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Vendetta did not consider himself to be an impetuous man. Perhaps, on occasion, he could admit to letting his temper get the better of him—times when rage filled him and there was nothing left but purpose and the desire for bloodshed—but he liked to think he was rational. Patient. Like all true predators, he could wait decades to spring a trap if need be. For all his reputation, not a soul ever seemed to see him coming. But he was in Lightside at the moment, where his reputation didn’t really mean anything and so it was a moot point.

Dusk had begun to fall over London, bathing the city in a watery golden-orange glow. Vendetta’s car slunk through the city streets like a prowling cat, the engine little more than a faint purr as they made their way back to his flat through the heavy traffic. He paid little mind to the Lightsiders, however—instead, electing to scribble down notes in a small journal. Lightside was…dull. Tame. Certainly the technology was of some interest to him, but, for the most part, to live here was to live in tedium. Not that Darkside was much better at times, but the principle was the part that counted. And he had business here at present, which made it matter even less.

Traffic began to thin for a touch as the car wound its way south east. Cool, damp air flooded into the limo’s back seat through a cracked window. The chill almost reminded him of evenings at the Heights; of storms that shook the study windows and rain echoing through the greenhouse. Home. A faint prickle of unease momentarily disrupted his veneer of effortless calm. It had been years, and Holborn was long dead, but the thought of his home falling into someone else’s hands still sent waves of ire through him along with the paranoid thought of “what if?” He tried to clear the thought with a mental reminder that most of his enemies were either dead or cowards and, those that were neither, were currently in no position to test him…it only worked so far. Perhaps there was some truth after all to the notion that he was becoming a homebody.

The crackle of the radio from the driver’s seat intruded on his thoughts, prompting a frown. It would have been nearly inaudible to a human, but it grated on Vendetta’s ears like harsh static. The beginnings of a frown settling over his features, he closed his book with a snap and leaned forward to activate the intercom.

“Yann,” he began exasperatedly, only to pause. Wings flapping above them, panicked and agitated. Bats—noctules, if he was right about their size. But they should have been hibernating at this time of year. Personal issues with Yann’s radio momentarily forgotten, Vendetta attempted to focus on the bats’ chittering squeaks. Angry. Frightened. The outraged chatter of creatures displaced from their homes.

“Yes, sir?” came the tentative reply; Yann’s voice was tinged with the nervousness of someone uncertain if they were in trouble, but he’d also shut off the radio.

That was when he noticed it: the scent of blood in the air. Too strong for a minor injury and vaguely familiar in odour…almost like he’d tasted it long ago. Even stranger, it stank of Darkside and there were no crossings in the immediate area. The familiarity of the scent was beginning to nag at him. Vendetta did not consider himself to be impulsive, but if curiosity was a sin then it was safe to say it was one he indulged in. “Pull up on your left and stop the car.”

“Very good, sir.” If Yann found the instructions, or the lack of reasoning behind them, perplexing he gave no indication. Merely did as he was told and killed the engine when he was no longer blocking the road.

It was finally dark enough that Vendetta didn’t need to retrieve his sunglasses before slipping out of the car. There was an odd sense of stillness to the air—like entering a holy place, though he knew this was no such place. Something had fouled the air, scaring off the small, scuttling creatures that usually called back alleys their home. Back on the street, there were people hurrying about on the sidewalks, but none seemed aware anything was amiss and no one appeared to notice him. But the scent of blood was stronger now, hammering away at his senses like a rough tide, and he was certain he was headed in the right direction.

He stepped deeper into the darkness, footsteps silent against the tarmac. On the street, someone drove by with their bass volume too high—it thundered painfully in his ears and threaded tension through his spine. He came out into a tiny courtyard that probably would have only just been able to hold a single car. Office buildings crowded around, silent onlookers to an empty close. Puddles had formed at the corners of the courtyard and the air had a stagnant, musty feel despite the cold.

Vendetta was unsurprised to find a body sprawled under the overhang of a closed roll up garage, cast to the side like rubbish. What actually did surprise him, however, was the identity of the prone figure.

Well, well, well, Starling, he thought almost dryly, crouching elegantly beside him. What did you interfere with this time?

A trio of thin wounds were barely visible through the boy’s bloodstained shirt—almost as though something with claws had elected to stab him instead of slashing at him. Remarkably, despite the amount of blood he’d lost, Jonathan Starling was still alive. Heartbeat faint and chest barely moving with each breath. He looked…vulnerable and the growing urge to finish Starling off sent an involuntary twitch through Vendetta’s fingers. He’d always suspected that Starling would be in over his head without Carnegie’s protection and it was somewhat gratifying to learn he was correct.

