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World of Darkness: Glimpses of Darkness - [Fic] Artistic Leanings [Complete]


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Originally Posted By: 1KDreamer on Craigslist
Student artist seeking commission work. Willing to be flexible on hours and type of art -- no pornography, though. See my Deviant Art site for my previous work. Or check out my book, A Thousand Broken Dreams, available on Amazon. Contact me through Craigslist. Serious inquiries only.

Ian's mouse paused a moment, and the young man sat back in his seat. His expression was thoughtful as his long index finger tapped the mouse with a phantom-soft touch. After a moment, he opened up the DA link, his lips moving as if speaking a strange language to himself. His other hand reached for his soda, then stopped. He eyed it, trying to remember if he'd left it in that spot or not. Had he put it that far to the left? Had someone been messing with it? It would be easy to do, with a ten-string dimensional gadget or a temporal manipulator. It could now be drugged. Regretfully, he retracted his hand. He could replace it later.

His eyes flicked back to the screen, widening when his mind registered what he was seeing. "Fantastic," he muttered, tilting his head to the side. His dark gaze played over the contours and twists of the picture before him, as he studied it, giving it his undivided attention. It was a wood nymph scene -- sadly with all her bits covered -- but a vine wrapped around her ankles and torso, half-trapping her. "Hot," he muttered, then flipped back to the Craigslist post. He copied and pasted the email address into his email program. His long fingers tapped out a fast staccato as he composed the email.

Originally Posted By: email from e.n.@alienhunter.org
Hi, 1KDreamer, I'm the owner of a small website called AlienHunter.org. I like your art style and would like to jazz up my site with some of your images. Let's meet and hash this out, kk?


Ian hit send, then packed up his laptop. Standing, he grabbed his soda and walked up to the counter. Setting it down, he said, "This tastes funny, I think it's diet. Can I get another?"

"Sure, what were you having?" the Panera clerk asked, turning and dumping the soda and ice.

"A Coke. Actually, could I get a new cup, too?" he asked as he gave her a charming smile. She didn't look amused, but did it. "Thanks, the taste of aspartame just soaks into the walls, ya know?"

"Sure," she said, looking disinterested. "Here."

"Thanks," he said, taking the cup nervously. He hoped that someone hadn't poisoned the cup itself. He peeled back the lid and watched for any sign of chemical reaction, such as over-carbonation. It looked okay, and he took a cautious sniff. It seemed fine. He missed the 'what a wacko' face the clerk made at him.

He hated non-sealed containers. They were always so dangerous. Feeling anxious, he took a sip as he headed for the door. Poking his head out, he looked right and left, then up. Seeing nothing dangerous, he headed for his car.

He hoped that this artist got back to him soon. His website was his baby, and Baby needed some new clothing so she could look fine. Damn X-Watcher and his fucking AlienHunter.com had images. Ian wasn't going to let cocksucking X-Watcher upstage him! No way. That artist had better be prompt.

Muttering dire implications to himself as he hopped in his car, Ian drove away.

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There was a thump at the door, the faint muttering of a female voice, then it burst open, Krystal staggering through into the small studio apartment. The very pretty co-ed turned around to glare at the offending piece of wood and steel, keys and computer bag in one hand, plastic bowl of salad and a diet coke in the other, a slice of pizza and a paper plate clenched in her teeth.

Ugh! Gonna have to get the super, damn door is sticking again. She gave a shudder at the mental image, clad in a stained, white undershirt - Mr. Chrenowski had bigger tits than she did.

Putting her keys away, Krystal took the pizza from her mouth, turning her green-eyed glare on the head the popped up over the back of the much-mended brown-and-beige couch, drawn by the smell of the pizza. "Fuck off Fawkes, this is mine. You already stole the last bite of bacon this morning."

The whine from the husky-shepherd was truly pathetic coming from such a large dog, but Krystal wasn't fooled. She gave him a shove to make some space for herself on the couch, gave a big stretch, vertebrae popping after a long day at college, then sat down to eat.

While scarfing down the pizza before Fawkes had a chance to steal it, she opened up her laptop, checking her commissions and e-mail before she had to turn her attention to homework. Nothing new on her DA account, except for that asshat Josh Weldon asking for porn again - sorry, erotica. She might have been tempted, considering what he was offering, if he wasn't insisting on her as the model for the piece.

E-mail was the usual assortment of spam, bust and penis enhancers, one from her mother that she'd read later, and this...

Originally Posted By: from e.n.@alienhunter.org
Hi, 1KDreamer, I’m the owner of a small website called AlienHunter.org. I like your art style and would like to jazz up my site with some of your images. Let’s meet and hash this out, kk?


Hmmm, homework or possible work-work? While she decided, munching on her salad, she looked over AlienHunter.org. The site was pretty bland, and she wasn't sure if this guy was serious about the subject matter or not. But rent was coming due, and she figured his money was as good as anyone else's.

Originally Posted By: e-mail sent by kjohansson@csn.edu

I am interested in hearing your proposal and meeting in person will make it easier to find out what exactly you want. Where would you like to meet?

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Ian drove around a bit. This wasn't unusual for him. He kept his eyes open, watching for followers or suspicious characters -- other than the suspicious character driving his car, of course -- watching him. When he was sure he wasn't being followed, he went to one of his hiding spots. It was a small park behind a store that offered a free wifi zone and he settled in to work on his blog.

After about an hour, he heard his email ping. Sighing, he saved his work -- then remembered that he'd been waiting for an email. With more eagerness, he opened the window. Seeing it was from the artist, he grinned and clicked.

Originally Posted By: e-mail sent by kjohansson@csn.edu
I am interested in hearing your proposal and meeting in person will make it easier to find out what exactly you want. Where would you like to meet?

"Hot," he muttered, then typed a response.

Originally Posted By: e.n.@alienhunter.org
K. Johansson, thanks for the fast response. The Panera on Rogers will have drinks and wifi, all we'll need. My laptop is black and has an X-Files sticker on the lid. See you there at 7. E.N.


Ian settled back in his chair, pleased that things were looking up. He'd gotten here after losing a tail, then found that they had bottled juices. He felt good as he drunk the drink, then tucked it into the inner pocket of his jacket so that no one could mess with it. He glanced at the clock, smiling when he saw it was seven.

The door chimed, and he glanced at it. An auburn-haired bombshell walked in, and Ian nodded. "Look at those tits," he muttered as she stood in profile, giving him a great view of said tits. "Fuckin" fantastic, come on, baby -- just a little milkshake for Daddy . . ." To his delight, she swung her bag a little higher onto her shoulder, making her breasts bounce. "Oh, sweet Jesus . . . c'mon wardrobe malfunction . . . please, please . . . make my day."

She turned and looked at him and he smiled -- though it was more of a lecherous grin. Her green eyes dropped to his laptop lid and then she waved and started toward him. It took a second for him to realize what that meant. Ian sat up straighter, glad he didn't have to stand and display his full appreciation of her body. "Hi," he said, gluing his eyes to hers. He didn't want to piss her off before she'd done the work for him, if she was the artist. "Are you K. Johansson?"

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Krystal was just getting up to throw out the garbage from her meal, when she received a response to her e-mail. Surprised, and a bit please - it might mean that E.N. was anxious for the artwork to spruce up his site and would be willing to pay well for it. She did roll her eyes about the X-Files sticker. The show been off the air for, like, ten years already, like it go.

Looking at her watch, she realized she still had a some time to burn. She cleaned up a bit, took Fawkes for a walk (or like him take her for a walk), then filled his bowl. Then she sprawled out on the couch, and got to reading a chapter of the textbook for her Ancient Myths and Religions class. Reading about the Incas connections to aliens really didn't capture her interest, however, so she idly sketched some preliminary ideas for the AlienHunter, only paying half attention to what she was actually drawing.

Finally, it was time to go. She gave her hair a quick brush, then checked herself in the mirror. Her dark green cargo pants clinging to her hips with the help of a studded belt and lighter green, tight Rammstein baby-doll tee would do fine. Guy runs an alien conspiracy blog, he's not gonna expect me to get all dressed up.

She swung her purse and computer bag over a shoulder, then gave a sharp whistle. "Come on, Fawkes, Momma's off to make some moolah tonight. You can wait in the car, and I'll get you a treat, 'kay?" She clipped on his leash, then led him down to the car.

Technically, her car was a classic silver 1970 Dodge Challenger ragtop. In reality, it was a zombie of a car painted several shades of grey, the leather seats mended with duct tape. It really shouldn't have run, yet beyond all reason, did. Though it made all sorts of minor noises that a car shouldn't have made, the engine was in fine condition and Krystal had no problems starting it up and putting it in gear.

With the top down, Fawkes jumped into the backseat, while Krystal got behind the wheel. It took her two tries to get the door to stay closed, then she was off to her meeting with the roar of the engine and a belch of smoke.

She made it to Panera's with minutes to spare - she hated being late, and hated others being late too. Hope he's here already, I'm only waiting ten minutes... twenty, tops. She got out of the car, sat her sunglasses on on top of her head, then swung her bags over her shoulder. "Wait here, Fawkes. Don't chew the seats."

She stepped into Panera's, hitching her bags on her shoulder again. The air conditioning washed over her almost chillingly after the heat of the Vegas sun, her green eyes roving the interior, looking for a laptop with an X-Files sticker on it.

