The Average of Deviance
Disclaimers: This fiction is a sequel to Several Devils. Like that story, this one deals with same-sex relationships and with prejudices and stereotypes. Most opinions stated herein are those of the characters--not of the person who wrote the story. You won't find anything terribly graphic here, but the subject matter is adult, so please read something else if you're younger than 18.
Except where noted, I made everything up. The content may change a little--or a lot--as time goes on, because the story is still more or less beta.
Credits: Thanks again to Rocky, Lyraine, and D.J., who vetted and edited this fic. As before, if you don't like it, don't blame them; the content is solely my responsibility.
Chapter notes: Thanks to D.J. for the extra help with the intro.
Comments: Feedback is welcome. Send any comments to ROCFanKat@yahoo.com.
Morning; the interior of a condominium, dimly lit with sunlight streaming in through the windows. Embers still cool in the fireplace as somewhere, a radio plays Heart's "How Can I Refuse." The greatroom is littered with clothing that leads in a trail across the floor and up the stairs: a white robe with wings attached; a black greatcoat; some sort of red bodysuit with a long pointed tail; a halo.
And just outside the bedroom door, a pair of horns.
The bedroom is meticulous as a monk's except around the Mission bed, where a storm appears to have struck without warning. The digital clock/radio on the night table displays 9:02 a.m. as the tangled quilt and covers shift slightly, revealing two women sound asleep. A long sweep of disorderly dark hair falls over one woman's eyes; the other is clothed in nothing but part of the sheet. Both are wearing faint but definite smiles as the radio continues to play.
Where do we take it now
Now that we caught fire?
Will something greater grow
Out of this desire?
Should I drop my guard
At the risk of being used?
But the way you do those things to me
How can I refuse?
A high-pitched electronic whine pierces through the song, and the Caller ID panel in the phone forms liquid-crystal letters: J/J/G ADVERTISING.
Somewhere, a phone was ringing. The best thing to do about ringing phones was nothing, so I did. Besides, I was too comfortable to move at the moment, dug into a nice warm bed with a naked blonde wrapped around me, just like the dream I'd been having. It had been an insane sort of dream, really--something about a Halloween party at a strip club, a 6-foot condom, a contagious fistfight, and a sexy demon, none of which made any sense. But it had ended in a wild night with an angel, who was still asleep all over me, and I was starting to think I liked it.
Blessed silence again, as voice mail picked up. I pulled the angel closer in my dream and started to drift back off. Now, where were we?
The phone started ringing again.
"If you love me," the angel murmured, "you'll make that stop."
With one hand, still asleep, I felt for the phone on the night table, picked up the receiver, and slammed it back down.
Twenty seconds or so of peace. Then the phone rang again. The angel said a very bad word, and my eyes shot open.
It wasn't a dream. There really was a naked blonde in my bed, and unless I was completely crazy...
She pushed up off me, glanced at the phone, and gave me her most ominous look. "You could get celibate again in a hurry," she said.
No, I wasn't crazy. It was Cassie, all right. Did that mean that last night had really happened? All of it?
My bewilderment must have shown, because she finally just shook her head and reached over me to grab the phone. "Kerry residence. What?!?"
Whoever was on the other end started laughing. Cassie dropped the receiver as though it were hot. "It's for you," she said. "And I do mean 'it.' "
With a grimace, I took over. "Kurt, damn you, what do you want?"
"You mean besides a videotape of last night?" He laughed even harder. "You did make one, didn't you? It would make a great recruiting film for lesbianism. Even better than 'Xena: Warrior Princess.' Can't say much for you, boss, but Cass is about as hot as that Gabrielle babe."
Apparently, Cassie heard that, because she muttered, "Hotter."
"Kurt," I said dangerously, "you've got 10 seconds."
"All right, all right. I just called to warn you that Jack's on his way over, and you snap at me like..."
Instinctively, I pushed Cassie away. She gave me a very bad look and snuggled back up. "He'd better not be," I told Kurt. "We called in sick today."
"Well, boss, there's a school of thought about that. About half the agency would agree with you on the 'sick' part. Of course, I don't think it's sick. I think it's a very beautiful thing. What are you both wearing right now?"
Exasperated, Cassie took the phone away and reached over me again to tap the speakerphone button. "Devvy doesn't think very fast first thing in the morning. She should have told you to stop playing adolescent games with us and to go play with yourself instead. I'll just bet you need the practice. Now, if that's all you wanted..."
"Cass," he said, "I'm hurt. I'm only trying to help. I thought you might both want to put some clothes on before Jack gets there--that's all. If I don't get to see it, why should he?"
Well, Cassie had tried reason. "All right," I told him. "We'll pretend to believe you. Why is Jack coming over?"
