Jamie looks away; she can't face her after that. Maybe it's done, then. Over because she let the secret slip. Bound to happen eventually.
Dani gapes at her, recoiling physically from what was just said. "You mean to tell me," she whispers, "that the whole time you were there, you never..."
Jamie swallows. "Hard to believe, I know."
Dani pinches the bridge of her nose and takes a deep breath. "Not once?"
"I just got...I dunno, focused on the next step."
"Jamie, we have to fix this." Dani gets a determined look, the one that kicks Jamie in the chest with a mix of want and awe. "We're going back, and we're doing this right."
Rebecca leans over the table, sloshing the coffee in her mug. "Never?!"
Dani nods with arms crossed. "Never."
Moments like this remind Jamie of why she started smoking. "Come on, it's too early for this."
The two women ignore her completely. "Good God, Dani..." Rebecca dabs up the spilled coffee with a napkin. "I just dunno what to think about her now."
"I said the same thing," Dani sighs. Jamie thinks, not for the first time, that Dani and Rebecca's growing closeness means trouble for her.
"Well, that settles it, then. Only one possible solution after hearing something that twisted and wrong. Just have to get Hannah in on it."
Jamie groans. "You're telling me I have to go through this a third time?"
"You made your bed," Dani says, putting the cup to her lips. "Now sleep in it."
"Not once?" Hannah says, shock etching her smooth face with furrows.
"Swear to God, if I hear that one more time..."
Owen clanks a pan in the kitchen, the scents of sizzling lamb filling Hannah's tidy apartment. Jamie catches him wincing on her behalf. He's a good soul.
They've squeezed Jamie into the back of the dining nook, at a table so small their knees touch underneath. An overhead light beats down on her like the interrogation table of a detective serial.
"You understand my concern," Dani says.
"Of course." Hannah shakes her head. "If I had known before, I would have insisted on it."
"Feel like I barely know you, mate," Rebecca says.
Jamie's had enough. "Seriously! What's the fuss? Not everybody has the same ideas about the same things. I did what I thought was best, didn't have any regrets until you all started in on me."
Dani takes a deep breath, glancing upward like she's willing divine patience, and takes her hands. "Jamie, you live on an island. You spent a week traveling through a country full of - " she dips her chin, "islands. Beautiful, warm, world-famous white sand. And you never once sat on the beach?"
Jamie's foot vibrates the floor. She looks toward Owen, who gifts her another commiserating wince. "I went for the museums, alright? The history. Why would I travel all that way just to go lolligagging on the beaches?"
All three women gasp quietly as if something unforgivable has been said. Dani bites her lip. "So...you took a break from working with ancient dead things, and spent your only vacation abroad to see...ancient dead things?"
Jamie's face heats. "Alright, it sounds...when you put it like that..."
Hannah gives her kind smile. Rebecca winks. Dani's eyes are on hers, cobalt, soft, knowing. She strokes the back of Jamie's hand with her thumb. "Let's try this again."
There's work to be done. More of it than ever, in fact - an uptick in hauntings that has every knob head in the industry shouting their speculation on the pages of The Paranormal Pest; every ridiculous theory from blaming funeral trends to global Necrofak conspiracies. Jamie gets it all second-hand from Rebecca; reading that drivel is like to set her eyes permanently rolling. At least the rush has been profitable. Since word's gotten out that Grose's Ghoul-Be-Gone had a little something to do with the explosion at the Ministry, the phone's been ringing off the hook.
Nothing serious, all yellow-class nuisances Jamie and Rebecca could scrub with their eyes closed, but between the travel and sheer number of appointments, Jamie is exhausted. It feels like their escape to Greece will never come. Worse, that time with Dani is a luxury gone forever.
"Oi, what's wrong with you?" Rebecca says, frowning over tea. The train rumbles on the return commute from scrubbing a shade in the attic of a Liverpool home. She's put down her book, some bodice-ripper fronted by a man with a shaved chest. "Never seen you so quiet in all my life."
"What's the need for conversation with your nagging always occupying the silence?"
"Mate, I've let you dodge fessing up for days now." Rebecca perks her eyebrows. "What's with the gloom? Shouldn't you be walking on air out on coconut island?"
Jamie watches rain bead on the glass as the countryside sweeps by in a lush blur. "I am. Just haven't seen her much as of late."
"Dead God. Don't tell me they're still harassing her about Wingrave?"
Jamie shrugs. "Flew her to Norway for the week. Should be getting back tomorrow."
Rebecca's teacup thunks against the table. "Taylor, what the fuck. Dani's been gone six days and you're just telling me this now?"
"It's nothing," she says evenly. "Spent every second together the past two months. Nice excuse for a little space."
It should work. Her confident tone, the casual slouch, her boots crossed at the ankle. Truth be told, almost no one presses Jamie even when it doesn't; she gets the sense people are wary of the anger that lurks beneath her surface, the snarl that leaps out like a badger when she's cornered.
Rebecca stares at her for a long minute until, annoyed, Jamie finally looks up.
"What else then?" she snaps.
Rebecca presses her lips into an mhm like she spotted a phantom she knew was there all along. "You're coming over tonight," she says, picking her book up again. "That's an order."
Jamie doesn't realize she's been staring unseeing at the bottle of beer until Rebecca plops next to her on the couch. She extends her graceful legs along the length of the cushions; Jamie puts a foot up on the coffee table.
"Have you spoken?"
"Dani, you twat."
"Oh my God. Listen, I was there." She shifts uncomfortably and clears her throat. "And I'm not the touchy-feely type..."
Jamie gives a sly grin. "I must have no idea what you mean."
"...But I know when something's eating you. Something other than Dani." Jamie chokes on her sip. Rebecca accepts the backhand to her leg with a cackle.
"I'm alright," Jamie laughs. "Seriously."
The twinkle in Rebecca's eye fades. "Not gonna let you get out of this. You were there for me, after Lonnie."
All other thoughts in Jamie's head still.
She's back there again: four years ago, when she'd met a Rebecca Jessel that bore little resemblance to the one sitting across from her. Fresh out of prison, Jamie hadn't really minded the stony, distant supervisor who seeped resentment at having to train someone new; she'd only been relieved that (for once) she had no attraction to a woman who was objectively beautiful and oozing anger management issues.
She had, in fact, written Rebecca off completely by their sixth month working together, resigned to contact that never ventured beyond cool, professional detachment.
So when her Inspector called and told her in typical curt fashion that there was an urgent scrub out in Lewisham, Jamie thought nothing of it except to be slightly annoyed she would be taking the bus such a long way.
Rebecca waited beside a yellow kit in the empty parking lot of an old hospital, lit golden in the glow of the setting sun.
"A yellow," she said tonelessly. "They want to turn the emergency room into some offices, but this phantom keeps snipping all the electrical wires, getting more aggressive. Likely it'll turn red soon if it's not scrubbed. What's your game plan, rookie?"
One got the sense from her tone that Jamie could become Hannah's protege, get her Operator license, maybe even head the MPA, and Rebecca would still call her 'rookie.'
"Set my traps, repair the wires, turn on the lights." Jamie pushed up her sunglasses with a sniff. "Wait for the bastard and show 'im the door." She cast a quick glance to her Inspector, whose arms were crossed tight. Her usual impeccable makeup was absent, a single, rushed plait askew with a tuft of hair sticking out, bags beneath her eyes like she hadn't slept in days. She looked, in Jamie's humble opinion, like hot puke.
"If you want, boss, you can take the night off. I've got this."
"No," she snapped. "Let's just get this done."
It was by all accounts a straightforward job, but an eerie one. Normally immune to the effect of haunted places, Jamie was not particularly fond of the the hospital's deserted interior.
The glass doors marked EMERGENCY squealed open with a push. Near the bare admittance desk was a discarded incubator missing a wheel and shrouded in cobwebs. Unadorned white rooms seemed to stretch forever down the darkened hallway. With the beds and equipment removed it was spacious and silent.
But not empty. A weight to the air prickled the hairs on Jamie's forearms. They were being watched.
The weight of the yellow duffel pressed painfully into Jamie's shoulder. Rebecca hadn't offered a hand, or provided anything besides a supremely unhelpful, stony presence. Jamie lugged the kit down the corridor as quietly as she could, as if patients still slumbered there and she dreaded to wake them.
Halfway to the end, Jamie found herself alone. Grunting the bulky bag to the floor, she backtracked to where the hallway had turned and found Rebecca standing before the open expanse of a doorway.
This room was not like the others, which had once been separated only by thin curtains and carts of supplies: it had served a more serious purpose, though Jamie couldn't say what. Its bare walls were riddled with oxygen ports and hoses, crowned by a dusty surgical light. A barely visible placard read T-4. Rebecca's arms were slack at her sides, lips parted as she stared unseeing into the vacant space.
"Something of interest?" Jamie said.
She crossed her arms again with a flinch. "No."
"Well come on then," Jamie grumbled; she was hungry, and this place gave her the goddamn willies. Together they walked to the end of the hall, where maintenance workers had left a fuse box ajar. Jamie went about setting traps while Rebecca stood by, not moving an inch, though stringing piano wire across a hallway was a two-person job.
She was still technically on probation, but Jamie couldn't help but bristle at the cold voice cutting through the silence.
Jamie grit her teeth and moved the tripwire a few centimeters up. The heavy feeling of being watched had passed, but they needed to move quickly. Not all ghosts were stupid.
She tied the tripwire off at its blast cap with practiced flourish: the signature to her own little love note to the undead. Jamie clipped the end with a smirk and stood. A worker had left a little note in chicken scratch next to a hanging plug. Connect hall fuse to light.
"Here we are," Jamie sighed, double checking that she had a few bottles of Special Sauce in her holster. "Ready?" Rebecca had her back to her, huddling as if against winter's chill. Jamie frowned. It was hot enough inside the darkened halls to send beads of sweat trickling down her back. "Jessel?"
"Do it," she whispered.
With a twist, she connected the circuit. Fluorescent lights blazed to life above them with a faint hum, shapes of the bulbs searing purple silhouettes in Jamie's retinas.
Far off near the entrance, something crashed to the floor. The pop-crack of trip wires sounded, small explosions of salt to weaken the phantom as it charged forward.
"Come to Daddy," she hissed, flipping a bottle in her hand.
An undulating ball of smoke cleared the corner, hissing with sparks, snapping jaws like great serrated scissors.
"Surprise, fucker!" she shouted, cocking her arm with a vial. Now for the fun part.
Rebecca threw up a hand, several paces in front. "Wait!"
The ghost keened out an inhuman screech, changing trajectory toward the sound of her voice.
"What are we-"
"Wait!" she yelled again.
The ghost was nearly upon them, extending tentacled arms flaming with salt and ether.
Disobeying a superior was serious business, but in that moment mutiny was preferable to cleaning bloody bits of Rebecca off the floor.
Jamie hit her supervisor hard enough to throw her clear of the onslaught and fast-balled the vial straight into the gaping jaws. With a screech like a stuck pig it jettisoned flottle in an explosive, glowing arc, Jamie peppering it with another salt bomb and half a dozen more vials while she ducked attacks like a kid in a snowball fight. Each impact burst into sticky eruptions that globbed onto the ceiling and walls until the ghost finally collapsed into a sighing puddle. She panted over the mess for a moment.
"What the bloody fuck were you thinking!" she hissed, wheeling on Rebecca.
Her Inspector was crying silently, splayed out against the wall where she'd been shoved. Jamie reached for her on instinct. "Christ, you alright?"
Rebecca jerked her arm away. "Fuck off. Get the shit and let's get out of here." She stormed off toward the exit, nearly slipping in the slick puddle of goo.
Jamie stood with hands clenched in the silence, letting a stream of curses wind their way through her mind unspoken. She'd barely missed being dismembered, not to mention nearly ruining her favorite jacket with the foul-smelling slop littering the hallway. Tantrums fixed none of it, but it felt good all the same.
Rage spent, she blew out a breath and set about cleaning up the splatters of silver and stinky goo. She had a way of doing things, clean, tidy, and professional, and today would be no different.
Even if her supervisor had just run crying from the building.
Rebecca's BMW was still there when she emerged. Jamie spun around, scanning the stretch of pavement. A huddled shape sat beneath a parking lamp in a dark corner of the lot.
Jamie dumped the duffel by the car and walked over. Rebecca had her face in her hands, shoulders twitching. Seeing her cry was like watching the sun come up on the wrong horizon, infinitely wrong and discomfitingly tender. Jamie scraped her shoe against the ground and cleared her throat. "You want a fag?"
Rebecca wiped her face, which did little to hide the tears, and nodded.
Jamie handed her the cigarette and lighter before striking up her own. She tilted her head back to watch the flickering shadows there: insects flew to their sizzling deaths on the glass of the parking lamp, bats feasting on the ones that didn't meet a fiery doom.
"So," she said, blowing out a cloud of smoke. "You wanna tell me what the right fuck that was about?" She eyed Rebecca's collapsed posture. "You're a lot of things, but bad at your job isn't one of them."
Rebecca sniffed. "I shouldn't have taken this one."
"Why?" Jamie fully expected a none of your business, even a sod off, but Rebecca just watched the tip of her cigarette burn in the dark.
"I've got history here," she said finally. "Long time ago." She lifted her head to look at the ambulance bay, lit windows glowing like the eyes of a jack-o-lantern.
"I was in law school then. Woke up in the middle of the night to my phone ringing. My mother...she lives in Leeds. Said to get here quick as I could. Lonnie had taken something at a party, and his friends had phoned in a panic after dumping him here." She made a sound not quite a laugh and shook her head. "I guess he thought it was coke. Whatever it was, it made him start bleeding." She took a slow drag, words punctuated in puffs of smoke. "Well, I thought myself a hot-shot lawyer and maybe it was true, because I said some things to scare the doctor into letting me in there. They were still trying to control the bleeding, but he was out of his mind, high, fighting them like crazy. I held his hand, tried to get him to be still. It...it got all over me, his blood."
She met Jamie's gaze then, tears glittering down her cheeks in the orange light. "He couldn't stop moving. Kept trying to put things over his eyes, screaming that the light was hurting him, that he felt like his head was exploding." She took a shaky breath and looked away again. "I guess he had some kind of stroke. My little brother."
A faint memory drifted in-the television going wild over a bad batch of drugs leaving a trail of corpses through London: the sort of salacious breaking news designed to shock pearl-clutching prats and blame kids for their own deaths.
Jamie motioned to the door with her cigarette. "Was that him?"
Rebecca closed her eyes, half in relief, half in disappointment. "No."
"Thank God," she muttered.
"He was a good kid. He just fell in with the wrong crowd, you know?"
"I do," Jamie said truthfully.
"God," she sniffed, wiping her nose on her sleeve. "I'm fucking sorry about that. I don't even want to know what Hannah would say."
"She might be more understanding than you'd think."
"I dunno what she sees in me." Rebecca choked on a sob. "After Lonnie died, I dropped out. Couldn't do anything but this. It's the only place I feel normal. And Hannah is so kind to me and she's like a mother really, and God, I'm just such a bitch all the time."
"Aye, I'd say you are." Jamie shrugged at her shocked gape. "You're unbearable, to be honest."
They stared at each other for a long moment, a crack forming in Rebecca's veneer until she burst out laughing.
"Just being honest," Jamie said, smiling around her drag.
"Oh, why not then?" Rebecca wheezed. "Just say it like it is."
"I will, thank you." Jamie flicked her cigarette and squinted out across the dim lot. It did seem odd, that a legend like Hannah Grose would choose them out of all the qualified exterminators jostling for jobs. Rebecca was a genius, despite her horrendous customer service, but Jamie?
"I dunno what she sees in me either. I've got form, you know."
Rebecca's eyes widened. "Catch on. You're so straight-edge."
"Straight-edge! That hurts..."
"What did you do?"
Jamie sighed. It was a confession sort of night. "I eh, shot up a load of drugs, chased it with gin, and crashed a stolen car into a petrol station."
Rebecca's jaw dropped. "You're shitting me."
Jamie kept an even expression, waiting for the inevitable judgement. In another universe, Rebecca could have been the one sentencing her to three years in prison.
"Did you run?"
Jamie blinked. "What?"
Rebecca grinned in the dark, leaning in for a good story. "Did you book it? Like with the petrol station in flames behind you? Chased by loads of cops?" She clapped her hands together. "Oh, it's like a movie."
Jamie laughed uneasily. "I did." She cringed. "Maybe even took a swing at the officer who tackled me."
"What! All eighty pounds of you?" She was really laughing now. Jamie wasn't sure she was entirely pleased by it.
"I can be scrappy, alright? When necessary."
"Oh my God, Taylor. All this time I thought you were as interesting as Parliamentary procedure, and you're a hardened criminal!" Rebecca wiped her tears away, then more from giggling than sorrow.
Jamie shook her head. "Not anymore. It's the boring life for me. Through and through."
They watched the bugs get picked off by bats until the cigarettes were spent.
Rebecca crushed the cherry under her boot and looked at Jamie. "Do you want a lift home?"
"I was there, in that vault, and that's not the type of thing you shrug off the moment it's over."
Jamie's throat constricts, and she resents Rebecca the tiniest moment for bringing it up. "I'm fine, Jessel."
"You're always fine," Rebecca says quietly. "Always taking care of others even when you're in pieces. It's a wonder to me that you don't hate every living thing with what you've been through. You're solid gold, mate, the toughest bastard I've ever met, and I won't let you forget it.
"You're also head over heels for that girl, and for a good hour you thought she was dead."
Jamie resists flinching at the memory, so raw and near she can feel Rebecca's arms holding fast around her as she thrashed and screamed, hear sobs echoing in the darkness as they clutched each other and wept.
"What's the difference," she snaps. "You thought Hannah was dead too, as well as I did."
Rebecca raises a brow. "Sure, but we both know it's different. Nobody retires from this job, Taylor. We're all going to get ours sometime. Hannah's got nine lives, and I think she's spent ten of them already. Our lot, we're comfortable with death. We've all accepted that it could happen at any moment." She snorts. "Maybe that's why we're all mental as shite. But Dani's not."
Jamie bites the inside of her cheek. If it were anyone else, she'd have torn them apart and left by now.
"It's obvious," her best friend continues softly, "what you two have. Makes me goddamn sick to be in the same room with you. She is something special, isn't she?" Rebecca smiles to herself. "Not just the Seeker bit."
Jamie spins her bottle slowly on the table. "These thoughts keep playing through my head, like her plane will drop out of the sky, or she'll forget to look before crossing, and I won't ever see her again. I've tried not to think of it, but..." She snorts. "It's rubbish. Stupid. I should be over it by now. It's been..."
"A month?" Rebecca says, sipping her wine. She frowns, miming deep thought, counting fake numbers on her fingers. "Or do you mean, a week since a shady bunch of cunts stole her away? Or do you mean that time you had the absolute shit beat out of you by a historically monstrous white class and Dani kicked the fucking bucket in front of us all? Which traumatic event are we referring to here?" Rebecca rubs Jamie's arm when she doesn't reply. "Give yourself a break, Taylor. A week is a long time for her to be gone with hardly a word."
"Not her fault," Jamie mutters.
"Why didn't you tell me? Look, I know you have a hot piece now, but I'm still your mate. I'm at least second best."
Jamie looks her dead in the eye, grabs her arm with force. "You're not second best to anything." She sighs, picks up her beer again. "It's just been hard to relax, get my head on straight. Another week and we'll be on vacation, eh?"
"And thank GOD," Rebecca says, "that we'll be there to keep an eye on you." She shakes her head, disgusted. "Not a single beach?"
"Do not," Jamie says with a glower, "start that up again."
The flight gets in from Oslo at 6pm.
Jamie arrives at the terminal absurdly early, having already scrubbed the apartment to within an inch of its life. She spends half an hour pacing before the plate-glass windows looking out on the runway, barely registering the sunset bathing London in a riotous pink blaze.
A flight attendant smiles to her from a ticket counter.
"Don't worry sweetie, he'll be here soon."
Jamie looks down at herself: Blondie t-shirt, leather jacket, boots: still offensively, stunningly gay. With an eye roll she manages to sit in the empty row of chairs, drumming her foot on the ground and watching strangers pluck luggage from the turnstile.
The cassette in her jean pocket bites into her leg. She won't like it joins the chorus of other fears in her head, all of them kneeling before the empress of all paranoias, the one that's been on exhaustive repeat since Jamie hugged her goodbye:
Dani's been taken by some incredible underground Seeker society, signed up for a ten-year stint with the Black Badges, and may or may not have the phone number of a handsome butch ghost-master in her jacket. Jamie can see her plain as day: perfect hair, no criminal past, impeccable taste.
And taller. She's definitely taller.
The minutes crawl by as if they're winnowing the sanity from her one by one. The leather jacket was overkill; she's started to sweat through her t-shirt underneath. In the middle of giving herself a subtle sniff, she catches the desk-bound flight attendant sneaking a look over her clipboard.
"For shit's sake," she mutters, charging off to the washroom.
A splash of cool water quiets the tumult. She rests over the sink, staring up at her dripping reflection. Hand-to-hand demon battles, possessed friends, and haunted basements, no problem.
But Dani Clayton? Dani, who looks at her with that goofy smile, who leans to whisper dark little things in her ear that might actually make her faint one of these days, who could make Jamie crawl or cry at her very whim, but never would because she is possibly the purest human being ever to walk the earth?
Jamie snickers at herself then, alone in an airport bathroom. "Get a hold of yourself, mate," she says to her reflection. She towels off her face, gives her armpits a cleansing swipe, and walks as calmly as she can to sit in the lobby.
At 6:15 a wave of people exit the Norwegian Air gate. Jamie stands, thumbs hooked in her belt loops while people in stiff blazers and tourist getups flow by. As the crowd begins to thin she battles wild thoughts: Dani didn't get on the plane, something's happened, she's changed her mind, gone back to America to pretend this whole thing never happened.
Then, she sees her.
Dani stands to the left of the exit, holding a suitcase and looking frantically over the heads of people between them. Jamie's mouth goes dry.
Dani spots her, and for a moment goes completely still. Then, with as little politeness as Jamie has ever seen, she barrels through the remaining queue and halts a foot away.
"I made you a tape," Jamie says stupidly.
Dani's eyes flood with tears. She leaps into Jamie's arms, knocking her back a step, crushing the air from her lungs in a desperate embrace.
"Jamie," she whimpers.
She lets out a long breath into her hair. "God, I've missed you, Dani. I-"
Dani breaks away, takes Jamie's face in her hands, and kisses her like they're the only two people in the room. Jamie scrambles to grab a hold of her coat and pull her in even tighter, seven days that felt like as many lifetimes passing from her in a rush of relief.
When at last she lets go, Jamie spots the nosy flight attendant gaping in abject horror. She makes eye contact and plants another kiss on Dani's forehead in lieu of flipping the bird. It seems to have the same effect.
They stumble to a bench in a deserted terminal, away from prying eyes. Dani kisses her again and again. It's like a drug, like breaking the surface after diving too deep. Jamie wonders how she lived a week without the heat of this person, if she'll ever get enough again.
"I'm sorry," Dani says, sniffing. "God, I never would have gone if I'd known it would be that long."
Jamie smooths her hair, wipes a tear from her nose. "They didn't tell you?"
"Oh, just a long weekend, Ms. Clayton," Dani says in her abominable British imitation. "Just pop in for a few interviews and you'll be off. Oh, certainly...you'll be able to phone whomever you want." Dani looks mad enough to spit, which frightens Jamie a little with its rarity. "What a bunch of crap. Have you ever been to the Rectory?"
Jamie's stomach flutters a little. "Haven't."
Dani rests her head on Jamie's shoulder. "Oh God. It's awful. An isolated, frozen, depressing castle.
"Three days of me telling guys in suits about Bly and the Ministry and Wingrave's apartment and every dumb detail until I wanted to fucking scream. 'What did you see in the Veil, Ms. Clayton? What did it smell like? How big would you estimate the Veil to be, in square meters? Did you see JFK anywhere?" Jamie laughs, Dani chuckling with her tiredly. "They ran tests. Wires on my head, took my blood. Surprised they didn't ask me to pee in a cup. Other Seekers came to stare at me, poke at me. I felt like a monkey in a cage." Dani shivers.
The cold feeling in Jamie's gut deepens. She tilts Dani's chin from her shoulder to look at her. "What else?"
She snorts. "One time, they put a pencil on the desk and asked me to move it with my mind. Which, um, I couldn't." Her smile fades. "They showed me pictures of dead people, Russians I think, and asked me to find them in the Veil. That's when I really knew I'd made a mistake. Well, that and when they told me to strip naked in front of a bunch of doctors."
Jamie vision goes temporarily red. "They WHAT?"
Dani smiles a little again. "I didn't. I know you're not the jealous type, but-"
"Christ, Dani! It's not about me..." Jamie realizes she's nearly shouting and takes a breath. "They tricked you into all that and..." Tortured you seems like a dramatic phrase, but it's what comes to mind.
Dani swallows. "Can we go?"
Jamie nods, fighting the urge to chuck her government ID in a storm drain. Instead she kisses her fiercely. Dani's stiff posture melts, fingers curling into Jamie's hair. She lingers there for a long moment, breath ghosting across her lips.
"I missed the taste of you," she whispers.
It takes entirely too long to get home.
They crash, more than walk through the front door, a tangle of limbs and muffled gasps. Dani, wild-eyed, drags her to the couch and fumbles with the buttons of Jamie's jeans.
"Why are these always so tight?" she cries.
"You like them that way when they're on," Jamie breathes, biting her neck.
"I like them better off."
The front door has been left wide open, sounds of the pub drifting up from below. In act of immense self control Jamie peels herself away, shuts it and turns the lock. When she turns back Dani is somehow completely naked from the waist down, giving her a look that makes Jamie's knees tremble.
She props her chin on the heel of her hand, all business. "You. Take it off."
Oh. Jamie whips her belt off into a corner, pops that pesky button on her jeans. Dani's eyes widen with every inch exposed. "Is this working for you?" she asks half-teasingly, slips her shirt off over her head.
Dani bites her lip, slides off the couch to kneel in front of her. "You don't know," she says, voice thick. "How often I pictured you - " she unzips Jamie's pants and runs a palm up her bare stomach, "like this."
The steady beat of her heart thumps beneath Dani's hand. A week ago, she would have said something sublimely dirty, grabbed Dani by the hair and put her where she wanted, started the consensual dark dance that they fall into like a dream. But her touch strikes Jamie like a lance.
All those nights she spent tossing and turning, picturing catastrophes and alternate lives, wondering when she'd call to say she wasn't coming back... Dani lied awake, missing the taste of her.
Something about that pain must show in her face; she's being pulled to the floor by a wrist, blue eyes drinking her in with a look that sends prickles of goosebumps across Jamie's skin.
She lays her down on the floor, pulls her pants off with a little satisfied smirk. But when Dani moves on top of her, blonde hair brushing over Jamie in a wave, all mirth is gone, just the intensity of eye contact that makes the world go quiet.
