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The next day it was her wristband that flashed and her boots were a little heavy as she walked through the corridors. Phoenix just wished that Cassie hadn’t said all those things and planted those seeds in her mind, she’d just spent a day with him and nothing had changed between them, but had that only been because Belfire had been there too? Phoenix almost asked Belfire before she’d left, but that burning had come back, her mouth going dry, her heart hammering in her chest, and she’d decided to leave it, but now she was walking without any answers and no way to find them out until it was too late.

Before she knew it she was staring at the back of his head, watching and waiting for him to turn around and say something, but he only raised his hand, calling her over and holding it to his cheek like he had that time of their first Fight. This time his thumb didn’t dig, this time those Implants didn’t flicker and he only stared, that code cascading down the screen too quickly for her to read.

“I’m almost done,” he whispered, and she could only nod.

She almost told him to take his time, that there was no rush and she could just stand there all night, but he sighed, leaning back in his chair and that screen flickered. Suddenly she caught glimpses of slaves, some of them she knew, some of them she didn’t, walking, talking, training in places that she recognised and others she didn’t.

Just how big was this place and how many people did he have stashed away in it? She almost asked, but then she saw those rings that circled each face and the information that popped up on the side, and then she was leaning forward, her eyes darting and rushing to read. He knew everything, their age, their height, their health, even their heartbeat, always, at all times, did he watch her that closely too? He sighed then, letting her hand go and staring up at her.

“Something on your mind?” he asked.

“Are you asking or are you telling me?” she nodded towards the screens.

“Hmm,” he hummed. “I’ve been thinking about separating you and Belfire, don’t give me a reason to. I don’t need you picking up any of his bad habits.”

Her mouth went so dry then, her forehead lining in a crease as she stared at the screens, and then she cleared her throat, shaking her head and asking, “Does he argue with you a lot?”

“Why does that matter to you?”

“I just-,” she started, turning to look at him. “I don’t want him to end up in the Fights.”

“That’s more up to him than you,” he said. “He’s a Favourite, Phe, he’ll only stop being one if he messes it up. He earned it.”

She wanted to say something else, she wanted to argue and defend him, but she only nodded, her eyes flicking up the screen, that crease in her forehead growing deeper.

“Cassie said,” was all she could say before had to clear her throat. “She gave Willow a few months.”

He sighed then, a deep, long sigh, a sigh that had her turning to look at him. “Give or take,” he said.

“Can’t-? Can’t you do anything?”

“I can’t buy her if that’s what you’re asking. He’d never sell her.”

“Can’t you talk to him? Maybe ask him to treat her-?”

He sighed again, that hand coming out to squeeze hers. “I know this is hard for you,” he said. “But there’s not much either of us can do for her, she’s on her own.”

“I-,” she started, but then she shook her head. “They’re all dead,” she whispered. “I-, Aspen, he’s-, I’m so sick of people dying… What if-? What if Iris is with a Master like that? I-, I can’t-, I can’t-,” she shook her head. “Why didn’t you just buy her?” she was gasping then, her hand coming to clutch at her heart, tears streaming down her cheeks. “Why?” she asked. “Why? I would’ve been fine and she-,” she cried. “She would’ve been safe with you.”

She didn’t hear him move, all she knew was that he was holding her, his hand in her hair and pressing her to his chest, but that just made everything so much worse, her eyes so heavy, her heart aching as she held him back, her fingers clinging to the back of his robe. He didn’t say anything, not for a long while, only holding her, his arms so warm around her, his head resting against her own.

“Why?” she asked, pushing him away. “You could’ve just bought her, then everything would’ve been fine.”

“I wanted you.”

“I don’t care!” she gasped. “You should’ve bought her!”

He looked away, his face so tight, but those Implants so soft. “You were better.”

“I’m not.”

“You are, Phoenix, and I needed someone who could fight. She was too young and… it was her fault you got caught.”


“It was, Phe, you know it. Your sensors gave her plenty of time to get out, but she didn’t, she panicked and she hid.”

“Shut up! It was my fault! I missed!”

He stared at her a moment, those eyes never blinking, those Implants so slow. “It was already over by then, you know that, Ash knew that, that’s why he didn’t come with you. You did everything you could… and you gave more than you should have, but I didn’t know any of that then, all I knew was that one of you had tried to fight and… you had that Radar,” he cleared his throat, his eyes flicking away to stare at the wall. “I’d been waiting a long time for a Woodlander like you, Phe, I-,” he shook his head. “You’ve done your part to protect her, now you just have to let me do mine.”

Somehow to hear him say that made her feel so much lighter, somehow it had her heart growing so heavy and her chest so tight.

“I can’t,” she whispered. “She’s my family, I can’t, I have to protect her. Please-! Please, don’t do this without me, I have to-, she’s my sister, I have to-,”

“I’m not doing this without you, Phoenix, but it’s not on your shoulders now, that’s what I’m saying. I’m working on it, you’re holding up your end of the deal, the rest of it is up to me.”

“You have to find her,” she shook her head. “Please, I can’t-, I can’t-, she’s all I’ve got left. They’re all dead.”

He nodded, a slow nod that got much quicker, his shoulders rising and finally he sighed. “I know,” he said, reaching for her again, holding her tightly, his arms around her so firm no matter how loudly she gasped or cried, and then he led her to the sofa, pulling up a stool and sitting in front of her, his hand clasped around hers, his forehead furrowing into a tight crease. “You probably don’t want to hear this now, but I think it’s better if we just get it all out. I-,” he cut himself off, shaking his head and looking away, and it took a moment for those eyes to flick back, the light in them a little brighter, his face a little stiffer. “Your people are dying out.”

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