Chapter 36 — Confessions
Natalie spent the rest of Friday in her room, sitting with her back against the closed door, talking to Quinn on the other side. At first, Quinn reassured her over and over that everything was going to be just fine—his parents would get it, they just needed to talk it out first like they always did. Natalie didn’t have to leave.
”Mom and Dad always make big decisions together,” Quinn went on. “Dad just has to talk it over with her.”
”It’s okay,” said Natalie quietly.
She cleared her throat, raising her voice again so she could be heard through the door. Percy screeched with surprise, fluttering his wings a bit and cuffing her in the ear. She ignored him, and he fluttered back over to his perch indignantly. She slid the closet door closed behind him, annoyed. “It’s okay,” she repeated. “I’ll be fine, Quinn.”
Natalie smiled, glad that Quinn couldn’t see her in that moment. She didn’t want him to think she was happy about leaving—she really wasn’t. She was just happy he cared so much. “I’ve been on my own before.” And it was the worst experience of my life… but Quinn—
”Isn’t that how you got hurt?” he asked.
Natalie choked up, her thoughts scattering away like birds scared out of the trees. “…Yeah,” she replied. She didn’t speak for a while, twiddling her thumbs in an effort to keep the painful memories at bay—keep the black clouds from swallowing her up again.
”…Don’t worry, Dad’s in the kitchen. He can’t hear us.”
That’s not… Natalie shook her head. “Hey, Quinn?”
”Would you…” Natalie hesitated—and in that moment, the voice cut through her thoughts like a knife.
You cannot tell him.
But I hate lying to him.
Is it a lie to withhold information he doesn’t need to know?
He wants to be with me, and he doesn’t know what I’ve done. He likes somebody that’s only a little part of me. Quinn let his dad yell at him rather than break my trust. I don’t want to hide anything from him.
There is a difference between Quinn and this.
Natalie shook her head again, trying to brush the voice from her thoughts. She raised her voice again, realizing Quinn still hadn’t said a word. “You still there?”
”Yeah.” He tapped the door a couple times. “Tyler texted me. Blake didn’t say a single word the rest of the day, apparently.”
Oh… well… Natalie winced. “I wish I hadn’t done that.”
”She’s been picking on you for months,” Quinn pointed out. “And you didn’t mean to hurt her.”
”Quinn,” said Natalie, blood rushing in her head as she let the words spill out of her mouth, “what if I did?”
Stop this. You mustn’t.
”What if I’ve hurt people before?” Natalie went on, voice shaking. “A lot worse than Blake.”
”I don’t understand. Are you talking about the libr—”
”No,” Natalie interrupted. She wasn’t sure what he was going to say, but no matter what, she knew it wasn’t right. He couldn’t possibly know—but she needed to tell him, and she needed to see his face so she knew he understood.
Natalie stood up and opened the door. Quinn was sitting against the doorjamb, phone at his side, eyes half-hidden behind the reflection in his glasses. She held out her hand, helping him to his feet. To her relief, that brief contact didn’t push her further than usual—it still hurt, and she couldn’t stand to be close for too long, but she was beginning to find some level of comfort close to Quinn. She really needed that right now.
”Come in,” she said quietly.
Quinn raised an eyebrow. He glanced down the hall at the kitchen, where his dad was starting to work on dinner. “But—”
”My room, my rules, right?” Natalie shook her head. “We’ll leave the door open. I just… I can’t talk to you like that anymore, okay?”
Quinn nodded. “Okay.”
Even though it was his home and he’d probably been in it a thousand times, Natalie still felt like it were something momentous and unprecedented—as Quinn stepped across the threshold into her little space, her heart skipped a few beats. He glanced around curiously, taking everything in through his thin rimless glasses.
Natalie had cleaned the place up the day before, thankfully. The books she’d taken out of her bag to read were stacked neatly on the bedside table, along with a small pile of gemstones, so she could grab them right out of bed in an emergency. She’d hung up all her nicer clothes in the closet, and her homework was stacked in neat piles against the far wall, since she didn’t have a desk or anything. The one thing really lacking were decorations—despite the Kincaids’ reassurances, Natalie didn’t want to stick anything on the walls quite yet. Maybe someday.
If you don’t find yourself set adrift today with this foolish action.
I trust Quinn, okay? If I can’t trust my boyfriend, I can’t trust anybody in the world.
That seems accurate.
”You’re the worst,” Natalie muttered, draping her bag across the back of a folding chair next to her bed. She sat down on the edge, nervously twiddling her toes, waiting for Quinn to do something. She wanted to talk to him, tell him everything, but still—he was in her room, in her place, for the first time. Natalie just wanted to wait.
Quinn glanced at the closet first. “…Percy, right?” he asked.
He held up an arm. “Can I just… call him?”
Natalie giggled, in spite of herself. The tension in her stomach eased out a little—of course Quinn would want to meet one of her pets first. If she were in his shoes, she’d want to do the same. “You don’t want to have him land on your bare arm, trust me.”
Quinn winced. “Oh, yeah. That makes sense.”
She quickly murmured the spell to make the whole room muffled to the outside, before Damian overheard her talking in her animal voice, while Quinn pulled on his windbreaker. Natalie double-checked the door, then gave a little wave at the closet, sliding the door open to reveal Percy’s little coat-rack perch.
<Percy, do you want to meet Quinn?> she said.
Quinn glanced at her. “So can I learn how to talk to him too?”
Natalie shook her head. “I still don’t really know how I do it. It just kinda… comes out.” Percy, meanwhile, was eyeing Quinn suspiciously. Natalie rolled her eyes. <You’re gonna have to meet him sooner or later, you know. He’s my boyfriend. He’s gonna be around a lot more.>
Percy screeched, and Natalie could have sworn he shook his head in return, glaring at her.
<What’s that supposed to mean?>
A wave of his wing at Quinn, and another short screech. Natalie sighed. “Good thing I muffled us,” she muttered.
