Nick did not receive a phone call again that evening. On pins and needles, he leapt up from the armchair by the phone and began pacing in his living room. Why would someone break into a psychiatrist's office? Why would someone steal his files? The secretary had all but accused him, but what good would it have done him to steal them? Fairheim already knew all there was about Nick, or as much as could be garnered from case files. Not to mention all but what Nick had purposely omitted when in sessions with his doctor. Without his prescription, his thoughts became jumbled, and he wasn't sure what he could do but pace around his living room, wearing a path through the middle of the rug in front of the armchair. He had never really liked that rug anyway. On his way pacing back and forth, he glared down at its orange paisley patterns. It had been his mother's and she had hated it as well. He had come across it while clearing out his parents' house and couldn't bring himself to throw it away. It functioned less as a rug these days anyway and more of a painful memory, but still on the floor it laid and his feet tread upon it carelessly as if determined to wear it down to nothing.
Nick's eyes wandered over to the little table beside the armchair, on which sat his telephone and the card Fairheim had given him. He stopped his pacing and picked up the card. Printed neatly was the psychiatrist's personal number. Without a glance at the clock, which had he looked would plainly show him that it was three in the morning, he picked up the phone from its cradle and dialed the number.
Outside Nick's window, Roger clutched spider-like at the stone structure on the outside of Nick's apartment building, his ear bent against the glass.
"Hello?" he heard from Nick's side. "It's Nicholas," he paused. "Chesley," he said a bit louder, his voice carrying an impatient edge. "I thought I was to receive a call?"
His voice was anxious and from the way he was pacing around the room, the receiver pressed tightly to the side of his face, Roger could surmise that he wouldn't be noticed for a while.
"I see," said Nick in a small voice. "Is this serious? I mean, who could have them?"
Roger felt a pang of guilt; he was talking about the files Roger had stolen recently from the psychiatrist's office. He turned his head to stare in at Nick's restless figure.
"It's just that," Nick paused again and swallowed audibly, "I've lost my prescription." Roger raised an eyebrow, remembering the pills in his trouser pocket. This is certainly interesting, he thought to himself, and pressed his face against the glass. "Yes! I can come in tomorrow. I'm so sorry," Nick said, rushing his words together. "Of course. We'll talk about it then."
He let out a sigh of relief and Roger, on the other side of the window, wished the window was open so he could get another whiff of his scent. Puzzling it was, and he thought this often as he looked in on this man, for from the outside he seemed like the rest of the oblivious population, but then Roger noticed something. He didn't know quite what it was, but he felt compelled to watch and forced himself to wait until whatever it was revealed itself.
The files were an immense help. He certainly did know more about Nick than he had ever known about anyone else. Of course, he had never cared to know about anyone else but that was beside the point. He learned from those human documents that Nick had been orphaned—his mother had died in childbirth. She had left him nothing, but shortly he had been adopted by an older couple, Sarah and James Chesley. Roger had seen and stolen the picture of Nick with his adopted parents from the mantle above the fireplace. He pictured their faces in his mind; they too had seemed ordinary (quite a bit older, but ordinary just the same), but a vampire could hardly smell them from a picture. After learning to speak, Nick had begun telling his parents wild things (trees that grew, coiling and rising out of the side of the wall in his room, pools of pictures spinning behind people he saw on the street, and shining eyes in shadows dark as pitch), things that he had sworn he saw everyday. They told the doctor this, and in an old report written by one of Nick's first doctors stated that his parents had chalked it up to an active imagination, that is, until he had simply disappeared from a room and was missing for six solid months. When he returned (in the exact spot in which he had vanished), Nick wouldn't speak. He wouldn't eat and wouldn't open his eyes at all. That was when the doctor advised that he be committed, and kept him for over three years.
After about a year the files were less and less filled with condescending words such as "delusion" and "schizophrenia" and "paranoia". All it boiled down to in Roger's mind was that Nick had gotten smart enough to lie. Whatever he saw, he convinced himself that it was a delusion and that he needed help. The doctors had convinced him, from a very young age, that he was crazy, and learning to lie to himself and the doctors got him out of the asylum and back home with his parents.
