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There are many things Monet hates in life, but early morning staff meetings are definitely in the top ten. She's only willing to take partial blame, having spent the previous evening in Rio de Janeiro and a never-ending chain of private events and beautiful people. She flew back to New York at six am.

It's now eight, and she desperately needs a latte.

Hair tied back in a simple ponytail, a thick sweater and a pair of jeans later, she's out on the street. No flying, though she's tempted. The line at Starbucks is out the door, an orderly queue of vaguely impatient people. Rictor is three people ahead of her, eyes half-closed, looking as crappy as she feels.

"Ric," Monet says, before she can stop herself, and he peers at her blearily before making a gesture that clearly gives her permission to jump the line. She does, of course, and even remembers to thank him.

She's trying to be better at holding onto friends, when it feels like she's haemorrhaging them. She actually misses the ones who are gone. Well, Pip, she doesn't miss at all, but Guido, before everything that twisted him, and Rahne, in some weird way, though Monet remains pretty ambivalent toward her. And Theresa … thinking about Terry makes her feel … something. Sad, maybe, though that doesn't quite seem to fit. Alone is better, thought still not right. Something works. She misses Terry the most.

Rictor shuffles forward in the line, and she follows at a safe distance.

"Why are you so hung-over?" She asks politely, and if it sounds slightly accusatory, she's trying, okay.

"Because I hate my liver," Rictor replies hoarsely, hand pressed over his mouth. "I think it started off as a game of I Never with Layla, Longshot, and Star. I have no idea how it ended, except I woke up with one leg in the fridge – mostly naked – with 'coffee will help' written on my chest in red lipstick."

"I'm almost sorry I missed it." And she's proud of herself, because it actually sounds sincere.

They order their drinks, and Monet pays despite Rictor's protests. She likes spending money on other people. She knows the others receive a meagre salary, and she knows just how tiny that salary actually is, but she's never earned a cent from X-Factor. She has enough money to fund X-Factor forever.

Only Jamie knows, and probably Layla, too. It's nobody's business.

Their drinks appear on the counter, and she raises her eyebrow at the monstrosity in Rictor's hand.

"Are you sure that's a good idea?" She asks dubiously.

Rictor shrugs. "I don't know. I doubt it, but Layla once told me it's the best hangover cure she knows."

"And we're taking Layla at her word now, are we?"

"It can't make things worse," Rictor mutters.

***

They're both late for the meeting, and Madrox glares at them as they enter. He's treated to a round of synchronised eye-rolling.

"A couple of rules before we start," Jamie says, attempting to look menacing. This latte, Monet thinks, twisting the cup in her hands, is especially delicious this morning. "One, cell phones on the table."

Grumbles all around as a handful of phones slide into the middle of the table.

"Two, Rictor and Shatterstar have to sit on opposite sides of the table, at a diagonal."

"Fuck this morning," Rictor groans, as Shatterstar protests, "I wasn't going to do anything to him."

"Here, sit beside Jamie, Rictor," Layla says, pulling out a chair. "Don't forget your coffee."

"Three, nobody looks at Longshot, even for a second."

"I'm too distracting," Longshot agrees gamely.

"Four, no sarcastic comments from anyone until the end. This especially applies to Monet and Rictor."

"Whatever," Monet says, crossing her legs and leaning back in the chair. She takes another sip.

There's an agenda, which nobody has read, and Monet dozes through the beginning of the meeting, which is Madrox going through the client list and attempting to logically assign people to what are, for the most part, menial cases. To be honest, she's grateful for the reprieve from demons, gods and monsters.

Ten minutes in, Rictor is face down on the table, asleep, and Shatterstar and Longshot are locked in what appears to be an intense staring contest. Polaris looks like she can't believe this is the team she ended up on, and Monet can't blame her because she feels that way almost every day. Layla, of course, is looking right at her, and Monet bites down on her sigh, because she should be used to this by now.

She isn't.

She doubts she ever will be.

***

After an hour of tedium, the meeting ends.

"Does anybody have anything to add?" Jamie asks, like it hurts to force the words out.

Monet surprises herself by actually having something to add that isn't dripping with sarcasm. "So when are we rescuing Terry?" she asks, and tries not to notice that Layla finally looks away. Monet's spent her entire life wanting to be seen, so it just doesn't make sense that she wants to hide from Layla Miller.

"Terry left of her own free will," Madrox replies.

"Unsurprisingly, we have radically different definitions of free will," and there it is, that sarcasm she loves so much. In a battle of wits, Monet will always come out on top. "Are we all this expendable?"

"Terry did what she had to do, considering the situation, and she's at peace with that decision."

And she probably is, Monet thinks bitterly, but that doesn't mean she's right. "I don't agree."

"What is there to agree with? What does that even mean? Terry told me ..."

"I don't agree," Monet repeats, and if he thinks she's being irrational, she doesn't care. "When? "

Jamie stares at her then looks helplessly to Layla, who shrugs with a vague smile on her lips.

"Fine, I'll do it myself. Or better yet, I'll hire X-Factor Investigations, who'll help Squirrel Girl figure out why all the rodents in Michigan are suddenly so angry but can't be bothered to extend the same courtesy to their own members," Monet says, resisting the urge to gesture wildly, because that is not what Monet St. Croix does, not even on a bad day. And today is shaping up to be a very bad day.

"There's no employee discount," Jamie says, like Monet isn't practically made of money, "and Layla's stupid three-for-two coupon doesn't apply."

"Oh, yes it does," Monet replies, even though she has no idea what Jamie is talking about. Later, she's sure she's going to wonder what the hell those baristas put in her latte, but right now, she's feeling perfectly calm and collected, and too far gone to stop now. "I hire me, obviously, and ... and Layla."

"Okey dokey," Layla says sweetly, and Monet wants to strangle her. "You get a third for free."

"Fine. Shatterstar."

Jamie throws his hands up in the air. "Fine!" He repeats, almost hysterically. It's loud enough to startle Rictor awake and break the trance the wonder twins are in. "Anybody else feel like chiming in here?"

Rictor picks that precise moment to vomit all over Jamie's feet.

Monet escapes in the resulting chaos and flies to her room, locking the door behind her. She presses her forehead to the cool wood and puts her hand over her chest where her heart is beating ridiculously fast, so hard she's worried it'll break through her impenetrable skin. It's such a foreign feeling, this adrenaline rush, that she almost doesn't recognise it. She willingly embarrassed herself back there.

Sometimes, she doesn't know what the hell's going on in her own head.

