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Prudence, Chapter 3

Kristen was looking strained by fourth period. Her face was drawn, and she looked tired. Mark didn't ask her to stay behind, but hoped she knew she could.

She hesitated at her desk when the bell rang, fussing with her books. Mark waited until the room was empty before raising an eyebrow.

Kristen bit her lip. "I...think you were right."

"Oh?"

She swallowed. "I feel so...awful. I can't wait, I just can't."

"Do you need to find someone and...you know?"

Kristen nodded, her lip quivering.

"Kristen, it's okay! Maybe David, since he was so worried about you Monday?"

Kristen buried her face in her hands. "I'm so sorry."

"Why? What are you sorry about?"

"Being this way. I don't want to. "

"Kristen, you are how you are, and there's nothing to be ashamed of. Consider this...oh, McDonalds fast food -- maybe not really what you want, but it will do." He lowered his voice. "I never asked you to be monogamous, you know."

"I know. But...I feel like such a slut. I don't want you to think you're just...just another fuck." She was almost whispering, too.

"Kristen, I know I'm not. You do what you need to -- and please don't feel guilty, okay? Enjoy yourself. How did you feel about David wanting to defend you Monday?"

"It was sweet. Like a big brother, kind of. Well, not a brother, of course, but you know what I mean."

Mark nodded. "So go and drag him off -- discreetly -- and enjoy yourself. Don't feel guilty, okay?"

"You're sure it doesn't bother you? You're not just saying that so that I won't feel bad? If you really don't want me to, I won't."

"It doesn't bother me at all, Kristen. Remember, when we first got together, we didn't know you needed it, and I didn't mind then. I'd suggest, oh, publicly thanking him for standing up for you, hugging him, and slipping a note in his hand. But promise me one thing -- explain to him that you are trying to control when you have sex, so that he understands, okay? Don't just leave him confused."

"Okay. I will. I...I've got to go. Thank you." She grabbed her books and hurried out of the room.

He saw her in the hall after lunch. She looked better. Rumpled, but better.

His classes that afternoon went fairly well. Things seemed to have settled down somewhat.

Kayla waited at her desk after the last bell rang, until the room cleared out. Mark raised an eyebrow at her.

"Can I talk to you for a minute?

Mark nodded. "Sure."

Kayla came up to his desk and opened her algebra book, bending close as if asking him something about the book. "You okay?"

Mark raised the other eyebrow. "About what?"

"If I say 'lunchtime', will you pretend you don't know what I'm talking about?"

Mark shook his head. "Yes, I'm fine, though I was hoping she could keep people from noticing. Actually...it should be good conditions for viewing tonight. Would you like to stop by and borrow the scope for a little while?"

She raised an eyebrow. "Looking for a friendly witness?"

"More like someone I can discuss the impossible with."

"I might. Depends on the family. If I can at all, I'll be there around eight."

Mark nodded. "Thanks. And just so you know, I had to reassure her it was okay several times. I had a good reason for doing so, though."

"I can't wait to hear it. It's bound to be good."

Mark chuckled. "You won't believe it."

"I can believe that. I'll try to make it."

When he got home, all the lights were on, and there was a pot of coffee on the counter. He hadn't left coffee in the pot that morning. Looking around, the house was empty, and all the doors and windows were locked. Finally, he just shrugged, chalking it up to the ghost.

About 7:15, there was a knock on the door. When he answered it, Kayla stood on the doorstep.

"Sorry I'm early. Mom was heading into town and offered me a ride. Did I...interrupt anything?"

Mark shot Kayla a dirty look. "No. Want some coffee? I think the ghost made it."

"Touchy, touchy. And I'm not sure it'd be a good idea to drink coffee made by a ghost. What ghost? And did I not interrupt anything because you had a fight, or what?"

Mark shook his head. "The house appears to be haunted, but she seems friendly enough. And no, we didn't have a fight. I'm not sure why she hasn't called tonight, unless she's tired and recovering. Have a seat."

Kristen sat on the edge of the couch. "Um...why she hasn't called? You didn't call her?"

Mark shook his head again. "I figure that's not a good idea, you know? Dangerous." He sighed. "Though I don't suppose I could get you...?"

