~}{Birds of a Feather}{~

I head back to my room and throw my duffle bag onto my bed. I pull out the towel I had packed away and then my clothes. I take a hot bath, the scalding water is both cleansing and condemning, and then wash my hair afterwards. I drain the water, step out onto the rug laid beneath it and look at myself in the mirror as I brush my hair.

I'm not the skinniest person in the world. Definitely not as skinny as Meghan or Claire, but I'm not fat either. Average. That's how I would describe myself. I'm average. At least on the outside. My blonde hair was bright golden. Once or twice my own brothers had asked if it was my real color or if I had gotten help from a box. It's my real color. It lightens the more sun I get. I was fair. Not ghostly like I used to be, but still light and vulnerable to the sun's harsh rays. My eyes though... they were anything but average. Moonlight: that's what my mother used to call them.

I get dressed in fadeout jeans and a yellow spaghetti strap shirt. I towel dry my hair and then pull it into a pony tail. I pull on my gladiator sandals and walk out the door and into the hall. It's quiet. A little too quiet for my tastes.

"Morning." I turn around at the voice and spot Cathy stepping out of her room.

"Good morning Cathy. Sleep well?" I ask as she walks up to me. She doesn't need to say a word for me to understand. "That well huh?"

She gives a small laugh and we walk down the hall together, chatting a bit. A loud, snarl catches my attention coming from a room down the Central Hall East. I say goodbye to Cathy and walk into the hall. I move slowly, but purposefully. I find myself at the Billiard Room and see Emery holding a phone in his hand.

"I'm sorry your call cannot be completed as dialed, just pay your bill and kiss my ass!" Emery shouts as he slams the phone down. I cross my arms over my chest and lean against the doorframe.

"No luck?" I jump, giving a scream and slap a hand over my heart. I turn around to face Nick, who stands behind me with a cup of tea in his hands. He gives a small laugh and then steps towards me, placing a comforting hand on my back.

"You scared the crap out of me." I breathe; eyes closed and hand still on my chest. He kissed my forehead and gives a laugh.

"I'm sorry." He apologizes through another small laugh and then takes a sip of his tea. I straighten myself and look at him, shaking my head. He smiles devilishly and looks to Emery, who had resigned himself to an armchair. "The verdict is?"

"No and my mother's going to go crazy. It's not a very long trip for her even at the best of times." Emery says exasperated as I imagine him thinking about his mother coming to the house to find him and take him home. It was a frightening thought. Even for me.

"I'm sorry about that." Nick replies, genuinely sympathetic. Emery scoffs as Nick takes the armchair beside his. I sit on the arm closest to the doorway, one leg hanging off to the ground.

"I'm thinking about getting out of here before she shows up. I get very tired of her, you know... showing up. Also, Rimbauer gets on my nerves. Joyce too actually." He sighs frustrated and then goes on to impersonate Joyce. "If you look to your left you will see the ghost of April Rimbauer and Douglas Posey. Don't worry they're perfectly harmless."

"That was good Emery." I laugh and smile at him. "And I don't disagree."

"And you two know what? Underneath that phony tour guide shtick, she's as crazy as the Red Queen. Off with their heads." Nick and I both laugh this time, smiling to each other. Nick lifts his cup of tea and takes a sip. His free arm wraps around my hips, hand resting on the side of my right thigh. "Then that creepy kid with that creepy doll. She's..."

Emery makes a crazy motion with his finger and my smiling stops instantly. I bite my tongue. Here I was starting to like Emery. My mistake.

"She's nuts too. Rimbauer's just smartass devour." Emery finishes and I am annoyed with him once again. Something fowl always seems to come out when he speaks. Even when he starts out fine, something terrible escapes. Emery looks over at Nick and studies his posture. Nick has his legs crossed, sitting very properly.

"What's this? Your shrink routine?" Emery asks, scrunching his red nose. Nick hands me his tea cup and then leans over towards Emery, placing his left hand on top of Emery's to play the part of the shrink.

"Just get it off your chest." Nick smiles and I laugh, enjoying the two getting along. Somewhat. I have no doubt that Nick is making fun of Emery in his sly way. Emery takes a deep breath and looks away for a moment.

"A dead cell? Isn't that what Joyce called it?" Emery asks as he sits straighter in his chair leaning closer to Nick and I. I hand the tea cup back to Nick. "You wanna know about dead? I had a dead movie star in bed with me last night."

"Deanna Petrie?" Nick asks, slightly surprised. I, of course, wasn't. I already knew this much.

"She didn't come back did she?" I ask slowly and look down at him. He tilts his head back and looks at me. "After I left?"

