It had taken Nicte exactly 5 days into their journey to decide that the monumental stepping around of what needed to be said that everyone had collectively decided was best was actually bullshit, and to just Sleep Tally Craven.
Tally had not taken it well.
The only sound in the bus was the quiet hum of the road noise. The gentle rocking of the seat was oddly comfortable and Tally blinked back into consciousness slowly, blissfully unaware of where she was.
As she blinked at the hard back of the seat bench in front of her, it all came flooding back. Her chest constricted tightly and she turned her gaze to the soft blanket gently tucked around her.
It was a comfort she didn’t deserve.
She ripped it from her and sprang up from the bench so quickly that she had to grab the pole next to her seat for support. Multiple pairs of eyes stared up at her from their respective seats as she clutched the soft material in her hand.
She wanted to set it on fire.
“How…” She swiped her tongue across her lips to combat the sudden dryness. “How did I fall asleep?”
“People tend to do that when they don’t sleep for days.”
Nicte’s voice carried easily from the driver’s seat and Tally turned her confused gaze that way.
“Or when someone decided enough is enough and Sleeps you.”
“You Slept me?”
She could feel the irrational fury building inside of her; could feel it bumping up against the all consuming guilt. She took two shaky steps, reaching out to swing herself forward on the subsequent metal railings.
Nicte merely spared her a glance in the rearview mirror.
“So you just decided what was best for me? You didn’t even bother to ask me what I wanted?”
Nicte didn’t even look back. “Pretty righteous coming from you.”
Tally stumbled back at the words, and stared hard at the mirror above Nicte’s head. Raelle reached out gently and took her sleeve in her fingers.
White hot anger rushed back in. Tally shook her grip free as she stopped and spared a furious glance down at her sister.
“No, Rae. I guess I shouldn’t be surprised, that is her MO after all. I mean, it is what she did to Scylla, right?”
Nicte slammed the brakes suddenly and the bus lurched forward in the darkness. Tally was thrown into the railing beside her, but her boiling eyes were locked onto Nicte’s face in the rearview. When Nicte jerked the bus over to the side of the road and threw it into park, everyone was already wide awake. She had seen this rending coming; had known it wouldn’t take long before the gaping wound in Tally’s chest broke open, but she’d be damned if she played into it.
“You wanna yell at me? You can do it outside.”
She slammed the doors open with a hard clang of metal against metal and bounded down the stairs without a glance back.
Raelle and Scylla shared a tense look as Tally stood breathing hard and fast.
Quinn sighed but nodded with a soft, “Someone had to.”
The words caught her ears easily enough and Tally turned her gaze on each of them. They were weary, exhausted and smeared with dirt. When her gaze met each of her sisters, they dropped their sight from her. Voices whispered her failures in her head as she caught the too soft look of Scylla, the disappointed glace of Quinn, and Khalida’s serene one.
She turned back to the front of the bus and felt safe rage boil in her blood once more. Then she did what she did best.
She pushed forward.
She took the stairs in one large bound, eyes already finding Nicte a few yards away as her boots slammed into the gravel. Her heartbeat pounded in her ears and when Nicte disinterestedly looked around them, she felt the storm within her flare dangerously.
Thunder rolled overhead and Nicte raised a brow as she looked upwards.
“Now that’s a bit dramatic, isn’t it?”
Tally’s lip curled of its own accord. This woman that she had given everything for – that she had torn everything down for – was taunting her.
“Don’t you dare talk to me like that, Nicte Batan!”
Nicte crossed her arms and sighed once as Tally advanced on her.
“Who the hell do you think you are to make decisions for me?”
When she pressed her finger hard into Nicte’s chest, she felt the other woman go stiff. Dark eyes found her own and did not release.
“I’m the only fucking person here who seems to think that letting you pout is a bad idea.”
Tally reeled back like someone had smacked her. Lightning flashed across the sky.
“Pout? You have no idea...”
Nicte’s face was infuriatingly unreadable as she nodded.
“I know exactly, Red. You made a choice and it wasn’t what you thought it’d be. Life spun out from there and now you’re blaming yourself. You think all of us can’t see that?”
Tally felt the wound in her chest maw at her words, felt emotions tear through her faster than she could name. When she felt the familiar tears prick at her eyes, she dug her fingernails into the palms of her balled up fists to keep them at bay.
Nicte shook her head and stepped forward.
“Bullshit. You wanna hate yourself? Fine. But you’re putting everyone here in jeopardy – not just yourself.”
Tally chanced a glance back at the bus. Raelle and Abigail’s faces were clearly visible, both staring out at the scene happening.
The ache in her chest flared again. She could feel her heartrate pound harder. When her breathing become shallow, she vaguely realized the panic she had tried to keep at bay was swelling. Distantly, she remembered Izadora giving tips about counting in moments like this.
Things you could see…
She tried to force a deep breath as Izadora’s clinical voice faded through her memory.
Nicte, however, wasn’t privy to the warring inside of her.
“You can’t keep your head up. Your reaction time is slowed down. Fuck, the old lady could take you in hand to hand. The kid could.”
Penelope’s smiling face.
Nicte took another step forward and the movement snapped Tally’s eyes back to her. Nicte’s gaze was dark as she dropped her voice for only the two of them to hear.
“You wanna get yourself killed, that’s on you. But you aren’t doing it on my watch. Stop being a selfish brat and look at what the hell is actually going on around here. We’re outnumbered, we’re on the run. Alder’s dead.”
Sarah’s watery gaze as she shakily took the bars from her chest.
Tally physically flinched. She shook her head hard to dispel the image, eyes squeezing shut against the memory of the way Sarah had glided past her without looking back.
Nicte’s grip was suddenly iron on her shoulders.
“Get your shit together or a hell of a lot more people are going to die.”
Tally shoved her hard, stumbled back two steps and took off towards the wood line. Nicte stared at her retreating form even as she heard answering footsteps thumping down the bus stairs.
Raelle slid to a halt on the gravel a few feet away, eyes following Nicte’s on Tally’s back. She looked like she wanted to run after her, but Scylla’s hand on her arm stopped her movement. Her voice was angry when she spun back towards the other woman.
“Why’d you say that?!”
“Because it needed to be said, and you know it.”
The words were out of her mouth before she could stop them, and Raelle winced at the harshness of the truth. The part of Nicte’s brain that weaponized the reactions of others noted her facial expressions, her body stance, and her breathing pattern all signified an emotional button.
Her attention stayed, however, on the way that Scylla held fast to Raelle’s arm. With a sigh, she turned her gaze back towards the woods.
Guilt was a demon of many faces it seemed.
“It’s good for her to be pissed at me. She needs something else to feel besides grief and guilt.”
Raelle held her gaze, fire in her eyes and a challenge on the tip of her tongue. Nicte watched, however, as her eyes wavered and dropped.
“Give her a few minutes.” Scylla’s voice was soft as she ran her hand tenderly against Raelle’s sleeve.
She turned just as soft of a gaze upon Nicte.
Nicte almost flinched at the look from the young woman she had met so long ago. She swiped at her nose and stared hard the way Tally had gone.
“Peachy. I’m used to people hating me.”
The words hung heavy in the air until Abigail’s angry voice pushed the moment apart.
“Where the hell did Tally go?”
Raelle and Scylla watched as Nicte stalked wordlessly passed them, shoved by Abigail at the bottom of the stairs, and bounded back onto the bus without another glance.
Raelle merely sighed and caught her sister’s gaze.
“She just needs a minute.”
A trip down memory lane as Tally takes the first watch.
The moon hovered at her highest point in the inky sky, but cloud cover allowed her light to break through sparingly. Thankfully, the woods around them as far as she could see were silent. There were no shadows that her Sight picked up, no colors dancing beyond the wards that swam in the air around them.
A younger her would have marveled with a smile at the beauty of the magic as it filled the air. But nowadays that joy felt like the distant memory of a faraway occurrence, buried deep within her and inaccessible.
With a deep sigh, Tally crossed her arms and leaned heavily against the back of the porch swing. She pushed softly back, the high-pitched squeak of the chain the only sound against the gentle breeze of the night air. She knew the others were asleep upstairs in their stolen refuge, exhausted and jumpy after so long on the road. She had volunteered to take watch without fanfare. It was necessary and after everything that Nicte had laid bare that she suspected had been hidden by the others, Tally refused to disturb them with the burden. She would sleep sparingly anyway – may as well be useful.
They had driven another five days straight after the fight, sleeping in shifts. Nicte and Scylla wore different faces as they stopped to fill the bus, buy food, and scout for information. Quinn had made contact with a few dodgers she knew around them when it had been safer to do so.
Everyone had held their breath, but there had been no good news from Fort Salem. Not that Tally had expected there to be. General Bellweather was in Washington dodging the blame for the escape of the group and laying the responsibility at the feet of the government who had forced her to turn them over. Senators and the White House alike had threatened her with everything they could think of, but Petra had held true that she had done everything that she had been asked. She had handed her own daughter over at the command of those who now lit the torches for the very ones they had depended upon for protection.
It was tense to say the least.
They got news sparingly and only received information from gossip and overheard conversations. They didn’t trust the newspapers they came across and all too often found their own faces staring back at them. The news of Sarah Alder’s stepping down and subsequent death was complicatedly received at best. Some of those they passed were saddened. Some were terrified of what would happen now that the one tasked with their protection for so long was gone. Some were gleeful that the woman who bore responsibility for signing witches away to a government that hated them was finally dead and some were openly cheering the death of the face of witchkind. Free now of a looming perceived threat, it seemed that those that she and her sisters had signed their lives away to protect, those that Sarah had given everything to protect, were quick to parrot hatred she had long thought dead. Clearly she had been wrong.
She had been able to ignore the comments time after time because she had been in flight mode. But Tally was shocked to discover just how quickly her ability to drown out the words had fallen away. She had done so multiple times by the night she had realized the reality of the world, but that night had slammed things into such perspective that she hadn’t been able to process it all yet.
She had pushed through the restroom door into a dimply lit roadside diner when a particularly loud laugh grated her already frayed nerves. A balding man in the corner sat surrounded by three other men as he laughed again and pointed at the others.
“Just a shame, boys. Too bad I never got a chance to meet the whore. Coulda given her what she wanted before she crumpled up and blew away. Can you imagine? 300 years making storms - bet she was real good at blowing.“
The three men at his table cackled at the statement and Tally had frozen.
The blood pounded in her ears and she was moving before she could even register it.
Scylla suddenly pushed her way into her line of sight and her grip on Tally’s wrist made her loosen the military dagger she didn’t even realize she had been holding. Tally stared down at it without knowing what she had been going to do.
When she looked back up, Scylla shook her head slightly and merely pushed the dagger back into Tally’s pocket softly. She tossed a glance at the still cackling man as she pointedly guided Tally towards the exit.
Tally had stayed on the bus with her hood pulled up after that. She had been offered the option of changing her appearance, but the temptation of wearing another’s face so she could stretch her legs again was too dangerous. Without the danger of being recognized, she was afraid of what she may do if presented with another moment like the one at the diner. There was a part of her that relished the idea of being someone else for a little while, but somewhere deep inside, she would not allow it.
So she had stayed there in the chair, moving without thought when needed, but refusing to do so otherwise. She refused to sleep, too lost in the dissolution of the worldview she had always held and the guilt that ravaged her at her defending of it. She knew she was likely in shock still, experiencing PTSD of some kind certainly. Her training explicitly told her as much. She wanted to go through the modes - to lean on the training of the Army, of Sarah, but she felt numb. She couldn’t shake it, couldn’t name it, and couldn’t accept it.
And then Nicte had Slept her. After the fight on the side of the road, she had raged in the woods, destroying trees with wind strikes so powerful, she was unsure how she had produced them. She knew the woman’s words were true. She knew she was putting her sisters and friends in danger when they needed her Sight the most. She was already responsible for too much and she wouldn’t allow that to be on her, too. She wanted to fight, to protect them, but she felt ripped apart. Adrift in the ocean without an anchor to help moor her. She had wordlessly come back to Abigail and Raelle waiting outside of the bus. They had simply nodded to her as she passed wordlessly. She’d tugged her hood up and stared out the window as she dropped into an empty seat in the back of the bus.
That had been days ago. She’d tried to take Nicte’s words to heart. When the remembered lilt of General Alder’s voice lecturing them on the importance of sleep where they could find it in a combat situation flitted through her mind, she’d closed her eyes and allowed sleep to take her.
Because that was what their life was now. An active, drawn-out combat situation. A fight for their lives. The least she could do after everything she had already done was to make sure to implement what Sarah had taught her. She owed her at least that
The fight between she and Nicte was still raw. Raelle and Abigail were surprisingly uncertain around her, and it had bothered Tally more than she knew how to express. She tried to tell herself that it was their own response to everything they had experienced that was causing the distance between them, but she couldn’t help but think perhaps it was more.
After all, it was her who had dragged them into the impromptu unseating of their general. They had been right next to her when she had stared into Penelope’s frightened eyes before killing her and they were right next to her when she’d stared into Sarah’s tired gaze.
She had often wondered how to rectify the soldier she had idolized with the woman beneath. She had seen the facade beneath when they had been connected through the Biddy link. Their time had been brief, and Tally had only caught glimpses, but the overwhelming emptiness she had felt in Sarah at times had left a gaping ache in her own chest. The other Biddies shielded her as much as possible, she had felt them doing so, but shakingly deep moments had come through anyway. After the de-biddying, she felt it echo down the connection Sarah denied they still shared; felt it amplified by the bone deep ache of missing her that was supposed to have been lessening. She had laid awake with it at night as her sisters slept, trying to understand how Sarah had been so effective in closing herself off when Tally knew the fountain of emotion that she carried beneath. She found herself mirroring her unconscious physical moments as the bond remained intact, at least for her, and she couldn’t help as she made sure to watch her from afar. The ache was so consuming - she had physically needed to know that Sarah was ok. When Sarah would smile, however briefly, she would smile too, happy beyond measure to see the demons chased away fleetingly. The unending sadness that was Sarah’s constant companion would always slide back into place, however, kept at bay behind a ramrod posture and clasped hands. Only now, Tally had been able to see right through it.
Perhaps that was why Sarah’s eyes had held such hurt when she had asked Tally what she was doing in the hangar. Maybe Sarah had lied after all about the link being gone… the thought only made the ache grow.
So, Tally had stared out the window and decided on day three of the drive that she would take on one more trait from the woman.
She didn’t think Sarah would mind. After all, if she could manage 300 years of the weight she had carried, Tally could handle hers. When Raelle and Abigail stopped actively attempting to cheer her up every hour, she assumed her soldier’s mask had finally successfully slid into place.
Somewhere wherever she was, Tally liked to think Sarah would be proud of her.
The jumbled thoughts slid to a halt when she heard Nicte’s gruff voice cut through the darkness.
“We’re getting close. Pull over.”
Tally watched as Scylla exchanged a glance with her in the rearview mirror and then wordlessly did as she asked. The air on the bus was tense as Nicte stood, eyes scanning the woods around them.
Tally pushed up wordlessly and stood. She bent as she moved slowly towards the front of the bus, knowing without being asked what Nicte was asking. With a steadying breathe, she allowed her Sight to accompany her vision through the windows.
She chanced a glance back at Raelle then and the blonde dropped her gaze shakily before she turned her eyes towards the woods again. Tally felt the sigh raise in her chest even as she watched Nicte nod and tap the seatback gently.
Nicte’s hand was on her arm suddenly and Tally swallowed hard against the eruptions of emotions at another’s touch unhesitatingly against her. Nicte squeezed gently and Tally wordlessly sidestepped as she moved towards Scylla. Tally’s eyes slid back towards her sisters as uncertainty blossomed in her gut. When her eyes caught sight of Abigail’s hand on Adil’s knee she dropped her eyes quickly. Nicte leaned close to Scylla in the driver’s seat as she bent down to scour outside the front windshield again and hummed quietly. Tally turned back to them.
“If I’m not back in five minutes, assume I’m not coming back and go.”
Scylla looked up sharply, staring like she was going to argue, but Tally watched her swallow whatever she was going to say as Nicte’s dark eyes held her own.
She nodded once and opened the door without another word. Nicte bounded down the stairs silently and disappeared into the darkness before the doors had even closed again behind her. She had returned after several tense, silent minutes and directed them quietly to the empty farmhouse on the outskirts of the wood line. From there, the call of a good night’s rest proved to be too much for everyone.
Everyone but her.
The chain on the swing above her squeaked once again and Tally blinked away the memory and stared into the surrounding darkness.
Had she brought witchkind to this place? Would this be their reality now if she had just stopped back then? If she had backed off of her incessant need to know the truth she thought she wanted and just listened when Sarah had told her to? She had always been so certain in her convictions that the truth was worth everything, but she wasn’t sure she believed that now.
She remembered the rise and fall of Sarah’s chest in the hanger as she removed her bars and she remembered Sarah’s eyes as she said goodbye. She had seen the weight, the exhaustion, the acceptance. Sadness at things unsaid.
But everything in those final moments together had happened too fast and then had felt just too late. After the decision she had had to make with Penelope, the pit within her chest had fractured deeper with the knowledge that she had finally understood what the pain of a greater good decision had meant to Sarah, but then Sarah had just been gone. Everyone else had been too frightened to move as blue eyes held her own, but Tally could not have kept her hand from Sarah Alder’s cheek if someone had her at the tip of a scourge.
Tally shook the image away.
It wasn’t like it mattered now anyway. The woman she had so desperately wanted to know was no longer able to tell her anything and Tally hadn’t even asked the questions she should have; definitely not the ones she had wanted to. She had been too cowardly, too young and naïve, perhaps. Now in the silence of the night, all she could do was admonish herself for never asking Sarah Alder the things that had really mattered.
How had she carried the weight of the existence she was forced to live for so long? When the aching devastation of what she had borne witness to had to give way to the weight of the world without a moment to truly mourn it, how had she endured? Had she just wanted someone to understand? To give her respite for a moment? Did she ache at night for something she couldn’t name?
Had she felt like this?
A sudden wave of the familiar emptiness that she had sometimes shouldered when they had been connected washed over her, and Tally rubbed at her chest as if the action could soothe the ache away. She knew it wouldn’t. It hadn’t worked when she had tried it in her bed in the Biddy’s dorm and it hadn’t worked when she had cried herself to sleep in her own dorm room when Sarah had released her.
