After Jack and Davis were thoroughly punished for pranking me we went to grab Evin and Sam. Evin hovered above our heads as Sam bent over my legs. Davis and Jack watched from the other bed as Sam pierced me and affixed my very first clit ring. I had to pinch him a few times to keep him focused on the piercing when his attention wandered elsewhere. When it was done he sat back and admired his handiwork. “I could just eat you up,” he said absentmindedly.
“Knock it off, Sam. Go get Mark, you rascal,” I scolded him playfully.
“Right away, Ani.” He grinned and dashed off. He brought Mark to the room so that he could heal me enough for safe intercourse (there was no way I’d go without rough play for an entire month!). Mark examined me and whistled. “This is beautiful work, Sam. Ani, do you know how rare it is to be perfectly shaped for a piercing right there? Magnificent idea, Jack. You’ve outdone yourself,” he praised us.
Jack blushed with pleasure. “Oh, I just thought it’d be nice. You really do look beautiful, Ani.”
“I’ll look at it in the mirror as soon as I’m healed,” I noted.
Mark massaged my thighs and leaned down. “This has to be the coolest thing I’ve ever seen,” he mumbled. “My kiss will sterilize and heal the openings without making it too tight or uncomfortable for you. I’d still recommend waiting about a day to be sure. And of course, still clean it regularly.” He very gently and carefully kissed either side of the piercing and inspected me again. He parted my lips and stretched me a bit, making the piercing bob up and down. I shivered and gasped, more sensitive than I’d ever been. “Fuck yes. You and me, Ani. Within the next three days. Damn! Let me get out of here.” With some difficulty he pulled back and climbed off of me.
I quickly sat up and pulled the sheet over my lower half. I gave Sam a hug and a kiss and thanked him for his excellent work. He squeezed me tightly before running off with Mark. I’d bet they were going to hunt one another for the rest of the night with me as inspiration. I scuttled to the loo while the other boys stepped onto the balcony for fresh air. I climbed up on the sink and spread my legs, facing the mirror on the wall. A dark pink, a few shades darker than my natural color there, glinted back at me. It certainly was gorgeous. I spent some time making myself excited, wondering something. Sure enough, as my excitement built my color changed to match the balls on the ring perfectly. “Oh, Jack,” I whispered. He really did know me well. Heh, I thought to myself, pink is lust. I pulled my pajama pants on and walked cockily back to bed.
Jesse had returned by now and smirked at me. “Oh, someone thinks they’re hot now, huh?”
“Oh, you missed the best part, hon,” I teased him, laying down beside Evin.
Jesse crawled up next to me. “For my part in setting this up I think I’ve at least earned a shared morning shower. I know I can’t touch it directly yet but I’ll be careful. I’d still like to see it,” he bartered.
“Don’t forget to switch off our link. Ani already wore me out and I plan on sleeping in. Don’t wake me up by sending me all those sexy signals,” Jack reminded him, laying down next to Davis in the other bed.
“Gotcha, brother. Although I can’t guarantee her screams, or my own, won’t wake you up.”
“Shut up, Jesse,” Jack chuckled. “Good night, everyone. Love you all.”
“Love you, Jack. Good night, everybody,” the rest of us chimed. Since Evin didn’t sleep he spent his time playing in my dreams. Other than my joint shower with Jesse the day was a girls’ and boys’ day as promised. Ashley spent her time conferencing with Amada while Aeryn and I fussed over my piercing, played games, and caught up on news and kisses. The next night Mark stole into my room to kidnap me and had way too much fun testing my enhanced sensitivity. The rest of the trip was a blur of revelry and love. As always, we were dread to part with Aeryn. But we were secure in the knowledge that we’d definitely be seeing them again. We flew back home (with a rather funny trip through the metal detectors for me) and informed our families and Ram’s that Mark would be contacting them about an important matter. Jack gave me my real engagement ring and the parents exploded with joy. My dad and Momma celebrated especially hard because they’d won the pool for betting on Jack and me getting married. Goofballs. Everyone was pleased about Stan and Areillo and immediately got to work setting up their wedding. Ashley was the official wedding planner and took to it like fire to gasoline.