"No, she was there just the once. It didn't last long, but it was a very... physical manifestation. I think I'm getting tired of Rose Red's little tricks. Joyce wants some of her $5,000 back; I'll just see her in court." Nick looks away from me and back over to Emery, who couldn't seem to contain himself this morning. "If my mother doesn't hear from me soon... she's really going to go nuclear."

"Well then, we'll just have to find a way for you to reach her. Won't we?" I try to reassure Emery. I slap a hand to my forehead and laugh at myself. "Emery, I have a cell phone upstairs. It's sitting on the night stand by my bed if you would like to try that."

"Yeah, but I doubt it will work." Emery stands up and heads for the doorway to the room. He mumbles a small 'thanks' and then leaves.

"Deanna Petrie..." Nick whispers to himself and takes a sip of his tea. He becomes lost in his thoughts, but not so lost that he misses the side table when he sets his tea cup down. I look down at him and arch an eyebrow. The way he had said Deanna's name made me jealous and laugh at the same time.

"You're wishing you had Emery's experience last night don't you?" I ask with mock, picturing Nick lying next to a dead Deanna Petrie. Nick laughs and pulls me to him, falling into his lap with a small squeal.

"Of course not." Nick begins and holds me tight. My knees bend over the arm of the chair as I grip the other arm tightly, trying to keep myself up. "I had something better in bed with me last night."

"And who, pray tell, was that?" I ask mockingly.

"Did it hurt?" Nick's question side swipes me. I arch an eyebrow at him and watch him carefully a moment.

"Did what hurt?"

"The fall from Heaven of course." Nick's face is completely serious. I laugh and shake my head.

"That was so corny." I laugh again and scratch the side of my head. I laugh once more and then lay my head on his shoulder. I want to stay like this forever.

"Are you hungry?" He asks after a moment. His hands are roaming over my skin like feathers.

"Yes." I reply as my eyes goes to his lips. Without realizing it, I lick my lips. Nick gives a small huff of a laugh and then kisses me. I feel heat rush to my cheeks and smile into the kiss. I kiss him back and we lean our foreheads against each others'.

"Ugh, I don't want to get up. I want to stay right here." I groan and let my head fall backwards. "But I'm so hungry."

"Then let's get something in this belly." Nick places a hand on my belly. The thin shirt I wear allows me to feel every finger and every ounce of heat from his hand. I take a deep breath and then sigh, placing a hand against his cheek.

"You make me feel like me again." I don't mean to admit this aloud. I open my mouth to try and correct my slip, but it's too late.

"What do you mean?" Nick asks, but I can't answer. Answering this question would mean explaining what had happened at the second psychic field trip.

"I'm not ready to tell you." I speak slowly, hoping that I'm not hurting him. His hand moves away from my belly and rests against the side of my thigh. He taps his hand against the fabric of my jeans lightly and leans his head back against the chair.

"Alright, but I'm here when you are ready to talk about it." He smiles warmly at me and stares into my eyes. "How do scrambled eggs sound?"

I smile.

After everything I have done... why does God see fit to give you to me?

"Sounds good." I slide off of his lap and fix my shirt. We head into the kitchen for breakfast, but before we can begin cooking we hear the sound of humming coming from the Health room. We walk over to the door and there sits Annie playing with dominoes on the floor.

"Good morning Annie." Nick greets and smiles at the young girl. Annie looks up at us and quickly covers her face with her hands.

"Alright then." Nick's words confuse me. I look from him to Annie and then back to him. He walks back into the kitchen and I follow behind him.

"Were you two talking telepathically?" I ask finally and pull myself onto the table across from the stove. Nick sets his cup of tea down next to me and walks over to the fridge, pulling out several eggs to cook.

"Not quite." He admits and moves back to the stove. He sets the eggs down and pulls a frying pan from the box beneath the table. "I talk. She listens. It's odd being on the other side of that."

"Oh." I furrow my brows and almost pout at the admission. I was expecting more. I suppose. I watch Nick closely as he clicks on the stove and places the pan on the flames. I laugh at the scene. "A man that can cook! I'm going to be spoiled by the end of the weekend."

Nick turns around and moves closer to me.

"I intend to spoil you completely rotten, Dr. Gallagher." His voice is low and full of suggestion. He places his hands on my knees and slowly runs them up my thighs. I feel a tingling sensation run through my body as my breathing becomes unsteady. He leans closer to me and places his forehead against mine. His hands move slowly over my back, beneath my shirt and over my skin. His fingers are slightly calloused; the hands of a man. One rises up my shirt further while the other slips a finger into the waistband of my jeans. I suck in a short breath that sounds like a gasp of surprise.

I've had men touch me before. Lord knows I'm no virgin, but Nick is so... sensual. His movements are so steady, so sure. I've never been with someone like him. I've been with boys. Not a real man.