She turned and saw one guy - dressed in a black longcoat! - sort of cute, leering into the eyes of the distorted skull on her chest. She barely suppressed a sigh as she saw the identifying sticker on his laptop, but the looks were nothing new to her. She'd been dealing with them since she was thirteen.

She walked over to his table, a practiced smile on her lips. She watched him straighten in a tell-tale manner, but appreciated the effort he made to keep his eyes on hers, even if it seemed to be a strain - it was more than most men bothered with.

Originally Posted By: Ian
“Are you K. Johansson?”

"It's pronounced yo-han-sen, but please, call me Krystal." She sat down with a flouncing bounce, setting her computer bag on the table. She bent over to fish around in a side pocket of her cargo pants for several pens, pencils, and her sketch pad, flipped it open and placed it next to the bag.

"And you're E.N.?" Krystal asked, arching a single eyebrow in the universal symbol of feminine inquiry. She turned the small sketch pad around and slid it toward the man in the longcoat. He's a lot younger than I was expecting...

"I've made some rough sketches, already, that I thought might be what you are looking for. As I said, these are only rough and would be finished and polished with a few computer programs. But tell me, what did you really have in mind?" She kept her smile professional and inquisitive.

As she waited for him to look through the sketches - hoping that she hadn't distractedly added something inappropriate - and answer her questions, she ordered a low-fat blueberry muffin and a low-fat strawberry smoothie.

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Ian nodded. "I'm Ian," he said, wondering if she'd catch the play on his name or not. He didn't really care; he wasn't interested in her brains. Mostly her fingers, though he wouldn't object if she offered the rest of herself up to him, too. "Nice to meet you, Krystal," he added, his eyes watering a bit from the strain of keeping them locked on hers. They were beautiful eyes, perfect for looking into while drilling a woman, but he had another set of points he'd prefer to be studying.

She slid her sketch book at him and he began to flip through it, feeling relief that he had somewhere safe to look. He didn't want to offend her until after he'd gotten what he wanted from her, or at least, gotten what he could from her. Somehow, he didn't think that she'd accept the offer to mother his children. It was a sweet deal, but no other woman had taken him up on it yet. No reason to think that Tittylicious over there would be interested that.

His eyes fell on a picture, and Ian froze. It was subtle; he hadn't been moving much, but he went completely still. For a long moment, he stared at the charcoal image; then his hand moved and flipped the page. Ian's stiffness broke and he focused on the next drawing, the previous picture forgotten.

All of the stuff in there was pretty good, and he nodded to himself as he flipped it shut. "Okay, I like your style, Krystal," he told her, leaning back and slinging an arm over the back of his chair. His tone of voice made her expect him to point finger-guns at her and click his tongue. He was too young to be a dirty old man, but he gave off that vibe. "Here's what I got."

He spun the laptop one-handed, showing her a folder full of graphics. None of them were very good; they were all amateur and unpolished. "I got a free trial of Photoshop," he said, "but thirty days isn't long to figure the program out, ya know? So I need you-"

The warm trickle of fluid caught his attention right as Krystal said, "Um, your nose. You're bleeding."

He pressed his fingers to his nose; they came away bloody. "Fuck," he muttered, feeling his irritation rise. "Sorry, I'm an abductee, and they left an implant. Sometimes it bleeds," he said, without a hint of mockery. "I'll clean up. Don't run off on me, okay? Only be a moment."

As he walked to the bathroom, he dug the juice out of his pocket and dumped it in the trash. How had they gotten to the juice? He didn't know, and the sense of helplessness ate at him again. How could they stay one step ahead of him, all the time? How!? He was so careful, and it still didn't matter. "Fuckers," he muttered as he grabbed handfuls of toilet paper and pressed it to his nose. "I hope she doesn't know anime conventions, otherwise, that's one more thing to kick your ass over when I catch you, you alien fuckers."

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Ian, E.N., duh! Guess I can't afford to dye my hair blond again.

Krystal nibbled on her muffin, giving Ian time to leaf through her sketches. Sipping on her milkshake through the straw, she glanced out the front window, making sure that Fawkes was behaving. Krystal's professional smile grew warmer at seeing the large dog resting his head on the side of the car, tongue lolling out of his mouth, staring at her with his blue eyes.

Originally Posted By: Ian
"Okay, I like your style, Krystal,"... "Here's what I got."

Krystal quickly turned back to her potential employer, inadvertently flashing him a more genuine smile than she had intended.

He sounds like some of Mom's boyfriends, the ones that spent too much looking at me, telling me how pretty I was... He's still sorta cute in a fucked up sorta way, maybe... Whoa! I need a real boyfriend, if I'm considering this guy, and one that doesn't live in the drawer of the bedside table.

Not wanting him to see her smile wither in the face of his perceived perviness, she froze it there with an effort. Looking at the folder of pictures, glad for something to focus on, she let her smile fade as she tried to decipher his PhotoDerelicts. Hmm, kinda Giger meets Lovecraft at a nightclub for a glowstick party. I can work with this.

She looked up to mention that she could tutor him in Photoshop too, if he liked, when she noticed his nose bleeding.

"Um, your nose. You're bleeding." Then she felt her creep factor jump to a thousand when Ian mentioned being an abductee, in complete seriousness. She kept waiting for the smile, telling her it was a joke, but it never came. It was all she could do to nod, when he implored her not to flee.

How do I keep getting surrounded by all these people who believe all this weird shit. I know this is Vegas, but come on! Sigh. Well, freaks have money too. Their conventions show ample evidence of that. It's either start getting commissions again, or I'm gonna have to start working at Hooters for the better tips.

Krystal's soft sigh turned into giggles as she thought about his nose bleeding - she had seen where his eyes kept drifting when he thought she wasn't watching. If that really works, I wonder if I can access Hammerspace? That would be... very handy.

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She would be gone. Ian hung his head over the sink, bracing himself on his palms and dripping into the sink. She would leave while he was in here. Anger, his old friend, surged in him and he kicked the trash can, denting it. She'd be gone like all the other bitches he'd ever known. He just hoped some fucker hadn't stolen his laptop while it had sat alone.

Face red, a deep scowl on his features, he stalked into the room -- and stopped, surprised. Krystal was still there. She looked at him and smiled. She didn't look certain about being there, but she had stayed. Ian felt a swell of gratitude so strong it was physical, and an abandoned child looked out of his eyes for a heartbeat.

He clamped down on it in the next second. He hadn't paid her yet; she was here for the money, not to help him. The child disappeared and his scowl was back. He dropped into his seat, took a deep breath and said, "Sorry about that. Happens off and on. You can see why I'm mad at them." Ian forced a smile and locked his gaze on those eyes. It was easier, as shaken as he was, to ignore her tits, and her lips and her eyes. It was easy to let his misery swallow his libido.

"Okay, so, what do you think?" he said briskly, leaning forward and clasping his long fingers together. Some of Ian's animation and good spirits seem to come back as he looked into her eyes, smiling. "Can you help me?"

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Krystal was just starting to look at Ian's website again, looking for what space she had to play with, when he came back in the room. She gave him a smile that said, I'm not really sure about this, but I'm still here, so let's continue before I change my mind, 'kay?

Originally Posted By: Ian
“Sorry about that. Happens off and on. You can see why I’m mad at them.”

"Oh, of course, that's perfectly understandable..." Krystal agreed faintly, barely restraining herself from rolling her eyes, a little disconcerted by his scowl and the gritted smile. At least he's looking at me instead of bits of me. Ian's enthusiasm was building as he asked for her help, and she felt herself growing a little more comfortable in the presence of this odd boy.

"I was looking at your site again, and I gotta say, I can totally do this. Here's what I had in mind, on the homepage, above the - Here, let me show you..." Krystal got up and moved around the table, then leaned over to point at various areas on the website displayed on his laptop. She suggested ways to integrate the pictures and how certain backgrounds and colouring could enhance the effect.

"... and I can add simple animations too, if you want, gleaming teeth, blinking eyes, twitching tails, that sorta thing. I think subtle animations, ones that people will have to look twice at to notice will really enhance the... uh... ambiance you're trying for. These are just ideas, though. I'll do whatever you want. 'He who pays, says,' right?" Krystal turned to him with an amusingly questioning smile, then her blue-green (where they that colour before?) eyes brightened as something else occurred to her.

"Oh, wait! I got something, that I think is in just the... flavour you're looking for..." Krystal leaned further across the small table, stretching for one of the pockets of her computer bag. Her straining pulled her shirt tight against her curves, the hem sliding up to reveal more of her tiny waist and the tribal-style tramp stamp on her lower back.

With a sound of satisfaction, Krystal straightened back up, the battered and dog-eared copy of a thick graphic-novel in her hands. She began quickly leafing through the pages, muttering softly, "Which shard, which shard? Nine... no. This one... oh, right. Thirty-seven? Yes, it's in this shard. Which page? Huh, I don't even remember drawing that... Ah, here we go!"

Krystal triumphantly slammed the book down with a sharp slap, the spine spread wide, pointing at a full page panel. In the bottom left of the foreground, there was figure in a black long-coat, his back to them, only a quarter profile of his face visible, barely seen by the glowing tip of the cigarette between his lips. He had on a floppy hat, pulled low, tufts of dark hair escaping below the brim. One arm was outstretched, lances of radiance escaping his closed fist, faintly illuminating the strange setting. Every line of his posture registered fierce resolve.

