flesh prison

We arrived at Jade’s Thursday morning, and paused in the car for a long moment before getting out.

“Why are we doing this again?” I asked, because listen I don’t want to hang out with a psychic right now. I’m actively not telling people a secret, the last thing I want to do is hang out with a psychic.

“Honestly?” Neal said, squinting up through the windshield towards Jade’s apartment. “Because I have no idea what the fuck else to do.”

So that’s where we’re at.

They haven’t pushed me for answers about what is going on with me, because they are good boys hahaha. I can tell they really want to know though. I keep catching them watching me nervously.

“She might have some insight,” Julian said, and then shifted to professor voice for my benefit: “you know there are multiple kinds of psychic. Psychics who read minds, or have visions of the future, or can sense ghosts, or find and follow magic. Well, Jade’s the very rare psychic who can do all of those things. She may know something we don’t.”

“She can read minds?” I asked.

“Yeah,” Neal said, getting out of the car. “And you thought I was bad.”

The walk up to her apartment was so long hahaha. I felt like I was walking to my execution.

Before we could even knock on the door, it swung open and there was Jon Cooper, looking sleek in black track pants and a black t-shirt. He was totally at ease, looking fresh as a spring breeze, which was hilariously in contrast to the three of us, who had been on the road more or less non-stop since Sunday, and who are SO far from being at ease it’s honestly comical.

“Hi,” Cooper said, swinging the door wide. “She’s expecting you.”

Neal sighed, “of course she is,” and clapped Cooper on the shoulder on his way past into the apartment.

Jade was lying on the floor, wrapped in a silky black sheet, with her eyes closed and her palms up.

“Finally,” she said without opening her eyes. “You took your time getting here.”

“We had to be careful,” Julian said.

“Wouldn’t want anyone following you,” Jade said, slightly wry, and I felt a slight twinge of what might have been dread. But then again, when do I not feel dread.

Jade sighed, and turned onto her side, facing towards the plants and away from us. “You already know what I’m going to tell you,” she said. “And you’re both already thinking of all the reasons I’m wrong. So why did you come here, really?”

“We don’t know what you’re going to tell us,” Neal said.

Jade scoffed openly. “Of course you do. Of course you do! You know what needs to happen next, or else you’d have gone to see Lana. But no, you came to me, because you needed someone to tell you what you already know.”

“What do we already know?” Julian asked, and there was an open challenge in his voice.

Jade finally sighed and pushed herself upright. She faced out the window towards her plants as she said, “that we’re all on the brink of facing a new world, and we need a new kind of leadership for it.”

No one spoke.

It’s a sign of my total distraction that I didn’t see this coming to be honest — and to be brutally honest, between Lana and the Walthers rifting Cara, and Billy and his ilk, I have to think… like, wouldn’t it be better? Wouldn’t Neal and Julian be better than what we’ve got?

“Do you want to know what I see?” Jade said.

“That’s why we’re here,” Neal said.

“Fine.” She took a deep breath and curled deeper into her sheet. “The world will get worse. Rifts will open. Magic will grow stronger, and will scare people. People will die, horrifically. People will feel powerless, and search for a way to feel safe. Everything, everything will change.”

We all just sat there, waiting, but she didn’t go on.

“So what do we do?” Julian asked.

“Whatever you can,” Jade replied. “You can’t stop the future coming. It will come, and it will kill people.”

The Hawthornes exchanged a glance. Neal said, “Okay, but —”

“What do you want me to say?” she snapped. “Do you want me to convince you to take action? I can’t do that. You’re going to have to decide to act yourselves.”

The boys just sat there, looking stricken.

I was sort of bristling.

I feel like you can accuse us of a lot of things, but being inactive isn’t one of them. Literally, it has been life threatening case after life threatening case for a full year.

“Jade,” Julian said, and I could hear some desperation in his tone. “Please, we’re trying, but we don’t know what to do.”

Jade finally sat up with a loud, “Bah!” She turned to scowl at us. “Do you trust Billy Ace to be the leader we need in these times?”

“No,” Julian said at once.

“Than offer them a better one.” And she pointedly turned her back and looked back at her plants.

Julian visibly shriveled and Neal dropped his chin to his chest.

Cooper glanced at us and nodded towards the door. “Come on,” he said softly. “Let’s grab a meal. Soup, Jade?”

“Please,” she said, as we uncertainly got to our feet and followed Cooper to the apartment door.

But at the door though, she called after us: “Shiloh.”

I froze.

“It will all come together soon. But you need to tell them what’s happening to you.”

