Wicked Winter

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Chapter 9

I couldn’t bring myself to tread back to the warm tent right at first, to some place cozy and comfortable. How could I? I’d just learned that a once orphan girl had somehow magically gained a pair of parents. Turns out, they never died. My parents never died. All I wanted to do was be blank. Cold. Numb. Something.

When the dark sky started to transform into a milky navy blue, I knew it was time.

I didn’t make it back to Fritz’s tent until the sun was cresting over the horizon, and prayed Sebastian or Fritz himself hadn’t woken before I was able to slither back under the covers. Pale yellow light streamed over the frozen landscape, and I peered out in awe. It looked like it had frosted earlier than normal this year - the region coated in a gray-white shell.

It looked like Lady Luck was on my side because when I quietly pulled back the tent flap, two sets of quiet snores met my ears.

Tiptoeing, I carefully made my way towards the bed, shucking off and placing my boots by the chair I’d collapsed in earlier the previous day.

When I made it to the bed, I stopped. Sebastian lay nestled between the sheets, his dark hair strewn over his face, shadowing his features from view. His chest rose slowly as he breathed, his breath heavy and deep with sleep, and to my absolute surprise, I found it comforting. Carefully, I pulled back the covers and wiggled my way under.

My spot in the bed was cold, my body heat from earlier long gone, and I rubbed my hands together to create some heat. I didn’t mind the cold, not at all, but I still liked to be warm. A grunt sounded from beside me, and I risked a glance at Sebastian. He twisted and turned under the covers, his face scrunched in concentration as he slept. I watched him, curious, until he reached and looped an arm around my waist. With one strong tug he managed to pull me closer to him, his body hard against my back. He mumbled something before the muscles in his face relaxed and soon he was snoring again.

I could feel the heat from his body seeping into my clothes, back into my body and I would be lying if I said I didn’t love it. My heart galloped between my ribs, but with a few gulps of chilled air I managed to cool and slow my body down. Tentatively I fingered under the covers until I found his hand, and slowly brought it up into the new light streaming through the crack in the tent.

They were huge compared to my own, his fingers large and thick unlike Foster’s. They were tanned and calloused, no doubt from hours of sparring with his hidden daggers, but even though I stared at them, trying to muster up the courage to hate the hands that had brought me here, I couldn’t. I didn’t belong here, that much was obvious, but I wasn’t mad about him whisking me away in the middle of the night either.

I guess... I guess the only reasoning behind that was: if he’d never captured me and drug me here, I wouldn’t be wrapped in his arms this very moment. My heart wouldn’t be hammering and my mind wouldn’t be contemplating whether or not it was a good thing that I could feel my forlorn, frozen heart melting for the Count of Night, Sebastian O’Neill.



I must’ve fallen asleep, because one moment I was nestled in Sebastian’s arms, and the next I was lying in a giant bed all by myself, the sheets next to me cold and vacant.

“You slept through the Rising Bell,” someone said.

I sat up, my spine barking a protest, and saw Sebastian across the tent with a piece of bacon in hand. Bacon. A complete and almost unheard of luxury back in the village. The spicy, delicious scent wafted over towards me, and my stomach growled in response.

I flung the covers off my legs, almost reluctant to leave the safe haven of the bed. With further inspection I realized we were completely alone. The last time we were alone... I fought the urge to touch my lips.

“I must’ve been tired,” I shrugged my shoulders.

“You slept most of yesterday and then through the night. Unless you didn’t get much sleep last night.” Was that just me, or was there accusation in his tone?

He was sitting at a long mahogany table, the wood dark and rich. He held a cup cradled in his hands that wafted steam.

“It was cold,” was all I said. “I woke up a lot.”

Sebastian caught my eyes staring at his cup. “It’s coffee. You want some?”

Coffee. I’d heard about coffee, a bitter drink only the rich could afford, and to be honest it didn’t sound too appealing. But taking a wiff of the alluring aroma, my mind did a complete one-eighty on the topic. “Yes please.”

