Tanis’s fingernails are caked with dirt, but I don’t mention it.
It’s probably a health hazard for her to be treating my cuts while covered in mud and grass, but considering that she was just buried alive, it would probably be shitty to say something.
I’m too tired to say anything, really. I’m too tired to do anything. All of my strength was used up back at the cave, waiting for death.
I feel like I escaped something I shouldn’t have. Like the world flipped upside down and mixed up my fate with someone else’s. But here I am. Alive. Sitting at the kitchen table in my childhood house while Tanis tends to my wounds, Isla looks after an unconscious Kit, and Murray fastens more and more cold iron around the knocked out Seelie in the bathroom.
That’s why we’re at Cormac’s house. When I found out they had Owen bound and unconscious in the back of the jeep, I almost went feral. I was ready to tear him limb from limb, but Tanis stopped me.
“We need to secure him first,” she’d hissed, grabbing my arm before I could break into the jeep and drive a fist through Owen’s heart. “He’s out cold, but won’t be for long.”
I hated her for her rationalism at that moment, but it brought me back.
“Cold iron,” I’d hissed, watching as Murray staggered up behind us, Kit limp in his arms. “Cormac has it in the outshed up at the big house. He always said it was a just in case.”
I wonder whether he ever figured out why he felt the need to stockpile it.
The sticky, squinty feeling is gone from Cormac’s kitchen — gone from the whole house, in fact — and I can breathe easy instead of feeling like the weight of reality is bearing down on me.
The house looks normal again, but that’s almost worse. Because now I can see the dirty dishes in the sink, the fresh food in the fridge, the signs of life that prove Owen was here all along. He might even have been here when I first came to look. I could have seen him here that first day and had the memory of it pulled right out of my brain.
Tanis presses a cloth soaked in some kind of sharp-smelling liquid to the gashes on my cheek. It stings something fierce, but I don’t even have the energy to flinch.
“This might sting,” she says as she pulls a jagged piece of broken shell from my cheek with a pair of tweezers. “We’ll get you cleaned up, but you really should have your friend heal these when she gets here. They look awful. They’ll probably scar.”
“No,” I say. My voice comes out like a croak. “No, she needs to save her strength to heal Kit and deal with Owen.”
“I still think we should take Kit to a hospital,” Tanis says, her voice tight. “He looks awful.”
“He’ll be okay.” I have to believe it. He spoke, briefly, when we got to land. I didn’t make it up. He’ll be okay. “He just needs to rest and have Fadwa look at him.”
“But we can’t show up at A&E and say ‘hi, a Seelie kidnapped him and kept him in a cave. I know it looks like he’s been on a drug bender, but really, he’s fine.’ No.” It’s the same argument I’ve been making since we got to the house, and I’m sick of it. Tanis is too, because she doesn’t fight back. “Really, he just needs to stay warm and hydrated until Fadwa gets here.”
I don’t know when Fadwa will be here. I called her almost as soon as we got to the house, as soon as I could get my hands to stop shaking and my voice to stop warbling. It was the only thing I could think of. She knows Seelies better than anyone I know, and she’s stronger than me by ten.
We’re going to have to do magic, and I wouldn’t trust that to anyone but Fadwa.
There’s also a cowardice in it. I don’t want to face Owen. I don’t want to face what he’s done to me, and to Kit, and to Tanis. I don’t want to have to make this decision. I don’t want to have to look in his eyes. I’m glad Murray is taking care of restraining him. I’m glad I haven’t had to go into the bathroom yet.
“Thomas, where is your laundry?”
Isla is standing in the doorway, her arms full of wet towels. She looks fine, for the most part, if not extremely shaken.
“Right there,” I say, gesturing to the corner of the kitchen that was always the dirty clothing dumping ground. “What happened?”
“He woke up and vomited water everywhere,” Isla whispers. “Then he went back to sleep. And he’s breathing easier. I think that’s a good thing, right?”
“That seems like a very good thing,” Tanis responds. Too cheerily. Far too cheerily for someone who was just buried alive.