Jamie has wanted someone before, burned so hot for a woman that she fears crumbling to ash, but it's never been like this: crystal-still in moments, fragile as if Dani reaches in and touches the frosted box around Jamie's heart. Never prying, never impatient for it to open, but fascinated, soft, like she thinks it as beautiful as any other feature.
Then Dani's tongue is in her mouth, and they tip over into the fire. Her hands, her nails are everywhere, teeth on skin in ways that make Jamie forget her own name. She's dizzy enough that when Dani's lips move south, there's no fight in her to turn the tables, nothing to do but put her hands in that long golden hair.
Heat, with a sharp cool gust as Dani gasps against her and moans, savoring it before she presses in, and Jamie arches with the full sensation of her fingers, her other arm pressing down on hips for control as she winds into the pressure.
This, too-what had been the point before? Jamie likes it on top, deflected most half-hearted attempts to give what she gave. Now Dani has her on the floor, fucking her like she is trying to absorb Jamie into her very being, single-minded and raw.
Something breaks when she rises to her knees, bringing Jamie's legs up with her, holding her at a new angle with surprising strength and flexing to hit a spot with merciless determination. Each thrust turns her body into a tense rope, restrained moans rising to a timbre that spreads a cocky smirk across Dani's lips. Jamie laughs then, hand to her forehead, an overwhelmed joy that is quickly subsumed by cursing cries as Dani pushes deeper and harder, breasts peaked through her sweaty shirt like some impossible dream. Her name. Jamie's gasping her name.
Dani brings her right up to the edge of too much with more than Jamie thought she was capable of handling, fast enough to make her epithets one continuous cry, and then dives down to taste the slick mess she's created. Filthy, animalistic, divine.
She's glowing, burning up in the atmosphere of it, and then-
Jamie's vision goes white. No sound, no sight, just her.
She separates into a thousand pieces under Dani's lips, falls back to earth bucking and crying out in her hands.
Dani pants over her, wide-eyed and dripping - dripping - with it. Jamie brings a twitching hand up to touch her lips, and Dani rushes to clutch it there, kiss her fingers. She's trembling, too, Jamie realizes, and all at once they cling to each other, foreheads pressed tight, fumbling for desperate kisses until the last racing of their hearts ease.
Jamie holds on, too choked to speak on the sweat-soaked floor. Fingers play through her damp hair, lips brush her jaw: it's ok, it's ok . There's so much Jamie needs to say, and yet they seem to need words less and less. The weight of a look and a light touch give infinite meaning to the silence that stretches between breaths.
In that shimmering place Jamie senses something: a heaviness as Dani traces her scar. She looks for a moment like she did on Bly: harried and desperate, far older than her years.
By the time Jamie sits up to look at her properly the expression has vanished, so quickly that she might have imagined it, and it breaks her heart in a whole different way how efficient Dani is at hiding.
"Something else you want to tell me?" she asks.
There's no answer for a long while.
Dani's eyes search hers, cobalt flecked with silver. Jamie senses that she can't help her with whatever darkens her look, but nothing can stop her from trying.
"What can I do?"
Dani squeezes apart Jamie's fingers. She slips two in her mouth, coating them hot and slick against her tongue and plants them between her legs.
"Make me forget," she whispers.
Other people might yearn for a new holiday destination, a mysterious place, somewhere full of exotic adventure.
Jamie is not one of those people.
After the past few months, it's a marvel she's willing to venture out of the familiar at all; even returning to a place she's been feels like a chore. But in the end, all she has to do is pack. Between the talents of her friends is a veritable travel agency: restaurants, lodgings, and museums per Owen, an itinerary planned down to the hour for Hannah's tactical comfort, with plenty of wiggle room for Rebecca's bouts of spontaneous exploration. The three of them make sure to occupy the same row so they can continue excitedly pouring over Lonely Planets and tips from Greek friends.
That leaves her with Dani, in a back row shared with an old man who blissfully falls asleep before the plane even leaves the ground. Dani makes Jamie take the window seat. "I just had one," she says with a smile, and leaves the rest unsaid - Jamie's only flown once, and all those years ago was too nervous to enjoy it.
Jamie watches with amusement as Dani digs around in her "Girl-scout" kit, producing every item one might need on an international flight: gum, eye masks, snacks, a dramamine in case Dani's motion sickness rears its head, and last - a Walkman. Jamie's heart skips a beat when Dani flashes the careful handwriting across the tape:
I saw you
She shakes her head with a short chuckle. "Don't get excited, it's the most random stuff."
Dani presses a finger to her lips and produces not one, but two sets of headphones and a split jack.
"Shh, I can't hear the good music over your lies."
The plane engines whine to life. Rebecca's face peeks from between the seats. "We're fucking going to Greeeece!" she squeals.
"Two museums, at least," Jamie says half-sternly.
"Fine, fine, two!" Rebecca giggles, bouncing back around.
Jamie leans over to Dani. "She likes them just as well as I do."
Dani glances around and takes the opportunity to give her a swift, tingling kiss. She slides the headphones on and throws a sweatshirt over their arms, interlacing her fingers in Jamie's. Dani nods toward the window. "Eyes that way, just for a while."
Jamie doesn't know if that's a promise she can make, but she gives it a try as the plane moves to the end of the runway. It's odd seeing the busy hive of Heathrow from the outside. Workers toss suitcases onto trucks and hook hoses to the bellies of planes, jets taxi by in seeming chaos. The plane banks a corner and she loses sight of the terminal. Then, with a great rumble, they're speeding forward.
Dani presses play.
It's Depeche Mode, Shake the Disease. And alright, it's a pretty great song whether or not anyone else on earth thinks so. Maybe it even stopped her in her tracks the first time she heard it, piercing the soul like only music can.
The highs of the past are gone. There are only memories left of rain-slicked alleyways, bad decisions and hormones running hot toward all the wrong women, but some songs still take Jamie back to that untouchable feeling - the wind in her hair from the window of a fast-moving car, a hooting sprint from a pub after a fight, smashing bottles and skulls with a rotating cast of characters all trying to forget their origins.
Music was all she had when her lucky streak ended, when the consequences came crashing down and she found herself three years older with barely a shirt on her back and a half-broken radio for company. Those times, too, had a soundtrack: the clouded, murmuring self-reflection of the 80's attuned to her kind of struggle.
A lot of people love music, but for Jamie it's the closest to religion she'll ever get.
So when her attempt at window gazing fails and she turns to see Dani mouthing the words to her song, it's a bit like magic.
Dani breaks out in that brilliant smile, swaying gently, and Jamie wonders what songs comforted her back in America, what lyrics got her through all those horrible years smothered and alone. She makes a note to find out.
Somehow, Jamie tares her gaze away back to the scene outside. They're rocketing down the tarmac now, and the plane suddenly lurches upward as it takes flight. She squeezes her eyes shut in the sudden, stomach-flipping pressure. Dani's thumb strokes hers under the sweater, plants a kiss on her cheek. Jamie takes a breath and forces her eyes open again.
London, the place she's spent nearly her entire life, shrinks rapidly below them, its river glittering like a silk ribbon through the chaos of buildings and human sprawl. Ant-like cars crawl along the motorways. It all seems impossibly tiny, all those lives anonymous and inconsequential from such a height.
Then, faster than she would expect, the landscape ends abruptly in a wash of blue. The ocean, fantastically vast, stretches out as far as she can see.
God, it's beautiful. She looks back to Dani again, eyes the same color as the water, and shares a mutual awestruck moment with her. But Dani hasn't been watching sites through the small window. She's look at her that way.
It takes the air right out of Jamie's lungs. But for once, she doesn't fight the feeling, or treat it with some private suspicion. Its strangeness flows through her, the notes of a song not yet finished.
It's a short flight; by the time Jamie's hypnotized by the topography of clouds they are already descending. Rebecca appears again between the seats.
Jamie glances at Dani, slumped onto her shoulder with crooked headphones still on. "One of us," she whispers.
"The flat's 20 minutes from the airport. Owen and Hannah vote we stroll about the city before dinner, maybe take in some shops?"
"What's your vote?"
Rebecca purses coy lips. "Well, I know I'm the only one here not on a bloody honeymoon, but I'd like to take a peek at the clubs. It's Friday."
Jamie laughs quietly. "Clubs? You speak Greek, Jessel?"
"The language of love, mate, is universal."
"Don't you mean the language of 'easy?'" Jamie feels Dani giggle against her, finds her hand again under the sweatshirt.
"If you're accusing me of being a slut, Taylor..." she cocks a devious brow, "you're right on the mark."
"Dancing sounds nice," Dani yawns, stretching. "Plus, I've never seen Jamie shake it."
"Ohh, Taylor's got moves," Rebecca says. "But you've got to loosen her up with a few pints, or she'll just stand there, mean mugging the DJ and complaining about the shallow nature of pop music."
It's Dani's full laugh more than the comment that sets Jamie's cheeks burning. She flashes a threatening look at Rebecca and clears her throat. "Shops, tours, dancing? I think one's got to get the axe. Only twenty-four hours in a day."
Rebecca hums, nudging Owen. "What's the boss say, Sharma? Can shops wait another night?"
"They can wait," Hannah says. "I'm with you. Dancing sounds lovely."
Rebecca swings back toward them, aghast, and mouths what is happening? Jamie raises an eyebrow. "Well, that's it then. Let's get the holiday started."
Athens. It's been years, but it looks just as it did when Jamie last laid eyes on it. A wave of white buildings sweep down the verdant hillside to a sea as blue as the sky. Laundry dries on rooftop lines in the warm Mediterranean breeze, fluttering like prayer flags, the salty brine of ocean water mixing with the scents of cooking and bustle of Vespas zipping through the narrow streets.
More beautiful than the view is Dani taking in the sights, eyes wide in childlike wonder. Jamie shares a grin with her as they walk from the bus station to the flat, suitcase wheels clacking along cracks in the stone sidewalk.
"Here it is," Owen says nervously, checking his slip of paper three times and leading them down a short alleyway. "Really, I've got no idea what we're in for, friend-of-a-friend of my old mate..."
Hannah pats him on the back with an amused smile. "I'm sure we'll manage."
He jangles free a set of keys and unlocks a narrow blue door in the alley. Jamie looks up at the sliver of sky above them, a little drunk with the vertigo of being in a new place. Rebecca, Hannah and Owen file through the doorway. Before she can follow a hand snatches Jamie's forearm and drags her backward.
Dani pushes her up against the cool stone wall and gives her the type of kiss that would give a nun a heart attack. "Is it true?" she breathes, smile like a dagger. "Do I have to get you all liquored up to see what you're made of?"
"Kiss me like that again and I'll do a lot more than dance."
Dani cocks a brow and releases her as fast as she pounced, disappearing into the doorway with a look over her shoulder that makes Jamie groan out loud.
"So much for relaxation," she mutters, taking a centering breath before passing the threshold.
There's a narrow, checker-tiled hall that leads to an adorably compact kitchen, a spiral staircase and a few doors. Formica countertops, curling orange wallpaper. Nothing's been updated since at least 1970. Hannah flaps her hand at Jamie. "Owen and I will take the ground-level, being of a certain age."
"Dibs!" Rebecca cries from the other room.
"Oi," Jamie says. "Who's been once ripped in half and just gotten over a broken leg?"
"Please," Hannah says mildly. "One more fracture and they'll have to name the St. Thomas' orthopaedics ward after me."
Jamie sighs and lugs her bag up the tiny iron staircase, which warps and sways like this country may not be beholden to the same building codes.
Upstairs is an open loft with two twin mattresses that Dani has already shoved together. The stairs continue up in a confusing fashion to a trap door above them.
Dani lays on her back, arms outstretched and giggling on the creaking bed.
"Kids," Jamie says dryly. "That's what this room is for. The little ones."
"Don't be a stick in the mud," she teases, lowering her voice. "We'll just have to be extra quiet."
"Are you...capable of that?"
Dani narrows her eyes. "Be nice or I won't show you the surprise." Jamie drops the bag, definitely not too jet-lagged for surprises. Dani stands and brushes by her provocatively to strut up the staircase. "C'mon." Jamie follows, the angle giving her a good view of just how short Dani's shorts are.
She pushes the hatch open to hot air and a blaze of white. They emerge onto the rooftop of the apartment, complete with a table and an adorable, dusty bar top. A sweeping panorama of Athens spills out before them, the Aegean sea glittering like blue velvet and diamonds beyond.
"Blimey," Jamie says.
"Back home, we say God damn."
Dani cracks up, covering her mouth with one hand and waving at Jamie with the other. "Nope, no. Sorry."
"Um, a little stuffy."
"Stuffy. Really?" Jamie says, miming irritation. The wind stirs Dani's golden hair around her grin, and she looks for a moment as young as the city is ancient.
"You've gotta say it like you just took a shot of whiskey and punched somebody's mother."
Jamie blinks. "That makes absolutely no sense."
"Like you've just rolled up to a dive bar on your Harley and...I dunno, crushed a beer can on your forehead."
Jamie puffs up, looking toward the sun with her best John Wayne squint. She puts her foot on the railing. "God damn."
Dani nods, arms crossed and biting her lip. "Not...bad."
"By that you mean, awful." Jamie yanks Dani by her shorts so that they're flush. She lets out a sharp gasp, all boldness subsumed by a submissive head tilt that is anything but shy. "You trying to wind me up?"
Dani's eyes linger on her lips before sliding up to meet her gaze. "No, sir."
Somewhere below Jamie's navel clenches tight. It's a game they started before Dani left - just a joke, really, telling her to get on her knees and scrub the floor after she'd been particularly stubborn mood. The memory is crystalline: how Dani froze, the moment Jamie feared she'd crossed some line and made a total ass of herself. But then, Dani had sank down on her knees on the hard wooden floor, with the wide-eyed shock of new discovery.
She liked being ordered around.
At least by Jamie. That's the magic of it. Dani Clayton, who had crossed into the underworld to fight her own boss, whose beauty belied an iron-strong will, blushed and struggled to keep the smile off her face when Jamie had stuck her boot in the center of the wet hardwood, leaned into her ear and hissed missed a spot.
It's not a one-way street. That's plain in the way the gears start turning in Jamie's mind, the little rush she gets in the harmless cruelty that makes Dani breathe a little faster and later turns into...well, something they could definitely not do on a rooftop in Athens.
But she can still play the game.
She pushes Dani backward until she runs into the bar counter, being a little unkind with how much force she uses. Dani turns her head away, chest heaving under a tank top that leaves plenty of skin for Jamie to leer over. "Think you are trying to wind me up," she says in a low voice. "Gets you off, doesn't it?"
"...and if it does?" Their lips are dangerously close.
"Careful what you wish for," Jamie whispers. Her hands have found their way from her shorts to her thighs, trailing up under the smooth bare skin baked hot from the midday su -
The trap door groans as it swings open, startling them apart like teens caught beneath the bleachers. Jamie doesn't know what to do with her hands, and stuffs them in her pockets like incriminating evidence. Owen freezes with the hatch half-open. "Should I...come back?" he squeaks.
"Oh my God," Rebecca's muffled voice comes from below. "Don't tell me they've started climbing in each other's mouths already."
"No, no," Dani says with a high-pitched chuckle. "Please join us."
"Alright, then." Owen casts a wink Dani's way when he thinks Jamie isn't looking. "Quite the view up here."
Jamie is thankful Rebecca only gives her one lifted brow; the slowly subsiding throb between her legs is torture enough. Everyone gathers to take in the sight before retreating from the blazing sun. Jamie hustles to be the first through the door. She might actually be incapable of keeping her hands to herself with Dani looking at her like that.
The late afternoon sun beats down with ferocity, and Jamie wonders if it's a fool's errand climbing a hill in this heat. Dani joins Rebecca and Hannah in their pouring over of every fact about the crown temple of Athens on the way, pointing out Pre-Hellenic cobblestones and waterways. Jamie walks with Owen.
"How's the leg?"
"Right as rain," she lies.
"Rough gig, your line of work."
Jamie bristles for a moment, but Owen isn't the average man, shocked that a 5'4 woman tackles the undead. His tone speaks only of respect. "Sometimes," she admits.
"Well," he says fondly, "Dani is tougher than anyone knows. Hannah says she's shown some interest in extermination. If she chooses that path, I'm quite certain she'll flourish."
It takes biting her lip to keep from laughing. But the mirth wilts when she considers it: Dani, a full-time Seeker. Jamie has a flashbulb memory of her coal black eyes, fingertips crackling with a soundless energy, skin frigid as the vacuum of space. She wonders if it could ever become mundane: the awesome power that Dani radiates when she becomes a bridge between realities. Would she want that life? They've barely had time to recover from the present, let alone discuss a future.
Her gaze drifts to Dani's left hand, tucked casually in a pocket to anyone else's eyes. But Jamie knows she can't hold it up for longer than a few minutes without regretting it later. She's caught her in the bathroom at night, breathing through her teeth and pressing a hot pack to her elbow to calm the electric twitches of a broken nerve. It seems impossible that anyone would choose that path after all that's happened.
But Owen's right: Dani is a force of nature. Pain and fear hadn't stopped her from doing what no Seeker had done before. Black Badges were practically tripping over themselves to recruit a foreigner. If she chose it, she would flourish.
Dread creeps like spilled ice water through Jamie's gut.
Bigger, fouler ghosts than the Lady of the Lake haunt the distant reaches of the world, far outside the scope of Grose's Ghoul-Be-Gone. Things Jamie had only read of, that left Seekers hollow-eyed and unfriendly, drinking alone in the shadowed corners of Ankou's Barrow.
Jamie bites back the urge to fight it all, to flip the bird at the world and hide Dani away. She's had enough joy stolen for one lifetime. Both of them have. But the nauseating anxiety that grips her is no match for the truth: as much as Jamie wants to keep her safe, she'd rather Dani be free.
The sounds of tourists speaking half a dozen languages pass around them. Owen's mustache is expertly groomed, his fingernails clean. He's got a nice style about him, now that Jamie's looking closely; it's too hot for his bad-boy leather jacket, but he looks fit in a t-shirt as well. Jamie does a mental fist pump for Hannah and clears her throat.
"Did you always know? That you wanted to be a chef?"
"Actually, I went to university to study literature. My parents were appalled when I dropped out after a holiday in France and told them I wanted to go to culinary school. They thought I'd end up a vagrant." He laughs. "No, I didn't always know. But once I found it, there didn't seem to be anything that could compete."
His eyes are on Hannah as he speaks. Jamie nods. "I know the feeling."
"Did you always know you wanted to be an exterminator?"
"Actually, I tried to be a vagrant first. Turns out I was lousy at it." She smiles at Owen's laugh. "Boss fixed me up with my first real job. Never left."
"For the best. Hannah really cares for you."
Jamie nearly coughs. They're too alike, on some level, to ever openly admit such a thing. Perhaps because of it, the day she got a Royal commendation and a promotion that should have meant the world on their own, the only truly precious bits Jamie's heart clung to were the four words Hannah leaned over to whisper:
I'm proud of you.
"Sure," Jamie manages. "Me, too."
It's crowded at the top, a throng of tourists milling around in high-waisted shorts, snapping Polaroids in front of the 2,500-year-old edifice.
One moment, Jamie's gazing up at the headless busts of the marble facade and the next, Owen has disappeared. She grunts, irritated. The sun is infernal and the colliding shoulders of strangers leave sweaty souvenirs on her skin.
Jamie circles the columns for what seems like an hour, trying to get a glimpse of a familiar face. Exasperated, she marches up the stairs and elbows her way through the thickest part of the crowd for a better view.
Rebecca's braid stands out in the sea of pasty heads. She waves back at Jamie enthusiastically, Owen and Hannah nearby. "Meet us at the gate!" she calls.
Jamie goes back to the hunt. Finally she spots a tall blonde, up on her toes searching the crowd. Jamie waves her arms, feeling a little stupid when Dani turns away. She sighs, patient; in another moment Jamie can try again.
And then she sees something strange.
A man perched on a slight rise, in the most stereotypical tourist getup Jamie's ever seen: khaki shorts, high white socks, some gaudy t-shirt from the Acropolis Museum, taking photos with his back to the Parthenon.
He's pointing the camera right at Dani.
Jamie blinks hard, wrestling with her own paranoia; but she can't shake it. The clothes don't fit right. He's clean shaven, hidden behind aviator sunglasses and a ball cap, the rippling muscles of his forearm standing out as he supports the weight of an expensive telephoto lens ill-suited for a vacation album.
When Dani turns toward him, he drops the camera to his chest and disappears seamlessly into the crowd.
"Fuck," Jamie whispers.
"Hey!" Dani calls, spotting her. She runs up the steps, leaning close before remembering they're in public. She bites her lip and touches Jamie's hand briefly. "Thought I'd lost you there." She frowns. "You okay?"
Jamie nods, forcing a smile. "Sure, just hot. Let's get out of the sun, yeah?"
As they walk from the site Jamie scans the crowd, but he's gone.
Dani's sideways glances ping off her skin like thrown pebbles at dinner. God, Jamie can't get anything past her, so she forces her eyes away from the bustling street to her plate, some casserole thing Owen says is the unofficial national food of Greece.
In fact, it's pretty delicious. She tries to focus on the taste, and the cooling relief of a glass of water. A breeze rustles the awning, sweet-smelling and serene.
"You going to have your Raki?" Rebecca says coyly.
Jamie rolls her eyes. "Take it, for God's sake. Don't know how you can stand that licorice swill."
"Because," Rebecca says, tossing the shot back, "it's free, and we're going to a club."
Jamie laughs. "It's not free. It's so you get a buzz and spend more money, you dullard."
"It's working!" Rebecca hoots, motioning for the waiter.
Jamie glances at Hannah, engrossed in a side conversation with Owen about the meal. Would she sound mental if she confided her suspicions? Hannah had been a Black Badge Officer, an agent protecting the world from unfathomable terrors, and the ink had hardly dried on Jamie's flimsy Inspector license. A man with a camera, taking pictures, along with a thousand others just like him. What exactly did she even have to tell?
Dani touches her leg under the table. "You sure you're okay?"
"Course. I'll shape up once I get a little food in me."
Hannah is laughing at Rebecca, who teases Owen over some silly thing. She looks lighter, younger than Jamie's ever seen. The paranoia stirring beneath her consciousness wilts in the light of her joy.
They return to the flat - it's 9pm and Rebecca won't be caught dead in a club before 11. Owen disappears for a few minutes and returns with bottles and mixers. He's a good one, that Owen.
The booze and the company soothe Jamie's nerves. Rebecca is telling one of her favorite stories with characteristic flair: a gargoyle with three legs that some idiot in Halifax tried to adopt. Hannah rolls her eyes.
"Come now," she protests. "I didn't actually yell at the client."
Rebecca slaps the table. "You most certainly did! Remember, Taylor, he threatened to get PETA involved. PETA!"
Jamie shakes her head. "Mother Mary, that house was trashed. Shit everywhere. On the walls, in the sink..."
Dani holds up a hand. "Wait, wait, wait..."
"Not his shit," Rebecca says.
Dani sits back, adorably aghast. "Are you telling me ghosts...poop?"
"Taylor hasn't explained the concept of flottle to you?"
"It's not...excrement," Hannah says, blushing when they all burst into hysterics.
"Alright," Rebecca wheezes, "then explain why you threw your briefcase at him after stepping in it!"
"Only shit smells like that," Jamie says. She takes another drink as everyone catches their breath.
"Shall we get ready?" Hannah says.
"Dibs on the shower," Rebecca says, standing. "No one's going to want to dance with me smelling like this."
She tilts her head in the mirror while Dani puts her makeup on downstairs. It's been a long while since she cared much about her own reflection. Then Bly happened, and Jamie found herself in front of a mirror far more often, dissecting all her imperfections and busting up laughing in the end. If a scar like a tree root didn't turn Dani away, the week's latest blemish wasn't going to matter.
The rest comes easily: Jamie knows how to look good. Not the world's definition of it for her, with hairspray and polyester dresses, but her own: torn muscle tanks and Doc Martens. Earrings if she fancies them. She could give two fucks if anyone squirms over it, because she earned this: dodging teases as a kid that turned into thrown bottles and worse as the years went on. Some bloke always seemed to have a problem with her, grown men put out by the sight of anyone doing it better than they could. Jamie has bled to look this way.
And shit, she looks good. Or, possibly, she's had too many already.
"What's so funny?" Dani says, coming up the stairs. But it isn't the liquor, judging by the way she freezes for a moment at the top.
Jamie smirks. "Somethin' you mean to say?"
Dani bites her lip, hoops glinting under perfect hair. A white crop-top and jeans that would look casual on any other woman fit her like a movie star.
"Hm..." She struts forward. "Oh, right. Is this the part where I'm supposed to play it cool and pretend I don't want to tare your clothes off?"
"I've had to manage all day, it's only fair."
She leans in, a hint of perfume and shape of her lips the drifting haze of a spell. Jamie's a teen again, heart pounding in her chest, all cool wittiness forgotten in proximity.
A door slams downstairs, startling them and snapping the moment like a twig.
Dani laughs nervously. "Is it safe for us, here?"
"Round them?" she scoffs. "Of course."
"I mean, in public."
Jamie's heart sinks a little. "I dunno, Poppins. There's five of us, that helps." She leans against the wall and crosses her arms. "But God knows places full of drunk strangers don't always love my presence. And we're in a foreign country, Orthodox at that. They probably still stone their homosexuals here after Sunday service. I understand if you want to play it safe, we-"
In an instant she's holding Dani's face, alarmed. "Hey, it's alright, don't worry," she stammers. Dani bows her head, hooks her fingers into Jamie's belt loops and sniffs the tears back. "I'm sorry, Poppins, I didn't mean to-"
"Kiss me," Dani breathes. "Please."
Jamie nods, and pulls her in. Dani wraps her arms around her neck and the furrow of her brow presses against the bridge of Jamie's nose when they part. Even if she never chooses to be a Seeker, there will always be monsters lurking. Things Jamie might never be able to protect her from. She kisses her again, every inch of skin precious and fragile. They share a whole conversation in touch, of pain and frustration at injustice.
"I don't know what I'd do without you," Dani whispers.
Jamie looks her in the eye. "You'd be fine, and besides, I'm not going anywhere. It's one thing for some bloke to start trouble, but imagine Hannah getting between." Jamie cocks a brow. "That chap with the gargoyle? Some champion boxer. Aston Martin in the driveway, zebra-skin rug, the whole bit. Built like a brick house and had a foot on her at least. He nearly pissed himself when she went at him with the briefcase."
Dani's laugh washes relief through Jamie's chest. It's their vacation. She's not about to let anything ruin it. Not ghosts or homophobic possibilities or spies in costume.
"Everything will be alright."
She kisses Dani's cheek, catching her own green-eyed reflection over her shoulder. If only she could convince herself.
