Sarah stared hard through the window and into the darkness surrounding the grounds of Fort Salem. She could feel the crackling energy just below her skin – remnants of her panic attack no doubt. She could not fathom why now, after over 300 years of life, that she was struggling to contain her emotions except that the Mycelium had stripped her of the remnants of her carefully built defenses. Anacostia had calmed her well enough, but the conversation she knew was now coming kept the intensity of her previous admissions just below the surface.
She had never spoken aloud the things she had acknowledged to her daughter, but once she had confessed it, it was as if she could no longer contain it. Finally haven been spoken, it was as if her truth was not to be denied again.
It pushed into her chest.
It licked at her vocal cords begging to be spoken.
It vibrated just below her skin like Work.
Anacostia had been supportive when her slip in tongue had revealed the depth of her feelings for Tally Craven. She had been shocked to learn of the soul tie between them, but she had adapted to Sarah’s truth like it was a new piece of a tactical maneuver for which she needed to account. Unable to hide her emotions any longer, Sarah had been grateful for her daughter’s solid presence then. When Anacostia had suggested with great confidence that Tally felt the same as she, Sarah had been overwhelmed with uncertainty.
After everything that had transpired, Sarah could not be certain of anything, least of all how Tally Craven would feel when she revealed the full truth to her.
And she would reveal the entirety of the truth, of that she was certain. Tally had given up everything for her and had only asked for that in return. In the grand scheme of their reality, there were things she could not know given her position, but Sarah’s reasoning for her choices and her half-truths?
She could and would give her that.
Whether Tally would be open to hearing it was something she would have to face when she found them.
And find them she would.
She would rend the world apart to find Tally and her sisters. She would find them and begin to drain the poison of Nicte Batan from their systems, but she knew all too well that her nemesis was not to be trifled with. It wouldn’t be an easy task now that they had been together for almost a month and bonded in being hunted by those responsible for the loss of everything she before had ever held dear.
The Camarilla were insidious, but she had fought them for centuries. She knew what they were capable of. She knew their tricks and tactics. Anna had been right when she had told her that a great war was coming, but Sarah Alder would not falter this time.
Not when she had something so precious to protect.
Uncertainty flooded her system again so quickly that she was overcome with nauseousness. Just as quickly anger flared within her again. Sarah squeezed her teeth together until her jaw creaked. She pinched her eyes tightly shut and subvocally vibrated a seed to ease the rolling of her stomach.
It was true that she was unaccustomed to feeling so much, but she had no one to blame but herself. She had taken Tally’s offer in the Tarim Basin knowing full well what it would entail for her. The soul tie between them had been created, yes, but Sarah knew that the seeds for the feelings needed to create it had been present long before.
They had slipped in unnoticed, exacerbated by Beltane and the Reel and Sarah had been powerless against it. Centuries of impenetrable walls had creaked at the first stirring with the flash of a dimpled smile. When the Reel had propelled her towards the Knower, she had nearly stumbled with its certainty. Tally had been dancing in front of her and when she had spun, their eyes locking on the floor, fire raced up her spine and settled in her belly in a way that it hadn’t in too long of a time.
She wanted to step forward, to enfold the redhead in her arms and spend the evening ravishing her, but Tally deserved a choice and Sarah had been too frightened by the possibility of what the stirring of emotions could mean.
She exited the dance immediately.
Her walls had swayed but they had held.
When Tally had given herself to her in the Tarim basin, the Biddies had nearly buckled under the sudden onslaught of Tally’s emotions. Sarah had sheltered them from it, trickling bits by bits to them over the days, but she herself had shouldered the brunt of Tally’s immense grief at the loss of her sisters. She had too much understanding in that particular feeling and she had taken the weight of it from Tally without hesitation. It had felt selfish and definitely foolish to do so, but having access to such unadulterated emotions had opened her, made her come alive in a way that nothing had in centuries.
When she had learned that Raelle and Abigail were alive and shared that information with Tally, the rush of love and appreciation and gratitude overwhelmed her. She had knelt, openly, and cradled Tally’s face. She could still easily recall the sheltered intimacy of the press of their foreheads together.
When she had pulled Tally’s light away from her soul and cemented the tie between them, her carefully constructed walls had crumbled. She had struggled with the reality of the full range of Tally’s untrained emotions, but the loss of them had gashed her open so deeply that she could not articulate the depth of the wound. She had been left raw, gutted in a way that she had not felt since the gravity of her grief had apparently created the Mycelium. It had left her vulnerable and Nicte had taken advantage, but she could not regret it. Had she not given Tally her youth back, she would have been lost with the rest of the Biddies when the Camarilla had attacked Fort Salem.
She was certain that to have watched Tally Craven fall in front of her would have been her undoing.
Sleep, never a faithful ally had betrayed her. She had become haunted with guilt, with the weight of all she had experienced, and of the choices she had made. When Tally had begun pressing her about Liberia, one of her greatest failures, she had almost broken. The pull to tell her the truth was great and Tally’s awareness that their connection was still intact had shocked her.
That she was experiencing her memories as nightmares had terrified her to the core. Keeping her at arm’s length was no longer working. She hadn’t wanted to lie, but Tally was suddenly being physically injured by the very things that haunted her dreams.
