Actions

Work Header

Trust and Love

Chapter Text

Back in 1781, Abbie had told Benjamin Franklin that she and Crane had learned they must be honest with each other. But as soon as she saw her fellow Witness standing there with that bloody knife, all bewildered shock and horror, she knew she’d have to lie to him about what had happened in the past. Or at least…leave out a big chunk of the truth.

None of them wanted to be alone that night—and she, Jenny, and Irving quickly united in wordless agreement that by no means would they let Crane return to the cabin so soon. In the end Abbie invited them all back to her house. It was the closest, and she had beds enough to spare if she and Jenny shared and one of the men took the couch.

On the way they stopped for beer and takeout, and somehow they got through the evening until all of them were drunk enough to feel sleepy. Jenny and Irving did most of the talking. Whenever it got too quiet Crane stared at his hands like he was Lady Macbeth and expected to see them still covered with blood. Then Abbie couldn’t take her eyes off them, either, because she’d always loved his hands, so long-fingered and graceful that she couldn’t help imagining them on her skin. And now that she knew…

She shook her head. She couldn’t tell him. Couldn’t tell Jenny, couldn’t tell anyone. If only the spell had worked like Grace expected, and wiped her time in 1781 out of her existence, leaving her without even the memories of it…

They all tried to get her to talk, of course. She begged off, saying she needed time to process it first. That just got Jenny all concerned, of course, and she had to reassure her that none of the terrible things she was surely imagining had happened to her.

Just to get them off her back, she told about beating Colonel Sutton in hand-to-hand combat. That earned an appreciative eye-widening from Crane—“quite a robust fellow, as I recall”—and encouraged by that little flicker of life she related all Past Crane had told her about his experiences with her phone.

She left out the part about her password being Crane’s birthday. She didn’t want to deal with Jenny and Irving’s reaction to that, not tonight.

When she described Past Crane sliding the whole phone across the table in an attempt to unlock it, all of them laughed, including Crane, and Abbie smiled with satisfaction as she cracked open another beer. You needed funny stories at a wake. They kept the family sane and functioning through the funeral. And while she, Irving, and Jenny couldn’t mourn Katrina or Henry, Crane had to be a wreck, losing the wife he thought he’d had and the son he’d never really had, and all by his own hand and hers along with him.

So she took a swig of beer, cold and smooth, and told them how the other Crane had cracked the mysteries of her phone and come to rescue her, only to find she’d already saved herself.

“You had him—me—I don’t know what to call it…” Crane shook his head.

“Neither do I,” Abbie admitted. “It was the strangest thing—you and not quite you.” She’d been stealing glances ever since she’d made it back, comparing. She’d always thought he was just naturally on the twitchy side, but now she realized how much of it had to be the constant tension of living in a world that never quite felt like home. And she swore he was skinnier now, even with all the sugary junk he put away.

“I suppose I would’ve been different then. You had…the other me watch the selfie video? That one?” His cheeks reddened. “I cannot believe you kept that.”

She shrugged unrepentantly. “It’s my favorite thing on that phone.” Shaking back her hair, she sat straighter, assuming her most Crane-like posture, and attempted an English accent. “I can assure you, we were not eating waffles. We were forging a nation.”

As Irving and Jenny laughed, he leaned forward, closing his eyes and massaging his forehead, but even that was a good sign. He didn’t look ready to shatter into a million sharp-edged pieces anymore. “Why that video, of all things you might have chosen?”

“I had to use something that wouldn’t require an internet connection, first of all. It’s not like I could send you to the Wikipedia page on American history. And I was telling you all kinds of strange and disturbing shit. I couldn’t blame you for not wanting to believe me. But I knew if you saw that video, you wouldn’t just believe I was telling the truth about coming from the future. You’d know I was telling the truth about us.”

Now he raised his bottle in salute, a tiny but warm smile playing at his lips. Damn, if only she’d lost her memories of the past like she was meant to! How was she supposed to function if every time he smiled at her she wanted to climb into his lap or throw him onto the nearest horizontal surface and tear his clothes off? This was so not the time. It might never be the time, not in this century, anyway.

“I see it now,” he said. “You had to convince me that I trusted you, and God knows I would never have disported myself in such a fashion with anyone with whom I was not completely at my ease.”

She nodded. “Exactly.”

And then Jenny and Irving begged to see the video for themselves, and it made enough of a distraction for her to start clearing the table and putting the leftovers in the fridge. They’d all sleep, and things would be more normal in the morning. They had to be.

Of course even getting everyone in bed and settled wasn’t as simple as that. First Crane and Irving had to have a long, ridiculously polite argument about which one would take the couch. Irving would take the couch, he said, because Crane was taller and would get more sleep in the bed. But no, Crane said he would take it, because he’d slept in many a worse place in his years with the army, and besides, he’d been taught to give place to his elders. To which Irving responded, Who are you calling an old man, Mister Born-in-1750-whatever? and after the debate cycled through the same loop several times, Abbie just rolled her eyes at Jenny and said, “Crane, bed. Irving, couch. My house, my call.”

At last, after bustling around sharing out sheets and pillows and comforters, the other three were all settled, leaving Abbie with the bathroom all to herself for the longest, hottest shower she’d ever taken. She’d never take indoor plumbing for granted again. Or electricity, or the internet…or thick plushy bath towels, deodorant, birth control pills, the minty taste of toothpaste, every tiny little modern marvel she’d never had to do without before. Her whole bedtime routine suddenly seemed more miraculous than mundane.

Warm, clean, and comfortable in a soft tank top and softer pajama pants, Abbie padded barefoot through her silent, darkened house. Irving was already snoring softly on the couch, curled neatly on his side. She smiled to see the utter peace on his face. It was good to have him back. She’d almost given up hope for him.

She paused outside the guest bedroom. The door wasn’t quite closed, and a sliver of light shone through the crack. She held her breath and listened, but she didn’t hear snores or the heavy, steady breathing of sleep.

Of course Crane wasn’t asleep yet. How could he be?

On an impulse she opened the hall closet just opposite the guest room door and strained on tiptoes to reach down a quilt from the top shelf. It was nothing fancy, just simple square patchwork all in warm shades of red, green, brown, and gold, but it had four generations worth of love and comfort in it.

She knocked softly on the guest room door. “Crane?” she whispered.

“Lieutenant?” His answering whisper sounded hoarse and heavy.

She tiptoed into the room and shut the door carefully. Just as she’d feared, he was not only awake but fully dressed, sitting statue-still on the narrow spare bed.

She crossed to him and set the quilt in his lap. “I thought you might like this.”

He stared down at it, ran an assessing hand over the fabric. “It feels old.”

“My great-grandmother made it.” Abbie crossed her empty arms under her chest. She almost regretted the impulse that had brought her in here, because this was all so weird, and what the hell could she or anyone say under the circumstances? But Crane needed her, and so she babbled to fill the silence. “My mother’s mother’s mother. It’s the only family heirloom I have left—well, that and Grace Dixon’s journal, now. When Jenny and I were little, Mama made us sleep under it whenever we were sick or scared. It always helped. She said there was magic in it, and I’m starting to wonder if it’s true. Magic, love—maybe it’s almost the same thing, with a quilt.”

Now he was shaking his head, and Abbie bit her lip. She was such an idiot. How could she mention magic and love in the same breath after everything Katrina had tried to do? But all he said was, “Surely you need it.”

“Tonight you need it more, I think.”

“Oh God, Abbie.” He reached out a long arm, pulled her into his lap atop the quilt, and crushed her against him. Now it was her turn to be all stiff, almost as bad as Past Crane had been when she’d told him goodbye. But this Crane needed her to be normal, so she made herself relax and slide her arms around him.

He loosened his grip and stared down at her. Their lips were only inches apart, but she had to stop noticing these things.

“Are you sure you’re quite all right?” he asked. “You seem…I know there’s a great deal you’re not telling us. Were you truthful when you told Miss Jenny nothing dreadful had happened to you?”

He couldn’t know the half of it. She wouldn’t let him. “I’m fine. I promise. I just expected you to hate to be around me now.” That was the truth, at least. One fraction of it. She’d shot his son. He’d killed his wife to save her. How could he stand to have her in the same room, much less hold on to her like his only anchor to reality? Wouldn’t a little more space be better for everyone, at least in the beginning?

“Why would you ever imagine that?” he asked in a tone of honest bewilderment.

She eased herself off his lap but stayed close beside him. “I shot your son.”

He let out a ragged sigh. “As long as we’re speaking plainly…I stabbed my wife.”

“To save me.”

“So you expect me to hate the sight of you?”

“Something like that.”

“Abbie…I did what I did to prevent a murder. That it was your life at stake made it easier to do what I must, but my duty would have been precisely the same if her victim had been a complete stranger.”

He sounded calmer, safely grounded in his principles and sense of honor, but then he balled his hand into a fist and slammed it against his leg. “We did what we must, you and I. But what I cannot understand is how I could’ve been so blind to her true character. I loved her. I thought I knew her. What went wrong? What signs did I miss?”

Abbie blinked at her sense of déjà vu. She’d had almost the exact same conversation with Past Crane. She laid her hand on his curled fist, smoothing it out until it lay flat against the quilt, though still tensely taut. “She loved you too, at first. Fought for the same side. She just…changed. Maybe you should’ve seen that, maybe not. But you couldn’t just give up on her, not after everything she did for you and your whole history together.”

Abbie had certainly been suspicious of Katrina from the beginning, and there’d been times the past few months where she’d wanted to shake Crane and shout at him to wake up. Yet maybe that would’ve been impossible. He wouldn’t be Crane if he wasn’t inclined to trust and love, and if that had proved a weakness with Katrina, so be it.

They sat together for almost a full minute in a silence that was almost comfortable. Then he shifted his hand, interwove his fingers with hers. “I’m only sure of one thing in this world tonight,” he said softly.

She stared at their hands. “What’s that?”

“I need my partner more than ever. Don’t think I’m angry with you, or that you need to draw away for my sake. I—I couldn’t endure this without you, Lieutenant.”

Tears trickled down his face, slow and steady, and now Abbie found it easy to slide her arms around his neck and let him hold her while he wept. She freed one hand for just long enough to shake the quilt out and wrap it around both of them, and she swore his breathing steadied and his tears began to slow the instant it settled over his shoulders. Maybe there really was something more to the quilt than met the eye.

She wasn’t sure how long they stayed like that, close and peaceful in their warm cocoon, but she did notice the exact moment Crane’s hands relaxed, desperate grip converted into soothing strokes. He didn’t mean anything sexual by it, Abbie knew, and she didn’t want to spoil the peace of that moment. But when his fingers traced down the length of her spine, she couldn’t hold back the body memory of another narrow bed in a small spare room, two miles and two hundred years away. Her breath caught, and his fingers tightened at the small of her back.

The one thing she couldn’t do was jump away as if his touch burned her. So she took a deep breath and got to her feet. Slowly. “I should let you sleep,” she said. “Do you think you can, now?”

He smiled shakily and swiped a hand over his eyes. “I believe so, yes. Thank you. For sharing your quilt, and for…everything.”

She made herself smile and shrug. “It’s what partners do. If you need anything, you know where to find me.”

“Thank you. But I shall endeavor not to disturb your slumber.”

“Just so you know I’m here if you need me. Good night, Captain.”

“Good night, Lieutenant.”

Chapter Text

To Abbie’s intense relief, Jenny was already sound asleep. She didn’t even open her eyes or mutter when Abbie pushed her over to make room.

Her own sleep shouldn’t have been slow in coming—Abbie hadn’t managed more than seven hours of rest total in the three days she’d spent in 1781, and it wasn’t like the last week in 2015 had been all that peaceful. But now she’d passed all the way through from ordinary tiredness to a new level of exhaustion that had forgotten how to let go and let consciousness slip away.

She would not let herself think of the last night at Frederick’s Manor, the unlooked-for blessing—at least it had seemed like one at the time—of a night before the reversal spell could be cast. She wouldn’t think of the tunnels, either.

It had all started in the carriage, anyway.

***

Abbie had never dreamed how uncomfortable a carriage ride would be, nor how slow. Somehow Jane Austen adaptations never made you think of jouncing along barely faster than a jog while perched on a seat that might’ve been padded once.

At least the creeping pace gave her more time to persuade this stranger-Crane she was telling the truth. Not that she could blame him for not wanting to believe her. She hadn’t exactly bought his story about being a Revolutionary soldier the instant she’d met him in her time, either.

So she gave him evidence and he gave her his reasons to doubt it. As the discussion grew more heated, they leaned closer and closer together. She knew exactly what he was doing. It was only natural that so tall a man would use his size to intimidate—she’d seen the version of him she knew get all up in other people’s faces with that intense look before. It wasn’t going to work on her, and she swore if her pointed that finger of his at her she’d rip it off.

Desperate as she was to make him believe her and therefore help her, he didn’t intimidate her, and she could tell that surprised him. She figured a woman like her but from this century would be a lot more intimidated by his size, his maleness, and his whiteness. Maybe that was a weapon in her arsenal, too. Think, she willed him. You’ve never seen anything like me before. From the zippers on this coat to the words I speak to the way I look you straight in the eyes, I can’t exist yet.

She couldn’t get over how weird it was to be with this Crane, those eyes of his more chips of ice than warm summer sky, their bond of trust and loyalty gone one-sided. But some things hadn’t changed. The attraction, that physical awareness, that had always crackled between them hadn’t gone anywhere. It might have even been a little stronger. Of course, that could’ve just been the coat. The way it fit him new was a revelation.

Yeah, maybe it was the coat. Or maybe now that his wife was trying to kill him, Abbie no longer felt bound to respect the sanctity of his marriage bond. But this was no time to flirt, so she sat back a little as she continued her argument that they go see Benjamin Franklin.

But then the carriage hit a rut, or more like a hole in the road. Balanced on the edge of her seat, with no seatbelt and nothing to hang onto, Abbie fell forward, arms flailing. She grabbed for Crane’s shoulders, he caught her by the waist, and she landed in an awkward perch on his knee.

He was warm and steady. Her Crane. Her rock. She looked up at him. His hat had fallen off, and God, was he a handsome man, so confident and at home in his own native time.

His eyes darkened, pupils dilating to swallow pale irises, and his gaze dropped from her eyes to her lips. She opened her mouth to apologize, gathered her balance to pull away, but before she could do either one his lips were on hers.

Whenever she’d imagined Crane kissing her, she’d figured he’d start soft and respectful, unless maybe they couldn’t resist jumping each other’s bones after some battle they’d barely survived. (She’d had that particular fantasy more times than she liked to admit.) But this kiss was intense from the beginning, all open mouths and dueling tongues. He nipped at her bottom lip, not enough to hurt, but enough to draw a hungry moan from her throat.

At his answering groan she leaned closer, winding her arms around the back of his neck. His hands slid lower, spanning her hips, fingers curling to grip her ass. She rocked against his erection—and broke the spell.

He pushed her away hard, and she scrambled for balance on the opposite seat. She stared at him—so beautiful with his flushed cheeks and swollen lips.

Crane found his words before she did—of course he did. He lifted a shaking hand and pointed at her. “Jezebel! Witch!”

Fury drowned her lingering arousal. She batted his finger down. “Now, you hold it right there. I am not a witch. And who do you think you are, calling me names when you started it?”

He sat back, arms crossed. “I started it?”

You kissed me.

“After you threw yourself upon me. I suppose you thought your feminine wiles would work where your tale of time travel did not.”

Abbie laughed incredulously. “My feminine wiles? Look, if I were a spy out to get you into bed, do you really think I’d show up looking like this?” She waved a hand to indicate her outfit—plain and practical for 2015, completely out of place in 1781. “No, I’d be in some fancy silk dress with my boobs up to here and my neckline down to here” –now her hands described an imaginary push-up bra and low-cut dress, and the damn idiot man stared at her chest even though you could barely tell she had breasts in this coat— “and I’d bat my eyelashes and swoon gracefully into your arms, not fall off my seat like I’d never ridden in a carriage before. Oh, wait. That’s because I haven’t.”

He made as if to speak, but she overrode him. “And if I were trying to seduce you, I wouldn’t have just told you about how you won your wife. I know what I’m telling you is hard to believe, but give me credit for not being an idiot.”

He huffed out an angry sigh. “No, you are clearly a woman of considerable wit and invention. It is only your sanity that I doubt.”

“Oh.” She lifted her chin and matched his cross-armed pose. “And do you ordinarily go around kissing crazy women who lose their balance and fall into your lap?”

He inhaled, lifted his arguing hand…and then deflated before her eyes. “When you put it in those terms, madam…my conduct was most ungentlemanly, and I only compounded the evil by attempting to shift the blame for it to you.”

At least in any century Crane was a quick learner as soon as you broke through his certainties and made him think. “Apology accepted. And if you’d like to make it up to me…”

He raised questioning eyebrows.

“Take me to see Franklin. Let him hear me out.”

After a moment’s tight-lipped thought, he nodded. “Very well.”

For the rest of the journey they barely spoke. When the carriage slowed to a walk as they entered the village, he cleared his throat. “I’m not saying I believe your tale,” he began.

“I know you don’t.”

“But in this…supposed future of yours, are we…” His voice trailed off and he pointed first at her and then at himself in a gesture that was both vague and perfectly clear.

“No. We’re not. We haven’t.”

“But then…”

She filled in the unspoken words, What happened back there? “I won’t say the impulse isn’t there. But we’ve never acted on it. Before now.”

“I see. Well, we mustn’t act on it again.”

“Of course not.”

Neither of them sounded as sure as they wanted to be, Abbie thought. She prayed Franklin would know how to undo Katrina’s spell and send her back to 2015 and pronto.

***

Abbie punched at her pillow and tucked the comforter tighter around her shoulders. She had to stop this. She pushed the memories aside and made herself recite every bit of poetry she’d had to memorize in school, every Bible verse Mama had ever made her learn, even her times tables—until finally she dropped off into dreamless slumber.

The next thing she knew, she was blinking at already-bright morning light as Jenny shook her. “Abbie! You’ve got to see this!”

She pushed her sister’s hand away and sat up, rubbing her eyes. “Unless it’s a demon trying to kill us, can’t it wait?”

Abbie. Listen to me. There’s new writing in Grace Dixon’s journal. Only, not new—it’s as old as the rest of it, but it wasn’t there before. And it’s addressed to you directly. Grace Abigail Mills in the Year of Our Lord 2015.”

Chapter Text

Crane awoke shortly after dawn, shocked and a little dismayed that he’d slept so well and dreamlessly. Abbie’s quilt had truly helped, its scent a soothing combination of her and the timeless, faintly musty aroma of an heirloom.

When she had left him alone last night and he’d lain down, without hope of rest for himself but determined not to make his partner suffer for his grief and guilt, he swore he’d heard the echo of a voice whispering in his ear as he tucked the quilt around his shoulders. A woman’s voice, rich and soft, not hers but an older, gentler variation on her theme. A grandmother’s voice, filled with ancient tenderness. Rest, love, it had whispered. Grief will keep till the morning. You’re never alone. You’ve got family behind you.

And so he’d closed his eyes and drifted to sleep like a babe cradled in his mother’s arms, but now he thrust the quilt aside in dismay. The Lieutenant had speculated it held enchantments, and surely it must. If he had hallucinated a grandmother spontaneously, surely he would have conjured up his own and not the one who’d stitched this patchwork.

Crane wanted nothing to do with magic just then, and still less borrowed magic that lied to him. He had no family now. If Katrina had become more of a duty and obligation to him than the daring, spirited woman who had bewitched him so very long ago—and now he wondered if he truly had been bewitched—well, he had lived his whole life bound by duties and vows, and now he was adrift without their anchor.

He was far from wholly alone, of course. He still had his highest duty as Witness alongside the Lieutenant. It would have been churlish indeed to discount her dear friendship, that of Miss Jenny and Captain Irving, or even the slighter friendly acquaintances he had formed with everyone from the local reenactment group to the baristas who staffed the Starbucks closest to the precinct. And yet he remained an outsider in their world, accepted in all his out-of-time oddity only by their grace and kindness. He was not family.

After he dressed, made the bed, and folded the quilt neatly at its foot—shutting his mind to its reassurances whenever he touched it—he steeled himself to put on a calm, blank façade and stepped out into the hallway. In the open room that combined kitchen, parlor, and dining room he found Captain Irving seated on the couch, cell phone to his ear, speaking in a low, earnest voice. Explaining the prior day’s events to his wife, no doubt. Crane gave him a courteous nod, which he returned with a wave of his fingers.

Miss Jenny sat at the dining table absorbed in her own phone’s screen as she absently ate a bowl of cereal. At his approach she looked up, concern writ on her features. “Morning, Crane.”

He was not so fragile as she thought, damn it all. “Good morning, Miss Jenny. Your sister is yet asleep?”

“Out cold,” she confirmed. “Didn’t so much as stir when I got up.”

“No doubt she was exhausted by her sojourn in my time.”

“Yeah, she lived an extra—what?—two days the rest of us didn’t. I couldn’t really tell how long she was back there.”

“Nor could I. But I trust she will tell us in due course.”

“I hope so,” she said, though her tone held a hint of doubt. “Get yourself some breakfast. I made coffee, and there’s cereal and yogurt. Or you could make toast.”

Somewhat to his surprise, he was hungry, and for heartier fare than any of the choices Miss Jenny had mentioned. He knew his way around the Lieutenant’s kitchen, having helped her prepare any number of meals for movie nights or all-night research sessions, and while he was no great cook he trusted he could make a tolerable omelet for all of them to share. And he longed for a useful task, something to occupy his twitching hands and spinning brain.

Eight eggs in their carton in the refrigerator, just right for four people. Cheddar cheese and a little package of mushrooms, ready-sliced. Bacon would make a welcome addition, as would those green onions. Crane set to work, laying out his mise en place, as they called it on the cooking shows.

“Look at you, Chef Crane,” Miss Jenny said.

Captain Irving stood, slipping his phone into his pocket. “You making enough for all of us?”

“Such is my intent.”

“Go to it, then.”

He smiled, though the muscles for it felt stiff, rinsed the onions, and laid them on the cutting board. With an automatic gesture born of many meals cooked here, he reached for the Lieutenant’s knife block—and froze, his hand hovering just above the hilt of his favorite chef’s knife, the one that had just the right balance for his large hand…

…and suddenly he was back in that dusty room, clutching a different knife, his wife’s blood dripping down onto his fingers. He could smell it, warm and sharp and sickening…

No. He stepped back, his fingers flexing in spasms. Damn his weakness, but he couldn’t do this. He took a deep, shuddering breath, then began putting everything back in the refrigerator.

“What’s wrong?” Miss Jenny asked.

“These eggs are well past their date,” he lied. “I didn’t notice, at first.”

Captain Irving and Miss Jenny exchanged looks, but neither of them commented when he put the eggs away rather than throwing them out.

Raisin bran. A fine breakfast. Why had he thought he wanted eggs? As he filled a bowl with cereal, he noticed that Miss Jenny had put away her phone and was paging through Grace Dixon’s journal instead. Abruptly her eyes grew wide and she leapt to her feet with a yelp.

“Holy shit!” she cried, and sprinted for her sister’s room.

Crane set his cereal aside, but Captain Irving was closer and reached the journal more quickly. He looked at the open page for a moment, his lips working—Crane had often noted his modern companions struggle with what to him was perfectly beautiful and legible penmanship.

“My God,” Irving said.

“What is it?”

“I know I’ve been…away…lately. But none of you ever said anything about this journal having any messages written to us personally.”

Crane shook his head. “There are none. Or…there were none.”

“There is now. Here at the very back, after a big chunk of blank pages. It says, To Grace Abigail Mills in the Year of our Lord 2015, my many-times granddaughter and the Witness that was foretold.”

“Good God.” Reflexively Crane stepped toward the book, then stopped himself. “She must be the first to read it.”

“Of course.” Irving set it down, placed his hands behind his back, and stepped away. Crane understood how he felt. It was a physical effort not to read it himself.

Within a minute, the Lieutenant hurried into the room, dressed in the same soft pants and clinging sleeveless shirt she had worn last night, but with her hair hidden under a bright blue wrap. He’d seen her thus once before, when he’d fallen asleep on her couch early in their acquaintance and awoken just after dawn to the smell of coffee. “Protects my hair,” she’d explained to his inquiring look, and he’d replied that in his day a lady, or a gentleman for that matter, would’ve worn a nightcap to bed as a matter of routine.

Now she nodded at him and Irving, but took the journal without speaking and read it at least twice through while they waited. Crane watched the play of expressions on her face, so starkly elegant and expressive without its usual frame of dark hair—first a wistful fondness, then a rueful look that quickly turned guarded, and at last the narrowed eyes and intense concentration she got whenever they found exactly what they were seeking in some ancient tome or obscure corner of the internet.

Then she took a seat at the dining table and gestured for them all to join her. “I know you want to hear what’s in this.”

“You can keep it private,” Captain Irving said as he pulled out a chair.

“It would be unspeakably rude to read another person’s mail,” Crane agreed.

Miss Jenny rolled her eyes at them both. “Read it, Abs. Or pass it around, whichever.”

“She’s right,” the Lieutenant said, jutting her chin. “She gives all of us a mission, so we all need to hear it.” Clearing her throat, she began to read.

“To Grace Abigail Mills in the Year of our Lord 2015, my many-times granddaughter and the Witness that was foretold.”

“Foretold?” Miss Jenny asked.

The Lieutenant nodded. “There was a preacher around about 1700 who had a vision that one of the Witnesses would be born to Grace’s grandmother’s line. They never talked about it to outsiders, of course—last thing anyone black needed was for the whites to find out they took religion for anything other than servants obey your masters and great is your reward in heaven.”

Crane blinked. Had his role been foretold in any prophecy or family legend? If so, he’d never heard of it. He took a slow, careful breath and pushed down the flicker of envy he felt as unworthy of him, and of her.

“Anyway,” she continued, “the letter. My dear Abbie, I have no words powerful enough to express how precious a privilege it was to meet you, and what a delight it is to know that more than two centuries hence, the legacy of our lineage is yet carried on by you and your sister. I have faith that you will be victorious in your years of tribulation, and that you and Jenny will live to pass that heritage down to the daughters I trust that you will have one day.”

“My God,” Miss Jenny said with a choked laugh, “she reaches across the centuries to say where are my grandbabies?”

The sisters exchanged a rueful look. “I know, right?” the Lieutenant said. “Though she’s also saying to wait till after the tribulation.”

“Damn straight. Until then—I’m thinking IUD, pill, and the guy has to wear a condom. I don’t want to be waddling around eight months pregnant trying to slay a demon.”

Captain Irving cleared his throat, and Crane felt his face heat. The sisters favored them with unrepentant looks. “Just stating the facts,” Miss Jenny said.

The Lieutenant turned back to the journal. Was it Crane’s imagination, or had her face taken on a more closed quality, her eyes more hooded than merely looking down at the page required?

“I write this in the almost certain conviction that you will remember all that passed in 1781. When at the very end you took over the casting of the spell, you too stood outside the unwinding of Katrina Crane’s magic.”

Her voice hesitated over Katrina’s name. She didn’t look at him, but the other two did, and he frowned and shook his head. This wasn’t the time for rage and tears, and it would be far easier to maintain his precarious grip on rational behavior if his companions stopped staring at him as though he were about to weep or smash the crockery.

“But rest assured that the spell was fully reversed. Dr. Franklin is well and whole, and your fellow Witness lies in the ground awaiting his reawakening in your time.”

Crane couldn’t quite repress a shudder. He had almost grown accustomed to his divided lifespan, but he didn’t like to dwell on the centuries he’d spent for all intents dead.

“I rejoice to think that you will remember me and little Sarah, and that you will be able to convey our love and greetings to your sister.” She looked at Miss Jenny, a flicker of merriment in her eyes. “Her little girl. Cute kid. I got to babysit our great-great-great-etcetera-grandmother for a bit.”

“That’s just strange,” Captain Irving put in.

“Oh, it was.” She bent again to her reading. “I hope that you too will be happy in these memories, and that the rest of your unexpected knowledge will not prove too burdensome.”

She rushed through the sentence—she was indeed hiding something, no doubt of that. “What does she mean?” Crane asked. “Why would knowledge be a burden?”

Was that panic in her wide, dark eyes? Surely not. Abigail Mills almost never panicked, even when staring Death in the face, or lack thereof.

But Miss Jenny spoke before she could. “I don’t know, maybe because she was almost sold as a slave? Surely even you can imagine being traumatized by that.”

Good God, of course. “I am so sorry—” he began.

“It didn’t happen,” the Lieutenant said firmly, with an equal glare for both of them.

Perhaps not. But something had.

She huffed out an annoyed breath and kept reading. “I long to fill this book and more with messages for both of you, but none of us can know how much time we are given.”

“You didn’t tell her?” Crane asked.

She met his eyes, looking steady again. “No. She wouldn’t let me—said she couldn’t risk changing the timeline again.”

“I’m sorry.” Grace Dixon’s death had been Jeremy’s doing. If fate had bound Crane’s lineage with the Lieutenant’s from the beginning, why had it allowed that bond to be a curse as often as a blessing?

“I knew she was right. There’s a lot about the past I’d like to fix, but we can’t know what the consequences might be. When I jumped into that vortex it was to keep the timeline intact. And speaking of that...let me just read through to the end. We’ll talk it over when I’m done.”

“And so I must come to the purpose of this message. You must destroy the Grand Grimoire so that no one can make use of its powers and secrets again.

“You are a powerful worker of magic, and from all you tell me, so is your sister. But you do not have the right kind of power on your own to accomplish this task. Perhaps you know that there are two kinds of people with the power to wield magic, those that the world in its fear names witches alike.

“The first, our kind, are mere mortals—women, and a few men, with an affinity for the magical potentialities in the world around them. We are women like any other, except that we can weave spells.

“The other kind are magic—human, but something more besides. I have always believed that they descend from the angels who lay with the daughters of men in the book of Genesis. Dr. Franklin is of the opinion that the children born to the gods and mortal women in the myths of the Greeks and Romans are of the same kind. Whatever the case, they are a fusing of the mortal and the immortal, and they do not merely work magic, they are magic. Only these witches can wield the powers of the Grand Grimoire—and only they can destroy it. You and Jenny can prepare the fire and cast the wards, but it will take the blood of the other sort of witch to complete the work.”

The Lieutenant sat back with a slight frown. “There’s a recipe for this thing on the next page, but I don’t know where we’re supposed to find one of these not-quite-human witches. I mean, we know there have to be some in Sleepy Hollow, since—”

“We know,” Miss Jenny said in a hollow voice.

“Cynthia and Macey.” Captain Irving buried his head in his hands. “When—when Henry had my soul, I saw.”

“It says blood.” Miss Jenny swallowed hard. “We don’t have to kill them, do we?”

“Oh, no,” the Lieutenant replied with an anxious shake of her head. “Nothing like that. Only a few drops of blood, freely offered, with the intent to destroy the grimoire.”

Crane flexed his fingers. He couldn’t bring himself to look at anyone at the table. Was every woman in his world some kind of witch?

“Crane,” she said softly.

He made himself look up and match her tone. “Yes, Lieutenant?”

“There’s a message for you, too. She says, Give my compliments to Captain Crane. I can see that Heaven chose its Witnesses wisely. Watch over Abigail, and allow her to do the same for you. Abide in trust and love, and you cannot go far astray.”

“I’ll do my best,” he promised. He had trusted her almost from the moment they met, and he could think of no one dearer to him. But why did she have to be a witch, too?

Chapter Text

“Dispello.” Abbie dropped her arms in a sweeping gesture. The dome of garnet-red light surrounding her and Jenny dissolved, leaving only a drift of incense smoke in the room that had until recently been Abraham-the Headless’s prison.

“I think we’re ready for tomorrow,” she said as they began to gather their supplies.

Jenny coughed. “I’m glad we’ll be outside then. Doesn’t the smoke bother you?”

Abbie shrugged. “It makes my eyes itch, and the smell kind of gets to me.” She made a face and swallowed down her faint nausea at the cloying scent. “But you’ve got to admit it works.”

“We’ll have to see how it does tomorrow when it’s for real.”

Abbie nodded and shouldered her messenger bag. “I’ll just be glad when it’s over with.”

More than a week had passed since she’d returned from 1781. Since Henry and Katrina’s deaths. Abbie and Jenny had kept busy testing the limits of their newly discovered powers. They probably should’ve suspected something before, when Abbie had been able to support or even take over Katrina’s spells, not to mention when Jenny had worked magic from Grace Dixon’s journal as they fought for their mother’s soul. But Abbie had gotten so used to weirdness all around her she’d never suspected any of it was coming from her. And now here she was, casting a circle with Jenny. The Weird Sisters.

The next day if all went well they’d destroy the Grand Grimoire for good, with Cynthia Irving providing her more-than-mortal blood and power and Crane and Irving for muscle if anyone or anything tried to stop them.

They locked the room behind them and stepped out into the tunnels. “Where’s Macey going to be tomorrow?” Abbie asked.

“With her grandmother in Brooklyn. Frank is going to leave a letter for her in case something goes wrong.”

“She’s got to suspect something is up. They can’t keep this secret from her forever. I mean, I understand why they’re trying, but—”

“She’s a teenager. Nothing is going to make her angrier than them keeping secrets and saying it’s for her own good. I tried to talk to Frank, but…she’s not my kid.”

Abbie made an understanding noise and left it at that. She got the sense her sister and Irving had been just about to become a thing a year or so ago, before the world had gone extra-insane for the whole Irving family. So it made sense that as outspoken as she was, Jenny hesitated to express too many opinions about Macey or Cynthia. The Irvings were trying to salvage their marriage now, and no matter what she might be hoping for in her secret heart, Jenny wouldn’t do or say anything that might make her a home-wrecker.

Abbie knew the feeling. She sighed.

“How’s Crane doing, d’you think?” Jenny asked as they reached an intersection and took the right turn.

Sometimes her sister was too close to being a mind reader. She wished she could blame magic, because then she’d have a chance at learning to block it. For now she shrugged and tried for a bland look. “He’s trying to be all stiff upper lipped British about it, but that’s not really him.”

“Yeah, he needs to let it out before he explodes.”

“I know, but I don’t like to force it. He needs a good counselor, but it’s not like we know one he could tell the truth to.”

“Yeah, no. But Frank went over there this morning. I think they were going to fish.”

Abbie laughed. “That is the most man thing ever. They’ll grunt and drink a lot of beer. Crane will say how they fished in Ye Olden Days, and Irving will tell about that marlin he caught down in Florida. They won’t say a single personal thing, but it’ll still make them feel better.”

“But that’s good enough, isn’t it? They won’t be alone. And you’re one to talk about not sharing.”

“What, do you want to start coming over for chick flicks and to paint each others nails and talk about our innermost feelings?”

“Well…not really.”

“I didn’t think so. And besides, I’m not the one who accidentally signed my soul over to one horseman of the apocalypse, died fighting another one, and then came back to life. Nor did my wife and son go evil and try to kill me. Compared to them, my life is simple.”

“Ha. You barely talk about your time in the past.”

“What? I told you what happened.” And she had. All the important parts about Grace Dixon and the timeline, at least.

“You don’t talk about what it felt like to be back there. And you’ve said almost nothing about Crane.”

“That’s not true.”

“You told us what he did. You didn’t say what he was like then.”

Abbie walked faster. “He was just Crane, okay? Less twitchy—he didn’t do that hand thing of his. More confident. Comfortable in his skin.”

Jenny matched her pace. “Sexier, then.”

“I wasn’t thinking about that,” she said primly. “We had the future to save.”

“You have our future to save now, and that hasn’t stopped the two of you from eye-fucking since the day you met.”

Abbie stopped and rounded to face her. “We are not—”

“You aren’t anymore, not since you got back. I can see why he’s holding back from you, but not why you’re the same way with him.”

“Come on. I’m not going to push myself on him when he’s grieving. He needs space.”

“He wants space. But does he need it?”

“What are you trying to say?”

“He needs you.”

She started walking again. “I’m there for him.”

“Are you? Frank and I have been to the cabin more than you have.”

“I’ve still seen him almost every day. Look, I promise I’ll spend more time with him after tomorrow, once we’ve taken care of the grimoire.”

“Good.”

They walked in silence for a few minutes. They’d reached the longest, narrowest stretch of the tunnels. Mostly they were like a maze, a whole network of side-tunnels and chambers under the town, but this section was one straight shot. Something about the ground being rockier, or maybe the water table being higher.

But it hadn’t always been quite as straight and narrow as this. She’d never paid attention before her time in the past, but now she noticed the difference in the brickwork in one section as her flashlight caught it. “There used to be a storeroom here,” she commented, “but it looks like they bricked it off.”

“How do you know what it was?”

“We had to hide here, in the past, when we were escaping through the tunnels and heard people coming from both directions.”

Apparently she kept her voice matter-of-fact enough to not trigger her sister’s radar, because Jenny merely nodded. “I wonder why they shut it off. Maybe there’s something hidden there? Worth a look…”

“Maybe. In 1781 it was just powder kegs.”

“Sounds like an explosive hiding place.”

“Only if we’d been dumb enough to set off any sparks.”

“Good point.” Jenny’s stomach growled audibly. “Let’s hurry. It was lunchtime an hour ago.”

Abbie had no argument with that.

***

Literal sparks were avoidable. The metaphorical kind, not so much.

Within an hour after Crane had come to rescue her from jail and found she’d needed less of his help than he’d expected, they’d been hurrying down that same bottleneck of a tunnel by the flickering light of a lantern. Halfway through, they heard the echo of booted footsteps approaching, accompanied by a sound Abbie had just that day learned to recognize as the creaking of poorly oiled cartwheels.

“Oh, shit,” she muttered.

“We must double back,” Crane said, and so they did, but they soon heard more footsteps approaching from the other direction.

Trapped. “I guess we’ll have to talk our way out of this,” she murmured.

“We’ll have better odds if we hide.”

“Where?” They were pinned between the two groups, with at most a minute or two to think of a story. “You can pretend you just caught me.”

He tugged her along behind him for about ten feet, then pulled her into an alcove that didn’t exist in 2015. “No, here. Don’t you know this spot?”

By the dim lantern light she saw three tiers of thick wooden shelves laden with barrels. The air was heavy with the salty smell of gunpowder. “Quick, there.” Crane pointed to a gap between barrels on the lowest shelf. “I’ll snuff out the lamp, then climb in behind you.”

Abbie didn’t hesitate. The shelf was maybe six feet deep, enough to hide her, but they’d have to pray neither of the parties about to come through would shine their own lights low enough to spot Crane’s booted feet. She rolled onto her side and flattened herself against one row of barrels to make as much room as she could for her companion.

He quenched the light, leaving her in total darkness. She wasn’t afraid of the dark, she told herself, nor of enclosed spaces. She was a grown woman. A cop. A Witness to the Apocalypse. She could do this.

And then Crane was with her, shimmying his way up her body with whispered apologies as he brushed and bumped against her.

“Shh,” she said as he settled down facing her. She hoped he couldn’t smell her arousal above the gunpowder smell and that he’d take her quickened breathing for fear. But at least she was no longer focused on the fact she was hiding in the dark surrounded by what amounted to giant bombs.

The footsteps and creaking wheels drew ever closer as she and Crane shifted, trying to, if not exactly get comfortable, at least settle into positions they could hold silent and motionless for as long as they needed to. Somehow they ended up in each other’s arms, forehead to forehead, and pressed close enough together she couldn’t possibly ignore his growing hardness.

He shifted anxiously, and she dug her fingers into his shoulder. They had to keep still, didn’t he know that? “Shh,” she whispered again, and tried to set an example of centering breathing. Slow and steady, in through the nose and out through the mouth. He mimicked her—she doubted he even noticed what he was doing. By the time the two parties met and came to a halt, maybe six feet from where they lay hidden, they were as still as two oddly-posed statues, racing hearts and throbbing loins be damned.

“What do you have there, my good men?” one voice, filled with an air of command, said.

“Flour and salt beef from Pennsylvania, sir. Too many damned lobsterbacks about to bring it in by daylight on the road.”

“Good, good. The men are starting to get hungry. I don’t suppose you’ve seen a strangely dressed slave woman down here?”

“The one in trousers?” a second voice said. “I thought she was in jail.”

“She was, but somehow she beat Colonel Sutton to a bloody pulp and escaped.”

Abbie smiled in the darkness. A slight exaggeration, but she’d take it.

“We’ll watch for her,” the second teamster promised, to murmurs of agreement from his fellows. “I know I’d like to catch her—pretty little piece, for a Negro.”

She barely even tensed at the combination of racism and lust in his voice—she knew where and when she was, after all—but Crane hissed an indrawn breath, and his grip on her shoulders tightened.

“If you do catch her, just see that she’s well secured, and don’t hurt her so much she won’t be able to answer our questions.”

That casual menace, though…she shut her eyes tight and buried her face against Crane’s neck. He stroked her hair, slow and soothing.

In any century, they took care of each other. She rested a palm against his cheek in thanks…and his breath grew ragged, and she felt him grow still harder against her hip.

The men in the tunnel wished each other luck and separated, boots and wheels echoing down the tunnel. Still Abbie stayed silent, safe in the sheltering circle of Crane’s arms.

“Miss Mills,” he whispered once the footsteps had grown distant. “I’m sorry.”

“What for?”

“What those men said—and when I think of my conduct in the carriage, and this…” His hips twitched in a helpless thrust.

She drew back to lie forehead to forehead with him again. “Crane. It’s not the same thing at all. I know you. In no century would you ever be a rapist.”

“No—but I feel like a beast in rut.”

She huffed out a whispered laugh. “Hey, don’t worry about it. It’s a natural reaction. I understand.”

“Do you?”

In answer she kissed him, turning her head and leaning in to find his lips in the dark. Compared to that morning in the carriage it was a leisurely and gentle kiss, lips and tongues softly tasting and exploring, but it was every bit as intense. Their hips rocked together in a slow, steady rhythm, and if they’d been in even slightly less peril, Abbie knew exactly what would’ve come next.

Instead, Crane broke the kiss. “My God,” he whispered.

“Yeah.” Abbie loosened her grip on his shoulders, since drawing away wasn’t an option yet, and tried to tell her body to calm the hell down already. It wasn’t listening.

“What is this?”

Before she could summon up a response, he spoke again. “You may not believe me, but I’ve been faithful to my wife since we spoke our vows. I am not blind to other beauty when I see it, but I have not been greatly tempted to stray before now. And you say in your time we haven’t shared such intimacies?”

“We haven’t, I swear. I don’t know how you felt—uh, will feel—then, but I always knew you were a married man. But now that your wife is, well…”

“Seeking my demise?”

“Yeah, that’s one way to put it.”

“She thought I wouldn’t see.” His whisper took on a more distant, musing quality. “Earlier tonight. On our table she had set out an assortment of magical, or perhaps merely medical, paraphernalia, along with a knife. Its blade pointed toward the center of the table. We spoke together, and I sensed that she was anxious. Everything about her manner proclaimed her words a lie. And yet I told myself I was too suspicious, asked myself why I was paying more heed to the words of a madwoman I’d met that morning” –Abbie grinned— “than to the wife I had known and loved for years. But when I turned and saw that the knife was pointing outward, toward my back, I could more readily believe that Katrina was a witch and you a time traveler than that an inanimate object could rotate of its own volition.”

“When you have eliminated the impossible, whatever remains, however improbable, must be the truth.”

“That has the ring of a quotation, albeit one I cannot identify.”

“Sir Arthur Conan Doyle,” she replied. “He’ll be born, I don’t know, maybe seventy or eighty years from now.”

“Ah, of course. How foolish of me.”

“You’d like his books, I think. I’ll have to remember to introduce you to them, when—if I get back.”

“When. Let us by all means be optimistic.”

“Indeed,” she murmured in imitation of his manner. “How long do you think we should wait before we head out?”

“Perhaps an hour, as best we can judge the time. That should be sufficient to allow the search party to finish with this section. It will be difficult, to navigate in the dark, but I know these tunnels well.”

“That won’t be necessary.” She twisted one hand free and reached into her jacket pocket for her phone, turned it on, and found the flashlight app.

He smiled at her, that sweetly familiar look of Ichabod Crane taking childlike pleasure in twenty-first century technology. And while grumpy, crotchety Back-in-MY-Day Crane was always hilarious, deep down she liked the earnest, enthusiastic version better.

“The future is full of marvels,” he said, and she smiled at his happiness.

After a last lingering look at his face, she turned the phone off and slid it back into her pocket. “Have to save the battery.”

“Mm?”

“It stops working after awhile—runs out of energy. I don’t have a way to recharge it here.”

“I see.”

They settled into silence for a moment. Abbie wasn’t as wildly horny as she had been a few minutes ago—and by the feel of him, neither was Crane—but she felt comfortable. Safe. She sighed and nestled into his shoulder.

“I still feel I owe you several apologies.” He stroked her hair. “It gives me no very good picture of myself, if I turned to you to seek revenge against her.”

Crane never stopped overthinking. Abbie was pretty sure it was simpler than that. They’d always had chemistry, and now that they were thrown so close together under such weird circumstances, without their consciences holding them back anymore, of course they were going to act on it. “Don’t worry about it. You kissed me before, and now I kissed you. We’re even. And besides, I’m mad at her too.” She raised her head and brushed her lips across his, barely enough to qualify as a kiss, but he sighed and pressed his own lips against her temple.

“You’re driving me to madness,” he breathed.

She stroked his cheek, tracing the line of his beard. “If this be madness, make the most of it.”

“You paraphrased Patrick Henry.”

“Yeah, I guess I did.”

“Clever woman,” he murmured against her mouth, then kissed her.

***

“Hey. Earth to Abbie.”

She blinked at her sister. They’d emerged into the archives now, though Abbie had almost no memory of covering the distance. “Sorry. Got distracted there.”

“I’ll say. I asked you whether you wanted tacos or teriyaki for lunch.”

“Teriyaki.”

“Let’s go, then. And no more spacing out on me. I need you focused tomorrow.”

“I will be.”

Chapter Text

On a cold March morning that promised snow by nightfall, Crane stood with Captain Irving and his wife beside a small fire set in the clearing outside his cabin and watched as the Lieutenant and Miss Jenny cast a protective circle around them.

He and Irving had set a flat-topped boulder beside the fire to serve as a table of sorts. On it lay the Grand Grimoire, with a knife atop it. It wasn’t Katrina’s knife. One of the first spells the Mills sisters had performed together had been a cleansing spell designed to strip any enchantments and curses from an object. They’d taken him with him one morning to a secluded riverbank, cleansed the knife with chanting in a language they told him was Mandinka, and offered it to him to throw into the river. He’d refused, so Abbie had taken it instead and made a powerful running throw, like one of her beloved baseball players trying to nail the runner at home. He’d watched the knife tumble through the air, blade and hilt cartwheeling in the sunrise light, and then disappear beneath the deep flowing waters. Gone forever.

Still, his gazed flinched away from this new knife, though before he would have admired it for its beautiful proportions and the intricate Celtic knotwork decorating its hilt. He focused instead on the other objects on their stone table—a pair of garnet earrings, a bundle of dried herbs, prettily arranged in a spiral pattern, and a chalice full of red wine that was in fact a mundane glass goblet. He’d helped Miss Jenny select it at Bed, Bath & Beyond, in one of many such small outings his friends had forced upon him over the past fortnight. He imagined them comparing their calendars, texting one another to ask, Who shall babysit our potential madman this evening?

Crane hazarded a glance at Mrs. Irving out of the corner of his eye. She stood stoic, her face shuttered and aloof. When they’d gathered that morning, she’d freely admitted she didn’t want to be there. She was willing to help them this one time, given the chaos the grimoire could wreak But she had no intention of embracing witchcraft, no matter what powers might lurk in her blood.

Crane wished Abbie felt the same, but it was abundantly clear that she did not. She and Miss Jenny had taken to magic like young colts to galloping over grassy meadows. It was a new bond between these once-estranged sisters, he supposed, and one in which their powers appeared to be equal. Whenever the two of them were together they talked of spells and magical traditions, and when, as now, they worked magic together, their faces shone with the joy of gifted musicians weaving melody and harmony.

Now they were pacing the bounds of the circle, with the Lieutenant pouring a steady stream of salt from an ordinary blue box just like the one in Crane’s own kitchen cabinet, while Miss Jenny walked just behind her, shaking a smoking censer of incense.

“Straight from the box?” Irving asked, amusement in his voice.

Abbie flicked a glance toward them, her eyes alight with merriment. “It works. And until I can find a magic salt dispenser that pours this steady a stream, I’ll stick with off-the-shelf.”

