Disclaimer: I'm not associated with Midnighters or Scott Westerfeld in any way. If I WAS associated with Scott Westerfeld in any way, I would currently be begging him to write a fourth Midnighters book.

Author's Note: I wrote this story quite a while ago...so long ago, in fact, I can't even remember exactly when it was. What I DO remember is that this story is unique among my writing in two different ways: One, I actually like the way it came out. Two, I wrote the whole thing in one sitting. Usually, I get a short burst of inspiration, write it down, and then my inspiration fades for a while and I have to return to writing the rest of the story later. When I started this one, I knew what I wanted it to be about, but I wasn't really sure where I was going. It was fairly late at night, which is when I write the most. So I just started going somewhat blindly, but by the time Rex and Melissa reached Rex's house, it suddenly started flowing and wouldn't stop until I was finished.

I literally stayed up ALL NIGHT. I was still writing at 4 in the morning. I can't remember exactly when I finished it, but I think it was around 4-5 AM, and I think I fell asleep finally a few hours after that. It was like a high; I didn't feel tired at all, just energized and eager to tell the story. That's an extremely rare thing for me. I did start feeling tired when it was almost 5 AM, though. Anyway, the point is, despite the fact I didn't feel tired, my mind probably was. You know when you're sort of over-tired and you find EVERYTHING funny? Well, reading some of this over, I think it's pretty clear that's the sort of mode I was in. So if at any time reading this you think, "This sounds like it came from the brain of some sleep-deprived lunatic", that's because it did.

This takes place during Touching Darkness, right after Rex and Melissa barely escape from Las Colonias with their lives, bridging the gap between their escape and when the other Midnighters visit them the next morning and they seem strangely "smarmy", as Dess and Jonathan put it. I love Rex and Melissa together, and I wanted to explore what I think could have happened between them at Rex's house. Hopefully they're both in character. It's mostly told from Melissa's perspective (she's my favorite character, for the record).

This is a one-shot, at least for now. I actually started writing another chapter about the next morning, but my inspiration had faded by then so I didn't finish and probably never will. I think this is good the way it is. But maybe one day in the future, when I get back into a "midnighter-y" mood, I'll finish it, if anyone would be interested in reading it. If you take the time to read this, please review and let me know what you think! Whether it's good or bad.

Peace,

-KuteInsanity-

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Touching Light in the Darkness

"Dess felt her throat constrict at the expressions on Rex and Melissa's faces. Shared? Something was weirder about the two than just a little postrumble hysteria."

-Touching Darkness, pg. 136

12:10 AM

Rex and Melissa were silent all the way home. Neither could think of anything to say. Rex's mind was still reeling from everything they had seen that night. The halfling, that midnighter trapped inside...that seer...and Melissa had said she was dying. She was dying, and soon they'd need a replacement.

Melissa could taste his fear and anxiety, bitter on her tounge. She felt nauseous, but she wasn't sure if it was from Rex's fear or her own. She gripped the steering wheel tightly with her gloved hands, reflecting on the memory of when she had first sensed that thing coming. It was unlike anything she had ever tasted before in her life. It was unnatural, a combination of hungry, savage darkling and helpless, terrified human. The sensation had overwhelmed and terrified her, almost knocking her out. If Rex hadn't come and pulled her out of her stupor, she would have stayed kneeling on the floor all night. She wouldn't have made it.

She shuddered. And then actually seeing the thing...

The old Ford made it's way down the darkened roads. Nobody was out at this hour, and they had managed to escape from Las Colonias undetected. Melissa knew they were safe, at least for the moment - there were no cars headed in their direction. The only nearby minds she tasted were the few people still awake and those dreaming in the houses they passed, and of course Loverboy's reeling mind right next to her.

Rex's house was only a few minutes away now. Normally, how it worked after midnight was Melissa would drop him off and head back to her own house, sneaking in through the back door, always undetected. Her parents would be sleeping, and if even by some chance they heard her, they could care less about her. They never glanced twice in her direction, partly because of her own manipulating. But the idea of staying alone tonight, curled up in her bed with the shadows of tree branches dancing across the ceiling, the memory of the awful taste of the halfling still in her mind...

No, there was no way she was staying alone tonight. It wouldn't be a problem; she knew Rex was thinking the same thing.

"Hey, Rex?"

"Yeah?"

"Think I could crash at your place tonight?"

He turned his thoughtful gaze from the road to her. "Sure, Cowgirl. Actually, I was just going to ask you if you wanted to stay. I mean, we should probably try to figure out what to do about...everything..."

"Yeah." She kept her eyes focused on the road as they neared his house. Despite how long they had been friends, Melissa had only slept over Rex's house a few times. She had been over during the day countless times; his room was almost as familiar as her own. But sleeping over was a whole different matter. There was just something awkward about sleeping in the same room as him. The last time it had happened, in fact, was a very long time ago...back when they were twelve...

She shuddered again. It had been THAT day. The day that had forever altered his asshole-of-a-father's life. She had unleashed her power on him full throttle, leaving him a helpless mass. They had spent the rest of the evening squishing spiders in a mad frenzy, before finally collapsing in Rex's room, both of them shaken. He hadn't wanted to be alone that night, and she hadn't wanted to leave him alone. Hell, they had slept in the same bed and everything, although at very opposite ends...

Rex's rickety house came into view. Melissa pulled into the driveway and turned the car's engine off, plunging them into further darkness. Both of them stepped out of the car without a word, making their way onto the porch, their boots making it creak. Rex opened the unlocked screen door and stepped inside.

For once, the TV in the living room was off, but his father was asleep on his chair, like always. Rex and Melissa quietly walked past him and down the darkened hall into Rex's room, closing the door behind them.

