preface

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Darkstalker

"Can I ask you something you might not like?" Clearsight says suddenly.

"Anything," I promise. And in that moment, I think I might actually mean it.

"You aren't going to get angry at me?" She sounds really cautious, and that unnerves me.

"I won't get angry at you." What does she think I'll do? We're engaged to be married, for moons' sake.

She meets my eyes, still a little cautiously. "Do you care about your father?"

I snort. "Would you care about a dragon who's wanted you have dead since hatching?"

"You don't... want him to love you, in a little tiny part of you? You haven't ever thought about it being different?" She's careful to keep her voice impartial. She's good at that. It kind of drives me mental.

"Of course I want someone who loves me," I say quietly, stabbing my claw into the edge of my scroll, making a small rip. "Why do you think I was so desperate to meet you? I didn't get some lovey-dovey childhood with a perfect father and a perfect mother and loving embraces before bedtime like you did, Clearsight." It comes out more bitter than I meant it. I grit my teeth and look away.

"My family isn't perfect either," Clearsight says quietly. She frowns at the table for a moment, and so do I, because it's easier than thinking about this. This is our house, and I don't want my father's presence anywhere near it.

"Do you really want to know what it was like?" I ask, quirking one eyebrow at her. I don't know why I'm doing this, but I don't even wait for Clearsight to open her mouth, let alone answer. "When I was one, the first thing I wanted more than anything was for my mother to run away from my father with us, or for my mother to kill my father, or for her to let me kill my father or just stop caring, so we could all live happily ever after. I remember acting it out with my little NightWing figurines in my room, one day, and I remember how I pretended my NightWing figurines were climbing out the window and that window meant we're free. Okay? That's what it was like." My talons are clenched, and my jaw is locked.

I can't make myself meet Clearsight's eyes,  but I can imagine her expression. Can practically see her mouth hanging open as she says, "I'm sorry."

I look away. Somehow, that only makes me more angry.

"Yeah," I say, trying to sand the fury out of my voice.

Clearsight shifts closer to me, and presses her talon firmly against mine. "You can't get through that unscathed, Darkstalker."

I shrug. "Whiteout took the brunt of it."

"That's not true." Clearsight shifts again, so she can meet my eyes unflinchingly.

I look down like a wounded dragonet.  I think she's a little taken aback by that.

"You  never told me what he had to say. About us."

"I never asked anyone what they felt about it. that's not how it works, Clearsight. You don't ask permission in my family. You just do things. He just grumped around more than usual and told me that I was undeserving of love. That's all. It was no biggie."

"Doesn't that ever get to you?"

"No." I clench my jaw, grinding my teeth together.

"Not even when you were little?"

I shake my head. If she thinks she's going to make me care about my father, she's wrong.

Clearsight sighs, scribbling a note into her sheet of paper. "Just... if you ever want to talk about it... you can. You know that, right?"

"Talking about it doesn't make it better."

Clearsight raises her eyebrows. "Have you ever tried?"

"Clearsight—"

"Do you really think I'm that breakable? That seeing you have anything resembling a negative feeling is going to shatter our relationship or something? Because I've been through things, too."

"It's not like that," I sigh.

"Really?"

I look away. I can't handle her eyes, staring way too deep into me.  "I just... I don't want... him to have that."

"That's not letting him have anything. It's letting the fear of him owning your life that's letting him have something, Darkstalker," she says quietly.

"I don't want to talk about this." My voice tenses.

"I know that," Clearsight says.

She goes back to her scroll on the other side of the kitchen table. And after that, we don't really say anything.

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