"Mm..." Jezi struggled to open her eyes. She felt so tired, so very heavy. The room was dim and cozy, the warm blankets wrapping around her like a hug. She blinked twice, her lids scraping across her eyes like sandpaper.
Jezi popped up, holding her head in immediate remorse. She tried to focus her eyes against the pounding in her skull. “...James?"
For the second time in her life, Jezi awoke, weak and in pain, to find James Bartholomew sitting by her bed. When her vision cleared she gave him a relieved smile. She didn't know how long she had been out, but she was glad he was okay.
"How are you feeling?" James asked.
Jezi nodded slightly. "How long was I out?”
"Few hours," he replied.
Jezi looked at him, noticing his face was devoid of it's usual half smile. He looked far too serious.
That didn't bode well.
"What's wrong?" she asked.
"... Desi's gone.”
Jezi squeezed her eyes shut and waited for her chest to stop contracting. "He got her. Somehow, he got her.”
"... Brandon." James leaned back in his chair with an odd look on his face. His fingers dipped into his pocket and he frowned a little.
Jezi barely heard him. She was thinking of Christian, her eyes narrowing in contemplation. "He won't hurt her. He wouldn't dare…"
Reality dawned, and she nearly laughed at the level of his cunning. "He needs her. It's the only way he can get in here, the only way he can get to..." She looked up and found James watching her.
"Fox said he stabbed you," James paused. "right through the heart.”
Jezi could feel the blood draining from her face. Her hands trembled on her lap. She had successfully avoided this conversation for nearly a century. The waiting had not made it any easier.
"James, there's something I need to tell you," she began.
James was calm as he pulled his hand out of his pocket, and then held it out to her. "Does it have anything to do with this?”
He uncurled his fingers and all of the breath left Jezi's body. A pocket watch, the pocket watch lie ticking in his palm, a beautiful bronze bomb ready to destroy everything she'd worked so hard for.
As soon as she felt able, Jezi dragged her gaze from the watch to James's face. She opened her mouth, but the words wouldn't come.
"T.J. told me," James confessed. "... a long time ago.”
Fucking T.J., she thought. Jezi hung her head. "He shouldn't have," she mumbled.
No. she should've told him... a long time ago. "How come you never said anything?" she asked.
James shrugged. "Probably for the same reason you never did.”
Jezi knew it wasn't a statement as much as a question. One she didn't have a good answer for. So Jezi did what she always did when she was backed into a corner. She focused on a problem she could solve.
"We don't have much time." She got out of bed and stood carefully. The room started spinning, but she soldiered on, needing to get out of there more than she needed to see straight. Standing in front of the door, she saw three doorknobs wavering in front of her face. She opted to reach for the one in the middle.
Jezi threw the door open to a cacophony of voices.
"Sunlight or silver?" Raven asked.
"That's what Robyn said," Fox replied.
"Simple, I find him, I drag him outside in pieces and I watch him fucking burn!”
"Blood magic brought us back, Love. We're confined here until the sun sets on All Hallows Eve," Raven explained.
Jezi would've smiled at T.J.'s patented logic of death and dismemberment, if she wasn't so pissed at him. She rounded the corner to a room full of familiar faces. It nearly overwhelmed her how much she had missed them.
Becky noticed her first. Sitting next to Fox, her knees hugged to her chest, she nibbled on her thumb in that nervous way she always did. Her eyes landed on Jezi, and she hopped out of her chair and ran, launching herself at Jezi.
Still weak, Jezi managed to catch her and not fall over. Once she steadied herself, she wrapped her arms around the tiny elf in front of her. "Hi, Becks... I missed you, too.”
"How ya feelin' little Jezebel?" T.J. asked.
Jezi silently looked up, glaring at T.J.
T.J. looked from her face to James, who was busying himself behind the bar. "Uh-ohhh," he chuckled, "I'm in trouble." He smiled with a slight hip swivel that showed he regretted nothing.
"You doing okay, Jez?" Ms. Prestone asked.
"Yeah, a little weak, but I'll be fine by tomorrow night. Now, we've got a lot to do between now and then, I suggest we get started." Jezi replied.
"Leaving here is not an option for any of you until the first light of the moon tomorrow. So, unfortunately, a preemptive strike is out of the question. We'll have to fight Christian here." Jezi sighed. "I doubt he'll be alone, I expect Savo will be with him... Taccone... maybe Sharon.”
Jezi frowned in concentration, running scenarios through her mind.
