When last we met, our heroes finally met the elusive Madame Butterfly, who told them of their true natures. They begin meeting with her regularly, as she trains them on how to recognise and use their new-found abilities.
The next two weeks are spent mostly with Madame Butterfly. During that time, some in the group are able to discern from her commentary that she harbours some bitterness, though is not overtly hostile, to the Vanishers, although her interest far exceeds simple curiosity. Putting things together, they think that her office is built specifically to keep Them out, or if the situation arose, to act as a cage to contain one of Them.
When not training, the group continues on their normal routines. Tickets have gone on sale for Konstantyne’s “Christmas Day Massacre” show at $500 a pop. Drake asks Alex if he’d be interested, but Alex declines the offer. Alex does, however, wander down to Times Square to see the preparations that are being made for the show. Still a couple of weeks away, there isn’t much yet, although framing is being erected for a large stage to be elevated high above the street, although nothing strikes him as being too unusual. Gareth, struck with sudden inspiration, begins fervently working on a series of new art progress, and requests a collaboration with Goom, providing him with a few hundred yards of Kevlar yarn, asking him to simply knit whatever strikes his fancy.
One night, sometime into their training, Alia is given a call and given specific instructions to open the loading dock of her building. When she does so, she is met with a delivery-style van, sans markings, that disgorges a group of individuals clothed in pale blue full-body clean room suits, each of them carrying some manner of supplies for setting up an impromptu clean room – heavy plastic sheeting, black vinyl bags, and so on. They set to work in Mia’s apartment, stapling the plastic sheeting to her walls, setting up lamps and a gurney, preparing a sterile space. Just before the room is sealed off, they walk in a large cooler.
After three hours have passed, they start breaking down and bring everything back to their van. Alia sees that her friend is receiving a final round of blood transfusions. Alia is cautioned to stick to a regimen of medications that will keep Mia healthy. Although she’s just been through an intensive medical procedure, Alia can’t help but notice that Mia looks so much better than she’s ever looked. Alia stays with her for three days, until the pills run out.
The evening of December 14th, Gareth gets together with Kali, another artist who lives in Gareth’s building. She’s a slight, quiet young woman, who recently left an abusive marriage to pursue her art in New York, and she and Gareth, with their shared artistic pursuits and damaged pasts, have struck up a casual but close friendship. They have one mission that night – to plaster cast Gareth’s entire body to create a base for a series of sculptures. Once Gareth has stripped down and Kali begins applying the plaster strips to his body, Drake decides to take his leave of the apartment, heading anywhere else.
Kali and Gareth banter a bit while she plasters his lower extremities, although she soon opens up about something she’s noticed the past few weeks. Namely, what’s up with all the weird people Gareth’s been having in and out of his apartment? Not that she objects, in fact she’s really glad that he seems to have finally gotten some sort of a life, and she totally encourages him in his friend-making pursuits. It just seems as though they’ve come out of nowhere, very suddenly. Gareth gives her vague answers, saying they’re from a support group he’s been attending for several months, and that some of them (Wally and Drake) have run into bizarre circumstances that have displaced them from their homes, and Gareth offered up his couch. Kali expresses some concern that perhaps, with all their issues, these aren’t the best people for Gareth to hang out with.
They’re interrupted by Goom, who walks into the apartment mid-casting to deliver his Kevlar work to Gareth. He’s made a strange sort of web-like creation, which he says is a hammock. Kali, a fibre artist herself, takes a gander and is intrigued. Not wanting to stick around too long, Goom takes his leave. As Gareth stands and dries, Kali wanders around the loft, poking about the place and ribbing Gareth on any number of subjects, as any one would when faced with a friend in such an amusingly compromised state. After she’s cut him out of the cast and he’s gotten dressed, they make plans to get together later that week for an evening of wine and music, as they haven’t hung out much of late. Just as she’s leaving, she seems about to say something, but thinks better of it and says goodbye.
As Kali is leaving, Drake returns to the apartment. He and Gareth discuss that they seem to have been learning some of the same things from Yuri-ko, in that they are both able to read into and manipulate the desires of others. Drake also lets on that he’s been regularly using one of his abilities on Gareth – a rejuvenation effect of sorts, which makes the subject feel as though they’ve had a full night’s rest, a hearty meal, and are bright and alert. This explains why Gareth’s been making such great progress on his projects on comparatively little sleep. Gareth asks if he can return the favour, as he’s gotten quite adept at fixing things, but Drake declines the offer.
That Thursday, the group meets again at the little Christian book store for their regular meeting, the first official meeting Alia will attend. Drake surprises Alex with a ticket to the Konstantyne show, which Alex accepts with much hesitation. They’re just getting started, tucked away in a back alcove of children’s books, when they hear the door chime and the teenage girl at front tells someone, “Oh, the people you’re looking for are in the back.” There is a tense moment as a large person of indeterminate gender shuffles back – they’re dressed like a street person, with greasy matted hair, large boils, and Goom distinctly smells mildew and overall grossness. Goom asks if they can help, and the guy (for it is actually a man) asks if this is the abductees group, which Goom confirms.
