Aria licked the tip of her thumb and flattened her thin black eyebrows down. Her light green blouse, which at one time had flowed loose around her hips now felt slightly tight thanks to the consentingly growing roundness of her stomach. “Stand still.” She commanded and adjusted Kahlan’s silver headband. She’d spent the last fifteen minutes twisting her little sister’s hair in to a fishtail braid rather than let it fall freely as she usual wore it. “There you’re all done.”
The two sisters looked startling similar to one another; the same slender build and their mother’s features, but there was something more to the two, as if they were reflections of one another. “Look at you.” Aria said softly. “You look all grown up.”
“Me?” Kahlan laughed at the thought. “Look at you…” She placed her hand on her eldest sister’s belly. “If I’m half as accomplished as you by the time I’m your age, I’ll be happy.” Kahlan smiled up at Aria. “You just had to be pregnant during my 21st, didn’t you?”
“Someone has to watch out for you.” Aria teased and smoothed out the fabric of her sister’s black dress. “I remember being twenty-one you know, and Laila is still acting like she’s twenty-one.”
“Aria, you don’t have to worry about me.”
“You’re kidding me right?” Aria chuckled softly. “I’m your big sister: I’ll spend the rest of my life worrying about you.” She eyed her sister over, her grin broadening. She reached in to a small ebony box at the corner of Kahlan's vanity. “Turn around.” Aria draped it so that the small silver oak leaf pendant glittered a few inches below Kahlan’s breastbone. “Now, you’re perfect.” She commented, pleased with herself.
“You look like Mum.”
Kieran stood in the doorway, dressed save for the limp tying dangling like a deflated balloon from his clenched hand. “A little help sis?” He asked.
“Here, you fix Kieran and I’ll meet you all downstairs.” Aria promised.
“Alight, come here.” Kahlan looped the tie around her brother’s neck. “Too embarrassed to ask Brian?” She asked while she carefully went about tying the material neatly together.
“Something like that.” Kieran flashed his twin his useful charming smile, his blue-green eyes shimmering. “You look pretty.” He issued one of his rare compliments.
Kahlan blushed. “Thanks.”
They weren’t close; they never had been but they were still twins. Kieran took both his sister’s hands and gave them a reassuring squeeze. “What happened today, don’t worry about it. Big brother won’t let the monsters get you.”
Downstairs in the Céilí people had been pouring in and out all night. A warm breeze blew in from the door that was being kept propped wide open to help keep the pub from becoming stifling with body heat. As expected almost everyone is there, from the corners of her eyes Kahlan swore she had even spotted members of the Blackwater faction dipping in for a pint before disappearing in to the dark streets. But everyone was in far too good a mood to care.
The rest of the Knights had gathered and forced their way to the thick crowd until they found what they were looking for. Propped up at the bar surrounded by their siblings, the Clover already had an impressive number of drained pint glasses surrounding them, even Terra.
“Whoa slow down!” T.D. teased and squeezed her way in beside Tory.
Tory wiped the foam from the Guinness off her upper lip and snickered. “Scouts honor: I’ll be fine. And if not you can just lay me across my posts.” She moved her hands like a conductor directing an orchestra.
On the other side of the counter, diligently working the beer tabs Aislin couldn’t contain her laughter. “You were never a girl scout.”
“But I fully support their manipulative cookie pushing business, so it counts.”
“Oh boy, we better do this before Tory get’s way too belligerent.” Julie and Serenity squirmed their way up front so that all three captains were standing side by side. Someone grabbed Kahlan by her arm and forced her to her feet while Tory was treated likewise. “T.D. you have the floor.”
“Alright.” T.D. reached in to her pocket. “Well since we all love you two, and since this is the last big birthday we all pitched in and got you a gift that’ll totally outdo anything anyone else will ever give you. Like, for forever.”
Kahlan searched the faces of her teammates. Everyone from T.D. to Emma O'Neil the back-up right wing offender, who always looked like she was scowling, had smiles stretched from ear to ear across their faces.
“Here, Kahlan you open it since you’re pretty with it right now.” Serenity jested and past Kahlan a thin rectangular object wrapped in shiny blue wrapping paper.
