Weave of Love: A love story with a hint of intrigue
A wonderful blend of fantasy and romance without the tropes or standard formula. It’s a beautiful premise, filled with drama, action, and everything we’ve come to expect from the series.Radzy Writes
What if the choice you have to make has devastating consequences for others? How can anyone know the right thing to do?
This series is so detailed & has such a different feel from other fantasy series that I've read – it's definitely one I recommend. Writing with Wolves
Leonie chose to sacrifice everything to save other people. Now those around her have to face the consequences – which are not what they expected.
Prospero must deal with his own guilt. He was the one who gave Leonie the tools she needed – her life was in his hands. To make the most of what she did, he will have to face up to all the family issues he has avoided for so long. Whatever he chooses to do, someone he loves will be hurt. For Leonie's sake, is he now strong enough to make the choice he couldn't make before?
The crisis predicted by Lord Gabriel has come and gone. But his task isn't over. Leonie's very existence may be out in the open but Gabriel discovers that the past is never what it seems – and nor is the present. How can he use what he now knows to bring together those who have been enemies for as long as anyone can remember? If he fails in this, everything he's had to do so far will be in vain.
A wonderful blend of fantasy and romance without the tropes or standard formula. It's a beautiful premise, filled with drama, action, and everything we've come to expect from the series. Radzy Writes
I loved getting to see the relationships and the characters develop... this is a book that...makes you want to rush through to find out exactly what's going to happen! FNM Book Reviews
I adore the world that Bonner has built up in this series; it's a very unique but interesting world, complete with an intricate social system and clearly defined communities, with the religious undertones adding a fresh twist to it. K T Robson reviews
The world she created...was exquisite. The book was unputdownable and I thoroughly enjoyed this entertaining read. Bonner's creativity in her writing really drew me in to the amazing story. Nurse Bookie
The author has a lovely writing style and she really brought this story to life for me. A really well written story that has a lovely flow to it and a great plot line. donnasbookblog
Reviews for Strand of Faith – book 1 in the Choices and Consequences series
Magical...full of adventure with enjoyable characters...a must read for the genre! Touch My Spine Book Reviews
It is a truly unique story and the elements are woven together so well. Odd Socks and Lollipops
Such an exciting concept executed so cleverly and uniquely. This is the start of such an exciting series. ZooLoo's Book Diary
Reviews for Thread of Hope – book 2 in the Choices and Consequences series
This is a story of faith, god and fantasy all mixed into a beautifully written tale of love and consequences of our actions....one that will stay with you... The Bookwormery
The end is so thrilling I want to read the next book. In De Boekenkast
I was enveloped by the magic of this world. The whole book was super unpredictable & the writing was really easy to fall into. Writing with Wolves
The character development is fantastic. The plot was intricate and absorbing. I wanted more. Jessica Belmont
I love how the characters are developing and how the relationships, interactions and all the secrets are connecting and proving to be even more important to the plot. An exciting, interesting, thought-provoking, emotional journey. Jess Bookish Life
Release date: October 24, 2019
Publisher: Isbin Books
Print pages: 261
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Weave of Love: A love story with a hint of intrigue
Rachel J Bonner
This part of the ride was pleasant enough. He was on their own land, the afternoon sun was warm despite the time of year, and, although the route was narrow and twisted, his horse was surefooted and he could relax, riding with a loose rein. His thoughts, as always when he rode this way, were of his brother. They had been together since the womb, sharing everything, rarely apart for more than a few hours. Their sudden and total separation still tore at him like an open wound, unable to heal. How many times had he ridden this route now, since the first time he’d come alone, to grieve, the loss fresh in his soul?
His destination on that day, all those years ago, had been the rock formation on the very boundary of their lands. It had been a special place to the pair of them, him and his brother, a secret place, somewhere they’d come to escape, to adventure, to explore. Somewhere they’d toyed with challenge, excitement and danger. It had been the natural place for him to try to make sense of his loss.
Years ago, she’d been there too. Grieving like he was, and hoping in a way that he couldn’t, caught in uncertainty. They had met there again over the next months. Not often, for it wasn’t easy for either of them to get away unnoticed and the consequences of being followed were unthinkable. And then, once, she hadn’t been there. It had become much harder for her, in her condition and she was near her time so he hadn’t been altogether surprised.
Still he’d gone back again as they’d agreed, knowing that this could happen. He’d seen a figure moving near the rocks and his heart had leapt with anticipation. He’d thought it was her, cloaked and hooded, until the figure had heard his arrival and turned towards him, pushing back her hood. Then he’d seen the loss and sadness in her eyes and known the girl he had expected to meet was dead. He’d slid from his horse and sunk to the ground, burying his head in his hands at this fresh loss.
The girl waited until he was ready to look up. She was sitting with her back to a rock, hunched over, as though she was sheltering something in her arms. It looked like a bundle of clothes, rags even, and then it made a small sound.
“The child?” he asked hoarsely, barely able to breathe with the additional grief she’d brought him.
“Show me!” he commanded.
Why, he didn’t know. What interest could he have in this bastard? The girl flipped back the blanket by the baby’s face and he took one look and fell head over heels in love. Not like the love he’d had for his brother, nor for the girl who was this child’s mother, or any of the women who had formed part of his life. This was an overwhelming love, a consuming desire to protect the child, to be there for her in whatever she needed. Instinctively he reached out and took her, cradling her to his body, crooning to her. Somehow, she soothed the pain in his soul. He could see her mother in her, and such a look of his brother. When he found the words, he said as much to the girl.
“Of course,” she said. “She looks like her parents.”
“Why?” he asked. “Why have you brought her to me?”
She shrugged, turning away slightly. “I thought you had a right to see her.”
“And now what? You just take her back and I never see her again?” His pain and sorrow made his voice bitter.
“Not back. I can’t go back. What you do is up to you.” Her voice was dead, devoid of feeling.
“Not back? Why? What happened?”
“I heard things. I’m neither heir nor spare so no one pays me any attention. They – one of my uncles, I think and someone else, I don’t know who – were going to get rid of her and the baby, that’s what I heard them say. I told her and she made me promise to keep her child safe. She wasn’t well by then, already. She died soon after the baby was born. I was ready. I took the child and came here.”
“I’ll take care of you,” he promised. What made him say that? What could he possibly do?
“It’s okay,” she said. “We made plans. I had some help. We’ll be fine.”
