That was the thought that ran through her head as she stood there, her mouth hanging open in shock.
The second was that she finally knew what it was like to be on the opposite side, the one who could stare in horror at what stood before her instead of being stared at. Today, no one laughed and pointed. The snide whispers and cacophony of laughter had been replaced by longing stares and jealous frowns. Dare, it seemed, was getting the opposite reaction.
It didn’t help that he was scowling. The emotion stretched across his face like a Third Reich banner during World War II, dark and ominous. She could see the glower rippling into an increasingly deepening confusion. His uncertainty crinkled the corners of his eyes and pursed the uneven curve of his mouth. And under all of that -- even more prominent than his emotions -- lay the horror of his face.
He wasn’t ugly like Tierney had been ugly. His features weren’t disproportionate; they were misshapen. As Tierney examined his face in growing shock, she absently noted that human cheekbones *should* *not* *make* the grotesque swelling shape his formed. His nose -- and --
She couldn’t even find words to describe what she saw, especially since the more his scowl deepened, the worse his appearance got. It was like a bad rendition of a Van Gogh painting; it got worse with every stroke of the imitator’s brush. Or, in this case, every tightening of Dare’s face muscles. But the worse part was, underneath that specter of ugliness, his beauty shone brightly. She knew she was the only one who could see it. Would he still be able to see beneath her outer façade?
Oh, goddess, she thought again, eyes wide and stunned, and spun away from him. She let her eyes drift to the ground and hoped her hair hid her features. If she were lucky, he wouldn’t spot her. Oh, goddess, this couldn’t be her fault, could it?
Yanking open her locker and hiding her head inside, hoping he wouldn’t recognize the now silky fall of her hair, she took two deep, calming breaths. Of course, it’s your fault, you idiot, she chided silently. Why else would Dare look like the newest circus attraction? A freak chance of nature?
Things like this didn’t happen on their own.
Breathe, Tierney. She straightened, peeking out from the edge of her locker to cast her gaze on his face one more time. Oh, dear goddess, she thought for the fourth time, and let her head fall against the cool metal. It pressed against her rapidly heating skin, the chill anchoring her to reality. What have I done?
Her mind surprised her by throwing an answer at her. Not particularly the one she would have wanted, but a response nonetheless. And it was so bitter and so vindictive that it shocked her.
She’d taught him a lesson.
Was in the process of teaching him a lesson. Somewhere deep down inside, no matter how much she tried to tell herself it wasn’t right, she was *glad* he was ugly and would finally know what it felt like. And as appalled as she was at the thoughts running through her head, she couldn’t stop them. Maybe he was having more of an effect on her than she thought. This reaction was more suited to her soulmate than it was to her.
She took another deep breath to soothe her screaming nerves, and then concentrated on what she needed to take to class, any other thoughts wiped from her mind. Still too stunned to focus on anything other than the neutrality of schoolwork and what to do about last period calculus. Her class with Dare. She’d find some way to avoid it if it killed her.
She jumped, a startled yelp escaping her. Dammit, she’d completely forgotten Raquel was there. She waited for her heartbeat to slow to its normal pace before she answered. “Yeah?”
“Are you okay?” Raquel’s head popped around the edge of her locker, concern darkening her violet eyes to a shadowed purple. “You look a little pale.”
Raquel seemed to accept that, despite the tremor running through Tierney’s voice and despite the harsh sound of her breathing. “Are you sure?” She waited for Tierney to nod before she continued. “Anyway, about that frat thing, I don’t think you need to worry.”
“What?” Tierney turned blank hazel eyes in her direction, completely lost on Raquel’s chosen topic. “What are you talking about?”
“You said--“ Raquel’s mouth opened, then closed, and then opened again. “Hello? Earth to Tierney? Are you even in the same universe today?”
What a good question. Tierney wasn’t entirely sure.
Where was her mind today? Probably off in Neverland with Peter Pan and the Lost Boys, and just as reluctant to return. Too bad Tinkerbell wasn’t here to sprinkle her with fairy dust so she could fly after it. But she’d never come back if that happened anyway, and running away was hardly the way to solve problems. After all, you could only run so long before you had nowhere else to go.
Tierney had stopped running from things years ago. She had no intention of falling back into old habits for any reason, even Dare. Now, *avoiding* him was an entirely different story, something she would happily try to accomplish for as long as possible. Oh, she knew he’d eventually catch up with her, but later was always better than sooner.
Like in a few millennia, maybe.
Smiling weakly at Raquel, who was still staring, she shrugged apologetically. “Sorry. I didn’t get much sleep last night.”
Raquel was immediately contrite. “Oh, Tier, are you still having those nightmares?”