***

Monet changes into a flannel monstrosity of a nightgown. She bought the eyesore during the weeks she spent at Cassidy Keep trying to keep Terry from spiralling too deep into the darkness that had haunted her since her father had died. Not that Monet had done a particularly spectacular job, but she had tried.

She dreams about Everett, who she hasn't thought about for longer than she wants to admit, and when she wakes up, the covers are twisted around her like a prison. She flails for a few futile seconds before realising there's nothing there but her own haunted memories. Sitting up, she presses her face into her knees, the flannel softly comforting against her skin. Breathe, she tells herself, and almost manages it.

A sudden knock on the door, and she's on her feet, stumbling to open it.

Shatterstar holds out an envelope without commenting on her ridiculous nightgown. "From Layla."

She slices open the envelope with the edge of her nail and unfolds the paper. "Are these call numbers?"

"Yes. I love the library," Shatterstar says, without the faintest hint of sarcasm.

She gets dressed into something more appropriate – leggings, a thick sweater made with Irish wool, another throwback from her time in Ireland with Terry. It had been Banshee's, she thinks, and it still smells faintly of pipe smoke and cologne. Terry had wrapped her in it one night, never saying a word.

***

The two greatest minds on X-Factor and neither of them can seem to find the books Layla listed. The section doesn't seem to exist. They pass the piece of paper between them for what feels like forever, and Monet wants to kill Layla. Again. It might be the most consistent emotion in her life right now.

She texts Layla with this update, and isn't at all surprised when she just receives a smiley in response.

"This is pointless," she says.

"Possibly, but my swords are vibrating," Shatterstar replies, head tilted thoughtfully.

Monet arches an eyebrow. "You're armed?"

"Of course. Layla assured me I would need them."

"Where do the swords go when they're not out?" She asks, because she's always wondered. There is no logical reason why he can bend his arms when they're withdrawn, yet he's got his arms bent now, patting at air, like a one-man mime show. Monet really hates mimes, but then, doesn't everybody?

"Magic," he says distractedly. "I think there's something here. I think ..." Shatterstar disappears briefly then reappears again, grinning. "There is definitely something here."

Monet follows him when he disappears again, because isn't this what she wanted? She gets through whatever barrier is up, but she emerges on the other side feeling like someone has punched her in the stomach. She's still gasping when she notices the librarian, who looks incredibly surprised to see them.

"Can I help you with anything?" She asks pleasantly, face sliding into a more neutral expression.

Monet can't think of a polite way to say no way, so she says, "no, thank you," and hopes that's enough.

The librarian nods. "May I ask who referred you?"

"Layla Miller."

"Ah, yes, strange girl."

They split the list, and end up with a mountain of dusty books. The tomes are old, decorated with splashes of gold and silver, the leather covers worn and soft. Half of them are in Latin, which Monet is fluent in, and a surprising number are in Spanish, which Shatterstar swears he can manage on his own.

The first thing Monet decides to research is the Morrigan.

***

They're there for the rest of the day.

The librarian brings them sandwiches for dinner without asking, but Monet is too engrossed in what she's reading to manage more than a few distracted bites. The problem is she's finding a lot of information about the history of the Morrigan, a little information on how one becomes the Morrigan, and only one grim sentence repeated over and over again on how to undo the process.

The current Morrigan is only released by unnatural death at the hand of the next Morrigan.

Monet slams the latest book shut and glowers at it.

"We close at nine," the librarian says. "Can I check anything out for you? There's a limit of one per person, unfortunately. Priceless collection and all that."

"I don't have a library card," Monet says, because honestly, she didn't come to New York for the books.

Shatterstar already has his out, a particularly ratty book tucked under his arm.

"We don't use cards in this collection," the librarian says. "I need you to sign your name. In blood," she adds, almost apologetic. She jumps when Shatterstar pops his swords out from his left sleeve.

"I'm basically invulnerable," Monet replies, ignoring his social awkwardness. "Can he sign for me?"

The librarian nods. "That'll work. If you can just sign your name here and here, please and thanks."

***

Jamie catches her in the hall before she reaches her room. She's way too exhausted for him right now, but he's pretty insistent, and she is, after all, practising being nice to people.

"About earlier, I'm sorry, you're right. Terry deserves ... she deserves to be happy," he says simply, and he's earnest enough that Monet decides to believe him, though she's sure Layla's somehow involved in his change of heart. "Monet, you're a valued member of this team, and ..."

Monet raises her hand and unceremoniously cuts him off. "Please spare me this awkward pep talk."

Madrox deflates with an exhale. "Thank god, but for the record, it was going to be really inspiring."

"Stop talking," she tells him. "I'm not going anywhere. I obviously find the dysfunction endearing."

Jamie winces. "That's ... okay, I'll take it. X-Factor, putting the fun in dysfunction. It's a great slogan."

"Leave me alone now," Monet says.

"Yes," Jamie agrees quickly.

***

Monet's back at the library the next day, alone. The book she took out wasn't quite what she needed: too much history, mythology, and whatever lays between. Crossing the barrier isn't any easier. The scrambled eggs she ate for breakfast lurch uncomfortably in her stomach, and she actually grunts.

Grunts.

How utterly humiliating.

The same librarian is there again, nodding hello when Monet finally feels steady enough to take a few steps. Unfolding the sheet of call numbers, she goes to find the ones Shatterstar didn't cross off. The list is intimidating, and she's already feeling impatient. She just wants to know how to get Terry back.

After two hours of struggling through a book written in Welsh, which isn't her strong suit, the librarian clears her throat. "If you tell me what you're looking for, I can help. It's kinda my job," she adds lightly.

"My ... a friend of mine got pressured into becoming a goddess. I want to ..." Monet pauses, because save isn't the right word, and rescue isn't either, and Monet herself barely understands why she can't just let this go. Terry had been miserable, even Monet could see that. Maybe she is finally happy.

Finally at peace.

But Monet can't risk the chance that Terry is miserable, trapped in a terrible situation she can't escape.

Do not think it, Monet tells herself, do not think it, do not think it, do not think it.

Penance.

"I want to give her options," Monet says softly, grateful her only witness is a complete stranger.

"Which goddess?" The librarian asks.

"The Morrigan."

***

Monet learns two things one the second day: one, even the librarian can't seem to find a way to un-Morrigan someone, and, two, the librarian is a Skrull.

"Sorry," she yelps when it happens, hiding behind the book she's holding. Monet can just see the top of her curly green hair. "This book is in Sumerian. I'm so bad at Sumerian. I can't hold my shape."