To be tied to Sarah had meant pain for her and she had had no say in the matter.
To have admitted the truth of their connection would have complicated the situation and further taken choice from Tally.
That was something Sarah simply couldn’t do.
So, she had lied about it, about Liberia, about Nicte and everything else. Tally’s wide-eyed stare, as if she had known the truth and was merely giving Sarah the opportunity to say it, had nearly torn her apart. Guilt, a feeling she had long ago cast aside, had eaten at her from all sides once again.
It ate at her still.
Now that she could rectify her wrong choices - now that she could tell Tally the truth, the thought that it may already be too late was almost too much. A viper was nestled in the grass of this precarious reality.
Nicte Batan had so quickly been able to garner Tally’s trust. Trust enough for the young woman to become intimate with her. How a woman whose soul desire seemed to be honesty had been taken in by one whose very existence was built on lies was unfathomable to Sarah.
Nicte had tried to burn her alive from the inside. She had strung her up like a sacrifice inside of her very own warding circle. She had borne witness to her undoing in the hangar at the behest of Tally’s plea and still nothing angered her more than the remembered feelings through the connection she shared with Tally before she slammed it closed.
Had Nicte already discovered Sarah’s truth? Was she already using it to her advantage?
Her mind reeled back to the moments before she had slammed her connection to Tally closed once again. Nicte had seen an advantage and taken it, but Tally had allowed it. Perhaps even welcomed it. She was drowning in guilt and hurt, of that Sarah was certain. Perhaps she had wanted a distraction from the anguish she was feeling.
Sarah’s eyes opened to the darkness beyond the windowpane once again.
Or perhaps Anna had been wrong in her insistence that love and life were waiting for her here now. Perhaps she had already lost the very one her soul called out to before she had even spoken the truth to her.
The creak of a floorboard snapped Sarah’s ear towards the sound of Petra moving to the drink cart in the corner of her office. Sarah knew she had always liked it to remain behind the door, far enough away to never be a temptation, but close enough to be on hand when needed. It was a trait she had learned from Sarah herself.
A trait Sarah now despised.
The fact that she knew this woman so well made anger rear to life inside of her chest. This woman had betrayed her; had actively plotted against her for who knew how long. She had sent Tally into danger so profound that she hadn’t even been aware of its depth. That Nicte had stolen her face, had worn it to stare into her eyes, had been Petra’s doing.
A streak of lightning lit the sky in front of her and she fought to contain the raw and untamed rage as it licked across her soul.
This talk was a bad idea.
Máà, it’s ok.
Sarah closed her eyes to the darkness in front of her and took a deep breath. Anacostia’s words from mere hours before spilled through her mind. Her sister’s teasing smile breezed through her consciousness. A dimpled smile shrouded in filtered sunlight spun itself behind her eyelids and she felt her breath stutter.
Her heart quickened as the memory of Tally Craven smiling up at her after the unbiddying played smooth and uninterrupted through her mind. Warmth radiated through her chest at the remembered moment, stolen for just the two of them. It was a direct contrast to the raw fury that awaited her in the darkness beyond the glass.
Sarah took a slow, steadying breath in through her nose.
She was unsurprised to feel the soul tie that she had knowingly created pull at her chest at the thought of Tally, but she squeezed her hands tight and refused to open the connection that screamed for her attention.
She hadn’t yet opened it since … before.
The thought dimmed the image of Tally’s smile in her mind, and she pulled another slow breath in. She may be having difficulty containing the vast depth of her emotions since she had returned, but she was still herself. She had spent centuries perfecting the ability to calm herself; to slow her heartrate in battle. Now that she realized what was happening to her, recognized the telltale signs of the panic she had long ago banished, she could take the necessary steps to combat it.
She just had to remember who she was.
Her sister’s whispered words drifted around the images of Tally’s wide eyes staring hopeful up at her.
“There will be pain, my sister. There will be heartache, for that is what it means to be human.”
Tally was out there somewhere, hunted, hurting, and feeling guilt so immense that Sarah had felt it wash over her from the moment she had re-entered the world.
She felt her resolve strengthen and she blinked the dimpled smile away from her mind’s eye.
The clink of the glass decanter in the corner of Petra’s office pulled her mind back to the moment. She felt anger lick through her chest once again. Its cold fire doused the warmth that had permeated her body only moments before.
Petra’s vanity, ego and ambition had very nearly cost Tally her life. It had nearly cost them everything. She had fanned the flames of the rift torn raw from the separation Sarah had put between she and Tally and then had forcefully tried to maintain.
Petra had exploited it. She had put her in direct conflict with one of the most dangerous women Sarah had even known all to gain an advantage in a moment in which she could not comprehend the real dangers.
Nicte Batan would have killed Tally had she not seen an advantage, an opportunity.
She had picked apart Sarah’s weakness with precision and she had been helpless to stop it. Not with the Camarilla bearing down. Not with the President’s threats. Not with the jaws of Petra’s ambition snapping at her heels. The clash of the truth of Nicte Batan against the wave of Camarilla attacks had been too much and Sarah, unable to stand her demons any longer, had fallen.
