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Chapter 2: How Did We Get Here?

Feeling safe frees up a lot of processing power. When you’re safe you have the time and the energy to process just how close you are to someone in a taxi, just how long an elevator ride is when you feel like you have nothing significant to say, just how big a single king-size bed is and how little space that leaves in a single hotel room.

Especially when you’re not trying to be presumptive by sitting on the bed and Terry Walsh is running all over the room gathering cords and cables to hook up his laptop to the hotel television so you can see the ending to his private copy of his movie.

Serenity Peaks movie. Terry Walsh. Hotel room.

These things just cycle through my head, letting me focus on each long enough to understand the enormity of them before flitting away and making room for the next one, over and over again until it’s like a twister in my head.

Or my stomach. The twister must have moved to my stomach for there to be so many knots in it. I sit on the very, very edge of the bed and try to stay out of the way.

He’s got to have noticed the twister too. He must have. I’ve been nervous and jittery—laughing too loud and making really sub-par jokes (like, yes, worse than my usual string of Lizzy-eyeroll-worthy bad puns) or dropping the uptake when he’s trying to get a reaction from me—since we got out of the taxi and I saw how nice this place was.

“Okay, finished,” Terry says, coming out from behind the television. “We’re all set to go. …Did you wanna start from the beginning or from where you left off?”

I open my mouth, but no sound comes out.

He waits and then smiles awkwardly at me before turning to his laptop and bringing up the file. “How about from the beginning then, yeah? You haven’t seen it all knowing what I based it on, right?”

I swallow, moistening my throat before I speak this time. I try to keep my hands from shaking as I push my hair behind my ear. “Right.”

He smiles at me again and then disappears back to the entryway, but I can’t be bothered to watch what he’s doing.

The one thing that always breaks me out of any funk is story. It doesn’t matter how nervous I am, how intimidated or star-struck. If someone puts a story in front of me, or asks me to analyze one, it doesn’t matter where I am or what I was feeling before; with me, everything clears the way for a good story.

And this time is no different. I’m aware of Terry when he comes back, but in a peripheral sort of way. My hand comes up reflexively to take the glass of water he gives me, no longer shaking. He sits down next to me on the bed. I readjust as he does—no longer worried about being presumptive or the amount of space I’m taking up. I kick off my boots, tuck my legs up onto the mattress cross-legged, and take a sip of the water before all of my focus is lost on the story in front of me—making me forget about little things like how I’m sitting and hydration.

I probably should have cared more about hydration. I always cry during movies—especially movies that speak to me.

And, boy, this one did some talking.

I turn to him when it’s over, tears streaming down my face and grinning like an idiot, but completely incapable of caring about how stupid I must look because it was so freaking awesome and he’s the only one there, and he made it, so he needs to know—and then I can’t tell him. It all gets stuck in my throat because he’s looking at me like I’m the only person in the world, and I don’t know why.

Under the circumstances—because he shocked all the nice things I was gonna say out of me with that fucking look—all my poor brain is able to scrounge up to fill my poor flapping mouth with is, “WHY WEREN’T YOU WATCHING THE MOVIE?!!?!?”

He laughs and rubs the back of his head sheepishly. “Sorry. ‘S just when you make something, you’ve kind of seen it enough times to make your eyes bleed, you know? It’s…more rewarding watching other people watch it.”

Wait, does that mean…? My hand goes to my cheek, still damp with tear tracks. He was watching me this whole time?

“So… It’s a little after midnight,” he continues.

Oh, shit, it is?

“And I know your sister is probably still up waiting for you…” More like freaking out because I’ve missed our check-in time by 20 minutes. “You want me to call you a taxi or something? Or I could walk you home, or…” He blushes lightly and looks away, pulling at the red plaid sleeve of his shirt. “I mean, you’re welcome to stay here if you’re tired. I’d, um. I’d like to buy you breakfast or something as a thank you. Plus then you can tell me what you thought more coherently, yeah? It, uh…” He reaches out a hand and brushes some of the moisture on my cheek away with his thumb. “Looks like you have quite a lot to say.”

