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War Without End

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The car hums steadily underneath them all, barely seeming to move across the interminable midnight Kansas plains. The dark fields of the republic, rolling on under the night, Raven thinks, remembering Charles by lamplight at her door, starry-eyed with the book in his trembling hands and half a dozen quotes dancing on his tongue. He’d refused to leave until she promised she’d read it in the morning; she’d liked it well enough, but never quite understood what he’d loved about it. She closes her eyes, opens them again: she isn’t tired.

Azazel snores quietly behind her, worn out; Riptide sends occasional eddies of a breeze about the car as he dozes. Angel, beside her, is on the edge of sleep herself.

Raven worries at her lip, staring out at the stars, at the constellations her brother taught her to recognize.

“Child.” Emma sounds less bored than usual, which Raven is coming to realize is the clearest sign that she is tired. “Stop waffling.”

“She’s not doing anything,” Angel protests, shifting restlessly against the seat. Raven squeezes her hand, half grateful and half worried: rest. Relax. Emma shakes her head, drumming her fingers on the wheel.

“She’s trying to decide whether or not to mention Charles. It makes me itch. Speak or don’t.”

Erik stops staring out the shotgun window, straightens up. Raven gulps.

“Charles…” She closes her eyes. She loves her brother, but…

She remembers the way he giggled as she tore into the food he offered her, night after night: her food. She ate until she was sick, at first, unable to stand the thought of leaving anything behind. Unable to believe that this wouldn’t have to last her for a while, that she could have this much food again and again.

It took her years to stop stealing rolls and squirreling them away somewhere, to able to be near so much fresh and thick and untouched food and not need to have some all her own stored for the next time she was hungry. It was months before Charles found out; he laughed at her. She laughed too, but she slipped another roll into her pocket a few hours after. He didn’t notice then.

When he was twelve, she told him how much she hated rats. Of course, he was twelve; two days later she found one in her room. She can still remember the way he looked from the corpse at the base of the wall back to her as she shed the skin of someone stronger, his shock at seeing something dead, at how viciously she smiled: gotcha. Remembered realizing that he’d expected her to scream and call for someone to take the thing away; that he didn’t think of rats as things that bit and stole good food.

She started a few rumors at Oxford by accident, rumors about her meeting with men in alleys; she laughed them off and called it a mistake, told Charles to calm down and that it didn’t really matter (and after all, hers weren’t true, and what was it about him and that co-ed?) And she continued to walk alone at night as someone twenty, thirty, forty-five, someone bearded and tall.

She opens her eyes again. “He doesn’t really understand about being afraid. He’s never been, not really.”

“Not even now?” Angel mumbles through a yawn. Raven shakes her head, tracing her fingers across her scale-covered thighs.

“Not the way we have. Not yet.”