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Blurring the Lines

Blurring the Lines

“So, are we gonna talk about the other night at any point, or is this a ‘forget it ever happened’ sort of situation?” Kei sat cross-legged on a stool in the clock tower’s kitchen, eating a bowl of rice krispies. It had been two days since Doug had come to reside within, and Kei had been repeatedly in and out in that time.

Doug, meanwhile, was still trying to get over the fact that the clock tower had a kitchen. Well, of course it had a kitchen, most residences did, this one happening to have sort of an ugly mint green pallet and being filled with a bunch of really old appliances, but Doug had been expecting an out-of-the-way affair staffed by Discord’s finest chefs ready to deliver extravagant meals to the whims of the king’s palette. He had a hard time imagining Bacchae strolling in here to microwave himself a plate of Dino Nuggies.

Or rice krispies, for that matter. Kei had been staring at him for the past minute, waiting for a response. If he was honest, he really, really wanted to just forget the mistakes that drunk Doug was always, inevitably, responsible for. But that was the move that dumb assholes made. Doug might be an asshole, but he hoped that he wasn’t that much of a tool.

“Yeah, so I’m gonna be one-hundred-percent honest with you,” Doug forced out. “I was, uh, pretty in the bag, and I… don’t remember any of it.”

He cringed, expecting her to be mad. He didn’t know why. Sometimes he had to remind himself that despite her appearance, she was quite a bit older than him. She probably had a lot more… well, less teenagery experiences for lack of a better word than he did.

“I kind of figured,” is what she said instead. “I was even a little hesitant, but you were the one who came onto me, so…”

“Of course I did,” he pinched the bridge of his nose, feeling a headache coming on. “Look, I didn’t do anything… weird, did I?”

“Well, you did ask if I was Elizabeth.”

“Aww, Shiiiit.” That was mortifying for several reasons. Absolutely the worst thing he could have possibly said what in the actual shit-fuck was wrong with him? “And you still slept with me?”

Now it was Kei’s turn to look embarrassed. “Okay, I’ll admit, not the smartest decision I’ve ever made…” They sat in awkward silence for way too long before she spoke again. “The sex was good though.”

“I… It was?” Doug was genuinely surprised.

“Yeah,” she admitted. “You were surprisingly cool about the whole razor-toothed vagina thing.”

“I’m sorry, the what?”

“You know, the ring of dagger-sharp teeth that all female daemons have down there.”

Doug gulped.

But then Kei laughed. “God, you look like you’re gonna pass out! I’m just fucking with you. No, but seriously though, if you ever wanna, you now, actually remember it, then just… lemme know.”

Doug gulped again, but for an entirely different reason. He had never found Kei unattractive—no wonder, considering whose face she was wearing—except that most of the time he’d known her he’d been on a rage-fueled revenge kick, and also mourning his not-really-but-maybe-looking-back-on-it-he-could-see-it-if-he-squinted girlfriend. To be fair, he was still mourning her now, if that wasn’t made quite apparent by the apparition that hovered just far enough in the corner of his vision for him to not be able to see properly.

Yet something had changed between them, he’d have to denser than the fucking sun not to see that. And thanks to Jack he had a slightly clearer picture of what she really wanted out of all of this.

“Uh, yeah,” was what he finally said. “I’d… like that.”

They stared at each other for a minute, before Kei cleared her throat and looked away. “Anyway, onto business.” Doug couldn’t help noticing the slight pink of her cheeks.

Kei had mercifully given him a small break after the party, a little chance to recharge his batteries. But of course, the reprieve wouldn’t last forever. Until she let him off the hook, he had a debt to repay.

He guessed this was his life now.

“Luckily, there won’t be any big crowds today. You only have to perform for a couple of people.”

“Okay, that’s good.”

“Though in this case, ‘people’ is Malachi.”

“Uh, yeah, never mind, that’s bad.”

“Well, you have to formalize your take-over,” she explained. “Because see, Malachi still thinks that you’re gonna share some of the pie with him, so your job is to… correct that mindset.”

Of course, this wasn’t really about Bacchae. It never had been, Doug knew that now. For Kei, it was all about using that prestige to push Malachi out and her in. Even if that was behind the throne of a puppet king. Well, he supposed that even if the reasons weren’t noble, the outcome would be. At least by the standards of everyone he’d talked to so far.