Ian barely noticed the determined figure, his eyes drawn to the center of the panel, where light and shadow played across the inked image of an antediluvian horror...

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Ian wasn't totally lost; he knew his way around a computer, but graphics and site design were a bit outside of what he'd done previously. So he listened attentively, mostly nodding. What she was suggested sounded good -- a bit expensive and time consuming. That was to be expected. She was selling her talents -- and not the ones he really wanted, sadly -- and wanted to get as much as she could out of him. She was a woman; it was her job to suck Ian dry of money, joy and life, just as it was his job to not let it happen.

She moved around the table, and he was jarred by her nearness for a moment. Blinking, he looked away for a moment, trying not to notice her soft, woman-scent. When he thought he had control, he looked back at her quickly before focusing on the laptop. It didn't help, totally; she was still way too close, and he found himself stuck with a growing hard-on. If he ever had to meet with her again, he was getting laid first.

When she leaned over the bag and displayed her tattoo, he almost touched her. He wanted to, so much it hurt. He locked his fingers around the table and wondered if she was really a closet slut. He'd be sure to find out, now. Good girls just didn't get tattoos like that. And the thought that she might be a bad girl, the kind who was as loose as a gay man on Gay Pride Day, didn't help his hard-on, at all.

As he stared at the image on the page, this tentacled, mutli-eyed, monstrosity, there was only one thought in his mind, and he was saying it before he stopped himself. "You have a twisted mind, girl," he said, giving her a grin. "I like it."

Realizing he'd probably just fucked up, he glanced at the laptop again. "Alright, all of this seems awesome." Not that he really remembered much of what she said, not right now. Without looking at her, because that just didn't help, he asked, "When can you start?"

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Originally Posted By: Ian
“You have a twisted mind, girl,” he said, giving her a grin. “I like it.”

"Thanks. I think."

Ian wouldn't have called the quirky smile he got in return flirtatious, but there was the potential for it, or so he told himself. There was also an odd edge to the curve of those fine lips, as if she was annoyed, but surprisingly, it wasn't with him. Or so he also told himself.

Krystal had always loved drawing. All sorts of styles appealed to her, though she felt drawn to both the goth-fantasy styles of Brom and Royo as well as comic books, though for the most part, she could care less about 'superheroes'. The stuff she drew... some of it came out much darker and surreal than she ever intended, yet tended to be her best work. She wasn't sure what she thought about that. She refused to think about the stuff she didn't even remember drawing...

Krystal packed up her computer and sketch book, then began softly slapping her thigh with the worn graphic-novel as she thought about what she had to do in the next few days.

"I've got homework to do tonight, but I can get some more sketches done. Tomorrow, I've got class, then a shift at Boomer's Dinner, but the day after, I'm free all day. Is that good for you? After that, we can work something out, if needed, 'kay?"

Krystal stood next to her chair, bags over her shoulder, waiting for Ian's response, hoping she wouldn't have to engage in any schedule juggling.
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She stole the words from him again, leaving him with a fresh ache in his pants. Ian reflected that he should stop picturing those lips wrapped around his cock; it probably wasn't helping. He was so in with this chick; she just didn't know it yet. Ian, for all of his grossness, had a certain charm to him. He could get laid, when he put his mind to it. Since prostitution wasn't legal inside the bounds of Vegas, he had to put forward that kind of effort.

He watched as she gathered her things and stood, slapping her thigh with that book. Ian had never wanted to be a mass of bound, inked papers so much in his life. Silently, he noted that Krystal liked being spanked. He could do that for her. He'd like to see that ass all rosy red anyway.

Ian was half-caught in daydreams of spanked backsides when she asked about meeting. Though he wasn't sure his balls could take the pressure, he nodded. "I'm free that day, too. What time?"

"Ten a.m.?" she asked, and he nodded. That gave him time to get laid somewhere and get a shower before meeting with her. The getting laid part was required, and he couldn't bring himself to be around a girl looking like that without showering.

He stood and walked with her to the door, then held it for her. "I'll see you then."

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"Until then."

Krystal nodded her head in agreement and thanks as Ian held the door for her, trying to keep the amused annoyance from her face. She well recognized the hitch in his step. She really hoped Ian was serious about the job offer and wasn't just angling for a date. I don't need another Josh after me, at the moment. Right now, she'd rather have work than a boyfriend.


She walked over to her car, gave Fawkes a good scratch behind the ears, then hoped into the front seat. With a cough and a roar, the battered Challenger resurrected once more. Krystal gave Ian a wave, then headed home.

Back at her apartment, after taking Fawkes for a walk, Krystal settled down to finish her assigned reading, then worked on an assignment for another class. It was well pass midnight before she was done. The subject matter was very dry, and she was feeling a little... hot-blooded at the moment, so she kept distracting herself by drawing some more sketches for AlienHunter.org.

He's sorta good looking, and there's something about him... It's been a while since I had a real boyfriend - maybe after I'm done the job, if he can keep the crazy where I won't see it... You don't need a boyfriend for what you're thinking about it, it can be a one-night thing, y'know. I'm not my mother! If you have an itch, there's no shame in scratching it...

Finally, she had had enough. She stripped down and put on an oversized shirt she had kept from a previous boyfriend as a nightshirt. She smiled fondly down on Fawkes, already stretched out on her bed, tummy exposed. She gave him a vigorous belly rub, then pointed to couch.

"Sorry Fawkes, I got my own itch to scratch tonight. Couch for you." Fawkes gave a little whine, licked her face, then headed over to spend the night on the couch. Krystal turned off the lights, slipped beneath the thin blanket, then reached inside the bottom drawer of the bedside table.

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  • 3 weeks later...

Ian watched her get into her car and drive away from him. He kept his coat wrapped around him to hide the erection she'd left him. What a gift, one that kept giving and giving. As her taillights blended into traffic, he got into his own car and pulled away from the restaurant.

Fuck, he needed sex. Krystal's form danced in his mind's eye, teasing and taunting him. His hormones should be flagging, cut down by her absence, but the memory of her kept him going. He ignored it as he hit a gas station and bought a hot dog and a soda, but when he was still uncomfortable even after eating. "Fuck," he muttered, clambering under the seat of his car.

He came out with a thick manila envelope, which he opened. Bundles of papers were inside, all clipped together in some arcane organization. Ian reached past those, deeper into the envelope, and pulled out a small stash of money. He counted it out, thinking. Part of this needed to go to Krystal, but after a moment of consideration, he stuffed most of it into his pocket. It was her fault he was in this state anyway.

He grinned and put the car in gear -- he knew just what to do. And where to go.

Forty minutes later, after a quick stop at a chain drugstore, he stepped into the darkness of Cheetah's. After the bright sunlight, Ian had to pause and let his eyes adjust, but his ears and nose needed no such wait time. The scent of sex and sweat filled the air, while his eardrums were assaulted with the pounding bass of techno music. He grinned and inhaled deeply, feeling the music all the way to his bones. He paused to light up a cigarette, closing his eyes against the lighter's flare.

His vision returned slowly, revealing the interior of the strip club with teasing leisure. His grin had resolved itself into a smirk as he sauntered forward and dropped into a chair near the middle stage. He put his feet up on the stage and settled back, watching the show.

It was the middle of the afternoon, and there weren't a lot of choice pieces available. Ian watched for a while, his eyes skimming over the girls, occasionally offering a dollar if one did a particularly interesting trick. But most of his money he was holding for something special. Instead, he let these women build the anticipation in him.

It took several hours, but he knew it had been worth it when he saw the redhead. She was older, well older than him, but she was in fine shape. Her body was well-kept, and she had a pretty face, too. He watched her dance, his eyes never leaving her. She became aware of his attention and drifted over to him. He held up a bill, which he tucked into her g-string at her invitation, then another, and another, until he had her full attention. "Do you give private dances?" he asked when she leaned low.

"Sure do, sweetie," she purred, grinning. "One hundred."

Ian raised his eyebrows. "That's a bit of money," he managed to say without choking.

"Don't think I'm worth it?" she challenged, her green eyes hovering between amused and outraged.

"I know you are," he said, smiling at her. "I'm just looking for something special tonight."

"So I'm not special enough," she stated, looking irritated.

He gave her a long look over her face and body. "Actually," he said, knowing he was about to bag this pussy, "I was wondering why you were charging so little for time alone with you."

He'd riled her up, then shown her that it hadn't been what she'd thought. Her lips curved up into a smile, and she murmured, "Come on, Stud. I have a room waiting."

She led him into a private room, which was a small area with a single chair. At her direction, he sat down. "Put your hands under your legs, club rules," she instructed. Ian compiled; it was standard rule for strip clubs -- you didn't touch the girls. When he was settled, she slid onto his lap and started to grind against him.


Ian went limp on top of her, panting heavily. He managed to remember to catch his weight on his arms instead of crushing her. She was just as winded as he, thankfully; she couldn't say he didn't keep her going. "Wow," she muttered, lifting her head to kiss him.

"Yeah," he muttered, carefully moving to the side so that she could curl against him. Now that the fucking was done, he took a moment to look around her house. It was nicely furnished; she must make good money teasing cocks. "So, what's your name?" he asked.

