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Chapter 8

Almost two months pass before Aaron hears from Alison again and, although he’s beginning to think that maybe she’d forgotten him again, it’s alright. It gives him time to work on his story, her words at the end of their last meeting encouraging him to work harder on finishing it and strengthening certain things about its plot that he’d not liked from the start. That time had also given him a chance to talk things through with Reno and Louis and, although they still seem reluctant to nail plans down with him at times, which he thinks is probably just Reno being a grumpy anti-social jerk and Louis complying with his boyfriend’s wishes, the three had started to hang out again whenever a free night came up, which makes Aaron happy.

Finally one night, he’s in bed half-listening to TV while he thumbs through the phone book, looking for a new pizza joint to order from after his usual place had unfortunately closed a week earlier, when he senses someone watching him and looks up to find Alison standing in the doorway of his bedroom, glancing around curiously. “Hey!” he flushes, casting cursory looks around as well to make sure nothing too embarrassing was laying around. Not that it really matters, he realizes after a few moments, since she’d been in his room prior, but he’d been pretty out of it those times...

She chuckles and raises an eyebrow at him, crossing her arms against her chest. “If I didn’t know better, I’d think you were hiding something illegal in here.”

“I wish,” he cracks, standing up to join her after pulling on some boots. “So what is it this time, another fire? Maybe an earthquake? Ooh, I know, death by paper cut?”

She rolls her eyes at him, swatting his arm. “Oh boy, let a guy save a few people and suddenly he’s decided he’s a regular comedian.” She ordinarily wouldn’t even humor such talk considering how serious these things can become so quickly, but he’d never been anything but dedicated once on a case, so she lets him have a moment to just be silly regarding it all. She’d had quite a few periods of macabre humor during her years as Piaculum as well after all, had found it helped keep her head on straight at times when things had been at their worst.

He’s curious what role she’s going to play this time, if she’ll want to help out as much as she’d had in Parkville, but he wisely keeps his mouth shut, opting to go along with whatever she does as it comes. Either way, Parkville had gone well, the two of them making a very good team considering all of the anger that had proceeded it, and he welcomes whatever she can bring to the table, be it simply firsthand knowledge or even as much hands-on assistance as she’d provided previously. Speaking of...

“Have you heard from Chelsea?” he asks inanely as she continues to examine his room.

“Yeah,” she muses. “Says they’re planning on starting to rebuild shortly and said we’re invited to come visit once they’re done.” She looks up with something of a tired smirk, raising an eyebrow at him. “Seems to think we’re in a relationship or something like that.”

“Adam called me a few days ago and seemed to think the same thing.” He laughs faintly. “I guess it’s a couples thing, that they expect everyone else to be in love and happy too?”

“Guess so.” They stand around awkwardly for a long moment, looking anywhere but at each other, until finally she coughs. “So, ready to go?”

“Yes!” Focusing, Aaron closes his eyes, and when he opens them again, they’re standing in the middle of a quiet neighborhood, the only sound being kids splashing around in a pool, laughing and yelling back and forth. It’s dark but, by now well into the middle of May, it’s one of those warm Illinois days that feels like summer, only a small chill to the wind any hint that it’s still technically spring.

He turns to her and she half-smiles, not moving towards him. “Going to try something new this time,” she tells him. When he looks confused, she laughs. “It’s simple enough, you’ve already accessed enough of Ser’s powers I think this’ll be easy. I want you to access a vision from him on your own.”

“How?” he asks warily, frowning. He’d never done it before and to be thrown into the deep end now, when someone could be about to die somewhere, well... if he messes up and can’t access the vision or screws up and sees the wrong thing, or... anything stupid like that, and he fails at saving them in a timely fashion, he might never forgive himself.

“Don’t worry,” she tells him softly, probably sensing his discomfort over all the possibilities and variables of what could go wrong.