I open my eyes into small slits. I know what my eyes convey to him; lust. His gives a pleased smirk and leans in to kiss me. I open my legs and wrap my arms around his neck, pulling him closer. This time I kiss him. My kisses are hungrier than his.

My mind screams that this is wrong, but my heart arches with longing.

I wrap my legs around his waist and hold him prisoner. Each kiss becomes more erratic; the hunger growing. His hands move to my hips. His thumbs are firmly planted against my hip bones. Right at the anterior superior iliac spines. It's the strangest sensation, but it feels so good. I kiss him harder.

The knob of the kitchen door turns and then the door opens. Nick and I break away like we have been burned and look over to see Steve walk in. He stares at us for a long moment. None of us know really what to say. It's awkward.

"Can I interest you in breakfast Steve?" Nick starts and moves back to the stove. He cracks several eggs into the hot pan and they begin to sizzle. I clear my throat softly and turn my head from Steve, my cheeks burning red. I rub a hand over the back of my neck.

"Seems like you two are getting along great." Steve gets out as he puts on a button up shirt over his white t-shirt. I give a small laugh, but don't look at him.

"Yes, quite well indeed" Nick agrees and looks back at me, a smirk playing on his lips. Steve looks out the door into the Health room, hearing humming.

"Is that Annie?" He asks and looks between the two of us.

"Annie it is." Nick replies as he reaches for the spatula. He shifts the eggs around in the pan. Steve sits down on a stool, looking down at the counter top. "Would you like some eggs? It would be a pleasure."

"You're just spoiling everyone today, aren't you?" I laugh, turning away from looking at Steve to Nick. Nick smiles and puts another egg into the pan.

"No thanks." Steve replies as he pours himself a cup of coffee. "Have you seen Joyce?"

"Yes, she is fiddling with her equipment looking as if she last got a good night's sleep circa 1952. I'd tread carefully if I were you." Nick offers, staring at Steven with a serious look.

"She's crabby, huh?" Steve asks as he takes a sip of his coffee.

"Very. Video was cloudy. The audio, garbled. No recorded telemetry of any use." Nick explains as he pours out the pan of eggs onto a plate and hands them to me with a fork.

"Thank you." I smile, taking them and taking a bite. Nick winks at me and goes back to make himself some eggs. Steve turns around, looking towards the other wall behind him.

"What's that?" The tone his voice takes makes me curious. I follow his gaze and look at the open, secret door in the far wall.

"The wine cellar." Nick replies and sets the spatula down. He follows Steve to the cellar door and steps inside. "Isn't it marvelous? The door was open when I came down this morning. Haven't you seen it before?"

"No." Steve says bluntly. I take another bite of my eggs and watch them carefully. Something feels off about the whole situation.

"Rose Red hasn't just woken up. It's begun the house and garden version of Frankenstein's monster." Nick's colorful imagery would have made me laugh had I not felt the rush of icy air coming from the cellar. I set my plate down on the table beside me and hop off the table. I take several steps closer and then stop. My hands shake as a chill runs down my spine.

"That's ridiculous." Steve assumes, looking back at Nick.

"Is it? Listen." Nick holds up his hands, telling us to listen. They listen closely, hearing the sounds of hammerings again.

"You heard much of that?" Steve asks Nick, looking back at the walls of the cellar.

"Enough to worry me." My eyes lock on Nick at hearing that he was worried. Hadn't he been the one last night telling me everything was going to be alright? "...and Bollinger's persistent non appearance worries me too. I mean you would think if he was still here, still here and alive, we would have run into him by now. Wouldn't you?"

"I don't know." Steve answers honestly, looking between Nick and me. He lingers on me a moment with narrowed eyes.

"And the longer we go without reporting his disappearance then the more peculiar our position becomes if he turns up dead or if he doesn't turn up at all." I can feel Nick's worry from where I stand. Steve walks further into the cellar to the back rack of wines. He picks up a bottle and blows off some of the dust that has collected itself on it.

A tingle runs throughout me and makes me turn my head slightly as though I felt someone walk up beside me. The air is suddenly freezing. I can see my breath.

"Tom Peranyon 1949." Steve reads from the label on the bottle. "Very good year."

"In my experience, they're all good years." Nick takes the bottle from Steve with his free hand and examines it himself.

"Would you two get out of there?" I ask and look back at them. They stare at me a moment and then look at each other. They walk out. Steve closes the door. Nick moves to me.

"You're shaking." He examines and hands the bottle off to Steve as he passes. Nick places his hands on my arms and rubs them up and down to warm me. "You're freezing."