Now Tally, Raelle and Abigail were somewhere out there hunted by the very ones who had stolen everything from her before. They were sheltering beside a wolf that was biding its time. No matter what anger she may feel, she’d have to control it. It had flared uncontrollably before in the Necro labs and she had very nearly brought the building down upon them without a thought.
She couldn’t lose control again. Not yet. Not until she knew that they were safe.
Petra cleared her throat softly behind her and Sarah turned slowly towards the sound. The woman stood, face slack as she held a crystal glass of whiskey outstretched towards her. There was no way she could know the depth of thoughts swirling in Sarah’s mind, but her face held contrition all the same.
Sarah stared at the outstretched glass wordlessly for a moment.
It seared through her like a flame.
“There will be love and happiness. There will be life, Sarah. I promise you.”
Her sister’s whispered words doused the heat of the anger just as Tally’s smile flashed once again through her mind.
Sarah stepped forward, pried her clasped hands from behind her back and stiffly reached for the glass without a word.
Petra held her gaze as Sarah felt the crystal’s weight heavy in her hand. Sarah wanted to grip it until the glass shattered, but Anna’s promise pushed back. Her sister had never lied to her, and she clung to the hope her words had instilled. She let them inflate the wish inside of her and felt it pushed against the all-consuming anger.
When it slowly receded, Sarah nodded once.
Petra released the glass and stepped back.
This talk was necessary.
Petra moved swiftly to place distance between them and retreated behind the desk in the center of the room. Sarah merely stood still, eyes watching her every movement.
Petra raised her eyes slowly and halted briefly as she had moved to sit. Their eyes held in the moment before Petra raised her glass halfheartedly and lowered herself fully into her chair. Sarah took one last look at the darkness beyond the pane of glass and moved towards the chair on the other side of Petra’s desk.
“So. I know there is a lot for us to talk about, Sarah…I can’t even know where to begin, but I think open honesty will be our best policy here, don’t you?”
Sarah settled into the leather of the wingback chair and raised the glass of whiskey to her lips.
“Are you in league with the Spree?”
Petra’s eyes widened comically for a moment before her brows pinched together.
Sarah shrugged once and tossed the whiskey back in one go. Petra stared wide eyed as she merely leaned forward and dropped the glass to the wooden top of her desk.
“It is a simple question, Petra. I’d like an open, honest answer.”
Petra Bellweather’s propriety was legendary. Sarah had seen her not blink an eye in political meetings with men whose unearned sense of self-importance led them to instruct them both on the finer points of war. She had wined and dined handsy politicians where Sarah had merely fled uninterested in the charade.
Now that was all out the window it seemed. Fury etched itself into the lines of her face. She leaned forward slowly and deposited her drink onto the desktop.
“How can you ask me that?”
Sarah raised one brow and lifted her leg to cross it against her opposite knee.
With a shrug, she shook her head and stared unblinking across the desk.
“Because someone allowed a Biddy influenced by the leader of the Spree to be placed under our noses. Someone allowed the Spree to infiltrate our ranks and you were my Head of Intelligence. You undermined my orders to have Batan killed and you placed cadets who were not at all prepared to face her in mortal danger so that you could have her captured instead. Then you allowed her to walk free with the greatest weapons the military has ever known.”
Sarah watched the anger build in Petra’s open stance as she rattled off item by item of Petra’s transgressions. Finally, Petra’s lip curled.
“My daughter is out there.”
Anger rolled in her gut once more, but Sarah merely nodded.
“And your ambition is great.”
Petra shoved her chair backwards with such fury that it bounced off of the wall behind her. Sarah merely watched calmly as she slammed her hands onto the desktop and leaned forward. Sarah watched the flash of a storm in the depths of her eyes.
“How dare you suggest that I would sacrifice Abigail for position? How dare you?!”
“No, Petra. How dare you?”
The calmness of Sarah’s words seemed to stagger Petra for a moment and she pushed off of the desk to stand, full height, staring down at her. Sarah did not change her posture, one leg propped on her knee as she leaned back into the plush pretentiousness of Petra Bellweather’s office chairs. She could feel the anger rattling against her insides. This had been a long time coming.
“You betrayed me, Petra. You betrayed your country. You betrayed your oath.”
Petra shook her head hard at the words. She spun half way to the wall and turned back, one finger pointing at Sarah as she did so.
“I took an oath to this country - not to you, Sarah Alder. And when you took my daughter to the Tarim and left her? I marked you.”
Sarah could remember clearly the pain that had been on Petra’s face in that moment. The moment she had stepped off of the bat without Abigail or Raelle in tow. It was the moment that Petra had thought her line ended, her daughter lost. Sarah had been reeling from Tally’s grief, surging with the adrenaline of her youth, and shouldering the burden of guilt for soldiers lost.
But she could remember the tears in Petra’s eyes beyond the fury.
Petra sighed heavily, reached behind her to tug the chair beneath her once again, and sat heavily in it. Sarah merely watched her intently as Petra stared at the top of her desk, picked up the discarded glass of whiskey and raised it to her lips.
“Things played out very badly after and I made a lot of horrible choices, but I’m not in league with the Spree and I never have been.”
