Chapter 3.48 – Flickering Lights

While Jessica’s cohorts figured out how to safely dismount from their precarious people tower, Jessica had subtly checked the house. As well as ensuring that the coast was clear, she was looking for clues; any sign as to the reasoning behind Ralf’s fate, anything he’d left behind.

Her search turned nothing up. Nothing at all. No reason, no rhyme, no clue as to his state of mind. It was like he’d simply been erased.

Jessica re-joined her companions in the dining room, where the trio had been hard at work moving furniture and lighting oodles of creepy-looking candles for their séance. All eyes locked on her as she took the vacant seat at the trussed-up card table and Yibbo switched on the battery-powered plastic ball.

They had discussed how this would work during the drive over; Pixie, as an experienced ghost communicator, would lead the proceedings and Jessica’s role was to ‘attract’ Ralf to the familiar. Jessica didn’t point out that it was his house, it was probably already familiar to him; she had simply played along.

Yibbo and Morag might have been sure of Pixie’s skills, but Jessica knew that Pixie was talking out of her butt long before Paul had mentioned it. She had a strong inkling that Pixie couldn’t speak to ghosts at all. What Jessica hadn’t yet established was if she could actually talk to ghosts or whether she, like her mother before her, was simply losing the plot.

Maybe she was imagining the whole thing. Maybe this entire event was a figment of her imagination, a delusion, a dream and she’d wake up tomorrow back at The Tower, eating steak and spinach.

“Oh, earth-bound spirits! Hear my call!” Pixie announced, waving her arms around. “If you can hear me – give me a sign.”

Morag and Yibbo remained in their polite trances, but Jessica couldn’t resist peeking at the room. Unlike back at Joe’s bar when the GliTS had last held a séance, there were no electrical anomalies, no flickering lights. Nothing happened at all.

Pixie, undeterred, cleared her throat and tried again a little louder, “Spirits! If you can hear me – give me a sign!”

In the stillness and silence that followed, Pixie sighed, drawing the attention of her fellow GliTS.

“Nothing?” Yibbo asked.

“Nothing,” Pixie confirmed.

“What about you, Jessica?” Morag asked. “Are you seeing anyone? Here, I mean. Not are you seeing anyone. Ahem.”

Pixie huffed. “There’s nothing to see. What a waste of candles.”

Jessica looked around the room politely and shook her head. A blend of disappointment and relief washed through her as she battled with the hope of seeing Ralf versus the confirmation at not being delusional.

“No,” she confirmed, lowering her hands as Yibbo reached to turn off the ball. “There’s no one he… oh, shoot.”

Her eyes grew as large as saucers as a colour-washed elderly lady appeared in her field of vision, glowing like moonlight on the edge of a blade. For a moment, the tangible form of Jessica and the ethereal form of this lady locked eyes and a chill ran down Jessica’s spine.

The ghost walked a slow circle around the table, seemingly delighted that Jessica’s gaze followed her every step.

“Heavens above,” the woman whispered, her voice distant and soft and sounding from every direction. “You can see me.”

“Jessica?” Morag whispered. “What is it? Is it Ralf?”

“No, I most definitely am not ‘Ralf’,” the lady tutted. “My name is Dorothy.”

Jessica swallowed hard. “I-I can see a woman. She says her name is Dorothy.”

“Huh,” Morag tapped her chin thoughtfully. “I went through the history of this house before we left, familiarising myself with the spirits that we might encounter, and no one named ‘Dorothy’ has ever lived here.”

“I lived next door,” Dorothy explained. “I popped over with a fruitcake to greet my new neighbour, but my husband had beaten me to it. I’m not sure if it was the shock of seeing him undressed for the first time in twenty years that finished me off, or the ghastly colour of her curtains, but I died on the porch.”

“She lived next door,” Jessica repeated. “She died here.”

“No way!” Pixie gasped. “I knew a lady who lived next door. Dorothy? Dottie?”

“Pixie?” Dorothy sighed and placed a hand to her bosom. “Oh my, look at you! You’re all grown up. And just as… individual as ever.”

“She knows you,” Jessica somehow managed to say, despite not having taken a breath for five minutes.

“I used to babysit her,” Dorothy urged. “Tell her.”

“She says she used to babysit you,” Jessica repeated numbly. She felt like some sort of spiritual translation machine.

“She did! Oh, Dottie!” Pixie cried out, her smile turning to a sob. “I used to go over to her house after school and she’d make me fish fingers and we’d watch cartoons until my parents finished work.” She turned to a place where Dorothy wasn’t standing and blurted through tears, “Dottie! It’s me! It’s Pixie! I’m so sorry I haven’t visited your memorial in the last five years; I’ve just been so busy with work and helping Dad decorate his house—”

Dorothy made a strange face as Pixie continued to ramble. “I have a memorial?”

“Um… she didn’t know that she had a memorial,” Jessica mumbled as reality hit home. There was no doubt about it – Jessica really was talking to a dead woman.

Pixie fell silent, blinking at Jessica through watery eyes. “Of course she has a memorial. Everyone loved Dottie. She was cremated in 2006—”

“Wait,” Morag interjected. “If she died eleven years ago and was cremated, how come she’s still here?”

“Good question,” Pixie mused. “Dottie, what’s keeping you here?”

Dorothy shrugged. “If I knew that, I wouldn’t still be here.”

“She doesn’t know.”

“So paying proper respect to the dead isn’t what makes them cross over?” Morag asked sadly.

“What do you think?” Dorothy said, looking directly at Jessica. “Enough of the existential questions. I don’t know why I’m here and clearly neither do you. Let’s not talk ourselves in circles growing frustrated with the unknown. This is the first contact I’ve had with the living for years and I have some questions of my own.”

“She’s rather bossy,” Jessica whispered, to which Pixie only returned a knowing smile. “What do you want to know about the land of the living, Dorothy?”

“Ask Pixie what happened to Burt.”

“Pixie, what happened to Burt?” Jessica asked.

“Oh, Dottie’s husband? He, um, he moved away with his new wife, not long after… after Dottie passed.”

“So that’s where they went,” Dorothy sighed. “He married her.”

“She’s… she’s not happy about that.”

Quite the understatement,” Dorothy scoffed. “I could have haunted my own lovely house but oh no, the fates are cruel! Tethered to where you die; no ifs, no buts! Nothing to do but wander aimlessly, room to tacky room, watching Burt get his rocks off with that cheap tramp. Then there was that family with the teenagers – my word am I glad I never had children. And finally that shambles of a police officer—”

Jessica perked up at this last one, her breath caught in her throat. “Ralf?”

“Ralf’s here?” Morag gasped.

“Oh, no,” Jessica clarified, “I was responding to Dorothy.”

“No he is not here, thank the Watcher. Yes, him, Widdlefinkle and his robe that was at least two sizes too small.” She shuddered at the thought. “Back in my day the police were reliable, efficient and trustworthy, not moping around in bathrobes making underhand deals with the wealthy elite.”

“Ralf was making underhand deals,” Jessica repeated quietly, not really hearing what she was saying.

A chorus of “He was?” sounded around the tiny table.

“Oh yes, he was as crooked as they came,” Dorothy answered. “Thousands of simoleons of hush money greased his grubby palms.”

Jessica’s heart was racing, pounding in her ears. She couldn’t hear her fellow GliTS and the queries she assumed were spilling from their moving mouths. Her entire focus was on the glowing woman before her, the cusp of the truth.

“What happened to him?” she asked. “When he died, were you here?”

“Where else would I be?” Dorothy said, impatiently. “He was with a woman. She gave him a drink and he collapsed.”

“He… oh my god. A woman? What woman?” Jessica asked, vaguely hearing her words echo around the table in three different voices.

“Oh, I don’t know her name, didn’t recognise her,” Dorothy said. “A striking woman; tall, wild hair and the mouth of a sailor. She stopped by and made him cocktails. Cocktails! A man of the law!” she scoffed. “Added something to them too; I didn’t see what it was, but it came from a tiny vial.”

