The next morning, I get ready to go to school. I can pretend that he never came into my life. Like it's junior year. Just get back into the routine of things: shower, clothes, books, homework, breakfast, and bike.

When I get to school, he's not there. It's for the best.

Katie's sitting in her normal seat. "So… Alex?"

"It's over. I can do this without him. I don't need him. I don't need Taylor, Enitan, or Celestine. I'm fighting alone." I fight to keep my voice steady.

If I pretend I don't need him, eventually, I truly won't.

"Well, I'm here for you." She smiles at me.

"Thanks."

I've got bigger issues than my ex-boyfriend. Graduation's in three weeks. I already have my speech written, bought my gown, class ring, yearbook (all with that damned credit card) so now I just have to weather it out, then I can relax for a few months.

Three weeks.

The first week goes by normally.

Strangely, I haven't even been needing to fight. Nothing's been happening. No monsters, I haven't seen Taylor or Alex (and good riddance) and for once, it's calm.


"Etta!" Katie runs up to me while I'm getting on my bike. "You know what we should do this weekend?"

"What?"

"Go down to Davenport Beach, now that the weather's gotten better."

It'd get my mind off things, at the least.

"And you could bring your hot mentor guy too, right?"

Or… not.

"Maybe." I shrug. "Is Gregory coming?"

"Yeah, and Maddie too. I didn't invite Taylor, but she might come over anyway." She matches my shrug.

What the hell, why not. It'd be a distraction from my whining and brooding.

"Sure." I smile. "Let's do it."

"Sunday?"

I nod.


Later on that night, as I'm playing video games with the twins, I get a call from Alex. I ignore it. It's really and truly over between us.

Alexander Kim, the Healer of Twilight. It sounds so natural, so right.

Alexander Kim, the Prince of Day, however…

He starts poking at me over the tie.

Etta. Etta, please, talk to me.

Mental shields, mental shields… I close my eyes and shut him out.

My phone rings again.

Pain shoots through my head as he pierces one of my shields.

Etta, I'm begging, please, just let me talk to you for a few minutes!

How did he…? Right. Most powerful magician on the planet. I sigh and throw up a few more. What part of "it's over" doesn't he understand?

He keeps trying to contact me, and I focus on blocking him out, to the determent of my gaming skills.

"Etta!" Darnell screams, and I snap to attention. "Stop bleeding everywhere!"

I toss my controller to the floor and touch my face. Blood's dripping from my nose.

"Give me a moment," I say quietly.

I go to the bathroom and shove a few tissues up my nose. It's over. It's over. If he keeps this up, maybe I'll get a restraining order—

My blood runs cold as visions flash by my eyes. Visions of that night. Of how he tried to kill me, just because I wouldn't take him back.

Could he do it again?

He's so much stronger now. Sure, so am I… (at least I can use that spell without keeling over immediately) but compared to him…

Enitan. Are you with Celestine?

He's silent for a few minutes, but he finally responds, voice faint. I was. What is it?

I want to train today. Also, Katie and I are going to the beach on Sunday, and she wants you to go.

Also, ew.

I focus a bit. He and Celestine are in one of the guest rooms at Alex's house. Enitan's buttoning back up his shirt, while Celestine's just lounging around looking smug. (As per usual.)

From the way it looks, he had Celestine over a table—

I heard that. If you must know, I was the one over the table—

Don't want to hear it!

He lets out a quiet chuckle.

Ick. Ew. Why. It's like if Momma started listing off all her conquests. No. Ew. Why.

Prince Alexander wants to talk to you.

Tell him to piss off.

Language… I'll be over later tonight.

He closes the connection.

By the time I leave the bathroom, the twins have talked Momma into taking my place. I roll my eyes.

She's actually trouncing them. Heh.

Around nine that evening, Enitan knocks on the door.

"Good evening."

Whatever. I just let him in.

"I want to get stronger. I want to be able to survive if he snaps again. I don't want a repeat of last time."

"I understand." But he's not looking at me. He's looking through me.

What's going on? He and Celestine seemed to have patched things up, Alex isn't frying people… What the hell is wrong—

Dominique. She probably told him to go away again. Even if she wasn't married, she probably isn't cool with polyamory.

Most people aren't. I sigh.

God, we're all so broken. Except maybe Celestine. They seem fine.

…Smug little shit.

"Why does Alex want to be with me so badly?" I finally cry. "He knows we can't be together! He's just jerking me around… He knows that he has to be with Adeyemi…"

"He was always hardheaded, and you know this. I think he thinks that if he tries hard enough, he can fight fate."

But you can't. You never can.

"He does still love you."

"He's not him anymore."

"He's been crying over that since he returned from your house. 'I don't want to turn into him, I'm scared. Is she right? Please, tell me she isn't right?'"

"Is he going to lose himself?"

"It's true that his past self is influencing him both physically and mentally."

He's going to lose himself.

Something within me finally snaps, and I scream, "I don't want to do this anymore! Why me?! Why us?! Why did you have to ruin our fucking lives?"

"I didn't choose you." His voice hardens a little. "The soul of the Mercenary of Twilight was reincarnated into your body. I had no control over that."

I bury my face into my hands, shaking and sobbing. "I don't want to do this anymore. I just want to be normal… I just want to have a life, go to college, and get a job. I don't want to grovel at his feet for the rest of my natural life."

It was fine when I was with him. He gave me strength, balanced me out… I was happy. Happy when I was fighting alongside him, touching him, kissing him…

But now…

Everything's just gone to hell. Straight to hell.

"I'm sorry."

No, he's not. It's hollow. Fake.

Ugh. Alright. I need to put on my big girl panties, stop moping, and just pretend that he never came into my life. That it's September 9th of last year.

