18. ISLA

It’s bright as hell when I wake up, which means Tanis never came to get me to guard Owen.

Sharp annoyance pricks at me as I roll over in bed and crack my neck. She probably stayed up alone, all night, and let everyone else sleep. That’s so classically Tanis. I shouldn’t have let her volunteer for it.

The bed jostles again when I try to stretch out my back, and a low huffing to my right suddenly reminds me of why I’m here and why I didn’t fight Tanis for guard duty.

Kit.

Real life, flesh and blood Kit. So close I can touch him. Alive and safe and here.

The hysteric relief and riptide of emotion that threatened to drown me last night resurfaces, and I reach out to touch his hand. Lightly, so I won’t wake him up, but enough so that I can feel the heat coming off of his skin.

I’ve never felt fear like I felt last night. Not even that first day Kit found me injured, not even during the nuckelavee attack. Nothing has ever terrified me like the sight of Kit, soaked and bloody on the rocks in front of his house, not moving.

Thomas was sobbing and covered in blood and gashes, and Kit’s arms flopped like seaweed when Murray picked him up. His lips were blue, his skin was grey, and he wasn’t moving.

He looked dead.

When I pulled his soaked clothes off and tried to wrap him up in bed, his skin was freezing. He felt dead.

We never touched that much before; just a hug each year. I don’t know the way his skin should feel from memory, or the weight of his hand on my head, or whether he runs warm or cold. But I want to know. I want to know all these things instinctually. I want to wrap him up in a hug and never let him go. He’s mine. He’s my best friend, and I’m never losing him again.

I think was wrong, all those years ago. Kit is my person. Just because he was Thomas’s at one point — and maybe still is — doesn’t mean he can’t be mine as well. Doesn’t mean I can’t be his. Love isn’t exclusive.

He said that last night. We were bundled in the blankets and laying on our sides and facing each other in the dark. I’d grabbed his hand because I was scared if I let go he’d disappear again.

“You found me,” he’d whispered. The surprise in his voice made me want to cry.

“Of course I did,” I chastised. I’ll always find him. Whenever he’s lost, I’ll always bring him home. “I love you.”

He didn’t respond to that. He just closed his eyes and I worried that I’d said something to make him upset — said one of those things that makes him sad.

“I know you still love Thomas,” I’d whispered quickly. “I’m not trying to put pressure on you, don’t worry. I just wanted you to know. You’re my person.”

He sighed, deep and sad and as loud as the wind.

“You don’t have to pick just one person. Love isn’t exclusive,” he said, finally opening his eyes. Still deep. But a little less sad. “But I love you too, Isla. More than you’ll ever know.”

No one had ever told me they loved me before. I didn’t really know what to say.

It was fine, though. Kit and I are used to just sitting. Waiting. Sharing our silence.

He makes a wee huffing noise and his nasty morning breath washes across my face. Holding back a grimace, I turn over so I’m facing the far wall where the light is streaming in. It looks out over the back of the house, to the wide sloping cliffs and the sea. There’s muffled voices coming through the thin glazing of the window, and I can hear the sound of tyres on gravel and the clanking engine of the jeep as it rattles down the road.

Slipping from the bed as quietly as I can, I sneak out of Kit’s bedroom and through the house. It’s empty. The bathroom door is shut, and I give it a wide berth. I shudder as I imagine what must be on the other side of that door. The tall, pale man I met at the pub, sitting sadly in the tub, his wrists and ankles chained. I imagine him watching the door. Waiting. He doesn’t seem sad and sickly in my mental image. He seems predatory and infectious. Waiting to strike.

I’ll have to ask if there’s another toilet here; I have to piss something fierce, but nothing could make me go in there with Owen.

The door of the jeep slamming closed echoes dully through the house, and I make my way toward the door. The voices from outside get louder, and when I step out onto the front stoop they’re audible.

“Why did you bring them?” Thomas asks, striding toward a woman wearing a burgundy hijab and holding a bulging handbag. Fadwa. The pretty angry woman from his flat. Flanking her are the two younger girls I met that day. I don’t remember their names.

“I couldn’t leave them with Baba,” Fadwa scolds, kissing the air near Thomas’s cheek in a quick and perfunctory fashion. Their glasses clack against each other. “They’d kill him.”

