If she just concentrated on packing then she wouldn't get drawn into an argument. That was Sally Hope's plan at any rate. Prior to becoming a Werewolf it might have worked but nowadays some part of her seemed to be just itching for a fight.
"Perhaps the Rivers don't want an intrusion, after all they've been through", Diane Hope, her mother, suggested.
"I have already called and checked that I wouldn't hinder Darrell's recovery", Sally shut her case and set about double checking the contents of her hand luggage.
Her mother pursed her lips and left Sally to her packing. It wouldn't be the last of it. The attempts to dissuade her had increased since Boxing Day. No doubt Sally would go downstairs and have to face both parents together. Still, unless they planned to physically restrain her she couldn't imagine they would actually stop her going.
With all of her bags packed and checked, Sally took them downstairs where, as she had anticipated, her mother was waiting with her father.
"I shan't need a lift to the train station, it's only a short walk", Sally took her coat from the hanger.
"I think you need to take your mother's concerns more seriously", her father said.
"There are no concerns. I'm going to stay with Darrell and her family same as I have every New Year since we became friends", Sally said.
"It's not the same though", Diane said, "nothing will be now she's disturbed, you don't know what she'll do".
Sally recoiled from her mother at the words. There was a heavy ache in her chest and Sally had to take a deep breath to dilute the anger that rose.
"Don't say things like that", Sally walked to the door, "it's dreadfully ignorant".
"Sally!", her father's voice rose in volume, "apologise to your mother". Sally offered no apology and the standoff grew cold and uncomfortable.
"We should have stopped this years ago, before you got so overly attached", Diane said dolefully and Sally just shook her head, not in the mood for yet another retelling of how hers and Darrell's friendship was somehow wrong.
"I shall call when I arrive", and before anyone could try to stop her, she yanked the door open and walked out with her case and bag.
The walk to the station was a little over fifteen minutes and her anger had cooled by the time she arrived. Which was just as well as at one point, playing the argument over in her head while she walked, Sally could have sworn she growled. If that wasn't a sign of needing to get far away from her parents, she didn't know what was.
Even over the holiday period, the station wasn't too busy at this time. Most people used it to commute into London so she had missed the morning rush. She showed her ticket to get through to the platform and easily found a seat when the train arrived. She had half expected one of her parents to appear at some point and try one last time to stop her. Mercifully, no such event had occurred by the time the train pulled off.
The train rocked its occupants gently from side to side as it trundled up and into the Kent countryside. After forty minutes of reading, Sally felt her eyes getting heavier and she got to her feet, startling the people in the seats on the other side of the carriage.
She mumbled an apology as she moved down the aisle and out into the baggage area between the carriages. She pulled one of the windows down and stood so the cool Winter air woke her up. Falling asleep in her own home was bad enough, but Sally had no intentions of waking up in the midst of a nightmare in public.
For the first time, doubt set in about whether she should be visiting Darrell. What would Darrell think if Sally woke up in terror in the middle of the night? Or what if she saw the dark taints on Sally’s soul as soon as she arrived at the Rivers’ house?
Then again, Darrell would be working through her own trauma and probably wouldn’t push too hard and Sally was good at putting on a believable mask. It had worked over Christmas with her parents, though Daffy’s incorrigible excitement had helped.
A low bell rang and a voice over the tannoy announced her stop was upcoming. Sally returned to her seat to retrieve her bag, then back to the baggage area to unload her suitcase. People bustled her as she got off the train, everyone keen to get out of the cold, and she struggled through to get some fresh air.
She hadn't been expecting Darrell to be waiting for her at the station and the unexpected first sight of her friend made her breath catch.
“Hello, surprised?”, and Darrell’s smile, pleased to have caught Sally off guard no doubt, didn't help Sally with composing herself either.
“You didn't need to meet me”, Sally said and Darrell shrugged as she stood up and hugged her. Sally melted into the hug and blushed when Darrell pressed a kiss into her cheek.
“I missed you”, Sally said the words without really thinking, and she held on a little longer than she usually would.
“It’s only been a few weeks”, Darrell said simply, but Sally could see the same emotions she felt reflected on Darrell’s face, “Come on or we shall miss the bus”.
Sally reluctantly let Darrell take her bag while she pulled the suitcase, “Have you spoken to Alicia at all?”.
“I take it you haven’t?”, Darrell grinned and Sally didn’t offer an explanation. They were fighting for the same team now, as it were, but after everything that had happened, Sally had no inclination to make their relationship anything more than one of practicality.
“She’s okay - bored but that's Alicia all over”, Darrell said, “I had to get her to tamper down the calls and letters a bit, she got a bit…”, and then Darrell glanced at Sally, “Well, like you - over-protective”.
“You nearly died”, Sally pointed out, grateful that the words didn’t catch in her throat, “Twice”.
“It’s just funny seeing you both behave the same”, Darrell said, “Anyway, she’s fine - so are Mr Giles and Miss Potts”. That made Sally smile. Despite their ongoing insistence, Darrell just couldn’t seem to make the transition to first names for the two Watchers.
“Did they call as well?”, Sally asked as they reached the bus stop. Darrell winced when she sat down on the bench and Sally nearly reached out to help her, stopping herself at the last moment given their current topic of over-protectiveness.
“Just once - although it was a jolly good job I answered the phone and not anyone else, how would I explain my teacher calling, nevermind the groundskeeper”, Darrell massaged just above her knee as she spoke, “For people who are so desperate for secrecy you’re all being rather unsubtle”.
“Maybe you bring it out in people”, Sally leant out and waved down the approaching bus. Darrell got back up before Sally could ask if she needed any help.
“I’m fine”, Darrell paid Sally’s ticket despite her protest and showed her return bus ticket. Sally kept quiet until they sat down.
“No-one would be fine after what you went through”, Sally pointed out gently, “How are you healing up?”
“As well as expected I think?”, Darrell shrugged, “My hand is…”, she grimaced as she held her scarred hand up, “there’s some loss of movement but the doctors say that most of it could return with time. My ribs are on the mend, my leg too. The doctors say I won't ever be pain free though”.
“But the…”, and Sally stopped herself because Darrell still didn’t know what Sally and Alicia had done to save her life, and even though giving her vampire blood was one of the less worrying parts of it, Sally wasn’t ready to talk about it.
"It was a lot of damage, some things just don't go back to how they were", Darrell said and she looked away and out of the window. Sally knew Darrell wasn't just talking about the physical injuries.
“I'm sorry, I know it's not easy to talk about”, and without thinking, Sally put her hand on Darrell’s knee. Even at school, where affectionate gestures were better tolerated, the gesture would have earned a few glances. On the public bus in Kent, Sally felt her mistake when a woman boarding the bus with her children glared at them.
Sally pulled her hand back slowly to avoid startling her friend and swallowed the lump in her throat. That was twice now she had gone and been overly affectionate, was this lack of sleep affecting her judgment?
They talked about Christmas on and off during the bus ride; Sally stopping herself from fussing when Darrell took what seemed like too long to respond. The bus stop wasn't far from the Rivers house but Darrell’s walk slowed a lot by the time they reached the path up to her front door.
“You made it okay then”, Darrell’s mother, Theresa, smiled as she opened the door for them and Sally spent a little time speaking with her while Darrell went through to the front room. Sally suspected that this short journey had been the first one Darrell had made by herself since returning home, and all at once it made sense why she had struggled through obvious pain to do it.
“Michael's around somewhere”, Theresa said as she tidied away the papers on the kitchen table quicker than Sally could glance over them, “he and Felicity were doing something with the chicken hutches, foxes got in last night”.
As if summoned, Felicity poked her head around from behind the back door, “Hallo Sally, I thought I heard you”.
“All done?”, Theresa asked, “Good, set up the table for me would you? We'll get lunch started. Actually, go get Darrell first would you?”.
With a little grumbling, Felicity did as she was told while Theresa began preparing lunch. Felicity reappeared with Darrell in tow, who was patiently listening to Felicity explain something about the repair works she had done on the hutches. She looked worryingly pale and Sally was relieved when Theresa silently pressed a tub of aspirin into Darrell's hand.
Sally helped Felicity set the table and Michael greeted her as he finally emerged from the back garden.
“Did you call your parents to say you’d arrived okay?”, Michael asked as he washed his hands and Sally shook her head.
“I better do it now”, and as much as she tried to sound natural about it all, something must have been off in her voice because Michael and Theresa shared a look.
Sally excused herself to use the phone in the front room and called home. Her mother answered and Sally kept the conversation short and perfunctory, agreeing to call again the following day. When her mother asked after Darrell, Sally said she was doing well and made her excuses to end the call.
That same tight sensation from earlier filled her chest and she stood in the middle of the Rivers' living room until the peculiar feeling went. When she returned to the table, whatever glimmer of irregularity the Rivers had seen in Sally's stoic front, they didn't mention it and Sally was grateful for it.
"Come in", Alicia called before her brother even got a chance to knock on the door.
"Show off", Sam said as he poked his head around the door, "Are you going to sulk in your room all hols from now on?"
"I'm not sulking", Alicia said, "I'm thinking". She had, of course, quickly hidden the book Marie had begrudgingly allowed her to take under her pillow before she called out to Sam. Explaining a sudden interest in reading ancient texts filled with macabre drawings would probably be beyond even her bluffing skills.
"First time for everything", Sam teased and Alicia made a show of grabbing something from her bedside table, making Sam hide behind the door with a laugh.
"Less of your cheek", Alicia swung her legs around and got to her feet, "what do you want?"
"Mother wants us to go and collect June from the station, she's staying the rest of the hols", Sam explained, "and she's decided that since we'll be at town anyway, we can do some shopping for her".
Alicia pulled a face at the mention of her cousin but grabbed her winter coat from the back of her chair, "Awfully peculiar, June suddenly been shipped over like this. Still, strength in numbers where June's involved right?"
"Oh come off it, she's not so bad", Sam grinned.
"That's because she thinks you're wonderful", Alicia teased, "you tell her jump, she asks how high. And you don't have to put up with her at school".
"Alright, alright", Sam conceded, "I'm not going to argue".
Alicia collected the shopping list from her mother, and her and Sam set off on the short walk into town. Alicia asked about their younger brothers, but Roger and Dick had gone over to a friend's house to cause trouble for a few hours.
"Surprised you're not at Daniel's", Alicia said.
"I wanted to see how you were doing", Sam admitted, "I mean, it's obvious to all of us that you and Betty aren't pals anymore, and then that other friend of yours has come down ill hasn't she? I wanted to see if you were okay, you’ve not been yourself".
Alicia hadn't been challenged on her friendships like that before, nor had she thought she were acting in anyway unusual, and she fumbled over her thoughts to try and construct a half lie.
"Betty and I just started drifting apart I guess", Alicia said, though even thinking of her friend made her throat feel a little tigh, “until we couldn’t see how to get back to where we were”.
"Come on, let's cut through the field, I can hear Mrs Beecham nattering down there and we'll never reach town if she catches us", Sam groaned and they changed course to climb the turnstile into the field.
"And Darrell, well, she's not well right now but the doctors are positive", Alicia finished.
"Is it true that it's…", and Sam tapped his temple, talking outright about anything like mental illness was just out of the question.
"She's not…", Alicia started to flare up and then calmed herself, "like I said, she's getting better".
"Well, it’s a shame, they're hardly going to let her back", Sam said as he snatched up a stick and began batting the tall grass as they walked.
"Don't say that", Alicia cut him off before he could say anything more.
"Come off it Alicia, you know what people are like, especially at boarding schools like Malory Towers", Sam said, looking over at her, and Alicia's face must have well and truly given away her anger because he hesitated and his step faltered.
"If she gets better why shouldn't she get to go back to school?", Alicia demanded.
"Forget I said anything", Sam said, "that Head Mistress of yours is a decent sort and I suppose if anyone would buck a trend about this kind of thing, it would be her".
Alicia was slightly mollified but Sam's words had prompted a dull weight in her stomach and chest. She knew that people were asking hushed questions about what had been seen and heard in Darrell’s last few weeks of school. That those whispers extended to asking if she had “gone mad" or whatever other terms they threw about.
Alicia smirked to herself, imagine what they would say about her if she started talking about seeing vampires and werewolves.
"What time is June's train due?", Alicia asked as they reached the top of the hill and began their descent towards town.
"Quarter past three", Sam pulled his sleeve up to check his watch, "we'll take our time with the shopping or we'll be hanging around the station for an age. Don't want to be accused of being troublemakers again do we?". Sam's broad grin betrayed his amusement over the rant they had received from the station master when they had arrived far too early to meet their brothers back from boarding school.
Alicia was about to reply when movement off to her right caught her eye and she turned. Still and nothingness greeted her but she knew better than to presume that was a true reflection. Sam had continued walking so she hurried to catch up to him and did her best to both carry on their conversation and keep an eye on whatever had caught her eye earlier. This time it was a sound the sharp crack of a twig being stepped on that made her look around.
"Whatever is wrong?", Sam asked.
"Just thought I heard something", Alicia said.
"Oooh, are we being followed?", Sam chuckled and he had a good look around as well, "what do you bet the others have decided to sneak after us?".
Alicia wasn't convinced it was their brothers though; they would have been far easier to see or hear. She could see Sam was about to start making fun of her when a scuffing noise, like something slipping on loose earth, reached them.
"Maybe one of the sheep is stuck somewhere?", Sam suggested and he walked in the direction of the noise. Alicia almost told him to stop but held her tongue at the last moment. Unless she somehow convinced Sam of the supernatural and her place in it in record time, he would never stop making fun of her for getting all riled up over some noises. Instead, she followed him and looked around for any sticks that would help if she needed to fight.
"There's something in there", Sam pointed to the hedgerow just in front of the and reached out.
"Wait", Alicia grabbed his arm and when Sam looked at her amused she added, "if it's an injured animal it'll go for you if you're too close, and I'm not looking after any booboos you get if it scratches or bites you. Use the stick to move the branches".
Sam nodded and did as she suggested. The scuffling got louder and then a blur made them both step backwards in a hurry. A fox stopped a few feet away from them for just a second before running off a crossing the field. Sam laughed and Alicia hid her sigh of relief under her own chuckle,
"Now aren't you glad I didn't let you stick your hand in there", she said, punching Sam gently on the arm, "Come on, or we'll end up being late".
Darrell made an exasperated noise as she struggled with the buttons on her pajama top, her hands trembling too much for her to grip properly. Tiredness, medication, injured hand… Sometimes it all added up to not being able to do things she used to have no trouble with. Like doing up buttons. As if to compound her frustration, her eye and cheek began to twitch as well, as though she were trying to wink.
"Darrell?", Sally asked and Darrell turned away slightly, self conscious of her uncontrolled movements.
"The twitching and shaking are because of the tablets", Darrell knew her voice had gone a little gruff and funny but she hadn't actually talked to anyone about the day to day impact and it felt peculiar to even say the words.
"I can…?", Sally gestured hesitantly towards Darrell’s top and, taking a moment to swallow her irritation, Darrell nodded and let Sally help her.
"It's only sometimes", Darrell grumbled, though she couldn't explain why she felt the need to explain.
"It's okay", Sally said and she quickly buttoned up Darrell's top, neither of them really looking at each other to make it a bit less awkward.
"Do you know when you’ll be coming back to school?", Sally asked after she finished helping Darrell and began to get changed herself.
"Not yet, I have to see how I get on with the medication for a while longer", Darrell said as she climbed into her bed. Sally usually stayed in the spare room, they had stopped sharing a bed when they were fourteen, but Darrell had asked if Sally could stay in her room and the other girl had agreed.
"Until then?", Sally asked.
"The school are sending work home for me and I'll have someone who's supposed to be some… someone who works with people who have similar difficulties to me", Darrell explained.
Sally finished changing and got into the other side of the bed. She looked hesitant for a moment and Darrell wondered if she were about to suggest she go to the guest room after all.
“I sometimes have nightmares, since all this started”, Sally said instead and Darrell felt guilty for being surprised. Sometimes even she forgot that Sally only put on a good front to hide all the emotions she felt, and that didn’t mean she wasn’t actually affected.
“Me too”, Darrell admitted, “I would say it’s okay but it’s not really, I mean it’s not okay this happened to us”.
Sally offered a smile to show she got what Darrell meant. Darrell turned off the lamp and they talked for a short time about nothing in particular, just nervous and tired chatter to ward off sleep and nightmares a while longer before they both drifted off.
Warm light bathed the church in a soft golden glow.
Darrell supposed that somewhere in the back of her mind she knew she was asleep, though it all seemed quite real. She could hear the wind outside the church, could feel the cold of the stone floor against her bare feet, and feel the breeze against her face. Yet she moved without meaning to.
A voice from the back of the church called out and in the moment - the dream - she must have understood because she called back in a voice not hers and walked towards the voice. Though she couldn't have said what either she or the other person had said.
She stepped into the room in the back of the church. Books were lain out, some open, covering the table in the room. She tried to look at them but only managed a brief glance; only saw two of the pages and try though she might, all but one of the images slipped from her memory.
The person at the back of the room got to their feet and greeted her by a name she didn't recognise.
Warm light filled her vision.
Darrell blinked against the light, sat up and looked around. Her bedroom became clearer. She was still in bed. She hadn't gone anywhere.
"Are you alright?", Sally's voice was soft but Darrell still startled at it.
"I just…", Darrell swallowed the lump in her throat, "it wasn't a nightmare, just a strange dream I suppose. Did I wake you?"
"I was awake anyway", Sally said but didn't expand, "you were getting quite agitated and saying something but I couldn't catch what".
"I can't imagine it was important", Darrell said and she lay back down before Sally asked any questions. Sally turned the lamp off again and they were returned to darkness.
After a moment of hesitation, Darrell reached out and took hold of Sally's hand. A soft squeeze was Sally's silent reply and then Sally shifted to pull Darrell into her arms and hug her tightly.
"Will it get better?", Darrell asked, her voice quiet and uncertain, so unlike her old self that she half wondered if she would ever get that person back.
"I hope so", Sally replied.
CW: References to homophobic views, PTSD flashbacks, reference to drowning, prejudice towards mental health issues.
"And you're sure she hasn't done anything?", Diane Hope asked. Sally's hold on the phone tightened and she had to remind herself not to crush the Rivers' handset. She breathed out slowly before replying,
"I've told you before that whatever you've heard about Darrell and her condition is nonsense", Sally choked on her words and when her mother tried to argue, Sally felt her anger returning, "I have to go, we're going out for a bit. I'll call just before we head back to Malory Towers tomorrow".
She placed the phone back in the cradle far more delicately than she wanted to and put her hands on the table to take a few more breaths. She needed to calm herself before going to find Darrell.
She never used to get riled up like this, and Sally wasn't sure if it was the wolf, the guilt or something else entirely. That thought brought memories racing back, flurries of that night and what she had done, and she squeezed her eyes shut. It didn't do much to stop her anger and a low growl shuddered through her chest and throat.
"Sally?", Darrell's voice was soft and her word was immediately followed by her placing her hand on Sally's shoulder. Some of the anger simmered down and Sally wondered if this was how it had felt for Darrell all those times Sally had soothed one of her rages.
"Sorry, I didn't mean to…", Sally let it trail off rather than confess to physically growling.
"Just be glad it's only me here", Darrell said, forcing lightheartedness into her voice, "imagine explaining your wolf tendencies to my father". Sally forced a smile and then, as she thought about how Mr Rivers might react, the smile became genuine.
"My mother was just being a little difficult and I'm finding I'm quicker to anger these days", Sally confessed as she stood up straight, "Are you ready to go out?".
"When you are", Darrell said.
They had planned a gentle walk down into the town for their last day. Something that made both of them almost feel like their old friendship, pre-Slayer and pre-supernatural knowledge, was still intact. The walk kept them off of the main path into town as Darrell was only just becoming less self-conscious about the way her medication affected her around her family and Sally, and wanted to avoid too many people she knew.
Sally checked on Darrell as subtly as she could while they walked, watching for tiredness or pain. They had been out for short walks each day and Darrell's stamina and strength had slowly returned but Sally was careful not to let Darrell push herself.
"Do you remember when we went swimming down there?", Darrell asked as they reached the halfway point of the walk. Just a ways down was a small lake, framed by a smattering of trees, barren without their leaves.
"How could I forget? It was Spring and it was freezing", Sally said, "I don't know how you convinced me to go swimming of all things, you talk me into all kinds of nonsense sometimes".
Darrell looked pleased with herself for her past adventures and Sally gestured towards the nearby bench. They sat down for a while and Sally was about to ask if Darrell felt okay to continue when something splashed into the lake below.
Sally's whole body felt like that Spring day when she had gotten into the lake, bitter cold all over for a moment that lasted just a bit too long. Her chest tightened and her throat forbid her from swallowing. Images, memories, flickered in her mind's eye and she saw herself and Alicia drowning Darrell, over and over until she felt like she were the one drowning.
"Sally? It's not real", Darrell said, her voice sounding far away, "whatever you're seeing, isn't real. You're in Kent, with me, and we're on a bench. Put your hand down on it". Sally's body did as she was told and she felt cool wood against her palm.
"Can I touch you? On the hand?", Darrell asked, her voice getting firmer and Sally nodded. Darrell's fingers, chilled from their time outside, wrapped around her hand and for a moment, Sally just focused on that feeling. The memories faded and she felt like she could breathe again, finally seeing the Kent countryside returning to her vision.
"You're back", Darrell said, squeezing Sally's hand. Sally nodded, not trusting her voice.
"Do you want to stay sitting or walk?", Darrell asked. Sally took another few moments to settle herself and cleared her throat,
"Walk", her voice was stronger than she expected and she followed Darrell back to the path. When Darrell hesitated she clarified, "to town, let's keep going".
They walked in silence for a few minutes before Sally nudged Darrell's hand with her fingers. Darrell took and held her hand in an instant. They would have to pull away when they got to town but that was another five minutes away.
"Why did your mother make you so angry earlier?", Darrell asked after another minute of silence.
"It doesn't matter", Sally said, not wanting to hurt Darrell with details of other people's bigotry, "it feels like everything they do is at odds with what I think or believe some days".
"Since the bite?", Darrell asked and Sally shook her head.
"Before even that", and Sally didn't want to talk with Darrell about that either. About the thinly veiled comments about excessive sentimentality between friends and having to grow out of it to become adults. Then less veiled comments, pointing out how the world looked upon "deviant" choices. No, her family felt they had more than enough to berate her for without learning about the supernatural.
"I wish I could help somehow", Darrell said eventually.
"You don't need to do anything but be you"
By some small mercy, Alicia's mother had learnt from previous mistakes and June was not sleeping in Alicia's room on a camp bed. Instead, Roger and Dick were put back sharing a room and Roger gave up his room for a few days. Alicia had nearly lost her rag completely with June last time. Especially as it had been just after all that business with the midnight feast and Darrell losing both her temper and her Head Girl position.
Alicia's chest hurt a little when she thought of that. Darrell was probably a shoe in for Head Girl of the school before all of this happened. Alicia tried not to think too long about how she had encouraged - forced - her friend's involvement in all this.
Alicia vaulted the fence back from her patrol and slowly walked around to the back of the house where she would be able to climb the tree near her window and get back inside. She hadn't come across anything except a few curious foxes but she couldn't take the risk.
The supernatural were drawn to the Slayer and while she was at home, she was basically drawing a target on her whole family. She hadn't seen anything so far in all the hols she had spent at home since her calling as the Slayer began but there was a darkness to each return home that was never there before.
Then there were the nightmares.
Alicia never minded getting up to patrol because it usually tired her out enough for her to sleep through to morning with minimal horrific dreams of her family being murdered by creatures of the night. More than once she had woken with her heart racing and had to check each of her brothers and then her mother to reassure herself they were alright. That was without the newer nightmares based on what Sally and she had done last term.
Grass crunched underfoot as she made her final checks and looped back towards the house. It was nice to be home and with her family but there was something missing now, and she suspected it was because she was holding something back.
Alicia got up the tree in a few seconds and jumped to her open window before anyone could have had a chance to wake and investigate any peculiar noises. She had worn her pajamas under her outdoor clothes this time. Sam, wandering back from getting a drink had nearly caught her still in trousers and a jumper a few nights back when he knocked on her door and opened it. So now all it took was a few seconds and she was in sleeping attire.
A loud creak outside her door made her freeze and she pulled the window down slowly to avoid it making any noise. She tiptoed to her door.
Alicia opened the door and made June jump half a foot with fright.
"June", Alicia whispered, "what are you doing?"
"I couldn't sleep", the petulance and defensiveness were immediate in June's voice.
"So you go skulking about in the night?", Alicia asked, "go read a book in bed like a normal person".
June scowled and Alicia started to shut her door again. Then something, a flaw in June's stroppy front, caught her eye and Alicia paused.
"Were you knocking for me?", Alicia asked.
June just looked uncomfortable so Alicia knew she had hit the nail on the head, she pushed her door open and gestured for June to come in with a sigh.
"I knocked twice but I didn't hear movement so figured you were asleep", June shrugged.
'As opposed to climbing through a window', Alicia thought. She said nothing and turned her lamp on and waved June towards the end of her bed.
"What are you looking for me for anyway? Have a nightmare? Need to borrow a Teddy?", Alicia sat on her bed and stifled a yawn.
"If you're going to be an ass about it…", June started.
"I'm just messing with you, lack of sleep makes a person grumpy", Alicia said, "what is it?"
June spent a very long time looking at her hands and then she finally asked,
"Would Aunt Marion let me stay here? If things went very wrong at home?".
Alicia hadn't been sure what to expect, except that it must be serious for June to even be discussing it with her, but it wasn’t that. Suddenly June’s sudden arrival began to make a little more sense.
"I… Perhaps", Alicia said eventually. Her mind began to wonder logistically how that would all work and she stifled a grimace at the thought of sharing her home with June every hols.
"It wasn't just the notes that did it", June said, her cheeks going red as she referenced the nasty notes she had written to the Fifth Former, Moira Linton, earlier that year, "Or the reports from the teachers. Father has been disappointed in just about everything I do for an age. Long before Malory Towers".
"That's why you were sent over here at such short notice?", Alicia asked, “you and he had a row, didn’t you?”
June shrugged again and Alicia could see the defenses going back up. She wouldn't get anything more out of June that night and truthfully, Alicia wasn't sure she wanted to. Trust June to choose the middle of the night to bare her soul.
"Why doesn't Betty stay over anymore?", June asked instead and Alicia immediately felt forced onto her figurative back foot. She wondered how June could possibly know that and then figured that one of her brothers must have opened their big mouths.
"We're not as close as we used to be", Alicia said vaguely, really why were her entire family deciding that this hols was the time to try and get her to open up?
"I'm sorry", and June's words were so unlike her that Alicia took a moment to confirm that she had heard correctly.
"It's not your doing, no reason to apologise", Alicia brushed the words away to keep her barriers up.
"Still, losing a friend as close as that is like losing family. It can't be easy", June said as she drew patterns on the bedspread with her fingertips.
That brought a lump to Alicia's throat that she couldn't get rid of straight away. The backs of her eyes stung and she berated herself for being so silly. What good would getting all emotional about this do? Not a jot.
"Look, go out back to bed", Alicia said eventually, "we've got a long journey tomorrow and at this rate we'll both be exhausted. Ask my mother tomorrow about staying here next hols, the whole hols I mean, and then just go from there".
June nodded and got up and returned to her own room, shutting Alicia's door quietly. Alicia flumped back onto her bed with a groan. Of course her family life had to get more complicated on top of all the Slayer business.
