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Age Of Aquarius - Book 1
Harmonic Dissonance - Chapter 2
Phil was pacing across the entrance to TMC as Mike wheeled into visitor's parking. He had a cell phone to his ear and was gesticulating to punctuate his words, though the listener could not benefit from the display.
"Any guess who he's on with?" Mike smiled in amusement.
"Ten to one he's talking to someone in TMC but he wants to catch me before I go in."
Mike looked back at Phil's emphatic gestures and smirked. "Yeah, that'd be my guess too. This is going to be so ugly." Mike pulled a book from the back seat. "I'll be waiting here when you get done."
Jase looked at Mike. Mike had always been giving and generous but Jase felt he was preying too much on his hospitality already. "You don't have to do that, Mike. I can get one of the Admin people to call me a cab."
Mike laughed. "Hey money buckets, you can take me to dinner as payment if you like."
"Hopefully that will be lunch. I don't enjoy the thought of being stuck in there more than a few hours."
"Ok, lunch and you can buy dinner too." Mike settled back into the seat and opened his book. He made it pretty clear the conversation was over.
Jase smiled. "Ok, if that's the way you want it. I'm not going to argue with a guy who could probably break me in two." He put his hand on Mike's arm, feeling the tingle again. "Thanks Mike; I mean it."
Mike grinned. "Thank me later. You have a lot more dangerous people than me to face today."
Jase groaned, then took a deep breath and headed for Phil. As his family lawyer, Phil had always looked out for Jase's best interests. His loyalty to Jase's grandmother, even this long after her death, touched Jase deeply and made Phil a friend. He walked in slowly, noting that Phil was too absorbed in his argument to see anyone around.
"You listen here you pathetic excuse for a professional! The body is supposed to be COLD before the vultures start pulling it apart! I will..." Phil shook his phone and put back to his ear. "Mark my words..." He shook the phone again and looked at it in disgust. "Damn cells!"
Jase smirked and coughed, startling the older man. "Yeah, I never have gotten along with them."
Phil spun on his heel and eyed Jase in mock annoyance. "I should have known. You're just like your grandmother. I couldn't even bring my briefcase into her house after we went to cells and PDAs."
Jase put his hand to his chin thoughtfully. "Hmmm.... wonder why..."
Phil laughed and put his hand on Jase's shoulder. "Good to see you have your wits about you." His eyes deepened as he looked into his client's eyes. "How are you taking all this?"
Jase shrugged. "Best one can, I guess. No nightmares yet, and my hands aren't shaking."
Phil nodded. "Well, remember that everyone in there is hoping to seize control of TMC. Unfortunately for them, you are the 'Walls of Jericho' and they don't have any horns."
Jase frowned, his eyes wandered across the sterile high tech corporate headquarters. "They can have this fucking company for all I care."
Phil stepped back and looked at Jase for a few moments, then shook his head. "Actually they can't. Not for another three years at least."
Jase's eyes snapped back on Phil. "Why?"
"Because your grandmother was a brilliant woman and knew better than to leave such decisions on someone your age."
Jase's eyes narrowed. "Just spit it out, Phil. What of probably a million things, in specific, do I not know about how my grandmother is still pulling the strings?"
Phil shrugged. "Simple really. You know your grandmother put the initial funding into the business when your father started it."
"Well, what you may not know is she retained 15% ownership of the company. Upon her death, that became part of her estate, which is being held for you in trust until you are 25."
"Yeah, I know about the trust, Phil; it's put me through college." Jase skimmed past the fact it had gotten him off the street and eliminated the necessity for him to whore himself to survive. Phil knew it all; they didn't have to rehash the specifics.
"Well your father never got around to redoing his will after you left... soooo." Phil's hands expanded out to the company. "He had a similar trust set for you in case he died before you were of suitable age to make intelligent choices."
Jase groaned. "Oh please don't tell me...."
"Remember all those proxies I've brought by a few times a year since your grandmother died?"
"That is how your father kept control of TMC since her death. He owned 38% of TMC, she owned 15%. Which means you are now the holder of 53% of TMC stock. And you will be for another 3 years, regardless of what you may want to do with it."
