Jon sat in the passenger seat of his car, checking over some documents from work when he noticed Sabrina returning, probably from the five-star hotel she said she wanted to check on, for some reason. He didn't ask at the time why she had her eye on such a place, as if either of them, or both of them combined could reasonably afford a room there. He figured he'd ask about it later, until her expression became clearer as she approached the car. The hurried, flustered gait of her approach gave away how upset her face turned out to be. "Annoyed" looked like the tip of the iceberg.
"And the hits just keep on coming" is what he thought he heard from her as she got in the driver's seat and started the car. There was silence between them as she pulled out slowly into traffic. To Jon, it didn't look like Sabrina was going to indulge in any road rage, but the clear look of controlled anger on her face scared him a little.
Against his better judgment, he decided to speak.
"I don't know what is upsetting you, but is there any way I can help?"
Sabrina turned in his direction at the next red light, looking indignantly at him. They both knew he believed the question to be a futile attempt to appease her, and that he had balls for even trying to ask with the vibe she put out.
"No," she replied evenly. "Not yet."
"Ok," he said simply, accepting the mercy he was granted, curious about the "not yet."
Jon never knew he'd heard Sabrina correctly as she approached the car. She'd run into a string of inconveniences in the past few weeks, a few months after she began her role-playing adventures. The hotel she'd come out of had been the latest bust in her plans, a failed back-up, apparently one of many. A world-famous celebrity band had come to town, taking the penthouse suite she planned to "borrow" soon for her games, and it seemed every hotel in town worth Scryer's attention had become suddenly full. Her initial choice of play was an abandoned building she scouted that was just recently set for early demolition. The suite balcony she'd found in her venue scouting surpassed her previous expectations as it would seem like exactly the kind of place a powerful sorceress would appropriate for herself, certainly worth the effort of convincing the concierge, maids and whatever other staff was necessary that it was hers for a night or two. But hopes of that dream setting were dashed as quickly as they were realized.
Besides that, Sabrina had planned to revisit Jesse, or more specifically her heroic alias in the past two weeks for more playing. But in prepping those meetings, as a means of fairness, if for some reason she didn't show, Jesse would have a daydream where Scryer and Psiana would face-off to a stalemate, or Psiana would somehow become victorious, and the witch would flee. All four times in the past two weeks Sabrina couldn't make it. The first time was more her fault, as Jon spontaneously took her in his arms one night, kissing behind her ears, which distracted her long enough to take Sabrina's lips in a fiery kiss. In one of the first post-hypnotic triggers she'd installed in him, it was all too easy to turn that kiss to her advantage, but she forgot he could be as compelling as she was when it came to enticing the other. In the kindled heat produced, she forgot about Jesse and everything else that night. The next three times though, either Jesse had been unavailable when Sabrina was free, or work somehow interfered.
It felt like the bad omen of clustered disappointments were descending upon Sabrina once again. Occasionally in her life, a series of random setbacks, obstacles, or defeats would descent upon her. As a kid, she never understood why it would all come her way in a short period of time. As her life usually went swimmingly well, she could hardly complain about it often, though she found herself being superstitious because of it, watching out for and dreading any sign of disappointment, expecting a domino effect to follow. She hoped she would've left the omen behind after immigrating to America, considering how at least one occurrence among the cluster always had to do with a relative of her generation deliberately doing something; it'd been no such luck outside of Ireland. The last string she could remember ended with the loss of a boyfriend, and it scared her a little that things were happening again revolving around another, a better one, the best she could ever remember having. Scary enough the omen seemed to be indirectly aiding a woman she grew to like less the more she knew, but still strung along like a puppet.
Sabrina looked over at Jon as she pulled to another red light.
"Thank you," she said.
"For what," he asked.
She'd felt better later in the day, spending time at his place, watching him react to her suggestions. Sabrina sat cross-legged on her side of his bed, in one of his buttoned work shirts, brainstorming with pen and paper in her lap, stack of comics nearby. His surface thoughts were nearly bare except for when she asked him questions, and the only thing that could pass for clothing was Scryer's witchy hat, covering his crotch. Like the night of their characters' first introduction, he was sexually besieged by the hat's interior, sinking his crotch and by extension all of him into a familiar state of inescapable bliss.
She never thought using it like that would be more than a one-time fun gag, until he tried surprising her once at her place with it. Laying across her sheets coyly, nothing more than a rose in his mouth, and the tall hat's pointy end phallically, suggestively pointed at her did entice her as intended. His plan worked, and yet backfired as he didn't consciously remember what Jon or Striker was supposed to feel under those conditions. She arrived to find his hands gently gripping the hat's rim and the rose nearly pruned from biting down hard when his mouth wasn't moaning, riled up and confused as Sabrina quickly figured out his play and his error, turning it all into a power play for Scryer.
Neither were really fulfilling their role as vigilante or sorceress during her brainstorming; it just helped her creative juices flow with the air of their sensual play permeating the bedroom. She'd accidentally spent the night before planning until dawn, excited in what she thought was to be the perfect set-up she could arrange, before it became a bust. She was surprised she wasn't sleepier at that point, but time grew short for the game she wanted to play in the next few days, so she needed all the inspiration she could get, especially with no set venue. Sabrina had a general plot for their next scene, or scenes in her head. Being an amalgamation of some referenced mind control scenarios plus ideas she came up with in her youth, it was the most complex endeavor she had yet. But her confidence in the role kept her from worrying about how she would pull it off once she became Scryer. The other details were more worrying question marks on the pad of paper in her lap. There was no place satisfying enough she could think of to settle on, whether there would be any guess appearances like Psiana, whether there'd be any new tricks to play, or suggestions to embed.
