It's midnight, the 'music' has stopped, and it's time for Edward to pay the piper.  And tonight the 'piper', also known as Lothos, is demanding only one form of compensation.


Walking After Midnight

By:  M. J. Cogburn and C. E. Krawiec

rate the episode



Trevor watched as Siren stifled a yawn then lay down on her side, facing him, her head pillowed on her arm. When she started going on about where the wolf was waiting for "Red", he forced himself to close his eyes and take a long, slow breath. Opening his eyes again, he saw that hers were now closed.

"Damn," he muttered so softly he almost didn't hear it, "What a roller coaster ride."  But as he got on the bed and drew the covers over himself again, Trevor glanced over at Siren's now quiet face, and couldn't stop the smile. "But I wouldn't want to take this ride with anyone else," he whispered. Hoping he didn't get belted for it, Trevor braced on one hand and leaned over and gently kissed her forehead.

"Good night, Red," he whispered, and then turn over and settled down, and again waited for sleep.

Siren felt the slight pressure on her forehead and moaned lightly as sleep slowly took control over her.  But even before sleep completely overtook her she murmured one last thing... "I... I love you, Trev."




        If his lips hadn’t still been almost against Siren’s forehead, Trevor never would have heard what he just did.  Now, watching her as she drifted off to sleep, he was not quite sure he did, but he wasn’t going to question it.

        Carefully, so as not to wake her, he laid down on his side, facing Siren, and moved as close as he dared, keeping a little space between them.  For several minutes, he just watched her sleep, noting the gentle softness of her breathing, the way she curled one hand against her breast.  Must’ve had a teddy bear when you were little,’ he thought with a smile.

        Siren moved slightly in her sleep toward the warm mass in front of her.  When her hand came in contact with the warmth, she sighed gently and began to mumble and hum in her sleep.

        It was then that she moved even more into Trevor’s space causing him to roll over on his back as she made him her personal pillow.  Her head rested comfortably on his chest and her hand crept up his abdomen to finally come to rest on his chest close to her mouth and pressed up against him; her left leg crossed slightly over his.  “Where did you go, Max?  Where’d you disappear to?”

        Even through her movement, Trevor did his best to stop breathing.  But cocking his chin down a little, a glimpse at her face showed that she was indeed asleep.  He relaxed as much as he could, even with her hand crawling slowly up his abdomen to stroke at his chest hair.  In that moment, he couldn’t help but smile even more as he came to a revelation of his feelings for her ever since that first fateful run in a few days ago.

        He wondered for a moment when he heard the name Max, but her words after that told him that a certain little girl was looking for her teddy bear in her dreams.

        Slowly, gently, he slid his arm over her waist and held her gently closer to him.  Her soft little sigh of contentment was something that he’d remember for a while.  Then, almost as if he was afraid of his thoughts might awaken her, he moved his head closer to hers and laid it lightly against the top of hers.  Delicately breathing the scent of her hair, he let the fragrance begin to lull him to sleep.  Before he drifted off, he turned his face slightly and kissed her hair gently.  “Maxie says good night, little lady.”  Then after another soft hug, he gave himself up to sleep.


        Rubbing her head lightly on the pillow that she thought that she was on, Siren moaned and frowned not wanting to wake.  Moving her leg and her hand upward, she felt something that didn’t quite feel like the bed… more like muscle flexing underneath her hand.  Opening her eyes, it was then that she felt her head throbbing and she glanced to the side and saw that she was lying on Trevor.  Frowning and looking up toward his face, she saw him looking down at her with a soft smile.

        “Morning,” he said lightly, smiling at her surprise.  “Sleep well?” Before she could reply, he added, “Oh, a friend of yours said to tell you ‘good morning’… but he couldn’t stay.”  To her confused look he told her softly with a grin that he couldn’t hide, “He said his name was… Max, yes, that was it.”

        Siren’s head was pounding and what he said didn’t make a lot of sense to her at the moment.  She glanced away from him but hearing the name Max, her mouth dropped open but she quickly recovered.  ‘Okay… either I can’t keep my mouth shut when I’m drunk or I talk in my sleep.  Either way… I’m not going to ask,’ she thought to herself.  But curiosity won out when she looked down at her body and saw that her nightgown was gone.  “Ahm…” she asked softly as she raised her hand to her forehead, her elbow resting on his chest.  “What happened last night?  Did a 747 hit me… and did you get its license number?  And… did it take my gown with it?”

        It was plain by the look in her eyes that last night’s adventures were still in the land of the fuzzies.  “Well,” Trevor began, reaching to catch her hand before she slid it away from his chest; he liked it where it was.  “A 747?  No.  A backhand from a guy who got ticked off when he didn’t get what he wanted?  Yes.  And he didn’t have a license number.  Most dodo birds don’t.  As for your nightgown…” Trevor couldn’t help grinning when she blushed a little in spite of her determination not to.  “Well, last night, around eleven thirty… you had an encounter of the… cold kind,” Trevor let her wonder for a moment.

        “You accidentally tipped the bowl of ice cream… chocolate… ice cream,” he reminded her with a cheeky grin and licking his lips.  “And it was some of the best ice cream I ever tasted, too.”  He saw her eyebrows go up at that.  “Oh yeah… it was very… very good,” and with that he lightly traced a finger down her chin and down to a point on her throat then drew his hand away.  He was having too much fun watching her try to figure out what had happened.

        Siren listened to him but couldn’t quite find the memory that he had. But a quick glance over at her bedside table revealed the bowl still sitting there and when she looked back at Trevor, she swallowed and blinked trying her best to remember what he was talking about and couldn’t.  Her brow winkled as she tried to remember, but when she pursed her lips to think about it more, the action of just pursing her lips made her skin taut on her face and she could feel the pain in her cheek.

        “I… Ooooo… my cheek.  I remember… hitting Allen… and you hitting Ted… but… I don’t remember the ice cream,” Siren finally said to him.  Taking a deep breath, laying against him, she softly asked, “What did I drink last night that is causing my head to pound the way that it is, m’lord?” She blinked as he said the words not quite sure why she just talked to him the way that she had.  “All right.  Start from the beginning, because I don’t want to walk around for the next day and have half of the complex pointing and laughing at me behind my back.  What happened?” she said softly looking up into his eyes.