“Where will you go? I can’t take you onto our lands, you wouldn’t be any safer there. But one of the Sanctuary Houses? Or House St Peter? I could help you get there.”
She shook her head and gestured at the baby. “She is the heir. These lands are hers, her place, in her blood. She should be raised on them. I won’t take her somewhere else.”
“If they want to kill her, you’re not safe. Let me take you somewhere else.”
“No.” She was adamant. She indicated back down the trail on her side of the rocks. “There’s a hut down there, a couple of miles or less. It’s hidden, difficult to reach, and it’s warm and dry. We’ll be safe there.”
“It’s hardly what you’re used to. It won’t be easy, not with a small child too,” he protested.
“We don’t live as richly as you,” she said disparagingly. “And I’ve been helping raise my siblings for years now.”
He could see she wouldn’t give in, so he stood up, the child still in his arms. “Very well, then,” he said. “But at least let me escort you there now.”
Once she was mounted on his horse, reluctantly he passed the baby back to her. “Does she have a name?” he asked.
“Not yet,” the girl said.
He sighed. “Her mother wanted to call her Leonie.”
The girl nodded. “I know. But I thought you should have a say.”
He was touched, and rested his head against the horse’s neck to hide the tears that sprang to his eyes. Eventually, he looked up. “Call her Leonie,” he said and then silently led the horse down the track.
He needed directions to find the hut, which reassured him, and he was relieved to find it dry and reasonably well equipped. There was a cradle for the baby, already housing a small soft toy, worn with age. The girl saw his eyes drift to it. “That was hers,” she said. “I thought Leonie should have something from her mother. He’s called Taylor.”
Eventually, he left them there.
He’d been back many times since then. To start with he’d constantly tried to get her to move somewhere safer, but she’d been insistent and so he’d given up. She did have other help, besides him. He’d met her conspirator, early on and, of course, they’d recognised each other despite the ancient enmity between their families.
The first time, they’d watched each other warily, all but circling and baring their teeth at each other like a pair of wolves. The girl had snarled at them to behave and passed the baby between them. They had managed at least to accept their common ground in love of the child. Gradually, they had learnt to work together. Silently to start with, at opposite sides of whatever area they were in, simply doing whatever the girl had ordered. Then more closely together, communicating as the job needed, sharing tools, helping each other. Eventually, he had come to understand that what they had in common was far greater than their historic differences. Now he thought of the man as his friend. In a way, the girl’s other helper had come to fill some of the hollow left by the loss of his brother.
Today was the child’s fourth birthday and, as he crossed the rocks and descended into the alien territory, his thoughts turned from his brother to her. He couldn’t help but smile as he thought of her. She had grown into a happy, active child, healthy if a little too thin. Full of mischief which was to be expected given her parents, and smart as anything. Bilingual, too. She spoke the common language with him, but with her aunt she spoke the ancient patois of her lands. In his saddlebag was his birthday gift for her, a new edition of her favourite book. He’d read it to her so many times, but this time he hoped she would read it to him.
She met him as he rode through the woods that surrounded the hut, dropping off a low tree branch to stand beside the track, Taylor clutched in one hand. She was never without Taylor.
“You should be more careful, Leonie,” he said. “Anyone could be coming along here.”
“But they weren’t,” she said. “Just you.”
“I could have been a stranger. It’s not safe.” He couldn’t keep the smile off his face, just at the sight of her. He knew it was taking the seriousness out of his warnings. “You need to make sure you’re not spotted by those who could hurt you.”
“I could see it was you, from ages away,” she told him. “I can always tell who it is.”
He lifted her up to ride the rest of the way perched in front on him on his saddle, Taylor balanced in front of her.
“It’s my birthday,” she said to him proudly. “My first real birthday. The one that doesn’t happen every year.”
The other two were waiting for them at the hut and greeted him with pleasure. It was a small celebration but a happy one. The book from him, a new outfit made by her aunt, with the scraps made into something for Taylor, a jigsaw from his friend. And a birthday tea with chocolate cake, a special treat in in this household. He stayed until the child was asleep in bed, exhausted with pleasure, Taylor, still resplendent in his new clothes, tucked in beside her.
“You’re an amazing mother to her,” he said to the girl as he returned to the main room.
“It’ll be your birthday soon,” his friend told the girl. “Twenty one. We should do something to celebrate.”
She smiled slightly. “Maybe,” she said. “But it’s a couple of months yet. There’s time to think.”
They did manage to arrange a surprise party for her in the end, working together. How the girl didn’t suspect anything he would never know. When he arrived, Leonie was jumping up and down in front of the door with unsuppressed excitement. His friend was trying – and failing – to keep her quiet.
“You’re here, you’re here,” Leonie exclaimed, leaping into his arms.
“You got everything?” his friend asked.
He nodded at his bags. “All here,” he said. “Let’s go.”
The three of them charged through the door, shouting “Surprise”—Leonie clearly the loudest. The girl jumped in shock, but her face lit up with a broad smile as soon as she realised what was happening. The afternoon passed in a haze of noise, fun and food until Leonie at least was exhausted, curled around Taylor and nearly asleep.
The girl reached to kiss his cheek before he left. “Thank you,” she said. “I loved my party.”
Afterwards, that always brought him some comfort.
Thursday Midday – Early June
How often will I have to do this? How often can I even do this before it breaks me?
Perry groaned and buried his head into the pillow, trying desperately to recapture those fuzzy moments on the edge of waking. Those warm, happy moments of forgetfulness before the memories of the last few days hit him. Before his mind was swamped with thoughts of Leonie sacrificing everything to save others, of her almost lifeless body as he brought her home, of earlier this morning when they’d had to stop supporting her.
I won’t think about it. I won’t. Just the happy times, I’ll think of the good times.
“Sit up,” said Lord Gabriel. “I know you’re awake. You have to face this, not run away from it.”
Gabriel’s voice reached somewhere below Perry’s conscious mind and obedience came without thinking. He sat up. “Andrew was here,” he said slowly.
“I took over from him. I have a confession to make to you. Under the circumstances, I think it needs to be before tomorrow,” Gabriel replied with a slight smile.
Perry stared at him, frowning and puzzled. “Okay then,” he said, relieved at the distraction from his own issues.
“Not yet. You need to eat first,” said Gabriel, nodding towards where food was set out on a nearby surface. “Many years of experience have taught me never to confess to someone with low blood sugar.”
