Playing Dead part 11
WickedFox


The Explosion:

"What… what happened?" I ask, struggling to my feet and choking on the cloud of dust surrounding us.

"I don't know," Xander coughs, dusting himself off as he examines the concrete rubble and metal beams folded outward around us.

"Little help?" Willow squeaks nervously and we both turn to see the witch trembling under the weight of a huge slab of building hovering within a shield of glistening magicks.

"Oh my God! What can I do?" I rush to her side, fidgeting and unsure if I can do anything. The weight of the hunk would be way too much for me.

"Just get clear!"

Xander and I rush to step out of the way and with a strained heave, the slab goes crashing to the street where we all stood seconds before.

"Had to be a time delay grenade by the looks of it. There was no way we woulda seen it coming." Xander's shaken. I don't blame him. Me too. "How in all that is unholy around here did you do that, Willow ?"

"I… I just had a feeling. I don't know." She shrugs and works to catch her breath as she takes a seat on the splintered pavement.

"A feeling? What kind of feeling?" I ask.

"I'm not sure." Willow gasps for another breath. "It was like… kinda like a feeling of worry… of concern, maybe. Out of nowhere, I felt it and then there was a strange shift in the color of magicks." She looks up at me, confused. "If I didn't know better, I'd say it was a warning."

"A warning? From who?" Xander asks, looking to me for answers.

"Someone who works magicks and knows Willow would interpret the code." I glance to the darkened sky, searching the overhanging buildings. "Someone who saw us coming."

"At night, upwind and at least twenty stories above us?"

"Or someone who felt us coming," Willow suggests and I can tell we're thinking along the same terms. "Like I can sense him?" There is a perplexed hope in her eyes. I'm not so easy.

"Why would he warn us?" I ask.

"He who?" Xander asks.

Willow shrugs. "Maybe it wasn't unintentional, just an instinctive response."

"Instinctive response from who?"

"Even so, why would he care? I mean, evil vampire, remember? And us with the big goals to foil him and his bestest buddies evil plans?"

"Well, it's obvious he's not following the rules. Maybe he's more wicked than evil, or mischievous or only quasi-evil?" She's reaching. She wants to believe it and for some reason, so do I. But I can't, I know better.

"Are you guys suggesting that Ethan Rayne made with the code red for us?" Xander chuckles. "A guy who turned Sunnydale's kids into monsters for his own jollies? The same guy who served up a main course of newborn babies to a gigantic sewer snake? The peach of a sorcerer who turned his old buddy into a tufty-eared, snot shooting demon?"

"Oh, and it's not like any other do-badders came to our aid in the past," Willow challenged.

"Okay, forgetting all prior vampires and the histories thereof, say Ethan the as-of-yet-undetermined ‘friendly' vampire did this, intentionally or not. What would that mean?"

"I don't know. Maybe we should ask him." I say and continue toward the building. I hear Xander and Willow hurrying to catch up.

Of all the things… Magicks, why does it have to be magicks?

The Celebration:

I take to the shadows immediately after our arrival. Demon soldiers surround their general in a victory celebration but Rupert seems keen to watch as I descend into darkness. I smile for him, forgiving him his joyous welcome. They deserve their pride, their happiness and I decide to hide away and watch the family. They are a family. And just as in life, I am left separate and apart as the men rally together.

Not that I don't appreciate the company of men, but I was just about to question the absence of the fairer sex when low and behold, a troop of twenty ladies marches in from the chilled night air. Species a mystery with some, quiet obvious with others. Ages ranging from twelve to a seasoned forty, there is a flavor for every taste. Short and fit to tall and slight, plump and tawdry to average and plain, a selection of feminine beauties all donning smiles and ambition. Every one of them is dressed to impress, tight and shapely designer labels accentuated with jewelry and flare. There is a fashion show fit for the apocalypse underway and all are invited to gawk. How appropriate to hold such proceedings in the gutted carcass of the strip mall.

They are immediately greeted by the men, obviously recognized and expected. Welcoming them with boisterous shouts and howls, the goings-on remind me of hooligans at a football game; beasts just the same.

"How ya doin' boys?" the tallest of the pretties yells out and receives hoots and hollers a plenty.

"Heard you cleaned house of another sweeper team tonight."

More rowdy cheers and suddenly, bottles of scotch, tequila, whisky and rum appear out of nowhere. "Well, we think that deserves a celebration, and a handsome reward!"