Another deep sigh forced its way from Petra’s lungs and Sarah watched as she leaned forward. Her shoulders slumped just the slightest. Having known her for decades, Sarah was certain she was uniquely able to catalogue every detail of her posture that signaled something was entirely off.
Perhaps Petra hadn’t fared as well as she had thought she would under the strain of the position she had jockeyed her way into.
Sarah felt a rush of fellowship for that heaviness. She understood it with an intimacy she would likely never know again.
Sarah had always known of Petra’s political moves. She could read the woman like a book. It was why she had been successful for years at keeping her at bay. Centuries of experience had made her adept at knowing when someone was lying to her face, but more than that, she knew Petra’s tells.
She saw none of them now.
Sarah internally sighed and then swallowed hard against the scratchiness in her throat. This woman had once been a friend.
It was a simple question, but its weight held firm in the air around them.
Petra looked up then. Her eyes caught Sarah’s and held.
Sarah could see remorse flicker in them before she dropped them to the glass in her hand.
Petra drained it in one go.
“You’re right - I saw an opportunity and I took it.”
Sarah let her foot drop to the floor as she leaned back. She hadn’t expected Petra to just admit it aloud.
Petra swiped one hand down her face and sighed. Sarah could feel its heaviness from where she sat.
“As for letting Batan go - I literally had no choice. She fought beside me the night you fell, she…”
Petra paused and took a deep breath.
“When Tally and Raelle and Abigail were accused of Penelope Silver’s death, I knew the Camarilla were behind it and that they were likely very high up in the government already. Batan and I struck a deal. A necessary evil for the Spree to join us against them.”
Petra looked up once more, eyes suddenly pleading as she leaned forward onto her desk.
“She would never have agreed to work with you, and I needed someone who would protect them.”
Sarah felt tears prick at the back of her eyes at the whispered words, at the impossible reality that had been built for them all. She shook her head slowly.
“Nicte protects no one but herself.”
Petra sighed heavily.
“I think you’re clouded by your hatred.”
“And you by your need to be correct.”
The terse statement snapped Petra’s mouth closed because it was true. Petra had always needed to be right in any situation and years of bending to Sarah’s knowledge and orders when she felt she could do better had eaten at her. It had caused her to betray one she had once considered a sister. Sarah’s certainty of Nicte Batan’s character would be devastating to her now that she had sent her only child away with her.
Petra didn’t need to be right for her ego’s sake.
She needed to believe she was right because her daughter’s life was on the line.
Sarah stared at her for another moment as Petra brought her thumb and forefinger up to pinch the bridge of her nose. She could feel the tension, the devastation from where she sat. Sarah had long known that there were some things that would never change and some things that could never be solved by discussion. Petra would never see what Sarah knew about Nicte because she could not afford to do so.
And so, Sarah decided on grace. She shifted in her chair and looked to the bookshelf lined with Petra’s medals and commendations on the far wall. Things she herself had given to the woman.
“Something has been bothering me. You’ve always been a good soldier, personal ambition aside. How did a Biddy fall under Nicte’s control on your watch?”
Petra looked up as Sarah swung her gaze back around to her.
“That’s been bothering me, too. I have a theory, but you may not like it.”
Sarah could feel the sigh press up and out of her lungs slowly. Petra paused, waiting for the ok. She had the decency to look apologetic for a moment before Sarah nodded for her to continue.
“When Tally left the hive mind - I thought, but now know, that it was a bond that wasn’t broken completely. Which means some part of her was still connected to you and it.”
Petra leaned back in her chair, eyes firm on Sarah’s own and Sarah watched as she settled easily into the role she had played for years under her. Petra Bellweather was many things, but a damn good intelligence officer was top of the list.
“When Batan was probing you, she saw the weakest link in the chain. She didn’t know who it was, but she saw it. And when you removed Tally…”
Petra slowly halted her speech. Sarah felt her stomach turn at the implication. Petra sighed as she stared across at her. Sarah had not told her what she had told Anacostia, would not, but Petra was smart. She’d figure out some part of it.
“I’m assuming you weakened yourself.”
She paused again and Sarah sat staring at her. When she realized that Petra wasn’t going to continue without her acknowledgment, she nodded slightly.
Petra nodded as if suddenly understanding some things she had been trying to piece together.
“I think Tally started having nightmares that were meant for you. Batan couldn’t know what had happened, but she struck. She had probably been probing for Goddess knows how long, but when you were weakened, she was able to get a toehold.”
Sarah’s eyes dropped to the floor. She had left Tally helpless to Nicte’s work. Of course Batan had found the gaping hole in Sarah’s defenses. She had followed the weakness and since Sarah had closed herself off as best she could from her, she naturally would have been led right to Tally. Tally had unknowingly taken the nightmares that Batan had sent for Sarah.
“I left her helpless against her.”
Petra stared as Sarah squeezed her eyes closed. Guilt flooded through her once again. Tally had tried to talk to her, to tell her, and she had been quick to dismiss her. She had been too afraid of what would happen if she spent more time than necessary with her. But learning of Tally’s nightmares, knowing Izadora had treated her for centipede bites in her sleep, it had been too much. Too dangerous to allow it to continue. Tally had been given a concoction by Izadora to close off the connection as best she could, but Nicte had already gotten into the link. And now closed off from Tally, her anger had bled through onto her.
