Author notes: One of a series, but can be read on its own.
"Come look at this one, babe," the young woman called out to her husband from where she sat on the small loveseat, legs curled beneath her, a large photo album cradled in her arms. As she lifted her eyes from its pages, turning her head in the direction of the adjoining kitchen area of their small apartment, her dark eyes glinted with amusement, her shapely lips twisting into a smile that was both teasing and soft, nostalgic. "How long did you keep that mustache before you realized you looked like the guy from Super Mario?"
As her husband leaned against the dividend between the kitchen and living room, one eyebrow quirking, his lips almost curved into a smile, equal parts amused and affectionate as he nodded towards the album in the woman's lap.
"You realize, Rikarah, that as often as you have called me in here to look at single photographs, I would save myself time and effort if I were to simply join you and look at each all at once?" he asked, and Rikarah smirked, her own eyebrow raising with a hint of suggestiveness in the tilt of her head and the slight parting of her lips.
"Then why are you standing all the way over there, Mr. Time Management Master?" she asked, and the young man made his way over to her without another word, his answering smile reply clear enough to them both. Tall, lean, and darkly brooding in appearance, his eyes nevertheless took on a new light as they met Rikarah's, and as he settled onto the loveseat, pulling his much smaller wife into his arms album and all, their dissimilar bodies still molded smoothly into each other, visually a perfect fit.
"And my hair," Rikarah smirked, rolling eyes almost as dark as her husband's, though seemingly brighter in color due to vivid alertness and intelligence in their depths, coming across at most times as a surface brightness of sheen. "It was shorter than yours. Not that it would take much for that, anymore," she laughed, reaching backward to tenderly comb her fingers through his straight hair, which was just long enough to brush the tops of his shoulders. "You grow it out much longer, Gavin, and people will be asking us which of us truly wears the pants in our relationship."
"And we would know the answer to that," Gavin replied, giving his wife's slim thigh a pointed squeeze before stroking his fingertips across its width, slipping down the inside of her leg.
Rikarah laughed, covering his hand with hers and making a pretense of shoving it away. But even as she did so, she arched her spine, pressing her upper back into his chest, her backside more firmly against his lap, and the top of her head against his cheek as she simultaneously pressed his hand harder into her inner thigh.
"Neither of us, if you look at the album we don't leave out in the living room," she chuckled throatily, and Gavin's eyes glinted as he kissed her deeply, his hand slipping several more inches up her thigh, before Rikarah finally broke it, returning her attention to the album still barely balanced on her lap. She directed Gavin's more reluctant gaze to it as well as she continued to flip through.
"Our wedding…I would have liked to have a picture of the minister's face, I can only imagine what he must have thought. You look like you were trying to eat me," she smirked, and Gavin ran his fingers lightly up her side, his lips twitching when she shivered and squeezed his wrist hard enough to cause something to pop.
"I was, baby," he murmured playfully, but there was a seriousness to his eyes, as though perhaps his words were not entirely in jest. "Body, mind, soul, whichever I was capable of swallowing…and as for the minister, I would think he had seen more entertaining displays. We WERE in Vegas, Rika."
"Still…not many brides wear black…or carry a dagger," Rikarah remarked, then flipped the album page casually, shrugging. "But I suppose there are others with unusual preferences for a wedding, and Elvis impersonators are about as strange as they come…oh look, this must be our first Christmas, I had just gotten that tattoo on my ankle. See how you can tell it's a little scabby…oh Gavin, look at this!"
She was staring down at the photo on the newly turned page with a gentle, reminiscent smile, her eyes soft with fondness as she lightly stroked her fingertips across its surface. Following her gaze, Gavin smiled too, taking her hand into his and squeezing. Rikarah lifted her eyes to his, leaning back into him more fully.
"It wasn't our first time," she murmured, her eyes half lidded now, "but it was the first time we put effort and planning into it…the first time we really came together and deepened our connection. Do you remember, Gavin? Do you remember how it happened?"
"Forever, Rikarah," Gavin assured her as his lips found the top of her head, then her own, covering hers like a promise. "How could I forget our first time?"
