Nick stared at his calendar, narrowing his eyes at the neatly written words, "Fairheim, 4 pm" on today's date. It was the last appointment in a string of bimonthly grueling sessions. Fairheim himself was a doctor at the end of a string of doctors who pronounced him crazy but had said they could "fix" him. He had figured out by the time Fairheim came around that it was better to lie, or to at least withhold the truth, and just tell him that he agreed; he was crazy and believed that Fairheim could cure him of that. It was surprising then that Nick was successfully—more or less—adjusting to the recent batch of psychotropic drugs prescribed to him. That aside he still hadn't wanted to attend the last appointment, and dawdled in his apartment, debating on whether or not to skip it entirely. He was better, anyway. Better than before. Yet at the last moment he begrudgingly decided he must or his psychiatrist might get suspicious. He had been through that before with other doctors, and at one time during his youth was sent to an asylum. Nick couldn't bear that again, whether or not Fairheim insisted he was beyond that. With a dejected sigh he threw on his coat, grabbed his ring of keys from the counter and dashed out.
The office was fourteen blocks from his apartment building and although he only had ten minutes to get there he nevertheless chose to walk, shortening his normally long strides to blend in with the numerous other pedestrians. The day was so cool and crisp that it nearly hurt to breathe. The cold air stung his nostrils and he shoved his hands deep into the pockets of his coat. His keys poked into his knuckles uncomfortably. Nick never would have been able to walk down the street or even leave his apartment if it weren't for those pills. He hated them. The side-effects were terrible but at least he didn't see things he shouldn't (at least not as often). He shuddered when that thought crossed his mind. Migraines and near-constant nausea were side-effects he would gladly rather handle. Of course there were other things…side-effects, but they didn't show up all the time and he resolved to deal with it when they came, never mentioning any of it to Fairheim.
Seven blocks from his apartment building, he noticed something a little strange, and it normally wouldn't have troubled him (he had his own problems) but he had just turned his head in time to see a new shop front on a corner. What used to be a pink and yellow sign advertising a Pakistani family owned grocery was now a black painted sign with white, thin font reading simply "BOOKS". This wasn't the odd thing. In fact the store front looked completely normal in all aspects (two café tables with mismatched chairs could be seen through the window and rows of shelves further back, a counter, a man behind it with his nose in a book) but as he watched, rounding the corner, all other pedestrians crossed the street to avoid it. Nick stopped and watched as every single person crossed nearly twenty feet away from the door, walked for a while and then crossed back. He watched for some time, confused, then suddenly remembering his appointment, began walking again. With a look over his shoulder, eyes squinting at the store's windows, he made a mental note to check out the place further later.
When he entered the office the clock above the secretary's desk read four thirty. Nick was thirty minutes late. The office was small but brightly lit. A black loveseat and matching chair took over nearly half the room, a coffee table covered with magazines and self-help pamphlets in front of them. The carpet, a strange mustard yellow color, was neat and always looked recently vacuumed. One large fichus tree took over the other corner, obviously fake but each leaf polished to a shine. On the other side of the room was a large dark-stained desk, behind that a woman too small for it, the secretary, and behind her a large door the exact stain as the desk. Above that was the clock, ticking softly, mockingly at Nick. He swallowed, cleared his throat politely and managed a tight smile. It was almost over. Before the secretary looked up, he remembered to smooth down his untidy brown hair or she'd tell Fairheim that it seemed Nick had been avoiding mirrors again.
The slim, red-headed secretary looked up sharply from her afternoon crossword. "Mr. Chesley, you're late. You're lucky you're the last one today," she said and pushed her glasses up the bridge of her nose, and thankfully appeared to take no notice of his appearance. She didn't bother to buzz through but simply placed her crossword on the desk, got up and opened the door behind her.
Nick said nothing; the secretary was already returning to her crossword and didn't look up at him again. He walked around the desk and into the room behind her, but not before looking over her shoulder to notice she did her crosswords in ink. Number seven down was completely scratched out. Right beside the crossword was, "7. Temporal," written vertically, "crack" was 14 across using the "A" in number seven. Nick naturally forgot all this once he saw Dr. Fairheim behind the desk in the other room. He was a man with thick brown glasses too large for his surprisingly young face, but Nick was somehow reminded of a lieutenant the more sessions he had with him, and was not interested in finding out what he was like angry. Fairheim was nevertheless happy to see him as he leapt up from his desk quickly and strode across the room to shake Nick's hand. Fairheim's grip, however, told him he was extremely irritated he was late.