After all, he reminds himself, trying to calm himself down, she’s been through all of this too. If anyone will understand, it’d be her. She won’t let anything go wrong. Easing into her words, he listens as she guides him through what he’ll have to do. It really isn’t that different from accessing the ability to be transported from place to place.

“Alright,” he breathes, closing his eyes and sensing around him. The sounds of those kids, the smell of plants slowly beginning to grow around them, the smooth feeling of his shoe’s rubber soles beneath his feet, the darkness of his eyelids and the minty taste of the gum he’d been chewing when Alison had arrived. Pushing it all aside, he focuses only on the future, on what he wants so badly to know. “Ser,” he whispers. “Let me see what is to come.” Help me to help them. Reciting it over and over and over until it becomes second nature, the words flowing like he’s been speaking them in this sequence all of his life, he senses as the world around him shifts, changes.

He opens his eyes. Blinks. Thinks he did it wrong... but no, Alison isn’t here. He’s alone. And it’s darker, later out. Crickets are chirping nearby, birds squawking their final song of the evening and... a scream. Jerking around, he stares towards where earlier children had been playing, happily yelling back and forth. But now they only sound frantic, horrified children babbling and crying. Running towards the fenced-in yard where he had spotted the pool while with Alison earlier, he finds a young girl face down in the water, not moving.

He feels ill, unsettled, as an adult slips into the pool and quickly swims to her, dragging her out of the pool and gently laying her down on the grass. Her hair clinging to blue lips, Aaron knows before they say anything. “She’s not breathing.” All following attempts at resuscitation seem to go nowhere and he forces his eyes open with a gasp, relieved to find himself back alongside Alison.

“A little girl drowns,” he tells her, eyes quickly passing over to the pool. It seems to be emptying as children give up on the rapidly cooling temperatures and darkening sky, going back inside, and they slip closer, not wanting to raise suspicions in the neighborhood but also needing to keep an eye on things so they can stop what’s about to happen.

The pool area is thankfully empty but soon enough, the door leading to the backyard slides open once more, the girl Aaron had seen in a much different state slips out. “I forgot my doll!” she yells over her shoulder, still dressed in her bathing suit as she ventures around the pool, looking for it in the darkness. Aaron spots it before she does-- the small toy is floating in the pool in an eerie semblance of what he’d seen in his vision, and she hesitantly inches towards it.

“Why do I get the feeling she can’t swim?” Alison mutters-- just as the little girl reaches in to grab at the doll, just a fingertip away and, sure enough, as she leans closer to grab it, she loses her balance on the slippery surface and falls in, sputtering and trying to call out but failing as the chlorinated water fills her mouth, sweeps her underwater.

Alison’s fingers tightening on his sleeve snaps Aaron out of the fugue he can feel overwhelming him, and he shakes her loose. Before she can say or do anything, he leaps up onto the edge of the fence and scales it, quickly appearing on the other side. He’s across the grass and running against the slick cement surrounding the pool while Alison rushes along the fence, not wanting to risk climbing and getting caught in the wooden spokes along the top. “Come on, come on,” she mutters. There’s no gate, no break in the barrier at all in the back of the house and she hates having to do this but she has no true choice-- leaving the view of the pool behind, she races along the side of the house and to the front, where there is no fence keeping her from getting to the house quickly.

Running across the grass at a speed that would almost beat Aaron’s own pace, she nearly runs head long into the door, only just stopping short in time to slam her fists against the wooden surface. “Hello! Help! Can anyone hear me?” She’s not even sure what all she rambles on about afterwards as she pounds on the door, desperate. All she knows is that the little girl could drown, her parents unaware a few feet away...

Finally the door slams open and a man stares down at her, eyes narrowed suspiciously. “What is it?!”

“Your daughter,” she gasps out. “I heard her cry out, she fell in the pool!”

He is still keeping her from entering the house, lips twisted in uncertainty. “Sarah, are all the kids in the kitchen?” A shadow shifts in the hallway and Alison watches as his wife inches back towards the other room to see.

