by Dr. Noh
As the engine noise dies away, the sounds of the jungle close in around them. It’s been five hours since they left the last town, longer since they saw another vehicle. The red mud track stretches out in front of them like a streak of blood through the trees.
“Are you writing blog entries in your head again, man?” Nick asks.
Rowan drops his forehead down to the center of the steering wheel. The horn makes a sad little squeak and follows the engine into the afterlife. “Next time,” he says, into the dented plastic, “Kitty’s getting the rental car.”
Nick swings the camera toward the back seat to shoot their security consultant. Rowan found her in a bar in Cambodia, back when Highjacked by the Truth was just a blog with a cult following. She stops buffing her nails to aim her 9mm at the camera and tell Nick sweetly to go fuck himself.
“Hey,” Rowan says. “We’re not gonna get on cable like that, kids.”
Kitty rolls her eyes. “We’re not gonna get on cable at all,” she says.
“Sure we are,” Zoe says, hat still pulled down over her face. “This is like every fucking show on TNT. Hot bitches, firearms, and way too much sex. You boys are the hot bitches, obviously.”
“Who’s having too much sex?” Nick demands.
“Not me,” Rowan says. He looks at Kitty and Zoe.
Kitty also looks at Zoe, and raises her eyebrows.
“Oh,” Zoe says brightly. “Just me then? Sorry, guys.”
Rowan rolls his eyes. “Can you look at the car, Z?”
“Uh, computers and car engines? Not actually as similar as you might think. Especially car engines made before I was born.”
“Not a clue.”
“Hey,” Nick says. “You ask both the girls before you ask me? Thanks for the heaping helping of emasculation, man.”
“Dude, literally the only thing I’ve ever seen you do is film shit, like, seriously, ever. I’ve known you six years and I barely know what your face looks like. I’m BFFs with your fucking camera.”
Nick shrugs. “My old man fixed up wrecks in the back yard. I can look at it.” He shoves his camera at Rowan. “Take your BFF and–”
“Keep rolling,” the rest of the car choruses.
It’s Highjacked‘s battle cry. Diarrhea? Keep rolling. Cast member on fire? Keep rolling. About to be shot on suspicion of espionage? Keep rolling until your camera gets confiscated or Kitty shows up with one of her terrifying mercenary buddies to save your ass. Almost get eaten by a yeti that turns out to be a really pissed-off bear? For god’s sake, keep rolling.
They’ve been to more than forty countries, checked out hundreds of paranormal sightings, everything from aliens to Elvis, and Nick has every second on tape. The internet loves them. Well, parts of the internet hate them, but that’s just as good. They’ve done a couple of TV guest spots on Ghost Hunters. Now Rowan’s starting to get calls about a real live show of their own.
“You won’t be able to swear like this on cable,” Rowan tells Nick, 20 minutes later.
“Bleep you and bleep your mom,” Nick says. “This thing is a bleeping piece of fucking shit.”
“I might be able to help,” someone says, just behind Rowan.
Rowan whips around. “Jesus, dude! That’d be murder if I had a bad heart. Where the fuck did you come from?”
He smiles at the guy, tries to look calm, and looks him over. White, which is weird for the fucking epicenter of nowhere in South America, British in that super freaky upper class way where everything he says ends up sounding like ‘I used to own your country, bitch’, and paler than Tom Cruise in a bad vampire movie.
The weirdest part though, is that Kitty isn’t standing behind him with a gun to his head. If Kitty had an online dating profile, first on the list of dislikes would be: people sneaking up on them. Likes: steel toed boots, OPI nail polish, and pushing her 9mm against the backs of people’s skulls, so she’s missing out on a stellar opportunity here.
He glances at her. She’s a few feet off, looking angry, which is her version of surprised. (Dislikes also include: being surprised.)
“Just out for a walk,” the stranger says. He offers Rowan his hand. “Tennyson Hazard.”
“Really?” Rowan says, before he can stop himself. “Uh, sorry. Good to meet you.” He shakes the offered hand. The guy has a nice grip, sure and warm, the kind that makes Rowan think about what it would feel like on his dick.
“I’m afraid so. Most people call me Tenner. Shall I have a look at your engine?”
Half an hour later, they’re back on the road. Rowan’s ready to hire Tenner just on the basis of his mechanic’s chops and his name (because how fucking cool would Tennyson Hazard look in the credits?), Zoe’s making fuck-him-fuck-him-NOW gestures every time she catches Rowan’s eye, Nick has basically forgotten how to film anyone else, and Kitty… Well, Kitty hates him, but Kitty hates everyone she meets for at least a month, so that doesn’t mean much. She hasn’t shot him yet.
