“You can’t even protect me here,” I said, trying to keep my voice gentle. “Not with the kind of enemies I have.”

Ever since she’d stopped drinking, she’d been fidgety, constantly moving like a hummingbird on caffeine. The more upset she got, the more she fidgeted, and she had a major case of the fidgets this time. I took a deep breath and reminded myself that this couldn’t be easy for her. She’d tried very hard to keep me away from my dad and from Avalon precisely because she wanted to keep me safe from the political intrigue. She might not be a candidate for mother of the year when she was drinking, but I knew she loved me.

Once upon a time, I’d thought that if she would only stop drinking, she’d become more like a normal mom, that she’d take care of me and protect me, et cetera, et cetera. But all the evidence suggested that she was pretty damn needy even without the booze.

“I want you to make me a promise,” I said.

“Of course, sweetheart,” she said after a momentary hesitation. “Anything.”

I refrained from snorting. My mom wasn’t big on making promises, and she was even worse at keeping them.

Why was I asking her to keep one, then? Because it was the only thing I could think of to do, the only faint hope I had that when I returned from Faerie, she wouldn’t have morphed back into her drunken alter ego.

“I want you to promise me you won’t drink while I’m gone,” I said, then braced myself for her inevitable reaction.

She stood, too agitated to hold still, and I could see the emotional barriers going up. “Dana, really!”

How she could act offended when she had to know why I was asking this of her is anyone’s guess. I don’t care how deeply in denial she was. There was no way I believed she didn’t know she had a problem.

My fists clenched in my lap, and I forced myself to relax them. “It won’t be for that long,” I said, hoping it was true. “You keep telling me you’re not an alcoholic, so it really shouldn’t be that hard for you, should it?”

“I am not an alcoholic! But you don’t get to decide whether I can have a drink or not. I’ll be a nervous wreck while you’re gone, and if I can’t even have a calming drink now and then…”

A calming drink now and then. That’s what she called starting her day with whiskey in her coffee and ending it passed out with an empty bottle or three at her side?

“What happened to ‘I’ll promise anything’?” I asked bitterly. “You only meant anything that didn’t really matter to me.”

I could see from the look in her eyes that she was hurt as well as angered by my accusation. At that point, I didn’t care. I was pretty hurt and angry, too.

“That isn’t fair,” she said, and I wanted to scream.

“I’m going to be out there risking my life, and it’s too much of me to ask that you stay sober for a little while? That’s just great, Mom. Thanks a lot. Glad to know I matter to you so much.”

I was so mad I felt like hitting something, and tears burned my eyes. Why didn’t she care how much her drinking hurt me? I might not be perfect or anything, but I thought I was a pretty good daughter. I never got into any trouble—at least, not until I came to Avalon—and I’d always taken care of her. Above and beyond the call of duty, no less. I got good grades, and I usually managed to keep my anger securely hidden.

She’d been the one constant in my life, when my life revolved around moving from place to place every year or so. I couldn’t make any long-term friends, had never had any other family. My mom had been my everything for as long as I could remember.

My lower lip quivered, and a tear trickled down my cheek. Usually, I fight tears with everything I have, especially when I’m not alone. Today, I let them come. I let my mom see just how hurt I was.

The look in her eyes softened into one of dismay, and she came back to sit beside me and take my clenched fists into her hands.

“Dana, honey, of course you matter to me.”

She pulled me to my feet and wrapped her arms around me. I was far too angry to return her embrace, but she didn’t let go.

“I love you more than anything,” my mother said as I stood stiffly in her arms and cried. “You have to know that.”

“But not enough to stop drinking,” I said, my voice muffled by her shoulder. “Never enough for that.”

Mom’s hands slid to my shoulders, and she pushed me away a little bit so she could look into my eyes. I wanted to look away, but she took hold of my chin.

“My drinking has nothing, nothing to do with how much I love you.” She smiled wanly and brushed a lock of my hair away from my face, like I was a little girl who’d skinned her knee. “Just because I don’t always do what you want me to do doesn’t mean I don’t love you.”

I swallowed the lump in my throat. “But you don’t care that it hurts me to see you destroying yourself.”

“I’m not going to destroy myself,” she said, sounding like she meant it. “There are lots of people in the world who drink, honey. It’s just … something adults do. I am truly sorry it bothers you, but please don’t worry about me. I’m going to be just fine.”

What was the use in fighting it? Even if I somehow managed to get her to promise, there was nothing I could do to make her keep the promise. Nothing sent her diving for the booze faster than stress, and she was going to be stressed to the max for the entire time I was gone.