Dad had kept hugging me in that room until Uncle Vilkas reminded us we needed to get out. He carried the unconscious villain out while I repeated everything he had told me. Dad told me his side of things. How he had been contacted by Mr. Hunter about my capture, how he and Uncle Max and Uncle Royce flew over asap. By the time they got here the initial rescue had happened but of course I had been taken elsewhere. Uncle Vilkas and many members of his clan joined the growing ‘army’. One of the captured guards from the holding area had given all the information so the ‘army’ turned to the building I had been taken to.
While the villain had been right about Dad being human, he was wrong about the anti-magic barriers. The technology he thought would work were weak and broke down with just a few spells from the witches and wizards. Dad sprinted through trying to find me and took the gun from one of the knocked out guards. Unfortunately the bullets had been spent already.
“You went in with an empty gun?!” I stared at Dad.
“I knew Max and Vilkas were on my heels and when I saw that–thing–had a knife and not a gun I figured I could easily bluff. I had to do something.”
“You’re so brave.”
Dad just hugged me again. “I was so scared I lost you too. Watcher. If he had–if he had…” He looked serious. “I would have killed him.” His hand touched my hair, my cheek, as if he needed to continue to reassure I was really there. “I can’t lose you.”
“D-Dad…” After another hug and a few seconds of walking I managed to force the words out. “Sam. He–he was shot. I saw him be shot. He…”
Dad paled a bit. “I haven’t heard anything about him, they just told me about you. Oh Watcher. Come on.” He took my arm and we jogged down through the halls to get out of there and find out what happened to Sam.
I walked quietly into the empty-looking room. Just a bed and a chair, really; nothing fancy. Sam lay stretched out on the bed. One arm rested across his stomach–where he had been shot–and his other arm dangled over the edge of the bed.
I sucked in some air and went over. “Sam…” I bent in then lunged down, wrapping my arms around him. He woke up with a startled gasp. “Damn it all I was so scared!”
“Apollo!” He hugged back then pushed me away, staring intently into my face. “You were scared?! All I’ve done is worry! They wouldn’t even let me come help rescue you, they said I had to ‘rest’.”
“YOU WERE SHOT!”
“Ehhhh I guess.”
“YOU GUESS?!” I punched his arm. “I SAW YOU GET SHOT! You–I thought you–you were dead…” I sank down into the chair. “You were bleeding out everywhere. I thought you were dead.”
Sam told me what happened. Shortly after me and Booker were dragged off all the teachers and families and even some of the students showed up for the rescue. Lilah flew right to our cell and found Sam there, dying but not too close to death yet. She began kissing him all over (Sam admitted this with a bit of a red face) and then Lilah’s mother showed up and got the bullet out of Sam before the wound healed.
“They brought me here to rest. Lilah told me about you, what they knew about you. You and Booker and a couple others were taken and the guy of this cult was threatening to murder all of you violently if the supernaturals didn’t roll over.” Sam’s jaw tightened and he looked away now. “She went to help everyone rescue the four of you. I wanted to go, I–I kept thinking you’d be killed. As soon as any rescue attempt happened, that you’d just all be murdered and I…” He trailed off and curled his hands into fists. “I’ve just been laying here thinking you were dead and I couldn’t freaking do anything. I couldn’t protect you, I couldn’t rescue you, I just–” He stopped as a tear rolled down his cheek. “I probably sound so pathetic right now but you’re not just my best friend, Apollo.” More tears joined the first. “You’re my family.”
A few seconds stretched out and I smiled. “You’re my family too, Sam.”
There had been casualties. Two students, one teacher, and an adult family member to someone. All things considering that wasn’t too bad. We had many mortal supernaturals on our side and they had many guns on theirs. They suffered casualties as well; three guards killed. One in crossfire from their fellow guards and two by supernaturals. The injuries list went on a lot longer for both sides.