Despite the circumstances, that brought a slight laugh to Perry, and he moved to comply. As he ate, he kept glancing at Leonie’s body on the other side of the bed.
“She’s not been alone. Never alone,” Gabriel told him. “And my confession is for her, too, even if she won’t hear it.”
“I can’t keep secrets from her,” Perry confessed.
“I know. And this isn’t secret, not now. Although I’d rather my behaviour didn’t become public knowledge. At least, no more than it already is.”
Tendrils of intrigue wound into Perry’s mind, challenging the numbness he was desperate to hold on to, detachment his only protection against the ocean of pain awaiting him.
Gabriel took a deep breath and started. “For the last seven or eight months, I’ve been having visions and dreams again.”
Now fear rose through Perry’s chest, hot and vicious. “Did you know that what happened at House Eastern was going to happen?”
“Not exactly. Not until that morning. All I knew was that something was going to happen and that it would be soon. And I knew that it would have consequences that would change the world – for the better if I took the right actions, for the worse if not. And those actions included pushing you and Leonie together.” He hesitated and then continued. “I knew that Leonie would die and I expected that you would too.”
“I wanted to. Without Leonie…without Leonie, I can barely breathe. I can’t stand what I feel. When I think of a world without Leonie in it, then I want to die.”
“I can understand that. Doing what I knew I had to do became harder and harder as I came to know her better.”
“Why didn’t you tell me? You should have told me. I might… We could… I should…” Perry couldn’t take it in. Gabriel had known what was coming? Had set them up? Had caused the pain Perry was now feeling?
“I didn’t make it happen,” Gabriel said, very softly. “I’m not defending myself. I am responsible for what I did and its consequences. I am so sorry for the hurt and pain it has caused. But I had to do what I was called to do, and act for the greater good.”
Somewhere deep inside himself, Perry started to think about what Gabriel had known and faced for the last few months. “You’ve suffered this,” he said, his speech slow as each thought bubbled to the surface. “You’ve lived with the responsibility for her death and mine for months. That’s why you didn’t tell me. It’s better not to know.” He looked up at Gabriel. “How?” he asked. “I can’t face it. How in the name of… How on… How do you deal with the pain? How do I deal with the pain? The loss? The fear?”
Gabriel shook his head. “I can’t answer that, other than with prayer and with time. I will be here, whatever you need. So will Andrew and any number of others.”
“Who else knows then?” Perry asked.
“About the visions and my actions? Only Benjamin and Eleanor, though others may suspect.”
“Not Andrew. He has done what he has been told to do, whilst arguing to defend and protect you at every opportunity. He realised I was pushing you together; he doesn’t know why. He’s been a good friend to you. To you both.”
“Knew nothing. Less even than you.”
Perry buried his head in his hands, fighting to regain the detachment that provided the only way he could find to function, the only way he could manage to survive the next minute, the next hour. Eventually, he lifted his head and looked straight at Lord Gabriel. “How does what happened benefit the world? What happens next? And why did Leonie have to pay the price?” he asked.
“I don’t know the answers to any of those. My vision tells me that this route leads to a more peaceful, united and prosperous world. I still don’t know how we get there, just that the key moment is past. If I’d done nothing, it would have led to wars and famines, trouble on the scale of the Devastation times. As for Leonie, perhaps the answer is because she could? Can you think of anyone else who could have done what she managed? I know I couldn’t have done it.”
“Would you have told me had she not…” He gestured again at the bed, unable to complete his sentence.
“Yes, I would. Just not yet. Under the circumstances I felt you should know before tomorrow.”
“I would have chosen to have these past weeks and months. Even knowing what was to happen I’d have chosen to have them rather than not to. So would she. However it started, what’s between me and Leonie is real.”
Gabriel nodded. “I know. I found that a comfort.” He paused. “Can you forgive me?”
Perry stared at him blankly, his mind unable to process what he was being asked. “It helps to understand why,” he said in the end. “I know I need to. I want to. I do forgive you, I just… I just… I’m afraid I’ll struggle. On the bad days.”
“Then we will work at it together, and we will pray.”
They continued to sit together, both watching the bed. The rest of the day floated past Perry; he simply sat or ate or slept as others directed, his whole focus on what would happen the following morning.
“Just me,” Perry said. “Just me and her here. No one else.” He glanced down at the bed beside which they were all standing.
“No,” said Benjamin firmly. “That’s not going to happen. Gabriel and Eleanor will wait on the far side of the room. Andrew and I will be right here.”
Perry narrowed his eyes, looking at Benjamin, taking a breath for his retort, not caring about the consequences. Then Andrew touched his arm and spoke, just to him. “It’s not just about what you want, Perry. We all understand you want to be alone with her. It’s about what could happen and what’s best all round. No one will interfere with what you’re going to do. I’ll see to that.”
Perry swivelled round, turning his stare on Andrew, sighed then nodded, his shoulders slumping. “Okay, then.”
He sat on the edge of the bed and then reached to stroke Leonie’s cheek. “Leonie,” he said softly but insistently. “Leonie, it’s time to wake up.”
Where am I? I’m dead. At least…I should be.
My mind was full of fog, nothing seemed to be working. I couldn’t sense any other presence. There was no light, no dark; just greyness. The last thing I remembered was the sound of Perry singing. The pain of never seeing Perry again coiled round my heart, a physical ache as I drew breath.
A voice intruded on my thoughts, calling my name. Perry’s voice.
Perry is here?
I strained to open my eyes. It was hard work; my eyelids were stuck together, my eyeballs scratchy and dry. The light was too bright, my sight was blurred, a jumble of colour with no meaningful shape. As my vision cleared I saw Perry sitting beside me, looking down at me. His face was so drawn, so worried and concerned that I tried to reach for him, tried to speak his name, but my body was as unresponsive as my mind, my voice not even a whisper. He placed his fingers on my lips.
"Don't try to talk or move yet. You've been hurt, but everything's going to be okay. Sip this."
He held a straw to my mouth. The juice was neither too sharp nor too sweet and it soothed my dry throat. This time I managed his name. "Perry."
Again he silenced me. "I'm going to help you sit up a bit, okay? You might feel a little dizzy."
He slid one arm round and underneath me, and that gave me the chance to wrap both arms round his neck, bury my head in his shoulder, and drink in the scent and feel of him. "I couldn't find you, I couldn't find you," I kept repeating.
He adjusted his position so we were sitting wrapped together, his arms around me. "You did find me. Do you remember? You rescued me."
