Disclaimer: The Night World belongs to the wonderful LJ Smith, I just like to playe there, and the poem below to the equally wonderful Carol Ann Duffy.
Before You Were Mine
I'm ten years away from the corner you laugh on
with your pals, Maggie McGeeney and Jean Duff.
The three of you bend from the waist, holding
each other, or your knees, and shriek at the pavement.
Your polka-dot dress blows round your legs. Marilyn.
I'm not here yet. The thought of me doesn't occur
in the ballroom with the thousand eyes, the fizzy, movie tomorrows
the right walk home could bring. I knew you would dance
like that. Before you were mine, your Ma stands at the close
with a hiding for the late one. You reckon it's worth it.
The decade ahead of my loud, possessive yell was the best one, eh?
I remember my hands in those high-heeled red shoes, relics,
and now your ghost clatters toward me over George Square
till I see you, clear as scent, under the tree,
with its lights, and whose small bites on your neck, sweetheart?
Cha cha cha! You'd teach me the steps on the way home from Mass,
stamping stars from the wrong pavement. Even then
I wanted the bold girl winking in Portobello, somewhere
in Scotland, before I was born. That glamorous love lasts
where you sparkle and waltz and laugh before you were mine.
-Carol Anne Duffy
The room she sat in was painted in shades of creamy white. Mahogany bookcases filled with old volumes of poetry and modern works on the human psych sat side by side. Flower pots decorated the wide windows and prisms threw rainbows across the air.
It was lovely and soothing and incredibly uncomfortable, largely due to the woman sitting on the couch across from her, long legs crossed demurely, unconsciously displaying her patent heels to the best advantage. Her white blonde hair reflected rainbows and her face was open and sweet.
Her violet eyes screamed Hearth Woman but her abnormally sharp teeth suggested wolf ancestry.
"You aren't comfortable here," Dr Laurel Anderson had the type of voice that never needed to fight to be heard. She looked young enough to be Odette's sister. She was, in fact, an elder, of sorts.
"No," Odette agreed calmly. They had been trading polite chitchat for half an hour now.
"You haven't had an easy transition period," a pause, "You seem to have found something of a niche these past weeks though."
Odette smiled politely and nodded. Since the formation of her uneasy truce with Caleb she had kept her head down. She did her homework. She slept a little, enough, and went for long walks in the woods that surrounded most of the town and towered over the Albright's large house. She dreamt odd dreams and studiously ignored them. She kept to herself and was meticulously polite to anyone who took pains to speak with her.
It was painfully boring at times.
"I haven't seen you at Circles. It can't be pleasant to hold so much magic and not channel it."
It wasn't. When September's moon was full and the Night World population of the town had met to run and hunt and cast she had stayed inside and ignored the smell of wood smoke that drifted over from the forest and the sound of bells on the wind. Her dreams had been feverish and violent that night, and her room in disarray when she woke from them. "It wouldn't be right to go to Circle Twilight," she explained, "It's too different from Midnight."
"It's important to have an outlet," another grave pause followed this statement, "Your uncle tells me you don't talk about Elvie, and I've noticed you don't talk to anyone in school."
Odette tilted her head to the side inquisitively, "Would you?"
"Yes. It's healthy to talk about grief,"
The distraction of the werewolves had been better for her than she'd realised. Now that Chase had persuaded Roman to admit something of the truth they let her be. She went about her day to day life wrapped in cotton wool and tried, albeit half-heartedly, to pull herself together again.
"I don't think it would be appropriate," she said finally.
"Because of your mother's circumstances," the good doctor's tone was oddly gentle. Odette gave her a hard stare.
"Because everyone here is a stranger."
"Do you ever call any of your friends from back home? I'm sure Stephen and Rose wouldn't mind."
"Then it isn't a case of everyone being a stranger," Anderson said simply, "Why don't you call your friends?"
Because Circle Midnight is bloodthirsty and I can't show any weakness, Odette thought bitterly, and people would be looking for weakness. It was bad enough she was stuck here. Hidden. Hiding as far as the Night World would be concerned.
