Chapter Nineteen

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Of all the rooms in the Bolthole, Julian hates this one the most. 

The bar seems to sing with life, drunken Sidhe chattering loudly and marring Madame Rosalind's tasteful decor with inebriated carelessness. It doesn't seem to matter to her patrons that it's only a little past midday, half of them are already deep into jovial ale-induced stupours while the other half are well on their way there too. 

Today, Julian guesses, he can count himself among their swaying numbers as he takes another swig of the bitter Algorian ale in his hand. 

"Go steady on that," the pretty barmaid over the counter advises, mossy green hair falling over her shoulder. "It's strong." 

He expects nothing less from a drink brewed in the demon-country, and besides, it is his intention to drink himself into mindless oblivion today anyway. 

He downs the rest, setting his empty glass on the counter. "Another." 

The barmaid shoots him a curious look but refills the glass. 

"Now what's got a handsome man like you looking so miserable?" a cool female voice punctuates his musing. 

Julian turns to a beautiful woman leaning against the bar beside him. She almost looks as if she's made from moonlight itself, with long silver hair spilling to her waist and matching electric eyes. Even her skin faintly shimmers, it has a metallic shine to it that catches prettily in the light. 

He just shrugs, raising the glass to his lips again. 

Seemingly unperturbed, the woman continues, "Let me guess - heartbreak?" 

Julian almost laughs. He doesn't have a heart to break. 

"Or loneliness?" she pushes, running a hand up his arm; the gesture full of insinuations. 

Now that's closer to the mark, he muses, though it isn't the only reason he's found his way to the bottle today. Maybe the drink can wash away the turmoil of unwanted emotions that have taken root in his mind, maybe it can shove all those intrusive thoughts so far down he'll forget he ever had them to begin with. 

Something about the whole ordeal with Eva's injury has a painful familiarity about it. Another sickbed, another time, another girl dancing on death's doorstep. Of course, he is relieved that this time it did not end in the same way as before, but part of him acknowledges that he is perhaps too glad that she is alright. Too invested in the survival of a girl he's only known for a few days, despite his every effort to remain detached. 

But when she'd touched his hand at the lake, that simple gesture of empathy... he couldn't explain it... it had terrified him. 

"Something like that," is all he replies to the woman, his glass almost empty again. 

"Maybe you need a little company, then," she says, her voice thick with seduction. 

On any other day, he would consider accepting such an offer. Something about the intimacy in indulging in another's body is one of the only things that makes him still feel human. Makes him feel closer to mortality, allows him to forget himself if only for a night. Besides, most of his partners are too consumed by lust to notice the repulsive mark hovering over his heart. 

He can be gone by morning, slipping away before daybreak, before they can see the ugly thing on his chest that brands him as an abomination. 

But on this occasion, there is no appeal in the woman's proposition. It is not that she's not beautiful, or even because she is not human - he's bedded plenty of Sidhe in his time - but something deeper that fuels his reluctance. Something he does not yet understand taking root inside of him. 

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