Also, I love y'all. Thank you for prompting me to do this. I had forgotten how much I love Madly and Jackson, and the vivid world in which they live. So here they are. I hope you enjoy this little "dip" back into their lives!
Madly and the Sea Witch
A burst of color interrupted my strange dreams. Bright, brilliant red burned its way through my thoughts until I could neither see nor feel anything other than the heat of it. It pulsed with a warmth that made it seem alive. The fingers in my mind tried to reach out and touch it, but they came back empty. Warm, but empty.
Slowly, I dragged myself to wakefulness, the red following me to reality. It painted a smile across my face and flickered in my chest like a blaze of happiness. I cracked my lids to look around, reluctant to leave the wash of color that bathed my mind. I saw rays of the setting sun streaking across the ceiling. It was already evening. We must’ve fallen asleep after we made love the second time. The thought brought a bigger smile to my face.
A rustling to my right drew my eye. I turned and fell headlong into sparkling blue eyes, the same shade as the shallowest of waters, as they smiled down into mine.
“Good morning, beautiful,” his deep voice rumbled.
“Good morning,” I returned, “even though it’s a long way from morning.”
“Well, it feels like morning. But, since it’s not, I’ve got some good ideas of how we can spend the next few hours until it really is morning,” Jackson said suggestively, bending his head toward mine.
As he neared me, a shower of red fireworks exploded around his head, drenching his aura in rich ruby. I gasped at the beautifully strange and somehow thrilling display. It was as though the color–the same color as the one in my dream–erupted from inside him and burned just for me. I not only saw it, but I felt it as well.
“Mmmm, that’s what I like to hear,” he said, nuzzling my neck with his mouth, his scratchy stubble causing chills to break out across my chest. “I love it when you gasp.”
As he had always been able to accomplish so effortlessly, Jackson stole my breath. Suddenly my vivid dream as well as my seemingly ever-present worries faded into the background. Our love took the front seat. I was beginning to realize that it always would.
Jackson trailed his lips across my collarbone and over my shoulder, pushing back the thin sheet to explore my naked body. I wanted to lose myself in the moment, in him, but something wouldn’t let me. Something small and dark was niggling at my brain, vying for my attention. I just couldn’t put my finger on it.
Until I could.
It came back in a rush, that one single moment in time, only a few hours ago. All the sensory input from it flooded me like ocean water flooding an underground cave. Pleasure as Jackson’s body moved within mine. Confusion as a bizarre wind caressed my skin and hair. Shock when I opened my eyes and saw objects flying through the room. Dread as a malevolent certainty settled into my soul.
Something was wrong. Something was very wrong. I could feel it. I just didn’t completely understand it. And if I didn’t understand it, no one else would either.
I thought of trying to explain it to Jackson. I knew that even if he didn’t understand, he would comfort and support and protect me. But he’d also carry the weight of it, of any problems that I had. Telling him, no matter how much better it might make me feel to share my concerns, to have someone tell me I’m being silly, would be selfish. And Jackson deserved better.
So for the time being, I had to keep quiet. I had to keep my mouth shut, my thoughts to myself and my emotions under control. At least outwardly. Something told me that my insides wouldn’t be so easy to wrangle, that I would experience an internal cyclone in the coming days. But even still, I had to keep it all to myself. Jackson had been through so much, our love had been through so much that I couldn’t bear the thought of sharing my suspicions. His broad shoulders already bore more than his share of responsibility because of me and his tie to me. He was already burdened enough. I couldn’t stand to put anything more on him. As royalty, some things I’d have to bear on my own. It was time for me to be the leader that I was born to be. And that meant I had to be strong. Independent. Determined.
The feel of Jackson’s mouth on my stomach tore me out of my inner turmoil, bringing my focus to within an inch of where his lips were pressed. Heat poured through me like wildfire, setting my every nerve ablaze. With his trim waist, Jackson nudged my legs apart and settled between them. I burned for him as I threaded my fingers into his short, soft hair and held him to me.
