Raelle sighed heavily and dropped the spoon she had just dried into the open drawer. With another sigh already building in her chest, she wrenched her arm across her forehead to push the slightly damp hairs there away. It had been a half day since Tally and Scylla had gone into town and everyone was on edge.
No one spoke the words aloud, but they didn’t have to. This mission would determine how things with Tally were handled from here.
She dropped her chin to her chest and clutched the sides of the sink tight.
Distraught wasn’t a strong enough word for what was happening within Tally. She knew her sister felt responsible for everything that had happened; felt responsible for Sarah Alder’s deposition as General, and as much as Raelle could appreciate that guilt, she couldn’t shake the feeling that there was a deeper story there than any of them knew. Perhaps it was her own responsibility at knowing what she did of Alder’s history and having told no one. Perhaps it was her anger at Tally’s disregard for her own life when she had challenged Alder without warning them. Or maybe it was simply the guilt she herself carried because she had never pushed Tally to question her feelings or actions before any of the shitstorm they found themselves in could have taken place to begin with.
If she had pressed harder in the Cession when Tally had came back with her, when she had seen the defaced posters of Alder and had reacted with anger mixed with hurt…
Raelle shook her head hard.
She couldn’t let herself drown in what-ifs. It had nearly killed her before when she had been chasing her mother’s truths.
“Figure you had those lined out about three hours ago.”
She felt the smile tug at her lips as Quinn’s voice filled the space. Raelle lifted her eyes and stared out the window above the sink into the rapidly dying light of the day.
“I have a hunch about your friend, but wanna talk about what’s got you so twisted up?”
She swallowed hard but didn’t turn her eyes from top of the grass as it swayed in the breeze.
The words had barely left her mouth before Raelle pinched her eyes closed and tilted her head. She had never relished lying to Quinn and she’d learned a long time ago that it was damn near impossible anyway.
With a hard tap of a hand against the sink’s edge, she turned and leaned heavily back against it.
“Her and other stuff.”
Quinn held her gaze on Raelle’s face long after Raelle dropped her own to the floor. She watched as Raelle toed a knot in the hardwood with the tip of her boot. With a deep breath, she pushed a step into the kitchen and nodded.
“Figured you had something eating at you.”
Quinn eased her way back against the sink beside her. Raelle waited for more, but the older woman merely crossed her arms and looked out into the small, quiet living room and waited.
Raelle swallowed against the rush of words that fought to push their way from her lips. Quinn had always been adept at getting her to talk about things she hadn’t talked about with anyone else, but the years had showed her time after time that her mother’s best friend would never push. Raelle had spilled many secrets to her silent and patient presence.
She chewed on her bottom lip as her eyes scanned the floor. There were too many things to say now, too many secrets to give and Tally needed her more than that. She wasn’t a kid anymore and this time, she was determined to hold herself together. There were larger things at play.
Quinn merely stood silently next to her for a few beats more and then, “Do you want me to help you dry the pla…?”
“My mom was alive.”
The words were out of her mouth before she could even stop them. Quinn stopped talking immediately.
Her eyes swam as tears suddenly came unbidden. Raelle unwound her tightly crossed arms to swipe at them – to clear her vision and then gulped a deep breath of air. With the first sentence out, she couldn’t stop the barrage of words that followed.
“She saved me. When I was taken from home… it was the Camarilla and they uh…”
Tears spilled forth once more and Raelle let them track down her cheeks unchecked. Her leg bounced angrily back against the cabinet as she kept her eyes focused on the living room in front of them. Quinn’s mouth hung open slightly as she merely stared at the side of Raelle’s face.
“They tortured me. Tried to kill me multiple times.”
She hadn’t allowed Tally to discuss the witchbomb when they had seen Quinn on their break, but she wished with everything in her now that she had. There was so much to say. So much to explain.
Quinn loosed a shaky breath from beside her and shook her head. Raelle watched her hand tremble as she reached to swipe it down her face.
“I’m sorry that’s a lot to… you were tortured?”
Raelle nodded her head quickly and finally turned her head to take in the woman next to her. Quinn’s eyes held anger as a silent tear slid unhindered down her cheek. Raelle watched it disappear under her chin and then nodded again.
What could she say?
I have the unfathomable power of all witches inside of me because I couldn’t stop myself from touching a pulsating off limits wall? Oh, and by the way, that power just happened to be created by Alder’s grief at the Camarilla, who have been hunting her for centuries, destroying her entire family and coven? Alder sacrificed everything so no one else ever had to feel that pain?
