Her pop used to say she’d find herself in a hell of a time if she kept at it the way she was.
Well, she kept at it.
And, damn it, she was in a hell of a time.
Truth be told, it felt like she was in hell.
Raelle sniffed and scratched at her slick cheek, beads of sweat rolling down her parched sun darkened skin like rain water on a stormy evening. The type where the clouds opened up and the sky roiled worse than any sort of angry goddess one could imagine. Pelted out spittles of droplets till the streets flooded and the trees sank down to the ground as the soil and silt rumbled away to splash into the river and float on down to the mouth of the bay.
She shifted uncomfortably. Her thin undershirt chafed against her sides and pulled at her thin shoulders. Shoulders that ached with a bone deep soreness half from training and half from a past she couldn’t quite get away from. One cock of her head to the side, and she could hear the bones crack and creak all over. Loud and ringing like a train in her ears.
Well, she couldn’t be quite sure if it were her bones or the blasted headache she’d been suffering for months now.
Blinking, her roughened palm slapped her sallow cheeks and rubbed till she could wake up enough out of the stupor that had taken over her mind to lick her chapped lips and lean herself against the inside of the doorframe. It was an old wooden spot. Paint peeled and likely a bunch of termites or ants holed up inside. Working all day to break it down till there was nothing left. Much like there was something inside her. Gnawing and chewing till her heart and soul crumbled like the soil sliding into the river. Tiny invisible claws and teeth poking and prodding. Tiny slices and stabs. One after the other. Over and over again. Hurting till the point hurt was all she felt.
So much hurt.
She pretended it wasn’t. That she felt fine. Didn’t let it show on her face. Forced her mouth into grins and her jaw not to clench.
Didn’t matter what she wanted, though.
It still hurt.
Still filled her with so much agony she couldn’t sleep at night. Could only walk around. In a daze. Restless and exhausted. Mile after mile. Searching for something no one would ever find.
Tally saw it. Abigail too. Weren’t nothing Raelle could hide from them by this point. Her friends knew her too well. Could figure out the fakeness from the reality. Spotted the breaks. The shards not fully sewn back together.
Raelle was a beat up ol’ body with an even more beat up ol’ soul, and, this time, her plan wasn’t about to get sidelined. Put off by a beautiful smile and saucy sexy smirk. By deft touches and seductive kisses. By breathy whispers and eyes that made the fixer think of oceans and galaxies and a world where she could be happy. Could find someone to be with. To have all the stuff one read about in dime store novels and fairytale myths spoke about.
The sort of life her mama and pop once had.
Once upon a time.
Before her mama died and her pop stopped smiling.
Before there was an empty casket and an empty home.
A dying Cession that was already full of dead folks, the people just didn’t know it yet.
Know they were all walking corpses.
She knew her time was up.
The moment she’d take the oath, it was one step closer to revealing her true self. Bone and blood and not much else. A skeleton running on it’s last stolen specks of time.
She was going to die.
Get herself tossed out onto the front lines of some battlefield. Get shot or stabbed or blown up. Sent sky high till she hit the heavens. Stayed up there for the rest of eternity.
Or plummeted back down to hell.
Funny thing was, she didn’t do that. Didn’t get herself shot. Or windstruck. Or hurled into a cyclone.
Naw, none of that.
She still ended up in hell, though.
And, even funnier.
The devil herself was there, waiting.
Waiting with big surprised eyes and a trembling mouth that wasn’t supposed to tremble.
Raelle found her exactly where she should’ve known she would be.
God damn it.
“Raelle,” Scylla breathed out in the way that used to make Raelle’s entire body feel like she was flying on salva, free and able to go anywhere and do anything.
Seems it hadn’t changed.
She still felt her body respond to the voice.
Respond to the timbre that used to echo in her ears. That she dreamed about. Hoped for. Wanted to hear for the rest of her days. Would tell jokes and make a fool of herself just to get a laugh out of. Said so many things about herself, her past, her feelings, her thoughts, her fears and secrets, just to get one glimpse of a reply in.
Scylla said her name, and Raelle was over the moon and falling back to earth in a millisecond.
Crashing down hard and tumbling even further till she reached the fiery pits of hades.
The brunette slowly stood up from the chair she had been sitting in, hands smoothing out her dress and shaking as they hung at her sides. Unsure yet trying to seem strong. Controlled.
Seem like she always seemed.
Unbothered and unbotherable.
Raelle hated it.
Hated it so much she could cry.
Scylla’s throat bobbed as she gulped, eyes darting around before settling on the other witch, trying to see something, figure it all out.
Raelle had a feeling she’d think of whatever she needed to think of before Raelle could do anything about it.