"It's fine," Monet assures her. "Did you find something?"

"A pretty awesome spell. Nothing about the Morrigan, obviously, totally wrong region, but it could be useful. See, look," and Monet spends the next hour learning about a way to cross into mystical worlds. There are thirty pages worth of warnings, and the entire second half of the book has been torn out.

Monet groans and resists the very strong urge to stamp her feet like a petulant child.

"I'll find the rest," the librarian vows.

Monet actually believes her.

***

It starts snowing as she walks home. Bypassing the front door, she flies directly up to her room, sliding open the window that she keeps unlocked for just this very reason. She sneaks down the hall to brush her teeth, hoping the sound of the television from downstairs blocks most of them from hearing her. She really only has Shatterstar to worry about, and it's a fifty-fifty chance whether he'll turn her in or not.

If this day gets any worse, she's going to scream.

Back in her room, she changes into her flannel nightgown then stops in front of her vanity. She crosses her legs and floats up until she's at exactly the right level to look at herself in the mirror. The face that stares back is almost unrecognisable, visibly exhausted, jaw tight with frustration, eyes like a stranger's.

How run down she must be, for her body to actually show signs of how desperate she feels.

She can't let anyone else see her like this. She can't. Tomorrow, she'll wear makeup.

With unsteady hands, she picks up her brush and begins to brush her hair, like her mother always did.

As children, before Marius became a monster, he used to shut her in the bathroom and hold the handle until she did exactly what he demanded. Even then, he had been cruel, though it had been easier to dismiss because none of that terror had been real. It had simply been an older brother teasing his younger sister, forcing her to stand in the dark and play Bloody Mary. She remembers him laughing as she shouted the name defiantly through the door, child-sized fists beating ineffectually against the wood.

She doesn't know why she thinks of it – of him – now, but she turns off the light and murmurs,

"Morrigan, Morrigan, Morrigan."

In the dark, she opens her eyes, terrified for one brief second, then laughs at herself.

She flicks the light back on, puts the brush on the vanity, and begins to braid her hair.

When she looks up again, Terry is in the mirror.

"You called?"

And Monet shrieks, because it turns out, this day can get worse.

***

Terry puts a hand to her mouth, and asks with a smile, "did you just ...?"

"Apparently," Monet replies, pushing out with her mind, unable to feel anything from Terry at all. Her senses, superhuman, pick up nothing out of the ordinary, and when she glances behind her shoulder, the room is empty. Despite all the evidence, Terry is still in the mirror when she turns back. "Hi," she says.

"Hi," Terry replies, a rich timbre to her voice that makes her sound like a ... well, like a goddess. Underneath, though, Monet hears that familiar Irish accent. "Do you need me for something, Monet?"

"No," Monet answers honestly, pressing a hand over her still rapidly beating heart. "You scared me."

"I seem to remember you claiming you were un-scareable," Terry says gently.

Monet scoffs, tugging on her braid and trying hard to maintain eye contact. "You changed the rules."

Terry laughs lowly. She looks so different, Monet thinks suddenly. Not bad, really, but different. The grey skin actually works, the contrast with her fiery hair quite stunning, but Monet misses her freckles.

"Did you find your ... did you find him?" Monet asks suddenly, instead of the questions she really means to ask. Are you okay? Are you happy there? She's not sure she wants either of those answers yet.

"Yeah, and he was raving mad for a while, which is his right. I was so happy to see him, I didn't mind the dressing down. He's okay," Terry assures her, and Monet nods. "I see you're wearing your nightie."

"It's winter," Monet protests, touching the bow at her neck. "It's snowing outside right now."

Terry frowns slightly. "Have I been gone that long then?"

"Six weeks."

"Time passes so strangely here," Terry says softly, and she sounds a million miles away, like Monet is losing her, again.

So Monet tells Terry about everything that happened since she left. Jamie and Layla getting married. Pip getting shot. How their habit of pissing off demons finally came back to haunt them, resulting in a three week long battle that they won by luck alone. The only thing Monet doesn't tell Terry is how she spent every day of that fight distracted, desperately looking for Terry and never ever finding her.

***

Day three, Polaris catches her before she manages to sneak out.

"I'd like to help," she says, and Monet stares at her for a long time before Lorna adds, "please."

"I don't actually blame you," Monet replies, which is surprising, because technically, she thinks she should, just a little. Lorna, who wanted to know the truth then couldn't handle it when Monet showed her, and Layla, who is the only one on the team who could have possibly shown Terry how to ... how to do what she did. Only a fool – or Jamie Madrox – would have believed Havok was capable of that.

"I still want to help," Lorna insists. "If you'll let me. I'd like us to be friends, Monet."

"I suppose stranger things have happened," Monet replies, smiling when Lorna does. She can do this. She can make friends, and she can keep them. Terry told her that, once. Monet hadn't believed her.

"Can I buy you a coffee?"

***

That night, after stopping for a late dinner with Lorna, Monet sits in front of her mirror and closes her eyes.

"Morrigan, Morrigan, Morrigan."

When she opens them, Terry is there again, a bemused smile on her lips. "Need anything this time?"

"A vacation somewhere warm," Monet replies, pushing down the minor self-consciousness she feels. She hates to imagine what this whole thing looks like to other people. It's like she's a deer caught in the headlights, unable to save herself from what's coming. "Did I tell you I spent a night in Rio?"

"I've never been," Terry says then chuckles softly. "I don't think they'd appreciate a visit from me now. I've only been summoned once or twice for ridiculous things, but nobody ever seems happy to see me."

"Depends on how you look in a bikini," Monet replies, pretty confident Terry would look great.

"Well, at least I wouldn't burn now, even if you talked me into it. Blasted Irish complexion."

"It really is a beautiful city," Monet says, a note of desperation in her voice "It would take your breath away. Such a vibrant culture. I stayed up until sunrise dancing on the beach. The sand was so warm. I want," Monet pauses, twisting the words back to where they should be, "I would've liked to show you."

"Tell me about it," Terry urges gently, almost wistful, and Monet's breath catches in her throat, "please."

So Monet does.

***

On the fourth day, she finds Rictor and Shatterstar waiting with Polaris in the hallway.

"Oh, for fuck's sake," she says, because this is turning into a thing, and she should have just gone ahead alone in the first place and not assumed that rescuing Terry was the next logical step for the team.

"I'm the best researcher this team has," Rictor says, "and I'm sick of dealing with demonic squirrels."