They set up camp at the site of an old Spanish mission. Rowan gives his introductory spiel to the camera about hauntings, old murders, ghost monks, etc.
“But the big draw here, boys and girls, is the head honcho, Father Castillo. He was the new guy. Nothing in the records about why he was sent over. Six months later, one of the junior monks makes it to the nearest town. Everyone up here is dead. He says Castillo murdered them.”
He wasn’t expecting much from the place, but it’s actually kind of freaky. More than that, it’s got the real-deal feel.
He raises an eyebrow at Zoe. She pauses in setting up her monitoring equipment long enough to nod back. She can feel it too. He gets a zingy thing going on in his stomach, half excitement and half worry. The thing about the real-deal sites is that they never give good footage. Usually what they give is equipment failure and pants-shitting terror.
Rowan sidles over to Tenner. “Hey, man. How do you feel about being on camera?”
“I thought I already was. Fixing your engine. Exciting stuff.”
“Tonight, I mean. You wanna come out with us?”
He gives Rowan this funny little smile. “And hunt ghosts?”
“Not a believer?”
“I believe in what I can see. What I can touch.”
Tenner brushes his fingers lightly up Rowan’s arm on ‘touch’. Looks like Zoe’s gaydar is operating at full power. Rowan gets a whole different kind of zingy thing in his stomach. This guy is hot, mysterious, and hitting on him, which is Rowan’s favorite kind of guy. Add the voice to that, so low it’s like a really British thunderstorm, and Rowan feels like he’s won the Triple Crown of sex, or at least he will have by tomorrow morning if he’s got anything to say about it.
“So come out with us. Can’t promise the ghosts will let you cop a feel, but you might see something. I’ve got a good feeling about this place.”
Tenner tilts his head a little and narrows his eyes. “A good feeling.”
“Yeah, you know. When you’ve done as many of these as I have, you get to know what the real thing feels like.”
“Yes,” Tenner says, after a pause. “I believe I will accompany you tonight.”
“Bitchin’! We’re gonna be live on the interwebs pretty soon if Z can hook us up to a satellite, so I gotta get you a release to sign, hold on. Oh, hey, can you cook?”
Tenner blinks slowly at him. “I can. To an extent.”
“Awesome. Not saying you gotta, but you might wanna, cause we’re all shit at it. BRB!”
He jogs over to the car and makes grabby hands at the waterproof box. Kitty pops it open and hands him the release form.
“You have to stop saying internet acronyms out loud if you ever want to get laid again,” she says.
“Whatevs, he totally likes me and I have a great ass.”
They have a better than average dinner, conjured up by Tenner out of ramen noodles, a bag of grated cheddar, and a can of tomato sauce. By the time it’s full dark, they’re ready to go.
“Okay, peeps. Tenner’s coming with me and Nick to the church to start. Kitty, perimeter patrol?”
“I’m staying with Zoe at base.”
That stops Rowan for a second. Kitty stays at base when she thinks Z shouldn’t be left alone. Last time she stayed at base, they were in a ghost town in Nevada. A bunch of drunk assholes rolled up in a Suburban, would’ve trashed the camp and god knows what else if Kitty hadn’t seen them off.
“Something up?” he asks.
She shrugs. “Staying here.”
Maybe she can sense it too, that tingly feeling in the air. It’s crawling up his spine now, urging him to get going. He gives into it, and they head for the church.
The first part of the night is pretty dull. Some exploration, a few isolation sessions with the EVP recorder. The highlight is Rowan nearly falling through a rotted out floorboard into the basement. Tenner catches him by the arm and hauls him back.
Rowan points the FLIR thermal imager down into the echoing hole. It’s all navy blue, with the floorboards a warmer light blue and his feet yellow. And then something moves across the screen.
“Did you see that?” Rowan whispers. “Shit, tell me someone saw that.”
“I saw it,” Tenner says quietly. “A black shape, possibly humanoid. What temperature registers as black on your thermal imager?”
“Nothing? Pretty much nothing. We went to Siberia and everything was pretty damn dark blue, but it’s relative. The coldest stuff should be dark blue no matter how cold it is.”
“A heat sink,” Tenner says.
“We gotta get down there.”
“I’m not sure that’s wise.”
“Fuck wise,” Rowan says, summarizing his life to date. “Did anyone see stairs?”