As the futile movements slowed, Tally merely held her hand against the ache in her chest and opened her eyes.
Somewhere in the distance, the lonely cry of a single owl echoed.
Tally's mask is slipping and Khalida imparts some cryptic truths.
Thank you so much for the kind words and likes/follows/bookmarks on this. It means more than I can say.
I watched the After the Storm for the season 2 finale and it influenced this a lot.
The farmhouse door slammed back against the frame as Nicte pushed through it.
Abigail’s words died mid-sentence on her lips as Nicte kicked the door closed behind her, one arm holding a large brown bag and the other tucked around a large box of beer. She nodded at the ragtag bunch and pressed into the kitchen without a word.
The woman had been gone for five hours.
“Where the hell have you been?”
It was Scylla’s voice that broke the silence. Nicte opened the refrigerator door, pushed the items into the almost fully stocked refrigerator, and turned. She twisted the cap off of a bottle in her hand, held one finger up to Scylla and then turned the bottle up fully. Tally watched her throat work as she drank. Abigail scoffed softly and crossed her arms, but Nicte threw a wink Tally’s way as she drained the bottle.
When she was finished, she took a deep breath and dropped her finger.
Abigail nodded and pushed into the kitchen behind her.
“There’d better be something stronger in those bags than cheap beer, Batan.”
She dug into the brown bag and whistled low as she pulled bottle after bottle of liquor from it.
Nicte merely leaned against the refrigerator and met the impressed gaze that Abigail tossed her way.
“Figured we may need refreshments. Don’t worry, there’s more than just alcohol.”
Nicte glided back into the living room, winding the scarf she was wearing from around her neck. Scylla watched her movements from her spot on the couch next to Raelle. Her gaze was steady as she leaned forward.
“Did you run into trouble?”
Nicte shook her head and tossed her scarf and jacket across the back of the couch next to Tally.
“No. I doubled back and forth a few times. There’s chatter in the streets. People are on the look out for us.”
Silence descended once again as her words weighed on the room. Raelle shared a look with Scylla and then pushed up and into the kitchen where Abigail was already pulling glasses from the cabinets. No one questioned how Nicte was able to procure things they had needed, but given her prolific life on the run for many years, Tally figured she knew how to survive likely better than anyone. And it wasn’t like they all couldn’t use the distraction of a drink.
Raelle and Abigail swept into the room, fingers tucked into the tops of glasses with dark liquid inside. Flashes of the same action came unbidden to Tally’s mind from a time long ago. Abigail and Raelle laughing, pouring drinks as M and Gregorio tried to outdo each other’s stories. The image dissipated when Raelle handed her a glass.
Tally locked eyes with her and smiled the first genuine smile in days. She expected Raelle to sweep her gaze away again, but her sister smiled back at her and winked. Tally felt warmth spread through her body with the familiarity of the action and nearly drank the drink in one go.
She felt Nicte’s dark eyes on her from where she stood, but Tally didn’t look at her.
They had been at the safe house for another five days. When Quinn had initially insisted to know how they were able to use this location, Nicte confessed that it was a local Spree hide out for wayward agents. Scylla had confirmed the existence of the places with an apologetic glance at Raelle, who merely squeezed her hand in reply.
Clearly some kind of understanding had been reached there, Tally knew, but they hadn’t exactly had much time to discuss much of anything since Tally had brought everything crashing down around them. She had seen how miserable Raelle had been without Scylla and had carried the guilt over their parting since Raelle had walked away from her, but the way they were with each other now spoke of something she wasn’t privy to. She was surprised to find that she didn’t mind not knowing the whole story. Another her would have beamed at Raelle for the action and demanded to know every detail. Instead, when her sister caught her eyes then, Tally had merely smiled until Raelle had turned her eyes from her.
It had been over two weeks now and there was still no official word from Fort Salem. Tally hadn’t known what to expect when Anacostia and Petra had sent them on the run, but she had hoped there would be official news every now and then. The silence had made everyone on edge. Scylla had taken to going into the woods surrounding the farmhouse off and on for most of the days, but she had come back every time without her crow and without news. Abigail had been pacing, adamant about making a move and mounting some kind of offensive. She wasn’t happy to be sitting still when there had been attacks on military bases across the country on the same evening that Fort Salem had been attacked. The Camarilla had launched a devastating first volley and the toll it had taken on witchkind was physically unknown to them. Tally knew the real blow had been dealt at Fort Salem, however. Sarah Alder had given her life, fighting to protect her soldiers until the last breath.
Nicte had tolerated Abigail’s press for movement until she couldn’t anymore. When Abigail had angrily questioned Nicte’s willingness to stay still, Tally had expected a shouting match, a boiling over of two hot headed women determined to lead. Instead Nicte had crossed her arms and pressed Abigail about what exactly she would do if given the chance. Immediately, Abigail began detailing her plans for counter attacks. Every answer she had given, however, Nicte picked apart in moments. After the fourth time, Abigail had slammed out of the room. Nicte’s loud voice had carried her message down the hallway: an effective offensive is built on information and planning.
And that had become their plan much to Abigail’s chagrin. She had stopped arguing after that, but Tally could feel the pent-up energy radiating off her. Raelle had followed Scylla into the fields often and had at least taken to talking to Tally again, but Tally could tell that something was off. Her sister was incredibly gifted in speaking her mind, but it seemed as if she was struggling with a truth she wouldn’t name to them.
Not that Tally could say much as she was battling to express any emotion at all. Her soldier’s mask was firmly in place, and she was grateful for the comfort it brought her, but she couldn’t shake the feeling that it was not something to be proud of. She supposed she should be grateful that everyone had at least stopped trying to talk to her about what had happened. They must have thought she was doing better with the mask in place.
General Alder would be proud.
Tally was pulled from her thoughts as laughter rippled through the room. Raelle was smiling at Scylla as she animatedly recounted some ridiculous tale, but Tally couldn’t focus on the words. She could feel eyes on her and instinctively looked for Nicte. She knew the woman was a natural flirt, but she had taken to watching Tally more these days. Nicte had even begun reaching out to her more – a touch here, a squeeze of an arm as she passed - and while she was grateful for the moments of connection, Tally was uncertain of what to do with the confusion that it brought. She caught sight of the woman as she wandered into the kitchen. Tally watched her pull another beer from the refrigerator.
When her eyes drifted to her left, she found Khalida staring right at her.
Their group had fallen into natural pairings - Abigail and Adil. Scylla and Raelle. Hell, even Nicte and Quinn had taken to spending hours strategizing about the area and the best ways to stay off the grid. By some default, Tally had found herself in the young Tarim girl’s presence more than she ever had. She wasn’t unpleasant to be around, and Tally certainly loved children, but the girl’s demeanor was odd to say the least.
Tally wasn’t sure what she expected the young girl to do. She had lost her people and survived the witch plague somehow. It wasn’t like she had ever been one for children’s games, but the more she was around her, the more she began to suspect that Khalida wasn’t exactly who she said she was. The girl wasn’t helping that with her curious stares and cryptic statements, and this wasn’t the first time she had found the youngest member of their group’s eyes on her.
Nicte’s voice carried easily through the small house as she stepped back towards the living room, beer in hand. Everyone glanced her way as she ran a hand through her hair.
“Look, I know we all want to drink our troubles away, but I have a feeling we may need to be on the lookout tomorrow. There was too much going on in town. So, I say we try to get some sleep and then maybe Bells here will get to try some of her offensives tomorrow.”
Abigail downed the rest of her drink in one go and pushed herself off of the couch.
Adil smiled up at her as she reached down and held a hand out for him.
“You don’t gotta tell me twice. I’ve got things to do tonight anyway.”
Raelle chuckled from the couch next to Scylla and shook her head.
“Yeah, little power boost never hurt anyone did it, Abs?”
Abigail shot her a grin as she tugged Adil to his feet. “You got something to add, Shitbird? Cause don’t think I don’t know you’re a little amped up yourself.”
She shot a glance towards Scylla who merely smiled, raised an eyebrow and leaned her head purposefully against Raelle’s.
Tally felt a smile tugging at her lips at the familiarity of the banter between her sisters, but the emptiness in her chest remained.
Quinn reached to gather glasses as Scylla stood and handed off both her and Raelle’s cups to the woman. She glanced at Abigail as Quinn turned to the kitchen.
“Just don’t forget to use a Silencing Seed. Small quarters.”
Abigail smirked at her, “Oh, I never forget.”
“On that note,” Quinn pushed back into the living room with a grimace, “I hate to bring this party down, but we have to think about watch.”
She glanced at Nicte.
“If you’re saying there may be trouble, we gotta make sure the wards are up. Maybe take four-hour shifts?”
Nicte nodded and drained her beer once more. “I can take the first…”
“I’ll do it.”
All eyes swiveled round to her as Tally leaned forward. She stared momentarily and then looked across at them all.
Nicte merely tilted her head as she looked at her. Tally could feel her contemplating and defensiveness crept up her spine.
“Look, I’m not tired anyway and I have better Sight than anyone. Everyone can go do whatever they want to. Nicte, you’ve been doing recon all day, it’s fine. I’ve got it.”
Abigail pulled Adil towards the hallway. “Sounds like a plan. I can relieve you in four hours, Tal.”
Nicte shook her head, but her eyes never left Tally’s.
“No. I’ll relieve her. You all go, get some rest.” She turned a smirk towards Abigail. “Besides, tomorrow’s your big day, Bells.”
Tally watched as Abigail held up her middle finger and then pulled Adil on down the hallway. As the door at the end of the hall clicked shut, Nicte turned her gaze back around. Quinn was the next to peel off with a nod and shared look with Nicte.
“Ok, sounds good. You take second watch, and I can pull up the last one cause I’m an early bird anyway.”
She took a few steps towards the hallway before she doubled back. “Khalida, you can bunk with me tonight.”
The young girl nodded and stood. Raelle tossed a glance between Nicte and Tally and Tally held her gaze when she did. She could see concern on her face, could tell that something was bothering her sister. She saw it in the way she chewed her lip. The way the corners of her eyes pinched down. She knew Raelle better than she knew herself sometimes. But then her gaze shifted and caught Scylla watching Raelle watch Tally with a soft smile on her face. No matter what exactly was going on in her sister’s head, Tally wouldn’t let it take her away from happiness for the night.
Tally forced a smile onto her face as she stood.
She shooed the pair exaggeratedly as Raelle sighed. With a halting first step, Raelle darted forward and wrapped her arms around Tally in a quick hug.
Tally’s heart stuttered at the action. She hadn’t hugged her sisters in what felt like weeks and before she could register anything, her arms wrapped tightly back around Raelle’s shoulders instinctively. With a squeeze, she pulled away and ran one hand through her short braids.
“You be careful, ok? And yell if you need me. Seriously, Scyl and I will be right there.”
Tally nodded, too overwhelmed with burning emotion to speak. Raelle searched her face once more and then turned. Tally watched her go, one of Scylla’s hands on her back and the other reaching out to grasp Nicte’s arm lightly as they passed.
The room felt empty as Tally gathered her own jacket from the peg on the wall. When she pushed her arms into it and bent to tug her boots on, she felt a shift in the air pressure. She didn’t have to look up to know that Nicte was standing close.
“You going to be ok?”
Tally tugged her laces tight as she glanced up. Nicte was staring at her, eyes reading more on her face than Tally wanted to know.
She bobbed her head and stood.
“Yeah, just normal stuff. Walk the perimeter. Check the wards. Piece of cake.”
Nicte stayed silent, eyes once again sweeping across her face. Tally felt unease crawling up her spine. She wasn’t afraid of Nicte, they had fought in more ways than one over their time knowing each other, but there was something in Nicte’s gaze that she wasn’t used to. It was the same thing that had been open on Raelle’s face moments before.
Nicte’s eyes turned to sweep the room.
“Just be careful. I may be out early.”
Oh. She’s worried about me.
For some reason, the thought stirred an uncomfortableness in her. Something flipped in her stomach and Tally ran a hand up and through the back of her hair. As she tugged it out of the top of her jacket, she shook her head.
“You need to rest. I’ll be fine.”
She watched a span of emotions roll in Nicte’s gaze, even as her face remained unreadable. Finally, the older woman nodded and stepped back.
“Let me know if you need me.”
Tally took a deep breath and turned to pull the door open as Nicte moved to leave.
Nicte was leaning half back from the hallway as Tally turned. She raised her eyebrows towards her, uncertain that words would come. She didn’t understand what was going on with everyone’s reactions to her tonight, but she wanted to get into the night air. Maybe it would clear her head.
Nicte merely sighed and tapped the wall twice. “See you in four hours.”
Tally watched as she disappeared down the hall. She listened as the door clicked shut in the distance and stood there in the sudden silence of the now empty room. She felt her expression drop from her face, mask suddenly back in place as she turned and pushed through the screen door.
The air was crisp as she stepped into the darkness and Tally took a deep breath of it into her lungs and closed her eyes. She reached back for the door handle and pulled it closed softly. The light was poor tonight as she opened her eyes, but she willed herself to relax as she stepped from the steps. Her feet crunched against the gravel as she called upon her Sight and scanned the wooded horizon.
“The Goddess works in ways that are not always understood.”
Tally spun on the spot, heart racing and eyes wide as a voice broke the silence.
She released the breath she had held in loud rush, adrenaline pumping, as she spotted Khalida silently standing on the porch. She had been certain that everyone had gone to bed. She hadn’t even heard the door open. How had Khalida managed to sneak up on her?
Tally stared at her, willing her heart to stop racing. Was she that easy to sneak up on?
“Goddess, Khalida, you scared me. I thought you went to bed.”
Khalida nodded as she scanned the surroundings herself. Tally watched as she turned to take in all sides of the property and then slowly rotated back to focus once more on Tally.
“There is no one. The wards are secure.”
Tally’s eyebrows pinched together.
“You have Sight?”
Khalida nodded and took a step forward. “I have many gifts, Tally Craven. It is how I know that the Goddess works in way that are not always understood.”
Tally liked the girl, she really did, but she could feel her frustration building. After the way she had been rattled by Raelle and Nicte, she didn’t want to lose her temper with a kid.
“Yeah, you already said that.” She turned and pointed towards the tree line.
“Thanks for checking, but I’m just going to do a quick walk around the perimeter anyway.”
She was three steps into the yard when Khalida spoke again.
“If your aunts had never been lost in battle, your mother would never have had such a burning desire to protect you from the Army and from Sarah Alder.”
She had never once talked about her past to Khalida. She wasn’t even sure that Adil knew the details of her life, but somehow…
Her eyebrows pinched together as she turned slowly to stare once more at the young girl. Khalida merely stepped down the two front streps slowly and moved towards her with a serene expression.
“If she hadn’t been so insistent that you did not join the Army, perhaps you would have taken the dispensation she had secured for you. But then you would never have met your sisters.”
Tally couldn’t help the thought that raced to the front of her mind.
Never betrayed her. Never killed an innocent witch.
Khalida merely stared up at her then and her blank expression made the uncomfortable tingling crawl back up her spine once more. Everything was too much tonight suddenly and she didn’t know why.
“The choice you were forced to make will sit with you for many years but know that it was the right one.”
Once more Tally paused. Had she said that out loud?
Khalida merely stared at her serenely. Tally swallowed hard as the young woman’s words registered. Logically, Tally knew she was right. Penelope had been the carrier of the witch plague that night, but she had been impervious to it. With time they may have been able to study what made her resistant to its power, may have been able to use her powers to help all of witchkind, but time was a luxury they didn’t have.
Tally nodded softly and glanced to their surroundings. Words would not come, so Khalida merely continued.
“Penelope Silver would not have wanted to be the cause of death and pain. She had found her place among her kind and Sarah Alder …”
Khalida paused before a soft sigh left her lips.
“Time sometimes brings a weight heavier than grief. Know that what you did was a kindness.”
Tally wanted to rage, to snap at the young girl that she didn’t know what she was talking about. She had killed a young woman, a friend who had looked directly into her eyes and pleaded for her help. She had betrayed a woman that she understood in a way few others had ever known. How could this child possibly understand that?
Her thoughts spiraled to a halt, however, when Khalida cupped a soft touch against her cheek. She wanted to speak, but her normal words would not come unbidden. Instead, Tally stared wide eyed as the young girl searched her face.
“You have bore the weight of impossible choices – ones that have burdened every leader since the dawn of time. What you chose was life, Tally Craven. You saved countless with your choices. Even Sarah Alder.”
Tally’s heart rate picked up once more. She could feel the panic inside of her once again building.
Sarah’s forehead pressed against her own.
Penelope’s smiling face.
Khalida pushed forward then, and Tally gasped when the girl’s arms wrapped softly around her middle.
Khalida hugged her gently, but Tally stood uncertain of what to do with her hands for the first time in her life. She had never been one to shy away from physical displays of emotion, but she hadn’t yet been able to reclaim that part of herself.
It took a moment for her to register that the panic racing through her mind had receded.
In a moment’s notice, Khalida pulled back to arm length and stared up into Tally’s wide eyes.
“You will be whole again. You will find strength in this time, and you will remember joy, Tally Craven. You will be rewarded for your courage.”
“I don’t feel courageous.”
The whispered words were hoarse, and Tally swallowed against the scratchiness of her dry throat. She didn’t understand why she was telling a 12-year-old these things, but something about the young girl seemed to pull truths from her.
“The most courageous thing we can do is to examine our own truths. Perhaps you need to remember this.”
Tally stood stock still, eyes searching around her momentarily for someone, anyone, to push through the door. Anyone that could help her extract herself from the discomfort clawing at her insides at the young girl’s words.
Khalida merely held onto her, however, until Tally smiled a tentative smile and nodded.
The girl nodded serenely and stepped away. Tally watched her until the front door clicked closed behind her.
Sarah Alder comes finds some familiar faces inside the Mycelium and is given a choice.
Dedicated for the Talder Valentine's Day fic exchange. So to be a little behind the scenes here, there was apparently a mix up and none of us at SSPC realized the prompt for the exchange was in the podcast spam folder (I've been there before so many times - no judgement!), so I got this prompt late in the game due to our own human error. We all scrambled and worried but were super dedicated to getting it out in time for Valentine's Day. AND I was so happy to see that the prompt actually blended in super well with what was planned for this story already, so I tied it into this multi-chapter fic and am gifting this entire thing to crisangel! I hope you enjoy!