Striking? Tall? Could have been anyone.

But wild hair? Mouth of a sailor?

She added something to his cocktail?

Dorothy smoothed her outfit and her demeanour. “I apologise. I see that he meant something to you. Enough for you to come here and to do this.” She took a breath. Jessica didn’t try and consider how that was actually possible. “I gather he was in too deep, one deal too many. She said that she was on his side, that she had a plan, a way out for him.”

Jessica shook her head vigorously, trying to comprehend. “She said he was on his side? She had a plan? A way out? Surely not… murder?”

Jessica turned her wild stare to Yibbo who shrank back. “Yibbo, you found him. He was definitely dead, yes?”

“…Ralf?” Yibbo asked uncertainly, making Jessica realise that her companions were only getting part of the story. “Yes. Jess, what’s happening? What is she saying?”

“And you called the police?”

“Yes, of course, I—”

Jessica’s mouth was as dry as the desert. Her head was spinning. She was going to be sick. “Who turned up?”

Yibbo hesitated, looking at the table. “Officer Beth Wangshaft and someone from the coroner’s office. Why? What’s going on?”

“You know, the Wangshafts have one heck of a maid, Officer Spoon. There’s never a speck of dirt to be found…”

“…Anywhere.”

Jessica tried to get to her feet but no part of her would co-operate. She sank back down, melting into her chair like chocolate on hot car bonnet.

“I think Ralf was murdered and I think Beth did it,” she managed in a single breath as the colour faded from her world.

Faith had only been walking for about forty minutes and she was already sore and fed up. She had been following, on foot, the much-travelled bus route through the shitty suburbs of Del Sol Valley and out towards Willow Creek. From there, she planned to join the river and follow it towards Windenburg, hoping that she could remember enough about the blurry journey when she was thrown over Caleb’s shoulder to find her way to the old Vatore cottage.

She had no idea how far it was. She hoped she could make it by sunrise, but if not she’d have to get creative. Maybe break into a house. Perhaps hide out in a subway. She’d think of something.

Dulled by the monotony of placing one foot in front of another on a never-ending path of concrete and darkness, her mind wandered, as it had almost continuously, to Joy. The image of her sister’s tiny, unmoving body on the threadbare rug burned into Faith’s brain, blocking out almost everything else. The first thing Faith had done after leaving Seth the Shithead in the apartment was to call the emergency services to her childhood home. Skilled as she was at mimicry, Faith had disguised her voice as she’d placed the call, claiming, in a tone spookily similar to Chuck’s warm, bear-like one, that she was walking her dog past the house and had simply heard ‘commotion’.

As she hung up, the sickness inside her threatened to take over. She scratched at her wrist, eyeing the receiver, wondering if she should just call back. Hand herself in. Be done with it all.

Lose everything and everyone. Let him win.

“Who are you? If you can’t see all the red flags here, if you’re really considering this, him, there’s something seriously, seriously wrong with you.”

She’d always prided herself on being the savvy one in the group, the one least likely to be scammed or manipulated. She couldn’t believe she’d been so fucking stupid.

She had to do this. She had to go back and face the music. She had to grovel and beg until Melinda accepted her back. She’d take her back eventually; she knew she would. Melinda didn’t give up on anyone – even when she should. And this time, with this chance, Faith would be better. She’d be a better friend and she’d be a better person.

There really was no way she could be worse.

She’d gratefully accept Lilith’s gloopy clinical shit bags. She’d live under the Fun Vacuum’s thumb watching the bizarre Fringey and Blondie and Mellybean triangle play out. She’d live with her guilt and shame until it ate her from the inside.

Fuck, maybe she’d prefer prison after all.

With dogged determination, she carried on walking, holding her broken, stinging arm and feeling it tingle as it slowly knitted itself back together while her feet rubbed themselves apart. She’d finally reached the shopping precinct where a lifetime ago she’d been part of a quartet of teen(ish) vampires on the run, not a care in the world. How things changed.

“What’s wrong with your arm?”

Faith didn’t look round as a stranger approached her from the shadows. “I fought a huge snake.”

“Did you win?”

“You bet I did.”

“Heh,” he snorted. “You look like a girl who can handle a huge snake.”

At this Faith finally stopped and turned to face the creep. “And you look like a guy with a tiny one.”

A beat of silence and then a roar of laughter. The unidentified man walked towards her. He reeked of cigarettes but was otherwise doable, she thought, then immediately hated herself.

He chuckled. “What’s your name, sweetheart?”

Faith carried on walking. She wasn’t in the mood for a causal come on, for once.

Undeterred, he followed her. “My name’s Bill. Bill Bangshaft.”

Was this a joke? Faith shook her head and tried to move faster, but Bill caught up quickly.

“Where are you going?”

“Fuck off.”

“’Fuck Off? Is that near ‘Get Lost’? Yeah, it’s nice there this time of night.”

He followed behind her in silence, no doubt noticing that every step she took was in agony.

“Seriously,” he said, sounding suddenly very concerned. “Do you need a ride?”

Faith was about to answer with a sharp retort and then she noticed that Bill was gesturing to something. Looking over, she could see a cab parked up, the side emblazoned with the words ‘BANGSHAFT CABS’.

She hesitated. She wanted to say that the last thing she wanted was to get in a car with this guy, but honestly, the last thing she wanted was to walk any further.

There was just one problem.

“I have no money,” she admitted.

He smiled, a gold tooth glinting under the dingy streetlights. “You don’t need any.”

“Right,” Faith scoffed on the verge of tears. “Just a blowie in the back, yeah? Go fuck yourself, Bill.”

“That thing is broken, isn’t it?” he gasped, pointing to her arm. “What happened? Were you attacked? Do you need me to call the police for you?”

“No, I need you to fuck off and mind your business!”

“An ambulance? You can barely walk, you’re covered in scrapes—”

I’m fine!”

This time he didn’t laugh. “Wait here, please,” he requested, heading back towards the cab office. Faith considered running, but only briefly. Her mind began playing a fantasy of pinning this creep against a wall and draining him dry through his little—

Her thoughts were interrupted as Bill reappeared with a woman beside him. Faith looked between the couple with utter confusion.

“Claire, my wife,” he said by way of introduction. “She’ll take you wherever you need to go.”

“Free of charge,” Claire added, her smile broad and her expression warm. “No questions asked. Come on, love.”

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Chapter 3.47 – Breaking

Note: features acres of pale skin with strategically-placed décor.

Caleb had bedded countless women in his three hundred and seven years. He had, often unwittingly, seduced wealthy women, poor women, thin ones, fat ones, pretty ones, ugly ones, young and old in almost any situation one could think of. Yet, lying in Sage’s bed, beside April, his confidence evaporated to be replaced with the nerves and apprehension of a virgin.

Gently, he reminded himself, for the umpteenth time, brushing his knuckles over her cool, soft skin as she glanced up at him coyly with those huge, blue eyes. There was so much riding on this, he had so much to prove to himself and to April; that he could look after her, that he could be what she wanted and needed.

That she should keep him.

But building up to the main event was not something Caleb had had to do often; such was the perk of allure. He’d rarely paid attention to the needs of his partners as there was no reason to – anything was amazing to one trapped in the pink fog – and, thus, he’d already extinguished all of his tricks. April seemed happy and had obviously enjoyed his efforts so far but the knowledge that he was doing better than the last time didn’t soothe him any. It only served to make him more anxious about what was to come next.

Would he be able to maintain control? Would he hurt her? Would she understand if he did?

Would any of them realise how hard he’d tried to fight the beast?

Both terrified of and yet dying to partake of his primed beauty, he teased her thighs open. Initially she giggled as he shifted above her; covering her face and playfully peeping through her fingers. But the moment he touched her, her whole demeanour changed.

“Wait!” she said in a tiny squeak. “We need a… a…” she cringed as she whispered, “a condom.”

He stared at her for a moment, trying to gauge if she was joking, but it was hard to read her face from the glimpses between her hands, and her thoughts were only showing him a page from the flipchart.

