“Look, Raine! Good as new. Well, save for the missing paint.” stated Emma.
“What happened to our ceiling?” demanded Ai as she stepped into the room and looked to where Emma was pointing.
Emma quickly dropped her arms, looking sheepish.
“Nooothing.” she claimed in the most guilty voice I ever heard from her.
Coming up behind her sister with Jarod hand-in-hand, Mai said, “Don’t worry. We’ll bill you for it.”
I rolled my eyes and said, “Don’t bother. I’ll touch up your paint, and I’m quite certain the boards are better than new.”
The twins shrugged.
“This is probably the strangest practice I’ve seen.” claimed Jarod.
“Ha! Sure, man. As if you practice with us.” remarked Brandon.
Grinning and shrugging, Jarod said, “True, but I have seen some and don’t recall any involving James petting a kitten while the rest of you watch.”
“Hey! I was fixing a ceiling here, not staring at the adorableness.” argued Emma.
Partly over Emma, Portentia said, “You wouldn’t believe what you missed if we attempted to tell you.”
Laughing, Cosette insisted “I think he really would, but he’d probably be sad he missed it from only hearing.”
“It’s not funny. He wouldn’t want to see.” whispered Brenna.
Alma strode back into the room and said, “I’ll show them anyway.”
I was going to tell her that wasn’t necessary, but the imagery entered my mind as surely as it was entering everyone else’s. I had to admit to myself that Raine looked even more terrifying from Alma’s perspective than mine, as if every feature had been exaggerated slightly. Ai and Mai looked startled, but Jarod was smiling and shaking his head.
“The kitten has claws, so don’t you three dare push her.” commanded Alma as she looked them each in the eye. Then she continued, saying, “I still have not begun to heal, and I was only scratched. Imagine if she really wanted to kill me.” Then Alma came over to me, knelt, and held out her hands, asking “May I?”
I hesitated. Raine felt so fragile in my hands, and she had cringed when Alma started speaking. I wished Aaliyah had come back, but whatever she had said seemed to have cowed Alma. I mouthed “Be careful.” as I handed Raine over. There was a look to Alma’s gorgeous eyes that I hadn’t seen before, and I felt she was done causing harm for now.
Alma was obviously being gentle as she held Raine in her small hands. She then whispered “There, there. I’m sorry that I took things too far. I thought to show James that you were quite capable of defending yourself, but I never even considered there could be a reason for you to restrain. Aaliyah… explained… a few things to me, and I won’t push you so far again. Please consider earnestly training with us. Every strength needs the restraint of discipline, and I am quite certain you can learn to control yourself.”
I wasn’t the only one staring at the two of them. I had seen Alma apologize sincerely before, but she was usually quite guarded even when doing so. She seemed vulnerable at the moment. The moment passed as I thought about it.
“Well now. Let’s get back to practice, shall we? I obviously don’t mean you, Raine, unless you’re feeling up for it. The rest of us, however, cannot afford to slack.” insisted Alma, casting a spell to gather Raine’s clothes from the floor.
I was going to let everyone leave, actually, but most everyone seemed ready enough to go, getting back to their positions without hesitation. I walked over to Brenna, who was staring around, and told her “You can take a break today if you want.”
Looking up at me, Brenna asked “How can you be so calm? Even w-when Alma was hurt, you seemed… relaxed.”
“I really have seen Death, and nothing short of her seems frightening these days. Besides, I believe that Raine has a good heart. If she really were a monster, she would have started slaughtering us, but she didn’t even cut Alma very deeply. On some level, Raine still didn’t want to hurt anyone.” I assured her.
Brenna nodded but said, “She looked so terrifying. Alma’s version of her was scary but nothing compared to the reality. I couldn’t handle looking at her.”
“Don’t worry. She’s a good kitten.” I insisted. “Why don’t you take a walk to the kitchen? Marco would surely love to hear about the development, and I can assure you that his knowledge of sundaes is very extensive.”
Brenna nodded again and left. I was expecting to see a disapproving stare from Alma, but she was holding Raine in one arm while allowing Cosette to grip the injured one.
“That’s working! Cosette, you’re incredible.” stated Alma as she stared at her arm.
The wounds were closing. I jogged over to watch, but the wounds were gone.
“Vampires are protectors after all. Looks like my father was right again.” claimed Cosette.
“About what?” I asked.
“He said that vampires were given their abilities by a demon, so I thought our magic might work to cure a wound from one.” she replied.
“Slayer records claim that vampires were given their abilities by a deity.” stated Alma.
“Slayers believe in deities?” I asked, surprised.
“We all came from somewhere.” she replied.
“Even your own records claim that vampires were given a divine mandate, and you still oppose vampires?” asked Cosette incredulously.
“Didn’t you say that you wanted to avoid the politics of Slayers and vampires? You seem quite bias considering your heritage.” retorted Alma. “Vampires were a flawed plan from the start, since they feed on those whom they’re meant to protect.”
“But the feeding doesn’t have to be lethal or even dangerous.” argued Cosette.
“Yes, but how often is it from many vampires? Great protectors, casually slaughtering the helpless to slake their thirst.” asserted Alma.
“The Slayers aren’t so perfect either.” insisted Cosette. “My parents are both dead.”
“Cosette, I am sorry for your loss, but weren’t your parents associated with some less savory sorts?” asked Alma.
“What? Of course not. I mean, they knew some. How could they not given their lifespan, but… Hang on. How would you know?” she asked.
“You killed them?” asked Cosette in a whisper.
Raine jumped at her from Alma’s arm. Cosette easily caught the small cat, hugged her, and started petting her, but her gaze never left Alma.
“Did I just heal my parents’ murderer?” she asked.
“Yes, and I’ve felt the guilt every day. James certainly hasn’t let me forget, not that I could. I witnessed a murder and followed the killer back to your parents. I assumed, however wrongly, that your parents were like him.” admitted Alma.
“You knew and didn’t tell me?” demanded Cosette, staring at me.
Alma grabbed hold of my hand, and I felt her magic surge as energy poured into me.
“James is innocent in this. I asked him not to tell you.” she lied.
“No, I’m not innocent. I simply didn’t know how to tell you or even if telling you was the right thing to do.” I insisted.
Cosette shocked us both by giggling. “You two really are the strangest of couples. I’ve known for a while. Aaliyah told me just after I moved here, so you can stop abusing James’ powers, Alma.” she informed us.
“What? You don’t care?” asked Alma in shock.
“Oh, I had plenty of plots to kill you go through my head. I’m still missing my parents daily. I forgive you. You made a terrible mistake and didn’t even bother attempting to make amends, but I still forgive you. I refuse to be like the Slayers, bent on destroying everything that looks dangerous without thought, and I hope one day you’ll see the error of our family’s ways, but I forgive you for being a slow learner. Now you must forgive me for this, because it’s your own fault. Vive la révolution!” exclaimed Cosette as she hugged me with her free arm.
I stood there, letting her words run through my mind again and wondered for just a moment if I was dating the wrong girl. I looked into Alma’s eyes, still filled with shock and wonder, and felt my heart start racing. She had a multitude of faults, but Alma had a tremendous capacity for good as well. Furthermore, I was already in love with her.