It was a feeling she hadn’t felt in so long that she was uncertain how she knew its gentle humming, but it was there, nonetheless.
So many years of pain, of war, of death, guilt, and burden. So many years of responsibility and yet it was those most intimate companions that were lost to her in this moment – faded into the very recesses of her mind as if they had never been.
It was oddly disconcerting.
Somewhere close by, a gentle chuckle sounded.
It was a sound she had not heard in so long that the very memory of its quality had been lost to her years ago.
Yet she knew it with a clarity that she had seldom held in years.
“Only you could be greeted with such warmth and find it strange.”
Sarah Alder felt tears prickle at the back of her eyelids and blinked her eyes open slowly.
As her eyes swept across the lush, rolling landscape before her, a soft gasp caught in her throat.
Not as she had last seen it, filled with death and fire and devastation that refused to disappear from her mind like the happy memories she held.
“It’s beautiful, isn’t it?”
Sarah felt the tears spill from her eyes unbidden, joy pushing into every pore of her being as she turned slowly. Her eyes roamed, greedily drank in the sight of the brunette whose grin had never changed.
Vibrant eyes sparkled as the woman’s smile only grew.
The breath pushed from Sarah’s lungs in one long rasp and before she knew what that she was moving, her arms enfolded the woman before her.
Her sister’s laughter rumbled against her chest as she clutched tightly to her. A sound stolen from her by time, but one that she would know anywhere.
How Sarah had always loved its sound.
Anna wrapped her long arms around her gently and pulled. Sarah’s braided hair found its place in the crook of her neck where it had always fallen as children. She breathed in deeply, a shaky smile pushing forward onto her lips.
“Why are you crying?”
Her sister’s voice was joyful and teasing, but Sarah could not care.
She pulled back slowly and openly stared. She was a glass of water in a desert, a fixer blinked into focus as she lay on the battlefield. She was salvation itself.
Sarah shook her head as Anna ran a hand down her braid and smiled wider.
“I’ve missed you.”
Anna tilted her head to the side and raised her hand to swipe gently at the tears still flowing down Sarah’s cheeks.
“I’ve missed you, too, Dear One, but a reunion is meant to be happy.”
The laugh bubbled forth from her before she could stop it.
“This is happiness.”
She engulfed her sister’s tall frame once more and was blessed with the melody of her lilting laugh again. A warmth spread throughout her chest at its sound. When she felt Anna’s quick kiss pressed to her hair, she shook her head and pulled back.
“How is this possible?”
Anna smiled gently as her eyes roamed across Sarah’s face. When she cupped her cheek tenderly, Sarah leaned heavily into it, wet eyes shining back at her.
“You, Sarah Alder. You.”
They had spent hours it seemed merely talking. Sarah couldn’t remember a time she had been so content to merely sit still and talk.
Anna had laughed when she had said as much.
“And why is that funny?”
Anna’s dark hair swayed over her shoulder as she shook her head, happiness in her eyes as she looked at her once more and leaned back against the tree she was lounging beneath.
“You were never content to merely sit still, Sarah.”
Sarah’s mouth dropped open then. “That’s not true.”
Another blessed laugh.
“Oh, it most certainly is. Don’t you remember Yule when Mama asked us to wait for the pudding for Margorie Guthrie?”
Sarah waved her hand dismissively as Anna pointed one long finger over at her and leaned forward with the force of her own laughter.
“And you refused to let it rest!”
“There were things to be done! We had to gather the cones and light the candles before night.”
“It collapsed on the way there.”
Sarah couldn’t hold the chuckle in at the ease at which she suddenly remembered the occurrence.
“It tasted fine, I’m sure.”
“Mama was not as certain when she heard of it from old lady Guthrie.”
Sarah glanced over at her then, a gentle smile on her face. “And you took the blame if I remember correctly.”
Anna merely tilted her head in a nod.
“All chores for a week, but it was worth it.”
Sarah felt the smile fade from her face at the words. Her sister had shouldered the entirety of the chores on the farm for seven days, shooing her away when Sarah had refused to allow the arrangement and began doing her own chores behind her sister’s back. She turned back to the picturesque land around them and leaned back on her elbow in the grass.
“Because I could be there for you.”
She could hear the change in tone and knew the look on her sister’s face before she even turned. A familiar feeling crawled up her throat and she cleared it uncomfortably.
Anna merely watched her.
Sarah’s vision blurred as tears suddenly filled her eyes.
“I’m so sorry.”
With a gentle sigh, Anna leaned back and mirrored her own position.
Sarah turned her watery gaze to the blade of grass she held in her fingers. Its weight was right, its colorization perfect, but it wasn’t real. The guilt in her throat, the constriction around her heart – that was real.
“For not saving you.”
She heard Anna shift and could see her sit up from the corner of her eye. Sarah knew what would happen before it did, but she did not want to hear it. She tossed the blade of grass down and pushed to her feet in one fluid motion. With two strides, she was away from Anna and moving.
Unable to sit still.
“Dear One, what do you think you were going to do?”
Sarah felt the remnant of anger like a faded memory in her heart. She swiped at her wet cheek and turned to stride back the way she had come, eyes locked on the ground.
“I don’t know but I could have done something.”
Anna merely stared at her.
But Sarah refused to stop. She couldn’t, not given the chance now to say what she had dreamt of for so long. Words that had haunted her for centuries rushed forward and demanded to be released. She couldn’t give voice to all of them, and they shoved together, jumbled, and overpowering.
Sarah’s eyes darted back and forth across the grass. Her chest tightened as she turned again, eyes raking over her sister’s easily lounging form. Behind her, the skies darkened.
“I could have charged them.”
Anna glanced over Sarah’s shoulder towards the clouds that gathered.
“You were a child. They would have killed you.”
Sarah spun again and her gaze swept across the landscape. It suddenly felt out of place – a vision she no longer deserved to see.
“I could have fought.”
She spun back; one hand wildly pointed without direction.
“I’ve spent my entire existence fighting! It’s what I know.”
Anna blinked slowly.
Sarah shook her head hard and stepped forward, hands upturned towards her older sister. If she could make her understand, make her know what she carried then she may be able to forgive herself of her greatest failure.
She turned again, two short steps and then back once more.
“Anna…they took your life.”
Anna moved, a heavy sigh leaving her as she stood to her full height, eye to eye with her younger sister. Sarah searched her suddenly serious face.
Sarah went still.
It was Anna’s turn to gaze into the distance. She tugged the fur around her shoulder and stepped forward to stand side by side with Sarah and gazed into the gathering clouds once more.
“You must calm your storm, Sarah.”
Sarah’s wild eyes found her face. Something unclenched in her chest at the words, and she turned her eyes to follow Anna’s stare to see the darkness overhead. For a moment the words would not register as true. How could this be her storm?
Anna’s voice once again pierced her thoughts.
“You couldn’t possibly not know how you are connected to this place, Sister.”
Sarah felt the truth twist in her gut. She took a shuddering breath and willed herself with the practice of centuries to calm. As soon as she did, the dark clouds overhead began to recede.
Anna smiled over at her as Sarah felt her mouth drop open. She had theorized over the centuries, of course. She had researched and wondered.
“I am… responsible?”
“For this witch’s place?”
There was a mirth to Anna’s tone, and Sarah swiveled to see her smiling once more. She nodded and took a step forward, eyes sweeping the lightening landscape again.
“When you returned that horrible day.”
Sarah knew what day she meant. Anna must have known that she did, for her explanation ceased.
“It was then. It has continued ever since. A refuge for every witch lost.”
When she had first seen the Mycelium peeking from the ground at Fort Salem, she had ordered the construction of the Necro lab to protect it. To know.
Her gut instinct had been confirmed now it seemed.
She had never voiced the thought aloud, not even to Izadora, too afraid to know if she was correct and perhaps responsible for a greater crime than she ever imagined.
She had created a trap for those she had sought to protect because of her uncontrollable grief.
“Because of your love,” Anna corrected.
Sarah turned to find her flashing eyes upon her.
“Why do I get the distinct feeling that you’re reading my mind?”
Her sister rolled her eyes gently. “Even if we weren’t connected through this space, Sister, you’ve never been difficult to read for one who knows you.”
Anna suddenly turned on the spot, leaned against the tree beside her and leveled a silent stare at Sarah.
“You created this place, yes. And it is true that it was out of your grief, but it was your love that tended to it.”
Sarah shook her head. Her sister had never lied to her and yet the words felt hollow to her ears. She had been called cold and distant, incapable of love, so many times over her long life.
“You’re the most loving individual I’ve ever known. You’ve been alive for 344 years, Dear One, but you haven’t lived. You’ve been fighting all this time.”
When her sister turned her own blue eyes towards her, Sarah swallowed hard.
“For me. For mother. For them.”
Anna waved her hand gently towards the horizon. A gentle breeze caught the corner of her fur and pushed it into a sway. Sarah’s eyes caught and held it for a moment, thoughts rampant with the knowledge she had just been given. When she finally turned to follow Anna’s guiding motion, she gasped.
In the surrounding horizon shimmered dozens and dozens of women. For a moment Sarah searched their faces, uncertain of who exactly they were but familiarity crept from their air. When her gaze landed upon a grinning young woman with a scar over her left eye, Sarah took an uncontrollable step forward.
The young woman smiled and nodded, and Sarah’s eye swept suddenly over face after smiling face of the young women she had known so intimately. Those who had given their very essence to ensure her own survival.
She had felt each of their losses so greatly, carried the weight of each until her own dying breath.
And here they were beautiful, young, and whole.
Anna stepped up beside her.
“No one could do what you did without the greatest reservoir of love, Dear One.”
Sarah could not tear her eyes away from the smiling, youthful faces of all the Biddies she had served with.
“Is this real? I’m dead, Anna.”
“Not quite. In your haste to be given to the Mother…”
The words pulled Sarah’s gaze away finally. She turned to Anna even as her sister continued to smile at the young women who surrounded them.
“To accept my rest.”
Her sister’s lip twitched up before she turned a mirth filled look towards her once more. “Never could sit still.”
With an overly dramatic sigh, Anna raised an eyebrow and continued.
“In your haste to accept your rest, you gave yourself to the Mother willingly.”
She caught Sarah’s gaze once more, the mirth remained.
Sarah thought she knew what was coming. She could feel it in her chest, in the emotions that ravaged against walls she had built so high to contain them over the years.
“We welcomed you here with all the love and warmth you deserve, my sister. My brave, fierce darling one, because it is how you ensured we were all welcomed.”
Sarah felt her heart clench as she turned to the Biddies once more. A tall, short haired woman stepped forth. The last one to hold her gaze before Sarah herself had fallen. Sarah smiled at the wink thrown her way.
“But I’m afraid you have one more decision, Dear One.”
Anna stepped forward slowly and swayed, bumping her shoulder gently against Sarah’s own. The action was so familiar, so reminiscent of a time long ago that Sarah ached. She turned to catch Anna’s eyes again, knowing the action had always preceded a matter of importance.
“No one deserves rest more than you, but Sarah, no one deserves to live - to love - to know happiness more than you.”
Sarah’s eyes darted back and forth across her sister’s stark lines.
“I can go back?”
Anna merely nodded. “Your body is healing because you could not sit still. You can choose to go back, or you may choose to stay.”
She shrugged gently beneath the fur and Sarah dropped her eyes to the ground. Emotions flooded her and she wiped at her face in disbelief of the words her sister had just spoken. She must have seen the war waging inside of her because Anna stepped forward and laid a hand gently on her arm.
“If I stay?”
“Then you’d know nothing but peace and love.”
Sarah’s eyes searched the ground in thoughts once again. “But the Camarilla…”
“Will rage against witches in a great war.”
Sarah’s eyes lurched up at the thought.
“And if I return?”
Anna searched her face, squeezed her fingers gently against her arm and nodded.
“You know what awaits you there: war with an ancient enemy whose power is great, but it does not surpass our own.”
A smile she had always associated with mischief pulled its way onto Anna’s lips. Her sister’s stare bore into her.
“From the earth, a witch returned to unleash the power of the sky. The union between all of those you have guided here, that you have protected, and a renewed and healed Sarah Alder? It would be immense.”
The call of decision, so often heavily placed upon her shoulders in life, laid at her feet once more. She knew what lay back the way she had came. She had spent 327 years knowing it.
She was tired of war, tired of pain. Tired of death.
She wanted rest.
Anna reached out to stroke her braid, fingers lingering on the tip as she tugged the strands between her fingers gently. When she stepped closer, her voice dropped to a murmur. Sarah stared at her downturned face and willed her eyes to raise.
“I know. There will be pain, my sister. There will be heartache, for that is what it means to be human.”
When blue met blue, Anna’s eyes shown with a lightness that Sarah hadn’t felt in ages.
“But there will be joy more immense than you can imagine. There will be love and happiness. There will be life, Sarah. I promise you.”
Peace or life.
She could feel her eyes well once more with unshed tears and found Anna’s own reflected the same.
When her sister pulled her into her arms, Sarah squeezed her eyes closed and pressed her cheek softly against the warmth of the one pressed against hers.
“The choice is yours, Sister.”
The words pressed softly against the top of her ear moments before a gentle kiss laid there. Sarah squeezed her eyes with the feel of it and turned to place an answering kiss against the warmth of her sister’s cheek. As the decision settled its peace within her chest, Anna smiled and tenderly cupped her cheek once more.
She drank in the sight of smiling blue eyes and nodded.
“We shall be with you.”
She had never been one to sit still after all.
The light and pain.
Pounded by a tidal wave of sensation, Sarah Alder slammed forward, fingers splayed out against the cold stones of the Necro lab floor. She could feel the power course through her body, warm and throbbing with life.
For a moment it was too much. A guttural sound roared from her throat as she stared at the stone. Her skin, naked of the clothing she had gone into the Mother with, pebbled from the cool air. It felt good against the racing power in her system. With a trembling breath, her voice stilled, and she willed her beating heart to slow. Footsteps pounded towards her from the other room, and she caught sudden movement from the corner of her eye as Izadora, clad in her work out sweats, slid through the doorway, arms raised for a strike.
Sarah turned her head slowly.
Izadora’s eyes were wide, her mouth dropped open in shock as she slowly lowered her strike pose.
Sarah merely stared at her from the floor.
With a step back, Izadora looked to the Mother and then back to Sarah’s sudden naked appearance.
One hand pressed against her ear.
“Petra, Anacostia …”
Sarah watched her swallow hard, eyes raking over her in shock. Sarah gulped another lungful of air in and turned her eyes towards the stone floor once again.
“You’ve got to…”
Sarah could not hear the response, only Izadora’s side of the conversation, but she imagined the women would be on high alert and already on their way if Izadora’s entrance had been what it was. She may as well try to lessen the oncoming shock in some small way.
“Might I trouble you for a covering, Izadora?”
Sarah looked up at her once more as Izadora took a steadying breath and stepped further into the room. When the words seemed to register, Izadora blinked the look of curious wonder from her eyes, unzipped her hooded sweatshirt and shrugged it free.
“Get here. Bring Verger.”
She bent to Sarah’s level and draped the sweatshirt over her immediately, her hand pressed tenderly against her back.
Thank you all SO MUCH for the love and excitement while reading this story. It really keeps an author going and just means the world to me. This fandom is absolutely amazing and I love you all.
Side note - I had so much fun and so many emotions writing this chapter because - Izadora.
“You can always find love, Sarah, but only if you allow yourself to see it.”
Anna’s whispered words echoed in her ear as Izadora’s hand rested gently against her back. She could feel the barely-there weight of the ghost of the touch, almost as if Izadora was afraid to put too much pressure on her. Or perhaps she herself could merely feel the vibrations beneath Sarah’s skin.
“It’s ok, Sarah. It’s going to be ok.”
The words left her reeling for a moment, overwhelmed by the familiarity that she had never allowed herself to feel or to be shown to her, but she found the unease she had always known to accompany such actions would not come. With a deep inhale against the rising tide of emotions at Izadora’s soft words, Sarah relaxed into the touch, solid in the understanding that she was not alone in this moment.
The sensation was unfamiliar, but not unwelcome. She couldn’t remember the last time someone had touched her simply for the sake of conveying comfort except for the gentle stroking of her face from Tally Craven before she had been given to the Mother.
Sarah inhaled a sharp breath at the memory and shook her head. Touch always came with a purpose, a bargain, a betrayal. Yet with the weight of Izadora’s hand against her, Sarah was shocked to realize just how much she had missed the simple truth of just being touched.
The swelling emotions were unfamiliar to her. Sarah had spent centuries perfecting the art of detachment and yet she felt emotions roll through her like the thunder of her storm. Perhaps this was Anna’s doing? A remnant of the Mycelium returning her to life? She was uncertain, but the walls she had crafted for herself so carefully over the centuries were shaky now at best. She couldn’t remember their heights, the thickness of their depths. It left her untethered and reeling.
Sarah gripped the edges of Izadora’s small jacket tighter and pulled the fabric around her shoulders. The action seemed to trigger something for the Necro and she made a noise of surprise, leapt to her feet in one fluid motion and was out the door of the lab before Sarah could even question what was happening.
Sarah heard her desk drawer being pulled open roughly, the sound amplified against the tall stone walls and by Sarah’s own racing thoughts. Footsteps galloped back towards her and then Izadora appeared in the doorway clutching a folded pair of standard issue sweats.
“Here, we don’t have much time before a lot more people come barging in here. You will want to be covered completely.”
Sarah stared at Izadora’s outstretched hand with uncertainty. She could feel the woman’s nervous energy as she shifted and looked back over her shoulder towards the entrance of the labs. With a soft push, Sarah rose to her feet and took the offered clothes.
“I appreciate the offer, Dora, but I don’t believe your clothing will be a good fit for me.”
Izadora spared her one look of something before she turned her gaze respectfully towards the doorway once more. With a few quickened steps, she was peering out of the stone archway, clearly signaling that time was of the essence. Sarah shrugged out of Izadora’s sweatshirt, unfolded the plain white tee shirt from the pile and paused.
It was too large to be Izadora’s.
Her silence must have been caught by Izadora because the woman cleared her throat and stepped further into the hallway. Sarah could feel the hesitation from her across the room.
“They aren’t mine…they’re yours.”
Her eyes drifted up towards the woman she had always known as comrade. A sister in arms. Izadora was quirky at the best of times, and Sarah had looked out for her on more than one occasion when she had been a cadet. They had certainly struck a respectful relationship up when Izadora had become an officer, but this?