“We don’t need a condom, April.”

I don’t believe you, she thought. It stung like a slap. She shifted beneath him, unable to look him in the eye. “Will you use one anyway, please?”

“I don’t have one.”

“Wyatt has some in his bedside drawer.”

“How do you know that?” he asked. She squirmed and he couldn’t help but smile. “An eavesdropper and a snooper, Miss. Moss? Is no secret safe with you?”

“Please,” she whispered. “For me?”

He sighed. He could do this for her, sure, why not? Maybe it would even dull some sensations and help him remain in control.

“Wait here,” he said, confused by the deer-in-headlights look on her face.

No man on earth had ever moved with the speed Caleb did when he sprinted to the next room to rummage in Wyatt’s bedroom drawer. Alongside a few rubbery objects that Caleb couldn’t identify he found the box of condoms and returned, not a moment later, to his bashful blonde.

Under her curious gaze he dressed for the occasion and then re-joined her on the bed.

The whole scenario was so familiar and yet so alien. April was completely different to anyone else he had been with; there was no racing heart in her chest, no ragged breath from her lips. She was cold and still, controlled and immaculate. It only made him want her more.

By that point, all his hesitation had gone. He fought to hold on to reason, to resist his urge to pin and devour as the animal within him insisted it had to have her. He prayed to the devil that she hadn’t changed her mind; he wasn’t sure what he’d do if she had.

“Ready?” he asked.

She gazed into his eyes and nodded.

Faith was aware that something had happened, but she couldn’t say what exactly.

“Faith?” Seth’s frantic voice sounded in her ears. “Damn it, don’t you dare close your eyes again.”

Her feet weren’t touching the floor, she realised. He was holding her aloft. He kept calling to her again, asking – no – demanding she stay awake.

“Fuck you! I’ll sleep where I want,” Faith drawled in a voice she didn’t recognise.

“Oh dear sweet Lucifer,” Seth gushed, his voice attacking her in a thick lungful of stale air as his hands tangled into her hair. “Thank hell. I thought I’d lost you.”

Why did he think…? Oh. Right. It all came flooding back to Faith, piece by gruesome piece. The visit to Joy, the attack that he’d no doubt orchestrated, the admission that he’d tried to destroy one of the very few good things in her life.

And how many others? What else had he done?

“You have lost me,” she snarled. She tried to fight from his grip but he was having none of it, keeping her clamped firmly against him.

“…What?”

“I’m going back to my friends, if they’ll have me. I’m going to go back and drink the gross blood bags and learn to control myself and forget that you even exist, you slimy, lying, deceptive twat.”

“What? No,” Seth said, the shock evident on his face and his voice unsteady. “No. You’re staying with me. You can learn to control yourself with me. If that’s what you want, I’ll help you.”

Faith laughed in his face. “Help me? You’ve done nothing but manipulate me, Seth. You say you can’t lie, but oh fucking boy, you can, you’re just extra devious about it. Sneaky. Like a sneaky fucking snake. She was right, you know, Lilith? She’s right about you – you can’t be trusted, can you?”

A hesitation before a forced admission. “I cannot.”

She smiled, feeling his grip on her tighten as she continued.

“No wonder everyone fucking hates you. Always fucking people over and drinking people dry. People,” she repeated in a whisper. “It sounded amazing, fucking hell it sounded so amazing, to be free, to be that carefree…” she faded out, the daydream swimming before her eyes. She blinked and it was gone. “But it’s not, free. It’s really, really not. Nothing is. You’re not free, Seth. You’re just lonely and despised. And the trade-off? This whole epic creature of the night shebang? It’s bullshit. Being a vampire is bullshit. I don’t even really have any fucking powers, unless being your doormat is a fucking power.”

He couldn’t look her in the eye.

“Nothing to say for yourself? No smooth answers? No apology?” She felt his arms tighten around her, his body started to shake, but nothing could stop her tirade. “You tried to erase my only happy memories. Memories of my sister. You set me up to hurt my sister. What kind of person does that?”

“And what kind of person lets you? I’ve just let you. Holy fuck,” Faith snarled. “I just let you walk all over me. Fucking hell, Mel was right. Fuck. Fuck. And I just went along with it while you killed people and screwed me over and fuck, what have I done? I’m a prawn. A prawn in your shitty, fucked up game.”

“Pawn,” he corrected softly.

“Seriously. That’s all you’ve got to say?” As he looked away, she shoved him as much as she could when one arm wouldn’t co-operate and the other was wedged between them, but he didn’t move. “You fucking asshole. How could you? You said you loved me,” she hissed.

“I do—”

“Utter-fucking-bullshit, Seth! Are you completely fucked in the head? You don’t know what love is!”

He pulled back enough for her to instinctively tuck her wounded limb against her, before changing his mind and drawing her back. His voice broke around a sound that was partway between a sob and a growl, taking her completely by surprise. He squeezed her close, too close, sending a shockwave of pain through her broken arm.

Oblivious to the pain he was causing her, or perhaps more likely, not caring, he only held tighter.

“Spare me the waterworks,” she spat, although she wasn’t sure there were any. “I’m going. Thanks for all the amazing sex. Hope you fix your jizz issue and find a new shirt soon because that one is fucking minging.”

The force of his embrace would’ve likely suffocated her, had she had functioning lungs. Instead she heard something in her back crack. And, metaphorically, something in her chest.

Faith was not heartless. She could feel the anguish bleeding through from the man who was attempting to smother her in an effort to retain her. It hurt like all hell. But it was too little, too late. She wouldn’t cave. Not now.

For her own sake, for Joy’s. Faith was done.

“Let me go, Grimm, or I’ll blast you with my brain.”

I can’t let you go.

Then you definitely don’t love me.

Riddled with emotions that she didn’t know how to deal with, Faith clung to the familiar one. Rage

“That proves nothing,” she hissed as she strutted to the door. “Nothing. I’m leaving. You’re not going to follow me and you’re not going to look for me. If you go anywhere near my friends or my family I swear I will make you regret it.”

Faith had never broken up with anyone before. Not in a boyfriend/girlfriend relationship way. He just taken a huge shit on her and revealed himself to be a complete jerk. Was breaking up supposed to hurt this damn much?

She stomped on then stomped back just to add, “I hope you’re fucking happy.”

The tea was wearing off, April thought sadly, tracing again the patterns in the plasterwork of the ceiling and missing the way they had danced.

April’s eyes began to wander around the room, taking in all the strange items that Grandma Sage had on her walls. She had a large portrait of an elderly lady who looked like Broof on the wall behind Caleb’s shoulder. April wondered if that was Broof’s grandma, the one who lived in the forest and had a demon broom. April giggled, remembering Broof brushing her demon, BonBonSindyBelle away. But that also reminded her of why BonBonSindyBelle was there in the first place. Which reminded her of Mother…

Caleb made an angry little throat noise and April stopped staring at the portrait and instead looked back at his face. He trapped her lips with kiss and grunted as he continued loving her.

From the way Faith and the girls at her school had raved about sex, April had expected much more. But last time had been simply horrible and this time? Well, it didn’t hurt, but it really wasn’t very fun either. She felt like a caught butterfly, wings spread, being pinned to a corkboard.

But over and over and over and over…

She didn’t understand what all the hype was about.

Caleb made that throat noise again and lifted up with finality.

“Are you done?” she asked with surprise. She recalled that last time they had been in bed together, it had gone on for forever and every time she thought he’d finished, he’d started again.

Caleb looked like he was trying to choose his words very carefully, or perhaps trying not to lose his temper.

“April, what do want me to do?”

April shrunk back, surprised by his question. “What do you mean?”

“You said you wanted ‘gentle’,” he muttered in a low growl. “And yet you’re so bored you’re examining the bloody lamps?”

April hadn’t actually noticed what the lamps looked like. She resisted the urge to turn and peek at them. “I-I’m sorry,” she stammered, her voice small. “I guess I don’t really know what I want.”

