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Oblivion by Slide
Chapter 42 : No Deed of Arms
Rating: MatureChapter Reviews: 5

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No Deed of Arms

When she walked in the office, Matt lunged to his feet as if stung, and for a moment it was like the old days. When they were first together and he was always pleased and nervous around her, or when they first broke up and he was awkward and guilty. Or when his feelings for her resurfaced and he was furtive and jealous.

There were very few good memories of Matt reacting like this, so despite it all, Rose folded her arms across her chest and stayed near his office door. ‘Hey.’

‘Hey - you’re okay.’ His brow creased. ‘We heard about Helluby. We were worried - I mean, of course your mother sent word last night you’d turned up alright, but not finding a body in a Lethe-attacked settlement isn’t much reassurance.’

‘Yeah, that wasn’t the plan.’ She didn’t look at him, let her gaze drift across the pictures and maps and scribbles strewn across every surface, every wall. It looked like a lot had been cleared out from the main corkboard lately, and she padded towards it, looked at the swirling etchings of ritual markings and organisation. ‘I’m sorry we worried people. We didn’t have much choice.’

‘Council can do that. Did you find what you were looking for?’

If what we went looking for was the destruction of hope, sure. ‘No. No, we didn’t.’ Rose lifted a hand to one of the circular ritual markings. ‘You look like you did.’

When she glanced over her shoulder, his eyes were gleaming in that excitable way, even if his guilt hadn’t dissipated. ‘I think we found it, Rose. The site of the Chalice’s creation. These ruins were submerged centuries, maybe millennia ago, but I think they were thousands of years old in origin; wizarding civilisations predating anything we had confirmation of before…’

Just like Ultima Thule. I suppose it all comes together. She nodded and tried to look excited. ‘That’s good work.’

His expression crumpled. ‘I’m sorry you didn’t find an answer.’

‘Castagnary’s dead.’ It wasn’t what she’d meant to say; it wasn’t even news she’d thought about breaking. But they’d spent so long worrying about the man, months consumed by the thought of escaping him, outwitting him, that now she was back by Matt’s side it came naturally. ‘He was hunting us on Baffin Island. I - I had to kill him.’

Matt’s face ran through a gauntlet of emotions she suspected she was going to see a lot of. Shock, horror, sympathy - and she liked none of them. ‘I - I’m sorry.’

‘Sorry that he’s dead, or sorry I killed him?’ But there was a hollowness to her voice she recognised, and Rose stepped back, lifting a hand to her temple. ‘Ugh, I didn’t mean that, Matt. Thank you. It was horrible, but I did… what I had to do.’ With their failure at Ultima Thule, with the obvious progress made by Matt, she could feel herself back on that precipice, and there was only emptiness at the bottom. I don’t want to be that empty again. In some ways, the easiest way to avoid that emptiness was to cling to the last shreds of dogged determination to save Scorpius.

In others, the easiest way to avoid that emptiness was to refuse to let herself become hollow.

He walked around the desk, expression a more honest grimace. ‘How’s Scorpius?’

‘Unpacking.’ Rose scowled. That was another emotionless evasion. ‘I managed to make him believe I could save him, right before I destroyed a possible solution. So there’s that.’

Matt fiddled with a quill. ‘And you two are…’

She leaned back. ‘Do you really want to know?’

‘I’m not gossipping, I’m wondering if you’re alright.’ He sighed. ‘Sorry. I’m not trying to pry. I really was worried about you. Both of you. No matter what happens, what has happened, Rose, I want you to be happy, and I know - I know that’s not going to be easy -’

‘Or necessarily possible.’ Rose wrapped her arms around herself, and again tried to find a kernel of feeling as she dangled over the edge. ‘No, we’re not anything. Except doomed, I guess.’ Then she found something, and it made it much easier to meet his gaze when she asked, sounding almost normal, sounding almost teasing, ‘How’re you and Selena?’

Matt winced a much more natural wince. ‘Women talk. I hate it when that happens.’

‘She said you were being coy before I left.’ It was probably a pry too far, but she preferred pushing her luck than running back to the cold. Her half-smile was even genuine.

‘I really hate it when that happens.’ But his lips curled, quiet and pleased and shy, and that sparked feeling in her gut. The jealousy was that he could be happy, that she was denied it, but it was, mercifully, overwhelmed by relief that he was alright, that Selena was alright. Someone has to be, and I want it more for them than anyone. ‘We’re okay. You don’t need a blow-by-blow account -’

‘Oh, no, I can get that from Selena.’