"My mom was my best friend," she sad finally, shrugging artlessly, "I can't imagine who else I would talk to."
"You must have been very close."
Not close enough. She had poured over everything in her mother's room, trying to figure out who Elvie had been before she had been her mother. For she had been so very different from the woman Odette had known. Odette wasn't in the pictures. The knowledge of her hadn't been there: she couldn't see herself in Elvie's young eyes.
Her Elvie Albright had been notorious: powerful and talented and beautiful. She had been one of the youngest witches to ever take up a position of power in Circle Midnight. She had answered only to the Crone herself, Grandma Harman. Elvie had been stern but fair. Brilliant in her own way. And when she spoke of Blackwater, it was with pity and scorn. For the backwards town she had left behind that was doomed to be forgotten by the rest of the Night World.
"We were," she murmured, frowning.
The girl who had lived in her room wasn't like that at all. In every picture she was smiling and bright and happy. She looked gentler than Odette had ever seen her and appeared to have counted her friends in droves. Bryant Lowell dominated her teenage years, grinning at cameras, laughing with Elvie, goofing around with Elvie. Odette wasn't sure how to reconcile the two Elvie's, or that they ever could be.
"Did you know her?" she asked suddenly, "Do you know this Bryant Lowell?"
"I did," Anderson's tone was careful, "and I do. They were close."
"I gathered," she couldn't keep the hint of bitterness from her voice.
"Is that what you want? To know about her life here?"
The pictures she had of her mother remained packed away, they didn't belong in Blackwater, in that room and neither did Odette.
"No," she whispered, she didn't want to make Elvie any more distant.
Anderson nodded in understanding, "It's hard to reconcile who our parents were, before they were ours." Odette wanted to scream of her, but recognised, distantly, that this was a silly and childish thing to do.
The bell signalling the end of first period, and their session, rang. Odette wasted no time in gathering her books and satchel.
"Same time Monday Odette," Anderson said, jotting some notes down, "Enjoy your weekend."
"Thank you doctor," she said politely, she could afford manners now that she was leaving. She gave a little wave and slipped out into the tide of students making their way to second period. She was intensely glad it was Friday.
"Not now Russell," she said brusquely and walked faster.
"It's Ross, I just wanted to ask you about our French assignment," he caught up and fell into step beside her easily, "When's it due?"
"I don't know," she shrugged and turned, sharply, into her English lit class just as the teacher started the lesson. She left Ross behind her and took her usual seat in the back row. Distantly aware of his hurt stare. This wasn't her, and she was beginning to feel as though she was fading. As if Blackwater was suppressing some vital part of her. Grief just wasn't a strong enough word.
She was dancing in a hall of ice and mirrors. The floor beneath her feet was slick glass and reflected her own image, and that of hundreds of others. She was sure she was going to fall, but her feet continued to move, lightly and gracefully onwards. The other dancers' faces were clearly defined, but her partner was impossible to focus on. He laughed when she tried to pull away and it was possibly the most beautiful laugh she had ever heard, "You aren't getting away now that we have you darling." They came to a stop and the other dancers mirrored their actions.
"Let me go," she tried to say, but found she didn't have the words.
"You can have your words back when you can be trusted with them..." he chuckled, "I suspect it may be a while."
There was a disturbance among the other dancers, a ripple of uneasy murmurs spread throughout the room. A giant wolf was padding through the dancers, a low growl rumbling in its throat, its breath issuing in sinister little puffs.
Odette's head shot up from its resting place on the kitchen table. The remains of an essay on Jane Eyre covered the table and, she suspected, parts of her face. She groaned and ran her hands through her hair, and groaned again when they caught on a tangle.
"You wouldn't have that problem if you just brushed your hair you know."
"Fuck off, Caleb," she muttered, she was used to his comings and goings now, he and Aiden acted more like brothers than friends, and Rose and Stephen never seemed bothered that he treated their home as his own. "They've already left for the circle," she didn't bother looking up, "Said they would be at your father's for the harvest party afterwards." The Lowell's or the Albright's always hosted a party after a circle apparently and the Harvest Festival was a big deal, the celebrations would likely last all night.