He didn't understand. "No, after that,” I told him. “After the power left. I couldn't find you, and then I heard your voice and now I'm here."
He held me like he'd never let me go, and that was more than fine by me. After a while, someone coughed and I became aware there were others in the room. Perry drew back a little. I knew my eyes were wet; I hadn't expected his to be, too. He busied himself making sure I was sitting comfortably against the pillows. I didn't want to let go of him so I kept one hand twisted into the fabric of his top and as soon as he had a hand free I tucked my other hand into his.
He didn't look round at the others but spoke to me. "Now you're awake, Benjamin and Andrew need to examine you, alright?"
I nodded but I kept tight hold of him. Lord Gabriel spotted that – he noticed everything – and he stood up and spoke quietly but very firmly, "Prospero is going to wait outside with me."
Perry looked as reluctant as I felt, but there was no way I would disobey Lord Gabriel and neither would he, so I untangled my fingers from his top.
"It won't be long, and I won't be far away," Perry said trying to reassure me and then I was left with Andrew and Benjamin.
Andrew came over to me. I grabbed his arm as he sat down beside me. "Is Perry alright? He looked so… so…" I couldn't think of the right word.
"He'll be fine,” Andrew said. “He's just been worried about you."
I tried to reach Perry to reassure him and found I couldn’t. My mind was still foggy, not working. An icy swell of panic rose through my middle, clouding my thoughts further. “I can’t reach him, I can’t find him,” I said, my voice rising with my fear.
“Don’t try,” said Andrew hurriedly. “You won’t be able to and it won’t be good for you. He’s okay.”
“He needs me,” I pleaded, tugging on his arm. “I need him.”
Lady Eleanor appeared beside Andrew and, despite my pleadings, Andrew moved away and she took his place. She put her arm round me. “You can’t use your Gifts right now,” she told me gently. “Gabriel’s looking after Perry. He’ll be fine. He’ll be back as soon as Benjamin and Andrew have done what they need to.”
Not use my Gifts? How can I not have my Gifts?
After the time of Devastation, as our world healed and the population regrew, people discovered they could do things with their minds – things like telepathy, telekinesis, and fire starting. Now around one person in four could do something, and some people – like me, and Perry and many of those around us – could do a lot.
How can I be me without them?
But with Andrew and Benjamin pestering me, I couldn’t think. They tried to be gentle, but they were thorough and it wasn't particularly pleasant. I supposed medical matters rarely were. I wanted to scream at one point but I choked it back because I was afraid Perry would hear and worry. Eventually it was over. Benjamin left the room first, closely followed by Lady Eleanor.
“Andrew,” I hissed, and he turned back towards me. “Take this drip out.”
He shook his head. “I know you don’t like it, but medically, we have to leave it,” he whispered. “And it’s bandaged like that to stop you pulling it out. But Perry’ll take it out in a moment if you ask. Everything he’ll need is on the table.”
And then Perry was there. Andrew winked at me over his shoulder, nodded towards the table and disappeared. Finally I was alone with Perry. I held my arm out to him. "Please?" I begged.
He understood instantly and set about removing the drip. “If I do this,” he said, “you have to agree to eat and drink anything and everything you’re told to, understand?”
I nodded but he'd almost finished before he spoke so it didn't really matter. When he stood up to put things away, I swung my legs round and sat on the side of the bed trying to hide how weak and dizzy I felt.
He turned back. "And what do you think you are doing?"
I was pretty sure I wasn't going to get away with it but I tried anyway. "I want a shower."
He sat back next to me, sliding one arm round my shoulders. "No way. You aren't strong enough. That can wait until tomorrow and I'll help you."
If I wasn't strong enough to shower alone, I certainly wasn't strong enough for his help, with its inevitable consequences. I tried for my next option. "Then I want to sit there, with you." I pointed at the large armchair we had in the bedroom, where we'd often sat curled up together. I could see he was weighing up how stubborn I was likely to be, but he gave in. I guessed he wanted that, too.
"Okay," he said. "But I'm going to get a blanket so you don't get cold, and you're to drink that juice."
He indicated a glass standing on the table. That seemed a good deal to me so I drank it, and we snuggled into the chair together, me partly sitting on his lap, with my head tucked into his shoulder. I made him take his top off, so I could feel and smell his skin, and for the first time I saw the bruises spread across his ribs. I traced them gently with my fingers. "I didn't know you were hurt?"
I should have known; how could I have missed that?
"They're nothing, they're nearly better; I didn't know myself till we were back here."
I trailed my fingers along to the monitor disc on his chest and down his arm to the patient bracelet. "If they're nothing, why these?"
He took my hand in his, placing it on his chest between us, then tucked the blanket round us before answering. "I thought you were going to die on me and I couldn't handle it. And I was drained by what we did. They spiked my drink to make me sleep. That’s why."
I looked towards the now empty glass of juice and he followed my glance. He answered my unasked question. "Probably not. But honestly, you're not going to stay awake very long whether they did or didn’t. For the next little while you aren't going to want to do anything but eat and sleep."
Actually, I could feel my eyelids growing heavy already. I didn't mind; I was where I wanted to be, and that was enough. I’d worry about everything else later. I rested my head on Perry’s shoulder and let my eyes close.
Perry could feel Leonie’s breathing becoming more even and her body relaxing against him as sleep overcame her. He was overwhelmed by how possessive and protective he felt and how unwilling he was to let go of her. Fancy her trying to get out of bed, demanding a shower. That was so like Leonie, wanting to do more than she was able, sooner than she could. Mind you, he'd have indulged her in practically anything. He suspected he'd have given in on the shower, had she pushed any harder. Letting his joy at her survival sweep through his body, he rested his cheek on her head and closed his eyes.
It was a couple of hours before Perry awoke, conscious first of the warm weight of Leonie as she still slept on him, the feel of her breath on his chest, the heat of her hand resting on his skin. With his eyes still closed, he could even sense her heart beat, steadily, strongly, in time with his own. Eventually, he opened his eyes, to see Andrew sitting across the room from them, watching closely.
"Your turn on the rota again, is it?" he said drowsily. "I'm glad it's you."
Andrew walked round the bed to stand over them, looking down. "I think the rota's pretty much over now. You look stuck."
"Oh, I am. Are you planning to rescue me?"
"Do you want to be rescued?"
"Not really, no. I'm quite happy here."
"Stay there then. It seems to be doing you good, you look a lot better than you did earlier."
