Jordan woke up cold, confused, and very, very pissed.
She wasn’t entirely sure where she was, only that she wasn’t where she’d been- her hand pressed sharply to her stomach, her heart leaping in her chest at the low, phantom ache there, the echo of tearing, of dragging, the memory of bright silver eyes burned into her mind.
Crocker. That treacherous son of a-
She dragged in a breath, swallowing hard, and her fingers found nothing but a faint, raised line; a scar, too thin, too delicate, for the violence that had been done. But she was whole, she was alive.
She was whole, and someone was going to pay for what had been done to her.
Wade, preferably, though there were a few others she’d accept, if she couldn’t get to him.
She rolled over, pushed herself to her feet, and there was sand beneath her gloved hands, water at her back- she didn’t know why she was at the coast, didn’t know what beach she was on, but there was a parking lot in view, a dock with boats not far away, so she was somewhere accessible. She could find a way back into town.
And then she could find Wade.
He would regret having betrayed her.
“Forget it, she’s not going to help.” Crocker, leaning back against the wall, gave her a dark look, and Mara smiled sweetly, enjoying the simmering resentment she could see under his disaffected pose. “How many times do we have to run through this? She’s not useful.”
“We had to try,” Wuornos said, shrugging. “It’s getting bad out there.”
“Yeah, well, I wouldn’t know,” Crocker bit out, and Mara didn’t bother to hold back her amused snort. Crocker glared, and Mara blinked wide eyes at him.
“Hey, I’m not the one who has you on house arrest, sweetheart, you wanna be mad, be mad at your cops,” she said, before she smiled, wide and amused. “They’re the ones who don’t think you can be trusted.”
“Shut up,” Crocker gritted out, and Wuornos leaned in, loomed over her in a way that he clearly meant to be intimidating- it wasn’t, but she supposed he got a C, C minus for effort.
“You’re not going to be useful, you don’t get to talk,” he said, and she played her tongue over her teeth and shrugged, leaning back in her chair, letting him win. He pulled back and stalked away, drawing Crocker along with him with a tilt of his head, and God, Crocker was such a fucking dog, following along in his wake- she could use that loyalty, if she could just figure out how to get the leash in her hands.
She could hear them talking, out in the hall, low and intense, and she tuned them out; it was more of their petty emotional drama, and she wasn’t interested. She was interested in what Wuornos had come to ask her about, though- a Trouble had gone active, and it wasn’t one of the ones Crocker was boiling over with. She was fairly sure, by the description, she knew exactly what Trouble it was- she’d been playing with old stories, had woven together something out of the Erinyes.
And in a town like Haven, well. There were bound to be more than a few furies waiting to rise.
And at least a few of them had to be gunning for her captors. She could use this, she didn’t even need aether for something so minor. Not for one of her projects. William’s work, that she couldn’t modify without tools, but her own... Well. Small adjustments, all she needed for those was her own will. All she had to do was find one of the newly-risen, and from there...
From there, she could craft herself an ally.
As long as she could get herself out of her chains.
It was surprising, honestly, how trusting people were. It hadn’t taken more than a coy smile and a please to hitch a ride into town, and really, Jordan thought, people in Haven should know better by now. Willfull ignorance, perhaps, or sheer country stubbornness. Whatever; it was working in her favor, at the moment, she’d take it. Her ride let her out at the Gull, but a few careful inquiries let her know that neither Wade nor Duke was there- that none of the girls had seen Wade in more than two months, and that Duke had been unusually scarce over the last few weeks, as well.
Annoying. Jordan didn’t want to have to scour the town to find him, wanted-
-Dwight’s truck pulled into the lot outside, and Jordan smiled, sharp and dangerous. Dwight talked to Nathan, talked to Duke, he’d know where Wade was. And he’d always been someone she could trust. She drifted toward the door, and caught Dwight’s arm, carefully, when he stepped inside, gloved hands digging in hard.
“Hey, Dwight,” she purred. “Miss me?”
“Jordan?” Dwight went pale, eyes round, and he didn’t pull away- looked too surprised to try, even though he could- letting her push him toward a booth in the corner. He sat down heavily, still staring, and Jordan flashed him a bitter smile as she slid into the booth across from him.
“You look surprised to see me,” she said, voice full of malice.
“Little bit, yeah,” Dwight said, eyes still round, posture wary. “Given that you’re dead, and all. This conversation isn’t going to end with you trying to cut my heart out, is it, because I’ve got kind of a full day today- you aren’t the only one we weren’t expecting to see.”
“I’m not here for you,” Jordan replied, pushing her hair over her shoulder and leaning forward over the table. “I do need your help, though.”
“Look, whatever... this is? I can’t help you, you have to know that. You’re here for someone, everyone else has been, and I can’t help you kill someone, Jordan,” he said, leaning forward in a mirror of her posture. “I can’t let you do that.”
“He gutted me, Dwight,” she snarled, the words low and vicious and furious. “You can let me do this.”
“...You’re here for Wade,” he said, understanding dawning.
“Yes. And you’re going to tell me where to find him. I’m owed that.”
“Jordan, Wade Crocker is dead,” Dwight said, reaching out, catching one of her hands, squeezing hard over the leather of her glove. “It’s done.”
“...What?” she asked, some of the anger shifting into confusion, the swirling mass of fire that had been burning under her skin since she’d woken up on the beach flickering, dimming. She felt weary, immeasurably so, at the news. “How?”
“Duke killed him,” Dwight replied, a look of... not amusement, precisely, but satisfaction, perhaps, curving his lips. “Found out what Wade was doing, what he’d done, and stopped him. Permanently. It’s done, he’s dead. You don’t have to hurt anyone.”
And he was wrong, someone still needed to pay. Someone needed to be punished. And maybe she couldn’t reach Wade, but there were others, people who had hurt her. The people who’d pushed her far enough to turn to Wade, of all people. People she would need to find.
The fire picked back up, and the weariness retreated.
“Guess I owe him a thank you. Where is he, anyway? Girls at the bar said he hasn’t been around here much lately,” she asked, trying to make it sound casual.
“Busy,” Dwight replied, his expression going dark and dour. “Working on... This.”
“With Audrey and Nathan?” she asked, and Dwight hesitated, looked unsure.
“Just wondering. That is your usual anti-Trouble lineup,” she said, smiling, and she wasn’t entirely sure she’d kept the venom out of her expression.
“Not lately,” Dwight replied. “Things are different than you remember, Jordan. Don’t- don’t get involved in this. Please. It’s- it’s good, seeing you. Just- take the second chance. Let’s just talk. For however long this... lasts.”
...And she hadn’t thought of that, hadn’t considered that at all, but this, this was a Trouble. She was only here because of a Trouble, and when it wore off- or when Audrey put an end to it- what would happen to her? Would she vanish, crumble into dust, drop where she stood? She could feel the need, still, the drive to punish, thought that maybe, if she did, if she could balance the scales, maybe she’d be able to last.