Sebastian got up to pour me a cup, and I took a seat across from him at the table.

He was shirtless, and I had to mentally slap myself every time my gaze lingered on his tan, washboard abs a moment too long to be socially acceptable. For a moment I wondered what Nicola would do if she could see what I was goggling at. I could just imagine her saying, “When the Lord made him, he had angels in mind.” Or, “Dear, I know he’s not my boyfriend, but he’s still mine.”

Sebastian moved around the small kitchen - a array of little cupboards made of the same wood as the table - with ease, as if he’d done it a thousand times before.

“You sure do know your way around the kitchen,” I murmured as I observed him pour milk into my coffee cup.

For the first time since I arrived I noticed a hint of a smile tugging at his lips. He shrugged. “Yeah, I guess. Fritz isn’t that complicated of a man, and his kitchen proves it.”

I smiled a little. Sebastian stirred the cup with an iron spoon , the clink clink of the metal on glass reminding me of wind chimes, before he finally set the steaming cup of coffee in front of me. I gratefully laced my fingers around the mug. “Thanks.”

He nodded. “No problem.”

We sat in silence for a while, neither of us speaking of the night’s events. For a moment I wondered what he thought when he woke up this morning, his arm draped over my waist, both of us pressed together. Just thinking about it made my tummy flip - causing a strange warm sensation shooting from the tips of my toes to the crown of my skull.

My mind drifted in the silence to other events that had taken place in the night. Foster Quinn, a strange elf with intriguing eyes and an even more intriguing personality. My stomach turned sour when I went over his words in my mind. “They’re alive.”

How could that be possible? How could I be labeled an orphan? Perhaps I was stolen in the night - snatched away from my mothers arms, never to be seen again. My mind couldn’t have come up with any other logical explanation, simply because I couldn’t imagine or even comprehend leaving a child to starve. And by sticking a child - especially a newborn - into an orphanage was doing just that.

“Eve?” I was suddenly sucked back into the present, the cup of coffee in my hands now cold, untouched. “You alright?”

I nodded. “I’m fine.” Though I certainly was not.

Sebastian stared at me, studying me. His brows knitted together and his nose crinkled slightly. “You’re lying.”

I tensed. “I am not.”

He chuckled, snagging another piece of bacon off the plate. He placed it between his lips. “Whatever. I’m not blind.”

My eyes lingered on his soft lips a moment too long, because Sebastian rose from his chair, rather abruptly might I add. His honey eyes burned with something I couldn’t put my finger on, and I longed to touch him. To feel his arms wrapped around me again, the constant thud thud of his heartbeat against my back.

With a sigh he raked his fingers absently through his hair - which I had just noticed was damp. He must’ve taken a shower, which made sense considering he was shirtless. Stands fell into his eyes, and I yearned to push them away, to show his striking features and that perfect little crescent moon tattoo.

“Um, well, I think you should get ready. You missed your first water lesson yesterday and the professors can be very unforgiving.”

I tried to hide the disappointment now plaguing me, flipping the corners of my mouth down into a hollow frown. “I guess.”

He turned to leave, and Foster’s instructions nudged the back of my mind, pushing, encouraging. “Meet me here tomorrow night, same time. Don’t be late.” It would be extremely hard to sneak out of the dormitories and through the open court yard undetected...

“Sebastian, wait!”

He halted mid step, but he didn’t bother to turn around. “Hmm?”

“Can I stay here? I really don’t like the dorms...”

He finally glanced at me over his shoulders, his thick brows furrowing, confused. “You want to live here in camp? In the army?”

If living here meant information about my lineage, I was happy to give up the strange cafetiera customs and campus drama. Though I was a little disappointed I would be giving up fettuccine alfredo and showers.

I nodded, my heart slowly picking up its pace. What if he found it odd and decided to dig deeper into my reasoning? But to my surprise, all he did was sigh and shake his head. “I don’t blame you. I hated that place. It’s almost as bad as living at Court. I’ll have someone get a tent around for us and have our things moved in.”