Music thumps like a heartbeat through the wall. Jamie squints up at the dimly lit sign in the dark.
"I think so..." Rebecca says, frowning. She looks back down at the slip of paper the waiter scratched recommendations on. "It's called the...La...Lah..."
"Lampo!" Owen says, looking up at the Greek letters. "Means 'shiny.'"
"Or 'glitter'," Jamie mumbles.
"You speak Greek, Sharma?" Rebecca asks, incredulous.
He clears his throat. "AncienGreek. Part of my abandoned classical education." Hannah pats his arm, doing a poor job of hiding her cross-eyed swoon. "I can phonetically read it, but if I try to speak to anyone it'll probably sound like pig Latin."
"Onward!" Rebecca cries, pushing open the door.
Dani's excited grin flashes purple in the black-lit, humid entrance hall leading into the depths of the club. Like the rest of the city, nothing's been updated since disco was in vogue. They round a corner and enter a smoky sitting room, replete with mirrored tables, velvet couches, and ashtrays bigger than her head.
"Drinks!" Rebecca calls, making way to the bar.
"Damn," Dani says into Jamie's ear. A staircase leads to an upper level where people dance to German electropop - the main floor is behind the room they stand in. It's enormous. And packed. Sweat begins to bead under Jamie's tank top; she's not nearly drunk enough for this.
Small miracles, Rebecca reappears in seconds with shots of something that looks like antifreeze. "Don't ask what it is, Taylor," she chides. "Just cut loose."
Hannah lifts a brow at the liquid and takes the shot with impressive poise. Owen makes a face. "Good Lord. I do hope I remember how to dance after that."
Jamie takes a deep breath. It's anonymously crowded as any London club, and she's starting not to care about anything except the way Dani looks in the purple glow of the lights.
"Salud," Dani says.
A horrid wash of burning liquor, followed by...God, is that green apple? Jamie shakes her head at Rebecca, trying not to gag. "Same as your taste in men, mate."
"Let's see if I can improve," she says with a devious look, and she's off into the crowd, fearless as ever. Hannah and Owen make for the upper level.
"Where do you want to go?" Jamie nearly shouts.
"Uh, maybe another drink before we go out there?"
"Thank fuck," Jamie exhales, leading her to the bar, where they're partially shielded from the music. She holds up two fingers to the bartender. "Dyo byra, parakalo."
Dani flaps her hands, exasperated. "What the hell? Am I the only one around here who doesn't speak a second language?"
"You speak to the dead," Jamie says. "Bilingual enough for most." She slides over the beer and winks. "Two things you must know in every language: 'beer' and 'bathroom.'"
Dani takes a long swig, eyes tracing the low neckline of Jamie's top.
"How about, 'My place or yours?'"
Jamie leans into her ear. "Tu es la plus belle femme ici. Chez toi ou chez moi?"
Dani wobbles on the barstool, sets her drink down with a choke. "Are you fucking kidding me?"
"Three years in a cell with a Frog. Smug bastard never shut up."
Her chuckle ends with an eye roll of regret. This is precisely why she never reveals this sort of thing; Dani's looking at her like she can read minds or once medaled in Olympic figure skating.
"Listen, half the UK speaks French. I probably would have had to learn it in secondary." She winces. "If I'd ever gone."
"It's special," Dani says with finality. "But if you get any hotter I might actually keel over." Her glass is suddenly empty, gaze heavy with mischief. "Finish your beer."
It's been a while. Dani threads her by the hand through the moving bodies, to the center of the floor where the music and the lights split reality. It hits Jamie then, just how successfully she'd achieved the boring life the past few years. Gone were mornings waking somewhere foreign without a clue how she got there, the bruises and hangovers and unwelcome light of day.
But something else had been lost. Something in the haze of alcohol and Dani's sweat mixing with her own, in the darkness and the bass and the sensation of a crowd letting go: an antidote to caution that coats the back of her tongue. Jamie forgets the protests of her mending leg and puts her hands where she wants to. Dani welcomes her with more skill than a girl from a dead-end town ought to have, sneaking a hand up her thigh when Jamie pulls her close. She flashes a heavy-lidded grin at the dangerous look that earns, the self-conscious woman from Iowa gone in two drinks and a twist of her hips.
"You do this to me," Dani breathes in her ear between songs, nails in her back. Their lips brush, Jamie drunk with a lot more than alcohol, thinking of what else she could be doing to her.
The music breaks before Jamie's willpower, something infuriatingly undanceable takes its place.
"Water," Dani pants.
Jamie nods and points to the bathroom. "Meet you at the bar." Threading through the crowd, she pushes open a heavy door. The place must be ancient; there's a powder room reminiscent of 1930s opulence, with peeling red wallpaper and overstuffed velour couches that you couldn't pay her to touch. A lion of a woman sits on one of them, looking at manicured nails, fishnet stockings crossed, cat eyes lidded with heavy makeup.
"Hello, love," she says as Jamie passes.
Jamie tips her chin in greeting and slips into the bathroom.
When she towels her hands the woman is still there, standing in front of the exit, smoking a thin cigarette.
She grins a cloud of smoke. "What's your name, curly?"
Jamie hasn't tasted tobacco in two weeks, hasn't wanted to, in fact, until this very moment. Some people make it look good. She tilts her chin up. "Jamie."
"Pleased," the woman says in that strange sly tone Jamie struggles a moment to place: Afrikaans. "You having a good night?"
"Sure," she says warily. The woman's dress glitters as she moves, sleek as a designer gun, the mesmerizing scales of a viper before it strikes. Smoke pours like water from her parted lips.
"Would you like to have an even better one?"
She gestures smoothly with the glowing end to the mirrored tabletop before them. Neat white lines marching out sing songs in Jamie's memory of taking flight and blurred endings, a call that makes brittle a strong will. Her fingers twitch. It could be hers, that bliss and this woman besides, and shouldn't she? Eight years sober of it. Eight years such a good girl. Jamie's done right for so long, and for what? Just to make everyone else happy? Just to follow rules never meant to control someone like her?
That freedom on the dance floor: child's play compared to this, what this could be. Her heart races, the powder glinting in the strange vintage light of the room. It tugs her by the navel, whispering promises that make her mouth water.
Dani needs water. She's waiting. Jamie blinks, wrestling control of her addiction like a wild horse.
"No thanks," she says, staggering backward, the words thick from her lips.
"Too bad. You're just my type," the woman says with bared teeth, a languorous drag lighting her face in a cherry glow.
All at once Jamie is pouring sweat, making for the door as if flames lick her feet. The music blasts in from all around; dark industrial tones running riot with the pulse in her chest - the lights seem lower than they did when she went in. Jamie stumbles toward the bar, desperate for distance and a familiar touch.
A sight stops her short.
A man looms over Dani, elbow propped on the bar top. A tan, hulking blonde. Dani is laughing at whatever he's chirpsing.
Jamie leans on the wall out of sight, shaking out her arms. The crowd dances wildly - no one seems to share her distaste at the music, better suited to a vampire convention than a Greek club. Just cut loose, Rebecca had said. What Jamie wouldn't give to see her now, but there's no sign of any of her friends in the sea of strangers.
"You said no," Jamie mutters to herself. "You said no." It isn't much of a pat on the back, but her heart slows and settles.
Dani spots her, swaying as she waves. An empty shot glass sits before her - her companion has yet to finish his.
"Jamie! This's Randy."
"Pleasure." Jamie slips her arm around Dani's waist as she shakes his hand, enjoying every second of the frantic reassessment happening in the man's quick glances between them.
"Shall I buy you a drink, too?" he asks charmingly. An Australian. Jamie fights not to roll her eyes. What is this, a fucking colonial reunion?
"Why not, if you're offering."
The bartender gets his order first, though there are several irritated people vying for attention. They seem to know each other well. He orders Jamie a whiskey. A tactician, this one.
"Cheers," he says, looking at Dani.
Jamie takes it with a single nod and dumps it on the floor the moment he looks away.
"I've always wanted to learn to surf," Dani is saying, slurring the last word. "Randy lives right by the Great Barrier Reef, isn't that cool?"
"Blimey," Jamie sighs, imagining turquoise water and his muscular arms powering through the waves. "Got any of those dreadful jellyfish?"
"Oh shit, jellyfish," Dani giggles.
He nods sternly. "It's the Great Whites you've got to worry about. Hazardous sport. But that's all part of the fun."
"Dangerous world, innit?" Jamie says dryly.
Randy tares his eyes from Dani with a marionette's smile. "And what's it you do, Janie?" His shot still sits on the bar, untouched.
"I'm an expert in carpets."
Dani's nails dig into her ribs. Jamie can see at the edge of her vision, working very hard not to smile. Randy's smirk wilts under Jamie's neutral gaze, eclipsed with horror that she might not be kidding. "Antiques, modern, doesn't matter. You've got a dirty rug, I can make it right."
"Really," he says tonelessly, drinking his shot after all. "And what is it you do, Dani?"
"I'm a teach...I'm a teacher." Dani shivers, pinches the bridge of her nose.
"Alright?" Jamie asks, frowning.
Dani waves her off. "Yeah, just had too much I think."
Jamie motions at the bartender in vain and curses under her breath. Randy keeps droning on about dropping in to a wave, the rush and the feeling of being held underwater, but Jamie barely catches a word.
The music is louder. It's about to make her goddamn ears bleed. No wonder Dani's got a fucking headache. She's just about frustrated enough to jump over the bar top to complain straight in the barkeep's face when the hairs on her neck prickle in electric warning.
The woman from the bathroom sits smoking on a stool, watching her with pupils like saucers, a dust of white powder on the tip of her nose. Their eyes meet, the woman's red lips curl into the knowing smile of someone who shares a secret.
Jamie recoils as if from a hot stove, a wave of shame choking her as if she really had just snorted lines and fucked a random woman in a bathroom while Dani waited. Did she? Her mind reels.
Dani's hand is on her shoulder. Her words are muffled, suffocated in the sudden lack of oxygen. "What's wrong?"
Jamie's mouth opens, but words won't come out. Dani follows her gaze and stiffens.
With surprising speed she clears the distance between them, and with all the strength of her good arm Dani shoves the woman clean off the barstool.
She lands with a yelp on the hard floor, scattering a few of the people nearby. Most, too distracted or drunk to notice, carry on like nothing has happened.
The woman rolls, ducking a kick from Dani, who spins to pick up the barstool, and what the fuck is happening? Jamie leaps forward and yanks her into a bear hug before she can bring it down on the stranger's head.
"Let go!" Dani shrieks, and now a lot of people are staring at them, murmuring to each other in a sudden silence between songs.
"Dani! Stop!" Jamie manages to wrestle the stool from her, but God, she's strong when she wants to be. Bouncers are pushing through the crowd toward the racket; Jamie sees Owen's concerned face peek out from the second level. She twists Dani's wrist, forcing her to turn for a fraction of a second.
"Stop it! What are you - "
Dani heaves, wild with fear, her eyes dark as the Veil.
The thing on the floor laughs, a strange dry cackle. She's pale, too pale, and all at once Jamie understand why almost no one is looking at her.
"Sure you don't want some?" She licks her lips, tips her chin toward Dani. "She can watch."
"Dani," Jamie pants in her ear. "Block it out." The bouncers are almost to them; Owen and Hannah are making their way down the stairs. "We've gotta go, we've gotta go."
Dani takes a step backward, looks up at the watching crowd. People recoil from her with cries of disgust. Dani throws up a hand in front of her face with a flinch. "Jamie, my eyes..."
"Keep your head down, hang on to me." Jamie clasps her hand tight and makes a break for the exit, strangers parting for them in a rush. Jamie glances back over her shoulder as they leave.
Randy leans against the bar, watching them go with a dark look.
The street is empty. Jamie leads her a short distance until they can't be sighted from the club's entrance.
"Is it...is it safe?" Dani says, still holding a trembling hand over her eyes.
"Here," Jamie says. They slide down the brick wall together just as Dani bursts into tears. Jamie holds her, setting her jaw against a frigid ache spreading down to the marrow of her bones.
Hannah and Owen come half-jogging down the way. Jamie's teeth chatter as she rocks Dani gently.
"Fucking yellow-class. Right out in public! Right in our goddamn face."
Hannah presses her lips together.
Owen, baffled, squats and puts his hand on Dani's shoulder before Jamie can stop him. He recoils with a gasp.
"I'm sorry," Dani says, looking to him, voice the rustle of leaves in a crypt. "I didn't mean to ruin everyone's night."
Owen rocks back on his heels in slow motion, as if paralyzed, and falls on his butt. He reaches out again, stopping just short of her arm. "My God, your eyes. I had no idea..."
"It's alright, mate," Jamie says. "We've got a bit to fill you in on."
Hannah kneels and takes Dani's left hand. "Look at me." She takes a shuddering breath and turns to her with eyes that could swallow the world. Hannah strokes her fingers without a hint of discomfort, though it must be like holding dry ice. "What did you see?"
"This woman...my first crush. But older. And she...she was saying..."
Hannah squeezes her hand and smiles. "It's alright. Just a Wailing Woman. Pretty common, alright? It can't hurt you, can't follow you. It's bound to that place."
Jamie rubs her face, shocked into sobriety. Where are the exterminators? Why would a club allow something like that to go unchecked? What she wouldn't do for a bucket of Special Sauce, a great giant silver axe so she could hack that wench to-
"I'm sorry," she says to her boss more than anyone. "I should have recognized it."
"It's not your fault," Dani sighs. The darkness passes like smoke in the wind from her eyes, her skin warms again under Jamie's arm.
"Right," Owen says, helping them stand. "Let's get you back."
"What kind of lazy fucking sod-cocksucking-fucktwat-sad-excuse-for-exterminators have they got in this city? I'll fucking have a word with that owner, Sharma can translate!"
Hannah gives a sharp look that settles her back in the chair, but not before Rebecca shares a furious look of disgusted indignation that lifts Jamie's heart.
Owen picks at a chip in the vinyl chair. "I'm so sorry, about this, about Bly..." He looks truly sorrowful. "I should have been there for you."
Dani gives a watery smile. "You were, Owen. It's ok. This is...this is just who I am now."
She doesn't sound at all certain.
"I have an idea," Owen says. "If everyone's amenable. Just yesterday Hannah and I were talking, and it seems a bit overcrowded here, with the young ones on Spring Break and all. Why don't we head to Chania a few days early, and stay longer in Crete? Empty beaches, and - " he wiggles his mustache at Jamie, "I hear the museums are better."
This man, Jamie thinks, left a five-star restaurant in Paris to pack lunch for children on a dreary island for the sake of his mum. A man who patiently holds Hannah's hand through her long vacant stares, a man who just learned his friend is a ghost-attracting superhuman and reacts by upending his own plans for her sake.
It's right then, in that moment, that Jamie loves Owen.
"Sounds good to me," Dani says shakily.
Rebecca rubs her palms together. "I brought four bathing suits just for this." She flicks a look toward Jamie. "Gotta help me hogtie this one so she can't escape the sand. You'll have tan yet, you pasty wanker."
"Me, tan?" Jamie scoffs. "I fry like bacon."
They're all laughing now. Dani leans her head against Jamie's shoulder.
"You're in for it then?" Owen asks.
Unbidden, she sees the man with the camera, disappearing into the crowd.
"Yeh," she says. "Let's get out of here."
They pair off to their rooms, Rebecca shooting Jamie one last look that says if they weren't still drunk, she'd be sneaking out the back with her to finish the job.
Dani says nothing, shoulders drooped, and crawls into bed fully clothed. Jamie sits next to her, carefully working off shoes, socks, pants, earrings, while her blue eyes stare unseeing at the wall.
Jamie strips down to her underwear, nearly tumbling over in the process, and slides next to Dani under the covers.
"Poppins?" There's no answer. She threads an arm around her waist, kisses the fine hairs on the back of her neck. For a long while Dani lies motionless, then shifts subtly against her, just the pressure of hips pressing back.
Jamie grips tighter, nuzzling her shoulder comfortingly. But Dani keeps moving, ever so slightly, in a way that says comfort isn't what she's after.
The fuse she lit an hour ago blazes to life, Jamie's hand slides up to Dani's chest.
She pushes it away.
Jamie freezes, horrified by her miscalculation, and relaxes instantly back where she was. "Sorry, I thought..."
Dani shivers a little, winds back into her again, reaching behind to grip Jamie's thigh, and horror is eclipsed by confusion.
Hesitantly she traces down the dip of Dani's hipbone; she allows it for a few seconds before jerking away from her touch. But she's still pushing her ass back into Jamie's hips, breathing a little heavily, her grip painful now at the back of Jamie's leg. She props up on an elbow to try something else, kissing that spot at the base of her neck that usually makes Dani stutter.
It's the same: Dani lets her for an instant, and pushes her away, this time roughly. Her jaw is set, expression distant in the ringing silence. She takes Jamie's forearm and plants a hand around her wrist. "Make me," she whispers.
Jamie hesitates, thoroughly into this but uncertain.
"Do it." The desperate fire in her eyes cools for a moment. "If I want you to stop, I'll say something." Her eyes rake down Jamie's body.
Jamie is a torch thrown from a great height, arching down to kiss her; when she turns away she sinks her teeth into her neck instead, pulse bounding against her lips. Dani plants a palm against her chest, pushing back and away-Jamie nearly tumbles off of her before pinning her wrist to the bed.
She twists with a grimace, trying to kick out, and Jamie forces her forearm across her face to stay on top.
She recognizes, quickly, that Dani won't make this easy-she barely gets control before needing her hands for something else, teased by momentary heat beneath her fingertips before having to pin her once again.
Sheets tangle around them, Jamie breaks out in a sweat as she forces her body weight down, straining to keep a hold of both arms as she uses the other one to pull Dani's bra below her breasts. Dani twists her wrist out of a hold, one of her arms breaks free and swats Jamie hard across the lip. Stars swim in her vision for a moment, anger flaring. It's on.
She shoves Dani's arm above her head, hard, and grabs her chin, forcing her to make eye contact. Jamie plants a knee against her thigh, forcing her legs open, and grinds her hips in. A slight whimper, and the body beneath her slackens a fraction of a degree. When she thinks to resist again Jamie keeps her immobilized, stripping off her underwear with ferocious efficiency.
"You'll fuckin' do what I tell ya," she breathes in her ear, slick heat against her palm. "And you'll do it quietly."
Dani's nose is flared, teeth set, now more passive resistance than fight. For a moment, her will seems to falter. She winces in sour shame, and Jamie tells her in the way she holds her down and kisses her ear that she understands the strange ways a body asks for help. Dani growls, turns her face away. Good.
Jamie strips her own briefs off, sneering into Dani's alcoholic breath, climbs up and sits on her face. She chokes, smothered for a moment, but Jamie has her by the hair and the cracks in her resolve spread to her tongue as she grinds in.
"That's it," she whispers, conscious of the open loft and nearly inaudible. "Come on..." Dani obeys the way Jamie steers her head, grasping the sheets in her fists. She presses in harder until she chokes again, shoving her head aside to wrestle back on top, one hand gripping just below her neck and the other sliding between her thighs.
When Dani finally kisses her, hot and messy and aggressive, it's nearly by accident that Jamie slides inside. Her jaw drops, lips glistening in the dark, holding back all the sounds begging to burst. She still half pushes half clings, and Jamie twists her hips to force her way in deeper.
She bites and thrusts and forces until Dani comes in a silent spasm beneath her, and doesn't stop until it happens again and again even as she whispers "I can't, I can't..." After the fourth time Jamie mounts her again, riding Dani's face a whole ten seconds before doubling over so hard she falls between the crack in the twin mattresses that have been pushed apart in the fight.
Jamie hangs sideways a moment, catching her breath. She stands and slumps tremulously against the wall, fumbling for a bottle of water miraculously still upright on the nightstand. Dani stares at the ceiling, shivering, hair and makeup askew. Jamie slides an arm under her shoulders and sits her up, pressing the bottle to her lips.
When the water is gone she eases down next to her on the single bed, kissing eyelids, smoothing her hair in the darkness until she lies still again. Jamie pulls the covers over them, tucks them in tight. Fingers slowly climb her back under the blankets, warm prickles against icy remnants of sweat.
Dani looks at Jamie directly for the first time in hours.
She nods. The shame surfaces again, a specter moving beneath murky waters.
"Is something wrong with me?"
She searches her eyes for a long moment. "Yea," Jamie whispers. "You're a dirty lesbian who sees dead people."
A smile tugs through the sadness. "What's your excuse?"
"Me? I'm totally normal."
"Oh? Hm." Dani leans into her touch. "Could have fooled me."
Jamie closes her eyes.
Strange images play through her dreams. They're on the plane again, cutting through clouds: A yellow songbird lands on the wing, beautiful and delicate. Jamie watches it, entranced, fluttering beyond the thick window. It takes flight before being sucked into the rotors of the engine.
"Did you see that?"
Dani isn't listening, humming an unfamiliar tune about a southern state. A girl there, beloved.
"I think we've gotten on the wrong flight," Jamie says to no one. The engine begins to smoke.
"You're being paranoid," she says. "Eddie's gonna love you."
Jamie watches the engine erupt in flames, tare from the wing and plummet out of sight in a streak of fire. The water swings into view below as the aircraft banks into a tailspin. Dani takes her hand, eyes black as coals, voice the chilling sursuration of a reptile. "Sing it with me," she hisses.
The ocean draws closer and closer, until individual waves appear on its surface. Jamie opens her mouth, but she doesn't know the words.
"I'm not like my mother," she says instead. She turns to Dani, desperate. "I'm not like my mother."
"It's okay," The Seeker says. "We all drown in the end."
Jamie did something right by the gods, old or new, because by the time they board the ferry all traces of her hangover have evaporated under the blazing noon sun.
They're laughing, chatting, carrying on as usual, but as soon as the conversation dies so does Dani's smile. She stares out to sea beneath dark sunglasses, not saying much.
Jamie stays at her side, watching the wake of the ferry cut through the water, though she'd prefer to scream into a pillow or kick something into a shattered mess.
A fucking yellow.
How many had she scrubbed single-handedly that time Rebecca broke her pinky? Four, at least. By herself! And they'd said everything to her, every foul manipulative seductive thing an apparition could conjure. Jamie had bagged them, fragged them, and cashed the check with hardly a thought.
And like some fucking amateur she'd just let one walk up to her and -
"You okay?" Dani asks.
Jamie flinches, hands wringing the deck railing like a goose's neck. "Sure, fine," she says, patting the metal apologetically. "You?"
Dani presses out a flat expression that must have passed for a smile once. If Jamie has a real nemesis, it's that practiced vacancy in her eyes: an emptiness worse than pain. Maybe if she met her halfway, instead of throttling the boat like a bloody idiot...
"Just got under my skin, that one," Jamie says tightly. "Suppose it's different because I wasn't on the job, wasn't ready for it. And..." she sighs, "you were there."
"Yeah, crying like a baby."
Jamie side-eyes her, trying not to smile too much. "Looked to me like you were trying out for World Wrestling."
That gets a reluctant twitch of Dani's lips. "You were there. Guess I got a little protective." She reaches out to touch Jamie's wrist but withdraws when strangers pass them on a walk. "What did you see?"
"No one." Jamie looks out to the wake again, tapping her fingers. "Sort of. Had a resemblance to someone I used to know, but it wasn't her. My first."
The curious weight of Dani's eyes settle. "Not the first ever, mind you. The first woman I..." she rocks back and forth, searching for the right word. There isn't one. English is pathetically limited on this subject, all the infinite magnetisms that can occur between two people reduced to friendship, lust, or that other category simmering beneath her consciousness.
"There's a Greek word, eros," she says finally. "Means you're obsessed with the feeling, the form of someone. Like a drug. Didn't hurt that there was plenty of the actual stuff, too." She double-checks Dani isn't about to push her overboard, but she finds only soft attention. So she says it, in the careful way of someone who hasn't spoken a name in a decade:
Dani startles a little, lips parting.
She takes off her glasses. "Yeah. You..." she cringes a little, embarrassed, "talk in your sleep sometimes."
Understatement of the year. Since that first night terror, she's woken up more than once hollering nonsense, Dani holding her tightly and waiting for it to pass. Though she realizes now, perhaps it wasn't all nonsense.
"Alright then," she continues, clearing her throat, "we met in jail, of all places. I was in for a day or two. Something petty, a fight I think. And they hauled her in, kicking and screaming, pissed out of her mind.
"If ever there was a more accurate first impression, I've yet to see it. I thought we had a lot in common. Foster care, bad dreams, shit attitudes." Jamie sighs. "Truth is, I hardly knew anything about her. Didn't need to. In a week she had me wound so tight 'round her finger I could barely breathe."
When storms cross the North Sea and drench London in a barometric deluge, a searing heat runs through Jamie's scar. It's the kick of a horse, a lightning zap that brings her to her knees when she least expects it. Once, these memories had the same effect. Jamie turns them over in the daylight like some trinket discovered in an old box, marveling at the healing of time passed.
"We moved in together, drifting, shitty flat to shitty flat. Came home from a bender one night and found her in bed with someone else."
Strange details color her memory-the stained mauve carpet, the sickly yellow light from a busted ceiling fan, the way the pipes ticked in the walls like a broken clock. "I screamed at her. Went totally mental. She looked me right in the eye, patient, no remorse. When I'd spent myself she kissed me on the cheek and said, 'I'm doing you a favor, J. This is all life is for people like us.'"
Dani closes her eyes, fingers inching toward Jamie's. The intention comforts her as much as the touch would.
"I'd like to tell you I left, Poppins, but I didn't. More like I checked out on life, started doing things that were stupid even by my standards. Next thing I know, I'm getting a number, turning in my clothes for a jumpsuit. Probably saved my life, going to prison." Jamie picks at a rust spot in the paint.
"She came round, once. Only person in three years to visit. Looked awful, thin, hardly a vein left in her arm. But she blew me a kiss, cheeky as ever, and said, 'Chin up. I'll see you when you get out.' I think she knew," Jamie says, voice hitching a little, "that she didn't have much time left.
"She overdosed two months later. Coroner called me. Had my ID in her purse, no other next of kin. When I got out, her ashes were still in holding. No one had come for them."
Dani mutters a curse and puts her forehead to the railing. "And here I am, feeling sorry for myself about a middle school crush."
Jamie smiles. "It's not a contest, Poppins."
She rolls her eyes. "Good, because I'd lose." They stand for a while in silence. "What did you do with her ashes?"
Jamie leans into the breeze. "I thought to dump them in the Thames. Was out on the street, not a pound in my pocket. Just this paper sack in my backpack full of a person I hadn't seen alive in years." She raises an eyebrow. "It's not like the movies, Poppins. A body makes a lot of ash. Not just, either. Funeral homes, civilised places - they make sure to process it, so it's nice and fine and unrecognizable. But some junkie dies, why bother? When I went under the bridge to dump it, I could see pieces of her in there. A little finger bone, fragile as glass." She stops, squinting at Dani's sinking posture. "Are you going green?"