Caleb didn't say anything; he just sat down beside her and turned his chair so he was facing her. She didn't turn to face him, just sighed, "What do you want?"
Undeterred he gripped her shoulders and turned her to face him, forcing her to remove her hands from her hair and look at him. He looked devastating. The bright light in the kitchen played games with the fierce amber of his eyes and highlighted the healthy glow of his skin. In comparison, she knew she must look washed out and tired.
Small sparks formed where his hands touched the bare skin of her arms and she knew he must feel the shock of pure magic attacking him, but he merely held on grimly.
"Aiden is my friend," he began. She rolled her eyes, but it took effort, to look away from him. "More importantly, he's one of the best people I know." He gave her a small shake then, as if to drive his point home, he was getting into a habit of doing that, she noted dizzily, "Rose and Stephen are some of the best people I know." he paused then, as if carefully considering his next words, which was impossible, she thought as the power built up under her skin and danced behind her eyes in waves, Caleb never carefully considered anything he said to her.
"And I get that you're sad your mom died," he said, his tone gentle, for all that it came through gritted teeth, "But you're tearing his family apart with your grief. Aiden feels terrible, Rose and Stephen don't know what to do about you. You barely eat, you barely sleep: you walk around this town like you're a ghost…and the Albright's are too afraid to confront you about it because they think you're one step away from exploding."
"Are you seriously trying to have a heart to heart with me?"
she wrenched her arms from his grasp; the shock of her magic was spreading from her skin to the air around her now. Pushing for a release, any release, pushing her to push back, to go outside. To run.
"I thought I'd try and talk some sense into you," he growled, "Have you any idea what we went through to get the teenage Pack members to leave you alone? Do you know how hard the Albright's fought to have you included in the Circles? You have a family here who want to support you and a chance for a normal life."
"I had a normal life. I had a family who loved me," she replied, puzzled.
"A group of highly dangerous Circle Midnight witches and a mother?"
"Better than a town of intolerant bigots."
He shook his head in disbelief, "What have we done to make you hate us so much?"
"My mother had to leave here when she was pregnant, because my father was human, and because that made me half human. She would have been killed. How could I not hate it here?" saying it aloud eased the tightness in her chest, a tightness that had become so routine she had stopped noticing it, "They took me away when she was barely cold in the ground with no consideration for what I wanted."
"They're not exactly trying to kill you now, are they?" they were both glaring, voices rising higher and higher, and her magic thrummed happily. This was what it wanted, passion and fireworks, loss of control. It was straining towards something and Odette realised distantly, fearfully, that she did not know what. "Stephen lost a sister, he and Rose had to fight the whole council to get you here, but they did, because you're Elvie's daughter."
"Well they shouldn't have bothered," she hissed and pushed him out of her way to stand up. He followed her and grabbed her arm again and the shock of magic released when he touched her skin was enough to make her gasp and him growl in annoyance. He yanked her closer anyway. So close that she could see individual lashes in the sooty sweep and the flecks of gold that were drowning in the amber.
"Stop it," he breathed, "You are being a spoilt brat and I am sick of it."
She had to do something. Anything, because she didn't think she could stand the feel of his hands on her for much longer, "I am not..."
He really was beautiful. Odette knew she should be over the Night World beauty. It shouldn't affect her, the way his skin glowed, the way his perfect cheekbones caught the light. But it did, he was hard to look away from. She tried to focus on the crushing grip on her arms, the underlying hatred in his gaze.
He smelled like the forest: fresh and green and sharp enough to cut, like a hunter. But then his touch became softer, his hand cupped her elbow, the other raising to mirror the action. What the hell was he doing?
The wave that left her then was pure will and knocked him back against the door, which obligingly opened, and right out onto the porch. Odette followed, and saw Caleb's eyes glowing in the darkness, and disbelief apparent on his handsome face. She was willing to bet no witch in Blackwater had ever done something like that to him. Her breath came in quick little gasps and she could feel the blush that had settled in her cheeks. Throwing him had been pure instinct, and her racing heart had little to do with fear.