"Kester Mortuaries. We've got to show the tape at 11. Jenner wants you both there."
I glanced over at the alarm clock. 9:09. "You and Heather did the creative. Cassie gave the account to Chip. Why would we need to be there?"
"Well, you don't, really," Kurt admitted. "But it came straight from Jenner. He's sending Jack over to make sure you both show up." His grin was almost audible over the phone line. "God, you should've seen Jack's face. Getting sent out on errands like a waterboy. My guess is that it's payback for that rumble last night."
"That would be about Jenner's speed." Interested in spite of myself, I tried to lower my voice in the vain hope that Cassie wouldn't hear the next part. "So who won the fight? Did anybody lose any body parts?"
"Well, Jenner was a body part last night, and the general opinion is that he lost on points, but..."
"It was probably because of all that latex. I hear that's why men hate condoms--they cut off the flow of blood to their brains."
Cassie smacked me on the head. "Stop that. I don't sleep with trolls."
It was pure habit, but my answer was "Since when?"
"Starting as soon as I get out of this bed," she snapped.
Kurt started laughing again. "A match made in heaven," he said, "or somewhere. You'd better start getting decent, by the way. Jack left here 15 minutes ago."
Cassie and I exchanged glances while we did the math. My condo was 15 minutes from J/J/G, which meant...
Well, for starters, it meant Cassie had about 30 seconds to find her angel costume, which was probably down in the greatroom somewhere. She promptly leaped out of bed and made for the stairs.
"You could have told us that sooner," I complained to Kurt, fishing my robe out of the sheets.
"Sure, I could have. But I promised Jack I'd wait to call you till he was almost there."
I was still processing that treachery when the doorbell rang.
"I heard that," Kurt said. "Too bad you won't have time now to put some makeup on those bite marks. Cassie does bite, doesn't she? Have a nice day."
I slammed the receiver down as hard as humanly possible and then raced down the stairs. But it was too late; Cassie had the door open already.
"Where's Kerry?" Jack demanded.
"Right behind her," I said--and stopped short as I caught sight of what was on the doorstep. Jack was not a thing of beauty on his best days, and this was nowhere near one of them. Even though he was wearing a nice suit, and even though he was about as well groomed as a man with hair plugs could be, he looked as though he'd been run through a Cuisinart on Chop. For the second time that morning, I regretted having missed that fight.
"We'll talk about how I look later," he told me. "I figure it's your fault, so I promise you talk. But first, there's that Kester meeting at 11. Jenner's calling you both in."
"We called in sick," I said. "As in not going to work, no matter how many creative directors he sends over here to play fetch. So..."
"Forget it, Kerry. You don't have a choice." He gave me a most unpleasant smile, or what might have been a smile--it was hard to tell for sure, with his lip split like that. "If you don't show, I get to fire you, and Kurt gets your job."
I started laughing. "My job? You bet. He can have it, you stupid hair-challenged son of..."
Cassie instantly put both hands over my mouth. "We'll be there. Thank you. You can go now."
He finished scowling at me and then turned on her. "Be a few minutes early," he said, "and don't even think about touching each other in front of the client."
Annoyed, I shook Cassie off, a few choice words on the tip of my tongue, but Jack was already halfway back to his Jag in the driveway. He appeared to be limping on both sides. Distracted, I watched him struggle to open and then close the driver's-side door.
"I wonder what Jenner looks like this morning, if Jack looks like that," I mused.
"We'll find out soon enough. Come here. We've still got time."
For answer, she kissed me, with obvious intent.
Distantly, I heard metal crunch on metal out in the driveway. A quick glance confirmed it: Jack had just plowed his Jag into my mailbox. Cassie probably should have thought to close the door first.
"I left it open on purpose," she said. "I knew he'd look. Serves the stupid hair-challenged son of a bitch right. Now, where were we?"
Going to the office on this particular morning after was...interesting. I wasn't big on interesting, under the circumstances. No sooner did Cassie and I hit the lobby than people started making a big point of Not Looking. Oh, they checked us out, all right, but they didn't want to get caught at it, so they were all Not Looking as hard as they could.
You'd think they'd never seen us before. We were dressed the way we always dressed for work--today, a dark-purple shirt, black trousers, and an embroidered black blazer for me; a beige wool suit and blue silk blouse for her--so nothing strange there. We didn't have horns, hooves, or tails. We didn't even show any visible signs of the night before, which I suppose was what they were all looking for. But the scrutiny was still annoying.
Walt and a few copywriters were just getting off the elevator when we were getting on. The copywriters did their best to act normal, but Walt had never committed a normal act in his life and wasn't about to start. He grabbed us both and tried to bear-hug us at the same time.
"I love you two," he said fervently. "I won 500 bills on you last night. So was it as good for both of you as it was for me?"
