Six years of slavery ended with a bullet in both arms and I have no further use for you.
Barker turned his back, easy as breathing, turned away, stepping outside with the sheriff and not even a glance over his shoulder, as if Derek had ceased to exist, and—
You are not one of mine anymore.
—that was it.
Derek’s knees folded; he sat down heavily on the edge of the prison cot. The universe was shaking, tunneling black at the corners of his vision, and maybe that was blood loss, but more likely it was the edges of the screaming fit he’d been putting off for six years of breaking bones and homes and lives.
It took him a second to recognize the feeling welling up inside his ribcage, it had been so long, but there it was, cold and clear as a new spring, folded up with panic and terror and, fils de putain, he couldn’t breathe.
The deputy snapped something about medical care, about put your head between your knees, dammit and don’t pass out, and when Derek managed to lean himself forward, braced on blood-soaked elbows, breathe like a normal person.
Which was about when Derek started to laugh, shiver-cracked and gasping, because normal was a far-flung concept and he was free.
Except for how he really, really wasn’t.
He got two good breaths, sucking in the stink of rotted Harrow-corpse and sweat-drenched men, and tried to remember the last time he’d slept without dying first. The deputy pressed him about the blacksmith, demanding details about JA’s trinkets and Barker’s burnings, asking questions in that calm-steady voice of a man bound and determined to be sane in the middle of a squall, and Derek—
He could speak his own mind without his chest ripping apart and his heart pouring out, and wasn’t that a kick—unless Barker’s spell was still wrapped around his heartstrings, even in the aftermath. But if Barker held the leash he would have jerked it until Derek choked; dropped Derek dead just to keep his own secrets safe before Derek could spill them.
And he hadn’t.
So Derek talked. He opened his mouth and broke Barker’s confidence, snapped it like a knee joint, answered the deputy straight—and didn’t die. Kept breathing, shivery and goddamned sore, and Jesus, if he didn’t hurt so much he would have started to get some fairly big-headed ideas about being indestructible.
The deputy was still talking, undercut by Old Seth’s gravelly drawl and Carter’s lighter, easier voice, but Derek wasn’t listening. Derek was having a panic attack on a prison bench, because it had been a hell of a week, okay, and he just wanted to sleep and not have anything terrible happen for eight seconds, and his suit was a wreck, and seriously, his arms fucking hurt.
And the devil’s son was outside and walking away.
Which was actually a little unfortunate, because Derek had been hoping for a healing, but he’d take this instead. He’d take all of this. And as soon as his head stopped lurching, he’d tell the deputy everything, tell the sheriff everything—
Except, merde, they were going to hang him.
Worse than that, they were going to hang him ironically, because he’d survived manitous and demons and living bones and giant snakes and throat-cuttings and bullets, but hemp would still do the trick.
I don’t know what’s making your blood pump.
At least, he was pretty sure.
The laugh splintered in Derek’s throat, sharp and ugly, because why the fuck not, he’d killed his fair share of folks, and worse. He’d evicted old women; kept debtors conscious while stronger, nastier men broke their legs; traded chunks of his soul wholesale for unholy magic; been the knife in the dark behind Barker’s public smile. Head of the cruelty department for Fiduciary Holdings and Trust. He wasn’t the stab; he was the twist.
And he was going to swing for executing a piece of gutter-trash and putting a hole in a dead man.
“Ha,” he rasped, because if he didn’t laugh he might do the other thing, and that was just sad.
“Lefeaux,” the deputy said, sharp and clear, like he’d been trying to catch Derek’s attention for more than a minute. “Lefeaux, are you even listen’ to me?”
Seth muttered something about fetching the preacher, and Derek lifted his head, because yes, good plan, finally a good plan. Hezekiah had his thumb on the spiritual pulse; he might have a notion of what kind of powers could beat out Barker’s magic and sink fish hooks into Derek’s—
Oh, he was so completely stupid.
The answer was right there, plain and simple, and Derek was a screaming moron because it had come with a love note attached. He’d woken up from the Giant’s candyland fresh with the memory of a manitou ripping his heart out for the second time (third time, once you counted the giant spider-bitch, and seriously, how hard was it to actually keep his organs inside his skin?) and he’d never thought to wonder who controlled the interlopers.
He’d woken up in his own room with the stolen gold sitting on his bedside table and a playing card resting on top of the coins. The Ace of hearts, with the single heart coloured in black ink, and writing below it: ‘My gifts to you.’
A pretty trinket, something desperately wanted, like all the other pretty trinkets they were destroying with angel swords and magical fires and Jesus Christ, JA might be the only thing around stronger than Barker.
Derek’s blood had glittered when they’d looked at it with the angel’s magical glasses.
If this week ended with a divine rapier lodged between his ribs, he was going to write a note to the universe.
Then, finally, the last thought caught up with him, and he really started to laugh. If he did have JA’s version of a present beating in his chest, the only way to put paid to this whole thing was cold-blooded murder, no time for a judge, no due process or lawyers or shiny silver stars balancing the world out — they’d have to butcher him or burn him, offer him up like that shattered violin.
Then they’d be just as bad as he was.