“Jill isn’t,” she chokes out, eyes widening as she races to another part of the house. A sharp cry later, the man keeping Alison on the porch with a steely gaze is gone, racing through the rooms to see what’s going on. Alison, uncomfortably aware of what has her vocally responding like that, follows him until they arrive at the glass windows leading to the outside patio that houses the pool. He’s outside by the time she arrives, pushing a soaked, disturbed looking Aaron away from the unresponsive little girl. “Jill!”

Both parents kneeling down by the still child, neither pay attention to Aaron as he stands helplessly nearby and watches them, worrying his lip. Alison crosses over to him and rests a hand between his shoulder blades, shuddering at how soaked and cold he is. But there’s no time to worry about that as she turns once more to check on the status of the little girl. Her mother is still sobbing by her but the father takes control of the situation, gently pressing against her chest and checking her breathing, his ear pressed against her face. “Come on, Jill,” he whispers, looking up at her with pained eyes. “Cough it out, come on.” Another couple of sharp jabs with his fingers and he shakes his head, trying to hold it together. “Come on, little one. You can do it.”

Alison has her phone out, dialing 911, when Sarah begins crying harder. “Jill, open your eyes!” she begs her daughter, all but grabbing her by the shoulders and shaking her. “Please!” When her husband pushes her gently away, she chokes and pushes him back. “Save her, Mason, dammit!”

“I’m trying! Shaking her isn’t going to help things any.” Moving away from her again, he positions his hands once more and presses down a little rougher than before, eyes closed as he tries not to think about what pain this might be causing his smallest daughter.

Alison’s just explained where they’re at to the woman who answers when there’s a rough, faint sputtering sound and Jill starts gagging up water. Freezing, Mason stares down at his daughter and shakes his head, looking on in shock as she struggles and chokes against the intrusion in her lungs. Forgetting her phone, Alison drops it to the side and quickly kneels down, rolling the little girl onto her side. “There you go,” she tells her soothingly, rubbing her back briskly. “That’s it. Just let it go.” As the waves of water finally stops pouring from her blue lips and she chokes on air, Alison nods, cushioning Jill’s head with her legs. “Good girl, good girl.”

While trying to help the girl, the Piaculum had ignored everything around her but as the child breathes against her jeans, whimpering and wheezing slightly, she smiles at a trembling Sarah when she joins them. “She’s going to be fine now,” she whispers, fingers brushing through the soft blonde curls clinging damply to Jill’s forehead in a repetitive motion that’s soothing to them both. Aaron and Mason both hover overhead, obviously not sure what to do, and she looks up at them. “She should be checked out by an ER, though. In fact...” Suddenly remembering her phone, she spots it by Aaron’s feet and he follows her gaze, leaning over to pick it up.

Finding a female voice on the end demanding answers, he turns away to finish the conversation with the operator, explaining what’d happened and that they’d still like an ambulance sent, yes please. After leaning down just long enough to whisper affectionately to his dazed daughter, Mason approaches to make sure the EMTs know where to go. Once it’s all confirmed, Aaron nods at him and puts the phone down on a nearby patio table, scrubbing a hand along his still dripping face. “Hey, uh, sorry about pushing you before. I wasn’t sure what was going on. I... you pulled her out of the water?”

Aaron nods, turning to look at the girl. “Yeah, I did. Alison and I had gone for a walk.” Borrowing the best he can from her ability to spin a story with little or no warning, he takes a deep breath and continues, keeping to the truth as much as possible which, as she’d explained a time or two or ten, could always sell a story easier than anything else. “We were just walking by when we heard her cry out and some splashing. I thought maybe it was just kids playing but things were too silent after that-- it didn’t feel right. So Alison went to check and saw her in the water, then called for me. I climbed the fence and got her out, but she wasn’t breathing... you saw the rest.”

“I don’t know how to thank you,” Sarah chokes out, fresh tears in her eyes as she joins them, a still soaked but balefully blinking Jill in her arms as they cling to each other. “My little girl... if something had happened to her...” She sobs harder as Mason approaches them, pressing a soft kiss to his daughter’s forehead before holding his wife close.