I think she’s faking for Isla. Putting on a front. I know what it looks like to pretend you’re fine, and Tanis is definitely not fine.
Isla drops the wet towels on the floor in the corner and then sits heavily at the kitchen table. It feels almost right; three people gathered around the gnarled oak far too late at night. But it’s not the two I should be here with. They’re both unconscious in the next rooms.
“Other than the vomiting, how is he?” I ask, staring down at the soft white bandage that Tanis is methodically wrapping around my hand.
“He’s alright. I don’t know shite about health, but he seems… better than to be expected, considering what you told us.” She shrugs. “The fact that he’s been in and out is good, it has to be. Whatever spell you did seems to have helped.”
Isla shrugs again, a bit helplessly, then props her elbow on the kitchen table and rests her head in her hand. She looks exhausted. Her fingernails are caked in dirt as well. From digging Tanis out of her grave, I suppose.
None of us have had a good night.
“Thank you,” I say, blurting it out before I can talk myself out of doing the right thing. “For coming for me. For sending the selkies for us. When we were stuck at the cave, I didn’t know if you would get to us in time, and…” I trail off. I got lucky. I got extremely lucky. If the selkies hadn’t found us, we would still be on that cliff edge. And when we got to land, I didn’t have the strength or balance to get Kit back up to the house. Murray had met us on the shore and lifted Kit into his arms like a rag doll.
Isla and Tanis exchange a glance, and Isla shifts in her chair.
“We weren’t,” Isla says, looking uncomfortable. “We weren’t going to come for you. Not yet, at least. We were going to secure Owen, then come look for you. And… I didn’t ask the selkies to help you. That wasn’t me.”
“We saw the seals in the water as we were driving back,” Tanis chimes in. “We made straight for the beach when we realised you were with them. How did you get them to help you, by the way?”
“I didn’t get them to help. I didn’t even know what they were. I was having a panic attack when I saw them heading toward us.” Panic attack is probably too kind of a word. I was prepared for death. I was positive it was a kelpie or nuckelavee or some other fucked up creature sent to kill us. “But then this herd of seals just popped up and started barking at us. It wasn’t until I calmed down that I heard their song and realised they were selkies.”
I pause my story and frown at Isla.
“I think they knew,” I say carefully, “that he was in danger, somehow. And that I couldn’t get him safe. Is that possible? Is that crazy?”
“Of course they knew,” Isla says, scoffing. “They probably felt your fear, even through the water. That’s what happened with Kit that first day he found me caught on the rocks. He felt my fear.”
“Right, but why would they help him?” I press. “He’s not full selkie. They’re not even his herd.”
“They’re my herd,” Isla responds quietly, her eyes flashing with a fierce pride and defensiveness. “And they’re selkies. We’re loyal.”
She’s waiting for me to argue or bait her or twist her words back on her. I can tell by her clenched jaw that she’s waiting for me to call her a fool for believing in loyalty, or tell her that Kit isn’t a selkie, or to take her undying belief in the power of devotion and shove it in her face.
But I don’t. Not this time.
“Yes. Yes you are,” I say quietly, and then reach out and hug her.
Her shoulders tense in surprise, but after a moment she haltingly relaxes into the embrace and carefully brings her arms up around my back and rests her head on my shoulder. It’s awkward and tentative, neither of us really leaning into it, but it’s enough. I don’t think Isla and I will ever be as close as she and Kit are, but I owe her a lot. She made this all happen.
She told me she’d find Kit and get me answers, and by damn, that’s what she did.
“I’ll just go check on Owen,” Tanis says, trying to rise from her chair, but I pull back from Isla and shake my head.
“No, you can’t. He knows your name. The cold iron will keep him from doing general magic and fuckery, but I don’t know if it’ll stop him from controlling you using your name.”
“I should have thought of this earlier, but that’s how he’s done all this,” I sigh. “Name magic. Kit said something when we were on the beach. He knows your full name, it’s not safe for you to be alone with him.”
