put down your sword and crown

fly straight to the sun

Tick—

It's not like he's made a habit of it.

(He really hasn't, he'll assure you, eyes as dark as the blood ripping through his lips, dead body limp in his hands, smiling as though he'd willingly slaughter a whole town just to prove his point—

—and he would.)

But sometimes, when the skies are dark and the night's playing some sort of silver tune, Klaus used to go up to the roof with a mug of something warm (usually blood) and spend a good portion of the night there. Elijah thinks he goes up there to try and touch the stars—Finn really did believe he could.

"Does it make you feel invincible, brother, being up there?" Finn had asked softly one night as Klaus descended the spiral stairway that connected the roof to his drawing room. The disdain in his voice is evident even through the dull hum of liquor. "Does it make you feel like a god?"

Klaus doesn't say anything as he finishes his scotch (because lies are such capricious things, and he likes to choose his lies well).

He doesn't go up there to feel like a god. He goes up there to talk to Mikael.

Although talk isn't quite the word for it, the tilt of his crystal tumbler and the smirk on his lips as he contemplates the dark sky feels like a conversation.

"I bet it just tears you up inside, doesn't it?" Klaus asks, setting down his tumbler on the stone railing.

"That in the end you weren't the one to kill me?" he asks.

"That in the end," he says, head tilted back as far as it can go, his hand working of their own accord and whipping his tumbler into the sky where it flashed like a shooting star, "we're not running anymore?"

Klaus lets out a breath and watches as it wraps around his words in a plume of white. "I'm not running anymore."


Tick, tock—

It's like she's seeing red. Kol is taking forever, and she's pretty sure it's some form of revenge for the beating she had given him earlier—

("Koo-ool," she'd whined when her brother had rushed into the room to see what Elena and Nik were rolling around, kicking and screaming about. "Hurry up."

Kol eyes Klaus practically hurl himself down the hall and into the kitchen; barely bats an eye when the door slams shut behind them. "But what about the rug?"

The words were barely out of his mouth before he finds himself being man-handled by Rebekah's man-hands.

(And if someone asks her what two mountains crashing together sounds like, she'll say it's like shoving Kol's idiotic face into the fourth century Indian rug.)

"I—" Slam. "—are terribly late—" Slam. "—for my driver's test—" Slam. "—and all you care about—" Slam. "—is this stupid—" Slam. "—godforsaken—" Slam. "—rug."

Suddenly she's on her back, and Kol's pushing her face into the tea stain this time. "Do you think I'm unaware of that, dear sister?" He grimaces as Rebekah sinks her teeth and spit into his open palm. "Do you think I haven't been waiting for this moment just as long as have?"

Rebekah flips them around and, with her elbow, strikes him by his neck and in his disorientation pins him down to the floor. She holds him in place, hair falling about her eyes, and says in a low growl, "You replaced my hair mousse with shaving cream."

"For luck," he spits right back.)

—and there's some sort of commotion in the kitchen and she's just so exasperated at the lot of them, she barges right in to tell them exactly how she feels about them overlooking the fact that it's the most important day of her shortly-cut life.

"You arseholes—" The words die in her throat when she sees Elijah holding up Amelia, in what she can smell to be blood, and then to Caroline, who's being helped up by Elena, the a horrific gash running from chest to stomach.

She's a thousand-year old vampire used to watching her brother tear men apart, limb from limb, with their bare hands, but it's not the blood that makes her want to throw up. It's the fact that her brother, her regal older brother Elijah, Original Vampire-Turned-Original-Human Elijah, was wearing rollerskates in the middle of all of it.

Suddenly the room is a blur as Klaus lunges for Elijah and throws him across the marble island, Elena's yelling something inaudible, Caroline's just lying there in Elena's red-stained arms so still and so dead, and somewhere in the midst of all the chaos, Rebekah hears Amelia barking. Rebekah claps her hands to her mouth, to stifle a scream, but what comes out instead is a peal of laughter, loud and shrill. She bites her lips, screws her eyes shut to stop the tears, doubles over, pinches her sides; still the laughter would not stop.

And then the pot of chilli goes flying across the room and lies battered and defeated in a corner. There are sauce stains everywhere: on the tables, splattered across the walls, even speckled across her pristine white dress. Suddenly all the laughter is gone from her lips, and Rebekah decides she's had enough. "I am late for my driver's test—what the hell is going on here?"


Tick, tock, tick—

It's not exactly ideal.

