Flying from Seattle to San Francisco is easy, easier even than going to Las Vegas. It takes less than two hours, and tons of flights run each day. The whole trip should've been simple. I mean, there were days when I'd spent more time in traffic just trying to get from downtown Seattle to the suburbs.
But I'd never flown on an airplane as a mortal. I was still determined to get to Seth, so there was no question that I was going to make this flight - only a lot of fear. I sat on the plane, waiting for takeoff, noticing things I'd never paid much attention to before. Were the engines usually that loud? Was that fuel I smelled? Was that a crack in the window, and if so, would the whole thing hold when we were airborne? I'd never done much more than politely watch the flight attendants' safety demo, but this time, I hung on to every detail. I had a lot on the line now - like, my life. An immortal could survive a plane crash. It wouldn't be pretty, but it was possible. Now? Now I faced all the risks the rest of the human world did.
My fears were unfounded, of course. The flight was smooth and easy, just as fast as I'd expected. Flying really was the safest form of travel. That hadn't changed. Only my perceptions of the world had. I made the trip white-knuckled and breathed a deep sigh of relief when the plane landed.
By the time I'd rented a car and was settled into my hotel room, I still had a couple hours before Seth's signing. My hotel was only a couple of blocks from his store - I'd planned it that way - and there was little for me to do except wait. Wait and obsess. A lot of that time was spent agonizing over my appearance. Even when I could shape-shift, I'd always prided myself on my ability to do my own styling. Of course, when Jerome had been summoned and I'd lost my succubus powers briefly, I'd discovered that I really wasn't quite as adept as I'd believed. I'd been cheating without realizing it all along, making small corrections with my powers. Stripped of them, I'd found all the little details I'd missed with blending eye shadow, straightening my hair, and myriad other grooming tasks.
Now was no different. I would never have that guaranteed perfection again. There would always be flaws in my appearance. I was going to start aging. How long until that set in? Staring at myself in the hotel bathroom's mirror, I searched out all the little things I thought could be improved upon and then tried to fix them. When I was finished, I was so frustrated that I didn't know if I'd come close to my previous perfection or not. The only thing I was fairly certain of was that it probably didn't matter. Seth's decision to forgive me wasn't going to have anything to do with how my bangs fell or if my makeup brought out the gold flecks in my green eyes.
I showed up ten minutes before Seth's event started, thought it was obvious people had been arriving for some time. A bit of nostalgia for Emerald City hit me as I gazed around and took in the efficient bookstore staff as they worked to accommodate the crowd. A podium had been set up in front of a large seating area, though no chairs were left empty. Staff shifted what furniture they could to improve the view for those of us who were standing, and I had to stop myself from offering to help. I ended up purposely staying near the back of the standing crowd. I could still see the podium and hoped my spot would keep me semiobscured. All around me, excited readers clutched copies of Seth's books, some even carrying huge stacks.
Their excitement was electric, and I found myself getting caught up in it when Seth finally emerged to thunderous applause. My heart leaped. How long had it been since we'd last spoken? A week? It felt like an eternity, maybe because I'd pretty much lived one in the trial. He was wearing a Brady Bunch T-shirt, and though it looked like he'd brushed his hair, I could already see parts of it starting to go unruly in that way it had. He didn't appear to have shaved in a couple days, but the scruff looked adorable and added to his carefree writer appearance. I felt a smile spreading on my face as I watched him and was reminded of the first time we'd met, when he'd come to Emerald City for a signing and I hadn't recognized him.
"Hey, everybody," he said into the microphone, once the applause had quieted. "Thanks for coming out tonight."
Thinking about that first meeting with him also made me realize how much he had changed in the last year and a half. He would never be entirely comfortable in front of a crowd like this - especially since they kept getting bigger - but he was certainly more at ease than that first meeting. He grinned at their enthusiasm and made eye contact where he could, something he'd had trouble with in the past. There was confidence even in the way he stood and spoke. It made me love him that much more, something I hadn't believed possible.
Sometimes he would open by reading aloud from the new book, but this time, he jumped straight into questions. Hands went up everywhere, and I found myself ducking against a shelf as he scanned the audience and called on people. I wasn't quite ready for discovery yet. I just wanted to watch him and drink him in.
I was amused that the very first question he was asked was, "Where do you get your ideas from?" That had been a joke between us, at that first meeting, because it was one of the most common questions he received. I'd commented, back then, that it must get tedious answering the same things, and Seth had told me no. He'd said that the question was always new for the person asking and that he treated it as such. It didn't matter how many times it came up. He took joy in their excitement for the books.