”What’s up?” asked Quinn.
”I told him you were my boyfriend. I don’t think he likes that idea.” Natalie sighed. She held up her own arm, and Percy immediately shot across the room to perch near her elbow. She brushed his head lightly before turning back to Quinn. “He’ll get used to it.”
Quinn grinned. “As long as he doesn’t peck out my eyes or anything.”
Natalie giggled. “If you think this is bad, I can’t wait til you meet Gwen.”
”Gwen’s the… wolf, right?”
She nodded. “She’s like… twice your size, at least.”
”Jeez.” Quinn shuddered. His arm started to go down, but Natalie took his hand to hold him steady.
She looked Percy in the eye very seriously. <Walk over to his arm, okay? I promise, he won’t hurt you.> Percy flapped a wing into her head in response. <No, he’s not gonna hurt me either.>
Meekly, Percy took a few hesitant steps forward along her arm, toward the point where her hand joined with Quinn’s. Quinn’s eyes went wide, watching the hawk amble toward him. Natalie grinned. “Be ready, he’s heavier than you think.”
As Percy stepped across and the weight lifted off Natalie’s arm, Quinn’s sagged a little. Percy wasn’t massive—he still only weighed a few pounds—but his talons caught her off guard the first few times. She expected the same from Quinn, and she wasn’t disappointed. As the sharp hooks clawed their way across Quinn’s windbreaker sleeve, he gasped a couple times—but he held steady.
Natalie let go of Quinn’s hand, sitting back to give him some space. Percy glared up at Quinn, shuffling a little on his arm, but didn’t let go. For the first time ever, one of Natalie’s pets was trusting another person—and it’s Quinn. Just like I wanted.
She smiled, while Quinn slowly reached up to Percy’s head. “Is it cool if I…” Quinn asked.
<Percy, let him pet you, okay?>
Percy didn’t move, but Natalie could tell he wouldn’t resist. She nodded to Quinn, and he stroked his head just like she always did. Natalie grinned. “Cool, right?”
”Awesome,” Quinn breathed. Glee washed through Natalie’s brain as Quinn smiled at the bird. She’d been worried that Quinn might not like any of her friends—but those worries were long gone, as Quinn continued to pet Percy.
The hawk swiveled its head around to Natalie. He opened and closed his beak a couple times, eyeing her with an annoyed air. She winced. “Oh… right. He’s probably hungry. I haven’t fed him since last night.”
”…What does he eat?”
”Well, I can’t let him hunt around here.” Natalie shrugged. “I give him mice from the pet store, mostly.”
”Mice?” Quinn asked, raising an eyebrow.
”Does he, like—”
”Eats them live, yeah.” Natalie pointed at the closet, lifting the box of mice out and floating it across to them. She picked one out and set it aside where Percy could get to it. Immediately, the hawk lit from Quinn’s arm and dove for the bed, snatching the mouse up and devouring it.
Quinn turned away, looking a bit nauseated. Natalie smirked, quickly cleaning up after Percy’s meal with another couple spells she’d practiced—incinerating the leftovers of the mouse, and sucking away any stains straight out of the sheets to leave them like new.
”Still think he’s cool?” she asked, floating the box of mice away.
”…Sure.” Quinn grimaced. “I just…”
Natalie laughed. “I won’t feed him around you anymore.”
”…Thanks.” As Percy fluttered back to his perch, Natalie sat up on her bed, back to the wall. Quinn glanced back, expression serious again. “So… what did you want to talk about?”
She nodded, while the brief bit of happiness drained away again. It wasn’t replaced by despair, though—Natalie felt more of a grim determination, like what she’d felt toward the end of Rallsburg. There was something unpleasant about to happen, she knew it, and she knew that only pushing herself through it would solve anything.
Still don’t trust him?
Your hawk doesn’t trust him.
Percy’s really dumb though.
You must decide for yourself. Has Quinn proven himself trustworthy? Has he ever betrayed any of your secrets?
No, of course not.
What about when he revealed you were in witness protection to his friends?
He was on drugs, and that was my fault. And it turned out okay anyway.
But he told his parents you were together, before either of you had decided such a thing.
We said we wanted to be dating… and I don’t think he told them. He seemed just as surprised. It was probably somebody else.
Quinn is a barrier from your real goal. Your home.
Quinn makes me feel like I’m home.
”Natalie?” asked Quinn, and hearing her name—her real name, the one which truly meant her—was enough to push her over the edge. Natalie needed him to know.
”…I hurt people,” she whispered. “A lot of people.”
His eyes softened—this close, Natalie could actually see the hazel-colored irises through his glasses, without any hard lights to reflect off the lenses. He had nice eyes. “What do you—”
”Back home. In Rallsburg.” Natalie took a deep breath, her gaze falling to the floor. She forced her eyes back up to level with his. “The people who got… got killed… by lightning. And then again, in Seattle, when I got lost. I… I killed people.”
There, it was all in the open. Natalie bit her lip, her hands folded in her lap. She stared at a point just past Quinn now, on the wall behind him—close enough to see his expression, but not so close that she felt like she were overwhelmed. She waited, terrified, but trusting him. Trusting he’d understand, or at the very least, he wouldn’t betray her.
Finally, Quinn spoke, after what seemed like hours, but had only been a minute or two. “…Are you okay?”
Tears burst from Natalie’s eyes, sudden and unbidden. She shook her head. “No, I’m really not,” she whispered. Her hands flew to her face, covering herself. Her entire world went black. She couldn’t see a single speck of light between her fingers. “I didn’t want to do it, but they… they just wouldn’t stop. They—”
Arms wrapped around her. Natalie’s hands were still pressed into her face. She hadn’t seen him coming. The clouds returned to her mind, and her arms and legs screamed at her to run, to break free. It’s Quinn! she shouted inside her skull. I want him to hug me!