“Might be round the back,” Nick offers.
They find the stairs to the basement outside, underneath double doors set into the ground. It takes Tenner and Rowan together to wrench them open, and a flood of cold air pushes out and past them. It leaves Rowan with goosebumps and a weird prickle at the back of his neck.
Tenner grabs Rowan’s arm. “Stay here. Let me go down first.”
“What? Like hell! Come on, Nick.”
He charges down the stairs before he can think about the serious note in Tenner’s voice, or about the chill that seems to be settling down in his chest. It’s not that cold, he tells himself. It’s just the contrast. The jungle’s a million degrees and down here, it’s… He can see his breath.
It comes out in clouds of steam. It’s that cold. He gets out his thermometer and starts talking to the camera, the usual patter about temperature fluctuations and spirit activity, overlaid with excitement because this is going to be big, so big, he’s never seen a site like this, it’s amazing…and all the while something in the pit of his stomach is telling him get out jesus h. christ get out now.
“In conclusion,” he tells their audience, “we’re freezing down here, got a clear human shaped figure on the FLIR, looks like shit’s about to get real. Hey, Tenner, come tell our loyal viewers what– Tenner?”
He looks around. Even with the night vision scope he can’t see more than a few feet in any direction. When he gives in and switches on a flashlight, it’s the same deal.
“Tenner? Come on, answer me! Stay close, Nick.” He starts along the wall, hand not quite touching it in case of enormous spiders. His heart’s beating too fast. Night vision should be showing him the whole room. The flashlights should be giving them more penetration than this. It’s like the darkness down here is a solid thing, not just a lack of light.
“Who thought you’d need a parka for the jungle?” he says for the camera. “It’s looking like a big space down here. I know it’s hard to see on camera… That’s ’cause it’s fucking hard to see in real life. Tenner? Answer me, come on! I can’t lose our first guest on a live webcast, where are you?”
He sees something, movement ahead of him, and strides forward, cautious of the debris scattered across the dirt floor. It’s human shaped, dark, moving. But it’s wrong somehow.
“Nick, you see that?”
“I see it, man. Fuck.”
“Father Castillo, is that you? If you’re there, can you give us a sign? Make a sound?”
There’s a creak of wood, like a door opening. He strains his eyes against the dark and steps closer. The thing ahead of them moves with him. There’s a dark slash across it, like a crack. Castillo used a sword on some of them, but if this is a ghost, it’s the most solid one Rowan’s ever seen.
He should be narrating for the camera, but he can’t. His throat is tight with fear. His palms are sweating, and his shivering in the cold. It’s all he can do to take another step. When he moves, it moves again.
A hand comes out of the darkness and yanks him away from the wall. He draws a breath that he knows will come out as a totally mortifying girly scream, but another hand clamps down over his mouth.
“Shut up,” Tenner hisses in his ear. “Shut up and stop moving. Both of you. Right now. Freeze.”
There’s something in his voice. Nick’s stopped mid-stride, and Rowan doesn’t think he could make a noise even without the hand over his mouth.
“Turn around,” Tenner says. His voice has this weird edge to it, like every word has an echo you can’t quite hear. “Walk back toward the stairs. Do it quietly. Do it now.”
They go. Rowan doesn’t think they have a choice. He’s angry and confused, but he’s also a little relieved. He thinks about that thing, behind them in the dark.
They walk, and they walk. They were maybe twenty feet from the stairs when Tenner told them to stop and turn around. They’ve been walking for at least five minutes.
“We’ve gone too far,” Rowan whispers.
“Yes, you have,” Tenner says, with feeling.
“I mean we’ve passed the stairs. We must have.”
“Did you see the stairs? No? Then what do you think the odds are that we’ve passed them?”
Rowan grabs his shoulder and jerks Tenner around to face him. “What is going on?”
Tenner looks at him for a long moment and then shakes him off. “All right. Look.”
He raises a hand, and the ambient light level in the room goes from zero to shitty compact fluorescent to halogen to surface of the sun. Rowan claps his hands over his eyes and keeps them there for a few seconds until he stops seeing red through them.
He takes them away slowly, a finger at a time. The room is daylight bright now. He can see the stone wall, the dirt floor, the…bones. The human bones. A lot of places they go have human remains. He’s almost-kinda-sorta used to it. If the worst the room had to offer was bones, he’d be okay. But there’s also the dark.