Scylla was always the smarter one.
Must be why she was the one to be able to walk away so easily.
To make a fool out of a fool.
“It…” Raelle’s words caught in her throat. Blocked by the boulder lodged where she created Work and the Mycelium jammed itself in good and tight. Got her speaking languages she never knew and doing Work she never should, “It weren’t ever real, was it?”
Scylla’s brows knit together, and her hands curled up, “What are you doing here?”
Raelle lazily pushed away from the wall, rocking a bit as a wave of everything hit her, and stood slouched in that doorway, “You didn’t mean one damn word you said to me, did ya? Do you…do you know what’s it’s like to love and…and have it all not make any sort of sense?”
Scylla’s face fell.
Dropped and dropped and sunk so low Raelle felt her eyes burn.
“Nothing made any sort of sense. Not one damn thing. But…but it all did, because I loved you. Loving you made sense.” Raelle rasped.
Scylla’s face shifted and begged for Raelle to listen while it begged itself not to break, “Raelle, please.”
“I fell in love with a liar. Lied every time I saw you. You…I can’t think of…” she took a breath, mind a mess but wading through it to make some sort of coherent thought, “I loved you so much I’d have done anything for ya. Woulda died for ya. Run away. Any damn thing you asked for, I’d have given you. I wanted you so much, it made my head spin. Made me feel like…like I ain’t never felt before or think I’ll ever feel again.” Her mouth felt dry as cotton, and the sweat continued to drip down her cheeks, “You made me want you.”
“I love you.” Scylla leaned forward, pure yearning in her stance, “I love you. I have always loved you. That was real. I promise.”
Raelle shook her head.
What good was a promise from a liar?
Breath shivering, Scylla picked her way closer to the fixer, hesitating at the way Raelle tensed but not stopping, “Please. Raelle. I swear. It was all real. Every single moment. We were real. I will always love you. I told you I chose you. I loved you. I meant it.”
“Sure does look like it. What, with goin’ back to the Spree and all.”
The room went silent.
There it was.
Scylla went back to the Spree.
Raelle stayed with the army.
Scylla was back with the same people who sent her in the first place.
The same people who told her to spy. To seduce. To entrap.
To seek out Raelle Collar.
“Where was I supposed to go?” Scylla stood taller, shoulders thrust back, “To prison? To die?”
Raelle kept her mouth shut.
She couldn’t say yes to that.
She didn’t want Scylla dead.
No matter what happened.
She couldn’t ever imagine Scylla being gone like that.
“Leaving you wasn’t easy, Raelle. Staying away from you is torture, but I do it, because I want to keep you safe.”
A bark of dark laughter erupted like an engine backfiring, “Don’t act like you’re doing me any favors.”
Keep her safe?
What a lark.
A sick joke.
“I love you. I am going to protect you, whether your stubborn ass will accept it or not.” Scylla stared at her, “You have no idea what’s happening.”
“Sure. I have no idea.” Raelle’s mouth twisted grimly, “That why I was able to find ya? I ain’t got no idea?”
Scylla’s lips pursed and she exhaled loudly.
“Nice place ya got here. Small but we both know ya don’t need much space. What, with all the moving and whatnot. Spree don’t stay in one place long, do ya? Just enough to cause a fuss and get outta town?”
“That’s not fair.”
The look in Scylla’s eyes had Raelle’s heart thumping hard.
Scylla moving around was never about the Spree.
A dodger never stayed long, after all.
“How did you find me?”
Scylla rolled her eyes and huffed, “I am serious, Raelle. Are you alone?”
“Why? What’s it to ya?”
“You know exactly why.”
“Stop playing games.”
“I ain’t the one who ever played games!” Raelle shoved herself forward till she was nose to nose with the brunette.
And swayed as it struck her how close they were.
Scylla still smelled of rosewater and nighttime.
Of late nights and even later mornings.
Of memories Raelle cherished.
“You’re supposed to be at Fort Salem.” Scylla mumbled, eyes flickering.
Raelle wasn’t the only one noticing how close they were.
“You’re supposed to be in prison, yet here we are. Both in hell.”
Scylla’s brow furrowed.
Raelle took a beat to collect herself, wetting her lips again, before talking, “I needed to see you.”
Something happened. Something flashed across Scylla’s face. For that little bit of time, it was almost like they were still them . Back in their shared bedroom. Scylla being Raelle’s home while Raelle was her lighthouse, both the safest place the other ever knew “Why?”
The words didn’t want to come out.
Stuck like glue to her tongue. The roof of her mouth.
“Raelle,” the necro could tell her former lover was holding back.
Knew her like Raelle knew Scylla.
The brush of milky fingertips against Raelle’s dirt smudged knuckles did it.