(And the glint in Elijah's eyes tells her just that.)

But they'd both heard the crash coming from upstairs, and Elijah was already setting the knife down to make his way out the door, and she saw no other option to stop him other than grabbing the knife from his hand herself and stabbing it into her own chest. She hears the sound of astonishment he's making—he's not horrified; he's seen it all, but really—and shuffles towards Elijah's outstretched arms on unsteady feet.

Except Amelia chooses that moment to pounce on Elijah and he stumbles forward and into the pot of chili, only narrowly missing Caroline, who was already swaying and blinking away dark spots.

And then the knife slips, and she blinks no more.


Tick, tock, tick, tock—

"So let me get this straight."

Elijah has his head bowed and his eyes closed, and with his hands clasped together and his back to them it's almost as if he's praying. Elena doesn't know what exactly it is Elijah prays for (if he does pray at all—religion is such a fickle matter when you're a being built on the very recesses of it). She wonders if God (if God is even enough for the likes of him) would even hear him out, but then Elijah is standing before her, and Elijah is throwing the grimoire down on the coffee table.

Really, it's barely a throw; the grimoire follows the graceful arc of his wrist in which he'd flicked it—but bound leather meeting oiled wood shouldn't make sounds so loud it rings in your ears. All thought flees Elena's mind.

"You conceived this—this plan…" Elijah trails off, and he lets his eyes wander from the dusty spell book to Caroline's blood staining the folds of his sleeves, to Amelia covered in chili, grinning up at them; to the rollerskates that he had cast aside mere minutes ago, to the dark stain on his antique rug. He would have set his glance on Caroline, had the vampire not been ushered out of the room despite her protests as soon as she'd woken up. Even Kol knows when to step aside.

Klaus' eyes had been following Elijah's. The hybrid's eyes linger on the rug and he almost swallows, but then he just shakes his head and storms out the room. Elena's throat is suddenly dry.

"…just to get your hands on this?"

Technically, Elena wants to say, it was all part of Operation: D.I.C.K., which was mostly a product of Caroline's design, but Elijah is being quiet in a way she's never heard before, so she decides against it. She takes a deep breath and looks him in the eye. "Yes."

Elijah's mouth is set, but his eyes reveal nothing. "Why?"

She catches her lower lip between her teeth, and for a fraction of a second Elijah's eyes aren't on hers.

Elena releases her lower lip, now dark and wet. "You know why."

Elijah looks away, but Elena knows it's far from over. Her next words come out rushed, but it has to be said. "I know this is what you want, but I can't just stand idly by—"

Elijah makes a move like he's about to say something, but she unfolds herself from his favourite armchair and stands her full height. As if her stance alone might give strength to her words. She shakes her head, puts a feather-light hand on his chest. "I'm not done yet."

Elena's fingers give away just enough warmth to be felt through the fabric of his shirt, so he doesn't need to look down to know she's still holding him in place. Her voice is still and her eyes cut through glass. "I told you that day that I wished there was something I could do. Well, I found a way. I'm doing it."

For the longest moment, Elijah says nothing. Then, ever so gently, he cups Elena's hand in his and their intertwined fingers hover in the small space set in stone between them. That's all their made of – the briefest touch, the slide of skin against skin, a look weighed down with words he sometimes wished she wouldn't say. He runs his thumb down the inside of her wrist, the spot where he knows he can break if he just shifts the placement of his thumb ever so slightly.

"Elijah," she says, but the words don't reach his ears.

His thumb stills. "Leave it, Elena."

"I can't." She doesn't apologize.


Tick, tock, tick, tock, tick—

"What were you thinking?" Klaus hands are rougher than necessary as he scrubs Amelia down, and the dog whimpers.

Caroline watches him work, her feet dangling in midair as she sits on the sink, lathering soap up her arms. Bubbles and blood swirl down the drain of the bathtub, but still the red won't wash away. Klaus gives her a resentful look, but tosses her the stronger soap anyway. "I wasn't," Caroline answers honestly, catching the soap in between her wet fingers.

"That seems to be a common occurrence around here." Amelia shakes her shaggy wet fur and Caroline ducks away from the spray squealing, but Klaus stays put and doesn't stop rubbing the dog down until she's dry. She gives Klaus a lick, nudges Caroline's shin with her nose, and scratches the door to be let out. And then it's just Klaus and Caroline.

Caroline goes back to washing the blood off her neck, but then Klaus is standing before her, lifting her chin up with one hand and holding a wet cloth in the other. Caroline frowns and jerks her face away from his. "I can do it."