The redhead sighed sourly in her palms, feeling the mounting disappointment omen loom over her more and more, a disposition mismatched next to Jon's delicious stupor. Unfortunately he didn't have anything substantial to contribute for options either, whether lucid within a light trance or locked in a buzzing arousal of caresses that kept him hard but not on an edge under her hat. Settling for another standard fare of their role-playing was by no means a disappointing idea on its own, but she opted for something special to combat the potential letdowns coming the following week.
Sabrina's vibrating cell phone shook her from her thoughts. Seeing the familiar number on the screen, she stroked Jon's chest tenderly and kissed his forehead, urging him to keep enjoying the power of her hat. He smiled and gently nodded as she left the bedroom.
"Hi Mom," Sabrina replied cheerfully. "Isn't it late over there?"
"Evening my little rose," a cultured, accented voice intoned. "Wedding planning can be an all-hours job. You seem to be up in the wee hours yourself. Burning the midnight oil?"
"You could say that," Sabrina smirked, ears perking at faint moans behind the closed door. "A busy few weeks ahead."
"Indeed. I hope you haven't forgotten one of those weeks includes a family that rather not see you estranged."
"Not all of them," she stated in her head. "Mother, lots of families barely hear from each other except for a few times a year, and they're not dysfunctional."
"American families, surely. Even some Irish ones, but I'd like to think our family is close-knit enough to where it's not six months before we hear from each other. When you crossed the pond, I didn't expect you to call everyday, but I had a smaller time-frame in-mind when I told you to 'keep in touch.'"
Sabrina shook her head on-cue at her mother's somewhat overbearing sense of family values.
"It's easy to say that since most of the family is still clustered together. I bet Lacy doesn't even plan on moving very far from Dublin, does she?"
"You shouldn't fault her for appreciating where she comes from, and wanting to raise a family here."
The Marks' affluence in Ireland meant more than likely that a nanny might be doing most of the raising, but Sabrina didn't press on that thought. She was remiss to mention the wedding or anything that entailed afterwards for fear of her life being put under the microscope. She wanted to keep her energies positive, and on things outside of family while she could.
"The dates haven't changed, right? Nobody's getting cold feet?"
"Child! Please don't even think such things. Keep your prayers on their 'I do's.'"
"Ok, sorry Mom."
"Still a week from today. Please inform me or your aunt about your arrival plans so we can have someone pick you up."
"I will let someone know," she replied, the disingenuousness in her commitment well-hidden, as how she usually liked it with her mother. "Now please get some sleep, Mom; late nights probably invite more grey hairs, you know," Sabrina poked at her mother's superstitions one last time.
"Silver," Alexandra Marks corrected. "Silver hairs. And thank you for your concerns. Sleep well, little rose."
Sabrina wished she could be guaranteed one that night, but she made her way back to Jon's bedroom, knowing it might be all night before she might reach something satisfying to work with.
Sabrina woke at in her bedroom, staring at the small alarm clock with tired, unhappy eyes. Smacking it off the nightstand for the mocking sound it made was a small victory, but the only one to claim. She'd excused herself from Jon's apartment, not trusting herself to get any serious brainstorming done with his naked, hypnotized form so close. Coming home at 3am didn't improve things, and she had to work on only two and a half hours of sleep after two days, throughout the new day. Both in her bathroom and the closest mirror to exiting her apartment, she laughed at her appearance instead of recoiling in horror.
"So this is what a working stiff looks like," she mused to herself. Talking to her mother so recently gave her a small sense of pride. She was probably the only one of her generation in the Marks lineage who could resemble having middle-class problems, let alone the only one who ever tried to make it on their own, independently of the family money. The Marks' wealth wasn't necessarily ancient 'old money,' as it was Sabrina's grandfather that broke away from dirt-farming into business ventures and smartly cultivated a stable increase from his first million on. It helped that they married into money occasionally, like Lacy was soon to. Sabrina resembled the rest of her family in the pursuit of power, but she most resembled her Aunt Maxine, a savant at messing with people's heads. Maxine set the tone for how women maintained power in their relationships, and everyone followed from Maxine's sister on down; Sabrina being Maxine's inevitable apprentice of sorts made the power with the mind a priority over power with money. She traveled to America to educate herself and have it down to a science, willing to make it on her own steam after college, and did so to the surprise of some, except her aunt. Maxine was truly the only one she was looking forward to seeing the next week.
The redheaded hypnotist arrived at work, and the looks she got matched how she felt, like crap. Even her typical attractive, professional dress most were drawn to when they saw her didn't mask the slight lack of confidence in her step, and the stern face showing obvious regret from having gotten out of bed. Those who inquired were polite about it, asking if she was ok. She replied with an easy to read smile stating "No, but I'm here."
As her blue eyes scanned her route and cubicles to avoid, it seemed like a few people were late that day, or had done what she should have and stayed come and taken a sick day. She got to her office and sat in her chair, looking at the chaste lounge couch, wondering why she wasn't already napping on it. Turning to turn her PC on to actually do work was less the thought of getting caught sleeping by someone and more the reminder of her mother, and her earned independence.
"Jonathan would be so proud of me," an assured thought brightened her day's outlook momentarily. She'd gotten an hour or two of work done before she found herself fading hard. She took a break and decided to reach out to the one person that could lift her spirits. She reached for her smartphone to send him a text, but found it was missing, figuring she'd left it in her car by accident. She instead grasped the office phone to call him, and got his voicemail instead.
"Now that's strange," she thought to herself. Jon was the last person she expected to be MIA at work for any reason. He always tried to lead by example, and yet it was fitting other people were absent on a day he was. She called his cell number and ended up with voice mail again. Concern started to surface on her face. There wasn't a time she could remember when every means to reach him was met with absence or voicemail. She walked to the elevator on her way to the parking lot, but was stopped by a conversation she'd overheard.