He's defensive, which gets Shatterstar defensive, and the two of them stand closer together, bristling and touchy. Monet has to remind herself: they are your friends, stop pushing them away, you do need their help.

"You're right. I'm sorry," she adds as an afterthought, and tries to ignore the triad of stunned looks.

Tries and fails, because they look like idiots, they really do.

"Hey, I can be nice," she says, rolling her eyes, and smiles secretly when they laugh.

***

Monet hates to admit it, but she's almost having fun. They've been at the library for hours. Lorna is reading the English texts as quickly as she can get through them. At Rictor's suggestion, Shatterstar is learning Gaelic, which Monet telepathically borrows from him every thirty minutes. It's the one major language they're missing, and Monet just doesn't have the time to sit down and learn it herself.

Rictor and the librarian – whose name is actually Ar'el – have even almost managed to rebuild the missing spell, working side-by-side on laptops, digging deeply into the darkest pits of the internet.

Her instincts tell her that the spell is integral to this whole thing, even if she doesn't know why yet. She has to trust Layla, no matter how much it pains her to do so. Layla knows stuff. Monet can't dispute that.

The book she's currently looking through is delicate and smells like damp earth. She understands at least two thirds of the words, handwritten in a neat, precise script. The writer has meticulously detailed his journey to recover his wife, who has traded her life with a deity to save her only child, a daughter.

The urgency of his actions, the despair of his words, hurts to read, and she almost puts the book down.

November, 1859. A geomancer in Dunfanaghy possesses knowledge of the spell needed to save my wife. The newly transformed Enidth, like the Morrigan and others of its kind, remains in flux until the solstice. Finally, there is hope.

Monet rereads the brief entry five times before she's sure she's reading it correctly.

The next, and final, entry reads only this:

January, 1860. We are a family once more. There are no lasting ill effects. We are bound in love.

She balls up her fist and drives it into the floor, shattering the tiles three feet in every direction.

***

Monet hates cryptic bullshit. Absolutely cannot handle it. She silently seethes and rages for another few minutes before Shatterstar crouches down beside her and reads the last two pages of the journal.

"Isn't this a good thing?" He asks gently then reads it out loud to a silent room. "It is a little vague."

"A little," Monet repeats, drawing her knees up to her chest.

"No, wait," Rictor says suddenly, typing frantically as Ar'el nods eagerly, pointing out things on the screen that Monet can't see from her slouch of despair. "I know that geomancer. I mean, I think I do. I'm pretty sure we got the rest of that spell from his notes. It has to be the same guy. Look, Monet."

Reluctantly, she stands up and finally looks at what he's pointing to: scans on a website that looks like it was designed in the mid-nineties. Shatterstar and Polaris crowd behind her eagerly. The energy in the room is intense, physically and mentally. Their thoughts and feelings are bleeding past her shields.

For once, she doesn't mind it.

"I doubt Dunfanaghy had more than one geomancer in 1859," Lorna adds. "This has to be it, right?"

"Definitely," Rictor says, with more conviction than Monet feels. "This site is huge, but google-able."

"Then go ahead and find it." It comes out croaky and weird, and not at all like she normally sounds.

Rictor looks at her strangely then turns back to the computer and begins his search.

***

Five minutes before closing, Rictor finds the spell, and instead of making a big deal, he just pushes back from the desk and stands up. "Time for us to go," he says, looking at Lorna, then Shatterstar. He doesn't look at Monet, which unsettles her somewhat, but adds almost nonchalantly, "it's all yours, M."

They leave, and Ar'el disappears somewhere, and then it's just Monet and a poorly designed website. The page has been translated in plain white-on-purple text below the low-quality scan of the spellbook, and she stares at it for a full minute before actually reading what it says, analysing each and every word.

The magic is advanced, well beyond anything she can even imagine attempting. She has no idea if she'll be as naturally talented at magic as she has been with everything else in her life. Her only point of reference is Marius, and even thinking that he and she might share similar talents makes her sick.

But the alternative – being entirely non-magical – is even worse, because the spell is clear.

If Monet wants to free Terry, she has to complete the spell on her own, without any help.

She presses her finger to the screen, below the last line of instructions.

Your love alone will bind her.

***

Monet can't go home, not right now. She has no control over her emotions, and that embarrasses her. She's happy, and worried, and hopeful, and relieved. Determined, too, because she wants Terry back so badly that failing is just not an option. Terrified, of course, because Terry might not want to come back.

Monet also feels raw, like all her secrets are on display. She doesn't like that sensation at all.

She detours into Central Park, and walks and walks until she finds a perfectly secluded bench. The fact is she doesn't know what to do now. She has knowledge, such as it is, but no hands on experience, nothing tangible to cling to. And the winter solstice is in a few weeks. She can't forget that detail.

"Hot chocolate?"

Monet looks up. Layla, of course, a thick scarf wrapped around her neck and matching mittens. For once, Monet isn't surprised to see her, just resigned. It isn't much of an improvement, but she'll take it.

"Thanks," Monet says, taking the offered cup and inhaling deeply. "I suppose you couldn't just tell me."

Layla takes the seat beside her. "Nope." She sounds almost sorry. "But I can try to teach you magic."

Try.

"You don't know how this ends," Monet says flatly.

"This knowing stuff shtick isn't one-hundred-percent," Layla replies, sipping at her drink, eyes straight ahead. "And the future is all messed up right now, because of ... the Guido thing. It's really up to you."

Monet frowns at her coffee cup. "And if I can't do this? If I can't pull off the spell?"

"Then things continue on as they are," Layla replies, sounding a little defeated, and as far as pep talks go, this one sucks. Monet's not quite sure why she expected anything else. "But you can do this. I'm saying this as your future best friend, and not some weirdo who knows things. You're Monet St. Croix."

"Thank god for that. Can you imagine Madrox attempting something like this?"

"I'd be screwed," Layla replies with a small crooked grin. "Good thing Terry has you, huh?"

"Good thing," Monet agrees, because failure is not an option, not for her.

***

That night, Monet goes through her nightly routine: teeth, nightgown, hair, Terry. While Monet's feeling a tentative sort of hope for the first time in weeks, Terry seems further away, like it takes a few seconds for her to even recognise Monet. Blank, unseeing eyes, then she blinks, and she's back again.

Monet ignores the heaviness that settles in her stomach and just begins to ...

It sounds like babbling.

