Spell It Out
The first time Cassie ever cracked a book on witchcraft, she hadn’t really meant to learn anything. She just wanted to help her friends. She wanted to put a stop to the evil that was hurting people in her town.
The second time Cassie read a book on witchcraft, it was on purpose. It didn’t seem right to assume an entire practice was necessarily evil especially as common as it was. Rachel and Jake were so set on learning to fight and shoot. Marco was so set on learning all he could about demonology. They needed help for when their strength and their knowledge wasn’t enough.
She’d just have to battle for her purity.
When Cassie was caught with a pile of books on world religious practices, summonings, banishing, healing practices, and control spells, she said it was for research. Which was true. What she didn’t say was what she planned on doing with that research.
The first time Cassie used a spell, she saved Jake’s life with a banishment and shattered every object in the room but the one she’d banished the spirit to and knocked herself out.
Jake didn’t talk to her for a week.
The next time Cassie cast, Rachel begged her to while Jake and Marco argued in the other room. Because of her, the child was able to leave the hospital the next morning, feeling fine.
Her friends, however, weren’t okay until they’d drug her to the nearest priest for assurances that her body and soul were not compromised. To her amused surprise, the priest told them to be less closed-minded.
Cassie’s first tattoo was the demon-proofing sigil over her heart. Her friends had refused to have witchcraft embedded into their skin.
After Uryphe had possessed each one of them and wrecked their RV, Cassie calmly informed each of them that they had a choice between volunteering for tattoo or being tied down and forced to endure the procedure the next time they went to sleep.
Then the took her to a priest again.
Cassie’s second tattoo was an endless knot on her forearm, so she’d always have a mesmerizer on her without having to take the time to draw it. By the time the leaves were changing, it had become the team’s number one method of distracting ghosts. And it was Jake who went with her to get her next one, the arsenic symbol at the bottom of her throat.
After the coptic cross and the Eye of Providence, she added her fifth tattoo. But the borromean rings on her shoulder had nothing to do with witchcraft. It simply made her feel closer to her friends. She got it after the first time she told a stranger they were her family.
“If I’d known you were coming, I would have made a cake,” said Ellen, desperately searching her cabinets for ideas on the family dinner she insisted on having.
“They don’t want a cake, El,” said George, rolling his eyes from where he stood at the kitchen doorway, out of the way until called upon.
“Have you noticed that these things keep happening around your birthday?” she muttered off-hand, plucking out a box of rice and what appeared to be a can of soup.
“Really?” Rachel snorted.
“It’s completely escaped me until just now, Aunt Ellen,” Jake laughed.
Ellen shot him a look. Tom just watched them from where he sat, perched on a stool at the kitchen counter, chin rested on folded arms. When Jordan returned from the restroom, she looked miserable. She leaned briefly against George. “Hey, doll,” he greeted gently, rubbing her cropped hair lovingly. “Why don’t you go take a nap? Borrow Brooke’s bed.”
“Thanks,” she muttered, but didn’t move immediately. Rachel frowned at her but didn’t say anything.
“Rachel, come help me with this chicken?” Ellen called.
“Depends. Is this part of a ploy to make me good wife material?” Rachel asked with an entirely fake snarl, getting up.
“I’ll help,” Tom offered, standing.
“You will not! You sit back down, young man!”
“I really don’t—”
“Sit and relax. That’s an order. Rachel, kitchen.”
Rachel rolled her eyes and joined her aunt in the kitchen, pulling up her sleeves as she entered. At the sink, she paused and glanced mischievously back at Jake, who instantly tried to mentally run through all his recent screw ups. “Speaking of good wife material,” she drawled confidently.
Jake’s immediate response was to physically stop her, but George grabbed him by the shirt collar. “You are far too old to be wrestling each other over childish spats. Use your wo—.”
“Jake and Cassie got secret married after I died,” Rachel confessed.
Jake pulled George’s hand off his shirt. “Wanna try that out again?” Jake snapped.
George smacked him in the arm. “That was uncalled for,” he chastised as Jordan rolled her eyes and headed back to Brooke’s bedroom. “Apologize to your si— cousin.”
“Sorry,” Jake groaned, rubbing his arm.
“Now, explain what the hell she’s talking about.”
Jake continued rubbing his arm and glared at Rachel, before letting his eyes slide guiltily aside. “We’ve been together since we were thirteen. The idea of officially making each other something we couldn’t stand to lose…” Jake frowned and shrugged. “But you grow up and you start thinking about things like hospital privileges and taxes and legal standing… We just didn’t want to promise more than we could deliver. You know what our lives are.”