War cries of horny young studs echo out through the halls as the ladies are escorted toward the main hall in an improvised parade of the damned. I follow at a gradual pace, keeping a short distance. I see Rupert talking to Jacobs, a stern expression creasing his brow. Something's wrong. Jacobs casts a curious eye to his torn shirt and I can't help my satisfied smile as he attempts to explain it away. When he notices the revelry making its way toward him, he feigns good cheer and welcomes them with a smile.

"Pleasure to see you ladies, been much too long a time since we last shared company," his voice bellows out over the crowd and all hush quiet to hear. Just witnessing his authority makes me hard.

"Not as much a pleasure as it is for us, Rupert." The lady flirts with a thick southern drawl, eyeing the exposed skin of his chest that I'd intended for no one but myself. It's the first I've heard someone besides me refer to Rupert in the familiar. Does he have himself a lady friend? I find my jaw tense with the thought, fists clenched and brow heavy. But who am I kidding? I have no claim to him despite my attempts to prove otherwise.

"Miss Emily, thank you for coming." He nods politely. A meager nod? Hardly a sign of affection and my hopes are rekindled. "Thanks to my skillful men, there is a feast awaiting you all." Rupert dismisses them with a wave and the parade marches onward like a river flowing between us. He finds me through the current, watching from the opposite bank. I stare unblinking and purposeful, enough to scare away his gaze. There's contemplation in his expression. When he returns to me, I smile, welcoming him back. It is a game of glances, as childish as passing crush revealing notes in school. But there's no innocence in our intentions, only a primal, silent calling.

My smile fades with his single finger pointing discretely off in the opposite direction to the flow of demon traffic. It's an invitation and I nod in acceptance. He leans over and whispers something to Jacobs before wandering off alone. Jacobs watches Rupert meld into the shadows then the young vampire casts a furious glare my way. I want to read into his expression. It could mean so many things, jealousy, disgust, or perhaps a warning not to hurt his chief. My intuition chooses the latter. I wink, delighting in the drama whatever it means. I leave him to stew as I stroll off to find Rupert. The others continue their celebration, oblivious to our absence.

I smell him through the darkness, a heady musk baiting me along the narrow department store aisles. Breadcrumbs through a maze. I turn and search the dark, finding only shadows and disappointment. Then a gentle whisper of my name tickles my ear and moves on.

When I find Rupert, he is no longer hiding in shadows but stands at the entrance to a shop, not far enough to be out of calling range of his men. We've cut through the department store, heading the crowd off with a shortcut. I'm a little let down until I realize he's still separated himself from the others, much like a lion would separate its prey from denser numbers. Is Rupert playing the part of the hunter or prey? Perhaps a willing self-sacrifice. The location is a curious selection, poorly concealed behind a display of dead vines speckled with rotten flowers, the lifeless remains of a modest floral shop. Irony in rare form, being surrounded by what one could consider the beauty of death.

"A solitary kiss?" I begin the seduction with his weapon of choice, words, spoken in my deepest tone, "…one measly union of flesh, limp and yielding?"

He remains steady, an unwavering statue ready to withstand my every inducement. I can't wait to break him.

"Hardly enough to satisfy the balance between us, Rupert." I creep slowly behind him. He remains determinedly forward, overseeing his men as they celebrate. Perhaps he craves an audience.

"See them, Captain? Your loyal army ants awaiting the next fateful order?" He restrains a shiver with my words and it makes it all the more delicious. "Your willing and able waiting and eager? But it's not them you're after, is it?"

If only I could take him here and now… and why not?

"You crave something more than dull devotion."

"What is it you want to hear, Ethan?"

So burdened, his desires trampled under the weight of humility. My poor, poor, proper boy, I'll deliver you as you delivered me.

"The truth, for once in our bloody useless lives… deaths," I correct with a chuckle. "Tell me." My tongue glides over the bite marks I left on his neck not that long ago. I'm pressing against his backside, making my intentions as clear as the dawning erection I wouldn't dare mask from him now.

"I've told you all I know. What more is there to say?"

"A great deal more, Ripper. About you."

I rock forward again sending my already rigid flesh against his tight arse. The wickedness within reminds me I could force him with a spell, take what I want and burn him to a cinder when through if it weren't for this bloody bond. What have you done to me?

"I know you feel it, that itch you can't scratch? That tickle you can't tame."

"I don't know what you're on about."

"I'm talking about shagging you senseless, Ripper. Fucking away our past until it's as much dust as we're destined to become."