She felt warmth spiral through her chest at the admission, unfamiliar and pulling. Overwhelmed with the knowledge, Sarah decided upon the solid ground of action and shrugged into the scratchy fabric quickly for something to do. Questions shoved their way into her mind, but she clamped her mouth shut, afraid to give voice to something she could not name. Izadora did not let the moment continue.
“I… had a theory that perhaps what just happened would happen given that you weren’t actually dead when put into the Mother…”
Sarah felt a tiny smile pull at the corner of her mouth at Izadora’s rambling. She was surprised to feel happiness bloom at the sound of it, memories of hundreds of other occurrences of it over the years flashed through her mind.
“I wanted to be prepared in case I was correct.”
Sarah shook the jogging pants out and stepped into them quickly. She could feel her downturned eyes water at the admission and swallowed against the feeling. What was wrong with her?
Izadora stepped backwards into the room, eyes still scanning the entrance to the labs and Sarah found she was grateful for the attempt at granted privacy, bared open suddenly as she was at the woman’s hesitant admission.
She had kept Sarah’s clothes in the hopes that she would return.
Sarah didn’t know what to do with the feeling the action evoked in the moment, to be honest. She chose instead to keep pressing forward.
Izadora cleared her throat as Sarah shrugged her own sweatshirt on. When she zipped it up, Izadora turned dark eyes briefly towards her before stepping fully back into the room once again. She crossed her arms suddenly uncertain as Sarah bent to retrieve the sweatshirt she had been given.
“It’s...uh, it’s usually cold in here, so… sweats.”
Izadora waved one hand awkwardly towards Sarah’s outfit. The explanation felt dangerously close to care. Before, she would have shrugged it away, clasped her hands behind her back with a ramrod stance and nodded in acknowledgment.
Now, it was different.
She was different. She had to be. Her sister’s words whispered in her mind once more.
She had been given a second chance.
Sarah smiled, gratitude filling her chest as she stepped forward to hand Izadora her jacket. The smaller woman took it without a word, but her eyes searched Sarah’s face. Sarah read amazement, confusion, and relief plainly in her eyes. It was a stark change from the usually straight-faced woman she had always known.
Izadora nodded once and shoved her arms into the jacket quickly, zipping it forcefully up as Sarah turned. There was a chair sat in the corner of the room now faced towards the Mother. She never remembered it being there before, but she was grateful for it now. Her body was tingling, power surging through her enough to make her shaky. With a sigh, she lowered her trembling body onto the chair and rested her face in her palms. The fit of her own clothing was grounding, however, and she focused on it.
Izadora’s dark eyes searched her face for a few moments as Sarah lowered her hands and rose her gaze to meet hers. She knew Izadora could probably read the emotions playing across her face, could clock her trembling. She could see the clinician in her at work. She opened her mouth and drew in a deep breath, but the silence was ripped apart by a door slamming against the stone wall at the top of the stairs. Sarah watched Izadora flinch at the sound before she spun and disappeared to intercept.
Anacostia all but flung herself down the stone stairs of the Necro lab, Petra and Magda hot on her heels. Izadora’s farspeech was disturbing and too incomplete for her to discern what was happening, but one thing had come through loud and clear.
They had to get here quickly.
Her eyes scanned for signs of intruders and damage as her hand began to unleash the scourge at her waist.
Petra pushed even with her, taking the last few steps in one large jump as she thudded against the floor and kept going. “Where are you?”
From the far corner of the labs, Izadora appeared from a long hall, hands held stretched out.
“Wait. I’m ok!”
Anacostia felt adrenaline pulsing against her insides, could hear the blood pounding in her ears. Izadora was safe, but her eyes flitted across every surface she could see for some sign of what had brought them running halfway across the base.
Magda Verger’s gruff voice cut the tension.
“What the hell is going on, Dora? We thought you were being attacked.”
Izadora had the graciousness to look apologetic at least. She held her hands up higher and Petra caught the tremor in the movement. Dark eyes slowly took in Izadora’s disheveled appearance, her pale face, and the excitement in her eyes.
She swallowed at the feeling of unease crawling up her back.
“Izadora, are you ok? What is it?”
Izadora’s quick words silenced them.
“My apologies, if it wasn’t absolutely urgent, I would not have contacted you as I did, but …” She turned her dark gaze upon each of them, shaking her head in disbelief even as she continued.
“You know that I have been theorizing about the Mycelium and what may happen.”
Tension filled the space at the words and Anacostia felt her stomach flip. She tightened her grip on the scourge once more and took an involuntary step back. They all were privy to Izadora’s theories, wild as they had been. Petra had dismissed them at first, telling the woman to leave it be, and Anacostia had been too angry at the raw wound to do anything but agree. She had mourned her mother, had collected her belongings slowly unwilling to allow anyone else but her to touch the General’s effects.
It had taken her nearly a month to even begin to do so in earnest. Izadora, however, was as persistent as ever. When she had asked Anacostia for a set of her mother’s work out clothing to keep on hand in the lab, just in case, Anacostia had relented, too afraid to acknowledge the tiny flicker of hope that the Necro’s certainty brought.
But she had found herself in the Necro labs more and more listening to Izadora’s theories and wishing beyond anything that she could be right. Not that she had ever admitted it out loud. There had been many times that Anacostia had found Izadora merely sitting beside the Mother and jotting down notes. She could never bring herself to join her there, however, the pain still too fresh from the last time she had been in the room. Somewhere along the way, Petra too had been caught in the possibility that maybe Izadora could be right. It was an unspoken and impossible hope, but they needed anything to cling to in the free fall in which they had found themselves.
“I don’t … what I have been theorizing has happened.”
Heavy silence befitting the location they occupied descended.
Anacostia felt it on her skin like sticky summer air, too dense and suddenly too much. Petra’s shocked stare turned to sweep over her two companions. No one knew what to say it seemed. It couldn’t possibly be…could it?
It was Magda’s grounded voice that broke the silence.
“Are you certain it’s her?”
Izadora shook her head quickly. “I haven’t been able to run any tests of as yet, I would like your help on that, but I feel it in my bones.”
Petra’s eyes travelled beyond Izadora to the hallway from where she had appeared. Anacostia merely blinked against the feeling of hope that she had long ago pushed down. She swallowed thickly and slowly turned to take in Magda’s discerning stance. Anacostia felt the woman’s thoughts racing, contemplating the possibilities before them. She straightened her back and fortified herself once more. She would be the soldier her mother had taught her to be.
Her voice was only slightly shaky when she spoke.
“Until it’s confirmed…”
Petra shook her head as she interrupted to finish the sentence, “We treat this as a potential threat.”
Izadora’s eyes flashed. “I’m telling you, Petra, it’s her. She’s different though, younger and the power coursing through her is… palpable.”
She turned fully to Petra then, one quick step forward as she continued. “After what she has been through, we cannot treat her as a combatant. This is Sarah.”
It hung in the air between them. Magda shared a significant look with Petra then. Izadora could read the message loud and clear. They would not believe it until she made them. She switched tactics.
“If we treat her as a threat, I cannot say with certainty yet how her body or the Mycelium will respond.”
Petra nodded back to Magda who stepped forward, her cane loud in the sudden echoes of the hall as she moved to push passed Izadora. Izadora stared after her even as Petra’s hand came to rest on her shoulder as she moved passed.
“We must take every precaution, Dora. You know how things are now.”
Izadora merely shrugged the hand off, stepped back and physically situated herself in Magda’s path.
All three woman she had called halted as Izadora brought her hands up once more.
“If you are going to interrogate her…”
Petra scoffed lightly. “I never suggested any such thing, but we need to be sure, Izadora, and you know it.”
She turned a soft glance to the stoic stance of Anacostia. Izadora recognized it for what it was – an ask of agreement. Anacostia stared hard at the woman before nodding curtly once.
It seemed to bolster Petra in the moment, and she turned, back straight and command etched on her features. Izadora scanned the faces of each woman. She knew they were right, they had to be sure, but rage boiled in her at the implication of the distrust of her diagnosis. She had been the one to know this potential outcome could arise. She had been the one to sit for hours in the night documenting every change in the Mother’s behavior and appearance. She had cataloged hundred of hours researching for any potential bit of information for how to proceed. She had never been particularly gifted at Knowing, but something in her knew beyond a doubt that the woman behind her was Sarah. Even in her certainty, however, her clinician’s instincts shoved at the feeling, pushing logic to the forefront where she had always welcomed it.
She would have to do so again. With a tight sigh, she nodded.
“Very well, but I must insist that as Chief Medic we do our best to not spike her epinephrine and norepinephrine levels until I can determine that there won’t be any adverse effects. I’m not sure how she’ll respond yet, so I recommend…”
Petra nodded and moved to push passed her once more.
“You have my word that…”
Petra halted, words dying on her lips, as a sudden iron grip tightened on her arm. Fury billowed in her gut at the action, and she turned her fiery gaze to Izadora’s fingers around her bicep. When she lifted her eyes to find Izadora’s hard stare boring into her, the fury quelled.
“Do not upset her.”
Izadora’s piercing stare was storm and fury itself. The moment was tense, and Anacostia could see Magda glance at her from between the two women. She had never seen Izadora in this manner, but she trusted the woman. She didn’t move. After another minute of silence, Petra nodded. Izadora visibly relaxed and released her grip immediately. She stepped back slightly and took a deep breath.
“Then follow me.”
Anacostia pushed off the steps and rounded the corner of the hallway on Izadora’s heels before Petra and Magda had even moved.
Reactions, plans, and realizations all around.
There's a LOT going on in this chapter, you all. Truthfully, it’s probably 3 chapters worth. I have had a time writing all this down. These folks went where they wanted to go and I went along for the ride. SO - here is the result of that. It hasn't been heavily edited, so any mistakes are my own and I apologize in advance for them!
As always, THANK YOU to everyone who is reading, following, kudos'ing, and commenting. It means the world. Truly. This is truly the best fandom.
Anacostia recited regulations in her head the entire length of the hallway.
She would be the first into the room.
She would protect the General from any perceived or unknown dangers.
She would know immediately if this was a cruel trick – an attempt to utilize their greatest tragedy as a weapon.
She would not allow it.
Izadora paused before the doorway and held her left hand aloft to halt the women behind her. She looked inside briefly in silent question and Anacostia felt every muscle in her body tighten.
Izadora was silently asking was Sarah ready?
Anacostia took a deep breath through her nostrils and squared her shoulders a little tighter. She saw Petra and Magda exchange a look, but she kept her eyes firmly on the side of the stone doorway.
She could not fathom how this could be real, yet the possibility that someone was utilizing her mother’s death as a means of attack sparked white hot anger in her. After everything she had seen and done over her life, after everything her mother had taught her, the belief in the possibilities of the unknown was strong in her, but this?
No, she had given her mother to the Mycelium; had cried alongside a silent Tally Craven as they watched Sarah disappear through the opaque tendrils of the Mother.
This could not possibly be happening. Izadora was mistaken, she was sure of it. And that meant that whoever was in that room couldn’t possibly…
“It’s alright, Izadora.”
Her thoughts stuttered to a halt and her heart squeezed painfully at the sound of that voice. Petra’s eyes went wide, her face falling slack as she physically stepped back. Magda Verger’s mouth dropped open slightly and she pushed passed Anacostia roughly without so much as sparing a glance.
But Anacostia couldn’t move.
She watched as Magda stepped around Izadora and stopped as she peered, mouth hanging open, into the doorway.
“Well, I’ll be a motherfucker.”
The sound of her mother’s deep chuckle was amplified against the stone walls and Anacostia felt her heartrate quicken. Beside her, Petra jolted and closed ranks behind Magda in three long strides. She gasped and froze mid step as she rounded the corner of the doorframe. All of her carefully personalized propriety went out the window.
There was a brief pause before Sarah’s voice rang out again, exasperated humor clear in her tone.
Her mother’s voice was soft, but Anacostia heard only it over the roaring of the blood in her ears.
She could feel tears pressing against the backs of her eyes and she clamped her jaw shut hard. She would not cry. She would not give in to emotion when there was a possibility that this wasn’t real.
Izadora merely watched her knowingly as Magda limped into the room.
Petra’s face was one of pure shock as she disappeared hurriedly into the room behind Magda. Anacostia knew with certainty that as Head of Intelligence she needed to be in that room - she needed to protect the General, but her feet would not move. It was as if roots had taken hold of them.
She didn’t understand why she could not hear the words she knew were coming from the side room. A loud buzzing rang in her ears, power surging within her. She wouldn’t be surprised if a storm was raging outside at this very moment.
She swayed on the spot, hands clenching at her side.
Izadora was next to her in two strides.
Anacostia clamped her jaw tighter as her eyes flicked up to the doorway and held. She needed to be in that room.
Her vision swam with unshed tears as the ringing in her ears turned to pressure.
Izadora grasped her forearm firmly and dug two fingers deep against the pressure point there.
“Anacostia. Listen to me.”
Anacostia blinked twice as she watched Izadora’s mouth move. The woman kept repeating the same thing over and over again, but she couldn’t make it out. By the look on her face, it was important, however. She flicked her eyes back to the doorway and swallowed thickly. She needed to be in that room. She needed to …
A sharp tug on her arm chased the thoughts away. The thrumming in her ears was beginning to ease. She blinked rapidly a few times and turned her eyes fully to Izadora, who still had a vicelike grip on her arm. Anacostia could see she was mouthing a mantra, perhaps a protection seed?
With another slow blink, sound came rushing back in.
Anacostia felt the air tear itself from her lungs. She hadn’t even realized she’d been holding her breath.
She gulped in a rush of cold air and panting, nodded shakily towards the shorter woman. Izadora’s grip on her forearm was still firm, but relief was visible on her features. Anacostia nodded once more and gripped Izadora’s hand still holding on to her, squeezing tightly.
“I’m ok. Thank you.”
Izadora searched her face for a few tense moments before she nodded and released the pressure from her forearm immediately. Released from the pressure point, Anacostia felt her head swim with the full rush of her blood once more.
“Handy. Bet that’s very effective for slowing bleeding in the field.”
Izadora wiped a shaky hand down her face quickly and glanced back over her shoulder. Anacostia could hear the voices easily now.
“Yes, and I’d be happy to discuss its merits with you at a later time.” Izadora stepped forward once again, lowering her voice as she did so.
“Are you going to be ok with this?”
Anacostia caught the concerned gaze of her friend and felt a rush of emotion threaten to come spilling over once more. She swallowed thickly as she nodded.
“I have to be. Either way. I have to be.”
Izadora’s touch was gentle on her arm this time.
“It’s her, Ana. I know it.”
Anacostia felt the calm mask of Officer slide into place at her words. She would have to be analytical here, she couldn’t be emotional.
She had to be a soldier. She tugged her jacket down hard and straightened her shoulders.
Izadora squeezed her arm in solidarity as Anacostia clasped her hands behind her back and started forward. No matter what she saw, she was going to handle this as the Head of Intelligence of the Armed Forces.
The thought skidded to a halt in its tracks the moment her eyes landed on the woman sitting between a pale Petra Bellwether and a smiling Magda Verger.
Sarah’s head was down, hand running smoothly over her features. It was an action she had seen a thousand times over the years and a bolt of emotions tore through her with such force that she couldn’t stop the gasp as it pushed from her lips.
Sarah’s head whipped up at the sound of Anacostia’s shaky breath and she pushed to her feet in an instant. Petra turned to look at Anacostia in the doorway, Izadora’s eyes darting between the three women from her vantage point in the hallway.
Anacostia merely stared, drinking in the sight of the woman who had raised her as her own. The woman she had loved so fiercely that she’d lost years to anger and hurt at the mere breath of betrayal. The woman she was still mourning.
Sarah’s eyes were wide as she took an uncertain step and then stopped. Petra was shocked to see tears forming in the woman’s eyes. She suddenly felt like she was intruding and her thoughts turned to Abigail, somewhere in the country – hopefully still safe. She dropped her head from the scene when Anacostia moved, darting forward to throw her arms around Sarah.
Sarah enveloped her in her arms and tilted her head immediately to press her cheek against the top of Anacostia’s head. A loud sob tore through the air at the action. Sarah closed her eyes and hugged tighter.
Izadora watched the scene with such a tender look on her face that Petra felt unease crawl up her spine. She took a step back towards the door as Anacostia sobbed once more, fingers gripping the fabric of Sarah’s sweatshirt tightly.
Magda merely clasped her hands on top of her cane and dropped her gaze.
“Shhh, my darling one, shhh.”
The words seemed to have the opposite of the intended effect for Anacostia merely sobbed once more. Sarah pressed a tender kiss to the top of her hair, hands rubbing in soothing circles across her back.
Petra had always known that Sarah had raised Anacostia as her own, but she had never bore witness to such tenderness between them. Sarah had taken a particular interest in the young fosterling who had been unafraid of anything even at the tiny age of 4. She had taken the news of her mother’s death hard when Sarah had had to convey it to her. She could remember with distinction the look on Sarah’s face as she stared into the daycare room for the children. She had refused to allow the job to be handed to anyone else. Petra herself had volunteered although her gut twisted with the thought of it. Perhaps there could be an easier way to handle the disclosure, she had suggested.
Sarah had merely dismissed the notion. The girl’s mother had died under her watch, she had said. She would deliver the news and she would not hide it in any way.
“Never lie to a child, Petra. They’ll see right through you anyway.”
Petra had watched as Sarah had entered the room and knelt down to the ground, eye level with an inquisitive and seemingly knowing look. She could not hear the exchange with the door closed, but she saw the child’s eyes water. She watched as she squeezed her little fist tightly at her side. Sarah had touched her cheek then and a young Anacostia had flung herself into the General’s arms. Petra remembered the look on Sarah’s face when she had stepped back into the hallway, the way her voice wavered.
It was very reminiscent of the scene now.
Anacostia pulled back slowly; arms latched on to both of Sarah’s forearms as she stared in disbelief.
“Is it really you?”
Sarah’s face softened. She brought one hand up to gently smooth away the tears on Anacostia’s cheek and nodded. Anacostia shook her head and flung herself forward once more, arms wrapping tightly around Sarah’s stomach.
Sarah reached up to gently run one hand across the back of Anacostia’s head as she lay her cheek once more upon her head. Her eyes sought Petra across the room and Petra swallowed thickly.