Together they stared down at the photograph, the sole memento of that night, their lips still curved into gentle smiles…but they did not need its image to remember.
Fletcher Depner's expression was carefully arranged into easy nonchalance, his posture open and relaxed at his position at Lucky Strikes's bar stool, drink in his, his other hand casually resting on the counter. He made sure to drink in casual swallows, neither sipping nor gulping, in such a timing that he appeared neither eager to get drunk nor inexperienced in the taste of alcohol. Even as his body language remained open, approachable, his eyes flickered over the bar's other customers, with practiced mild interest. He had long ago perfected the art of only looking vaguely bored and curious, rather than openly predatory or as though he were searching for someone to approach. Fletcher didn't have to approach…so far, with this strategy, he had never failed to catch a woman's interest, to bait her without her even realizing it into approaching him.
And it seemed as if tonight would be no exception. Even as he let his eyes scan over the others in the building, he noticed a young woman with medium length brown hair and dark eyes watching him with interest, her lips slightly parted. As he turned his head just enough so it appeared he was paying no attention to her but could nevertheless see her out the corner of his eye, Fletcher smirked inwardly as he watched her slowly lick her lips, her eyes still intently aimed in his direction. He was sure that within a few moments, the woman would make her way to him.
Sure enough, less than a minute later the woman stood, walking over to him with head held high, shoulders squared, smiling flirtaciously. She was petite but still feminine in her body, making the most of her smallness with stiletto heels and what looked to be a very good bra as she swayed her hips side to side as she walked, slipping into the barstool beside his. The woman tilted her head in his direction, flashing him a very friendly and insinuative smile. Though she looked to be no older than 21 or 22, something about her expression made her seem older- but then, that was probably her intention, Fletcher suspected.
"I trust this seat isn't taken," she stated with a smile in her voice as well as her face, eyebrows raised, and Fletcher smiled back, shaking his head.
"Not unless you count the fact that it now belongs to you."
"Oh, that's just a given," the woman assured him, leaning in towards him just close enough that Fletcher could smell her slightly too heavy perfume's scent, the lingering sweetness of her shampoo. "Now, YOU belonging to me might be a bit of a stretch at this point, but then, I'm VERY flexible…and it does look like you have long arms," she added suggestively, her eyes lingering quite obviously over Fletcher's body as she looked him up and down, and Fletcher smiled as he turned towards her, his pulse speeding just a little in anticipation. This one was almost too easy.
"Well, I am pretty tall," he replied, allowing his lips to curl into a smile as suggestive as hers, and the woman boldly lay her hand on his thigh as she looked him in the eye.
"My name is Rikarah. I don't believe in unnecessary lies, so I will tell you upfront that we will not be having sex tonight, but I do like to play, and I find it best to carefully examine all toys before making my final selection. Would you care to show me your most…impressive…features?"
Fletcher's eyes glittered as he took in the woman's directness, the heat of her touch spreading through him, and his smile in return was genuine, even almost gloating as he replied.
"My name is Fletcher…and I think you have yourself a deal."
It was easy, from that point, for Fletcher to go about his usual routine. The woman- Rikarah, she had said her name was- was forward enough to make it easy, with her seductive smiles and deliberate posture and touches designed to communicate to him just how ready she was for his attention, yet she held back just enough of herself to make it a worthwhile challenge. Though she continually touched his arm, his shoulder, his chest, though she tilted her head close at a calculated angle, allowing her the tips of her hair to brush his arm, she did not kiss or fondle him, did not straddle his lap or give more intense physical contact. It appeared that her stated boundaries of her intentions to tease and lead along, rather than allow him to have true hopes for intercourse, had in fact been truthful, and she showed no signs of changing her mind. Clearly her actions were intended for her own benefit and preferences without regard for Fletcher's.