He saved me from Rhiannon, and that was it. I never saw him again.

If he tries to contact me, ignore him. Block his number, block him on Facebook, and have all his emails sent to spam.

"I don't want to see him ever again. Tell him that."

"Alright. He won't be happy about it, but alright."

"Could you mind wipe me and make it so it was just me fighting alone?"

He gives me a quiet smile, shaking his head. "I don't think that'd be a good idea. Anyway, let's get started."

And we do.


The next morning, Katie comes to pick me up in her mom's SUV. Maddie, Taylor and Gregory are already there, Maddie dressed in a sundress and hat, and Gregory and Taylor in matching t-shirts and shorts.

Enitan accompanies me. He's still dressed to the nines, except that he's switched out his normal pants for something lighter and left his jacket at home.

I, however, am just in a basic t-shirt and skirt.

"Nice ass, fatty."

"Shut up." I sling my bag over my shoulder.

I slip into the second row with Maddie and Taylor, while Enitan climbs into the back.

"Yay!" Katie cries. "Let's get going!"

And she speeds down the street.

For once, it's actually kind of nice out. Hot, but not too hot, with clear skies and a sea breeze. It'll be nice to just lay around for a bit.

We lay out our blankets in a slightly less crowded area. Katie and Gregory sit on one, Maddie and Taylor on another, and Enitan and I on the last one.

Katie peels off her clothes immediately, revealing a blue string bikini. Gregory's eyes practically pop out of his skull, and Taylor snickers at him.

The only swim suit I have is the one that Alex bought me for my birthday, since he promised that we'd go to Hawaii after we graduated.

I slip off my t-shirt and skirt, my face burning. All I have is a short black skirt with a loose fitting top that comes down to just below my navel.

Maddie has a normal bikini, while Taylor and Gregory are in swim trunks… and nothing else.

"For fuck's sake, Taylor, put on a shirt," Gregory says.

"Fuck you. There's nothing to see there anyway."

Well, she's right about that. She's practically flat. From twenty paces, she looks like a boy. Maybe she models. She has the looks for it. Tall, slender, with a nice face…

We all give Enitan a look.

"Alright, geezer," Taylor says. "Show off the goods."

"I'd rather not."

"Oh, come on," Katie says. "No one's going to judge."

"I might."

"If you all insist. It is nice out, after all. Maybe I'll do a bit of swimming."

He unbuttons his shirt, showing off dark, defined, muscle. Jesus tap-dancing Christ. No wonder Celestine was hitting that every night they were together…

He has a perfect six pack… Scars, light, just like the ones on his face, litter his torso.

Katie goes bright red, Maddie looks like she's about to faint, Gregory flexes his arm and sighs, and even Taylor looks like she swallowed a fish.

Next the pants. Just like the rest of him, his legs are defined and—

Ew! Get a hold of yourself. I pinch my arm. No perving on the manipulative father figure slash mentor. Just because you're single doesn't mean you can ogle him.

"Well, I'll be," she says, laughing. "The geezer's not bad looking after all. I was half expecting you to be a tub of lard like the fatty."

I glare at her.

"I mean it in a good way."

How the hell do you mean that in a good way?

"Greg, don't look like that," Katie says. "Help me put on some sunscreen."

Enitan just shrugs before stretching out.

…He needs to shave.

"Hey, fattycake. I need help with my sunscreen."

My face burns. Putting sunscreen on her? Could I even do that?

"Get Maddie to do it. And I told you not to call me that."

"I'll do it," Enitan says, giving both of us the stink eye.

"The hell you will. Hands off, old man."

"Fine then. Burn." And for a split second, the gentle façade he usually has, slips. Even he doesn't want to put up with her shit.

"…How do you two know each other?" Maddie asks.

"He's… a tutor," I Say, shrugging.

"Oh. Well, alright then." She sighs. "I just don't want you and Taylor to start fighting again…"

Taylor gives me a sly smile, and I shudder. She will never ever let that go.

Against my better judgment, I grab the bottle of sunscreen from her back and start rubbing it into her back. Yikes. She does cut ice with her shoulder blades. And her spine… Probably her hips too.

Maddie perks up. "Oh! Do you need any sunscreen, Mr.…?"

"Just call me Ezra."

"Mr. Ezra." She smiles at him and starts pawing him under the pretense of putting on sunscreen. No wonder we get along. She's just like Katie, underneath it all.

…But this is actually a bit gross. She just turned seventeen, and he's… well, at least he said he was twenty-five.

I heard that.

You can go to jail for things like that, you know.

He just closes his eyes.

"So, Mr. Ezra, how old are you? Do you have a girlfriend?"

Damn. Coming on strong. Let her down gently…

"I'm twenty-five. And yes, I do have a partner."

"A partner…?" The gears turn in her head before she deflates. "Oh. I see. Why isn't he with you?"

"They were busy. Babysitting."

Ouch. Harsh, much? Alex isn't—

Alex doesn't exist. I need to stop thinking about him.

"Oh, did you adopt a child? What do you do for a living?"

"As Henrietta said, I'm a tutor. Katelyn, her friend, wanted me to go with her, so I did." His voice is calm and even. Too calm.

"I see, I see. And what do you teach?"

"I like to think that I'm well-rounded. So, anything that my students need."

Poor Maddie.

"You can stop groping me now," Taylor says.

"There's nothing to grope," I mutter.

"I heard that." She rolls over. "Look, if you're so thirsty, then here,"

There's still nothing to grope. I rub sunscreen on her stomach.

"Oh, my god! You're actually doing it!" She bursts into laughter, snatching the bottle from me.

I squeeze it with one of my lines, and it explodes in her face, covering her from head to toe in sunscreen.

She screams, and I snicker.

Enitan gives me his trademark look, though there's a hint of a smirk to it.