“You’re going to run tests and examine me, yes?”
Petra nodded quickly. She didn’t trust her voice to form words as she watched the moment play out before her. The tenderness and care were so contradictory to everything she had always thought she had known about Sarah Alder and yet here it was on display as if it was the most natural thing in the world.
Sarah nodded against the top of Anacostia’s head.
“Good. I’d do the same.”
She pulled back slightly, hands sliding down Anacostia’s arms as she brought her to arms length in front of her. With one small movement, she cupped the Head of Intelligence’s cheek once more, smiled a watery smile, and turned to face the three other women.
Anacostia swiped at her eyes with one hand, the other clasped tightly in Sarah’s own.
Sarah nodded at the trio and smiled.
“Then let us begin.”
Another week had passed without much news.
Nicte’s thoughts on the events in town had proven to be true. A rally had blown through quickly, clearly the Camarilla stirring support. They were using Alder’s death as a sign that things were changing, and Raelle had seen an influx of propaganda featuring both Penelope Silver and General Alder’s defaced posters when she and Scylla had gone to gather supplies from the local market. She had been shaken by the sheer volume of hatred she had witnessed. A man had ripped a poster of Alder right down the middle next to a swinging effigy of her former General and the crowd had erupted into cheers. Scylla had shared a significant look with her and pushed herself tighter against her at the moment. Raelle pulled her hood down tighter even though she knew she was wearing a false face.
No one would know it was her, but the anger at the scene mixed with fear and apprehension inside of her.
Something was coming. She could feel it in her gut, but she couldn’t put a name to it for the life of her.
Scylla grabbed her hand and tugged. With one last look back into the riled up crowd, Raelle followed. By the time they had banged back into the front door, Raelle was fuming. Abigail clocked it the moment she had started unwrapping her scarf angrily from her neck.
Scylla glanced shortly at Tally as she leaned against the doorframe into the kitchen and then back at Raelle. Her look was clear.
“Yeah, it’s uh… it’s fine. We just…”
She paused and then slammed her scarf down hard on the back of the couch. Scylla’s hand was on her back immediately as she took over.
“There’s a rally. Camarilla stirring up support. They’re using the Vice President’s daughter as a propaganda tool.”
Her eyes flicked towards Tally once more. The redhead had gone quiet, eyes wide as she griped the mug in her hands tightly. Scylla could see her knuckles turning white from across the room. She took a deep breath and sighed. Ignorance wasn’t going to help them.
“They’re also using Alder’s death as a uniting tool.”
Abigail’s angry, “What?!” wrenched the tension in the air. Raelle could feel the anger burning inside of her. She knew what the Mycelium had shown her – knew the pain and devastation that Sarah had already been through at the hands of the Camarilla. She hadn’t told her sisters of what she had seen because really, she hadn’t been sure of how to convey it.
“They had a fucking effigy of her strung up on a fucking noose.”
The words exploded from her lips before she could stop them. Scylla’s soft voice held a tiny bit of exasperation.
But Raelle couldn’t care at the moment. She was seething, shaking with anger at the injustice of everything that had happened and that was happening.
Nicte chuckled darkly and shoved towards the door.
“Here we go again.”
The words were low as she shoved the front door open. It banged loud against the frame as she pushed through. The tension was physically palpable in the air. Raelle glanced towards Tally once more to find an unreadable expression on her face.
She turned suddenly and sat her unfinished drink on the counter.
Raelle had to sidestep as she grabbed her jacket and pushed through the screen door. She was gone by the time Raelle turned back around.
The room went silent again before Abigail’s anger exploded. She hurled the water bottle she had been drinking from with so much force that it exploded open when it hit the wall. Khalida merely looked at the water as it dripped down the paint. Adil sprung up and grabbed a kitchen towel from the counter before anyone spoke.
Abigail raised her hand and pointed to the front door as she began to pace.
“That’s just fucking great. What are we supposed to do now, huh?”
Raelle sighed heavily and shoved her body up from its position against the back of the couch.
“I don’t know, Abs. OK, I’ve never been in this situation before just like you haven’t.”
Abigail whirled - all others seemingly forgotten in the room.
“Why’d you have to come in and say that? Did you see her? She bolted out of here, Raelle. She can’t keep going like this, it’s eating her alive!”
Raelle shoved her way forward then, anger searing through her even as Scylla grabbed her arm.
“You think I don’t know that?!”
“Ok, that’s enough.”
Scylla’s usually calm voice rang out loud through the house. Abigail dropped her head backwards to her shoulders, a loud sigh emanating from her lips. Raelle tugged her arm out of Scylla’s grasp and turned to face the wall where Adil was silently wiping away the water, pretending as if he wasn’t paying rapt attention to what was happening.
Scylla looked hard at Abigail and then back to Raelle. “Look, I know you two are still reeling from what happened. From everything you saw, from what you had to do.”
Raelle shifted uncomfortably beside her, but Scylla merely stepped further between the two sisters.
“It’s bullshit and it sucks that you can’t fully process what happened. I get it.”
Abigail scoffed slightly and tilted her head forward once more. Anger was etched all over her face.
“Oh right, like when you murdered hundreds of innocent people?”
Scylla straightened to her full height in the silence that followed the question.
“No, Abigail. Like when I had to hide and watch my parents and everyone I know be murdered. Like when I joined an organization that I thought would help me deal with that pain by doing something, but it didn’t.”
Raelle glanced up then, her eyes darting between her sister and the woman she loved. Abigail’s gaze swung around to catch her own briefly before she dropped it.
“I’m sorry. I shouldn’t have said that.”
Raelle could see Scylla’s tense form loosen ever so slightly. She stepped back, running her hand up and down her arms in a tell Raelle knew conveyed her uncertainty in a situation.
Quinn’s voice was even as she stepped forward, new bottle of water outstretched towards Abigail. The younger woman took it with an embarrassed look on her face.
“This is what they want. Us turning on each other.”
She stepped forward to glance out the front window before she turned back to address the group as a whole. “There’s a lot that needs to be dealt with and dangers out there that you can’t imagine. We aren’t going to get through this if we’re at each other’s throats. So whatever you have to say to each other, say it and get it out. Bottling it up ain’t gonna do anybody any good and we got bigger problems.”
It was Raelle’s turn to look sheepish. She pushed herself up from the couch back once more and nodded in Abigail’s direction.
“I’m sorry, Abs.”
Abigail smiled a tight-lipped smile and nodded her acceptance. Raelle ran a hand roughly through her hair and sighed.
“Seeing that shit? I don’t know what…”
Abigail stepped forward then, hand reaching out to grasp Raelle’s forearm in understanding.
“Hey, we’re going to do what we’ve been planning to do. We’re going to win this war and we’re going to take those bastards down in the process.”
Scylla watched Raelle stare at her for a moment, nod her head once, and then stand slowly to her full height. She may not like the High Atlantic from time to time, but she could feel the power from her – could feel the sway it held over everyone in the room. Even after all she had witnessed in town, somehow, even she could believe they stood a chance with Abigail’s fiery confidence.
With a heavy sigh, Raelle turned back to the front door and stared into the distance.
“We’re going to have to do something about Tal.”
Abigail’s sigh joined her own as she moved forward to stand shoulder to shoulder with her.
Khalida’s soft voice broke the silence.
“I may have an idea. Though you may think it unpleasant.”
Every set of eyes turned to the youngest member of their group. Her face was unreadable as always.
“Tally Craven is holding an immense sense of guilt for the way things are. She needs to see the world for what it is and understand that her actions, though unfolding vast consequences, are not the cause of them.”
Abigail and Raelle shared a confused glance, but Scylla quirked an eyebrow.
“You think we should rip the band aid.”
Khalida nodded solemnly.
“A wound needs air to heal. This you know.”
Scylla sighed long and deep. Raelle turned to her, eyebrows scrunched in confusion.
“Wait, you wanna do what?”
Scylla was already moving to grab her coat once more.
“She deserves the truth, Rae.” She pulled up short as the healer moved to intercept and turned to face her. Raelle stopped short at the look.
“All of it.”
Raelle’s eyes searched her own in a silent conversation. When she bobbed her head in acquiescence, Scylla reached forward and grasped her arm once again.
“I’ll be back soon, ok.”
Scylla shrugged into her jacket easily, reaching up to pull her hair free. When she turned, her eyes held nothing but sadness.
“She’s coming with me. She needs something to do and there are truths she needs to see. Then? It's up to you two."
She pushed out of the door before Raelle could do more than nod her head in agreement.
“Do you have a knife?”
Tally froze for a moment at the simple question. Her eyes darted around the old barn they stood in as the memory of the diner from so long ago pushed its way to the forefront of her mind.
She refused to meet Scylla’s eyes as she shook her head.
If Scylla had any indication that she knew what was going on in Tally’s mind, she didn’t make it known. Instead, she made a noise of recognition and reached into the inside of her jacket without a word. When she pulled back a butterfly blade in her palm, she twirled her wrist and danced the blade open and closed once again.
She shrugged one shoulder and held it outstretched. “Should never be unprepared.”
Tally stared at the outstretched blade for a solid ten seconds before she reached forward and took it. She hadn’t touched a blade since that moment weeks ago. The weight was unfamiliar in her hand, and she bounced it a few times for something to ground herself in.
Scylla turned, picking up a bottle of water from the nearest hay bale and shoving it into one of the backpacks they would be taking with them.
Tally cleared her throat as she kept her eyes on the dagger.
“You uh, you didn’t tell anyone about the diner.”
It was a simple statement. No one had said a word to her after she had gotten back on the bus, and it hadn’t been mentioned since. No one had looked at her any differently. She knew her sisters loved her, but Raelle was a terrible liar. If she knew what had happened, she would have been unable to keep it in.
Scylla swept a final item in the bag and swung it back over her shoulder as she turned to examine Tally. Tally felt hot discomfort settle into the pit of her stomach at the look. She hadn’t spent a lot of time alone with Scylla, but she had the uncanny ability to hold a silence for a moment too long. Hell, she didn’t even know if the woman knew it had been her once upon a time that had been the cause of her detainment and separation from Raelle.
By her own logic, though, Tally knew that Raelle knew, so Scylla had to know. Still, she’d never been anything but nice to Tally.
Another thing Tally felt like she hadn’t earned.
Scylla merely raised an eyebrow and tightened the strap on the bag. She glanced up at Tally briefly through the curtain of her hair before looking back to fix the strap.
“I didn’t think I needed to. You didn’t do anything to him.”
Tally scoffed lightly, “No, but I was going to. If you hadn’t stopped me…”
Tally intentionally let the words trail away as she finally looked at the woman her sister loved. Scylla stared right back, raised an eyebrow, and bobbed her head before shrugging one shoulder.
“He’d have probably deserved whatever you did to him. Besides, I was more worried about what would happen to you than whatever you did to them.”
Tally’s eyes snapped up.
“What do you mean?”
Scylla paused for a few seconds, her hands halting against the straps of the bag. She stood taller, task forgotten before she took a step forward into Tally’s personal space. The close proximity made Tally’s skin itch, but she shoved it down hard. She needed to get used to people again.
Scylla’s eyes danced across her face for a moment. She swiped her tongue across her lips and took a deep breath. Tally could feel the discomfort rolling off of her.
“Have you ever killed a civilian, Tally?”
Tally froze once again, eyes locked on the blue of Scylla’s own. The color tremored something inside of her and she swallowed against the sudden dryness in her throat.
The truck. Her first devastating fight with Sarah Alder that had been the foundation of their tumultuousness.
Caused by the Spree using them as bait.
Tally straightened a bit, hardened by the memory and the wound it still tore at. Scylla must have had the same thought because Tally watched as she cleared her throat and looked away.
“With intention. Have you ever looked a civilian in the eye and chose to end their life?”
Tally blinked hard a few times as her thoughts danced all around. Finally, she shook her head.
Scylla merely nodded her head softly and turned her gaze to sweep across the empty barn.
“Taking the life of someone who is truly powerless against you… there’s something inside that just… changes.”
Tally’s gaze drifted up again, but Scylla’s eyes were unfocused, mind seeing something even Tally’s Sight was not privy to.
“The terror in their eyes? It makes all the worst things they have always said about us seem suddenly true and that burden can do a lot to a soul.”
Tally could hear the regret thick in Scylla’s voice. She wondered for the first time what burdens this woman carried on her own shoulders. Perhaps none of them were without guilt.
Scylla blinked back into focus with a shake of her head. With another glance at Tally, she shrugged.
“I didn’t have to think too hard about stopping you from feeling that, too.”
Tally was surprised to feel her eyes well with tears.
She hadn’t been able to cry in weeks now, broken only when she had jerked herself awake from such a realistic dream of Sarah Alder tumbling onto the stone floor of the Necro labs that she had sobbed into her pillow until Raelle had gently tapped on her door to offer coffee. She hadn’t told anyone about the dream or the emotions it had evoked, but the succinct description of the reasoning for her own worst action - the one she could not rectify within herself - was too much. An unnamed understanding that had eluded her since she had stepped forward in the hangar so long ago clicked silently into place.
Tally swallowed against the lump in her throat.
Scylla stepped forward then and placed a hand hesitantly on her shoulder and Tally felt her grip tighten into surety.
“I imagine you may know a thing or two about choices like that.”
Tally closed her eyes against the pressure building there.
Oh, did she know.
With a shuddering breath, and an all too familiar push of something long buried, Tally surged forward and threw her arms around Scylla.
Scylla made a brief noise of surprise and then quietly engulfed Tally’s trembling frame.
She hadn’t hugged someone in so long she couldn’t remember the last time it had happened. The urge to touch and be touched, once so ingrained in her, had simply vanished as she watched Sarah disappear into the Mother…after the numbness of Penelope.
Raelle and Abigail, who had adjusted to her physical demonstrations of emotions over their time together, hadn’t received so much as a shoulder bump from her. In her desperation after the dream, things with Nicte had crossed a line into something she didn’t have want to name and that she hadn’t addressed.
This moment, blessedly, was different. This was like a dulled part of her that she couldn’t reconcile had finally opened its eyes. The ache in her chest eased its tight knot around her heart. She couldn’t articulate what was happening in her at the moment, but as Scylla rubbed circles across her back, Tally realized that maybe she didn’t have to know.
Maybe there was more value in merely sharing the silence.
She shuddered a deep breath and stepped back hesitantly, embarrassed for the first time at her once standard display of affection.
She swiped at her eyes as she glanced up and was surprised to find Scylla’s eyes wet as she smiled.
“Don’t mention it. Besides…”
Scylla stepped away and tugged the bag higher up her shoulder once more. All traces of the discomfort of the previous moments had vanished.
“Raelle swears by my hugs. You can’t be faulted for being drawn in, too. I’m magnetic.”
Tally felt the tiniest flicker of a smile pull at her lips. When Scylla merely raised a brow at her, she couldn’t hold the chuckle in. Scylla smiled at the sound and stepped round her towards the barn door. She pointed back at her as she pushed it open.
“Don’t forget your knife.”
Tally watched as she stepped out and then glanced down at the knife in her hand. With a heavy sigh, she pushed it deep into her pocket. She reached back for the backpack still there for her and heaved it onto her back.
Sarah Alder’s forehead pressed to her own.
Nicte’s dark laugh in her ear.
Tally shook her head hard to dispel the images. She couldn’t allow herself to sink into any of those thoughts right now. There were things to do.
With a deep sigh, she shifted the bag higher onto her shoulder and headed for the door.
She’d have to revisit her choices later.
Sarah Alder gasped and her hand clutched at her chest before she could stop it.
Petra froze mid-sentence and stared wide eyed at her. Izadora was already out of her chair and moving.
“Sarah, what is it?”
Sarah blinked slowly; hand still pressed to her chest. She breathed a sudden heavy sigh and closed her eyes tight. Her head thudded softly against her regular examination chair as she let it drop backwards. The Biddies’ chairs still encircled her own, but now Anacostia and Magda sat resting against two of them.
It was Petra’s no nonsense voice that grounded her.
“I felt something.”
Izadora was over her at once, hand already tilting the bright bulb of the examination light from above her.
“Was it a pain? An ache of some sort?”
Sarah shook her head and pressed herself up. Izadora stepped back immediately, reaching to pull the light out of the way as she did so. Sarah swung her legs from the side of her chair, but her hand never stopped rubbing a small patch across her chest.
Anacostia’s eyes narrowed a bit at the action.
Sarah shook her head again. “No, it was a feeling… strong and not my own.”
Silence descended upon the room. Magda and Izadora shared a knowing look before Izadora was moving to grab instruments from the desk in the corner. Petra rounded the chair she was standing behind and looked round at the others.
“How is that possible? The Biddies…”
Izadora shook her head, turning with a tray grasped tightly in her hands. She rounded the corner of the desk as Magda stood.
“The Biddy connection would have been severed at the moment of death.”
Anacostia flinched at the words even as her eyes landed on Sarah’s shaken face.
The tray rattled as Izadora sat it down.
“We didn’t examine it because it seemed obvious, but…”
Sarah’s voice trembled as she sat up straighter. Anacostia watched recognition cross her features before Sarah turned her gaze up and locked it with her own.
“Izadora,” Sarah paused and lowered the hand she had pressed against her chest slowly back into her lap. “My connection with Tally Craven.”
Izadora scrunched her brows in confusion for a moment. “The one we attempted to dissolve?”
Anacostia felt a wave of realization as Sarah swallowed hard and nodded once.
“You need to examine that.”
A clearing of the air and a running from truth.
Hey there! Thank you SO much to everyone who is reading, following, liking, and commenting on this. This past week I took a week off for my own mental health and everyone was so gracious - thank you doesn't cover it. So, here is a HUGE chapter with so many different moving parts! I haven't beta'ed it yet, so all mistakes are mine.
Things are heating up - and there are some mentions of Nicte/Tally here, so be warned! (Don't worry though, that's gonna fix itself REALLY soon).
I hope you enjoy. I'll be going out of town for a few days with my wife this week, so next chapter may be a little late, but rest assured, it's already half written!
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 darlin.”
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 the two of them 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 dream.”
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 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 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?”
Memories of a night days ago spiraled into her mind’s eye. A tipsy Tally Craven, a dimpled smile.
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. The first time Tally had asked her that had been ringed with a drunken sadness that neither of them named. To repeat it would be easy, but 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 that way after.”
“It can’t be any worse.”