Yes, she decides, replaying the last series of hurried sentences back in her head, she is definitely babbling, and she's so high on adrenaline that she totally refuses to stop. It's only Terry, or most of her, anyway. It's okay if Terry sees this part of her. Monet can't imagine letting anyone else get this close.

Halfway through retelling the story of the impending squirrel apocalypse, Monet stops herself and completely changes the subject. "Oh, I almost forget to tell you. Do you remember that Greek bakery that was about to open? The one we've been stalking for months?"

Terry frowns for a moment, like she's actually forgotten, then nods. "Yes, the one on the corner."

"It finally opened. The baked goods, they're amazing, totally amazing." Monet knows exactly how to exploit Terry's dessert-related weakness. "They make these decadent little sour cherry cheesecakes."

Terry practically moans, fingers pressed to her mouth, and Monet thinks she should feel bad for teasing her. "Oh lord, I miss cheesecake so much. Can you believe goddesses don't eat? It's a travesty."

"That's terrible," Monet agrees cheerfully, "because they make these things called loukoumades ..."

Terry's forehead crinkles as she makes a suspicious face. "Really? How do you even spell that?"

"D E L I C I O U S."

Terry's laugh is low and throaty, and the sound sends unexpected shivers down the curve of Monet's spine. "Okay, it's official: we're all doomed. That was a joke worthy of Jamie Madrox. You should be ashamed of yourself."

"They're so amazing I'm willing to stoop to his level to get my point across," Monet says with a scoff, and matches the brilliantly beautiful smile Terry gives her. It's not as natural as she would like, but she needs Terry to understand what she's feeling. "I could summon you there, and we could share an order."

Terry smiles again, but this time her smile is tinged with sadness. "I'm afraid you're not very magical."

Not yet, Monet thinks.

***

The next day, she's up bright and early, dressed in a loose-fitting top and comfortable yoga pants. Layla already has the room in the basement set up, candles everywhere, smelling vaguely of cinnamon. A thick velvet cloak covers Layla, and she gestures at Monet to sit down at the chalk circle on the floor.

It becomes obvious pretty quickly that Monet, despite being perfect at everything, is terrible at magic.

"This is impossible," Layla says, utterly baffled, and Monet glares at her. "It's a really basic spell."

Monet drags her hands through her hair, mostly to stop herself from throttling Layla or driving her fist through the nearest wall. "I know. Do you think I don't know that? I am so much better than this."

"That magic barrier at the library. Did you have any problems with it?"

"Take a wild guess," Monet replies, and they stare at each other for a few tense seconds.

Layla blinks first, picking up a book and flipping through it. "Well, I'm not willing to give up."

"Neither am I," Monet snaps, unused to this level of frustration. She likes being perfect. It's kind of her thing. The only other thing she might be this bad at is feelings, but she can handle being bad at them. She's definitely not the only one on this team who's screwed up in that department. It's just ...

In an alternate reality somewhere, Madrox is the next Sorcerer Supreme, and Monet can't even make a feather float. That, she decides angrily, is fucking unacceptable, and she will not allow herself to fail.

"Give me a different spell. I'll get it."

"I know you will," Layla says, turning the book toward Monet. "Try this one instead."

Five hours later, the feather smokes a little bit then bursts into flame.

She'd been trying to freeze it, but at this point, she'll take what she can get.

***

"You seem a little distracted tonight, Monet," Terry says, which is grimly hilarious, because Terry is equally distracted for her own reasons. Monet now understands that she is running out of time, and if she can't figure out this magic nonsense soon, Terry really will be the next Morrigan, for however many millennia she can handle, and Monet will be alone – again – despite her best efforts to stop that cycle.

"Are you happy there?" Monet asks, finally.

Terry looks away briefly, mouth drawn in a line. "I made the right choice, Monet. I do believe that."

That's not an answer, and they both know it, so Monet asks again, "but are you happy?"

"I don't think I'm allowed the luxury of feelings," Terry replies with a sigh. "This place doesn't foster human emotion very well. The others ... they're cold, and I can understand why. Some of them have been here for thousands of years. It's terrifying, and yet, I'm becoming like them. You've noticed, too."

"I have," Monet agrees easily enough, though she feels like she might throw up.

"It's not terrible," Terry says gently. "I get to see my Da whenever I want. I can still help people."

Monet raises an eyebrow. "And that's honestly enough for you? Because that's not the Terry I know. You remember Paris, right?" Terry doesn't say anything, and Monet thinks, briefly, how easy it would be just to give up, but Monet is sick of all these missed opportunities in her life. "I remember it, Terry."

"I remember you got me arrested," Terry replies.

Monet laughs harshly, shaking her head. "Oh, yeah? I remember us breaking out together. I also remember the food, and the culture, and the laughter. The stories we shared, and the sights we saw there. That was only one city, and you loved being there." The with me goes unsaid, but Monet imagines Terry can hear it. "There are hundreds of beautiful places left for you to experience."

"That life is over," she says, resigned. "I should never have indulged you with these visits."

Monet scoffs, throwing in an eye-roll for good measure. "Please. You need them as much as I do."

"That life is over," she repeats, stubborn and beautiful, still so much life in her.

"And if it wasn't? If someone could give you that life back? If I could give you that life back?"

"What's done cannot be undone, Monet. What ifs are meaningless. You need to let me go."

"That's not my style, Terry. You should know that. When I want something, I get it."

"Good bye, Monet."

"Terry," Monet says, her tone softening, but Terry's already gone. Monet sits there for a long time in front of her mirror, thinking, deciding, wanting. She's not even sure this is love, because she doesn't let herself think about that particular emotion, not when it keeps hurting her. But it could be, and she wants it.

She wants to be happy.

It's a simple, but seemingly impossible, request.

Yet ... Terry never actually said no.

***

Three days pass without Terry in the mirror at night. The first night, Monet just leaves it and goes straight to bed. The second, she feels like a fool but still manages to say "Morrigan, Morrigan, Morrigan" as if that will bring Terry to this world. It doesn't. The third, she actually attempts a summoning spell, using a so-called magical amulet she bought at an antiques store for way too much money. Either she's not doing the spell right, or she got royally fleeced by that friendly old man, or ...

Or Terry is just ignoring her. Which Monet takes to mean Terry is still Terry, because any full-blooded Morrigan would have answered her summons. The former had answered a child, for Pete's sake. Monet has a lifetime of arrogance and everything to lose behind her. She should be irresistible.

All this time without Terry gives her extra hours to practice, but Monet is still terrible at magic, though not quite as bad as she was the first time. Layla seems to take this as a positive sign, but obviously the slowness of the learning process is frustrating for both of them. Monet almost wants to apologise, because this really is humiliating for her, this public failure, and she knows she's wasting Layla's time.