"How can I help but feel better?" Perry couldn't stop smiling.
Andrew sat down on the edge of the bed, facing them. "I owe you an apology."
"I can't think how, but right now I'd forgive anyone anything, so if you do it's a good time."
Andrew paused, looking anywhere but at Perry, his fingers playing with the covers on the bed. Then he raised his head, met Perry’s eyes and said in a rush. "You were set up, you and Leonie. Gabriel pushed you together, trying to force something to develop."
"I know. Gabriel confessed yesterday. But however artificial the situation, what Leonie and I feel for each other is genuine. Is that what's worrying you, that you helped in pushing us into this? Because that doesn't need an apology, rather I owe you my thanks."
"No, that's not exactly it. I did help, but I was following orders. No, it's that I argued against it, I said it wouldn't work, it wasn’t fair, that they'd be playing on your shortcomings. And I guess I was jealous. And then, these last few days, I've seen what you risked, how much you've hurt and that's shown me just how much you love her, and I'm sorry I tried to prevent it."
Perry smiled at him. "There’s nothing to forgive. I know you were just looking out for me. Gabriel told me you’d been a good friend to both of us." He looked down at Leonie. "I do love her. I didn't know it was possible to feel like this about anyone."
"There isn't anyone I love so much that I would hurt for them the way you've hurt," Andrew answered.
Perry adjusted his position slightly and winced. “Andrew,” he said sheepishly. “I think you’re going to have to rescue me after all. I need the bathroom.”
Andrew grinned and started to lift Leonie off him, revealing Perry’s topless state. Perry was more concerned about Leonie. “Don’t let her get cold,” he instructed.
“Stop fussing, I won’t, she’s quite safe,” Andrew responded as he carried her across to the bed and gently laid her down, tucking the covers round her.
Perry watched them for a moment, seeing a range of emotions cross Andrew’s face. “You love her, too,” he said in wonder, experiencing a moment of revelation.
“Of course,” said Andrew, tranquilly. “Just not like you do. And anyway, she loves you.” He grinned at Perry. “When you’re done in the bathroom, I’ll see if we can discharge you. Then you can go down to the kitchens and get something to eat, and see if you can stop Pedro baking all these cookies!”
It had become a source of much amusement, despite the circumstances, that the head chef, Brother Pedro, had dealt with his own fears and emotions by baking large and continual quantities of chocolate chip cookies, Leonie’s favourite. Perry laughed, the tension broken, and went to obey. He didn’t want to leave Leonie but Andrew shooed him out of the room. “You need to eat, and you need a break from being here,” he said. “Leonie will be fine; she won't be alone for a moment.”
When he thought about it rationally, Perry knew Andrew was right, but he still planned to be as quick as he could manage. The kitchens were pretty quiet, in that lull after lunch had been cleared but before any preparations had started for the evening meal. Pedro came rushing to meet him. “How is she? How’s Leonie? Is she…?”
“She’s woken up. She’s asleep again now, but she woke up. And she remembers a lot of what happened. So far, it’s looking good.”
Pedro stopped in his tracks and sighed deeply, closing his eyes. “Thank you, Lord.”
Then he opened his eyes and looked straight at Perry. “Come on, you need to eat. Sit.” He pushed Perry onto a chair by a small table and hurried off, before quickly coming back with a bowl of thick soup and fresh bread. “Eat, eat,” he instructed. “You need to keep your strength up too.”
Pedro sat down opposite Perry and started plying him with questions about Leonie’s recovery. He didn’t seem to expect any response, which was as well given that Perry was eating and no one knew the answers anyway.
“I think of her as a daughter, you know,” Pedro confessed. “Poor little nestling.”
Perry looked up sharply. “You knew she was a nestling?” he asked. “Since when?”
“I knew we had a nestling around sometime in the autumn but I couldn't tell who or where. I knew it was her that first time you brought her into the kitchen. If you've been one, you don't miss the signs. And I assume she was taking food to feed another nest.”
“She was. We rescued them, they're safe now. I didn't know you'd been one until she told me. Not many make it to adulthood.”
“It was a long time ago. And someone rescued me.” Pedro shook his head slightly as if to disperse the memories. “Now,” he said, “we need to think about what Leonie should be eating. I’ve got some plans.”
I slithered to the edge of the bed and stood up. I wobbled for a moment and then arms slid around my waist from behind as Perry caught me.
“I need the bathroom,” I told him.
He didn’t object, but kept his arm round my waist and supported me on the short walk to the bathroom door, Andrew hovering behind. Only then Perry started to come in with me.
“No way,” I said. “I can do this on my own.”
He shook his head. “It’s not like a hospital,” he protested. “There’s no grab rail or call buttons. What if you fall?”
“I’m going to be fine,” I insisted. “And besides, I want clean clothes.” I gestured towards the nearby chest of drawers.
Without thinking, Perry let go of me, opened the drawer and found me some pyjamas. That gave me the moment I needed to slip through the bathroom door. I just didn’t quite close it in time. He grabbed for the handle, held the door open and glared at me through the gap, before relenting and passing me the pyjamas.
“Don’t lock it,” he instructed. “And call if you need any help. Promise?”
“I promise,” I said and shut the door.
Of course my definition of needing help might not have been the same as his. I tried not to look in the mirror, but I couldn’t help it when I was washing my hands. My face looked like a skull, all sharp angles and bones with sunken eyes. My skin was washed out, no longer its usual golden honey colour, and my hair was just a matted mess. I managed to wash my face and attempted to brush my hair although it made little difference. I sat on the chair to put the clean clothes on. What I really wanted, still, was a shower, but I had to admit I didn't feel strong enough for that right now. Instead, I reached in, turned the shower on, then sat back down to see what would happen next.
The door burst open and Perry shot through, skidding to a halt when he realised the shower was empty and I was just sitting there. The look on his face was well worth it. “Back to bed for you,” he said, picking me up and carrying me there.
Andrew was right behind him and he at least appreciated the joke. I could see him trying hard not to laugh out loud. “Don't be mad at her,” he said, defending me. “It's a good sign, shows she's feeling better.”
Perry turned towards him, still holding me. “I'm not cross with her. I was just worried.”
That made me feel instantly guilty. “Perry, I'm sorry.”
“It's okay, beautiful. I just don't want you to do too much, too soon.”