"Are you alright?" I ask.

"Ugh! You did this!"

"You squeezed it too hard." I shrug.

She flicks a few globs of sunscreen at me. "I'm going swimming."

That was wrong, and you know it.

I just shrug and give him an innocent look.

Gregory and Katie wander off, probably go make out in the nearby caves.

This stinks. It really does. Part of me wishes that Alex was here. He'd be sitting next to me, telling me stories, cramming food down his throat and lollygagging around. He'd probably get a bit sunburned, and I'd probably poke fun at him a little, slapping him on the back and laughing at him when he yelps in pain—

A pang goes through me, and I sigh. No. No. No. He's gone. He's dead to me.

I wrap my arms around my legs, watching the nearby couples and families frolic. My hands twitch a bit.

"Are you alright?"

I look up. Maddie's giving me a look.

"It's just… after what happened at the charity ball… He lied so much. We had been together since November, and knowing that he was one of those vigilantes…"

"You feel betrayed. I get it." She nods.

"I broke up with him for good, but I still miss him."

"I don't blame you," she says. "I'd be devastated if I found out that someone lied to me that long. That they didn't trust me enough to tell."

Hey. Enitan.

Yes?

Is Maddie a candidate?

He gives her a once over and reads her palm, before shaking his head. The energy's just not right. She's a Night kingdom magician, but not nobility or royalty.

Well, that's that. Was worth a shot, though. If I had to grovel at anyone's feet for the rest of my life, she wouldn't be that bad.

"Oh! Mr. Ezra…" She tugs at a bit of her hair, and I roll my eyes.

I splay out on my blanket, trying to warm up. It's nice to get out and at least pretend that things are okay.


Taylor comes back about a half hour later, soaking wet. A few globs of sunscreen still cling to her hair.

"I'd really prefer it if you'd put on a shirt," Maddie says.

"No one's freaking out about it besides you and Greg."

"That's because they think you're a boy!" she stage whispers.

"So? The fatty's fine with it, right?"

"I don't care." I roll onto my stomach.

"See? The problem that you have is that you think that I give any fucks about what people think about me. If they think I'm a boy, cool. If they think I'm a slutty chick, no skin off my back. I. Don't. Care."

Must be nice to think like that.

Maddie sighs. "I just don't want you to get hurt."

"I can hold my own."

"How progressive," Enitan says.

"Shut the hell—" She freezes in place, clutching her chest, and the bracelet around her wrist gives off a faint glow. "I need to go."

Oh, great. We can't even have one day to ourselves—

And the familiar burst of pain shoots through my chest.

"I'll go with you." I snatch my brooch out of my bag, trembling. Even it's giving off a dark glow.

"Why? What's wrong? I'll go with you two—"

"No!" We both cry.

"I'll go with them," Enitan says.

"No one needs your help, old man." She grabs my hand and drags me away.


We scramble down the beach, trying to find a place to transform, but there's too many people, too many things, too many—

She finally drags me all the way to a secluded area.

"Kingdom of Night! Give me your power!"

"Kingdom of Day! Give me your power!"

As we transform, our energy mingles, taking a bit of my Night and her Day.

When it's all said and done, her outfit's different.

"What the—" She looks over herself.

It's not that much different, just a little frillier, with a longer jacket and slightly brighter colors.

"Weird. Well, whatever. The other geezer said that this could happen. Let's just find this thing and get it over with."

"I thought you said you weren't fighting anymore."

"I tried. Nearly passed out." She summons her revolvers, but they're different now.

…Sawed-off shotguns?

She lets out a quiet chuckle. "Now this change I can get behind. Fucking sweet. I feel so fucking powerful right now, you don't understand." Her laughter turns hysterical.

This isn't good.

I slap her across the face. "Cut that out."

She blinks a few times. "Is… Is… that what it feels like when you get more powerful? No wonder he rampaged, that feels fucking amazing. Better than sex." She shakes her head. "Sorry."

I didn't really notice. The first time I awakened further, my spine was halfway broken, and the second time I wasn't in my right mind.

But… I understand where she's coming from. It's like a euphoria that shoots through your veins, through your weapon, you soul and back again. It almost makes you feel invincible. Like a god. Better than the insects that we call human beings.

I shudder, fighting the urge to run my hands up my arms. Goosebumps have popped up all over them from… the magic? Power?

"Let's just get this over with."

"R-right."

It's another huge monster, crawling out of the ocean like Godzilla. Great. Whoever the hell is doing this needs to stop.

"Well? Let's get started, Miss Mercenary." She gives me a half lidded smirk. "Think we can do it?"

"I know so." I tap my sword's blade on the ground. "Midnight Revolution Annihilation!"

"Shining Target Breaker!" She plants her feet into the sand as her shotguns glow. A split second later, two enormous bullets of green light burst from them, mingling with the wave of shadows from me.

They pierce the monster through the heart, and it lets out another, if weaker, roar.

"God, this feels so good," she mumbles.

I bite back a moan. She's right. My whole body's tingling and alive, and crisscrossing lines of dark blue magic cover my entire body.

"Spiraling Piercer!" she screams, and an enormous spiral of energy slams the monster in the face. "Finish it off!"

"Darkness Illusionary Slicer!"

And with that, the monster bursts into pieces, shattering into white power which harmlessly falls into the ocean.

And for once, the police didn't show up.

"What a fucking rush!" She runs her fingers through her hair.

Enitan appears a few moments later. "Are you alright?"

"Am I alright?" she pants. "I feel better than alright. I feel great!"

I force myself to take deep breaths. "Y-yeah. I'm alright."

"Job well done." He nods.

A small crowd's gathered around us, murmuring about what they should do.

"It'd be in our best interests to leave," he says.