But then, that was of little consequences to him, and was in fact expected. And as usual, he was prepared. One hand on Rikarah's shoulder, turning both casually in such a way as he talked to her that her drink was partly out of her view, and his eyes held hers intently as he talked to her, making sure she was watching him too much in the face to watch his hand, he slipped the Rophynol in its small container from out of his pocket, up his sleeve, and then casually emptied it one handed into her drink before returning the container to his pocket- all quickly and smoothly enough that Rikarah didn't notice a thing. But then, no one ever had before, and he had had quite enough practice to perfect the necessary motions.
Within another fifteen minutes Rikarah, still talking and laughing with him coyly, had managed to finish off the rest of her drink still none the wiser; it was not long after that it was clear the drug's effects were beginning to kick in, all the faster and more intensely given her smaller than average size. Rikarah's head drooped, her eyes appeared heavily lidded and difficult to keep open, and her smile grew loose and sleepy, her speech slowing and stuttering as if she found it difficult to put her thoughts into words. Within another ten minutes she seemed to be slumping so much she was in danger of falling off the barstool, and Fletcher knew then it was time for stage two of his ritual- relocating.
"Why don't we got somewhere more quiet," Fletcher murmured solicitously, as he slipped off of his stool and reached out to support her sagging form, helping her to her feet and encircling her with his supportive arm as it became clear that Rikarah was too disoriented and uncontrolled in her movements to walk or stand on her own. " You look tired, Rikarah…why don't we call it a night, go somewhere more intimate where you can rest?"
"Mmm…kay," Rikarah muttered, her head inclining slightly, as she leaned heavily into Fletcher, her hand loosely gripping the front of his shirt, her head pressing against his side. She appeared indifferent to her surroundings, her eyes unfocused, and Fletcher would have bet all the money in his wallet that she did not remember his name, and perhaps not even her own. Suppressing his smile, he tightened his hold of her protectively as he began to propel her towards the bar's entrance, out the door, and then settled her into the passenger seat of his car. By this point she was so out of it she was almost unconscious, but that was of no matter to Fletcher…sometimes, it was even preferable.
As he pulled into the driveway of his small rented home several minutes later, Fletcher's pulse beat rapidly, his breathing growing short and slightly shallow in his excitement, and his hands shook a little as he undid his seatbelt and circled around to Rikarah's side of the car, going to open the door. No matter how many times he did this or how little time he allowed to lapse between, each time was just as thrilling as the first…for no two times were ever exactly the same. it was the anticipation of experiencing the differences as much as the act itself that so excited him…for if ever a time came where everything remained and was experienced as the same, Fletcher would probably tire of this fast. There could be no adrenaline without unexpected occurences, without the thrill of variety in and of itself.
Opening the passenger door, he felt a smile slip over his face, affecting not just his lips, but the whole of his features, until he appeared to almost glow with anticipated pleasure. Leaning close to Rikarah's slumped form, he pressed his lips close to her ear, nearly whispering, and enjoyed the slight flutter of her eyelids that was her only reaction to his words.
"Rise and shine, my love…or sleep on. It's all the same to me…either way, you are mine."
With those soft words, spoken with an edge of malice in spite of their gentle volume, Fletcher gathered the woman into his arms and carried her to this front door, her head propped against his shoulder. Her lips were parted, but did not form words. Just before stepping through the threshold, he stopped to smirk down at her slackened face, shaking his head slightly before he continued.
"And now, my love, we cross the point of no return…"
Opening the door to his bedroom one-handed, still easily balancing Rikarah in his arms, he lay her on his bed, pausing over her for several moments to savor the moment, to anticipate for just a little longer what was still to come. He let his eyes drift over her form, over the smooth paleness of her skin, the swell of her chest as it rose and fell slowly, the exquisite slim shapeliness of her limbs, the relaxed lines of her delicately pretty face…he drank her in with greedy eyes, having his fill of her physical appearance for what it was of his own before upping the stakes with touch.
But when his hand finally lowered to Rikarah's face, stroking over her neck and cheek, then tracing its way down her collar bone, and then both hands moved to the hem of her shirt, beginning to ease it upward, a male voice spoke to him suddenly, soft but very intense, even ominous in its tone.
"I'm sure this has been a terrific time for you, Fletcher…but this is where I step in and inform you the game is over. And you, I'm afraid, have lost."
