It was only a half hour later that I woke up. Not quite recovered all the way, I groaned when the muscles in my back refused to stretch. Part of me thought that everything cracking would be better than the agonizingly slow release. Compared to the first time I came to in Faery, I was glad no one was in the room with me. I did not want any of them seeing the pain I was in.
Low voices reached my ears from outside. My senses picked up the size of the manor, my hearing extrasensory. I closed my eyes once more. I could differentiate Ash’s, Meghan’s, and Kelsey’s voices from two young men I didn’t know.
A soft knock rapped on the door. My pendant flared with heat before I could say anything, and it opened of its own accord. I had no glamour, though. Despite the new abilities, I knew that much. And the hunter would never have walked in without me letting him enter.
“It’s trickster, not hunter.” Goodfellow sat on the edge of the bed. I leaned against the headboard, too tired to question the remark. “How annoyed would you be if I asked how you were?”
My gaze met his solemnly. I could dodge answers, too. “Not as annoyed if you asked about my memory.” Hurt flickered in the emerald depths. “All I know is that Ash won’t tell me anything about you for fear of crippling me. I wish…” I trailed off, unsure of what, exactly, I wanted. Seeing Puck should have triggered something.
Kicking off his boots, he crossed his legs underneath him. “Okay, so ask me anything,” he offered.
“I won’t ask the right questions.”
The ghost of his once-perpetual smirk tugged at the corner of his mouth. “If you’re the same Starr I had to piss off countless times before she realized we could be friends, yeah, you would.” His joking tone was lost on me.
Downstairs, either Ren or Kishan got Meghan angry about something. She started yelling above everyone. First I focused on my room, trying to keep my senses from extending constantly. “Why did you jump in front of Ash? You could’ve saved yourself the curse.” He did say to ask anything, and my intrigue since my memory had returned was a bit too strong to wait for that info.
“I couldn’t save one of my best friends,” he answered almost immediately. “I wanted to keep the other alive.” He glanced down at his hands. “Now all three of us are back.”
That comment stabbed my heart. “Not completely.” Puck met my gaze, red hair falling into his face. I swallowed hard. “How were we so close if I used to hate you?”
“You used to hate all four of us, just like it took you some time to come around to Ash. Even though you knew him from the past, your old mistrust controlled you this time.” Puck lifted his chin a bit, unruly bangs in his eyes. “You didn’t like the way I messed with you and Meghan all the time, like we were already friends. Kelsey made a trio out of herself and the princes while the rest of us remained pretty unsure of each other. I was the last one you let past those walls of yours.” Grief shadowed the crystalline depths. “Eventually only Ash and I were your most trusted. We were the best of your inner guard. Then Lokesh and his armies ripped us apart.”
Something floated on the edges of my consciousness. I made no struggle to figure out what it was, too weary of everything I had done already. “There was an ambush, right?”
“I’m not telling you about that until I know you remember it. Right now you only know it happened, so you’ll end up paralyzed or worse.”
“At least I can tell you’re smart.” I drew my legs to my chest and rested my chin on one knee. “Ash did the same thing when we were in Tir Na Nog. He only elaborated on what I told him, saying I still had to be careful.” I stared into nothingness. There was still so much I had no idea about. The trickster hesitated in saying anything else, watching me closely. Something was hidden in his expression that could be easy to figure out, if only I knew what I was doing.
Something not about me personally shouldn’t hurt. “Do Kelsey and Meghan remember? You said they were with you –– us –– the first time.” I understood the story with Ky; I didn’t feel the need to relive it.
“Sort of,” he answered more slowly. “They know more than you do, but they think you’ve lived normal lives all this time. Nothing about the war.” He paused. “I’ll wait for you to remember that…”
Cocking an eyebrow, I let it slide for once. “So it’s not even like I can talk to them about this.” Depression crashed through me in a tidal wave. “I’m sure Ash talked to me in Tir Na Nog. I’ve just been worrying so much over all this, I don't… Why did you guys keep your memories?”
“The curse kept us alive, essentially.” He leaned forward, resting on his elbows in a way that stretched his back.
There was a lot more he was keeping from me, only answering questions I directly asked. Most of my friends provided explanations of things I never even questioned. Faeries definitely did know how to dance around the truth. I raked a hand through my hair. “I feel even worse than when you came in here. Told you I wouldn’t ask the right things.” In my mind, he was still the hunter. I had no clue.
Goodfellow reached for my hand. “Do you remember what you said earlier, before you saved me?”
“Not really.” My pendant had been controlling me.
Our fingers entwined together naturally. Puck stared down at our clasped hands, emerald depths growing distant. “It’s been a while since I heard you say that. ‘Puck is mine.’ You used to warn my court every chance you got.” His mouth quirked sadly, not quite a frown.
Possessiveness sparked my pendant’s responsive heat. I shoved the emotion and its power away. “How close were we?” I whispered, almost afraid to know. Although it felt weird to be letting someone touch me, I did not want to pull away.