"Nicholas, close the door behind you, would you?"
Nick flexed his hand after he closed the door behind them. He didn't sit down until Fairheim asked; he was in such a hurry to get out of there. Nick began to get nervous and a twitch developed in his back, jerking his shoulder suddenly upward. Trying a smile he looked expectantly at the psychiatrist behind the desk, too nervous to offer anything.
"How are the headaches?"
"Not too bad."
"I could write a prescription."
"No," Nick said quickly, shuddering to think of what interesting side-effect would occur if he took a pain-killer with his daily prescription. "I'm fine." He forced a smile, cheek-crackingly wide, feeling a blood vessel throb on the side of his head. Why did this have to happen now? Nick forced the pain away from his mind as much as he could and tried to relax.
Fairheim linked his fingers together on the desk and narrowed his eyes at Nick. "Don't worry about this, okay?"
"Don't worry about today. This is the last of our mandatory in-person sessions. After this I might call you every once in a while for an update and if you ever need to see me, of course, you can make an appointment."
Nick let out a breath he hadn't realized he was holding and managed a smile. "This definitely feels like an exit interview."
"Not trying to shoo you out, Nicholas, but I don't think we really have anything to talk about." He paused, smiling over the desk at Nick. "Unless you have anything?"
"No." The edges of his vision were blurring, slowly melting into black. "I'm fine," Nick said in a small voice and forced himself from the chair. Staring at Fairheim, he saw a large, round pool floating just behind the doctor, flashing images too fast to discern. "I'll just go, then!" he half-shouted and turned away quickly, shutting his eyes as he made for the door.
"Hey, wait," came Fairheim's voice from behind his back, close to his side. Nick looked down to see the doctor holding out a card. "This is my cell number. If you get desperate," he said with a laugh. "You'll be all right."
"Keep in touch."
Nick shoved the card in his pocket and strode from the room, his eyes to the floor. He was in such a hurry to get out that his shin hit the coffee table, sending the stacks of magazines and pamphlets to the floor. He heard the secretary exclaim, tossing her crossword aside as she got up from her desk but he didn't look back as he left.
Mohan was bored. He found himself once again, nose in one of the many books in the shop. So boring was his job that he had read all the books except for one section: Mathematics, and was now nose deep in some very dry stuff. Ever so often during this tiresome read he would look up at all the people crossing the street to avoid the very shop in which he was owner. But no one ever came in, and they wouldn't of course, for no humans went in and positively weren't allowed at all. Not one of them even glanced at the door, oblivious to its very existence.
He gave up on the book, tossing it behind him, and took off his reading glasses. Mohan could have sworn he saw a man staring straight at him from across the street. He looked up to observe him, but it seemed the man was watching the people cross to avoid the book shop. The man's face was troubled; he had dark circles under his eyes. He seemed young but looked older. His brown hair was long enough to nearly cover his dark eyes but grey was in his beard which looked patchy and unkempt. His brown trench coat didn't look warm enough to brave against the winter air. His hands were nervously shoved in his pockets as he stared across the street and into the shop.
Mohan watched him for ten minutes, cursing himself. If anyone saw this place, it meant Lent wasn't doing his job. But the man walked away after a while, and with a last look of resolve that Mohan interpreted grimly. The man would be back. And he would probably have questions. Mohan's finger twitched toward the button under the counter… if worse came to worst.
He watched through the glass doors for the next fifteen minutes and the man came by again, walking right by the door! His head was down, eyes nearly squinted shut, and he watched his feet as he passed by. Not once did he look up at the book store, but he clearly seemed unaffected by the spell. The man did not cross the street like the others. Mohan's mouth fell open in shock and his finger pressed the panic button under the counter. A few seconds later a tall, gangly, sleepy vampire with long blond hair sauntered up from the basement and stretched beside him.
"What do you want?" he asked, yawning, and clung to Mohan's bare arm for warmth. "It's cold up here. You shouldn't have woken me."