Jordan didn’t want to die. Not again.
“Tell me how it’s different,” she asked, shifting slightly, as though she were settling in for a long talk. She wasn’t, she couldn’t, she didn’t have time, but if Dwight wanted to talk... Well. Better armed with whatever knowledge she could glean.
Dwight relaxed, and she thought she should feel guilty for misleading him, but she didn’t. She couldn’t afford the luxury of guilt; she had something she needed to do.
“You’re leaving?” Mara asked, pouting, the expression deliberately overdone, sarcastic and snide. “What will I do with myself?”
“I could give you some suggestions,” Crocker said, but it lacked emphasis, lacked force. He was distracted, his thoughts clearly still out in the hallway rather than on her. She’d be offended by that, if it weren’t useful. His distraction meant he’d gotten just a little closer than he usually would, checking to make sure all her chains were still properly secure.
He really shouldn’t have bragged to Audrey about how many picks he kept on his person. It wasn’t that difficult to lift one- he’d taught her to, after all. Mara doubted Audrey appreciated that lesson half as much as she should. Audrey had found it clumsily endearing- the well-intentioned crook trying to impress her with what amounted to little more than sleight of hand- but really, it was such a... practical lesson.
She did hope that he figured it out, after. That he realized how she’d made her escape. The more emotional turbulence he was carrying, the sooner the fireworks went off.
She was looking forward to the show. It was gonna be a hell of a mess.
Jordan could barely believe what she was hearing.
But Dwight had no reason to lie to her, and honestly, it seemed like he couldn’t help but talk, like the words were just boiling up. He’d clearly needed to unburden himself to someone, and they’d been friends, once. From what he was saying, from the frustration laced through every word, he didn’t have anyone else he could talk to. Didn’t have anyone else left he could trust.
And why shouldn’t he tell her things? She was going to die again, anyway, as soon as this Trouble ended. He could confess his fears and his anger, he could rest some of his burden on her shoulders for a few minutes, and know that in the end? She’d take his words right back to the grave. The people he was fuming about- Nathan, Vince, Duke, Audrey- they never needed to know.
She would’ve been all the more determined, after hearing him talk, to seek them all out, to punish each of them- she did care about Dwight, after all- if he hadn’t given her a much, much better target.
The woman who’d created the Troubles. The woman who’d brought all of this down on them. Who was responsible for every hurt, every wound, every forced hand. Audrey’s original self, separated out, flesh and blood and vulnerable.
Held, hidden, on Duke’s boat. Alive because- because, apparently, because of stubbornness, because Nathan still wouldn’t do what was necessary for the town if it might risk Audrey, because Duke would still back him up even when it made no sense, because Dwight wasn’t willing to accept that the three of them were more hindrance than help, more threat than benefit, even now.
Jordan felt only a little guilty, slipping one glove off and catching Dwight’s wrist, squeezing until he slumped into the corner of the booth, but she knew he wouldn’t have allowed her to leave. Wouldn’t have let her wander off unattended, when she had been made manifest for the purpose of killing. Wouldn’t have believed her, if she’d tried to lie and assure him she was beyond such a thing.
She felt even less guilt doing the same thing out in the parking lot, dropping some random customer where he stood and taking his keys and his car. Haven wasn’t that big, it’d be recovered soon enough, she only needed to borrow it for a little while.
The marina was no quieter than usual- and even now, no one ever learned, no one left, even when they should- and the Cape Rouge was in the same slip she’d been in when Wade had brought her there. The memory stirred a simmering, roiling resentment, and she paused to poke around, remembering an off-hand comment he’d made about his brother; it was the work of only a minute to come up with a loaded handgun, and that would certainly do the trick.
Now all she had to do was find Mara, and she could do what no one else was, apparently, willing to do.
It wouldn’t put everything right, but destroying the woman who’d doomed them all to this... It would certainly be a step in the direction of balancing the scales.
The last of the chains slithered to the deck in a hissing clatter, and Mara stepped delicately out of the tangle, sliding her little bit of bent wire into the band of her bra and stretching cautiously. Spending several days stuck in one position did tend to be hard on the joints, and her keeper had been stingy with breaks.
Not that his paranoia wasn’t justified, but that was so beside the point.
She was still working a kink out of her shoulder when the door to the hold swung open, and she was honestly startled; she hadn’t heard the usual heavy clomping from the other side that would’ve announced the shell and her guard dogs. The intruder entered, gun first, and Mara only barely kept back a snarl of frustration- the urge faded when she realized just who she was looking at.
Just what she’d wanted to find.
And she knew this one- rather, Audrey had known this one, and Mara knew what Audrey knew. Jordan McKee; unstable, temperamental, ruthless, proud. Audrey didn’t like her one bit, hadn’t from the moment they’d met.
Mara, though, Mara thought Jordan might be exactly what she needed. What was it Claire had said, she’d tortured a man for three days?
Yes, Mara thought Jordan might just be perfect.
“So you’re her,” Jordan said, lip curled. “You’re the one who started... all of this. You really do look like Audrey.”
“That’s a... dramatic simplification, but sure, yeah, we can go with that,” Mara agreed, shrugging, going back to stretching, working her shoulder until the tightness there finally released. Jordan looked miffed, looked decidedly insulted that Mara wasn’t even slightly alarmed by the gun pointing in her direction. “And she looks like me.”
“You created the Troubles?” she demanded, taking a step closer, and, seriously, people in this town needed to learn how to do menacing properly. It was all about intent, really- for example. Mara tilted her head, let her eyes sweep over Jordan, taking her measure, assessing, slow and calm, and locked eyes with her, matched Jordan’s forward step with one of her own. Jordan didn’t back up, but she did swallow heavily, some of her confidence fading. Not much, granted, but she looked just a bit warier than she had.
“Some of them,” Mara agreed, blinking slowly. “Like yours. So?”
“So?” Jordan snarled, stalking closer. “So, you’ve ruined lives, you’ve ruined people, you-” Jordan stopped, lifted her chin, and steadied her aim. “So I’m going to kill you, I’m going to do what someone should’ve done as soon as they found out what you are.”
“You don’t actually want to do that,” Mara said, unconcerned.
“I really do,” Jordan replied, teeth bared.
Mara smiled, sly and sharp, and took another step forward, until the gun in Jordan’s hand was pressed against her chest. Jordan’s hand shook, but it wasn’t fear; the pale, slender woman was vibrating with fury, eyes bright with unshed tears.
Wrath. She could feel it, echoing, burning beneath Jordan’s skin. There were fires in her, hot enough to scorch stone. Mara knew the taste of those flames, knew the wild heights they could reach.
She did so enjoy wrath.
“I’m not the one who hurt you,” Mara said, head tilted. She reached up, and wrapped her fingers around Jordan’s wrist above the cuff of her glove; her skin was cool to the touch, and gooseflesh raised beneath the smooth stroke of Mara’s fingertips. Jordan inhaled sharply, not quite a gasp, and Mara brushed her thumb down the inside of Jordan’s wrist, tracing the line of the pale blue vein there. “You’re smart enough to know that.”