‘Then I won’t spoil things for you both.’ He smiled, and that felt a lot more normal between them - more normal than it had ever been, like they really were friends sharing feelings, not Awkward Somethings. ‘I didn’t - I hope you don’t take me moving on as -’

‘I take you moving on as you being happy, Matt,’ she said in a rush, and meant it. ‘Please. I always wanted you to be happy. I always wanted Selena to be happy. I was horrified when I learnt I’d stood in the way of that.’ He nodded, looking pleased, and she drew a deep breath. ‘Everything’s crazy now. But you’re important to me. You’ve always been. I’d like to… to keep that. I’m not saying we can jump in to being friends right now, but maybe we can try to not drift apart.’

He gave an awkward, but sincere bob of the head. ‘Yeah. I’d like that.’

‘Good.’ Now the air was thick, and Rose looked back at the corkboard. ‘Maybe you could talk me through your findings.’

Guilt tugged at Matt’s expression, but he went to join her with a sigh. ‘I’m getting close,’ he admitted. ‘And really, you might be the best person to help. Because it’s about turning the theory into a practical ritual, and you’re honestly better at that than me.’

Sure. Let’s rekindle our friendship by working together to kill the love of my life. Because everything’s not too complicated already.

* *

‘It might be too early for - ack!’ Scorpius rocked back when Albus lunged through the door to wrap him in a bear hug. ‘Beer! Not affection, beer!’

Albus let him go only enough for him to breathe, broad face split in half by his huge grin. ‘It’s eleven in the morning; it is a little early for beer.’ He ushered him inside anyway, his parents’ house at Godric’s Hollow that same quiet, comfy tidiness Scorpius remembered. It was, after all, the first homely place he’d ever lived that felt like home.

Scorpius put his pack of beer on the coffee table anyway. ‘I’ve been in a land of eternal night. I don’t even know what morning is any more. You know how bad it is to try to keep a normal sleep cycle when you’re travelling; this was ridiculous.’

‘I hear you were presumed dead again.’ Albus shrugged. ‘Don’t worry, I was cut off from the world, I only heard about it once it was all over.’

‘I was only presumed missing, which is an improvement. Or they’re assuming I will never die, just to save on paperwork.’ Scorpius turned, and couldn’t help but return the smile. ‘I hear you’re a bloody hero, yet again.’

To his surprise, Albus winced. ‘Is that what the media’s saying? I’m the hero?’

‘You didn’t save thirty people and capture one of the Council of Thorns’ top lieutenants?’

‘Actually, no. Eva did.’

‘Ah.’ Scorpius sat down. ‘The media might find that less palatable.’

‘Which is ridiculous; she was amazing and took on most of Geiger’s squad single-handed…’

‘You’d think the press would like a good redemption story. I think they like Harry Potter’s son being a badass more.’ He looked to the kitchen door, still and silent, and then upstairs. There was no sign of Ginny, no sign of James. Hogwarts term trundled on and kept Lily away. So there was only one thing for it. He looked back at Albus. ‘If we’re not having beer, can you at least be a bit more like your Mum and compulsively make sure I’ve got a cup of tea?’

Scorpius waited until Albus had sufficiently flapped around as a guilty host, waited until he had a steaming mug in his hands, before he fixed his gaze on his best friend and said, ‘So you’re talking more easily about Saida.’

He wasn’t surprised when Albus turned bright red. ‘I don’t - we -’

‘Did you wine and dine her? I told you that would work.’

‘Actually, I got presumed dead and then she needed to save me from the clutches of evil dark wizards.’

Scorpius sipped his tea. ‘That’s close.’

Albus hid his embarrassment behind his own mug. ‘Yeah. Kind of. She had every opportunity in South Africa to be who I was afraid she was. She could have fled, left everyone to die and saved her own neck. It would have been so easy. But she didn’t.’ The corners of his lips twitched. ‘I always saw someone in her. Even back when I thought she was Lisa Delacroix. When I found out she’d been a spy, I thought that person had been a lie.’

‘Sounds more like,’ said Scorpius, ‘you saw who was inside all along. Even if she didn’t know it.’ He huffed gently. ‘You’re good at seeing that person in people.’