"Please tell me there's a flu going around and we're not going through 'corporate restructuring.'"
"What do you mean? Oh, you weren't around for it last week. Nah, even better. Remember they mentioned that lottery thing after the company got bought? Looks like it went through, took everyone by surprise earlier this morning. Some of our guys and guys downstairs got sent over. Shit's suspect to me, but at least it's not anyone getting downsized."
"I had to go to a funeral of my in-laws; would've much preferred a European getaway. I hear spring could be awesome for where they're going."
Sabrina silently walked by, put-off by talk of celebrating a great-aunt no one liked croaking, but trying to remember talk of a lottery at the office. Every step to the car, she searched her memories for mention of it. Other than her own work, she'd had a one-track mind of making her fantasies come true, working Jon and Jesse's minds into pliable actors. Anything office-related was deemed vague and unimportant, but just before she could reach for the handle to her car door, the lottery being mentioned at a meeting she tried keeping herself awake at came back to her. Some sort of long shot that actually happened. The door was quickly opened and she reached for her phone to find she had two voicemails to listen to.
The first confirmed her fears.
"Hey Sabrina. Listen, need to apologize in-advance, but I'm at the airport now. Tried to catch you at the office and on your phone, but no luck unfortunately. That lottery thing apparently went through, and I'm part of the group going. I know it's really short-notice and doesn't mean much, but I did consider turning it down because of you. I'll call you when I get over. I'm sorry; I know you've got something coming up soon too, so I'm going to work extra hard so I can see you sooner rather than a lot later. I'll be missing you over there. Talk soon, bye."
She took in the words, made realer by all the airport announcer noise in the background, holding her phone as if trying to crush it in her grip. She controlled her seething as best as she could. She felt like getting into her car to scream and loudly curse at the inconvenience omen that struck again; she didn't know why she didn't, as it was safest to surrounded by nothing but cars. She didn't stop the next voicemail from playing, hoping that it was Jon calling to say that he didn't get on the plane, and that he was coming back because he needed to throw himself at her feet and make her feel better.
"Ms. Sabrina Marks, hello. This is Patricia Task. I hoping to catch you for lunch today if you have the time. If so, please contact me at the number I've reached you with, or 547-3856, same area code as the rest of the city. Looking forward to speaking with you."
"Task?" Sabrina questioned several times in her head. "Jon's relative, or mother?" All the feelings heading for anger took a sharp left to bewilderment. She had to sit in her car for support, to make sense of how she went from sleep-deprived to wired and worried. In a more coherent state, she'd probably congratulate the omen for the record multiple heavy blows dealt only seconds apart. Losing any sense of control was her biggest pet peeve, something Sabrina sometimes forgot as she wasn't prone to losing it at all. Unwilling to submit to the delirium, as was her subconscious response to losing control, she left her car to find someone to exercise her control on.
Minutes later, Peter Bevy called in Sabrina knocking at his door.
"What can I do for you, Sabrina?"
"Right about now, I'm so very glad you already know your place."
Sabrina strode in like a hungry lioness impatiently approaching her cornered prey, not at all interested in toying with it.
Bevy didn't have time to ask about her comment as he was fixated on her predaceous walk. Never before had Sabrina foregone the subtly of bringing her boss into trance, but he'd been there so many times, any sign of authority from her already had him half-programmed to submit to her. Walking to his desk, hands pressed on them, she leaned in and smiled as he leaned back a little as if frightened.
"Sleep for me, Petey."
The adrenaline from the shock of her appearance slowed the rate of trance washing over him.
"Sleep NOW for me Petey. Do NOT keep me waiting."
She snapped her fingers twice in his face to punctuate her words, expectantly watching him collapse under the weight of her will.
"Y..yes Ms. Marks."
"Are you hypnotized, Petey?"
"Yes Ms. Marks."
"Are you deeply hypnotized, Petey?"
"Yes Ms. Marks."
"Not deep enough. Submit farther and faster NOW!"
Another snap in his face to emphasize her commands shook the already weak foundations of his mind. Sabrina knew taking him the slow way was more effective, but she let herself continue on her power-trip. Though she was discreet with her volume, she hoped no one would disturb them at first, for the sake of their own minds. Bevy's secretary took to her "do not disturb" trigger well as usual, enough to prevent disruption, but the longer she rode out the power-trip, the longer the already-incensed hypnotist almost hoped someone would barge in so she could flex her mental muscles meant for manipulation. After a brief round of fractionation, he'd become more mindless than she needed him to be since he first surrendered to her.
"Every word you speak to me 100% truth, right Petey?"
"Yes Ms. Marks."
"Every word I speak to you is the absolute truth, isn't it Petey?"
"Yes Ms. Marks."
"The word and concept of resistance doesn't exist, so doing as I say is all there is."
"Yes Ms. Marks."
"Tell me about the lottery that required Jonathan and others to be sent away."
"The lottery was about the expansion and the new parent company we're apart of with other small companies. Our parent company wanted a building in England brought up to specifications, ready to be worked in. Our company and another were responsible for helping to get our own buildings ready to work in, and it was a cheaper option for the parent company as some of us-"
"Cheaper even with the cost of booking round trip flights?"
"Yes, Ms. Marks. Cheaper and confidential. They were flown in on a jet of our parent company. Some from the US would have been sent over to install their new software anyway. I had a standing bet on a soccer match that I lost with the other company, and for losing, I volunteered only my people to be sent to the place out in the middle of nowhere."
"Yes, Jonathan, Mark, Jesse Cand-"
"You sent Jessica too?" She almost screamed.
"Yes Ms. Marks."