“You did this to me, you- you-”
“I didn’t. I crafted the Trouble, but someone else woke it up. Someone else hurt you. I let you hurt them back. I gave you protection against the world,” Mara said, voice low and coaxing. Jordan’s breathing was faster, sharper, and Mara could feel the beat of her pulse, double-quick under her thumb. Touch was such a simple thing, so trivial, until it was denied- then, suddenly, it was everything. Mara took another step, and Jordan yielded the ground, arm folding between them, still caught in Mara’s hold, the gun shifting to sit flat between them. “You can’t tell me it wasn’t exactly what you wanted- the power to punish him, to hurt him the way he’d hurt you. I gave you a sword and a shield, wove them into your skin so that no one could take them away from you.”
“You made me a monster,” Jordan snapped, trying to pull her arm back, and Mara tightened her grip, laughing.
“Who says that has to be a bad thing?” she asked, baring her teeth in a dangerous grin. “This world is full of monsters. I put you on equal footing.” She pushed forward again, her grip never faltering, keeping Jordan in place until they were pressed chest to chest. “So you can shoot me, or you can thank me, but either way, you’re still what you are. You think that anger came from nowhere? You think all that hate you carry, it’ll just disappear if you put a bullet in me?”
“It might,” Jordan said, glaring down at her, and Mara laughed again.
“That anger is why you’re alive,” she said. “You think the Trouble that brought you back can raise just anyone? No, no no no. That hate you’re carrying, it’s the blood in your veins and the breath in your lungs. And right now, as we speak, my sad little shadow is looking for a way to put you and all the rest right back in the ground.” Mara flashed her teeth in a grin that carried more threat than amusement. “She’s got Deputy Do-Right and the... ‘good’ Crocker helping her, too, so it probably won’t take her long to figure it out, and then...” She shrugged, gestured dismissively with her free hand. “Unless.”
“...Unless what?” Jordan asked, eyes narrowing, lip curling into a sneer, but it wasn’t quite enough to hide the surge of desperation, the fear and the fury. Mara knew that feeling, the drive to survive at any cost- it burned at her core just as much as it burned at Jordan’s.
“I can protect you. I can keep you alive, even after they’ve solved it,” Mara said. “You’re one of mine, after all.”
“And what do I have to do?” Jordan demanded, the words dripping with cynicism.
“Oh, I can think of a few things,” Mara said, with another dangerous flash of teeth, and she trailed her fingers up Jordan’s arm, light and teasing. “You have no idea how magnificent you could be, with a little bit of practice. Let me show you. You help me, and I promise you, I’ll make it worth your while- you’ll get a second chance, you’ll get a chance to collect some of what you’re owed. And...” Mara moved, resting her free hand on Jordan’s hip, fingertips slipping neatly beneath the hem of her shirt, winning a real gasp, this time. Jordan’s eyes fell half-closed, a tremor running through her. “How long has it been, really? And I don’t mean that sad sack of shit that put you in the ground, or the charmless Detective Wuornos- how long has it been since someone touched you, and meant it?”
“...How...” Jordan started, looking uncertain, before she tried to pull back, expression twisting, the temporary softness disappearing behind hard anger. “And I’m supposed to believe you mean it?”
“Of course not,” Mara scoffed. “But isn’t it nicer, knowing that right up front?” She paused, watching the surprise flicker over Jordan’s face, the disbelief. She hadn’t been prepared for honesty. They never were. “...Besides,” she added, amused, “I’ve been around a lot longer than they have. I guarantee you, I know things about touch you’ve never dreamed of.”
“And I should just... trust you? Let you use me, let you-”
“You don’t really have much of a choice,” Mara pointed out, shrugging. “You can trust me, or you can end with this Trouble. I’d rather you trusted me- you’re worth more to me alive than dead, and I think I’m the only one who can say that, right now. What’s the worst that happens? I’m lying, and you die anyway? At least I’m offering you a chance. This world burned you, Jordan- don’t you think you deserve to burn it back?”
“...” Mara could see Jordan hesitate, could see her fighting herself; she waited, tracing her fingertips up and down, up and down, over Jordan’s wrist. Jordan shivered, looked for a moment like she was going to pull away- and snarled, the sound full of fury and frustration and need. “What do I have to do?” she asked again, a bitter note of defeat in her voice, and Mara smiled, bright and wicked.
“Right now? Get me off this rusty hunk of scrap metal, and out of sight.”
It didn’t look like anyone had used the safehouse, since the last time Jordan had checked it over; all the supplies she’d last brought in were intact, the doors were properly locked, and there was a layer of dust on all the surfaces. She guided Mara inside, and scowled when Mara trailed her fingers over the windowsill next to the kitchen door, examining the dust with disdain.
“It’s a good sign, it means the Guard isn’t using this place anymore,” Jordan said, the words sharp. “You’re out of sight. What do we do next?”
And she thought she should feel guilty, she thought she should feel... conflicted, about all of this- Mara had created the Troubles, Mara was responsible for all of Haven’s problems- but she didn’t.
It was a Trouble, after all, that had brought her back. It was a Trouble that had given her a second chance.
And Jordan deserved to fight for her own survival, as much as anyone.
The world had burned her. She deserved to burn it back.
“It will have to do, for now,” Mara said, still sneering at the dust. “Now... I told you I’d keep you alive. You’ll want to be lying down for this, you might feel a little woozy.”
...Jordan didn’t like the sound of that, didn’t like the coy edge to Mara’s bright, wicked smile, the narrowness of her storm-blue eyes, but what choice did she have? What other choice could she possibly make? She could give herself over to Mara, to her dangerous honesty and unapologetic wickedness.
She could, what, go to Audrey? Beg mercy from the woman who’d taken everything from her? From Nathan, who’d used her, lied to her, from Duke, who’d tried to kill her once himself, whose own flesh and blood had succeeded? No. No, she knew what would happen if she went to them. Duke would see her as a threat, Nathan would look at her with pity, and Audrey... Audrey would talk, would try to offer solace, as if there was any such thing to be found. Would try to convince her to just- let go of the anger, to go quietly back into death.
Jordan would not go quietly. Not this time. Not ever.
“Fine. Bedroom’s this way,” Jordan said, avoiding Mara’s eyes. She started down the narrow hall, only to nearly stumble at the brush of fingertips over the back of her arm, hot skin and soft flesh and temptation.
A flicker of resentment sparked, simmering low in her stomach; it was better, knowing in advance that it didn’t mean anything, that it was as much a bribe and a ploy as it was anything else, that it was only a bribe and a ploy, but that didn’t actually change how she felt about it. She didn’t like that it was a weakness for someone else to exploit.
