Angie and Kayla arrived first, and the girl gave Aaron a long, measuring look that had him ducking his head and edging behind Mark. She didn't get a chance to ask her questions, though, before Steven arrived.
"Let's go down to the basement," Mark suggested, then added, as he caught Steven's inquisitively raised eyebrow, "I'd feel safer there."
His father-in-law nodded, face grim. "All right. I'll be down in a minute, then." He headed for the bathroom as the others started down the stairs.
Mark plopped down on the daybed, leaning back against the wall, and Kristen settled between his legs, her back against his chest. Aaron curled up at the foot of the bed like a somewhat insecure, six-foot-tall, cat; he kept one hand curled lightly, almost hesitantly, around Mark's ankle, and his back to the wall. Kayla watched him, frowning suspiciously, her grey eyes growing stormy as he seemed to shrink under her gaze. She winced, but sank into the chair nearest the bed and waited patiently-- amazingly so, for her-- for answers. Angie took a seat further away, perching uncomfortably on the edge of her chair, looking as if she was expecting to be evicted from the room at any moment.
Steven joined them not long afterward, looking a touch distracted and extremely thoughtful, though he still remembered to turn the latch and slide the bolt on the door. Mark had no time to ponder the expression on the older man's face, however, because Kayla had reached the end of her patience.
"Well?" she demanded. "What happened?"
Mark sighed deeply. "Let's take this in order," he said, and then filled Steven and Angie in on the incident with Karen, while Kayla squirmed impatiently. If it hadn't been such a serious occasion, he'd have enjoyed watching her, and teasing her about her inability to wait. It was really adorable. Unfortunately.... He sighed again, as he finished his summary of the mornings events, and then looked to the foot of the bed. "Now, tell them what happened to you, Aaron."
The boy shivered and slid closer to him, curling up so that the top of his head was pressed against Mark's leg, but he nodded. "Yessir," he said softly. Then, without ever looking up, he told the others what he'd told Mark in front of the sheriff, except this time he put in more detail. His voice was flat and emotionless as he told of blood splattered about his house, of photos torn from the wall and doused in it, of clothes and furniture that looked like they'd been sliced by huge claws, but his shaking grew worse and worse. After only a moment, Kayla abandoned her chair and crawled up on the bed, taking the boy's clammy hand in her own and rubbing it gently, and Kristen reached down and began stroking his dark curls. Both seemed to soothe him, but nothing stopped the shaking.
"Any theories?" Steven asked when he was done.
Mark shook his head. "I'm not sure. Something has more or less possessed Karen. I don't know what, but something has. Maybe Ryan Barnes."
"Does she know?" Kristen asked, aghast.
"I'm... not sure," he said, reluctantly. "Maybe."
"I still think we should get a priest to look at her," Angie said tentatively. "Not Reverend Marshall, of course, but someone."
"Well, possessed or not," Steven said, "she can't do much harm right now. We should have time to work something out before she's out of jail. Given that it's my daughter she poses the biggest threat to, it would be perfectly reasonable for me to pull a few strings and make sure she stays contained as long as possible. Expected, really."
Mark nodded. "That will help, but... it could have others possessed as well. Aaron's experience seems to indicate that it does."
"I'm not sure," Aaron said quietly. "The damage didn't look like it was done by people."
Reaching down to squeeze the boy's shoulder, Mark sighed. "I just don't know. If we've got two separate nasty things around... that's bad." He hooked a finger under Aaron's chin and gently tugged until he could meet the troubled hazel eyes. "Do you think there's any chance your mama would come up here?"
Aaron flinched, pressing against his leg. "No, sir. She might would make me come to her, but she wouldn't leave her territory. Not for me, not for anything."
"Damn. You're certain?"
The boy nodded. "And if I asked, she might make me come to her... and I don't want to leave, even now. Especially now," he said, looking up at Mark pleadingly.
Mark rubbed his thumb along the soft skin of Aaron's jaw, wondering absently how the hell the boy managed to shave so closely he could feel no stubble at all. "I can understand that," he said, with another sigh, noting that the idea of not doing whatever his mother demanded never seemed to cross Aaron's mind. Lorena would be a huge help-- if she chose to be-- but obviously he'd have to be careful or that help might cost more than they were willing to pay. Growing up with someone like that must have been... interesting, he thought. No wonder he's sub-- anything else would have been suicidal. Unfortunately, he knew so little that he didn't even know where else to look for help. "When I tried to touch the... whatever... that's inside of Karen, it seemed to be afraid of our... power? Energy? Maybe that's something we can use."
Kristen looked up at him, her teeth tugging worriedly at her lower lip. "When... when it touched me through you, it hurt," she said. "Like getting stung by a bull nettle. A sick, acidy burning. I nearly threw up."
He nodded. "Yeah. But apparently it does the same thing when we touch it."
Kayla had been looking thoughtful and distracted-- though not nearly as distracted as Steven seemed-- for several minutes. "You said she protected it, Mark," she said abruptly. "Maybe she let whatever it is in voluntarily. Or even called it on purpose."
"Okay?" he asked, confused.
"Meaning that if we get rid of it, she might just call another one. And it'll be harder to do at all, because she wants it there."
He nodded. "Okay, so what do we do, then?"
"Reinforce the wards on the house. Buff up all personal shields. Keep Kristen glowing so she's harder to hurt. Spend as much time as possible away from fucking Prudence. And Aaron teaches me about possession as fast as humanly possible." Aaron raised up on his elbow, looking like he wanted to protest, but she just looked down at him with cool grey eyes and added, "It's that or start planning what to do with the body. I'm not going to let her hurt Kris. You know that."
Aaron dropped his gaze and sank back against the bed, but now Kristen was frowning unhappily.
"Glowing?" Angie's hesitant question broke the suddenly awkward silence, and Mark gave her a grateful look.
"Didn't you see her yesterday?"
"What do you mean?" she asked.
"In the hospital, after you stopped fighting the bond. She was glowing-- didn't you see? When she's got enough energy... well, she glows."
Angie blinked, then her eyes widened. "Oh! You mean that was real? I just thought--" She broke off, blushing and ducking her head. "Um. How does that make her safer, though?"
"When I have enough energy, I can do things I can't normally," Kristen said. "Like levitate. Go through walls, sometimes."
"Oh. I see." Angie blinked again, looking slightly stunned.
"Okay," Kayla said, impatiently. "If anyone else has any suggestions, let's hear them." She looked at each of them in turn.
Aaron shook his head. Kristen did, as well. Mark followed suit, and she didn't bother to even glance at Angie. Steven appeared lost in thought, his brow furrowed as he stared at a blank spot of wall. "Steven?" Mark asked, curiously.
"Hmm?" The man blinked, his attention snapping back to the here and now. "No. No suggestions. I wish I knew more about this sort of thing. I'm going to see about boosting security over at the school, though, 'in view of recent events'. Offer to pay for some private security guards, maybe."
Before anyone could comment on that, or ask any questions, there was an audible *click* and Mark looked up at the door just in time to see the bolt-- the extremely heavy, openable only from the inside bolt-- sliding smoothly back. While he sat there, staring, the door opened and a man stepped inside and started to jog lightly down the stairs.
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