"You're so cute when you're slurring your speech."
"'M not spurring m' speech," Shayna said.
"Right," Kara smirked. "C'mon, it's past two am. My mom will freak if she finds out I snuck out again."
Shayna sighed and reluctantly abandoned her neat row of empty shot glasses.
"Why do you do that, Shayna?"
"What?" Shayna glanced back at the bar as she fumbled with her jacket sleeves.
"Line up your glasses like that."
Shayna shrugged. Each glass seemed to anchor the world down even as its contents set the whole thing spinning as soon as she swallowed them. Like the still wooden posts of a dock amidst the rioting waves. Constant points in the middle of chaos. But she couldn't fish out the right words to explain this to Kara from her sloshing mind. So she said the next best thing. "I donno."
Kara dug out several crumpled bills and dropped them on the counter. "Thanks, Gibbs."
The barman nodded and swept the money into his pocket.
The two girls huddled together outside the bar's doors, ducking their heads against the pouring rain. "Hope my mom didn't call the cops on me again," Kara said conversationally as they waited for the bus. "They've searched my room six times and haven't found a thing." Her cheeks were flushed from the alcohol, but her words didn't melt together as much as Shayna's.
"D'you believe in magic, Kara?" Shayna asked, smiling at her own fingertips as rainwater dripped off of them.
"We've been over this before, Shay."
"But do you? Do you? Do you…?" Shayna's voice became fainter as she repeated the question like a mantra. She shook her fingers and giggled. "See that streelamp? Looka th' rain… looks like th' sun melted into a thousand lil pieces an' tumbled down down down…" She sighed and closed her eyes, rocking sideways. "Or it's fireflies," she said with her eyes still shut, "all committing suicide at the same time, throwing themselves out of th' lamp and into th' dark."
"God, Shayna, you're so weird when you're drunk."
"Thought you said I was cute." She opened her eyes and giggled again. Rain dripped off her nose and stuck her eyelashes together. She scrunched up her nose and smiled. "Kiss me, Kara."
"Ew, no, you lez."
Shayna laughed. She stumbled forward and tripped over her too-big black boots, and Kara caught her. She laughed again as Kara helped her back on her feet.
"You better hope no-one asks you to walk a straight line. You can't even stand without falling over."
"Shut up," Shayna slurred, aiming a punch at Kara's arm and missing completely.
Bus lights swung into view at last, slicing through the rain and stabbing both girls hard in the eyes. The bus hissed to a stop and its doors folded open. Kara tugged Shayna up the steps, flashed her pass at the driver and yanked Shayna's out of her jacket pocket, then thumped down on a seat at the back of the bus. Shayna sprawled beside her.
"God, I hate Thursdays." Shayna said.
"It's Friday, Shay."
"Whatever. I still hate Thursdays."
"Sundays, too," she conceded.
"Wuz carrots got to do wis anything?"
"You hate carrots."
Shayna and Kara weren't the only ones on the bus. Other people were out late on Friday night, too. It was one of two nights of the week that the bus actually ran till three am; all the other days the last circuit was at 11. A shaggy-haired man wearing a puffy ski jacket that looked like it belonged in the 80's was perusing a week-old newspaper. Two small children were asleep, tucked under their mother's arms, in the seats behind the driver. A couple of punks with Mohawks and slashed scars on their wrists looked too stoned to even realise they were on a bus.
Shayna stared out the rain-streaked window, watching the darkness rushing past. She realised she was shivering, and burrowed closer to Kara. How many times had she done this before? If she hadn't been failing math and hadn't felt so foggy, she might have been able to figure it out. A lot. That was the closest she could get. A lot of times.
Kara wiggled out from under Shayna's shoulders and smoothed her friend's fading violet hair off of her forehead where it was pressed like damp strands of pulled taffy. "See you later, babe. Don't forget to get off at the right stop or I might never see you again." She laughed, then for good measure added, "It's three after this one." She hopped off the bus and Shayna stared after her, eyes half-focused.
The bus lurched into motion again, and Shayna closed her eyes. Her head felt like an elephant stuck in sludge: heavy and slow. She fell into a daze, swaying with the bus's movement. She lost all track of time as she waited for the hiss of the doors that would signal her stop.
"Hey, kid. This is the last stop." She opened her eyes groggily and looked up at the looming brown face above her.
"Wha —?" she mumbled.
"This is the last stop. You gotta get off here, kiddo."
"Right." She yawned and looked out the window. Did she know where she was? She couldn't tell. Pulling herself to her feet with the aid of the bus driver's offered hand, she staggered off the bus and stood blinking in the pouring rain.
Now that she was outside, she wasn't sure she recognised the place at all. The bus lights illuminated the trunks of large trees and a tangled mass of undergrowth. Was this a forest? Was there even a forest on the bus route? She'd never been to the end of the line before and couldn't think of ever having been aware of a forest on the outskirts of Torra at all. But then, thinking was not a fully-functional ability at the moment.
