Ksenija stands outside their house. Light spills out of the living room window, glittering in the quiet rain. A shadow moves on the other side of the curtain. This is it. She has to stand her ground. Ksenija is not legal, not yet, but it's her life and she's doing the choosing. She unlocks the door with frozen fingers.
Her parents look up when she shuffles into the living room. They are dressed in matching Rolling Stones shirts, her mums hair up with a clip. Her dad hasn't left yet, even if it's dark and the monsters come out earlier this time of year.
"Where have you been?" her mum says and here they go again. Ksenija gets yelled at before she even opens her mouth. "I was getting so worried! Why aren't you answering your phone?"
"Nevena", her dad says, eyeing Ksenija with concern.
"I need to talk to you," she says, steels herself. "Both of you." She hesitates. "And Rod."
"Why?" her mums says, frowning. She always suspects the worst. "Did something happen?"
"Just call him. I need to go to the bathroom."
It's the first time Ksenija looks at herself in the mirror for weeks, really looks at herself. She doesn't want to be afraid of her own eyes. For what they represent.
The gleam like gemstones under the harsh lighting and she cringes, forces herself to meet them head on. It's a strange thing, facing yourself. The girl in the mirror has a pale face, drooping shoulders. Blade once said she has eyes like lasers. He wasn't kidding. They are intense, the eyes of a magician. Or maybe it's the fiery croatian in her. Does it matter? They are both her. She can't fear either of them. Above all, she has to stop separating them in her mind. She's not two creatures but one. They have to work as one, going forward.
It's not normal.
Ksenija isn't normal. But maybe that's okay. It doesn't have to be a bad thing. She tried normal and it didn't make her any happier.
When she goes back out Rod stands in the kitchen, a glass of whiskey in hand. He wears a dark leather jacket and ratted jeans. It's been so long since she's seen him without the red uniform, she barely recognizes him. He looks at Ksenija and raises bushy eyebrows.
"I want to pick up the training," she says. "But not every night. I want to go to school and have a life. Mum is right, we can't keep pretending that I'm not human. I need to do normal things. I want Feliciano to sleep over again."
There. She said it.
"You need all the training you can get," Rod says. "As a half blood, you're much weaker. It's going to take forever if-"
"It's not your child!" Her mum says. "I don't think you should be training at all!"
"She said she wants to-"
Everytime. How do people run entire countries? In this house you can barely hold a conversation.
"Will you listen to me!" Ksenija says.
All eyes turn towards her. Great. Now she looks like a screaming teenager again. Her dad studies her.
"We should all calm down. I think it's reasonable. Rod is right, it will take longer. But Ksenija is still young. She needs to get some things out of her system."
Everyone still wants to do things their way. And fine, Ksenija will go to high school, because her mum won't allow anything else. And because, at the end of the day, anything else will look suspicious. Everyone goes to high school, no matter what Blade says.
Rod opens his mouth but her dad beats him to it.
"You will have to work really hard," he says. "I just want to make this clear."
They are never going to let her live this down. If she as much as breathes a complaint, they will refer back to this moment.
"Okay. I can handle it."
"I don't want to hear any crying about how hard it is," Rod says. "You brought this on yourself."
"You're not normal. She's a child!"
"The world is rough," her dad says. Did he always look this tired? He used to be so carefree when she was younger. Now his shoulders droop as if they're constantly carrying a weight. "We are doing our best to prepare her. Half Bloods only have half the stamina."
"That's why she shouldn't have to do it!"
"Mum," Ksenija says. "I haven't trained for weeks and it made me miserable. We can't pretend like I'm all human!"
And there it is. The flicker in her mum's eyes, when the illusion pops. When she has to face that Ksenija isn't… normal.
"I'm just trying to protect you!"
There's a stubborn fire in her eyes and Ksenija forces herself to keep meeting it. It's hard, but she can't be the kid her mum wants. She can only be the kid that she has.
"I know, mum. I know! I understand you, but you refuse to understand me! I'm sorry that I'm not like you!"
Her mum never fails to turn Ksenija into the temperamental stereotype that they all think she is.
"No I don't understand, I really don't! Why does magic have to do with hunting those things?"
And Ksenija can't explain, because she doesn't know. But It's not about the hunting, not really. There's just something about being a part of that world, of feeling like she belongs, of doing what she's meant to do. Maybe that has to involve hunting beasts for now, but she can choose another path later. Ksenija just needs to reconnect with the magical world so bad.
"We have had this discussion so many times," her dad says. "Nature has an order. Do you want a world where those creatures roam free? Where they get into the city and attack humans? Where she can't defend herself?"
Her parents are staring at each other, locked in a mexican standoff. Their entire life together is a mexican standoff.
"Well, if this was all, I'm out of here," Rod says and downs his shot. "See you around."
He teleports out of the kitchen. Lucky bastard. Ksenija could do the same, but the only thing worse than staying, would be facing her mum's wrath later for disappearing again.
"We'll teach her to defend herself," her dad says, like a peace offering. "And you know I wouldn't put her through something she can't handle."
"I don't know what to believe," her mum says. "I didn't realize that having a daughter who conjures daisies out of thin air, also means being forced to send her out to the monsters."