Caleb thought for a moment, then smiled, but not in a way that met his eyes. “When Faith raved about sex, did anything she mention pique your interest? We could try that?”

April pouted. She hadn’t remembered telling him about that. Besides, she didn’t even know what half the things Faith raved about actually were, let alone if she’d enjoy them.

Her mind fluttered to the most recent conversation she could recall with her crude former friend, scanning it for anything that didn’t sound too awful.

“You should try sinking your fangs into Fringey at some point, Blondie. Don’t let him have all the fun.”

April looked up through her lashes at Caleb’s neck and fluttered her gaze to his face where he was looking back at her with a bemused expression.

“You want to bite me?” he asked with a little laugh.

April gently bit her tongue. She had no better ideas and she really was rather bored. “May I?”

Caleb looked unsure. “No one’s ever bitten me before and something is telling me not to let you,” he mused. “But then, Lilith always said my instincts were wrong.” He seemed to be lost in thought for a while, before making his decision. “Yes, alright, go ahead.”

April reached up behind his head and guided his neck down to meet her mouth. With the absence of a pulse to guide her, she pressed her lips along his skin in a series of exploratory kisses, seeking a vein to tap.

He chuckled low in his throat, bringing a juicy vein to prominence. Bingo!

“I thought you were going to bite me,” he teased, “not kiss me to — HOLY BLOODY BASTARD HELL!”

She panicked at his reaction to her bite and quickly pulled back while squealing an apology, only to find him yanking her back to him.

“No, don’t stop,” he growled, rubbing his neck against her face until she caught again. “Don’t stop. Oh my devil,” he groaned.  His eyes rolled back into his head as he rocked inside her, gargling low in his throat, “Holy hell, April. Damn. This is as hot as hell.”

April couldn’t say that she really agreed. He’d dropped his full, heavy weight on top of her and was crushing her boobies in a really uncomfortable way. And his blood was so yucky – cold and sludgy. She had to suckle really hard to draw anything from him. It was like trying to get a super thick milkshake up through a tiny straw.

The effort was making her head spin.

She shifted her hips, which were beginning to ache having been pressed open beneath him for such a long while, and she wriggled her toes. This was even less fun than before, so she delicately lifted her fangs from him and pressed a sweet little kiss to the neat wound that she’d created.

Caleb immediately jerked back. “What are you doing?” he asked.

April sighed contentedly, relieved that he’d stopped squashing her, however briefly. She gazed up at him and smiled.

“I’m full, thank you,” she lied, in her well-practiced way.

Caleb shook his head angrily. His eyes flashed blue, briefly, and April’s stomach sank.

“But I told you… wait,” he paused and licked his fangs. He looked almost like he was listening to something, but there was no sound that April could hear.

“What’s wrong?” she whispered, alarmed.

“April, what are you thinking?”

April shook her head. “Nothing really… why?”

He stared at her intently for what felt like an hour.

“No reason.”

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Chapter 3.46 – Inside

Warning: nsfw (no nudity), violence, questionable consent and a good dose of clueless cringe.

By the time Seth and his troublesome tutee had materialised back at their miniscule lodgings, her fight and panic had dissipated. He turned her face side-to-side, studying her for a hint of that delectable offering, but found none.

Frustration rolled through him and it was all he could do not to lash out at her in frustration. After all this planning, all this effort – nothing? Had he missed yet another chance?

She snarled and bucked beneath him, her bony knee finally finding a landing that hurt like all manner of hell and he had no choice but to let her go. She wasted no time as she scrambled to her feet, once again frantic and raving.

“We need to go back!” she wailed. “Take me back! I need to know she’s OK!”

Rage erupted in him like hot lava that he was powerless to quell. He’d never before found a nut he couldn’t crack, but this one? No matter what he tried, no matter how much he manipulated her, she thwarted him.

He felt for sure that visiting Joy, arguably the only person other than herself that Faith truly gave a damn about, would finally force her to open up, but no. Every time he thought he’d turned the tables, turned her mirror, enough for him to reach it without fear of repercussion, she managed to turn it back. So defensive, so lacking in self-confidence, unable to truly let anyone in, himself included, this whole task felt impossible.

Infuriated, humiliated and sick to death of the whole dance, he was on the verge of giving up.

“Take you back?” He snarled. “Why, so you can finish draining your eight-year-old sister? What is wrong with you? I gave you one bloody instruction; I was gone for five bloody minutes!”

“I d-didn’t… she was upset!” Faith stammered. “And y-you were taking so long—”

“Bloody typical.”

“W-what?”

“’She was upset’,” he mimicked. “’You were taking so long’.”

“Y-you were,” Faith replied in a choked whisper.

Seth stepped closer, watching her shrink before him. His voice laced with venom. “Don’t you dare blame this on her – or me.”

Faith blinked rapidly; a flicker of that delicious gift flashing over her consciousness as she almost caved to admission. But, naturally, that damn defence mechanism kicked in again.

“You were gone ages. What, was my blind, human mother too tricky for you to brain fuck?”

Seth’s fingers twitched at his side as he resisted the urge to launch a mental attack that he knew would only be retaliated. “You’re pushing it, Faith.”

“Aw, diddles,” she said mockingly. “Am I hurting your wittle ego? What are you gonna do? Break my other arm? Wring my nec—?”

Don’t tempt me.

She fell still and silent as Seth’s gloved hand slid up her throat until he was cradling her jaw, again turning her head to and fro and gazing, lost, into those vibrant blue irises.

Vatore irises, he realised with resentment. The highly-prized sign of an unpolluted vampire lineage. The only colourway more revered was…

Seth felt like he’d been punched in the gut as a new memory broke through the barriers in his mind.

Layne October. Former society vampire and self-proclaimed leader of the rogues. Seth wondered what had become of the red-eyed rebel; had he survived the ambush? Had any of the others?

Seth mused a moment, recalling the fragmented details of the day – night? – that his memory had begun to recall. He recalled Kitty standing beside him. Layne, Cole and Patrick seated before him. He could hear Kitty arguing with Layne in a mixture of internal and external voices; insisting that what she did with her creation in her chambers was none of his business.

Had she been wearing a wedding gown?

Faith’s voice swam through the haze, stubborn, as usual. “Don’t you dare.”

Seth shook his head, losing the emerging memory and realising that he may have been squeezing a certain pretty neck a little too keenly. “Huh?”

“I can feel you fiddling around in my head. Don’t change my memory again.”

“Again?” he repeated, dumbly.

Wait, a second… she could feel him fiddling? But he wasn’t even trying…

“Joy said she saw me at the arcade. The night when I – conveniently – couldn’t remember anything. It was you, wasn’t it? How many times have you erased my memory, Seth?”

He growled as the answer wheedled its way through his reluctant lips. “A few,” he groaned. “I know how it looks, but allow me to explain. The first was an undoing – I slipped a confidence. The second was intended to be a swift reversal of a conversation gone awry – it was in your best interests—”

“Not fucking likely,” Faith snorted. “What else have you erased?”

“Erased? Nothing.”

She lifted an eyebrow. “So fucking tricky. What else have you erased, amended or otherwise fiddled with in my head, Seth?”

“Ah… I haven’t… I have— damn. A few times since then, I… I tried to, ah… ughk… gah!… A-amend your memory of Joy,” he blurted.

“Amend?” Faith gasped. “Amend how?”

“I tried to… wipe how you felt… I…”

“You tried to erase my love for Joy?” Faith gasped, clutching her arm. “You absolute fucking twat. You massive asshole. Why would you do that?”

The answer that bubbled up inside him was eerily familiar.

So that you would be entirely mine.

Seth licked his lips. A heavy sense of unease settled in the pit of his stomach. “I… Ah…”

“I thought I could trust you.”

“Then you have terrible judgment,” Seth murmured.

“Woah,” Faith gasped. “You’ve been fucking with me this whole time.”

Not a question, but still he felt compelled to answer. “I have.”

Faith jolted at this blunt response; she clearly hadn’t expected it. She stepped back, bumping into the wall. “Holy fuck. I need to leave. I need to go and check on Joy.”