Raelle tilted her head and considered it for a moment.
Finally, she sighed and turned to fully look Quinn in the face.
“I’m going to say some things that aren’t going to make a lot of sense, ok? But, if you could just trust me and listen.”
Quinn’s face smoothed and she nodded.
Raelle took a deep breath and ran one hand through her braids. “Ok, so uh…I have powers that the Army doesn’t want getting out. I’ve been studied by members of the Hague and the current Presidential administration”
She paused only briefly to suck in a deep breath of calming air and then pressed forward.
“The uh, the Mycelium…”
“Raelle Collar, do not tell me you touched the Mother.”
Raelle turned to glance at a wide-eyed Quinn shaking her head in exasperation and then shrugged her shoulders gently.
She felt like a child once again with Quinn gently admonishing her after she had gotten into something she shouldn’t have.
When the older woman’s lips turned up at the corners, Raelle knew she was lost in the memory, as well. Quinn reached around, cupped her hand around the far side of Raelle’s head and pulled her close to press a kiss against her braids. Raelle’s eyes fell closed immediately at the feel of it. She pressed closer and felt Quinn squeeze her harder for a moment before she released her gently.
Raelle pulled back quickly and brushed the tears from her face slowly.
“It uh… it changed me. I could do things, powerful things that the Army wanted to see. Alder wanted to know if we could use them against the Camarilla.”
Quinn made a noise of anger, but said nothing.
“The things the Camarilla have done. What they’ve taken – the witches they killed – the hatred they are sowing? I can understand why she wanted to.”
With a deep breath, Raelle raked her hands up and over her face once.
“They attacked Fort Salem. Attacked the Hague delegations. Attacked Adil and Khalida’s people. They released this witch plague and it isn’t stoppable, Quinn, but for whatever reason, the Mycelium gave me powers that allows me to stop it. It protects me somehow, so even when the Camarilla tried to use it on me, they couldn’t. They’d kill me and it’d just heal me and bring me back again and…”
Quinn’s grip on her arm was harder than Raelle could ever remember. Even harder than when she had found her after Sarah Alder had first informed them of her mother’s death. When she had caught Raelle by the arms and tugged her out of the way of the beams falling around her in the barn that Raelle had destroyed in her grief. Not even as a crying younger version of herself had refused to allow her to heal the gash on her chin in the moment.
Pain swam on Quinn’s face as Raelle nodded. She turned her eyes back to the living room.
“They were studying it. Trying to understand and then… Scyl and Mom came.”
Quinn swiped a hand down her face and shook her head. Raelle watched as she pushed herself gently away from the cabinet. She turned towards the living room and then back towards Raelle twice before she spoke.
“I don’t understand.”
Raelle scrubbed one hand across her cheeks once more and nodded. “Mom was alive. It’s why she didn’t come to me on Samhain.”
Quinn spun slowly, eyes alight with realization as she stared.
“I told you it was impossible for the dead to refuse on the hallowed grounds of Fort Salem.”
Raelle nodded. “Yeah, well you were right.”
Quinn’s face fell into confusion quickly and Raelle watched as she slowly lifted her questioning gaze to her once more. “But, you’re saying she what? She was in hiding? Why wouldn’t she tell me that?”
Raelle felt a painful squeeze around her heart at the whispered question. This woman was her mother’s best friend. Her sister. She had meant to Willa Collar what Tally Craven and Abigail Bellweather meant to her. How could she say what she needed to say?
How could she not?
Raelle blinked long and hard, took a slow, deep breath.
Quinn reacted to the sentiment like someone had physically slapped her. She stumbled back one step, shaking her head hard and fast. Raelle pushed herself from the cabinet she was leaned against and pushed on. You rip a band aid hard and fast.
“After Liberia, she joined the Spree. Mom was Spree.”
“So is Scylla for that matter… and Nicte created them…maybe with the help of my mother now that I think about it.”
It was out now.
Quinn stared at her for a solid minute with the first unreadable expression that Raelle had ever seen her wear. Raelle squeezed her hands into fists, dug her fingernails into the soft skin of her palms and waited for Quinn to merely turn around and walk out of the room.
She wouldn’t blame her; couldn’t do so.
