Jude stepped into her empty apartment, the sharp echoes of her heels and the clang of her keys dropping onto the hallway table grating on her tired nerves more than usual. She pulled the door closed behind her with a soft click and leaned her blonde head against the cool wood, closing her eyes and sighing deeply. Tension rolled off of her in waves. A nightcap…that's what I need.

A glance at her phone confirmed that 1 a.m. was probably a little late for a drink, but she knew that her pounding headache wouldn't let her sleep until she had dulled her senses enough for the exhaustion to take hold. She kicked off her boots, padding down the hallway toward the kitchen and rubbing absentmindedly at her temples. The painful thumping in her head had begun midway through her recording session this morning, ruining any chance she'd had at laying down some decent vocals and making progress with her hotly anticipated fourth album. Benny, her producer, was…not enthused, to say the least.

0*0*0*0*0

"Jude, love…we're already three weeks behind schedule, can't you pop an aspirin and try again? Laura will do us both in if we don't catch up before the end of the quarter, you know that," Benny pleaded over the studio mic, raking a hand through his sandy blonde hair in frustration.

Benjamin "Benny" Worthington was one of the best producers in the building; patient, brilliant with the soundboard, and able to work with an astonishingly wide range of artists after fifteen years in the business. However, he was starting to think that he had finally met his match when he had been placed with burgeoning rock star Jude Harrison…she was talented, no doubt about that. He had never before met an artist who seemed to live the music the way she did. She was young, but the passion she poured into her craft was something that he had only ever seen in artists twice her age and with twice the experience. She was soft-spoken and quiet when out of the recording studio, but the confidence and fire that surged from her in the booth assured him that she had an inner strength that bloomed with the addition of music. Jude was dismissed almost immediately by the more seasoned artists in the building as a flash in the pan, but Benny had been allowed to contribute during her songwriting sessions once or twice and knew that her talent was to be taken seriously. He had seen the world-weary soul that lay behind her sapphire eyes, only present when Jude entered her creative and vulnerable songwriting state, and felt the gravity that it imbued into her lyrics. Benny had initially seen this tendency toward melancholy as a creative source to tap into, but it soon became apparent that more often than not Jude couldn't stop her inner darkness from overwhelming her…and therein lay the real problem.

Jude knew that she was toeing the line at Bermondsey Records. In Toronto, whenever she would get into a funk she could always write her way out of it; as a creative spirit, Jude felt her emotions tenfold and they usually made for killer songs and a pseudo-therapy session in one. However, what usually would have been wellspring of inspiration quickly turned into a burdensome dark tide that pulled her under more often than not. She had wanted freedom from the trappings of her life in Canada, and a one-way ticket to London and the rock star life she had always dreamed of seemed like a no-brainer when it was first presented to her…so why did she feel even more trapped than before? The lightness of being that should have come with being virtually obligation-free (save her recording contract, of course) had dissipated within a month or two of her plane's wheels touching down on the tarmac at Heathrow airport, and the more time passed the more she felt the weight of her life bearing down on her. She was suffocating.

Jude grimaced, opening her mouth to protest, and then thought better of it. The fact of the matter was that not only was she behind schedule, but over budget as well…and given that this was her first year at Bermondsey Records, she was pretty sure that even Darius' "mercy" would be bountiful in comparison to the consequences she would face if she couldn't prove to her boss Laura Turner that she was worth the cash they'd put up to bring her onto their roster of musicians.

"Toss me a couple of Tylenol and we'll get back to it," she called out, wincing a little in pain as her voice came back to her through the headphones.

0*0*0*0*0

She walked into the kitchen, the chill of the marble tile seeping into her socks and sending a shiver down her spine. Despite the many frigid winters she had breezed through growing up in Toronto, she somehow couldn't get used to the bone-deep chill that seemed to pervade every cell in her body since she had touched down in London almost a year ago. Her friends assured her that it was just the way London weather worked; the damp fog had driven away many would-be Londoners when they realized that a woolen pea coat alone wasn't going to be enough to fight off the cold. Jude couldn't say she was used to it yet, but since the weather and her mood seemed to match up most days she had begun to pay it no mind.