I grab her arm and teleport us back to where we transformed.

As soon as we drop our transformations, she shoves me against a tree and forces her lips on mine.

I shove her away. "What the hell is wrong with you?"

"I just…" She's still panting, voice husky. "I don't know."

And she kisses me again, biting at my lower lip hard enough to draw blood. Her hands roam up my body. I moan against her, heat pooling between my legs, my knees going weak, my hands trembling.

"I can make you feel twenty times as good as he did," she murmurs.

She could… couldn't she? I could move on with her. WE had already gotten so far…

One of her hands idly plays up my thigh.

I grab it. "No."

"No?"

"Not here."

She gives me her trademark sly smirk. "Later?"

"M-maybe," I choke out, unable to look her in the eye. "I don't even know if I want to be with anyone right now."

"I thought you had dumped him." She laughs at me. "Now that I think about it, I don't even know what I was thinking. I just wanted to get off. All that power… Wow. I'm going back. See ya later, fatty."

"We're going to the same place." I follow behind her, wiping at my mouth. "Did you have to bite my lip off?"

"Some chicks are into that?" She shrugs.

"I'm not."

"Oh, you're that type. Just want to be pampered and spoiled and fucked until you can't even remember your name."

Ugh. Why is she always so blunt?

I straighten out my swimsuit. Even though it's completely and truly over between me and Alex, I still kinda feel bad.

…Does this make me a lesbian?

No. I still had—have—had feelings for Alex. I sigh.

"I get what's going on," she says, knocking me out of my thoughts. "You want to be with me, but it's the parentals. They're probably the church every day type, right? If you brought me home, we'd probably both get burned at the stake." She laughs at me.

I stay silent. Why is it that everyone's able to read me like Cosmo? This is getting ridiculous.

"Part of me just wants to see the fallout." And she vanishes.

Ugh. I need to stop making out with people and focus on the more important things in life, like:

One. Who's sending out these monsters.

Two. Getting ready to graduate.

By the time I get back to our spot, Katie and Gregory have returned. Hickeys dot her neck, and Gregory seems smug. Great.

Taylor's just lounging around while Maddie frets over her, and Enitan's giving me one of his looks.

"What is it?"

"Celestine wanted me to give you this." He hands me a piece of paper.

Etta, it's me, Alex. I'm sorry that I scared you.

It's in Enitan's handwriting. I narrow my eyes and rip it up. God, he just won't leave me alone.

"I thought I told you to tell him that I didn't want to see him again."

He shrugs. "I did. That doesn't mean that he has to listen to me."

"Well, tell him again."

Taylor lets out a quiet snort. "Getting stalked by the crazy magician?"

I glare at her.

Enitan sighs. "I think you should talk to him."

"I think I shouldn't. And you know what? I know what's best for me."

Maddie bites her lip. "Etta. Taylor. Once we get back to the house, can we have a private conversation?"

A… private conversation? Ugh. She probably spied on us behind Enitan's back. We're screwed.

In hindsight, I should have seen this coming, however.

The rest of the day goes by uneventfully, with Taylor attempting (and partially failing) to flirt with me, Gregory and Katie merging into one person, and Enitan and Maddie just trying to not look and occasionally swim.


When we get back to Maddie's house, she takes us to the back porch.

"Um…" She looks at the ground.

"Spit it out, or I'm leaving." Taylor taps her foot. "I want to take a shower."

"Well…" Her voice is tiny. "Please don't hurt me."

"I give her a strange look. "I wouldn't. She probably would, though—"

She elbows me, and I choke down a gasp of pain. Gregory's right. Her elbows are like knives.

"For fuck's sake. Spit it out."

"Right." She clears her throat. "I know that the two of you have magical abilities."

Taylor gives her a look. "Those are big words. Prove it."

"I'm not going to call the police, but is it reversible? Is it contagious? How did you get these powers?"

…Could I mesmer her? I've already taken a step down that dark path by doing it to my own mother, she'd only be one more…

"I said, prove it." Taylor narrows her eyes.

She cowers. "I… I saw you use magic."

"Alright then. Fucking prove it. Gimme pictures, videos, or get the fuck out of my face. I'm not going to get ripped up by the government because you want to kick me out the house."

"I can't." She cowers even more. "Don't hurt me!"

"Why are you lying?" I ask. "Do you really hate her that much?"

"If you really saw us do magic, then what was it? What did we do? Pull rabbits out of hats? Well? Put up or shut up."

Jesus Christ. Her being so aggressive only makes her look more suspicious. I sigh.

"Well… Um… Henrietta had a pair of guns that could shoot lightning, while you had a sword that could control darkness."

What. Is she really that blind? Even in our magician forms, we look completely different. She wears a green and gray jacket, dress shirt, and long pants, while I wear a blue and black dress. I have blue hair, she has green, she's tall and thin, I'm short and fat…

Taylor gives me a look, shaking her head. We're probably both thinking the same thing.

"If you're going to lie, at least get your story straight," I say, voice flat. "The shorter vigilante has the sword, and the taller one has the guns. I've seen them enough that I'd know."

"…Oh…"

"I'm leaving. I'll see you at work."

"Wait!" she cries.

Now what? Probably now that she doesn't think we'll smite her, she's grown a pair.

Wow. Taylor's starting to rub off on me.

"Wait. Do you know them personally? If so, we should turn them into the police. What if they do what Alexander did, but worse? There's two of them. What if more people die?"

My blood runs cold. I… We… We wouldn't. I know this. We have better control.

I give Taylor another look, and she shrugs.

"I don't," I say. "I just kind of find them interesting to watch, you know? Having that much power, being able to save lives… I nearly got mauled by one once, and Alex saved me. I didn't even know it was him. He was right. They're doing the right thing."