"What makes you think I've any interest in such a proposition?"

I smile, so pompous and privileged.

"This!"

I bring my hand around front of him and plant it firmly to his groin. It bucks majestically beneath the fabric. My fingers curl to cup him and it twitches again. He surrenders in silence as I claw my fingers up along the outer threads and then tuck within the tight confines of his jeans. All the while, I continue to grind a slow tempo along his arse, readying him for things to come.

"Admit it, Ripper. We've nothing left between us but what we make of this. Tell me."

"Ethan, please." It's such a charmingly desperate plea.

"Please what? I need to hear it." My fingers breach the forest of curls guarding my destination.

"I need you, Ethan." He winces it, as if ashamed. At long last, sweet victory.

"Not nearly enough," I growl and drop to my knees. I tug him to face me and pry open his unraveling zipper. "But you will."

"Not here," he orders with his strong hands reaching down to grip my wrists.

"Oh yes," I demand, twisting free and pushing him flush to the wall. He stutters his half-hearted protests as my fingers encourage his cock to spring free. "Right here, right now, with your boys unawares." Fuck, his horror is luscious. "Not a one of them could ever know you as I do and will."

He stifles a grunt as I ensnare him within my grip and give him a persuasive squeeze.

"Sing me your praises now, Ripper."

He opens his mouth to object and I silence him with a kiss, my lips wrapping around that part of him he will forever associate with me from this point forward.

Pure poetry in the flesh.

If there was ever a hallowed suicide to be envied, it would be to choke upon his generous cock as it suffocated the life from you yet left you pleading for more. Such was his magnificent manhood that it made you weep with its silken texture, its taste, it's utter beauty, that you would pledge your soul for another blessed communion. Or perhaps he's simply food for a starving man. Either way, bliss.

What wonderful winces and insatiable sounds he makes. I milk him as his emerald eyes shut tight in agony. I work him up to a boil of blood and lust, gliding his velvet wrap of skin to set him hard. He is delicious, all tight and frantic. I dare him not to roar as my tongue gently dips within the dewing slit of his cock. Then I slick along that bundle of tension running the base length of his shaft. He's electric and ready to spark.

"You taste wild, Ripper."

"Fuck, Ethan… "

"In time. It takes time," I mock him with his own words but he doesn't care. I take him in again only deeper, swallowing as his willful cock spanks the back of my throat. It's then I realize I've no need to breathe. I could torment him for all eternity, churning him until his cream sours with the need for release.

Death has its benefits.

"So… fucking… good…" His hands come to rest on either side of my head, fingers weaving to fists in my hair as his demon surfaces.

"Harder!" When I look up, I see the beast and tear myself away. He snarls furious with my retreat, fiery eyes glaring out from under a sharply shadowed brow.

"No, not like this." It's nearly a disciplinary tone and he's awash with frustration.

"Not like what?" He grumbles, perhaps unaware of his transformation. I stand and raise my hand to his ridged brow, trying to explain without explaining. As my fingers etch along the crests, his eyes pale back to green as the beast retracts.

"Sorry," he mutters shyly. I actually believe he is. Strange to hear that coming from a monster. I cup his chin to lift his face, forgiving him with a tender kiss.

"You've been trapped too long in their world, Rupert. It's time you remember mine. Come with me." I lead him by the hand as I would a lost child. He tucks himself back within his jeans and follows dutifully along.

The Surrender:

Ethan guides me into deeper shadows. When we emerge, we are surrounded by the curiosities of a gift shop catering to magicks and new age gospels. He glances back, smiling as he leads. The large, obsidian pools of his eyes sparkle in the passing light, luring me on.

"Where are you leading me?" I ask, knowing better than to expect anything more than a riddle.

"We've tried it your way. Now it's your turn for Wonderland, Alice ."

As expected, riddles. Even so, I can't help but enjoy the sense of excitement that comes with the mystery. Something tells me I won't be disappointed in the result.

Ethan leads me into a shop I haven't discovered. Before my nocturnal sight can adjust, he snaps his fingers and triggers the room to illuminate with a sea of candles. They flicker and dance with his impulse. Such influence at the tips of his fingers, is it the same for me?

It's a beautifully dressed stage and can't help but smile. There's a bed of silken red cushions spread out along the floor, all shapes and sizes tossed more than arranged. I smell a perfume of oils; the sensual alchemy of ylang ylang and nutmeg. The flames cast deep shadows that emphasize his handsome features, shaving years from him.

