Chapter Title: At Last
Rating: PG (adult language).
Word Count: ~4,913.
Characters: Maraina Stratten, Helena Caine, Kirk James,
Word Count: ~4,913.
Characters: Maraina Stratten, Helena Caine, Kirk James,
Synopsis: The First Five Winners start to arrive and Mari finally gets to meet in person her online cohort and best friend, Helena Caine. Mari and Helena make a new friend.
“And all this is because you were stuck in a traffic jam and charmed a sweet, little old man?”
Author's Note: Thanks Betty! :)
Mari walked out into the blinding sunlight and blinked before hastily grabbing her sunglasses. She shoved them in her face and froze. Intellectually, she’d expected a car and driver but…whoa! She certainly hadn’t expected a car that look like it belonged to the latest hip-hop wonder and a driver who could have stepped out of a trendy Gucci ad.
“Miss Stratten, I’m Jerrod, your driver today.” He held the door open, waiting for her to enter.
She nodded, smiled and made sure she wasn’t drooling because the expensive looking sunglasses, shiny hat which couldn’t completely hide the close cropped blonde hair and three piece suit fitting to a very healthy frame did nothing to but showcase that Jerrod was hot with a capital H. Was being ubber attractive one of the requirements for working for the studio? It certainly seemed like it and she was glad she’d been hired through unusual means, otherwise she would’ve never passed the muster in that department. She blamed her mother’s cooking. Hoping she didn’t look like some small town bumpkin on her first fancy trip in a limo — which she was, but she didn’t want to look like she was - she handed him her laptop case.
“Mari, please,” she said as she climbed in.
“As you wish, Miss,” he replied or thought he did as the door closed. She pretty much focused on the luxurious interior of the limo.
She’d chosen one of the bucket seats facing the driver, but she couldn’t help wondering if the bench seats in front of her were as comfortable as they look. They certainly were big enough to nap on if the need arose.
“Would you like the partition up or down, Miss?” He looked over his shoulder through the opening.
Getting him to simply call her by her first name was probably not going to happen. At least not today. She wondered if the driver pool had specific orders not to be in first name basis with the passengers.
“Down is fine, although when my friend and I start yapping away, we won’t be insulted if you put it to avoid the noise.” She smiled.
He nodded. “The bar is fully stocked and there are sandwiches in the refrigerator, which is the compartment just below the television screen. The remote control is in the cubicle between the seats. Barring heavier than usual traffic, we should be at LAX in roughly thirty minutes. I have the flight information for both Ms. Caine and Mr. James.”
“Thank you, Jerrod.” He started the car and she leaned back on second nicest leather seats she’d sat on today. Of course, it wasn’t really fair to compare these seats with the leather of the Ghibli. Just like to compare the handsome - and probably still out of her league — driver to the amazing, so completely unattainable they weren’t even in the same planet, Patrick Westfield.
Her eyes drifted shut and a shiver ran through her body as she remembered the warmth of his breath against her skin. Who knew her ear had a direct line to her clit? Maybe it was husky whisper so full of naughty promises. Her mouth suddenly dried up and she crossed her legs just to keep that feeling under control. To be honest, he was just too much ‘everything’ for her . Too sexy, too experienced, too famous. And way too much for her inexperienced libido. The more she was around him the more she needed to pull out the vibrator Noel had given her as a joke just to ease the ache.
Need. That was a powerful motivator. Mari started tapping her fingers against her leg as her brain jumped at the inspiration like a dog on a bone. Patrick had forged a need in Rafe Leonidas to continuously prove himself worthy of being rehabilitated by his mentor, Captain Dane Scott. Mari pulled out her notebook and starting writing down the character’s names. Scott on the top, then Leonidas, then the new Camerian character, Kelena. There was an established link between the two men, they’ve been through hell together, but Kelena had no connection to either. Cate had been pushing to make Kelena Dane’s daughter, not just an offspring of a friend and all of them had been resisting that ‘Sue’ factor, but as Mari looked at the the three characters, they’d really form a perfect triangle of angst. Kele and Leonidas were bound to clash if they were both trying to live up to the Dane mystique. Mari drew a line between Kele and Leonidas then wrote ‘mentor or antagonistic?’. It really would depend on the actress they hired to play Kele.