Ugh, this politics stuff was making his head hurt. So he decided not to think about it anymore. That wasn’t his job, after all. His job was to somehow convince—or failing that, intimidate—Malachi to get the hell outta town. He was about ready to piss himself, cuz frankly Malachi scared the hell out of him. But there was one person who no doubt scared Malachi even more. And it just so happened that Doug had learned all about him from Jack just the other night…

~~ o ~~

That child was not Bacchae. Malachi knew this, and he knew that Kei must know it too. Though where she had found someone with such an uncanny resemblance he had no idea. He had to give her praise for that. Regardless, this stupid power-play of hers wasn’t going to work. He would get what he wanted, in the end.

At the moment, Malachi’s public image wasn’t the greatest. What he needed was a shield, a good face to make all the necessary decisions palatable. That’s why he’d sent Kei away in the first place. Bacchae wasn’t coming back, he was very convinced of that. So either Kei failed and he got rid of her too, or she found someone who was enough of a gullible pushover to do the job.

It sort of irritated him that she had succeeded to such an absurd degree that for just a moment, even he’d been convinced that she’d located the man himself. It had been only for a moment though; then he’d seen the fear in the boy’s eyes.

Malachi had the immanent encounter plotted out in perfect detail in a numbered list in his mind. It would be in his council room, where he sat at the head of the table. He and his most trusted associates would arrive early, and already be seated by the time the two children arrived. Kei would try, bless her heart, to negotiate, he was under no false pretenses that she was somehow on his side, but Malachi would lay down his terms for his “handing over” of the city. Because if they didn’t agree, he’d simply expose their ruse.

It was all going to be very simple. As much as he detested adding Kei’s insubordination and the boy’s… unkemptness to his chain of command, it was a small, unfortunate blemish on his perfectly constructed government machine. One that he would simply have to put up with. At least until the time came when he wouldn’t need them anymore.

That was the plan. It was one that Malachi was looking forward to not deviating from immensely.

At exactly 10:35, Malachi arrived at the meeting room he had designated earlier. He liked this one particularly for negotiations because of the nearly imperceptible lean to the floor that made him taller when he sat at the far side of the table, facing the door. At 10:40, his associates arrived. There was Zachariah, of course, his right hand man, and Jessamine, the most diligent note-taker he’d ever met—besides himself, of course—and the up-and-comer Paul-Allen, Malachi’s pet project, along with a few others. He handed them the itinerary, and after a brief discussion of its contents, they proceeded to wait.

And wait. And wait.

The would-be-king and his scheming vizier didn’t roll into the room until 11:08, which Malachi had both been expecting and had to admit was definitely a very Bacchae-like move.

So far, he was ticking off the boxes in his head one by one. Everything was going exactly as expected.

“Pardon me for my tardiness,” the boy leaned against the doorway. “I would give you an excuse, but if I’m honest, I just couldn’t be bothered to show up before now.”

“I see I’m very high on your priority list.” The nerve of this child. Didn’t he know what position he was in? He could just give in now.

“Yep, right in between flossing my teeth and jumping off a cliff.” The boy slunk over to the only empty chair left at the table. “This won’t take long, so I figured I wouldn’t be keeping you.” He plopped down and swung his feet up on the table, lounging like he owned the place.

Malachi was, admittedly, confused. Did Kei have two lookalikes? No, that wasn’t possible. This was absolutely the same boy he’d shaken hands with under the clock tower. But what had happened to the pretender who was so scared he was shaking? Now he seemed entirely confident, at ease even, meeting Malachi’s gaze with his own steady, oddly green eyes; almost too green to be natural. Almost like…

“So here’s what’s going to happen,” the pretender waved lazily in his direction. “I’m going to take back my spot as Big Kahuna of this town like nothing ever happened, and you’re going to get the fuck out of my steez.”

“I think you might perhaps be a little short-sighted in your way of thinking, my lord,” Malachi interrupted, though his voice was considerably more hoarse than he’d intended. “I have systems in place, chains of command. Things of that nature can’t just be dismantled overnight.”

The man who couldn’t be Bacchae cocked his head, almost playfully, like Malachi was nothing more than a mildly-amusing toy. “Oh, I can, and they will be. Look, I’m not even gonna make you leave the city.” Finally, he broke eye-contact, and Malachi let out the breath he was surprised to find himself holding. “You and your little pals can hunker down at Sixth Avenue all you want. Well, at least while it still exists, anyway.”

Wait a second. This was ridiculous. What was Malachi doing? He was letting this child lay down demands like he had something on him. Malachi was the one who had that! He hadn’t told his associates his suspicions about “Bacchae’s” identity in order to keep his blackmail at its more contained, and thus, most potent. This meant that he couldn’t just come out and say it, but he could absolutely find a way to communicate to the impostor what sort of position he was really in.