"That's an awful lot of vampires," Becky mumbled, her voice heavy with worry.
Jezi shook her head. "No, they wont be vampires. He'd never give them that much power." her voice was far away as she mentally connected with everything she knew about Christian Brandon. "He'll bank on their own vendettas against you.”
Jezi's fingers twitched as her mind raced.
"Are you sure?" Becky asked.
"She's sure..." James said.
He'd been so quietly going about his business, Jezi hadn't thought he was listening. That simple statement, so confidently delivered, was like a shot ringing through the room. Everyone fell silent, stealing confused glances at each other.
Ms Prestone cleared her throat. "Okey dokey. What do you want us to do?”
Jezi recovered, settling on the best plan. "He's coming for The Flower. No matter what happens tonight, we're not going to let him destroy it. And, the guests can't know what's going on. Our best bet is to divide and conquer.”
"I'll take Savo," Fox volunteered.
"It'll be fun to put a bullet in Taccone's ass I guess," T.J. spoke up.
"Sharon's all mine," Ms. Prestone said with a smile.
"Raven, I'm going to need your help getting Desi away from Christian, and get her somewhere safe." She turned to her left. "Biggun, you help her. No matter what, keep Desi away from everything.”
Biggun nodded. He wouldn't let her down again. "Yes, Mistress.”
"What can I do?" Becky whispered.
Jezi smiled. "I will need your help setting everything up, and I'll need for you to help James keep an eye on the party.”
Becky sighed with relief. "Don't worry about a thing. It'll be a great party.”
"Well, we have the divide all figured out. How about the conquer? How do you kill something that's already dead?”
Jezi's brain had already moved on. "We don't need to kill them, we simply need to contain them until dawn." She looked around. "Where's Liam?”
Everyone shrugged. "I haven't seen him all night," Fox said.
"Dammit, Desi!" she groaned.
"What?" Kristine asked.
"She's turned him into something. Okay, everyone spread out. Look for anything broken... or odd."
Hours later, Robyn looked up from the book she was reading. She angled her head and listened. Someone was down there with her. She tiptoed through the dark stacks aisle by aisle until she noticed a dim glow coming from one of them. Robyn turned to find Jezi at the top of a very long ladder. “Jezi..?"
"Shit! ... Robyn. Don't do that.”
"What are you doing down here?" Robyn asked. She cringed at the stack of books on the floor, and resisted the impulse to put them all back in their rightful place.
Jezi ignored her question and continued searching the top shelves.
"If you just tell me what you're looking for, I can help you." There was a desperation to Robyn's voice. The thought of her precious books out of place in disarray was nothing short of torture for her.”
Jezi climbed down with four large volumes in her hand. "I'm sorry, Robyn. I can’t."
"You know... I'm really good at keeping secrets.”
"You wouldn't be able to keep this one." Jezi smiled. "There's a heart far too large inside our Robyn Red Breast.”
Robyn frowned slightly. "Well, can I at least help you carry some of them?" She glanced thoroughly at the books in Jezi's arms as she bent down to the ones on the floor.
"No! It's... okay. I think I can manage."
Robyn nodded. "Okay, then. I'll leave you to it." She began to walk away.
"I promise I'll put them all back!" Jezi shouted after her.
"You know, you can't hide down here all night..." T.J.'s quiet voice startled her.
Jezi glared at T.J. and turned the corner.
"Aww, c'mon!" he trailed after her. When she stopped walking, he poked her ribs and backed away.
"Stop it, Taylor!”
"Ooh... Taylor, is it?" he mocked, poking her again. "Say, how come you brought Fox back first?" he asked.
"Because I can trust Fox.”
"Jezi..." he scolded. "He deserved to know, and I knew you would never tell him." T.J. leaned against the shelf and smiled at her. "He wasn't even mad.”
One flash of those dimples, and Jezi almost forgot her vow to hate him forever. "What do you want, T.J.?" she sighed.
T.J. shrugged. "Just to help. Because you and I know that Christian Brandon is not coming for The Flower." Her eyes closed so quickly, he knew that she had already come to the same conclusion.
"He's coming for James." Jezi sighed.
"What do you need?" T.J. asked.
"... I need Liam."
As they made their way back to the ground floor, Jezi was shocked to discover the sun was beginning to peek into the windows. Dawn was already breaking. Jezi rubbed her eyes and yawned.
"You should get some sleep," T.J. said.
