Disclaimer: This world and it's characters belong to Karen Chance, not me.
A/N: I know that Drekadair's story Losing It has basically the same plot. But I actually did have the idea before I read her story! Anyway, she has very kindly agreed to let me post this anyway, coz you just can't have enough Cassie/Pritkin goodness in this world!
I caught Pritkin's hand at the last minute and shifted. Suddenly we were hurtling through time, effortlessly free falling. I felt a jerk in the pit of my stomach, and just as suddenly we stopped. We tumbled to onto cold cobbles with a thud and I lay there, winded.
Pritkin picked himself up and looked around in confusion. A thick mist swirled around us, so wet and thick it could nearly be called viscous. It obscured most of the light from the sky, making it impossible to tell what time of day it was.
"Where are we?" he panted.
If the heaviness of his breathing was anything to judge by, he hadn't enjoyed the landing anymore than I had. I sat up stiffly, rubbing my head. He didn't offer me a hand. I looked around. We appeared to be in some sort of alley way, but without ubiquitous dumpster and graffiti.
"Where are we?" he asked again, more forcefully.
I rested my head against my knees. "I don't know," I mumbled.
"Then when are we?" he demanded and I groaned aloud.
"Pritkin, I don't know, okay? I have no training, no help and no idea how this works. The power just flares, and I can't control it."
"Bullshit!" he hissed and I glared at him.
"Excuse me?" I clambered to my feet, my cheeks beginning to burn with fury.
"That's impossible," he sneered. "The power does not control the Pythia."
A brief fantasy of punching him in the face drifted through my head. I clenched my jaw and reluctantly pushed it away. Knowing him, if I even managed to land a blow, I'd break my knuckles.
"Oh, great, you're an expert," I ground out from between my teeth. "Perhaps you'd like to figure out why my power isn't working then." He looked away, a pulse throbbing in his neck.
A singsong chant interrupted us. "Murderer still on the loose! Police baffled!"
I looked around, but couldn't see the speaker in the surging damp around us.
"Whitechapel terrified!" he bawled. "Read all about it!"
Pritkin blasphemed inventively. "Stay right there," he ordered and vanished into the soupy fog.
I sat still, wondering why I had shifted to the wrong place. Perhaps I was over-tired? But I didn't feel that bad. I gnawed on my lip,trying to remember what little I had learned about my unwanted new powers. Agnes had warned me that if I didn't finish the Rites, I would have trouble controlling the power. But the only times I'd shifted before, I hadn't had problems like this. I winced at the implications. Judging by the accent of the shouter, we were in England. I really hoped not. Because when I reached for the power experimentally, I felt absolutely nothing. It wasn't even like running into a brick wall. It was like sticking my hand in an empty box and waving it around.
A shadow detached itself from the gloom and loomed over me. I yelped and then calmed when I recognized the ridiculous spiky silhouette.
"Pritkin. Did you find out anything?"
He crossed his arms and glared. "Yeah. We're in London. It's 11am on December 30th, 18-sodding-88!
I gulped. "Shit."
"What the fuck is going on?" he demanded.
"I've told you! I. Don't. Know."
The glare he gave me damn near pinned me to the wall.
"Look, shifting takes it out of me," I explained. "I've just shifted across the Atlantic Ocean and more than 100 years and I haven't eaten much today. I'm tired. Maybe if I get some sleep or something, I'll be able to manage it." I desperately hoped that was the real reason, because if I needed to complete the Ritual, I was in trouble.
"Wonderful," Pritkin snarled. "And just where are you going to do that? If anyone sees you in that outfit, you're either going to get assaulted or arrested."
My head was beginning to throb. "You're the one who lived here! You work it out!"
He didn't respond and I sat in sulky silence for a few minutes. "You really can't shift?" he asked and I shot him a filthy look. "Fine, fine." He ran his hands through his hair. "1888," he said aloud, but I got the feeling he was talking to himself. "God, I can't even remember 1888. Uhhh, let's see, Whitechapel, Jack the Ripper, ummm . . . India!" He relaxed a little. "Alright, the present me's not here. That makes things easier."