“I love the taste of your skin,” he murmured, the movement of his mouth sending a shower of chills raining down on me.
Sight and sound were fading quickly into the background, like white noise. But not quickly enough. Not quickly enough to blot out the thumping of a fist on the door.
Bang, bang, bang! “Madly? You in there?”
Jackson cursed under his breath. “Dammit, Jersey!”
I smiled. I was thinking the same thing.
We both held our breath, hoping she’d go away. We froze, still as statues, Jackson’s warm body pressed intimately between my legs, an ache that never seemed to go away throbbing between us. But Jersey was nothing if not persistent.
“Dammit, Jackson. I know you’re in there. I need Madly. Now!”
I smothered a giggle when Jackson let his forehead drop to rest against my hip. As I rubbed my fingers over his hair to smooth it, I saw the stunning red sheen of his aura cool to a more purple color. When he raised his eyes to mine, I knew that our evening romp wasn’t going to happen. And he was no happier about it than I was. But why was I seeing his mood in color? It was almost like an aura. But I’d never been able to perceive them before. Why now? Maybe it was just with Jackson, because of our tie. Or maybe it was a side effect of the dark magic of the Lore.
“Maybe later?” I whispered, trying to keep my troubling thoughts from registering on my face.
“Definintely later,” he replied, swirling his tongue in my bellybutton and sending a stab of longing straight to my core.
Another bang, bang!
“Open this door, Jackson!” Jersey demanded.
Reluctantly and with a deep sigh that I could feel more than hear, Jackson rolled off of me. I watched the muscles shift under his golden skin as he bent to grab his shorts from the floor and pull them on. His biceps bunched, his abs flexed and I found that I couldn’t drag my eyes away.
“Stop looking at me like that or my sister will get the shock of her life.” His eyes were a twinkling, heated blue, brimming with wicked promise.
“Stop running around half naked and I won’t look,” I rebutted quietly.
“Yes, you would,” he purred.
“Yes. I would,” I admitted, flinging off the covers and scooting from the bed.
I didn’t intentionally tease Jackson; it just sort of worked out that way. His eyes burned a hot trail from my throat to each nipple then down my stomach to the hot apex of my thighs. My knees felt weak with my unmet needs. For a few seconds, urgency overwhelmed the threat of Jersey at our door and I stepped closer to Jackson. I could hear him pant with his shallow breathing. I could feel him struggling to keep his hands at his sides. I could see his aura burst into bright red flame around him again.
But then I heard another noise, an annoying sound that both grated on my nerves and brought a wry smile to my mouth.
Jersey’s bike bell.
“Madly, if you don’t get your little princess ass out here, I’ll ring this bell every ten seconds until bedtime.”
As if to prove her point, there was a long pause followed by another bling bling.
“I’m coming, I’m coming!” I shouted loud enough for her to hear.
Jersey’s voice was smug. “That’s what I thought.”
Quickly, I slipped on my clothes and made my way to the door. When I unlocked and swung it open, there stood my best friend, a satisfied grin on her face. “You two think I’m stupid, don’t you?”
“Of course we don’t.”
“Uh-huh,” she said dryly. “I watch entirely too much television not to figure out what’s going on here.”
“I…I don’t know what you mean. We were trying to figure out what to do about…well, everything. You know this battle is far from over.” I reminded myself to be very careful what I said. Keeping Jersey in the dark might save her life.
“Uh-huh,” she repeated, her tone dripping with dubious sarcasm. “Well, never let it be said that I’m not a fan of naked plotting.”
She turned and sauntered back into the room that she and I shared, leaving me to trail along after her, cheeks stinging in embarrassment. “So,” I began, breezing right past her unnerving observations. “What’s the emergency?”
Jersey turned to frown at me. “Emergency? What do you mean?”