“I’m a baobhan sith,” Tanis argues, raising a blonde eyebrow. “That Seelie name shit won’t work on me.”
“Why didn’t you ever try to use Owen as a donor?”
Tanis pauses and her eyes go wide.
“Why did you never think to ask Owen to be your donor?” I repeat. “He was a human male who you were close with and had known your whole life. You and Owen always got on. Why wouldn’t you have asked him to be your donor?”
“I…” Tanis works her jaw and narrows her eyes. “I don’t…”
“You asked Kit, but not until your old donor died,” I press. “Why wait so long? Why did it take you years to turn to one of the two men you were closest with?”
“I don’t know….” Tanis says, gripping the back of the chair tightly. Her face starts to turn blotchy and red, her brow furrowed, her breathing picking up. Murray walks into the room and looks between us with concern, but Tanis doesn’t even notice him, she’s so wrapped up in working through my question. “That doesn’t… now that you say it, it doesn’t make sense, but I don’t know why I didn’t….”
I nod grimly and sigh.
“I think over time we’re going to keep finding things about our lives that don’t make sense,” I whisper. I take off my cracked glasses and rub my head. The numbness that had taken over my body is starting to fade due to warmth and medical attention, and a pulsing migraine is making its way back in. “I think we’re so many layers deep in manipulations and lies and magic that it’s going to take years to peel back the paint and get to the truth.”
The kitchen is silent as Tanis sits back down.
“Until Fadwa gets here, no one but Murray or Isla sees him,” I continue. “He doesn’t know their full names, so he’ll have a harder time working them over.”
“He knows my name,” Isla argues, frowning. “I told him. He asked and I said my name was Isla.”
“But you didn’t give him your full name.”
“That’s the thing, though, I don’t have a last name. I’m just Isla.”
Murray, who is the only one of us who doesn’t look beaten down by the world, moves from where he’s been futzing with the tea things and kettle and places two large brown hands on his sister’s shoulders and squeezes.
“I took my wife’s name when I came to land,” he says. His low voice is soft and comforting. “It’s Lewis. I know she’d love to share it.”
Isla mulls it over.
“Isla Lewis,” she says, trying the sound of it out on her tongue.
“Well that’s extremely Scottish,” Tanis says with a cheeky grin. She reaches across the table slowly and hooks her pinky around Isla’s. “I like it.”
“I like it too,” comes a croaky voice from the doorway. Everyone jumps and turns in unison to stare at Kit, who's leaning heavily on the door jamb and looking awful.
“You’re up!” Isla shouts, launching herself from her seat to practically collide with him. He stumbles when she hits him in a rugby tackle, her arms wrapping around his waist and her head burying into his chest. She’s so short, she barely hits his sternum.
Kit coughs, smiling, and then folds himself over Isla, pulling her into his arms and burrowing his face into her hair. They don’t say anything, but I can see Isla’s shoulders heaving slightly, and I think she’s crying. Kit is motionless and silent; his eyes closed, his whole body focused on the friend in his arms.
They stay like that for what feels like an eternity until Isla pulls back, sniffing, and wipes at her eyes.
“You shouldn’t be standing, sit down,” she instructs, dragging him to the chair closest to the kitchen fireplace. “Thomas, would you?”
I don’t want to do magic for the next ten years, but I oblige her, scratching at my wrist, dragging my fingernails down the welts and breathing thinly on them. A weak fire smolders to life in the grate.
Kit doesn’t look at me, just nods a thanks and focuses on Isla. I’m glad. I’d rather he pretend I don’t exist.
“Why are you awake?” Tanis asks, hurrying over to the chair and giving him a quick squeeze. She murmurs something in his ear as she withdraws that makes him rattle off a thin laugh, and then sits down across from him. “You should really be in bed.”
“I don’t want to,” he says quietly. Even at this volume, his deep voice fills the room. I feel like I’ve just been slingshotted back in time. “I just didn’t want to be in there alone.”
“I’ll stay with you,” Tanis and Isla say in unison. An exhausted muscle twitches around Kit’s mouth and he shakes his head.