Albus looked at him, and his expression sank. ‘What happens now?’

His throat tightened. ‘I don’t know. Rose and I found an answer on Baffin Island, but that’s long lost. Matt apparently made huge progress while we were away.’ He drained the tea and reached for the pack of beer. ‘So I came here for a drink and to not think about it all, and have you heard from your Dad?’

‘I - yeah.’ Albus took a beer as if he didn’t know how to argue. ‘The Thornweavers are weakened and on the back foot since South Africa; they took heavier losses than they expected. But there’s still plenty of Inferi in Greece, and Lethe’s a really good way to discourage people from fighting. They have fewer witches and wizards than us, but…’

‘But a zombie army and evil plague at their disposal.’

‘It’s getting easier as the IMC exerts more power. Lillian Rourke’s been overruling heads of state in Russia and the US to make them send more forces to help in Europe and Africa. All but removing Halvard from office kind of proved she’s ready to use her emergency powers, so people are cooperating. They don’t want to be next, or at least lose face going head-to-head with her.’

‘That’s a significant improvement on world powers bickering about jurisdiction instead of taking action.’ Scorpius scratched his nose. ‘Reports suggested my mother was in South Africa.’

Albus winced. ‘Yeah. I - I lost track of her in Nairobi, I’m afraid.’

‘Funny thing.’ He cracked open the beer and had a swig. ‘Everyone’s lost track of her since Nairobi.’

‘Something’s happened to her?’

‘Or she chose to disappear.’ Scorpius stared at his drink. ‘I have the horrible feeling that it might not have just been my father who was involved with the Council. We talked to a Thornweaver on Baffin Island; he said my mother was there when I came back through the Veil. I can’t really remember what happened, but that… that fits.’

‘A Thornweaver told you this - they might be lying -’

Why? What’s the gain? This guy thought I was going to be handed over to Raskoph and killed, he wasn’t interested in manipulating me.’

Albus sighed and put down his drink. ‘I suppose we’ll know more when we find your father. Gregory Goyle will report back within two weeks.’

If I have that long, Scorpius thought, just as the fireplace burst into emerald flames with a roar of magical energy.

Once the fires of Floo subsided, Rose stood there, rolls of parchment under her arm, hair wild, eyes wide. Scorpius wondered when she’d last slept, because she’d looked in a state when emerging from the bunk tent in Helluby earlier, and he didn’t think she’d rested much at all on their sleigh ride to the ends of the earth and back.

‘I’ve got - I don’t -’ She stared at them both, then hurled the papers to the floor and let out a long, frustrated string of swear-words, including some in languages Scorpius didn’t understand and suspected were long-dead.

Albus sprung to his feet. ‘Rose, what’s wrong?’

‘Nothing. Nothing is wrong. I’m a fucking genius, in fact.’ Her gaze snapped up, eyes blazing as fierce as the Floo when she looked at Scorpius. ‘Matt and I just cracked a ritual to destroy the Chalice. We’re pretty sure it’s going to work.’

He waited for the horror to hit him. He’d been hoping, hadn’t he? Hoping since the start, deep down, that there would be another way. Hoping even more when he’d heard of the Styx under Ultima Thule, hoping even once it was collapsed. If he hadn’t hoped, he wouldn’t have kissed Rose, wouldn’t have risked breaking everything all over again if he hadn’t thought there was a chance.

But no gut-punch came. No shock, no astonishment, no bitter disappointment. So all he said, expression flat, was a low, dull, ‘When do we do this?’

‘There’s no deadline set, no plan to -’

‘How soon can you do this?’

Rose put her hands on her hips and didn’t look at him when she said, ‘Probably the day after tomorrow.’

Scorpius nodded, and felt the cold return to him when he said, ‘Then that’s when we do it.’

What?’ Albus slammed his drink down. ‘Just because we can do this doesn’t mean we should -’

‘Al, you said it yourself, the IMC is struggling against the Council only because of Lethe, of the Inferi! Without them, the Thornweavers are massively outnumbered and don’t have a chance!’ Scorpius rounded on him. ‘With Lethe destroyed and the Inferi gone, we could see Greece and South Africa freed within the week!’

‘At the cost of your life?’

‘How can you think - how can anyone think - that my life is worth more than that? How is it anything less than massively irresponsible to keep me alive at the cost of victory?’

‘How is it anything less than monstrous to sacrifice you?’