With this kind of light, they should be able to see the whole room. It can’t be bigger than the church above it. But Rowan still can’t see more than a few feet in any direction. The light doesn’t just drop off; it’s cut off. The darkness ripples around them like oil. Little tendrils of it creep out into the light and retract as if burned.
“Okay,” Rowan says, aware his voice is climbing the upper slopes of Mt. Unmanly but unable to do anything about it. “Okay, so, the only thing keeping me from totally losing my shit here is the traffic we’re gonna get from this. What now? Who are you? What the hell is going on? What was that…thing I saw before?”
“Sorry to say, but you almost certainly lost your satellite signal when we lost the stairs. And it’s long odds you’ll get anything usable off the tape.”
“Right. Or you wouldn’t be… Being all…magical. Or whatever. For the camera. Shit! Are Kitty and Zoe okay out there?”
“Worried, I suspect, at not being able to contact you. But as we can’t get out, so they can’t get in. There’s nothing to harm them out there.”
“So it’s all in here with us?” Nick mutters from the behind the camera. “That’s super.”
“Yeah,” Tenner agrees. He pulls out a knife, sticks it into the dirt, and starts taking off his boot.
“Dude, what are you doing?” Rowan says.
“My power, unsupplemented, isn’t enough to get us out of this trap. There are three ways to raise power. Blood, sex, and sacrifice. The amount of blood needed would leave me too weak to do anything useful. I’d rather not lose another finger, so the little toe it is.”
“Another– You have all ten fingers! I would’ve noticed if you were rocking the Frodo look!”
Tenner holds up his left hand. He is lacking a pinky. Rowan swallows again, harder.
“Glamor,” Tenner says. “People tend to remember someone…rocking the Frodo look, as you put it.”
Rowan sits down on the floor with a thump. “Would now be a bad time to have hysterics? I always wanted to try it.”
Tenner ignores him and holds the blade of his knife against his own toe.
“Whoa!” Rowan grabs his wrist. “You can’t– I cannot sit here and watch you carve yourself up, dude, no, no way!”
Tenner’s face is grim, pale, and a little sweaty. “We don’t have a lot of choice.”
“Can you just tell me what’s going on first! Please!”
Tenner studies him for a second and then relaxes his grip on the knife. “All right. We have time.” He lets out a little breath of laughter. “Time is all we have, at the moment.”
He sticks his foot back in his boot, knife back in the boot sheath, and rolls to his feet. He strides forward, and the dark recedes like a slimy, living curtain. Rowan stays firmly behind him, but manages to follow without pissing himself or anything seriously embarrassing. He reaches back without looking, and Nick grabs his hand. Better safe than…losing your cameraman to creepy-ass sentient darkness.
They’re headed back toward that thing now. Rowan sort of wishes he hadn’t asked, but he didn’t want to watch Tenner cut off his own toe, either. The situation is significantly more fucked up than Highjacked’s previous worst, which only involved humans and guns and a possible shallow grave.
Pretty soon, Rowan can see the thing again, wavering out of the thick darkness, human shaped, but still somehow wrong. Curiosity trumps terror at the last second, and Rowan passes Tenner at a jog. Whatever it is can’t be as bad as he’s imagining. He just needs to know.
“Don’t touch it,” Tenner snaps, in that voice that’s impossible to disobey.
Rowan stops just short. It’s not a monster at all. It’s a mirror.
All the time he thought it was moving toward them in the dark, and he was moving toward it. He stares into it. It’s him, but…not. Wrong. Bent at odd angles and hemmed in with shadows. He moves his hand. It waves back at him. He leans closer, tries to see his own eyes. There’s something in them, some weird color or afterimage, like a retinal burn. He leans closer…
Tenner jerks him back sharply by the collar. “Gaze not too long into the abyss,” he says, brightly.
“What is it?” Rowans asks.
“It’s what it looks like. It’s a mirror. It just reflects different things than ordinary mirrors do.”
Tenner hesitates. “Souls,” he says, at last. “For lack of a better word.”
“That’s my soul? Jesus.”
“Yours isn’t so bad. You should see mine.” He catches Rowan’s expression, which must be pretty horrified, because his faces softens. “Look, what you see…is only what you can see. Normal people aren’t equipped to use these mirrors as they were intended. There’s too much that’s invisible to you.”
“So you don’t see the same thing I do?”
“You see the weight you’ve acquired in your life. Loss, grief, pain, cruelty. That which you’ve caused and what you’ve experienced. The mortal things. The things that don’t live on. I see the whole. I won’t say you’re a shining beacon in the wilderness, Rowan, but you’re not a bad person. Do not take what you see here to heart.”