They would have to get up soon and Darrell didn't think she was ready for it. Would ever be ready for it.
Sally shifted where she lay, her head against Darrell's shoulder, but stayed asleep. They hadn't bothered pretending that Sally was staying in the guestroom. Her suitcase and bag never left Darrell's room, and Darrell's parents hadn't said anything about it. What harm was it doing anyway?
Darrell moved her free arm and put it behind her head. She had known for a while now that it was going to hurt saying goodbye to Sally and Felicity, who were travelling down together on the train, but with it being only a few hours away, she felt it now.
She heard Felicity running down the stairs and checked the time. Half five. She probably should wake Sally, there was still a lot to do before they set off to the train station. Sally would only end up getting frustrated if she had to rush around, and the morning was going to be difficult enough as it was.
Darrell shook Sally gently. Her friend stirred immediately and blinked away the remains of sleep.
"Morning", Darrell spoke quietly, "It's half past five, I didn't want you to oversleep".
"Thanks", Sally didn't make any effort to move from where she was lying though and Darrell smiled as the arm around her waist tightened in a quick embrace, "we will see each other again soon, you needn’t look so worried".
"I know we say that but do we really believe it? Deep down?", Darrell asked, slowly breathing through the emotion that felt like it was overwhelming her, "If word gets out that I've been diagnosed with psychosis, people will think the worst. How would Miss Grayling ever get people on board with me coming back?"
"People don't need to know your business", Sally said, "and even if people have suspicions, they don't need to know the details. How could they stop her?"
"It just feels like we're all planning for a happy ending when the world doesn't give happy endings to people who…", Darrell didn't manage to stop the emotion wobbling her voice and she quickly blinked away the starting of tears.
"A year ago I would have been completely ignorant about psychosis and trauma and all of this", Sally pushed herself up onto her elbow, "sometimes people do learn and change. Maybe other people won't but they're not the ones with the power to stop this happening, if it's still what you want".
"I'll miss you", Darrell said, changing the subject and moving to sit against the headboard.
"I know", Sally's smile was sad, "and I'll miss you, but we can get through this. You did survive a demon after all, what are a few hundred miles?".
Darrell chuckled at Sally's clumsy attempts at humour. Then she heard Felicity calling her name and footsteps on the stairs.
"I guess it's time we got up"
After showering and dressing, Darrell left Sally to finish packing her hand luggage while she went downstairs for her medication.
"No I don't know where your swimming costume is Felicity, surely they won't let you swim yet anyway?", Theresa Rivers chased Felicity out of the kitchen, "go and check your room again. Oh good, you're up. Is Sally about ready?"
"Sally was practically ready last night", Darrell said as she accepted the toast, juice and tablets from her mother, "have you ever known her not be organised?".
"Darrell, tell mother that we can go swimming in the Spring Term", Felicity called as she ran back up the stairs.
"She is right, I usually swim throughout Spring Term", Darrell admitted, "half my class think I'm daft for it mind".
"Alright, alright. I won't argue with the swimming habits of school girls", Theresa sighed, "eat your breakfast and then help me sort out Felicity's case would you, your sister still hasn't quite mastered the idea of sensible packing".
Darrell didn’t know if her mother genuinely needed help or if she were just keeping Darrell distracted, but she didn’t mind. Sally packed her suitcase and bag in the Rivers car and then returned to help Felicity with hers. It seemed Darrell wasn’t the only one who needed a distraction.
When Sally went through to the living room to call her mother, somewhat reluctantly Darrell thought, Felicity reeled off her promises to write to Darrell and then asked about calling home.
“Well, I know they don’t usually allow phone calls unless there’s an emergency but I suppose asking to call once a week wouldn’t hurt”, Theresa said, “I’ll give Miss Grayling a call and ask given the circumstances. All set Sally?”.
Sally nodded, careful not to give any kind of glimmer of emotion away even though Darrell looked for it. Felicity finished her goodbyes with a hug for both Darrell and Theresa and then raced down to the car. Theresa followed her with a weary chuckle.
“Goodbye for now I guess”, Sally said, “hopefully not for too long though”.
“Try and stay safe?”, Darrell asked.
Sally’s hug was tighter than usual and Darrell hated that it had to end. With one final goodbye, Sally went down to the car and the house was empty for a moment. Darrell stood where Sally had left her, not sure how she was meant to feel.
The front door opened and shut and her mother returned, having waved the girls off from the driveway.
“Need a moment?”, Theresa asked gently and Darrell nodded, not trusting herself to speak without bawling.
Theresa squeezed her shoulder,
“Take all the time you need, I’ll be in the front room when you need to talk”.
CW: Descriptions of violence, ableism, prejudice towards mental health difficulties, trauma and PTSD.
After the whirlwind of returning to school ended, Sally wished that she could somehow slip into the background and be ignored like she had in her first term at Malory Towers. Except nearly five years down the line and that was quite an impossible ask.
When everyone was still excited about being back and there was luggage to unpack and stories to tell and hear, it had been bearable and Sally had been able to get by with saying very little. Then it had started. First there were the hesitant glances at the empty bed in the dorm, then the empty chair at the dinner table. Mamzelle Dupont had been overjoyed to see them all and that had been a decent distraction until she too had noticed the empty chair and had forgotten for just a moment and asked, “Oh! But where is...”, before remembering. The evening had gotten sombre after that and they had all gone to bed with a strange unease.
Sally finished dressing for their first proper day back just as the bell to wake up rang.
“The first morning is always so beastly”, Belinda groaned, covering her face with a pillow so the latter part of her sentence was muffled.
“I still can’t believe you wake up so early here, see when I was at-”, Maureen started and all at once, the rest of the form found something to talk to someone else about so they didn’t have to hear about Mazeley Manor yet again.
Showers and making beds and dressing went by with minimal fuss, though Irene had to run back up to the dorms and return her hairbrush, only realising she had it with her once they were halfway down the stairs.
“Slow down you two”, Moira snapped as two smaller students darted in front of the fifth formers to catch up with their class.
“Sorry!”, one of them called over their shoulders as they tagged onto the end of their line. Sally watched Moira’s face twist into a scowl and wondered how long it would be before the punishment book came out this term.
“Some things never change”, Alicia commented as she walked past Sally to get to a seat and Sally had to admit that the fact they didn’t made it a little bit easier.
Breakfast was uneventful, if quite tense in places. Sally noticed that a low murmur started when Felicity Rivers and the rest of the North Tower second formers arrived, as though her presence reminded people of what had happened. Or rather, what they thought had happened. Sally made a note to herself to seek out Felicity later and check how the younger girl was doing and how the second formers were treating her.
Form was their first class of the term, where all the administrative duties and practicalities would be sorted out. It was structured and regimented, which was precisely what Sally needed. They filed into the classroom and took their seats from last term. Sally caught a few pitying looks over the empty chair beside her but resolutely ignored them.
Miss James handed out duties and announced that Rosie Grant, one of the West Tower girls, would be Head Girl for the term. Rosie was well liked in her Tower and they broke their usual Fifth Form sensibilities to clap and cheer, making Rosie blush profusely.
“Just one more thing and then we shall get started on the English”, Miss James said, “Until Darrell returns, Moira and Sally, could the two of you work together to cover her duties as the second to Head of Games please?"
Sally looked up sharply and forced herself to politely agree, she glanced across at Moira who had a strange look that Sally didn't much like. Miss James watched each of them carefully but didn’t say anything and moved the class quickly onto their English lesson.
The lesson dragged by. Fifth Formers were allowed to talk quietly while they worked as long as they were sensible and kept most of the talk on topic. Without Darrell, Sally spent the whole lesson in silence. She spent break alone as well, although that was her own choosing as she wasn’t up to facing more awkward silences. She wished someone would just ask a straightforward question or for an update so all this tension had somewhere to go.
When the bell rang for Maths, Sally rejoined the rest of the class, who were already discussing how it really was beastly to put Maths so early on the first day back. Every form seemed to have the same discussion whenever Maths fell on their first day.
Sally was taking her Maths books out of her desk when someone sat in the chair beside her and she dropped the lid to her desk in surprise.
“Sorry about that, didn’t realise you were the jumpy type”, Alicia grinned as she put her own books on her desk. Sally opened her desk again and took her books out from where they were half trapped under the lid.
“What are you doing?”, she asked Alicia, mindful of the whispers and confused looks around them.
“Oh come off it. Look, it would be daft for us both to sit alone when we’re going to get shoved together for classwork anyway being the only two not in a pair”, Alicia said straightforwardly.
“We don’t like each other, Alicia”, Sally said, keeping her voice quiet enough that the girls sat in front of them couldn’t hear.
“Well, we’re Fifth Formers now and this is an example of our ever growing common sense and maturity”, Alicia smirked, “also, it means I don’t have to start slipping you notes during class about other matters. Imagine how that would look. I’ll switch back once Darrell returns, don’t worry”.
Sally was still bewildered by it all, as were many of the other girls if their faces were anything to go by, but Miss James returned and started the lesson before anyone could complain. Sally had to admit that having someone to discuss the work with wasn’t a terrible idea, even if it was Alicia. The strange looks from the others died down as the lesson went on, and no-one so much as gave them a second glance when the bell went for lunch break.
“Marie’s room”, Alicia whispered as they packed away their belongings and, once the others were out of sight, they took the back stairs up to the teacher’s floor. Alicia, of course, tried the door and when it opened she ushered Sally inside.
“Better than being caught lurking outside”, Alicia explained, “Say, I forgot Darrell was second to Head of Games. I'm starting to wonder how she did all the things she did for us and had that responsibility as well".
“And kept up her grades”, Sally added. That was one area where she was certainly struggling. Between the patrols, the supernatural research, the lack of sleep, and the mental and emotional changes of dealing with becoming a Werewolf, Sally’s grades were beginning to waver. Worse still, some of the teachers were beginning to notice.
Before Sally could say anything, the door opened and Marie stepped inside.
"And how exactly were you planning to explain being in here without me if another teacher came by?", Marie asked as she walked around her desk and put her pile of papers down.
"Miss Potts asked us to wait here for her, she said it was important", Alicia shot back immediately.
"While sitting on my desk? Off please", Marie shooed Alicia who jumped down and took a seat on the sofa instead.
"Miss us then?", Alicia asked, "how were the creepy crawlies and monsters while we were away?", Alicia asked.
"Rupert and I kept up patrol, we only encountered a handful of vampires near school property", Marie said and then she unlocked her drawer and pulled a notebook out, "Rupert also did rather a lot of reconnaissance in preparation for your return".
Alicia leant forward and took the notebook to leaf through, “Vampires, demons, ghouls, werewolves… My, we shall be busy".
"Werewolves?", Sally made her first contribution to the conversation.
"We always knew there must be others nearby, or else you would never have been turned", Marie explained, "not all werewolves restrain themselves during the full moon".
Sally didn't say anything to that, though she thought miserably of being told the events of her first night as a Were, what she had done, and had nearly done.
"I suppose it's back to business as usual tonight then?", Alicia asked as she tucked the notebook into her blazer pocket, "like we've never been away".
Alicia landed inside the underground cavern with a thud and waited until Sally dropped down beside her.
"See, like old times", Alicia said as she turned her torch on, "new old times I mean, not old pre-supernatural abilities times".
"Don't you ever tire of your own voice?", Sally asked, walking ahead into the gloom of the cavern.
"Best way to get decent conversation, talking to yourself", Alicia replied and she carefully swung the torch ahead of them, trying to spot anything lurking in the dark, "can you sense anything?"
"Werewolves", Sally replied, "But it's a faint trace, I doubt they've been back here in a while".
"Jolly good, one of you is enough hassle", Alicia said as they moved deeper into the cavern, "ever think of giving up your cosy bed at Malory Towers to sleep somewhere like this?"
Alicia grinned when Sally's only response was a dismissive noise that managed to convey all sorts of disdain in a single syllable. They walked in silence for a while until they reached where the wolf pack had obviously been staying.
"Have a look around", Alicia said as she began shifting the rubbish left behind, "messy creatures these Werewolves, present company excluded of course". Sally didn't dignify that with an answer but she did do as Alicia asked.
"Six of them", Sally said eventually, "this den was compromised, that's why they moved on".
"Compromised by what?", Alicia moved the torch to check the ceiling, not wanting any nasty surprised jumping down on her, "what takes on a pack of Werewolves?"
"I'm not sure, the scent is demonic and there's more than one but I can't say more than that", Sally replied, "they followed them that way", and Sally gestured further into the darkness.
"Excellent, it's never into a nice open field with good visibility is it?", Alicia asked.
"You mean where people can see them?", and the fact that sarcasm was back in Sally's repertoire was a good sign.
Alicia led the way deeper into the cave, cautiously moving the torch to cover the whole tunnel as they walked.
"Do you ever wonder who your sire is?", Alicia asked, breaking the uncomfortable silence. Her question was immediately followed by an even more uncomfortable silence.
"You mean the Werewolf who bit me?", Sally asked eventually.
"Well, yes. Could it be one of the Weres we're following now?", Alicia asked, "wait, hold that thought".
Movement flickered in the torchlight and Alicia scanned ahead of them with the torch. When she saw nothing, she swept the torch from floor to ceiling and then nodded for them to continue.
"It's not them", Sally said, answering Alicia's question, "I've picked up the scent once before and it was like I just knew that was who it was".
"Shame I can't give you a family reunion then", Alicia said.
"I can't say I'm disappointed", Sally said and she stopped walking and recoiled.
"Wonderful, I guess we found the something", Alicia said. Sally waved for her to shut up and once she did, Alicia could hear it too. The sound carried through the still of the cavern and Alicia grimaced, it sounded like sucking and chewing. All at once she felt quite sorry for the unknown Weres.
Alicia switched her torch off, crept forward for what seemed like forever until they reached the bend of the cavern, and peered around the corner. Without the torch, she could only just make out shapes crouched on the floor of the cavern. Sally joined her and with her improved vision, she obviously saw far more because she couldn't hide the look of horror that flashed across her face.
Alicia switched the torch back on, raised it and stepped out in a single fluid motion. The monsters - demons - ahead of them recoiled from the light and hissed at her. Alicia knew now why Sally had looked so horrified. The demons were crouched over two bodies on the floor, sucking the marrow from the bones they had sliced out from them. Blood and raw sores covered the demons' faces and their lank hair stuck to their skin because of it.
As the first Demon rose to confront them, Alicia jammed the torch into a small nook in the wall, providing them a spotlight.
“Get the other one”, she told Sally as she drew the attention of the first demon. Alicia ducked the hook thrown at her head and then immediately leapt backwards to be clear of the boot aim at her. A second assault followed almost straight away, with no staggering or hesitation and she kept just out of reach of that too. These demons were a class of fighter above the usual vampires.
As much as she tried to keep her distance to come up with a plan, the demon closed her down again. This time she feinted and landed a punch in the demon’s lower abdomen, hitting hard enough to double the demon over for a second. Her strike to it’s temple knocked the demon sideways but it braced itself against the wall and recovered far quicker than she would have liked.
She moved out of the way of another kick and missed the follow up that tripped one foot from beneath her, knocking her to her knees. An arm went around her neck from behind and squeezed.
Alicia tried to pull at the arm, then tried to throw the demon over her but it was so strong that neither was possible. The arm tightened and she fought against the panic that desperately wanted to set in. She pushed backed, tried to get her feet back beneath her but the demon pushed down with all its weight.
With one final surge of strength, Alicia reached behind her and grabbed the demon’s head, jamming her thumbs where she hoped its eyes were.
It screeched and let go of her, letting her drop to the floor of the cavern where she allowed herself just a second to gulp down air before staggering to her feet. The demon stumbled, hands covering its eyes, and Alicia kicked him in the midriff and sent it sprawling to the floor. She closed the short distanced and grabbed the demon by the collar of its armour and punched it square in the face. Once. Twice.
Alicia lost count after that. She kept hitting it, her fist landing in the same place over and over until blood coated her hand and the creature was unrecognisable. Then there were arms around her waist hauling her up and away from it and she fought against them too.
“Get off of me!”, she pulled away and turned around.
Sally just glanced between her and the demon, then walked over and retrieved the torch from the wall. In some ways that was worse than saying something. Alicia stood and listened to her own breathing, ragged and out of control, and the way her heart was pounding.
“This one is a Werewolf”, Sally said and Alicia shook herself and walked over to the bodies the two demons had been feeding on, “one of the pack”.
“Human. She’s sick. I mean, she was sick”, Sally said, “People’s scent changes when they’re ill”.
Sally swung the torch around and indicated that they should keep going. Alicia cradled her hand and gently probed it with her fingers, probably not broken, just bruised. They walked in silence for a few minutes and then the cavern came to an end and the night’s sky was visible just ahead of them.
“Well, you want sick people”, Alicia said softly as they saw the local hospital just across the stream from where they had come out, “I didn’t realise we have come out so far. So those were Lei-Ach demons… No wonder Marie had them underlined as a priority if they hunt in hospitals”
“Do you think there’s more?”, Sally asked.
“We should go down and check I suppose”, Alicia nodded towards the hospital and she led the way down towards the river, angling them towards the narrowest part.
“Is your hand okay?”, Sally asked as they crossed the stream.
“It’ll heal, you take any injuries?”, Alicia waited for her to catch up.
Alicia wanted her to ask. To just come out and say, ‘So, the way you lost control back there, want to talk about it?’. Maybe Alicia would laugh it off and say no, it was fine and they would both pretend that she hadn’t been so gripped with terror that she had lost sight of the rest of the world, but it would be nice to have the chance to say yes, actually, she did want to talk about.
Maybe she wanted someone to sit down and listen to her pour out the shard of terror that had ached in her chest since the day she had learned how Slayers were summoned, and how frequently. Maybe she wanted to talk to the one person who had any idea about some of the nightmares she was having, at least the ones filled with water and crimson red eyes.
Instead she walked quicker, forcing Sally to speed up to stay with her. They had hospital grounds to investigate.
Darrell fumbled for the notebook she kept beside her bed. After a few tries, she eventually snatched it from inside the bedside table drawer and began to write down as much of the dream as she remembered. Then she scrawled crude versions of the symbols and sketches she had seen on the pages of the books she had seen scattered in the room at the back of the church.
It didn't make sense. It never did. Sometimes she thought she was just doing this to reassure herself that it was dreams and not something else. She would ask the doctor next time if her medication could cause unusual dreams.
Darrell flicked back through the pages and, using another notebook, carefully brought together some of the sketches. A few of the symbols began became clearer - though she had no idea what they meant - and some of the drawings got a little clarity. No matter how often she looked at them though, an answer to their origin wasn’t forthcoming. She glanced up at the clock, nearly half six.
Hiding the notebooks back in her drawer, Darrell got up and pulled the curtains open. Her support worker, a Mrs Gail Taylor, was supposed to be starting work today and Darrell wanted as much time to herself as possible before she arrived.
After dressing and taking her medication, Darrell went out for her usual walk at quarter to seven, leaving a note for her mother like every morning. Her father would already be on his way to work. She enjoyed walking by herself, it gave her time to muddle through her thoughts to try and work out what was what. Memories, hallucinations, dreams… telling them apart wasn't easy.
She should tell someone really. Maybe Miss Potts if she could manage to get hold of her when her parents were out. Just to have someone check whether what she was dreaming about had actually happened, or even if the church actually existed. Darrell thought she could give a reasonable description of the building by now. Though making any kind of secret calls was about to become more difficult if she had someone with her during the day.
The town had a library and, unless they had gotten rid of them, there were some very old books hidden at the back in the archive. You were only allowed to look at them if you sat at the table behind the librarian’s counter and used gloves. Still, the chances that any of them would contain anything she needed was so unlikely it was hardly worth the effort. Which left her with what exactly?
Darrell shivered despite her thick coat and she sped up her walk around the lake to get a little warmer and then headed back home. Her mother was in the kitchen when she got there.
“Morning, did you manage more sleep last night?”, Theresa asked as she put some toast under the grill.
“Not much more”, Darrell hung her coat and went to get the butter out of the fridge.
As if nightmares weren’t enough, she now had insomnia which she would have thought would make her tired during the day but half the time she was jittery as though she had drunk far too much coffee. Which she certainly hadn’t because, to her frustration, her father had insisted she stopped drinking coffee as soon as she began taking her tablets.
“Well, we’ve got the doctors in a few weeks, perhaps we can ask him whether there are options for reducing your dose? It could help”, Theresa said as she began to do some of the washing up they had left the night before. Without being asked Darrell picked up a tea-towel and started drying.
“Will that help with the shaking and the other movements too?”, Darrell did try not to be self-conscious about them but sometimes she couldn’t help it.
“Perhaps, there was-”, the sound of someone knocking at their front door interrupted them.
“I’m not expecting anyone this early”, Theresa dried her hands, took the toast out from under the grill, and went over to answer the door.
Darrell buttered the toast while she waited. She heard snippets of a short exchange and then Theresa returned with someone in tow, a woman Darrell didn’t recognise. Darrell couldn’t read the expression on her mother’s face but there was a cloudedness to it that made her uneasy.
“This is Mrs Gail Taylor, we were expecting her quite a bit later but she decided to pop by earlier”, Theresa said and the words made Darrell’s anxiety spike. They had carefully scheduled out her week so that she knew exactly when things were supposed to happen and now this was happening, she didn’t know how to react. It felt like her heart was racing, and she took a deep breath to steady the sudden sensation of dizziness in her head.
“There’s always so much to get through on the first day you see”, Gail stepped around and held out her hand for Darrell to shake, “Darrell is it?”
Darrell returned the handshake quickly and then stepped back. Her cheek muscles began to twitch and when she reached up to obscure them, she shrugged involuntarily.
“Ah yes, your notes did say your medication caused tics”, Gail said, and Darrell couldn’t be sure but the way she said it felt wrong somehow. Like Gail pitied her.
“I wa-”, Darrell stopped herself from being rude back and took a deep breath, “before anything else, I would like to know the times and schedule for today”. She picked up her toast from the side and started to eat it.
“Oh, you haven’t had breakfast yet?”, Gail asked as Theresa went over to eat her own toast.
“As I already mentioned, you are earlier than we expected and we had today’s schedule carefully planned”, Theresa said.
“Well, I’ll just let you two finish up and then we can have a chat”, Gail said as she began to take a few things out of her bag.
Darrell glanced sideways at her mother and wasn’t sure if she was reassured or not by the fact her mother looked as uncertain as her.
CW: Prejudice against mental health difficulties,
"Belinda Morris!", Miss James interrupted the class, "While I fully appreciate that today is your birthday, I do expect some composure from my Fifth formers".
Belinda smiled sheepishly and apologised, returning to her work in a much quieter, if not exactly less excited manner. Birthdays were the one time even the upper school could get away with a bit of silliness and, after some persuasion of the more reluctant members of the form, they had all agreed that they should plan a midnight feast.
Sally, usually one of the students who erred on the side of rule keeping, hadn't seen any reason to raise an objection. Though she wondered briefly if she might have if the past few months hadn't happened. Protesting about a midnight feast didn't make any sense when there were far bigger matters to concern yourself with.
Moira, who it seemed had been hoping to have more than just Catherine to back up her position that it was unbecoming, folded quite quickly after that. Though she didn't seem happy about it.
Still, to actually pull it off, the Fifth formers did need to behave as though they weren't planning to be awake half the night.
"Alright, dismissed", Miss James called as the bell sounded for the end of lesson and everyone collected up their books and belongings.
Sally hesitated before hurrying to catch up with Belinda and Irene. They had all given Belinda her birthday presents that morning but Sally had felt uncertain about giving Belinda the gift and card Darrell had sent down with her in front of everyone. Mentions of Darrell were still all too often met with uncomfortable silence.
"Belinda?", Sally caught up with them just before they reached the quad.
"Everything alright?", Belinda asked and Sally struggled for a moment to find the best words, deciding in the end just to be straightforward about it.
"Darrell gave me a card and a birthday present to give to you but I didn't want to go making it awkward this morning. I put them in your bedside drawer", Sally explained. Belinda's expression softened and she nodded in understanding.
“I’ll get it later, thank you”, Belinda said, “We’re just going outside for a while before next lesson, do you fancy joining us?”
“Thank you, but I’ve got something I need to take care of”, Sally said, and for once it were true.
Most the other offers of joining onto an established pair of friends so far that term had been out of sympathy or worse, pity. Sally had quickly discovered that without Darrell there to act as a sort of social buffer, she was as awkward and uncomfortable in most social situations as she had been as a First Former.
Sally doubled back on herself and took the stairs up to where she had agreed to meet Alicia.
“There you are”, Alicia met her on the stairs, “You do take your time”.
“Or you’re just impatient”, Sally replied, following her, “Not everything needs to happen at top speed”.
“I don't want to spend all my break hiding in some corridor with you chatting about midnight arrangements”, Alicia called over her shoulder and Sally stopped herself from pointing out that Alicia was at as much of a loose end as she some days without Betty to while away the hours with.
“Have you called Darrell yet this week?”, Alicia asked as they headed down one of the corridors to find some privacy.
Sally hoped that her guilt wouldn’t show on her face or in her voice as she answered, “Not yet, I’ll ask if I can call her this evening or tomorrow. I got a letter from her yesterday though”.
“What are you two up to?”, Moira’s voice interrupted their conversation and stopped them short in their tracks.
“What are you doing following other Fifth formers about?”, Alicia asked immediately, turning around and facing the other girl, “Don’t you have First formers to make cry?”
“I wasn’t following you, I have far better things to do with my time”, Moira’s sneer made Sally annoyed, so she imagined Alicia was about to get even more biting that usual.
“So you’re just being nosy asking us what we’re up to? Like we’re naughty school children who need monitoring?”, Alicia asked, and Sally wished she would stop goading Moira so they could just get their arrangements for the evening sorted.
“It’s unusual to see you two being cordial to each other”, Moira said, and she did look as though she expected them to be up to something untoward, “I suppose without Betty and Darrell, who else have either of you got?”
Sally bristled at the comment but breathed through her irritation. After all, wasn’t she thinking the same thing herself earlier?
“Heaven forbid I want to find out how my friend is”, Alicia said smoothly, “I suppose not having any friends yourself, you wouldn’t understand how I’d want updates about how Darrell’s doing”. Alicia’s words, as usual, hit hard right where she intended them to. Moira stiffened and gave Alicia a filthy look.
“Still holding onto a hopeless dream that she’ll come back?”, Moira replied, her voice icy, “There’s only one place the mentally unstable end up and for good reason. You really think the school would dare let her back?”. Moira turned on her heel and marched off down the hall.
The heat in Sally’s chest exploded into rage that began to spread through her entire body. Her chest tightened and her mind became clouded with-
The next thing she knew, Alicia shoved her into the nearest room, one of the sewing rooms and shut the door behind them. Sally stumbled and barely steadied herself on the back of the chair, then turned on Alicia.
“What do you think you’re doing?”, Sally asked. Then, as though answering her own question, a growl razed through her chest and throat. Sally’s cheek got hot as shame mixed with anger and she took a step back.
“That’s not all”, Alicia said carefully and she nodded towards the mirror. Sally looked over at it and went rigid at the sight of her own amber eyes staring back at her.
“I didn’t mean to…”, Sally whispered, and she tore her gaze away. All of this should have stopped, the full moon was two days past.
“I don’t imagine you did”, Alicia said, “but I'd like it if you'd turn them off now”.
Alicia was still cautious whenever any of Sally's Were traits seeped through, and Sally could hardly blame her.
“I don’t know how”, Sally admitted, "I think it's because I got so angry".
