“Those jerks aren’t what’s really bothering you,” said Aline. They were standing on an overlook some distance from the Institute. From here you could see the desert, carpeted with wildflowers and green scrub, and the ocean as well, blue and gleaming below. There had been ocean at Wrangel Island, cold and icy and beautiful, but in no way welcoming. This was the sea of Helen’s childhood—the sea of long days spent splashing in the waves with her sisters and brothers. “You can tell me anything, Helen.”
“They hate me,” Helen said in a small voice.
“Who hates you?” Aline demanded. “I’ll kill them.”
“My brothers and sister,” said Helen. “Please don’t kill them, though.”
Aline looked stunned. “What do you mean, they hate you?”
“Ty ignores me,” said Helen. “Dru snarls at me. Tavvy despises that I’m not Julian. And Mark—well, Mark doesn’t hate me, but his mind seems far away. I can’t drag him into this.”
Aline crossed her arms and stared thoughtfully at the ocean. This was one of the things Helen loved about her wife. If Helen said something was the case, Aline would consider it from all angles; she was never dismissive.
“I told Julian to tell all the kids I was happy on Wrangel Island,” said Helen. “I didn’t want them to worry. But now—I think they believe I spent all these years not caring about being separated from them. They don’t know how much I missed them. They don’t know how horrible I feel that Julian had to shoulder all that responsibility, for all those years. I didn’t know.”
“The thing is,” said Aline, “they don’t just see you as replacing Julian as the person who takes care of them. You also stepped into their lives just as Livvy left them.”
“But I also loved Livvy! I also miss her—”
“I know,” Aline said gently. “But they’re just children. They’re grief stricken and lashing out. They don’t know this is why they feel angry. They just feel it.”
“I can’t do this.” Helen tried to keep her voice steady, but it was nearly impossible. She hoped the strain would be covered by the sound of the waves crashing below them, but Aline knew her too well. She could sense when Helen was upset, even when she was trying hard not to show it. “It’s too hard.”
“Baby.” Aline moved closer, wrapping her arms around Helen, brushing her lips softly with her own. “You can. You can do anything.”
Helen relaxed into her wife’s arms. When she’d first met Aline, she’d thought the other girl was taller than she was, but she’d realized later it was the way Aline held herself, arrow straight. The Consul, her mother, held herself the same way, and with the same pride—not that either of them was arrogant, but the word seemed a shade closer to what Helen imagined than simple confidence. She remembered the first love note Aline had ever written her. The world is changed because you are made of ivory and gold. The curves of your lips rewrite history. Later, she’d found out it was an Oscar Wilde quote, and had said to Aline, smiling, You’ve got a lot of nerve.
Aline had looked back at her steadily. I know. I do.
They both had, always, and it had stood them in good stead. But this wasn’t a situation where nerve mattered so much as patience. Helen had expected her younger brothers and sister to love her; she had needed it, in a way. Now she realized she had to show them her love first.
“In a way, their anger means good things,” said Aline. “It means they know you’ll always love them, no matter what. Eventually they’ll stop testing you.”
“Is there any way to speed up ‘eventually’?”
“Would thinking about it as ‘someday’ help?”
Helen sniffled a laugh. “No.”
Aline stroked her shoulder gently. “It was worth a try.”
* * *
There were a dozen or more guards posted when Emma and Julian returned to the house. It was a bright day, and sun sparkled off the swords slung over their shoulders and the water in the canal.
As they went up the stairs, Dane Larkspear was slouching against one side of the doorway, his whippety face pale under a shock of black hair. He winked at Emma as Julian, ignoring him, reached for his stele. “Nice to see you.”
“Can’t say the same,” said Emma. “Where’s your evil twin? And I mean that literally. She’s your twin, and she’s evil.”
“Yeah, I got that,” said Dane, rolling his eyes. “Samantha’s at the Scholomance. And you’ve got guests.”