Chapter 1

Miller doesn’t make house calls. That’s something anyone who knows him takes for granted. So much so, it wouldn’t normally warrant a mention, except for the fact that, six months after Hemingford, Miller did just that. Now, I don’t know if it was because Duncan or Seth, sick of Charmed marathons and Tom Waits drunkenly mumbling from the bedroom, called him in or because I’d refused to take any of Miller’s, or anyone else’s calls, thereby forcing him into a face to face.
Either way, it happened. I’d made the rare move from wallowing in bed to wallowing on the sofa and was just about to settle into yet another crazy adventure with the Halliwell sisters, when there was a knock on the door of the RV. Duncan and Seth were sitting either side of the table, Duncan facing towards the lounge area; I suspect more so he could get a good view of Rose McGowan rather than to keep an eye on me. They were flicking through files, or playing cards, or, actually I don’t really know what they were doing. Since I’d woken up the morning after all the craziness with the CHJ I’d pretty much wrapped myself up in myself and let the rest of the world hang. I hadn’t taken any interest in what the brothers did for months now. 

Another knock, insistent, yet neither Duncan or Seth made any move to answer the door.

I growled slightly to myself and snuggled deeper into my blanket. There was no way I was getting that. The knock came a third time. This time Duncan glanced at the door, good, that meant it wasn’t a figment of my imagination. But still he did not move. I frowned and focused all my attention on Phoebe and Chris’ somewhat heated conversation. Out of the corner of my eye, Seth turned and looked pointedly at me. I shucked down even further and feigned interest in Phoebe’s premonition. Some woman cowered while a man demon flung a fireball at her, yep, seen that before. Sometimes I wondered just how much the writers of shows like this actually knew. Were they, like Gerald Gardner, offering the truth about magyk hidden within a somewhat fantastical narrative or were they more like the mythical hundred monkeys, churning out crap which occasionally hit the mark full on? I’m not going to lie, at that point in time I really didn’t care. However, considering it fully meant ignoring Seth, Duncan, the door and the whole everything that happened in Hemingford and repercussions thereof. So I considered.

They say third time’s the charm and, for whoever was on the other side of the RV door that was certainly the case. Reluctantly, with more than a couple of pointed looks in my direction Seth finally got up and headed over to answer the door. I watched as Seth, on the very periphery of my vision, ducked his head to talk to someone outside. From where I was lying I couldn’t see who, the angle allowed me to see Seth and a sliver of doorjamb but nothing else. I tried to focus on the muted mumble of voices, tuning out the sudden appearance of a mysterious man on flying carpet on the TV screen, in an attempt to identify the visitor. Either I was seriously out of practice or whoever it was knew tricks enough to avoid my, uh, tricks. Fine, if they wanted to play that game, it’s not like I was that bothered anyway. Instead I considered the Chris conundrum; was it ok to fancy him in Charmed, being as he’s only supposed to be about 20? I could never decide. It’s a bit like Edward Furlong in Terminator, definitely wrong to fancy now, although at the time it was fine because he was around the same age. When I’m not thinking about the best way to off supernatural foe, it’s all about which boys can I fancy. True story.

