She catches up with Feliciano after english, the last class of the day. She's been thinking. There's gremlins by the river, but there's bruises on Feliciano and she doesn't even know where they are this time. The chest? The back? The stomach? She doesn't know. She has to know. What kind of best friend is she, if she doesn't know?
"Let's hang out, I'll do the essay for you."
He raises his eyebrows. They look better than hers ever will and he doesn't even pick them. Bastard.
"Aren't you busy?"
Fuck Rod and his jobs, he didn't push her this hard last year, he'll manage.
"Not today, it's fine."
Feliciano seems to turn this over in his head, glancing over at Blade, who is talking to Sam and the other idiots.
"I'm afraid I got other plans today, cara."
Is he serious?
"Come on Fel, I know I haven't been there but-"
He smiles. Feliciano has a thousand different smiles and she recognizes this one. The patronizing one. Cara. He places a hand on her shoulder.
"It's ok, do what you have to do. I'll see you tomorrow."
He heads out the gate, without even looking at Blade. Unbelievable. He'd rather spend time with someone who doesn't even want to be seen with him in public.
The sun gleans in honey blond hair, as Blade laughs at whatever Nico said. People flock around them, drawn to him like a magnet. And she gets it. Of course she does. She doesn't like this Blade, the one that holds court after school. There used to be another one, the one that skipped school and ate donuts with her in the park. Ksenija looks at him, tries to see if that Blade is still in there somewhere. Sapphire eyes catch hers and all she can see is this version, the one that manages to piss her off in new ways everytime their paths cross.
He breaks from the group, says something and saunters up to her in his expensive sneakers, wearing stuff that the boys collectively agreed are cool this week. The black puffer jacket looks like it could double as a trash bag and she knows it's worth more than her entire outfit combined. At least there's another use for it when it goes out of style.
"If you keep staring at me like that, I might catch on fire."
If he only knew. And what would he do, if he found out? Would he still talk to her, still look into her eyes with that smirk?
"What are you doing with my best friend?"
"So you remember him after all? I started to wonder."
Honestly? She misses a class… a couple of classes… and all of a sudden everyone acts as if she stopped talking to Feliciano for weeks.
"I'm sorry that I have responsibilities, I'm sorry that I actually give a shit about my family and want to be there for them-"
Blade doesn't hit girls, but it's a near thing. He clenches his fist, jaw going tight. Sometimes she wishes he would.
"Fuck you Ksen. We don't get to choose who brings us into this world. Not everyone is as lucky as you."
At Least his parents aren't literally throwing him to the wolves. Or the werewolves, as in her case.
"Yeah, whatever you say."
Blade frowns, drawing thick eyebrows together. He should get Feliciano to pick them for him, if they keep insisting on hanging out.
"What do you mean?"
Fuck, she's letting it show. It can't show.
"Never mind. Just leave him alone."
Blade still looks at her as if she's one of the equations he makes Feliciano solve for him. At least he's even worse at reading people than at doing math. He shakes his head, lips quirking.
"Don't you see, Ksen? He's the one who keeps coming to me."
Beautiful, isn't it? Ksenija thought that the end of elementary school would derail their friendship, but there's one semester left and she's doing a great job all by herself. Blade towers over her and somehow he seems even taller than usual. Ksenija knows she isn't short, but something in his eyes makes her feel small. The entire school competes for his attention. Ksenija has one friend. Can't he let her have just the one?
"Why were we ever friends?" she says. "I forget."
"Oh, Ksen," he says in that gravelly voice. "You don't have friends. Only people to pick fights with."
The late afternoon sun casts deep shadows across his features. She has never seen a more symmetrical face outside of a magazine. Both he and Feliciano are such pretty people, but while her best friend lights up every room, Blade is determined to burn them down.
"Well, in that case, I'm done wasting my time on you."
Ksenija fixes her eyes on the gate as she passes him. They have been bickering for years, but school is dragging to a close and this feels more… final than past quarrels. As if what they say holds more weight. They no longer have years to course correct in front of them.
"Is that a promise?"
Ksenija forces herself to keep walking. She wants to say yes. But they both know that when it involves Feliciano, there can only be one answer.
Ksenija doesn't go home. The forest looms outside of the village, a dark mass against a sky of steel. Her feet start heading in its direction and Ksenija has to physically hold herself back.
No. Ksenija can be normal. She can be just like any other teenager. She can spend the rest of the day studying about world war two and watching sitcoms and arguing with her parents. That's what they do, right? The normal kids.