“Uhhh. Jersey! You practically beat down the door and demanded that I come out. You’d better have a really good reason, young lady,” I said, narrowing my eyes and pointing an accusing finger at her.
“Oh no!” she shrieked comically, holding her hands up as if to defend herself. “Don’t unleash motherly Madly! Please, please! Anything but that!”
I gave her a withering look. “Don’t make me come over there,” I warned in the same vein.
“Stay back, creature,” she shouted, wielding her bike bell as a weapon. “I’m not afraid to use this.” For no reason other than to annoy me, I’m sure, Jersey flicked the end twice.
An enormous smile broke out across her face and a bright yellow and orange burst of color spewed out around her, like the harmless spray of a volcano. I stared at it for only a second or two, surprised to be seeing it on her as well, before I concentrated on her face again.
What the hell was going on?
Before I looked away, I saw her aura throb with a life of its own, like a happy heartbeat. And when I looked into Jersey’s eyes, the sea foam color practically glowing from within, I realized that she was happy. She was happy and this was her happiness, spilling out onto me.
“What’s gotten into you?” I asked, approaching her slowly, my face also wreathed in a smile. “You seem downright…giddy.”
“Can’t a girl just be in a good mood?” she asked, not denying my accusation.
“Sure she can. And I’m glad you are. This just seems…odd. Even for you.”
Sobering somewhat, Jersey tossed her bell onto the bed, shrugging in a casual manner that was somehow belied by her dazzling aura. “Look, Mad, I know something’s going on between you and my brother.”
“Don’t bother denying it. It’s more than just kissing or fooling around or dating or whatever. Something has changed. And if you don’t want to tell me the details, that’s fine. You will when you’re ready. But details or no details, I’m happy for you. I’m happy for my brother. I’m happy for me! You’re my best friend. He’s the only family I’ve got. This is the way it was meant to be. Now we can all be family.”
Impulsively, she leapt forward to hug me, pulling me in tight against her and making a growling noise as she squeezed. Like the evil of the Lore seeped into me when I drew them out of humans, I could feel Jersey’s elation seeping into me, too, making my soul shine with her contentment. I closed my tear-stung eyes and, behind my lids, I saw the tide of her yellow-orange haze washing over me. Maybe I could only see the weird color displays around those closest to me. That explanation put my mind at ease a bit more than the other, less savory option, one that I dared not even consider for fear that I’d fall apart right in front of my best friend.
Before she leaned back, I murmured into her hair, “You know I’d never hurt you, right?”
“And you know that you’re my best friend no matter what happens in my life otherwise, right?”
“Yeees,” she answered more slowly, suspicion bleeding into her tone. “What are you getting at?”
Jersey leaned back to look doubtfully at me. I plastered a smile on my face, ruthlessly pushing back the fear and dread that had, in less than twelve hours, become the dark backdrop to everything else in my life. “I’m not getting at anything. I just wanted to make sure you knew that,” I defended.
She wasn’t convinced. I could see it in the ghost of a frown that hovered between her brows. “Hmmm, whatever you say, Puzzling Princess. Just know that you can tell me anything, k?”
“K,” I agreed with a nod.
“Now, how about a hot dog. I’m hungry.”
Why, I don’t know, but my mind flew immediately to Jessup’s body, stowed away where Jackson last laid it, a ticking time bomb if something happened to it before we got back to collect it.
“Not until we check in at Transport, Madly,” Jackson chimed in from behind me, saving me from bungling my way through an excuse.
“Oh crap! I forgot about that,” I blurted with genuine surprise. I hadn’t even considered going back there, but if Jackson thought it was needed, I wouldn’t question him. He was, after all, the brilliant strategist.
“In fact, we’d better get going,” he said, making a show of glancing out the window at the dying daylight.
“Okay, give me five minutes.” Jackson nodded curtly and walked back to his room, pulling the door shut behind him. I turned to Jersey, expecting to get some lip. Instead, I saw a big smile and gleaming eyes. “What?”
