A SMALL TRUTH

(start here)

13

(previous)

We head back to Harun with the news. I wonder how much he knows through the bond. He was confused enough when we left him, and there’s also a chance he’s done himself permanent mental damage. And now here we come to inform him his prize belongs to someone else. Sold. “You tell him,” I say.

Jannik has been deep in thought, frowning. He jerks up. “What – he already hates me.”

“Exactly.”

He tips his head back. “Ah,” he says with a sigh. “You do realize when this is all done we will never be welcome there again. We know too many of their dirty little secrets.”

And where then does that leave us – utterly friendless. There’s Carien, but she’s an Eline by marriage and I truly do not know the extent of our trust. Does she know of Garret’s recent purchase? Worse, was it perhaps her idea that he buy another? The next bat someone stumbles over in the warren of the Hob district could be one I know.

And I don’t hate him that much.

“We’re here.” I announce it needlessly. Neither of us wants to get out.

* * *

Harun clutches the door frame as he lets us in. He smells sour and sick, worse than when we left him. It seems he’s been self-medicating with a bottle. He stumbles down the passage and leads us to the room where he tried for his Visions. The stench of vomit lingers. He collapses into a chair and sits there hunched over himself.

“You should be getting better,” I say to him. The worst of the scriv will have faded and begun to work itself out of his system. At the very least, he shouldn’t look so clammy, like something dug out from under a rock. I wonder if this has anything to do with Isidro – if the vampire is drugged, beaten. Worse. Between the two of them they are looping pain and guilt and anger and love and only Saints know what else. What does that do to a mind? To a body?

He glares at me. “Where’s he?”

Jannik coughs. “He’s been . . . .”

“Been what? Stop prevaricating, you Gris-damned bat.” Harun winces and half-doubles, his hands grabbing at his stomach.

Anything could be happening to Isidro right now. Is this the after-effects – or simply Harun’s own body giving out? I don’t know if the bond weakens with distance, or is instead stretched out like a silk thread until it snaps and the two people it joined are left to die alone.

“You should lie down.” I hate feeling sorry for him. He’s an idiot for taking that much scriv. He’s an idiot for treating Isidro like a bauble to own.

“Stop telling me what I should be doing and give me a fucking answer.”

My breath heats in my lungs, the bellow of my heart fanning the flames of my anger. Instead of giving in to the satisfaction of screaming at him, I hold myself calm and say simply, “Eline has him.”

Harun pauses, then straightens a little. His already pasty, sweaty skin has taken on a sallow tone I do not like. He’s poisoned his blood, or worse. “Pour me a drink,” he says.

“And which servant are you speaking to?” I say even as Jannik sighs and gets up to unstopper a pear-shaped bottle of distilled wine. “You shouldn’t be drinking.”

“You are not my nursemaid, Pelim.” He accepts the snifter Jannik pours him with a mumbled thanks, and drinks deep. When he sets the glass down his hand is curiously still, the earlier shivers gone. “You’ve proof?”

“We have,” I glance at Jannik, who is shaking his head very slightly, “word from a trusted source.”

“Let me guess,” says Harun. “The cat herself.”

“You mean Splinterfist?”

“I mean your dear little friend, Carien,” he says, then shudders. He folds his hands together and presses them against his mouth. When he talks, the words come out obstructed, as if he wants to push them back in and swallow them down. “He’s scared,” he says. “It’s dark, and he can smell the others, the smell of their blood.”

“Dammit,” Jannik says and pours himself a glass of Harun’s liquor. “Felicita?” He raises the bottle.

“Oh Gris, yes, why not.” A headache is sparking in my left temple, throbbing small and tight. I rub my thumb hard into the spot and wait for my vision to clear. “We need to find a way to get to him in the Eline house – if he’s even there.”

Harun’s breathing is harsh, and he coughs into his fist. The fit seems to take forever, and when he is done, there are smears of blackish blood on his palms and fingers. “I -” He hacks again, then manages to swallow down the clotted phlegm. “We need to get him, I’ll do what I can – what I need to.”

What good he’s going to be now is beyond me – I’d be surprised if he could walk more than a few paces without falling down and breaking his nose. But we can use his help, and I suppose there is no better – or worse – time to pry into Harun and Isidro’s mess of a love. “How much can you see – or sense – or whatever it is your bond allows?”

“Not enough.” Harun lowers his hands and traps them between his knees as if he doesn’t trust them. “We’re not complete–”

Jannik slams his glass down so hard that the foot splinters and distilled wine goes spilling over the glass table. I start back as the cracks spread across the table’s surface. Both Harun and I stare in shock.

“When were you fucking planning on doing it then?” he says, ever so softly.