I’d finally finished the Clarence Buys Hats series and published the whole thing. Since time was kind of of the essence I wanted to make sure it was out there in the world. While my fan base built itself (many of them physicalists who had been eagerly awaiting my work) I began developing an interactive version of each comic with Alex. We were creating an entirely new system using the same technology that had been turned against Others and humans in The Crash. We repurposed it to bring some new joy into the world. My mom gave us use of one wing to experiment in. I hired a team including Jack, Jesse, and Cal. We’d have Matt and Joel bring their classmates in to test different prototypes. I’d work out kinks and problems by building realms to eliminate possibilities until I found solutions. I was kind of a pro at it now. We named our project unit LEEP: The League of Extraordinarily Evil People. In addition to comics we wanted to make interactive books and movies as well. We took submissions from authors and creators who wanted to create a new art form. Before we knew it we had an entirely new subculture. We took to calling ourselves Leepers.
We heard less and less from Aeryn as time went on. We all missed her so much. Mark visited every few months to do various tests on us and to have us finish up questionnaires. He didn’t have to do any of this physically but he always enjoyed spending time with me. And then one day, over half a year since our trip to Mexico and with one month to go until my brother’s wedding, things started to go insane in a big way. Mark visited me in my new home-the one I now shared with Davis, Jack, and Evin-and shared some terrible news. He was positively livid. The tips of his hair had turned yellow from the stress of whatever it was bothering him. He sat down heavily on the sofa and rubbed his face. “What have ye got te drink?” he wondered wearily.
“I’ve got a bit of whisky if you like. Are you sure you should-” Davis began.
“I’ll be fine. A shot of whiskey, please,” Mark interrupted him. Evin and I exchanged a look of concern. Alcohol and vampires were not the best of mates. Alcohol could drive them a bit insane if they weren’t careful.
“Have you had any blood today?” Jesse asked Mark.
“Yeah. I carried a bit in the car,” he huffed impatiently. “Sit down, all of you,” he ordered.
I sat next to him. Jack sat on his other side and massaged his shoulders. After Davis handed Mark his drink he took a seat on the other couch with Jesse. “What do you have to tell us, Mark?” Evin questioned gravely.
Mark shook his head as if he could clear away whatever haunted him. “I don’t know how much more I can take. She’s driving me mad. I wish she’d take care of herself for once in her life.” He let out a breath so heavy it practically dropped to the floor. He downed the shot of whiskey, laid his head back, and lit a cigarette as tears streamed down his face.
“You mean Aeryn,” Jesse said knowingly.
“It’s always Aeryn. Jesus, I just want to kill her sometimes, I swear,” he seethed.
“Tell us what’s going on,” I directed, meeting Jack and Jesse’s eyes in turn. Now was the time for them to work their container charm to spread calming vibes. The room seemed to soften and warm as they lightened the mood. The sharp edges of Mark’s energy rounded out ever so slightly. He was still agitated but not prohibitively so.
“She’s still protecting him. That shit. He’s started hitting her,” he shared darkly, emptily.
“Who?” Evin asked angrily.
“Joey. Fuckin coward. Fuckin cjarne. I knew he’d be trouble. I knew it.”
“How did this happen? Is Aeryn okay?” I touched his hand as my heart wrenched.
“I feel useless. She took on the DNA of her friend, the one that died. Transferred it from Mejir so that he could take Aeryn’s DNA instead. Now Aeryn sees Cristinn’s ghost. Cristinn is the first new ghost created since the rest all started getting booted to the afterlife. Anyway, Cris uses Aeryn’s energy to live. It’s the only way she can survive. Aeryn’s growth has been slowed down and she’s nearly as weak as a human right now. Joey knows something’s wrong. He wants custody of Mejir. He knows about Aeryn and Sam’s affair. He is pissed. And he takes it out on her while she’s at her weakest. And I can’t even fucking stop it. I canna… She won’t let me kill him,” he wailed. The tears rushed free and fast over his pale cheeks.
“Goddamn,” Jesse spoke after a long moment of silence.
“What are you going to do? What options are still available to you?” Davis pitched in, as calm and collected as he always was.