Alison steps up to Aaron, standing shoulder to shoulder with him. “She’ll be fine, ma’am,” she says softly to the upset mother. “Don’t dwell on the what ifs. We were here, she got out in time, and everything’ll be fine.”

Mason murmurs softly in her ear before kissing her on the cheek, moving back to look her in the eye. “Listen to them, Sarah. Nothing’s going to happen to our little girl. We’ll get her checked out at the hospital and things will be ok.”

Aaron hesitates awkwardly, not sure how this’ll go over. “Um, excuse me,” he says quietly after they’ve had a few more moments to just absorb everything and calm down a little. “I... think she was trying to reach this when she fell in,” he admits, holding out a small doll that he’d been keeping behind his back since Mason had pushed him away roughly; its dress is completely saturated. He holds it out to them, watching as they both reach out for it, Mason growing pale and tense as Sarah looks ill.

“Jill,” her father says, trying obviously to keep his temper in check while she’s still shivering and breathing harshly against his arm, not wanting to add to the little girl’s distress. “What have we told you about approaching the pool alone, especially if something falls in like that?” It’s obvious that she’s not really digesting his words and he sighs, tugging her closer and just holding onto her as Sarah murmurs comfortingly to him, laying the doll down on the same table Alison’s phone remains on. They quickly forget it as Jill coughs roughly, her eyes filling with fresh tears. “It’s ok, it’s ok,” they whisper, soothing her with gentle touches and soft kisses across her pale cheeks.

When the ambulance comes, Alison and Aaron follow them through the house, only half listening as Sarah begins directing traffic, commanding the other children on what to do while they’re at the ER with Jill. Following Mason outside, they stand by the side of the yard with him as the ambulance sirens come nearer. “Look, thank you again,” he tells the two. “I don’t know what I would’ve done if...” His voice fades away as he once more presses a kiss to his daughter’s face and stares into her eyes to make sure she’s ok, before turning back to them. “Thank you so much.”

Aaron nods, starting to shiver himself as the temperatures drop even faster with each passing moment, but he doesn’t address his discomfort, ignoring Alison’s worried glance next to him. “I’m just glad I was able to get to her in time, and that she’s doing ok.” As the little thing looks up at him, blue eyes wide and watery, he smiles at her. “Be more careful next time, huh?” As she nods pitifully, he nods back. “Thatta girl.”

Alison chooses that moment to intervene, resting a hand on his shoulder. Her worry only grows when he leans into her warmth, his shivers obvious to her. “We should go, get you warmed up.”

Mason winces, realizing that his daughter wasn’t the only one who went into the pool. “Man, I’m sorry,” he says, shifting his hold on Jill as he faces Aaron. “I totally didn’t think... we would’ve offered you warm clothes or--”

“No, it’s fine,” he refutes, waving off the offer. “Don’t worry about it, I’m fine. We don’t live that far away. Just take good care of her, yeah?” He waves at the little girl still peeking at him from her daddy’s shoulder and she waves back, sniffling slightly.

“We definitely will,” Sarah answers, joining them once her motherly duties with the other children are done. The four look up as the ambulance arrives, EMT immediately converging around them and looking the waterlogged girl over, asking questions.

In the melee that follows, Alison leads Aaron away and walks with him until they find a more discreet part of the neighborhood, her eyes closing as she focuses on Ser’s power thrumming through her. Once they’re alone, Aaron’s shivers only strengthen beneath her fingers and she knows he’s in no condition to transport himself home... so she keeps a tight hold on him and pulls him with her, fighting off the pain stabbing through her chest as her body protests the once more unusual strain of safely shifting both of them from place to place.