Something rubbed against Melissa's leg and she jumped.

"What - ?" She turned around and saw that it was only the cat. She had stepped on him upon coming inside. He meowed in an annoyed fashion.

"I think you woke Dag up."

Melissa rolled her eyes. "He's the one sleeping in the middle of the floor."

"He's a cat. That's what they do."

"Good to know." She sat down on the bed, suddenly feeling exhausted. She didn't think any of the Midnighters had ever gone through an adventure like theirs before. Rex's thoughts mirrored her own. He sank down on the floor by the bed with a sigh, scratching behind the cat's ears in an automatic fashion, not even thinking about it.

Melissa took her boots off and placed them on the floor before drawing her stocking-covered feet onto the bed with her. Her thoughts, as well as Rex's, were too frenzied and deep for the silence to be awkward. Both of them were lost in their own heads...well, actually, Melissa was stuck in both of their heads, but she was so focused on her own thoughts she was actually able to tune Rex's out a little.

What exactly were the Grayfoots - and that bitch Angie, Melissa reminded herself with a sneer - up to? They didn't know much at this point, other than that these people somehow knew about midnight, and not only that, but they were choosing to communicate with the darklings - well, the halfling. That, and they were stalking Jessica. And planning to build...something. Melissa had managed to get an image from Angie's head before she sensed the halfling coming. She couldn't tell what it was - it was fragmented, and Melissa had lost some of it in the halfling panic - but she could sense it was important. It had something to do with the darklings. It could, in fact, be the most important thing they had so far. It was something she had to share with Rex.

This thought suddenly sent a shiver down her spine, and her hands, still covered protectively by the warm gloves, tingled slightly and went clammy. That's right - I have to touch him again. She had even said she would. The thought filled her with apprehension and dread as she thought back to when they had held hands only a few hours ago, but she also felt a twinge of excitement. Maybe it wouldn't be so bad this time.

She still wasn't ready yet, though. She decided not to bring it up until absolutely neccesary.

She shifted her eyes to the back of his head, focusing on his thoughts now. He was filled with fear and confusion, much as she was, but he hadn't even thought of her promise that they'd touch again. Good, she thought, safe for a little longer.

"So," she sighed, finally breaking the silence. "I'm assuming the lore has nothing in it about disgusting half-things."

Rex turned to look at her, his thoughts interrupted. "Not a thing." He agreed, sighing. "This is something totally new. At least, there's no mention of midnighter-darkling hybrids in any of the lore I've ever seen."

Melissa snorted. "If you haven't seen it, it's not in there." Rex obsessively read the lore as often as he could. She knew, because she was the person he rambled to about it the most, even more than anyone else. "And it wasn't totally new, by the way."

He looked at her more sharply now, and she could see that he was leaning foward slightly, looking at her above his glasses so he could read her expression in clear definition. "What do you mean?"

"That girl trapped in there," Melissa gave an involuntary shudder, "she's been there for a while. I couldn't tell how long, exactly, but at least a few years, her time. Which is a lot longer in our time."

"Wait, how many years, exactly?" Rex's torso turned, his body facing her now.

"I don't know, Rex."

"Guess."

She sighed, thinking. The main thing about the girl that had stuck out - other than her obvious terror and agony - was how young she was, and how long she had been trapped there. It was one of the main thoughts on the girl's mind - the torture of being stuck in the darkling had seemed to be dragging on forever for her. She still had a faint memory of the day the merge had happened, although it was very faint. But Melissa had a slight sense of how long the girl had been there.

"About two, probably."

"Two." Rex mumbled to himself. "So, two years of blue time...it takes about twenty-four of our years to equal one of theirs, so that's about forty-eight years."

"Good job. Dess would be proud."

He ignored her comment. "But, since you don't know exactly anyway, we can estimate that it happened about - "

"Fifty years ago." Melissa finished for him. She had already guessed that on her own. It made the most sense. Fifty years ago - the time the lore had stopped. The time midnighters suddenly and inexplicably lost their high status in society, retreating into secrecy. Try as he might, Rex had never been able to figure out exactly what had happened, but it must have been something bad. Maybe one of the midnighters getting merged with a darkling had been what had done it.

"So, that means these darkling groupies have been around since then." Rex mused.

Melissa nodded. "They're responsible for it. They use her to communicate with the darklings, with those domino things."

Rex nodded as well. "The darklings couldn't communicate with them on their own. But merged with a seer," - a sharp twinge of fear pulsed through him, cutting into Melissa's tounge - "the thing could understand the lore symbols on the dominos."

"Yup. Without the half-thing, their connection to the blue time is totally severed." She looked in his direction now, directly into his eyes, which were still looking over the top of his glasses. "Which is why when she dies, which she will soon, they'll be looking for a replacement seer."

Rex shivered, looking away from her. His anxiety was suddenly overwhelming as he stared at the floor. It made her feel nauseous again.

"Look, sorry to bring it up, Loverboy, but it's something we're gonna have to start preparing for. It's a good thing we saw it, actually, otherwise we might not even know about it. They could have caught you totally off guard. And trust me, you do not want them to catch you."

He glowered at the floor. "Yeah, I pretty much figured that."

She shook her head. He still didn't grasp the full horror of the situation. He hadn't been inside that thing's head. She had heard firsthand, felt it in her bones, what it was like for that girl. She shivered again, another wave of fear washing over her as she recalled the memory. She spoke quietly. "You couldn't taste her, Rex. I wouldn't wish that fate on my worst enemy. You'd be better off dead."

He turned to glare at her. "Gee, thanks for your words of support, Cowgirl."

"I'm just telling you the reality of our situation." She glared back.

