Twenty-One (2)

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There was something soothing about a cemetery in the rain.

Vita and Archie were supposed to be shopping in preparation for the house party, but when she'd asked if they could visit Tallulah's grave, Archie had told Mr. Lawrence to drive them there without asking any questions.

The graveyard was deserted, and Archie held their umbrella as they made their way between the tall mausoleums. The soft sound of the rain against the trees' leaves was only troubled by their crunching footsteps on the muddy path.

Tallulah had been buried in the Redcliffe's family vault, her name added to a list of Victorian era ancestors. Ivy grew on the neighbouring headstones, soon to reach the newly cleaned tomb.

Vita and Archie stood with their arms linked for a while without speaking, both lost in their own thoughts.

"I killed her," Vita said at last.

Saying out loud a truth she had refused to even think until then didn't feel as liberating as she'd thought. Instead emptiness nestled where distress should have been.

"You didn't," Archie replied, his tone even. "It was an accident."

Disjointed memories flashed through Vita's mind. Tallulah standing by the gramophone on the terrace. A jolt of electricity coming out of Vita's fingertips in tiny blue lightning flashes. A pile of records collapsing on the ground. Tallulah's wide, terrified gaze as she jerked away from Vita's helping hand. Her broken body in the street below. Izzy's face, distorted with anger and pain, yelling at her to leave.

"Holden said I used her energy to keep myself alive," Vita said.

"It was still an accident." Archie's voice was calm and self-assured. "You didn't know this would happen. And you said yourself you tried to keep her from falling."

"So, that's it? A seventeen-year-old girl died because she was at the wrong place at the wrong time? Because of bad luck? What kind of fate is that?"

Her reply came out angry, and Archie was silent for a moment. Then when he spoke, his voice was low.

"I wish I had an answer for you, love. All I can say is, you didn't kill her. Believe me, you'll go crazy if you think about it too much." He let out a sigh, but carried on, "When I was in France, I saw young men get shot right in front of me, right next to me. Why them and not me? I don't know. It didn't make sense then, it doesn't make sense now. But I've got to believe their deaths have nothing to do with me. There was nothing I could do about it. Because they stood a few steps next to me or ahead of me, they died. Because I stood a bit to the left, or to the back, I survived. It doesn't mean I killed them. It doesn't even mean I'm guilty of letting them die."

Vita squeezed his hand. She tended to forget about the war. She supposed he never did. It was always there, at the back of his mind.

"But this isn't war," she noted aloud.

"Finley and his people are the enemy," Archie said. "They kidnapped you, tortured you, and now they're trying to get their hands on you again and kill you because of what you are. If this isn't war, what is it?"

Vita shrugged, unconvinced. But Holden's revelations about the coven of phoenixes in Paris came back to her, and she pressed her lips together. Maybe this was a war indeed. She just didn't know which side she was on.

So she told Archie about what Holden had said at the masquerade ball. Now felt like as good a time as any, and she hated keeping secrets from him anyway. Never mind what Holden wanted. Archie was the one who truly mattered in her life.

Archie's frown deepened as she talked.

"I suppose what I'm saying is," she concluded, "even if we stop Finley, it's very likely those phoenixes in Paris are going to find out about me at some point, and we'll have a whole new set of problems on our hands."

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