Jase looked at Phil in horror. He started to sputter. "But... I can't even use a computer Phil! This is a high tech company! I bet when I walk in systems will start flaking!" Jase felt his knees going weak and grabbed for the bench. He gripped the steel for support. "I can't run a mega corporation, Phil!" His eyes were desperate.
Phil knelt down and gripped Jase's arm. "You -own- it Jase. You don't have to RUN it." He looked into Jase's eyes, his own sincere gaze bringing a calm assurance to the young man. "You will be required to make large decisions a few times a year. Such as now, with your father gone, they need a new President and CEO for the company. Without one, a corporation has no one to steer it. You don't have to be the CEO or President, but you have to give your backing to whoever will be in those positions. Once we're through this transition, you can delegate nearly everything, but the really big decisions on how the company will be managed, those will fall to you."
Jase looked at Phil. "I don't know if I can do it."
Phil's eyes went hard. "Of course you can do it. You were able to stand against your father, survive on the streets, and embrace your grandmother's legacy. Telling some corporate business sharks to go fuck themselves should be child's play!"
Jase gaped at his lawyer for a moment then began to laugh. He found himself gasping for breath and holding to the bench to keep from shaking himself onto the sidewalk. Phil stood up and looked at him patiently. After the last giggles subsided, Jase looked back up through teary eyes. "I suppose if they piss me off we could end up with a sudden population explosion in frogs!"
Phil's eyes softened and he smiled. "You know, your grandmother used to comment upon the inevitability of frog population growth." He shrugged and looked back at the doors. "I never once saw a significant increase myself. That was probably one of the only predictions she made that didn't come true."
Jase stood up and brushed himself smooth. He wiped his face with the handkerchief Phil handed him. "Well, Mr. Mason, what do you suggest?"
Phil squared his shoulders. "My professional or personal advice?"
"Walk in there, put the Executive VP in temporary management of TMC while the board looks into the options. State you have no intention of relinquishing your stock and call for a vote of the board for early next week to elect a new Chairman. Then inform them that due to recent events you have other pressing matters to attend to. You can have them use my office as your contact number. Refer them to your lawyer for any questions between now and the election. Thank them for coming and leave."
Phil smiled. "Refrain from increasing the local population of frogs."
Jase was surprised at how calm he had been with Phil beside him. He was certain he'd be sweating when he faced the men who had battled his father for corporate control for years. His father had been a powerful businessman with a spine of steel and a mind sharp as a razor. Jase had stood looking out the window of the boardroom while Phil had deflected most of the arguments. There was something reassuring about the fact that if they pissed him off he could blow the entire executive level of TMC off the map. He wouldn't, of course; Morg had instilled the rules into him far too well for that. It was the fact that he knew his father could stand there and face them down without having a lineage of power behind him that gave Jase a sense of complete control.
Mike was leaning against the bumper of his Jeep watching as Jase and Phil left the building.
"That wasn't as bad as I thought."
Phil smiled. "It's just beginning. You don't have to worry about anything other than tempers and egos. The law is on your side and their lawyers know it."
"So we'll meet Monday to go over options?"
"Yes. And Saturday for the funeral."
Jase frowned. "Yeah, Saturday."
Phil gripped his shoulder. "Everything is being taken care of, Jase. You need to stop by and talk to the director and put your signature on a few documents for the burial. Other than that, do whatever you need to; just stay in Provence. By the end of next week, you should be able to return to your normal life."
Jase laughed as they got to the jeep. "Since when have I ever lived a normal life, Phil?"
Phil smiled. "Point taken. Call me if you need anything, Jase. You have your trust checkbook and cards?"
Jase nodded. "Yes, papa. Dittums remembered his toothbrush and bankie, too."
Phil snorted. "I have a million things to do before Monday. I'd best get back to the office."
Jase frowned. "No lunch?"
"I'll have Mary order something for me."
Jase was disappointed but had known he wouldn't get much time with Phil. "Ok, you old workaholic. Go feed the addiction."
Phil smiled. "Saturday."
"You sure you don't want some private time, Jase?" Mike stood with his friend before the closed casket.
