Authors: Natalie Herzer
“Don’t drop your left arm, Quinn. Keep it steady. It’s supposed to protect you,” Stone advised, feeling the sun warm his back while a cool December breeze touched his face.
When he had offered to train Quinn, he had only hoped to erase whatever bad seeds that angel Raz might have sown in the witch’s mind. What he hadn’t counted on was the fact that he actually enjoyed the time with the boy. The quiet. Where training for Stone had only meant endless years of yelled orders and pain, with Quinn it was an unexpected and peaceful companionship.
After the boy finished going through the motions of the last sequence, Stone showed him another. Moving in slow motion, he lifted his leg and pulled it to his body before kicking out, releasing it like an arrow. Then he motioned for Quinn to follow.
Good, he thought to himself.
It was all about balance, and Stone knew as their training progressed the boy would find himself on his ass on more than one occasion. This session was all about inciting curiosity and sparking motivation, the next ones wouldn’t be as nice. The boy had potential, a willingness to learn. An observing eye. All the right ingredients to learn more than just basic self-defense and become a damn good fighter. Quinn was an Ebony after all, and being deaf didn’t change a bit about it. Well, it was Hell’s loss as far as Stone was concerned.
Out of their own accord, his eyes swept the backyard and checked the perimeter. The moss hanging off the old trees and dancing in the breeze created a green kaleidoscope of shadows and light, a perfect camouflage for an attack. Other than that, Becca’s recent plant-shopping spree were the only new guests in the garden.
Noticing movement out the corner of his eye, Stone looked up. There she was, standing in the window, a soft smile on her face as she watched them. Was she pale or was it just a trick of light?
Quinn demanded Stone’s attention with a snap of his fingers.
Again they went through the motions. Stone first followed by Quinn whose eyes were focused on the tiniest movements made. Although the boy could read his lips just fine, Stone preferred to show instead of tell, only voicing a few corrections from time to time. This kind of quiet was foreign to him, but an appreciated change from Hell’s intensity. It allowed him to concentrate on the boy, and yet gave his thoughts the possibility to roam free at the same time.
She was fighting for her brother, even her friends, but not for herself. She risked her life to enjoy moments like last night; her friends and the laughter that went with it. Stone couldn’t remember the last time he had shared a meal with someone, much less the last time he’d laughed. He’d been on his own all his life, and had liked it that way. Only now did he realize that he hadn’t had a moment to himself since meeting the witch. Even more surprising was the fact that he didn’t miss his solitude. At the moment, anyway. He was pretty sure the need to be on his own again would rise soon enough and updating the marquis would be a perfect opportunity to prove it. However, Andras hadn’t asked for one yet. Seeing as the marquis was the kind of guy who liked being in control, Stone applauded the restraint. It helped him focus solely on his mission.
After two hours, when sweat glistened on the boy’s forehead, Stone decided it was enough for their first session. “Okay, enough for today. Wanna keep doing this?”
Quinn nodded, the smile on his face bright enough to compete with the French Quarter during Mardi Gras.
“Good. You need to learn how to protect yourself ‘cause your sister, no matter how much she wants to believe it, won’t always be there to do it. So…we gonna train every day from now on. That clear?”
Another nod, followed by dancing fingers, a bit slower than usual so that Stone recognized it.
“Wait until the week is over…you won’t thank me then. You will be in pain. Every bone, muscle and tendon will hurt…and you will probably hate my guts.” He was quite serious about it. “Have you ever seen military train?”
The boy frowned but nodded once more.
“That’s how your next weeks will look like. Today was just to get you hooked, but as of tomorrow we gonna start with the serious shit. We need to build up your muscle so kicks like I showed you earlier have some power behind them.”
Another eager nod.
Stone shook his head at the boy, his mouth curving in a smile. “Now, go grab a shower,” he added, and Quinn ran off.