Wait. Hold up. ”Our?"

His lips quirked up at the sides, mischief shining like molten gold in his irises. “I was assigned to you to protect you. I would be going against direct orders of Sage Akan if I did anything less.”

I gulped, and the blood pumping through me felt too hot. My voice squeaked like an opening door. “Okay.”

He smiled, a genuine smile that made my chest ache, and turned to leave. “Don’t forget to get ready. The showers are right around the corner.”

I didn’t say anything as he left, and I waited until the flap of the tent shut behind him before I got up from the table. The coffee was cold now, and my stomach still growled and rumbled. I reached for the bacon and took off towards the showers.

I had to go the opposite direction than last night, and my cheeks warmed when I realized they were open. The showers had no curtains, nothing to shield what lay beneath my clothes, or anyone else’s for that matter.

They were lined in a row, the spouts covered in orange rust and the ground a soppy, muddy mess. Two men and a woman stood, the hopefully warm water streaming over their naked bodies, and my stomach flipped. The thought of showing everyone.. everything was beyond uncomfortable.

You’re doing this for your parents, I tried to convince myself. You gave up your own bathroom for your parents.

So before I gave myself time to think, I stripped and set my clothes in a heap outside the showers like I’d seen the others do before me. The water wasn’t warm, nor cold. More neutral than anything, and there was no soap for my hair. I glowered, trying to face the faucet so I didn’t give any bystanders any more of a show than I had too.

For the first time in my life, I actually felt sorry for the strippers and prostitutes back home. The Strip was easily the most successful establishment when it came to the trafficking of illegal drugs, spices and other... erotic items. Seeing naked bodies wasn’t anything I wasn’t used to. I’d seen plenty going to and from the Strip, hooker’s breasts practically toppling out of their bodices.

Other people’s naked bodies didn’t bother me, but when it came to my own? I was repulsed. You could count a good number of my ribs, and my arms, legs and even neck were thin. Considering I was so pale, the blue veins in my skin were normally quite easy to see through my almost translucent skin. And let’s just say I wasn’t as... gifted as some other woman. The only thing I had going for me were my wide hips.

I finished with my shower as fast as possible - not wanting to be exposed a moment more than I had to. The autumn air bit into my damp flesh, and I actually shivered. I dried myself with the single towel that the others had passed around and slipped back into the clothes I’d worn for three days now.

I made my way back to Fritz’s tent, taking time to take in my surroundings as I went. The labyrinth of tents was endless, seeming to stretch all the way to the horizon. People of all sorts littered the landscape, scrawny woman with fierce eyes all the way to large men that reminded me of a bear more than a human. I even saw a pack of wild children running through the narrow aisles of the tents, laughing and screaming while they threw toy balls at each other.

The Order’s army seemed like a civilization all on its own, and I found myself marveling at the trading tents, the infirmaries, and even the cloth making tents. They had everything.

Something touched my shoulder and I jumped with a yelp. Sebastian stood behind me, his eyes twinkling unlike anything that I’d seen from him before.

“Don’t do that,” I hissed, and he laughed - a hearty sound that was as intoxicating as alcohol. I couldn’t help but smile back.

He was now fully clothed, a black long-sleeved shirt clinging to his broad chest. It was surprisingly simple. Despite his status, he never really seemed into the life of luxury, and his simple clothes were a prime example. For a moment I wondered where his cloak and hidden daggers were, and why he wasn’t wearing them. “Our tent is ready,” he said.

I tried to ignore the squeezing of my gut. A nervous, scared, excited squeeze. “Already?”

“Yes.”

I couldn’t help but asking, “Is it black?”

He chuckled. “Yeah, it’s a black one. It’s just not as large as Fritz’s. He’s the commander of the Night Regiment, so that’s why his tent is so large compared to everyone else’s.”

I nodded. “I guess that makes sense.”

