Disclaimer: I don't own them, more's the pity.
Note: Spoilers for ODW. Not intended to be a sequel to Burned,another one-off piece.
Let Sleeping Witches Lie
It was far, far too early - or late - for there to knocking at my door, but there it was. I'd ignored it for as long as I could, but five minutes of steady tap-tap-tap's was enough to drive any witch to murder, and for a witch without sleep, it was an even shorter ride.
I hung on to my dignity by threads as I stumbled out of bed – studiously ignoring my own terrifying reflection – but lost it somewhere between the hallway and the kitchen. I stubbed my toe on something and thought about cursing it into the ever-after, but it was going to be so much more satisfying cursing whoever was at my door instead.
"Hold your freaking horses!" I exclaimed, still halfway asleep and pissed to not be all the way there. Whoever it was that needed me up this early had better have a pretty damn good reason, I thought, limping into a side table and almost knocking over three things in my way. So I wasn't at my best in the morning, so what. Who was?
The air had started to get that brittle edge that only a December chill give it; we'd see snow for sure this year. This meant that Jenks and his brood would soon be in my church and I would soon be out of my mind. It was a fair trade for their lives but I was sure that one of these days it was going to drive me batty.
I took a quick look outside as I was avoiding further obstacles – chairs, counters, cracks in the floor, etc –and only a faint light had touched the sky yet. It was no witch at my door, not at this hour. That left vampires, humans.. elves. A spike of adrenaline shot through me, effectively waking me. I hadn't seen Ceri in a while; undoubtedly she was busy with Quen and I'm sure Trent was having too much fun poking and prodding her to let her out of his sight, but maybe she'd run into a bit of trouble? God I hoped not. I'd had about as much as I could take of fixing elf problems.
Grumbling wholeheartedly at being out of my nice, warm blankets, I yanked open the door, ready to castrate the person on the other side. I let the first thing I'd planned to say die though. It wasn't Ceri, but I hadn't been too far off; it was Trent.
My first instinct was to slam the door in his face, which is exactly what I tried to do. Someone's boot got in the way though. I think my head must have still been in my pillow because I frowned down at it and tried to push it back out of the way with my bare toes, then glared when it refused to budge. If it was too early to deal with regular clients it was definitely too early to deal with Trent.
I transferred my glare to his face just fast enough to catch him scrutinizing me like a bug under glass, an expression he quickly wiped away. He opened his mouth to say something but I beat him to the punch. Figuratively speaking.
"Trent, you'd better have a good reason your shoe is in the way of my door of I'm gonna break it off. Capiche?"
He flushed, looking bothered, and I felt a flash of satisfaction. Trent may be one of the most powerful men this side of the lines, but I scared the piss out of him when he thought about it and spent the rest of the time annoying him every which way to Sunday. Life was good.
"Morgan." He said finally, perfectly even face telling me just how irritated he was. Very. "We're sorry to wake you. We've just come from-"
"I don't care where you've come from." I interrupted, being childish, knowing it, not caring. "Go back to wherever it was. I, unlike the rest of your species, sleep at this time of day, and don't appreciate this kind of wake-up call. Go take a flying leap back to your gardens before I-"
"Rachel." A low voice interrupted and I glanced over Trent's shoulder, bothered in turn by being cut off. Quen gazed back at me disapprovingly from Trent's left. I felt the urge to stick my tongue out at the man and only barely suppressed it. Quen was no fun sometimes, especially when he was doing Trent's bidding. "We're looking for Ceridwyn," he continued. "She's not at home and it was suggested she might have come to speak to you. Is she here?"
I blinked, my mind churning away. Coffee. I needed coffee. I couldn't be having this conversation otherwise. Without answering I waved a hand and turned my back on them to stumble, muttering, back to my kitchen. Let them stay or go - I could count on my recent favors with the both of them to keep me safe for at least long enough to get a cup of coffee. I think.
I clicked on the coffeemaker, yawning hugely, and padded over to a chair, pulling it underneath me with one foot and flopping down into it. Let them stand in the doorway if they wanted but I was tired, damnit, and aside from Trent's boot, I'd not be having this conversation.