More questions came, both broad and specific, and Seth answered them all with friendliness and good humor that his fans loved. A lot of people especially wanted to know about the next book, the last book in his Cady and O'Neill series. My heart grew and grew the more I watched him, and I felt like I was getting away with something by being able to observe him without his knowledge. Our last few encounters hadn't exactly been friendly, and it was a balm to me to observe all the warmth and kindness that had made me fall in love with him.
It went by too quickly. I was so caught up in watching and listening to him that I was barely aware of the time flying by. It wasn't until I picked up on the subtle movements of the staff that it hit me that this portion of the event was about to wrap up. They would go into signing soon, and the crowd around me would become a massive line that would take hours to get through. Then what? I was suddenly at a loss. Why had I come here? To see Seth . . . and then? I wasn't sure what. I hadn't had much of a plan, short of the preparations needed to get here. Somehow, I had been thinking that would be enough, but of course it wouldn't be. If I wanted to do something, I had to do it now, before this turned into the machine of signing.
My hand went up, and inexplicably, Seth's eyes went instantly to me. I don't know how it happened. Like me, others had realized their chance to ask questions was running out, and eager hands were up everywhere, some waving eagerly in the hopes that they might draw his attention. How I - standing in the back and shorter than most of those around me - pulled it off was a mystery. Maybe it was like the time Erik had used Seth to rescue me from the Oneroi. Maybe after everything that had happened, we were still bound.
Seth's eyes widened when he realized it was me, but his hand was already pointing in my direction, giving me permission to speak. He faltered only a little. "Y-yes?"
I felt like the eyes of the world were on me. The eyes of the universe, even. So much rested on the next words out of my mouth.
"Are Cady and O'Neill ever going to get together?"
I don't know where it came from. When Seth and I had first met, this was the other common question he and I had discussed, and I had mocked it as well. Surprisingly, no one had asked it tonight, but judging from the intense way everyone turned to Seth, you could tell it was on a lot of people's minds.
Those amber brown eyes weighed me heavily, and then he answered my question with a question. "Do you think they should?"
"Well," I said, "they've been through an awful lot together. And if there's only one book left, it kind of seems like they're running out of time."
The ghost of a smile flickered over his lips. "I suppose you're right." He thought about it a heartbeat more. "I don't know if they will. I guess you'll just have to read the next installment."
That was met with disappointed groans, and the bookstore staff used that as an opening to segue into signing and hurry Seth off to a more comfortable table. He watched me a few moments more before he moved, the faint smile still on his face. He looked thoughtful.
Meanwhile, my heart was beating in double time. In a daze, I allowed myself to be herded with the others into line, not caring how far back I was. Some of the aches in my ribs and the rest of my body began to nag me, but I forced myself to stay strong and ignore them. It took an hour and a half for me to reach the front, but much like the questions, I barely noticed the passage of time. Only, now it wasn't because I was so enraptured by what I saw. This time, I was simply terrified. I wanted to see Seth . . . but was afraid to.
He finished signing for the person in front of me and gave me the same smile he'd had on for everyone else. I supposed he'd had time to prepare himself for me coming through the line and was able to effectively hide his shock at my presence.
"Hi," he said. I handed him my book without a word. "You've come a long ways."
"I'm a pretty big fan," I said.
He smiled and scrawled one of his stock phrases into the book: Thanks for reading! When he finished signing, he gave the book back to me, and I gave him an envelope in return.
"This is for you," I said. There was nothing that weird about my action. People often gave him gifts and letters. In fact, I could see a small pile of goods sitting on a chair beside him. He accepted them with good grace all the time, but then, they weren't usually from people who had the kind of history we did.
He held the envelope for a moment, and I suddenly worried he wasn't going to take it. Then, he set it down and said, "Thank you." It went next to him on the table, not on the chair.
Unsure what to do now, I murmured my own thanks and then hurried off to let everyone else have their chance with him. Mine was gone. I'd played my cards and wouldn't know for a while if anything would come of it. The envelope had had a number scrawled on one side, and inside was a key to my hotel room. It was a silly, cliched thing to do, but I knew how these types of events worked. If I'd openly asked Seth to meet me somewhere, I would have likely gotten the unwanted attention of the bookstore staff and their security. I knew because I'd hurried a fair number of zealous fans off after book signings myself.
At least back in the hotel room, I was able to sit down. I didn't realize until that moment just how much I'd been asking of my battered body to stand for that long. Hugh had been right about one thing: being mortal changed everything. I couldn't shrug off getting hit by a car now the same way I could have as a succubus. My doctor had given me a prescription for Vicodin, but I was pretty sure I didn't want to be strung out on drugs for my grand reunion with Seth. I settled for ibuprofen and began the agonizing process of waiting.
