I let my fist open a bit, putting away the slice of pain. Quietly, I take a step forward, closing the space between us. After a split second of hesitation, I put a hand on her arm. “A promise I made. Not you. Not anyone else.”
Farley stills a bit, and her snarl becomes a smirk. She turns to look at me head-on, her eyes brightly blue as they catch a shaft of sunlight. “I think you might be better suited to politics than war, Mare Barrow.”
I offer a pained smile. “They’re the same thing.” A hard lesson I think I’ve finally learned. “Do you think you can do it? Kill him?”
Once, I would have expected her to scoff and boldly sneer at the implication she couldn’t. Farley is a hard woman with a harder shell. She’s what she needs to be. But something—Shade probably, Clara definitely, the bond we now share—affords me a glimpse past the general’s stony and sure exterior. She falters, her smirk fading a little.
“I don’t know,” she murmurs. “But I’ll never be able to look at myself, look at Clara, if I don’t try.”
“And neither will I, if I let you die in the attempt.” My grip tightens on her arm. “Please, don’t be stupid about this.”
Like the flip of a switch, her smirk returns in full force. She even winks. “Since when am I stupid, Mare Barrow?”
Looking up at her sends a twinge through the scars at the back of my neck, scars I almost forgot about. The pain of them seems small compared to everything else. “I just wonder where it will end,” I murmur, hoping to make her understand.
She shakes her head. “I can’t respond to a question with too many answers.”
“I mean . . . with Shade. Ptolemus. You kill him, and then what? Evangeline kills you? Kills Clara? I kill Evangeline? On and on, with no end?” I’m no stranger to death, but this feels oddly different. Calculated endings. It feels like something Maven would do, not us. Even though Farley marked Ptolemus for death long before, when I masqueraded as Mareena Titanos, that was for the Guard. For a cause, for something other than blind and bloody revenge.
Her eyes widen, vibrant and impossible. “You want me to let him live?”
“Of course not,” I almost snap. “I don’t know what I want. I don’t know what I’m talking about.” The words tumble over one another. “But I can still wonder, Farley. I know what vengeance and rage can do to a person, to the people around you. And of course I don’t want Clara to grow up without her mother.”
She turns away sharply, hiding her face. But not quickly enough to hide a sudden surge of tears. They never fall. With a jerk of her shoulder, she shrugs me away.
I push on. I have to. She needs to hear this. “She already lost Shade, and if given the choice between revenge for her father and a living mother—I know what she would choose.”
“Speaking of choices,” she grinds out, still not looking at me. “I’m proud of the one you made.”
“Farley, don’t change the subject—”
“Did you hear me, lightning girl?” She sniffs and forces a smile, turning back around to reveal a now very red and splotchy face. “I said I’m proud of you. Write that down. Commit it to memory. You probably won’t hear it again.”
In spite of myself, I chuckle darkly. “Fine. Proud of what exactly?”
“Well, besides your fashion sense”—she dusts off my shoulder, brushing away a bit of bloody dirt—“and of course your kind and calm disposition . . .”
“. . . I’m proud of you because I know what it’s like to lose the person you love.” This time she takes me by the arm, probably so I can’t run away from a conversation I don’t think I’m equipped to have.