"Now they're doing the right thing." She frowns, putting her hands on her hips. "I'm just worried."

"I'm not," Taylor says. "I'm leaving. Don't waste my time again."

"I'm going to go pry Katie off Gregory."

…Something's not right here. Why would she confront us like that? She has to know more than she's telling.

Rhiannon's words echo through my head. Other reincarnations are starting to come into their magic…

Could she have some weird past life memories? That'd probably make her suspicious…


When I get home, the twins aren't there, and Momma's playing with her hair and watching TV.

"Etta. You're back. Are you okay?"

I nod. "I'm fine. Mr. Ezra and I went to the beach with a few friends of mine."

"Oh…" She starts tugging at her hair again. "Alright. Since he's with you, I feel a bit better about you going out."

"He's not going to hurt me."

Well, hopefully, he's not going to hurt me.

"You don't know that. I always knew that there wasn't something right about that boy. He was too nice. No one can naturally be that kind. It was like he was a goddamn robot." She sighs. "He came by here earlier looking for you, and I chased him off. He left you this." She motions to a small package on the coffee table.

I grab it. It's a box about the size of my hand, covered neatly in dark blue wrapping paper.

The rational part of me says to just throw it in the garbage and pretend he never came.

But… His energy's still on it, and it's warm to the touch. The other part of me of me just wants to clutch it to my chest and never ever let it go.

I open it.

It's a jewelry box, one of those wind up ones with a little dancer inside of it. Inside's a note, and a bracelet.

Wind it up.

This isn't going to end well. I turn the key a few times, and tinkling music echoes from within the box.

Oh, Christ, It's the song that he wrote for me back in January.

Now that I've gotten a closer look, the dancer's supposed to be me in my magician form. She's posed like someone's ballroom dancing with her. It's realistic to the point where it even has a few of my scars painted on.

I slam it shit. Why does he keep doing this to me?

On the other side of the paper is a note in his scrawly handwriting.

Dear Etta,

I'm so sorry. I… You're right. Soren is influencing me. But I refuse to lose myself. I won't let him win. I want to be yours again. I want to be Alexander again. I want to be the man who you fell in love with.

Just… Please, let me meet with you again. You know that Taylor's no good for you. She's just using you. She just wants you for your power and body.

Part of the paper is smudged. Probably from him crying.

But I can read it in his voice—his old voice.

I miss you. I'll do anything to get you back. Anything. I'll give you the world. Literally. You know that I can do it.

Celestine's right. I'm going to be the leader of the world.

As his handwriting gets scrawlier and more frantic, my heart speeds up, and my hands start to shake.

I can give you anything you want if you take me back. Please. I'm begging.

I love you. I don't care about Adeyemi. It's true that we'll have to merge the crystals to break the seal, but after that, I'm leaving her. If I can't do that, I want you to be my second wife.

The second wife.

My kneejerk reaction is to just tell him to piss off, but another, smaller part of me thinks that it's better than nothing.

I know that you're scared. I'm not going to lie. You have a few—no. A lotof reasons to be.

His handwriting relaxes a little, becoming loopy and light.

But I want to prove to you that I love you. That I'll never hurt you again. I didn't have control, and I'm better now.

Please come visit me again before my trial.

I'm a little afraid for your safety and Taylor's too. You know why.

But when you're ready, just tell Enitan and Celestine, and I'll meet with you.

Love,

Alexander S. Kim

I just sit there, clutching the paper in my hand for what feels like hours.

Momma finally clears her throat and says what we've all been thinking. "He's not… all there, is he?"

Enitan just shakes his head.

"I know that the two of you know more than what you're saying. What is wrong with him?"

"I—"

"I'm not done. I know that wasn't a car accident you were in. Car accidents don't cause rope burns around your neck. He… He tried to kill you, didn't he? With his magic?"

"If he tried to kill me with his magic, we wouldn't have been pulled from burning wreckage."

She turns to Enitan. "Not if someone was covering for him."

"I'm not sure what you're implying, Mrs. St. Martin, but I wasn't there when Henrietta and Alexander were in the accident."

"They why were you there when I arrived at the hospital?"

"Alexander contacted me before the ambulance got there, but after the accident. Do you really think I could take his car, crash it, and arrive at the hospital five minutes later, completely unharmed?"

"Normally, no," she says, "but… but if you were like him, if you had those strange powers…"

Knowing him, he drove it out somewhere, crushed it up with his lines, and mind wiped or mesmered everyone that got too close.

She's so close to finding out. Part of me just wants to out myself to her. All I've been doing to here is lying to her, making her worry.

But would she really worry any less if she knew that you were a magician? a nasty voice in the back of my head says.

No. She wouldn't. If anything, it'd make it worse. Every time she had to watch me go out there, fight monsters, evade the police, and pray that when I went out the door, I'd come back… It'd take years off her life.

And that's saying that she took it well. If she took it badly, she could just call the cops and have me hauled away.

"Mrs. St. Martin, I feel like you need to relax." His eyes flash, and she goes rigid.

Ugh. And there's with the brain tinkering again.

"I promise I'll do everything in my power to keep you, Henrietta, and your sons safe. It's my job, after all."

"…Right. You're right."

Maybe he'd get the hint if I told him to leave in person.


The next day, after school, I head out to Alex's house.

When I knock on the door, his grandfather answers. Crap. He's still there? You'd think he would have gone back to Seattle by now.

"Hi, Mr. Steiner," I say, staring up at him. Jesus Christ. I barely come up to under his chest. He might be even bigger than Enitan, and that's just ridiculous. "Um. I was wondering if Alex was home. I wanted to talk to him."

He's silent for a few moments, just looking me over. "She's in her bedroom."

Oh, wow. Some granddad you are.