“You can’t go back to Joy, Faith. You attacking her, I swear, that wasn’t me. I intended to orchestrate a finality, for certain, but not that final.”

“You planned for something awful to happen?” Faith asked, aghast. “You… you…”

“Monster?” Seth finished with a smirk that felt entirely false.

Faith hesitated, fixing her wide, blue eyes on Seth’s face. He could hear thoughts as clear as a song, as she finally realised the game she was part of, the extent of how wrong she had been. Replaying their brief relationship, looking for things she had overlooked, signs she had missed. She channelled all that hurt, all that anger at her target as not only did she begin to question if this relationship was redeemable, but if he was.

Seth maintained his outward composure as the unease in his gut became a writhing, tangled mess, restricting the little blood flow he had and threatening to end him. As her internal debate was laid bare for him to witness, her whole mind opened before him like a plump fruit, ripe for the picking.

She hates me.

And then, suddenly, a revelation.

She is focused entirely on me.

Seth approached Faith tenderly under the pretence that he was about to embrace her. He felt her body tense as moved nearer but she made no effort to resist, her eyes never leaving his, her mind racing.

“Why are you doing all this?” she whimpered. “What do you want from me?”

She was ready, he was ready. Finally the planets were aligned. He would lose her, he knew it, but it was worth it for what he would surely gain.

It had to be worth it.

“Everything,” he whispered, stroking her cheek and ignoring the nagging doubt that he was about to make a huge mistake. “I want everything I can get.”

Wyatt had stopped asking silly, garbled questions and had curled up on the sofa beside April for a little sleep, emitting no further noise except for the occasional snore.

“What do you think he was asking me to do?” April asked Caleb, the only other person who had managed to resist the effects of the magical tea. “Oh, I hope he wasn’t asking me to help him go to the bathroom. Imagine if he wets the bed because I misheard him! That would be awful!”

“Awful,” Caleb repeated with a strange little smile.

“Should we put him to bed?” she asked. “I know that he’s stinky and you don’t want to be near him, but would you take him to bed? For me?”

Caleb was still looking at her with that odd expression.

“He seems comfortable there,” he murmured.

“Oh, OK,” April said quietly. She didn’t like the look in Caleb’s eyes. It looked like he was up to something.

Almost as if he’d read her mind, Caleb beckoned her over and, when she stayed put, he commanded her over.

April went reluctantly, seating herself gingerly on Caleb’s knee.

“Please don’t tell me to do things,” she asked. “What if I don’t want to sit on you?”

“I’ll make you want to,” he smirked, tickling her inner thigh.

In her tea-induced dreamworld, April couldn’t decide if that was a joke, a threat or some strange combination of the two, so, with her addled sense of bravado, she simply asked, “How will you make me want to?”

Caleb’s response was a physical one. His hand moved with lightning speed to the opening at the leg of her shorts and slid under. April glanced down, part stunned and part embarrassed that he could fit his whole hand up her shorts leg.

She wondered if that meant that everyone had been able to see up them. Had she been flashing Caleb all night? Was that why he knew he could fit his hand in? Had she been teasing him all night without meaning to?

Stupid girl!

Caleb had paused briefly as his hand had made contact with that place. Maybe he’d been anticipating finding another layer and she couldn’t blame him for that. It was very improper to forego underwear – Mother would’ve been livid! – but the shorts were so flimsy that all of April’s underwear had showed through them. She hadn’t realised that they were so flimsy he could actually shove half his arm under them, though. He could probably climb into them with her, they were that loose! Oh my goodness. What would he think?

Stupid. Desperate.

Caleb let out a little laugh and stroked two fingers along her, um, lady parts, before, um – oh god April had no idea how to explain what he was doing. Parting the seas?

He slowly, but somehow still roughly, began to explore, until he touched a bit that made her jolt with electricity. His smile widened.

Oh dear god.

April had had every intention to tell him ‘no’ – not least because Wyatt was only a few feet away and they’d get into so much trouble if Sage came home! But somehow, Caleb’s slow, almost frustratingly so, ministrations were making that word impossible.

“Caleb,” she gasped as he pulled her firmer to his lap and she felt that thing of his, that thing which always seemed to be hard, beneath her bum. “Caleb, we shouldn’t be doing this.”

“I know,” he purred. “But I need you, April. I’m going mad.”

April tried again, “I’m not sure I want to.”

He smirked, diverting his fingertip from caressing her, um, thing and heading, um, down to the other thing. She squirmed as she remembered the last time he’d been near there, how sore and uncomfortable and dry it had been, and braced herself.

She was super surprised to feel his finger slip smoothly inside her. Effortlessly, almost. It almost felt… nice?

“I think you do want to,” he whispered. “I’ve barely touched you and yet you’re soaked.”

“I am?” April asked with wonder, to which her downstairs area answered with a very unladylike squelch.

“Oh!” she gasped, flushing with embarrassment, but Caleb smiled, unbothered. Or perhaps he even liked it? April didn’t know, she didn’t care, she suddenly couldn’t think. It was like he’d taken whole ownership of her body. She was a mere hand puppet at the will of its puppeteer, a dancer following her leader, rocking her hips in time with the movements of his hand.

The throaty moan that left her lips barely sounded like her at all. It sounded like a noise Faith would make when she was doing her rude impressions.

How did the feeling just keep getting nicer? How was that possible? It was building, building. Higher, higher. Even when she closed her eyes she could see all the colours, taste the colours. She was colours! She was sure it couldn’t get any more intense. It couldn’t… or she might just… she’d…

She’d…

…Literally explode!

With no breath to catch, April’s body instead became a floppy, dopey mess as she fell back onto Caleb. Her body shook with tremors, oversensitive and overcharged, as his movement stilled.

April became slowly aware of the damp fabric on her legs and the soft snores from across the room – that she was even in a room. That should have brought her back from the cosmos with a bump but, oddly, it didn’t. She ran her fingers through Caleb’s hair, gazing at him full of wonder and this weird, fuzzy, heated feeling.

“Ohh!” April said, drawing out the sound as understanding dawned. “That was an orgasm!”

Caleb looked deflated for the tiniest moment. “You’ve never had an orgasm before?”

April shook her head. “No,” she said softly. “At least, not like that. But now I get what people were always on about! Wow.”

Caleb’s laugh was hearty. He pulled April to him, trapping her in a forceful kiss that previously would’ve made her cringe but now, somehow, made her want to throw all caution to the wind and do all manner of unladylike, squelchy things with him.

“Caleb,” she said coyly, breathlessly, breaking the kiss and shifting against the unyielding arm of the chair. “Can we please go and find a nice, comfy bed?”

“Why?” he teased, pressing his fangs into her lower lip and eliciting a little squeal from her. “Are you tired?”

“Mm. No, I’m not tired…”

“Oh, so you want to have a pillow fight?”

“No!” April sucked on her punctured lip. Hot and needy and yet, despite the chart, despite the inhibition-destroying tea, despite everything, she was still totally unable to form the words.

He chuckled. “Is this one of those times when you just ‘need a fuck’, April?”

If she could’ve blushed, her face would’ve been scarlet. Her voice was tiny, unsure. “I-I think so…? Maybe?”

His eyes bored into hers imploringly; they flashed to their icy blue. “Maybe or yes?”

“Will you be gentle?” she asked uncertainly.

He kissed her so very softly that it was like a butterfly had landed on her lips. “I’m really going to try.”

“OK. Then I guess… yes— oof!”

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Chapter 3.45 – Bedtime Story

Warning: violent, harrowing, horrific

Everything about the tiny house was exactly as Faith remembered it, except for one detail.

Oh my god, she willed to Seth, who had followed her a pace behind, scoping the darkness.

What? Seth projected back. Suddenly on alert, she could sense him tense at her shoulder. He was making her nervous. He never did seem to be at ease in any dark, enclosed space, which she understood, but tonight was a whole other level. She could feel the anxiety bleeding from him, felt him move closer, his gloved palm on the small of her back, trying to find the ‘threat’ she had identified.  