Roger had read that Nick's formative years were spattered here and there with "episodes" (another puzzling word dripping with a condescending tone, Roger noted), and he had spent nearly his entire life under the near constant watch of psychiatrists. His parents had died and he had no ties to the outside world other than his appointments. Nick hardly left his apartment and really didn't need to. His adoptive parents had left him enough money for him to live off of and his "condition", whatever it was, prevented him from forming friendships. Nick spent most of his time alone.
Roger watched the man settle uneasily on the edge of the armchair's seat, his eyes on his clock. Nick's beard was scraggly; his appearance increasingly disheveled each day the vampire peeked in on him. There were dark circles under his brown eyes, making him look slightly dangerous. Roger's mouth fell open slightly in shock when those dark eyes seemed to stare out into his own. The vampire cocked his head and was half-tempted to open the window and climb inside, but he remembered Mohan's warning. For now he decided he would only look in on Nick, but at the first sign of disturbance surely it wouldn't be "against the rules" to reveal himself again. Not that he had the choice the first time. Nick's eyes blinked and then returned to the clock; he had obviously noticed Roger, but was determined to pretend he was another one of his hallucinations.
Roger had no intention of breaking the rules at the moment anyway. He climbed down the side of the building and walked back to the shop. The lights were out, but there was a light under the door of Mohan's office. Roger walked silently down to his basement and clicked the door shut behind him. He leaned his back against the door and stared straight ahead, lost inside his head. The UV lamps hummed white noise into his ears and he stood at the top of the stairs for some time.
"You look terrible," Fairheim remarked as soon as Nick entered his office. "I'm sure I told you to take care of yourself."
Nick didn't respond but had the grace to look guilty. He had been up all night waiting for his appointment and in his current state he did not trust himself to speak.
"You need a shave. You look a million years old."
Nick's lips twitched downward. He took a seat opposite the desk and drummed the fingers of his left hand impatiently on the armrest. When he looked up at Fairheim, the psychiatrist cleared his throat nervously and looked away.
"Well, I don't really know more than you do, really," he began, finally getting to the point. "I was about to review your file when I noticed it wasn't there and then the bird flew in."
"A bird?" Nick asked incredulously. Fairheim was just as crazy as he was if he was going to blame all this on a bird.
"Yes, and then I noticed that one of my windows was broken. It was done rather cleanly so I didn't notice right away. There's also no need for you to be involved with the investigation, although Hannah is convinced it was you that did it."
"What?" Nick snapped, as if he didn't know this already. The secretary's tone on the phone proved as much.
"My secretary is very suspicious in nature. Please don't take it out on her. Of course," Fairheim smiled with difficulty across the desk. "I don't believe a word of it. But I can't imagine who would want your file."
Nick narrowed his eyes at his psychiatrist. He was lying. This wasn't the first time he had noticed Fairheim's eyes dart off to the side mid-sentence when something ridiculous was about to pass his lips. Nick didn't know how he knew the man in front of him was lying, but he did. Nevertheless he did not want to call attention to the lie.
"Oh yes, definitely. Looks like you need it."
Nick was surprised he didn't have to explain himself, but the man behind the desk seemed all too eager to get him out of his office. Fairheim hastily scribbled on a small piece of paper and held it out, but before Nick could snatch it from him, the psychiatrist pulled the hand holding the paper close to his chest.
"But you have to do something for me." Nick waited without a word until he continued. "Have a shower and a shave, and put some fresh clothes on."
Nick stared at him blankly for a moment, merely blinking, and then snatched the paper from Fairheim's hand.
Nick stood staring at himself in the mirror. He did indeed look awful. The dark circles under his eyes made him look menacing, and he was dismayed to see the bits of gray in his beard. He was only thirty-three. He trimmed the beard and when that was over, he looked down doubtfully at the razor on his sink. Nick hadn't shaved in some time and when he picked up the razor and began, he cut himself several times he was so out of practice. When the deed was done he did look a great deal better. He was showered and shaved when he dared to look in the mirror next. Minus the beard he almost looked eighteen again, but the dark circles around his eyes made him look hollow. The person who stared back at him was soulless. Nick looked away.
