Chapter Eighteen

Jason and Polly were asleep in the RV, spooning. Polly was the big spoon and Jason was the little spoon. Her tiny arms were wrapped around his body, pulling him as tightly close to her as she could manage. Even in his sleep, Jason looked like he was trying to pull away from her.

I flung the digital camera at his head.

Jason was instantly awake, the way I knew he’d be. He sat straight up in bed, picking up the camera.

“He’s got Chance,” I said.

I stalked out of the RV, slamming the door behind me.

Jason was outside in three minutes, buttoning his pants as he closed the door behind him. “You woke up Polly,” he said.

I didn’t say anything.

He turned on the camera, and the sounds of Sutherland’s voice wafted out of it. I put my fingers in my ears. I didn’t even want to hear it again. Seeing it and hearing it once had been enough. Sutherland had Chance, and Sutherland was hurting Chance. Hurting Chance very badly. And Chance wasn’t Hallam or Marlena. He’d never been trained by the Sons of the Rising Sun. He wasn’t the daughter of a con man who knew her way around a rifle. He was my little brother, and he couldn’t even walk anymore.

I could hear the screaming through my plugged ears. I started humming, aware that I might look like a crazy person or a five-year-old. But I didn’t want to hear Sutherland saying it again, even though it echoed in my ears. And if I even suspect that the two of you are trying to rescue them, especially if you’re using your powers, I will slit all of their throats.

In several seconds, Jason tapped me on the shoulder. I stopped humming. I took my fingers away from my ears.

“After you left, I got more intel,” said Jason. “Sutherland’s already on the move. He and his army will be here in two days. Now maybe you and I can take on his entire army, and maybe we can’t. But I know with my army, and the two of us, we can stop him.”

I took three shuddering breaths, trying to steady myself. “My baby brother,” I said. That was all I got out before a sob stuck in my throat. I swallowed hard.

“I know,” said Jason. “Sutherland’s a motherfucking bastard.”

“Jason, we can’t risk going after Sutherland now. Not if he’s going to kill them.”

“His army’s moving every second, Azazel. They are coming for us.”

“But—” And this time I couldn’t help it. I started sobbing for real. I just broke completely down. Wails. Shaking shoulders. Sniffling. The whole bit. I was a badass, all right. How many times had I cried in the past few days?

Of course, I guess I was on my period.

Jason’s arms came around me. I stiffened for a second, but I didn’t have the energy to fight him. I relaxed against him, sobbing into his bare chest. I hated to admit it, but it felt nice. Familiar. Maybe I liked the way Jason smelled too. “He’s all I have. He’s the only one left.”

“I know,” Jason whispered. “I know.”

“I couldn’t handle it if I lost him. I’d fall apart,” I said between sobs.

Jason pushed me back and held me at arms’ length. His face had gotten fierce. “You want to go after Sutherland? We’ll do it. Now. We’ll get weapons. We’ll go. We’ll get Chance back.”

Yes. That was what I wanted. To go after Sutherland now. I started to nod, but… I shook my head, sniffing back tears and rubbing my eyes. “No,” I said. “I don’t want to risk their lives. If he’s coming to fight us, we’ll fight. The OF is sending every man they can spare. They should be here in two days. We’ll pool our resources. Between your army and my army, we’ll have enough men to give Sutherland a run for his money.”

“You’re sure?” Jason said. “Because there’s a chance if you and I go, that we could just nail Sutherland.”

I shook my head. “With the armies, we’re guaranteed victory. You make our men unstoppable, a unified force. I make Sutherland’s men confused and crazy.”

Jason grinned. “You make our men bloodthirsty and ready to slaughter anyone who opposes them. I make Sutherland’s men want to fight for our side.”

I took a deep breath. “Yeah. We could do that.”

“Fucking A, we could. We can. We will.”

I smiled too. And then I hiccupped. Crying sucked sometimes.

Jason took both my hands and stared deep into my eyes. “I’m sorry Sutherland took Chance. But I’m glad you’re going to work with me. We make a good team.”

“This is temporary, Jason. After the Sutherland business, I don’t know where we’ll stand.”

“I guess we’ll see then,” he said.

I nodded, gazing at him.

That was when Polly came out of the camper and saw us. Jason and I dropped hands immediately and looked away from each other.

Polly stalked over to me. Her little Minnie Mouse voice sounded more forceful than I’d ever heard it. “I don’t know what kind of game you’re playing here,” she said to me.