“I’m okay here, really. I feel okay, just tired.” He finally smiles — a real, full smile — and looks at me for the first time, and I feel like my chest is about to explode.
His smile falls.
The kitchen is a flurry of activity as Tanis fusses to make him tea and Murray introduces himself with a too strong handshake and Isla sits on the ground next to Kit’s feet and rests her cheek on his knee. One of his hands lands in her hair, twirling the soft, tiny strands at the edge of her forehead between his fingers and shaping them into little curls.
I’m the only one not moving. I’m just sitting here, watching him.
He doesn’t look happy. Of course he doesn’t, given everything. It’s just… strange to see.
Even with his sad eyes and furrowed brow, there was always something hopeful there, lurking at the corner of his mouth, like a small smile he couldn’t erase. It’s only now, with the smile and hopefulness gone, that I realise it was ever there to begin with.
He looks tired and sad and like he’s going to drop any minute, despite what he says, but he’s been cleaned up. There are small plasters stuck in odd places across his face, and he’s been thoroughly bundled up in one of Cormac’s old jumpers and fleece pyjama pants and thick socks. Only his hair hasn’t been touched; it’s long and tangled and spilling down his shoulders to hang like a damp sheet down his back.
He’s not the Kit from my memories. Not anymore. He’s grown up. He’s a different person.
I’m so caught up in the sight of him here, back in Cormac’s kitchen in front of the fire, that I don’t realise he’s staring back at me. I meet his eyes with a jolt, and he blinks.
“I remembered things,” he says quietly. Just to me. His voice sounds broken, and the edges of it stab through my gut. “Mads, he doesn’t know your name.”
“He thinks your name is Thomas Madigan,” he repeats. The movement in the kitchen has stopped, everyone listening intently and watching us warily. “He kept trying to use it that night. You two fought, and he took your blood, and he threatened…” Kit trails off and stares down at his hands. “He doesn’t know your real name.”
“How is that possible? There’s no way he didn’t hear it at least once,” I say, too stunned by this revelation to focus on the weirdness of talking to Kit again after four years. Crying hoarsely to his lifeless body was one thing; holding a lucid conversation is another.
“Actually,” Tanis interrupts, “Yeah. It’s actually possible he never heard it. Think about it. He showed up when you were what, twelve? You were speaking English fluently by then, and everyone called you Thomas because Cormac refused to say it right.”
Isla and Murray are staring at me with equal expressions of confusion.
“Wait, what?” Isla asks. “If your name isn’t Thomas, what is it?”
“It’s—” Tanis starts, but Kit interupts her.
“Don’t!” he thunders. I flinch at the volume of his voice, but no one notices. “He could hear you,” Kit adds, quieter now. “Anything you’ve said in here, he’s probably heard. You can hear everything from the bathroom, remember?” he asks me, his voice trailing off to almost a whisper.
He’s right. You can eavesdrop on an entire conversation while sitting on the toilet. It’s one of the many odd little quirks and natures of the house that I’ve forgotten over the years.
“Oh, shit,” Murray says quietly, and Kit nods.
“Aye. So Thomas is the only one whose name he doesn’t know right now.”
“When Fadwa arrives, we meet her outside. I doubt she’ll give her full name, all things considered, but don’t do introductions in the house,” I instruct, my mind racing. Shit. Fuck. I didn’t want this to come down to me. I didn’t want to have to see him.
“Who is Fadwa?” Kit asks, breaking me out of my panic spiral.
“Oh, er,” I pause, caught off guard. “She’s a magician. She’s coming to help us with the Owen thing and heal you. She’s my best friend.”
“And you trust her?” he asks. His voice is as quiet as a breath, and so serious. Always so serious.
“With my life,” I say without hesitation. “She’s an academic magician, she knows her shit. I’ve known her since the day I got to Glasgow, and she’s doing her magical thesis on Seelies.”
