In Your Dreams

This was going nowhere fast.

Breathe in deeply,” Dirk’s voice intoned. “Fill your lungs completely. 1… 2… 3… 4…”

Jo sat cross-legged in the basement floor. Her eyes were closed, arms resting on her legs so her fingers dangled towards the floor. The rest of the world had been muted, leaving her with nothing to distract her from the man’s voice.

Stop fidgeting.” His voice remained calm and even. “Now breathe out. 1… 2…. 3… 4…”

She cracked open one eye. The mountain of a man was sitting across from her in a similar pose – eyes closed, back ramrod straight, hands resting on his knees. She could stand up, and only barely be taller than him seated. It was really annoying.

How had he known she was fidget-

Close your eyes.”

She snapped them shut in an instant, squeezing them tight. How had he known she had been peeking? A sigh escaped, and she crooked her head left and right, wringing a couple of pops from her neck. Her muscles were screaming, not because meditation was physically strenuous, but because she wanted to do something.

Can’t I just spar with Kippy some more?” she pleaded, but the words came out more of a whine than she had intended.

Meditation first,” Dirk intoned.

I don’t see him meditating,” she muttered darkly, shifting where she sat. The man in question was actually leaning against the far wall, watching over them as his father tried to impart some bit of inner calm on her.

There came a snort from his direction. “You shouldn’t be seeing anything at all with your eyes closed,” he drawled out. “And stop calling me ‘Kippy,’ Josie.” Hunter put extra stress on her own nickname.

She cracked her eye open to glare at him, winning a bright smile from the fellow. He was dressed in sweats and a tank top, and was perfectly at ease with waiting. They had been practicing daily since she had gotten out of the hospital – both the meditation as well as the sparring. It wasn’t anything too serious just yet – what with her recovering and all from her tangle with the gangsters – but she knew he would amp it up as she was feeling bet-

Children,” Dirk’s voice cut in sharply, and she snapped her eyes closed once more. “Kip isn’t doing this because he already knows how. You need to learn more control, young lady.”

I’m perfectly controlled,” Jo shot back with an indignant sniff.

The sigh that came from the large man whispered that she was toeing the line of his nerves. She cleared her throat, settling herself back into the meditation pose, forcing herself to calm her breathing and clear her mind.

To not fidget.

She listened to Dirk’s breathing, matching her pace to his own. She could mimic his stance, his breathing, even his facial expressions, but soon enough, her mind began to drift.

This was all because of the dream-walking thing – the one aspect of her powers she couldn’t seem to get under control. She had managed to do it intentionally only once, and that was with the Doc when he had been sitting in the same room as her doing… whatever it was that he did when he retreated inside his own mind. It had been her first attempt at it, and she had been so very excited that it had worked.

But it had failed consistently since then.

Even now, Dong Gu was somewhere in South Korea, deep in a meditative state, waiting for her to come strolling through the garden of his mind into that little temple-thing. The lot of them over there had apparently had a long talk with Dirk and Hunter over here, recommending that they work with her on this.

Even Richard had thought it a smashing idea, so now along with her sparring sessions, she got to sit quietly for an hour a day and try to hurl her mind halfway around the planet into someone else’s head.

The very idea was dizzying, but she needed to learn to control it. She hadn’t stumbled into anything too bad as of yet, at least none that she was aware of, but she still had trouble determining someone else’s dreams from her own.

Though her dreams tended to have more fire…

How long had she been casually strolling through other people’s dreams anyway? She only became aware of it after moving to Boston, but it could have been happening before, but she just wasn’t aware of what she had been doing. In the end, her own personal nightmares would kick in.

How many people had she unintentionally pulled into those dreams? She knew Dong Gu had born witness to parts, but…

This wasn’t working.

She opened her eyes, prepared to voice her concern, but found instead Hunter’s nose was less than an inch from her own.

Jo shoved him back, but not before the startled yelp escaped her.

It may have been a shriek.

The man really was a freaking ninja. He had moved across the room silently and crouched in front of her until she had opened her eyes, and she had no idea he had even been there.