"She didn't tell you her dad's out of town til the weekend? It's just the two of them in that big ol' house. She's the only one who could answer the phone."

"Unless he came home early. Yes, it's paranoid. I am paranoid about this; do you blame me?"

"Um. Dude, you shoulda asked. He never comes home early. Late, yeah. Early...nuhuh. Never. She did tell you, then?"

Mark nodded. "Excuse me for just a moment?"

"Yeah."

Mark quickly dialed Kristen's number.

"Hello?" She sounded as if she'd been crying.

"Hey, love. I was just informed by a little birdy that your dad never comes home early so it'd be safe for me to call. You okay?"

*sniff* "That's why you didn't call?"

"Yeah. I was hoping you'd call...you want to come over? There's someone else here right now, but later..."

"Oh thank god. I thought you'd changed your mind. When can I come? Um...who's over there?"

"Kayla. She knows about us. Figured it out more or less immediately."

A tiny little, "Oh." Then a second's pause. "She won't tell anyone...I know she won't."

"Oh?"

"I can't tell you, Mark. I just know she won't tell anyone. We've talked before, and if you keep her secrets, she'll keep yours. And I think she feels sorry for me, anyway."

"I think I know what you mean. She and I had a long talk the other night, about Ms. Angie." There was silence on the other end of the line. "She pretty much agreed with you, so I'm more comfortable with your solution now."

"You told her?"

"I had to talk to someone, Kristen, to make sure I wasn't making a mistake. And as she pointed out, if she can't keep a secret, we're both screwed anyway. I wouldn't have, otherwise."

"I...I wish you hadn't."

"I'm sorry, Kristen. Did I screw up? Once I figured out about why she went to see her, I thought it would be okay."

"I really didn't want anyone to know. Especially since she turned out to be right."

"Kristen, don't talk like that. You are not a demon, okay? And I'm sorry. I should have waited and asked you if it was okay."

"Mark...do you know what a succubus is? I did some research online...it's a demon that feeds on sex."

"O-kay. Why don't you come over, and we'll talk about it with Kayla?"

"Okay, if that's what you want," she said, hesitantly.

"Is it okay for me to tell her what we discovered last night?"

"I don't know...what if she reacts like Ms. Angie did?"

"Kristen, I really doubt she will. "

"I'm just scared, Mark. This is a bad place to be...abnormal."

"Kristen, Kayla's the smartest person in the school. I think she knows what it's like."

"There's a difference between being disliked and being evil."

"Kristen, if she can't keep a secret we're screwed anyway."

"Screwed, yeah, but not dead." Mark could hear the trembling in her voice; she sounded truly scared.

"She didn't freak out when I told her about my ghost, anyway." He paused. "Okay. Look, I'll take care of you. One way or the other. I promise. Whatever it takes. Remember yesterday at lunch?"

"I said I wouldn't let you do that...Mark, ask her about the Wilsons. I'm on my way, but it'll take me a while to get there. I don't want to talk about this on the phone."

"Okay. I...love you."

"Mark! I...oh god. I'll be there soon." She hung up.

Mark hung up, and sat down across from Kayla. "She said to ask you about the Wilsons?"

Kayla went pale. "Why? What could that have to do with anything?"

Mark raised an eyebrow. "Spill."

She took a deep breath, her expression growing angry. "The Wilsons moved to Prudence a couple of years ago. An average couple, except that they were pagan. Wiccan. You can probably guess the reaction of this town to that." She waited for his answer.

"Not good."

"You could say that. This place tried everything it could to drive them away, but they didn't want to go. The land had belonged to her family for generations, just none of them had ever been able to afford to live there in ages. She loved that house. They thought people'd get used to them, see that they were just normal folks and nothing to be afraid of. That didn't happen. It didn't have time to happen." She swallowed. "Their house burned down four months after they moved down here, with both of them in it. No one saw anything. The fire department said the fire was started by a cigarette. Neither of them smoked."

"Son of a BITCH!" He looked worried. "No wonder she's scared."

"Why?"

"I...Shit. I'm sorry, Kayla, but I can't tell you. Not until she gets here and says whether it's okay or not."

"Mr. H., then should she really be walking around alone in the dark? If it's something related to the Wilsons..."