My cheek feels like it’s been singed. I could trace the line his thumb made on my skin from memory. I run my hands over my face, wiping away the rest of the moisture and thinking. I’m worked up and tired and still convinced I’m dreaming, which is probably why his suggesting I stay over sounds like the most rational thing in the world until the logical side of my head steps in and screams, “You idiot, no it doesn’t!”

But Terry has been so kind, and so sweet, and I’m not as nervous as I was before, because he’s made good on his promises to me, and he’s giving me a way out. How could anyone who wants to hurt me blush and say something like how he wants to buy me breakfast?

I think all these things while simultaneously knowing that anyone who wanted to hurt me could do those things too.

But, even as I look back over at the one king-size bed in the room we’ve been sitting on and realize this means we’d be sleeping together in it, I want to trust him…

I clear my throat, pulling his phone out of my pocket. “Give me a sec.”

I go to his Facebook messages just as his phone vibrates in my hand; Lizzy finally checking in with an understated “Um, where are you? that hardly conveys the amount of worry I’m sure she’s feeling at this moment.

You’re still up?

Um, duh. Still waiting up for your lucky ass.

THAT IS NOT WHAT HAPPENED

…I meant because you got to hang out with Terry Walsh, dumbass.

Of course that’s what she meant. I’m an idiot and he’s totally gonna read these later when I’m not looking, because it’s his phone and I’m staying and I’m an idiot.

So, Phantom.

Yes, I think we’ve established it’s you without the need for your silly cat’s name.

Thanks, sis.

I’m staying over.

There’s a pause, then the typing icon springs back up.

YOU SAID THAT WASN’T WHAT HAPPENED!

It’s NOT. He wants to THANK ME for letting him watch me watching his movie!

WHAT KIND OF METAPHOR FOR SEX IS THAT?

Oh my sweet tea, I’m blushing again, I can feel it.

“So, um…” Terry says. I look up at him. “What’s the verdict?”

Right. He has not yet been informed of this decision.

“I’m talking to Lizzy,” I say. “You were right, she’s still up waiting for me.”

He sags and turns towards the entry way. “Oh, so we really should get you—”

“I’m telling her I’m staying over.”

He whirls. His eyes are lit up again and he’s grinning like a twelve year old. “Oh! Oh, that’s great!” His hands waffle in the air for a moment, like he’s searching for something to do with them. Then he turns towards the phone on the bedside table. “I’ll ring the front desk to see if they carry extra toothbrushes…”

I can’t help smiling at his back while he dials. He wants me to stay. I duck my head as his phone buzzes in my hand. Lizzy’s sending strings of celebratory emojis again.

Stop it, I tell her.

I’m just so proud! My big sister, getting laid after all these years.

It hasn’t been years…has it? I guess it’s been a while since my last girlfriend, and it’s been even longer since my last boyfriend.

Listen, I type. I’m not getting laid, I’m just going to trust him, okay?

Good.

I’m taken aback. I thought Lizzy’d be more into teasing me than agreeing with me.

What?

I said “good,” you illiterate goof. Trusting someone is a much bigger step than just sleeping with them, you know that. It’s good.

You know how sometimes it feels like you’re blushing, and then something happens, and the way you felt before can’t compare to the volcano that is your face now? Yeah. My thumbs flounder over the keypad, unable to pick one flustered thing to say out of my flurry of flustered thoughts. I decide to wait and see what Lizzy has to say when her typing icon pops back up.

Seriously, though, of all the reasons to trust someone? Doing it because they made a story you love is like the most you thing I’ve ever fucking heard.

Lizzy follows her text up with a laughing emoji that is enjoying itself way too much at my expense, regardless of how spot on Lizzy’s powers of observation might be. I’d better stop talking to Lizzy before Terry turns back around and sees my face has become a grilled tomato.

I’m logging out before you can say anything else hopelessly embarrassing. If you haven’t heard from me by 12 pm tomorrow, raise the alarm. Let’s use the name of the first dorm you lived in at college as our password. BYYYYYEEEEE.

With that, I hit the log out button. There. Now Terry can’t read anything she just said and she can’t keep saying embarrassing things. Two birds, one stone.