Her heavy Glaswegian accent is thicker than I remember, and it makes it difficult for me to tell if she’s joking or not.

“Fadwa, seriously, I don’t know if you want them involved in this, it’s pretty—”

“They’re fine,” Fadwa interrupts, waving her hand. Her bangles clatter, oddly cheery compared to her tight, serious tone. She turns to her sisters. “What are the rules?”

“Stay together, follow your instructions, no wandering off,” the taller twin says.

“And don’t get mindfucked by the Seelie,” the chubby one with the glasses adds. That’s right. I remember this twin. I liked her.

“Resha,” Fadwa hisses in a warning tone.

“We’re good!” says the other twin. Not Resha. “Show us the blood, mate.”

From beside me Tanis lets out a snorting puff of air. I hadn’t even seen her when I came out, but there she is — sitting in the grass next to the front steps, wearing a comically large yellow rain slicker over a jumper and long johns.

All of us have been wearing borrowed, pieced together clothes. We have to look ridiculous. I’m currently wearing pair of Kit’s boxers and a shirt that is far too tight on me, which probably means it belongs to Thomas.

Maybe when all this is over, Tanis can help me find some clothes that actually fit.

“See?” Fadwa asks, putting a gentle hand on Thomas’s face. “They’re fine. You don’t look so good, though. What did you do to your cheek, wee man? And your glasses are cracked.”

“It’s fine,” Thomas says, shrugging off her hand and stepping back. “Faz, this is the group. That’s Tanis — she’s a baobhan sith, I’ve mentioned her — and you remember Isla. Tan, this is Fadwa and her sisters Rimi and Resha.”

The twins smile and wave and then turn back to the jeep, where Murray is pulling bag after bag out of the boot. The twins methodically take the bags and begin carrying them into the house. It looks like they packed for an invasion.

“Sorry for all the bags,” Fadwa tells Murray, staring at the stack that’s growing. “I just didn’t know what all we’d need.”

“Not a problem,” Murray huffs. “I’ve got a baby, you should see what we pack to go a village over to the inlaws. Better to be prepared, aye?”

Fadwa smiles at him and turns to the rest of us. The smile drops. “Now. Kit first, then the fae.”

Kit is still asleep when we troop back inside the house, his eyes twitching against his lids and his mouth slightly open. I touch his shoulder gently, wishing we didn’t have an audience. He blinks slowly into consciousness, takes in the people standing around his room, staring at him like a fish on display, and hurriedly sits up.

“Uh, hi,” he croaks, tucking his hair back behind his ear. In the daylight, I can see the scars and scabs littering his hands. “What’s going on?”

“This is Fadwa,” Thomas says tightly from the doorway. His arms are crossed over his chest and he won’t look at Kit. “She’s going to heal you.”

Kit’s attention snaps to Thomas, and he pulls his blanket closer around him.

“I don’t need her to heal me. You already did.”

Thomas keeps staring at the washed out green carpeting. He won’t make eye contact with Kit. He wouldn’t last night, either. He’s been holding himself at an awkward distance, like he wasn’t clutching Kit’s body and crying when I found him last night, like he didn’t hold Kit’s hand the whole way up to the house.

I don’t get why he’s being like this. Is he embarrassed? There’s no way he’s still scared and angry at Kit, is there? I mean, after all this shit, surely he’s realised Kit probably wasn’t the one trying to kill him.

“Just let her check you,” Thomas mutters, and then leaves. Tanis raises an eyebrow at me, and I shrug. I’ve got no fucking clue. I think they’re going to be awkward around each other for the rest of time. She sighs and follows him out, and then it’s just Fadwa, Kit, and me left.

“How do you feel?” Fadwa asks, snapping into business mode. Her tone is cool and detached, and she presses two fingers to Kit’s neck to feel his pulse while she stares at the watch she wears upside down on her right wrist.

“I’m fine,” Kit says. “Well, tired. Sore. A bit weak.”

“Do you know what Thomas did to heal you?” she asks, bending down to look at his eyes. She runs her fingers over his face, grabbing his chin and turning him this way and that. She’s not in the least bit gentle.

“I dunno,” he answers. “I was unconscious. I figured just a normal healing spell?”

“Thomas isn’t good enough at magic to do most healing spells,” Fadwa says, setting her oversized satchel on the bed and digging around inside of it. “You and I both know that.”