When she sees his apartment, she sighs in relief and releases him, watching through glassy eyes as he stumbles over to his couch and drops down onto the cushions, not seeming to mind that he’s still pretty soaked. “I’ll be back in a minute,” she tells him. “I’ll get something to warm you up with, and some clean clothes.” As he nods quietly, she stumbles off to the bathroom and just barely finds the light switch with shaking hands, roughly swatting at it uncoordinatedly until the room lights up and causes her to flinch away.

Once her eyes begin to adjust, she staggers towards the sink and presses her hands to the cool ceramic, breathing heavily. Her heart is racing and she’s never felt this ill before, even when she’d been stuck in the hospital for days, struggling to survive. I guess I overdid it, she thinks, tears prickling at her eyes. Guess trying to be kind and not forcing Aaron into sending himself back home alone after all he’d been through was just a little too much... Of course she’d known her body was trying to tell her she was overdoing it, especially after she’d passed out following the tornado in Parkville, but she’d woke up feeling a little bit better and thought perhaps she’d rested sufficiently enough to be able to handle this case.

She can’t go back out when she’s trembling worse than Aaron, and she can’t stay in here forever or he’ll get suspicious no matter how poorly he himself is feeling. Lifting her eyes to the ceiling, she tries to concentrate on anything other than the sound of her heartbeat thudding in her ears. Ser, I need you. I can’t... I think... I don’t think I’m going to last much longer like this. Please...

She can sense the Piaculum creator in the back of her mind, as she’d been able to for years now, his protective gaze always on her and the other Piaculum, but he says nothing. Does even less. Are you ignoring me? She bites her lip, trying to think. Tries not to say anything rash that will only make him even angrier. You haven’t said anything to me in weeks. That’s not like you, Ser. Why would you work so hard to keep me on as your second-in-command and then ignore me for so long? When I need you the most?

He still remains quiet and she shakes her head, the emotional turmoil of his being so unexplainably cruel to her when she’s at her weakest eating at her more than her own physical shortcomings. He at least had been by her side during her time in the hospital, holding her hand and, yes, he may have been far from talkative even then, but his presence had been comforting and supportive, unlike now when she is receiving the exact opposite from him. “What did I do to make you decide to treat me like this?” she wonders, dropping to her knees by the sink. Yes, time is slipping through her fingers-- in a number of ways-- but she’s too overwhelmed to care, just wanting to have an answer from the callous soul she can feel in the back of her mind.

I am unable to help you, he finally responds. You know this. I apologize.

She shakes her head, fingers digging into her jeans as she tries to formulate a sensible response. Being able to physically ease my suffering and just being there for me emotionally are two very different things. I know you can’t heal people, that it drains you. But you’ve never outright ignored me like this in the past. I just want to know why, what I did.

He says nothing for a long time, finally managing a curt, You did nothing. I am trying to strategize the next step and I haven’t had much time for socializing. Again, I apologize. Things will return to normal soon.

She sneers at this, slowly making her way back to her feet. “Of course they will,” she mumbles, opting to ignore him from here on as she remembers that Aaron is still out in the living room, waiting for her to return with fresh, warm clothes and blankets for him. After splashing lukewarm water against her skin, she sucks in a breath and ventures back out, turning towards his bedroom. Her eyes falling onto his bed, she smiles half-heartedly before passing over to his dresser. Avoiding the top drawer-- which is generally the boxers drawer, something she has little knowledge in and doesn’t care to start now-- she opens the second one and finds warm looking sweaters and hoodies, along with flannel pajama pants and sweatpants. Grabbing two of the sweaters and the thickest pair of PJ pants she can find-- and pulling the comforter off of his bed, she looks once more around the room, how welcoming his sheets look as she struggles to stand. But the thought of intruding so far as to actually lay down, after everything she’s already done to his life in the last few months, leaves her feeling uncomfortable and a bit embarrassed, her face heating up as she quickly turns and leaves the room.

“Here,” she whispers, waiting patiently and trying not to look too closely as he fumbles through trembling hands to get his clothes off to change into the much warmer fare she’s holding out to him. Realizing after a few moments that he’s not getting too far, she thinks perhaps he’d be more appreciative of her help than not being ogled. Shaking her head at her own silliness, she puts the items down and approaches him, hands outstretched. “Need some help?”