Andrew butted in, “He's going to be seriously overprotective for a while even for him. He won’t be able to help it. You might as well get used to it for now. He’ll get over it eventually.”
“I'm going to be seriously overprotective forever,” Perry growled at him. He turned back to me. “And you don't get a choice in the matter so yes, you'd better get used to it.”
But he was smiling now as he said it so that was alright. I got back into bed and Andrew ambled off to our kitchen to find me something to eat. He came back with a tray holding some of Pedro’s soup and bread and a cookie. It didn’t look like much to me but it was all I could manage. I dozed through most of the rest of the afternoon, not really wanting to do anything but sleep and hold onto Perry. He must have felt the same because every time I woke, even for just a few minutes, he was right beside me, his hand in mine. I was a little bit more awake when Lord Gabriel came in later to find Perry and take him to the evening meal.
“Your presence at the meal, looking happy and relaxed will do far more than I can to convince the rest of my House that Leonie is recovering,” he said.
Perry got off the bed reluctantly, but really he didn’t have any choice. “I’ll be back soon,” he said. “Andrew will stay with you.”
Lord Gabriel had a bandage on his hand, but he seemed to be ignoring it and I didn’t get an opportunity to ask about it. He looked pale and drained himself, and thinking about it, so did most of the people I’d seen around since I’d woken up.
“Why is everyone so pale and worn out looking?” I asked Andrew as soon as we were alone.
“You’ve had the easy bit, being unconscious or asleep,” he said, teasing me. “The rest of us have been worrying about you. Everyone will start to feel better now you’re awake.”
“Why aren’t I dead?” Andrew was the only person I felt I could ask.
He smiled slightly, no doubt at the bluntness of my question. “Perry saved you,” he said. “He – I suppose the best way to put it is, he shared his life with you. And then he brought you back here where we all could help. It takes a lot of energy, that’s one reason people are looking so drained.”
I understood what he meant; I’d done it myself a couple of times. I’d shared a part of myself, my energy, my desire to live, with someone else so that they’d had a chance to live. Katya – the Trader Headwoman I’d been apprenticed to – had taught me how but she’d had very strict rules on when to use it. We’d only ever used it for a minute or two, to get a mother or a baby, or both, through a traumatic birth. I’d never heard of it being used for anything else, nor of it going on longer than a few minutes. No wonder those around me were looking tired. And no wonder Perry was feeling overprotective – I’d barely been able to let those babies out of my sight for about a week after helping them.
“You helped me too?” I asked him, because he looked just as pale as everyone else.
“Yes,” he said. A fleeting shadow passed across his face, so quickly I might even have imagined it. “Though most of it was Lady Eleanor and Melanie.”
“Melanie’s here?” I asked. “I’d like to meet her.”
“What do you know about Melanie?” Andrew asked cautiously.
“She’s Lady Eleanor’s daughter,” I told him. “Perry’s friend, ex-lover. Your friend, too.”
“Perry told you all about her then?”
I nodded. “Ages ago. But I knew before that, anyway.”
Andrew smiled. “I’m sure you’ll get to meet her soon enough. She wants to meet you, too.”
“Was it worth it? What I did? All the trouble I’ve caused here?”
“Yes, it was,” he answered quickly and certainly. “What do you remember about it?”
“Mostly just needing to rescue people, to get them out of the damaged building,” I said, trying to remember. “But I had so much power, so much knowledge. I could do anything, know everything. And now I can’t do or remember any of it.” I paused, then looked straight at him. “And I thought I would die.”
“You saved a lot of lives. Many of those you rescued would have been killed by the building collapsing further, or died while they waited to be rescued. And they’ll make a better recovery because they were treated sooner. It was well worth it.”
For a while we sat quietly while I thought about what I’d done and what I could remember. Andrew had always been someone who knew when I needed just to be silent. Then Perry’s absence started to tickle at my mind. I pushed it down; Perry wouldn’t be much longer. It fought back, tormenting me like an itch I couldn’t scratch. What was taking him so long? Where was he? I couldn’t stand his absence; I needed him there with me. If he wasn’t there… Panic was flooding up, ice cold fear rising from my stomach, through my chest. I knew Andrew was right there but still I needed Perry. I looked at Andrew again. “I want Perry,” I said, unable to keep it in.
He tried to be reassuring. “He’s not far, he’ll be back soon, don’t worry.”
It didn’t help. The panic rose further, my chest and throat tightening. I couldn’t sit still. I needed to run, to escape, to find Perry.
And then the door opened and Perry was there, and I was launching myself across the bed and into his arms almost before he could cross the room. Once I touched him I was safe again, but still I wrapped my arms around him and buried my face in his shoulder. He spoke to me, his voice soothing, but I didn’t really pay any attention to what he was saying. He picked me up and sat down on the bed, keeping his arms round me and holding me on his lap. I knew he was speaking to Andrew, but again I chose not to pay any attention, I just wanted to stay where I was. I heard another voice and Benjamin was there, saying my name, softly but insistently, so I turned my head to look at him. He had squatted down so his eyes were at my level and he smiled at me.
“I think,” Benjamin said, his voice still quiet, “I think that despite being asleep or unconscious you’ve been shut up in here too long. If we were in the hospital, I’d send you out to sit on the terrace or in the garden for a while. But as Eleanor has unaccountably failed to provide you with a balcony here” – that made me smile – “I think we’ll have Prospero carry you down to sit in the courtyard. How about that?”
I nodded eagerly, liking the sound of getting outside. “I can walk down,” I assured him.
“Maybe you can,” he said, “but let’s not do too much too soon. And whilst you’re there we’ll get this room tidied up for you.” He stood up. “Andrew, you go too in case they need anything. It’s a pleasant evening; you’ll not get cold, but take a blanket and some cushions anyway.”
I just let everything happen around me. They let me walk as far as the main corridor but by then I was quite happy to let Perry carry me the rest of the way. Soon we were comfortably settled on the bench outside, me on Perry’s lap with my head on his shoulder and Andrew at the other end of the bench, my feet tucked up against him. We talked a little, about nothing in particular, and then, with Perry’s arms around me, and the warmth of the evening sun on my skin I let my eyes close.
Andrew relaxed into the corner of the bench, resting one arm along the back of the seat and watched as Leonie drifted off to sleep. Her feet were warm against his thigh and he tweaked the blanket to ensure they stayed that way. He smiled to himself; right now Perry was broadcasting unrestrained feelings of happiness and contentment. At least that meant he was well on the way to recovering. Andrew didn’t have the heart to point out the extent to which he was sharing his feelings. Anyway, there was no one else around so it didn’t matter.