“Oh, er, right,” Kit responds. He subtly scoots a bit further back in the bed, away from Fadwa. The waves of sticky, focused dislike radiating off her are nearly toxic.

Maybe Thomas isn’t the only one still dealing with some misplaced anger toward Kit.

It makes my hackles raise.

“He seems to have used your bond and let you borrow his energy,” Fadwa says, her eyes narrowed to slits behind her glasses. “You’re lucky it didn’t completely drain him. He says you were on the brink of death.”

“Oh.” Kit blinks. “I didn’t know that.”

“Well now you do,” Fadwa says, pulling a jar of some kind of light amber liquid out of her bag and handing it to him. “Here. Drink. For rejuvenation, circulation, strength. Wee juniper for cleansing.” She pulls out a smaller jar of sludgy brown paste. “Put this on your scabs and scars. It should help.”

She closes her bag with a snap, and then stares down at him. He meets her eyes, but slowly sinks back into the wall. For a slender woman, she manages to make Kit look very small in comparison.

“You owe Thomas a debt,” she says. Hisses. I bristle at her tone.

“I know,” Kit croaks. He doesn’t break eye contact, and he keeps staring up at her like a guilty dog.

“You don’t deserve what he did for you.”
“Oi!” I snap, moving from my place by the door. Hot anger surges through me. How dare she? How dare she come here to help him and stand there and talk to him like that? “Wait here a minute, I dunno what you think you’re—”

“I don’t know what you’ve been told,” Kit interrupts, breaking their eye contact to stare down at the jars in his hands. “But I didn’t deserve what happened to me either. Neither of us did.”

Fadwa watches him for a long, tense moment. I’ve no idea what she’s thinking, but she looks ready to spit on him. I guess four years of Thomas telling her Kit was pure psycho are really hard for her to get past.

“He’s not the one to blame here,” I tell her, my voice gruff. “So you can back off now.”

Fadwa’s eyes snap up, like she forgot I was here, and she blinks.

“You’re right.” She looks back down at Kit. “I’m sorry for what you went through. But if you ever hurt him again, I’ll skin you.”

Kit’s brows pull together and his mouth opens to respond, but then he shuts it and nods.

“Now.” She turns to me, and there’s a dangerous glint in her eye. Eagerness? Excitement? I don’t know. I don’t like it. “Show me the Seelie.”

The Seelie is literally down the hall, behind the thick, closed door. Tanis, Murray and Thomas are stood outside it, talking in hushed voices. Murray looks squashed in the narrow hallway, and the twins are trying to peer through the crack at the bottom of the door.

“He’s fine,” Fadwa says, nudging at her sisters with her foot while she addresses Thomas. His shoulders unhunch a bit. “He’ll be tired for a bit. He needs rest.” She taps him on his forehead and smiles. “You did a good job with him.” Leaning closer to him, she adds in a quieter tone, “He’s not what I expected.”

The corner of Thomas’s mouth lifts, and then immediately falls as he settles into a more relaxed but still serious looking stoop.

“Is it in here?” Fadwa asks, pointing to the bathroom. Her fingers reach for the knob in anxious anticipation, the eager look on her face present once more. Thomas nods.

“We’ve got him in cold iron, currently. Not sure if it’s doing anything, but I think he’s weak. He didn’t try anything when I brought him food this morning.”

“Did he speak?”

Thomas shakes his head.

“No. I didn’t give him much chance, admittedly. I was in and out.” Thomas sighs and runs his hands through his hair, combing through his tangled curls and setting them on edge. “You and I are the only ones who can go in. He doesn’t know our names.”

Fadwa raises an eyebrow. God, she’s good at that. Her eyebrow is all groomed and narrow, too, unlike mine.

“Noted.” She spins on the twins and snaps for their attention. They look up from where they’ve been slowly unwinding a thread from the back of Thomas’s jumper, with Murray’s help.

“You two go outside. Go to the beach, wander, I don’t care,” she says. “But do not go near that nuckelavee, you hear me? Leave it be. And keep your cell phones on.”

Murray raises his hand.

“I was going to take a walk, so I can watch them,” he offers. “For reference, I’m a dad. I know kids.”

Fadwa’s smile flickers a bit.