Her body felt like it was on fire, but her mind kept pulling back, like a tug of war between what Natalie needed and what she couldn’t have. Everything on the surface screamed at her to flee, to get away from the threat—but finally, finally, Natalie felt like she could fight it back.
She didn’t move. She didn’t return the hug, but she didn’t break away either. It wasn’t pleasant, it wasn’t comforting, but compared to the month of pain and terror she’d been enduring, it may as well have been. Quinn hugged her, and Natalie felt, for the first time in so long, that she was finally getting better…
…until it stopped. The black clouds surged forward, the pain pushed in, and Natalie couldn’t hold it anymore. She pushed—and instantly, Quinn backed off. He went back to his chair, leaving Natalie alone on the bed once again. She shivered in place, pulling a blanket up to surround her.
”I—” Quinn started, but Natalie quickly shook her head.
”…Thank you,” she whispered, trying to tell him it wasn’t his fault, “but I still… I can’t—”
Quinn nodded. He looked hurt—and that only added to Natalie’s pain. She enveloped herself in the blanket, trying to hide from the world again. Percy, sensing her distress, flew back across the room again and landed next to her, spreading his wings wide at the presumed threat. Natalie waved him off before he attacked Quinn, but it became obvious that she wasn’t going to get what she wanted.
She was still damaged and broken, and even telling Quinn the truth hadn’t helped.
”Quinn?” called Damian, and it shattered the moment entirely.
Quinn hurried to the door, since Natalie’s spell was still keeping any noise from escaping. “Yeah?”
”Could you come here for a moment, please?”
Quinn pulled back into the room, glancing at Natalie. “You can hear things from far away, right?”
Not sure what he intended, Natalie nodded silently. She hadn’t ever told Quinn that, worried he might think she were spying on him and his family, but evidently he’d figured it out anyway.
He nodded. “You should listen in. Just… in case, you know. If you need to run, I get it.”
Natalie shook her head. “I won’t.”
”It’s okay.” Quinn smiled awkwardly. “We’ve got phones. Just call me from wherever you go. I’ll come meet you there.” With that, Quinn left the room, hurrying to talk to his father.
Natalie brushed the last few tears from her eyes and sat up. She knew Quinn was right. As loathe as she was to listen into the Kincaids’ conversations, she couldn’t risk not knowing. If they were going to kick her out—or worse, turn her in—she needed to know right away, so she could get moving. Where to, she wasn’t sure, but Natalie knew more than anything that she never wanted to be caught off guard again, like she had by Blake, or the Laushires, or by Meltyface… or her father.
A quick murmured spell, and Natalie could hear every word.
”…sorry to ask this, but what were you two talking about?”
”Just… some stuff from before we met,” said Quinn uncomfortably. He doesn’t like lying either…
Damian sighed. “Q, what happened between you two? How’d you end up getting hurt?”
”I thought you wanted to get her side of the story.”
”Q, you already broke one rule tonight. Don’t dig this hole any deeper.”
”You weren’t supposed to ever go in her room.”
Quinn got indignant. “She asked me to, Dad!”
”Quinn,” said Damian—and Natalie felt a chill run down her spine at his tone. Whenever he called Quinn by his full name, it always meant something serious. “I know you and Jenny are close—”
”She’s my girlfriend, Dad,” said Quinn, and Natalie felt a little burst of incongruous joy at those words, mixed in with all the other emotions stomping through her body like a horrible conga line.
”That’s not the point. Something’s off about that girl.”
”What’s that supposed to mean?”
”She doesn’t add up.” Damian hesitated, while Natalie felt her world starting to crash down around her from far down the hall and through the open door. “We’ve heard a lot of strange things about her.”
”From who?” Quinn shot back. “If it’s Mrs. Sinclair again—”
”Mrs. Chau,” said Damian, naming Steven’s mom. Not somebody we can just ignore… Natalie winced. “And from a few other parents at school. We asked around.”
”Why would you do that? Why not just ask me?”
Damian sighed. “We’re trying to figure out what happened to her, Q. I don’t want to make Jenny relive it if I don’t have to.” He paused again. “Do you know the whole story?”
Quinn still doesn’t… and who could Damian ask to get it, anyway? Nobody knows the whole story but me. Even Rachel and Cinza only know a few parts…
”No,” said Quinn firmly.
The front door clicked open. Annette was home. Natalie heard rustling of bags, normal greetings as both father and son shifted gears. Natalie wondered if that was the end of the conversation—but of course, it wasn’t. The Kincaids weren’t a family that kept any secrets from each other. That sounds nice…
”What’s going on?” asked Annette, obviously clued in to the hanging tension in the whole building—so thick, Natalie felt like she could choke on it.
”We’ve got a lot to discuss,” said Damian in an exhausted tone.
They don’t keep secrets. I don’t want to keep secrets either.
”I got your text,” said Annette. “What’s this about?”
Every time I tell Quinn something, it turns out okay.
”Mom,” Quinn started, “it’s—”
They treat me like family.
”Wait,” Natalie called out, halting their conversation in its tracks. She stepped out from her doorway—leaving Percy behind, before she really went overboard—and walked down the hall, feeling like every step was longer and harder than the last. The voice, fainter with every step, shouted at her to turn back, to flee, but Natalie’s mind was made up.
”Jenny?” asked Damian, looking up. He and Annette were standing near the kitchen table, while Quinn sat at the far end in his usual spot. All three looked surprised at her approach. Natalie shot Quinn a sad smile before turning to his parents. She shook her head.
Natalie took a deep breath. “My name’s not Jenny.”
Nobody spoke. Quinn’s eyebrows shot up so fast, Natalie half-expected them to fly right off his face. Silently, Natalie took her spot at the fourth seat around the table—and following her cue, Quinn’s parents did likewise. They both stared at her as if they’d never seen her before, and Natalie couldn’t exactly blame them. She’d been living with them and lying to them for nearly two weeks.
