The sky was orange, over the ocean behind the car. Nothing over the small motel but starless night.
Nicholas was gone, and Annabelle’s panic was crushing in on her before he came out of a small office. She stepped out of the car, and he just pointed to a set of stairs. The room was at the end of the building, on the second floor. He unlocked it with a swipe from a card and she walked into the room.
“Do your stuff, shower whatever. I’ll be back in a bit. Going to grab those supplies.”
“Is this place safe?”
“It’s not even on our regular list. Billy sold us out once, no reason to assume anything’s safe. Just stay inside, it’s unlikely they could track us, but just in case. I’ll be back in a bit.”
“I will. Please hurry.”
He closed the door and she turned her glow up. It shattered her glamour but at least she could see in the dark room. She went to the shower, but just heated herself clean again. She quickly rinsed off the ashed bits, and dried herself. Then she threw on a robe, not much else to wear. Her old clothes weren’t worth saving.
A long time passed before he returned, and she spent it on the floor next to the single bed. There was a large comfortable looking chair too, but she felt better behind it.
Finally the door clicked, and Annabelle dived back behind the chair.
“Why is it dark in here? Are you hiding behind the chair?”
“I wasn’t sure who it was.”
“You’re glowing, you brick.”
“I’m sorry.” Another loud sigh from Nicholas, as he flicked the lights on.
“Got you some clothes. Some food too.”
“Thank you,” she said, and then climbed out from behind the chair. She sat down on the very edge of the bed.
“Sorry, only one bed. I didn’t really plan this. Not a lot of cash on my card. Texted Nice, and there’ll be more waiting for us in the morning. I’ll be fine in the chair.”
“It’s fine, we can share.”
“I’ll sleep in the chair.”
“It’s a big bed,” she told him. He looked mad again but he just walked to the bathroom, and slammed the door. She stood up and knocked on the door. “Sorry.”
Nicholas ripped it back open so fast she stumbled back and ended up leaning against the wall. Standing upright, she ran a hand over her robe.
“Christ, I said I was sorry I slapped you. You always flinch so much?”
“People don’t think a lot, of hitting me. I’m just a fairy. Stydran, and the Aerie, are tough places for a fairy.”
“Why stay there?”
“What else is there? Living in a tree in the middle of nowhere? Waiting for the day a snake mistakes me for a tasty treat? Least the Sty and around I can make a living,” she said.
“Is that why you came here?”
“I came here because he asked me to. It never even occurred to me to try to run. To go to another world. Running away never even felt like an option.”
Nicholas flicked her in the forehead. Right above her glasses, just like Nicole.
“Oww, Nicole does that too.”
“Really? You just going to take that?”
“Slap me back.” This time he used his palm, and tapped a little softer.
“No,” she said as she brushed at his hand. He did it again.
“Better stop me, before I knock that tiny little brain loose.”
“Make me.” He pushed her shoulder. “Seriously, slap me or something. Fight back, A.” She pushed against his chest, trying to look like she didn’t enjoy the feel of him against her palm. “Weak.” He slapped her into her forehead again.
“I’m not weak.”
“Yeah you are,” he said, and tapped her forehead again. “What’s the matter? Hit me.”
“I don’t want to, you didn’t do anything to me.”
“I’m slapping you in the forehead, A. That’s something.”
“Just stop, please?”
“Puppy dog eyes won’t save you. Fight back.”
“You’d really let me slap you around? Why?” His eyes were clouded as they washed over her.
“You won’t you’re a good person.”
“You barely know me.” Nicholas took a step closer to her. The fairy backed into the wall. Her foot was pulling the robe taut against her. Tied loose anyway, it felt like the flimsy white cloth could fall away with the slightest effort. Despite the pats to her forehead, Annabelle was fairly certain she wanted him to notice.
“I know Nicole said you were good. She wouldn’t leave me with you if you would hurt me,” she said. Her eyes were warm, drying in front of him. He puffed again, sighing deep.
“Sorry, I slapped you in the forehead.”
“It’s not fine, just go lay down. I need to take a shower.”
“Are you mad?”
“Naw, I’m not mad. Just leave me alone.”
Annabelle laid on the bed.
“Put those clothes on too.”
She was glad he wasn’t in the room, for her disappointment. The fairy laid on the bed, face down for a long time. When the water started, she got up to change. The clothes were different than the ones Nicole got. Not jeans, just loose pants with a tie and a shirt. No tape but the wings were held down well enough by the top.
After she was dressed she sat back on the bed, against the wall, eating an orange. She burnt the peel to ashes in her hand after. The fire made the room smell but she didn’t mind.
Nicholas came out after a while. Hair still dripping and wearing clean clothes. Shorts again and a black long sleeved shirt. He sat on the edge of the bed and flicked on the TV.
At the top of his back, she spotted more colorful ink. A small cat, with a large hat, and some red words below. She wondered what other tattoos were hidden. Absorbed as she was was in her imaginings, she jumped when he spoke.
“Nicole said you were a powerhouse. She said she felt depths like she had never felt when you called magic.”
“It’s not magic it’s me. I’m fire, born of and housed in. My magic isn’t strong but I burn bright.”
“Yet, everyone dies while you watch. First the Stydran, and then my dad. We’re near overrun, protecting someone so weak she can’t even save herself from being picked on.”
“I’m sorry about your dad.”
“Gonna be sorry for everyone else you bury too? How many times have you been sorry? Just used to it?”
“I’m—I—.” Annabelle gave up and sat quiet on the bed. A whoosh of air left him, and he relaxed all the anger dissipated.
“Sorry. I’m not sure why I said that stuff. We all make our own fates, A. Dad always said he either wanted to die in battle, or in bed. I don’t think he meant quietly either.”