He swallowed one of the pills from his prescription bottle, wincing as it went down. Sighing as he walked into his bedroom, placing the bottle close at hand, he didn't bother to remove the towel from his waist, and fell into his bed. When Nick closed his eyes he fell into a dreamless sleep which lasted well into the next evening.
When he woke, still draped in last night's towel, he felt around in the dark. The dim light of the street lamps outside helped his eyes adjust. Without getting up he picked the pill bottle from his nightstand, swallowed a pill and went back to sleep.
Roger watched again from outside, balancing in the skinny limbs of a small tree as he peered into the window. His eyebrows were furrowed in thought, but something snapped him out of it. Without noise he suddenly dropped from the tree and lightly to his feet.
"Maria," he said without turning, feeling her fiery eyes on his back.
Roger drew himself to his full height before turning around to face her.
Maria stood across the street, wearing a long black coat with a high collar on her shoulders that hung to the toes of her boots. On her back was slung a crossbow and on her left arm was the insignia, threaded with gold and glinting under the street lamps. This was official, Roger surmised, and relaxed slightly. It wasn't just the coat that tipped him off, however. Maria's usual smirk wasn't on her face. Her lips were in a fine line. She wasn't very happy.
Roger smiled. "Looking for me?"
"You've been summoned," she managed through clenched teeth. She turned abruptly, her long coat swinging around her and walked away. Roger's smile vanished but he followed after a quick glance back up to Nick's window. Her words had seemed to change the nature of the air. The night was silent around them and they met no one on the way. Maria walked quickly, but it wasn't difficult for Roger to keep up, and soon they entered the door of the shop. He locked the door behind him when he saw Mohan talking to Lent behind the counter.
Lent was a tall dark-skinned man, with broad shoulders and a large bald head. He wore the same long back coat, but his insignia was just over his heart. His eyes were darkness, deep pools of black abyss, when he looked over at Roger. But he wasn't angry; that was always the way with his kind and there weren't very many left. There was deep, old magic in his blood. The legends of their world spoke of his people, the Tangarians, as a race of elves that lived thousands of years ago. They believed they crawled from the earth—that they were born from her womb. Hardly anyone believed those tales anymore. Elves were fairy stories told to children, but yet, so were vampires. As the times changed the people forgot their old ways and their ancestors but creatures like Lent and Roger did not.
Roger inclined his head and Lent did the same.
"I was summoned?" Roger asked.
Lent walked around the counter and approached him, his expression showed his anxiety. "The Master has heard of this man."
There was no mistaking to whom he was referring. Roger bristled immediately but tried to keep his composure in front of Lent, however he could not keep the edge from his voice, "What should he care about this man?"
Lent looked briefly back at Mohan, surprised by Roger's reaction. Maria hit Roger in the face with the butt of her crossbow when Lent wasn't looking.
"Maria, please!" Mohan gasped and leapt over the counter.
Roger wrenched the weapon from her hand and crushed it on the floor, but when he started to fly at her Lent held him back and pressed him against the door, his right arm over his throat.
"Maria, I think it's best if you stand behind the counter," Mohan suggested icily.
"No," Lent said, turning his dark eyes to the orange-haired woman. "Just go."
Maria stared at him blankly for a moment, and then turned from the group, walking to the back door of the shop. When the door slammed behind her Lent let Roger go.
"Let's go below," Lent said in an even voice. "Your skin is like ice."
Roger led the way down with Mohan and Lent following behind. On the way Roger stripped himself of his shirt—it was damaged during the fray—and hung it on the banister. The air was so much friendlier and warmer in the basement. He settled in his lawn chair and closed his eyes against the UV lights.
After he felt completely comfortable he asked, "Won't the Master be upset that you've sent your guard away?"
"He knows you two don't get on," he said, a trace of a smile in his voice. "And he's more interested in what you have to say about this man."
Roger's eyes opened and his gaze rested on Lent who stood away from the lights, his eyes obscured by the shadows around the edges of the lamps.
"There is nothing that I haven't told Mohan."
"But you've been watching him."
"I have." Roger offered no explanation and turned his attention to Mohan. "Did you not show him the files?"
