tw: police brutality mention, suicide mention, Russia/fascism mention, porn/masturbation mention, vigilante justice/ethics discussed, lashing out/coping with violence, incredibly bad sibling relationships
Cassandra stayed framed in the window, staring at me and Jaylie through the opening. Then, once Will had stepped back and given her some room, she placed her feet elegantly on the sill and returned her sardonic gaze to her sister. “If I’d known you were entertaining, I would have simply—”
“One, no you wouldn’t. Two, gross. They’re babies.”
I chose not to take that personally. Much.
“In her defense,” Jaylie added slyly, “we did land in her bed—”
“Jaylie, fair warning, Will might throw you out the window.”
“Oh. Fair. I would deserve it.”
“I am not throwing anybody out of the window,” Will sighed. “Except possibly myself.”
“It’s four stories. It wouldn’t kill you.”
That answered that question, at least. Terrifyingly. I decided ‘flying people’ was too much.
“I’m not suicidal, dumbass. Just annoyed that you’ve successfully bullied your way into my apartment. But,” Will said cheerily, “you have company and people to talk to, or at, so I’m just gonna—”
Cass wordlessly hooked two fingers into the strap of Will’s tank top as she started to move away , and she batted the fingers away. “Fine, fine, message fucking received.”
“Uh huh. How did you two get in here? There’s only one door. I would have seen you.”
“Have you ever considered that’s kind of creepy, Cass?”
“Hush.” Then Cass narrowed her eyes at me. “You were in the Medium again.”
Ah. Excellent. Time to sweat nervously, since attention was finally back on me. “Uh.”
“It’s not Jamal’s fault,” Jaylie interrupted, and I was struck with the sudden relieved urge to melt into the floor. “I was trapped. She elected to come in after me.”
Elected? God. I was surrounded by smart kids. Again.
As Jaylie started outlining what had happened—more or less—Will’s voice floated into my head. Sorry about the bad timing. If I’d known you were coming, I seriously would have—uh—
Told Cassandra to shove it? I offered, trying not to sound too amused.
You’re not a Sulfur, you can’t tone control. Stop laughing at me, by the way. She sat down on the bed, attempting and failing to pull the sheets back over the corners.
I’m not! I’m just—
I glanced up at her again—then realized she had one of those soft smiles on her face, looking back at me. To my horror, I felt a blush crawl up my face again and I tried to change the topic.
Does Cassandra make a habit of this?
Does that mean yes?
BLEGH. She gets all concerned about me when I don’t answer the phone or talk to people, or post on Facebook or Twitter, or do anything but play Darkest Dungeon, or—
So when you do things that are concerning.
Will promptly picked up the box of Kleenex next to her and tossed it at me. I batted it away, smothering the laugh that would have burst out loud—then picked up the box of Kleenex. Box of Kleenex on your bed? Really?
She turned an absolutely priceless shade of crimson. FUCK OFF.
Is there a copy of Playboy under your sheets? Or Playgirl?
First of all, she tossed her head, it’d be Playboy. I’m a lesbian. Er, sort of. Bi lesbian. But boys are on thin fucking ice. Second of all, I have higher standards than Playboy. Third of all I am not talking to you about porn and fourth of all I JUST HAVE ALLERGIES FUCK OFF.
But you might still have some magazines floating around, is what I’m hearing.
Go boil your head, detective lady.
I was ready to keep teasing her—it was bizarrely fun, especially since she was so pale that her blush reached all the way to her ears—but then some of what Jaylie was saying slipped into my ears, and I nearly dropped the box of tissues. “Sorry, what was that?”
Jaylie glanced over at me with a slightly-frustrated glare. “We’re going to kill her.”
“Wh—” Then I realized who she meant. “Kiera?”
Cassandra shrugged. “She’s killed enough people as it is. I’m not… happy about it, but it seems like something to consider—”
I felt the tips of my fingers going numb. I hadn’t told anybody about what Kiera had actually said to me. How could I? And I knew what they’d say. It didn’t take away from what she’d done. It didn’t make any of it better. It honestly kind of made it worse. And I couldn’t make any sense of why the fuck I should care. But…
“Whoa, whoa. Alright. Hold on a sec.” There was a quiet, understated fury in Will’s voice as she stood up from the bed, switching from embarrassed to stubbornly angry in a matter of seconds. “We’re not talking about killing people.”
“She attacked a temple.”
“Yeah, and nobody died. It’s terrible. Not gonna debate that. But don’t you think—”
“Don’t you think it’s our responsibility to take care of threats in our own community?” Cassandra shot back, cutting Will off. “What do you want to do? Call the cops? Get her arrested? How long would that last?”
“I’m just saying maybe you shouldn’t be deciding for everybody.”