“Really? You hadnae mentioned that,” she says, amused. “But aye, thank you, that would be lovely.”

As Murray and the twins file down the hall, he reaches out and squeezes my shoulder tightly. I think about going with him; getting fresh air, walking the beach with him, learning more about his life. But Tanis isn’t leaving, and I don’t want to leave Kit yet, and I want answers.

I’ll have other chances to take a walk with Murray.

“You two stay out here,” Thomas mutters once the girls are gone. Tanis shakes her head.

“No. I want to hear.”

“Tan—”

“He fucked with my head too,” Tanis says, her voice low and threatening. She’s not going to budge. Her feet are planted and her arms are crossed. I don’t have the heart to tell her she doesn’t look in the least bit intimidating in her long johns and rain coat. She just looks adorable, honestly.

“Can you leave the door open?” I whisper. “So Tanis and I can sit outside, behind the door?”

Fadwa looks incredibly displeased with this suggestion, but Thomas sighs.

“Fine,” he says, then glances at Fadwa. “Look, there’s no arguing with her, she’ll get her way no matter what.”

Fadwa huffs.

“Fine,” she echoes, and then yanks open the door.

Tanis and I hurry to get out of the way and situate ourselves along the wall in the hallway next to the door, which Thomas leaves open a crack behind him. There’s a shuffling noise, the clanking of iron against porcelain, and then the sound of a toilet seat being closed.

“Hello,” Fadwa says, her voice even and calm. Soft, even. “Owen, is it? You can call me Hermione.”

Owen is silent.

“I’d like to ask you some questions,” Fadwa continues, unperturbed. “And in order to make you answer them, I’d like to strike a deal.”

Beside me, Tanis draws in a hissing breath. When I look at her, her eyes are wide and murderous.

“What is she doing?” she whispers in my ear. Her breath is warm against my neck, and her hair tickles at my cheek.

“I dunno,” I whisper back, turning my head. Our noses are almost touching. I try not to think about it. “I dunno if I trust her, she threatened to skin Kit.”

Tanis snorts.

“Thomas trusts her,” she whispers, reaching out to squeeze my hand. Her fingers wrap around my wrist, her thumb resting just over the pulse point. “So I’ll give her the chance to fuck up before I kill her.”

There’s still dirt caked into her hairline and a bit of grass mixed in with her fringe. She still hasn’t even washed off her grave. She could have gone down to Kit’s to shower, or gotten herself cleaned up in the kitchen, but she didn’t. I wonder if she sat out here all night, covered in dirt, guarding the person who buried her.

I really wish she hadn’t been sitting alone.

In the bathroom next to us, Fadwa is done waiting for an answer.

“You don’t even want to know what the deal I’m offering is?”

Owen is silent.

“Alright, alright, I’ll tell you,” Fadwa says, shifting. “If you answer all my questions, I’ll tell you Thomas’s name. His real name.”

Tanis’s hand jerks in mine, and there’s sputtering noise from the bathroom.

“Faz—” Thomas starts, but there’s the muffled sound of a thud and then a grunt, and Thomas shuts up.

“Your name isn’t Thomas?”

Owen’s voice is weak and reedy. His accent is still as thick as I remember, and he sounds pathetic. Nothing like a malevolent creature. Nothing like the kind of person who would do all this to his friends.

“No, it’s not,” Thomas says. His voice is frayed. “That’s just what Cormac started calling me because he couldn’t pronounce my real one.”

Owen sighs, and I can tell from the sound of the chains clinking against the tub that he’s adjusting himself.

“I don’t want to know Thomas’s name. I don’t care.”

“Then what do you want?” Fadwa pushes. “What are you after?”

“I want what all monsters want,” Owen says, his voice stronger. The vowels fall thick and heavy off his tongue. “To be human.”

Tanis’s clenches my hand so tightly she may snap my bones. I bite down the hiss. I don’t want her to know she’s hurting me.

“Why do you want to be human?” Thomas asks. The question is followed by that scoffing sound of his I hate so much. “Is that why you did this?”

“All I’ve ever wanted was to be normal,” Owen says, sighing again. “All I ever wanted was to have a life.”

“So you did that by upending mine?” Thomas growls. “By fucking with my mind? By poisoning me and turning Kit against me and making him hurt me?”

