ladydeathfaerie: (Jean Claude)
[personal profile] ladydeathfaerie posting in [community profile] marysuevirus
Title: Once Upon a Dream
Chapter One: Lonely in Your Nightmare
Fandom: Anita Blake universe
Rating: 18 and up
Warnings: possibly (appearing) graphic sex and definitely (appearing) graphic violence, language, anything else i can toss in.
Disclaimer: the recognizable characters and places contained herein are the property of LKH. i'm merely borrowing for the sake of entertainment. no money is being made from this venture. the Sues are the sole property of their originators, [livejournal.com profile] ginevra, [livejournal.com profile] dazzledfirestar, [livejournal.com profile] nanaeanaven, [livejournal.com profile] sessys_fangirl and [livejournal.com profile] ladydeathfaerie. the concept and title of The Mary Sue Virus are used with permission from Dazzledfirestar

Author's Notes: this is something that just jumped out of the blue and grabbed hold of me. so here's the first chapter. my brain is weird. i'm so sorry. this fic takes place sometime in the future after the end of Beyond Death. so i've got to be careful with what i put here so i don't give the other one away. yay. go me. i'm so stupid.

Once Upon a Dream - Index Link

~*~*~*~*~

She woke to fire burning at her throat and lethargy stealing the strength from her limbs. She woke to a darkened room that smelled of smoke and old death. She was cold and slow, her brain too thick to allow thoughts. Slipping back into the arms of slumber felt like a good idea, prompting her to close her eyes and drift again. Cold of a different type washed over her, letting her know that she wasn't alone. That sensation forced her eyes open, forced her to try and find the source of the cold. She mouthed a pair of words but, though her lips moved, no sound came out. Shadows shifted and moved around her, solidified into two pale figures that watched her closely. Intensity glittered in their eyes, the eyes of predators watching their prey. Something about that was wrong, but she couldn't find the reason why. Again, she made the effort to speak and, again, no sound passed her lips.

And then there was a gasp as fangs broke the skin and sank deep. The instinct to fight kicked in, but she couldn't lift her arms. As if aware of her thoughts, a hand gathered her arms together, one at a time, and pinned her wrists to the mattress above her head. A second hand gripped her chin and turned her head to the side so sharply that it felt like her neck would break. A second set of hands shoved her thighs wider apart, the weight of a body settling heavily over one leg. She was pinned down, trapped, unable to move. She didn't know what was going on here, but she'd never figure that out if she let the vampires drain her dry. If she was going to get out of this, if she was going to survive, she was going to have to have help. Jean-Claude? Jean-Claude, please. Help me. I need you.

Time was a concept she couldn't grasp, slipping through her fingers like water. The only thing she could do was lay there and search for the energy to drive the vampires away. This was a violation, a crime against her person, painful and vile and wrong. She needed to stop them, make them leave her alone. But her thoughts were sludge, making it almost impossible to do anything. Her hands itched for the familiar feel of her weapon, fingers actually twitching for it. Even if she couldn't shoot them, it would be reassuring to have the weight of her Glock in her hand. There was a soft laugh, harsh and cold and abrasive. It shoved the thought of her gun aside and left her shivering under the weight of the vampires.

If she didn't do something, and do it soon, they were going to kill her.

Another wave of cold flowed over her, glided along her skin in a gentle caress that left her awash in a feeling of warmth and safety. She knew this one, had felt it many times before. She couldn't move her head, the hand holding her chin keeping it immobile. But that didn't stop her from rolling her eyes until she found him. Dark hair tumbled over his shoulders in a riot of curls, dark against the white of his shirt. He stared at her, eyes somehow glittering even though the room seemed to be in shadows. She couldn't see an ounce of emotion in them or in the lines of his face. Something was different about him, but she couldn't place it. That didn't really matter. All that mattered was that he was there and he could help. She tried for words again, tried and failed. She barely managed to form his name in her thoughts this time.

Everything happened so quickly. He spoke. Not to her, but to the two vampires with her. It was in French and she didn't understand a word of it, but there was a familiar tone to his voice, an arrogance she knew so well. The others lifted their heads, stared at him a moment, spat answers back in French. The hold they both had on her tightened, as if letting them both know that these strange vamps were not going to give her up. Jean-Claude said something else, then there was a swell of power that filled the room. He moved in a blur of vampiric speed, forcibly dragged the two strange vampires off of her. They went airborne, one after the other, sailing across open space to hit with a solid thunk against the far wall. She was vaguely aware of the two of them gaining their feet and running for the door, but they were no longer important. With her head free, she could turn it so she could look at him fully. With her hands free, she could reach for him.

There was no strength in her hand. The extremity barely brushed the soft material of his shirt before it started its descent toward the mattress. Her fingers snagged on the lace of his cuff a moment, then dropped and brushed against his thumb. A shock jolted up her arm, left her gasping for breath. She felt some... thing settle into her chest, heavy and light and hot and cold all at the same time. Judging by the momentary, minute widening of his eyes, he'd felt the same thing. One elegant hand reached out to brush a few strands of hair out of her face before he carefully pulled the bedding around her. When he lifted her, her limbs flopped like rubber. It told her that the other vampires had taken far too much blood. But how had that been possible? And why couldn't she remember meeting them? Her thoughts were brushed away like decaying leaves on a brisk fall breeze when Jean-Claude's strength closed around her and he brought her close to his chest. Another jolt washed through her. She sighed at the rightness of it all, then gave in to the pull of exhaustion and let her eyes slip shut.

Time progressed in a series of disjointed images, like broken pieces of film that had been spliced together without care. For a moment or two, her eyes opened long enough to show her a stone ceiling illuminated by flickering golden light. Then the darkness came back for a bit before the scene switched and she found herself settled in a chair. She heard the sounds of rustling and a touch of muttering before she was once more lost to the nothingness. The next thing she was aware of was being naked and cold. She could just make out the tattered remains of something white on the floor at her feet. Her eyes drooped again, blocking out the moving shadows on the other side of the room. Voices pulled her from her stupor the next time, angry voices that were low and spoke in French. Her head rested against a soft pillow and she found she was once more laying down. A plush throw had been laid over her, wrapping her in warmth. She tried briefly to make sense of the words and cursed herself for not paying attention to her high school French. Jean-Claude's voice was easily recognizable, smooth and steady and sexy. She'd know it anywhere. The second voice sounded familiar and she was sure she'd heard it before, but she couldn't place when or where.