He nods faintly, looking beyond relieved as she works over his shirt, finally getting the soaked fabric loose and over his head. Pants are next, the denim even worse than the thick fabric of his sweater, but eventually she gets it, only just remembering to pull the equally as heavy boots off of his feet before trying to pry the jeans off of him. Leaving him in his boxers, she looks away just in the nick of time as those go too, kicked onto the carpet with a heavy squelching noise. Trying to focus on anything but the very naked man behind her, she starts by counting the DVDs she can just see from here by the TV stand-- before realizing she can do something else to help get him warm while he works through the shivers to put his own clothes on. “Do you have hot chocolate?” she asks, already heading towards the kitchen with a purposeful walk.

“Uh, yeah, it’s in the cupboard above the fridge,” he calls out, sounding perplexed at her quick escape.

As she searches the cupboard he had described, she breathes in and out deeply. As if my heart wasn’t racing enough already, she thinks derisively. What are you, Alison, fifteen again? C’mon... Trying to ignore the hot flush that grows once more upon her pale skin, she reaches up for the box of hot chocolate mix that she can just see between two containers of sugar. Not only is Aaron a hot guy, and kind of Alison’s type in the looks department-- she doesn’t know him well enough yet to know more than that, unfortunately-- but she’d not been near to a guy (Ser not counting) since long before her health scare. It’s nearly impossible to juggle a personal life, being a Piaculum, and the various responsibilities of day to day life to ensure people don’t really notice anything off about a person. Aaron had already learned that with his neighbors Louis and Reno, and she hadn’t wanted to put more pressure on herself when being a Piaculum is already the most stressful thing she could imagine, slowly distancing herself from a lot of people in her immediate circle through the years.

She’d come to regret it, especially when she was alone in the hospital and uncertain what the future would bring, but it is what it is. Either way, she’d been single for a very long time now and being this close to Aaron, helping him get mostly undressed after everything they’d been through together, leaves her floundering uncomfortably. Finally finding the cocoa, she also spots a mug and, glancing into his fridge, is glad to see milk waiting inside. A quick sniff test later (Not only is Aaron a Piaculum, he is a guy living alone after all... better safe than sorry...) and she pours a decent amount inside of the mug, before placing it in the microwave on a nearby counter. After a lengthy examination of the buttons, she sets it to warm up for 90 seconds and begins the hunt for a spoon.

Drawer after drawer and finally she locates his silverware, smiling faintly at the mishmash of actual utensils and plastic stuff along with various condiments from fast food places. Knowing that her place isn’t much better, she just chuckles and moves over to the microwave in time for it to start beeping that it’s done. Gingerly pulling the mug out, she blows at the steam billowing up and begins stirring it, only slightly brushing her tongue against the spoon to check how hot the liquid is. Finding it sufficient to warm Aaron up, she brings it into the living room, hesitating only long enough to see if he’s decent. Finding that he is, she smiles faintly and joins him, holding the mug out to him. “Careful, it’s hot,” she tells him needlessly as he takes it from her and just holds it, the warmth probably feeling like heaven against his chilled fingers.

He’s bundled up in the sweater and pajama bottoms, the comforter draped lazily across his shoulders, and he already looks a lot better than he had when she’d first left him to find the clothes. “Thank you,” he tells her before taking a slow sip of the still hot drink.

She waves it off, smiling vaguely as she watches him. “Is it good?” At his nod, she relaxes even more. “I’m glad.” Her heart is still alternatingly skipping and racing in her chest, thudding unevenly in her ears, and it’s taking all she has not to completely lose it right now. “You look exhausted,” she half-notes, half-lies. He does look tired, but not horribly so, she just needs something to say, an excuse to get away from his apartment and watchful gaze... return to her own place and try the various tricks she’d become an old pro at in the past few months to calm her pulse without raising anyone’s suspicions.