Jezi shook her head. "Cant. I've gotta find Liam.”
"You're no good to any of us if you're exhausted.”
Jezi smiled. "Go bother Raven. I'll get to bed soon, I promise.”
A mischievous smile lit T.J.'s face and he winked at her and poked her ribs once more for good measure.
Too tired to argue, Jezi dragged herself around the corner. She didn't know why she was so shocked to find James busy behind the bar, but it stopped her in her tracks. The building sounded eerily quiet all of a sudden. She approached the bar slowly, but he didn't even look her way.
Jezi climbed up onto a bar stool, giving it a courtesy wiggle to test the legs. Unfortunately, it was steady as a rock, so the search for Liam would continue. After a few moments of maddening silence Jezi couldn't take it anymore.
"James," she began. "uh... you... you should get some rest.”
Without sparing her a glance, James scoffed. "I would love to, but since I've already found one leaky pitcher that you've left, I've now gotta check all the rest.”
Exhausted and annoyed, Jezi narrowed her eyes. "Fuck you, James! There's no goddamn leaky pitchers..." She rolled her eyes and slid off the bar stool grumbling to no one in particular.
"Oh really?" James slammed he pitcher onto the bar, and began pouring water in it. A small puddle began forming on the surface of the bar.
"This is ridiculous! I have taken care of..." Jezi gasped. "James, you're a genius!" she pushed his hands away, picking up the pitcher. She set it down on the ground and waved her hands. Liam appeared, curled on the floor, coughing up water. He leapt to his feet, wet and gasping. Jezi wrapped him in a hug, happier to see him than she had ever been.
"Where is she?! Where is that little witch?!" Liam shouted, pushing Jezi.
"She's gone, Liam.”
Liam's face fell into a frown. "What do you mean, she's gone?”
"But, but... she's coming back, isn't she?”
"Christian has her, but we're gonna get her back." She placed a hand on his shoulder and tried to smile reassuringly.
Liam blinked a few times before taking a deep breath. "What can I do?”
Jezi took Liam by the arm and led him away, talking rapidly.
Jezi awoke, not remembering when she had finally crawled into bed. It took her a few moments to realize that she had not, in fact, left the lamp on, but that the soft light filling her room was the sun lowering in the sky.
"Shit!" she yelled. She got dressed as quickly as she could, tried to be as presentable as possible. She opened the door and was amazed at the amount of activity that was already occurring.
Becky walked around shouting instructions and delegating tasks. Jezi had to admit. The place looked great. She smiled sadly as she looked around. Looks like they got along just fine without her. A rumbling hum hit her ear, and she could hear the band setting up. She had no doubt it would be a great party.
With everything well in hand, Jezi opened the door at the end of the hall. Liam was stepping off of a very tall ladder. "How's it looking, Liam?”
"We're all set here, Jezi." He folded up the ladder with a worried frown. "Do you really think it'll work?" he asked.
Jezi nodded. "Everything will be fine," she answered. It didn't have to work indefinitely... just long enough. The lights were lowered and the stage was set. They had a little over an hour before guests would start arriving.
Everyone had their plan. The air sparked with tension. Ever the perfectionist, Jezi went over things one more time. "Okay, when it starts, things will happen quick. Raven, you stay out of sight until signal you." She nodded to Raven.
"Liam and Biggun... you've gotta keep Desi in that room, no matter what. Remember, keep everyone away from the party as best as you can, It won't take long for Christian to figure out what we're up to.”
Everyone murmured their assent as they left to prepare for the party. Jezi looked at her watch, her nerves frayed that they were so close to the confrontation. She sat down absently at the bar, her fingers still fluttering with the movement of her mind.
For once, she had no clue what was going to happen, and she was actually afraid. She remembered the last time she felt like this.
A clink brought her mind back to the present, and she looked down at the mug in front of her, unable to suppress a small smile. James had never been a man of many words, so he was often in the habit of simply setting things down in front of her.
Out of all of his habits, it was one of her favorites.
Jezi took a grateful swig out of the drink and let it burn away all her trepidation. If there was one thing she could always count on, it was that she would do what needed to be done.
Silently, she began tracing a pattern on the top of the bar. She was careful to keep her whisper light, made sure her lips barely moved.
"James, I need you to do something for me..." she began.
"What's that?" he asked.
"I need you to stay behind the bar tonight.”
James frowned. "What do you think I'm doing?”