“I didn’t want to hurt you,” Owen argues, his voice growing steadier. “Believe me, I never wanted that. I was trying to make it as painless as possible.”

“In what fucking world was this painless? You destroyed me. You destroyed Kit.”

“I gave you gifts!” Owen shouts, the words cracking. “I took your blood to make me look and feel human, and in return I gave you gifts. Men used to kill for a drop of Seelie blood, and I gave you a steady diet of it. In the old days, wars were waged over what you got for free.”

“Am I supposed to thank you?” Thomas spits. “What about Kit? How is cutting him open and leaving him to shiver and bleed out in that cave a gift?”

My stomach flips over. Thomas hasn’t given us much details about what exactly Kit looked like. We only saw him after he’d been healed and that… that was bad enough.

“That wasn’t meant to happen,” Owen sighs. “I had to take blood from him, just to keep me going. My form was slipping. But I never planned it to go like this. I didn’t mean to take him like that, or that early.”

“Then why?” Fadwa asks, her voice gentle. Clinical. Thomas was right, she is the best person to do this. Any of the rest of us would have pulled his throat out by now. “Why take him?”

“I had to, didn’t I? My hold on Tanis got too weak, and she was going to feed on him. She would have found out the second she tasted his blood. And then the selkie showed up and she went and got Thomas — you weren’t supposed to be involved in this.”

“So then what was the original plan? What were you going to do with Kit?”

“Offer him in my place. A life for a life. I was going to make him Seelie, so I could take his place as a human.” Owen pauses. “I was going to give him the ability to be so much more than he is. I was going to help him answer every question.”

Something shatters in the bathroom and Thomas comes striding through the door to the hallway. Tanis and I scramble back as he kicks at the far wall with a vicious grunt and rubs his hands over his face before shouting wordlessly into his hands.

The shout breaks in the middle and echoes off the white stone walls, sending a shiver of fear down my spine. I’ve never seen Thomas lose it like this. Even when he was literally falling apart. I’ve never seen this… anger.

“Thomas?” Tanis asks, reaching out, but he spins on her and shakes his head so forcefully his glasses slide down his nose. Closing his eyes, he takes a long, shuddering breath.

“You really were my friends,” Owen calls after him. “I didn’t want to hurt you. I didn’t want to kill you. I just wanted to help you.”

Thomas spins, the wee bit of calm he’s managed to find gone, and storms back into the bathroom. He’s already shouting as he passes the doorway.

“Then why did you bury Tanis? Or summon a nuckelavee? Or leave Kit to freeze in that cave?”

“I summoned the nuckelavee to keep you out and keep Kit safe and hidden until Samhain when I could make the offering. He was fine. He wasn’t going to die. And Tanis was… a desperate mistake.”

“A mistake?” Thomas thunders. “You don’t just accidentally bury someone alive! You don’t just accidentally stack fucking rocks into a cairn!”

“She wasn’t meant to die,” Owen says, calmly. “But she caught up to me. You know how strong she is, there’s no stopping her otherwise. I did what I had to, it was her or me. I had to choose myself, Thomas, you get that—”

There’s another loud clattering motion and the sound of limbs hitting porcelain and chains clinking, and Owen grunts like he’s been struck.

“Thomas!” Fadwa shrieks. “Thomas, don’t!”

“What we did wasn’t the same at all,” Thomas snarls. There’s the thud of a body hitting the wall and the chains clatter. I scramble up to run in, but Tanis grabs my waist and holds me back.

“No,” she whispers, “don’t get involved.”

“Owen could be hurting him—” I say, struggling against her. Tanis holds me closer.

“Thomas!” Fadwa says, her voice panicked, “Thomas, let him go, let him—”

Let me go, Thomas.

I freeze, my hand going slack in Tanis’s. We’re surrounded by the smell of rotting earth and decaying leaves, and it makes me want to boke. It’s like the nuckelavee’s smell, but so much worse somehow for smelling so sweet.

Keep looking at me, Thomas, and let me go.” The voice coming from the bathroom is Owen and not Owen. Too deep. Too raspy, but also tinged with the clanging of bells. Low and sharp all at once.

“Don’t listen to him! Thomas, get out of here!”

Tanis Hughes. I know you’re there. Come free me, Tanis.

Tanis starts to pull away from me in a stuttering, sluggish movement, and I reach for her, grabbing her hand and tugging her back down.