He ceased talking and thinking, while her thoughts were going a mile a minute. No matter how tranced and inclined Jon had been toward Sabrina, she didn't trust him around a former flame like Jesse. She wanted kicked herself for spending so much time building Jesse's susceptibility and heroine character that she never programmed a repellent suggestion to keep her away from Jon. It burned even more how it could be interpreted as a win for Jesse and Psiana, separated from her hero and weaker rival by an ocean.
As much as she was willing to risk a stinging slap across Bevy's face waking him, she kept her composure. She'd find other ways to make him suffer.
"When are they supposed to come back?"
"It depends on their work. One to two weeks, maybe."
"Why the hell did you have to send Jesse along?"
"I sent her to match her up with Jon."
"You...what?" The hypnotist's low and dangerous tone would've sent chills down the spine of anyone else present and fully conscious.
"I sent Jesse with Jon because I thought they'd go well together."
"That man is mine you bastard," Sabrina sharply uttered, not caring how possessive she sounded. She wanted her words to cut deep into Bevy, but he replied in the same monotone.
"Yes, Ms. Marks. Jon is yours."
Bevy was spared some immediate torture for the fact that that was first time someone besides herself and Jon acknowledged that he was hers, even among those in Sabrina's constant thrall. As much as she preferred her affairs private, it felt good hearing it.
"Listen carefully Petey. You are going to pay dearly for your actions."
"Yes, Ms. Marks. I am going to pay dearly for my actions."
"Yes you are. Are you going out to England yourself?"
"Yes Ms. Marks. Tomorrow."
"I have a recording to give you that you will listen to tonight, and every night that you are gone, to help remind you how your subconscious only knows obedience to me, no matter what I say or command."
"Thank you Ms. Marks."
"You're welcome you son of a bitch," she smiled condescendingly at him. "Wait here."
She walked back to her office to retrieve one of her audio CDs meant to deeply condition, and delivered it to his waiting hand before she woke him and his secretary. They only remembered Sabrina wishing him a safe trip over. The walk back to the office was filled with creative suffering for Bevy, and what to do about her Hero situation. Something would be done, she at least knew that, but despite the dominant high she was on, she was scared it would fade and she would be trying to fight sleep more instead of coming up with a solution.
Her phone rang before she could sit down.
"Is this Sabrina Marks?"
"Afternoon," the voice said, making her check the time to see it was just after 12. "Not sure if you got my message already, but I'm Patricia Task, Jon's mother. I was hoping we could talk. I'm at the Sundance grill right now, not far from where he works. If you didn't already have lunch plans..."
"Sure, I can be there in a few minutes," Sabrina interjected, knowing it was futile to run from this problem, not knowing if it would be a problem.
"Wonderful. I'll see you soon."
Sabrina considered the strangeness of Patricia's calling. It seemed strange for her experience with most Americans, but it sounded like something the women in her family might do, which scared her a little. The walk to the car and the short drive over, all she had on her mind is how or what she knew of Sabrina. The only thing she could promise herself was to not capitulate to this woman, or back down, maintaining the confidence gained from having destroyed Bevy's will even more.
Though she dressed similar, Patricia Task seemed easy to pick out of the business crowd. Not just because she was sitting alone, or because her facial similarities were easy to link to Jon, but she look like she sounded on the phone - measured, composed, an immediately identifiable strength. She looked like the strongest woman in the room, next to Sabrina. It was no surprise at all that Jon was birthed from this woman.
Sabrina seemed easy to pick out as Patricia raised her hand toward a woman she'd never seen before, but sure she was there to meet.
"Ms. Marks, I presume."
"You presume correctly, Mrs. Task."
"Please, call me Patricia."
"Only if you call me Sabrina."
The two women exchanged a handshake and pleasantries across the table, their eyes assessing all they could about each other. The silence didn't last long as the waiter for Patricia's table brought her order, and took Sabrina's. Seeing how good the chicken parmesan looked in-person, it was an easy choice. Patricia delicately began cutting her meal as she began more dialog.
"So, I don't mean to make or imply a bad first impression, but you look a little sleep deprived, dear. Are you ok?"
"I have been a little busy lately. I wish it would have caught up with me after I'd met you."
"Not a problem dear, happens to the best of us. But speaking of 'met' or 'meeting,' I'm sure you're curious to know why I asked you to lunch."
"I'd...be lying if I didn't say I wasn't." Sabrina chose her words carefully.
"Well...I'd stopped by Jon's apartment a few hours ago, to drop off a surprise for him, and though he doesn't like when I do it, to tidy up a little. I called him to let him know, but got his cellphone's voicemail and heard that he'd be out of the country for a little while. That certainly teaches a mother to pick her moments better to surprise her child with an unexpected visit."
"Where are you visiting from, if you don't mind my asking?"
"A small town you probably haven't heard of, about two hours away from here. I'm semi-retired from academic work and was honestly hoping to catch him and catch up."
"And some consulting. I was a principal last time I was working full time."
"Though I'm just meeting you, part of me assumes you had a successful tenure," Sabrina spoke genuinely.
"I like to measure success by how well those under me, especially my students have done. I'm pretty pleased for the most part."
"So Jonathan's mother," she said to herself.
"I can appreciate that measurement too. I do consulting myself; it is hard to feel successful if the ones you're helping aren't."
Patricia shook her head in agreement, but verbally pressed on something else.
"The type of consulting you do seems interesting. I've never heard of 'techload counseling' before."
Sabrina smiled. "It's not a term I would've chosen; very experimental and fancy for what amounts to helping the well-being engineers and people in tech-fields deal with heavy workloads, in-house and on-site counseling. My background is in therapy and psychology; what I do has become something of a necessary addition where I work, suggested by a manager there, and I'm starting to think it should be standard practice the more I see of the field. Their idea of extending work with crunch-times, overtime, with the stress of questionable pay and job security; even if our company is better than most, it's pretty ridiculous in my eyes."