But God, did she miss being touched. Particularly simple, casual things, incidental things- the brush of skin against skin in a narrow hallway, for example, thoughtless, meaningless contact. Absent, accidental, and it set Jordan’s pulse to pounding, the fact that Mara didn’t pull away. Didn’t jerk back, cry out, crumple.
Nothing about Mara was safe, but she could stand inside Jordan’s personal space without cringing, and maybe that wasn’t much, but it was more than Jordan was used to.
Mara didn’t even seem to notice. Just strutted along in Jordan’s wake, confident and sure.
It should have been easy to hate her. Jordan wasn’t sure she liked what it said about her that she didn’t. That she could so easily hate the idea of her, but when faced with the person- abrasive, remorseless, shameless- she couldn’t muster more than distrust and confusion.
“In here,” Jordan said, pushing open the door and moving to take the dust-cover off of the bed, because if she did need to lie down, she didn’t want it to be on months worth of dust. Mara watched, making no offer of assistance, and Jordan folded it up and set it aside before sitting down, tentatively, on the edge of the bed. “Now what?”
“Now, you just relax and let me make you better,” Mara said, smirking. “It’ll only hurt a little.”
Jordan glared, but said nothing, waiting, and Mara stepped forward, moved until she was standing decidedly inside Jordan’s personal space, her legs bracketing Jordan’s knees.
“Close your eyes,” Mara instructed, and Jordan did, tension rolling through her; it might be her best chance, but it wasn’t easy. Trusting monsters hadn’t exactly paid off for her in the past.
But the world was full of monsters, was full of people who made monstrous decisions, and as far as she could tell, there was no ‘right side’ any longer. There were no heroes, only people fighting to survive.
And if all the sides were wrong, why the hell shouldn’t she pick one that had a chance of winning?
Hands bracketed her cheeks, strong, slightly callused, but oddly gentle, and heat gathered there, far more than should be accounted for by Mara’s touch or the blush creeping over Jordan’s skin. It began to spread, filling her head, and she could feel the pounding of her heart in the pressure building behind her eyes, a headache made of fire, and she gritted her teeth, choked back a sound- it built, and built, until Jordan was struggling to keep still, dragging in ragged breaths, feeling like at any moment her skull might just explode from the effort of containing it.
Lips brushed her forehead, and the pressure vanished, the heat rolled over her in a wave, crown to toes, and Jordan gasped, shuddered at the feeling, at the sunburn-bright prickle of sensation sliding through her skin. The room spun, and Jordan wasn’t quite sure she could feel the floor under her feet, wasn’t quite sure what was up and what was down, but there was a strong grip at her shoulders, guiding her, and Jordan went where she was put without resistance.
She could feel her heartbeat in every inch of her skin, a steady flick, flick, flick of heat, rushing through her. She could feel, also, a bright burning force at her core, something that- that moved, as she shifted.
“What did you do?” she demanded, eyes still shut tight, and even with her eyes closed, she could see Mara, a cold white pillar of fire looming over her.
“I made you better,” Mara replied, laughter in her voice. “Your life isn’t tied to the Trouble that brought you back, not any longer. As promised.”
“What is it tied to?” Jordan asked, because she could feel it, could feel the pull, still.
“My power,” Mara said. “So long as I’m breathing, you’ll be just fine.”
“You-” Jordan started, furious, surging up and opening her eyes, and the room blazed, too bright, too much. Mara reached out, covered her eyes with her hand and shoved her back down.
“Oh, stop that. Lie still, your body needs time to adjust. You didn’t really think there wasn’t going to be a catch, did you? Deals with the devil always have a catch, and it could’ve been much worse.” Mara sounded more amused than anything, and the fire in Jordan’s blood billowed, blazed- “Fuck, you’re going to be so much more fun than the others,” Mara said, voice low and full of the same roiling heat Jordan could feel coiling under her skin.
“Fun?” Jordan snarled, caught up in the fire. “You smug-”
“Why shouldn’t I be?” Mara demanded, affronted. “Why shouldn’t I be smug? You have no idea what I just did, the control, the precision, the power. You have no idea what it takes, to do what I do.”
“And that makes you special?” Jordan hissed, trying to sit up again, and Mara held her down, one hand on her chest, the heel of it digging hard into her collarbone.
“You have no idea,” Mara replied, tone curling like smoke. “You have no idea. People look at statues, at paintings, and think they know what art is, but any idiot with a chisel can work in stone, any savage with mud on their hands can paint. My work, my art, you people don’t even have words for the things I can do. And you... You’re going to be something special, when I’m done with you. You’re going to be one of a kind.”
“How do you live with yourself?” Jordan demanded, not sure if she was more angry at Mara or at herself, for not having seen the hook in the bait. For seeing the hook in the bait, and taking it anyway. “How can you do the things that you do?”
“The same way you do. You’re not all sweetness and light, yourself, little Fury. You exist because of your darkness. Because you deserved better, and you knew it. Because you were willing to take what you deserved, when the opportunity presented itself. The Erinyes Trouble couldn’t have raised you if you weren’t fully prepared to kill for it. And let’s not pretend you were squeaky clean before you died.” Mara laughed, and her tone went honey-rich and poison-sweet.
“You want to talk about the things I do, how about waking a Crocker and setting him loose on your own kind? How about your plan to kidnap and use a traumatized child to compel your boyfriend for you, so that you could send the competition packing for twenty seven years? How about working for people whose entire philosophy is ‘the ends justify the means’, who were willing to use a living being as a shield over and over and over again? Shooting a man in the back? Supporting the idea of human sacrifice? Torture? I mean, come on.”
Mara pressed close, white fire and body heat and malice, and her lips brushed Jordan’s cheek just beside her ear when she spoke again, tickled against her skin.
“Your Trouble didn’t make you a monster, Jordan, your choices did. And you can’t blame me for those. So you can sit here and stew in your own guilt and regret, or you can accept that, recognize that this is how the world is, that everyone is a monster under the surface, and take what you deserve.” Mara pressed in, pressed a kiss to her cheek, and it burned, felt branded into her skin. “Personally? I’d go with option two.”
The words rattled in her skull, dug deep into all the places she hadn’t wanted to examine too closely, all the decisions she’d made because she’d felt trapped, felt forced, felt wronged.
Why she’d made them, in the end, didn’t change that she’d made them. They were her choices.
She’d tried to run from that, when she’d decided to leave Haven. When she’d realized how far over the line she was, bringing Wade into things, when she’d realized how much her own internal justifications conflicted. She’d tried to leave it all behind, tried to leave herself behind, and she’d ended up dead. There was probably some sort of irony in that, some cosmic lesson on consequence and self.
Wherever you go, there you are, after all.
And she’d already run down her options, already committed to this course. There wasn’t much point in wasting energy on regret.
It wasn’t like anyone else was any better, under the surface. She didn’t owe any of them anything. She didn’t owe them her guilt or remorse- she doubted they’d spared any on her.
So fine. She was a monster.