Sure, she doesn't like any of the career paths anyone ever suggested, but that's ok. She can find something. Somewhere to go everyday, to be told what to do, when she can go home. Or she can start her own company. Try to convince people to buy shit they don't need. To use services that they can do without. See, plenty of options. She just has to decide. She just has to pick something.
She just has to fucking pick something.
You're a magician. It's in your blood. You won't be satisfied with anything less.
Is that really the answer? Spending the rest of her nights riding through that damn forest, wrestling the creatures of the night, only to pick them apart and sort the pieces into neatly labeled jars?
Never having any friends, because humans can't be a part of that lifestyle. And nobody in the magical world wants to hang out with a half blood. Not even other half bloods.
Ksenija trips on a rock and tears herself back to reality. Fields stretch out around her, bare land that will turn yellow during summer. The forest waits further down the road. Darkness is falling gently over the land, but the day still clings to the horizon.
She gets lost in her thoughts and stops paying attention to her feet and what do they do? Ofcourse, of course.
You're a magician. It's in your blood.
No. Ksenija is in control. She chooses. This isn't what she has chosen.
You can't run from who you are.
She's a magician, but she's also a human. And the human wants something else. Ksenija just has to pick something.
So she turns around and hurries back to the village.
Ksenija can be normal. She can go to parties. She can have a good time.
She stands in the bathroom, in front of the mirror. A pale face full of acne stares back. Bushy eyebrows, dark hair cascading in waves past her shoulders. She looks the part at least. Except for -
Emerald eyes stare back at her. It's not her waxing poetry about herself, it literally looks like, to quote Blade, "as if she jammed gemstones into her eye sockets." The eyes of a magician. How does anyone actually believe she's fully human? Christ.
There's a bunch of tubes and jars on the counter. Ksenija lathers on the foundation, paints her eyelashes and puts on lip gloss. She could use her powers to do all of this, in theory. But it's one thing to burn down a building and another to contour her face. It's a lot easier to set something aflame than to enhance her cheekbones. The makeup makes her eyes pop.
Her mum peeks in through the door, eyes lighting up as she studies Ksenija.
"Look at you! So cute", she says in croatian, before frowning at her hair. "Let me help you with that."
Ksenija refrains from saying that the hair is the least of her problems. Doesn't want to explain what's eating her, even though her mum must understand. After all, she never liked the magic community in the first place.
Her mum wears a striped shirt she bought when she first came to Sweden, some twenty years ago and black sweatpants that are marginally newer. Ksenija feels very dressed up in her dark top.
"I'm so happy you're going out, you never go anywhere. I keep telling your father that it's not good for you to go on their hunts all the time. It's not normal. You need to be with people your own age."
It's not normal.
Emerald eyes stare back from the mirror, framed with eyeliner.
Ksenija can be normal.
"Yeah," she says. "It'll be fun."
She doesn't even like anyone in their class except for Feliciano, doesn't like their taste in music, doesn't like drinking. But she can do this. She has to do this. Has to do well. Has to -
"There," her mum says. "All done."
Her wild hair is combed and sprayed and gelled and it looks - too much. But it's cool, she supposes. Better than anything she can do by herself.
"It will settle later and it will look great. You look great. Try to have fun, darling."
Fun? When was the last time she had any kind of fun? She's almost sixteen. She's too young to not have fun.
"Yeah, yeah I will."
If Ksenija tries hard enough, she can almost convince herself.
The party sucks. Ksenija doesn't know why she's disappointed, she'd known exactly what to expect.
"Here," Feliciano says and shoves a disposable cup into her hand. He's wearing all black tonight. Ksenija thinks of the purple shirt he bought last week, studded with strass, just sitting in his closet. There's glitter on his eyes to make up for it.
Her drink is clear, sitting innocently in the cup looking for all the world as if it could be water. It could have been, if someone else had given it to her.
"Bottoms up!" he says and tips his head back, takes the shot in one go.
Ksenija contemplates the drink for a second.
"Cheers," she says, before downing it. It burns down her throat and she starts coughing, Feliciano smacks her on the back.
"There, there. Let's have another one!"
She wants to say no, but there's nothing to do. The same people she avoids in school, are spread out in the living room, chatting and drinking from the same disposable cups. Some of the girls are drunkenly dancing in front of the couch and a group is playing spin the bottle on the floor. The same five songs seem to be on repeat.
Ksenija accepts the cup again, the contents black this time. Feliciano grins, his eyeshadow sparkles like stars under the kitchen lights.
"To free booze!" he says and downs it.