“You never rose to any bait when we were younger, how did you stop yourself getting angry then?”, Alicia asked.
“It was easier then", Sally snapped, “there's some pretty big differences now".
“Then how did Darrell learn to control her anger?”, Alicia stepped forward.
Sally thought about the years Darrell had spent getting her shocking temper under control. Sally wasn’t convinced it was completely under control but it was certainly far better than it had been. Sally’s presence had always helped Darrell cool her rages, so it would make sense that the reverse would be true but Darrell wasn’t here and that was part of the problem.
Sally tried a different approach. If Darrell were here what would she say? She’d be surprised at Sally’s anger, that was a given. Surprised but not judgmental. She’d probably be quiet for a moment, give Sally a chance to think and steady her own thoughts. Then she would ask Sally if she wanted to talk through what had made her so upset. She would probably tell Sally that Moira’s opinion on matters was hardly one to take to heart, though it would probably be a bit less polite than that particular phrasing.
“Whatever that was, it worked”, Alicia commented and Sally looked over at the mirror. Blue again.
“I don’t really know what I did”, Sally said, not wanting to risk Alicia teasing her for how she had steadied herself.
“Well, just remember the order of whatever you just did”, Alicia said, “And I'd love to explore the details of wolfing out outside of the full moon but we need to talk supernatural business. Like how on Earth we’re patrolling and attending a midnight feast?”
“You’ve had Rupert cover patrol before”, Sally said.
“I don’t know if you’ve noticed but Rupert isn’t exactly jumping to do either of us favours this term”, Alicia said as she sat on top of one of the boxes the sewing materials were kept in, “Still a bit sore about being knocked out by one of his charges”.
“He was planning to kill Darrell”, Sally pointed out.
“Either way, Rupert won't be around either", Alicia said, "Marie keeps sending him off to check on various attacks and strange occurrences around Cornwall, Lord knows why, we don't get those details. And we can hardly ask Marie since she'll then want to know why we're both not able to patrol. Which reminds me, we'll have to reduce the sleeping spell somehow, any ideas?"
"How would I know when you don't?", Sally groaned, "we could patrol before and after the feast? Split the patrol so that we each get at least some sleep?"
The bell for the next lesson rang before they could come up with a solution.
"Tell Marie you want to call Darrell this evening, I bet she knows how to alter the sleeping spells", Alicia jumped up.
Sally was going to protest and point out that the last thing they should be doing was stressing Darrell out with more supernatural involvement but Alicia was out the door before she could speak.
Marie shut the door to her office and unloaded the First formers' English books onto her desk for marking.
"Long day?", Rupert asked and Marie sighed at her lack of observation. She really must be tired.
"I do wish people would stop hiding in my office, eventually someone is going to stumble across one of you and ask questions", Marie said, "But we do need to be quick, Sally has asked to use the phone to call Darrell and I didn't have the heart to say no".
Rupert snorted as he grabbed the holdall from the side and carried it over to the desk.
"I wouldn't be so generous as to grant either her or Alicia favours if I were you", Rupert said.
"Yes, as you've said many times", Marie said, "But do consider how cruel it would be to put more barriers up for Sally and Darrell right now?"
Rupert scowled but moved on, "Found something you won't like. I didn't much like it."
He pulled a folder out of his bag and handed it to Marie, "Copied this from the police files, got a good look at the body before they got there as well".
Marie leafed through the papers and grimaced at the details within, "Werewolf?"
"Not sure", Rupert said, "If it was, this wasn't like a normal werewolf kill. It was sadistic".
"How do you mean?", Marie asked and Rupert tapped one of the paragraphs.
"Poor bastard was alive for a long time while it pawed at him", Rupert said.
"Good Lord, it's like it toyed with him", Marie said as she read the details in disgust.
"By the time it was done? I reckon he begged for death", Rupert said, “It’s not anything I’ve seen Weres do before”.
“No…”, Marie continued reading, “No, they’re usually quite brutal and efficient in their attacks. Brutal games such as these, they're usually the work of something else. My word….", Marie has reached the part of the report where the coroner made a best guess at what the victim had still been alive for.
“I’ve checked the cage down at the cottage”, Rupert said, and Marie looked up sharply.
“You didn’t really think Sally got out and did this?”, she asked.
“Can’t be too careful. Doesn’t look like it though, as long as Alicia didn’t skip out on her duties and give her time-”, Rupert was about to continue when Marie cut him short.
“You need to stop letting your emotions cloud your judgment Rupert”, Marie said firmly, “Sally could not have gotten out to do this and Alicia did not fall short on her duties in keeping watch. Neither did I, though I note you didn’t enquire about me”.
“It might not be her first kill, if she did”, Rupert said, “we never solved that attack around the time she was turned”.
“No, we didn’t. But it could just as easily have been the Were who turned her”, Marie said, “are you quite sure you’ve got everything for tonight?”
"She is more dangerous than I think you realise", Rupert said and Marie turned to face him. Something in her expression must have startled him as he took a step back.
"Rupert, while I do not intend to provide you with details, please be assured that I am perfectly aware of how dangerous werewolves can be", Marie spoke steadily, fighting to keep any frustration or emotion from her voice, "Sally willingly and consistently does everything asked to keep everyone else safe from her during the full moon".
"The Conduit wasn't killed during a full moon", Rupert replied quietly.
Marie hoped she managed to keep her thoughts off her face at Rupert's words. Neither Watcher had gotten the details from either Sally or Alicia of how they had saved Darrell's life when she was possessed by the demon Conduit. Both Watchers had their suspicions.
"Is there no-one in your life you would do most anything for? Under horrific pressure and circumstances?", Marie asked, then before Rupert could argue she returned their attention to the task at hand, "I will continue to investigate this attack. Now, have you got everything".
Rupert looked as though he were going to argue but finally relented, "Yes".
"Good. I will see you on Thursday", and Marie watched silently as Rupert snatched the holdall from the desk and stormed out of her office.
She sincerely hoped he wouldn't pass Sally in the corridor.
Alicia wanted to hurry Sally along to ask about the sleeping spell, conscious that they were running out of time, but she couldn’t bring herself to intrude. It was the first time since they had been back she had actually seen Sally smile.
Thankfully, she only had to wait another minute when Sally gestured her over.
“Hello, miss me?”, Alicia asked as Sally held the handset between them.
“I miss everything”, Darrell said.
“So when are you gracing us with your presence again?”, Alicia asked.
“I’ve got to go to the hospital on Thursday, they’re going to adjust my medication and then I’ve got to see how that goes for a few weeks”, Darrell explained, “Then if all that goes well, maybe I can come back. If someone’s parent doesn’t start a petition to stop it, that is”.
“Leave that to us”, Alicia said, “We have methods of persuasion”.
“Sally said you had a question? About the sleeping spell?”, Darrell asked.
“Yes, we need to be able to patrol tonight but also let everyone else in the form wake up for Belinda’s midnight feast, then go back to sleep again”, Alicia explained, “How do we alter the strength of the spell?”
“Does Miss Potts still get you to place the spell bags?”, Darrell asked, and when Alicia confirmed, she continued, “It’s fairly simple. The strongest potency is in the pine cones, so take out the rough proportion you need to reduce the time. So if there’s eight cones and they normally work for eight hours…”
“Take out six if we want them to sleep for two, got it”
“But whatever you do with them, don’t keep them on you, you’ll fall asleep. Then put back the number of cones you would need to take them through to morning. If the number doesn’t quite work, pour out some of the powder that’s in the bag as well. Anyone under the spell will be harder to wake than usual mind”, Darrell’s voice grew quieter for a moment then she returned, “my parents are back, I’ve got to go”.
“Simple right?”, Alicia asked after they hung up and made their way back to the common room. They made arrangements for the evening and quickly sorted out the bags. They agreed that Sally would take first patrol and then come back and wake everyone for the feast, Alicia would take second patrol.
The Fifth formers managed to maintain the image of maturity and composure throughout the evening and Alicia was certain that no-one would have any inkling of what they had planned. That evening, even amongst the thrum of excitement, the rest of the form dropped off to sleep quickly and Sally left shortly afterwards to patrol.
Alicia had thought she wouldn't sleep but the next thing she knew was Sally shaking her awake. After a quick debrief of her patrol, one single vampire a good distance from Malory Towers grounds, Sally moved on to waking the others and Alicia got out of bed to help.
Darrell hadn't been joking when she said that the others would be difficult to wake and Alicia did give serious thought to leaving Daphne and Bill asleep when she simply couldn't wake them. Except there was no explanation she could think of to explain their unnaturally deep slumber and so she was considerably more forceful with her next efforts. Both girls looked quite rattled when she finally shook them awake but she made a quip about them being heavy sleepers and moved on before either could ask any questions.
The Fifth formers had decided to simply use their dorm for the feast to reduce the likelihood of being caught, and Alicia and Belinda snuck out to retrieve the food and pitchers of lemonade they had stashed away earlier. After they returned, they shoved Belinda's duvet down to cover the gap at the bottom of the door to make the fact that their dorm light was on less obvious.
"And you're sure no-one heard you?", Moira asked. She had been fussing all day, almost desperately looking for an excuse to call the feast off.
"For the third time, yes", Alicia said, "But they'll hear your fretting if you're not quieter. Eat something. You can't fuss if you're eating".
Moira glared at her but Alicia cheerfully ignored her and turned to talk quietly to Belinda instead.
It was a slightly more sensible affair than when they had been younger, but Alicia had to admit there was something so exciting about doing something so mundanely schoolgirl-ish that she couldn't stop smiling.
At half one, Belinda looked over at the clock and sighed, "Well, I suppose we better tidy up. Lord help us if Miss James ever finds out what we've been up to".
Sally and Irene took the remaining evidence back down to the cupboard they had used as a hiding place while everyone else tidied up. With all evidence of their midnight feast hidden away, Alicia pretended to go back to bed like everyone else.
Getting the bags back under people's pillows had been the trickiest part of the evening to plan. They had considered trying to cast the spell on the whole room, as Alicia had done the previous term with Marie, but their rudimentary research into the matter had revealed that it was unlikely to work on so many people. Eventually they had decided to let natural tiredness do the first bit and add the bags once the girls were already asleep and simply hope no-one woke up.
Alicia had joked that Sally could just knock anyone who did wake up out as she had shown quite a propensity for it the term before. That had earned her a withering look. Sometimes teasing out the predictable responses was reassuring.
As Alicia lay waiting in the dark for Sally to let her know that everyone was asleep, for the first time she found herself resenting the fact that she had to return to the supernatural world so soon.
CW: Nightmares (drowning), trauma, prejudice towards mental health difficulties, ableism.
NB: There is a further CW which is potentially a chapter spoiler so is placed at the end. For anyone who wants to read all CW before reading, please press the link below or scroll to the end of the page.
(See the end of the chapter for more notes.)
Alicia was supposed to be going down to meet Marie and Rupert at the cottage but she had taken her time over it. First she had taken a walk down to the tennis courts, not to play of course, since she didn’t have anyone to play with, but just to be somewhere not Slayer related.
Ever since Belinda's birthday, Alicia had found herself growing snappier and more on edge. Sally had almost given up trying to speak to her (though her efforts were minimal to start with) and the rest of the form were beginning to notice her foul mood. How was she supposed to tell them why she was like this? How was anyone supposed to explain that they were dreading their next birthday, and unsure if they'd see the one after that.
After watching some of the lower school play tennis for a while, Alicia walked back up to the main school. Along the way, she spotted June sitting by herself in the courtyard and, after some hesitation, decided to take a stroll over and talk with her. June looked about as surprised at Alicia’s arrival as Alicia was with her decision.
“What do you want?”, June asked, and Alicia had to say that for all their similarities, she was quite sure that she had never been half as sulky as her cousin.
“Can’t I come and check how you’re doing?”, Alicia asked as she sat down beside June.
“You’ve never bothered before”, June said, and it was true. Alicia had never felt the need to be the guiding force or helping hand for her younger cousin and sometimes she wondered if that were to both of their detriments. Though, anyone who spent anytime with June and her prickliness would certainly understand her reluctance to be the jolly older cousin.
“Well there were some heartfelt midnight revelations over Christmas now weren’t there”, Alicia leant back against the tree and ignored June’s scowl, “Have they written to you?”
June shrugged and Alicia didn’t know if that meant that her parents had written and June didn’t want to talk about it or that they simply hadn’t bothered. They were definitely far enough into term that parents would have written. If they cared to.
“Well, what did mother say about you spending the Easter Hols at ours?”, Alicia asked instead and June shrugged again, “You didn’t ask her?”
“Why bother?”, June asked and Alicia sighed, however did the rest of the Second formers put up with her?
“You are a pest, never you mind. I’ll write to her”, Alicia said and she decided to leave June to her sulking for now so she got up and brushed the grass off of her tunic, “I’ll find you when she writes back. That's if she doesn’t call Grayling in the meantime to check I’ve not come down with a fever for wanting you to stay with us”.
With the freedom afforded to the girls on a Saturday, Alicia could have probably found a hundred more ways to waylay herself from her duties but there was still that gnawing worry that if she slacked off too much then something that she could have prevented would happen. So she left June and headed down to the cottage.
“You took your time”, Rupert didn’t look up from whatever he was reading so missed the face that Alicia pulled. Marie didn’t however and Alicia quickly smoothed the childish gesture from her expression.
“I’m a busy person these days, what did you want?”, Alicia spun one of the books on the table around to look over it, “Werewolves?”
“There’s been an attack, though I’m not entirely convinced werewolves are responsible”, Marie said and she shot Rupert a warning glance that told Alicia there was something going on there that she wasn’t privy to.
“Do you think this is the pack Sally picked up traces of the other night?”, Alicia asked. They had eventually found the third and final Lei-Ach demon skulking around the hospital grounds and had disposed of it quickly before dragging its body back and leaving it in the cavern. Rupert had gone out the next day and buried them. Probably the only thing he did that was even vaguely like his rather flimsy cover of being the groundskeeper.
“It’s possible, but you don’t need to go out looking for them tonight”, Marie said, even as she held her hand out for Alicia’s notebook to update the details. Alicia handed it over. She guarded it with her life, terrified that she would accidentally leave it lying out in the open somewhere for someone to find.
“The Slayer doesn’t get nights off”, Rupert muttered.
“You know, rather than make snide comments, it would probably do you good to just come out and say whatever it is you really want to say”, Alicia challenged Rupert, pleased with herself when he went red and flustered.
“Alright then”, Rupert straightened up and ignored Marie’s request to stop, “I think you and Sally should have stood before the Council for what you did. Since neither Marie nor I know the details, I think someone should have done an investigation of sorts”.
“I see, now you’re sore about all this suddenly you want to fall in line and have the good old Council come in and sort us out, is that it? You weren’t all that keen on them being involved in anything before this”, Alicia replied, “funny how quickly hypocrisy takes over”.
“There’s some lines I don’t believe are right to cross”, Rupert glared at her, his cheeks getting even redder and telling her she had landed her jab where it hurt.
“Well just provide me with a handy guide to Rupert Giles’ guidelines and limits for dealing with a traumatic life and death situation”, Alicia said, “I’ll be sure to take it under advisement”.
Before Rupert could say anything else, Marie held up a hand to each of them, “That is enough”.
“It’s not”, Alicia said, lowering her voice, “because he has no right to judge me. Neither of you have to wake up each day with this weight. Knowing that everyone who came to this role before you died before they had much chance to live”.
A bitter silence came over the cottage. Alicia watched as the anger faded from Rupert and as Marie, for once, was lost for what to say.
"Never mind though. If I manage to keep this up, I might still have a good two thousand odd days left in me right?", Alicia said, "better make them all count right?"
Before Marie could try and reassure her, Alicia took the notebook from where Marie had left it on the table and she marched over to the door. She might as well go and find these werewolves now while she was angry, which meant she needed to find Sally. She spent more time hiding away than Alicia did these days. Alicia ended up searching the library, the common room, the dorms and then finally the music rooms before she found her.
Sally would know she was there but Alicia waited silently, leaning against the wall, and let Sally finish whatever she was playing.
"Where are we needed?", Sally put the lid down over the piano keys as she finished.
"We're not, I just don't want to be here", Alicia said, "fancy a daylight patrol?"
Sally probably realised the same as her, that no-one would wonder for too long where they had gone, and as long as they were back by dinner then it would easily brushed off.
“Why not”, and she gathered up her sheet music and asked Alicia to meet her outside.
If it hadn’t been for the lapse of control after Moira’s nasty comments the other day, Alicia would have been inclined to believe that Sally wasn’t having any difficulty adjusting to what they had done. Now she was more prone to thinking that of the two of them, she couldn’t decide who had chosen a worse way of coping.
Sally didn’t speak as she joined Alicia outside and the silence remained for a good fifteen minutes as Alicia led them off of Malory Towers grounds and out towards the cemetery.
“Where are we going?”, Sally asked eventually.
“Werewolf hunting”, Alicia said and she saw the way Sally tensed for just a moment, “that pack you sensed in the cavern, Rupert thinks their den is all the way out in that abandoned farm”.
“And your plan is?”
“Haven’t decided. Depends how much they annoy me”, Alicia said and she quickened her pace so that the conversation ended.
"But… I was sure…", Darrell took the schedule from where her mother had left it on the fridge and carried it over to the table, "I read this. There was definitely time set aside for me to go for a walk by myself".
"I don't know what to tell you, perhaps you were a bit tired this morning", Gail said and her smile made Darrell uneasy. But she couldn't argue with her. There it was, in black and white, that they were supposed to work on French.
"I must have been", Darrell turned her body away from Gail to hide the twitching in her cheek. It always prompted that sad, pitying look on her face.
"After the French, we need to go through your diary for today", Gail patted the book beside her and Darrell stifled a groan. She hated that book. It was filled with all the minute details of how she had acted or thought during the day. Well, most of them. She wasn't about to go and tell Gail about the times she wondered what creatures Alicia and Sally had been dealing with. That would land her right back in hospital.
"I just need to get up for a bit", Darrell stood up and began to walk back and forth in the kitchen.
"It's a shame. I don't know whether Malory Towers will be able to accommodate you needing to walk around and all those other things you say you need", Gail sighed, "the world we live in unfortunately".
Darrell stopped pacing and turned around. Her torso muscles stiffened for a few seconds and she grimaced at the twinge of pain.
"Whatever do you mean?", Darrell asked and she began to pace again.
Gail stood up and went over to make herself some tea. Her parents had said it was okay for her to do so but something about it put Darrell's back up. Her father thought she just begrudged Gail because of the situation she was in.
"Think about it", Gail said as she set a cup out for herself, "You have classes of how many girls?"
"Twenty or so", Darrell said. Perhaps it bothered her because Gail knew she wasn't allowed coffee so it was almost as though she were rubbing it in with the amount of times she made herself tea. Darrell rubbed the back of her neck, that thought was a little too close to paranoia for her liking.
"Well, every time you would need to get up and walk around, you would be upsetting the education of all those other girls", Gail said, "If parents found out they were paying all that money and their girls couldn't learn…".
Darrell stopped pacing and stood stock still in the centre of the kitchen. Gail looked over at her and then quickly covered her mouth with her hand,
"Oh, I'm sorry. I didn't mean to upset you", Gail said, "I thought your parents would have discussed this already"
"No", the word felt heavy in Darrell's mouth and it seemed to just plunge into her stomach and make her feel sick.
"Well, with your tics and spasms dear, never mind everything else… Oh I had thought you would have discussed it", Gail said. Darrell shook her head and returned to the table and pulled her French book towards her. Despite trying her hardest, as soon as she stopped concentrating on keeping her legs still, she began bouncing her legs up and down.
She really had been foolish. Gail was right . None of the other girls would be able to focus with her doing things like this. This was with the lower dose as well and Doctor Cudson had said that she had to stay on this for at least two months before he would change it.
Darrell's vision became blurred and she rubbed her eyes quickly to clear the tears,
"Could I work by myself for a while?", she asked. She didn't look up but Gail would be able to hear that she was upset.
"Of course, I'll go next door for a while", Gail said and she left Darrell to her work.
"Bit of a tough day today", Gail was saying to her parents. Darrell had gone upstairs when they arrived home, she didn't like being around for Gail's debrief at the best of times, never mind after the day she'd had. Something this time prompted her to sit on the landing at the top of the stairs so she could overhear them though.
"She didn't lose her temper again did she?", her father asked, "she worked so hard to control it before all this happened"
"Oh no, no", Gail said, "nothing like that today. She just got rather upset and I'm afraid, well, I don't think I helped. See she was talking about how she needs to move around to be able to work and then we got onto talking about how that might be challenging if she goes back to school".
Darrell frowned and played those words over in her head, saying them quietly to herself to make sure she had heard correctly. That wasn't exactly what had happened. Was it? She pressed her hand to her temple, she was getting a headache.
"We'll talk to her, don't worry", her father's voice brought her back to the present and both her parents said goodbye to Gail.
"Are we just setting her up for disappointment by saying she might go back to school?", she hadn't expected them to keep talking and now Darrell felt distinctly uncomfortable at her father's words, "Maybe we should look into long-term home schooling".
"All she wants is to go back to school and be with her friends Michael", her mother said, "she's doing everything she's been asked. She goes to therapy, she takes her medication, she follows a routine, I told you Doctor Cudson was pleased with her progress".
"Look at this though, Gail has mentioned a few times where Darrell was adamant things were true when they weren't. These look like lapses. Maybe we were too quick to reduce her dose", Michael sighed.
Darrell had heard enough. She crept back to her room and sat at the foot of her bed. Her calendar was hung so that she could see if from her bed and she had been counting down the days until her medication was reviewed. That was all crossed off. Then she had started counting down the days until the next appointment where Doctor Cudson had agreed they could discuss her returning to school. It all seemed rather pointless now.
It was only a few minutes later that her mother knocked gently on her bedroom door, waiting until Darrell said it was okay before coming in.
"How was today?", Theresa asked, sitting beside Darrell on the bed.
"A bit difficult, I think I'm tired", Darrell said. There was some truth to that. She'd woken at around midnight, soaked in sweat from the terror of a nightmare where she had been underwater and unable to get back to the surface. After that she hadn't been able to sleep properly because she was too hot, but too scared to open the windows.
"Do you feel up to eating some dinner?"
"I don't know. Maybe", Darrell rung the hem of her t-shirt between her hands for a few seconds and then picked up the teatowel by her bed to use that instead. She had torn one t-shirt already with her wringing. That had gone in the ridiculous diary.
"Mrs Taylor mentioned that she said something to you about school that, really, she had no place to", Theresa was picking her words carefully.
"About all the moving around I do", Darrell supplied, "Well, she's right isn't she? I would disturb other girls. Not that they wouldn't be disturbed just by me being there I suppose".
Theresa gently put her hand over Darrell's, "She isn't as right as she thinks she is".
"Could you seen Gwen's parents or Moira's being happy about me being back in their class?", Darrell asked, trying not to sound sulky, "and if they ever found out what my diagnosis is, they'd go the way of the Hopes and think I'd hurt their daughter".
Theresa squeezed Darrell's hand, "I didn't know you knew about that".
"Sally hasn't called for ages either", Darrell barely got the words out loud enough for Theresa to hear, "so maybe she feels the same as them deep down".
Darrell had been hiding that fear deep inside for days. When a week had gone by between phone calls, she had thought maybe Sally was limited to the calls she could make. Then she had two - albeit brief - calls from Alicia over a matter of days and still nothing from Sally, and she was beginning to wonder if her friend was avoiding her.
Not hearing from Sally made all the confusion with Gail even worse because Darrell was sure that if she could just tell Sally about some of the things which had happened, Sally would be able to set her straight about whether she was being paranoid or not.
"Oh Darrell, what other worries are you hiding away up in that brain of yours?", Theresa asked, "Maybe Sally just doesn't know what to say and is worried about calling because of that? Have you written to her again?"
Darrell shook her head. Maybe her mother was right. As astute as her friend was, Sally wasn't always certain about how to put into words what she was thinking and feeling. Coupled with everything else they were all going through and maybe she simply didn't know what to say.
"I can write to her, she does find letters easier than phone calls", Darrell said, feeling a little better.
"Why don't you come sit downstairs while I cook dinner, just for a little while", Theresa suggested and Darrell agreed and followed her mother downstairs.
"Is it alright if I change one of the study sessions tomorrow to going out for a walk by myself?", Darrell asked once they reached the kitchen.
"To go out twice you mean?", Theresa asked, "it's already on the schedule everyday at two o'clock, we wrote it up together remember?"
Darrell frowned and walked over to where she had left the week's schedule on the table to check it. The one for today was gone.
"Where's today's?", Darrell asked.
"Hmm?", Theresa began opening the cupboards to get what she needed for cooking out, "I'm not sure. Maybe Gail took it when she was writing up her notes for today? Tomorrow's is there isn't it?"
"Yes, it's here", Darrell said quietly and she looked over the schedule for the next day carefully then carried the whole schedule over to the fridge and carefully put it back up with magnets.
"Is there something wrong with it?", Theresa called and when Darrell looked around her mother looked a little concerned.
"No, it's fine. I just couldn't remember what we put was all", Darrell lied and she turned back to read it one more time.
The uneasy feeling from earlier returned; if only she knew whether the problem here was Gail or her…
It took them nearly half an hour to get out to where the old farmhouse was. Rumours was, it had slipped into disrepair when the couple who used to own it both died under suspicious circumstances. It was one of the many things that had just seemed like the product of an overactive imagination, until Sally had learnt just how much she didn’t know about the world. Now as the building got steadily closer, Sally tried her best not to shudder as she wondered exactly what secrets the building held.
“Picking up anything?”, Alicia asked. She had barely spoken for the whole journey except to issue directions. Sally thought she wouldn’t have minded the silence but she soon found herself wishing the flippancy and quips would come back. This new front of Alicia’s concerned her. Though she couldn’t bring herself to actually say that.
“Rupert was right, it’s their new den”, Sally said and she held up her hand as they reached the boundary of the farmland to stop Alicia going any further. Sally closed her eyes and concentrated, listening for any movement, taking in any scents or traces in the air.
“Nothing else”, she said, “I need to get a little closer”.
“They’ll probably be sleeping. Most werewolves don’t follow the school day schedule”, Alicia started walking, trying to keep as much foliage between them and any of the windows as they moved in closer. A tractor and other farming equipment had been left to rust in the field, weeds and bushes had grown unhindered around them.
“Five heartbeats”, Sally said as they moved in closer, “you’re right. They’re asleep”.
“Will they sense you even in their sleep?”, Alicia asked suddenly and Sally stopped walking for a moment to think.
“I don’t know”, she admitted eventually, “The only pe- I mean, I don’t usually sense things when I’m asleep”, and she knew Alicia caught the fumble she made but ploughed on before she could question it, “they might do”.
“Then let’s go while we’ve got the element of surprise”, and before Sally could stop her, Alicia took off running and she had no choice but to go after her. Alicia yanked the front door open, nearly off its hinges with the rot setting in within the frame, and disappeared out of sight into the nearest room. Sally followed her, the scent of Werewolves almost overwhelming now.
Alicia might have been right about them sensing her because one of them had clearly been approaching the door when he met Alicia. By the time Sally caught up, Alicia had him pinned to the floor, her knee on his back and her hand around the back of his neck.
“Rise and shine”, Alicia said as the rest of the pack hurried to defend themselves.
“Wait!”, one of the others, a young man around their age, stepped forward and held his hands out to show his palms were empty, “don’t hurt him”.
