They discharged Sue from the hospital after twenty-four hours of observation. The kidnapper - Rafael Ditko or Asmodeus, Sue wasn't clear on where the difference lay - hadn't harmed her. Oh, he'd said he was going to - had threatened to do unrepeatable things to her. She honestly wasn't sure what had stopped him, except maybe that he'd been waiting for an audience in Juliet. Well, Sue had thought, in a brief, almost immediately extinguished flash of defiance, you'll be waiting for a long time because Juliet isn't coming.
Except that Juliet had come - along with Felix, two more exorcists, a zombie, and the paramilitary wing of the Catholic Church.
Juliet had looked both more herself than she had for weeks - the dull red glow was gone from her eyes, the uncanny sharpness gone from her features; and less like herself than she ever had before - she was wearing a tracksuit for goodness' sake. But Sue hadn't registered any of that at the time, had forgotten that Juliet had given her every reason to be as scared of her as she was of Rafael/Asmodeus.
Juliet had cut through the noose around Sue's neck with a single, quick snick, and Sue had collapsed into her arms with pathetic gratitude. She remembered very little after that; she remembered Juliet murmuring comforting, indecent nonsense into her ear, and the paramedics having to pry Juliet's arms from around her to get her into the ambulance. She remembered that Juliet hadn't fought them, and hadn't followed them to the hospital.
Sue's next-of-kin was still down as her mother, and when she'd explained to the brisk, clipboard-wielding nurse that her mother has since passed away the nurse asked if there was anyone else she could call.
"Um, I'm kind of married, but..." Sue felt the tears well up; Juliet didn't love her anymore, if she ever even had, and she'd made no secret of that. Sue sniffed loud and undignified. "I think it's over."
The nurse offered her a tissue, patted her on the shoulder, and told her the closest spot to the hospital to pick up a taxi.
Outside the A&E doors a canary yellow Maserati Spyder haphazardly mounted the pavement, and there was a Maserati sized gap between two ambulances as though that had been where the car had been until Juliet remembered that not parking in ambulance bays was one of those inexplicable human niceties that Sue liked her to observe. That was assuming that Juliet still cared about human niceties, or about Sue.
Juliet was back in her usual uniform of tight, dark-washed jeans and a black leather jacket; her hands were stuffed deep in the pockets of her jeans and she had succeeded in driving the spike of her stiletto heel a solid inch into the concrete. It was probably the closest Juliet had come in her entire, long existence to looking sheepish.
"Hi," said Sue. "What, um, are you doing here?"
Juliet tipped her head in the direction of the sports car. "I could drive you home?"
It was pitched as a question, which was unusual for Juliet; even when she'd proposed it had been phrased as more of a fait accompli than a question. Sue looked away in the direction of the taxi rank. She had left Juliet for good reason; knowing that maybe dying from want of her was preferable to living with the loathing and disgust Juliet had seemed to feel for her.
And yet here was Juliet looking hangdog and almost human, making a heroic effort to appear non-threatening, her hands still in her pockets.
"Yes," said Sue, "alright."
Juliet ushered Sue towards the car. The elderly gentleman with the oxygen tank being unloaded from one of the ambulances looked at Juliet as though she was either going to give him a second lease on life or be the thing that finished him off. Juliet ignored him and opened the passenger side door, carefully guiding Sue inside while taking care not to touch her.
Juliet slid into the drivers seat. "I can take you back to Castor's, although–" Sue knew what the pause was for; poor Felix was still in surgery having his jaw wired back together, and Pen was refusing to leave the unconscious form of Rafael Ditko so there was no one at their house. "I could take you to a hotel," Juliet suggested. "I'd pay."
Sue looked down at her fingers where she'd been twisting them in her lap. "I think. Um. I think I'd rather just go home."
The Maserati's engine roared into self-satisfied life and Juliet peeled away from the hospital. Her driving was still terrifying; her supernatural reflexes meant that she never hit anything, and there wasn't a single traffic officer in London who'd give her a ticket, but Sue gripped the upholstery tight. It had occurred to Sue that Juliet might have asked Felix to teach her properly, but she had never quite managed to voice that thought out loud; it was embarrassing and unworthy but Sue had always been a tiny bit jealous of Felix, worrying that if Juliet had been able to sleep with men without wanting to devour them body and soul then she'd have been with Felix rather than Sue.
"I know," Sue began only to be drowned out by the sounds of grinding gears. "I know it wasn't really you who - " Sue touched her throat, where she could still feel the ghosts of multi-coloured bruises " - hurt me. Your friend explained."