I caught a movement on the edge of my vision as Seth stepped back from the door. Dammit, whoever the visitor was, he was allowing them ingress. I swallowed down anger, fighting the urge to scream at him because; for crying out loud EVERYONE knows thresholds are important, so much so you don’t just let anyone in without checking them first. It’s where the whole ‘vampires need permission’ myth comes from (of course the real myth is the vampires, but what the hey), there’s a certain amount of magykal energy in a threshold; for the most part it protects hearth and home, neutralizing incoming energies somewhat. If you know what you are doing, however, you can channel that energy into some seriously powerful wards. Letting someone in negates the power of those wards, effectively removing your protection. Simple Dresden 101. Bearing in mind Demons could possess anyone they fancied and things such as shape shifters existed, you couldn’t even assume by looking at someone, they were safe. As far as I could tell, Seth hadn’t checked for the usual telltale signs which meant anything could be walking in to the RV.
Alternatively, regardless if it were friend or foe I was currently swathed in a multicolored afghan over fuzzy pink leopard print pajamas, coupled with my squishy plush zombie head slippers, something I really didn’t want anyone else to see. Not that I cared. Honest. Plus, as if the fuzzy pink leopard print, plushy zombie combo wasn’t enough, under the blanket, I also had an Eeyore cuddle toy, because, well, because me and Eeyore got each other alright? Also because cuddling him made me feel better and made the Jackie shaped hole in my life just that little bit smaller. As I said, it was not the sort of look I wanted publicized, no matter how little I cared about the world right now. Seth just allowing someone in to witness me full schlomp, flopping around in cuddly comfort clothes, without considering I may want to change, or, in fact, just hide in the bedroom, well, that was just darn rude.
Or maybe I wanted to scream at him because I was still hurting and sometimes when you hurt you want the whole world to feel the same because then they might stop giving you the sympathetic eyes. Seth didn’t, in fact, have to be doing anything wrong and I wanted to yell at him. I wanted to yell at Duncan too because they were both there and they did nothing. No, worse than doing nothing, they helped those fuckers take Jackie, which meant I had to go get him and if I hadn’t had to go get him because they helped take him then that whole episode wouldn’t have happened and he wouldn’t be dead and I wouldn’t be feeling like shit right now and…

“Amber?” I blinked, Alyssa Milano appeared from a bush, Rose McGowan looked surprised, sparkly lights flashed and things exploded before Holly Marie Combs appeared all smiley and earth motherly. Stick with Charmed, things made so much more sense, ignore the voice and, oh, a hand tenderly touched my shoulder. “Amber?” Concern, worry, a tiny soupcon of fear. I glanced down towards my shoulder. It wasn’t a hand I instantly recognized, not that I paid a huge amount of attention to hands. Duncan’s I knew, intimately, Seth’s I could probably pick out of a hand line up if I really had to, but that was pretty much it as hands went. With my limited knowledge of hands, however, I deduced that thins one belonged to neither Seth nor Duncan and yet to someone who thought putting it on me was a good idea and not the kind of idea that gets you broken. Therefore that meant, what? They knew me and were foolish enough to try the old concerned hand on the shoulder routine, or that they didn’t, which meant Seth had allowed a stranger into the RV to touch me. I recoiled, throwing the blanket aside.

Freed, Eeyore flew up and out of hiding. I inwardly cursed. The hand wavered in my vision accompanied by a startled yelp as I leapt off the couch and crouched ready to fight. Shocked, Duncan started to stand, hands out in a placatory gesture. And then he laughed. He laughed so much he sat back down, hard, on the bench huffing out big belly laughs. Over to my left I heard Seth do the same. Forgetting the stranger who had just tried to assault me, I wheeled on the brothers. If I was angry at them before, my rage had just topped new levels. I took a deep breath. This time, this time I wasn’t going to hold back. No more slinking off to my room or burying myself in the mindless world of the Charmed ones, no more telling myself it wasn’t anyone’s fault, that I couldn’t blame the boys for what had happened, no more pretending the world didn’t need me because, without Jackie, I didn’t need it.

Just as I was about to let go all the anger and pain I had built up, the familiar sound of laughter, which frankly did not belong anywhere but on the end of a telephone, startled me. Slowly, frowning, I turned, still in a fighter’s stance, still wearing fuzzy pink leopard print pajamas. Miller stood before me, face crinkled with the failed attempt at holding back his amusement. Puzzled, I looked from him to Duncan and then Seth and back again. It was like a slightly less farcical version of the scene in The Rocky Horror Show where Brad, Frankenfurter and Doctor Scott discover Rocky and Janet. Seth, Duncan, Miller, what the fuck? Clearly the look on my face was cause for further amusement as it took some minutes for the laughter to properly tail off. All while I stood there, startled, in my pajamas. Don’t really see what was so funny.
“Well that was unexpected.” Miller managed between peals of laughter.