"The way my son works at times, I don't doubt you." Patricia said over a glass of sparkling water.
"I found your card in his apartment..."
"Yes, we have worked together." Parsing her words, Sabrina wondered if she should've referred to Jon the way everyone but her does.
"...specifically four of them, in his bedroom. Along with your driver's license, strangely enough." Patricia finished, having no problem dropping the pretenses.
Quickly checking her purse, she looked in her wallet to find it missing. Patricia gracefully reached across the table to give it back. Sabrina had nothing witty to say to Patricia, so she only confirmed things with an even "Yes."
An even smile formed at Patricia's lips.
"Sabrina, I'm not here to chew you out, but I am here to speak frankly."
The redhead shook her head, her posture becoming straighter, ready to fully engage with her lunch companion. "I hope it doesn't offend you that I prefer the same."
Patricia's smile and respect for Jon's lover deepened. "Let me say first of all say that had I reached Jon first, I would've given your license to him knowing he'd get it to you as soon as he could. Returning it to you personally does serve as an excellent excuse for meeting you though."
The waiter returned with Sabrina's food. "A delicious excuse," Sabrina joked as she began eating herself.
"Jon tells me a lot, but not everything. And yet still, a mother seems to find out things. He's mentioned a girl, off-hand in the past. It was always vague and it seemed like there was something that didn't work out at one point. Like his father, he never said anything about it and can keep his emotions well-hidden at times, but a mother can still tell. Some of that happiness has come back to him the last few times we talked, the special, extra sort of enthusiasm I only hear when he's involved with someone, and knowing my son, that's not very often. If that happiness comes from you, I thank you for making him happy. That being said, I'd like to get to know the quality of the woman my son is seeing."
"Please believe me when I tell you Patricia, I very much appreciate your candidness, but to be frank myself, it does seem a little concerning when a mother requests a meeting such as this. It could give most women he could be dating the impression of an overbearing mother, for....future considerations."
"To which I would have to convince them that I'm not, though I will have to admit that I am protective of my son. I do notice that he doesn't seem to go for just any woman though. Has my visit given you pause in regards to Jon?"
"No, it hasn't."
"Then I don't necessarily mind the risk I took."
That made Sabrina laugh for some reason. She was realizing that the Task family seemed like an interesting bunch if Jon and his mother were anything to go by, fascinatingly straight-forward in their ways, and people you'd want to keep company with in the right context (and maybe people you wouldn't want to make enemies out of).
The ladies continued their late-running lunch with a small dessert, compliments of the waiter hoping one of the pair would be unattached. Both happily answered they were, and he cordially stated how it was still worth doing something extra for beauties like them. They took the compliments well before turning their attention back to each other, talking more about themselves, a little about Jon. She found herself opening up to Patricia in more ways than they expected. Much to Patricia's delight, she found qualities in Sabrina she would've loved to instill in a daughter if she ever had one. Discussing the men in their lives was fun, since it amounted to often speaking of the same kind of man.
Learning about some of the things Jon wasn't yet prone to telling her seemed useful, and Jon continued to make his mother proud for Sabrina reported how gentlemanly he courted the previous woman and her, even if their relationship began a bit strained. Sabrina dared not give Patricia all the torrid, sublime details of how they got together; she wasn't even sure Jon could readily remember it all. Her guard was dropped so far that she'd let it slip that Jon had gone to England under circumstances she was not happy with. Patricia sensed it was the older woman and plainly inquired.
"Are you going to go over and see him?"
"What...makes you think that?"
"It's sort of written all over your face, dear, like something you're set on doing that you don't know yet. I did the same with Jon's father after a big fight before we were married. Years later, I know I did the right thing. I won't say it's thee right thing with you and him, but I wouldn't consider it a wrong course of action."
Sabrina's answer was silence and consideration.
"If the ticket is too costly for such short notice, I'd be willing to help you out."
"No, thank you for the offer Patricia, but no. If I do make it over, I'll take care of everything. And I hope you believe me that I do care about your son. He's a good man, quite possibly the best I've ever known, and I have his best interests at heart."
"I did have my doubts before. I'm happy to say they're mostly dispelled."
"No impression is perfect, or ever complete so soon. I have a very positive outlook on you at least, but as I've seen with many other relationships, there's meeting the rest of your family at some point."
A collection of Marks and Tasks in the same room was Sabrina's next thought. Unwilling to tell Patricia how interested she was in that idea, she simply nodded understanding.
"Petey, are you there?"
"Yes Ms. Marks, I am here."
"Good. You are ready to start paying for your actions."
"Yes Ms. Marks. I am ready."
"You're going to call the airlines you're flying out from and book an extra ticket, first class if it's available, for me to accompany you to England, and my hotel accommodations and other things I might want paid for from your own personal credit card or bank account. You will chastise yourself for waiting so late to do this and forgetting that you arranged a consultant slash counselor to monitor your employees from a distance, without their knowledge. You will not tell anyone that I am in England when we arrive; in-fact, you will forget that fact altogether. Do you understand my instructions, Petey?"
"Yes Ms. Marks, I understand."
"Repeat what you will do for me."
She listened carefully while packing a bag at her apartment. After seeing Patricia off after lunch, she called in to work to declare she was taking the next few days off, on top of the personal days she pre-arranged for the family wedding. She also listened in as Bevy made calls to the airlines and to a hotel a small distance away from where everyone was staying and working, confirming for herself that her arrangements were properly made.
She smiled as she packed for what was going to be a longer than expected trip, but more fun, her witchy attire atop everything else in her bags as she envisioned the fun to come. Sending Bevy off to do his own preparations for crossing the Atlantic, she slipped under her covers at 2:30pm to start making up for the loss of sleep, and so she'd be mentally refreshed for the next scene, smiling throughout her dreams that she'd ensure would come true.