“So do you,” he smiles back, though there’s more than a hint of worry in his gaze. “Are you ok?”

“Yeah, I’m fine,” she quickly responds, not even having the strength to bristle at his fussing over her health yet again. “It’s just been quite the week, you know? I need a good night’s sleep, is all. I’ll be fine.”

He watches her with a somewhat disbelieving look on his face. “Yeah, of course you will.”

Ignoring the bland expression on his face and tense undertones to his voice, she stands and dusts her hands off across her legs. “I’ll see you during the next mission, Aaron. Right now, my bed is calling me... and I’m sure yours is too. Go, lay down, get the rest of the way warm, and everything’ll look better in the morning.”

“Yes Doctor,” he quips quietly, standing to join her. He makes sure to interrupt her focus by touching her shoulder before she can call out for Ser’s ability to send her home. “Hey.” Their eyes locking, he smiles half-heartedly. “Take care of yourself, huh?”

Ordinarily she’d be offended by his words, the grim look in his eyes, but she can sense how worried he truly is for her-- something else she hadn’t sensed from anyone else for a very, very long time--, and how sincerely he does care about her. This calms her temper enough for her to not snap as she rests a hand on top of his. “Of course I will, Aaron. Don’t worry about me.”

As soon as he reluctantly lets her go, she closes her eyes and breathes in deeply. Upon opening them once more, she finds herself staring at her bed. Ignoring it completely, she staggers a few steps and drops to her knees, crying out as finally she allows the pain to engulf her, all energy and adrenaline she’d been clinging to while at Aaron’s dissipating and leaving her empty and worthless. Tears begin streaming down her face as she clutches at her chest and pants. “Ser,” she whines, digging her nails into the well-worn carpeting of her bedroom floor, not even noticing as purple nail polish chips and scatters into the folds. “I know I try not to ask for much from you, but this time I’m making an exception. Please... please.” Struggling and crying, she groans as her body once more gives out and she collapses by the bed. “I can’t take much more of this,” she admits to herself, to the thin air around her.

For the first time since she’d become a Piaculum, she feels utterly alone. Ser’s presence isn’t with her like it usually is.

He feels strangely empty, incomplete, without that power coursing through him. Of course, it hadn’t begun as his, and it was never intended to remain with him, but such strength, a true sense of invincibility from his head to his feet had made him feel like anything was possible, like he could do no wrong ever. Dwelling on this unexplainable sense of loss now muddling his thought processes, Reno Olmstead peers out of the window of his apartment, trying to accept that things are the way they are and forever will be this way from now on.

Broken from his thoughts by the soft arms latching around his midsection, he turns to smile and press a faint kiss to Louis’ lips, relieved when his boyfriend succeeds at distracting him from his inner turmoil. “Where were you just now?” his boyfriend asks softly, trailing fingers across his jaw before pressing against his cheeks and drawing him into another soft, lingering kiss. “Thinking about what you’re going to get me for my birthday?”

“Oh geez, are we starting in on that already?” he asks between kisses, pushing Louis back until he’s flush against the opposing wall and stretching out against him, enjoying the way their bodies fit well together. “I have time to decide.” When the younger man pouts against him, Reno laughs and kisses him roughly, tugging slightly on his extended bottom lip. “You can’t rush perfection.”

“This is true,” he responds, running a hand under his shirt and up the doctor’s abs until he shivers, Louis’ eyes darkening in response. “Can I have a hint anyway?”

Reno closes his eyes, losing himself in Louis’ touch. He’d give him anything and Louis knows it, but right now... the thrumming need to feel that power eats him alive... he’d had a taste and now he finds that he wants more. Maybe, perhaps, his leader would permit him to have a little of it back... since Reno had so successfully provided him with as much of Ser’s strength as he could drain without risking his own wellbeing, but for now, he can control the craving.