”I’m sorry…” she started, finally breaking the silence.
”Natalie?” asked Quinn. His eyes went wide as dinner plates when he realized what he’d said.
Both heads across the table snapped over to their son. Annette’s mouth fell open. “You knew?” she asked sharply, before Quinn could ask whatever he’d been about to ask.
”Please,” Natalie interjected. “I asked him not to tell.”
”…Why?” asked Annette.
”It’s not safe,” said Natalie. “For people find out who I am.”
”So you took a fake name?” asked Damian.
”Damian,” said Annette, placing a hand on his. “Let her speak.”
Natalie nodded. “My name’s Natalie. The stuff about not having anywhere to live was true. I was living with someone, but I got… locked out, I guess.” This is too hard to explain without talking about magic. I have to tell them. “I’ve been in hiding since May. Since… since my home got burned down.”
It all came pouring out, like a waterfall crashing through a dam, releasing the torrent that was her life over the last six months. Natalie didn’t quite tell them everything—she didn’t give them any names, since those people might not want to be known, just like her—but she was pretty thorough. From their flight out of Rallsburg in the dead of night, to Natalie’s days in the Laushire house, all the way up until the night she got locked out and found her way into the Kincaid home—Natalie explained everything.
Except… when it came to the reason Rallsburg burned down? She couldn’t bring herself to name her father.
When she reached the story of her night in Seattle? She choked up. Though both Annette and Damian looked sympathetic, Natalie couldn’t bring herself to describe a single moment, and simply skimmed across it as if it hadn’t happened at all, letting them draw their own conclusions about her scar and the gang it represented.
I’m lying again.
You’re leaving out details you don’t understand. It isn’t wrong. Until you speak to your father, you do not wish to charge him with such a crime.
You must not think about Seattle.
Silently while she spoke, Natalie agreed with the voice. Even with Quinn, Natalie couldn’t say anything more about that night. She pushed it away. The Kincaids had enough to consider without more complications in the story.
”…and then everything started happening,” said Natalie finally. “There was that book, and I’m probably in it somewhere, so I had to run. But I got locked out. This was the only place I could think of, so I came here. Except then the book didn’t get published like it was supposed to, and now Hailey’s flying around doing stuff I don’t understand and I’m scared that everything’s just going to get worse.” Natalie took a deep breath, about to continue, but Annette finally held up a hand to stop her.
”That’s… an incredible story, Natalie,” she said. Somewhere in the back of her skull, buried underneath the anxiety and stress, Natalie breathed a sigh of relief that she could finally just use her real name around Quinn’s whole family. Annette hesitated, shooting a glance at her husband, and it drove the brief respite away from Natalie’s mind, replacing it with yet more dread and fear.
”You guys aren’t scared of me, are you?” asked Natalie nervously.
Damian frowned. “Why would we be scared?”
”Because… I’m one of them. You know… awakened.”
”Oh, honey,” said Annette. “We were… That’s not really—”
Damian took his wife’s hand and squeezed it. “She’s right, Annie,” said Damian. “We’ve got some real thinking to do about this.” Damian turned to Natalie. “I’m sorry for what I said this morning. I didn’t…” He sighed. “There’s no good excuse for it, Natalie. I shouldn’t have said what I did. It was wrong.”
”It’s okay,” said Natalie. Even if it scared me… you were afraid of other people like me. I’m afraid of them too.
Damian smiled, but there was something wrong about it. Natalie could still feel tension in the air, despite everything she’d explained. She felt vulnerable. The Kincaids kept shooting sidelong glances at each other, nervous looks belying their kind words. The memory of Damian’s voice from that morning sprung to mind—telling them to stay safe, to stay away from anything to do with magic, and here Natalie was bringing it right into their house.
Except they called it my home too… and I don’t want to leave.
Natalie took another breath. “I really don’t have anywhere else to go.”
Damian seemed sympathetic, but Annette’s expression got harder, if anything. Natalie winced. Quinn noticed too, and spoke up before anyone else could. “She’s not dangerous, Mom. She’s just trying to be normal.”
That’s not really true, Quinn… on either count anymore. I’m never gonna be normal, and I’m not so sure I’m not dangerous, either.
Annette glanced at her son. “How long have you known about this?”
”A month, I think?” Quinn shrugged. “I found out by accident.”
Oh no. Annette frowned, looking back to Natalie. “That’s the thing. So far, everything we’ve heard about this is dangerous. Buildings burning down, or towns blowing up, and always people getting hurt. I’m not saying you meant to do anything wrong, Natalie, but I have to look at the facts. This whole magic thing isn’t really under control, is it?”
Natalie shook her head. “I can control it.” Most of the time…
”But you put Q in the hospital,” said Damian, jumping into the fray against her. Natalie shrunk back a little in her chair. “I’m guessing that wasn’t just bad luck.”
Quinn sat up straight. He was getting angry. “I was the one that got hurt and I say it’s okay.”
”But what if it happens again?” asked Annette. “She has that kind of power, and I assume it doesn’t just go away.”
They think your magic can only be used for violence.
Show them. Show you can be more.
You’re helping me now?
I am always here to help you.
Before Quinn could reply, Natalie spoke up. “Can I show you something?”
His parents were taken aback. After a few moments, Damian finally nodded. “Go ahead.”
Natalie looked past him to the other end of the room, where the keyboard sat against the wall. She held up one finger, and with just a little bit of energy, sent a bolt of lightning straight across the room to flick the power switch. She could have done it with just telekinesis, but she wanted to be a little flashy—use something she’d only ever used for violence as a different tool, as something nice for once.
Every head swivelled to follow the little bolt of purple lightning as it flew. With their attention caught, Natalie began to play, tapping on the keys with her mind to go through one of her favorite songs. She stuck to the notes mostly, too nervous to do any improvisation. To her relief, she didn’t mess up a single time. The Kincaids stayed silent through the whole song, watching Natalie’s fingers play in mid-air from across the room.