Klaus' calloused fingers are tangled in her curls at her nape as he cleans her neck. "Let me," he says brusquely. Caroline stops her fidgeting and lets out a sharp huff through her nose. Their eyes never meet.

"You're angry," she says, and he almost rolls his eyes—you think? he seems to say, the way his hand never stills. I'm sorry, she wants to say, but she's not. Perhaps Klaus knows this, in the way her shoulders stay rigid and hunched as he cleans her off.

Despite the hard look in his eyes, Klaus' hands start to move slowly, never scrubbing too hard, and she starts to relax to his touch. His other hand moves from the base of her neck to the curve of her ears, his thumb circling the faint rose of her cheeks. The front of her shirt is sopping wet and it seeps into his own shirt as he leans closer to wash the blood off of her chest. His frown deepens – there's so much blood – but still he says nothing, as though the grim set of his mouth would not allow it. And then his fingers whisper at the buttons of her shirt, and he pulls back. But only slightly.

There's still blood to be washed away underneath the flimsy cotton separating her breasts from his fingers, but Klaus makes no move. His eyes sweep across the soft swell of her breast, the way her curls frame her neck. They linger for a moment on that dimple in her cheek when she bites her lip a certain way, and counts the light dusting of freckles across her nose.

The steam from the hot water rushing out of the golden taps starts to wrap around them like a veil, and seems to amplify the sounds of Klaus' breathing. His inhales are longer, his exhales heavier. Caroline counts the rise and fall of his chest, and there were eighty-two altogether before Klaus finally lifts his eyes to meet hers.

Her hands—when had she placed them on his arms?—move down, cold skin against the thick wool of his sweater, until her fingers are wrapping around his wrists. Klaus nods curtly, starts to pull his hands away—but Caroline's steel grip keeps them there. She coaxes his fingers into undoing her buttons, and he does slowly, one by one. Her shirt droops away, revealing the lace of her black bra against cream skin.

Klaus swallows and studies the way she's looking at him from under her eyelashes, trying to find some answer in them. A moment later, he does.

Klaus leans in. Caroline closes her eyes.


Tick, tock, tick, tock, tick, tock—

"Well, off you go," Kol says. Both their necks are craned from looking up at the name of the driving academy bent into wrought iron and rusted from years of service.

"Aren't…" Rebekah trails off, and she has to clear her suddenly dry throat. "Aren't you coming in with me?"

Kol offers a small smile, and Rebekah knows the answer is no. He shivers suddenly in the cold air, and Rebekah fusses with his jacket and makes sure the collar is upturned to protect his neck. Never mind the fact that Elijah had appeared just as they were leaving, and made them bundle up in sweaters and coats and every scarf he could find in the house.

"It's cold outside," he'd said.

Behind him, Elena watches them. She smiles at Rebekah, and Rebekah had tried her hardest, but the returning smile simply would not come. She turns away instead. "Wish me luck."

The finger that Elijah brushes just under her chin is warm, and she remembers to straighten her back. An Original must always stand tall. She smiles up at him. Even at her tallest, he still towers above her.

The morning light streams in through the open window and illuminates Elijah's eyes, and for a moment Rebekah thinks she sees Finn before her.

"About a tonne of it," Kol says waspishly, and the moment passes.

Now, Kol isn't as cutting. Perhaps the thirty-minute walk from home had drained the snark out of him, but Rebekah finds she tires easily these days as well. She hugs her coat closer. "I can do this," she says, mostly to herself.

"You can," Kol agrees, surprising her. She peeks at him to see if he's mocking her, but he looks quite serious. "You make me proud, little sister."

"But I haven't even gone in yet," she says in a wonder.

"I'm not talking about that." Kol picks a piece of ivy from the brick wall he'd been leaning against. "It's just…" He screws his eyes against the sudden wind that picks up, and takes a breath. "Twelve more days."

Rebekah tilts her head to the side, eyebrows crinkling. "Kol…"

"Oh no, Bekah. I'm not scared."

"Then?"

"Quite the opposite, actually." Kol looks up at her with an inscrutable look. "Would you kill me if I said I was kind of excited?"

Rebekah rolls her eyes, You're already dying. "Sometimes I don't understand you."

"Henrik's been waiting for a thousand years for us." Kol shrugs, trying to play up his nonchalance, but Rebekah sees the way his eyes shine. He quickly blinks them away. "He's always been the good one. The patient one. Out of all of us monsters."

