On the plus side, Alina’s ability to shift space to wherever she wanted kept the fridge stocked with foods I hadn’t had in months, and some instances years or never. Climate change made real coffee and chocolate far too expensive. My mom had told me about life before Reaper, before all the violence that triggered a deep global recession. The fancy coffee shops closed or turned into budget diners serving imitation soy derived stuff with loads of caffeine and sugar to make it palatable. I’d never had the real stuff. I wasn’t missing much. After a sip of Alina’s espresso, I decided to stick to my sodas.
She served seafood at least once a week. The extravagance boggled my mind. I hadn’t had wild caught seafood since I was a little kid, as over fishing killed the industry. Living in Kansas, far from any ocean, seafood always cost too much, farmed or not. So Alina’s penchant for clam chowders and grilled salmon made me feel a bit guilty for anyone still alive back in Kansas, but didn’t stop me from eating my fill. What with so many humans gone, I figured I wasn’t harming the oceans too much, and who knew if I’d ever get another chance to eat like this.
The chocolate, which I gave me a stomach ache from gorging on, the seafood, and coffee were just starters. She dined in foreign countries on a whim and dragged me to stores that sold stuff that cost more than I imagined most people made in a lifetime. The contradiction though was that she was just as likely to stop for a street vendor and buy a chili dog. I never knew what to expect.
She didn’t take me hunting, as promised, but insisted I learned to ward better. So I followed her like a shadow for a week, watching her inspect wards, adding layers, warding repaired buildings. She quizzed me the whole time, probably because the first day I paid more attention to the cute doctors tending patients then to what she was doing.
By week two she made me copy her warding spells as instructed, usually on like a mailbox or doghouse or flowerbed. It seemed like a waste of time, but I guess better to screw up on a mailbox than a building where people relied on the wards for safety. As much as she flitted about the world enjoying its luxuries, she took the safety of people very seriously.
I didn’t expect that.
I didn’t expect the depression either. She hadn’t been kidding about wanting company. No one visited her. Almost every morning when she got home from hunting I found her hunched over a mug of coffee. Good days meant she had no kills and went to bed for a few hours before dragging me off on another round of ward the shit out of all the things. Bad days meant I sat beside her, offering awkward comfort as she told me how many she had killed. The humans turned ghoul bothered her, but the UnSeelie or occasional Seelie traitor angered her.
One day I walked in and found her with tears running down her face.
“I knew the bastard,” Alina muttered as I sat down opposite her, setting my soda and bowl of cereal on the kitchen table.
“Eric and I played together, grew up together, even fucked a few times. I thought I knew him.”
“I’m sorry,” I said again.
She looked up at me. “Why? Why would he choose that?”
“I don’t know.”
She downed her cup of coffee and retreated to her room for the rest of the day. As I spent the day reading a book she’d given me to study, I realized she needed a real sidekick, not just one that played tag-along and dress up. I sighed and looked at the closed bedroom door, wondering if all sidekicks felt as totally useless as I did.
Alina appeared a bit before sundown. “I have to attend a meeting.”
I turned off the television and set the popcorn aside. My horror movie marathon could wait. “Want me to come with you?”
She shrugged. “I’ll be out hunting after, but I can drop you back here if you want, so whatever.”
I shoved my feet in my boots. “No need.”
She turned, misinterpreting my response. “Later then.”
“Alina, no, I meant no need to drop me back here. I’ll hunt with you.”
She turned and frowned at me. “Sure? I thought you said hunting ghouls was stupid.”
“Oh yes, very, but someone has to, right?”
She flashed a grin. “Right.”
Instead of poofing us to the meeting, we walked. “This is novel.”
Alina laughed. “We’ll be sitting at a table listening to people complain for the next hour. Better to walk and burn off any twitchy energy before as I don’t want to piss off the Queen by bitch slapping her brother or something.”
