**This is the first part of the chapter because Stash has an annoyingly short limit.**
by (aka zombierose3) and unleashthewords
For (aka DirtyAim)
Chapter Four - Part I
At the city's center in Lullabi, a tall, obsidian building dominated the skyline. A column of black smoke appeared over the dark, grey sidewalk, evaporating to reveal Shea. She shuddered, scowling up at the cold, unforgiving structure in front of her. Her father and many of her brothers worked here, but it wasn't exactly a happy place. There was nothing inherently wrong with the council and its ministrations of the law, but Lorcan was inside and it didn't bode well. Hurrying forward, she saw a familiar figure waiting outside the doors.
At least a head taller and leaner than most incubi, he was power and grace in one body. He had dark hair, almost as dark as Shea's, cut short on the sides and longer on the top, showing off the curl in his hair. Stepping forward as soon as he saw her, he opened his arms.
Shea ran to him and embraced him, pressing her cheek to his chest. "Gabriel, you're here," she said, eyes closed. "I thought you had to work."
"Of course I'm here. I'd do anything for you. Leo is covering for me," he answered her, pressing a kiss to the top of her head. "How's Lorcan?"
"Oh god, Gabe, it's bad." She sniffled, tears spilling from her eyes.
"It'll be alright, Shea," he said, hugging her tighter. "Let's go. Your mother's waiting for you."
"Oh shit. She must be a wreck," Shea said, stepping out of the circle of her lover's arms.
"She's doing alright. I do pity anyone else who crosses her path." He grinned down at her as he took her hand.
"Well, she loves you," Shea said, smiling back up at him. "I think everyone does."
They walked into the dark lobby that matched the interior. There was no need for lights in Lullabi. Lilin could see in the dark and preferred to exist in low light, if not complete darkness. Yet, a single, dim orb hovered over the entryway, illuminating a directory.
Everything else was black, sleek, and hard lines from the walls and floors to the stairs. The only exception being the huge, white, marble statue of an incubus and succubus in a torrid embrace that dominated the entryway. It was said to be the first lilin couple.
Barely giving the statue a glance, Shea looked around with disdain. "I know I say I love black, but would it kill them to have some fucking color? Red roses? A tulip?" Shea muttered as they approached the stairs.
Gabriel shook his head. "It's not that bad."
"Because you're too utilitarian to care," she murmured, wrinkling her nose at the monochromatic art on the walls. There were abstract paintings, watercolors, and portraits, but the recurring theme always sex.
"I'm taking that as a compliment." He gently tugged on her hair and Shea swatted at his hand.
Sticking out her tongue, she said, "You should. I didn't mean it as an insult. You're just practical. Lorcan would-" She swallowed, her throat suddenly dry. "Lorcan, would hate it."
"He'll be fine," Gabriel said, hugging her to his side. "To be honest, though, I don't know if they'll ever let him leave Lullabi again."
Shea looked at him, mouth open. "What? They'd lock him up at Mother and Father's forever?"
"I don't know. Rumors are swirling all over the place, but the consensus is it's pretty serious and the Imaginary Friends Council isn't happy." Gabriel turned with her at the top of the stairs and they continued down the shadowy halls. "I don't think he's getting his job back."
Shea waved her hand. "Who cares about his stupid job? He shouldn't be an imaginary friend to babies!" She scowled at Gabriel when he motioned for her to lower her voice. "I don't want to shush! I want my brother to not be in this mess! Yes, it's a mess of his own making, but I need to fix it!"
Taking her by the shoulders, Gabriel leaned down and looked in her eyes. "Shea, sometimes even you can't fix everything."
"But- but I have to!" A sob escaped her lips and she covered her mouth. Gasping, she blinked away tears, moving her hands to say, "I'm his big sister!" Another sob burst free and she wept hard. Gabriel pulled her close and held her in silence. Shea let go of everything, her anger, frustration, and especially her fear. He stroked her back and kissed the top of her head. Her body shuddered and her breath shook as one last tear rolled down her cheek, joining what she felt was a lake's worth of tears. She had nothing left.
Sniffling, she wiped her eyes and took a deep breath. The warmth of Gabriel's body soothed her, and while she would have preferred doing other activities, just being in his arms was enough. "Thanks. I know I don't say it enough, but thank you for being strong when I can't be." She looked up at him.
He smiled at her and wiped a missed tear from her cheek. "You don't need to say it, but thank you all the same," he said, his voice soft. "I'll be whatever you need me to." He kissed her cheek where the tear had been.
"That's why I love you," she said, caressing his cheek. "You are… unbelievably amazing. We better go in before Mother comes out to look for me."
They walked to the double set of doors and entered a large room with a massive table facing them. Before it were several benches, parted by a central aisle. To the right, closest to the table, paced a short, curvy woman. Her long, dark hair whipped around each time she turned.
"At least Mother's not strangling anyone," Shea murmured. Gabriel pinched her behind and Shea yelped. "Stop it!"
Shea's mother stopped in her tracks, saw her, and hurried over. She could have been Shea's twin, but for her blue eyes and the cosmetic choice to streak white through her hair.
"Thanks, Jerk," Shea muttered, but Gabriel merely smiled and waved at the approaching anxious woman.
"Scheherazade! Where have you been?" She took her daughter's face in both hands and checked her over. "I know you love Gabriel, but couldn't sex wait until after this travesty?" She smiled and nodded his way. "Hello, Gabriel. I'm glad you're here. You can keep my wayward daughter from running off again."
Gabriel grinned. "Hello, Calliope. I'll do my best."
Shea huffed and gently removed her mother's hands from her face. "Mother, calm down. Gabe and I did not indulge in sweaty fantasies, thank you. And I'm not wayward. I came straight here. He met me outside." She looked at him for a moment and smiled. Turning back to her mother, she sighed. "I had to wait for them to get... Lorcan."
"Oh, my baby! What is happening to him? Did they hurt him? How did he look?" She pressed her hands to her chest and looked around the room. "Where is your father? He said he would be here and I have not had a word from him since he flitted off!"
"One thing at a time, Mother. They're bringing him here. He looked… fine." Shea smiled, widely. Thinking of the ruined suit and how her brother finally looked like an incubus gave her some comfort. "He looked fine and naked when he left." When her mother's brows rose, Shea waved off her impending question. "I'm sure Father's looking into things. He's probably bellowing at someone and making them cry. You know he isn't one to sit idle. Especially when it comes to Lorcan. I can only imagine how mad he must be…" Shea looked over at Gabe, who kept a politely blank expression on his face.
