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A Perfect Blood (The Hollows #10)(99)

By:Kim Harrison

Her back to us, she looked at her arms, running her normal hands down her faultless skin. They were smooth, not covered in fur. Her bare feet poking out from under her skirt were white, with ten toes. Tugging her sweater straight, she turned to us, elated, and my mouth dropped open. “How do I look?” she said, then put a hand to her throat, recognizing that her voice was higher. “Did it work?”
Sort of? Swallowing, I looked at Ceri, then Al. His hand fell from me, and he shrugged.
Lightly curling brown hair framed her normal-looking face. Her chin might have been a shade more pointy than I remembered, but it was still normal. She had high cheekbones, a beautiful complexion, and a turned-up nose. Though subtly different from the young woman I’d first seen in the cage under the observatory, she looked human. Except that her eyes behind her long eyelashes were still slitted like a goat’s.
“Well?” she said, feeling her face and thinking that it had been a success.
“Um, it’s close,” I said, and then, at a loss, I scrambled for my shoulder bag, digging until I handed her the small compact mirror.
Winona scrambled to her feet, wobbling as she came closer to the light, her attention on the mirror. Her eyes widened as she saw herself, and she put a hand to her face, feeling the new outline of her jaw. Al grunted when she stuck her tongue out, and Winona smiled when she saw it was normal.
“Close enough,” she said as she felt behind herself. “Thank God that tail is gone.”
“Are you sure?” Al purred. “Should we check?”
“Stop it,” Ceri muttered, her jaw clenched in the dim light.
Close enough? “What about your eyes!” I exclaimed. “I don’t understand. They should have changed. Why didn’t they change?”
She looked at me and burst into tears.
“Oh, Winona,” I said, reaching out for her and starting to cry myself. “I’m so sorry. I’ll try again. I’m sure I can fix them.”
“No,” she sobbed, stepping back. “It’s okay. I’m crying because I’m happy. I don’t care about my eyes.” She looked at Al fearfully, then back to me, starting to cry even harder. “Thank you. Thank you, Rachel. I never thought I’d have feet again. I don’t care what my eyes look like!”
I patted her back, glad she was happy with the results and horribly relieved that I did the curse right—mostly—but I was still puzzled about the eyes. “Are you sure?” I asked again, and she pulled back, taking the linen handkerchief that Ceri handed her and wiping her nose.“Absolutely,” she said and sniffed, her face glistening in the dim light from the lantern. “I kind of like them.”
“I thought you might,” Al grumped, checking his watch again as he sat down at one of the chairs before the table. “You women are all demons in disguise.”
Ceri gave Al a long look, up and down, reading the tells a thousand years of servitude had given her. “He didn’t know how to do it, either, did he?” she said, and Al frowned.
“No.” I felt good, and I began to smile, feeling the fear of the last month finally start to dissolve. I’d been hiding from myself for a long time, thinking that by ignoring the parts I didn’t like and couldn’t change, I could deny them. Even when I’d admitted they were there, I hadn’t accepted them. Only now, when I understood who I was and took responsibility for my mistakes, did it all feel balanced, and as I looked at the faces around me, I felt a kinship that I’d never felt before—even if I didn’t trust Al.
I had stopped a human hate group from gaining demon magic and the potential threat that had been. I’d found a way to work with the I.S. and the FIB both, though they were still yammering about that stupid list. I had saved Winona. With Trent’s help, I’d even found the courage to tell Al I was alive and that I would fix the damage I’d made in the ever-after. Hell, I’d even discovered a new secret force and gotten on their watch list. Ivy and Jenks were slipping from me, but we had right now and I was going to hold on to that as long as I could. But perhaps what made me smile was the simple pleasure of having had pie with Trent—it felt good knowing that there would always be someone ready to do risky things with me, right down to taking on HAPA or the-men-who-don’t-belong.
There was a slight tug on my jeans, and I looked down to see a fairy holding up a small bit of cloth. I carefully bent to take it, smiling at her as she backed up and vanished into the ferns.
Al’s eyes were on mine, a pleased smile on his face, not knowing that I was happy for a lifetime of no’s turning into yes. He took in my mood, and then his expression shifted as he turned to Trent, still sitting at that bench with Lucy.
Lucy, though, wasn’t with him, and I tensed as I saw the little girl wobbling her first steps toward her mother. Trent was on his knees behind her, ready to catch her if she should fall. His face was a curious mix of delight and pride as he stretched his hands out. Fatherhood was sitting well on him.
“Ah, little girls,” Al said as he tucked his watch away and bent to see her better. “All the best things wrapped up in sweet innocence and a will of iron. Escaping her father to play with the demon.”
“You!” Ceri said, and then her face became alarmed when Lucy shrieked in delight, her pace bobbling as her path became clearer. She was headed for Al, not Ceri. 
Trent’s hands spread wide in dismay as he hovered behind her, not wanting to ruin her first steps, but not wanting her to touch Al, either.
“Me,” Al said. “The big bad demon.”
“Begone, demon,” Ceri said, her expression holding fear as well as delight at Lucy’s success. “Your work here is done.”
Al smiled, the dim light making shadows where there should be none as he leaned toward Lucy while she squealed in delight and tipped forward. Trent lunged, but it was too late, and Al calmly reached forward and caught her as if he’d been doing it all his life.
“Done? No,” Al said as Trent snatched her back, but the damage had been wrought, and the girls were clearly not afraid of him. “I do believe that it is just the beginning.”