Instead, Quinn dropped her eyes from Raelle’s once more watering vision. Raelle watched as her eyes darted across the floor as if she was processing something and then she raised her eyes to her once again. Raelle straightened her back a little straighter and swallowed hard.
“She saved you, didn’t she?”
Whatever Raelle had expected her to say, that hadn’t been it.
She felt her eyes burn with the simplicity of the whispered question. Quinn’s eyes darted across her face multiple times in an attempt to read the answer she couldn’t give her. She must not have been able to hide it, however, because Quinn merely stepped forward and swept Raelle into a bone crushing hug. Raelle felt the sob tear itself from her lips before she could stop it.
“That’s a lot to be holding in to yourself.”
Raelle sank against the warmth radiating off of the older woman and felt Quinn press another kiss against her hairline. They stayed that way for several moments before Quinn cleared her throat.
“Is that everything?”
Raelle shook her head even as she was pressed tightly against Quinn’s shoulder. She could feel the woman nod above her.
She pulled back and gently pressed until she held Raelle at arm’s length. With a slow movement, she reached up and thumbed the fresh tears from Raelle’s cheek before she cupped it.
"Let's have it, ok?"
Raelle nodded and launched into a turbulent jumble of her secrets and guilt. Quinn merely nodded along.
By the time the bus tires sounded against the gravel outside, darkness had properly fallen. When Abigail, Adil and Khalida emerged from the back bedroom before Raelle had even made it to the window, she realized that everyone had clearly been as on edge as she had been. She sighed deeply and tossed a glance at Abigail.
Here we go.
Abigail nodded and Raelle turned to watch as Nicte emerged from the barn, wiping her greasy hands on a piece of cloth. Nicte’s face, normally passive, eased into clear relief that she could recognize even from this distance. She called out as Scylla rounded the front of the bus and Raelle felt her own face fall at the look on Scylla’s. As if she had conjured her gaze to her own, Scylla’s eyes met hers through the window and Raelle knew immediately what was going to happen. Nicte must have read it, too, because when Tally tore passed her, she merely stepped back and dropped her attention back to wiping her hands.
Raelle felt Abigail’s sigh in her own chest as Tally thundered up the stairs and burst into the front room without so much as a word. She paid none of those that had been sitting vigil for her return any mind as she breezed by them and into the kitchen. Raelle spun on the spot, eyes following her sister as she disappeared around the doorframe.
Before she could open her mouth, Tally had already reemerged with a bottle of whiskey in her hand. She twisted the lid open without a word and turned it up as she pushed passed them without acknowledgment. She slammed the front door with such quick force that Raelle could only watch as the small, framed painting of a tranquil meadow fell to the floor and splintered into several pieces.
From behind her, Abigail’s deadpan, “Didn’t go that great, I suppose?” rang in the silence left behind Tally’s storm.
Raelle didn’t acknowledge it, mere stood staring at the broken frame and felt something twist in her gut at the appropriateness of the metaphor. She could hear footsteps on the front steps as she bent to retrieve the broken wood. Scylla pushed into the door gingerly as she gathered the pieces into her hands. She suddenly wished she could meld them back together and heal them with every fiber of her being.
Abigail sat down hard on the back of the sofa as Scylla shrugged the stuffed full backpack from her shoulder. Raelle pushed herself up from the floor silently to deposit the splintered pieces of wood gingerly onto the table against the wall.
“So, I guess we know how that went.”
Quinn stepped forward at Abigail’s words and Scylla shared a halting glance full of unspoken words with the woman before she handed the backpack to her.
“Well. I guess that depends on what we expected.”
Abigail’s face fell slightly. “What the hell does that even mean? Did it…”
Quinn’s surprised voice cut through the tension easily.
Abigail halted and all eyes spun as Quinn began pulling items from the bag. Food, water, bandages and medicine. Scylla merely stood silently as Quinn continued to pull things from the bag with a look of surprise on her features.
Abigail pushed herself from the couch in disbelief.
“Wait, that all came from town? After that Camarilla rally?”
Scylla sighed and reached out to run one arm down Raelle’s arm without comment. Her brows scrunched in silent question in the way that Raelle had come to merely accept meant that she knew something must have happened with her. Raelle gave her a tight lipped smile and Scylla nodded imperceptibly in acceptance. She dropped her arm to turn her gaze back to Abigail.
“That’s just the one in here. The bus is full of things. And tuned up, by the way, free of charge.”