Funerals were held pretty quickly, within a few days, so all the students could attend the funerals. At least all the students that remained. Many had been taken home already and I knew as soon as the services were over I’d be going home too (and Sam with us). I didn’t know the two students, they were both in their final year. The teacher that had been killed was Professor Bingham, the one that taught anything to do with numbers (from algebra to numerology and arithmancy which was a class I had started this year since it involved seeing the future).
Of course we only had memorial services for everyone besides Bingham since the students and adult were going to be buried at home. Bingham was buried at the destroyed site of the academy.
I knew about what the assholes did but seeing it for the first time made me sick. They set fire to anything and everything. Somehow they had smashed in most of the walls too. The school essentially was nothing but a pile of rubble with a few bits of walls poking up. Lilah burst into tears when she saw the site.
Dad, Sam, and I returned to the hotel. We had one more night in Dragon Valley before returning back to Storybrook. Mr. Hunter had made a speech about how he intended to somehow reopen a school after what would have been the winter break. He didn’t know how but he wanted to make sure we could continue our education if we so wished.
I wished. Unfortunately, Dad didn’t.
“No,” he said when I brought it up at the hotel room. “You’re not going back.”
“But–dad!” I stared. “Why?!”
Dad’s brow furrowed. Well, more than normal. “Apollo. You were kidnapped, tortured, and nearly killed. You are not going to return.” He then faced Sam. “I know I am not in charge of you legally, however I would like to say I don’t want you going back either and you’re welcome to come live with us. There are so many other groups… If the school reopens it could easily be attacked again.”
Sam and I exchanged looks. “Dad come on!” I did my best not to whine. “What are the chances of it happening again? Especially since we won! Nobody is gonna want to attack us knowing that the supernaturals overpowered them.”
Dad shook his head. “No. End of story. You are not going back. Have you even seen the newspapers?! It’s almost as bad as–as things were before. It’s too dangerous.”
He also didn’t want me out of sight so I couldn’t even go somewhere and throw a fit. I felt so pissed off. I understood how he felt, yeah, he wanted to keep me safe, but as much as I loved Grandpa I didn’t want to go back to being homeschooled. I didn’t want to not see my friends. However, I did have that vision of me and Sam with Blake and Eli in some new location so maybe Dad would change his mind by the time the new school opened.
“Okay, Dad,” I said and Dad looked startled. “Can I go see someone for a moment? Since I won’t be seeing her again.”
He looked like he wanted to argue. Finally he gave a sigh as he rubbed his temples. “Very well but don’t leave the hotel or go to the lobby, just stay close, and keep your phone on.”
I nodded and ran out into the hall. I didn’t know if she’d respond to my text and even if she did, if it would be in agreement. I just had to try. I knew she was in the hotel as well. Somewhere. Most of us were.
4th floor, came the response.
I hopped in the elevator and went down one floor, my heart racing, my blood pulsing in my ears. Stay calm, stay relaxed. My palms began sweating.
Romance stood a little ways down the hall. She was watching a potted plant as she lightly rocked back and forth on her feet. One hand clenched at her side. Her head turned when the elevator dinged but her face remained blank as I stepped out. We had seen each other briefly at the memorial services but didn’t get a chance to talk. The man and woman with her had ushered her away very quickly.
She wore all black and her skin and hair stood out like starlight against the night sky.
Like a whisper of winter wind through the bare tree branches…
“Hello,” she said, her voice as neutral as her face.
Our eyes locked sending flutters through my entire body. Slowly she reached up to brush back the wisps of hair and it was just too much.
“I uh…” My throat went dry. I swallowed and tried to force the words out. “Look, I’m not–holding you to–what you said. I know you just said it cause you probably thought we wouldn’t see each other again.”
She tipped forward, balancing on her toes, like she might fling herself against me. She just remained there, though. “I did no such thing. I told you because I hoped to see you once more. If I thought you were going to die, I wouldn’t have said anything.” What the hell? I had no idea what to even say to that. It made no sense. “I meant what I said.”
“But before you told me you didn’t like me like that!” I couldn’t stop the accusation from filling my voice, hurling my words out.
Romance stayed steady. “No. I said no such thing.”