“No,” Tierney answered, shaking her head to highlight her answer. It had been a long time since she’d had any nightmares or any dreams at all. Months, at least, if not years. Though she wouldn’t be surprised if they cropped up again in the near future, featuring Dare as the star monster. “I just couldn’t fall asleep.”
“Too much -- well, you know -- with Julien?” Raquel eyed her slyly.
Tierney paused in the middle of removing a book, her lips parted slightly in shock. After a moment of stillness, she turned to look at her friend, her face reflected suspicion. “Raquel, are you asking me if I got play last night?”
“No,” Raquel answered quickly, trying her best to look sweet and innocent, yet failing miserably. After a few seconds, she gave up. “Yes. Did you? I mean, I’m not asking for details--“
Cutting her off with a quick flick of her wrist, Tierney smiled and finished extracting her books. “No, I was sick when I got home and I passed out in my room, so I didn’t hear the doorbell. I woke up around midnight and then couldn’t get back to sleep.”
Hopefully, that explanation would satisfy Raquel, and adhere to the version she’d given Julien so neither would figure out she was lying to them. She really needed to work on her honesty skills. On the other hand... Given the choice between breaking the law and lying, she’d definitely pick the latter. It was better for her health.
Besides, the old adage “what you don’t know won’t hurt you” seemed to apply here. Really, the only person who was being hurt was Dare, something that made a small knot of satisfaction rise in-- No, don’t think about that, Tierney. You don’t want to sink any closer to his level, or worse, below it. Though those depths might be so low it would be impossible to even reach them. And then she’d just fall. Another thing she didn’t want.
“So you didn’t even see Julien last night?” Raquel sounded disappointed. “I wanted--“
“I know what you wanted,” Tierney interrupted. She rolled her eyes, debating whether or not to shut her locker. Better use it as a shield until the bell rang and she could safely escape. It seemed to be working well as an anti-Dare mechanism. “I’m telling you, he doesn’t like me!”
“Uh-huh. Did you bring those papers you said you had?”
Hazel eyes darkened to a deep, warm brown and narrowed dangerously, Tierney scowled at her friend, partially for changing the subject and partially for her disbelief. Her interested in what Tierney was supposed to show her, however, (almost) made up for her other reaction.
“I brought them,” she confirmed. “I can show you after school.”
“Great. I’ll see you after class then.” With that said, Raquel slammed her locker shut and whirled away, her straight blond hair whipping behind her.
But Raquel was already gone. A disbelieving half-laugh escaped Tierney before she could stop it. Well, that was lovely. Now Tierney was left to fend for herself in the middle of this crowded hallway, praying that Dare didn’t notice her. Beautiful. She quickly lost sight of Raquel’s corn silk-colored hair and instead transferred her gaze to her watch.
Two minutes before classes started. She could survive that, couldn’t she? Maybe she’d start walking now, just to be safe. As long as she kept her back to Dare and Byron, she shouldn’t have any difficulty.
Normally, that thought incited all kinds of problems, but today... Fate must be pitying her, because she made it down the hallway without anyone calling her name or threatening bodily harm, which was what she expected from Dare in the near future. Or as soon as he figured out what was going on.
As she caught one last glimpse of his face, for the first time she seriously started to wonder what the hell had happened. She’d done the spell right, gotten the blood... Everything had gone smoothly. So why -- what possible explanation could there be -- had Dare even been affected by the spell? Had she screwed the spell up or had she simply gotten the wrong one?
Definitely an issue she wanted to investigate when she got home tonight, because she didn’t understand. Unless there was some direction she’d missed somewhere -- which was impossible since the spell really hadn’t had that many steps or been that complicated for all its forbiddances -- she and Dare should be a happy couple right about now. Instead, she raced down the hall in the opposite direction, doing her best to avoid him.
Maybe, she thought, inspiration striking as she caught a glimpse of a golden head bobbing down the hall, she should ask the person who had gotten it for her. Suddenly feeling slightly better and less guilty about the spell, she quickened her steps. Jihn might know something she didn’t.
“What’s wrong with everyone today?” Dare growled, glaring viciously at a human girl -- a *human* -- who sneered at him as she walked by. He was tempted to-- Someone jostled him into the locker before he could complete that thought.
Byron glanced at him, surprised, and shrugged affably. He adjusted his grip on his textbooks, leaning back against his locker door. “Don’t know what you’re talking about. Seem pretty normal to me.”
Incredulous, Dare shoved his elbow into the ribs of someone else who decided they had every right to violate his personal space. The human male went flying across the hall and slammed into a locker, but Dare was too irritated to care, if he would have anyway.