Whatever it was, it was light and felt like nothing more than a card. Kahlan gingerly stripped off a piece of the wrapping paper and let it slide on in to her palm. Itwasa card, one of the cheap cheesy Walgreen brand cards intended for a little kid. Kahlan flipped over the cover that was plastered: IT’S YOUR SPECIAL DAY on the front.
Something fell in to her hand. Kahlan’s body felt as if it were breaking in to a cold sweat as she stared disbelievingly, her mouthing gaping in shock. But her silence last a grand total of three seconds before she tackled the nearest Knight, which happened to be T.D., with a giant bear hug. “THANK YOU!” She bellowed over the noise.
By now Tory had sobered in record time. “Are you kidding me!?” She leapt to her feet and through her arms around the closest two bodies. “This is serious!? You girls are the BEST!”
There was a loud cluster of hugging, slapping one another on the back and high fives. By now everyone was curious about the commotion. Everyone was riveting with envy while Kahlan gripped her ticket tightly in her hand, the thin cardboard biting in to her palm. She had always thought she’d be a least thirty by the time this happened, but here it was: The Knights had gone full out and bought both her and Tory a pair of Boston Bruins season ticket passes.
“There are no words to tell you how much I love you!” Kahlan said and embraced T.D. for the hundredth time within three minutes.
T.D. returned the hug and looked up at Aislin. “Let’s drink!”
Her proposal was met by a chorus of cheers from all around the room. Aislin filled a multitude of pint glasses with dark frothy Guinness and passed them down the rows before raising her own in toast. “To the Clover!”
The crowd roared, echoing in response. Arabella came over scooped the tickets up, ushering them to the safety of the house level of the building. Kahlan’s brothers were sitting in the wings trying to out-drink one another. Kieran and his raven black hair versus Brian the golden haired lion of the family.
Kahlan wrapped her fingers around the cool glass handle of her frosted glass and knocked it against Tory’s with a soft clink. “Sláinte.”
“Nil se'n la.” Tory replied brightly. She reached over and pulled her twin sister in close as well, planting a loud kiss on her cheek. “And you two! I love ya baby sister!” She toasted her glass against her sister’s. “Shláinte dheirfiúr leanbh!”
The next morning, a majority of the team could hardly tie their own skates. Tory made good on her promise and was sprawled out in full goalie gear, stretched from post to post across the icy ground. Even T.D. couldn’t fight down her hangover as she let inertia do most of her skating.
“Everyone to me!” T.D. called as she forced herself to the red line. She whacked at Tory with the end of her stick. “You too Taz: ten laps, sixty seconds.”
There was a collective groan but the command was reluctantly obeyed.
Kahlan managed to keep the mesh sloshing around in her stomach down as she pumped her skates as hard as she could. The cold breeze that greeted her face was a welcome relief even if her head was still spinning. By some miracle she had enough coordination to push herself onwards as T.D. mercilessly put them all through the most grueling practice Kahlan could remember.
“Celeste, you Julie and Cara take shots on Tory. Everyone else, we’re doing cone drills.”
Kahlan kept all her concentration on the blur of the black puck as she maneuvered it in and out of the bright orange cones. It allowed her to enter a peaceful mode Zen, a mental outlet to remove herself from her splitting headache.
At the other end of the rink Tory was swerving back and forth between her posts, determined not to let a single projectile slip past her. “Come on princess, is that all you got?” She taunted Celeste as her glove swatted down a well aimed slap shot.
“Don’t test me O’Rourke.” Celeste’s teeth dug in to her mouth guard as she sent a rapid series of shots towards the goal.
Exercise and the pure adrenaline rush of success did wonders on the body. Kahlan felt herself getting stronger as she weaved her skates around the obstacles T.D. had set up; crisscrossing her skates to pick up more speed.
By the time the first of the Rams spilled out on to the ice, she was her old self again.
Carynn and Marissa made a beeline towards center ice; they weren’t dressed to play, wearing just civilian clothing save for their skates. “I’ll make this quick.” Carynn said, her voice sickly sweet. “You know what why we’re here.”