"Castor can't–" Out of the corner of her eye Sue could see Juliet bite back the say much of anything right now.
"It wasn't Felix. It was a zombie." Sue had recognised him for what he was straight away. They got zombies in the library a lot, the poor souls looking for somewhere to while away the empty days; when Sue was in charge of the thermostat she would keep the library a few degrees below what was comfortable for their sake and put on a cardigan. "He said his name was–"
"Nicky," Juliet finished.
"He said–" Nicky had said all sorts of things that Sue hadn't entirely understood about Rafael/Asmodeus summoning demons, demons that used to be Juliet, to drive her mad. He'd said other things too, including: look, lap-dancer from hell or not, Juliet is a friend, but if you want my advice you should get as far away from her as you can while you still can. "He said you were possessed," Sue finished.
Juliet snorted, a sound that was still somehow absurdly sexy, but watched the road in silence until they reached Royal Oak.
They pulled up outside the house. Sue unbuckled her seatbelt but didn't get out of the car. The moment stretched out until Juliet said, looking straight ahead, "It was me."
"You said that it wasn't me who - " Juliet looked sideways at Sue and quickly away "- hurt you. It was me. And it wasn't."
"I don't understand." It was a plea, and Sue's voice cracked making it. "Please, Jules. I know you don't like to talk about this. And I know you think you're protecting me, but look where that's got us."
Sue didn't know whether it was the tears tracking down her face or the return of the old familiar nickname but Juliet actually answered. "We have... lifecycles."
"We? You mean demons?"
"Yes, demons. This - " Juliet gestured to herself " - Juliet Salazar is not entirely the same being as the succubus Ajulutsikael, just as Ajulutsikael was different from all those who came before her. It was those younger cast-off aspects that the demon Asmodeus attempted to raise. They would not have understood about you, or about us, and if I could I would have ripped their throats out for so much as looking at you. But they were all of me."
"I–" Sue wanted to say she understood, but she didn't, not at all. Instead she said, "Um, do you want to come inside?"
Sue walked up to the front door, key in hand, with Juliet two paces behind her. Had it really only been a few days since Felix and that other exorcist had come to collect Sue, to save her from Juliet? Everything was just as she'd left it; the television lay smashed on its side, and the plaster of the ceiling was cracked showing where Juliet had hurled it before it had come crashing back to earth.
Juliet effortlessly lifted the flat screen in one hand before, as though realising that giving Sue a visual reminder of just how strong she was might not be the best idea right now, shifting it to a two handed grip. "I'll get rid of this."
"I think I might go and lie down," said Sue. "They gave me something to help me sleep at the hospital and I'm still pretty tired."
Juliet nodded and took a step forward, without meaning to Sue flinched back and Juliet froze. "I can make other arrangements if that's what you would prefer," she said carefully.
"No!" Even now, after everything, the worry that Juliet's other arrangements might involve somebody else's bed filled Sue with horror. "I mean, you should stay, but maybe, um, down here?"
As she was laying out sheets and pillows to make up a bed downstairs Sue had to sit abruptly down on the edge of her mattress and stuff her fist into her mouth to stifle the laughter that was burbling up at the absurdly hilarious realistion that she was probably the only person in the history of the world to ever tell a succubus to sleep on the couch.
Even with the last of the sedatives still swimming through her bloodstream
Sue didn't manage to fall into more than a doze. She could hear the sounds of the television burbling up through the floorboards.
The thing was, Juliet didn't watch television. Oh, she'd sit and stare at the screen, usually while tracing maddening patterns on Sue's thigh, but her eyes didn't focus and she didn't follow the story, considering it merely a necessary prelude to the more physical forms of diversion that she preferred. The only reason that Sue could think of for Juliet to have hooked up the spare TV and pitched the volume so that it could be heard from the bedroom was so that Sue would know she was downstairs and staying downstairs; an extension of the way that she'd been keeping her hands to herself and making no sudden movements.
Sue had always known, abstractly, what Juliet was. Juliet had told her; had actually had to tell her more than once, because when you first met Juliet it was very easy to just stare at her mouth when she spoke and only belatedly realise that you hadn't heard a single word that she'd said. Juliet was a succubus, a demon, and a killer. But even knowing that Sue had never been afraid of her. People could be cruel, some people could be especially cruel to plain, self-effacing, painfully shy women, and Sue had felt safer with Juliet, demon or not, than she often did with members of her own species. Then Juliet had ruined all that. Asmodeus had made Juliet ruin it.
