get myself under control. It was over, I told myself. It was done. We could all pretend to be sensible adults now.

The room temperature had returned to normal, and none of us seemed charged with static anymore.

Twil was hunched up as if around a stomach wound, though there was no visible mark on her, and Evelyn looked like she was asleep, her frowning, conflicted expression the only evidence to the contrary.

“Right, I think we’ve all had enough for one day,” Raine said. “We are going the hell home, and you’re going to sleep, Evee.”

“Why did you do it?” I asked.

Evelyn’s frown darkened. She knew I was talking to her.

“Heather, maybe leave it for now?” Raine murmured.

“Standards have to be maintained,” Evelyn said. “Debts paid.”

Twil growled, either at Evelyn or just to get our attention. “You’re kidding if you think I’m going anywhere now. So desperate to stop me seeing what you’re gonna do to this poor girl, huh? No way, Saye. You’re doing magic, so I’m not going anywhere.”

“Neither of you are in any state to do anything right now,” Raine said.

Evelyn scoffed. “Watch me.”

“Sure thing, bitch,” Twil shot back.

Raine rubbed the bridge of her nose. I sighed and hugged myself, feeling like I was under siege.

“I’m haunted,” I said.

Twil blinked at me. “What?”

“Hey, you don’t have to do this, Heather,” Raine said. I shook my head, didn’t matter now.

“Haunted. By something much bigger and scarier than you, and Evelyn’s going to help me with it. Raine’s been helping me with it. You, I don’t know what you’re doing, but I suppose you’ve at least earned an answer, after Evelyn hit you with the magical version of live battery clamps to your sensitive parts.”

“S’this true?” Twil said.

I nodded.

Evelyn turned bleary eyes to stare level at our curious werewolf. “Quite. Heather’s got the attention of something much worse than the sad little god your cult worships.”

“Hey, don’t call it a cult.”

“I’ll call it whatever I bloody well like. I could take it apart if I wanted.”

Twil bared her teeth and growled.

“Girls, calm the hell down.” Raine raised her voice and rapped her knuckles on the table. Evelyn winced at the noise and Twil jerked her head back.

“Why can’t we just act like reasonable adults, instead of extras from a bad drama?” I asked. “Let’s compromise, so we don’t end up doing this all again? I assume, Twil, that if you’re not satisfied, then you’re going to start following me around? Or go after Evelyn again?”

Twil blinked at me as if I had mind reading powers.

“And Evelyn,” I continued. “If we’re still on for your magical experiment today, do you object to Twil watching?”

Evelyn sucked her teeth in thought. “We’d have to go back to my house.”

“Then I’m coming with you,” Twil said.

“Over my dead body.”

“I gotta agree. Though not the dead part,” Raine said. “You ain’t coming back there.”

“The security would eat you alive,” Evelyn said.

Twil flexed her back and arms, rolling muscles like a wrestler. “We can find out.”

“No,” Evelyn said.

“Why don’t we do the spell here?” I asked. Three pairs of eyes looked to me. “Well, why not? You two have manoeuvred yourselves into a stalemate, and I am deeply uncomfortable at being at the heart of it. I’m not thanking you for your concern, Twil, or you, Evelyn, for … whatever ego-trip nonsense that spell was.”

Evelyn held my gaze for a long moment. I was too wiped out to worry about looking away. Bitter damage lurked behind her eyes, and I promised myself that after this day was over and we all did go home again, I was going to give her a hug. I would be her friend. A real one.

“It’s possible. No reason why not,” she said. “But I need tools from home. Somebody will have to fetch them.”

“Ah,” Raine said.

The impasse was obvious: Twil was barred from Evelyn’s house; Evelyn couldn’t go alone; Raine didn’t want to leave us here with Twil.

“I’ll go,” I said. “It’s for my benefit anyway. And to be honest I need some fresh air after that.”

Raine shook her head. “No, not by yourself.”

“Oh for heaven’s sake, it’s fine. I’m hardly going to get snatched off the street.”

“You might,” Raine muttered.

She guided me a few steps toward the back of the room, out of earshot. I didn’t mind – it was a very reassuring way to be handled, but a tiny voice in the black pit of my self-esteem giggled those damnable words again: damsel in distress.

Raine dropped her voice to a whisper. “Heather, look, I don’t like this.”

“It’s fine.” I said, whispering back despite myself. “I trust you, but I think you’re wrong, Twil’s just concerned.”

“And if I’m right, she might have others waiting for you. I dunno. It’ll have to be me, I’ll have to go. Here.”

Raine tugged off the silver-wire exercise glove and held it out to me.

“Oh, I can’t. No, Raine.”

“All you gotta do is wave it in Twil’s general direction and she’ll get back right sharpish. She’s weak at the moment. I dunno how long it’ll take her to recover but I can get to Evee’s and back in under half an hour.”

“It’ll be fine, I don’t need-”

Raine pressed a finger to my lips. The intimate gesture made my heart skip. “No, I am only doing this if you promise to do what I say. The alternative is I knock Twil’s lights out, then carry Evee home, and you sleep at my place until we’re sure Twil’s gone.”

“ … Raine, really,” I hissed, unimpressed, trying to ignore the bait. Sleep at Raine’s? Yes please. She’d not taken me there yet.

She didn’t even blink.

“Hey, this is what I do.”

I sighed and took the glove. “Fine.”

“Promise.”

“To what?”

“Don’t get within six feet of Twil. Keep a chair between you and her. Don’t answer the door to anybody but me. And whatever you do, do not, absolutely do not go outside with her. Promise me.”

“If you think she’s so dangerous, why leave in the first place?”

“Hey, you took the wheel here, Heather. You’re in charge right now. This is your compromise. I’m just interpreting orders.”

“Alright, I promise.”

Raine smiled, relief obvious, and I took selfish comfort in her absolute trust in my promises. Then she pulled me into a hug, and I took comfort in that too.

Maybe I didn’t need Maisie. Maybe I had Raine now.

Or maybe I was just kidding myself.

Or dependent.

When Raine let go I wished we were anywhere but here, anywhere but in the Medieval Metaphysics room with an angry werewolf and Evelyn. Raine took a deep breath and crossed the room, whirling into action. All she needed was a long trench coat billowing out behind her to complete the look.

“Right, Evelyn, what do you need? List me.”

“Hmm. Paper. The silver plate underneath the stairs. The bottle of aqua vitae. That’s still in the kitchen cupboard, has a picture of unicorn on it, you can’t miss it. Inprencibilis Vermis from my library, third shelf up on the left hand wall, you know the one.”

“That’s it?”

Evelyn nodded.

“S’not much.”

“It’s an experiment. Probably won’t even work.”

“Got it, no probs. And you.” Raine turned to our grumpy werewolf visitor. Twil was still hunched up like a brooding teenager with her hair half down in front of her face.

She shot a dark look at Raine. “What?”

“Heather trusts you. I don’t. If she’s wrong and I’m right, I’ll kill you.”

Her voice sent a cold hand crawling up my spine. That wasn’t the Raine who hugged me a moment ago. That wasn’t my Raine.

Twil just grunted.

Raine turned to me one last time, winked, and then she was out of the door. The latch clicked shut behind her, followed by the sound of her footsteps receding down the corridor, walking fast.

I made a conscious effort to smile, but nobody was paying attention. Evelyn lay in her chair, watching Twil through half-open eyes. Twil stared back, the very picture of a wolf waiting for prey to slip up.

“Well then,” I said. “Won’t be long, I hope.”

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