"My mother did what?" An incredulous Jon asked.
"It's fine, Jonathan. It was nothing more than getting to know one another over lunch."
"More like vetting, which is her occasional habit when it comes to my love-life. Normal people, or normal kids don't go through this."
"On the contrary. Trust me, it's not just your parents. And it's not like she was the only one doing the vetting. Information flowed freely that afternoon, much of it should prove...useful, in time."
The video quality over Skype was clear enough for Jon to see that signature twinkle in her eye, like someone's mind was going to be, or had just been adjusted.
"You didn't...I mean, you didn't try to..."
"Hypnotize your Mom?"
"...yeah..." There was something satisfying about letting him wonder if she extended her charming personality toward his mother, or even the how, with dozens of ways Sabrina could've done it from across the table. She let the wonder last for long, quiet seconds.
"No, I didn't. A tempting challenge, I admit, someone with that kind of moxy and fire in them. But I respect those qualities in Patricia. As much as I can respect them in her little boy though, I love setting them aside to introduce a male-proper state; she didn't lock her son up fast enough before this temptress lured him out to play..."
Jon looked away from the camera and Sabrina's chuckling, staring into space for a moment to imagine his 15 or 16 year old self living in the same neighborhood as a young Sabrina of the same age. Having her eye on the inexperienced and overly shy teen, being led out to wherever she wanted for whatever she wanted, unable to say no whenever she fixed her blue eyes on him or spoke suggestively. He didn't linger on the younger slave he could've been to Sabrina, just so he didn't give her any more ideas.
"Sorry about not being-"
"You've apologized enough at the beginning of the call, dear. It did irk me at first, but you are forgiven. Now stop it before I make you stop."
A fresh, competitive spark ignited from her comment. She saw it as clearly as he felt it. He didn't challenge her directly, but still felt the need to comment.
"It's too bad you can't get at adult Jon who's too far away to be lured."
"Jonathan, Jonathan, Jonathan..." she tsked as many times as she intoned his name. "Technology as advanced as it is would aid my magical charms so well. This video chat gives you a glimpse of so many things to take you over with, I'd only need you to focus on one. The curve of my breasts," she said as she ran her hand over the material over her chest, "lovely hands and lacquered fingernails," as she waved them theatrically at the cam, "lips that form the shape of your thoughts, that your lips want to conform to," a single nail circled her lips, "or eyes, ocean-wide, that surround you as you swim in their depths on a mental vacation like no other..."
Jon could feel her hypnotic tease working, wondering how far she'd take things, not letting himself sink easily for testing his own resistance on a fruitless whim.
"But then again, you've already succumbed to every last focal point I just mentioned, and more. I'm not really sure I need to do anything. Just mentioning those things should have you running back, looking to take the first flight out. You'd love to ext-."
Mid-sentence, a pause struck the mesmerist, the gears of one seduction turning toward modifications for another.
"Sorry, got side-tracked there for a second."
"Nice to know that happens even to the likes of you."
"I'm not some perfect, immaculate omniscient being you know, no matter how much you worship me like one."
She loved his reactions to such comments, where his expression sobered and body almost stiffened, acknowledging through non-acknowledgment how he was on the defensive.
"Nice to know the only track you're on is heading right where I want you."
Jon couldn't hide his smile for how thick she was laying on the charm, tormenting him that she was in that kind of mood and thousands of miles separated them, a thought which stuck out in his mind for a minute of silence.
"While we're on the subject of 'where,' why do you have the lamp on and the curtains closed? Shouldn't it be light there now?"
"No, it shouldn't."
"But it's like, nine at night here and..?"
"So which is it?"
"Is it that you couldn't agree more, or couldn't disagree less?"
"....wha..." Jon was thrown for a loop from her confusing query that rapidly disintegrated from his mind, leaving only an extremely suggestive state in its wake.
"You know that it's the exact time here that it should be."
"It is," the surety in her voice was contagious.
Most times Sabrina loved using that trigger as they sat on the living room couch of his or her place and just talked. It was much better entertainment than anything on TV to hear him blindly, verbally agree with anything she said, no matter how unreasonable or crazy it sounded. Usually. Strangely, Jon proved to be able to resist at times if he really wanted to. Most times he didn't because after all their time spent, he really did trust her with his mind, but the competitive side of him loved testing the limits of her control with resistance. Her competitive side loved it too, the uncertainty was an additional source of fun to her besides what she'd have him do for her.
Tonight she used the trigger as a test to make sure he was prepared to play his role as intended.
"You're more amazed at how I light up the screen, how there's nothing but me to focus on."
It was amazing to see his eyes come to focus squarely on her, his pupils still and unwilling to inspect the details behind her.
"Water is dry, you know."
"The earth is flat, and you're so afraid of ever visiting its edge."
"Are you kidding? I love the middle."
"That Jessica sure is an instigating bitch."
"What a bitch."
Sabrina confirmed he wasn't faking, as his response was automatic. She snickered at the lack of hesitation to trash his ex. He often wasn't the kind to speak ill of people, even those he disliked, at least that she knew. It was music to her ears to hear them laugh together in agreement of Jesse.
"You're not hypnotized right now, and you've never been."
"It's a myth anyway."
"I'm stroking your hair as if you're a grateful, content house cat, and you're just leaning right into it."
"Awww," was Sabrina's initial reaction to see him close his eyes and lean into what he assumed was his owner next to him, giving a soft mewl from her tender affection.
"You're just going to feel that stroking and listen carefully to every last word; what I have to say next is important and what you just need to do for me."
