I liked roofs. The taller the better. Quiet, peaceful. Just somewhere to be alone. No running into a naked neighbor in the bathroom, no giggling girls in the hall making ham-handed advances.
“Derek, why’d you drag us up here?”
Right. normally I came up here for peace. Today, it was something different.
“I dragged you up here to talk,” I told Laura. “I dragged Akane up here for guard duty.” I nodded to her. “If you don’t mind.”
She didn’t hesitate, just sped back over to where she could keep an eye on the door that provided access to the roof.
Laura just eyed me warily. “What is so important that you couldn’t say it in front of the others?”
I took a deep breath.
“Laura,” I said, looking deep into her eyes. “Are you all right?”
She blinked. “Uh…yeah. Why?”
“You spent almost two weeks torturing someone who you considered a close friend for most of your life. Call me crazy, but I think that’s something that bears looking into.”
She touched her necklace briefly, looking away. “It’s no big deal. Science demanded I do it.”
“Science could have had someone else do it,” I retorted. “Doctor Henry, or that girl who’s always hanging around him, what’s her name—”
“Right, her. Either one of them could have done it. I don’t think either of them ever even met Lizzy.” I bit my tongue, and quickly corrected myself. “Elizabeth.”
Lizzy wasn’t real. That girl had never even existed.
Laura still wouldn’t meet my gaze. “Had to be me. Someone else might have gotten it wrong.”
I stepped closer. “No, it did not have to be you. Can’t you delegate at all?”
Her eyes met mine in a flash of anger. “This from you? The man who personally wrestles to the ground every monster he meets? With your skills and connections, you should be at the top of a slayers’ guild, not out in the field! But no, SOMEBODY MIGHT GET HURT!”
I took an involuntary step back. “That’s…that’s different. New slayers need a firm hand guiding them to make sure they stay safe—”
“I’m not talking about the newbs, Derek! Most of the people you contract are almost as experienced as you, and you still hold their hands. Silver and gold, when you helped assault Shendilavri, you insisted on fighting the assassins after the warlords yourself!”
Now it was my turn to do a double-take. “Wait, how did you know—” I grimaced, and turned to my swordswoman. “Akane!”
She waved lazily. The message was clear: She wasn’t getting involved.
I turned back to Laura. “Anyway, I don’t always do that. I let Adam and the retinue face that gargant alone.”
She snorted. “Yeah, you let some of the most experienced soldiers in the city, and a psychopath, go alone on what you assumed would be a milk run. Real show of trust there.”
I was losing the upper hand in this conversation. “Again: Not the point. The point is you had an emotional investment in the victim—”
“Whatever! And that could easily have clouded your judgment! It’s a thrice-damned miracle she didn’t exploit that, and kill you.”
She just scoffed and looked away, but this time out of disgust instead of embarrassment. “Please. I was in complete control the entire time.”
“Sure,” I said dryly. “In complete control of the immortal with superpowers, who has since proven she could have escaped whenever she felt like it. I’ll buy that.”
She ground her teeth. “You would have done the exact same in my position, and you know it.”
“Oh, that’s right, you’d have let me or Clarke do the cutting while you just hovered around keeping an eye on things.”
I winced. That actually did sound like what I would do. “Look, let’s both just calm down and get back on point.”
She rolled her eyes. “Okay, what is the point?”
“That I was worried about you, dammit!”
Again, she took a step back, and her hand went to her necklace. “You…were?”
“Well, yeah, what did you think would happen if you disappeared for almost two weeks?”
Laura averted her gaze. “You didn’t seem to care when I disappeared when we were kids.”
I resisted the urge to grind my teeth. “That was different. That was—”
I stopped talking.
Wait, what was different?
True, when we were kids Victor had still been around, and had been able to explain what was going on—as best as he could, anyway—but I didn’t remember actually caring.
But wait, I did care, I just…
Silver and gold, what was wrong with my head—
“Derek?” Laura asked, moving closer. She put her hand on my shoulder. “Are you all right? You don’t look so good.”
“Don’t worry, sweetie. It won’t matter soon.”
I spun around to find the source of the voice. Not Akane, still guarding the stairwell.
A bronze-skinned girl, wearing a dress that was brown with old blood.
She stood on the edge of the roof, grinning from ear to ear, next to a giant of some sort of South American ethnicity. Probably a Vanir, then.
I felt my jaw tighten.
Behind the Scenes (scene 166)
Short, but important, and not just because of the end.
Extra update Wednesday.