“Why do you guys never call me by my name?” she asked.
“Dunno,” he said one hand running over his face. “Guess we get so used to saying goodbye, that even knowing you that well is hard.”
“Sorry I’m useless.”
“You’re not useless. Lots of people aren’t cut out to pull the trigger. Lives weigh heavy. Never feels right, no matter how many times I do it.”
“I thought you liked shooting Billy?”
“Yeah, fuck Billy. Tried to steal my fucking car after all that. I’d shoot him again.”
“How many people have you killed?”
“It’s not always like this, I’m mostly either driver or mechanic at the garage. Tech stuff but it’s more like putting an order in. Ursie, Morgan’s secretary, does most of it and just sends me papers to print after I send her details. I have killed a few people though. No Nice but I can hold my own.”
“Nicole has killed a lot of people?”
“Yeah, she’s not like crazy but don’t get on her bad side. Just ask Cowell.”
“She put that scar there. Not sure why but he’s not mad. She broke up with him and,” he slashed his hand across his face, “and he still called for weeks. Didn’t come by, thank god. She was pretty mad.”
“Should you be telling me this?”
“I’m sure she told you all about,” he said with a nod at his metal leg.
“Not really. Just said you ran off with an elemental.”
“About all she knows then.”
“Want to talk about it?” Annabelle asked. Her eyes flitted over him, his back tensed as she spoke.
“No, I don’t.”
“Want to dance?”
“No, god no. Why would you want to dance now?”
“I owe life a dance. I’m still alive and it wasn’t how I expected this day to end, more than once. I should dance.” She jumped off the bed and stood in front of him.
“Your.” His eyes cut to her wing, hanging loose below the back of her shirt. “It’s bad.”
“I’m no longer a flying fairy,” she said. “I know that, but that doesn’t mean I should mourn right now. I’m not going to pity myself when at least I’m still here to consider it.”
“You’re a lame brick. Ugh. No wonder you get along with my sister so well. All quotes and long sayings. Emotional junk.” Nicky stood up. “I can’t move this leg right.”
Annabelle stood in front of him and slid her foot under his. “I’m a bad dancer too, sometimes.” It was a slow dance, and there was no music. She wasn’t tall enough to move his leg properly and his foot kept slipping from her’s foot. Her body moved closer to his on its own, and at the end it was just a shuffling hug. She melted. The ‘dance’ only lasted a few minutes before he pushed very softly on her arms.
“I hope that was enough dancing.”
“Never enough dancing.” She spun a wide circle and laughed.
“Yeah, you fairies, always looking for a new dance partner.” His words were rain cast right through her first ray of sun. The fairy stared for a full minute while he hobbled to the chair, limping far worse than she had ever seen him.
“You hate me.” Thumps of realization beat inside of her as she crawled onto the bed.
A flinch and a long moment from him. “If I do?”
If anything the forgiveness made him madder. His nose flared and he rolled the fingers on one hand closed.
“What the fuck is wrong with you? What happened to that fire? That night in the garage? That girl who screamed at my dad? Then what? You just watch while Billy fucking rapes and kills you? You just let me push you around and try to get into my pants? What the fuck is wrong with you?” Annabelle sat cross legged while he spoke. Her voice kept creaking, her mouth opening to let little bits of air escape. The fairy resisted the urge to just burn his dumb dark eyebrows to ash right there. After giving herself a minute to calm down, she broke.
“I don’t know. I just didn’t want to end up a Stydran toy. I liked your dad. He was kind even though he didn’t need to let me stay.” Two fingers ticked off her first two answers.
“Did it for Nicole.”
“He was nice anyway. Said you were just prideful and not a total uwarun,” she slipped into fairy for the last word as she was fairly certain there wasn’t an english version.
“Well I am whatever the fuck you called me.”
“I know and then I couldn’t fight Billy,” she said, and held up a third finger. “He was choking me and I was already really beaten up. I would have burned him, or stabbed him, or something.” She held up a final finger. “I liked you. You seemed angry but I liked the smile and the tattoos. And the way she said you called them all ‘special’. I just wanted to be special too. I know you’ve been through alot and I know if you’re bad I can’t change you but I thought if I was good enough you might change yourself. Maybe we could be damaged together, or whatever, just less than before. I don’t know what I thought. You’re right, I am just a stupid brick.” Her anger and her voice broke at the end. Tears sizzled in her eyes and Annabelle just wanted to sleep.
She turned to face the wall. Silence, again, but she could feel his eyes on her. After a long time, she glanced back. He was staring at her, eyes red but dry. He wiped at them and she got up slowly.
“You can sleep on the bed,” she told him. “You’re a lot bigger than me and you’re really tired. I can’t drive but I can see it’s hard on you. I’ll be fine in the chair.”
“No, I’ll sleep here.”
“We could shrink and share the bed?”
This pause was different, not aimed at her. Nicholas spent a long few moments with his eyes on his hand. “I can’t anymore. The magic isn’t there.”
“What?” She caught herself from falling but it was hard.
“It’s not there. I can do little things, but I can’t shrink.” Annabelle had heard of severances, of creatures and things losing their connection to the other side. It had never even occurred to her that it could be anything more than a story told to frighten little fairies out of being big all the time. She wondered if it would matter to her. She couldn’t fly, no need to be small enough for it anymore.
“Shrinking, and growing are small magics.”
“To fairies. It’s work to a leprechaun. I’m fine in the chair.”
Annabelle dragged the top blanket off the bed and set it over him. “I’ll be fine with the sheet.”
“It’s nothing.” She laid on the bed, facing the wall again.
She left the words to hang, unsure of where they were supposed to land. Two words weren’t enough to cross out all of his previous but he didn’t offer anymore and she let it be.