"Oh, he's all bluster!" Calliope paced the aisle again. "He just wants this smoothed over as quickly as possible!"
"All bluster?" Shea frowned at her. "He nearly knocked the house over when he heard about Lorcan and the s-" She checked the room. Only a few other lilin sat on the far side. Shea stepped closer to her mother. "Father almost took out the neighborhood after Lorcan took that awful suit!"
"He did not! He was…" Calliope cringed at her daughter's incredulous look. "Yes, he was upset, but it's understandable."
"Mother, we couldn't say Lorcan's name for months for fear that Father would lose it!" She raised a brow.
"Your father doesn't lose it, Scheherazade!" Calliope placed her hands on her hips and scowled at her daughter, who mirrored her expression. "When-" Calliope gasped, her gaze roaming the room, as she suddenly tilted her head. "Where are you?" she said through clenched teeth.
"Mother-" Shea was almost slapped by Calliope's wildly waving hand. She sighed.
"Andras! You need to get over here!" Calliope's loud voice drew the attention of the other lilin in the room.
"Stop talking out loud!" Shea hissed. Her mother rolled her eyes, but did as her daughter asked. Gabriel swooped in and pinched Shea's ass again, making her yelp. She turned and glared, but he only leaned down and kissed her nose.
"You're lucky I'm insanely in love with you or you'd be on that floor," she said, holding her glare.
"Sex in the council room would be a new one," Gabriel said, raising his brows.
Shea tried maintaining her scowl, but the suggestive thoughts Gabriel sent her made her laugh. "You're impossible."
"But you love it." He took her hand and kissed her palm. Shea rolled her eyes, but smiled.
"Scheherazade!" Her mother whispered, loudly.
Shea flashed a pleading look at Gabriel, took a deep breath, and faced her mother with a smile. "Yes, Mother Dearest?"
"Your father's talking to some people and he's going to have a word with Lorcan's lawyer and then he'll join us. Come sit down." She walked toward the front row.
Gabriel rubbed Shea's shoulders, helping her slowly relaxed. "Thank you, Darling. This debacle is going to leave me in knots."
Kissing her temple, Gabriel laughed. "I'll be happy to help you work those out."
She turned and looked up at him, smiling as she ran a hand along his jaw. "I know you will. I'm looking forward to it."
"Scheherazade!" Calliope hissed. "Come sit down!"
Shea rolled her eyes at Gabriel. "Coming, Mother." They both walked over and joined Calliope in wait for Shea's father and the trial to begin.
Fred waited inside the dimly lit room where the succubi guards had left him. Lila had lingered a while, offering her companionship and the promise to make an incubus out of him so the council might be lenient with him. Like a man possessed, he'd backed against the far corner and shielded his bits with the nearest chair. He didn't remember shouting, but apparently he had been so loud the succubi guards rushed back into the room. An embarrassed Lila had rescinded her offer and apologized, but not without asking him to think it over. He must have blacked out after that because again he didn't remember a word he said, only that Lila promised they'd speak once he'd calmed down.
When they'd gone, Fred kept to the corner, protectively holding onto his chair. No one would make him move from this spot and if another succubus came through that door he would do something so foul they'd be put off sex for a week. That oughta keep me safe, he thought, but as he waited time seemed to crawl.
What's taking them so long to give me any answers? Fred reached out for Shea's mind, but some sort of interference kept his ability confined to the room. "Ugh! This is ridiculous! Why're they treating me like I'm some kind of monster-"
Fred paled and a terrible thought entered his mind. "Oh god… Did I hurt my Snotface?"
The door opened and a tall, dark-skinned succubus entered. Her black hair, cut close to her scalp, showed off her finely sculpted features. Like everyone else Fred had encountered, she wore a serious expression and no clothes. In her hands were several sheets of paper. She nodded at him in silence, her brown eyes squinting as she appraised him. A moment passed before a small smile emerged on her lips.
"Hello, Lorcan. I'm Felicia and I'll be your representative during this trial. Do you have any questions before we begin?"
"Yeah. Can we both get dressed?" he asked, trying to keep his eyes on the wall beside him. "And it's Fred, thanks. I don't go by Lorcan anymore."
Her smile faded and she stared at him. "Humor isn't going to help you right now. And your name is officially Lorcan. Do you have any real questions, or should I start with the charges against you?" Her voice had the hint of warning in it and the look she gave him matched. Fred rolled his eyes.
"I was being bloody serious for once, and my name's still Fred." He should have known better, though, because everyone in Lullabi had no concept of how to cover their bits and pieces. His chosen name also left a bad taste in their mouths because they considered it common and human. "Hey, wait. Charges? Lizzie's not hurt, is she?"
"What exactly would clothes do for you? Give you a sense of modesty? Would they help these charges vanish? And yes, there are many, and some I have never heard of." She raised a brow at him and then glanced down at the papers. "You stole a magic… suit from the leprechauns? You're really going to make this difficult, aren't you?" She sat down in the chair on her side of the table. "Will you please sit? You're making me feel anxious."
"Okay. I don't see how we can play well together if you can't get why I need some clothes. Also, I don't know what you're talking about! I've got no suit, as you can clearly see. Although, those leprechauns are snarling lil' bastards. One of 'em bit me…" Fred flexed his hand, staring at the place he'd been nipped all those years ago. "Anyways, no, I'm not sitting down. Not without some clothes. Do you have any idea who's sat there? Everyone's starkers! I'm not touching anything. Who knows what that chair's seen! Now, I want some trousers, and I want my question answered about Lizzie." He crossed his arms over his chest. "You said I can ask anything I want."
Felicia slowly inhaled, waited, and let out a long breath. "Do you think this is a game? I'm not an imaginary friend and I'm not here to play. I am here to help you during this trial." She turned her hard stare back to the papers. "I have several documents alluding to a magic, green suit, and I very much doubt that you never had it. You seem to know a lot about leprechauns and their bites. Are you still going to deny it?"
Fred tucked his hand under his arm. "I asked a very serious question, not seeing how that's a game. I'm lots more fun than that," he muttered. "So, come on. Can't ya crack open those magic files and tell me? Is she alright? I'm not answering anything until I know." Fred held a steady gaze with Felicia, fighting his urge to snatch her files and look for himself.