No need, after all, to show his hand too early. His desperation to prove himself to said leader had only grown in intensity when he’d been standing outside of the weather bureau in Champaign and spotted Alison Wilson, despite knowing as well as anyone that she’d been injured awhile back so severely that she’d had to give up her place as the Illinois Piaculum. He knew immediately that this would mean only one thing, that she was there to mentor and make sure the idiot newbie who’d taken her position wouldn’t screw up and get himself killed. Not that anything could always be done to stop such things from happening-- her own fluke injury had been proof of that--, but yeah, he’d been watched closely when he had first started as well. Though his title was not Piaculum, he’d still been guided and protected until more confident in his new role. Curious as to who had been selected as Piaculum this go around, he followed her back to the path of the tornado and watched as she joined... his very own neighbor and close friend, Aaron Fisk. It suddenly clicks into place as he realizes-- the girl outside of their apartment complex whose face he couldn’t see from above hadn’t been just any girl-- it had been her.

Rage and betrayal unlike any he had ever felt before burnt within him, leaving him nearly ready to scream right there in the middle of nowhere, standing in a cornfield and watching as the storm for which he’d used his leader’s abilities to muffle far-away sounds from this area so the people in its path would not be aware what was coming began to form around him. Despite his anger that his best friend-- the man he’d lived only feet away from for years by now-- was one of them, the thought of Aaron dying in that storm had left him breathless and ill... but he had survived, and so, to his utter disgust, had the people inside. So had Alison.

Returning to the here and now, he leans back in Louis’ warm hold and yet again ponders when exactly Aaron had taken over as Illinois Piaculum... He never gets a detailed list afterwards of the missions he succeeds or fails at but his perfectionist streak usually makes him check back in afterwards, even in the more grisly cases. His ability at emotional disconnect makes it simpler, and he had kept an eye on newspaper records and local news reports as case after case went by, just to find he’d failed. The people to survive in each and every one of them. How he had missed that Aaron had been behind it until this moment, he’s not sure. The only thing he can guess is that Alison had gotten them away from each situation before cameras or reporters could descend upon them. She always was crafty like that. Even if not enough to keep herself from getting injured barely four years into her run as Piaculum. It had always been Reno’s motivation that made him leave missions early to avoid getting caught or spotted, but he had been inclined to hang around for some unknown reason in the country, fate piecing together enough for him to see the truth of who his new rival is.

“Reno?” Louis’ worried voice cuts once more into his thoughts and he turns to find his boyfriend frowning at him. Distantly remembering that he’d asked something, Reno leans in and kisses him to distraction, shaking his head slowly in response to the question that he has no earthly recollection of. “Aw,” he pouts against his lips before giving up, giving in. As they half-walk, half-stumble away from the window, Reno tries all the harder to ignore the pulsing deep in his veins for more of the power he’d felt so briefly, tries to drench it in the sensation of Louis pressed tightly against him as he leads him towards the couch, just to give up half of the way there and tug at his shirt, needing to be able to run his fingers against his bare skin.

“Louis,” he pauses with his hands pressed against his hip bones patiently, staring deep into his face until he looks up too, their eyes locking. “I love you.” Raising a hand and brushing a finger gently against his lip, Reno takes a breath and lunges forward once more, seizing his lips in a slightly rough kiss, his hands returning to his sides before grazing his jeans.

“I love you too,” he breathes against his lips before sprawling out on the couch and dragging him along until he’s on top of him, Louis nuzzling under his jaw as he takes a brief breather, frowning down at the red sweatshirt Reno is currently engulfed by. “I’d love you more with less clothes though.”

“I bet you say that to all the guys.” Tsking at his boyfriend’s innocent blinking, he tugs the shirt off and presses, skin to skin, against him as they exchange glances once more. “Well? What ar--” His words die away in an instant as Louis arches up, Reno’s dark blue eyes fluttering when his body reacts almost immediately. “God,” he pants against the other man’s mouth, all thoughts about Aaron and that amazing power wiped clean from his mind in ways only Louis could succeed at.

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