It was almost a shame, though. He’d never told the boy, but he’d always—somewhat grudgingly—thought him to be remarkable. Only human, and yet capable of surviving creatures that were so many times stronger than him. He didn’t have to like Starling to respect his determination and stubbornness. And to have it all end with him bleeding out in an alley….

Vendetta paused, blue eyes flicking upwards to make sure no one was looking down on him from the surrounding buildings. It occurred to him that this was possibly a Very Bad Thing. Something he definitely should not have happened across. The sort of discovery that could make things very awkward for him. Certainly, he could pretend he’d seen nothing and leave Starling to die, but there was always a chance of witnesses and he’d spent enough time around police officers to know just how easy it would be for evidence to link him to the location. Leaving the boy was not really a logical option. However, the same problem arose with the idea of dropping Starling at an A&E—cameras, witnesses, doctors and nurses willing to tell Starling’s parents about the mysterious blond man who brought their son in. Alain and Theresa Starling weren’t exactly in awe of him…given one had stabbed him and the other—well, either way, him carrying their son’s dying body into a hospital wouldn’t exactly help to endear him to them (not that he particularly cared what any of the Starlings thought of him personally). He didn’t need that kind of attention.

The ideal solution would be to dump Starling onto one of his friend’s doorsteps and get out of there as quickly as possible. But there was a problem with that: Starling’s friends would immediately suspect him of attacking the boy. And he had no proof that he wasn’t to blame. Marianne would gladly help the boy, but she and Vendetta’s relationship had never fully recovered after the Crimson Stone debacle; starting a war, even an unintentional one, with Marianne would be…troublesome. And then there was Harry. The youngest Ripper—and the newest ruler of Darkside—had always been close to Starling. Unfortunately, despite Vendetta and Harry’s father, James, having been close friends, that friendship had not extended to James’s family members. Harry’s distrust of him put Vendetta on shaky ground even without Harry assuming he’d attempted to kill his best friend. Much like his aunt, Harry’s reaction would be…unfavourable.

Of course, there was always Raquella. Her loyalty (as questionable as it sometimes was) and her affection for Starling would work in Vendetta’s favour. However, he was also aware that everyone he wanted to avoid would be made aware of his involvement the instant Raquella was out of his presence. Even if she would vouch for him, was it worth the risk?

Unmoving, he had the uncomfortable feeling that time was running out to decide. Leave him. Leave him. Leave him. The thought chased itself around his head and he was dimly aware that it echoed Starling’s pulse. He already knew what he was going to do; he just didn’t want to admit it to himself. But there was nothing for it…

A long-suffering sigh escaped him. Grimacing at himself, he picked up the boy’s book bag (it was damp from the pavement, but, oddly enough, it didn’t appear anyone had picked through it), shifted it to his shoulder, and lifted Starling into his arms. The boy wasn’t much heavier than he recalled…not that that was comforting. Questioning his choices in life, he made his way back to the limo.

Yann leapt from the car at his employer’s approach and immediately went to get the back door from him. It was clear Yann had questions—they were all but written across his face—but something in Vendetta’s expression must have convinced him not to ask. Instead, he stepped respectfully out of the way and, when Vendetta had gotten both Starling and himself into the seat, finally enquired, “Where to, sir?”

“The flat.” 

As the car pulled out of the alleyway, Vendetta once more wondered what exactly he was doing. This was not, by any means, how he’d ever imagined “getting” Starling. And it had raised one very large question: now that he had the boy, what was he supposed to do with him?

 ~ * ~ 

He was awoken a couple hours before dawn by a loud noise. At first, it didn’t quite penetrate his consciousness what exactly the noise in question was, and then he realised it was screaming. Long, lurid wails of pain—over-enthusiastic, perhaps, but no less pleasant for it. A thought nagged at the back of his mind, concerned, but the flat was soundproofed so it wasn’t as though the neighbours were going to call the police. He’d nearly drifted back to sleep when it finally occurred to him that there wasn’t supposed to be anyone screaming. The boy…. 

He was awake and alert in an instant, shoving the blankets off his body and hurrying to his feet. If, for some unfathomable reason, he was ever questioned on the amount of haste demonstrated in his attempt to reach Starling quickly, he would deny every ounce of it. 