“Well, this is interesting”, Alicia said, “why not?”
“Because even though you’re the Slayer, you clearly don’t kill Werewolves on principal”, the young man said and he gestured at Sally. Alicia followed his gesture and raised an eyebrow at Sally,
“Little help please?”, Alicia asked, “at least go and check if there’s any weapons”. Sally rolled her eyes and she walked the perimeter of the room before closing in and gesturing for the remaining pack members to sit on one of the sofas.
“There’s nothing”, she returned to Alicia’s side. Alicia slowly stood up and let the other teenager go.
“You don’t need to hurt us”, the young man who had been speaking stepped forward, “I’m Mark. We had to leave our last den bec-”
“Because a trio of Lei-Ach demons found you, we know”, Alicia interrupted, “we found your pack-mate”.
“Archie, he was injured from a fall, we didn’t want to leave him behind”, Mark said, “but we couldn’t fight them”.
“You outnumbered them two to one”, Sally pointed out, not liking how any of this had played out.
“We’re not fighters, we’re just trying to survive”, Mark said and he returned to sit with the remainder of his pack. Sally nodded for Alicia to step closer.
“What exactly is your plan here?”, she whispered, even though the Weres would be able to hear her if they even concentrated just a little.
“Oh do cheer up, all’s under control”, Alicia teased, but there was something unnatural and uneasy about the teasing and Sally knew it was a cover, “Right then, which of you was responsible for attacking the gentleman in the next town over?”
“I don’t like what you’re insinuating”, Mark scowled.
“I’m not insinuating, I’m outright accusing”, Alicia replied, “so come on. Did one of you get a little hungry?”
“You break into our den”, Mark’s voice got louder and he stood back up, “and-”
“Yes, I did. So, my question?”, Alicia was even more antagonistic than usual and Sally’s unease returned as she sensed a growing anger amongst the pack members. The sole young woman of the group caught her eye and deliberately let the amber of her eyes seep through. Sally held her gaze until the other Were looked away first. If a fight broke out now, Sally wasn’t sure that it would come down in their favour, despite Mark’s insistence that they weren’t fighters.
“There are other creatures than Weres you know”, Mark said, “my pack didn’t do that”.
“If you say so. Now where did you all hide away during the last full moon?”, Alicia asked as she began to nosy at some of the items on their bookcase, “check this out”, she held a book out at Sally at the latter statement. Sally took it and glanced over the cover.
“We have a lot of literature that you might find helpful”, Mark was directly addressing her now, “you don’t have a pack do you?”
“Where did you go during the full moon?”, Sally asked.
“There’s a basement in the farm house. We spent the full moon in there”, Mark said, and then he turned to Alicia, “Would you like to see it?”
“I thought you’d never ask. Sally, watch them please”, and then Alicia nodded for Mark to lead the way.
“A werewolf taking orders from the Slayer, now there’s a turnout for the history books”, one of the other Weres said as soon as Alicia and Mark were out of earshot, “What are you? Her guard dog?”
Sally resolutely ignored them and continued to flick through the book for a minute or so before replacing it on the book case.
“Don’t say much do you?”, just as Sally was about to reply, the female Were interrupted her pack-mate.
“Ever considered the consequences of upsetting the Slayer and another Werewolf? Do be quiet”, and then she turned to look over at Sally, “I’m Mary. You’ve not been a Werewolf long. There’s something strange about you”.
Sally was about to ask what exactly she meant when she heard footsteps returning to the room,
“Well, they certainly have got a nice cosy little place to stay holed up during the full moon. Much nicer than your cage”, Alicia returned with Mark just behind her, “I think we should report this back, let Marie decide. Come on”.
Sally began to follow Alicia when Mark reached out to take her arm and she turned and yanked her arm out of his reach. Immediately he held his palms up again,
“I just wanted to tell you, you’re welcome to come back”, he said, “you look like you need answers. There’s fourteen days until the next full moon, we can help you, if you want”. It was like Mark knew about the difficulties Sally was having and she had to wonder if it were something another Were could sense.
“Are you coming or not?”, Alicia called from the front door.
They were nearly at the farm perimeter when Sally said,
“I hope you’re happy. That could have gone much worse, charging in like that without any kind of plan”.
“I’m very happy. And what are you complaining about? I found you a nice little pack of play-mates to learn from”, Alicia said as she led the way back towards Malory Towers, “you can even have sleepovers in their basement”.
“Why are you behaving like this all of a sudden?”, Sally demanded and Alicia turned on her so quickly that Sally nearly crashed into her.
“All of a sudden? No, this has been a long time coming. I wonder what traumatic life events could have left me a little out of sorts, any ideas?”, Alicia demanded and Sally knew better than to reply. Without someone to argue back, Alicia would run out of steam quicker.
“Forgot all about it already?”, Alicia asked and then she shook her head as drops of rain pattered down onto both of them, “bloody brilliant”.
“Let’s just keep going”, Sally said as the soft droplets got heavier. She stepped past Alicia and started walking.
“Isn’t that precisely what we’ve been trying to do? And look how well that’s worked out for all of us”, Alicia muttered as she followed.
CW (potential chapter spoiler): Gaslighting/manipulation, paranoia.
CW: Nightmares, trauma, prejudice towards mental health issues, description of violence/death.
"Good afternoon girls, I thought we would try something a bit different today", Miss Linton always seemed to be in a good mood. Which was a desperately welcome contrast to the sombre one that couldn't seem to be shifted from the North Tower Fifth formers.
It seemed that with Darrell still not back and Alicia's ever increasing anger at the world, the whole form was off kilter. Every teacher had noticed it and there had been many discussions late into the evening about how they might remedy it. Miss Linton had agreed to try something during Art, though the other teachers weren't all that sure about it.
"Who here has had a nightmare?", Miss Linton asked and she raised her own hand immediately. One by one, all the students raised their hand.
"And has anyone ever drawn their nightmares? Just to get them out of their heads?", Miss Linton asked and she raised her hand again. Alicia looked around the room and saw Belinda was the only student with her hand up.
"Did you find it helped, Belinda?", Miss Linton asked.
Belinda's mouth twisted with uncertainty and she eventually said, "Maybe a little, I was only in day school when I did it. I think it made me feel like I wasn't carrying it all in my mind anymore?"
"That's a common response", Miss Linton said, "our dreams and nightmares are often manifestations of things weighing on us. Getting them out and onto paper can be helpful. So in this lesson, I want you to draw whatever is weighing on your mind. Whether it's a nightmare, a persistent dream, a worry, or just a strange feeling you can't quite explain".
The girls moved to the tables around the room and began selecting various drawing materials. Alicia noticed Sally hadn't picked anything up, "Are you alright?"
"What exactly do you plan on drawing?", Sally asked, "since we can't be honest?"
"Well I'm not planning on drawing vampires, idiot", Alicia whispered, "But I could do something more abstract. So could you".
"This is ridiculous", Sally muttered and she dragged a sketch pad towards herself.
"It could help", Alicia coaxed, "Not just with the supernatural either, maybe with those other thoughts you worry are wrong too".
Sally looked up sharply and Alicia saw a flicker of panic in her eyes,
"I don't know what you mean", Sally said as she turned her attention back to her work and started to make tentative scratches on the blank sheet.
Alicia thought about pressing the matter but decided against making a scene in the Art Room and focused on her own drawing. The room started out in silence but slowly murmurs of conversation started. Dark images flowed from pencils and pens and paint and Miss Linton walked around the room slowly, talking quietly to each girl about there's
Alicia hadn't noticed that she had reached their table until the teacher asked,
"Are you finding it helpful?"
"I don't know", Alicia said. Her work really was on the abstract side. As Sally had said, they couldn't be honest so Alicia had tried her best to just use colours and line choice to demonstrate hers.
"Talk me through it", Miss Linton sat down with them.
"It's mostly about pressure. Pressure and anger about having no choice in how things go", Alicia said, "And I can't really draw that so…".
"And Sally?", Miss Linton glanced at Sally's. Alicia did as well, having left Sally to her work for the lesson so far.
"Just a nightmare I keep having", Sally said, "I don't know what it means". That was an outright lie because Sally had drawn hands plunged deep in water, water swirled with blood. Alicia knew exactly what nightmare Sally had drawn.
Miss Linton examined the drawing cautiously and then obviously thought better of asking Sally more questions. She murmured something about them doing good work and left them to it.
"How often are you having that nightmare?", Alicia asked.
"Most nights", Sally added a few more touches to her work then she looked up with a frown, "Miss Linton's heart beat just sped up, like she was afraid of something".
"That's creepy, you know that?", Alicia said but she got up to get a better look over where their teacher was examining Belinda's work. A few of the other girls had turned around and there was some whispering as Miss Linton examined Belinda's work intently. Belinda had pushed her chair back away from her own work. Alicia slowly walked over to see what was going on.
"Are these things you see in your nightmares Belinda?", Miss Linton was asking and Belinda shook her head.
"I don't know, I don't really remember any of my dreams recently. I just started drawing and…", she trailed off. Even Belinda seemed uneasy about what she had drawn and Irene squeezed her arm in sympathy.
Alicia got close enough to see what Belinda had drawn and she had to admit that she jolted a little at the realism of the imagery. Then that jolt became a dull, sick feeling in the pit of her stomach as she took in more of the details.
"That's not good", Sally's comment made her jump and she glared at the other girl, she hadn't heard her sneak up. Sally was right though and as Alicia nodded for them to go back to their table, her mind was already running through scenarios to explain how Belinda had drawn, in great detail, elements of the supernatural that they had encountered.
"I know this sort of thing can feel uncomfortable but I do hope you found it helpful in some ways", Miss Linton strode back to the front of class, "now if you can tidy your tables and keep your work for next lesson please".
As they all left the art room, every girl had a quick look at Belinda's work and the sense of discomfort grew. Whatever Miss Linton had hoped to achieve, Alicia was quite sure this wasn't it.
Once outside, the form disbanded into their usual pairs and groups and went off to find something to occupy themselves with before dinner.
"How would Belinda have seen any of that to draw it?", Sally asked. For Belinda's nightmare scene had included drawings with an unnerving likenesses to the Lei-Ach demons, the gnarled form of the Conduit in the vampire body it had been trapped in, and Sally in her Were form, complete with dark blue eyes.
"I don't know!", Alicia ran her hand through her hair, making it look quite unruly, "No-one else has been able to follow me since Darrell. Marie made sure of that".
"Could Belinda be something?", Sally asked matter-of-factly, "with all the supernatural in the world that we don't know about, could she be supernatural and we don't know it?"
"And is somehow reading our thoughts unconsciously?", Alicia furrowed her brow in concentration, "I suppose it's not out of the realms of possibility".
"Skeletons rose from their graves and tried to cleave you with broadswords. Nothing is out of the realm of possibility", Sally said dryly.
"So Darrell did fill you in on our escapades before you became furry", Alicia had wondered exactly how much background Sally had been supplied with.
"Of course she did", Sally said.
"Shame you're not keeping her as up-to-date on our jolly adventures isn't it?", Alicia said. She knew it would get Sally's back up to point out the distance she was keeping between herself and her friend.
"She doesn't need additional stress right now", Sally brushed the comment off, "Shall we tell Marie?".
"Not yet, I'm going to go hang around Belinda for a while then I'll report back to Marie. I'll find you later", Alicia said and she waved over her shoulder as she hurried to catch up with Belinda and Irene.
Darrell ran her arms under the cold tap and carefully washed off the blood. She had scratched herself in her sleep again. Thankfully she had woken up before she could scratch too deeply. She let her arms dry without using a towel, not wanting to leave any evidence and then dabbed antiseptic along her arms. It stung.
She went back to her room and put a long sleeved top and a jumper on. The last thing she needed was her father seeing and calling a stop to her plans. In less than a week, Doctor Cudson was going to discuss whether she could go back to school.
After she was dressed, she ran downstairs to have breakfast with her parents.
"I'll be back around one o'clock, but you can get hold of me on this number if you need me", her mother had agreed to help out organising an event set up by some of their neighbours.
Darrell picked up the piece of paper and tucked it into her pocket. She didn't like it when her parents were too far away when Gail was about. Her mother had been in the house for the last four days and Gail had reported far fewer of Darrell's so called "lapses". Which meant that Gail had to be doing something. Not knowing what that was weighed heavily on Darrell and she was sure the stress of that was causing her self-injury during her sleep.
"Your reports have been positive so far this week", Michael said from behind his coffee cup, "don't slip up on a Friday".
Darrell squirmed and bounced one of her legs to ease her nervousness. The sole of her shoe tapped against the kitchen floor and she concentrated on it as she forced herself to eat at least some breakfast. Theresa pushed the day's schedule over and Darrell stopped herself from pulling a face, she had forgotten that Gail had convinced her parents that Darrell should go to the library that morning. On Tuesday she had wanted to take Darrell to one of the local farms for the morning, citing the therapeutic benefits to patients.
Thankfully Darrell had her therapy session on Tuesday and so that plan had gone out the window. It wasn't that Darrell doubted that it had value or looked down on the idea, truthfully she wouldn't have minded going over to see if there were any odd jobs she could do to get some more exercise and focus on something that wasn't school work. It was the simpering way Gail had talked about other clients she had taken. She talked about them all as though they were children, even though some were adults much older than Darrell.
Perhaps her father was right and she was just being defiant on principal when it came to Gail.
"For heaven's sake, could you just stop tapp-", Michael's voice came out sharp but as soon as Darrell jumped at his words and stopped tapping her foot, his voice trailed off.
Michael tried to say something and then thought better of it and instead said,
"I'm sorry Darrell".
"I'm finished", Darrell took her plate over to the sink and washed it up, not wanting to stay any longer than she had to, "I need to get ready".
She ran back upstairs to get her coat and satchel.
Neither of her parents came up to try and talk to her, though she imagined her father probably wanted to and was sent on his way by her mother. If her own father couldn't tolerate her restlessness, however was the rest of the world supposed to.
Theresa called up to say that Gail had arrived and Darrell went down to meet her.
"If something happens, ask the librarian if you can use her phone", Theresa said quietly as they stepped outside. She locked the door behind them and then waved at Gail, who was standing at the bottom of the path.
Darrell nodded. Perhaps her mother had seen more than she had realised, maybe that was why she had been around so much the rest of the week.
"Good morning", Gail smiled as they got closer, "it's a nice day for the walk into town, Darrell just said how she used to so enjoy the library at school and missed going, that it seemed to make sense to go down to your local one".
Darrell forced herself to smile politely. She didn't think that was quite what she had said, especially as that made it sound like this visit was her idea. Though some days more than others the medication made her so drowsy and foggy that she wasn't sure what she had and hadn't said.
"I'll see you at lunchtime", Theresa said to Darrell and headed off in the opposite direction to them.
"I walk quickly, do let me know if I need to slow down", Darrell said and before Gail had a chance to say anything, she headed off towards town.
Admittedly that part was her being childish.
"That's her isn't it?", they weren't even trying to be quiet. That bothered Darrell as much as the content of what they were saying.
"I think so, dreadful business isn't it. Those poor parents. I'm surprised they kept her at home when there's place for folks like that", what was worse was that these same people would see her mother or father out and never dare say anything like this to their faces.
"Can we move?", she asked Gail, "I'm being talked about".
"Oh, I'm sure you're not", Gail said, and she might have been trying to sound reassuring, Darrell couldn't tell.
"I know I am", Darrell replied, she did so hate having people doubt what she was saying these days.
Gail started to say something about paranoia so Darrell just gathered up her books and moved to another table and left Gail behind. When the woman eventually followed her, she didn't look pleased.
"Perhaps we should go back, maybe being out like this was too much too soon", Gail suggested. Darrell didn't like that idea at all. As much as she hadn't wanted to come, if Gail reported back to her father than a short visit to the library had resulted in paranoia then there was no chance of her getting back to school. Still, Gail's words were so earnest sounding that Darrell found herself looking over at the two women who had been discussing her. She was reassured when she caught one of them still staring at her and talking, even if she couldn't make out what they were saying.
"I'm fine", Darrell said and she turned her attention back to her book. She could feel Gail hovering and was quite relieved when the support worker said she needed to go to the shops quickly.
As soon as she was gone, Darrell closed her book and got up. She thought about just making a run for it and leaving Gail behind but, as tempting as it was, that would land her in more trouble than it was worth. So instead she went over to the archives, telling herself she might as well look to see if they had anything about churches.
"Oh, hallo Darrell", the librarian, Miss Wilson, startled when she nearly bumped into Darrell.
"Hello", they had already exchanged pleasantries at the front desk but no-one seemed to know what to say to her anymore expect hello.
"Can I help you with something?", Miss Wilson asked. Given how little time she had before Gail returned, Darrell made an impulsive decision,
"Actually, yes. When I was at school we went to a church for a visit", anyone who knew Darrell well would easily spot the signs she was lying but Miss Wilson wouldn't know to look, "and there was a book with this strange symbol, it's been bothering me wondering what it is".
Miss Wilson fumbled through her pockets until she found a notepad and held it out for Darrell to take. Darrell wiggled the pencil out from the top of the notepad and carefully drew the symbol she had seen on one of the books in her dreams. She turned it around.
"Why, dear, that's a mark of the Reaper", Miss Wilson exclaimed, "Are you quite sure you saw it in a church?"
Darrell nodded and Miss Wilson looked around the archive room then gestured for Darrell to follow her over to one of the bookcases. She ran her finger lightly over the spines of the books until she found the one she wanted, then carefully eased it out.
"Was this the book?", she asked and Darrell could barely believe her eyes. She nodded and Miss Wilson carried it over to the table.
"It's a tome gathering together beliefs from throughout the world about the Grim Reaper. Most symbols with the scythe", Miss Wilson tapped on the drawing Darrell had done, "are to do with the Reaper. And this bit here is the boat that carries souls over to the next life. I'm very surprised to hear it was in a church…"
"What are you doing in here?", Gail's voice interrupted them.
"Darrell just had a question", Miss Wilson replied.
"Well she isn't to go wandering off like that", Gail said.
"I'm still in the library", Darrell said, unable to keep the scowl off her face. Gail walked over and tried to look at the book herself but Miss Wilson quickly tidied it away. Though Darrell thought that was simply because she hadn't liked Gail raising her voice in the library rather than as a means of helping Darrell.
"If you wander off and then have an episode-", Gail started and Darrell had had enough.
"I haven't had an 'episode' for weeks. I'm not doing anything wrong and I am fed up of people acting like everything I do is somehow wrong or some kind of sign that I'm having a lapse", she retorted.
As always, as her anxiety and frustration increased, her tics became more apparent and Darrell knew what was coming.
"I am sorry, as you can see she's having a hard time. That's why she's…", and Gail put on that simpering smile and gestured weakly.
"Thank you for your help", Darrell said to Miss Wilson.
If she didn't leave now she was absolutely going to lose her temper. So she stepped past Gail and stormed out of the library. If Gail caught up with her before she reached home then she would just ignore her. Otherwise, she fully intended on dealing with the consequences of this at home.
Sally couldn't even explain why she was out at the farmhouse. The offer of help from Mark had been in the back of her mind for the past few days and with Alicia investigating whatever was going on with Belinda, it seemed like the perfect time to explore what help he could give.
She checked her watch as she reached the edge of the farm's property, she couldn't spend more than half an hour or she would be late back.
Mark greeted her at the door, he had obviously sensed her coming, "I'm glad you took me up on my offer".
Mark introduce her to the rest of his pack. Mary, the sole female Were, had introduced herself last time. The boy who had goaded her was Jason. The other two, who had remained silent during their last visit, were Patrick and Jonathan.
"Your sire never communicated with you after the bite?", Patrick asked once introductions were over with and the pack had coaxed out of Sally how she had been turned.
"I don't think whoever it is is still in the area, I only caught their scent once and that was months ago", Sally explained.
"My sire died only a week or so after he turned me", Jason said, "a hunter found him".
"While he was in wolf form?", Sally asked and Jason shook his head.
"Werewolf hunter", he said darkly, "I got away just because he was so caught up in taking down an alpha that he forgot about the beta".
"What are an alpha and beta?", Sally wished she had done more than give a cursory read of the section Marie had shown her in one of her books.
Truthfully, she simply hadn't wanted to know that much more because the more she learnt, the more she had to deal with it. Keeping it at arm's length meant she could almost dissociate herself from it. It was a problem to be handled once a month.
Jason explained a little more about the hierarchy of werewolf packs and Sally had decided that next time she needed to bring a notebook.
"Are you interested in joining our pack?", Patrick asked. Sally hesitated. That hadn't been part of her plan and she decided it was best to be honest.
"I don't think so, I have my own life and family", Sally said, though for how much longer she would have the latter, she couldn't say. There were already fractures there.
"So did we once", Mark said, "before we were turned. We had families and schools, but what purpose are they to us now?"
"We're only wolves 3 days out of the month, it seems rather excessive to throw out everything", Sally said.
"See, that is part of your difficulty. You see yourself as two different personas. Instead of one complete being. The wolf is pervasive. It's not just three days a month", Mark leant in and lowered his voice, "it marks every part of you now".
Sally glanced at her watch, "I should go, I'll be late".
"Let me walk a ways with you", Mary offered and Sally couldn't think of a good reason to refuse. She bid goodbye to the other pack members and walked with Mary out though the fields.
"What were you hoping to get from today?", Mary asked.
"I'm not sure. Answers, maybe. Advice for me to improve my control", Sally said. Mary seemed intent on walking at least some of the way to Malory Towers and she wasn't sure how good an idea that was.
"I doubt you of all people need more control", Mary challenged.
"Current events suggest otherwise", Sally kept her answer vague.
"The wolf is coming out outside of the full moon right?", Mary asked, "first it was just a few growls, then your eyes changed, maybe your fangs appeared. You're scared to find out what next"
Sally stopped walking, "How could you possibly know that?".
"The same happened to me", Mary explained and she waved for Sally to keep walking, "even before I was turned, I didn't let people in. No-one knew what I was really thinking or feeling, it strikes me that we are probably quite similar in that regard".
A small whisper at the back of Sally's mind argued that wasn't quite accurate. Sally had someone who knew her, who knew more of her thoughts than anyone else. Even if she didn't know them all. Someone who couldn't be there. Someone Sally was avoiding.
"It's not easy, learning to live with all these changes", Mary said, "changes that no-one else will ever understand".
"How did you stop the wolf, from appearing outside the full moon", Sally asked. The cemetery was in sight now and Sally made up her mind that she would insist on leaving Mary behind there. She was all of a sudden unsure about Alicia or either of the Watchers seeing her with the other Were.
"I didn't. Neither should you", Mary replied, "None of us ever transformed completely outside the full moon. I don't think we can. We stopped trying to hide it though. You still think of yourself in two parts, the human you and the wolf you, when they're all the same now. You need to embrace what you are, not lock it away. That's why you're losing control".
Sally didn't particularly like the sound of that, even if she begrudgingly admitted that it made sense. Things you tried to suppress had a habit of making untimely appearances.
"Will you be back?", Mary asked and Sally nodded.
"When I can. I think it's best we part ways here", Sally said, deciding that being blunt was the best way forward.
"Don't want the Slayer learning where you've been?", Mary smirked and something about the way she said Slayer made Sally uncomfortable.
"It's just best not to complicate things", Sally said.
"If you say so", and Mary began to walk back towards the farm.
Sally reached the dinner hall just in time to avoid being late and Alicia raised her eyebrows in question when she took her seat. Sally ignored her.
It seemed that after the events during Art, someone had decided that the Fifth Formers should self supervise that evening during dinner. Sally wasn't sure what it was meant to achieve since where the other three towers were all chatting away, a heavy silence hung over the North Tower table.
"This is ridiculous", Bill broke the silence eventually, "Are we all just planning on never talking about what happened with Darrell? That's what's causing most of this…this tension. I know you all feel it".
Nervous looks were exchanged and no-one seemed to know how to follow that up. Bill wasn't wrong. Just as Sally was wondering if she should offer some information,
"Is she going to come back?", Mary Lou asked, and that the straightforward question came from her was a surprise.
Sally was about to say she didn't know when Moira scoffed,
"I hardly think so".
Sally could feel every pair of eyes turn on her at the utterance, to see how she would react.
"Good thing we weren't asking you", Alicia said smoothly, quickly diverting the attention off of Sally.
"Do you really think parents would put up with their children having to be taught in the same class as Darrell after all that happened?", Moira asked, "we all heard the rumours and we all saw what she was doing so why are we pretending like she's just a little unwell. She's losing her mind and it's not right for her to be in a regular school. You've seen the newspapers, people like her are dangerous".
Sally had never felt a piercing heat like the one in her sternum at that exact moment. Her whole body shuddered with her desperate efforts to contain the fact that she wanted to just shut Moira up. It felt like her blood went cold as she realised that her chest was beginning to rattle with the beginnings of a growl and her lower lip pricked with the pressure of growing canines.
This couldn’t be happening.
Her arms shook even more and she realised there was silence around her. With her head kept down in case her eyes were lit up Amber, Sally had no idea whether the silence was in horror at Moira's words or in response to her reaction.
The pressure in her chest grew and Sally desperately searched for a reason to excuse herself.
"I think you're out of order", Mary Lou broke the silence, "and I think it's awful actually that you're thinking that about Darrell. I hope she does come back. I'll welcome her back at any rate".
Moira didn't seem to have anything to say in response to that and really, who could blame her for losing her tongue? No-one expected to be challenged by quiet, shy Mary Lou. Though, the rest of the form could have told Moira that Sally wasn't the only Fifth former fiercely loyal to Darrell. Mary Lou always managed to surprise people when it came to Darrell, Sally thought, whether it was conquering a fear of the dark or chastising one of the most outspoken members of the form.
The pressure in Sally's chest eased and she quickly ran her tongue over her teeth to reassure herself that they were normal again. She risked looking up and when no-one recoiled, she knew her eyes were okay as well.
"After dinner, we can go to the common room and I'll tell you what I know so far about her coming back", Sally said to Mary Lou, deciding that for the sake of herself - never mind everyone else at the table - she would be best simply pretending Moira hadn't spoken.
The rest of dinner remained a subdued event and Sally was glad when they were all dismissed.
Alicia caught Sally's arm to stop her going straight up with the rest of the form,
"I spoke to Marie about the dreams and she wants me to go out to some researcher she and Rupert both know after lights out so I need you to patrol", Alicia explained, "she's worried that all these sleeping and memory modification spells might be having repercussions".
"Okay", Sally wondered briefly if the pack would be out at night since they seemed to sleep far into the day.
"And I think we need to talk to the form a bit about what happened with Darrell. Just vague things", Alicia continued, "because Bill's right. We can only suppress things for so long before they need to be dealt with".
"If you think it'll help", Sally said eventually and she started to walk, Alicia kept pace.
"It has to. The form is acting as though she never existed. She didn't die ", Alicia shoved her hands into her blazer pockets. If a teacher came across her, she'd soon be reminded of the example the upper school were supposed to set.
Sally didn't really want to talk about Darrell. Or what happened. Not with the rest of the form, not with Alicia, not with anyone. Talking about things made them seem more real and if she started to open up, who knew what she would inadvertently reveal?
Still, it didn't look like she had much of a choice now. With both Bill and Alicia determined that the heaviness weighing on the form needed to be dealt with that night, all she had left was hoping the facade she was hiding behind held up.
When there was no response after a good few minutes of knocking, Alicia tried the handle to the townhouse and shook her head, "It's locked".
It had taken nearly 30 minutes to get here in Marie's car and Alicia hoped that it hadn't been a completely wasted trip.