Adil tossed an unspoken glance down to Khalida. The girl merely blinked and said nothing as she watched Quinn continue to empty the bag.
Abigail lifted one hand to the door and scoffed a bit. “Then what the hell was that? If things went so well, why’d Tally just blow through here chugging whiskey like a tornado?”
Silence held for a moment as Scylla spared Raelle an uncomfortable glance. Guilt twisted in Raelle’s stomach once again. They all knew what was potentially going to happen when Scylla had taken Tally into town. Raelle knew that the people of the Cession had never exactly been quiet about their feelings towards Alder. Given all that had happened since the last time they had been here, she could only imagine what her sister had now seen.
It was Abigail’s fiery voice that pulled Raelle’s thoughts back.
“Did they say something to her? Did they do something?!”
Scylla sighed and pushed forward towards the kitchen. Abigail followed hot on her heels.
“You know as well as I do why we decided to take Tally into town.”
Raelle could feel Abigail's anger from across the room. Her sister wasn’t exactly prone to forgiveness when it came to Scylla, but she was trying. Raelle watched her take a deep breath before she reached out to snatch Scylla’s retreating arm.
“Yeah, and I’m asking you what Raelle and I are going to find when we go to our sister. Did they hurt her?”
Scylla studied Abigail’s face for a moment and then gently tugged her arm free. Raelle could see the unease settle on her features before Scylla looked away and back.
“Yeah, they did. Because they treated her like a hero.”
Silence reigned once again in the room. Raelle could feel Quinn’s eyes on her from the room behind, but she didn’t turn. Abigail turned to look at her once and Raelle felt guilt bubble in her stomach once more. She watched Abigail swallow hard. She knitted her arms across her chest and stepped backwards out of Scylla’s space.
“Almost everything we have was a gift.”
She turned to Raelle and held a hand aloft in supplication.
“And I’m not questioning the generosity of the people of the Cession, but it sure as shit was presented as a gift because she was the woman who finally freed us from Sarah Alder.”
Abigail spun and kicked the door frame hard.
Raelle felt everyone in the room flinch at the force of Abigail Bellweather’s anger. She had been on the receiving end of plenty of Abigail’s angry tirades, however. She was used to the fire in her eyes when rage rippled across her skin like a soundwave. When she spun on her now, Raelle met her gaze head on.
Abigail’s jaw twitched from the force of her clenching it. She saw the fire in her gaze, the anger alight in her stomach and then Raelle watched as it dropped away just as quickly and Abigail's eyes watered. Her face twisted to stop the sudden tears from falling and Raelle fought the urge to reach out for her. The show of emotion in front of other people would be embarrassing enough for her sister, to acknowledge it would only add insult.
“I know, Abs.”
Raelle felt her own eyes water once again as Abigail dipped her head and sucked in a deep breath of air. She closed her eyes against the pain she knew their sister was most certainly experiencing at the moment wherever she was.
Abigail leaned one hand against the doorframe of the kitchen and sagged hard against it. She wiped roughly at her eyes with the other. When she raised her head once again, she pointed halfheartedly back towards the entryway from which Tally had stormed and shook her head.
Raelle merely nodded.
No one said another word.
Tally was warm.
Peace enfolded her like a long lost friend as she breathed deeply through her nose and burrowed further into the pillow beneath her head. She wasn’t sure what had woken her, but she couldn’t bring herself to care.
The stillness of the room laid over her like the coolness of the sheet against her bare skin. The room was warm and the moon’s light dipped softly in against the floor like a silent blessing. She couldn’t remember a time she had felt so safe and so tremendously at peace.
She breathed deep, tugged the sheets up higher across her shoulder, and closed her eyes once again.
She felt the sheet tug and the bed dip before the warm press of lips ever registered against her shoulder blade. Even in her sleep woven state, the soft smile graced her lips easily. Another warm kiss pressed further up her shoulder blade as the sheet moved silently against her skin.
A hand, warmed with sleep, slid slowly across her stomach and Tally breathed deep against the feel of it.
Against the feel of home that settled easily across her very essence.
Another kiss pressed to the base of her neck and she couldn’t suppress the soft moan that pushed passed her lips. A smile chased the sound.
“I think I always want to wake up like this.”
Her voice was gravel fed with sleep, the chuckle from over her shoulder just as much.
“Well then, it’s a good thing I plan on doing so.”
