Thought you had all the answers,
To rest your heart upon
But something happens,
Don't see it coming, now,
You can't stop yourself
Now you're out there swimming,
In the deep
In the deep
- Bird York, In the Deep
Ichabod came awake slowly, each sense coming alert in an orderly single file. The first awareness to overwhelm him was the incredible ache in his limbs. Every muscle felt wrung out like a dishrag; ever joint ached like the onset of typhus fever. He was lying on his back. His spine and tailbone were wracked with shooting pains, though he had not yet moved. His eyelids scratched across his irises like sandpaper as they rolled in their sockets, as he attempted to get his bearings. Pine needles were beneath him, and the boughs of their brethren trees shrouded his view of anything directly above him. All around him he could hear faint…whispers. Moans. Appeals for salvation and bitter weeping. The clinking of iron and the fracturing of the bone swam around him as if they were the most normal sounds in the world.
Like slippery eels, the appalling sounds ebbed and flowed, slinking through the cracks in the densely-clustered trees. Shakily, apprehensively, warily, he shoved aside the pine boughs and gained his feet. He surveyed where he stood as he brushed the clumps of needles from his long wool coat and beige trousers. In every direction there were small breaks in the trees – each large enough for one, perhaps two people to cross through without brushing against their branches. Beyond each opening, all Ichabod could determine was thick, opaque mist. Something niggled at the back of his mind; he recognized this place…why couldn't he remember…
He turned in a slow, stiff circle, his gaze alighting on each pathway. Each and every direction appeared the same. The horrible noises of death and dying came from all sides, making all paths unanimously unappealing. His booted feet made little noise on the carpet of pine needles as he wandered a few steps to the right, before circling back and heading to the far left. In his gut, Ichabod felt with certainty that it hardly mattered which path he took; all would eventually lead to misery. So there was no point in further delaying the inevitable.
At the sound of her voice, Ichabod froze in his tracks. His entire frame locked like a startled colt's – in astonishment, he felt his knees begin to tremble. His ears strained and his breath held. Listening…hoping…
"…Ichabod…?" (Ichabod?...Ichabod?...Ichabod?...) The sound reverberated in the hazy air, the single name overlapping thrice before fading away once more.
Crane spun, now certain that it was Abbie's voice that he'd heard. Her cadence has been soft, familiar, and exquisitely gentle. But it had indeed been hers.
"Lieutenant?" He breathed.
There was a beat of silence. The moans and groans of lost souls resumed their hellish canter as he waited. Then there she was again.
"I'm here!" (I'm here!...I'm here!...I'm here!...) Her voice was gentle, coaxing – yet insistent.
The sound came from Ichabod's right side. She sounded no more than a few fathoms beyond the trees.
"I'm coming!" He shouted as he crashed through the foliage, following her fading echo. "Where are you?"
Her voice now came from his left. Ichabod redirected his course, hardly caring to slow down. All of his energy was focused on following her voice.
Her final call faded away just as Ichabod crashed through the final ring of trees. He blinked, awestruck by the change in his surroundings. He was standing in a small, beautiful clearing; a polar opposite of the forest that surrounded him. Buttery sunlight spilled down upon waves of lush green grass, and a colorful, red robin flew past his ear to land on a small shrub. Fluffy, white clouds rolled lazily across an impeccable blue sky above him, and a gentle breeze swayed the patchwork of daisies, poppies, and blue violets that peeked out from the grasses. Ichabod straightened his coat as his eyes soaked in the incredible beauty.
"I'm right here, Ichabod." Abbie stood to the left of him, as calm and casual as if she'd been there all along. Ichabod could hardly believe his eyes. Surrounded by the warm glow of the perfect summer day, her beauty shone like the sun upon him. Her chocolate eyes were large and luminous as they ever were, her skin smooth and supple, and her full lips a beautiful shade of rose. Dark kohl lined her eyes, accenting her thick black lashes. She wore form-fitting black trousers and a low-cut crimson blouse. The shirt was equally form-fitting, accentuating her obvious female attributes. Ichabod would have averted his eyes had he not been so utterly entranced at the sight of her. She cracked a stunning, white-toothed grin as she sauntered towards him. The smug swing of her hips was as pronounced as ever, and she strutted confidently until she was inches away from him.
"You trying to catch flies?" She murmured. Her voice was low, as if they were sharing a juicy secret, just the two of them. This broke Ichabod's reverie, and he graciously shut his mouth.
"I'm, well, um…,"
She giggled at his obvious discomfort. Ichabod's brow creased. He was uncertain how to interpret her giddiness. He let it slide, however, when her expression sobered and she delicately grasped his forearm.
"I'm so happy you're here, Ichabod." Her words came out as a soft, feminine sigh. He had never heard her use such a breathy cadence, nor had she ever looked at him as she did now. Her direct gaze, brimming with unabashed desire, pinned his and rendered him nearly speechless.
"I was beginning to think that you wouldn't come for me." She looked down, her admission making her turn shy. Ichabod frowned. Abbie had never "turned shy" in his presence, that he could recall. And he was admittedly exceptional at recalling such details. However, her simple sentence made his memories of this place immediately come flooding back to him.