Dani's pale cheeks flush. "Don't make fun of me!"
"Do you want me to stop with the gory details, Seeker Clayton?"
Dani levels her gaze. "Keep going before I make you a gory detail."
"Not much left to say. Mum's side is from Scotland, way out in the Hebrides. I only went once, barely old enough to remember, but Rosie would lie on her back chain-smoking, making me tell that story again and again. How the hills were purple with heather, and when the sun broke through to the sea it was so bright and turquoise you'd think you were somewhere tropical. The wind in the tall grass." She shakes her head. "I thought that I didn't care after what she did, that I could dump her in with the sewage and trash where she belonged and be free of it." She swallows. "I tried. Held the bag over the river for an age. But I just couldn't. So I carried a quarter stone of her toasted corpse on my back until I saved up enough for the train out.
"I thought it would be poetic: mumble some fuckin' lie about how she'll be missed, spread her ashes in the breeze. Just my luck, there was wind alright - gale force inland. Would've blown right back in my face. So, in the end, I said, 'Ta-ta, Rosie. You were a fuckin' asshole,' and tossed the sack off the cliff. I think it's how she would have wanted it."
Dani grins. "And?"
"What, did I spread my arms and sing out my freedom from the cliff side? 'Fraid not. I was just twenty pounds poorer, a hundred miles from home, and kicking myself for having a weakness for blondes."
"Lucky for me, the curse wasn't broken."
"No," Jamie says, tucking a stray hair behind Dani's ear, "seems to have gotten worse."
A haunted sadness pulls at the corners of her mouth, even as she looks at Jamie with a soft yearning.
"You can talk to me, Poppins."
"I know," she whispers, and looks down. "It's changing. This...thing that's woken in me. It's not just the ghosts. I hear things, can feel the texture of it even when I'm not...like that. It's almost like..." She closes her eyes, gesturing haltingly. "Like there's a space between what's here and what's beneath it. And if I could just reach that gap I could peel back reality. But I don't know what would happen if I did. I don't know what's under there, what I would let out." She scrubs her face with a sigh.
"Do you think I'm crazy?"
"Remarkably sane, considering."
"I don't know what's normal, what to be afraid of."
Jamie can't help her there. She knows only what she's read in untrustworthy histories and legends, has only seen a Seeker from across a crowded room at Ankou's, never known one. Never kissed one.
Owen and Hannah stroll up the deck arm in arm. Dani straightens and tries her best to look at ease.
"Owen," Jamie says, keeping her eyes on Hannah's, "can I borrow you?"
Hannah looks to Dani and back, nods imperceptibly. Jamie throws an arm around Owen's shoulders and leads him away.
"Don't beat yourself up," Rebecca says, popping an olive in her mouth. Good for your complexion, the stall keeper had said, but Jamie thinks she just likes the salt. "It was dark, you were buggered. And they're cunning bastards, aren't they?"
"Help me understand," Owen says, pushing up his glasses with a look of concentration. "These Wilting Women - "
"These Wailing Women...take on whatever shape most upsets you?"
Rebecca waves the cheap romance novel she brought, talking around the olives. "Not always. Sometimes they try to get in your pants, or muddle your brain, but there's always something wrong with it. Something disturbing." She cackles. "This one time, a yellow turned into a shirtless Eddie Murphy! Oh my God, I nearly threw up. That's what it thought I'd like! Fucking racist."
Jamie cracks a smile despite her foul mood. "To me, it looked like Sharon Stone."
Owen giggles and sighs. "Hannah explained about Dani's...gifts. It's hard to believe, those months we spent working together...that she was, I dunno, something even more rare than a good primary teacher."
"She's a late bloomer," Rebecca says. "Relatively speaking. Dunno what it's like in America, but MPA usually ID's them here around their early teens."
"The government is looking for Seekers?"
"Have you met the government? Any government? Of course they're looking, but they don't have to go far most of the time." Rebecca tosses another olive in her mouth. "It's a bit hard to hide black eyes and sub-zero body temperatures from your mates. Seekers come to them, looking for answers. That's how they got their name." She sighs. "Lucky she was here when it hit, really."
Jamie looks over; she might have become Inspector in title, but it will be years before she considers herself Rebecca's equal; the woman is an encyclopedia. "Why?"
Rebecca rolls her eyes. "So I might have once attended an international extermination conference, and during that conference might have done a little extracurricular cultural exchange."
Jamie cocks a brow. "What was this exchange's name?"
"I dunno, Jason or Jack or something. Ben? Doesn't matter. Anyway, he was the American version of an Operator. But God, Taylor, everything they do is backward there. And secret. He was bloody appalled you could look up paranormal services here in the phone book. That 'civilians' could access that sort of thing. We didn't do a lot of talking - " she shoots Jamie a warning look, "but I got the sense they hide from the normies. Sounded more like the military than public service."
The world was changing. Jamie hadn't been sad to see the disco-hell decade of her childhood die, but something sinister had taken its place, a depressive cloud as thick as the Berlin wall and eerie as a nuclear submarine. Leaders held millions of lives in the balance over politics and ego; that kind of insanity was beyond her comprehension. Mankind was sick, and she had no illusions about her own government.
Would Rebecca be so comforted Dani was here if she knew what had happened at the Rectory?
After changing the subject and an hour of chatting about blissfully mundane topics, the island peeks into view. Dani and Hannah reappear and join them at the railing as the dun cliffs and white surf along the coast take shape.
Dani looks lighter, bright-eyed with excitement again. Jamie could kiss Hannah for it.
It's late afternoon by the time they get to Chania. The town is sleepy, almost deserted compared to the bustle of Athens. Birds flutter to crumbs scattered at the open-air restaurants. A few stray dogs, fat and well-loved by the locals, lounge in spots of sun.
"Venetian!" Owen cries, gesturing to the intricate stonework ringing the water. "Fourteenth century!"
A short walk takes them to tiny hostel-style rooms with private showers, and a shared kitchenette. A lone traveler sits with a book bathed in golden light streaming through the windows. Jamie smiles politely at her while they wait. Owen gets the room keys - "Thanks, Dad," Rebecca says - and the door's barely shut behind them when Dani throws her suitcase aside and rocks Jamie in a dizzying kiss.
A growl chases her gasp. "I spent my whole life getting away from this, avoiding my boyfriend like the plague, and now you're here and I - "
Jamie cuts her off with another kiss.
"Makes it all the sweeter," she says, a silly thrill stealing her breath at being mentioned in the same sentence as a boyfriend.
Dani's hands are making dangerous progress up Jamie's shirt. "We don't have much time. Rebecca's hungry and..."
She gasps, eyes rolling back as Jamie's hand slips down her shorts, finding she's already well on her way where Jamie wants her. She backs her up to the dresser and unzips her fly in one fluid movement. Dani sits obediently there, breathing hard and twitching. It's this way she freezes, submits, lets herself be controlled that wakens something wild. Jamie leans in close, pulling back when Dani tries to kiss her.
"You touch me like that and then say there's not enough time..."
Dani stiffens and clutches the edge of the dresser as she presses and teases all the places except where she wants it the most.
"That's not very nice, is it?"
She bites her lip. "No..."
She whines, brows drawn together, arms flexing like she's holding them back from pulling Jamie in. "No, sir."
"Mm." She works her right to the edge of torture, until Dani's soaked through all the layers of fabric and whimpers in restrained agony. Jamie laughs when Dani nearly collapses as she pulls her hand away, working her shorts and underwear down slowly until she's completely, deliciously exposed.
"Please..." Dani whispers. "Jamie..."
The torture is mutual. She's greedy for this - spent the last few hours watching the sun on Dani's skin, the sublime elastic pressure of their night in Athens at the back of her mind. Jamie covers her mouth, and with the other hand she fills her sudden and deep, flexing hard as she mutters through her teeth into an ear.
"You'd beg for it, you'd get down on your knees and choke on whatever I put in your mouth for just a minute of this, wouldn't you?"
She thrusts into a steady rhythm while Dani cries out into her palm, nodding furiously.
"You're fucking filthy, Dani Clayton, and nobody knows it but me."
They've had enough practice now that she knows just exactly what Dani can take, the way her toes curl and her hips press to say she wants that boundary pushed.
So Jamie pushes.
She's so wrapped up in it-the humid panting beneath her palm, filthy sounds happening around the other, the bump of the dresser against the wall, that she barely registers Dani's fingers sliding under her waistband. They're fucking frantically when Jamie comes, muffling her own cry into Dani's neck. Thirty seconds later, even her hand can't quite contain Dani's last four-letter shout.
"Holy shit," Dani exhales as they pant together.
"Everyone's gonna know," she groans, kissing her jaw.
"They're all straight. They'll never believe a woman climaxed in five minutes."
Dani's full laugh fills the room. She pulls up her shorts, flushed and almost falling over, finally stumbling to the bed to put her shoes on.
"I can't even look at you," she protests.
"What'd I do?" Jamie says, inhaling the scent on her fingers without an ounce of shame.
"Every time..." Dani huffs. "Every time you touch me you do something I thought wasn't possible."
Something in her tone cools the air. Jamie appraises her for a moment, arms crossed. "You do know," she says carefully, "that it's never been like this for me...with anyone else?"
Dani's voice is even, but those shoelaces are getting special attention. "You don't have to say that. I know you had a life before this."
Did I? Jamie thinks. It's not that the past was all bad - she's grateful, in a life full of regrets, to have few of them in the bedroom. But those fleeting sensations next to this could double her over laughing, break her mind forever in the absolute absurdity of even trying to compare the two. Jamie kneels, gazing into blue eyes a little vulnerable, a little guarded.
"Do you not know what you do to me?
"I can't barely think half the time, recalling the feel of you, your voice, how you touch me...fucking name it." She laughs a little. "Rebecca had to do everything short of carry me around when you were gone. I was like to step through a hole in the floor, walk into my own tripwire. I was a bloody mess."
Dani's looks away slightly. They're dangerously close to the heart of this, but she'd rather be boiled alive than to have her think she was placating.
"It's not been like this, for me," Jamie says, almost angrily, "ever. Do you understand?"
Dani nods a little. "Yeah."
Then, just to prove it, she stands and flattens her on the bed, kissing hard enough to bruise lips. "I want you every minute of the day," Jamie murmurs. "Always. You hear me?"
"Yes, sir," Dani stutters.
There's a smell to her that eludes description, clean laundry and tanned skin and it's just Dani, just the intoxicating elixir that drives her wild. Jamie has, without being aware of it, pinned her wrists above her head, taking in her scent along the back of an ear
"I thought you said," Dani manages, "that waiting was sweet."
"I take it back," Jamie groans. She rests her forehead against Dani's heaving chest. "Ten minutes is safe, but twenty and our cover's blown."
The rest of the evening passes like the hazed memory of a daydream: they walk along the harbor as the sun makes its journey toward the horizon, making plans for a beach excursion. Every so often, Dani bumps into her shoulder with a private smile, looking like some goddess risen from the sea.
At last, Jamie feels some peace.
The group gathers near a worn, splendid mosque, trying to decide where to eat. Rebecca's in favor of the little place overlooking the harbor; Owen thinks the family establishment they passed ten minutes ago holds potential.
Jamie spots the sandy-haired woman from their hotel, gazing up at the qubba in the watercolor sunset; she looks like a person well-traveled, just the minimum of sturdy shoes and a small backpack, crow's feet kindly creasing her squint. She looks a little like Jamie, a person who doesn't mind taking her journeys alone.
"Hiya," she says, smiling.
The woman presses out a smile. A pamphlet sticks out of her pocket, umlaut studded letters crammed together in efficient description. "Hallo."
Jamie glances over her shoulder and lowers her voice. "My friends are, uh, unentschlossen. Abendessen gut...wo?"
Now the smile becomes genuine. "Ja, der kleine Ort, at der habor." She leans in conspiratorally. "Familienrestaurant ist eine...rip off."
They laugh together. "Danke..."
"Anna, Es freut mich. Jamie."
"GeneBen." She shakes her hand, and the woman is off to explore something else.
"The harbor place is good," Jamie announces, returning. Rebecca high-fives herself. "Apparently the family joint is a bit of a shakedown."
"Who was that?" Dani asks, watching Anna go.
"From our hotel," Jamie says, "nice lady."
The owner of the restaurant greets them with gusto, a practiced tourist bit, but it's enjoyable nonetheless. She slides her shot of Raki to Rebecca and sits back to let the breeze and the conversation and a little wine lull her.
Jamie lets herself, just once, scan the surrounding buildings along the marina, but she doesn't see the man with the camera.
There's a problem when they pick up the rental car, and not just that the poor old thing looks like it's about to part with a door over the next serious pothole.
Dani snatches the keys from Hannah with a cackle, walking to what, in civilized places, is the passenger side of the car. "Revenge!"
"Revenge for what?" Owen laughs.
"For every goddamn day I've had to spend traumatized going backwards in roundabouts," she says, slipping on her shades, "and it's pronounced al-oo-minum, while we're on the subject."
God, she looks good, golden hair tied back and her swim top peeking out from under a tank. She's got her Girl Scout bag with her, tosses Jamie some sunblock with a stern look.
Jamie gives her an up-down, watches her blush with not a little enjoyment. She slathers it on and passes Owen the sunblock.
"No bacon in the sun today," he says, winking.
"Have we got everything?" Rebecca says. "Water, snacks, towels?"
Hannah sighs. "Let's just get there before I'm any older."
"Darling, your years put fine wine to shame."
Hannah gives him a quick peck. Rebecca peeks over at Jamie, covering her mouth in mock scandal.
"You better call shotgun," Dani says in her little American twang that slips out now and then.
"Bagsy!" Jamie calls.
Owen lets out a long-suffering sigh. "I suppose I'll take the middle." Hannah pats him, giggling. They file in, taking special care not to shut the decrepit door too hard.
"Shotgun?" Jamie frowns, buckling her seat belt. "You yanks with your firearms fetish."
"Wagons, cowboys, yeehaw!" Dani grins.
A memory surfaces as she cranks the engine: the first time she ever saw Dani stop in her tracks to gape open-mouthed in public.
If it had been another woman, Jamie might have died a little, but the street was empty aside from a neon-blue TVR: brand-new, double-parked, glittering and topless. A ridiculous doorstop of a car, gaudy and egotistical and practically screaming midlife crisis. "My dad had a Mustang," Dani had said dreamily. "I still think about it." A small thing to know about someone-endearing as it was surprising.
But seeing Dani behind the wheel, backing out with giddy satisfaction, Jamie makes a little promise to teach her to shift with the other hand.
Dani pops the clutch, slides Jamie's mix tape into the deck, and they're off.
Narrow roads take them up into the hills, Rebecca calling out turns. Dani's got the window down, a stupid grin on her face as she sings, shifting through snaking turns with speed and skill. Even pop-obsessed Rebecca knows this one, air drumming to Spellbound on the back of the seat. Jamie tips her head back to the sun, hand surfing shapes in the wind, no greater contentment than all her favorite people in one speeding car.
This is how it's supposed to be.
They thread through a village with streets no wider than goat paths, stucco houses unchanged for two hundred years in the gentle climate. With a whoosh come the olive groves, ancient trees reaching toward the sun, and the ocean blasts into view as they crest the summit.
The tiny path spills out onto a coastal road, tracing the sheer cliffs without another soul in sight. Dani downshifts to hug a curve, effortless even in a four-banger with half a door missing. She's a brilliant driver. Jamie wonders what this woman could do in a proper sports car, if she could even survive the experience without fainting of sheer attraction.
Blue eyes flick over to her under dark sunglasses, a smirk tugging at the corner of Dani's lips, and Jamie knows if they were alone she'd be treating her to a ride she might never forget.
"Should be coming up!" Rebecca says. Dani slows for a turnout studded with a handful of cars, rattling to a stop in the gravel.
"Eh..." Rebecca says, peering out.
"I see no beach," Jamie says.
"Thank you for that insightful observation, Number Two," she says, getting out. They mill about like aimless hens for a moment.
Owen locates the problem, peering over the edge. "Who ordered the side of adventure?"
"Oh my God."
There's a beach, alright: a half moon of golden sand against the sapphire sea, paradise enough to entice even Jamie - at the bottom of a cliff. There's a path worn into the rock by the many brave souls who came before them, so steep it's practically a ladder of stone.
Without missing a beat, Hannah tosses her bag over one shoulder and starts the descent in her sandals.
"Are you kidding me?" Rebecca calls down.
She looks up with a placid smile. "Rebecca Margaret. Are you chickening out?"
"It's a nice view, if that's all you came for," she says slyly, and continues on. Owen shrugs, resigned to his fate, and starts after her.
"Go on," Jamie says into Dani's ear. "I'll handle this."
When her blonde head has disappeared over the edge, Jamie takes Rebecca by the shoulders. "Alright! Listen up, Jessel. Me and you, side by side, all the way."
"Fuckin' hell, I dunno." Poor thing's already sweating. "It's a long way."
"We've been through this," Jamie says kindly. "Remember?"
"Best advice you've ever given me. 'The hardest part is going down,'" Rebecca says, trying not to laugh through her terror.
"Don't you dare put that on my headstone, you arse. You and me, through every dark house and nasty bog. Let's get on with it."
It's nothing like the rusty, loose ladder they once had to scale the day Jamie discovered her best friend had a hyperventilation-level fear of heights. If anything-it's worse. Stones threaten to dislodge underfoot; in places they slide between handholds, Rebecca muffling wails of terror into her arm.
The way becomes too cramped for them to stay together. "It's alright," she says quietly. "I'll go first, scout it out for ya, just keep breathing through your nose."
"Not the first time you've told a woman that," Rebecca snickers, trembling like a leaf.
"I swear to God..." She coaches her, one foothold at a time, tests each stone so that she isn't surprised by anything. There's barely a moment to appreciate the strangeness of walking her own trainer through the motions, and being good at it - Jamie's so focused on it that she's jolted when her own foot finds the sand.
Rebecca yanks her into a sweaty hug. "Oh, I love you, mate. You're a goddamn angel."
"That's another museum you owe me."
They take in the glaring expanse of paradise before them.
Swallows arc down from the high cliffs sheltering the little cove, a smattering of people with their beach towels lounge in the sun. The soft breeze shimmers over the water, smelling of salt and sun-baked earth. The only sound is the occasional chirp of a bird or the soft lapping of the water on sand.
Rebecca throws down her things and makes for the surf with a squeal. Jamie strips off her shirt, melting a little into the feel of the hot sun on her skin.
Dani is down to her swimsuit, shading her eyes against the sky at the edge of the water: a work of art, looking out to sea like all her life is reflected on its surface, as if that island in the distance was America and the miles between them as many lifetimes passed.
Does she ever miss it?
There's no trace of homesickness in her gaze. There never is. Dani has but one black and white photo of her father holding her as a child, a little yellowed now from time and a narrow escape from catastrophic flames. She talks about him, from time to time, while Jamie soaks in the unbearable preciousness of that single image of little Danielle Clayton, laughing while Daddy spins her by the arms.
She never speaks of her mother.
Twice a month, like clockwork, she writes to her in a tight, flawless script, face set in a mask that wearies Jamie's heart. I used to call, Dani says. But she's always drunk.
It would be easy to hate her, this unseen legend of Karen Clayton. Certainly, she's rotten, and if Jamie thinks too hard about the fact that she's struck Dani she could swim herself across the Atlantic to throttle the woman with her bare hands. It's a fact: most people, even mothers, aren't worth any effort at all.
But for all her homicidal ideation, Jamie isn't big on snap judgement. It seems impossible that Dani could have turned out the way she did purely in spite of her mum. Death does strange things to the living who refuse to face it. What sort of bitterness might poison a soul, to have your partner of twenty years drop dead one morning? To imagine that the same cruel fate had happened to your daughter?
People talk of certain things as if they're foregone conclusions: get a job, get married, have a baby and stay by that child's side no matter what unimaginable change happens around or within you. But Jamie, who watched the door close behind her mother and then her father, knows that all moments in life are a choice. If she did nothing else right in life, Dani's mother did the one thing that could have given her daughter a sense of permanence in a cruel world: she stayed.
It doesn't excuse it; nothing would. But Karen Clayton brought Dani into the world, and Jamie owes her for that at least.
She plucks the camera from Rebecca's bag and frames the shot; a bookmark for this memory. When she lowers the camera Dani is watching her with her back to the sea.
Its something, to be clutched in the dark, to be consumed with a starved sweaty gaze or share eye contact that wants to split Jamie down her middle. Now under the bright Grecian sun she finds there is another kind, one from a woman not desperate or ragged or torn.
Dani's left arm hangs loose at her side, soothed in the warm air, and if not for the still crimson half-moon across her shoulder one might never guess that she was anything but a young woman in the prime of her life, peacefully content and exactly where she belongs.
Jamie's scar, too, is on full display, shock white in the light of day. And why not? She doesn't mind the sight of it anymore, not when Dani's fingers always seem to find their way to its edges with that mischievous grin on her lips, the one that blooms now as she beckons her closer.
Jamie bends to put the camera away before a winking light catches her attention. A lone figure cuts a silhouette against the blue sky at the top of the cliff.
The light comes again: sun on glass, and the man disappears.
Jamie doesn't think much of it, when Dani announces that they're taking a walk, hopes by the way she takes her arm she has something more private planned.
But when she leads her quickly down a narrow path, past shops without so much as casually glancing inside, Jamie knows it:
She's in trouble.
"Alright," Dani says once they're tucked behind a private corner. "Out with it."
Her folded arms, the cocked hip and lifted brow complete a terrifying image burned in the subconscious of every child: the cross teacher. Even as a grown woman, Jamie has to fight not to squirm under her waiting stare.
"What are you on about?"
"Jamie Taylor. Don't you lie to me." She lowers her voice and leans in. "I know that you know, I know. Did you think I wouldn't notice? The tourist from our hotel and now the woman at the museum."
Heraklion. The ruins, the museum, the artifacts - better than Jamie's wildest dreams about the place she missed the first time through this country. Her pulse picks up at the memory of leaning over the glass case: an ancient Roman quiver, plated in age-blackened silver, lettering winding down its once exquisite siding.
cum bene invantibus divis percussero immortuos
A woman wandered beside the display, smiling politely at Jamie's barely restrained rapture.
"Don't you wonder what it says?"
"'With the blessing of the gods I smite the undead.'"
"Wow," she'd said, chuckling. "Badass."
Jamie didn't even remember what the stranger looked like; it had taken her ten minutes just to break from visions of leather armor and gilded bows, silver arrows arcing like shooting stars through her daydreams.
"Dani," she says, "I didn't even - "
"Seriously!" she hisses. "How long did you think you could hide this?"
Jamie takes a deep breath, grabbing her gently by the shoulders. "Listen. I probably should have told you this long ago, but you're the only-"
"Latin. German. Greek. French." Dani's blue eyes bore into her psyche. "You want to explain yourself?"
Jamie stammers with the effort of a mental turnaround. "I-I told you before about the French and...the woman at the hostel, she...she spoke English. A bit. And I guess I must've seen that phrase before on the quiver so it's not as if - "
She stuffs her hands in her pockets. "I just listen, alright? I read, I pick things up here and there. It's not like I'm fluent."
Dani puts a hand on her hip, a detective honing in on the confession.
"What else are you 'not fluent' in?" She softens when Jamie tries to turn away, touches her cheek with exasperated affection. "You're acting like a it's a bad thing."
"You're a polyglot."
"Is that like a baby frog?"
"Seriously. I've only seen it once, in years of teaching. It's rare, it's..." she shakes her head, sputters. "People would kill for that ability."
"Come on, now."
"Us mere mortals have until we're five, maybe seven years old to learn language. But you," she smiles, a haze of awe sparkling over her features, "people like you never lose that window. Maybe you're not fluent, but you could be, with the right instructor you could probably speak five languages or more."
"Dunno if you noticed, school didn't really work out for me the first time."
"Jamie," Dani says gently, leaning in to run a thumb along her belt line. "Do you read Latin?"
Even if that voice didn't torch every barrier she manifests, it's impossible get out of this one: there's at least ten books at home with names like Malleus Maleficarum with covers too worn to be ornamental, notes in Jamie's plain capital script jammed in every margin. She sighs.
"There was a book, in prison. The vicar left it behind, for God knows what reason. Maybe he was plannin' to exorcise us criminals. I couldn't resist, it was about demonology." She laughs. "At first I just looked through the illustrations, but with all that babbling from my cellmate I started noticing how some of the words were so close to French, or even English, that they started making sense. The ones that didn't I found in a medical dictionary. Working it out was a puzzle. Helped pass the time."
"And you don't ever forget words once you see them, do you?"
It hadn't occurred to her that she was anything special, simply because she'd never considered it. Jamie was a dropout, a failure. So what if language was a passing curiosity? It was only a hobby.
A lorry honks twice and backs up to a stall. The driver calls out to a shop owner, chattering about the delivery. The cadence of their words stir something deep in Jamie's ear, seeds planted from a Beginner's Greek tape set secretly gotten from the library, played again and again on the long train rides to and from jobs.
Can you believe the merchants? What they charge for a pound of fish these days? Robbery, says the other. How's the wife and baby?
Vowels and context sprout and bloom and come alive, words flowering into meaning. She looks back at Dani.
"No. I never forget."
Dani grips her stomach, squeezes with her eyes closed. "I...you just..." She takes a breath. "How about we find you some books, and start there?"
Jamie smiles softly. "Sure, alright."
She doesn't let go, searching Jamie's posture for the truth. "Now...you gonna tell me what else is going on?"
She doesn't answer. Her gaze is caught by movement just over Dani's shoulder.
The man with the camera hunkers behind the lorry, sneaking pictures through the glass.
Dani's calling from behind, and it's her shout that startles the stranger; Jamie's already to the truck, jumping to slide across the hood. Any fear that she's entertaining a delusional paranoia evaporates the moment he turns and flees.
He's fast: a khaki blur zig-zagging through people and parked cars. A throng of people filing into church crowd the street, slowing his escape. Jamie slips through without bumping a shoulder, gaining precious feet with every second.
He glances back, eyes hidden under cheap sunglasses, and breaks right down an alley.
She makes the corner and slides on her tread bare shoes, nearly falling on the dusty stone. "I'll fucking end you, you little shit!" Jamie shouts
It's a dead end: she's got him. Jamie powers through the screaming protests of her leg, gaining speed to tackle him or to grab him about the -
The stranger opens a door and disappears.
Jamie is running so fast she slips and falls in an effort to stop. She scrambles up, tries the handle. Locked.
"Fuck!" she shouts, slamming her skinned palm against the wood and leaving a bloody smear. There's a staircase leading up to the second story of the building. She makes for it before being yanked backward.
"Hey! Stop!" Dani stammers, pushing her against the wall. "What are you doing?"