"It's seventy-five degrees in here, Roger." Mohan didn't take his eyes off the glass doors, but shook off the vampire's grip on his arm. "I need you to tail someone for me while I try to get a hold of Lent. He'll get an earful from me."
"Is it important?" Roger taunted questioningly, looking bored.
"Just do it."
Mohan gave him a description and in a flash the vampire was out of the shop, leaving Mohan looking extremely worried.
Roger was at least talented enough that no one would see him if he didn't want to be seen. He could follow the man easily; he didn't look back once.
Roger was freezing. He preferred a much warmer climate and the basement of "BOOKS" was kept like a greenhouse. There were no books to destroy with humidity down there and he spent the winters in eighty-seven degrees of comfort, under UV lamps, and with a huge smile on his face. The simplest things pleased him. Not to mention that he rather liked the look of the man he was following—although he was a bit scruffy in the face and could be crazy—but there was something different about him, especially if he drew Mohan's attention.
Roger could feel it in the air close to the man; for so excellent was he at blending in shadow that the man did not notice Roger inhaling the scent of his dark brown hair. The hair on his own arms bristled when the scent hit him. Whatever this guy was, he wasn't human.
Intrigued, he kept following and even walked right in the man's apartment silently behind him, but the man suddenly turned around and froze, staring into Roger's eyes.
"Who? What?" the man sputtered and threw his keys at Roger's chest.
Roger watched them drop from his chest to the floor. He looked up and cocked his head. "How can you see me?"
"See you? It's not five in the afternoon and you're standing in my apartment!"
Roger placed his hands on his hips and looked around, confused. "What has the time to do with it?"
"Even without any lights on I can see you, the sun's coming in through the blinds!" The man was clearly disturbed by this and gestured to the window wildly.
"Oh," Roger said, suddenly realizing what it must seem like. "Do you think I'm a thief?"
"Do you think you're invisible?" the man asked, incredulous, but took a step back from him.
"Usually am. When I want to be. What are you?" Roger asked and stepped closer, unable to stop himself from doing so, but even as he did, the man took another step back.
The back of the man's knees hit the couch and he had to grab a nearby lamp to right himself, his dark eyes staying on Roger. "What are you?"
"I'm Roger," he said as if that explained everything. "How can you see me?"
"Because I have eyes," the man said, but even as he did so he seemed to have come to a sort of realization. He rubbed his eyes and sat down. "This can't be happening," he murmured, his hand making an automatic grab for a bottle on the end table next to the couch. The man opened the bottle and shook a pill into his hand.
Roger's eyebrows rose up into his hair. "What's that?"
"Ignore it," the man seemed to say to himself. He swallowed the pill. "It will go away…"
Roger stepped closer and plucked the bottle from the man's hand.
"Well, Chesley, Nicholas," he read the prescription label. "What potion are we taking?"
But Chesley, Nicholas had passed out. Roger poked him a few times before bending his head down to catch his scent again, but he couldn't put his finger—his nose, rather—on it. Whatever he was, it puzzled him that he couldn't figure him out. He took a quick look around the man's apartment and after a while when the man hadn't woken up, he left to report back to Mohan.
When Roger returned to the shop it was snowing and he was very cross. Mohan was behind the desk, his bald head bent over a book and shining under the light. Roger moved silently passed him, seething as he was chilled to the bone by the weather, and placed a palm briefly on the top of his head. Mohan jumped and his book went flying into the air and landed on the counter upside down.
"What is your problem?" Mohan shrieked.
"I'm defrosting," Roger called over his shoulder, and went down into the basement shaking off flakes of snow on the way without another word.
Mohan stared after him for a moment, then grabbed his book off the counter and followed him down.
The basement was brightly lit with UV lamps and the humidity was so great the air could be cut with a knife. In the center of the room there was a lawn chair, Roger rested there with his eyes closed, a pleased smile on his face, under the largest lamp. Not much else was in the basement, although three doors lead away from the room (they both remained locked from the other side), and a neat stack of boxes lined the walls in between the doors. Against the wall next to the stairs leading down, was a desk with scattered notes and a candle nearly burnt down to its surface. A metal folding chair was pushed under it.
Mohan sighed when he reached the bottom step, noting Roger's closed eyes. He put his book on the desk and fanned himself with his shirt.
"No use pretending to be asleep."