At least he had some preternatural assistance to his ninja-likeness. Jo still wasn’t sure how Dirk – being fully human and roughly the size of a barge – managed to move around so quietly. She needed bells for both of them is what she needed.

Do you feel better now?” she growled at the now-laughing bodyguard.

A bit,” Hunter agreed cheerfully. “Did it work?”

So maybe he wasn’t so blaise about the whole process as he acted. She made the decision in an instant, pulling her brows together. “I… I think it did.” She let her voice stay soft, and she dropped her gaze to her hands. “It was so… weird. It could only have been a dream.” She gave her head a small shake.

Can you describe it?” This from Dirk who had used one meaty hand to move his son aside. Hunter was smaller than his father, in large part since his mother had been Korean, but he was by no means a small man. It didn’t seem to matter to Dirk, however.

You were there,” she said to the elder bodyguard. “You were escorting me… somewhere. I don’t know. And Richard was there. And Jenny.” She bit down on her lower lip, letting her eyes go wide as she lifted them to Hunter. “And you, Toto! You were there, too! I’m so glad you’re alright,” she wailed as she threw her arms about the man.

I hate you…”

There was a sound of utter disgust from Dirk. “Again.”

*****

The world was warm, kind of fuzzy around the edges. She floated there in the nothingness – all darkness except a bit of red along the edges. She was becoming dizzy though there was no perceptible movement to be causing it. There wasn’t even any smell to this place.

No, that wasn’t true. It was sanitized, antiseptic. The stringent smell of bleach and general cleanliness. It reminded her of a hospital, and heaven knew she had been in enough of those.

Distantly, she could make out people speaking, though the words were too garbled to make out.

But there was another sound, too. Softer, barely audible.

Faint whimpering…

An electrical current ripped through everything, flashes of white and blue lighting up the nothingness and causing her extremities to go numb with the rush of the current-

Her eyes snapped open with a gasp, a migraine beginning to pulse just behind her eyes. Ouch! Her head was still spinning as she shook her head in an attempt to clear it. The fuzziness of the dream – was it actually a dream? – was fading into nothingness, leaving a scant memory of the disorientation she had felt in all that nothingness.

Dirk didn’t so much as twitch before her. They had been ‘practicing’ every day for nearly two weeks now, and she was still no closer to being able to get this ‘meditation’ thing down.

Though this was potentially a step closer, but there was no way to be certain. The whole point of this exercise was two fold – send herself into dreams at will but also in the direction of her intended targets.

Sadly, she had an active imagination. Could her illusions work on herself? Was that what she had just done?

Across the room, Hunter’s head popped up over the back of the couch he was reclining on, arching both brows at her. Lips twisting in self-annoyance, she gave him a small shake of her head. It wasn’t enough to report in.

Again,” Dirk intoned without so much of a flutter of his lid.

Again,” she mocked under her breath, but let her eyes drift closed.

*****

She was sprawled flat on her back, glowering up at the ceiling. Yet another meditation session come and gone, and the closest she had gotten had been more than a week before when she had half-stumbled into… oblivion? She still wasn’t sure where she had been or if it had been even real.

She felt somehow cheated by all of it.

She hadn’t even been able to go by accident in the past month.

So now it had been almost three weeks of daily meditation, and she was pretty sure she was getting worse at it. She actually fell asleep at one point. Full-on Zs! What was worse was her daily sparring was getting worse, and considering she was brawling with Hunter – who she knew damn good and well was better than she was at this stuff – she didn’t need any more handicaps.

Even now, her body ached from head to toe, and she knew he had been going easy on her because of the lingering injuries from her tangle with the Irish mob.

I think we’re doing this all wrong,” she declared to the ceiling.

Which part? You seem to be getting better at getting your ass kicked.”

Kippy…” It was a warning tone from Dirk.

Sorry.” But considering the grin on Hunter’s face as he stepped into her field of view, she was pretty sure he didn’t mean it. He did hold a hand down to her, helping to haul her to her feet, which she absently accepted.

I meant the meditation.” Since Hunter seemed to require the clarification. Once she was settled on her feet, she slipped one foot forward between his legs, and shoved him backwards with all of her strength. It was enough to make him stumble, but sadly, his reflexes were too good for him to be laid low by such a cheap shot.