I hear Terry place the phone back into the receiver. I look at his phone in my hands. I’ve decided to trust him. I should give it back.

“Here,” I say, holding his phone out to him. “I won’t need to get in touch with Lizzy again until tomorrow.”

He reached for it, maneuvering his hand awkwardly so he doesn’t touch mine when he grips the phone. For some reason, that makes want to hold on to it instead of let go.

“Listen,” he says. His voice sounds heavy, like it’s burdened with all the real life thoughts and ramifications of having a girl he’s just met stay over. “They’re sending up an extra toothbrush, but you don’t have to stay. I know fans sometimes want to do whatever they can to make the people who make stuff happy, but I hope what I said about wanting to hear what you have to say didn’t, like…make you feel obligated or something.” He looks at me, like he’s searching for a cue. I’m breathless; I don’t know what my face is saying to him. He drops his eyes. “Ugh, that sounded really arrogant, didn’t it? Dammit.” He pinches the bridge of his nose, then drops his hand. “My point is, we can get you home really easily, I promise. It’s no trouble, you don’t—”

“No!” I say, startling both him and myself. I’m still holding one end of his phone, and he’s stuck holding the other, just looking at me.

I drop my end of his phone and look away. “Sorry, no. I…I’d like to stay. If it’s what you want.”

He groans and scrubs at his hair. “I’m worried about it being what you want…”

It feels like something in my chest loosens, like he’s putting air into my lungs with his words. My lungs swell with it.

“Y-yeah, um, you know, I do. I’d like to.” It’s hard to meet his eyes, but I manage it for a second, feeling kinda proud of myself and embarrassed at the same time, before I have to drop my eyes and stare at his shoe.

“G-great!” he says. Well, at least I’m not the only one suddenly feeling self-conscious. “Um, let me just grab you something to sleep in, yeah? I think I’ve got an extra set of pajamas with me. Do you wanna shower while I—?”

Take off all your clothes and change into something with less layers? Right, famous people wear pajamas too…

“Y-yeah, sounds good! Mascara and pillowcases don’t really mix too well,” I say, inventing my own reason for a shower so he can get naked in peace even though I’m not wearing any mascara.

We both laugh awkwardly at each other and neither one of us moves. Then he jolts back towards the entryway. “Right! A towel!” He bolts into the bathroom. I follow him more slowly, not sure if he’s going to bolt back around the corner or not. He does and almost runs into me. “Here you go,” he says, dropping the towel into my hands.

“Thanks,” I say.

But now we’re stuck. Hotel bathrooms aren’t made for their maneuverability.

He’s seen the problem too. “Here,” he says, pressing himself back against the counter. He manages to free up a moderately Alexis-sized amount of space for me to slip by him. But I’ll still brush against him as I pass.

I could back out of the bathroom and just let him out. I could.

…Maybe I can manage to squeeze past him without touching him if I suck it in.

I take a breath and move and immediately trip over his foot. He moves off the counter to catch me. His hand goes around my waist, his other to the wall above me for support. Even though I’m no longer in danger of having my face smashed in by the ornate tile floor, I’m still in a predicament. Mainly one full of tangled limbs and physical contact. Especially since my traitorous survival instincts kicked in and my hands are on him too.

“You okay?” he asks.

“Fine, fine.” Just a colossal klutz, don’t worry. “Sorry, fine. I’ll just—” I motion towards the separate room with the shower from the precarious position of his arms.

He chuckles awkwardly. We’re kind of propped against the wall in a dual with-our-powers-combined-let’s-not-fall-over kind of pose where neither one of us can move without dropping the other to their ass on the floor. “Sorry, didn’t mean to get in your way.”

Yeah, like this is his fault. “No, my bad. Stand back up on three?”

He gives me a resolute look. “One.”

I tense in anticipation. “Two.”

“Three,” we say together, and push up and away from the wall.

He grunts as his back hits the counter. I splay my hands so I don’t push him against it further, and just end up trapping him against it instead.

These are the stupid moments that don’t happen except in—oh, wait, that’s right, I’m in Hollywood.

I snatch my hands back and dash into the next room. “Thanks for the towel!” I call.