It was still hard to form words, as if her voice had gotten stuck in her throat. And she wanted to call out to them, wanted to beg Jean-Claude to come comfort her and explain what was going on. Instead, she was left with listening to the two of them argue back and forth, their French coming fast and angry. More than that, their anger swelled around them, filled the room in tandem with their power. Jean-Claude's was easy to latch on to. She'd know it anywhere. The other power somehow tasted familiar, like the voice it belonged to, but her thoughts were still too sluggish to be of any use. Still, there was an impressive amount of power filling the room and it was all coiling around her like vines clinging to a trellis. She shuddered at the feel of it even while some small corner of her brain told her yet again that there was something wrong very about this whole mess.

She tried to focus on the two of them, but it was becoming increasingly difficult. The blood loss was working against her, trying to draw her back into the waiting arms of unconsciousness. She didn't want to go. She wanted... No, she needed to talk to Jean-Claude. There was something very not right with what was happening and she was having a hard time putting her finger on it. All of her senses were screaming in warning. It made her wish she had her gun in hand and possibly Edward at her back. She felt naked without her gun. And the lethargy and weakness had to go. How was she supposed to function if she couldn't even keep her eyes open?

Unconsciousness had almost claimed her when fingers of power stroked along her skin like the hands of a lover, sending a spear of emotion and memory skittering along her nerves. She pried her eyes open long enough to see Jean-Claude kneeling before her, one hand hovering a scant few millimeters from her cheek. It looked like there was a touch of confusion on his face, then it, and his hand, were gone. He rose to his feet, looked to his left. Her eyes followed dutifully to see the vampire he'd been arguing with standing there. The look on the man's face was unpleasant, as if he didn't want to be there or her mere presence offended him in some way. If she'd been able, she would have sniffed her armpit to make sure she'd remembered to put deodorant on. But then Jean-Claude was backing away and the other vampire was reaching down to pick her up. He said something in French, his power riding his words in an effort to push her toward slumber. She remembered the feel of that power and tipped her head back far enough that she could look him in the face. His eyes flicked her way, more of his power pressing in against her mind. The feel of it triggered a memory and she found herself standing in the living room area in the main chamber of Jean-Claude's underground lair, staring the man down while threatening to put holes in his suit. Auggie?

That single thought saw something flash through his eyes, but it was gone before she could figure out what it was. And then his power was pressing heavily against her mind, urging her back toward unconsciousness. She tried to fight it, tried to stay awake because there were questions she needed to ask. But her defenses were low and weak, and his power was strong and unending. She gave thought to calling for Jean-Claude once again, but the thought skittered away almost as soon as it came. Auggie's power drove it off as it pushed her down into the darkness. Between one breath and the next, everything had faded into nothing.

~*~

She woke to warmth and hushed voices. It wasn't quite as hard to open her eyes this time, and it was to find herself tucked into a large bed located in a room decorated with taste and elegance. It reminded her of that one time she'd gone to the museum as a young girl and had seen furniture on display, arranged like a real room would have been arranged a century or more ago. There was an armoire on side of the room's door, a low vanity with a large mirror and a stool on the other side. One corner was occupied by a fainting couch and another door opened into what she felt was probably a bathroom. The bed had thin, spindly posts at each corner. The two at the foot were short, possibly only four or five feet tall, while the two at the head of the bed were tall, reaching to the ceiling. There was a partial canopy that extended out to cover about half the bed. The mattress was thick beneath her, soft without being too soft. The pillows under her head were feather, piled high and perfumed with something warm and sweet. There were a few other pieces of furniture in the room, but nothing she cared to study in depth at the moment. Her gaze skimmed over the walls, which were covered with a salmon pink paper at the top with a white wainscoting at the bottom. She frowned at that briefly before turning her attention back to the matter at hand. Figuring out just where the hell she was and why Jean-Claude had allowed Auggie to carry her off the way he had.

Tossing back the thick duvet covering her showed that she was clad in a neck to toe white gown with long sleeves. Lace edged the hem, the neckline, and the cuffs to add a feminine touch. It was a little big for her, the lace edging dragging the floor when she stood from the bed and the cuffs dropping over her fingers to cover them completely. Ignoring that, and the way her head swam, she took a step toward the door, standing slightly ajar. It was from the other side of the panel that she could hear the hushed voices. Her necromancy told her that a vampire was one of the people. Since she couldn't feel the other, she felt safe in concluding that they were human.

There was no chance to take a second step. The human who owned that second voice hurried into the room, French flying from her lips rapidly as she advanced toward the bed. Her hands were raised and motioning toward the bed in a shoo-ing motion that people made when they felt that a person who had previously been ill should still be resting. She could see Auggie over the woman's shoulder, standing in the doorway and smirking at the scene playing out before him. The woman stopped right in front of her and kept waving her hands at the bed, kept going on and on in French. "I don't understand a single word you're saying and I'm not getting back into that bed until Auggie explains to me just what the fuck is going on."

The woman stopped short at that, blinking in confusion for a second or two. Then she turned and shot a look toward the man in question, who merely shrugged. When the woman turned back, there was a faint smile on her face. "My apologies, miss. I was unaware you spoke English." Then the smile died and concern took its place. "Now get back into that bed. You need rest. You shouldn't even be on your feet after two vampires have taken blood."

"I'm fine," she lied. "I've survived worse. Where is Jean-Claude? Why isn't he here?"

The woman glanced over her shoulder at Auggie again. The sense that this whole thing was weird was getting stronger as the minutes passed. Because now that she had the chance to look around and take things in, she could see that the woman was dressed in a floor length gown that had been the fashion more than one hundred years before her birth. And while Auggie was wearing a suit, it was far from the modern version she'd seen him wear before. This whole thing was getting stranger by the moment. "You called him to you earlier. We were afraid you were a witch," Auggie responded, finally stepping into the room. He looked dapper in his not very modern suit, blonde hair curling about his face in a most cherubic manner. She glared at him and crossed her arms over her chest.

"I'm not a witch and you fucking know it. I want to see Jean-Claude. I want to see him now."

"I have never met you before in my life, child. And trust me. I would remember meeting a witch like you."

Oh, this was already getting old. "Call me a witch one more time and I'll cut your fucking head off, then I'll cut your heart out of your chest, and I'll burn all three goddamn parts of you until you're nothing but ash. Tell me why I can't see Jean-Claude."