He sighed. "I know." He got up, sitting next to her on the bed, pushing a stack of papers out of the way. He reached down and undid his own boots, putting them next to hers. For a moment, both of them just sat there, the silence overwhelming the small room again. Despite the slithers and even the darklings, midnight had always been a haven for Melissa. It was the one glorious hour out of the whole day where she felt completely calm, in control of herself. Almost normal. The monsters that inhabited it had never been a huge problem before. Of course, midnight had been feeling less and less like a haven since she had arrived.

"It's all the flame-bringer's fault." She muttered darkly.

"Huh?" Rex jerked out of his thoughts again, then narrowed his eyes at her comment. "This isn't Jessica's fault."

"Yes it is, and you know it." She snapped. "This whole thing is about her. The darklings want her dead. That's why the groupies are even bothering us in the first place - the halfling told them to kill her."

"Well, they won't be hearing anything about Jessica again any time soon." Rex had a familiar smug look on his face suddenly.

"Why not?"

Rex reached into an inside pocket on his long coat and pulled out a lone domino, the white surface of it almost appearing to glow in the darkness. Clearly etched onto it was the flame-bringer's symbol.

"I grabbed it when I was shoving the dominos back into the closet." He said. "The darklings won't be able to say anything about the flame-bringer unless they somehow get it back. Jessica should be safe for a while."

Melissa exhaled slowly, secretly feeling relieved at this one bit of good news. But the feeling didn't last. "But that doesn't make you any safer." She pointed out, not bothering to hide the concern in her voice.

He sighed, putting the domino back in his pocket. "I know. But it's better than nothing." He shrugged out of his coat, exposing the pale flesh of his bare arms. Melissa felt a nervous flutter in her stomach as her eyes drifted over them, remembering her promise about touching again.

He stood up and slung the coat over the back of his chair. She found herself watching his movements, his arms seeming to glow in the darkness like the domino now, his skin looking smooth and soft. She thought that, if she wasn't cursed with being a mindcaster, she wouldn't dread touching his skin at all. The idea was intriguing, actually.

He gave her an odd look as he noticed her staring, and she was suddenly worried he could hear what she was thinking, as if he was the one who could read thoughts. But what he said next was totally unrelated, catching her off guard.

"Do you want something to eat?"

An expression of disbelief and irritation spread over her features. She opened her mouth, about to ask him how the hell he could possibly be thinking of food in a time like this, when she realized how starving she actually was. She hadn't eaten much that day - she never ate much, anyway - and all the excitement and anticipation of the past few hours had made her hungry. It must have had the same impact on him. It had been one long-ass day.

"Yeah, actually. Got anything not expired?"

He rolled his eyes. "The food isn't as run down as the fridge, you know." She snickered. He made his way toward the door. "What do you want?"

She shrugged, and suddenly she tasted a hint of fear as he put his hand on the doorknob, ready to open it into the dark hallway. She realized he dreaded the idea of having to walk through the dark house, all the way to the kitchen, alone. Then she realized she dreaded the idea of being alone in his dark room almost as much.

She hopped off the bed. "Whatever. I'll come see what you have."

"Okay." She could taste his relief that he wouldn't be alone as he opened the door and smirked to herself, even though she held the same fear. They both made their way down the hallway silently, finding it much easier to be quiet now that their clomping boots had been removed. Melissa's long dress swished around her ankles as she walked, feeling the cold of the floor through her thin stockings. The hallway was indeed eerie; the shadows almost seemed to move. She half expected something to jump out and grab them, like in a cheesy horror movie. But the only scary thing she saw was Rex's father in the next room, snoring in his chair, his arm dangling over the side. His mind tasted calm in sleep, but it was still disturbed and slightly sick-tasting. But that was the taste she got from people who weren't right in the head, and after what she had done to him, right in the head was certainly something he'd never be. She felt a familiar pang of guilt. She didn't regret what she'd done, and she knew it was for the best, but that didn't stop her from feeling slightly bad about it.

They entered the kitchen at last. They had made it unharmed. The curtain was pulled up on the small window, moonlight filtering in through it, making the room brighter than any they had been in so far. She thought that would make it less foreboding, but the shadows of tree branches on the floor only increased her paranoia. As Rex crossed to the fridge and opened it, she stayed where she was, watching as the shadows of the branches twitched slightly, the real branches blowing in the slight breeze. The shadows looked just like tendrils coming off of a slither. Ready to twine themselves around her ankles, pull her deep into the darkness...

Something rubbed against the back of her leg.

She leaped foward and let out a cry, immediatly slapping her hand over her mouth. She spun around and saw Daguerreotype standing near the shadows looking up at her, innocently confused by her outburst.

Fury replaced fear, the hand over her mouth clenching into a fist at her side. The next noise she heard was from Rex. Her eyes darted to him. His hand was over his own mouth, trying in vain to stifle his laughter at her. He was bent over, leaning against the fridge.

She could feel her face heating, and she dug her nails so hard into her palms she was sure they would bleed. "I'm going to kill your fucking cat!" She hissed.

Rex had a huge grin plastered on his face, struggling to control his laughter. He hadn't been in this good of a mood all day, which only infuriated her more. There was no way he was letting this one slide. "Now, now, Cowgirl, don't unleash your violence on Dag. It's not his fault you're so jumpy."

She gritted her teeth, glaring at him with all the intensity she could muster. "Would you rather I unleashed my violence on you?"

He merely shook his head at her, snickering behind his huge grin as he reached into the fridge. She folded her arms now, digging her nails into her jacket instead of her palms. She could taste his amusement, rolling off him in waves that tasted fluffy and sweet, like cotton candy, but they only proceeded to make her feel more angry and embarassed. She tried to think of something to snap at him about, but the part of her mind that carried her vault of comebacks seemed to have gone blank.