I squeeze by him.

Alex's dad is at the dining room table talking to some type of government agent. He glances at me. "Oh, Etta… Alex is in his bedroom. It's good that you finally came to see him."

This is a horrible idea. Part of me wants to turn around and go back home. But I've already gotten this far.

Worst thing that can happen is that he tries to kill me again, right?

I lean my bike on the stairwell before going upstairs.

Victoria's watching Olivia play with dolls while she messes with her cellphone. Huh. Why does a ten-year-old have a cellphone anyway? And a brand new one? I didn't get a cellphone until I went to Johanna Prep, and that was a hand-me-down from Momma.

Alex's mom is in the guest bedroom, filling out paperwork, while Alex's door is closed. Beautiful string music wafts from under the door.

You shouldn't bother him.

You should go back home.

Another nasty voice. I sigh. Goddammit, self, stop being a wuss and get it over with.

I knock at his door and the music stops.

"Yes?"

At least his voice sounds normal. Like his.

"Grandfather, you can go—" The rest of the sentence is in Korean, but even I can get the gist of it. Go fuck yourself. "I'm not letting you in."

I swallow. "It's me. Etta. I came to see you."

He yanks open the door. He looks normal. Like him, with choppy black hair, freckles and big black eyes.

This was a horrible idea.

You'll fall in love with him again.

He squeezes me to him, and I bury my face in his chest. He even smells the same.

"It's been so long…"

It's been a week.

Celestine's lounging on his bed. "I knew she'd come back eventually."

"Shut up," I snap.

He scratches the back of his head. "You got my letter, right?"

"That's why I came. Alex, it's over. Really, and truly over. I don't know why I have to keep saying this. There's nothing you can give me—" My voice breaks and my eyes burn. "There's nothing you can give me that will make you take you back. I don't' want to hurt myself for you. This is the last time you'll ever see or hear from me again."

"I—"

"I'm not done. I want you to leave me alone. If you keep bothering me, I'll testify against you at your trial."

No. God, this hurts so bad… I still… I still…

"What—"

"I said I wasn't done. I do love you, and I'm pretty sure I always will. But it's not going to work out. That's it. I'm leaving."

"Please don't do this."

"I have to live my life. I'm not going to be the second wife… some glorified concubine. I have more dignity than that."

"Can I ask one last question?"

"Yes?"

"Is it Taylor? Do you love her?"

Do I love Taylor? It's true that I feel something around her, but I couldn't tell you what it was. When in her magician form, she's charming, powerful, beautiful, but in her civilian form…

"I don't know." And with that, I burst into tears again. God, I'm so weak. So stupid. I should have known this was never going to work out.

He squeezes me to him even tighter and I stumble into his bedroom. "Let's just talk it out, alright? Just you and me." He motions for Celestine to leave the room.

They shrug and walk out. "I'll be outside if you need me."

Alex sits me down onto the bed. "I'm so glad to see you. Now, let's get to the root of the problem."

I can't look at him. "The problem is that I can't be with you. I want to. I want to so badly… I want to touch you again, kiss you again—"

Before I can react, he's kissed me, opened my mouth, and let me taste him. He's sweet. He's always been sweet.

"There."

"We can't be together," I say firmly. "I'm not going to be selfish and force this world to be stuck in this broken state, just so we can be together. As soon as we find Adeyemi, you'll fall head over heels in love with her, and watching you leave…"

He kisses me again. "I won't leave."

You say that now…

"I'm leaving."

"Wait. Just wait." He brushes a few of my braids out of my face. "Etta…"

My heart's racing, and my hands are trembling. This is just pathetic. I can fight monsters twenty times my size, but being in the same room as him makes me want to curl into a ball and cry.

He murmurs my name again and pulls me into his lap. I sigh, and he kisses my neck, running his hands up my body and slipping off my shirt. His hands burn like fire, and his breath's hot on my neck. Part of me's sure that there'll be burn marks on me when he lets go. I squirm in his grip.

"I love you so much."

And I love him.

I freeze as he cups my breasts and whispers sweet nothings against my skin. My heart races even more, and I can't breathe. I'm gonna have a fit, a heart attack, a something.

Everything about this is wrong.

"No!" I finally cry. "I can't do this!"

"I thought you wanted this."

"I do."

But I can't have it.

"But we can't. You're going to be with Adeyemi, and I can't just keep… I just can't. I'm sorry." I snatch my shirt.

"You said you'd be with me until we found Adeyemi."

"I won't fall in love with you again."

I'm not going to be weak. Weakness would be falling back into his arms.

…Maybe just once. I can get my fill of him and move on.

"Y-you're already in love with me."

I finally force myself to look him in the eye. Soren's not there. Just Alex. But how much of that is training, and how much is just an illusion?

"My mother doesn't trust you," I say softly.

"She shouldn't," he says, and my blood runs cold. "I have control now, but I know because of the sheer level of power I have… Even my own parents are afraid of me. My mom won't touch me, and my dad… He's good at hiding it, but I can see the fear in his eyes."

I run my hands down his arms and neck. He has me at my most vulnerable. He could kill me right now, and I wouldn't be able to do a thing.

He pulls me back into his lap. "I'd give you the world."

"I don't want the world. I just want this whole magician nonsense to disappear. That we were normal."

He sinks his fingers into my hips, laughing. "I tried. I'm not that powerful, and I don't think I'll ever be."

I had a feeling.

"But do you really want to be normal?" he whispers. "The power feels so good when you use it."

If he's right about one thing, it's that. It's amazing. It makes you want to use your magic more, to…

How do Celestine and Enitan deal with it?

Maybe with enough time, it stops being pleasurable. I'll have to ask.

His hands slip up my body again, and I choke back a moan, still staring at him. Soren's still not there. He's not going to attack me again, even if I walked out right now.