Bursting into the spare room, he found Starling writhing on the bedsheets. Back arched and feet scuffling for purchase against the mattress. His first thought was that the boy was going to bite off his tongue—which wasn’t all that bad of a thought, if not for the fact that it would be much harder to find out what, exactly, was wrong with him if Starling couldn’t speak. Holding him down, Vendetta was acutely aware this was not some strange seizure. It was more like something was trying to burn Starling from the inside out.

It was time to bring in someone better at this than him.

 ~ * ~

Raquella felt her imperious mask vanish as she watched her final scheduled client of the day scuttle out of the bank’s front door—actually scuttle, on all six of her spindly legs, only just visible through the gap between the older woman’s gown and the mosaicked floor. She felt her shoulders slump, finally relaxing. It never failed to amaze her just how concerned people acted about their valuables despite how willing they were to verbally attack those keeping said valuables safe. Still, it wasn’t so bad most days. And if she was finished early and there wasn’t an emergency she could usually go home without too much trouble.

The squeaks and flapping of the thousands of bats clinging to the ceiling was almost soothing, if somewhat difficult to hear, as she penned the necessary account adjustments into her ledger. Raquella had just leaned over to rummage in one of her desk drawers as someone stepped up to her station. She glanced up briefly before returning to her search. “Hello, Yann. It’s been some time, hasn’t it?”

In the golden light filtering in through the bank’s enormous stained-glass windows, Yann’s greasy hair looked even worse than usual. Raquella noted he wouldn’t stop fidgeting and his usually immaculate three-piece suit had been thrown on as though he were in a great hurry. She almost commented on it, but stopped herself at the last moment. Yann being here meant something was probably amiss and Raquella had no desire to risk her job (and, by extension, her means to ensure her siblings continued to grow up comfortably) with a sharp comment. Instead, she retrieved the folders she’d been looking for and feigned a lack of interest.

“Miss Joubert,” Yann replied by way of greeting. He sucked in a deep breath and added, “Miss, I need you to get your things together and come with me.”

“I’m almost done for the day, Yann,” she replied evenly, suspicion beginning to tug at her sternum. She paused, staring at her desk with a frown. “Did you see where my pen went?”

Yann held it up with a thin, humourless smile. “Vendetta asks that you join him…regardless of what you’re currently doing.”

Raquella snatched the pen back with a sigh. She’d had a feeling that was the case as soon as she’d set eyes upon him. She couldn’t imagine what he would need so abruptly but she was well aware that the answer to Vendetta’s summons were never “no”. Like a trained beast, you came when called. However, there was also five minutes left in her work day. Despite the lateness of the day, she knew there would be a great many people on the streets for hours yet. It was possible to stretch her getting ready to leave over these last few minutes…given how long the drive up to Savage Row and the Heights was, she doubted it would seem suspicious if it took just a bit longer. Still, the look on Yann’s face concerned her.

“Give me a moment, then,” Raquella said, gathering together her folders and papers.

“Immediately, he said.” Yann’s eyes never seemed to leave her face and Raquella forced herself to not show her discomfort. “And with haste.”

Raquella’s frown deepened and she narrowed her eyes, silently challenging him. “Look, I understand you’re doing your job, Yann, but so am I. And if you think I can just walk out of this building without turning in these documents, then you’re a fool who clearly doesn’t know enough about the man he’s working for.”

Yann’s expression remained impassive but his gaze briefly flicked upwards, to where the bats hung en masse. He gave a slow nod of acceptance, but made no attempts to remove himself from before her.

Plan to linger now thoroughly ruined, she hurriedly stacked everything together, picked up the stack, and stepped down from her podium. The bank was still crowded, almost every clerk was busy assisting someone and those that weren’t were either counting out money or scribbling away in ledgers. Raquella kept her head down and maneuvered her way through the crowds as swiftly as possible.

Mr. Worsley, the head clerk, sat at the far end of the room, his desk covered in stacks and stacks of paper that seemed to have overflowed onto the floor. He didn’t look up as Raquella carefully made her way up the stairs to him, instead electing to continue stamping and signing documents before moving them to a new stack for later sorting.

“You are early today, Miss Joubert,” Mr. Worsley observed disapprovingly, working as he spoke.

“I’m aware, sir,” she replied, making an effort to keep her tone apologetic and meek. She couldn’t shake the feeling that she was going to be fired for this. Excuses kept drifting through her mind, but they all sounded pathetically weak.

