A small smile tugged up one side of his lips. “Show me how you fought the furies.”
I dampened my lips nervously. I had no idea how I’d fought the furies and survived—only that everything had turned amber, like someone had splashed the tawny color over my eyes. “I don’t know. Everything was happening so fast.”
“You don’t know.” He raised his hand and the sleeve of his tunic-style shirt slipped up his arm, revealing the downward-turned torch tattoo. “I find that hard to believe.”
I experienced a momentary lapse of sanity. “What’s up with the tattoo?”
His jaw clenched, and I expected him to attack. But he didn’t. “Jackson!”
Loping onto the mats, Jackson came to stop and rested his hands on his narrow hips. “Sir?”
Romvi’s eyes held mine. “I want you to spar.”
I glanced at Jackson’s smiling face. What Romvi wanted me to do was show him how I’d fought the furies and survived, using Jackson to do so. It didn’t matter who I was fighting; I couldn’t show what I didn’t know.
As Romvi headed off the mats, he stopped and whispered to Jackson. Whatever he was saying brought an easy grin to Jackson’s face right before he nodded.
Wiping my hand over my clammy forehead, I slowed down my breathing and tried to ignore the fine tremors running through my legs. Even tired I could take Jackson. He was a good fighter, but I was better. I had tobe better.
“You’re going to be hurting by the end of class,” Jackson taunted, cracking his knuckles.
I raised a brow and motioned him forward with one hand. I may’ve have a serious hankering for a pillow, but I could take him.
I waited until he was only a foot away before I launched a brutal offensive. I was fast and light on my feet. He would feint in one direction to avoid a sharp thrust and end up with a sideways kick in his back. Before long, he ended up on his back, panting and swearing from a fierce spin kick.
“I’m going to be hurting?” I said, standing above him. “Nah, I don’t think so.”
Breathing harshly, he jumped onto the balls of his feet. “Wait and see, baby.”
“Baby?” I repeated. “I’m not your baby.”
Jackson didn’t respond to that. He flew into a butterfly kick, which I dodged. Those kicks were brutal. Blow after blow, we went after each other—each hit more vicious then the last. Admittedly, I was taking this a little too seriously myself. I wasn’t going easy on the douchebag. A weird kind of darkness rose in me as I blocked a series of kicks and jabs that would have brought even Aiden down. I grinned in spite of the sweat pouring off me and the way my forearms ached. I channeled all of my earlier anger into fighting Jackson.
Our sparring eventually drew the attention of the other students. I was only slightly surprised when Jackson’s fist glanced off my jaw and Instructor Romvi didn’t call the fight off. If anything, he looked like he was getting his jollies off by watching the brutal fight.
So Jackson didn’t want to play by the rules and Romvi didn’t care? Whatever. He swung his fist around again, but this time I caught his hand and twisted it backward.
Jackson broke the hold too easily, which showed that I was reaching my own limits. I turned on my heel, saw that the overhead lights flickered—or was it my eyes? — and with one powerful roundhouse kick, I took Jackson’s legs right out from under him. There wasn’t a moment to celebrate his obvious defeat. I saw Jackson move for my legs. I tried to jump like we’d been taught, but worn down, I was too slow. His leg caught mine, and I landed on my side, immediately rolling out of range.
“I’m sure that’s not how you defeated the furies.” Instructor Romvi sounded smug.
I didn’t have a second to think about how much I wished I could drop-kick Romvi. Jackson whipped around. I scooted to the side, but his kick caught me in the ribs. Pain exploded, so unexpected and so intense, that I froze.
Sensing that Jackson wasn’t done yet, I brought my hands up, but that teeny, tiny second cost me. Jackson’s heel slipped past my hands, hitting my chin and cutting my lip right open. Something warm gushed into my mouth, and I saw flashes of light. Blood—I tasted blood. And beyond the flashing lights, I saw Jackson’s boot come up one more time.
JACKSON WAS GOING TO STOMP MY HEAD IN.
That was so not a part of training.
At that last possible second, someone caught Jackson by the waist and tossed him to the mat. My hands flew to my mouth. Something sticky and warm covered them immediately.
All I tasted was blood. Hesitantly, I ran my tongue along the inside of my mouth, checking to make sure I hadn’t lost any teeth. When I figured that I still had a full set, I pushed to my feet, spitting out blood. Then I lunged at Jackson.
I came up short. Shock nearly brought me to my knees.
Jackson was already preoccupied with fending off someone else, and that someone was Aiden. Pain was momentarily forgotten as I vaguely wondered where he had come from. Aiden didn’t watch my classes anymore. He didn’t even train me, so it wasn’t like he had a reason to be hanging around these rooms.
But he was here now.
Entranced by the odd blend of grace and brutality, I watched Aiden pull Jackson off the mat by the scruff of his shirt. Their faces were inches apart. The last time I had seen Aiden that angry was when he’d gone after Seth the night I’d been slipped the brew.