Since the training had been nothing more than a warm up for his own muscles, Stone didn’t bother with a shower. His body thrummed with energy, eager for a real fight, and climbing two steps at a time he went upstairs. About to knock on Becca’s door, he remembered her standing at the window. Pale and with tired eyes. Maybe he should leave her alone so she could rest today, especially since he knew that she’d had non-stop fighting, gathering or mending people for the last few weeks.
A crash sounded from behind her door followed by a curse. Not bothering with courtesies that weren’t his style anyway, he grabbed the door knob and stepped inside.
She was crouching on the floor, one hand braced on her desk while the other picked up pieces of a lamp that now decorated the floor.
“I know a lot of people struggle with the concept nowadays, but if a door is closed, you’re supposed to knock before barging in.”
“I heard a noise.”
“Oh.” Her gaze held surprise before it fell back to the mess. Waving the hand that held a couple of bigger shards, she smiled. “I’m redecorating.”
“I know you’re used to living on the edge, but do you really want to walk on them in your bedroom, too?”
Her eyes went wide. “That was a joke. You just made a joke.”
Laughter burst out of her, a sound so contagious that it made him want to smile in return. That was until he noticed that she still hadn’t let go of the desk in an attempt to stand. His senses on alert and feeling like he was missing something, he took a closer look at her. Dressed in a big green sweater and tight jeans, it would have been quite a fashionable outfit if she weren’t so pale. The way it was, she appeared to be drowning in the clothes, weighed down by them. His gaze went to the desk. A bowl sat there, herbs scattered all over the desk, probably over during her fight with the lamp. A knife lay amidst them, fresh blood glinting on the edge. Stone couldn’t see any animal that might have served as a sacrifice for her magic.
The puzzle pieces fell into place.
Cold anger pooled into his blood. In an instant his eyes went back to her, sharp and accusing as his suspicion was confirmed.
A trickle of blood crawled out from under her sleeve, towards her wrist.
“You should have bandaged it better.” His voice was unforgiving.
In two strides he was by her side. Taking her arm in his hand, he easily plucked her off the floor and made her sit on the bed. She didn’t have the energy to fight against him. After a quick visit into her en-suite bathroom, he undid the old bandage. His jaw hardened when he saw the cut she’d inflicted on herself. The blood on her soft, pale skin. Without another word or look at her, he fixed and tightened a new dressing.
“Is it wise to cut off my entire circulation?”
“It doesn’t matter anymore. Most of your brain damage must have been sustained before my time.”
Straightening, he knew he had to get out. He didn’t appreciate her trying to cheer up the mood by making light of a serious situation at all. Stone couldn’t believe it had taken him this long to add two and two together. Not giving her a chance to come up with another witty comeback, he left the room, the door falling closed with a soft click. Downstairs, his hand reached for Betty’s keys out of their own accord. Once inside the old van, he turned the ignition.
Dammit. He didn’t need this right now, when all he wanted was to hear her hoarse engine and get away. Pausing, he wondered what had gotten him into such a state to begin with.
Stone tried again without success. Not even the slightest sound came from the bus. What the hell does she usually do to get the thing started?
Hitting the wheel with his fist, he leaned back in his seat.
Yes, he hadn’t known, not even suspected, that the witch was using her own blood instead that of others. But so what? Why would he care?
It was information on her, nothing more. Another weak link in her armor, and
was all that he needed to know.
The passenger door opened and before he could say anything, she climbed in. Her brown eyes were huge in her face.
How could she risk her own life that way? Was she insane?
“You were sent to kill me, weren’t you?”
Ignoring her comment, the truth of which sent another spark of anger through him, he confronted her. “Didn’t you get the memo, or what? We’re demons. We’re bad and aren’t supposed to care about others.”
“Why? Just because someone says so? No way.” She shook her head at him, her passion and conviction bringing color back to her face and rolling off her in waves. “I’m a witch, a demon, yes, but that doesn’t mean that I have to be bad. That’s a choice everyone has.”
