Scene One

Chapter Three: Gathering

Scene One: Gathering

When the five fae walked onto the front lawn of 144 Euclid Ave., their world had been changed radically. The freehold, in ruins. All the other fae there, vanished. And Chet's mentor Professor Wynderven, apparently dead for months... when Gemma says she had met with him just a couple of weeks ago!

Things were different, now, of course, but Chet's home, still bustling with unknown roommates, smells of food from the kitchen, and the somehow-organized clutter of the living room seemed a welcome respite from the evil that had been done outside its walls.

Ingrid came back into the house after taking her wounded steed to Chet's backyard. Careful to tether the horse away from Chet's newly blooming crop of rev, Ingrid wasn't surprised to see that the unicorn wasn't interested in eating, just in resting and regaining his strength. Ingrid, arguably most affected by the destruction of the freehold, since most of her sidhe compatriots dwelt and ruled from there. Her sadness permeated her every thought on this spring Sunday; so very very far from normality, entering into a fugue all her own.

The companions, until recently at each other's throats about the disposition of James' grandfather's car, which now sat outside, chimerical appurtenances reappearing on its surface and on its dashboard every hour it remained in James' custody. James, of course, had his own concerns. His company apparently taken over by Microsoft's entertainment division, he sat in Chet's living room, satisfied with having saved his beloved car yet curiously cut adrift by being so unsure about his future employment. For a long time, his work was his life. Now, what would come next?

Gemma's concerns were more personal, of course. The freehold's destruction was a mystery, but so was this mysterious phone call which Chet hadn't yet fully shared with his companions, where the (supposed) police had informed him of Professor Wynderven's death. Gemma had liked the professor, and met with him a few times since they all last saw him at Chet's barbecue a few months back.

Chet's eyes were dark and foreboding. To him, the house had lost just a little of its Glamour. As he'd mentioned to his friends, this house and keeping it was a sacred trust between himself and Wynderven. As disconnected as Chet had seemed during the changelings' visit to L.A., he was now utterly plugged back into the world around him. With his mentor mysteriously unaccounted for, he couldn't help being so concerned.

Roger was having the most trouble with these events. Rebelling Unseelies, then to return to Tucson with Chet and Ingrid and find their entire freehold utterly annihilated? It was an adventure that Roger didn't fully plan on entering. Still, his skills couldn't help but aid these fae in discovering what had happened to their freehold and to their friends. The stability of the Barony of the Holly seemed so very far away now.

The five met in the living room, unsure of how to proceed. It was late afternoon, about 4 pm, on Sunday, April 9, 2001. And their worlds had changed forever.

Chet sat on the sofa in his living room, grinding his eyes with the palms of his hands and muttering to himself. After a few moments, he opened his eyes and surveyed the room warily, his foot tapping out a nervous rhythm on the shag carpet. He locked eyes with each of his fellow fae, each intent stare lasting no more than a brief moment. When he was finished surveying the broken oathcircle, plus one, he squeezed his eyes shut again, rubbed his temples and then, abruptly, stood up and walked toward the kitchen.

As Chet walked through the door, he was stopped by his roommate, Whitey, who was entering the room. Whitey pulled Chet aside and whispered to him urgently. Contrary to his name, Whitey was a 30-something African American man, clean cut, who stood just over six and a half feet tall. He bent down to talk to Chet face-to-face, and his demeanor suggested that he was peppering Chet with questions, at one point he even pointed over Chet’s shoulder to the guests sitting in the living room, but the what he was saying was quite inaudible to everyone but the conversants. When the converesation finished, Whitey seemed satisfied with whatever Chet had told him and accompanied the short boggan into the kitchen.

After what seemed an impossibly short time, Chet returned with a tray of sandwiches - both hot and cold, vegetables, and an assortment of peeled fruit slices. He cleared an empty spot from the cluttered coffee table with his foot and set the tray down. Wordlessly, he invited the fae to sit in the furniture surrounding the coffee table and help themselves. With that, he left the room again.

When he returned with two arms full of canned and bottled drinks, James was, indeed, helping himself to the food set out and sitting in the love seat. Chet sat the drinks on a stack of magazines next to the leg of the coffee table.

“Eat, eat,” Chet urged the rest. “We need to talk and everyone should make themselves comfortable. This may take a while.”