The moment of levity could not last. The sisters finished marking the circle, and a haze of sweet-scented smoke hung suspended around them. They took up stations on opposite sides of the stone table, joined hands across it, and spoke three Latin words: Lumen. Clypeus. Protectio.

Light, shield, protection. The pedant in Crane longed to correct their pronunciation, but the magical forces were not so particular. Twin beams of deep crimson light shot up from the garnet earrings and swirled out to blend with the incense smoke, forming a glowing half-sphere above them.

He gasped at the effortless power the sisters wielded. Compared to this, almost all of the magics he had seen Katrina work were petty tricks, for she had hidden her powers from him during their life together in his native time, and when she had joined him here her powers had been weakened by her time in Purgatory. Or so she’d said. Once she had turned her hand to dark magic, she had proven a formidable adversary indeed.

The one truly mighty work he had evidence of Katrina performing before she had turned away from the path of righteousness had been preventing his own death and placing him in suspended animation for almost a quarter of a millennium. And that itself had been a dark act, forbidden by her coven. Despite his nearness to the fire, he shivered. He felt…sullied.

His Lieutenant and Miss Jenny surveyed their work and shared a nod of satisfaction. They released their clasped hands and bent in unison to each take up half the spiral of dried herbs. As she stood straight again, Abbie caught his eye and gave him a reassuring half smile. He returned it, for she made him feel right again. His survival, his strangely divided life, none of that could be truly evil if it had brought him to her side, to share together the Witnesses’ burden.

He loved her with a complex blending of selfless agape, loyal, affectionate philia, and ever-lurking eros he couldn’t begin to untangle. And he trusted that her honest, direct heart would never lead her astray as Katrina’s had. Yet still he struggled to overcome his dismay at this new turn her life had taken. Witness and witch together. Surely this was necessary, that there be good magic to battle against the evil. And yet there was a current of fear blended with love when he looked at her now, a new distance he did not know how to bridge.

Now the sisters closed their eyes for a moment in wordless supplication, then dropped their herbs into the flames. The fire grew smokier, scented with sage and a few other aromas he couldn’t immediately identify. Miss Jenny blinked watering eyes, and Abbie swallowed hard.

But the smoke subsided, and the Lieutenant lifted her head. “It’s time.” She took a small step to the left until she stood exactly to the east of the fire—Crane had marked the cardinal directions earlier, using his phone’s compass app—while Miss Jenny stood just opposite her to the west. “Cynthia, you stand there” –she pointed to the north— “and Irving, you take the south.”

Crane stepped back. He would stand guard while the others worked their magic.

Abbie looked over her shoulder at him. “Crane, you’re here. With me.”

“Will that not cause an imbalance?”

“No. The Witnesses stand together.”

Yes. As if compelled, he took up his station just behind her, not quite touching but ready to serve as her shield.

“Now the binding,” Miss Jenny said.

The others all unfolded the printouts she had made of the Saint Patrick’s Breastplate Prayer, and Crane called up his memory of studying it earlier. As together they read it, he took comfort in calling on a power he recognized. Confessors' faith, Apostles' word, The Patriarchs' prayers, the Prophets' scrolls, All good deeds done unto the Lord. Those things he knew. Those things he trusted.

His voice shook a little on the verse that read,

Against all Satan's spells and wiles,
Against false words of heresy,
Against the knowledge that defiles,
Against the heart's idolatry,
Against the wizard's evil craft,
Against the death wound and the burning,
The choking wave and the poisoned shaft,
Protect me, Christ, till Thy returning.

He’d seen all too much of those of late. The Lieutenant reached back and found his hand, held it in a loose but warm clasp as they finished the prayer. He wondered as he had since almost the day he met her how one small body could contain so much strength.

The prayer completed, she dropped his hand and leaned forward to take the chalice from the stone. She held it aloft for a moment, then took a single sip and passed it to him to repeat the gesture. He then passed it to Captain Irving, and each of them sipped from the cup until it reached Mrs. Irving, who took a deep breath and downed the remaining wine without pausing.

Miss Jenny went to Mrs. Irving’s side and took the cup, while with careful fingers Abbie lifted the knife by the blade and passed it to the older woman, who seized the hilt. All her prior shakiness had passed, and she stood resolute. With the faintest hint of a wince she sliced open her left palm and held it out over the chalice, letting her blood drip into it, brighter and redder than any wine. Then Abbie bound her hand with gauze and a stretch wrap—apparently magical first aid, like magical salt, could use the most mundane of supplies—and Miss Jenny handed Mrs. Irving the glass.

Miss Jenny then took up the Grand Grimoire, and she and the Lieutenant held it open over the fire. Mrs. Irving lifted up the chalice now filled with her blood, and Crane hid a shudder at the sheer eeriness of the scene—the deep crimson of the blood, the crackling fire and the strange garnet light casting harsh and uncanny shadows on the three women’s faces. Witchcraft indeed. He knew them to be virtuous and stalwart women, practicing the most benevolent possible magic, and yet they would have done for a woodcut illustration of the evils of sorcery from the Puritans’ days.

“By blood wert thou created,” Mrs. Irving said in a steady, carrying voice. “Now by my blood be thou destroyed.”

She poured her blood out onto the open book, and its pages began to smoke and sizzle. Once it caught flame, Abbie and Miss Jenny dropped it into the fire—then jumped back with yelps and oaths as the tame campfire transformed at once into a raging bonfire.

As simply as that, fire consumed the book, but the flames roared up so high that they tore a hole in the top of magic shield, and the whole garnet dome began to dissolve.

Even as he edged back from the flames, Crane rejoiced to see the plain gray late winter sky above him. But as he gazed up in pleased wonder at its ordinariness, Irving shouted, “Crane! Behind you!”

He whirled just in time to dodge aside as a demon leapt into the circle, one of the dead-pale humanoid kind he’d come to think of as Purgatory’s cannon fodder. He felled it with a shot from his crossbow and spun about, assessing the situation.

There was six demons left standing, five like the one he’d just killed, and one who was different—taller, its head crowned with branching antlers. From the corner of his eye, Crane saw that Miss Jenny and Captain Irving had taken up positions on either side of Mrs. Irving and were making quick work of the three demons attacking them.

Abbie coolly shot one of the common demons, but as she turned to seek a new target, the antlered demon crouched poised to attack her from behind. “Lieutenant!” he shouted, and flung himself toward the demon.

With a fanged sneer, it turned its attention to him. It snapped a piece of one of its antlers off, and the prong transformed into a bone-handled dagger. As it charged him, Crane instinctively crouched as the demon lunged, seized its knife wrist with both hands…and froze.

…Katrina and Abbie, gone in a flash and returned just as suddenly. His wife turned murderous, choking his partner before his eyes. Without hesitation he rushed to stop her, acting on combat instincts born of years of soldiering in his own time and long hours of practicing modern hand-to-hand combat techniques. And somehow before he quite realized how it happened he found himself holding a bloody knife while Katrina’s life ebbed away.

…And then he was back in the present, Abbie shoving him aside with her left hand while with her right she fired her pistol at the demon at point-blank range.

The demon only sneered as its body absorbed the bullet. It shoved the Lieutenant aside and lunged toward Crane again. He flinched away, and Abbie interposed her body between him and the demon. Her scrabbling hand gripped his shoulder, and he felt the strangest surge, like an electric charge flowing from his body to hers only without the pain of a static shock.

“Expelliarmus!” she shouted, and pointed at the bone knife. It flew from the demon’s hand and landed somewhere outside the circle.

The demon stared at its empty hands, and Abbie gaped as if amazed by her own actions. Then the demon gathered itself and reached up for another prong of its antlers.

“Lieutenant…” Crane croaked.

But already she saw. She released her grip on his shoulder, then waved her arms at the demon in a flowing gesture, like something out of the Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon movie she’d shown him one evening. When nothing happened, she ground her teeth, leaned against him—again he felt that odd flowing energy—and repeated the motion. Now fire leapt out of the bonfire, passed over his head and hers, and struck the demon full in the face. It let out a roar of pain and anger and disappeared in a flash.

Abbie sagged to her knees and collapsed against him. Though his body felt leaden, Crane wrapped his arms around her. One of her hands fluttered up to clasp his, and he let out a heavy sigh. She was still with him. For now that was all that mattered.

By then the Irvings and Miss Jenny had rushed to their side, and Crane saw that the fire had gone out and there were no demons left.

“Abbie!” Miss Jenny cried, sinking down beside them.

“I’m here.” She pushed herself upright without trying to free herself from the circle of his arms. “Feel about as strong as a wet paper towel, but I’m here.”

“What the hell was that just then? You—you used a Harry Potter spell. That’s not real!”

“I guess I did.” She blinked and shook her head. “I had to disarm that thing, and it was the first thing that came to mind.”

“Huh.” Miss Jenny rocked back on her heels and pointed at a pebble. “Wingardium leviosa.”

Nothing happened. She frowned accusingly at her sister.

“I think you have to be really desperate,” Abbie said. “And, it—” She looked up at Crane with troubled eyes. “It felt like I was…drawing power from you, somehow.”

“I felt it, too,” he said quietly. He had no idea what to make of it, or even how he felt about it, but somehow his presence, his touch, had enhanced her magic.

“Huh,” Miss Jenny repeated. “I wonder, is that a Witness thing, or—”

“Can’t we get them inside before you figure out what this all means?” Mrs. Irving interjected. “Both of them look ready to faint, and it’s freezing out here.”

“Sorry.” With a chastened look, Miss Jenny offered Abbie her hand to pull her upright, and Crane pushed himself to his feet and followed them to the cabin.

Chapter Text

Abbie awoke to wood smoke and wool, to cocooning warmth around her and lumpy cushions beneath. She knew where she was before she opened her eyes. Crane needed a better couch, but their budget only stretched so far.

She opened her eyes and looked around. The cabin’s only other occupant was Crane himself, who sat at the table typing on his laptop and frowning, then frowning and typing. Their solitude and a change in the quality of the light streaming through the window convinced her she’d been out for quite awhile.

She squirmed free of a blanket, sat up, and rubbed sleep from her eyes. Crane looked away from whatever was so fascinating on the screen. “Lieutenant. You’re awake.”

“Mostly.” She yawned and stretched. “What time is it, anyway?”

“Just past noon.”

That was a relief—she hadn’t slept the whole day away. This morning had just been weird, much more than the everyday strangeness of her life ever since Crane woke up from his long sleep. She hadn’t even stopped to think when she got that surge of power from him, she’d just used it. Though if it was going to take that much out of her—and out of him, too, judging by his shadowed eyes and the bloodless paleness of his face—she wouldn’t go around making up her own magic and Harry Pottering and firebending at every demon they encountered from now on.

She remembered staggering into the cabin and flopping onto the couch alongside Crane, under the concerned stares of the rest of the team. Cynthia Irving had found some chamomile tea and made them drink it. After that the morning was a blur.

“The others?” she asked.

“The Irvings left about two hours ago. I believe they meant to catch a train to the city and collect their daughter. As for Miss Jenny, she only just left. Something about seeing a man about a Kunenhrayenhnenh—the Flying Head of Iroquois legend.”

Abbie grinned. “Big Ash, I bet. She hasn’t admitted anything, but they’ve been spending a lot of time together.”

“I see.” Crane cocked his head to one side consideringly. “A good man, I believe.”

She shrugged. She didn’t know him well yet, so the jury was still out on whether he was good enough for her baby sister. “So they left you to babysit, huh?” she asked.

He smiled, a little sourly. “While I was glad to keep watch while you rested, I believe we both know that if anyone is being baby-sat, it is I.”

“What do you mean?” Had it really been that obvious what the three of them had been doing?

“I mean that I’ve hardly had a moment to myself in the past fortnight.” His voice took on a sing-song tone and attempted an American accent. “Crane, I need your help to pick out a chalice. Crane, I haven’t been fishing in years, but I found my tackle out in the garage. Can I come up to the lake? Crane, can you translate this? It looks like some kind of Greek. Crane, we need a history expert for our bar quiz team.”

Nettled, she shook off her blanket and got to her feet. “Look, I’ll go.”

He sprang out of his chair. “No, Lieutenant. That’s—that’s not what I meant” He crossed to her and seized her hands. “Sometimes I can be an ass,” he said with a rueful look.

“Sometimes,” she agreed. His warm, strong hands…she stared at their interlocked fingers, hers so small compared to his. How could they be such a perfect fit, as different as they were? She remembered the last time they’d touched like this—and he didn’t, and couldn’t.

The moment stretched. Abbie looked up just as Crane looked down, and their eyes met and held. They’d touched since she’d returned from the past—that first night she’d held him while he’d wept for all his losses, this morning when she’d collapsed against him, exhausted by a magic unlike any she’d experienced before—but not like this, calm and intent.

Calm on the outside, anyway. Abbie’s heart was pounding, and she feared what he’d see on her face. She couldn’t look at him the same way anymore. She knew too much.

He squeezed her hands and looked down at them again, eyes three-quarters hooded. “I must own that I am relieved,” he said, “that we don’t experience that—that surge—with every ordinary touch.”

“Definitely.” She gently pulled her hands free. “I think I have to be in the act of trying to work magic.” Fighting the demon that morning, she’d felt that charge of power from him when in desperation she’d tried to reach beyond the rituals she’d learned so far in her hours of studying and practicing with Jenny. It hadn’t been head magic, but heart magic.

And Crane was her heart—no. She had a perfectly good heart of her own. She didn’t need his, nor to give him any shares in hers.

“We should experiment,” she said briskly, taking a step back. “See how it works, maybe figure if we can use it somehow that won’t leave us collapsed on the ground when we’re done.”

“But not today, I think.”

“No. We need to recharge first.” As if to emphasize just how undercharged she was, her stomach growled. Loudly. “Didn’t eat breakfast this morning,” she confessed.

“Allow me to remedy your hunger, then. I have all the makings for grilled cheese and tomato soup.”

Abbie smiled. She’d taught him her favorite comfort foods—mac and cheese, both the kind from the blue box and the rich, tangy kind Mama had cooked from scratch in the earliest days of Abbie’s childhood when everything had seemed normal—plus spaghetti, chicken noodle soup, biscuits with sausage gravy, mashed potatoes…all the best salt and carb delivery systems. But grilled cheese with tomato soup was her favorite of all, especially on a raw, wintry day like this. And while she had nothing against homemade tomato soup with a panini made on artisanal bread filled with exotic cheeses and prosciutto, the best grilled cheese, and the kind she knew Crane was offering her, came on plain old grocery store white bread filled with bland processed American cheese slices, and dipped into tomato soup from the can. “I’ll help,” she said, and took a step toward the kitchen.

“Indeed you will not, Lieutenant,” Crane said, mock-severe. “You have only just awakened from deepest slumber, and you have confessed yourself weak with hunger.”

“I am not weak,” she insisted, though truth to tell she did feel a bit wobbly.

“Nonetheless, I promised your sister that I would take care of you and see that you did not overexert yourself. Therefore you will sit down and wait for me to bring you your lunch.”

She rolled her eyes but yielded. The poor man probably did need to pamper someone, after the way they’d been coddling him. “You’re a good babysitter, Crane.”

He glanced over his shoulder with a bright-eyed smile, which she returned as she settled herself on the couch and tucked her legs under Corbin’s old red-and-black checked camp blanket. She sat in peaceful, sleepy silence as Crane pottered around the kitchen, muttering to himself as he set the soup to simmering and heated a cast iron skillet for the grilled cheese.

Abbie’s stomach rumbled again in anticipation. Nothing like pure comfort food cooked on the finest of old-school tools. She watched, enjoying the sight of his deft, long-fingered hands—she knew all too well just how good he could be with them—as he set out his ingredients, stacking the bread, pulling apart the cheese slices. It shouldn’t feel so right to be domestic with him, but she was too tired to fight it.

And then he took a half-used stick of butter out of the fridge, hesitated over the cutlery drawer for a moment, with those fingers that had been so steady seconds ago gone wildly twitchy—and sliced off a knob of butter with a fork.

By the time he could look all the way over his shoulder to see if she was watching, Abbie was studying the fire as though hypnotized. Had he used a knife at all since Katrina? She’d seen what had happened this morning in the fight with the demon. And Jenny had mentioned how he’d been about to make them an omelet the first morning after, only to freeze up and put everything away when it came time to start slicing vegetables.

Still, it had been two weeks now. Surely he’d had to eat something that needed cutting. Only, they’d been feeding him, hadn’t they? With all the usual finger and fork foods you could take out or get delivered. Pizza, hamburgers, Chinese, Thai, sushi. And when he’d been on his own, well, Abbie knew all too well how well-stocked he was for canned goods. She’d bought most of them for him.

Didn’t need a babysitter, he claimed. He needed something. For about the millionth time she wished the network of paranormal contacts she’d been building over the past two years included a shrink who’d believe Crane’s crazy life story and talk him through it instead of committing him and trying to drug him out of it.

But all he had was them. Which meant her, mostly. Somehow she had to push him through this.

By now the air smelled like heaven, butter and toasted bread mingled with the wood smoke of the fire. Abbie turned back to see Crane deftly sliding the sandwiches onto two plates. She came to a sudden decision and took a deep breath.

“You know how I like mine,” she said, deliberately casual. “Cut in triangles.”

His shoulders went rigid, and he took several slow breaths before he turned to face her. “I cannot. Believe me, I am ashamed—but I cannot do it.”

There. Elephant in the room, acknowledged. “Thought so.” She threw off the blanket, got to her feet, and crossed to stand next to him at the counter.

“I hate this,” he said. “And after this morning I know it cannot be allowed to continue, but I don’t know how to move beyond it.”

She nodded understanding. “And the longer it goes, the bigger it blows up in your mind, and the more of a thing it becomes. Here.” She nudged him gently aside, opened the cutlery drawer, and drew out a plain table knife. They’d have to work their way up to anything serrated.

He tried to edge away to a distance that would’ve passed as respecting her personal space if they were in the habit of doing so. She shook her head and pointed the spot he’d just vacated. “No, you stand right here.”

He twitched, but his lips also quirked at her commanding tone. “Yes, Lieutenant.” He took up his position looming at her side again, though with his hands clasped tightly behind his back. It was a start.

She held up the knife. “A simple tool,” she said. “Probably the first thing our caveman ancestors figured out how to make.”

“Very simple.” His voice held a faint edge—about as much as a table knife. “And in any case, the first stone tools seem to have been more like hand-held axes.” Off her raised brows, he continued, “I saw a documentary on the subject. Most fascinating.”

If she’d managed to get Pedantic Crane to come out to play, maybe it would be OK. “I’m sure it was. Anyway, a million years later, give or take, here we are.” She sawed the first sandwich into two perfect triangular halves, then glanced up at him, trying to read his mood. He’d lost some of his initial tension, and she knew it was a victory for him just to be able to stand next to a woman he cared about while she held a knife. But could she push him a little further? She doubted he saw this as much of a victory, and realistically they needed everyone on their little team as ready as possible to fight with any tools at their disposal.

She edged yet closer to him, biting her cheek to distract herself from the hungry frisson that ran through her as her hip brushed against his leg. “We’ll do the next one together,” she said.

He drew back. “Lieutenant…”

“You can do this. It’s just me. I’m not going to hurt you, and I know you’re not going to hurt me.” Not in any literal obvious stabby way, at least.

With her free hand she pulled the second plate closer to them. “Just put your hand over mine,” she said.

After a moment’s hesitation he complied, his hand ghosting along her forearm before settling atop her own, shaking slightly. This was practically an embrace, no, more than practically—his other hand came to rest at her waist, light and undemanding but oh so warm and solid. Stop this, she told herself. You’ve touched each other before, and you will again.

She took a deep breath and drew his hand along with hers as she cut the second sandwich. Like cutting a wedding cake together. God, she hoped that wasn’t a tradition dating all the way back to his time, and he wouldn’t have all the associations flooding through his brain that she did.

Even above the food smells, she could smell him, subtly different from his eighteenth century counterpart—while he didn’t like the stronger-scented body washes and shampoos, much to Abbie’s relief, there was an overlay of modern soap over the wool and wood smoke and man. They’d finished cutting the sandwich, but she didn’t step away, and his grip on her waist tightened, fingers curling against the soft cotton of her shirt. His head rested atop hers, and she felt him draw in a deep, savoring breath and let it out with a gusty sigh.

Oh God. She wanted to spin around in his arms, draw his lips down to hers, and kiss him the way she knew he liked best, soft but deep with plenty of snaky, slithering tongue.

Abruptly he stepped back. Before anything came up that they wouldn’t be able to ignore, Abbie guessed. Good thing he had, too. Whatever he’d been then, just now he was a bundle of conflicts and guilt and nerves. If she kissed him and dragged him to bed, they’d never be right again. She took a deep breath and told herself to be normal.

“Thank you,” he said, brisk and a little flustered. “I believe I can manage this knife now, at least. If you’ll dish up the soup?”

She obliged—normal, Abbie, you can be normal—dividing it into two bowls while he cut the second sandwich into bite-sized bits. “There!” he said, at once triumphant and rueful.

She smiled. “Nice job. That one’s yours, you know.”

“Of course.”

They carried their lunches to the table and sat opposite each other. At first they ate in companionable silence, and Abbie savored each bite of her meal. Once the edge was off her hunger, she studied him, absently stirring her soup. “I’m sorry we made you feel so smothered,” she said. “We worry about you, you know. And we don’t know what to say, so it’s easier just to fuss over you.”

He gave her a sad half-smile and shrug. “I don’t know what to say to myself, either. And therein lies the difficulty.”

She nodded encouragement and understanding. Keep talking, Crane. You need it.

“I—I loved her once. If she had died then, in our time, I would have been devastated.”

“I don’t doubt it,” she assured him.

“And if I’d known I’d had a son—if I’d dandled him on my knee and guided his first steps, taught him his letters and given him his first pony…but I wasn’t a father, not truly. I didn’t know.”

“You couldn’t,” she murmured.

“But now…one piece of me grieves, while another part of me—a much smaller part—celebrates our victory over two who sought our destruction. I rage against myself for grieving at all, and then for not grieving enough. And through it all I can never forget that it was my hand that wielded the knife.”

“I should’ve made you be the one to throw it away.”

“Perhaps. I’m glad I saw you do it.”

She set her spoon down and reached across to rest her hand atop his. “Everything you’re feeling is perfectly normal. It’s the situation itself that’s so abnormal. No one would know how to think or feel. There’s no script for this. And really, you’re doing fine. With what you’ve gone through, I’m impressed you’re keeping it together as well as you are.”

He shook his head and drew his hand away. “I went a fortnight without handling a knife.”

“I think that’s just your symbol for all this. Seriously, this is the kind of thing that could break a person, and you’re not.”

“Oh, but I am. Shattered into a million pieces, and attempting to glue them back together.”

“I’m here to help, you know.”

His eyes met hers, warm and steady. “I do know that.”

It seemed like as good a time as any to bring up one of the smaller elephants in the room. Between them, they had a whole herd. “I know—at least, I’ve been wondering if it’s rough for you, now that Jenny and I are working magic.”

“You’ve been granted a gift. Of course you must use it,” he said after a moment. Which wasn’t really an answer. Magic was a joy to her, to feel the power singing through her veins, to know that power linked her back to her ancestors for centuries, at least as far as Grace Dixon and maybe beyond that. But she couldn’t expect Crane to feel the same way, given the last time someone in his life had unexpectedly turned out to be a witch.

“I didn’t ask for this,” she said. “And I didn’t know about it before I met Grace. I swear I didn’t.”

“I don’t doubt your word.”

“I know. But I needed to say it. And—I didn’t know about that thing this morning, not until it happened. I still don’t know what it means.”

He shrugged, though it was a troubled rather than a dismissive gesture. “I can only assume it is some manifestation of our bond as Witnesses. Perhaps if we still had the Fenestella, we would know more.”

“I’m sorry about this morning.”

“Why?” His eyebrows rose in bafflement.

“I didn’t mean to drain you like that.”

“Your actions saved my life. You need never apologize for that.”

“Still. You never asked to be a witch’s battery.”

He blinked. “Battery, hmph. When you put in those terms, it is rather lowering. As if one could be replaced the next time we visit the hardware store.”

She took a breath, ready to apologize, but there was a twinkle in his eye and a faint lift to his eyebrow. “Nah, you’re one of a kind,” she said. “No way I could replace you with anything that comes in a twenty-pack.”

“I should hope not. In any case, Lieutenant…” This time he was the one to reach for her hand. “Neither of us was asked if we wished to be a Witness, either, and yet here we are. If my serving as your Energizer Bunny” –she choked on a laugh— “will be of assistance to us in the battles yet to come, then it shall be my honor to serve.”

Oh, Crane. So stalwart even when he was broken.

But before she could come up with a reply, her phone buzzed against her hip, and she pulled it from her pocket. “Reyes,” she said gloomily. “I’d better take it.”

“Of course,” he replied, pushing his plate aside and tapping his laptop to awaken it.

Abbie tapped the phone and held it to her ear. “Mills here.”

“Lieutenant. I hate to disturb you on your day off, but I’m glad I caught you.”

“What’s going on, ma’am?” she asked warily.

“I just took a call from my counterpart in Covington, Georgia.”

“Georgia,” Abbie repeated.

Crane looked inquiry, which she acknowledged with a nod and wave of her hand that said, Promise I’ll tell you everything later. He bent back to the computer, though with an alert air that testified that he was listening to every word of her side of the conversation and doing his best to guess Reyes’s share.

“Turns out they’d heard through the grapevine about that strange case with the abducted girl,” Reyes said, “the one where the family thought they were cursed.”

“Really? I didn’t know the word had traveled that far.” She and Crane certainly hadn’t gossiped about it online, and none of the supernatural aspects of the case had made it into the official reports.

“It seems they’re baffled by a case that looks strikingly similar, and they wanted to know if I could spare an officer familiar with our case. Naturally I thought of you. If you’re willing to go, they’ll fly you down tomorrow.”

“Tomorrow?” Abbie stood and started to pace. “That’s awfully short notice.”

“It is, and I’ll understand if you have plans you can’t change. But they’re on a deadline. Every one of the killings in previous years has happened sometime in the first half of March.”

And they were already three days into the month. “No, I’ll be glad to go.” Crane looked at her in faint alarm, and she held up a reassuring hand. “And I think Crane should come, too. We typically work together on cases like this.” It was about time he saw more of the country than Sleepy Hollow, not to mention had his first plane flight. They’d see how good that fake ID Hawley had gotten him really was. The librarian hadn’t batted an eye at it when giving Crane his own library card, and that cop the next town over had accepted his driver’s license for the real thing when she pulled him over for speeding—though Abbie figured it was his blue eyes and accent, along with the cop recognizing her in the passenger seat, that had kept him from getting a ticket. But if the ID passed muster with the TSA, then Crane was for all intents and purposes a real twenty-first century boy.

“While I don’t doubt his expertise, they’ve only offered to pay for one ticket, and our budget doesn’t stretch far enough to cover him, not for something like this. You can consult with him via text or email as much as you like, of course.”

Abbie sighed. It might be good for the two of them to have a little space after all. “Oh, well,” she said. “You’ll send me the flight details?”

“That, and copies of the case files Covington just emailed. I really appreciate this, Mills. I’m becoming very impressed with your work, too. Your methods may be unorthodox at times—”

That’s because my cases are unorthodox, Abbie thought.

“—but you get results.”

“Thank you, ma’am.”

“I’ll let you get back to the rest of your day off. Good luck in Covington, and keep us posted.”

“I’ll do my best.”

She tapped the phone off and regarded Crane.

“You’re going to Georgia tomorrow,” he said.

“Yes.” Briefly, she repeated what Reyes had told her.

Apparently he’d mastered whatever anxiety had struck him at the thought of her absence, for he only nodded soberly. “Of course you must go, and I shall do all I may to assist you from afar. You will be careful?”

“Always,” she assured him.

“I should like to see Georgia someday,” he mused. “In my day it was the most distant state, and I never traveled so far.”

“If we make it through the years of tribulation, I say we all go to Hawaii,” Abbie said, resuming her seat. “Now, that’s far.”

“Indeed. I should like to see all fifty states, and perhaps go back to England—I’ve been doing some research into my family’s history.”

“I’m only surprised it took you so long.” If Abbie fell asleep today and woke up two or three centuries from now, the first thing she’d do is go looking for any distant nieces and cousins who might still be walking around.

He shrugged. “I’ve had a great deal on my mind, and I did make a rather decisive break with the family when I turned my coat.”

“So, what did you learn? Got any cousins in the House of Lords?”

His smile twisted into something faintly wistful. “No, in fact. I suppose if I searched long enough, I might track down some relations on the distaff side, but the direct male line has died out entirely.”

She cocked an eyebrow at him, though she wasn’t half as good as he was at the supercilious single-eyebrow lift. “The distaff side is just as important.”

“I wholly agree—except for the inheritance of entailed property.”

“Why, Mister Darcy…”

He recognized the reference and grinned. She’d hooked him up with the complete works of Jane Austen early on in his sojourn in the twenty-first century, figuring it was close enough to his time to feel comfortable and familiar. “Our family estate was, as a matter of course, entailed,” he said. “The last direct male heir, however, died in the Second World War. He was a pilot in the RAF.”

“Clearly courage and honor run in the family.”

“Ran, sadly. He was the last of the Cranes.”

“No, you are,” Abbie reminded him. “Too bad there’s no way for you to prove your identity and claim the property—unless it’s been torn down and turned into a subdivision or something.” Subdivision probably wasn’t the right English word, but he knew what she meant.

“Oh, the house still stands. It’s a conference center now. Here, I’ll show you.” He tapped at the laptop for a few moments, then spun it to face her.

She blinked at a website showing what was to her eyes an impossibly old and grand brick mansion. A text banner assured her that Ashdown Manor Conference Centre was the perfect site for her next retreat, reception, or conference, convenient to London but removed from the noise and bustle of the city. “Ashdown Manor is now available for weddings!” a headline announced.

She blinked at the sheer grandeur of the place. “You grew up there,” she said, trying to picture a younger Crane—the man who now seemed so at ease in this tiny, rustic cabin—living amid such splendor. She was so used to dealing with Crane as a man out of time she never stopped to think of what it meant that he’d been born into the aristocracy. Maybe that explained his casual attitude toward money, where beyond surface exclamations over the inflated price of goods and the high taxes thereon, he seemed to expect it to just appear, in sufficient quantity to keep him fed, clothed, and housed.

He met her eyes. “I’m more at home here,” he said. “Here and now. I wouldn’t mind seeing the place again, though. It’s just as well that it’s no longer in the family. I think I might prefer a little distance.”

“You’ll have to go, then. Now that Britain is practically our bestie.”

“Ah, yes, the special relationship. I must own, that alliance was one of the things that surprised me about this time—though not as much as learning that Britain and France are allies. Though I wouldn’t call them besties. Frenemies seems more apt.”

Abbie grinned.

“I find I am developing a rather long bucket list for places to visit if we survive the next five years,” he continued. “You shall have to tell me if Georgia belongs on it.”

“I’ll scout it out,” she promised. “I do wish you could come.” And on the whole, she did. Even with everything, with all the weirdness of what she’d done with him in the eighteenth century and all they were struggling to come to terms with in the here and now, she knew she’d miss the comfort of having him by her side, looming and protective even as he looked to her to be guide and interpreter.

“How long do you suppose you’ll be gone?”

“If they’re right about this case, we need to solve it by the middle of the month or it’ll be too late.”

“Ah. I will endeavor to give all the assistance I can from a distance.”

“And I’ll be glad to have it. But I also want you to promise me you’ll practice using a knife every day—even if it’s just to cut butter. If Jenny or Irving try to babysit you again, make them take you to that old steakhouse on the west side of town. I happen to know it’s Irving’s favorite place.” Abbie had never much cared for it—an old-school steak-and-potatoes place, fancy in a creaky, retro way. The kind of restaurant your grandparents took you to, assuming you had grandparents in your life. If she was going to go classic and simple, she’d rather go to a diner or burger place. If she had to wear something dressier than jeans, she wanted the food a bit more on the trendy side. But those huge slabs of beef would give Crane plenty of opportunity for knife work.

He smiled. “I promise.”

She offered to help with the dishes, but he sent her home, saying he knew she needed to pack. And so they parted on good terms, with many assurances of regular phone calls and text messages.

When she got home she forwarded him the case files Reyes had sent, which a quick glance showed her was especially creepy. Dating back to at least the 1850’s, a boy in every generation or two from a particular family had found and befriended a dog—not an otherworldly, sinister-looking beast, but an ordinary-looking red tick hound. Boy and dog played happily together for years, until one day in March when the boy was 12 or 13, he and the dog ventured into a particular waterlogged, trackless section of pine forest and disappeared, never to be seen again.

The Sinclairs had been called cursed starting from the second recorded disappearance, but it had taken longer for anyone to associate it with the dog. Almost all boys had dogs, after all, and the family had bred hound dogs of their own for generations. And it wasn’t until 1960, after Gary Sinclair vanished, that anyone compared pictures of the dog to the one that had befriended Billy Sinclair before disappearing with him in 1932 and noticed it had the same pattern of markings on its flank.

In the 80’s, Gary’s brother Wayne had taken his wife and two sons and gone to Europe until the boys were past the age of danger—which had saved them both from the dog, though Josh had died in a car accident his junior year in high school. Now Jason Sinclair’s boy Austin was 12, and the dog was back. Every time they tried to separate them, the hound returned—so friendly, so faithful—and no matter how they tried to force boy and dog apart, they kept seeking each other out. Fleeing the country was no longer an option, since the downturn hadn’t been kind to the family’s construction business. And besides, the car accident suggested that the curse would find a way to claim its victim no matter what steps they took to run from it.

Abbie shuddered as she read, and texted Crane to promise him the right to pick what they’d watch AND what they’d eat at their next month’s movie nights if only he’d learn what those markings on the dog’s flank meant by the time her plane touched down in Atlanta.

He took the challenge, said that he already had a promising lead, and that, moreover, he had successfully “chop’t an Onion.” She responded with a pair of emojis—a smiling face and clapping hands—just because she knew it would annoy him. Within a minute, the phone pinged again:

It would be most unkind of me, Lieutenant, to leave the chopping of Onions to you.

…followed by all the teary-eyed emojis.

She grinned. She’d tried every trick in the book for chopping onions without crying, and none of them worked for her. In fact, it was witnessing her attempt to chop an onion that had prompted Crane to offer to help her cook the second time she’d had him over for dinner. Abbie was sure it would’ve taken him far longer otherwise—men in his day hadn’t cooked if there was a woman around to do it for them, and growing up in a house like he had she doubted he’d seen the inside of a kitchen before he left home. But he did have good instincts. Always had.

You’re a true gentleman, she replied. Now get some sleep.

You too need your rest. It is you who must arise before dawn to begin your journey.

Soon as I’m done packing, I promise. Goodnight, Captain.

Pleasant dreams, Lieutenant.

She’d probably dream about him, damn it. And it would be more than pleasant while it lasted, but then she’d wake up horny, frustrated, and conflicted.

Sighing, she dragged her suitcase from the closet, checked the forecast for Georgia, and tried to select an assortment of clothes that said, Please take the tiny black lady cop from upstate New York seriously, but that also weren’t too wrinkle-prone and were comfortable enough for trampling around the woods.

Oh well. If she’d survived 1781, she could manage a week or two in Georgia. Packing completed, she undressed for bed, wincing as she took off her bra. Her breasts had felt tight and swollen the past two days at least. What was up with that? She’d barely had PMS at all for years, not since she’d first gone on the pill. And besides, she was on the last day of the placebo week. If she was going to get all sore-boobed and bloaty, shouldn’t that have been before that one day of light spotting she’d had, not after?

Even that had been weird. Her normal periods weren’t heavy, thank you Jesus, but there was almost always more to them than that.

Out of nowhere, a memory shot through her brain. Shari the Over-Sharer down at the precinct, telling everyone at her baby shower how she’d finally gotten pregnant.

We’d been trying for over a year, and I was starting to get tired of sex. It’s just not so romantic anymore when you’re trying to time it just so and maximize sperm count for ovulation. So when I started spotting, I just CRIED, but then it went away and it turned out it was just implantation bleeding. Totally normal!

Abbie’s legs wouldn’t hold her up anymore and she sank onto the bed.

No. No, no, no. Impossible. Had to be.

With an effort of will, she slowed her hyperventilating breath until she could hold her phone steady. First, she googled “implantation bleeding.” Then, her heart beating out a drumroll, she searched on “birth control pill failure.”

“Fuck,” she muttered.

Of course, that was the problem. She already had.

Chapter Text

The spell to reverse Katrina’s magic turned out to be incredibly complicated. Grace calculated that they had until the next morning before the traveler spell would become irreversible—and that they needed every hour of time they had left, because one of the ingredients was a dried herb that had to be steeped overnight in red wine.

“When I cast the spell, it will take everyone and everything caught in its path back to the moment Katrina cast it, both now and in your future,” she told them. “Only the two spellcasters—she and I—will stand outside the magic and remember all that came to pass these past few days.”

Abbie shuddered. She didn’t want to forget this, to never know she’d gotten to meet her ancestor, that she’d had the unique and terrifying privilege to not just see the past, but to smell it and taste it, to breathe its air and feel its unpaved earth solid under her feet.

And Crane. She didn’t want to forget what he was like in the world he’d been born into. She wanted his kisses right where they were now, savored memories every time she looked at him or felt his eyes heavy on her.

No, she didn’t want to forget. But since the stakes were two centuries and more of American history, she’d deal. She just hoped she and Crane would eventually get to the same place in her time. That was something to look forward to, at least—their next first kiss.

She spent the afternoon exchanging family stories past and future with Grace—though the latter forbade Abbie from telling her anything she knew of the next forty or fifty years in their family’s history, anything that might reasonably be considered part of her lifetime. Since she would remember these past few days even if the spell worked, she couldn’t risk learning anything that might cause her to change the course of history.

So Abbie did her best to hide even her heartbreak at the knowledge Grace didn’t have anything close to four or five decades left—more like four or five years. It was so tempting…and yet how much of the timeline might change if Grace and her husband refused to take Jeremy Crane in, and if doing that led Katrina to make different choices? They might even be better choices, ones that would allow Jeremy to grow up in something approaching normality, to never be buried alive or transformed into Henry Parrish, Horseman of War. Grace might have had more children herself, who might have done or been anything.

But it was like that tale of a butterfly flapping its wings making a hurricane on the other side of the world. Grace was right. Protecting the timeline was the whole point, no matter how much of it she wished she could make better. Even a small change in 1781 could make 2015 unrecognizable, for good or ill.

Frederick’s Manor was almost empty that night—the family had gone on a long visit to friends in Boston, taking most of the household with them, including Grace’s husband, who worked as their coachman. Grace had stayed behind as housekeeper and caretaker, along with her daughter and a pair of grooms to care for the horses who’d been left behind and to generally provide male muscle as needed.

She told the grooms only that Abbie and Crane were seeking sanctuary in the manor for the night, and gave them their dinner separately so they wouldn’t have much to gossip about if the spell somehow went awry.

And so for long into the evening Grace and Crane asked Abbie all about America’s history that was to be.

“Tomorrow you’re going to forget this whole conversation ever happened,” she said when Crane asked her for more detail on the causes and battles of World War I than she could begin to remember. “Or, really, it won’t have happened at all.”

“And?” He raised baffled eyebrows.

“Yet you’re so fascinated.”

“I’m fascinated because it’s fascinating to glimpse the future,” he replied. “Simply because tomorrow all of this will be undone—or else I am likely to die—is no reason to resist an opportunity to satisfy my curiosity. Carpe diem.”

Seize the day. His mouth all but caressed the Latin syllables, and their eyes met across the table. Why not? she thought. Tomorrow would either restore the original timeline, with neither of them having the slightest memory of what they’d done in this reality, or they’d die at the hands of Katrina and Abraham if Grace’s spell failed. Why not seize what moments they had left?

It was almost as if it was meant to be, Abbie told herself after Grace showed them to guest bedrooms close to each other and far away from anyone else in the house that night. Not that her ancestor had any such intentions for them, Abbie thought. They were guests, and this was the wing where guests slept. It was as simple as that.

She was pretty sure Crane wanted the same thing she did. The look in his eyes when he’d told her good-night had been full of intentions and promises. But since Grace had shown her to this room first and closed it behind her, she’d have to wait for him to come to her, damn it, unless she went door to door to every room on this long hall until she found him.

In the meantime she fell gratefully upon the washbasin Grace had set out for her, since it was the first soap and water she’d seen since 2015. Crane—her Crane back home—had described how such things worked to her one day when she’d gently mocked him for his very long showers. Proper baths were a luxury, he’d said. Even for those who had the servants to make it possible, heating and hauling the water to fill a tub was too laborious a task for every day. The rest of the time, we made do with washbasins. And sometimes rivers or streams, in the army. Either way, a chilling business, except in the height of summer. Suffice it to say that of all the many marvels your era offers, unlimited hot water at the twist of a knob or lever seems the most wondrous of all sometimes.

At that point Abbie had far less gently pointed out that the water in question wasn’t quite unlimited, and that next time his partner in demon fighting allowed him use of her shower first because he’d taken the brunt of the sliming upon that evening’s demon’s disintegration, he’d best be quicker and not force said generous and thoughtful partner to de-slime herself in cold water.

That had earned her a suitably abject apology and gotten her out of having to clean her share of the demon slime off their weapons. Now, as she finished a hurried, shivering sponge bath, dried off with the long length of linen she hoped she was correct in taking for the 1781 version of a bath towel, and tugged the nightgown Grace had loaned her over her head, she reflected that Crane had been right about it being a chilling business.

The nightgown was too big for her, its hem trailing to her ankles and the sleeves so long she had to roll them up as she extended her hands toward the crackling fire. But it felt wonderful, soft clean linen against her bare skin instead of the same clothes she’d been wearing for three strenuous days, and she took a moment to savor the comfort and quiet of the moment, alone and safe in an almost warm room, dimly lit by the fire and a pair of candles on a low table by the bed.

If only she was going to remember all this. She longed to tell Jenny about Grace, about their ancestor’s courage and skill. She wanted to talk to Crane about what it had been like for her here, and how she understood on a gut level now what it must be like for him, especially at first and sometimes even now, to feel so displaced and out of synch with the whole world.

But maybe it was for the best she wasn’t going to remember his kiss and his touch. Their lives were going to be complicated enough when she got back without adding that to the mix.

Abbie yawned. She was exhausted, and that high canopied bed in the corner beckoned to her. But she didn’t want to sleep, not yet.

A soft knock sounded at the door, and Abbie swallowed hard. Was it him? It might be Grace, come to spend a little more time with her descendant or to remind her about something for the next day’s spell.

“Come in,” she called.

The door opened and he was there, still wearing his shirt and breeches but bootless and coatless. The shadowy firelight wasn’t enough to dim the blaze of his eyes, and her breath quickened.

“Miss Mills,” he began.

She laughed softly. “That’s very formal, for a woman’s bedroom this late at night, isn’t it? Or are things really that different now?”

He stepped fully inside the room and closed the door softly behind him. “What would you have me say instead? What do I call you in your time?”

At least ten feet still separated them, but neither moved to bridge the gap. “Normally you call me Lieutenant.”

He blinked at this. “And your rank is less formal than your name?”

“Yes. You’re the only one who says it lef-tenant. It’s…just for us.”

“Ah. I see, I think.”

She took one step away from the hearth, toward him. “But, in these circumstances—if we’d ever been in these circumstances—I think you’d call me Abbie.”

“In that case, Abbie…” He swallowed, for a moment looking more vulnerable than she had yet seen him in this century. “In no other circumstances can I imagine being so forward with a respectable woman, but…”

His voiced trailed off, but she didn’t need any more explanation than that. “Seize the night,” she said.

“Yes,” he breathed.

He stepped toward her, she ran to meet him, and they crashed into each other. Her momentum carried her off her feet as he caught her in his arms, and as their lips met she hitched her legs around his hips as best she could with the nightgown’s hampering skirt.

Crane laughed, a low and eager rumble that ran down her spine like a caress. His grip tightened, big hands steady at her back to help her balance, as he carried her to the bed and set her on its edge.

It was the tallest bed she’d ever seen outside of a museum—of course, Abbie, where do you think those beds in the museums come from?—and with her perched on its edge and him standing they were just the right height for long, deliberate kisses.

Which was clearly what he wanted, for he took her face between his hands, his touch as light as if she were made of glass, and kissed her softly, nibbling and sipping at her lips. Abbie wanted to grab him and pull him onto the bed, to go at each other fast and furious, but for now she let him set the pace. Maybe he was right. This night was all they had, but they had all night. Might as well take it slow and savor it.

So she relaxed into the kiss, slid her arms around his neck, and hooked her ankles around his knees to draw him gradually closer. And with nothing but his fingertips, light and tantalizing, he traced her curves, brushing the sides of her breasts, dipping along the indentation of her waist, and settling for an appreciative moment at her hips before making the same journey back up to her shoulders.

“Tease,” she muttered when he broke contact with her mouth and kissed along her cheekbone to nip at her ear.

“But are not pleasures increased by anticipation?” he replied.

“I’ve been anticipating for days,” she pointed out.

“Well, then, my impatient Lieutenant…” He kissed her hard and palmed both of her breasts through the thin fabric of her nightdress, and she whimpered in the back of her throat and arched into his hands.

He ran one hand down to tug at the hem of her nightdress, and she squirmed free to help him, hauling the whole oversized garment over her head and tossing it to the floor.

Grace hadn’t given her any underwear to go with the nightdress, so with it shed she was entirely bare. Crane gasped and stared—the best kind of gasp and stare, like his body and brain had stuttered to a stop and all he could do was look, his face flushed, his eyes gone dark and heavy-lidded.

It was incredibly flattering and arousing. She wanted him on her, she wanted him in her now, but instead she licked her lips, tossed her head, and leaned back on her elbows. Take a good look.

He made a noise in the back of his throat like he was trying to remember how to speak. “You,” he said at last, “are the most exquisite sight I’ve ever beheld.”

And then he dove at her, mouth and hands hungry and desperate. She finally had him as wild and impatient as she wanted him to be, but he was still wearing too damn many clothes. Setting her palms against his chest, she pushed him back a little. When he blinked bafflement at her, she said, “I want to see you, too.”

He blinked again, as if to say, Really? She nodded encouragement. Of course.

With a crooked smile, he stood straight again, pulled his shirt over his head, and undid the many buttons of his breeches faster than Abbie would have believed possible. He stood naked before her in the candlelight, all lean muscles and tall grace, just the right amount of chest hair tapering into a treasure trail pointing to a nice cock. Nothing misleading at all about that tall lanky body and those big, long-fingered hands of his.

And despite all that, there was a little flicker of doubt in his eyes, like he wasn’t sure she’d like what she saw. Katrina, you idiot, she thought, then pushed the woman from her mind. Tonight was for her and Crane. Nobody else was welcome, not even in her head.

Abbie wished she had enough of a way with words to come up with something like most exquisite sight I’ve ever beheld. Because she could look at him all night, but she’d rather be touching instead.

So she just sat up and gave him a long, approving look, up and down, before meeting his eyes and beckoning to him. “C’mere, sexy man,” she said. As soon as the words were out of her mouth, she remembered that sexy hadn’t been a word yet in the 18th century—a fact that had come up in that memorable awful intercourse discussion—but apparently her tone of voice got the meaning across, because he smiled at her with such warmth and joy and tipped her chin up to kiss her again. She rested one hand on his smooth, unmarked chest, where her Crane wore the scar of a mortal wound, and danced the other down his stomach to grasp and stroke his length.

His hands were busy, too, exploring and caressing. When he dipped his head to her breast, clever tongue dancing over the hard peak of her nipple, she found the tie holding back his hair and worked it loose so she could sink her fingers into his hair and hold him where she wanted him to be.

But he had ideas of his own about that, and twisted free of her grasping hands and kissed his way down her stomach, pausing briefly to swirl his tongue at her navel. He sank to his knees, nudging her legs further apart. She just had time to mentally apologize to him for every fantasy she’d ever had where she’d imagined she’d need to teach him everything beyond the good old basic missionary position because of the whole 18th century thing before his tongue found her clit, he thrust two of those gorgeous fingers inside her, and she forgot how to think in words until her orgasm claimed her and left her shuddering from head to toe.

Not that there was anything wrong with the missionary position, she thought as she slid back onto the bed and drew him above her. It was perfect for moments like this, when you just wanted to wind your arms and legs around your man and hold him as close as you could while he slid inside you like coming home.

And tomorrow all this would be undone and she’d forget it had ever happened. Abbie wanted to weep for that even as she dug her nails into Crane’s shoulders, as she raised her hips to meet his thrusts, as she felt him come and watched his face contort with bliss.