Rebekah is quiet. She thinks of endless summers of dried grass and sweet honey, of Henrik laughing in her ear, of Finn lifting her high up in the air, of Elijah leaning back against a tree and saying (almost wistfully): "One day, I will build a contraption fit for all of us, something that will allow us to soar with the birds."

"As high as Rebekah is going." Henrik points to her and runs circles around Finn's knees. Kol chases after him, while Nik joins Elijah under the tree, already drawing up models of Elijah's imagery in his mind.

She looks back at her brother, feeling an ache in her chest made worse by the memory of Nik knocking on her bedroom door last night to check on her.

"Are you ready for tomorrow?" he asked, leaning against her doorframe. Rebekah stops frowning at the driving manual Stefan had lent her long enough to nod at Nik.

The way Nik is regarding her fondly makes her want to curl back against her silken sheets and pull him down with her, the way they used to lie in the hay and count the stars at night. Of course, they'd had to sneak out—Mikael hated when Nik brought her out anywhere past sundown. That man had put the fear of God into her brother, long after they'd stopped believing in a God. The idea of an eternal separation used to make her mind bleed for a chance to turn back time and undo all wrong, but now it was all she and her siblings were grasping at. Silently, secretly, whispered quietly to the stars and traced into their pillows as they fell asleep.

An eternal separation from Mikael, from running, from pain. An eternity with her siblings. Always and forever is what Rebekah smiles into her pillow for. Kept to herself, revealed to none. But then she looks into Nik's eyes and sees the same secret in his.

Aren't we a pair, he had once said.

Her brother's voice brings her back to the cold autumn day standing underneath the sign of Mystic Fall's Driving Academy. He's looking at her, and smiling. "Say, after you're done. Do you want to—?"

Kol's question is cut short when a portly man waddles up to them in the blue of the Driving Academy's uniform. "Rebekah Mikaelson?" he huffs. At Rebekah's nod, he huffs a bit more and tugs on the red whiskers hanging from his chin. "Your brother called ahead. You were supposed to be her twenty minutes ago." Huff. "Anyway. You're up."

Rebekah casts Kol a last look, a helpless one, before being whisked away. Kol can do nothing but wave good bye.


Tick, tock, tick, tock, tick, tock—

Stefan's foot won't stop jiggling.

Damon looks up from the book he's reading and tries not to roll his eyes. "You've done all you can, brother."

"Somehow it feels like it isn't enough."

"Well that—" Damon heaves himself out of his armchair and walks over to Stefan. The hand he places on Stefan's shoulder seems to calm him down a touch. "—is how you know you've done more than enough."

Stefan doesn't answer, but he doesn't shake off Damon's hand either.


Tick, tock, tick, tock, tick, tock, tick—

"So take it."

The spell book is still on the coffee table, in the middle of Elijah and Elena. She looks up, blinking.

"You want it so badly." He leans forward to slide the book towards her with one finger. "Take it. May it suit your needs."

"Elijah," Elena starts, but it's not like she can deny it. She does want the grimoire. She takes it into her small hands and it fills up her whole lap. Looking up, she sees Elijah has his back to her, looking out the window. Elena leaves the grimoire on the table to go to him. As she rests her forehead in between his shoulder blades, and she can feel some of the tenseness leave him in a shuddering exhale. "But."

There's an almost wounded expression on her face, but of course Elijah can't see. "Whatever it is you find, whatever…" She's pretty sure his mouth is curled into an almost-sneer, "…cure you find for us—just leave it at that. I don't want you doing anything beyond that extent. Do you promise me?"

Against his back, Elena sighs, but Elijah says again, harder this time: "Promise me."

"I make no promises," Elena says, just as firmly as he. Elena can feel his muscles tense again. "Look, Elijah—I know what I'm doing," she says, and suddenly she finds herself with her back pressed against the bookshelf, her nose buried in his smooth shirt. His chest feels solid despite the thrashing of his heartbeat.

"Good," is what he says before brushing his nose in the column of her neck. He can still smell the lavender on her. "Because I don't quite know what I'm doing."

Her fingers bury themselves in his shoulders as her head rolls back, and it's all heavy breathing and rough shoving as hands find hair and teeth meet skin. Half of Elijah's buttons are already missing, ripped from the fabric, when Elena's lips finally find his. Her tongue doesn't shy away from his, but as much as she tears her fingers into his shirt he would not let up the grip he has of her against the books. Elijah has his knee pushed between her legs to hoist her up, and when Elena bites down on his lower lip he lets out a quiet groan.