Sue went to visit Felix on the recovery ward once he was allowed visitors. Juliet didn't come but sent a bunch of grapes, red juices leaking through the brown paper bag. A sign over Felix's bed read nil-by-mouth. In a strange way it was a relief that Juliet's new just be nice philosophy didn't extend past Sue herself; it meant that she was still, deep down, the old Jules.
"From Juliet," said Sue, hurriedly putting the grapes away out of sight. Felix's eyebrow rose at mention of Juliet. "She's, um, at home." Felix's eyebrow raised more. "She's sleeping on the couch." Both of Felix's eyebrows did a little dance at that.
"I need–" Sue blinked fiercely, determined not to cry in front of Felix. "I need to understand what happened to her. I need to know if it could happen again. Because if I'm going to ask her to leave...I think it needs to be soon."
What Sue meant was that she needed to decide if their relationship was worth saving before she invited Juliet back into her bed, because after that she wouldn't ask her to leave no matter how bad things got.
Felix nodded, he understood about Juliet. He gestured for Sue to pass him the pad and paper from the table next to his bed. Oh, of course. His jaw was wired shut.
"I'm sorry." Sue blushed. "I didn't– This can wait." She gathered up her things to leave, but Felix ignored her and started scribbling furiously. Which was how Sue got the story, in Felix's spidery scrawl and the odd stick figure drawing, on scraps of paper that Felix made her give back after she'd finished reading so he could tear them up.
Felix confirmed what Nicky and Juliet had already told her, but added something that Juliet hadn't: whatever else had been happening to her at the time, twice Juliet had tried to throw herself into Asmodeus' teeth in order to save Sue, once when she could hardly standup, let alone fight.
No amount of blinking was going to keep back the tears. Sue dashed them away furiously. "That doesn't change what she did."
Felix wrote something on his pad and underlined it three times: I know.
"Thank you for telling me all this, Felix. Get well soon."
Sue stood up to leave, but Felix caught her sleeve and held up the pad so she could see what he'd written on it: My friends call me Fix.
Felix was right that they had never really been friends. They had only overlapped where it came to Juliet, and that came with its own lines of jealousy and resentment and pity. Sue favoured him with a watery but heartfelt smile. "Get well soon, Fix."
Sue was peeling carrots for tea when Juliet asked, "Why aren't you at work, Susan?" Juliet herself was back at work, putting up wards at a new hotel and chasing off a poltergeist in Wimbledon; when you were Juliet, clients forgave you for dropping off the map for weeks at a time.
Sue carefully placed the peeler in the sink and turned to face Juliet. "I've been given the sack."
Juliet's head was cocked, curious. "Why?"
"I didn't go in for weeks. You– you wouldn't let me. You wouldn't let me use the phone to call in sick. Remember?"
Sue wasn't sure how much of those terrible few weeks Juliet remembered, and Juliet's toneless, "Oh. Yes," didn't enlighten her any. Juliet stood up from the table and left the kitchen without saying anything else. Sue heard the front door click shut. She thought about running after Juliet, she thought about calling Felix, who had finally been released from hospital; in the end she put the carrots on to cook and then failed to notice all the water boiling away and the carrots burning black as she paced the kitchen.
After an hour Juliet returned with the same total lack of ceremony with which she'd departed. "You start back at the library on Monday."
"What have you done, Juliet?" asked Sue, half dreading the answer.
"I let your boss hold my hand for five minutes."
People liked to do things for Juliet - it was why a man Juliet had met once had given her a Maserati Spyder that they didn't need and Juliet could hardly drive, it was how Juliet had gotten a glassy-eyed plasterer to fix their ceiling with no waiting, it was probably why Sue had first invited Juliet to live with her when they'd known each other all of five minutes. It was a side effect of what Juliet was, and she couldn't help it.
"Why?" Sue asked. "You've never liked me working." It had been the only thing they'd really argued about, back before Juliet's demons had made everything a fight. Juliet had wanted Sue to be a housewife - well, if Sue was being honest with herself Jules probably didn't care all that much about the cooking or the cleaning, what she really wanted was a, erm, concubine.
"You like working. And I - " Juliet shrugged elegantly " - I like it when you stand up to me."
"No," said Sue, baffled, "you don't."
"I don't enjoy it," said Juliet, "it's irksome and unpleasant, but it is...interesting. Do you remember telling me you didn't want to make love?"
"Your mother was still alive," Juliet prompted.
Sue felt the usual rush of conflicting emotions she felt whenever she thought of her mother: grief, latent shame at how much she would have disapproved of Sue's relationship, almost as much because Jules was a woman as because she had relocated to London from the second circle of hell, and inappropriate humour at the idea of Juliet trying to navigate having a mother-in-law.