“Your soul belongs to Hell. It doesn’t matter how much good you do, you won’t ever get to Heaven. Simply because you were born a witch. So why waste your time, why risk your
by being good?”
She smiled that sweet smile of hers. “Because only then am I who I want to be.”
His anger was a fire in his chest. “A do-gooding witch?”
“If it makes me happy, then yes. And by the way, you don’t strike me as the type to just accept what he’s told. Why regarding this? Why the hell are
so quick in saying you’re bad?” Her eyes went wide as her gaze searched his. “Because you really do believe it. You think you aren’t any good.”
Chuckling dryly, he held up his hand. “Oh, lady stop right there. Don’t go down that road. I know I am not. So you better dump any ideas of saving me or some other bullshit. Especially since you’ve got your own life to worry about.”
“Oh, is that so? You know, for someone who says that demons aren’t supposed to care about others, you seem to care an awful lot.”
“I don’t.” Why did it sound like a lie to his own ears? “It was a fair warning, that’s all.”
“I take it you were sent to kill me after all then. Well, could you?”
Taking in a sharp breath, Stone wondered why she said it. To assure herself, or to test him? Either way, it infuriated him even more. Why did she always go and put her life at risk?
Staring into her chocolate eyes, he implored her. “You don’t wanna test that theory. Believe me.”
“Actually, I do.”
The next instant her mouth was on his.
She was warm and inviting, her lips opening up to let him in. A shiver ran down his spine, making him realize that even a simple kiss shouldn’t feel this pure. It was more than just a need met, and felt like an answer found. After their tongues touched once more, he broke away.
Staring at her, the world took on a new shape and the heat in his chest wasn’t the anger he had assumed it to be. One thing was for sure, he didn’t want to kiss her out of anger. He wanted to kiss that wide mouth of hers simply because he could.
FUEL TO THE FIRE
“Remember, we all stumble, every one of us.
That's why it's a comfort to go hand in hand.”
- Emily Kimbrough
In the aftermath of the fight at the pet cemetery, the lot of them decided to head to the simple budget hotel Abby and Sam’s Guard were occupying. They needed to catch their breaths from the whiplash of events, and after stopping at a drive-through along the way, a content silence of stomachs well-fed settled over them.
Surprisingly enough, as far as Abby was concerned, it was Linda who took a motherly interest in the little girl.
“Wanna play cards with me?” Linda asked, waving a worn packet.
“I don’t know how to.”
“We can show you,” Wes cut in.
After an eager nod, Sli scooted over on the bed so Wes and Linda could join and teach her how to play
The double room that Abby had occupied on her own barely offered enough space. With the exception of the card players, the rest had to squeeze themselves onto a little couch in the corner or make do with the floor. Leaning their heads back against the wall, they decided to watch a bit of TV. Ed had a smile on his face when one of his favorite shows came on, while Dave watched the trio on the bed.
“Does anyone want something to drink?” Abby asked.
“That would be nice.”
Abby smiled at Ed. “Be right back.”
He audibly cleared his throat.
“Hang on, I’ll help you carry the stuff,” Linda said before getting off the bed. “I already lost this round.”
Abby looked between Ed and Linda, wondering at the secret language there, before half-heartedly agreeing, “Sure.”
She wasn’t in the mood to talk with the other Ivory, but then again maybe she wouldn’t have to. Linda wasn’t the most talkative person, after all.
“I’m sorry, just so you know.”
Well, there goes that. Abby saw no sense in talking around the bush. They both knew very well what they were referring to. “How could you have kept that from us?”
“You know that among Ivorys, or Heaven for that matter, there are probably more inner battles going on than in Hell.”
“I know that very well. Still, something as huge and life-saving as this? It’s just plain stupid and egoistical to keep it to yourself.” They went down the stairs and Abby threw the door to the reception area, wishing it would smack Linda on the way back.
“You’re right and I apologize.”