        “Let’s see,” Trevor began conversationally, settling back against the pillow, continuing to hold Siren close.  “By last count, you had two Long Island Ice Teas and then you went for broke with a Kamikaze.”  Briefly, he gave her the recipes for the drinks and watched her eyes get big as saucers.  To her, “But I don’t drink!” gasp, Trevor laughed.  “Well, trust me, Siren, you made up for last time last night.”  And while she was still wrapping her mind around that one, Trevor filled her in on the mishap with her dress and then how she pranced around at the party dressed in one of Allen’s shirts and the infamous glow in the dark boxer shorts with hearts on them.

        The shade of red in her face was priceless, and by now, he was close to gasping, he was laughing so hard.  “But!” he insisted holding her closer still, even though she was scowling, muttering and mortified.  “But the best part by far was hearing how you learned the Macarena in nothing flat, and then had a half dozen guys in the kitchen just dying to see you do it again.”

        Siren had never been so embarrassed in all her life.  Slowly, she laid her head down on his chest once again, this time, her nose and forehead resting lightly on his chest, her hair hiding her face.  “Oh… my… gawd.  I’m never leaving this room,” she said lightly only bringing more chuckles from him.  She lightly hit his chest with her hand to stop him, but all it did was egg on the laughter even more.  She couldn’t help but lightly chuckle at her own misfortune.  Finally, she looked back up at him and said, “And I don’t know how to dance.” 

        “Maybe before last night you didn’t,” Trevor grinned at her.  “But you are one quick study.”  He cocked his head slightly and looked into her eyes, his own eyes twinkling.  “Wish I’d seen it.”

        Shaking her head, she grinned then asked, “Then what happened?”

        This question took some of the lightness from his thoughts.  “After that,” he told her quietly, “I belted Allen when he hit you, and then brought you back here.  And, after your father read you a fairly quiet chapter of the riot act, you took a shower, then began the encounter with the chocolate ice cream…” he let the sentence and thought trial off.

        He could tell by the look in her eyes, she knew… could feel how this conversation had worked its way around to how they were pressed up against each other so intimately.  “And that…” he finished softly, moving the hand holding her up from the silken softness of her waist to caress her cheek, “… is how, more or less, you came to sleep in my arms last night.  End of story,” he told her, and then added almost as an afterthought, “… if you want it to be the end.”  He glanced at her mouth, then meet her gaze and waited.

        Listening to him, Siren couldn’t believe what had happened, but when he glanced at her mouth, she couldn’t help but do the same.  But, she knew by the way that he had touched her cheek that all they had done with sleep.  She trusted him completely; she didn’t have cause not to.

        But when she lightly licked her lips, she leaned toward him.  She kissed him lightly and caressed her way up from his chest to his cheek.  She placed small kisses along his mouth and lightly sucked at his bottom lip.  Moving back away from him, she slowly leaned back away from him.

        There was more than just a ‘thank you’ in the way that Siren kissed Trevor, and the way that his pulse was starting to throb told Trevor that.  When she leaned back away from him, her hair fanning out over her pillow, her eyes luminous with, what he could only hope was the beginning of feelings for him, he shifted his position, this time following her.  Leaning over her, sliding his hand over her waist to hold her as he lowered his head and took her mouth in a kiss that deepened, becoming almost insistent.  Feeling her arms twine around his neck, and the soft little whimper, as he tasted her lips, just encouraged him and he held her closer.

        Siren’s pulse quickened and she pressed even closer against him.  ‘God, you feel so good against me,’ she thought wildly.  When he broke the kiss to begin kissing down the trail he had marked earlier on her chin and throat, she caught her breath in gasps and a light moan escaped her lips when she felt his hand caress it’s way onto her breast, cupping it, enticing her.  “Oh my gawd,” she whispered huskily into his ear as she began to kiss and lick at his ear.

        Siren’s words only fueled the fire that was burning inside of Trevor, and he moved his hand to again hold her more tightly against him, trailing kisses over her throat, licking with the tip of his tongue across her shoulder.  He wasn’t sure if she could hear him when he muttered, “Gawd… I want you,” his lips touching her skin at the words passed his lips.

        Siren heard him mutter something against her shoulder as she kissed her way back up his neck, his jaw and slowly made her way back up to his lips once more.  Yet, even as their tongues met again, she quickly realized how fast this was happening.  Slowly, she wound down the kiss that was quickly enticing her to not stop.  She once again kissed her way down his jaw and whispered huskily into his ear, “Oh… Trevor… gawd only knows what havoc you put me into with a touch or a kiss.”  She lightly kissed him underneath his ear and told him even softer.  “But… I’m not ready… but when I am, you’ll be the first to know.”  When he slowly pulled back to look into her eyes, she hesitantly looked away.

        The end of her sentence got through the fog of desire fogging Trevor’s mind, and slowly… and damned reluctantly… he reined in hard, drawing back.  When he saw her look away from him, Trevor’s mind was more than a bit frustrated.  Nuh uh,’ he thought as he watched her avoiding him. ‘Not this time, Siren.

        “Look at me, Siren,” Trevor said as evenly as he could.  Seeing her chew lightly on her lower lip, he squeezed her closer against him.  “Look at me,” he insisted more firmly.  At last, and he knew, reluctantly and a bit fearfully, she slowly lifted her eyes to his.

        “The time for coyness is gone,” he told her, “and I’m going to tell you like it is.”  He licked his lips but didn’t let her shift her gaze when her eyes flickered to his mouth.  When she was looking into his eyes again, he told her very plainly, “I won’t lie to you.  I want to make love with you right now, Siren.  But I understand that you’re not ready.  That’s okay, but…” Trevor paused to blow out a breath slowly.  “I can’t take much more of you getting me right to the edge and then, in essence, saying, ‘Sorry, not yet’.”

        Trevor saw the defensiveness come up in her eyes but he moved quickly to put a finger over her lips.  “It’s not all your fault, but damn… I’m only human, Siren,” he told her.  “And whether or not you’re ready, you’re not so naïve to think that when you look at me… like… that… that you don’t know what you’re doing.”  He paused.  “All I’m asking is that you be just a little more aware and don’t use me to see how far you can take it, and still not… get burned.  Okay?  It may be funny to you, but for me… I’m ready now, but I’m not going to force you.”