“Unexpected. You think it was unexpected!” I muttered something about Miller being master of the understatement and started to head for my room.

“Whoa there!” Seth positioned himself, bravely, exceedingly foolishly, in front of me. Well this was certainly new. I slowed, not quite stopping, curious to see what would happen next. Be it safety in numbers or perhaps because they felt he was like my handler, but Miller’s presence had brought about the unthinkable, Seth challenging me. My head twitched, ever so slightly trying to shake off the thought that was currently in the process of insinuating itself; how dare he, after everything he had done, had helped to have done. A stronger twitch; let this play out before kicking off.

“Seth.” I warned, taking teeny tiny steps closer towards him. Amazingly he planted himself more firmly in my way, feet slightly apart, shoulders set. Ready for me to run at him, it seemed. Interesting, more than infuriating, he was expecting a fight and, instead of being scared of that, he was stepping up. A weird sense of pride flooded me, washing away the slowly boiling anger. After everything he’d seen, everything that had happened, it seemed that, when it came down to it, Seth wasn’t so afraid of me after all. And he should be, reminded a little spiteful voice in my head.

I sighed and looked Seth straight in the eye. “I’m guessing this,” I gestured towards Miller, “is some sort of intervention. Well, in that case, if it’s ok with you I’d like to not be in my pajamas, I’d also like to grab my smokes.” I forced a smile, stepped round Seth and headed for the bedroom.

When I returned, having swapped fuzzy pink for black lace ra-ra skirt and sleeveless Motorhead t-shirt (although I was still wearing my zombie head slippers) Seth and Duncan were mysteriously absent while Miller was sat slightly apprehensively at the table. He smiled nervously at me as I joined him and set about rolling a cigarette. Usually, out of respect for the brothers, I smoked outside the RV but, seeing as they weren’t there and seeing as this was an exceptional circumstance, I decided to waive that consideration. In the absence of an ashtray I cracked open the window next to the table. Ventilation as well as somewhere to flick my ash. The whole time Miller said nothing, watching me as I rolled, sparked, inhaled and then slowly exhaled, blowing my smoke in the direction of the window rather than in Miller’s face. Sometimes it amazes me how thoughtful I can be. Not so thoughtful, however to make Miller’s life any easier by starting the conversation. Instead I studied the grain of the fake wood table, taking a perverse pleasure in the uncomfortable silence which stretched between us.
“Amber I’m so sorry. I, um,” his voice wavered slightly. “I know that doesn’t even begin to make things ok but I am.” He paused. Again I let the silence hang, filling the space. I know he didn’t make us take the job, but I couldn’t help but feel he was almost as much to blame as the brothers for putting it in my way. Like hell was I about to make this any easier on him. I tell you, fake wood grain has never been so interesting.

“I know you’re angry with me. I get that. It would be a waste of my breath to try and argue against. I gave you the case and that makes me partly responsible for what happened. It doesn’t change anything but, if I could do it again you know I would never…” he tailed off. For a moment I couldn’t work out why, I was too busy trying to focus on the suddenly blurry table. Miller reached across and took my hand, his thumb swiping a drop of water off the back of it. It was only then I realized I was crying.

We sat there for some time, Miller holding my hand; his thumb making comforting circles across the back of it as I silently cried. I cried for the loss of my mother and the horrible truth it revealed. I cried for Jackie, so large in life, so tiny in death. I cried for myself because I was lost and I didn’t know if I could get back, or even how to get back. I hung my head and let the tears fall. I’d been so angry for so long as a defense against the sorrow and it felt so good to finally give way. Several times I tried to speak, each time the words failing. What I was feeling was too huge to put into words, too awful to speak aloud and yet I needed to. I’d allowed it to eat away at me, a malignant tumor of anger and pain and I needed to get it out.