"If I didn't know any better, I'd consider this romantic. You did this for me?"

"Hardly," he chuckles. "Quite the contrary, I assure you. Been a long time, Rupert, years without knowing the touch of another. I've had some time to imagine… to craft this to my liking. Couldn't care less if you approve, mate."

"In any case, I do." Sounds almost juvenile, admitting without needing to. But I mean it.

"Glad to hear it," he responds with seeming disinterest. He pulls his shirt up over his head and tosses it aside, nearly knocking over some candles in doing so.

"Mind your inferno, Ethan. It'd be a shame to waste all your thoughtful preparations."

"Not to worry, Ripper, it won't be wasted," he coons, stripping away the remains of my already shredded shirt and sending it flying across the shop to join his. He eyes my bare, scratched chest, lips parting with a fledgling smile.

"Take off your shoes." It's not a request, it's an order.

My unsatisfied desire moves me to follow the command. I kneel before him, knowing full well the crude thoughts running rampant in his mind with my arrangement to him. The very same as my own. He steps closer, his fingers grazing through my hair as I finish setting my shoes aside. This effortless touch of his is mystifying. Everything about Ethan is sensual, every motion, every word, all aimed at rousing those carnal instincts I try so hard to deny. Not any longer, I swear to myself.

"Now mine," he directs a finger toward his shoes.

Again, no allusion of affection in his tone, only demands to be met or otherwise punished. Or perhaps this is the punishment, this discipline of servitude. I remove his shoes and set them beside mine. His fingers continue to rake gingerly through my hair and I close my eyes with the soothing gesture. The strokes grow in vigor, rolling my head forward and back, lulling me into a sedate stupor. Soon, I feel the cool, coarse texture of stiff material to my cheek. When I open my eyes, I find my face pressing against his masked groin, rubbing solidly with every caress. The proximity of his arousal awakens my curiosity. I'm fascinated and nuzzle into him, rewarded by a subtle spasm through the cloak of material.

"I've waited long enough, don't you think?" He stares down at me with narrow eyes, intense and filled with desire. And yet he waits for me to choose, to act, to take.

"Yes, you have." My fingers dip within the waist band and I unfasten the buttons one by one. He watches patiently as I part his fly and begin to tug, shifting the jeans down over his hips. I see a glimpse of flesh inches from me, still caged. So familiar yet as foreign in its intimacy as if to a virgin. Still, he watches and waits, taking in my reaction as the jeans slip from his hips to gather in a heap at his feet.

My gaze locks to his cock displayed before me. As with his artful body, his masculine flesh is remarkable; a shapely girth of folded edges growing smoother as he stiffens before my eyes.

"With them, your soldier boys, you inspire loyalty, bravery, cohesion," Ethan speaks in a tutorial tone, one reminiscent of my own. "This is what you inspire in me."

There's vulnerability in his words as his gaze begs reassurance. My hand lifts, almost of its own accord, to gently cup his burgeoning erection. It's a touch meant more for fragile things. Even so, it triggers a gasp from Ethan that pleases me to the point of craving more. Absurd, my initial reaction to him. His flesh is like my own, I need not treat it with such caution. I curl my fingers gently around his shaft and begin to move as I would to please myself, hoping it's enough for him. His lips part for a sigh and I can see the pleasure along his features. I feel the hardness I awake in him and with it, encourage my own.

I wonder what he tastes like? For an instant, I consider gracing him with the very same treatment as he gave me. But the thought of failure or worse, embarrassment, keeps me from risking my pride. His hand captures my chin and guides me to return to my feet. He's smiling, contented with so little and forgiving my apprehension.

Ethan kisses me tenderly as he works my jeans loose. With a tug, they descend and he sinks with them. With a wink and a smile, I'm immersed again within his mouth. I'm speechless as marvelous lips band tightly around my engorged cock, stroking fluidly, pumping with a fervent rhythm. The swollen, wet muscle within curls, bring every cell back to life with its glorious attention. His fingers glide along the base of my shaft until they reach the tender flesh of my scrotum. I instinctively spread my legs, welcoming him and am rewarded with his hand cupping and gently massaging me to insanity. Within moments, I'm as hard as stone and wanting more.

"Join me," he says, inviting me with a gentle smile as he falls back to the cushions. I sink to the improvised bed and prop up on my side, facing him. He leans in, placing another delicate kiss to my lips. He explores my body with the gentle touch of a lover, unhurried and attentive. His long, thick fingers make their way down my back and knead effortlessly along my arse, releasing the nervousness knotted there.