        Then, for both of their sakes, Trevor rolled over and sat up on the side of the bed.  Frustrated, he ran a hand through his hair then sat for a moment, his eyes closed and breathing slowly.

        Siren glared at his back.  ‘How dare you,’ she thought.  Slowly, she moved away from him, thankful that he wasn’t looking at her and quickly, though her head was pounding, went to her closet and got her robe.  Wrapping it around herself, she walked over to stand in front of him.

        “I don’t believe that any of this is funny, Trevor.  I’m sorry if I seem naïve when it comes to such matters, since you obviously know that I’m a virgin… and that you are the first man to ever get close enough to me to get as far as you have.  Excuse me for not understand where you are coming from.  But if you understand that this is something new for me, I would think that you would be…” she stopped herself when she saw him look up at her with what she was about to say.  “If you are so damned ready… why don’t you just take what you need and then go?  If I don’t mean anything to you… just do it and go… just like Allen.”

        Trevor couldn’t believe was he was hearing.  With every word that came out of Siren’s mouth… for all intent and purposes twisting what he’d just said to suit and sooth her mind… the frustration quickly faded to anger.  And she was about to get a full load of it.

        Rising to his feet, she was so close that she had to step back a couple of paces.  “Take a look, Siren,” he told her sharply and moved his hand to his crotch.  “Yes, I’m ready and right now, and it’s because of what I thought you were ready for.  But I’m not Allen,” his tone shifted decidedly colder.  “I have never forced any girl to put out to me, and you damned sure aren’t going to be the first!  Thanks for letting me see that even with love play or foreplay that you are just as naïve about that as you are about the act itself.”

        Stepping around her, he stalked off toward the bathroom.  “Thanks for the wake up call,” he snapped over his shoulder just before he slammed the door shut.

        By the time he was out of the shower, his lips were blue but things were back in perspective again.  Wrapping the damp towel around his hips, he went back into the bedroom to dress.   She was still sitting them, watching him.  He didn’t say a word as he pulled on his clothes and then his boots before leaving the room.  He needed some coffee… some damned strong coffee!

        Always an early riser, Xavier was up at dawn, and as had been his habit since she had come into his life, and especially because of the current situation, he peeked into Siren’s room.  The sight of Siren and Mr. Conroy asleep in each other’s arms, her head pillowed on his chest, his cheek against her hair, and from what he could see, both naked, made him wonder.  And then it made him smile knowingly.

        It was about an hour later, sitting in the kitchen already on his second cup of coffee, reading the Saturday morning paper, when he heard voices coming from Siren’s room.  At first he just smiled to himself.  ‘The lovers are awake,’ he mused silently.  But when he heard a door slam, he put the paper down a moment, a frown creasing his forehead.  There were no other sounds, voices or otherwise, so he went back to his paper.  Fifteen minutes later, he glanced up when Mr. Conroy stalked into the kitchen and without a word, found a cup in the cupboard and helped himself to some coffee.

        “I like it rather strong,” Xavier began, but when Trevor took a long swallow of the coffee without benefit of sugar or cream, and without flinching, it warranted a closer look at his expression.  What Xavier saw there, though neither of them had spoken, told him that nothing happened between him and Siren last night, or even just a short while ago.  Judging by his response to what he asked, it wasn’t because the younger man hadn’t wanted… probably hoped for… something to happen.  “Something wrong, Mr. Conroy?”

        The coffee was as good and as strong as it smelled, but it was only as Trevor was about to take another swallow did he hear Xavier speaking to him.  Only because of who Xavier was, at this time, did he give Xavier his attention.

        A response formed immediately in his mind, and he thought that it might get him another session with Mara, but even that thought didn’t faze him as he shifted his gaze.  He was about to snap, ‘Your daughter is a tease,’ when a sound from the direction of the doorway caught his attention, and both men turned toward it.

        There stood Siren in the doorway, still in her robe and barefoot. By the look in her eyes it was plain she was expecting Trevor to tell Xavier what had just happened.  Trevor noted how her expression became puzzled when he didn’t do what she expected.  Lifting the cup to his lips, he took another swallow of coffee, not batting an eye as he matched Siren look for look.

        Siren knew that at the moment she was the center of attention, and she fully expected Trevor to say something about what had just happened, but when he didn’t, it surprised her.  Dividing a glance between the two of them, she moved into the kitchen saying, “Good morning,” to Xavier, leaning down and kissing his cheek before going over to the refrigerator and pulling out the orange juice.  Pouring herself a tumbler full, she took a small sip of it before putting the jug back up.

        Noticing the silence that filled the room, Siren couldn’t help but feel as if it was her fault.  Lately, everything seemed to be her fault.  It was like she had gone down into a rabbit hole and everything was jumbled and upside down.  ‘Perhaps, I need to eat or drink something that will right everything again, but I’m not looking forward to drinking anything with alcohol in it anytime soon.’

        But when she turned around with the tumbler in hand, she saw Trevor and Xavier trade glances again only to look at her again, and she couldn’t stand it any longer.  It was like there was a conspiracy going on here and it involved her, and… she didn’t like it one damn bit.

        Taking a few steps toward the table, she laid her hand on her father’s shoulder and looked down at him, his paper still in his hands, his eyes focused up on her face.  She saw him glance at her cheek then back into her eyes.  “Excuse me, father, but I have something to settle with Trevor.  It seems that there was a miscommunication error somewhere along the line this morning.” Setting her tumbler of orange juice on the table, she turned to Trevor and met his gaze as she approached him.

        She saw him stand a bit straighter as she approached, and she even saw him look back at Xavier.  Swallowing, she glanced down at her hands before looking back up into his eyes.  She’d always had a problem with apologizing but she knew when she was wrong and this morning, she was wrong for saying what she did to him.

        Taking a deep breath, she began – not caring that her father was sitting behind her, because if he wanted to know exactly what happened in that room, all he had to do was ask Lothos and he would find out.   She wasn’t about to hide anything from him… and she shouldn’t have to.