"Right now, she and I are the only ones who know. I understand why she's afraid to let me tell you, now."

She sighed. "Fine. Then tell me what you were going to tell me when you asked me to come over."

"I can't. This is what that was about. I'm sorry, Kayla." He looked at her. "Look at it from her viewpoint -- she has to decide whether to trust you with her life."

She shook her head. "You were going to tell me before she told you it was okay? And you didn't call her after you told her she could sleep with someone else? Are you sure you're not a teenager?"

Mark chuckled. "Well, available evidence would indicate... although I wanted to call her. If I'd known it was safe I would have."

"She probably thought you'd changed your mind about it after she did it."

"She did. I wish I'd known it was safe."

"Then you told her you were at home with another girl. Dude, you are not doing so hot tonight."

"I told her that after I asked her to come over, you know." He was sitting on the edge of his seat, obviously anxious for Kristen to arrive.

Kayla laughed. "Oh, fuck! Hopefully she doesn't think you invited her over for a three-way then."

Mark blinked, then buried his head in his hands. "Oh, gods. I didn't even think of that. I hope not. Can I go back to bed and start the day over?"

Kayla grinned. "Nope, sorry. One timeline is all you get to live."

Mark sighed.

It was a couple of miles from Kristen's house to his, almost three by the roads. It took her about half an hour to get there, but finally Kristen knocked softly on the back door.

Mark opened the door, letting her in.

Kristen smiled hesitantly at him. "Hi."

Mark closed the door behind her, then kissed her. "I wish I'd known it was safe to call."

Kristen melted into his arms. "I told you my dad wouldn't be back this week."

"I was afraid he'd get back early."

"And he wouldn't notice you calling anyway. Lots of guys call, he doesn't recognize their voices, and he never goes to the school. He doesn't care who calls me."

"Oh." Mark kissed her again.

"Mark...seriously a minute...of all the people who could find out, my dad's not that bad. "

Mark raised an eyebrow. "You have got to be kidding."

"Well, he might be upset, but I really don't think he'd care. He doesn't care about any of the others."

"Uh..." Mark said, looking skeptical.

"Honey, he hates teenage boys. Says they're a waste of air."

"I'd still rather not risk it, though."

"I know. I just...didn't know you weren't going to call."

Kayla was grinning at Mark, as if to say, 'I told you so'.

"I'm sorry," he said, stroking her cheek.

"It's okay. It was silly, I should have called you. I wasn't thinking straight. Oh! Hi Kayla." Kristen blushed brightly, obviously having forgotten that the other girl was even present.

"Come sit down." Mark sat on a chair, leaving room for her to sit on his lap.

Kristen looked down at him, slightly uncertain.

"Oh, go on, darlin'. I know. It's okay. He's been worrying for the past half hour because he fucked up." Kayla still sounded amused.

Mark made big puppy-dog eyes at Kristen.

Kristen murmured, "You were worried?"

Mark nodded. "Yes, I was."

Kristen sat and snuggled down into his lap. "Stop worrying."

"You forgive me?"

"Anything."

Mark kissed her.

"O-kay," Kayla interjected, "Before we all drown in the syrup here, why were we talking about the Wilson's?"

Mark looked at Kristen. "She told me about them. That's...well, it's fucking scary."

"You see why I don't want anyone to know?"

Mark nodded. "I can understand. On the other hand, I already have trusted her with my life, more or less."

Kristen nodded, slowly.

"Kristen, whatever it is, I don't fucking care what the people in this pissy little town might think. I liked Karen Wilson. I'm not going to give the fuckers anything else to use against you, hon. Trust me."

Kristen took a deep breath. "Okay. I...we just figured it out yesterday. After I got sick at school. You were there in gym class, right?"

"Right. You looked like total shit. Freaked everyone out when you passed out like that."

"She looked worse when I went over to her house last night. Like she was almost dead. She'd lost at least ten pounds," Mark said.

"We think it happened because...well, because I didn't have sex in too long. I didn't want to with the guys, and Mark and I couldn't, not at school, so I just went without, and I got sicker and sicker."

Kayla blinked. "And so when you did have sex again?"