She could live with that, if it let her live.
“Okay, then.” She reached out, caught Mara by the back of the neck, heard her laugh, low and wicked as she dragged her in, because she could, because she was entitled- Mara had certainly implied it was part of the deal, after all- and claimed a kiss. “Option two.”
It was always a special kind of delight when a plan came together. Particularly one as... off the cuff as this one. Mara could not have hoped for a more perfect opportunity, could not have hoped for a better option- someone whose weak points she knew, someone she could understand and therefore manipulate, someone with exactly the right kind of drive and a need Mara alone could fulfil, someone who was already primed to fight Mara’s enemies... Add in the fact that Jordan was amusing, and appealing, was someone Mara might actually enjoy keeping for a while, instead of merely tolerating, and clearly, the six-hundred-year run of bad luck was finally reversing.
And now, Jordan had a very compelling reason to keep Mara alive, and Mara had time to plan.
...Later. She’d been cooped up on that boat for days, had been otherwise trapped for weeks in the company of Tweedles Dee and Dum, had been smothered for centuries under a parade of selfless, well-intentioned, boring identities- she craved, needed to stretch, needed... to reclaim herself, as she had not yet been able to do.
To reassert her ownership of her own body, to prove it was hers, that she alone dictated what was done to it, and by whom.
She was going to wash away six hundred years of unwanted touches, of unearned intimacies, of the echoes of strangers, she was going to drown them out in sweat and sex.
She was going to make sure, by the time she was satisfied, that Jordan had two very compelling reasons to keep Mara alive.
It was dark out.
Jordan had lost track of time, had lost track of everything, had lost herself, and her thoughts were hazy, satisfaction hanging thick as smoke over her mind. She was buzzing, skin flushed and marked, bruises bitten bright and dug deep.
Mara lay beside her, eyes bright in the darkness, and Jordan could still see the fire in her, the white-hot core of flame that burned under her skin. Absently, Mara traced her hand over Jordan’s throat, the touch soft and careful, now, a feather-light caress. Different, so different, than the handful of other touches she’d gotten, since her Trouble had activated- Mara’s touch was nothing like Nathan’s, had a... deftness, a softness, he’d lacked.
Of course, Mara could feel what she was doing. And she may have had a point about experience. She’d certainly been confident, had been... commanding. Had known what she wanted, and taken it, without hesitation or doubt.
Jordan hadn’t known some of those things had been physically possible. She’d enjoyed learning that they were.
“Tomorrow, you’re going to help me with something very important,” Mara said, with that same confidence.
“What are we doing?” Jordan asked, only able to muster a moderate amount of curiosity. It didn’t really matter, after all- Jordan would do what she was asked to do, whatever it was.
“I need aether. I can’t get the door open again without it.”
“The way home. I’ve been delayed a very long time, but I still have work to do. You’re going to help me get my aether, so that I can get back to it.”
“How are we going to get it?” Jordan asked, shifting just enough to arch into Mara’s absent, easy touch.
“...You’ll like that part, I promise,” Mara said, a cruel glint in her eyes, amusement curving her lips. “I told you you’d have a chance to get back some of what was owed to you- you’re going to have fun.”
“Okay,” Jordan agreed, the flick, flick, flick of fire in her veins speeding up just a trace at the prospect.
Somehow, it wasn’t difficult to believe.
Mara grinned, bright and dangerous, and dragged Jordan in for another kiss, hands roaming over bare skin. Jordan went, willing and eager, into her hold, and they started all over again.
“This is risky,” Jordan said, not for the first time, drumming her fingers against the steering wheel.
“Just do your part, and it will be fine,” Mara said dismissively. She wasn’t entirely sure if she approved of the fretting, or not; wasn’t sure yet if it fell into ‘endearing’ or ‘irritating’. Mara didn’t like whining, but she did like knowing that Jordan would speak up if she had a concern- just on the off-chance Mara missed something, as unlikely as that was.
“No.” The refusal slipped out before Mara could stop it, harsher than she’d meant it- she gave a tight-lipped smile, and reached out, patting Jordan’s wrist. “You’re not going into the station. You can’t crack a safe, there’s no point sending you in there.” Where, no doubt, someone would wise up to the fact that Jordan should not be there, and Mara had made a number of small adjustments, yesterday, but she still wasn’t bulletproof.
...Which would be a worthwhile upgrade to consider, assuming Mara could figure out how to stabilize for an additional weight of aether. Jordan was, in the most technical sense, a construct, now, a soul set in a created body, and it was the human body that couldn’t support more than one Trouble, not the soul animating it. Mara might be able to do something with that, might be able to adjust the harmonics of her form to allow for a second vibrational impact without cancelling out the first-
-but that was a project for later, when she had the tools she would need and a little time to work out the physics of it. For now, she’d simply avoid putting Jordan in a position to get shot. At least, as much as was feasible.
“If you’re wrong-”
“I’m not wrong,” Mara said, fixing Jordan with a glare. “I know them as well as Audrey Parker does, they won’t take the risk. Just do your part, and it will be fine.”
“...Fine.” Jordan handed Mara one of the burner phones that had been stocked at the safehouse, and got out of the car. “Be careful.”
“Be ready,” Mara replied, already focused on the message she was typing. Jordan huffed a sigh, and stalked off, headed for her place, and Mara took a single moment to check out her ass as she went, just because she could. Because she wanted to, and she was free to do what she wanted.
Mara hit send, and headed to her own place to wait.
Thirty five minutes later, the shell and her cop headed through the front door of the abandoned restaurant, guns drawn, moving cautiously. Mara could see their approach in the cracked, dirty mirror that had hung above the bar, and smiled- her gamble had paid off, Wuornos was sticking with Audrey instead of having one of them cover the side door.
Which meant Crocker would be coming in through the back, and making his way through the kitchen behind her; they’d be bold, seeing her alone, knowing they’d cut off her avenue of retreat. Mara had the odds at seventy thirty that it would be Audrey who swung wide to cover the side door; that would be ideal, of course, but either way, this would work. The only risk had been that they’d do this properly, split up to come in through all three doors, and that Crocker would’ve gotten the side door; Wuornos would’ve been a problem, then.
Wuornos and Audrey moved into view, and guns drawn immediately became guns fixed. Mara turned to face them, hands raised, smirking; Audrey swept wide, moving to cover the side door, and the faintest scuffing sound told her that Crocker had moved into place behind the kitchen door while Wuornos covered the main entrance.
“Oh, did I forget to turn the GPS tracker in my phone off?” Mara asked, flashing a bright, toothy smile at Wuornos. “Oops. How careless.”
“Dunno what you thought-” Wuornos started, but he was cut off by a sharp, startled, pained cry from Audrey, his expression twisting to one of panic as he turned, gun dipping- there was a clatter as Audrey’s gun hit the floor, and Mara laughed.
They really should’ve followed procedure, and covered all the doors from the outside. That alcove in front of the side door was an awful blind spot, coming at it from the inside.