“I’m not sure of what happened last night between us, what we said to each other… but I do remember a conversation that we had at least a day or so ago.  Of you telling me, that if I felt uncertain to just tell you… not to drop you into a deep freeze and leave you to wonder.  I was trying to tell you.”  She saw his mouth start to move and she brought up her finger to place it against his lips.  “And I obviously did a poor job of telling you.  So, let me tell you how it is.”  She took a step toward him and without lowering her voice, not caring who was behind her, but when Trevor’s eyes flickered back to Xavier, she waited for him to look at her again – her finger still on his lips.

        When his eyes met hers, she licked her lips, her eyes looking directly into his, letting him see the emotion in them for him… only him.  “I want to be with you.  And when the time is right… I know that it will happen… if I haven’t totally blown everything to hell in the process with this speech.”  She lightly tapped his lips with her finger to make sure that he was listening to her and not trying to look back at Xavier.  As far as she was concerned, they were the only ones in the room.  “I was wrong for saying that you were like Allen,” she admitted, lightly shaking her head at him.  “You and he may be best friends, but you are so far on separate ends of the spectrum that it’s unbelievable… and I never should have compared you to him.  That was a mistake on my part – but you frustrated me when you told me that I was naïve.”

        Swallowing and letting him think of that for a moment, she moved her had down to rest it on his chest and lightly tapped his chest where his heart was beating lightly under her hand.  “And you’re right, I am.  But I’m learning as I go, and…” when the tears began building behind her eyes, her chin lightly began to quiver and chocked on her words trying not to succumb to them.  “… And as I’ve… I’ve been told… in the past,” she motioned back to Xavier with her head, “I normally… learn best when charging full bore into a situation… with smoke rolling out of my ears… then only discover afterwards that I’ve overreacted.  I… I’m so very sorry that I’ve upset you.”

        Siren tapped his chest once more where her hand was resting and reached down without breaking her gaze with him and took hold of his hand and placed it over her heart.  “This is what counts, Trevor,” she said to him as she blinked up into his face.  “I just hope that I can repair the damage that I’ve already caused to yours.”  Siren saw the thoughtful expression on Trevor’s face and she slowly took her hand away from his heart and let go of his hand that she held up to her own heart as she felt the emotions overbearing her.

        Stepping back away from him, she reached back for the tumbler full of orange juice, and turned to see Xavier looking at her with approval in his eyes.  Ducking her head lightly, she said, “Excuse me gentleman, I… I need to get dressed and then I’ll make breakfast for us.”  Taking the tumbler with her, she slowly made her way back to her room and shut the door behind her as a sob caught her off guard.  Moving over to the wall, she leaned against it and slid down the wall to softly cry wondering why everything had turned upside down since this gorgeous, wonderful, easy-going, even-tempered man came into her life.

        Temper and frustration, at sometime during Siren’s confession and apology, slipped away from Trevor.  And when she finished then grabbed her glass of orange juice and almost ran back to her room, he couldn’t have moved to follow her; he was rooted to the floor.  He knew his mouth was slightly agape when Xavier told him to shut it.

        Milestones in a child’s life are both a moment of pride and a bittersweet letting go.  Sitting in the kitchen, listening to Siren apologizing and talking to Mr. Conroy as if they were the only two people in the room, Xavier knew she had just passed one of those milestones.  Hearing her promise, because that’s what it was, to this young man, Xavier knew that she had just taken another step away from him.  Sometime in the not too distant future, she would move away completely from him and go to another.  Studying Mr. Conroy as he watched her leave the kitchen, Xavier’s money was on him.

        Smiling to himself, Xavier thought, ‘Only Nathaniel and Zoë had a more fiery, blow-hot, blow-cold relationship than these two.’  Taking another sip of his coffee he watched the young man just staring at the empty doorway.  “She has that rare gift of keeping you constantly on your toes, Mr. Conroy,” Xavier advised him dryly, a thoughtful expression in his eyes.  “But remember,” he waited for Trevor to meet his eyes.  “It’s the high strung ones that are often the most sensitive and need the gentlest of handling.”  Xavier saw the young man nod.  “As well as,” he added, “the most patience to find and get the best out of them.”

        Up until a few days ago Trevor never would have believed that he would one day find himself agreeing with Xavier about anything, given the fact that until he literally ran into Siren, he’d only heard rumors… nasty rumors… about him.  But hearing what he’d just said, he had to agree.  “You’re right,” Trevor told him, setting his cup on the counter and heading for the door.

        “Where are you going?” Xavier asked, succeeding in slowing him down for a fraction of a second.

        Without turning back to face him, Trevor said over his shoulder, “To let a certain young spitfire know that I care… very much for her.”

        Going down the hall to her room, Trevor hesitated a moment before opening the door very quietly.  Even before the door was open, he could hear the soft crying from inside.  Stepping into the room, he closed the door gently though his eyes were fixed on Siren.  Sitting against the wall by the bed, her arms wrapped around her knees and her forehead on her knees, sobbing softly.

        Her hair had fallen down around her face, like a veil shielding her tears from anyone who might look.  But it was the way her shoulders were shaking as she cried that touched him.  From prior experience, he knew that when a girl cried so hard she trembled she was hurting inside.

        Slowly he crossed the room to her, stopping a couple of feet away and kneeled down, sitting back on his heels.  “Siren?” he said softly, waiting. 

        Seeing the tears in her eyes and those washing her cheeks… ‘Gawd, I’ve never been able to stand seeing a girl cry’, he thought.  He knew it was his weak spot but this was different.  This time his heart was in the fray along with hers.  “I’m sorry, too,” he told her gently.  “I… handled some things rather abruptly and without thinking.  And, I don’t want it to come between us.”

        Seeing fresh tears spill down her cheeks as a tremulous smile touched her lips, he went on.  “As long as it takes… until you’re ready, I’ll wait.  You set my life upside down and in a spin, but without you in it… it’s not the same.  And if you’ll let me, I’d like to be there when that moment comes.  Not just then… but as long as you want me to be around.”

        Growing up as she had, secured in a complex – leading a very sheltered life because of who she was, who her father was, Siren had only felt this way a couple of times.  Her heart had been protected – treasured, so to speak.  There were less than a handful of people who had witnessed those previous similar experiences, those being Xavier, for obvious reasons; Lothos, her boss since she did put her heart into her work; Dr. Hugen, not only her doctor, but a confidant and friend and Olivia Robertson, who had been the mother figure to her that she never had.