Augustine sighed at that and shook his head, making his curls bounce. He almost looked... bored? Give her a shotgun and she'd see how bored he was when she was finished. "Mademoiselle, I do not believe you are in any position to make such threats. You are merely human, after all. And you cannot see Jean-Claude because he does not know you. I will not allow you to be in the same room with him after you bespelled him so easily. Now be a good child and get back into bed. Once you're healed up, I will see to it that you are returned to your home."

"Doesn't know me? What kind of bullshit is that? Of course he knows me. You both know me."

"I have never laid eyes upon you before tonight, mademoiselle. Neither has Jean-Claude. I asked him."

She blinked at that. How was that even possible? How could Jean-Claude not know her? She was his goddamn human servant, for fuck's sake. She could feel the marks, coiled around her brain and her heart. She could feel him lingering just at the back of her brain. As if he was listening in. Maybe he was. Maybe he was trying to figure out what was going on, too. Because something was definitely not right. In fact, something was very fucking wrong.

Her quick scan of the room earlier had told her there were windows on either side of the bed behind her. That meant she was in someone's house, not under the Circus. Turning, she headed for the nearest window and pulled back the curtains. The sight that met her eyes was bewildering. She was looking out at a cobbled street. It was lined with square buildings, each one almost an exact replica of the ones around it. Street lights sat on corners, glowing a soft yellow from within the glass globes. Even from where she stood, she could tell that each globe was illuminated by burning flames. There were a few horse-drawn carriages on the street, and one or two wagons that were being pulled by a pair of large draft horses. Men in tall hats and long coats walked down the street with women in gowns that fit close in the front and then blossomed in back with a bustle and rows of ruffles. It didn't look like any place she'd ever seen before and the whole thing was leaving a sick feeling in the pit of her stomach. Please help me. Tell me what's going on. You have to know me. You marked me and bound me to you. Where the hell was she?

After taking a moment to compose herself, she turned to face the two people behind her and gave them her best blank cop face. She could be mistaken and it wouldn't do to get upset if there was no reason to do so. Her gaze slid between the woman and Augustine, both of whom were watching her with a vague sense of curiosity. "Where am I? When am I?" she asked, far more calmly than she was feeling. She watched as the woman exchanged a look with Augustine, then shifted her focus back. Augustine regarded her with all the blank coolness of a really old vampire. Neither one of them were staring at her as if she was totally around the bend. At least not yet. But that could change, depending upon her reaction to whatever they told her.

"You're in Paris, child," Augustine informed her politely. Paris. Okay. Paris was doable. Someone could have dosed her with something to keep her unconscious and loaded her onto a plane, flown her there. It wouldn't take more than twelve hours. Maybe.

"What year is it?"

There was that look again, an exchange between the woman and Augustine that made her think that they were communicating silently. Curious. It was the woman who answered. "The year is eighteen hundred and eighty five."

"Eight...een?" The rest of the words faded into nothing. Eighteen eighty five? That was one hundred and thirty years away from where she'd been when she'd last been awake. How the hell had she ended up nearly a hundred and fifty years in the past? This had to be a mistake, some kind of dream. Or a nightmare. Why here? Why had she ended up here? And how? How had she ended up here? Was she really here or was this some kind of hallucination? Maybe someone had given her some really fucking powerful drugs and she was imagining this whole thing. Maybe, if she pinched herself really hard, she'd wake up back in her bed under the Circus. She'd wake up and Jean-Claude would be at her side and he'd help soothe away the nightmare. All she had to do was wake up. She closed her eyes. Pinched her thigh, dug her fingers in until it felt like she'd left a bruise.

When she opened them again, she found that nothing had changed. She hadn't woken up.

A soft breeze slid through her mind, carrying with it the taste of familiar power. She turned her thoughts inward to find that she was standing in some sort of stone room, like those found in a castle, with large tapestries and heavy wooden furniture. A low fire was burning in the hearth to her left. And she was not alone. He was there with her, raven curls framing his pale face and making his eyes seem all the bluer. He still wore the white shirt with the lace frills on it, but his trousers were similar to the ones Augustine was wearing. He was staring at her with a look that held equal parts curiosity and pity. She wanted to go to him, wanted him to hold her and tell her it would be alright. But she wasn't sure that he would welcome her attention. "You are no witch."

She smiled at that, shook her head once. "No. I am no witch."

"You know me." It wasn't a question. He stepped closer to her, just a touch of confusion showing on his face. "But I have never seen you before."

"Not yet," she told him softly. His stare intensified just a moment. "But you marked me as your own. I'm your human servant and I really wish you were here with me right now."

He moved closer still, just out of reach unless one of them took a single step forward. "You are frightened."

"Of course I'm frightened. I don't belong here. This isn't my time. I..." She looked up at him, one hand lifting as if reaching for him. "I have friends there. A family I've made for myself. You. We have a life together. I'm not just your human servant, Jean-Claude."

He didn't take that last step, remained where he was as he studied her intently. His power slid over her, head to toe, before it withdrew and left her feeling lost. "You have power."

"I do. Power that I willingly share with you." She wondered how much she should tell him, if it would change anything if she told him of things to come. But she'd been in his head enough to say that she'd never caught a whiff of what was happening now. Had he kept it locked away from everyone? Or was it possible that the future him didn't remember this? If that was the case, would it really hurt if she told him what would happen to him in a hundred years or so? She took a deep breath and decided to take a chance. "In my time, you're Master of the City. You have the most amazing relationship with all of the preternatural beings in the city. The wolf is your animal to call. There's a triumvirate. You and I and my friend Minette. She's a leopard. She gave you the leopards so you can call them, too. There are lions and hyenas and tigers and rats and others. Everyone respects everyone. You're a fair master. And you're powerful."

"Because of you?" he asked.

How to answer that? That was a loaded question if she ever heard one. But if she was telling him about their life together, she could tell them about Anita. "Yes and no. I didn't originally bring you this power. I inherited it. From your previous human servant. She was the powerful one. She's the one who helped bring all of the different groups together. You loved her deeply. But because of her power, because of the power you and she shared, she became a target. Someone wanted her dead. And she knew it. So she found a spell that would give her power to someone else of her choosing. That someone else was me."

"What power did she give you? You are no witch."

