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Ways to Keep Safe

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There were some things Vicki couldn't tell her mother.

Men was one thing. It was bad enough if Marjory knew she was interested in someone; that that someone had left her was something Vicki didn't fancy mentioning. That both of those someones had left her.

That she'd let a demon loose in the world was another.

She'd have to explain that demons were real, to begin with.

Having to try and save the world was bad enough; she didn't need Coreen weedling at her to tell her mother all about it.

"Come on Vicki, just call her back." Coreen had her pleading puppy-eye face on. Vicki wasn't falling for it.

"I did." She said it slowly.

"Maybe when you don't know she's gonna be at the lab. She does notice."

Vicki scoffed. "Since when are you and my mother best friends?"

"Since I'm the one who answers the phone." Vicki rolled her eyes. "Why don't you want to call her?"

"I do not need this right now, Coreen."

"It's not hard. Pick up the phone, dial – I thought you liked your Mom."

Vicki sighed. "I do."

"So, what's the problem?" Coreen said it so innocently, like she wasn't baiting her. But Coreen wasn't that naïve.

"The problem. Let's see. Mothers, like assistants, I find, are way too interested in my private life. How about that." Coreen responded by flicking her own eyes to the ceiling. Vicki took a deep breath. "No," she said. "You go keep on with your research, I'm not talking about this."

Coreen held her hands up in defeat and backed away. It was a very Henry gesture. But Henry wasn't here. Vicki had chosen to save Coreen, and that meant they were in it alone.

"It's just one puny demon," Vicki muttered. "How hard can it be?"

***

As hard as avoiding one's mother. Marjory had given up on expecting her to pick up her cellphone, and gone for the work number. If no-one answered that, after all, Vicki's rent didn't get paid.

But she could put it off. She waited for Coreen's cheery greeting the next day, and said, "Ah, Coreen. Check the messages, won't you? I've been swamped." It wasn't hunting demon princes that paid the bills, after all.

"Sure, Vicki," Coreen said. Vicki didn't bother looking to see the patient, knowing expression on her face. She heard the scratch of pen on paper, then a pause. "Your Mom's threatening to come up here."

Vicki lifted her head from her work, the fingers of one hand tangled in her hair. "She would," she muttered. "God." She moved her hands to her temples. Coreen was holding out the phone pointedly.

"Maybe it would help, Vic."

"Help." Vicki let out a breath that was almost laughter. "Sure, 'cause my Mom coming up here's just gonna—" she moved her hands out —"make everything better, right? Sure, if anything can get Astaroth back to hell where he belongs, it's my mother."

"That's not what I meant and you know it." Before Vicki could respond, she went on, "Whatever, not my problem. Just, she's booked her train ticket. She says she's due the leave, so, you call her if you want, or not."

Or not. Vicki leant back in her chair. "Just give me the other messages, Coreen. And stop looking like that, it's annoying."

Coreen schooled her features, but she still looked worried.

***

Her mother seemed tired. She came straight to the office from the train station – Vicki would've picked her up if she'd known, she wasn't that bad a daughter – and Coreen let her in. Marjory gestured to where she was working. "Coreen's not what I expected," she said with a smile.

Vicki's eyes flicked to Coreen, who was busy tackling the large grimoire Professor Sagara had lent them, pretending like she wasn't watching their conversation. She was dressed fairly typically, laced up in purple with a ruffly skirt and her hair twisted up in plaits. Big stompy boots that she swore were practical, really, but Vicki wasn't convinced. "The whole queen of darkness thing? You get used to it."

"She sounds so preppy on the phone. She doesn't scare off the clients then?" Marjory winked. Vicki thought of Coreen's perpetual chipperness.

"Yeah, our clients generally have other things on their mind." She caught Coreen's eye, who looked embarrassed and gave a little wave.

"You know," Marjory said, "if I were thirty years younger—"

"Mom."

"What? I've read my fair share of horror novels. I think I'd look quite fetching in some of that velvet stuff."

Vicki had an all too plausible vision of her mother all dolled up at the Underground. Change of topic, before Marjory called Coreen in for fashion advice. "How's Susan? I'm surprised you two didn't decide to make a break of it."

"She's got a big deadline coming up, dear, you know how it is. Besides, I thought it would be good just to be the two of us. Well, and Coreen, I suppose. She's a lovely girl, isn't she? At any rate, I don't think this could wait, do you?"

"Why not?" Vicki said. She flicked her hand open. "I'm fine, Mom. How are you?" She gestured for her mother to sit down, but Marjory seemed reluctant. She fiddled with her sleeves, and didn't answer immediately.

"I'm worried," she said. "My daughter has been avoiding me."

Vicki rolled her eyes. "I'm sure Coreen's told you everything interesting in my life," she said. Like demons. Like the undead. Like running around the city trying to track down Coreen's heart, only to have her own torn out and stepped on.

But she wasn't telling her mother that.

"I think you scared her after she let slip about Henry. She's really very discreet." Her mother's tone was light, questioning. Vicki did remember that conversation with Coreen, after her mother had pounced on the name – funny to think the girl had taken it to heart.

"So, what, when you two have your little chats, you're just exchanging recipes, is that it?"

Marjory chuckled. "As a matter of fact, yes. She's got a lot of good recipes for someone who eats meat. So, is this about Henry?" Nelsons didn't let things go. Vicki grimaced. But then Marjory was distracted. "Vicki, are those tattoos?"

"I thought you said you fancied being a goth?" Marjory looked unimpressed. "Sit down, I'll get Coreen to make us some coffee." She sorted that out while her mother slid into the seat opposite her desk, her expression unhappy.

"So," Vicki said, when they were waiting for their coffees. She held out her forearms briefly. "Would you believe demonic possession?"

Marjory lifted her eyebrows. "It's your body, I suppose," she said. "Although I don't see wh –"

"Maybe they mean something to me, mom." Like a whole world you can't look away from, the people you can't turn away from. The people who turn away from you. Vicki's hands curled.

If she could get rid of them, would she?

"Really, Vicki, aren't you a little young to be having a midlife crisis? What's this about?"

Coreen knocked on the door with their coffees. It gave Vicki a moment to think: does she give her mother the true version, the one she won't believe? I let a demon into the world because I couldn't let Coreen die? Or the version that makes her feel pathetic, that Henry wouldn't stick around for her, that Mike couldn't deal with all she couldn't give.

There was the version her mother couldn't believe, and the one she would. And neither version would keep her safe.

Henry thought he was safe by leaving. Mike thought he could be safe just pretending it wasn't real.

Vicki couldn't pretend. The world was there. Astaroth was out there, and she and Coreen had to find him – Coreen, who could accept everything and trusted her, dammit. That was more important than hurt feelings. The world was more important. But she wouldn't force her mother to see.

Marjory couldn't unsee things either.

"It's just man trouble, Mom, really." She met Coreen's eyes as she accepted her coffee. Saw the smile she offered. "Thanks, Coreen, we're good now." She turned back to her mother, the still sceptical expression. "You can stop fretting, I'll tell you all about it."

There were some things Vicki couldn't tell her mother.

But sometimes she just had to suck it up, because it was better than the alternative.