Saith watched Zes storm off, his eyebrows climbing slowly higher on his forehead. It was strange to see him going anywhere without Vier, but Saith supposed the same could be said for Wyth and himself. His brother was at work today, though, so he’d stopped by to see if anyone needed anything.
Vier was standing beside the car still, his hand half-raised toward his friend’s retreating back, and Saith felt sorry for him. He couldn’t imagine how much it must hurt, alienating someone so close to him now, when they all knew he wouldn’t live long. The worst part was that there was nothing anyone could do.
And everyone wanted to do something. Vier was probably the only one they all liked, the only one of the group without enemies. It really wasn’t his personality, wasn’t that he was particularly likeable. Actually, when Saith thought about it, Vier was a bastard. But he was weak, and dying, and they all knew it. And he was particularly good at using that to his advantage, a skill Saith truly appreciated.
The boy’s eyes grew hard as his friend walked away, but he didn’t chase Zes. Instead, his hand dropped, defeated, and he turned away, back to the car.
Saith watched from the shadows of the entryway as the new Tera climbed out from the back seat, carrying a small bundle of cloth. “What, no truck?” Both practically jumped out of their skins, and Saith felt a moment’s satisfaction. It wasn’t often he could get the jump on anyone in the company, and despite the fact that Vier was technically a new member, he’d been born and raised inside it.
“What do you want, Sai?” Vier tried to avoid using their numbers whenever possible, something Saith himself found laudably stupid and self-righteous but was endearing to some of the others. Tera just stood there, squinting at him as if she could barely see him. It gave her face a strange, pinched look.
“To get laid. And rich. And being famous wouldn’t really hurt.” Saith winked at the still-wordless girl. He’d begun to gather that she didn’t like to speak. “But mostly just entertainment. Wyth’s busy, and your mother’s locked me out.”
Vier actually laughed at that, although Saith himself didn’t think it a laughing matter at all. He’d been standing in the shade, considering whether or not he had the energy to walk back to his car – the Savages’ driveway was short enough, but the sun was beating relentlessly on the concrete and he was goddamn tired.
The boy joined him in the doorway, drawing Tera in his wake. She was watching him with undisguised contempt, for which Saith was actually grateful. Having at least one person openly acknowledge their hatred for him was a nuance he quite enjoyed. “So what did you do this time,” he asked, pulling out the house key.
“Apparently I’m a bad influence and likely to steal your innocence,” Saith laughed, remembering the woman’s face as she’d practically shoved him back out the door. “I swear, kid, your father must have been a saint to put up with that woman. Just because she’s the Queen of Hearts or whatever doesn’t mean we actually have to worship the ground she walks on. And besides,” he continued loudly, walking through the now-open doorway. “I’ve been drinking since I was twelve, and it never hurt me.”
“Except that you’re perpetually drunk, have no lasting relationships, and are seriously fucked-up as a person.”
“Well, I suppose there’s that.” Saith turned to Tera as she walked through the door and winked at her. “Remember kiddies, never drink and drive. And say no to drugs, they make your teeth fall out.”
Vier laughed, kicking off his shoes. Saith might have been three years older, but the kid was just comforting to be around, relaxing everyone around him somehow. Call it charisma, or charm, or just the fact that he looked like a kicked-puppy, but everyone really did like Vier. He, of course, hated most people. Saith was glad that he wasn’t one of them.
“You just totally made that up, Sai. Stop or you’ll give her weird ideas.”
“Oh God,” Saith moaned mockingly, bending down so his face was only inches from hers. Tera flinched back and turned away, and his smile broadened. “You aren’t going to go around asking all the old people you see if they did drugs, are you? And I sure as hell hope you aren’t stupid enough to look that up on the internet.”
She finally looked at him, her eyes wide and innocent, and Saith had to hold back another laugh. “But isn’t that where you find your jokes?” Vier, damn him, actually burst into laughter at that, holding his sides and rocking back on his heels. Saith let his smile show openly as well, deciding that he did like the new Tera after all. Even if she did look like a deer-in-the-headlights kind of kid.
“Touché, my dear.” Saith offered her his arm and waited expectantly, the silence stretching awkwardly, until she took it. “Please, allow me to show you to my office, where I will reward your humor.”
