Shadow’s Blade – Snippet 11
“For today. Sorry you wound up doing the cooking.”
She shook her head. “It was my turn. You’ve cooked all week.”
“How are you feeling?”
“I’m all right,” she said. But she wouldn’t meet my gaze.
Billie had recovered from the worst of the injuries she suffered when Saorla blew up our favorite restaurant. The compound fracture of her arm had healed, though she was still going to physical therapy, trying to work back to full mobility. And the symptoms of the concussion had vanished for the most part, though she still had occasional headaches and brief bouts of dizziness. The rest of her bruises and cuts were nothing but a memory. But memories were the hardest part of what remained.
We had both been watching for signs of post-traumatic stress disorder, and we’d seen a few. She wasn’t sleeping well. When she did sleep, she had terrible dreams, many of them of the explosion itself. And we hadn’t eaten out since the attack. We’d gotten food to go, but she admitted to me that she felt vulnerable in restaurants. At my urging, she had started talking to a therapist, but she was struggling still.
I was, too, but in a different way. The explosion wasn’t my fault. I knew that. Saorla had used it as a warning, as intimidation. She wanted me to help her kill Namid, and she was willing to resort to threats and torture in order to bend me to her will.
But even knowing this, I blamed myself for Billie’s injuries. If she hadn’t been with me, she wouldn’t have gotten hurt. Plain and simple. The logic of it was as immutable as anything Namid had ever said to me. I had been selfish. She was funny and smart and beautiful and I wanted her in my life. The problem was, my life was dangerous, and for someone like Billie, who didn’t possess magic, spending time with me could well prove fatal.
I probably should have told her as much and ended our relationship. Doing so would have broken my heart, but it would have been the best thing for her. Problem was, I loved her. Talk about addictions. I’m not sure I could have given up Billie Castle even if someone developed a twelve-step plan for me.
I crossed to where she stood, took the spoon from her hand and rested it on the edge of the pot, and took her in my arms. “How are you feeling?” I asked again.
She answered with a self-conscious smile and put her head on my shoulder. “It’s been a hard day,” she said, her voice low. “There was a loud boom earlier — I don’t know what it was. And then a few minutes later I heard a bunch of sirens as the fire trucks drove by over on Southern. I haven’t been able to do much of anything since. I couldn’t work, I couldn’t read. I didn’t want to leave the house.” She pulled back to look me in the eye. “That’s why I started cooking. It was the only thing I could do with myself. It was either cook, or curl up in a ball and hide under the covers.”
She held up a hand, silencing me.
I’d made a habit of apologizing for her symptoms, which Billie found annoying and her therapist called inappropriate.
“I was going to say that I’m famished,” I told her, “and whatever you’re making smells great.”
That coaxed a smile. “Liar.”
I kissed her. “Best I could do on the spur of the moment. And whatever you’re making really does smell amazing.”
“I know. Enchilada suizas. They’ll be done soon, so make yourself useful and open a bottle of wine.”
We ate a quiet meal: good food, nice white wine, candlelight. Billie didn’t have much to say about her day beyond what she had already told me, and so I wound up describing for her in some detail what I’d seen at the Casa del Oro and then later at the burger place. There had been a time when I tried to hide from her the more distasteful aspects of my job. Not anymore. She wanted to know about all of it, and the truth was, I enjoyed being able to talk about my work without fear of saying too much. We had placed only one condition on these conversations: Unless we agreed explicitly that what I was telling her was fair game for her blog, all that we discussed remained off the record.
Billie had grown quiet when I mentioned Saorla and her minions, but now, after a lengthy silence, she asked, “Why would Saorla keep sending weremystes after you? She’s not allowed to hurt you; Namid is still protecting you, right?”
“She and Namid have an agreement. I don’t know exactly what he’d do to her if she went back on her word, but I’m pretty sure he wouldn’t be gentle in whatever it was.”
“So then why?”
I hesitated. I had done my best to stop keeping secrets from her, but this was one I’d yet to reveal.
“She’s convinced that Namid won’t always be so vigilant, and that eventually she’ll be able to have her revenge. And until then, I guess she likes to remind me that she’s out there and that I shouldn’t get too comfortable.”
I took a sip of my wine, watching her over the rim of my glass, wondering if this would satisfy her.
“Does Namid know about these attacks?”
Not from me. “I’m not sure how much he knows. He senses a lot of what happens to me.”
“But you haven’t told him.”
I traced a finger along the stem of my glass. “No.”
“Because I can’t run to Namid every time some magical kid steals my lunch money.” Which was true, as far as it went. “He’s not supposed to intervene in our world. The only reason he was willing to step in with Saorla was that she has no more right to mess with us than he does. I can’t depend on him. I have to deal with her myself.”
“That’s not very convincing.”
“But it’s the truth.”
“It’s true, but it’s not everything,” she said, eyes flashing in the light of the candle. “And you know it.”
This was the problem with falling in love with someone as smart as Billie. She missed nothing, and she didn’t tolerate bull. More than that, she didn’t like it when I tried to protect her. She regarded me now, her cheeks bright red, but the rest of her face pale, her lips pressed thin.
I tried to hold her gaze, but I couldn’t for more than a few seconds.
“I think Saorla keeps sending her weremancers after me because she wants to make certain I don’t forget about . . . an arrangement that she and I have.”
“An arrangement? What the hell does that mean?”
“She would say that I owe her a boon.”
“A boon,” she repeated. “You mean you owe Saorla a favor of some sort?”
She glared at me. “I don’t understand. Why would you promise her anything? She’s insane. She tried to kill you!”
“More than once. I was there, remember?”
“Then why –?”
She broke off, her eyes still fixed on me. I saw understanding wash over her. Blood drained from her cheeks and her anger sluiced away, leaving her wide-eyed with fear and guilt.
“You did it for me, didn’t you? That day she came to my hospital room.”
I reached across the table and took her hand. Her fingers were frigid.
Saorla had appeared in Billie’s room in Banner Desert Medical Center only a few days after the explosion at Solana’s Taqueria, and had threatened to kill Billie if I didn’t join her there. I managed to fight the necromancer to a stalemate, but the threat to Billie remained. I begged her to spare Billie’s life, and she agreed, but only after I promised that I would owe her a favor as payment for her mercy. It probably wasn’t the smartest thing I’d ever done, but at the time I didn’t see any other way to keep Billie safe.
“I didn’t tell you because I didn’t want you to worry, or to feel responsible.”
“What will you do?”
I shrugged. “I don’t know. Maybe she’ll ask for something benign. Maybe she’ll want me to pick up her dry cleaning or something like that.”
She laughed. “You’re a clown, you know that?”
“So you’ve told me.”
“Seriously, Fearsson, what are you going to do when Saorla calls in her chit?
“I’m going to find some way to fulfill my end of our bargain without doing anything illegal or immoral. And failing that . . .” I shrugged again. I had been planning to say, Failing that, I’ll refuse to do what she wants, but that would leave me back where I was during the summer, with Billie’s life hanging in the balance.
Fortunately, before I could say more, my cell phone rang. I pulled it from my pocket, expecting to see Kona’s name on the screen. Instead, there was only a number, though one that struck me as vaguely familiar.
I opened the phone and said, “Fearsson.”
At the sound of the voice, my heart seemed to stop beating. The only thing worse would have been a call from Saorla.
“This is Jacinto Amaya.”
“Yes, sir,” I said, my mouth dry. “I recognized your voice.”
“Really? You don’t sound glad to hear from me.”
To which I had nothing to say at all.