“Did Father Castillo take it to heart?”
“Yes,” Tenner said, softly. “I believe he did. My research indicates that the mirror belonged to his predecessor. There were a lot of us in the Church back then. He knew he was dying, tried to destroy it – the crack, you see – and failed. Died in the attempt. Castillo found it…” He shrugged.
“It sent him totally looney tunes.”
“Concise and poetic. Yes.”
“And he killed all those people because of it?”
“That was my initial thought. That’s why I let you come along. But it’s worse than that.”
“That’s not bad enough? And hey, wait, we gave you a lift!”
“Had I known what happened here, I would never have fixed your vehicle. I would’ve come on my own.” Tenner paused and put a hand on Rowan’s shoulder to turn him gently away from the mirror. “He brought them down here to judge them. He made them look into it, one by one. After that… He might’ve killed them. They might have killed each other or killed themselves.”
Rowan wraps his arms around himself. He’s still freezing, and his chest hurts deep inside like someone’s punched him there. He tries to laugh. “No one liked what they saw, huh?”
“That’s what I’m trying to tell you,” Tenner says gently. “No one could. They were only seeing the worst of themselves.”
“Why would someone make a thing like that?”
“This is not its intended purpose. True Reflectors can be used for many things. Divination, communication. Even travel. They’re useful, in the right hands.”
“Oh, and you’re the right hands?”
“No. I came here to destroy it.”
Rowan chews his lip. “Oh. Is that what you need the power of your toe for?”
Tenner snorts and manages to make it sound genteel. “No. My own power will suffice for that. I need a sacrifice to get us out of this…maelstrom of souls. I have never in my life seen such a conglomeration of pain and madness and terror. It’s warping the skin of the world.” He waves a hand. “The darkness. The disappearing stairs. They are closing in. They want deliverance, and who can blame them.”
Rowan looks around at the boiling darkness. He thinks about all those monks going crazy looking at themselves, seeing what he saw and thinking it was all there was inside them.
“Can you do that? Deliver them?”
“Not with a toe. I’ll have to come back.”
“What would it take? You said it could be blood?”
“It would take every last drop in your body, and even if you were willing, I don’t do that sort of thing.”
Tenner blinks at him. “What?” he says.
“You said blood, sex, or sacrifice.”
“You want to have sex on a dirt floor in the freezing cold surrounded by bones and the unquiet dead?”
“It sounds bad when you put it like that.” Rowans hold up a hand. “Look, no, obviously not, but I think I’d prefer it to you cutting off your toe. And we were gonna anyway.”
Tenner raises his eyebrows. “Oh, were we?”
Rowan does his best cocky grin. “Yeah, totally. I’ve got lube.”
“You…” Tenner closes his eyes briefly. “Of course you do.”
“It’s not you,” Nick puts in. “He’s always got lube.”
“And condoms,” Rowan adds, helpfully.
“It would have to be bareback, I’m afraid,” Tenner says. He crosses his arms over his chest and cocks his head to one side. “Still interested?”
“You doing me or me doing you?”
“Uh,” Rowan says. He glances at Nick.
“Imagine the traffic,” Nick says, a smirk in his voice.
“No way, dude. Turn around.”
“What happened to ‘keep rolling’?”
“Nick! Tenner, back me up here.”
Tenner shrugs. “The last time I had sex for ritualistic purposes, there were twenty people watching.”
Nicks snorts. “Okay, chill. Like I wanna see that anyway. I’ll turn around and stick my fingers in my ears. You two have fun.”
He does. Rowan and Tenner face each other, Tenner impassive, Rowan shifting his weight awkwardly and too aware of his sweaty palms.
“Can you make it warmer in here like you made it lighter? There’s some shrinkage happening.”
Tenner gives him an amused smile, but bends to draw a wide circle in the dirt around them. He clears it of bones and mutters a few words when he closes it. Abruptly, the atmosphere shifts and Rowan feels lighter all over. It’s also about twenty degrees warmer, which is still chilly for being naked, but not hypothermia territory.
“Can we keep him?” Nick asks.
“Fingers! In ears!”
Nick does as he’s told for once, but it’s still fucking hard to ignore him.
Tenner puts large, warm hands at Rowan’s waist and draws him close. It’s suddenly a lot easier.
“Twenty people, huh?”
“It’s an easy taboo to overcome. Not a few of us now have day jobs in the porn industry. Power raising is far more effective than viagra.” He lays a hand on his cheek, tipping Rowan’s head up until their eyes meet. “You do not have to do this. Truly.”