He was still grinning to himself when he emerged from the fridge with a carton of milk in his hand, setting it on the counter. "I thought you could taste animals, anyway." He remarked, his voice still sounding amused as he opened the cupboard, removing two glasses.

"I can, but they're not as strong as humans. I can miss them if I'm not...paying attention." She grumbled. "Besides, your cat doesn't have much brainwave activity going on."

Rex let out another chuckle as he leaned into the cupboards. "I can't disagree with you there. You don't have to be a mindcaster to figure that one out."

Normally she would have snickered, but she was still pissed. She continued to glare at him. He smirked, but didn't laugh again as he removed a loaf of bread from the cupboard. "Come on, Cowgirl. You know you'd be laughing your ass off if it was me."

The corner of her mouth curved up against her will. She couldn't help but snicker. "Yeah, that's true."

He continued to smirk as he removed more things from the cupboards and fridge. She frowned at him again, refusing to show any sign of amusement. He sighed, the grin finally flickering a little as he got paper plates out. "I'm sorry Dag scared you, but I don't really care if you're pissed. That's the first time I've laughed in what feels like forever."

She rolled her eyes, scoffing. "Always glad to be of assistance." She wished she could have shared his amusement. She could hardly remember what laughing - real laughing, from pure amusement alone, not scoffing or chuckling at life's ironic twists - felt like. She couldn't remember the last time she had laughed that hard. In fact, she couldn't recall ever laughing that hard. Ever since childhood, she'd had other people's sorrows and problems raging in her head, mixing with her own. It had been hard to find time to ever be happy enough to be amused by things.

Once again, he seemed to be reading her thoughts, although she knew that was impossible. "Don't worry. I'll probably manage to embarass myself somehow before the night is over, and you can mock me as much as you want."

She finally grinned, her fury beginning to fade. There were times when she wanted nothing more than to punch Rex, but she could never stay angry with him for that long.

He piled cold pieces of chicken between two pieces of bread. She grabbed some bread herself, but shied away from the slices of chicken. She never ate meat when she could help it. There was something too freaky about it. She assumed it was fine for a normal person, but for her, she noticed during the few times she had eaten it, it was almost like she could taste the thoughts of the dead animal she was eating, taste their fear of being killed as they were herded on the farm, as if their ghost posessed the meat. She was sure it was just paranoia, but she had never been able to eat meat without feeling sick, thinking of the animal's last few moments of terror.

She decided to stick with good old-fashiond PB&J instead. She was going to go to the fridge when she realized the two containers were already sitting on the counter, waiting for her. Rex had obviously figured that was what she would want. For some reason, that thought made her feel warm, as if someone had suddenly turned up a small heater inside her chest. They really knew each other well, as they ought to after eight years of friendship. She knew him better than he would ever know her - being privy to someone's deepest thoughts does that - but he still knew her well, probably almost as much as himself.

She opened the drawer underneath the counter and pulled a knife out. She held it in her right hand as she twisted the top of the peanut butter jar off. Rex glanced at it and smirked, obviously unable to help himself. "Is it safe to trust you with that thing?"

Melissa rolled her eyes. "Please, Rex, if I wanted to kill you, I'd use something much sharper."

He snorted. "That's a comforting thought."

She began spreading the peanut butter on a piece of bread as Rex poured milk into the glasses. The cat suddenly rubbed itself against her ankles again. She was more prepared this time because she could sense him coming, but she still flinched and cursed under her breath. Rex snorted, unable to help it, as he tried to hold back another bout of laughter.

She gritted her teeth again. "I swear to God if you don't get that thing away from me I will use this knife."

Rex snickered as he went into the fridge again to get sardines for the cat. "But Daguerreotype loves you."

She grumbled as she violently began spreading jelly on the other piece of bread, her comeback vault going empty again. If the night continued this way, it was going to take as long to get over as the day had.

Dag looked up at Rex eagerly as he sniffed the sardines he had in his hand. Rex dropped a few into his bowl, and the cat eagerly attacked them. Melissa shuddered. Sardines were even worse than regular meat. She knew Rex actually liked them, but he must have seen her shudder, because he immediatly placed them back in the fridge and closed the door.

As she put the two pieces of bread together, she could suddenly feel her stomach grumbling, and she remembered again how starving she was. She immediatly took a bite of it, and noticed Rex had already started eating as well. He picked the plate up in one hand and the glass in the other. "Ready?"

She nodded, picking her things up, and they began the journey down the long hallway back into Rex's room. Melissa breathed a sigh of relief when they passed his father, and she could tell Rex was relieved, as well. They had both been worried all the talking might have woken him up, but fortunately he was still sleeping. That was the last thing they needed to deal with.

Once back in the warm safety of Rex's room, he closed the door behind them. She sat down on the bed, but he went over and sat at his desk, pushing piles of books and papers out of the way to make room. Neither of them spoke for a few minutes, their hunger returning full throttle. As she glanced around the room, Melissa remembered the grim conversation she'd been having with him only a few minutes before. She realized with amazement that for a moment, she had actually forgotten everything that had happened that night. Darkling Manor, the horrid taste of the halfling, and before that, the disaster that had come from them touching...

She froze for a moment. Touching. That's right. She had forgotten about her little promise, too.

As nervous as she was, she was actually eager to touch him again, hopeful that this time, things would be better. The idea that they could never touch without her filling him with despair made her depressed. It's not fair, she thought violently. Eight years they had been friends. She trusted Rex more than anyone she knew. He was really her only friend, when it came down to it. The only person she could really tolerate. The only person she really cared for.

The only person she needed, she suddenly realized. Without his calm, composed state of mind reassuring her everything would be okay when it felt like her brain would explode, she wouldn't survive. The only person in the world she really needed, and she couldn't even touch him. It didn't seem fair.