"Come on! We can get him on the other side." Jamie moves again before Dani plants a firm hand on her shoulder.
"Your leg!" she says, voice high with fear. "You're not supposed to - " Dani's words dry into an inhuman echo, she sways a little as her blue eyes flood with ink. "Oh, shit."
Jamie snatches her ice cold hand.
"Come on! We have to catch it before - "
"No!" Dani's rasping growl shocks her still.
Jamie takes a frustrated breath. "Dani. I should have told you, but someone has been following us..." she huffs. "You. Someone has been following you."
Dani bows her head, panting. "I know."
"We've got to - " Jamie chokes. "What do you mean you know?"
"It started before Norway," she says, releasing Jamie to rub her forehead.
All of this is extremely interesting, but the possibility of catching the undead spy wanes with each passing second. "You take the stairs. I'll head him off at the other side."
Of course it's Dani, the flesh-and-blood human who snorts sometimes when she laughs, but Jamie could be forgiven for mistaking the demonic snarl that comes out of her for something else. The door behind them rattles on its hinges.
"No! We're staying here!"
"You just want to let him get away?" Jamie gestures furiously at the street. A few people have stopped to watch the commotion. "Why aren't we chasing the bastard down?"
"Because I don't want to!" Dani rumbles. "Why does it matter who's watching me? I'm not going to play their game. I just want a- a moment of peace, okay?"
"Are you serious right now? You knew about this and you didn't tell me?"
Dani bites her lip. "You seemed...edgy, I didn't want to ruin your vacation."
"Blimey," Jamie says, throwing her arms up. "So very helpful. Anything else you want to tell me about the fucking Illuminati following your every move?"
"What is your problem?" Dani says, suddenly conscious of the people watching and lowering her voice.
"My problem?" Jamie spits. "My problem is that something buggered happened at the Rectory, you won't tell me what it is, and now we've got some sentient apparition tailing you like the goddamn paparazzi and the only person who seems to care about it is me."
Dani's eyes are wet, slowly fading back to blue. It's hopeless now; the thing has gotten away.
"It's not that simple."
"Of course not. Fuck!" She kicks the wall; a horrible shock of pain chases her rage.
"Stop it!" Dani grabs for her arm, balling her fists when Jamie shrugs her off. "Please don't do this."
"Do fucking what!" She points in the direction he fled. "My job? That was our only chance!"
"I don't need you to play hero right now!"
"Hero..." Jamie lets out a heartless chuckle. "Sure. You're a Seeker now, you don't need me for a damn thing, do you?"
Dani straightens as if struck. "How can you say that to me? How can you say that to me when you know what I went through?"
"Do I? Do I know?"
Her jaw works, nothing comes out.
"Sure," Jamie spits. "Why keep me in the loop? I'm just a glorified Scrubber with a fucking limp. But you know what, we can pretend I'm not even that for the sake of everyone's holiday. Next time, I'll just give a jolly wave when I see a ghost, maybe offer some tea."
She could keep going, a thousand forgotten irritations and ego-bruising diminishments blooming on her tongue. The fury spilling out of her is as familiar as the taste of tobacco, the rasping ignition of a lighter, the rush of white powder transforming her into someone else. Anger kept her alive once, gave her purpose in a meaningless cycle of violence and pain, and now...
Dani covers her face with a hand, shoulders sagging as she cries. Jamie is suddenly aware she's towering over her, gesturing wildly, face twisted in a cruel sneer. People watch from the end of the alleyway. Did they see her kick the wall? Do they imagine that she would ever...
Jamie stumbles backward, choking on horror. "I need...I'm going."
"Wait, Jamie, don't - "
She turns on her heel blindly and marches toward the small whispering crowd.
"See something you like?" she shouts in Greek, and the onlookers scatter like ashamed children into the shadows.
Lapping waves break along the sea wall. A smooth stone walk juts out into the bay, leading her toward the night horizon. The dark sky, the water and the mist create a formless monochrome of changing texture, like being in the belly of a rain cloud. Jamie sits and hangs her feet over the edge.
Fiery consequence spasms up her leg. She's walked for two hours at least, threading down streets far from the tourist route and back again, the urge for a cigarette chasing her like a stray dog. Stars pulse faintly, obscured by the mist; the air is warm and heavy. So unlike home, where she might still shiver on a summer night.
"The fuck's wrong with you?" she whispers to herself. The water has no answer; it just keeps up its imperceptible erosion of the stone, inert and timeless.
Her skinned hand reads like a macabre palm reader's telling. Idiot, it says. Chasing down a man in broad daylight? Worse, an unheard-of, diurnal, photo-snapping PM, without even a hint of silver. No plan, no backup, no sense at all. A stunt like that would have cost her Inspector's license at home, not to mention she never could have forgiven herself if Dani had been hurt.
This was not the Jamie who looked twice before crossing every threshold in a haunted house, not the responsible Inspector who wasn't satisfied with a pre-plan until it exhaustively mitigated every possible way Rebecca could be hurt, not even the Scrubber from just a few months ago that had told Dani I'm a lot more careful than I used to be.
Jamie could really use that cigarette.
Steps come along the way: the patient, aimless stride of someone with nowhere to be.
"So quiet, isn't it?" Hannah says.
Jamie hides her scab-crusted palm and clears her throat. "What are you doing out here?"
Hannah smiles, hands tucked in a soft caftan. "Seems I can't sleep even on holiday."
"Isn't Owen missing you?"
She laughs with real joy. "He was out as soon as his head hit the pillow. Sleeps like a child."
"Sounds like him." There is something wonderfully light about the man. Not naive or shallow, but a soul unencumbered by worry. Owen isn't, Jamie thinks, haunted by much.
She looks down at the tops of her legs, blue in the dim glow of the water.
How strange, that a dreary little island had held treasures for them both. It would seem like a divine miracle, if she believed in that sort of rubbish.
Hannah's crucifix peeks out as she sits. It seems, on a woman who has never spoken of God or gone to church in Jamie's presence, like a golden ellipse. An artifact from a simpler time, before children died of cancer and family scattered like dust to the wind. Ordinary people might have emerged from a trip to the Veil forever changed; Hannah carried on with hardly a mention of it, the terrors of the universe but small curiosities to a mother who lost her child.
"Here we are," she sighs. "Watchmen of the night."
A boat's light winks far out on the horizon of the velvet sea. Jamie doesn't expect to speak - the words crumble and crack with the effort of escaping her grasp.
"It doesn't solve it, does it? Finding them."
Hannah looks over, a little surprised, and smiles sadly. Her hand is soft against Jamie's cheek, thumb tracing across where tears are dangerously close to falling. The touch is an alternate history, the flash of a lost universe where mothers and daughters had lived to comfort each other.
"Why can't I stop?" Jamie swallows. "I feel like a runaway train. I see the edge. Can feel myself heading for it, but I can't slow down."
Hannah hums. "Do you know why I retired from Black Ops?" Jamie shakes her head. "It's all-consuming. Every second of your life becomes the chase, the hunt, the fight. I thought I was living it, but one day, I woke up and barely recognized myself in the mirror. I realized it was living me.
"So, I turned in my badge. Shocked everyone. But then I found myself at MPA, just as busy as ever. I left there, too. Then it was my business occupying my every waking hour. So I hired you and Rebecca with the idea to spread out the labor." She chuckles softly. "Of course that didn't work, either. I'd go home, sit in my little apartment, and it was like the walls were closing in. Thank God I ran out of options, or I never would have faced it."
Hannah doesn't reply; she's looking out to the horizon again. She pats Jamie's hand. "It was a hidden blessing, bringing you two around. You're so very alive."
Jamie takes a shaky breath. "Wish I felt like it."
"You could always quit," she muses. "Go work as a fisherman, a library, take up gardening..."
"I can't do anything else," Jamie says, "or be anywhere else. This is where I belong."
"D'you know what I've learned, through it all?" She takes a long, even breath through her nose.
"We end up in this line of work for our own reasons, and we mistake that for arriving somewhere. We want so desperately to assign it meaning that we name it our job, we name it our calling, we name it our home. But death is not a place, my darling. You can't live there. Death only is."
She squeezes Jamie's shoulder, stands, and strides away into liquid darkness.
For a while, there is only the sound of the sea. A kind of panic rises, a groundless drifting that her mind struggles to steady. Her breath rises and falls, rises and falls.
Jamie feels the cool stone beneath her hands, listens to the scrape of her heels against the damp wall, sees her body, like a stranger to her, outlined by the dim light of the moon on the water's changing pattern.
The blurred lines cross into the phantom of memory: beneath the surface is her mother, hair floating in the weightless drift. The first face Jamie ever saw, the center of her universe, drowning in ten inches of water.
She'd run. Run and run and run, desperate to arrive anywhere else, run so far without stopping that it was as if she'd circumnavigated the globe and arrived back where she'd started, eleven years old and standing in a flooded hallway. Little Jamie, decades older now, caught in a loop, a skipping record, sent back to the beginning every time she closed her eyes.
Tears drip from her nose into the water.
"Ouroboros," she whispers.
Jamie pushes off the wall into the sea.
The tiny luminescent hands of her watch read 1AM. Jamie sets the key in the lock as quietly as she can, cracking the door open to a room filled with the orange glow of a bedside lamp.
Dani sits on the edge of the sagging mattress, head in her hands, her back to the threshold.
Jamie winces at her dripping clothes, steps in and eases the door shut behind her. "Hey."
She flinches and stands, stricken. "Jesus. Where were you? I looked all over, I-" Her eyes widen. "What happened? Why are you all wet?"
For a moment Jamie thinks to explain, but the words dry up under the crease of worry in Dani's brow, her red-rimmed eyes, the image of her frantically searching the streets of Chania.
"God, I'm sorry, Poppins," she chokes. "I'm so sorry."
Dani hugs her arms tightly to herself. "Okay, well. That wasn't okay. After everything we've...you know, I worry. I'm scared something will happen. All the time. Even when you just go to the store. So when you disappear for hours without saying anything, and we're being followed, and..."
Jamie closes her eyes against the nauseating burden of her own selfishness. When she opens them again Dani's expression has changed, with that reflexive, empty excuse for a smile Jamie saw so much of on Bly.
"Anyway, I'm probably overreacting. Let's get you warmed up."
Jamie rubs her face. "What are you going on about? You're being totally fucking reasonable. Just like you were being totally reasonable when I stormed off like a complete idiot."
Her words are sharp as the crack of a whip, breaking whatever waspy spell Dani had cast. She waits warily with her face turned partially away, and an avalanche of regret and grief threatens to bury Jamie alive.
"I've been a mess, Poppins, for weeks. You died, died in my arms on that flight, died in that vault as far as I knew, and I can barely close my eyes without seeing it over and over like a bloody nightmare. I'm terrified something's going to happen to you, again, or that a phantom is going to burst through the wall and you'll throw your hands up and leave because you've had it.
"And you'd be right to! What a shit life. But it's all I've got. And you want to know what the saddest bit is? The thing I'm actually afraid of?" Jamie gives an insane little cackle; she's shouting a little but can't stop. "That when all the ghosts have gone and it's time to be ordinary, that I'll be a right fucking disappointment. Because honestly, I've got no idea who I am outside of all this... I dunno if I'm even capable of being normal, of sharing a life with someone without completely buggering it up."
Dani holds herself, looks at the floor, her question as fragile as glass.
"Do you want to? Share a life with me?"
"I've never wanted anything more in my entire life," Jamie says. She shakes her head with a broken smile, sopping wet and shivering in the cold air of the room.
"It's a problem. You've ruined it for me, Poppins. I thought I knew what it was to be alive, to want something. But I didn't. Not until you."
Blue eyes rise to meet hers. Jamie takes in the sight of her for an eternal moment: a half-escaped ponytail, the shadow of her collarbone in the light, the startled part of her lips. She will remember this image, in all its detail, for the rest of her life.
"I love you, Dani."
Like a time-lapse film of a plant breaking through soil toward the life-giving sun; Dani straightens like that, released from a heavy darkness. In a step she's there, hands hovering beside Jamie's face. They come to rest, warm against her skin as she chokes out the words.
"I love you, too. God, I love you Jamie. I've loved you since-"
They have kissed uncountable times, in all the ways two people could, except for this way. Jamie has never kissed anyone like this, pierced through by a clear, bright certainty. Her back hits the wall, clutching for dear life as a torrent of emotion floods her soul.
Dani lets out a sob of relief, pressed in tight against Jamie's wet clothes. She traces her cheeks with trembling fingers: who's tears are there is anyone's guess. Jamie kisses her again, softly, shivering from more than cold.
Dani smiles against her lips, presses the bridge of their noses together. "I love you," she whispers experimentally.
Jamie tastes each word as it leaves her lips. "I love you, too..." She exhales painfully, one last regret fleeing her heart. "I should have told you, after the vault."
"You heard me..."
"By the time I said it back, you were gone."
She hooks a wet curl of hair behind Jamie's ear, eyes wild. "I see eternity when I look at you. Does that make sense?"
Jamie nods, brushes their lips together. The words of a woman who has stood at the edge of all things, meant for her. Meant for them.
Dani shakes her gently, a laugh cracking through emotion. "Why the fuck are you all wet?"
"All that about never going for a swim, and now with the criticism?"
Dani leads her to the bathroom, gets the shower going and works the clothes from Jamie's frame. It's a heroic effort to get her jeans off, sticking to her with the persistence of wet cement - when they finally come free Dani flies backwards into the towel rack laughing.
A tangle of kisses: Dani's clothes fall like leaves at their feet. She wraps around Jamie from behind while the water warms, nipples perking sharply into her back, and hold holds her so tight Jamie can barely breathe. Jamie answers that strange sublime agony with even more pressure, fingernails digging into her long arms until she half-fantasizes that this is her end. Something does die, then: whatever she was before this moment, suffocated and renewed in love's embrace.
They climb into the steaming shower, water making rivers of hot relief across her skin.
"Hey," Jamie says against her.
"Wanna be my girlfriend?"
Dani laughs, sounding out the word like she's never said it. "Girlfriend..."
Jamie gives a crooked grin. "Could take you out on a proper date, one without homicidal phantoms and explosions and evil plots. Maybe a movie? Get a couple a drinks out?"
Dani laughs again, head down, but all at once her fingers are curling too tightly, a last gasp that ends in a sob.
"Whoa, hey..." Jamie tips her chin up, alarmed, brushing away darkened hair that clings to her cheek. "Easy..." She guides her down until they're sitting in the tub. "What is it? What's wrong?" She smiles playfully. "Did I move too fast? You can just call me your flatmate, if you want."
Dani shakes her head. "I have to tell you something. They... they told me some things, at the Rectory. About being a Seeker."
A flash of Dani at the airport, freezing when they locked eyes. Jamie struggles not to swat away the creeping prickle of doom climbing her spine.
"They said..." Dani chooses her words carefully, "that I have to enroll. That there isn't a choice."
She snorts. "Alright then, didn't realize we were thirteen and skipping secondary."
Dani doesn't say anything for a moment, and the silence is so unbearable Jamie nearly screams.
"Do you know why the Rectories were built?"
"Course. Governments always want to standardize everything. Why not the paranormal?"
Dani shakes her head. "Seekers built the first Rectory, in the USSR, after World War I."
Jamie knows; of course she does. The old Soviet Rectory, raised on the ruins of a devastated nation. Two million dead. Two million corpses, two million souls torn apart by bombs, smothered in toxic fumes, riddled with bullets or crushed under rubble, howling out from the Veil in the days before Operators or Scrubbers or Inspectors even existed. There had been hauntings before then, scattered throughout history: rare enough to make ordinary people suspect they were only legends. But after the war, whole nations saw for the first time the spirits swirling among them, the monsters with their long claws reaching out from the depths.
"Must have taken an army of Seekers to put it all right."
"That's not...Jamie..." Dani fumbles her hand, lips tight. "The Rectory was built because they had to control Seekers. To keep them from going insane. They..." she sighs. "They had a lot of 'incidents.' I guess that kind of power is too much for the human mind. Seekers cracked. They did horrible things, endangered everyone. And once they snapped, people couldn't be brought back." Her voice drops to a whisper. "They had to be shot."
Jamie flinches. "Right then! 'Join us, or you'll likely go mad and be euthanized.' Typical Royal mindfuck, Poppins. Don't waste your time on that manipulative drivel."
The shower is growing cold. Dani's skin prickles in goosebumps as she stares at their linked hands.
"The Black Badges weren't the ones who warned me. It was the other Seekers."
Jamie closes her eyes while the water gathers like tears beneath them. When she manages to speak her voice is hoarse.
"How long will you be gone?"
A strangled yelp escapes Jamie's chest, fingers scrambling for purchase as if Dani is sliding toward a precipice. She stills them finally, forces her head to nod.
"Alright, sure." She takes a deep breath, clears her throat. "When do you get holiday?"
Dani's voice is firm. "I'm not going."
God, it's painful to look in those defiant eyes, but Jamie does.
"Yes, you are. If that's what it takes to keep you safe."
A fist thumps into her sternum, more of a push than a hit.
"Don't you dare take their side! My whole life everyone has kept me like a butterfly pinned in a fucking box. Pretty, safe, dead. I came here, I ran here, to get away from that, and then I almost fucking died anyway. Now I'm with you, and...I'm not..."
Dani centers herself, looks up with a clarity that might break Jamie with its raw honesty. "I've wasted so many years. Decades. I can't get that time back. It's gone forever, but it got me to you. And as long as you're next to me it means something, it makes sense, because I'm finally alive. I feel everything." She grabs Jamie by the shoulders. "Do you get that? I can't go back. I'd rather have five years with you than a hundred safe ones without you."
Its a massive effort to swallow back the tide of emotion that swells in her chest, to focus on what's important and not what she desperately wants down to the marrow of her bones.
"You know I'd do anything to keep you here, but this isn't just about us. You're not mine to posses. If you don't go, and something happens...if someone gets hurt or you get hurt..."
"I won't," Dani thumps her fist against the tub. "We'll find another way."
"You know I'd wait for you?" Jamie whispers. "I would."
The words are a stone that shatters Dani's anger. She rocks forward to sob against her bare chest as the tears come. It's the sort of thing Jamie would have never imagined saying before tonight. Her old self might have throttled her for it: she of all people knows what time is, what a year, or three years, or five really means.
It isn't a romantic notion, or the cries of a stricken heart: there is only a life with Dani, or a life without her. After tonight, there will only ever be one choice for Jamie Taylor.
She shuts off the water, half-carries Dani from the tub, wraps a towel around them both. Jamie trails breaths up her neck against the bathroom door, working gentle fingertips across her skin, wearing her down kiss by kiss until tears have dried and all traces bitter anger dissipate. Dani hangs against her, exhausted, lets herself be led to bed without protest.
Blue eyes stay open when she settles next to her on the pillow, hazy with a peaceful sadness.
"Sleep, you stubborn arse," Jamie says.
The ghost of a smile crosses her lips. "I want today to last."
"It's already tomorrow."
Light peeks through the curtains sparkling with motes of dust, the soft putter of car engines echo from the waking street. Jamie lingers in the peaceful air, the fine hairs on Dani's back brushing against her lips as they rise with each breath. They've kicked the covers down rather than let go of each other, a tangle of promises murmured among dreams. A warm stillness inhabits the room where Jamie's life changed, lumpy mattress and bare walls belying a miracle.
The sound comes again - the faint tap of a single knuckle on wood. She slides out of bed carefully and dresses, though she's learned over their time together that Dani could probably sleep through an explosive demolition.
Rebecca peeks through the doorway, eyes darting to the darkness of the room. "I'm not, eh, interrupting am I?"
"Fuck off," she whispers, easing the door closed behind her, "you think I'd have answered a knock mid-coitus?"
Rebecca snorts. "Well, you said I wasn't second to anything, so..." She looks Jamie up and down, taking in her flat hair and exaggerated limp.
"Couldn't find you last night. Dani seemed upset...is everything alright?"
Jamie's tongue thickens. Maybe she's been caught off guard, just waking up. Maybe it's the little crease between Rebecca's brows or the fact that Jamie is in love or the possibility of them all dying at Dani's hand because she's totally unequipped to help her with this, and if only she hadn't completely fucked up in life she'd have been an Operator by now and maybe had the answer to -
Arms have wrapped around her, holding tight. It takes her five seconds to recognize why.
Rebecca anticipates the recoil a mile away. "No way," she murmurs, rocking her back and forth as Jamie's wretched wail vibrates her chest. "Don't you dare say you're alright."
She eases them down on a little bench, not letting go for a moment, and the worn rope holding Jamie's heart together snaps in the quiet morning air.
"I keep thinking it'll get better," she chokes. "That someday I'll have made it, and things will...they'll... What is this? Is it some kind of punishment for what I've done? Do I not deserve happiness?"
"Oh Christ, no!" Rebecca plants a kiss on her forehead and takes Jamie's tear-strewn face in her hands. "Stop that shit this instant."
"I can't...Jess, I dunno how to..."
She sweeps her up again, rocking gently. "Breathe. And then, tell me everything."
"What do you mean, they can't make her?" Jamie sniffs, wiping snot on her t-shirt.
"It's law," Rebecca says. "Seeker or not, people have rights. But in Dani's case, it's quite specific. Do you know the name Gina Schwitzer?"
Jamie lets out a congested ha. "If I hadn't, don't think I could call myself an Inspector."
Respect bordering on fear: that's what Seekers like Gina Schwitzer inspired. Jamie recalls that face-serious and dour as ghoul herself in black-and-white stills from MPA files, successes nearly uncountable and unmatched since. She'd been a legend for a decade before she and her loyal Operator volunteered to rid Okinawa of a Revenant - a triple-white class behemoth that had killed over a dozen people and left a whole corner of the island uninhabited.
When the trembling MPA backup team arrived at the munitions depot, there was no ghost, no Seeker, just a smoking Breadmaker in an empty warehouse. Knowing the woman's reputation, one half-expected her to pop through a portal somewhere in the world twenty years later, thumbing a ride to the next job.
"Everyone knows her for the frags, but her greatest act happened before she was an official Black Badge. She didn't come looking for answers. All of ten years old, she wandered into a local haunt-some old school. There'd been a fire, things weren't properly taped up. You know how it was back then. Her parents phoned MPA in a panic. The emergency team responded, probably expecting to collect body parts. When they arrived, she was on the steps petting a gargoyle."
Rebecca perks her brows. "Back in 1959, the government told you to go to Rectory, you went to Rectory. But she didn't. She refused. Her parents sued the Crown."
"Queen's the biggest white class of them all."
Rebecca backhands her shoulder with a snort. "MPA went full-on. But they lost, to a little girl. She named it the Choice Law, cute as a button. And the very day after it was ratified, all of twelve years old, Gina marched to the Rectory and signed up for class with the people she'd just humiliated in open court. God," Rebecca says, squinting into the distance. "What a bad bitch."
Jamie picks at her swollen palm. "But what if...are they right? Will Dani crack one day...and..."
Rebecca puts a hand to Jamie's back, and this time she doesn't resist the comfort. "Taylor...being a Seeker is no joke. It's more than you or I can imagine. But forcing Dani to go to the Rectory won't make her safe. MPA would have us believe it's foolproof. It's not."
Jamie looks up, a tear rolling off her nose. "What are you saying?"
"I'm saying just because someone does their four or five-year stint, doesn't mean they're immune to the stress. There's plenty of stories." Her gaze darts around, voice lowering. "For example, our own Hannah chased a Necrofak with a ten-foot girlfriend into his own basement. Alone."
Jamie blinks a few times. Hannah's actions at the Ministry hadn't even crossed her mind as foolhardy. But when it's put like that... Jamie thinks of sprinting on a broken leg after a stranger twice her weight, and her stomach rolls over.
"So people snap anyway. What am I supposed to do, wait for the day Dani goes mental? Jessel, I can't...I won't..."
Rebecca scoffs. "Oh my God, no. No! What do you think, Hannah and I are just going to sit around and let her grope blindly through the world while you, Day One Inspector, try to manage it?" Her eyes narrow.
"This is what you get for being such an intolerable pain in the ass. Stalkers and Black Badges, Dani hearing creepy voices in the goddamn wind. You're not alone!"
Swift as a viper, she smacks Jamie in the face.
"Oi! What the Hell!"
"It's unbelievable that you've been hiding this juicy shit from me. No more!" Rebecca says, jabbing a finger into her chest. "Together, into every dark house and nasty bog. We're a team. I love you, you stupid twit."
Jamie laughs as she rubs her cheek. "You've got a way of showing it. I...I love you, too."
Rebecca covers her mouth to muffle a squeal. "Holy fucking shit, Taylor! You said the L-word!"
"Oh come on, I know I'm a bit shut off but you must know - "
"Not to me, fool! To Dani!"
"Oh..." Now Jamie's really blushing. "Right, well..."
"Eeee!" Rebecca squeezes her in another hug. "I'm so very proud of you, you stodgy old salt-lick. It's like watching my own baby bird fly, or a little nephew graduate, or-"
"You'd best stop or I'm outlawing hugs again," Jamie growls, but she's laughing away the last of her tears. Before she can really stop herself, she clutches Rebecca, too.
"Fucking congratulations," she says into her shoulder.
"Thank you," Jamie sighs. "I best get back in before she wakes."
"Don't bang too long," Rebecca says, "I want breakfast."
Waiting for Dani to wake reminds her of those first days, when Jamie's eyelids flew open at 5am on the dot each morning to the same routine: she reflexively, delicately laid a hand on Dani's forehead to check for fever, and finding her well, chided herself for that tiny spark of hope that this stranger would stay another day, struggling to believe that what was happening between them wasn't a mirage of circumstance. She never could quite get there, even when that stranger looked at her like she was the night sky, stroked her hair and coached her down from a terror, or gasped her name liquid and hot against the wall. Jamie had chased hope like a lightning bug forever out of reach.
Now, as Dani's eyes flicker open, she believes.
A hand rises up and snatches her collar. Dani drags Jamie on top of her, arms wrapping around and squeezing tight like a strong wind might carry her off. The difference in their kiss isn't fleeting - like a deep gasp of mountain air, and Dani guides her hand down to find there's already a river below it.
"I was dreaming of you," she whispers.
Jamie melts, moving her fingers in slow circles, appreciating how each one increases the rise of her chest.
"We're in a house, at a party," Dani says, nails scratching slow lines up Jamie's ribs, eyes screwed shut with what she's doing. "All these people, they're talking to me...you're in the corner, watching...and you look...so, so hot. I'm wearing a skirt." Her grin follows Jamie's approving grunt. "And I wait and wait until I can't anymore, and I get up right in the middle of a conversation and drag you to the bathroom. People are watching, and I don't care. I don't even lock the door. It's small, and cluttered...and God, you won't kiss me. I'm touching you and..." She lolls her head drunkenly, eyes still closed.
"...you're wearing it. I feel it in your jeans. You push me up against the sink, unzip. You pull my up skirt and cover my mouth..." she breathes faster.
