By Laura Feltyberger
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Gavriel was waiting for Michael. Michael came dashing down the stairs, nearly late for work. He would have gone straight out the door had it not been for the grim expression on the other man’s face.
"Gav, what’s wrong?"
"I might ask you that question. What’s going on with Winni?"
Michael’s shoulders dropped. "I was hoping that she wouldn’t have said anything to you."
"She wouldn’t have if I hadn’t asked her. Why are you hurting her?"
Michael sighed exasperatedly. "She’s mortal. She has more opportunities out there than anything I can offer her."
"But does she want what’s out there? It seems to me she doesn’t."
"She doesn’t remember what’s out there." he sat heavily on the couch. "Tell me how long was Winni a donor?"
Gav tried hard to remember. "I have no idea. She used to come to the Captive when it first opened, about ten years ago maybe. But she was already a part of the scene then."
"She wasn’t always a part of the scene. She had a normal life once. I want her to go back to it."
"She may not want it back, Michael. She can’t just walk out of the shadows into the sun again. It’s not that easy." Gavriel reasoned.
"It’s even more difficult to do with me waiting in the shadows. If she’s going to walk out into the sunlight she has to do it without me." Michael rose and stalked out of the apartment.
Gavriel shook his head over these two stubborn people: one who loved so much that she would give up anything to be with her lover, one who loved so much that he was willing to give her up for her own good. What was he going to do with them?
That evening at the Captive he sat with Mina in a back booth. Her slick silver nails raked the back of his hand in a soothing motion.
"I’ve seen all kinds of crazy things going on here lately. Michael and Winni are fighting, Sedrien and his mortal lover have been here. Now you need help. Tell me what is going on, Gav." Her soothing voice flowed over him like water.
"Things are changing so fast, I don’t know how to stop it."
"Who says you have to stop it? Who says you have to be responsible for everyone?"
Gavriel’s brow furrowed over something she had said. "Sedrien has a woman? How do you know that? I had no idea."
Mina shrugged her shoulders, the deep russet drape of her dress sliding a fraction. "Maybe she was his intended for the night. They seemed more chummy than casual acquaintances."
Then he knew what was wrong. His jade eyes met hers. "You said Sedrien’s mortal lover. You know about Sedrien and I?"
"Any Sensitive with eyes could see it. I knew about Martine too, and Michael." Mina’s stormy blue eyes fixed his. "There’s more, but do you want to hear it?"
Gavriel sat back in his seat. "Hit me."
* * * * *
Michael took an alternate route home from the hospital. It took longer, but Winni wouldn’t know how to follow him. She’d trailed him last night, he was sure of that. She just couldn’t let go. He’d created a monster.
The most terrible part was that he could sense her anguish from several blocks away, maybe because it was directed at him. He hated to feel her pain and know that he was the cause of it. He wanted nothing more than to hold her and let her know that he cared.
Caring for Winni would do her no good. She needed someone mortal, human, normal. She needed every chance to make a new life, and admitting his affection for her would only hold her back. Michael hoped that in time she’d give up on him, that she’d go away and start over with someone who deserved her.
She was waiting in the lobby when he arrived home. She ducked into the elevator with him just as the doors closed. Michael closed his eyes, trying not to look at her.
"Winni, don’t. I don’t want to talk about this anymore. Why can’t you let me go?"
"Because I love you."
"No you don’t." They both knew he was lying. He could feel her reaching out to him with her soul.
"Michael, I don’t want anyone else. I don’t want a new life. All I want is for us to be together again." She choked back her tears, she didn’t want to cry.
Michael turned to her and shook her by her shoulders. "I don’t love you, and I never will. I don’t want to see you again. Get that into your head."
He let her go and walked through the elevator doors the second they opened. Winni sank down to the floor as the doors closed again.
Michael made himself a Jamesons on the rocks and sat in the huge window overlooking the park. It hurt to say those things to Winni. He did love her, not in the same consuming way he’d loved Martine, but he loved her. He wanted to share everything with her, but he had so little to give. He could promise her nothing.
Gavriel came home some time later. He was angry.
"I saw Winni earlier. What have you done to her?"
"I’m not proud of myself. In fact I would like nothing more than to go to her and take back everything I said. But I can’t. She deserves better than me."
Michael heard Gavriel’s keys crash on the table as he threw them down. "You liked her well enough before. Why can’t that be enough for you?"
"It’s not what I want that matters."
"That’s all you’re thinking of: what you want. Did you ever ask her what she wants?"
"I love her. I want the best for her. I’m not what she needs."
"You’ve said that before. It’s funny, because you needed her quite a bit not too long ago and you made no hesitation to use her then. Now you’re done and you’ve cast her aside."
Michael’s glass hit the floor. "I wish it could be different."