Watching him, she tapped one finger on the table. "I would urge you to be more cooperative with the person who is trying to help you. You're the one who engaged in unauthorized sexual acts with a mortal. Are you honestly telling me you have no idea what effect that had on the aforementioned mortal?"
"Of course I know!" He cringed at the way Felicia described his encounter with Lizzie. "But I'm asking about the after effects…" He wrung his hands. "Please. She's not just a mortal; she's my best friend. Is she safe and unharmed from… from what I took? Not insane or anything? I, I need to know first." Fred's desperation for an answer shone through as he watched Felicia. Nothing else mattered until he heard. He'd never taken that amount of desire off a mortal before and didn't know the limit. "Please."
Felicia studied him in silence, taking in his face and body language. The reports on him were enlightening. If it hadn't come from O.L.A., she would have said someone had a strange sense of humor, but all of it was true. Sitting in front of the subject of her report, she could now see everything for herself. He seemed a complete prude for a lilin, but he was remarkably sensitive, and his worry surprising. The reports had mentioned the mortal, who had been his former charge, but there seemed to be more to it than that.
Feeling sympathy, she answered his question. "There are no charges involving the maiming, or otherwise harming of a lilin, or mortal."
"Oh, thank god!" Fred sank back against the wall and exhaled, loudly. It felt like all the air had returned to the room. He wouldn't have been able to live with himself if he'd hurt her. He would have starved himself until death. Shutting his eyes, Fred's tensions turned into a manic chuckle he couldn't stop. He wiped his eyes, his body trembling. Lizzie was safe. She'd probably never speak to him again, but she was safe. "Thank you," he whispered, looking back at Felicia, suddenly calmed.
Her brows rose at his laughter. His relief had made him giddy. She would have to confer with the examiner later and make sure he was of sound mind, just in case. She folded her hands on the table. "You're welcome. I hope that earns me a little good will. Would you like to sit so we can discuss your case?"
Fred eyed the chair waiting across the table from Felicia, acutely aware of his nakedness once more, but he had made a deal.
Holding his head high, he gripped the back of the chair in front of him and carried it as he walked over. Dropping it at the table, he covered himself with his hands and slipped into the seat. "Alright," he said, scooting forward until the table touched his abdomen, "I'm listening. Let's talk. Why am I here if it's not for that, and how long 'til I can get outta here?" He couldn't imagine anything worse than what he'd thought he'd been arrested for, so this couldn't be that serious.
She smiled, relieved they were making some progress, but it smile faltered when she saw he wasn't fully grasping his situation. "Lorcan, this isn't a little slap on the hand. This is serious. As in you are going before the council and everything you have ever done is going to be brought up and gone over with a microscope."
He stared at her, the words repeating in his mind because none of it made any sense. "What? Why?" His hands smacked on the table and he leaned forward, fear making his thoughts run. "What's the council so interested in me for? Isn't this what those perverts have wanted of me for almost three hundred years?"
She sighed. "There are rules. We have rules for a reason." Leaning forward, her voice grew louder. "You just freaked out because you thought you hurt someone! You violated, I don't know how many rules in just that one area alone!" She sat back, sighing again. "You've broken so many rules they aren't going to let this slide."
Fred drew back in his seat, fighting the urge to say something just to piss her off. It was his go to reaction whenever something upset him. It took the pressure and the focus off himself, but despite everything, Felicia was his one hope of getting out of here.
Fred still remembered the council and their leering, disapproving eyes when he'd refused to go through his rite of passage into working as an incubus, and again when he'd taken the suit. The third time had been when the suit's magic had faded enough that he'd needed to start feeding. He recalled their hopeful smiles and warnings that the day would come when he couldn't run anymore from himself. He'd laughed in their faces and avoided them until this day because he knew they waited to cast their one, unanimous decision that would take away the life he wanted. Was that to be today?
"But what I did was an accident!" he cried, his voice quaking. Fred grimaced. He hadn't meant to shout. Shea was right, he was all over the place and feeding from Lizzie had made him so much worse.
Taking a deep breath, he straightened in his chair and tried to feign some confidence, but his fingers drummed on the table. "What rules exactly are they gettin' all bothered about?" He spoke quieter than he intended. "I- I don't have the suit anymore."
"You know that you are supposed to feed at regular intervals and with supervision. The council made this perfectly clear. You have limited contact with mortal females for a reason. You violated the terms of the agreement…" She frowned, not wanting to look at his face when she told him the rest.
"But I have met up! I have every time! I even just fed last night. Ask my brother, Remy. He's always my supervisor."
"I understand, and it's noted that you have been following procedure… until now."
"Ugh! Because tonight wasn't a feeding! It was- Tonight was just... unexpected. I wasn't even hungry when I went to see her."
She took a deep breath. "You still fed from a mortal and it was unsanctioned and unsupervised. Not to mention that you ran off, went to a motel, and fed off more mortals. It doesn't matter what your state. They're going to throw the book at you, so to speak."
"But… but I don't want the book," he mumbled, sinking down in his chair. Reality suddenly reached his addled mind and he struggled keeping his breath steady. He'd forgotten about the motel. "It, well it- Fuck!" He gasped. "Look, I swear I only fed off that many so my powers took less from each of 'em. I, I didn't wanna hurt anyone! That's why I spread it out. I-" He couldn't get out of this one, could he? They finally had him right where they wanted him. "Isn't there anything you can do? It's never happened before, and I'm sure it won't again. A fluke, really."
She shook her head. "I'm sorry. I can't. There are no exceptions with the council. All I can do is try to lessen the consequences. I'm afraid at the very least you won't be an imaginary friend anymore." She winced and her words struck Fred so hard he went numb.
He wouldn't be an imaginary friend anymore? This couldn't be real. That life was practically all he knew. He'd been an imaginary friend longer than he'd lived in Lullabi. He lived and breathed it. The council wouldn't take the one thing he'd ever loved doing. Would they?
Of course they will.
Fred shook his head, his gaze erratic as he tried holding himself together. He suddenly felt like throwing the table across the room and smashing it to bits. What if they barred him from the mortal realm, too? Forced him to work as an incubus, or to never see Lizzie again? Would that sever their link?
"Why? I…" He breathed harder, the idea of an eternity without Lizzie and never sensing her again too much to bear. It was so strong, he couldn't even mention it aloud yet. "But I'm an imaginary friend! It's what I do. I'm no good as an incubus. Please, I have to stay in the mortal realm. I can't leave her!" His eyes widened as he realized what he'd said and he desperately added, "I mean, I can't leave there yet."