As soon as she finished the song, Natalie lifted her voice. <Come out here, Percy.>
A flutter of wings as Percy flapped out of her room, soaring down the hall to light on her shoulder. Natalie nuzzled with him for a second, before turning back to Quinn’s parents again. “It’s not dangerous,” said Natalie. I’m not dangerous, she added in her head, but couldn’t bring herself to say aloud.
Damian spoke first, with Annette still transfixed by the sudden appearance of a tame red-tailed hawk in her kitchen. “You understand why we’re afraid, right?”
Natalie nodded. She didn’t feel hurt by the question—after all, she felt just as afraid as they did most of the time. “A lot of people have done some really bad things,” she said. “But I’m not one of them. I just wanted to go to school.”
Annette spoke up finally, a weak smile breaking on her face. “That already makes you unusual, Natalie.”
Damian grinned, glancing at his son. “Yeah, Q hates going.”
”I don’t!” Quinn shot back indignantly. “Not… not anymore.”
”Not since a certain someone?” Damian asked, raising an eyebrow. Quinn blushed and looked away. His dad smiled, but as he turned back to Natalie, Damian got serious again. “…I’m not going to pretend we’re totally okay with this, Natalie. I understand why you lied, but I wish you hadn’t. The world’s changing really fast right now and we’re all trying to keep up.” Natalie opened her mouth to reply, but Damian kept talking before she could. “You’re still welcome to stay here—you and your friend,” he added, glancing at Percy, “but Annette and I are going to have a lot more questions. I hope you know you can trust us.”
Natalie nodded. “I do,” she said honestly. Way more than Cinza or the Laushires, anyway…
Damian glanced over at the clock. “Okay. Now I’ve gotta run, or I’m going to be late for work.” He stood up, planting a kiss on his wife’s cheek before hurrying out to grab his coat. “See you tomorrow.”
Annette got out her beat-up laptop from her bag and started typing without another word. Quinn glanced uneasily at Natalie before standing up and retreating to his own room. Natalie stayed put, not sure what else to say. Why do I feel so bad right now?
They did not accept you.
They told me I could stay, though. He even said he was sorry for this morning!
But they are afraid of you. Your friends weren’t afraid. You are still on thin ice.
Natalie summoned her bag from her room, zooming it down the hall right into her hands. Annette didn’t seem to notice, eyes locked on the screen and whatever she was working on. Natalie dug into her bag and pulled out three stacks of bills—enough, she hoped, for what they needed. She reached forward and set it next to Annette’s laptop.
Her eyes widened at the wrapped pile of money, thirty thousand dollars in all. Natalie gulped. “I know you guys don’t want any of my money, but… it’s my fault Quinn got hurt. Let me pay for that at least. Please.”
Annette glanced at her suspiciously. “Where did you get so much money, Natalie?”
”The woman I was living with before,” said Natalie. “She was really, really rich. She told me to take as much as I needed, and I didn’t really know how much that was, so I just took a whole bunch.” Natalie shrugged. “My bag doesn’t really run out of space, so umm…”
”So it’s real? It’s not… made of magic, or something?”
She shook her head. “They were rich before magic.” On the other hand… Kendra and Lily are both really good at creation magic, and we were in hiding. Maybe it is magic money?
It worked before. If it helps them pay for Quinn, you need not feel guilt.
I don’t feel guilty, I was just curious.
Annette nodded. She left the stack of money where it was, rather than hand it back to Natalie as Damian had done. “For Quinn’s sake, we’ll use it. But we won’t take any more. You should keep your money, Natalie. You might need it.”
She is not wrong.
”Okay,” said Natalie, privately disagreeing both with Annette and the voice. “I’m… gonna go back to my room now.”
”No dinner tonight,” said Annette idly, focused back on her work once again. “It’s a leftovers night. Help yourself to anything you like.” She usually still had a ton of casework to handle even once she got home every day. It had nothing to do with Natalie or the conversation they had earlier.
Natalie got up, Percy still hanging onto her shoulder, and wandered back down the hall to her bedroom. Quinn was waiting in his doorway for her, right across the hall. He looked happy, which only made Natalie feel worse.
”I knew they’d be okay with it,” he said excitedly.
They aren’t… they’re still afraid of me. Natalie forced a smile on her face. “Guess so.”
”Want to play a game?”
She didn’t, but at the same time, she really didn’t want to be alone. Being alone felt too much like defeat—like she was an exile inside their house. “You play. I’ll just watch, okay?”
Quinn shrugged. He headed back into his room and woke his computer up. Natalie plopped down on his bed, wrapping her arms tight around one of his pillows and warming herself up with a wave of magic. Percy nestled in close, and Natalie actually felt safe again. Being there in Quinn’s room, even with everything else going on outside, was good enough.
Between dodgeball, the confrontation with Blake, and the awkward conversations with Quinn’s parents, Natalie felt too exhausted to get up. Somehow, Quinn’s bed felt more comfortable and safe than hers across the hall ever had. After a while, she began to drift off to sleep, warm and comfortable near two of the few people (or hawks) she could really trust in the whole world.
Percy shifted on the pillow, rousing her from sleep—the longest, deepest sleep Natalie had felt in ages. Not a single nightmare had broken the whole night, though a few tried their hardest to scare her awake. Natalie shook her head, getting hair out of her eyes and trying to blink through her bleary vision.
She was still in Quinn’s room, with morning sunlight streaming through the window. Quinn was asleep on the floor nearby, wrapped in a blanket with a couple spare pillows. Natalie stared down at him from where she’d ended up, laying across his bed with a light blanket she didn’t remember ever pulling on. A couple tiny holes at the tip gave it away—Percy had managed to drag it over her with his talons.
