Shockingly, the police never connected any of us to the hostage situation and explosion which was briefly national news, a gift horse which I did not examine, after all the crap we’d been through. I believe they eventually concluded that the criminals argued amongst themselves and all ended up buried in the rubble. Said rubble came from Brick collapsing the staircase behind us with his magic, and left little evidence to challenge that conclusion. We all made it out alive, and only Snowflake was permanently injured.
Snowflake and I have been staying at the lab. It is a distinctly nonideal living situation, sleeping on a cot underneath the worktable and cooking my meals on a Bunsen burner, when I cook at all. Mostly I don’t bother these days. If I’m not eating out and I’m not eating at a friend’s, I just warm some raw meat in the microwave to split with Snowflake. It tastes like crap, but so does my cooking, and I’ve nearly given up on pretending to be a normal human being. It’s not like I have to worry about E. coli.
Occasionally, I get an invite from Kyra to take over one of the guest bedrooms, or Anna offers to let me share her apartment, and I’m sorely tempted. Then I remember what happened to Enrico, and I say no.
When I first came back to the lab, I found several things I did not expect. The first was a lovely blue vase filled with forget-me-nots and a letter written on vellum (vellum? Come on, who uses vellum?)
Aiko’s handwriting, utterly inappropriate on vellum, came as a welcome surprise. I won’t bother you with the details of the message, because they are frankly none of your goddamn business. There are, in fact, only two things you need to know about what she wrote. The first was that she had, indeed, been punished for her indiscretion in openly interfering with a Watcher on assignment, never mind all the mitigating factors. She isn’t allowed to leave the Otherside for the next ten years, although she did imply that there was a possibility of parole. The second thing is that the valediction was I love you.
I love you. Neither of us had ever actually spoken those words to each other. I think we were afraid of them. I think we had good reason.
Just three words. You wouldn’t think they would bring tears to my eyes. You wouldn’t think Legion could resist a comment when he saw it.
Funny, how often I’m wrong about these things, eh?
The second thing I found was my amulet. I had given it up for lost in the fire, but there it was on my table, shiny as the day it was made, and I should know. Under it was a single sheet of parchment, because apparently it was “Use utterly anachronistic writing materials day,” on which was written in masterful calligraphy the following:
I saved this for you. It seemed a shame to let it burn. Congratulations on your recent victory. I have taken the liberty of informing certain individuals of recent events; as a result, I think you will find your reputation to have increased significantly.
The third, and by far the least important to me, was a fat envelope with no return address which was also left on the table, the implication being that there were way too many people who could walk through my wards at will. It contained a brief, unsigned message congratulating me on not dying and stating that I could consider my rep with the Watchers made, and that work would be made available if I desired it, on an irregular and entirely unofficial basis. Also included was a personal message from Laurel Stark saying that she was extremely sorry for the events of the past several weeks. Apparently the intention was never to cooperate with the bad guy, but the Watchers had been politically pressured into assisting him.
The last thing in the envelope, and what made up most of the bulk, was twenty-five thousand dollars in nonsequential used bills. I tucked it away for a rainy day, and burned everything else they’d sent. I then disposed of the ashes very carefully in a place that couldn’t conceivably be traced back to me and which I wasn’t fond of, because you can’t be too careful with these things.
I have a bit more acceptance in the pack now. They know that I will protect them, that I am an ally. I have a bit less acceptance as well, in another way. The werewolves fear me, and they fear for me. They saw me do too many things that were too scary not to. Kyra doesn’t look at me with fear in her eyes, but she is one of a small minority.
But that’s all right. I mean, I’m never going to belong to the pack. I had my chance at that, and I turned it down. At least now I know that they won’t be causing any trouble for me. They’re far too scared of what I might do to them. Machiavelli would probably be pretty happy with my situation.
Which, admittedly, is piss-poor compensation for the loss of my friend, my house, and any hope I might have had of fitting in with pretty much anyone. It’s thin consolation for knowing that one of the few genuinely good people I know thinks the things I’ve done are so horrible that I could plausibly be a doppelgänger using the original Winter’s identity to get away with heinous crimes. It’s not something I ever aspired to in the first place.
But hell. It beats nothing, I suppose.