There were several significant looks exchanged in the room. Tom was just sort of watching him, and it made him shift uncomfortably. In all honesty, he couldn’t wait to— “That is the biggest pile of bullshit I’ve ever heard,” Ellen decided, hands on her hips. George hid a snicker behind a cough.
Rachel snorted. “Right? I can’t believe anyone married him, much less someone as level-headed and smart as Cassie.”
“It’s because we’re level-headed that we—!”
“Sssh. This conversation no longer involves you.”
Jake made a noise of complete disbelief.
“You’re getting real married or I will die of mortification at your sinful life,” Rachel insisted.
“That makes no sense!” Jake countered. “We are legally married, and neither of us fucked half of California.” He didn’t wait for George to chastise him before handing him his wallet.
“It’s not real without pretty dresses, Jake, no matter what the government says.”
“Hush, now, children,” George scolded them. “Jake, we don’t get a lot of happy memories with you. You really want to deny your loved ones the chance to celebrate something good in your life? Something actually working out the way it’s supposed to? You moving on with a good life, despite everything?”
“Yes,” Jake sulked, knowing he’d lost the argument.
“Oh my god, Ellen, that’s disgusting,” Rachel suddenly whined as Ellen shoved stuffing into the chicken.
“You spend your life murdering things, and you can’t handle a little stuffing?”
“Okay, first of all, there’s a difference between ‘kill’ and ‘murder’,” Rachel argued. “Secondly, I’ve never stuffed anything into the carcass.”
“Well, there was that time with the explosives,” Jake reminded her.
“Are you sure you wouldn’t like to become accountants or something?” Ellen asked. “The community college has a very successful program, I’ve heard.”
Rachel grinned and pulled Ellen close and kissed her forehead. “Sorry, Auntie Momma.”
Ellen scowled and continued with the preparations, gesturing for Rachel to start on vegetables. “Can’t blame me for trying.”
“We love you, too,” Jake and Rachel replied in eye-rolling unison.
“Don’t do that. It’s creepy,” George chided them.
Tom stood from the counter and made his way past George and Jake. “What’s up?” Jake asked.
“Just checking on the kids.”
“I’ll—” George started to offer, but Tom shook his head, waving him off tiredly as he continued down the hall.
George frowned after him then turned to Jake. “He’s not adjusting well.”
“What do you want me to do?” Jake asked. “He doesn’t remember any of this shit. I mean, look at him. Temrash never happened. Life and death never happened. He’s been ripped right out of the right before.
“We can’t help him with that. All we can do is pile on more weird. That’s why I brought him to you. For a normal life.”
“You think he can have a normal life in a house where the little girl he used to baby-sit is heading off to college?”
Jake shrugged. “It’s the best I can come up with,” he admitted.
George nodded solemnly. He had no better suggestion. “Is he protected?”
“As soon as Temrash was out, Cassie tattooed him. Left shoulder. It won’t show easily.”
George nodded. “And Temrash? Will he come back for him?”
Rachel shook her head. “Temrash and Uryphe, the demon that was in Zak, both bit it a couple nights back. Permanently. They didn’t really stand much chance against three angels.”
“And Sandalfon?” asked Ellen. “Where is he?” She clucked disapprovingly when Rachel raised an eyebrow at her. “Like I don’t know the difference between my distant niece and that self-assured snob.”
Rachel snorted and Jake smirked. “He’s been kicked, but Jordan’s not getting tattooed because she hasn’t decided the arrangement is permanent.”
George frowned. “Vessels can’t have tattoos?”
“I think some can,” said Jake. “But Sandalfon seems to be a lot pickier. We thought it was bullshit snobbery, but…”
“The vessel he borrowed to help out in the… recent confrontation needed to be taken to the hospital,” Rachel supplied.
“Hospital?” Ellen repeated.
“Got burned,” Jake summarized for her.
Ellen swore under her breath. “Language,” Rachel chastised.
Tom knocked on the door at the end of the hall. He had no more doors to try. When he received no reply, he tried opening it and found the handle oddly warm, almost hot. Frowning, he opened the door.
Jordan groaned from where she lay curled on the bed, a ring of faint brown charring surrounding her on the bedspread, facing away from the door. “You sent him away.”
“Sorry. Does Rachel know he’s still visiting?”
“I don’t care what she knows. Also, no.”
Tom glanced down the hall before closing the door behind him. “I don’t understand why you haven’t… hooked back up,” he said.