“I want to.” Especially when Tenner looks at him like that, soft and serious at once. There’s more in his eyes than Rowan remembers seeing in anyone’s, sadness and caring, and Rowan wonders if it’s possible to fall for someone in ten seconds of eye contact.
He shakes himself mentally and pulls Tenner down to him for a kiss. It’s good, warm and slippery, a little hesitant on Tenner’s part. Maybe you don’t kiss for ritualistic sex. Fuck that. If Rowan’s having sex, it’s going to involve kissing.
Tenner’s arms come around him, one hand in his hair, tugging his head back. Tenner kisses down his neck and licks the hollow of his throat. Rowan’s always been weirdly sensitive there, and it makes him shiver and swallow convulsively. Tenner makes a little noise of satisfaction and does it again.
“I can feel it,” he murmurs. “A literal hotspot in your energy field.”
“Is this, like, magical dirty talk?”
Tenner smiles and drags his teeth over another spot under Rowan’s jaw. “Maybe. How’s it working for you?”
“Pretty–” Deep breath, lock knees so he doesn’t fall over. “Pretty well. Jesus.”
Tenner palms Rowan’s cock through his jeans, and in seconds it goes from that one little touch to both of them with their pants and underwear down around their knees, junk out, cocks rubbing together and getting all sticky and slippery, and god, it’s better than Rowan thought it could be. Tenner makes it easy to ignore where they are, keeps distracting Rowan with these little touches, licks, nips, every time he starts to remember–
“I’m going to fuck you,” Tenner says, hot in his ear. “Hands and knees, please. I think that will be easiest.”
Rowan drops to his knees faster than he ever has in his life. “I usually top,” he says, stupidly.
“But you don’t want to this time.”
He can’t deny it, so he keeps quiet. Tenner moves in behind him. Warm hands stroke over his back, his sides, the backs of his thighs. Fingers trail between his cheeks. He struggles to get his legs wider, but he’s caught by his jeans. His cock is aching.
Lips press to the center of his back, and Tenner works two slicked fingers inside him. Rowan arches his back hard and bites his lip. He’s panting.
“Too much?” Tenner asks.
“No! God. No, keep going. Deeper.”
“Looking for another hotspot, am I?”
“Smug bastard. Come on.”
“Hmm…more difficult to find than the others…”
Rowan makes a frustrated noise and shoves himself back onto Tenner’s fingers. He can almost feel it, angles his hips, wanting it. The reason he usually tops isn’t because he doesn’t enjoy this. He likes it almost too much.
“Dammit, just a little– Come on–”
And then Tenner does something, twists a little deeper, and the pads of his fingers are rubbing solidly against Rowan’s very favorite hotspot, and Rowan’s hips are jerking, fucking himself helplessly to get more of that, and this isn’t like any sex he’s ever had in his life.
He can hear himself swearing, hear his pulse in his ears. He’s so hard his cock is bumping against his stomach, leaving sticky trails of fluid across his skin. He moans when it brushes the hem of his t-shirt.
Tenner pulls his fingers out, and a second later his cock is shoving in. It’s big. It should hurt, at least a little, with as long as it’s been for Rowan. It doesn’t. It feels like the best fucking thing in the world, and Rowan can’t get it in him fast enough.
“Jesus, yeah, fuck, come on, please, I want it, want it so bad, need it–” He keeps up a steady litany of pleading, no real idea of the specific words coming out of his mouth. Finally, he’s got it all. Tenner’s stretched over his back, mouthing the back of his neck, hands moving shakily along his sides, under his shirt.
“Move,” Rowan says. “Please, fuck, you gotta move.”
“Yeah,” Tenner says. His voice is shaky too. “Okay. Home stretch. Here we go.”
He draws back, shoves in hard, hits it exactly right. Rowan’s fingers dig into the dirt, and his cock throbs. He wants to touch himself, but he knows it’ll be over in a second if he does, and he wants more of this, wants this forever.
“Again, come on, it’s good, god, it’s so good, don’t stop–” He tries to shut himself up, but the only thing that does that is Tenner’s next stroke, deep and hard inside him, and the one after that, and the one after that.
The rhythm picks up, and Rowan’s forgotten about even the possibility of touching himself and just clings to the ground like he might fall off if he doesn’t. He sees sparks, feels them crackling up and down his spine, and when he starts to come, his entire body shakes with it.
