Watchers Council – Jeff’s Room – Late Afternoon
Jeff sat in a lotus position, his attention totally concentrated on the cloth before him. It was square, made of red silk. Upon the square lay seven Kennedy half-dollars. As he stared at them, they flipped from tails to heads. Not all at once, but in order from left to right. He took a deep breath, concentrated once more, and they flipped again, right to left this time.
Someone knocked at his door.
Looking up, Jeff did not hesitate. “Come in.”
Giles opened the door and stepped inside. “I heard from Dr. Miller.”
“The corpse and materials from the surgery had all been incinerated.” He paused. “I am sorry.”
“No offense, Giles, but we’re not the ones who’re going to be sorry.”
“Your heart is in the right place, as I’ve said before. But for the moment, all we can do is watch and wait. I’ll be giving a briefing to everyone tomorrow. And we can begin some research on the Succubea, try and pin down something that will help us track it down.”
“Before some other girl dies,” Jeff said, unblinking, with a slight edge in his voice.
“Before some other girl dies,” agreed Giles. He scowled as his cell phone rang. “Sorry…blasted thing.” Retreating to the doorway, he flipped the phone open.
“Hello…good. I’ll be there at once.” He looked at Jeff, who was observing him curiously. “Faith’s awake.”
Watchers Council – Infirmary – Moments Later
“Take it easy…there you go,” Dr. Miller said, helping Faith sit upright.
“Get…wait, stop –” she pushed Dr. Miller away and tried to scramble out of bed, almost falling.
“You’re safe,” Miller insisted, as Robin and Giles arrived in the doorway. Faith braced herself against the side of the bed with her hands raised protectively in front of herself, her wrists covered by leather straps.
“Faith, it’s okay, you’re home. We restrained you so that you won’t hurt yourself,” Robin said, approaching slowly and crouching down. “We can take them off if you calm down.”
“Nuh,” she said indistinctly, “not again…not…” She blinked in confusion, then shook her head. “Where am I?”
“The infirmary,” Robin replied soothingly. “You escaped from the Presidium, remember? Brell found you.”
“I escaped,” Faith muttered. “Are you sure? I don’t…where is she?”
“Who?” Robin asked, as Giles and Dr. Miller looked on, worried.
“She was there,” Faith shook her head. “She’s…she got in my head. She made me see things. She…she knows everything. I…” Faith slumped slightly.
“Faith?” Robin started towards her, but stopped himself. “Faith, I want to help. Will you let me?” She looked at him, confused, then her gaze moved to Giles, Dr. Miller and Willow, as she appeared from the waiting room outside.
“I need help,” she said softly. Robin reached out a hand, and she took it, gingerly. At first she pulled back as her skin touched his, as if it burned, then she reconnected and gripped his hand firmly.
“Take off the restraints,” Robin told Dr. Miller.
The doctor looked uncertain. “I’m not sure if that’s a good idea, Rob –”
“Take ’em off,” Robin said, softly but more forcefully.
Without another argument, the doctor moved to Faith’s wrist.
Watchers Council – Conference Room – Evening
“We can do this later,” Giles offered. “There’s no rush.”
“My body’s fine,” Faith insisted. “I can recover just as well here as in a bed. I need to do this. I need…I gotta put things on the table. I have to see it all laid out, so I can…so I know where I stand. That’s all.”
“Very well,” Giles conceded, “if you think that’s best. Start from the beginning. When did they take you?”
Faith began to answer, then paused and looked up, frowning. “What? You guys didn’t notice I was gone?”
Giles blinked at her, then Robin leaned forward. “They replaced you,” he explained. “The demon that trapped you made a kind of copy. It looked like you, acted like you…we didn’t know. I didn’t know,” he added, quietly.
Faith nodded automatically, though she was clearly still digesting what he had said. “I think…it was a few days before the wedding,” she looked at Giles.
“My wedding?” he asked, surprised.
“It’s not easy to say,” Faith went on. “When they had me, they…she put things in my head, places and people…sometimes it was like I was here, sometimes I was other places, or everything would be wrong. There were –” Faith shook her head. “It doesn’t matter. Guess it was just some kind of sick game. But I think…after Ken got back from Europe, before you guys got married, everything seemed normal. After that, what I remember isn’t…like it should be. Did you guys get married all right?”