Help me, Tanis. Shift, Tanis. Do what you have to to free me.

I throw myself into Tanis, wrapping one arm around her back and pulling her head to my chest with the other, trying to cover her ears.

“Don’t listen,” I whisper, “don’t listen to him.”

“Thomas, get away from him now!” Fadwa shrieks.

“He can’t do anything to me,” Thomas hisses. There’s the slam of a body into the wall again, and I hold onto Tanis tighter as she rocks in my arms. “He doesn’t know my name. He’s too weak to do anything else.”

“He could still—”

“He can’t do anything. Can you?” Thomas’s voice grows quiet, and Tanis keeps struggling against me, rocking back and forth and beating at my back. She’s not trying very hard, though. If she wanted to, she could tear me apart and get away. Her fists have no power behind them. “Was anything real, Owen? Did you manipulate my whole life? How did you turn Kit against me?”

When Owen speaks, his voice is pressed and breathy. Owen again.

“He didn’t want to,” Owen croaks. “But I told him to. I had to.”

There’s a thump against the tile and more rattling as Owen clearly falls to the floor of the tub.

“You didn’t have to do shit,” Thomas whispers. “You could have just asked.”

Tanis stops straining against me, but keeps her face buried in my shoulder. I smooth her hair down with a shaking hand and keep her close.

“We’re done here,” Thomas says, walking out of the room, Fadwa behind him. He slams the door and kicks viciously at the wall again, and then thunders through the kitchen and out the door. Fadwa looks nervously at us and tugs at her headscarf.

“Is she okay?” she asks, gesturing at Tanis. Fadwa’s eyes are huge and terrified. I nod and smooth Tanis’s hair again.

“She’ll be alright. Go with Thomas.”

Fadwa bites her lip and stares back at the bathroom door before hurrying out of the house.

There’s a gentle tap on my shoulder, and I look up to see Kit crouched behind me, watching.

“Did you hear?” I whisper. He nods.

“Aye, I heard.”

“What do we do now?”

Tanis pushes away from me and sits back on her heels. She looks thoroughly spooked, and her hand is shaking slightly. I don’t blame her. If someone got inside of my head like that, I don’t know what I’d do.

With a sick, sticky feeling, I think back to finding Owen at the pub. Deciding suddenly to bring him home.

Maybe someone has been in my head like that.

“I reckon we’ve got to make a choice,” Kit says, rising to his feet and offering me a hand. I disentangle myself from Tanis and take it, and he pulls me easily to my feet before holding his hand out to Tanis. He hauls her up, and then quickly wraps an arm around her shoulders. It looks like a sweet gesture, but from the slight sag in Tanis’s step, I think he’s leaning on her for support.

Biting down the urge to force him back to bed, I lead the way out of the house to the back garden. Fadwa is sitting on the stoop while Thomas paces back and forth, his hands clutching wildly at his hair. His head flies up when we come out, and Tanis carefully sets Kit down on the stoop next to Fadwa. She scoots over to make room and gives him a small, tight smile.

“You heard?” Thomas asks, and Tanis nods grimly.

“We heard.”

“Was he able to get control of you?”

She squints at the ground and kicks the grass with her socked foot. The wind pulls at her hair and swirls around us, and I shiver. I’m wildly underdressed, again. My parka is somewhere on the floor of Kit’s room, and I wish I’d grabbed it. I wish I’d had an extra layer between me and Owen’s voice.

“A bit. It was easy to fight, though,” Tanis says. “Not very strong.” She pulls her ridiculous yellow slicker off and wraps it around my shoulders, rubbing warmth into me. She keeps her arms there, bracketing my chest and hugging me to her, and I melt into it. I feel a small motion that I think might be her nuzzling into my hair, and if everything weren’t happening right now, I’d enjoy it a hell of a lot more.

“Good,” Thomas nods. “I didn’t think he’d be able to fully get in there. The cold iron is working.”

My jaw clenches shut. He knew. He fucking knew Owen would try something like that, and he used Tanis and me as bait. That’s why he let us keep the door open. So he could fucking see what Owen can do. Manipulative bastard.

Tanis must be able to tell what I’m thinking, because she flicks my ear gently and pulls me closer before addressing the group.

“He’s weak.”