Jase swallowed. "Lets just leave it as a left over from your duty as a friend last night."
Mike rested his hand on Jase's shoulder and squeezed reassuringly. "I'm right here. I'm not going anywhere."
Jase gripped the lid and lifted. He realized he had palmed his pentacle and had two spells at the ready. The corpse was exactly as in the dream. It wore the same suit. The hair was styled the same. Even the position of the hands was identical. Jase waited. He measured the moments in heartbeats. 10... 20... 30 It was over a hundred before Jase could find his voice. "Good bye, dad." It wasn't what he'd planned to say, but Jase knew if he wanted to say more later he could. He lowered the lid. "Lets go."
They rode in silence from the funeral home till they arrived at the gates of the estate. Mike pressed the security call. After a few moments, he announced them and the gate swung open. Mike smiled at Jase as they pulled in front of the manor. "Its cool, Jase. You really haven't been back?"
Jase shook his head. "Nope. Haven't even called." He released his seatbelt and got out. The house looked as perfect as he remembered. A tear rolled down his cheek as he stood gazing at his home. He thought he'd dread the place or feel nothing, but the homesickness ate at him new and with an intensity that made his stomach ache. The opening front door drew Jase's attention. The figure that stepped out unleashed the resistance he had kept up and the tears began to roll freely. The old man smiled fondly at Jase as he approached.
"Welcome home, Master Jason."
Jase smiled through the tears, his heart feeling warmed to know some of the joys of his childhood were still here. "Good morning, Roger, it's good to see you."
Roger pulled a kerchief from his pocket and handed it to Jase. "You have been sorely missed, sir." His eyes wandered over Jase's face as the boy dried his eyes. "You look remarkably like your mother."
"Thank you, Roger." Jase handed back the kerchief. "I have to go through dad's things."
"Of course, Master Jason."
Jase spent the afternoon sorting through the easiest items. He put labels on his father's belongings as what to keep and what to give to charity or sell. The sun was beginning to set as he stopped before the room he'd been avoiding since he'd arrived. His father's den was the last place Jase had seen his father before he had fled. With a deep breath, Jase pushed open the door and stepped in.
Marcus Steward had glared at his son, his eyes filled with rage. "You are never to speak of it again!"
Jase glared back at his father, his fists balled at his sides. "It was mother's! I know what it said and I can do the same things!"
"You can do NOTHING!" His father's fist punctuated his words as it struck Jase across the jaw, knocking him to the floor. "There is no such thing! Live in the real world, Jason!"
Jase's anger erupted as he slammed his hands on the floor. "There IS!" He had wanted to prove himself to his father. He had practiced and practiced the spells he had found in his mother's diary. Now he wanted to force his father. He felt the room shaking. His father staggered back as books began flying from the shelves. Every small item in the room was hurled at Jase's father.
Jase scrambled from the office and ran from the house. It was the last time he saw his father alive.
A touch on his shoulder pulled Jase from the memories he had retreated to. Jase, turned to find Roger beside him. "Your father stopped coming in here around six months after you'd left."
"I suppose the ghosts were a bit much for him too."
Roger didn't respond, he just stood beside Jase remembering ghosts of his own...
Mike set the food on the table and looked over at Jase. "Dinner's ready, Mr. Talkative."
Jase hadn't said more than a few words to Mike since they'd left the estate. He hadn't known what to say. Mike had thought Jase was more upset over his father's death than he felt. There isn't anything to say. I can't just come out and say, "Hey Mike, I'm a real life spell casting witch!" Jase got up from the couch and moved to the table. Then there's everything else. Better to let him remember me the way I was. I'll be heading back to the city as soon as the funeral and legal shit is taken care of.
Mike watched Jase as he ate. Don't shut me out, please. He could feel Jase was stressed and that only a part of that stress had anything to do with his father's death or the problems with TMC. Why don't you trust me, Jase?
After an uncomfortable meal, Jase grabbed the empty carryout packages. "Let me handle the dishes, Mike. You spent all day helping me with dad's things."
Mike shrugged. "Just rinse them, Jase, I'll do them tomorrow after breakfast." Mike stood and pulled off his shirt as he headed for his room. "I'm going to head down to the studio to catch up on my yoga and katas." And work off some frustration.