She giggled and said, "Jolene."

"Pretty," he said, feeling pleasantly sleepy. He'd definitely worked off Krystal's influence -- but the moment he thought about her, he felt himself hardening again. Rolling his eyes in the darkness at his own susceptibility, he pulled 'Jolene's' hand onto him.

"Can I at least get your name?" she asked, even as she started to push him back and straddle him.

"Yeah, it's Simon," he told her, stopping her long enough to trade out for a new condom.

"Oh, I always wanted to date a Simon," she purred, then capped it with a giggle.

Ian started to question whether they were actually dating, then realized the advantages to letting her think that there was more there. Plus, she seemed to be a really cock-needy bitch, and that might work for him for a time. At least as long as he had to spend time with Krystal. "And is it what you expected?" he asked, smiling at her as he cupped her generous breasts.

Jolene leaned down and kissed him. "Good so far," she murmured, then drew him into her body and started to move.

A man could get used to this. Too bad she was beyond child-bearing years; not like Krystal. He hid his grimace as he realized he'd done it again. He threw himself into the joint motions, trying to scrub her from his head.

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The next day went by quickly, Krystal having a full day at school. Her mouth tightened at seeing her marks on one assignment. Fucker! Bet this is because I didn't take him up on his private 'tutoring' session. Giving her mom a quick call in the brief time she had between classes, she agreed to meet with her for a late lunch before her shift at Boomer's.

After class, running a bit late, Krystal rushed to the restaurant where she agreed to meet her mother. Stepping in, she immediately knew her mother was there, most men's eyes straying to the booth Jolene occupied. With long, bright red hair, a svelte, toned figured, and a surgically enhanced bustline, Krystal's mother was always an eye-catching sight and her tight clothing and flirty manner drew even more attention. Krystal would have to be clubbing and a little drunk to end up dressed and acting like that. Krystal envied her mother her confidence, if not her brazenness.

Lunch was pleasant, she didn't spend enough time with her mother. Then Jolene started gushing about her new boy-toy, some douche named Simon, and Krystal remembered why she had to get her own place. She couldn't even muster a sigh at being mistaken for sisters by the pair of guys at the bar. A few more well-wishes and promises to get together again soon, then Krystal begged off, saying she had to head to work. With five extra inches of height and a pair of remarkably high heels, Jolene's farewell hug pressed her daughter's face to her firm bosom.

Her evening shift at Boomer's dinner went surprisingly well. Only one guy tried to grab her ass, and the tips were great, especially the one from a whale off the strip. With her homework already done, and work tomorrow that actually involved her artistic skills rather than waitressing ability, Krystal went to bed with a wide grin and soaring spirits.

The next morning, when she and Ian had agreed to meet, found Krystal sitting at the small patio outside Borders Books, half an hour early. She was sipping on an excellent smoothie, Fawkes curled up beneath the table, begging a scratch, which she was happy to accommodate. Humming merrily along to the music on MP3 player - Lady Gaga at the moment - Krystal flipped open a sketch book on the table, starting on a couple of ideas that had come to her last night.

This was going to be a great day.

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Ian was having a great day. He'd stayed over with Jolene and fucked her enough that he wouldn't have an issue meeting with Krystal today. Freshly showered, feeling pleasantly sexually drained, he drove over to the Borders where they'd agreed to meet.

Once there, he wrapped his coat round him and grabbed his laptop, scanning the front for her. It was easy to find Krystal; he just watched which direction the other guys were noodling. Then he saw the flash of red. He paused, considering. She looked fuckin' amazing in the sun, so he was loathe to ask her to go inside. But it would really ruin his month if they found him again. So, with a great deal of regret, he walked over and stopped next to the table. "Hi," he said, smiling down at her. "I hate to be that guy, but my laptop is crap, and will overheat if we sit in the sun. Mind if we take it indoors?"

She blinked at him, sucking on her straw, and suddenly, Ian was glad for the coat. Despite his efforts this morning, watching her lips work around the plastic rod was killing him.

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Krystal looked up at Ian, narrowing her eyes at the sight of his damned coat, but answered him pleasantly, with a negligent smile. She was in too good of a mood to let an affectation for a longcoat in the hot Navada sun spoil it. Besides, Las Vegas was full or weirdos, natives and transients alike, if blessedly short of goths and emo kids - one got used to it. He probably just wants to sit inside with the AC so he doesn't melt with his look-at-me-I'm-so-cool-coat on. Whatever.

"Sure, no problems, Ian. Just let me tie up Fawkes where he can get some shade, and I can see him from inside, 'kay?" She reached down and picked up Fawkes leash, inadvertently giving Ian a nice view down the front of her red ribbed stretch tank top, then stood up.

"Come on, Fawkes, you gotta move, come on. Dogs!" Krystal said with exasperation. Finally, Fawkes let himself be bribed with half of her muffin, and moved, tongue lolling free. Krystal bent over, denim short-shorts stretching taut, and secured him to the low wrought-iron fence surrounding the patio, in the shade of an architectural column.

"'Kay, there we go, let's move it inside then, Ian," Krystal said, straightening back up with a bounce. She picked up her computer bag and her sketchbook, then headed inside Borders, choosing a window-side table. Ian earned himself a thankful grin as he held the door for her.

Sitting down, Krystal wasted no time in showing Ian what she already had in her sketchbook, clearly animated to be working on something that showcased the skills she valued most. "So, these are a couple of sketches I did last night and this morning. I was thinking, what did you want, colour-wise? Dark and muted colours, or blacks and greys, maybe with just a rare splash of colour, like in Miller's Sin City? Also, I was thinking, here..."

Several hours passed by quickly, Krystal clearly enthused and dedicated to the work. She was even more impressed that Ian hadn't even tried for a subtle (or not so subtle) grope or spewed out a cheesy come-on line. In her experience, she was due for at least one of those by now. Finally, she stretched, slowly tilting her neck until there was the relaxing sound of cracking vertebrae, and glanced at her watch, surprised at just how much time had passed.

"Well, it's time for me to head home, to feed Fawkes, and myself, now that I think about it. Then I want to get these scanned in, touched up, and uploaded to the site," Krystal said, gesturing at the mass of paper torn from her sketchbook and scattered across the table top, a variety of ink and penciled drawings shown. She looked up at Ian, green green eyes considering. Even if Ian is just pretending to be one of the most patient guys ever before making a move, I still got Fawkes, if he tries anything.

"If you want - if you have time or whatever - you can... come over to my apartment, and we can continue with this after I take care of Fawkes and eat. I'm really having fun working on this - I wish I could be doing it full-time."

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His great plan failed. Sure, they got inside, she picked the spot next to a window. After the show she'd given him, he didn't have the mental faculties to formulate a decent excuse. Instead, he accepted that things didn't go the way he'd wanted them to -- when did they ever, really? -- and focused on the work they had agreed to do.

He hadn't known it was going to be this much work, or even this much fun. Ian didn't spend a lot of time with normal people, and Krystal was unlike anyone he'd hung around with for any length of time. The design aspect was really thrilling; he found that almost as interesting as the content he painstakingly gathered. Krystal was smart, with great taste, and he found himself comparing her to Jolene. Physically, they were amazingly similar, which was probably a subconscious choice on his part, but in every other way, they were different. He couldn't see Krystal having a one-night stand and then declaring that they were dating.

The feeling that they were sharing -- united in a common goal and enjoying the journey as much as the completion -- brought back a memory of his mother and father at the dinner table, working on a jigsaw puzzle. It wasn't an artistic endeavor, but the warm hum of their voices as they worked together was still vivid to him. Their smiles and shared laughter was testament to their enjoyment of their shared activity. The warmth and the love of the memory suffused him, but in the next second, Ian shut it out. Remembering what came next was too painful, and the young man returned his focus to his project.

Despite the unpleasantly pleasant memory that it pulled forth, Ian was sorry when their session ended. He was already thinking ahead to what he was going to do for the rest of the evening when Krystal made her offer. "Uh," he said brilliantly, but she saw the unmistakable enthusiasm leapt into his eyes. "Yeah . . . yeah, that sounds great! Say, uh, you want me to grab some food and cook dinner?" Ian couldn't trust restaurants. They could do anything to your food, so he preferred pre-packaged meals or making it himself.

Jolene. He'd promised to see her. "I'll need to cancel some plans, but I want to get this done. So you feel like being treated to Chef Ian?"

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"I... erm..." Krystle hedged, completely shocked by the offer. Ian really didn't look like someone who would offer to cook - or could cook, with something other than a microwave. But he seemed to be having just as much fun as she was with the work and she caught the brightness in his dark eyes and figured he was equally enthused with continuing on tonight. Besides, a fresh meal beat left-over mac & cheese, any day.

Mom and me shared cooking duties since I was a tweenager, but I think this is the first time, ever, that I've had a guy offer to cook me supper.

"I - um, yeah! Sure, I'd like that, a lot. Here, just a sec." Krystal ripped off the corner of a sheet of paper from her sketchbook and wrote down her address, then handed it to Ian, looking up at him through lowered lashes, her expression almost shy (or maybe coy). "Here's where I live, visitor parking is across the street. 'Kay, bye, and I'll see you in a bit."