More kitten sounds and his version of purring warmed her heart as she spoke. Looking back to her Scryer outfit, and a few other items on the bed in her plush London hotel room, she felt even warmer just below the waist.
Jesse drowsily responded to a noise nearby. Rolling across the bed, taking the headset off playing soothing trance music on repeat, she noticed her cellphone ringing. The heroine meant to take a short nap after her flight across the Atlantic, and before she made contact with Striker. She looked at the phone strangely, like she couldn't remember having owned such a phone, but once the sleepiness passed, doubt left her head, and she took the call.
"Hello?" she yawned into the phone.
"Hey sleepyhead. Catch you at a bad time?" her cheerful friend's voice woke her up a little more.
"No, no. Just...waking from a small nap."
"No, sounds more like I interrupted one, a really small one."
"Can't be helped. I need to meet up with Striker over here about...something." Being vague with the details was for the friend's benefit, the psychic believed.
"Isn't Striker that hero/street fighter around town? What's he doing all the way out there?"
"I don't know yet," Psiana lied. "I'm unofficial backup in-case he needs it."
He didn't know she'd followed him over, but as she sensed his trip had something to do with the witch she'd been quarreling with, and prevailed over the past few times, she didn't trust the street-smart vigilante brawler to be able to handle it on his own.
"Compared to him, you're more like overkill. I bet you could take care of things he couldn't in your sleep. Literally. Hell, you could be a super among supers, and be back-up for him all the way from home."
"Flattering, but it's better if I'm close. You never know what you might need to handle in-person."
"Uh-huh," her friend replied, unconvinced.
"No, it's something. Spill it like a good friend."
"See if you can read it, psi-girl."
"Psia-" the blonde stopped herself as she felt too tired to correct her friend again.
"As ridiculous as it is to spell it out for you, you-want-nookie."
"Oh come on. You talk about Striker more than any other hero, and he's really not that special, according to what you told me. I can only assume there's a hot body under those clothes for all the fighting he does. And to top it off, you get to do it in a foreign country. No need to play coy; even if that's not your main reason, it's still on your checklist, or bucket list or whatever."
Dead air on both ends proved Psiana's friend's theory correct, like both knew it would.
"Did you fall asleep on me?"
"No, I'm still here."
"Well, before you try to 'make contact,' heh, with him. I'd get more sleep if I were you. I've never seen a girl get some, let alone enjoy some when they're jet-lagged."
"I'm fine, annoying side-kick-girl. Thank you for your concern."
"Said the sleepy girl."
Involuntary yawning distorted her hearing a bit; she couldn't remember the last time her friend's voice sounded so firm, and a tinge of something different to it.
"A sleepy little heroine really isn't good to anyone, especially not herself."
Another yawn prevented questioning the strange authority coming from the other end.
"You're in the same hotel as he is, and you'd be too loopy to make it down those long hallways that look endless under those heavy eyelids."
The longer her friend spoke, the more lyrical it sounded to her, as if being told a lullaby.
"No need for an elevator with those pressured sensations of rising and falling, when sleep is already doing that to you."
The song being sung never lost its assurance for its audience, the accent in the friend's voice revealing itself more and more.
"You couldn't even make it to the door if you tried. You're already in bed, hexactly where you belong, incapable of escaping inescapable sleep."
Sounds from Psiana end of the line revealed signs of struggling, trying free herself from the powerful words binding her to the sheets below her.
"Silly heroine, fighting only hexacerbates the sweet sleep smothering you. You can feel the truth behind my words; not one ounce of hexaggeration whatsoever," the bewitching voice taunted her. "Fighting the tide, or going with it, makes no difference. You should fixate those powers of concentration on succumbing. The sooner you do, the sooner you might have a chance to talk about me at your little meeting."
The opulent, cooing voice tugged at her lids until she could only see through slits.
"That's it. Concentrating on those slow deep breaths, on those lazy muscles, on the thoughtless dreams ahead of you."
A soft thud and the breathing of deep sleep brought a smile to red painted lips.
"Hexcellent. It's time to listen and concentrate on processing some important information for later."
Jon stretched as he walked to his old-style antique room, annoyed that Mark and few others had kept him up longer than he would've liked. Seemed useless to remind them all that they had work tomorrow; they treated the business trip like a paid vacation, a few of which enjoyed the local ale too much. He expected a few of their hangovers to be epic tomorrow, and didn't look forward to reminding people how to do their jobs. Being there for two purposes really put a cramp in his mission, and he could only hope Striker's side of things wouldn't suffer.
Hope for a hero's smooth sailing vanished as he entered his room to find he wasn't alone.
"Bottom of the evening to 'ya," a cheerful, Irish accent intoned.
Striker just looked at her, tired, borderline depressed in being found out, still very unwilling to be surmounted, unsure of what will he could muster.
"Awwww, you don't look very happy to see me, sweetness."
"You followed me," he leaned against the door with his arms folded, keeping himself ready in case he needed to leave.
"Who followed whom, my dear vigilante. It's not strictly business that brought you here, not Jon Task's business anyway. People don't come here for the sights unless they have something specific in-mind they're looking for. Of all the heroes I expected to retaliate with counter-intelligence, I truly expected it'd be one of the pestering detectives, or the ones that fly without needing a travel agent. Striker, the street-level defender, never crossed my mind, even though no one has had more contact with me than you. Had it been any other hero, I would be...irritated, to put it lightly. You though..."
"What?" Striker's tone matched the irritation she spoke of.
"It's rather sweet. I can't help but look at it like you're trying to get to know me better, with the convenient excuse that it's hero business. It'd be much better if we were alone."
"We're not?" his eyes questioned, quietly waiting for her to clarify.
"A bad omen followed you here."
"What are you talking about?
"Your not-so-secret psychic admirer."
