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Especially as Holly had been playing some sort of weird game, and had abandoned him sitting at a table so she could make out with his cousin. At least Kami was straightforward: you could trust Kami.
Jared looked up at Ash, and this time it seemed as if he was really seeing him.
“Oh yeah,” he said. “Sorry about that. You didn’t deserve that.” His mouth twisted as if he found the taste of halfway decent words in his mouth bitter and regretted saying them. “Though what you were doing with Holly in that bar at all, when you had Kami dancing with you, I don’t understand. Are you stupid?”
Ash was in no way feeling charitable toward Holly, but this struck him as unfair. Holly was very good-looking, after all, and Jared must have noticed, what with all the kissing.
“If you like Kami better,” he began, and Jared cut him off with a laugh, wild and with a crazy edge to it. Ash spoke irritably over the laugh. “I wasn’t the one kissing her in the Water Rising. She may have thought it was me, but you knew it wasn’t. So if you were kissing Kami one night and taking Holly upstairs a few weeks later, I really don’t see how you can take me to task. You’re the one getting it all over town.”
The look on Jared’s face was suddenly a little terrifying. Ash wondered if he was supposed to apologize for implying Jared was loose with his favors.
“Kami thought it was you who kissed her,” said Jared, and even though he did not move, for a moment Ash really thought Jared was going to kill him. His face went too still, and his eyes utterly, murderously blank, so pale they almost glowed.
Then Jared tipped his head back against the tree again and closed his eyes.
“Of course she did,” he said. “That makes sense.”
There was nothing Ash hated more than the feeling he had said the wrong thing. “I didn’t mean—”
Jared’s eyes snapped open. He was glaring, openly hostile: just another member of Ash’s family who hated him. “Why did you call me here, Ash? What do you want?”
Ash searched his mind frantically for the right thing to say, the tactful thing that would please and persuade Jared.
“I—I don’t—” he began, stammering like a child. “I want . . . Come home!”
Jared’s face cleared. He stood looking at Ash, his face a real mirror of Ash’s for once, as utterly surprised by what Ash had said as Ash himself was.
“I thought you’d be glad to be rid of me,” Jared said, and laughed unconvincingly at the end of what was clearly not a joke. “You don’t even like me.”
Ash hunched up his shoulders and stared at the river. “What has that got to do with anything? You’re family. You’re not actually evil. You don’t like me either. You keep hitting me. You’re awful to me all the time. But you’re meant to— I thought you would stay.”
There was a long silence. Ash thought seriously about drowning himself in the river.
“I won’t hit you again,” said Jared.
Ash felt a hand settle on the back of his neck, too heavy, thumb moving in a small circle. He glanced uncertainly up, and Jared snatched his hand back. He was looking moodily down at Ash, but Ash didn’t think the angry unhappiness was actually directed at him.
Ash wasn’t an idiot. Jared was weird about touching Mom and Aunt Rosalind; Ash remembered that Jared would let Ash’s dad hug him or clap him on the shoulder, but neither of them had him anymore.
“Come on,” Jared said gruffly. “We need to get to school.”
“Right,” said Ash. “Do you have to go back to the Water Rising and grab your stuff?”
“Nah,” said Jared. “We can walk together. I won’t even be awful to you. Not for the whole walk.”
Ash found himself laughing. “It’s a fifteen-minute walk.”
“About that, Ash,” said Jared. “I’m going to have to ask you to move pretty quickly. I’ve only got so much self-restraint.”
My Own, My Only
Kami spent Saturday at Aurimere poring over books and trying to find any further mention of Matthew Cooper or Elinor and Anne Lynburn, or of how Matthew and Anne had died. All she found was a note in the records table about a sacrifice made in honor of the Lynburn daughters.
Kami closed her latest book with a slam. She did not know why the townspeople had not risen up against the Lynburns years ago, frankly. Whatever happened to the folksy and charming tradition of storming the castle with burning torches and pitchforks?
She pressed her face into the heel of her palm, eyes shut tight. They were training; they had collected information; they had collected the sorcerers’ identities and their possessions. But they didn’t have enough information, and Lillian didn’t have enough sorcerers. Winter solstice was coming soon.
“Kami,” Ash said, sounding a bit nervous, possibly because Kami was slamming books shut and hiding her face in despair. “I was wondering if I could have a word with you.”
Kami lifted her head from her hand and tried to smile across the table at him.
Across the dark shining expanse of mahogany, Ash sat looking nervous, soft blond hair rumpled as if he had been running his fingers through it in distrait fashion.
The thought flashed through Kami’s mind that he was going to ask her out.
“I was talking to Jared yesterday,” Ash continued.
Or maybe not.
“Do you know what’s going on with him?” Kami asked. “He was avoiding me at school and he’s not answering his phone. Do you have any idea what his plans might be? Are they really suicidal or just a little suicidal?”