"I would have had they not disappeared from my office."
Roger smiled and closed his eyes again, offering nothing more. The silence stretched.
"Roger," Mohan began.
Roger's eyes snapped open, glittering angrily. "What does he want of this man? He hasn't done anything."
"Why is he like this?" Lent was now speaking to Mohan as if Roger wasn't there.
"Perhaps he's been watching him too closely." Roger heard Mohan's footsteps has he came closer and opened his eyes when he crouched by his feet. "You haven't let him see you again?"
"Again?" Lent asked in a breathless voice.
"He apparently has the ability to see what doesn't wish to be seen, just as he could ignore your wards on this place," Mohan answered, his eyes still on Roger.
"I have only been watching him, but as you know I will do what I please."
This surprised Mohan and his mouth fell open in shock. Perhaps the vampire was too attached and whatever the Master wanted with the man now… would Roger openly defy their Lord? Mohan glanced back at Lent and read the same expression on his face.
"They've been subduing him with potions."
"Tiny pills." Roger pulled the prescription bottle he had stolen weeks before from his pocket and tossed it to Lent. "Compact dry chemicals. They interfere with his brain."
"What else have you stolen? Where are the files?" Mohan was still crouched at his feet, sweat glistening on his face from the lamps.
Roger got up, careful not to kick Mohan as he did, and walked out of the light and to the wall with the desk. He pressed on the wall and a panel swung out. When he turned Mohan was right behind him, peering into his hiding place. Inside were the files, which Roger handed to him, but there were other things: the hair he had stolen from Nick, the picture of Nick and his adoptive parents, and other little things of which Mohan couldn't understand the significance. He stared at Roger, clutching the files to his chest, his brow furrowed in worry.
"You're obsessed," Mohan whispered in awe.
Roger laughed and looked at Lent, but Lent looked exactly like Mohan, and stared at him, his lips in a thin line. Roger stopped laughing.
"It is a good thing that Maria is not here," Lent said under his breath, still staring wide-eyed at Roger. To Mohan he said, "You understand I must take those documents and review them myself?"
Mohan nodded and handed them over. Roger surged with the desire to grab them away, but watched, breathing shallowly as Lent stowed them away in his coat.
"These pills?" Lent held up the bottle Roger gave to him. "You say they subdue him?"
"I don't know what they are, but they interfere. Without them perhaps the puzzle can be solved. I stole them but they just gave him more," Roger said sullenly and closed the panel in the wall. "He has become dependent on them."
"Is he dangerous?"
Roger pictured Nick in his mind as he was earlier in the night. Last night's towel was still draped over his waist, his face smooth, but cut around the chin and sideburns. Roger had watched him try to shave. Roger had watched him sleep for nearly two days, and when Nick woke he had watched him feel around in the dark and take another one of those pills, whatever they were, close his eyes and go back to sleep. Roger closed his eyes to see the memory more clearly and saw those dark circles under Nick's eyes, the ones that made him look hollow, soulless, dangerous, and felt pity for him.
"No," Roger said, meeting Lent's eyes.
Lent nodded and put the pills in his pocket as well.
"I'll be in touch soon," Lent said to Mohan and then turned his attention to Roger. "Keep an eye on him until I return."
The weeks passed and the weather was becoming warmer and more tolerable for Roger to keep a continuous watch on Nick. He spent more time outside during the day, basking in the sun outside the man's window and he hardly ever saw Mohan or went back to his basement other than to stow something away in his hiding place. There was no need to go back to the shop when Lent told him to keep an eye on Nick. Roger was all too eager to comply.
Pedestrians passed Roger without seeing him; he was non-existent to the ordinary population. To them, if he didn't wish to be seen, he remained unseen. Nick, if he did see him, continued to ignore him. There were no more phone calls, Roger noticed, and all of the time Nick spent awake was taking a pill and going back to sleep. The fact that Lent had not returned or sent word in some time had become a blessing. The vampire feared what the Master would want with Nick and a deep feeling of anxiety formed in the pit of his stomach whenever he thought of this.