Tally felt the smile split her face as Sarah pressed fully against her back. Her lips pressed a tender kiss to Tally’s witch’s mark before she leaned forward to nibble gently on an ear lobe. Tally couldn’t suppress the sleepy chuckle that broke forth at the action.
Sarah was teasing her, she knew, but she could never be one to deny it.
They had only just fallen asleep it seemed. She could easily recall the feel of Sarah’s weight on top of her. The press of her kiss against her stomach. The sounds of ecstasy that her fingers had pulled from her lips. Hours of lovemaking and still somehow neither of them sated.
Tally entwined her fingers with the hand softly roaming across the planes of her stomach and smiled as Sarah pressed a kiss against her ear.
“We have three more hours before either of us must be awake, my darling.”
Another kiss to her throat accompanied the words and Tally felt herself tilting her neck to grant more access to warm lips. When Sarah bit softly against the joint of her neck and shoulder, a gasp loosed itself from her lips.
Sarah’s low voice rumbled through her chest. “I know you love your sleep, so if you’d rather, I do understand.”
Tally grinned and turned in Sarah’s arms then, crashing their lips together as she slid atop her. Sarah gasped when she raised, sheet sliding down her back as Tally straddled her hips and gazed down at her.
“Who needs sleep?”
Sarah smiled up at her then even as she reached to take hold of her hips.
“Then wake up, my love.”
When she blinked awake, all Tally felt was cold.
Her head pounded in time with some phantom sound in the stillness of the barn she had fled to upon returning and her eyes darted to find the discarded empty bottle of whiskey amongst the strands of hay. An overwhelming sadness pressed against her chest at the sight of it, almost a welcome reprieve from the gaping maw of emptiness she had been living with for weeks now.
The dreams had been coming with more and more regularity now, but this one was particularly difficult. She could still feel her pulse pounding. Could still hear Sarah’s laugh against her ear. Still feel her lips against her shoulder blade. Why was she tormenting herself with these dreams more and more these days?
Images of a naked Sarah on the floor of the Necro lab with Izadora nearby.
Images of snow falling around them as Sarah smiled at her softly.
Images of Sarah’s betrayed eyes ringed with red as she shoved passed her.
Tally pushed herself up gingerly.
Dizziness smoothed the jagged lines of her existence and she closed her eyes against it.
Nicte’s gruff voice was almost gentle in the darkness. Tally squinted against the small sliver of moonlight that spilled in through the open barn door as Nicte leaned there, eyes scanning the horizon around them.
“I’m fine. Just a dream.”
Nicte grunted, but didn’t turn.
Tally ran a hand through her tousled hair slowly. Her fingers stuck halfway through and she tugged to no avail. She sighed, dropped her hands, and pushed up further on the old wooden bench inside the door she had clearly passed out on.
“Why did you let me sleep?”
She dropped her head into her hands and pressed the pads of her fingers against her eyes in an attempt to chase the throbbing in her head and body away.
The dream had been too damn realistic.
Nicte turned to glance at her from over her shoulder and shrugged once.
“Figured you could use the rest once you passed out, but you’re going to be a pain in the ass tomorrow if you don’t get into an actual bed.”
Tally squinted up at her against the light and then dropped her gaze back down. Her brows pinched together in confusion as Nicte’s plain jacket slid down onto her lap.
Memories of a sheet sliding down her back flitted through her mind. Tally cleared her throat and lifted the jacket from her lap. When she held it aloft, Nicte turned.
“Uh. Thanks. That’s surprisingly sweet of you.”
Nicte stared at her for only a moment before she took two steps in, tugged the jacket from her fingers and shrugged it back on.
Tally caught sight of something in her gaze before Nicte sniffed and nodded. “Don’t mention it. Didn’t want you to get cold.”
Tally scrunched her brow in thought as Nicte turned back to the open doorway.
“It was sweet but unnecessary. Why didn’t you use a warming seed?”
Silence held between them for a few moments before Nicte cleared her throat and gazed back at the empty expanse.
“Maybe I thought I could take the penance for a while. You’ve been doing it enough for everyone.”
Dream Sarah’s smiling face swam into Tally’s mind’s eye and the ache in her chest flared raw. Tally reached to rub against her chest without thought and clamped the feeling down. It didn’t matter now anyway.
Sarah was long gone.
With a sigh, Tally pushed herself slowly towards the end of the bench, planted her feet on the ground, and sank her head once again into her hands.