“Feel free to use whatever’s in there!” he calls back.

I give him a quick nod before throwing the door closed and falling against it to let my poor little fan heart chill. What the hell have I gotten myself into?

I bury my face in the towel and silently scream. I know exactly what I’ve gotten myself into: every fan’s dream ever, that’s what. Maybe even one of mine. Here behind the privacy of the bathroom door, I let myself fangirl a little as I strip down and turn on the water.

I step into the shower and twirl a little bit in the shower stream—which is completely unsafe and you should never do that unless you have a death wish or a really secure hold on something, but I can’t help it! I’m in Terry Walsh’s hotel room. I just had a private screening of the Serenity Peaks movie with him. I’m in editorial and writer heaven, and fan heaven too. This is nourishment for the soul like I haven’t had in ages.

I reach out for the shampoo, and stop halfway to the shelf.

There are three tiny bottles of hotel shampoo, conditioner, and body wash right there on the shelf… But next to them is another bottle: large, half full, obviously brought by…

I swallow and hesitate.

Then I take his bottle and open it. I’m just going to smell it. Just a little. Girls have funny scents in their shampoo and it’s important for me to know as a writer what men’s scented shampoo smells like.

It’s for science…

And for fandom…

And because he never needs to know that I wanted to know what he smells like.

I open the bottle and lift it to my nose and sniff.

A gentle cinnamon scent wafts between the smell of water and soap already present in the shower, and I giggle.

“Get it, because he’s a redhead,” I mumble to myself, turning over the bottle to see if I’m right about the scent.

Sure enough, there on the label it says something about cinnamon and cloves.

Who knew they made two-in-one conditioner with stuff like this.

I shake my head and move to put his shampoo back on the shelf. But then I stop. I mean, what’s the worst that could happen? This has been fantastic, but aside from my reaction when the elevator yelled at us and that freak accident in the bathroom earlier, we haven’t been close enough for him to smell my hair.

But, on the other hand, wouldn’t it be creepy to use it? The hotel stuff is right there. He hasn’t even opened it. Using that stuff instead of his would be the right thing to do… But I can’t bring myself to put the bottle back on the shelf. He said to use whatever was in here. This is a once in a lifetime opportunity, and if I do use it my hair could smell like his, and I could hang on to this for just a little longer, because I’m going to be so sad when it’s over…

I frown, and squirt some into my hand and put it back on the shelf and lather it up while telling myself to stop thinking like that. There’s no reason to spoil how good this is with thoughts like that.

One good scrub later, I step out of the shower and towel off. It’s only when I’ve got the towel up in my hair and am ready for the pajamas that I realize they’re still out there. With him.

I sigh and take the towel out of my hair. I wrap it around myself and look down. Yep, just as I thought. Hotel towels are never big enough for this. The hem of the towel just barely covers the tops of my thighs. I shimmy the towel down a little, which is better, but now there is quite the amount of cleavage showing. I massage the bridge of my nose gently, trying to figure out how I can appear least suggestive while being essentially unclothed, when there’s a knock at the door.

Oh, who could that be?

I try to angle my body so as much of it as possible is hidden behind the wall, but you know how that makes towels less cover-y. So, in the end, it’s just me in a small towel and perfect posture answering the door and wishing I could sink through the floor or lose a few inches of either height or bust.

He seems to have also realized the mistake, though, otherwise he wouldn’t be knocking.

And when I open the door, I see that he knew what he was in for.

He’s holding the pajamas out and staring determinedly at the bathroom wall.

“Sorry, I um, forgot to give these to you. They, uh, might be a little big.”

His eyes slip sideways a little when I take the pajamas, but he quickly directs them back to the bathroom wall.

“No problem.” HA. “Thanks.”

He nods at the wall and I close the door and unfold the pajamas.

Plaid. Not flannel, but red cotton just the same.

Why am I not surprised?

I chuckle as I slip into the pajamas, and, oh, thank goodness they’re a little big, just like he said they might be. Otherwise there was no way in hell this button down would be staying closed without a safety pin. I roll up the cuffs on the pants so they don’t trip me. I wonder if these are long on him too. The man has legs, but he’s not all that much taller than me. A pair of heels over two inches and I’d be noticeably taller.