Flashing a dimpled grin, Krystal slung her computer bag over a shoulder, went out the door, and collected Fawkes, giving him a vigorous scratch between the ears. Ian could see her say something to the large dog, but couldn't quite make out the words, then lost view of her as Fawkes bounded around the corner of the book store, pulling his petite mistress in his wake.

Krystal rushed back to her apartment, pushing the speed limit all the way, her Zombie-Challenger roaring for brains gasoline. Once back home, she gave Fawkes a quick walk and let him do his business, then fed him and filled his water bowl. Instinctively, she began tidying up, picking up loose clothing, hiding the dirty dishes in the dishwasher. Fawkes did his part, dragging the laundry hamper into her bedroom. She suddenly paused as she was piling up the textbooks sprawled across the coffee table, intent on storing then in her bedroom nook.

What the fuck am I doing?! He isn't my boyfriend, and this is not a stay-at-home date. We're just two people having dinner then continuing on our work, who cares what my apartment looks like. Shit! He's cooking dinner, I need to clean the pots and pans.

With a thump, Krystal dropped her pile of textbooks, the tower leaning precariously, then rushed back to the kitchen and began scrubbing at the pots and pans. She hoped she had time to finish before Ian showed up, so it didn't look like she was cleaning, just for him.

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Ian grinned at her excitement, determined to make something good tonight. Of course, "something good" depended on what Derek had in his fridge. "Let me grab some food and I'll be over," he assured her, then waved as she and Fawkes walked away. He was still watching her go when he realized his jacket was open. Cursing, he pulled it shut, looking skyward for any sign that they had seen him. But they never showed themselves, and Ian shivered as he considered what his carelessness might have earned him.

He pushed that away. Nothing he could do now but be more cautious. Walking to his car, he fished out his phone and called Jolene. He wasn't surprised to get a voice mail prompt; she was probably getting ready for work or at work. "Hey, Babe," he told the recording, "I had something for my business come up, and I have to deal with it tonight. I'll call you when I'm done, and we can do that Cowgirl thing you wanted to try yesterday. Later." As he hung up and piled into his car, he grimly mused that he'd need to see Jolene after spending several more hours with Krystal.

Or maybe not, he speculated as he turned his car toward Derek's. He had had some sexual thoughts about her, but the work had been distracting. Maybe he was getting used to her body. He lit up and shook his head. He'd just been distracted from her, that's all.

The matter resolved, he arrived at Derek's to find his friend cursing at the computer. "What's wrong?" Ian asked, as he was Derek's unofficial computer tech.

"Fucking Alliance!" he snarled, heaving his moderate bulk around. "Damn it, I need a hack to kill those fucks!"

"Yeeeeah," Ian said, glancing at the fridge. "I have plans for tonight."

"Fucking your stripper?" Derek asked, lighting up his own cigar and chasing it with a beer. He dropped back into his computer chair with a grunt.

"Nah, working on my website with an artist," Ian replied, feeling oddly irritated by Derek's statement. "Did you crack open the Busty Asian weblink I left you yet?"

"Oh, fuck, no," Derek said, spinning around in his chair. "Man, I can't believe I forgot that."

"Yeah, check that out, I'll come back tomorrow morning and magic up some Alliance-wiping items for you," Ian said, moving to the fridge and checking it out. "Dude, can I borrow your Foreman?"

"Huh? Oh, yeah, sure, I already had Burger King," Derek said distractedly. "Just clean it."

"Sure," Ian promised, snagging the grill then grabbing several other things and putting them in a bag. "Alright, I'm out. See you tomorrow.�

"Don't fuck your stripper too hard -- she can't make money if her pussy is all swollen and puffy," Derek grinned.

"I'll be gentle," Ian promised as he eased out and shut the door. Breathing a small sigh of relief -- Derek could be trying -- he headed down to his car.

Half an hour later, he pulled up in front of her building. He had to juggle a bit to get his laptop and all the bags and the tiny grill into the building, but he managed. He located her door and knocked with the toe of his boot, hoping he wasn't leaving scuff marks on the door. "It's Ian," he called through the door, hoping that would save the time it would take her to check the peephole.

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"Okay, just a minute, I'll be right there," came Krystal's muffled answer through the door.

Krystal was vigorously finishing the last pot when she heard Fawkes' nails clicking on the scuffed hardwood. Glancing over her shoulder, she just had time to exclaim, "Wait, Fawkes, don't!" before Fawkes was at the door, a paw reaching up for the door lever.

The first thing Ian saw as the door slowly swung open was Fawkes, sitting on his hind legs, his tail wagging excitedly. The large mutt gave a happy 'ruff!' then cocked his head to the side, tongue lolling freely. Then Ian raised his eyes and saw Krystal at the kitchenette to the left of the door, wearing soapy dishgloves, a pot in one hand, scrub brush in the other, her auburn hair held back with a green and white kerchief. There was the faintest blush to her cheeks.

"Um, I - hi! Welcome to Casa de Krystal," Krystal said with a welcoming grin, her scrub brush sweeping in a gesture encompassing the entire domain of her studio apartment. She set the pot on the drying rack, threw the scrub brush in the sink, then peeled off her dishgloves.

"Let me help you with those," she offered, reaching for a pair of bags that Ian was juggling, while trying to shoo Fawkes away with a foot, which he playfully ignored.

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That look was… so sexy. Ian made himself drag his eyes away from Krystal rockin’ the Suzie homemaker look. What more could a man want waiting at home for him than a sexy woman hot for fucking and an appreciative dog? “Nice place,” he managed to say without looking like an idiot, glancing around the room so that he wouldn’t stare at her.

Then she came over to him, taking bags from him. As he handed one off to her, their hands brushed, and his mind launched into a fantasy that led to them fucking on the kitchen counter. As Ian’s mind tended to jump right to sex anyway, it didn’t take long for him to finish. He was only seconds behind her when he pushed the door shut with his foot and stumbled after her, his attention solely on the sway of her ass as she put the bags down.

Cursing himself out and demanding that he get a grip helped some, and his eyes were meeting hers instead of her tits when she turned to smile at him, a little unsure. “Something wrong?” he asked as he started to pull out the groceries.

“Nope,” she said, eyeing the Foreman grill.

“Cool,” Ian said, glancing at the windows. “Mind if I pull the shades? I’ve got a headache, and sometimes blocking out the light helps.”

“Sure,” Krystal said, her voice a touch skeptical. He just smiled at her and he went to close them. Thankfully, they looked to be concealing enough, and he peeled his jacket off, tossing it over the back of her couch. It would have been a pain in the ass to cook with that thing on.

He located a knife and began to chunk up the meat, setting aside the fat and gristle for Fawkes, who was standing next to him, sniffing at the edge of the counter and drooling a little. As he used vinegar, oil, soy sauce, sugar and spices to make a cheap marinade, he said, “Well, you can watch me work in silence, or we can talk. You from Vegas or did you move here?”

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Krystal leaned against the back of the couch, briefly glancing at the coat before turning her attention back to Ian, watching him prepare dinner, her arms crossed beneath her breasts. Guess the coat can come off. Hmm, not bad, a little wiry for my taste, and the X-Files shirt has got to go, but not bad all the same... Down girl! You're not your mother.

The silence was walking on the edge of awkward when Ian asked her about Vegas, much to her (slightly surprised) relief. Truthfully, Krystal had been expecting a line earlier than this, but something more along the lines of 'Can I take a picture of you, so I can show Santa just what I want for Christmas' or 'Are you an alien?, because you just abducted my heart,' rather than genuine interest in where she grew up - Okay, maybe not that last one. A faint smile graced her lips.

"Talk is good. I've lived in Vegas all my life, born and raised. Mom's from a tiny town in Maine you probably never heard of, but ran away with a boyfriend when she was pretty young. She ended up single and pregnant in Vegas. Raised me by herself... mostly." Though Krystal gave a nonchalant shrug, not embarrassed about how she was raised, she shivered slightly, her hands rubbing her shoulders. Her bright green eyes were muted with a tinge of grey.

"Before I moved out on my own, me and mom visited her folks couple times a year. I would've ran away too. Don't get me wrong, her family is okay - even if most of them believe all sorts of weird shi - I mean, it's a speck of a town. Not even a thousand people, with nothing to do. And it gets cold there, with snow!" She shivered again, just the thought of frozen white stuff falling from the sky making her cold.

"Anyway," Krystal continued, getting off the back of the couch and clearing off her small dinner table, then setting out place mats and cutlery. "Vegas is great and all, but I really wanted to go to school out of state - you know, to leave the nest and all that. Had a plan all worked out too, enrolling at UCLA." A note of wistful melancholy entered her voice, and looking up from the grill, Ian could see Krystal glance longingly at a quartet of boxes stacked in a corner of the apartment. She shook her head, then turned back to Ian, her jaunty grin only a little forced. "It... fell through."

Krystal joined him in the kitchenette, standing close as she reached in a cupboard for a pair of glasses. "So, your turn, Ian," Krystal countered, as she rooted around in the fridge to see what she had to drink. "Vegas native too, or did you find yourself here another way?"

Looking over her shoulder, Ian could see that, belying the state of minor unruliness of the rest of the apartment, the refrigerator was spotless and organized to an almost anal degree. Everything was stored in matching tupperware and placed according to type and size.