Chet walked around the sitting area of the living room, straightening throw pillows, picking up books off the floor and putting them on the shelves in the corner, and sweeping the general detritus of communal living into end table drawers. After a few minutes, Chet stopped what he was doing and looked around, somewhat satisfied.

“OK, we can talk now.” Chet said, matter-of-factly as he glanced around at the roommates who sat at the dining room table or wandered through the room, passing in and out of the kitchen occasionally. James sat, intent on not letting a bite of his sandwich escape his mouth, but the others glanced around at Chet’s words. It wasn’t so much that the mortals in the room couldn’t see or hear the fae sitting in the middle of the living room, but that they had a total lack of interest in what the group was doing or saying inside the small circle of furniture surrounding the coffee table.

“Something big is going down and you all need to decide what you’re going to do about it. As for me, I’m not setting foot outside this house until I get some things in order – some of which involve you and some of which do not. Which is why we need to talk. We need to seriously clear the air here, people – and no one is leaving until we do.” Chet looked deathly serious.

“But before anyone else says anything, I’d like to hear the new guy’s opinion and insights on this group.” Chet looked at Roger. “Speak freely, Roger. Unless that is, someone else has something to get off their chest first…”

Gemma glanced at Chet without really looking at him. First he had been adament in refusing to let anyone into his house. He had been forceful enough (and cranky enough) to make her want to leave immediately. Not that it would have taken much anyway. But then he relented, and it was so sudden and unexpected that she suspected Ingrid's rude magical interference.

But now ... yes, now it made sense. Sort of. Clear the air? Why not make Prince Road smell sweet? It would never happen. Yelling would happen. Accusations would happen. But if she were lucky, some quick and dirty sex would happen as soon as she managed to get James alone for a minute. Or even semi-alone. Chet's roommates seemed like the free-spirited type. Maybe one or two would care to join in. Maybe that tall black guy...

Gemma began rapidly tapping her heel, partly from nerves, mostly to remind her brain to focus. Clear the air. She'd show him clear air.

Oh, like it mattered, she thought. She toyed with her watch, admiring the little gold dot on its face that said "Hello. I'm a Movado." The silly thing didn't work. It would if she bothered to replace the battery, but she preferred to leave it permanently stuck at 5:25. The watch, its dot, and the wrong time blurred together after a while, but that was a good thing. She had to concentrate to tell some truths they'd see as lies, and lies they'd see as truths, and assorted things she barely understood herself. So much to say, and such little inclination to say it as it should be said.

She looked over to James and felt that familiar ache in her heart. His air would be cleared, too. She'd give them all a giant pine tree to hang around their necks.

Her fidgeting slowed to a halt. "Chet?" she said, quietly, tentatively. She didn't wait for him (or anyone) to respond, but continued, "With as little respect as possible to Ingrid's new chew toy over there, I can't imagine how what he has to say matters. I know we're fucked up in our little ways. It works for us. We really have no business together, but we are anyway. Isn't that enough?" She looked down at her lap, frowning.

James sighed, running his knobby fingers through his greasy black hair, leaving strands of it askew. He removed his glasses, rubbing his temples and his nose vigarously. He could feel the threads of a heavy lethargy creeping in on his conciousness like the tendrils of some deadly fungus. He shoop his head, sandwich in his hand- focus, Damnit James you bastard! Focus!- He could hear the voices around him hammering his skull like a jack hammer... and then people wondered why he'd rather be around his computers and his cars. Cars don't argue, computers don't bicker, machines are reliable and predictable they just don't give a flying fuck. He almost smiled approvingly, but there was a nagging in the back of his head, soft, quiet, subtle... and they don't give a fuck about you. He squished it,quietly and deftly as the boyscout come scientist squishes a butterfly between his fingers as he plucks off its gossymer wings. Sleep, hunger and something far deeper battling themselves inside of him, he listened to the Gemma speak.

"This isn't what I mean to say, that this isn't important. It *can* be important ... later. Right now -- and I think I speak for myself when I say this -- right now, we need to give up and say 'fuck it.' The major freehold is gone. So what? Is it really that bad? It was disrespectful to the house of God, so maybe I'm glad it's gone. The place made me feel uneasy. The beauty is still there. The power of the place can never be destroyed. The only thing missing are a bunch of deluded, uptight, racist fools and I can't really say I mourn their loss.