She sighed. She was on thin ice here. She knew exactly what kind of edicts the council had passed. If someone else was to find her secret out, she was dead. If this Jean-Claude wasn't as willing to ignore the council as her Jean-Claude was, she was dead. But she'd opened this can of worms. And it wasn't like he couldn't figure out that she wasn't strictly human. Best she tell him of her own accord than to have him coax it out of her at the worst possible time. "I'm no witch. I'm a necromancer. So was she."

She saw his interest glow in his eyes. His power washed over her again, reached deep into her soul. It sent a shiver up her spine. It just felt so right to have what felt like his very essence flow over her like that. She wasn't aware that her eyes had slid shut or that she'd swayed on her feet until she was suddenly in his arms. His power jolted through her, made her feel as if she'd been struck by lightning. More than that, whatever it was she'd felt when they'd touched before slammed through her with all the force of a Mack truck. His power called and hers answered, the two of them twining in and out of each other like cats winding through someone's legs. She glanced around her and saw deep blue dancing with dark purple. The colors shifted and flickered as if in a wind, licked at the darkness around them like flames eating away at the shadows. She gasped. She'd never seen his power like this before. Hell, she'd never seen her power like this before.

Her fascination with the visible evidence of their combined powers caught his attention and she watched as he glanced at the twisting flames that consumed them. "Interesting," he murmured, mostly to himself.

"What? Why is it interesting? What does it mean?" she asked him quietly.

"I have heard stories. I have never had cause to believe them until now."

He might have had more to say, but she couldn't be sure. Because pain shot through her. Broke his hold on her and broke the flames apart and pulled her away from him. Jean-Claude faded, the flames dying away as she fell. She screamed, no sound coming from her lips, as the air rushed around her and her limbs flailed wildly. And then she was safe, caught up in a pair of strong arms. Augustine had taken hold of her, eyes searching her face as he carefully settled her on the bed. The woman stood only a few paces behind him, watching them closely. There was something on the woman's face that she couldn't quite put her finger on. What the fuck had just happened? She was willing to bet that the woman was involved. Somehow.

"She needs rest, Augustine. The events of the day have been too much for her," the woman was saying. She wanted to tell Augustine that she was fine, that she didn't want to stay in this place, but her mouth wouldn't form words. Instinct told her that this was because of the woman, that she'd done something. If only she had her gun...

"Thank you for taking her in, Annette. I know I did not give you much notice," Auggie told the woman as he stepped back. She wanted to reach out and grab him, wanted to try and tell him that something was wrong here, but whatever Annette had done had fried all of her circuits. Oddly enough, she felt almost exactly the same now as she had when she'd woken up in that strange room with those strange vampires. Her brain tried to work that one out, but it was rapidly becoming sludge again. Augustine took a moment to tuck her under the blankets on the bed before he and Annette headed for the door. The two of them paused before stepping out into the hall, each one sending her a look. Auggie's looked curious while his companion's seemed to hold a touch of maliciousness to it. She would have to remember to study that length later, when whatever the woman had done to her had worn off.

The last thought she had, as the door closed and she found herself sliding back into the darkness, was of Jean-Claude and getting home to him

~*~*~*~*~

"Jean-Claude? Jean-Claude, please. Help me. I need you."

He woke with a start, a faint sense of panic rushing through his veins. Aedan's voice echoed softly at the back of his mind, a whisper of a long forgotten memory. He was alone in his room, alone in the dark. The satin sheets caressed his skin as he shifted into a sitting position and took a moment to mentally assess everything around him. The lair below the Circus was ripe with activity. He could feel the beating hearts of the few humans who resided in the lair, along with those belonging to the ever present contingent of lycanthropes. His power touched upon the members of his kiss, putting name to each one he came across. When that was done, he let his power stretch outward, let it move beyond the walls of the Circus to find the rest of his bizarre family. He found the wolves and the hyenas, the rats and the lions. He found all of the lycanthropes that made his city home and those that were simply passing through. He stretched his power beyond, seeking out the one person he had yet to feel. Sent it flowing along the marks in his search. They seemed to go on forever, stretching long and thin into the darkness. He finally had to give up after searching for several long minutes and over what felt like miles, unable to follow the marks any further. They never touched upon Aedan. All he knew was he could feel her. She was there. Somewhere. But he couldn't tell where.

As if waiting for him to notice them, the tattered remnants of his dream crept forward into the light. His dream? Wait. That wasn't right. He didn't dream when he slept. Not in all his years as a vampire could he remember ever having a dream. But the sound of Aedan's voice, soft and weak and filled with confusion, filled his head again. He had the sense of something else, something darker, but he couldn't put his finger on it. He didn't like that she was afraid and he couldn't soothe her. Nor did he like that there was something very bizarre going on. He didn't like that Aedan felt distant and far off, that her voice was the stuff of memory...

Memory. Saying the word seemed to open a door in his mind. If that door had been real, it would be old. Made of thick, sturdy wood and bound in iron. Rusted shut from years of disuse. It would be wrapped in cobwebs as thick as his hand. Despite the fact that it wasn't real, it still felt as if the door creaked when it opened, filling his mind with long forgotten memories that felt both neglected and important. Alone in the dark, Jean-Claude let the images flicker through his mind. They were grainy and jumpy, reminiscent of the first movies ever put on film. And, as they played, they became more than dusty memories. They became reality.

It was nearing midnight and still he sat in the chamber Augustine had given him, staring at the flames that danced in the hearth, once again lost in the last time he'd seen Asher. There had been so much anger and hatred. So much pain. He was supposed to be dressing to join Augustine at his club. Spend the night being seen and perhaps hunting for some new, pretty face in the crowd. Not allowing himself to indulge in his guilt. He knew his friend would arrive at any moment and demand to know why he wasn't ready. There would be the usual argument and then the two of them would spend the evening angered with one another and themselves. But there was little enjoyment for him at the clubs and he was not yet ready to have his head turned by a pretty face. He'd tried to explain these things to Augustine, but he'd been unable to make the man understand that he needed more time to grieve. To try and forgive himself. To find a way to move on.

His thoughts of Asher and the coming verbal disagreement with Augustine were put aside in the next moment when a voice, soft and feminine and filled with fear, flooded his mind. She was calling to him, his name a fervent prayer when she said it, filled with a familiarity that somehow felt right. Before he knew what he was doing, he was out of his seat and his room. He wasn't sure where he was going, but he knew that he was being drawn there by the feel of the strange woman. He could sense her somehow, his feet carrying him toward his unknown destination without pause or hesitation.