Ksenija looks away. There used to be a time when she didn't constantly upset her mum. When creating flowers with a flicker of her fingers made Nevena smile. It feels like another life.
"She is half human," her dad offers. "So her path may look different than mine."
You fall in love once and end up paying for it for a lifetime. Her parents have been doing this dance her entire life. One step forward, ten steps back, three to the side…
"I'm hungry," Ksenija says. "Is there any satarash left?"
Nevena tears herself back to reality and goes into mum mode. Her dad picks up the newspaper on the table, eyes the headlines.
And just like that, everything goes back to normal. But Feliciano is right. She won't be sixteen forever. She just has to bear it, a bit longer. Figure out how she can lead this dance, instead of letting everyone twirl her around.
Feliciano looks up as she sits opposite him in the coffee shop. She hands him a cupcake, smothered in pink frosting and white sprinkles.
Outside the wind howls and rain splatters the windows. In a world smudged in grey colors, Feliciano's yellow sweater stands out like a buttercup in a withering field. He came when she called, no questions asked. Ksenija had been so nervous, replaying their last conversation in her head over and over and over and over and over -
His face when she told him to go to Blade. When she pushed him away.
She was so scared of this meeting, but when she sits down and forces herself to face him it's just… it's Feliciano. Feliciano who listens to her ranting about Rod, who spent an freezing afternoon searching the forest after an earring she lost, who defends her at school and always listens and understands and never makes her feel like shit for being the way she is. It's just Feliciano and when she looks into his eyes, she realizes there was never anything to be afraid of.
"I'm sorry," she says. "I haven't been a good friend." The next words are hard to say, but she forces herself. She owes Blade that much. "I know that I always shit on Blade, but I'm not better myself. So I'm sorry. I'll do better."
His face transforms, eyes lighting up, lips stretching into a familiar grin.
"Thanks, I appreciate it." The smile dims. "I know you've been having a hard time and I didn't take it seriously, because I thought my problems were worse. And that's not fair."
"Your problems are worse," Ksenija says. "I'm sorry I was so self centred. I just… was so sick of nobody listening to me."
Feliciano reaches out and grabs her hand on the table.
"I know you'd never be a bad friend on purpose. You're just human. You're allowed to fuck up."
She looks out the window, eyes following the raindrops as they trickle down the glas. After everything that's happened he's still so kind, so understanding.
"It hurt that you didn't want to share," he says. "We tell each other everything."
Ksenija is a shitty, shitty friend.
"I know, I'm sorry."
Silence falls while he waits for her to spill. Ksenija tries to sort out what she can give from what is classified. What she's left with isn't much. Certainly doesn't make her look like anything other than a spoiled asshole.
"I felt so much pressure with high school. Everybody wants me to choose what to do with my life. The family wants me to hunt, mum wants me to have a normal job and… I just felt trapped. I didn't know what to do. It was a lot."
It sounds stupid when she puts it like that. But Feliciano squeezes her hand and when she looks back his eyes are understanding.
"It sounds dumb. It's dumb."
"It's not," he says. "People spend their entire lives trying to figure out what they want to do. You don't have to have it all figured out now."
She gnaws her lip.
"I don't know who I am, who I want to be. Everyone wants me to be like them but I'm just… not."
"Because you are you."
She looks away again.
"Sometimes I don't want to be me."
He takes her hand in both of his.
"That's okay too. Everyone feels like that sometimes. But people change. You won't be the way you are now, the rest of your life."
But she will always be a halfblood. That's not going anywhere.
"I hope we go to the same school," she says. "Or at least in the same city. I don't want to do this without you."
They dig into the desserts and everything starts to feel lighter, more manageable. She can never tell him everything, but she can give him something.
"I'm picking up the training, but it won't be like before. I told them that I want to make time for you."
"Really?" Feliciano says, his face guarded. "I hope they keep their promise."
"They will," Ksenija said. "I'll make them."
There's a fork in the road ahead, but for now she has delayed it for three more years. By then they'll graduate and it won't even matter what she does, because Feliciano will take off into the world. She won't be able to follow him.
"I can't wait until we finish high school," he says, brimming with excitement. "I can't wait for my life to actually start."
She forces a smile.
Maybe it will be a good life. Maybe without him, she'll be able to fully embrace life as a hunter. Maybe she'll finally manage to carve out a heart with a steady hand.
He catches the shift in her mood.
"It'll be great, you'll see. Hey, even high school will be great. You know why? Because we will make sure that it will be."
Turns out that Fel is a better influence than you'd think.
Ksenija smiles despite herself. High school is still school, so of course it's going to suck. But with him around, things always feel easier. Less like the world is ending.
"Okay," she says. "I'll hold you to that."
"We'll be alright, you and me," he says. "You'll see."
Ksenija wishes she could believe him. She thinks about her talks with Blade and her parents. She stood up for herself and it actually seemed to make a difference.
Ksenija is not normal. Not entirely human, not enough of a magician. Not enough of anything for anyone. Not even good enough of a friend for Feliciano. But maybe Blade is on to something, maybe she can live in a way that is right for her. Maybe, if nothing else, she can be enough for herself.
"Yeah," she says. "I think we will be."