Fletcher's hands jerked away from Rikarah abruptly, his heart skipping a beat, and then resuming much more rapid pulse rate as his eyes darted about the room, searching for the source of the voice even as he attempted to decide whether it had truly spoken, was an actual voice, or only one of his imagining. As if to aid him in this decision, his closet door swung open slowly, almost lazily, and a man in his early twenties stepped into his view, his eyes holding Fletcher's with a stare that was somehow both friendly and interested, yet also smoldering, holding back what seemed a barely controlled rage.
"You see, I wouldn't care all on my own what you do with your time, how you choose to use your…talents," the young man continued softly, his eyes still boring hard into Fletcher's, so harshly and unblinkingly that it made him feel violated, suffocated, though the man did not yet step closer. "But my girl does, and my interests and concerns will follow hers. And you see, Fletcher, you've laid your hands on her now, and my concerns are no longer merely following hers…they have now become my own. You have made me very, very angry…and I am not what one might refer to as a man capable of turning the other cheek."
The man stepped towards him now, his arms folded casually behind his back, but there was nothing casual about his expression…and even in his incredulity, Fletcher was afraid.
"What?" he stammered, his eyes shifting between the man and the door; though he was closer, he had as suspicion that the man would be upon him before he could complete his exit, that he would be very fast if provoked…and there was no telling what he might do then. "Who are you- how did you- YOUR girl- she's YOUR- listen, I didn't know. She never said a word. She was drinking, and she didn't say…she wanted this, I swear. She said-"
"She said no," a female voice spoke up distinctly, almost cheerfully. "And very clearly, I might add."
As Fletcher's head jerked around to the bed again, his eyes bulging, he saw that Rikarah was sitting up now with her hands folded properly on her lap, her eyes now very much alert and clear, a sardonic smile upon her lips. There was no sign of lingering grogginess or disorientation at all, of any effect of drugs…it was as if she had never taken any.
"But…what?" he sputtered, one hand pointing at her with a slight tremor, blinking rapidly and shaking his head, as if he could merely clear his vision and have everything revert to the way things had been- the way they should be, in his own mind. "I thought you were unconscious…I thought you….you weren't…"
"I was supposed to be lying back passively, ready to be your plaything, you mean," Rikarah raised an eyebrow, and her smile widened slightly as she shook her head, amusement glinting in her eyes. "That would have been your preference, I'm sure, to have me lying limp and pliant and open in every possible way…unfortunately for you, I am not one to surrender control."
The other man was standing closer to her now, his leg leaning lightly against the bed as he stared at Fletcher with a smile that was loving, almost, even with its sinister edge…for a brief moment Fletcher's heart leapt, hoping that this confliction of warmth with malice meant he had a chance to escape intact, that perhaps this…whatever this was…was only intended to scare him. But then he realized that the man was not looking at him at all, but rather past him to Rikarah, and he swallowed, feeling his palms begin to sweat. For if this man loved her….if she truly was his girl…then there was no telling what he might do.
"Unless, of course, she chooses to reward me," the man added to Rikarah's comment with a faint smirk, and he reached to tenderly touch her face, cupping her cheek in his hand as though she were very fragile and transparent, easily damaged. As their eyes met, their lips echoing the others' smile in a brief moment of shared sentiment, Fletcher's heart beat faster still, his eyes sliding again to the door….for it was more obvious than ever that he had bitten off much more than he could chew.
"I-I'm sorry, this was all just a huge mistake," he muttered as he edged towards the door, his hand reaching for the knob. By then it wasn't an issue for Fletcher that he was fleeing his own house, that he was leaving strangers in it who might vandalize or steal…what was a greater concern to him was that somehow, one of those strangers had been inside his home already when he arrived, as though already knowing what Fletcher would do…that the other had somehow recovered from a Rophynol-spiked drink in less than a minutes' time…and that truthfully, his main concern was not how they had managed those seemingly impossible things, but rather how they might behave, having been able to do so…what sort of retaliation they might seek against him.