Jamie leans into her ear. "And did I tell you, when I put my cock in you, what a dirty little slut you were?"
Dani stiffens as she slips into that place already tensed and slick, gasping with a wicked grin.
"Tell me again."
It's a burst of jet fuel straight to Jamie's arm, and she's stronger and faster than she has any right to be, turning Dani into a jack-hammered mess, words sharp and cruel and goading.
"Did I spin you around?" she growls. "Did I fuck you from behind like you deserve?"
When she's used up all the English she switches to French, eloquent in its filth, and Dani makes a face like she's won the lottery. She slaps her other hand on a breast, and Jamie grabs and twists until her moans rise an octave. She curls her fingers inside, switches angles until Dani twists her head to scream into a pillow.
"Did you watch me fuck you in the mirror, while everyone heard my hips slapping your ass?" She leans down, slips a tongue in Dani's ear. "Did they hear you, too? Did they hear you begging for it?"
"Don't you dare fucking stop," Dani pants. "Don't stop, don't stop, don't st-"
Her scream goes silent and prolonged, arching up and nearly taking Jamie's whole hand inside, and she comes down in a shuddering crash to claw her closer.
"You do this to me, you do everything to me," Dani stammers, hips convulsing, pulling her in deeper, brows drawn in painful ecstasy. "I love you," she pants, eyes wet. "I love you."
What else could it be, to nearly have your hand crushed and be grateful for every second of it? To fit together like this, to be Dani's waking dream, to break her, put her back together again, and be made whole by the process? Jamie shivers, electric, alive, and settles her body against Dani's hot skin. The twin pools of her eyes shine silver in the light. Jamie cups her face, says the words back, and means them with all that she is.
"I'll buy you brunch," Jamie says with a wink.
Rebecca rolls her eyes and leads the way. "Better be the biggest mimosa I've ever seen."
Dani's got her arm around Jamie's waist with a fearless, tipsy smile, half in the light of this new dawn, and half because she knows Jamie's leg throbs with every step like someone's gone at it with a cricket bat. They get a few glances, but once, Jamie catches an older woman giving them a knowing smile. Maybe she ought to give humanity a little more credit.
She laughs to herself, leans into Dani's smell: nah, it's just her sex haze talking.
Over brunch, it's decided - Hannah gets her shop time in Rhodes. Jamie wonders what on earth she'll do for hours while the rest of them peruse.
And what she'll do if she sees the man with the camera.
The memory rises on a sour vapor of heartburn. In a sense, Dani was right. What does it matter if some creep is tailing them, long as he keeps his distance? But a dark premonition settles as she watches tourists pass by. Something else is at work here, something Jamie could see if only she could get closer.
"I have something for you," Dani says as they walk along a football pitch set in the middle of ancient stone buildings. Young kids squabble over a checkered ball, all energy and no skill.
"You sneak into a shop while I was in the loo?"
Dani ducks her head, unaware that this specific little smile is Jamie's favorite. "I got it in Oslo. It's stupid."
"Poppins," Jamie says reproachfully. They stop at an alcove, a little overlook jutting out toward the bay where Colossus once stood. Dani slips a hand in her pocket, avoiding her eyes, and shoves a small object into Jamie's hand.
It's a bracelet, thin but heavy and ornate, forged in a design she can't discern at first. Jamie turns it over and finds the snake's head, festooned with great sweeping scales in a clever clasp, so that when closed it swallows its tail in a never-ending circle.
"Jörmungandr." She looks up, agape. "How did you..."
"Lucky guess," Dani says wryly. "Or maybe I read your favorite book while you were asleep."
No guess needed; there was hardly a margin left in Norse Mythology she hadn't filled with chicken scratch, comparing Loki to the Dine's Coyote or imagining the Veil in Helheim. Jamie had half a dozen other kinds of mythologies with equally copious notes, but that book was the only one with its spine held together with tape. The genes of those ancient people lived in her, interwoven with the native Gaels they slaughtered and enslaved. Jamie held a begrudging fascination with their stories, of Gods and giants and a world that was always going to end in fire and blood. Maybe it was her heritage, maybe it was the hazards of her professional calling, maybe it was the child that still lived within her, pleading to go monster slaying with the boys. What could make a braver warrior than someone who believed annihilation was just over the horizon?
"Don't pretend to like it, if you don't," Dani says quickly. "I know it's kind of -"
Jamie presses a finger to her lips and holds her wrist out. Dani fastens the bracelet, cheeks flushed crimson. Jamie twirls it round and round. The twisting rope of silver scales glint in the sunlight.
Finally, she meets an anxious blue gaze and realizes her expression has been frozen in shock this whole time. Jamie sets her hands carefully on Dani's shoulders.
"Poppins, this is...the most...actually the f-..." She takes a breath. "This is the most amazing thing anyone has ever given me, in my whole bloody life. I fucking love it."
"Really?" Dani says, with pained relief.
She bows her head stiffly. "Can't fully express it, or I might make inhuman sounds and scare the children."
Dani laughs. "I'm glad you like it."
"I love you," Jamie says, quietly in the crowded street. Dani stills, melts a little, looks at her lips in that way she does when they can't kiss. Something else passes through her expression, a cloud over the sun.
"Do you trust me?"
Jamie startles from a trance. "What?"
Dani's eyes search hers, unreadable. "Do you trust me?"
The meaning of the question, Jamie realizes, doesn't matter; her answer would always be the same.
"With my life."
Dani nods a little.
"Yeah." She smiles. One of these days Jamie will have to tell her what a terrible liar she is.
Down the street Rebecca emerges from a stall, long brown arms toting copious shopping bags and waving a slip of paper.
"Guarantee it," Jamie sighs, "she's found another beach."
Dani drives them to the spot, except as their luck would have it - there's no beach. They wander around the tiny marina, rimmed by a village of white buildings nearly deserted.
Owen puffs out his chest, bless him, and stammers out a question to a wrinkled woman sweeping the walk. He cringes apologetically at her baffled chuckle and shrugs to the group.
"See? Pig Latin."
Jamie shakes out her arms. "I'll do this, but no one say a goddamn thing to me about it, alright? Not a word." She looks pointedly at Dani, who holds up her hands.
"Hey! What did I do?"
Jamie pastes a smile to her face and gleans from the woman that yes, there is a beach, a boat ride away on mikró nisí, and she will call the driver.
"The woman on the island runs the operation, there's a lighthouse and a little museum," Jamie recites, taking a special interest in the cloudless sky. "If all of us go in they don't charge a fee for the water taxi. We can stay as long as we like, the last trip back is at 6pm."
When she chances a look, Dani is gazing off into the distance, biting her lip to keep from smiling or leering or both, and Rebecca is blinking rapidly like she was just sprayed with flottle.
"Jamie," Hannah says casually, as if this were the most ordinary interaction, "can you ask if anyone else has gone out today?"
Hannah smiles in sublime satisfaction. "Can't do better than that."
Owen leans in, mustache furrowed with grumbles. "Honestly? That was my one cool trick, Jamie."
"Sorry, mate," she grins, and elbows him. "Don't worry, this lass will be telling her friends how I butchered it for weeks."
"At least you were intelligible," he mutters, sulking.
The boat comes on time, puttering lazily into the dock, and a sun-darkened, hunched man motions them in.
"Sorry, small boat," he says with a cringe. "Have you all there..." he snaps his fingers.
"Alright, the three young ones first," Hannah says, flapping a hand.
Jamie nearly loses her balance as she steps in, injured leg singing like a tuning fork. Dani steadies her with a strong arm and sparkling grin. Jamie swoons - a maiden caught by her gallant lover, and a few other roll-reversals tease at the back of her mind.
"You like old places?" The man nods enthusiastically. "My wife, she welcome you." He winks and wiggles his fingers for emphasis. "The lighthouse is haunted. Spooky."
Rebecca leans back to soak in the sun. "Hear that, Taylor? We might get to see a ghost."
Any further conversation is drowned by the roar of the engine. They cut through the waves toward a misty speck breaking the limitless blue of the water and sky.
The top of Dani's hand rests against her leg. It's a small thing: the warmth of it, incidental to anyone else's eyes, but it fills Jamie with an electric joy. The smallest movement of her fingers, that secret signal that says Dani's attention is on her, scrambles every other thought in Jamie's brain, injects her with an insane babbling pride, so that she could sprint around accosting strangers: See her? That brilliant, beautiful woman? She's my girlfriend. She could shout it from a rooftop, from the window of a speeding car, bellow it from the balcony every morning she wakes up.
She thought she knew what love was.
Jamie's dizzy with it - intoxicated and blissful with the wind in her hair. Taken as she is, she lets her guard slip, forgets what she's been holding at bay all this time.
Like a knife slipped between her ribs in a crowd, the boat's engine becomes the roar of a helicopter. She tastes the jet fuel, smells the iron scent of Dani's blood saturating her shirt. The horror as her arms flexed inward, neck extending rigidly in a kind of stiff unmoving seizure, that last embrace of body and soul.
Jamie stiffens, throws up her defenses; too late. The shell of Dani's limbs let go, eyes sliding halfway open in death.
She doesn't have to imagine the worst. Even then, she'd fastened some kind of thread around Jamie's core, this stunning woman who kissed her boldly on the floor of a haunted house. Forty-eight hours together, and she'd screamed herself raw, clung to Dani's cold, limp arm until Hannah pried her fingers off one by one, relearning a lesson she'd forgotten since that flooded hallway:
Death is not a metaphor.
Not a job. Not a place. All the world's poetry, all the endless desperate abstraction designed to clothe a naked reality in softer hues, rendered meaningless before the bleak, absolute truth.
Someone is here, touchable, alive, and then the next moment, they are gone. If there were any way around it Jamie might have found the key - she would have rent heaven and earth just to get Dani back. But none of that mattered as her friends tore her from the corpse, the corpse that said in its endless mantra that death only is.
They got her back, yes. Jamie got her back: a second chance beyond all description of holy miracle.
But it would happen again, someday.
Jamie closes her eyes against the wrestling match that ensues when she reflexively hopes to die first, bludgeoned with a vision of Dani living on, hollow and heartbroken without her.
Doom and elation, ecstasy and fear.
She thought she knew what love was.
The flashback finally releases its piercing hold. Jamie gasps the salty air, sick and shaken.
Dani is watching her. Jamie can't meet her eyes, cursing herself for letting the demon in. Dani glances over; Rebecca and the driver are looking out to sea. With a gentle touch, she turns Jamie's face toward hers.
Silver-clear, impossibly light: Dani's gaze is the glass of a mirror, reflecting every desperate fear and revelatory joy Jamie has felt.
For an instant there is an outside force tugging her by the navel, as if she might tip over and plummet through the depthless expanse of Dani's eyes. A flicker of shade, a gust of air through an open door.
Dani's Seeker voice prickles up Jamie's ear.
You're safe, she whispers. I will never let anything come between us.
Jamie shakes her head slightly, awed. Beauty telepathic home's wherever you.
Dani smiles a little. Me, too.
Jamie's heart jumps. Hear this ridiculous no way talking to meself?
The smile grows. Your accent is a lot thicker in your head.
Jamie reel in the open space, her stream of consciousness garbled while Dani's rings clear as a bell in the vault of her skull.
I/self... Jamie takes a shuddering breath, focusing so hard her mind feels like it will split. Learn when nowt of it I don't understand? How've you searching not possible how're you doing this?
I want to show you something. Just for a moment. Let go.
Gravity pitches again. Dani is easing her over the edge of a cliff on the end of a frayed rope swing. Jamie's stomach revolts, clawing out for purchase, some part of her distantly aware she's squeezing the life out of Dani's numb left hand. Her blonde brow arches in light amusement.
You'll get used to it.
Fucking shite like I will! She's a cat held over a bath, a first-time skydiver perched at the open door.
Jamie's fingers relax a degree. She pulls in a deep breath.
At the apex of the swing, Dani releases her hold. Jamie hovers suspended, and the expected plunge never comes. Rebecca and the driver look out over the water as the nose of the boat pitches down into the trough of a wave. A warm pressure wraps around her middle.
The bow pierces the swell, a spray of water rises in the air around them. And then, in the ringing of perfect silence, everything stops.
Dani sings something in the back of her ear, music played from another room, muffled and wordless. Jamie stares in heartbreaking stillness at droplets frozen in the air, sunlight arcing through tiny sapphire prisms.
Is a drop of water in the ocean
Or the ocean?
The boat rises, the wind roars again, and gravity returns like the snap of a rubber band. It's over quick as a daydream.
The motor cuts low as they approach the island. Jamie is staring at Dani Clayton, a schoolteacher, who looks as shocked as if she picked up a basketball for the first time and made a half-court shot.
The cheerful captain leaves them at a dock jutting out from an ancient courtyard. A set of winding stairs leads up into the hillside. The glass cupola of the old lighthouse peeks over the summit, a crooked wooden sign pointing the way to the museum. To the east a sparkling beach cuts a bright half-moon against the sea.
Rebecca gives the white sand a look that would make a grown man faint. "You nerds go on, I need a swim."
"No spooky tours for you?" Dani chides.
"I'm on fucking holiday, alright? Last thing I need is a cheesy tourist trap haunting." Rebecca blows them a kiss, flinging her shirt and shorts off on the hot sand.
"Can you make it up there okay?" Dani says, looking up at the spiral.
"Poppins, how the fuck did you do that?"
Dani bites her lip, with that shy pose designed to fry the circuitry of rational thought.
"I don't know. Suddenly I just..." Her face slackens, a strange nostalgia fills her eyes as she looks back at the water. "I smelled it, the lullaby and waking song/alarm clock, and you know it's really easy to bring it over but it's slippery, moving all the time..." she laughs nervously. "Like trying to hold a fish." She startles at the look on Jamie's face. "Fuck, I'm sorry, I don't know where-"
"Would you mind repeating that in English?"
She covers her face a moment. "I could hear you. Your isolation. I wouldn't read your mind baby, even if I could, but I felt what you were feeling. So I just...God, I don't know how to..."
It's something, Jamie muses, when someone has to qualify that they can't read minds. Dani pinches the bridge of her nose. "Did I mess up?"
"No..." Jamie chuckles. "No. But do you realize what you just did?" She puts Dani's hand to her chest. "You just created the Breadmaker's Siren, for me. For a living being. And... instead of the Veil, you showed me..." she shakes her head. "I've never heard of anything like this."
"I didn't plan it, I-I don't even know how I did that."
Jamie brushes their noses together, pulls Dani into a lingering embrace to hide the fear that stirs in her mind. "I think we ought to tell Hannah when she gets here." Dani nods against her, relieved. "Is that...what you always see? Is that how you see the world?"
She laughs. "I wish. I felt that way when I saw the Void." Her hand squeezes tight against Jamie's chest. "And sometimes, with you."
What can she say to that? It's a miracle she's talking at all, and not rocking back and forth in the fetal position after seeing the universe in drop of water. The vision has begun to fade, the answer to its echoing riddle on the tip of her tongue.
"Come on," Dani says with a smile. "Let's go see the ghost."
The stairs, thank God, are not as formidable as they seemed. A short flight leads them to a gradual path of packed dirt. The sweeping cliffs of Crete loom in the distance, breaking the monochrome of water and sea. Jamie wonders if she could ever get used to a world so blue.
They near the base of the lighthouse, yellowish stone still proud in old age. The remains of a wrecked boat have been turned into a little playground for children, though Jamie can't imagine many visit this remote outcropping. It's quiet but for the breeze. A door to the lighthouse hangs open.
Jamie pokes her head inside. "Yassas?"
No one replies. A glass case sits before the door, full of adorable relics - oil lamps and ancient currency, fishing implements and bits of pottery. Pictures lining the walls of the room are more interesting: sepia portraits of sullen men, probably keepers of the lighthouse, and a few group shots of soldiers looking itchy in vintage woolen fatigues. A young woman poses in several of the later photos, long dark hair corkscrewing down her shoulders. She wears a button-down uniform Jamie doesn't recognize, standing tall with pride and purpose. Then, beyond the photo, something even better.
"Shite," Jamie mutters aloud.
A sword hangs in an ornamental frame at the head of the room. Sharp edges glint in the light: a blade three and a half feet long tapering gracefully to a deadly point, narrow pommel wound in wire for grip. Though solid and fearsome the weapon has an air of lightness about it. Forged, Jamie thinks, for a smaller hand. The cross guard is decorated with phases of the moon, otherwise unadorned.
Near the base of the blade, Jamie spots a slight tarnish forming on the finish: not the rust of steel but the black frost of oxidized silver.
"No fucking way," she whispers.
"It was my grandfather's."
Jamie wheels around to find a portly woman standing behind the glass case, tight grey curls framing a mischievous round face. Dani slaps a hand over her mouth to muffle a yelp.
"Did I startle you? My husband calls me the ninja." She feigns a kung-fu pose. "Was that you calling, dear? Your Greek is very good."
"Not half as good as your English," Jamie says with a smile.
The woman limps from behind the case in a flowered cotton dress and worn sandals. She leans on it with a sigh, kind eyes ringed with crow's feet. "When I was your age, I traveled, as you do. Now, I retire."
"Do you own the island?"
"Own? No, no. My home is the village you came from. This is everybody's land. But, as you can see, someone from my family has always been here, tending the light. There are few of the young ones left to do it. It suits and old lady."
"This weapon - silver, isn't it?"
She nods. "You have a good eye. Long ago, the Ottomans controlled this place. There was much resistance, but my grandfather had a soft heart. He fed them and treated them as brothers. The island is lonely." She smiles. "They gave to him this gift when they left."
"Yes." Her sparkling eyes look Jamie up and down, leather boots to her frayed black tank top. "Would you like to hold it?"
Every dragon-slaying fantasy of her youth reignites in technicolor so bold she nearly faints. Jamie manages a star-struck grin. "It would...it would be an honor."
"The honor is mine," she says, motioning toward Dani. "We don't get royalty here often."
Jamie follows her gaze.
Chin tucked like a cornered animal, Dani glowers fiercely with her Seeker's black sight. Bone-white knuckles shine from clenched fists that tremble as if some invisible battle rages between them. She cocks her head slightly and the air thickens in warning.
Jamie lunges for the sword.
"Wait!" Dani calls, holding a hand up. "Wait."
Jamie looks between the woman, who smiles placidly, and her lover that is completely in reach of whatever the fuck is masquerading in an old lady suit.
"Dani," she says tightly. "Run. Get out of here."
"She isn't dead."
The woman cackles. "Not yet, praise God."
She shakes her head briefly without taking her eyes off the woman. "Who are you?"
"Gina..." She casts a sideways look at Jamie and cracks up laughing. "I kid, I kid! The look on this one's face!" She puts a hand to her belly, wiping tears away with the other. Jamie starts to wonder if there's been a chemical leak and she's caught in the throws of a bizarre hallucination.
"You're a Seeker," Dani whispers.
"No, no, no," she scoffs. "You have much to learn. My husband tells you the lighthouse is haunted, and you jump to the other extreme."
Dani frowns. "But you're not a ghost."
"Black and white, up and down, life and death. Do you think everything fits so neatly?" She looks at Jamie again and flaps a hand. "Go! Take the sword if it will make you comfortable, tiny warrior."
"What are you?" Jamie snaps, unsure whether she should be insulted.
"You are asking wrong question," the woman says, "because you have wrong perspective." She squints and points a finger at Jamie's head. "You think you're the muscle, she's the brains. You sell yourself short."
"I like being the muscle," Jamie smirks.
She throws her greyed head back with a cackle. Despite herself, Jamie softens. It's the belly laugh of a beloved grandmother, not a yellow-class with a bone to pick.
"So did I, when I was your age. You are much better looking than I was, smart, more good with people than you think. Always, you have a plan, no? Even when you don't know it."
The old woman lifts her eyebrows. A passing caress tickles over Jamie's skin, the room takes on the swimming haze of an opium den. Her boot soles press into the ground, the ache in her leg quiets and goes silent. The woman's lips are still forming words, but they are not the ones that reach Jamie's ears. She's pinned in place, entranced by wide golden eyes that transmit a sharp whisper:
That which watches you from the shadows, preys on your heart. What you've always sought will be your undoing.
Jamie spins toward a vibration - what she assumed to be the returning boat, but now is too loud to be anything but the chop of rotor blades. A rippling boom sounds from outside, shouts coming from the courtyard below. Dani is gone.
"It wasn't you that made her shift," Jamie says breathlessly.
"See?" the woman says. She limps over and takes the sword from it's rack with an effortless grace that implies she could decapitate someone with barely a thought. "Your mind, sweet one, is your second-best asset."
Another horrible impact rattles the pictures on the wall. "What's the first?"
"Safe travels, little Jamie," she says, offering the sword. "We'll meet again soon."
Jamie Taylor has seen some things in her three decades on this earth.
Ghouls, chimeras, phantoms with teeth for hands, and once - a bewitched poodle. She's been thrown, flattened, bitten, trampled, and nearly torn in half. Despite the sheer sum of thrashing and fighting she does for a living, she's never had the conceit to label herself a warrior.
But facing the sight that greets her as she flies out the door with a sword in her hand, Jamie knows her time has come.
Rebecca sprints down the beach pursued by a dozen howling dark shapes. Hannah and Owen wave to her frantically from the boat, cutting in an arc to avoid gargoyles leaping from the dock. At the center of the courtyard a portal shimmers in a swirl of violent darkness. Dani is nearly to it, flying down the stairs like an Olympian.
An unmarked Black Hawk helicopter banks overhead in a cacophonous torrent of wind, a Breadmaker mounted to its gun turret. From her vantage point, Jamie spots speedboats streaking across the cerulean water like white rockets.
More phantoms emerge from the portal, cutting off Rebecca's path of escape; she'll be torn to bits by the time Jamie clears the stairs.
That leaves only the shortcut.
With a running start she vaults over the dirt embankment, skiing on the soles of her boots down the hillside. She gains speed, sliding wildly out of control and nearly losing the sword as she flails to stay upright. Her feet hit the stone of the courtyard at clumsy, lurching run, saved by the last moment by miraculous adrenaline.
Rebecca is tripped by writhing black slime tangled up in her legs, and the beasts of the Veil descend like vultures. Jamie's best friend goes down with a kicking shout, defiant to the end.
The ghouls never see her coming: a flash of silver and a battle cry, courage blazing like the birth of a star.
Bone chips and rotten meat spray through the air. The silver blade hisses like Jörmungander, sending the creatures of the Veil back from whence they came.
With the blessing of the Gods, I smite the undead.
The giant leech wrapped around Rebecca's legs glistens and constricts, its parting orifice ringed with misshapen razors of teeth and dripping bile.
Jamie thrusts the blade down its maw, splitting the back of its head open in a pop of black droplets and rips outward. Rebecca scrambles away from the deflating mess.
"Where's my fucking sword!"
"Get to the boat."
"I'm not leaving you!"
"Go!" Jamie shouts, shoving her with one hand. More of the leeches slither across the sand, followed by a clamorous horde of nightmares. Rebecca squeezes her shoulder, five years of partnership riddling her voice with agony.
"Don't make me regret taking you to the beach," she says, and runs for the water.
With whatever sentience they have, the monsters have turned toward Jamie, their real enemy.
She welcomes them like wheat to the scythe.
A flood of yellows and reds: Mad Marys, gelatinous ghouls and house-cat sized centipedes. Severed arms and shattered carapaces fly through the air, punctuated by the crack and slice of furious swings. Hot entrails and putrid fluids spill over her boots as Jamie hacks her way through the mob.
The sword is growing hot, her arms screaming with effort in the onslaught. A skeleton fountaining insects from its eye sockets crumbles into a heap; gargoyles snarl in from the sides only to be skewered and thrown. Jamie gets covered in bits of flesh that reanimate and squirm to find their way into her body. She scrapes them free with her bracelet and cuts a path to the top of the courtyard.
Dani stands at the edge of the rotating portal with arms outstretched. She trembles, as if straining under some great weight, and the swirling maw reverses directions. Creatures clawing their way out are swallowed back into the abyss.
She stops twice to raise a furious hand toward screeching ghosts that make it past Jamie's blade. The earth cracks open beneath and swallows them whole.
Jamie takes care of the rest, amputating the flailing hands of a Scornmaiden before beheading it with a smoking blade.
Dani brings her palms together in straining concentration. The portal shrinks, settling like a living thing under her command. With the tactile crack of a soundless wave it disappears. She raises her head to make eye contact with Jamie, a lop-sided grin on her lips.
Jamie raises the sword with a savage howl, black-stained and victorious. What can't they do together?
Dani flinches as if hit from behind, and the smile falls from her lips. Jamie stills. "Poppins?"
Slowly, eyes rolling back, Dani falls to the ground.
Behind stands their stalker, a pistol in his hand.
He glows before her in perfect clarity; sandy hair whipping in the breeze, tourist khakis, the cold, determined focus of a killer as he raises the gun.
There is nothing but the ground beneath Jamie's boots, the scream of rage that leaves her lips. He takes aim as if it matters, as if any amount of bullets could stop her from gutting him.
He pulls the trigger.
Something swift and soft flies past Jamie's ear, the expected whip-crack of the barrel comes instead a muffled percussion. She turns her head just in time to see the dart bury in the neck of a soldier running up from behind. Dani has risen to her knees, only exhausted and not dead.
Not dead. Shit.
Jamie throws her swing at the last moment, missing the man by an inch. The tip of the sword thwangs against the stone in a hail of sparks. He downs two more soldiers before cursing and expelling an empty clip.
More are running down the hill; Jamie sees the rotors of the landed helicopter coming to a halt at its summit.
"Run, you bloody idiot! Take her!" He hauls Dani upright. She stumbles before Jamie catches her with her free arm.
"Who the Hell are you?" Jamie says.
"James Bond, The Pope, Father Christmas," he snarls, reloading the gun. "Get the Seeker out of here."
Boats streak ashore - what is this, fucking Normandy? - and Jamie drags Dani as fast as she can toward the dock.
One last gargoyle emerges dripping from the water. Jamie sets Dani against a pylon and levels the sword. Payback, really, for the time she was kicked into a wall at the Ministry.
The lizard-dog snarls, horrid fangs dripping. She parries a raking lunge, splitting it down the middle in a single swipe, scales and guts spilling across the dock. The momentary glory is snuffed out like a candle as she looks out. The boat is gone. Hannah, Rebecca, Owen: she searches the waves frantically.
"Dani, we have to-"
Jamie feels the earth turn beneath her feet, the brush of every atom of air on her skin. Time slows, sharpens.
Two hulking soldiers have Dani pinned to the dock. One of them slams his knee between her shoulder blades and sinks the long needle of a syringe into her neck. Beyond, the man with the dart gun is being restrained face-down.
They're coming for her, too: shouting and pointing assault rifles. Dani is screaming for her to run. Jamie makes eye contact with her, a last little smile tugging at her lips.