”Quinn?” she whispered. He didn’t budge. She didn’t want to wake him up, so she cast a much smaller version of the muffling spell around herself to make her movements totally silent. Natalie wasn’t sure if it actually worked—the usual one was about blocking out an area, while Natalie was trying for a girl-shaped wrapping pressed right up against her skin—but Quinn didn’t wake up as she left the room, Percy riding her shoulder out.
As Natalie walked out into the hall, she nearly barged straight into Annette. “Oh!”
Annette peered at her through reading glasses, which gave Natalie a better idea of the time of day. If she hadn’t put in contacts yet, it was really early—even before breakfast. Annette had her cracked old laptop tucked under one arm, a mug of fresh coffee in her hand, and an expression just as surprised as her own.
Natalie’s cheeks flared up. She glanced over her shoulder quickly, both to hide her embarrassment and to emphasize her point. “I was just—”
Annette smiled. “It’s fine, dear. We figured you could use a good night’s sleep.”
Natalie nodded. “…Thanks.”
”You haven’t been sleeping well, I’m guessing.”
Quinn’s mom sighed. “Well, since we’re both up, how about some breakfast?”
”Yes, please,” said Natalie.
Neither Damian nor Quinn joined them for breakfast—Damian would have been out very late for the Friday crowd, and Natalie had no idea how late Quinn had stayed up playing games. She and Annette ate in silence, just cereal and milk with orange juice, but it tasted good. Just as Natalie was about to speak up, though, Annette nodded toward the TV.
”So, can you control anything with that power?” she asked.
Natalie smiled. She didn’t bother with the lightning this time, simply flicking the power button below the TV. It clicked on, right to the news channel Annette usually watched in the morning.
”Well, losing the remote won’t be such a big deal anymore,” she added, going back to her cereal.
Natalie hesitated. “So… you’re okay now?”
Annette sighed, setting down her spoon and looking at Natalie very seriously. “I suppose we’ll have to set down a few more ground rules, but yes, I think we’re all ‘okay’ with this.”
”Rules like what?”
”Well, I doubt this will be a problem for you, but we’d rather not anyone else find out about your… abilities.” Annette paused, looking thoughtful. “Do the rest of the gang know what you can do?”
She nodded. “So, if they’re over, that’s all right, but if we have anyone else here to visit, you can’t use magic at all. Even if you think nobody’s looking. All right?”
”All right.” If I have to defend myself though…
You will defend yourself.
”And as for Quinn—”
”I didn’t mean to fall asleep in his room,” said Natalie quickly, cheeks heating up as she did. She tried to force them to cool down with magic, but it didn’t help—apparently, she couldn’t just keep herself from being embarrassed. Her next few words were accompanied by cloudy breath anyway. “It won’t happen again.”
Annette had a real adult-smirk on her face as she replied—the worst kind, when Natalie felt like she was missing out on a joke she couldn’t understand yet. “I was going to say, don’t do any magic that involves him. I know you wouldn’t ever mean to, but I don’t want any—”
Natalie interrupted her impatiently. “I can’t even if I wanted to. It’s Mason’s Law. Magic can’t be used on other people. Nobody can break that.”
”Oh!” Annette frowned. “Well, that’s… that’s all right then… who’s Mason?”
”A guy from home.” Natalie shrugged. “I didn’t really know him very well… He taught me how to do some stuff though.” And he was a real jerk about it, too. I think he only taught me how to do fire and temperature stuff because Rachel asked him to.
”I want to hear more about that,” said Annette, “if you’re all right with telling m…” She trailed off as the TV cut off the banal morning weather and traffic with a frightening siren sound. They both turned to watch as the breaking news story shoved through, like an intruder in their quiet morning.
”…live footage from the BBC in London, local time 4PM. In the distance there, that’s the private estate of Cornelius Malton, the energy tycoon and chairman of the Culver-Malton Group.”
”We can confirm that was Hailey Winscombe, the famous ‘awakened’, who just entered the grounds. It looks like… oh my God.”
Natalie watched in horror as a tiny speck flew down toward the building like a meteorite from space. As Hailey dove, people were hurled off of the building’s open flat roof, specks flying off in the distance as though she had an invisible shield in front of her—or a whole lot of wind…
The camera cut away before they saw anything else. “We are now confirming that Hailey Winscombe seems to have attacked the Malton estate, for reasons unknown. Sources from the BBC tell us that Mr. Malton is currently in the building.“
”You know her, right?” asked Annette quietly, eyes locked on the TV.
”Yeah…” Natalie winced. “I don’t know what she’s doing.”
”Why would she…” Annette trailed off, realizing Natalie didn’t have any answers.
I wish I did though… Hailey, why are you doing this?
A moment later, the news switched back to a wide helicopter camera, watching the building again. A little black car zoomed out from the garage, followed by another from the street, and Hailey flying between the two of them.
”…Can you fly?” asked Damian. Both Natalie and Annette jumped—neither had heard him come in, glued to the TV as they were.
”No,” said Natalie, still transfixed by the image of Hailey gliding over London streets. “She’s the only one who knows how.”
They watched the whole chase on TV, from almost every angle. The news kept finding different people to watch from—cameras on the ground, helicopters, drones, everything they could get their hands on. Finally, they heard the whole speech from Cinza, perfectly clear in her echoey voice, broadcast around the world.
”…from the real threat lurking among us,” said Cinza, standing before the crowd with the FBI agent and a totally-spent Hailey flanking her. Natalie gulped. She knew what was coming next, an instant before Cinza said it.
”No…” she whispered, but of course, she couldn’t stop it. Natalie was a whole world away from Cinza.
”There is a man in the forests near Rallsburg. His name is Brian Hendricks.” Cinza laid out her father’s crimes bare for the world, one by one, even those Natalie didn’t know about. Every word pierced her heart a little more. She’d been hoping for so long that, despite everything she’d seen, she might be wrong about him.
Cinza had just called him a mass-murderer in front of the whole world. There wasn’t any going back from that. Natalie knew it.