"Yes." He grasped her fingers where they lay on his arm, comprehension dawning. "This is purgatory. I left you here in order to bring Katrina back to the mortal realm, so that she could invoke a binding spell upon the Horseman of War…" He trailed off as his memories became more fuddled.
"Why can't I remember what happened after?" he murmured to himself. His hand dropped from Abbie's as he tried desperately to recall…
"Who cares." Abbie's hold on his arm tightened infinitesimally, bringing Ichabod's gaze back to her. Her tone had been low and serious, almost threatening. But her smile was bright as she gazed up at him.
"I mean," she began again, her tone lighter and more casual. "…it's alright that Katrina's gone. You have me now." She leveled her gaze at him. "I'm the second Witness. I'm destined to be with you for eternity…not her." She sighed, and raised herself up, closer to him. Ichabod couldn't move, much less breathe, as her lips suddenly hovered mere inches from his. He was certain his mouth could have won against a desert for how dry it was.
"Don't you want me, Ichabod?" She breathed intimately, her kitten-like voice all innocence and longing.
Ichabod stared. He had never heard Abbie address him by his Christian name so recurrently. She had only first called him by it when they'd been saying goodbye in purgatory; before he'd left her and taken Katrina to freedom. The memory hit him in full force, ripping his focus away from the beautiful woman in front of him. He remembered, in painful detail, the rigidity of Abbie's posture as he'd embraced her. She had trembled once as he held her, but when she'd pulled away he could read nothing in her countenance but strength and unfailing faith in him. Her eyes, though they shone with moisture, had shed not a single tear. He remembered feeling a burning sense of pride towards her – she'd carried herself not only as a woman of grace and beauty, but as a soldier. Her strength, so brute in one so small, had kept all other emotions in check. The only endearment she'd shared with him was when she had called him "Ichabod", rather than the usual "Crane."
The gravity of the moment had justified her using his first name. It was an endearment, and a weighted one. He never called her by her Christian name either, as the significance of when he'd first called her "Abbie" weighed heavily on them both, and he did not wish to so lightly brush it off.
He refocused on the Abbie before him. As he compared her with the one he remembered leaving here…there was something uncomfortably wanting. Something he could not quite put his finger on. Why was she suddenly so keen on calling him by his first name? And so informally? He drew away from her slightly as an alarm bell, small but growing rapidly louder, sounded in his head. Something glinted in her eyes as she noticed him try to distance himself, and her hand on his arm tightened to hurting. Ichabod's eyes narrowed. He became suddenly aware that the forest around them had gone deathly still and quiet. No birds chirped, no insects moved. The wind had died. Even the sounds of death, so persistent in all parts of purgatory, could no longer be heard.
"Why are you doing that?" Ichabod looked down pointedly to where she clenched his arm.
"Doing what." She murmured from between closed teeth.
His tone brooked no argument, but she did not yield.
Her features contorted until they resembled something akin to despondence.
"Why are you being so mean to me?" She wheedled pathetically as she gripped him all the tighter.
"You are not Miss Mills." He growled as he pulled at his arm. His efforts had absolutely no effect on her supernatural grasp.
"Ha!" Abbie – or the thing that resembled her – threw its head back and laughed once at the sky. "Oh, Ichabod…" Her legs snapped and stretched like trees, growing to an impossible height in seconds so that she loomed over him. He looked on in horror. The sky dimmed to black and her silhouette sprouted horns.
"Gotcha…" A demonic voice, chilling in its familiarity, snarled down at him.
Ichabod's throat tightened in fear.
The demon growled.
"Katrina cannot protect you now."
Like trigger, Moloch's voice brought back the memories Ichabod had been grasping at since he'd arrived; everything that had conspired once he and Katrina had escaped purgatory. Every precise detail was clear as crystal in his mind's eye. Henry – his son's – complete betrayal. Katrina's abduction. His entombment.
The realization that his naïveté, his blind desire to have Katrina once again in his arms, had left him trapped in the earth and her a victim to the horseman of death – presumably for all eternity – was unbearable. And worst of all horrible consequences, his actions had resigned Abbie to a very real eternity in purgatory. That was if she managed to survive Moloch for that long.
The memory was so concrete, so agonizing in its detail, that Ichabod felt as if he was going to be physically sick. Moloch laughed once, as if he could sense the incredible depth of his regrets. In one fluid motion, the demon lifted Ichabod by one arm and, like a child's broken toy, hurled him to the other side of the clearing. Ichabod felt the air whistling past at blinding speed, before he crashed into a wall of trees. The numerous branches softened the blow, and the pine needles provided a cushion to land on as he tumbled to the ground, dazed and breathless. He felt the vibrations of Moloch's footsteps beneath him as he drew near.
"You. Are. Mine!" The demon let loose an unholy roar as Ichabod scrambled to his feet and took off running.
Tree branches scratched at his clothes and hair like claws as he fought his way through the thick clumps of pines. The undulating carpet of needles made his footing unsteady, and he barely avoided tripping over protruding roots in the near-darkness. The footsteps and growling behind him seemed to draw nearer and nearer with each passing second, and Ichabod knew that he could not outrun the demon – not for long, anyways.
Hey y'all! Okay, so I wrote this one super-quick, so it's really sloppy, and not fully finished. 1-2 more chapters coming up! Enjoy & review, but be gentle please. I know that it's pretty sloppy. :)