"Rachel?" Quen prompted, and I glanced over. They were still in the doorway, actually, which made me grin. Trent shifted under my look and my grin widened. Okay, so maybe he was a murdering jerk who distributed illegal drugs worldwide, but when he reminded me of a scolded schoolboy, how could I not laugh?
"She's not here." I said finally, propping my chin on my fist. "If she's not home maybe she's gone for a walk. Or to the church." I glanced around and grimaced. "Not this church."
Quen looked unhappy with this answer but I could hardly tell him the truth. It was midweek; that meant Al was free, of me at least. Ceri wasn't here, wasn't home, wasn't at Trent's compound (obviously). That didn't leave many options, to be honest, but ten to one odds that if she were 'working off her debt', so to speak, Keasley wouldn't have let anyone in, regardless of who it was. Quen might know; actually, from the look on his face he probably did, but Trent sure didn't. And as much as the idea still bothered me, with things as they stood I was hardly in a position to throw stones at Ceri's choices.
"You'll have to take your search somewhere else, and don't expect me to see you out. I won't get to sleep for hours now, and don't think I won't blame you for that Trent." I scowled, curbing the urge to do something really childish like point accusing fingers by a narrow margin. I wasn't five anymore, but Trent brought out the worst in me, he always had. He scowled back at me, expression black, speculative, and unease shifted through me. Quen might have come here looking for Ceri but Trent had come for more than that. My throat tingled in remembered pain at our last meeting; he'd tried to strangle me. I eyed him fiercely, letting him know that I was perfectly happy to see him for round two, fully , er, mostly rested and brimming with ever-after.
"Sa'han?" Quen gestured, tipping the door open further behind them and Trent hesitated. I felt my eyebrows lift. Didn't want to turn his back on me, the slimy elf?
"Sa'han?" Quen asked again, and again Trent paused in indecision. My eyebrows couldn't get any higher. Either he wasn't really sure what else he was looking for when he came here, or he didn't want to get into it in front of Quen. Either way I don't think I wanted to have anything to do with it and smirked at him to tell him so. Determination slid across his features and my smile disappeared. Damn. I really needed to stop goading him. It always seemed to end with him laughing and me wiping the skid marks off my dignity.
"Give me a minute, Quen." Trent said finally, and my chin slipped off my fist. Ow. My mind immediately flew to my splat gun, already loaded, but two rooms away. I wasn't afraid of him - more like, disgusted - but the man had tried to strangle me before, and pseudo-respect or not, I could hardly count on Quen to stop his precious Sa'han if Trent really got it in his head to try again. Not that I was too worried. Trent was too afraid of me to try it face-to-face (I think), or if he wasn't, I could certainly reacquaint him with the feeling.
Quen didn't look happy about this little development either, but with a black glance at me, which I returned with my best shit-eating grin, he backed out of the doorway and took the short walk back to the idling limo out front. Guess Trent didn't worry too much about car theft. He could probably just buy another. Or three.
"Well?" I promoted, after a too-long silence. I was starting to squirm, adrenaline burning away the last of my sleepiness. The coffee seemed redundant now, all my attention sharply focussed on the elf in front of me, each sense - especially the witchy ones - attuned.
It took him a second to work up to it, but it was with a faint hint of accusation that he said, "You're learning demon magic, from the… from him. Don't think I've forgotten. I want some assurance you're not going to use what you learn against me or my kin."
I stared at him for a second, perhaps just this side of not-awake to really get it, but when that passed, I felt anger boil up. "Hey!" I exclaimed, "I made that deal to save your little elf ass! What I get from it and how I use it is none of your business! And you can bet your crappy little garden and every stable you own that I will use it against you if you ever make me!" It was too early to be having this conversation. Like, centuries too early. Like, it should never have been had. Like, ever.
Trent looked mulish, but I didn't care, snapping off the coffee maker and getting myself a cup with sharp motions. You just couldn't please some people, God. The man could influence entire cities, a fact that absolutely pissed me off, but he was worried about what I was going to do in my little corner of his backyard. Controlling freak of nature.