"Of course it bloody is, no-one in their right mind would leave their house unlocked knowing what we know", Rupert said. He stepped back and peered up at the window, no doubt looking for any sign of activity.
"Ah yes, those demons. Defeated by locks", Alicia said.
"I don't like this though, Magnus knew we were coming. Marie spoke to him on the phone", Rupert said, "I think we better get inside".
Alicia stepped back from the door and went to kick it. Rupert hurried forward to step in front of her.
"Stop! My Lord, it's always kicking or hitting things with you lot isn't it?", Rupert grumbled and he ushered Alicia out of the way and knelt down in front of the door.
"Works most the time", Alicia said, "Tut tut Rupert, now who taught you that?"
"Do shut up, I'm trying to concentrate", Rupert mumbled as he continued in his efforts to pick the lock on the door. A clunk revealed his efforts to be successful and he pushed down on the handle softly so the door swung open.
"Fine, you're better at that than me. Last time took me four attempts", Alicia said. She squirmed as she remembered the reason she had last picked a lock.
"How did you get into that school anyway? Sometimes I'm rather surprised you haven't done something to get yourself expelled", Rupert said as the stepped inside and pulled the door shut behind them, "where's that blasted light?"
Alicia heard Rupert fumbling and then there was a click and soft light filled the hallway. Alicia grabbed Rupert's arm, making the Watcher jump, and nodded towards the stairs and the small, deep red stains on them.
"Oh Heavens, no…", and Rupert ran up the stairs before Alicia could protest and insist on going first. Rupert turned right on the landing and opened the door to one room, then a second, and froze.
Alicia caught him up, ready to throw him out the way if she needed to defend them.
Magnus Payne stared at them from his chair. Eyes grayed and clouded in death and throat slit. His shirt and jacket were stuck to his chest by blood, crimson pooled around his feet. His mouth hung open, a relic of a dying scream that had never reached ears beyond those belonging to his killer.
"Rupert I'm sorry", Alicia found herself saying, the words thick in her mouth, "I need to check that they're not still here". Rupert nodded silently as he stared at the remnants of his friend.
Alicia moved quickly as she checked every corner of the room Magnus was in. Then the rest of the floor. Then downstairs. By the time she was as certain as she could be that they were alone - and what she wouldn't have given for Sally to be there to be extra certain - Rupert had regained a little colour and was looking steadier on his feet.
"I am sorry", Alicia said again, not knowing what else to say. She talked a good game but truth be told, she was out of her depth when emotions as strong as these were in play.
"He was my friend", Rupert said, his voice barely a whisper, "who would have done this?"
"We better call Marie", Alicia said, "There was a payphone outside. I'll wipe off the door and lock as well in case your prints are there. Can you stay downstairs?"
"We still need the information Marie sent us for, Magnus will have books", Rupert sounded stubborn and Alicia wondered if having a purpose would help him.
"Just, keep your fingerprint off of anything", Alicia said and she raced back downstairs and out to the payphone. She only had a small amount of change in her pocket so she would have to be quick.
"Marie, it's me. Magnus is dead", Alicia looked around as she spoke, conscious that whoever or whatever had killed Magnus could still be about.
"Oh my God", Marie said, "I only spoke to him not four hours ago, how?"
"His throat was cut", Alicia said, "I know you knew him and I'm sorry to rush but I don't want to leave Rupert alone and I've not got much time".
"Yes, of course. Clear any traces that you've been there and I'll call the Council. He was one of theirs and they'll handle the police investigation".
Alicia promised she would and hurried back inside to find Rupert. He had come downstairs after all. Alicia couldn't blame him, she was in no hurry to go back upstairs.
"I found…", Rupert waved two books and then fell silent.
"We need to go Rupert", Alicia said and he nodded. She had never seen him look so defeated, he practically drifted out of the house like he were being dragged on string.
Alicia pulled the door shut behind them, covering her hand with her sleeve.
"If Sally were here, she could follow the blood trail", Rupert said, even his words seemed fragile.
"I'll come back with her tomorrow", Alicia promised, "Rupert…there's no way this is a coincidence".
"No. No there isn't", Rupert said, conviction back in his voice, "Magnus must have known something that someone didn't want to be shared with us".
"And that someone had to know we were coming to see him", Alicia said. They reached Marie's car and got in. Rupert back the car out of the space and drove for a short time with the headlights off, if anyone was looking out at that street they would struggle to identify the car.
"I need to check Marie's room and phone when we get back", Rupert said.
"You thought the Council had someone planted at Malory Towers", Alicia said carefully, "could they have done this?"
Rupert shook his head, "Magnus always kept out of trouble. The Council liked him", Rupert turned the lights back on the car and the road ahead of them lit up, "I could have been mistaken about it being someone from the Council. I wish I had taken my own concerns more seriously".
Alicia shifted down in the passenger seat to get comfortable, she was in for a very long night.
CW: PTSD, nightmares, prejudice towards mental health difficulties.
Alicia read the letter with a smirk. With everything that was going on, she had only gotten around to writing to her mother the previous Monday. She had just received the response where her mother had not so subtly enquired as to whether everything was okay given her unusual request. She had agreed to June spending the Easter Hols with them though so Alicia decided she'd make sure to find June later.
She tucked the letter back in the envelope and stretched out as she looked around the common room. Belinda and Irene were chatting away on the other sofa, Clarissa and Bill had disappeared down to the stables, Mary Lou and Daphne were doing some repairs of Daphne's that Matron had brought around earlier. The grim air had mostly lifted from the form after their whole form discussion. Moira was still a problem, and Alicia suspected that some of the other girls weren't altogether thrilled about even the smallest prospect of Darrell returning, but it was much improved.
Alicia craned her neck as she searched the room and then frowned. Wherever had Sally gone? This was the third time in the last week that the other girl had simply vanished. Tapping her envelope on the palm of her hand, Alicia jumped up and decided to go and hunt her down.
After finding the music rooms and library empty, Alicia decided to go and check the cottage. Spring was in full swing and it was a pleasant walk. Girls were out enjoying the mild weather and it seemed as though it might soon get warm enough to go swimming.
Felicity, Susan and June were walking back up from the tennis courts and Alicia waved at them then jogged over to give June the news in case she forgot.
June kept a neutral expression as Alicia said she was welcome to spend Easter at the John's house and Alicia wanted to shake her for being so ridiculously stoic in front of her friends but she thought better of it.
"Have any of you seen Sally?", Alicia asked.
"She was walking out towards town earlier I think", Susan said and Alicia parted from them with a thank you.
As she walked, Alicia wondered if Sally might have actually been heading towards the farmhouse. Sally had become increasingly withdrawn recently, sometimes going hours during the day without speaking to anyone. She didn't seem sad as such. More like she was resigned to something. Alicia had found herself worrying about the other girl on more than one occasion, something she would never had thought possible even just a year ago.
Deciding to double check, Alicia jogged down towards the path that led to the farmhouse. She kept a steady pace until she reached the cemetery and she spotted two figures just on the crest of the hill. Alicia changed her route and moved out to the trees surrounding the cemetery so she could see who was coming.
She watched as Sally walked down the main footpath with the female Were from the pack they had come across. They were talking intently about something and though Alicia couldn't be sure, it looked like Sally was unhappy with whatever they were discussing. The pair stopped at the cemetery and talked for a little longer before Sally continued on her own.
Once Alicia was sure the other Were had left, she followed Sally. She wondered if every time she couldn't find Sally had been because she had been with the wolf pack. That meant Sally could have been over there at least three times, maybe more. She hadn't seemed all that impressed with them when they had been there the first time, so Alicia wondered what had changed.
Sally walked with her head down and her shoulders slumped, like something weighed on her. Alicia stayed far enough back that she wouldn't be sensed and then branched off to go down to the cottage. She'd find Sally later.
Marie was in the cottage when Alicia arrived, buried in about four different books at once. She was frantically searching for more information not just about why Belinda might have spontaneously drawn supernatural creatures but about who had killed Magnus Payne. Alicia could tell the entire incident had utterly shaken both Marie and Rupert.
"Any luck?", Alicia asked, sitting on the table. Her and Sally had gone back to Magnus's house the day after Alicia and Rupert found him dead but Sally had said there was something strange about the scent left. As though someone had known how to confuse someone trying to track them. No matter how many times they tried, Sally couldn't keep the scent.
"You and Sally haven't used any Lethe's bramble and forgotten to tell me have you?", Marie asked, she looked exhausted.
"No, the sleeping spell has been more than enough. I think we last used Lethe's bramble was when you had to use it for the girls who were in the San with Darrell", Alicia said.
"None of them have done anything unusual", Marie said, more to herself than to Alicia, "the sleeping spell wouldn't have caused Belinda to draw what she did, I can't find anything to explain it".
"How about with who killed Magnus?", Alicia asked. Marie shook her head again.
"It's awful but I'm becoming quite paranoid about the other teachers and even the students", Marie sighed, sitting back in her chair, "Is everything okay?"
Alicia rubbed her eyes with the palms of her hands. She knew she looked awful and that was why Marie was asking, it was her fifth night in a row with less than two hours sleep.
"Just could do with a good night's sleep", she said, then decided to see if Marie's tiredness would result in more candidness than usual, "Did you have a Slayer before me?"
"Hmmm? Oh…", Marie got a strange look on her face, "not exactly. I trained under three separate Watchers, across two Slayers".
"You were once a Rupert?", Alicia grinned.
"Indeed I was, pass me that book would you?", Marie gestured to one of the bigger volumes and Alicia passed it over, pulling a face at its weight.
"Why so many mentors?", Alicia asked.
"At the time I thought it was just the inevitable result of our role but as I got older I learnt that there were other factors at play", Marie said.
"That bad huh?", Alicia asked as she began to leaf through one of the books.
"Both slayers died. The first, Zoë, she was turned into a vampire and chose to face the dawn rather than be a vampire. The second, Frances, was killed by a demon", Marie said and her voice became quieter.
"Both while you were training?", Alicia asked, the words falling heavily into the room, "that must have only been a few years…"
"Both times, their Watchers failed them or betrayed them", Marie sighed, "which is why I don't share Rupert's beliefs that it's unlikely the Council weren't involved with Magnus's death".
"I thought Rupert distrusted the Council more than you", Alicia got up and went over to the bookcase.
"Age has perhaps made me more jaded while Rupert might still hope it can be redeemed", Marie said and she buried herself back in the books.
"Do you have any books about Werewolves?", Alicia asked, thinking of Sally and that she might be chasing answers.
"Unfortunately, no", Marie said, "Sally took the only substantial text I had, but even that is rather lacking. You had better head back up to school before the dinner bell goes. I'll be tidying this up in a few minutes".
Alicia couldn't help thinking that it seemed that no matter how much they thought they had managed to bring things back to an even keel, something else was always lurking on the horizon waiting to upset them all over again. She wanted to ask Marie how they were ever meant to get used to that. Instead she just nodded and reminded Marie that she had promised Alicia she could call Darrell early the next day.
"Is Sally with you?", Darrell asked. She had been on the phone with Alicia for nearly ten minutes and the other girl kept steering the topic of conversation. Darrell decided being straight forward was the best thing for it.
"She's caught up with work and other duties at the moment, I'm sure she'll call later", Alicia said and Darrell hated that her friend thought this was helping her.
"Don't lie to me. She's avoiding calling me, isn't she?", Darrell asked. There was a long silence on the phone and Darrell wondered if the line had gone for a moment. Then she heard Alicia sigh.
"I think so. I can't get my head around it Darrell, I'm sorry", Alicia admitted and Darrell's heart sunk. She swallowed the lump in her throat and composed herself before speaking. Alicia, never one comfortable with emotional silences, filled the gap for her.
"Have you ever stopped to think how lucky we are that you didn't end up going back for Sally's necklace?", Alicia said, there was suddenly a lot of noise in the background and Darrell wondered what Alicia was doing. Probably rifling through Miss Potts' desk.
Darrell glanced at the time and sighed, her mother would be back soon, "No, why?"
"See, Sally's so…", Alicia’s smirk was audible and Darrell wondered if she was venting some of her own irritation about the other girl, "stoic and stolid about everything and even she has moments where you can see this anger in her eyes from the wolf. If you'd been bitten, we'd have explosive rages every day".
Darrell felt her whole body tense at the teasing and she took a deep breath.
"How is she?", Darrell asked instead, "since she won't tell me".
"Tricky to say", Alicia said, "lonely I'd say. I mean, I pair up with her for class since we're both Billy-no-mates and most the others are alright with her but not…". Alicia didn't need to finish because Darrell knew what Alicia meant. The other girls got on well enough with Sally but no-one else was close enough with her for her to pal up with in Darrell's absence.
"When you two are together?", Darrell asked.
"We discuss classwork. We don't exactly socialise", Alicia laughed, "and she isn't much chattier during patrol".
Darrell heard the door shut, "I have to go. Please ask Sally to call me", she hesitated before adding, "I miss her".
"I'll drag her in myself", Alicia said, "bye".
Darrell said her goodbyes, hung up the phone and went through to the kitchen where her mother was taking her coat off. Theresa smiled at her and started to ask a question. Then she stopped and reconsidered for a moment, and started again,
"Darrell…did you lock yourself in the house and refuse to let Mrs Taylor in this morning?"
"Yes", there was no point in denying it and quite frankly, Darrell wasn't ashamed of doing so, so there was no need to lie.
"Why did you do that?", Theresa asked as she walked over to put the kettle on, "I have Mrs Taylor's version, from your father, I would like your reasoning".
"Father knows?", Darrell groaned. Of course he would err on the side of this being some kind of lapse.
"Why did you lock her out?", Theresa repeated. Since she poured out some milk for Darrell and pushed the glass over to her, Darrell reasoned she couldn't be that upset.
"She's patronising. She exaggerates or outright lies about things I've said or done, making it sound like I'm getting unwell again. She has been messing with my schedule and trying to make me think that I'm misremembering or imagining things. She treats me like I should be both pitied and considered dangerous", Darrell took a breath and continued, "I know some of this makes me sound paranoid but I'm not".
"Okay", Theresa made herself a cup of tea.
"You…you believe me, right?", Darrell asked and Theresa looked up.
"Of course I do", Theresa carried her tea over and put her arm around Darrell's shoulders and gave her a quick squeeze.
Something so simple as just being believed made Darrell tear up and she felt silly for doing so.
"Father won't believe me though", she said, "Not if Gail's called him up and told him something else. What did she say?"
"That you had refused to let her in because you were paranoid that she was secretly working to have you put back in the hospital", Theresa said and she sipped her tea. Darrell remembered her own drink and carried it over to the table where she sat and drank it. Before she could say anything else, the front door opened and she went stiff.
Michael Rivers walked into the kitchen and stood facing Darrell until she looked up.
"You have some explaining to do", he said quietly.
"I would rather go back into hospital than have Gail work with me another day", Darrell said. She knew being stubborn and argumentative was only likely to escalate matters but she couldn't help it.
"Either you had a psychotic episode this morning and thought Mrs Taylor was conspiring against you, in which case the hospital could be safest place for you, or you were being deliberately difficult and obstructing your own recovery. And if that's the case, I don't know what we should do with you", Michael said.
"Well it's a good job I know then", Darrell said, standing up, "You saw what Doctor Cudson put in his report, if the school will work with me, it would be good for me to go back"
"And yet the reports we've been getting from Mrs Taylor-"
"And it doesn't strike you as peculiar that she's the only one who sees these supposed lapses?", Darrell demanded, only just managing to keep herself from shouting at her father.
Theresa stepped in between the two of them, "Darrell, could you go outside please. The chickens need feeding", and just as Darrell was about to protest, Theresa gently interrupted her, "your father and I need to talk. Once you're finished, we will all go into the living room and discuss what is going to happen next".
Darrell so wanted to protest but brought her temper under control just enough to do as she was asked. She snatched the bag of feed from the side and went down to the chicken hutches. They immediately rushed around her feet and something about how ridiculously normal it was thawed her anger.
Once she was finished, she went back inside and washed her hands. Her father wasn't in the kitchen anymore but her mother had waited for her and she nodded reassuringly.
"Come on, he's sitting next door. He will come around", Theresa said quietly, "I think part of him is just scared of the idea of having you so far away where he can't step in at a moment's notice".
Darrell didn't dare hope that her mother's words meant what she thought they did.
“What are you doing?”, Alicia seemed to just appear out of nowhere as Sally reached the end of the corridor. Momentarily surprised by not sensing her, Sally put it down to being so distracted by her own thoughts. She had barely slept again, maybe getting two hours if she were generous in her estimate.
“You've taken to following me I see”, Sally said, and even as she spoke she hated how cold and empty her voice had become.
“What exactly do you see in Mark and the rest of them?”, Alicia blocked Sally from opening the door to outside with her body, “I can’t see the appeal myself”.
“What makes you think that’s where I'm going?”, Sally asked, “Maybe I just don't want to be here. Could you blame me?”
“I don’t know. You and all your secrets, hard to know when you’re being straight with me”, Alicia prodded with her words, “Does anyone really know what goes on in that mind of yours?’.
“I'm not interested in your games”, Sally sighed.
“You haven't called Darrell for weeks. You’re avoiding her and she doesn’t deserve it. She misses you”, Alicia lowered her voice and Sally flinched as though she had been slapped, “So does being with them help you forget about her? About what you did?”
“Shut up Alicia”
“Seems a waste, to sacrifice someone to save her and then not tell her how you feel. I mean, we had our suspicions bef-”,
Sally didn't mean to lose her temper but anytime Alicia poker and prodded her about Darrell the other girl had to know she was deliberately targeting the one spot that would make Sally snap. Before she knew it, she had grabbed Alicia and moved her out of the way, holding her by her collar against the wall. Fear flashed briefly in Alicia's eyes before being covered up and Sally could only assume her eyes had changed to amber.
“That leader of theirs, Mark, he's very interested in getting you into his pack. Overly interested if you ask me. Are you hoping that if you can belong somewhere else you can ignore how you feel about her?”, Alicia asked and that hit deep. It was like Alicia had an endless supply of things to say that would keep Sally off balance.
"I don't know what you mean", Sally knew her lie was painfully transparent but she just needed Alicia to stop .
"That's nonsense and you know it", Alicia pushed Sally off of her, "Why are you doing this to yourself? All you're doing is making you and her miserable. There's enough of that going around without putting it on yourself".
"You know as well as I do why", Sally said, "I need to go", and ignoring Alicia's protests she opened the door and went outside.
She did wonder if Alicia would follow her so she made sure to go the long way round to the farmhouse even though she lost Alicia's scent shortly into the walk.
"There you are", Patrick opened the door to her and she greeted him with a short nod. Mark and Mary were talking in the kitchen and Sally left Patrick to speak to them.
"What's wrong?", Mary asked, never shy about using her Were abilities to probe at the others' emotions.
"I just had an argument with someone is all", Sally said.
"The Slayer?", Mary asked. Sally had corrected them the first few times, reminded them of Alicia's name, but they insisted on referring to her as the Slayer. There was something dehumanising about it that Sally couldn't quite put her finger on. It wasn't the only thing either, a few thoughts had begun to turn over in her head and she was holding them close until she had more information or had a chance to ask questions.
Sally leant against one of the work surfaces, the cleanest one, they didn't seem all that inclined to tidy up and the place was dirtier every time Sally had been there.
"Has the Slayer found out that you've been spending time here?", Mark asked, and he slowly moved around to lean right beside Sally. Having other Weres around was a peculiar sensation, their presence was nearly overwhelming and she stopped being able to think so clearly. Sally only had that reaction with one other person and she knew that almost certainly wasn't because of some underlying animal instinct.
"It doesn't matter", Sally said, "All of us just get a little agitated as the full moon gets close".
"You're welcome to see out the full moon here with us", Mark offered and he brushed his hand against Sally's arm. Sally fought her initial instinct to recoil, not wanting to cause another row.
The wolf pack were very tactile and Sally had already been quizzed about her reaction when Mary had walked up behind her while she was making notes from one of the books and put her hands on Sally's shoulders. Sally had jumped out of her seat and pulled away from Mary sharply. She had fumbled her way through an explanation about how she didn't like to be touched, which was almost true.
"I think it's best I continue my current arrangement", Sally said.
"Being caged like a dog?", Mary sneered and the question of where the pack had chained themselves up when they lived in the caves nudged at the back of Sally's mind. She ignored Mary's comment but Mark seemed intent on continuing the enquiry,
"Given how powerful Weres are, do you not find it insulting to be chained up by humans?", Mark asked.
"I find it necessary", Sally glanced at her watch. Every time she came here she hoped for some kind of information or insight about how her life was going to proceed. Then once she was here, she wondered why she had bothered. If she just ran off with the books they seemed to have amassed, she'd probably be able to answer most of her questions.
"Were you in Wolf form when you killed?", Mark asked gently.
Sally's stomach lurched at his words and she could only gape in horror, how had he picked that up?
"We can tell when someone has taken a life", Mary supplied, "You probably don't recognise the difference because you've not been around other Weres for long".
Mary strode over to the doorway and beckoned Sally over. Reluctantly, Sally walked over to join her.
"Focus on Patrick and Jason", Mary said, and Sally squirmed as Mary's hand moved to her shoulder, was it necessary to touch her?
Still, Sally was intrigued and she focused on both Weres for a few seconds, took in the specifics of their scent.
"Now Mark or me", Mary said. Sally did and found her way around the differences there.
"There's something sharp and…almost…", Sally frowned, she couldn't think of the words to describe it.
"That's the difference when someone has killed", Mary's voice was low but it was the only sound Sally could focus on.
"Did your Slayer and her Watcher start treating you differently when they learned what you had done or do they not even know?", Mark asked. He stepped closer and Sally realised she had been maneuvered into a corner.
"I'm not ready to discuss that", Sally said.
"Once they find out, you might have no choice but to leave that school, your life", Mark said, "and there's always space here when you're driven away".
"Why would anyone push me away?", Sally demanded. She took her opportunity and slid past Mark so that she had a clear run to the door.
"They're all the same. The Council send Werewolf Hunters after us, Slayers have murdered us on their order in the past", Mark let his wolf eyes come through and Sally wondered if she was going to be made to stay by force. She very much doubted she stood a chance against an entire pack.
"Once they've decided you're a liability, they'll do what the Council tell them", Mary drawled, leaning against the table and staring Sally down, "But honestly, if there's anyone you still care about, anyone you're holding onto your old life for, you'd be better staying far away from them before you destroy them".
Those words cut so close to the nightmares Sally had been having that she couldn't listen to any more. She was sure that she managed to say something about forgetting she needed to do something and then she left before anyone could stop her. As soon as she stepped outside the door, she started running. She ran until she reached the cemetery where she stopped and checked that no-one was following her.
It was like as soon as she stopped, her legs wobbled and she braced herself against the wall to stop herself falling. For a moment, she thought she might be sick. The nightmares were trying to push their way into her mind and she just couldn't breathe. Her chest burned as she struggled to catch her breath.
They were right. She couldn't be trusted, not if her dreams, her nightmares, were anything to go by. The darkness in her mind finally took hold and Sally could no longer stop the images flashing in front of her eyes. Losing control, breaking free from her chains, killing…
Sally had no idea how much time had passed when she dragged herself up off the floor. Her school uniform was damp from the dew in the grass and she would need to hurry up to the dorms before anyone saw her. Mercifully she didn't meet anyone on the way.
Tonight she would ask Marie if she could increase the security on her cage somehow.
Sally jumped back and out of the reach of the vampire. He had to be quite recently raised given his clumsiness and lack of caution. Sally wasn't even sure if he had deduced that he was fighting another supernatural.
The vampire lunged at her again, this time she ducked and landed her own blow to his abdomen, hard enough to knock him off his feet and into the dirt. Before he had a chance to collect his thoughts, Sally slammed a stake through his chest.
As she stood up, she brushed the dust from the vampire off of her coat and put her stake back in her pocket. She checked her watch; half one in the morning. The patrol had been reasonably quiet, and this was the only vampire she had found, if she headed back to school now she would manage four hours or so of sleep.
Looping back on herself, Sally made her way towards school. She had walked out further than she had initially intended, but she was always agitated and restless the day after her full moon cycle completed, so once she started walking, she had just kept going.
Just as the cemetery came into sight, a flicker of a familiar scent caught Sally's attention and stopped her in her tracks. She breathed in deeply and tried to focus on the scent, but it was just faint enough that she couldn't quite get a hold on it. After carefully circling the area, she found where the scent grew stronger and managed to follow it for a few metres before losing it. That was when she placed it. At the house Alicia had asked her to go to, where Marie and Rupert's friend had been killed.
Try as she might, she couldn't pick up the scent again and eventually, frustrated and tired, she gave up and returned to the main path. As she walked past the cemetery, she picked up another presence and breathed out slowly to stop herself from becoming too irritated.
"Why are you following me, Mary?"
The other Werewolf stepped out from where she had been standing, "I'm waiting, not following".
"The intent is the same, what do you want?", Sally asked.
"Just checking in", Mary said as she walked closer, "How was your cage?"
Mary ran her fingers against Sally's arm as she began to circle her. Her scent was different, and Sally fought not to recoil as she matched it to the overwhelming smell of blood from the night Alicia fought the Conduit.
"It was fine", Sally glanced over her shoulder, not keen on losing sight of what the other Werewolf was doing.
"Do they take you out for walks when you get restless?", Mary asked, coming back in front of her.
Sally ignored her comment, "Where are the others?"
"They're about", Mary tapped Sally's coat pocket and then snatched the notepad she always kept with her out and stepped back to look at it, "Is this how you plan on learning how to be a Were? Study up like it's homework?".
Mary's laugh was nasty, it reminded Sally of the ones that had been aimed in her direction by Alicia and Betty when they were younger.
"Aaw, did that make you angry?", Mary teased, "you're glowing little pet wolf".
Sally didn't bother to stifle her growl, and she was ashamed of the satisfaction she took when Mary recoiled at the noise.
"Well, well", the other Were regained her composure swiftly, "Maybe you're not as tame as I thought".
"I know exactly how dangerous I can be, that's why I agree to be chained up", Sally said, "But you can't say the same can you?"
Mary didn't say anything at first. She just examined Sally carefully and then she smirked,
"So what if we aren't always chained up? We're not pets. We don't belong on a leash", Mary said.
"You could hurt people, kill them", Sally said. She had hoped her suspicions were wrong. That the pack did indeed do everything in their power to keep people safe from them. The confirmation that they didn't was like a heavy punch in the stomach.
"Mark and I were in Were form when we killed. Were you? You never did tell us", Mary lowered her voice.
"And you're never going to know", Sally pushed past Mary to keep walking back to school. How could she had been so foolish in falling in with them? Mary had other ideas though and followed her.
"Why are you so desperate to cling onto the pathetic human existence you have", Mary asked, "I think it has to be a someone because from what we've seen, there's nothing else worth staying for".
"I have nothing more to say to you", Sally said. Mary closed the gap between them in a split second and grabbed Sally's arm tightly, breaking the skin with her nails. Sally reacted just as quickly. She grabbed Mary by the front of her shirt and threw her over, slamming her into the dirt hard enough to knock the breath from her.
For the first time, Mary showed genuine fear. Sally shifted her grip to Mary's throat and held her in place.
"This special someone", Mary said, her voice choked, "how many times have you killed them in your nightmares?"
She could hide every other reaction but try as she might, Sally couldn't hide the way her heart sped up. The smirk on Mary's face was infuriating. Sally released Mary with a look of disgust and left her sprawled in the dirt. It was only once she was back at school that she realised Mary still had her notepad.