“Who do you think you are–” Harun begins, but Jannik is seething; he stalks forward, eyes like eclipsed suns.

“Her I understand – she’s playing her own little game, but why can’t you submit?” Jannik’s magic is pressing in on me, making my breath stick.

“What are the two of you talking about?” I’m out of my depth and, thanks to the lashing anger of Jannik’s magic all around me, more than a little faint. “What–”

“He won’t feed off Isidro,” Jannik says. His voice is calm now, but I can see how much this restraint is costing him in the way his fingers are shaking. “Why?” he says to Harun. “Is it because then you are finally too much like us? Too much like a fucking bat?”

Harun merely stares.

“You revolt me.” Jannik walks past both of us and leaves us alone in the room.

The air is lighter, releasing me from his spell. I press one hand to my breast in an attempt to settle my heart into a more steady rhythm. “I’m sorry,” I say breathlessly. “The damages – I’ll have the table replaced.”

“No, you won’t,” Harun says. “He’s right. It just cost me a fucking irreplaceable Reyhan to drive the message home.” He laughs bitterly. “You shouldn’t let him go, unless you feel like mimicking my stupidity.” His laughter catches in his throat and chokes. Harun slumps down, hiding his face from me. It takes me a moment to realize that he is crying soundlessly, his shoulders lurching.

“No,” I say. “I– we’ll find a way to get him back,” I promise him as I stand. “We will.”

I leave Harun a sobbing mess, staring at his broken table and splintered glasses, while I go to rescue what I can of my own damaged relationship. Jannik thinks that I am playing a game with his feelings, and it is clear to me why he would see it that way. I have never allowed him to see my true motives for anything. So scared of letting myself be hurt, I have hurt others instead.

* * *

The carriage is still waiting. Perhaps Jannik has more faith in me than I do. Jannik is shaking and I don’t know if it’s anger or fear or something else completely.

I’m not happy about leaving Harun like that, but I have no choice if I am to prove to Jannik that he is important to me. Harun was torn and desperate and barely able to do anything.

My fingernails dig into the leather as I clutch on the edge of the seat. I can feel it giving way under the neat filed ovals of my nails and I want to scream. I want to do something. I raise my head and meet Jannik’s eyes.

He’s staring at me, his face set. “What?”

“What do you mean what?” I say back.

He grimaces. “What are you going to do – I can see your mind ticking away, I know that look on your face.”

“I have no idea,” I say. And I mean it. There’s no way Harun will be of any use in his current state, and all the will in the world doesn’t mean I can fight my way into House Eline and pull Isidro out. Eline Garret might be a Saint, but that doesn’t mean there aren’t War-Singers in his family, or that he has no other defences. And I haven’t touched scriv in months.

Magic – it’s always there, waiting for me to renounce Jannik and reclaim it. “Do you want me to save him – this love of yours?”

“What?” Jannik half-rises in the seat. “Damn it all, of course I want you to save him. Even if he wasn’t anything to me.”

“And is he?”

He covers his face with one hand. “Do you want him to be?” The words are mumbled, tired.

“No.” But it’s too late for that now. “There’s – I – need a dealer,” I say, and shudder.

“Scriv?” Jannik drops his hand and shakes his head. He’s still looking at the floor of the carriage rather than my face, and his voice is thick. “Speak to Harun.”

I snort. “He’ll want to know what I plan to do with it.”

“And I don’t?” Jannik says.

“You trust me.” Or at the very least, he trusts in what I can do when I put my mind to it.

“Is that what you think?” It’s not really a question, and he laughs drily. “You must know where the dealers are in MallenIve.”

I make sure he can see my face, see the truth of it. “It never occurred to me to find out. I wanted nothing more to do with scriv. It hurts too many people.”

“Oh,” he says, and picks at his thumbnail. “You’ll never get any now.” The moonlight drenches him in deepest amethyst shadows, and ivory glints.

“In the morning then.” I want to cry. Gris knows what tortures Garret and his cohorts are devising for Isidro – Carien said they tasted better when their emotions were heightened by fear or pain. My brain clicks over lust, because somehow, I don’t think that’s Garret’s style. It might be Isidro’s. After all, he grew up a boy-whore in the Splinterfist rookeries, I’m sure he could fake his way through a performance.

It’ll be pain. They do not care who they kill. They are rich, and they are men. I push my fist against my mouth and stifle a sob, grinding the knuckles against my teeth until I can taste blood in my mouth. What if it had been Jannik who was still a slave, who could be bought and sold on no more justification than the lack of a symbol of ownership – it could be him in Eline’s grasp. They could be tearing him apart with kicks and caresses, just to feel the magic gather on his skin. I picture Jannik wide-eyed, bloody. There were iron-burns around the neck of the corpse.