“Nothing,” she assured around her Cheshire Cat-sized grin. “Just…happy.”
I eyed her skeptically as I walked to my closet for a light jacket. I had no idea what we might be getting into tonight. Having something warm on hand was never a bad idea.
“Don’t wait up,” I advised as I passed her on my way to Jackson’s door. Her smile didn’t waver one bit as she shook her head.
“Oh, I won’t. You two be careful.”
She winked at me.
In that moment, I knew that keeping secrets from her (at least as far as my personal relationship with Jackson went) was pointless. I wouldn’t tell her about the Pool of Neptune, but I doubted there was any reason to hide that I wanted Jackson, that I had real feelings for him. Or that I planned on spending a lot of time with him from now on.
So, it was with a lighter heart that I winked back and replied, “Always,” before closing the door behind me.
As soon as the door clicked shut, I walked right into Jackson’s arms. He held me close and the fire between us kindled. It was instant, as always.
“So is that what we are really going to do?” I asked, brushing his strong chin with my lips.
He sighed. “Unfortunately, yes. I wish all this was behind us so we could just live our lives, but…it’s not. I’ve got to check on Jessup’s body and I need to stop by Transport to tell them that Clary and Gere are no longer needed. If Jessup can be compromised, I don’t trust anyone getting close to you except me. Not. Anyone.”
His voice had become a growl, and his eyes were fierce and protective. I loved that about him. He was so deeply, profoundly, undeniably alpha. The rebellious girl in me wanted to buck him, but every other part of me, large and small, salivated at the thought of him dominating me. It helped, too, that I knew Jackson would never hurt me.
“So Transport first? To ditch the Sentinels?”
“No, to Transport to have their duties redefined. I want them stationed here and at school, but not any closer than that. I’ll be the one to shadow you. I’ll be the one to protect you.”
“That sounds like a job that would require constant, twenty-four-hour supervision. In very close quarters,” I purred, rubbing my body against his. I saw the instantaneous darkening of his aura. I felt it all the way in my core. A dark crimson halo shimmered around his head. Love and desire mixed with his possessiveness? With his concern over me? I had no clue, but in a way, I wished it would just stop. It was fascinating on the one hand, but on the other hand, too many insane things were happening, too many things that could only be explained in one way. For that reason, I didn’t want to see these things.
“Yeah, this is definitely a job for just me. Only me.”
“Only you,” I breathed just before his lips covered mine. Jackson’s kiss was deep enough to leave me breathless, but short enough to leave me wanting. The state of things had me feeling off kilter. Part of me felt as though I should be enjoying my honeymoon, while the rest of me was battle-weary and afraid of what might be happening around us. The constant struggle, the never-ending pulling and tugging and ripping and tearing was exhausting.
With a sigh, Jackson released me, smacking me on the butt. “Come on, Princess, let’s go save the world.”
“Just another boring Tuesday night in Slumber,” I teased as Jackson led me out his door and down the hall.
“I’ll do my best to spice it up for you then,” he quipped as he tossed me a wink over his shoulder. My belly twitched in response, my entire being perfectly attuned to him.
Jackson and I walked the darkening streets of Slumber, making our way toward Transport. He explained that we would go there first so that Clary and Gere wouldn’t come to find us and possibly stumble upon us trying to move Jessup’s body. That made perfect sense to me. I was just happy to drift along at my mate’s side, my soul practically singing at his closeness. I shivered at the memory of how close I’d come to losing him, at the remembered feel of being starved of his love. Few things could hurt worse, I knew.
As always, Jackson sensed my mood and where my heart was heading. I felt his fingers tighten around mine. “You’re stuck with me now, you know that right?”
My insides melted around the ball of turmoil that sat at my core, exposing it as a raw nerve. “I just…sometimes I’m just so afraid of losing you. Of what the future might hold. We came too close this time. Way too close!”