Kristen blushed. "I got better. I looked bad, Kayla. I don't know how he was able to have sex with me like that. It must have been like screwing a corpse."

Mark didn't say anything to that, just nodded.

"Got better. Like, how?"

"Mark saw how it happened..."

"Like, she put on ten pounds in the space of an hour. Like, her hair went from falling out to this in the space of ten minutes. It was..." He blushed. "It seemed to happen when I, um, had an orgasm. It didn't seem to matter how many she had."

"No way it could just be the...fun...perking her up?"

Mark shook his head. "No. I could see her ribs...even under her breasts."

"Fuck. Like a vampire or something. They'd freak. They'd totally freak. No wonder she was scared!"

Mark nodded. "Yeah. Although I don't feel drained at all. Almost the opposite. Um, eight times in four hours, on Saturday?"

Kayla's mouth dropped open. "No fucking way. If you could bottle that, you'd make a fortune."

Mark laughed. "And then that night...and then last night, um, how many times, love?"

Kristen blushed again. "I...don't know. I lost count."

"I think it was eight or nine. Yeah, nine, I remember, because...well, never mind. And it's a three or four to one ratio for her."

"And you don't feel any bad effects? Though honestly, someone would have noticed by now, if there were any, I guess." Kayla seemed fascinated.

"Nope. I feel great. Well, I was exhausted this morning, but that's because I didn't leave her house till 2, and I had to get up at 6:30." He looked thoughtful. "Actually, that ratio was more like more like 4 or 5 to one, because I spent a half hour just...never mind."

"Um...okay, I have to ask this. Do you think that whatever she is is what caused you to be so attracted to her? Sorry, Kris, but if it's like super pheromones or something, we need to know. I mean, you're risking serious jail time for this, man."

"I think it is." Kristen looked at the ground, refusing to meet their eyes, and twisted a finger in her hair.

Mark nodded. "It's possible. I've never been this attracted before. On the other hand...there's more than just that."

"Mark...that's what I wanted to tell you on the phone, but I couldn't. I don't think you can help yourself, like Ms. Angie couldn't help herself. I think I found what I am." She still didn't lift her eyes.

"What?"

"I think I'm a succubus. She was right. A demon that feeds on sex. Of course men...and some women...would be attracted to me. And the more problems it would cause them, the more attracted they would be. Maybe that's why my dad stays in town so much. You never had a chance."

Mark shook his head. "I can buy the 'feeds on sex bit'. I doubt the 'demon' part. But where do you get the idea that the attraction would increase with the chance of problems?

"From what I read about it. It's not just sex itself..it's the emotion and energy generated by it. The stronger the associated emotions...and with sex, guilt and fear are easiest, the stronger the charge. That's why it's so much more..." her voice took on a bitter edge, " 'filling' with you. Because it's so risky for you, and you felt guilty about it. "

Mark turned her to face him, kissing her softly. "Kristen, I didn't feel guilty about it. At all. I'm worried about getting caught, yeah. I think maybe what makes it good is -- I'm not taking from you, I'm giving to you."

"Mark...I trapped you. Like baiting a hook for a fish. You were the perfect food. It's not real. it's making you feel things."

Mark shook his head. "Does it matter? Maybe that was it at the beginning, but not anymore. I'm not just using you for sex, Kristen."

"Mark..." She blinked back tears. "It explains everything. It's trying to make sure you don't get away."

"Does it matter?"

"Yes!"

"Why? I feel the way I do, no matter what the reason is."

"It's mind control. It's making you do things, feel things, that you normally wouldn't."

"How do you know?"

Kristen frowned. "Mark...god...how likely is it that you'd volunteer to marry someone you'd only known a week? That you'd think--" She swallowed hard and looked away.

"That I'd think what?"

Kristen finished sadly, "That you'd think you were in love with her?"

"As to the first, I don't know. As to the second...not that unlikely. Have you considered that maybe you just speed up what would have happened naturally, and amplify it?"

"Mark, I'm a parasite. And I don't think it would have happened naturally. You've got a Ph.D in chemistry and physics. Art is my only really good subject. There's no way someone like you would normally fall for the school slut. No way. Not if you had a choice in the matter."