Right.

I kiss his neck and let him slide me out of my skirt.

This is wrong. But I've been craving him for so long…

"What happened to your lip?"

"Taylor."

"Oh…" His face scrunches up. "I see…"

I rest my head on his shoulder.

"I'm not angry, just… She's not nice."

Not nice is the understatement of the century. Maybe even the millennium.

"Well, neither am I."

"You're nicer than her. She'd probably rip my hair off if she had the opportunity." He caresses my cheek.

Yeah. Especially after he trounced her in that fight.

"I've wanted to touch you like this since forever." He trails a finger across the light scars left over from the burns he gave me. I shudder.

"God, I'm so sorry. I'll never hurt you like that again. I promise. I love you." And he pulls me down to the bed, crawling on top of me. He's heavier than usual, just a bit. So there is a bit of Soren left. It's obvious in his build. It's a bit more masculine, his shoulders broader, chest slightly flatter.

But it's not enough to make me run. It's just enough to give himself the body he always wanted.

He smiles at me. "I should have told you."

"So… this is what you meant by changing in stages."

Quiet laughter escapes his lips. "Yeah."

"Then why do you stay in that other form?"

"I have to actively use my magic to keep this up. I change back when I go to sleep."

Oh. There's always a catch.

"It's alright."

And he just kisses me again.

A few hours later, I wake up. Goddammit, self. No self-control at all. You came over to dump him for good and wound up getting your brains fucked out.

Alex sleeps soundly next to me. As he said he would, he's reverted back to that hybrid form.

I start pulling on my clothes. Best to tiptoe out and pretend this didn't happen. It was breakup sex. You hear me, self? Breakup sex. You're not coming over here again.

"…Etta?" He yawns, stretching.

I can't look at him when he looks like that.

"I'm going home." I pull back on my skirt.

I can't touch him when he looks like that.

"I didn't hurt you, did I? Soren's… a bit bigger than I thought he'd be."

"It's cool. I'm just a bit achy."

"Oh, my god! I'm sorry, I'll heal you—"

I don't want him to touch me when he looks like that.

After adjusting my hair and clothes, I get ready to leave.


Celestine's dozing off on the floor outside his bedroom.

I nudge them with my foot. "Some bodyguard you are."

"I'm awake," they mumble, sitting up. "You two are loud. Who knew that you had that much stamina? I'm pretty sure everyone in the house could hear you crying his name."

My face burns. Dear Lord, please let them be lying…

At least it's not like our first time, where I thought I was going to die. This is normal. Hopefully.

I stretch out again. As soon as I get home, I'm popping some Tylenol and taking a nap.

"I'll see you around."

"Are you sure that you don't want to have dinner or something?"

The tension in the house is palpable. Nope. It'd be in my best interest to get out as quickly as possible.

"No. I didn't tell my mom I was going to be over here."

"Well… Alright, then…" He reaches out for my hand, but I recoil.

Alex's dad and granddad's bickering's loud enough that it echoes throughout the enough house. Yeah. I'm leaving.

"Oh. Well, I want to meet with you, Taylor, and Dominique soon. I got a bit more information about the monsters."

"Okay."

"Are you sure that you don't want a ride?"

"Can you even legally drive anymore?"

"I'm pretty sure that any police officer that saw me would run away screaming."

How does he keep up that cheerful act? I know that if I were a criminal wanted for arson, manslaughter, and evading the police, and I was a powerful magician that everyone wanted to vivisect, but was too afraid to even try, I'd probably lock myself into my room and cry for days.

"Are you alright?" I ask.

"Yeah. I'm fine." He tugs back on his clothes. They don't quite fit. The buttons on his shirt pull a little, his pants cling to his legs nearly obscenely, barely covering his ankles.

"I mean, mentally."

The smile vanishes off his face. "I'm not going to hurt anyone again."

"I'm not talking about that. It's just… after all you've been through, you seem a bit… overly perky."

"Remember what I told you back in December? Just because I have my ups and downs doesn't mean that I can't smile. I want to put my best foot forward. When I become king—"

Another pang goes through me.

"—I'll have to keep on that mask twenty-four seven. So, I might as well get started. Don't get me wrong, I'm a bit scared about the future, but as long as I have everyone, I think I can do it!" He squishes my cheeks.

Yeah, that's Alex, alright. Even though he's in that form, the sunniness is still there.

"Y-yeah." It's all I can say.

He follows me downstairs.

His grandfather turns to him. "I was wondering when you'd be done. We need to talk."

He frowns. "I'm not talking to you."

"Alex, this is serious," his father says. "We really need to talk."

"I'll be going."

"No, Etta, you too. I think you should hear this."

This isn't going to be good.

The two of us sit at the dining room table across from them. Celestine pops up a few moments later, and scoots into a chair next to Alex.

The woman Alex's father was talking to smiles at him. She's an older woman, with graying blond hair and blue eyes. "Alexander. It's a pleasure to finally meet you."

"You too." He gives her his million-dollar smile.

"My name is Agent Angela Gerard, and I was sent by the FBI. Anyway, I have good news and bad news. Which do you want to hear first?"

"The good news, of course."

"Alright then. The good news is that you're not going to go to jail or a mental institution."

"Oh, that's great!" He grabs my hands.

One worry out of the way, at least.

Celestine blows a bit of hair out of their face. "I wouldn't have let him go to jail anyway."

"The bad news is that the government wants you to tell them about any other…" She spits out the next word. "magicians. Just so they can keep an eye on them, know about their powers and keep them from hurting others."

"No." His voice darkens. "I'm not outing anyone. Outing myself was one thing, but I'm not going to hurt other people. You can't make me."