Frustrated at losing all that information and filled with competing anger and worry, Sally slept poorly, and she could have quite happily ignored the morning bell. She wasn't ready to discuss the previous night with Alicia though, so she washed and dressed quickly then made sure she was in the middle of the form as they headed down to breakfast.
The dining hall was filled with excited chatter as girls discussed their plans for the half-term. Many of them had family visiting over the next few days, and the teachers allowed a little more volume than usual.
Sally couldn't bring herself to eat anything. Mamzelle Dupont noticed, of course, and asked Sally if she was feeling unwell.
"I think I'm just tired Mamzelle", Sally lied, though it were a part of her problem.
"Ah, and perhaps sadness, from not having your good friend? You and Darrell have been pea pods since First Form, and you miss her", Mamzelle said sympathetically. Sally couldn't help chuckling along with the other girls nearby at Mamzelle's muddling of expressions.
"I do miss her", Sally admitted, and as she said the words out loud, she realised that she hadn't said as much to anyone at school.
"Perhaps the half-term break will do all of you some good", Mamzelle was trying to be kind, she had no way of knowing that Sally didn't even receive letters anymore saying that her family weren't coming.
The moment passed, and chatter about half term plans got louder around the table while Sally fell into silent contemplation.
"Hiding are we?", Alicia asked as she found Marie in her office, "aren't you supposed to be getting ready to talk to parents?"
Marie looked up sharply at the clock and barely stifled whatever she was going to say. Alicia suspected that her typically even-tempered and professional Watcher had been about to swear, which Alicia found highly amusing.
"I only meant to read a few things", Marie sighed as she quickly pushed the papers into her top drawer and locked it, "I was sure it was only a minute ago that the breakfast bell rang".
"Sorry, it'll be gruel and leftovers for you", Alicia grinned, "whatever has you so distracted?"
"An awful lot is going on all at once Alicia", Marie sighed, and she doubled checked that she hadn't left anything incriminating out then pushed her chair back.
"Do you want a biscuit or something before braving the parents? I probably still have some in our common room", Alicia offered.
"I am quite sure I shan't starve but thank you", Marie gestured for Alicia to leave ahead of her, then continued speaking once she had locked the door behind them, "Did Sally say how patrol went?"
"No, she's been in a peculiar mood all morning. I'm starting to worry about her", Alicia said, and the words even felt funny to say.
"Have you seen any more odd behaviours from other students?", Marie asked as they neared the staircase. Alicia shook her head.
"Not even a re-occurrence of Belinda doing something odd", she said, "still no luck getting answers?"
"Unfortunately not", Marie said, "I really better go down and greet parents". With that, Marie hurried on ahead of Alicia.
Having little else to do, Alicia decided to head outside and at least watch the other students get some joy over their parents arriving. She was nearly bowled off her feet by some First Formers running out the door, and she stepped to the side of the grand entrance to avoid them. Sally was already there, watching cars arrive.
Alicia leant against the wall beside Sally, "Your folks coming?"
"No. I just wanted to get some air instead of sitting inside by myself", Sally said, "yours?"
"Not this time, our half-terms clash with my brothers. I got the last half-term, they get this one", Alicia explained. Silence took over, and Alicia wracked her brain for something to say.
"I don't think I've met your parents", she said eventually.
"No, you won't have", Sally replied.
For a moment, Alicia thought they were back to sniping and Sally was insinuating that she would not have introduced Alicia to her parents. Then she thought back to First Form and couldn't remember ever hearing of the Hopes coming up. She remembered plenty of times Sally had gone out with the Rivers, and one occasion where they hadn't been able to come so Darrell had stayed at school with Sally. She didn't remember any other variations.
"Anyone met your parents?", Alicia asked, unable to stop her curiosity. Sally grimaced for a second.
"But not at school, right?", Alicia clarified, "Sally, I didn't realise. I'm sorry…"
"Don't", the word was firm, but there was pain beneath it that Alicia had never considered before, "I don't want to discuss it".
Alicia bit back a second apology and turned her attention to the cars arriving and girls excitedly running to their parents. Was this part of growing up as well? Learning that the people around you hid a background of pain and unhappiness? Between June and Sally, Alicia was starting to feel entirely unobservant of late.
The Rivers' car pulled into the car park, and Alicia grinned when Felicity Rivers jump down the steps, much to Mamzelle Dupont's despair, and ran towards the car. Susan Blake, Felicity's particular friend, followed more sedately. Then Felicity's voice broke through the low hubbub.
That drew attention, alright. Alicia's, Sally's and every other person in earshot who knew about the whispers and rumours. Felicity barrelled into her older sister and hugged her tightly, already chatting away excitedly by the looks of it.
"Did you know?", Alicia asked, and Sally shook her head, still stunned, "do you think it'd be alright if we…". Her question was answered when Mrs Rivers spotted them and gave a quick wave for them to come over.
Alicia followed Sally down the stairs - not jumping despite wanting to - and across the car park.
"Well, talk about keeping secrets", Alicia hailed as soon as they got in earshot and Darrell smiled back at her. Alicia hugged her in a hello then stepped away so Sally could greet her.
Sally hugged Darrell so tightly that Alicia was about to remind her to tone down her powers. It wouldn't have done any good because Alicia quickly realised that, for just a moment, the rest of the world didn't exist for the two girls. So she glanced away, though doing so hardly afforded them privacy, and greeted Mr and Mrs Rivers.
"Is that your case?", Felicity called from where she was peering in through the back window of the car. Alicia turned back around and gaped, not sure if she was jumping to the right conclusions. Sally stepped back, and she wore a similar expression.
"So nosy", Darrell teased, pulling her sister away from the car and putting her arm around her shoulders, "yes it is".
"Did you drive that support worker away?", Felicity asked.
"She drove me to despair", Darrell clarified. She looked around, saw her parents talking to Miss Grayling, and turned back.
"She was frightful, I couldn't bear being at home with her tasked to help me. Mother made some arrangement so I won't be here all the time, but I will be back at school", Darrell explained.
Alicia wanted to ask how on Earth they had pulled that one off, but for the moment she was happy to simply be glad her friend was back.
"Darrell? We're just going to walk down onto the beach and take the picnic with us, so both Sally and Alicia are welcome to come", Mrs Rivers called over, and Alicia nodded immediately.
"I'll just run up and let Ma- Miss Potts know", Alicia said. She walked back towards the school, reminding herself it wasn't really the done thing for Fifth Formers to start running about.
She found Marie talking to a couple of parents and waited as patiently as she could until she caught Marie's eye.
"Sally and I won't be staying at school, we'll go out with Darrell and her family", Alicia explained, and as soon as she saw the gentle smile on her Watcher's face, she knew she had been involved somehow.
"Have fun", Marie called as Alicia went back towards the car park.
"Gosh, you really are changing beyond recognition Alicia", Winnie Tom's voice interrupted her thoughts, "voluntarily chumming about with Sally Hope and planning on spending the day with her and Darrell and her issues?"
Alicia stopped and turned to face Winnie. She was sure the only reason she didn't clobber Winnie was the presence of so many parents and teachers. Even then, she felt her muscles tense for a fight.
"The things people tend to say about Darrell usually say more about them and their ignorance than about her, ever noticed that?", Alicia shot back, "Keep your opinions to yourself for once, especially on matters you're ill-informed about".
Alicia had never been so cutting to her friends - former friends - and the shock on Winnie's face was immediate. Alicia turned to keep going and came face to face with Betty, who looked equally surprised.
"Got something to say?", Alicia asked.
Betty pursed her lips and shook her head.
"Jolly good, nice chat", and Alicia stepped around her and stormed back to the car park. She pushed the incident from her mind as much as possible to avoid ruining their day and greeted the group with a grin,
"All sorted, shall we?"
"I still can't believe you pulled this off", Alicia said as they watched Felicity and Susan splashing down at the sea edge.
After the picnic, they had walked down to the end of the beach near the town. Felicity and Susan wanted to go in the water, and it was safer down there, away from the strong currents. It still was a bit too cold to even be paddling but the Second Formers didn't seem to agree. Theresa and Michael had sat a little way apart to give the older girls some time to themselves.
"It wasn't easy", Darrell admitted, "and there's every chance this might not work but I couldn't stay at home without trying, I was so unhappy". Sally brushed her thumb against the back of Darrell's elbow in one of her subtle demonstrations of affection.
"It's lucky your parents stayed with Harriet last term or I couldn't imagine any of this would have happened", Alicia said.
That was the agreement that had been struck after careful coordination between Darrell's parents, Doctor Cudson and the school. Miss Potts had played no small part in it, and Darrell kept reminding herself that she needed to thank her. Darrell would aim to be at school all five days, though she would be given allowances to reduce her timetable if required. Then from Friday evening until after breakfast on Monday, she would board at Miss Rutherford's home. Darrell didn't know if her parents knew that it was also where Miss Potts lived, and she had decided to avoid the topic in case they didn't.
Darrell had protested initially. After all, why did she have to board somewhere else at the weekends, why couldn't she simply return to school? Then her mother had explained that Miss Potts had suggested it as it afforded her the privacy and space for regular therapy, which otherwise might require repeat trips to the hospital. It also provided a necessary rest from the school environment. Darrell knew that somewhere in amongst all of that was reassurance for Miss Potts that Darrell would be safe from the supernatural. Though she could hardly tell her parents that.
As unconventional as it all was, it seemed to be the only way Darrell was going to get back to school. So she agreed.
"My parents will come down to check on me every other week to begin with", Darrell said, "But my medication is working, and I've not had any hallucinations since just before Christmas, even on the reduced dose. As long as I can keep a routine and get the help I need, this might work".
"Some of the others are going to be difficult", Sally said quietly, and Darrell nodded, her face falling a little.
"I suspected", she said, and she breathed out slowly before speaking again, "I don't know what rumours people have heard, who knows what I was diagnosed with so I don't know what they'll do, but I imagine it'll be nasty".
"Some will be", Alicia agreed, "others are better than you might expect".
"Darrell? I think it's about time we headed back", her mother called and the girls got to their feet, brushing the remaining sand off themselves. Felicity and Susan ran back up from the sea, and they walked back to the school.
When they reached the school, Theresa glanced at her watch, "Did you want to spend dinner with your form, Darrell?"
They had discussed it on the car journey down, but Darrell had gotten so overwhelmed by just being back that it had slipped her mind. She shuffled from foot to foot on the spot as she considered her answer.
"I don't know", she said eventually, "what if someone goes and causes a scene?"
"Well, perhaps it's better to face that reaction now instead of prolonging it until your first full day back? You'll have quite enough adjustment to be dealing with then without adding to it", Theresa said, and Darrell had to admit it was a sensible point.
"If it gets too awful, can I just leave?", she asked, moving her hand to cover where her cheek twitched. Sally and Alicia had both gently reassured her that she had no need to hide her tics or movements around them, but she just couldn't help but be self-conscious.
"I'll come out with you if anyone causes trouble", Sally promised, and Darrell hesitantly agreed to give it a try. Even so, her entire body felt impossibly heavy as she approached the door to the dining hall and, from the way Sally gently squeezed her arm, her anxiety must have been obvious.
A few whispers did start as soon as they stepped inside the hall, but Alicia led the way to the Fifth Form table so quickly that only a small number of students even got a decent look around to realise Darrell was back.
"I knew it was you I saw earlier", Mary Lou broke the uncomfortable silence at the Fifth Form table and greeted Darrell so happily that it eased the tension, "Oh, it's so good to see you back. You are back, aren't you?"
Darrell took the seat opposite Mary Lou, with Alicia opposite her and Sally beside her, "Yes, at least I hope I will be".
"There's so much to tell you, I couldn't fit it all in the letters", Mary Lou said. The quiet girl had never taken charge of dinner conversation like this before, and Darrell quickly realised that her friend was pushing aside her own shyness to stop anyone else from stepping in with nasty comments. That made a lump build up in Darrell's throat, and she had to drink nearly a full glass of water before she felt steady enough to talk.
"Well, the last one you sent was just after that Second Former tried to climb up on Thunder", she was quite pleased that her voice didn't come out choked and emotional.
"What a silly little thing she was", Bill interrupted from further down the table, "She's lucky Thunder's so good-natured, or she'd have ended up in a puddle".
And it was far from perfect, especially with the cautious looks and dark mutterings from a few girls along the Fifth Form table, but Darrell was relieved to see that her return was not going to be the catastrophe she had feared.
CW: Prejudice towards mental health difficulties,
Even knowing that she would see her, Sally still couldn’t quite believe her eyes when she walked into English on Monday morning and found Darrell speaking to Miss James. Alicia patted her on the shoulder and quietly moved her workbooks to the empty seat beside Ruth, who seemed a little alarmed to have Alicia suddenly sat with her.
As the classroom filled up and people began to pay a little too much attention to what was happening at the front of the room, Miss James finished whatever she was talking with Darrell about, and Darrell took her seat beside Sally. Rather than give anyone time to start murmuring about anything, Miss James jumped straight into the lesson. Not for the first time, Sally found herself struggling to keep up. She berated herself as she remembered that she still had to complete the prep for this class, that was no doubt why she was finding the work difficult.
Eventually, Miss James set them some textual analysis, put the main points up on the board, and began to move around the classroom.
“You really did keep up with the work”, Sally said as she saw Darrell flip open one of her own notebooks, obviously from where she had been working at home.
“It was either that or talk to Mrs Taylor. Trust me when I say a thousand pieces of schoolwork were preferable to that”, Darrell said as she re-read something she had written. Sally was about to point out that she didn’t really know who Mrs Taylor was or what she had done but she didn’t really want to bring up the fact that she had stopped calling Darrell. So she focused on her own work instead.
Sally heard some sniggering about five minutes later and she glanced up. Darrell’s look of concentration was too focused to be genuine, and Sally put two and two together when Darrell’s shoulder and arm jerked upwards with one of her tics. Darrell’s cheeks flushed when the same person giggled, and Sally turned to try and see who it was.
“Don’t”, Darrell warned her, setting her pen down so that the movement in her shoulder didn’t result in scrawls across her workbook, “Ignore them”.
Sally wondered when their roles had changed so drastically. She thought of Second Form when it was her calming Darrell’s instinct to stand up and defend her from the nasty whispers of Alicia, Betty and some of the other West Tower girls. Darrell had done her best to do as Sally asked then, so Sally reluctantly returned to her work.
That incident aside, there was little room for any other nonsense in Miss James’ class, and they were dismissed for break without any further problems.
“Some of our classmates are decidedly less mature than I thought”, Alicia commented as she joined them outside, “it was some of the West Tower girls, want me to go and tell Rosie to set them straight?”
“Leave it for now”, Darrell said as she paced back and forth, rubbing her palms together in circles, “I will start pushing back on it once I’ve settled in”. She did a fair job of pretending that she was unconcerned by the behaviour, but when the same group of girls walked past them, Sally saw her tense up.
“French next”, Alicia groaned, “that poem was awful, even I had to re-read it a few times to properly translate what the author was going on about”.
“I only got half-way”, Sally confessed, that was yet another piece of work she had fallen behind on, “I got stuck on the line about the Queen”.
“La royne Blanche comme ung lys?”, Darrell asked. Sally frowned at how fluently the words came out. She glanced across at Alicia who looked equally confused; Darrell wasn’t poor at French by any measure but she certainly wasn’t fluent.
“That’s the one”, Sally said carefully, not sure if she should mention her observation.
“You can borrow my translation to write up, at least then Mamzelle won’t blow up about you not doing the work if she calls on you”, Darrell offered. Her hand movements changed from rubbing her palms to clenching and unclenching.
“Are you alright?”, Alicia asked eventually, seeing that Sally wasn’t sure if she should.
“Fine”, Darrell said, then perhaps sensing that she had been a little abrupt, she sighed and walked over to sit with Alicia and Sally at the table, “look, there’s a lot of side effects to my medication. I will tell you if I’m not okay, I promise. Otherwise, it’s just that, well, I am going to behave a little differently to how I did before”.
"Should we do anything?", Alicia asked.
"Just be yourselves?", Darrell said. She winced as her upper body went tense again and slowly breathed out.
"I read that there were some unsolved murders in Cornwall", Darrell changed the conversation abruptly, "were they supernatural killings?"
"Did you rest at all while you were off?", Alicia asked.
"I had to find something to do when I'd finished my work", Darrell explained. Not seeing a way to avoid the topic, Alicia gave Darrell some brief details about the murders she knew off while glancing over her shoulder ever so often to make sure they were alone.
Sally found herself thinking back to the scent of blood on Mary when she had last seen her and a dreadful thought started to unfold in her mind. Before she could explore it, the bell for the next lesson went, and they hurried off to French.
After their lessons finished, Sally joined Louisa, the sixth form Head of Games, down on the field. They had to make a final decision about the team list for their game at the weekend. Moira was supposed to be there as well but she didn't arrive. Sally soon learnt why,
"Do you know if Darrell's likely to be back as my second now she's back?", Louisa asked as she watched the lower school team warming up and took some careful notes.
"Couldn't say, I haven't been told", Sally replied.
"I asked Moira earlier and she got rather put out, I think she thought I was telling her she was being replaced", Louisa gestured for Sally to walk with her around the edge of the pitch. Well that explained Moira's absence, Sally thought, even at seventeen the other girl was occasionally prone to extraordinarily self-sabotaging acts of petulance when her back was put up.
"Like I said, I've not been told", Sally repeated. She wasn't sure if the older girl was being nosy or just wanted clear answers, and neither did she give any indication over what she thought of having Darrell back as her second.
After a gruelling 45 minutes where the lower school were put through their paces, they finally agreed on the first team for the match and Sally agreed to write it up and pin it on the board.
She hurried back up towards the school, conscious of how much prep she needed to knuckle down and get done. She was almost clear of the field when she saw Mark stood at the school boundary. At first she toyed with the idea of simply ignoring him. Then she reluctantly changed her path and walked over to see what he wanted, desperately hoping that no-one would look over and see her talking to an unknown boy. That would certainly start rumours. And complicate others.
"Why are you here?", Sally asked once she was close enough. Mark held out her notepad.
"Thanks", Sally took it off him and put it in her pocket, "Was that all? I need to go and get on with work".
"So it's true then?", Mark asked, "You're just wiping your hands of us?"
"I don't think I ever really belonged with your pack and we both know it", Sally replied, checking over her shoulder to make sure no-one had seen them.
"I think you could have been happy with us", Mark said, then he breathed in deeply, "you smell different. There's someone else's scent on you. Is that why you don't want anything else to do with us?"
Since Sally had made her decision the night before she knew Darrell was returning, she didn't need to lie, "No. The way you conduct yourselves was plenty enough reason for me to be done with you".
She stepped back in a hurry as Mark's eyes blazed with anger. He had always put on such a collected front that the unexpected rage made her nervous.
"You have no right judging us given what you have done, you're no innocent pet yourself", Mark said.
"Regardless, we are done", Sally said, Mark darted forward and grabbed her by the wrist to stop her leaving, "let me go, Mark".
"Whoever she is, you will hurt her", Mark said, and he dragged his claws down Sally's arm. The sharp pain had an immediate effect and Sally growled as she yanked her arm back. From the smirk on his face, she knew what had happened even without running her tongue across her teeth and finding sharpened canines.
"If you actually cared about her, you'd stay the hell away from her", Mark threw his parting shot and took off back towards the farmhouse. Writing up the team sheet would have to wait, there was no way Sally could go back up to school now.
Alicia was beginning to think that these uneventful patrols were some hideous foreboding sign that everything was about to implode. Even when she only came across a single vampire, something about the nights made her uneasy. It wasn't helped by the fact she had seen Marie topping up the wards around Malory Towers either. If her Watcher was worried it stood to reason that she should be too.
It was nearly four in the morning when Alicia finally crept back up the stairs and into the Fifth Form dormitories.
"You're up early", Alicia whispered as she pushed the door open and found Darrell awake.
"And you're back late", Darrell mumbled, rubbing her eyes.
"Nightmares?", Alicia asked as she quickly changed into her pajamas.
"Insomnia", Darrell replied, "Some nights I sleep two hours, some I get six. Tonight's just a bad night".
"I don't suppose you'd want the sleeping spell done on you?", Alicia asked and Darrell immediately shook her head, "Can't say I blame you". Alicia slumped down onto her bed and groaned as she landed on a bruised part of her body.
"You'll wake someone if you're not careful", Darrell warned and she leant out of her bed to take a book from the bottom drawer of her bedside table.
"Through these sleeping spells? Half sure I could jump on Gwen's bed with her in it and no-one would wake up", Alicia murmured, "and Sally's already awake, aren't you?"
"Do shut up, some of us need more than a couple of hours sleep", Sally replied, rolling onto her back.
"Sorry, I didn't realise you were awake", Darrell said. Alicia thought about pointing out that it was most certainly her and not Darrell that Sally was telling to shut up but she was too tired. They could sort it out between them tomorrow.
"You should try to relax, even if you don't manage more sleep", Alicia said to Darrell before she rolled onto her front and tucked her arms under her pillow, if she were to drop off to sleep soon she might get a solid two hours.
It felt like as soon as Alicia had closed her eyes, the bell rang and she fought heaviness in her arms and a wave of nausea as she sat up.
"You don't look well", Darrell commented from her bed. Her hair was damp and she was dressed, so clearly she had decided to go ahead and get ready for the day while everyone else slept. Alicia glanced over at Sally, she looked paler and more withdrawn than usual, and thought that she wasn't the only one who looked awful.
"I'm fine", Alicia waved off the concern and hurried to take a shower, hoping it would wake her up. When she came back out, Sally was coming into the shower room.
"I need to tell you something. Later", Sally said and there was a cold seriousness to her voice that gave Alicia pause.
"Are we still keeping secrets from Darrell?", Alicia asked.
"What's one more for now?", Sally replied, looking uneasy even as she spoke, "She mentioned Marie and Matron wanting to see her at lunch-time so we'll slip off then".
Hiding details from Darrell had been much easier with her not at school, and Alicia felt decidedly uncomfortable about sneaking around behind her back, even if it was for her own good. She noticed that Sally also struggled to behave naturally, and her odd behaviour throughout the morning clearly didn't go unnoticed by Darrell.
"Whatever is wrong with you?", Alicia asked as she followed Sally over to a quiet spot halfway down to the swimming pool, "your poker face is usually much better than this".
"I think Mark and his pack might have been involved in some of the murders", Sally got straight to the point and Alicia had every other thought pushed out of her head.
So Sally quickly told her about picking up the smell of blood and how she had learnt that the pack didn't, in fact, chain themselves up over the full moon. Then about the visit from Mark the previous day and her fears that they wouldn't just leave her alone.
"Bloody hell", Alicia began to pace back and forth, “We need to tell Marie”.
“Why didn’t you tell her before? You’ve been sitting on this for how long now?”, Alicia demanded, frustrated that Sally had managed to keep all of this hidden away and without giving so much as a flicker of an indication that she was hiding something so serious.
“Alright, Alicia!”, Sally said, “I know I should have, I just didn’t want it to be true”.
Alicia stopped walking and looked over at the other girl, her anger lessened when she saw how miserable she looked.
“I was fooled by the set-up they had in the farmhouse”, Alicia said as she stepped closer to Sally, “I never even stopped to think about where they would have contained themselves before they moved there”.
“I should have pushed sooner but I really hoped…”, and Sally’s words just trailed off and she shook her head.
“You’re done with them now though, right? No more late night visits or running off and keeping these things to yourself?”, Alicia asked, needing to be sure that all of this information had well and truly driven a wedge between Sally and the other Weres. She didn’t need any waverings in alliances, after all.
“Of course I’m through with them”, Sally sounded more like her old self for a moment, incredulous that Alicia even had to ask.
“Anything else you’ve been keeping to yourself?”, Alicia asked, a little gentler.
“The scent from the house you took me to-”
“Magnus Payne’s place?”, Alicia asked.
“Yes, I thought I picked it up just past the cemetery but that same thing happened as before, I kept losing it”, Sally explained, “and that wasn’t a werewolf”.
Alicia whistled quietly as she considered Sally’s words then asked, “So you're saying that there’s possibly two seperate people or things responsible for the murders”.
“I think so”, Sally wrapped her arms around herself and, without thinking, Alicia reached out and squeezed her shoulder. It was meant to be reassuring but Sally jumped at the contact.
“Sorry”, Alicia smirked, “forgot you’re the jumpy type. Come on, we better go and find Marie and get this over and done with”.
Darrell finished with Miss Potts and Matron far quicker than she expected and immediately went in search of Alicia and Sally. After looking just about everywhere she could think of, finishing her search down at the cottage, she glanced at her watch and sighed. The bell would be going soon. They really were being more careful about involving her in supernatural discussions now and while Darrell wasn’t altogether disappointed with that decision, she didn’t like them sneaking around like she wasn’t going to notice what they were up to.
"You're new", Darrell glanced around and startled at the teenagers she didn't recognise stood nearby.
"Who are you?", Darrell asked, quite glad there was a fence between them, even though it would hardly offer much of a barrier.
"Friends of Sally's", the one girl of the group spoke and Darrell's uneasiness grew. She couldn’t imagine Sally making friends with a group of local children somehow.
"You're her little friend aren't you? I saw you with her the other day", the boy at the front of the group started to walk towards the fence and Darrell wondered if she could outrun him.
"I'm sorry, I should go", Darrell said nervously, but as she turned, a hand grabbed her arm. The boy had crossed the fence in a split second and now Darrell's suspicions of the supernatural were confirmed. The boy studied her intently, and...was he sniffing? Darrell tried to pull her arm back but he tightened his hold.
"You're not quite right are you?", he asked slowly, practically staring a hole into her.
"Get your hand off her", Alicia flanked her and Darrell had never felt so relieved to see her friend.
"Slayer", the boy smirked but he didn't release his grip. Then, out of nowhere, Sally grabbed his wrist and squeezed until he released Darrell with a whimper. As he stumbled back, Sally stepped in front of Darrell.
"We were just making friends", the girl said and the way she practically glared a hole into Sally was enough to make Darrell shudder involuntarily.
"Darrell’s happy with the friends she has", Alicia said, "she has standards, you see".
"Alicia", the warning tone from Sally only made Alicia smirk.
"It's her isn't it?", the boy who had grabbed Darrell turned to Sally, "She's why isn't she?"
"Go home Mark", Sally's voice was soft and low, easily mistaken for passive if you didn't know her, “and don’t come back here”.
"I expected a grander reason", Mark said, "not a damaged little human".
Darrell stepped back at the growl from Sally, a low warning sound, and Mark looked as surprised as her.
"We'll leave you to your plaything then", he said, baring his fangs for a second.
"Such charming creatures", Alicia said dryly once the group were out of sight.
"Are you okay?", Sally ignored Alicia and turned to Darrell instead.
"I don't know, who were they?", Darrell asked. She was conscious that she had started rocking from side to side but hoped that neither of her friends would mention it.
"They're a wolf pack", Alicia answered, she hesitated for a moment when Darrell ticced, only continuing when Darrell nodded, "we came across them a few weeks back".
"You don't like them", Darrell said.
"Not particularly, Sally has been learning about being a werewolf from them", Alicia explained.
"I want to go back into school", Darrell said, wrapping her arms around herself.
“You sure? I don’t mind sticking with you and Sally if you want to stay outside?”, Alicia said, “Don’t let them ruin whatever you had planned”.