For the last two days, humans had been showing him almost as much deference as they would show to royalty. Now they were treating him like the scum of the earth. Scornful glares sent his way, snickering whispers of which he could only catch snippets, and the physical disrespect he was receiving from all sides were all examples of how their behavior had changed. If it got any worse...
No one touched Byron. In fact, they went out of their way to avoid him, just as they’d done for the last two days and just as they’d done for Dare in the two days he’d been at the school. What he couldn’t figure out was why things were suddenly different. Had he forgotten to wear pants or something equally embarrassing?
Glancing down at himself, he saw that was clearly not the issue. All clothes present and accounted for. No horrible stains, nothing taped to his back -- luckily, because that would have really pissed him off -- and no other possible explanations for why he’d suddenly lost status.
Byron, not being treated that way himself and being utterly oblivious to things most normal people would immediately pick up on, *wouldn’t* notice anything different. That would be like asking for a tropical heat wave in the middle of January or some other miracle. Either way, it wasn’t going to happen.
“I’m not in the mood to deal with them today,” Dare answered coolly, frowning fiercely at the nearest human, his piercing golden stare pinning the girl to her place. She stood there, trapped like a butterfly in a spider’s web, but without the physical constraints. Sneering, he looked away.
Frowning, Byron said, “Well, don’t see what there is to deal with. You can ignore ‘em, can’t you? They’re just vermin anyway.”
Dare raised an eyebrow, then mirrored his position, leaning casually against his locker door, a ferocious scowl still painted across his face. “Kind of hard to do when they’re attacking you from all sides.” He made a point of stretching his legs to block a section of the hallway. The vermin had to either step over them, step around them, or trip. Personally, he hoped the next vermin fell flat on his face and took several others with him when he went. Dare always had been a fan of the domino effect.
Unfortunately, none of them were stupid enough to get close enough to him to get close to Byron, which Dare found to be slightly odd. After all, Byron catered to his meals and seemed to be pretty well integrated into the human society, so why were they wary of him? He didn’t even look particularly dangerous, just... vague. As if he’d left the second half of his brain at home or as if he’d forgotten to turn it on.
“Bell’s about to ring.” Byron interjected, straightening from his slumped position and breaking into Dare’s thoughts. He glared at the offending history textbook in his hand. “Managed to get your schedule rearranged yesterday.”
Blinking at this unprecedented bit of information, Dare asked, “Why?”
Byron shrugged. “D’you have a reason why I shouldn’t have?”
“Thought it’d make things more interesting,” Byron admitted. He fingered the spine of his history book thoughtfully. “Don’t have any other Nightworlders in my classes. I get sick of being around vermin all the time.”
What the hell? Dare stood from his slumped position at his locker. “Aren’t you the one who’s always telling me to be nice to them?”
“Doesn’t pay to anger your food,” Byron acknowledged as the bell rang. “Get your history book. That’s our first class.”
Instead of pursuing the subject, Dare turned to his locker and found his history book in silence. The kind of silence that hung heavy in the air and spoke louder than words. If it had been anyone but Byron, he or she would have been demanding to know what the look on Dare’s face meant. They would have noticed the unspoken remarks -- which Dare would readily admit were scathing -- and wondered what was left unsaid.
But apparently, Byron was deaf.
No surprise there. With a sigh, he shut his locker. “What room is that in again?”
Byron seemed to be at a loss. “Don’t know. It’s down the hall.”
Another human slammed into him from behind. He could tell she was human because she *smelled* wrong. Not like someone from the Nightworld at all, but that sweet, musky smell -- the smell of prey. Any other time he might have turned to her and smiled, a predatory smile with the sharp edges of his razor teeth showing beneath his smug smile. Today he was more likely to rip off her head.
Disrespect from humans did not bring out his softer side. His jaw clenched. Whirling until he faced the offender, he met her eyes coldly. She wore an icy glare, her nose wrinkling in distaste as she saw his face, and tapped her foot impatiently. His expression had no evident effect other than deepening her disgust.
“You’re in my way,” she snapped. Her head titled arrogantly to the side in a gesture Dare knew all too well, having used it himself more often than not, usually to express his superiority. “Move.”
Byron looked momentarily shocked. “Now, wait a minute--“
The revulsion melted from her face, turning instead into a simpering smile. She even fluttered her eyelashes. “Byron, I didn’t see you!”
“Why don’t you pretend like you still don’t and run along?” Dare suggested nastily, before Byron could start flirting with another potential food source. “It would be our pleasure.”