“Why would he be weak, though?” I ask, pulling the slicker tighter. Partially for warmth, partially to occupy my hands so I don’t strangle Thomas. “Why now?”

“Too much human blood over the years, maybe?” Fadwa asks.

“It could be that he’s gone too long without an infusion of magic from Thomas’s blood,” Kit offers. Fadwa looks at him and nods.

“Aye, aye, good point. That’s a really good point, actually. Human blood would help him keep looking normal, but it would dilute his powers. Magic would keep it going. That’s probably how he kept up his control so long.”

“He’s getting more human,” Kit agrees. “His magic is weaker.”

“Didn’t you say no one remembered him when you showed up?” Fadwa asks Thomas, squinting up at him. “He probably used the last of his magical stores to do that. Reworking reality is tricky, even for a Seelie. And they can’t lie. So who knows how much magic he’s been using just to keep up the act over the years.”

“So all he has left now is name magic,” Kit adds, seamlessly cutting into the end of Fadwa’s sentence. She nods, almost all of her animosity gone. Good. It was stupid for her to not like him. Everyone should like him.

“He’s still dangerous, mind you,” Fadwa says, addressing Kit. “But I think he’s at the end of his rope.”

“So what do we do with him?” I ask. I don’t care about the hows and whys and digging into what happened. Understanding the process isn’t going to help us get rid of him. I just want him gone, where he can’t hurt Kit or Tanis ever again. “We can’t just cut him loose knowing our names.”

“And we can’t exactly hand him over to the police,” Tanis adds, her soft voice loud in my ear. “There’s not really a jurisdiction for this.”

Everyone makes murmurs of agreement, and then falls silent, looking at the ground and fidgeting uneasily. There’s one obvious solution. No one wants to voice it, but it might be the only option.

“Well,” I say, my voice unsteady. “We could kill him.”

Tanis’s arms clench into a vice around me.

Thomas and Kit are staring at each other, having some kind of silent conversation that I can’t begin to follow. Thomas’s eyebrows are twitching and Kit’s fingers are flexing in and out of a fist, and then Kit looks away. Both of them look deeply unhappy.

“I’ll do it,” Kit says, his face set.

“What?” I yelp. “No, no you’re not. Thomas, tell him he’s not doing this.”

Thomas turns around and squints down at the sea, but he doesn’t argue. Just hunches his shoulders into a tense knot. I stare at him in utter disbelief. Is he seriously going along with this? Christ, he’s a coward.

“You’re not doing it,” I repeat, pulling myself from Tanis’s arms and moving toward Kit. “No. I’ll do it.”

“No, I will,” Thomas says, still not looking back at us. His voice is tense and tight. “You two aren’t killers.”

“No one is killing anyone,” Tanis barks, and everyone looks up guiltily. “No one is dying. We’ll figure this out. Fadwa, is there a way to strip his magic?”

“Not easily,” she admits, shifting. The excitement and gleam from earlier is gone, and she looks like she’s in over her head. I don’t think she thought through the reality of actually meeting a Seelie. I don’t think she realised murder might be on the table.

“What if we just give him what he wants?” Kit asks.

“No!” Tanis, Thomas and I say at the same time. “You’re not becoming a Seelie,” Tanis adds, her nostrils flaring. “Absolutely not.”

“I didn’t mean that part. I meant making him human.”

I spin on Tanis, eyes wide. A wee spark of hope flares up inside me. Kit may be on to something.

“That’s possible, right? You said it’s possible?”

“The Washer did tell you how, didn’t they?” Kit adds, quieter. Less desperate. Thomas turns.

“Wait, Kit knew?” Thomas demands. “You didn’t tell me, your boyfriend, but you told Kit that you tried to become human?”

“Of course I told him, he’s empathetic,” Tanis snaps.

“I’m empathetic,” Thomas argues, offended, and Kit lets out a tiny snort.

“Sorry, if I can just steer us back to the topic at hand,” Fadwa says, cutting in. “What did this Washer tell you about becoming human? Also by Washer, do you mean a bean nighe? You met one? What was she like?”

“You told me the price was too high and you didn’t want to pay it,” Kit prompts, cutting off Fadwa’s questions. “What was it?”

Tanis looks very uncomfortable to have all the attention on her, and she shrugs, pulling her arms tighter across her chest and kicking at the grass again.