Jezi took a deep breath. "No, I need for you to stay behind the bar... no matter what happens…"
James looked at her queerly a moment before he noticed the deliberate motion of her fingers. He tried to round the bar "Jezi, don’t...!"
The incantation ended on a few shouted words, foreign and quick as Jezi raised her hand. She flinched when James hit the invisible barrier.
"I'm sorry..." she said.
"Jezi, let me out... right fucking now!" James shouted.
Jezi shook her head. "I can’t."
She knew she was compounding sin upon sin, but it was the only way to keep him safe. Christian was coming for him, so she had found a way to take him out of the equation.
"How am I supposed to manage the party stuck back here?!"
He was trying to appeal to her logically, but Jezi wouldn't be moved. She held up a tiny vial and dipped her finger in it. "You'll be able to make all the drinks, and Becky..." she began drawing on the bar, her fingertip stained red. "will be able to come and help you with anything you need.”
James stared at her, horrified. "Is that blood?!" When she didn't answer, he wrinkled his nose. "That's so unsanitary!”
Jezi turned to walk away. She decided not to mention the hair dropped into the mix.
"... Jezi... you can't keep me here.”
His tone gutted her, but she couldn't let it sway her decision. "I have to," she said, walking faster. They would be here any moment
The sun lowered in the sky, and soon, the world was dark, with nothing but the moon to light it. Jezi was vigilant at her post by the door.
She wanted to be sure to greet everyone who came. She wanted to make sure she knew the moment Christian arrived. Besides, she would do anything to avoid passing the bar.
With each passing minute, she grew more impatient. Facing Christian would be hard enough, but this waiting was threatening to drive her mad. She couldn't even go and get a drink.
Jezi knew they were there before they even approached. She felt Desi's presence in the crowd amassing at the door. Finally seeing her brought a knots to Jezi's stomach. Desi stared, eyes unfocused and lost. She blinked slower than usual, as if she had to remind herself to do so.
"Good evening, Jezebel," Christian greeted her with his usual smirk. "Do we... have an invitation?”
Jezi fought the urge to narrow her eyes at him. She wanted him to see the seriousness in her stare. She wanted him to know that she was going to make him pay for this. Jezi moved to one side, waving them inside. "Please, come in."
She tried to keep her tone civil, for the sake of the other guests. As they walked towards an empty booth, Jezi looked Desi over, making sure to take note of everything.
As predicted, Savo, Taccone and Sharon followed behind.
Once everyone settled in, Jezi waited for the first opportunity. She looked past the booth to where Raven was standing, her eyes just as focused on the new arrivals. Jezi could feel the anxiety coiling up in her. She had no doubt she gave off a cool exterior. She had too many years to practice not showing the true extent of her thoughts.
Her breath came in rapid and hard, but she trained her chest to move up and down in a relaxed pace. The ruse was nearly making her dizzy. The beginnings of a new song began to play. Jezi felt her apprehensions melt away with each strum of the guitar, and the beating of the drum strengthened her resolve.
She looked at Desi, and saw her brows twitch. Desi glanced at her as if she almost recognized her, as if she was seeing her through a dense fog.
Witch Hunters, indeed. Something in the music was calling to them both, tugging at something in their blood. Jezi looked ahead to find Raven slightly swaying, her eyes half closed.
Jezi began to whisper an enchantment, watching as Raven's clothes changed to mirror the ones that Desi wore. Raven caught her eyes and they recited together, silently over a crowded room until the resemblance was uncanny.
Now, if only she could figure out how to get Desi away from Christian. He sat without a care in the world, his arm stretched out around be back of the seat, fingertips lightly stroking Desi's shoulder. Before long, Sharon rose and excused herself, and Jezi searched for Ms. Prestone.
Kristine nodded to signal that she had seen Sharon, and was on her trail.
"Biggun, go wait with Raven. We'll need you to grab Desi and bring to my room... quietly.”
It was going to be tricky getting Desi out of the picture without Christian seeing them make the switch. Jezi had to remind herself to be patient. She was almost crawling out of her own skin wanting to make a move. But, she had to be smart, had to do time it perfectly. Jezi let the music wash over her again, relishing in the new sense of calm.
She watched everything and everybody. She saw the exact moment something caught Christian's eye. She followed his gaze to the bar, a sickening feeling in the pit of her stomach forming alongside his devilish smile.
He moved slowly, like a man completely sure of himself. His hands in his pockets, he sauntered over to the bar, and Jezi stopped breathing.