“That is not how you spar with your partner,” Aiden said in a cold, low voice. “I’m sure Instructor Romvi has taught you better than that.”
Jackson’s eyes grew impossibly large. He was on the tips of his toes, arms dangling at his sides. It was then that I realized Jackson’s nose was bleeding—bleeding worse than my mouth was. Someone had hit him—that someone most likely being Aiden. Because only a pure would be able to do that and have no one intervene.
He let go of Jackson. The half fell to his knees, cradling his face. Aiden spun around, his eyes quickly assessing the damage. Then he turned to Instructor Romvi, speaking too low and quick for me or the class to understand.
Before I knew what was happening, Aiden crossed the mats and caught hold of my arm. We didn’t speak as he walked me from the training room. “My bag,” I protested.
“I’ll have someone retrieve it for you.”
In the hall, he grasped my shoulders and turned me around. His eyes went from dark gray to silver when his gaze fell to my lip. “Instructor Romvi never should’ve allowed it to go that far.”
“Yeah, I don’t think he cared.”
I wanted to say something. Like “these things happen”… or at least, about how it could be expected since I didn’t have a lot of friends here. Or maybe I should thank Aiden, but by the warring emotions playing out across his striking face I could tell he wouldn’t appreciate it. Aiden was furious—furious for all the wrong reasons. He’d reacted as if a common guy had hit me, and not a half-blood. As a pure-blood, there had been no reason for him to intervene. That was the Instructor’s job. Aiden had forgotten that in a moment of complete, unbridled rage.
“I shouldn’t have done that—lost my temper,” he said quietly, sounding and looking terribly young and vulnerable for someone I believed to be so powerful. “I shouldn’t have hit him.”
My eyes flicked across his face. Even though my face throbbed, I wanted to touch him. I wanted him to touch me. And then he did, but not in the way I wanted. Placing his hand on my lower back, he steered me toward the med office. I wanted to touch my mouth to see how bad it was. Actually, I wanted a mirror.
The pure-blood doctor took one look at my face and shook her head. “On the table.”
I hoisted myself up. “Is it going to scar?”
The doc grabbed a cloudy-looking white bottle and several wads of cotton. “Not sure yet, but try not to talk right now. At least until I make sure there is no damage inside the lip, okay?”
“If it scars, I’m gonna be so pissed.”
“Stop talking,” Aiden said, leaning against the wall.
The doc shot him a smile, apparently not curious as to why I had been escorted by a pure. She turned back to me. “This may sting a bit.” She dabbed the cotton over my lip. Sting?—it burned like crazy. I nearly jumped off the table.
“Antiseptic,” she said, offering a sympathetic look. “We want to make sure you don’t get any infections. Then you would scar.”
Burning? I could deal with that. It took the doc a couple of minutes to clean up my lip. I waited, somewhat impatiently, for the verdict.
“I don’t think you’re going to need stitches on the lip itself. It’s going to swell and be a bit tender for a while.” She tipped my head back and gently poked at my mouth. “But I think we’re going to need a stitch right… under your lip here.”
I winced as she started poking there too and focused on her shoulder. Show no pain. Show no pain. Show no pain. The doc dipped her fingers in the brown jar and pressed the torn skin together. I yelped as a scalding pain radiated from the skin under my lip and spread across my face.
Aiden started forward, stopping when he seemed to realize there was nothing he could—or should—do. His hands fell to his sides, and his gaze met mine, eyes an endless thundering gray.
“Just a little bit more,” she said soothingly. “Then it will all be over. You’re lucky you didn’t lose any teeth.”
Then she squeezed the skin once more. This time I didn’t make a sound, but I squeezed my eyes shut until lights danced behind my closed lids. I wanted to jump off the table and find Jackson. Hitting him would make me feel better. I believed in that.
The doc stepped back to the cabinets. Returning with a damp wipe, she started to clean the blood away, mindful of the stitch. “Next time you train her, be a little more careful. She’s only this young and pretty once. Don’t ruin it for her.”
My eyes snapped to Aiden. “But—”
“Yes ma’am,” Aiden interrupted, cutting me a stern look.
I stared back at him.
The doc sighed, shaking her head again. “Why do you halfs choose this? Surely, the alternative is better. Anyway, do you have any other injuries?”
“Uh, no,” I mumbled. The doc’s words surprised me.
“Yes,” Aiden said. “Check the left side of her ribs.”
“Oh come on,” I said. “It’s not that bad—” My words were cut off when the doc tugged up the hem of my shirt.
The doc pressed on my ribs, running her hands along the side. Her fingers were cool and quick. “None are broken, but this…” She frowned, leaning closer. Inhaling roughly, she dropped my shirt and faced Aiden. It seemed to take her a moment to collect herself. “Her ribs aren’t broken, but they are bruised. She should take it easy for a few days. Also, she should limit talking so the stitching is not pulled.”
Aiden looked like he wanted to laugh at the last suggestion. When he agreed with the doctor, she left the room pretty quickly.