“Yeah. Must explain the dreams.”
Her muffled voice made Nicte turn to find Tally curled in on herself with her head in her hands. Nicte had seen and known self-destruction before. She knew its ache and look with a familiarity that echoed home.
She knew the younger woman was drowning in it, could feel it rolling from her. And she didn’t know what the hell to do about it. This was the woman who had stood against her and held her own.
This was the woman who had stood toe to toe with Sarah Alder for her life with no reasoning given except that it was the right thing to do. The thought that she herself couldn’t remember a time when her own conviction had been so concrete that she had stood against the raw power of Sarah Alder without running away made her feel less than.
The fact that the cause of this woman’s hurt was that very courage shown on her behalf made Nicte uncomfortable in a way she couldn’t name. That she had been able to see Tally’s own feelings towards Sarah and use them against both her and Sarah time and again merely twisted the knife more.
“Let me guess - Sarah alive in it?”
Nicte didn’t have to turn back to feel Tally’s gaze on her. She raised one eyebrow and turned. Tally’s face wore all the confirmation she needed.
She could read the questions dancing in her eyes and she felt the sigh press its way into her chest. She turned away.
“No, I’m not in your head. It’s a classic guilt tactic.”
She let the silence fall between them again, her own thoughts spiraling to all that had transpired between them in the short time that they’d known each other. Anger and guilt warred inside of her and she shook her head against both.
“You couldn’t have saved her, Red. Her being General wouldn’t have stopped her from fighting that night and it wouldn’t have stopped them from coming for her. You gotta let it go.”
The silence was heavy as Tally merely stared at the ground in front of her. Guilt had been her constant companion for weeks, but she had believed she had started to get a handle on it. Seeing how happy people were with what had happened to Sarah had caused something inside of her to snap.
Tally shook her head hard.
It wasn’t right. Those people couldn’t see that she was a villain here.
Nicte glanced back at her again. “Scylla told me what happened in town.”
Tally’s laugh was full of anger. It sounded terribly hollow.
“Did she tell you that they heralded me as some fucking hero?”
Nicte turned to her then and Tally’s eyes burned with anger momentarily. Nicte hoped for a moment that the woman who had stated that she wanted revolution would stand up from the bench and saunter over, damn dimples on display. When Tally’s eyes merely dropped to the ground once more, Nicte felt the thought evaporate into the cold air around them. Tally’s fire was rapidly evaporating, too.
She wanted to snark, to remind Tally that not everyone had a worldview of Sarah Alder as a hero, but she couldn’t. She knew that Tally hadn’t only been on the receiving end of praise in the town, but plenty of white hot anger over the betrayal of the witch who had given her entire existence for them all.
The thought of such righteous loyalty to Sarah Alder had sent blinding anger coursing through Nicte when Scylla had told her. Scylla had calmly reminded her that none of this was about her own feelings on the subject before she’d stalked off. In the hours that followed, Nicte had tried to send an insistent Raelle and Abigail away from a passed out Tally. The fact that they wouldn't budge only slightly lessened her disquiet. Abigail’s eyes had burned with anger when she had threatened Nicte with bodily harm at a single one of Tally’s hairs being out of place. Raelle’s quiet sizing her up had given way to Nicte freely welcoming them to sit with the unconscious witch. They’d laid her softly onto the bench and Nicte had shrugged out of her jacket then and laid it over the young woman’s sleeping form. When Tally hadn’t stirred once during the hours of their time together, Raelle had looked between Tally and Nicte and made her promise to inform them the moment that Tally had woken. Abigail had stared long and hard at her before nodding and walking away.
They hadn’t reached a peace agreement in the conversation between them, but a tentative understanding had been discussed. After all, no one understood guilt and anger wrapped up in Sarah Alder like Nicte Batan.
Nicte shook her head and turned fully then. She wouldn’t contribute to this young woman’s hurt any more than she already had, but she couldn’t just let her tear herself apart, either. She wouldn’t let Sarah Alder steal another witch’s light. She knew her sisters were planning on addressing the elephant in the room, but she’d never been particularly good at being a team player.
She hummed a low sound in the back of her throat and instantly the air around them warmed. Tally gave her a wilted, tight-lipped smile then sighed heavily and sat back hard against the bench.