“Accepted.” Abby’s gaze focused on what the motel’s vending machine had to offer but her thoughts were a world away. A moment passed before she sighed and faced Linda. “I’m sorry, too. For jumping down your throat. It was just…I think I’ll never forget seeing Lillian almost die. The panic of trying to find something that’ll help her…” She shrugged. “Like I said, I’m sorry. It’s not your fault.”
The older Ivory nodded with understanding in her eyes. Taking a deep breath, Abby felt relieved that things were back to normal between them.
But Linda wasn’t done yet. “The thing is…you guys look up to us because we’ve survived this long.” Her hard, sharp eyes found Abby’s. “Quite frankly, I wish you wouldn’t. We’re still learning too, and that we made it this far is more sheer luck than anything else, if you ask me.”
Choosing a couple of cokes and juice, Abby nodded. “Well, we need that luck to hold a bit longer.”
Linda snorted. “I always try my best, girl.”
Comforting chatter filled the room when the two women came back, a simple thing to some but it warmed Abby’s heart. This was the part she had always loved the best: the calm of being together after a fight. After less than an hour it turned out to be a sweet lullaby for Sli as the day finally took its toll on her. Linda covered the girl with a blanket the moment she fell asleep on the bed.
At the peaceful sight tears burned at the back of Abby’s eyes. Questions that had been filling her mind for the last few weeks tumbled out of control. Could the loving and forgiving God she’d always trusted in really be so careless? This child was another innocent, caught in the crossfire of a war she had no stacks in.
Sam appeared at Abby’s side, his hand softly touching her shoulder. Abby almost sighed, craving the contact she’d missed for so long. Could he sense her turmoil? How close she was to breaking?
The room was suddenly too small for her. She needed to breathe. Taking care not to step on anyone, Abby walked back outside onto the narrow balcony, knowing Sam would follow.
“Hey, you okay?”
She had to keep herself from snorting at the stupid question.
He came closer and she could sense his heat next to her. “What’s wrong, Abby?”
Other than the fact that he hadn’t even dared to share a room with her, much less kiss or touch her since she’d showed up at his safe house? A lot, actually.
Bracing her hands on the weather-worn railing, Abby looked up at the sky as if it held the answers she so desperately needed. Time had rushed by, the sun had already set and stars studded the sky like diamonds sewn on a lovely dress. Yet, it also made the hole she had fallen into seem all the deeper.
“I don’t know.” Abby sighed. “At the moment I don’t know much of anything anymore. I don’t know what we’ve been fighting for all these years, Sam. I don’t know what to believe in.”
“Believe in yourself, Abby. It has served you well.”
“Yeah. It would be nice if there was more than that, however.”
“This is about Him, isn’t it?”
“Among other things, yes.”
Sam was quiet for a while. “Have you ever considered that maybe there is a reason for the way He acted?”
Curious and confused at the same time, Abby frowned at him. “What do you mean?”
“He was talking to Lillian. Maybe His words were meant for her and not for you.”
“It doesn’t change anything about
God said, but
He said it.”
Sam shrugged. “Maybe you guys heard what you needed to hear to grow stronger.”
Confusion won, and must have showed on her face.
“One of the biggest reasons why change takes time is because most people don’t see it as their job to help bring it about. They tell themselves that others will take care of it. I’m talking theoretically here, but…maybe you and Lillian needed that push, that little extra something to spark the fire that’s burning so bright inside right now.”
Fire? That’s not what it felt like to her. “I feel weaker and more vulnerable than ever before. If there is a fire burning within me, then it’s hurting.”
Sam smiled softly. “That vulnerability will make you stronger. One day you’ll look back to this and understand.” After a moment to gather his thoughts, he tried to explain, “You grew up with faith surrounding you, with faith defined for you. Don’t take this the wrong way, but right now you have the possibility to redefine it for yourself. You’re in charge, creating a self and faith that’ll be unbreakable once you’ve made it through this dark valley.”
“How do you know I will come out on top?”
His smile widened. “I just do.”