He grinned broadly at her – that was probably worse than if he fought back.

I kinda suck at it,” she said instead of exacting immediate revenge. She was so going to be putting his hand in warm water when she next caught him napping… “I mean, in case you hadn’t noticed,” she said, turning on her heel to face Dirk. “It’s possible it’s just not my thing, ya know.”

She shouldn’t have turned her back on Hunter. That thought occurred to her the instant he grabbed her up in a headlock, forcing her body to bend. He wasn’t choking her, just teasing her. “Sorry. Boss’s orders. He wants you to get this under control.” He tightened his grip on her as she began to beat on his back and arm, kicking at his legs.

Of course, Dong Gu’s word was law when it came to stuff like this, at least to her two bodyguards.

She turned her head just enough to sink her teeth into Hunter’s side. Now that had him letting her go real fast! “Not my fault he-”

Rubbing his side absently with one hand, Hunter ruffled her hair with the other. “Randomly flitting into people’s heads is a bad thing, doll. There’s things out there that can hurt you, even like that. ‘specially if someone – or something – is trained with this stuff.” His expression softened, his hand staying on her head. “Dong Gu has seen more than both of us in this regard. You know you need to learn.”

And he was right.

Damnit.

Dirk sighed – she was getting all too familiar with that sound. “Go ahead and head up to your room.”

Wait a sec… what??

Her head snapped around to stare at Dirk. Her brain was having difficulty wrapping around that. “Did… did you just tell me to go to my room?” she squeaked. “You’re giving up? Just like that?” her voice was raising sharply. “Seriously?” Dirk was already shaking his head, chuckling softly, his massive arms crossed over his chest as he leaned back comfortably against the wall. “We’ve only been working on this for-”

It was Hunter who let her off the hook. “Ve’s up there,” he offered since his father seemed unable to articulate such things.

Huh?” Ah, so eloquent! But she was having trouble keeping up with the conversation. Maybe it was the sparring…

Officer Chevalier,” the living mountain supplied, pushing away from the wall to cross the room to her. “She has another idea of how to help you out.”

Jo blinked owlishly. Maybe she really had taken one too many hits to the head…

Dirk laughed, turning her about by her shoulders, and giving her a nudge towards the stairs. “Go on. This works out, you won’t have to meditate tomorrow.”

Not having to sit still and be quiet for an hour? Jo couldn’t get up the stairs fast enough!

She was out of breath by the time she got to her room on the second floor, but there she paused. The lights were out, and there were scents hanging heavy in the air she did not recognize. A single, fat candle was lit in the middle of her desk.

C’mon in, mon petite,” Ve called from the shadows. “Close the door ‘hind ya.”

’cause that’s not at all creepy,” Jo muttered, but did as instructed. “This seems more like spooky ghost story-time than meditation…” She sniffed loudly at the air. “Are you trying to roofie me?”

The officer chuckled in the darkness. “There’s all sorts of ways t’meditate. Ya just need an extra nudge is all.” She paused for half a beat. “And ya drink roofies. Yer smellin’ oils. They’re meant t’calm ‘n focus that brain of yours.”

How very New Agey of you,” Jo grumbled as she dropped into the seat at her desk.

These herbs ‘ave been around for centuries longer than all the New Agey folks have. Just ’cause they re-discovered it don’t mean there’s nothin’ to it all. Folks of old used t’do this on a regular basis. They use it ‘cuase it does work.”

Jo paused, shifting in her seat. “So what makes you think this will help? Dirk was doing all the old-time mysticy stuff from the Orient.”

She could practically hear Ve cringe at the description. “That works, too,” she said at last. “Again, been ’round for centuries. Dirk’s been tryin’ t’show ya that ’cause that’s what works for he and his. Even the boys on the other side of the planet do the same thing. But I think with Dirk down there pushin’ ya, just made ya want it less.”

I do want to.” Sort of. She knew she needed to, and being able to travel at will would be mighty useful.

But ya don’t want someone tellin’ ya that you gotta do it.” It seemed so simply when she put it that way.