“Are the additional account adjustments complete?” He finally accepted her stack from her, transferring certain pages to his desk and setting the rest of the stack on the floor beside him.

“I…no, sir, they’re not.” She felt her cheeks burn despite all attempts to look dignified. If she explained the situation, would he care? It was Vendetta’s bank, surely that meant something? Or would he think she was just attempting to name drop to get out of trouble? No one had attempted to lord her previous position as Vendetta’s maid over her yet, and she didn’t really want the other clerks to start. Even if they didn’t lay a hand to her, it would have been all too easy to make life much, much more difficult for her. “I—” She stopped, uncertain what to even say, and cast a helpless glance towards where Yann lurked, Raquella’s bag already in hand.

Mr. Worsley followed her gaze and the reaction was immediate. His posture shifted and his tiny eyes narrowed. Had he the mouth of a human and not of a leech, Raquella was certain he would have been frowning. Everyone who worked at the bank was well aware of who Yann was and who he worked for. Only Vendetta himself would have had more clout to pull her away without fuss.

Her boss remained silent a moment before reaching down and retrieving the largest of Raquella’s ledgers. “I want those new numbers by midnight on Sunday. No later,” he instructed, handing the ledger over. “Or you may find yourself searching for a new career.”

“Yes, sir.”

“And…please extend my regards?”

“I will, Mr. Worsley,” Raquella assured him, hugging the ledger to her chest as she turned to go. Relief swept through her and her steps seemed lighter and quicker than they had felt on the way to Mr. Worsley’s desk. The adjustments weren’t difficult at all. The only thing she’d have to be cautious of was getting them in on time…which ought to be easy, she assured herself, depending on what Vendetta wanted.

Yann seemed to be resisting the urge to tap his foot when Raquella finally reached him, but he handed over her bag and waited for her to slip the ledger in before enquiring, “Which way to your flat?”

Raquella paused, blinking confusedly at him. “Why do you care to know?”

“Vendetta suggested that you might wish to bring a change of clothing.”

The din of the crowds around her faded as thoughts swirled almost ominously through her head. What on earth could he want that would require her to pack a bag? Her mind instantly summoned visions of the incident with Cornelius Xavier and the Crimson Stone. That had been the first and last time Vendetta had unexpectedly pulled her away from her work and thrown her into a situation away from home…and she’d nearly been eaten. Still, this couldn’t possibly be as bad, could it? And what was a night or two at the Heights? She’d lived there for years; it would probably feel like she’d never left.

So why did she feel so uncertain?

“What does he want, Yann?” she murmured as he led her out of the bank.

For the first time she could remember, Yann’s expression softened slightly. He almost looked apologetic. “I couldn’t say, Miss Joubert.”

She followed him into a waiting carriage, hoping it wasn’t going to be as bad as she thought it would be. Raquella stared up at the bank’s single, crooked spire as they drove off. In the dark, it loomed over the street like a threat and Raquella had to force herself to look away. She hoped this would be a quick visit.

~ * ~

By the time Raquella had retrieved a change of clothing, both her and Yann’s patience with each other had vanished. They fell into a huffy silence that couldn’t quite hide the fact that Yann was as on edge as Raquella was.

She was surprised when, instead of directing the carriage towards Savage Row, Yann began steering them towards a well-hidden crossing point she’d only used once before. Despite her curiosity, she bit back a tide of questions. What on Darkside was Vendetta doing in Lightside? She was aware he often had business there, but that business rarely included her. In fact, the only times she’d really ever gone into Lightside were to help Jonathan. A twinge of what almost felt like loneliness stabbed through her gut. She missed Jonathan, even if she understood his reasons for temporarily remaining in Lightside. But that didn’t change the fact that Vendetta needing her in Lightside usually meant Jonathan was involved…and if Vendetta had gotten a hold of Jonathan, or was planning to cause harm to him, that was going to open up the gates for a lot more trouble. Harry wasn’t going to be happy.

Those thoughts followed her through the crossing point, not leaving even with the physical pain leaving Darkside brought about. She traded her seat in the carriage for the front passenger seat of a sleek sports car she’d never seen before. By the time they’d left Islington the pain was gone and Raquella had begun to accept that she probably wasn’t going to like whatever happened to her.