I'd actually dozed off when I heard the room's door click open. I sprang up from the bed, only getting half a glance at myself in the mirror before I moved toward the door. Seth entered, freezing when he saw me. The door swung shut behind him, and I too came screeching to a halt, too stunned to move. Part of it was that same wonder and rapture of seeing him, just as it had been in the bookstore. Only, now he was right here, alone in the same room with me. It was almost too much to handle. The rest of my inability to react came from simply forgetting what I'd wanted to say. I'd rehearsed a hundred speeches and apologies earlier, and all of them abandoned me now. I fumbled for something - anything - to say that would fix all of the hurt between us.
"Seth - "
I never got another word out. In the space of that breath, he crossed the distance between us and wrapped his arms around me, nearly lifting me off the ground in a giant hug.
"Thetis," he breathed against my neck.
"Ow," I squeaked.
He instantly set me down and opened his arms, staring curiously. "The car? But it's been . . ." Curiosity changed to wonder. "It's true, isn't it? You're really . . ."
". . . human," I supplied, catching hold of his hand. Even if that hug had been quite the test of my ribs, I hated to lose all contact with him. After the chasm that had stretched between us recently, even that small touch of his fingers was like magic to me.
Seth nodded wonderingly, drinking me in. "They told me . . . they tried to explain it. I understood, but somehow I just couldn't . . . I just couldn't wrap my mind around it. I'm still not sure I can. You look the same."
"I got to keep the same body," I said. "Parting gift."
"Yeah, but it's just as perfect . . . just as beautiful. I don't know. I thought as a human you'd look . . . ordinary."
"Stop," I said, feeling flustered. I ran a nervous hand over my hair. This conversation wasn't going how I expected. "I probably have bedhead." My makeup had probably smudged while I slept too.
He grabbed my other hand and - gently - drew me near. "You look perfect."
I shook my head, still needing to summon one of my wellprepared speeches. "Seth, I'm so sorry. Sorry for everything that I - "
"Shh," he murmured. "Thetis. Georgina. Letha. It's all right. You have nothing to apologize for."
Now I stared in wonder. "I have everything to apologize for. What I did to you - "
" - was a lifetime ago," he said.
"But it was still me," I argued. "Still this life."
"What, and you can't be forgiven for that? For something you did when you were still in your teens?"
I wasn't sure how I'd switched from apologizing to trying to condemn myself, but there I was, doing it anyway. "We were still married. Or, well, I mean . . . I was to him. I broke my vows. It was wrong."
"And I was wrong - or he was wrong, whatever - to have been so oblivious to how you were feeling. We were both at fault, Georgina. We both screwed up - many times." Seth released my hands and gently cupped my face in his. "And I daresay we've paid for it a hundred times over. How long do we have to be punished? Are we beyond forgiveness?"
I had to look away then, for fear of tears forming in my eyes. Last year, not long after I'd met Seth, I'd discussed some of these same things with Carter. He'd told me that no one - not even a succubus - was beyond forgiveness and redemption.
"But what you said . . . I hurt you so much. . . ."
Seth sighed. "I know. And I'm sorry. It was all such a shock, the hypnosis . . . I still remember it all, but it's taken on kind of a dreamlike quality now. Like it's something I saw on TV rather than something I experienced. It was all a long time ago, and we've both changed. I was coming to you that night at the bowling alley to talk about it. I was still confused but knew enough to realize I'd acted rashly. Then, when you were hurt, and they told me you could actually die . . ."
He trailed off, and I dared a look upward. "Oh, no. Please don't tell me that this is one of those situations where it took a near-death experience to realize how you felt about me."
"No," he said, with one of those small, amused smiles I loved. "I knew long before that. The injuries of the past will always be a part of me, but I've grown from them - just like you have. You're the same as you've always been . . . and yet you're not. You faced me, even though you wanted to run away. You kept trying to help my family, even when I was telling you to go away. We've both changed . . . both taken the best we could of the bad. I just didn't see it right away." He sighed. "Like I said, it was the reason I came that night. Seeing you hurt only drove home what a fool I was. And then when Carter told me what happened . . ." Those warm brown eyes searched my face. "Is it true? You had a clean getaway and risked it all for me?"
I swallowed. "It wouldn't have been a clean getaway without you."
Seth tipped my head back and kissed me, his lips warm and soft. The sensation swept my body, love and desire both threatening to overwhelm me. There was no more succubus feeding, no more peering into his soul. I no longer knew his thoughts, and I didn't need to. I knew my own, knew that I loved him. And I also suddenly knew with certainty, in that same way all humans deduce such things without that benefit of succubus powers, that he loved me too.