"The trip took more out of her than she hexpected, er, expected. I gave her a little sleep aid so she wouldn't skip out on the rest she needs, to go where she doesn't belong."
Striker couldn't tell if Scryer meant anything having to do with her, or himself, and didn't want to know.
"Sleep aid?" His gaze lowered.
"And nothing more," she held her hands up at the coming accusations.
"What makes her a 'bad omen'?"
"Hard to specify right now; it's just a feeling I get from her. Something...'off,' as you might say. One should trust their instincts about such things, but I'm sure you know that."
"If she's a bad omen, what does that make you? A bad influence?"
"The influence part goes without saying. The bad, well, ask nicely and you might get it," Scryer smirked.
"And what will you try to give me? A forgetful aid?"
"Try?" she almost said aloud, loving the gall and stubbornness in suggesting she wouldn't get farther than an attempt, even after all this time.
"No," she laughed. "For your trip, I want to see what discoveries you make on your own while here. I've underestimated you thus far, and it should be interesting to see how far your wits and perseverance take you, tomorrow. Tonight, you look like you need to be tucked in. It's been too long since I've been able help you with that."
"Help I've never asked for."
"Begging, pleading and moaning doesn't count as asking for help, does it? I'm never sure with you Americans."
"Fuck you," Striker had had it with her arrogance.
Scryer took a slow breath in from the insult, and smiled an enigmatic smile upon exhaling, snapping her fingers and watching him sink to the floor when she pointed down.
"You know, I'm sure it's been pretty easy for you up to this point; always playing the righteous hero, having the choice of succumbing to the ensorcelling mesmeric temptress taken away so you don't have to admit that you like it. I appreciate the coarseness and irony behind that...invitation you extended me, but I think there's going to be more vitality and earnestness in you than you expect, sooner than you'd expect. As easy as it would be to take you now, the next time we come together, you're going to have to extend yourself to me, of your own choice. You surely are a generous lover when we finally come together, but it shouldn't always have to be the girl who initiates, even if that is somewhat gentlemanly of you to let me decide."
He didn't have the will to pick himself up, but he made himself upright from the floor. The witch wished she had a camera to capture what deserved "the proudest man on his knees" as its caption.
"Any trance you fall into until you extend yourself to me, it will be simply trance. The pleasure from feeling trance will be there, but no suggestions of forgetting, arousal, or any new ones I could think up from me for the time being. No need, if we're being perfectly honest."
"Tell me why I should."
"'Should'...perhaps you can be a little more specific."
"You can tell me how I could, or even would, but can you explain to me why I should? It's not strange to you that despite all that you've done, and gotten me to do, that it's so hard to trust you? I still find it hard to swallow that 'I just am what I am' crap. As close as we're supposed to be in your mind, you'd think you'd be a little more open, or be willing to make things even and transparent since you know so much, too much about me, things I wouldn't let other heroes know about. I won't even go into what you're doing with Psiana; you had to start a quarrel with her instead of simply telling her, or letting me tell her to back off. In that grey area you purport to occupy, you've always been closer to villainess, so why should it be any surprise that I have concerns about you, and why should it be surprising that I'd keep resisting after all this time?"
"Done?" she asked.
"I've probably got more to say."
"Well, she sat on his bed, and slipped her dark heels off, rubbing her soles. "You might as well give me a little pleasure while you continue to prattle on."
It was much harder for the hero to hide the bulge in his crotch when kneeling, he found. The fetish he was certain she implanted in him was being tested, seeing the lone silken foot being caressed, nail polish on both hands and feet a shimmering red, watching the foot and its toes bend and stretch. It didn't surprise him in the slightest that her answer to his question was an invitation to more seduction. Everything about her was pleasure when it came to him, and it was getting easier to push the buttons designed to make things easier for him. That time, she would stretch her foot out a little closer to his direction, always far enough to create a gap he had to fill if he wanted at least a closer look, which he did.
"Nothing more to say? How odd. I guess it's my turn to retort. If rigid rules and sometimes misguided moral complexes are supposed to determine what side of the line someone stands on, of course I'd be more villainess. Of course, it's odd enough that one rule I have is quite rigid, and a heroine messing with it would shift my allegiances to that enticing dark side."
"What rule is that?"
"No one encroaches on what's mine."
"Punish me then and leave her out of this. She just followed me; she doesn't know about your secrets. I'm the one with an agenda here."
"I wasn't referring to secrets."
The gleam in her blue eyes were direct, but still more subtle than the foot that smelled sweet with her perfume for some reason. It took the foot moving across his vision to notice it, and notice how close it'd gotten to him. He had to stop himself from asking what scent she was wearing; Striker nor Jon ever asked a woman that question before. The slow retreat away from his face gave him time to react by leaning forward, only to fall on his hands. Reduced to prostrating himself before her, and the dignity that allowed him to ask the unanswered questions gone, he could've easily crawled forward to partake in the offered gift. At eye level with the foot staring at him like a snake being still before the strike, he approached, and moved to the right of the bed, crawling into the bathroom where he locked himself in.
Striker was breathless as he waited for a sound indicating a reaction to his retreat. All he heard was a brief chuckle, followed by an exiting decree. "Don't expect any relief for yourself while you keep me waiting."
The sound of Scryer walking out the door and closing it behind her made him exhale a breath he forgot he was holding in. It was a non-electric, old-style door, and yet he still heard the deadbolt lock click.
Mental exhaustion from her visit kept him from testing her last suggestion or spell, not doubting her ability to prevent self-pleasuring. He banged his forehead lightly on the wall, knowing that would keep raising the stakes until whatever end would come. Unable to rise from his knees, and not trusting Scryer's return, the hero slept on the bathroom floor, fighting dreams betting against how long he would hold out.