“Her brother got captured by Sutherland, that’s all,” said Jason. “We’re going to work together to get him back.”

“Oh,” said Polly, sounding less than happy about this turn of events, “you’re working together, huh? Well, that’s just wonderful.”

She turned on her heel and walked away from me. I looked at Jason. He shrugged. I started after Polly.

“Polly,” I called. “I’m not trying to—”

She whirled. “I’m going to find a bathroom,” she said. “I’d appreciate it if you didn’t follow me.”

* * *

It took the better part of a day to get everything at the church packed up and over to Columbus-Belmont park. It didn’t make much sense to have our camps divided if we were working together, and Jason’s camp was closer to the river, where Sutherland’s forces would attack. We had the provisions and equipment to set up camp in Columbus-Belmont Park, so I relocated Hallam’s team there. While we were setting up our tents and getting settled in, the first of the OF forces arrived. I spoke to the commanding officer and got them set up. I also left him in charge of organizing the other troops as they arrived.

Later, I got word that Jason wanted to talk strategy with me, and I brought Kieran along. He wasn’t particularly happy about my working with Jason, so I wanted to include him. Plus, Kieran could help with strategy. I was sure of that. We met in Jason’s RV. Jason had a few of his elite guard guys there. Fitting Kieran and I both inside was a little bit of a squeeze.

When Jason saw Kieran, he made a face. “You brought him?” he asked.

“Shut up, Jason,” I said.

Jason looked Kieran up and down. “I don’t like him.”

“Feeling’s mutual,” said Kieran.

Jason shrugged. This seemed to satisfy him. “Your ribs healed awfully fast.”

Should I tell Jason about Nancy?

“Maybe you didn’t hurt me as badly as you thought,” Kieran said before I could say anything. I guessed Nancy would stay our secret.

Jason shrugged again. He turned to the table, where a map was spread out. I guessed we were going to get down to business and Jason and Kieran were going to stop arguing. Fine with me.

Jason gestured to one of his guards. “Luke here has been doing recon on Sutherland. He reported in this morning with Sutherland’s position.”

“So, wait,” I said. “All this time, you’ve been going across the river to check things out?”

Jason nodded, looking impatient.

I decided to drop it, even though it pissed me off. If Jason wasn’t such an idiot, maybe we wouldn’t be in this situation. If only he would have shared his information with the OF.

Jason pointed to the map. “We think Sutherland’s army is going to come in here, by boat. They’ll probably do it at night, because they know we’ve got the advantage. If we line up people on the bank of the river, we can pick them off as they come across.”

“So we’re alert at night, then, and we engage the minute we see them?” said Kieran.

“What about Hallam, Marlena, and Chance?” I said. “Sutherland said he would kill them if we engaged his army. Isn’t there some way to trick him?”

Jason grinned at me. “Exactly what I was thinking, Azazel. So, instead, when Sutherland’s forces come across, we’ll all be completely peaceful. We’ll wait for him, you and me—” he pointed to himself and me “—and then we’ll get him alone with his prisoners. Azazel, you’ll make him kill himself. We’ll get Chance, Marlena, and Hallam back, and then we’ll give the signal to open fire.”

I nodded. “And then we destroy Sutherland’s army, which will no longer have a leader.”

Jason smiled. “Exactly. It’s a good plan?”

“It’s a great plan,” I said, looking at Kieran for support.

“How do you know Sutherland’s army won’t start blowing ours up while you guys are negotiating with him to get the prisoners back?” Kieran asked. “Do you really think he trusts you?”

“He doesn’t trust us,” said Jason, “but he thinks he’s got us by the balls. He’s very arrogant. He’ll go along with it if it’s following his plan. We just have to play into his hands.”

Kieran was quiet for a second. Then he said, “If you can make Sutherland kill himself Azazel, why don’t you just do it now?”

“I can’t do that,” I said. “I sort of have to know where he is to do it.”

“No you don’t,” said Kieran. “When all those members of the Sons killed themselves, you didn’t know where they were.”

I spread my hands. “Yeah, but I’m still not really sure how I did that.”

“It wouldn’t matter if she could anyway,” said Jason. “Even with Sutherland dead, his men might kill Hallam, Marlena, or Chance. We can’t take the risk.”

“Okay,” said Kieran. “I guess this will work.”

