There were no men waiting for her when Annie finally crossed through her door. There were no sticks and rope to be afraid of. There was only her corridor, and little Eve, and grown Eve all waiting for her. With the baby in her arms again, Annie was ready to say goodbye. She could move on with a clear conscience and faith that the world would be all right without her. She had completed her unfinished business and it was time for her to see her friends again.
The light, when she stepped into it, was a warm and welcome embrace. Annie could feel her smile stretch impossibly wide as her vision came into focus and her surrounds became clear. The room she was in was wide and open, the reception hall where her grandparents had held their 50th wedding anniversary. She spared no more than a passing moment to take it all in before the waiting crowd enveloped her.
At the front were George and Nina, but their eyes were only for Eve. Annie laid the squirming bundle of baby into Nina's arms and there were tears in everyone's eyes at the reunion. George's lips formed words of gratitude, even if he could not make the sounds pass his lips. Annie nodded and watched as he wrapped himself around his family for the first time in too long.
After that it was a tidal wave of loved ones that washed over Annie; her Nannie Sawyer and both of her mother's parents, her cousin Jackie who had died in a car crash when she was 17. People she had missed and some that she had only ever heard stories about had all come to see her home. All but the one person that she was certain would have been the first to reach her.
Annie scanned the crowd in front of her, searching for an unmistakable head of dark, curly hair. Her Nan was chattering away again, but Annie had already stopped listening. She rolled onto her toes to get a better look over the heads around her.
A thought settled into her mind that perhaps he did not want to see her, that he could not forgive the consent that she had given for his death. Her heart had not beat in years, and yet she could feel it racing now at the thought.
Her eyes found George and Nina again, and she was grateful to see them making their way towards her and she broke away from the crowd to meet them.
"Where's Mitchell?" She cut off George's greeting, the question springing from her like a reflex. There would be time for a proper hello after her mind had been put at ease.
The look shared between her friends did nothing to help her building panic attack.
George laid a hand on her shoulder. "He's not here Annie."
And just like that her world came to an end again. "He doesn't want to see me." She could feel herself crumbling. She wrapped her arms around her middle, a poor attempt to hold herself together. "And why would he?"
George shook his head and bent to look her in the face. "No. No, Annie. I mean he's not here. At all. I've looked." He straightened and sent a quick glance to Nina and the baby.
Nina tried to explain where George was failing. "None of them are. The vampires."
Annie could see that there was more to say more, but George pushed on first. "Do you remember when he died?" It was less than a second before he answered his own question, working himself into a ramble. "Of course you do. Not that you want to, I'm sure. I know that I don't. It doesn't matter if it's what he wanted, I still hate myself for doing it."
Nina's hand in his stopped him short and he took a deep breath before continuing. "There wasn't a door. Not for Mitchell. I've been asking around since I got here and I think I might know why." He paused for a moment, taking in the people still lingering around them. "Later. We'll talk later."
Annie wanted to protest. To demand that he tell her everything, and now. She had waited so long, sacrificed so much, to get this point. She could wait a bit longer. But there would be no eternal rest, not without Mitchell. It felt like a lifetime ago that she had declared herself to be his guardian angel. She would find him, wherever he was, and she would bring him home. On that she was settled.
"That's horrible. Why would you even say that?" Annie turned her back to George. In part because the idea was beyond repugnant, and in part because she feared that it might be true.
"I know, Annie, I know. But what other reason could there be?" She could hear in his voice how much the thought pained him. She took a deep breath to ground herself before turning back around.
She took a deep breath to steady her. The rules were different in this place; she was different. As a ghost existing in the world of the living breathing had been a habit, a memory, but not a necessity. Now, she could feel the air in her lungs, feel the action as it calmed her.
Half a day had passed since her journey through the door, or as near to it as she could tell with how time moved on this plane. George had promised her answers and she would have them or burst from the waiting.
"Hell? Really?" There was a desperate note to her voice that Annie had hoped to never use again. "How are we supposed to get him out of Hell?"
"Maybe we don't." Nina did not take her eyes from little Eve as she spoke and Annie hoped that it was guilt that kept the once-werewolf from meeting her eye.
"And what's that supposed to mean?" Annie glared hard at her best friend but Nina did not flinch when she finally looked up.
George was quick to interject before more could be said. "What she means is, what if we can't? What if it's impossible?" His voice began to raise in octaves and Annie allowed herself a small smile at his squeak. She had missed him. "We can't just walk into Hell and pick him like a puppy in a shop. The Devil's not gonna ring you a receipt." He threw his hands in the air, at a loss. "It's mental, the whole idea of it."
Impossible or not, Annie had to try. Mitchell had crossed planes to save her once and she would do the same for him or die trying.
That thought gave her pause. Could a ghost die in Purgatory? She felt more real, more solid, that she had since dying.
Shaking her head, she pushed the notion aside to focus on the problem before them. She was not afraid to die again. Not for Mitchell. She had lost him once, had let him go, but she had always believed that he would be waiting for her when her time truly came. She had thought that death would offer him peace, not an eternity of torment.
George had moved back to Nina's side and Annie watched them together. They were a family again and they were whole now. She could not ask them to risk any more for her or Mitchell. "You're right. It was a silly idea." The laugh she gave sounded forced to her own ears and she could see that George was not buying it. "We don't even know if that's where he is." She gave a shrug, trying to be nonchalant and failing.
"Annie." George's tone was imploring, asking for so much in a single word.
She understood, she did.
"I've got to go." She was inching her way to the door of the little room they had sequestered themselves into. "So many people to see, so much catching up to do."
"Annie." He knew. She knew he knew.