And given the way they looked at each other, the fact that the man's hands were still hidden behind his back, Fletcher simply had no desire to find out.
"I'll just be going-"he tried, but in one swift motion the other man had seized his arm left-handed in a strong grip, slipping himself in between Fletcher and the door as he stared him down stonily.
"No. I don't believe so," he said softly, his grip tightening until Fletcher gritted his teeth in pain, not failing to notice that his other hand still remained behind his back. "You see, Rikarah was talking to you…and it is very rude to interrupt."
"Aren't you wondering how all of this came about?" Rikarah asked brightly, and she slipped off of the bed slowly, coming to stand just behind Fletcher in such a deliberate positioning that he was closed in between them, eyes shifting between as he struggled to decide how to turn himself, which needed the greater focus of his attention.
"You see, Fletcher, Gavin and I have been watching you," she said in the same conversational tone, even as her eyes narrowed, taking on a more hostile look as she stepped still closer, invading his space. "You could call it a talent of ours, a hobby…you see, Fletcher, Gavin and I have recently decided to form a companionship, a partnership…a team of sorts, you could say, using our individual talents and skills, just like any other team. But Gavin and I, you could say, are a little unusual, a little different from the crowd. Because my interest, and Gavin's, now as well, is in making things right, making things even and fair. Some might call that an impossible task….but as I said, Gavin and I are different, and I have confidence we are up to the challenge. And you, Fletcher, will be our trial run…doesn't that make you feel special?"
"Trial…trial run?" Fletcher swallowed, his lips thinning nervously as his eyes shifted back to Rikarah, noticing with sudden anxiety that she was fingering her sleeve at the wrist…almost as though she were hiding something up it. "What do you mean…look, I'm just-"
"Well, this is the first time we worked together, you see," Rikarah said smoothly, still smiling, even as she continued to stand too close, to idly finger her wrist. "We always worked alone before…and together, it takes a lot of coordination. See, first we had to find and agree on a target- and that, of course, is you, you fairly screamed for our avenging. This included using wigs and costumes so you would never see us twice, and it is not so easy to be in costume and yet look as if you are not, you know. Then we had to follow you home several times, get a sense of your routine…you know, Fletcher, leaving your key under your doormat is very clichéd, a good way to get yourself robbed," she scolded almost playfully, shaking her finger at him, and then smirking when Fletcher flinched, shaking her head.
"Easy there, babe, it isn't a loaded gun….we do not use those. Too impersonal."
"WHAT? Wait- just, look, I'm going-" Fletcher started desperately, making a move as though to push Gavin aside, but the sharp edge of a knife's blade suddenly pressed against his throat, stopping him cold.
As Rikarah kept her arm locked around his waist, the knife to his throat, Fletcher went very still, trying not to move, not even to breathe, feeling his legs weaken, his face drain of color until he felt lightheaded and dizzy.
No, there would be no escape…not until they had said their piece. Not until they had done as they wished…until they had forced him into a passive obedience he had demanded but never experienced…until it was, as they viewed it, "right" and "fair…"
"So we watched you," Rikarah continued as though she hadn't been interrupted, her small body pressed against his back, her breath warm against his shoulderblades as she continued to hold the knife to his throat. "Gavin copied the key and returned yours, and used it today, to be waiting for you…and I played your helpless victim. What you did not know, Fletcher, is I was prepared, and before you ever touched my drink, I already had a counterdrug dissolved inside. No effects for me, only a chance to display my acting skills…one of my many talents. But not my most prominent passion, Gav, why don't you tell Fletcher about what we love most?" she shifted her attention to Gavin now, meeting his eyes in a rather alarming smile, and Gavin smiled back, his words dark, and utterly sincere.
"Murder…what Rikarah is telling you, Fletcher, is that our main passion is death…and specifically murder."
"But only for a good cause, of course," Rikarah added, even as her eyes glowed, anticipation lighting her features as the blade pressed even harder into Fletcher's throat. "We don't' murder just for murder's sake…it has to serve a purpose. But that does not mean we cannot have a VERY good time doing it."