That little adventure was still going on, but it looked like they’d settled on four final candidates. At least according to Cate and she wasn’t all that thrilled with the screen testing so far, but since she was dating one of the guys in the Casting Department, she got all the scoop. Apparently, since the writers couldn’t decide on who Kele was actually going to be in terms of the final details, the casting director had whittled down to four actress. Two were in their early twenties and from the head shots that Cate has shared, they were just too ‘something’. Not what Mari had envisioned at all for the character. Maybe it was that both actresses were blonde and just looked too similar to Sofia Royce. Mari couldn’t decide if she was against the secret daughter plot line because it was cliche and seemed lazy or because she didn’t like the two actresses who were auditioning for the role. The other two actresses were older and by Hollywood standards, that was late twenties/early thirties. Mari liked them better and it did leave the possibility of making Kele a potential love interest for Dane which would really shake up fandom since the next popular paring from Dane/Leonidas and Leonidas/Kerrigan was Dane/Dr. Waylon, the chief medical officer. Though she was really hoping to continue pushing the Dane/Kerrigan angle because they were her one true pair of the show.
She knew she could count on Helena to jump on that bandwagon, but it really depended on the other writers who were part of the First Five. She’d actually read their stories before and although they weren’t ‘Big Named Fans’, they were definitely writing in the more popular ships which didn’t bode well for Dane/Kerrigan. On the other hand, she’d won Cate over and both of them could bully Danny into agreeing with them. With Jack Matthews and Jaime Connors on their side, maybe she could pull it off after all.
Mari’s head snapped up to see Jerrod holding the door open, clearly waiting for her to get out. “Sorry,” she said as she shoved her notebook back in her bag. “Writing tunnel vision.”
“No problem, Miss,” he nodded, holding out his hand to help her out. “Miss Caine’s flight, 2463, is about to land shortly and Mr. James’ flight, 1515, is on time for arrival in thirty minutes. Fortunately, they are on the same terminal, just head for the lower level at baggage claim and I’ll park the car and meet you where Miss Caine’s luggage will arrive before we meet Mr. James.”
“2463-1515,” she nodded, “thank you, Jerrod.” She walked through the doors and prepared for the typical airport hassles and waiting, but it turned out that baggage claim was just a zoo and not complete chaos. She trolled for a seat which reminded her of musical chairs and jumped on the nearest one that had been vacated. She was a little disappointed there was no confetti to mark the occasion, but at least she managed not to trample the little old lady who got up.
Her phone beeped.
:About to land. JFC. Is that an airport or a small city? Unless you’re wearing your witch costume from Halloween, how the fuck am I supposed to recognize you? Or was that your usual wear ;):
Mari laughed, but it did dawn on her that the only pictures they’d exchanged had been Halloween. God, they really were weird. :WAIT! You’re coming in today? Just walk around like the lost little lamb you are and someone is bound to feel sorry for you and take you home. Or you can just use your phone to find me: Sometimes, she was just evil.
:FUSA—I see that wasn’t just a costume. Will start bombardment of texts and calls in about ten or fifteen or whenever this plane lands.:
Mari pulled out her notebook and went back through her notes, then smiled. She was still completely intimidated by the whole madness that Chuck had landed her in, but she was also getting her footing. She was definitely going to fight for Dane/Kerrigan and maybe she could talk Jeremy to buy into her little triangle of angst, but certainly not before she ran the whole idea through with Helena. She flipped to an empty section of notebook and started making a sign that her fellow Satan’s Cheerleader would be sure to appreciate. Her phone beeped.
:ain't nobody got time for dat waiting around when you fly 1st class :) I likes it. :
Mari got up and walked to the carousel where the luggage was scheduled to come through and opened her notebook to her sign, holding it way above her head because she had no shame today.
A very pretty brunette stopped short when she read Mari’s sign. With a quick toss of her messy braid, she walked to Mari until they were an arm’s distance away.