"What were you doing in India?" I inquired and he glanced at me in surprise.
"I was hunting," he muttered uninformatively. My interest seemed to confuse him. He tugged at his hair again. "We need to get you proper clothes. Here." He took off his coat and handed it to me. I shrugged into it and felt my knees buckle.
"What the hell is this made of?" I gasped. "Lead?"
Pritkin ignored me in favour of groping in the pockets of his jeans. "Sod it," he muttered. "Check your pockets, see if you can find a folded up bag." I fumbled around in the coat, but after going through about a hundred (okay, six) pockets out of what seemed to be about a million and finding various sharp and dangerous objects, but no bag, I admitted defeat.
"A little help here," I snapped and he sighed impatiently. Crossing the space between us quickly, he flicked open the coat and searched around a breast pocket on the inside. His hand rubbed against my nipple through the fabric and my skin began to tingle. I jerked away as he pulled out a small, nylon package and he shot me a slightly bemused look. I blushed violently and hated myself for the weakness.
The nylon package turned out to be a light weight back pack that folded up into a tiny pocket when not in use. I watched with interest as he started stripping off the multitude of belts that held his weapons and dumping them into the bag, which seemed to be pretty sturdy for something so light. My breath caught as he swung it onto his shoulder, hiking up the sleeve of his t-shirt to reveal an impressively flexed bicep, lightly covered in dark-gold hair. I managed to look away before I could give into my urge to reach over and squeeze his arm, just to see if his muscles were as firm as they looked.
"Alright," he said thoughtfully, walking out onto the street. I followed hastily and realized that we hadn't got far: we were just across from the theatre. Then I almost ran into his back when he stopped abruptly.
"What's wrong?" I asked and for once, he didn't snap at me, he just frowned.
"I'm trying to decide where to go. I had a lot of stashes in this city, but I can't even remember where half of them are. And we need to go to one that I never used, so as to change history as little as possible, but at the same time, we need to be able to trust the person who holds it totally. Perhaps you understand my dilemma," he finished sarcastically.
"Um . . . stash?" I queried and he sighed.
"Emergency supplies. Weapons, money, clothes, fake papers. I leave them with people I can trust, or in safe deposit boxes, in most of the major cities in the world, in case I run into trouble. Of course they were a lot easier to put together in these times. Passport controls weren't as stringent as they are now. Well, not this now. Our now, which is sort of then - oh, God." He gave up, pinching the bridge of his nose.
I hesitated, uncertain. Should I leave him alone? He was so touchy. But then again, he looked pretty stressed out. Shifting was unsettling at the best of times, and getting trapped in the past on his first trip really couldn't be helping him. I opened my mouth to reassure him, when he abruptly pulled himself together.
"Right. I think I know where to go," he announced and headed off down the street. I wobbled after him, my shoes almost sending me falling.
"Hey, Pritkin! Wait up!" I tripped and fell against his heavily muscled shoulder. A man in a heavy overcoat and a top hat gave us a contemptuous look as he walked past. Pritkin shrugged me off and glared.
"What do you think you're doing?" he growled and my face began to redden again.
"I fell. You try walking on cobblestones in 3 inch heels!"
He rolled his eyes. "If they're that bad, take them off." I balanced awkwardly on one slender heel, trying to ignore his condescending tone and get the other shoe off. Of course, it decided to be stubborn and I over balanced, pitching face first towards the ground. The only thing that stopped me from breaking my nose was the strong arm that curled swiftly around my middle. Pritkin hauled me upright and I found myself standing inside the circle of his arm, so close to his face that I could feel his breath. My heart began to thump against my ribs.