And then she pushes away, slightly breathless, but unfazed. "I have work to do," she tells him, before scooping the grimoire up into her arms and leaving in a cloud of dark hair and lilac perfume. Elijah lets out a note of laughter and finds his buttons.


Tick, tock, tick, tock, tick, tock, tick, tock—

"And now." Huff. "We come to the last segment." Huff. "Of your test."

The car is by the side of the circuit, Rebekah wearing an expression of triumph at having completed it with only two cardboard people being run over—

"Now remember, Rebekah," Stefan says as he draws the circuit out in purple on the whiteboard. "You can run over a maximum of three cardboard people. Then you're out."

"What I don't get," Rebekah points out, "is why it's okay to run over people at all."

Stefan caps the whiteboard marker and smirks. "Two is okay in a town where, uh, animal attacks frequent. Three, on the other hand—"

"Three is murder," Damon finishes for them, viciously slashing the air with a pink marker.

—but other than that, zero casualties. She'd gone, slowly but surely up the hill, had no trouble at all in getting the car to start, and even had a chance to pull the emergency break without wrenching it out of the floor of the car. Maybe, she thinks, just maybe, that modern-day cars were better after all. Not at all like Klaus' useless little flimsy tinbox of a carriage. Maybe she was a pretty good driver. A better driver than how dumb Stefan and Klaus were letting on.

Until her instructor utters the next word.

"Park," the portly man huffs, and try as she might, but Rebekah can't stop the jerk of the car as she coaxes it awake with the turn of the ignition key. And if he wasn't pleased with the way she drove, she'll never know, since all he did was huff or puff and occasionally inhale. The inside of the car smelled like the inside of an old, unused inhaler, and from the rearview mirror hung those fuzzy red and black dices that were so gawdy she had to stop herself from cringing when they swung into her face from yet another one of her jerky stops.

"Park," he huffs more insistently, and Rebekah unleashes her death grip upon the steering wheel. Had her supernatural vamp powers still been intact, she might have ripped the steering wheel right from the dashboard. By sheer willpower and a lot of bargains under her breath—I promise I won't touch Elijah's film noirs I promise I won't help Kol draw moustaches on Klaus' painting I promise I won't blame it all on Kol afterwards oh please just let me get this right please please please—she manages to drive the little car straight and smooth into the yellow box.

Her instructor huffs, but marks a big blue tick on his clipboard—but then he realizes she isn't done.

"Good, Bek," Kol finds himself commending under his breath. Rebekah's driving manual is open before him, and his eyes squint through a pair of binoculars as he watches his sister drive. She'd done well so far, only marking up two strikes against her. Kol figures that since she's one trial away from her driver's license, she couldn't possibly do any more damage. He's feeling pretty good about her prospects, even whistles a merry little tune under his breath—until, as if some higher power wanted to smite Rebekah, the car rolled an inch into the yellow line.

Growling out a curse, Kol whips out his phone.


Tick, tock, tick, tock, tick, tock, tick, tock, tock—

Caroline will always hear it—the beat of his heart as skin slides against skin, as his sweat mingles with hers, as her feverish kisses melt away into softer ones and as his breathing becomes more insistent, more urgent. The beat of his heart as she bites into his shoulder to stop from screaming, the small lull afterwards when he buries his face into the crook of her neck. Klaus breathes her name when she falls apart under him, and even after that, when she's tracing lazy patterns onto his back, pressing her lips against the dew of his skin, marking his skin the way he's marked hers.

He's looking at her like she's some kind of miracle all wrapped up in his sheets, her naked form outlined by Egyptian cotton. He tells her he wants to draw her and she makes fun of him, blowing him a playful kiss. Her laughter burns right through him.

His phone rings from across the room, a familiar tune. Klaus recognizes it as Kol's assigned ringtone, and sighs exasperatedly. "One moment, love," he says, and he's gone and back again in a flash. Caroline hears Kol's voice as though he's right in the room with them, and she giggles to herself, thinking of his bewildered expression should he step in that very moment.

But then her laughter stops when she hears the panic in his voice. Kol's proclamations of You need to come quick is cut short as Klaus hangs up and gets dressed in a hurry.


Tick, tock, tick, tock, tick, tock, tick, tock, tick, tock—

Honestly, in all his years of teaching he had never encountered a bimbo as dumb as that one.

