Legal Theft Flash Fiction: Only Once (1126 words)

Kadie has a scar now. A straight line, cutting one eyebrow short on the outside and skipping over her eye. It’s darkest over her cheekbone before it fades to nothing above her jaw. A fine line, nearly invisible, except that the best-trained and best-paid physicks couldn’t make it actually invisible. So it stands out.

She steps into the room and seems taller than she was the day before. Half her hair is in a four-strand braid, wrapped around her head in a crown. It’s pinned in place with a line of blue pearls, and the rest of her hair is held back, a tamed tumble of curls. Her dress barely makes a sound as she moves, soft fabric belled over softer petticoats, mantle and belt heavily embroidered. The sleeves are cut high against her elbow, informal today. The twisting school of tiny fish is tattooed across the back of her wrist, up her arm. One fish is fresh, pink-edged, obvious as the knife line on her cheek.

And girls who look like that — they are noticed.

Every man and woman in Damion’s wide office notes her as she steps through the door. She tells her bodyguard to wait outside, her voice no louder than it needs to be for the young man to hear, but every other head rises. Carefully, the clerks and secretaries begin gathering their books. Kadie moves quietly into the room, alone, and pens stop scratching, papers rustle into their folders. Patiently, she reaches Damion’s desk and waits, reading over his shoulder.

Damion dismisses the room one person a time, with a nod or a word. Within a quarter hour, it’s only the two of them.

Kadie slips around to the other side of the desk. Sinking into one of the vacated chairs she takes a deep breath. Lightly, she smiles at him.

“You look tired,” Damion says. He returns the smile, but traces the knife-line with his eyes before he catches himself.

She nods, absently. “It was a long night.”

“Successful?” Damion asks.

Kadie nods again, slowly. He takes a deeper breath than before, satisfied. Then he examines the distant lines of her expression, trying to read where her thoughts are settled. Her eyes are focused on his desk, gently enough, but her mouth is ready to open. He’s not sure if she’s gathering a statement of a question.

“Did something happen?” he asks.

“No,” she assures him. Kadie meets his eye immediately, with all the weight he needs to know his orders were carried out. “It’s done.” And what was done in the dark doesn’t need to be spoken in daylight. It need never be repeated out loud. They both knew to avoid the acid taste of it.

Meeting his eye, she smiles more firmly, maybe dragging herself back to him. “I love you,” she murmurs.

He shakes his head at her, looks back down at his work. He likes to hear it, such an easy thing on her tongue. Turning back to his figures, he dips his pen in the ink. He slides his hand down the page, searching for where he left off. When he finds it, he hovers over the line, doing the math in his head before he sets down a careful string of numbers. One quiet minute. He looks at her again when he dips his pen back in the well.

“I love you, Father,” she repeats, a little heavier.

Damion stops, pen held to the side so he doesn’t drop ink on the page. He missed whenever her expression focused down to her gaze on his. Her chin is higher, and her smile is more trained, a charming curve she learned from him.

“I’ve given everything you ever asked of me,” she tells him.

Damion puts the pen down, straightens. Elbows resting against the edge of his desk, he folds his hands over the spread of pages. He nods, carefully, and gives her a smile of his own. “You have.”

“I’ve never asked you for reasons,” she says.

“I’ve given them when I could,” Damion says.

Kadie nods, dismisses it in an instant, no concern to her. “Then can I ask you for one thing?” she asks.

Damion hesitates. Holding his smile in place, he nods.

Kadie takes a breath. She recomposes on her tongue whatever she had prepared before, and lets it out slowly. “Are they all dead?” she asks. She doesn’t meet his eye until the question is out, hanging between them, and then she doesn’t look away.

Damion doesn’t answer.

He wonders if he can shake his head again, if she will let him brush her question lightly away. At the same time, his fingers tighten over each other, and he considers ordering her back out the door. Now. Tall as she is, she’s too young to ask this. Absurdly too young to pin him with a look like that.

Her jaw tightens, too, in his silence.

“I’m asking for one answer,” she says. Every word falls, as composed as the last. “I’ve heard the rumors since I was five years old: that you’re keeping them on a hidden island, or in a hidden cell. Or that one or two of them got away, and are hiding by their own choice. That they can come back. That they will. And I promise, I will never ask you again. But tell me that I haven’t earned the right to hear you say that they’re all dead. That there is no one left with a better claim to your crown.” She watches his expression shift while she speaks, pauses, considers. Then she finishes with one, steady, “please.”

There’s no pleading in her tone, her posture, her expression. It’s all reason and request, and something that bends Damion toward her even while he hates the question more.

He watches her, and she waits.

“I promise you,” he says, voice low. “They’re dead.”

Kadie takes a breath, takes it in, and he thinks he can see her build her belief in it, in a few swift moments. When she nods, he feels the weight of that, too. Another thing that will never be repeated. In another instant, it is almost forgotten. Smoothly, she smiles and gathers herself out of her chair.

Damion keeps a bad taste in his mouth.

She steps around his desk, covers his hand with hers and squeezes it lightly, the way she always does.

“Will I see you at dinner?” she asks.

“I might have to work through it,” he says.

“Tomorrow then?” she asks.

Damion nods.

Without a look back, she steps back out of his office. She collects her bodyguard on the other side, and their footsteps echo in time down the stone hallway.

I’m at thief! I stole one of the lines of this piece from my friend, Bek. Be sure to stop by her blog to see the original story. Then take a peek at all the other thieves with girls who make you sit up and take notice.

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