The guy starts frantically muttering, “Don’t wanna go back. Not gonna go back.” As he reaches into his threadbare coat and pulls out a bottle of brownish liquid with a rag sticking out of the top, and a Zippo lighter. The group immediately springs into action, although they are largely ineffectual at disarming the man, until Goom whips out his knitting needles, striking the bum across the knuckles so that he drops the lighter, which Morgan hurriedly scoops up. Drake, turning on his charm, tries to calm the guy down, saying that they are here to help, no one is going to come for him, and so forth. Alia, able to read and feed off of the regrets of others, determines that the man came back into the world about two years prior and has been utterly abandoned since. All seems as though it is going to wind down until Goom, still keyed up and in battle-ready mode, lunges again at the stranger, growing slightly larger as he strikes him with his fist. That’s when the bottle of gasoline shatters, drenching Goom and the bum and showering the rest of them with the noxious liquid. Everyone bolts, some out the back fire exit (setting off the alarm) others out the front, including the girl at the front desk.
After a minute, the inside of the store illuminates, windows blowing out in a blast of heat and fire, and the bum runs into the street, completely engulfed in flame. Most of the group has fled, but Goom and Alex have stayed behind and are able to make it to the apartments above the book store, rousing everyone and getting them out before the building goes up. By the time the fire department and paramedics arrive, they’ve managed to evacuate almost everyone, and the authorities insist they cease action to get medical attention. Both Alex and Goom manage to slip away into shadows just as the television news crews start arriving.
Local news coverage that night is nothing but the fire and the daring rescue by two unknown heroes. Interviews with people rescued from the inferno are full of nothing but praise (and a few good descriptions) of the two brave men. Even Mayor Bloomberg speaks out, asking for any information about the two, as they have shown the true spirit of New York, and he wants to give them keys to the city. In the middle of the night, Morgan, who as the organiser of the support group meetings would have left her name and information with the book store, is contacted by a Lieutenant Donegal, who asks if she was at the book store and if they can meet tomorrow to discuss exactly what happened.
The following night, Kali once again comes down to Gareth’s apartment, to enjoy a quiet evening, drinking wine, listening to music. Recalling that Kali had wanted to say something earlier in the week, Gareth calls upon his abilies – the first he’s tried them outside of training with Madame Butterfly – to see what is going on with Kali. He’s hit with an onslaught of desires: Her lingering dismay at the dissolution of her marriage, but the keen need to move on; she’s desperate for a rebound. Not just a one night fling, but a relationship, any relationship, even if it is not right at all. She just needs.
Not wanting to let on that he’s just read her so clearly, Gareth opts instead to just embrace her, support her. The pent up emotion in side her mixed with wine soon has Kali sobbing, bemoaning that the best male relationship she’s had since moving to NYC has been with Gareth, and fuck all if he’s gay. When are things going to look up for her, when will she get what she needs? Gareth is mostly quiet but commiserates with her, reassures her that she’s beautiful and worthy, offering a shoulder to cry on, and wine, more wine! After a bit she calms down and they start talking about other things, projects they’re working on, life in the city.
That’s when Drake comes home. Drake also reads Kali, getting all the same information Gareth had received. Drake, however, decides that this is apparently Mortal Play Time. He starts flirting with Kali, brazenly, turning on his charm although not going into full glamour. Gareth immediately realises what is going on, that Drake is playing her, and although he tries to butt in, to get Kali to change the subject, leave the apartment, go back to her place, anything. But he’s helpless – Drake’s got her, and she’s gone all dreamy-eyed. Then Drake’s cell phone rings, cutting him off mid-sentence.
“Oh, sorry,” He says. “Gotta go. It’s my girlfriend.” And leaves. Kali is in shock. Gareth gently reaches out to her, and she agrees that they should go back up to her apartment. A loom, yes, she’d wanted to show him a new loom project.
When they get up to her apartment, Kali’s completely expressionless. She seems on the verge of tears, but is holding it together… barely. She tells Gareth she’s changed her mind, she just wants to go to sleep now, but she’ll see him later. Unsure exactly what to do, Gareth quietly agrees, but asks her to please call him if she needs anything, and maybe they can get together again sometime soon, though this time at her place. She nods and shows him out.
Seething in anger, Gareth calls Drake. It rings and rings before going to voice mail. Gareth hangs up and calls again. Straight to voice mail – Drake has turned off his phone. More pissed than he can remember being lately, Gareth stays up, working on his projects. He loses track of time until his phone reminds him, when it rings at 4:00 in the morning. It is Kali. She sounds terrible.
“Hey. Can you come here? I think I did something stupid.” And the line goes dead. Gareth is out the door before she stops talking, though, sprinting up two flights of stairs to her floor. Her door is unlocked, though she’s nowhere to be seen in the apartment. Calling her name, Gareth heads back to the bathroom, and there she is. On the floor, crouched by the toilet, mostly empty bottle of vodka and an opened bottle of prescription pills at her side. She’s pale, clammy, glassy-eyed. Her lips have turned blue and there’s a bit of foamy spittle at the corners of her mouth.
As Gareth drops to the floor beside her, gathering her up in his arms, images come flooding back to him – Sam, or another friend, people he knew when, nearly catatonic from a heroin binge; Sam, pale and shaky, firmly in the grips of the disease that would kill him, wanting to die before the sickness took him itself; Gareth, always Gareth, sober or otherwise, always nursing them, bringing them back from the brink... until he couldn’t. Unable to bear another loss, Gareth reaches for the only tool he’s got.
Squeezing her tight, Gareth revives Kali, as Drake had been doing to him, not knowing what will happen. She’s blinking, colour rushing back into her face, lips no longer blue. She’s confused. Didn’t she just try to kill herself? That was a lot of vodka, a lot of pills, what happened? Gareth says that maybe the pills were expired, or something. She’s still a little shaken, but gets up. Gareth knows there’s still all that crap in her system, and magic or no magic, she probably needs to get to an emergency room. That first. He’ll deal with Drake later.