Fear and confusion washed over him when he came to stand before a closed door. He could feel the power of two younger vampires on the other side, along with the slowing beat of a heart. Pressing a palm to the wooden panel, he took a moment to consider what he should do. Logic told him that this wasn't his problem. Nothing about the woman's voice in his head had sounded familiar. But there'd been a sense of knowing in the way she'd said his name. And there'd been hope and fear. For a moment, he was lost to memory again as he recalled Julianna's fear. And her certainty that he would save her. Guilt ate at him again because he'd failed her and he'd failed Asher. He could not fail again.

The door opened to show him the young vampires on the bed with a woman he'd never seen before. Red hair was spread out on the mattress around her head like a fiery halo and though she couldn't turn her head, her eyes were focused on him. One of the vampires had her hands pinned down, her head held sharply to one side while drinking from her throat. The other was at her thigh. Neither of them made note of his presence, but the woman was watching him. Pleading with him with her eyes. Begging him to end this. His name sounded in his mind again, faint and weak. This time, he felt something more than just the woman. He felt himself. More specifically, his touch upon her. His marks, which he had never given to another soul, were burned into the woman's body to prove that he had claimed her as his own. He didn't question the fact. He just acted.

"Release her," he ordered. The vampires lifted their heads and stared at him. He had no idea who they were, had never seen them before. No doubt Augustine had allowed them to stay. There were always vampires passing through his home. They were young, filled with a good deal of arrogance but not much power.

"We saw her first," one replied.

"Find your own meal," the second retorted. Both vampires tightened their hold. Anger lanced through him. How dare they touch what he had made his?

"The woman belongs to me." He'd barely finished the sentence when he drew his power around him like a cloak. The pair had a moment to stare at him in surprise and fear, then he reached for them. Took hold of them and threw them across the room. The sound they made as they hit the stone wall was meaty and heavy. They were scrambling for the door before they'd even fully gained their feet. But he paid that no mind. His focus shifted to the woman, watched as she turned toward him. Watched as one hand came up and tried grabbing him. Her fingers caught in the lace of his shirt before dropping away, nearly all of her energy gone. But they grazed his thumb, dragged heat down the digit before that heat jolted its way up his arm and into his chest.


Jean-Claude surfaced from the memory with a gasp as that same jolt rushed through him a second time. He remembered now. The whole evening. Everything that had happened, from the moment her voice had sounded in his head until she'd been taken away from him by some... force. Naturally, he'd carried her back to his rooms with the intent on seeing her well again. And he'd run into Augustine, who hadn't understood Jean-Claude's obsession with the strange woman. There'd been arguing. Augustine had been sure that the woman was a witch, that she'd ensorcelled Jean-Claude with her magic and made him her slave. There'd been no way to disabuse him of the notion, because there'd been no way to explain how he'd come to put his marks on a woman he'd never seen before. So Augustine had put his foot down, had bundled Aedan up and carried her off. But he'd been fascinated, unable to stop himself from lingering at the back of Aedan's mind.

"Please help me. Tell me what's going on. You have to know me. You marked me and bound me to you." The whispered words were accompanied by a growing sense of confusion and desperation.

He reached for the lamp beside the bed, clicked it on to allow soft light to flood the room. He had a cell phone laying on the bedside table and he picked it up, hit the button that would dial her phone. He didn't expect her to answer it because he was starting to feel like he knew exactly where Aedan was. But he had to try. He had to be sure. There was a pause filled with silence, then a very faint click before the other end of the line started ringing. It rang half a dozen times, then went to voice mail. Jean-Claude listened to Aedan's message telling people she could not answer her phone and that they should leave a message, listened to the certainty in her voice. It was unlike the voice at the back of his mind. He hung up with the beep. He'd barely taken his finger off the button when the phone rang. The screen told him that it was Augustine calling. Jean-Claude was not surprised.

"What troubles have you calling me so early in the night, Augustine?" he asked after answering the phone.

"I woke up from a dream, Jean-Claude. You were in it. As was your human servant. What the hell is going on?" Augustine sounded very shaken up. Jean-Claude understood. That was exactly how he felt.

"Are you so sure you are dreaming, mon ami?"

There was a pause for a moment, then some creative swearing. "It has to be a dream. Because if it isn't a dream, if I'm dealing with memories... Then your girl is over one hundred years in the past. She can't be one hundred years in the past."

"You called her a witch and claimed she had bespelled me," Jean-Claude told the other man quietly. Even now, memories rushed into his head of the conversation they'd had, how she'd told him things that he'd never remembered until this moment. She'd told him about Anita and herself. She'd told him who and what she was. She'd put her trust in him when she'd had no reason to do so, when she'd known that it was dangerous and ill-advised.

"This is the first I recall the events. I didn't remember it had happened until just now. As if..." Augustine trailed off, obviously unwilling to believe what was playing out in his mind.

"As if her presence in the past triggered the memories for both of us," Jean-Claude finished for him. "I remembered nothing of this, either. Not until just moments ago. Which means these things are happening to Aedan as we speak."

"But how is that possible? How could she have ended up in the past?"

Jean-Claude sighed. "My guess would be magic. As to what kind, I cannot say." He paused as an image of he and Aedan filled his mind, of their power touching and reacting. Blue and dark purple flames danced around them, twined together intimately. It left his heart pounding in his chest and he feared, for just a moment, that he'd never see her again.

"Is there anything I can do?" Augustine's voice, earnest and concerned, pulled him away from the memory. And from Aedan. She was suddenly gone, physical pain left behind in the wake of their being ripped apart from one another. What was happening to her in the past?

Jean-Claude thought about Augustine's question. Was there anything he could do? Was there anything either one of them could do? He wasn't sure. Instinct said that there was nothing to do but wait. And find the person responsible. Perhaps if they could discover what kind of magic was used, it would help them find a way to bring her home. He wasn't hopeful on that count. Magic was fickle and since Aedan was the one it had been used again, Aedan was likely the one who would have to find her way back. She was intelligent. She could manage that. If she could manage to stay alive. The time she had been sent back to was not quite as understanding to someone with her gifts as this day and age was. He could only hope that she would find a way to come home. He heaved a sigh. "Pray, if you still believe in God. Otherwise, I do not believe there is anything anyone can do."

"Jean-Claude, I'm sorry. I--"

He cut the other man off. "You have nothing to apologize for, Augustine. Now you will forgive me my abruptness. I must tell my people what has happened."