Jackson stopped and turned me to face him. He cupped my face with his big hands and forced me to look at him, into the shimmering blue eyes that I knew I couldn’t survive without. “No matter how close we come, you won’t ever lose me, Madly. I’m yours. You’re mine. We are written in the heavens and in the sea. We are. And we always will be. Have faith in that.”
It was easier to believe him when I had him right in front of me, his hands touching me, his big body so close, but as soon as he brushed his lips over mine and turned away to guide us on to Transport, I could feel the doubts rushing back in, like air rushing in to fill the space of a gaping hole.
He said nothing about my quietness during the rest of our walk. I managed to plaster a polite yet distant smile on my face before the elevator doors swooshed open to reveal Transport.
As always, it was a bustling den of activity. It seemed brighter than usual, so much so that I had to squint for a few seconds until my eyes adjusted. But other than that, it was the same old hub. Unchanged and unstoppable.
Until Commander Jessup approached and I saw his aura. Here was one big difference!
Black with hints of the darkest greens and deepest blues, it was as sinister as a serial killer. It curved around him in thick fingers, constant in their motion, caressing his head and chest like a menacing lover. As he stood before me, I found that I couldn’t even look away long enough to focus on his face. The evil surrounding him was a nearly tangible thing, one that terrorized me right down to where my tail would be.
Jackson, having let go of my hand for propriety’s sake, put a firm hand to my lower back and flexed his fingers, just enough of a signal to force me to get a grip on myself. “Sir, the princess has requested a change in her detail as a result of recent events. Although I still feel that she needs extra security, I’m in agreement. We could better use our resources if Clary were stationed permanently at the dorm and Gere was assigned to the immediate school perimeter. With your permission, I’ll make those changes and resume my round-the-clock protection of her.”
I smothered a gasp when, at Jackson’s request, the darkness pulsed with more green and blue, swelling around the faux commander’s head as though in celebration. The commander had begun to respond, but stopped at my odd noise. I jerked my eyes back to his to find him watching me with a narrow, suspicious glare. “Something wrong, Princess?”
I smiled what I hoped was my normal tightly polite smile and responded with a calm, “Of course not, Commander. Please, continue.”
I kept my gaze glued to him, doing my best to ignore the reactive aura that surrounded him. I had no idea what it meant, but there was a place deep in my gut that assured me it was not good. Dread churned within me as I realized that I was going to have to tell Jackson, and that he wasn’t going to like it.
“Your input is valued, as always, Sentinel Hamilton, and I will defer to your judgment, as it is you out there on the front lines. Do what you must, just keep me informed.”
Jackson nodded curtly, his face a stern mask of professionalism. “Sir, thank you. I’ll let Clary and Gere know ASAP.”
With a dismissive bob of his head, Commander Jessup turned his attention to another Mer, effectively dismissing us. Jackson urged me back toward the elevators and I went along quietly. Until the doors closed.
“Ohmigod, Jackson! I–”
Jackson’s fingers wrapped around mine and squeezed almost painfully, stopping my frenetic exclamation before it even began. I glanced up at him in question, but he was staring straight ahead, his face so hard it might as well have been carved in stone. I wondered at his strange reaction for a few seconds before I realized that he probably wanted to wait until we are far from Transport before addressing any…sensitive conversation. Obediently, I clammed up and trained my eyes on the elevator doors, hoping there were no ears or eyes on us, but suspecting that there were. I busied myself by admiring my soul mate, his competence and intelligence, his genius as a sentinel and as a man. I kept quiet until we were well away from listening ears.
Once outside, we walked and walked and walked before Jackson finally slowed and turned to me, looking left and right before meeting my eyes. “What did you see in there?” he asked in a serious and hushed tone.
“I could see it, Jackson! I could see this…this…darkness all around him.”
Jackson’s brows drew together. “What do you mean? You could see what?”
“I don’t know if it was evil or Leviathan or what, but I could literally see a black aura-like thing around him.”