“Every time you were out of my sight during the ambush, I felt a piece of me die each second until I knew you were alright. And before that, you’d have a panic attack whenever I wasn’t with Ash.” That definitely sounded like me. Once I let someone into my family, I never wanted to let them go. Ash had always claimed that spot the fastest, and yet… “I only have a few minutes left, little warrior. We get forty minutes a day in normal form, but then we have to go back.” He squeezed my hand. “The curse is too strong, even for you.”
I spent most of that time sleeping off the effects of changing them. Frustration slammed down on me. “What if I don’t want you to go?” To have more time with him, to see the princes up close, would have been perfect.
The trickster smiled gently, something he rarely did. “Who said I was going anywhere?”
“Puck.” I unlaced my fingers from his. “One last question: Why would you let yourself get hurt, if something happens to me?” Yep, there was the flash of pain he tried so hard to hide. I couldn’t let him risk everything when I had no idea who he was.
“We won’t ever let you get hurt again.”
As he shifted into the tiger, I realized that he’d dodged the actual question. Glaring at him, I also discovered how hard it was to be mad at him. The golden tabby pressed his cold nose against my knee before padding to the door. The pendant flared with heat once more, and the door opened for him. Shakily, I got to my feet. The rest of the house was significantly quieter without Ren and Kishan arguing with Meghan to fill the silence. I wished I knew what happened during the ambush. Maybe then I could fix everything that seemed to kill my companions emotionally.
Downstairs, Ash attempted a genuine smile. I also wished I could wipe the pain from his face. “Feeling better?” he asked.
I perched on the arm of the couch next to him. Puck sprawled on the other end, flicking his tail lazily. “Not really.” An emerald slit drifted shut at my caustic reply. Ash nudged the golden tabby. “I’m sorry I didn’t get to see you boys,” I said to the princes.
Kishan blinked, pirate gold eyes expressionless. Ren’s jaw stretched in a wide yawn, but not before I saw the flicker of shock in his icy gaze.
“What are we going to do?” Meghan glanced between me and Ash.
Understanding I was far from ready to being the leader again, Ash responded, “We haven’t thought of anything yet. First you three have to get used to being a part of this whole thing after what you’ve been through, and then Starr and I are going to visit my court alone.” Puck growled under his breath. Ash continued, “My brothers might have news for us in a day or two, which should be enough time.”
“Anything that’ll help,” I muttered for his ears only.
Shifting almost imperceptibly towards me, Ash kept enough space between us that I wasn’t uncomfortable. I watched the faery realm outside the window of the manor house, predators stalking by without realizing it. As protected as we were inside these walls, I felt a gaping hole when I thought about actually being safe.
The weight of emeralds burned against my side. I ignored Puck, who seemed way too in tune with my thoughts for my liking. Ash sighed. “Anyone up for a hunt?” He grabbed his sword, glowing blue even from inside its sheath until it faded at his touch. Kishan got to his feet. His older brother glanced up at Ash. “Maybe you should stay behind in case the girls need protection, not that I think they will.” With a nod at my dark faery's words, Ren settled his head on his paws to get comfortable. Puck looked dead.
I trailed Ash to the front door. “You should probably have some extra backup, you know.”
“Kishan and I can take care of ourselves. Besides, the fey don’t usually like to mess with a prince, let alone two.” I gave him a warning look. “I’m not bringing Ren. He could have actually volunteered to come, but he and I both think the same way. You could use the extra set of eyes.” Ash lifted his hand but dropped it without touching me.
The black tiger, though, nosed my hand reassuringly. I emitted a low growl of my own. “Don’t be too long. I’m still not…” His silver gaze flashed in warning. I quirked my mouth wryly. As much as he didn’t want me to say it, it was true.
You’re safe, little warrior. Puck still seemed to doze on the couch, yet his ears were pricked in the direction of my return. I took Ash’s seat. I meant what I said about not letting you get hurt. Why don’t you trust me?
Leaning my head back, I let my eyelids droop shut. It stemmed from the fact I couldn’t trust any of them except Ash, at least not fully. If he could read my thoughts as well as I assumed he did, Puck knew that already. And he also knew how thin he was making my patience, the stupid trickster that he was.
“Ass,” I grumbled when I sensed rather than saw his tiger mouth smirk.
Kelsey’s voice cut into my brooding. “Are you okay?”
“Hating everyone, as usual,” I answered immediately. It was such a habit that Meghan and Kelsey fell into silence once more. Ren grunted when he stretched. Everything in the room, I sensed even with my eyes closed. After a couple minutes of torturous silence, my eyes snapped open, and I launched out of the room. Power whipped the air around me. I heard my friends’ worried exclamations behind me but continued through the manor anyway, my feet instinctively knowing where to go. I slid against the wall in a room hidden far from them. “Give me back my memories,” I snapped to no one in particular, scrubbing a shaky hand through my hair. “Just let me choose!”
Ice abruptly flowed over me. “Starr.” I lifted my gaze to Sage. His hand was extended warily. “Ash sent out a message before his hunt. He says you might want to get away for a bit.”
“That sounds like a good idea,” I agreed quietly. When I took his hand, I held on just long enough for him to help me stand back up. “Will this have anything to do with what’s happened to us?” I queried as I followed him through a trod in the backyard.“Not if I have anything to say about it.”