Felicia felt his pain and panic and sympathized. She had been in his metaphorical shoes, having her job on the line, and it had not been a wonderful experience. As Fred's ramblings wound down, she noticed his slip of the tongue and her brows rose in surprise.
"I'm sorry, but there's no way the council will let you continue being an imaginary friend. You broke so many laws the I.F.C. are screaming for your head, but the lilin council is keeping them calm. For now." She scanned her papers. "So, you'll have to have sex with a succubus, or be put to work in some mundane job, like making sure the streets are clean, so they can keep you far from mortals." Fred made a face, but his panic remained etched on his face. She tilted her head and pursed her lips. After Fred's slip, she wanted to see what he really thought of the mortal.
"You know, if you can't be a proper incubus someone else will get the job and visit Lizzie. She fits our clientele. It'll be another incubus having sex with her. I mean, I enjoy my job, but having sex with a beautiful woman is a damn, good job to have. I get the best of both worlds." She smiled at him. "Representing lilin in matters of the law and making love to a gorgeous creature like my wife… Yes, I have it good. So will whoever gets assigned Lizzie." She made a show of looking shocked. "What if it's one of your brothers?"
"What?" Fred stood up so fast his chair shot back and hit the wall. All nakedness forgotten, he slammed his hands on the table and growled. Felicia jerked, surprised by his outburst. "Why would anyone be assigned to her? She's m- Who is it? Which brother? It's not Remy, is it?"
Mouth hanging open, Felicia stared at Fred's wild eyes. "Um, no, no it's not Remy." Collecting herself, she smiled. "Would it bother you if Remy was assigned to Lizzie?"
Fred gaped at her incredulously, trying not to think about what she said, but the thought of Lizzie with Remy... "Fuck that! Like I'm gonna let him, or anyone get anywhere near my Lizzie! I'll rip his head off! I'll stamp and spit on it and then I'll smash it!" His emotions pulled in every direction, reigniting the overwhelming essence of Lizzie that possessed him. Lust rolled through him and he whined, kicking the chair as he paced. "I know what she needs and it's not some dream romp with just anyone! She's worth more than that! I'm the one that lo- Ugh!" Pulling at his hair, he paced faster. This was a nightmare and he couldn't stop shaking.
Biting back a smile, Felicia laughed, softly. "So you would be bothered. I was so sure you had just finally lost your self control and succumbed to your nature, everyone was, but you love her and you can't fight those feelings." She shook her her head. "Well, fuck me, things are finally looking up."
Fred spun around. "Wait, what?" He couldn't close his mouth. His ears burned. "Where are you getting that? I never said anything about… about love." He sneered and lifted his chin. "Pfft!"
Seeing his awkward display at being caught, Felicia tried her best to hide her amusement. His half-hearted sneer almost did her in and she took a moment to make sure she could reply without laughing. "Lorcan, I know. It's written all over your face. Don't ever play poker, by the way. I don't know why you're so embarrassed. It's a good thing. It's great, actually. If you're in love, then this can help you."
"I'm not embarrassed!" he cried, but he felt his face betray him again with a blush. He groaned, wishing more than ever he had his jacket back if only to shrink into it and hide. Smashing something also ranked high on his list.
Blushing harder, he grabbed the chair and shuffled back to the table. He wasn't embarrassed or ashamed to love Lizzie, but anyone in Lullabi knowing about it made him want to kick them all and run away.
Sighing, he dropped into the chair and looked at Felicia. "And I'm great at poker," he said. Of course it's always been against children under ten… "Hey, wait a minute…" His eyes widened. "Did you just trick me into revealing my- That I have feelings?"
"Trick sounds so underhanded. I prefer 'helped you voice your feelings.'" She smiled. "It's not the end of the world." When he looked less than convinced, she rolled her eyes. "You need to come to terms with your feelings, because it's going to be part of your defense."
"I have come to terms. If I hadn't, I wouldn't have gone back to her." He fidgeted and leaned closer to Felicia, lowering his voice. "Alright, yes. I love and adore her, and obviously am a gigantic mess for it. But I just don't want all of Lullabi laughing and saying 'I told you so.' Or, 'Look at Lorcan, the big girl! Bet he wants to do it now!'" He made a face, picturing his brothers Castor and Adrian as the first in line. "Haven't you met my family? They never let go of anything! I'll be hearing about this for eternity!" he hissed in desperation. "They're why I don't come home, you know. How are my feelings gonna help with this?"
Smiling at Fred's admission of love, she had to keep herself from cheering. From everything she had read, she knew he wasn't the most forthcoming kind, at least when it came to his own feelings. Reading about the things he had said to the council had made her raise her brows. He was not shy about telling people where they could stick things and she winced when he mentioned being mocked. She knew from the report that he was no stranger to it.
"Look, I don't believe anyone should be mocked for their feelings, but yours will be scrutinized. I just wanted to warn you. Especially because you love a mortal and because you're… you." She waved a hand as she offered an apologetic smile.
Fred studied her, surprised and touched by her understanding. "Thanks," he said, "but are you sure just pleading insanity won't be faster? I can be very convincing." He smiled.
"No. I don't win my cases by using half-baked excuses." She crossed her arms. "No matter how convincing my client is."
"Well, I've been a professional at crazy for almost three centuries now," he added with a shrug, but worry knotted inside him. He knew exactly where this led. Felicia would announce his feelings to the council in front of everyone and they'd want every detail. He practically heard his brothers' taunts already, especially Castor. He had always been the worst of his brothers, particularly when it came to his love of the human world. He'd certainly pounce if he knew he'd gone and fallen in love with one of them.
"Seriously though, I'm still not getting how this helps. I know I've been gone a while, but isn't it still a huge no-no for a lilin and mortal to fall head over heels mad for one another?"
Felicia wrinkled her nose. "I think you're getting a little ahead of things, Romeo." She sighed. "It helps because it shows you didn't just lose control and you're not a half-cocked incubus waiting to go off. Your love for your mortal kicked your powers into overdrive." She gave him a small smile. "Also, we don't know how she feels, do we? An admission from her would be helpful." She studied Fred. "Does she actually know that you're in love with her? Did you tell her?" She was dying of curiosity, because clearly this was not in the files.