Jean-Claude hung the phone up and tossed the phone down on the mattress. Augustine's guilt and feelings could keep for another day. Right now, he had more important matters at hand. Sliding from the bed, he moved to the armoire to find some clothes. It was going to be a long, long night.

~*~

It took nearly half an hour to assemble everyone. That didn't include the time he'd spent on the phone, calling through conventional means those that could not be reached in other ways. He'd wanted everyone important there, so the room in which he was holding the meeting was slightly crowded. Rafael had come, Bobby Lee and Claudia standing on either side of their king. The three of them looked as if they were wide awake and on guard. Not unusual for members of the rodere. Next to the rats were the hyenas. Narcissus had come with Ajax, the two of them wearing so much leather that they looked as if they'd been in the middle of a BDSM party. Isis and Damian, her body pressed tightly against his, took up the spots between the hyenas and the pard. Together, they radiated power the way the sun radiated light. Micah, Minette, Nathaniel, and Rhiannon gave the appearance of being unconcerned, but Jean-Claude knew that Minette and Rhiannon were both curious. The two men with them were calm and tranquil, but that was not out of the ordinary for them. Micah and Nathaniel were often calm and tranquil. Jason bridged the gap between the pard and the pack, tying the two groups together simply by belonging to both. He sat next to Shang-Da, while Richard took the middle and Jamil was on his other side. They had only just arrived moments ago.

Asher and Janika had taken up a corner to themselves. The young woman wore a confused look on her face. There was no expression on Asher's, but Jean-Claude was sure that his second was well aware that something was not right. As his gaze slid over every face in the room, he gave brief thought to contacting Edward. No doubt the man would like to know that something had happened to Aedan. At the same time, there was little Edward could do to help. He had no magic that Jean-Claude knew of and his solution would be to shoot people until someone brought Aedan home. If he'd thought Anita's relationship with Death had been bad, the relationship between Death and Aedan was that much worse. No. It was best if Edward was left out of the loop entirely until Aedan was returned to them. She could make the choice whether or not to tell him. And, if she did, she could handle the fall out.

The final member of the group was Requiem, standing in a corner by himself. He gave the appearance of being aloof and unconcerned, but Jean-Claude could see it for the act it was. Under that seemingly at ease pose, Requiem was tight with concern and worry. Like Asher, it was more than likely that Requiem had sensed something was wrong. He was Jean-Claude's third for a reason. Power was only a part of that reason.

Heaving a mental sigh, Jean-Claude decided that everyone who needed to be present was in the room, waiting for him to explain this sudden meeting. Gathering his courage around him, he stepped forward and brought all eyes his way. "Thank you all for coming. I realize this is very sudden and I apologize for the need to draw you away from your personal lives. Since everyone is here, I believe I can get started."

It was, not surprisingly, Minette who looked around the room in search of the one missing member of the group before turning a confused stare his way. "What about Aedan? She's not here yet. Shouldn't we wait for her?"

"This meeting is about Aedan." He was careful to keep his emotions from his voice. But he felt Asher's gaze sharpen on his face.

"Has she done something?" This from Minette, the question asked in a soft voice that was a remnant of her life before coming to St. Louis. It was a reminder that she had suffered at the hands of her previous pard, that such events did not simply fade because one's circumstances changed for the better.

He turned what he hoped was a reassuring smile Minette's way. "Relax. She has done nothing. No. This is about..." He trailed off and looked for the right words. There was a good chance that no one would believe him in his claims. At least, not at first. But that could change with Asher, Damian, and Minette's help. He'd have liked to be able to cushion the blow, but he really couldn't find a way to do so. "This will sound completely insane to all of you, but I promise that I speak the truth. I awoke this evening caught in the remnants of a dream."

"A dream?" Asher asked. Jean-Claude could hear the disbelief in the other man's voice. He turned to stare at Asher, gave him the opportunity to share in some of the images that he'd seen. Though Asher showed no outward sign of reaction, Jean-Claude very plainly felt the shock and disbelief that washed through his temoin.

He nodded, then continued. "A dream. Which seems impossible. But is no less than the truth." The words were spoken for the benefit of everyone in the room. When he could tell that Asher understood what was going on, he turned once again to face the everyone else gathered there. "A dream of Aedan. In Paris. One hundred and thirty years in the past."

"That's a strange thing to dream." It was Richard who made the comment. A glance his way told Jean-Claude he was genuinely puzzled and working at figuring it out. The man was smart. No doubt he could put together what was going on if Jean-Claude said nothing more. He stared at the man a moment before opening his mouth to continue his tale. But he was cut off before he could get a single word out.

'Not a dream. Memories." Damian's voice dropped into the silent room like a bomb, the certainty in it sending a wave of confusion and panic through the assembled group. They all stared at Jean-Claude, the vampires' blank faces a sharp contrast to the myriad emotions that played across everyone else's faces while they waited for the coming explosion. Damian disentangled himself from Isis' hold and rose to his feet, stalked across the room to stand before Jean-Claude. Stared. Took his measure. Stepped back and frowned. "Aedan is in the past? How is that possible? How did it happen?"

"Magic." Such a small, seemingly harmless word. But it could be so dangerous and destructive. He watched as that one word, that single explanation, washed over everyone and left them swimming in a thick pool of confusion. Voices rang out, loud and cacophonous in the small confines of the stone room, each one louder than the last in an effort to be heard over the others until it seemed as if they were shouting. Jean-Claude gave them a few moments before he lifted his hands and silently demanded that they calm themselves. Each voice died out very slowly until the room echoed heavily with their silence.

"I have never heard of a magic capable of sending someone into the past," Asher said quietly.

"There are many magics, mon ami. And we do not know all of them. There are those that have knowledge we do not."

"Why would someone send Aedan to the past?" Minette questioned.

"I wish I knew. The memories of Aedan have no mention of who or why or even how. All I know for sure, at this moment, is that Aedan is trapped in Paris in 1885 and she is nowhere near me. She has no weapons with which to defend herself and there are dangers that lurk in the shadows from which she cannot protect herself." He didn't dare speak the name of one of those dangers aloud. To do so would be to invite trouble. He didn't have to say it, though. The feeling that swept through the vampires he'd called into the meeting told him they understood without being told.

"The council and their assassins," Damian said quietly. Everyone heard him anyway. That same sense of understanding he'd gotten from his vampires rolled through the rest of the gathered throng. Jean-Claude watched as the confusion they wore was replaced with growing fear.

