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       Emblaze, p.8

           Jessica Shirvington
 

  „What are you suggesting, Spence?" Griffin responded.

  „You want me to leave her there to die," I said, wanting to desperately to hate Spence with all my heart. And I did. Hate him for being the person who said it. For highlighting the price of my choice.

  „Steph"s my friend, too. I want to get her out of there. But I think we should be trying to break her out."

  „The trade is the only option if we want to get her out alive. We will try and made a plan.

  None of us wants to let that Scripture out of our hands, but if Violet doesn"t turn up to that café with the real thing tomorrow …" Griffin didn"t need to say any more.

  Spence nodded. „You"re the boss," he said, looking at Griffin and then me. A backhanded statement. I knew he was insinuating that I was calling the shots, that even though I"d abdicated my rightful role of leader, I was in one way or another still driving the decisions.

  It wasn"t true. I hadn"t forced Griffin into anything. That didn"t mean I wouldn"t do it regardless, wouldn"t just take the Scripture and find a way to get Steph back on my own, but I hadn"t made Griffin agree with me. I knew he"d done so far his own reasons, the reasons that set Grigori apart from exiles.

  Collateral damage was not acceptable in Griffin"s eyes after everything that had happened with Magda, the way she had betrayed us all for her own selfish desires. He wouldn"t give on this issue, even though he understood Spence"s point of view. Hell, even I understood it. It just wasn"t going to change anything.

  Spence, realising it was a closed subject, took himself off for a shower. He"d set up home in Lincoln"s spare bedroom and the two of them seemed to co-exist quite well.

  Although Lincoln was always happy to have his home used as a kind of base of operations, he liked his private space so I"d been surprised he"d been willing to have a flatmate.

  Griffin also made a move, heading for the door. "I"m going back to the hospital and then check on Kaitlin. I"ll see you tomorrow."

  He was all business. Seeing there was nothing else he could do here tonight, there was no point him staying. I was sure he had no intention of sleeping, though.

  -

  When Lincoln and I were alone, I stood up. „I should leave," I said.

  „Where are you planning on going?" Lincoln asked, standing too. We both knew I couldn"t go home.

  „Maybe back to the hospital." I wanted to check on Dapper and, to my surprise, Onyx, plus no one would be suspicious of someone having a sleep in the waiting area if I could manage to close my eyes.

  Lincoln shook his head.

  „What?" I asked.

  „You need to sleep. Especially if …" he was going to say, If you have to face Phoenix tomorrow, but he still didn"t want to concede t that. „You can sleep in my room."

  And then, despite all of the drama, despite all of my fears for Steph, I found myself staring into Lincoln"s so-green eyes and the connection between us danced a dance of everything forbidden.

  Spence came out of the bathroom wearing boxers and nothing else. He looked up at us briefly, not noticing that the tension in the room had risen even further. He threw one hand up as he crossed the hall to his room, ruffling his wet hair with his other. „Night," he said, before closing his door.

  Lincoln disappeared into his room for a moment and reappeared with a towel, T-shirt and lightweight sweats.

  He shrugged, handing them over. „I don"t think you have any more supplies here. If you give me your clothes we can throw them in the washing machine for tomorrow."

  I nodded, heading for the bathroom.

  I had a scalding-hot shower, using the time to pull myself together. Steph needed me to be strong, needed me to bring her back. I could blame myself later - it wasn"t going to help right now to theorise about all the horrible things they could be doing to her. Lincoln was right. They"d be expecting us to try to get her back tonight, and even if they did have her at the airport, which Phoenix still appeared to be using as his base of operations, that plane was too heavily guarded. We needed time to prepare. The titanium that lined the massive Antanov still affected our senses - hindering them so not only would we not know if Steph was in there, but we wouldn"t know how many exiles were waiting either.

  I dressed in the clothes Lincoln had lent me, comforted and troubled me at the same time. Even clean, they smelled of him, of his power, like sunny days and melting honey.