Her eyes, when they swept over him, were positively scathing. She turned her attention back to Byron, who, in typical inattentive fashion, was already focused on something else. The hopeful expression faded from her face, but she reached out to lay her hand on his arm. Surprised, his eyes snapped to her face. “I’ll see you in English?”
He nodded vaguely at her. “Right. English.”
She smiled sweetly at him, glared at Dare, and then continued down the hall. As she left, Dare heard her mutter something that any human would have missed. But he wasn’t human and he heard her clearly. For a moment, he thought his hearing was off, but he also knew better.
Frowning, he stared after her, wondering what that comment could possibly have meant. Maybe he should find out. Glancing around, he noticed that the hall was mostly cleared now, only one or two stragglers still lurking at their lockers or shuffling past classrooms. The bell was going to ring any minute.
“Do you have a copy of my schedule?” he demanded suddenly, turning his attention to Byron.
Byron blinked. “D’you need one?”
“It would be helpful.”
Briefly disconcerted, Byron turned back to his locker and tugged open the door, which seemed to be wedged in place by the fall of papers spilling from the bottom shelf. Dare eyed the mess with concern. As he wondered how long this was going to take, the late bell rang.
The vampire didn’t show concern about potential tardiness, or even glance up. He idly shifted through a pile of papers on top of a book Dare would bet had never been opened. “Know it’s here. I just had it this morning.”
“Right there,” Dare said dryly, pointing at the paper that had just fallen to the floor. He bent down to pick it up and traced a finger down the list of classes. History... Room 113. He started to hand it to Byron, then thought better of it and tucked it into the front of his history book. “I’ll meet you there.”
“Where are you going?”
“Locker room,” Dare answered, turning away. He left Byron standing in the hallway. Quickly striding down the hall, his steps predatory and dangerous, he found the gym -- and thus the locker rooms -- based solely on instinct instead of memory.
He shoved his way through the door. Hopefully none of those nasty vermin boys would be in here to bother him, because he really didn’t think he would respond well to their friendly overtures at this point. The smell of humans was so strong here. That smell appealed to Dare’s anger, urging him to give into his instincts and treat them like the buffet they were. If only it weren’t for those damned laws.
Mirrors ran all along the upper part of the back wall, something Dare couldn’t quite fathom. Why so many mirrors in a guys’ locker room? Girls, he could understand. After all, each one of them had to find a space so they could apply their makeup and fix their hair and -- well, he didn’t really know what else girls did, though the answer was probably interesting.
What was it that girl had said? Oh, yes. It had been a suggestion, and not a nice one at that. The thought of vermin insulting him made blood rush to his head. /Why don’t you run along so we don’t have to look at you/.
That had been the gist of it, which a few choice insults and a few other suggestions as well. None of them pleasant. Grimacing, he stalked closer to the mirror, the reflection staring back at him both alien and unpleasant. This had to be wrong. But...
Mirrors couldn’t lie, could they?
This one *had* to be lying. The face staring back at him wasn’t his, wasn’t the one he’d known for eighteen years of his life. Hell, he’d never seen an image this grotesque in a horror film. So why was it staring back at him?
Appalled, he glared at the offending visage, but, out of morbid curiosity, perhaps, he still moved closer. It -- no, he -- was *deformed*. Rather like the hunchback of Notre Dame, minus the hunchback. Okay, maybe that wasn’t a good analogy. He looked like--
Words suddenly defied him. Every word but one.
The exact word he had used to describe Tierney yesterday... Wait a minute. His mouth pursed into a thin, narrow line as realization washed over him. Tierney. She had to be behind this. No one else had a reason to do anything like this to him. That aside, no one else he knew -- except on the enclave -- was powerful enough.
It had to be her.
Oh, wait until he got his hands on her. That nasty little half-breed was in for the shock of her life if she thought she was going to get away with this. What was it supposed to accomplish? Earn his undying love for teaching him humility? Hardly. She’d have been better off making herself beautiful instead. Then he might have given her a shot.
But this... This was something else entirely. Blinding rage rushed through him, even as he tried to shove it back under control. She’d change this back if it killed both of them. That thought calmed him and the anger clouding his vision faded to a dull haze. If she could cast the spell, she could uncast it, or find one that would fix it.
Satisfied with his solution, he turned away from the mirror. Now that he was excessively late, perhaps it was time to go to class. But as he turned away, he couldn’t help remembering a silly superstition that had persisted both on the enclave and in human history.
According to the soulmate principle, Tierney was his mirror. She was his perfect match, or some other random bullshit like that. A reflection of what he was. Of what they could be together. And still that superstition floated through his mind, hammering at his consciousness like a resonating gong. He couldn’t help remembering...
Mirrors steal your soul.