“Of course it will,” said Jason, dismissing Kieran with a wave of his hand. “But we’ve got to have all our soldiers ready to move when we want them to. So they’ll all have to wait in tents, dressed and armed. Then once Sutherland’s out of the way, Azazel and I will get them out there.”

“You mean you’ll control their minds,” said Kieran.

“Yeah,” I said. “We’ll also take over Sutherland’s army. It should be relatively easy.”

“I thought you didn’t like doing that,” Kieran said to me. “I thought you hated using magic.”

“This is important, Kieran,” I said. “Besides, I didn’t hear you complaining when you wanted me to make the guys from Clinton kill themselves.”

“That’s just it,” said Kieran. “After you did that, I saw why you didn’t want to do it, Zaza. It makes you…different.”

Jason raised his eyebrows. “You let him call you Zaza?”

“I don’t let him. He just does it,” I said.

Jason snickered. “It doesn’t make her any different than she already is,” he said to Kieran. “Maybe you just don’t really know her.”

“Jason,” I sighed. I didn’t need him and Kieran at each other’s throats.

“Or,” said Kieran, “maybe you want her to be just like you, and she’s not.”

“Guys!” I said. “Stop it, now.”

Jason opened his mouth, but I held up a finger in his face, and he shut it again. Kieran rolled his eyes, but he didn’t say anything else.

“Okay,” I said. “It’s a solid plan, and it’s the plan we’re going with. Got it, Kieran?”

“Sure,” he said.

I promised to relay information to my people, and Jason would take care of his. We’d all be ready tomorrow night, when we thought Sutherland would arrive. We all shook hands, and Kieran and I left the RV.

As we were walking back, Kieran asked me, “How can you stand that guy? He’s so full of himself.”

I shrugged. “Usually, I can’t stand him, I said. “But he’s actually on his best behavior right now. I guess I’m just happy to take what I can get.”

Kieran glowered. “If things were different, I would have punched him this evening.”

Great. I sighed.

* * *

We were gathered around a camp fire in our camp at the park. I had all of the members of Hallam’s team in addition to the commanding officers from the OF who’d shown up. I was debriefing everyone on the situation and explaining the plan for the following evening. The glow from the fire flickered against their serious faces.

“More and more troops are going to be showing up,” I said. “We’ve got to get them set up and ready and get them all in the loop. I’m going to put Lily and Gus in charge of coordinating everyone. Is everyone clear on what’s going to happen?”

Gus spoke up. “I guess I’m clear, but I’m not sure I agree.”

Mutiny? Wonderful. “I don’t think I asked that question, Gus.”

Gus stood up, and the fire lit his face from beneath, turning him into sinister shadows and hollows. “I don’t know why Hallam left you in charge,” he said. “By all rights, it should have been Lily. She ranked next highest to Hallam.”

“I don’t know why Hallam left me in charge either,” I said. “But I am, and if we want to stand a chance against Sutherland, you’ve got to do what I say.”

“Hallam would never have done this,” said Gus. “He’d never have allied us with Wodden. He’d never have us move camp. We are working with the enemy, and no one else seems to think it’s that big of a deal.”

“Hallam’s not here,” I said. I was starting to feel angry. If Gus’ feelings spread throughout the camp, I was going to have problems. I needed everyone to work together. “I’m here.”

“I don’t see why we have to listen to you,” said Gus.

“Oh, you don’t?” I said. I stood up too, facing Gus across the fire. “I’ll tell you why you have to listen to me. You have to, because if you don’t, I will make you.”

Kieran, who was sitting beside me, touched my arm. I shook him off.

“Your threats don’t scare me,” said Gus. “You’re nothing more than a crazy girl, and ever since you showed up, things around here have gotten worse.”

“This isn’t a threat,” I said. “This is a promise. Shut up now, or I will make you shut up.”

“You gonna shoot me?” Gus asked, sneering at me over the fire.

“No,” I said. “Last chance, Gus. Sit down and cooperate.”

“Absolutely not,” said Gus.

It was a lot like what I’d done with Jenna. When she screamed, I’d just reached into her mind and…shut her up. I knew it might have disastrous consequences, but there was too much at stake now. I couldn’t have Gus questioning me every three seconds. I touched his mind briefly.

Gus sat down. He looked confused. “Of course,” he said. “We’ll do as you say. You’re in charge.”

“Thank you,” I said. I looked around the fire. “Does anyone else need clarification?”

No one did.

* * *

I ran into Polly on my way back from using the bathroom before bed. I waved, but I didn’t have any intention of engaging her in conversation. She stopped me, though, looking furious.