  He was already in his bedroom when I opened the door.

  His eyes darted up. „Sorry, I"m just grabbing a few things."

  I shrugged. „Take your time."

  Of course, he didn"t he was straight out of there and into the bathroom himself.

  I"d never been in his room before. Without him, that is. I"d certainly never slept in his bed.

  I found myself exploring, unable to resist, running my hands over the curves of his wooden bed, the softness of his cotton sheets. There was a picture of him as a child with his mother and one of her with someone I assumed had been his father. I picked it up and from the back another photo fell out.

  My heart dived and my hand shook, holding a snapshot of myself.

  He keeps a photo of me.

  It had been taken months ago, just before my seventeenth birthday, just before I"d found out about everything. I looked so different, hanging in mid-air in a rock-climbing harness, smiling. Young.

  I heard the shower stop and hastily put the photo back. It didn"t change anything.

  I got into the bed and sat up. I heard him come out of the bathroom and then it was a while before he popped his head around the door. Maybe he hadn"t wanted to come back.

  „Goodnight, Vi," he said, sporting a strained smile and careful not to cross the threshold.

  „Linc?"

  „Yeah?" he replied.

  Stay!

  „Thanks."

  A look passed over his face and he watched me for a moment before saying, „It"ll all be okay."

  I hoped desperately that he was right.

  I slid between the sheets and rolled onto my side, listening as the door closed softly, followed by a lengthy delay before footsteps drifted away down the hall.

  I spent the next hour biting my lip, half sitting up, wanting to go out and see him, then flopping back onto the bed, settling instead for burying my head under his pillow and breathing in the deliciously tormenting scents that were all him.

  At one point I actually made it out of the room and into the hall. But after a few steps I could hear that he was awake himself, pacing around in the living room, and I found myself sneaking back into his room, closing the door behind me and cringing when it clicked. He"d know I"d been out.

  I waited, half expecting him to come and confront me or something. But he didn"t and eventually I stopped being a maniac and, exhausted, slipped into a much-needed few hours of sleep.

  CHAPTER TEN

  „No trumpets sound when the important decisions of our life are made. Destiny is made known silently."

  Agnes de Mille

  I woke Thursday morning to find my clothes, clean and folded, at the end of the bed. I knew he"d done it during the night and almost laughed out loud at how pathetic we were.

  I got dressed and headed out to the living room. Spence was at the dining table „drinking"

  a bowl of cereal. Lincoln was on the couch, asleep.

  „You want some?" Spence offered, quietly, trying not to wake Lincoln.

  There was a part of me that strongly suspected he was not asleep. The man was a warrior of warriors - I doubted he"d sleep easy with other people up and about around him.

  But I wasn"t going to find out. He at least deserved that form me.

  „No," I said. „I"m going for a run and when I get back, we"ve got to go to school."

  „Not me." He looked me up and down. „And not you, dressed like that."

  „Yes, you are. I need your help. And I have a spare uniform at school." I wrinkled my nose at the thought of the uniform that was stuffed at the back of my locker. It
probably smelled like old bananas.

  Spence groaned. „Eden, school isn"t for me and right now, with everything going on, Griffin"s hardly going to bother checking if I"m going or not."

  „I don"t care if you turn up. I just want to make sure Steph does."

  Spence put down his spoon and looked up, the first sign of interest showing. He loved a plan.

  „I need you to show up as Steph, walk around for a bit and make sure people see her complaining of a headache. It"ll be easier to cover for her that way."

  „Won"t they call her mum if she gets sent home sick?"

  „Yeah, but if we"re there before classes start, then she won"t have signed in. people will just think she decided to go home and the teacher won"t bother calling her mum. They"re all scared of her mum anyway." It was true and with the school dance coming up and Mrs Morris one of the main contributors, they already had to deal with her more than they liked.