Our tent must’ve been in the same proximity as Fritz’s because he led me in that direction, a stupid smile pulling at his lips. The first thing I noticed was he was walking abnormally close to me, his arms rubbing against my own. I could feel the heat through the fabric of my clothes and had to keep from tugging him to me. I wanted to get closer.

How queer. Last night he seemed to glare at me with an intensity that could burn me on the spot, reducing me nothing to a pile of ash. Now, he was smiling, and giddy and being... cute.

Sebastian stopped and let an older woman pass before he pointed to a silky black tent with the Order’s symbol sewn into the side. It was large, not as big as Fritz’s, but definitely bigger than my shack back in the Village, and I loved it. It wasn’t anything special compared to the other black tents. If anything it was smaller and probably more crowded on the inside, but I couldn’t help the bud of pride blooming in my chest, seeping into my veins and making me feel as if I was floating on a fluffy cloud. It was mine.

Sebastian snapped a finger in front of my face. “Anyone in there?”

I shook my head, scattering my thoughts. “Wait, what?”

“I said, do you want to take a look on the inside or go to your first class?”

The mention of actually going to class filled me with a sense of weighing dread. “Will you be there?” I asked, hating how young and frail I sounded.

He frowned. “No. It’s your class. I’ll be there to escort you to the training grounds again to start training, but I can’t stay with you.”

I dared ask, “Do I need to go to classes then? Can’t I just learn to kick ass here with you and not learn all the magic?”

He lifted his brows, obviously surprised and amused. “You don’t want to learn water magic?”

I shrugged. I hoped he wasn’t upset with me. “I don’t know. I mean, you’ve seen me use ice. I think I already have a good grip on my powers.” I knew I had a good grip on my powers. I mean, kind of. But ice magic wasn’t like water magic. Both came easily to me, it’s not like I had to learn it. I can just do it.

He sighed. “Fine. I’ll talk to Akan about taking you out of water classes. In the meantime, you can sit inside the tent or whatever. I’ll be back in an hour or so.”

I smiled up at him. “Thank you.”

He stared at me, his eyes and smile warm. “No problem, sweetheart.” With one last wink he headed in the direction of the academy.

“Sweetheart?” I whispered to myself as I spun on my heel and meandered my way towards my new home.

Once inside, I was taken back by how it was almost exactly like Fritz’s tent - the embroider sofa’s, the mahogany dining table, and even the single bed in the back corner.

Wait. Single bed? My breaths came in shallow gulps and I tried desperately to calm my raging heartbeat. Why wouldn’t he have told them to get two beds?

Yes, I liked the guy. And yes, I couldn’t control my hormones around him, but that was the very reason why a single bed wouldn’t work. I didn’t know if I could control myself and the last thing I needed was to fall-head-over-heels for a pretty face. Okay, a drop-dead-sexy face, but still.

Suddenly the old grandfather clock beside the bed chimed. Noon. I had twelve hours until I was to meet Foster back in the woods by the bend in the trail.

Foster.

Such a strange being that I was finding myself repulsively drawn too. It was as if him being a faerie didn’t affect me at all. It was as if I saw him as a... person. And I didn’t know what scared me more: the fact that I was going to meet him again, or the fact that I wanted too.

With a groan I dragged myself onto the bed and fell face first into the plush, sterling silver comforter. It felt as if a cotton ball had swallowed me whole. “Eve, what are you doing?” I asked myself, my voice muffled through the silk.

It’s not like I was expecting an answer, but when nothing but the voices from other witches and soldiers floated through the air over to me, I flipped onto my back and sighed. I knew what I had to do, but that didn’t mean I liked it.

First off: I had to cut Sebastian off. Things were moving too fast, and hell, I barely knew the guy. I literally knew nothing about him beside his birthright and his brother and sister. Second: I needed to get the hell out of here and make it back to my home; back to Lucy, Emma, Steevy and everyone else I left behind.