Her biggest flaw was not believing in her own magic. She always worried that there was something she did wrong, some minor pronunciation that was off that would bring about disaster. Only when Christian reached out his hand, encountering the barrier did she breathe a sigh of relief.
"She's a clever little witch, I'll give her that," Christian said.
"That she is," James replied bitterly.
"Aww, what's the matter, James? You don't like being limited? Don't like being trapped?" Christian chuckled. "You should try Purgatory sometime. I have our little Jezebel to thank for that experience.”
"Wow, that sucks." James shrugged. "Hey Becky, take this round of shots to Mister Brandon's table." James smirked at the narrowing of Christian's eyes. "... For the inconvenience.”
Warily scooting around the bar, Becky scurried away from Christian and James, tray in hand.
"I plan to make her pay... for everything." Christian warned.
James blinked, his expression a blank mask. "Jezi can take care of herself.”
"That's fairly cold of you, James.”
James smiled, looking over to Jezi. As Christian looked in the same direction, James flicked a glance to Fox. "Like you said, she's a clever little witch."
Fox marched over to the table as Becky approached. Everyone could see he had choice words for Savo, who seemed primed and ready for a fight. Suddenly, Fox flipped the tray of drinks all over the table, and its occupants. Savo and Taccone leapt up, as Desi sat deadpan.
Everything was perfect, except that now Christian's attention was on the commotion in the booth. Jezi waved her hands and one of the overhead spotlights twisted and creaked until a beam of light fell across Christian's face.
A quick look to Raven and she sprinted forward. Biggun yanked Desi up from her seat and Raven quickly slid into her place. One hand over Desi's mouth and an arm around her waist, Biggun carried her off only raising a few eyebrows on their departure.
Savo moved to confront Fox while Taccone sat down, confident that everything would be taken care of. He spared half a glance for "Desi" before glaring at Becky, demanding she clean the table.
Christian slowly made his way back to the booth, tossing an arm up over the back again. His hand touched Raven's shoulder and paused for a split second, before resuming a lazy stroke.
Jezi's heart was pounding, and she thought she might vomit under the stress, but it seemed like their switch worked.
Jezi rushed off to her room. As she got closer to the door, she was thankful for the loud music. There was obviously a ruckus happening, but no one at the party could hear it. She opened the door and quickly stepped in.
Desi was giving Biggun and Liam the fight of their lives. It seemed like the only thing that mattered to her was getting out of that room, getting back to Christian. Such was the power he held over her.
The three of them fell over for the fifth time since Jezi entered and she knew she would have to take drastic measures. Reaching under the bed, Jezi pulled out the chains.
Despite the short notice, Liam had managed to find a few chains that were plated in pure silver thanks to a nearby occult shop that made it's living off of the Black Flower legend.
"Put her on the bed," Jezi demanded.
Robyn had said that sunlight and silver could kill a vampire, but since Desi wasn't exactly a vampire, maybe it would just subdue her. Jezi closed her eyes in a quick moment of hope then looped the chain around each of Desi's ankles.
"AAaaahHH! Burn... BURN!" Desi screamed.
Jezi looked at her legs, but could see no scorched flesh. Still, Desi's pitiful cries broke her heart. Liam helped her with the rest of the chains, as Biggun held Desi in place.
She struggled, complaining about the fire around her limbs, but she was at least contained. Jezi leaned next to her tear stained face.
"I'm sorry, Dearest. I must keep you here... must keep you safe.”
Jezi turned before she lost her nerve and headed for the door. "Watch over her," she said.
Looking at the table, Jezi saw Christian, Raven and Taccone still sitting there.
Somewhere, Fox and Savo were probably beating the shit out of each other, and there was no doubt that Ms. Prestone had Sharon well in hand. Where the hell was T.J.?
As if he read her thoughts, she saw him walking towards the table. By now, Christian must know something was up. It was going to be really hard to get Taccone to leave Christian's side. He wouldn't be baited easily.
Christian watched Taylor stride towards them from across the room. He smiled slightly. Clearly he was coming to distract Taccone, to take him away so it would only be him left.
Then, undoubtedly, Jezi would try some of her hocus pocus on him and save the day. Little did they know, he had no intention of falling in line with their plan. Especially when he knew something they didn't expect.
Christian leaned over, his lips a breath away from Raven's ear. He took in a deep breath. "Mm... you know, she may look like you, but you smell different. I noticed that scent long ago... islands and paradise. No one smells like you, Raven.”