One thought began to push its way forward. I couldn’t honestly say if it was my thought or if it belonged to Miller or Duncan or even Seth. I knew, when I took the case, when I take any case, that there were risks, there are always risks. Hunting is dangerous. I remember my dad joking with a friend one time, I think I was about 7 or 8 and my parents were between hunts, possibly staying in Bryant Pond with Thad or in a safe house somewhere. I’d crept down for a glass of water and had overheard him and mom talking. There were other voices, two males hunters had joined us, I couldn’t say who and although I don’t recall what the conversation was about or what anyone else had said, I do remember one of the guys saying there was no such thing as retirement plan for hunters, mainly because there were no old hunters. Instead of laughing, my parents had stayed silent. I remember that, at first I thought perhaps they had heard me and that was the reason for their silence and then I realized what the other guy was getting at. Hunters died young, usually at the hands of something they were hunting. My parents were hunters ergo my parents could die at any time. Their silence told me they knew the risks all too well. That night I had crept back to bed and cried myself to sleep. In the morning I’d woken again with the belief all kids have, my parents weren’t going to die anytime ever because my parents, by dint of being my parents, were clearly immortal.

However, my mom had died young, about seven years later. I assumed my dad was still alive, although I rarely heard from him. I had become a hunter and accepted the same fact and had gotten Jackie and had then chosen to ignore that it may also extend to him. By leaving him in the RV, or with the small handful of non-hunter friends I had gathered, I’d managed to convince myself that he was safe, out of the line of fire. The truth is it was only a matter of time before some big ugly decided to get to me through him. If anyone was to blame for Jackie’s death, it was me.

That was the real reason for my actions that past six months. I think I knew it was on me that, to be melodramatic about it, I had signed Jackie’s death warrant the day I got him I just didn’t want to admit it. It was, in some ways easier to be angry with everyone else. Well, if you call ignoring your travelling buddies and living on a hardcore diet of Charmed and Tom Waits and little else, including food and sleep, easy. The only part of my life that had become easy was the fact I lived in one set of clothes, no need to worry about what to wear each day and the laundry demands were next to nil. That’s not to say I didn’t shower, occasionally. And by shower I mean stand under the spray of water until someone banged on the door afraid I may have finally gone and done something really, really stupid. Oh yeah, so much better to have spent six months in denial.

Miller sat and held my hand and said nothing. Generally he’s not so much of a conversationalist, with the whole being a near recluse and only really dealing with actual people over the phone. Although I suspect seeing me cry was a little shocking and the sort of thing that would render anyone, especially someone like Miller, speechless, I also think he knew I didn’t need to hear platitudes or heartfelt yet inspirational, “you’ll be fine, hang in there kid” speeches. Instead he let me cry.

The tears seemed to wash away the anger, leaving behind an empty hollowness. It felt like there was a hole inside me, which matched the Jackie shaped hole in my life. I slid my hand out from under Miller’s so I could wrap my arms around me. I felt like I was about to break apart, as if at any moment I would begin to crack and crumble. More than anything I wanted to feel Jackie in my arms, his soft fur beneath my fingers and the beat of his tail as he thumped it against me. I’d squeezed my eyes shut, but that just meant I could easily picture his little face so clearly, the trusting eyes, his oh so expressive eyebrows and ridiculous satellite dish ears. I gasped for breath as my chest tightened, the memory of his final moments and the joy on seeing me once we’d affected his escape vied for headspace with the image of him lying on the grass, still, unmoving, dead.

I don’t know at what point Miller had moved to sit beside me, all I know is I became aware of his arms around me, one hand stroking my hair. I was dimly aware of how this would look should Duncan return, it wouldn’t take a lot for him to jump to the obvious conclusion. Even if it didn’t, the fact that Miller was comforting me would do terrible things to his manly pride. It was bad enough I had practically ignored him and Seth for six months, not to mention the silent blaming of them but to be caught crying in the arms of another man? Boy oh boy.