But Monet is nothing if not persistent. She followed her brother willingly into a hell dimension. She can do what it takes to make things right, but that stupid deadline keeps hovering in the back of her head, and there's some small part of her that is utterly repulsed by magic. It's Layla who calls her on it.

"I understand your feelings, and I wish we had time to work past them, but we don't," Layla says, uncharacteristically gentle, which just makes Monet feel worse. "Magic isn't necessarily a bad thing."

"It's been a bad thing to me," Monet replies, quiet and calm, because the alternative is ugly. "And I hate that I'm so awful at this. And that I'm going to lose Terry if I don't get my act together. And that I waited this long to even make a move. I hate those things, but I hate magic more than any of them."

Layla touches her hand softly. "I know."

"And I hate that you're seeing me like this," Monet adds, curling her fingers into a fist but not pushing Layla off. She closes her eyes and pretends, for one twisted moment, it's actually Terry's hand. "I'm tired of letting people go, or having them let me go. If that makes me selfish, I don't particularly care."

Layla squeezes her fist. "I think it just makes you normal."

Monet opens her eyes just to roll them, causing Layla to laugh.

"Does this mean we're best friends now?" Layla asks, a teasing smirk twisting her lips.

"Don't push it," Monet replies, with an equally light tone. "I don't think this is working, Layla."

"No kidding. You make a terrible apprentice, for the record, but I still have some tricks up my sleeve."

Monet sighs. "Famous last words."

***

"No fucking way," she says, when Layla explains the plan. Her head shakes back and forth like a pendulum, forcing her hair in front of her face. "The first part is fine, whatever, but the second part ..."

"I'm willing," Shatterstar says. "Layla told me it might come to this, and I'm happy to do it for you."

"It's either him or Longshot," Layla replies with a shrug, and all the good feelings Monet had been feeling toward her disappear in an instant. "They only exist because of magic and science. That's just how things work on Mojoworld. It'll take me months to get you to accept this level of magic."

"I'm not using him as a … a magical battery! What the hell is wrong with you?"

"It's just to show you how magic can be used," Layla replies, arms crossed in front of her chest. At least she looks as miserable as Monet feels right now. At least deep down, Layla has a conscience. "The potential and whatnot. It's not harmful to either you or him, or I wouldn't have suggested it."

"So I just steal ... drain ..." Like my brother, Monet wants to say, but bites her lip instead.

"Borrow," Shatterstar says, "learn to use magic that is freely given. I have less than Longshot, but ..."

"You picked Shatterstar when you were hiring us. Three for the price of two coupon, remember?" Layla reminds her gently, as if Monet has somehow forgotten. Monet hopes Jamie isn't expecting her to actually pay, because she is very dissatisfied with the service right now. "And I'm letting you read my mind. Between the two of us, we'll give you the boost you need. Nobody reads my mind, Monet."

"What a great consolation prize!" Monet shouts and, finally, after weeks of controlling herself, throws her arms up in the air and gestures wildly. It's oddly satisfying, especially when she starts stomping around, too. She only stops because the floor starts to groan. "And I'm still going to say yes. Fuck."

Monet can tell Layla wants to say I know, but she has the good sense to just shut up and look satisfied.

***

It takes them five tries to get it right, and even when Monet has managed to successfully finish the spell, the almost overwhelming nausea and pain brings her to her knees. Distantly, she hears Layla say, "don't fight it, just let it happen, let it be natural," and it's not like Monet isn't trying. It's just ... hard.

"You're not welcome here, Mortal."

Monet forces her eyes open and glances over to the woman, or goddess, or whatever. She has no idea just how many types of mystical creatures exist on this plane, but that doesn't stop her from saying, "That's actually a moot point, considering I don't know you, and you're not the one I came here to see."

The reaction is instant: angry, offended, disbelieving. "You dare ..."

"Oh, she dares, trust me," Terry says, cutting the woman off. "Leave us be then. This one is mine."

Monet stands up and brushes nonexistent dirt off her uniform just for something to do with her hands. Terry isn't exactly thrilled to see her, that much is obvious, but Monet never expected this to be easy. It would have been nice, of course, but this whole plan of hers has been messed up from the beginning.

"What are you doing here, Monet?"

Monet sighs deeply, because seriously, isn't it obvious by now? Everyone on the team knows. It's impossible to ignore their curious questions or their stupid grins. Still, even Monet admits she's amazing at hiding her feelings. Probably too good, apparently. "What does it look like I'm doing here?

"I have no idea," Terry replies. "This isn't like you at all."

"Oh, I agree with you on that point. However, it turns out I am perfectly capable of making myself look like a fool when it comes to grand declarations of love." Terry's eyes widen perceivably, and Monet stands up taller, hands at her sides. "I'm trying to give you options, Terry. I can help you."

Terry looks around sharply then hushes her, "you can't say that here. And we talked about this ..."

"Do you honestly think I would go to all this effort if I didn't think I could do it?" Monet asks, trying to sound distant, like she doesn't care, but her voice sounds shaky and small, and Terry notices right away. This isn't going the way she intended at all. "You don't have to say anything back. Just let me try."

Terry stares at her like Monet's sprouted two heads, but Monet refuses to back down.

"You seriously wait until now to say something?" Terry asks, finally. "When I'm stuck here, like this?"

"It isn't too late," Monet insists, "not yet. I am absolute crap at magic, yes, but I can do this. I promise."

"You made it here," Terry replies, then tilts her head, "though not without help. Is that Shatty's magic?"

Monet nods, wishing she could sense something from Terry. This place is dim and foggy, and her mind feels the same way. Muted. Reaching out, she puts two fingers on Terry's wrist. Her skin is velvety soft but strangely cold, and there's no pulse that Monet can feel. Terry looks down at where they touch.

"You're fading already," Terry says softly, and Monet groans helplessly. It's barely been five minutes.

"Okay, so I can't do it yet, but I will. The next time you see me, it'll be real. I want you to say yes."

Terry doesn't say anything, eyes vague and strange again. Don't leave me again, Monet thinks, and steps forward to kiss her on the mouth. As far as kisses go, this is probably dead last on Monet's list of awesome first kisses, but then Terry's fingers thread through her own, and she squeezes Monet's hand.