It doesn’t stop. His cock is still spurting, jerking, all his muscles clenching in time to Tenner’s rough thrusts. He can hear himself making noises he didn’t know he was capable of, high and almost pained, pulled out of him. His vision goes starry and spotty. It’s too much. He doesn’t want it to stop.
Tenner’s cock rams home one more time, and Rowan can feel it when he comes, wet and hot inside him. Rowan’s own orgasm finally starts to trail off normally, passing into little shudders and aftershocks. Rowan’s arms give out and dump him on the floor.
There’s a little slice of time where he’s just breathing, coming down, trying not to get dirt up his nose. Words gradually replace the pounding of his own blood in his ears. He looks up.
Just as he does, there’s a flash of white that blanks the whole room. When it clears, Tenner is standing, naked, arms outstretched and eyes closed. His lips are moving, but the shapes they’re making don’t match what Rowan hears. It’s almost song.
The light is still so bright he has to squint. The darkness around them boils and starts to scream. Rowan puts his hands over his ears, but it doesn’t help. It’s not a noise he can shut out, and it gets louder, louder, until his nails are digging into the skin of his temples and he’s biting his tongue and he can’t take it for one more second…and it’s gone.
The darkness drains away like a tide and leaves a perfectly ordinary basement behind it. Rowan can see the stairs, not more than ten feet away. Even most of the bones are gone.
He realizes he’s still curled up on the ground with his ass hanging out and puts himself to rights. “Is that all?” he asks Tenner.
Tenner is still naked, swaying on his feet. He doesn’t answer. Rowan stands and touches his shoulder. “You okay, man?”
Tenner pitches forward, and Rowan barely catches him in time. He lowers them both to the floor.
“I’m all right,” Tenner mumbles. “Just tired. It’s done.”
“Right, great. We’ll get you out of here, get you some clothes and a Powerbar or something. Hold on.” He looks around. “Nick? Nick, where– oh shitting hell.”
Tenner jerks his head and looks in the direction Rowan is staring. Nick is standing in front of the mirror, camera still in his hand. Filming the fucking thing. Rowan launches himself up on shaky legs.
“Nick? What are you doing?”
“I can see into it,” Nick says. His voice is soft and dreamy. “I can see all kinds of stuff.”
“Can you just step back a little?”
“No,” Nick says. “There’s more.” He steps forward. His palm lands against the surface of the mirror. His lens touches it…and slides right into it.
“Pull him back,” Tenner croaks.
Rowan gets him by the shoulder and yanks him back. “You okay? Hey, you’re okay, you are, look at me.” But it’s clear that Nick is not okay. He doesn’t even look like he’s Nick anymore. Nobody’s home in there.
“Goddammit!” Rowan yells. He picks up a skull and hurls it at the mirror. It cracks and crumbles and doesn’t even leave a dent in the mirror’s surface.
“Bring him here,” Tenner says, voice weak.
Rowan hauls him over and helps Tenner to his feet again. Tenner’s swaying. His hands are shaking.
“What do you need?” Rowan says. “Blood?” He holds out his hand.
Tenner grips his wrist. “Don’t. You shouldn’t offer yourself so freely. You’ve given me more than enough tonight.” He turns to Nick, though he keeps hold of Rowan’s wrist and he’s leaning against Rowan’s side to stay upright. “This will not go smoothly. You may need to carry both of us out of here.”
Rowan nods. He takes the camera from Nick and sets it on the floor just in case. Nick wouldn’t want his baby broken.
“Nick. Nicholas Caspian Garza.” Tenner’s voice has that weird note of command in it. Nick’s eyes focus on his face. “You wander where you are not welcome.” He lifts his hand and traces something on Nick’s cheek. “You must come back.”
The four words ring and echo like thunder, though his voice isn’t loud. Nick’s eyes go wide. He makes a surprised noise and crumples to the ground. A second later, Tenner goes down too. Rowan tries to catch them both and just manages to fall down with them.
Rowan scrambles to his feet and stops, torn between going for help and not leaving them unconscious in a creepy basement with an evil soul-eating mirror. Fortunately, his earpiece crackles into life just then, and Z’s forced calm fills his ears, along with the sound an axe hitting wood as Kitty goes for the storm doors covering the stairs like Jack Nicholson in The Shining.
He hugs Kitty when she makes it through, and she doesn’t hit him or anything.
Tenner and Nick are unconscious for nearly twelve hours. It’s enough time to get them back to civilization and checked into a hotel, and enough time for Zoe to run Nick’s tape. It’s blank after the satellite feed cut out, as Tenner predicted. Except for the very end.