Despite herself she couldn’t hold back all the tears. He pulled out of her, sooner than she wanted him to, and raised a shaking hand to her face. “What’s wrong?”

She shook her head. “Tomorrow.”

“Ah.” He kissed the tears away. “Don’t think of it. As you said, carpe noctem.”

She hadn’t said it in Latin, so she laughed through her sadness, and he kissed and soothed and stroked until she was all in the moment again and he brought her to her second orgasm of the night with his deft fingers.

The last thing Abbie wanted to do with any of the hours they had left to them was sleep. But when Crane drew the blankets up to their necks and snuggled her against him spoon-fashion, she was too warm and tired and sated not to close her eyes and drift off.

When she awoke the candles had burned out and the fire was a bank of embers. She squirmed in Crane’s arms, and he half-woke with a sleepy, questioning murmur.

She kissed him awake, or at least awake enough to give her languid caresses while she stroked him to hardness, knelt astride him, and sank down onto his length.

“Mm, the dragon upon Saint George,” he said as he dug his fingers into her hips and encouraged her to a steady, rippling rhythm.

She froze mid-undulation. “What?”

“This position.” He flexed his hands, and she ground down on him again. “The female superior.”

Enlightenment dawned. Sort of. “Oh. Cowgirl.”

It was his turn to freeze in bewilderment. “Why cows?”

She laughed. “I’ll explain after if you promise to tell me why dragons.”

“You have a bargain.”

And so when she lay curled against him, her head pillowed on his shoulder, he described paintings where a dragon rose up above England’s patron saint and she tried to explain cowboys.

“Any other strange terms I should know about?” she asked him.

“Hm. Well, I shall not have the chance to give you a green gown.”

“Oh?”

“To give a girl a green gown is to lie with her outdoors, upon the grass.”

“Ah. Yeah, grass stains are a bitch to wash out even in my time.”

“Are they, now?” He turned his head to press his lips against her forehead. “I’ve been thinking…I heard Mrs. Dixon telling you that when she casts the spell tomorrow, that you must hold one thought in your mind throughout, so that you’ll remember what you must do when the traveler spell is undone and you are returned to the spot you left.”

“Yes.” She left that one thought—stop Katrina—unspoken.

“Well, you’re a clever, quick-thinking woman. I know you must be capable of holding multiple thoughts simultaneously.”

“Yeah…but maybe not in the middle of a spell like that.”

“A fair point. But if you can carry one thought besides your mission back to your own time, I want you to tell my future self, from me, that he is a fool if he continues to deny what I am persuaded he must feel for you.”

She shook her head. “It’s…complicated, then. And it’ll probably only get more so, at least in the short term. Besides,” she admitted, “I’m pretty good at denying and running away myself.”

“Then you’re both fools.” When she tried to protest, he rested a shushing finger against her lips, and she nipped at it. “I only want you—us—to have this there, too. To be more than a night that never happened.”

“I want that, too,” she said softly.

They slept again, more deeply this time. When they awakened at dawn, they dressed as fast as they could, but Grace still caught them slipping out of the room together when she came upstairs to tell them it was time to finish preparing the spell. Her unspoken disapproval was enough to turn Crane stiff and proper again, so that when Abbie tried to hug him goodbye, he was as stiff in her arms as a toy soldier, though he did squeeze her hand and mutter, “Remember. Don’t be fools,” before striding out to face his wife and best friend turned deadly enemies.

“It’s different in my time,” Abbie told Grace as soon as the door closed behind him. “There isn’t the same stigma on an unmarried woman sleeping with a man. And—last night I couldn’t not. I’ve been wanting him too long.”

“I understand that much of it. I can see how it is between you. But this still seems…premature.”

“It’s the only time we have,” Abbie protested. “Either we set the timeline right and it never happened, or else we die.”

Grace gave her a thoughtful nod. “Hurry, then. Let’s make certain it’s the former.”

****

234 years later and almost a thousand miles away, Abbie checked to make sure the drugstore aisle was empty before sliding a pregnancy test into the basket that already contained an assortment of toiletries and snacks she didn’t really need but had picked out while getting up the nerve to walk past the shelves of pads and tampons—might not be needing any of that for awhile—to where the pregnancy tests lived.

The Covington case had been a welcome distraction. They’d done good work, she and the Covington P.D., with an indispensable long-distance assist from Jenny and Crane in the form of magical connections and sheer stubborn research mojo. A multi-generational curse had been broken, two families had made a wary peace, and a boy who’d been destined to wander into a swamp and die would now grow into a man.

Her flight back home was scheduled for early tomorrow morning. She could’ve waited till she got home for this, but on an impulse she’d driven her rental car a couple towns over from Covington, just to be sure she wouldn’t run into anyone she’d met over the past ten days, and found a drugstore. By now she was pretty sure what the test would tell her, unless she’d managed to give herself psychosomatic morning sickness, but still, she had to know for sure. And if she got the result she expected, well, she had the whole flight from Atlanta to New York to figure out what she was going to say to Crane.

Chapter Text

Crane frowned at the faded ink of what had thus far been a remarkably dull book for a 200-year-old witch’s journal. He hoped Abbie would arrive soon. He knew her flight had arrived safely last night—she’d texted just after 10:00 PM to say Home. Worn out. Have stuff to take care of 1st thing tmow. See u @ archives b4 noon?

He’d responded instantly. Of course. Sleep well, Lieutenant.

He’d arrived at the archives at 8:00 AM with a bag of donut holes. It was now 11:15 and he had eaten precisely half of the treat. But he had yet to hear anything from her, not even a reply to his text from 10:30. Good morning. I hope all is well.

The archive door banged open, and he looked up eagerly, but it was Miss Jenny. “Oh. Hey, Crane.” She swung her satchel off her shoulder and took a seat opposite him.

“Good morning, Miss Jenny.”

He offered her the bag of donut holes, and she took one and popped it into her mouth. “Don’t suppose you’ve heard from Abbie this morning,” she said.

“No, I have not. She texted me once last night to say she had something to take care of first thing, but that she would meet me here before noon. I haven’t heard from her since.”

Miss Jenny’s brows drew together in a slight frown. “That’s almost exactly what she told me, only she said she wanted to have dinner tonight.”

“I hope nothing is amiss.”

“I wouldn’t worry,” she said. “It’s probably something ordinary and annoying she couldn’t get done before she left town that’s turned urgent. Car trouble, house trouble, or something. She’d tell us if there was a real problem. You’re her fellow Witness, and I’m her Weird Sister. Double, double, toil and trouble.”

Crane wasn’t sure she would. It would be more like the Lieutenant to try to solve any problem herself—she was better at giving support to her friends and family than taking it from them when she needed it. It frustrated him. He knew he’d been taking too much simply because of who and what he was, even before the events of the past month. The ledger of their friendship was unbalanced. “I hope you’re right,” he said. “It seems to me she’s been acting strangely since she left for Georgia.”

They’d been in daily contact working together on the case, more often by text than voice, but whenever he’d tried to turn the conversation away from clues and resources, she’d gone vague and evasive. Covington was fine, a lovely little town—here were some pictures. The people were friendly, the food was delicious—look at these pictures of barbecue and of the pecan pie Mrs. Sinclair had made for a celebratory dinner once the case was solved. She wished she could bring some back for them, but it wasn’t the kind of thing that would survive in a carry-on.

“Maybe a little,” Miss Jenny said thoughtfully. “Or maybe she’s just not one of those people who’s good at keeping in touch when she’s far away. It’s not like you have any experience of that. Neither do I, really, since we’ve been back on good terms.”

“That’s so,” he allowed.

“And besides, that Georgia case turned out to be a real bitch. Maybe she just needed to withdraw a bit to process it, the way she does. Anyway, she’ll call one of us soon, I’m sure. What’s that you’re reading?”

He sighed but allowed himself to be distracted. “A journal Cynthia Irving found at a yard sale last Saturday and thought might be of use to us.”

“She got that at a yard sale? It looks older than you.”

He raised an eyebrow. “It is in fact, several decades younger. The earliest entries date to 1802. It was, however, stored in an attic, I suspect for the better part of the past two centuries, and it is not as well-preserved as it might be.”

“Anything useful in it?”

“It purports to be the journal of a young member of Katrina’s coven, but thus far it seems to be more filled with gossip and intrigue than any useful magical or historical lore. Still, I should hate to leave any page unturned in case there are pearls hidden in this muck, so I shall soldier on.”

“Better you than me. Let us know if you find anything good, though.”

“Of course.”

“Anyway, I came by to look for a book. Do you know where—” Her phone rang, or rather blared out the opening of a song he couldn’t immediately place. “Oh, it’s Abbie.” She tapped the phone and lifted it to her ear. “Hey Abs, what’s up? Ichy and I were starting to get a little worried.”

She gave him a thumbs-up, and Crane sighed out his relief.

“Yeah, I just got to the archives, found him here eating donut holes and waiting for you to show—what?” Her brows drew together in consternation. “Um, yeah. I promise. Really. I swear, cross my heart and hope to die.” She listened again, eyes now widening in alarm. “You’re where? Oh, my God.”

Crane’s heart began to race. “What’s wrong? Where is she?”

Miss Jenny stood and silenced him with an imperative hand. “Yeah, I know the place. I’ll be right there.”

She ended the call, thrust the phone into her pocket, and grabbed her satchel in almost a single motion. “Sorry, Crane. Gotta go.”

He stood, too. “But—what is it? Where is she?”

She was already halfway to the door, but she turned back, her face unwontedly pale and tight-lipped. “I can’t say. I really can’t. I’m sorry, but she made me promise.”

“But—”

“I’ve got to go now. I’m sorry.”

By the time she reached the door she was running. Crane almost followed her, but instead halted in the doorway, staring after her hurrying figure until she turned out of sight in the labyrinth of tunnels.

What was the Lieutenant hiding from him, and why? From the way her sister had reacted, he almost suspected she was deathly ill—but if that were the case, wouldn’t she want him with her, too? Surely their bond was strong enough for that…and yet, Miss Jenny was of her blood, and he was not. If she’d received some dreadful diagnosis, she might well want to tell her only remaining family before anyone else.

He paced back and forth, praying fervently. Let her be well. You cannot make her your Witness and then take her from me, take her from the world, before our task is done!

No. He couldn’t allow himself to believe the worst. Perhaps she had discovered some family secret, possibly news of their missing father. Perhaps it was something to do with magic—though now that they knew him to be somehow bound up in her powers, wouldn’t she have wanted him there, too? Unless—

He forced himself to stop and breathe deeply. This was useless. He couldn’t know until one of the Mills women decided to tell him. He could continue to pace the archives like a caged beast, or he could make himself of use while he waited.

He resumed his chair and addressed himself to the old journal again, absently eating the rest of the donut holes as he read of yet another quarrel for precedence between witchly apprentices. This time there seemed to be a man involved, a handsome roué of no magical powers but impeccable witch bloodlines whom both the diarist and her rival wished to marry.

In truth, the journal stated, Hannah in all her scheming reminds me of no one so much as Mama’s tales of Katrina Van Tassel, how she sought to beguile the firstborn Witness and bind his powers to our cause, and all the trouble THAT brought about. Only Hannah lacks the excuse of any larger purpose to her seduction.

Since Mama has bid me to make a fair record in these pages of all our history and lore, I suppose that history is as good a place to begin as any. You see, Mama, I do know how to write seriously upon serious subjects!

For centuries it has been foretold that two Witnesses will stand against the forces of evil in the great Tribulation. Though the Book of Revelation in the Bible would suggest that both are men, among our kind it is prophesied that they will be man and woman, and that the woman will be a witch. We have long sought to know into which of our lineages this chosen one shall be born, though without success. Some fear that this means the Witness shall be a mere mortal hedge-witch, but most of us cannot imagine that some herb-wife with a few simple charms and potions could be vouchsafed such power.

Whatever the case, much about the nature and identity about the second-born Witness remains a mystery. It may yet prove to be Katrina herself, should she escape her imprisonment in Purgatory at such time as her mortal husband is awakened from his magical slumber…

“My God…” Crane muttered. He bent over the journal, his heart galloping, all else for the moment forgotten.

***
Abbie sat in the waiting room of Riverside Imaging Center, drinking water and trying to conceal her terror.

Her regular nurse practitioner who she saw every year for physicals, flu shots, and the like had been able to squeeze her in first thing in the morning. Everything had seemed fine—at least, as fine as was possible when you’d gotten pregnant through time travel sex with your partner when the most you’d done with him in this century was share a few memorable hugs. The amount of drinking she’d done and the few painkillers she’d taken before she suspected anything were nothing to be concerned over, and she was in good health in general. But then Kate had made a cursory exam, and Abbie had winced when she probed a spot low and to the left on her abdomen.

Kate had instantly transformed from cheery to concerned. Abbie mustn’t panic, but they were going to schedule her for the first ultrasound appointment the local imaging center could provide. That wince didn’t necessarily mean ectopic pregnancy—it could be any number of things, many of them entirely benign—but if it was that, the sooner they treated it the better.

And there was nothing like being told not to panic to set your heart racing. She’d meant to soldier through on her own, but when she signed in at the imaging center and settled in to guzzle water and wait—since the test required a full bladder—she’d broken down and called Jenny. She couldn’t tell Crane yet. If it was ectopic, and therefore not viable, it was better that he never find out. But she was freaking out despite all her best intentions and wanted someone to come hold her hand.

“Abbie! What the hell?”

Abbie managed a weary smile as her sister charged into the imaging center’s waiting room. “Here, sit down.” She pointed to the chair next to her. “And, shhh! Can we not share my medical condition with all of Westchester County?” Fortunately the waiting room was mostly empty, but there was a jittery woman seated close to the reception desk and a serene couple, the woman visibly pregnant, near the calming fish tank at the other end of the room. Abbie had deliberately taken a seat as far away from anyone else as she could manage.

Jenny sank into the chair. “Sure. But you need to tell me what your medical condition is.”

Abbie took a deep breath. No turning back now. “Well, I’m a little bit pregnant. But they need to do an ultrasound to rule out an ectopic, and—”

“Hold up, hold up,” Jenny said, keeping her voice barely above a whisper. “A little bit pregnant? Isn’t it one of those all-or-nothing, yes-no things?”

Abbie smoothed her flat stomach. “Not very far along, anyway.”

“Well, obviously—but when did this even happen? I mean, I know you went out to dinner with that reporter back at the end of January, but I didn’t get the impression it was dinner plus sex.”

“It wasn’t,” she said flatly. At the time, it had seemed like an option for the future, but they’d both been cautious still, warily testing their limits.

“And then you said he was out of the country.”

“Yeah. He’s been emailing every so often.” She hadn’t answered the last two, because what the hell was she supposed to tell him?

“But you haven’t been seeing anyone else. Not unless you’re better at keeping secrets from me than I thought.”

“Not in this century, no.”

“Not in this…Abbie!”

“Sh,” she warned. “I…I didn’t exactly tell the whole truth about what happened in 1781.”

Jenny drummed her fingers on her chair’s armrest. “You said no one attacked you. Was that part a lie?”

She stared at her hands. “No. This was consensual and then some.”

“Then…Abbie, will you look at me?” She lifted her head and met her sister’s measuring gaze. “So unless you were making time with Benjamin Franklin…”

Despite everything Abbie burst into giggles.

“Then it must’ve been Crane.”

Instantly she sobered. “Yeah.”

Jenny blew out a long breath. “Wow. That’s just…I mean, I always kinda thought you two would eventually pair up, but…”

“This wasn’t supposed to happen. We thought Grace’s spell would completely undo that timeline. Either that, or it would fail, I’d be stuck there, and the odds are good we both would’ve been dead the next day.”

“Ah,” Jenny said wisely. “War sex.”

“Pretty much. But this battle didn’t turn out how we expected, and it’s just so damn complicated. Unless it really is ectopic. Then it’s damn simple instead.”

“Please explain for those of us who skipped sex ed class and just learned by apprenticeship.”

Abbie snorted. Maybe Jenny was just the right person to have along for something like this after all. “Hey, the only reason I know is I’ve been giving myself a fast education on all things pregnancy from the University of Google. It means the embryo implants somewhere other than the uterus, usually the fallopian tube. The fetus pretty much has no chance, and it’s bad news for the mother if it isn’t caught in time. Like, back in Crane’s day, if a healthy woman who was maybe starting to suspect she was pregnant suddenly had horrible abdominal pains and keeled over and died, that’s probably why.”

“God bless modern medicine.”

“Amen.”

“Speaking of, since we’re not back in Crane’s day, what happens if that’s what it is?”

“Since we’d be catching it pretty early, I could probably just take medicine for it. Abortion pills, though Kate wouldn’t actually call them that. Otherwise you have to have surgery. Either way, it beats the falling over and dying option.”

“Totally.” Jenny studied her through narrowed eyes. “And it would be simpler than the normal pregnancy option.”

“Yeah. No choices to make at all. And I wouldn’t have to tell him.”

“Because keeping secrets from each other works out so well for you two.”

Abbie took an exasperated swig of water. “Would you want to tell him, under the circumstances?”

“Eh, probably not. But you’re freaking out about it.”

“I am not.”

“You’re twitching.”

“I’m twitching because I have to pee. You have to have a full bladder for the ultrasound. They gave me this giant glass of water, and now they’re taking their sweet time about calling me back.”

“Still. I don’t get the sense you’re hoping for the simpler way.”

“No—well, I don’t know. It would just seem so random. And I don’t believe in random, not anymore. I’d just started getting used to this as maybe the next piece of my weird destiny.”

“Hm. How long have you known?”

“I started to suspect something the night before I left for Georgia. It took me most of the week down there to get up the nerve to go buy a test, but by that point I was waking up all queasy and barf-prone, so…”

“Yeah.” Jenny laid her hand atop Abbie’s, which for her was the equivalent of a tearful hug. “Well, I guess we’ll find out soon, huh?”

“Ms. Mills?”

Abbie looked up to see a young bespectacled woman in teal scrubs holding a chart. “If that was a no-more-waiting spell, you’ll have to teach it to me,” she whispered. “That’s me,” she said in her normal voice. “Can my sister come back with me?”

“Of course.”

They were ushered back to a typical medical room, dimly lit and filled with an assortment of high-tech medical machinery. Even aside from the obvious personal complications, Abbie was glad to have Jenny with her instead of Crane. Given that his first experience with modern medicine had been the Roanoke plague, it was probably understandable that he was still freaked out by even the more routine stuff he’d faced so far. That time he’d had to take her to an urgent care center for stitches had been…memorable, and not in a good way. And while they’d managed to get him up-to-date on his vaccinations by taking him in to see Kate with a tale of having been raised in a family that was anti-vax before it was cool, whenever Abbie tried to talk him into a physical or a trip to the dentist, he always found something apocalyptic to distract her with.

Now she put on her best fake calm (it helped that by now she needed to pee so bad that she swore half her brain and two thirds of her emotional capacity were devoted to holding it in), answered the ultrasound tech’s questions, and stepped behind a curtain to change into the standard embarrassing hospital gown.

“I will not make jokes,” Jenny said when she reappeared.

“Good. If you try, I’ll pee on you.”

“That’s the Abbie I know and love.”

“We should tell more of our patients to bring their sisters with them,” the tech said. “Now, if you’ll just step up here, Abigail…”

Obediently Abbie climbed onto the bed and listened to the tech’s explanation of what would come next. Aside from a muttered “dildo cam,” Jenny kept her promise, and she wordlessly took Abbie’s hand when the exam started. It wasn’t that bad, uncomfortable but not painful. Soon it would be over, and soon she’d know.

“There’s your left fallopian tube,” the tech said, turning her monitor for them to see. “All clear.”

It was all gray blob, as far as Abbie could tell, but she’d take her word for it. She let go of Jenny’s hand. “Good.”

“Hm.” The tech prodded a little more, then poked Abbie’s stomach. “Is that the spot that hurts?”

“Yes. Does that mean something’s wrong?”

“No, not at all. I mean, officially I’ll have to pass all these images to a radiologist to confirm, but I can tell you that’s just a corpus luteum cyst on your left ovary.”

“That doesn’t sound harmless to me,” Jenny put in.

“Anything can sound dangerous in Latin,” Abbie said.

The tech chuckled. “I hear you, but trust me on this one. I’ve seen a ton of these. Look there.” She pointed to another gray shape. “Just a small cyst that most likely means you ovulated on that side. Some women get them almost every month, but you’d almost never notice it unless you happened to get pregnant and have a doctor poking at you before it’s cleared up on its own. Which this one should do, in the next few weeks. Let’s see, right ovary and fallopian tube look normal. Now, let’s check your uterus…” More prodding. “Ah, perfect. There’s the embryo. Implanted in a good spot, and measuring just right for your dates.”

It was yet another gray blob. Okay, it was tiny, so more of a dot. And this one was blinking. “Oh,” Abbie said. “Wow.” The rest of her vocabulary had deserted her.

Jenny leaned closer to the screen. “Is that its heartbeat?”

“Yep,” the tech said.

“Holy shit.” Abbie groped for Jenny’s hand again. “This is real.” She patted her stomach with her free hand. “Hello, in there.”

“Wow, listen to yourself,” Jenny said softly.

Abbie closed her eyes. She knew what her sister meant. She sounded like a woman who’d made up her mind, one who’d embraced motherhood. Which was just crazy. The middle of the apocalypse was no time to bring a baby into the world, at least not when you and the father both had jobs to do to fight off said apocalypse. And how the hell was she supposed to tell Crane about this? But still. She was glad that blinking dot was in the right place. And she knew what she had to do next.

She took a deep breath and allowed herself one more lingering look at the dot. Then she turned to the tech and made herself speak in a level, measured voice. “So, are you done, or do you need to see anything else?”

“We’re all done.” The tech removed the probe and pointed Abbie to a bathroom conveniently adjoining the ultrasound room.

A few minutes later, Abbie and Jenny walked out of the clinic together. Jenny was silent and thoughtful, and Abbie was busy texting.

Hey Crane. Still @ archives?

Yes. Are you well? Your sister seemed most anxious.

Abbie paused to consider how to reply. Hi, I’m pregnant from the sex you didn’t know we had was not the kind of thing you even wanted to hint at in a text message. Worse than a break-up or a layoff.

I’m OK. False alarm.

Thank God.

But I do need to talk to you. Wait for me?

Of course. There is much I must tell you, too.

Abbie laughed mirthlessly. He had no idea.

“What is it?” Jenny asked.

Abbie passed her the phone.

“Ah. You’re going to tell him now?”

“You’re the one who said it was a bad idea for us to keep secrets from each other.”

“I guess, but right away?”

“Look. I might as well get it over with. It’s not like he wouldn’t notice if I was acting weird.”

“He already noticed. He was already all worried about you before I got your call.”

“Then I need to tell him.”

“What are you going to say?”

“I have no idea, but it’s a fifteen-minute drive. I’ll think of something. Or just improvise.”

“Ha. Well, good luck. You still want to have dinner tonight?”

“Of course, and just us. One way or another, I’ll have stuff to tell you.”

“That’s for sure. You’re really thinking of doing this? Am I going to be Aunt Jenny? Because our lives aren’t crazy enough already…”

Abbie shrugged. All she knew was that this was big, and her head and her heart weren’t necessarily on the same page yet. “I don’t know. Ask me—ask us—in a few weeks, maybe.”

“Well, whatever you decide, I’ve got your back, okay?”

There was too much she didn’t know how to say to that. Jenny was a better sister than she deserved. And was it too early to blame hormones for the fact her eyes were stinging with tears she knew better than to let show? She settled for a mock-punch to Jenny’s shoulder. “Hey, thanks.”

Jenny pulled her in for a quick hug. “Anytime, Weird Sister.”

***

Crane sat with his head in his hands. He almost thought that if he let it go, it would literally spin. His mind certainly felt anchorless and out of control.

His marriage had been a lie from the beginning. Katrina had always loved Abraham, not him, but had been persuaded to pretend otherwise by her coven, who had thought that if they could simply place one of their kind close enough to the one Witness they had succeeded in identifying, she would then become the second Witness. With that role she would then acquire the open acceptance for their kind they had so long been denied. That had been what Katrina had meant, with her talk that last night of George Washington’s promises to her coven.

And he had been a romantic, blind, unsuspecting idiot who’d fallen in line with their schemes with nary an iota of suspicion. Now he understood that faint air of superiority Katrina had always had toward him, almost as if he were a particularly clever and handsome dog or horse. And—his dizzy mind shied away from the mere thought of it—but this certainly explained her lukewarm response to all his ardent efforts to please her in their marriage bed. He’d begun to wonder if every bit of appreciation he’d received from women before her had been mere fakery, but now…

All a sham. All lies and treachery, every day of it.

“Crane?”

Abbie. He lifted his head and just drank in the sight of her, framed in the doorway. Real and true and honest, and so radiantly lovely. There was a faint wariness to her posture today—she braced herself with one hand against the door frame while the other rested lightly at her belt buckle with a gesture that teased him with a familiarity he couldn’t immediately define. And no matter that whatever had happened this morning was a false alarm, her brightly dark eyes were weary and there was a hint of an ashen quality to her skin. Exhausted, the sane part of his brain commented. She should be taken home, given hot chocolate, and have the most diverting of romantic comedies queued up for her on Netflix. All else can wait a day or two.

But sanity was not his ruling principle at present. Abbie. Here. Water in the desert.

“Lieutenant.”

She studied him through narrowed eyes, then stepped into the room. “Are you okay? You—I’d say you looked you’d seen a ghost, only I don’t think that would get to you anymore.”

He stood. “I have just made the most extraordinary discovery.”

“Those are going around,” she muttered, but shook her head when he raised inquiring eyebrows. “What is it?”

“It was all a lie. Every word, every day of it.”

She recoiled from his intensity. “Whoa. Begin at the beginning. What was a lie?”

“Katrina. My marriage.”

Her mouth rounded in an ohh. While Crane was no mind reader, especially not of a woman who kept herself as well-shielded as Abigail Mills, if she’d had a thought bubble like a character in a comic, he was all but certain it would read, That explains a lot.

And so it did. He took up the journal and brandished it. “I learned of it here.”

“That’s the book Cynthia got at that yard sale?”

“Indeed. It contains a history of Katrina’s coven. She—she never loved me. It was always Abraham. He was also of witch-blood—the more than mortal kind—and purity of lineage means much to them.”

“Why am I not surprised,” Abbie said, her voice too flat to be a question. “But you’re not of that blood.”

“No, but they knew I was a Witness—the firstborn Witness, they called me—and they also knew it was prophesied that the younger Witness would be a witch, and that united we would have power surpassing that of any witch or warlock in memory.” He smiled tightly at that. Katrina must have expected something like that surge of power he’d given to Abbie in the fight after the grimoire’s destruction. No wonder he’d been a disappointment to her.

“And they expected it to be one of their own.”

“Yes. They did not think it possible that such power would be vouchsafed to a hedge witch, as they put it.”

“Hmph. If any of them come at me or mine, I’ll show them power vouchsafed to a hedge witch.”

“I have no doubt of it.”

“So, what, Katrina thought if she married you, that would make her a Witness?”

“Precisely. Or—the coven did, and she was their sacrificial lamb, though it seems she embraced the role willingly enough. Not out of any great affection for me, you understand, but at the thought of the power and honor that must fall to her.”

“Power and honor, ha. Because we’re just rolling in those. And besides, that makes no sense. We’re not married, and we’ve been…Witnessing…just fine since practically the day we met.”

“True. It seems they’d been trying without success to identify the lineage into which the Witness was to be born, and when they could not, they thought they could help the prophecy along if one of them formed a bond with me.”

“Well, that backfired on them, didn’t it?”

Crane couldn’t find the same satisfaction the idea seemed to give the Lieutenant. “I suppose. But meanwhile, my entire life since I met her has been based upon a lie. My marriage, my love…even my turning away from my family and the nation of my birth.” He’d calmed a little, in Abbie’s comfortable presence, but now all the fear, the disorientation and unrootedness of it came flooding back. “Where is the truth in any of this? How much more of my life has been rooted in deception?”

“I don’t know,” Abbie said slowly, in what Crane thought of as her trying to calm the madman voice.

Which only made him feel more insane. “She was my life, she was my love—and all the while I was nothing but a tool she tried and failed to use. Her dupe. Her fool.” He slammed a fist on the table. He hated nothing worse than being caught in ignorance, being made the fool, and he had married a woman who had kept him deliberately and willfully in both states.

“Crane. Breathe, okay? Do I need to take you down to the shooting range, or maybe the batting cages?”

“This is not the sort of thing that can be made better by hitting something!” he fairly shouted.

“No,” she said levelly. “But if you’re going to hit something anyway, it should be a target or a ball, and not a table heavy enough to break your hand.”

He sighed and sagged back down into his chair. She was right, as always, and at least he could trust her. Abruptly it occurred to him that she’d said she needed to talk to him too. Even aside from that he was being a dreadful friend and partner to rant at her about his new discovery without even taking the time to ask her about her journey or the case in Georgia. “I’m sorry, Lieutenant.”

“Hey, it’s okay. I don’t blame you for being upset—more than upset—over something like this. Just…don’t let it make you question who you are.”

“How can it not?” He frowned at the journal. Would it have been better if Mrs. Irving had never found it? “And ye shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free,” he quoted. But he hadn’t known he’d been bound by deception before. Were chains real if you couldn’t see them or feel them?

They sat silently for a few moments. Surreptitiously he studied Abbie’s face. She was still, but not calm—troubled and weary, and he remembered that she had looked so even before he’d unloaded his burdens onto her. “You said in your text that you needed to talk to me,” he said.

Her eyes went wide, and one hand fluttered anxiously to that same spot low on her belly he’d noticed her guarding before. “It can wait. It should wait, after this.”

Now he remembered what that gesture meant. Abbie herself had been the first person to interpret it for him. Months ago now, they’d been talking over the statement they’d received from a witness to a possibly demonic killing. He’d commented on how terrified the young woman seemed, and Abbie had said, “Of course. And she’s worried what it might mean for her baby, too.”

“What baby?” he’d asked. There had been no sign of an infant in the home, and the woman’s stomach had been almost flat.

“I’m about ninety-nine percent certain she’s pregnant.” And then she’d dropped her hand to her belly, just like she sat now. “That’s a tell.”

Of course it was. When Crane stopped to think of it, Katrina had made that same gesture, in the last few weeks before his not-quite-death, something that had registered in his eidetic memory without rising to the top of his mind for him to comment upon at the time.

And now Abbie. “You’re pregnant,” he stated. It came out as an accusation. Whom had she given herself to without so much as hinting at the connection to him?

She stared at him in panicked amazement, then looked down at her own hand. “Shit,” she muttered, and dropped it to hang bonelessly at her side.

Again Crane’s mind spun. He’d been in the twenty-first century long enough to learn women were no longer expected to lead chaste lives until they married, and given that men had never fallen under such an expectation, the new way was only fair and just. But if Abbie had taken a lover recently, she’d hidden it well, and why? Didn’t she trust him? Didn’t she know enough of his secrets? Good God, it had to have happened within the last month or two—such a small, slim frame couldn’t conceal a pregnancy for long—and when had she found the time?

“When?” he heard himself asking.

“Yeah…” She traced patterns on the table, fingertips following the grain of the wood. “An excellent question. A little over four weeks, or 234 years ago. Depending on how you want to count.”

“Good God.”

“Yeah. I didn’t tell you everything about 1781. I should have. I’m sorry.”

“Who?” She’d said, she’d insisted, that no one had hurt her. If she had lied about that…he’d reinvent time travel just to avenge her.

“Here we go,” she muttered to herself. She rested her hand atop his, then pulled it back as if burned. Their eyes met, and the last time he’d seen her so terrified he’d been about to swallow poison.

“You,” she said at last. “It’s yours.”

Chapter Text

Abbie fought the urge to edge away as she watched emotions chase each other across Crane’s expressive face. Bewilderment. Shock. Fear And—oh God—horror. Which seemed to be winning out.

“No,” he said. “Impossible.”

Why was he looking at her like that, as if the very idea of her being pregnant with his child disgusted him? He’d certainly been into her from the get-go back in 1781, and she swore she wasn’t imagining all the lingering looks and flirty remarks he’d made in the here and now. And damn these stupid pregnancy hormones, but she was not going to cry or run away. “Not impossible,” she said in a level voice. “It happened. I can explain—”

He shook his head and looked away from her, instead staring down at that journal Cynthia had found. This had to be the worst timing ever. She should’ve said something before. Or maybe she should’ve had brains enough not to assume the standard pregnant woman protecting the bay-bee position as soon as she got a little nervous.

“Are you quite certain?” he asked in a low voice.

“Certain I’m pregnant? Yes. Totally confirmed this morning. And I’ve got all the usual early symptoms, and they are not fun, let me tell you.” Stop babbling, Abbie.

Still he didn’t look at her. “No. What I meant to say was, are you certain it’s…mine? A human baby?”

Rage consumed her like a ocean swell. She stood, shoving her chair aside. “What the hell other kind of baby do you think I’d have? A puppy? Kittens? And I don’t know where you get the idea I’m sleeping with so many men I’d need a damn DNA test to—”

He stood too and caught her wrist. “That’s not what—that’s not how I meant it.”

She tugged at his grip, and he released her. She crossed her arms and lifted her chin. “Then figure out what you mean and say it right this time.”

He took a deep breath, as if fighting for calm. His hands flexed, his fingers twitched, and he settled them, one hand gripping the table, the other playing with the bottom button of his coat. “What I was attempting to ask, with unpardonable clumsiness, was whether you were certain this wasn’t some kind of…mystical pregnancy. You’ve traveled through time, you’ve worked magic, we have a great many powerful enemies…it could be anything.”

Oh. Abbie sighed out about half of her anger. She hadn’t forgotten Katrina’s Moloch-pregnancy, not at all. It stood out as one of the all-around most miserable and terrifying days she’d experienced in the past two years. But it had never occurred to her to compare it with this, which if you left out the whole time travel aspect was just so ordinary. Woman misses just enough doses of the pill in a row to be fertile, has unprotected sex, gets pregnant. In other news, the sun rose in the east today.

“But there’s no sign of anything like that,” she said. “If it was mystical, it wouldn’t be so normal.”

“How do you know what normal is?” he asked. “You’ve not been pregnant before…”

“No, but I’ve had friends who were. You start to pick up on these things. I’ve been looking around online since I started to suspect something, too. And—the thing today, where I called Jenny. They had to do an ultrasound to rule out an ectopic pregnancy. Have you heard of that?”

His brows drew together. “Ultrasound, or ectopic pregnancy?”

“Either one.”

“No.”

She shook her head. She never knew what bits of modern life he’d gotten around to absorbing yet. “We’ve got to get you some medical texts, Eidetic Memory Boy. Ultrasounds…I guess the simplest explanation is they use sound waves to get a picture of what’s going on in your body without having to cut you open use an x-ray. And an ectopic pregnancy is when a fetus implants anywhere other than the womb.”

Now he looked pale. “I didn’t know they could do that.”

“Yeah, and it’s bad news, but that’s not happening here. They checked. We saw the fetus. It’s where it’s supposed to be, and the size it’s supposed to be for now—tiny. Developing normally. It’s not any kind of hellspawn or magical beast. It’s human. Just human.”

He stepped back a little and began to pace. Which was a relief, really. They needed distance just now. “It is your child,” he said, and Abbie bit her lip to keep from correcting him to our child. Give him time. He needs it. “Therefore it may very well be magic,” he said.

And so what if it was? She measured her words carefully. “If it is, all it can be is a mere mortal hedge witch. And unless you’re suggesting that makes me a monster…”

“Never.”

“Really? Because you kinda were just then. I know you’d rather I wasn’t a witch.”

“That’s not true.”

“I think it is.”

He raked a hand through his hair. “I will admit it is an adjustment, just one of many unlooked-for circumstances in my life.”

Abbie curled both hands into fists. Crane may have been her best friend, her partner whom she’d trusted again and again with her life and soul. Even though this version of him didn’t know it, he was a lover she craved with a body hunger that had taken over her dreams and waking fantasies alike. If she—if they—decided to go through with this, he’d be the father of her child. Their lives were tangled up together, and deep down the last thing she wanted to do was unravel their connection. But sometimes he was such a self-centered son of a bitch she wanted to strangle him. “An adjustment,” she repeated. “An unlooked-for circumstance in your life. What do you think it’s like for me?”

“You love it. You and your sister both do.”

He wasn’t wrong, but it wasn’t as simple as that. “It’s still strange. It still doesn’t feel like me.”

He sighed and leaned against the table. “But this” –he waved his hand in the general direction of her abdomen— “why didn’t you tell me before now?”

“I only just found out for sure,” she protested.

“Not about the child! About…” His hands twitched, and he started to pace again. “…About the making of it.”

She couldn’t handle any coy grandmother language just then. “Sex,” she said. “Intercourse. The dragon upon Saint George.” At that he cast her a wild-eyed look she couldn’t begin to interpret, and she threw up her hands in exasperation. “Look, I wasn’t supposed to remember any of it, okay? Grace’s spell was supposed to undo it all, make it so my time in the past never happened to anyone but her and Katrina. But then I had to help cast the spell, and that made it real for me, too.”

“What does that have to do with keeping it a secret?”

“I’m trying to explain what happened, so maybe you’ll understand.”

He gave her a short nod.

“We thought the next morning either the timeline would be reversed like it never happened, or else we’d both probably be killed. Either way, it was going to be our last night on earth—at least for that version of us. I think that made us both a little reckless. I know it did me.” She watched him for any reaction, but he still just looked baffled and angry. “But then it didn’t turn out the way we thought, and it stayed real for me. And I remember it.”

He closed his eyes for a moment and blew out a hard breath through flared nostrils. “And I still do not understand why you didn’t tell me about it until today.”

“I didn’t tell you because Katrina had just died. What was I supposed to say? I’m so sorry. I’m here for you. Oh, and by the way, last night in 1781 we fucked.”

“I can understand why you said nothing then,” he said through gritted teeth, “but a month has now passed.”

“I know. Believe me, I know that very well.” She fought off the instinct to rest a protective hand on her belly again. “But it just never got any easier to say. It was never not going to be…just weird and lopsided and out of balance.”

“Well, then.” He gave her a measuring look. “Would you have ever told me, if you hadn’t fallen pregnant?”

She returned the look. “I don’t know. I’m sorry, but I don’t. I think I would have…eventually.” She certainly would have told him before going to bed with him in this century, because otherwise it would’ve been way too weird. But just now she couldn’t imagine that would ever happen. He sure didn’t seem to want it, and at the moment she was too angry to want him.

He crossed his arms defensively. “It seems my fate is to be surrounded by those who conceal the whole truth of our relationship from me.”

If before Abbie had been caught in a rage wave, now she’d gone tsunami. She crossed the space between them in two strides and stared up at him until he met her eyes. “Do not ever compare me with her. Ever again.” She thrust an accusing index finger toward his face, because two could play that game. “I concealed one piece of the truth from you, because the timing wasn’t right. I did not lie, I did not scheme, and I never set out to deceive you. I told you I was pregnant practically before the pee dried on the stick.” Off his confused look, she threw up both hands. “Google it!”

She stepped back and took a deep breath. This was only getting worse, and the more they said now, the harder it would be for them to deal with it later when they were capable of being rational again. “Look,” she said. “The timing is all wrong. We shouldn’t be discussing this now. Take a couple days to sort yourself out, and once you’ve gotten it through your thick skull that I am not her, we’ll sit down and figure out what to do.”

She spun on her heel and stormed out of the archives.

***

For a long time after she left, Crane sat in the archives, motionless and alone.

Abbie. Pregnant, and with his child.

He had been wanting her almost since the day he met her, at first with an inchoate yearning bound up with all his confusion and wonder at awakening from his long sleep into an utterly transformed world. She’d been life and hope to him, and the font of all the knowledge he needed to survive. It had only seemed right and proper to find her beautiful too, to let his eyes linger upon the compact perfection of her body, a warrior’s taut strength melded with a woman’s lush curves, on the smoothness of her skin and the expressiveness of her eyes. He’d been enraptured by her smile, the flash of joy that so transformed her oft-solemn features, and he’d done whatever he could to amuse and charm her into directing it toward him.

His thoughts had taken a carnal turn soon enough. He wanted to taste her skin, to learn the feel of her lips against his, to map every curve and angle of her with hands and tongue, to try each position he knew for amorous congress until he’d discovered the ones that gave the best pleasure to her small frame and his lanky one paired together.

And yet he’d regarded his lusts as unwelcome intruders, distractions from their shared mission, and in their sheer volume and lascivious detail a betrayal of his marriage vows.

Oh yes, he’d fought so hard to stay true to that farce of a marriage. He’d spent two years fighting to deny how much he wanted what his past self had evidently enjoyed after two or three days. The dragon upon Saint George. Surely that other him had taught her that phrase—and how many nights had he lain awake imagining her astride him, inner muscles hot and tight around his cock, her head thrown back in rapture?

He laughed, hollow and bitter. He was consumed by envy of his own self—a baffling version of that self in an alternate reality two centuries gone, an Ichabod Crane who’d been created and then wiped from existence by magic, one who only lived in Abbie’s memory…and in the child now growing within her.

Tiny and normal and human, she’d said. With a frantic hunger for some kind of new knowledge that would make sense for a change, he awakened his laptop and made his way to such websites as she had told him were reliable sources of medical information.

The mystery of the pee drying on the stick was quickly solved, and he next spent a horrified half hour on ectopic pregnancy and the risks it still posed in parts of the world without ready access to modern medicine. He remembered a lovely and apparently healthy young woman newly married to the colonel of his British regiment who had died suddenly in great pain from what sounded very like this.

But ultrasound had proven that would not be happening to Abbie, and he next buried himself in articles on that technology—what a wonder and a marvel, to know the sex of a child months before its birth!—and from there he looped back to all that was now known of fetal development. He had just made it to childbirth and how much safer it had grown in the past two centuries—and thank God that the odds had grown so infinitesimally low that Abbie would suffer his own mother’s fate—when he heard the archive door open again.

He looked up, expecting Abbie or perhaps Miss Jenny come to ring a peal over his head, but instead he saw Captain Irving leaning in the doorway and regarding him with a wry expression.
“I just got a series of text from both Mills sisters informing me that I ought to feed you dinner—though Jenny seemed to think you deserved to be left to starve—and Abbie said you were free to tell me everything you’d found out today, even her part in it.”

“She did?” Crane asked.

“That’s what I just said, isn’t it? Now, I’m no gossip, but they’ve got me all curious.”

And so half an hour later Crane found himself in a booth at a quiet diner, telling Irving between bites of fried chicken and mashed potatoes about first Katrina’s deception and then Abbie’s shocking revelation. Despite everything he was starving, since he’d eaten nothing since the donut holes. Irving proved a good listener, letting him tell the whole tale with nothing but occasional clarifying questions as he ate his cheeseburger and nursed a beer.

But at the end he favored Crane with a look so cool and narrow-eyed it made him want to squirm like a schoolboy caught in mischief. “You don’t seriously think,” he said, “that Abigail Mills set out to seduce you and get herself pregnant, and for what? Your nonexistent fortune?”

“Well…no. But to keep such a secret—”

“Would be the first instinct of anyone in her situation. I think. I don’t have a whole lot of basis for comparison outside of Doctor Who and Star Trek. But it sounds like to me you’re angry at Abbie because of something Katrina did.”

“No,” Crane protested, though when he remembered the last words he’d spoken to Abbie in the archives, he now cringed.

Irving took a last swig of his beer. “I’m betting it came across that way to her, though. And are you really sure you’re not?”

“It’s more complicated than that.” He no longer knew where he stood with anyone in his life, past or present. Abbie had been right to say everything between them was lopsided and out of balance now. She had lain with him—or a version of him, at any rate—while he had nothing but a long succession of guilt-ridden fantasies. How had their coupling come to pass, in that nonexistent past they’d shared? Surely there was more to the tale than she’d yet shared with him. And…had she enjoyed it? She’d been jittery and skittish around him ever since she’d returned from the past, but he had no idea if she tensed at his touch because it had become distasteful to her or because she wished for more of it. He certainly didn’t trust his own judgment in such matters now.

“Yeah, they need to invent a whole new Facebook status just for you two.”

Crane couldn’t miss the note of sarcasm in his companion’s voice. “Why do I get the sense you’re telling me to get over myself?”

“Because I am,” Irving replied blandly. “You’re not the only one with a complicated life on our little team. Yeah, I know, you’ve been through more than your fair share of crap lately, and today was just crazy. But it’s not all about you. And if you’re going to be a father, and for real this time, you might as well practice getting your head out of your ass and seeing that there are more problems in the world than just your own.”

Inwardly Crane bristled. How could anyone who’d been on the receiving end of shocks such as he’d got today be expected to show philosophical perspective? “Blunt words, sir,” he said.

Irving shrugged. “Never been much of a fan of sugar-coating.”

And yet, Abbie had endured much, too, and he had been the very reverse of kind and gracious to her. “I will consider your advice.”

“You do that.”

They sat in silence for an interval, during which the waitress appeared with the check and refilled their water glasses. At length Crane grew uncomfortable with it. “Where do matters stand with your family, if it isn’t too rude of me to ask?”

Irving gave him a crooked smile. “See? Was that so hard?”

Crane shifted in his seat. Had he truly been so selfish?

“It’s weird,” Irving said. “I can’t deny that. Macey is confused about what happened, on top of all the normal teenaged drama made worse because it’s hard for her to have the freedom most kids her age are starting to get.” He frowned and shook his head. “And I don’t know where Cynthia and I will be six months from now. She wants to run away from all this supernatural shit, and it’s pretty much my whole mission now. It’s not like I could just waltz back into my old job like nothing happened, even if Reyes wasn’t in the picture.”

It occurred to Crane that Irving came closer than anyone else in his world to understanding the experience of reawakening in a changed world, and that a resurrection after months instead of centuries brought with it its own difficulties. “Do you know what you mean to do?” he asked. “You weren’t declared dead, only escaped and missing, and now you’ve been exonerated.”

“True, but it’d still be a big question mark on my record if I applied for police work again. Jenny has been trying to convince me to go freelance.”

“Oh?” He couldn’t imagine Irving, a man of middling years with a wife and child, embarking upon a life of global adventuring and artifact hunting.

“Why so dubious?”

“It’s a rather unstable mode of life.”

“So what else is new for us? Mind you, I’m not thinking of turning world traveler like Jenny or Nick Hawley. I was thinking more of a detective agency. We solve the problems no one else believes in, or something like that. The slogan needs work.”

“You’ll draw every madman and crank on the internet.”

“Maybe. But you ought to know better than anyone that some of those madmen are onto something.”

“It does sound intriguing.” Team Witness, as Miss Jenny had taken to calling them, could certainly use an official presence beyond their nebulous ties to the police department.

“So—are you in?”

Crane blinked at him. “You—you’re offering me employment?”

“Sure, as soon as I figure out how to get this thing off the ground. You, me, and Jenny, with Abbie our woman on the inside and Cynthia for our legal counsel provided I can talk her into it.”

At last this day had brought him a welcome surprise. “I’d be delighted,” he said. “Of late I have been feeling my lack of steady income” –the small consultant’s stipend he received from Reyes was anything but steady and barely qualified as income— “but everything I felt myself qualified for either required a predictable schedule my duties as a Witness preclude, or else a background check I’d have no chance of passing.” The passport and driver’s license Hawley had provided for him looked quite genuine, but anyone who tried to discover what he’d done between his supposed birth in 1982 and his appearance in Sleepy Hollow in 2013 would find nothing at all.

“Good. And here’s hoping this will provide us all a steady income.” They raised their water glasses in ironic toast.

They split the bill, since Crane had just received one of those small stipend checks and was therefore temporarily self-supporting. Then, as Irving drove him down the winding country roads toward the cabin, he texted Abbie.

I owe you the greatest of apologies.

The typing indicator cycled for so long that he expected a full paragraph’s reply, but all he received was, Yeah, you kinda do. Not ready to hear it yet.

That was fair, he supposed. When? he typed.

Her next text, though longer, came quickly. How about Saturday? I’m off, and it’s supposed to be nice out for a change. Picnic @ park?

An unexpected choice, at once friendly, intimate, and as public as possible. Yes, certainly.

When Irving pulled up in front of the cabin, he asked, “Are you going to be okay? I know I gave you a hard time, but you’ve had a lot to take for just one day.”

Crane smiled ruefully. “I may seek the assistance of whiskey, but I shall manage.”

“Fair enough.”

He did not go straight inside the cabin for the solace of the bottle, however. Instead he stood gazing up at the stars. It was a clear night, cold and moonless, and there in the quiet darkness beneath those impossibly distant pinpricks of light, he felt small. But it was a comfortable smallness that at once acknowledged the cosmic insignificance of one Ichabod Crane and assured him that there was a power that saw him and had called him according to its purpose.