        But exposing her heart the way that she just did to Trevor scared her tremendously.  The fear of being hurt, used, and rejected was overwhelming, but even more so was the fear of him leaving at the end of the punishment and not wanting anything to do with her.  If she continued to act the way that she did, she was sure that would be the case.  But another thought came to her just as quickly, ‘I need him.’

        Hearing what he had to say not only relieved her, but it also made her want to cry more.  Bringing her hand up to her mouth, she closed her eyes and turned her head away from him only for a moment, before she wiped her cheeks. 

        It was then that she noticed something that she had never saw him do before - he opened his arms to her.  It was a tense couple of seconds before she acted.

Sniffling, she scooted over toward him.  Wrapping her arms around him and laying her head against his chest, she hugged him tightly.  “As long as you want to be around… I’ll let you in, Trevor… always,” she said muffled into his sweater.

Trevor closed his arms around her and held her like he’d never let her go… because it finally dawned on him that he didn’t want to let go.  Her words just etched his feelings into marble.  Softly touching a kiss on her hair, he told her quietly, “Then I’m here… always.”  When she couldn’t hold back another little sob, he rubbed a hand soothingly over her back and rocked her for a moment.  “We may have some rousing fights from time to time… my own,” he dared to use the one endearment, the only one, that his father used to his mother. “But for as fiery as they may be, something tells me the make-ups afterward are going to be even better.”  Putting a finger under her chin he tilted her beautiful, bruised face up to his.

For a moment, he just looked into her eyes; saw how her chin was still quivering lightly in spite of the hesitant smile on her lips.  “Why are you crying?” he whispered to her.  But he didn’t give her a chance to answer.  Instead, he drew her up onto her knees, put his arms around her and held her close against him then a moment later; he leaned down and kissed her.

Every bit of desire for her was in that kiss, but there was also, and he hoped that she could feel it, a reassurance that she need not be afraid that he was going to leave her.  Something he’d always rolled his eyes at when he was a kid was when his father would recite how he’d fallen for his mother the moment he met her.  Now he was gladly eating crow because, though this wasn’t the first time he’d met her, this was the first moment that he’d seen and been allowed close to the real Siren – the girl with a tender heart hidden behind a mask – like the one she usually wore to protect herself.

“I’m not leaving you,” he told her.  “Not now, not ever.”

Siren looked deeply into Trevor’s eyes and believed him, as well as believing all over again the one thing that he father had told her over and over, that actions spoke louder than words.  Reaching up to wipe at her face, she sniffled again and swallowed, trying to calm herself down.  So many things had already been said.  Except for the obvious, and as she looked into his eyes, she realized that even though it could be seen plainly in her eyes, she wanted… no, she needed to voice those feelings to him.  Taking a deep breath, she softly told him, “I’ve fallen in love with you, Trevor.”

The rush of warmth that filled Trevor – there wasn’t anything like it before in his lie… and it was the greatest thing in the world.  Words that he had never felt compelled, or wanted, to say to any other girl since he’d discovered them in seventh grade, now, he offered them to this auburn-haired spitfire that now held his heart in her hands.

“What took you so long?” he smiled softly down at her.  “I fell for you the first time I ran into you.”  When she giggled at that, he added, “It just took a while for it to get through the hardheadedness.”

Siren couldn’t help but smile at him.  “I guess it took the same amount of time to get through the same thick auburn hair.”  She shook her head and lightly leaned up and kissed his lips once more.  “You just remember who told whom first,” she told him then kissed his nose before she stood up.  Looking down at him, she laughed when he hugged her legs.  “What are you doing?” she asked him.

Grinning up at her, he teased, “Just making sure you don’t run away,” but before he had the chance to do or say anything, Siren vanished from his eyes and his embrace.


He wasn’t sure what woke him, but a glance down to see that Siren not only had her head still on his chest, but now she had an arm over his waist and was pressed close against him.  It didn’t last long, maybe ten minutes but then he had to shift a little and she woke.





        Keeping his gaze fixed on the sweep second hand of the clock, Thames silently began counting down the remaining seconds…’Thirty… twenty-five… twenty… eighteen… seventeen… sixteen… fifteen… fourteen….’

        The lecture hall door slamming open just then caused all three people already waiting, to jump.  But that didn’t matter at all to Vaughn Rickar as he took his place before Thames and came to attention just as Lothos spoke aloud.

        “Both challenges have been completed in the allotted time.”




In other competitions among leapers when a higher ranking spot needed a replacement, Thames had seen many close time calls, but seeing Vaughn Rickar snap to attention before him one second and Lothos calling end of time to the challenge the next, was the closest ever. 

        'Gotta give the man points for beating the deadline,' he thought privately.  When it was apparent that Lothos was not going to speak further, Thames resumed his authority and spoke to both of them.  For as good as it sounded, much of it was prompted by what he was hearing in his head from Lothos.

"That was cutting it damned close, Mr. Rickar," he noted but without animosity.  "I trust that the criteria for the challenge was met."  Shifting his attention to Johanna, there was no missing how the front of her left shoulder was bloody and Johanna was the least bit pale around her lips though her stance was firm and steady, her attention focused.

'I can't wait to hear the story behind that little badge,' the current Senior Observer mused.  But a verbal nudge from Lothos through his implants steered Thames back to the moment.

"Beginning in one minute," he announced. "You will have eight hours to rest and recoup yourselves.  However, those eight hours will be spent in one of the isolation rooms on this level."  Glancing at Vaughn he thought he saw a flicker of something in the man's eyes, but whatever it had been, if there had indeed been anything there, was gone.  "You will have access to a bathroom, and you will have a meal before you retire.  Leaper Royden..." Thames noted how Johanna's stance tightened to full attention, not the tiniest trace of pain appearing in her expression as she pulled her shoulders back a bit, her chin lifting. "After you shower, Dr. Simon will attend to your injury.  Per Lothos' instructions, you will receive nothing for the pain during the procedure."  He paused again then added, "Again, per Lothos' order, you are to sleep at least six hours prior to the final challenge. Any questions?"  Not receiving any, he stepped back a pace then said crisply, "Very well.  In one minute from now you are dismissed and are to report to Isolation Room Two at the other end of the hall.  Once inside the room, the non-speaking order is lifted but only in that room."