With a sudden flip of her wrist a switchblade flipped open into her palm, from the very wrist Fletcher had eyed so suspiciously…and as she now held two blades in her hands, each pointed at his throat, Fletcher noticed with growing alarm that the hand Gavin had kept behind his back was now plainly in his view, and also armed with a very sharp dagger. As Fletcher stood trembling, unable to scream, Rikarah smiled viciously, almost purring the final words he ever heard.
"As I said, we are different…how does it feel, Fletcher, to be undone by one's own trap?"
As the two of them looked down at the photo album, eyes fixed upon the photo on its page, Rikarah's and Gavin's lips were curved upward into gentle smiles, their expressions soft, nostalgic as they remembered its circumstances in silence. As Rikarah stroked her fingers lovingly over its surface, Gavin's arm tightened around her tenderly, pulling her so close to him she was nearly in his lap, her leg crossed over his as they remained for several moments, lost in this moment of reminiscence.
The photo which so moved them displayed the figure of a man, stretched out on a neatly made bed, his clothes so badly ripped and stained with blood it was difficult to estimate what the original colors might have been. The man's body displayed extensive stab wounds, so many it was difficult to find more than a few inches of skin that had not been touched. Only his head remained wholly intact, eyes open wide, bulging in pain and terror, mouth open, skin very pale from such extreme blood loss…and the amount of blood loss the man had endured was clearly extraordinary, even from what one could see in only a photograph. Underneath it, a clear female hand had written, "Our first time."
As Rikarah sighed, pressing her cheek to Gavin's shoulder and tightly squeezing his arm, her eyes sparkled, and her tone when she spoke to him was almost wistful.
"It is never quite the same as the first time…almost, but not quite. Do you ever miss how it was, Gavin, back when we had only just begun and all of it was so new?"
She had barely finished her sentence before a small head appeared in the doorway, peeping in at them. Seeing the two on the couch and the album on their lap, the child's face lit up, and she ran to join them.
"Oh, you're looking at pictures! Can I see, Mama, Daddy? Can I sit with you?"
Without waiting for a response, the little girl inserted herself between them on the couch, comfortably straddling both Gavin and Rikarah in part as she peered down at what had so captured their attention. She, like Rikarah, was delicate in her frame, brunette and very feminine in her features, perhaps six years old; nevertheless, her parents did not attempt to shield the photo from her view. Instead, she smiled indulgently, allowing her to look without comment.
The little girl's eyes widened as she took in the photo, her mouth dropping open. For several moments she seemed unable to find words…but when they came to her, she did nothing to hold back her thoughts.
"Whooooa! That is soooo cool! Look how bloody he is, it's EVERYWHERE! What kind of knives did you use? Did you do it, Mama, or did you, Daddy? Did he scream? How long did he take to die? Hey! Remember how I told you about my friend Lily's dad, how he hits her so hard she's got big blue spots sometimes but she won't tell the teacher because her daddy said she would get it if she did, do you remember how I told you about that and you said maybe I could get him, remember how you said that? Well when can I get him? Can I make him look like THAT?"
The child was fairly squirming with excitement, dancing at the anticipation of the fulfillment of her wishes. As Gavin and Rikarah looked across their daughter's presence in their laps to each other's gaze, both were unable to keep from smiling as well. As one hand lightly rested on top of the little girl's head, the other arm encircled around Rikarah's shoulders, Gavin replied to her earlier question softly but sincerely.
"It was different then…all about the two of us, alone. Our own desires, our own wishes, our own plans…and now, it is about all three of us, about Paloma as well, all about the family as a whole. But truthfully, Rikarah, I would have it no other way."
"Nor would I, baby," she replied, her own eyes shining as vividly as Paloma's as she continued to hold his gaze. "Nor would I."
And as they looked down together at their daughter's expectant, eager face, the beauty and brightness and precocious potential she already showed, the two of them felt nothing but satisfaction of their lot- satisfaction, and an enduring sense of pride.
If only everyone could be so fortunate…but then, with each new day, the tree were making the world just a little bit closer to being right.