“Now hold on just one moment,” he straightened, making himself as tall as he could. “I won’t allow you to just come in here and make demands. I’m the one who’s run Discord for the last fifty years, so I have some thoughts of my own on the matter. I think you might want to hear them out, for the good of your continued… kingship.”

He expected that that would cause him to come to his senses. Or shut him up, at the very least. He expected wrong.

Absolutely-Not-Bacchae paused for just a moment, before finally removing his dirty shoes from atop the table and standing. “Do you think you have something on me?” he asked in a low voice, stalking around the table, his black coat managing to billow behind him despite the fact that they were inside. “I’d be careful with the assumptions you make, because you know what assuming does…” he paused, as if expecting an answer, then sighed, disappointed, when he didn’t get one. “It makes an ass out of ‘u’ and ‘me’. And besides, even if you did know one or two fun facts about me...”

By this point, he stood immediately to Malachi’s side, and he leaned over, forcing the older man to look directly into his eyes. “No one would ever believe you.”

This wasn’t possible. It simply wasn’t. And yet, Malachi was almost convinced himself. Those eyes. Those eyes filled to the brim with such intensity that it was impossible to tell whether he was about to laugh or kill him. Whoever he was, whether impostor or the real deal, somehow, the fact remained that he was right. Even if he publicized his blackmail, it was his word against, for all intents and purposes, Bacchae’s.

How had Kei done it? How had she trained him so perfectly? She’d never even met Bacchae herself! Yet as he met her gaze from across the room, he was shocked to discover that she was somehow just as surprised as he was…

~~ o ~~

The only thing that prevented Doug from puking his guts out was just how nice the bathroom was. Of course, the building was designed to hold the new Tea Party’s no doubt many meetings, so a posh place to wipe one’s ass was to be expected. Lucky him.

For a solid minute, he just pressed himself against the door, sucking in air like he’d run a mile. He certainly felt like it; his vision was blurry at the edges and his stomach was doing a particularly upsetting rendition of the Macarena. Adrenalin pumped through his every pore, racing even faster from the wild pace of his heart.

But gradually, the pure terror of what he’d just done slowly wore off, only to be replaced by a much more insidious, creeping form of fear. The mirror beckoned, Doug’s own visage just out of view. For some reason, he kept questioning what he was going to see there. Would it be Bacchae staring back at him?

No, of course not. That was ridiculous. To prove to the small part of him that kept insisting otherwise, to tell it once and for all that it was being stupid, he waltzed over to the mirror before he could stop himself.

Of course, it was just the same old Doug Bailey staring back at him. Same old Doug Bailey with a pair of dumb-looking horns strapped to his head, but still him nonetheless.

He leaned on the sink in relief as he breathed out slowly. That had been a silly thought. Of course it was. But the chain of logic that had brought him to that conclusion was certainly not.

Doug had essentially no idea what had just happened. Like, he couldn’t even remember it properly. Right before he’d gone into the meeting room, he’d noticed that even Kei looked nervous, which was horrifying to think about. But all he could do was open that door, and try to imagine what Bacchae would say. Take everything Kei and Jack had told him and try to make something out of it.

And then there was nothing. Doug hadn’t been thinking anything, the words must have been coming from his mouth, because he was hearing them echoing around his head like they were. But the next thing he really remembered he was standing next to Malachi, and the older man was staring up at him with what looked distinctly like fear. He had never had anyone look at him like that before. That’d always been his job.

Doug desperately wanted to pull those stupid horns off his head, to break the illusion entirely. But he didn’t think he’d be able to get them back on again, and there was a long way to go in between here and the clock tower. And Kei would give him an earful about it anyway.

Okay, he wasn’t about to barf anymore. Doug splashed some water on his face, trying to regain complete control over his faculties. His hands were shaking again. Funny that they hadn’t at all that entire meeting.

He didn’t even know why he was questioning all of this. Doug should just feel lucky that this was all going so stupidly well. Playing Bacchae was as easy as tying his shoes. But the ease with which he’d slipped right into that alternate persona, an impression which was apparently good enough to scare people who had really known him, that scared him. And all that after only hearing one story about the guy.

It was uncanny. Doug didn’t like it. He didn’t feel like himself, like he had crawled into somebody else’s skin.

A thought occurred to him then, one that sent shivers right down his spine. Maybe, somehow, he was better at being Bacchae than he was at being Doug Bailey.

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