(Note: after/while writing this scene, I decided that it’s extraneous and will either get cut or heavily edited. Namely it briefly brings to the forefront a background character who’s not that important. But whatever, Americans need company around here.
Also, inching closer to 50K, if you include future scenes! Trying to write the last few hundred words tonight… But yes, the story goes further than that.)
[chapter 9 continued]
Mira slowly came awake to the soft strains of choral music. Her eyes fluttered open, and she took stock of her surroundings. Nothing alarming, just her bedroom in the Jade League headquarters. She wouldn’t have been able to distinguish it from any other room except she saw her scarf hanging in the closet—the dark blue one she’d stolen from Lucas on a cold night last winter. Her room was otherwise rather nondescript; she’d arrived in Paris with no possessions save the clothes she wore, and her time since then had been consumed with training. Her room was a place to sleep and shower, and everything else she did elsewhere in headquarters.
An unfamiliar man was seated with his back to her at the little-used desk in the corner of the room. The music drifted over from his open laptop, but his head was bent over a legal pad as he wrote diligently. From behind, Mira could only tell that he had dark brown hair, cut short like Olivier’s, and the lean build that was a familiar sight in the Jade League, with everyone shaped by the same training regime.
Mira shifted slightly in the bed, and the sound made the man turn towards her. He set down his pen as he smiled, his olive-tanned skin cast with angular shadows from the desk lamp light coming in sideways.
“Oh good, you’re awake,” he said, his accent refreshingly American. He stood and picked up his chair, moving it over to the bedside. “How are you feeling?” he asked.
Mira blinked twice, her brow furrowed. “Fine,” she answered. “Am I supposed to feel anything besides that?”
He shrugged and handed her a glass of water. She tried to sit up to drink, but as she straightened, a lurching dizziness struck her and forced her to lie back down.
“Okay, I feel less fine now,” she said.
He laughed gently. “I thought that might happen. We think you’ve got a bad sinus infection—I got them all the time when I was little. Charlotte’s tracking down some antibiotics, and you should be up and running again in no time. I’m impressed you showed up for practice in that state.”
“What?” she asked. He was talking about something she felt like she ought to remember, but couldn’t. Not immediately anyway, but what he was saying did explain why she was waking up in her room disoriented with a stranger at her desk.
“You collapsed in the training room,” he said, leaning forward with concern written over his face. “You don’t remember?”
She squinted for a moment, forcing herself to think. Vague recollections of Quentin’s demolition lesson started drifting back. “No, I remember now,” she said. “I didn’t feel that bad. Just a little under the weather.”
He rubbed his forehead absently with one hand. “Well you definitely made it worse, but let’s get some fluids in you and you’ll start feeling better.” He dropped a straw into the glass of water and bent it to her mouth to let her sip. The cool water soothed her dry mouth and throat.
“Thanks,” she said once she drank her fill.
He just nodded in reply and sat back. “You’ve got interesting timing. Etienne has been here since he brought you back from the training grounds, and you picked the single hour he had to leave to wake up.”
Laughing softly, she pulled a hand from under the covers to brush her bangs out of her eyes. “How long have I been out?” she asked.
He checked his watch. “About ten hours,” he answered.
“And Etienne was here that whole time?” she asked, surprised.
“He was worried about you. Worried enough that when he had to go, he stuck you with me,” he said, grinning.
Mira smiled and leaned her head back on the pillow. She squinted to try to relieve the pressure in her forehead, but nothing helped. “You’re American,” she said slowly, waiting for him to respond or refute it. When he didn’t say anything, she turned her head just enough so she could see him clearly. “You must be Josh,” she said, realization dawning on her.
He nodded. “It’s nice to finally meet you, Mira. The board has told me a lot about you.”
She flushed. “Only good things, I hope,” she laughed.
“Only good things,” he assured her.
Josh was the largely absent member of the Jade League board. He had known Charlotte since childhood, and on occasion he had played soccer with Olivier in the informal leagues in London. But Mira had known of Josh before coming to France, though it took her a while to make the connection since joining the league. Josh was the Josh Englehart, heir to the multinational corporation Englehart Enterprises. Mira had yet to meet someone who hadn’t at least heard of Englehart Enterprises, though no one really understood what exactly they did besides dabble in everything. But despite his high profile, Josh had managed to remain simply a name—he had avoided the tabloids, he didn’t do interviews, and he hadn’t made a public appearance in years. That wasn’t to say he had no part in his father’s company. From the Jade League alone, Mira could tell that he had forged and maintained valuable connections, business associates over whom he held sway. With his help, the Jade League had reach that extended beyond Paris—though Josh’s association with the mage resistance was as much a secret as the his other activities.