Leonie had asked him why she hadn’t died, and despite giving her an answer, he really didn’t know. He – like Benjamin and several others – had been researching the consequences of using master stones in the way she had done. Master stones were technological constructs, made to look like jewels, that someone as Gifted as Leonie could use to enhance their energy and abilities. There was a cost – most users had died immediately once they’d stopped using the stones. Of those who had survived, few had ever regained consciousness and those who had woken, had had no memory even of who they were with no ability to relearn. And the few who’d woken up with their memories intact as Leonie had done had either seemed to slip into a suicidal depression at the loss of their Gifts or died as a consequence of problems with their abilities re-establishing themselves. But there had been too few of those to make any real judgement on what might happen, along with some rumours – totally unsubstantiated – of someone who had made a full recovery. The only things they were certain of were that the first one hundred days were crucial and that each day Leonie survived improved her chances of recovery, with or without any return of her Gifts. He hadn’t shared any of this with her; he thought it better that she didn’t know. Perry would work it out when he stopped to think about it, but again, Andrew had no wish to put a dampener on his happiness, at least not right now.
He hadn’t been able to explain to either Perry or Benjamin what had unsettled Leonie so much; they’d both asked, of course they had. But she hadn’t been upset by their conversation, rather she’d seemed reassured. Perhaps it was just being separated from Perry. He hoped it wouldn’t make Perry even more overprotective and possessive; that wouldn’t help anyone.
Benjamin wandered across the courtyard towards them. Andrew lifted Leonie’s feet further onto his lap and shuffled along a little, giving Benjamin room to perch on the arm of the bench. Benjamin nodded at the sleeping Leonie. “She’s going to be doing a lot of that for the next little while.”
Perry smiled at him. “I know. It doesn’t matter. Awake or asleep, at least she’s alive. And she remembers.”
Benjamin’s slight smile dropped as Perry turned back towards Leonie. “Perry,” he said slowly.
Perry brushed a stray lock of hair from Leonie’s face before he answered softly, without looking up, “It’s okay, Ben. I know what the odds are as well as you do. I know what’s most likely to happen.” He turned back towards Benjamin, his voice quiet but strong. “But whether we have hours left or years, I am going to hope and pray with every fibre of my being that Leonie will be the one to beat the odds.”
Benjamin agreed, “Amen to that.” He stood up. “The room is ready whenever you are, but take your time.”
Benjamin left, but Perry and Andrew continued to sit together a little longer in companionable and supportive silence.
Perry lay still, barely daring to breath, let alone sleep. Leonie was curled on her side, her back towards him and he kept one hand resting on her in his need to reassure himself that she was there, alive and breathing. He didn’t care that there was another doctor watching the monitors who would be with them in a minute should there be any problem, or that Benjamin was less than five minutes away. That made no difference. He still felt responsible for her care and he intended to be the first person she turned to, and the person who dealt with anything she needed.
He was jerked out of sleep – how had he dozed? – as Leonie sat up, eyes unfocused, grabbing frantically at the bedding and muttering words that made no sense. He pulled her into his arms, trying to soothe her. “It’s okay, you’re safe. I’ve got you, everything’s alright.”
It didn’t help; she was stiff and resistant, shaking her head at him, more incoherent words tumbling out. By the time Sister Hannah – the doctor on duty – entered the room less than a minute later he had deciphered just the words ‘necklace’ and ‘bracelet’. He gestured to Hannah to wait whilst he continued to try to work out what was troubling Leonie. “It's about your necklace and bracelet?” he asked.
Quieter, she nodded against his chest. “Want them. Can't find them,” she told him, with a deep sigh as her body – finally – relaxed into him. Perry had no idea where they were either. She wasn't wearing them but this was the first time he'd thought about them and he didn't know where they'd been put. He glanced at her right forearm and her neck. There were dressings on both but there were a number of dressings on what he'd been told were minor injuries all over her body.
“Don't worry,” he said, holding her closer. “I don’t know where they are but I'll find them.” He looked at Hannah to see if she knew.
She shook her head. “I don't know either,” she said. “Perhaps a jewellery box?”
“Leonie doesn’t have a jewellery box,” he said. “That’s all the jewellery she had.” Well, apart from her rings, and he could feel those on her hand, tucked into his and nestled between them.
Before Hannah could respond, Benjamin walked in. Hannah brought him up to date, but instead of answering her query about the location of the jewellery, Benjamin sat on the bed close to Leonie and gently took her right hand in his. She turned her head to look at him with huge, dark, solemn eyes.
“You’re missing your necklace and bracelet?” he asked her, and she nodded. “When you use master stones like you did,” he said, “and Gabriel says both were set with master stones, then—”
Leonie interrupted him with a whisper, “I saw them. They spun.”
“Did they? When you’re stronger, I’d like to talk about what you remember.” He paused for a moment. “When you use the master stones, they disintegrate, destroyed by the power, and they destroy their settings too. I’m afraid your necklace and bracelet no longer exist.”
Tears started to roll down Leonie’s cheeks and she turned to look at Perry as if for confirmation.
“I didn’t know,” he murmured. “I’m sorry.” He wiped her face with his hand, brushing her tears away with his fingers, aching for a way to console her.
Benjamin spoke to her again, “To you, they were signs that you belonged, weren’t they? And now they are gone, you’re afraid of not belonging?”
She nodded. Perry looked at Benjamin in astonishment. How did he know so much about what Leonie feared when Perry himself had barely worked it out? As he carried on speaking, Benjamin stretched Leonie’s right arm out and began to remove the dressing there. “When they disintegrate, they mark you with the symbol of their setting. Not a burn or a brand exactly, more sort of a tattoo.” He lifted the dressing to reveal the eight-spoked-wheel design that represented the Traders etched on her inner forearm.
Leonie stared at it for a moment. “Trader sign,” she whispered with a sigh and then her fingers moved to the dressing at her throat.
“Yes,” agreed Benjamin as he reached to remove that dressing also. “You’re marked forever as belonging to them. And here…” He paused a moment to ask Hannah to pass him a hand mirror so Leonie could see. “Here, the crossed keys of St Peter.”
With the fingers of her right hand touching her throat, and those of her left hand around her right arm, Leonie rested her head on Perry’s chest, her arms between them and his arms around her.