"You got your wish. She came to the club and quit on me tonight. Are you happy now?" Gavriel stalked out of the apartment.
Gavriel did not come home that night.
Winni went back to the warehouse where she’d first met Michael. The club that had been there was gone. Now it was inhabited by squatters. There was nothing left of her old life. Maybe Michael was right, and she should start over.
She wandered the streets until she was too cold to walk anymore. She wasn’t sure where to go; she wasn’t tired enough to go home. In fact, going home would only remind her that she’d just quit her job and had no way of meeting the rent anymore. Getting a new job meant she’d have to start getting up days again and give up the night that she loved. There had to be another answer.
When she arrived back at her apartment she had a visitor waiting. It wasn’t someone she expected to see, and was startled when the tall figure stepped from the shadows.
"I’ve spoken with Gavriel, Winni." said Mina. "Let’s see if we can’t work this out."
* * * * *
Sedrien closed the file he’d just finished making notes on and moved on to the next. This quiet part of the night had always been his favorite time, but somehow it no longer felt right. He realized that he was waiting to hear Lalie’s voice, hear her laughter as she walked down the hall. He sat back in his chair thinking about the way she’d upset his ordered, sedate life.
It was true that since she came to the shelter people smiled more, laughed more often. Her sparkling attitude was infectious, and even Sedrien was not immune to it. That surprised him more than anything else. He’d thought he had closed off all his emotions, but here she’d drawn them back out into the open and nothing was nearly as painful as he’d remembered. She gave him something to look forward to every day.
Even stranger was the fact that Lalie seemed to need nothing from him. When she was upset Sedrien wanted to comfort her, but she managed to pull herself back up without his help. He wanted to do things for her, anything, but she was so independent and self sufficient he wondered why he bothered at all. He had never known someone like Lalie Wyatt in his life. Maybe that was why he was drawn to her.
The last file, finally, Sedrien thought. He opened the file and began to make notes on the drug schedule and latest t-cell counts. He noticed he’d forgotten to write the patient’s name on the memo and checked the first page. When he saw the name he dropped the folder like a hot coal.
The patient was Eulalia Wyatt.
Lalie folded sheets in the tiny laundry room and tossed them into a basket. She could have left this task to another volunteer, but she wanted the excuse to get out from behind her desk. She wasn’t used to sitting still for so long. Sedrien seemed to like the paperwork part of the job, so she let him have it. She was coming to depend on him more and more, and that was both comforting and disturbing.
She liked working with someone who knew the ins and outs of the job as well as she did. He knew what had to be done and did it without being asked. Sedrien had surprised her with his interactions with the patients. Everywhere else he seemed so unflappable and controlled, but with the patients he softened, opening up to them and soothing their fears and pain. He could see right through to what was ailing them and fix it.
There were some areas where Sedrien could be downright domineering. She was grateful for the way he handled the furnace repairs, but annoyed that he managed to take care of something she could not handle. He knew everything about everything that went on in the hospice. Lalie was afraid that he might see through her one of these days; there was little that he did not notice. She was careful about taking her meds out of sight of the staff, but she knew that sooner or later her secret would be out.
Something told her that Sedrien would be the first to know. He’d taken her out several times already, and she had to admit that she liked his company. He was the gentleman she’d always secretly hoped to meet: respectful, reliable, and thoughtful. She also found him sexy as hell, although she told herself over and over again not to get her hopes up. She was terrified of his finding out about her HIV status. She knew that when he found her out he would do the gentlemanly thing and try to comfort her, lessen her burdens and take the pressure off her. She wanted the work, she wanted the pressure, for as long as she could possibly stand them. She did not want to have to rely on someone else until it was absolutely necessary. It won’t be necessary for a long time, Lalie thought. Her health was good, her t-cells were high, and hopefully would stay that way.
Lalie finished folding sheets and carried the basket to the linen closet. She was stacking linens on the shelves when she sensed rather than heard someone approaching from behind. She knew it had to be Sedrien; no one else was that quiet. When she turned his face was grim and she saw he held a file in his hand, his knuckles were white. By the look on his face she could guess whose file it was, though how he got it was anyone’s guess.
"Not here. In my office." She snapped. She reached her office long before he did and waited by the door for him to enter. When he was finally seated she slammed the door and began pacing in the small empty space between her desk and filing cabinet.
"Where did you get that file?"
"It must have been on your desk. When I came for the new admittances I guess I must have picked it up too. It was on the bottom of the stack."
Lalie silently cursed herself for leaving the file out.
"Are you admitting yourself?"
She was angry. "Do I look like it? In case you haven’t noticed, I’m fine. I haven’t been sick at all. My ex-husband tested positive two years ago and suggested that I get tested too."