“I don’t know what’s going on with him. I’m sure he’s fine,” Ash said in a way that did not sound like he was sure at all, and that suggested that Ash did know what was going on with Jared. “We were out practicing magic and we got to talking about having a source.”
Kami’s immediate reaction was to be angry and say that was private, but she told herself firmly that made no sense. Jared and Ash had to practice magic, and the way Jared was accustomed to doing magic was with a source. She should be glad they were working together.
She looked down at the table, at her own hands wavering over her papers. She could feel the blood rising hot in her face. “Oh?”
“The way Jared talked about having a source,” Ash said softly, “it sounded nice. Never being lonely again. Having someone to support you.”
Kami was becoming familiar with the feeling of desolation that came upon her now, turning her cold even while her cheeks still burned. She wished she had never learned to understand loneliness, and that Ash had not brought it up.
Where are you? she asked Jared in her mind, sending love and loneliness and fury at him, contradictory emotions that she could not express in words. They used to be able to understand each other, even when they made no sense.
Sometimes she could not stop herself from speaking to him like this, even though he would never hear her again.
“ ‘Nice’ is not exactly how I would describe it,” Kami replied, and was horrified to hear her voice shake. The corners of her eyes burned, and she was even more horrified to see a teardrop fall onto the brown cover of her book.
“A lot of power comes with being a source,” Ash said. “Maybe enough to help turn the tide against my father.”
“It didn’t help much against him when we had it, and we don’t have it anymore.” Kami’s voice was not friendly. “We have to do without it.”
“Maybe not,” said Ash.
“What do you mean?” Kami asked. “Is—is there a way to get the link back?”
If they had to reestablish the link to save other people, to save the whole town. If they had to.
“Sort of,” Ash replied. Kami stared at the closed book and the wood grain in the surface of the table. “You broke the link with Jared,” Ash went on, as if she didn’t know that. “There’s no way to make another link, once broken, without more power than any sorcerer has unless he or she completes the Crying Pools ceremony.”
Kami looked up. “He’s not trying that again!”
When Ash saw her face, he let out a low exclamation, got up from his chair, and rushed over to her side. He went on his knees on the stone floor beside her chair, fingers light against the side of her face. Ash never had any trouble touching her. His fingers lingered, as if he liked to do it.
“Kami,” he said, “you’re crying.”
“No, I am not,” Kami lied. “I got something in my eye.”
“You got something in your eye.”
“Yes. Possibly a speck of dust,” Kami said, and broke down. “All right, possibly my feelings.”
Ash smiled a little, sympathetically and tentatively, until she smiled too.
“You don’t understand what I’m asking you,” he murmured. “It has nothing to do with Jared. He is not the only sorcerer in Aurimere.”
“What—” Kami began, but before she could form the question properly in her mind, he had answered it.
“You and I could do the spell together. You and I could save the town together. You could be my source.”
Every muscle in Kami’s body went stiff. Ash registered her reaction: his hand fell from her face, and he seized her cold fingers. He hung on to her hand hard, in almost the same way she had held on to the records table, as if letting go would mean disaster.
“You don’t have to worry,” Ash said. “I wouldn’t be like Jared.” He pressed her hand. “I’ve read up on sorcerers and sources. I’d keep a careful distance and not intrude on you. I wouldn’t make demands of you like he did. I wouldn’t make you unhappy like he did. This would be a partnership, a good partnership. We would respect each other, and trust each other, and together we could do so much. I can’t think of anyone I would rather be linked to than you.” His voice went softer on that last line. She looked down into his eyes, the prince kneeling in his own castle, and realized he meant every word.
“Kami,” he said, “I know what I’m asking for.”
“Ash,” she whispered, “you have no idea.”
She pulled her hand out of his, trying not to recoil, trying not to pull back too fast and seem too desperate to become entirely separate from him.
“It is the most intimate thing in the world,” she said slowly, trying to explain in a way that would not hurt him further. “You could ask me for anything else and it would be less personal, and less private. Anything.”
There was even something intimate about speaking of it, her voice suddenly pitched low. She saw Ash flush, and look confused as to why he was flushing.
“You want to touch my soul naked,” Kami said. “You want me to touch yours na**d as well. I can barely even think about doing it: the idea makes me so scared. I don’t mean to insult you. I’m trying to tell you that you cannot understand. You said—you said you wouldn’t be like Jared, but you don’t understand that either. You think the way he is about me is crazy. You don’t see that I’m the same way about him. Neither of us can help it. He did make me unhappy, and he made me happy. I did the same to him. He made demands of me and I made demands of him, because that is the greatest demand you can make of someone; we made demands of each other every time we breathed. I could not possibly do that with anyone but Jared. Don’t ask me again.” Kami took a deep breath, let it slide through her mouth and fill her lungs with air, and reminded herself that she could breathe on her own.
Ash’s head was bowed. She wanted to reach out: he was the kind of boy who it was impossible to imagine anyone rejecting, and yet she found herself doing it over and over again.
Kami stood up, pushing her chair back, and said, “I have to go.”