But when you’re telling me, you think I will, huh?”

I think ya trust me,” Ve countered. “But that’s less important at the moment.”

Jo turned in her seat, searching the darkness for her friend. “And why’s that?”

Wrong question…”

She paused. “So what’s more important?”

She could practically hear the smile in the shadows. “That’s the right one,” Ve murmured. “I need ya t’look into the fire,” she answered instead, voice softening. At least she totally avoided the question there. “Just watch that dancin’ flame. Breathe deep, fill yer lungs.” She was pacing, foot steps softly heard. “Slowly, breathin’ in ‘n out. Take yer time – ya don’t need to do no countin’. ‘n when yer ready, when ya can see it in the flames… reach out for ’em…”

Because it was that easy?

Jo turned to face the candle, frowning at it. “I’ve been trying this for weeks now,” she countered, crossing arms over her chest. “I’m pretty sure I’m not cut out for this.”

Not cut out for what?” Ve snorted. “Pretty sure ya’ve already been traipsin’ through folk’s heads – this is just with a bit more purpose t’it.”

That’s not what I meant.”

Never thought we’d be havin’ t’chat about ya lackin’ confidence, mon petite.” The older woman chuckled, continuing to pace just outside of the ring of light provided by the candle. “Not even gonna try, hm?”

Pretty sure Dong Gu’s not out there waiting-”

Hunter called ‘im earlier. He’s already in his little meadow, doin’ whatever it is those boys do to center ‘n ground ’emselves.”

No, that made it sound easy. Just reach through the flame, huh? It was like they were holding a hand out to her, waiting for her to take it, but try as she might, she hadn’t been able to take them up on that offer. It was like she had been flailing in the darkness for weeks now, and the constant failure was starting to grate on her.

Besides, it’s not like she could even-

A hand took her upside the head, startling a yelp out of her. “Ve!”

Stop doubtin’ yerself.” That was the cop voice – she had used the cop voice on her. “And try.”

Jo muttered something dark and rude beneath her breath as she stared into the flame.

Her muscles were aching pleasantly from the spar, and she was physically worn out. She relaxed back into her seat, hands curled in her lap as she stared at the flame. She worked on her breathing, filling her lungs to capacity before letting the breath go through her lips. The room had gone silent, even Ve’s pacing had ceased.

All that was left was the single candle.

She had no idea how much time had passed as she stared into the dancing flame. Her eyes were beginning to droop. Really, all she needed was a good meal and Mr. Darcy – her mohawked teddy bear – and all would be right with the world.

But what was that again? All she needed to do was reach…

How long had she been walking?

The path seemed to go on forever. Upon a hill, overlooking the maze, a sprawling, ancient, Japanese style castle. It was white and gray against a dusky sky, rising several stories into the air. The clouds beyond were stained in hues of orange and red, but it was too extensive to be any kind of sunset. No, something was on fire, but at the distance, it only accented the untouched castle. No flames would touch this palace, and the distant destruction whispered to the agelessness of this place.

It was beautiful, graceful in its age, and well kept.

A small voice in the back of her head gave a whoop of joy – she’d made it!

She sighed contently, dragging her gaze from the castle as she turned another corner. It was a hedge maze, but this one had thorns hidden amidst the bush which she knew were best to be avoided. Sleeping Beauty should be wary of these brambles – she would never waken if she was pricked by one…

There was someone at her side.

Or was she at his?

So which of us is supposed to be Brynhildr?” the man asked absently.

Just like when she had been in Dong Gu’s dream, the words were spoken in the man’s native tongue, but overlayed in English inside her head. In this case, there was no need – Japanese was a language she had picked up years before.

But the question struck her, and her steps halted so she could turn to properly look up at the man.

And up.

Damn, he was tall.

Easily a foot taller than she, if not a bit more, he looked like some kind of dark angel. Pale skin held a faint glow amidst the shadows, and he was almost painfully beautiful. Black hair framed graceful features, strands falling into his narrowed eyes. Slashed brows arched, and the look he gave her was of bored disdain, cherubic lips pursed to a thin, disapproving line. Broad shoulders and a narrow waist were the only thing she could tell beneath his perfectly tailored suit. From his shoes up to the pocket square, it was all black. Even the silk button down beneath.