“I’ve no fuckin idea,” Mark lamented.
“Get her out of there. I’m sure she has her reasons for wanting Joey alive. Respect that. But she doesn’t need to stay there. She’s supposed to be dead at 25, right? Set that in motion right now. Put your energy into making sure her debut is a blowout. Build her a home. Leave early if you have to,” I stated firmly. “Who will she actually listen to?”
“Riel and Jeff,” Mark replied, lifting his head to look at me.
“Move them closer. Maybe they can convince her to get out early. You make her leave,” I went on through my own tears.
“Ani.” His eyes widened and he gaped at me.
“Do it,” I grit the words out.
“There…is something. I have to find my old journal and get it to Jeff. She’s going to hate me, though. She might even kill me for what’s written in there,” he said.
“I don’t care. I’ll be there to speak on your behalf and protect you however I can. Just get it done, please,” I urged him.
“Of course, Ani.” He hugged me tightly. “I’ll do it.”
“We’ll get through this. Together,” Davis vowed.
We all sat quietly until a knock sounded at the door. Puzzled, Davis went to answer it. Mark sniffed the air and sat up straight. Soleceet stepped in and surveyed the room. His remarkable hazel eyes found me and he strode purposefully towards me. “Ani, can we talk?” he requested in his smooth, powerful voice.
“Who and what are you?” Mark narrowed his eyes at him.
“He’s a friend. He’s safe,” Davis assured him.
“What is it, Cel?” I asked.
“I need you to come with me. Now,” he answered.
“To my home. There’s something you have to do. Please accompany me,” he explained in a kind tone, trying not to alarm me.
“How long will she be gone?” Jack asked, his shoulders drooping.
“I don’t know. I’ll do my best to return her as soon as possible. I know how much you worry about her. I’ll keep her safe. And this time you won’t be cut off. She’ll be able to communicate with you,” Cel tried to placate him.
“Can I go with her? I don’t want to stay behind,” Jack pleaded.
“You can’t travel the realms on your own,” Cel pointed out.
“I have other skills.” Jack rose to his feet, standing his ground. “I’m not letting her go without me. I refuse to sit here worrying about her all the time. I want to help.”
“Jack…” I spoke softly.
“Wait, Ani. He might be right. We’ll take him along. I have a friend who knows more about these things than I do. Evin, you come, too,” Cel decided.
“Hold on. Where exactly are we going?” I questioned him.
“To meet the Architect. She’s been captured. Your talents combined with hers should allow her to get free. You all just found out Aeryn’s being abused, yes?”
“How do you know-” Jesse began.
“Never mind that now. This timeline is now a countdown. He’s going to be here searching Aeryn’s life. It’s the perfect time to rescue the Architect, while he’s distracted.”
“I’m so confused,” Jesse muttered under his breath.
“Does the other Mark have anything to do with this?” Mark inquired quietly.
“Of course he does,” Cel replied with a smile.
“Figures. He wants to steal both my girlfriends away.” Mark bared his teeth.
“Girlfriend?” My ears perked up. “I’m your girlfriend?”
“We need to go. Time is of the essence,” Cel noted.
Suddenly, space opened up and a man with eerie black eyes and hair appeared. “Cel, we’re late,” he said in a depressed-sounding voice.
“You really couldn’t wait?” Cel grumbled.
“Let’s go. Now!” the man commanded, ripping open a new hole in space and gesturing for us to go through.
“Bastard,” Mark called him as Cel, Jack, Evin, and I stepped forward.
The obsidian-eyed man simply sneered and said, “One day you’ll thank me.” He shoved the four of us through and as Mark leaped to his feet he closed the hole behind himself. Great. What the hell is in store for us now and who the hell is this guy? He started off down a long hallway and the rest of us quickly followed him. “Welcome to the Prison of Desolation. Also known as the Prison of Deficit. Let’s go find Clarence and get the fuck out of here!” the stranger explained over his shoulder, ducking around a corner. Cel rolled his eyes and followed.
I paused, trying to understand what was happening. Jack and Evin took up my hands in theirs and looked at me, ready to follow my lead. I took a deep breath and rounded the corner. Show time!
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