Thoughts raced through Sarah’s mind making connections between timing and Tally’s uncharacteristic actions.
When Sarah looked up, Petra was studying her closely.
Petra raised one brow and licked her lips slowly. She had known the specifics of Tally’s treatment by Izadora for the nightmares. She was the mother of her sister and certainly Abigail had spoken of Tally’s inability to sleep, of potions she was forced to take at Sarah’s insistence. Petra had probably believed it was a means of keeping Tally out of her secrets and not from terror at what Batan would be capable of.
“Izadora closed our connection as best she could.”
Petra nodded. “It was only logical then that she followed that line to the second weakest link…the newest Biddy. My guess is she used that connection that was being built to infect her and eventually control her.”
Sarah felt the weight of certainty press against her chest. Petra had to be right.
So soon after Tally’s turn against her, Sarah had been blindsided by hurt at the thought that Hannah had betrayed her. But it all made sense, even if Petra didn’t have the full picture of what had actually happened between she and Tally.
Sarah took a steadying breath against the wave of relief that flooded her.
“How do you know this?”
Petra sighed and Sarah looked up. She could feel the hesitation from her, but Petra nodded.
“Because after you were given to the Mother, I went to see her. She was inconsolable and obviously returned to her younger self. She was horrified that she was young again and that she couldn’t remember what she’d done. We tried to extract it manually but had to resort to other means.”
Sarah knew that meant someone had linked with her. She was overcome with the need to see her.
Petra held up one hand and shook her head.
“She’s physically fine, but her mind … she’s not well. Hasn’t been since we found her.”
Sarah could not take the softness suddenly present in Petra’s voice.
“I want to see her.”
Her last Biddy. The last woman alive who had given up her youth to sustain her. She needed to see her. Needed her to know that what she had given had never been in vain. Maybe she could help her in some way now that she was more capable of emotional connection.
Petra must have noticed the spiral she was headed into. She leaned forward and laid one hand flat against the top of her desk.
“Sarah. You can’t do that.”
Sarah knew it was true even though the confirmation scorched white hot pain through her. Petra pressed on.
“If Nicte still has any connection at all in there, she’ll know you’re alive. I don’t know how she’ll react to thinking I betrayed her, and that could put them in danger.”
Sarah’s lip trembled with anger even as her eyes watered.
She had led them all here. Nicte had abused them all in a perfect storm of circumstances that started and ended with her feelings for Tally Craven.
She leaned forward quickly and pressed the heels of her hands hard against her forehead.
Petra’s eyes widened as she watched the emotions play openly across Sarah’s face. She had known this woman for nearly her entire life, and while she understood that Sarah’s emotions were raw due to her resurrection, something just wasn’t adding up. Petra took a slow, deep breath in preparation for what she was about to ask. She had known Sarah Alder’s anger in a thousand different ways, but on this topic, she hesitated.
Sarah didn’t even look up.
“You tried to close the bond between you and Tally. Did you do that to keep her safe at your own expense?”
Sarah closed her eyes tight.
“I had hoped that with time and separation it would dwindle. That she wouldn’t be in danger if I closed it from my end…”
Petra knew she didn’t know everything there was to know about unions and certainly not about Sarah’s unique connection to the Biddies, but Sarah had taken extreme measures to protect the idea that Tally and she were still connected. She suspected that that reason wasn’t being told to her fully, and she could understand why. She had broken Sarah’s trust.
But Sarah wasn’t acting as if this was merely a connection with another Biddy. She had accepted easily that Hannah couldn’t know she was alive. Sarah was protecting this connection as if it was much more important.
As if Tally was much more important.
Sarah inhaled a slow, deep breath. She seemed shaky and pale. Petra had only ever seen her look that way after the connection with Tally had initially been severed. Before Nicte Batan had used Sarah’s selflessness against her.
“You sacrificed yourself for her.”
Sarah looked up at her then and the raw truth in her eyes made Petra pale.
“Holy shit. You created a soul tie.”
Sarah’s face tightened at the awed statement and it was all the confirmation that Petra needed.
It all made sense.
The way that Sarah was so protective of the connection, the way that Tally had been on the receiving end of attacks that were intended for Sarah.
The way that Tally had been able to get away with demanding answers she had no clearance for. The way that Sarah had capitulated to her request for her to come clean in front of those who had plotted her downfall.
Petra felt a pang of guilt at the thought.
Sarah said nothing, but she was resolutely refusing to meet Petra’s eyes.
She had tried to protect Tally by keeping her away. She had intentionally weakened herself to keep her safe, to give her her life back. She had shouldered a burden Petra could not fathom all to ensure Tally was ok and Petra had, true to fashion, done the exact opposite.
Shock sat thick in the air as Petra leaned back heavily into her chair.
“Sarah. I didn’t know.”
Sarah looked up at her then and Petra furiously shook her head. She had never meant for anyone to get hurt.
“I walked Nicte Batan right in here.”
Sarah swallowed hard and nodded.
“Yes, but only because she allowed it. She could have easily killed them had she thought they were going to kill her. In a large way, I’m grateful that she came here instead. I’m grateful for your disloyalty.”