I put the towel back in my hair and go through the door to the other half of the bathroom. There’s a toothbrush and a half-used tube of toothpaste next to the sink. I give it a suspicious look as I towel off my hair. I open my mouth to ask Terry if it’s for me and then hesitate for what feels like the hundredth time this evening.

What do I call him now?

Terry?

Mr. Walsh?

His full name?

Just his last one??

Mister dream man who’s made the best show I’ve ever seen and whom I love dearly in a very professional I-don’t-actually-know-you-at-all-but-I-love-your-work sort of way?

Anything but his first name would be kind of too much after wearing nothing but a towel in front of him, I guess. I slip my glasses back on and open my mouth.

“T-Terry?”

“Yeah?”

“Is this toothbrush for me?”

“Yeah, that’s the one they brought up. I went ahead and opened it for you.”

I laugh and put some toothpaste on the brush. “Thanks.” I put the brush in my mouth and start brushing. Then I pick up the glass next to the toothpaste, fill it with some water, and throw it back to rinse.

“Oh, careful, though. I used the glass in there. You want me to bring yours from earlier to rinse with?”

I stop swishing the water in my mouth.

I stare at myself in the mirror.

Oh my god.

The teenager in me is flipping out over all of the indirect kiss connotations.

I spit the water out and then call back, “Too late.”

“I-is that alright?” He sounds a little worried.

“Yeah, no, it’s fine,” I say. More than fine. You wouldn’t let me use this cup ever again if you knew how much more than fine it was, you idiot .

I finish brushing my teeth, more flushed than I’ve ever seen myself in the mirror while doing something this mundane. Okay. Now the hard part: actually sleeping in a bed next to Terry without worrying endlessly if there’s enough space between us to not seem like a creepy fan. Whoo, okay, here we go.

I pick up my neatly folded clothes and march out into the main room. For a second, I don’t see him. Then the lump on the couch puts down a book and waves and I see he’s made a makeshift bed there.

I drop my clothes.

Terry Walsh is sleeping on the couch in his own hotel room for me.

I just can’t.

He shifts uncomfortably, and blushes. “I didn’t want you to feel confined or—”

Oh, sweet tea, he was thinking of me. “No, no, I get it, but um… Y-you should take the bed.”

“You’re my guest.”

DOES HE KNOW WHO HE IS??

I pick up my clothes and change the subject, too flustered to win this one. “W-where should I put these?”

“Oh, ummmmm…” Terry’s eyes flit about the room. “How about the desk?”

The desk is covered in papers.

I raise my eyebrows. “You sure that’s okay?”

“Yeah, don’t worry about it. Unless your clothes are the kind that are gonna come to life and destroy things like in Steven Multiverse—”

“You watch that show, too?”

He chuckles. “I watch everything when I have time.” He makes a face. “And even when I don’t.”

“Haha! I know the feeling.” I move to put my clothes down on the desk and then do a double take. Alex, Cassie, Clint? Witty dialogue? That familiar format?

These are scripts!

And not just any scripts.

Serenity Peaks scripts.

I drop my clothes in the desk chair and seize a page from the desk.

“Is this for a future episode!?” I ask.

I’m excited as hell, so when he bolts from the bed and tries to take the page from me, I’ve got the adrenaline and the reflexes to keep it away from him. You don’t take eight years of Taekwondo and earn a second degree black belt and not take something away from that.

“No, don’t read that!” he says. “You’re a fan! There are spoilers in there!”

That gets me to slow down for a second. “What does that have to do with—?”

He snatches the paper out of my hands.

Dammit.

I reach for it and he holds it above his head, just barely out of my reach. “Okay, me being a fan is exactly why I should look,” I argue.

“No,” he says, holding the page higher. “Spoilers!”

“I’m a writer. Spoilers don’t bother me.” I stand on tiptoe and touch the corner of the paper. I grasp his shoulder, trying to bring his arm down.

“It’ll bother me. You won’t react properly when you see it in context if you know what’s gonna happen!” He leans back further to keep the page away from me.

