In the aftermath of the 2001 Adric Awards ceremony...
A large number of patrons were making voluntary donations to the Proprietor's Emergency Hardship Fund under the watchful eyes - and submachine guns - of the Author Perfectly Ordinary Businesspeople Who Can In No Way Be Prosecuted Under RICO.
Nyssaias and Embericles were making much use of a large tub of lime gelatin. And we don't mean eating it.
Ayna and Xeffy were stuffing portions of chips away, as only teenagers can.
Meanwhile, by the barbecue pit...
Imran scowled at the cup of coffee he was holding. 'Damn. Should've asked for some hot chocolate...'
'I wouldn't worry,' Allie said. 'It's virtual coffee, so a little tweak to the program...'
The coffee turned into hot chocolate.
Imran grinned. 'I love this job, sometimes...'
'Heh.' Allie said. 'Tell me 'bout it.'
Imran eyed her. 'Why do I get the strange feeling you've been poking around in my anima?'
Allie looked innocent. 'Who, me?'
'Uh-huh.' Imran said. 'Of course.'
'That was an ...interesting... ceremony.' Allie said. 'Although what the Hades Terpsichore was on tonight, I do not want to know...'
Imran twitched. 'Yeow. Yeow. And I thought Mr Blobby was bad...'
'Though she did send a new jukebox as compensation.' Allie nodded over to a crate by the 'Round's door.
Which began to play Madonna's 'Frozen'.
'That's not my theme...' Allie whispered. 'Hello, Ellia.'
'I haven't had the pleasure.'
Allie and Imran slowly turned their heads.
The newcomer wore an elegant evening gown in pale gold, complemented with a pearl necklace at her throat, which softened the stark lines of her face, making her seem a little older than her true age.
She was also recognisably Allie's twin.
She raised an eyebrow at the 'Round's devastation. 'The Gray Stewite didn't go down well over here, either. Why am I not surprised...?'
'Alisandra.' Allie said.
'Elliandra.' Ellia said. 'I take it congratulations for your award are in order?'
Allie nodded. 'And to you.'
Ellia took in Imran. 'Hmm. Yours looks a little the worse for wear...'
'Excuse me?' Imran said.
'He's still cuddly.' Allie said.
'Heh. I prefer the edgy type, myself, but your taste varies. Well, it would...'
'It would.' Allie said. She nodded over at Ayna and Xeffy, who'd moved onto the fish. 'Somehow, I don't think this is a courtesy visit...'
Ellia's eyes widened upon seeing them.
'...But I don't think you're here to get her back. With all the gadgets you could get hold of, you'd have been here much, much earlier...' Allie said, a touch of frost edging at her voice.
'She'll come back - if and when she's ready.' Ellia said, shrugging. 'I'm always going to lose something here...'
'...As I would over there.' Allie said. 'Empathy, silliness and pro-fun not really the order of the day there, I think.'
'"The far sillier pub outside continuity",' Ellia quoted. 'Softer, more lenient, more... relaxed in your tastes.'
'You might say that...' Imran observed.
Ellia's eyebrow raised again. 'He actually speaks.'
'Can't get him to stop, sometimes. Especially when he's expositing.' Allie said.
Imran's mouth quirked. 'Thanks, Al.'
Allie stepped back, taking in her counterpart. 'So what brings you over here? Curiosity?'
Ellia shook her head. 'Not really.'
'Then why-' Allie halted herself. 'No, I know.'
Ellia nodded. 'You would.'
'You don't need her.' Allie said coolly. 'You don't. You want her, perhaps, but need...?'
'Let's just say... the long-term results of having Ayna back outweigh the short-term benefits.' Ellia said quietly. 'Things will be more difficult in the short term, without her... but even so, we will manage. Although Andie isn't likely to see it that way.'
'And your father?'
Ellia shrugged. 'More interested in his pet projects. No... this way, I know where she is, and know she isn't underfoot.'
'Oh, I don't know.' Imran said. 'Having two teenagers round the place isn't that bad...'
'You may end up regretting that.' Ellia said. 'Definitely cuddlier, Allie.'
'Wouldn't have him any other way.' Allie said.
'Hold on a moment...' Xeffy said, frantically repacking her fish.
Then she looked up.
Her eyes widened.
As did Ayna's.