Petra felt the words cut deep, but she couldn’t deny them. She had been supremely disloyal, and could have killed Sarah in the process.
She could have killed Tally.
Guilt spiked through her gut and Petra raised one shaky hand to her face.
“I didn’t know any of this was happening, Sarah… I…”
Sarah shook her head slowly to stop the statement.
“You wouldn’t have done it differently had you known.”
Petra sighed heavily and kept her eyes trained on the wall in the corner. Her eyes danced over her commendations, medals, photos of tours of service with Sarah, photos of Abigail and her sisters.
“Maybe not, but I’m ashamed of my actions and that isn’t something I’m accustomed to saying.”
The words caught Sarah off guard and she swallowed hard once again. She itched to push herself upright and pace, but couldn’t find it in herself to do so. She and Petra had worked together brilliantly once upon a time. She did not like how things had transpired, but even she could not deny that there was a certain symmetry to it. After everything she had experienced, after a literal resurrection, she had to believe there were greater things at play than she knew.
With a slow, deep breath in, Sarah raised an eyebrow.
“Maybe this all played out the way it was supposed to.”
Petra looked up sharply.
“How do you mean?”
Sarah pushed herself up then. She reached forward slowly and collected both her and Petra’s glasses and then turned and made her way towards the bar cart in the corner. Petra’s eyes tracked her every step of the way.
“I have fought the Camarilla for centuries. They’ve hunted me since the beginning.”
She uncorked a large, rounded decanter that she knew had been Minerva’s and her mother’s before her and tipped its contents generously into the first crystal glass.
“Nothing I have ever done has been enough to stop them. And now that …”
Now that I have someone I love again …
Whiskey sloshed over the side of the glass as the thought came unbidden to her mind. Sarah stared down at it, and then closed her eyes and breathed deep. It would do no good to allow her emotions to control her in this moment.
She tipped the decanter into the other glass.
“Now that they could have a target to use against me, perhaps it is best that someone is in charge that they cannot anticipate.”
The decanter stopper echoed as it rattled back into place.
Sarah picked up the glasses and turned. Petra stared at her as Sarah paused, holding her gaze intentionally before she moved forward once again.
“They have studied me. They know how I work – where I would go. The Tarim was a testament to that. But they don’t know you or how you lead.”
Petra leaned back as Sarah reached the glass out towards her. For a moment she merely stared, mind working to catch on to what Sarah was suggesting. As she reached forward and grasped the glass slowly, she raised one brow and tilted the glass up at Sarah.
“And they think you’re dead, so their guard is down.”
Sarah nodded, raised the glass to her lips and sipped the warmth slowly. She turned back towards the wall of awards and let her eyes roam over them.
“That gives us a tremendous advantage. I can slip into the Cession and …”
Petra’s glass hit the desktop with a loud thud.
Sarah turned slowly, eyebrows raised as she gazed at Petra’s disbelieving stare.
“I’m going after them. Ana says their last know location was Stanton. I’ll be starting there but hopefully I can direct them…”
Petra waved her hands back and forth in front of her as she stood.
“Wait. You cannot be serious. The Camarilla are out there. You’re running the risk of being seen and losing the advantage that we have.”
Sarah turned fully then.
“You seem to be under the mistaken impression that I was asking permission, Petra. I will not hide here while …”
Tally needs me.
Sarah swallowed the thought down and pressed forward.
“While they are in need. Raelle, Abigail - Tally. They’re all with Nicte Batan.”
Petra heard the creeping anger rise back into the bite of Sarah’s words. She took two steps around the corner of her desk and raised a hand to placate her.
Sarah tossed the drink in her hand back in one go and shook her head. She could feel the anger building in her gut once more, feel the electricity of a storm racing under her skin. She had been willing to believe Petra once.
“I’m not debating this again.”
Petra sank to the corner of her desk and sat upon it before she crossed her arms. Her voice was hard and commanding when she spoke.
“I’m not asking you to. I’m asking you to listen. You said yourself that they don’t know how I’m leading, so don’t just go running off into the night without understanding the full tactical picture, General.”
Sarah paused at the harshness of Petra’s tone – the truth of her words. She knew what she was saying was tactically sound, but there was simply no way she was not going.
Goddess protect anyone who tried to stop her.
Petra must have sensed that very thought. She knew very well that as amiable as Sarah was being, the anger was just below the surface. She had promised her open honesty and so far, this had been as open as either of them had been in years. If they were going to have a chance at winning this, it would have to be together.
“I’ve been to Washington multiple times. They keep calling me in, giving me orders to find the Bellweather unit. They’ve accused me of subterfuge or treason. They began holding televised hearings on what happened to the “murderers in our midst”.”
Sarah felt her blood boil at the thought. It was the very reason she had stopped listening to all politicians. They were merely puppets who would say and do anything to witches if they didn’t get what they wanted. Televising the accusations would only stoke the fire of hatred from civilians, just like the Camarilla wanted, and they knew that.
Petra acknowledged the question in her eyes.
“I gave it right back to them. Told them how the Camarilla had attacked Fort Salem - butchered women – America’s soldiers - while they slept.”