"Whatever he's teaching you, it's not worth your soul." He frowned, fidgeting, perhaps trying to think of a way to impart this all-important fact to me. I rolled my eyes, downing the caffeine like a lifeline. Like I needed to be told about the dangers of demons - hell according to him, I was the closest thing to one this side of the lines! "Whatever deal you made, you need to find a way out of it. Every time you go with him you put everyone here in danger. You put yourself in danger."
"Oh stuff it." I hissed, frustrated. Like Trent was one to talk about putting people in danger. "I have one less mark than I did before all this started, the demon that was trying to kill me is teaching me everything he knows, my friends are safe, you have your stupid sample, and I'm no longer confined to my church every day after sundown! My life could hardly have gotten worse, and this time, it actually improved quite a bit, so you can just shut up about it, okay!"
"You can't trust him Morgan," he insisted, looking put-upon. "You're playing with fire letting him near you. He'll trick you into going with him and he won't let you go. I was there, I saw how they treat their FAMILIARS." He looked away and I felt all my anger disappear like smoke. It was hard – for a second – to remember why I didn't like Trent. I'd seen enough to know there was so much more to the man than I'd ever really wanted to consider. It was hard to hate a man that would give up his life, even his soul, to carry out his ideals. And they were honorable ideals, even if his actions were dishonorable. I scowled, angry at myself suddenly. Why couldn't I just make up my mind and stick to it? Why did it all have to get so complicated? Because it is complicated, I thought despondently. Trent and I were too much alike. If he was evil, I was worse, and I didn't want to believe that.
"Look, Trent," I said wearily. "I told Quen to tell you, but.. I'm really sorry about what happened in the ever-after." He looked skeptical, so I stood up abruptly, agitated, wanting him to believe me, needing him to.
"Really. I'm sorry for what happened to you there. I wouldn't wish it on anyone, not my worst enemy, and... you're better than that." His eyes widened at my confession and it was my turn to look away. "You're still a murderer and I'd still like to see you behind bars some day. You makes choices based on what's easiest for you, and people in the way always seem to get hurt. But.. I'm not perfect either." It hurt me to admit that, to this man. But, however grudgingly, I respected him on some level now. In a lot of ways he seemed like.. the darker side of me. The side I didn't want to see but knew I had. What wouldn't I do to save my friends and family? The things he'd already done. The things he'd tried to do. It was different. It was. But it was so close to the same it shamed me.
"Thank you." He said quietly, and I looked up, caught in his appreciation, his genuine pleasure at my words. I hadn't said it to please him, I'd said it for myself, but seeing for an instant this vulnerable side of him jolted me. He cared what I thought, the same way I cared what he thought even though I didn't want to. He wanted my approval; he wanted me to acknowledge he wasn't a bad person. Only he was. Even if I had to force myself to see it, he was everything I hoped I'd never be. Hoped I'd never be forced into being.
I felt tension string the air tight and shifted uneasily. This was… odd. What was this? Trent and I had never had a civil conversation that had lasted this long – we'd never had the chance, really. Except for breakfast on that long-ago morning after a tumble into the river. And that had been warm, and uncomfortable, and way too comfortable at the same time. It should be wrong to enjoy the company of a drug-dealing politician, but I had, and I did, and I was. Damnit.
"Mor-.. Rachel." He said quietly, and I drew my eyes back to him, Goosebumps breaking out over my skin at his tone, his voice like wind and sunlight. Damned billionaire elf and his attractive looks, expensive style and delicious personal scent. I fought down a blush.
"Don't be fooled into thinking you know them," he continued, knocking me out of the stupor I'd fallen into. I shook my head sharply, clearing the cobwebs, the first traces of anger - at myself - leaking through. What was wrong with me? "The minute you start to think you're smarter than them, that's when they have you. Don't fall into that trap-"
"Look," I said sharply, truly annoyed now. "I know what I'm doing. Or if I don't, I don't need you to tell me how to do it, okay? So just butt out; it's none of your business anyway!"
