The first thing Lara had done when she'd discovered the Leprechauns deception was to grab a flashlight and run down into the basement, hoping to find Terry, Ima, and Hatima awakened from the deep meditative state they'd entered to heal the Tree. Only darkness and silence greeted her. I thought they were supposed to be tending the tree. As she turned to leave, she spotted a yellow sticky note taped to one of the pipes.
The Tree is nearly healed. Went to see the Dixie Chicks perform as treat. Back tomorrow.
"Why is it that every time I need your help, you're out seeing a concert?" she fumed, then returned to the main floor. She was about to start up the ladder when she realized; I have no idea where I'm going. I know it's supposed to take a week to get to the Pole via the Tree, but I'm not prepared for a week long trek. It might have worked for Andrew to leave in a hurry, what with his traveling companions carrying all the outdoor gear, but Lara needed more than her winter clothes and few pieces of biscotti.
She'd sat for a moment, trying to make a mental list of all the things she thought she might need, but kept realizing that she really had no idea how to prepare for a trip to the North Pole which might involve violent action against Leprechauns.
"How does one pack when one knows they're going through the Wardrobe?" she mused out loud. Lucy and her siblings had the convenience of ignorance and a closet full of fur coats. She had a coffee shop and a single room apartment with a lot of great clothes. Which was the final thought she had before exhaustion overcame her, and she fell asleep on one of the leather couches in the store.
* * * * * *
In the aftermath of the battle with the Succubus and the Nephilim-Golem, Blackout had gone with Ripper and Sunny to the apartment next to Force Five Comics. Sunny had said she needed to make sure he didn't have a major concussion, and Blackout suspected that finding out that Ripper had been instrumental in killing a Golem-doppelganger-demonspawn had been some sort of turn on, and they'd be taking advantage of their friends with benefits package. Blackout had been looking forward to sleeping, even if Sunny would be waking him at regular intervals throughout the night to ask him the date, his name and other skill testing questions.
When he woke on Ripper's couch the next day at noon, he got dressed and walked down stairs, marveling at how the exterior of Andrew's coffee shop bore no scars to commemorate the chaos of the night before. The door to the shop had a hastily written note in black marker which read, Closed for renovations. It was locked.
Blackout pressed his face against the glass and peered inside the shop. In the dim light, he could see Lara's sleeping figure curled up on one of the couches.
Andrew must have gone through with the Leprechauns, he thought. The ludicrousness of the thought struck him and he laughed to himself. In the light of day, with no sign of the previous night's battle, it almost seemed like it had all been a dream. Aside from the way his head hurt when he moved too fast, it felt like it had happened a long time ago.
He wanted to bang on the door, to wake Lara and take her for breakfast, but he didn't know how long she'd been sleeping. The only reason he'd woken was out of a long-held deep hatred for sleeping anywhere but his own bed. It never felt right, because it never felt like home. He looked at how peaceful Lara looked, deep in slumber, and reflected that she didn't seem to share his homebody tendencies.
She's been sleeping in the ripping Tree's branches for the love of Pete, he reminded himself. He guessed that had a lot to do with the Tree feeling a lot more like home to Lara, and felt a twinge of envy. To have a magical connection like that; what would it be like? Don't complain, he thought, you got to be part of a real life fantasy adventure and lived to tell about it. What more do you want?
He wanted her. To hell with dragons and sex-demons and Leprechauns. He wanted Lara. And he knew that banging on the window would be a sure sign of that great dating deterrent; desperation. Breakfast at the High Level Diner would be just fine with a few friends. He hoped Ripper and Sunny were up now and needing sustenance after a night of commitment free sex.
* * * * *
Lara woke with a start. She'd been having one of those dreams where you're doing what you would be if you were awake. In her dream, she'd been preparing to enter the Tree, and was about to step onto the ladder when she realized that she was still sleeping, and all her hard work was just oneiric mist.
A quick glance at her watch told her she'd been asleep for four hours. Four more hours Andrew was in danger.
In danger. Again. She laughed at this. He really was the inverted fairy tale male. A pretty little princess, always getting his ass in danger for her to rescue. Only he wasn't the prince she was interested in, a thought which caught her by surprise.