They continued south east in almost perfect silence. She watched the people on the streets as they eventually crossed the Thames. Couples, business people, groups of friends, tourists, children; all going to different places. Oblivious to Darkside’s existence. She wondered, briefly, what it would be like to be one of them—to have gone to school, to go to the cinema with friends or out dancing, to have gotten driving lessons, to own a mobile phone. They weren’t wistful thoughts, but they weren’t terrible, either. The thought that maybe her siblings would have had an easier life was nice to think of, but Darkside was home. And not knowing of it felt almost like losing a part of herself.

“We’re here,” Yann announced, slowly driving down into an underground garage and pulling into a parking space.

Raquella slowly got out of the car, staring around in unabashed amazement. So many cars…and all of them expensive and shiny. She was certain she could have purchased a house on Savage Row and a large portion of the Grand with the money it took to purchase just one of the cars. Something didn’t feel right, though. The air was silent, perfectly still, and Raquella felt the prickle of paranoia creep over her. As though there was some monster lying in wait just out of sight. She fidgeted and the rustling of her skirt sounded alarmingly loud to her straining ears.

“Ms. Joubert?”

Yann stood waiting by a lift at the back of the garage and, hesitating only briefly, she followed him. Her footsteps echoed off the walls like a heartbeat. She had never been more thankful of Yann’s presence than she was the moment she finally reached him and followed him into the lift.

Her stomach jolted as the lift began moving. It took far longer to reach their floor than she’d thought and she wasn’t entirely certain what to expect when the doors opened. Raquella was used to seeing Vendetta in Darkside; in the townhouse which boasted of Victorian elegance or at the Heights, which was sprawling, brooding, and Gothic in all aspects. Had she any hopes for what kind of place Vendetta would stay at in Lightside, she would have imagined some place like those she was familiar with. She would have been wrong. The doors opened to whitewashed walls and highly polished wooden floors. She barely noticed the décor—minimalistic, but hinting at comfort—instead transfixed by the view out of the windows. Heavy shutters had been pulled away from the large windows, revealing countless dots of lights speckled throughout the darkness. The city glowed like a galaxy—a kaleidoscope of light like stars. Raquella wasn’t sure she’d ever seen something so beautiful.

“You can leave now, Yann,” Vendetta remarked, startling Raquella out of her staring. She hadn’t noticed him, seated in the living room, on first glance. As the lift doors closed on Yann, the vampire set a book aside and rose to his feet.

Raquella was well aware there were a fair number of people who had been surprised and subsequently fooled by Vendetta’s apparent youth, but she didn’t really see it herself. In the loft’s harsh lighting he looked somewhat peaked and drawn, but not harmless. She immediately dropped into a respectful curtsy.

“Hello, Raquella,” he bid conversationally, removing his spectacles and placing them safely in his shirt’s pocket.

“Good evening, sir,” she replied. It was still hard to remember she no longer needed to keep her eyes down and her posture submissive, but, if she were being honest, she wasn’t trying very hard to break the habit. “Yann said you needed to see me?”

Vendetta remained silent for a moment, clearly lost in thought. He crossed half the distance between them before stopping and saying, “I would say that what I’m about to show you does not leave this building; however, given your previous predilections, I’m more than aware of how unlikely it is that it will remain quiet. I’ll be blunt: I need your help.”

The flush that had burned its way onto her cheeks at his previous words had vanished. She felt cold, her stomach knotted with concern. “I…don’t understand, sir.”

“The door on your left.”

Apprehensive and wary, Raquella opened the door to a bedroom that was larger than her sitting room back home. Her gaze was immediately drawn to the body on the bed.

“Jonathan!” Raquella couldn’t recall the last time she’d moved so fast. Her skirts tangled about her ankles as she flocked to his side and dropped down to sit beside him. It had been years since she’d last seen him—standing beside Carnegie’s grave in the dusk as rain fell over Bleakmoor. He’d grown up—his face was thinner and his shoulders were broader. However, in this moment, older did not mean better. He looked terrible. His face was flushed with fever and drenched with sweat, matting his brown hair to his forehead. His shirt was gone and a thick bandage had been taped down on his upper abdomen, a tinge of pink showing through the cotton-y material.

As her surprise faded, ice seeped into her veins. What on Darkside was Jonathan doing here? Vendetta and Jonathan had never gotten along—at most, they tolerated each other, but Raquella had always suspected Vendetta was biding his time until it suited him best…and Jonathan feared the vampire’s retribution more than he cared to admit. Jonathan would never have come to Vendetta for help on his own. But it wasn’t in Vendetta’s way to injure an enemy and then bandage their wounds.