“Well that’s extremely convenient,” Tanis says, suddenly frowning. Her eyes narrow to green slits. “Almost too convenient, don’t you think? Are you sure you can trust her?”
Isla and Murray exchange uneasy glances, and Kit chews on his lip.
“She’s my best friend, of course I trust her. I trust her more than anyone,” I argue. Kit looks away from me. “I think I was meant to meet her.”
“What do you mean?” Isla asks, picking up her head from Kit’s knee. His hand falls out of her hair and rests heavily on his thigh. He looks like he’s about to pass out. He should never have come out here.
I wish he hadn’t come out here.
“I met her my first day in Glasgow.” I’ve been pondering this a lot, ever since I called her. Since the cave, a lot of things are falling into place. “I was looking for this bloke Cormac had talked about, hoping I could connect with some magicians in the city. I had a migraine and I was strung out and terrified and lost, and I sat down on a bench to rest and suddenly I had this awful fucking nightmare vision of Owen.”
I pause and clear my throat. I don’t like thinking of that vision; of Owen, stretched out and too tall, too lean, his eyes too large, his hair long and the colour of dead leaves.
“He was standing next to an electronic repair shop, of all things,” I continue, shaking off the memory. “I don’t know why I followed it. Maybe because I was depressed and scared and lonely. But I went over and it was Fadwa’s father’s shop. I met her that day and we became friends and… here we are.”
The kitchen is full of uneasy silence and hesitant expressions. Everyone looks uncomfortable but Kit; his face is fully blank as he stares at me, an intense light in his eyes that’s impossible to read.
“If you trust her, I will too,” he says. I feel like I’ve just been punched in the face.
“Sorry, but, let’s go back, maybe,” Isla says, clearly not sold. “You want to trust her because your visions took you there?” Isla pauses, and I can see the immense effort she’s making to be tactical. “Everything I’ve heard you say about the visions has been bad. But now you think they helped you?”
“I think they’ve always been helping me, to be honest. I just didn’t realise it until now,” I sigh, rubbing at my forehead. “They’ve been giving me clues and hints and warnings for years. When I was in the cave, they helped me find you,” I say, nodding at Kit. “And they helped us get out.”
“And the teleporting?” Tanis asks. “Why would the Seelie blood keep teleporting you to the ocean?”
“Saltwater is a purifier,” Kit says with a shrug that looks like it takes all his energy. “Seelie blood is a foreign substance. Maybe your body was fighting back against it, like a virus?”
“Then what about the dreams?” Isla pushes. She’s sat up and away from Kit’s legs, leaning toward me with her fight face on. “Why did you have all those dreams about Kit?”
If I weren’t aching and nauseated, I’d probably blush right now, but the intense, uncomfortable silence emanating from Kit is more than enough to televise how awkward this is. I peer at him out of the corner of my eye to find him staring me down, like he’s trying to take me apart piece by piece and inspect the parts.
I fidget awkwardly. Isla has no fucking idea how to not blab secrets, does she?
“What dreams?” he asks finally.
“I’ve been having a recurring dream where you… tell me we’re going to drown.” There’s a pregnant silence following my words, and I clear my throat, trying not to drown in the awkwardness that’s filled the kitchen. “And since I got to Mab I’ve been seeing you, sometimes, in dreams. We would talk. I think it was just another kind of vision. Trying to give me clues to where you were.”
Kit eyes slowly grow wider. He looks like he’s been slapped.
“I thought I was just dreaming that,” he whispers. A pile of bricks lands in my stomach, forcing the air from my lungs. “Or it was a hallucination. I didn’t think you were actually there. I didn’t…. I didn’t think you’d come back.”
“You mean they were real?” I blurt, my panic rising. I don’t know why I’m panicking, but the idea that I was actually there, that those conversations were actually happening, that he was real — it’s almost too much. “You remember them?”
“I thought I was just imagining them to keep me calm,” he says, then flushes slightly and clears his throat. “It was probably the uh… the thing we did.” He looks down at his hands, as if scared to acknowledge anything about our past history.