"Oh yes!" He growled furiously, clenching his fists, and I stood up from my chair, matching him toe-to-toe. I was not afraid of Trent Kalamack. "And do you think Ceridwym didn't assume she knew what she was doing? Did you think she didn't have all the details, know all the facts, know a hell of a lot more than you do-"
"Hey," I shouted, incensed more by the truth of his words than anything. It wasn't like I hadn't thought the same damn thing a hundred times over. "Why do you care anyway! What I do and what happens to me isn't any of your business and it never was. Except when you were the one doing the harm." The last said bitterly and he flushed crimson, looking furious, and apologetic, and... guilty. I had a quick flash of vertigo and frowned, thinking this conversation sounded rather a lot like the one I'd had with Ceri when I found out she was working for Al again. Only in reverse; this time I was the idiot and someone was yelling in my face about the stupidity of dealing in demons. And that someone was Trent. Go figure.
"I just... do. You're an investment, Rachel; if you get killed now-"
"An investment!" I spat, furious, all thoughts of altruism on his part vanishing. "I'm nothing to you, you hear me? Nothing! Stop telling me what to do, stop ordering me around! I don't work for you; I'm not yours Trent, stop treating me like it!"
"Maybe you should be!" He shouted back. "It can't be anymore dangerous and it's certainly safer! You stupid witch, why can't you ever think before you leap!"
We stood in each other's faces, panting, both completely at odds and completely pissed off. That odd tension pulled the air whipcord tight again and heat flushed my fingers, making my palms sweat. What was happening here? Something. I could tell by the sweat marring Trent's perfect designer collar that he felt it too. His fists clenched and unclenched at his sides and I eyed them, waiting for one of them to fly in my direction. I felt antsy, like I couldn't stand still. I was crawling out of my skin. Finally Trent unclenched his hands, glaring at me and then over my shoulder, teeth grinding.
"You said you didn't practice demonology, but then I guess you don't have to anymore." Trent said at last bitterly, accusingly. "You said it yourself; you're one of them now. People practice you."
"Shut up!" I shouted, sputtering, aching to refute him and unable to do so. "I'm not a demon! I'm not like them! I made a deal to save your stupid life, you could at least be grateful-"
"Grateful!" He shouted, furious, and I stumbled back a step, startled. I'd seen Trent angry, but this… this was different. This was personal. "Grateful that you're learning demonic curses from one of them, that you're taking the imbalance on your soul! You're going to carry on their line! I suppose I should be grateful that your last two boyfriends are dead and that they weren't witches! Saved us all grief when it turned out your children would be-"
I hit him. I'm sure if Quen were there I'd have been on my ass long before my hand even got close; Trent himself had even shown a tricky little skill for avoiding any sudden moves on my part, but maybe be was distracted by the haze of his own anger. I know I was.
"You don't have the right." I hissed, righteous anger burning me up. I'd been disgusted with Trent before, but this.. he was attacking me in a way he had no right to. He was attacking people I loved. Had loved. Trent didn't have the right to judge me. "You kill people forbusiness Trent. Business. As far as I might go for my friends, the things I'd do for them... you'd do worse for power, position. And you'd justify it. At least I know it's ugly. At least I have nightmares wondering if I've done the right things." Tears bit at my eyes but I wouldn't shed them. Not here and not in front of this man. I turned away, clenching my fists, wanting to hurt something, wanting to hurt him. God, did that make me a horrible person? It felt like it should.
"You don't have the right." I rasped, my throat tight and dry.
There was silence, the kind of silence you might hear in a... church. Or a gravesite. Ha ha.
"Rachel," I heard him start to say behind me, and for once, his voice couldn't touch me, the scent of crushed leaves left me barren. "I-"
"Get out." I whispered. "Get out of here before I do something I'll regret." Ever-after churned in my chi, boiling inside me like fire. I could feel the ley line glowing like a living thing in my mind, part of me desperate to escape into it, part of me curbing the urge. Impulse-control was something I was only beginning to learn the delights of.
There was no shuffle of feet behind me; Trent hadn't moved. His words brought memories to mind, memories that hurt even now. Kisten… Tears burned more swiftly and I took a firm step away. I had to get away. I had saved this man from certain slavery, and all he had to say to me was that I was an abomination, I was scum. I was... everything I'd accused him of being. Maybe it wouldn't hurt so much if half of me didn't think it was true.