"You're crazy," he was on his feet in an instant. Wolves could move fast here.
"This place is crazy," she flung back at him. The air was thick with magic and, in her mind's eye, she could see a pulse of it at the centre of the forest, singing out to her and trying to draw her in even as she glared at Caleb, "What the hell is in that forest?" she whispered, forcing herself to remain still.
Caleb either didn't hear or didn't care, he looked feral now and his eyes stayed fixed on her even as she backed away, slowly, into the warmth of the kitchen.
She closed all of the windows in the house that night. Her magic humming just beneath her skin, begging to be released in some form of the other, was too much. Her blood felt like it was singing in her veins and she didn't think she could hear the bells or the revels of the other witches, feel the pulse of their power, and resist the urge to go into the forest and join them. It was one of the most depressing Saturday nights she had ever been subject to, she thought as she went through her bedtime routine.
Sunday came after another night of restless dreams. It brought Tobias with it.
She was perched on the kitchen counter top, peeling an apple and ignoring Aiden's suspicious glances while he made his own breakfast. She was focused on the forest: the pulse of magic that had pulled so fiercely at her the night before seemed to have disappeared in the daylight.
Tobias didn't bother to knock; he walked into the kitchen as if he owned it and leaned against the door frame, his expression thoughtful, "What are you doing Odette?"
He didn't look older than nineteen. Would never look older than nineteen. It was the curse of the made vampire, to be frozen in time forever. Tobias was well over a thousand years old, but, with his messy chestnut hair and sapphire blue eyes, he looked more like a young model, fresh from the pages of Vogue, than a Lord of the Night World.
Odette looked at him for a while before taking a slice of apple and popping it into her mouth, "Nice of you to finally visit," she drawled, "It's been, what, a month? More?"
"I had business to attend to," she felt smug at the flash of guilt in his eyes, "The Albrights have kept me updated on your progress. I heard you cursed several young wolves with night terrors."
"Oh, have they," she shot a flat look at Aiden who merely continued to pour his coffee. Silently he offered a cup to Tobias, who shook his head, "Asshole," she muttered. She didn't like the idea of there being reports on her.
"I think I hear my mother calling," Aiden said wryly in way of reply. His retreat too hasty to necessarily be labelled a stroll.
"Why are you moping about town like a brat?" Tobias didn't mince his words.
"I'm keeping to myself."
"Estranging half of the town."
"A tantrum," his face was cool. "Get your coat; we're going for a walk."
"Why are we in the forest?"
"Privacy." Tobias looked magnificent in the light that slanted through the trees. It highlighted threads of bright gold in the mahogany of his hair. Made his eyes shimmer, "If you would oblige me."
Odette sighed and wove a barrier of air around them, it sealed with a pop and the faint breeze that had ruffled their hair disappeared with it. Tobias's left eyebrow shot up at her use of such a powerful charm.
"You're a smart girl. Why do you think you're here Odette?"
"Because the Albright's have a legal right to me by Night World law until I finish school," she recited.
"You know I'm stronger than that: why do you think you're here?"
Odette stopped then, and turned to stare at Tobias, disbelief colouring her expression, "You let them take me? You sent me here? Here. The last place my mother would have ever wanted me to be in the event of her untimely demise."
Tobias didn't move, didn't flinch under her anger. That was one of the perks of immortality; one could perfect their poker face. And Tobias was waiting for something. "Why are you here?" he asked softly.
"I don't know," she said, the numb feeling that had engulfed her was slowly fading, replaced by bewildered anger.
"You're up to something," she whispered guardedly, "You need someone on the inside."
"Bingo," he grinned, and all his years and experience seemed to fall away in that boyish smile. The effect was breath taking: but then, vampires always were, "You're my mole. I'm surprised you haven't figured it out yet."
"I've been occupied," she said pointedly, "Grieving."
"Yes, you do seem different, come to think of it," he acknowledged, "But it's high time you snapped out of it."