Sarah flinched at the statement. She hadn’t been able to be briefed on the devastation of the attack on the Fort. She had been one of its victims.
Petra pushed up off of the desk and began moving, pacing a line towards the wall and then back again.
“Anacostia gave me the report of the Camarilla activities in the lands, so I held nothing back. I told them how they stole children from their homes and auctioned them off to be stoned to death. All under the watch of the American government.”
Sarah felt a swell of pride at Petra’s actions and a brief smile slid onto her lips.
“Bet they just loved that.”
Petra looked over at her.
“Oh, just as much as they loved how I told them that I had intelligence to suggest that there were high members of government who were Camarilla.”
Petra paused and stared Sarah in the eye.
“I told them in a televised to the nation hearing that the Armed Forces would disband under my watch if witches were not given protection. With the Accords severed, it bought us some time, but…”
Sarah could see Petra’s lips continue to move, but it was as if all the air was suddenly sucked from the room. A small ringing set off in her ear not unlike the aftermath of a battlefield explosion. It took Petra a moment to realize that Sarah was merely staring her at blankly. When she did, she darted forward quickly, hand latching on to Sarah’s wrist.
Sarah watched her lips continue to move but heard only the ringing.
With a rush, Petra’s voice tore through, and Sarah blinked up at her.
“The Accords are severed?”
The concern on Petra’s face dropped away immediately to be replaced by understanding. She nodded, her hand still clenched around Sarah’s wrist to ensure she stayed upright.
“When you died. The document dissolved; the binding broken.”
Sarah felt blindly for the arm of the chair she was near. Her fingers clenched around it and Petra stepped out of her way to allow her to all but collapse into it.
Petra stepped back in front of the chair and leaned once more upon the top of the desk. Sarah sat lost in her thoughts momentarily before she suddenly looked up.
She’d have time later to process the breaking of a pact she had created as a young woman in a desperate bid to protect witches.
Now she felt her pulse quicken with the tactical implications of the news Petra had given.
“That means they’ll be desperate.”
“They are. The threat of a disbanding without the Accords in place shook a hell of a lot of them. America’s enemies were listening. My telling of the truth of what happened at Fort Salem made sure that civilians saw us as people and not some dangerous machines and I made damn sure to talk about how we’d lost you. You upon whose back this country was built.”
Sarah couldn’t process all of the information she was being given, but she was beginning to see the larger picture of what Petra had been able to do.
“I capitalized on that. I sent Army convoys out to help supply other places that had been attacked. We stopped enforcing laws against Dodgers. We sent undercover agents into the Cession to hold strategy talks. We showed civilians what was going on.”
Sarah stared at the hard wood of the floor beneath her and nodded along.
Civilians would suddenly have been forced to look anti-witch sentiment and its consequences in the face and witches everywhere would begin to feel safe to come together.
Petra bent low and slowly made a fist. Sarah looked up at it as Petra spoke.
“It’s slow, Sarah, but it is working. I’ve told them I’m not conscripting anyone else into the Armed Forces while the government was doing nothing to stop the Camarilla threat. I won’t name another witch to be put into danger.”
Sarah stared hard at the front of Petra’s desk, her mind working to process everything that had been said. Finally, Petra took another deep breath.
“And I’ve let it be known that all of this is possible only because we are no longer bound by the Accords. Going back to that after this? It won’t be possible for them to shackle us that way again. I’ve made sure that people in the Cession understand that you were just as bound by them as we were.”
Sarah’s gaze shot up at the statement.
Petra crossed her arms tightly once again.
“Because perception is everything, Sarah, and old angers are hard to heal without an explanation.”
Sarah felt gratitude rush through so suddenly that her head swam with it. She raised one hand to her forehead and rubbed with her forefinger and thumb.
Petra’s voice was low when she spoke again.
“Besides, I know about the safehouses.”
Sarah’s movement stilled.
She lowered her hand slowly, eyes locked onto Petra’s. Petra merely raised one brow. Sarah’s secrets clearly weren’t as close to her chest as she thought.
Petra leaned back and sighed deeply. She thought for a moment and then swiftly shook her head.
“Years. You kept waystations for Dodgers without a connection to your name. Placed people you trusted in charge of them and then as the years went on… your attachment faded.”
Sarah swallowed and looked up at the ceiling.
Another secret peeled away.
Her voice was hoarse when she spoke.
“Witches who choose to not come forward should not be punished. They wouldn’t have trusted them with my name attached.”
Petra nodded softly and dropped her gaze to the ground at her feet.
“And you couldn’t openly say that, I know. And now the world does, too.”
Petra felt Sarah’s sharp glare and looked up quickly.
“Not about the safehouses, just that it wasn’t your desire to imprison witches.”
Sarah sank back into the chair and felt a hurt, long and deeply held in her heart unclench. The tortuous thought that she would force witches into the light was one she had long been saddled with. It was a cruel and ironic punishment really - an aside of the Accords that she had not foreseen, but that had been suggested by the government. Witches not in agreement with the Accords had to be punished and Sarah Alder, the witch who fought back, would not be able to openly disagree with it as long as she hoped to protect them.