She could hear Tally move behind her, could feel her close the distance. “It’s not like it’s not already happened, and I know you think I’m attractive.”
Anger and guilt flared in Nicte’s gut. Feelings that decidedly belonged to her thoughts and time with Sarah Alder. She licked her lips and turned halfway to look over her shoulder. Tally stood, head tilted and eyebrows raised.
“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 you’re running and what you’re running from.”
Tally scoffed 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 wordlessly into her space then, 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. The connection is intact, but only partially so and I cannot explain that at the moment. 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 so adamant about the connection between she and Craven being examined, though she wouldn’t name why. When it had been revealed by a shocked Izadora to still be intact, Petra had immediately questioned Sarah’s once standard line that the connection had been closed.
Sarah, jaw set firmly in place, 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. The argument that had ensued had been swift and mostly one sided, because Sarah, once wholeheartedly engaged in the discussion, had steadily fallen into a deep silence. Anacostia watched as she’d sat back, face becoming more unreadable as the minutes 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.
“I’m sorry. What was that?”
Petra looked back at Izadora even as the Necro circled to move immediately to Sarah’s side. Her hand raised to Sarah’s cheek instantly.
“You’re clammy. This may be taking too much of a toll on you. The conversation’s over. 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 like and come back to this…”
Sarah’s voice was steel, and Petra halted mid-step.
From sheer muscle memory, Anacostia tucked her hands behind her back and straightened her spine. Sarah swung her legs across the chair and planted them firmly on the ground as her features slid into what Anacostia knew to be anger. Izadora took a step backwards as she 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 would like, Petra, is to know why my soldiers, especially Tally Craven, are with Nicte Batan.”
Sarah finds out and facades of control begin to slip.
Thank you so much to everyone who has followed, commented, and liked this story. You all are the absolute best. My wife and I have been out of town for a while, so I want to thank you for bearing with me! I know this chapter is short. Originally it was going to be much longer, but I have a lot more to do tonight and I wanted to make sure that I got an update out tonight. So, to make up for taking two weeks to post this, expect a second chapter this week.
You all are the best!!
Izadora could feel the crackling energy in the air as Sarah raked one hand up and down her face in frustration. Petra straightened her spine and stood to her full height. Her eyes tracked Sarah as she pivoted on her left foot and began a quick walk the other way once again.
“I made a tactical decision.”
Sarah whirled, and Izadora flinched at the anger flashing in her eyes.
“To send them with Nicte Batan?!”
Petra straightened her shoulders once more as Sarah fought to barely contain her rage. Izadora could feel the unease wafting off of the woman. Sarah Alder may not be the General anymore, but it did not seem to matter in the moment. Petra stood at parade rest, head tilted back and eyes forward as if she was receiving a dressing down during a bad intel report. Izadora wasn’t sure if the action was out of respect or sheer muscle memory of Sarah’s position, but Petra did not seem to stand as General of the Armed Forces.
Izadora had watched as Petra had swayed under the pressure suddenly dumped onto her shoulders, but she had not seen her buckle. The woman had taken to the danger they now found themselves in a way of which she was sure Sarah would have been proud. She had watched, however, as the decisions and pressure had taken its toll. Petra’s stride had diminished, her shoulders sagged. The weight of the path in front of them had taken its toll. Not that she would get much sympathy from the Necro – their current situation may not have been her doing, but Petra had certainly orchestrated her way to the position that she now held. That things had gone to seven shades of hell immediately upon her ascension to Sarah’s position was the Goddess’ testing in Izadora’s eyes.
So far, Petra had made several calls that she didn’t agree with, namely the one being discussed now. Izadora had certainly expressed that to her when speaking freely, but she had never been privy to the inner workings of the decisions that must be made at the top of the Armed Forces. She had always given Sarah leeway and understanding, and she was trying hard to do the same with Petra. The woman had never made it a secret that she felt she could do a better job as General, however, and she had watched as Petra had sowed discourse and gained backers among the generals. The bitterness of her final betrayal of Sarah had made it incredibly difficult for Izadora to fully embrace her as their leader. Now that Sarah had returned, Izadora wasn’t sure where their dynamic stood.
She had known Sarah during every single difficult decision that had had to be made in her own time with the Army. She had seen her choose incomprehensible paths with no fanfare. She had watched as Sarah took the brunt of anger and blame from family members of those killed in action under her and never once flinch. Sarah had perfected walls from centuries of political wars that were as real as the ones she had fought on the battlefield and there were days she had struggled to get any read on her even during a friendly conversation.
Sarah Alder’s control was legendary.
Yet in this moment, Izadora could read every thought, every emotion as it reared to life inside of her. She had never known Sarah to be so exposed. It would be fascinating to discuss with her if this moment wasn’t so disconcerting.
Sarah rolled her right shoulder as she stared across the chair at Petra. Fury etched its lines across her face. Izadora glanced down at the hand clenched at Sarah’s side.
It was shaking.
Sarah was standing on the edge of a precipice and Goddess help them when she tipped.
She swallowed hard and raised a glance back towards Anacostia. The Captain raised one lone brow in silent conversation. She had seen it, too.
Something was definitely off.
Izadora nodded to the younger woman. This was going to be an issue they’d have to address, but right now the message was clear: They needed to let this clash between Petra and Sarah play out as far away from cadets as possible.
Petra pulled a deep breath into her lungs and pushed it out slowly.
“Yes, with Nicte Batan. She is experienced at disappearing, and we owe her…”
Sarah’s fury unleashed in a rush.
“We owe her NOTHING!”
Thunder boomed above them with the force of an exploded bomb in the room. Izadora ducked instinctively, her hands flying forward to press over her ears. Anacostia shoved off the wall, and Izadora felt one protective hand on her back immediately. She tilted her head in time to catch Magda flinch against the cane she was leaning against and could just barely hear the shocked “Shit!” that she yelled before it was swallowed by the noise.
Izadora blinked slowly as the echoes rumbled long and loud through the walls of the labs. The fact that the intensity of Sarah’s storm could be heard and felt this far below ground spoke volumes to her now seemingly increased power.
And her unbridled fury.
Somewhere in her brain, Izadora catalogued the moment for further review, but even she knew that right now was not the time for scientific inquiry. Anacostia squeezed once against her back in signal and she slowly raised from her makeshift crouch. Her eyes sought Petra instinctively. The woman was seemingly unphased save for the look of anger safely etched now onto her own features.
No one dared say a word about the display as Sarah advanced, seemingly unaware of what she had just called forth. Her eyes blazed as she moved, hand cutting through the air with the force of a windstrike.
“Nicte is irredeemable. You do not know her as I do.”
Petra seemed to remember herself at that exact moment and she dropped her posture from the parade rest she had been holding. Izadora watched as she spun directly towards Sarah Alder’s fury and snapped.
“And who’s fault is that, huh?”
The words jolted Sarah motionless. She halted mid-step and clamped her jaw closed so quickly that Izadora was shocked she didn’t hear an audible crack. Her eyes burned as they raked across Petra’s face. Izadora watched the muscle in her jaw jump as she clenched it undoubtedly around whatever words she was biting back. The tension between them was thick, palpable in its intensity and Izadora briefly wondered how these two women had ever worked together for so long.
Sarah’s eyes watered even as her lip tugged up into a snarl.
“I will not apologize for a decision made in war.”
Like a flame caught in wind, Petra pushed forward. Her eyes flashed dangerously as she heaved a breath. Izadora was shocked when her famed indifference slipped and she pounded her right hand against her chest wildly.
“Neither will I!”
Thunder boomed once more, rolling deep and angry like a growl from the darkness. It was different from the sheer force of Sarah’s storm, but its timbre belied a deadly anger all the same.
She heard the strange sound a split second before something small dropped against her hair and shoulders. Her brows knit together as she dragged her eyes away from the two powerful witches in front of her and looked down at the fine coating of rock dust that now covered the upper part of her arm. She stared at it for a moment and willed understanding to come.
Anacostia’s voice cut through the fog in her mind and she turned to find the Captain staring at the spot above where she was standing. Izadora followed her eyeline and watched as small particles of concrete broke free from the ceiling above them and dropped down onto her once again.
Understanding at what was occurring rushed in like a wave. Anacostia kept her eyes on the ceiling bricks above her, but Izadora felt her strong grip latch onto her forearm. Anacostia pulled softly and Izadora stepped away just as another stream of dirt dropped to the floor. Thunder rumbled above them once again.
Sarah and Petra, ensconced in the heat of their argument, did not even notice.
Sarah turned wildly, stepping forward as her momentum carried her angrily towards Petra once more. “Do you even know where they are?! You handed one of the most powerful witches we have ever known over to the Spree! Not to mention a Knower unlike any we’ve seen in a generation.”
Petra’s nostrils flared, but she too shoved forward another step. The only thing between the two women was the chair Sarah had occupied earlier.
“Need I remind you that I sent my daughter into this? And Raelle and Tally are just like my own.”
Sarah would have none of it. Izadora could not remember a time she had heard her anger louder than this.
“She is still connected to me, Petra! You don’t think that Nicte is going to figure that out?! That she isn’t already using them?”
Anacostia looked up as another steady stream of dirt filtered to the ground.
Petra wiped at her face in frustration before she leveled one finger at Sarah.
“You think I don’t know the risks?! They were being taken and you were dead at the time! I had to make a decision.”
Sarah scoffed, “It was not the right one!”
“But it was mine to make!”
The words punctured the tension like a needle in a balloon and silence filled the space.
Sarah stared hard across the chair at her former second in command, but Petra did not back down from her glare.
Anacostia took tactical advantage of the brief reprieve and pushed passed Izadora quickly. She tossed one glance back to the ceiling before she shoved herself close to the end of the chair. She felt herself slide back into her drill sergeant mode as she raised one hand up to each woman. It was a futile gesture, she knew, but it conveyed her message just the same.
Neither turned their gaze to her.
Agitation flared in her gut, but Anacostia shoved it down. They needed to get this stopped immediately or the building was going to come down on top of them.
“Any more of this right now and the goddessdamn buildings are going to come down. Cadets are probably terrified right now.”
The words seemed to shake the last blinding tendrils of rage from both women. Each turned then as another stream of dirt tumbled from the ceiling above. Sarah sucked in a deep breath and dropped her gaze to scan the floor in front of her. Petra pinched the bridge of her nose.
“You’re right. Sarah, we can pick this up later when you’re thinking more…”
Sarah did not allow the words. She shoved passed Anacostia and disappeared through the doorframe in seconds.
Petra sighed deeply as she watched her go.
Seconds stretched into minutes as the women attempted to process what had just transpired.
It was Magda’s deep voice that finally cut through the tense silence. Izadora usually delighted in her notorious candor, but even it could not shake her unease.
“Well, that was some shit, Petra. What happened to not pushing her?”
Petra shook her head once before she turned an angry glare towards the witch.
Magda indifferently raised her eyebrows but opted to say nothing to their superior officer. Izadora could easily read the unspoken fuck you on her face from across the room, however. By the way Petra squeezed the back of the chair in front of her, Izadora knew she could, too.
Magda turned her eyes towards Anacostia then, but the woman was already moving.
“Yeah, I know. I’ll find her. And then I’m going to figure out what the hell is going on.”
Anacostia sighed heavily as she brushed passed. Izadora could feel her energy rolling as she pressed through the doorframe and disappeared after her mother.
Anacostia finds Sarah and some answers.
NOTE - Description of a panic attack in here.
Hey everyone! Thank you so much for all of your continued love during this story!
I apologize this isn't out sooner - I have been battling some major flu-like funkiness that I picked up from a producer at work, which is NOT fun. Anyway, my aim is to release another chapter in between this and next week's release. This is a pretty big chapter, so I hope you enjoy. As always - the mistakes are my own and I hope you enjoy! Drop me a line if you wanna chat!
Anacostia knew immediately where she was going to find Sarah when she set off after the woman. Knowing Sarah as she did, she wasn’t one bit surprised that she had already made it out of the Necro labs and was out of sight by the time she herself had merely cleared the stairs and stepped out into pounding rain.
What surprised her was that she had thought she’d find a contained rain upon her exit, Sarah and Petra’s attention drawn away from their anger enough for them both to lean back towards control. Anacostia stared up into the sky, squinting against the pouring rain before she turned her attention to the far side of the base.
The fact that rain was still pounding did not bode well for what she would find when she made it to Sarah.
With a quick glance around, Anacostia threw one arm up to pointlessly protect her from her mother’s pelting rain and took off in a sprint towards the Administration building.
She couldn’t fathom what her mother was going through, but Sarah’s unbridled fury and seemingly inability to keep her emotions in check seared worry through her chest. Anacostia knew the truth - the image of Sarah Alder as uncaring was entirely unfounded. Sarah was stoic and careful with her feelings, absolutely, but she had them in abundance.
“Emotions can display dangerous truths for others to see,” Sarah had once confessed, and Anacostia had already seen enough to have a distinct feeling as to what had her mother in such emotional turmoil. It was the same thing that it had been for nearly a year now. The same thing that called her mother to make impetuous decisions that surprised her; to allow insubordination on levels that would have court martialed any others into family shame; to lead her to finally remove her bars after centuries of service. It was the same thing that pushed her to voice a secret she had held tightly when she’d had Izadora examine her connection.
She reached the Administration building faster than she thought she would and wrenched the doors open without hesitation. The sight of bare muddy footprints on the white tile brought her up short.
Her mother was running.
The metaphor was painfully appropriate.
Anacostia pushed through the metal door and out of the rain, allowing the door to click shut softly behind her. She could still hear the roar of Sarah’s storm against the earth from just inside and she dropped her eyesight to the muddy prints once more. She fought the flare of sympathetic pain in her chest as she stepped to her left to follow the trail of prints. It only confirmed what she had already known.
Sarah Alder was going home.
She had known instinctively that Sarah would return to her office the moment that her mother had disappeared from the confrontation with Petra. Truth be told, Izadora’s insistence that Sarah may return to them at some point had paced Anacostia’s collecting of her mother’s things off to a slow drip. She had never wanted to clear the space but had refused Petra’s offer to have someone else do the task.
The first day she had entered after Sarah had been lost, she had merely sat on the floor in front of the fireplace and sobbed. She could see memories everywhere she looked.
A skinned knee on the floor in the corner which had Sarah bending to sing a seed of healing that had widened her tiny wet eyes and stopped her tears immediately.
A bad dream that had forced her from the fosterlings’ building and into a surprised Sarah Alder’s arms one late evening. The woman had held her in the very chair that still sat behind her desk and sang soft songs in a language that she hadn’t understood, hand smoothing in her hair until she had fallen asleep.
Late afternoon chess games when she’d gotten older, Sarah’s hearty laughter rich as Anacostia merely stared in disbelief at the losing board after she’d been certain she had finally found a way to win.
No one questioned her timeline for clearing the office and quarters. That space had always been entirely Sarah’s. No one would dare touch it after she had gone. Anacostia had packed up as much as she could bare, but there were things even she hadn’t been able to put away.
She sighed deep as she pushed from the door and strode towards the stairway before her, eyes already looking up to the floor above. Sarah would have come back to the place she had always known for comfort, but Anacostia had taken some of that familiarity away. What her mother, panicked and angry, had likely already found inside her sanctuary pushed her to take the steps two at a time.
She paused only briefly on the outside of the ajar doorframe; messy footprints having led her here easily had she not already known. She pushed through the door quietly, fully expecting to find that Sarah’s emotions had led her to destroy what little remained of the space.
Anacostia expected the destruction, but she didn’t know what form it would take.
Files scattered across the room.
She pushed into the eerie silence and her eyes swept the floor immediately.
It was just as immaculate as it had always been.
Confusion pinched her brows together as she stepped further in, eyes still sweeping.
The word froze in her throat as her eyes landed on Sarah.
The woman stood behind her large mahogany desk, fingers of each hand splayed across the top of the wood; wide, wild eyes staring down at them.
Anacostia stepped into the room cautiously, every instinct kicking into overdrive. If Sarah knew she had entered the space, she didn’t give it away. Her eyes remain fixed on her fingers, arms shaking and mouth open to allow the ragged, gasping breaths she was taking to press forward.
Anacostia’s face dropped in shock as she took it in.
Sarah Alder was having a panic attack.
No wonder the storm outside hadn’t calmed. It had no hope of doing so while her mother was spiraling into the recesses of her thoughts and feelings.
Flashes of another memory raced through her mind unbidden. A young Anacostia clutching her knees to her chest. Sarah Alder’s solid calming presence, one cool hand pressed against her back as she spoke surely to her.
“Ok. Sarah? Look at me.”
Wild blue eyes darted up as Anacostia took another cautious step in. This was her mother, but this was still a woman panicked and out of place. Anacostia held one hand out in front of her as if she was approaching a wild animal as she advanced. She tried to keep the disbelief out of her voice when she spoke.
“Máà, you are having a panic attack.”
Sarah wheezed at the words, one shaking hand coming up to clench at the fabric of her hoodie. She pried it away from her throat, eyes still wide, but to not particular avail. When she gasped a ragged inhale, Anacostia sprung forward. She wrapped her hand around her mother’s shaking one quickly and stopped her jerky movements as Sarah tugged at the zipper of her sweatshirt. Sarah’s eyes tore back to her own; wide and fearful.
Anacostia had seen her this way exactly once and even then, it hadn’t been this bad. When Nicte Batan had tried to burn her mother’s vocal cords from the inside out from thousands of miles away. When Anacostia had to tell her that the guards she had sent to protect Collar and Craven in the Cession had failed and the Camarilla had taken Raelle Collar, she had seen heartache and anger bleed into worry.
This was entirely new.
Sarah pushed back against her iron like grip, but Anacostia held on.
“You’re having a panic attack! It’s ok.”
Sarah pulled then, trying to twist away from Anacostia’s hold as she reached once more for the collar of her sweatshirt. Anacostia’s grip held true, however, and she bent, pressing her face into Sarah’s darting line of sight.
“Look at me! Remember when I used to have these?”
Sarah’s eyes searched her face once more and Anacostia pressed forward.
“You taught me what to do - remember?”
Sarah looked as if she were scanning back into recesses of her memory, even as her chest continued its sharp rise and fall. Anacostia knew from experience that anxiety was rushing through her head at this moment, knew from experience that she could only limitedly reach her. She stepped forward and pressed her other hand against Sarah’s chest.
“Breathe with me, ok? In and out.”