And the kiss is better, deeper and more desperate. Terry kisses back, which Monet hadn't totally expected, because she's never really been on this side before. She's the wooed, the desired, the one people stumble after to get her number. She's never had to fight for anyone. Hasn't ever wanted to.

"You can't blame yourself if it doesn't work," Terry whispers in her ear. "You deserve to be happy."

"I will be," Monet promises, fading, practically see-through, and she'd laugh if it wasn't so cliché. The feeling of terrible sickness rises up in her stomach again, and she braces against it, eyelids drifting down. When she opens her eyes, she's back in the basement of the building, shivering and retching.

"You did great," Layla assures her, wrapping her in a thick blanket and rubbing at her arms.

Monet looks at her then at Shatterstar, who is slumped over against the wall, pale, breathing shallowly.

"That last thirty seconds was all you," Layla says.

"I can do this," Monet replies, and, finally, completely believes that's the truth.

***

For the next few days, Monet spends every waking hour practising. She visits several mystical planes, some more hostile than the one Terry's on, some entirely welcoming, and a few she can't get to, even with Shatterstar's power added to hers. It is getting easier, somewhat, though she still feels awful after.

On the second day, Longshot and Jamie show up to join the already full room in the basement. Rictor is there for Shatterstar, who is more exhausted than he'll admit, and Polaris is there for her, taking over from Layla on blanket duty. Monet should be annoyed, but she kind of likes the unwavering support. Longshot looks uncharacteristically frazzled, and Jamie has band-aids all over his fingers and face.

"That mission was a terrible mistake," Jamie says, scratching boyishly at his hair. "Forgive me?"

"I suppose," Monet replies, getting ready to go again. "I'm a little tired. I could use a latte."

Jamie shakes his head firmly. "Nobody on this team is ever drinking Starbucks again."

"Fuck off," Rictor says. "Get me a peppermint hot chocolate. Star, too. With whipped cream."

So Monet practices, and Longshot and Shatterstar swap in and out, and she gets better and better. Still not great – nobody will ever suggest she should take over from Dr. Strange when he's ready to retire – but better. She keeps her mind focussed on Terry, on their unlikely friendship and their incredible potential.

Five days before the solstice, Monet looks at Layla, who simply nods. Monet is probably as good as she'll ever get, and she can stay on her own in the mystical world for two minutes, which is barely enough time to recite the other spell, which she can't even really practice. She knows it by heart now.

Your love alone will bind her.

***

Jamie schedules another early morning staff meeting, even though he knows Monet doesn't have time for his leadership antics. She shows up anyway, because she feels like she owns her team her attention, however distracted she may be at the current moment. She's the last to arrive, and she suspects they planned it that way. Three weeks ago, she might have felt ambushed. Right now, she feels ... good.

Really good.

"Do I need to go over the rules again?" Jamie asks, after Monet's taken her seat.

"Your rules suck, sweetie," Layla says, patting his arm. "Trust me. I know these things. Get on with it."

"No respect, seriously, but whatever. Monet, on behalf of the team, we'd like to come with you."

"I have to do this alone," Monet replies without hesitation. Cassidy Keep had been Layla's suggestion, something about this type of magic being naturally stronger there, and Monet agreed easily, because it's far away and isolated, so if she royally screws up, she'll have a few days alone to mope around Terry's home and rue her own incompetence. Besides, she still has her copy of the key. "This spell is very specific, and I'll be really pissed off if it fails because it thinks I had help. So, no, thank you, but no."

"For support," Layla insists. "There's a pub down the road that serves a mean coddle. We'll hide there."

"Nobody actually knows what that is," Polaris adds, "but there's beer, too. We'd really like to come."

Longshot and Shatterstar look stupidly earnest, nodding in unison, and even Rictor doesn't seem as moody as usual, giving her an encouraging smile when she glares at him. "This can't possibly be that interesting," Monet replies. "Why don't you all get your own lives and stop living vicariously through mine?"

"Way too boring," Jamie replies with a crooked grin. "We want Terry back as much as you do."

Monet crooks an eyebrow, trying to appear as haughty as possible. "Doubtful, but very well, if you insist."

"Excellent." Jamie claps his hands together, so self-satisfied that Monet doesn't have it in her heart to bring him down a notch. "Anybody have anything to add before Shatterstar teleports us there?"

Longshot's arm shoots up, waving impatiently. "When do Polaris and I start dating?"

"Never," Lorna replies, pushing Longshot's grinning face away from her. "God, this team."

Monet laughs.

***

Cassidy Keep is exactly like Monet remembers.

Someone's been taking care of the grounds, but it still looks lonely and foreboding, a Gothic behemoth in the middle of the quaint Irish countryside. The front door sticks when she tries to unlock it, and she carefully gives it a push without destroying whole frame. Inside, it's freezing cold, and she immediately turns on the heating system. The castle bleeds warmth, but it'll be enough to take the icy edge off.

Monet lets the others roam freely, because her mind is on more important things. She's anxious and needs to be alone right now. She keeps replaying their kiss in her mind, fingers light on her mouth, tracing the shape of her own lips. Tendrils of warmth curl deep in her belly, and she daydreams.

Eventually, she wanders to the kitchen. She and Terry had spent hours together, Monet sitting at the counter on a stool, tasting each dish as it came out of the oven, and Terry baking some of the most delicious things Monet had ever tasted. Her comfort foods, Monet remembers Terry telling her. Monet opens the ratty old cookbook that had once belonged to Terry's mother and flips directly to the desserts, inspired.

So on the night before she tries to pull off the impossible, Monet finds herself baking a cheesecake.

It isn't a glamourous undertaking, and she's covered head to toe in every ingredient by the end. The cake is lumpy and uneven, and she's afraid to ruin it even more by actually tasting it. It smells okay, she assures herself, so maybe that means something. Monet has to laugh, though, because that makes three things she's bad at: emotions, magic, and cheesecake. The first two don't seem so far away anymore, so Monet will just have to keep making Terry cheesecakes until they're deliciously perfect.

Monet doesn't sleep that night, just grabs a book and curls up in the blanket she and Terry used to share in front of the fire. That had been the beginning, she thinks. Not X-Corporation, not X-Factor Investigations or their post-Madrox bonding time, but here at Cassidy Keep, reading together, quiet.

By the time the sun rises, she's ready. It's too early for everyone else, so she finds the perfect room – the library, of course – and begins to set up everything she'll need. Handmade tallow candles, symbols drawn on the stone floor with chalk, dried herbs and flowers sprinkled on the ground.

She sits down and waits, eyes closed, breathing steady.

When she hears the others leave, she begins.