‘I’m choosing this!’ He all but stamped his foot.

‘No. No, you’re not.’ Albus stabbed a finger at them both. ‘This isn’t a real choice. This is someone holding a wand to your throat and saying “choose”, only it’s not your throat, it’s the world’s throat. Nobody has to die to save the world.’

Scorpius forced himself to let out a slow, calming breath. ‘What would you do, mate, in my shoes?’

‘That’s not the point.’

‘It really is.’

Albus scowled, then rounded on Rose. ‘What about this answer you found on Baffin Island?’

Her breath caught. ‘It’ll take forever to dig through the rubble of Ultima Thule. We don’t have the time.’

‘I cannot believe,’ Albus snapped, ‘that you’re going along with this. That you helped with this.’

‘That I helped?’ She took a step back. ‘I’ve done what I had to do. We’ve all done what we had to do. And I’m actually listening to him, unlike you!’

‘I’m not listening because this is insane; we were going to find another way!’

‘And we’re out of time! You can’t run away from this one, Al -’

Enough!’ Scorpius snapped his hands up as the two cousins squared off against one another, family tempers on a collision course he wasn’t sure the Potter home could survive. ‘We tried to cheat death! It didn’t work! So we - all of us - are going to have to do what we’ve done since the start: step up even when we didn’t want to.’ That startled them out of their blossoming anger. ‘I remember what I told Professor Lockett before we went to shut down Phlegethon: that we didn’t have a choice, but we were choosing this.’

Albus’ shoulders slumped. ‘That was different.’

‘Not much. We could have hidden. We could have let others take the risk. We could have delayed and looked for another way. And you know what - if we’d done that, Methuselah probably wouldn’t have died. But who knows who would have, or how many? And he knew that when we first set off, he knew that when he marched into that ritual and died to save everyone. He didn’t have to. He could have let me.’

I’m the best at this.

‘It was a choice,’ he pressed on, before the ghosts smothered him. ‘Just like this is. And I am choosing, I’m not just accepting the situation, I’m not…’ Scorpius looked between them wildly. ‘I’m not being the dead man walking. The dead man walking didn’t come over for beers with his best mate; the dead man walking didn’t kiss you because he had hope. I tried to be him, and you didn’t let me, neither of you. And that makes this harder, but I’m not sorry you did that. Because it means I know what this choice means. I know what I’m giving up. And this is my choice.’

They were swimming before his vision now, so he blinked hard and drew a ragged breath through a throat tightening with the threat of a sob. ‘And you two can’t be at each other’s throats right now because I bloody need you -’

It was Albus who reached him first, but he didn’t know if he’d led or physically dragged Rose over to him, and it was his arms wrapping around them both as they clutched at each other, all three of them.

And finally he broke and sobbed, because with all he’d sacrifice with his life, they were what he’d forever needed the most.

* *

It was late by the time Matt let himself into his flat, so weary and distracted that he almost jumped out of his skin at the sight of the crackling fire and the silhouetted figure sat before it. ‘Merlin!’

‘It’s just me!’ Selena got to her feet, expression wry. ‘Sorry. This was meant to be a nice surprise. Not a heart attack.’

‘No, no, it’s just been a long day.’ He tossed his bag to one side and scrubbed his face with his real hand. ‘I forgot I gave you a key.’

‘You did. And there’s drink. And food. Don’t worry. I didn’t cook it.’ She gestured to the coffee table. ‘Muggle developments are amazing. They mean I can go into a shop and have a hot pizza waiting for me. Also, they mean I don’t have to cook.’

‘Your cooking isn’t that bad.’ By the time he got to the couch, all remaining energy had drained from him, and he collapsed next to her with a grunt. ‘But this looks great. Thanks.’

She opened the pizza box and put it between them. ‘How’s work?’

‘I’m sorry I told you about the ritual by note.’ He caught her wrist as she reached for a slice, met her gaze. ‘I thought you should know, but there’s still been work to do, enacting the principles… just because we have an answer doesn’t mean there’s not more to do.’

Selena met his gaze. ‘It’s fine. This wasn’t a surprise. I knew you’d get something once we found Cantref Gwaelod. This is a little sooner, but I was counting in days.’