“Yes,” Giles nodded, “in Las Vegas, as it turned out.”
Faith frowned. “Huh,” she said. “I remember you guys being married here…and the wedding being called off, and…lots of different things. Illusions. I guess none of it was real. Hell, for all I know this isn’t real.”
“I assure you, Faith, this is real,” Giles answered.
“Would you be shocked to hear that’s not the first time I heard you say that these last few weeks?” Faith asked rhetorically.
Giles seemed at a loss for words, but Willow spoke up.
“The Chrysalid demon isn’t recorded as interfering in its captive’s thoughts,” she said. “I’m not saying it doesn’t do that or that it didn’t happen to you,” she added quickly. “Our records are sketchy, is all.”
Faith shook her head. “I remember this…this huge, fat thing. I couldn’t move, and there were demons carrying me, and they…well, it wasn’t a walk in the park,” she scowled. “They put me inside it, and…I remember, though, it wasn’t the one that got into my head. That was her,” she finished with disgust.
“You mentioned a she before,” Robin offered gently. “Who is this…she?”
“It’s all mixed up,” Faith said, frustrated. “You know how when you dream, it’s sometimes the most stupid stuff you could think of, but it seems real at the time? And then you wake up, and you’re like ‘what the heck was that about?’ It was like that. Everything was real, then and now…but I think maybe I did escape this time,” she went on. “The thing was fading away, I could feel it…dying, I think. And…this, right here, right now, it feels…different. God, this probably doesn’t make any sense, does it?”
Giles gently put his hand up. “It’s okay, Faith. Just take your time. For the record your duplicate…gave itself away,” Giles said carefully. “Our research indicated that when the duplicate died, the host would too.”
“It did,” Faith nodded. “It was stinking and rotting, and…suddenly it felt different. Like I wasn’t dreaming. I couldn’t think clearly, but I knew something was different. I knew that what I did, it counted again, I was in control. I fought out of it, and there were demons, and I…I just started fighting and didn’t stop. Tunnels, and a city, all full of demons.”
“Brell said you were found in a Presidium city,” Willow said. “They were hunting you. Brell and his friends got there in time, before they overwhelmed you.”
“I remember big things, like dogs, all muscles and spikes…it was real. I’m pretty sure it was real, I mean. It wasn’t like before…but it was, the…where I was, when I got out, I remembered it, from when I’d been inside.”
“When they first brought you there?”
“No,” Faith shook her head, “no, that was outside, somewhere. There were times I was…it’s all a mess,” she trailed off, holding her head.
“No hurry, Babe,” Robin said soothingly. “You’re safe now, so you’ve got all the time you need.”
“No!” Faith protested. “None of us are safe!”
“Faith, please calm down,” Robin asked. “Look around. No one here is going to hurt you okay? And if you don’t calm down, we’ll have to ask Dr. Miller to give you something to make you calm. We don’t want that, all right?”
Faith took a deep breath and nodded. “Anyway, there were times when I was…in between the things they put in my head, when I was aware. Nothing was happening, but I was awake, and there weren’t any dreams. That’s when I could…I could feel her there, this presence, like she was part of me, or-or I was part of her. I could do things and-and feel things I never could, not even… When things got really bad for me, even then I was never like that. But she was in my head, moving around. And I was kind of in hers, in a cage, but I could see out. I remember seeing the thing I was inside, the demon. They had these pipes, trickling water or something, to keep its skin wet, and there were demons around it, and…” She trailed off, lost in thought.
The group looked around at each other, as if trying to compute what Faith was saying.
“They called me…her,” Faith amended, “Lover. That was her name, the leader, the one in my head. She made me do things, made me feel things…it must’ve been her all along. All the dreams, she made me dream them, all of them.” Her face hardened in loathing. “And when I was awake, I could feel her watching me, like she was…curious. Like I was some kind of rat in a maze, and she was watching me. Only the maze was killing and burning and everything was falling apart, all my… everything I love got torn apart over and over again, and she just watched. Saw how I reacted.”
“The Presidium has powerful mages working for them,” Willow suggested. “This Lover might be one of them. She might have formed a mental link with you,” she addressed Faith, “to test you, or something, to see what you’d do.”