"Hibernating," Roger corrected, the pleased expression leaving his face.
Mohan rolled his eyes and continued, "Lent was already here and he's sending someone else to investigate. Apparently, he's pretty busy this time of year." When Roger said nothing in response he said, "Who was that man? Did you find anything out?"
Roger's eyes blinked open and he pulled from his pocket a longish brown hair. "I took a souvenir." Mohan eagerly came forward to grab it. "I know where he lives and had a chance to look around. He saw me."
Mohan's eyes widened. "He saw you? But you were careful?"
"Careful is a word," Roger said with a shrug.
"But you were." Mohan was getting angry.
"Yes, no one else saw me," Roger clarified, his voice carrying a warning edge, but that quickly disappeared as he elaborated. "He is not wholly human. I don't know what he is."
"Is he hiding?" Mohan grinned, showing a terrifyingly sharp set of teeth. "We shall find him again, if you know so much."
Creatures from their world often found ways to slip through to the human world to take refuge there, but they often caused trouble. Not much magic or the weird were known or accepted in the human world, and so those who hid felt free to use their abilities, and some were dangerous. There were many places like the "bookstore" scattered across the human world to police those who crossed over and take them back. If this man was hiding, and Roger didn't think so, the man had no knowledge of it.
Roger sat up from the chair abruptly at those words and shook his head. "He may be of our world, but I'm not sure he is from it."
"Describe his scent."
"I can't," Roger replied simply and closed his eyes to better recover the memory. "It's something I can't identify. No use, no use." His head shook softly.
Mohan sniffed the hair but his senses weren't as keen as the vampires', he sighed again, dejectedly. "Maria will be here soon."
Roger's head jerked up at the name, his fierce green eyes glowing dangerously. "Maria?"
"There's no one else. Our leader is busy in our own world, just as we here." Mohan crouched beside the vampire and looked into his eyes. "I know you don't think of her amiably, but if he is hiding and she finds out…"
"I don't think he is hiding…"
"Even so, he must be investigated. Lent found no wrong in the spell. If he was human he would not have noticed us."
Roger forced himself to relax, putting his head back on the chair and closing his eyes to the light of the lamp. He thought about the man's face, how astonished he was to see an intruder in his home. To Roger, he had certainly seemed human, but the scent had been wrong. Trying to define it was useless. The man, Nicholas Chesley, he repeated the name in his mind, did not recognize Roger for what he was but seemed to realize that what he was looking at wasn't right. Roger thought of the pill bottle in his pocket. What would Nicholas do without it? The vampire's lips curled tauntingly and he opened his eyes.
"We shall soon find out."
Mohan had already left the basement, and could not hear his whispered words.
Nick's head rolled on his chest. It had been at least an hour since he had seen whatever it had been. He blinked around his apartment when he could gather the strength but there was no sign of the intruder. Nick sighed. Then it had indeed been a figment of his psychosis, he reasoned, but in the next week he saw glimpses of the creature again, shimmering around the edges, as it had been in his apartment that day. A gorgeous thing he had at first thought was a man but now he was sure was something else… with long blonde hair, piercing green eyes the color of grass in springtime, and a smile, curved lips and gleaming white teeth that flashed dangerously.
Each time Nick saw him, he pretended as if he didn't, but he was always on the side of his vision and in Nick's mind whenever he ventured outside his apartment. Nick was never alone since. He was sure that sometimes at night he saw those glittering green eyes looking up through his windows from the shadows of the street below his apartment. At these times he overturned everything in his apartment, searching frantically for his lost prescription, and, coming up empty, he would have to have it refilled. That would be a problem, he knew, because one prescription was supposed to last him a month and could not be filled again so soon without an appointment with Fairheim explaining why. He did not want to see his doctor again.
Nick did not call Fairheim, but seriously thought about it as time went on; it was getting increasingly difficult to leave the apartment, as hallucinations from his psychosis increased in crowds. He took the card from his wallet and set it by the phone just in case. On the third day of the second week following his lapse, as he called it, the phone rang. Nick stared at it in surprise for three rings before he picked it up from its cradle, for his phone rarely rang.
"Hello?" he said tentatively.
"Mr. Chesley," came the sharp, high voice of Fairheim's secretary. "Sorry to disturb you but something's happened in the office and we have to inform you."