Right this moment, Jannik could be collared, screaming in pain.

Isidro probably is. My stomach lurches, and fierce needles stitch tears into the corners of my eyes.

“Felicita.” Jannik grabs my gnawed hand, pulls it away from my mouth. “What are you doing?”

“I’m scared.”

He says nothing.

“I don’t know what to do – how to do it.” And, though I’ll never admit it – there’s a part of me that wants Isidro to suffer, because he took what was mine. The thought makes me suck in a sharp breath. Mine. And why does it take this to make me realize it? We’re so close, him on his knees as the carriage jerks us through the city. My hand in his, held so tight that the blood has dried.

I do not want to think about Isidro and the things I cannot do. And what it says about me.

Jannik’s face goes from light to shadow as the carriage rattles down the streets between the high buildings. Moonlight, then darkness. Then moonlight. I like it best when he’s in the light, so pale and other, so beautiful. Not Isidro’s perfection, but his own. Something must show in my expression, because Jannik rocks back.

“Why him?” I say. “I wouldn’t have minded others, but you had to go and feel something for someone else–”

“You’re an idiot, Felicita.” He lets go of my hand. “I do feel something for someone else. I’m just never allowed to say it.”

“Why not?”

“Because somehow it always gets thrown back in my face.” He bows his head.

“Perhaps it’s easier to just say things without saying them.”

Like with the flower-language of the Hobs. “Perhaps.” I reach out again and brush my fingers very lightly against the top of his head, stroking the silk-smooth hair. “Perhaps it would be best to act, rather than speak.”

He smiles thinly. “Actions. Never my strong point. It seems that I need a whip before I can be goaded into anything real.”

I say nothing. I want to tell him, act, act now, but I’m too scared. Perhaps after all this I have read everything wrong, and how humiliating would that be? For hardly the first time in my life, I find myself wishing Jannik was a man who spoke his mind instead of believing we know what it is he’s thinking.

And yet, here I am expecting him to know my hidden thoughts. “Who did you buy the book for?”

“Book?”

“Traget. The Melancholy Raven.”

“Did you think I bought it to give to him?” Jannik sounds curious, tinged with the smallest amount of amusement. “You–” He shakes his head. “Sometimes I wonder if you are actually blind, or if it’s a very good act you think you should keep up for your own safety.”

“Who did you buy it for?” I say again, though I know. I know.

Instead of answering, Jannik slides carefully onto his knees and then, with one quick questioning glance to see if this is acceptable, he pushes my layers of skirts and petticoats up past my buttoned boots, until his fingers are on the ribbons at my knee band. His fingers are very cold.

It seems like it happens in a haze. Nightmarish and confused and yet it draws me in with all the promises of the things I have wanted. I don’t stop him or encourage him. Instead I lean back with my skirts bunched up around my thighs, and watch with a dreamer’s detachment. He takes this silence as consent, and presses his cheek against the inside of my knee. I want to move forward – not to stop him – to – I don’t know what. So I sit in my confusion, and do nothing. My breath is rasping, and I can feel how my whole skin is tingling and I don’t know if it’s me, or Jannik’s magic.

He nips the tender flesh of my knee through the silk of my drawers, not breaking the skin.

I yelp.

“Good,” he says. “I was starting to wonder if you were still awake.”

I swallow. “I’m awake. You can – carry – on.” The last is said with a gasp because now that he has my word, Jannik is nipping his way up my thigh. His fingers brush against the front of my underclothes, and obviously discovers what he would know if he’d ever bothered with women instead of Isidro.

“Convenient,” he says. It’s a bit muffled and I start to laugh breathlessly.

First his mouth, then his tongue. My thighs are jerking in a spasmodic dance over which I have no control. A pillar of ice, then fire, then ice runs through me. The silent laughter turns to a series of hiccups.

He flicks the skirts back up, and draws away to stare at me. “Laughing? Really?”

I lurch forward, knocking him backward and bashing his head against the back of the carriage seat. “Sorry,“ I hiss into his hair, still gasping for breath, and half-laughing. I’ve straddled him, and this – this is how it should be. I kiss him, and taste salt and musk and me, and then his hands are tangled in my hair and we stay like this, the carriage floor rattling under us, trembling my thighs around him, until we draw to a halt outside the Pelim offices.

“This isn’t done,” I say as I draw away from him, and stand before the coachman can open the door.

He looks a little too flabbergasted to respond, but he nods, and manages to pull himself into some sort of order just as the door is flung open.

(next)


related post

Comments are closed.