Jordan was holding Audrey up, the arm around her middle the only thing keeping Audrey on her feet; her other hand was tangled in Audrey’s hair, keeping her head back, and her gloveless hands were very, very close to vulnerable skin.
“Hello, Nathan,” Jordan offered, baring her teeth in a sharp smile. “You want to go ahead and drop that gun?”
“Jordan?” Wuornos looked shocked, jaw dropping, brows furrowed, like he couldn’t quite believe what he was seeing. “What- how?”
Mara heard another faint scuff, and moved, drifted a foot to the left, so that she was standing between Nathan and the sightline from the kitchen door; she turned, keeping herself in profile, a narrow target against Nathan’s wider, taller frame, her second layer of insurance. Really, the odds of Crocker risking a shot while Audrey was being held were negligible, but if he couldn’t tell exactly what was happening, he might risk it- but he wouldn’t dare gamble on an uncertainty if a missed shot would take Wuornos down, instead.
“How, really? You were the one who showed up yesterday to ask questions,” Mara said, tsking. “Really, though, drop the gun.”
Nathan looked back at her, visibly seething, but he let his gun fall to the ground, and kicked it away at the pointed arch of her brow. He understood the threat, of course- Audrey wasn’t immune any longer, and Jordan wouldn’t hesitate to hurt her again. Mara sauntered closer, scooping the gun up and casually adjusting so that Nathan was now between her and the kitchen doors, ignoring his baleful glare.
“We handled that Trouble. Let the dead go back to rest, put an end to the killing,” he said, the words an accusation all their own.
“I didn’t want to go back to rest,” Jordan snapped, the words harsh, and Nathan turned that hard look back on her, despite the gun Mara was now holding on him.
“So you went to her? She caused all this, Jordan, she made the Troubles, she’s responsible for everything,” he said, and Mara laughed brightly.
“Oh, she knows,” Mara said, grinning.
“I didn’t go to her for help, I went to kill her. Because none of you would,” Jordan snarled. “And she offered me a chance to live.”
“So that’s it, you just- switch sides, abandon everything you believed in?” Nathan asked, and Jordan stared at him, disbelieving.
“As if you have any right to judge me? With what you did to this town, with what you keep doing? I should lie down and die out of duty, while you put everyone else at risk to save your precious Audrey? Fuck you, Nathan. I wouldn’t be in this position if not for you. So yeah, I’m going to take my chances with her. At least she’s honest about her intentions.”
“And this is- is fascinating, really,” Mara said, “except that it isn’t, at all, and we have better things to be doing with our time, so let’s get to the point. Call your dog, Wuornos.” She said it loudly enough that she knew Crocker would hear it, and added, just as loudly, “Or I start shooting people, and, honestly, I’d really enjoy that.”
Crocker didn’t wait for Wuornos to fold, stepped out of the kitchen on his own, hands empty and raised. His glare was just as bleak as Wuornos’s, held just a bit more real threat- he met her eyes for just a moment before his lips twitched up with just a trace of knowing, and he turned his focus to Jordan.
Mara didn’t like that at all. Who the hell did he think he was, to presume anything about her?
“You know I’m going to kill you,” he said, the words calm and certain, his eyes still locked on Jordan.
“You tried that once before,” Jordan replied, edging her hand just a little bit closer to Audrey’s skin, and Audrey was awake, now, aware, was still half-hanging in Jordan’s hold, but knew what was going on, and she flinched at that movement. “It didn’t take. Don’t think you’ll have much luck this time, either. Though I suppose you’re not entirely incapable- I hear you were the one who killed Wade.”
Mara could hear him grinding his teeth, even from halfway across the room, and she giggled, enjoying how tense it made both men.
“The hell do you want,” Wuornos growled out, clearly trying to draw attention away from Crocker- whether in an effort to protect him, or in an effort to give him space to calm down so that he didn’t do anything that would put Audrey at risk, it wasn’t clear which- and Mara fluttered her lashes at him.
“Good, to business. Crocker, you’re going to go to the police station and get me my damn aether. You have one hour to bring it to me.”
“Duke, no,” Audrey said, and Jordan tightened her grip on Audrey’s hair, jerked her head back sharply.
“Shut up,” she hissed, with another threatening movement.
“He’s not going to do that,” Nathan said, shaking his head. “He’s not going to give you anything.”
“Yes he is,” Mara said, smiling sweetly. “Aren’t you, Crocker?”
“What makes you think I can get it?” Crocker asked, expressionless. “It’s locked away, I don’t have access, I’m not a cop.”
“Like that’s ever stopped you,” Mara replied. “Don’t forget, I know everything she knows about you. You can get it. And you will get it. And you will hand it over to me.”
Crocker looked between Audrey, still held firm in Jordan’s grip, and Wuornos, stiff and furious and with a gun leveled at his chest, and looked back at her, eyes dark and crackling with intensity. She met his gaze, smugly satisfied; she knew him, she knew what his answer had to be.
He was, fundamentally, just as selfish as Wuornos. Just as desperate, just as needy, just as willing to fuck everyone else over to protect his people.
So long as she had his people, she held his leash.
“If you hurt them, the next Trouble I let out will be one that kills you,” he said, the words flat.
“One hour,” she replied. “Starting now. You might want to hurry.”
He left without another word; he was bleeding power, she could feel it, the pressure building up faster, much faster, than the day before. She made a note of that, because she wanted to be well out of range when he did go off, and given the start of a protest from Audrey- silenced when Jordan gave her a sharp shake- and the bleak glare Wuornos was directing in Crocker’s wake, it wouldn’t be long after he got back. Not with the lectures and recriminations that were bound to follow. Hypocritical though they would inevitably be.
Really, they had to be blind, not to see the connection, but that wasn’t her problem. Not so long as she had enough leeway to get clear.
“And we just... wait, now?” Jordan asked, sounding dubious, her eyes still on the door, as well.
“That is exactly what we do,” Mara agreed. She reached for Wuornos’s cuffs, and motioned for Jordan to do the same with Audrey’s. “Cuff her and stash her in a booth or something, no point in having to hold her up this whole time.” She grabbed Wuornos’s wrist, closed one cuff around it, and she made a point of letting her touch linger, enjoying the panicky rush of conflict he displayed, how he clearly wanted to pull away and just as clearly couldn’t ignore the momentary rush of sensation.
“I’m not going to be able to cuff her without touching her,” Jordan said, and Mara shrugged, glanced up for just a moment.
Jordan blinked, and reached for Audrey’s cuffs, and that, that had apparently been something she shouldn’t have said out loud before she’d finished cuffing Wuornos, minor miscalculation. He wrenched around, got a hand on the gun and twisted it out of her grip, got a hand on her wrist and twisted, dragged- she nailed him, hard, with an elbow, drove the heel of her hand into his chin, but even though he could feel it, even though she could see it disorient him, he pushed through, got an arm wrapped around her throat and squeezed.