Following the rising need, Abby stepped into his arms. Until that moment she hadn’t known that a hug had the power to hold her together when she wasn’t strong enough to do the job on her own.
“Don’t stop believing.”
Love, warm and reassuring, flooded her, and Abby pulled back slightly so she could see his face. Looking up at her handsome Sam, her rock, a smile broke out.
“There you go. I haven’t seen one of those in too long. I missed it.”
Smiling even wider, Abby rose on her tiptoes. When their lips were about to touch, he suddenly pulled away. With one small step backwards, he broke their embrace - and her heart.
Abby had come up with a few excuses for their stagnant relationship, for the fact that he kept his distance: their mission, being constantly surrounded by Wes and Dave. But now, seeing the look in his eyes she knew better. Nothing had happened between them simply because he didn’t want it, didn’t want
She kept her head low, not able to look at him as she heard him walk back inside. Alone and in a daze, Abby’s arms went around her middle as she tried to wrap her mind around what had just happened. But more so to hold the pain inside. Her thoughts raced, and one in particular made her heart squeeze. How would she handle the reality that he obviously only saw a friend in her, maybe even just a colleague? Could she even?
“We need to talk.”
Dave chose that moment to interrupt her much needed solitude.
Forcing herself to swallow the tears that were about to escape, Abby pulled all her strength together and turned around to face him. “About?”
“Her name is Sli.”
Ignoring her comment, Dave joined her at the railing and went straight to the point. “I don’t think it was a good idea to let her come along.”
Abby’d had about enough today, especially from men. “Have you looked at her? She can’t be older than twelve. Would you have preferred it if we’d just left her there? On her own?”
“Abby…” Dave ran a frustrated hand through his hair before looking at her as if she were mentally unstable. “We are talking about a demon here,
a little girl.”
“Then tell me what exactly is it we’re trying to achieve here? If you can’t even give a little demon girl the benefit of the doubt, then what the heck are you doing here?”
a little girl, she will kill you,” he snapped.
His outburst left her speechless. Emotional expressions were simply not his style, but from one moment to the next his usual poker face and calm were gone. That was what made Abby pause and take a closer look at him.
Too consumed in her own pain, she hadn’t noticed how agitated he was. One hand was on his hip while he seemed to pace on the spot. Abby knew then that she was missing something important.
“What’s going on, Dave? Talk to me.”
He didn’t look at her, but at his feet instead. “Sarah. She…” He cleared his throat before staring into the distance and probably seeing nothing at all. “We’d been a Guard for less than a year when one day, among all those lower demons and Ebonys, a little kid showed up.”
Abby’s stomach sank with an awful apprehension as it dawned on her where this was going. She had never heard Sarah’s story. One look at Sam was enough to see that the pain and guilt were still there, and it robbed her of any courage to ask.
“A little boy.” Shaking his head and probably the memory, Dave turned to face her. “Sarah hesitated, the demon didn’t. I don’t want history to repeat itself.” Pulling himself together, he tried to laugh but it sounded like he was choking instead. “Sam blames himself, although he couldn’t have changed a thing. So, I just want you to be careful. Sam doesn’t need another death on his conscience.”
Without giving Abby the chance to say anything at all, he left her much like Sam had - with her heart squeezing painfully and her head a mess. She wanted to call him back to thank him for opening up, knowing how much it must have hurt him. Dave loved Sarah, that much she knew. Her death had affected them all. Sam still shouldered guilt’s heavy weight, and while Dave had become more serious and quiet, Wes had chosen to live life at its fullest. In the end all of them were chased by the knowledge that it all could end in a heartbeat.
Sounds of fast approaching footsteps pulled her rudely out of her thoughts. Her senses went immediately on alert, but it was too late. Hands gripped her by the throat and hair. Knocked against the wall, the air exploded out of her lungs before she was forced back into the room.
Landing on her side, her hip flared with pain. Cursing her heart for clouding her senses, Abby looked up to see Megan sneering down at her.