"Hang on a snotting tick! Overdrive?" His jaw dropped and he felt somewhere between laughing and screaming. He'd realized immediately that despite his suit his feelings for her had awakened his nature, but he'd never considered why it was so strong. He'd thought it was normal. For six months he'd been absolutely out of his head, and terrified he was turning into his worst nightmare: a sex-crazed demon, enslaved by his nature. His feedings had increased since he'd fallen for her and he hadn't spent a night not wanking himself blind in shame. But it's all because of… love?
"That… that Snotface! I knew it was something to do with her! Fuck, it makes perfect sense. I've been in control at every feeding. Remy's had naked women revved up right in front of me, but none of 'em affected me like her. This is her fault. Her and her big, brown eyes and that, that face!" And her perfect everything else. "Ugh!" Fred dramatically threw his head back, then dropped it face first on the table, hiding in the circle of his arms with a thud.
Felicia reached out and patted his arm. "Love is like a smack to the face with a sledgehammer." She sighed, shaking her head at his despair. "Why didn't you come home, or tell your supervisor, I mean your brother? You might have saved yourself a lot of… trouble." She bit back a laugh, not wanting to mock him when he was down.
Fred lifted his head just enough to peek at her with one eye open. Sledgehammer? A firetruck packs less of a punch. He sat up and slumped forward with his elbows on the table. Felicia looked so genuinely sympathetic it surprised him, making his guard lower even more. The gravity of his situation had squelched his ability to fight any longer. He knew he needed help, besides, Felicia maybe wasn't so bad.
"Because… I think he already knew and there was no way I was gonna admit it!" he grumbled. "I thought it'd go away if I waited it out, not cause, well, this." He waved his hands at himself.
Her jaw dropped. She couldn't help it; he had stunned her. "It would... go away if you... waited it out?" The question hung in the air between them like smoke. She stared at him. She couldn't think, no other thought would come to her.
"Well, yeah. I…" He sighed. "Look, I'm new to this! I didn't know how love worked, not this type! All I've done is work with kids, not written sonnets and plotted how to give someone the moon." He flushed, embarrassed by his lack of understanding in this area.
Felicia blinked, her brain slowly churning back to life. "I- Uh- I'm sorry." She held up a finger as she tried organizing her thoughts. "Bacchus' balls, you are an anomaly." Rubbing her eyes, she tried to fathom it all. "You weren't supposed to go near her, but then when you realized you were in love with her… you went to see her? To tell her?" Her voice rose an octave at the last word.
"Because she haunted me day and night!" he cried. "My charge's best friend's named Elizabeth! I can't even make mud pies because it reminds me of her eyes! Jessica's mother wears a perfume that makes me think of her. I see her when I close my eyes. I even think I hear her in my sleep. It's bloody hard to leave someone when they stalk you! The final kick was when Jessica was out with her parents at some rotten and horribly dull restaurant last night and I fucking saw Lizzie with her ex-husband signing off on their divorce papers. I couldn't do it anymore! I had to tell her. I figured it was some sort of sign that maybe…" Fred couldn't say the rest. He'd never been one to believe in romance and fate, or all that happily-ever-after muck, but after leaving Lizzie behind he'd almost grown obsessed with the idea that she and him could belong together.
Felicia looked at his wide eyes. He seemed like a man on the edge and she placed her hands on the table and folded them. "It sounds like you have it very bad. Love can push you past your limits sometimes." She smiled. "Your love won out. You decided, well, maybe the Fates decided, that you couldn't be without her any longer." She sighed. "I just wish you would have done it differently. I suppose it's moot now. Time to deal with the mess and the council. You're sure that Remy didn't know about your feelings for Lizzie? It's important. Especially for him."
Fred cocked his head. The Fates. Would they really have driven him insane just so he'd make a move? Maybe he wasn't as crazy as he thought hoping he and Lizzie were meant to be... "Remy never outright said. Just asked me loads of questions. Nagged me 'bout comin' home. Asked me lots about Lizzie, too, but I never admitted a thing. So, if he knows it's not because it came outta my mouth." He frowned. "Why? Is what I did gonna hurt him somehow?"
"Well, at least that can't be used against him," she muttered, thankful for small mercies. "Listen, I know you did your adolescent run away from home bit, but did you never pay attention to anything in Lullabi?" Her look showed her skepticism. "I don't know where to start. As for your brother… hopefully, they just decide to give him a warning." She bit her lip as she thought things over, but Fred rolled his eyes.
"I paid attention to enough to learn I didn't want to learn anymore about anything here," he said, but his thoughts turned to his brother. "He didn't know. I'll vouch for him," he added, quietly. "He's done everything right by their standards. He warned me all the time to stay away from her."
She ran her hands over her face. "You sure like to make things difficult for yourself. So, he warned you… as your supervisor and your brother and you still didn't listen? Do you think you're above the rules or something?"
"No. I just believe in smashing things until they work right." He shrugged. "Plus, I'm a stubborn bastard." His smile briefly sparked with mischief until he added, "Obviously it backfires sometimes."
"This isn't a radio or a toaster, Lorcan," she said, fighting to keep her voice calm. "There's rules for a reason- Bacchus, help me, I'm repeating myself." She groaned. "You throw everything into chaos is what I read. I'm experiencing it firsthand. I need to go over these charges and think about what we're going to say to the council." Her eyes widened. "You will be on your best behavior in there, right? You're not gonna smash something in there, or moon the council?" Her face paled at the thought, sure he would swear to flip tables and tell the council how they could go fuck themselves.
Fred laughed. He couldn't help it. Felicia's terrified look reminded him exactly of Lizzie's when he'd come crashing back into her life. The connection made his face fall blank. Can I go one minute without thinking of her? "Sounds like you read about my last meeting with those blowhards. I'll be good. Promise. I don't really feel like myself right now anyway," he mumbled. The connection to Lizzie had finally calmed, but something felt different inside him and he couldn't pinpoint why. He only knew he didn't like it.
Still cringing from his laughter, Felicia almost fell out of her chair when he promised to be good. She frowned. "Are you screwing with me, because I cannot take it right now."
Her response hit a nerve as Fred realized he'd just promised to behave himself. Him, Drop Dead Fred, had promised to be on his best behavior to the most obnoxious cluster of perverts in the universe. What's the matter with me? His jaw clenched. He'd prove that he was still Drop Dead Fred with or without that suit. "No. Not yet." He smirked. "Unless… would ya prefer I wave my bits about and perform a puppet show with 'em? I can do great voices. Sounds a lot less boring."
Felicia's jaw dropped and she nearly begged him to reconsider when she remembered that he had been hiding in the corner with a chair in front of him when they'd first met. She glared at him through slitted eyes. Was this more of his imaginary friend nonsense? Could she call his bluff?