Odette rolled her eyes and started walking again, vampires just didn't understand human grief. Tobias may have started out as a human, but he had been alive too long now, seen too much. He was loyal, playful and sharper than a knife, but the years flowed around him like water and the people that came and went were just as notable. Too many people dear to him had died for him to fall apart over each and every one. It didn't matter that she was grieving now: if she could do something useful he would expect her to.
"And I'm not just saying that," he added, as if he could read her mind, "You've spent the last month as a zombie, according to your aunt Rose, and that is far from healthy. Elvie would tell you so too."
She rolled her eyes again. She couldn't argue with him over that, "Fine, tell me your master plan then. I assume there is one."
"Of a sort. Your mother was running from something."
"A death sentence."
"They weren't following her," Tobias said bluntly, "The Blackwater council was happy so long as she wasn't here. So whom was she hiding from?"
"Something else entirely," Odette mused.
"Something else in Blackwater."
"There is nothing else in Blackwater, it's incredibly boring and has the most conservative bunch of Night People I've ever met."
"You don't mean that," Tobias frowned, "What do you think of the werewolves here?"
"They're a bit...odd...compared to others I've met," Odette admitted, "It's like they're, better, or more powerful...or something," she shrugged, "But I've never met a proper werewolf Pack before." And had never known of one forming without a purpose, now that she thought of it.
"They're the only Pack in North America. No werewolf is allowed to relocate to Blackwater unless they agree to join. No other wolf is allowed to even step foot in these woods and you are the first Circle Midnight witch in recorded history that they have knowingly allowed in. There's something here."
"You want me to scour these woods on the off chance that there's something in here that my mother was running from," she finished.
"And you have nothing else that I can go on?"
"Only this," his expression was dead serious, "Your mother found something here. Something she would never speak of aloud. Something that made her wary of shadows. Something that made her keep running even after she escaped."
"And wolf packs are guardians," she added, speaking to herself, "No one can guard better than a wolf."
"I don't like how Blackwater has slipped off the Night World radar." Tobias wasn't a Lord only in name, he was a watcher. He ensured every town of note in North America had a Night World outpost. He had a network of spies that spanned every species. There had been a time, years before she was born, when he had been in charge of hunting down lost Night People, usually witches, and returning them to the fold. He hadn't done that; rumour had it, since two of the Harman's had gone missing during World War Two.
They paused at the last line of trees and stared at the house in silence for several moments. The windows were like bleak eyes, reflecting the now cloudy sky in all its dim glory. A gust of wind blew stray leaves in teasing dancing patterns before their gazes. Odette felt trapped, hemmed in by the forest and all its secrets on one side, and the old manor with its own dark mystery on the other. She wanted to run as far and as fast as she could, but she couldn't help but wonder what her mother's extensive warding had kept out, if she could survive it. She wondered if any place was safe now.
"What should I do?" she whispered.
"Keep your eyes open, watch. There are bound to be signs. And remember that no one can truly do anything unless you invite them to."
That was an odd thing to say, Odette thought as she locked the door behind her and watched Tobias disappear into the woods. He wouldn't be back for a while, it was difficult to get into Blackwater and he had too much to do in the outside world.
The house around her was silent and still and she imagined her mother standing in this same spot, watching the dark woods and being afraid. And somehow she knew that Elvie must have been very, very afraid of whatever lay within them. She had seen her mother stand up to werewolf alphas and dark witches. She had seen her humiliate a Redfern and live to tell the tale. She had watched her argue with Grandma Harman, the Crone of all witches and walk away with her head held high and her pride intact.
Aiden met her on the stairs, his expression quizzical. "Did Tobias Marlow walk into our kitchen and scold you?"
"Shut up, Aiden," she sighed, pushing past him.
"He almost made you act normal," he called after her. She resisted the urge to slam the bedroom door.
A book lay in front of her. A small thing, a deep green, full to bursting, reeking of magic. Elvie's record book had lain in her suitcase for weeks now. Too valuable to be left behind and too powerful to be destroyed. Elvie had used it for everything, to record her ideas, her spells, her experiments. Odette couldn't remember a time when her mother had not poured herself into its pages. Imbuing them with her very essence, it seemed. If there was information on Blackwater, it was in this book.