There’s no mirror, or Nick, or Nick’s reflection. It’s all weird colors and vague shapes. Zoe shrugs.
“It’s like a bad acid trip. We can’t put this up on the site. No one will buy it.”
Rowan thinks about the camera lens sunk into the surface of the mirror. “Yeah. Keep a copy of the footage just in case though, huh?”
“Sure. Put the beginning up?”
“Yeah, I’ll do a blog entry for it tomorrow.”
He goes to look in on Nick and Tenner. And Nick’s camera. It’s still got a little charge left. Just for fun, he shoots both of them sleeping and then goes out on the balcony to shoot the people down in the town square. After a minute or two, he plays it back on the viewfinder.
Nick looks normal. Tenner glows with a pure blue-white light that pulses when he breathes. Not all of the people in the crowd down in the square are solid. Rowan swallows and sets the camera down carefully.
“I’d very much like to buy that,” Tenner says, from just behind him.
“You gotta stop that! Fuck. I thought you were asleep.”
“Ten thousand dollars.”
“It’s Nick’s. You have to ask him.”
Tenner frowns. “I can’t let you keep it.”
“It’s still Nick’s. Is he gonna be all right?”
“He’ll be fine. I looked him over. There’s no lasting damage. Twenty thousand.”
“It’s his camera!”
Tenner smiles. “All right. I’ll talk to him.”
“So. I guess you know…what it does now.”
“It’s integrated some of the properties of the mirror. It should prove fascinating to study.”
“Are you going back there?”
“Soon, yes.” His eyes widen. “You did leave the mirror there? You didn’t try to move it?”
“Hell to the no. I’m not touching that thing. Are you sure you should?”
Tenner shrugs. “I still mean to destroy it, or at least conceal it from mortal eyes. But it will be a week or more before I have the necessary power reserves built up again, and I might as well use that time for research.”
“I guess you’re not coming with us then.” Rowan’s heart sinks a little, though he knew, really, that it wouldn’t happen. “We could pay you a pretty decent salary. Some rich weirdo just offered us twenty grand for a beat-up camera.”
Tenner smiles at him briefly. “I’m afraid not. But I believe we’ll see each other again.”
“If nothing else, I am in your debt.” He takes Rowan’s hand and presses something into it. “If you need me, this will call me to you.”
Rowan looks at it. It’s a little wooden sphere, carved on every surface and strung on a leather band. Rowan ties it around his neck, and it rests just at the hollow of his throat.
“How?” he asks. “Will you just know?”
“Blood is the traditional call, but any bodily fluid will suffice.”
Rowan smirks. “So I could jack off on this thing and you’d, what, appear in my bedroom in a puff of smoke? Hot.”
Tenner rolls his eyes, but he’s smiling too, though he rubs a hand over his face to hide it. “It only works once, so be very sure you need me before you use it.”
“Oh, I need you,” Rowan says, wiggling his eyebrows.
“If you conjure me up for a date, you will be sorry.”
“Doubt that. Anyway. You’ve got all your toes. And we got some pretty good footage before Nick’s camera started seeing dead people. All’s well that end’s well?”
“Astonishingly, yes. I didn’t think any of us would get out of there alive,” he adds casually.
Rowan feels a residual chill go through him. “That bad, huh?”
“Oh, yes. That bad.”
“Thanks for not telling me. I mean that.”
Rowan touches the wooden bead at his throat. “You don’t really owe me, you know. It was just sex. I mean, pretty much the most fantastic sex ever, but still.”
“Sex and sacrifice. It was a gift you gave willingly because you didn’t want to see me in pain. Two for the price of one, as it were. That’s why it was…like it was. That’s why we’re not dead. And that’s why I couldn’t take your blood. All three to the same person, that’s a promise you don’t want to make to anyone, Rowan. Be more careful with yourself.”
“Sure. If I meet any more of you guys, I’ll watch out for that.” He tries to say it casually, but he can feel his face heating up. He wonders exactly what kind of promise that would be. “We’re out of here tomorrow,” he adds quickly. “So, you know. If you wanted to do anything tonight….”
“You can buy me dinner. And then we’ll see.”
They watch the sunset until Kitty comes out on the balcony for a smoke. A second later, Z drags Nick out. He’s pale and tired, but smiling. They go to dinner, all of them together. It’s hours before Rowan can get Tenner alone again, but he doesn’t really mind. They’re his family, after all.