Leaning back in her chair, she grinned. "Well, I believe that no sexual acts have ever occurred in the council room. We could have your ceremony in there first thing. Sex with Lila."
Fred screamed, falling over backwards in his chair. "Ah! No! Are you crazy?" he cried, kicking his legs as he rolled and crawled back to his corner. "I'm not touching her! You, you keep her away from me! I'm not having any-" He tucked his knees to his chest and frantically waved his hands. "I'm not having it off in there! Not with, with her!"
Slapping her hands over her mouth, she fought to keep her laughter in, but it was useless. Doubling over, her giggle escalated into uproarious laughter and an unladylike snort. Tears built in her eyes and she waved her hand at Fred, barely able to speak. "I- I'm-" She laughed harder.
"Stop laughing! She wants to have sex with me!" he shouted, pale and pressing into his corner.
Felicia could only cackle. She fanned her face, trying to dry the tears. Falling back in her seat, she took a deep breath. "Oh, Aphrodite's tits! I have not laughed that hard in ages." She wiped her eyes. "Get over here."
Fred's eyes widened and he shook his head like it was having a seizure. "No! I don't wanna hear, or think about anyone's tits!" He covered his ears.
Rolling her eyes, she shook her head, waiting for him to stop cowering in the corner. "I'm sorry I, uh, traumatized you. I didn't realize you had a Lila phobia. Will you come back, please? We got a little off topic."
Fred watched her, unsure if he should trust her not to throw him under Lila. Just the thought made him squirm. Maybe he should be on his best behavior if he didn't want that to happen to him. "Yeah. Sure," he said, getting up and covering himself as he walked over to his chair. He uprighted it, and sat back down. "Truce?" Out of habit, he held out his pinky and grinned.
Felicia smiled back, glad he was willing to return and talk, but when he offered a truce and his pinky, she blinked. She had never done anything like this before. It seemed so very human, and so like Fred, that it made her smile. Hooking his pinky with hers, she laughed. "Truce."
Fred chuckled, his relief pouring into every tensed muscle and relaxing him. "Great. So… what's next? Round of Twenty-One Questions?" he asked, lifting an eyebrow.
"I don't think Twenty-One Questions would cover it," she said, looking through her papers. "So… the first few charges actually go back almost three centuries. They are being brought up…" She paused, reading the page in her hand. "...because they show a precedent with you. You stole property, violated treaty agreements, and assaulted foreign parties. They demand the return of their property and restitution." She looked back up. "Do you have anything you wish to add?"
"Hang on. Restitution? You're talking 'bout those tiny buggers, aren't you? Are they here?" Fred knocked his chair back and rushed for the door, peering out its small window. "Where are they?" His head darted side to side and up and down, trying to get a better angle.
"Lorcan, I have thirty-eight charges to go over with you and not a lot of time to do it in." She pointed at the chair. "Can you please sit?"
"Wait. Thirty… eight?" His eyes widened and he stepped closer. "Is this… is this a joke?"
Felicia cleared her throat. "While I do feel like I have a great sense of humor, my wife says I'm not very funny. This isn't a joke." She drummed her fingers on the table.
Holding his head, Fred slowly reached out for his chair and fell onto it. "Thirty-eight… Three centur- Resti- What? Will you please stop using all this fancy mumbo jumbo and just spit it out? What is all this?"
She sighed. "A long, long time ago you entered Ireland like a bad boy, stole a suit, and hit some tiny men. Sound familiar?"
Fred straightened in his seat, glancing down at his naked form. "No. Must've left it in my other pocket," he answered, glancing at Felicia, but the way she stared at him made it hard for him to hold his composure. What would the council do to him if he confessed he'd taken the suit and now didn't have it anymore? If they locked him up forever he'd never see Lizzie again and he'd never be able to tell her why. She'd just think he'd left her forever, again, and the thought of never seeing her face again terrified him. He groaned. "Alright, yes, it's familiar, but I don't have their laundry anymore. Okay? My sister broke it!"
"So, you did have it, but it's… gone?" Felicia had never heard of magical suits breaking. She had never actually seen a magic suit or anything like it. It was all outside her area; her expertise was the law.
"Ugh! Yes! Shea found its weakness. She amped me up on Lizzie lust and smashed it to bits. Grinning, I might add! Absolutely no shame. Completely unrepentant! My poor, poor suit who never did anything to anyone ever! Gone! Like that!" He snapped his fingers. "It turned all black and next thing I knew I was exposed, cold, and destitute on the rug! I'm the one that should demand restitution."
Clearing her throat, Felicia looked down and busied herself with her papers until she was sure she could hide her smile. When she lifted her head, she tried to appear sympathetic. "Uh, that's too bad. So very sad." Coughing to conceal her laughter, she hid another smile behind her hand.
"Um, as I said earlier," she continued, "it might have helped smooth things over if you could have just handed it back. I'll have to figure something out. I don't know what kind of restitution they'll want... There's no gold in Lullabi, or beer. Is that stereotyping?" She muttered the last part as she drummed her fingers on the table. "We'll at least inform them that you were planning on turning it over, but an unfortunate excess of power rendered it inert." She grimaced. "That sounds a little iffy even to me. I may need to work on that."
"Iffy? Pfft! Well, part of that's true." He sulked, staring at his fingers. He recalled how his green magic had returned to its natural, black smoke and how much more he'd craved Lizzie. "I'm cold without that suit and-" He took a deep breath, feeling his nature waking up at the memories. She'd wanted him so much, more than he'd ever expected, and the sound of her voice telling him so remained as vivid as the feel of her touching him. "Well, it just feels weird." If he didn't talk about it, it had to die back down and stop ruining everything for him.
One corner of Felicia's mouth went up at his pouting. "I know you had your alleged ill-gotten gains for a long time," she said, adding a wink, "but I think it's good you don't have it anymore." She paused, feeling the hints of lust stirring within him. "It has to be better without it. Don't you want to be with Lizzie for real? You can't have that by pretending to be an imaginary friend and babysitter." Tilting her head, she studied him. "We're not evil, you know. There's nothing to be ashamed of. If she loves you, she'll love you for who you are."