Odette stared at the hunter green leather with apprehension and opened it, slowly. The first page was a smooth expanse of creamy white. Totally blank. The second page was much the same, and every other page. Elvie had employed complicated and at times sinister means to protect her privacy and her journal was merely another exercise in secrecy.
It was odd that, Odette thought as she pricked her thumb, how carefully her mother had instructed her in the event of her death. She pressed her bloody print to the centre of the cover and watched as her blood sank into the leather. She had known she would die young. Die soon, how had she never picked up on that?
"Elvie Albright is dead," she whispered.
There were no fireworks, no obvious signs of magic. Nothing to outwardly show that the power and findings of one of the greatest Midnight witches of a generation had quietly and unobtrusively been passed to a seventeen year old girl. Odette felt the knowledge of Elvie's death settle within her and the acceptance of the book in front of her. It lay on her mother's bed, on her bed, innocently awaiting her.
She could find out everything she needed to know from that book, if she asked the right questions. Everything about her mother, about Blackwater, maybe even her father. She didn't want that though, not yet, "Show me something true," she said firmly, and leant forward, entranced, as words began to appear on the page in her mother's familiar, flowing script.
She's perfect in every way. Tiny and so pale, and so lively for such a young baby! Her eyes have changed from blue already, to a bright green, just like mine but so much more intense. My daughter sees things. I just know it. Her hair, it's all her fathers, a bright copper red that waves about her head like a little halo. I feel that I love her too much, any moment my heart might burst from the fullness of it.
I cut a lock of her hair last night and slept with it under my pillow to dream her future. I saw her older, a young woman. She was in Blackwater and she was beautiful and strong and so afraid. She was in the forest, the very centre, I could tell. It was just before dawn and all around her were eyes that glowed in the darkness of the trees and stared at her with capricious delight. I could hear their laughter in the distance and the tinkling of bells. A wolf stalked towards her out of the darkness, its amber eyes glowing brighter than the rest.
But my daughter, my beautiful daughter, she stood firm and tall and refused to run.
I wanted to tell her to run. To run fast and never look back: there are worse things than wolves in that forest.
Odette continued to stare at the entry long after she had read the last line, stunned. Her mother had known a lot more than she had ever suspected it appeared. Like when she was going to die.
"I need to know what is in that forest," she whispered. The words began to shift and change in a flurry of motion. But they paused and remained indecipherable to her. As if there was a key needed to read them.
Tobias was right. There was something in the forest, something worse than the wolves. She had wolves that didn't act like normal werewolves. She had odd dreams of wolves and dancers and halls of mirrors, and she had a forest, a forest with something worse than super werewolves in it.
'Welcome home' her sharp toothed reflection had said. Suddenly it seemed like much, much more than a bad dream.
"Come out and play."
Odette remained where she was sitting, in the centre of the mirrored hall that had been the playground of her dreams for well over a month now. Her sharp toothed reflection was lounging in the mirror opposite her, insultingly casual. Draped in silk. Otherworldly.
Odette wondered how she had ever thought the woman was her own reflection in truth. They shared the same pale colouring, but her teeth were sharper. Like a vampire's: her skin finer, truly pore-less. Her hair looked like real fire, frozen across her shoulders.
"No thank you," she took pains to keep her voice steady, nonchalant, "I'd really rather not walk into your creepy mirror. I don't even know who you are."
"Smart girl," it grinned.
"What do you want with me? I think it's safe to say these are more than dreams."
"They are," it agreed, "Dreams belong to us. Dreams and Twilight, and shadows, all the in between places. Tonight dreams are my messenger to you."
"Twilight belongs to Circle Twilight," Odette frowned, "the rest to Midnight, how can you own both?"
"Because they were mine, first," its smile was cold, "Silly little witches, splitting your gift like that."
"They're rather irreconcilable."
"They're not. You stunt yourself by thinking so. You should go to one of their forest gatherings at Twilight."
"There are worse things in that forest than wolves," Odette murmured, "Why would I go in there?"
"Because witches are curious," it shrugged, "curious odd little things, you all are. I have only to wait."