But he seemed oblivious to this as he wolfed down his food, even hungrier than she was. She was reminded of Jonathan and the way he was always inhaling every edible thing in sight. She grinned to herself, glad she finally had an opportunity to tease him back.

"Slow down, Loverboy. You're getting all Martinez on me." She smirked.

He paused long enough to glare at her at the mention of Jonathan, but didn't say anything back regarding that. A moment later, though, already finished with the sandwich, he asked, "So where were we?"

She shivered slightly as she tried to remember. "Darkling Manor?"

"Right." He glanced at the stacks of books and papers on his desk, as if searching for the answer to all the questions surrounding them in there. He looked back up at her, obviously not finding anything. "So what have we learned?"

She sighed. "There's some darkling groupies communicating with a halfling they made about fifty years ago that wants Jess dead. Said halfling almost got us both killed tonight when it sent its darkling pals after us. Said halfling is also on the verge of death, so said groupies will be looking for a replacement soon." Rex shuddered. "And, we still don't know exactly what the Grayfoots and that other bitch are up to."

Rex looked slightly weary, a contrast to how he had looked while laughing moments before, but then suddenly his eyes lit up. Melissa cringed; he remembered. "Wait, that's right. You had something you wanted to show me, right? Something you pulled off Angie?"

Melissa nodded slowly. Rex was about to get up and cross over to her, but she could taste his hesitation. "What did you see?" he asked.

She tried to remember. "I'm not sure exactly. I didn't get a clear image, and I kind of forgot some of it. But...I'm pretty sure it's some kind of building plans. I think they're planning on building something for the darklings out in the badlands."

His eyebrows raised. "Like what?"

"I don't know, Rex, I already told you."

She tasted his hesitation more strongly now. "Well, you should probably...you know, show me." With these words, she suddenly tasted a glimmer of excited anticipation rush through him. He was scared, but part of him was looking foward to trying this again.

"Yeah, I guess I should." She muttered. Her gloved hand played with her opposite sleeve nervously. She didn't make any move to go over to him, so he sat up and made his way over to her, sitting next to her on the bed.

She could feel the tension now, and not just because she was a mindcaster. She was positive he could feel it, too, as thick as if it were a solid substance. She could feel her hand tingling in anticipation, but that wasn't the only thing. Even though he wasn't sitting that close to her on the bed, she could sense the bare skin of his arm next to her, and not just that, but his whole body. The entire side of her body facing him tingled with the tension, and it made her feel sick, but in a dizzying, almost good way.

With slow movements, she began tugging the glove off her right hand. She knew Rex could feel her apprehension.

"You know, if you really don't want to, you can just try and explain what you felt to me..." He trailed off sheepishly.

She sighed. The glove was off, laying in her lap. Her hand glowed as pale as his skin. It glistened with a thin layer of sweat. "No, Rex. Not just because I can't describe it, but...we need to keep practicing this." She dared to look up at him, and found his nervous gaze oddly mesmerizing. "I mean...if we could ever get this to work, it could be one of the best things we have. I feel a lot of things. It could help you figure stuff out."

He nodded, and she could tell he did agree with her, but there was something more. A thought quickly flashed through his mind before he extingushed it, but she managed to catch it. He didn't just want it to work so he could get information from her; he wanted it to work so he could connect with her in a way they never had been able to before.

She took a deep breath, her stomach in knots. She knew it had been much worse for him than for her last time. "I'll try not to unload too much crap on you."

He managed to smile at her. "Just do the best you can, Cowgirl. I'll live."

Someone turned the furnace back on in her chest. Melissa just stared at him for a moment. The amazing part was, he actually meant it. Despite his fear of what he would experience, he trusted her, and even more amazingly, seemed to understand what she was going through. He couldn't understand, of course, and never would, but he knew it wasn't her fault. He knew she didn't like forcing her mind into his. He knew she really would do the best she could.

And she suddenly realized exactly what it was that made her feel warm, that separated him from everyone else. He seemed to be the only person who understood that it wasn't her fault she was the way she was. He had been with her since they were little kids. He had seen her struggle, seen her break, seen her in day-to-day agony over her power. He knew that if she had a choice, she would shut all the voices out of her head for good, but she didn't. After eight years, he understood that it wasn't her fault she was a mindcaster, and it wasn't really her fault she was so bitter at the world and all its inhabitants. He saw past the bitchy exterior everyone else was so focused on.

He was the only thing in the world that stopped her from feeling alone.

His smile faded at her pause. His brow furrowed in confusion. "Everything okay?"

She looked down awkwardly at her hands and realized, to her horror, she was on the verge of tears. Nothing had managed to seep out of her eyes yet, but there was no way she could touch him now. He'd be able to taste all the sentimental crap I'm thinking, she thought. She blinked her eyes hard and clenched her fists slightly, trying to regain her composure.

"Melissa?"

He knew the moment was serious. He had used her real name. She just grew angrier at herself for being so overdramatic. "I'm fine, Loverboy. Just trying to control my thoughts before I sic them on your brain." She snapped.

He flinched slightly at her biting response, but she could sense his relief that she had responded that time. She took a few deep breaths and tried to really focus on what needed to be done. She focused her mind on the fragmented image she had pulled from Angie's head, and the way the halfling had tasted. She didn't want him to have to taste it, but she didn't have a choice. He needed to know the true seriousness of their situation, of what was at stake if that girl died and they came after him. The halfling, unpleasant as it was (and saying unpleasant was an understatement would be an understatement) was now an integral part of the midnight world. As the Seer, it was his job to learn as much about it as he could, whether he wanted to or not.

Finally, she pushed her more personal thoughts as far back as she could. She knew it was now or never. She closed her eyes and reached for his bare hand. She felt him brace himself as her hand neared his.