I sigh and come back down onto the full width of my feet. He may have a point. “Fine, you keep that.” But this is too big to pass up. “I’ll take a different one.” I whirl and snatch a different page from the desk before dancing away from him, eyes intent on the page, cackling.

I hear the crinkle of paper as he slams the page in his hand back down on the desk. “You cheated!” he accuses. I shrug, eyes still running over the page—because I’ve got a story in my hands again, and I always feel like me when I’ve got one of those.

But then what I’m reading stops being awesome and starts being Grunkle Alex’s death…. What? I start from the top again, and run down the page, trying to see what I missed, how we got here, how this could possibly make sense—and I can’t.

I turn back to Terry, who’s looking like he’s about to tackle me to get the page out of my hands. He freezes when he sees my face. “Oh no,” he says. “Which page did you—”

I hold the paper up and jab my finger at it. “How could you do this?

I just sit down on the bed, and look unseeingly into the space in front of me, not believing what I just read. I’m in complete story shock. How the fuck does what I just read happen in the story I know? I can’t rationalize it. I can feel Terry looking at me, but I can’t look at him, because I just feel so betrayed. I thought he was Terry Walsh, not Joss Whedon!

I look up when I hear him rustling through the papers on the desk. I watch as he puts them all in order and taps them against the desk to get them to fall right on top of each other. When he’s done, he looks over at me. Then he reaches out a hand and says, “Come here.”

I look at his hand for a second. I don’t know what kind of olive branch he’s offering, but he’s the one who writes this story. It doesn’t matter if I’m upset. I have no choice but to trust him.

I take his hand. He stands me up and leads me over to the side of the bed that’s closest to the couch-bed he’s made. He lets go of my hand and then peels back the covers. “Get comfy,” he says.

I look at the bed and then at him and quirk an eyebrow. “Why am I getting into bed?”

He sighs and runs his fingers through his hair and says, “Look, I hate to do this when it’s not finished, but it doesn’t make sense, right?” He taps the script with his free hand. “You can’t see how we got here, and you feel betrayed, right?”

I nod, because he nailed it alright.

He gestures at me. He’s got this adorable little furrow between his eyebrows and he won’t look at me, but he says, “You’re my audience. I don’t want you to feel that way. So I’m going to read this to you, and you’re going to lie there and imagine it as if it were finished and animated and voiced, okay?”

It takes me a minute to process what he’s saying. When I do, I’m touched. It’s my fault I spoiled myself. He told me not to, I looked anyway. It really would be within his rights to just kick me out right then and there and not explain a thing. After all, I nosed through his things. He’s the one who really has a right to feel betrayed. But he’s not. He’s going to do his best to rationalize it for me, instead. I feel myself tearing up again. I’m just so touched and… Well, it makes me want to hug him. I want to be close to him. It’s okay to be just a little more selfish right? Just a little more. It’s only for tonight, and then I’ll never see him again, so just this much more is okay…

“I might fall asleep in bed. Shouldn’t I sit on the couch with you?”

He looks like he might be choking for a second, and then the corner of his mouth tips up, and he says, “Well, I guess you could sit next to me. But I need to sit up straight or I won’t be able to do all the voices, so—”

He doesn’t need to finish his sentence, because I’m already pulling back the blanket he put on the couch. I slide under it and make myself comfortable before I look up at him with the biggest child eyes I can muster, like I’m saying, “Come on, read me a story!”

He puts a hand over his face and laughs like I’m going to be the death of him before following me onto the couch.

We take a moment to shuffle and find how we’re going to fit so he can read and I can see. I cozy up to his arm and he makes room for my legs. But then he tries to cover my eyes. My glasses are totally in the way and too big to fit under his hand. I snort at him. “What are you doing?” I ask.

“No reading ahead this time,” he says. Then he takes my glasses. He folds them up and puts them on the bedside table between the bed and the couch. I smirk and turn my eyes back to script. “Hey,” he says, putting his hand back in front of my eyes. “Don’t pretend to read it just to mess with me.”

I look up at him and grin. “I’m not pretending, my vision just isn’t really that bad.”

He puts his hand over my eyes again and pushes my head back onto his shoulder. “You’re imagining how it would look, remember?”