He places a hand against my cheek and looks me over once more. I close my eyes and swallow hard, trying to push the feeling of death away. I take hold of Nick's hand against my cheek and rub my thumb over the back of it.

"Don't go back in there again. Please?" I ask, almost beg, and open my eyes to stare in the stormy grey-blue orbs of the man I was falling for. He narrows his eyes at me and then nods his head, telling me that he won't.

He ushers me back to the table where I had set my eggs down. He picks up the plate and hands them to me, telling me gently to eat. He moves back to the stove and continues to cook his own breakfast.

"What goes better with scrambled eggs than champagne?" Nick asks as he turns around from the stove with the hot frying pan. He moves to the empty plate beside me and dishes out his breakfast. "Pull the cork Steve."

Steve grabs hold of the bottle and pops the cork. Nick sets the frying pan down on the table further away and then grabs three empty glasses from the counter. He pours out one glass and tilts the bottle in Steve's direction.

"Will you wet your whistle?" He asks and looks to Steve.

"It's a little early for me." Steve declines and leans on the table. Nick takes a sip of his champagne and smiles. He looks to me and offers me the glass, but I shake my head.

"Mmm." Nick makes me laugh. I know that's what he was trying to do and he accomplished it. He stands beside me, eating his eggs. He occasionally looks to me to make sure I am eating. I take a bite of my eggs and have to force myself to swallow them. I wasn't hungry anymore, but for Nick's sake alone I would eat.

"You know, this place is feeding off us." Nick suddenly pipes up. Steve nods his head as though this was no new news to him. "And, although I'm sure it finds us all rather tasty... its primary sources of nourishment are our little Annie, Ana and you."

My eyes snap to Nick. I stare at him long and hard as he takes a casually fork full of eggs from his plate. I had known that the house would feed off of my powers. I had known that even before I had stepped foot within its walls. To hear Nick say it though... it made everything seem finite; the darkness, the cold, even death. Nick didn't even sound worried.

"Me?" Steve asks incredulously. "I don't have a telepathic bone in my body."

"I don't know what you were before you came here and the house almost ate you alive, but I now know you and Ana are powerful psychic transmitters operating on Rose Red's frequency." Nick explains and takes another bite of his eggs. "It almost had you once, Steve. It wants you back. It wants Annie and Ana too."

"You're crazy." Steve surmises suddenly and shakes his head at Nick. I wish I could think the same, but I know better. Nick was telling the truth. I can feel it.

"Crazy? Perhaps." Nick nods his head. "But I bet Joyce is crazier. She means to have her proof. Even if someone has to die for her to get it."

"You're wrong." Steve snaps and shakes his head again.

"Am I? Let's ask Mr. Bollinger if we ever cross paths with him again." Nick takes another for full of eggs and watches Steve closely as he rambles around in his pockets. "What are you doing?"

"Trying to make sure Miller actually sent Bollinger here. If he did I'll call the police and report him missing." Steve answers as he pulls out the cell phone that had been found in the Health room the day before. He presses the redial button and holds the phone up to his ear.

"Joyce won't like that." Nick announces.

"According to you she's not very happy anyway." Steve takes hold of the champagne bottle and drinks straight from it in a large swig. He leaves a message on Miller's answering machine and then closes the phone handing it to Nick. "Will you talk to him if he calls back?"

"I'd be delighted." Nick takes the phone and sets it down beside me on the table. I stare down at the last bit of eggs on my plate, ignoring what was going on around me. Nick's words rebound in my head like some kind of chant.

"The place is feeding off us."

"It wants Ana too."

I set my fork down on my plate and then set the whole thing off to my other side. Nick notices my behavior. He sets his fork on his plate and lowers it to the table top. I don't say anything and just push myself off of the table. I walk out of the kitchen and down the kitchen hall to the grand stairs in the main hall.

"Ana!" I hear Nick call to me, but I ignore him. For some reason I don't want to talk or listen. I want to be left alone. I speed walk into the Central Hall West and into the gun room. I can hear Nick's footsteps behind me, growing further and further. I shut the door and then run to a door at the back right of the room. I grab hold of the knob and freeze.

"Ana! Where are you?!" Nick calls out, his voice sounding far away. He had no idea where I had gone; which room in the Central West Hall I had gone into. Something within me tells me to follow his voice. I look towards the entrance into the gun room and take a deep breath. I hear doors open and slam close as Nick searches for me. "ANA!"

Something else tells me to leave the gun room and head through the door I held onto. It was something that had been following me, hovering over me, since the wine cellar in the kitchen. It had been there, had touched me and hadn't left me alone yet. This thing was what I was trying to run from. Not Nick. Not the others.

I turn towards the door before me, grip the knob tightly and then open it.