‘It’s just a matter of work by now. Process. I’d be surprised if we don’t have it done by close of business tomorrow. It’ll be best done in de Sablé’s tomb in the Parisian catacombs, the place was built to hold the Chalice and is still infused with its energies from decades of it being stored there. And there are no unstable side-effects like a Veil or Dementors. So we’ve got a Portkey to bring us there the morning after tomorrow.’ He let go of her hand and reached for pizza.

‘How’s Rose?’

Matt blew his fringe out of his eyes. ‘I don’t even know. She went to tell Scorpius and she was gone a couple of hours, but then she came right back. Got to work on the ritual. Even asked for de Sablé’s help. She was still there when I left, and so was he. I have no idea what she’s trying to achieve.’

‘Find a loophole,’ Selena theorised. ‘Or a flaw so it can’t be done. Or, perhaps, she’s accepting it’s inevitable and so is being a Rose-flavoured control freak about it. Either in some, “if it’s going to happen, it’s going to happen right,” or in some self-flagellating, “if I’m endorsing my boyfriend’s death, then I should be the one who does it,” way. Nothing good.’

‘You really do know her better than me,’ he sighed. ‘We talked. A bit. It was awkward. I suppose that’s the least of anyone’s concerns right now, though.’

‘At least you can work together. There’ll be time for anything else.’

‘Yeah,’ said Matt. ‘Right after I kill Scorpius.’

She grimaced. ‘Matt, you’re -’

‘Hey, I know. Lethe needs destroying. It might even wipe out the Council’s current Inferi forces. And I can do it by the end of the week. That’s immense. And it’s come off the back of mastering the magics of an ancient artifact I spearheaded the discovery of, that was once thought to be a myth. Then going through old records and digging up a lost city of magic thousands of years old, a place nobody was sure existed. It’s the magical find of the century on top of the magical find of the century and it includes saving the world.’ He slumped back on the sofa. ‘I just have to kill Scorpius Malfoy.’

‘He always knew it would come to this.’

‘That doesn’t make it right.’ Matt scowled at the fire. ‘I was never the smartest. My magical theory isn’t as good as Rose’s, my practical isn’t as good as Albus’ and, well, you’ve heard Rose lament the hardships of being second place to Methuselah Jones.’ He paused. ‘Which is a super inappropriate thing for me to talk about.’

Selena leaned over and kissed him on the cheek. ‘It’s fine. I understand you nerds think this shit is important.’

The corner of his lip curled at the gentle tease. ‘I thought finding the Chalice, finding a way to destroy it, would be this crowning achievement for my life. Chocolate Frog Cards, here I come.’ He closed his eyes. ‘And now I wish… I don’t know. I wish I’d never found the lead to Ager Sanguinis. I wish I’d never deciphered de Sablé’s writings to take us to Tomar. I’d wish I never figured out enough of the letters from the Caribbean that you guys could finish the job, but then I’d be dead.’

Her hand came up to brush his hair from his forehead, a gentle, soothing touch. ‘This sucks. But you can’t hold yourself responsible.’

‘Maybe not, but then how would you cope if I didn’t come home, morose and self-doubting so you could be the cheerleader to smart guys?’ He met her gaze, kept his smile.

‘I do need my daily dose of man-pain, and you usually deliver.’ But she put the pizza box on the table and slipped onto his lap. When she wrapped her arms around him, at last he could surrender to his guilt and collapse against her, bury his face in her shoulder.

‘I’m sorry,’ Matt mumbled, voice muffled. ‘I know he’s your friend, too.’

‘Yeah,’ sighed Selena. ‘Basically no way this doesn’t suck for everyone. In my experience, that’s how doing the right thing works.’

* *

‘You should, perhaps, rest,’ said Reynald de Sablé, looking across the cellar under the warehouse at Rose. She was splayed on her front, cushions brought down in deference to the cold and winter, but still surrounded by notes and scribbles and books. Before her, surrounded by etchings and ritual markings carved and chalked into the stone floor, the Chalice of Emrys gleamed by candlelight.

‘You know when I’ll rest? In two nights. Because then it won’t matter.’ She didn’t look up.

‘In which case you should make the most of the time you have.’ De Sablé padded over and sat next to her, stiffly crossing his legs. ‘You should be with him.’

‘He’s with Albus. I have to use the time I have to make this right.’

‘You will not find a fault in the theory. We know too much of the Chalice now, of breaches and the Otherworld. The principle is sound. It will work.’