And then the peace of the night was shattered by the irregular whirring sound of a small object flying through the air. Crane spun toward it, reaching instinctively for the knife he no longer trembled to carry. But he was much too slow, and an all-too-familiar necklace of gold and emeralds settled around his throat.

Abraham Van Brunt, head and all, stepped out of the darkest shadows. “Good evening, murderer,” he said.

Chapter Text

Well. They had all been wondering what had become of their Headless Horseman, and Crane was only surprised it had taken him this long to turn up. But how had he got this close to the cabin when one of the first magical acts the Mills sisters had done together was to set protective wards around all of the team’s homes?

“No,” he heard himself say with a dispassion that surprised him. “Killing in self-defense, or in protection of another’s life, does not make one a murderer.”

Abraham spun his axe with casual menace. “So. This is how you now speak of the death of the great love of your life. But then, you always were one to lightly discard your loyalties.”

His words would have stung far more if he’d been a day earlier. “I loved her longer and better than she loved me, as I’ve no doubt you know.”

“Her coven should never have asked her to make such a sacrifice,” Abraham said in a voice gone low and fierce. “Her place was at my side.”

But they had only asked for that sacrifice, not ordered it. The journal had made that clear. Crane would have felt far more pity for Katrina if she’d been coerced into it, an unwilling and rebellious bride compelled to enter a dynastic marriage. But instead she had made a choice and embarked upon a deception that had brought grief and disaster to many, and at last to herself. “And yet she chose a chance at power greater than any witch in memory over a life with you,” he said. “One might say she betrayed us both.”

Abraham’s face reddened with rage. “You have no right to speak of her so—not you, her murderer.”

He carried his superheated axe and assault rifle. Crane had August Corbin’s old deer knife. “If you’ve come to have your revenge, you find me lightly armed,” he said. Yet surely that wasn’t his old rival’s intent, or he wouldn’t have made a point of snaring him with this accursed necklace so they could speak to each other. At least, he prayed that it was not. He couldn’t die now, not while he was at odds with Abbie—and this future was such a fascinating place to live. He wanted four or five decades more of it, all the more so if he had a chance to become a father in truth…

“Oh, I’m not here to kill you, more’s the pity. I have a message for you.”

Crane relaxed a very small degree. “Do you, now?”

“I am not permitted to kill you yet, because you and your new little witch—I suppose you’ve learned her true nature by now?”

“I’ve always known it,” Crane said, realizing as he spoke that it was the truth. Abbie’s newly-discovered witchcraft was a valuable talent and a heritage to be cherished, but it wasn’t her nature. That was her courage, determination, and loyalty, the manner in which she kept faith even when she claimed to have none. “And you say you aren’t permitted to kill me. I suppose that means you are no longer your own master.”

Abraham didn’t answer directly, but from the angry flash of his eyes Crane deduced his reasoning was correct. “You and the hedge witch,” he said instead, “have too great a role to play in what is to come to be allowed to die now—a role I greatly anticipate witnessing firsthand.”

Crane rolled his eyes. He supposed living without a head would render one out of practice at wordplay. “Is that the extent of your message? I’ve had quite a long day, and I’d as soon not stand here trading insults when you’re not allowed to kill me and I lack the weaponry to kill you.”

Abraham shouldered his axe. “Four words for you and your witch: Moloch shall rise again.” He bent in an ironic bow. “With that, I bid you a good evening, Ichabod. I hope your night proves as restful as you deserve.”

He spun on his heels and disappeared into the darkness. Less than a minute later, Crane heard hoofbeats galloping away.

“Damn and blast,” he muttered, but that seemed too mild an oath. What would Abbie say under the circumstances? “Shit.” Yes, that was more like it. “Fucking hell.” Better still.

He grabbed the necklace and tried to pull it over his head, but it was like trying to lift a thousand-pound boulder. Muttering more curses—some from the century of his birth, some he’d learned in this one, and a few of his own invention—he found the clasp, but when he tried to unhook it his fingers slipped away as though it had been greased in butter.

What to do? If he couldn’t shift it, Irving would be of no help. He hated to involve the Lieutenant or her sister today of all days, but surely the rest of the team needed to know of Abraham’s threat, and as quickly as possible. He had said, nothing, after all, about when Moloch would rise. The decision made Crane hurried inside and took a quick selfie of the thing, shining and incongruous against his neck. He then texted it to both sisters, with the message, My deepest apologies. I have no wish to disturb either of you. But I had a visitor just now, and now this THING will not come off.

Within seconds, Abbie replied. KATRINA?!

Good God. Yet of course she would think that. No, he typed quickly. Abraham.We’ll be right there.

And they were, in less than a quarter of an hour, which in Crane’s experience was good time indeed. But as Miss Jenny sprang out of the driver’s seat and Abbie leapt from the passenger side, each carrying a satchel Crane knew to be filled with the tools of their new magical trade, they were bickering about the speed.

“…should’ve let me drive,” Abbie said mulishly.

“You’re exhausted,” Miss Jenny snapped.

“Not anymore I’m not. And you could’ve driven faster.”

“I drove as fast as was safe.”

“Since when are you all safety first?”

At that they fetched up in the cabin’s doorway, and the three of them regarded each other in strained silence. Then Abbie—no, when she lifted her chin and crossed her arms in that firm, no-nonsense way she was always and only the Lieutenant—cleared her throat. “You okay?”

“Aside from this” –he tapped the large emerald with disgust— “and Abraham’s threats, I am.”

“Threats?” Miss Jenny asked.

“Come in first,” he said. “You should be sitting down for this, and I daresay so should I.”

The sisters sat side by side on the couch, and Crane took the chair opposite them. Quickly he described the encounter and Abraham’s declaration that Moloch would return and the Witnesses had some sort of role to play in what was to come.

“Nothing like a nice vague threat,” Miss Jenny said.

“Tomorrow I shall research it.”

“We all will.” Abbie stood, stretching her arms behind her back and rolling her neck. “But for now let’s get that thing off of you.”

“Please,” he said fervently.

“Yeah, that’s really not your color.” Miss Jenny stood, too, and the sisters crossed to stand on either side of his chair, frowning and flexing their fingers for all the world like a pair of surgeons meditating an amputation.

First they attempted the same physical solutions he had tried, albeit with an accompaniment of chanting in a language he didn’t recognize. They came closer to success—Miss Jenny was able to lift the necklace a bare inch before it slipped from her fingers and thudded against his chest again, and Abbie managed to take a firm grip on the clasp only to let it go with a pained yelp when she tried to unfasten it.

Crane sighed. If he was to be forced to wear this thing, he’d need to find a way to hide it, even from himself.

Abbie rapped him lightly on the shoulder. “Hey, be patient. We’re just getting started here. Jenny, can you get one of the beeswax candles?”

“Sure. But wouldn’t incense be better?”

“Maybe. But that smell will also make me barf, and we’ve all had enough unpleasantness for one day, I think.”

“If my choices are vomit or wearing this necklace for the rest of my life, I would prefer the former,” Crane said dryly. “At least a quick shower would be an end of it.”

“Don’t you realize—” Miss Jenny began, but Abbie chuckled, and he smiled up at her. Was he forgiven?

“My God, you two,” Miss Jenny muttered, but she turned to her satchel, pulled out a long, cream-colored taper, and lit it from the fire with another chanted invocation.

“You’ll want to hold your hair away from the necklace,” Abbie instructed, and he complied with alacrity. He had been through more than enough this day without setting his head afire.

He felt the heat of the tiny flame at the nape of his neck, and he bit back a hiss when a drop of melted wax landed on his spine.

“There!” Miss Jenny said. “Abs, do you feel that?”

Both sisters tapped the clasp. “You’re so good at this part,” Abbie said. “I can just sense it, now that you show me where. A locking spell.”

“Yes. Simple, but subtle.”

“I hope it’s simple to remove,” Crane muttered.

“I think so,” Abbie said. She looked to her sister with raised eyebrows. “What do you think? Copper?”

“Might as well start there, since everything else I can think of would either make you barf or leave him with scars on his neck.”

Crane twitched at another drop of wax. “Let us by all means avoid the scars if we can.”

“Yeah, no need to take out mosquitos with a hand grenade when we’ve got a perfectly good fly swatter handy,” Abbie said. “And blow out that candle. Now that we know what’s there, there’s no need to drip wax all over him.”

Miss Jenny sighed but complied, while Abbie rummaged through her satchel until she found a plain, heavy ring of hammered copper, which she slid onto her thumb. She chanted some more incomprehensible words—in her lovely voice it was more like singing—then tapped the ring against the necklace’s clasp. Crane felt her fingers at the nape of his neck, careful and delicate, and her breath warm against his skin as she sighed frustration. He shifted in the chair.

“Tricky little bastard of a spell,” she said, apparently unaware of the effect her nearness and her touch had on him.

“We can try it with incense,” Miss Jenny said.

“Hm,” Abbie muttered. Though he couldn’t see her face, Crane could all but feel her wrinkle her nose in distaste. “Crane…would you mind if I try that…that boost from you, like the day we destroyed the grimoire?”

“Talk about hand grenades for mosquitoes,” Miss Jenny snapped before Crane could form a reply. “You’ll blow that necklace halfway to the Canadian border, and then you’ll faint and leave him to weak to move, and—”

“No, I’ve been thinking about it,” Abbie said through gritted teeth. “I think I know how to control it. And we need to figure it out, because I’m sure we’ll need the power again sometime.”

“I agree,” Crane said, though he wished he could see her face when talking of this strange magical aspect of their bond. “Please try.”

“Thanks. I’ll try to take as little as I can.” Then she sang again, the same words as before, but this time as she neared the end her thumb and forefinger settled at the open collar of his shirt, just where his neck met his shoulder.

This time it tickled—not her touch, but the ripple of energy that flowed from him to her. And when she tapped the clasp with copper and tried to unhook it, it came straight off.

“Oh, thank God.” Gratefully he rubbed his bare neck. “Lieutenant, are you all right?”

“Yeah. Maybe a little sleepier than I was before, but no big deal.”

“You were snoring on the couch before we came here,” Miss Jenny said.

“That was before we got the text.” She crossed to sit on the sofa again, the necklace dangling from her fingers.

Crane glanced at the clock on the mantel. It was only 9:30, and Abbie had never been one for early to bed, early to rise. Several of the websites he had read that day stressed that tiredness was a common symptom of pregnancy. He wanted to ask, and he wondered if using too much magic might harm the child—or somehow give it powers beyond what her lineage alone could bring—but he knew better than to raise either topic. Even if she hadn’t warned him away, her reactions to her sister’s attempts at protective care taught him better than to question her health or her judgment just now.

Instead, he frowned at the necklace she held. There had been a time when he thought it surpassingly beautiful, but now he loathed the sight of it. “Can you destroy that thing?” he asked.

The sisters exchanged glances. “Maybe…” Abbie said.

“Or send it far away,” he said. “As long as I need never see it again.”

She ran testing fingers over it. “I don’t want to send such a powerful object out into the world still enchanted.”

“You took the enchantment off her knife.”

“This is more complicated.”

“You said it was simple,” he protested.

“The spell binding it to the wearer was simple.” Miss Jenny sat at her sister’s side and held out a hand in wordless inquiry. Abbie passed her the necklace, and she began her own inspection, rubbing and then sniffing at the largest stone. “How it gives Headless his head back—that’s the complicated part. I’m not even sure how it works, much less how to undo it.”

“And she’s good at sensing the true nature of magical things,” Abbie put in.

“I’d like to take it home and study it. We need to figure it out.”

“There’s nothing to figure,” Crane ground out. “It is evil.

The sisters looked at him, then exchanged glances. Miss Jenny raised an eyebrow and flipped her palm toward Abbie, who sighed and regarded Crane again in her purely Lieutenant aspect. “It’s been used for evil,” she said. “Maybe it’s inherently bad. But it could be whatever magic made it possible is neutral. If we can figure out how it works, we’ll know. If it’s evil, we’ll destroy it, just like the grimoire. I swear it. But if not, we may be able to use it, or the magic that drives it, for good.”

“Would it help to think of it like technology, or maybe a weapon?” Miss Jenny asked. “The good or evil is all in who uses it and how, not in the thing itself.”

Crane recognized they had logic on their side, even as every feeling cried out for the thing’s destruction. “Very well, as long as you take it away from here.”

“I’ll take it to my place.”

“Let’s store it in salt water first and take it out to the car,” Abbie said. “I want to strengthen the wards here—Abraham shouldn’t have been able to get so close—and I don’t want to risk any kind of interference from it.”

“You sure you’re strong enough for that?”

“Oh, for God’s sake, Jenny,” Abbie snapped. “Stop treating me like I’m deathly ill. I’m just pregnant. Believe me, breaking that Canis curse down in Georgia was harder than this, the way those things build over the generations, and you’ll notice how that didn’t do me any harm. Besides, Crane can give me another boost.” She looked to him. “That is, if you’re willing.”

“Of course,” he said, biting down all the questions he knew better than to ask.

“Okay, then, since you insist,” Miss Jenny said. “But the instant you are done I am driving you straight home and you are going straight to sleep. You will turn off your phone, and if anything happens the rest of us will take care of it.”

Abbie rolled her eyes. “Yes, ma’am.”

After some rummaging through his tiny kitchen, the sisters found a lidded plastic container they deemed suitable and filled it with water from the tap and all the salt he had left in the cupboard. Abbie carefully sealed the necklace away, making sure it was entirely submerged and the lid tightly sealed, then passed it to Miss Jenny. “Can you take it out and then check what’s left of the old wards?”

“Why me?”

“Because you’ll be better at diagnosing how Abraham got through them. And also because I’d like to talk to my partner for just a minute or two without you hovering.”

Miss Jenny raised incredulous eyebrows. “Really?”

“Yes. Go.”

Heaving a heavy sigh, she went, closing the door with a shove just short of a slam.

Crane and Abbie regarded each other in strained silence. Neither moved to bridge the gap of a dozen feet or so that separated them. “Sorry about that,” she said.

“About what?” What had she done to require an apology to him?

She rolled her eyes. “Me and Jenny. She’s been wonderful today, dropped everything for me, but I hate being fussed over, especially when there’s nothing actually wrong with me. And she’s been worse since we got here. I don’t get it.”

Crane thought he did. Miss Jenny was angry with him, and taking it out on both of them, likely because she thought Abbie was no longer angry enough. But this didn’t seem the correct time to play family counselor to the Mills sisters. “It’s been a long day for us all,” he said instead.

“Ha. Understatement of the century.”

“And this is an improvement over the first time the three of us were in this cabin together.”

That drew a bright smile of reminiscence. “Good point.”

“Thank you for coming at all,” he said softly. “I know you wanted nothing to do with me tonight.”

She shrugged. “Well, hey. Witnesses don’t get the luxury of being on a break when apocalyptic messengers come calling. I still want to wait to talk about this, though.” For the first time since her arrival she made that characteristic belly-guarding gesture.

“Understood.” He studied his hands, then looked up at her. “If I may have one quick word—I do see now what an ass I was earlier.”

“After I dumped the news on you at the worst possible time. Consider it forgiven—but no more comparisons like that, okay?”

“You are too good,” he said with fervor.

She smiled crookedly. “Nah, I’m medium good at best. But thanks.”

Miss Jenny reopened the door with a bang, looked first at Abbie and then at Crane, and gave a satisfied nod. Which had she feared—that she would come in upon them at each other’s throats or in each other’s arms?

After a highly technical discussion between the sisters of what had gone wrong with the wards and how they would make them stronger this time, all three of them trooped out into the night. Abbie and Miss Jenny paced the circle, stopping at each of the four cardinal points to chant and scatter salt and herbs. Crane…held the flashlight. He was, after all, the battery pack.

With the circle completed, Abbie extended her left hand to him. “Ready?”

He swallowed, passed the flashlight to Miss Jenny, and took Abbie’s hand.

This surge was stronger than when she’d broken the necklace’s seal, but still controlled and feather-light, like a caress up his spine and down his arm to their joined hands. He closed his eyes and gasped.

“Sorry!” she exclaimed.

He opened his eyes and nodded reassurance. “I’m quite all right.”

Cradled in her right hand she held a tiny light, like the glow of a firefly. Crane smiled in wonder. But Miss Jenny regarded it with a critical frown. “That’s not enough,” she said.

Abbie dropped his hand, took a deep breath, and lifted her right hand in an expansive gesture. The light flickered out, and she muttered a curse.

He took her hand again. “Take more.”

“I don’t want to drain you.”

“You won’t. I trust you.” He trusted her with far more than this, his bitterness of the morning notwithstanding, and he hoped she heard his full intent.

She gave him an assessing look, then a single, brief nod. Her grip on his hand tightened, and he envisioned giving power to her rather than merely allowing her to take it. He didn’t understand any of this, he certainly had no magic of his own—but he felt the power flow joyously, there was no other word for it, from him to her. It should have weakened him, but instead he felt the might of their strengths melded together, the bond that still sustained them despite how sorely they’d tested it today.

The power rippled and flowed, and now Abbie held a bright orb of golden light that filled her right hand. She looked up at him, a triumphant smile playing at her lips, and he grinned, all their troubles as nothing for the moment in the light of what they could do together.

Keeping a tight grip on his hand, she turned and addressed the light. “Now go forth and seal this circle. Guard this house from every evildoer, curse, and malicious spell.” With a sweeping motion, she cast the light from her hand, and it shot out, describing the full circle until they stood within a shield of shimmering brightness.

Just as Crane was thinking he would have a very conspicuous home, the light flashed stronger still, then faded away. But as he held Abbie’s hand, he could sense the power was still there, invisible yet steady.

“Holy shit,” Miss Jenny breathed. “That’s power. You two…my God.”

Now Crane felt drained, his knees gone suddenly wobbly. Abbie swayed on her feet, and he caught her by both elbows, holding her upright. He wanted to pull her into an embrace, to give her the whole strength of his body to lean upon, but he didn’t quite dare.

“Abbie!” her sister cried.

“I’m fine,” she said, her voice low but steady. “Just need a minute. Go check the spell.”

“I can tell it’s good from here,” Miss Jenny muttered, but she began to pace the circle regardless.

“You are well, are you not, Lieutenant?” he muttered. They had no guidance for this, no ancient tome filled with cryptic yet decipherable instructions for this sharing of their power. While he trusted Abbie’s instincts and intelligence, she was still too new to witchcraft to know her own limits. She would pour out the whole of her soul and strength for the sake of their mission, he knew, and now that there was a child to consider…

“Yeah, I think so.” She drew back a little, now steady on her feet, and looked up at him, though in the darkness he couldn’t read her expression. “Besides, if I fell, I knew you were right there to catch me.” She rested her hand lightly against his chest. It wasn’t a magical touch, but it had its own warmth and strength. “I trust you, too.”

He covered her hand with his own and held it there against his heart. Perhaps for now trust given and received was enough.

Chapter Text

Saturday proved as warm and sunny as predicted. Weather forecasts were among the many aspects of this century that left Crane nine parts amazed and one part appalled. Of course it was a great blessing, and a triumph of science and technology, to be able to warn the citizenry days in advance that they must flee a hurricane or prepare to withstand a blizzard. And yet, on a day like today, if one asked a person born to this time what the afternoon’s weather promised, they would look to an app on their phone rather than to the calm blue of the sky, the near-absence of clouds, the fresh scent of the air, or the soothing lightness of the breeze.

But regardless of how the people of Sleepy Hollow had learned of the perfection of this day, he swore half the town had come to the park to bask in the first warmth after a long, cold winter. As he made his way to the appointed meeting place for his picnic with Abbie, he wove between soccer games, dogs of every imaginable shape and size, a yoga class, any number of happy couples hand in hand or lips to lips, a father and daughter trying to fly some sort of remote-controlled airplane…would that be him, in a few years’ time? He could hardly imagine it.

Just as a jogger and a pair of young women on roller skates sped past him, he spotted Abbie just where she said she’d be, waiting at the base of the Civil War memorial. He’d half expected to see her in shorts or a light, flowing skirt, like so many of the women out today, but instead she wore what was almost as much of a uniform to her as her actual police gear—dark, tight jeans and a clinging shirt, though she’d left off her leather jacket in concession to the balmy day. Flattering, enticing attire, but still plain and solid. Strong and no-nonsense, just as she was. A basket rested at her feet, and she held a bright blue and orange blanket folded over her arms. Crane recognized it as the Mets blanket she sometimes pulled out for movie nights. The first time he’d ever fallen asleep on her couch, he’d awoken in the middle of the night to find it draped over him, soft and fleecy and imbued with the merest whisper of her scent.

He fetched up in front of her, and they stared at each other in unfamiliar silence. They hadn’t spoken in the three days since…since everything, though they had texted stilted mutual assurances that all was well.

She ducked her head, swallowed, and then met his eyes again. “Hey, Crane.”

“Hello, Lieutenant.”

She tightened her grip on the blanket. “Didn’t know it would be this crowded, but I think there’s a good spot over there.” She pointed with her chin toward a stand of maple trees newly in leaf.

Indeed, this was a day when the world sought sunshine, rather than shade. He bent to lift the basket. “Lead the way.”

As they walked across the park and selected a suitably dry and level spot, they talked, God help them, about the weather—the fineness of the day, the looming cold front that would bring an end to this foretaste of summer by Tuesday, and Abbie’s hope that they’d seen the last of snow for many months to come.

“I’m ready for spring to get here and stay already,” she said as she began sharing out the food on paper plates, which Crane recognized as products of her favored grocer’s deli section—fried chicken, potato salad, rolls, a package of strawberries, and bottled water.

“I’m ready for summer,” he commented, wincing inwardly at the inanity of his own words. “Spring makes me sneeze.”

She smiled tightly. “Sorry about the food.”

He blinked at his plate, which certainly looked ample and appetizing enough for a spring luncheon to him. “Why?”

“Sorry that it’s all store-bought stuff. I was going to cook last night, or at least bake, but I got home at seven and sat down to rest my feet and watch a little mindless TV before I got started. I watched half an episode of House Hunters, and next thing I knew I was waking up three hours later, and instead of this lady in Kentucky who couldn’t believe a hundred-year-old house didn’t have walk-in closets, it was a couple all indignant that they couldn’t find an American-sized kitchen in Thailand.”

She was babbling, uncharacteristically so. Crane understood the impulse to fill the silence, but his own tongue sat leaden in his mouth. It was as though the tension between them had reversed their characters, rendering her loquacious and him laconic. “They bought the new house, the one with no trees around it.” he said. “The Kentucky family.”

“Ugly McMansion. And we’ve got to work on your HGTV addiction.”

“Pot, kettle,” he said mildly. “Is the tiredness because of the…” He let his voice trail off, unsure of whether she wanted to move to the purpose of their meeting yet.

“Pregnancy. You can say the word.” Her voice held an edge, and she arched her eyebrows at him as she lifted a forkful of potato salad to her mouth.

“Pregnancy,” he echoed.

She nodded.

“You needn’t concern yourself over the food,” he said, wary of the topic now that the word had been spoken between them. “This looks delicious, and I certainly don’t need for you to bake for me.” He always enjoyed it when a baking fit came upon her, as it seemed to every few months, since her homemade cakes, cookies, and loaves of banana bread tasted better than the bakery sort. But it had never occurred to him to demand such treats as a right, and now he took a hearty bite of drumstick, the better to demonstrate his appreciation of the meal before him.

She shook her head. “I know. But I wanted to bake for myself. There’s something soothing about it—uses a different part of my brain than policing or…Witnessing. But I guess my body decided sleep was more important.”

The book and websites he’d read on pregnancy between his thus far fruitless searches for any prophecies of Moloch’s resurrection had mentioned exhaustion as a common first trimester symptom. “Are you feeling well?” he asked her.

“Yeah, mostly. I’ve figured out how to manage the morning sickness, but the sleepiness gets annoying—that, and the bionic nose.”

“The what?”

She broke off a bit of her roll. “It’s like my sense of smell is at double strength. Which is fine with fresh-baked bread or roses, but not so nice walking by the fish counter or when I get a whiff of that god-awful cologne Joe Quinn will wear to the precinct no matter how many times they send out that email about strong scents in the workplace…ugh!”

Her lips twisted with wry humor, and Crane allowed himself a small smile in return. “My condolences.”

“I’ll get used to it, I guess,” she said with a shrug, and they ate in near-companionable silence for a few minutes.

“About getting used to it…” she said in a different, more sober voice, “we need to decide if we’re really going to go through with this. Because if not…better sooner than later, in so many ways.”

“Yes,” he said cautiously. If she was considering aborting the pregnancy…she could have done so without his knowledge, and he would never have been the wiser. In fact, since she had told him, he had assumed she had already determined to keep it. That she had decided to tell him despite everything, to allow him a part in her decision—he would need to do a better job of living up to her example of trust and honesty.

She watched him through narrowed eyes, nervously stirring her potato salad. “I guess abortion would’ve been totally taboo in your day.”

He sat up straighter, relieved to find himself for the moment on the safe ground of history and information. “It wasn’t so simple as that. Until a woman felt her child move within her—we called that the quickening—anything she did to, ah, bring on the delayed menses was considered permissible, and indeed no one’s concern but her own. After all, how could she know for certain that she was with child? She might only have some illness or disorder.”

“But I do know—and I bet a lot of those women did, too. Kind of hard to miss the morning sickness, the sleeping all the time, and all that.”

“Yes. It was one of those polite fictions that are so important to the function of civilized society—or so, er, Katrina told me when women came to her see if she could give them any herbs that might assist in such cases.” It felt odd to speak of Katrina in so matter-of-fact a fashion. “I’ve no reason to suppose she was lying to me then,” he added.

Abbie washed down a bite of chicken with a swig of water. “Mm, no.”

“And regardless of what was considered permissible then—this isn’t then. This century is my time, from now on.”

The faintest flicker of an amused but doubtful smile ghosted across her lips, and Crane felt strangely comforted by it.

“In any era,” he continued, “it seems to me the issue is…too complex for an easy, simple answer, and that as a man my opinion must necessarily hold less weight.”

“But you are the father. Not to mention my partner and my friend, and all that means I don’t want to make the choice without hearing your input.”

She watched him alertly, as if she expected him to have a clear and instantaneous answer, when in fact he couldn’t begin to sort the confused welter of his thoughts and desires, his hopes and his fears. It still seemed unreal that he was the father of a child when he had never so much as kissed the mother. But he trusted Abbie, and he knew that he loved her and would love any child she bore. To think of truly being a father, of loving and guiding and protecting his child from the day of its birth—his heart felt ready to burst with hope at the thought of it. And yet, what if he and Abbie fell, defeated by the demons they fought or forced to sacrifice themselves for victory? Would their child fare any better orphaned than Jeremy had? Was it cruelty to bring this child into the world when their lives were at so much greater risk than those of ordinary parents?

“What do you want?” he asked at last.

She gave a helpless shrug. “I don’t know. I really don’t. I was hoping you could help me sort it out. I mean, part of me thinks it’s crazy to even think of us bringing a child into the world in the middle of the Apocalypse. I mean, fighting demons in between feedings and diaper changes? Deal with the final battle against the forces of darkness all while trying to choose a kindergarten? And how are we supposed to keep the kid safe?”

He nodded understanding. “And what will become of the child if we fall?”

“I know. But I’m sure Aunt Jenny would be there for it. Uncle Frank and Aunt Cynthia, too. Hell, maybe even Uncle Hawley.”

“He will not be my daughter’s guardian.” Crane was already thinking of the baby as a girl, he realized—a daughter to carry on Grace Dixon’s lineage, as her journal had foretold.

“Ha. Wouldn’t want him to be my son’s role model for manhood, either.” Abbie grinned, briefly. “But yeah, point is, for us to have a baby in the middle of all this—it’s just crazy. Risky. Reckless.”

He brushed aside a crumb that had fallen onto the blue fleece of the blanket. “But you don’t sound convinced.”

She laid her hand atop his, and he looked up, arrested by her touch. “Because since when has playing it safe been the right thing for us to do?” she said. “You’re always telling me to have faith. Well, I can’t think of any greater act of faith than bringing a child into this world.”

He twisted his wrist to capture her hand and hold it, fingers interwoven. “Nor can I.”

They stared at each other in silence. Crane felt as if they stood on a precipice. Step forward, and they would enter a new world, a new life, unexpected and unpredictable.

But he knew in his bones it was the step they should take, and he saw the same knowledge, the same hope and longing, reflected in Abbie’s eyes. As one, they nodded and sighed out held breaths.

“So what are we now?” he asked.

She tugged her hand free and took a great gulp of water. “Parents.” Her eyes rounded, and she buried her head in her hands. “Oh my God.”

He set his plate aside to edge a little closer to her and rest a hand on her shoulder. “Have faith,” he murmured.

She sat back, took her plate onto her lap, and held up her half-eaten chicken breast like a shield. “Just—just so you understand. I—you mean so much to me, but I’m not ready to be your lover here. Then…then it was different, or at least we thought it was. But once we take that step in the here and now, there’s no going back.”

They were already taking a step from which there was no going back, but Crane knew better than to say so in this moment. He simply nodded, and tried to conceal the unreasonable hurt, the feeling of rejection, the fear that he simply wasn’t as attractive in this century—try as he might to conceal it even from himself, he knew he was far more nervous and far less confident—or that she had found his attentions in bed off-putting.

Apparently his effort was less successful than he had hoped, because her brow furrowed in concern. “Hey, it’s not that I don’t—it’s not that you aren’t—that is…”

He took a deep breath. “Would it be possible to tell me what happened then? Not in every prurient detail, of course…but it would help if I understood how such a connection developed so quickly between you and that other me.”

“Of course. Of course. That’s only fair.” She stared off into the maple grove for a moment, then turned to face him, her chin squared and her expression resolute. “I think it all started because I was so very desperate to make a connection within you. It’s not like I was trying to seduce you or anything, but I know I must’ve come across as extra-intense. And since there’s already this charge between us, at least I’ve always thought so…”

“There is,” he assured her.

“So, we were in the carriage together. We were arguing, all up in each other’s faces, and the thing hit a pothole and just threw me into your lap.”

He tried to imagine himself as he was then, suddenly confronted with such an appealing armful of woman. “Oh…”

“Yeah. And then you kissed me.”

He could certainly imagine having such an urge, but acting upon it? “How very ungentlemanly of me.”

She chuckled. “No, that was just after where you called me a witch and a Jezebel and accused me of trying to seduce you.”

Though she didn’t seem angry about it, Crane was appalled. “I did? Good God, I am so very sorry—”

“Hey, there’s no need for you to apologize now. I called you on it right then, and you changed your tune pretty quick.”

“Still, I’m amazed that incident wasn’t an end rather than a beginning.”

“Well, once you realized that I was telling the truth, and that Katrina was out for your blood, that changed everything. And then, when we were escaping through the tunnels the next night, in that one long stretch, you know how there’s that bricked-off bit that used to be a storeroom?”

“I remember it well. We kept gunpowder there.”

“Well, we heard people approaching from both sides, so we hid there. There wasn’t much room, what with all the gunpowder barrels, so the only way we’d fit was lying in each other’s arms.”

“Oh.” Today that monosyllable seemed to express almost everything he thought and felt.

“It sort of turned into an hour-long make-out session. And the next night…well, the other thing I didn’t tell you was that we had to wait overnight for all the ingredients for Grace’s spell to be ready.”

He nodded. All was becoming clear.

“You came to my room. And if you hadn’t, I was planning to go to yours. We both knew what we wanted, and it was our last night on earth—at least for that version of us, on that version of Earth.” She shrugged. “Does that help it make sense?”

“It does. Thank you.” He opened his mouth to say more, then bit back the words.

“What? Spit it out.”

“The dragon upon Saint George?”

She blinked, then ducked her head. “Yeah, that would be the second time.”

His heart leapt. “Ah!”

What, Crane?” she asked through a laugh. “You’re usually better with words than this.”

His face burned fever-hot, and suddenly he had many words indeed. “I’m sorry. It’s only—you’ve been so skittish in my company since your return that when I learned what had transpired, I very much feared that…that it had gone badly and my touch was distasteful to you, but if there was more than one time, then…”

“Oh! You thought…” Her lips curved into a smile, and her eyes brightened. “Do you know, I think that’s the reddest I’ve ever seen your face. Like it would burn if I touched it.” And she suited action to words, resting light fingertips against his cheek.

It began as a playful, affectionate gesture, but then the air between them seemed to heat and crackle. They each leaned a little closer together, and she angled her head, offering her lips for a kiss if he chose to claim them.

She was irresistible. He brushed his lips against hers, gentle and cautious. But when she sighed and slid her hand into his hair he deepened the kiss, tracing the glorious plush softness of her lips with his tongue. She responded in kind, and he couldn’t hold back a groan, low in his throat.

Had they not been in so public a spot, he would’ve been sorely tempted to haul her into his lap or to bear her down to lie together on the blanket. But instead they broke the kiss and regarded each other with breathless wonder.

“Yeah,” Abbie said. “That’s us.”

He could only nod.

She sat back a little, but took his hand between both of hers. “Nothing about you or what we did then is distasteful to me. This whole situation is just so weird and messed up and out of order that I didn’t know what to do with it—still don’t, not really. That’s what made me skittish.”

“I understand.” And he truly did.

But Abbie was looking over his shoulder, consternation written on every feature. “Oh my God.”

“What is it?”

“What is she doing here? I swear, if she’s come to babysit me—”

Crane twisted his neck and, as he expected, spotted Miss Jenny walking toward them. She wasn’t alone, however, for she pushed young Macey Irving in her wheelchair. “If she meant to do that, she would have come alone,” he pointed out.

“Yeah, you’re probably right.” She smiled and waved. “Hey, Jenny. Hey, Macey.”

“Sorry to interrupt your date,” Macey said when the pair fetched up in front of them.

“It’s…never mind,” Abbie said.

“We wouldn’t have come, except Macey wants to talk to all of us,” Miss Jenny said.

“It’s quite all right,” Crane assured them despite his bafflement. Surely the girl could seek them out at any time, and why had she come with Miss Jenny instead of one of her parents?

“My parents think I’m spending the day with some of my friends from school,” she said. “And I am, kind of. They’re over at the picnic tables by the volleyball courts. But I’d texted Jenny to see if she could just happen to walk by, and she did.”

“Your parents…” Crane began.

“You’ve got to swear not to tell them.” Her eyes burned with youthful intensity.

“If you’re in danger, I have an obligation—” Abbie began.

“Look, I swear I’m not suicidal or going to run away or start dealing drugs or anything. If I was, I wouldn’t tell you guys, either. It’s just—they won’t tell me anything about what happened to Dad, except that somehow it was a mistake when we thought he was dead, and I can tell that’s not the only secret they’re keeping from me. And I figured if anyone else could tell me what was going on, it would be you three. Things were never this weird around this town before you showed up,” she said with a nod at Crane.

He spread his hands, acknowledging the truth of her words.

“I know something strange happened to me before Dad went to jail, but they won’t talk about that, either. And I know if I tried to tell them about my dreams this past month, or about the emails, they’d send me to my auntie and uncle in Atlanta, and I don’t want to go!”

Crane and Abbie exchanged worried glances, then looked up to see the same expression on Miss Jenny’s face. “Who is sending you emails?” Abbie asked in the tone she always used with cooperative but wary witnesses.

“They say I’m a witch,” she said. “They say there’s power in my blood, and that if I let them train me they’ll show me how to use it so I can walk again.”

Chapter Text

It was just as well they’d been interrupted, Abbie reflected. After that single quick kiss, her body hummed with awareness, all her memories of that night in 1781 rushing to the front of her mind. If she and Crane had gone back to the archives, her townhouse, the cabin—hell, even her car—she knew what would happen next, and she wasn’t ready for that yet. She’d already committed so much to him and their bond, and now to the child they shared. No matter how much she wanted him, every other instinct told her to slam on the brakes.

But as for the nature of the interruption—what were they supposed to do with Macey? Granted, she and Jenny both thought the Irvings were crazy to try to pretend to their daughter that nothing out of the ordinary had touched their family the past two years. The girl was fifteen, not five, and much too smart to ignore all the insanity right under her nose. But Irving had been Abbie’s boss, and if his detective agency plan got off the ground, he’d soon be Crane and Jenny’s. Ignoring every other consideration—and Abbie could think of good arguments on both sides of keeping dangerous secrets confided by a minor who’d begged you not tell her parents—it would be awkward as hell if they hid something like this from Irving and he later found out.

And yet Macey had come to them, smart enough to know better than to trust a stranger on the internet. If they didn’t help her, wasn’t it all too terribly possible she’d decide they were just as useless as her parents and turn to whoever was sending her the messages?

“But who is it that’s saying you’re a witch?” Abbie asked. At least they could start by drawing the girl out a little more about these mysterious emails.

Macey shrugged. “I don’t know. The messages are signed A Son of Atlantis.

Abbie had heard of Atlantis—who hadn’t?—but as far as she knew it was only a legend. Of course, three years ago she would’ve said the same about demons, witches, 18th century men walking around in the present day, and all the rest. But when she looked to well-read Crane and well-traveled Jenny they looked just as blank as she did.

Jenny twirled a strand of her hair around a finger. “Did he say what that means?”

“No, but he said he thought I was a witch and a Daughter of Atlantis. They did a spell to find others of their kind, and it pointed them to me. I thought it sounded crazy, not to mention creepy, so I just deleted it without replying.”

“That was wise,” Crane commented.

“Yeah, but then they emailed me two more times.” Macey ran her hands over her motionless legs. “The second email talked about me walking again. And I deleted that, too, because that’s even creepier, that they know about it. I mean, hello, stalker? But the last email told me to try this.”

With all of their eyes upon her, she opened the little purse in her lap and took out a pin. She closed her eyes and began chanting in some language Abbie didn’t recognize, though when she glanced at Crane she got the sense that he could almost place it.

Her chant completed, Macey bit her lip and with a look of intense concentration pricked her fingertip with the pin. A glowing light shone there, small and golden like the flame of a candle, for ten seconds or so before flickering to nothingness.

Abbie looked first to Jenny, whose eyebrows had risen toward her hairline, and then to Crane, who was tapping one long finger against the side of his mouth. They’d known Macey carried this ability. But to have learned a spell from such an email, with no other training?

Macey watched them anxiously. “It looks more impressive at night with all the lights out,” she said earnestly.

“It is impressive,” Abbie assured her, while thinking hard. The fact Macey had already discovered magic changed things, she decided. Trying to maintain the Irvings’ deception just wasn’t an option anymore. Still, they’d need to be careful how much they said, and how they explained it.

Macey met her eyes. “So…is it true? Does that mean I’m a witch?”

Abbie looked to Jenny, and they exchanged the tiniest of nods.

“Yes,” Jenny said simply.

“For real?”

“For real,” Abbie confirmed.

Now the girl laughed, but with a panicked edge. “So witches are real, and I am one? How do you know?”

“We’ve…had a certain amount of experience in such matters,” Crane said. He’d gone twitchy, though it was subtle, just the fingers of one hand drumming a pattern against his knee.

“You have? How? What does that make you?”

“I truly believe this is a conversation for which your parents should be present,” he said firmly.

“They won’t tell me anything.”

“If you show them what you demonstrated to us just now, I daresay they would.”

“And it might make them send me away! I’ve heard them talking about it—they don’t realize how well the sound carries down the hall in the new place. They keep seeing how it isn’t safe, and I’d be better off in Atlanta, and how they know Aunt Lena would take me in.” She drew in a deep breath, and when she spoke again it was in a softer but even more worried voice. “And this is making me wonder about…before. I know something strange happened, to me, right before my dad went to jail. I can’t remember it, except I have nightmares sometimes. So I’m scared this is the same thing, starting again.”

Abbie bit the inside of her cheek. She and Jenny knew all too well just how terrifying it was to lose several days of your life, to see strange visions, and at least they hadn’t had to deal with a parent getting charged for murder in the aftermath.

“It isn’t,” Jenny said. “I can guarantee that.”

Abbie nodded. “We all can.”

“But how?” Macey asked.

How much could they tell her? This really was getting into Frank and Cynthia’s business. But while Abbie and Crane were still exchanging worried and dismayed looks, Jenny stepped into the breach. “I’ll tell her,” she said. “And then I’ll talk to Frank. Make it right.”

Crane cleared his throat. “With your permission, I would like to be the one who speaks with him.”

Jenny blinked. “Really?”

“Indeed. Of late, he and I have discovered a certain…commonality of experience.” He tapped his chest as he spoke, just over his scar. Now that she thought of it, Abbie supposed the two men did have a lot common—the whole dying or almost dying and coming back to life thing, not to mention finding themselves swept up into the apocalypse by the magically powered women in their lives.

“I think he might be more willing to hear me out,” Crane continued.

Jenny blew out a breath. “Well…OK. It’s not like I was looking forward to the conversation.” Turning to Macey, she spoke quickly and calmly. “The reason I know this isn’t the same is that the demon that caused…all those events…has been bound up for good. Which is all I can tell you about that part—for the rest I’ll have to agree with Mr. Fussy here that you’ll have to get your parents to talk about it. A lot of it just isn’t my story to tell.”

That was…impressive, Abbie decided. The truth, but in a small enough dose to not completely freak Macey out, and to leave the tough heart of it for parents and daughter to deal with as and when they were ready.

Macey held up a palm. “Wait. Now you’re saying demons are real?”

The three of them spoke at once.

“Oh, yes.”

“Uh-huh.”

“Unfortunately.”

“Then what isn’t real?” Macey asked

Jenny smiled ruefully. “Santa Claus, the Tooth Fairy, and the Easter Bunny. There’s at least some truth to pretty much every other magical or mythical thing you’ve ever heard of—and a lot you haven’t.”

“Great, so it’s just the good things that aren’t true. Figures.”

“You mustn’t be so cynical, Miss Macey,” Crane said. “A great many good things are true. For instance, there are good witches, such as I trust you intend to become.”

Knowing his experience with Katrina and his poorly hidden dismay when she and Jenny had discovered their own powers, Abbie could hear all kinds of hard-won acceptance and kindness in that statement. But it was spoken in his most prissy and pontificating tone—and she knew damn well how it would sound to adolescent ears.

On cue, Macey rolled her eyes. “You haven’t spent much time around teenagers, have you?”

Abbie stilled his indignation with a soft punch to the shoulder. “Yeah, you’re going to need to lose that tone of voice before you have a teen of your own.”

He deflated and favored her with a small smile. “Fortunately they aren’t born that way.”

“Yeah.”

“Whatever,” Macey said. “I’ll play along. How do you get to be a good witch?”

Abbie decided to take this one. “You become a witch by being born with the potential and then learning how to use it. Pretty much the same as anything else, only having the potential is a lot bit rarer than, say, having the potential to be a musician or an artist. And you become a good one by using your powers for good.”

“So, also pretty much the same as anything else.”

“Yeah.”

“Hm. So, how come you know about this stuff? Because you can’t tell me all this is common knowledge and I just missed it somehow.”

“No,” Abbie agreed. “Two years ago I was as skeptical as anybody could be. But we’ve all been kinda surrounded by it since then. Your parents, too—especially your dad.”

“Abbie and I are witches, too,” Jenny put in. “From a different lineage, though. Less blood, more potions.”

Abbie supposed that was as good an explanation as any. It was probably best to leave the mere mortal versus demigod piece out of it for the moment.

Macey’s eyebrows rose. “Really? Show me?”

Abbie and Jenny exchanged looks. “Do our kind of light spell,” Jenny said. “That’s subtle enough no one else will notice, and your earrings will work for it.”

Abbie nodded, pulled out one of the topaz studs, and rested it in her left palm. She took a deep breath, thinking about how the tiny golden brown gem already caught and reflected the sunlight, tapped the stone, and said, “Lumen.”

Her control was getting better. When she was first starting out, not so long ago at all, the light might’ve been a barely visible flicker or bigger than she was and bright and blinding as staring straight at the sun. Now she held a golden sphere the size of a baseball in her cupped hand.

“Cool,” Macey commented. “I guess you won’t ever need a flashlight again.”

Abbie snuffed the light with her other hand, dismissing the small burst of magical energy. “It’s not quite that simple. It takes energy and strength to do magic. Something like this, I can barely feel, but if I tried to keep it up for hours, I’d collapse.”

“That makes sense.” She nodded toward Crane. “What about him?”

“Oh, I’m rather the ordinary one of our company.”

Jenny snorted.

“Yeah, right,” Abbie said. “You might as well tell her.”

Crane sighed. “I was born in 1750, and I ought to have died of a chest wound in 1781, but I was placed in a sort of…suspended animation…until just two years ago. By a witch of your lineage, as it happens.”

It was Macey’s turn to snort. “I’m sorry, but that makes you the least ordinary. Are you sure you’re not some kind of zombie?”

“Of course I'm not!”

“Believe me, he isn’t,” Jenny said. “I’ve met zombies, and they’re not the kind of things who’d sit in the park on a sunny day eating chicken and strawberries when there are so many tasty, tasty brains to be found.”

Abbie made a mental note to follow up on that particular adventure.

“Not that he isn’t weird,” Jenny continued.

“I resent that!”

“Well, you are. And you left out the part where the two of you are the Witnesses chosen by God to stand against the Apocalypse.”

“Wait, the Apocalypse?” Macey said. “This is insane.”

“Yeah, which explains why so much has been happening around here the past couple years.” Jenny spoke in a perfectly matter-of-fact tone. Abbie hoped they weren’t giving too much away…but Macey was a good kid, and she’d been subjected to too many secrets.

“Like Sleepy Hollow is some kind of hellmouth or something?”

“I guess that’s one way to put it,” Jenny said. “And we’re two years into a seven-year tribulation, which is why your parents have been trying to keep this from you, maybe even send you to your aunt and uncle, because if our side wins, then you’ll be halfway through college with a nice tribulation-free life ahead of you.”

Macey lifted her chin. “And if our side loses?”

Again Jenny, Crane, and Abbie exchanged looks. “Then the whole world is in big trouble no matter what,” Jenny said at last.

Macey’s brows narrowed. “What if I can make a difference?”

Abbie shook her head. Raise a kid on Buffy the Vampire Slayer and dystopian books with teenaged girls saving the day, and she goes straight from finding out there is magic in the world to wanting to be the Chosen One.

“Look, I know that light spell isn’t much,” Macey said when none of them spoke. “But it’s the first thing I’ve tried! I’m sure I could learn more.”

“We do not doubt your abilities—” Crane began.

“Are you going to say I’m too young? Are you going to say you don’t need me? Because from where I’m sitting, you’re an awfully small army to stand against the forces of darkness.”

“You are too young,” Abbie said gently.

“By the time you think I’m old enough, all this will be over! And what if you lose and having just one more good witch on your side might’ve mattered? And—what if what the email said is true? What if I can walk again? I don’t want to have to wait longer than I have to for that.”

“You may be right,” Crane said. “I’ll speak of it to your father.”

Abbie and Jenny both gaped at him.

“Is it not better,” he said, “that she learn of magic and her own capabilities from her family and friends, and not from some chance-met stranger on the internet?”

“Not even chance-met,” Abbie said. “This guy is stalking her.”

“I know that. Why do you think I came to you?” Macey asked. “I’m not stupid. But if I’m going to learn to use my powers—can you even teach me, if you’re not the same kind of witches?”

“I think there’s some overlap,” Abbie said. “But the source of our powers are different.”

“So maybe I need Creepy Email Atlantis Guy. Only—you keep talking about lineages. Is my dad…?”

“Your mom, actually,” Jenny said. “And so far she’s decided she doesn’t want to use her powers.”

Macey rolled her eyes. “Of course she doesn’t.”

“If you do choose to reply to Creepy Email Atlantis Guy,” Crane said, “the very first thing you should ask is why he cares if you walk again? Ask what he wants from you.”

“What’s in it for him, you mean?”

“Precisely.”

“Because not all witches are good witches?”

“By no means all.” And he would certainly know.

“And if this one is as creepy as he seems, you need a spy to find out what he’s up to.” Macey smiled smugly.

“I wouldn’t go that far—”

“But I would.” The girl’s phone buzzed, and she frowned at the screen. “I’d better get back. Dad just texted to say he’s picking me up in five minutes. Can one of you give me a push? I can make it on my own, but I don’t like to make him worry if I’m not there right away…at least not when I’m going to be asking him for something.”

“No problem.” Jenny said.

“Actually, Crane, can you take her?” Abbie said hastily. “I need to talk to my sister.” At least, she needed a break from him to deal with what they’d decided together, and that kiss.

“Of course.” He scrambled to his feet. “Shall I meet you again here, or perhaps at the archives?”