"I tried to hate you," he speaks candidly, fingers following along creases. "It worked for a while, even managed to plot your death a few times. But then the dreams began."

My hands join his in the adventure, seeking out to discover his body as he discovers mine.

"They kept me heavily medicated. Most of the time, I couldn't tell dream from reality. It was quite lovely, really."

"I considered coming for you, more than once." It's all I can offer him. "When I inquired as to whether or not information of your whereabouts could be obtained, the Council refused to waste resources in trying. Not surprisingly, they considered you a welcome casualty in their righteous war."

"As they do now with you."

"Nice to be a wanted man." Humor meant to mask the odd sorrow I still hold with that truth.

"You've always been wanted, Ripper, you just didn't know where to look." The sincerity of his eyes sends an ach through my chest.

"I'm looking now."

"That you are." His fingers claw down my back and continue lower still. If I required breath, it would be stolen from me as his touch delves between to part my buttocks, brushing along the tensed ring of flesh awaiting him. He leans in and engages me in a kiss meant to distract as he tests the tautness of his intended destination.

His eyes sparkle as his lips brush lightly to mine. Rolling fingers tease along the dribbling head of my erection as he slicks his digits. Realizing it's hardly enough moisture for what we require, he retrieves a well placed tube of lube. Crafted to his liking, indeed. His other hand grips the ridge of my hip and nudges me tenderly back. I easily interpret the unspoken message and roll until facing away from him.

Silken lips touch down on the back of my neck as his hand glides along the curvature of my side. I'm a jumble of nerves, anxious and aroused and fighting off petrifaction. Though I know what to expect, the pure physicality of his invasion triggers instinctive resistance. He sinks knuckle deep, slippery thickness pausing with my unintentional defiance. But he doesn't relent in his pursuit. Instead, he remains buried and begins moving with the slightest of motions, circular and hypnotic.

"Remember the magicks," he purrs and I try to listen. "The trance state, the profound meditation of lucid dreaming?"

"I remember," I gasp as he sinks further in, both longing for and dreading the pain that's sure to come.

"Remember the vibration of energies as they quiver along your spine and outward, stretching toward release."

"Yes… yes, I… I remember."

"Feel them now."

An undeniable current of heat rumbles through me, traveling from the origin of his intrusive finger and rippling out to strike every nerve. My muscles shudder with the pulse, constricting tight and then loosening. I've felt this before with him, when casting.

"I do."

Another charge of magicks seeps from his wiggling finger. It increases twofold, persuading my flesh to relax with sensual strums of intoxicating power. He retracts, guiding me flat to the cushions and I feel him crawl over my legs, his body radiating a strange heat as he moves. He grips my hips, lifting them until I'm up on my knees, back arched in a submissive pose. His fingers return, slipping in with easy motions, fucking me so beautifully I could spill right here and now.

"Ethan, please."

"Relax and open to me, Ripper," he tells me softly and I concentrate on the magicks invading my body. "Just as you've done before."

I feel the chaos he's channeling and concentrate on letting it flow freely through me. I stifle a grunt as it happens, the withdrawal of the mystical touch to the achingly slow press of slicked hardness taking its place. With a determined thrust, he sheaths within and I groan at the maddening pressure of his flesh. I hear an echo of my grunt in the form of a gratified moan from Ethan.

"Christ! You're fucking lovely, Ripper."

He leans forward, tugging at me with his shifting flesh as he places a kiss to the mid of my back. The mildness of his lips sends shivers along my spine and when his hand captures my cock, it springs up to obey.

"Slow now, with me. Don't fight it," he directs and starts to move. The motion is slight yet makes the landscape of my body feel as if it's erupting with pain of pleasure. Heat, same as before only frenzied now, washes through me.

"Fuck… Ethan …" I'm not sure what I'm pleading for but he seems to know as he hastens his movement, retracting and pushing. We find a rhythm like the heartbeats we once had. With every stroke, he sinks deeper only to withdraw further yet never fully abandoning me. It's sinful and I can't fathom denying myself ever again.

"Can you feel it? The magicks?" he asks with forced breathes, more habit than necessity.

Amid a storm of sensations, my body rumbles with a strange thunder. His unrelenting cock finds some well hidden trigger within me and I gasp out in pleasure of its discovery.