“The Camarilla caused the attacks.”
Scylla’s face pinched.
“It ain’t the Spree. Not like Alder says. It’s the Camarilla. They’re back. Have been for a while.”
Scylla’s mouth opened, but Raelle kept talking. Let it all come out.
“Things are changin’. Different. It ain’t safe. I can’t…I don’t know everything. Hell, I don’t even know what’s happening to me . But, the Camarilla are gonna try to kill any last witch they find.” Her eyes were sharper than they had been for months, “They can’t have you.”
They could torture Raelle. Kidnap her. Murder her a thousand times.
They couldn’t get Scylla.
Even if she made Raelle walk through hell. Fall so far from heaven there was no way she’d ever reach it, Raelle loved her more than life itself.
“Get on a boat. I don’t care where. South America. England. Timbuktu. Get on a damn boat and don’t come back.”
“Run away, Scyl. Find that lighthouse you like. Keep on going. Be on one of those boats we were meant to watch.”
“No,” Scylla griped her hand hard enough to not be ignored, “I know. I know they’re back. And, I’m not leaving you.”
Of course Scylla knew.
She always knew.
“I am not walking away from you.” Scylla spoke firmly, “Come with me.”
“Yes, you can.”
“The army doesn’t care. You said so yourself. Alder won’t even acknowledge the Camarilla are here.”
“It’s not that.”
“Then what? Your friends?”
“They should know better than to stay…”
Scylla quieted at the outburst.
“I…” Raelle sniffed, “I have a job I gotta do.”
“Raelle, you’re a private. They’re only going to send you out to be slaughtered.”
“You know exactly…”
“I was chosen.”
“What do you mean you were chosen?”
Raelle shifted on her feet, “I…I was chosen to help fight the war.”
“I don’t understand.”
“The… Raelle .”
Scylla knew what the Mycelium was.
Of course she did.
She always knew.
“She chose me.”
Scylla’s hand faltered but didn’t release Raelle’s, “She chose you.”
A tiny shrug, “I…I don’t fully understand it all. But…she’s made me powerful. Told me…told me I’m meant to help. To fight. She chose me. I can’t leave.”
Took it all in.
“I’m not leaving you.”
“You stay, I stay.”
“I’m not walking away from you again.” Scylla’s words were solid as stone, “I did once, and I am not doing it again. Do you understand? I love you.”
“It ain’t safe.”
“It’s never been safe. If you think I’m going to leave you when it’s hard or you’re in danger, you better get your head checked, Raelle.”
“How do you plan on being with me when you’re supposed to be in prison?”
“Same way I’ve always been with you.” Scylla took her other hand, holding both in her warm palms, “I told you I would love you. No matter what. You said you would be with me. No matter what. I didn’t lie then, and I’m not lying now. Anacostia helped me.”
Raelle jerked a bit at the revelation.
Scylla held firm, “We’ve been working together. It’s…we know about the Camarilla.”
“If she can’t help me, I’ll find someone who will. Some way. I do not care.”
“Either we leave together, right now, and get on a boat, or, we both get on the next train to Salem.”
“I don’t care if you never forgive me. If you…you don’t love me anymore. I still love you, and I am going to be by your side, protecting you, fighting with you, treasuring you, until I can’t anymore.”
“Damn it.” Raelle’s head dropped down, chin tucking in to her chest.
“Ya saved up all that sweet talking for now?” Raelle’s head lifted up.
Scylla’s mouth flickered.
“I shouldn’t trust you.”
“You don’t have to. I’ll still be here. Be with you. Even if you don’t trust me.”
“Abigail is gonna kick your ass.”
“I would like to see her try.”
“Damn it,” Raelle sighed and took back one of her hands to scrub at her face, “This is nuts.”
“Boat or train?”
“There’s a 5:45 outta town heading north.” Raelle let her hand drop, “Get us in to Salem with a transfer by tomorrow evening.”
“Don’t ya need to change or…”
“Like you said, I am always able to move.” Scylla glanced her over, “Where’s the rest of your uniform?”
Raelle’s jacket was gone and her equipment not to be seen.
“Left ‘em in a box at the station.” she shrugged again, “Less chance of being spotted and talked about.”
“You might be a spy, yet.”
“Except I’m not too good at lying.”
“Neither am I.” She let go of Raelle’s hand and started towards the door, “I told you I loved you, and I meant it.”
Raelle stood there for a moment.
Stared at her.
Beautiful, brash, smart, and irresistible. Hair silky smooth even in this heat and pale pink lips asking to be kissed. Eyes deep and countenance suggestive.
She was the woman Raelle adored.
Went to hell and back for.
God damn it.