Jude poked her nose into the refrigerator and narrowed against the glare of the fluorescent light. She was mildly disappointed, but not surprised in the least, to find nothing more than a jar of pickles and half a carton of old takeout to greet her. Closing the doors, she leaned her forehead against the cool metal handles and let her eyes fall shut again. The soothing effect on her skin served as a balm to her nerves. I should probably eat something, she thought listlessly. For someone who could make a cheeseburger disappear in less than two minutes, she had found herself inclined to eat less and less as of late. It wasn't that there wasn't good food available, it was more like…she couldn't muster the energy to care about eating. As a matter of fact, she had a hard time summoning the strength to care about much of anything lately save keeping her recording contract intact.

Even that was proving to be quite a challenge, as her endless inspiration seemed to have slowed to a trickle over the past year. On her days off she would sit in her living room or on the deck in the yard, her music journal open and sitting on her lap while she stared off into space; trips to the park, the pub, the ocean would all end the same…a few lines here or there, but nothing she could cobble together into a song. Finding her music mojo was like pulling teeth these days, but instead of frustration Jude felt…nothing.

Two months ago she had broken through her writer's block and a song had emerged out of the blue. Jolting awake in the middle of the night with a melody ringing in her head and lyrics fully formed, she had worked on it straight through to morning and had it close to finished by the time she was scheduled to show up to her daily recording session. Together, after a few tense and tumultuous recording sessions and quite a few expletives, she and Benny had managed to put together a pretty impressive first single for her fourth album: "Ex Factor" was more stripped down than some of her previous singles, but it came with the depth of feeling and skilled guitar riffs that she was known for. Laura was thrilled with the prospect of finally getting her money's worth out of Jude and pressed for more, already making moves to release "Ex Factor" as a sneak peek of what a Jude-and-Bermondsey pairing was capable of. It sailed out of the studio and onto the charts within a month of recording, and before long it had climbed to number two on the international charts; Jude barely had time to celebrate her success before a new deluge of work and pressure came from above, demanding a repeat of the smash hit. Her mother had always told her that the reward for good work was more work…and boy was she right, Jude groaned internally.

She should have been thrilled at her success. She should have been able to use the momentum from her single to create even more music. She should have been able to do a lot of things, but almost immediately after inspiration had struck for "Ex Factor" she slipped back into her fugue state.

Jude had called Sadie a few times for advice, but each time she chickened out and hung up before the voicemail picked up. Sadie had a pretty full dance card these days anyway, now that she was in charge of operations for "World Instant Star" and partially running G-Major as Darius Mill's right-hand-woman. Jude and Sadie had caught up over the phone a few months ago, but pretty soon it was apparent that Sadie's workload was going to keep her a little too busy for chitchat. Jude also had a suspicion that Sadie's personal time was as filled with Darius as her work hours, but she tried to put that thought out of her mind with a shudder. Darius and my sister? Blearrrghhh!

Jamie was understandably swamped with his life as well, getting Nana's Basement Records off of the ground and recording Spiederman's solo album providing more than enough work to fill his days and nights. Having Zeppelin helped, but Jude knew that Jamie's infamous pride kept him from delegating as much as he probably should have. She didn't want to add to his burden, so she left him alone.

Mason was on tour yet again, in addition to being a mentor for the new Instant Stars that passed through G-Major's halls. Spiederman was busy juggling his burgeoning solo career and his marriage to Karma, and if rumors were to be believed…rapidly approaching fatherhood? Jude managed a faint smile at the thought, picturing Karma carrying her baby in a Coach purse à la ChiChi the Chihuahua.

I guess that leaves me with….me, she thought with a heavy sigh. That was the trouble with cutting your ties to home; you drifted away while the Earth continued to turn beneath your feet. Homesickness closed around her throat like a vise, and Jude felt the pang in her head double with the return of her constant feelings of loneliness and exhaustion. There was one other person she could reach out to...

"Nope," she bit out, giving her head a little shake and making her way back toward the front hall. Though they hadn't spoken since Jude had publicly broken off their engagement and sped away to her new life, she was pretty sure that pouring her heart out to Tommy was a privilege that she no longer had. There were things that Jude missed about him, of course…on the rare occasion when she allowed herself to think about their doomed relationship. What she didn't miss was the threesome she always found herself in: Jude, Tommy, and Tommy's demons. Her throat tightened again and she quickened her pace in response, stepping into her boots and throwing on her jacket. She couldn't stand another minute suffocating alone in this house, the choking silence allowing her mind to roam to places she didn't want to go.

It was time to feed some demons of her own.