Raven's panic-sticken look stopped T.J. in his tracks a moment before Christian showed his fangs.
T.J. rushed forward. "Take your fucking hands off her!" he yelled, launching himself at Christian.
The three of them fell to the ground and everything they'd worked for began to fall apart. Raven tried to grab for Christian, but he quickly overpowered her, pushing her away from the melee. T.J. got a few shots in, but Christian was clearly the stronger and simply toying with him. He wanted to entice Jezi into the fray, knowing it would work, knowing she would have no choice.
Jezi reached into the small pouch on her wrist and felt the smooth crystal in her hand. As Christian and T.J. wrestled around, she was able to sneak up behind Taccone, and ram it into his back. He went stiff instantly, standing ramrod straight, his eyes wide.
Jezi had worked on the crystals all night. She infused them with a powerful paralytic spell that should subdue their unwanted guests until dawn when their souls would return from whence they came.
She didn't, however, want to do it in front of the party guests.
More than a few people looked their way, concern on their faces. As of now, it simply looked like two men in an argument over a woman. Jezi quickly ran in between T.J. and Christian. She held her hand up to Christian, who laughed evilly.
"Do it. I dare you," he challenged.
Jezi motioned T.J. towards Taccone. "Get him out of here," she commanded. With a long glance towards Raven, T.J. finally complied.
Christian shook his head. "Still so loyal. You'd do anything to protect your precious Black Flower," he mocked. "Well, I know better than anyone how long your loyalty lasts.”
"Don't talk to me about loyalty," she replied.
For the first time, Christian let his anger show. "I could kill everyone in here, before you could stop me.”
"So why don't you?! Better yet, why don't you just kill me. I'm right here. I'm not running from you anymore.”
Christian reached out for her raised hand, pressing his palm against hers. "I don't want to kill you, Jessica.”
Jezi's heart clenched at the sound of her old name.
"... I want to make you suffer.”
Jezi caught his meaning a split second before he moved. With James unattainable, he would go for the next best thing.
He was fast. Much faster than her. By the time she slid around the corner he had already opened the door to Desi's room.
Just like Jezi knew he would.
She slammed the door behind her, throwing them both into pitch black.
"We know each other far too well, Little Jezebel.”
Christian's voice sounded especially menacing in the dark. Jezi flipped the switch in the room, flooding it with uv light.
Thank you, Liam. she thought, as Christian screeched and stumbled backwards. He scrambled to the middle of the room, the only place the light could not reach. He faced her, seething, with a burn slash across his face that was already rapidly healing.
It was clear that sunlight would be a long and arduous process for trying to kill Christian, which is why she wanted a small area in the room where the light didn't touch.
For plan B, Jezi needed Christian to stay still. When she began the invocation, he glared at her. Only then did he notice the markings on the floor, the shapes and runes.
"Purgatory again, is it?" he asked.
Jezi ignored him, her voice rising as the floor began to shake and splinter, blinding orange light coming from the seams. No, it wasn't Purgatory for Christian Brandon. He'd already escaped that prison once. This took more drastic measures.
"I'm not going back," Christian growled, fangs bared. "At least, not alone.”
Shock barely had time to register as Christian plunged forward, into the light towards her. As the beams clawed at his skin, burning him, he pressed forward while Jezi rushed through the spell, her voice trembling as she tried to back away from him.
When he reached for her throat, she fought against him, still trying to push out the words that would take him away, the words that would keep them all safe.
He closed off her airways, and she choked on her own breath. Jezi fought to stay conscious. She couldn't let him win. Just a few more words…
Jezi fell to her knees; felt darkness closing in on her for the second time in her life.
Christian released her and her knees buckled under her sapped strength and surprise. She didn't know how, but there was James, standing in the doorway. Jezi struggled to suck in a breath, attempting to resume the spell through her sore throat.
"Is this what you're looking for?" James asked, holding out the pocket watch.
"That. is. MINE!" Christian shouted.
James smirked. "... not anymore.”
"...no..." Jezi whispered.
As fast as the words fell from her mouth, she knew it would not be enough. She watched Christian's eyes, knew the moment that he decided that no amount of pain was too great as long as he could reach his goal.
The floor began to split beneath them, the boards falling away at the center point. In his rage, Christian turned away from Jezi, away from the portal opening beneath him. His attention rested solely on the pocket watch... on James.
Jezi struggled to her feet, words pouring out of her unconsciously as she ran towards James. Christian was faster than her, but the uv lights slowed him down.