Cassie thwacked him in a certain place with her attaché and pulled me into the elevator.
"Keep me posted!" he called after us, as the doors started to close. "I've got another 200 on when the baby's due!"
Things were going to get interesting, all right, starting right about now.
We made sure to walk into the conference room at exactly 1 minute till 11. Everyone else was already seated, and as we entered, they stared at us like so many owls.
"Good morning, everyone," Cassie said sweetly, with her most innocent expression, and then jabbed me in the ribs. Right. Smile. With a little effort, I did.
Then I got a good look at Jenner, and a second look at Jack, and the smile turned into the real thing. Cassie saw that and shot me a warning glance as we took our chairs--the only two left, and very far apart.
"Mr. Kester," Jack said to the client, who was seated directly across from me, "I don't know whether you've met our caboose here. The lovely blonde is Cassandra Wolfe, and the evil-looking dark one..."
"Devlin Kerry, Mr. Kester," I interrupted, reaching across the table.
The client grudgingly shook my hand. He had a grip like a sick flounder, only wetter. It went with his face, though. Idly, I pictured the man in a fish tank, with those few strands of black hair and the tiny mustache slicked down too tightly to move in the current. I wondered what his parents had looked like and why they hadn't thrown each other back. I wondered...
"I remember you," the client said. "You spat coffee at me a couple of months ago."
There was an epidemic of coughing and throat-clearing around the conference table. Quickly, I ran through my options. The most amusing one was to stare at him blankly, so I did.
"You got off light, Mr. Kester," Jack said solemnly. "She usually gouges clients' eyes out. That's only if she likes them. See what she did to Mr. Jenner and me last night? If she'd been in a bad mood at the time, she'd have..."
"That's enough, Harper," Jenner told him.
"Business before pleasure, Harper."
Jack sighed. "Yes, sir."
The client gave me another nervous look. I continued to stare at him.
"We'll see the tape now," Jenner said. "Derry, stop staring at the client."
"Eventually, sir," I replied.
Next to me, Heather didn't quite manage to cover her giggling fit, and the client turned all the way sideways in his chair to avoid my eye. Satisfied, I shifted attention to the TV monitor, where the Kester Mortuaries commercial was starting to run.
It was a bad one, even for one that Kurt and Heather hadn't wanted to do. True, my team should never have had the account--Walt's group usually got this sort of thing--but Jack had lost a fight with his wife the night before and was feeling vengeful, so he gave it to us. Kurt had happened to annoy me that day, so I'd given him the job personally. After he wrote three drafts of a parody of the "Thriller" video, which was his idea of spite, I finally put Heather on the account too. She hadn't spoken to me for two days.
That cycle of violence explained, pretty much, what we were seeing on the screen: soft-focus vignettes of Family Life, with a scrawny little undertaker smack in the middle of all of them. Kester at a wedding. Kester at a child's birthday party. Kester at Thanksgiving dinner, God help me, carving the turkey. There was no narration, but no one could have heard narration anyway, what with all those violins on the soundtrack. Finally, amid a great wash of strings, we hit the title frames (KESTER MORTUARIES: A FRIEND OF THE FAMILY), and the agony was over.
Careful to keep our expressions neutral, we all turned to the client, who was chewing his lip thoughtfully. "It still isn't quite my vision," he finally said.
Not quite his vision. Not quite the mortician's vision. I felt a silly grin start to grow on my face.
"Trade me places," Cassie told Heather abruptly.
Heather took one look and traded without comment. As Cassie settled in, she slipped her hand under the table, placed it way up my thigh--and dug her fingernails in, hard. My expression sobered at once.
"Whatever you just did, Miss Wolfe," Jenner said, "you're in charge of her for the rest of the meeting."
"My pleasure," Cassie said. "Now, you were saying, Mr. Kester...?"
The client started his litany of complaint, and I forcibly removed Cassie's hand. She put it back, without clawing this time. I pushed it off again, harder. We were in a meeting, for God's sake...and besides, Kurt was watching.
"...took the liberty of bringing a tape along," the client was saying, "to give you an idea of what I'm looking for. Would it be all right if we play it?"
"Please," Jenner said. For a second, I thought he'd winked at the client. Hard to tell, as black as that eye was, but strange just the same.
The client pulled a cassette out of his little black bag and slid it down the table to Kurt. That was strange, too; Kurt wasn't sitting next to the VCR. Kurt grinned and slid it across to Chip, who looked as though he didn't want to touch it.
"We'll see it," Jenner prompted.
Chip shook his head, but stuck the tape in the VCR and pressed Play.