Sarah’s wild eyes locked onto her own once more, but she tensed and Anacostia could feel her attention.
Anacostia followed the steps with her own breath, determined to ground Sarah in the same way she had for her so many times over their life together.
Another gasping breath pushed passed Sarah’s shaking lips. Anacostia pressed her hand down onto her chest harder.
“Breathe with me. You used to do this with me as a child. You taught me. Come on. Breathe.”
Sarah’s breath was shaky, but she stared hard into Anacostia’s eyes and inhaled.
“Good. 3…2…1. Exhale.”
When Sarah exhaled a shaking breath, Anacostia nodded. Sarah’s fingers gripped the hand covering her own tightly against her chest. Anacostia squeezed back just as hard.
“I’m right here. Inhale. 3…2…1. Exhale. You’ve got this. Again.”
After a few more shaky attempts, Sarah’s eyes slipped closed. Anacostia darted a glance over her shoulder. The rain outside the window was slowing. Sarah was calming down.
“Good. You’re doing great.”
Sarah tightened her grip on her hand once more and croaked a single word.
In a moment Anacostia was spinning to find a source of fresh water in the room. Her eyes landed on the bar cart in the corner of the room, and she dashed towards it, grabbing an empty glass and pushing her way towards the small bathroom she knew was in the adjoining room that had housed the Biddies.
Sarah’s eyes watched her the entire time.
“I’m getting some. Hang on one second, ok?”
Anacostia pressed into the Biddies’ dorm without hesitation. Her hand reached out to smack at the light switch even as she was reaching for the tap. Her own hand was shaking as she held the glass under the stream of water.
When she re-entered Sarah’s office, the rain had all but ended outside. Sarah reached for the glass from her outstretched hands like she was dying of dehydration and before Anacostia could utter a word, she had drained the glass of its contents. She dropped it back to the desk in front of her with a dull thud.
Silence filled the air.
Anacostia studied her mother’s tightly closed eyes and her still trembling hand. Without a hesitation, she stepped back to the bar cart and lifted Sarah’s crystal decanter with reverence. It had always contained her mother’s favorite whiskey. She was two steps back to the desk when Sarah realized what she was doing and nodded to her.
Anacostia didn’t know if it was in agreement or thanks, but she didn’t care. She uncorked it, tipped the contents into the empty water glass and filled it to the brim.
Sarah didn’t speak as she lifted the glass to her lips and all but drained it in one go. Anacostia merely raised a brow at her as she pulled back, sucked in a deep breath and extended her hand towards her once again.
Anacostia refilled her glass.
It had taken three glasses of whiskey before Sarah had fully calmed down to her stoic demeanor once again. She had yet to speak, however, and Anacostia had merely perched on the arm of her leather sofa and waited.
The words brought her gaze up to find Sarah staring at her. It did not hold the penetrating fire of General Alder, however, nor did it have the tempered patience of her mother. It was hollow and distant.
Anacostia felt its brokenness inside of her own chest.
“You know you don’t have to thank me, but you’re welcome all the same.”
Sarah leaned back in her chair and dropped her head to the top of it. Anacostia watched as her eyes walked slowly around the room. She could see her catalogue every change, every piece of her history and life that had been removed. It made Anacostia want to squirm. The thought that Sarah may believe someone else had removed her things, however, was a bit too much for her.
“I uh… I didn’t take everything. I couldn’t.”
She stared at her feet on the floor as she spoke, unable to look into Sarah’s eyes for this moment.
“I kept thinking I knew you were gone, but Izadora was so sure and after a while, I believed her and I’m glad I did because…”
The words died on her lips as she swung her gaze back up to meet Sarah’s watery one.
“You did this?”
Anacostia swallowed hard and nodded.
Sarah merely smiled, lip trembling as she continued to look around.
“I am sorry, daughter.”
Anacostia was stunned at the occurrence and when Sarah’s eyes found hers again, she felt her own eyes mist over.
“It is every parent’s ache for a child to bear that responsibility.”
Anacostia shook her head.
“I wasn’t going to let anyone else touch your things. I’m your…”
Anacostia hesitated for some unknown reason and Sarah smiled. She felt the warmth radiate off of it even through the tears in her eyes.
“You were always my daughter.”
The moment held for several beats until Anacostia remembered why she had come looking for her mother in the first place. With a deep inhale, she pushed herself up on the edge of the couch and crossed her arms.
“Are you ok?”
Sarah nodded and drained the last bit of the whiskey in her glass.
“Yes. I’m sorry you had to see that from me, but I’m glad it was you who found me.”
Anacostia nodded her wordless agreement. The blow to Sarah’s pride had anyone save perhaps for Izadora found her would have been too much in the moment. Still, as much as she wanted to merely sit and talk with her mother as they had once done, she had questions that needed answers.
“I’m glad because there’s some things we need to discuss and you’re going to stop being squirrely about it and talk to me.”
Sarah merely stared at her for a solid ten seconds. Anacostia felt the walls she associated with her mother raise, but she knew they weren’t going to hold. Sarah sighed heavily in quasi acceptance, leaned back against her chair and nodded.
Anacostia could see her acquiescence, but chess with Sarah had taught her a great deal. She wasn’t going to celebrate a victory too soon.
Anacostia pushed up from the arm of the couch and towards the bar cart once more. Her mind raced with the particulars of how she wanted to begin this conversation, but she couldn’t come up with a suitable way that wasn’t just blunt.
When she stepped back to the front of Sarah’s desk, she decided.
She popped the top back off of the decanter and poured herself a hearty glass before tilting it back to refill her mother’s.
“This thing with Tally Craven.”
Sarah’s eyes widened briefly as she raised her head to stare at Anacostia’s raised brow.
Anacostia merely finished filling her glass and pushed the stopper back into the top of the decanter. She sat it down softly and then lifted her glass to her lips.
“What is it?”
Sarah simply watched, speechless, as Anacostia turned her drink upright and sipped. Warmth spread through her chest at the action, but she refused to give Sarah an out. The question was out there now – there was nowhere to go, but straight towards the truth.
Sarah stared at her for a moment and Anacostia returned to her position leaning against the couch arm. Finally, Sarah reached forward to grasp her glass, sighed softly, and brought it to her lips.
“I don’t know.”
Anacostia’s brow shot back up again.
“You don’t know?”
Even she could hear the disbelief in her voice. Sarah spared her a withering glance, but it lacked its old fire. Anacostia merely stared back.
“Our relationship was …contentious beforehand. Passionate in a way in which others seldom saw appropriate to question me.”
Anacostia couldn’t stop the scoff that pushed passed her lips.
“That woman had the hots for you the day she walked in this place, and you always had a fondness for her.”
It was Sarah’s turn to scoff then.
“A fondness? I most certainly did not. She was impetuous and…”
“Challenged you and wouldn’t back down where others always did.”
Sarah made a noise in the back of her throat then, low and almost dismissive as she glanced to the fireplace. Anacostia watched her carefully as she watched the flames.
“You don’t like to admit it, but you like being challenged. Now, challenged by a cadet? When you let her get away with questioning you like you did, I knew something was up. You care about her.”
Sarah allowed the statement to hang in the air unchallenged. She leaned forward, hand coming up to rest under her chin as she leaned heavily onto it.
“I think when Tally volunteered to become a Biddy in the Tarim…”
Anacostia felt like pushing herself from the couch arm and waving dismissively towards the woman in front of her. Instead, she merely shook her head.
“That is not what I meant and you know it.”
Sarah paused for a moment and then nodded slowly.
“I am aware, but it is important.”
She didn’t look up, choosing instead to stare at the top of her desk. Anacostia sat back once more and then nodded herself.
Sarah must have felt the acquiescence.
“When she volunteered to become a Biddy in the Tarim Basin, I believe Tally created a soul tie between us.”
Anacostia’s eyes went wide. That was not what she had expected her mother to say.
“Biddies are screened and trained rigorously. It is necessary for their safety and mine. Allowing emotions to bleed over is a delicate dance in the bond and trained Biddies are chosen to the position not for their feelings towards me, but for their sense of duty towards their country. Personal feelings cannot be allowed. They may develop after and certainly do – a feeling of camaraderie, of closeness.”
Sarah paused, rushing as she was as if the words wouldn’t stop once she had begun.
She stared down into the dark liquid in the glass in her hand.
“Tally’s decision was entirely unselfish but, more importantly, untrained.”
Anacostia’s eyes were wide as she raised the whiskey once more and drank.
Sarah merely paused before she did the same. When she lowered the glass, she refused to look up, so Anacostia pushed forward. She knew the importance of a soul tie, the depths that it ran. Handfasting created them to a degree, but there had been working imposed to ensure that those had a finite course of time. 5 years had been agreed upon when the number of matrilines had begun to diminish. Left to its own devices, a soul tie would bind individuals together for eternity – hardly something that would be beneficial to repopulating witchkind.
She ran her hand down her face and blew out a breath, attempting to release the tension that was suddenly in her shoulders.
“Ok, so a soul tie. Wouldn’t that be severed when the bond was severed? Like…handfasting does?”
Sarah seemed grateful for the change in direction. She nodded slowly and then raised the glass to her lips again.
“It would normally, yes, if the tie were one sided.”
Anacostia felt her eyebrows disappear into her hairline once more as Sarah sipped her whiskey.
Was her mother really admitting to her feelings for Tally?
“O…k… so, it wasn’t then?”
Sarah sighed softly and sat forward. She swiped one hand down her face and then steepled her fingers in concentration.
“Tally gave herself as a Biddy without understanding the complexities of what it entails. She did so without knowledge that it could be reversed, albeit rarely, and because of that, she did so willingly believing that she was giving her life, her soul, to me for the rest of her days.”
Anacostia shook her head suddenly and pushed forward, “Wait, so you’re saying that Craven…”
Sarah held up one hand and Anacostia stopped talking immediately.
“Please, daughter, let me finish.”
Anacostia nodded and crossed her arms across her chest. If her mother was going to pretend that this bond between them was simply because Tally Craven had misread the situation, this was going to be a more difficult conversation than she anticipated.
Sarah sighed once more, reached forward and poured herself another small glass of whiskey.
“I’m merely saying Tally was unaware of the entirety of the circumstances. And once we returned, I discussed the occurrence in private with Izadora. Even she was in agreement that giving Tally her life back would likely … cause the bond to cement.”
Anacostia couldn’t stop the word before it escaped.
Sarah refused to look up at her.
“You knew that you’d be keeping that bond open?”
Sarah closed her eyes once more and sighed softly once again.
“I couldn’t keep her trapped like that, Ana, I just… I couldn’t.”
Anacostia felt like she was seeing her mother in a whole new light. Even still, Sarah refused to look up at her. Something was still wrong.
“When I gave Tally her youth back, it indeed cemented the tie between us because I, too, was giving of myself willingly for her. Nothing Izadora could do could stop or change it.”
Sarah leaned back then and drained the glass slowly.
Anacostia merely stared at her. All the time she was certain that Craven would be court-martialed, and she had merely watched her mother answer with a tempered anger? All those times that Craven had charged in and challenged the General of the Armed Forces and Sarah merely took it? Anacostia had thought her mother had done so merely because of feelings that she had for the cadet, but she had no idea just how deep they had been.
A thought suddenly pressed itself to the front of her mind and she sat straight up.
“You weakened yourself willingly, didn’t you?”
Sarah looked up at her finally, truth completely readable in her eyes, and everything seemed to slowly slide into place. Biddies were rigorously trained because their emotions could not be allowed to affect the general of the Armed Forces anymore than their fears could. Tally’s untrained and open emotions would have bled through the line unfiltered, and there was no way on earth that Sarah hadn’t known it.
From the moment that she had welcomed Tally as a Biddy, Sarah Alder had to have known that things would never be the same for her. When she had given Tally her lifeforce back, the wrenching away of those open, unfiltered emotions would have been excruciatingly disorienting to her. After centuries of tight control, Sarah would have been left reeling and unguarded.
And she had done it anyway.
And then she had tried to convince Tally that the bond was closed when Tally had insisted it wasn’t in an attempt to protect the young woman. All the while knowing that pushing Tally away may keep her safe but would very probably condemn her own self in the process. Nicte’s sudden success in her attempts to very nearly kill her had been proof of that. Tally had become combative, undoubtedly from the sudden and forceful distance Sarah had put between them, something that likely tore at her mother’s own soul, and yet still, Sarah had said nothing.
Anacostia knew that soul ties were incredibly powerful, but even they didn’t cause that level of selflessness.
Anacostia stared, mouth slightly open, as Sarah fidgeted under her gaze.
“You do care about her.”
Sarah pushed back from the desk and to her feet in one motion. She turned to the window, hands clasped behind her back and thumb worrying against her finger before Anacostia even processed the movement.
“Of course. I care about all witches.”
Anacostia’s eyes snapped up suddenly and she stared at her mother’s tensing back. The shock was still in her whispered words as she pushed off the couch arm.
“That is not what I meant, and you know it. Don’t pretend otherwise.”
Silence reigned for a few moments before Anacostia sighed.
“Máà. It’s ok.”
She watched as Sarah dropped her head but said nothing. Anacostia shrugged gently and turned to take in the entirety of the room. She wasn’t sure that Sarah had even admitted it to herself yet, to be honest. The woman was infamous for her ability to compartmentalize.
Anacostia dropped her gaze to the bottom of the empty glass as she rolled it in her hands. The weight was something solid to focus on as memories came rushing in. Suddenly, a few more things about what had transpired near the end made perfect sense.
Anacostia sighed. As long as they were discussing it all...
“You pushed her to follow the truth because you trusted her beyond everyone else, didn’t you? The truth about Nicte? Because you didn’t think you could do it.”
Sarah spun then, eyes wide as she stared. Anacostia swallowed the burn of the whiskey in her throat and nodded at her shocked look.
“Yeah, I know things. You’re not as sneaky as you like to believe, you know.”
It was something they’d need to discuss eventually, Sarah’s foolhardy plan, but not now. Now there were more pressing things to discuss.
“So why do all that? Why trust her so much? Willingly tie yourself to her and then hurt yourself by denying it? Why take all that anger from her if you didn’t care?”
Sarah dropped her eyes once more and Anacostia felt her heart clench. She had never seen her mother look so human.
“Máà, do you love her?”
She heard Sarah’s shaking exhale from across the room even as she turned to stare out the window. She paused, swallowing thickly before she spoke, voice stuttered with emotions barely held at bay.
“There is a heaviness to that word. A responsibility for another. I have been alone for so long, I am truly afraid that I may not know what it means.”
Anacostia pushed forward then, hands splaying out across the top of Sarah’s desk.
“Sarah Alder, you know how to love so much more than you believe.”
Sarah closed her eyes as her sister’s words filtered through her mind.
Anacostia swept her arm wide.
“You built this place. Gave every witch a protector, made us strong. I’ve watched you with the fosterlings. You raised me.”
Sarah swallowed against the sudden lump in her throat. Words unsaid leapt to be released, but she pressed them back down. To voice them now may be her undoing.
Anacostia merely pressed forward.
“And I’ve seen you with that woman. You died and now you’re back. That’s a second chance that does not just happen, so if you’re holding back for some reason…”
Silence held once more as Sarah raised her eyes to stare into the darkness that blanketed Fort Salem. Her storm had dissipated finally, aided by Anacostia’s firm voice. The fear and anxiety that she had felt upon knowing that Tally Craven and the others were with none other than Nicte Batan while the Camarilla hunted them had ripped through her instantly. It had been tempered by the hurt and anger, however, of Tally’s emotions from so far away.
“There is something between us. Something I haven’t felt before. I’m not sure when it began truthfully, but this connection between us…”
Sarah’s eyes drifted closed, and her voice dropped to a whisper. Anacostia had to strain to continue to hear her.
“I can feel her, Anacostia. Still. Her emotions…her fears…her desires.”
Anacostia tilted her head slowly and pinched the bridge of her nose.
“Ok, didn’t need that information.”
Sarah pressed on, ignoring the comment from her daughter.
“Wherever they are, Tally is lonely and scared. Her guilt is overwhelming. She’s hurting and...”
Anacostia dropped her hand and straightened, eyes finding Sarah once again as anger crept back into her voice. She spat the next word out like it was venom itself.
Anacostia shook her head even though she knew Sarah couldn’t see her.
“Look, Craven is smart. Nicte isn’t going to sway her against you. She isn’t going to sway any of them. This is just a momentary thing that is happening. We’ll get to them and this…”
Anacostia felt the temperature drop in the room suddenly. From across the room watched as Sarah’s back tensed.
“Nicte took advantage of her loneliness.”
Anacostia’s mouth snapped shut so quickly that her teeth slammed together. Sarah’s back was taunt and Anacostia watched as her hands shook slightly with what she could only assume was rage.
Suddenly, her mother’s sudden stoic behavior from before made complete sense. If she was feeling through the connection what she was implying?
Dear Goddess, I’m going to have to kill Tally Craven.
“And you uh… you felt that?”
Sarah didn’t turn, but Anacostia watched her slight head nod in the filtered moonlight through the window. Anacostia felt righteous anger on her mother’s behalf flare inside of her chest. She raised one hand instinctively to scratch at her eyebrow in annoyance and frustration as she looked down at her empty whiskey glass on the top of the desk.
“So. How did that make you feel?”
The flames in the fireplace to her left flicked angrily upwards with work and Anacostia turned her attention to them briefly. Sarah’s voice was low, shaking with anger as she stared out the window. When lightning flashed once again across the sky, Anacostia could tell that she was barely holding it together.
“Like I want to rend the world apart. Like I want to sear Nicte Batan into the ground; to obliterate her from the face of the earth.”
“But there’s no feelings there, huh?”
At Anacostia’s deadpanned words, the flames in the fireplace dropped back instantly to their normal height. The lightning streaking across the sky faltered and then died.
Sarah didn’t turn, but Anacostia watched her shoulders sag. Silence held once again as Anacostia merely stared at Sarah’s back.
When she spoke, her voice was devoid of the anger it had just held.
“I have to find them, Anacostia. Nicte Batan is…”
She paused, head turning and mouth working as if she was chewing on something that tasted rancid.
“…bad enough, but the Camarilla are like a hydra. They’ve been hunting me for hundreds of years, and they just keep coming back no matter what I do.”
Sarah took a shaky breath once again and Anacostia immediately rounded her desk to stand beside her.