“Can’t. I’m broken.”
“I don’t think that’s true, Jordan.”
“I just puked Holy Oil earlier.”
Tom frowned. “There’s still some in you?”
“No. It was a miracle.”
He rolled his eyes. “There’s no need to be sar—.”
Jordan rolled onto her back, staring at the ceiling. “I’m not sure if I want him back anyway. I mean, I liked having him around, and he’s really good for saving their dumb asses. But…”
Tom frowned again. “But what?”
“Angels heal. All the time. Always. I’m not even sure ‘heal’ is the right word. Humans don’t. There are things that should be scarred over. There are things that should be left behind. There are things… simply not meant for us.”
Tom knelt next to her bed. “What was it like? When you came back?”
“More subtle than it was for you,” she admitted. “I didn’t remember dying. No one remembered that I had. My entry into the world came complete with lies and everyone already believing them.
“But my friends were suddenly older than me. They were grades ahead of me, and I had no memory of them getting there. They couldn’t explain why I was behind, either. Mom was constantly arguing with the bank. And Rachel was gone. Rachel looked older. We had no explanation.
“And then she died. She died, and I had no one to argue with. No way to continue to convince myself that everything was okay. And that was so alone and so confused. And Sara needed me, and I didn’t know what to tell her anymore. I needed to know. I needed a role. I needed… comfort.
“I started hearing voices. I started feeling these convictions that I had to do these weird things. Fires started up around me without reason. Appliances overheated suddenly. And Sara started talking about this friend she had. Knew her like a sister. They’d been so close, but she was gone now, and she didn’t know why, and it just sounded like an imaginary friend, except Sara was convinced and Sara was too old and Sara had evidence and…
“And then Sandalfon came. He never actually healed my memory, but I know the things he knows, and sometimes when I concentrate on the things he knows, I can see the people I used to be.
“But I’m tired of bring rewritten.” Jordan sighed and turned away again. “I’m just tired, really.”
“I’m sorry,” Tom muttered. “Shouldn’t have brought it up.” He stood again and turned to the door.
“Tom?” she called.
He turned back to her. “Yeah?”
“You can stay if you want.”
Friend Like Me
Erek was attending to his dogs. This in itself was not unusual. It was a fairly routine thing, feeding them, petting them, scratching behind their eager ears, being swatted with dozens of wagging tails. He was in the open meadow where he had taken to sheltering recently, and although he was by no means happy, he was at least distracted.
Until he felt it. Felt it with his whole body, his whole being. It was as sharp as the keening of an injured pup, and just as potent to the fairy. He leapt to his feet. The dogs didn’t seem to hear anything, which was odd. Erek realized why in a moment, when he realized what was calling him wasn’t a sound. It was very much like a sound, yes, but it wasn’t. It was a sharp tug, and an even sharper drop in the pit of his stomach, and he was off. He changed to his wolfhound form as he ran, dropping down to all fours and running as fast as he could in the direction of the feeling. The direction of the hunters’ camp.
He knew something was wrong before he arrived. He knew it as a wolf knows about his pack, and as something broken knows when it is about to be shattered once more.
When he arrived, he figured out what it was. There were monsters, so many monsters. Rachel stood in the middle of them, looking calm, focused, and full of energy. She fought with grace and discipline, and Erek looked on, his jaw on the floor. None of the other hunters were anywhere to be seen.
A figure approached him from the scrub, and the fairy faltered as he moved towards Rachel, seeking to aid her in whatever way he could.
From the bushes emerged Zak. His Zak. Whole, unmarked, happy. A smile pulled at his lips and the brightness of his eyes entranced Erek just as it had when they first met. He opened his mouth to speak, but no words came out.
“Erek,” Zak said, and he reached towards the other man. Instead of embracing him, or kissing him, he took his hand. Erek had almost forgotten the feeling of Zak’s hand in his. The rightness of it all was overpowering.
“Erek, you have to keep going. Walk towards Rachel. With me. Come on.” Zak said, and Erek, as if in a trance, agreed.
He continued forwards, towards the blond woman, who seemed to be the calm in the middle of the storm of monsters- monsters that, oddly enough, weren’t touching him or Zak. Something about this screamed wrongness in the far back of Erek’s mind, but he was not in the state of mind to care.
Zak’s hand squeezed Erek’s, bringing him back to the present. They walked, hand in hand, towards a Rachel that didn’t acknowledge their presence.