She swallows it with a grimace. A group comes into the kitchen and she steers Feliciano away, ignoring their looks. She was fine as long as they were standing, but now that they are moving the floor tilts just a bit. Her feet tend to cooperate more.
"Where are you going off to?" Mohammed shouts and the group laughs. "Don't forget protection!" The laughter increases.
Ksenija pulls Feliciano into the hallway. It's carpeted and filled with family pictures on both sides. If Ksenija wanted to remember who's actually throwing the goddamn party she could just glance in either direction. But the world tilts and the images blur and Feliciano tugs on her wrist, dragging her deeper into the house. The bass throbs behind them.
They find the toilet on the other side of the house, the one nobody seems to use. They tumble inside.
"If you're planning to ravish me, I have to warn you," Feliciano says. "I didn't bring condoms."
"Fuck off," she says and leans against the sink. She closes her eyes. "Why are we here? I don't even like anyone." She opens one eye, peeks at him.
The harsh light washes out his tan skin and lightens his curls. Mocha eyes are dark in contrast, surrounded by thick eyelashes. If Ksenija wanted to jump him, if he wanted her, life would be so much simpler.
"Who invited us? Nobody wants us here."
His mouth quirks and Ksenija knows.
"No, not him again."
"You used to like Blade." His voice is nonchalant, but curiosity is woven through it. "You were the one who wanted to play with him in the first place."
"We were five. Stop living in the past."
The bathroom is nicer than the one at home, fancy cream tiles and a wide bathtub. The shower curtain is a deep green, definitely not bought at IKEA. The soap dispenser is made of marble.
"You're not in love with him," Feliciano says, perching on the edge of the tub and pushing the shower curtain back. "And he's not into you."
"Life is not an italian soap opera." She drags her hand through her hair, the waves stiff after the spray. Oops. She mentally apologizes to her mum. "Can't I just dislike him? He's arrogant, selfish, self centered -
"Now you're just listing synonyms," Feliciano says with a smile.
He studies the questionable patches on the seashell patterned mat.
"He's not so bad," he says, voice low. "Once you get to know him."
She thinks of Blade sneering at her in the school yard.
"I know him well enough."
"Do you always have to be so-"
Feliciano cuts himself off, glancing at the side. Does she have to be so - what? What is Ksenija always being? What's wrong with her this time?
"So, what? Do I always have to be so-?"
He shakes his head.
Feliciano chews on his cheek and avoids her eyes.
He shakes his head again.
"Tell me about the ranger stuff," he says, forcing a smile. "Have they taken you on an actual hunt yet?"
And here it is. Ksenija can't even go to a party and hang out like a normal person. There's nothing else to talk about. What used to be an afternoon, became a weekend, then every weekend, then most nights. Became her entire life. Something cold slithers around her heart. What do people normally discuss? What conversations did Ksenija used to have, before her life was hijacked?
"No," she says, glancing away. She doesn't want to talk about this with Feliciano, doesn't want to talk to anyone about it.
"That sucks. Well, the way they keep training you, it must only be a question of time."
He's perking up, as if the prospect of Ksenija chasing foxes excites him. If he only knew what she actually hunts.
"Yeah, I guess."
Something in her tone snaggs his attention and he studies her. It's showing again. It probably shows a lot more than it should.
"Do you want to keep doing it?" he says, voice careful. "In the future?"
Yes. No. She doesn't know. Ksenija turns halfway, glancing at the emerald eyes in the mirror.
The party isn't going well, but that doesn't mean anything. She has nothing to talk about with anyone, but that doesn't mean anything. This is just a small village. Just a handful of people. It doesn't mean anything about Ksenija. Doesn't mean she can't be normal. That she can't just pick a fucking job, hang out with people and do -
What? What is she even supposed to do?
Feliciano has stood and moved closer, silent like a ninja, hovering a few inches from her, his perfect eyebrows pinched together in concern.
Feliciano hovers a few inches from her, Feliciano who always latches onto her like an octopus, impossible to shake off. Feliciano who always strokes her hair and rubs her shoulders, who thinks of personal space as an indication of how close he should be.
Since when is there space between them?
"Yeah," she says and turns back towards the mirror, where emerald eyes glean in the fluorescent light. "Everything is fine."
When they leave the bathroom and waddle down the hall, back toward the kitchen, they pass a couple in a corner. They are so tightly wound together that it's difficult to see where one ends and the other begins. Ksenija is so distracted by the girl's sparkly earrings, that it takes a beat before she recognizes Blade. Feliciano whistles.
"Get it Adams!"
He smiles, but there's something off about it and Ksenija does a double take. Maybe she's not the one who is catching feelings around here.