Instant rage tears. Like bitch, I’m DODGING CALLS FROM MY MOM. I can’t even bring myself to talk to Rook, like I can’t even text him. We got a call from Daryl yesterday checking to make sure we’re okay, and he didn’t say it was because Rook was worried, but I knew that was why. I feel like I’m hiding from my own thoughts in my own brain, just like cowering in the corner while the dread builds and builds.

And then Julian put an arm around my shoulder and Neal said, “She’ll tell us when she’s ready,” and I let them nudge me down the stairs. And then no one asked me if I was okay so I didn’t have to lie and I felt so safe hahahahahaa.

Downstairs, Cooper said, “Sorry to hustle us out of there. She’s…”

“Getting more sensitive?” Neal suggested and Cooper rubbed the back of his neck and blew out his breath.

“Yeah. And I’m grateful that she’s been willing to share this whole process with me, I’ve learned a lot watching her handling the growing magic here, but…” he managed a strained smile. “It hasn’t been easy for her. She’s considering leaving the city.”

There was a little Italian sub place down the street, and we ordered at the counter. I figured we’d order to go, but Cooper suggested we go sit down, so we scooted into the little ripped vinyl booths to wait.

“Mercy called yesterday,” Cooper said, tearing the paper off his straw and sticking it into his soda. “Someone followed them a hundred miles through Nevada yesterday, nearly ran them off the road. They had to take shelter at the Red Rock with the Scelerats.”

“Yeah,” Neal said. “I wish I could say I was surprised, but that’s been happening lately.”

“It’s time for me to get into the game for real, I think,” Cooper said. He said it lightly, but I could tell by the way he wasn’t meeting anyone’s eye that he knew it was a big deal.

“What are you going to do?” Julian asked.

He shrugged. “I don’t know. I quit my job. I think I’m going to drive out to meet Mercy and Zinia at the Red Rock. Get myself some papers.”

“The whole thing, huh,” Neal said.

Cooper smiled. “Listen, I’m already a vigilante, alright? Might as well just own this outlaw lifestyle.” And then, more seriously, he added, “I think it’s the right thing to do. I have power whether I like it or not, but I’d like to think that even if I wasn’t… you know, extra strong, I’d use whatever strength I had to fight for what I think is right.”

Like, okay, guy who grew up on superhero comics, I see you.

But Neal saw something else. He smothered a smile as he said, “Jade got to you, didn’t she?”

“What do you mean?” Cooper asked, but he was fighting down a smile, too.

“God damn it,” Neal said, falling back against his seat. “You think we should don some crowns and start making the rules.”

“Hey,” Cooper said, shrugging. “I didn’t say that.” He laughed then added, “Look, from my way of thinking, our options are pretty simple: either we let this Billy tech bro guy continue to gather numbers — or we intervene. Now, I can try to intervene on my own, and I probably will, if I can. But I don’t know much about the politics of your world, so it would be easier with your help.”

“What makes you think we’d make better than Billy Ace?” Julian asked.

Cooper shrugged. “Maybe we wouldn’t be,” he said. “But in my vision, wealthy, power-hungry men bent on revenge are about the bottom of the leadership barrel. Especially once they start assembling a mob.”

Again, so simple. HUGE fan of Cooper. He sees things so evenly.

But then Julian said, “I’d say that potentially lower than the likes of Billy Ace is anyone so powerful they can’t be stopped.”

“Julian, for goodness sake,” Neal groaned. “What are we gonna do? Take over the world?”

“What is a leader who leads without the consent of their people?” Julian finally snapped. Neal began to respond but Julian spoke over him. “I can’t guarantee I’ll serve the will of the people if the will of the people is shitty, which it very well could be. And if we did something they don’t like, who would be able to stop us?”

No one had anything to say to that, because it’s true.

Our sandwiches came. We started eating in silence. My mouth was full of lettuce and banana peppers when Julian finally said, “what if it wasn’t us.” He refused to look up. “What if we weren’t leaders, we just backed a leader?”

Cooper frowned and opened his mouth maybe to argue, but Neal interrupted, “Who?”

“Bev,” Julian said.

Neal opened his mouth, and then closed it again. He took a huge bite of his sandwich. “It could work,” he said, mouth full. “Let’s go see her.”

“Just like that?” Julian asked.

“We trust her,” Neal said. “She’s got lots of good will with lots of hunters from all backgrounds. She’s already basically doing the job anyways. She might need some convincing but it could work.”

“Who’s Bev?” Cooper asked.