Kayla had quietly slipped into the den a few moments earlier. Vaguely, they were aware of hearing typing sounds.

Mark's jaw tightened. "A parasite, hm? Would you kindly tell me what exactly it is you take from me?"

"Sex. Energy. Time. Attention. Your life if people find out."

"And all of these I think are well worth the trade. HELL, Kristen, most guys would kill to be able to come 9 times in one night, much less still be able to function on four hours sleep the next day. I invite you to contemplate another word, Kristen: symbiote."

"And how much energy do you have to offer someone else, Mark? There's no way you can find a real woman while you're feeding me. And a couple of days, yeah, you can do it, but how long could you keep it up before collapsing in exhaustion?"

"Kristen, I had sex with you nine times last night. There is no way I should have been able to function today. Instead, I'm just totally exhausted. Think about that." He kissed her again. "And you are a real woman, Kristen.-

Kristen hung her head. "Mark. Oh, Mark. You don't understand. I don't want you to love me because I forced you to!"

"How do you know I wouldn't have fallen in love with you anyway? It happens. You see it in the papers when they get caught."

"I don't know. Neither do you. There's no way to know now." She looked at him through tear-filled eyes.

"Exactly. So don't worry about it, okay? Let's just accept what we have."

"You told me, 'it should be because you want to, not because you can't say no.' Doesn't the same apply to you?"

Mark nodded. "Yes. But you don't understand -- I don't want to say no. Whether I could or not -- and I could, simply by completely avoiding you -- is irrelevant."

Kristen sighed. "I don't want to say no to you either. Not to anything. But...I think you should go to church and get baptized or something."

Mark raised an eyebrow. "No."

"If you could break the...the spell or whatever, even for a little while, then you could choose."

Mark frowned, slightly. "This is really important to you?"

"It really is."

"Okay. Go in the other room for a few minutes."

"O-kay." Kristen seemed confused, but was willing to go along.

Mark closed his eyes, trying to clear his mind of distractions, and to eliminate Kristen's influence on him. He brought to mind some of the things he'd studied briefly in college, before deciding that the physical world was all there was -- a decision he was rethinking.

The physical distractions faded. The slight tap tap of the keyboard in the den was the last thing to go, leaving a peaceful silence. He felt very relaxed, very perceptive. But he could not totally get her from his head. It felt like a part of her was tangled up with him, and to separate it would cause great pain to him, and, he somehow knew instinctively, to her as well.

He focused on that, trying to make himself aware of it, of what was him and what was her, and of the influence it was having on him. After a few minutes, he was able to identify which feelings were his, and which were generated by the power he could vaguely sense coming from Kristen. Everything was his, aside from the lust...and some of that was his.

Finally he was satisfied. Her power might have caused him to actually act on his feelings, to actually cross that line, but it didn't create the feelings in the first place.

He nodded, and stood as he opened his eyes, going in the other room to find Kristen. She was waiting in the kitchen, sitting at the table destroying a paper napkin.

Mark kissed her. "You didn't force me. I was able to...kind of sort out what was me, and what was you. The only thing coming from you was the lust. Part of the lust. I think maybe what you do is let your partner feel your desire."

"How?"

Mark shrugged. "I have no idea how you do it. Not a clue. But you did not force me to do it. Maybe...maybe you provided the impetus to act on my desires, but you didn't cause the desires."

"I meant, how do you know? What did you do?"

"Oh. I..." He fell silent, trying to find a way to explain it in terms that would make sense to her. "I tried to figure out what felt like me, and what felt like you. If that makes sense. I know what I did, I'm just...I don't really know how to explain it."

Kristen swallowed. "Okay. I'll accept that for now, until we know more. I wish you'd find a priest or something, but it'll do."

"Here. Learn more." Kayla thunked a stack of paper on the table.

Mark blinked, looking at the paper.

"I don't think you're a succubus, hon. They're born in hell and your birth-certificate says New Jersey. Pretty close, but not quite the same thing. I think you're a psychic vampire. A pretty specialized one, but definitely still a human. Probably an empath, too. Projective and receptive. It'd be a survival trait. But it's not evil, it's just there."