And suddenly they were connected, pale hands grasped together. His mind rushed into hers, as it always did, but amplified a hundred times. She tasted his fear, his anxiety, over not just this moment, but everything that had happened to them that night. She tasted his burning curiosity to know what she knew, his curiosity that was so strong despite his anticipation. She tasted his awkwardness, how uncomfortable he was at this moment. But underlining all the bitter tastes on her tounge, she tasted his hope. His hope that it would be better this time, that they would figure everything out together. His hope that they could finally learn to touch each other without it being a painful experience. His hope that this whole thing would bring them closer together. The hope tasted as sweet as honey, and it was drenched over every bitter thing.

She could feel her own mind rushing into his, as well. She could feel him reacting to everything he saw. Somehow, she had managed to organize her thoughts enough so that he received things mostly in the order she wanted. First she projected the fragmented images from Angie's brain at him, the shattered picture of some kind of steel machinary out in the badlands. Next, she sent him the taste of the halfling, and all the knowledge of how it worked she had absorbed when she tasted its mind. He shuddered as the thoughts of it filled him, the terrified and tortured midnighter trapped inside, the cruel darkling half that held her hostage, filled with some kind of ancient knowledge. It tasted dry and bitterly evil and filled with enough terror to make someone sick, but she didn't try to hold back. She sent him the full experience. He would get to know this thing the way she had.

She was barely conscious of their hands touching anymore, but she could still feel his grasp hers tighter. She heard him groan slightly beside her, but she didn't let go. His reaction was still nothing compared to hers when she had been caught off guard by it and ended up on her knees on the brink of hysteria. She continued to let the taste flood into him, and she realized how good it felt as she was doing so. It felt like she was purging herself, like she was clearing her cluttered mind.

And around all the images and sensations she sent him, her own personal feelings managed to find their way in, as was inevitable. He could taste her anticipation of this moment, could taste her fear and anxiety that wasn't much different than his own, could taste her weariness. But her feelings were dipped in hope, as well, although she didn't have as much as he did. All the same, she knew he could still taste the hope she had that this would work out, and that it could bring them closer. Her excitement at that prospect

He could also taste the old scars. There were scars from the years of loneliness and despair she had felt, the scars that had almost destroyed him earlier when they touched again for the first time in eight years. She couldn't stop them from pouring through. But they weren't as potent this time, because she had more hope now, and she was more careful about how she sent her thoughts in. He gripped her hand still tighter as the scars filled him, though he didn't realize he was doing it, she knew.

And then one final thing drifted in before she broke the contact. It was her feelings towards him. He tasted her affection; he knew that he was the thing that kept her going. He knew that, no matter what, she cared about him. He knew that she appreciated his friendship more than she would ever be able to express verbally. He could taste her need to be closer to him. This all mixed together into one taste, and it was the softest and sweetest-tasting thing that entered his mind.

All this happened in under a minute. Then she pulled her hand away, breaking the connection. It took both of them a moment to steady themselves. Slowly, she opened her eyes, taking in the dark, her hand tingling strongly. She looked over at him. His eyes were still closed. After a few seconds, he opened them.

She looked away, unable to meet his gaze. What had just gone on between them was extremely personal.

"That was better than last time." He commented finally. He didn't need to say anything; she could sense his relief that his mind hadn't been attacked the way it was earlier. He actually tasted rather excited; he seemed to think that it had gone quite well.

But now he was more terrified than before. Now that he'd felt everything she had.

"Yeah, it was better." She murmured finally. There was a pause as neither of them said anything. "I'm sorry I had to assault you with the halfling taste."

He shuddered. "It's okay. I'm glad you did, actually. Everything seems a bit clearer now...although more disturbing."

She nodded, amazed that everything had actually gone mostly how they had wanted it to.

"So...it's not so bad then?" She asked him. She could sense his thoughts, but she still wanted to hear it from him.

He shook his head. "Nope. No permanent damage done, anyway." He grinned. "What about for you?"

She decided to be perfectly honest with him. "That felt...good."

"Good?"

"Well...yeah." She looked down at her hands again. "It's like...a relief to finally share what I'm feeling with you. I mean, just to be able to have someone else know how I feel. It's kind of like a weight lifted off my shoulders."

She didn't have to look at him. She could feel him smiling at the idea that he had helped her so much. She felt a smile forming slowly on her face, as well.

"Well..." he said. "It's good for both of us, then. I can get information from you, and you can release some of your pressure on me."

She finally looked up at him, her lips still forming a small smile, and she could feel warmth again as their eyes locked. She knew just by looking at him that he cared for her in a way that went beyond friendly. She also knew just as easily that she cared for him just as strongly. She wanted to ask him about it, but couldn't find the nerve to. Instead, she shifted her eyes around the room toward his digital alarm clock, wondering what time it was.

"One AM," she muttered. "Feels like it was just midnight."

He nodded beside her, his eyes straying to the clock. "You tired?"

"No."

"Me either. " He sighed. "My head is spinning, though."

"Mine, too."

There was another pause.

"There's no way in hell I'm going to school tomorrow." He murmured.

Melissa snorted at the idea of school. She'd forgotten the foul place even existed. "Indeed." Despite the warmth she felt from the progress they'd made, confusion still plagued her brain and fear still squirmed in the pit of her stomach. She knew he felt the exact same way, the same level as her now that he'd experienced what she had.

Rex sighed. "We should try to get some rest."

"I really don't think I'll be falling asleep any time soon."

"We have to try." He insisted. "If we're up all night thinking about what could be out there, we'll be either brain dead or delusional tomorrow morning from driving ourselves crazy."