I bit my bottom lip, realizing I was about to meet a whole bunch of other Fae. Before I could ask her if I needed to curtsy or kneel or something, she marched us up to a nondescript brick house. A one-armed guard with scars streaking his face glared at us, but said nothing as Alina waved and said, “She’s with me.”
He looked like the offspring of a grizzly bear and a mountain, and I wondered what the hell had managed to get the drop on him, because the shimmering eyes said he was Fae. I maybe sidled closer to Alina as we walked past him. A small tricycle stood off to the side in the hallway and a forgotten doll sat on a side table alongside a vase of fake flowers.
I tapped Alina’s elbow. “Whose house is this?”
Without looking at me, she answered. “The Queen’s house.”
I frowned. “I thought the Fae Queen lived in Fairy.”
This time she glanced at me. “Honey, you do know what caused the UnSeelis uprising, right?”
“Uhm…” I hated to admit it, but no, not really.
“The reigning monarchies were assassinated. The emissary, Katarina Gratig is now Queen. Not everyone liked that.”
I made an oh with my mouth. A half human running Fairy? Now I got why some of the Seelie had defected, well sort of, if I pretended I was some uptight race purist. I followed her into a dining room. A good half a dozen people already occupied the room.
“This isn’t a full council meeting. We do those at the Judgement Council facility. This is a Memphis status report meeting. If you have anything to add from what you’ve seen of the city, feel free to chime in.”
As Alina walked up to the other people in the room she morphed from subdued and upset back to the chipper grinning person I first met. I realized now it was mostly a facade. She shook hands with two very tall, blond, male faeries. I sighed in appreciation and my hormones said, “Hello!” as I stared, at least until I noted the petite woman beside one of them glaring at me. I coughed and a red head smirked at me from beside blond number two. Oops. Way to make an impression, Christine. I did a double take looking at the red head. Absolutely no whites showed in her eyes and instead of the iridescent glow of Fae eyes, hers were dark fathomless pits. Looking closer, I realized the oddities didn’t stop at her eyes. Her limbs were a shade too long and face too angular to be human. I had no idea what she was, but she smiled at me, which I figured was better than the glares or disinterest of the others.
“Who’s your human pet?” blond number one asked.
“Sidekick,” Alina corrected.
Blond number two snickered. “I didn’t know you were a comics fan. Did she draw the line at spandex?”
I felt my cheeks heat as everyone stared at me, especially since blond two wasn’t far off the mark. Alina patted my arm. “Don’t mind them. They’re just mad that they don’t have a helpful sidekick.” She took a seat and proceeded to ignore blond one and blonde two, instead patting the seat beside her. “Sit. So, do you want a sword or a modded laser gun?”
“Laser gun?” I asked, suddenly forgetting all about the audience.
“I’ll take that as a yes. They’re modded to take out ghouls and UnSeelie, but you have to be sure at what you’re aiming at, because there won’t be anything left if you hit the wrong target.”
The thought of that kind of fire power sent a delicious thrill down my spine. My dad taught me to shoot as a kid and I hunted with him sometimes. I loved the power of a well-made firearm and red-neck enough to admit it. Of course, what with all that had happened, I hadn’t noticed anyone bitching about guns of late.
As I was fantasizing about blowing up ghouls with lasers a familiar woman walked into the room. Everyone who had turned on a television, comm, or computer in the last decade knew that face. She’d spearheaded the fight against Reaper, created a vaccine for it, and more recently a cure, and then to top it off ended up smack in the middle of the Fae and alien shit storm. I stared, well aware my jaw went sort of slack and that I didn’t hear one word anyone said.
This was my childhood hero. That super smart girl, now woman, was the reason my family survived. She was the woman my mom pointed at as proof I could be or do anything I wanted, and I was sitting in the same room with her.
Alina leaned over and whispered, “Breath.”
I sucked in air, realizing that’s why I felt dizzy. I have no idea what they discussed because shortly after I started breathing again, it sank in that blond one, blond two, accompanying women, and the scary dude at her left were all family. When the meeting ended, Katarina smiled in my direction.
I fucking fainted. I will never live this down.