"You know I won't."
She raises the sword and charges forward. The edge slices across body armor, deflects off a gun barrel. Her boot catches another man between the legs, she brings the hilt down hard across his nose. A strike to the gut doubles her over. The last thing she sees is the butt of a rifle.
The world goes black.
Something jostles her foot.
More than anything, she'd like to reach out and choke the life out of that annoying posh cadence. But something holds her wrists behind her in submission, a pain only bested by a splitting headache as she opens her eyes.
"You're too ugly to be James Bond," she slurs.
"Thank God," Hannah sobs, handcuffed to a chair beside her. "Are you alright?"
Jamie straightens, getting her bearings. The camera-wielding stalker squats in front of her with a very British sour look. The three of them are alone in a bare concrete room with only one door. "I'm alright, Boss."
"I only have a minute or two," the man says, standing. Jamie regrets not spitting on him when she had the chance.
He shakes his head, furious. "I haven't the slightest idea. What the Hell were you thinking, taking her abroad? And to international waters? I expected more from you, Grose."
"How was I supposed to know this wasn't Greek territory!" she spits. "You buggered it up at the Rectory and now you're blaming me?"
"The situation was being monitored."
"By one Seeker?! Brian!" Hannah strains so far forward that the chair tips onto its front legs. "One Seeker!"
"There were others. It would have been enough if you'd kept your dog from nipping at my heels every moment," he growls.
"You looked ridiculous," Jamie mumbles, still coming to. "A car salesman on holiday."
"Joke away, Inspector," he growls. "It'll be hours before I can sort out this international cock-fuckery enough to get you free."
"And Clayton?" Hannah breathes.
"What would you like me to do, start a war?"
"Do whatever you have to," Hannah says, eyes wide. "If you knew the stakes you'd-"
"If I knew!" he shouts, eyes bulging. "I was there, at the Rectory. I saw the nosebleeds. Yin nearly had a bloody seizure. Seeker Haskill vomited after thirty minutes with her. Twila Haskill!" He sets his jaw, takes a breath.
"We read your report, and everything between the lines that you left out. Someone else, did, too. Someone outside the Circle. I respect your motivations, Hannah, I know how much you care for the girl. But you cannot hide what she is. And now that the word is out, she's isn't ours to keep."
"What do you mean 'what she is?'" Jamie cuts in. "What's happened? What are they doing to her?"
Seeker Brian looks away for a moment, his face betraying for the first time any compassion.
"They're taking her home."
"Understand," Hannah says shakily after the Seeker is escorted out, "I wanted to keep you both safe. I was trying to protect you from what this could become."
"Later," Jamie says, voice thick. Notions of loyalty and betrayal can wait. "Dani spoke to me, in my mind. She bent reality. I saw her close that portal with her bare fucking hands. Tell me what you know."
"What happened on Bly strains the definition of possible. I suspected, then, that something extraordinary was at work here. Then in the Veil...You can't just pick up a Breadmaker and make a portal, Jamie. Not even if you're a Seeker."
She blinks, struggling to grasp this through the ringing in her head. "But you did nearly the same. I saw you scrub that white-class all on your own on Bly."
"And it was easy." She leans in, almond eyes burning with intensity. "Easy, Jamie, to banish a Wrathort I knew almost nothing about. I could feel her every desire, saw her true form like she was a dear friend."
"But you're the best...you're Hannah Grose - "
"What's the Operator's motto?"
Jamie shifts. "'I am the Hand and Ear.'"
"It's only half true. I am the hand, but it's the Breadmaker that listens, that translates the yearning of the undead and allows the trail to be laid. But like any ear, it can be deafened in chaos. A Seeker is the amplifier, the translator; at once the same as a Breadmaker and yet totally different. The partnership is delicate. It requires the deepest trust, the strongest connection, a commitment of years just to hear a single word across the chasm. To go up against a white-class without one is suicide, but I had no choice. I thought that I could buy you time, or flash open the portal and use myself as bait. I fully expected to die on that island, Jamie. But I didn't have to. I didn't have to, because..." her lip trembles. "She was there, singing to me. And God, even then I didn't believe it.
"Not until Wingrave trapped me in that living nightmare." Hannah closes her eyes. "And Dani came, like an angel in the darkness. Have you felt her power, Jamie? Have you seen her there? The indescribable beauty of it..."
A horrifying and incredible understanding takes shape. Thousands of words in half a dozen languages murmur in Jamie's memory, footnotes and oblique mentions, legends that cloaked truth. She chokes, hoarse with resisting it with the last of her reason.
"I don't understand...Dani said she used the Breadmaker, that she heard the Siren." Jamie twists her sore arms to better face her. "She brought you back."
"And have you ever," Hannah says tightly, "heard of such a thing? Seekers treading in the Veil? Speaking - speaking! - to apparitions there. Opening and closing portals at will. For all their gifts..." she laughs quietly. "No, my darling. Dani crossed into the Veil, defeated a seasoned Necrofak with hardly an effort, and she made a portal. That can only mean one thing."
Jamie shakes her head violently. "Of all people, don't tell me you believe that bedtime-story bollocks. She's a fucking person, for God's sake! It's Dani." Jamie's pleading, to whom, she doesn't know. "She got lucky, she...she's gifted. Maybe there are people who can just feel it out and - "
She takes a trembling breath and sees the school teacher she met on Bly, casting the undead back to the Veil with a flick of her wrist. Those silver eyes in the boat, how Jamie had blamed the bright sun for their impossible hue.
"You never really retired," she manages. "Did you?"
Hannah looks away. "There are about twenty of us, who believe. Brian, myself are among them. We've tried to keep her hidden. I tried to keep her hidden even from the Circle, after I suspected it had been compromised."
Whispers and myths, that's all they were until that moment: tales of the rarest kind of people, whom the ancients mistook for gods of the underworld. Those who could stride between life and death as if they were rooms separated by a gossamer curtain. A living being who could bridge the gap. A gatekeeper, with unimaginable power.
What would a government do, to get control of such a person?
Jamie swallows back the bile in her throat. "Americans."
"Not officially," Hannah says. "I have contacts at Langley and the Pentagon. Neither knew this was coming." Her voice hitches with regret. "I thought we were safe."
Plain black uniforms, a helicopter without insignia. Jamie shudders. "Where's Owen and Jessel?"
"I don't know," Hannah whispers, a tear rolling down her cheek.
"They'll be alright," she says. She tilts her head until Hannah looks her in the eye. "They're alright."
Hannah nods and sniffs.
The door opens. Two helmeted soldiers enter, rifles slung casually across their chests. A third man follows them.
Jamie snorts at his military polo and tactical pants. "I thought you looked like the sort of bloke too insecure to accept 'no' for an answer."
His smile doesn't reach his baby blue eyes, light drawl somewhere more southern than where Dani's from. "If you need someone to blame for this situation, I'll get you a mirror, Inspector Taylor. Agent Klein, pleased to make your acquaintance again."
"Leave my title out of it, you feckless prick."
He chuckles. "You all are acting like I'm doing something wrong. We're just here to take an American citizen back where she belongs. Soon you'll be on your way to London and this will be all sorted out."
"Klein," Hannah says urgently. "Don't do this. The girl is far more powerful and fragile than you can imagine. Force her into a box and she'll explode to get out of it."
"Oh," he leans forward, lips pursed. "Maybe I should let her roam free then? Take her on a nice budget vacation? Jesus, are you really that stupid, bitch? Imagine if the Soviets got a hold of her."
"She's at the most critical moment," Hannah says, "She's begun to accept it without really understanding. If you push her - "
"We have all the resources to support Seeker Clayton. I think she'll find our accommodations more comfortable than a Norwegian summer camp." He sighs contentedly. "We've given her a little something to make the ride more pleasant."
I'll find you, is all Jamie can manage, all other thought vaporized in a rage so white-hot and a helplessness so crushing she is a Phoenix burning down to its last ember beneath the ash. I'll find you and...
"Toodles," he says, turning back to the door. "Oh and, thanks for locating her for us. Prettiest Seeker I've ever laid eyes on."
The door swings shut behind him with a click. A trickle of blood drips from Jamie's straining wrists. The bracelet, she realizes faintly, is gone.
"She's not a Seeker," Hannah whispers.
The tears never come.
There is an all-consuming agony too great for physical expression, a resulting numbness so complete that Jamie is emptied of all emotion. Time passes unnoticed. They sit in that featureless room for minutes, hours, more.
So little will be left when she returns to the flat. No artifacts from an ordinary relationship - grocery lists scribbled on the back of envelopes, a hairbrush, washcloths carefully folded in that way Jamie always made fun of her for. Dani took everything she owned with them: Rebecca's carefully curated wardrobe, the perfume that weakens Jamie's knees, all in a suitcase somewhere being raided by strange hands.
Spirits, Jamie can fight. She would brave the world serpent himself if it meant getting Dani back. But men? Men are the true snakes, so desperately in denial of their fragility that they would obliterate every precious life before admitting defeat.
These men would murder Dani rather than let her escape. Worse, keep her buried underground until the last of her will wither away, until she is as empty and defeated as Jamie is now.
The blood has gone cold and crusted on her wrists. Her mind drifts, unmoored. She tries to conjure images, feelings: Dani's hand against her leg, the way she tucks her head into Jamie's collarbone when she dreams. In the end, it's too painful to remember, so she focuses on the chair beneath her, the familiar bite of handcuffs, the seed of an undying rage taking root deep within.
The door groans open, but it's Hannah's bitter laugh that wakes her from the trance.
"Did your magic potion not work? What a shame."
The down-turned corners of Agent Klein's mouth pull his lips into a thin undercurrent of disgust. His carefully gelled hair sticks up on one side, collar ruffled as if he had just been caught in a strong wind. The three soldiers are stone-faced. One of them has a broken nose, bruised circles gathering under his eyes. Jamie winks at him.
"Our departure is a little delayed," he admits, "but all will be reconciled. We've learned quite a few things about Ms. Clayton in the meantime." His cold eyes settle on Jamie. "What motivates her."
Hannah squirms against her restraints. "Let me talk to her, she trusts me, she - "
"That won't be necessary, Operator Grose."
Two of the soldiers grab Hannah's chair and struggle to lift it as she thrashes in a desperate fury.
"I will cut you, areshole to ears," she seethes. "If you harm this girl, I will fucking hunt you down. They won't even know whose body it is when they find the pieces. I'll feed you your fucking balls with a spoon-"
"It's alright, Boss," Jamie says numbly. "I'll be alright."
The soldiers, dodging kicks, manage to tip the chair and drag Hannah toward the door.
"Klein! You goddamn idiot!" she shouts. "You'll kill us all!"
"I'm saving lives, Mz. Grose. Enough with the hysterics." He smirks, holding Jamie's empty gaze. "You should know I can't afford the mountain of paperwork killing a British citizen entails."
"Jamie!" Hannah sobs. "Fuck you fucking-Klein! You don't know what you're doing, you-"
When the door swings shut, Jamie kicks a boot out casually. "Suppose you brought this bloke to do your dirty work. Hands a bit too soft from all that desk duty? The manicures must cost a fortune."
"Save the witty banter, Inspector, it's not creative enough to move me."
"I think you're still a bit sore Dani didn't trip over herself for that bloody awful performance in Athens." She wrinkles her nose. "Is that what you think women want, a Ken-doll with shite for brains?" She laughs outright. "Surfing, fucking Great Whites...You're definitely the one to judge witty banter. Is it your name? Did they tease you in school, Randy?"
He smiles. "I'll have plenty of time to get to know Danielle, inside and out."
He's good. The bared teeth, the unblinking gaze, shoulders square and back. But the perfection itself a tell. Jamie spots the tic jumping like a flea in his broad neck as he stares at her.
"I repulse you, don't I? Strange, big bloke like you, all guns and muscle." Her eyes flick downward. "Making up for something, I imagine.
"It bothers you," she says icily, "to look at this wisp of a lass, doesn't it? It'll burrow under your fragile skin, bounce around in your empty skull, play behind your eyes like a fuckin' movie - still you won't understand how she can love me. Every time she doesn't give you what you want, you'll see my face. I'm your ghost, Randy."
She leans forward as far as the chair will allow, shoulders trembling. "And believe this: Dani will never give you what you want. Ever."
He sighs. "Make it bad, but nothing too permanent. We need her to be recognizable." The man with broken nose nods and flips out an extendable baton.
"See you soon," Klein says.
The soldier steps forward. Jamie closes her eyes.
"This is what happens when you play with fire."
Turbulent breath wheezes around the thing jammed between her teeth, every struggling inhalation like pulling air through a coffee straw. Her nose is swollen shut. Jamie retches against the acrid taste of adhesive and blood. She tongues aside the shattered gravel of loose teeth, unable to spit them out. Stabbing pain erupts from broken ribs with each gasp. Other injuries vie for attention as she regains consciousness, burning and aching and throbbing.
Something tacky and crusted coats the roof of her mouth. A vague memory passes of an oxygen mask being forced over her face, a metallic vapor singeing her lungs.
"Do you understand what we are telling you? We're here to help."
Jamie peels her eyelids open. The blazing outlines of an illuminated form momentarily blind her in the dark room, like sun on snow.
"Do you hear me? Do you hear what I'm saying?"
A speaker plays a hissing, rhythmic ticking, like the clack of marbles through cloth. Jamie winces against the sound; it's nauseating, unending. A voice is barely audible above the tape, lilting slowly in the harmony of a nursery rhyme:
Go down, go down, you Knoxville girl
with the dark and rolling eyes
Go down, go down, you Knoxville girl
you can never be my bride
Jamie sobs into the duct tape gag. Dani sits strapped to a chair just feet from her, silver cables wrapped wrist to elbow. Her shirt is torn, she bleeds from a split, darkening impact across her collarbone; another contusion swells over her right cheekbone. A bag of ink-black fluid drips into an IV snaking into her arm, hastily taped around fingertip bruises littering her arm.
A trail of milky pus oozes from the corners of her vacant stare, sclera yellowed and bloodshot. Blue irises, once full of light, now stain the color of fetid mud at the bottom of Bly's Lake.
"You care about this girl, right?" Klein says softly. His voice, sharp as a dagger before, caresses like a mother's touch.
"You hurt her, with your power. They warned you about this kind of thing, didn't they?"
Dani takes a long breath, blinks heavily like she might fall asleep. A string of drool drops from her slack jaw.
"She fell down on her bended knees, for mercy she did cry..."
"We still can't find your friends, Rebecca, and Owen, and Hannah. It's possible they were killed." Dani looks at him slowly, a ghost of concern twitching her brows. He sweeps a hand out. "I mean, look at what you've done to Jamie, Danielle."
Jamie screams into the gag, but it comes out as a hoarse sigh that ends in an agonizing fit of coughing. They've done something to her throat. Her torso is wrapped to the chair in the same silver cable that binds Dani's wrists. Half a dozen men watch from the shadows of the room. Some wear white coats, others in fatigues gripping silver billy clubs. The walls are blackened as if fire tore through moments ago.
"You hurt her, Danielle," he intones.
The empty eyes slide back to Jamie, taking in her bloody face, her wet rasping breath. Tension rises in the room, fear a wire pulled to the breaking point. The hypnotic tape beats a steady rhythm: tick, tick, tick, tick.
Klein straightens, voice toneless. "State your name."
"Danielle Gloria Clayton," she drones, swaying.
"Where were you born?"
"Green Bay, Wisconsin."
"Good," he says. "Did you hear what I said?"
She nods like a puppet, voice a dry whisper. "Yes. She didn't like the razors in the ground. It rains so much, every day, darkness. Four times you turn it, raze the ground up and over our heads. All that lingers feasts on it, never-ending..."
"It's so beautiful, it's ruined me for everything else, if only you could see-"
"Danielle," Klein says smoothly, "what else did I say about your power?"
"Too much," she whispers, staring through Jamie. "Too much."
The ticking goes on, an insect burrowing into brain matter. Jamie struggles against her bonds, wheezing unintelligibly. She can't move, can't speak, smothered in the stifling darkness of the room.
"You have to come with us, so we can show you how to be better. You need our guidance," Klein says smoothly, neck twitching. "As a teacher, you must understand that."
"The dark river that consumes everything. The Junction, warm and close. They aren't ready for it, they can't go. They can't go with me."
"Very good. You don't want Jamie to get hurt anymore, do you?" He shifts when she doesn't answer. "Danielle?"
Dani hangs loosely against her bonds, as if she might slump to the floor without their support. The veins of her arm stand out ash-grey against her skin.
"Breaking," she whispers urgently. "It all fractures before me and reforms, again and again, and if I could just get my fingernails underneath it, I could peel it up and the light would get in, and they would see...oh, they'd see how pretty it is, the mold and maggots and rot." She speaks louder, faster, almost crying with joy. "God, if only they could see it! Can they grow? If I die, they'll still grow. Hair like a shroud. Forever and always, my fingernails my talons my beloved under all that soil, we can be together. The worms, they get in and they become it, they become-"
"State your name."
Her face slackens again. "Danielle Gloria Clayton."
The chair Jamie is bound to rattles against the floor. Her ribs scream in agony, but the noise brings Dani's glazed eyes wandering with vague curiosity.
"Where were you born?"
"Green Bay, Wisconsin," she whispers.
Jamie takes as deep a breath as she can, tensing her muscles, readying herself for the blinding pain.
"Are you ready to come with us? All you have to do is say yes, Danielle. Accept our help. We only want to help you. You're not alone."
Look at me.
She throws her body into it, screeching the chair across the floor an inch.
Jamie Taylor is no Seeker, but she doesn't need to be. When those diseased eyes find hers, Jamie screams soundlessly with all her might across the space between them, a single word like the strike of a match to the fuse.
A soldier comes up behind and holds her chair still. She wheezes, eyes wide.
Dani's chin dips drowsily, bleary gaze settling back to the floor. "If only I could get my fingers between, they would see, they would see that precious decay, the perfect festering rebirth of it..."
Jamie's sob is a silent exhale, tears stinging her split lips. Not like this, please. Not like this.
"We can protect you, we can protect those you love," Klein says. "All you have to do is say yes."
Dani nods. The tension in the room relaxes a degree.
"Good, Ms. Clayton, we have a plane waiting to take you. I think you'll find it very comfortable."
"Release me," Dani whispers.
"Oh, now you know we can't do that," Klein says sweetly. "Not after the trouble you gave us. I promise you'll be very well taken care of. The restraints are for everyone's safety."
Dani's head turns slightly to each side as she regards the silver bonds through cloudy eyes. The tape goes on; tick-tick-tick-tick. Black liquid drips with every third beat. Her skin seems translucent, contrasted with the graphite veins that pulse like living cobwebs across her neck and face. Klein stands from the table and murmurs something to the white coats standing behind him.
Dani's dry, deep voice silences the room, even more alien than it was at a whisper.
Klein stills, composing himself before turning to her with a blank expression.
"State your name."
The room waits while Dani takes an uneven breath. She looks up, focusing with sudden unnerving stillness.
"Release me," she says, looking right at him. "And I'll let you live."
The guards flinch, casting glances to each other. One of the men in white coats reaches quickly into a pocket.
"Danielle," Agent Klein says firmly. "Remember what happened here. You killed your friends. We know you don't want to hurt anyone else." He glances to the doctor fumbling with the vial and needle, nearly sticking himself with trembling hands. Finally, he draws up a shining liquid into the syringe. Jamie struggles, screaming silently as the doctor steps forward.
Dani can't move, can't escape. They're going to kill her, they're going to kill her and-
The IV line stops dripping. Dani's blood, bright red, backs up the tubing in a rush. She stares at the doctor, expressionless, as the medication bag bursts in a watery red explosion.
Klein throws up a hand to the advancing guards, breathing hard. "Wait," he whispers. "Not yet." He composes himself again, pulling his blood-spattered shirt down. As he does so, he flicks the retaining strap of his gun holster.
"We can take Jamie with us," he offers. "Would that make you feel better?"
Dani's shoulders twitch. She turns her head, smooth as an owl, toward Jamie. For a fraction of a second the love of Jamie's life is there, the person who knows her favorite songs, kisses with her whole self, and tears up with the slightest emotion; she looks out in heartbreaking grief, struggling to keep her head above a rising black tide. She smiles in sorrow, as if to say she's sorry, a thousand other secrets and vows she never got to share given in a single moment. And then she's gone - pulled under the waters of a dark flood.
And the thing that takes over, counting Jamie's injuries with a growing malice, is not Dani at all.
Fingers curl into fists beneath the cables as she holds Jamie's frightened gaze, lips curling into a twisted sneer.
It's all gone wrong.
The temperature of the room drops so suddenly that Jamie's panting breath crystallizes in the air. Dani flexes slowly, meditatively against her bonds, which crack and plink and fray. The doctors flee. Metal clubs clatter to the floor as the soldiers, following the lead of Agent Klein, draw their guns. A frost collects under Dani's chair, spreading across the floor and walls.
Tick, tick, tick, tick.
Dani stands slowly, shaking off silver cables that shatter against the floor. An off-key ring fills the room, a whistling tea kettle - then a smoke alarm, higher and higher until it threatens to burst Jamie's eardrums. The cassette player cracks and ribbons tape in a puff of smoke.
Dani pulls the bloody IV line from her arm. Her eyes roll into oozing black orbs, trails of blood freezing into crimson ice on her skin. She lifts a hand toward Jamie. The cables drop like cut vines from her chair, pitching her broken body to the hard floor.
"Stop!" Agent Klein screams. He watches desperately as the rest of the soldiers cover their bleeding ears, break rank and flee from the room.
Jamie wrenches herself to her knees and rips the gag from her mouth. Reality begins to unravel, the checkered vinyl beneath her hands bubbles and waves.
"Wait!" Klein keens.
The ringing becomes a child's piercing scream. Dani tilts her head back to laugh, shrouded in dark veins, teeth glittering in a predator's bared grin.
Jamie vaults from the floor.
Agent Klein pulls the trigger, silver flashes of the revolver that she never hears. Each shot is the crack of a baseball bat inside her body. Jamie's knees buckle, she crumples at Dani's feet, staring in numb shock at the blood pouring from her abdomen.
"You stupid kid!" he stutters, eyes bulging as he fumbles to reload.
Dani slowly raises a finger toward him, untouched by a single bullet.
Hannah and Rebecca burst through the door. Seeker Brian makes it two steps into the room before collapsing in a heap of convulsions.
Rebecca acts first, leaping to tackle Dani. The liquid floor swallows her legs up to the knees. "Jamie! Give me your hand!" she screams helplessly, reaching out.
I'm sorry, Jamie wants to say. I'm sorry.
"Dani," Hannah cries, stepping forward as she sinks into the floor, tears rolling down her cheeks. "Please..."
The floor pulls together into an undulating fountain, lifting Klein up. The revolver and bullets fall from his grasp. Checkered tentacles thread around his arms and legs, fixing him in place like an insect wound in silk. Dani tilts her head curiously at his frantic shrieks. The floor wraps around his neck, tightens as he sputters and gasps.
The walls are disappearing, breaking apart as the towering wave of the portal crashes overhead.
Jamie turns at the last moment, lunging for Dani's legs, but she's swept away as they all go under.
Unlike the preceding classes, Red to White aren't graded by physical hazard, but by scrubbing difficulty, White being
Of the components of "Special Sauce" (common term, see index), Raven's Gift is, without a doubt, the most difficult to obtain, necessitating a reciprocal
The truth of it is that it wasn't her looks, the way she rolled her shirt sleeves or (God help me) that perfect ass - it was the resigned set of her jaw, like I was the latest in a series of disasters she couldn't
You need to set that lower, Taylor, about an inch-right, so that the phantom will
No, no, just go back to Feinberg's recounting of portal dynamics and I think you'll be closer to the correct order for
Lunch is at noon every day for the rest of your life, 240184, or for however long you've earned yourself a stay at Her Majesty's
I'll be seeing you, in every lovely summer's day, in everything that's right and gay, I'll always
In summary, the damages you've caused to this city and the reckless endangerment of its citizens leaves me no choice but to set down the harshest punishment allowed by
So very sorry, we've no one under that name, have you checked with
Bien sûr tu veux lire Le Corps Lesbien, sale gouine, et heureusement pour toi, je suis
It exists in almost every culture: the circle, the infinite loop of death and rebirth, symbolized by the serpent eating its
Before me was an edge, and if I stepped over I would fall, I would fall forever and see
"First day of the rest of my life," he says, flicking ash into the tray stand.
Jamie blinks. Smoke curls lazily from the tip of his cigarette in the still air. She sits in a row of squat chairs beneath square windows that let in muted light. Delicate white flakes drift down beyond the glass. A gust of wind sends flurries skyward, the whole world a snow globe.
"I'm gonna encourage travel, oh, you bet." The cigarette goes to his lips again, trembling a little. "Good for the soul, to see the world."
He's young, lanky, handsome and bright. Hazel eyes peek up, hopeful, achingly familiar, and Jamie nods. He sighs with relief. "It's just a lot to think about, you know? All I'll have to do." Even the walls quiver with his anticipation.
Jamie looks to the windows again and flinches. She could have sworn they were -
"They say you're never ready," he laughs. The windows glow behind him, curling up overhead into skylights, elegant and mind-bending marvels of engineering.
"You aren't, no one is," Jamie says automatically. "But soon it's as natural as breathing."
"Really?" He chuckles uneasily. "I sure hope you're right."
The cigarette in his fingers shudders now from vibrations outside him, bright in the light of the reflected snow over her shoulder. The glass begins to rattle in the panes, a rumbling that grows louder and louder. She shifts awkwardly to peer behind herself, looks back to the blank wall behind the man.
"Sorry, but could you tell me - "
"Yes!" He grins. "I'm really looking forward to that!"
The grin wilts as they stare at each other. Jamie opens her mouth to say something and is cut off by the sound of a door opening.
A nurse smiles into the room. "We're ready for you," she says to the man.
He's barely able to stand as the ground pitches and bucks under his feet. The glass cracks above Jamie's head, leaking in melted snow. A wall collapses behind the man, sends chairs sliding across the floor.
"Wish me luck," he winks, as the glass rains down.
Jamie kicks a boot against the porch railing. Enormous cars roll by, a few drivers tapping their horns and waving out windows in greeting.
"I guess I knew," the man says brokenly. "If I'm really honest with myself."
His eyes are red-rimmed. He sniffs and rubs a huge hand against the corner of his eye.
"Don't worry," Jamie continues in a prim voice. "There are things we can do. Methods, ways of curbing this kind of thing. It's common, and temporary."
He seems uncertain, rubs his left fingers together in a way that seizes Jamie's heart. "Such as?"
"Light encouragement. We'll have to work together, keep an eye on it."
"Shouldn't we just - "
"Best to nip these things in the bud." Jamie smiles placidly. "You really shouldn't fret. I have dealt with these situations many times over my career. That's why I came to you. Trust the process."