I couldn’t imagine what they were going through; waking up and the main provider of your family had disappeared. Had they thought I left on my own, just got up and left in the middle of the night? Had they searched for me, or just turned a blind eye to what happened?

I would be going home, that much was for sure, but I had to learn about my family, my parents first. I had to find them.

With an hour to spare I decided there was nothing better to do than explore my surroundings, expressively the kitchen. I rummaged through the wooden cupboards, surprised when the smell of sawdust and pine tumbled out of the open doors. They must’ve been new. I didn’t find much, just cardboard boxes of food you set over the stove, and my stomach growled. Sebastian should be home soon, so perhaps we could take a stroll towards the cafeteria and get something to eat. And maybe I’d see Nicola.

I was sitting on a sofa in the middle of the room, my fingers running absentmindedly over sequins and gems sewn into the fabric, when the flap to the tent flew open. Sebastian walked in, blinking as he was adjusting to the dim light and gave a lazy smirk. “There,” he said, his voice somewhat laced with pride. He strutted over towards me, his hands in his pockets and eyes bright. “No more water classes.” A sigh whispered past my lips and I hadn’t even realized I was holding my breath. “But,” he continued, “Akan still wants you to meet him every Friday for a follow-up of the week. That’s tomorrow.”

I wasn’t sure if my body was hot or cold, scared or excited upon hearing that. Yes, water called to me unlike any element but ice.... Ice was my true calling. And Akan had promised he’d teach me more about my “exquisite abilities”. The tips of my toes tingled.

“Are you going to escort me there?” I asked. I hoped.

He snorted. “Why wouldn’t I? Do you really think I would leave you alone to walk through the woods when those monsters precisely showed interest in you?”

“Maybe you’d want them to eat me,” I teased. “Then you wouldn’t have to babysit.”

His perfect teeth made an appearance as he smiled, his dark hair hanging sexily in his eyes. I swallowed hard. I wanted to run my fingers through his hair, to pull him close and feel his lips once more...

EVE. You have to cut him loose, not draw him closer.

But I didn’t want to. I wanted him close, I wanted a taste of the desire and heat both of us could create. I wanted to know how it felt to be loved by Sebastian O’Neill.

“Maybe I like babysitting,” he chuckled, wiggling his eyebrows, and I laughed.

When my smile faded, he was staring at me, his eyes swirling with an emotion I was too scared to put my finger on. He was so close, the heat from his body making its way to me over the small distance between us. I could feel the pull, feel the longing and desire build up in me until...

I reacted. For the first time in my life I gave my emotions and heart the reigns and they took the lead. I didn’t have time to think, I just reacted.

I stood up from my chair, the seat nearly toppling over, and kissed him. This kiss was different from the first, more hungry, and I didn’t know where the desire was coming from. It was as if I had a deep abyss in my heart that just kept seeping a hunger I hadn’t known I possessed, a hunger for him, into my veins.

Sebastian froze at first, almost as surprised as I was, but soon melted into me, his body forming perfectly against mine. His rough, calloused hands came up to cup my face, his thumbs resting gently on my jaw, and I sighed. I trailed my fingers down the back of his neck, savoring the empowerment I felt as he shivered. I did that to him. I caused that, and I loved it. He moaned against my lips.

He pulled back slightly. “We shouldn’t be doing this,” he whispered.

I didn’t care. I was tired of doing what should be done, what was right. I was tired of caring about anyone but myself. I brought my thumb up to stroke the moon tattoo under his eye, and his eyes closed as he fell into my touch.“But I want to,” I edged on.

His dark lashes fluttered.“I want to too.” And he bent down and brushed his lips against mine once more, his touch as soft as a feather caressing my skin, and a hot tremble went down my spine. His touch was searing, electric, addictive. I wasn’t sure if I was ever going to get enough.

Suddenly my stomach growled, loud enough for both Sebastian and I to hear, and crimson bloomed in my cheeks.

He pulled back with a chuckle. “Have you really eaten anything today?”