“I said I wasn’t looking for a relationship,” she said very patiently. “I wasn’t and I’m not.”
The bubbles within me burst, sending my feelings bouncing all over the place. “You aren’t really making much sense.”
“I do like you, Apollo. I like you very much.” She peered up at me from behind the strands of snow. “I’ve liked you since I first saw you. I don’t know why. I saw you and it felt like…” She tilted her head to the side and looked once more at the potted plant. “It felt like everything made sense. But it also made everything so confusing.”
“Yeah I’m, uh, getting that confusion right now.”
Her eyes closed. “I know I am not making sense to you. I’m trying my best to explain.” She licked her lips and turned her gaze to me once more. Her eyes were full of sadness. “I saw you and it felt like I could see a part of myself, a part of myself I never knew was missing. Then we began talking and–everything I like, you liked. All the books, the shows, the movies. Your sense of humor fits mine like pieces of a puzzle. You can make me laugh. You make me feel… alive. Oh! Oh no, that is such a crass thing to say after we just–buried–” She stopped and wrapped her arms around herself. A tear splashed down.
I stepped forward and reached out to wipe the tear away, my thumb tracing across her cheek. My heart lurched at the feel of her skin and I wanted to cry, I wanted to pull her in my arms and hold her forever.
Romance raised her hand to put it against mine. My hand felt like fire against the chilliness of her skin. “I think I love you, Apollo Danevbie. But I can’t.” Her hand fell to her side and she stepped back. “I cannot be with you. It’s been like a demon dragging me through a nightmare, a never ending nightmare.”
“I can’t, I can’t be with you.” She began crying now. “I’m engaged.”
My heart froze in my throat. I only managed to get out a sort of questioning sound instead of words. Romance shook her head hard and hunched over, arms tight around her body now. She looked like she might throw up.
“I’ve been engaged since before birth. Betrothed is a better word. My family–the Frostfalls, which is my mother’s side–we’ve always had very powerful, very talented witches. The women in my family are like prizes. My mother’s always thought herself better than everyone else because of this, she’s proud of being a prize. I hate it, it’s disgusting, I feel worthless, nothing, like I as a person don’t even matter!” More tears fell, hitting the carpet. “My parents, as soon as they found out they were going to have a girl, set up a betrothal with another powerful family. I’m set to marry him on my eighteenth birthday. I don’t have a choice.”
I couldn’t stop myself. I hugged her. She stiffened and though I wanted to just keep holding her, I released her, not wanting her to be uncomfortable. She gave a whimper and slid back against me, her arms going around my waist. I put my arms back around her and held her close as she cried on my shoulder.
“Why can’t you–leave?” I managed to ask, trying to stop the rage building in me. How dare they! How dare her parents do this to her?! How could anyone treat their child like this?! Selling her off like… like meat?
“It’s been written in blood,” she sniffled into my shirt. “If I don’t marry him I will be cursed. I will probably be killed.”
“No! What?! That’s not right! How–what?!” So not only were her parents selling her they also made it so if she didn’t so as they demanded she’d be killed. Disobey or die.
After far too short a time she pulled away from me. “I shouldn’t have burdened you with this, I’m very sorry.”
“No. I’m glad you told me, I’m glad you trusted me. I really like you too. I think I fell for you the first time I saw you too.”
Her smile didn’t last long. “I am so sorry. It isn’t fair.”
“What about divorce?” I asked, already guessing the answer.
Sure enough she shook her head. “Cursed. The only way out is when one of us dies.” I’ll kill him then, an evil flash in my mind that sickened me. I didn’t really mean it. “I probably won’t be coming back if the school opens again. I wasn’t even going to come in the first place. My parents wished me to be privately tutored. Perhaps it would have been better if I had gone along with those wishes, then I wouldn’t be feeling–feeling this pain now.”