‘I know it’ll work.’ Rose kept on scribbling. ‘That’s what I mean by “right”. I have to make sure it works right. For instance, there’s a serious threat that trying to close the breach will cause a magical backlash that’ll kill everyone in a twenty metre radius, and we need at least two ritualists in the first place. Not to mention there might be people above us.’

‘Matthias and his men can tomorrow -’

‘I’m a better ritualist than them. The catacombs provide a strong element of death; we need something to balance it out, to meet that backlash if it happens…’

She felt his gaze fall on her, trying to bore through her shield of determined writing, the physical veil of her hair flopping down over her face. ‘You need not punish yourself.’

‘Who said anything about me punishing myself?’

‘You accept this as inevitable, and you feel responsible because you could not find another way. You feel that if you are not his saviour, you are his executioner. And so you must be his executioner in every way.’

Rose bit her lip and paused. ‘That’s not it.’

‘It is not?’

She brushed her hair behind her ear, and considered, when all of this was done, shaving her head. Then she wouldn’t have to think of him every time that damn springy lock defied her. ‘This is his choice. He’s embracing his sacrifice, he knows what he has to do. So I’m trying to - to respect that. Help it happen, and help it happen smoothly. Even if that makes this the last thing we do together.’ Her nose wrinkled, and she sat up. ‘That’s pathetic, isn’t it.’

‘It is honourable. You set aside your wishes to aid and support his. This way, when he faces his end, it won’t be as it was in Ager Sanguinis, as a victim of circumstance. He stands firm before his judgement and you are beside him. There is no shame in that.’

‘I feel like…’ She couldn’t meet his gaze. ‘I feel I’m letting him down. Like I should be trying to find another way. I don’t know another way, and I don’t have the time, and I could probably cripple this entire endeavour and give us more time but - but he doesn’t want that. But how could he want that? People are dying to Inferi and Lethe across the world; he’d be asking them to keep dying so he can have only a chance…’

‘You act as if right and wrong are in our hands here.’ De Sablé shook his head. ‘The misdeeds began long ago, undertaken by different men. We merely reap the fruits of their labour, even if that fruit is death. All we can do is live with the consequences. The moral choice is beyond us.’

‘We have to do the thing we can live with,’ Rose echoed, drawing her legs up under herself.

‘It is, perhaps, easy for me to say this. With the Chalice gone, my duty will be over. Because of the Chalice I had centuries to live; because of the Chalice, I did nothing with that time, saw little of the world and made little mark in it. It has been pleasant to see more these past two years. To see how wizardkind and the Laymen have changed.’ Reynald de Sablé smiled, actually smiled, and then he didn’t look like a dour, ancient relic of times gone by, but a man not that old after all. ‘I have spent too much time out of this world. When this is over, I would like to live in it a little.’

She dropped her gaze. ‘You’d deserve it.’

‘Perhaps. So would Scorpius Malfoy. I fear we will, none of us, get what we deserve in this life. But there is respite and joy after, especially for those who strive to better the world, and make the hard sacrifices. Know that he will be going beyond all hardship, beyond all loss.’

Rose heard de Sablé cut himself off before he invoked his religion, and felt a pang of guilt. It obviously gave him comfort, and obviously equipped him to give these answers. She drew a slow breath. ‘I thought I’d got him back.’

‘You did. You have had him back for all these weeks, and that is a gift. This life is fleeting, and we must cling to joy where we can.’ He sighed. ‘I cannot help but feel guilty. He and I were, both of us, touched by the Chalice. Only it granted me life, when it has granted him only death. We should remember this when he is gone. You have told me you were empty before, with him gone. You would do best to honour his sacrifice not just by making the most of the time with him now, but by living your life to the utmost when he is gone.’

Her quill paused a half-inch above the parchment, dripping ink, as her breath caught in her throat. ‘You’re right,’ she said at last, trying to push back the blood pounding in her ears. ‘You were both touched by the Chalice.’

‘I - that was not the point -’

‘No, I heard the rest, and you’re right. Make the most of time. Live to the utmost when he’s gone.’ Her head snapped up, and she forced herself to look him in the eye. ‘I just know how to make that ritual go off safely - for everyone else. I need you to take part in it.’

De Sablé winced. ‘If I agree, will you heed the rest of my words? The ones of life, not only work?’

Oh, I’m heeding them. Rose bent over the paper. Because I want to live when this is over.

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