The more he looked in on Nick now, the more he looked refreshed and more like himself. The dark circles had faded from under his eyes, and although his dark brown hair was getting longer and threatening to reach below his ears, Nick had seemed to have gotten better at shaving. Roger watched him as he read books, cleaned his apartment, and cooked his meals. He followed him when he walked to the grocery store, curious as to what he might buy. Little of what Nick did went unnoticed by Roger and he became determined to lure Nick out of his apartment for something other than groceries.
Roger wondered if there was a pub nearby, as people from his own world often conducted their meetings at such places. The humans here were quite the same, but not once did he notice Nick enjoying any form of alcohol, but he couldn't see why Nick wouldn't. The problem was how to get him there. If Roger simply ambushed him on the way to the grocery store and suggested it, Nick would most likely ignore him again as if he were another hallucination breaking through the medication. And to be honest, being ignored was getting on Roger's nerves. It was passed time to speak with him and Roger hated sneaking around.
Then at once he had an idea and ran back to the shop. Once there he pushed Mohan, who was shouting questions at him, aside and disappeared out of the back door of the shop. It would only take a moment to procure what he needed and he could be back in time to put his plan into action that evening.
Nick snapped awake as his window slammed down loudly, seemingly of his own accord. It was not unusual, seeing how his apartment building was very old and there was nothing to hold the window open for long periods of time other than the odd hardback book he had lying nearby. He got up from the couch, the paperback he had been reading before he had fallen asleep fell off his chest and dropped to the floor. He turned around to glare at the window when he noticed a folded piece of paper sitting on the edge of the windowsill. The paper was thick and old, yellowed around the edges. Nick reached for it, intending to throw it away but as soon as his fingers touched it he felt compelled to read it. Unfolding the paper, a curious flowing script was revealed:
Cooped up all day
How're you to have any fun?
All things considered,
A drink would be nice,
Wouldn't you say?
Nick dashed to his bedroom and opened his closet, and although he couldn't understand why, he was feverishly searching for something to wear. Once dressed, he checked himself in the bathroom mirror, the confusion showing on his face as he ran a comb through his long, untidy hair, vaguely aware that he was in desperate need of a haircut. He had unknowingly dressed in his best which was an extremely out of date suit he had bought for a funeral. The arms were too short and it was a little larger around the waist but he was clean and the most expensive garment he owned. Soon he was out of the door and halfway down the street before he realized it.
Nick tried to stop himself but was unable to do so as he walked several more blocks in a strange fast pace. He looked down at his feet with a wide-eyed expression; where were they taking him? His feet had never exhibited such strange independent behavior before. After a few moments he came to such an abrupt halt that he nearly fell over, his arms flailing to keep his balance. He leaned against the outside of a building, looking around him and hoping that no one had noticed his distress.
"It worked, as I imagined it would," said a voice very close to him. A voice from someone who had simply appeared at his side. Nick recognized the voice and shut his eyes tightly, his stomach doing summersaults inside him.
"Come on, it's not that bad, is it?" The rich voice said again and then scoffed as Nick didn't reply and continued, sounding very annoyed. "Open your eyes, Nicholas. I'm through with being ignored."
Nick opened his eyes slowly, part of him hoping that there was actually someone there, and part of him hoping that there wasn't and it could be ignored and no one around would notice he was crazy. A strange feeling burned in his chest when he took in the figure next to him. It was the blond man he had seen so often in the shadows, the one that had found his way into his apartment, the very one that Nick had convinced himself didn't exist. But looking into his vividly green eyes at that moment, Nick could not convince himself that he didn't but he couldn't look anywhere else to confirm that others could see him as well.
The man, like Nick, had dressed in his best as well, wearing a black suit in a very old style, one that Nick had never seen before unless it was in a period film. He was no historian, but he guessed the strange garb to have been snapped right out of the mid eighteenth century. The man's high collared white shirt was unbuttoned a little, a silver chain under it, disappearing between his skin and the fabric. Nick shook his head a little, trying to control himself as his eyes seemed compelled to follow the chain beneath those buttons. His long blond hair was unruly and down, spilling over his shoulders like fine spun gold. When Nick took all of this in, including the pleased smile and impossibly sharp, white teeth flashing at him, he swallowed nervously.