“No, she wasn’t a servant,” Faith insisted. “I could feel it, her mind…she never served anything. I think she was one of them. Like the Engineer. There were times she was so strong inside me I could almost see her…she looked like him.”
“One of the Presidium itself?” Giles wondered.
“The Lover,” Faith repeated. “Someone’s got a sick sense of humor…the things she put me through. There was this one time, I was in the basement with all these roaches, I was actually grateful for it –”
“When was that?” Robin asked, suddenly interested.
“Was Kennedy with you? And then Xander?” Robin persisted.
“I…yeah,” Faith nodded. “Yeah, she was there…and Xander freaked, and we –”
“Stood on a crate together,” Robin supplied. “And Ken got me, and…”
“You picked me up and carried me upstairs,” Faith finished, frowning. “No, that’s wrong, I wasn’t…that was after they took me. I remember that. I was freaked from the roaches, but inside I was so happy it wasn’t one of the times when –” Faith paused and took a breath. “Sometimes you’d all die…sometimes it was me. I don’t know why, but I’d just be killing everyone, and…I was so grateful when things seemed normal, even if it was just for a moment. I know that didn’t happen, with the roaches.”
“It did,” Willow added, “but it was the Changeling. The demon was using your mind to tell it how to behave, so maybe the link went both ways? You might have experienced things the Changeling saw and did, as you.”
“You mean some of that was real?” Faith asked, looking nervous. “Wait… hell. What’s the worst thing that’s happened while I was gone? The absolute worst? Is Kennedy still human? Is Becca alive?” she began to ask quickly.
“Yes,” Giles began. “Both are fine, Faith. In fact, the worst thing would be…” Giles let the sentence hang and looked at Willow.
“Shadow,” Willow supplied. “Rack’s sister kidnapped me. She tried to force me to take dark magic, to use it…but Mia’s team found me,” she swallowed.
“Damn,” Faith lowered her head. “That was real, though?”
“As real as it gets,” Willow nodded. “Apart from that, things have been routine enough…a demon at a sci-fi convention, patrols have been regular, no one’s been badly hurt or killed.”
“Thank god,” Faith slumped in her chair. “For a moment…all the things I saw, if some of them were real… There were some bad ones. I’ll have to catch up. Figure out what’s real and what was from that bitch getting inside my head.”
“Um,” Willow started, worried, “uncomfortable idea forming…if Faith would experience what the Changeling did, maybe this Lover could too? You said there were times when you were awake, when you were aware of her and not dreaming, right?”
“Yeah,” Faith replied.
“She could have been concentrating on the Changeling,” Willow went on. “Maybe even guiding it, or at least influencing it, giving it instructions.”
“We’ll review everything it has done since it was put here,” Giles said firmly. “I’ll draw up a schedule later tonight, and we can start a thorough review tomorrow. If we’ve been sabotaged somehow, we’ll find it.” He turned to Faith. “You can be involved, if you’d like…it may help you separate your experiences, to know what was real and what was illusion.”
“I’ll do it,” Faith said firmly.
“As for your patrol schedule –” Giles began.
“I’ll swing by the infirmary later,” Faith interrupted, “and get checked out. I’ll go back on duty the moment I’m cleared.”
“Are you sure?” Giles asked. “What you’ve been through was a terrible ordeal. You may need to heal more than your body.”
“Physically, I’m fine,” Faith insisted. “My mind is mine, I’ll fix it. I don’t need to be sitting around doing nothing right now. You know me well enough to know how much that won’t help.”
“Yes,” Giles conceded, “well, if you’re sure.”
“I am,” Faith nodded. “Just give me a few days.”
“You’ll have more if you need it,” Giles offered sympathetically. “So don’t push yourself, Faith. You’re still my best in the field, but your well-being means more to me.”
“To all of us,” Willow added.
For the first time, Faith managed a small grin.
Watchers Council – Faith & Robin’s Apartment – Evening
Faith approached her and Robin’s bed and sat down, gingerly.
“You know, one time,” she said quietly, “it was one of those times when everything was normal for a bit, then…I lay down, and there was nothing under the sheets. I fell right through, and into this tunnel, like a well. Full of things, grabbing at me while I was falling…I mean, what the hell is that supposed to prove?” she burst out angrily, startling Robin as he sat beside her.