She rescued Andrew because it was the right thing to do. But if she had to kiss the prince, she hoped it would turn out to be Blackout. Mark. She'd been keeping herself distant because of what had happened with Josh. But she'd realized last night, when she wondered if Blackout were dead, just how much she cared about him.
He'd been there for her every time she had needed him. And he'd done it all without once pressuring her, without once asking what was in it for him. He was a good guy. A nice guy. Maybe too nice for a recovering alcoholic. He was a prince; but was she the princess?
She got up and stretched, and grabbed her coat. If she was going to go rescue Andrew, she needed to be getting to it. Then she realized that she would need to call a taxi, and decided that it would be easier to wait for a cab over breakfast at the High Level Diner.
* * * * *
Courtney had walked back to Lister Hall alone. She was glad for the solitude, not wanting voices to intrude upon her reflections.
In the heat of battle, everything had been a blur. There had been no thought, only action. Walking in the cold darkness of the early morning, she'd considered that now there was only thought. And she had smiled, for what thoughts they were.
She had wielded cold steel against the forces of darkness, and had prevailed. That new coffee girl, Lara had been her sister-in-arms against the succubus. They had a bond now, whether Lara knew it or not, a bond forged by victory in combat.
She'd stripped off her clothes, taken a shower that was just shy of scalding to wash off the blood and filth, and then fallen into bed. If she dreamed, she didn't recall, so deep was her slumber. When she woke, she felt strong hunger. She dressed in a thick sweater and blue jeans, put her hair up in a red bandana and headed across the campus for the High Level Diner. It would be the best place to grab breakfast. Just the thought of how good crisp bacon would smell quickened her step.
She spotted Lara crossing the street from the coffee shop and called out. Lara stopped, frowning at her until recognition dawned.
"Sorry," Lara said. "I didn't recognize you in regular clothes..."
"Without the sword," Courtney laughed. "Where are you headed?"
"The High Level Diner," Lara replied. "I'm famished."
"Me too," Courtney said, falling into step beside the shorter woman.
They walked in silence for a few moments, their feet making squeaky, crunching noises on the dry snow. The sound reminded Courtney of Styrofoam for some reason.
"Actually, I'm glad I ran into you," Lara said, breaking the silence.
"I wanted to say thanks for saving our asses last night," Lara said. "That was amazing, what you did."
Courtney shrugged her shoulders, feeling a bit awkward. "No big deal."
"No big deal? You had a fucking Samurai sword---and you knew how to use it!"
"Kendo lessons," Courtney replied. "Trust me, the pleasure was all mine. It's pretty cool to own a sword, but you always wish for the opportunity to use the damn thing. Last night was--incredible. I'm still having trouble believing any of it happened. If I didn't have this--" She pointed to where the succubus had wounded her, "I wouldn't believe it at all. I'd think I'd dreamed it all."
"I felt that way when this all started," Lara said. "But with everything that's happened in the past month I feel swept up in it, like I'm a character in a story. No one ever questions magic in fairy tales...so maybe that's what this is. A fairy tale." She paused. "What would you take with you if you were going to Narnia?"
"Why Narnia?" Courtney asked.
"Well, any fantasy world. Like if you had the chance to step through the Wardrobe, or be sucked into another realm, and it was one that would involve magic and elves...and fighting...what would you take with you?"
"Heavy wool socks and a pair of army boots for starters," Courtney replied without hesitation. "I assume you'd be doing a lot of walking, and there's nothing like heavy work socks to keep you from getting bad blisters. Plus they're good for stomping on stuff...like giant bugs, or whatever you need to stomp."
Good for stomping...leprechauns, Lara thought.
"Weapons," Courtney continued. "I'd pick up a good compound bow at a hunting store. And a serious knife. And a pair of work gloves. My dad always said, you can't do better than work gloves for a multi purpose item. They keep your hands warm, and let's face it, until you master firing a bow, the fletching tears hell out of your hands; work gloves keep that soft pink skin safe."
"I took archery at summer camp," Lara offered.
"Cool. Why are you asking?" Courtney said, walking up to the door of the High Level Diner and holding it open for Lara.
"I think I'll save that answer," Lara said, looking into the restaurant and spotting Blackout, Ripper and Sunny. "I don't want to have to tell this twice."