“I’ll text you later,” she temporized. “I might just go home and take a nap.”

He accepted his dismissal with a faint frown. Abbie and Jenny watched them out of earshot, biting back laughter as Macey gave him tips for how best to manipulate her father.

When they were a good fifty or sixty yards away, Jenny sank down to sit on the blanket and fix Abbie with her best All-Knowing Sister stare. “So. I guess I’m Aunt Jenny now? Should I start knitting hats and booties?”

“Somehow I can’t see you knitting.”

“Oh, but I can. At least, I know the basics, and I was just reading something online about knitting protective spells into a scarf or hat or whatever. Has to be real wool, though.”

“Not surprising.”

“And I figure this kid is going to need all the protective spells it can get. You’re really doing this?”

“Yes.” Abbie laced both hands protectively over her belly. “Maybe it’s crazy, but it’s ours, together, and—I can’t explain, except that taking the risk feels more right than playing it safe.”

“Hey, it’s OK.” Jenny squeezed her hand briefly, then commandeered what was left of the strawberries. “I figured this would be your choice. And just in case you had any doubts, I’m here for you, and for the kid, no matter what.”

“Thanks.” Abbie blinked rapidly.

“You don’t have to cry about it.”

“Yes, I do, actually. That’s right up there with the morning sickness and the super-strong sense of smell on my list of annoying things about being pregnant. Yesterday I teared up over a YouTube video of a kitten and a duckling.”

Jenny laughed. “That has to suck. You doing OK otherwise?”

Abbie shrugged. “As far as I know. I need to pick out an obstetrician or a midwife soon so I can have my first official prenatal appointment. Kate gave me a list of options.”

“You going to bring Crane along for those?”

“I’m going to ask him, at least. I’m pretty sure he’ll go along with it once he realizes it’s the expected thing for dads nowadays.”

“He’s going to make the most hilarious daddy ever.”

Abbie leapt to defend him. “I think he’ll be good at it.”

“Yeah, but God help poor little Grace Abigail Junior when she wants to go on her first date.”

She laughed despite herself. “Everyone is so sure this baby is going to be a girl.”

“Everyone?”

“Well, you and Crane. I haven’t exactly talked about it with anyone else.”

“What, are you thinking it’s a boy?”

“I don’t know. I don’t want to expect one way or another before I know for sure.”

“That’s probably smart.” She ate the last strawberry. “So, how is the proud papa-to-be coping with all this?”

“Pretty well, all things considered. This has got to be even weirder for him than it is for me.”

“You’re the one who’s pregnant.”

“I’m also the one who actually remembers how it happened.”

“Point.” She shot Abbie a sidelong look. “You sure were in a hurry to get rid of him just now, given the way you two were kissing before we stopped by.”

“You saw that, then?”

“Pretty hard to miss.”

Abbie stared down at her hands. “I shouldn’t have let that happen. It brought back too many memories from then. So yeah, I had to get rid of him. I knew if we went back to one of our places, or even the archives…” She shuddered at the mere thought of it. There was that one table, just the right height…

Jenny blinked at her. “That good, huh?”

Abbie’s face heated. Trust Jenny not to have the slightest inhibitions. “Yeah, pretty much.”

“Huh. I figured he’d be kinda old-fashioned and puritanical.”

“You’ve thought about it?”

Jenny raised warding hands. “Not that much! And not for myself. Just…in a general way, you know. Katrina didn’t exactly give off satisfied vibes.”

Abbie held back a snarl. “Pretty sure that wasn’t his fault.”

“Yeah, knowing what we know now…”

“If I’d had any idea before…” She shook her head. Elaborate revenge fantasies against the already-dead had to be the definition of pointless. “The less said of her, the better.”

“Amen.”

“So, yeah. It’s not like sex was invented in the last twenty years, you know? Nothing shy or inhibited about him. But what makes him the best I’ve ever had—”

“Really?”

God, had she just admitted that? “It’s because I trust him so much. There’s not this little piece of myself I’m holding back, so…”

Jenny frowned, and Abbie crossed her arms over her chest. It wasn’t that her sex life had been bad before—far from it. She’d just never been so into any of her boyfriends, no matter how hot, no matter how nice, no matter how skilled in bed, that she could let go of that part of her that had been perpetually on guard ever since her first foster home if not before. Not until that one night she was supposed to forget.

“Huh,” Jenny said at last. “That doesn’t sound like much of an explanation for why you’re not running off to the nearest private horizontal surface.”

She could refuse to continue this conversation…but Jenny would just push and push. “Because it’s one thing to have all that when it’s what amounts to your last night on earth. I don’t know if I’m ready for it every day.”

“You’re crazy, then. Life’s too short to not grab all the happiness you can.”

“But what if it all goes wrong? We’re stuck with each other for the next five years—hell, more than that, now.”

“Why would it go wrong? You two already might as well be married—why not have the fun parts of it, too?”

“Maybe because I don’t know if it even makes sense to trust him as much as I do!” My faith in you is my greatest weakness. “It’s not like either of us kept faith with each other perfectly, this past year.”

“Well, duh, you’re both human. Perfection isn’t part of the package. But Crane’s biggest reason for divided loyalties is out of the picture now.”

“I know, but he hasn’t had time to deal with that. Work through the stages of grief, you know?”

Jenny snorted. “I don’t know. Do you go through the five stages when you find out they were betraying you all along?”

“Maybe not grieve them, but grieve the past. Grieve for what you thought you had. Really, it’s more complicated for him than if he’d had a wonderful marriage and his wife died in car crash or something.”

“Still, you can’t keep holding him at arm’s length. You’re going to have a kid in what, seven or eight months?”

“November 13th, give or take,” Abbie said. At least, that’s what the online due date calculator she’d found told her.

“So what are you going to do? Move in together? What if he thinks you need to get married? Old-fashioned values and all, even if he’s not that way in the sheets.”

“I don’t know, Jenny,” she said through gritted teeth. “We just decided today we’re doing this at all. And before I figure out where we’re all going to live in November, I figure I should pick a doctor and maybe read up on the department’s pregnancy policy. You know, things that will come up soon?

“All of it will be soon before you know it.”

“Yeah, well, one thing at a time.” She’d had enough of this line of discussion, Abbie decided. “Speaking of, what do you think of this business with Macey?”

“Abigail Mills, master of deflection.”

“It’s a valid coping strategy.”

“Whatever.”

Abbie just waited.

Jenny sighed. “OK, I’m glad Frank and Cynthia can’t hide this from her anymore, but I don’t like this anonymous email business. I mean, it’s not like the blood witches are automatically power-hungry and evil…”

“Any more than us hedge witches are always a force for good…”

“But the examples we’ve seen don’t exactly inspire trust.”

“Not all witches,” Abbie said sardonically.

Jenny just snorted.

Abbie began packing up the remnants of the picnic. “I’m just glad she came to us and didn’t jump on this as soon as she saw what she could do.”

“Yeah, she’s a smart kid.”

“And what about this Children of Atlantis business? You ever hear anything about Atlantis being real?”

Jenny shook her head as she helped Abbie clean up. “No, but it’s like I told Macey. More things have turned out real than not.”

“More research time, I guess. If anyone had told me how much homework there was in fighting the apocalypse, I might’ve been slower to sign up.”

“Ha. Well, come on, Weird Sister. Let’s hit the books.”

Chapter Text

Evidently his Lieutenant had taken leave of her senses. Crane could think of no other reason why a woman so intelligent, so practical, so rational, would be listening with such rapt attention as the midwife showing them around this birth center claimed that childbirth was a normal and natural process that had become over-medicalized over the past few centuries. What had happened to the partner who’d all but sung hymns in praise to modern medicine as she got him caught up on two hundred years’ worth of immunizations in his first two months in this century? He knew all too well what childbirth had been in his day—a lottery with every bit the lethal potential of that suite of viruses he’d been vaccinated against.

If only their visit the day before to the obstetrical unit at the White Plains hospital had gone better! As far as he knew its staff were perfectly competent at their duties, but he and Abbie had taken one look at each other after they’d left and shaken their heads in unison.

It had gone badly from the moment the receptionist, upon hearing that they were there for the tour, had looked from one to the other with wide-eyed pleasure and said, “Your baby is going to be so beautiful.

Crane had merely thought her oddly effusive, but Abbie had rolled her eyes and muttered ooh, so beautiful under her breath as soon as they settled into chairs to await their guide. “Like we’d be incapable of having an ugly child.”

“What is it?” he’d asked in bafflement.

She’d sighed. “It’s not worth getting upset over. I can just tell she’s one of those people who thinks interracial babies are extra gorgeous and special. Like, I could’ve walked in here with Idris freaking Elba and she wouldn’t have said a thing about us having beautiful babies.”

Ah, yes. He’d eventually realized that the stares he and Abbie got from passersby, whether approving or censorious, had at least as much to do with the still-remarkable sight of a white man and a black woman on familiar, even intimate, terms than the admitted oddity of his appearance. “I’m sure any child you had with Mr. Elba would be surpassingly lovely,” he’d said after a moment’s consideration. He’d once walked in on Abbie and Miss Jenny lost in admiration of a magazine spread featuring the gentleman in question, so he was well aware of the actor and her appreciation of his charms.

That had earned him one of her best smiles. “Thank you. And don’t get me wrong, I think we’ll make pretty babies, too.”

Babies? In the plural?

“Just not exotic special ones more gorgeous than any all white or all black baby could ever be,” she’d continued.

At that point a nurse had come to lead them on the tour, and neither of them had been especially taken with her. While she hadn’t been rude, and her descriptions of the facilities they toured was most informative, she’d had a faint air of impatience with the task and the questions they’d asked.

That hospital simply hadn’t felt like the right place to welcome their child into the world. But at least it was medical. Here, the midwife was showing off a birthing pool, of all things, to a visibly impressed Abbie.

“Many women do almost all of their laboring here,” she said, “and the delivery as well. They find it makes a smoother transition into the outside world for their babies.”

It seemed unnatural to Crane, for a child to be born underwater, though he supposed if this birthing pool actually drowned babies, it would not be suffered to continue in use.

“Bet it helps with the pain, too,” Abbie said, crouching to examine the pool more closely. “Like a hot bath on aching muscles.”

“Exactly! Our bodies know what we need if we will only listen to them—one of the many things we’ve forgotten after more than a century of over-medicalized childbirth.”

Suddenly Crane could take no more. “Have you any idea,” he snapped, “how many women died in centuries past for lack of over-medicalized childbirth?

Abbie stood and moved to his side, while the midwife fixed him with a smile of strained tolerance. “No one wants to go back to the past,” she said. “We monitor mothers at all stages of their pregnancy, and if at any point a woman becomes high-risk, we refer her straight to the appropriate specialists. But a normal pregnancy is…normal. Even in the past, it isn’t as though the majority of pregnancies ended badly—if they did, we would’ve gone extinct as a species long ago. And then, when you consider the improvements in hygiene and in general health…many women two or three hundred years ago weren’t as strong and well-nourished as a healthy woman of today like your partner here, or she might have been subjected to the erroneous medical practices of that day, such as bleeding—”

This woman knew nothing. “I’ll have you know,” he said, “my—”

Just before it was too late he realized what he was about to say, snapped his mouth shut, stalked to the window, and stared unseeing at the river flowing below.

He dimly registered Abbie and the midwife’s voices behind him. Then one set of footsteps walked away, and the door clicked softly shut. When he turned, he and Abbie were alone. She crossed to stand next to him, lifting her eyebrows in mute inquiry.

“I apologize for causing a scene,” he murmured.

She shook her head. “Don’t worry about it. It’s just—normally you’re more of a back-to-nature type yourself, at least with medical things. I mean, I can’t even get you to the dentist, and your idea of cold medicine is whiskey and honey.”

He took a deep breath and curled both hands into fists to keep them from twitching. “That woman doesn’t know what she’s talking about.”

“She’s a certified nurse midwife, with years of education—”

“But she’s hardly a certified historian!”

“Crane…”

“My mother was as healthy as you are. And she was far from malnourished—the daughter of a baron, who never knew a day’s want in her life. She was half a foot taller than you.”

Abbie’s eyes went round with comprehension, and she laid a hand on his chest. “I didn’t know that was how she died,” she said softly.

He nodded tightly.

“I’m so sorry. Was it—was it with you?”

“No.” If it had been, he supposed the issue might have been more abstract to him. He wouldn’t remember. “I was twelve. It would have been a little sister, the first after three boys, but the child died too.”

“My God. I should’ve asked. I wondered why you’ve never talked about her, but…I didn’t think.”

“I still don’t care to speak of that day.” He rested his hand atop hers, over his beating heart. “She—I miss her still, and I wonder what she would’ve thought, if she could’ve seen what my life was to become. I’ve thought of her often, this past week since we made our decision, but I swore to myself I wouldn’t tell you. I didn’t want to frighten you.”

She leaned in closer, sliding her arms around his waist, and he enfolded her against him, stroking her hair.

“I’m not frightened,” she said. “Even at a place like this, all the modern medical technology you could ask for is maybe a five-minute ambulance ride away. I mean, the way our lives go, childbirth isn’t even going to be close to the most dangerous thing I do this year.

He tightened his grip. “I’m afraid. I cannot help it. I couldn’t bear to lose you.” Dear God, she was so tiny, to be bearing his child. “And you’re so small.”

She pushed out of his embrace to glare up at him. “Hey. I am not. that. short.”

He simply looked down at her.

“Really, I’m not. I’m five-one. Average for an American woman is like five-four or five-five. That’s just a few inches. And trust me, short women have babies with tall men all the time and live to tell the tale. My high school PE teacher was maybe half a foot taller than you—played in the NBA for a year or two—and his wife was even shorter than me. They have four kids.”

He looked around the softly lit room, with the birthing pool like some pagan altar or sacred spring at its center. “Did she have them here?”

“I have no idea. It’s not the kind of thing you talk about with your teacher when you’re sixteen. The point is, I’m not so tiny and fragile that it’s dangerous for me to even think of having a child.”

“I would never accuse you of fragility,” he assured her. “But, you must understand, in my time childbearing was always dangerous.” And for as much as he knew that times had changed—for all the reading he’d done, all the statistics he’d memorized in the past fortnight—it wasn’t enough to stamp out that primal fear. He tapped his forehead. “I know here that my mother has been dead for a quarter of a millennium. But in my heart only twenty years have passed. I was there that day—not in the room, of course, but in the house. I could hear her screams, and I knew what was happening, and—” He covered his eyes, unable to say any more.

“Hey.” Abbie rested her hand on his chest again. “I understand. This isn’t the right place for us. We still have two more places to visit this week.”

He nodded. He had them on his calendar for Thursday and Friday—another hospital here in White Plains and Sleepy Hollow’s single hospital. “But if this is what you want…” he said.

“We’re in this together,” she said. “Now, if the others are as annoying as the first place, I might have to play my I’m-the-one-actually-having-this-baby trump card and come back here. But for now let’s hope for something both of us can feel comfortable with.”

He squeezed her hand. “Thank you, Lieutenant.”

She smiled reassurance. “I’ll go talk to our guide.”

He watched from a distance as she spoke to the midwife. Though he was too far away to hear her words, he saw from her expression how she soothed away any offense the other woman might have taken. After a few minutes’ earnest conversation, Abbie beckoned him forward with a look, and the midwife shook his hand. “The best of luck to you both,” she said. “I think you’ll like Sleepy Hollow General—they have midwifes and obstetricians working together in the hospital itself. And we find many couples who visit here during their first pregnancy but choose a hospital, come back to us for their next baby.”

Crane murmured what he hoped was a suitably polite reply, all while thinking, Next baby?

“Thank you,” he said as they crossed the parking lot toward her car. “I’m sorry I…snapped in there.”

“Don’t worry about it. I told her you were a historian who’d spent a lot of time studying this kind of stuff, and she was very understanding. Really. It’s fine. And we should get going if we’re going to be back in time for the meeting.”

The meeting in question was the first weekly assembly of the newly enlarged Team Witness. Crane’s conversation with Irving about Macey and her powers had gone better than he had expected, and the girl’s parents had ultimately decided that she could explore he powers as long as she accepted their careful supervision—coupled with a threat, Crane had been given to understand, that if she went around behind her parents’ backs they’d have her on a plane to Atlanta so fast her head would spin.

Now that her daughter was involved, Cynthia felt she could no longer stay aloof from her family’s magical and apocalyptic activities. She hoped, however, to keep to the role of parent to Macey and business and legal advisor to her husband’s new private investigative venture rather than exploring her own magical powers in any depth. Abbie and Miss Jenny didn’t understand her choice, Crane knew, but it made perfect sense to him. He knew what it was to shy from an unwanted revelation, and to fear what he might become.

They had even added yet another member to their team, at Miss Jenny’s suggestion. Big Ash was already aware of Sleepy Hollow’s supernatural undercurrents, she’d pointed out, and he was reliable and trustworthy and good in a fight.

“That serious already?” Abbie had said with raised eyebrows.

Crane swore Miss Jenny had almost blushed. “Macey is right,” she said. “We’re a small team. I’m not saying tell the world, but we could use a few more good people on our side.”

And so, over dinner with the rest of the team, Miss Jenny had given her new boyfriend the same basic information they’d told Macey the week before. He’d taken the news more calmly—upon hearing Crane’s history, he’d merely raised an eyebrow and said, “I knew something about you was out of place.” And at the end of Miss Jenny’s presentation, he’d said, “Count me in.”

Just like that, Team Witness had gone from four members to seven. Cynthia Irving had proposed weekly meetings to help the larger group stay on the same page, and this afternoon they were gathering in the archives. Crane hoped the expanded group would work well together, and that all would prove as trustworthy as they now seemed, but it felt odd to have what still felt like outsiders included in all their secrets—including Abbie’s pregnancy and its time traveling origins.

Abbie drove in silence until they’d reached the main highway leading back to Sleepy Hollow, but then she glanced quickly at him before returning her attention to the road. “What was your mother like?” she asked. “If you don’t mind talking about her, that is.”

While he wished he could somehow wipe out the memory of her death, he was happy enough to speak of her life. “Of course, I only ever saw her with a boy’s eyes,” he began, “but even I could see that the face she revealed to the world was often entirely different from her inner character.”

“Hm.” Abbie’s eyes narrowed in a faint frown as she changed lanes to pass a slow-moving truck.

“Do not misunderstand me,” he said. “She was no hypocrite. But to the outside world, she was impeccably the lady of the manor, the ideal wife for a powerful and influential man who wished to become more so. Always fashionably dressed without crossing the line into immodesty or extravagance, a gracious hostess of dinners and balls…quiet and elegant, listening more than she spoke…the perfect lady.” He could see her so clearly in his mind’s eye, dressed in the elaborate, full-skirted fashions of the day, her hair powdered—she had favored gowns in whites, silvers, and blues that brought out her pale blue eyes. He’d been the only one of her sons to inherit them.

Abbie laughed. “I would’ve made a terrible eighteenth century lady. Even aside from the obvious.”

“Actually, you often remind me of her a great deal.” He’d been thinking so not a quarter hour ago, watching her make peace with the midwife.

She darted an amazed look at him. “Really?”

“Yes. You’ve a remarkable level of self-control, and especially when you are on duty, you are excellent at managing people while still making them feel heard. Had you been born into the British aristocracy of my day, I’ve no doubt you would have readily learned the codes and expectations of the time, and how to conform to them precisely as much as required to achieve your own ends.”

“Never would’ve thought of it that way, but maybe.” She drummed her fingers on the steering wheel. “And what were your mother’s own ends? Who was she, when she wasn’t wearing a public face?”

“Quite the most ruthlessly intelligent woman—no, the most intelligent person—I have ever met. Her father was a scholar, and he recognized her intelligence as few men would that of a daughter then. She learned not only French and Italian, music and fine sewing, but also Latin and Greek, and she had a gift for mathematics. I learned more from her than from any of my tutors or schoolmasters before I got to Oxford. She had a head for finance and politics, too. I don’t think my father had the faintest notion how much of his success he owed to her until it was too late.”

“She sounds like a remarkable woman.”

“She was.”

“Was she a good mother, too?”

Crane considered the question for a moment. “To me? Yes. I believe she was rather impatient with my two brothers at times, since neither was of a scholarly bent.”

“So you were the favorite.”

“I doubt she would’ve said so…” She had been far too impeccable a lady and mother to openly favor one son above her others. “But I think I was.”

“Must’ve been hard, losing her when you did. Twelve is a tough age.”

Yes, she would understand. “It was. I think you know a little of what that’s like.”

“Yeah.”

They drove the rest of the way in silence.

***

After the Team Witness meeting was called to order, they went around the table, each in turn reporting his or her progress in their research assignments—though Macey complained that it was too much like school.

Big Ash began by telling of failure in turning up any news of Headless Horseman sightings in the surrounding countryside, but he had a lead in the matter of Moloch rising again. It seemed that while some of the more powerful evil spirits could indeed be killed, they were only guaranteed to stay dead while their killer yet lived. After that, it was possible to bring them back—for a price.

“Do we know what that price is?” Mrs. Irving asked.

“Still working on that part.” He’d brought his dog with him, and the absurdly tiny creature licked his hand.

“I’m sure it’s high, or gruesome, or both,” Miss Jenny put in. “Some kind of exotic artifact or sacrifice. I’ve put some feelers out to my contacts.”

Mrs. Irving added a note to her copy of their agenda. “Keep looking.”

“And see if there’s any kind of timetable,” Abbie added.

Next Macey reported on her email exchanges with the Children of Atlantis. They claimed that thousands of years ago, all the world had been protected by the people of Atlantis. Some few of their descendants had survived the island’s destruction, and now, her contact claimed, the time was ripe for them to defeat their ancient demonic enemies, claim their rightful place as rulers of the world, and bring an end to war, to racism, and even to global warming.

“Ah, a lost golden age,” Big Ash said. “Nice to know the classics are still popular.”

Macey blinked at him. “What do you mean?”

“Legends of a lost time of peace and plenty are ubiquitous in mythology,” Crane said.

“And didn’t you say there’s some truth to almost all the myths?”

“Key word being some,” Miss Jenny said.

Big Ash scratched his dog between the ears. “If there really was an Atlantis, I’m sure it was a golden age for them. But that doesn’t mean it was great for all the non-Atlanteans.”

“Kind of like the fifties were great if you were a white man, but not so much for the rest of us,” Captain Irving added.

“Good point. I’ll ask about that,” Macey said. “Though I don’t like to push too hard. I mean, I’m supposed to seem like an eager student who can’t wait for more magic, not like I’m interrogating them or something.”

“Just mix the questions in bit by bit,” Abbie suggested.

“As long as we’re on the topic of Atlantis, have you learned anything new?” Mrs. Irving nodded at Crane.

“I’ve made a beginning,” he said. “Most authorities doubt that it even existed, but there is a school of thought that it was a real ancient society, the most advanced of its day, and that it was destroyed by a great earthquake or volcanic eruption. Beyond that…the further one wanders into ancient tomes and the more obscure and conspiratorial corners of the internet, the more speculation one sees that the Atlanteans were aliens or gods.”

Macey leaned forward. “Ooh, so I could be part alien? That is so cool.”

Abbie tapped her pen on the table. “It has to connect somehow to what Grace said about your kind of witches being descended from the old gods or the angels who lay with the daughters of men.”

“It certainly seems likely,” Crane said. “Perhaps…someone should finish reading that journal, the one where I…learned the truth about Katrina. I haven’t been able to bring myself to read beyond those pages.”

“Why don’t I take it?” Mrs. Irving suggested. “It won’t be personal to me.”

He nodded gratefully, and she made more notes. “Let’s see, we’re running short on time…Witness magic?”

Abbie sat up straighter. “Re-reading the new bits of Grace’s journal, I saw she mentioned something about a record of her uncle’s visions—he was a preacher and a prophet who had visions of the Witnesses and the Apocalypse, among other things. It’s a long shot, but I’ve got all our antique and old book sources trying to track it down. In the meantime, we’re going to start experimenting. A little. Carefully.”

She nodded at Crane, and he returned the gesture. She and Miss Jenny had spent the past week researching whether it was safe to use magic during pregnancy, and whether doing so had any effect on the unborn child. They’d discovered that this was a common concern among the small and mostly female community of true witches around the world. The overwhelming conclusion was that as long as a witch avoided using any tools in her magic that might induce a miscarriage or damage a fetus under non-magical circumstances, it was perfectly safe and had no impact on the child’s future powers or lack thereof. So Abbie had compiled a list of herbs to avoid—one of the websites she’d found had offered a helpful list of alternative ingredients and spells—and tonight they meant to try their hand at magic together for the first time since the night she’d set the wards around his cabin.

“Sounds good,” Mrs. Irving said. “Just be careful.”

“We will,” Crane assured her.

“And last but far from least, Frank has an announcement,” she said with a small smile and a nod for her husband.

“I believe we have our first case,” he said. “Nothing big, but that Craigslist ad I posted the other day drew a woman so convinced her great-great-grandfather’s portrait is haunted that she’s willing to pay our rate to have someone check it out and exorcise it. Jenny, I believe that sort of thing is your specialty.”

“One of several,” she said complacently.

“So you’ll have our first field assignment, while Crane and I work on getting the office set up. I got a deal on that vacant storefront on Sixth—you know where Hibbert’s Shoes used to be?”

Everyone but Crane nodded. “It’s across from the Starbucks that’s next to the hardware store,” Abbie murmured.

“So as of today, Irving, Mills & Crane is open for business,” Captain Irving added with satisfaction, which Crane fully shared. The scheme still seemed mad to him, but that made it of a piece with the rest of his life, and if he could have a proper income at last…

***

One of the concessions to safe practice of magic Crane had persuaded Abbie to make was that the two of them always have a spotter present when they tested that aspect of their bond, at least until they had a better understanding of their power and its limitations. Tonight they would have two—Miss Jenny and Big Ash, who were joining them for dinner at the cabin first in what Miss Jenny persistently and cheerfully referred to as their double date.

“But we’re not exactly dating,” Abbie pointed out.

“No, you’re just platonically having a baby together. Or something like that. Anyway, if you two pick up the pizza, we’ll manage the drinks—and don’t worry, we’ll remember to get something non-alcoholic for you. Wouldn’t want to pickle little GA Junior’s brain.”

“GA Junior?” Crane asked as he and Abbie walked toward her car. “Oh, of course. Grace Abigail.”

“Yeah.” Abbie snorted. “As if I’d be vain enough to name my kid after myself.”

“It would be very eighteenth century of you,” he said dryly. “My elder brother was William, for our father, who was the son of yet another William. I was named after the uncle who was my godfather—a rich, childless uncle, who it was hoped would remember me in his will—and my younger brother was James, for our maternal grandfather. If our sister had lived, she would’ve been Anna, like our mother.”

“Really?” Her eyes twinkled up at him.

“I’m well aware I got the short end of the naming stick. And believe me, should this child prove to be a son after all, I have no wish whatsoever to pass it down.”

“Good. Not that I’m ready to pick names yet. Still feels too soon for that.” She handed him the keys. “Here, you drive. We’ve reached the pregnant lady sleepy-time hour, dammit.”

And nap she did, though she awoke once they arrived at the cabin and insisted upon helping him carry in the pizza. The other couple—the actual couple, Crane corrected himself—arrived a few minutes later, and they sat down to a rather awkward dinner wherein he and Big Ash made the friendly yet stilted conversation of the new acquaintances they still were while the two sisters engaged in their usual combination of magical shop-talk and sibling bickering.

All in all, Crane was relieved when the meal was over and they settled down to the main purpose of the evening. Abbie had decided the first spell they tried together would be one she and Miss Jenny had discovered in their recent research that purported to protect and strengthen an unborn child.

Crane and Big Ash watched while the sisters cast a circle in front of the hearth. Abbie then lit a candle from the fire he had made earlier that evening—“helps if it’s a real home fire, for something like this,” she’d said—and brewed a tea in a pot dangling over the flames.

At last she sat tailor-fashion within the circle, candle and tea arrayed before her exactly at its center, and beckoned him to sit opposite her. “May I ask what I am about to drink?” he asked.

“Sure. It’s just dandelion tea.”

“What, so the kid will grow like a weed?” Big Ash asked from where he and Miss Jenny sat on the couch, side by side and hand in hand, his dog snoring between them.

“Pretty much, actually.” Abbie grinned. “What’s stronger and harder to wipe out than dandelions?”

With that, she took up the tea, drank a long draught, and passed the cup to him. He finished it, frowning a little at the bitter taste. When he set the cup down, she extended both of her hands, and he took them in his, with the candle flickering between them. “Just try to support what I do,” she said. “Agree with the intention of the spell.”

He nodded, lost in the intimacy of the moment despite their interested audience just a few feet away on the couch. Closing his eyes, he imagined sharing strength with Abbie and the child. He tried to picture her eight months hence, strong and healthy, with an equally healthy child cradled in her arms.

“Good,” she murmured. “Now, here we go.” She took a deep breath, and her voice took on the different, more solemn and formal tone he’d noticed she adopted for magic. “Grow, my child. Grow in strength. Grow in peace. Grow rooted and grounded in love.”

Then Crane felt Abbie drawing on the strength he offered her, a steady and controlled pull. Some piece of his consciousness flowed along with the magic, and he gasped at a fleeting and wondrous sense of the new life growing within her—nothing he could see, just a sense of change and motion, the drumbeat of a rapid but steady heart.

He could feel Abbie take the skeins of her magic—of their magic—and weave them into a sort of blanket of protection around the child. “Grow in safety,” she murmured. And then he felt her turn her attention from the unborn child to them, to their connection. They’d discussed this, the need to find a way to gradually and deliberately release the magical connection. She’d speculated that they’d find it less draining if they exercised more control from beginning to end. Crane had his doubts—more control was her answer to almost everything—but he was certainly willing to try. If nothing else, the more they understood their powers, the better they would be able to use them in battle or crisis.

So they held the connection steady. When they’d done this before, he’d had only the vaguest sense of her, a glimpse of the fear or determination or joy driving that moment’s spell, but now he felt her affection for him, warm and steady and suffused with a sort of amused wonder, but restrained by a wariness that seemed to flow from the very marrow of her bones. There was desire there, too, hot and pulsing and awakening an answering hunger within him.

By instinct he tried to show her his own love, his gratitude for all she’d done for him, his awe at her resilient strength, his determination to prove worthy of her…and with it the fears he couldn’t quite dispel. Fear of losing her, lingering dismay at her newfound powers and his part in them.

But love must prove greater than fear, and he tried to send his assurance of that love, interwoven with his own desire, his memory of their single kiss, his lust to know every inch of her.

And then, strange and disjointed, he had a vision of himself, an Abbie’s-eye view of him sliding down her bare body in a candlelit room, exploring with lips and tongue and stroking, seeking hands. Dear God, it had to be a memory of what she’d shared with that other version of him, and he didn’t know whether to pull away or plead for more.

Abruptly she dropped his hands, leaving him gasping and dizzy and alone. “That was…odd,” he said as soon as he could focus his eyes and persuade his mouth to form words.”

“That was fucking telepathy.” Her voice was steadier than his, though her breathing was ragged and beads of sweat stood on her forehead. “I did not sign up for this.” With an effort she shoved herself to her feet.

When she swayed Crane reached for her, but Miss Jenny was faster. “Abbie, for God’s sake, sit down.”

“No. I’m going home.” Her lower lip jutted out, and her eyes burned with raw determination.

“You are not. You should lie down—probably ought to sleep here tonight.”

Crane opened his mouth to assure her he’d be happy to sleep on the couch, but she shook her head fiercely. “No. I can’t. That was too fucking weird and I am going home where I can be by myself. If you’re worried about me, you can drive me there.” With that, she pulled her sister toward the door.

Miss Jenny shot a frantic look over her shoulder at both men. “Make sure he’s OK,” she ordered Big Ash before taking a firmer grip on Abbie’s elbow as they walked out into the night.

Crane and Big Ash stared at each other in awkward silence. They still hardly knew each other, after all, certainly not well enough for any kind of discussion of what had just transpired.

“Are you OK?” Big Ash asked, deadpan.

With a ragged laugh, Crane blew out the candle and stood cautiously. The cabin floor only seemed to sway a little. “More or less,” he said.

“There’s still half that pepperoni pizza left.”

“Excellent.”

So they sat in front of the TV, sharing out what was left of the pizza and beer as they watched Sports Center and his companion waxed rhapsodic about basketball. It was…agreeably distracting. And once he was alone, Crane found a bottle of whiskey and kept drinking. It was only a temporary solution, but tonight he needed oblivion from thoughts of Abbie and the walls she kept building between them.

Chapter Text

Jenny drove in silence until they made it out of the woods and to the edge of town, but Abbie could see the words building up in her sister’s tightened lips and taut, tense posture.

“So,” she said once they’d turned onto a wide, well-paved road, “you planning to tell me what the hell that was all about?”

Abbie stared out the window. “I already did. Telepathy.”

“Seems like that would come in handy, in a fight.”

“It was fucking invasive. It was like—I could see his feelings for me.”

“You really need telepathy for that?”

She sat straighter and frowned at her sister. “This was detailed. I could sense…the outline of his thoughts, I guess? And then I could see some of his memories. At which point I realized I’d been…transmitting, too, without even realizing it.”

“So, what, did you tell him you loved him or something?”

Abbie supposed that would have been worse. A little bit. “No. Just gave him a nice visual of himself about to go down on me in 1781.”

She braced herself for whatever bit of sarcasm or dirty joke that admission would inspire, but Jenny just sighed and shook her head. “Yeah, I can see how that would be awkward.”

Abbie blinked.

“I also have the perfect solution!”

Her voice had gone neon-bright, and Abbie shot her a suspicious look. “Do you?”

“Yes! It’s simple, and it would make you both happy. All you need to do is start having sex with him in this century. Before you know it you’ll have tons of hot memories in common. Easy-peasy!”

“Easy-peasy? No, it isn’t.”

Jenny dropped the perky act and huffed out an exasperated breath. “I swear, both of you are idiots.”

An echo of Past Crane’s last words whispered through her head. Don’t be fools. She shook her head. She wished she could trust this…whatever it was between them, but she didn’t know where Fate and Destiny and God ended and they began anymore. “Do you ever read paranormal romance?” she asked after a moment.

“Maybe one or two—they’re not really my thing. And what does that have to do with anything?”

“I used to read them sometimes, back when books with vampires and werewolves and so on actually felt like an escape. But now they’re as annoying as police procedurals. Give me a nice billionaire, or a small town with cute picket fences and puppies and nothing more dangerous than gossipy neighbors. You know, nothing like real life.”

“Yeah…so what’s your point, Abbie’s Trashy Book Club?”

“Remember, I’ve seen your Kindle. Glass houses. And the point is…the one trope I never liked in a paranormal was fated mates. Like, the werewolf could only mate with the woman from just the right lineage, or the one he recognized from her special smell, or whatever.”

“Or like Jacob in Twilight thinking he was in love with Bella because she was destined to be his one true love’s mother.”

“So gross! Anyway, I hate those stories. Forget free will, it’s all about destiny. And I want a choice.

Jenny turned the car down Abbie’s street. “Seems to me you are choosing—choosing to be unhappy, and to make Crane miserable too, while you’re at it.”

Abbie couldn’t come up with a good answer to that one. “Damn it, Jenny…”

“You know I’m right.” She pulled into the parking space in front of Abbie’s townhouse. “Look, do you honestly think you wouldn’t be into Crane even if destiny wasn’t in the mix?”

“I never even would’ve met him.”

Jenny rolled her eyes. “Stop being so literal. I mean, hypothetically. Forget the whole Witness and man-out-of-time thing. Good-looking, brainy English guy, with that deep, deep voice and those eyes, following you around like an overgrown puppy, working his ass off just to make you smile and even laugh for a change? You’d hit that.”

“You left out the hands,” Abbie said absently. “He has the best hands.”

“There, see? If you think that’s all destiny and no you, you’re not as smart as I thought. Anyway, are you going to be OK now? Because some of us aren’t crazy self-denying when we have tall, dark, and handsome men with nice long hair in our lives. I’ll bring your car back first thing tomorrow, I promise.”

Abbie laughed reluctantly. “Yeah, I’ll be fine with a good night’s sleep. And I need the car by seven-thirty.”

Despite her exhaustion, she expected sleep to be slow to come. Why did Jenny have to be so relentless? But once Abbie realized that she really needed to try to explain to Crane just why she’d been so freaked out—probably without the vampire and werewolf romance novel analogies—it was as if corner of her brain that liked to keep her awake at night said There, that’s settled, and turned off the lights.

***

The next morning, as she fought to stay awake over paperwork down at the precinct, she texted Crane.

Sorry about last night.

His answer came within minutes.

I understand. What occurred was strange and unexpected.

That was certainly one way to describe it.

Thanks. Want to meet for lunch before the hospital tour?

She hoped he did. They needed to come to some kind of understanding before they had to do the happy lovey-dovey couple act for another set of cheerful medical staff.

When he quickly replied in the affirmative, they arranged to meet at their usual diner, and she returned to her forms and files.

At lunch, she waited until their orders were taken to discuss anything beyond how cool the weather was for April and their mutual lack of interesting new leads in their apocalyptic research. But once the waitress took their menus away, Abbie knew she had no excuses left.

“I really am sorry about last night,” she said. “I know I’m making this impossible for you.”

He shook his head, though she wasn’t sure how much he meant it. He looked pale and weary, and far more guarded than usual. Though that could be a lingering hangover—apparently Big Ash’s method of therapy last night had been beer and pizza. (Abbie added lack of therapeutic drinking to her list of bad things about pregnancy, though well below sleeping at random times, crying over cute animal videos, and suddenly having a sense of smell to rival a beagle.)

“Well, our circumstances are rather extraordinary,” he said after a swallow of ice water.

She could just agree and move on—she’d been using the unique weirdness of their situation as an all-purpose excuse ever since she’d suspected she was pregnant. No, really, since she’d gotten back from 1781. But at some point they had to figure out how to be normal in spite of everything. Because maybe Jenny was right, damn it. At least about some things. “Yeah,” she said. “But that’s not an excuse—” She sought words and couldn’t find any. “It’s hard to explain.”

He sat up a little and regarded her with eyes grown alert. “Try me.”

She poked at a tiny hole in the plastic tablecloth. “I just—I can’t tell anymore how much of any of this, anything about us, is me. My own desires, my own choices, instead of just…God or fate. And I don’t want to be a pawn. I want to control my own destiny.”

His lips quirked in a bitter half-smile.

“What is it?” she asked.

“I always wanted to control my destiny, too. But I’ve found it impossible to maintain any such illusion since the day I awoke in this century.”

It was Abbie’s turn to gulp water defensively. Yeah, he’d had even less control of the course of his life than her, when you looked at the whole picture. “I see what you mean,” she said.

He leaned forward and cautiously rested his hand on hers. When she flipped her hand over to grip his, palm to palm, he squeezed back with a relieved sigh. “But I have never got the sense that you had any desire to manipulate or control me,” he said, his voice low and intense. “And the more I learn of my past, the more refreshing that is, believe me.”

“I bet.”

He stared down at their linked hands, then met her eyes again. “And I do hope you can say the same of me.”

She considered for a moment. Crane could be a selfish asshole at times, and even more often a thoughtless one, but he’d never been a controlling one. “I can. If you were, I would’ve found a way to kick your ass to the curb, destiny or no destiny.”

“I fully believe it.” He let go of her hand but didn’t draw back. “Truly, Lieutenant, insofar as God—or, call it Fate, if you prefer—is managing my affairs, He did me a kindness. I often reflect upon it.”

“A kindness?”

“Yes. I could have been called upon to walk this strange road as a Witness with someone I despised, or someone whose company I found intolerably tedious, and who found me dull in return. Instead, God paired me with you. If the journey seems impossible at times, at least I couldn’t ask for a better companion with whom to share it.”

Abbie had to blink rapidly. Damn these pregnancy tears. “I don’t half deserve you.” She curled both hands around her water glass.

“How odd. I would say that it is I who cannot begin to deserve you.

They smiled hesitantly at each other, like a pair of shy teenagers on their first date.

The week improved from there. She and Crane were at peace with each other, though they didn’t try to define their relationship beyond their conversation at the diner. They finished their hospital visits and agreed to go with Sleepy Hollow General. They spent long, companionable hours in the archives, sometimes just the two of them, sometimes with other members of Team Witness. And on Friday night they decided to resume movie night, though Abbie carefully selected a film without the slightest hint of a romance arc. Whatever happened next between them, she didn’t want it to be just because, say, the big sex scene in Bull Durham always got her so hot.

But she’d forgotten how The Shawshank Redemption always made her cry even when she couldn’t blame it on hormones. With hormones in the mix, she ended the movie curled into Crane’s side, wetting his shirtfront with her tears.

He just stroked her hair and said, “A most moving story. In fact, I may need to find a place for it on my Desert Island List.

She sat back and wiped her eyes. “I’ve always loved it.”

He stood. “Until tomorrow, then?”

Jenny had recruited them to help one of Big Ash’s cousins move into a new apartment, saying they needed one more vehicle with a good cargo hold and one more man to manage the heavy lifting.

Abbie nodded. “I’ll pick you up at ten.”

He bowed his best old-timey gentleman’s bow and let himself out. She smiled at the closed door and hugged the blanket they’d shared to herself for a long moment before getting up to brush her teeth and go to bed. The past few days had felt like the eye of the hurricane, or maybe the calm before the storm. Some kind of weather cliché, anyway. They couldn’t stay like this, all steady and gentle and careful, but she was glad for the little bubble of calm and understanding they’d found.

***

Big Ash’s extended family cheerfully welcomed Jenny’s sister and her partner onto their moving crew, though Abbie was pretty sure she and Crane weren’t actually needed. What was with this sudden urge to set up double dates? Because this felt like one, despite the inclusion of Big Ash’s grandmother, aunt, brother, and an assortment of cousins.

She had to admit it was kind of fun, though, to get all sweaty and dusty with a laughing, cheerful extended family as they hauled boxes up the stairs and argued about how best to place a heavy, overstuffed hand-me-down couch in the tiny living room. It definitely beat hiring movers, the way she’d always done because she hated having to ask for favors from her friends, and she didn’t have a nice extended family full of muscular cousins with pickup trucks.

And neither did Jenny. Was that what this was all about? She deposited the box of clothes she’d just carried in at the bedroom door and looked for her sister. She found her in the kitchen engaged in earnest conversation with Big Ash’s grandmother as they put away dishes and pots and pans that Abbie doubted would see much use, assuming Cousin Mike was at all a typical twenty-one-year-old guy.

Shaking her head, she turned for the front door, where she met Crane, carrying one of the boxes he’d chivalrously deemed too heavy for her. He’d taken off his coat early in the day and rolled up his sleeves. For such a skinny guy he had nice muscles—as she knew well—and she gazed at his wiry forearms in momentary distraction.

“All right, Lieutenant?” he asked.

She met his eyes then, and a frisson of awareness rippled between them. Yeah, she’d figured that little platonic bubble wouldn’t last long. But for the moment she just smiled and shrugged. “I’m fine. Just trying to figure out why Jenny is nesting all of a sudden when I’m the one who’s pregnant.”

In an unlucky moment, Aunt Carla popped out of the living room just in time to hear this pronouncement. “Pregnant! And we’ve got you hauling boxes! Now, you come with me.” And she took Abbie by the elbow and led her toward the kitchen, ignoring her protests about not being very far along and feeling just fine, thank you.

“Now, sit.” Aunt Carla fairly pushed her into one of the two dining chairs in the corner of the kitchen that served as a bachelor dining room.

“I’m fine,” Abbie insisted. “I’m a cop. I just put in a whole week of work at the precinct, and I’m not planning on stopping anytime soon.”

“All the more reason you should rest whenever you have a chance. Jenny, get your sister a glass of water.”

God, was this going to be her life now, pushed off into the kitchen and fussed over? Only that would just be the next seven months—then everyone would fuss over the baby, though she’d still be pushed away from anything remotely hazardous. Into the kitchen, into the nursery, wherever. She hadn’t signed up for this, either. She sighed and rubbed her forehead, which only convinced the two matriarchs in the room that she had been working too hard.

So for the next hour she allowed herself to be fussed over, since it wasn’t as though anyone was giving her a choice. Yes, she had morning sickness, she told them, but no, it wasn’t too bad, not since she’d figured out the trick of keeping a pack of saltines and a juice box at her bedside table so she could get something into her stomach before she even got up. That was a good way, the others approved, but ginger tea was even better. Had she tried it yet? Aunt Carla’s daughter was pregnant too, and she swore by the stuff. She’d find out which brand she used and email it to Abbie.

From there the conversation made an alarmingly fast turn to labor and delivery, with the two women trying to one-up each other with horror stories. There were four-day labors, and ones that had gone so fast the baby was born at home with no one but the kid in question’s ten-year-old sister to help, because there hadn’t been time for the father to make it home from work, much less drive her to the hospital.

“But don’t worry,” Aunt Carla said. “That almost never happens with a first baby. They’re the ones that take forever. And it all turned out OK in the end. That baby grew up to be my Mike.”

“Ma, are you telling that story again?” Cousin Mike appeared in the doorway. “I swear one of these days I’ll do something more worth talking about than just getting born.”

“I hope you do,” his mother said cheerfully. “He’s a good kid,” she said in a lower voice once he’d stomped off. “Stayed in school, stayed out of trouble, and now he’s got a good job.”

And from there the conversation naturally pivoted to children and grandchildren, to little Madison’s speech therapy and young Emmett’s promise as a dancer. Jenny had deserted her as soon as the labor stories started, the snake, saying something about helping with the boxes now that they’d pulled Abbie off duty. She wasn’t being quite fair, she knew. The women were kind and well-intentioned, and the whole conversation had a sort of welcome-to-the-sisterhood feel that was really very nice of them to extend to a perfect stranger. It wasn’t their fault that she wasn’t ready to face herself in the role of mommy yet. She could do pregnancy. It was almost like a project or an assignment. But motherhood? What did she know about that, and how the hell was she supposed to figure it out?

Much to her relief, Crane appeared in the doorway and beckoned to her. “Your sister thought you might be in need of rescue,” he murmured in her ear.

“God, yes. Thank you. Why is it that if people hear you’re having a baby, or buying a house, or even just going on vacation somewhere nice, they always have to tell you how hard their childbirth was, how many expensive house issues their inspector totally missed, or how rough the flight was and how it rained the entire time when they went to the Bahamas?” She left her own anxieties out of it for now. She had to get past them, somehow—there could be no going backward, or even standing still, and she was starting to realize she’d been trying to do exactly that—but she wasn’t ready to put them into words.

“I wish I knew. But I managed to volunteer us for an assignment that will give you a little respite.”

“And what might that be?”

“Getting dinner. Mike says there’s a good Chinese restaurant about ten minutes away, and I offered our services to collect the takeout.”

“I know the one,” Abbie said. They were two towns away from Sleepy Hollow, and she knew the area, though Crane didn’t. She really had to take him exploring more—forget seeing all fifty states. He needed to see the rest of New York.

Dinner was by necessity casual even for takeout, given that the moving crew outnumbered places to sit. Abbie ended up with Jenny in one corner of the living room, just separate enough from everyone else to have a private talk if they kept their voices down.

“I really like his family,” Jenny commented.

“They’re nice,” Abbie agreed, “but isn’t this moving kinda fast for you? I mean, you’re even trying to bring us in. Just look at Crane there.” He sat on the couch between Big Ash and the eldest of the cousins, engaged in earnest conversation between bites of kung pao chicken. “Does the girlfriend’s sister’s partner normally even meet the family before, like, the rehearsal dinner?”

Jenny waved this off. “We’re not going that fast. You just have all that nice cargo space.”

“Which you didn’t really need, with two pickup trucks.”

“Well, it is going well.” She looked over her shoulder to wave at Big Ash, who smiled back. “And I figure it’s not like we have any other family to offer. Crane, either.”

Abbie rolled her eyes. “Just as long as you’re not dating him to collect us some cousins.”

“Nah, it’s just a nice bonus. He fits, you know? He gets me—gets what we do.”

“I’m happy for you.” Mostly, Abbie was glad her sister had found someone good now that Irving seemed firmly married again. But the more she knew Big Ash, the more she approved.

“Good. I’m happy for me, too. Makes for a nice change.”

They toasted each other, beer bottle to root beer bottle.

“Are you doing OK?” Jenny asked.

“Mostly. Better than a few days ago, that’s for sure.”

“Sorry you got mom-bombed in there, before.”

“Thanks for sending Crane to the rescue. It was getting a little overwhelming. I mean, I am so not ready for this.” If anyone would understand, it would be Jenny. “I mean, how the hell are Crane and I supposed to give a kid a normal childhood?”