“It proves the Presidium is as twisted as we’d guessed,” he suggested. “I don’t know why this Lover demon did what she did to you. I’m just glad you’re back.”
“I’m glad I’m back,” Faith said automatically, then she lay back and frowned. “I keep seeing things I dreamed…the patrol board, with the new schedule from last week…that stupid starship model Andrew put in the rec room. I remember it, and it’s real.”
“Well, the starship model was real,” Robin replied. “And rather stupid,” he added with a slight grin.
Faith grinned back. “Where’s it now?” she asked.
“Willow forced Andy to put it in the garbage or his room,” he replied. “He picked his room.”
A comfortable silence passed between them again, until Faith spoke.
“So, I’m really home?”
Robin slowly moved his hand to her hair and began to smooth it back.
“You’re home. And I’ll say it as many times as you need to hear it,” he replied.
“I wish I could believe it, but…it feels like I might still be there, and she might still be in here,” she said, tapping her temple. “God, Robin…I’m afraid,” she admitted, with difficulty.
“It’s okay to be afraid,” Robin said gently.
“Not like this,” Faith insisted. “Not like…I’m afraid of everything…of you, even. I shouldn’t be afraid of you.”
“It’s understandable,” Robin sighed.
“Not to me,” Faith said, sitting up. “Not like this. No. I just got back from hell, alive. You and me ought to be stripping down and celebrating horizontal-style right now, not…not me afraid of…” she trailed off.
“Of what?” Robin asked.
“I…I don’t want to say it,” Faith said.
“That probably means you should,” Robin countered. “Faith…if you talk to me, you might feel better. Actually, I’m willing to bet you will, little by little.” He gently moved his hand to Faith’s shoulder and looked concerned when she almost flinched.
“She…she made me go through things that…they’re not real, can‘t be real, but it felt real. The worst were here. This room. It’d start out normal, loving, but…you’d – the illusion of you, not the real you – you’d hold me down, and I wasn’t strong enough to –”
“God,” Robin whispered. “Oh God, Faith, I’m so sorry.”
“No!” Faith snapped. “No, don’t! You don’t have to be sorry, it wasn’t you! You didn’t…she made you, the thing in my mind. The thing that looked like you, she made it do that. Not you. She doesn’t deserve to have you apologize for what she made it do. Never. You got that?”
“Got it,” Robin said softly. He looked around the room. “We’ll redecorate,” he said. “New colors, new furniture…”
“No, don’t,” Faith sighed. “It’s stupid, it’s –”
“You don’t have to fight it all at once,” Robin offered. “Maybe it’ll help. I know I’d rather forget what happened…”
Faith nodded, then frowned and looked at Robin. “What happened?” she asked warily.
He looked up, then sighed. “Sorry,” he said. “I didn’t mean to…I wasn’t thinking. I shouldn’t have –”
“What. Happened?” Faith insisted.
“The demon,” he replied sadly. “I thought it was you. We…” he searched for the right words.
“No,” Faith said, before he could speak again. “You – Damn it!” She pushed herself off the bed and dashed for the door.
“Faith!” Robin called after her.
“Leave me alone!” she yelled, slamming the door behind her.
Wooded Area Near Youngstown – Dusk
Rowena, Kennedy and Dawn all set their backpacks down simultaneously.
“Okay, why don’t we set up camp?” Rowena suggested. “Then tomorrow we can start our search.”
“Why wait?” Kennedy answered. “We’ve got some daylight left now.”
“Because it’s pretty tough to set up a tent when it’s pitch black,” Rowena answered. “I’d like us to have a safe place before we go out.”
“Fine. You guys set up, and I’ll scout the area. How’s that?” Kennedy offered.
“Why do you always have to buck my authority?” Rowena countered.
“I’m not bucking anything,” Kennedy answered. “Doesn’t it make sense to know the area here?”
Rowena folded her arms across her chest. “Yes, but you and I both know you’re not going to scout the area. You’re going to hunt for this thing.”
“Hunt, scout, what’s the difference?” Kennedy asked with a grin. “Look, you handle the tent. I’ll be back.”