  Spence considered this and, from the shrug and final two gigantic slurps of his cereal, seemed to agree it was a good idea. He nodded while still chewing. I rolled my eyes as I went out the door.

  „Have I told you how much I love your devious streak?" he called after me.

  I rang Dad on the way to school and let him know Steph and I were back safe and sound and that we were going straight o class. He sounded relieved but there was that something in his tone that I was hearing more and more - doubt. He ordered me straight home after school. I wondered if it was Caroline, if somehow she was pointing out to him that he seemed to be missing something fairly major. Caroline had always looked at me like she knew something was going on,

  By the time we arrived at school, Spence was under a Steph-glamour. If I hadn"t known better it would have fooled me. He had everything down - her spritzy blonde hair perfectly styled, well-fitting shorter-than-regulation-length uniform, even her low-slung backpack, worn that way to counter the fact that it was always jam-packed with books.

  Seeing Spence as her brought everything to the surface and I couldn"t help but throw my arms around him. I missed her so much. I had to get her back in one piece. Inside and out.

  Spence seemed to realise and hugged me back. „She"ll be okay. And-" he squeezed me a little tighter, „I"m sorry, Eden, I shouldn"t have said those things last night. I"ve got your back - you know that, right?"

  „I know." And I was counting on it, too. If the time should come, Spence might be my best hope of taking Phoenix down.

  -

  The morning went smoothly and after Spence had made sure a good number of teachers and students had seen Steph complaining of a headache and cramps - his own contribution, thinking it would piss Steph off - he bailed.

  I stayed around, making sure the story stuck, telling people she"d gone home for the day.

  No one questioned it. Steph was one of the trustworthy ones.

  I went through the rest of the day impatiently -frustrated that I couldn"t be doing more. I knew Griffin and the others would be working on a plan, a way to get Steph back and keep the Scripture safe, and I hated that I wasn"t being more helpful. Instead I had to endure double English and Lydia Skilton"s hyperactive response to beating me at track. After Spence"s show-off tactics in basketball. I figured I shouldn"t draw any further attention to our group.

  My last two periods were study free so I took the chance and left early. Kids did it all the time and teachers never really bothered to make a big deal about it.

  I called griffin and asked him to meet me in private. Hesitant, but clearly intrigued, he agreed. I waited for him outside school.

  As Lincoln"s Volvo came down the street I though for a moment that Griffin had brought him along, but when the car pulled up he was alone.

  I jumped in. „Thanks, Griffin" I said, taking a look in the back, just to be sure.

  I asked him to drive me home. I knew I had to see Dad and somehow find my way back out before tonight.

  „So," Griffin said, when we pulled up outside my place, breaking the uncomfortable silence. There was so much to talk about but both of us had needed a moment. „What"s going on?"

  I played with the key ring hanging off the zip of my school bag. „I need you to help me strengthen my defences."

  „More combat training?"

  „No. Not those defences. I … I need to be stronger around Phoenix. Keep him … out."

  „Oh."

  I couldn"t look at Griffin. I was ashamed that Phoenix affected me the way he did and I hated to admit if. But for Steph"s sake I had to.

  „I think that is once defence you"re going to have to develop on your own, Violet. It"s not that I don"t want to help you, it"s just that … Well, your connection to Phoenix is unusual, as it was originally made by choice." He hesitated, like he didn"t really want to go on.

  „Griff, I need to know this stuff."

  He nodded. „If you want to defend yourself from him I suspect the key is in truly wanting to. There is a part of you, perhaps buried so deep that you"re not even aware of it, that is choosing to let him in."

  „That"s not true - I hate him!"

  „I believe that. But that"s not all you feel for him."

  I wanted to be made, say something hurtful to Griffin in return. I didn"t know if he was right, but I wasn"t sure that he was wrong either. There was a part of me, a part I tried to ignore, that thought of Phoenix from time to time. I always shut it out but it was still there, longing for escape to the place no other living creature could take me. The bliss.