Jordan gave an indignant cry, and Mara could see the fury rising in her, could see the fire under her skin bright and dangerous.
“Let’er go,” Wuornos demanded, glaring at Jordan, and okay, he got at least a B plus for effort this time, his arm pressed flat over her windpipe, very close to cutting off her air, the gun digging into her side. “Now.”
Jordan met Mara’s eyes, and Mara nodded, not really worried, yet, but fairly sure Wuornos wasn’t bluffing. It didn’t matter, Mara had contingency plans, Mara always had contingency plans. The situation wasn’t out of hand, not yet.
Jordan let go of Audrey, and Audrey scrambled to the side, went after her gun on the ground, and Jordan still had her cuffs in one hand.
“Bring those here,” Wuornos demanded, and Mara had to fight not to grin, just nodded again, letting Jordan know it was okay, letting her know to listen. Jordan looked uncertain, trembling with tension, anger boiling below her skin, but she stepped forward, closed the distance. When she was close, almost close enough to touch, Mara let herself smile, and Jordan’s eyes narrowed in confusion.
Wuornos holstered his gun, reached for the cuffs, and Mara tilted her head, a silent demand, and Jordan’s eyes went wide, but she held, let Wuornos grab the metal-
-and grabbed his wrist.
Wuornos crumpled, a breathless, startled cry tearing from him as he dropped, and ugh, he was heavy, obnoxious- Mara twisted clear, came up with his gun, and Jordan held- was confused, clearly, was shocked, but she held, hand clamped tight around Wuornos’s wrist as he barely kept on his knees, shaking and heaving for breath, eyes wide enough to show the whites all around- while Mara stepped around, behind Wuornos, fixing Audrey with a look as she aimed.
“I’d put that back down,” she said, motioning to Audrey’s gun, and Audrey dropped the gun once more, kicked it away with her eyes fixed on Wuornos, fear written plain on her face. “Good. Jordan, enough.”
Jordan let go, and Mara leaned down, finished cuffing Wuornos properly, and motioned at Audrey.
“Now go cuff her.”
Jordan retrieved Audrey’s cuffs, crossed back to the other woman, and Audrey flinched away from her approach, put her hands behind her back without being prompted, clearly trying to avoid being grabbed. Jordan gave Mara a questioning look, and Mara shrugged; she didn’t care one way or the other. Jordan hesitated, but cuffed Audrey carefully, looking a little pale.
“What was that?” Jordan asked, when Audrey’s hands were secured. “I can’t- how did I do that?”
“I told you,” Mara said, amused, “I made you better.”
“That’s better?” Audrey asked, horrified, still staring at her lover; Wuornos was still gasping, shaking and wild-eyed.
“Of course it is,” Mara replied, shrugging. “Fair’s fair. He hurt her... Now she can hurt him.”
“Why didn’t you tell me?” Jordan asked, sounding uncertain, still.
“Because gifts are more fun as a surprise,” Mara replied, flashing a sharp-edged smile. “Surprise.” Audrey made a choked, indignant sound, but Jordan just blinked, tilted her head, clearly considering. “Also, if you knew, there was always the chance he’d see the change, and be cautious. As it was... He underestimated you. Again.”
“...Yes, he did,” Jordan agreed, and now, she smiled, a thin, brittle thing, but a smile nonetheless. “Guess he won’t do that again.”
“He can only hope,” Mara replied. “Because with a little practice... I mean it, sweet, you will be magnificent.”
“This... really what you want to be, Jordan?” Wuornos asked, his voice a low rasp of sound. “Her pet, doing tricks, hurting people for a little bit of praise?”
“Hey,” Mara snarled, reaching down to smack the back of his head, and he jolted, clearly not having expected it. “You don’t get to talk to her like that.”
Jordan looked surprised, and her expression went soft, for just a moment, before she smiled, hard and bitter, and moved to crouch down and look Wuornos in the eyes.
“Coming from Audrey Parker’s lapdog, that doesn’t carry a whole lot of weight, Nathan,” she said, folding her hands over her knees. “And, in case you were wondering? I’m getting a lot more than a little bit of praise. ...How’s Audrey not being immune anymore working out for you?”
Wuornos didn’t answer, and Jordan smirked and stood back up, flicking a quick glance at Mara. Mara held out a hand, beckoning, and Jordan moved closer, her eyes falling closed when Mara took her hand, traced her fingertips over the back of it.
“I told you I’d give you the chance to get back some of your own,” Mara murmured, the words carefully quiet, pitched to carry to Jordan alone. “Feels good, doesn’t it?”
“What do you mean, I could be magnificent?” Jordan asked in response, head tilted and eyes opening, narrowed in speculation. Mara grinned, tugged her close and kissed her lightly, because she could, because she wanted to, because she didn’t have to justify it to anyone.
“I am going to make you a goddess,” Mara said, because she could. Because she wanted to.
Because the world had burned Mara, a time or two, and Mara was going to burn it back.
“...I think I can live with that,” Jordan said, smiling, and she was dazzlingly lovely when she really smiled. The Goddess of Vengeance, Mara thought, that would suit her very well indeed. Adrestia reborn.
Yes, that would suit her just fine.
It was strange.
Mara wasn’t wrong, it felt good, but it was still... strange. To stand in a room with the only two people who’d been able to get past her Trouble, before, and know that they were both vulnerable, now.
Nathan couldn’t touch her.
He’d been able to, and now he couldn’t. Because Mara had decided that he shouldn’t. Had changed her, had made her strong enough to overcome his Trouble. Fair’s fair, she’d said, just like that. Like it was nothing. I made you better.
I’m going to make you a goddess.
There was something terribly alluring about that thought.
Sword and shield, Mara had said. Protection against the world. Equal footing. I made you better.
I’m going to make you a goddess.
Mara had given her a weapon that could tear down even someone supposedly invulnerable. Could leave him weak and trembling at her feet.
Jordan had resented her Trouble, had loathed it, had cringed back from the power of it.
You can’t tell me that it wasn’t exactly what you wanted- the power to punish him, to hurt him the way he’d hurt you.
Mara had guided Audrey over to one of the worn, battered booths, had checked her seams and her belt, her sleeves and her pockets when she’d done so, and left her sitting there, had moved Nathan to a different booth, had taken a seat at the bar where she could watch the both of them. She was relaxed, casual, twirling a bent bit of metal between her fingers with a coy, amused smile.
Not a trace of worry, not a trace of doubt. Confident, certain, waiting.
Jordan sat down beside her, and Mara smirked at her, blue eyes blazing with the fire Jordan could still see. She wondered if that was ever going to fade, or if it was just part of her now.
“What’s on your mind, little Fury?” Mara asked, and Jordan reached out, brushed a fingertip along the back of Mara’s hand.
“When- when you weren’t you, when you were... everyone else you’ve been. Those people, they could help people control their Troubles.” Jordan paused, and Mara’s expression went dark, went bleak as she glared at Audrey. “Is- can anyone control their Trouble? Can you teach me to control this?”