The bus pulled away and Shayna was left in total darkness, rocking back and forth a little as she tried to keep her balance. Distant thunder mumbled.
It was a dark and stormy night… she thought, and then almost laughed at herself.
She rooted around in her pockets for a minute. Her fingers brushed the cool plastic face of her cell phone. She dragged it out and flipped it open. The bright blue glow of the keys after the darkness of the forest left an imprint against her eyes.
"Ow." She squinted and the screen swam into focus. The words No Service scrolled across it.
"No service? What the hell!" She smacked it against her skirt, flicking rainwater everywhere. It didn't help. The No Service banner continued to happily slide from side to side.
She folded it shut and hurtled it against a tree trunk. Thwack. It dropped to the forest floor and Shayna was left there, feeling stupid. Now not only was she stranded in the middle of an unfamiliar forest at night in a storm, but she'd also just successfully lost her only means of communication. Damn it.
"You're outta lifelines, Shay," she said.
The trees seemed to sway more than the weak breeze warranted. They swirled like a bucket of paint, round and round. Shayna realised she was stumbling forward, brushing aside moss and tree branches that reached for her hair and clung to her clothing. She ran, heedless of direction.
Her left boot caught a root and she was flung forward. Jolts shot up her arms as her hands sunk into the mud, and her knee glanced painfully off a rock.
She tried to get up, cursing, but fell back over again as the world slid sideways. Lights flickered all around her, but she couldn't tell if they were alcohol-induced or a result of banging her head against a branch when she fell.
She rocked back and forth on her knees in the mud and the fallen leaves, rainwater and angry tears carving black rivulets from her smudged eyeliner down her cheeks.
As she scrambled up again, trying to convince her legs to obey her, the quivering little lights dimmed and died and the world melted together like dark chocolate.
Shayna cracked her eyelids open. Her eyelashes were stiff and the dim light stung. A marching band had taken up residence in her head and the drumline was practicing its loudest number. The world had stopped spinning and now it just rocked from side to side gently, like the deck of a ship on a calm ocean.
Groaning, she rolled over. She was lying in a king-sized four poster bed hung with deep blue velvet curtains. The linens, although rich and clean, had a feeling of antiquity about them, as though they had been made four hundred years ago.
Someone — a woman, she hoped — had peeled off her muddy clothes and washed her, and then had redressed her in a hideously frilly, cotton-candy-pink nightgown that was at least four sizes too big. It hung off her shoulders and twisted around her legs.
"Ugh. I hate pink," she muttered as she extricated herself from the covers. Her voice was rusty, but at least she wasn't slurring any more.
Shayna pulled aside the blue hangings and swung her legs over the side of the bed. Her feet cringed on the cold wooden floor.
The room looked like it had fallen out of the 1600's. It was lavishly decorated but felt, like the bedding, as though it was sitting in the wrong century.
"Shit," Shayna said. She had no idea where she could possibly be.
She'd woken up in many unfamiliar houses after blurry, drunken nights, but this topped the list of Weird Houses She Couldn't Remember Arriving At. Had she been picked up by some guy at a bar? She couldn't even remember. I must've been drunker than I'd thought. She thought she remembered something about flickering lights in a forest, but that could just as well be the remnants of an alcohol-induced dream.
Shayna made her way to the door and jerked it open. A long hallway stretched before her, and a wide staircase twisted out of sight at the far end. Without bothering to muffle her footsteps, she followed the stairs down.
Someone was sitting with his back to her at a long table. His feet were propped up and he had slid down in his chair. He was flipping through something — photos and bits of paper were scattered on the table in front of him. Shayna crouched down and squinted. That purple-and-green one in his hand looked familiar…
"Hey!" she said. "That's mine!"
He ignored her and continued pulling things out of her wallet. She knew he had heard her, though: for a piece of a second his fingers had paused and his shoulders had tensed.
Shayna thunked the rest of the way down the stairs. Swiping a chunk of violet hair out of her eyes, she stepped around to face him.
He had dark shaggy hair that looked like it had started needing a trim six months ago. Something about his face reminded her of the Romans; bold, elegant, and cold. He couldn't be any older than about 18, but the eyes still staring fixedly at the credit cards and photos in his hands were bright and wild.
"I said —" she hissed, grabbing for her wallet, "— that's mine."
His hand snapped out and clenched her wrist. There were old scars streaking his arm and the shadow of dried blood around his fingernails. Shayna bared her teeth and snarled.
He tilted his chin up and for a moment Shayna was sure that his eyes would meet hers, but they halted at the level of her chin. He chuckled, a growling, rusted sound. "Oo, we've got a feisty one this time, Blaise," he said. He had a faint accent Shayna couldn't remember having heard before. His eyes had flicked to a spot over her shoulder, and she twisted her head around to see to whom he was speaking.
She had not noticed him before, though she must have walked right by him when she had stomped over to confront the dark-haired boy. He stepped forward so the light caught his face. His hair was a bright tangle of redgold and his one-sided smile was flirtatious. He caught her eyes and lifted his eyebrows teasingly — or suggestively, she couldn't tell which.