Rowena opened her mouth, as if to counter Kennedy again, but the slayer’s back was already turned, and she was starting toward the tree line. The watcher felt a hand on her shoulder.
“It’s not you,” Dawn told her. “She’s always been this way. All slay, all the time. Come on, let’s get set up.”
Reluctantly, Rowena followed Dawn.
Watchers Council – Coven Room – Same Time
Willow stood with her arms crossed, looking thoughtfully at the contraption in the middle of the room. A flat, dark blue stone was propped up on an easel, and surrounding it, on chairs and music stands and hanging from the ceiling were various mirrors and crystals, of all shapes and sizes. Jeff was at a desk at the side of the room, studying one of a stack of old books, while Skye was busy on the opposite side of the room, mixing various powders.
“Hey, Red,” Faith said, attracting Willow’s attention.
“Faith,” she said, turning. “How’re you feeling?”
“You got a minute? I’d like to get outta here for a while,” Faith asked, in a voice that was almost fragile.
“Yeah, okay, just…Jeff?” Willow called across the room. “Keep an eye on the cauldron, and call my cell phone if the mirror does anything.”
“Will do,” he nodded, looking up from his book.
“What’s up?” Willow asked, falling into step beside Faith as she returned to the corridor. “Is everything okay? I mean, under the circumstances.”
“Some circumstances,” Faith muttered. “No…no, even under the circumstances, everything isn’t okay.”
“Robin?” Willow guessed, as they descended the stairs and headed towards the garage.
“He slept with that thing!” Faith said. “I know it looked like me and sounded like me, but God!”
“Faith,” Willow said hopefully, “I know you probably don’t want to hear this, but…well, on a scale of one to ten, it was at about a zillion of being just like you. I swear no one had a clue.”
“You and I weren’t screwing our brains out,” Faith pointed out angrily.
“No, that would’ve tipped me off that something was odd,” Willow agreed. Faith looked at her in surprise, then laughed bitterly. “At least you can laugh…that’s good, right?” Willow asked hopefully.
“I guess it is,” Faith nodded. “But still, it – I need time. I can’t deal with this right now, I just need to…I need to go some place she never made me go, and just try to relax. Around here, I’m – See?” she pointed at herself.
“What?” Willow asked.
“There,” Faith pointed at the open door they had just passed. “I just checked for something hiding there. I didn’t even mean to, it just…This is my home, and I’m expecting something to leap out and kill me every moment. Or someone.”
“I know the feeling,” Willow said quietly. “I get dreams like that. Only, it’s me doing the leaping and killing. Though not so much leaping,” she added.
“You mean like…evil magic stuff?” Faith asked. “That Shadow chick?” Willow nodded. “Sorry,” Faith said. “Well, wanna drive out to the park and lament our sucky nightmares together?”
“Why not?” Willow answered. “Ro’s on assignment, and I shouldn’t be needed upstairs for an hour or so. I’ll drive, though,” she added, taking a pair of keys from the cabinet by the garage entrance.
“Fair enough,” Faith mused. “That reminds me, I need a new bike. I’ve been meaning to go check some out ever since Slick used the last one as a hand weapon. You know, if I can find an R1200 in a color I like, I might –” She stopped dead, staring at the bike in her usual space in the garage: a red BMW R1200.
“Um…the Changeling bought it,” Willow explained nervously. “Two weeks ago.”
Faith turned back and stared at the bike. “I need to talk to Robin,” she said quietly. “Sorry, I just –”
“It’s all right,” Willow assured her. “We’ll do the park thing another time.”
Faith nodded absently, turned, then looked back at the bike. “Would you do me a favor?” she asked Willow.
“Get rid of that for me,” Faith said. “Donate it somewhere, or…I don’t care. I don’t want it.”
“You sure?” Willow asked cautiously.
“It’s not mine.”
Wooded Area Near Youngstown – Evening
Rowena and Dawn stood in the mix of poles and canvas.
“Okay,” Dawn began, as she looked at a set of instructions. “Insert pole A into pole B,” she read out loud.
“Which one is B?” Rowena asked, frustrated. “All of these look the same.”
“The one with the little hook thingy on the end,” Dawn answered.