"I feel it," I grunt as he strikes at it again and again with a brilliant accuracy.

I haven't experienced magicks this intense since my youth. It drives me to move. I push up with my arms, forcing back to meet his slow thrusts, demanding momentum.

"More, Ethan," I growl and feel his pumping hand tighten around my thirsty cock.

"All that I have and more, love," Ethan purrs as he plunges, stopping only when the slap of our flesh demands it. And with the penetration comes more heat of fluid energies.

"This is what I am." Ethan grunts as his thrusts grow harder, as brutal as the punches he threw earlier. "What you've made of me."

I cry out with the force, all agony and ecstasy bound by energies I can't control. They burn rapture with every dive. The demon is tamed, buried by Ethan's strokes and I can sense him reaching release.

"Ethan." I ram back to meet him. His body tenses, one hand pumping a supremely clumsy rhythm.

"My Ripper." He cries out as he steers one last thrust inside.

Ethan pours into me with a flood of emotions I'm helpless to hold back, some new, some forgotten, some as fantastically unruly as the magicks that spurred them. I feel something miraculous and undeniably terrifying amongst the pleasure and hurt of venting desires. I feel remorse. Not for the passions I share with Ethan, but for actions before.

Deathly faces flash across my inner sight, silenced screams and ghostly visions of Hell. Panic stirs as Ethan does and I fight the urge to push free from him. As the terrifying remorse grows clearer, the brute within revels in the remembered violence I caused and is moved toward release. My balls draw up as I spit my dead seed to the blood-colored cushions below; sticky, tepid and repentant.

Ethan slows his motions, mercifully coming to a stop with a flagging press. He collapses forward to rest on my back, sweat dripping as he places a few lazy kisses to my slick skin.

"I could stay like this forever, if you'd let me. But I'm sure the great commander has more imperative issues." He separates from me and I am already lonely with his departure. He slumps to the cushions and runs his fingers through his tousled locks. "Thank you."

I offer a nervous smile, still bothered by the troubling emotions welling within me.

"So tell me, oh wise one, do vampires suffer love?" He asks with a quiet sigh, wiping his mess from my backside with a lazy stroke of his hand. Good… questions… something to distract from these deplorable emotions.

"They do," I answer, recalling something Spike had argued once. "Some say with more fire than flame. Angry, raw emotions not kept in check by a conscience."

Ethan suppresses a yawn as he speaks; smearing his hand on the cushions, "Have you ever felt such torment? Since your turning, I mean."

"I thought I had once," I admit mindlessly and dread revealing it a moment after. Unwanted and mostly forgotten memories invade my mind.

"Thought?"

"It was love," I whisper, "…confused as it was, love just the same."

"Your sire?" Ethan deduces.

"Yes."

"Is it common, to feel such things for your sire?"

I forget he's a newborn. Then again, so am I considering the chronicle of such things. If it weren't for my life's vocation, I would be just as unprepared for this as any vampire.

"There is a bond formed with the exchange but love is a rare quality to be fashioned by such brutal means."

"So this confused love of yours, was it born of your death or before?"

How much do I give of myself, body and soul, no matter how vile? Regardless of whatever the righteous one's corrupt scriptures claim, I retain a soul. Perhaps not one formed of ether and morality, but a hollow that holds memories to be tended to like commandments that I follow, long after they've been shattered. What can I tell? In truth, he deserves it all. But not now… not yet. In time.

"The love preceded my turning. The confusion came after." I glance over at him, admiring his sweat glistening face as it falls lazily toward mine for one last kiss. "Why do you ask?"

After a moment of consideration, he smiles, pulls back and shrugs. Then with a tired tone, says, "No reason but that of a curious student seeking better understanding."

The intrusive images intensify, staining my vision with nightmares I once thought delicious but suddenly seem ghastly to me. It's too much and I struggle to my feet to quickly yank on my jeans.

"Leaving so soon?" He asks, disappointed.

"I need to see to my rounds, Ethan. I'll be back shortly."

"I won't be here."

"What do you mean?"

"I'll be waiting for you in the linens department. I could use a proper bed with a mattress and sheets and you lying next to me."

His words offer some comfort, though not nearly enough. My nerves are raging, head pounding, heart sinking in sorrow. What's happening to me?

"I'll meet you there."

I rush off, not waiting for a response. It must look damn strange to him but I can't help that. Something is wrong and I suddenly need space and time to think… and one of those Initiative radios.


part 12...