“A friend,” Julian said. “Have you heard of the Crossroads?”

“I think so? Hunter hub, right?”

“That’s right,” Neal said. “She’s been unofficially coordinating hunts and running dispatch for a while, and she’s damn good at it. She’d be better with more resources.”

“You should meet her,” Julian said. “Before committing to anything, you should meet her. You said you were gonna head to the Red Rock for your papers, right?” Cooper nodded. “Grab Mercy and Zinia. Meet us at the Crossroads in a few days. We can figure out how we’re gonna do this.”

“Should I bring Cosima?” Cooper asked.

Neal made a face. “You should definitely try,” he said, but his tone suggested that he was skeptical that she’d join, and lol yeah same.

Cooper hesitated. “Maybe you should talk to her.”

Neal laughed outright, and Julian said, “I doubt she’ll listen to us.”

But Cooper was more thoughtful. “I don’t know,” he said. “I think she might surprise you. She became a lawyer to make a world a better place, and she knows the world is getting more dangerous.”

Neal shrugged. “Alright,” he said. “We’ll take a crack at it. Why not?”

And it was settled. We finished our meal, shook Cooper’s hand and promised to meet him at the Crossroads in a few days.

“Should we come say goodbye to Jade?” Neal asked, looking doubtfully up at her window.

Cooper held up the to-go bag of soup he brought for her. “Probably not,” he said. “I’ll just bring this up to her. She doesn’t like company much these days.”

So we got back into the rabbit and got back on the road. We didn’t even have time for a shower.

But here’s the problem.

I have to tell them. I can’t really like… wait. I’ve already been living in absolute denial for like days now. Fuck Rook is calling.

I can’t talk to him. I know this is not his fault, and I know I’d likely feel better if I told SOMEONE what’s going on, but literally the thought of talking to him makes my skin crawl. It’s so irrational and it’s so unfair to him.

FUck fuck fuck okay, I just have to tell the Hawthornes.

Okay here we go.

LATER

I didn’t tell them. Lol, I mean I did, but not right then. I froze and let us keep on driving and hid in the back seat, panicking.

Eventually it got late and Neal drove, and Julian took a turn napping in the back seat. And then it was just me and Neal awake, listening to music quietly, watching as far ahead as the headlights and the twilight would let us. It was flat plains, and an open sky.

I cleared my throat.

“So,” I croaked, and I felt Neal sort of freeze and then intentionally sink into some semblance of a casual calm. “Um.” And that’s as far as I could get hahahahaa.

“If you’re not ready you don’t have to say anything,” Neal said watching the road and not so much as glancing at me, even though it was straight and empty.

“It’s sorta time sensitive,” I replied.

He waited.

I pulled my knees up to my chest and watched a dead tree in the distance as we drove past it.

“Rook and I have been really um… careful and everything so I don’t know how this happened but —” I stopped unable to say it.

He got it immediately.

“Oh,” he said, and then, with just the briefest glance at me, he let out a breath of laughter which was NOT what I was expecting. “No, I’m sorry, I just —” he laughed again, and collapsed a little into the steering wheel. “Jesus christ Shiloh, you had us fucking terrified.”

I was blind-sided. I was expecting some gravity. I was expecting him to have no idea what to say, and get all awkward, and not know what to say to me and get all freaked out. I said, defensively, “What?”

“I’m sorry, shit, I’m sorry, I’m just relieved,” he said.

RELIEVED!?!

“We thought… I don’t even know what we thought, we thought the worst. I thought your power had showed up and it was hurting you somehow, I thought —” he broke off and exhaled and shot me a reassuring smile. “I’m sorry, I’m doing a bad job of hearing you right now, I’m just really glad you’re not dying.”

That’s great and all Neal but I AM hahahahahaha

“Do you have a plan or do you need help?” he asked, and he was so absolutely casual about it, so not awkward or uncomfortable that like… I mean I was absolutely blind-sided. I just gaped there like a guppy. I hadn’t even begun to entertain the possibility that this wasn’t going to be 18 levels of humiliating.

“…can I ask you about how you’re feeling?” he asked.

“No,” I said, even though I wanted him to hahaha.

Neal paused. “Okay, I know you’re lying,” he said. “And I’m happy to just make this conversation happen if you’re comfortable with that, but —”

“Please just make it happen,” I interrupted and hid my face in my knees.

“Okay,” he said. “Do you want a baby?”

“NO.”

He laughed, but then remembered that maybe he shouldn’t laugh.

“Do you want an abortion?” Just like that.