He pressed his way towards James as the ever-widening portal gaped just behind him. Jezi leapt over the hole, stumbling next to Christian. She picked herself up, sprinting as fast as her skirts would carry her.
She saw Christian's hands reach out just beyond her, so she propelled herself forward, reciting the last words.
Christian's hands fell away, and a roaring denial filled the room as the portal slowly sucked him into its vortex, a second before Jezi threw herself over James.
For the second time in his life, James looked up at the ceiling, having been tackled to the ground by Jezi. James heard an exhausted giggle next to his ear before Jezi pushed herself up to look down at him. Breathing heavy, a wry smile on her face, she shook her head.
"I never learn, do I?" she chuckled.
James moved to speak, but suddenly she was snatched away, a slight gasp and the absence of her weight the only evidence of her departure.
Her vicious abduction belied by the acceptance in her eyes, and the smile she still wore as she disappeared into the portal after Christian. Two foreign words whispered bounced against the four walls before the portal closed, leaving nothing but light and air... and James sitting on the floor.
He sat there, for what seemed like an eternity, but what he knew was only a couple minutes. He knew because he counted the 143 ticks that assaulted his ears in the silent room. He looked down beside him, hearing the pocket watch tick to a standstill.
"Biggun?" Desi rasped.
She had stopped thrashing around and Liam and Biggun were watching her with skeptical glances.
"Yes, Mistress?" he answered.
Desi saw the events of the last two days in quick flashes in her mind. She looked around, frantic, noticing the chains for the first time. "Get these off of me!”
Liam narrowed his eyes. "How do we know you're not still..”
Liam threw up his hands. "Alright, alright! Don't turn me into anything!"
He and Biggun made short work of releasing her.
Desi made her way to the door, nearly colliding with Raven.
"Desiray! You're okay!" Raven enveloped her in a tight hug. "She must've done it!”
"Where's Jezi?" Desi asked.
Her question snapped everyone back to the present. Single file, they all made their way to Desi's room.
James stood under the lights in the room, the pocket watch dangling from his hand.
"James?" Raven called, stepping into the room. She looked around to confirm it was empty. "What happened?... Where's Jezi?”
"He took her," James said with a steady voice.
"Christian?" Desi asked. "Where? Where did he take her?”
James shrugged. "I don't know. She opened up the floor, and he just... dragged her down with him.”
Desi sputtered in disbelief and Raven wrapped an arm around her. "It's okay. We'll find her... we'll find her somehow.”
James turned around slowly, a look of concentration on his face."Where are the others?" he asked.
Raven had to force herself to focus on his words. "Uh... T.J. and Fox took them out back. They should be incapacitated until dawn.
James nodded. "Good," he said. The music reached them, penetrating their individual thoughts.
"uh...We should... get back to the party." He sidestepped Raven and Desi, giving a few hastily mumbled instructions to Liam and Biggun before making his way back to the bar.
After a moment's pause, Raven and Desi turned to reluctantly follow behind him. By the time they reached the main floor , there was a line already formed at the bar, and Becky was struggling to keep up with the orders.
"Desi..." James called. "Can you take this down?" he waved towards the bar.
Desi placed her hands on the bar, feeling the energy, and began working the counter spell. James gave her a quick thanks as he walked behind the bar to help Becky.
"How the hell did you get out of there?" she asked.
"Jezi doesn't know everything," he replied. "... despite what she thinks.”
Desi turned, looking at the crowd, laughing and dancing. All these lives none the wiser as to the danger they were all in.
She saw Raven speaking in hushed confidence with Ms. Prestone. Fox and T.J. came in from outside to join them. From the looks on their faces, it was obvious that Raven was filling them in on the latest news. Fox looked confused, while T.J. looked angry.
A particularly haunting song fell over Desi and she couldn't help herself from making her way to Jezi's room.
"Last Call!" James shouted.
T.J. plopped down at the bar, and James filled his glass without a word.
"She was trying to save you... wasn't she?" T.J. asked.
"Nobody asked her to," James shot back, cleaning the bar.
"Nobody ever had to…"
Desi walked up, interrupting their conversation. Sensing a tense moment, she decided to tread lightly. "Uh... I found a note in Jezi's room. She left it to me.”
"So where is she?" James asked.
"... I don't know," Desi whispered.
"What do you mean, you don't know?!”