"Someone's broken in and stolen your files," she explained, her tone suspicious. Perhaps she thought it was Nick who had done the deed. When Nick didn't say anything she pressed on, "Dr. Fairheim said to call you. He has already phoned the police and they're here."
"Why my files?" Nick asked, those haunting green eyes suddenly in the forefront of his mind. "Just mine?"
The secretary's voice became less than suspicious at these words and turned comforting. "That's the question, but I wouldn't worry," she seemed to remember his ailment; it was worse when he was anxious. "Dr. Fairheim will call you as soon as he finishes with the detective. Stay by the phone."
With that she said her goodbyes and hung up, leaving Nick to stare wonderingly at the receiver.
"Nicholas Chesley," Roger said and gave Mohan a pointed look after reading over his shoulder.
"I know! Get away from me," Mohan waved his arms exasperatedly in the vampire's direction. "You've already read this."
Maria stood on the other side of the counter, her short orange hair framing her skeptical face as she listened reluctantly to the file's contents with her arms crossed under her breasts. Her lips curled menacingly, "Several times before he presented it, I might add."
"He was born here, whatever he is," Mohan muttered, ignoring her as he read on, pushing his glasses further up the bridge of his nose absently as he ruffled through the loose pages.
Roger smiled broadly behind Mohan. "I should keep watching him, then," he said, pleased by the thought. Nicholas intrigued him, and the mystery of what he was would be solved by him alone if he had anything to do with it.
"No one saw you take this?" Mohan asked, turning a stern look to Roger who was practically dancing in glee.
"Of course not!" Roger grinned, stepping closer to lay hands on Mohan's bare arm.
Mohan shook him off, his lips a thin line. "You're sure?"
"Maria, you did not notice yourself when I saw you peeking in at the man when you know it is not your business."
Maria blushed, embarrassed at being seen, yet laughed derisively and glared over Mohan's head at the vampire. "Since when is it not my business to find those who wish to hide?"
"He is not hiding!" Roger snapped, his green eyes glittering with barely withheld violence.
"Human documents can be altered," she snapped back, slamming her open hands on the counter next to Mohan.
Mohan jumped, his glasses askew, and shouted at both of them, "Enough!" He cleared his throat and put the files together, closing them and holding them close to his chest. "You are wrong, Maria. If this man was hiding he would have known Roger at sight and he did not. There are no creatures or men in our world that do not know Roger's kind!" Mohan got up from his stool abruptly and glared at Maria, who still had her icy gaze fixed on Roger. "You would do well not to anger him," he spoke of Roger, whose fury was mounting each second, "We are on the same side."
"You are no longer needed here," Roger hissed over Mohan's head to her.
"I shall inform our Master and we shall see what is needed," she said evenly but with a promising smile on her face. With that she disappeared into the back of the shop into the alley behind it, and was gone.
"You should try to keep your temper, Roger."
"Who is she to question?" he growled back, his eyes still resting on where Maria had last stood.
"Who are you to lay claim on this creature?"
With these words, Roger turned his gaze to Mohan, his expression softening. Mohan was speaking of Nicholas, for it was plain that he wasn't human even if he seemed so. Roger could not say what his claim was on this man, but he was compelled nevertheless to watch him and discover what he was. So eager was he to find out, that he had spent nearly everyday since watching Nicholas, hoping the man would do something that would help fit the puzzle together.
"I wish to know him," Roger said simply and tried to shrug as if it was no importance, but Mohan saw through him.
"You will not speak to him and you are not to be seen if you can help it," Mohan stressed; he knew he could not keep Roger from doing what he wanted. "If Maria is going to tell our Master then we must go by his words if he comes."
"What will he do with Nicholas?"
Mohan was surprised when he looked up into Roger's face, which seemed fearful of what might happen to the man. Mohan weighed the vampire's words in his mind, not sure what Roger might do if their Master ordered something lethal. It was clear Roger was fascinated to the point of attachment and therefore, there was nothing Mohan could do about it now.
"That I cannot say, but it is well within his rights to do whatever he wishes," Mohan said lowly. "And we must not challenge his decision whatever it may be."
Roger's expression grew dark but he nodded once and went down to his basement, resolving to sneak out to the man's apartment as soon as Mohan fell asleep for the night.