Maybe an angel of death…

Why were they always so damn pretty?

A corner of his mouth flitted upwards in a silent sneer as his gaze swept down her body and up again. She followed his gaze, realizing that her projection was still dressed as she had been when she had sat down – barefoot, yoga pants, and a tanktop. If she was anyone else, she’d likely be feeling under dressed at the moment.

An expulsion of breath snapped her attention back up. “Hm?” Wait, he had asked her a question. “Brynhildr?” Her mind scrambled for an answer, but none was forthcoming. “You’ve lost me there, big guy.”

Those dark eyes closed, and she could practically hear him praying for strength.

She had that effect on a lot of people, actually…

She gave him a few moments to resist shaking her before clearing her throat. “So, um who are you exactly?” She was pretty sure he wasn’t one of Dong Gu’s relatives, but she couldn’t be enitrely certain of that – were they in Japan as well?

Eyes opened, and he stared down at her, stony faced. His hands tucked casually into the pockets of his slacks. “Shouldn’t that be my question?” His voice was soft and low, almost like a purr, but one which made her wary, more so as he took a step towards her. “Who are you?” he turned the question back on her.

I asked first.” Not the most mature response, but the one she blurted out just the same. She stood her ground, planting her feet firmly and settling hands on her hips. She had just stood toe to toe with Hunter, and while he had thrown her all over the practice mat, this guy in his perfect suit had nothing on her bodyguard.

Unless he really was a relative, in which case she was in for another ass-whooping…

He stared for a moment longer, but as she lifted her chin, steadfastly refusing to be the first to speak, he rolled one shoulder, and set out on his way forward once more, ignoring her. Just like that, she was dismissed – he clearly had better things to be doing.

Like wandering aimlessly through a hedge maze filled with poisoned thorns and no telling what other dangers while some distant village burned.

And a castle sat, cold and silent, watching over it all.

Crossing her arms over her chest, Jo scowled at the man’s back. Seriously? She continued to glower daggers until he turned a corner and vanished from view. This wouldn’t do at all. Giving one more look about herself, she set off after him at a jog.

If she lost him in here, she would probably never find him again.

So what are we doing here?” she asked as she gained his side before he could turn another corner. He looked down at her, arching a single brow in askance. His steps didn’t so much as slow, but fortunately, she had learned long ago to keep up with people so much taller than she.

His steps came to a halt, and she moved a few paces beyond before she realized he wasn’t going anywhere. Turning, she arched both brows at him. He stood there, silent and beautiful, eyes closed, face lifted to the cloud-filled sky, hands still neatly tucked away. His skin seemed to gather whatever ambient light there was in the area and reflect it back. She half wondered if he was this pretty in real life…

He opened his yes again to stare down at her. “Yes,” he said simply as if to answer her.

We’re doing… yes?” She really was having trouble following. Maybe she should tell Hunter to avoid the headshots for their next match…

He expelled a breath, shaking his head. “Are you going to insist upon following me, Brynhildr?”It’s was Jo’s turn to narrow her eyes on him. While it didn’t translate the same into her head, she knew he was using informal speech with her.

Nuances were important.

Yes, yes, I am.” She literally had nothing better to do at the moment.

He abruptly bowed at the waist so that he was nose to nose with her, eyes fixed on her own, and while she didn’t step back, she did lean away from him. “Then perhaps you should keep your mind on the task at hand rather than allowing it to wander inappropriately.”

Could he really hear her thoughts? Well, bloody hell…

She cleared her throat, but instead of speaking, she gave a small nod. She could only try, and if nothing else, he seemed like he needed the pretty words promising she the attempt.

He took a moment longer, studying her this close, gaze intent.

Scents tickled at her nose with him so near, and she closed her eyes, inhaling deeply. Violence. She smelled violence, barely restrained. He wasn’t angry – no, instead, there was this steady, stony calm as if he were perfectly in control of his thoughts and emotions.

But then, someone who was dreaming of a maze, he might be dealing with some serious repression.

Since when could she smell things like this, anyway??