Now that Juliet mentioned it Sue did remember - it had been the last time her mother had been home from the hospital before she'd been admitted for the last time, and Sue had been worried and exhausted and stressed out when Juliet had appeared naked in her bedroom. Sue hadn't even known how she'd gotten into the house.
"I remember. I told you I was too tired, but that you could stay the night if you wanted." Sue had even, mortifyingly, offered Juliet pyjamas to wear, and neither of them got an ounce of sleep, Juliet because she hadn't quite got the hang of sleeping yet, and Sue because not even pink plaid pyjamas that didn't quite fit could diminish Juliet's otherworldly sex appeal.
"Nobody had ever said no to me before. Well," Juliet corrected herself, "I suppose Castor did, but I was trying to kill him at the time, and even then he seemed to have extremely mixed feelings about stopping."
"I didn't intend our relationship to be a lasting one. I wanted to know for sure that sleeping with women could satisfy one of my appetites without waking the more bloodthirsty one; you were convenient, and Castor said that you were already in love with me. After that night I decided that I would stay with you until I got bored, and...I didn't."
Juliet had been so careful to walk on eggshells around Sue these last few weeks, being more solicitous of her feelings and respectful of her personal space than anyone but Sue would have dreamed her capable of, so there had to be a reason other than to be hurtful that she was telling her that she had once seen Sue as an experiment that if successful would be the first in a long line of one night stands.
"Why are you telling me this?"
"Because I don't want you to leave me, Susan."
Sue crossed the room to Juliet; there was, like always, a brief, horrible second where she smelled of wet dog, but by the time Sue had leaned in and pressed her lips to Juliet's cheek her scent had changed. It was a succubus thing, which made Juliet smell of whatever your subconscious wanted her to smell like. Sue buried her face in Juliet's fall of black hair and inhaled the scents of paper and green tea.
Juliet held herself apart for a moment, before dropping her head into the crook of Sue's neck and letting out a shuddering, needful breath - from a woman who didn't need to breathe.
The last eighteen months or so of constant exposure to Juliet had lessened Sue's original, mortifying desire to rub up against her like a cat in heat whenever they were in the same room to merely a constant background thrum of desire. But with Juliet's scent in her nose and Juliet's lips on her skin there would have been no resisting her, even if Sue had wanted to. That was the thing about Juliet, of course, you wanted her even if you didn't want to, even if she scared you, even if she was hurting you...
Juliet must have felt something change in Sue, because with her mouth still pressed to Sue's skin she said, "You're still frightened of me."
"I don't want to be."
Juliet seemed to pull herself away from Sue by main force; she went into the living room and Sue heard the television turn on.
"I want to ask you for something, Susan."
"Yes?" Sue expected it to be sex. This was the longest they had gone without since getting together; even when things had been at their worst they had been sleeping together a lot, it had been the only thing Sue seemed to be able to do to keep Juliet's anger and unhappiness at bay. Maybe that was why, despite wanting Juliet almost more than you could want anything and still be alive, and despite her growing fears that Juliet would run out of patience and find someone else to fulfill her needs, Sue still kept her waiting.
"I'd like you to speak to Coldwood."
Detective Gary Coldwood. Juliet's friend/occasional employer. "Um, yes, if you like. What about?"
"The neighbours heard us fighting one night. Heard me," Juliet corrected herself. "They were concerned about you, and they called the police." Sue nodded; their neighbours had been right to be worried, and the police probably hadn't turned up because that wouldn't have been the first time there had been a noise complaint made about Sue and Juliet, albeit for different reasons. "Coldwood can't use me as a consultant until it gets sorted out."
Which was how Sue came to be in a police station introducing herself to Detective Sergeant Gary Coldwood. She had met DS Coldwood half a dozen times when he came to the house to ask Juliet to read a crime scene, he had been a guest at their wedding, and every time he saw Sue he had no memory of ever having met her before.
"I'm Susan Book. I live with Juliet Salazar." Detective Coldwood's look of disappointment was crushing but quickly masked, and at least Sue was spared the look that she often got when people found out she was married to Juliet, the look of: You? How? Why? How? "Juliet told me that there had been a misunderstanding, and it's not what it sounds like."
The detective raised a skeptical eyebrow, and Sue remembered that whatever tender blind spot he had for Juliet he was still a policeman and Sue was probably far from the first women who'd ever tried to tell him that it's not what it looks like, honest.
"I mean, it was exactly what it sounded like. But, um, you know what Jules does for a living?"