"Is it that easy?" I whispered, when we finally broke apart. "Kiss and make up?"
"It's as easy as we choose to make it," he murmured, pressing his forehead to mine. "At least, this decision is. Nothing's truly easy, Georgina. Love and life . . . they're wonderful, but they're hard. We may mess up again. We have to be strong and decide if we can still go forward, even when things aren't perfect."
"How'd someone so young get so wise?" I asked.
He brushed a lock of hair from my face. "I learned from this woman who knows a lot about love."
I scoffed. "Hardly. I think I'm still learning more about it every day."
Seth's lips found mine again, and I forgot my worries for a moment, simply losing myself in him. With as ardent as he'd been earlier, I was kind of surprised when he was the one who stopped the next kiss.
"Easy there," he said, with a small laugh. "You feel too good. We don't want to get too carried away."
"Don't we?" I asked. "I mean, I gave you my room key, and you went right for me as soon as you came in."
"Well, yeah," he agreed, "but that was before I remembered you were hit by a car a week ago."
I tightened my arms around him and drew him toward the bed. "I'm still alive, aren't I?"
"Yes," he admitted, letting himself be drawn along. "But are you sure you don't want to just wait?"
Hugh had said something after booking my flight. Everything changes when you're mortal. You don't know what tomorrow will bring.
"I've waited long enough," I told Seth, just before kissing him.
And that was the moment I knew what it was like to have my soul back.
It sounds kind of sappy, I know. But to be able to kiss someone you love when you're fully and completely in control of yourself and know who you are . . . it's exquisite. How we love others is affected by how we love ourselves, and for the first time in a long time, I was whole. I knew who I was and in turn was able to appreciate just how much I loved him.
And of course, the whole experience was affected by the fact that I no longer had succubus powers to contend with. I didn't have to worry about stealing his life energy. I didn't have to wrestle with the guilt. I didn't have to split the desires of my heart with my predatory supernatural nature. All I had to do was touch him and exalt in the experience of being together.
We fell onto the bed, having a care for my still-bruised body. Strangely, I'd also been recovering from injuries the first time Seth and I had made love. Then too, we'd had to balance our passion with caution. It hadn't been difficult then, and it wasn't difficult now. We peeled each other's clothes away, tossing them into a careless heap on the floor. When Seth saw the bandages around my torso, he gently kissed all around them, his lips softly grazing my hips and breasts.
Through some unspoken understanding, I rolled him onto his back so that I could lower myself onto him. I positioned my hips over his, resting my hands on his chest, and slowly brought him into me. We both cried out, from pleasure and also the sheer rightness of being together. He fit like he'd been made for me, and I suddenly wondered if I should have been so quick to always scoff about divine plans. Because surely, if ever there was something that seemed to have been guided by a higher power, it was the crazy path of our relationship . . . one that always kept bringing us back together.
Over and over I rode him, overwhelmed almost as much by the way his gaze held mine as I was by the heat spreading through my body. I wanted to stop, to freeze that moment in time, but my human flesh and its desires eventually won out. I increased my pace, taking him harder and deeper until I crossed the edge and could handle no more. Ecstasy shook my body as I came, and a joy so intense I nearly forgot my surroundings flooded me. There was no succubus satisfaction here, only the simple bliss of taking pleasure in the one I loved.
Seth came soon after, the look on his face causing me joy of another sort. There was such an easy, unguarded happiness in it, mingled with all his love for me. He hid nothing. It was all there on display, his affection and his bliss.
Afterward, we lay in each other's arms, both of us floating in our own emotions as we basked in the experience we'd just had. I could hear Seth's heart beating as I rested against him and was aware of the pounding of my own heart - my mortal, human heart - as well. This was what it was like to truly be alive.
"I'm almost afraid to move or speak," he said at last. "Part of me is certain this must be a dream or a spell. I'm afraid I'll ruin it."
"It's neither," I said. Then, I reconsidered. "Well, it might be a dream."
Nyx had taunted me for a long time with her dream-vision, refusing to tell me who the man in it was. When Seth had finally been revealed, I'd been certain she'd lied to me. I hadn't seen how any of that future could become a reality, and yet . . . here I was.
"A dream, huh?" asked Seth. "Does that mean I'm going to wake up to cold reality soon?"
"No," I said, snuggling closer. "Because our dream's come true. The only thing you're going to wake up to from now on is me. For as long as you want me."
"I want you forever. Is that too long?"
I smiled. "After what we've seen? I'm not sure it's long enough."
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