”Natalie?” Annette asked, noticing her distress. She shook her head frantically, hands covering her mouth, afraid she might say anything to give it away—though they’d surely find out as soon as they did any research—and afraid she might miss something just as important, since Cinza hadn’t finished speaking.
”…Malton’s men shot her dead in the streets of Lakewood… Jessica Silverdale. Remember that name.”
Tears sprung to Natalie’s eyes as Jessica’s face flashed through her mind.
”Natalie?” Annette asked again.
”It was her funeral,” she whispered. “The one I went to on Thursday. Jessica. I didn’t know what happened.”
”…I’m so sorry,” said Damian quietly. Natalie appreciated it, but any slight comfort was driven away by Cinza’s next words.
”…You have seen what we can do. Even a man at the top of your world cannot escape justice if we seek it. If you come, we will defend ourselves.“
Cinza turned away, with the FBI agent and Hailey only a few steps behind. The news people didn’t seem to know what to say, leaving her last words punctuated with eerie silence. The camera lingered on her retreating robe, as they crossed over the wall in the street—which subsequently sunk back into flat pavement—and got into a car, driving away to who-knew-where, while Hailey flew off into the distance.
The news turned to commentary for hours after that. Natalie was stuck to the couch, trying to make sense of it all. She couldn’t follow a lot of what the people were talking about, especially the politics and such, but she felt like if she didn’t try, she’d miss something that would affect her. She might be hidden at the Kincaid home for the time being, but Natalie couldn’t assume she’d be there for long anymore.
He’s been called a murderer in front of the whole world now. The clock is ticking.
They know he is in the forest back home. You must find him first.
You cannot wait until December anymore.
You have hesitated long enough. It’s time to act.
Natalie shook her head. What was she supposed to do—get right off the couch and head out the door? She had no idea where he was, and the Olympic Forest was huge. She had a real home here. She felt safe, comfortable. Maybe it’s not worth it.
You can’t just abandon your hunt.
I never even started it. I’m actually kind of happy here. Why can’t I just stay with Quinn?
”They just said they’re above the law,” said Annette quietly, still back at the kitchen table with Damian. “She attacked that man in his home, without due process. Just flew right in and…” She trailed off fearfully.
”It’ll blow over,” said Damian, though he didn’t sound confident even to Natalie. “Let them figure it out.”
Natalie got up. She couldn’t stand watching it anymore. She hurried back to Quinn’s room, desperate for something to distract her. Quinn was awake, finally, and at his computer. As she walked in, he twisted around in his chair. “Natalie…” he started, and her heart fell even further. Oh no… He doesn’t know about the stuff in London. This is something else.
”What?” she asked fearfully.
He pulled up a window on his computer. “Tyler found it this morning. He sent it over.”
Natalie leaned in, looking at the screen. It was a scan of a book, handwritten in a style she found vaguely familiar. As she deciphered the words, a darkness settled down on her chest.
”…No, the true strength lies in conviction. ███████, though ███ might appear weaker than any among us, possesses great power equal to the rest of the natural awakened—and the conviction to use that power when pressed. See how ███ cleansed the fires of the riot, how ███ claimed a wolf as a mere mount! ███████ is the strongest and bravest of us all, and fie those who would speak otherwise. I know no other who, at any ███, could command whole crowds to a standstill simply by walking forward with head held high…”
”That’s me,” whispered Natalie, pointing at the black box where her name was supposed to go.
Quinn nodded. “We figured, after the stuff about animals. You said nobody else can do that, right?”
”…Yeah.” Natalie glanced at him. “How much is there?”
”The whole book. It’s on a couple sites, but I don’t think it’s gotten very big yet. Tyler only found it because he’s always on these kinds of sites.” Quinn shook his head. “At least your name’s not in there.”
”But what about…” Natalie trailed off. Cinza didn’t see it happen. She has no idea about the people in Rallsburg, and this book didn’t include anything from Seattle. Nothing about what I did.
Quinn looked up. “What?”
”Brian Hendricks,” she said. Lucky for her, most people didn’t really obsess over the victim lists from Rallsburg. Quinn didn’t know her last name, and she wasn’t about to tell him. Not yet. Not until I find him. “Does it talk about what he did?”
”Yeah,” said Quinn. “She calls him the Traitor. Him and Robert Harrison, who’s the Spy. They sound like really bad people.”
Natalie winced, but didn’t contradict him. “Did you read the whole thing?”
”Not yet. It’s really long.”
If Cinza talks about me and my dad in there… he could probably figure it out. But Cinza doesn’t know what I did. Nobody else will either. Just me, Rachel, and Quinn.
”There’s a lot of really big stuff going on right now,” said Natalie, glancing back toward the living room, where she could still hear the commentary on the TV about Cinza and Hailey. They were talking about a warrant for Hailey’s arrest. She explained what she’d seen, and the briefest explanation of the Cinza she knew—the strange girl with the weird voice who always seemed to have some secret agenda Natalie didn’t understand. “I don’t know what’s going to happen next.”
Quinn frowned. “Do you think she’s trying to take over the world?”
Natalie looked back at him with creased eyebrows. “No,” she said, doing her best not to roll her eyes. As dumb as it sounded, it wasn’t totally crazy with how the world seemed to be changing. “I think she’s just trying to keep her people safe. The Greycloaks, I mean.”
”Are you one of her people?”
”She said I was.” Natalie shrugged. “I don’t have a grey cloak, if that’s what you’re wondering. She’d probably give me one if I asked, but I don’t really want to be.”
”Quinn? Natalie?” Damian had appeared at the bedroom door. He came in and sat down on the edge of Quinn’s bed. Natalie leaned back against the desk, while Quinn spun around to face his dad. Damian glanced at Natalie first. “This is going to sound strange, but… Natalie, how strong are you?”
Natalie winced. “…Really strong,” she murmured.