Everyone at the table, sans his grandfather and Celestine, flinches.

"I don't know any of the others personally anyway, and I'm not going to let them be ambushed. We got together because we were magicians. We were chosen to fight these monsters… To fight for the greater good, and just because you're afraid of us doesn't mean that I'm going to let you control us. I know what you want to do. You're going to use us to hurt others."

His eyes flash a bright shade of red, and I squeeze his hand.

Agent Gerard goes sheet white. "P-please calm down. That's not what they want at all."

Liar. If they didn't want us, they wouldn't try to kill us when we were fighting. They want us under their control or dead.

"You must think that I'm stupid. Of course that's what they want. I said it once, and I'm saying it again. No."

"This is for your own safety."

"No, it's not. Stop trying to feed me lies. I'm not stupid. Do you know how powerful I am? I could strike you down where you stand. I want to know the truth!" He stands up and slams his hands on the table. Everyone flinches again.

My blood runs cold. He's right. Soren's still influencing him. He wouldn't have acted like that before.

Celestine glares at him. "Cut that out. Throwing your weight around is how you get overthrown."

"Right…" He takes a deep breath, closing his eyes. When he speaks again, his voice is back to normal. "I just want to know the truth."

"A-alright." She stares down at her paperwork. "You're right. They want to know how to replicate your powers."

"I knew it," Celestine says. "That's impossible. Magic is innate."

She gives them a look. "And how do you know this?"

"Since he's been an idiot and outed himself, I will as well. My name is Celestine von Faust, and I'm a magician as well. The Mage of Twilight." They run their fingers through their hair. "The crystal around his wrist is the center of his powers, but if anyone else tries to use it, it'll hurt them."

They reach for it, but as soon as they touch it, a blinding flash of light emanates from it, and they flinch back, hissing in pain.

Alex grabs their hand and heals it. "Are you alright?"

"I'll be fine."

She goes even whiter than I thought I was possible. "I-I see."

"Every magician has an object that's the center of their powers. Normally, it's a small trinket, such as a pocket watch, bracelet, or ring, but when they're fighting, it turns into their weapon."

I've never seen Celestine's trinket.

They fiddle with their hair and pull out a large barrette with a small red crystal embedded in the top. "Here's mine. If you want to test what I said, you can." They give her a snotty little smile, and I roll my eyes.

"Kingdom of Day! Give me your power!" they cry. It glows, and in a split second, they're back in that white and gold outfit and holding their wand. "When a magician summons their weapon, it lets them revert back to their true, magical form, and it also functions as a minor disguise, so no one recognizes them. Like you."

Right. Longer hair, different colors, a new outfit…

They change back and pin their hair back up. "Therefore, there's no way to replicate that."

"And if their… power trinket was destroyed…?"

They narrow their eyes. "Impossible by normal means. You can't just step on it and try to break it. Throwing it into a fire, shooting it… It won't work."

She starts frantically taking notes. Oh, great. She's probably going to try and get his house nuked to kill him. I sigh.

"Prince Alexander, as it stands, is not a threat. He has proper control over his powers. I, personally, made sure of that. Yes, back when he didn't have control, he hurt people."

Alex finally speaks. "Right now, I just want to live my life. I know what I did was wrong. I just don't want to be used as a weapon, thrown in jail to rot, or get killed. I want to fight alongside the other magicians so we can figure out who's summoning those monsters and help people. That's it."

I sigh.

"Etta, I'm sorry that I lied to you for so long." He squeezes my hand. "I didn't want you to worry about me."

"I'm more worried about you now."

Alex's dad clears his throat. "So… Agent Gerard. What are your findings?"

"Mr. Kim, I'll be blunt. The higher-ups are terrified of what he can do. Alexander, can you give me a full list of your abilities?"

He nods. "I can fly, control fire and light, heal people, teleport, and create shields. That's about it."

"And Mr. von Faust?"

"Flight, control of fire, light, and electricity. I can also negate other abilities if they're used on me."

"I see." She gathers up her paperwork. "There's nothing more I can do here. My findings are there's no point in going to trial, in trying to do anything, really. All he has to do is say no."

"Wait," Alex's grandfather says. "What's that supposed to mean?"

They really are terrified of him. Alex would probably go along willingly to trial. Jail, not so much, but it's not like he'd burn down the courthouse if he was found guilty.

"He's too powerful," she finally says. "Mr. Kim, I truly do hope that you can control your son. If not…"

She doesn't have to say the rest. We're doomed. He'll kill us all.

Alex goes pale. "I'm not going to hurt anyone. I just want to go back to school, start playing music again… I just want to be normal."

But we all know that can't happen. Even if he could pretend he was normal, no one else would. Everyone would be walking on eggshells around him, terrified that if they made one wrong move he'd destroy them with a snap of his fingers.

"We'll keep in touch," she merely says, then puts her paperwork away and leaves.

"Well, we'll see what I can do," Alex's dad says. "Johanna Prep graduates in a couple of weeks, so you'll have to redo the last term of your senior year. I could probably get UC Berkeley to defer your enrollment…" He gives his father-in-law a gentle smile. "Let's try."

He just sighs. "Don't enable her."

"Excuse me? I dunno if you've noticed, but I'm a boy. Stop calling me that."

"I'm leaving," I say.

"I'll take you home," he snaps. "Stop calling me a girl. Do I look like a girl to you?"

Before his grandfather speaks, Mr. Kim says softly, "Alex, don't. We've had this argument nearly twenty times, let's not make it a twenty-first. Do you remember what I said when you first came out?"

"That some people wouldn't accept me at first, and some of those never will."

"Right. And your grandfather's the latter. Don't do it."

He takes a deep breath and nods.

"I'm going to call Johanna Prep in the morning. Let's see if we can make this work."