She scowled at him and turned back to the one holding her wrist. "Let me go."
He seemed to consider it for a moment, then swept his gaze back to the photo in his right hand. He didn't loosen his grip.
"Is this you?" he asked.
"What?" She hadn't expected the question and had dropped her defensive manner for a moment before snatching it back up again.
"It's a simple enough question, babe," the redhead said. She tossed another pissy expression in his direction.
An eight-year-old with brown ringlets framing her heart-shaped face grinned up out of the photo. She held a book in her little hands and one of her front teeth was missing. Shallow dimples offset the freckles scattered across her nose.
"Yeah, when I was a kid," she said.
"You were a reader," he said, studying the photo with apparent concentration.
"That's how all of us started," she said, shrugging.
"Whatever you'd call us now. Punk, Goth, Emo, whatever. We were all geeks once."
"What happened, then?" he asked, scrutinizing the purple streaks in her straightened black hair, the metal bars poking out of her ears and her left eyebrow, the chipped black fingernail polish.
"People change." Her tone was clipped. But her face was the same as the one in the photograph: pale and heart-shaped, a few freckles still struggling to survive on the bridge of her nose, her eyes — no. He wouldn't look at her eyes.
"You can't change who you are," he whispered to himself.
"Hell yes you can," she said. "Who are you, anyway?"
"You don't want to know me," he said quietly.
"You're holding me hostage, dude, and I want some sort of explanation. Like where the hell I am, for instance."
His eyes swept back to her face. "I was under the impression that you needed help. You were passed out in the forest during a thunderstorm at three in the morning. If you have a different interpretation of what I should have done when I found you laying in the mud with your face bleeding and your eyes rolled back, tell me."
"I —" she started. Then her eyes narrowed. "That's not the point. You didn't answer my question."
"You're not my hostage, you're my guest. If you're not going to thank me, the least you can do is tell me your name."
"Don't you already know it? You've gone through every damn thing in my wallet."
"Not much for formalities, are you?" He seemed amused.
She eyed the credit cards, receipts, and phone numbers scattered across the table. "Neither are you."
"Touché," Blaise said from behind them.
"Shut up," Shayna said.
"As you wish, mademoiselle." He bowed with a mocking flourish.
The dark-haired boy sighed. "Your name is Shayna Goldstone. You are 16 years old but will be 17 on December 16th, and you don't have your driver's license. You're allergic to pineapple, you weigh 122 pounds, and you're five feet six inches tall. Your phone number —"
"Alright, alright, I get it," she said. "You've memorized my wallet. Now you can steal my identity. Wonderful. And I'll never know who you are because you'll never fucking tell me."
"You don't want to know me."
"Yeah, you've said."
He sat silently, picking up the photos one by one and examining them. She waited, but he made no attempt to introduce himself, so she contented herself with watching his fingers skim over the faces. She wondered what the blood crusted around his nails was from, and where he had gotten the scars that marred his arms. Most of them were long and thin, like scratch marks, but had healed evenly into silvery threads. Not cutting, then, she thought. Besides, cutters usually restricted themselves to the insides of their wrists, and these marks were scattered randomly from his fingers to his upper arms.
Shayna blew out her breath in annoyance. "Look, can I use your phone? Mine's… not working." She had a feeling that it wasn't such a good idea to let on that she'd chucked it somewhere in the woods.
"Phone?" For a moment he looked genuinely confused. "We haven't got a phone."
She laughed derisively, then caught the honesty on his face. He was serious. "No shit?"
"Pardon? No, I said we haven't got a phone."
Shayna ran a hand through her hair. "If this was a scifi book, now would be the time to inform me that when I passed out in the woods, time shifted backwards and now it's the sixteen hundreds."
"Actually I think it's closer to the second millennium."
"Bugger. Scratch that theory. Okay. So I'm still in England? Planet Earth?"
"They call it England now, yes." A dark look crossed his face.
"What's your problem? Did it used to be named after your brother or something?"
He laughed a strange, bark-like laugh. "Not quite."
"Damn, Rom, this one's quick," the red-haired boy said with a sly little laugh. "Can we keep it?"
"If you don't shut the hell I up I will rip your dick off and stuff it up your ass."
"It's been worse places, princess."
Shayna crossed her arms and her scowl deepened. She opened her mouth to retort when a jingling sound caught her attention, and a middle-age woman bustled through the side door.
"Hello, dears. Tea?" She took a look at Shayna, who looked distinctly unhappy in the cotton-candy-pink nightdress, and said, "Oh, dear. Pink is certainly not your colour. It clashes with your hair."
A/N: This chapter is incomplete. I'm having character issues with Rom (the dark-haired boy) and the woman -- I may cut her out entirely. Anyway, once I've sat down and had a good long talk with them over tea and other wonderful caffinated things, I'll try to write some more of this. Until then, au revoir, my lovlies!