"They'll hunt he down and kill her without batting an eyelash. Just for who she is," Jason whispered. "Her power will draw them to her."

"It is a distinct possibility," Jean-Claude replied. Every single eye turned his way, stared at him intently. He wasn't ready to mourn Aedan's loss just yet. Of course she was out of place in the late eighteen hundreds. And of course it was possible that she might fall victim to the council's elite killing squad. But she had her innate abilities on her side, as well as those given to her by Anita. She could enslave a vampire in order to protect herself. She could raise an army of zombies if she needed them. More than that, Aedan had her own wits and skills to fall back on. She could survive and find a way to return to him. If she could find a way to reverse whatever magic was used against her...

"So what do we do? How do we go about getting her back?" The question came from Minette. Her voice was strong and sure, filled with her conviction that she would have her best friend back.

"We need to know what kind of magic was used to send her back to the eighteen hundreds," Nathaniel replied. All eyes turned to him a moment before sliding to the side where Rhiannon sat. She looked around the room a moment before lifting her hands and giving a shake of her head.

"I don't think I can be of any help there. First of all, we don't even know what kind of magic was used. Secondly, we don't know who did this or why. Which means we don't have anywhere to start. So we don't even know if I can do anything."

Richard rose from his seat and drew attention his way. "Then we need to find the person, or persons, responsible. And find out why they did this. I know I've had my clashes with Aedan. But she takes protecting all of us seriously. Her absence leaves all of us weak. The wolves, the leopards, the lions, the hyenas. Every last one of the lycanthropes. The vampires. And not just the preternatural community. All of St. Louis is vulnerable while Aedan is gone. There's no other city in the country or the world where the preternatural community works together to make everyone's lives better. Where they work with the mortals to keep them safe. I don't always get along with Jean-Claude, but I don't want another master to move into the city. There's no telling what kind of trouble that will bring. We don't need another Nikolaos. So we conduct our own investigation. See if we can't sniff out what happened to Aedan. Find whoever is responsible and make them bring her back."

"You are offering the assistance of the pack in this endeavor, Richard?"

"Anything it takes to bring her home." The Ulfric let his gaze slide around the room, let it linger on the leader of each group. It might have been a challenge save the fact that everyone would suffer without Aedan's presence. Minette came to her feet so quickly it almost seemed if she had simply sprung up from the ground. Rafael rose from his seat at nearly the exact same moment, followed almost immediately by Micah. Isis stood next, Damian copying her actions. The last to come to his feet was Narcissus. He didn't look entirely thrilled by the move, but he was smart enough to know that his continued existence depended in some way on Aedan. She had, that horrible night on the road, given her word to Anita that she would protect Anita's friends and family to the death and she took that oath seriously. There had been a few challenges to the new order since then, but Aedan had put all of them in their rightful place in her own way and with little trouble. The power of her position no longer overwhelmed her, though there were days when Jean-Claude saw a hint of the woman he first met lingering at the backs of her eyes. Days when something crawled out of the shadows and took the lives of innocents. And she had found a place in his heart, had brought joy in the face of death. Had taught him to love again. He'd questioned whether or not their feelings for one another were real, just as she had, but that had been back in the beginning. He knew now that his love for her was real and honest, not influenced by Anita's lingering touch on her. He wanted her back with everything that was in him and God help the individual responsible for this when he got his hands on them.

"Your help is very much appreciated, Richard," he told the other man. Then he let his gaze touch upon every one else who had risen to their feet. "Everyone's help is appreciated. Thank you."

"How do we do this, Jean-Claude? I mean, we can't just go running around, asking questions about Aedan. Someone will know something is up if we do that," Rafael pointed out.

"They will know something is up when she does not show up for work or any of her many obligations and responsibilities," he acknowledged. He wasn't sure he should tell people that Aedan was missing. It would bring trouble to his doorstep and he wasn't certain that he, and his people, would be capable of dealing with all of it. Much as he hated to admit it, Aedan's physical presence was as much a show of force as the power she lent him. And while he could still feel that power, still feel his connection with her despite the time put between them, it wasn't enough. Having Aedan standing by his side when trouble showed its face in his city was as much a deterrent as the gun she wielded and the power she shared. It was unfair to use her in such a manner, but the threats to his power base hadn't stopped with Anita's death. If anything, they'd gotten worse simply because Anita had done as she always did and had accomplished the impossible. She'd given her powers to someone else. A feat that it seemed no one had ever managed before. There were those who felt that there was no way Anita had done what they said she'd done and they were eager for a chance to prove it. Advertising Aedan's absence would mean nothing but trouble for Jean-Claude, his people, and St. Louis. He was going to have to keep this knowledge between himself and the few people in the room with him. "No one can know she's been kidnapped."

"What are we supposed to do? There will be questions. People are going to be looking for her. What are we supposed to tell them?" The question came from Janika. Of all those present, she could understand just what kind of problems Aedan's sudden disappearance could create. The government, both local and federal, would be the ones to make trouble if it was discovered that she'd been taken against her will. So they had to find a way to handle her absence in a way that was a combination of truth and lies.

"We will tell people that she is out of the country."

"A half-truth?" Janika sounded skeptical about that.

"Better a half-truth than a full lie," Jean-Claude replied. He gave it some more consideration before continuing. "She is out of the country. It was sudden, which gives us a small measure of protection. We can honestly say that we do not know why she left or when she will return."

"But you can contact her," Minette pointed out.

"I can be unavailable for some vampire business," he suggested casually. "I am quite capable of talking around those mortals that like to poke their noses into my business. They do not worry me. Aedan being lost in time worries me. I need you to be my eyes and ears in this. I cannot search for her. To do so would put my enemies on alert. I need you to seek out information. Someone should track Aedan's last movements before her disappearance. Perhaps if we gather as much information as possible, we will be able to find the person responsible for this."

"We'll put our heads together and come up with a plan, Jean-Claude," Micah assured him, one hand motioning to the others.

"I can call Marianne and see if she can tell me what it would take for someone to pull this off," Rhiannon volunteered. "Maybe she has an idea how we can search for the person responsible."

"I've got some magical theory. I can help Rhiannon," Minette added.

"I'm going to make a visit to Animators, Inc. Snoop around. See if I can find out who her last client was. I can always flash my badge. It might get me what I need," Janika put in. Jean-Claude nodded, pleased to see that he could rely on his people in this crisis. The heaviness in his heart eased, if only a little. They would find the person or persons responsible for doing this to Aedan. They would make them bring her back. He would hold her in his arms once again. He could feel it.