Jase watched Mike leave and sighed. Maybe I'll be asleep before you get back. I'll have a hard enough time as is.
Mike returned exhausted but no less frustrated. The apartment was dark as he came in. He paused near the couch and looked at Jase's sleeping form in the light from the street. Safe dreams, Jase. Unfortunately, the dreams didn't cooperate.
Jase cowered within a glowing circle of salt clutching his grandmother's pentacle. He ached beyond physical pain. It felt as if his soul were torn and bleeding. His gaze never left the form of the creature that had been a man not an hour before. It was terrifyingly beautiful. The beast had finished adjusting its tie and turned to look at Jase. "Thanks for the meal, magic boy. You just sit there and cry. When you've fattened up again, I'll give you another taste."
"Go to hell," Jase whimpered.
The beast laughed. "I have no desire to go home yet, little witch. You certainly won't be seeing me off." He ran his hand along the nimbus barrier shielding his chosen meal. "Clever, very clever, little snack. I didn't expect you to have salt." Its indigo eyes burned with hate and hunger. "I know you, boy. You will feed me again!"
Jase blinked through the tears. This wasn't right. The creature hadn't shown his inner fire during their first encounter. Jase stared and grit his teeth. "I vanquished you."
The creature laughed again. "Believe that if you like, little morsel. I will be seeing you soon."
Jase curled up on the floor safe within his circle. He closed his eyes and gripped the pentacle tighter. "I vanquished you..."
Mike woke suddenly; something felt wrong. Stepping into the living room, he looked in on Jase. Jase was curled into a fetal position, the sheets wrapped about him as if he were trying to put as much as he could between himself and some unseen fear. Mike knelt closer and listened as Jase mumbled softly the same phrase over and over. Mike put his hand on Jase's shoulder to wake him. Jase's mumbling softened and his face relaxed.
Great, another night on the couch. Mike went around to the other side and climbed into the bed. It didn't take much to encourage Jase's sleeping form to turn over to him. Mike carefully pulled Jase close trying not to wake him. As the minutes passed, Jase's breathing became more relaxed and his body melted against Mike's. Mike kissed Jase on the top of his head. "Get some rest Jase; I'm here," Mike whispered and closed his eyes.
The funeral ended just before noon. Jase thanked the condolers for what felt like hours. By one in the afternoon, only Jase, Phil, Mike and the reverend remained. Jase thanked the reverend and then began to walk back to the cars.
Phil put his hand on Jase's shoulder and squeezed. "Just a chapter, Jase, we'll see you safely into the next one."
Jase smiled. "Sure, Phil." He turned and gave the old man a hug. "After we get through with the first few pages, can we take some time just to be friends again?"
Phil hugged him back. "That's a promise, young'n."
Jase released Phil and stepped back. "I'll be fine, Phil. 10am Monday?"
"Yep. Unless you want to meet for breakfast?"
Jase nodded. "Sure, that'd be great."
"Where are you staying?"
"He's at my place, Mr. Mason."
Phil looked over at Mike, who hadn't spoken a word during the entire funeral or the wait afterwards. "That's good of you, Michael."
"Thank you, sir, but it's no burden." He looked at Jase. "It's giving us time to get reacquainted."
Jase looked down. He felt like shit for ruining Mike's sleep for the past two nights. He had packed his bags before the funeral and had planned on getting a room as soon as the deed was done. It was obvious Mike had other ideas. If I contradict him at this point I'll not only be ungrateful but also make him look like an idiot. "Mike's been great, Phil. If I didn't know any better I'd think he missed me."
Mike gave Jase a hard look. "Don't flatter yourself, Jase. I was the Boy Scout in high school, I can't seem to get over the need to do my good deeds."
Jase's eyes filled briefly with the hurt of Mike's words. He quickly masked it and smiled at Phil. "His karma will be boosted for months, Phil. Mark my words."
Phil turned to Mike. "You live in revitalized downtown, right?"
Phil smiled at Jase. "I'll just meet you at Carole's around 8am."