"Your ex-husband?" Sedrien hadn’t thought for a moment that she’d been married. It just hadn’t occurred to him.
"We were divorced three years ago. He was cheating on me and I caught him. Idiot forgot to lock his office door when he asked his secretary to take dictation." Lalie cleared her throat and refused to meet Sedrien’s eyes.
Sedrien noticed she’d rather talk about her ex-husband than her own well being, but he couldn’t ignore the subject.
"Lalie, I know from your file that you’re in no danger right now, that your care is being managed properly, and you’re perfectly fit. But promise me if you need someone, you’ll come to me. I know why you’ve kept this quiet, and I respect that. No one else has to know until it’s necessary." His offer was so unexpected and so touching that tears welled in her eyes.
Lalie stepped forward and kissed Sedrien squarely on the mouth. She had no idea why he had the power to reduce all her defenses to ash, but in that moment she was almost grateful he did. When he returned the kiss she backed away and fled the room, afraid that she’d let him get too close already.
Sedrien let her go.
* * * * *
Mina sat lotus fashion in the middle of a blue Persian carpet in her spacious loft. A huge white block candle burned at her right, a dark red candle to her left, a small low black table sat before her. She hummed a low tone in her throat while her lips whispered unintelligible words and incantations. She heard the faint sound of her visitor entering the room, but did not open her eyes or speak. She rose gracefully, her violet silk robe flowing about her body, made a simple gesture of closure and her humming ceased. Opening her eyes she spied Winni standing by one of the screens that blocked off her bedroom. Winni’s dark green eyes were wide and wary.
"It’s all right. I’ve finished." Mina assured her. She picked up what looked like a large thimble and put out the red candle with it, then the white. She reached out a hand to Winni, beckoning her closer.
"This is for you, for good fortune in your new life." In Mina’s hand lay a pendant: two silver crescent moons with a moonstone cabochon between them. "The Goddess will guide you and keep you safe."
"Thank you." Winni stared blankly at the gift. Mina put the candles back at their respective shrines on opposite sides of the room, then tended to her ritual tools. Mina caught a glimpse of the implements in the black lacquered box before Mina put the box away in a tall Oriental cabinet.
"Really, thank you, for everything. I don’t know what I would have done if it hadn’t been for you and Gavriel." Winni’s face showed her sadness, but she did not cry.
"My dear Winn, what are good friends for?" asked Gavriel. He’d been watching Mina’s ritual from a dark corner. "After all you’ve done for me in the past, now I can finally repay you. I just wish I could have given you what you really wanted."
She smiled when Gavriel used her new name. He’d said it suited her better. "Michael doesn’t want me. I have to accept that."
"He will have to adjust to your new status." Gavriel pointed out.
"Yes, he will. He wanted me to have a new life, but he never specified what that new life should entail." Winn finished fastening her pendant around her neck where it gleamed brightly against her dark clothing. "Are you coming to the club tonight?"
"Later. We have unfinished business here." Gavriel assured her.
Winn put on her leather coat and left the apartment. Gavriel’s fingers ran absently through Mina’s waist length black hair.
"I sent the remaining energies out in a healing for Michael. The Lord and Lady know he needs it." Mina stroked Gavriel’s stubbled chin. Her forehead rested on his shoulder.
"For Martine or for Winn?" he asked.
"Neither, just for Michael." she answered. She looked up into his face. "Do we really have unfinished business?"
Grinning, his sharp canines showed plainly. "We haven’t begun our unfinished business yet."
Michael lent a hand at The Captive that night. With Winni gone someone needed to help out on the weekends. Michael pushed the hand cart with a fresh beer keg behind the bar and helped the bartender to hook it up before carting away the dead keg. As he eased the cart out from behind the bar he saw a flash of sherry colored hair go past. The voice could not be mistaken.
"Tony, we’ve got a new microbrew that came in this afternoon. Michael will bring a few cases up after he dumps the keg." Winn squeezed past Michael to the register behind the bar. She punched a few keys and tore off the report that printed out.
"Winni? I thought you quit."
"I was talked out of it. Gavriel made me a better offer."
"I thought you were going to start over."
"Who says I haven’t? I thought you were going to bring those cases from storage." Her voice was clipped and crisp. There was something different about her, other than the gray tinted spectacles she wore.
A serving girl plunked her tray on the open gate at the end of the bar and shouted her order to the bartender. Winn walked right up to her.
"See those chrome bars on the counter over there? That’s where you place your order. You cannot block the gate at the end of the bar. If I catch you doing that again you’re fired." Her tone was forceful.
The server snapped her gum. "And who are you to tell me my job?"
"I’m Winn Arden, the new partner. And you’ll do as I tell you."
Michael had overheard the whole exchange. His jaw dropped when he heard the word partner.
End of Chapter Two
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