“Well hello, Lloyd Dobler,” she said, placing her hand on her waist and tilting her head. “That’s a very interesting boom box you got there.”
Mari looked at up at the very bold ‘Hell’s Belles’ and the dozens of hearts and pitchforks or possible brooms, now that she was looking at it from a different angle it was kinda hard to tell, but she thought it was a very eye catching sign. Judging by the snickers of the fellow passengers, they thought so too. She smiled at the brunette wearing well worn jeans and a dark blue, tie front blouse that Mari was determined to steal as soon as possible.
“You have the most beautiful green eyes,” Mari said, looking straight into them. “And you're tall.”
Helena Caine snorted. “Look who’s talking. You better be over eighteen because if you haven’t stopped growing you’re going to have a problem.”
Both of them laughed, then threw their arms around each other in a tight hug.
“I thought we’d never actually meet in person,” Mari said.
“I know, right?” Helena shook her head and smiled. “This is insane and I’m still wondering if this is just a crazy dream.”
“Well don’t wake up until you bang some amazingly hot actor because otherwise, what a waste.”
Helena laughed. “Good point.” She glanced at the now moving carousel. “I have two beat up burgundy suitcases that definitely raised some eyebrows when I checked them in as first class passenger.”
“How was that, by the way? All it’s cracked up to be?”
Helena nodded. “It’s the only way I’m going to fly from now on. Which probably means after this I won’t be going anywhere ever again. It even made the hop to Dallas/Ft. Worth bearable and I hate DFW, but that beats Chicago any day.”
“I'm totally jealous,” Mari said. “I’ve never been out of California.” They both turned as the first of the luggage started to come down the chute.
“Why would you? You have everything here. Beaches, mountains, deserts.” Her head tilted. “Well, look at that. I think they wanted to make sure that my antique luggage didn't contaminate their plane.” She pointed to the two beat up, more brownish than red suitcases. “I think my grandmother bought these at the thrift store.”
They lugged the suitcases off the carousel and placed them on the ground.
“That’s it on my end,” Helena said. “Do we have far to walk? I can rent cart.”
Before Mari could say anything, a black gloved hand grabbed the suitcases and placed them on the waiting cart.
“Miss Caine, I’m Jerrod, your driver for today.” He tipped his hat to her then turned to ensure the suitcases were secured.
Helena stood there with her mouth open until Mari pinched her elbow. “You didn’t think they’d fly you first class and then just send me to greet you with a rental car, did you?”
Helena turned and mouthed, ‘Wow’, pointing at Jerrod. Mari just nodded with her own, ‘I know.’
Jerrod stood up and turned to them. “Ladies, if you’d like to find seats.” He pointed to the crowed area. “Mr. James’ flight is on arrival, but his bags will be arrive further down. I’ll greet him if you’d like some time to catch up. It shouldn’t be too long.”
Helena nodded and Mari smiled. “Thank you, Jerrod. We won’t be far from the doors.” She pointed behind her. Both of them watched him pull the cart to down to the one of the other baggage chutes.
“He’s not going to disappear with all my clothes, right?”
“He probably makes more than both of us. Or both of us did before this crazy sauce.”
Helena kept watching until the throng of passengers got in her way. “In that case, can we keep him?”
Mari snorted and wrapped her arm around Helena’s, pulling her towards an open spot near the door. “By the way, have I mentioned that Dane/Kerrigan has a chance?”
Helena dug her heels and stopped short. “Say what?”
“Mostly due to Hearts,” Mari said. “We had a big discussion about ships and I pitched our little navy saying we are small but mighty. Then Cate sent Hearts to both Jaime Connors and Jack Matthews and apparently they both loved what you did. They thought it was an old story idea that was being resurrected. Not something done by a fan.”
Helena stared blankly at Mari, not moving or breathing. At least Mari didn’t think the raspy, wheezy noise was actual breathing. She waved her hand in front of Helena’s face. “Hel, sweetie? Are you asthmatic? Do you need meds or something?” Mari stared as her friend’s face went from a splotchy red to green to downright colorless. She was about to call for help when Helena disentangled their arms.