With a delicate and lady like sniff, I lifted my head, knuckling the tears from my eyes. To top off the image, I wiped my nose on the back of my hand, and the back of my hand, in a genteel fashion, down my leg. I smiled at Miller and swiftly hugged him as a sign of my gratitude. Swiftly because I figured, unless dealing with the proverbial damsel, Miller wasn’t really the physical contact type. From the widening of his eyes and the tension I felt as he physically fought the instinct to recoil I knew I was right. Feeling suddenly awkward I slid back on the bench slightly, putting a safe bit of distance between myself and Miller. I took a deep breath and, as I slowly let it out, caught Miller’s eye. We smiled simultaneously, no doubt both relieved the histrionics were well and truly over. Oddly I felt a laugh trying to worm its way up. I attempted to suppress it with a smile, the end result being a sort of strangled explosion, half laugh half cough that was more upsetting to Miller than the crying.

He leapt up and dashed over to the sink, his hands hovering, possibly about to flap, as he kind of went “uhhh”. This made me want to laugh even more which, in itself, was problematic as I was still trying to clear my throat. I took a hitching breath, trying to hold off amusement as I attempted to get my breathing back. Miller, unaware of the problems he was causing, continued to dither by the sink. A couple of deep breaths later and I managed to croak out his name. Miller whirled round, his face set in a mask of abject concern.
“What?”

“Um.” I stifled a snigger. “What exactly are you doing?”

“Water. You seemed to be choking?” For some reason he made it into a question. Possibly because at that point I wasn’t actually choking although, as a result of inhaling and laughing and coughing all at the same time, I did in fact need water.

I made to stand up, waving Miller back to his seat. Seeing as I was no longer bawling my eyes out, I should probably make tea, or coffee, or whatever Miller preferred to drink these days. It’s been an extremely long time since I’ve had to entertain Miller; except for when I stayed with him briefly a few years back we’ve rarely ever met face to face. Like I said, house calls, not his thing. For a moment he looked like he was going to protest, until I directed a stern look his way. I may have spent six months wallowing in misery but I was not an invalid. The least I could do was boil up some water and chuck in the requisite granules or leaves and add the appropriate milk-sugar combo.

While I waited for the kettle to boil I rolled another cigarette. This was actually more a ploy to give me thinking time to consider what I was going to say. Clearly, after snotting all over him, I owed Miler some kind of explanation. Hell I probably could do with apologizing too. And while I was apologizing, there was the small matter of Duncan and Seth, because I had made their lives a misery since waking up the morning after Hemingford. Figuring the best approach would probably be humor I said what I thought everyone else was thinking.
“Who’d have thought eh? All this fuss over a damn dog! Jeez, talk about melodrama.” I chuckled and looked up expecting, at least a smile. What I got was a look of abject horror. “Um, what?”

“Amber, I know what Jackie meant to you and I get why you felt the way you did.”

“You do?” I sparked my cigarette and set about making tea. This gave me the convenient excuse of avoiding looking at Miller, you know just in case I couldn’t keep my shit together.

“Yeah. You think you’re to blame, that you brought him, selfishly, into this life and therefore, although not directly, you were the one who killed him.” Ok so, for all his sitting alone with nothing but computers, Miller was actually pretty perceptive when it came to people. I fumbled the spoon, spilling sugar across the counter as the familiar ache came back. “Thing is Amb, you gotta stop being so damn over dramatic.” I whirled round shocked. Miller sat impassively, in front of him he’d put four folders while I’d been distracted by tea, and he was shuffling through the one nearest to him. He raised an eyebrow at my reaction before dropping his gaze to the spoon I seemed to be brandishing. Checking myself I lowered the spoon, grabbed Miller’s tea, wincing as the heat, that had seeped through the ceramic, burnt my fingers and, fighting the instinctive reaction to let go and therefore dump the tea in his lap, placed the mug in front of him before leaning back against the counter. 

Miller smiled knowingly and swapped the file he’d been leafing through for another one. I recognized this game. He’d clearly brought some cases along and was waiting for me to express an interest so he could hook me back in. As soon as I realized that, I surprised myself by considering that it wasn’t such a bad idea. Six months wallowing in misery is more than enough for anyone, truth be told there was more than a little part of me that, now I was about and dressed, was quite looking forward to a new hunt. Aware there was really only one outcome I took the bait.

 

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