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Ian silently cursed himself, even as he enjoyed her being so close. He’d gotten careless, again. This damned woman was dangerous; she made him forget his rules for life, foremost his ‘don’t get personal’ rule. He’d wanted to know about her, and that wasn’t safe. And not just because if she really knew him, she could betray him; if he really grew to like her, she could hurt him. He didn’t let people that close anymore.

He was silent as he struggled with what to tell her. He had a backstory ready, of course, but he’d never tried to out on anyone who really wanted to know. Most of the conspiracy peers he hung out with would have been offended and mortified that he’d asked them for personal information. But he’d done it just to break the ice; he didn’t think she’d ask him. Now, he had to say something, or it would be suspicious.

“Juno,” he said as he dropped the meat in the marinade and turned to cutting vegetables. He could do without them, but chicks liked the green stuff. “So I’m used to snow,” he added, a wistful smile creeping onto his face unbidden. “I used to play on it all the time, cause we got a lot of it. I actually miss it, living.” And he did miss it – the childhood innocence of making snow men and snow forts, Megan trying to make snow angels but always messing them up, and Mom calling them in because she was worried about them catching cold but always pretending it was because she’d just happened to make them hot cacao. It had been so pretty and made the world soft and white; and the silence! It had been so deep and complete, like being alone in the world-

Ian stopped, his fingers tight around the knife. “What else do you want?” he asked. “I’m making kabobs,” he clarified, “and we can put anything on them you want.”

“No onions,” she told him, pulling a couple of apples out of the fridge. “Can we use these?”

“Sure,” he said, taking them from her and feeling his fingers brush hers again. When he started cutting again, he shoved his hips against the counter so that his emerging hard on wouldn’t be obvious.

“Are you slicing potatoes?” Krystal asked, raising an eyebrow.

“Yeah, they go in roast, so they’re perfect in kabobs,” he told her. “You just have to get them thin enough, and they have to be smaller so that their radius doesn’t mess with the rest of the kabob. Or half them or something.”

“And you have a can of pineapple,” she noted.

Ian wiped his hands and then pulled the tab on the top of the can, peeling the lid back. He tilted the can toward Krystal, showing her the chunks. “They’re sweet and give that sweetness to other things, especially against the meat.”

“Ah,” she said, stepping back a little as he returned to cutting. “So, you never said how you got to Vegas.”

Ian had been expecting this, so he just shrugged and said, “Juno’s a boring place, and I didn’t want to live there after I got out of high school. So I moved down here and lived with my uncle for a while. He’s the one who taught me about the government conspiracy to hide the truth.” He looked at her and said, “He was a bastard and a dirty old man, but not dumb. When he left Vegas, I stayed.”

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Krystal watched Ian making the kabobs closely. They seemed easy enough, and she highly approved of anything that could be made with a variety of ingredients. She considered herself a pretty good cook, but she was better with baking, pasta, and casseroles. Mom was better at handling the meat, and did nearly all the grilling and barbecue. Except turkey - she had been cooking Thanksgiving and Christmas dinner since she was thirteen, because Mom's turkey always ended up drier than the Mohave desert.

The contentment in Ian's eyes as he talked about Juno and the snow made Krystal grin. Personally, she didn't see the attraction of snow - it was wet, cold, and clogged up everything - but when Ian was reminiscing about it, he seemed so... normal, hardly a conspiracy nut at all. Then he mentioned his uncle.

And there it is. He got sucked in by his uncle's nonsense. I guess I was lucky to avoid succumbing to Mom's and her folks' nutbar beliefs. I wonder what he was like in Juno?

"That's family for you, I guess. They might not be want you wanted, but they are still a part of you." There was a questioning tilt to her head, but she continued nonetheless. "Like, don't get me wrong, I love my mom. But as soon as I was sixteen, I was outta there. Me and my mom, we don't - that is, we have really different... lifestyles."

Krystal hid the blush inflaming her cheeks by turning back to the fridge, looking for something to drink. "You'd like anything to drink, Ian? I got filtered water, diet coke, OJ, umm, a couple of cans of Fruitopia, app -"

"The Fruitopia," Ian injected tersely, hoping Krystal excused it as him simply focusing on the cooking, "please." Manners, it was all in the details.

"Sure, no problem," Krystal replied. She pulled out a can of Fruit Integration and poured herself a tall glass of apple juice. She picked up the can and two glasses and brought them over to the table. She spun a chair around and straddled it, elbows on the back, cradling her chin in her hands.

"So, you beli - you must've been living here for a few years. How you like Vegas, so far?" She almost bit her tongue. She wanted to be polite, but she just couldn't bring herself to ask him about the 'goverment cover-up of the truth'. She promised to herself that if he brought it up, she would listen without rolling her eyes.

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He was more than happy for the conversation to move away from family. He didn't want to talk about his family anymore, not even about Megan or Uncle Orson. She brought out the worst in him, made him feel weak and all the things he vowed he'd never be again.

Ian nearly lost it when she straddled the chair, his brain going to her straddling him in the chair. Images of the dance Jolene had given him passed behind his closed eyes, and he knew that he was in trouble. He was sure he was leaving a dent in her cabinet with his erection.

Ian caught the near-segue into his beliefs, but let it go. Krystal didn't seem to buy it, and forcing the issue would only make things harder on him. "Yeah, I like it well enough," he said, shrugging. "It's a place to live, and it has you." He gave her a grin that was somewhere between a leer and realization of how corny that had been. Still, he persisted, locking eyes with her, "That's got to be worth at least a couple of points."

Jesus, but she drove him crazy. "Better than Roswell, but close enough to visit there when I need to head that way. What about you?" he quickly changed the topic. "Aside from going to college in California. Anywhere you want to go? Paris, New York, Idaho?"

He was clearly relaxing, as he teased her a bit. With the vegetables cut, he began to skewer them on long sticks, fishing out pieces of meat to add occasionally.

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Krystal couldn't quite stop herself from chuckling lightly, her laughter surprisingly low and husky for a girl her size. Yeah, it was a cheesy line, but by no means the worst she had ever had directed her way (which is sad, really, now that she thought about it) and at least he seemed to know how bad it was.

"You're right, you should get something, if for nothing else, at least having the confidence to say the line," she said, her amusement obvious in her voice and on her face. She used a finger to write in the air, determining what he earned. "By my precise calculations, balls to say that line, minus the line itself, equals... three points."

"Boo-yah!" Ian exclaimed, nearly stabbing a finger with a skewer, "How mu-"

"Whoa, Ian. Don't get too excited, I didn't tell you what the scale is." By the arched brow and the impish twist to her grin, Ian stifled a groan, knowing she had no intention of telling him either.

Okay, so maybe she was teasing him, just a little, but he was actually turning out to be rather fun, instead of weird and creepy. Hopefully, my judgment isn't being shot just 'cause I've haven't had a boyfriend for a while. She rolled her eyes at the mention of Roswell - she only promised not to roll them for his conspiracy theories - but she still had a small grin on her face.

"Oh, definitely Idaho - I mean, who doesn't want to go to the great state of Idaho? Honestly, I'm sure there are great things about Idaho, I just don't have the slightest clue what they are. New York, Mom took us shopping there every time we headed up to Maine to visit her folks... I like Vegas better. Now, Paris, ahhhh!" Krystal sighed, her eyes rolling up as she imagined it. "I know, I know, every girl says she wants to visit Paris. Fine - I'm a cliche, but visiting the Louvre, seeing the history of the place..." Krystal hugged herself, then returned from imagination land and gave her attention back to Ian.

"To be fair, I would also like to visit London, Dublin, Munich, Vienna, Venice, Rome, Madrid... really, if I could afford it, I'd love to go backpacking all across Europe for a summer. I even already have a Canadian Maple Leaf stitched to my backpack. From what I hear, people bend over backward for Canadians, overseas."

Krystal took a sip of apple juice, then scratched Fawkes behind the ears as he butted he head against her ribs. "So, you have a mecca you want to see someday, Ian? If you say anywhere I am, you've already used that, and it only earns you one point." Her eyes sparkled like turquoise.

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Krystal could see that something she'd said had wiped the good humor from Ian's face. "I don't really have anywhere I want to go," he said, his face turned down, his eyes on what he was doing. "Nowhere..." He sighed, then set the first skewer on the grill. The sounds of sizzling food filled the small space, and Krystal could smell the meat and veggies starting to cook.

“Look, Krystal,” Ian said suddenly. “I don’t have much of a life. And I don’t mean that in a ha-ha, look at the loser way. I mean that in an ‘I’ve got a lot of fucked up shit going on in my life’. I don’t think about where I’m going or what’s going to happen to me next year. I won’t have the time or resources to see the world or travel.” He smiled wistfully. “It sounds nice, though, to have plans like that.”

He glanced up at her, and there was something open in him for a second, that same look she’d seen when he’d come out of the bathroom in the Panera’s. Then he caught himself, and it changed again, gone in a blink. “But never mind that, it’s not a big deal. Do you have anywhere odd you want to go? Somewhere that you’d need to add a country to it so that I could find it?” His smirk was a challenge to her. “Or are your desires that predictable?”

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Krystal listened to Ian, really listened, trying to hide the sympathy in her eyes. Most people had fucked up shit in their lives, it was just, some had bigger piles of shit than others. For all that she didn't agree with her mother's way of living, she knew others had it much worst than she did.