“I’m going to be sick.” She fast walked straight to the nearest silver trash can and braced it as if her life depended on it. She leaned forward and dried heaved, but quickly pulled her face back in disgust.
“I don’t recommend putting your face in a trash can in Los Angeles during the summer.” Mari patted Helena’s back. “You okay?”
Helena glared. “I hate you. That’s not by best work. It’s old and I would have changed so many things if I was writing it again. It’s not even my best Dane/Kerrigan.”
Mari cupped Helena’s face. “They loved it. Just like I do. You’re awesome and Wayne Garson said that. They are going to want to use more of your ideas so be ready to drive some hardball and make some money out of this, if nothing else.”
“What about you?”
Mari dropped her hands. “What about me?”
The change in Helena was astounding. One minute she looked ready to barf up a lung, then, all of sudden, her color was normal and her pain in the ass, slaver driver attitude was back in full force.
“What about your writing? Your ideas? Did they read Ancient Gates?”
Mari shuddered. “God, I hope not or if they did, that it won’t be linked back to me. That character was a total Sue.”
Helena smacked the side of Mari’s head. “She started as a Sue and in someone else’s hands, probably, but Mara ended up really solid and I loved what you did with the Camerians and their whole back story.” There was gleam in her eyes that made Mari very nervous.
“No,” Mari shook her head, “nononono. Wait. I already have got the job as junior peon. They don’t need to read my fan fiction, though I think Cate has her suspicions. Besides, they are totally going to use the Camerians and there’s room to hang a lantern on a lot of the things I wrote about in Gates without making them read it and link it to me.”
Helena’s lips tightened into a firm line. “So it’s okay for them to read my fan fiction, but not yours. That’s what you’re saying, is it?”
Mari cringed. “Yeah, sorta.” She pulled out her notebook and handed it to Helena. “The notes are there, I created a whole new Scrivener file just to help me keep track, so I can share it with you.” She grabbed Helena’s arm. “Some ideas are there, too, but the are really making changes this time and it’s a chance for us to really make a difference in this show.” Mari knew she was practically bouncing with exciting but she couldn't help it.
“And all this is because you were stuck in a traffic jam and charmed a sweet, little old man?”
“I know, crazy right?” Mari shook her head. “And he charmed me really. But yeah. Oh my god, I haven't even told you about Patrick Westfield.”
“What about him?”
“That man is so hot, he’s molten.”
“Excuse me, ladies?”
Mari and Helena stopped and turned to Jerrod, but it didn’t take long for both them to zero in on the man-giant semi-slouching next to him. Good God, that man was tall. At least a good five inches taller than Jerrod which would make him at least eight inches taller than either women. Mari wasn’t sure if it was his unusual height or the outfit, a beat up Army surplus jacket paired up with grungy looking black studded beanie visor hat that hid his eyes or the accessory, a large duffel that had ‘Touch my bag and I’ll kill you’ stenciled on it, that made her nervous. Apparently, she wasn’t the only one looking at Mr. Kirk James warily if the way the other people purposely avoided getting too close was any indication.
“Mr. James, this is Miss Stratten and Miss Caine,” Jerrod said, motioning to both of them. “They will be sharing the car with you.”
“Hi.” God she sounded like an idiot, but at least she spoke. Helena just did an anemic little wave.
“Hi.” He met her eyes briefly, then looked down again.
Mari didn’t know what she was expecting from this scary looking man, maybe a deep rumbling, booming voice, but the quiet, shy ‘hi’ eased most her previous nervousness.
“Ladies, Sir,” Jerrod started, “if you wouldn’t mind waiting at the curb, I’ll go get the car and pick you up shortly.”
"No problem, Jerrod,” Mari said and smiled. He nodded and jogged across to the parking structure, leaving the three of them standing by the curb, waiting silently. Mari and Helena on one side of the cart carrying the luggage and Kirk James, still slouching and looking downright menacing, again, on the other.
“So,” Helena said, breaking the uncomfortable silence, “are you a writer, too?”
Kirk glanced at her, then shook his head. “Art.”