Tanis’s derisive snort slices through the tension building in a bubble around us.
“You mean that bonding rite you never told me about?”
The splotchy blush travels further up Kit’s neck, and he nods.
“Yeah, the bond. Combined with the Seelie blood, it would probably be enough to open a channel and connection like that, wouldn’t you think?”
“I should have known,” I say, feeling extremely stupid. Kit raises one thick eyebrow in a questioning glance.
“Your hair was longer. In the dreams,” I clarify. “Like it is now. And you had stubble.”
“Oh,” Kit responds. His hand comes up to his mass of black hair and he toys with the ends of a few strands. “Yeah. I need a haircut. And a shave. I keep forgetting to.”
Grasping on a safe subject, I give a false smile.
“I think Tanis would die to give you a haircut, if you want.”
It’s the most stupid fucking thing I could have possibly thought of to say, given the situation, but the relief emanating off Kit at the change of subject is tangible, and he smiles up at Tanis. One cheek dimples in.
“What do you think, you up for it, Tan?”
Tanis, who has been sitting pinched faced and hesitant in the chair closest to Kit, lights up.
“Love, I’d want nothing more than to cut off your awful hair. I’ve wanted to for years.”
“Oh, can we do mine next?” Isla asks, perking up, and Tanis nods.
“Already told you I would,” she reassures. “Then maybe Thomas. He looks like he’s wearing a mop.”
“Maybe we leave the hair dressing for a bit later, eh?” I mumble, regretting this choice of distraction. I was just searching for a topic — any topic — to get us off the matter at hand, but now it feels sharp and fake and almost painfully stupid.
The rest of the group keeps babbling about hair cutting, their voices bright and jolly and almost desperately light. There’s a manic tinge to everything, like everyone knows they’re meant to be relieved that Kit is back and things are getting resolved, but no one has actually hit the relief stage yet, so they’re manufacturing it.
I think everyone is probably as exhausted as I am. All I want to do is sleep.
But I can’t. Not yet. We have to do something about Owen. Owen, who’s on the other side of the door just out in the hall. Owen, my best friend, who betrayed us all. I’ll have to talk to him; I’m the only one who can. I’ll have to talk to him and figure out what the fuck he’s been doing and what all he’s done. And how the fuck to undo the effects of his blood.
We’ve got Kit back, but these nightmares aren’t over.
A yawn nearly cracks my jaw in half and I hunker down further into my jumper. It’s still wet. Damp and only partially dried. Along the way someone gave me a pair of socks, but I’m still wearing clothes that are soaked in seawater and blood and nuckelavee stench.
I want a shower, but the bathroom is currently otherwise occupied.
“You alright, Mads?” Kit asks quietly, and I give a jerk at hearing the old nickname coming from his mouth again. He’s broken away from the conversation about getting food in the house to watch me with his quiet, dark eyes.
“I don’t want to talk to Owen until Fadwa gets here,” I answer him honestly. Maybe if I just speak to him like I was in the dreams, it will be easier to handle this. “And I’m really fucking tired.”
“Me too,” he responds in a low voice, but Tanis hears it and turns toward us like a hawk.
“You two both need sleep,” she says, glaring at me like she’s expecting me to argue. “The fae can wait. I’ll take the first watch on him. Thomas, come on, we’ll make up your old room.”
I nod and go to stand, more relieved than I can say by the fact that someone has made the Owen decision for me, when Kit looks up and frowns.
“I wanted to—” he starts, then stops, works his jaw and falls silent.
I wait for him to continue, but he doesn’t.
“You wanted to what?” Our eyes meet for the barest of moments.
“Nothing.” He slowly pushes himself to his feet. “I’m going to bed too.”
“I’ll come with you,” Isla says immediately, stepping up to balance him. Kit smiles down at her and loops his arm around her shoulder — whether for support or affection, I don’t know. It’s weird to see them like this, touching and fawning over each other, absolutely devoted.
Isla wasn’t lying. He really is her best friend.
It doesn’t make me feel as uncomfortable as it used to.