Jenny shrugged. “Normal is overrated. Normal is boring.”

“You know what I mean.”

“I do. And—you just do your best. I have no doubt both of you will love this kid to pieces. That’s a good start.”

Abbie hoped so. Their mother had loved them, too, and it hadn’t been enough to give them stability and security.

“Hey,” Jenny said. “We turned out OK, didn’t we?”

“Mind-reader,” Abbie accused. “And yeah, I guess we did. Eventually.”

“Nothing wrong with taking the scenic route, as long as you get there.”

***

By the time dinner was over, it had grown dark, and bracingly cold with it, for April. Abbie tucked her hands into her coat pockets and hunched her shoulders against the wind as she walked through the parking lot at Crane’s side.

“A beautiful night,” he said. “Look—there are enough stars to remind me of my time.”

Before light pollution, that is. Abbie gazed upward. There was the Big Dipper, which she recognized, and if you followed the two stars on the edge of the cup part straight up, wasn’t that the North Star? Crane, being Crane, was talking of Ursa Major and Ursa Minor, Leo and Crater and Hydra. “Almost,” she agreed. “Even with everything else I had on my mind then, I noticed the sky. It was moonless, like this. Not quite as cold, though.”

Part of her wanted to share this cold night with him, to sleep in his arms enveloped by his warmth. Time to stop running backwards. She’d decided that, today. Not that it necessarily meant it was a good idea to sprint forward. Still, she pulled one hand out of her pocket and tucked it into Crane’s elbow for the rest of the walk back to the car.

“This isn’t the same road we took this morning, is it?” Crane asked about five minutes into the drive when she turned onto a winding road that ran alongside a rushing stream.

“No, but it connects to it in about ten miles,” she said. “It’s such a nice night I decided to take the scenic route.” She’d felt lured to the road somehow, to share this dark starry solitude with Crane. It was…idyllic.

At least, it was until her car’s engine died, suddenly and silently, and they lurched to a halt in the middle of the road.

“What on earth?” Crane asked.

Abbie slammed her fist against the dashboard. “Damn it, this car is new.” But then she felt something, a ripple of unfamiliar magic against her fingers. Not ordinary car trouble, then. If only they’d have Jenny with them. She was so much better at sensing others’ magic.

“Lieutenant,” Crane said in a low voice.

She looked up and gasped. A dozen young women, all dressed alike in sleeveless flowing white dresses like something out of Gladiator or Ben-Hur, surrounded the car. All held glowing balls of magical light, and none seemed to feel the biting cold.

The girl directly in front of the car lifted her right hand in a theatrical gesture. She was…ordinary-looking, maybe sixteen or seventeen, a little tall, a little pale, and sort of pretty, with big dark eyes and straight dark hair, but she carried herself like a queen. “Witnesses, come forth,” she said in a ringing voice.

“Now, why the hell would we do that?” Abbie asked.

The girl smiled, tight-lipped and smug. “Because we will it so, and we are stronger than you.” She snapped her fingers, and all the witches spoke in unison. The car’s doors flew open, the seat belts snapped free, and Abbie felt herself tugged unceremoniously from her seat and flung down on the hard asphalt.

She scrambled to her feet, rubbing her shoulder, even as Crane rolled across the hood of the car to stand at her side.

“Very well, ladies,” he said. “You have our attention. What do you want from us?”

“You as our prisoners, of course,” the same girl said—apparently she was the anointed spokeswoman of this coven. “There is someone we want you to meet—or, I should say, meet again.”

“No thanks.” She slid her hand into Crane’s and pressed the faintest prickle of magical energy against his palm. He got the hint at once and matched the connection. “It’s been a long day, and I’m just not feeling very social right now.”

The girl laughed like a villain out of a bad movie. She was so very young, and Abbie suspected from the way she was overdoing everything that all this was new to her. But that didn’t make her any less dangerous—maybe more so.

“Do you honestly think,” the girl said, “that you have any choice, hedge witch? We outnumber you twelve to one, and you don’t have any of your herbs and stones and simples.” Her voice dripped with contempt for Abbie’s kind of magic. “You are weak.”

“Maybe I am.” Let’s use this telepathy for something good. She sent Crane a mental image of what she needed from him, and felt his agreement and determination in an answering surge of power that left her amped, dancing on her toes like a football player about to take the field for the Super Bowl. “But we are strong.”

As one, she and Crane raised their free hands and blasted out a shield wall that knocked the witches back several feet and doused about half of their lights. Most stumbled, but the leader kept her feet.

“Impossible.” She tried to break through the shield, but Abbie strengthened it, expanding it to trip and knock aside more of their attackers. They were winning for the moment, but they weren’t winning enough. She knew they couldn’t maintain this indefinitely. If only she could think of some knockout punch, some way to scare them away, but it was taking all her strength and skill, plus everything she could take from Crane, simply to hold the line.

Just as she was about to drop the shield out of sheer exhaustion, hoofbeats clattered up the road. The Headless Horseman, superheated axe glowing in the darkness. Abbie cast a despairing look at Crane and tried to prepare something for a last stand, but Headless instead gesticulated at the women, who looked chastened and scrambled to disperse into the woods.

“I suppose the time is not yet ripe,” Crane murmured.

The rider surveyed them, somehow managing to convey contempt and impatience even without a head. Abbie almost wanted the necklace back so they could communicate, though she knew Crane would disagree.

Then Headless stiffened, and his red-eyed horse danced restively beneath him. He pointed his axe hand at Abbie—no, at her abdomen—and spurred his horse toward them.

She tried to keep her grip on Crane’s hand, tried to maintain the connection, but she had to let go when the horseman aimed a vicious kick straight toward her stomach. He missed, but she hit the ground hard and rolled off the road into the frigid stream.

Oh God, it was like ice. Drained as she was by the battle and by the sudden break of her connection to Crane, it was all she could do to move at all. She flashed back to the struggle with the Weeping Lady, to almost drowning in the freaking library. Damn it, if she died in this tribulation, it wasn’t going to be by drowning in a shallow creek. If she could just stand, the water wouldn’t even come to her waist.

She couldn’t manage that much, but she forced her arms to work and sat up, gasping for air, just as Crane reached her side and hauled her onto the bank. “Abbie! Oh, dear God.” He hauled her against him, and she clutched at his chest.”

“It’s okay,” she said, though her teeth chattered so much she could hardly get the words out. “He m-m-missed.”

“You’re too cold.” He tried to pick her up, but his arms shook, the strength she’d so admired earlier that day diminished by their shared magic.

“T-tonic,” she said.

“What?”

“My m-magic b-bag, behind the seat. G-get it.”

He hurried to obey and came back clutching a bottle. “This one?” Off her shaking nod, he opened it and held it out to her.

“N-no. For you.”

“You need it more.”

She shook her head and dropped her hand to her belly. “C-can’t.” Hopefully he’d have sense enough to just drink the damned thing and not make her explain through her shivers and chattering teeth that Jenny had found this recipe to quickly restore spent magical energies, but it had a little pennyroyal in it, putting it right on top of the list of pregnant woman must-avoids.

Mercifully, he got it, draining the potion in a single gulp, then started peeling her sodden clothes off while he waited for it to work. “I’m sorry,” he said, “but once you’re in the car, you’ll warm up faster out of these things.”

She just nodded and helped him as best as her shaking limbs would let her. “As long as the c-car s-starts.”

“It will. It must.”

By the time they’d stripped away the last of her clothes, he was restored enough to carry her to the car, deposit her in the passenger seat, and fling the fleece blanket she kept in the car as part of her emergency kit over her. She clutched it to her as he leapt into the car and reached for the keys, praying, “Please, please, please…”

The car hummed to life, and both of them muttered their thanks to whoever might be listening as Crane jacked the heat up as high as it would go and turned all the vents to point at her.

“The cabin is closer,” he said once they were speeding down the twisting road.

“Yeah.” Abbie was still bone-deep cold, but she’d stopped shaking and could speak steadily now. “I’m going to be OK.”

“We must get you warm.”

“It’s not winter anymore. I’m not going to freeze to death.”

He pointed at the outside temperature indicator. “It is thirty-eight degrees.”

“Which is above freezing.”

His only response was an impatient growl and a heavier foot on the accelerator.

When they reached the cabin, he scooped her into his arms again, now with the blanket wrapped around her. It felt good and right, but she felt obliged to protest. “Crane. I can walk.”

“Not with bare feet on cold ground.” He somehow managed to unlock the door while still holding her and wouldn’t set her down until it was shut firmly behind them. “Now, a hot shower,” he ordered. “I’ll start a fire.”

The shower was pure bliss, warmth soaking down into her chilled limbs. Before she’d done anything more than just stand there, letting the water pour over her body, she heard the bathroom door creak open.

“I brought a towel, and that bag you left here last year,” Crane said. “You will stay here tonight, I hope? I will, of course, take the couch.”

“Yeah, I don’t want to go outside again anytime soon,” she agreed.

“I’ll just be building up the fire, then.”

The door clicked shut again, and Abbie reached for the soap. It had a crisp, masculine smell, but it washed off the mud and fear and defeat. And she didn’t mind smelling a bit like Crane. Not at all. Her hair she just rinsed free of mud and creek water—she’d have to leave it natural and fix it when she got home tomorrow.

At last she felt all the way warm, all the way human again, and she turned off the water and stepped out of the shower, enveloping herself in a towel with a crisp, sunshiney, line-dried smell. She unzipped the bag and found the change of clothes—underwear, fleecy socks, and soft old sweats—that she’d decided to leave in the cabin just in case she ever got stuck out here.

She reached for the panties, then hesitated. Enough. She didn’t want Crane to sleep on the couch. She wanted to share his bed. She wanted him. This wasn’t the road they would have taken if 1781 had never happened, but it was high time they started moving forward on it.

She wrapped the towel about her and stepped out into the main room. Crane crouched with his back to her, adding another log to an already crackling fire. “You must be exhausted,” he said. “I’ve made chamomile tea, and I turned the heater on in the bedroom.”

“I’m not exhausted.”

He stood and turned to face her, his eyes widening and his hands twitching as he took in her towel-clad state. “Was that not the correct bag?” he asked. “I’m sure there’s something here for you to wear.”

She stepped toward him. “I’m plenty warm enough. And I’m not exhausted,” she repeated. “But I am tired. Tired of fighting myself. Tired of denying us both.”

And she let the towel drop.

Chapter Text

Ten minutes earlier

As he built up the fire, Crane kept a careful ear focused on the sound of the shower. His lieutenant seemed better, more steady on her feet now, but when he pictured her blue-lipped and shivering after he’d pulled her from that stream…

Then his phone rang with the noisy song Miss Jenny had insisted he set as her ring tone. He scrambled to his feet and hurried to the table where he’d set it down.

“Crane! Oh, thank God,” she said as soon as he spoke.

Had she been attacked too? “Are you all right?”

“I’m fine, but I’ve been trying to call Abbie for ten minutes and she doesn’t pick up! Is she still with you?”

“Yes, she’s here, she’s taking a shower now, but—” He called up his memory of the car after the attack. Normally if she didn’t have her phone in her pocket, she plugged it into the charging cable in the car’s dashboard. It hadn’t been there, which most likely meant… “Oh, no. We must have left it by the road where we left her clothes.” He’d been far too anxious to get her to someplace warm to even think of retrieving them.

“Left her clothes…what?”

Crane smote himself on the forehead. “Oh, good God. I didn’t even consider how that would sound. It isn’t what you’re thinking.”

“I’m not thinking that, because neither of you would’ve thrown your clothes out the window.” Her voice was pitched low, and Crane could hear a hum of conversation in the background. “What the hell happened?”

As succinctly as he could, he described the encounter with the witches and the Horseman. “So I believe the phone must still be in her pocket,” he concluded. “We weren’t thinking beyond getting her someplace dry and warm.”

“Of course not. Holy shit, that sounds terrifying.”

“It was. She claims to be all right now, but—”

“Abbie would say she was OK if she had all the symptoms of Ebola and the bubonic plague at the same time,” Miss Jenny said.

“You understand.”

“I’ve known her longer than you have. Anyway, we have to get that phone.”

“Will it have survived its immersion?”

“Most of the time they do—maybe with some problems, but if you dry it out in a tub of rice, it usually at least sort of works. And with the kind of data we keep on there, we can’t let it fall into the hands of Headless or your new witchy friends.”

She was right, but how could he leave Abbie alone or drag her back out into the cold? “I’ll go back,” he said reluctantly.

“No, you need to stay with her. Hang on.” He heard her voice, muffled, asking if it was all right if they left right away. “Ash and I will go,” she said. “We’re still at the apartment, so we’re closer anyway. Look, make her stay the night, OK? Your place has such good wards that she’ll be safer there than anywhere else.”

“She’s staying. We’ve already agreed upon that.”

“Good. I’ll call if we have any trouble finding the things, but otherwise I’ll come by the cabin tomorrow.”

They bid each other good night, and Crane went back to work. The kettle had boiled, so he set a cup of chamomile tea to brewing, then dug several extra blankets from a storage chest. He left one of the couch for himself, then spread the rest on the bed for Abbie.

When he stepped back out into the main room, the shower had stopped, and he heard Abbie bustling about in the bathroom. He considered the fire. It was crackling along merrily, but another log couldn’t hurt. Ordinarily, he didn’t suffer greatly from the cold—when one had survived Valley Forge, any house of this era, no matter how drafty and rustic, was a paradise of warmth and comfort—but he swore ice had entered his bones too there by the stream.

As he placed the log and adjusted it with the poker, he heard the bathroom door open. “You must be exhausted,” he said. “I’ve made chamomile tea, and I turned the heater on in the bedroom.”

“I’m not exhausted.”

Her voice sounded strong and firm, making that simple statement into a declaration. Crane stood, turned, and beheld not an Abbie warmly clad in loose, fleecy pajamas that covered her from neck to toes, but one in a towel. Nothing but a towel.

He struggled for words. He’d seen more of her bared that night after her tumble into the stream, but then he’d been so terrified, so desperate to see her warm and safe that base lust had been the farthest thing from his mind. Now…he was mesmerized by her skin, so smooth and so warm a brown against the snowy white of the towel, and her legs, strong and shapely. How could so small a woman have so much leg? And did she have any notion how greatly she was tormenting him? Already he was half hard.

No. This couldn’t possibly be an attempt at seduction. She had almost drowned, almost frozen, and the only thing she could want tonight would be to sleep in a warm bed. He must have given her the wrong bag—Miss Jenny’s clothes, or some of the random assortment of Corbin family possessions still stored here and there in the cabin. (At least he knew it was not Katrina’s—he’d destroyed everything of hers away within days of her death.)

“Was that not the correct bag?” he asked. “I’m sure there’s something here for you to wear.”

A smile played at her lips, and she drew closer to him, stopping just a yard away. Crane’s heart broke into a gallop, and he tucked his hands behind his back to keep himself from reaching for her.

“I’m plenty warm enough. And I’m not exhausted,” she repeated. “But I am tired. Tired of fighting myself. Tired of denying us both.”

Then, with a graceful gesture, she let the towel fall and stood before him, entirely bare.

Magnificent. Exquisite. Even more beautiful than he had imagined, and his imaginings had been frequent and rich with detail. The lush curve of her hips, the fullness of her breasts. Strength and softness, all warrior and all woman. He wanted to fall to his knees before her and worship every delicious inch of her body.

But this was all so very sudden. He forced himself to speak. “Abbie. Oh, God. Are you certain?”

She stepped even closer, till their bodies almost touched. “Yeah, I’m sure.”

He could hear her quickened breath, smell her desire, but still… “Why now? What changed?”

She shrugged, and the motion drew his eyes from her face to her breasts. She chuckled, a knowing sound, then reached for his hands, brushing her belly against his erection in the process.

“Abbie…” The words came out half groan.

“Nothing changed,” she said, her voice low and steady. “And everything did. I understand more. This is who we are now. This is our path.”

He had never wanted anything in his life more than he wanted her, but he had to be sure. If he took her to bed and she regretted it… “Only if you want this path,” he made himself say, though he felt like he was the one in danger of drowning now—drowning in desire, drowning in the depths of her eyes, so dark in the firelight. “If you are only…resigned to what Fate has decreed…”

She lifted one hand to his cheek. “Oh, I want it. If you had any idea how much wanting I’ve been doing these past two months…”

He laughed raggedly. “If you had any idea how much I’ve been wanting these past two years…”

Now her face lit with the most radiant smile he’d ever beheld there. “Then what are you waiting for?” Leaning up on tiptoe, she took his face between her hands and drew him down for a kiss.

Her touch was like a spark to dry tinder, setting him aflame. Abbie. So good, so right to at long last run seeking hands down her bare skin, to grab her by the arse and haul her against him.

She broke the kiss to grin and whisper, “Double jugs!”

He laughed and lightly slapped the spot in question. “Minx.”

Her eyes shone with shared mirth, and—had he ever known what it was to laugh like this with a lover, and without the slightest diminishment of desire? Good God, this was reality, no longer fantasy, Abbie in his arms…he kissed her again, hard and hungry.

He meant to pick her up and carry her into the bedroom, but before he could act on his intent, she pushed him back to sit on the couch and knelt to straddle him. Now they were much of a height, and she settled herself with a contented hum, her hands stroking and exploring through his clothes, pushing at his coat. He sat up just enough to wriggle free of it, then on a whim draped it over her shoulders, a warm mantle cocooning them together.

She sighed her pleasure and leaned closer to him, and he caught one of her breasts in his palm.

“Oof!” She drew back a little. “Sorry, they’re so tender now.”

He loosened his grip to a light caress, and she leaned in again. “Yes. Just like that. God, Crane…oh!” He bent to take her nipple in his mouth, making his lips and tongue as soft and gentle as he possibly could.

She wove a hand into his hair and gave a sharp tug. He knew a more, please! from her when he felt it, so he cupped her other breast in his hand, stroking in time with his suckling.

He wished he could bring himself to slow down, to properly savor this long-awaited moment, but with every touch they both grew more frantic and urgent. Soon her hands were at his trousers buttons, shaking and fumbling, and he hurried to help her. But when his cock was free her touch grew strong and sure again, stroking his length from root to tip.

He supported her with one hand at the small of her back, fingers stretching down to enjoy that delicious arse, while he trailed the other down between her breasts and over her belly to settle between her legs and ever so lightly explore her sex with his fingertips.

Oh, God, she was so wet, so hot, and this was going too fast but she was clutching his cock with one hand and his hair with the other and saying things like please and more and now. And then she rose up on her knees, placed his tip at her entrance, and ground down onto him.

Words fled. Thought fled. All he knew was her body and his together, heat and sighs and gasps, until he felt her inner muscles ripple against him as she came with a low moan, shuddering in his arms, and the hot bliss of his own release mere seconds later.

She collapsed against him, and he took her face between his hands and kissed her, long and deliberate.

“Wow,” she said when they stopped to breathe.

“Indeed. But—” He felt his face heat, lowering as it was to blush at such a moment. “I’d never imagined this happening so quickly.

She rested a hand against his cheek. “Mm. Nothing wrong with a quickie as long as both parties are satisfied. And I always figured it would be exactly this fast, if it was after a battle. Maybe faster, if we couldn’t wait and decided to just go at in the car or up against a wall.”

Surely the car would be an uncomfortable and awkward location for amorous activities, but a wall… He rested his forehead against hers. “You’ve given the matter some consideration, then?”

She blinked demurely, then met his eyes again. “Well, if I’m being totally honest, I’ve done my share of wanting the past two years, too.”

And now they were here. He could still hardly believe this was real, that he wouldn’t awaken from the dream or find himself torn out of some demon-induced vision to a real world of solitude. “I’ve usually imagined something…slower,” he admitted. “I’ve been longing to savor you.”

She slid off his lap and shed the coat, draping it over the back of the couch. Leaning forward, she kissed him tenderly. “Then come to bed.”

She extended a hand to pull him to his feet, and he let her lead him to the bedroom. There she perched on the edge of the bed and watched with bright-eyed interest as he drew his shirt over his head and shed boots, trousers, and stockings. Compared to her, he felt himself a gangly, awkward bag of bones, but she seemed pleased with the sight, beckoning him to the bed.

He was ready to kiss her, ready to slide into bed beside her and draw them both down under the blankets, but she forestalled him with a palm on his chest. As he watched, arrested by her touch, she traced his scar, first with fingertips and then with her lips and tongue. “My Crane,” she murmured, pressing a kiss over the spot where his heart beat.

He didn’t miss the subtle emphasis. He had to close his eyes against a wave of emotions, almost too many to name—joy, relief, love, and longing all at once. He gathered her against his chest, and her arms slid around his waist. “My own Abbie,” he breathed.

And then she edged backward, pulling him with her, and he tucked the blankets over them, glorying in the feel of skin against skin. “Full nakedness! All joys are due to thee,” he quoted, running a hand from Abbie’s shoulder down to the curve of her hip.

She stretched luxuriantly against him, tangling her legs with his. “Some of the best ones, anyway. What’s that from?”

“How do you know it isn’t my own inspiration?” he asked in mock offense.

“Because you never say thee or thou unless you’re quoting something. You’re not quite as old-timey as that.”

He kissed the tip of her nose. “You’ve caught me. I was quoting John Donne.”

“I’ll have to look that up.”

“I could quote the rest.” To His Mistress Going to Bed had always been one of his favorites, though it wasn’t quite appropriate to this moment, being something of a hymn to a woman’s gradual disrobing while her nude partner watched and awaited her.

“Mm, some other time, maybe.”

She kissed him, and he took the hint and embarked upon a leisurely exploration of her body, kissing and stroking, here and there gently nipping, all the while lost in amazement to have his Abbie, his Lieutenant, here in his bed, sighing and gasping in a sort of boneless, languid rapture at his touch.

He lingered reverently over her belly—was it his imagination, or was it already a little rounder than before?—but soon he drifted down between her legs to pay a far more carnal homage. She was no longer languid then, thrusting her hips up to meet his mouth and hands, a hand clutching his hair as she came, gasping his name.

He crawled up the bed and rolled onto his back beside her.

“Done already?” she asked with an arch smile.

“Not at all.” He pulled her atop him. “I want you like this.”

“Ah.” She kissed him, then reached for his cock. How many times had he lain awake at night imagining her just like this, riding him, her beautiful body shining in the dim lamplight? And he’d never come close to the reality of it.

When they were done, she nestled her head on his shoulder. “I really am exhausted now,” she said.

“I think we’ve earned our rest.” He stretched to turn off the lamp on the bedside table.

They nestled spoon-fashion in the darkness. Just as he thought she was already asleep, she threaded her fingers through his. “So this is us,” she whispered.

Coming from Abbie, that almost felt like a declaration of love. He pressed his lips to her hair. “It is,” he agreed.

He slept as deeply as he ever had in his life, only awakening sometime after dawn to Abbie easing herself out of his embrace. With an incoherent noise of protest, he tried to gather her back in, but she batted his hand away. “Shh. It’s all right. Not going anywhere. Go back to sleep.”

Reassured by the affection in her voice, he did just that. When his eyes next opened, it was to the sense he was being watched.

“Good morning, sleepyhead,” Abbie said. She sat perched on the bed smiling down at him. Somewhere she’d found his bathrobe and wrapped herself in it, a warm and radiant bundle of red plaid flannel. She rarely wore bright red, and he wondered why, when it suited her so very well. But all the same, he reached for the tie of the robe.

She caught his hand and drew it to her lips instead. “Not yet,” she said. “It’s my turn to savor you.”

And so she did, slowly and deliberately. Never before had Crane had a lover take so much time over him, tracing the lines on his palms, sucking his fingers into her mouth one by one with provocative swirls of the tongue, following the path of his veins up his forearm, stroking her small, dexterous fingers through his chest hair, nipping and sucking at the spot where his neck met his shoulder—just hard enough to leave a mark, he suspected. He’d wear it with pride. He was hers, after all, irrevocably so.

But above all he was caught, enraptured, by watching the play of expressions on her face, as unguarded as he’d ever seen. She truly felt this for him, so much warmth and tenderness and desire, so much more than he deserved? Abbie would never be one to speak of love freely and casually, Crane knew, but he would rather have her look at him like this than call him my love or beloved a dozen times each day.

He sighed—that seeming the best possible expression for the love and sheer contentment that threatened to overwhelm him.

“What?” she asked.

Even in this moment of mutual abandon he knew better to speak of everything that was in his heart. This was still far too new, and Abbie’s soul too wary. “You make me want to quote poetry again,” he said. It was even true. He could use another’s words to express what would be too overwhelming for her—perhaps for both of them—if he spoke for himself.

She sat back and regarded him, one hand resting lightly on his heart. “Really?”

“Yes.” He drew her hand to his lips and ghosted a kiss across her knuckles. “And now good-morrow to our waking souls, Which watch not one another out of fear; For love, all love of other sights controls, And makes one little room an everywhere.” He pressed his lips to her palm and watched her face.

Her eyes widened. There was a hint of fear there—as much as he wished to, he could not deny that—but desire and wonder, too. “Oh.” She bent to kiss him, soft and lingering. “Never was much of a fan of poetry. Maybe I should reconsider.”

And then she straddled him, kissed along his throat and down to his collarbone, and began to work her way down from there. Soon the only poetry Crane cared about was that which her lips and fingers and tongue wrote on his skin.

He was just reaching to untie the robe again—this time she leaned closer to make it easier for him—when they heard a car grind to a halt in the gravel of the driveway.

Abbie sat up. “Who on earth?”

Crane smote himself upon the forehead. “Oh, good God. I completely forgot. Your sister called while you were in the shower, because you weren’t picking up your phone.”

The car door slammed, and Abbie edged away, tightening the robe. “Because it was in my pocket,” she finished. “I didn’t even think about it.”

“She was going to look for it and come by in the morning.”

Now footsteps hurried up the porch and a knock sounded on the door. “Abbie? Crane?”

Abbie’s lips twisted with rueful amusement. “Well, I never can keep a secret from her anymore.” She looked to him, naked and still rock-hard, then to her own rumpled but covered form. “I’ll go.” She twisted to shout over her shoulder. “Just a minute.”

With a wicked smile, she bent over him once more, took his cock in both hands, and sucked just the tip into her mouth, swirling it with her tongue. Then she slid off the bed and hurried away, pausing at the door to cast him a bright-eyed look over her shoulder. “You’re good, you know. You made me completely forget my phone.”

Once the door closed, he sagged back onto the bed with a helpless laugh. A few quick pulls was all it took to finish what she’d started. As he tried to gather enough energy to move, to dress, to resume the workaday business of battling the forces of the apocalypse, another fragment of Donne rippled through his mind.

If ever any beauty I did see, Which I desired, and got, ’twas but a dream of thee.

Chapter Text

Jenny would know right away, of course. Abbie figured she would have even if it hadn’t been for her rumpled appearance, kiss-swollen lips, and the fact she was clearly naked under Crane’s long flannel robe. As it was, it saved the trouble of having to think how to tell her.

She opened the door to her sister holding a plastic tub filled with uncooked rice. Abbie nodded at it. “I see you found the phone. Thanks.”

Jenny’s eyebrows rose. “And I see you found a way to stay warm while Ash and I were crawling around in the cold and dark looking for it.”

Abbie shrugged unrepentantly. “Yeah, I did.”

“Good.”

“It was.”

Jenny snorted. “About damn time, too.”

“You can even say I told you so if you’d like.”

“Wow, you really are happy.”

She stepped back and waved Jenny inside. “I made tea, and there’s bread for toast.” That had been her mission when she’d first awoken and slipped out of bed—the all-important first bland meal that held her morning sickness at bay. “There’s a couple boxes of cereal, too, but it’s all Crane’s favorites.”

For herself she poured another cup of tea and sweetened it while Jenny happily filled a bowl with Cinnamon Toast Crunch and milk. “So, tell me about last night,” Jenny said as they took seats opposite each other at the table.

Abbie rolled her eyes. “Sisters don’t have to share everything. You know as much as you need to.”

Jenny heaved a sigh. “I meant before. Remember, the witches and our headless friend?”

“Oh. That part.” She hadn’t forgotten, but the strangeness and terror seemed much farther in the past than just twelve hours or so.

“Crane told me the basics while you were in the shower. They stopped your car with magic and tried to take you captive, but you held them at bay till Headless rode up and scared them away.”

“Yeah, but it wasn’t like he was their enemy.” Until he’d tried to ride her down, his body language had conveyed exasperation, not rage or deadly intent. “More like a teacher all annoyed at them for going off on their own and breaking his rules.”

“Hm. What did they look like? Anything you’d seen before?”

“A bunch of girls in white robes, like something out of Gladiator or Ben-Hur. Teens or very early twenties, tops. And their clothes matched, but they didn’t, not like sisters or clones or anything—different shapes and ethnicities and so on.”

“How many were there?”

Abbie frowned, trying to visualize the scene. “A dozen, give or take.”

“A dozen precisely.”

Abbie looked over her shoulder at Crane framed in the bedroom door, barefoot and clad in fleece pajama pants and one of his white linen shirts. She smiled at the memory of how he’d been five or ten minutes ago, completely at her mercy, and enjoyed the faint flush in his cheeks that suggested he was thinking the exact same thing.

Jenny surveyed them both as if she was considering and rejecting a whole host of comments. “That’s a significant number,” was all she said.

Abbie took a sip of her tea, trying to refocus her mind on their mission. “Twelve apostles, twelve tribes of Israel,” she commented.

“And yet not a number commonly favored by the enemies of God,” Crane said.

Abbie heard him approaching her and held her hand up for him to clasp. He took it and brushed his lips over her knuckles—probably as much PDA as she was going to get from him with his old-fashioned public manners, and enough to set her nerves humming with the memory of everything he could do with those lips and hands when they were alone. Eleven, twelve, thirteen…what did it really matter?

Jenny cleared her throat.

“Something to look into,” Abbie said calmly—at least, that’s how she hoped she sounded. “Though it might not mean anything more than that’s how many blood witches they’ve been able to recruit.”

“We must ask Miss Macey if she’s encountered anything like this,” Crane said.

“Yeah, it could be connected to the Children of Atlantis thing.”

“Or it might not be,” Abbie said. Surely not everything was connected so neatly. “I mean, it’s not like we hang with every hedge witch in the Hudson Valley.”

Jenny grinned. “Aw, come on. Those ladies from the Newburgh coven were really nice. Hospitable, too. We should go to one of their full moon gatherings sometime.”

“No skyclad rituals,” Abbie ground out through gritted teeth.

“Spoilsport. But I get your point. It doesn’t have to be connected. Still, it might be. Blood witches are rarer, and they’re not going to invite ordinary women along who just want to see magic in action or get in touch with their inner goddess or whatever. So the odds are higher.”

“We’ll tell her. I’ll send her an email before the meeting this week.”

“I still dislike using someone so young,” Crane said.

“So do I.” Abbie leaned against him. Why had she waited so long? This was right. He felt like home and safety and every other good thing she barely believed in. “Not sure what choice we have, though. Even if Cynthia was willing, I doubt these people would be so quick to trust someone they wouldn’t see as young and easy to manipulate.”

“Plus, she’d say it’s not using, since she volunteered,” Jenny said. “We’ll ask her about it—add it to this week’s agenda. Speaking of which, Crane said something last night about Headless seeming to know about the baby.”

Abbie shuddered, and Crane converted his handclasp into an embrace, both hands sliding down to squeeze her shoulders. “There wasn’t any seeming about it,” she said. “He knew. He wasn’t trying to kill me, just make me have a miscarriage.”

Jenny’s face twisted. “That’s…kinda reassuring, really.”

“It is?”

“Yeah. Think about it. It means whatever he’s under orders to keep you alive for, it’s not because your baby is the sacrifice they need to bring Moloch back.”

Abbie swore her heart dropped into the pit of her stomach. “What?”

“You hadn’t thought of that?”

Jenny sounded surprised—and maybe it should’ve occurred to her, but her fears had all been about her and Crane dying and leaving an orphan behind. Yet why wouldn’t the Witnesses’ baby be the ultimate target for Moloch’s minions? “I really hadn’t.”

“I had,” Crane said quietly. “And I do hope you are right, though that assumes Abraham fully understands this plan and what it requires.”

Abbie cradled her stomach, still all but flat, with both hands. “My God.”

Crane’s grip on her shoulders tightened. “Abbie. It won’t happen. I will not allow it.” His voice was fierce and even deeper than normal.

As if it was that simple. How much of the past two years would have happened if what either of them wanted to allow had anything to do with it?

“Hey. Both of you. Look at me.”

Obediently Abbie met her sister’s eyes, and Crane’s hands loosened their grip, though he continued to loom close and protective.

“We still have no idea what the Moloch timetable is,” Jenny said. “It could be anything—a solstice or an equinox, some holiday or anniversary of some event. We just don’t know. But why wouldn’t Headless know the plan? You said he was acting like he was in charge of those witches last night, and they obeyed him. And besides, you’ve got our whole team on you side. We’ll figure this out.”

Abbie took a deep breath. “We will. I know we will.”

***

She bound this new terror up in knots and tried to tuck it away deep within her, where she kept any number of bad memories and nagging fears she wished she could bury altogether. Then she made herself talk normally to Jenny, who had plans to spend the day with Big Ash pursuing another lead in the matter of Moloch’s resurrection—plans which Abbie suspected involved a shared motorcycle, open roads, and a comfortable bed at the end of the day. Not that she could begrudge her sister mixing business with pleasure given her own plans for this particular Sunday.

By midmorning she and Crane were at her place. She took a shower and reclaimed her hair, emerging to find that he had made use of the time to prepare brunch—French toast, scrambled eggs, sausage, and fruit salad. Fortunately all of the smells were good rather than too much to her oversensitive nose, and she thanked him with both words and kisses before sitting down to eat.

She ate with relish, but it was a quiet meal. Crane eyed her narrowly as she reached for more fruit salad. “Is anything amiss?” he asked. “I hope you aren’t regretting…”

“…last night?” She smiled reassurance at him. “Believe me, no regrets. It’s just—I’d thought, I’d worried about what would become of our child if something happens to us. But until Jenny mentioned it, somehow I’d never thought about it being the target. I should have. Failure of imagination, I guess.”

“I wouldn’t say failure. Self-protection, perhaps, to set limits on the worst possibility you are willing to consider.” He set his fork down and considered her thoughtfully. “Does it change anything, to realize the possibility?”

She didn’t even have to think about her response. “No. I’m committed to this child, now. To our child.” She blew out a rueful breath and took another bite of eggs. “Just gives me that much more of a personal stake in protecting the world and stopping the apocalypse.”

“We will. Together.”

“Maybe you’re right about the self-protection thing. I read somewhere that the easiest way to get paralyzed with worry is to consider everything that could possibly go wrong, because you get so worked up about mutually exclusive scenarios and imaginary futures that you can’t function in the here and now.”

“Wise advice.”

She reached for his hand. “I wouldn’t mind taking a little break from all our imaginary futures right now.”

He lifted her hand and brushed his lips over her knuckles. “A shared break?”

“Mm-hmm.”

It started with her in his lap, kissing desperately, and ended against the wall just a few feet away.

“You said you’d imagined us like this,” he murmured as he slid into her.

She gave his hair a quick tug. “Haven’t you?”

“I’ve imagined a great…many…things.” He punctuated each word with thrusts that made her gasp.

“Good. Nice to know we’re even—God, yes! Like that.”

After, she tugged him into her bedroom, silencing his mild protest that it was almost noon by asking him if there was anything he’d rather be doing. They lay side by side, naked, too spent for now to do anything beyond bask in each other’s presence.

If Abbie didn’t allow herself to think beyond the moment, she was happy with a bone-deep contentment and joy beyond anything she’d ever known. She’d wondered, these past two months, how sex with Crane in the here and now would compare with that one night in 1781. Now—it was like the difference between visiting some beautiful place that just felt like home and coming back to it when it actually was home. There wasn’t that fraught desperation, the drive to seize the only moments they might have left. But in its place was something far better, a bond with two years of shared friendship and struggle to build it, and the knowledge that they’d have the time to try all the great many things they’d been imagining between them. And yet there was something a little terrifying about the future stretching before them. They’d made the leap in every possible way, and now they had no choice but to make it work. They couldn’t abandon the world to the apocalypse, they couldn’t abandon their child, and so they couldn’t abandon each other. It was as simple and irrevocable as that.

But in this moment, it was just right. Abbie shut her eyes to the future and just listened to Crane breathe.

He broke their peaceful silence first, as was his habit. “Skyclad?” he asked.

“Yeah. The Newburgh coven thinks rituals have greater power if you do them naked.”

“And do they?”

She rolled onto her side and considered him. He cocked an eyebrow at her and extended a hand.

OK, then. He was comfortable enough with magic to use it to play now? She took it, reaching for their unique brand of shared power. The connection…didn’t really feel any different than it did when they had their clothes on. Not that she’d expected it to. But she created a ball of light, colored it the blue of Crane’s eyes, and on a whim set it off as a sort of mini-firework.

“Lovely,” he said, gathering her in to nestle against his shoulder.

“But nothing I couldn’t do with my clothes on.” She gazed up at the ceiling—ordinary, white, and boring now that the remnants of the magic had faded away. “Maybe that’s because we’re only ceiling-clad.”

She felt his chuckle rumble through him. “I suppose we could go outside and see if the open sky enhances our powers, but it might prove rather startling to your neighbors.”

“Yeah, I’d have to arrest myself for indecent exposure.”

“Perhaps at the cabin…”

“Mm…I wouldn’t mind a little al fresco swimming in the lake when the weather gets warm, but I’d just as soon keep our naked magic the metaphorical kind. I mean, we’ve been given this power to help us in our fight—at least, that’s my assumption—and I don’t plan on fighting demons in the buff.”

“Indeed not.” He squirmed out of her arms for long enough to take her great-grandmother’s quilt from the foot of the bed and draw it up over them. “There. Blanket-clad.”

She smiled at the satisfaction in his voice, and as she nestled into his shoulder for a nap, she swore she heard the echo of an ancient maternal voice whispering Family.

***

From that day on she and Crane spent all their nights together, sometimes at her house and sometimes at the cabin. And as long as she managed to live in the moment, she was the happiest she could ever remember being, between the blissed-out sexual fulfillment and the general comfort and rightness of having him always around.

The future still terrified her sometimes, when she couldn’t help thinking about it. How were they possibly going to protect this child from every monster who might be gunning for it? And even with the Witness thing out of the equation, what did the two of them know about being good parents? Her father had disappeared when she was little—though the more she learned of her family history, the more she wondered if there was more to that than just a typical deadbeat dad not wanting to be a father—and as for Mama, she’d loved her and Jenny more than the world, but…would she, Abbie, also snap under the burden of their heritage? And as for Crane, well, his mother had died young and his father had been cold, distant, and impossible to please, as best as Abbie could tell. They didn’t know what they were doing, not at all.

And when she thought about the two of them—beyond how amazing they were together in bed and how good it felt to talk and laugh together as they drifted toward sleep at night and sat together over breakfast in the morning—that brought its own complex of fears. She knew he was in love with her, even though he carefully avoided actually saying it, unless you counted quoted poetry. (She’d looked up those Donne poems from the first night, and The Good Morrow had blown her away with the sheer joy and passion of it. Crane really felt all that for her?)

When she was honest with herself, she knew she loved him, too. What else could this be, really? But nothing in her life had ever been permanent. Why should she trust this to be any different? So she didn’t think about loving him. Instead she loved his hands and his voice and all the things he could do with his tongue when he stopped talking. She loved his indignant rants about whatever the History Channel had gotten wrong this time—and he’d been studying up on all the history he’d slept through and could nitpick Pearl Harbor and Waterloo almost as well as Lexington and Concord. It was…adorable, really. She loved the way he studied ancient texts on Atlantis with a scholar’s intensity while simultaneously munching sugary junk food like a 6-year-old given free rein in the 7-11 candy aisle. And she loved to lie in his arms at night, warm and safe and listening to his steady sleeping breath, their hands clasped together over her belly.

The rest of Team Witness was fully aware of the shift in their relationship, naturally—and had pretty much shared Jenny’s about damn time reaction. And that one time when Irving had come that close to walking in on them in the archives—they’d been at a table, with Crane standing just behind her, whispering in her ear about all the things he was about to do to her as his long fingers sought out the button of her jeans—he’d just grinned and told them to have fun while they could, because once they had a newborn baby in the house they’d learn the true meaning of exhaustion, and sex would take a back seat for awhile. “Nature’s best birth control,” he’d commented cheerily, even as Abbie and Crane had stepped carefully apart, trying to steady their breathing.

Meanwhile, their research into Moloch’s return continued, though without any great breakthroughs as April stretched toward May. Crane, Jenny, and Irving also got a few more cases, and Crane was touchingly proud of the fee he earned for researching the family history of a woman who’d came to them with strange dreams coupled with vague memories of her grandmother claiming her own grandmother had been a voodoo priestess. “Though it does seem a great deal to pay for a few days’ work,” he said, “all of it done online, and none of it even slightly dangerous.”

Abbie chuckled. “Believe it or not, there are people who earn perfectly good livings without ever being shot at or menaced by a demon. Maybe we should try it ourselves, in five or six years.”

Then, at the beginning of May, their research started to bear fruit all at once. Cynthia Irving found a cryptic reference to “The Thirteen” in that early 19th century witch’s journal that reminded Crane of something he’d seen in one of his more obscure Atlantis sources which led him to yet another book.

“Aha!” he said one morning over breakfast (his, a bowl of Lucky Charms; hers, easy-on-the-stomach white toast, scrambled eggs, and a slice of cantaloupe).

“Find something good?”

“I do believe I have. Hm, how best to translate…this Greek is quite archaic… Atlantis shall rise from the seas when the thirteen maidens of most ancient blood unite to offer sacrifice on the night when the doors to Hades stand open. Then shall also rise the immortal lord slain by war, to take his throne as ruler of the immortal ones and master of mortal men.

That did clarify things. Abbie took a strengthening gulp of ginger tea. “The night when the doors to Hades stand open. I don’t know much about the ancient Greek calendar, but that sounds like Samhain. Halloween. All Souls’ Day.”

He nodded soberly—at least, as soberly as a man could manage while simultaneously hoisting a spoonful of cereal punctuated with magically delicious marshmallow bits. Abbie smiled despite herself. “I agree,” he said. “While most of our sources for Atlantis are written in Greek, that does not mean that they were themselves Greeks. In my reading I’ve been finding evidence of Atlantean influence all around Europe and the Mediterranean basin. In particular, their sacred calendar closely resembles that of the Celts.”

She massaged her forehead. “Great.”

His brows drew together. “But it is great, is it not? Or, at the least, good, that we finally have some sense of our enemies’ calendar?”

“Well, yeah, to a point. That point being that my due date is mid-November. Which means I’ll either be too pregnant on Halloween to move faster than a waddle, or if the kidlet decides to appear on the early side of normal, we’ll have a newborn baby to take care of.”

“Oh.” He stirred what was left of his cereal and milk. “In that case—then it’s a good thing we’ve got such a strong team to rely upon.”

Abbie shrugged. She had a feeling this battle couldn’t be won without both Witnesses in the very center. “Even better if we could break up the Thirteen before Samhain gets here.”

That was on a Monday, and at the time she thought it would be the centerpiece of the now-regular Wednesday Team Witness meeting. But Tuesday morning she got a phone call from their best rare book dealer contact, who’d managed to track down a slim tome from the 1750’s titled Sermons and Prophecies of ELISHA MACKINNON, a Servant of GOD Manumitted from the Bondage of SLAVERY in the Year of Our Lord 1748 in the Colony of Massachusetts. Grace Dixon’s uncle.

She found a way to pick up the book before meeting Crane and Jenny for lunch at the archives. It was already a busy day, and she was ducking out of the precinct early that afternoon so she and Crane could go to her twelve-week prenatal appointment. But she couldn’t bear to wait a second longer than she had to to find out what her great-great-etcetera-uncle had said about them.

After a brief discussion, she and Jenny turned the book over to Crane for the first read, since time was of the essence and the quirks of eighteenth century grammar and typography didn’t slow his reading speed. The first few chapters, he informed them after a quick skim, were more sermon than prophecy, exhorting the listeners to repentance, faith, and righteous living. “Though he does focus rather more on the apocalypse and less on simple human mortality than any vicar or liturgy I can recall from those days.”

“Keep going,” Jenny said. “Grace told us that he spoke of the Witnesses.”

“I’m reading as quickly as I can,” he assured her, and indeed his eyes darted rapidly to and fro, and he turned the pages with a steady rhythm.

“Ah, here we are,” he said after about ten minutes. “The Vision of the Two Witnesses. Some quotes from the Book of Revelation, another call to repentance…And in the day of the world’s greatest peril, the Lord God will raise up for himself two Witnesses, man and woman, male and female even as mankind was first created in the Garden of Eden.”

“At least you’ve got the naked and unashamed part down,” Jenny commented.

As one, Abbie and Crane swiveled their heads to fix her with annoyed glares.

“Just saying…”

Crane cleared his throat. “Ahem. Moving on…I do not know the precise day nor the hour of this peril, but the Lord has granted me a vision of a babe already born in England, yet destined for this New World, this city set on a hill—”

His face flushed faintly, and Abbie leaned against him and gave his arm a quick squeeze. He’d confessed, one night as they lay awake in each other’s arms under her great-grandmother’s quilt, that he sometimes envied her for having a family destiny, awaited and nurtured through generations, while as far as he knew, the Cranes had nothing of the kind. This wasn’t exactly that, but she could tell it pleased him that he’d been seen and known.

“—and therefore the great and terrible day cannot be far off.”

“Well, you can’t blame him for thinking that,” Jenny pointed out.

Crane turned the page, and his eyes widened and his eyebrows climbed toward his hairline. “Good God.”

Abbie leaned closer and squinted at the tiny, faded type. “What is it?”

He bit his lip and shot her a sidelong glance before reading on in a voice gone shaky and stifled. “In that selfsame vision the Lord has shown me that in due time the two Witnesses shall marry, and upon their union they will be granted power sufficient unto the defeat of the mightiest of demons.”

“Oh.” Abbie sat up and stared blankly at the half-eaten remains of her turkey sandwich.

“That explains it.” Jenny nodded wisely.

It did, but… “We’re not married,” Abbie pointed out, avoiding both of their eyes.

Jenny snorted. “Maybe our ancestral uncle just couldn’t imagine that the Witnesses—chosen and appointed by God and all that!—would do the do out of wedlock. And really, why would the mystical powers be more concerned with words in a church than with your actual actions?”

“Because sacred words in a sacred space have power. You know that. All of us do.” If they didn’t, spells wouldn’t have words, and she and Jenny wouldn’t have to spend so much time and pour out so much salt casting circles for most of their trickier spells.

“But apparently they’re not the key thing in this case.”

“And clearly your—our night in 1781 was sufficient to establish the connection.” As he spoke Crane gave her his careful look, the one where he thought she might be thinking of running away.

She still didn’t like the idea that destiny was driving the train instead of her own choices. But she slid her hand into his with a reassuring squeeze. One way or another, they’d see this through together till the end. Baby, apocalypse, and all. She was committed now. And if she left, she’d lose him, with all the wild sex and warm nights and his daily presence, equal parts endearing and exasperating but always a source of fascination and wonder.

“What else does it say?” she asked after he smiled at her, his eyes warm with gratitude. “Anything about us having a kid?”

“Hm…” He returned his attention to the book. “No, it gets more general again from there. Yet more calls to repentance, verses from Revelation and the prophets Daniel and Isaiah…and this is the last sermon in the book.”

“That’s good,” she said. “At least I think it is.” If the baby wasn’t foretold in any of the Witness prophecies, maybe it would grow up to live its own life and figure out its own destiny. If Abbie couldn’t have that for herself, she’d love for her kid to have that gift.

***

Later that afternoon, she and Crane went together to her prenatal appointment. It was blessedly normal, compared to everything else so far that week. They got to hear the heartbeat, which wasn’t a surprise—she’d already seen it on that early ultrasound, and they’d both had a sense of it when they’d worked together to cast the protection spell. But it was still something to hear it, loud and clear and official, though the midwife kept having to repositions her Doppler wand to keep track of it. “We definitely didn’t catch it at naptime,” she commented. “You’ve got a feisty, fidgety one there.”

“Wonder where that comes from.” Abbie cast a significant glance at Crane, who raised an eyebrow and went still as a statue.

***

That night they ended up at the cabin. Abbie supposed they’d have to have the conversation soon about who should move in with who, but she decided it could wait for another day. She resolutely silenced the voice of her conscience, which sounded too damn much like Jenny sometimes, telling her they were on the clock and needed to start making choices.