  It wasn"t real. It was completely fake. But that"s also why I desired it and as things got harder, even though it was him that was making them that way, I still felt lured by the prospect of escape. It wasn"t Phoenix - it was what he could do.

  Guiltily, I looked at Griffin. "Don"t tell …"

  „I wouldn"t," he said, impressing truth into his words.

  Griffin smiled solemnly. "We are soldiers in an eternal war," he said, as if they were answer enough.

  „How are you going, anyway?" I asked.

  „You mean Magda?"

  I shrugged, nervous to be raising the subject. No one had heard from Magda since the day she"d stormed out. It had been awful for Griffin to discover she"d been allying with exiles and deceiving him for so long.

  He looked out the window, keeping his expression blank. „What"s done is done. Magda is no longer one of us. Looking back, I don"t know that she ever really was. To be Grigori you don"t have to believe in God, you don"t have to want world peace …" he sighed, „but … you have to believe in humanity, in our rights to exist and be free. Magda took that right from too many people."

  „Do you think you"ll ever see her again?"

  „I hope not, because if I do, it won"t mean anything good."

  „Will you …?"

  He looked at me now. „Find another partner?"

  „Yeah."

  His hands ran around the steering wheel, thoughtfully. „Theoretically, until one of us dies or makes a formal request - Magda and I remain partners." He sighed again. „I"ll get a new partner, eventually. I believe in the system. There are some that choose not to, deciding instead to be part of the clean-up crew, be teachers or one of the Rogue, but none of that"s for me. Anyway, I"m not ready yet."

  I shifted in my seat to face him more directly. „Who are the Rogue?"

  He hitched a shoulder and dropped his hands from the wheel. „Grigori who are not part of the system or not taken a new one after their partner has died, but for whatever reason they choose to go out alone. Not part of any particular territory, preferring simply to roam, they work on their own set of … flexible rules."

  I could tell Griffin didn"t think much of the Rogue, but the concept fascinated me. The idea that there were Grigori out there just living their own lives. I wondered what they did if they were hurt since they wouldn"t have partners to heal them.

  „So they don"t answer to anyone?" I asked.

  „Yes and no. most of them work on a contract basis in return for income and o
ther resources, but they don"t consider themselves part of any team and are unreliable at best."

  „Is that what my mother became?" I"d always wondered what her role had been after she"d married Dad and moved here. Griffin had been in the city by then, but he"d swore to me he"d never crossed paths with her.

  „No. From what I understand your mother was always loyal to the Assembly, but after her partner and finding your father she had taken …and extended leave."

  -

  I was still thinking about my conversation with Griffin when I opened my apartment door and saw Dad sitting at the dining table. With Caroline. He had papers strew across the table and was tapping away on his laptop while she sat close beside him, passing him documents. I failed to hide my surprise. He"d said he"d be waiting for me when I got him, but I wasn"t convinced he"d actually be there. And in as many years as she"d been working for Dad, he"d never brought Caroline home.

  „Hi Dad, hi Caroline," I said, carefully.

  „Hi Violet," Caroline said, chirpier than usual. She played with one of her long caramel curls, nervously picking up another piece of paper. She knew her being there said something.

  Dad finished whatever he"d been typing, took the next document from Caroline and looked up.

  „You"re early. Are you okay?" he asked, following textbook parenting and not acknowledging the fact that we had a guest - as if it were normal practice.

  „Yeah, study period. I"m sorry about last night. We really hadn"t planned on being late home and we did try to call," I said, following textbook daughter vagueness. Also ignoring Caroline.

  Dad looked at me for a sign of deception, but I held his eyes - I didn"t like it, but I could lie. I was my mother"s daughter, after all. But just then, he glanced at Caroline and she gave a minute nod.

  „Well, I want you home around home more for the next couple of weeks. You"ve only got a short amount of school left and I know most of your exams are finished, but you still have a few subjects you need to concentrate on."

 
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