“Why did you tell me not to tell Jason I was pregnant?” she demanded.

Oh, God. I’d forgotten all about that. Jason was having a baby. Dammit. I felt ambushed. “I just think you should wait. He’s distracted right now.”

“I think it’s because you’re still in love with him,” said Polly.

“That’s ridiculous,” I said. I was tired. Did we really have to do this right now?

“No, it’s not,” she said. “I see the way you look at him. He wants you, and you want him. You can both pretend that you don’t have it bad for each other, but I know better.”

“Polly, I’m with Kieran.” I thought of Kieran then, already snug in our tent. I wanted to be close to him right now, not standing here arguing with Jason’s girlfriend.

“Right,” she said. “Just like Jason’s with me.” She snorted. “No wonder you kept telling me to leave him. You didn’t want him to be with anyone else.”

“I don’t care who Jason’s with,” I said. That wasn’t entirely true, I guessed. I’d been jealous, sure, but I was over it now. Maybe I was kind of jealous of the pregnancy thing, but all things considered, I was glad I hadn’t actually turned out to be pregnant.

“You’re lying,” she said.

“I’m…” What was I supposed to say? She was convinced.

“Well,” she said, “whatever you did, it worked. I can’t get in to see Jason at all anymore. He’s too distracted by the battle and by you. So I definitely can’t tell him about his baby, and I can’t get the grimoire either.”

“Forget about the grimoire, Polly. I don’t need it.” I didn’t think I’d be getting rid of my magic any time soon. I needed it. The world needed it. That was just the way things were.

“Forget about the grimoire,” she repeated. “And forget about Jason, too, I guess. Keep me out of the way so that you can take him from me.”

“I don’t want his psychotic ass,” I said. “I mean it. I don’t. Take him and welcome. Seriously.”

I walked past her. I wasn’t going to listen to that anymore. It was interesting that Polly seemed to have grown a spine when it came to someone taking Jason from her. I hadn’t thought she had one in the first place.

She was wrong, of course, wasn’t she? I’d let Jason hold me when I was upset about Chance, but that hadn’t been romantic in any way. I was with Kieran. There was no part of me that still wanted to be with Jason. No part at all.

I shoved myself into the tent with Kieran and curled into his body. His arms came around me, and he kissed me feather soft on the neck.

I snuggled close. Good. Here I could relax and sleep.

Kieran whispered in my ear. “You used magic on Gus today, didn’t you?”

No. I didn’t want to talk. I just wanted to feel secure in the circle of his arms and drift off to sleep. “Yes,” I said.

“Why?”

I thought for a second. “It was just easier.”

“You aren’t worried about something happening to him? You were worried about that all the time before. You never wanted to use your powers.”

What was this? Before, Kieran had wanted me to use magic. Now, he was against it? “I thought you wanted me to use magic.”

“I’m just trying to figure out why you’re using it now,” said Kieran. “What changed your mind?”

I considered. I had been against using magic for a long time, but now it didn’t seem nearly as bad as I thought it had been. “It must have been when the men from Clinton attacked us in the sleeping bag,” I said. “If I hadn’t done what I did, we’d both be dead.”

He didn’t say anything for a few minutes. All I could hear was his steady breath. Then he said, “I’m not going to lie, Zaza. That freaked me out.”

“What? Why?”

“It was so bloody and violent. You had those guys mutilate each other. And you…you seemed to enjoy it.”

I stiffened next to him. “I didn’t enjoy it,” I said.

“You were laughing.”

“Kieran, I was just thinking about this line in the musical Chicago , and I started giggling. It wasn’t like I was laughing at them all dying.”

“Are you sure?”

“Of course I’m sure.”

He was quiet again. Finally, “If you were right before, about the nature of your magic being destructive, is it possible that it could destroy you?”

“Kieran, please. It’s a tool, like everyone’s been saying all along. What we’re fighting for now is important. And sometimes, it is true that the ends justify the means.” Hadn’t Lily tried to tell me this before? I’d simply been too confused to listen. Things were clearer now.

He pulled me tight against him. “I just worry about you. That’s all.”

“I’m fine,” I said.

But as I fell asleep, I saw the faces of the men I’d forced to kill each other. I saw all the blood. I remembered that there was something about the voice that I used to hear when I used my magic. There was something… I put it from my mind. I was very tired.

chapter nineteen >>