Trade one set of witches for another. It had worked to fracture them. It had meant that witches everywhere would be forced into a life they hadn’t chosen or perhaps didn’t want. Having given everything to give them the freedom of a life, Sarah had inadvertently taken all choice from them.
So, she had done the next best thing she could think of. She had multiple safehouses constructed throughout the Cession under the guise of renewal. She’d toured the Cession, met with and learned from the Natives, and devised a plan. Farms were constructed with the knowledge she gained of each area. They served as self-sustaining waystations that could house and feed pockets of witches as they moved freely. She had detached her name from them completely and over time, allowed their history to fade to mere mystery.
Petra chuckled in disbelief. “I always wondered why you liked to announce where the Army would be looking for Dodgers by sending in the troops beforehand.”
Sarah wiped one hand down her face slowly. “It was a small warning that I could give them while selling it as a show of force to those in power.”
Petra nodded once more. “If they divide us, they conquer us.”
Sarah let the silence hold for several minutes. Its heaviness was once thick and uncomfortable in this room, but somehow in this airing of things between them, Sarah felt the smallest sliver of camaraderie once more. Perhaps it was the reality of what they were facing or perhaps it was the truth of the relationship between she and Petra. Either way, they needed each other. Who and what was at stake was larger than anything they had between them. Sarah could choose to hold onto a grudge, or she could do as she always had and fight for the greater good.
Finally, Sarah looked up and caught Petra’s gaze.
“What you’ve done here is astounding.”
Petra’s tired smile was genuine. “You were always the best at war, Sarah. I know the importance of appearance. Hell, I was raised on it.”
Another sign that perhaps this was how it all had been meant to be in this moment.
“You gonna be ok?”
The genuine question caught Sarah off guard, and she couldn’t fight the small, disbelieving laugh that escaped her lips.
“Is that concern I hear, Petra?”
Petra shrugged noncommittedly and reached to pick up her glass once more.
“I’ve been in this job a month. I’ve come to understand you in ways I never had before, and I’m sorry it has taken this for that to happen. I know now…”
She paused, eyes searching the face in front of her for the right words to say.
Sarah knew she could not say it. Petra would never be able to bring herself to say she understood the choices that Sarah had made. And Sarah didn’t need her to. Sarah flashed a grin that didn’t reach her eyes and leaned back.
“You know now why I always had the good whiskey?”
Petra loosed a chuckle at the comment. Sarah could hear the tinges of sadness on its edges. Years of history, good and bad, floated between them. They both had been in this long enough to understand that they may not make it through to the other side of it.
Petra bobbed her head up and down.
“Something like that.”
Sarah could feel the moment that the attempts at lightheartedness faded. Petra rolled the glass between her hands and looked up at her pointedly.
“You know while you’re out there that I may not be able to communicate through the Cession’s wards. There will be long periods where you’ll be on your own.”
Sarah heard the concern once more and the acquiescence to her decision to go off into the Cession. She glanced down at the last drops of whiskey in her glass and brought it to her lips.
“I’m used to that.”
She tipped the glass back, relishing in the feel of the burn of the fine liquor. It’d be some time before she’d drink it again.
“Maybe, but it isn’t a necessity anymore, Sarah.”
Petra pushed her way off of the desk and stood, hands at her sides. Sarah sensed the end of their conversation had come. She pushed her way up, leaned forward and deposited the glass onto Petra’s wooden desk.
Petra stood to her full height and straightened her back tall. Sarah followed suit.
Familiarity was a ground they could both stand upon.
“Secrecy never did us any good. Its time has ended. I’ll tell you everything I can. We’ll need to trust each other if we’re going to make it through, and I know we both want the same outcome. So, what I know - you’ll know. I choose to trust you, Sarah Alder.”
Sarah felt the emotion behind this promise just as strongly as when Petra had marked her after the Tarim. Its importance was not lost to her and neither was Petra’s guilt.
“Thank you, sister.”
Sarah extended her hand outright and Petra stared at it momentarily.
“I choose to trust you, Petra Bellweather.”
Petra smiled then and reached forward immediately to grasp Sarah’s forearm. A pact between witches was not to be broken.
They stood, forearms clenched in understanding.
“Where will you go?”
Sarah darted her tongue to wet her dry lips and gave an immediate answer.
“Northum. It’s the closest to them. If I can get them there.”
“I assume you have a plan.”
Sarah quirked an eyebrow.
“Already been implemented.”
Petra bit back the smile threatening to overtake her lips. Of course Sarah had already implemented her plan. She squeezed Sarah’s forearm tight.
“Anything you need that we can give, it has always been yours. Just find them and be safe.”
Sarah returned the pressure on Petra’s forearm in acknowledgement and nodded tightly.
“May the Goddess protect.”
Petra released Sarah’s forearm and tucked her hands immediately behind her back. She stepped back to give Sarah room to walk and dropped her gaze to the floor. Sarah was halfway to the door when Petra spoke again.
Sarah halted and turned, eyebrows raised.
Petra stood at full attention for a moment before she brought her hand to her chest in a crisp salute.
Sarah swallowed the words she wanted to say. She didn’t trust her voice in the moment. Instead, she nodded her head, smiled a tremulous smile, and walked quickly from Petra’s office.
The door fell closed softly behind her.