The side of my mouth quirked into a little grin. “I guess not.”

Sebastian turned to get a good view of the grandfather clock, my arms still draped around his neck and my fingers still twisted in his hair. “It’s a little past one,” he said as he turned to look at me. “Do you want to go to the cafeteria?”

I was about to object, to pull him close once more and brush my lips around his jaw but my stomach had other ideas. It growled once more, as if answering the question for me, and I pouted.

He laughed and grabbed my hand, tugging me towards the entrance of the door. “I hope you like vegetable soup.”


The cafeteria was packed just like the day before, the sound from all the voices melting together, forming a brick wall of sound when we entered. The sun was high in the sky, causing rainbows of color to bounce throughout the room, reflected through the glass. My eyes automatically sought out the table I sat at before, and I was relieved to see Nicola there, her dark chocolate hair blocking her face from view. She didn’t sit alone.

The large guy from yesterday, the one with his pants around his ankle and square head, sat across from her, his eyes bright and her face soft. He wore a lazy smile, and it looked as if they were both having an easygoing conversation.

Well that grudge didn’t last long.

But just as my eyes grazed Nicola, they pegged Danna, spotting her and pinning her in a heated stare. She hadn’t even noticed Sebastian and I had entered, but assuming by the heavy silence that followed our arrival, it wouldn’t be long.

Sebastian wound his fingers around mine, and my heart seized into a gallop. “Why are they staring?” I whispered, trying my best to keep it inconspicuous.

“Because Danna and I were together for three years. It’s probably just weird. That, and she’s going to get pissed.” He seemed to show no nervousness at all. In fact, I could have sworn a small grin tugged at the corners of his mouth.

As if she’d heard him, Danna spun, her beautifully curled hair flipping over her shoulder in a curtain of gold. Her features were striking, just as the day before: a small button nose, large eyes that glimmered with hints of aqua and sapphire, and full pink lips that could curl up into a despicable snarl. Like they were doing right now. Towards me.

I tried to swallow but it was as if a rock had formed in my throat. I squeezed Sebastian’s fingers, and he chuckled.

He bent down, his lips a tickle against my ear. “Relax,” he murmured to me. “I won’t let her do anything to harm you.”

But for once, I actually questioned Sebastian’s powers, at least against her’s. Judging by the sneer she was throwing my way, looking more like a feral dog sizing up her prey than a beautiful, well-mannered Count, she looked like she could do some serious damage. For a split second I was terrified she’d lunge across the cafeteria at me, her perfect teeth lengthening into fangs. Maybe her fingernails would round and harden into razor sharp claws, begging to rip me into ribbons.

Sebastian tugged me towards the line to get food, away from Danna’s burning glare.

I let Sebastian order for me, still not used to the customs of the Witch Academy. A steaming bowl of soup sat on my tray, accompanied by a pack of crackers and bread smeared with butter. I breathed in heavy, and my mouth watered as the delicious aroma tickled my nose. Butter was a rarity that I could never afford.

Nicola must’ve spotted me over the sea of people, because she started waving frantically. “Darling! Over here!”

She smiled when I started trekking over to her, but her mouth almost dropped open when she realized the Count of Night was following me. She mouthed, “Just an escort?”

I shrugged, feeling a twinge of guilt. I’d told her the day before that there was nothing going on between us... Now I just looked like a liar, but judging by the twinkle in her eye, she wasn’t even mad. She knew.

I took a seat next to Nicola, and Sebastian sat down across from me, his lips curved into a lazy grin.

Nicola turned towards me, her eyes sparkling with amusement. “You’ve sure been busy.” I tried to subdue the crimson leaking into my cheeks, but it slipped right through my grasp and soon I was glowing. She giggled.

The boy across from her, Tewy, snorted. “You were puffed up yesterday, but once someone mentions who you’ve been screwing you shrink back into your shell like a snail.”

Nicola inhaled sharply and wacked him on the shoulder. “Tewy!”