Melissa sighed. "I guess." She suddenly realized the awkwardness of their situation. "So, how exactly is this gonna work?"

He caught the awkward feeling as he realized what she meant. "You sleep on the bed." He said, sitting up and moving towards his dresser.

"Where are you gonna sleep?"

"I have a sleeping bag." He opened the bottom drawer of his dresser and pulled it out, a foamy deep purple mass. She suddenly recognized it from a long time ago. He'd had it since he was a kid. He unfolded it and smoothed piles of paper and books away from a spot on the floor near the bed before laying the sleeping bag down there.

She couldn't help but snicker at the color. "Pretty."

"I could make you sleep on it." He scowled.

She snorted. "Make me? And how exactly would you go about doing that?"

He smirked. "I'd threaten to sic Dag on you."

Her grin fell, and she scowled before rolling her eyes. "Your psycho cat won't be neccesary. I'll sleep in it." She began sliding off the bed.

"No, you sleep on the bed."

"It's your bed. You sleep in it."

"But you're my guest."

Melissa snorted again. "Rex, we've known each other eight years now. You don't have to treat me like some foreign exchange student."

It was Rex's turn to laugh. "Foreign exchange student." He said flatly. "And where would you be from? Translyvania?"

She had to stifle a laugh despite herself. "You're the one who dyed his hair black."

"Yeah, well, you paint your fingernails black."

She rolled her eyes. "Okay, we both resemble vampires, happy? You sleep in the bed."

He had laid down on top of the sleeping bag now, his hands behind his head, ankles crossed slightly. "No, you, I insist. I won't move. If you want to sleep here, you'll have to lay on top of me."

Immediatly, but too late, he realized the impact of what he said. She could feel his face flushing, which made hers respond in the same way. The awkwardness filled the room again, but she found herself not minding too much. The sudden, unexpected flutter she had felt made it worth it.

She pretended the awkward moment hadn't happened. She leaned back on the bed, kicking a book out of the way. "Fine. You enjoy your lovely purple sleeping bag."

"I will." He stated defiantly.

Suddenly, she realized she didn't have any form of pajamas with her. Of course you don't, stupid, she scolded herself. All she had was what she had brought with her in the Ford, which basically consisted of the clothes on her back. She normally slept in a nightgown. It had long sleeves and was just as long and unrelentingly black as the dress she had on now, but it was much more loose and comfortable. She sighed as she unzipped her black jacket. The dress she wore was tight and too uncomfortable to sleep in, but she didn't have much of a choice.

She shrugged out of her jacket, her arms still protected by the long sleeves of her dress. As she leaned to hang it up on the headboard, she realized suddenly that Rex's eyes were on her. She didn't need to see it; she could feel them burning into her. She heard him fidget nervously on the floor below her. Maybe her slight pause as she went to hang up the jacket had given away that she knew what he was thinking. She casted for his thoughts intently, and realized he had been noting how tightly the dress clung to her, before quickly banishing all such thoughts from his head, knowing she could hear them.

She snickered to herself as she pulled the covers out and crawled beneath them. To her surprise, this didn't make her feel awkward or warm or any of the other odd things she'd been feeling all night. It just amused her. It only made sense that he would notice her body beneath the jacket. She rarely took the thing off. In fact, she couldn't even remember the last time she had taken it off in his presence. It must have been weird,

seeing her take a layer off.

She leaned back on the pillow, pulling the covers around her. The bed was actually very comfortable, and it felt good to rest her sore body on it. She sighed, still uncomfortable in her regular clothes. Not like you have a choice, she thought at herself. It's this or sleeping naked. Obviously, the second option was so far out of the realm of possibilites it may as well not have even existed. She couldn't even bring herself to feel embarassed at the idea of it because it was so absurd. Not just because Rex was in the room; even if she had been alone in her own room, in her own bed, the idea of bearing that much skin was enough to bring upon cardiac arrest. She was still very uncomfortable with skin, hers or anyone elses.

Speaking of uncomfortable...she thought. She suddenly realized Rex was still in jeans and a T-shirt. She couldn't imagine how uncomfortable it would be to try and sleep in jeans. She almost never wore them because she didn't even like walking around in them, but attempting to sleep in them? In a sleeping bag that was probably decades old, no less.

She rolled onto her side and leaned over the side of the bed. Loverboy was directly below her. He flinched slightly in surprise at her face suddenly appearing above him. He had removed his glasses, but other than that he looked the same.

"Yes?"

"I just thought I'd point out that you'll never fall asleep wearing jeans."

"What exactly do you think I should do, then?" He asked, arching an eyebrow.

"Don't you have pajamas or something?"

"Uh...not exactly." He suddenly looked awkward. He didn't need to say anything, though. His thoughts said it all.

She rolled back onto the bed. "Oh." Apparently, he normally slept in his boxers. And he wasn't about to strip down to them in front of her. Now that was a thought that made her feel awkward. She couldn't help picturing it, and again, the idea of so much exposed skin made her queasy. But in this case, she couldn't deny that it also sent a little shiver of pleasure through her. She grinned to herself, her face hidden under the covers, eternally grateful that he wasn't the one who could read minds and taste emotions. Then she found herself genuinly pondering what he would look like. She'd never seen past his arms exposed. He was tall and thin, but for some reason she didn't think he'd look scrawny, although maybe a little lanky. She didn't think he'd be all toned up, either, but she figured he'd be a decent balance between the two. She tried to think of why he didn't seem like he'd be scrawny, when his thinness certainly suggested so, and she realized it was because she knew he had at least a certain kind of strength. It would be impossible for her to not notice, after all the years he'd spent looking after her (or baby-sitting, as she knew Dess liked to think of it in her mind). Although they had only made skin-to-skin contact three times now to date, there'd been countless times when he'd put a hand on her shoulder, or grabbed her upper arm, or other gestures similar to that, either to steady her, stop her before she walked into traffic, or just try to comfort her if she was in a particularily bitchy mood. His hands had always seemed very sturdy to her, even when his thoughts tasted unsure or nervous. Hell, just a few hours ago he had hauled her ass out of Darkling Manor when she had been in her near-hysteria mode.

