They found me drunk, draped over the worn leather couch in our favorite study, and were duly concerned.
“My Lady,” Nico said cautiously, “Are you well?”
“I’m ten years old,” I replied. “Hey, can ten-year-olds drink in Ireland?”
Deven, standing in the doorway with his arms crossed, sighed. “You younglings and your deathdays, I swear. Give it a century, you won’t even remember your birthday anymore.”
Nico looked from one of us to the other. “Deathday? As in…”
The Hallowed One nodded. “They go in and out of fashion; in the 90s I used to go to at least one Deathday party a week. It was exhausting.”
“1990s?” I asked blurrily.
“1590s. But there were a lot of celebratory raves in the 1990s as well. Of course they don’t call them deathdays anymore – too sincere, not ironic enough. Now it’s…what’s the acronym? DAFALI?”
Nico looked so quizzical I snorted, and then coughed, because whiskey is never, ever a good thing to snort. I wrestled myself semi-upright on the sofa and clunked the bottle on the end table. “Do I even want to know–”
“Dead as Fuck and Loving It,” Deven replied, rolling his violet eyes. “Like I said…younglings.”
For all his snark, however, he came and sat down beside me, steering my shoulders so I leaned on him. Nico sat down at my feet. I started to protest – I still haven’t gotten used to him doing that, though he claims it’s just an Elven habit. He does it with David all the time, but of course David doesn’t mind people bowing or kneeling to him; in that respect he’s an old-fashioned Prime. And there is, I admit, something deeply sexy about Nico sitting at David’s feet unlacing his boots, or at my feet either rubbing my soles or, on occasion, painting my toenails.
“Okay,” Deven said. “Did you want a party? Or are you just having big feelings and don’t know what to do with them?”
Irritated at his insight as usual, I pretended to bite his arm, which was really just biting his arm, only not hard. “I was just thinking, and it got weird.”
“I’m glad you didn’t meet me before,” I said. “Either of you. I can’t imagine what you would have thought. I was this…ugh. A mess. Even while I was still human but living at the Haven, I was just full of self-loathing and anger and sadness and wanted to stop existing.”
Dev smiled. “Where have I seen that before.”
“Yes, but at least you were a self-loathing badass. I was just…a human.”
“I find that very difficult to believe,” Nico told me, raising an eyebrow. “A life like the one you have now is not bestowed upon the unworthy. You would never have survived to reach your…DAFALI?…if you did not already possess the strength of a Queen.”
I gestured impatiently and tried to reach for the whiskey, but Deven wisely moved it–or Misted it, rather, back into the liquor cabinet, a trick I couldn’t hope to reverse in my current state of room-spinny angst. “I was no Queen. I barely even had the strength to keep breathing.”
Deven put an arm around me, shifting us back into the couch cushions, drawing my head to his lap so I lay on my side. Nico’s fingers wound through mine, and Deven stroked my hair. Without even trying, they put out such soothing energy, I felt the alcohol start slipping, the ground steadying.
“You are ridiculous sometimes,” Dev said kindly, smiling at me. “Think back to that poor girl you used to be and remember how hard she fought. She did keep breathing. She kept walking, even when the weight of the world was pulling her into hell. She stood. She had every chance to give up on herself, but she chose, over and over, to fight. She chose love and belonging and power when she could have let the river drown her. And she got here, to us, and changed all of our lives.” He held my chin firmly for a minute so I had to look at him. “So have some compassion for that girl, Miranda. She is still part of you. We don’t shed old selves like snakeskin, we grow rings around them like a tree. And you–we–owe that girl everything.”
There was a soft knock, and David appeared in the study doorway just in time to catch me in tears. “For fuck’s sake, Dev, what did you do to our Queen?”
“Told her the truth,” he replied. “The truth always hurts the worst when it’s beautiful, doesn’t it?”
Now it was David’s turn to shake his head. “God, you sound more like an Elf every year.”
He came over and knelt in front of the sofa next to Nico, who smiled. “What is that in your hand, my Lord?”
David grinned up at me and produced a small box. “Happy…what’s it called now…”
“DAFALI,” we all three said together.
“Whatever. I know you said you didn’t care but ten years is a milestone in my opinion, so.”
I took the box and opened it; inside, resting on velvet, was a silver ring in a raven design similar to our tattoos, but with a treble clef worked into the shape and a single ruby eye that caught the light like a star.
It was a larger piece than I would have picked on my own, but David slid it on my middle finger next to my wedding ring, where it looked like I’d been wearing it for years. “There,” he said. “What do you think?”
I smiled at him. “It’s perfect.”
My conflicted knot of feelings had loosened and now came completely undone, leaving behind only a wave of appreciation and love for my Prime, and for my Elves, who surrounded me with their strength when mine was doubtful, but never let me doubt it for long. I thought again of ten-years-past Miranda, but Deven was right; I could feel some love for her just now too. I imagined going back in time and finding that Miranda, and telling her to keep fighting…that there would be times she would break into a thousand pieces, and putting herself back together would be so hard she would nearly give up…that nights would come full of agony like no other, and she would be sure she had hit bottom with no air and no footholds…but so would nights full of love and passion, of power, of beauty…a life so weird and amazing there was no way ten years ago she could even have invented it in her wildest moments. I imagined hugging her, telling her to hang on…that one night she’d be sitting in this room, with these remarkable beings who loved her so completely, and that for all the blood and death and danger, she would belong.
I imagined her looking at me like we’d both gone insane. And I laughed.
To David’s lifted eyebrow, I nodded and said, “Dead as Fuck and Loving It.” He chuckled and kissed me, then hoisted me up off the couch and gestured for the boys to follow. Still laughing, I relaxed in his arms, and let them carry me off for an informal, but greatly appreciated, celebration.
Not all beautiful true things hurt.
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