Helena and Mari waited for him to elaborate, but he just looked straight ahead, hands in his pockets and avoiding any eye contact with anyone. Helena glanced at Mari.
“What medium,” Mari finally asked, trying to engage him.
“Digital,” he said, though it had taken him so long that it almost looked like he was going to ignore her. “Pencil. Charcoal. Chalk. Oil.”
Short and to the point, if she honest with herself. He didn’t seem to be actively rude, just not very communicative. Since she couldn’t think of anything else to ask, especially since he didn’t seem interested in talking, Mari settled on looking for Jerrod. Helena was done trying too, if the subtle shake of her head was any indication, so the awkward silence settled between them again.
“Finally,” Mari said under her breath, though to be fair, it couldn't have been more than ten minutes of waiting. She realized that sounded incredibly bitchy and there was no reason other than her own uncomfortable reaction to the tall - and kinda scary looking - stranger. But it wasn’t his fault really, he’d done nothing disagreeable. “If you don’t mind,” she said looking at him, “Helena and I can take the bench seats and you can have the bucket seat. It will probably give you more leg room.” She pointed to the interior, once Jerrod opened the door for them.
Kirk leaned forward and looked into the limo, then turned towards Mari and nodded. “Okay.”
Helena got halfway inside the limo before popping her head out again. “Is your laptop in the trunk?” Mari nodded. “Then get it, please.”
“Do you intend on making me work during the drive?” Mari asked.
“Slave driver,” Mari said over her shoulder. When she turned to ask Jerrod, he was already holding it out for her. “She’s so bossy,” Mari said and smiled. By the time she got in, Helena already had her laptop out and booting. She handed Mari a flash drive.
“Put all your notes here, then I can just copy them over and we’ll have a backup in case.”
Mari took it and looked her. “You’re serious? Enjoy the ride. We’ll have time when we get to the hotel.”
Helena looked up and glanced around the interior, then turned back to Mari. “Yes. A car is a car and chop chop, no time to waste. We have a ton of things to go over.”
Mari shook her head and laughed even as she started getting her computer out. Kirk was comfortably settled, or as much as he could be since he still had to angle his body in order to fit his legs without stretching them into their space.
“You know,” she told Helena, “perhaps he would like to watch the TV and relax.”
Helena glanced sideways briefly before looking pointedly at her, then at the drive waiting to be filled with Odyssey files. Apparently, there was no denying of Miss Bossypants especially since Kirk now had his own sketchpad in his lap.
“The drive to the The Hawthorne should take anywhere between forty-five minutes to an hour. We’re just in time for rush hour, but I’ll do my best,” Jerrod said over his shoulder. “The button to close the partition is to the left of television or in the remote control.”
“Thank you, Jerrod,” Helena answered, then turned to Mari. “See, plenty of time for us to work. You can start by telling me what exactly it means being one of the ‘First Five’ because the packet I got was pretty vague.”
“The Hawthorne is super nice,” Mari said, plugging in the flash drive and starting the massive copying of files “I think HR is pretty much winging the whole thing, actually. From what I’ve been told, there will be meetings tomorrow. The schedule will be sent directly to your rooms.”
“What type of meetings?”
Mari shrugged. “I think you’ll both be meeting with Sterling Mitchell. He’s been thrilled with the response of the contest and there’s no way he won’t want to sit down and chat, if nothing else. But I know you’ll also be meeting with Jeremy and Wayne. In fact, I know there is a round robin that will include all of the first tier writers, but don’t worry, I’ll be there the whole time so you can use me as your human shield.”
“Don’t think I won’t, either,” Helena responded. “You got me into this.”
“I’m pretty sure you’ll be meeting with Toby Regan, the Art Director,” she told Kirk, who looked up from his sketchpad and nodded. Her gaze dropped to intricate symbol covering the back page of his book. It was the emblem she’d always envisioned as the Camerian logo. A coat of arms of sorts designed by one of her favorite fandom artists. Was Kirk James the artist or another fan?
“Do you know what they are going to ask me? Mari?”
