Title: Portraits in a Gallery: Leeches
The street got darker and somehow smaller as she walked along, hoping for a ride. The distant sound of something large – maybe a truck, she hoped, truckers were usually nice – began to rumble in the distance and she stopped, sticking her thumb out for good measure. The vehicle was big, all right, but not an eighteen wheeler – it was a large van with some kind of satellite dish on top. It stopped, and the door opened, revealing a large, hairy, frightening man. He grinned at her in an altogether unsettling way. Marie knew enough to try to run, but it was already too late; he was on her in an instant. It didn't dawn on her until later to wonder why the man was wearing gloves and why he was careful not to touch her skin.
Marie shifted in her sleep against Logan. He registered the change in her scent immediately and it took him only a second or two to process what it meant – nightmare. Binky's head peered between the front seats, almost as if he'd scented the fear rolling off of Marie in waves as well.
She knew his name now, but the pain had long since crowded everything else out of her mind. His claws were immune to her flesh and if he was careful – and it seemed that even in his delirious delight at the pain and destruction he was causing, he was careful of her skin – he could rip every bit of her to shreds and exact a wrenching tribute in suffering and screams as he did so. That was exactly what he was doing at the moment.
"Marie?" Logan called softly, not liking the unhinged grin that had plastered itself across her features one bit. "Marie, wake up, you're havin' a nightmare." Binky chose that moment to slink into the front seat and peer around Logan to get a good look at his owner. Logan huffed at the cat and tried again. "Marie?"
Suddenly, she twisted, hands brushing frantically at her eyes, arms and legs kicking, grimacing now. Logan didn't even try to dodge the inadvertent blows. He took her by the shoulders and hauled her into his embrace. Holding on tightly, he kept whispering her name until she stilled. She didn't breathe for a heartbeat or three, and he gently pushed her back to get a good look at her face. She was as pale as a ghost and she now had that same unseeing stare he'd seen on her with the first nightmare. "Marie," he called firmly as he shook her. "It's me, Logan. Marie!"
She sucked in a deep breath and the life returned to her features. "Oh!" Logan breathed a sigh of relief as Binky crawled over his leg and onto the seat. "Sorry," she choked out before what was an avalanche of tears began.
"Mph," Hank grumbled from the back, finally awakened by the commotion. "What – what is happening?" The last time he'd been unexpectedly awakened was via shotgun, and he was understandably worried.
"Marie had a bad dream. It's OK." She was crying like there was no tomorrow, face buried in Logan's shoulder. Hank gave him a look. "She'll be OK," Logan amended.
"Can I get her anything?" Hank inquired softly.
"Nah. Look, could you, ah, give us a second to – to – "
"Absolutely," Hank supplied, sparing Logan the completion of the request. He got out in the early morning light, and wandered into the roadside woods a bit, both to conceal himself from any passers-by and to answer the call of nature that had made itself known upon waking.
Back in the SUV, Logan rocked and shushed Marie until the anguished sobs and cries slowed. "You listen to me, Marie," he whispered in a tender but fierce, low voice, "You listen good, OK? I'm gonna protect you. I'm gonna take good care of you. Nothin', and I mean nothin', is ever gonna hurt you again. I mean that, and you can count on it. I know I can't take away whatever happened in the dream, but, darlin', I swear to you on my life that I am gonna kill whoever hurt you, however many of 'em there are. I am gonna kill 'em all." His voice finished in a savage tone that managed to make even a whisper frightening.
Marie pulled back from him, wearing a sad, regretful smile. But before he could reassure her again that he most certainly *was* going to kill whoever had hurt her, and in the most gruesome way he could conjure, she spoke the four words that dissolved his determination. "I already killed him." Logan looked shocked, absolutely floored. "I had to," Marie continued. "I used my skin. I – I don't want to tell the rest now, OK? I just can't." The tears came again, and Logan shook his surprise off to pull her close to him again. "It's already done. I killed him."
Logan knew he should think before responding to news like that, but the words leapt from his throat before he could stop them. "Good girl." He didn't try to hide the pride in them, or the satisfaction. Marie clung to him for all she was worth, and he did the same. It was a long time before either emerged from the SUV to get Hank, and by the time they all got going again, they knew reaching Calgary would have to wait another day.