“Oh, yeah, let me just convene the tattered remnants of our community and take a fucking vote—”
Jaylie cleared her throat. “If I may interrupt? I can definitely say, she’s not going to listen to reason. If you were thinking about that.” There was the lingering fear under her voice,
What if she can’t? I thought quietly. I couldn’t say it. I couldn’t get my mouth to work. This was my own fault, for triggering that fucking memory – the psych ward, the number of times I’d tried to explain that my anger wasn’t irrational – only to end up right back at irrational. Apparently. I didn’t know. I couldn’t – Kiera didn’t have anything to do with that, but I couldn’t think in a straight line about it.
“If you want to be a dictator, Cass,” Will said in a threatening undertone, “fuck off to Russia.”
“Oh, pleasant. Telling other queer kids to go to the country with the gay camps.”
“You’re derailing. Don’t be a bitch.”
“Don’t overlook the problem.” Cass folded her arms, face pale with two spots of colour high on her cheekbones. “How many people are going to start dying without Salts to stabilize them, Will? Enough unstable elementals get shot by cops or jump off bridges as it is.”
Jaylie raised and lowered her eyebrows at the cops part, and I couldn’t blame her—no, not Jaylie. Her features had begun to shift, quietly and subtly enough that I wasn’t sure Will and Cass had noticed, but I did—mostly because I had a good guess who was taking her place. He looked different on the outside, just like she had, but the splash of white vitiligo over his face, the slight thickening of his chin and his nose, and the shift of his eyes to a lighter colour gave it away. The most conspicuous change was how Jaylie’s braids folded themselves up into a tight bun, looking for all the world like she’d tied them up herself if you hadn’t seen it happen. Sunvay. Of course.
“Right, so playing cops ourselves is a great idea. Or did you enjoy it so much last time—”
The slap pierced the room louder than a gunshot. For a second, I didn’t even realize what had happened. But then my brain processed Cassandra lowering her hand, Will’s closed eyes, the furious tears welling in Cass’s eyes—and then with an equally loud slam, Cass was gone, the door shutting behind her.
“Well,” Sunvay commented brightly a doom-laden silence later, “that could have gone better.”
“Are you kidding?” Will replied dryly. “That’s better than most of my conversations with her have gone in a while.” Then she glared at Sunvay. “So, how many of you are in there?”
“So glad to know you can’t keep your nose to yourself.”
“Not by choice, I promise. You can leave too, by the way—”
“No, no, he’s fine,” I mumbled. It was the most I’d managed to get out of my mouth yet. Will shot me a glance, then put a careful hand on my shoulder, getting me to sit back down on her bed. “Thanks.” I didn’t… like Sunvay, exactly. But despite how aggressive he’d been to me at first, I could vibe with ‘grumpy angry protector’ a lot more than most of the rest of Jaylie’s crew at the moment.
“Don’t worry about it.” Then she rubbed the back of her neck, exhaling. “You. Er, Jaylie—”
“Sunvay,” he offered.
“Promise to stop talking about killing people? At least for now?” Will sounded almost desperate, I realized. She was just as anxious around the topic as I was, if not more.
“Yeah, I can do that.”
“Cool. Siddown for a minute. Then we can go get McDonald’s.”
He sat down next to me, and I noticed with interest that he was taller than Jaylie, although not by much. Will was still taller than both of us, and she leaned against her chest-of-drawers, looking at both of us with her fingers tapping on the wood. She looked more tired than I’d noticed at first—no makeup, unbrushed hair, and an oversized shirt dwarfing her too-skinny shoulders. She actually looked young, instead of the Older Woman With Queer Mystique that my brain kept categorizing her as.
“…Isaiah’s been looking for you,” she said finally.
“How, um. How long was I gone this time?” I asked, sounding appropriately cowed.
“No, no, not that long. Most of a day, at worst. But you went missing out of the blue. Would it—” She took a deep breath. “Would it fucking kill you to ask for help?”
I sat on my hands, unsure how to respond. I hadn’t even heard from Will since I’d disappeared into the Medium the first time. Two texts, sure, but ‘hru’ and ‘hey’ didn’t count.
“She was coming after me—”
“I know, I know.” Will sighed into her hands. “I’m tired. Let’s get burgers. My treat, before either of you complain. Give me a sec to get changed, I look like shit.”
Sunvay rolled his eyes and disappeared out the door. I hung back for a second, and Will had a hairbrush in her hand before she looked up at me. “Yeah?”
“You did that on purpose.”
“Getting Cassandra out of the room.”
She gave me a half-smile. “…Everybody’s got their hangups. Can’t say I understand yours, but fair is fair. Besides, you’re the dumbass hero who dove into the underworld and rescued somebody.”
I tried—and failed—not to grin at that. “Not much of an underworld.”
“And I’m not much of a princess, but here we are. Now shoo.”
I did—and I did so, hopefully, fast enough so that she didn’t hear me think about what it would be like to kiss her. It was just a passing thought. I was no good at that kind of thing, anyway.