As they climbed into Crane’s narrow double bed, she commented, “I think I’m glad we didn’t know before.”

“About?”

“The source of our powers. Imagine if we’d found out about it the other way around—you’ll have the power you need to defeat your enemies, but only if you get married and/or fuck first. That would’ve been weird.”

His face twisted with that peculiar expression that told her he was thinking of Katrina, but before she could say anything, he shook his head and focused on her, his eyes dilated dark and intent. “And is it weird now?”

She reached for him. “One way to find out.”

It wasn’t weird. Maybe a little tentative at first, for them…but Abbie needed this now. The intimacy, the physical expression of everything she couldn’t bring herself to say. The touch of his ridiculously big and gorgeous hands as she rode him, one digging into her hip, the other caressing her breasts and waist and belly. The harsh, blissed-out look on his face when he came, and the way his arms enfolded her when she collapsed on top of him.

She couldn’t stop. She was in too deep now, and if she let go of him she’d drown.

“Should we marry?” he asked as soon as he caught his breath.

If he’d said something like that after their first night together, she would have run away. Now she only rolled off of him and onto her side, the better to look him in the eye. “Is that what you want?” she asked.

“In some ways it seems redundant,” he said after a thoughtful pause. “Your sister had a point. A wedding ceremony is a mere formality, words in a church, without inherent meaning.”

Abbie would’ve expected a man of his time to be a little more tied to those words and formalities. But when you considered his previous experience of marriage…yeah. Words to him in a church had been nothing but lies before.

“Speaking those vows would not make me any more committed to you, or to our child,” he continued. “Yet you were right, too. Words in a sacred space have power. And is it seemly for God’s Witnesses to merely cohabit?”

Abbie had wondered the same thing, but…she shrugged. “Well, we haven’t been struck by lightning yet.”

He chuckled. “A fair point.” He ran gentle fingers along the side of her face, tracing her cheekbone and jaw line. “What do you want?” he asked.

She didn’t really know. It was somewhere on the long list of things she kept pushing to the back of her mind because it was just too permanent and first she had to get through this pregnancy and somehow prevent Moloch’s return anyway. “If we get married,” she said slowly, “I wouldn’t want it to be just because we’re having a baby or because some prophecy said it was our destiny.”

He brushed the lightest of kisses across her lips. “It wouldn’t be just because of that.”

“I know.” She let out a shuddering breath. “Is it all right if I think about it? We don’t have to decide this instant.”

“Of course,” he said, just as she’d known he would.

She rolled over to curl spooned against him and drew his hand over what was turning into a noticeable baby bump. Time to tell them at work, now that she’d passed twelve weeks—she’d already scheduled a meeting with Reyes for tomorrow.

Crane sighed as he gathered her against him, and Abbie could sense a faint tension beneath his sleepy, sated contentment. “We need to start thinking about names,” she offered by way of expressing her own commitment as best as she could.

“Mm. I like Grace Abigail Junior.”

“I don’t. And I don’t know why you and Jenny are so certain it’s a girl, either.”

“Grace’s journal, of course. It speaks of the daughters the two of you will have to carry on your family’s legacy.”

“That was a hope, not a prophecy. And I don’t think it means we’re incapable of having sons too.”

“It will be a girl,” he said in a tone that brooked no argument.

“We’ll see.” She traced his fingers one by one, remembering a dying mother and a sister who never drew breath. “If you’re right, how about Anna, for your mother?”

“I’d like that very much.” He pressed his lips against the top of her head. “Perhaps Anna Grace, or Grace Anna.”

Abbie yawned. “Anna Grace.”

“Good. That’s settled.”

He shifted and adjusted the blankets, composing himself for sleep. Abbie smiled wryly into the darkness. They still needed to settle whether it would be Anna Grace Mills, Crane, Crane-Mills, or Mills-Crane, and she by no means shared his airtight certainty that it couldn’t possibly be a boy…but they’d settled enough for one night. They still had six months for the rest of the list.

Chapter Text

Crane spent May and June in a dizzy, happy daze, marveling at how quickly his life had been transformed. After so much uncertainty, fear, death, and betrayal, now he had Abbie in his life, in his bed—though it was more accurate to say he was in her bed, since they had decided he should move into her house, keeping the cabin as a base for when Team Witness needed a secluded place for their work. It wasn’t even theirs, after all, as Abbie pointed out, though Joe Corbin was happy to give them its use for the time being.

Sometimes Crane missed awakening each morning to wooded solitude, but he’d been in the twenty-first century long enough that the noise, smells, and bustle of Sleepy Hollow proper hardly perturbed him. And as long as he awakened with Abbie in his arms, nothing else mattered.

What she described as her baby bump seemed to grow by the day. Crane disliked the term, as it was hardly beautiful enough for the graceful, rich swell of her belly, so lovely to his eyes even if Abbie did complain daily about the difficulties of dressing for this stage.

“This website says to try borrowing your partner’s clothes,” she groused one morning over breakfast. “Like that would do me any good.”

They exchanged wry looks. “You are welcome to try my shirts, if you like,” he offered.

“Maybe to sleep in, but it doesn’t solve the problem of what to wear—oh!” Her eyes widened, and her hand dropped to the bump. “Holy shit.”

Crane’s heart raced. “What is it? Is something amiss?”

She shook her head. “No, nothing to worry about. I—I think I just felt it move. So weird…yeah, there it goes again. Like someone playing a drum from the inside.”

He tried to imagine it. “That sounds remarkable.”

“That’s a good word for it. Eventually, you’ll be able to feel it, too.”

He could hardly wait, just as he could hardly wait for November to arrive when at last he would be able to hold their child, their Anna Grace. He often felt as though this baby would be just as much his firstborn as Abbie’s—and then felt a twinge of guilt that he had never managed to feel anything truly paternal toward Henry. Jeremy. He didn’t even know how to name him in the jumbled tumult of memory and emotion he sometimes couldn’t help picking at like a scabbed-over wound.

Better to live in the now, to look forward. This child would be his first daughter—of that he had no doubt, no matter how often Abbie said she didn’t know, and maybe they should talk about boy names, too. Now was wonderful, after all. He was at Abbie’s side, and he knew he was making her happy. He was doing his best to become the kind of man she needed and the kind of father their daughter deserved. And although the prospect of failure on either front terrified him, he was still the happiest he’d ever been.

***

“Looking good so far,” the ultrasound tech said. “There’s the head.”

Crane tightened his grip on Abbie’s hand and nodded. That much he could recognize, though he agreed with Abbie that everything else they’d seen so far had been a gray blob.

She gave him a wry smile. “Kid’s got your forehead. That’s going to be a joy to push out, I bet.”

“That’s why the human skull doesn’t finish fusing together until after it’s born,” the tech said.

Crane and Abbie nodded in unison. He’d remarked upon that fact with the very first book he’d read on pregnancy and childbirth.

The scan continued, and the tech offered an ongoing stream of reassuring comments—normal development, normal heart rate, a normal amount of amniotic fluid. Crane could recognize hands and a spine, and the umbilical cord was quite impossible to miss. For the rest, he took the tech at her word.

Abruptly she spun the screen away from them. “Just to confirm, you do want to know the sex, right?”

“Yes,” Abbie said.

“Of course,” he confirmed, though he already knew.

With a grin, the tech spun the screen back. Crane frowned bewilderment. That particular gray blob looked very like…

“It’s a boy!” the tech announced cheerily.

No. He’d been so sure. His daughter. His second chance in his second life, completely unlike all that had gone before. “It can’t be. You must be mistaken.”

“I’m sure. Sometimes we think it’s a girl and find out differently, if the testes descend a little late…but I’m one hundred percent certain this is a boy. Look there.” She pointed to the screen, and Crane couldn’t deny the evidence of his own eyes no matter how much he wished it.

Still, he shook his head. “No…”

Abbie’s grip on his hand turned fierce, nails digging into the skin. “Crane. Our son. Our healthy, normal, strong, squirmy, beating-hearted son.”

The anger—no, the fury—simmering beneath her words shook him out of his shocked trance, and he became aware of the tech’s stare, baffled and perhaps a little angry, too. How must he look to her, and how embarrassing must this be for Abbie? He took a deep breath and forced a smile. “I do beg your pardon—only, I was so sure it was a girl. I’d had a dream about a daughter, you see, and…I thought I knew.”

It was enough for the tech, who smiled and said something about the relative predictive power of dreams versus science, but he could feel Abbie’s anger so strongly he almost suspected they’d somehow triggered their magical connection without his noticing.

She did not speak to him until they were walking out of the clinic and into the main corridor of the hospital. “Did you really dream it was a girl?”

“No,” he admitted. “I wished to explain my reaction, and it was the first excuse I thought of.”

“Your overreaction, you mean.” She shook her head and strode away so rapidly that even with his longer legs he had to scramble to keep pace. “What is wrong with you?” she asked in a low, fierce voice. “I know you had it in your head all along that this was a girl, but I thought most men—especially most men from your time—would be thrilled to have a son.”

“I am not most men,” he reminded her.

She rolled her eyes.

“Besides, I had a son once. It—didn’t end well.”

He expected enlightenment, pity, perhaps even that she would share his sense of fear and bewilderment. What he got was an exasperated sigh and a muttered, “Oh, for fuck’s sake.”

He fumbled for an explanation. “This time was supposed to be different in every way. A fresh start. My firstborn daughter.”

Now she stopped, spun, and pinned him against a wall. “You’d better be glad I don’t like to make a public scene.”

Though they were coming close to it—Crane saw a pair of nurses cast them concerned looks as they passed. Belatedly he saw how his reaction must appear to Abbie, that once again he had made a shared experience all about himself. “I—” he began.

“This is my firstborn son. Our child.” Her voice, barely above a whisper, came out a snapping hiss. “Which you are suddenly acting like you don’t want.”

Her words pierced like a blade. It wasn’t that, of course it wasn’t that—he had simply had such a strong picture in his mind of their daughter, their Anna Grace. Since Anna also meant grace, from the Hebrew Channah, the name they’d chosen seemed full of blessed portent. Now…the baby, this son, seemed to him a stranger.

“I do want it,” he said slowly. He couldn’t quite wrap his tongue around calling the child him yet. “But, are you truly not…afraid…to be having a son with me, given what Henry was?”

She sighed. “Oh, Crane. Look, we need to sit down and talk this out a bit. That Starbucks near the gift shop usually isn’t too crowded this time of day.”

“We’ll be late to the meeting.”

“Better that than go on time with you in this state. I’ll call Jenny.” And she took him by the elbow and towed him along while her other hand held her phone to her ear. “Hey, Jenny…We’re going to be a little late…No, no, everything’s fine…Well, you’re going to have a nephew instead of a niece, and Crane’s having a bit of a meltdown about it…Yeah, something like that…See you soon.”

When they were seated with their drinks at a quiet table in the corner, she fixed him with a steady look. Though she clearly wasn’t happy with him, he no longer sensed waves of fury rippling from her. “So,” she said, “you and Jenny were the ones so certain this baby was a girl. That was never me. If anything, I kinda had a feeling it was a boy—I did have a dream about it, a few weeks ago.”

“You never said.”

“It didn’t feel like a prophetic dream, not really. Just a dream dream. And I couldn’t swim upstream against all your certainty. I figured we’d find out one way or another today, which we did, and I didn’t realize you’d feel this way about a boy.”

“I’m sorry—”

She held up a hand. “Not yet. You asked if I was afraid to have a son with you. Well, I’m not. At least, not like you’d seem to think. I figure you might have a steeper learning curve as father to a black son than a black daughter, but he’ll have Uncle Frank around for a role model, too. It takes a village, and all that.”

“I had not thought…”

“Of course you hadn’t.” She shook her head. “You’re not thinking about day-to-day reality at all. You’re off in some imaginary world where you think your sons will automatically be evil and your daughters good. What, do you think you’re carrying evil in your Y chromosome? If that was how it worked, you’d be one of the bad guys.”

Why must she so ruthlessly apply logic to his most deeply rooted fears? “When you put it that way…”

“It sounds ridiculous? That’s because it is. Look. The similarities don’t end there. Katrina was a witch. So am I. This child was conceived in Fredericks Manor. Henry was born there. And now you know we’re having a boy. So, you can’t call this completely different in every way—though I think it’s plenty different enough in all the ways that actually matter. Now, what are you going to do with that?”

“I…don’t know.” He rested his hand on the table, just close enough to her that she could reach for it if she was feeling forgiving enough to accept his touch. “But I do see I’m being an ass.”

She didn’t clasp his hand, but ran her fingertips lightly over it, tracing the veins. “At least you’re getting quicker to figure that out. Look. I do understand how a girl would’ve been easier for you. But unless something goes really insane between now and November, this is a son you’ll be here to raise. You’ll sing him to sleep at night, hold his hand when he’s learning to walk, maybe even give him a pony—though we need to get a lot richer for that to happen. This is the first child you’ll know from the beginning and watch grow up, and the first time you’ll really be a father in any way that counts.”

“I’ve been feeling that way already,” he said, “though I felt guilty over it. That I never truly viewed Henry as my son.”

“Well, how could you?” she said reasonably. “You didn’t know about him in 1781, and when you met him here he looked old enough to be your father.”

“He was still of my blood.”

“Yes, and blood does matter. But it’s not the only thing, or even the most important one. And no matter what you felt, you tried to help him until it was obviously too late.”

She thought he’d tried well beyond that point…and she was right. But that was the past, and they must find a way to live forward. He nodded.

“You were Henry’s biological father. For this child, you’ll be his daddy. Or his papa. He’ll be our firstborn. And in the end, he’ll be himself and make his own choices, just like our daughter would’ve done, if that’s what we’d seen on the ultrasound. You’ll need to accept him as he is, and not weigh him down with all your expectations, for good or ill. And love him. Can you do that?”

He bowed his head under the weight of her words. “I was an idiot. And I am sorry.” He clasped her hand, and she squeezed back. “Because I would love any child you bore,” he continued. “How could I not, when I love you so?”

Her eyes widened, and he felt his face heat. He’d never spoken the words aloud, always fearing to push her beyond what she was willing to offer in return, and now he’d gone and blurted them out so thoughtlessly? What other idiocies would he perpetrate before nightfall?

Though she didn’t reply at once, nor did she flinch away. She sat with her eyes downcast for a long moment, then pushed her coffee aside and took his hand between both of her small ones. “I accept your apology.” Her eyes met his. “And I trust you. I know you’ll be a good daddy, and our son will never doubt that you love him.”

“I’ll do my best. I swear it.”

“Good.”

“Shall we get to the meeting?” he asked out of an obscure instinct that they both needed to step back from the fraught intensity of the past half hour.

She smiled in obvious relief. “Wouldn’t want to keep the others waiting any longer than we have to.”

But when they arrived at the archives, only Miss Jenny and Big Ash awaited them. “Where are the Irvings?” Abbie asked as she stepped through the doorway.

“I don’t know, and I’m starting to get worried. None of them are answering my texts or calls.”

“That is weird. But maybe they’re caught in traffic someplace without a good signal.”

Crane certainly hoped so, though such mundane troubles never seemed to be their fate. If they didn’t call or arrive soon, surely a search party would be in order. But in the meantime the sisters had met and were embracing.

“So, a baby boy!” Miss Jenny’s eyes shone as she drew back a little to pat Abbie’s belly. “I sure guessed wrong on that one.”

Abbie grinned. “Turns out you don’t know everything after all.”

“Crane,” Miss Jenny said. “Are you good with this?”

“Now I am,” he said, and realized as he spoke that it was entirely true.

Big Ash stepped forward then to offer him congratulations in the form of a handshake and a shoulder slap, but before any of them could say more the archive door burst open. Captain Irving stood framed in the doorway, his eyes gone wild and every nerve and sinew stretched taut with rage. Crane shifted instinctively into a defensive posture and saw that his companions were doing the same.

But Irving pointed straight at him. “You! I knew I never should’ve listened to you.”

They had had any number of conversations on any number of serious subjects in the past few months. “About what, sir?” he asked.

Miss Jenny stepped forward. “Frank, what’s wrong?”

He strode into the room, slamming the door behind him. “Macey’s gone. Run off to join the Thirteen.”

Chapter Text

Just last week, Reyes had chained Abbie to a desk—her pregnancy showed enough now that no amount of careful clothing selection could hide it any longer. And that put her and her fellow officers at risk, since a criminal might see her as weak, slow-moving, and vulnerable, and her fellow cops might instinctively think of protecting her instead of their duty to the law and the community as a whole.

So until the baby was born, her work life would be all about paperwork and the kind of investigation that could be done from the safety of the precinct. She hated it, but she understood. She was putting herself and therefore the baby at great enough risk as a Witness without throwing in the ordinary dangers of police work.

But she knew Frank Irving, no matter how furious he was with Crane just then, wasn’t going to force his way past a pregnant woman to attack him. Might as well use it to all their advantage. So she threw herself between the two men, deliberately thrusting her belly out to make it look as big as she could. Crane tried to step in front of her, but she held him back with a firm arm as Irving just looked down at her, rage warring with heartbreak on his face.

“Frank,” she said, and dared to lay a hand on his arm. “We’ll all help to get her back, but we can’t waste time fighting among ourselves.”

He shook under her hand. “If I’d had the sense to go with my gut instead of listening to him and her.” His sweeping gaze included Jenny in his anger, and Big Ash stepped closer to her, tall and looming.

Not good. “After we find her,” Abbie said. “You hear me? We’ve got to work together. You need all of us. All.”

He let out a shuddering breath and stepped back. “All right. All right.”

Abbie stepped to the side, forming the group into a half-circle instead of a human wall confronting Irving. She slid her hand into Crane’s, reached for their magical connection, and thought Let me and Big Ash do the talking for now.

His brow furrowed, and she doubted he’d actually heard her thought, since their connection seemed more one of images and impressions than true mind-reading. But then he nodded and stepped back a little, so she thought he’d caught the gist of it, at least. She tried to send the same message to Jenny through an old-fashioned sisterly Look.

“How long has she been gone?” Big Ash asked.

Irving looked relieved to be dealing with the only one of them who’d had nothing at all to do with Macey joining the team. “Two hours, maybe. She was with some friends at the mall, and she texted them that she’d run into her mother and didn’t need a ride home. When we went to pick her up and she wasn’t there…once they told us what happened we hurried straight home and found the note.”

“What did it say?” Abbie said gently.

He fumbled in his pocket with shaking hands and held out a folded sheet of lined notebook paper. “Here.”

She unfolded it and read aloud.

Dear Mom and Dad,

I know you will never understand, but you and the others are completely wrong about the Children of Atlantis. I’ve seen their histories, and I know the world really WAS a better place when they ruled it. This is my best chance ever to make a difference. I’ll be on the Council of Thirteen. I’ll have the power to actually fix what’s wrong with the world instead of just marching in protests and boycotting things. You’ll see, once Atlantis rises. They need me. I am the Thirteenth. I have to join them now. And when you see me again, I’ll be walking.

Love,
Macey

Oh, Macey. Surely she knew better—but it was in the nature of teenagers to rebel against everything their families stood for. If only she, Crane, and Jenny had thought a little harder that sunny March day just a few months ago, the girl would be safe with her aunt and uncle, far away from apocalyptic battles and demonic resurrections.

All five of them stood in silence at first. Jenny reached toward Irving, but flinched away from his warning look. Crane frowned, unsaid words clearly dancing on the tip of his tongue, and Abbie widened her eyes at him.

“What have you done so far?” she asked. “And where’s Cynthia?”

“She stayed home in case Macey comes back or tries to call our landline. And she’s digging around on Macey’s laptop, trying to see if there are any clues there. We haven’t reported her missing yet—I didn’t want to bring the police into this.” He nodded at Abbie with a faint hint of his normal dry irony. “Present company excepted, of course.”

“Then the best thing for us would be to split up and search,” Big Ash said. “You’ll be with me, I think.”

Irving nodded curtly. “Yeah. This is less your fault than anyone else’s here.” He shook his head and passed his hand over his eyes. “Including mine.”

They couldn’t let themselves stop to wallow. “If you two take the known sites of supernatural activity north of town, Crane and I will go south,” she offered.

“What about me?” Jenny asked.

“Stay here and work your magic, both literal and otherwise. Try some of your seeking spells, and see if you can find anything on the neighborhood blogs and networks that sound like the Thirteen in action.”

A fluttering sounded at the open window on the south side of the room, and all of them spun to spot a large crow flying through the opening. The bird circled around their heads before settling on Crane’s shoulder with a satisfied squawk. He jumped and tried to shoo it away, but it dug in its claws and stayed put.

“Look at its leg,” Jenny said. “There’s something there.” And now that Crane and the bird were both still, Abbie could see what looked like a slip of paper, folded many times and taped in place.

Crane held out his left arm like a falconer, and the bird hopped down to this new perch. He carefully undid the tape and removed the paper, at which point the bird let out what Abbie swore was a contemptuous caw and flew away.

He frowned after it. “Katrina’s bird,” he muttered.

Abbie had no idea if it was the exact same bird, but if witches of her bloodline had an affinity for birds… “Maybe Macey’s bird now.”

He unfolded the square of paper, but it was blank. “Invisible ink?” Irving said hopefully.

“It smells like lemon juice,” Abbie said. When the others turned to blink at her, she added, “Bionic nose of pregnancy.”

“She did that for a science project in elementary school,” Irving said.

“Simple and effective,” Crane added. “We must hold it over a candle.”

Irving was already reaching for the little lamp on the table behind him. “Or a light bulb works just as well.”

Crane handed him the note, and they all watched, hardly breathing, as he removed the lampshade and held the letter just above the lit bulb until faint, brown writing appeared.

“That’s her handwriting,” Irving said. “Oh, Macey…” He shook his head, and tears stood in his eyes. Wordlessly he passed it to Abbie, who happened to be the nearest person.

She read aloud again for the benefit of the group.

Hey, Crane—this bird insists she knows you. Here’s hoping she’s right.

Huh. Apparently it was the same crow.

Mom, Dad, I hope you could tell the other note wasn’t true. They insisted on reading what I wrote. I’m still on your side. I just realized spying the way you wanted me to wasn’t doing any good. They know I’m your daughter. They know you hang with the Witnesses. So the only way they’ll ever trust me is if I run away with them. Don’t try to write back. Too dangerous. But when I find out what you need to do to stop the Thirteen, I’ll send word. Love you always, Macey.

Abbie didn’t know what to think. At least they hadn’t misjudged Macey, and she was too smart and strong to be taken in by the Children of Atlantis’s promises. But she was playing a dangerous game. If the others of the coven found out what she was up to…

“I still shouldn’t have ever listened to you,” Irving said, though now he sounded sober and thoughtful instead of furious.

“I wish I’d never encouraged it,” Crane said, and Jenny nodded.

“We keep looking” Irving said firmly. “If they find out she’s spying on them, they’ll kill her.”

And they broke up to search according to their original plan, but they couldn’t find even a hint of a clue that evening. Eventually, after the long summer twilight had faded to complete darkness, Abbie and Crane staggered home, her drooping with exhaustion and both of them at the end of their magical strength. He led her to the couch and settled her with her feet propped up on a cushion. While she yawned and rubbed at her aching back, he drank a dose of the restorative tonic currently forbidden to her, and made her a peanut butter sandwich and a cup of mint tea.

Despite her weariness and her fear for Macey’s safety, she couldn’t help but smile a little. He took care of her, her eighteenth century man.

He perched on the floor at her side with a weary sigh. “You’re well?”

She threaded her fingers into his hair. “Worn out and worried sick, but other than that, I’ll manage. You?”

“The same.” He rested a hand on her belly. “And…him?”

“Alive and kicking. And kicking and kicking.” Sometimes she swore the baby was destined to be a tap dancer, or maybe a martial arts champion.

He leaned his head closer to her stomach. “Son,” he said solemnly, “you must allow your mother to rest.”

That pulled a ragged laugh from her throat. Her absurd, brilliant Crane who tried so hard to be good—a good man, a good father—so determined to show her he’d made peace with having a boy—and maybe convince himself in the process. “I don’t mind the kicking. It tells me he’s OK.”

“Be good to your mother, then. And do not ever run away from home, even if you think it for our own good.”

“Oh God,” she said. “Poor Frank and Cynthia.” At least as long as she was pregnant, her child couldn’t cause its own trouble.

“I know,” Crane muttered. “But you must rest and eat and keep your strength up. You cannot help them if you collapse.”

“And neither can you.”

***

The whole team searched for Macey continually for the rest of the summer, but without success. The Irvings pretended they had sent her to Atlanta after all, since they could think of no way to involve the authorities that wouldn’t just make everything worse.

They had occasional leads—one afternoon Jenny and Big Ash came upon what had obviously been the Thirteen’s lair until recently, in an abandoned, foreclosed McMansion in the woods on the outskirts of town. Macey had left behind a sock somehow enchanted so that when Jenny held it she could sense the girl’s current state—awake, asleep, hungry, afraid, sometimes even happy—but when they tried to use it to track her location, they kept running into a sort of interference Jenny described as mystical static.

The crow appeared twice more, once to confirm that they had been right about the date, and that the rites to bring Moloch back to life and raise Atlantis from the depths would be on Halloween night, and a second time to say that they must take place at a cave they called Earth’s Womb, though Macey didn’t know what its regular name was. They began diligently compiling a list of nearby caverns, annotated with Big Ash’s knowledge of Mohawk lore and Crane’s memory of how names had changed since the eighteenth century. But Irving had frowned at the list and commented that they had no way of knowing if Macey was still anywhere near Sleepy Hollow. If the Thirteen’s goal was truly to raise Atlantis from the sea, wouldn’t it make more sense for the cave to be somewhere along the ocean, maybe even far away in the Mediterranean or near the Straits of Gibraltar, where the legends claimed it to be?

And so the list grew even longer. The world was full of caves, after all. Gibraltar alone was studded with them. And meanwhile Halloween and Abbie’s mid-November due date kept getting closer and closer with no resolution in sight for how to keep Moloch from rising or how they were supposed to protect the baby once he was born.

One September afternoon Jenny drew her away from a research marathon at the archives where Crane was cataloging the Greek etymologies of a host of Mediterranean caves and Big Ash was texting a Passamaquoddy acquaintance for more information about caverns along the Maine coast.

“This is crazy,” Jenny said as soon as they were ensconced at a corner table in the Starbucks across the street. “We’re going about this the wrong way.”

“I know,” Abbie agreed, shifting to find a more comfortable position. “The longer the list gets, the less idea we have of where to go.”

“They’re somewhere close, I know it. When we went down to the city last weekend, I could feel the pull from that damn sock weaken. Which means she’s got to be near here. If she was in Spain or Greece, it wouldn’t matter.”

“Have you tried talking to Frank?”

“He wouldn’t listen. He’s so sure we would’ve found her if she was anywhere close. He and Cynthia are so convinced it’s somewhere in Gibraltar that they’re pricing tickets to fly over. And I don’t know. Maybe he’s right. They’re her parents. I just have her sock.”

The sock which Jenny took with her everywhere, slept with when she slept at all. Abbie knew she was afraid she’d miss some sign of distress, and they wouldn’t get there till it was too late. “You look exhausted,” she said, frowning at her sister’s unwontedly pale and sallow face, the great dark circles threatening to swallow her eyes.

“I look exhausted? What about you, Mama?”

“I bet I’m sleeping more than you are. I’m just exhausted from people asking me when I’m due and being all shocked when it’s over two months away, and touching me without asking. And I know I’m becoming a danger to us all, which I hate.”

Jenny considered her, head turned to one side. “I don’t know about that…your powers are still growing, right?”

She nodded. “Crane and I have been practicing. If we met the Thirteen under the same kind of circumstances as back in April, we could drive them off, no problem. And we’ve been studying up on the theory of demon-binding spells we can work together—it’s just that we’re not stupid enough to summon a demon just to prove that we can bind it, so it’s all theory for now. But I can’t outrun anything.”

Jenny scoffed at this. “Like you could’ve outrun a demon before. Like Crane or Ash or I could do it now.”

“You’d have a better chance than me.”

“No, because we wouldn’t leave you behind.”

“See, I told you so. I’m a danger to us all.” She took a morose sip of decaf latte.

“And I still say you aren’t. I can’t help thinking this pregnancy is enhancing your powers, somehow. Something about the pattern of your magical energy.”

“Really?” Abbie shook her head. “Well, I don’t plan on popping out a kid a year like Michelle Duggar just to keep my magical mojo up. If we survive the Tribulation” –and please God, let them survive so this kid wouldn’t have to be an orphan— “maybe one more. See if we can get Crane and Grace Dixon’s ghost their baby girl. That’s enough.”

“I don’t blame you.”

“And we know the power is at least in part because Crane and I are having sex. Not planning to stop that, at least not any longer than we medically have to.”

“And yet you didn’t listen to your smart sister for ages when she was telling you to jump his bones.”

Abbie gave this the eye roll it deserved. “Anyway, you’re right the boys and Cynthia are going about this all wrong with their cave obsession. I think we focus on trying to break whatever interference is keeping you from being able to trace Macey, and on getting ready to fight the Thirteen and kill Moloch again if we have to.”

“And if the guys won’t listen, we do it ourselves.”

***

That night she talked to Crane about it, and he agreed at least to spend less time researching caves and more on their magic. After dinner they practiced a new binding spell designed to seal any mystical portal—which, like their demon-binding spells, certainly worked in terms of producing an impressive and focused swirl of energy, but couldn’t be tested fully without a handy supernatural portal in need of sealing.

He then showed her his day’s work on the spare bedroom turned nursery, which he’d been busy painting when he needed a rest from strategizing the battle to come. Abbie had firmly vetoed anything overly patriotic, though she’d allowed blue walls with a moon-and-stars pattern that suggested the night sky with just the faintest touch of star-spangled banner to it.

It was strange, this veering between preparing for the next round of battling the apocalypse and preparing for a baby, just like any of the other couples they saw in the maternity clinic waiting room or at the labor and infant first aid classes they’d just started taking. Research a spell to bind or slay one of the mightiest of demons, then open another browser tab to comparison shop for the best stroller or crib for their tiny baby to come.

She remarked upon it to Crane even as she admired the sweep of stars in the corner where they planned to put the crib.

“It is odd,” he agreed, gathering her against him and pressing his lips to her hair. “But it is also my greatest consolation each day. We’ve always fought to save the future, but it is no longer an abstraction to me. I’m fighting for you, and for Benjamin. For this home and this room and our lives together.”

“Me too.” She leaned back into his embrace and rested her hands over his, guiding him to feel the baby kick. They’d settled on the name—Benjamin August Mills-Crane—a few weeks ago. Unlike with a girl, neither of them had male relatives or ancestors they wanted to honor, but Crane hadn’t been able to quite wrap his eighteenth century brain around just picking a name whose sound or meaning they liked. August for Sheriff Corbin was an easy choice, but they’d gone through several rounds of debate over the relative merits of the Founding Fathers before agreeing that even if Crane had sometimes found Franklin baffling and exasperating, he’d been an significant and admirable figure nonetheless, and—critically—was the only one Abbie herself had met.

“But the original Benjamin was the death of his mother,” Crane had said when Abbie had first pronounced the whole name.

“What?”

“Rachel, in the Book of Genesis.”

“Don’t get superstitious on me, Crane. How many Benjamins have been born in the past three or four thousand years since then? And remember, modern medicine. I’m healthy, the baby is healthy, and we’ll have all the technology in the world to help us if anything goes wrong.”

“Very well. Benjamin August he shall be.” And from that day on he’d referred to the baby by name every chance he got.

Chapter Text

On the first day of October, Crane awoke before Abbie, who snored lightly as she lay on her side, curled against him. He held himself still and quiet, unwilling to disturb her hard-won slumber—for sleep, as he understood it, was difficult to come by with a steadily growing child compressing one’s internal organs, and not the least one’s bladder.

She still had six weeks to go until her due date, a fact that seemed to amaze everyone who asked. The midwives at the clinic kept assuring them—well, assuring him, really, since Abbie seemed much less fearful and perturbed than he was—that she was measuring just right for her dates, that there was no reason to think the baby was going to be larger than normal or especially difficult for her to bear, and that this was just how petite women normally looked in their third trimesters. Yet he felt obscurely guilty at having weighed her down with so enormous and uncomfortable a burden.

When he’d confessed as much to her, she’d just gently laughed at him. “Do you really think I’m going to be like some woman in a sitcom or a reality show, screaming You did this to me! in the delivery room?”

“Well…I did do it to you. More or less.”

She’d quirked an eyebrow. “No. We did this to me, and we decided to see it through. Plus, it’d be kinda silly for me to blame you, personally, for the general realities of human anatomy as it relates to pregnancy and childbirth. Depending on how you look at it, that’s either the curse from Genesis or the tradeoffs of natural selection. Either way, we’re stuck with it.”

“Have I mentioned how much I cherish your practical nature?”

“Someone needs to have one around here.”

And she’d been right, of course. But he still wished he could do something to lighten the load she bore.

Now she awoke and reached for him. “Morning, you.”

“Good morning.” He greeted her with a leisurely kiss.

“I don’t have to work today,” she commented, dancing her fingertips across his chest.

“Neither do I,” he remarked dryly. Irving’s paranormal detective agency had gone dormant after Macey’s disappearance, though Crane was managing to pick up the occasional freelance job either assisting Miss Jenny with tracking down artifacts or conducting genealogical research of the sort he’d first done for that woman with the voodoo priestess for an ancestor.

“Good.” Abbie kissed him with greater urgency.

Of necessity they’d been forced to abandon any athletic or acrobatic positions in their bedsport for now. This morning they came together in what had become their new favorite, with him curled spoon-fashion behind her, murmuring blandishments into her ear as their bodies rippled and writhed together. Sweet Abbie, beautiful Abbie. So good, Lieutenant. My treasure.

There was one sentence he hadn’t spoken in those moments, or indeed since he’d blurted it out that one afternoon in the hospital—I love you. He didn’t want to burden her with those words until she was ready to speak them in return. She knew how he felt. And when she rolled over to smile at him with such trust and affection and tenderness…perhaps he didn’t need words to know how she felt, either.

While she was taking one of the long hot showers that had become especially comforting to her of late, Crane prepared breakfast. Over an omelet and toast they checked their email and discussed their research plans for the day—he’d traced down an obscure text purporting to detail Atlantean rites, while she was determined to find better sources for aconite and false unicorn. “If life settles down after the baby comes and we get Macey back, I’m going to start growing as much of this stuff as I can myself, like a proper hedge witch,” she remarked with a wry smile.

He was about to remark upon how gardening had been considered a ladylike accomplishment in his day, but her phone buzzed, and she blinked at the screen. “Jenny’s on her way over,” she said. “Says she’s got someone with her we should meet.”

“That’s rather vague of her.”

“Sure is.” She tapped her reply and waited for a moment. “She just says, you’ll see. Geez, sis, cryptic much?” She pushed back from the table and stood. “Guess we’d better clean this place up a bit.”

“I’ll see to the dishes,” he said, choosing what appeared to him the most strenuous of the needed tasks.

He loaded the dishwasher, tidied the kitchen, and set a fresh pot of coffee to brewing while Abbie restored order to the scatter of papers, books, and laptops cluttering the living room after the previous evening’s study session. Just as they finished, the doorbell rang, and Abbie, being closer, answered it.

Crane paused by the granite-topped island separating the kitchen from the living area. Where had he seen someone like Miss Jenny’s companion before? So remarkably tall for a woman, taller than he was himself, with blue-black hair rippling in glossy waves down to her waist, milk-white skin, chiseled features of unearthly symmetry and beauty…

As he searched his memory, Abbie stared up at her as if in a daze. The woman smiled down at her, distant but kindly, and laid a long-fingered, be-ringed hand on her belly. Ordinarily such touches from strangers—really, from anyone other than himself, their midwife, and occasionally Miss Jenny—were wholly unwelcome and met with a cold stare and a flinch. But now Abbie’s face showed only curiosity and wonder, and why couldn’t Crane think what this woman was? He should know, of that he was certain.

“A son of the Witnesses,” the woman said in a rich, melodious alto that perfectly suited her beauty—and that held a faint hint of a Scottish accent. “Brought into being at least four years before any such union was foretold. Remarkable. I am not seeing a destiny for him—”

That broke Abbie’s trance. “No destiny—is he going to die, then?”

The woman blinked. “Someday. All men die. But your son has as good a chance at a long life, as humans reckon such things, as the next child. I only meant that your wee lad has no specific fate laid out before him. His destiny is his own, to make of himself what he wills.”

She lifted her hand from Abbie’s belly and pushed a long lock of hair behind her ear—her pointed ear. Crane found his feet, and his voice, crossing to the doorway in three long strides. “Fae!” He rested a protective hand on Abbie’s shoulder and pointed an accusing finger at the faerie-woman, who regarded him with cool contempt. He frowned at Miss Jenny. “Why have you brought one of her kind to our home?”

She crossed her arms and gave him a tight, sardonic smile. “Morning, Crane. Nice to see you, too. This is Coira. She wanted to meet the Witnesses.”

Doubtless for no good purpose, and whyever did Miss Jenny know a faerie?

“Your lady mother would blush to see you greet her oldest friend so rudely, Ichabod Crane,” the faerie-woman said.

“You are accusing my mother of dealings with the faerie court?”

“You knew Crane’s mother?” Abbie asked. “How long do your people live?”

“Our lifetimes exceed yours by at least a factor of ten, my dear,” she said kindly. Then she met Crane’s eyes, and her voice took on a wintry chill. “And as for your question, yes, your mother did have dealings with our kind…as did her mother, her grandmother, her great-grandmother, and so on stretching back for nigh unto a thousand years. I see now we should have taken more notice of her sons, but given the history of our association we were so certain we were guarding the female Witness’s line.”

“Impossible,” he spat. The very idea that his mother, his impeccable, scholarly, aristocratic mother, could have dealt with beings so perilous and inhuman…

Abbie reached up to clasp his hand. “Crane. You’ve been wondering about your family and why you were chosen as a Witness for as long as I’ve known you. I think we should invite her in and hear what she has to say.”

She didn’t understand, but how could she? To her a fairy was a harmless being from a children’s story, not a dark trickster ready to steal or seduce away mortal souls.

“You really should,” Miss Jenny added. “Her king owes me a favor—and it turns out her queen swore an oath to your great-great-whatever-grandmother. I think I’ve solved your little problem about finding a babysitter for when the apocalypse comes calling.”

“If you think I’ll allow my son to be claimed as a faerie changeling—”

Coira’s pale eyes flashed. “Be thankful that I am still bound by the vows my queen made to Janet of Carterhaugh, for you try my patience sorely. You’ll never find a better protection for your bairn than that which I and my people can offer. We will not claim him as a changeling—but would not such a fate be far preferable to seeing him claimed by a demon?”

From all he’d been taught it was much the same thing, but…the Ballad of Tam Lin? Was it true, and part of his own heritage? Curiosity began to contend against his visceral distrust.

“We’ll hear you out,” Abbie said. Her grip tightened on his hand. “Won’t we?”

“Janet of Carterhaugh…” he said slowly.

Coira inclined her head, thawing slightly. “Your ancestress.”

“I…believe we should all sit down,” he said.

“Finally,” Miss Jenny muttered.

When they were settled in the living room, Coira began her tale. “You are familiar with the tale of Tam Lin, I suppose?”

“Of course,” he said, while the sisters exchanged shrugs.

“A little bit,” Abbie said. “The name sounds familiar.”

The faerie looked momentarily affronted, but then she smiled at them. Whatever her history with his family, clearly she found the Mills sisters more to her liking than he was. “Of course, it isn’t your story,” she said. “Why should you know it? And the ballad is more wrong than right, in any case. Janet was indeed pregnant with Tam Lin’s child, but that was before he’d met our queen. They were bound already by handfasting, and were to marry in the kirk the next month. Yet when he saw the queen, and she him, their love exceeded any mortal promise. Janet fought to reclaim him and hold him to the vows he’d spoken to her, but he would not come away with her, no matter how she clung and pleaded with him. When she saw that he would not hear her, her grief turned to anger, and she asked the queen what was to become of her, with child as she was and deserted by the babe’s father?”

Crane edged closer to Abbie in unspoken promise. Never would he desert her. She took his hand with a squeeze that said I know as clearly as if she’d spoken aloud.

“And for all her high majesty, the queen could not but see the justice of young Janet’s complaint,” Coira continued. “It would not sway her from her purpose, for she loved Tam Lin as deeply as any of our kind ever loved a mortal man, but she did vow her protection to Janet’s daughter and her daughter’s daughter for as long as her lineage endured. And she vowed as well that no descendant of Janet’s would ever be claimed as changeling or lover by any member of the faerie court.”

“But Crane’s mother didn’t have any daughters—at least not that survived,” Abbie said.

“Aye, and we wept when she died bearing her daughter that should have been, for over the human generations true friendship grew between us, and we had long thought there was a great destiny in store for the lineage. With the chain of daughters broken, we thought ourselves mistaken, but now that we see that one of Anna Buchan’s sons is the Witness, all becomes clear.” Now her gaze at Crane approached the kindness she’d shown to Abbie. “Your mother did think you were a child of extraordinary promise. I suppose I should have listened, though the one time I saw you seemed so cross and sniveling—”

“The picnic,” he breathed. He’d been five or six years old, and they had been visiting his mother’s family in Scotland for the summer when she’d taken him, but not his brothers, to meet old friends of hers. A tall, ebon-haired woman had brought him fruit and tarts the like of which he’d never tasted, and regarded him with distant, critical curiosity as he’d gorged himself upon them. Good God. He’d eaten of faeries’ food and never known it. No wonder this Coira looked so familiar. He had seen her before, but with a child’s eyes, and a sick child’s eyes, at that. “Of course I was cross and sniveling that day. I had been inoculated against the smallpox a few days before, and I was beginning to feel the effects.”

“So your mother said.” She raised an elegant eyebrow. “And I do see that your intellect and appearance are much improved since that day, though I cannot say the same for your manners.”

He stiffened, ready to protest, then out of the corner of his eye caught Abbie and Miss Jenny exchanging smiles. He subsided. “I beg your pardon—” How did one properly address a lady of the faerie court? “—madam. It seems that much of what I have always been told of your people is less than reliable.” Yet why hadn’t his mother told him more? He would have believed her—or would he? And if she had been convinced that only her daughter could be marked by her lineage’s strange history…

Coira shrugged. “We prefer it so, for the most part, for we would rather not be much involved in the affairs of mortal men. But we do make exceptions, and for the sake of our vow to Janet of Carterhaugh, and for the mission of the Witnesses, we will undertake to protect your son from all the forces of the apocalypse.”

“I have a question,” Abbie said.

“Speak it.”

“What do faeries care about the Witnesses or the apocalypse? This isn’t your world.”

“No, but our worlds are linked. Should your world fall to the forces of Moloch, our lands will lose much of their beauty and glory.”

Abbie nodded, but then frowned. “I don’t suppose…did Jenny tell you about the Children of Atlantis, and the Thirteen? They aren’t mortal either, at least not completely so…”

“You are wondering if they carry the blood of the Fae.” Coira smiled, but shook her head. “They do not. For though your kind and ours can mate—” Was it Crane’s imagination, or did she exchange a secret smile with Miss Jenny? “—those pairings do not bear fruit, as those of the lesser gods and angels who lie with the daughters of men are wont to do.”

Hm. So Benjamin Franklin and Grace Dixon had been right in their speculations about the origins of the not-quite-mortal witches.

“Which is not to say that associations between faerie and human leave no mark,” Coira continued, inclining her head toward Crane.

“What do you mean?” he asked.

“Had you not been born into Janet’s lineage, and had you never tasted faerie food, do you truly think you would have survived two centuries and more in suspended animation to awaken in one living and functioning piece, your mortal wounds healed?”

“Katrina’s magic…” he said slowly.

“…practiced on a man without your particular heritage would have at best left something like a zombie, shuffling off to blindly and fruitlessly contend against the Horseman of Death. And why do you think you have any power of your own for your partner to draw upon for her Yoruba magic?”

Now both Abbie and Miss Jenny sat up straighter. “We’re Yoruba…”Abbie breathed. But then she frowned and shook her head. “Is everything about us predestined?”

Ah, yes. Abbie’s great fear. But Coira only smiled. “Would you prefer the zombie?”

Abbie tightened her grip on Crane’s hand, smoothed her free hand over her belly, and shook her head.

“I didn’t think so. You seem very pleased with the faerie-touched version. Also—of course you are not wholly bound by fate. The two of you have come together in a different manner and at a different time than any of the prophecies foretold, and did I not tell you your child’s destiny will be his own to make?”

“I’d…wondered if we’d gone off script,” Abbie said.

“You have. But you speak as if that troubles you, when not a minute ago you were complaining of predestination. You humans can be maddeningly inconsistent.”

Abbie huffed out an exasperated breath. Crane quite shared her sentiment. “I…I guess I was afraid we’d fail,” she said, “because we’re doing it wrong, or the baby would make us too weak. Too vulnerable.”

“Or perhaps you have strengthened your powers and given yourselves new weapons for the battles to come. Perhaps you have made your fate better.”

“Told you,” Miss Jenny muttered. “Improv.”

That drew a smile from Abbie’s lips. “Hm. Improv.”

“Indeed,” Coira said. “Choice and fate are ever in tension. The two of you were fated to be the Witnesses. How you fulfill your fates—and how you live out your lives if you prove victorious—is yours to choose.”

“Oh. I see.” She shifted, stretching her legs—Abbie rarely remained still for long now—but when she settled, she was leaning against his shoulder, thoughtful yet at peace.

Coira went on to detail exactly what she meant by her promise to protect Benjamin. She would give them a token so enspelled that she would know when she was needed, at which point by her magic she could appear at the child’s side at once. “But I am not a common babysitter,” she stressed. “I will only come to him when your duties as Witnesses call you from his side, or if he is in peril from the forces of hell. All else—day care while you work, someone to watch him if you wish to go out to dinner, and merely mortal hazards—are your own responsibility.”

“I would never imagine otherwise,” Crane said, seconded by an earnest nod from Abbie.

“Good.” Coira twisted one of the rings off her finger and passed it to Crane. “That will serve for a token. It was our gift to your mother. You may even remember it.”

He held it cupped in the palm of his hand, and Abbie leaned closer to examine it. “That’s beautiful,” she murmured.

“I remember it well,” he said. A delicate, exquisite circle of endless knots worked in gold, punctuated at regular intervals with tiny, perfect sapphires. His mother had worn it every day, though the rest of her jewelry had varied with the formality of the occasion and the hue of her gown.

“One of you must wear the ring at all times,” Coira said. “You’ll find it adjusts to the finger it is placed upon. You might wear it as a wedding ring,” she added with a nod to Abbie.

“But we’re not married,” she said.

“I know, but you should be.”

Crane slid the ring onto his smallest finger for safekeeping and sat up straighter. He would gladly marry Abbie if she wished it—but this faerie had no right to command them in this, no matter how many of his grandmothers she had known. “I had not thought the fae overly concerned with such human traditions,” he said.

She shrugged. “And so we are not. But we are concerned with binding rituals that would strengthen your magic for the battles you must face. If you marry each other with rings of sufficient power, so much the better.”

Now Abbie frowned. “It’s not like I have a family ring with centuries of history behind it.”

“No,” Coira said soberly. “But you have a family with centuries of history behind it, and the magic to match. If you choose a ring that speaks to you, you can imbue it with power.”

After the faerie gave them a few further instructions and reminders, she and Miss Jenny left. Crane watched them cross the lawn to where Miss Jenny’s car was parked. Coira bent to whisper something in her ear, and Miss Jenny laughed and tossed her head.

“I may be imagining things…” he began.

Abbie shook her head. “Nah. I totally see it, too. There’s a thing there.”

No matter what the people of the twenty-first century liked to think, they had not invented any new patterns or preferences for coupling. He had encountered men and women in his native time who were happy to take their pleasures with either sex, and it did not surprise him to learn that Miss Jenny was one such. But she had seemed so committed to the partner she already had. “But…Big Ash,” he said.

Abbie leaned forward and stretched out a hand, and he took it to help her rise from the couch. “He’s who she’s going to settle down with, maybe have a baby or two of her own with in a few years,” she said. “But she’s not going to say no to an adventure like this—and I don’t think he’d mind, as long as it’s just a quick fling. She probably told him about it, or plans to.”

“I would mind.” His words came out half-growl, and Crane worried that he’d overstepped, that Abbie would think him too possessive. But it was the truth. He wanted to keep himself for her, and her for himself.

But she only squeezed his arm and looked up at him with laughing eyes. “Good. So would I. No faerie women for you.” She crossed to the kitchen, poured herself a glass of orange juice, and perched carefully on one of the stools by the island. “None of that was what I expected from this morning.”

