TW: Transphobia, implied stalking, gaslighting, aggressive behaviour
“That was disappointingly quick,” they purred, folding their hands under their chin. “What’s the point of being a shapeshifter if you keep catching on?”
“Try investing in acting lessons.” The cold paranoia was creeping up my spine again. At least this time I knew. And they knew I knew. No more mind games.
Of course, maybe I was speaking too soon.
“We’ve met before. Haven’t we?” I asked quietly, trying to dislodge the feeling from my back. It was more than just paranoia. It was that feeling of having forgotten something.
A spark of excitement appeared in the false Nathan’s green eyes. “You remember?”
“Yeah.” I paused. “You were out on LeBreton. Right? You’re Kiera, or at least that’s what Avery called you.”
The spark vanished, and their eyes went flat. “Yes, that’s me.”
“That’s how you disappeared on me.” I chewed on my pen. “So can you turn into anything?”
“I’m not here to be interviewed. Although it’s entertaining how utterly clueless you are about yourself.”
“I wasn’t asking about myself.”
“It’s all part of the same thing.”
“I already said I wasn’t-”
“Nobody will give me a damn straight answer,” I snapped. “And this is twice now you’ve cornered me with somebody else’s face.”
Kiera frowned, then chuckled. “Fine. What have you gotten?”
“Four core elements, three celestial elements. Seven total.”
“And you know what I am.”
“A Mercury.” I couldn’t help a jibe. “I Googled it. Apparently mercury’s poisonous.”
She stuck her tongue out at me – or Nathan’s tongue, I supposed. “In large doses. Anyway, you and I are both celestial elementals.”
“It means we’re special.” That grin came back. I didn’t trust it. I didn’t trust her.
I debated asking her for more. But –
Her smile dropped. “Oh, boo. We’re talking big questions of identity, and you’re worried about some dumb boy?”
“Where is he?”
“I gave him a bonk on the head. He’s in the bathroom. He’ll be fine.”
“A bonk on the head,” I repeated. “You know anything that knocks somebody out is a minor concussion, right?”
“Oh, whatever. He’s not even an elemental.”
I forced myself not to react. This was one of the few moments where even I knew that punching wouldn’t solve anything. It would be really damn satisfying, though.
“So are there a lot of you shapeshifters around?” I asked as casually as I could manage. I doubted it, somehow – or at least that I’d somehow attracted two shapeshifters.
“There’s a few, but we’re a rare breed compared to the rest of you.”
“So you’re the one paying me.”
“No reason. Just making sure I’m not mixing up my tricksters.”
Kiera snickered. “I probably should spend more time with you with my real face. It is the one you saw first, though.”
“Tall, black hair?”
“That’s the one. Do you like it?”
“Jury’s out.” I didn’t like the way she was looking at me. Actually, I didn’t like anything about her. I didn’t like the way she was leaning across the table, glittering eyes fixed on mine. I didn’t like what she had done to Nathan, even if I could trust that the poor kid was alive. I didn’t like the casual way she stole identities.
More than anything else, I didn’t like the feeling that I was missing something. Something important. Something that I was supposed to know.
“On the topic of the case,” she said lightly, “any luck?”
“On figuring out who killed him? Nah. I’m chasing some leads, but nothing so far.”
“Maybe I can help-” She reached for the pad of paper, and I slid it off the table and into my pocket.
“I don’t think so.”
“I’m your employer.”
“I have my own methods. And I work alone.”
“God, you’re a stick in the mud these days.”
I pressed my lips together and tried not to say anything. The nachos Nathan and I had ordered showed up, and Kiera rubbed her hands together, pulling one of them up. “What are these.”
“Hum. They look good.”
I pulled out Will’s phone, keeping it under the table so Kiera couldn’t guess it wasn’t mine. Thank god Will had a data plan. A quick google search gave me the address of the place we were at – 1009 Wellington Street West – and then I flipped over to the empty messenger app. Whoever Ophis was, if they had to do with Will, they wanted me for themselves.
WILLOW: 1009 wellington west
A moment later, the reply came.
Fuck. And no word on whether or not I was even getting a bailout.
I glanced around the restaurant. Fairly quiet, even for a Tuesday. I could just let Kiera say her piece, and hope she would leave eventually. I could hope that Nathan was just unconscious or even that he was in on it and just chilling in a stall.