Fred didn't move, but his face reddened and his jaw clenched because he knew that Felicia could feel him. This is exactly why I don't come home, he thought. Of course he wanted that with Lizzie, but he feared saying it aloud right now would make him explode. Thanks to Shea his nature felt even stronger without his suit. It seemed he could barely think about Lizzie now without fighting off his desires. His fingers slowly curled over the table and he was thankful he at least had it to hide beneath should his desires continue to rise.
"Um, I don't think I wanna get into it," he said, keeping a tight gaze on the table and counting the lines in the wood.
"I know this is difficult," she said, her voice low. "You've had the suit for so long and this is new for you. You don't have the suit's powers anymore. It has to feel strange, but hopefully it'll feel better soon. You'll get used to being a regular incubus in time and it won't be so awkward." She smiled, even though he kept looking down and dug his nails harder against the table.
Awkward's definitely not what I'm feeling, he thought, taking a deep breath. And I'll never get used to this. An eternity walking around on high alert, dreading the times my prick pops up like a snake in the grass for all to see!
"I wish I could say something profound that would help you, but I suppose all I have are platitudes. Listen, if you ever need to talk, my door is always open. In case talking to your family is driving you crazy, ya know."
"Thanks. I'd like that," he said, glancing up at her.
"I have to confess that I heard about you from your father." She waited, wondering how he might react.
"Wait. You know my father?" He stared at her with surprise and a small smile graced her lips.
"Yes… he told me things between you two have been difficult…"
His eyebrow quirked at her remark. "You could say that," he said, guessing he knew exactly what his father had said about him. In almost three centuries he hadn't forgotten any of their last several exchanges, or the throbbing vein in his father's neck when he'd seen him in that suit. Or his mother's face over the things they had said to one another...
Biting her lip, Felicia's brows furrowed. "I, uh, want you to know that he's the reason I'm here. He asked for me to help you and I will." She said the latter with firmness. "No matter what my reasons are for being here, I am here to do my job, and that is to do my best for you."
"Well, it's nice to have help," he replied, leaning forward and studying Felicia. "Um, so…" He pointed at her, still processing what she'd told him about his father. "My father… hired… you?" he asked. "For me?" Out of everything that had happened to him tonight, this sounded like the most ridiculous and unbelievable part of all. "Are you sure it's not so he can get me off the hook and kill me himself when this is all through?" He laughed nervously, but he was half-serious.
Felicia nodded. "Yes, he came to see me once he knew you were back. He's very connected, and with your brothers' jobs, he knows everything that goes on. Your, um, apprehension and trial were inevitable, so he asked me to help. He warned me it would be a daunting task." She laughed. "I normally never turn away a challenge, and this is going to be my most challenging trial yet."
Fred's confusion worsened. His father, the man who had disowned him, had hired a lawyer to help him fix the biggest mess of his life? Why? An annoying hope nagged at him to believe his father didn't despise him after all, but he shook it off. He might be crazy, but he wasn't delusional.
"This is beyond anything I have done, but the aftermath could be huge," said Felicia. "New laws could be written." She grinned. "Sorry, I'm a bit of a law nerd, you could say. Long story short, I'm here and I need you to work with me."
"This isn't exactly how I wanted to make history." His imagination leapt to a future with him in the lead of a cautionary tale about staying a virgin and dabbling with leprechauns. His brother, Dante, would probably teach a class at school to young lilin about it, too. 'Don't be a prude. It makes you steal tiny trousers and before you know it you're in a motel that's crawling with V.D. and you're causing an orgy. And not even a good orgy. Sad, really. Lorcan, the Virgin Shame cocked that up, too and he's still a virgin!' Fred's face heated as he imagined the laughter of all the children with his brother leading the chorus.
"Now, let's start at the beginning," said Felicia, her her words cutting through his waking nightmare and making him jump. "Ireland," she added. "Explain as thoroughly as you can."
Straightening, Fred ran his hands through his hair and exhaled. He'd never been more grateful for an interruption. That was just fucking weird.
"There's not much to tell," he admitted. "I was nearing my rite of passage and I heard they wanted to pair me with Lila, who I really, sorely didn't wanna do. Ugh! I didn't wanna do any of..." He waved his hand and grimaced, looking about the room. Erotic art hung on the walls just like it did throughout all corners of Lullabi. "...Didn't wanna do any of what we're supposed to do. I wanted more, and I wasn't gonna be forced into it. Or her." His expression soured again. "The suit, I heard, was a way out so I could live on my terms, and it worked great."
"Okay, you didn't want to do your ceremony and you just hightailed it out of Lullabi?" She raised a brow, surprised by this even though it was in the report. "Did you talk about this with anyone? Why did you think a suit would solve your problems?"
"No, course I didn't tell anyone! And I didn't think it would help, I knew it would. One of the whatsits, um, the Fates said so." He snapped his fingers trying to remember. "The chatty sister. The one with all the hair that does this whenever she talks." Fred waved his hand, mimicking flicking hair over his shoulder.
"Wait. So, the Fates said go to Ireland and take a suit?" Doubt colored her voice. "Did you go there planning to just take a suit?"
"No! Everything was legitimate, thank you! Anyway, the Fates said it would solve my problems. It was the best advice they could give for my situation." He shrugged.
"Legitimate? Why do I doubt that?" She rubbed her temples as she thought over this news. "The Fates wanted you to go to Ireland and get a suit. This is absurd. Even if the Fates approved the idea the council didn't, and now we have irate Irishmen ready to beat you to a pulp. I don't understand this at all."
"I dunno, but who am I to question Fate?" Fred grinned.
"You're here because all you've done is question Fate!" Her voice came out as an outraged squeak. "The Fates made you an incubus, and what do you do? Deny it!"
Fred huffed. "Well, Fate didn't seem to mind me questioning! And, ugh! How many more times am I gonna hear that one? Why does everyone keep sayin' I'm an incubus? Of course I know what I am! I can see!" He rolled his eyes, his gaze landing on his naked lap. "Ugh!"
"Fates! Fatessssss!" She leaned forward. "There are three of them and they are probably wondering why you are questioning their decision! The decision that made you an incubus that you have consistently shown to be in denial about! So, why wouldn't everyone remind you when they see you? It's like a dog insisting it's a cat! It's a dog!"
"Pfft! I'm not a dog, or a cat!" Fred scratched his head. "Maybe the Fates," he said, emphasizing the last letter, "got it wrong at first and tried to remedy their mistake by offering their support." He smiled, smugly.
Felicia slapped her forehead. "They don't get things wrong! They're the Fates! They decide your life from beginning to end, well, we don't really have ends, but you get my point. You were always destined to be lilin, to be an incubus. Why are you pretending to be something else?"