Jackson’s frown deepened. “Is this the first time something like that has happened to you? That you’ve…seen things?”
I pulled my bottom lip between my teeth, hating now that I kept this from him. “No, but it only just started a little while ago.”
His silence and the contemplative way he was staring into my eyes made me feel terrible. “When were you going to tell me?”
“I-I don’t know, but I was. I promise I was! I just…I don’t know what I was waiting on. You’ve been through so much because of me, and I’m so afraid of losing you that–”
“Madly,” he interrupted sharply, taking me by the shoulders and bending to look more directly into my face. “You can’t keep things from me. Period. I love you. You have to make your decisions based on that, not on all the things you might be afraid of. You are not alone in this. You won’t ever be. I’m here. I’m in this until it’s over and then for the next two hundred years. But, dammit, you have to trust me. You have to be straight with me. I can’t do my job effectively if you are keeping secrets.”
“I know, Jackson, I just–”
“No excuses. No explanations. I get it. But you have to stop this. Right now. Promise me.”
I searched his beautiful eyes, like clear, blue windows into his equally beautiful soul, and I relent. There’s nothing I wouldn’t do for him. Nothing.
“I promise.” I almost choked on the words. They locked me in and took away my options in keeping Jackson safe.
Just then, like someone kicking me in the belly, I realized that as long as he was tied to me he’d never be safe. I was Princess Madly. I was heir to the throne. I came with baggage and responsibility and more than my fair share of problems. I wasn’t all glamour and glitz and privilege like a princess was supposed to be. I was trouble waiting to happen. And Jackson deserved better.
I felt his fingers lift my chin when my eyes drifted away from his. “Whatever you’re thinking, stop it. You’re not getting rid of me. I would follow you into fire whether you asked me to or not. Nothing you say or do will ever change that, so don’t go thinking that you’d be sparing me by cutting me loose.” His eyes softened to that powder blue that veritably shines with love and adoration. “That would kill me, Madly. I can’t live without you and I have no intentions of trying.”
Tears stung my eyes. I didn’t deserve him, yet I was selfish enough to take what he offered, because it would kill me, too, to be apart from him. I might as well be dead.
“I just want good things for you, Jackson. Happiness, good health, safety. Long life.”
“Without you, I’ll have none of those things. So if you love me, stop trying to protect me. You’re all I need. Period.”
I gave him a shaky, watery smile, my heart both singing and breaking. He was so much more than I could ever have hoped for in life. Even when I loved him as a child, I could never have imagined the amazing man he would grow to be. Jackson had no match. In our world or any other.
And he was mine.
“I love you,” I whispered, leaning my forehead against his steady chin.
He dipped his head just enough to bring his lips to my skin. “As I love you.”
We stood like that for several long minutes, enjoying the peace of the moment while we could. We both knew that things were about to change yet again. The future was uncertain, but at least we had this. Now. We’d always have this.
“Madly!” The shout of a familiar voice broke into our little bubble of tranquility.
I straightened away from Jackson, smiling up into his exasperated face. “Jersey,” we said simultaneously.
“Madly, holy shit! You’re never going to believe what I found!”
We both turned to find Jersey running toward us. How she found us in the shadow of the alley was beyond me.
“What’s got you running around in the dark, scaredy cat?” Jackson teased when she stopped in front of us, huffing and patting her chest.
“I was looking through that big freakin’ book in your room and I found something very interesting.”
“What the hell were you doing in my room?” Jackson growled impatiently.
Jersey, immediately defensive, balled up her fists and jammed them onto her hips. Her expression flashed with ire as she opened her mouth, ready to return fire and blast her brother.
I stepped between them, waving off Jackson and saying, “What he meant to say was, ‘What did you find?’”
“Something about the Sea Witch,” she began, pausing to send Jackson a nasty “told you so” glare before returning her attention to me. “Something about the Sea Witch and your father.”
I felt her words like another kick to the stomach. Suddenly, I had a bad feeling.