He poured a cup of coffee, added sugar, and sat opposite her. “So…about what she said…”

She laughed. “Which part of it?”

Did she truly need to ask? “Though it make take me some time to become accustomed to the knowledge that I am a descendant of Tam Lin and Janet of Carterhaugh, the stuff of legend—”

“Mm. Just don’t let it go to your head. You’ve got enough to be arrogant about already, Mr. Friend of Every Single Founding Father.”

He lifted a hand to protest this mockery—then recognized the truth in her portrait of him and lowered his hand to clasp the handle of his coffee mug. “I shall endeavor to cultivate a spirit of humility.”

She almost choked on her orange juice. “Good luck with that. I shall endeavor to never buy another leather jacket, and I may suggest that Jenny endeavor to stop being sarcastic.”

“We all have our crosses to bear,” he said with mock solemnity, and that set them both to laughing. When they were soberly sipping their morning beverages again, he watched Abbie’s face carefully and said, “In any case, I was speaking of her recommendation that we marry.”

“Yeah, I thought so.” She sat silently for a few moments, looking around the room and then at him. At last she nodded. “We might as well be married already. We’ve got the house, the kid on the way…it’d just be the icing on the cake.” She took his hand. “Will you marry me, Ichabod Crane?”

He blinked. This wasn’t how he’d envisioned this conversation at all. She’d proposed to him, and managed to make it sound as routine as a stop at Starbucks or their favorite bakery. “Icing on the cake?”

“Yeah. Just capping the commitment that’s already there.” Her brows drew together. “But good icing, you know. The special kind with actual flavor that makes the cake better, not that weird oily stuff with all the food coloring you get on cupcakes at the grocery store.” She rubbed her eyes, and he only then noticed that they shone with unshed tears. “God, I’m babbling. I’m sorry. I’m not good at this. It’s just—yes. I want you in my life to stay. I want to marry you.”

He drew her hand to his lips, then turned it over to press a kiss into her palm. “I am honored.”

He was in love. But even now he let that remain unspoken.

***

Abbie took one final look at herself in the mirror in the Sunday School classroom that doubled as a bridal dressing room. She straightened the wreath of white rosebuds Jenny had insisted she wear in her hair and blinked at herself in amazement.

It was a good thing she’d never been the kind of girl who daydreamed of the perfect wedding, with a long white dress, a dozen bridesmaids, and a couple hundred guests to celebrate. Because here she was, eight months pregnant, getting married on a Thursday morning with only Jenny and Big Ash to witness it.

The Irvings had sent their regrets. Still convinced that Macey and the rest of the Thirteen had gone to Europe to raise Atlantis from Gibraltar, they were flying to Madrid tomorrow to search for her there. And really, Abbie couldn’t blame them for not wanting to attend a wedding while they were so afraid for their daughter. She paused to pray to God or whatever other good power might be listening to keep the girl safe, and that they’d find her in time.

“Not getting cold feet, are you?” Jenny said.

“Not at all.” And to her surprise, it was true. “Just thinking about Macey.”

“She’s still safe at the moment, I promise. Believe me, I’ll be the first to stop the wedding and rush to the rescue if that changes.”

“I know you will.”

“Then come on. You don’t want to keep the groom waiting. You look like a goddess, by the way. His jaw is going to hit the floor.”

Abbie snorted. “Maybe a fertility goddess.” They’d managed to find a pretty dress, at least, after hitting every department store maternity section or mommy boutique within a twenty-mile radius. She’d been starting to worry that she’d have to get married in the jeans with the stretch panel she fully intended to burn once the baby arrived, topped by one of the novelty t-shirts Jenny had been buying her since she started to show. (The latest featured the TARDIS and was captioned It’s bigger on the inside.)

But instead she wore a floaty knee-length dress in a jewel-toned blue that exactly matched the sapphires in Crane’s mother’s faerie ring. And maybe a fertility goddess wasn’t such a bad thing to be.

The funny thing, she reflected as they walked toward the sanctuary, was that in Crane’s eyes they were having a traditional wedding. They were marrying in an Episcopal church, using vows very close to the ones from his day. “I’m glad they removed the vow to obey,” he’d commented, “for I would never wish our partnership to be anything other than one of equals.”

“You’re a bad eighteenth century man, Crane,” she’d replied. “Though I wouldn’t want to marry a good one.”

“On the contrary. I strive to preserve the best of the past while fully embracing the improvements of the future. The present, I should say.”

He’d had no problem with the woman vicar, either, though it doubtless helped that he’d been attending services here already, at least at Christmas and Easter, and had grown accustomed to that change. Abbie had been a little nervous when they’d met with the Reverend Clare—what would she think of a woman showing up that pregnant and expecting a church wedding?

The vicar, who’d been younger than Abbie had expected, had turned out to be very understanding. “I’ll tell you a little secret,” she said. “I was pregnant at my wedding. Didn’t know it yet, though. And aside from that, far be it from the church to dissuade a couple from marrying each other because they have a baby on the way.”

So now here Abbie was, slipping through the side door at the front of the sanctuary—it would’ve felt ridiculous marching all the way down the aisle of an empty church—and watching Crane’s eyes widen and a smile like a sunrise break over his face. And suddenly she felt beautiful, big awkward belly and all.

She took his hand, and the ceremony began. Soon she was promising to love and cherish him till death did them part…and it was easy. Now that they were here, she was sure. What was left to question? She was Crane’s, and he was hers. It was as simple as that. She still had fears, too many to count, but no more doubts.

Reverend Clare asked for the rings, and Abbie met Crane’s eyes, blue and shining with joy, as he spoke his vows. The faerie ring fit perfectly, and as it slid into place she felt a pleasant electric ripple through her whole body—though she couldn’t say whether it came from faerie magic or from his rich deep as he spoke the words.

Abigail, I give you this ring as a sign of our marriage. With my body I honor you, all that I am I give to you, and all that I have I share with you, within the love of God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit.

Next Jenny passed her the ring she’d selected. Coira had been right—she’d found a ring that had spoken to her. It was no antique, no gift of faeries or anything like them, but it was of West African design, etched with symbols speaking of love and faithfulness. She had worked every spell over it that she knew for protection and strength, and as she slipped it onto Crane’s finger she could feel that Jenny had added her own particular wards and blessings for both of them.

Abbie spoke the same promises Crane had just made back to him, and the vicar smiled benignly upon them and proclaimed them husband and wife. “Those whom God has joined together let no one put asunder…and now you may kiss.”

Crane took her face between his hands and kissed her, lingering and reverent. She clung to him, all at once dazed to be here, with him, doing this.

When he broke the kiss there was just the faintest hint of mischief amid the joy and love in his eyes, and he held up a fist—the left fist, with the ring she’d given him glinting in the candlelight.

And why not? What could be more perfectly them? She lifted her own hand to meet him a fist bump, ring to ring.

Chapter Text

Abbie had originally imagined herself doing her precinct busywork right up until the point she went into labor, the better to use all of her leave time after the baby arrived. But as she grew ever bigger, more ungainly, and more uncomfortable, she decided to make October 30 her last day. A Friday. Halloween Eve. Tomorrow something would surely happen with Macey and the rest of the Thirteen, either here or on Gibraltar with the Irvings. They’d have the fallout of that to deal with, for good or ill.

At six-fifteen, later than she’d planned, she said her goodbye-for-nows, shaking Reyes’ hand and promising to bring the baby to the precinct holiday party to be oohed and aahed over. She stepped out of the building with a relieved sigh, rubbing at her aching back. Crane had promised to have dinner waiting for her—something bland and British, but that was good for now. After tomorrow, if they could rescue Macey and prevent Moloch’s rebirth, they could start in with the spicy food and all the other little tricks to jumpstart labor. Because, the midwives had assured her just this week, her due date might still be two weeks away, but thirty-eight weeks counted as full term. And she was ready to evict Benjamin August McSquirmy the Bladder Dancer Who Won’t Let Mommy Sleep Mills-Crane from his current overcrowded quarters any time now.

As she made her slow way to her car, she paused to smile at a cluster of costumed children. It was a day early, but it looked like a lot of kids had worn their costumes to school, and the Presbyterian church around the corner was holding its regular “Harvest Festival Party,” complete with candy and a costume contest. She grinned to see a whole family, mom, dad, and four kids, all turned out like medieval lords and ladies. Crane would want to do something like that, she’d bet, only from his era. She’d humor him—it could be fun to wear those sweeping skirts and plunging bodices—but they’d let Benjamin make his own choices when he was old enough to care. To think that soon it would be them with their own little pirate or Jedi or Captain America to lead around the neighborhood…

She slowed even more as she neared her car at the sight of four costumed teenagers lingering nearby. All were dressed as stereotypical wicked witches, complete with face paint in lurid green and sickly yellow. They could be getting ready for the Hell House at the other church in town that didn’t approve of Halloween, but why loiter here?

Abbie reached in her pocket for both her phone and a warding charm Jenny had made for her, but before her hand closed around then, one of the girls tossed a powder into the air and spoke words in a language Abbie didn’t understand. The world blurred around her and went dark.

***

The baby woke her with his squirming, and as awareness and memory rushed back to her, she could only pray that they’d both live for the day when this whole Wake up mama wake up why are you asleep wake up routine would make her want to cry with exhaustion again rather than sheer relief. You’re alive and so am I, baby boy. Let’s keep it that way.

She took stock of her situation. She was in a moving vehicle of some kind—she could hear the soft rumble of the engine and feel the sway and shift of bumps and curves—bound hand and foot, lying on her side on some hard and unyielding surface. When she opened her eyes all she saw was shadows and darker shadows. The windowless back of a van, most likely. You had to love the classics.

A flashlight flipped on, and she scrunched her eyes shut against the sudden brightness. “Told you she was awake.” It was a young woman’s voice, and Canadian, if Abbie’s ear for accents wasn’t failing her. “We should put her back under.”

“Why?” asked another voice, younger and lighter still. “I don’t want to waste the sleep powder, and it’s not like she’s going anywhere.”

Cautiously Abbie reopened her eyes. The flashlight was no longer playing at her face, but over her belly, and she could just make out her companions—two of the four witch teens from the parking lot. Unless she missed her guess, two of the Thirteen. But between the darkness and their costumes, she couldn’t tell anything about them beyond that they were neither Macey nor the girl who had spoken for the coven the first time she and Crane had encountered them.

“That is so weird,” the younger voice continued.

Abbie swallowed and cleared her throat. “Yeah, that’s one word for this situation. What’s your part in it?”

“The rider sent us to collect you,” she said. “I’m sorry, but you can’t fight fate.”

“Sure you can,” Abbie replied. “A wise woman once told me that choice and fate are ever in tension.”

“Paige,” the older girl said, “we’re not supposed to talk to her.”

“And who put you in charge? Nobody. But look, check it out—you can see her stomach move.”

Keep her talking, keep her talking. Paige was young, vulnerable, and inclined to see Abbie as a person, not just…whatever role the Thirteen had assigned for her in their prophecies. “Yeah, it’s kinda freaky,” she said. “I think that bit is his foot.”

“It’s a boy?” Paige asked.

“Yes. We’re going to call him Benjamin. Less than two weeks to go now.”

Much less,” the older girl said darkly. “Paige, stop talking. You can’t start feeling sorry for her. Think of our destiny. Think of Atlantis.”

Well. It wasn’t hard to read between those lines. Her baby was the designated sacrifice to bring Moloch back after all, and since he hadn’t been born yet…Abbie swallowed down a terror to the point of nausea at the thought of herself strapped to an altar, a rough c-section by ritual knife. She wriggled the fingers of her left hand. Thank God. Her faerie-blessed wedding ring was still there, with its guarantee of protection for her son as soon as he was born. So, if it came to that, he would be protected, at least. And maybe if she was very lucky, Coira would come in time and with power enough to prevent Abbie from bleeding out.

There. She would focus on that as her worst-case scenario. Because a world where she never lived to hold her child in her arms, where Crane would have to raise him all alone while also carrying all of the Witness burden that was almost too much for the two of them together…that world did not bear contemplating. She couldn’t break down know. She had to keep her wits about her, watch for a chance to escape or at least fight back. And the more she could get at least one of these girls to see her as a fellow human being, a sister rather than a sacrifice, the better her chances would be.

So she voiced the most human complaint she had just then. “I don’t suppose there’s any chance of a pit stop. I swear this kid is head-butting my bladder these days.”

“Can’t you hold it?” the older girl snapped.

“Kinda depends how much farther we have to go.”

“We should stop,” Paige said. “I remember when my mom was pregnant with my little brother, the last month or two—”

“This isn’t like that.”

“It’s exactly like that,” Abbie said.

“Come on, Brianna, let’s stop. It’s not like she can run away.”

“Not very fast, anyway,” Abbie put in. “I’m sure you could chase me down, if I tried.” Unless she could think of just the right spell, one she could do without Crane’s power to boost her own, with nothing more for tools than her ring or the little topaz studs in her ears.

“We’re not supposed to be helping her!” Brianna insisted.

“Why, because you’re going to strap me to an altar sometime between midnight tonight and tomorrow and cut my baby out to pass through the fire to Moloch while I bleed to death?” Make them face up to what they were doing. Make them realize she wasn’t too dumb and innocent to see what fate their masters had marked out for her. “Yeah, I figured that part out. But this isn’t helping me, it’s helping yourselves, unless you just like the way peed-on clothes smell.”

At that, Brianna leaned up to rap on a grate at the front of the compartment, and a few minutes later the van slid to a halt. The girls untied her feet and wrists and led her, under careful guard, off the side of the road and into the woods, where she was allowed to squat awkwardly against a tree and pee. She looked, but failed to find, any landmark or sign to tell her exactly where she was. It was fully dark now, cold, moonlit and starry. But it couldn’t be that late at night, or her bladder’s current pathetic capacity would’ve been overloaded long before now.

All the while Abbie kept up a continual chatter to Paige. How old was her little brother now? Three? That was a challenging age, or so she’d always heard. What was his name? Aidan? That was nice. Had her mother looked this big toward the end? Brianna made Paige stop answering, but Abbie hoped she was making a dent in the younger girl’s certainty—maybe even both girls’. Where was Macey in all this? She supposed she’d learn pretty soon, the way this was going.

And what about Crane? He had to know she was missing by now. She’d expected to be home no later than six. He’d be frantic, and he had no one to call on just now, with the Irvings in Europe and Jenny and Big Ash gone all the way up near Cooperstown for the day chasing a prophetic-seeming dream that Abbie now suspected was a wild goose chase. Maybe even one deliberately implanted by the Thirteen, come to think of it. Jenny was normally so good at seeing the true nature of magical things, at finding hidden spells—but these past few weeks she’d been exhausted, looking for hidden straws to grasp, trying to keep Abbie from having to face exactly what she was now staring down.

But Crane must already be tearing the countryside apart looking for her. Of that she was certain. She only prayed he’d be smart enough not to let his fear for her and his impulsive nature lead him into a trap.

***

Abbie should’ve been home by now, even allowing for the fact she’d been detained at the precinct by her colleagues’ farewells and good wishes. Ordinarily Crane wouldn’t panic over a quarter hour’s delay—there was such a thing as traffic, after all, and friends catching a woman and pinning her down with questions and concern, something he’d observed more and more the more obviously pregnant the Lieutenant became. But on this night of all nights, with Halloween scant hours away, he could not take her safety for granted. He called and got no response, then sent a text that went likewise unanswered.

He was swallowing down panic and preparing to call the precinct to see if by chance she was still there, and if not whether anyone could recall when she’d left, when he heard a familiar tapping at the kitchen window. He peered out into the gathering darkness and spotted Macey’s trusted familiar crow.

Opening the sash, he let the bird in. They’d come to a sort of wary friendship, he and the strange creature, and it perched on the counter with a sociable caw as it held out the foot where Macey had strapped her latest message. He carefully removed the folded paper, then offered the crow a handful of peanuts from a jar they’d started keeping handy for just such a purpose. Even in haste, the needs of so faithful a messenger must be attended to.

With shaking hands, Crane unfolded the note. This one was neither in invisible ink nor any sort of code, but rather just a hasty ink-smudged scrawl.

Dover Stone Church. Midnight. Sacrifice baby. Sending people to capture you both.

Good God. So close as all that. The Irvings an ocean away, and even Miss Jenny and Big Ash too far to get there in time. He took a single deep breath. Abbie and Benjamin. His wife, his son. He was all the help they had. He couldn’t allow himself to be captured, and he must be in time to save them.

It was like going into battle, only ten times more so, his ordinary consciousness taken over by a kind of frantic calm that unfolded the path before him like light from a lantern, a few steps’ worth at a time. He let the crow out, then armed himself with a knife and a brace of pistols—one loaded with silver shot, the other with ordinary bullets. Then he grabbed the emergency kit and Abbie’s magic bag that she kept by the door. Just before he left, he took up an amulet Miss Jenny had made for him that she swore would weaken magical attacks and flung it around his neck.

Thank God Cynthia Irving had left them the keys to her minivan, since Abbie had of course driven herself to the precinct. Crane could wish for something faster, but for now it would have to serve. He stepped cautiously onto the porch—and spotted three robed figures lurking in the shadows by the van. “Who’s there?” he called.

One of them sprang forward and tossed a powder into the air, chanting in the language tantalizing close to Greek but not quite near enough for him to comprehend it. Once of the words sounded like sleep, and he indeed felt a wave of drowsiness wash over him. But then he sneezed violently, and it passed. Thank you, Miss Jenny, best of sisters-in-law.

Their next-door neighbor, a gruff man by the name of Lewis, stepped out onto his own porch, drawn by the commotion. “Damned kids, looking for trouble,” he commented. He raised his voice to a shout. “Go away! Halloween isn’t till tomorrow.”

The figures scurried away, but Crane was under no illusion they’d gone far or would be so easily discouraged from their mission. “I must hurry,” he told Mr. Lewis, “my wife—”

“Baby on they way? Good luck to you.”

“Thanks.” He sprang down from the porch and ran to the minivan. The coven of Thirteen could cause a car to stall, and surely Miss Jenny’s amulet was insufficient protection for that. But he could not walk to Dover Plains by midnight, so he’d have to defeat them somehow. For now he leapt into the van, turned the key in the ignition, and backed out into the street. The three figures emerged from the bushes, arms raised and chanting, but he swerved at them and they jumped away.

He’d bought himself some time, but who knew how much? Blessing his memory for maps, he took the road north. The Stone Church, despite its name, was not a human construction, but a cave named for its entrance’s supposed resemblance to a church window. They’d catalogued it in their first pass through the list of local caves and—damn and blast—he remembered Abbie and Miss Jenny peering over his shoulder as he’d viewed a gallery of pictures taken by a local hiker.

“That’s a bit womb-like,” Miss Jenny had commented. “Yonic, anyway.”

“More than a bit,” Abbie had added. “Even has a stream flowing out of it.”

Miss Jenny had grinned “Practically a giant sheela na gig.

And while Crane had seen the resemblance, too, it had seemed too obvious a choice for a prophecy about earth’s womb, especially when he and Big Ash had been unable to turn up any legends about the cave beyond mundane and historically verifiable accounts of people hiding there from various enemies. So they’d kept looking further afield—as far away as Gibraltar, for God’s sake. He remembered trying esoteric combinations to unlock a safe, only to have Abbie point out that for an evil cult, the first choice must ever be 666.

Never again would he ignore the obvious. He swore it. But there was no time for self-recrimination now. Blessing his phone’s voice control feature—which he knew even Abbie considered a wondrous and futuristic thing—he called Miss Jenny and Big Ash and gave them a terse summary of what had transpired so far.

Miss Jenny swore fluently. “We’ll be there fast as we can,” she said. “Meanwhile—be careful. No, don’t. Fight hard and fight smart.”

“I will. They are everything to me.”

“I know. See you soon.”

He sped up the road, as fast as the minivan could speed, in any case. Just over halfway there, as he drove with thick forest on one side and rolling pastureland on the other, the car lurched to an abrupt, magical halt. Crane sprang from the car, knife in one hand, pistol in the other, to face not the witches of the Thirteen, but four pasty-skinned demonic minions. They were no match for him in his current berserker spirit, but when he tried to restart the car, nothing happened.

The road was deserted. Crane fought the urge to swear and kick the car, for rage would be of no help to Abbie. He checked the time—just after eight o’clock. He’d never cover the distance on foot in time, and he couldn’t trust that anyone would stop for him. Perhaps the time had come to involve the police…but when he checked his phone there was no signal.

Now he did swear. He heard the sound of some heavy animal and spun toward it—what now? Some kind of demon bullock? But it was a horse, shining silvery gray in the light of the gibbous moon. A mare, out of her pasture, approaching him as if he were an old friend with pockets full of sugar, apples, and carrots. She might well turn into a demon the moment he tried to mount her.

Or…she might not. Not all of the supernatural forces of the universe were out for his and his family’s destruction. And at the moment he had no better option than to trust that God had providentially provided his Witness with a horse, or perhaps that the faeries had sent one of their own mounts to aid him in this hour of greatest need.

The mare walked straight up to him and dipped her great silver-dappled head to nudge Crane’s chest.

He’d take the hint. “Just a moment, girl.” He retrieved the emergency kit and magic bags from the passenger seat, strapped them across his body, and clambered onto the mare’s back. How he was to guide her he had no notion. Though he’d been a reasonably accomplished horseman in his own day and time, the last time he’d sat a horse had been in 1781, and he’d been properly outfitted with saddle and bridle.

But the mare just swiveled her head as if to see for herself that he was safely aboard, then launched herself into a steady, ground-eating canter alongside the road toward Dover Plains.

***

She and Jenny had told Crane the Dover Stone Church looked an awful lot like the kind of cave you’d choose to be earth’s womb, Abbie reflected grimly as she waited, bound hand and foot again, perched on a cold, flat rock near the cave’s waterfall. Still she was guarded by members of the Thirteen, though the current two girls resolutely ignored her efforts to get them to talk to her.

And still the baby squirmed and kicked. Rarely had she known him to be this active for this long—he might be a fidgety kid, already obviously his father’s son, but he did take his share of naps. But now she relished the continual motion. Live and fight, kiddo. Live and fight.

Wait, was that—she turned to see a pair of girls in flowing white robes emerge from a tented-off area on the opposite side of the stream. The smaller of the two had to be Paige from the van, out of her witch’s costume and revealed to be a slight girl with short dark hair and a habitual slouch. The other Abbie would recognize anywhere. Macey. Walking straight and tall on two strong, steady legs.

“Macey,” she called. “It’s good to see you walking. How did it happen?”

Macey turned toward her, her expression lofty and distant. “Blood magic. Nothing you could do.”

Over a month had passed since the last time she’d sent them a message by crow. Was that cool contempt all a show, so that the others wouldn’t suspect her, or was she now committed to the Thirteen’s mission? They’d healed her, after all. That would be enough to tempt anyone’s loyalty. But at so great a price? Abbie studied her face, looking for some clue.

“We all helped,” Paige said eagerly. “All of us gave some of our blood.”

The tall girl who had led the coven when they’d attacked Abbie and Crane back in April now emerged. “It was a difficult working, but necessary,” she said. “The Thirteen must be perfect vessels, whole and unblemished in body.”

At that Macey flinched a little, and Abbie bit her lip. It was one thing to be healed for your own sake, but if it was only to be a perfect vessel for some kind of spell? “I’m glad my kind of magic isn’t that picky,” she said.

“Your magic is weak,” the leader said.

“You didn’t seem to think so last time we met.” Abbie didn’t think there was any chance of turning this girl away from Moloch’s side, but maybe she could plant some doubt in her followers. “And what are you vessels for, anyway? Sounds a bit demeaning.”

“We are vessels for the restoration of the god.”

“The demon Moloch, you mean.”

“So called only by the mortals too weak to understand his glory. He is our god.”

“Bad choice of gods.”

“Says the woman bound and trussed up.”

“Judging right and wrong by who’s winning at the moment doesn’t strike me as much of a moral code,” Abbie said.

“Ours is a divine right to rule over mere mortal animals.”

A true believer, that one. But Paige looked troubled, and Macey looked just like her father when he’d had enough of some piece of bullshit but was waiting for the right moment to speak out against it. “You’ll find us animals aren’t so willing to be ruled, regardless of what happens to me.”

“Ah, but once we have harnessed our powers, we will prevail. And your kind will be the better for it—no more wars, living in an earth made clean and pure again.”

“What kind of cleanliness and purity do you expect to get through murdering a baby?” Abbie spat.

Paige looked ready to cry and Macey to snap. Those two were on her side, she was sure of it, but maybe she’d pushed too hard. They needed to wait for the right moment—not that she knew when that was yet—and not lash out now.

“A pure world requires a pure sacrifice. I cannot expect it to be a consolation to you, but through your son the world will be made anew. Now, come girls. We must finish our preparations.”

With that she stalked away, trailing Macey and Paige behind her, and disappeared into another curtained-off area. Abbie studied her two guards again. Both stayed silent, but she swore the elder of the pair looked troubled now.

If only she could will herself to go into labor right away, and somehow have the baby between now and midnight, so Coira would come to rescue him, and hopefully her along with him. And where could Crane be? If somehow he was safe, if somehow he could figure out where to find her…but what if they’d already killed him? They knew how much more powerful the Witnesses were together, and they didn’t need him. Nor her, really. Just their baby. Their impossible time traveler of a baby, conceived in desperate passion and brought to the edge of birth by risks taken in the name of love and trust.

Please, God, please. She couldn’t put more words to her prayers than that, but if there truly was a God who’d chosen the Witnesses, surely that was enough to be heard.

But time crept by, until at a signal from the leader—they called her Atropos, though Abbie doubted that was what her birth certificate said—her two guards first blindfolded her, then unbound her and hauled her to her feet. They led her slowly along, warning her of rocks and slippery spots. She supposed it wouldn’t do for the sacrificial mother to fall on the way to the altar.

At last she felt the heat of a fire, and firm hands pushing her against what she guessed to be the rock wall of the cave and shackling her spread-eagled, chains clanking, heavy cold metal binding her wrists and ankles. Then the same hand pulled the blindfold away.

The Headless Horseman. Death. Of course. He bowed to Atropos…and Abbie remembered why that name sounded familiar. Crane had mentioned it. She was one of the three Fates of Greek myth, the one who cut the thread of each life. A perfect pair, these two.

She’d been wrong about the wall part. She was chained to a sort of standing altar, with a roaring fire burning before her and a bronze cauldron beyond. She flinched from its murderous heat, and the baby squirmed and writhed within her as if he knew the danger he was in.

It’s not over yet, she told herself. Watch. Look for your chance. The Thirteen were casting a circle in blood dripping from their own wrists, chanting in a strange language. She saw Macey try to spoil the circle with a break, but Atropos spotted it too and made her redo it.

Upon its completion, the circle shimmered with a lurid light, and the cuts on the girls’ wrists disappeared. Atropos held aloft a ruby necklace and led the group in yet more chanting until the ruby too glowed from within. As she lowered it around her neck, the Horseman’s head shimmered into visibility. He favored Abbie with a cold smile, then turned his attention to his deathly new lady.

“Midnight draws nigh,” he said, “but our servants have failed to capture the other Witness.”

A small spark of hope flickered within Abbie’s soul. Crane was somewhere out there, alive and looking for her, and the evening wasn’t going according to Abraham’s plan.

“Is that so dreadful?” Atropos asked. “Without him, she has no special powers. And the only thing of theirs we require is the baby.”

“True.” Abraham turned to face Abbie again. “But I should dearly love to watch Ichabod Crane witness the sacrifice of his son. It seems…fitting. Nonetheless, the hour is upon us, so let us begin.”

He nodded to Atropos, who pricked her thumb with an oversized needle and squeezed several drops of blood into the fire. It roared up stronger yet, and she chanted by herself. The other twelve girls stood as if hypnotized as she drew a web of chains out of the cauldron, heavy and ugly as the ones that bound Abbie. Atropos flicked her hands out, fingers spread wide, and the chains shot out like monstrous tentacles, shackling the rest of the Thirteen where they stood.

Now they screamed and pulled at the chains. Whatever this was, only Abraham and Atropos had known about it beforehand.

“What are you doing?” Brianna shouted.

“Come, come,” Atropos said. “Did any of you truly think that Moloch himself could be brought back to life with the blood of a single mortal baby, even the Witnesses’ own son? You are the sacred vessels to be poured out, your blood to feed his birth.” She spared a single glance over her shoulder at Abbie. “The baby will give him sustenance upon his rising.”

She might die here, but she wasn’t going to go gently into such an evil night. “Wonderful god you’ve got there,” she called out, “that needs the blood of twelve girls and a newborn baby.”

Abraham slapped her, and she tasted blood. “Silence!”

She spat. “Why?”

Another girl spoke, her voice a high, desperate whine. “You promised! You promised we’d live forever and reign together over Atlantis!”

Atropos smiled. “Your blood will live on forever in Moloch, as will your souls.” She squeezed out a few more drops of her own blood, this time into the cauldron, and the girls stood still and silent again, though the spell wasn’t enough to stifle the terror and confusion in their eyes.

Now Abraham stalked around the circle, slitting wrists one by one. He began with Macey. “Traitor,” he said. “Did you really think me stupid enough to trust Frank Irving’s daughter?”

As he cut, the girls’ blood flowed out along the chains and dripped down into the cauldron. Once all twelve’s lifeblood blended together, something began to swirl within its depths, lurid crimson blood mixed with bloodless deathly white. It began to take form—Moloch’s form.

Horrified, Abbie looked away, only to meet Macey’s eyes, suddenly filled with a manic glee.

“Lieutenant!”

Crane crashed into the circle, flintlock pistol in hand. Oh, God, he’d come, and all alone. So brave and so crazy, her husband was. Please let it not be too late.

“Crane!” she cried. He spun toward her. Abraham tried to block him, but he fired the pistol straight into his face. It wasn’t a deathblow—Death wasn’t that easy to kill—but it was enough to make him stumble aside, and Crane seized her hand in a fierce grip.

The instant they touched a surge of magic like nothing she’d ever felt before welled up within Abbie. This place was the womb of the earth. Earth didn’t want her temple defiled by a demon’s rebirth, and she took Abbie for her vessel.

She wielded her power with thought alone, calling cold clean water from the waterfall to douse the sacrificial fire, shattering the chains that bound her and the twelve girls, healing up their wounds. Through the roaring in her ears she heard Crane tell them to run.

Now, to seal the portal. She gathered her strength, braided her power together with Crane’s and that of Mother Earth surging up from the ground, and began to loop it around the cauldron.

But Atropos raised her knife and held it to her own neck. “Take me, Moloch!” she cried. “My sacrifice for your kingdom.” She slashed her throat, and as she collapsed her blood poured into the cauldron.

Abbie’s braid of magic loosened, and Moloch’s form began to swell up from the cauldron. She gritted her teeth and reached deeper into herself, into Crane, into the very earth. The baby kicked with excitement, joy even, and the magic turned thicker, brighter, pushing Moloch down into the cauldron, dragging Abraham after him. The power was too much now, tearing through her with searing pain, but she’d see this through, and…there!

With a boom like a cannon, the portal sealed, and Abbie sagged to her knees, utterly spent. Crane caught her and kept her from collapsing completely, but he looked almost as drained and wobbly as she was. All the others had fled except Macey and Paige, who clung to each other, gaping round-eyed at Abbie and Crane.

And then a convulsion racked her midsection, her own muscles turning into a vise. She screamed.

“Abbie!” Crane held her up by the shoulders, eyes gone wide with terror.

Was this what contractions were supposed to feel like, so sudden and inexorable? “It’s the baby,” she gasped. “It’s coming right now.”

Chapter Text

No. The baby couldn’t come now. He was supposed to be born in a hospital, with every marvel of twenty-first century medical technology close at hand should anything go awry. Not in a cold, damp cave with no help but Crane himself and a pair of terrified young girls. Abbie would have been better off in 1781, for there at least his wife would have had recourse to a dry room with a warm fire and a midwife who had experience and knowledge enough to keep a normal birth from turning hazardous.

Surely the first contractions of labor weren’t meant to be like this, either. Perhaps the birth videos they’d watched in their labor class had made matters look too gentle in a effort at reassurance, but this convulsion of pain seemed too sudden, too intense.

But it finally passed, and Abbie sagged against his shoulder, gasping for breath. When she lifted her head, she frowned at whatever she saw written on his face. “Crane. If you have to deliver this baby, I know you can.”

He shook his head. “I am not remotely qualified…”

“Do you see any obstetricians or midwives in this cave? Because I don’t. You’ve read the books, you’ve watched the videos, and I know you remember it all.”

It was one thing to have an eidetic memory of what one had read and viewed, another entirely to put their instructions into action with the life of the woman he loved above all else in the world on the line. Oh, God, if through his ignorance he lost her…

Yet she was right. He was all she had. Swallowing hard, he tried to force a smile. “Very well. I brought the emergency kit and your magic bag from the house.”

“Good thinking.”

He heard hesitant footsteps and turned to see Macey and her friend hovering beside them. “We’ll help,” Macey said.

Wait—Macey could stand and walk again? But Crane filed this mystery away to resolve at a safer, calmer time.

“We will?” the other girl asked, her voice rising on a squeak. She looked even younger and more frightened than Macey. “I want to, but…”

“Go to the village, or somewhere with a phone signal, anyway. Call 911 and tell them what happened.”

Abbie’s grip on his shoulders tightened, and he could feel her abdomen ripple in another contraction. They shouldn’t be anything like this close together so suddenly, of that he was certain.

“No,” he heard Macey say through his fog of terror. “They’ll think you’re crazy. Just—say there was a Halloween party here, and it got weird, and now there’s a woman in labor. Say there’s a body, but you’re not sure what happened. You can do it, Paige. Let’s make this right.”

With a tight nod, the girl gathered up the skirts of her long robe and hurried toward the cave entrance.

When Abbie’s pain had passed, she tried to stand. “I don’t want to have the baby here.”

What choice did they have? “Neither do I, but unless Miss Paige brings help quickly…”

“No, I mean right here, where they were going to kill us.”

She shuddered, and Crane stared with shared horror at the rock altar with its broken shackles, the charred remains of the sacrificial bonfire, and the corpse of the girl who’d slit her own throat. “Oh. Of course. Miss Macey, with your aid?” He needed it, weakened as he still was by the overwhelming surge of power Abbie had drawn from him to seal off Moloch’s portal.

Whatever magic had healed the girl, it had done so thoroughly. She supported Abbie while Crane staggered to his feet, then provided a strong, steady young arm for her to lean upon as they made their careful way to the cave entrance—pausing along the way for another of those dreadful, racking contractions.

“I’ve been studying healing these past few months,” Macey said diffidently as they helped Abbie sit on a flat rock just outside the cave entrance and rummaged through the emergency kit for flashlights. “I had to, to sense how to heal myself. Maybe I can use my powers to help? I know it may be hard to believe right now, but I still think my kind of witch can work for good.”

Part of Crane—a very large part—was terrified to put Abbie’s fate in the hands of someone in any way tied to Katrina’s lineage, and to the abomination they had so narrowly averted tonight. But this was Macey Irving. Her warning had brought him here in time, and she’d stayed with them when she could have fled to safety with the others. “I know you can,” she said.

“We’ll take all the help we can get,” Abbie added, just before giving way to another contraction. “This doesn’t feel right,” she said once it had passed.

Crane thought the same, but what did either of them really know about it?

Meanwhile Macey was rummaging through Abbie’s magic bag. “Let me see, let me see.” She selected a silver needle and pricked her forefinger, then touched a drop of blood to Abbie’s forehead and rested her other hand on her stomach with a thoughtful frown. “The baby is fine,” she said. “Not happy, but fine for now. But…I don’t know what this means, but I can sense blood where it shouldn’t be, in your womb, pooled up instead of flowing, and—I guess that’s the placenta, kind of pulling away.”

Crane knew precisely what that indicated, and from the round-eyed horror on Abbie’s face he knew that she did, too.

“An abruption…” she said as the next contraction came.

He could hardly imagine anything worse, so far from any proper help. This was how women died in childbirth. She’d keep bleeding and bleeding, he’d be powerless to stop it…oh, dear God, dear God…

Yet he could not yield to panic. He was all she had, and if that wasn’t enough, he would give her every last ounce of strength and love he had to offer.

The contraction passed, and she met his eyes with a face gone remote and resolute. “Crane. You know what this means. I want you to promise to do whatever it takes to save the baby. I know you’ll be the best daddy to him, and I lo—”

He pressed his hand to her lips. “No.”

Now the fear and anguish crept back into her eyes. “But I have to tell you—”

No. No deathbed confessions, because you will live.” He wasn’t sure how, but he wasn’t about to let her give up while she had breath left in her.

She interwove her fingers with his and squeezed hard. “But you know…” she began.

“I do.” He didn’t need her to finish the sentence. He knew she loved him—he didn’t need her to speak the words. He knew that the danger she faced had grown exponentially higher, and he knew that if, God forbid, the worst happened and he lost her, that he must be strong for their child’s sake. All he could do now was pray that she not be taken from his side when he loved and needed her so much.

“If you’ll let me try…” Macey began.

“Anything,” he said fervently.

“It will take more blood.” She selected a knife from Abbie’s bag and held it to her wrist.

“You’ve lost too much already,” Abbie protested.

“I haven’t,” Crane said. “Will my blood serve?” He was no blood witch, but he knew they sometimes used others’ blood in their rites—usually for ill, but surely that too could be turned for good if willingly offered.

Macey pursed her lips. “It should. Might even be the best way.”

He drew back his sleeve and offered his arm. “Then make haste.”

But Abbie had another contraction before Macey could select a small wooden chalice from the magic kit, slice his wrist open—he welcomed the sharp, stinging pain—and let him bleed into it. Then she and Abbie both instructed him in how best to bandage it and hold it elevated to staunch the bleeding. As he watched, Macey chanted in the almost-Greek language her lineage favored for its spells until the blood took on a strange glow. She touched a drop of it to Abbie’s forehead, lifted up her shirt to bare her swollen belly, and, chanting all the while, poured the rest of the blood out on her own hand and pressed it to Abbie’s belly, leaving a lurid handprint centered on her navel.

Crane had to swallow down nausea, but Abbie let out a gusty sigh and looked almost relaxed.

“I stopped the bleeding,” Macey said. “I couldn’t…fix it as if it never happened, but it’s not getting worse.”

“It’s better,” Abbie said. “I feel stronger.”

From that point on, the contractions seemed much closer to the ones they’d seen in those recordings of normal labor—still frequent and painful, but bearable. Between the pains, Abbie insisted they wash away the handprint and rinse out the chalice with water from the stream—“there’s enough here to freak out the EMTs already without them seeing that”—and offered suggestions and instructions from her own memories of their childbirth classes and knowledge of magical craft.

And as the hours slipped by, Macey proved herself a trouper, performing regular magical examinations and sorting through both the emergency kit and magic bag for items that might be of use. She and Abbie even managed to joke with each other between contractions, with Abbie suggesting that perhaps more girls ought to see something like this if they didn’t want to end up on Teen Mom, and Macey assuring her that she hadn’t yet met anyone to tempt her to ignore her father’s advice that everyone should maintain their virginity and their skepticism for as long as possible.

By the time Abbie and Macey between them determined the birth was drawing nigh, they were as prepared as they could be given the limited resources they had to hand. Even as Crane wondered why no help had come—had Miss Paige fainted, or become lost in the woods?—he crouched down, ready to deliver his own child, all the while keeping up a continued silent litany of prayers that mother and baby would both survive his inept ministrations.

“I…I see the head,” he announced.

“Finally,” Abbie muttered as she braced herself for another contraction. Macey, who perched on the rock behind her as a kind of human backrest, nodded agreement.

Crane would gladly have delayed longer—surely someone must come eventually, for if nothing else Miss Jenny and Big Ash knew where they were—but he murmured encouragements, telling her how strong she was, how well she was doing, that it would all be over soon, until the baby—his son—slid into his hands.

After a breathless moment for them all, the baby let out what Crane could only think of as an annoyed cry.

“Oh, baby, baby, I know,” Abbie said. “Please, let me see him.”

Carefully—for the baby was slippery and squirming, and the last thing Crane wanted to do after having it made it this far in safety was to drop him—he lifted him into her waiting hands.

Where did she get her strength, after all she’d endured this night? She gathered the baby into her lap, as high as she could lift him with the cord not yet cut and the afterbirth still undelivered. “Hello, Benjamin,” she crooned. “Welcome to the world.”

Crane found himself utterly speechless, his eyes stinging. He needed to keep his wits about him, for surely she wasn’t truly safe until the placenta was out…but, Abbie. Benjamin. His whole world.

Meanwhile Abbie for once had all the words for both of them. “We did it, we did it. Crane, look, our son.”

He knelt up to press his forehead against hers, his hands joining with her to support and warm the baby. “I know, I know.” It was all too much, and he couldn’t stop the tears from flowing down his cheeks.

And then at last, at last, the cavalry arrived in the form of Miss Jenny, Big Ash, and a trio of uniformed medics. Crane allowed himself to be gently pushed aside so the professionals could do their work, though he made sure to mention their fear that the sudden labor had resulted from a placental abruption.

Miss Jenny had already collected Macey. The two were whispering together from just distant enough to be out of the way while the medics examined Abbie and the baby, with Big Ash a quietly supportive presence at their backs. They beckoned him over, and when he joined them Miss Jenny slid an arm around him in a side hug and Big Ash thumped his back—support far better than any words could have been as they watched the medics work.

One had taken charge of the baby. After a quick examination, she cut the cord and worked hastily to dry, diaper, and swaddle him in a blanket, all while telling him what a good strong boy he was.

The two working with Abbie appeared far more anxious and sober, to Crane’s terror. When they delivered the placenta, there was so much blood along with it, and she swayed, her eyes fluttering closed.

“Abbie!” he cried, and would have rushed to her side were it not for Big Ash and Miss Jenny’s restraining hands.

“It’s OK,” Miss Jenny said, though it sounded as if she was trying to convince herself as well. “She’s not hemorrhaging.”

“Look, they’ve got an IV going,” Big Ash added. “That should get her blood pressure back up.”

And indeed, Abbie soon opened her eyes and gave them a shaky smile, one hand curled into a tight fist with her thumb held aloft.

It was over. It was over and they’d all survived. His eyes burned again, and a great sob welled up from the core of his being.

“Sir?”

He took a deep breath and blinked hard, forcing himself to focus on the medic who now stood before him, holding a fitfully wailing Benjamin. “Yes?”

“You did an amazing job. Your wife should be fine with some rest and maybe a blood transfusion once we get her to the hospital, and your son is perfect.” She grinned. “Congratulations, Daddy. Can you hold him now, or—”

“We won’t let him pass out and drop the boy,” Big Ash assured her.

And so Crane found himself holding his son, gazing down into a pair of fathomless dark eyes, curious and bewildered by his strange new surroundings. “Benjamin August Mills-Crane,” he pronounced, feeling obscurely that a child ought to be told his whole name straightaway.

The baby quieted, some of the tension ebbing from the tiny body.

“He knows your voice,” Miss Jenny said.

“I am your papa,” he continued, “and I am most delighted to make your acquaintance at last.”

***

Some twelve hours later, Crane held his son again as he walked the corridors of a hospital labor and delivery recovery unit cheerfully festooned with Halloween decorations. He’d already received much advice on how to celebrate a Halloween birthday in the years to come—it was generally agreed to be much better than a Christmas birthday, which apparently was a dire hardship resulting in children receiving fewer presents than they might otherwise, though it still might require some care in scheduling his parties if they wanted many of his friends to attend. Crane simply nodded and smiled, filing it all away as a mystery of twenty-first century parenthood to be solved with Abbie’s assistance when the time came.

The hospital staff had agreed with the medic’s pronouncement that Benjamin was a perfect baby. He weighed six and a half pounds, and seemed to Crane to be a tiny scrap of humanity now that he was outside of his mother’s body. But all assured him it was a fine weight, and that moreover the baby was alert and vigorous and had a good, healthy set of lungs—which he interpreted to mean a loud, piercing cry, which Benjamin had certainly demonstrated until Crane had succeeded in singing him to sleep a few minutes ago.

Abbie too was recovering well. The doctors who’d examined and treated her upon their arrival at the hospital had assured them she would bear no lasting consequences from Benjamin’s harrowing birth, though she would likely require slightly longer than normal to recover her usual strength and energy. And with that in mind, the nursing team had taken over the baby’s care for the first day, decreeing that both mother and father would do a better job of bonding with him after they’d had a chance to rest from their ordeal. Crane had tried to protest—he hadn’t wanted to let Benjamin out of his sight—but Miss Jenny had taken him firmly in hand, forced him to drink a foul bright blue concoction labeled Gatorade that she swore would help him recover his strength after his night’s exertions and provision of blood for Macey’s life-saving magic, followed by a far better-tasting sleeping potion of her own making that persuaded his protesting body to lie down on the hard sofa bench along the window in Abbie’s room and sleep most of the day away.

He’d awoken to find Abbie peacefully asleep, still tethered to an array of monitors displaying reassuringly normal vital signs, and tiptoed out to seek their son. He’d found him quickly, along with Miss Jenny, keeping watch and chatting amiably with the nurses. Benjamin had been asleep just then, and, accepting the nurses’ advice to always let a sleeping baby lie, he’d allowed himself to be drawn aside by his sister-in-law, who related all that had transpired while he’d slept.

Macey had been regularly splendid, apparently, improvising a mostly truthful and reasonably believable explanation of events in the cave. She and her friends had been taken in as the unwitting dupes of a satanic cult, she’d claimed, thinking it a spooky but harmless Halloween game, only to find themselves at a cultic sacrifice with a kidnapped Abbie and her soon-to-be-born child the designated victims. The police had been amazed—the only kidnapping victim they’d ever been called upon to rescue from a Halloween sacrifice before had been a cat—but her description had fit the evidence before them, and she’d been backed up by young Miss Paige and another of the girls who’d turned up in Dover Plains village.

One of the officers had recognized her for Frank Irving’s daughter and expressed surprise to see her walking, at which point she’d smoothly spun a tale of an experimental treatment at Emory University Hospital down in Atlanta, where she’d been supposedly staying with her relatives, and of her rushing home to surprise her parents with the good news as soon as said treatment had proved wholly effective—and here Miss Jenny had interjected what a good thing it was that by this point her audience had been only police and not any doctors who might’ve known better than to believe her. Upon discovering her parents not yet returned from their vacation in Europe, she’d gone to stay with a friend, who’d persuaded her to come along to the Halloween ritual in the cave. This too had been believed, for lack of any better alternative. On the whole, Crane hoped the girl continued to use her powers for the good, because such presence of mind in one so young was faintly terrifying.

When they’d returned to the nurses’ station, they’d found Benjamin awake and demonstrating his healthy lungs, so Crane had taken him in charge while Miss Jenny went to sit with Abbie. Now that he’d succeeded in singing the boy to sleep, he returned to her room and found her awake, sitting up in bed, and talking to her sister. He walked straight in, kissed her, and passed Benjamin into her waiting arms. With a little wave, Miss Jenny slipped out of the room, closing the door behind her.

Crane perched beside Abbie on the edge of the bed, the better to slide his arm around her shoulders and rest his cheek against the top of her head as together they admired their sleeping son.

“So,” she said. “Here we are. Our little family.”

“Our improbable, perfect little family.”

“He’s beautiful.” Gently, so as not to wake him, she traced his soft, half-formed features with her fingertips. “That’s your forehead, all right.”

He supposed it was, even flattened by birth and mostly hidden under the pumpkin-colored knit cap, complete with green stem top, the hospital provided for October babies. “Mm, and your chin.”

They sat together for some moments in silent, peaceful contemplation, listening to the sleepy puffs of Benjamin’s infant breath.

Abbie turned her head to look up at him. “Maybe now you’ll let me tell you…I’m lousy at saying it, but—I love you.”

“I know,” he assured her, but instantly realized how dreadfully arrogant that sounded. “That is—I understand. I’ve no need of the words themselves, not with you by my side, and the two of us united in all things, and—” Abruptly he noticed the twinkle in her eye, the laughter tugging at her lips. “What is it?”

“I just realized I’ve been neglecting your cinematic education. Over two years in, and how could I have left out the original Star Wars trilogy?”

Which he must have inadvertently quoted somehow. “Ah. Well, I am assured we will be up many a late night with a baby in our lives.”

“Yep. Two AM movie date once they let us go home?”

“I shall look forward to it,” he assured her.

“Well, I shall look forward to him sleeping through the night.”

“That too.”

She leaned into his embrace, serious again. “This…all this is more than I ever dreamed. You, me, him…I’m so glad.”

He pressed his lips to her temple. “Likewise.”