"We'll find her, Jean-Claude. We'll find Aedan and we'll bring her home,," Rafael said, voice quiet. Controlled. "We'll find whoever did this."

"And when we do, they're going to pay." Minette words were a promise, filled with every last bit of emotion she felt. Jean-Claude almost felt sorry for the witch that had perpetrated this crime. Almost.

~*~*~*~*~

She woke to find that it was dark inside the room and outside the windows. Every inch of her felt like it had been on a week long bender, her head fuzzy and limbs weak. Aedan tried pulling herself into a sitting position and found it was almost impossible. What little energy she'd had was expended so easily that she was left limp against the pillow. She stared into the darkness and tried to puzzle out exactly why the warning bells were ringing loudly in her head. Something was wrong, but she couldn't quite put her finger on it. Something she should remember...

She let her senses stretch, sent them seeking out the familiar, frantic feel of Minette's energy or the cool, still waters of death that meant Jean-Claude's power. She couldn't find Minette's and Jean-Claude's felt distant. Reserved. She frowned at that. She knew that wasn't right. But she couldn't remember why it wasn't right. Night sounds crept into her brain as she tried puzzling out why Jean-Claude should be so faint, whispering voices from somewhere below her. A soft clopping sound from outside the window. The creak of leather and the jangle of metal bits. Each sound that she identified helped clear some of the fog that lingered. And suddenly, it became very clear why those warning bells were going off. She knew what was wrong.

Paris. Eighteen eighty five.

"Shit." Everything came back to her in a rush. And, as her brain kicked in, she realized something important. She'd woken up feeling like six shades of death twice now. Magic. It had to be the residuals of the magic used against her. Which meant that Auggie's friend was a witch. Which could be very, very bad news. She had to find a way to get out of there.

You are in no condition to go anywhere just yet. Jean-Claude's voice filled her head, gentle and welcome even though she knew this wasn't her Jean-Claude. Relief washed through her, his presence at the back of her mind serving as an anchor to reality. It would be so easy to give in to hysteria, but that wouldn't do her any good at all. She just wished Jean-Claude was there with her. She needed him to hold her close, needed to feel the solidness of his arms and chest surrounding her.

In the blink of an eye, she was in a brightly lit chamber with a large, plush bed and lots of matching furniture. Jean-Claude melted out of the shadows, looking disturbingly handsome in a velvet dressing gown. He held out a hand to her and she went to him. He pulled her into his embrace and held her close, soothing the fear that wanted to consume her. When he pulled away, he offered her a smile and urged her toward the bed. She climbed up onto the thick mattress, watched as he joined her. Together, they lay back against the pillows and she once more snuggled into his arms when he drew her close. She could stay here forever, safe within the circle of his arms. "Alas. You cannot stay here forever. You must waken soon. And I must sleep."

She sighed. "I need to find out how to get home. Someone has to know how I got here."

"There are magic users, secretive and hidden away, who might help you. If you can find them." One hand stroked down her back, stopping at the base of her spine before doing it again. "But first, you must find a way to escape your current prison."

His words saw her lifting her head so she could see his face. "She did something to me, didn't she? With magic. That's why we got torn away from each other earlier."

"I believe so. I cannot begin to imagine what she plans to achieve, but I cannot help but feel she means you ill. You must find a way to escape her." The concern in his eyes made them dark. Frowning, she settled her head down on his chest.

"I don't know anyone here. I have no where to go."

"You can always seek sanctuary with the church, my sweet." There was a touch of bitterness to his words and it took her a moment to understand why. Aedan tightened her hold on him.

"No. I can't. If they discover what I am, they'll accuse me of being a witch. I'll be lucky if burning me at the stake is the least they do to me. I have no great love for the church," she whispered. There was a sense of pleasure from him, as if she'd said the right thing, then his arms drew her into him even closer.

"We shall discover a way to return you to your time. Together. But not tonight. The sun will rise soon and I will be unable to assist you. For now, simply allow me to hold you. Sleep and regain your strength. Tomorrow night will be soon enough to make plans." The familiar tenderness in his voice and the gentle touch of his hand saw her closing her eyes. A kind of peaceful calm stole over her, a voice at the back of her head that told her everything would work out fine. She sighed and snuggled closer to him.

"Je t'aime, Jean-Claude."

Aedan awoke to sunlight streaming through the window. The bed beside her was empty and cold, as was her heart. She missed Jean-Claude. The one here in this time and the one she knew from her own time. They were the same, yet not. She missed Asher and his moodiness and Janika and her bright smiles. She missed Minette and Micah and Nathaniel and the rest of the pard. She missed Jason and his wolfish grin. She missed them all. Even Richard and his shitty attitude.

She wanted to go home.

~*~*~*~*~

(no subject)

Date: 2015-10-21 02:42 am (UTC)
From: [identity profile] mistress-o-muse.livejournal.com
Oh wow, sweetie! :-)

I LOVE this idea and I love what you've done with it so far. The potential for plot twists and turns is just endless! (And knowing you there'll be more than one! ;-) ) Poor Aedan knows not what lies ahead me thinks.

I hate you for being such a great plot creator. ;) Damn you....lol!

Seriously, love this beginning and am chomping at the bit to see how this one goes. Poor poor Aedan? ;-)

xxooo!

(no subject)

Date: 2015-10-21 03:14 am (UTC)
From: [identity profile] ginevrasm.livejournal.com
I like the way you handled the marks and how Aedan and past-Jean-Claude would experience them. I'm anxious to see how Aedan manages to get out of her current (if that's the right word) predicament.

This is a really intriguing idea. I think I'm as fascinated by the how as I am by the why of it. LOL. I'm anxious to see how it all plays out.

Good work!

(no subject)

Date: 2015-10-23 04:08 pm (UTC)
nanaeanaven: Vector art of Nanaea holding a Ravenclaw blue martini. (Rhiannon)
From: [personal profile] nanaeanaven
Ooooo... Very intriguing! A great to start to what promises to be an interesting tale, sweets. I look forward to watching it all unfold. :)

(no subject)

Date: 2015-10-24 01:39 am (UTC)
nanaeanaven: What! You mean there's more? (Bunnies) (Bunnies)
From: [personal profile] nanaeanaven
A costume ball would have been easier, but then you never do anything the easy way - do you? lol ;)

(yay for HORS next!)
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