“So what brings you to Paris?” she asked. “I had the impression you were running things from outside of France.”
He smiled and shifted to rest his ankle on his knee. “Business,” he answered. “It brings me through Paris from time to time, and it gives me a good excuse to check in on things here.”
“But then Etienne has you babysitting me?” she asked.
He laughed. “I volunteered,” he assured her. “I had work to do; Etienne was worried; I wanted to finally meet you. It all fit together.” He paused to hand her the glass of water again. “What brought you to Paris?”
“Hm?” she asked around the straw.
“You asked why I’m in Paris. What about you? Most Americans fled Europe once the crisis started, especially the mages. What are you doing here?”
Mira sighed, letting her head sink into the pillow. “I’ve been thinking about nothing but the Jade League for, well, however long it’s been, that I almost forget sometimes. My best friend and I came to Paris looking for our parents. Mine were executed, and we’re not sure about Lucas’s.”
He tilted his head to the side, watching her with his brow furrowed. “Ah yes,” he said. “Lucas, the mystery of Favreau’s regime. Now I remember Olivier telling me about him.”
She closed her eyes and tried not to wince. “I’m sure he doesn’t come across well in that description.”
“Not really,” he replied. “But he’s your best friend?”
She paused. The phrase in her mind was more closely associated with Esther, whom she’d known since they were seven—but over the course of high school, especially as Mage Society got more serious, she and Lucas had grown closer until he had taken over the role of best friend in everything but title. It wasn’t until Paris that she actually referred to him as her best friend, and it didn’t feel right at first. But that’s what he was. “Yes,” she answered.
“Would you trust him with your life?” asked Josh.
This answer came easily. “Absolutely,” she said, cracking an eye open to look at him.
Mira inhaled deeply. The question wasn’t accusatory; his tone instead was genuinely curious. Why would she trust Lucas with her life? Well for one thing she had before, in partnered fights in Mage Society battles—but that wasn’t really life or death. He was just… Lucas. Loyal. Dependable. And just silly enough to annoy you, but sweet enough to make up for it.
“He’s just,” she began, but had to start again. “I’ve known him for so long. I know him. He’s probably one of the best people I’ve ever met. Everyone loves him—he’s just… he’s the kind of person who energizes a room. And he’s the friend I could always count on.”
Josh rubbed at his forehead and considered her for a moment. “So what do you think he’s doing working for Favreau?”
She frowned. “I—”
Her eyes met his. “I think he found Isabelle and somehow got dragged in deeper than he could dig himself out,” she said in a rush.
He just stared out in the vague direction of the wall following her answer. He seemed to be thinking, processing what she’d said.
“Josh,” she said softly, making him look at her. “I think if he had a choice, he would be on our side.”
Nodding slowly, he folded his hands over his stomach as he slouched lower in his chair. “That’s good to know. But it doesn’t do us much good at the moment.”
“Not really,” she said, letting her eyes drift closed again. Sometimes she wished Lucas were here with her in the Jade League—but if she let herself get into wishful thinking, she might as well be wishing her parents were still alive, or that Favreau never came to power. Wishing along those lines never got her anywhere productive. She thought instead of the here and now, of things she knew for certain.
The chair creaked as Josh straightened. “You should get some more sleep,” he told her.
She opened her eyes and turned to look at him where he was standing with his hand resting on the back of the chair. “Josh, can I ask you kind of a random question?”
“How did you know you could trust Etienne?” she asked. They all accosted her with questions of why she trusted Lucas, but even in their paranoia they had taken her in easily. Trust was a peculiar currency in the Jade League—not that she thought it had been poorly allocated. She just wondered how easily these working relationships in the league had been formed.
“What do you mean?” asked Josh.
“What made you willing to bring your resources to the Jade League?” she asked.
He leaned down and rested his elbows on the back of the chair. “It was the right thing to do,” he said quietly. “The mage executions were genocide, even if most of the world won’t put that name to it. I couldn’t stand idly by. Even if I hadn’t already been friends with Charlotte and Olivier, I couldn’t not help the Jade League.”
“But Etienne was a college drop-out. Young. Inexperienced. Why did you trust him?”
“Why did you go train when you were so sick?” he countered. When she threw him a puzzled look, he continued. “It’s the same question. Because experienced or not, Etienne is doing something we believe in—and we want to help him, to make him succeed. And we don’t want to let him down.”
“That’s not why I went to train,” she protested.
“Isn’t it?” he asked with a hint of a smile. He straightened, picking up the chair to bring back to the desk. “Get some rest,” he said. “Etienne will kill me if you’re sicker when he gets back than when he left.”