And fine, maybe if they were out of cheesecake.
Except he needed to man up. What was going down right now? This was Father Shit, and not only had he signed up for exactly these kinds of hard conversations when he and Mary had started the adoption process, he really didn’t want to admit this early that he couldn’t handle the job.
Okay, note to self: Find an online course on being a father. Surely there had to be a curriculum for this kind of thing.
“I’m just worried,” she said. “It’s scary for me, okay?”
Jesus, it was scary for him, too. He had so much more to lose with her in his life.
Rhage went over and knelt down. Bitty had tucked her arms around herself and her eyes were steady as if she were not going to accept a load of bullcrap.
Opening his mouth, he …
Closed it. And wondered what he needed to do to jump-start his brain. Maybe bang it into a wall?
“You know my car?” he heard himself say.
As Bitty nodded, he had an image of Puskar Nepal–ing himself until he passed the fuck out from foot-to-forehead contact: Of all the things for his subconscious, or whatever was running his program, to spit out, he led with his GTO?
“Well, you know when I was teaching you to drive?”
Yeah, Bits, right before those kids attacked Mary and you found out that I have a dragon for an alter ego? Har-har, good times, good times.
God, he wanted to throw up.
As she nodded again, he said, “You remember when you were figuring out the gears and the steering wheel and the brakes? Going back and forth, again and again, until you could get it right?”
“You know how I drive that car?”
“Oh, yes.” Now, she smiled. “Fast. Very fast and fun. It’s like a rocket.”
“So, someday, you’re going to drive her just as well as I do. You’re going to know where the gears are by feel, and you’re going to work the clutch and the gas without thought. And if someone swerves in front of you, you’re going to react so quick and so sure, you’re not going to be aware of even thinking about it. If somebody slams on the brakes, you’re going to shift lanes instinctually. You’re going to feel the tires hydroplaning on the highway in the rain and you’re going to know to slow up on the gas, but not hit the brakes. And all of that is going to happen because you’re going to practice, practice, practice on a car that is kept in tip-top shape.”
“I’m going to practice. So I drive better.”
“Right. Even if the people around you drive dangerously, you’re going to be aware and focused and trained to deal with whatever comes at you.” He put his palm over his daggers, over his heart. “I have been out there fighting for a century, Bitty. And everything I take with me into the field—the weapons, the gear, the support in the form of my brothers—all of it is engineered to keep me safe. Is it a perfect system? No. But it’s the best it gets, I promise you that.”
Bitty’s arms uncoiled and she looked down. The pink and green bracelet on her wrist was made out of faceted beads that sparkled like real gems. Moving the thing around and around, she took a deep breath.
“Are you … good at it? I mean, the fighting?”
God, he wished he was an accountant. He really did. Because if he were some pocket-protector’d numbers cruncher, he wouldn’t be having to tell an innocent that he excelled at killing things.
“Are you?” she prompted.
“I’m very good at keeping myself and my brothers safe. I’m so good at it, they’re having me teach younger people how to do it.”
She nodded once again. “That’s what they were saying. At Last Meal the other night. I heard people talking about you and the other Brothers teaching people.”
“That’s where I’m heading right now. While you hang here with Bella and Nalla, I’m meeting the trainee class out in Caldwell to show them how to stay safe.”
Bitty tilted her head, her brown hair cascading over her shoulder. And he let her stare at him for as long as she wanted. If that made him a little late to work, who cared.
“You must be really good at it to be a teacher.”
“I am. I swear to you, Bitty. I am effective and I take no more chances than I absolutely have to in order to get my job done.”
“And the beast will keep you safe, won’t he.”
Rhage nodded. “You better believe it. You saw him. You know what he’s like.”
She smiled, sunshine replacing the worry. “He likes me.”
“He loves you. But he doesn’t love people who get aggressive with me.”
“That makes me feel better.”
“Good.” He put his palms up, and as she high-fived him, he said, “You’re never going to be alone, Bitty. I promise you.”
In that moment, as he sought to relieve any and all of her anxiety—and his own, for that matter—he nearly came out with the one thing Bitty didn’t know about her adoptive parents. Yes, her new old man had a dragon living under his skin, but her new mom had an even fancier secret.
Mary was a unique flavor of immortal. Thanks to the Scribe Virgin—and this remained true even though V’s mahmen was no longer in charge—Mary did not age, and could choose when she went unto the Fade. It was a gift beyond measure, insulating this family in ways that other people’s weren’t.
Except Rhage stayed quiet on that front. Even though the knowledge might have helped Bitty in the moment, he really felt like it was Mary’s information to share, not his.