“Oh, Jonathan, what happened to you?” Raquella breathed, pressing a hand to his cheek.

“I found him in this state,” Vendetta informed her from the doorway; Raquella hadn’t heard him approach and, any other time, would have been ashamed to discover he could still sneak up on her. “There was no indication how it happened.”

“His wounds don’t appear to be infected but he’s burning with fever,” she murmured, more to herself than to either man. “He needs a doctor or a hospital—”

Raquella,” he interrupted sharply. It was only once he was certain he had her attention that, with a surprising gentleness, he added, “I called for a doctor…they were unable to help.”

She stared up at him, trying and failing to collect her thoughts. His expression was unreadable, but there was something about his eyes that made it impossible to look away. Like he was attempting to drive a point home without voicing it. Suspicion tingled at the back of her mind—she could feel it like a twitching under her skin. “Sir,” she began slowly, “why am I here? Saving him…forgive me for being blunt, sir, but random acts of kindness are not in your repertoire. Not usually.”

“No, they’re not,” he agreed. “I do not care if Starling survives, but given the current climate—despite my personal feelings on the matter, it would be unwise to allow myself to become embroiled in a conflict due to a misunderstanding.” He looked away with a sigh and, as though the words would pain him if he lingered over them, continued in a rush, “I am not in the habit of begging for things, Raquella, but I don’t know what to do and I need your counsel.”

“…I…I understand, sir,” she replied. Raquella was uncertain whether or not she was surprised to find she truly did understand. Self-preservation, after all, wasn’t an uncommon trait for a Darksider. Nor was she oblivious to how little Harry trusted Vendetta—if he was one of the people her former master was concerned over, everything suddenly made a lot more sense. Irregardless, Jonathan could not die; she wouldn’t let him, not while she had a chance to do something. She gathered herself, welcoming whatever calm she could summon up, and took a deep breath. “If a doctor couldn’t help, there has to be some other means. It just has to be discovered.”

They went over what Vendetta had already tried to use to help Jonathan, slowly discussing how each attempt had affected Jonathan but failing to come up with any new information of use. Raquella checked his wounds, frowning to herself. All three punctures were clean and only one was still bleeding—and even that was only a small trickle. Jonathan’s skin wasn’t swollen or discoloured, and he didn’t react when she prodded at the wound site. There was no sign of pus or odd discharge. When asked, Vendetta relayed that he was unable to smell infection but, while it put Raquella’s mind to ease somewhat, it didn’t really help. Eventually, they both fell into a contemplative silence.

Outside, the stars twinkled an impassive vigil as a thin crescent moon slowly sunk to the horizon.

This is hopeless, Raquella thought, sagging into her armchair. The clock had bypassed midnight some time ago and weariness had seeped into Raquella’s bones. They’d moved their conversation out of the spare room and into the living room—the girl eventually fetching a couple mugs of tea in a weak attempt at helping her thoughts progress faster.

“Jonathan isn’t going to make it, is he?” she finally enquired, tentatively shattering the room’s quiet.

“No. He will succumb and pass.” He paused, shifting slightly in his seat, and then added with intrigue: “Unless he was made immune to death.”

Raquella felt as though the air had been sucked from her lungs. The sudden urge to move swept over her and she jolted up, shifting from foot to foot to keep from walking away. “I—make him into—” she paced a couple steps away and stopped— “Jonathan wouldn’t like that.”

The look on Vendetta’s face said he didn’t much like it either, but that he could see no other option. Raquella really didn’t want to agree with him. Turning Jonathan…in a vampire? It might save him, but at what cost? She’d seen how much her former master had suffered from his condition. And how cruel it made him. Imagining Jonathan becoming like him was painful. But she also thought about Alain and Theresa and how the Starlings had finally become a family again. What was worse: letting their son die or turning him into a beast?

“Will it work?” she finally whispered, barely able to get the words out.

“Perhaps.”

She nodded, thinking it over. Unable to voice her agreement, she met his gaze and nodded once more. Then do it.

Vendetta didn’t immediately move, and Raquella wasn’t certain if he had understood she was agreeing or if he was just setting his thoughts in order. In a single, smooth movement, he rose and began walking back down the hallway.

Forgive me, Jonathan. Unable and unwilling to follow him, she dropped back into her chair. All that was left was to wait. And hope.