“Huh? Oh, no. Don’t worry, I think it will be more of a getting to know you and what your goals are, how you enjoy the show, that type of thing.” Mari turned back to the image on Kirk’s book because she couldn’t decide if it was wishful thinking or the real thing. She turned Helena, then slightly dipped her head towards Kirk.
Luckily, Helena took the hint right away. She stared for several long seconds, before turning back to her computer. After a few quick taps, she angled the laptop to Mari On the screen was the full color emblem, the one both had downloaded and liberally used in their own stories. It was not uncommon for popular artists to allow and even encourage writers and other fans use the show inspired artwork. That was part of fandom and one everyone took part in some form or another. Soul Reaper, was one of the most prolific and talented artists who surprisingly didn’t have much of a social presence in fandom. Yet, they still maintained a ‘Big Named Fan’ status. Scuttlebutt suggested that on the rare occasion The Reaper made an appearance online, it was only to accept the occasional commission which often went upwards to thousands of dollars. That amount clearly left most fans, like Mari and Helena, out in the cold if they wanted custom artwork based on their stories. At least artwork done by the best of the best, but that didn’t mean they couldn’t collect, or in their case, secretly stalk The Reaper’s art account for anything and everything deemed worthy of upload. The artwork had even inspired multiple stories and in the case of the emblem, it had Mari to give an alien civilization a completely different look.
Ask him, Helena mouthed. Mari shook her head. You ask him, was her reply. Helena’s mouth tightened and she typed on her laptop, then turned it for Mari to see. On the screen, in big bold letters was YOU ASK HIM. HE SAID 1 WORD TO ME. YOU GOT 5. DO IT OR I OUT YOU AS LILITH.
Mari’s mouth dropped open, then she huffed. “Meanie.” She twisted her body so she could face Kirk, then licked her lips. What’s the worse that could happen? He’d say no? Laugh at her? Ignore her? It wasn’t like anything bad would happen, other than she’d be disappointed and it wasn’t like this would be the first time. She took a deep breath.
“Excuse me, Kirk?” She waited until he looked up from his pad. “Can I call you Kirk?” He actually met her gaze full on this time and held it for several long seconds. So long in fact, that she was about to back out and apologize for interrupting when he finally nodded. Mari wasn’t sure if the sigh of relief was hers or Helena, not that it really mattered.
Mari pointed to the sketchpad. “That design? You wouldn’t by chance be The Reaper, would you?” The grip on his pencil tightened and she hurriedly continued. “The reason I ask is because we,” she waved her hand between Helena and herself, “love your work. I mean we couldn’t afford any commissions, but absolutely love and follow all the posts. In fact, there’s a very similar design to that one,” she nodded to the book again, “which I’ve always use as the Camerian coat of arms.”
He pulled the pad up and looked at the emblem that had been facing them. Then he leaned forward and dug through his messenger bag, pulling out and opening another sketchpad. “This one?”
Mari nodded and reached for pad without realizing the faux pas, but he didn’t seem to mind and handed it to her. It was her symbol. The one that had inspired a militaristic, science based society that had controlled the galaxy in secret for over a millennium. A civilization that was now going to come life because she’d gotten stuck in traffic of all things.
“It’s one of my favorites,” he said. “There’s a whole series which I never posted.” He shrugged. “They are in that book if you want to see them.”
Mari turned the page and inhaled sharply. “Oh my god.” Her eyes widened and she flipped through the book. “It’s like you were reading my mind.” She held one up for Helena. “These are perfect for the house crests.”
Helena leaned forward and her jaw dropped. “Holy shit. That’s some freaky brainshare.” She leaned back and looked at Kirk. “Your artwork is amazeballs. If I could draw something other than stick figures, I’d totally copy your style. Now that I think about it,” she shrugged, “it makes perfect sense that you’re one of the First Five.” She looked at him with newfound respect, all previous awkwardness or fear were forgotten.
The side of his mouth lifted in what Mari would have called a sneer before, but now, she’d definitely call it a shy, I don’t really know how to react, grin.
“You’re both writers?” They nodded. “So you know what’s being planned for the new season?”
Mari couldn’t keep the huge smile off her face. “I”m so glad you’ve asked.”