Glancing at the clock above the lecture hall doors, he watched it sweep the seconds away and finally stated, "Dismissed.  You will be ordered back here in exactly eight hours."

"Yes sir," both of the leapers retorted back, then each glanced at the other before Johanna watched Vaughn turn in one fluid motion and walk out of the room to go to Isolation Room Two; where not only they would rest and sleep, but also shower.

Johanna glanced at Dr. Simon standing beside her, and without even a nod, followed the handsome one that had run in at the last moment to ruin her chances.

By the time she made it to the Isolation Room, Vaughn's black fermi suit had been stripped and was laying on one of the two beds in the room.  Walking over to the second bed, closest to the showers, Johanna sat on the bed and at last motioned to Dr. Simon to sit on the bed as well.  She would allow Vaughn the decency of at least showering alone. 

Although she knew that she could talk in the privacy of this room alone, she stayed silent as the good Dr. Simon prattled on.  She closed her eyes and waited for him to finish, but when it seemed that he wasn't, she turned her head to look at him to at least give him the attention warranted toward him and arched an eyebrow in curiosity.

"I don't know how you got this," Steven murmured quietly as he picked at the torn fabric, peering closely at the stab wound. "But it doesn't look too serious.  How did you get this injury, Ms. Royden?"  When there wasn't an answer immediately forthcoming, he paused and looked closely at her face.  "Ms. Royden...did you hear me? How did this happen?"  The young woman's facial expression, especially the arched eyebrow gave him the feeling that she considered him a nuisance, albeit, a nuisance that had to be tolerated.  Still, they were both here in this room because of Lothos' order, so he repeated his last question, "How did this happen?"  Her response, however, rocked him back a little on his heels, and for a moment he just stared at her.  Treating injuries to leapers was part and parcel of his duties as a doctor in Lothos' complex.  But this one....

Johanna licked her lips slightly then set her eyes firmly with his.  "It was self-inflicted," she enunciated as the dull ache flared when he placed his thumb near the outer edge of the cut.  Johanna pulled back slightly and her jaw set firmly.  "After I have my shower, just do your job and take care of it."

Dr. Steven Simon continued to gaze steadily at the leaper, privately amazed that she had done this to herself.  Yet again, as he had done over the years, he was grateful yet again that he had never felt the smallest yen or inclination to be a leaper.  He might have to work under Lothos' domination, but that didn't mean that he wanted to sacrifice his life on the altar of Lothos' lofty goals.

"Don't worry, I will," he responded shortly.  Any chance to say anything else was dispensed with at that moment when the bathroom door opened and Vaughn Rickar, freshly showered and a damp towel hitched around his hips, emerged.

Feeling better after the hot shower, the tall, dark-haired leaper paused in the door, sparing Johanna a look over, his gaze fixing on her injury a moment before he said, "I used the yellow toothbrush," then went to the bed nearest the door.  Not caring about the others, he dropped the towel and reached for the pair of folded blue pajamas placed on the pillow, extracted the pants and put them on.  The pajama shirt he picked up and laid it on the low, two-drawer chest between the beds then turned to look across at Johanna.

"Better get in the shower," he told her.  "You wait too long, and that shoulder's going to start to stiffen up."  Seeing the way the brunette's chin lifted as if defying him, he shrugged.  "Suit yourself," was all he said, and then picked up the phone that was the only object on top of the chest.  Punching in the number for special orders, he ordered a hot roast beef sandwich with grilled onions, fries and two Cokes.  Hanging the phone up, he glanced at Johanna and saw her expression.  "You eat what you want, and I'll do the same," he told her then proceeded to stretch out on the bed, folding his arms behind his head.

Seeing that Vaughn was already finished with his shower and ordering his food before stretching out on the bed, Johanna was more than a bit disgusted with him.  Raising an eyebrow, she slightly shook her head then stood and went inside the showers. 

Stripping out of the fermi suit with a wound that hurt like hell was a bit much and after she was fully unclothed, she rested her forehead against the shower stall as her right hand turned on the water.  She wasn't sure how she was going to make it through the rest of the competition with her shoulder, but she knew that she'd do everything in her power to make sure that she did.

Stepping into the stream of the water, Johanna's head lowered to her chest as it immediately began to relax her.  The spraying water did it's own tense job on her shoulder and she gritted her teeth when soap got in it and burned.  But she made sure that it was clean.  She didn't need some infection to slow her down especially if she did happen to win this competition.

Finishing her shower, and toweling off, Johanna wrapped the towel around her body and started out to the bed opposite of Vaughn's where Dr. Simon sat, his mouth slowly opening in awe.

Johanna ignored him as she sat the clothes down that she had in her arms in the chair close by, then sat down on the bed, her shoulder still in desperate need of aid.  In fact, even as she glanced down at it, she noticed blood trickling down toward the towel that was barely covering her bosom.  "Shall I continue to sit up, Dr. Simon, or lay down?" she asked letting him for the first time see the pain in her eyes.

Before he could respond, her eyes raised to see Vaughn's opened-mouth expression as well before she looked back at Dr. Simon to hear his reply.

Far be it from Vaughn Rickar to not appreciate a nice figure, even if that figure belonged to his rival for the position of Chief Leaper.  The sound of the bathroom door opening had drawn his attention, and he didn't spare the appreciation for what was barely covered with a towel.  Still, he hadn't said anything as Johanna dropped her clothes on a chair by the bed then moved to sit beside the doctor again.  He glanced at the physician then silently chuckled to himself.  'Some guys just don't know about subtlety,' he thought to himself.  But that notion was brushed aside when he heard Johanna ask the doctor, "Shall I continue to sit up, Dr. Simon, or lay down?"  'Oh come on... look my way.  You won't have to hear my answer' he thought.  He gave Johanna a slow grin when she looked at him then tacked on an open-mouthed expression of appreciation for what he was seeing.  Not by a whit did her ignoring him to focus on the doctor bother him.  He had been ignored by the best...'but they always come around.'  So, settling a bit more comfortably, he prepared to enjoy whatever 'show' he got from the doctor and Johanna during the procedure on her shoulder.