Screwing?

Sebastian growled, his voice low and threatening and his shoulders tensed. “Watch you mouth.”

Tewy’s spine straightened, as if squaring for a fight. The boys stared at each other, sizing each other up. I saw a muscle in Sebastian’s jaw feather, and it wasn’t long before Tewy lowered his gaze, a scowl firmly set on his face.

I didn’t say anything and kept my gaze lowered, but I could feel Nicola’s stare on the side of my face, as if asking “How did you score that?”

Once the heavy awkwardness finally started to dissolve from the air, giving me room to breathe, I finally found my voice. “Nic, do you have training later? From like, two to six?”

She paused, her spoon with steamy soup inches from her perfectly glossed lips. “I don’t have it that long, no. My training is from four o’clock to six. Though yesterday we didn’t have it. Troops were out in the forest - everyone was saying it was a code blue, so I stayed on campus.”

My mind floated to the iele and the gnome in the woods, then to Foster, whom I was to meet tonight at midnight, and my heart kick-started. The more time I spent with Sebastian, even if it wasn’t much, the less intriguing and more frightening Foster and his world became. Don’t get me wrong, faeries were always terrifying. The iele and the hellhound proved the stories and legends, but something seemed... off. It was as if an invisible tether had attached itself to me and their world, and every time I tried to run the other direction with my tail between my legs, it would yank me back. Hard. Plus, I had to learn more about my parents.

Sebastian cleared his throat. “Yes, well classes should start up again today. If you’d like,” he asked Nicola, his voice firm and formal, “When I take Eve to her lessons, I can take you as well and you can train together.”

She cocked her head to the side. “So you mean I’d be practicing from two to four? With Eve... and you?”

He nodded curtly. “Yes. If that’s what you want.”

Nicola jumped in her seat and squealed, clapping her hands together frantically. “Oh yes!” she exclaimed. Then towards me, “Darling, your boyfriend is delightful.”

I nearly choked on a piece of potato in my mouth and Sebastian cleared his throat, deliberately avoiding my and Nicola’s gaze.

“He’s not my boyfriend,” I said a little too defensively, and she rolled her eyes.

“Yeah, whatever.”

I tried not to bristle, but to no avail. “He’s not.” But she gave me a sideways glance, a smirk dancing on her lips. She so knew.

Lunch continued then, but I didn’t say much after that. I just listened to Nicola complain to Tewy how he never holds her hand in public, like he’s ashamed to be with her, and Tewy defending himself by saying she pantsed him the day before; why would he want to hold her hand?

Sebastian barely touched his soup, which was a surprise to me, but I didn’t make a scene about it. Maybe he just wasn’t hungry. He sat with his back pin straight against the back of his chair, the easy going, it’s-my-life-I-can-do-what-I-want facade from earlier completely gone. He looked on edge, twitchy, as if something was going to pounce out and get him.

He’s a warrior, a fighter, I rebutted to myself. It’s just embedded into him. It’s who he is.

Nicola and Tewy seemed completely oblivious to Sebastian’s change in character, and for a moment I was surprised I noticed at all. You’re getting too close, a voice hissed in my mind, but I shoved it back, choosing to ignore it rather than agree with it. Who cared if I was getting too close? There wasn’t much else I could lose. My family probably thought I was dead, which meant I didn’t have a home. So what else would I have to fall back on beside Sebastian?

The cafeteria had become loud again, student witches conversing with each other and their words bouncing around the glass dome above. It was remarkable how it was hard to hear someone sitting right next to me. But I knew something was off when suddenly the roar of conversation died down to nothing but a murmur, a steady buzz in the background.

“Bashy,” someone called in a singsong voice, and everything quieted. It was so quiet you could hear a feather fall across the room.

Both Bash and I turned, and my heart thrummed when I saw Danna strutting towards us. I could practically see my funeral in the wicked gleam of her cobalt eyes, the curve of the sneer on her lips. Shit.

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