“A life. Not necessarily a murder, but more like a willing sacrifice.” Tanis looks away, and I reach out carefully to wrap my hand around her wrist. “The Washer was vague, but at that point I already knew I wasn’t willing to pay whatever was needed.”

“Oh,” Fadwa says suddenly, chewing on her bottom lip. Her eyes are lit up again. “Oh, I know this. I’ve read about this. It was in that book you called me about, Thomas. Treatise on the Transference of Souls. It’s more like a swap, like Owen said.”

“A life for a life, then?” I ask, nervous about the answer. I was fine with killing Owen, but I don’t really know anyone else I’d be okay sacrificing. I mean, I don’t know Fadwa and her sisters that well, but they seem like good sorts. I like Resha.

“Aye, but like Tanis said, it’s not all about the blood. It’s more about the potential, or the possibility. Swapping destinies, giving up a future.” Fadwa speaks quickly, her hands flying as she gesticulates, her beaded bracelets clattering together. “The universe doesn’t care what happens, as long as the fates are balanced.” She gestures wide, nearly hitting Kit in the head, and he ducks back to avoid her watch. “To change one person’s fate, another person’s must be altered.”

The magic of possibility.

A life not lived.

The Washer’s words echo in my ear. You’ll be the one to pay the price later. Everything is coming into a sudden, sharp focus in my mind. The useless visit with the Washer and their odd, ominous words. Everything is making sense.

“What if we did the swap with a selkie pelt?”

Everyone stares at me and Fadwa blinks, her eyes wide and dark behind her huge glasses. Unlike Thomas, she doesn’t look like a bug; she looks a bit like an owl.

“I don’t…” she starts. Frowns. “I don’t know anything about selkies. I don’t know how the pelt works.”

“When you give up your pelt — not just decide to stay on land, but fully give up your pelt to another person — you sever the magic that makes it possible to go back to the ocean. You give up one life in order to choose another,” I explain. I wish Murray were here. He’d probably explain this better. “The Washer told me I could barter wishes with my pelt. They said something about the ‘magic of possibility.’ They were talking about this, weren’t they?”

“Isla, think about this,” Tanis says, tugging on my hand to turn me away from the group. She lowers her voice and leans in. “If you do this, you’re on land forever. You can never go back.”

“I know, but you heard the Washer,” I argue. “It was always going to go this way. They said I was the one who would pay the price.”

“You don’t have to buy into that predetermined bullshit,” Tanis snarls. Her hand is like a vice on mine, and she pulls me farther away from the circle and lowers her voice into a hushed, urgent whisper. “You’re giving up your home. Your family. This is your choice, you don’t have to do this for us.”

She stops, grabs both of my hands and looks me in the eye. There’s no gold in sight. Just pure green. Pure Tanis.

“It’s not your job to fix this.” She bites her lip, and I watch as the freckle that sits just next to her scar disappears. “You don’t have to sacrifice this.”

Is it a sacrifice, though? The ocean is my home, but my family isn’t there. My family is here. Kit and Murray are here. Tanis is here.

Tanis’s eyes are begging me to say no. Begging me to not be rash. Begging me to choose myself. Thomas’s words from the ferry are echoing through my ears.

“Being selfless isn’t always a good thing.”

Thomas is an idiot.

“It’s not a sacrifice. Not really.” Still holding Tanis’s hand, I turn back to the others. “Let’s do it.”

“I cannot believe this,” Thomas mutters, shaking his head. He runs a jittery hand over his mouth and squints angrily at the ocean. “I cannot believe that our solution is to give him what he fucking wants.”

“He’ll be different, though,” Tanis argues, squeezing my hand back. I love her. I love her for accepting my decision and jumping to my side. “If the Washer was right, he’ll be completely wiped clean. No memories, no powers, nothing. Blank slate. Fully grown and newly born.” Her voice softens. “Unless someone looks after him, he won’t have an easy time of being a human.”

“Good,” Kit croaks. His eyes are hooded and his chin determined. “That’s punishment enough. Let him live his life full of unanswered questions.”

He stands up and straightens his shoulders, and I reach out a hand to steady him, but he brushes me off and turns back to the house.

“Let him see what it feels like to have your mind fucked with.”

B. GILMARTINComment