Ernest took one more deep breath before opening the front door of his double-wide trailer home. According to the smug, self-righteous bastard he called a brother-in-law, he'd really put his foot in it this time. Although Ernest remembered shooting off his gun, he was almost sure he wouldn't have ever done that anywhere dangerous, no matter how much liquor he'd had, and he was definitely sure he wouldn't have done it at the motel. That rat bastard of an in-law had to be exaggerating this time. However, calling out for Irma and hunting her up by going room to room did sound familiar, and so did the part about hallucinating that he saw the Cookie Monster in one of the rooms – hell, he'd once convinced himself that an unshaven transvestite was the real Dolly Parton and had gone so far as to give her well-stuffed bra a friendly squeeze. He wasn't proud of doing those things, but he could live with them – he wasn't that bad, really, not like those drunks that got tanked and then beat up their wives. No, he wasn't like that – he just had a propensity to go looking for his woman when he didn't find her at home, that's all. Sometimes he got in a little spot of trouble along the way. It wasn't like he had a drinking problem or anything.
Steadying himself one last time (and wishing for a shot of Jack to shore up his nerves), he opened the door. Even if he hadn't done half of what his jackass brother-in-law said, Irma would still be pretty pissed. "Hey, darlin'. I'm back. Got sidetracked at the motel this mornin'."
"Hello, darling," she greeted, with an expression he couldn't ever remember seeing on her before. "I'm so glad you're back." That was definitely unprecedented as well.
"Uh, yeah. I'm back," he fumbled, trying to suss out whether Irma was holding back the big guns, just waiting to pounce after he got all nice and relaxed about it. "How was your evenin'?"
"Not as exciting as yours, apparently," she grinned, sidling up to him. "Why don't you tell me all about it? My brother was sure telling some interesting tales about your little…..adventures. I'd love to hear more."
"Aw, not much to tell, baby. Why dontcha get in the kitchen and fix me up some – "
"I really would like to hear about it," Irma replied in a clipped tone. "Now."
Realizing that he probably had been a fool for entertaining the thought he might get off easy for even a few moments, Ernest sighed and poured himself into the couch, watching as Irma took up her familiar habit of pacing in front of him. It was oddly comforting – it was at least familiar, expected, and she'd been acting a little weird thus far.
"See, I was down at Mac's bar and I started talkin' to Rufus. You know Rufus, he's John's son, John the plumber. Anyhoo, we got to talkin' and – "
"I don't care about what you did at the bar," Irma interrupted, waving her hand impatiently for emphasis. "Tell me about the motel, what you saw at the motel."
"Aw, that? Well, see, I think I mighta had a little much over at Mac's and – "
"You don't say?" Irma inquired with more than a hint of sarcasm.
"Yeah, uh, sorry 'bout that, baby, but you know how it gets when I'm out with the guys and I come back to find ya gone. I get lonely, you know, and I go – I go lookin' for ya."
"And what did you find instead of me?"
"Aw, darlin', you wouldn't believe what I was thinkin' – you know that kids' show, Sesame somethin'? They got this big blue thing that lives on cookies or some shit, and I coulda sworn on a stack of bibles I saw him down at the motel. He wasn't eatin' cookies or singin' songs, just kinda sittin' up against one of the beds in there, lookin' back at me with these big yellow eyes. Crazy, huh? He don't even have yellow eyes on that show. But you gotta understand that I – "
"Where did it go, this cookie monster?" Irma asked, her tone now cloyingly sweet.
"I dunno baby – it was in the room there. I mean, I just – it was just one of those things ya see when you're a little, uh, in the cups. Nothin' to worry about."
"It's not in the motel room now," she argued, stopping her back and forth strides to stand right in front of Ernest. "Where did it go?"