Rowena looked at the end of a few poles in front of her and shook her head. “There are no little hook thingies,” she answered.
“There has to be,” Dawn rebuffed.
“I’m telling you they all look the same,” she answered. “Let me see that,” she said, reaching for the instructions booklet and snatching it from Dawn’s hand.
“I see the tent’s coming along well,” they both heard Kennedy say behind them. “You know…you two can read ten thousand different languages, but one set of tent directions throws you off.”
“Find anything?” Rowena asked, ignoring the jab.
“Nada,” Kennedy replied. “I think we’ll go in the morning when we have more light.”
Kennedy breezed past them and smiled once her back was to them. Rowena glared at her for a moment before going back to her instructions. Kennedy plopped herself down on a nearby rock and watched as Rowena and Dawn talked softly and pointed to the directions.
“Thank god we’re not on Survivor. You’d have been voted out of the tribe already,” she teased.
Dawn smiled, but Rowena shot daggers at Kennedy and thrust the instructions forward.
“Would you like to take a shot?” the watcher asked.
“Sure,” Kennedy said, coming off the rock and walking over. “I’d like to get to sleep at some point tonight.” She took the directions and began to read them.
After a few moments she handed the directions back to Dawn and looked at the poles. She picked up two and easily snapped them together. She took two more and put them together, as well.
“What’s next?” Kennedy asked.
Dawn fumbled with the paper. “Insert pole C into pole D.”
“Past that point,” Kennedy answered, giving Rowena a smug grin. “What’s after that?” she asked Dawn.
Rowena stood up and started toward the tree line. “I’ll find some kindling.”
“Sure you can handle that, Mountain Momma?” Kennedy called out, before snickering.
Rowena bit her tongue and continued to walk.
The Paint Factory – Night
The room vibrated with music. Neon signs provided some illumination, as did the moving strobe lights in various colors. Dancers, mostly in groups of two, took up much of the middle of the room. Bars took up most of two of the four walls.
Along a third wall, stools were set into place, mostly inhabited by people sipping drinks. Most of these were in pairs as well. Couples.
Vi sat alone.
She had a drink in her hand and a bored look on her face. Every few minutes, she ran her eyes over the room, looking less bored and more annoyed. Sometimes angry.
“You look like I feel,” said a voice beside her.
“What?” Vi turned to see a handsome young man with violet eyes slipping onto the stool next to hers. He had a drink in hand, which he raised in a mock toast. “To Janine – the girl who invited me here, then didn’t show up!”
Vi took this in, then raised her own glass. “And to Xander. Ditto. Only he’s not a girl. You get the idea.”
“Yeah.” They each took a swallow. “I’m Dorian.”
She took his offered hand. “Vi.”
He tilted his head. “Interesting name.”
“Thank you.” He smiled, then lifted an eyebrow. “This is going to sound so lame, but…you look familiar. You really do.”
“Lame, yeah. But a little less so because you know that.”
“Wait a sec. Were you at a formal wear place earlier today? With some guy? Dark hair? You wore this really nice scarf?”
Vi blinked. She gulped. Then she said, “That just stopped being lame. Truth. Wow. Good for you. Salut!” And she lifted her glass again.
Dorian joined her. “Was that this Xander guy then?”
“Yeah,” Vi managed to say and sigh at the same time.
“How late is he?”
“Janet was supposed to be here forty-five minutes ago.”
Vi nodded in sympathy, then joined in a smile with Dorian.
“Screw ’em,” said Dorian. “Let’s dance!”
Watchers Council – Faith & Robin’s Apartment – Same Time
Robin looked up as the front door to the apartment opened slowly.
“Hey,” Faith said.
“Hey,” he nodded.
She closed the door behind her and sat next to him on the couch. “Forgive me?” Faith asked.
Robin looked at her in surprise, then smiled. “Easiest thing in the world,” he assured her. “I’m sorry, too, I should have…” He trailed off.
“Nah,” Faith shook her head, “you couldn’t have known. I think…I wouldn’t have, either.”
“I’m sorry anyway,” Robin admitted. “I hurt you…I didn’t mean to, and maybe I had no way of knowing, but it’s done, and I’m sorry.”