Phil turned to his car and opened the door. "Be safe till Monday, Jase."
"I'm spending my nights with a -boy scout-, Phil. They are always prepared."
Phil chuckled and closed the door. Mike and Jase watched in silence as Phil drove off. Neither of them wanted to talk first. Finally, Mike stepped towards the jeep. "I'll be in the car when you're ready to go."
Jase nodded and followed. He felt like shit and didn't know how to fix things. He looked at Mike as they fastened their seatbelts. "I'm sorry, Mike."
Mike shrugged. "It's ok, Jase." He started the engine and reached for the gear shift but Jase put his hand over the stick.
"No, Mike. It's not ok." Mike looked at Jase confused. "I've treated you like shit since we got up this morning." Jase looked down and swallowed. "I'm feeling like a complete asshole, ok?"
Mike nodded. "Ok." He looked at Jase seriously. "I'm not trying to fuck with you Jase. I checked on you and you seemed to be having another nightmare. When I tried to wake you it seemed just being there helped, so I just climbed in and waited." There was a tear running down Jase's cheek that Mike desperately wanted to wipe away. He put his hand on Jase's shoulder. "I'm a healer, Jase. Mr. Wong says what makes me good is I'm very empathic." Mike shrugged. "Maybe it's just in my head but when you're hurting I feel it. I can't just sit back and let someone suffer if I can do something, Jase. Even if we weren't friends, I'd still want to help."
Jase looked away. "I don't want to be your good deed, Mike."
Mike frowned and grabbed Jase by the chin, pulling him around to look at him a little more roughly than he'd intended. "You aren't a good deed for me, Jase! What do I have to do to get it through to you that I'm still your friend?" Mikes eyes went moist and he fought back tears of frustration.
Jase pulled Mike's hand from his chin. "I believe you, Mike. I'm just not worth the effort."
Mike dropped his hand. "I think I can make that decision for myself, Jase. Get off yourself! I know you aren't totally freaked over your dad's death. You're freaked, but you won't tell me why."
Jase set his jaw and looked out the windshield. "Some things are best left alone, Mike. Nothing can be done about it anyway."
Mike felt like he'd just been kicked in the gut. He grabbed the stick and slammed the jeep into gear. "Fuck you, Jase."
Jase just looked out the window and felt like his stomach was being twisted into knots.
Mike stormed into the apartment and threw his jacket at the couch. He'd spent the entire drive back fuming. He was angry with Jase and he was angry with himself. All he wanted to do was hit something.
Jase followed, looking sullen and feeling lost. He wanted to open up to Mike. Hell, I want to drag your ass to bed but that's not going to happen. The thought stopped Jase cold. He hadn't been with anyone since the night the beast nearly killed him. Seven months with no intimate contact with anyone. I've got to get out of this before I damage this friendship any further. He walked past Mike as the larger man stripped off his tie and strode angrily into the kitchen.
Mike filled the teakettle as Jase shouldered his carry on and picked up his bags. Mike stopped as he saw Jase. "What are you doing?"
Jase couldn't look at him and started towards the door. "Getting out of your hair. I'm not your problem, Mike."
Jase stumbled back as the kettle smashed against the wall in front of him. "Don't you DARE walk out on me, Jason Steward!" Mike closed the gap faster than Jase thought a person could move. He seemed to blur as his arms gripped Jase and slammed him up against the wall. "You walked out on this friendship last time without a word. If you're walking out this time I deserve to know why!"
Jase could hear the hurt in Mike's voice and couldn't help but lock gazes with him. The connection snapped into place. It felt to Jase as if he was suddenly overwhelmed with feelings of anger, pain, and a frustration that he knew weren't his. He suddenly knew how badly the 16-year-old Mike had been hurt by the loss of his best friend. Jase's arms went weak and the bags fell to the floor.
Mike was no less affected. He couldn't understand the images that were flooding his senses. He had glimpses of horrors and scenes of things he'd never imagined. He also felt fear, longing, and a deep sense of loneliness. He let go of Jase. Mike was shaking and put his hands against the wall to steady himself.
Jase gained his voice first. "I'm sorry, Mike. I'm so sorry..."