“Sorry, I don’t do sexual favors.” Shit, he really did like this kid. She looked what? Twelve? Maybe in ten years she’d fill out a bit more without losing that charm of hers.
Saith’s office, if it could be called that, was little more than a spare sitting room, where he had set up his needle earlier, just before being violently expelled. It took Tera a moment to realize what exactly he was talking about, but when she did her eyes lit up with excitement.
“See, Vier, this is how you’re supposed to react. None of that pansy whining about how you hate needles, or asking for pain meds first.” The boy glared at him, his blonde hair falling to shadow his eyes. Saith made a note of the fact that his contacts were still in. Maybe he just didn’t want to scare the new girl before she’d well-and-truly settled in.
“Alright, kid, so here’s the thing. It’s kind of a tradition here, so pay attention. If you notice, we all have a number right? He’s 4,” Saith said, pointing to Vier. “I’m 7, and you’re 13. Now, we also all get two more things. We design a sort of calling card, which I’ll explain later, and we get a tattoo.” Vier pulled the neck of his shirt down so she could see one of the heads of his dragon. “The tattoo has to include the number somewhere. A single spade, five hearts, nine stars, etcetera. So what do you want?”
Tera took a moment to think, and then she glanced back at the table. “I want headstones.”
“Headstones?” Vier asked, leaning forward as if interested. “Like, from a cemetery?”
The girl nodded, but Saith barely paid any attention. He was too busy trying to figure out how he was going to fit thirteen headstones on this slip of a girl. “How about a bracelet?”
“Sure,” was all she said, but Saith saw her rub at her wrists as if they itched. If she did that while he was working, or right after, it could mess up the tattoo.
Still, he set to work, drawing it out in pen on the surface of her arm first to get the dimensions right. That was when he noticed the thin, evenly spaced lines across his wrists. “Hey, who did this?” he asked her, genuinely curious.
Tera looked at him, then looked away just as quickly, moving her hands to scratch at them before catching herself. “I did,” she whispered, still not meeting his eyes.
“You are going to have to do better than that. We aren’t all as gullible as Drei, you know. And I’m a good liar, but almost as good at spotting them.”
She sat there, staring at the wall, her eyes unfocused as if she was watching something else entirely, for so long that Saith almost gave up on an answer. When it came, it was so quiet he barely heard it, almost as if she was talking to herself. “My mother,” she breathed, suddenly rushing as if to say it all before she lost her nerve. “She went crazy when I was eight, turned into someone else. Sometimes she didn’t recognize me, other times she’d scream about how the demons were coming.”
The silence stretched after that as, for once, Saith found himself at a loss for words. It was Vier who broke the silence, laughing harshly, darkly. “Well, guess we both know a little about crazy parents then.”
After that Saith bent back to his work, surprisingly proud that the girl didn’t flinch even once. In the end she decided to put names on all the stones, so it was like a little graveyard. “Grace Cunning. Samantha Burns. Adam Savage. Miranda Bunin. Taylor Dereon. Calliope Jameson. Arizona Phillips. Marc Jameson. Bradley Corper. Dylan Stevens. April Saunders. June Saunders. Filipe De’Angelo.”
“My father too,” Vier said, coming closer to read the names again. “Heh, he’d like it, being there surrounded by the others.”
“Well, I figured I might as well put some names other people would recognize,” Tera replied, turning her wrist. Saith wasn’t sure, but he thought she might actually be more comfortable. The way he’d inked in the design, it almost completely hid the scars. “See, look. Samantha, Adam, Miranda and Taylor, and the two Saunders.”
“No, wait, you missed one,” Saith said, looking carefully for the first time. He’d suggested some of them, but he hadn’t really paid attention to the rest. They were just so many useless names, filing in blank spaces so the pattern looked complete. “Look, right there. Grace Cunning. Wasn’t she-”
“The last Tera, more than five years ago,” Vier confirmed. “After she died, my father never did replace her.”
The new Tera was very pale, Saith noticed. She was shaking, her body quivering as she curled up into herself, tears sparkling at the edges of her eyes. “No, that doesn’t make any sense,” she said slowly, as if the denial was meant more for herself than for either of them. “She can’t have been. My mother couldn’t have been part of something like this.”
Oh God, we’re fucked.