"You are incompetent," he told me, but the corners of his eyes crinkled, in the closest I'd ever seen him come to a real smile, and the insult didn't sting so much. He held onto my arm while I pulled off the goddamn torture implements strapped to my feet. The cobblestones were covered in a slick mixture of mud and moisture and they were numbingly cold, but they were a lot easier on my arches. He kept a hold of my elbow as we walked down the street, apparently impervious to the bewildered and/or disgusted stares we were getting from passers-by. I was grateful, because I wasn't feeling particularly stable.
His solution didn't help for long. The hard stones bruised my feet, while the cold slowed my blood circulation right down. I was wincing with every step after less than a kilometre. I said nothing - Pritkin's opinion of me was low enough without having to listen to me whine. So it came as a surprise when he suddenly tugged me towards a small, black, horse-drawn coach waiting by the pavement. A bored-looking driver leaned against the side,reading a rumpled newspaper. He examined us as we approached and his eyebrows shot up.
" 'Ere, you two ain't getting on my cab looking like that!"
Pritkin gave him a terrifying smile. "You'll be rewarded. It's an emergency."
The cabby shook his head. "I ain't having no loose woman on my -" He shut up, probably because Pritkin had grabbed his shirt and yanked him forward.
"That loose woman is my wife and she has been assaulted! I need to get her help, quickly!"
They locked eyes and the cabby quailed. I nearly felt sorry for the guy. Pritkin's normal behaviour was scary. When he was making a genuine effort to be intimidating, he was downright terrifying. Despite the fact that he was big, bordering on fat, the driver backed down pretty quickly. He even made a move to help me get on, but Pritkin slapped his hand away and lifted me easily into the cab, which didn't smell fantastic. I looked around the grubby interior as he gave the cabby an address and hopped in.
"I don't see we're going to pay for this, unless you're in the habit of carrying around 19th century English money," I commented and Pritkin shrugged.
"I'll deal with it," he stated calmly. "You should get some rest. It's going to take at least an hour to get there."
"Where, exactly, is there?" I asked.
"The house of a woman who owes me a lot. She owns a lodging house and hopefully she'll give you somewhere to sleep for a while." I nodded, feeling another little wisp of worry knot in my stomach. Please, please let that be all I need, I prayed inwardly.
The ride took well over an hour, but it only took a few minutes for me to decide that if - when we got back, I was going to find the guy who invented suspension and give him a big, sloppy kiss. Every jolt, every bump reverberated through the cab and attempted to shake my spine to pieces. I had a sore back and a headache when we finally shuddered to a halt, but that wasn't the only reason I was happy to get out. Pritkin had sat in complete silence the whole time, staring out into the fog, his face dark and unreadable. The only time his eyes had met mine, they had been filled with a deep, chilling light. I spent the rest of the trip examining the floor, wondering what the hell he had been thinking about.
I let him help me out and took a few deep breaths, glad to be out of the cold, smelly cab, and away from the incredibly tense silence within. I took in our surroundings. The fog was lighter up here. I could actually see twenty feet in most directions. We were on a clean but drab street, lined with small, but incredibly neat houses. The cabby hopped down, landing pretty lightly for such a hefty guy and held out his hand expectantly.
"That'll be two an' six pence, guv," he announced and Pritkin sighed.
"Wait a minute," he ordered, took me by the elbow and led me to the nearest house. It had a discreet sign in the window, quietly informing the world that this was, "Mrs Angela Brynn's Lodging Establishment for respectable gentlemen. No blacks, dogs, or Irish. For rooms, inquire within." Pritkin rapped on the door and a dumpy, middle-aged woman in a grey dress opened the door before I could get over the the little list of prohibitions.
Today was clearly a day for shocks, because the minute Pritkin saw her, his face broke into an charming smile. "Angela!" he exclaimed, extending a hand. "It's been too long." My jaw hit the floor as she grabbed his hand, her eyes lighting up and making her look years younger.
"Why, Mr. Lester! What are you doing here?"
Pritkin's smile faltered for a split second, but he managed to keep it in place. "That is an extremely long story, but I'll tell you later, I promise. But, uh, first, if you wouldn't mind . . . " He waved in the direction of the cab, and the woman - Angela - nodded, vanished briefly and reappeared with a faded black purse. She waved us inside and headed out to the cabby. I turned to look at Pritkin, who was back to his usual grim expression.