Desi shook her head, her voice low and distant. "I don't know, James," she sighed. "She said Christian wouldn't be a problem anymore, gave me instructions on how to care for the Flower and the portraits like... like she didn't expect to come back.”
James stood with his back to her. "Did she say anything else?”
Desi hesitated before speaking again. "She told me to remind you to wind your watch..." she began. "She said you always forget.”
James nodded sharply before grabbing a few discarded glasses to wash.
They all sat around the table in the comfortable silence known to family and lifelong friends. No more guests, no more band, no more party, just they few, and The Black Flower.
It was peaceful after hours, even when they knew most of them would be departing soon, not to return until the next All Hallows Eve.
Though it was on everyone's minds, no one mentioned Jezi, each holding onto their private thoughts of her. This was always her favorite part; just sitting in the midst of those she loved. Sometimes she would never say anything, just sit watching them all, a secret smile on her face.
James approached the table with a tray full of shots in his hand. It was nearly dawn, enough time for one last drink. He passed out the shot glasses, raising his own at the end.
"To Jezi..." he said, a chorus echoing his salute.
James collected the empty glasses, placing the tray on the bar before walking out of the room. Everyone began to say their goodbyes, until they met again. T.J. placed something in Desi's hand. She opened the paper, a look of confusion on her face.
"What is this?”
T.J. smiled. "I saw a few of the books Jezi was looking at earlier. I figure it would be a good place to start," he said.
"How in the world...?" Jezi exclaimed, looking at the list of titles.
"Hey, I'm not just a pretty face," he chuckled, hugging Desi. "... Find her, Desi.”
Desi squeezed him in return. "I will." she released him to hug Raven. "I promise." She smiled at them both. "I will see you guys soon."
She ran to find Robyn, calling her name down the hall. She turned the corner and noticed James standing at the end against the wall.
"Did you call me?" Robyn asked, grabbing Desi's attention.
Desi handed her the list. "Can you find these books for me? I think they may help us figure out where Jezi went.”
Robyn lit up at the prospect. "Absolutely!" She turned to make her way down to the library.
"I'll be right down," Desi called. She slowly continued down the hall. "James? It's nearly dawn…"
James made no indication that he'd heard her until he started speaking. "You know what's weird? It doesn't feel like she's gone." He looked up at Desi. "Right? It's like any moment she could come out that door... like she's still here.”
Desi smiled warmly at him. "It's because her heart's here... inside The Flower. It always has been." She leaned on the wall beside James.
"Sometimes, if you're really quiet, you can hear it.”
James closed his eyes and cleared his mind. A faint thumping hit his mind and he opened his eyes, breaking the contact. He didn't like that, didn't want a disembodied sound as proof of life.
He smiled at Desi anyway and walked down the hall. Reaching into his pocket, he pulled out the watch. The Christmas present he was never meant to have, the present that wasn't hers to give.
"I'll find her, James," Desi said. "I won't stop looking for her." She watched him retreat, thinking he'd probably just ignore her.
"Thank you, Desi," he said.
He walked to the bar, as he always did, taking one last look around at The Black Flower, the thing he'd always wanted, had worked so hard for, and he smiled. He knew the sun would be up any moment, and he would once again be separated from his Flower for a year.
He wound the watch slowly, enjoying the feel of the resistance. He was about to stuff it back into his pocket when he paused. Quickly walking behind the bar, he found a hook against the mirrored wall, and hung the watch's chain from it, releasing the winding crown.
tick tick tick tick tick tick tick tick tick tick…
He liked that sound better.
Desi looked around at the empty room, her eyes touching each of the filled portraits on the wall. She placed a picture of Jezi on the table beneath them, hoping that wherever she was, she could feel their presence around her. Desi closed her eyes and held her breath in the silence.
tick tick tick tick thump thump tick tick tick tick thump thump
The first ray of sunlight streamed through the window and hit her face, causing her to open her eyes and smile at its warmth. She was wasting time standing there. She had work to do. She heard someone approaching and whipped around, hands raised.
Liam shielded himself. "Don't turn me into anything!" he yelled, holding out a cup of coffee. "... I figured you'd be up all day..." Liam offered.
Desi smiled, taking the cup from him. "You and Biggun start cleaning up. I'm going to be in the basement with Robyn, and not to be disturbed!”
"Yes ma'am..." Liam nodded.
Desi took a sip of the coffee, impressed that it was exactly how she liked it. Then, a devious smile lit her face.
"Unless of course... someone comes a-knocking..."