“I don’t know what to do. All I feel is emptiness. The sadness… it won’t come and I’m afraid that when it does…”
Nicte pushed off the doorframe and flopped down onto the wooden bench beside the redhead. Tally regarded her flatly.
“Everyone thinks I’m fine but I’m not.”
Nicte knew better, but she also knew better than to reason against self-deprecating thoughts. She chose non-engagement instead. Dark eyes bore into Tally’s own before Nicte draped one arm over the back of the bench and licked her lips.
“Isn’t that what you wanted?”
Tally’s eyes widened only slightly. “What?”
“You’ve shut yourself down hard for a long time.”
She held one hand up haphazardly as Tally turned to stare at the far wall.
“Not that I’m one to argue with the tactic but those others, they haven’t stood a chance at getting back in. Sometimes people stop trying.”
Tally blinked hard but never turned to look at her.
Nicte chuckled darkly then.
“I understand the tactic of patience better than most.”
Silence held again as Tally merely stared into the darkness of the barn. Nicte heard her intake of breath more than saw it.
“Do you think I’m a bad person?”
The whispered question hit Nicte like a wind strike straight to the stomach and she felt all the feigned bravado drain in an instant. She was grateful for a moment that Tally wasn’t looking at her. She swallowed hard against the tightening of her chest and pushed up straight, dragging her arm from the back of the bench to drop into her lap.
“I’m probably not the best person to ask that to, Red.”
Tally nodded in agreement but said nothing. Nicte felt unease crawl up her spine as the silence stretched between them this time. Finally Tally spoke again.
“You’ll tell me the truth.”
Nicte turned her eyes back to the open door of the barn and sighed. Tally was right.
“We’re all capable of bad things at any moment. Sometimes we don’t even understand why we do what we’re doing or we tell ourselves it’s the right thing to do.”
She saw Tally flinch from the corner of her eye, but she kept going.
“It’s all perspective. All of it.”
She paused and turned then, eyes dancing across Tally’s lifeless, tangled hair.
“But no, Red, I don’t think you could be a bad person even if you tried.”
Tally turned so quickly on her that Nicte was caught off guard by the movement. She didn’t think too long on when that had last happened.
“My dreams lately.”
Nicte swiped at her nose and snuffed, pushing herself a little farther away.
“You’re dreams are you trying to think of a way to change a situation you feel guilty about. But you can’t change it, Red. You knew what needed to be done and you did it. Not many people have the guts to do that. Especially when it isn’t always a happy ending waiting on the other side.”
When Nicte turned again, Tally was staring at her with unreadable eyes. Nicte merely stared at her for a moment before Tally’s eyes seemed to harden in decision. She took a shallow breath and raised one eyebrow.
“Do you wanna have sex?”
Shock smacked Nicte square in the face.
Tally merely gestured to herself with one hand. “With me. Do you want to have sex with me?”
Nicte shook her head and shoved herself to her feet, two steps towards the barndoor.
“You don’t know what you’re saying.”
Tally bobbed her head and pushed herself up. “I know exactly what I’m saying.”
Nicte shook her head and stared hard into the night. Tally was certainly attractive, and Nicte had spent a fair amount of time shamelessly flirting with her. To give in would be frighteningly easy. Nicte didn’t know what it meant that she had so suddenly bucked against the offer.
“You know who I am. What I’ve done, Tally. You don’t want that.”
“Yeah, but we’re all capable of bad things remember?” Tally dropped her arms against her sides and looked around to take in the inside of the barn.
Dream Sarah smiled at her as snow fell softly in her dark hair. Dream Tally reached out to brush it away.
Tally shook her head to try to shake the image loose.
“What I want doesn’t matter. I’m tired of feeling empty and guilty. What’s wrong with wanting to feel something good?”
Nicte refused to turn around. “Because it may not feel good after.”
“It can’t be any worse.”
She could hear Tally move behind her, could feel her close the distance. “It’s not like I don't know you want to. I know you think I’m attractive.”
Nicte licked her lips and turned halfway to look over her shoulder to find Tally standing close, head tilted and eyebrows raised. She wouldn't deny that a twist of want sparked in her stomach at the invitation, but it warred with the anger and guilt that flared in her gut. Those feelings decidedly belonged to her thoughts and time with Sarah Alder.
“I’m not her.”
Tally’s face fell and Nicte turned back to the open door.
“And I’m about as far from her as you can get.”
Tally silence was ice itself. “What is that supposed to mean?”