When she opened her eyes, he had straightened to his full height once more, and this time…

The tip of a katana rested at the hollow of her throat.

He had barely shifted positions, and she hadn’t heard him draw the thing. The silver of the blade gleamed, and the black hilt was carved intricately with what appeared to be a dragon. At least that was what she could tell of what she could see of it. She tilted her head, trying to get a better view, but the tip came up, tapping her chin lightly with the flat – not to cut her, just enough to get her attention.

A katana? Really? So we’re rocking all the stereotypes now?” She tried to bat away the blade but it didn’t so much as waiver.

What are you?”

That really was using informal speech. “You’re quite rude,” Jo shot back, batting at the blade once more.

As are you,” he returned, tone even and calm. With the blade and all, he was definitely rocking the whole ‘Asian Angel of Death’ vibe. He’d be downright hot if it wasn’t for the fact that the blade was resting at her throat. “And you still aren’t keeping your thoughts to yourself.” His body turned as he took a step forward, bracing his sword across his body so that the tip did not move closer even as he shifted. “Are you some kind of demon?”

It was the perfect position for him to thrust said blade forward and through…

She took a purposeful step back and to the side. “No demon,” she assured him. “Though my brother might have some things to say about that. Just passing through, really. But now I’m a bit stuck…” The point followed her. “At least I think I am. Maybe you can show me the way out?” this was asked more of the sword than to him, but she was unwilling to take her attention from the blade.

And why would I do that?”

Valid question. She needed an equally as valid response. “To get rid of me? Otherwise, you’re kinda stuck with me…”

The sword was drawn away, and suddenly his free hand was not in his pocket, but was instead holding an ebony sheath. The blade was flicked to that side before the flat was drawn along the outside of his hand, and only then slid home to its sheath. It was all very formal with very practiced movements.

Just like that, he was moving forward once more, no longer arguing her presence.

He even slowed his steps so she could keep up.

So, um, where did the sword go?” She couldn’t help but ask, though she distantly heard Hunter whisper “Never ask the naked Geisha where she hides her sword…” Unsurprising, her companion didn’t bother answering her.

They took another corner, stepping through an archway…

The room they found themselves had walls of vivid, cornflower blue with dark gold accents. Even the double-doors directly across from them were painted to match the gold, intricately designed. Though they entered through an archway, the wall behind them was smooth. Nothing but a simple square room with no windows to be had.

That wasn’t altogether true. There was a large pane of glass in the very center of the floor, green smoke billowing beneath, obscuring the view below, and another matching window directly above it, though this had a clear view of the sky above, only now it was mid-day with only a few clouds helping to filter the sun’s rays.

And it was cold enough in the room for her to see her breath.

She was suddenly glad she had not let him get too far out of view. She scooted quickly to his side, linking her arm with his as she stared around the otherwise empty room. “How the hell did we get here?” she chirped.

He had stopped walking again, and if it was possible, his back stiffened. He stared straight ahead for a count of ten before dropping his gaze, arching one fine brow at her hand where it had landed on his arm. He didn’t speak, didn’t pull away, didn’t even take his hands out of the pockets of his pockets.

She followed his gaze, studying her own hand on his arm. Funny – if it had been face to face, no way she would have initiated contact. But here? Nope. She wasn’t going to risk being lost in his head. “What?” she asked innocently.

There was a low sound of disgust, and he tried to shrug out of her grip, but she only tightened her grip on him. “Are you going to continue to cling to me, Brynhildr?” He was still using informal speech with her.

I don’t want to get lost,” she explained, tone light. “And you seem like you know where you’re going…”

So you said,” he muttered. This time, he was more forceful in wrenching his arm free of her grip, hand coming from his pocket, balled into a fist. He wasn’t trying to strike her, just making a point as he pulled away. “Stop. Touching. Me.”

If she had pockets, she’d be tucking her hands away. “Point made,” she muttered. “So are we just going to keep wandering aimlessly until… I don’t know. Just.. until?” He turned away and suddenly stopped, frowning. “Why do you keep calling me-”

Shh.”

Did he really just-

Shh.” There was more stress on that sound this time as he continued to stare at the empty wall.