Steven Simon didn't realize his mouth was open until the injured leaper put her question to him as she sat down beside him.  Nudity didn't bother him – after all, he was a doctor.  That, however, didn't stop him from being a man.  It took him a moment to drag his thoughts into line again, and focus on why he was sitting beside her on the bed.

"Oh... uh... you can remain sitting up," he answered her, then turned his gaze and focused to the lightly bleeding wound in her left shoulder.  Pulling on gloves, he reached to explore the shallow wound with his fingers, first and then a small probe.  He hesitated when Johanna sucked air in sharply between her teeth.  "I'm sorry," he apologized.

"Forget it," Johanna said shortly, keeping her right hand clamped on the snug fold of towel that held the damp terrycloth in place.  "Just do what you have to."

By the time there was a knock at the door, a worker from one of the cafeteria's bringing his meal, Vaughn had to privately give his competitor high marks for enduring having three stitches put inside the wound and another four on the outside to close it.

Taking the tray from the man, Vaughn just nodded then closed the door and went to sit at the plain desk on the opposite side of the room, angling his chair so he didn't miss any of the 'entertainment'.

Applying medication on the gauze bandage first, Dr. Simon applied it to the now sutured wound then taped it securely in place.  "Alright, you can get dressed now," he said as a matter of routine as he started to clear away the items used, putting them in a small plastic bag and sealing it so it would be disposed of back at the infirmary.  "Since Lothos ordered you weren't to have anything during the procedure, I think it would be acceptable for you to take a couple of Extra Strength Tylenol.  It will dull the pain but won't impair your thinking or physical reactions." He glanced at her shoulder, saying, "Those stitches will be reminder enough of that."

Laying two individual packets containing two caplets each of the Extra Strength Tylenol on the small chest by the bed, the doctor stood up, his medical bag in hand.  "Do you need help in dressing, Leaper Royden?" he asked.

Johanna raised her eyebrow slightly at him.  "I haven't been helped in dressing since I was two, sir."  She smiled seductively up into his face.  "But... is that an invitation?"

The way that Dr. Simon's face turned beat red was enough to make Johanna Royden smile even more.  Johanna stood up beside him and leaned in slightly to where he was the only one that could hear her, "Thank you for asking, but I think I have it covered."  She started to back away then stopped and leaned forward once more and placed her cheek against his and whispered, "All joking aside, thank you."  Turning slightly, she brushed her lips at the back of his cheek almost under his earlobe then turned to get the clothes that were placed at the end of the bed.

Vaughn had to force himself not to laugh upon seeing the doctor turn red at Johanna's comment; he didn't dare; if he did he would choke on the bite of roast beef he was chewing.  By the time he finished chewing and had swallowed, the doctor had made his escape and it was just him and Johanna in the room.  Lifting his sandwich to take another bite, he hesitated, saying, "If you need help with... anything, just say the word."  To the look that got him, he smiled knowingly at her then glanced at his sandwich then bit at a sliver of roast beef, using his tongue to work it into his mouth as he held her gaze.  "I know where everything goes," he added when he had swallowed the bit of beef.

        Reaching for one of the Cokes, he lifted the bottle to his lips and took a couple of swallows.

Johanna knew that she wasn't going to get into that kind of conversation with Vaughn Rickar, whether he knew where everything went or not. 

Turning slightly so that her back was facing Vaughn with the pajama top in her hand, she grinned as she let go of the towel and let it fall completely to the floor.  Hearing sputters behind her, she grinned even more so as she tilted her head to the side and lifted one arm up above her to slide into the pajama top before buttoning it up.  Just as expected, the pajama top was long enough for her to wear as is.  Pulling her hair across to her right shoulder, she walked to the table and picked up the phone and called for her dinner. 

It was during her order of, one large pizza and 2 cokes as well that she heard more sputters from behind as she leaned over to pick up a piece of paper that she had knocked off the table.  It was then that she realized what she had done and although she was slightly embarrassed, she put on her game face and sat down on the bed to wait for her food to get to her.  It was only then that she looked over at Vaughn as she slid one slender leg up to look at him.  "Are you... okay, Vaughn?  Don't need... CPR, or the Heimlich maneuver or anything, right?" she questioned softly.

        There was no way that Vaughn could have denied that he was watching when Johanna had picked up the pajama shirt from her bed, nor would he have wanted to deny it.  Setting the Coke bottle down again, he glanced at the plate on the table beside him and picked up a couple of French fries and lifted them to his mouth.  He was just putting them in his mouth at the instant that he saw Johanna's towel drop to the floor and in a matching smooth move, lift one of her arms to slide it into one of the sleeves of the pajama shirt.  He didn't realize how focused he was on Johanna until he swallowed then instantly started coughing.  It was only then that he realized that he hadn't chewed the fries. 

Clearing his throat, he spit the un-chewed fries on the plate and grabbed the bottle of Coke and took a swallow, then another.  But the second swallow, instead of going down his throat, went down the wrong pipe and he started coughing and spluttering, dropping the bottle on the table.  Somewhere in the coherent lobe of his brain, the leaper was cursing himself for reacting... like he had when Johanna had bent over to pick up something that had fallen on the floor as she hung up the phone. Gasping in a breath just as he felt something dribble out of his nose, Vaughn forced himself to focus on getting another breath then another. 

Not until he was breathing properly again, did he lift his head and in spite of his better judgment, glanced across the room at his competitor. The way she was sitting on the side of the bed with one leg drawn up, her hands clasped around it and, he'd swear, posing herself kittenishly as she looked at him, he would have sworn she had done it deliberately. 

To her soft question, he stood to his feet and started to say something.  It was the feel of wetness dripping from his nose and then from his chin to his chest that distracted him, and he reached a hand up to wipe it away.  Glancing at his hand and seeing a brownish liquid, he mentally kicked himself as he sent her a cool look as he walked past her and into the bathroom.

"I'm fine," he retorted shortly then went to the sink and grabbed a washcloth, wet it with cold water and wiped his face and upper chest.  Draping it haphazardly on the rim of the sink, he returned to the other room and to his meal.  Picking up what was left of his sandwich, Vaughn proceeded to finish it.  Not even when Johanna's pizza and Cokes arrived did he pause or give any sign that he noticed or even cared.  He wasn't going to be caught a second time.