“Oh, right, yeah.” I close my eyes and shift my head to get comfortable. His shoulder is warm and solid, and the fuzzy texture of the flannel he’s wearing tickles my cheek. “Okay,” I say, “go.”

He takes a deep breath, lets it out, breathes once more, and we’re off.

Serenity Peaks falls into the category of twenty-two-minute narrative arcs. Most cartoons airing these days are just ten to eleven minutes long and only have time for an A plot. But when an episode lasts longer, there’s space for an A plot and a B plot to work together and convey a full thematic and narrative experience, allowing more characters and situations air time. So when he starts reading, I know what to expect.

This one starts when Clint goes to get his Grunkle Xander for breakfast. Clint’s hardworking grunkle is uncharacteristically asleep. When the young twin can’t wake Xander up, he turns to Xander’s journal for answers and finds an entry about something called “the Aurora Rose,” whose scent (which turns out to be horrible) is said to be able to wake even those who have slept for hundreds of years.

Cassie holds down the fort with the sleeping Xander while Grunkle Alex and Clint go on a magical quest in the B plot to go and retrieve the rose.

Xander is the focus of the A plot, even though he’s asleep for the whole episode. It turns out the episode is an old play on the “it was all a dream” trope—except this time it’s way more intense because, in true dream demon style, Buck has trapped Xander in a series of bad dreams, and Xander is having difficulty differentiating his dreams from his reality. Even if Buck wasn’t involved, I buy Xander’s inability to differentiate at this point. It seems like that would happen when one has been through numerous dimensions and has been dreaming about coming home for thirty years and then finally gets there; it must seem like a dream to Xander for the struggle to be over.

And Terry plays it well—Xander’s anxieties, his fears, the things he’s seen, the things Buck can feed him through Xander’s dreamscape even though he can’t get into Xander’s head and possess him anymore…

It’s cute, because Alex and Clint bond and there’s a lot to be said about how Alex sees his brother in the way he interacts with Clint. It’s funny because Cassie takes care of Xander like he’s Sleeping Beauty. It’s terrifying because Xander sees all his fears enacted in Buck’s attempt to put him out of commission when it comes to protecting Serenity Peaks. And it all makes sense when Alex dies in one of Xander’s dreams—struck down before Xander can make up with him and wash away the bad blood between them.

Terry voice acts the whole thing. I’m sure it’s something like 2 a.m. now, and also sure the whole hotel hates him for doing Buck’s high pitched shout in the middle of the night…but he does it anyway, and I sit there with my eyes closed—seeing it with my mind’s eye, feeling it as his voice vibrates in his chest and the reverb bleeds over into my body.

When it’s over, I sit there, clinging to his arm. That was intense. I mean, it was intense in two ways. The story itself was amazing, but it’s just one more artfully done episode from a man who’s already proven himself an artist to me over and over again. But what just happened was so…so raw! All of it here, laid out before me by him, for me.

It’s intense to feel valued as a fan like that, to have your heart touched like that—a fan who didn’t understand, a fan who felt betrayed, and he could have left them out to dry. Instead, he showed them something unfinished, something raw, still only his vision of something that could be. He let me see it. He let me touch his heart with this!—and I’m trying not to cry, but I’m crying anyway, and my throat won’t work right, and then his hand is on my hair and he’s stroking it down my neck in small little passes—just contact, just small soothing touches—and making small cooing sounds and saying “I know,” over and over again like he actually does know.

But there’s no way he can.

If my life has taught me anything, it’s that people don’t understand each other and it takes a lot of fucking work to be able to understand someone. He can’t know. As he holds me, though, I feel like he does.

The feeling is too much for me.

It’s been such a long day, and it’s been so stressful—both in good ways and in bad. Under his gentle touch, I can feel my body starting to give out under the weight of it, and the exhaustion that comes with feeling safe and understood. It’s probably foolish to let myself be comforted by his voice and his touch. It’s definitely foolish to let myself believe he understands what I’m feeling even though I haven’t explained anything. But, with my head on his shoulder and my eyelids suddenly too heavy to open, I can’t be bothered to care.

 

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