"I'm an imaginary friend. Are you surprised?" He tilted his head, sporting an innocent grin.
"Oh, of course. Your clothes just scream imaginary friend." She rolled her eyes. "Imaginary friend is a job title. You shouldn't- You won't be one anymore. Then what will you call yourself?"
Fred's expression dimmed and he stared at Felicia. The last thing he wanted was to remain lilin, to accept that the Fates had created him this way with the intention that's what he would always remain. He belonged in the mortal realm, and somehow he would prove it. "Fred," he answered. "I'll call myself Fred."
Her shoulders sagged. Representing him before the council would be the easy part. Showing him that he was an incubus and not human might kill her. The latter wasn't part of her job, but she felt like she had to help him. She just didn't know how.
"Look, we have a huge task before us. We just need to take things one thing at a time." She sighed, hoping that they had developed enough trust that he would listen to her next words. "I'm gonna ask a big favor. A huge one… Can you make an apology to the offended parties? A sincere apology?"
"Apologize?!" Fred's eyes widened. "Those blighters bit me! I'd have scars if it were actually possible for me to! Maybe they should apologize to me? I paid them for that suit. In full and then some! I was a guest and those crusty snots know it!"
Felicia let her head fall back and groaned. She should have known. "Can't you just fake it?" She sat upright, a hopeful look on her face.
"Nope! No way. I'm Drop Dead Fred! I don't fake anything. I wouldn't give 'em the satisfaction!" He lifted his chin and sulked.
Felicia resisted the urge to stomp her feet and whine. Fred was rubbing off on her. "You're so stubborn. Listen, I only know what is written here. They claim you assaulted them, physically and verbally. Now, given what I've read, and now know about you, I would say that isn't far off the mark. The theft and destruction of property is a bigger problem. Did you steal the suit?"
"Pfft! Course not! I gave them four barrels of beer and my conversation. Fair trade, if you ask me. Can I help it if some of 'em just couldn't hold their liquor? They're the rabble who got all bitey and started the brawl! So, I snatched my suit and left." He shrugged. "That's that."
"You're telling me they traded you a magic suit for beer and a chat?" Felicia frowned. "I don't know if that is a stereotype or bullshit."
"Both really, except it's bollocks they keep harassing me 'bout it. They've banned me from their country forever, and the mortal realm when it's St. Patty's Day. I also can't go within fifty feet of any rainbows. Isn't that enough? Honestly, who bans someone and then stalks them around, nattering about their dirty laundry for centuries?"
"So it's their word against yours. Fantastic." She rubbed her temples. "If I lose, my wife is going to never let me hear the end of it. 'You thought you would be a big shot, Licia. You said this will help our family.' Dammit, we can't lose! Lorcan, I need to know what happened during this transaction!"
Fred winced. "Family? Do you got kids?" He suddenly felt bad for her having to untangle all of his mess, so he tried his best to remember. Certain topics gave him a soft spot, as much as he didn't like to admit it.
"We're expecting, actually. My wife is beside herself and is decorating. She loves decorating. We have so many pillows on our bed. Uh, sorry, that was probably more than you needed to know." She quietly cleared her throat and Fred smiled.
"Trust me, I've heard worse. No, you're… very lucky." Suppose I'll never get any of that with Lizzie. The thought took him by surprise and he quickly cleared his throat, too.
Scratching his head, Fred added, "Uh, well, I remember showing up and asking if they had the suit. Those bastards laughed and prodded me with a lot with ridiculous questions. Made fun of me for bein' an incubus who needed clothes. One of 'em flashed me! Said I needed to see how it's done! And when they found out why I needed the suit, they laughed even harder." He rolled his eyes. "So, I finally reasoned with 'em and offered a trade. Soon as they saw the barrels they made a break for 'em and started drinking. Even trade."
She winced. Her reports told her that their whole society looked at Fred as some kind of strange anomaly, someone to be laughed at. Now it seems a whole other group had laughed at him too. Guilt filled her and with it the desire to help him resurfaced.
"I'm sorry things have been hard and that everyone is always pointing out what's wrong with you." She did air quotes and rolled her eyes. "With the exception of the, uh, Irishmen we just want to help you."
Something about Felicia's offer of help sounded different than other times he'd heard it. Usually it came attached with the idea that he had to change, to be exactly like all the other lilin, or like he was weird and broken. He never believed for one moment that they had intended to really help him, but the gentle way Felicia offered it reminded him of his mother and he knew it was true.
He frowned, suddenly realizing how much he missed her and wished she was here with him, too. With his guard dropping, Fred felt out of place even more than before and he tapped the table out of habit.
"As for the problem with the leprechauns," said Felicia, "there has to be a reason they are not letting this go. Treaty agreements are on the line." She pleaded with him, trying to make him understand. "If they can prove it wasn't an even trade, you can forget Lizzie. You'll be in Lullabi and she'll be just a memory."
Fred flinched. "Alright." He exhaled. "I'll do anything for Lizzie… How do we prove it? The suit's gone now. Can they really have evidence after this long?"
"I'm assuming there is no impartial witness who can magically turn up," she mumbled. She studied Fred. "Well, there is one way to show what happened, but I don't know how you're going to feel about it."
"If I'm still nude, then I promise to hate it, but go on."
She laughed. "I would expect nothing less." Fussing with her papers, she thought over what she wanted to say. "So, the, uh, way to show what happened in Ireland is to… look into your memories."
Fred winced. He hated when anyone looked into his head. "Of course. I come home, they take my clothes, and now wanna probe my brain. Sure. Why not complete the set? Sounds like a fun time." He rolled his eyes.
"At least it's painless." She gave him a toothy smile. "I mean, physically painless."
Fred snorted. "You've never been probed by my sister."
She blinked. "I'm married. And it's not a big deal. Just the whole council will see what happened. And the Irish. And whatever witnesses are present. I'm not selling this to you, am I?"
"No, but if it gets me back to Snotface I'll do it."
"Good, because if those leprechauns are just going to swear by their word, we'll need your memories. Moving on..." Felicia glanced over her papers again and spoke without looking up. "Your duties as imaginary friend... You seemed to have done a decent job. You were a little manic, but all in all you helped your charges. Until Miss Elizabeth Cronin, a.k.a. Snotface. So strange. Your assignment with her went awry, it seems." She looked up into Fred's eyes. "You keep going back to her. Why is that?"