"She's an exorcist. We use her sometimes to raise the ghosts of murder victims."
"Something bad followed her home from work, and, um, it took her over, she wasn't herself." It was an amalgamation of everything Juliet, Fix, and Nicky had told her, and if it wasn't the exact truth then at least it was a truth that Sue could understand and live with.
"I see," said DS Coldwood, although Sue could see he didn't, and it was then that she engaged in a shameful and cowardly act of buck-passing. Sorry, Fix.
"Felix Castor was the one who figured out what was wrong with Juliet and helped her get back to herself. I'm sure he could explain it better than me."
DS Coldwood showed her out after saying that he'd talk to Felix and try to get Juliet back on the books. He had been considerate and generous with his time, and Sue was pretty sure that the next time she saw him she'd have to introduce herself anew.
"I've been to see the police," Sue told Juliet, who nodded without seeming to have heard and said, "I've been to see Castor. I've made him swear that if I ever hurt you again, he'll play me out."
"He wouldn't," said Sue. She wasn't judging; she felt like she understood Fix now, and understood that he was no more capable of sending Juliet away for good than Sue herself was.
"Maybe not," said Juliet. "But Pax and McClellan would. I've been to see them both and made sure they know enough to exorcise me." She tipped her head towards the kitchen. "Their numbers are on the fridge."
Sue didn't know what to say to that, except– "Do you want to go upstairs?"
Juliet effortlessly picked her up and Sue squeaked, "Jules!"
Sue was almost immediately deposited on the bed upstairs, Juliet obviously having decided that this was the time to stop pretending that she wasn't ridiculously strong and fast. Juliet could just decide not to be wearing clothes, so she was already naked by the time Sue was still struggling to take her shoes off, trembling with anticipation. Juliet noticed her shaking. "You're frightened."
"I'm not," Sue lied.
Juliet turned away, and Sue whined low in her throat. From the wardrobe Juliet produced a silk scarf, a cheap belt, and the broken strap of a handbag. "Tie me down," Juliet suggested.
Those fripperies wouldn't hold Juliet; snow chains wouldn't hold Juliet if she didn't want to be held, and Sue would never want to keep her against her will. "You don't like this sort of thing–" Restraints of any kind reminded Juliet of all those men who had summoned her from hell and bound her to their will.
Juliet closed the distance between them, wet dog fading into green tea, and kissed Sue long and deep. "I'll like it when it's you. I'll love it when it's you."
The Maserati Spyder was parked was parked in front of Fix and Pen's house. The dinner party was going to be awkward anyway; Pen had hated Juliet ever since she had interrupted Juliet trying to rape Felix to death, Juliet had disliked Pen ever since she'd shot Juliet with a shotgun full of rosary beads on the same occasion, Trudie hated Juliet both on principal and because she'd first encountered her in the context of having to rescue Sue from her, Rafi didn't remember anything he'd done while possessed by Asmodeus but was still determined to charm Sue by way of an apology, so Juliet hated him both because of that and because he'd once been a practitioner of dark magic who raised and bound her kind.
It wasn't Juliet who was procrastinating on getting out of the car though; Juliet squeezed Sue's hand. "Something wrong, Susan?"
Sue ducked her head and muttered something into her chest, cleared her throat, and said, "The last time I met Trudie I tried to hit her."
Juliet raised an eyebrow. "You struck Castor's lover?"
"Tried to," Sue corrected. "I, er, don't think I'm very good at violence. And she deserved it, she called you a stick-insect." The corner of Juliet's red-painted lips twitched up. "It wasn't what she said, Jules, it was how she said it!"
"If I'm very good at this ridiculous dinner party," said Juliet, leaning in close to capture Sue's mouth, "can I get a reenactment of you attacking Trudie Pax at home later?"
"Oh, don't," said Sue. Juliet was still very close, and Sue found herself remembering what Juliet had said in this car all those months ago, about how demons had lifecycles. That Juliet now was subtly different from the succubus Ajulutsikael who had been summoned to earth two years ago. The changes in her appearance were so slight that no-one apart from Sue, and maybe Fix, would have noticed: her skin was now a flawless porcelain rather than the white of bone, and her once black on black eyes were ringed with dark brown irises. Juliet's tongue darted out to wet her bottom lip, and blushing furiously, Sue thought that she would miss Juliet's forked tongue.
Juliet noticed Sue's blush. "What are you thinking about, Susan?"
"I'm–" Sue turned an even deeper shade of red. "I'm thinking that if we don't hurry up we'll be late for Pen's party."