Faith swallowed hard. She’s in my bed.

She felt the man beside her relax slightly, returning to his default slightly-on-edge self as he followed her gaze. Cute.

She is cute, Faith thought back. She’s adorable.

Seth made a noise that wasn’t an agreement and gently took Faith’s arm; his fingertips lingered on her wrist and traced a short line down her palm before he released her.

Do you wish to wake her? he asked.

What if she hates me for leaving her?

She doesn’t.

Faith nodded slightly and Seth turned on his heel, his heavy boots unbelievably loud on the threadbare rug beneath his feet as he strode towards the door.

Wait! Faith called, almost forgetting herself and crying out verbally. Wait, she thought, quieter. Where are you going? You can’t go! What if I… if I—

I’m going to subdue your mother, he replied. Her sleep is restless. Unless you wish to talk to her too?

I-I don’t, not this time, Faith answered, wondering if she was the reason her mum wasn’t sleeping.

All right then. Seth smiled. Wait here; try not to wake your sister.

I doubt I could, Faith smiled back. She sleeps like a log. She once slept through a small fire and only woke up when we’d already carried her out onto the lawn.

Interesting. I’ll only be a minute.

Faith fiddled with the knot on the hip of her dress, suddenly feeling very exposed. Again, she rued not wearing the blue dress, or jeans, or—

Faith paused as something in the air around her changed. The slow, deep breaths and rested heart rate behind her had quickened and become ragged. She didn’t need to turn around to know that her sister had woken up.

“Who’s there?” the girl whispered.

Faith’s heart sank. That little voice was not the one she remembered; the one that was cheeky and self-assured, afraid of nothing. Nothing scares me, sis!

No. This voice was scared. It suddenly struck Faith that she had walked into this house, into the bedroom in the pitch darkness as if it were the light of day, that Joy would not be able to see a thing. Faith could sense her little sister trembling beneath the sheets, wondering who – or what – was at the foot of her bed.

“It’s me, Kiddo,” Faith whispered.

“Fay?” Joy gasped, clambering out of bed. “Fay! You came back!” The girl tripped over her sheets in her effort to locate to sister in the dark, drawn to her like a homing beacon, arms wide and waiting.

It took all Faith’s willpower to step back from the embrace.

“Fay?” Joy asked in a small voice, her eyes scanning the darkness.

“Shh, shush,” Faith whispered. “We can’t wake Mum and you can’t touch me, OK?”

“Why not?” Joy whispered back. “Can I put the light on?”

Faith chewed her lip. “Kiddo, I can’t stay. I just wanted to come and say hi real quick. And give you this.” She thrust the envelope into the tiny, outstretched hand and waited.

Joy loved gifts and she wasn’t usually shy about ripping the paper off anything that was presented to her, but this time she only sighed, holding the thick envelope of photos at her side limply, with disinterest.

“I-it’s blackmail m-material,” Faith stammered, unnerved. “On Max. But you can’t say I gave it to you, OK?”

Faith didn’t really know what she had expected to come from this visit, but what she didn’t expect was for Joy to throw the unopened envelope to the floor and to burst into tears.

“Why did you ignore me the other night?”

“What?” Faith asked with genuine confusion. “Which night?”

“At the arcade, last Friday,” Joy sniffed. “I went with Alyssa and I saw you, you were by yourself near the hot dog stand. I ran over and you saw me and you ignored me. Why did you ignore me?”

“Last Friday?” Faith shook her head, trying to remember where she’d been that day. It felt so long ago. “I wasn’t at the arcade last Friday. I was, um—”

“We didn’t go to the arcade.”

‘We’ didn’t, Faith thought bitterly, looking at Joy’s wet face. But clearly Faith had been there.

Faith could’ve screamed. That stinking fucking bastard with his tricky fucking truths. No wonder she couldn’t remember anything about that night, if he’d somehow managed to get inside her head.

“…I didn’t see you,” Faith hissed through gritted teeth.

“You looked right at me!”

“Yeah, well I’m flipping blind, like Mum, aren’t I?” Faith snarled. She hesitated as she watched the tears well up again in Joy’s eyes and instinctively reached out to wipe them, pausing just short and softening her tone instead. “I didn’t see you, OK? I wouldn’t ignore you. I wouldn’t ever ignore you.”

“OK,” Joy said, so quietly Faith may have imagined it. They both remained with their arms outstretched, lingering at the invisible wall that had been placed between them. Faith longed to reach through, to cup that crying little face, to pull her little sister into an embrace so tight that would make her toes numb.

But she wouldn’t dare. Not until Seth was there, at least.

Where was he?

“When are you coming home?” Joy asked. “Look! I made the bed! I tidied things up!”

“I can see that! I didn’t tread on any Lego—”

“I’ll be super good if you come back,” she hiccupped. “I promise. You won’t have to look after me so much or buy me things anymore. Mummy said that if you came back, you wouldn’t have to work so much. She’d suck it up and talk to Daddy, whatever that means.”

“I didn’t leave because of that—“

“So why did you leave?!” Joy wailed, stomping her foot; snot and tears running down her face. “Tell me!”

Because I made a huge mistake, the voice inside Faith, the one that sounded like Melinda, piped up. She swallowed hard.

“Are you ever coming home?” Joy sniffed.

“Not yet.”

“D-did I do something wrong?”

“No,” Faith sighed. “Never.”

“So why can’t I hug you? I’m not smelly!” Joy cried. “I had a bath tonight; I’m all clean!”

“Joy, please.”

“Don’t you love me anymore?”

Fuck it all.

“Of course I love you,” Faith gushed, falling to her knees and pulling the small child into her arms so fast that she felt all the breath leave her little body. “I love you to bits. None of this is your fault, OK? I did something really, really flipping stupid – actually I did a few really stupid things and… oh my god, you do smell clean. Is that the candy floss soap I bought you for Winterfest?”

Joy nodded against Faith’s shoulder, holding on for dear life.

“I thought you said it was too girly?”

“It is,” she mumbled. “But it reminds me of you.”

Joy snuggled up closer, fiddling with the hole on Faith’s dress. She was talking quietly about stinky soap and how many kettles of hot water they’d needed to warm the tub, but there was only one sound Faith could really hear, slowly drowning out the others.

Ba-bum, ba-bum.

“I really need to go now, baby,” Faith said, gently pressing Joy away.

Joy held on like a limpet and dug her feet into the rug. “Please don’t leave yet,” she begged. “Get in bed with me and tell me a bedtime story. You never finished that one you started before.”

“Which one?”

“The one about the charming monster. How does it end?”

Badly. “Yeah, I really need to go. Let go of me, Kiddo.”

“No! I-I can’t because, um, ‘cause you’re super-duper cold!” Joy protested, clinging tighter and rubbing her arms quickly along Faith’s back, generating some warming friction.

“Yes. I’m a big idiot, I should have put a jumper on,” Faith joked, wondering just how cold ‘cold’ was. She recalled April being fucking freezing when she’d lapped at her arm, not dissimilar to licking a frozen lamppost. Faith yielded to the soft, warm body in her arms, idly scratching her nails on Joy’s scalp as she rocked her softly.  

“No jumper and you’ve got a great big hole in your dress,” Joy laughed and she allowed herself to be swayed. “You are a big idiot!”

Ba-bum, ba-bum.

“You look different too,” Joy said, chopping her hand across Faith’s shoulder blades. Every time their skin brushed it made Faith more and more aware of the absence of life inside her and the fiery heat inside this wriggling, laughing creature. “Your hair is gone. And you smell funny.”

“Oh? I do?”

“Yeah,” Joy guffawed. “Like a monkey butt!”

“You’ve been sniffing monkey’s butts?” Faith asked, distracted.

“Nu-uh!” Joy protested, kicking her feet. “But you smell like one!”

“Well, you smell like cotton candy—“

With an undercurrent of blood.

Faith abruptly pushed back as she felt the first cool shimmer wash over her skin. “Let me go, Kiddo.”