A hand grasped my elbow from behind and I was too shaken to protest. It seemed so long ago that I'd convinced myself I was content with my lot in life even if it was a strange life. Had it been only days since I'd told myself I knew who I was, I knew what I was doing?
"Rachel." There was a quiet respect in that voice I'd never heard before, and the reality of Trent's regard was almost more disturbing than his anger.
"I'm sorry." Trent said quietly, and it was the most humble thing I'd ever heard the man say. I blinked.
"I'm sorry." He said again. "I am.. grateful.. for my life. I owe you for that." Beneath my skin, a mirrored mark burned. He owed me more than he knew. "I didn't come here for this. I didn't want to argue-"
"Then what did you come for Trent?" I asked, pulling my arm away. Where his fingers trailed on my skin, heat burned a thin path. I shivered. "Because that's all we've done since you walked in the door."
"I'm hardly the only one responsible for that," he said dryly. I felt a flush warm my skin but refused to look guilty as I turned to stare him in his smug, irritating face.
It didn't look like a smug, irritating face though; it looked sincere. I searched his eyes for deception, and I thought I knew him well enough to at least be able to pick out his crap when he was throwing it at me, but I didn't see anything but honesty this time. Perhaps that was scarier. An honest Trent? The demons would see sunlight first. Oh. One demo, at least, already had. Damn.
We stood in silence for long seconds, staring at each other, and a strange thing happened then. I could feel my anger drain away, washed up in being too tired, too weary, and too stressed out. Honestly.. of all the things going on in my life, Trent was pretty much at the bottom of my list of things to lose sleep over. And suddenly being angry at each other just seemed so.. pointless. He was a money-grubbing murderer. I was a not-really demon who could kindle horrors of the ever-after kind. Maybe it was because I was seeing a side of Trent he'd never shown me before. The side I'd been excluded from in his freaking mansion of a house when Quen was ill. The side that made me care what he thought of me even when I told myself I shouldn't. He was an evil son of a bitch, after all. But then, so was I, if he was to be believed.
"What do you want, Trent?" I repeated. "I'm too tired to deal with you. It's just too confusing. For once do me a favor; just tell me what you want, and then get out."
We started at each other, at an impasse, he unable to voice whatever it was that had driven him here and me unable to help him. Finally I turned away, unable to bear the awful tension, wrapping me arms around myself, an odd despondency lacing all my thoughts.
"Rachel." He said suddenly behind me, and I turned, startled to find him standing not a foot away. I had to crane my neck to look up at him, a fact that annoyed me to no end. Where were my inch-high boots when you needed them? "Be careful." He said quietly, starting intently at my face, and somehow it wasn't really a surprise when he reached out, put the tips of his fingers to my cheek and let them rest there. "Please, just... be careful." There was that magical 'please' again. I could never seem to ignore it when elves used it. I nodded stupidly, completely dazed, mesmerized, heat coiling inside me like the touch of a hot coal radiating from the point his skin touched mine. Dangerous.
When he kissed me, I was surprised, but then I wasn't. It felt like we'd been building up to this the entire time I'd known him, even when I'd been hating him. Maybe especially then.
His mouth burned me like a brand and his hands weren't gentle when they pulled me to him, but neither were mine when I clutched him back. His shirt felt like silk over iron and something uncoiled inside me, something painful and wonderful at the same time.
"Trent." I whispered, tasting him, and he shuddered, an exhalation of breath against my lips. I could almost feel him wanting more, not wanting to want more, hating me, hating himself, needing desperately to be liked, wanted, respected. Loved.
I didn't. Love him, I mean. But, oh god, he wanted to be a person that could be, and I... wanted him to be that person too.
He was gone a second later, stumbling out my door while I shivered and wrapped my arms around myself in the cold. He went back to his limo, back to his world of business, politics and secrets. But he went back knowing we understood each other now.
I'd been wrong before. Mostly wrong. Trent was afraid of me. He was afraid of what it meant to be what I was, to associate with whom I associated. But he was afraid for me too.
He went wanting to be a good person, and I let him go knowing I was going to help him do it.
Note: Once again unedited, be kind. Have another story in the making and not enough time to proof-read what I write more than once!