Jo crossed her arms over her chest, following his attention to the wall. Nothing much to see there, so she returned her attention to the man’s back. So far, she was seeing a whole lot of nothing. Well, the smoke under their feet. That was something, in any case. She squatted down, pressing her hand flat against the glass.

And a hand pressed up through the green haze, matching its digits to her own, though the thing in the smoke had longer fingers which were curled, nails more like claws as they dug into the underside of the glass. And through the smoke, she could just make out movement. There were things down there. She couldn’t make out anything more specific than the hand, but they were dark shadows moving through the swirling mist. She stooped closer, trying to make out more details.

Fingertips of her free hand brushed the glass, but no hand reached up to meet her. It was cold, enough so that there should be frost or something forming, but it was perfectly clear. Just… cold.

You’re trapped,” she said suddenly, looking up at him as it all clicked into place. Crouched so, she barely came up to his knee. He had turned about to face her at some point, studying her instead of the blank wall. “You can’t get out. That’s why-”

The body slam came out of nowhere – it was a full tackle which knocked them both back off the floor-window, even sending them sliding another foot further. He stayed where he was atop her, her face pressed into his shoulder. God, he was heavy, even with his hands braced on either side of her shoulders.

So much for the ‘no touching’ thing.

She gave him a full count of ten, but he made no move to get off of her. She couldn’t see anything with the way he had her face against him, nor could she hear anything beyond his breath against her ear.

What else was a gal to do?

She sank her teeth in as hard as she could. It was awkward at best – she couldn’t get a good angle from the way he had her pinned, and she mostly got a mouthful of jacket, but he yelped which meant she got her point across, and rolled away.

What the hell do you think you’re – holy shit.” She had sat up, starting to give him an earful, only for the situation to sink in, even if slowly. The window that had been beneath them had shattered, pieces of glass littered over the floor – she could even see some dotting the man’s shoulders. A billow of smoke rose from within those jagged shard – when had that happened? – and there was a sickly light seen from within. The column swirled, dark, flitting shadows seen from within. The occasional shadowy hand reached out from the funnel before vanishing once more.

Meanwhile, tall, dark, and broody was rubbing at his shoulder, gaping at her. “You bit me.”

You’re still using informal speech.”

You bit me.”

What is that?”

You-”

I bit you. Yeah, yeah. I heard you the first time. What is that?”

I think they’re coming for you.” He was on his feet, his hand settling upon her wrist, painfully tight, to haul her up after him. “We need to get out of here.” He dragged her after him as he headed towards the only set of doors. Throwing them wide, they came out onto the…

The only doors in there lead to a freaking balcony?” Her question came out a shout. It was a stone balcony, something one might expect on some Renaissance building in Europe, made that much odder that it overlooked the same maze she was pretty sure she had first appeared in.

Which meant they were standing in the castle.

A wail was beginning to rise from just behind them, and a peek over her shoulder showed that swirling, seething mass of green smoke was slowly – so slowly – seeping closer to them. Jo wrenched her arm free, turning to shove both doors shut behind them, slamming both shut. She had the feeling that would only slow whatever was in the mist.

Suddenly, an arm encircled her waist, heaving her up and back, her hands wrenched free from the door handles.

And then they were falling…

Jo’s eyes popped open as she gasped for breath, her hands curled into tight. She popped to her feet, her chair sent tumbling back as she whirled around. Sweat drenched her brow, and she couldn’t get her breathing under control.

Her world spun, and she felt for all the world as if she were still falling, but she was still on stable ground. In her room. The light flicked on, causing her to flinch and stumble, back hitting the wall with a dull thud.

Breathe, mon petite,” Ve crooned, catching the girl up in her arms. The officer rubbed at her back, holding Jo tightly to her chest. “Just breathe.”

But she couldn’t breathe, not yet. She squeezed her eyes shut, her breath still coming too fast. “I think he’s still in there,” Jo whispered, shuddering. She clenched her hands together more tightly, her mind trying to trip back over the details. “I think he’s in trouble.”

Who?”

I have no idea…”

*** To be continued… later… ***

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