“NO!” Joy shouted, clinging on as Faith tried to rise. “I-I… I haven’t told you about… about… Mrs. Bucket! She’s friends with Mummy!”

Faith thought nothing would shock her more than the desire to bite her own sister, but there it was. “S-she is?”

“Yeah!” Joy shouted, taking advantage of Faith’s moment of hesitation to latch herself back on and nuzzling her face into Faith’s neck. “She makes me cookies. Super weird cookies though. They have peas in.”

“Peas?” Faith repeated, absently nuzzling back. “Mmm. That’s good, they’ll make you big and strong…”

Peas and blood. Blood and cookies.

“But peas taste like farts!” Joy insisted and blew a raspberry against Faith’s shoulder. “I’d rather be small and wimpy forever than eat peas! Bleurgh!”

Farts…

“Ow!” Joy gasped, pushing her small hands against her sister. “Something just pricked me! I think your earring is poking my neck.”

Joy continued to push; her hot palm like a heated poker against Faith’s ashy skin. “Fay?” she whimpered, pushing harder. “What are you doing? Fay…? It feels really… weird… I…”

It didn’t usually take Seth three attempts to subdue a human, but Adina Splodge, like her eldest daughter, was stubborn. He’d finally managed to break through the woman’s defences and lock her temporarily into a state of suspended catatonia that would hopefully hold her for at least a few minutes. Long enough for Joy to squeal in delight and for Faith to wail in despair when she was once again confronted with the sacrifice she had made for eternal youth.

And this time, in private, he could take full advantage.

Now, all he had to do was go and wake the child who had slept through a god damn fire – this family really was a force of will – and then he could—

It took Seth a clear moment to understand what he was seeing and even then he wasn’t quite sure he believed it. Granted, this was not the first time he had seen a vampire take from someone close to them, not even the first time he’d seen one take from a child, but it was the first time he’d seen either of those things without… input.

Acting entirely on his impulse, and thus forgetting everything he had learned about his fickle fledgling, he reached out to her psyche to force her to halt. He was rewarded with an almighty mental clout. It threw him brutally into the bedroom wall, restructuring his spine in the process and embedding one of his stowed blades firmly into his posterior.

Faith dropped the child, who fell with all the grace of a sack of spuds. She lingered, staring at the unmoving little body before her and twitching in her direction. Fixated, fighting herself.

She wasn’t done.

“Faith,” Seth growled, a warning, reaching again to the inner workings of her mind and, once again, being violently rebuffed. She reached down, transfixed, salivating.

With a knife now in each cheek and his twisted game gone awry there was nothing else for it.

The sickening thwack as Faith hit the deck broke her instantly from her trance. Her eyes, glowing almost translucent, never left her little sister’s face. She was snarling, hissing, rabid as a sick dog.

“Let go!” she snapped. “I need to check that she’s OK!”

He wasn’t falling for that. He held fast against the deceptive might of her, trying to force her to focus on him. He could feel his hold on Adina waning as his attentions were absorbed by his struggling student and her ardent attempts at escape.

“My baby!” she hissed. “Is she OK?”

Does she look OK?

“Oh my god! Oh my god! Joy!” Faith screeched. “Kiddo! Wake up! Baby! She’s not moving! Why is she not moving…?” she asked, the fog fading and the panic finally flooding in; her thoughts fluttering like a butterfly in a bell jar. “Holy fuck. I’ve… did I…?”

Yes. We need to leave.

The noise that escaped Faith was more animal than human. Hollow and hurt, it reverberated through Seth’s senses, invoking a hundred memories he’d rather forget.

With force beyond his initial anticipation, Seth pinned Faith to the floor. He heard the snap and crack of her limbs as she fought to escape. Any part she fought free, she flung in his direction. She elbowed him in the jaw, clawed at his face with an arm that was clearly broken and attempted to kick him in regions very few men wished to be kicked.

“Look at me,” he hissed, stifling a groan as she landed a particularly vicious knee into his groin, finally subduing her enough to force her face in his direction.

Finally stilled, she held her hands up in surrender.

“Wait,” she whispered. “I can’t live with myself if I’ve… if she’s…”

And, lo, there it was.

He titled her face to and fro, listening with intent as her mind, beaten as firmly, if not more so, into submission as her body was, opened up for him like a flower in the sunlight.

He could see – reach – everything. From the darkened depths of her depravity, her deepest fears, her causation and her despair, right up to her true thoughts about him…

That stinking fucking bastard with his tricky fucking truths.

Charming.

Seth could sense the other occupants of house stirring and knew that if he wanted to stand a chance of finally siphoning from Faith, of turning this writhing mess of a situation to his advantage, he’d have to be tactful and speedy.

Before she could see that her sister was merely unconscious, before she could be soothed by any ease of her conscience and close herself off from him once more, he willed them both gone.

< Previous Chapter | Index | Next Chapter >

Chapter 3.43 – More Meat

Seth Grimm had faced a number of arduous challenges in his time on the planet, from false accusation to imprisonment, but he’d take another three decades in solitary confinement if, for once, he could just get his bloody fledgling out of the door on time.

It had taken almost an hour to get to this point, but Faith had finally whittled her outfit choices down to two. It wouldn’t have been this difficult if she hadn’t learned, during her snooping as she recovered in the small apartment, that the former occupant had a number of designer dresses in her closet that were, coincidentally, in Faith’s size.

She was swanning about like a supermodel, trying on each and every gown and ruling them out one by one, while Seth waited in various places in the apartment, growing steadily more bored and frustrated.

“Which of these would work best for wherever we’re going?” she asked, gesturing to the two shortlisted dresses.

Seth sighed. He’d answered this question, albeit worded a few different ways, a half dozen times in the last thirty minutes as Faith had attempted to wheedle out his plans without directly asking. It was even more tiring than a direct hit. He could have simply told her his plan, but he did enjoy watching her dance around him on hot coals. And dance indeed she did, especially after the show she’d made of herself the previous night.

“Either. It doesn’t matter.”

“Of course it matters.” Faith pouted. She pinched at the fabric on the blue dress. “I like this one, but it’s so classy – does it need to be classy?”

“No.”

“Oh.” She plucked at the black one. “But the fabric on the black one is softer, stretchier. Does that matter?”

Seth rolled his eyes. “No.”

She tapped her chin. “The black one has a massive cut-out, though, so my huge fucking gut will be on display.”

“What gut?” Seth snorted.

“This!” Faith puffed her abdomen out and gave it a slap. “I’ve never ‘eaten’ so well in my life. I look like a blimp.”

Seth only laughed.

“Seriously,” Faith said, suddenly concerned. “Am I getting fat?”

“I’ve seen more meat on a butcher’s pencil,” he murmured, without looking at her.

“What the fuck does that mean?”

Seth had been trying to resist ogling her as she stretched and bent before the dresser in only her underwear, but there was something about her being on the fringe of losing her temper that revved his engine past the point he could ignore. He finally turned to face her, taking in the svelte shape of her for a moment before replying, “You are not fat, Faith.”

She drummed her fingers on her skin. “Caleb called me fat once. Sort of.”

“Caleb is an idiot.”

Faith nodded, looking back towards the rail. “So, I won’t look like a taped-up sausage in the black one?”

“No.”

“I might still wear the blue one,” Faith said softly. “It’s Joy’s birthday today and blue is her favourite colour. It’ll be like an homage.” She ran her fingernail down the dress, contemplating. “Did you take her present around today?”

“No.”

Faith rounded on him, tipped instantly to rage at his words. “You said you would go today!”

“I did,” he agreed. “And I will, if you ever pick a bloody dress.”

It took Faith a moment, but she eventually realised that he had, inadvertently, given her the answer she’d been trying reach.

“You’re going tonight?” she asked, her eyes going wide as he nodded. “So, what are you dumping me round the corner first? Great. I may as well wear a fucking bin bag.”

We’re going tonight,” he corrected. “You can give Joy her gift.”

Faith’s face split into a huge grin, that slowly warped and twisted itself into a grimace and look a look of abject horror.