Mike looked into Jase's eyes. "I won't stop you, Jase. But I really want you to stay."
"I've got one question, Jase."
"How long have you been having the nightmares?"
Jase sighed. It was no use trying to keep it from Mike any longer. "Seven months."
Mike reached down and picked up the bags. "Do me a favor tonight, Jase."
"Sure, anything you want."
"Just sleep in the bedroom." Mike turned and carried the bags past the couch towards his room. "I'm getting tired of the couch bed."
Jase stood frozen before Room 212, pentacle in hand, his eyes looking past the door. The sounds of two men wearing out the mattress springs mingled with similar sounds from the neighboring rooms. I can do this. He could feel the darkness beyond the door. It felt like an icy emptiness and it was growing colder as the moments passed. He knew how it worked. It had nearly happened to him. The beast would wait for the moment of release, then take more from its partner than physical pleasure, leaving nothing but a soulless shell in its wake.
Even though he knew the horror that was going to happen, he could not move to stop it. The raw sexual energy flowing from the room had him sweating. He could remember its thrall... the totality of the pleasure it could produce in him. He could feel his desire rising and an almost painful need to be touched by it again. Jase's eyes glazed as his hand began to drift hypnotically towards the doorknob. He was twitching with the want of it in him. Only the cool, solid reality of his grandmother's pentacle held him from following the impulse. The desire was so strong that the recoil buckled his knees, and he slumped against the door.
He was running out of time. The tension was building within the room, and he could recognize Pat's cries rising to a peak. Jase pressed his hand against the wood of the door and thrust his will through it. "Effringo!" The door exploded inward, and the force of his will rolled through the room like a wave. Thrown from the bed, the younger man tumbled across the floor while the older was slammed against the far wall.
Jase noted Pat lying stunned but alive on the floor as his eyes locked on those of the predator. It growled at him as it stood.
"Yep, the one who got away..." Jase wasn't much for small talk when he was pissed.
The incubus launched itself at his attacker. Its eyes swallowed the uneven light of the room as it unleashed its rage. "A mistake I shan't repeat, boy-toy!"
Jase's hand lashed out again, fingers tensed like a claw. "Necto Malum!" His opponent froze in mid-air, its body twisting in the magical energies that held it immobile.
Jase walked closer, forcing himself to look into the limitless depth of those eyes. They had nearly consumed him the last time. This time he felt nothing but revulsion and hate. "I'm sure you won't." He pressed the pentacle against the demon's flesh and unleashed the fear, self-loathing, and hate he'd felt the months it had taken him to steel himself to the task. "Exsilium iussu ignis!"
Jase stumbled back as the incubus screamed a sound unlike anything he'd ever heard. Its visage of male perfection writhed in agony as its flesh began to darken where the pentacle had pressed. Jase almost relented as the horror of the scene rushed past his determination; then he saw the demon's eyes. The eyes glowed with a deep indigo flame, terrible and hungry. He steeled his will and stood, the pentacle held out like a priest would hold his crucifix.
The creature thrashed, trying to break the bonds of magic that were consuming it. Its dark wings unfurled from the smoking flesh, and its yellow fangs snapped at the air. All the male beauty had dissolved in smoke as the magic spread, leaving Jase to see the evil behind the mask. The incubus wailed, its voice bursting from the room as the windows shattered. Then, in one last convulsion, its body erupted in white fire and curled in upon itself as if being sucked through a hole to someplace beyond.
In the silence that followed, Jase stood trembling and shaken. His eyes fell on Pat's ashen face. The boy had just seen things reserved for nightmares and the late-late movies. Jase pitied him. He knelt beside the boy and held Pat's face between his hands. "It will be ok Pat... it's over." Jase bent close and kissed his cheek, letting his will spill over the kid like a soft summer rain, "Deleo Memoria itaque sopor... The boy's body trembled once, then slid against Jase, his head resting on Jase's shoulder.
Jase woke breathing hard. Mike's arm was wrapped across Jase's chest and he was holding Jase against him. Jase snuggled into the embrace and sighed. The dream had simply been memory. No added twists for once. For the first time in months, Jase felt safe.