Quinn jumped in before his dad could say anything else. “She’s stronger than anybody. Even Hailey.”
I don’t know about that… Hailey’s smarter than I am, and older, and bigger, prettier, everything-er. I don’t think I could beat her in a fight. Not that we’d ever fight. That’s horrible.
Damian nodded. “Remember what I told you yesterday? About how dangerous it’s getting around here?”
”Because of people like me,” said Natalie quietly.
Quinn’s dad shook his head forcefully. “No. Not people like you. Just… people who can do things like you can.” He sighed. “This isn’t really something I can say easily, but I need to. If something happens, Natalie, I need you to protect Quinn.”
”Huh?” asked Quinn.
Of course I’d protect Quinn! Why is he even saying something like that? Natalie frowned. “Nothing’s going to happen, Mr. Kincaid.”
”I don’t know what’s going to happen,” said Damian. “I’ve heard a lot of weird stories recently, at work and on the news, and all of them are around here.” He sighed again. “If we could move out for a while, I’d be getting us far away right now, but we don’t have anywhere to go either.”
We’re not dangerous though… It’s magic. It’s a good thing. There’s just some bad people around…
Damian looked back to Natalie with a firm, hard gaze. Natalie wilted slightly underneath it—she’d never seen him so intense. “No matter what, you keep him safe, okay?”
”I promise,” said Natalie. She reached out and took Quinn’s hand, holding it tight. In his room, Natalie actually felt safe, and the fear and pain stayed low. She still felt it, and the nausea still begged her to let go, but it wasn’t unbearable anymore. “I won’t let anything happen to Quinn.”
Quinn glanced up at her. “I can take care of myself, you know.”
Natalie rolled her eyes. Across the room, a pillow lifted up into the air. Without warning, it hurled itself at Quinn, smacking him in the face. The pillow bounced off right into Natalie’s waiting arms.
Grimacing, Quinn nodded. “Yeah, okay.”
Damian laughed. “Thanks, Natalie.”
He left, and for a brief moment, Natalie actually felt relieved—but it vanished as soon as she turned back around and saw Cinza’s book still splayed across the screen, a passage about Natalie highlighted right in the center. “Everybody’s gonna find this soon,” she said.
Quinn nodded. “So what does that mean for you?”
”Well, I’m not in the book,” said Natalie with a shrug. “There’s no Natalie there. It’s just a black line. I’m dead like everybody else from Rallsburg.”
”So you’re not going to run?”
Natalie shook her head. “I gotta stick around to protect you, remember?”
Quinn rolled his eyes. “No, you don’t.”
I will, though. She giggled. “Come on, let’s play something.”
As Quinn got out the decks, Natalie leaned back in the folding chair, closing her eyes for a minute. She felt impossibly torn between what she’d been planning for months and the new path Quinn’s dad had just opened up for her. For five whole months—from May until October—Natalie’s entire life was just waiting until she felt like she was ready to go find her dad.
Except… now she had somebody else she cared about.
Your father cannot wait forever.
Quinn needs me too.
Quinn was never in danger until you arrived. If you left, he’d be in no more danger than before.
Except I can’t now. The whole school knows we’re together. People would figure it out.
The specter of her father loomed in her mind, overlapping with Quinn sitting a few feet in front of her on the floor of his bedroom. The two people in the world she cared most about—and the two who cared most about her, if she didn’t count Gwen—and Natalie couldn’t be with both of them.
Dad chose this. I’m done waiting for Rachel, I’m done worrying about Rallsburg. I’m done tying my life to his.
You were made to hunt him.
No, you were. I’m trying to have a normal life, and you’re the opposite of normal.
”Your pick,” said Quinn. Natalie leaned forward and picked up a forest, her go-to when she had no idea what she wanted to do.
You know what you want to do. You want to go back home. Find Gwen, find your father, and ask him the question that’s been bothering you since he disappeared.
I want to go to school and have friends. And yeah, I want Gwen back, but I don’t need my dad for that. I can figure it out.
Quinn picked up two graveyards. Natalie frowned. She wasn’t sure what strategy that could lead to. Quinn didn’t usually play any undead in his games. Something was different. She looked back up at him—and something about him was different. More… pronounced—or was that just Natalie, seeing him differently?
I want to stay here with Quinn.
You’re wasting your time with him. He’s normal. You are not.
I’m okay with that.
Natalie set her cards down. “Hey, Quinn?”
Quinn looked up from studying the piles, surprised. They usually went through the whole draft without a single word. Both enjoyed the quiet. Before he could answer her, Natalie had already leaned forward. She had no idea what she was doing, except that she knew she wanted to get the voice to shut up—and she wanted to prove to herself that she could.
Her instincts battled against her emotions in thunderous tidals waves. Natalie leaned in close. Electricity seemed to crackle in the air, setting her skin buzzing. The drummer in her heart began pounding as if she’d gone insane—fitting, since Natalie was pretty sure she was crazy. Warmth radiated off his skin as she closed the last little gap between them.
Her lips touched Quinn’s. For a moment, just for the briefest instant, they kissed.
The fear and doubt rushed back in. Natalie fell back onto her legs, before it got too painful, before anxiety and memory swallowed her whole. The warmth didn’t go away, though, as she blushed bright red. She stared down at the piles of cards, trying to hold in the intense mixture of emotions swirling through her. Finally, after what seemed like an eternity, Quinn spoke.
”…Your pick,” he said—and it was perfect, precisely what Natalie needed in that moment.
A tiny smile creased her lips as Natalie picked up a village. The game continued, and neither of them said a word about it, though Natalie caught a faint embarrassed smile of Quinn’s own a few moments later when she finally looked back up. Seeing it caused her to smile wider, which bounced back to him, until soon enough they were both grinning like idiots while they played.
They played through the whole game, Quinn winning the first, and another after that which Natalie won—and while the voice came back, helping her as it always did, Natalie didn’t hear a single word more about Quinn.