He blinks a few times, though Jamie's not sure he heard her. "Is it so bad, really? What if - "
"Think about the kind of life that brings," Jamie says sternly. "Think about how hard that path is, and if I may be blunt, how sinful."
A heated flash passes through his eyes, a protectiveness that hints at a powerful will. But then it's gone, and the defeated worry returns to age his handsome features.
"Yeah, you're right."
"The boy," Jamie says. "You said they're already close?" He nods. Jamie presses out another poisonous smile. "Well then, we'll just use what's already working in our favor. Water a seed, and it will grow. This will work itself out, I promise you. Well, the hour is getting late. I've got to be getting home. Have a nice evening."
He waves absentmindedly without looking at her, staring off into a corner of the porch. Jamie takes out a cigarette and lights it.
The man looks up. "You leave now."
Jamie freezes at his stern tone, but it was a statement, not a command. "I do?"
The man's lips part slowly, watery eyes focusing. "You drive away and I wonder for the rest of my life if I've made a huge mistake." Tears drip down his cheeks. "And I did. I did." He sobs, puts his head in a hand.
Jamie shakes her head. She strains through the script, the static, pulling each word from liquid cement.
"Look at me." She sits in the rocking chair opposite him. He lifts his head.
"You shortened the sound that changes everything."
The porch boards rumble. Time sinks and bends. The grass beyond them curls up, an American flag mailbox horizontal on its slope. Houses peak above them, reflections inside a glass ball. Jamie feels the breath of what wakes in the house hot on the back of her ear.
"Yeah," he swallows, scrubs his tears away hurriedly, seeing her with sudden understanding. "You're its end?"
Jamie nods, laughs, her own eyes wet. "Can you believe it?" She takes a drag and leans back in the chair.
"You know, you really should quit those things," he jokes, gesturing to her lap, "on account of your health."
Jamie looks down. Blood spurts from the holes in her gut with each heartbeat. A clot, gelatinous and dark, plops into the growing puddle between her boots. The street cracks and ripples, the houses beyond sink into a yawning canyon.
"Come with me," she says. "Please..."
The presence in the house gets to its feet.
The man gestures to his feet, where the porch has begun to fuse with his skin. "I'm afraid this is where we say goodbye," he smiles brokenly. "Tell her - tell her I said, 'the keys are on the table.'"
"There are so many things I want to ask you, sir."
Jim Clayton reaches out and squeezes her hand as the earth disintegrates beneath them, his last words reaching her before the deafening roar swallows the house.
"Please, call me Dad."
The shuffling figure halts. Jamie sways, rain dripping off her nose, a bottle clenched in one fist.
It's not possible. She's pissed - that's all, the asphalt pitches like the deck of a ship under her feet, glow of the streetlamps and misting rain like fairy lights in her bleary vision.
But she saw -
The lumpy jacket continues on, faster now. Jamie watches its silhouette disappear around the corner. She's gone mad, finally. That must be it. Seeing ghosts in the shadows.
She turns to stumble off the opposite direction, back to the halfway house where she is certainly not supposed to be smelling like liquor. Fuck it. "Happy birthday to me," she hiccups.
Something - a little bitch of a thing, catches her shoe. Jamie lands hard on her side in the street, whiskey sloshing as her arm instinctually jets straight into the air.
She coughs, moaning, simultaneously enraged and impressed that she sacrificed her body for bottom-shelf swill. "Get up, you fuckin' twat." But when she stands, counts backward from thirty, she isn't any better. The anger throbs between her temples, spreads down the back of her neck, across her shoulders and to the death grip on the bottle. Drunk, pathetic, covered in stinking mud. Trash.
Jamie runs back the way she came.
She spots him at the entrance to the Underground, limping down steps one at a time. "Oi, you!" she shouts.
The hooded figure glances over a shoulder, and a fish flips in Jamie's gut. But then the face is gone, and the person takes the stairs two at at time. She nearly eats it, slipping on the rain-damp steps, hustling to catch him. The corridor is empty; the trains have stopped this late.
"Hey!" Her voice echoes loudly in the silence. "Where you fuckin' going?"
Jamie's upon him, three times as fast even drunk out of her mind, and her prey surrenders, throwing up an arm and cowering in a shadowed corner. For a moment she feels like the menace she is, but she saw -
"Dad?" she whispers.
Slowly, the person lowers their arm, eyes peeking out from the hood of a patched rain coat. "S-sorry, lass, I don't know you."
"It's me," she says, barely daring to breathe. "It's your Jamie."
Wide-eyed, the man takes his hood down.
Sorry, she almost says, taking an unconscious step backward. Reggie Taylor was grizzled and coal-dusted, short-fingered and solid in the way that generations of labor bred. He was a man, and what stands in the shadows is a skeleton.
Thin, yellow skin stretches taut over jutting cheekbones, a wisp of white whiskers prickling from a sallow chin. He is withered, feeble, strange lumps littering his neck. The stink of urine and worse emanates from him, something that conjures images of rotten marrow and bloody stool. Jamie only just now takes in his hole-riddled boots, three pairs of pants haphazardly held up by a belt cinched to its tightest length.
She's backing away, muttering an apology, but halts.
The man's eyes light up, his watery smile a frail impression of the grin she once knew. Daddy coming home, sweeping his daughter of the floor to parade her about on his shoulders.
"My Jamie," he whispers.
They stare at each other, another minute passed in the decade between them.
"Look at ya," he rasps. "You're all...well you're a woman now, eh?"
Jamie nods, shrugs because she doesn't know what else to do. "Suppose I am."
A little light of hope sparks in his faded eyes. "Done well for yourself?"
"No, not..." Jamie swallows. "I'm gettin' by."
The light goes out. "Oh, well. That's...that's good."
Jamie glances around the station, to the cavernous tunnels beyond. Her voice is tight with emotion. "Do you live down here, Dad?"
He shrugs and chuckles, almost gets a word out before he is suddenly wracked with a convulsive, wet hack that rattles his emaciated frame. Jamie waits, straining not to look repulsed as he dabs at his lips with the stiff sleeve of his jacket.
"I c-" He wheezes a few more times. "I g-" He turns and spits a bloody wad of phlegm onto the floor. "They wouldn't let me stay there, in the Home, so I..."
Jamie's fingers go numb around the bottle. "D'ya not have any mates to stay with? Surely there's somewhere better than the tracks."
Her father's eyes dart around, settling everywhere but on her. He keeps dabbing at his chin though the last of the pink froth has subsided. Jamie reads the word left out in his dirty clubbed fingernails, the shape of the lumps on his neck. Nursing Home.
"Have you got cancer?"
He chuckles again, the sound of wet gravel under a shoe. "I'm alright."
"Did you not think to find me? Did you not think I'd help?" Jamie blinks incredulously. "Where have - "
She gasps, a surge of hope nearly knocking the feet from under her. How could she have missed it? How could she not have remembered when that singular thought occupied the first and last moments of her waking days?
"Dad," she says, stepping forward. "Dad, where's Mickey?"
He looks back up to her, startled.
"Wh-why would I know where Mickey is?"
Jamie hovers inches from him, so close her unblinking eyes burn from the stink of a coming death radiating from his skin. The silence stretches. It takes her ages to recall how to speak.
"Do you have any idea," she whispers, "what it's like in those girls' homes? What they did to me in there?"
His mouth drops open, lip twitching like a worm on the end of a hook, and doesn't answer.
"Do you know what they did to me?" she says louder, voice breaking. "A freak that sees ghosts?"
"Little Jamie," he whispers, afraid. "Our little-"
"Did you know that it was my birthday this week?"
"Please, I - "
"DO YOU EVEN REMEMBER WHEN IT IS?""
Jamie heaves the bottle. It shatters next to her father's head, pelting him with broken glass and whiskey.
He wails in terror and cowers, sliding down to his knees as Jamie advances on him.
"You despicable, soulless, horrid fuck!" she roars. "You left me there to die! I was just a child! I never got to be a child!"
He crawls desperately away on the filthy ground, dragging broken glass with him. She digs the toe of her boot into his side, turning him onto his back and snatching him by the crusted lapels of his jacket.
"They took my brother! My baby brother!" she screams in his face. She shakes him. "And you're just gonna die down here, and leave us all over again, eh?"
"Our little Jamie," he babbles, weeping. "Our little Jamie..."
Jamie shoves him away, heaving and suddenly desperate for space, and clutches numbly to a handrail. She leaves. She always leaves now.
"You're not worth living for."
Jamie turns. "The fuck you just say?"
"It's true, isn't it?" He laughs hoarsely, grinning with rotting teeth. "Your mum, the whore. That other little putrid wretch whose ashes you tossed." His reedy voice bends, rises, becomes his daughter's as his eyes sink lower. "Give it up. Your bastard brother is dead."
"That's not what happened," she says. "You yelled that you loved me as I left."
"She's left you here to die. Shot like a rat, aren't ya?"
Jamie grabs at her stomach, trying to pull the red ribbon of her own blood back in.
"Not this," she says, shutting her eyes. "Not this one."
Rebecca shoves her back. "Go! Get out - " A slick lasso whips around and rips the legs from under her, throwing Jamie into the wall.
"Jessel!" Jamie screams, taring after blindly. She follows the sounds of Rebecca's shouts, the sliding of canvas along the floor faster than the recoil of a measuring tape. Jamie loses her in the twisting hallways.
"Jessel!" She pants in the darkness, listening. In the next corridor she hears the thump of something slam into a corner, and she's sprinting again, the light of her headlamp bouncing off walls and reflecting from dust-covered mirrors.
"Call out! Tell me where you are!"
Jamie's panicked mind somehow finds the resources to conjure just exactly how it will feel to tell Hannah she got Rebecca killed; what the look on her exquisite face will be when she explains how they hacked their way through overgrown blackberries to get in without scoping the building first, that she let her remove her own backpack against protocol to retrieve a Spectrometer, that Jamie had been too busy making a joke about the size of Peter's wanker to even notice.
Will there be anything left to bury?
"Rebecca!" she calls. The corridor splits two ways into a V before her, abandoned hotel rooms with doors ajar in either direction. It's utterly silent.
The panic threatens to strangle her, to reduce her to a weeping pile in the carpeted hallway. Jamie wants to scream, scream and scream until the thing takes her, too. Until she's sure she won't have to live with a mistake worse than any haunting.
Training settles in like a steady hand on her shoulder. Think.
Jamie drops to one knee, shining the beam of her headlamp along the floor. From this angle, she can clearly see the layer of fine dust settled over the patterned carpet.
And the drag marks through it.
Jamie slides her backpack to her chest, stuffing salt bombs and Special Sauce into her coverall pockets. A holster, her mind whispers. If she lives through this, she'll always have a holster. Hand shaking, she slides a glove on her right hand, then left, and unsheathes the machete. Shouldering her backpack again, she pulls the chest strap tight, zips her coveralls up to her chin.
The carpet muffles her steps in the silent hallway. Jamie replays the words of their conversation last night to keep the horror of what she might find at bay.
"I know you don't like Peter."
Jamie smirks over her cards. "I like him just fine."
"You called him a ninny."
"I call you names all the time. 'S how I show affection." She plays a queen. Rebecca frowns.
"For calling you a snake-charming twaddleslut?"
She slaps down an ace and snorts. "What in the bloody Hell does that even mean? You're mad, you know. But..." She bites her lip, as if saying it causes her actual pain. "You're my best mate."
"You ought to keep looking, then." Jamie sighs and takes the stack of cards into her hand. "Find someone who doesn't ransack the English language just to insult you."
"I'd rather like to keep the one daft arsehole that doesn't judge me."
Jamie looks up. "And why would I judge you?"
Her caramel cheeks take on a red hue. "Everyone else is. My mother, Hannah..."
"Hannah doesn't judge you."
"Not out loud." She sets down an eight of clubs. "I know he's rubbish. I just...I see his potential. He's not been dealt a fair hand. What if no one had taken a chance on us, eh? Where would we be?"
It doesn't work like that, Jamie thinks. Not when sex and infatuation muddy the waters of reason. Nice girls had liked Jamie, smart girls that took her to fine restaurants and up to their chic flats where they gave it their all to rescue her from this gruesome underpaid life. But Jamie hadn't wanted saving, and she saw in Peter's glittering eyes and catlike smile that same self-assuredness. The difference between them being that Jamie kissed her would-be saviors on the cheek, thanked them for a fine night, and left them to play out their white-picket fantasy on someone else; Peter Quint preyed upon them, kept them, would drink any well dry.
She might have told Rebecca all that. Instead, Jamie smiled and said, "You're my best mate, too."
The temperature increases the further she goes down the hall until the air is humid and thick as a jungle. Trickles of sweat trail down her back as she presses on.
She flinches when the silence breaks, though she'd been long expecting it.
Jamie comes to a juncture, another stairwell connection. The building is shaped like a hollow diamond; she was reaching its eastern prominence. Across the top of the open fire door are sticky trails of something like a web, each rubbery strand as big around as her finger. The carpet is saturated with milky fluid and soft under her boots.
They took everything away.
Jamie makes quick slices along the edge and slips through, wincing as one of the strands leaves a wet trail across her cheek. The sour smell of bilious cherries fills the air, sharp and repugnant.
You UNDERSTAND, I know it. So many have wronged you. Filth! Backstabbers. He came home, he came home and he took that hot iron and he - It isn't FAIR. I WILL MAKE THEM PAY MAKE THEM SQUEAL CAN YOU HEAR THE SHRIEKS I HAVE WAITED FOR IT -
It had already tried to make someone pay, Jamie sees as she rounds the stairwell into the next wing. Splintered wood and sheetrock litters the hall, gashes through walls torn in fits of rage. The Eye-for-Eye had built itself a throne from its inanimate victims, a pile of broken furniture and filthy hotel linens that almost reaches the ceiling.
Rebecca lies on her back in front of the den, groaning and twisting in half-conscious torment. Her headlamp has been shattered, the back of her coveralls burned through by the friction of the carpet. A slick, translucent rope is wound around the bottom half of her leg, impaling itself through her thigh. Its knife blade end twitches like a cat's tail, red with blood.
Jamie forces herself to look beyond, into the shadows where the appendage leads.
"Take me instead," she says carefully.
Rebecca lifts her head weakly toward the light of Jamie's headlamp. "Taylor, get... What are you doing?"
"Take me," she says again to the moving flickers beyond her headlamp's beam.
BUT YOU ARE LIKE ME, it hisses. YOU UNDERSTAND.
"Don't think so," she muses. "Like to think you got what you deserved." A blast of heat like opening an oven door gusts her hair back. She grins. "Touched a nerve, did I?"
Rebecca is coming to, yelling at her to get out. Jamie ignores her pleading, twirling the machete casually to inspect its edge.
"Ever head of a thing called Karma? Looks as though you collected quite a stain as you went through life. But me?" She smirks toward the darkness. "I'm good. I'm happy. People love me. They bring me all sorts of delightful treats, little cakes and the like. Ladies practically line up to get a shot."
The walls shudder with a roar. Rebecca screams as the tentacle twists in her leg.
THE BOTH OF YOU. I WILL GUT YOU BOTH.
"See, now, if that were true, you'd have already done it."
Jamie chuckles and points with the machete at the writhing worm jutting from Rebecca's thigh. "What I'm thinking, is that maybe you've only got one set of dangly bits." She taps the blunt edge of the machete against her shoulder, propping her other fist on a hip. "Question is, which one of us do you really want?"
Even before she's done asking, the salt bomb is leaving her pocket, the machete slicing through the air. In a blink the slimy extremity is recoiling from Rebecca's leg, striking out to impale Jamie through the chest. She parries it, lobbing the bomb toward the nest as the monster bursts from the heap.
A hundred, bulging, lidless eyes roll toward her. The body, if it could be said to have one, twists around itself atop countless legs like a wrung washcloth, arms contracted permanently against its horrid shape. Lipless jaws snap continuously, grinding down bleeding nubs of teeth, sinews of its neck standing out in the beam of Jamie's headlamp.
The tentacle - no, its tongue, whips around to snare her leg. Jamie jumps, throwing another salt bomb that bursts several of its eyes into runny yolks on the floor.
Rebecca crawls along the wall, almost in the clear. Several of the eyes snap toward her, and the bladed tongue rockets toward her unprotected back.
Jamie intercepts it, flinging a spray of Special Sauce and pinning its end to the wall. A coil flexes behind her, sweeping her up by the backpack straps. It slams her like a rag doll into the ceiling, then back to the floor, all the air blown from her lungs and stars swimming in her vision. She hears Rebecca scream her name, realizes at the last moment that she's hurtling toward drooling, snapping jaws.
Jamie swings out, thunking the blade deep into one of its dozen legs. It lets out a screech, and she swings again, severing the leg from its body in a spurt of flottle. Another swing buries the blade in its contorted elbow. The Eye-for-Eye rips it from her grasp, retreating.
She hits the floor with a bone-crunching drop, cackling with glee as the beast disappears into its heaping nest of junk.
But she stops mid-laugh, gagging. Something is very wrong with her stomach. Jamie looks down to see a glistening rope protruding from her middle, its jagged end still buried in her gut.
Rebecca is on her in seconds, taring apart her backpack for Special Sauce, slapping and clawing frantically at the thing when she realizes there isn't any left. Jamie tastes blood, feels it trickle from the corner of her mouth as she struggles to still Rebecca's hands.
"Get Hannah," she says. "Go, before it..." She blinks through the beginnings of pain. "Go."
Rebecca shakes her head, staring into Jamie's eyes in shock. "Not leaving you. Not leaving you."
Jamie nods shakily, squeezing her forearm. "You are. You're gonna find Hannah, get me out of here, yeah?" She hopes dimly that her best friend is too concussed to process that she will be long dead by the time anyone gets back.
A moment passes with Rebecca trembling and wide-eyed, her hands still clutched around the slippery spear in Jamie's gut. She releases it with a shuddering breath and cups Jamie's face.
"Listen," she says. "You've got to promise me you won't die here. Don't make me train another knobhead. Took me ages just to teach you how to tie your shoes."
Jamie takes an iron-tinged swallow, a strange grunt standing in for a laugh.
"Skewered like a marshmallow, and you're the victim? It's-it's a deal. No one else deserves to be subjected to your-" Jamie wheezes, "your wretched taste in music."
"Right, so," her voice breaks. "You think of that poor soul that will have to replace you, and you fucking hang on."
Rebecca takes the headlamp, presses a dry kiss to her forehead. "You're the bravest bitch I ever met," she whispers, tears streaming, and wrenches herself up on her bleeding leg with a guttural cry.
"Hang on, Taylor," she calls over her shoulder, leaning against the wall as she limps off. "Hang on. Hang on." She repeats it again and again, until her voice disappears into the stairwell.
Jamie shivers in the dark, every tiny movement slicing her deeper. She tries to recall that this isn't the worst part, to savor every moment before the monster wakes. She tries to remember how she survived.
There's a rumbling, not like the little crackle of the Eye-for-Eye returning to play with her; that wouldn't happen for another thirty minutes.
Something else comes for her.
"I didn't break my promise," she hisses through her teeth. "I didn't let her down."
The sound draws closer. The vibration sends a sparkling drip of Special Sauce running down her arm. She's dying. It's coming. It's here.
"She comes back for me," Jamie whispers. "They come back for-"
"And exactly what qualifications do you have?"
She startles. Did she really just doze off during an interview? Her gut tangles into a mortified knot. "I've eh, completed my sitting Scrubber evaluation, perfect marks."
The woman doesn't bother looking at her notes. "Yes, I see that. But you've never actually done any Scrubbing, have you Miss Taylor?"
She's annoyed. Jamie's come all this way just to waste the legendary Hannah Grose's time. She looks down at her wrists, at the blue veins snaking along the bones there, and tries not to think of the days she spent inside a cell, dreaming of this exact moment.
"No, I haven't."
Hannah shuts the notebook. "Alright well, I'll give you a call once the interviews are through. We have quite a few candidates so I wouldn't-"
"Can I tell you something?"
Hannah sets down her pen. "Why not."
"I hate being called 'Miss Taylor.' I hate interviews." She gestures to the blouse she borrowed, now ruined by the blood seeping through it. "I hate this fucking top."
"But I came here because I love this work, this field. It's all I've dreamed of doing. And I've got nothing to lose, Mrs. Grose. These aren't my clothes. I'm squatting in a one-room flat with six other people, taking showers in the sink, nothing to eat but a bag of crisps since yesterday."
"Boston and Jack Spec Service is just down the way. I'm sure they-"
She struggles to sit upright and holds Hannah's gaze. "Boston and Jack are a second rate gig that up-classes hauntings to line their own pockets. Your operation is the best in London and I won't waste my time working for any other." Jamie takes a grounding breath.
"I'm not asking for your sympathy, sympathy's not of any use to someone like me. What I want, what I need, is a chance. I know it's insulting, me walking in here with no experience and nodding off like that. But if you give me a go, I'll prove myself worthy of it, every day."
"Well," Hannah says, sighing. "We'll have to find you a cot."
Jamie shakes her head a little, as if warding off a dream. "Pardon?"
"There's a utility closet in the back, you'll have to clear it out. You can use the safety shower. Water's a little cold, I'm afraid." Hannah appraises her sharply. "I'm taking you at your word, Jamie, and you're not getting any sympathy. I know you have form, and I'll be watching you. A single item gets misplaced and you'll be right back where you started."
The threat means nothing; she'd sooner slit her own throat than steal from Hannah Grose. All she can manage in her shock is a single word: "Why?"
Hannah laughs. "You'll soon find out. I've gone through half a dozen Scrubbers in the last four months, all of them capable workers. They can handle the danger, the hours." She flicks the golden clasps on her leather briefcase, shaking her head. "What they can't handle is taking orders from two Black women. I've got a feeling that won't be you. After a few decades in this industry you learn to trust your feelings over what's written on paper." She looks up, and where ordinary people see a beautiful business woman, Jamie sees a thousand other things: a hardened warrior, an elite athlete, a genius.
"Would you like to get some lunch? I've been craving curry."
Hannah Grose is buying her lunch. Jamie rubs her neck with a chuckle. "Sure..."
"Rebecca wouldn't stop complaining," she laughs. "Said she wasn't a babysitter. Now look at you..." Hannah fades off, brow creasing with confusion.
Jamie follows her gaze and looks down to her hands pressed tight over her stomach, where a crimson stain spreads across her lap. "Do you have...a band-aid or something? I don't feel so well..." She coughs, a spurt of hot blood escaping between her fingers.
"Jamie," Hannah whispers. "Where are you?"
"It's so far, I can't feel the door anymore," Jamie wheezes.
The utility closet, her home for the next three months, collapses behind them. Hannah looks over her shoulder at the cracks spider-webbing across the room, falls to her knees and grips Jamie's chair.
"Life and death, black and white."
A thunderous roar sends pieces of the ceiling raining down. Something is galloping toward them at speed, taring apart everything in its path. Hannah's words barely reach her over the coming annihilation.
"Time to stop fighting," she says, kissing her cheek.
"Help me," Jamie pleads. "Tell me what to do..."
Hannah leans into her ear, uttering one last word before the Veil takes her:
There is a song her mother used to sing.
Jamie remembers her in the flickering sepia light of childhood memory, before she was old enough to walk, before Mickey was born, before all the world went dark. Standing over the wash, singing to little Jamie in that sweet, full accent she had managed to dull by the time she drowned:
Sweet’s the laverock’s note and lang,
Lilting wildly up the glen;
But aye to me he sings ae sang,
Will ye no come back again?
She grins the broad and toothy smile her daughter will inherit. Oh, do you like that, little Moonflower? We'll make a musician of you yet.
"It hurts, Mum," Jamie sobs in the dark. But her mother just smiles, going back to the washing, humming a tune for her.
"Please...I don't want to die."
The vision dissipates, a mirage in the mist. Jamie weeps in the frigid wasteland, utterly alone. Other images play by - beckoning, tantalizing. She hears another voice, far off, an echo of a memory that transcends them all, and remembers its command.
In a final moment of courage, she lets go.
Near the last of her blood escapes in a warm gush. Jamie's breathing quickens and shallows, her gaze grows dim as she hovers in the blackness, carried along by a current she can't see.
A light approaches in the distance, closer and closer. Not a light, but a ring of it, spinning and disappearing into a formless darkness. The humming of a million voices fills her ears, duality breaking apart into infinite being. Jamie is tipping over the precipice, where she'll fall. She'll fall forever and see-
An unseen force catches her, and there -
"Took you long enough," Dani says, holding her by the collar. She hauls her up from the edge, as if Jamie weighs nothing at all, and props her broken body under a supporting arm.
Jamie coughs weakly. A tooth suspended in a float of crimson drips down Dani's shoulder. Each word is ground glass in her throat. "The others..."
Dani smiles a little. "He won't be bothering us anymore."
This close, Jamie could use the last of her strength to plunge them both over the edge into the infinite prism of darkness and light. The part of her that thinks she should fades, quiets. It's someone else's turn to be brave. At the end of all things, Jamie only wants to die in Dani Clayton's arms.
She relaxes into her chest. "You're so warm, out here..."
Dani covers her bloody hand in both of hers. "You're cold."
"I'm alright," Jamie mumbles. Her eyelids drift down. Dani smooths her hair, kisses her head.
"You took a bullet for me."
"Oh," she sighs. "I do that for all my girlfriends."
What a gift, to hear that laugh one last time.
"Everyone wants me to live in death," Dani muses. "Everyone except you."
"What do you want, my love?"
"You," she says without hesitation. "Us." She gazes across the Void, its edge of light reflected in her featureless eyes. If Jamie even glanced in its direction this close, her consciousness would splinter into a thousand pieces.
"I know I'm not who I was. But I'm not who they're telling me I am, either. I just want time."
"Time," Jamie exhales. "Wish I had more with you, baby."
Dani tips her face toward her glittering onyx gaze.
"Do you trust me?"
Jamie smiles faintly with broken teeth, words fading with the last of the light in her eyes. "With my life."
Dani kisses her, soft and delicate. The thrum of voices arcs around them, a sparkling visible current, welcoming Jamie home.
But I am home, she thinks as their lips part.
All the wishing and the want passes, the struggle and the pain. Jamie discovers she never had to do anything; she was ready for this journey the moment she was born. The crescendo has given way to the song's end; her body sings the last notes of its peaceful lament. The rhythmic peristalsis of her intestines hush, her kidneys cease their delicate cleansing. It won't be long now.
Dani holds her, a goddess of the dark, infinitely strong. "I love you," she says.
She doesn't wait for Jamie to answer.
With a viscous plunge, Dani thrusts her hand through bullet wounds. Skin and organs rip and part, her knuckles crack into the front of her spine. Jamie heaves against a shock of agony, eyes rolling back as Dani's fingers curl into a gleeful fist around her insides. She leans close, a lock of hair brushing Jamie's face as she whispers in her ear.
"This is the beginning," she says, and yanks outward.