Suddenly, it was a different Rachel altogether. They were in a different setting, too, and the alarm bells started going off in the daoine sidhe’s head. This Rachel sat on a couch. Jake was beside her. They looked different, in a way it took Erek a moment to figure out. They looked younger, Not physically, but mentally. There were no lines of hurt or suffering on their faces. For the first time, he became aware of another presence besides his and Zak’s. Jake, the Jake he knew, the Jake with responsibility and sorrow etched deeply into the fibres of who he was, was beside him. He didn’t look as clear as the Jake on the couch did.
Blurry-Jake didn’t speak, but Erek heard the thought, loud and clear.
“I just want her to be okay.”
Zak pulled him along again, “Come on, there isn’t much time,” he said and Erek looked at him.
He got no reply.
They moved again, towards the pair of happy cousins sitting on the couch, and the vision flickered again.
They were at a diner, not an unusual place for them to be. The whole team was seated around a table. They ate and drank and laughed and Erek was absolutely, positively sure that something was going to happen. Something extraordinary. An attack, or maybe even a good thing, maybe even a positive moment.
No such thing happened. It was an average, boring day.
A faded Marco watched from Erek’s left side.
The vision shattered, and Erek was beginning to catch on. This was what they wanted. This was what each of the hunter’s desired. And the saddest part was that nothing they wanted was so extraordinary. They wanted normalcy. They wanted health. They wanted safety, and to be together. And as much as they wanted it, they got it rarely enough in their actual lives for it to be their one true desire.
Erek let out a yelp like an injured dog, and Zak looked him in the eyes.
“I know. I know. It’s hard, but we will get through this. Together.”
The fairy didn’t know where the strength came from. It felt like it flowed from their intertwined fingers. But he moved on, looking around at this next vision.
The hunters were older, at least in their late thirties. There wasn’t much difference between this hope and Marco’s, except for the age. Erek came to the realization that this meant that they had survived.
He looked to his left, and found Cassie, Cassie as she was actually, holding a hand to her mouth. Tears were in her eyes. He saw the flicker of a knife, and blood appeared on her arm. Something was happening, something very bad. He forged onwards.
The next vision was completely unlike any of the others. He was flying, somehow. Zak’s hand was still in his. Below them circled a bird, some sort of hawk, by the look of it, though Erek wasn’t as good with birds as he was with dogs.
Tobias stood next to him, several hundred feet in the air. Except, it wasn’t Tobias. There was something. Erek wasn’t sure what, but there was definitely something that tipped him off and he saw that this was the host. Alex.
“I always wanted to fly away,” came a soft thought from the translucent man.
And then everything turned to chaos.
He was flashing through bits of visions, visions from all the hunters, Zak’s hand still in his. Zak himself was starting to flicker like a hologram. Tattooed, humanoid creatures flashed in and out of view, and they were feeding- actually feeding- on his friends.
Zak was fading quickly now.
“What’s happening?” Erek asked, his voice high with panic.
“You can handle it,” Zak replied.
“You said you would stay!” Erek exclaimed, his face a mask of anger and pain, so much pain.
“You know that I lie,” said Zak, with the same almost blank expression he had worn when he had told Erek that he didn’t love him. The corner of his lip twitched up in a smirk eerily reminiscent of the Mockingbird’s.
Erek howled, a long, anguished howl. He felt his claws extending, though he wasn’t doing it consciously. The claws ripped through Zak’s hand, but when he tore his hand away and looked at it, there was no blood. Zak had never been there.
He saw around him the enemies. Djinn. Many of them, too many to count even if Erek had bothered to slow down before launching himself, half-shifted, at the nearest one.
Blood ran down his throat like poison.
When he came to, the taste of gore was still strong. He was covered in blood- none of it his own- and surrounded, completely surrounded, with body parts.
Immediately, without pausing to process what had occurred, he began to cry, Sobs that wracked his entire body. He looked down at his hand, and remembered the sensation of Zak’s fingers against his, and saw the blood, drying on his fingers, and sobbed harder.
Around him, the hunters were gathering, having slowly extracted themselves from the carnage. Every pair of eyes was wide, and it took several long moments for anyone to react at all.
Rachel clapped her hands together once, louder than loud in the clearing, and then froze as Erek began to hyperventilate.
She stayed there with her hands pressed together. The rest of the team stayed there as well, not doing a single thing.
Finally, blessedly, Cassie stepped forward. She placed a warm hand on Erek’s upper arm.
Erek winced away from her touch, rose to his bloodied feet, and ran.
He didn’t look back.