James cringed a little, that god thing, he'd just as soon pretend it wasn't there... but it was a part of her, undenyably a part of her, and he was stuck with it, just like he was stuck with the murber furking pookaeese. If he was at home he could have whipped out the Spanish detector, but not here. Why was he so piss poor at this? You'd think that after months of being pulled this way and that, like a dog with no legs on a leash, he'd have atleast some Fucking comprehension of where the dragger was trying to take him. Did she mean it? Not caring about the destruction of the freehold? He looked up. Who was to say she was wrong after all? (He had always been "damn the man and free the empire" feeling that those bastards had about as much to right to rule as caligulars horse) Maybe it was better to let it flow past? But he couldn't think that way, not fully! Items, people, creatures of glamour should be prot! ected by every seelie and unseelie to the best of his or her ability... If not what was there? If it wasn't every changelings goal to perserve the world, then why exist at all? But to support the status quo or to support murderes and destroyers, that was no choice at all. His head hurt. He looked at Gemma and smiled, thinking for about the billionth time ever about how beautiful and intelligent she was, how she made him want to live in the world, walk among flesh as opposed to locking himself away with machines... what the fuck was she doing with an antisocial nerd like him?

Gemma continued. "Although I'm sure they're not lost. They're just hiding somewhere. As before. 'Ooooh, here comes trouble! Let's all run away and save our pretty faces!' " she said, sarcastically miming the expression of a frightened person. "They'll pop out of hiding in a few months, rebuild a new sacrilege, and keep right on going until the next time they piss off someone enough to destroy their little lego house. Fuck them *and* us. What about Wyndervyn? Whoever said he was dead had to be lying. I just saw him! I -- "

Gemma stopped abruptly and turned to Roger. Her cheeks were bright pink and her eyes were bright with anger. For a moment it looked as though she would yell at him, but she didn't. Instead, she took a deep breath, then said, "I'm sorry, Roger. I'm interrupting. That's extremely rude of me. It's just that I get so worked up when people I know turn up dead."

She gave Roger a wavering sort of half-smile, then turned to James. If only he had listened to her. They could have been halfway to Hermosillo by now instead of sitting in a group of very cranky people. If it weren't for Chet's determined look, she would have dragged James off by now. Then again, she felt certain that if it weren't for that same determined look, she wouldn't have said anything at all and simply stayed put.

James looked at Gemma as she looked at him, his sandwich finished and his head resting on the couch. If he had just turned the other fucking way they would have crusing on down to Mexico, finding out more of the magic and mystery of Gramps car... alone, for once, with two out of the three things he loved most in the world-- and once they were situated the third could have been shipped... He reached out and took her hand as she stood infront of him giving it a little squeeze. "Yes and no, babe, to everything. And an idea about Wyndervyn... we can potentially find out where he was last and when if we..." he yawned, "if we--" he yawned again... "if we can get a calander or a clock, from wherever he may have been... I really wish I wasn't here rightnow having to have a conversation about this..." He shook his head again, trying to clear the fog. Fuck he needed to get some sleep.

"He had both in his office, I'm sure. I never paid much attention to anything except his mouth," Gemma said lightly, although inside she was seething. She knew this lethargy of his, what it meant, and how much she would love to punch him for it. But she'd long ago promised not to judge. She didn't promise not to pray, however, and once again she found herself sending a quick prayer to San Judas for James.

To everyone else it looked like she was simply thinking, eyes downcast. Although her grip on James' hand perhaps looked a bit too tight. And it was. Maybe squeezing it hard enough would snap him from his crash. She wished she was stronger. She cleared her throat.

"I probably would have seen him tomorrow, had all this other stuff not come up. I tried not to bother him too often, but lately I've had so many questions and I knew he would give me honest answers." Damn it. Why had she said that? Who cared what she needed? She let go of James' hand, but kept watching him to avoid having to look at Chet. "So, yes, um, he has office hours after his morning class. If Chet was lied to, he should be there tomorrow like he was two weeks ago. And if he's not there, then we can panic."