Seeing his longing smile, she briskly stood up and looked away, feel a little self-conscious. Her life wasn't perfect - no one had ever envied it before. Needing something to do, she moved over to her all-in-one printer/scanner/copier and began scanning in her pics for after dinner.

"Yes, well, plans. They don't always work out - most of the time they don't, it seems. But it's fine, nothing stops you from making new ones, right?"

She looked back over her shoulder just as Ian glanced up at her, and their eyes met in solid contact. Krystal caught that rare look in his eyes, that look of openness, of... vulnerability. Then is was gone in flash, hidden behind an impudent smirk. Damn, dealing with Ian is like walking through a mine-field. She wanted to see that look again, a glimmer of the real Ian.

"Predictable, am I? Okay, how about... Machu Picchu... Peru?"

"Machu Picchu? Ha!" Ian said, his smirk widening. "Twenty, thirty years ago, it would have been an odd place to go. But now, everybody and their sister goes there, and they don't even know its true story. I'd said try again, babe, but being so predictable, I bet you I can guess what you're going to say next."

"Hey! Give me a break, 'kay?" Krystal protested, her nose scrunching up in cute annoyance. "I've been reading a lot about the Incas lately, in one of my classes. But it does sort of remind of me of somewhere else I'd like to visit... Ever hear of Angkor Wat?"

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Ian couldn't care less about Angkor Wat right now; all he could see was the way that Krystal's nose crunched up so cutely. Forgotten was his attempt to cover for his earlier vulnerability by being more macho; all he wanted to do was grab her and kiss her until she melted.

With effort, he pulled himself together. He should man up, and not lose his shit over some pretty face like this. Yeah, she was hot, but that didn't mean anything. Look at Jolene. She was hot, but there wasn't two brain cells to rub together in there. They'd never have a conversation like this because Jolene would jump his cock before they'd traded two lines.

"Angkor Wat? Nope, I can't say I know where that is," he said, conceding the moment to her. He'd probably have let her win in this moment anyway, so long as she kept doing that thing with her nose. "Sounds like a planet in Star Wars, though." He shot her a grin to let her know that he was joking.

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"More like a character from Star Wars - Angkor Watto?" Krystal countered, with a grin and a pair of arched brows. Ian snorted and she stuck her tongue out at him, her moment of geekdom passing. She turned and nodded at a picture, framed on the wall, the profile of her face growing contemplative, her smile more subdued.


Looking closer, what Ian initially took to be a piece of photography turned out to be a photorealistic painting, done by someone with a fine eye for detail. He glanced at his impromptu dinner companion again, reevaluating her - Krystal was stacked full of talents, and more than just the ones she did a poor job of trying to smuggle under shirt.

"I painted that just little before my sixteenth birthday," Krystal said after a moment, her voice soft, almost distant. "It's still one of the best pieces I've done. I hadn't planned it either - just sat down and started painting." She turned back to face Ian, her lips twisted in a wry grin. "My mom's... boyfriend at the time said it looked like Angkor Wat. I thought he was just making up a word, but I googled it anyway."

Krystal went back to scanning in her sketches, nostrils flaring. "Those kabobs are really starting to smell good, Ian. Anyway, my painting did sorta look like some pics I found of Angkor Wat, so I wikied it. Angkor Wat is a temple complex in Cambodia, built in the twelfth century to be a king's - I forget his name - a king's state temple and capital city."

Her scanning done, she straddled her chair again, and gave a shrug, somehow evoking both acceptance and longing. Her green eyes were direct. "I've wanted to see it ever since."

Later, Ian would google Angkor Wat himself and find out that Krystal underestimated the semblance between her painting and photos of the ancient temple. They looked exactly alike.

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What could a guy say to that? Were they dating, he'd tell her... nothing. It wasn't exactly a turn on to say, "If I can ever get the aliens off my back permanently, I'll get an eight to five job and a white house with a picket fence and three and a half kids and a trip to Angkor Wat." So he mumbled something about the nice painting and changed the subject.

Ian nodded absently, stating, "I cook for myself all the time, so it's something you either get good at, or you deal with shitty food. And I like good food, so I learned." He thought back to the first meal he cooked for himself, and mentally kicked himself for dwelling on the past. But he couldn't quite shut out the smell of heating spaghettios, the anxiety that he'd burn the food and have nothing to eat and the raw loneliness and hope that had been his true bread and butter in those days.

And fear. Couldn't forget the fear.

Ian turned back to the kabobs. "How well done do you like your meat?" His leer told her that he was enjoying a double entendre, so Krystal responded in kind.

"Medium rare," she purred, "a little pink inside."

"Then your meat is ready," Ian said, winking at her and putting a bit of swagger into his steps from the grill to the plate. "Hot and fresh. Enjoy."

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"I'm sure it is," Krystal said, a slight smirk on her face fading into pleased grin. "I intend to, thanks."

She nibbled delicately at her kabob, small, quick bites. For a while, the two of them were quiet as they ate, hunger having sneaked up on them amidst their light banter. The kabobs were a nice change from what she usually made for supper. Hmm, if Ian can provide dinner, the least I can do is provide dessert - cookies!

"Yeah, I know what you mean about learning to cook," Krystal said, continuing the conversation where Ian had left off. "Mom works... odd hours, so I often had to fend for myself. She always left money, but you can only eat so much take-out, right? Besides, mom can't bake to save her life, and I like my sweets." There was a brief flare of her earlier smirk, then popped in the last chunk of meat, licking her lips in appreciation.

"Yum, that was good, Ian. Tell you what, since you provided supper, I think it only fair that I make dessert. I got some left over cookie dough from my last batch - I always make extra and freeze it for later. How about we continue working on the site while it defrosts and bakes, then later we'll have White Chocolate Macadamia Nut Cookies for dessert?"

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Ian smiled at her, imagining her feeding the cookies to him one at a time. He could almost taste the white chocolate as it coated her skin, the buttery crumbs transferring from her fingers to his tongue as he licked them clean.

"Dessert sounds wonderful," he said, giving her a crooked smile. It'd officially been too long since he'd been with Jolene; he could feel his body responding with too much interest to his daydream about Krystal. He was going to explode if he didn't get to his stripper soon. Unless... unless Krystal would be willing to slake his thirst for carnal delights.

But she hadn't really given any sign of that. So he tried not to think about the hard on he was hiding under the table's edge and said, "I've never had White Chocolate Macadamia Nut Cookies, but I'm willing to be convinced that they're wonderful."

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"The cookies will convince you, I assure you," Krystal said with a confident grin, a dimple flashing for a fleeting moment.

She tilted her head at Ian's plate, picking hers and his up when he nodded that he was done. She passed the plates under the tap before sticking them in her tiny dishwasher, then filled the sink up with hot water. Pulling out a small step stool, Krystal reached into the back of her freezer, pulling out a frozen roll of cookie dough, carefully wrapped and bagged in plastic. She promptly dropped it in the sink with a bloop and a small splash.

"That'll take about ten minutes to soften enough to cut, fifteen minutes to bake, and a few minutes to cool," Krystal said, coming back to the table and placing the last can of Fruitopia next to Ian's glass. "I got wi-fi, so you can set-up your laptop anywhere, if you want to get started." Her emerald eyes looked over at the coffee table, where the laptop was. "I usually just sit on the couch with a TV tray or on the floor by the coffee table."

Suiting action to words, Krystal moved over to the couch, picking up a cushion and sat on the floor next to the coffee table. She turned on her laptop, hooked up her tablet, and brought up the images she had scanned in, waiting with mock impatience for Ian to join her.

They had just begun, collaborating once again with surprising ease, despite Ian's roving eyes and wandering imagination, when Krystal got back up and checked on the cookie dough. Finding it soft enough, she preheated the oven, took out a baking sheet and lined it with parchment paper, lightly greased, then pulled out a heavy knife. Still trading comments and ideas across the apartment, Krystal cut the dough into slices with sharp thuds, spacing them out on the baking sheet.

When Fawkes came sniffing around, begging for a treat, she shooed him away, telling him the dough was frozen. The large dog sulked away, climbing on the couch and resting his head on Ian's lap, looking up at him with soulful, blue eyes.

She was quickly done with admirable efficiency, and settled back at the coffee table before Ian had time to 'experiment' with her graphic tools - she hoped anyway. Good thing I back-up, everything. They started uploading a few of the images to the site, seeing how they looked and how they fit.

Soon, the sweet smell of chocolate and macadamia, with a hint of vanilla, began permeating the cozy apartment.

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It was Ian’s turn to watch Krystal work in the kitchen, something which didn’t bother him at all. He tried not to stare as she bustled about, cleaning and cooking, but it was incredibly hot. When she brought him another drink without asking, Ian decided she was nearly the perfect woman; she was already properly trained.

But the thing that really got to him was Fawkes. As he was shooed away from the attempted theft, the dog sulked his way over to Ian and, after a cursory crotch-sniff, laid his head on Ian’s legs. Ian smiled faintly and ran his hands through the thick ruff of fur around the dog’s neck. With a deep sigh, Fawkes settled in, relaxing under Ian’s scratching finger. Ian looked more relaxed, too, as man and dog had a bonding moment on the couch. The husky-mix reminded him of Ginger, who had been a full husky. Ian smiled a little as he remembered his childhood friend. He didn't let himself think about how she died.