I touched her cheek again and she fell into my arms. Every piece of me hurt. “Maybe something will happen, maybe he’ll die, maybe…”
“If wishes were fishes.” She gave a bitter laugh. “I’ve wished that for as long as I can remember. Is that not awful of me? Wishing for someone else’s death. I’ve hated myself for thinking that way however I cannot stop.”
There were so many things to say, to ask, and yet I could hardly even get one word out. The pain just took over everything. “Is he… at least… nice to you?”
“I suppose. I appealed to him to go to Hunter’s and he agreed.” She chewed at her bottom lip, once again withdrawing from me. “He’s a lot older than me though. A lot. Old enough to be my grandfather.”
I’ll kill him, and her parents. Again, the dark thoughts bobbing up unwanted. “That can’t be legal. It can’t!”
“Probably not in the human world but my parents do not care. What can I do? Go to the police and tell them my parents have put me in a blood contract with some old man? Even if they do anything about it, there won’t be much evidence, my parents can fight it, and the most likely that will happen is I’ll be taken away from my family with the blood contract still viable, and I’ll be cursed after I turn eighteen. My parents will not cancel this contract, nor will he.”
“Sick bastard. What kind of…” I didn’t finish my sentence. Too many perverts would jump at the chance of a wife that young, especially one as beautiful as Romance. But what kind of parents would do this? “Do your parents get much from this?”
“A connection to yet another powerful magical family. If we have children they will be… very powerful. Part Frostfall means itself they’ll be powerful. And if our child is a girl, my parents will have control over her destiny. Like mine. My–my fiance’s family is more interested in sons. So a son will remain with us, to be a Darkwood, and a daughter will go to my parents to be a Frostfall. I won’t even be allowed to keep my own daughter.”
I will more than kill her parents. This time the thought didn’t seem as dark and unwanted as the previous time. I didn’t really like violence and didn’t think that was the answer for anything but I felt like I could march into their hotel room and punch them both and try to do something. I wanted so bad to do something, to aid her in getting out of this. I couldn’t just walk away, just abandon her to this fate. But what could I do? I didn’t know very much about this sort of thing.
“Maybe one of the teachers would know how to break a blood contract?” I suggested.
“There is no breaking it. Only those who form the contract can do so.”
“But you didn’t sign it, how can it apply to you?”
Romance shrugged. “My parents are my legal guardians. There is no escape. Even if Felix dies a year into our marriage my parents would probably just bind me to someone else. I would have to sign the contract myself but they… they are so strong… so powerful. I can’t fight them.” Her cheeks became wet once again. “I could never fight them as much as I wanted to. I’m not strong enough magically.”
Our eyes met and I offered another hug. She returned against me and we stood there for so long, holding one another. I didn’t want it to end. I wanted to take her with me. Hide her. Fight the world to protect her. Fight her parents, her ugly fiance.
“I need to go. My parents will come looking for me if I stay too long,” she whispered into my chest. Reluctantly I let her go. “I don’t think I’ll see you again. I won’t be returning.”
I traced the curve of her cheek and resisted the urge to kiss her. It would make things so much worse, so much harder. Instead I took her hands and squeezed them tightly. “If you ever need anything, even fifty years from now, I’m–I’m yours.”
“You’ll be married with kids and grandkids. You… Please live a happy life. Forget about me, find someone to be your companion. Please.”
I remained silent. It felt like I would never be able to love anyone else. A voice somewhere in the far reaches of my brain kept telling me we were just kids, but how could I ever get over this heartache?
I pressed my lips against the back of one of her hands. Everything I wanted to say remained unsaid. Everything I wanted to do remained a painful desire in my head. Slowly I opened my hands and she stepped back. Once, twice. She held her left hand against her chest, the hand I had kissed.
She turned and ran down the hall. I turned as well and winced when I heard a door open and shut. This couldn’t be goodbye forever, this wouldn’t be. Yet I knew it had to be. She had been born into a world of force and obedience. Her magic ability couldn’t break her free and I? I had nothing to protect her with.
Swearing under my breath I ran to the elevator and slammed the button for my floor before sinking to the floor and hugging my knees tight against my chest, trying not to cry.