Ingrid had been sitting quietly on the couch since they came inside, half-listening to the fae around her, staring off into space, holding a mug of coffee in both hands as if to warm them. As the scene echoed around her she looked at her companions in turn. Here was Chet, safe and comfortable now in his own home, brinigng in food enough to feed an entire... freehold. (No Ingrid, don't go there.) And Roger, quiet now and unfathomable, thrown in with this motley group of mismatched companions - not even friends and now, not really even oathmates. She wondered what he thought of this situation. James, yawning like crazy. Poor, smitten James, looking at Gemma in between yawns with such devotion... And Gemma, spouting off against the Sidhe, what a shocker. As happened so many times when Gemma was rolling on her wave of hatred and judgement, her words felt like little barbs pricking at Ingrid's skin, drawing invisible blood.

At the mention of looking for Wyndervyn at his office the next day though, Ingrid had Had Enough. She stood up suddenly, pulling herself to her full height as she looked down at the seated fae.

"I'd like to say first of all that I'm impressed with everyone's fervent desire to find Professor Wyndervyn. I'll do all I can to help because I know he's a very special person to Chet and could be a strong ally in what looks to be the start of something nasty in our world."

"However," she continued, now making eye contact with each one in turn, "I want each and every one of you to know that I will not sacrifice time or effort to aid you if it is at the expense of my search for my fellow Sidhe. Mock us, hate us, insult us as you will," Ingrid now looked pointedly at Gemma, "but how dare you wish ill on us after such a devastating loss? There were Sidhe at that freehold I knew and loved, and if any survive I must find them!"

Seeing Gemma's moue of distaste at the mention of the Sidhe of the freehold, Ingrid went on. "I realize that there's little love lost for the freehold in this room. But just as I respect your wishes to find the Professor, I'm asking you to respect mine. These were my friends, these people were there for me when I knew *almost nothing* about the fae, or the Dreaming. As little as you care what happens to them, I will not let their deaths and the destruction of the freehold go uninvestigated and unavenged."

As her last words rang out, Ingrid strode from the room almost blindly. She turned her head quickly as she walked away. She'd not do them the favor of seeing her cry. How could they be so indifferent, even actively hostile, after seeing such utter destruction? Did they really think she would just happily join them on a search for Wyndervyn without even bothering to investigate? Did none of them even *care* that she'd lost friends, her sanctuary in times of trouble, and almost her precious unicorn?

She stumbled through a doorway and found herself in the deserted back yard. Tears streaming down her face now she ran to her unicorn, threw her arms around it, and buried her face in its lush mane. No, it would be no good at all for them to think their indifference to her suffering might actually hurt her.

Gemma leaned back in her chair, luxuriating in the pleasantly warm feeling Ingrid's outburst gave her. So the Ice Queen had a breaking point after all. Good, good. Gemma smiled a little; sated, content. Any pretense at neutrality or even surprise thrown out the window in the face of such a delicious scene. It was all well and good for Ingrid to rant on about how her fellow sidhe did so much for *her*, but what about what they had done for Gemma? Nothing. Not a damn thing. A lifetime of visiting San Xavier, attending special masses (in the evenings, even!), of fundraisers attended by her parents -- it was from her and people like her that the means to restore, preserve, and give life to the mission came from. Without them, the mission would have been just another old ruin. The sidhe were leeches, and ungrateful ones at that, not even bothering to acknowledge a fae soul trapped among the parishoners simply because it wasn't a *sidhe* soul. If it hadn't been for Livia...

The etiquette impressed upon her by family and the Collegio de Santa Maria alike reared its head up enough so that she composed herself quickly. She still lounged, but the tiny smile was replaced a look of mild consertation.

"What on earth does she expect us to do? We have to start *somewhere*. Is it beyond her simple comprehension to think that maybe, just maybe Dr Wyndervyn's disappearance -- *alleged* disappearance -- is related? If he hasn't been killed or otherwise kidnapped or even fled, he may have some idea of what's going on. If nothing else.

"Ah, but what could a simple commoner know, eh, James?" She glanced at him, then quickly looked away before annoyance killed the happy buzz Ingrid's angry departure had given her.

"Anyway," she continued, rushed to finish what she had to say before anyone could interrupt, "despite what the precious Citizen Kane thinks, we *must* start somewhere. If not with Dr Wyndervyn, then with whom?"