The captains quickly congregated together. Serenity was the first to speak,
“Are you joking? You think we’re just going to hand over our friends because your cousin here is pissy about getting what was coming to her?” She glowered, gripping her stick tightly. “If you want to fight, that’s fine.” Serenity unclipped the strap of her helmet and handed it over to Julie. “I’ll fight you right now.”
The Blackwater cousins snickered, but the rest of the Rams shuffled nervously. It was clear that they were there only because Carynn or Marissa had said they had to be. Neither girl could command the same loyalty that T.D. or either of the other captains could: they ruled by fear.
“I want O’Rourke.” Marissa sneered. Her eyes were red, as if her rage was so consuming she hadn’t slept. “She made a fool out of me!” She turned her eyes on Tory and pointing a trembling finger. “She gets out of the Barrows by tomorrow, or I’ll put a bounty on her head!”
“Can she do that?” Someone behind Kahlan whispered.
Nodding, Kahlan refused to unlock her eyes from Carynn’s. “Yes.” Placing a bounty on someone was exactly as it sounded: Marissa was threatening to place a death sentence on Tory’s head. “But it’s barbaric.” She took a step forward. “You threaten my cousin again, and you’ll presently regret it.”
Marissa Blackwater, who was a good five inches taller than Kahlan leered down at her. “Go ahead princess, call my bluff.” Her hand snapped forward, her bare fingers clutching the wired frame of Kahlan’s helmet. “Do it.” She taunted and hit her fist hard against plastic, purposely knocking the helmet against the tender spot where Carynn had nearly split Kahlan’s skull open a few days previous.
It was enough to make Tory snap. She charged forward like a raging bull, but before she could throw herself at Marissa, a handful of Knights strained to hold her back. The Rams met them at the line, each side glaring at one another like lightning about to strike. There were no referees now, no trainers, no impartial witnesses. If the fire was doused with anymore fuel disaster was sure to follow.
Tory was physically shaken, trembling with rage. But it was clear she didn’t care about Marissa’s threat. No, the cause of her unsettlement was the fact someone was so blatantly trying to sway Tory’s mind by abusing the person they knew Tory cared for most: Kahlan. Her cousin could hold her own; despite her smaller stature Kahlan was probably stronger than Marissa and Carynn. But Kahlan was thinking three moves ahead of her cousin, and Tory knew that. Tory knew that if Kahlan wasn’t fighting back, it was because she didn’t intended to in the first place.
Unimpressed, Marissa let go of Kahlan’s helmet and gave her a shove backwards. Serenity caught her arm and pulled her back across the line, as if it could somehow physically shield each side from the other.
“If you think you’re untouchable O’Rourke then fine. Stay. But this is your last night in the Barrows unless you want a price on you.” Carynn said. Her tone was deadly serious. “And you’ll learn once and for all what happens when you cross the Blackwaters. And if you call the cops well,” Carynn sneered. “Well then, I suppose everyone will know how much of a coward you really are.”
"Back off Blackwater." T.D. sneered. "You touch one of my girls, it's me you deal with."
"The day I listen to a Storm will be a cold day in Hell." Marissa grinned wickedly. "Tell me, if either McDara or O'Rourke had the guts to tell you to shove it do you think anyone would listen to you?" She smirk grew. "I don't think so."
T.D.'s face darkened. Tory, who was half a Storm through her mother's side seemed ready to explode as well but Kahlan pushed her way in between her teammates and the Blackwater. She drew herself up to full height and practically snarled. "We follow leaders, not names here." Her eyes flickered to the gathered crowd behind the Blackwater cousins. "Unlike some, for us respect is earned not just blindly given." She looked at T.D. "I may be a McDara and an O'Rourke, but I'll follow Teagan Storm until I die."
Though Marissa Blackwater sneered, many Rams players were shuffling uncomfortably at Kahlan's declaration. She was calling them sheep: blind, stupid sheep who only listened to Marissa and Carynn because of their position in the Blackwater family and they knew it. T.D. laid a grateful hand on her teammate's shoulder. Carynn finally stepped forward and reigned her cousin in.
"Remember what we said McDara-O'Rourke." She said Kahlan's surname as if it were a curse. She nodded her head towards Tory. "You've all been warned. Midnight, or she's blacklisted."