At first, we saw only a grainy black-and-white scene, shot from a strange angle--probably shot on a security camera, by the way the footage looked. There were two people in the center of the shot, or maybe just one; if there were two, they were awfully close together. I squinted, to try to focus through the bad camerawork.
Then I got focus, and my heart stopped cold. This footage had come off a security camera, all right, and it had been shot last night at the Halloween party. Specifically, it had been shot right around midnight in a storage room at the Gold Club, where Cassie and I had kissed for the first time.
All I could do was watch the screen in horror. I'd been there, of course, but damn, I didn't remember the kiss going on that long, or being so...
Well, so hot. It was just the kind of thing you wouldn't want to watch with your mother in the room--let alone your colleagues, your bosses, and a client--and it was probably not the kind of thing you would ever hear the end of, if you'd been involved. Cassie was going to kill me.
For what seemed like forever, there was dead quiet in the room. Finally, Kurt cleared his throat.
"That ought to move a few caskets," he drawled.
That was all it took. They broke up completely, howling and pounding the table--even the client. Shocked, I stared at him for real this time.
"We've been had, Devvy," Cassie said softly.
"Looks that way."
"If I asked you nicely, would you gouge their eyes out? For me?"
"Of course I would."
"And if I asked you to start with Mr. Kester...?"
With an evil smile, I scraped my chair back. The client yelped and ducked behind Jenner.
"Well, you did spit coffee at me," he protested.
"You wanted sex in a mortuary ad," I explained. "You were lucky I didn't whack you upside that little head. Which eye do you want me to start with, Cass?"
Jenner, imperious, held up a hand. "I think that'll do, people. Thank you, Mr. Kester, for playing along. Thank you, Derry, for the Warrior Princess impression. And thank you, Mr. Wheeler, for the idea. Very creative. I may have to promote you one of these days."
Kurt was the happiest creature alive, I think, at that moment. Jack seemed to be feeling good, too; he gave Kurt a big male-bonding backslap and leaned over to say something private. Whatever it was, both of them found it hilarious.
"That's it," Cassie said. "We're leaving. Come on, Devvy."
Jenner looked puzzled. "You're leaving? But this was just payback. We're all square now. You don't mean you're quitting, do you?"
I did, and was about to--but Cassie jumped in. "We'll think about it over the weekend. We'll be busy the rest of today, talking to lawyers. I wouldn't sleep much between now and Monday, if I were any of you. Have a terrible day."
"She can't threaten us, can she, Harper?" Jenner asked.
"She can try," Jack said. "Don't worry about it. My mother-in-law is part-gorilla. She could beat them both up."
"Maybe she's part-dyke instead," Kurt suggested.
Jack shrugged. "What's the difference?"
At the door, I pulled Cassie to a stop and regarded my colleagues one by one, in icy silence. Only Jenner, Jack, and Kurt were happy now; everyone else, even the client, seemed to be ashamed. I made a mental note to remember that Chip hadn't wanted to play along. One ally was better than none.
"It's too late to be hanged for sheep, Cass," I said, "so we might as well be hanged for wolves. May I?"
She read my mind and smiled. "I was hoping you would."
So I drew her into a long, stagy kiss. She gave as good as she got, and then some. It was as close to the security-camera tape as we could manage, but it was close enough; I don't think a soul in the conference room breathed until we broke it off. Live performance is always more involving than TV, after all.
"That wasn't funny, Derry," Jenner said.
"Kerry," I corrected. "And if you ever pull anything like that tape again, this is going to seem like Laurel and Fucking Hardy by comparison."
Cassie instantly pulled me out of the room. She kept hold of my arm as we made our way down the hall. The gesture was more damage control than affection, but it caused everyone we passed to Not Look.
" 'Laurel and Fucking Hardy'?" she asked.
"Don't start with me. I didn't get much sleep."
"Neither did I. Do you hear me complaining?"
"I wasn't complaining."
"Good. So I won't start with you. But you're lucky I love you."
"Very lucky," I agreed. "And incidentally, same to you, lady."
We exchanged an intimate smile, which made an intern with an armful of storyboards crash into a wall. Cassie looked at him as though he were an insect.
"Just so I'll know," she said, "what did you mean by what you said to Jenner?"
"I have no idea. Want to come along for the ride and find out?"
"Can't wait," she said.
(c) 1999, ROCFanKat
"How Can I Refuse," written by A. Wilson, N. Wilson, S. Ennis, H. Leese, M. Andes, and D. Carmassi, is (c) 1983 by Strange Euphoria Music/Know Music/Sheer Music (ASCAP)/Primal Energy Music (BMI). The song appears on the Heart CDs Passionworks (Epic, 1983) and Heart Greatest Hits (Epic/Legacy, 1998), and is quoted here without permission. No copyright infringement is intended. No profit is involved.
Continued - Part 2
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