Ian was almost happy. Part of him imagined that Krystal would come and tuck herself under his arm, and they’d watch a movie toget-

Ian stopped that train of thought and switched rails. Krystal would come over and move Fawkes head, and then they’d fuck. Then maybe they’d watch a movie, but it was more likely they’d fuck some more.

But she didn’t, of course. She took her own seat and leaned over the computers, all business. Ian sighed and sat forward, letting Fawkes resettle himself on his lap before he focused on work. But the smell of the cookies soon had him distracted again, because now he knew exactly what they would taste like as she fed the warm pieces to him. “Damn it,” he said suddenly, “I need a smoke break.”

“Sure,” Krystal said. “My balcony is over there.” She pointed into the bedroom. “Let me get the cookies and we can eat them and talk.”

Fuck, the last thing he needed was to know exactly what her room looked like. He’d never get to sleep tonight, if he could imagine her sleeping in her bed. Ian stood, reaching for his jacket and Fawkes bounded to the front door. “Does he need to go out? I can go out the front and take him.” The dog might just be his salvation, and Ian decided to get him a toy someday.

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Krystal's nose scrunched up fetchingly, just for a moment, when Ian mentioned smoking. She didn't really have anything against smokers, it was just that the smell really got to her and she didn't want in her home. She hadn't been able to get her mom to quit, though she got her down to just one cigarette a day, and only outside.

She smiled when she saw Ian get up, reaching for his coat, and Fawkes bounded to the door, pawing it once. "Well, he wants to go out now," Krystal said with a grin. She glanced at the time flashing from the microwave and stood up as well. "It's about time for the cookies to come out. If you wanna wait five minutes for them to cool, they and I can come along to keep you company?

"How can I say no to that?" Inwardly, Ian groaned. Krystal really wasn't helping him with his 'problem', but how could he say no to a friendly dog, a racktacular babe, and homemade cookies?

Krystal moved over to the oven and pulled out the sheet of cookies, sliding them onto another plate to cool. While waiting for them to cool, Krystal fetched Fawkes' leash and handed it to Ian, then slipped on a pair of open-toed, clunky heeled sandals.

"Which one do you want, boy?" Krystal asked Fawkes, holding a fuzzy tennis ball in one hand, a frisbee in the other. Fawkes looked up at Ian, then trotted over to Krystal, carefully considering each offering. Finally, he raised a paw, tapping the tennis ball. She tucked the ball into a pocket of her purse, then ate a cookie, checking them again. Deeming them ready, if still very soft, she slid them into a paper lunch bag.

"Well, don't I get to see if they're ready?" Ian implored.

"Nuh-uh." Krystal grinned impishly.

She picked up her purse and the pooper-scooper, keeping the bag of cookies in her other hand. "'Kay, ready to go."

Fawkes led the way out, Ian in tow, Krystal pausing to lock the door. Once outside, Krystal pointed them to the left, though Fawkes was already heading in that direction.

"There's a small park three blocks down and one to the right, where the leash laws don't apply, if you don't mind. Then you and Fawkes can both get a treat."

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The fenced park was nice, and there were a few other dogs running around nuts. Fawkes was nearly beside himself with the desire to be crazy as well, and Ian had to tell him sharply to hold still. It only took a touch from Krystal to get him to stop vibrating, and Ian was able to unhook the leash. With a kick of gravel, the dog shot off across the park. The area was gravel, sand and large rock outcroppings, perfect for rambunctious dogs to wear themselves out on.

Ian was already melting in the hot sun. Stifling an unmanly sigh, he sat down on a bench in the shade of a large rock. After a moment, Krystal sat down next to him, digging into the bag of cookies. "Here," she ordered, holding a cookie almost under his nose.

Ian eyed it, then her before grinning and lunging for it with his mouth. He thought she'd reflexively pull away; instead, she pushed it forward, cramming it into his mouth. Startled, Ian tried to reverse, but Krystal was merciless. She kept pushing, and soon Ian was forced to submit, chewing desperately, swallowing frantically as her laughter echoed in his ears.

"So," she asked, "what do you think?" She had pulled out her own cookie.

"Fink ah cafnt breafe cookie," Ian managed to say, then grabbed hers with a final swallow. As she started to protest, he said, "My turn to give you a cookie delivery."

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Krystal's sparkling green eyes narrowed, a superior smirk playing on her lips. Fair is fair, I suppose... Besides, she had two advantages that she was sure would prevent her from choking on cookie deliciousness.

"If you insist," Krystal said, head tilted with exaggerated hauteur. She leaned forward, offering a tantalizing view of spectacular cleavage, her smirk growing broader, lips parting surprisingly (and intriguingly) wide.

Distracted by the small artist's large Picasso's squares and fantasizing about what else she could manage with those luscious lips, Ian barely pulled the cookie teasingly away before Krystal managed to get her mouth around it.

"Ah, ah! Too slow-"

"Whoa! Omph!" Overbalanced from leaning for the cookie, and completely shocked that Ian's male brain was still able to react despite her feminine charms, Krystal tipped over, sprawling across his thighs.

"Well, well, I didn't know-"

Ian was cut from saying what he didn't know by a small fist kneading his thigh, Krystal twisting around, teeth gritted fiercely. With seemingly the freakish speed of a mongoose, Krystal lunged again, this time white teeth snapping down on cookie... and a chunk of Ian's finger, right on the first joint.

"Ow! Fuck! That really hurts!" Ian yelled, cradling his masticated finger in his other hand.

"Oh, my God! I'm so so sorry!" Krystal exclaimed, spraying cookie crumbs with each word, face an embarrassed scarlet. "I didn't mean to do that! I've been told I have sharp teeth - I - I didn't draw blood, did I?" she asked, full of genuine concern, a hand reaching out to check.


Peering around a large rock, Fawkes studied his mistress and the other male, baffled by the mating habits of humans. Then his azure gaze shifted slightly, head cocked to the side, noticing the unattended bag of cookies resting on the bench.

He circled around the rock, approaching their bench from downwind. He came in low and slow, with a stealthy silence that would shame a feline. The humans were still making noises at each other when he reached the bench, gently depositing his ball next to the paper bag. He paused, glanced at his mistress again, then carefully gripped the bag of treats in his teeth.

With the skittering sound of spraying gravel, Fawkes took off like an arrow, his prize flopping from his mouth.

"... so, really, you're oka - Dammit! Fawkes, comeback here with those! I was going to give you one, not the whole bag!" Ian forgotten with her dog's mischief, Krystal bounced to her feet and began to futilely chase after the husky hybrid.

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  • 1 month later...

Ian was making vows regarding blow jobs and Krystal - namely, that she'd see a fucking dentist and get her points ground down first - Fawkes completed his maneuver. Ian was first pissed - it wasn't like he'd gotten to taste the cookie that Krystal had crammed down his throat - but after watching the dog run happily, he couldn't stop his grin. He settled back on the bench, watched Fawkes stay just out of Krystal's reach, and tried not to think about Ginger.

She liked to run, too. He saw her again, head and tail high, her tongue lolling out of her mouth-

Her swollen tongue lay limply over her jaw-

"Jesus," he muttered, shuddering despite the heat. "Jesus," he said again for no reason and pulled out his cigarette. The familiar trickle of blood stopped him and he dug out a Kleenex with an exasperated sigh. Holding his nose shut, he watching Krystal chase Fawkes again-

Like watching Meg chase Ginger.

"Jesus! Fucking wuss!" he insulted himself and initiated the awkward juggle of smoking around the tissue. The smoke calmed him and he could feel the bleeding ease. Lifting his head, he scanned the park for Krystal.

Part of him expected her to be gone.

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  • 3 weeks later...

"A ha! Got you!" Krystal cried, grabbing Fawkes by the collar.

The large dog had stopped his aggravatingly mocking retreat when he hid in the shade behind one of the large, decorative boulders of the park. Snout buried in the paper bag, backed up against the large chuck of stone, Krystal was finally able to catch up to the rascally mutt. One hand on his collar, Krystal snatched the bag of cookies from him, straining to hold back the dog that outweighed her.

"Behave Fawkes, or it's bath time." Cowed by the dire threat, Fawkes docilely sat on his haunches as his mistress looked in the bag, voicing a grunt at the sight. She tossed Fawkes the slobbered bits, finding two cookies left untouched. "At least you left us two, you thief. C'mon, let's go back before Ian thinks we abandoned him."

Krystal's shapely figure slowly resolved itself against the orange ball of the sun, sitting low on the horizon, as she came around the boulder, Fawkes in hand. Her darkened form gained colour as she closed the distance, clothes clinging to her fantastic curves with a light sheen of sweat from heat and exertion.

"I managed to recover two cookies from the cookie monster," she said, offering Ian the bag, her lips bent in a contrite, yet ruefully amused, grin. Krystal noted the bleeding nose, but other than a slight widening a emerald eyes and a mildly arched brow, Ian was relieved she made no other acknowledgment of it.

"Sorry 'bout that. Fawkes gets a little jealous if I pay attention to another man. But he'll behave know, won't you, Fawkes?" Krystal sat down on the bench with a soft sigh, leaning against the back, breasts jutting proudly, much to Ian's delight, enough for him to forget about his nose.

Fawkes laid down, head resting on his outstretched front paws, whining softly, but he stopped at Krystal's narrow eyed glance and the quiet threat of, "Bath."

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