“I want to go back!”, Darrell didn’t mean to sound so insistent and upset but the arrival of the other Werewolves had thrown any possibility of a schedule out the window. It felt like the anxiety was tingling across her skin and she began to pace to try and rid herself of it.
“It’s okay”, Sally stepped in before Alicia could say anything, “We’ll go back to school, we can go to the library if you want?”
Darrell nodded silently and followed Sally and Alicia back to school, not feeling up to talking after what had happened.
“You go on to the library”, Sally said once they were back at the school building, “I want to just check they’ve really gone”. She reached out and squeezed Darrell’s arm as she said that last part.
Alicia and Darrell walked in silence for a few minutes before Darrell said, "They could sense my psychosis couldn’t they?”
"They like to play head games,'' Alicia said, "Try not to pay them any mind, they're not worth your attention”.
“Did Sally really befriend them?”, Darrell asked, unable to imagine her friend willingly spending time with people so unpleasant.
“Sally wanted to learn more about who or what she is now and I guess you can’t be too choosy”, Alicia said as they reached the library, “I think if I had other Slayers to talk to, I’d probably put up with abrasive personalities just to learn something”.
"There are Slayer diaries you could read", Darrell said, stopping with her hand on the handle of the library door.
"There are? I can't imagine my predecessors had the time to sit and go all Dear Diary", Alicia pulled a face and Darrell rolled her eyes. She supposed she should be used to flippancy in the face of the supernatural by now. It was at least preferable to an impenetrable brick wall around someone's thoughts and feelings. Darrell peeked into the library and, finding no-one there, beckoned Alicia inside.
"I'm serious. Though they are less about the day to day events of a teenage girl and more about the horrific details of the Hellmouth and end of the world", Darrell sat on one of the chairs while Alicia remained standing.
"What's a hellmouth?"
"It's kind of what it says", Darrell folded her arms on the table and lowered her head to rest as she spoke, even though her legs seemed to bounce of their own volition, "literally a gateway - or mouth - into hell itself".
"Cheery. No doubt a future holiday destination of mine", Alicia said, "you know, it is rather horrifying in a way to learn that hell really exists. I had hoped it remained in the realm of a religious myth designed to keep wayward teenagers in line".
Darrell was too unsettled to keep up any further conversation and Alicia ended up simply sitting with her in silence until Sally arrived.
“They’re gone”, Sally confirmed.
“I better go and speak to Marie”, Alicia said. She sounded dreadfully serious all of a sudden and it was never a good sign when Alicia dropped her humour. It had to be about whatever they were discussing earlier.
So Alicia left and Sally joined Darrell at the table. It was there again. That awkwardness that just seemed to build up between them. It had happened a few times since Darrell had come back and she just wished Sally would trust her enough to talk to her. She had to know that even someone who didn’t have supernatural powers of observation could see how strained matters were between them. And if she knew that, then she had to be choosing to let Darrell twist herself up over why there was this distance between them.
When she felt Sally’s fingers brush against her arm, she lifted her head from her arms and looked over at her friend. Sally wouldn’t look at her though and for the first time, Darrell saw a clear emotion on her face.
Darrell wanted to press and try to cobble together some answers for the questions running through her head but if she did that, she would never get a real answer. Sally only spoke up when she was ready to share and never a moment sooner. If Darrell wanted to keep their friendship from shattering completely, she needed to be a lot more careful than her usual straightforward - and at times tactless - approach.
So instead of saying anything, she moved her other hand so that she could take Sally’s hand. For now, that would have to do.
CW: Prejudice towards mental health difficulties; PTSD flashbacks.
Sally finished up another uneventful patrol just before three in the morning. Alicia had taken a rather tough knock and cracked a rib earlier in the week during a fight with two vampires, and Marie had insisted she take a few nights off to heal. After all, once Sally was locked up in the cage for the full moon, it would all fall on Alicia again.
Sally was jumpy, though, in a way she had never been before, and as the full moon grew closer she found her senses were all acting on overdrive. When she concentrated on using them, the amount of information the world gave her back was almost too much.
Even now she could sense the animals shifting in the undergrowth when she focused. Rabbits, mice, foxes and owls all prowling in their own way. She could sense where monsters had stepped recently and could feel the pull of the wolf pack. Once so strong it seemed impossible to resist and now just a brush at the edge of her consciousness. Every so often, and when she patrolled closer to school, she pushed the reach of her senses and checked in on Darrell, sleeping if not peacefully. The turmoil in her friend never truly seemed to stop.
As well as Sally or Alicia patrolling each night, Marie had insisted on either her or Rupert doing a separate patrol. Neither girls had seen much of Rupert. It seemed Magnus' death and the suspicions about the actions of Mark and the rest of his pack had reignited his anger, and Marie was doing her best to avoid them all interacting lest there be fireworks.
Sally had to concede that it was probably best for them all that Marie had planned it that way. Some days Sally couldn't decide who she was angriest at, herself or the pack, and there were moments where she would sink into dark thoughts over what she had done and what she suspected they had done. After the nights where she had nightmares, overwhelmed by lack of sleep and emotions, Sally had found herself struggling to avoid flaring up over small matters.
As she reached the school, she wondered if any of this would have happened if she hadn't been so foolish as to take the other Weres at face value. Perhaps it would have, after all, she had still ended a life.
Even that faint brush of a thought made Sally's entire body tense and she shivered as the memory of her dragging Richard from his house pushed itself to the forefront of her mind. Then, of course, her mind flooded with the sound of water and struggling. She leant against the cold stone of the school building. Crimson reflections on dark waters clouded her mind and Sally felt the burning rage of the wolf start to sear up through her chest. What was it Darrell had done back during the hols to stop this before? Sally forced her attention to the cool sensation of the stone on her palm. She moved her hand, she was in Cornwall, she was outside.
Her senses spiked and she felt a low hum of drowsy emotions radiating from all four towers. People had no idea what they gave away without even realising. Sally pushed through the fog and eventually found Darrell's trace in the mass of sensations.
Sally hadn't spoken to either Darrell or Alicia about what Mark had said when he confronted Darrell. She hadn't wanted to hurt Darrell by confirming that Weres could sense her psychosis. Or that they could sense something else as well, a mark from the Conduit and the, mercifully brief, death which had saved her.
Focusing on her friend brought stillness m Sally's mind until the world drifted back into focus and Sally felt steady enough to go back inside.
She was grateful to find the back door still unlocked and she made her way up to the Fifth Form dormitory. On the floor below the one their dorm was on, she heard footsteps and pressed herself into one of the window alcoves to hide. There were muffled giggles and Sally guessed that some of the third formers were awake and up to funny business.
She stifled the growl of irritation and, carefully stepping out of the alcove, she focused her senses. Two heartbeats accompanied scurrying footsteps; at least it were only two girls and not an entire form sneaking out for a feast. That would have been much more difficult to sneak past.
The footsteps turned back towards her and she slunk back into the alcove and used the curtains to hide. The steps grew closer and closer until one of the girls walked past her and turned to wait for the other.
When the girl squealed, Sally at first thought she had just gotten over excited about something, and then the girl pointed towards the curtain and ran back down the way she had come.
"What are you making all that noise for?", the other girl whispered, "someone will hear you!"
"There's something there, behind the curtain", the first girl whispered, "I think it's an alien! It's got glowing eyes".
It felt like Sally's blood ran cold. She held her arm up, the amber glow of her eyes reflected off of the glass of her watch face. If they came back to investigate - and Sally had no way of knowing if these girls were that bold - then she would have no means of escape. She considered the window behind her for a moment and then just decided to take her chances running back the other way and taking the other stairs further away.
"Oh don't be a donkey, are you sure you saw glowing lights?", the girls' whispering prompted her into movement and she darted out of the alcove and sprinted down the corridor away from the girls.
She heard them gasp and cry out behind her; between them and the noise of her running she would be fortunate not to wake any of the teachers or other students but she dared not stop. As she reached the stairs and took them two at a time, she could hear commotion on the floor below. The girls had woken teachers downstairs and the low thrum of activity and thoughts brushed at Sally's thoughts. She felt guilty for getting the girls into trouble.
Sally only stopped running when she reached the bathrooms near the Fifth Form dorms. She pushed the door open and stumbled inside, making her way over to the closest mirror. Even after all that, she hadn't shifted back.
Mary and the others had been adamant that a Were couldn't shift outside the full moon, but they, like her, could force the change in their eyes, claws and teeth. Sally tilted her head and grimaced. None of them had said anything about ears changing, she thought, as she saw how they had also changed to be peaked and wolf like.
Regardless of what they said, it certainly felt like she was changing.
Sally leant her forehead against the mirror for just a moment and breathed out slowly. Footsteps in the hallway interrupted her thoughts and she quickly hid in one of the stalls, pulling the door shut behind her just as someone stepped inside. She relaxed just a little as she realised it was Darrell.
"Are you alright?", she called to her friend.
"I was having trouble sleeping, I saw you weren't back yet and then heard someone coming in here", Darrell replied, it seemed all of them were running on the bare minimum of sleep, "Why are you hiding?"
"I thought you might be someone else", Sally admitted.
"Why would you hide from anyone ?", Darrell asked, "Come out, would you?"
Sally swallowed the lump in her throat, "I don't want you to see me like this", and another thought plagued her, I don't want to risk hurting you.
"Like what? Are you hurt?", Darrell sounded worried so, after a few seconds to steel herself, Sally unlocked the door and stepped out.
Darrell didn't recoil. She blinked heavily a few times, as though making sure she wasn't dreaming, but she didn't recoil.
"I know this might sound odd but…", Darrell faltered over her words and ran one hand over her face, "Can you tell me what you didn't want me to see?"
The realisation that Darrell was worried she was hallucinating hit Sally like a wave and she stepped forward so Darrell could see her better.
"Parts of the wolf keep leaking through", Sally said, "my eyes have changed, I've got fangs"
"This is a lot more than growling", Darrell whispered.
"Oh Darrell, I'm so far past just growling. I'm scared that I might… I might transform completely", Sally admitted.
Darrell was still examining her closely and the way her hands were fidgeting and flicking about at her side, Sally knew she wasn't convinced this was real.
"You need an anchor", Darrell said, even as she began to rock back and forth, "something you concentrate on that keeps you human. Something that is tied to your humanity".
Sally was about to ask what that might be when Darrell abruptly began to pace. Not wanting to unsettle her friend any further, Sally held her tongue. After a few moments, Darrell's pacing became less frantic and she continued,
"Some people use emotions linked to events, like being angry at injustice, or items that have particular emotional value. Other people use people who are important to them. You pick something and focus on it, on memories and…and…", Darrell became visibly anxious again and Sally approached her.
"It's real Darrell, I promise", Sally said.
"I don't want to be sent away", and Darrell's voice was so small and so worried that it barely sounded like her. Sally took Darrell's hand carefully, cautious not to graze her with her claws.
"It feels different", Darrell nodded, her voice a little stronger. Sally lifted Darrell's hand and brought it to one of her ears so Darrell could feel that it was different too.
There was a wave of relief that came off of Darrell as she was finally reassured that she wasn't seeing things. Her eyes brightened at the realisation and she smiled. It was the same look as after she got her results from the Fourth Form exams. Sally hadn't realised just how much Darrell had fretted over them, after all her friend had worked hard and her grades had been solid for years. When she asked Darrell why she had been so worried, Darrell just shrugged with a sheepish grin and changed the focus to congratulating Sally on her results.
Sally felt her transformation shift away and Darrell's hand lowered slightly as she watched the shift back to humanity with outright curiousity.
Darrell's hand felt too warm where it had fallen, her palm gently resting against Sally's neck. The heat from her hand seemed to radiate through Sally, uncurling both down onto her chest and upwards, sending warmth across her cheeks. Her heart began to race and she wondered if Darrell could feel her quickening pulse. Sally stepped back and glanced away, glad that Darrell was too preoccupied processing what she had seen to notice her odd behaviour.
"Thank you", Sally said, before Darrell could enquire about what her anchor was, "now come on, we best get back to bed before someone finds us up and standing about".
"Have you heard?", Belinda was grinning broadly as she came into the common room. Most of the form were there, only Maureen was down with Matron, having been summoned regarding the state of her sewing.
"Do enlighten us", Alicia said, she was sat sideways on one of the armchairs with her legs dangling over the arm. Moira had already commented on how it wasn't proper for a Fifth Former to do as such and so Alicia felt obliged to keep doing it on principle.
Irene snorted as Belinda explained, "Well apparently we had an alien invasion last night. Two of the Third Formers were out of bed in the middle of the night and they are certain they saw an alien with yellow glowing eyes running through their corridor".
Laughter and comments about childish imaginations went through the common room but Alicia immediately turned to look at Sally. Sure enough, despite the girl's best efforts to appear unaffected, her cheeks were starting to go a gentle shade of red.
"Anyway, they got caught by Miss Peters and you can imagine just what she thought about the idea of aliens at Malory Towers", Belinda chuckled as she sat down on the sofa.
"Poor kids got lines and have to go to bed an hour early for a fortnight", Irene said.
A little more banter about the Third Formers went on for a minute or so and then the common room resettled. Alicia caught Sally's eye and raised an eyebrow, prompting Sally to look back at her work very quickly.
Alicia turned her attention to the conversation between Belinda and Irene; but Irene was discussing a composition she was working on and Alicia had little interest in the details of how Irene did what she did with music. She was happy just hearing the end result.
"For goodness sake, would you just stop!", Moira's sharp voice cut through the common room and everyone turned around.
It only took Alicia a second to realise that from the wide eyed and uncomfortable look on Darrell's face, that she was the recipient of Moira's ire.
"I'm sorry", Darrell said quietly, no doubt mortified at being the centre of attention.
"It's so difficult to concentrate with you drumming your feet and rocking on your chair and just…just everything!", Moira's tirade didn't stop though, "So would you just stop it, I thought you were supposed to be better".
Darrell looked devastated. They had all noticed - and quietly discussed - Darrell's continued restlessness and her unexplained movements, as well as other changes. Alicia knew, of course, that it was Darrell's medication that did it but it wasn't her place to explain that. None of the rest of them would ever dream of being so cruel about it though.
"I'll go and work somewhere else", Darrell said eventually, and before anyone else could say anything, she grabbed her book and pen from the table and hurried out of the common room. A moment later and Sally went after her.
"I think that was a bit unnecessary, Moira", Catherine said, breaking the uncomfortable silence.
"Oh shut up Saint Catherine, I bet you were thinking the exact same thing", Moira snarled at the other girl.
"Actually, I think Catherine has a point", Belinda cut in, "That wasn't needed".
"Act as righteous and accepting as you like, I know all of you have been whispering about what Darrell has wrong with her and whether she's really better. So don't go pretending you have the moral high ground with me", Moira opened her book and began working again. As far as she was concerned, the discussion was over.
Alicia wondered if she should check on Darrell, but eventually decided that it was best to leave it to Sally. Still, she was keen to get out of the common room and the nasty stiff atmosphere in there so she jumped up and decided to go for a walk.
It was only early evening so it wasn't late enough for patrol, plus Marie had insisted her and Sally patrol together. Alicia had tried to insist that her injury was practically healed now, though it had taken longer than her usual minor bumps and bruises, but Marie was adamant. It seemed the Watcher was really rather shaken by all the strange goings on recently.
As Alicia walked around the courtyard, she saw Bill and Clarissa come down and head towards the stables. It was too late for them to ride but she didn't blame them wanting to get away from the tension upstairs. It was while she half watched them walking down to the stables that the flickering light caught her eye. Neither Clarissa or Bill seemed to falter in their step so Alicia could only assume they couldn't see it.
It was just down past the stables and it looked like a torch, but one which was running on a nearly empty battery as it kept fading. Alicia looked around to make sure she was alone and then followed the same path as her classmates. One of the boys who worked at the stable greeted Bill and Clarissa cheerfully and Alicia hung back to avoid being hailed in greeting. That would complicate sneaking about.
She went all the way around the back of the stables, smiling to herself as she heard the two girls inside fussing over their respective horses. She continued all the way down to the fence and looked for the light again. It was further away than she had first thought, nearer to the cottage. Alicia relaxed a little, it was probably Rupert. My, she was becoming as suspicious and over cautious as Marie these days.
Alicia walked the rest of the way down to the cottage, the light bobbed along before disappearing abruptly. She reached the cottage, the main room's light visible through the tiny window, and she opened the door and went in.
"Hello?", she called out as she realised there was no-one in the front room. Silence greeted her.
She went through to the back room with the cage and found no-one there and nothing untoward. Perhaps it hadn't been Rupert after all…
After doing one last sweep of the cottage, Alicia headed back up to school, searching the entire way for anything unusual. She met Bill and Clarissa heading back up to the school and walked with them. They didn't mention seeing anything unusual so Alicia began to wonder if she had misinterpreted things.
Even so, she decided to run up to Marie's office and let her know. She parted ways with Bill and Clarissa without an explanation for where she was going. Light shone from under Marie's office door and Alicia rapped on the door.
"Who is it?", Marie called. That meant she wasn't with another teacher or student.
Alicia pushed the door open and went inside, "I won't be long".
Rupert was sat at the window, sporting a bruised cheek and black eye, Marie on the sofa with books and papers strewn on the cushion she wasn't sat on.
"What happened to you?", Alicia asked. Rupert took a long drag on his cigarette and Alicia thought that perhaps he may not answer her.
"I went looking for the pack. Found some vampires instead", he said. From the look on Marie's face, she wasn't impressed with his actions.
"Probably just as well you didn't find a five strong Werewolf pack, don't you think?", Alicia said. She knew that throwing snide jabs at Rupert wasn't exactly going to improve their strained relationship but the thought of him actually finding the pack made Alicia angry at his foolishness. After all, Sally on her own had been difficult for three of them to fight.
"Besides, we're now quite sure that they aren't responsible for Magnus's death", Marie interrupted before Rupert could reply, "though it seems almost certain they are for the other two murders in Cornwall this term".
Alicia glanced at Rupert, so it was revenge that had sent him chasing down a fight he had no chance of winning. If she really wanted to start an argument, she could bring up the topic of the types of decisions people made under such emotional pressure. But she didn't want an argument tonight.
"I thought I saw lights down near the cottage earlier", Alicia said, "were either of you there today?"
Both Watchers said that they hadn't been.
"There wasn't anything odd while I was out", Rupert said, though Alicia rather thought his observational skills were likely hindered by his anger.
"It's fine. I'll make sure Sally and I patrol past there a few times tonight".
The man expected her to follow him. He held a candle out ahead of them and gestured to the door at the back of the church. She hadn't noticed it before.
She followed him into the dark, until all she could see was the glow of the candle floating ahead of her. Footsteps echoed on stone steps as they pressed on, deeper into the earth.
The sound of the radio coming on woke her immediately and Darrell looked around the common room, mortified that she had fallen asleep. Whatever would she do if she had been talking to herself, like that time Sally was at hers? She tried to see if anyone was giving her strange looks and reassured herself when she found none.
"You look exhausted, maybe you should head on up to bed", Clarissa suggested kindly and Darrell sat up properly and ran her hands over her face. She glanced up at the clock and pulled a face, it wasn't even eight o'clock yet.
"It's better if I don't, not this early", Darrell mumbled, "I'll go for a walk or something".
Sally and Alicia had slipped out of the common room earlier but hadn't said why. Darrell could only assume it had something to do with whatever it was Alicia had thought she had seen the previous night. Her and Sally had patrolled until nearly four in the morning; both had been quieter and more sullen than usual with their lack of sleep.
Darrell left the rest of her form and went downstairs to get some water from the little room off the kitchen. Technically they weren't supposed to go in there to get water, but it came out colder there than in their dorms or other rooms so Darrell was hardly the first girl to flaunt that particular rule.
The school was quiet on the ground floor and the sound of the tap seemed impossibly loud. The water did make Darrell feel a little more awake and she set off to walk around the school for a while. She didn't like being outside when it got dark so she would have to satisfy herself with sticking to the twists and turns of the corridors.
Footsteps overhead a few minutes later told her the First Formers would be traipsing off to bed. In half an hour, the Second Formers would be sent. Darrell rubbed the back of her neck as she thought about how she hadn't seen much of her younger sister since she came back. She should probably make an effort to find her tomorrow before she went out to Miss Rutherford's for the weekend.
Darrell's walk eventually brought her up to the bay windows down the end of the corridor from the dorms and she sat on the windowsill for a while. Even looking outside when it was dark made her feel uneasy at times and Darrell smiled bitterly as she wondered how much teasing she would be subjected to if anyone learnt that she was afraid of the dark nowadays.
Or at least afraid of what was in the dark.
"There you are", even though Sally kept her voice soft, Darrell still jumped at the sound.
"Sorry", Sally sat down on the windowsill beside her, "You look tired".
Darrell thought that Sally didn't exactly look well rested either but she didn't say as such. Instead she leant her forehead against the cool of the window for a second and then sat up.
"Have you had anymore…", she scrunched her brow as she tried to use the right words, "wolf moments?"
Sally shook her head, "The anchoring seems to be helping. Are you sure you don't want to get an early night?"
Darrell checked her watch, she had managed to stay awake for nearly an hour so perhaps bed wasn't the worst idea. Surely altering this just once wouldn't upset her schedule too much? Though, she thought, it's hardly the first disruption to my schedule. School had been much more challenging in that regard than she had expected.
"Can you stay for a while?", she asked.
Sally answered by getting up and holding out her hand to Darrell.
Darrell left Sally sat on her bed while she went and brushed her teeth and washed her face. When she came back, she sat on her bed beside Sally, just planning to rest for a second before changing into her pajamas. She must have been more exhausted than she thought because the next thing she knew was Sally shaking her awake as the rest of their form trudged into the dorm.
Sally looked as half asleep as she felt and she guessed that her friend must have fallen asleep too. Then she saw the panic in Sally's eyes as she scanned the room.
"Where's Alicia?", Darrell asked as she sat up and grabbed her pajamas from her pillow. Moira gave her a cool look, though Darrell had no idea if that was because it was her speaking or because Moira didn't approve of her and Sally having fallen asleep in the same bed. With Moira, who knew really?
"With Matron", Belinda answered, "something about a twisted ankle being checked over to make sure it's not broken. Lord knows what she's been up to".
Since Sally looked as confused as she felt, Darrell could only presume that it was one of the many cover stories Marie used when she needed to get Alicia or Sally out of the way. When Alicia hadn't returned by lights out, however, even without wolf senses Darrell could practically feel the anxiety radiating off of her friend.
Taking Sally down to the cottage and locking her up would mean both braving the dark and having to stay in a building that she had so far avoided completely. Something had happened in the cottage, something she couldn't quite remember, and just the thought of being in there made Darrell nervous. It would also mean more strain on her attempts to maintain a routine and she didn't know what that would do to her in the long run.
But the consequences of Sally not being locked up there for the full moon were much worse. So, once she was sure the others were deep under the effects of the sleeping spell, Darrell got back out of bed and changed back into her clothes.
"Are you certain?", Sally asked as she did the same.
Not at all, Darrell thought but instead she said, "It doesn't seem like we have a choice". It was pointless lying to her friend anyway, she would have already sensed the fear.
Darrell grabbed her torch from inside her bedside table drawer,
"Come on, let's go".
"They wouldn't have simply forgotten", Sally said as they crept out of the door. Darrell didn't respond, just carefully swung the light of the torch back and forth until she was reassured there was nothing hiding in the dark.
Sally used the time to focus her own senses and push at the limits to check that they truly were alone.
"There's a few rabbits and that's all that's nearby", Sally said and Darrell nodded.
"Good", but she didn't move, it was almost like she couldn't. Sally waited as patiently as she could, mindful of the moon rising and the way it pulled on the corners of her mind.
"I'm scared", the admission from Darrell was so straightforward and blunt that Sally was taken aback. After all this time being around people who hid their true feelings about just how truly terrifying the supernatural world was, it was jarring to hear someone be open about their emotions.
"I promise you, there's nothing there", Sally hoped she sounded confident, there was a small part of her worried that there might be some demons or monsters able to hide themselves from Weres.
She must have sounded self assured though as Darrell finally started walking.
"Alicia isn't nearby then?", Darrell asked. She almost managed to sound like her usual self. Their voices sounded loud even though they were whispering and Sally kept expecting a teacher to appear from nowhere and confront them.
"No. I could track her I suppose, I would need to concentrate though", Sally said, "It's more difficult to track other people".
"Compared to supernatural creatures you mean?", Darrell asked.
"Compared to-", Sally cut her own sentence short and coughed to hide the fact she had done so, "I suppose they just have more unique signatures".
Darrell didn't appear to notice Sally's fumble, "I think we had best just get to the cottage".
They walked the rest of the way in relative quiet, the only speech being when Sally confirmed at regular intervals that they were still alone. It was just as they reached the cottage that she felt something tug at the edge of her senses and she turned,
"Alicia's on her way. She's moving fast".
Darrell looked relieved, no doubt she had been worrying that something awful had happened to the Slayer.
"Let's wait inside in case something is following her", Sally gestured for Darrell to go inside, "we're cutting it a little too close as it is".
Once inside, Sally went through to the back room to change into a pair of the loose pajama-like garments that Marie left for her. Alicia had arrived by the time she returned, she looked dishevelled and there was a cut above her eye that looked like it had only just stopped bleeding.
"We ran into some trouble", Alicia explained, "Rupert has gone up to debrief Marie".
"Trouble?", Sally asked, she gestured towards the cage as she asked. Darrell nodded that she would be the one to lock her in and Sally stepped inside. There was a strange smell of burnt wood and bleach, it made her flinch with how strong it was.
"Are you okay?", she must have recoiled as well because Darrell's hands were on her waist, steadying her and stopping her from moving backwards any more.
It seemed pointless to complain when she had little choice but to be locked up so Sally just nodded and stepped in and against the wall so Darrell could do up the locks around her arms and wrists. Once they were all done, Darrell checked them all again carefully.
"You should go", Sally said. She didn't want Darrell to have to see the changes again.
"I'll walk you back up to school", Alicia offered, “in case there’s some vampires we didn’t get still lurking about”.
"See you in the morning, I guess", Darrell said and she locked the door to the cage behind her as she stepped out. It looked for all the world as though she wanted to say something else but eventually as she did was offer Sally a small smile and follow Alicia back through to the front of the cottage.
The first grip of the moon hit just before Sally heard the front door of the cottage open and close behind them. A pain like her bones and muscles were wrenching from each other. The second pulse was even worse, as if her body were trying to contort into an impossible position from within, and the growl rattled through her and the chains that held her.
It was only as the next pulse, just before the changes actually started to happen, hit that Sally realised something was wrong with her restraints. She couldn't help but fight to break free, the pain of transforming made her want to curl into a ball and so she instinctively yanked against the chains. Usually they held.
This time she pulled the left side restraints clear out of the wall.
Her mind, caught midway between human and monster fought for one side to make the decision. As the full moon continued to move overhead, another surge of pain saw her tear the right side restraints down as well and she collapsed to her knees.
She was just thinking, as her mind began to cloud with amber, that the cage door wasn't going to be much of a barrier when she heard a howl from outside.
No matter how it seemed like time slowed down when Slayer reflexes kicked in, the reality was that eventually it would go back to normal once a few moments had passed.
Right now Alicia would have liked to have held the moment for just a while longer. Just long enough to think of how to get herself and Darrell out of the way. Instead her mind was filled with fleeting thoughts about how they should have seen something like this coming. How her and Rupert should have known that the disturbance on the other side of the school grounds had been a distraction. There were numerous ways to lure vampires, especially new ones who were easily overwhelmed by blood lust.
