“Hey, Damien.”She pushed the damp hair from her forehead as she walked into the cottage. Damien was sitting in the kitchen area, reading something and taking notes in a big notebook. “You know, I don’t think I’ve ever seen you doing scribe stuff.”
He blinked and looked up. “Hmm?”
“You know, scribe stuff. Book stuff? Not like the others.” She pointed to the books and notebook on the table.
“What are you talking about?”
“In Istanbul, it seemed like you were always on the phone or talking with one of the guys in a very solemn voice. Or ordering people around. You did a lot of that. I don’t think I’ve ever seen you doing any scribe kind of work.”
His face cleared of confusion, and he shrugged. “When I am a watcher, I have more pressing concerns. I don’t have time to spend with texts. Bringing you here, having this time when I’m not on guard, it’s probably good for me. It’s easy to forget what’s important.”
She saw him run both hands down his forearms. “Yes. Books. Stories. Our families. Our history.” Then his fingers ran over the dagger he wore at his waist. “Those are the reasons for living.”
Her sweat was beginning to dry, and the northern air was starting to chill her, so Ava started toward the bathroom. “I’m going to take a shower.”
“Sari has you training with Mala.” It wasn’t a question.
“Yep. She’s… well, so far we’ve just run a lot.”
He nodded, frowning in concentration. “Mala is a fierce fighter. Before the Rending, she often accompanied her mate into battle. She’ll be an excellent physical trainer.”
Ava hesitated but asked anyway. “What happened to her?”
Damien looked hesitant for a moment, but finally he said, “Mala and her mate never had any children, so during the Grigori attacks prior to the Rending, they both fought in the area around Lagos. The humans there…” He shook his head. “Mala and Alexander were fighting, and he was killed in battle. They were overwhelmed.”
Ava’s heart had clenched in her chest. “They killed her mate?”
“Yes. And she killed them, over ten Grigori, according to Zander’s brothers, but not before they clawed out her throat.” He lifted a hand to his throat, curling his fingers like claws as he scraped from his jaw down. “That’s what the Grigori do to Irina in battle. If they take their voice, they can’t work magic. If you silence an Irina, she’s far easier to kill.”
Ava shivered, but it wasn’t from the cold anymore. “And then she came here.”
“Sari and Mala had been friends a long time. I imagine Sari had to convince Mala to come, otherwise, she’d still be out there, hunting. But she’s very protective of her friends. If Sari asked Mala to come and help protect this haven, she’d do it.”
And that was the woman who was going to be her trainer. Fire-eyed Mala with the scarred throat and the battle-hardened muscles. Ava only hoped she didn’t die of exhaustion. Or embarrassment.
“Take your shower.” Damien motioned toward the door. “Astrid asked if you would have lunch with her after you got back. I imagine she’s in the medical clinic I saw near the road.”
“Yes, sir, Captain Watcher, sir.” She mock-saluted and scurried to the bathroom.
Ava shut the door and pulled off her sweaty shirt, turning to toss it in a small hamper before she froze.
Grief struck at the oddest times. Like a cat, it waited to pounce. She could go about her day, even talk about Malachi, ignoring the black hole that lived inside, then something little would swallow her up.
It was nothing, really. Just a man’s shirt hanging on the towel rod. A shirt like the ones he’d worn. The ones she’d teased him about not putting in the hamper. He left them draped on the clean towels or tossed on the ground. She’d found it irritating.
She pulled it off the towel rack and put it to her face, but it smelled wrong.
Ava buckled as if she’d been punched in the stomach, sliding down to the floor as her back scraped along the counter. A wretched sob tore from her throat, and she heard footsteps pounding.
She shook her head, gripping Damien’s shirt that smelled wrong. His voice sounded wrong. And his arms felt wrong. She couldn’t stop another sob. Or the next. Or the next.
Damien opened the door. “Oh, sister…”
As kind as Damien was, he wasn’t who she wanted to see.
She threw his shirt at him shouted, “It’s not fair!”
“I know,” he whispered, sitting next to her and gathering her in his arms. “I know it’s not.”
“We didn’t have time.” Her body shook with rage and grief. “We should have had time.”
“No, you don’t know. Sari may hate you, but she’s still here.” Tears were hot on her face and she hit his shoulders with clenched fists, even as he held her closer. “I just found him. I finally found him. And then he was gone.”
“I’m sorry, Ava.” He held her close. “I miss him too.”
“Everything is wrong. Everything hurts more.”
“I thought it would be better if I left. If I left Turkey, I thought he’d stay there. But he didn’t.”
“Of course he didn’t.”
“I see him everywhere. He’s everywhere. And he always will be.”
“And I hate him for that. For leaving me,” she choked out. “And for not leaving me.”
Damien didn’t say anything for a while; he just let her cry. And when the worst of it had passed, Ava whispered, “I know that doesn’t make sense.”
“Yes, it does.” He held her close, pressing her cheek against his shoulder. “He would have moved heaven and earth to stay with you, Ava. You know that.”
“But he didn’t, Damien. Of all the things he could do, he couldn’t do that.”
Damien ignored his lunch that was growing cold on the counter. Ava ignored her growling stomach. She sat on the floor of the maple-paneled bathroom with Malachi’s brother and allowed herself to feel more than she had in months. Until finally grief slipped away to hide its face until the next time.