"Who're you?" he whispered.
"We've done that. I'm Roger, remember?" Roger took his arm gently and spun him around. "Let's go inside, shall we? I dare say you haven't been out … well, ever. Isn't that right?"
Nick realized they were in front of a bar and as he was ushered inside the establishment, panic began to rise in his throat. The hand holding his arm patted him reassuringly.
"Don't worry," Roger whispered in his ear as he looked around, "This seems like a fine place for a chat."
The place was very dark and somewhat crowded. The bar stretched out on the left side of the room and then bent in an L shape, lined with barstools. A few patrons sat on barstools, sipping casually on spirits and mixed drinks. Others sat at tables in the middle, yelling loudly around pitchers and raising beer glasses. The booths were on the right, lining the other side of the wall, and each had a dim light above them, casting a soft orange glow beneath.
Roger steered them to the bar.
"Whoa!" The young bartender exclaimed, looking them both up and down as they approached the bar. "Who died?"
"No one yet!" Roger said and laughed heartily. The bartender stared and Nick stiffened. "Relax! Just a joke." He gave Nick a little wink and ordered whiskey, two glasses. "Surely you have that here?" Roger asked uncertainly.
The bartender nodded blankly.
When they had their whiskeys Roger led him to a small corner booth with benched seats. Nick stared down at the drink when Roger pushed it to him, having never had anything of the sort in his life. When he glanced up, the man across him was surveying the crowd with an interested smile on his face. A couple of people were staring, but they were staring at Roger. This did not seem to help Nick's nervousness, however. Ever so often the bartender would look over to the corner where they sat; ignoring his duties as he repeated washed the same bit of counter over and over again. A waitress prodded him insistently with her tray.
Roger waggled his eyebrows at him when Nick dared to look over at him again. He gazed back down at his drink, wanting to be safely back at home with all the doors and windows of his apartment locked.
A part of Nick was sort of relieved that Roger was real, even if it seemed he was a thief … or a nutcase, but at least it didn't mean that Nick was seeing things again. It had been quite sometime since he had seen something normal people wouldn't have seen, things that should never be seen, he felt. The hallucinations terrified him when he was younger, not that they didn't now, but the more often he saw them the less frightening they became. It was still unnerving, but he quickly discounted them, and if no one was around he'd simply shut his eyes until it had gone. Sometimes the hallucinations were stronger, and would not be willed away. Those were the ones that Nick couldn't ignore and struggled to explain as psychosis. But Roger, no matter how many times Nick blinked, was still there when he chanced a furtive glance up, and not to mention the bartender had definitely seen him as well. Most of the people around them now were gaping or simply staring at him. Roger seemed to have that effect. Nick focused determinedly at the ice cubes floating in his glass. Roger was definitely real.
"Don't go back to ignoring me, please," Roger said, pushing out his bottom lip. "Not after I've gone to so much trouble to break the rules."
Break the rules? What was this man talking about? Nick pushed his glass of whiskey aside. "Why have you been following me? Looking in on me?"
"Drink up, it's a fine night," Roger said and pushed the other glass of whiskey toward him. "It'd be a shame to waste it."
Nick now had two glasses of whiskey. Irritated, but thinking it would shut him up, Nick took a tentative sip, watching Roger over the rim of the glass, and coughed spasmodically as the harsh liquid burned his throat. When he gained control of himself, Roger was smiling, apparently amused by his lack of experience with drink.
"Are you a stalker or something? A thief? Casing my place, are you? Are you going to answer me or what?" Nick snapped rather briskly, setting the glass back on the table a bit harder than he meant. He tried to push it away, Roger tutted his disapproval.
"Can I get a word in?" he teased good-naturedly and gestured toward the glass. "Go on," he said. "I'll answer when you've finished that one."
Nick gulped it and slammed the glass on the table, his head already spinning.
"How is it?" Roger asked with a smile as Nick began another coughing fit and clutched the edge of the table with both hands. "Good?"
Nick shook his head and began to ask again, however unlikely that was through strained breathing punctuated by coughs and burning alcohol going down his throat, but Roger interrupted before he could say anything.
"I've never had whiskey myself. I prefer something richer. Fuller bodied."