***

Monet opens her eyes slowly, and sees Terry standing there.

That's the first hurdle down, Monet thinks, but Terry's tense, like she's fighting something Monet can't see, and she probably is. Millennia of Morrigans, desperate to keep her here. Monet actually doesn't know what will happen to the Morrigan without Terry's body to host that legacy, and quite frankly, she doesn't care. Let the gods sort that mess out; Monet just wants her friend back.

"Theresa Cassidy," Monet says in a strong, clear voice, "I seek to release you. Are you willing?"

"Yes," Terry replies, grinding the word out, fists pressed into her thighs, and manages to smile weakly.

Monet smiles back and starts the spell, hands out and reaching for Terry, pronouncing each word perfectly. She feels the pull of magic immediately, wilder than the spell that got her here and stronger by a magnitude Monet can't even measure. Around her, the others gather, watching. Their collective fury and offence at her actions is palpable, but she forces herself to ignore the unnecessary distraction.

It hurts worse than any pain she's ever felt, and she feels the magic draining out of her already, but she pushes forward, focussing on the words and the depth of her own power. Light begins to bleed through her skin – bright and strange in this dark, dim place – and she falters then, momentarily surprised.

"My love alone will bind you," Monet says, recovering quickly to finish the spell.

For a moment, nothing else extraordinary happens, but then a band of light stretches out from her body. It wraps around Terry's wrist and pulls her arm free of the Morrigan's body. Then another reaches out to grab her, and another, and another, until Terry is almost entirely wrapped in this strange light.

A shock of pain strikes her in the chest, and Monet bites down on a cry, fighting to stay steady, to be the rock that anchors Terry to the living world. The Morrigan is fighting back, struggling against her.

Monet drops down to her knees, leaning back, stretching out a leg to brace against the ground. Her mutant powers don't exactly work on this plane, not like she's used to, and she almost laughs when she realises she'd trapped in an agonising game of tug of war with an enraged and desperate goddess.

"Fuck," she shouts, slipping forward. The light is dimming, and Monet can feel the magic leaving her. To come so close, to come so fucking close, she can't stand it, and the anger she feels ignites the magic again, burning brighter, but the end seems almost inevitable. Terry meets her eyes and smiles sadly.

"It's enough, Monet," she says, body twisted in her own kind of pain. "You've done enough."

"Like hell it is," Monet grinds out, eliciting a startled laugh from Terry. "I can do this. I can. Fuck!"

Monet slips again, grappling at the ground, just as someone kneels beside her. She looks up into the smiling face of Sean Cassidy. She must look ridiculous, she realises, and maybe Sean might not like the idea of Monet dating his daughter. He knows Monet best, and he's seen every side of her, even the ugly ones. She's not exactly a woman who knows how to love, and Sean Cassidy is well aware of that.

"You get my sweet Terry out of here," he says. "This isn't what I want for her."

"I'm not strong enough," she replies helplessly, practically transparent, practically gone.

Banshee grins. "And that's bullshit if I've ever heard it. I'm trusting you with me only daughter, Monet."

Monet pulls back with all of her strength, and she feels like she's going to rip apart. Just when she thinks she can't take anymore, a solid weight hits her and the ribbons of lights tighten, binding her and Terry together. Inside the light, it's warm and comforting and wonderful, and Terry clings to her, breathing wetly into her neck. The first spell finally fades, breaking the bridge between the two worlds.

***

Back in the real world, they're still like that, so twisted up that Monet's not sure where she ends and Terry begins. A heavy blanket settles around them, binding them warmly together. They're both like ice, Monet realises, but the cold of Terry's skin is definitely human. Monet can't stop her teeth from chattering, and there's a fifty-fifty chance she might throw up on Terry, which would be an awful first impression as a ... girlfriend, Monet supposes, if Terry is actually interested. She really hopes she is.

But it's okay if she isn't, too, and Monet understands that was never really the point, not entirely.

She just wants Terry to be happy.

"You lunatic," Terry says, looking up at her and forcing an arm out of the blanket cocoon to tenderly brush some of the hair out of Monet's face. "I can't believe you pulled that off. Thank you, Monet."

"Thank you for saying yes," she replies then adds, "and if you don't want to, you know. It's fine."

Monet thinks she might throw up, but she's not sure if it's nerves or the aftermath of magic. Oddly, they feel almost identical right now, and Monet shivers hard, leaning into Terry, trying to siphon her warmth. Terry squeezes her tighter and kisses her, first on the temple then right on the mouth.

"I'm willing if you are," Terry says with an encouraging smile then frowns suddenly. "Layla, is she supposed to be so green?"

"You're surrounded by pillows for a reason," Layla replies cheerfully. "Your girlfriend's delicate."

"I am not," Monet snaps, but she can already feel the room tilting sideways.

***

Monet wakes up in Terry's bed, under the covers and wearing her flannel nightgown, with Terry curled snugly beside her. She tries to shift without waking her, but Terry's eyes open immediately, fuzzy with sleep. They look at each other for a long time, silent except for their breathing, which comes in unison.

"You made me a cheesecake," Terry says fondly, blush high on her cheeks. "I ate the whole thing."

Monet laughs. "Seriously? Please lie to me and tell me how delicious it was."

Terry combs her fingers through Monet's hair, fanning it out on the mattress. "Well, it wouldn't win any beauty pageants, but it was delicious." Terry grins suddenly. "And you brought my favourite nightie. I hope you don't mind that I put you in it, but you've been out for two days, and your uniform was filthy."

"So you saw me naked," Monet replies, trying to remember how this flirting thing goes.

Terry laughs, leaning into her. "I'm pretty sure everyone's seen you naked by now."

"Ugh, don't remind me."

"You don't hear me complaining," Terry replies, low and sultry and totally, utterly sexy.

"I have no idea to do this," Monet says honestly. "Relationships. Women. You."

"I'm lousy at the first, a little experience with the second, and I'm willing to figure out the third."

"You're beautiful," Monet replies, kissing her and threading her fingers through Terry's wild hair. Beneath the covers, their legs entwine. Terry's hand snakes over her knee and slides up under her nightgown. It's the most intimately she's been touched in ages, and she squirms on the bed, body warm with a slow-building desire, like the ocean. "I want to show you the world. I want to see you naked."

"There's time enough for everything. If you don't get me arrested again," Terry adds.

"I'd break you out," Monet replies with a laugh. "I'm getting pretty good at that."

"Pretty much perfect," Terry agrees, and kisses her again.