"My kid almost rammed us through a wall," Carl complains from behind his mug, coffee cold and bitter and black. "Whatchu got, Hank?"

Hank huffs into his paperwork. "They didn't come in through the." Huff. "Normal agency. Thinkin' I can." Huff. "Push for a couple hundred dollars more." Huff. "Kid's got no clue."

The two of them guffaw. (Or rather, one of them does. The other just huffs and wheezes.)

"So you gonna pass her or what?" Carl asks, setting down his mug. Coffee stains the corners of his lips.

Hank the Huffer grins a devilish one. "Depends on how much she's willing to pass for."

"Is that so?"

Hank and Carl both turn, their smirks freezing on their faces. Three men are standing in their doorway, one in a suit and a menacing tilt to his lips; one regarding them in an alarming manner, his hand rubbing against the scruff of his chin; one with something long and solid propped on his shoulder—a baseball bat?

"Who—" Huff. "—are—" He doesn't get to finish his sentence, because the one with all the beads is already before him, yanking him to his feet.

The one in the suit strides towards him, head tilted back, eyes a cold shade of amber. "I'm compelled to make your friend here drive one of those cars over your lower back."

The one with the baseball bat smirks. "Slowly."

"Ah, you're forgetting, brother—compulsion isn't exactly up our alley anymore," the one with his hands wrapped around his collar smiles at him then, and it chills him to the bone. What kind of man has dimples in his cheeks when he strangles another?

"All the more fun."

What kind of man even smiles when he has his hands around someone's neck? Hank and Carl exchange a fearful glance, wide-eyed and shaking.

"Who—what are you?" Carl manages to choke out.

"We're the Mikaelsons," the one in the suit says genially.

"And it's nothing, personally," the one with the baseball bat adds. He walks up to Hank, whose neck is still locked in a death trap. "It's just family business."


Tick, tock, tick, tock, tick, tock, tick, tock, tick, tock, tick—

Rebekah slams her palm down on the horn as she sees her brothers approaching, and when they all tumble into the car she tries to muster up the words, but all she can manage is a silent scream. Her brothers faces loom before hers—Kol's goofy grin, Elijah's eyes crinkling up in pride, and Klaus with a smile so wide it looked like someone's slashed his dimples into his cheeks—ruffling her hair, stroking her cheek, patting her shoulder.

Her instructor had been gone for a very long time, and she'd begun to feel worried, but then out of nowhere he had shuffled up to her and shoved the documents into her arms. He hadn't puffed even one bit when he'd said, "Congratulations—you passed."

"I passed?" Rebekah repeated with numb disbelief. "From the way you looked earlier I thought—you didn't say anything!"

"Too dumb with joy," he says, and wipes tears from the corner of his eyes. Rebekah is so touched she doesn't notice him limping.

Kol's grin is as wide as hers, if not wider. "I knew you could do it."

Rebekah's eyes fall to the bat in Kol's loose grip. "Why do you have a…?"

"We went batting earlier," Klaus says easily as Elijah pulls down his rolled-up sleeves. He doesn't have to ask, but seeing the look on her face makes him ask anyway: "So you passed?"

"I did!" Her smile is sunshine and elation held in place with clear lip gloss, and her eyes glow as if she were going to live forever. The papers on the dashboard keep the sad truth of it at bay, and she allows a lone tear to slip from her eye before quickly brushing it away.


Tick, tock, tick, tock, tick, tock, tick, tock, tick, tock, tick, tock—

It's near midnight when Elena finally throws her pillow across the room in frustration. She'd been at this for nearly eight hours now, matching the runes up to the dictionary she'd "borrowed" from Alaric and wearing her phone out from all the Googling. She throws herself back down on her bed, staring up at her ceiling. When she closes her eyes, all she sees are digits and symbols she can't understand.

It's not fair. She turns on her side and curls in on herself, trying to will away the pictures swimming beneath her closed eyelids. It's not fair, she thinks again, and her eyes burn with unshed tears. She buries her face deeper into her pillows, but her forehead knocks against the old leather of the grimoire.

Out of childish abandon, she swipes at it with a groan, but winces when her finger gets caught on the edge of the pages and scarlet blossoms from the cut. She pinches the cut closed with a tissue she grabs from her bedside table, her head never leaving her pillows.

But then she sits up, her breathing shallow. She glances down at her cut finger, still wrapped in the tissue, then to the grimoire, her eyes wide and darting. It couldn't be that simple—it just couldn't.

Could it?


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