Mark nodded, slowly. "That would make sense. Although..." He struggled to find a way to put the feeling of her being tangled up with him into words that made sense. "It kind of feels like part of her and part of me are...tangled together? Entwined? Like it would damage both of us if I tried to separate us. Ring any bells?"

Kayla blinked, then looked sad for a moment. "Um. Yeah. It's probably not related though. Don't worry about it, just don't try to fight it."

"Um, tell us?" he asked.

"Oh, there's lots of things. Could just be fate, y'know?"

Mark raised an eyebrow. "Kayla..."

"I'm serious. There are a lot of possible explanations. Look for it yourself, if you want to. Here's a chunk of good literature about psivamps and the ethics of being one. "

"Then why'd you look so sad when I asked?"

"Huh? Oh, I was thinking of something else. Don't be nosy."

Mark gave her the Look.

"Anyway, look...I'll cover for you, okay? Kristen will have to feed, and frankly, you're safer than all those idiots at school. I was there yesterday when she collapsed."

"Kayla..." He looked at her, seriously.

"It's okay, hon, don't you worry about a thing. I am now officially your alibi. I just developed the most intense interest in astronomy, y'know."

Mark glanced at Kristen. "It's a trick. It's all part of her plot to blackmail us into being her -- what was the phrase, Kayla? Oh, yes, 'luuuv slaves'." He smirked.

Kristen giggled. "You sound like Dirk."

"Oh, yuck..that was an image I did not need. Dirk the luvslave."

"Ewewwwwwwewwwwwewwww," Mark said. "Excuse me. I have to go bleach my brain now."

Kayla grinned. "So see, what I'm going to do is go outside and play with the telescope for say, the next three hours. Then my sweet young teacher that my mother likes so much is going to drive me and my new best friend Kristen home. He'll drop her off first, of course, since her house is closest."

"I see." Mark looked amused.

"That way he's never alone with her, of course, and no one is going to worry about him being alone with me, so everything is spiffy."

"Of course. Unless somebody decides we're holding wild perverted orgies." He grinned.

"Hah. Yeah, right. Not with me. Someone like Katey, or Sheri, yeah, but not Kayla the weird little dyke-geek. You're safe."

"Uh...I'm going to ignore that logic before my head explodes. You have fun with the telescope."

"You betcha. Try and keep it down." She bounced off, still grinning.

They pulled into Kristen's drive around midnight. She looked around, making sure there were no cars coming, and then leaned over and kissed him. "Good night, Mark."

"Night, love."

She squeezed his hand and slid out of the car. "Night Kayla... thanks again."

"Night, Kris, see you in class."

Mark pulled out and headed towards Kayla's house.

Kayla hopped over the seat into the front and buckled the seat belt.

"Listen, thanks for covering for us."

"Earlier from now on, though. Can't skip school. I'll go over to her house tomorrow to do homework, and we'll both come over 'at night'."

Mark nodded. "That will work."

Kayla yawned. "Hope so." She looked out at the road. "Mark... don't tell anyone. I know she was all over the idea of you telling a priest or something...but don't.

"I don't plan on it, Kayla. I think that with what you figured out...she's more comfortable with it."

"She's not evil. If you're evil, You don't worry about being evil. But she still feels guilty. She might act kinda stupid for a while, until all she works out all this in her head just right."

"I know. I tried to get her to think in terms of symbiosis, rather than parasitism, but...She'll come around. Look, I can't tell you how glad I am you're helping."

Kayla sighed. "Yeah, well, I'm not that cold-hearted a bitch. Any idiot could see that she loves you and is in serious freakin' pain. I'll help if I can."

"Thanks. I just wish there was some way I could repay you."

"You could have sex with me."

Mark laughed. "Yeah, right."

"Sorry, couldn't resist. Just wanted to see your reaction."

"Dangerous to make jokes like that, you know. What if I'd had a heart attack and swerved off the road? Thought you were serious?"

Kayla sighed dramatically. "Please. No one ever thinks I'm serious. Probably because I rarely am. There's my house. With the lights on and the sprinklers still going even though the yard and street are flooded."

"Yes, but I don't know you that well, yet. I could have thought you were, and then what would you have done, hm?"

"Who knows? One timeline per person, remember? Night."

"Night."



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