The light of the full moon cast overhead and their shadows grew long in the grass. Growls broke the cold silence, warm breath left clouds in the air. Alicia moved her arm and put Darrell behind her as the pack emerged from all directions but behind them.
“Get back”, she said to Darrell as she started to move backwards. If they made it to the cottage, the wards should be enough to hold them out. She wasn’t altogether sure that they would outrun them though.
It was only fifty metres. Alicia could probably make it, but from what she had seen in sports so far, Darrell still had a long road to physical recovery. The pack would be on her in seconds.
Mark's transformation started first and Alicia watched in horror as he simply tore through his clothes, his body writhing under the power of the moon. Claws grew long, teeth became fanged, fur sprouted and his entire form contorted until he was twisting into his bestial form. An ungodly howl sprung from his throat and Alicia took a few more hurried steps. Then as though his change was the spark, the others began to shift before her eyes.
“Now!”, she turned and grabbed Darrell’s arm as she ran, relieved that her friend reacted quickly. There were a few seconds before any footsteps followed them and Alicia thought that might just make it.
They were only five metres or so from the cottage when the door was thrown open and Alicia pulled Darrell up sharp.
“Oh bloody hell”, she whispered as Sally stepped out. Darrell made a peculiar noise, a terrified and strangled sound, and she turned back around.
She didn’t want to turn her back on Sally for even a second but she looked all the same. Mark was bearing down on them.
He was an impressive creature, in a horrific sort of a way. A huge grey wolf shuddering with energy and rage. Alicia shoved Darrell out of his way as he lunged at them. Mark knocked her clear off her feet and she crashed into the wall of the cottage and then to the floor where she immediately dragged herself back to her feet. Sally still hadn’t moved beyond the door. It was like she was in a trance, amber eyes sweeping the scene in front of her.
Alicia ran back towards Mark, he had turned his attention to Darrell as she stumbled back to her feet. He lunged in with teeth bared and Alicia wasn’t sure who screamed. It could have been her.
Alicia couldn't quite unravel what she saw happen next. Later they would piece it together but in the moment it was so unreal that she thought she imagined it. Sally sped past Alicia and slammed herself into Mark, knocking him off balance and to the floor. Then she stood between the wolf pack and Darrell. Alicia had always looked away when Sally had shifted before so she could only assume that what she was seeing was a wolf transformation stopped partway.
Mark was back on all fours in a second. He lunged forward again and this time Sally’s attack was stronger and Mark was thrown back at his pack, crashing into one of them and sending them both sprawling into the dirt.
Alicia had never heard a Werewolf roar before and she hoped that she might never have to again. It was like every fibre in your body was unnerved and unsettled, and the only thing you could feel was complete terror. It was even more unsettling to know that the sound came from one of your classmates. Alicia too advantage of the chaos and scrambled to get to Darrell while the Weres were distracted and gestured for her to shut herself inside the cottage. Darrell did as she was told, slamming the door behind her.
"So, decided you'd give defying the laws of werewolves a shot did you?", Alicia swallowed the lump in her throat and asked Sally. She got no response. When she glanced aside at the other girl, she wasn’t even sure she had heard her. Clearly whatever Sally had done to stop her own transformation had still left her as much monster as human. Alicia wondered what it would take for her to slip one way or the other.
Movement from behind the wolf pack split their attention and Alicia couldn't decide if she was pleased to see Marie and Rupert or not. Werewolves could be much more dangerous than vampires.
"Bloody hell", well Alicia knew that Rupert had certainly seen the Werewolves. There was a flurry of movement beside her and Sally charged Mark, drawing his attention back on her. Alicia ran down the remaining three, hoping that she would add to their confusion.
The first one, the smallest, didn’t react in time and Alicia got a well placed kicked in the side of it’s head. The creature fell with a high-pitched yelp and Alicia had just a second to jump back and out of the reach of the claws of one of the others.
“Alicia!”, and Marie threw a weapon over to her, a solid wooden staff. Rupert, it seemed, had decided to bring a cricket bat to a wolf-fight.
I suppose it worked before , Alicia found herself thinking as she swept the staff under the legs of the Were running towards her. Limbs became tangled and the beast lumbered to one side, leaving Alicia just enough space to turn, raise the staff and slam it back down on the creature’s head.
She looked up to make sure that Sally hadn’t succumb to the power of the moon and switched sides. Mark may have been the larger Were but Sally was holding her own. The distraction was a mistake though, for Alicia felt a heavy force on her back and she felt onto her front hard enough to knock all the air from her lungs. The smaller Were had recovered already.
In the split second before the creature landed on her again, Alicia rolled onto her back and raised the staff horizontally, catching the Were hard beneath the muzzle and making it recoil. She managed to curl her legs in against her and kicked as hard as she could, launching the Were off of her. Rupert grabbed her and yanked her to her feet.
“It seems like they’re everywhere”, he said, perhaps for the first time considering what kind of a fight he had been intent on marching into solo.
Marie landed an overhead blow to the head of the Were she had been fending off and it went down heavily, giving her the time she needed to navigate out and away from the tree line. Alicia tightened her grip on the staff and jabbed at the closest wolf, who leapt back and away from them, cautious now from the injuries already sustained. Alicia kept up the motion, pushing the Were away from them, even as she saw the remaining three start to circle in.
The yelp from the Were in front of her came from nowhere and Alicia jumped back as the Were turned around frantically, looking for the source of pain. It was then that she saw the dart sticking out of the Were’s hindquarters. Taking her chance, Alicia rushed the Were again and knocked it’s back legs from under it. She looked up in time to see Darrell moved back into the open door of the cottage, reposition the tranquilizer gun and take aim.
Another yelp, and the Were nearest Rupert jumped at the sharp sting of the dart, giving Rupert the time he needed to take his cricket bat to the back of its neck. The cottage door slammed shut as Darrell closed herself back inside. The other two Weres seemed frantic as they darted from side to side. The Were beside Alicia lumbered back to its feet but it seemed slower and Alicia had a far easier time avoiding its blows. She looped back to Marie and Rupert, the two undrugged Weres kept the humans between them and the cottage.
The next howl of pain came from Mark. The giant wolf clattered to the ground beside them; it was only once he tried to stand again that Alicia saw how much blood the Were was losing. The soil was soaked in it.
The Were barely got back to his feet before his strength failed him and he crumpled back to the floor. Alicia couldn’t say if it was instinct or something more akin to fear, but the collapse of their pack leader sent the remaining two Weres fleeing into the night.
Rupert ran towards the cottage and yanked the door open, demanding the tranquiliser in a flurry of words, then he tore off after the Weres. Alicia took chase a moment later, not willing to let him run towards danger by himself.
It seemed, however, that Rupert intended to approach the situation with some sense. They ran until they reached the open field leading back to the farmhouse and Rupert dropped to one knee to take aim. He took a single deep breath and held it before pulling the trigger. A single yelp was all they had to confirm he had hit his target. The Weres kept running but one of them started to lag behind, and they could see the first inklings of the the drug working as it’s path became staggered and unbalanced.
“Leave it…”, Rupert held out his hand and stopped Alicia chasing off after the one remaining Were, “We won’t catch that one now”.
He was right, of course, but Alicia didn’t like the idea of leaving any of the pack free to continue with whatever they had been doing.
“Let’s go back, we’ll collect that one once the dart has completely kicked in”, Rupert gestured towards the flagging Were.
Darrell nearly dropped the syringe needle as she stepped out of the cottage. The Were closest to her was still on its feet, barely, swaying as the effect of the drug and the repeated blows to the head began to take effect. If she got too close it would still be dangerous, so she kept her distance and watched it carefully as she walked towards Sally.
“Darrell…”, Miss Potts called out a warning, closely guarding the other drugged Were, being smaller it was becoming weaker and disorientated quicker than the first. Darrell waved off the warning and kept walking.
Mark wasn’t moving and Darrell had no idea if he was even still alive. He hadn’t gotten back up again after the final injury Sally had delivered. Blood covered Sally’s arms, her clothes, her torso, where she had torn into the other Were. She seemed to sense Darrell approaching and looked around. That nearly made Darrell stop. The look in her friend’s eyes was inhuman and Darrell slowed her approach; if Sally lost control now Darrell was certain that terrifying amber glow would be the last thing she ever saw.
Sally didn’t move so Darrell took a few more steps, then a few more. She was so close that she could hear the growl that rattled with every breath Sally took. Darrell took a deep breath and stepped close enough to take Sally’s arm.
Sally’s growls grew louder and Darrell’s whole body began to shake.
“I need to do this”, she said, not even sure if any part of Sally could still hear her. When the growls quietened down, Darrell stepped close enough to bring the needle to Sally’s hip and, with a quick check for position, she pressed it into her friend and pushed down the plunger. Miss Potts grabbed her and yanked her far away from the Weres as Sally made a sharp noise in response to the injection.
“What were you thinking”, Miss Potts whispered as she pulled Darrell back towards the cottage. Sally had started to follow them but stopped part-way; it was like she was in a trance and Darrell found she couldn’t look at her anymore.
“I didn’t want anyone to have to fight her”, she whispered as Miss Potts shut the door behind them.
“She could have torn you to pieces in a second”, Miss Potts chastised and then, to Darrell’s shock and bewilderment, her teacher hugged her tightly, “good Lord, I swear you girls are trying to send me to an early grave”.
Darrell cleared her throat awkwardly as Miss Potts stepped back and returned to her usual, more professional self. The door to the cottage opened and Alicia and Rupert stepped in.
“What did you do to her?”, Rupert asked, gesturing towards Sally who was sat down where she had been standing.
“Tranquiliser”, Darrell explained, “I’m alright, I wasn’t badly hurt”, Alicia looked like she was about to start fussing. It wasn’t completely true. Darrell could feel her mind starting to race and she knew that as the night dragged on, she was going to find it more and more difficult to concentrate. Her thoughts were becoming incoherent, tripping over one another and leaving her with strings of information all wrapped up like a ball of wool.
“What do we do with them ?”, Alicia asked, glancing out the door at the sound of the bigger Were crumpling into unconsciousness.
“Once Sally is unconscious, bring her in here”, Marie said, “however did she get out anyway?”
Alicia and Darrell looked at each other.
“I definitely locked her in”, Darrell said as Marie went through to check the cage, “I checked all the locks”. She could see that the others weren’t taking her word for granted and though she could understand why, it rankled her.
The door of the cage lay on the floor of the backroom, buckled in the centre.
“Ah”, Alicia said, “that’s not going to hold her again, is it?”
Marie picked her way through to the cage and to where the restraints lay limp and useless on the floor. There were spatters of blood where it looked like Sally might have torn off skin ripping the restraints from her arms.
“The locks held”, Marie said quietly, “she yanked them out of the wall…”
Rupert joined her and examined the wall alongside her. Darrell frowned, trying to recall the moment just before she had locked Sally up. She felt her cheek start to twitch, then her neck. Alicia noticed, and Darrell turned away from her. Something had happened just before-
It was overwhelming, the need to pace and Darrell went back into the front room where there was more space. Her skin itched, as though she was trying to escape from her own body. Something had happened, she had seen it and now she couldn’t remember.
“Darrell?”, Alicia sounded uncertain and Darrell wondered how she must look in another’s eyes, pacing and twitching like this.
“She sensed something, something in the cage that she didn’t like”, Darrell could hear her own voice but she wasn’t really aware of forming the words, “that was why she pulled away and I grabbed her. She wouldn’t have pulled back if she hadn’t. There’s something…”. Alicia’s hands on her shoulders startled her out of her focus.
“There’s something there”, she said.
“Okay, if there is, we’ll find it”, Alicia said steadily.
“There’s something there”, Darrell repeated and she went back to the doorway to check on Sally. Her friend had finally passed out from the drugs running through her system and Darrell found herself walking back outside and over to kneel beside her.
Even though they had won this fight, it felt like this wasn’t over.
CW: Mental illness slur, discussions related to violence/death.
(See the end of the chapter for more notes.)
Sally's head ached. The sunlight coming in through the top window didn't help either. She winced, squeezed her eyes shut against the light and sat up.
She nearly fell back down again as the chains around her wrists pulled tight. She opened her eyes and tried to blink away the foggy cloud that seemed determined to settle in her brain. She wasn't in her cage.
Oh Christ, she wasn't in her cage.
She tried to get up again, forgetting the chains around her wrist, and dropped back down. Just before she tried again, Sally realised she was still wearing the pajamas she had changed into the previous night. She examined them as best she could, confused as to how she was still wearing them. Then she saw the blood down the front of them and she shuddered. She hoped that was hers.
Taking greater care, she shifted around onto her knees and looked around. She was still in the cottage. Her gaze fell on the smashed up remains of her cage.
That's not good, she grimaced again as her head throbbed. She'd had this feeling before, just after she had…
Sally felt sick as she realised the feeling was the after effects of the tranquilliser. She had, mercifully, only been subject to it once before. Had she gotten out? Had she hurt anyone?
"You're awake", Marie stepped in from the front room, "I was worried that Darrell may have been overcautious with the dose and I would have to explain another absence".
"What happened?", Sally asked as the older woman knelt down and undid the chains around her wrists. She shook her arms as soon as she was free of the restraint and side-eyed the single metal hook jammed into the ground which had held her chains in place. If the cage hadn't held her, she didn't know how that was supposed to.
"Not a long term solution, but I was banking on you being out for the count. We will need to make alternative arrangements for the next two nights though", Marie had obviously caught her looking and guessed where her mind had gone.
Sally's legs felt wobbly as she got to her feet and she only got as far as the table in the front room before she had to sit down at one of the chairs.
"It seems she may have been a little over enthusiastic", Marie mused as she made Sally and herself a cup of tea.
"I've got an awful headache", Sally groaned, and then she remembered her earlier fear, "How did I get out? Did I hurt anyone?"
Marie put both cups down on the table and sat down next to Sally,
"We're not altogether sure how you got out", Marie said, "though you didn't fully transform which has reignited Alicia's interest in studying the literature of the supernatural. She rather thinks you might be handy on a full moon if you can control yourself".
Sally made a dismissive noise at that, though she shouldn't be surprised by Alicia's reaction reaction.
"I don't remember much", Sally took a sip of her tea, "whose is this?". She gestured to her front and the blood. Marie's calm response had gone most of the way towards reassuring her that she couldn't have done anything too serious.
"Some might be yours but given the damage you did to him, I would surmise most of it belongs to that young man from the wolf pack. Mark, I believe his name is", Marie said.
Sally wasn't sure if she had heard the words correctly and she looked down herself again. She went to ask one question, then paused and tried again before finally settling on,
So Marie told her all the pieces of the previous night they had managed to put together, up to the point where they had chained her to the floor, Alicia had returned to school to be checked over by Matron, and Rupert had driven Darrell out to Marie and Harriet's home.
If Sally's head had hurt before, it seemed like it was only worse now with all this extra information.
"But Da- everyone else is okay?", Sally asked, leaning on her hand, she would have to force herself to eat something before she could take tablets. Marie smiled conspiratorially at her, no doubt at her slip,
"Rupert is fine, Alicia is exhausted and a bit bruised but she will recover, and Darrell will be okay with time I think", Marie said, "she was quite… unsettled and it was causing some difficulties. She certainly couldn't go into class today. Do you feel up to class?"
Sally nodded, her healing power was doing its job and she could already feel the effects of the tranquilliser starting to fade.
"I've brought your clothes down, they're in the back room. Rupert will have to see if the cage can be salvaged", Marie mused. Sally got up and headed to the back room to get changed when she thought of something Marie hadn't explained,
"What happened to Mark and the others?"
"You had them choose between a Tibetan monastery and being handed over to the council?", Alicia asked.
After Matron was finished with her, she had gone to find Rupert. Their cover story for her not being in the dorms last night of having hurt her ankle was going to hold up nicely with the bruises she had. She had found Rupert checking for any other evidence of what had happened the previous night on the walk between the cottage and school.
Curious as to where exactly the Weres had gone, she'd promptly quizzed Rupert.
"We didn't know what else to do with them, quite frankly", Rupert said, "the Council have hired guns guarding them in the basement of the farmhouse, and we have warned them that one young man got away".
"Wouldn't the council want to just kill them all?", Alicia asked, kicking the grass at her feet as they walked. She would have to go back up to school soon for breakfast. She wondered if Sally had regained consciousness.
"Usually but Marie couldn't bring herself to send them all off to the Council without the option of redemption I suppose", Rupert finished his sweep and nodded for them to go back to school, "she has a friend who works with Werewolves on developing control. He is very interested in the events that took place last night so agreed to send someone to meet with any of the pack who chose to redeem themselves".
"I wouldn't have trusted most of them with the chance to do this again", Alicia admitted.
"Me neither quite frankly", Rupert said, "but Marie believes many people can be turned around".
"Last night it was easy to think of them as just monsters", Alicia said, "it wasn't until we chained up Sally again that I remembered they're people most of the time…", she sighed, "did anyone choose the Council? Seems rather like choosing a death penalty".
"Not as such, but that leader and the young woman declined the trip to Tibet", Rupert said, "so the Council have already extracted them. I suspect they're dead by now".
Alicia shuddered at the words and said her goodbyes to Rupert, branching off and heading towards the breakfast hall. Sally was already there, nursing what looked like a terrible headache.
"We had to resort to Lethe's Bramble?", Alicia asked. Sally shook her head.
"We're just going to say we were both up early with Darrell", Sally mumbled, "Marie wants to avoid any more memory tampering".
"It's not completely untrue…", Alicia said, thinking of how out of her depth she had felt when Marie had asked her to stay with Darrell while Rupert went to get the car and Marie called Harriet.
The stress of what had happened was more difficult for Darrell than Alicia could have imagined. She had become almost frantic in her chatter about supernatural things which Alicia couldn't link together, it was like Darrell's brain was running too quickly. That, the furious pacing around the room and the frustration at not being able to make sense of her own thought process was so uncharacteristic of her friend that Alicia had been forced to concede to herself that she had no idea how or even if she was supposed to help.
She hadn't really thought properly about how she might have to. In the end all she had been able to do was watch her friend and offer the occasional comment.
"Last night was difficult for her", Alicia said instead, "Will you go out and see her?"
"It depends how today goes", Sally said and then the first form came into the dinner hall and they changed topics.
Lessons that day dragged on for what seemed an eternity. It was awfully difficult to concentrate on Maths or French when you hadn't slept and had bruises in places that made any position you sat in painful. And as for History, well it was simply impossible to not start thinking about all the parts which had been left out or altered.
Alicia could barely manage to eat any lunch either and warded off concerns from both her classmates and Mamzelle Dupont. She had received equal parts mocking and sympathy for her injuries, blaming them on a tumble down the stairs rather than a werewolf.
When lessons finally ended for the day, the rest of the form went up to the common room, the weather really was too dreadful for any of them to consider going outside. Marie pulled the two of them to one side just after class and asked if Sally minded going out to see Darrell for a few hours.
"Are you feeling better?", Alicia asked as she accompanied Sally to wait in the entrance hall of Malory Towers.
Sally nodded but she did look rather unsettled still. It was the tranquillisers apparently, they left you feeling like you were in a sort of half-drugged state for the next day.
"Where are we putting you tonight, do you know?", Alicia asked. Sally grimaced as she sat down to wait on the bench.
"The basement of the farmhouse, Rupert doesn't think the cage can be fixed for a good while", she replied, "but the form will think I'm staying over with Darrell".
She cradled her head in her hands and Alicia patted her on the shoulder, part in sympathy and part just because Sally would think she was being sarcastic and that amused her. Sure enough, Sally shot her a suspicious look.
Alicia just laughed.
"I was worried I'd hurt her this morning, when I woke up", Sally admitted after silence had hung between them for a minute or so, "he said I would, that I should stay away from her".
"Mark had no idea about you and Darrell, I don't know why you ever listened to him. He was just gambling on planting the seed of doubt and destroying you both in the process", Alicia said, "If you'd just talk to her and get those secrets out of your head", she tapped Sally on the side of the head and received a glare in response, "you'd see that."
Sally made a noncommittal noise, "I think telling her about what happened that night would be too much for her right now".
"And your other secret?", Alicia stretched her legs out and crossed them at the ankles, and before Sally could reply she added, " please don't lie to me and say you don't know what I mean. You didn't achieve the supernaturally improbable for my sake last night, I'm sure".
"Would you just leave it alone, Alicia?"
"Well just tell me I'm wrong. Tell me that it's all just friendship, nothing more and I'll not bring it up again", the challenge was petty and entirely immature but as Alicia watched the turmoil on Sally's face, she knew the other girl wouldn't deny it. After all, denying feelings that strong and the closeness of their bond, pretending it didn't exist just to save face with Alicia was a step too far for Sally.
"You have no right to make demands like that", Sally said instead.
"I suppose not", and Alicia did feel a twinge of guilt, though she brushed it away quickly, "She loves you, you know that right?"
"That doesn't mean she…", Sally glanced away and then stood up abruptly, "Marie's here".
Alicia got up as well and grabbed Sally's arm, making the other girl look at her, "We've seen what's out there Sally, more than most. It seems to me, if you've got someone that important to you, you should let them know".
"Perhaps I just want to keep my best friend in my life", Sally replied, she shook Alicia off and paused for a moment with her hand on the door handle, "it doesn't take all that much to break a friendship, not really".
With that, Sally was gone.
Her words though, they stayed with Alicia and try as she might, she couldn't shift them.
"Do you think I should have turned myself into the police?", Sally asked as Marie pulled up outside her house.
Marie took a long time before answering, "You never told me what you and Alicia did".
"You will have guessed, I presume", Sally kept her attention straight ahead.
"What do you think the police would do? There's no evidence of what you did", Marie said, "and what might happen come the next full moon with you in a jail cell?"
"The council?", Sally asked.
"Either wouldn't care or would simply kill you", Marie said, "You should do what you think is right. Personally, right now, we have more than enough dangers lurking beyond our understanding that I would advise your best means of atoning, if you will, for what you've done is to continue to help us fight whatever is coming next".
Sally didn't know what to say to that so she got out of the car and waited for Marie to follow her. Harriet opened the door and greeted them warmly.
"Darrell! Marie and Sally are here", Harriet called down the corridor and received a muffled 'Okay' in response.
"How is she?", Marie asked, putting her bag on the table and accepting the cup of tea Harriet handed her.
"As the day has gone by and we have stuck to her routine", Harriet nodded towards the schedule on the wall, "she has been better. She's still quite tightly wound though".
The sound of a door shutting hushed their discussion and Darrell emerged from the hallway.
"Marie and I need to head out for a while to get some bits and pieces from town before the shops close", Harriet said, "is there anything you need before we go?"
"No thank you, Miss Rutherford", Darrell said and Sally watched Marie's lips twitch with a barely contained smile.
"Okay, well we'll sit next door with our tea and leave you two to it", Harriet said and she followed Marie out of the room.
Darrell bobbed on the balls of her feet for a moment and looked over her schedule before she asked,
"Are you alright today?"
"A bit out of sorts but I'll be fine tomorrow", Sally assured, "were you hurt?"
"Just when I was shoved over, it wasn't as bad…", Darrell left the comparative empty and trailed off because there were too many things she could put in there, "I need to stick to this, do you mind?"
Darrell had pointed to the schedule and Sally shook her head, she walked over to stand beside Darrell and look it over.
"This helps?", Sally asked.
"I'm starting to think it's essential, for me at least", Darrell sighed and she nodded towards the back door. Sally followed her out to the greenhouse where Darrell began working on watering and clipping the plants.
"Jean would be overjoyed, someone finally got you interested in gardening", Sally said and it brought a smile to Darrell's face. Then quiet fell back between them and Sally found herself pottering about just for something to do.
"Sally…", there was that tone, the one that said Darrell was about to ask a difficult question, "Why didn't I die the night the Conduit was destroyed?"
"Why do you ask?", Sally stalled, pleased that the words weren't too strangled.
"You couldn't have killed the Conduit without killing me", Darrell replied, "all of the literature is clear on that".
"Why are you still torturing yourself reading that sort of thing?", Sally had made the mistake of moving to the back of the greenhouse and now she couldn't get out of the small structure without going right past Darrell.
"I need answers. It helps me know what's real and what's…that I'm not imagining things", Darrell gathered the clippings so far and put them in a compost bin behind her.
Sally tried to think of a way to bypass Darrell's question but she just couldn't think of anything that would satisfy her friend's need for information. In the time it took her to do that, Darrell stepped closer to her and stopped her from fiddling with the plant she was using as a distraction.
"Is whatever you're hiding, the reason you stopped calling me and the reason you fell in with them ?", Darrell asked. Her hands felt cool in Sally's and Sally brushed her fingers against Darrell's absentmindedly.
"I found a way to save you, and I made Alicia go along with it", Sally whispered, not able to look at Darrell in case her friend saw the evil of what she had done, "but it wasn't a choice a good person would have made".
"Will you tell me?", Darrell asked.
Sally swallowed the lump in her throat, "I don't think it's a burden you need today".
"Don't I get to make that decision?", Darrell asked.
She was right, of course. Darrell could make her own decisions, wasn't that what she had done all this time? Guiding her treatment, her recovery, standing up for what she wanted. It didn't seem right for Sally to deny her that.
"You're right", she said, "Do you want me to tell you?"
Darrell considered Sally's words for a long time and then, to Sally's surprise, she shook her head,
"Not right now. Will you tell me when I'm ready to hear it?".
"I will", Sally said.
Darrell gently put her hand beneath Sally's chin and tilted her face up. Anything that Sally had been about to say immediately went out of her head. She found herself both wanting to look away to avoid Darrell's intense gaze and to just let herself have this moment. She may never have another.
"Life isn't as simple as good and evil, you know that", Darrell said, "I'm sure you did the best you could with the circumstances you were in".
Sally wished that could be true, but part of her still dreaded saying the actual words to Darrell, whether it was in a few days or a few weeks. Because her friend, though hardly without her own flaws, was good and tried her hardest to stay far on that side of the good and evil divide. Sally couldn't ever make the same claim, not now.
"Do you want to help me cook?", Darrell changed the subject abruptly and stepped back. Sally immediately missed the warmth of her touch.
Then Darrell's hand dropped to take hers and the warmth moved there instead. Sally looked down at their hands and for one wild moment, thought about taking Alicia's advice.
Of course, it didn't become more than a thought, but Sally smiled all the same as Darrell led her back to the house.
Marie was absolutely going to kill her. Or at the very least, Alicia would never hear the end of this. Which should be a perfect reason not to do it but Alicia had made up her mind and consequences would be dealt with.
She waited until Winnie and the others started to walk off and then she stepped in and grabbed Betty's arm to stop her following them.
"What do you want?", Betty asked, pulling her arm away.
"I need to talk to you", Alicia said.
"Oh, so we can talk on your schedule, now you've decided you have time for me", Betty shook her head, "I don't think so". She turned and started to walk away.
"I need to tell you something, explain everything that had been happening", Alicia called after her, "But I really need you to come with me because you won't believe me unless I show you".
Betty stopped walking and turned around, "Do you know how ridiculous you sound? It's like you're touched in the head".
The words made Alicia squirm. They were the same nasty undercurrents that had wormed their way around school about Darrell and hearing them and the prejudice they enforced made her feel sick. She had never expected her friend to be the one repeating them.
"Let me show you, and if you never want to speak to me again then I'll understand", Alicia said. They stood in silence for a few moments before Betty took a few steps closer.
"This better be worth my while".
Thank you for reading and see you next time.