“They took everything I loved from me before. I can’t…”
Anacostia reached up and placed her hand onto Sarah’s shoulder. She squeezed softly when Sarah’s words merely died on her lips.
Her slip in word choice had been all the confession Anacostia needed.
“We won’t let them. Not this time. This time is different.”
Sarah’s gaze was watery once more as she turned to study Anacostia’s face.
Her whispered question cracked Anacostia's heart in two. She took a deep breath at the fierce feeling of protectiveness that swept through her and squeezed Sarah's shoulder tightly.
“Because this time we’re all going to be fighting together. Army, Dodgers..." she chewed on the implication of her next word, but her mother's hopeful open gaze steeled her resolve. No matter what she had to do, these monsters would not win.
"...and Spree. The Camarilla aren’t going to divide us. You aren’t alone, Sarah.”
The sigh pushed its way from Sarah's lips immediately as she reached up and grasped Anacostia's hand where it lay against her shoulder. Wordlessly, she turned to stare out the window across the now regrowing grounds of Fort Salem. The devastation that littered its once pristine landscape was an unwelcome metaphor. She wanted desperately to believe Anacostia, but centuries of experience had tempered her ability to hope where the Camarilla was concerned. Add in the complications of resurrection, her inability to control her emotions like she always had, and Tally Craven and things were suddenly seemingly overwhelming.
When it came to Nicte Batan…
She felt the anger boil in her blood once more as she thought of the shock of experiences she had received through her connection with Tally before she had slammed it closed.
She felt the sigh press against her lungs once again, but this time, she refused to allow it to loosen itself. It was time to start acting like the woman she had always been; to keep her word to her sister.
She’d deal with Batan when the time came. Now there were more important things to focus on.
Sarah straightened her spine, turned her head to stare into her daughter’s strong gaze, squeezed her hand, and nodded.
It was time to talk to Petra Bellweather once more.
It was time to find Tally Craven.
Tally's struggles with the truth and a special appearance is made.
Thank you so much for everyone who has read, liked, commented and followed this story. My apologies for not updating for a few weeks. I've been having some pretty hefty health issues. My thanks to She Squared Podcast for keeping people up on Tumblr. You all are the absolute very best and I'm thankful for this fandom every day.
This isn't beta'ed, but I was determined to get this out. So, all mistakes are mine.
Tally’s eyes fluttered against the warmth of its intrusion even as sleep struggled to retain its hold on her. She could feel her consciousness rising as solidly as she could feel the softness and warmth of the sheets against her skin.
One hand stretched instinctively forward, palm sliding over cool empty sheets.
It was a direct contrast to the warmth of sleep that she wanted desperately to merely sink back into. It felt as if it had been ages since she had just languidly taken time to sleep in. Even as the thought flitted through her mind, she felt a pang of longing for the warmth of the body that normally lay next to her.
Even though she knew the other woman wasn’t far away at this very moment.
The sound of dishes clinking against the top of the kitchen table filtered through the closed bedroom door and Tally smiled at the confirmation.
A tiny, high-pitched murmur of excited tones floated through the door, and she bit back the smile that instantly met it. Warmth spread through her as the low, rolling tones that she knew so well answered back.
Tally turned her head into the softness of the pillow beneath her and pushed her grin against it as she listened to her wife and their daughter.
As with most things in her life these days, she had only a moment’s notice before the approaching sound of small footsteps thudded against the hardwood directly outside of the bedroom door. She squeezed her eyes closed as the doorknob rattled slightly and then felt the air pressure dip as it was slowly pushed open.
She heard the soft footfalls as they tiptoed their way toward the far side of the bed, and she evened her beath out in anticipation for what she knew was coming. This morning routine may happen with less frequency than her title permitted these days, but she could map its regularity with ease. Too many wars; too many years knowing what would come next.
Tally squeezed her eyes closed and bit down on the grin that threatened once again to overtake her face even as the tiny invader thudded quickly towards the bed.
Silence reigned for a solid thirty seconds, and she kept her breathing even. She knew she was being watched. Suddenly and altogether too slowly, she felt the mattress dip on the far side of the bed. Small, unsteady movements pitched her body slightly and then there it was.
A tiny touch laid gently against her cheek.
The exaggerated stage whisper of her daughter sent a shock of love and mirth through Tally’s system, but she kept her face completely neutral. When a small poke to her suddenly appearing dimple occurred, Tally could not stop the full blown grin’s spread across her lips.
Laughter rang loud as Tally threw the sheet wide, one arm sweeping up to tug the small girl against her. Amilia’s delighted giggle was loud in her ear, but Tally could not find one moment of care for it as she draped her arm over the squeaking bundle and tugged her tighter.
Tally surged forward, pressing exaggeratedly loud kisses across dimpled, laughing cheeks even as she dug her fingers gently into the small side against her. Her daughter bucked forward, laughter unbidden and Tally opened her eyes finally to the smiling face looking over at her with smiling blue eyes.
She couldn’t fight her smile as unbridled warmth radiated through her chest.
“Yes, I am.”
She reached out and poked at the tiny nose in front of her. It set off another round of giggles.
Amilia snuggled down into her side, hand swiping up to grab Tally’s finger, not bothering to look up as she stated matter of factly.
Tally’s eyes went wide with the information. She could feel the shift in air pressure again; knew without a doubt even without it that they weren’t alone in the room. Her own stage whisper carried easily to the doorway where she knew her wife was waiting.
“Hmmm. Pancakes, huh?”
She leaned forward then and pressed her lips to her daughter’s ear in an overly conspiratory manner.
“Should we send out for breakfast then?”
The gasp that filled her ears had a smile on her lips before it was even finished.
“Mutiny, Tally? I’m truly shocked.”
Amilia turned wide blue eyes to her then and Tally had to bite her lip at the seriousness on her tiny features. One hand reached up and landed with a soft thud against her cheek once more. Tally turned her head with the insistence of its direction to stare into the suddenly concerned gaze of her two-year-old daughter.
The first word was gasped as Amilia stared wide eyed up at her.
Tally bit the chuckle back as Sarah pressed off of the doorframe and into the room.
“Indeed, my little one. Everyone knows that your Máà makes the best pancakes.”
Tally refused to look up at the advancing woman, opting instead to stare down at the blend of their features across Amilia’s face as she traced Sarah’s movements around the bed. The young girl grinned openly at the display. When she clapped her hands and kicked one leg up in joyful anticipation, Tally smiled.
Her laugh was a balm as it rang out.
“Máà da best!”
Tally could feel Sarah suddenly pressed into their space and she knew this particular game was all but lost. She turned then, smile firm against her lips as she smiled up at the woman.
“That’s quite the claim.”
Sarah’s chuckle pressed deep into her chest as she bent down. Tally closed her eyes at the sensation seconds before the kiss was pressed against her hair. The husk of Sarah’s whisper pressed against the shell of her ear safely from earshot of their excited daughter.
“Well, that was what you kept saying last night.”
Tally’s gut twisted with the words as she opened her eyes to stare up at the sea of blue. Sarah merely stared at her before she reached up to tuck an errant strand of her fallen hair back behind her ear.
Tally’s core pulled tight with want.
With a mischievous sparkle to her gaze that belied her knowledge of exactly the reaction she was causing, Sarah pulled back slowly and opened her hands unconsciously towards the little girl next to her.
Amilia shoved the breath from Tally lightly as she pushed off of her stomach in a hurried bid to rise towards her Máà’s outstretched hands, but Tally didn’t care. She stretched languidly and a delicious stretching of fingernail scratched skin slightly protested as she did so.
Images of Sarah arched against these very sheets beneath her flashed through her mind and she smiled.
“Hmm. Oh, I remember.”
The bed wobbled next to her as Amilia stood on uncertain legs and Tally held one hand loosely against her back even as she stared hungrily up at the woman beside her.
“But I wouldn’t say no to a refresher.”
Sarah’s face, unreadable to so many for so long, went slack with want the very second that Amilia launched herself over Tally’s stomach and up at her still open arms. Centuries of war honed reflexes had Sarah encircling her even as she tried to hide the “Oompf” of escaped wind as the small girl landed hard against her stomach.
To Sarah’s credit, or maybe Tally's own, she dismissed it immediately.
For a moment, their eyes remain locked. Hunger burned in Sarah’s gaze, and she ran her tongue slowly over the bottom lip of her now partially opened mouth.
Amilia’s exuberant voice broke the moment.
“Máà best, Mama!!”
Sarah took a deep breath, wrapped one hand around to cradle the back of the little girl’s head and raised a brow down at Tally’s playful seductiveness. Gone now were the moments where Sarah would merely throw the sheets back and spend hours hearing Tally pant her name – day’s agenda be damned.
They both knew that this silent flirtation would be their standard fare until they had a stolen moment alone.
Tally stared unimpressed up at the overly satisfied look on Sarah’s face.
“The praise of our daughter makes you insufferable.”
Sarah pulled a shocked face immediately as she loosed an embellished gasp.
Amilia giggled in her arms as if she understood anything but the exaggerated reaction of her mother. Sarah lifted her whole body sideways, one hand tucked under her legs, one supporting her head, and brought their faces mere inches apart. Tally had to admire her ability to keep a straight demeanor in the face of their daughter’s laughter.
“Did you hear that, Dear One? Do you know what that is?”
Sarah turned back to stare down stoic faced at Tally. Amilia’s countenance dropped to match Sarah’s in eerie quickness and Tally’s grin split her face. She raised quickly, tucked her hand beneath her head and leaned against it to stare up at them.
The 2-year-old was seriousness itself as she shook her tiny head and turned an all too familiar exasperated look towards Tally.
Sarah nodded her head slowly, face the picture of the very seriousness she had once worn as General Alder. Tally’s heart swelled at the matching pair of eyes staring back at her.
Tally lost the fight she had been waging since she had been pulled from sleep as a bark of laughter loosed. Sarah grinned once at the sound of it and raised an unsuspecting Amilia higher towards her once again. She was two steps towards their bedroom door when she blew a raspberry loudly against the small girl’s stomach.
Amlia’s squeals of laughter echoed back down the hallway.
Tally squinted against the unwelcome harshness of the intrusion as consciousness jolted through her.
It was an all too welcome staple of her existence now, but the pang of emptiness from this one tore across her chest as she blinked the far wall into focus. It was far too cold in the small empty bed.
Her head pounded heavily with each beat of her pulse as she stared.
The product of too much whiskey.
Too many bad decisions.
She refused to acknowledge that it timed perfectly with the arching ache in her heart.
The sound of tiny giggles echoed through her head suddenly and her face contorted with the pain of its remembrance. She shoved the covers forcefully from her, kicking her legs to swing them down hard onto the cold ground below her.
That’s what this was.
She had never told anyone of the depth of her feelings for Sarah, though she suspected from her teasing that Raelle knew she had a thing. But dear Goddess, the sheer weight of feelings that had been borne from idolization; that had been tempered by realism and cemented by a connection that had left her raw before it was tainted by devastating hurt?
What she felt had to be love. Nothing else would be cruel enough in its timing.
So, this? This was divine punishment.
She ducked her head behind a curtain of hair and audibly breathed through the sudden sob that tore its way from her mouth.
Tally buried her face against the rough skin of her hands and breathed shakily and deep. Truth, always the pinnacle for which she reached, raced through her unbidden.
There was no smiling Sarah husking innuendos into kisses.
No glorious ache of a remembered night of passion with her wife.
No daughter whose eyes shone with love and whose laughter, even now, filled her to the brink.
No Màá whose love did, too.
Only the harsh dull light of reality of a world at war.
A world without Sarah Alder.
She pushed her feet hard into the cold floorboards. Her lifeless hair slid through her fingers as she held her head, knees poked sharply into her legs. She had lost weight, she knew. She could feel it even now. The muscle she had fought so hard to gain in basic – the payment of hard work chasing skills she had honed under the proud eyes of her mentors were fading.
The sound of Dream Sarah’s laughter sounded in her ears. When another small squeal of laughter layered over top of it, another sob tore from her lips.
There would never be a moment like that. There would never be a happy family.
This was tortuous punishment whose truth was the worst - a sweet unending hope that butted against the absolute knowledge that it would never be.
A fitting punishment for one who sought the truth so religiously.
No. This was punishment for not being strong enough; for having allowed the blinding gash of her pain to steer her directly into a path of betrayal of the woman she maybe loved.
Tally squeezed her eyes closed harder and sucked in a shaky breath through fingers tightly pressed against her face.
They had used her pain to their own advantage and Tally had just let them.
Dream Sarah’s blinding smile.
Her daughter’s trusting, blue eyes.
Memories raced over the fading tendrils of the dream.
Nicte’s rough breath against her ear.
Her own cries of need even as tears had fallen down her cheeks.
The incongruent images flashed fast and unforgiving through her mind. They forced her stomach to lurch and Tally dry heaved before she could even parse out what was happening. She steadied herself against the mattress, one hand rising to press tightly against her mouth as the images and memories kept coming.
The feeling of Sarah arching beneath her in the moonlight of their bedroom.
The memory of being roughly pressed against a cold barnwood wall.
The press of her daughter’s laughter into her own chest.
The feel of Nicte pushed against her.
Tally heaved loudly once more. Her eyes watered immediately, and she blinked in a futile attempt to clear her vision. She shoved herself on shaky legs up and took two wobbly steps towards the bedroom door. Her room was just across from the bathroom thankfully, and she barely made it passed the threshold, hand reaching out to blindly yank the toilet lid upwards before her stomach emptied violently into it.
Two pairs of matching blue eyes staring in mock seriousness at her.
She heaved once more, emptying her stomach fully of its meager contents even as she sobbed against the toilet.
How could she have gotten here? How could this be her truth?
Suddenly wave after wave of crushing emotion flooded her senses. After so long of being closed so tightly, her head swam with the rush of it. She opened her mouth to lose the tearing anguish within her, but no sound came – only silent sobs that wracked her body forwards. Her heart split, aching and beating a steady thud of pain into her skull.
How had she become this?
A knock, soft but insistent, thudded against the door.
Fleetingly the thought that she hadn’t been able to lock the door or even put up a silencing seed flashed through her mind, but before she could even think of responding to Quinn’s gentle voice, her stomach heaved once more.
“I’m coming in”
Quinn opened the door immediately and paused only momentarily as Tally heaved into the bowl once more.
Her heart squeezed painfully at the sight. She knew Tally had been in a bad way; had her own hunches of what was the cause of the problem that had the rest of their group too hesitant to talk. Her talk with Raelle had all but cemented the truth in her mind even though she had been certain the young woman herself didn’t know the full extent of her own truths yet.
She had seen grief tear its way through folks as easily as shrapnel. Raelle’s grief once upon a time had almost been her undoing. She had been numb with her own grief at the time, but when she’d pushed away from the sympathetic gaze of General Sarah Alder and into the pouring rain after the young girl… well, she’d hoped that she’d never see it so blatantly on display ever again.
Quinn pushed the thought from her mind immediately and shoved into the small space without a second thought.
Tally raised her hand limply to push her back; wanted to tell her that her presence wasn’t needed, but she couldn’t summon the words.
Hot tears forcefully fell down Tally’s face as Quinn dropped to her knees beside her. Without a word, she wrapped Tally in a loving embrace.
Something inside of her chest cracked at the feeling.
Penelope’s smiling face.
Sarah's loving whispers as her fingers filled her.
Nicte’s leering grin.
Her daughter’s bubbling laughter.
A loud sob tore its way from her lips and Tally turned and buried her face against Quinn’s chest.
The woman pressed her cheek to the top of her head, rubbed soothing circles across her back and merely held the young sobbing woman in her arms.
Tally couldn’t remember a time when her own mother had done as much.
It was as if Quinn was Working her very thoughts, because no sooner had the image of her mother entered her mind did it flee once more.
The older woman pressed a tender kiss to the top of Tally’s head. It was a comforting gesture, but Tally didn’t have the words to express that fact or her appreciation of it.
All she could see was flashes of memories, of dream fragments, of actions she regretted as they came hard and fast to her.
Through it, Quinn’s hushed voice was soft and insistent. Its warmth pressed into her very chest and loosened the knot that had been strangling her heart since she had woken up.
“It’s ok, Tally. It’s ok.”
Now that the tears were coming, they wouldn’t stop. Tally shook her head hard against their flow and sobbed once more.
“I made a mistake… I made a mistake…”
If Quinn knew to what she was referring, she didn’t make mention of it. Perhaps it didn’t truly matter. The woman wrapped her hand tight around the back of Tally’s head and cradled it.
The image of Sarah cradling their daughter in such a similar fashion shoved Tally backwards. Quinn reached for her even as she slid slightly on the tile floor.
Tally shook her head hard and pressed her hands against her face. The action blocked Quinn’s sympathetic look as she shoved the heels of her hands into her eyes so hard that she saw spots.
“It can’t happen. She’s gone. Why am… why am I being punished? Why do I keep seeing it?”
Quinn halted mid reach at the frantic ramblings. Tally was curled into herself, tucked tightly into the pain of her own self-inflicted punishment. Quinn shook her head slowly and smoothed a section of Tally’s hair down gently.
“Guilt is a powerful thing, sweetheart. Even if it needn’t be.”
Tally lurched and the force of her shove staggered Quinn back the tiniest bit with it.
Quinn pushed herself forward once again and waited.
“I keep failing her. I keep failing her.”
Her arms wrapped once more around the young woman and held tightly. Tally pushed against her, sobbing loudly, but Quinn held firm. After a few attempts, Tally’s shoves gave way to open sobs.
Quinn threaded her fingers through her limp hair and merely pulled her tighter.
“She wouldn’t want you to keep doing this to yourself, Tally.”
Quinn pulled back and held Tally at arm’s length. The silence held in the small space for a few seconds as Quinn wrestled with her words. She had always known this was an untenable situation, but seeing Tally now?
She shook her head and gently reached out. Her face was worried but stern as she wiped Tally’s tears tenderly.
“Sarah wouldn’t want this for you.”
The truth of the whispered sentence was like Work itself.
Tally’s face contorted as a loud sob wracked through her once again. Quinn merely opened her arms as Tally sank against her.
Petra and Sarah have a long overdue talk.
Thank you all so much for following me on this journey so far. Life hasn't been easy these past few weeks, and I want to say a big thank you to those of you sending your love. It's more appreciated than I'll ever be able to say. I love this fandom and I am beyond proud to be a part of it.
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.