"Never mind." Roger cocked his head, one of his eyebrow raised. "Better have the other one," he said and gestured again to the other glass.
"No," Nick managed, his tongue felt larger in his mouth, and his knuckles whitened from his desperate grip on the table. "It's disgusting."
"Very well," Roger sighed and folded his arms across his chest, a lopsided grin still playing around his mouth.
"Why've you been watching me?" Nick slurred out in question. His vision was softening around the edges, and he couldn't stop a slight smile at the man across from him. Nick blamed the whiskey and cursed himself for drinking it. He should be worried about the side-effects it would have on his medication.
"Caught on that I'm real, have you?" Roger laughed as he said this. "And it's nothing. Get over yourself." He pushed the filled whiskey glass toward Nick's fingers again. "Go on, just a drop."
"Get over myself? You're the one who's out there all night, sometimes out in the tree, sometimes across the street. I swear I saw you clutching the outside of my window." Nick took another sip and gasped. "You're getting me drunk." Roger nodded, the smile gone from his lips. He seemed worried. Nick nodded toward the glass. "You drink it, then."
"Oh, I don't drink." Roger looked thoughtful; perhaps he should have written that Nick should have two drinks. How did the paper work again? Roger had forgotten that one had to be as specific as possible.
"Neither do I!" Nick said a little louder than he meant to and looked around. Several people were turning their attention to their table which made him reach up and nervously adjust his collar. What had that 'richer, fuller bodied' comment come from if Roger didn't drink?
"What are you?"
Nick stared across the table at him, not fully comprehending. "What?" he said eloquently.
"What—are—you?" Roger repeated slowly and seriously.
"What?" Nick repeated stupidly, his confusion showing on his face.
"Well, I'd thought I'd ask," Roger seemed to say to himself and looked away to the rest of the patrons. "It had never occurred to them to ask."
"What are you?" said Nick, incredulous. "What sort of question is that?"
"I'm merely curious," said Roger with a shrug.
"What are you, then?" Nick asked.
Roger ignored him. "Do you still have that paper I gave you?"
Nick's hand went unbidden to his pocket, retrieved the folded piece of paper and dropped it on the table. He watched as Roger picked it up and unfolded it.
"It says here," he read, "You're supposed to have fun." He glanced over the paper at Nick. "Are you?"
"Didn't think so. Maybe it's faulty?"
He placed the paper flat on the surface of the table, and smoothed his palm across it. Nick's eyebrows rose as the writing disappeared as if Roger's skin could erase ink. Pulling a pen from within his jacket, he scratched one word and passed it over to Nick. "Drink," is what it said, and it was emphasized with several underlinings. But now that Nick seemed to know how it worked it didn't work anymore. The drink was in his hand but he consciously stopped it before the glass reached his lips.
"How are you doing that?"
"It's a simple bit of magic, really."
"Oh, I'm not doing it. It's the paper." Roger held it up as if merely looking at it explained everything.
"What do you think got you out tonight?" A taunting smile graced his lips. "I don't think you would have gone out otherwise."
"Who are you?" Nick asked, an awed expression on his face.
Roger rolled his eyes. "We've been through that…"
"Something more than a name. You're not making much of a case for yourself."
"Oh, I can't do that. Not yet." Roger paused and looked thoughtfully down at the full glass of whiskey. Without looking up he said, "I'm not too dangerous, really, and to you, well, not at all." He shrugged and looked across at Nick's bewildered face. "If that helps."
It didn't because the creature across from him looked dangerous, and Nick rather felt a lot like a piece of meat when he caught Roger's eyes. He couldn't tell if he was lying or not, but strange behavior stacked up against the man across the table. Sure, he hadn't been violent at any stretch, but stalking was certainly a suspicious activity, and this magic paper of his? Nick didn't know what to think of it.
Roger gave a wink and got up, walking out of the bar and disappearing without another word. Nick looked after the door, frowning, and downed the second glass in one swallow. Head swimming and eyes streaming, he still could not make sense of it all, and found that he was more confused at this moment than he had ever been in his life. But just yet, he wasn't sure if that assessment was outlaying anything of consequence.