Nicte sighed and turned. “I saw your thoughts, Red. Not hard to figure out that you’re running and what you’re running from.”
Tally scoffed and pressed forward then and Nicte felt the sound like a match strike. It was so deliciously familiar that she was suddenly desperate to hear it again. Tally pushed angrily into her space, face held inches from the side of Nicte’s own.
“Aren’t you supposed to be the master of that or something?”
Nicte felt the dangerous tug of fire in her chest once more and let its answering grin spread across her lips. She turned slowly to rake her eyes across the angry look on Tally’s face, then surged forward and kissed her.
“If what you’re saying is true and this connection with Tally Craven was never closed, does that mean that Sarah can communicate with her like with the Biddies?”
Anacostia could hear the small grip of hope in Petra’s voice even as her eyes danced back to land on her mother. They hadn’t yet briefed her on the happenings since she had been gone, and she could tell that the excuses they used to push the conversation away were tenuously agreed to at best until they could safely prove that Sarah was Sarah.
Time had crawled, but Izadora and Magda had exhausted every test they could conceive of to prove that Sarah was indeed herself.
Anacostia could hardly understand or believe it, but she had seen and known stranger things to be true. If somehow the Goddess had returned her own mother to her - younger, stronger, and mortal? She would be damned if she questioned Her.
“I’m not sure. It’s going to warrant further testing.”
Anacostia allowed Izadora’s words to drown out as she tilted her head and studied her mother. Sarah had been adamant about the connection between she and Tally Craven being examined, though she wouldn’t name why. She had been taken off guard when Izadora hadn't moved at the request, merely stood studying Sarah's face silently. Petra had tossed a questioning glance back at Anacostia then, but she had no explanation for the strange exchange. It was only when Sarah gave her a small nod that Izadora made any sort of movement to comply and a half an hour later, Izadora had quietly revealed the connection to still be intact. Anacostia wordlessly catalogued that she didn't seem shocked by the revelation. Petra must have noticed it too, because she had immediately questioned Sarah’s once standard line that it had been closed.
Sarah, jaw set firmly in place, merely maintained that it was safer for Tally to have believed that the connection had indeed been closed. Anyone could have used such a thing to warrant violence against her, she had stated. Petra had demanded to know why, if the connection could portend such danger, she hadn't been made aware of this as the Head of Intelligence and Sarah had merely shared a silent look with Izadora. Petra puffed at the exchange and the argument that had ensued had been swift and mostly one sided, because Sarah, once wholeheartedly engaged in the discussion, had steadily fallen into silence. Petra had turned her frustrated barrage of questions upon a suddenly uninformed about Sarah's connections Izadora. Anacostia knew something deeper was going on, but as she turned to ask her mother, she watched as Sarah sat back, face becoming more unreadable as the seconds passed.
Anacostia knew her mother’s tells despite her great ability to have always masked her emotions.
Something was wrong.
Anacostia snapped back to the discussion just as it halted. The others, too, were now seemingly aware of the former General’s silence. Petra tossed an uneasy glance towards her and Anacostia pressed off of the chair she had been leaning against.
Sarah’s gaze rose instantly to her own and she blinked the faraway look in her eyes away slowly. Her hand stilled where she had pressed it against her chest.
Petra looked back at Izadora even as the Necro circled to move immediately to Sarah’s side, all thoughts of the previous disagreement suddenly gone. Her hand raised to Sarah’s cheek instantly.
“You’re clammy. This may be taking too much of a toll on you. You should rest.”
Petra nodded once at the explanation and began to round the chair that Sarah sat in.
“My apologies, Sarah. I cannot imagine how difficult this entire ordeal has been on you. We’ll let you rest if you need and come back to this…”
Sarah’s voice was steel.
Petra halted mid-step as Sarah swung her legs across the chair and planted them firmly on the ground. When she looked up, her features had slid into what Anacostia knew to be tightly controlled anger. From sheer muscle memory, Anacostia tucked her hands behind her back and straightened her spine. Izadora took a step backwards as Sarah pushed to her feet with ease, towering over the other women effortlessly.
Sarah’s eyes remained locked on Petra as she turned, and for the first time since she had returned, Anacostia watched as her mother seemed to slide back into the rigid posture of General Alder. She felt the room’s temperature drop.
“What I need, Petra, is to know why my soldiers, especially Tally Craven, are with Nicte Batan.”