Johanna thanked the young man who brought the pizza to her and smiled at him before he managed to leave.  It was then that she happily dug into the pepperoni pizza.  By the time that she finished over half of it, she glanced over at Vaughn to see him reclining back on his cot, casually looking up at the ceiling as if waiting on her. 

Even though she had gotten her "jollies" so to speak with Vaughn earlier, she knew that it was wrong to keep him awake, if he needed to sleep.  Clearing her throat, she said softly, "I apologize if I'm keeping you awake."  When his eyes turned to meet hers, she blinked then was unable to keep herself from raising her hand to her shoulder as pain swept through it. She closed her eyes, bowed her head slightly and winced. 

“No problem,” Vaughn replied.

She took in a deep breath and let it out slowly then knowing that Vaughn needed his rest as she needed hers, she slid the pizza box off of the cot and onto the floor and stood to go turn off the light.

She paused several times as waves of dizziness swept through her but she managed to hit the light then turn to go back toward her cot.  By the time she was to it, she began to try to push back the covers with her right hand, but they seemed firmly in place.  Frustration set in and Johanna just sat down on the made up bed and then leaned back on the pillow and let out the breath that she'd obviously been holding then cursed.  Why can't I get through one of the exercises without hurting myself?’ she wondered and closed her eyes hoping that sleep would come very soon.

Hearing her cursing softly under her breath, followed by the sound of the mattress when she at last got on the bed, he started to say something then hesitated. A minute passed before he heard her stopped wiggling and shifting on her bed.  But even when all was quiet, in spite of himself, he couldn't help asking, "Are you okay over there?"  When she didn't reply, Vaughn decided to take matters into his own hands. 

Sitting up, he swung his legs over the side of the cot and stood up and moved the three steps over to Johanna's cot.  Deciding to be very careful, he reached up toward the top of the bed then moved his hand down until he touched her hair then slipped it out a bit and down to touch her shoulder.  When she didn't hiss in pain, he asked quietly, "Are you okay, Ms. Royden?"  In one way he was glad it was dark in the room; in another he wished the light was still on; but it wasn't so he waited to see if she was going to answer or not.

 Johanna had wiggled and squirmed on the bed as much as she wanted but couldn't find a decent position and just stopped.  It was then that she heard Vaughn ask her if she was okay and instead of answering, she just shook her head.  But when she heard movement in the room, then felt a presence beside her, as well as a hand on her left shoulder, and Vaughn Rickar asking if she was okay in a professional manner, Johanna finally opened her mouth to answer to him. 

The sound of Johanna's voice was soft, almost husky as she told him, "No Vaughn... it... hurts."  There was no mistaking that she was being truthful, after all, he had watched the doctor stitching the wound.  But he could almost swear there was more in her tone than just an admission of pain. 

Sliding his hand down her arm, the leaper frowned then asked, "Why aren't you under the covers?"  To her admission that she hadn't been able to pull then tightly tucked in sheet and blanket back, he responded with quiet firmness.  Feeling on either side of her shoulders, he located the edge of the sheet and blanket and got a grasp on them.  "I'll help you," he began. 

“You don’t have to….”

He replied patiently, as he remembered doing with his youngest sister years ago, "I know that, but I'm going to never the less."  When she didn't rebut his words, he continued.  "Okay, now roll toward me so I can pull the covers loose.  That's it, now the other way.  Sorry," he murmured when he heard her suck in a sharp breath as she turned slightly on her injured shoulder. 

Once he had the covers loosened, Vaughn instructed her, "Now brace your shoulders against the bed and lift your hips so I can pull the covers down so you can get your feet and legs under them."  When she went still, not trying to move, he wondered.  "I'm just trying to help you get comfortable, Johanna," he said quietly.  That seemed to trigger something and he felt her obey his instructions.  It was a bit of awkwardness but it worked.  What neither of them expected though, was when, as he was pulling the covers up over Johanna once she was under them, was when one hand stroked against her body... as well as where that touch happened to land.

Vaughn couldn't believe he was hearing the words come out of his mouth as he murmured, "Sorry," then started to move back to his own cot.

At the moment that Vaughn's hand brushed against the smooth material of the pajama top above her breast Johanna fought herself to continue to breath normally, especially after he had apologized for it.  She even felt him straighten up, but even as much as it hurt, she reached out with her left hand and caught his hand.  "Vaughn?" she called softly forgetting to take the husky tone away for a moment.

She felt him turn back to her and she slowly slid her hand up his arm and reached over with her other hand to slightly pull him down toward her.    She raised herself up off the cot and met him halfway then remembered how it felt when he was in the hallway with her earlier... how the tension had been thick... and the want... even more so.

Placing her cheek against his cheek and very softly placing her right hand against his other cheek, Johanna cooed softly and honestly, "Thank you, Vaughn.  No matter what the conclusion of this venture, I don't forget acts of kindness... thank you."  Only then did she lean back from him and with a small lick of her lips, plant a small peck on his lips.  It was only the feeling of wanting more than made Johanna lay back down on her bed.

If she had just let go of him when she lay back again, Vaughn wouldn't have thought much more about the moment and gone back to his own cot.  After all, they both needed rest for the final challenge that would begin in a little over six hours.  But Johanna hadn’t released her right hand from his shoulder, and instead of reminding her, allowed her to draw him down to her.  It wasn't necessary to say anything.  It was easy to find Johanna's warm lips in the dark and Vaughn tasted them more than willingly. 

The feel of Johanna sliding both arms around his neck, holding him closer as the kiss deepened felt good.  But Vaughn knew that if he gave in to her, they would still be together when Lothos woke them for the final challenge.

Though it was the last thing he wanted to do just then, Vaughn released his own hold of Johanna, and placed one hand on her pillow on either side of her head and gently then more resolutely pushed up and away from her.  The silence was broken by both their heavy breathing until at last he took a deep slow breath and let it out. 

        "Get some sleep," was all Vaughn said as he stood up and moved back to his cot and pulled the covers over himself and turned on his side away from her.  He wasn't sure how long he lay in the darkness before he fell asleep.  The only he was sure of in that time though, was that he had to keep reminding himself that right now she was his rival.  It was that thought alone that kept him in his cot until sleep finally claimed him.



Back To Top