'I'm not here for you, Ayna.' Ellia said.
#Why am I not surprised?# Ayna sniffed. #Even if you were, you'd only need me so you could get out of another sticky mess...#
'Not now.' Ellia said, her voice icy. 'This is a celebration.'
#Never stopped you before.# Ayna humphed. #And where's Tire-head?#
'My Writer,' Ellia said with heavy emphasis. 'is at the other party.'
#Yeah. And he's a real party animal.#
'Ayna-' Ellia began.
Xeffy slapped a hand over her counterpart's mouth. 'I think we should take the Fifth... right, Ayna?'
Muffled squawks from the other Siren.
'I'm not here to drag you home.' Ellia said, finally getting hold of herself. 'To see what happened to you, to speak to Allie here. That's it. That's all. You can stay here as long as you want, it's fine by me.'
Ayna's eyes went anime-wide.
Ellia nodded, and turned.
'You're not staying?' Allie asked softly.
Ellia shook her head. 'No. There are some things I need to take care of back home, things I need to sort out. New Muses to keep an eye on. Things to do.'
Allie closed her eyes, then nodded.
Then Ellia was gone, into the darkness.
Allie watched her go.
'Allie.' Imran said, after a while. 'as the token clueless Author... what did she mean about long-term outweighing the short-term?'
'Our Some Other Time counterparts may be more sinister, but they're not more stupid.' Allie said, her voice soft. 'They noticed Ayna was missing, knew they'd argued beforehand... but they thought Ellia had sent her to Limbo. They expected that.'
Imran looked at Allie sideways, said nothing.
'But kin-slaying, to a Muse...' Allie shook her head. 'Even there, that would bring the Kindly Ones, the Erinyes, down on our heads. She hadn't. She couldn't even concieve it.
'But when she had the chance, to have Ayna out of the way... she took it.
'And I think that that's her problem. Letting them go to Limbo, fair enough. But...' She shook her head. 'I think our counterparts know. I think they know she didn't kill Ayna. That she took another way out.
'And that offends them. Some Things Are Not Done.
'Killing. Betrayal. Politics. These are fine.
'But throwing Ayna out... offended them. She could bring Ayna back. A little spin, and everything's done.
'Or she could let Ayna stay... and weather their reactions. Harder, but...' Allie let the sentence trail off.
' "You don't need her",' Imran repeated.
'Efficient.' Allie said quietly. 'That's Ellia. You know the type. The job is what matters - anything else is seen only in terms of how it relates. Even your own family.'
'And...' Allie paused. 'I know that. It's something I might be, could have been.
'It doesn't stop me hating it. Hating what they are. What they do. But...' She turned to face Imran. 'I know. I understand it. So... I'll listen. I'll hear. Because I can be like that. Not could... but can. It doesn't stop me condemning it... just so long as I know I can do it too.
'Does that make sense?'
Allie breathed out. 'So letting Ayna stay with me...'
Imran nodded again.
Allie half-smiled. 'Besides, she is my sister.'
Imran grinned at that one.
'Speaking of which,' Xeffy said. 'There was something I wanted to bring up.'
She took a deep breath. 'There is no way - no way on the planet - you're sending me to that high school. Or Ayna.'
'Oh, I don't know,' Allie said. 'Could make for an interesting series...'
'Uh-uh. I wanna go somewhere where they actually have a music teacher! A sane one!'
'Look at it like this, Xeph. You can show them what real music is.'
'No way in Hades. No. Way. Nope. Nada. Nein. Non. Nah. Answer negative.' Xeffy paused. 'That enough, or do I need to go on?'
'So what you're saying is... maybe?'
#Ahem. 'Female, slight, cute, smart in a ditzy kind of way, and named Allie'?#
'Imran's dream date?'
Imran looked at Allie. 'We're screwed, aren't we.'
Allie nodded. 'For the next month, at least.'
Imran sighed. 'Oh yeah. Definitely going to regret this...'
Summary: A brief moment in the aftermath of the Awards.
Nyssaias and Embericles are Brad's. This Time Round is Tyler Dion's. Some Other Time Round - Ellia and Ayna's home subverse, the far more sinister pub outside continuity - is K. M. Wilcox's. Everyone else is mine.
Copyright 2002 Imran Inayat