“Yeah,” I said into my lap. But like that wasn’t quite true. I don’t want a scary medical operation that is messy and painful and just like… vulnerable in a zillion horrible ways. What I wanted was for none of this to have ever happened.

“I can find us the nearest Planned Parenthood,” Neal said. “Make an appointment and have it done. We can go to a hospital. We can bring you home and do it there, if you want to be near your mom.”

But my ears were roaring with how horrible all of that sounded. I didn’t want to be in a hospital god, no, jesus. I certainly don’t want to wait around in a town for an appointment — not to mention like… we were in the middle of nowhere!!! I didn’t want to walk past all the signs with creepy little aliens on them, while people chant about heartbeats and fingernails oh GOD. And I DON’T want to be around anyone I know. I don’t want to face them.

“Shiloh,” Neal said, dragging me back into the present hahaa. “Do you want to go to Hedgewood?”

I hadn’t even thought of that as a possibility. I thought of those white curtains, and the long halls, and the greenhouse.

I lifted my head. “Would they do it?”

“Of course,” he said at once. “Please, historically witches #1 interaction with civilians has been like… family planning and revenge on abusers, it’s their pride and joy.”

I laughed, which genuinely surprised me and relaxed Neal a little.

“It’s sort of out of the way,” I said.

He shrugged. “Doesn’t matter.”

But it does matter, we’re like on the brink of war lfmao the world need them. “Maybe I should rent a car and —”

“Shiloh.”

I stopped.

“Do you want to go alone?”

And like… for a second I sorta thought I did. But then I got to thinking about all the logistics of having to drive there, and explain, and sit there by myself and I realized… no, actually. I don’t.

“But Cosima —”

“It can wait,” Neal said, shrugging, and then smiled sympathetically when he saw my expression. “Do you want to talk about what you’re thinking?”

I shook my head. But then after a minute, I said, “I’m just embarrassed.”

“Why?” Neal asked. “For getting laid? Because sorry but I will only ever high five you for getting laid.”

And I actually did feel a little better when he put it that way, but still I couldn’t articulate what felt so horribly wrong.

“Listen, bodies do what they do,” he said. “Which can be enormously inconvenient, and super fucking traumatic sometimes. And not having control over what it does or is can be a goddamn nightmare. But you’re not the only one, and you don’t have to be ashamed of it.”

Which was so close to the problem that I blurted out, “yeah but I’m not the kind of person who can get —” and then I stopped because I couldn’t quite say it.

Neal hesitated. “…Okay,” he said, considering me cautiously, because I wasn’t lying hahaha.

“Like…” I was flustered and struggling, and when I tried to explain how I was feeling I bungled it, so I’m not going to write it out live, like I usually would. But I do feel like I still want to talk about it, because this feeling currently ruining my life.

The thing that is killing me right now is that while I don’t like… I mean I’ve never really struggled with my gender identity, I feel comfortable enough as like — a girl.

But you know what I am NOT comfortable with???

I am NOT comfortable with being like… a totemic woman, a sacred vessel, an archetypal mother goddess, flush with the sacred gift of life. Oh my GOD NO VOM in my mouth JESUS christ no GOD no no NO. Like that’s bullshit right?

And if you identify strongly with those vibes, more power to you, like great for you. But have you seen me??? I’m like a dirty little rat that just wants to feast on garbage, like LEAVE me alone!!!

And that’s what I said to Neal, but like… in a worse, messier way that sucked.

But he got it. He corrected me gently: “All you need for this particular condition is a uterus, functioning hormones, and some sperm. You get to decide how sacred that is.”

And it was like the sky cleared. I said, “Oh,” and then I watched the faint flush of color fade along the rims of the distant hills for a while.

After a long time Julian sat up, grumbled and stretched.

“Where are we?” he asked sleepily, and Neal said, “we’ve had a change of plans, we’re heading to Hedgewood.”

At which point poor Julian, predictably, tensed up, so Neal glanced at me, checking for permission to explain. I waved him on, and he said, “Shiloh’s knocked up.”

And Julian deflated with a sigh into the back seat. “Oh, thank god,” he said. And then in a rush, “oh, shit, sorry, is that horribly insensitive? Are you okay? We thought you were dying.”

So……….. maybe I don’t have unalive myself over this after all? hahahahahaha …….maybe……. I don’t have to feel a debilitating, oppressive sense of shame and dread? Like don’t get me wrong, still horrified. Definitely still feel like I’ve gotten caught up in some cosmic horror full of like… flesh eating parasites. But….. maybe???? I’ll be okay?????

Lmfao huh

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