“I gotta pee.”
“Uh huh. Don’t fall in.” She flashed me a dazzling smile which told me that if I took too long, she was going to come check on me. I knew her kind of person. I’d had enough of them as “concerned” foster parents.
The bathroom hallway was around the corner, and I glanced at the door to the women’s, inching the door open to look inside. Multi-stall, which was frustrating, but workable. Then I took the extra few steps down the hallway and marched into the men’s washroom.
Nathan lay unconscious against the wall, another man crouched over him. “H-hey, you can’t-”
“Save it. He’s my brother,” I lied easily. “Is he okay?”
“I’m not sure, I just came in here.” The guy reached for Nathan’s wrist. “Uh, he’s got a MedAlert bracelet – should I call an ambulance?”
I hesitated, then grabbed for the bracelet. Never mind that I was supposed to be his sister – I had to know. Celiac’s Disease. I fumbled with my memory. A bump on the head shouldn’t give him any trouble – assuming Kiera had told the truth. But if he had a concussion…
Avery had better show up. Whatever was going on, I didn’t want to stick an innocent bystander with an ambulance bill he might not be able to pay – and that I certainly couldn’t pay for him. I doubted Kiera was going to cover it.
“I got it from here.” I flashed the guy a smile. “Don’t worry.”
He didn’t look convinced, but strangers didn’t have to care about strangers. He’d done his good deed for the day.
I picked up Nathan with a huff, secretly glad he was thin as a rake. I could feel his ribs through his shirt. “God. Sorry,” I murmured to him, too quiet to be heard by anybody else – and he was out like a light. “I’ll keep you more out of the way next time.”
I made it to the door, pressed the auto-open and thanked the Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act under my haggard breath –
– and came face to face with Kiera again, drumming her fingers against the wall next to the door and black hair draped into her eyes. Her proper face, this time.
“And here I thought you’d be using the girl’s bathroom.”
I hated her voice. I hated how she talked. And I hated, hated, hated that she acted like we were old friends, that she could make little quips like that and they’d be funny. Like I hadn’t gotten called dyke and lez and butch and man-hands for years.
The man behind me hid in the stall, and Kiera didn’t seem to recognize it, but I heard the click of a camera shutter. Idiot. He’d taken a picture of Kiera instead of calling the cops. The good news was, he would only get the backs of my and Nathan’s heads.
I edged out of the bathroom, but she still blocked the way back out to the restaurant. My jacket. My jacket – with my phone, my knife, my pad – was still out in the restaurant.
I had Will’s phone. Fat lot of good that’d do me.
Kiera took another step towards me, looming over me in a way that I really, really didn’t appreciate. “I gave you money. That means you report to me.” Any semblance of friendliness was gone, suddenly, as she let the heavy bathroom door slam closed. “Gurjas had somebody with him. A girl. Maybe your age, a bit younger. Where did she go?”
“Look, I don’t know if this is gang business or drug business or something else way, way out of my league but you can have your money back-”
Kiera laughed. “I don’t think so. We both know you can’t afford that.”
Dammit, she was right. I didn’t want her to be right. I could tell myself I preferred being homeless to whatever this was, but it was – it was an impossible situation.
I remembered, out of nowhere, what Avery had said about thinking loudly. Time to try it.
PLEASE HELP ME PLEASE HELP ME PLEASE HELP ME – I tried to remember the address as well. I got close enough, and an image of the storefront.
Kiera took another step forward, and I inched backwards, and added for good measure, Will I am sorry about the phone thing! I do not want to die for it!
I mean, it was worth a shot. Why had nobody given me useful information, like the range on this mind reading thing?
Hold your damn horses, I’m on my way.
Oh thank god.
A moment later, and infinitely sooner than I expected, Avery appeared in the hallway behind Kiera. …You couldn’t say it was Kiera?
I didn’t know she was a PROBLEM!
Kiera sighed and glanced over her shoulder. “Really? Already? Jamal and I were just chatting.”
Jamal – run. She’s after you. Nathan will be fine.
I didn’t need to be told twice. I turned tail and fled – through the hallway, through the ‘employees-only’ door and as far, far away from Kiera as I could manage.