She jerked herself out of her thoughts when she realized she had spent at least a solid minute pondering what her best friend would look like half-naked. She scowled, ashamed of herself. It was one thing to care deeply for someone; it was another to obesses over them. And he thought he was bad for noticing the way her dress clung to her for a few seconds. Besides, thinking things like that were selfish when she should be thinking about the fact that life as they knew it was slowly crashing down around them, weirder and weirder things happening in the blue time. She should be thinking about the fear that still knawed at her.

Instead, she found herself listening to his thoughts. They were still slightly embarassed, and mostly worrying about what she was thinking. That, and wondering exactly how painful it would be to be forcibly merged with a darkling.

She sighed lightly under her breath, staring up at the ceiling. "You do realize we are never going to sleep, right? Not just tonight, but for the rest of our lives?"

"What makes you say that?"

She scoffed. "Like you don't realize we're too distracted to do something as trivial as sleeping."

"Trivial? Are you aware that you can die from lack of sleep sooner than from starvation?"

"Don't get all logical on me, Loverboy. Forget how tired you are. How much do you feel like letting your guard down enough to sleep?"

"Not at all." He answered without hesitation. There was no point in lying, he knew. She could taste his paranoia at what was lying out there. The threat wasn't limited to the blue time anymore. She knew how he felt because she felt exactly the same.

"It blows, huh?"

"Like a hurricane."

She snorted. "How long did it take you to come up with that one?"

"It's called improvisation, Cowgirl. Some people are just naturally gifted." She could hear the smirk in his voice.

"Did you read that in the lore?"

She could practically hear him rolling his eyes. "Yes, I get all my one-liners from the lore." His voice dripped with sarcasm, and suddenly sounded somewhat irritated. "Now, if you don't mind, I'd like to try and get some sleep."

"I thought you just said you didn't want to sleep."

"Yeah, but I'm still trying. You'd do the same if you knew what was good for you."

She scoffed. "Whatever. Sorry for interupting your beauty sleep."

He chuckled lightly at that, and once again she found it hard to stay totally pissed off at him.

The minutes passed slowly. Melissa couldn't recall ever feeling less tired in her life. She listened to the light wind whipping by and the scattered minds that were still invading her head. She tried to focus on the minds around the neighborhood so she didn't have to pay attention to Rex's disturbing thoughts about halflings. Everyone was sleeping now, except for maybe one or two deranged people still watching TV or playing a game or some other such nonsense. The thoughts were too faint to completely bother her, but they were still annoying, buzzing in her head like flies. Suddenly, she realized what was missing.

"Crap." She said out loud.

"What?" Half concerned, half irritated. Maybe a little more than half irritated.

"My CD player. It's in the Ford." She groaned. He waited for her to get to the point. "I always listen to it when I'm going to sleep."

It was his turn to snort now. "That screamo crap puts you to sleep?"

"First, it is not crap, and second, yes, it does help me sleep. It drowns out everyone's annoying thoughts."

"So, you find screeching and thrashing guitars less distracting than a few people's dreams?"

She narrowed her eyes at the ceiling. "I wouldn't expect you to understand."

He sighed. "No, I guess you wouldn't." There was another pause. "Do you want me to go get it for you?"

Her eyes widened, unable to believe what she'd just heard. She arched an eyebrow in suspicion. "You'd actually go outside by yourself? You didn't even want to go to the kitchen by yourself."

The reality of what he'd just offered set in. "No, I guess not."

"Didn't think so."

He sighed again. A particularily cold gust of wind shrieked past, sounding like an unearthly cry. It reminded her of a slither and she knew instantly he thought of the same thing. She could feel him shivering. His thoughts rang out to her, as crystal clear as the chime of a bell.

I'm still scared.

She rolled onto her side again, reaching her gloved hand down the side of the bed. She found his hand, laying limp by his side, and grasped it in her own, clinging to it. His head turned to face her, looking into her eyes with surprise. Without his glasses, he could see her face in perfect clarity.

"I'm still scared, too." She admitted in a whisper.

He didn't say anything in response, simply grasped her hand, squeezing it tightly. She didn't tear her gaze away from him. His thumb moved slowly then, caressing her knuckles through the glove. It wasn't skin-to-skin contact, but it sent shivers up her spine. Still not saying a word, she pulled his hand toward her, urging him closer. Despite not being the mindcaster, he knew what she was getting at. He stood up and sat back down on the bed, and she moved over to the other end to make room for him. He layed on top of the covers, their hands never letting go.

And then she was actually smiling. Not a laughing smile, not an "isn't-life-ironic" smile, not a mischevious smile. A smile that radiated genuine happiness. Something that rarely made an appearence on her face. He felt the same type of smile slowly appearing on his.

The warmth was back again, she noted. It wasn't inside her this time, though. It was all over her body on the outside, and it wasn't from the covers. She knew from the look on his face and the peaceful taste he was giving off that he felt it, too. And it was in that instant that she truly, fully realized that she loved him. She knew it as clearly as she knew he was holding her gloved hand, or that the blue time would do all in it's power to give them more restless, sleepless nights. She had never felt this way about anything, let alone another human. But as weird as it was, she knew she loved him deeply. And she didn't even have to read his thoughts to know he loved her just the same.

A few minutes later, she realized her eyes were closed, and a few minutes after that, somehow they both managed to fall asleep.