“What the fuck. I can’t go and see her. Can I? No, I can’t!” she squealed answering her own question so he didn’t have to, torn between her rapture and her panic. “She might see me!”

“Isn’t that the point of visiting someone, to see them?”

“But I’m… I might… wait, we don’t need to go in, right? I can leave her present on the doorstep, right?”

“You could,” he agreed tentatively.

“I could…” she mused, chewing her lip. “But I can’t go all the way there, leave her a present and not see her.”

He cleared his throat and offered her his plan, finely presented, naturally. “Perhaps,” he mused as if he hadn’t already given this copious thought. “With my supervision, I suppose we could go in, briefly.”

She wasn’t listening. “I bet she already thinks I hate her for abandoning her in the first shitting place.” She thumped the dresser and let out an anguished roar. “I’m just like my dad, floating in and out at his whim, always leaving her wondering when she’ll next see him! Ugh!”

Seth remained silent, allowing her tantrum. Eventually she whispered. “Maybe it would be better to let her forget me. Forget her.”

“If only that worked,” Seth murmured, but Faith didn’t hear. “You don’t want to see her?” he asked.

“I do!” she whined. “But how can I? She’d definitely want to hug me and you saw what Mel did to her dad—”

“I did,” he agreed. “And you saw what I did to Melinda.”

“Yeah… but you can’t control me properly, I’ve got, you know,” she waved around her head. “The weird brain thing.”

You have indeed, he thought to himself, trying very hard not to lick his lips. Instead, he smiled. “If subversion should fail, Faith, remember; I am stronger than you, faster…”

She snorted. “Yeah, sure you ar— oof!”

The wind was knocked out of her as Seth moved, part man, part mist, pinning her to the wall in an instant. He waited until her senses caught up with her and her unimpressed neutral expression returned before relenting.

“That was just lucky,” she said. “I was distracted by dresses.”

“As will I be if you wear the black one.”

Faith let out a little gasp as he stepped back, still smarting. “Then maybe I should wear the blue one.”

“Maybe you should go naked,” he jested. “Let her play the bongos on that belly blimp of yours.”

“You’re such a fucking tool,” she tutted, but her smile was bright, her eyes alight. “OK! OK, oh my fucking god!” she gasped. “I can’t believe I’m gonna see her little face. Even if it is through a window, even if only for a minute. I’m so excited! Thank you.”

“My pleasure.”

“I can’t wait to see her expression when she sees those pictures. It’s going to be fucking epic.”

“It is,” he agreed. Seth fought to restrain his smirk, watching Faith as she deliberated on the dresses with renewed vigour.

“You’re so good to me.” Faith grinned. “All the stuff you do for me. One day I will do something for you, I promise. Something huge.”

I don’t doubt it.

“This looks amazing, Jess. Great job!”

Jessica looked around at the ‘nursery’ that she and Beth had spent the day creating. It looked better, for certain, but it couldn’t have looked much worse than the dank, brown space it had started as. The dinosaur border certainly added some playfulness to the clinical white walls, but one feature was still off-putting for Jessica.

“Are we doing anything with the cell doors?” she asked.

Beth glanced towards them and shrugged. “Shall we paint them?”

“Um,” Jessica bit her lip. “I thought more along the lines of removing them.”

“No way, they’re a safety feature,” Beth insisted, dragging her nail across the iron bars. The tinny reverberations echoed around the police station basement, emphasising the closed-in feeling that made Jessica shake. “What we have made here, Jess, is essentially a giant playpen. We can leave the little ones here to play or nap, with no worries that they’ll escape, or try to climb those stairs, or worse.” She reached down and scooped up her son, who beamed back up at her. “Even you can’t get through those bars, can you, you little rascal?”

“He escapes?” Jessica repeated, more to distract herself from the noise in her head, rather than out of genuine interest.

“He tries to,” Beth confirmed. “He’s as slippery as his dad; always looking for a way out.” Her face flickered with a flash of sadness that was gone as soon as it appeared. “Paired with that, he’s as charmed, um, as charming as me. Dangerous combination.”

Jessica nodded emptily. Her thoughts that day had been originally been dominated by the knowledge that she’d be dressed like clown vomit and breaking into her former boss’s house in a few hours’ time to try and talk to his ghost. But as the day had worn on and, as usual, barely a call came through to the sleepy Woodland Borough Police Station to break up the hours of decorating, Jessica had been forced to think about her other big issue. Perhaps, arguably, the bigger of the two.

She wondered how her brewing baby would blend. Would they be hot-headed and non-committal like their dad? Would they be quirky and creative like their mum?

Would Jessica be a good mum or would she be like her own mum; trying but never quite succeeding?

Who would she turn to when she needed support? Who would help?

Could she do all this on her own?

The tinny ringing seemed to be getting louder in Jessica’s ears, drowning out her spiralling thoughts. It was only when a soft, damp weight was thrust into her arms that she realised the sound wasn’t coming from the barred door, but from Beth’s pocket.

“Take him for a sec, Jess so I can see who this is,” Beth said. She paused for a moment, admiring the scene she’d created. “Aw, it really suits you, you know?”

Jessica wasn’t so sure. She juggled the squirming child, trying to find a position that felt natural as Beth looked at her phone.

“Crap,” she muttered under her breath. “It’s Saggy Balls. I’d better go take this in the office. You’re OK alone with Willy for five minutes, right? Honestly, he’s an absolute angel.”

“By myself?”

“That is what ‘alone’ means.”

“But—”

“You’ll be fine.”

Jessica tried to protest, but Beth had already abandoned her in the half-painted cell.

She might have been expecting and flooded with hormones, but that didn’t mean that Jessica knew what to do with the tiny person in her arms. She’d had no younger siblings, no younger relatives at all, no experience of caring for anything other than feral cats. Between trying to join the GliTS, being locked in the Tower, covering her tracks at work and desperately trying to keep food down, she hadn’t had much time to read parenting books, either.

She looked at Willy and he looked back with those dark, shark eyes synonymous with the Wangshafts. He certainly didn’t look like an angel, but perhaps looks were deceiving.

“Hello,” she said, clumsily. “I’m Jessica.”

“Blurbla!” he gargled. He reached out a chubby little hand, grasping Jessica’s glasses and attempting to remove them.

“Oh, no, don’t do that!” Jessica gasped. She managed to free her glasses, only for him to grab at her hair, or her earrings instead. “Ow! Oh! OW!”

Willy giggled at this game and began patting Jessica’s face thwarting her every attempt to stop him. Jessica had no idea what to do to make him stop. Trying to grab his flailing arm was like trying to get a hold on a lubricated squid. She eventually caught his wrist, by some miracle, and told him a firm ‘no’.

He stopped, what a relief! But then, oh no! His eyes overflowed. His lower lip trembled.

“Oh, no. No, no, no!” Jessica panicked, imagining Beth’s face if she returned to find her precious child crying and miserable after only two minutes in her care. “Shh!” She danced on the spot, frantically looking around for a distraction. This was a nightmare! What was she thinking?! She couldn’t be a mother! She was a disaster!

Just as she thought she’d have to either give up her spectacles or admit defeat and allow him to pummel her face for his own amusement, he reached up towards her again, but this time he only sniffled, wrapped his small arm around her neck and held on tight.

Oh no, now he was terrified! She had barely registered that she was bouncing and swaying. He probably thought she was going to drop him, and—

“Oh,” Jessica sighed, feeling his gentle breath on her neck, his powder-soft cheek, plump and warm against her own. He settled into the curves of her, naturally finding the space he fit best and stayed there, gently grabbing and releasing the collar of her blouse as he gargled happily.

“Oh.” Jessica smiled, holding him a little closer. The instincts she’d doubted she had finally kicked in as she held tight to the sleepy little one. Her body found a rhythm to rock, in time with his slowing breathing and her own. She cooed softly at his sweet face, enjoying every second of him falling asleep in her arms.

Maybe Beth was right, she thought into the silence as she stilled. Maybe I really can do this.

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