“There’s no such thing as a Trouble that can’t be controlled,” Mara said, the words curling with disdain. “Or at least, there wasn’t. Anyone can control their own Trouble.”
“Will you teach me?”
Mara looked at her, eyes glinting, and took her hand.
“Breathe in,” she instructed, and Jordan blinked, because she hadn’t meant right that minute, but she did as she was told. “Hold the air in your lungs, feel it there.” Jordan did, focused on the feeling, and Mara smirked. “Feel it feeding the fire?”
“Yes,” Jordan said, because she did, she could feel the fire in her blood, could feel how it drew on the air.
“Follow the fire. Feel it move through you, tell me where it sits.”
“Everywhere,” Jordan said, confused, and Mara tightened her grip on Jordan’s hand.
“Pay attention. Tell me where it sits.”
“...In my veins. In my skin.”
“That’s your power. You want to control it, you need to figure out how to direct it. Pull it out of your skin, into your veins, and you can be touched. Direct it to particular sections of skin, you can make certain areas safe and protect others. Pull extra, concentrate it in your skin, you can vary the intensity, the sensation- pull enough, and you won’t just cripple someone with a touch, you’ll kill them.”
“...Really?” Jordan asked, eyes going wide, and Mara laughed.
“I told you. You’ll be magnificent with a little bit of practice. If you’re very, very dedicated, you might even be able to push it beyond your skin. Direct it over distance, or create an aura no one can cross. This gift, it’s yours. It’s part of you. Treat it like part of you, learn it instead of fighting it, and who knows what you can do with it.” Mara traced her fingers over Jordan’s palm, and Jordan could feel heat flare, following the movements.
“What were they for?” Jordan asked, and Mara blinked, looked startled, then cautiously pleased.
“In the beginning? Proof of concept. I needed to know it could be done. I needed to know I could do it. From there? They’re tools. Every gift your people call Troubles serves a useful purpose, when it’s used correctly.”
“How is Dwight’s Trouble useful?” Jordan asked, because she already knew what Mara would say about her own. Sword and shield. Protection. Nathan’s, too, could be seen that way, had certainly kept him running through situations that would have stopped anyone else.
“Dwight can call fire,” Mara said, as though it should be obvious. “Do you understand what that can do, on a battlefield? How much a boon that is? He’s used it that way, himself- used it to pull gunfire away from someone vulnerable, to direct the path of a bullet to take down the one who fired it. Even fighting it, even with it sitting in its most basic state, he can protect a huge area, can command the field by default. If he bothered to learn it, he could call enemy bullets, and let his friends fire freely. He could redirect their paths, shoot around corners, weave around obstacles- it’s the ultimate battlefield gift. Admittedly, I designed it for musket balls and arrows, not machine guns and rockets, but they were never meant to sit for centuries untended.”
“What did you plan to fight?” Jordan asked, frowning, because her ability, and that ability, those weren’t just tools. They were weapons. And then there was the Trouble that had raised her- that had raised others, as well- the disquiet dead. Set on vengeance.
Someone could build an army, with that gift.
“Am planning,” Mara corrected, almost absently. “Someone who wronged me. Someone who took something very precious from me.”
“What did they take?”
“My father. Among other things.” Mara’s expression was distant, cold, and Jordan reached out, touched her cheek, drew her gaze back. Mara blinked, and smiled, and it was dangerous, was full of things Jordan couldn’t quite interpret. “I have a war to wage, little Fury. I can make you a goddess, but I will need something from you.”
“...We had a deal,” Jordan said, picking the words out carefully. “You keep me alive, I help you. You hold up your end, I’ll hold up mine.”
“You really will be magnificent,” Mara said, with a sly, satisfied smile. “And I am going to show you universes. Just as soon as we can get out of here.”
“You really think Crocker is going to come back, with what you need, alone?” Jordan asked, frowning, fretting. Pinning something that important on Duke seemed like a very, very bad idea.
“He’ll be here. And then we are leaving. Quickly.”
“Could- can he control what’s happening? You said anyone could control a Trouble-”
“Their own Trouble,” Mara corrected. “Anyone can control their own Trouble. Crocker isn’t dealing with his Trouble, he’s not even dealing with a Trouble. He’s dealing with hundreds. Feel the fire in your blood, Jordan, feel how strong it is, feel how it moves. Now imagine that, magnified by hundreds- and imagine that every bit of it is fighting you. Is screaming to get out, because it doesn’t belong. That man is a bomb waiting to go off. We don’t want to be here when he does. We’ll be able to see the show from where we’re going, anyway.”
“...Could you stop it?” Jordan asked, because Mara might look amused, but there was a note of wariness there, too.
“Maybe. With the right tools, and enough time. Neither of which I’m willing to spend on it.”
“So we leave?”
“...Okay.” It wasn’t her problem. Haven wasn’t her problem, not anymore. Universes, Mara had said.
Jordan could work with that.
Crocker made it back with four minutes to spare out of his hour. Mara gave Jordan a pointed look, because really, there was no need to doubt her. She knew what she was doing.
“Knew I could count on you,” she said, smiling sharp and cruel. “Give me my aether.”
“I do that, they walk out of here?” Crocker demanded, flicking a glance in the direction of the tables where the two cops were cuffed.
“You give me the aether, I give you the keys to their cuffs, and I don’t really give a shit what you do with them,” Mara replied, amused. “You can keep them here, for all I care.”
“Don’t do this, Duke,” Audrey said, tone urgent, and Mara lifted the gun from the bar beside her, pointed it at Wuornos.
“No comments from the peanut gallery,” she instructed, and Audrey went silent, pale and unhappy, eyes on the weapon. Crocker focused on it, as well, grim and glowering, and reached into his pocket, drew out a little vial of black spheres. They hummed, trembling against the glass, trying to reach her, and Mara breathed a sigh of relief; finally, damnit. Mara held up two pairs of keys, and set them down on the bar, standing up and moving towards Crocker, keeping her gun trained on Wuornos as she moved- he made the most sense, he was the one most likely to try something stupid, and if he did, she could shoot him, and the other two weren’t going to risk getting him shot. Jordan fell in beside her, pressed against her side, and they stopped just in front of Crocker.
Mara held out her hand, and she could see him hesitate, could see him waver.
Jordan lashed out, pressed her palm against his cheek, and he jerked back, dropped the aether. Mara caught it, tucked it into her pocket, and smiled.
“They’re all yours,” she said, as he cursed and seethed and trembled. “Good luck with that.”
Crocker backed away, eyes blazing, and Mara put her hand at the small of Jordan’s back and guided her out the door.
“Now what?” Jordan asked, as they headed to the car, looking anxiously back over her shoulder.
“Now? Now, we go home.”
They had a war to wage, after all. And Mara had promised Jordan universes.
It was long past time to start.