"No, no. S'alright." She cast one last look to the baby in Nina's arms. The daughter that had almost called Annie mother. "I'm just going to find a friend. I'll be back later."
She did not look back as she stepped through the door, afraid to see the pity that was sure to be on George's face.
The room was the same as she remembered it; walls all covered with a life cut short; bed made, but not used. It was also empty, until suddenly it was not.
"Didn't think I'd ever see you again."
Annie turned and smiled at the owner of the room. "Hello, Lia."
They stood staring at one another for a handful of long, drawn out moments before Annie could take the silence no longer. She had never been very good with silence.
"I need your help." She knew that Lia was probably the last person that would want to help Mitchell, but the list of those that would was not a long one.
"I see." The young woman settled herself onto the bed, her back propped up by the metal headboard. "And here I thought you'd popped round for more girl talk."
"I need you to teach me how to watch people." Time meant nothing to the dead, but Annie had not been away from the world of the living for very long and she could feel every second ticking by.
"Sorry?" The laugh that Lia let out was genuine and lacked the harsh edge of the girl that had been bent on revenge.
Annie pointed a ringed finger at the tiny pink telly across the room. "Like how you showed me George and Mitchell. How did you do that?"
"Oh that." The girl on the bed waved her hand dismissively. "Practice. Anyone can do it." She let a sigh and shrugged. "Gets a bit boring here after a while. Watching the living is a great way to pass the time."
Annie was quiet a moment as she processed this. "And the dead? Can you watch the dead as well?"
Lia eyed her anew, squinting as if seeing her for the first time. "You're looking for him, aren't you?" Her laugh this time was the bitter sound that Annie remembered. "You won't find him here. His kind have their own special place."
"Can you help me find him?" Annie grasped the thought with both hands, ignoring the look of disgust on the other girls face.
"Why would I? He's where he belongs." Lia's gaze drifted to the bright window, even though nothing could be seen through it. "He can't kill anyone anymore." Her eyes cut back to Annie's, her look almost accusing. "You agreed that he should die, I saw it. So why shouldn't he spend eternity in the Hell that he's helped to build."
"It wasn't like that. I love him. I never stopped loving him." Standing still was creating an itch under her skin and Annie rubbed at her arms as she started to pace. "He finally took responsibility for his actions, he accepted the consequences, and I am proud of him beyond words. How many other vampires can say that? How many humans, for that matter?"
"I'll not help you." Lia stood, but made no move to close the distance between them. "I won't set my killer free and how dare you ask me to."
There was no filling the silence between them now and Lia's words laid a heavy guilt upon her. Eyes cast to the floor, Annie gave a nod and turned for the door. She had not really believed the other girl would help her. It had been a long shot to begin with.
Hand on the door nob, Annie turned at the sound of her name. "You seem like a really great person. What do you even want with him anyway?"
She did not turn around to answer. "You only saw him at his worst, but I got to see him at his best." Just the thought of those happy times brought tears to her eyes and she had to sniffle before continuing. "Can you imagine how hard it is for a creature that was born to feed on blood to be anything but a killer? Eight years may not be long in the whole of existence, but for a vampire that's gone dry every day is an eternity." she wiped the tears from her cheeks and finally turned to face the other girl. "The fact that he even tried, that he wanted to try, should tell of how great a man he truly was. He does not deserve to be punished for that."
This time it was Lia that looked away.
"I still won't help you," her eyes flashed up to Annie's for a moment, "but Gilbert is waiting for you. You were right, he is nice." The bitter girl was melting away again and for that, Annie was thankful. "He's the one that told me about where the vampire's go. He knew that you would want to know." There was a note of apology in her voice as she finished. "I was supposed to send you his way if I saw you first."
The thought of Gilbert, sweet Gilbert, still wanting to help her brought a bright smile to Annie's face. The first since she had realized that Mitchell wasn't waiting for her.
Crossing the room in quick strides, Annie wrapped her arms around Lia causing the girl to let out an exclamation of surprise at the embrace. "Thank you." Even if she had not shown Annie where Mitchell was, even if she had planned to keep Gilbert's message to herself, in the end, Lia had given Annie exactly what was needed: hope.
Hell had always been his end game. Mitchell had known where he would end up even as he agreed to be changed. Locked in his cage, tortured as he was, he could not make himself regret the sacrifice that had led him to this place.
At first he had been forced to relive the deaths of all the people that he had killed. The images replayed over and over around him. They played on the backs of his eyelids when he tried to shut them out. Then the memories began to warp, began to twist into events that had never happened, and that was worse.
He saw Josie as she had been when he had first met her. Saw himself tear her throat out, just as Herrick had wanted him to. He saw himself living with Annie. Vibrant and alive Annie, until he drained her dry at the top of the stairs, her limp body falling to the bottom, her lifeless eyes staring into nothing. He saw the two together, hating him; condemning him. But no one could hate John Mitchell more than he hated himself.
His corner of Hell looked like his jail cell in Barry; with brick walls, a solid door scratched with the writing of past inhabitants, and a window that looked out onto nothing. This was where he belonged. This was what he deserved. In the moments when the images became too much, when he thought about lashing out or trying to break free, he would see Annie again. His Annie, as she had been, so disgusted and disappointed with him, begging him to stay where the world would be safe from him.
He had not listened to her before, he had left with Herrick. He was always following Herrick in the end, even into Hell.
The weight of her gaze would push him back down as it had not previously, would keep him curled in the corner of his cell. He did not know how much more he could take. All that he knew was the blood, the death that he had caused, would have caused, could have caused. Every painful memory, every agonizing image that crossed his mind, was his own and he had earned each and every one of them.