"Darlin', it probably faded away as soon as I got some strong coffee in me. It's just one of those things – one of them pigments of your imagination. It – "
Irma cut him off with a swift kick that broke his jaw, and, with much more agility and strength than Ernest could ever credit her with in his wildest dreams, she yanked him off the bed and whirled him around so that she was gripping his throat from behind. The pain of the first blow had just begun to kick in, along with Ernest's dim realization that something was seriously wrong with his wife, when his neck was cleanly snapped by two strong hands. After that, Ernest didn't feel a thing. His body slumped to the floor and made a thud, the only thing that heralded his exit from this earthly plane.
'Irma' let out a sigh and began to change shape – soon, she was no longer a chubby fortyish housewife; she was covered in blue scales and had gleaming yellow eyes. "Useless trailer trash," the blue form spat down at Ernest. Picking up both of his feet, the impostor that had masqueraded as his wife unceremoniously deposited Ernest next to the freshly deceased remains of the real article, and took her leave from their trailer.
"So, I'll see you Thursday?" Jean inquired as she used her telekenesis to zip up the back of her blouse. This had been her third date with Warren, and when he'd initiated a little more than good conversation, she'd gone along with it. It had been her experience thus far that men were drawn to her for sexual reasons and that once they had been with her intimately, they usually became all the more bonded to her. That had certainly been true in Scott's case, and in Logan's, although Jean hand he had not 'dated' at all prior to beginning a sexual relationship. She didn't mind going along with Warren's advances a little sooner than she'd planned; it could only serve to bring him closer to her, and that's what she was aiming for.
"I don't think so," he answered, and the response was so unexpected it didn't quite register with Jean. Her mind automatically filled in the assumption that he'd misspoken.
"Great. I'm really looking forward to the dinner."
"Jean," Warren replied, still looking down at the buttons on his shirt as he did them up, "I don't think you heard me. I'm not going to the dinner."
"Oh," she responded with a shrug. "I'm sorry you can't make it. Do you have a prior engagement?"
"No," he answered flatly, raising his head to look at her for the first time since they'd emerged from her bed. "I just don't want to go with you." He was wearing his usual charming, rich playboy smile, one Jean quite liked, and she didn't catch the trace of venom in it until he continued. "You see, Jean, I don't actually like you very much. And more than that – I abhor spending time with you. You're quite vapid when it really comes down to it. But - you were the one thing I still needed to get out of my system. You were the one girl that was never impressed by my money or looks or – well, I guess that's about all there is, actually. But it's usually been enough, more than enough. You treated me pretty shabbily in high school, if I recall, and all this – well, this was just about me getting over it. It was a sore spot, I admit, but I'm all done with it now, thank you. Seeing you get on your back and spread your legs for me served that purpose quite nicely. I don't really have any further use for you."
Jean blinked a few times before finding her voice. "Are you saying you don't – you don't care about me?"
Warren laughed. "That's priceless, Jean, it really is. I bet I looked *precisely* like that when you turned me down for a date out of hand all those years ago. What was it you said? 'You must be joking' – yes, that's exactly it. I suppose it serves as well at the moment as it did back then, even if the parties are a bit reversed. Nothing like a bit of poetic justice, is there?"
"Oh, poor Jean," he mocked, crossing the room and picking her chin up with one finger. "Don't be too distraught, darling. It may be the first time you've ever been dumped, but what with your sparkling personality and compassionate nature, I'm sure it won't be the last." He let her go, then swung his jacket over his shoulder, glancing backwards as he reached the doorway. "Don't worry," he called to her. "I'll lie and tell everyone that you were an excellent fuck. You might not be able to get that little boy Summers to let you lead him around by the cock anymore, but I'm sure you'll find someone once word gets around. And, come to think of it, the next one just may not dump you – mostly everyone but me is too afraid of Daddy Charles to risk it. I simply don't need his money or his power. Hmm. Well, good news for you, then, eh?" He gave her one last sharp grin and sarcastic wink before leaving.
Jean stood there motionless for a long time. It wasn't that Warren's words hadn't registered – oh no, this time, they most certainly had. It was just that she needed a little time – time to get her shields up, time to regain some balance, time to prepare herself for what was to come, time to decide how to tell everyone the news and what kind of spin to put on it. And she needed time to throw up. Repeatedly.