“Obviously. She grabbed my legs, not my arm,” Lethia grumbled. “Why did we even wonder?”
Quincy paused in her opening of the salve jar to lean back in her seat and eye the girl warningly.
“Better to check and be certain,” Hakeem said with a soft frown.
He placed a hand on Quincy’s shoulder. The woman resisted the urge to shrug it off.
“Forgive me,” Lethia murmured. Her lips barely moved. “I’m upset.”
“As we all are,” Quincy said, keeping her stern eye steady. “But you have something on your mind, girl. Just say it and be done with it.”
Lethia took a deep intake of breath. Then she turned and said with steel in her voice, “I’m upset that I had to step in for you.”
Quincy stilled, letting that sink in. Eventually, she said, “Understandable.”
Lethia tilted her head. “You must have been aware that you being drunk left us open to this.”
“Lethia…” Hakeem rumbled, but Quincy held up a quieting hand.
“I understand why you did it,” Lethia continued. “You were scared of what was coming. But I’m…”
Quincy exhaled harshly through flaring nostrils, trying to resist the natural urge to defend herself. “You’re angry,” she murmured through tense lips. “Go on. Say it. I won’t deny that I failed.”
Lethia’s left hand clenched in her lap. Her green eyes augured into Quincy’s. “I am angry. Since the incident with Paulo, I’ve fought against my frustrations with everyone because I was the one who helped the demon’s pet. I had no right to judge.”
Her lower lip pushed up hard in self-disgust, wrinkling her chin as her eyes misted. “I had to bear the brunt of everyone’s anger and suspicion, and in no way did I have room to say how I really felt about anything.”
“Do you want us to feel sorry for you?” Quincy asked with a squint.
Lethia laughed caustically and shook her head. “Of course not.” She leaned in, her eyes widening. “But I can see the anger in you too, Quincy. You know that you’ve messed up, so you’re refraining from saying what you really feel. I’m saying I know what that’s like.”
“And what do I really feel, Lethia Artaud?” Quincy snapped, feeling the thorns of her frustration tearing from her skin. “You’re so fucking smart and saavy? Then tell me, what’s on my mind?”
Lethia snorted and sat back in her chair. She averted her eyes to the window. “We both know you and Hakeem have excellent thought protection.”
Her eyebrow arched. “But I don’t need enchantment to see that you’re sick of playing den mother. Pretending we’re almost like a family. Now your true family is coming, and the charade feels unbearable. You couldn’t carry on for even one more day.”
The girl looked at Quincy sidelong and hissed through her teeth. “If you’re tired of that, then I’m tired of being the last fucking resort.”
Now Quincy’s face twisted in confusion. “What do you mean?” She paused to look back at Hakeem, who only shrugged.
Lethia sighed roughly, her eyes turning up to the ceiling.
“Everyone holds on to something that hurts them. Nyx’s trauma. Elmiryn’s drinking. Paulo’s guilt,” she cut a penetrating look at Quincy. “Your fear.”
The girl shook her head. “For the last few weeks I’ve had to take it upon myself to step in when no one else would. Paulo backed out of his promise, so I did what had to be done. Elmiryn nearly kills everyone, and I break through to her. Today, I thought I was the only one who could administer aid to Elmiryn…”
Quincy sighed heavily. “And then you were placed in harm’s way…”
Lethia pressed her lips together, lifted both eyebrows, and turned over her hand.
The enchantress closed her eyes and her throat moved in a silent swallow. “I see how everyone thinks and acts. I can’t help but apply my teaching and see solutions. I know that can make me a bit insufferable. Maybe meddlesome.”
Hakeem laughed. “Maybe?”
Lethia cut him a weary look. “I just… I want to help you all.”
Quincy scoffed. She stood and went to the bucket out by the cellar stairs and used the water to wash her hands. She returned to her seat and began to apply the salve on Lethia’s arm.
“Don’t act like you’re so perfect,” Quincy muttered. “Your principles are radical. Your ambition is self-destructive. You’re also annoyingly arrogant.”
“Don’t forget impertinent,” Lethia added with a little smirk, before that was quickly followed by a wince of pain from Quincy’s sudden firm hand.
“That too!” Quincy snapped.
She picked up the bandages and started to wrap Lethia’s stump. “You have a serious savior complex, Lethia Artaud, and for your information, we are not the side characters in your story! Stop placing the burden of our progress on yourself! It’s ridiculous!”
Lethia considered this quietly. When Quincy finished and began to put away the supplies, the girl held out her hand.
“Wait,” she said.