“Forgiven,” Faith said with a faint smile. She put a hand hesitantly on Robin’s shoulder, then quickly hugged him, as if afraid to give herself the time to reconsider and pull away. “This is really difficult,” she admitted in a tiny voice.
“Yeah,” Robin agreed. “But we’ll get through this…all of it.”
Faith stayed firm against Robin’s chest, her eyes uncertain. “Yeah,” she said softly.
Dorian‘s Apartment – Later that Night
Xander’s eyes flickered open in Dorian’s bed. They took time to focus, longer than seemed usual. And even as he pulled himself into a sitting position, those eyes remained glazed.
“Dorian?” he whispered in a hoarse voice. He blinked at the sound of his voice, then licked his dry lips.
Slowly, Xander moved to get out of bed. He tried to stand and failed at the first attempt. The second attempt worked, but only barely. He swayed on his feet. Taking one step forward, he reached over to the wall and leaned on it. After another few steps, he started to take deep breaths. Looking around the room, his pupils dilated.
He tries to take several steps on his own. Feet become entangled in a pair of trousers strewn on the floor. With a cry, he lands too hard on the bedroom floor – too hard and at the wrong angle. The sound of bones snapping is drowned out by his scream…
Xander’s head snapped back, his eyes wide. He looked over to the floor where his trousers lay, precisely where the vision warned him. Rather than try and walk by himself, Xander inched back to the bed.
From the bed, shaking and pale, he looked around in the dim light. Several moments, and several gasping breaths later, he reached over to try and pick up his discarded trousers. Fingers almost touched the edge of the fabric. With a groan, he made a further effort.
And fell down.
Xander made a noise as the air rushed out of his lungs. Then he gasped.
Then, he lost consciousness. He could not hear the door open in the main room nearby.
Dorian‘s Apartment – Same Time
“Here you go,” Dorian said, swinging open the front door. He made a gesture for Vi to precede him.
She giggled. With a raised eyebrow, she said, “Luring an innocent girl to somewhere private?”
Dorian shrugged. “If you don’t want to come in, that’s up to you. I have my own hopes in the matter, but the choice is yours.”
Vi stepped inside. “It’s not exactly like I’m defenseless,” she said with a grin.
She took a look around the apartment, nodding as if in approval of the décor. “Nice.”
“Thank you,” Dorian went into the kitchen, but his voice could still be heard.
She looked over to the other door. “Two bedrooms?” Vi asked.
“Roommate,” Dorian answered. The sound of a refrigerator opening and closing was barely audible. “But he’s out of town.” He came back into the room carrying a tray. “As promised,” he said, “the very best assortment of cheese and crackers! I’m starving.”
“Me, too. You’d better have a whole lot of cheese and crackers!”
“Quick and simple, but not very elegant, I’m afraid.” He set the plate down on a coffee table. Vi clapped her hands and sat down.
“Elegant, schmelegant – I’m hungry.”
“Dig in!” He headed back to the kitchen.
“What are you getting now?” asked Vi, as she stuffed a tiny cracker and cheddar sandwich into her mouth.
“Something to drink!” came Dorian’s voice from the kitchen.
“Nothing for me, I’ve had too much already,” she said, munching.
“You sure? I’ve got a really nice Merlot.”
“Well…a Merlot would be okay.”
Dorian returned with a bottle he was in the process of opening. As the cork came out with a mild pop, he set the bottle down on the coffee table. “Oops. Be right back.” He hurried back to the kitchen.
Less than two seconds later, he returned with two fluted glasses in one hand. He set these on the table, then took a camera from behind his back. With one fluid motion, he aimed and took a snapshot.
Vi stared at him, surprised, but not angry.
“I like to capture moments,” Dorian explained, shrugging. After pouring wine into one of the glasses, he then reached over and offered it to Vi. She reached over, touching both glass and hand, not letting go.
“Thanks,” she grinned.
“You’re more than welcome.”
As it happened, with his stretching to hand her the glass and her stretching to take it, their faces were close, less than four inches apart. After a moment, in unison, they inched closer.
“I try,” he said, voice low, “to be a good host.”
“You’re succeeding,” Vi answered, edging even closer to him.
They were practically nose-to-nose now. And then they kissed.
End of Act Three