He looked at me. "What?" he growled.
"Care to explain what's going on?"
Pritkin rolled his eyes. "What's to explain? Angela's going to give you a bed, you're going to go to sleep for a few hours and then we're gonna get back to Dante's before Michael J. Fox shows up."
A throbbing ache began to pulse through my head. First Pritkin was smiling, now he was making pop culture references. My brain was going to explode. "Actually, I was talking about the sudden personality flip, and the Mr. Lester thing and the freaking racist landlady!"
All I got was a shrug. "It's the 19th century. Everyone was racist. Besides, you're wearing what is essentially a lingerie set covered in red glitter. Who's got the moral high-ground here?"
Mrs. Angela Brynn chose that moment to walk back in and start simpering over Pritkin, who instantly turned back to insanely cheerful mode, yapping happily to the woman, leaving me sputtering in incoherent outrage. Even his accent had changed a little. But as I watched, I noticed the small furrow between his brows, the way his smile didn't reach his eyes and how it slipped fractionally every time she looked away. It dawned on me that this must have been what Pritkin was like back when his name was Lester and that it was taking a lot of effort to keep up the facade. I wondered why he had changed his name, and what the hell had happened over the last hundred years to turn him into the bad-tempered bundle of anger management issues that I knew.
After a while, he calmly introduced my as his wife, who was extremely tired after the traumatic experience of being mugged and needed a bed to rest for a few hours. She agreed without blinking. I'd say if he'd asked the woman to dance a jig, she would have done it. Hell, so would I. It turned out that when he wanted to be, Pritkin could radiate charm the same way he could give off a terrifying aura of menace. It was almost like a suggestion.
The dazzled Mrs Brynn eventually showed us to a small set of rooms. I looked around. There was tiny living room, with a fire place, an empty set of book shelves and a couch, and an even tinier bedroom. I waited until she was gone before shucking Pritkin's ridiculously heavy coat and crawling between the covers. Despite the fact that it was, like everything else in the house, tiny, it was pretty damn comfortable. But of course, I couldn't sleep.
It was all just too much for me. The geis, Mircea, getting stuck in the past, Pritkin going completely psycho, it was literally driving me out of my mind. I took a deep breath, wishing Billy was here so I'd have someone to whine at, at least. I tried to calm down by breathing deeply and focusing on a random, happy memory. Like the blissful six months I'd spent with Tomas, in that banal job, pretending to be normal. But that had ended pretty quickly once Agnes left me a picture of my own obituary and I had to cut and run. I sighed. Agnes. What if she was right about the dangers of not completing the Ritual? In that case, we were in deep shit. Because, thanks to the geis, there was only one guy I could complete it with and even if I was willing to utterly trash the timeline by sleeping with him, I had no idea where to find Mircea. I moaned. This wasn't working. I was working myself into a complete state of panic. I tossed and turned, biting my lip to hold back the sob that wanted to escape.
A soft tap on the door jerked me out of my funk. I looked up as it opened and met Pritkin's eyes.
"What's wrong?" he asked. I forced my laboured breathing to even out and stared at him.
"I . . . uh. It's just this whole thing. I'm getting so worked up, I can't even, I mean, I . . . " My throat closed up and closed my eyes in an effort to hide the tears stinging them. I heard the springs twang and felt the mattress shift as Pritkin sat on the edge of the bed. A cool, callused hand rested lightly on my forehead.
"I can help," he murmured and my eyes fluttered open, leaking a little.
"There are many harmless spells that could put you to sleep. Just close your eyes and try to relax."
I obeyed, snuffling a little. The last thing I remembered was hearing him chant a soft incantation over me, before soft black clouds billowed around me and carried me away.
I have it on good authority that at that time, it was not unusual for signs like Mrs. Angela Brynn's to be displayed in boarding houses and similar. Weird, huh?