“You match Gabriel,” Benjamin told her and she turned her head back to stare at him, wide eyed. “The stone in his Abbot’s ring turned out to be a pair to the one in your necklace, designed to work together. He was holding it in his hand as it burnt out when yours did, so he’s got the crossed keys on his left palm.”
“I hurt him?” Leonie whispered, shock sounding in her voice.
“No, no,” Benjamin reassured her. “He chose to use it to find out what was happening. It was very useful.”
Leonie accepted that, closing her eyes as she leaned against Perry. Benjamin turned towards Perry with a grin. “Gabriel did say he wanted to know how you knew the necklace had a master stone. I suggest you and Melanie get your stories straight.”
Leonie opened her eyes and tilted her head to look up at Perry, raising her eyebrows in question.
“It’s a long time ago,” he told her. “I’ll tell you later. Sleep now.”
He held her close as she fell asleep, unwilling to let go of her, rocking her in his arms, his head bent over hers. As soon as he was sure Leonie was asleep, Benjamin left, but Hannah remained in the room a little longer. “You should take your top off,” she said to Perry.
He looked up at her in shock and surprise. “I’m sorry, what do you mean?” he asked.
She grinned back, clearly amused at having shocked him. “Have you never heard of skin-to-skin nursing?” she asked.
“Well, yes,” he admitted. “But only for premature or sick babies.”
“It works just as well for children,” she told him. “And there’s evidence to suggest it works for some adults too. Did you not use it when you did your time at Taylor House?”
He shook his head. “No, I didn’t have much involvement in longer term care of the children, mostly just when they were first rescued. Were you there long?”
Hannah nodded. “A couple of years, rather than the usual six months we all do. My specialism is the care of malnourished and traumatised children, so I fit in pretty well with what the kids they rescue need. I’m going back soon.”
Perry was silent. It gave him little comfort to think that perhaps Hannah’s specialism might be the most appropriate for Leonie’s care now.
Hannah seemed to interpret his silence as indecision, or perhaps modesty. “Don’t worry,” she said, smiling. “I’ll leave you to it. You can decide what you want to do. I won’t be far away if you need me.”
After she’d left the room, Perry laid Leonie down carefully and then removed his top. Skin-to-skin nursing or not, he certainly enjoyed skin-to-skin contact with Leonie. Lying down himself, he gathered her back into his arms and settled comfortably to sleep again.
The pillow was smooth under my cheek, Perry’s arm warm as it rested over me, his breath a slight breeze on my hair. I had to be awake, so I reached out with my mind to check my surroundings and…couldn’t. My eyes shot open to see Perry lying beside me, his arms around me, watching me warily. He had to have known exactly what I’d tried to do.
“Don’t worry about it. We don’t know what will happen,” he said gently. “If your Gifts come back, that’s great, if not, that’s fine too.”
“But I’m not me without them,” I whispered, voicing my real fear, but only for him. Only he would understand.
“Yes, you are,” he told me, his voice certain. “You’re far more than just a few odd abilities. You’d still be you if you’d lost part of your physical body and you’re still you without your Gifts. And I still love you, no matter what.” He smiled at me. “Do you remember what happened in the night?”
I did. I reached for my arm and my neck, tracing the markings there with my fingers. He laced his fingers into mine, tracing them too. “They suit you,” he said. “And you’ll always belong.”
“Lord Gabriel has one,” I said. “That must be why he had a bandage on his hand.”
Perry nodded, but then we both jumped as Andrew came through the door, carrying a tray.
“You ever think about knocking?” I asked, sitting up and pulling the covers closer.
He grinned at us. “Just be grateful you’re not in the hospital,” he said. He lifted the tray slightly to draw our attention to it. “And anyway, which hand do you suggest I use?” He put the breakfast tray down on a table. “You hungry?” he asked.
I was, so abandoning the bed covers, I scrambled across to the table and started to eat. Perry wasn’t far behind me although he stopped to put a top on. Andrew sat down and ate with us. After that, he removed the rest of the various dressings on me. I squinted over my shoulder as he removed one from my lower back. “How did I get hurt there?”
“I have no idea at all,” he said. “They’re mostly very minor burns, healing well. Was there debris flying around?”
I shrugged – I didn’t remember – but Perry answered for me, “No, not really, not after the first explosion. Nothing that was alight. And anyway, her clothes would have offered some protection.”
“Her clothes were riddled with burn holes, matching all these injuries,” Andrew told us. “Although yours weren’t,” he said looking over at Perry. “Yours were torn, certainly, but not burnt. I’d have expected similar damage for both of you.”
“Perhaps it was the power, arcing out of her at the end,” Perry said. “Perhaps these are all exit wounds?”
“You know I’m still here?” I asked sharply. “You’re doing it again, talking about me as if I’m not there.”
“Sorry,” said Andrew. “There, I’m all done. You can shower now if you want.”
Perry wrapped his arms round me. “Sorry, too,” he whispered in my ear. Then slightly louder, “I’ll help you shower. Andrew, you can disappear. Now.”
Andrew just grinned and left. At least we were allowed privacy to shower. Perry got in with me – he didn’t give me a choice and I certainly didn’t mind. I soaped him, running my hands over his body, checking on his scrapes and bruises. He was far too thin and gaunt for my liking. He stroked my body as he washed me, gentle and caring, helping me rinse away the traces of the last few days, and again he traced the marks on my arm and neck.
“How did you know it was a master stone?” I asked him, remembering the conversation from the night.
“Mel told me,” he said. “She was proving to me that master stones existed and that she knew all about them. She got hold of the necklace and showed it to me. I touched it with my mind.” He paused, clearly remembering. “It felt dormant, not ready to be used, at least not by me. When Gabriel gave it to you I assumed it was a copy – Mel showed me a copy, too – until we were sitting by the fire on Christmas afternoon and then I felt it.” He paused again. “It was still dormant but it was ready. It was where it had been designed for and it was ready to be used.”
“You didn't tell me,” I said.
“I didn't know you very well then,” he said. “If Gabriel had made a mistake I couldn't reveal how I knew; if he'd given it to you deliberately for some reason and chosen not to tell you, I wasn't going to be the one to mess up his plans.”
“And now it's gone,” I said sadly.
He put his arms round me and held me close, the water running over us both, hiding the tears that slid down my cheeks.
“I'm sure you could have the copy, if you wanted,” he said.
I wasn't sure about that, not sure that I wanted it, not sure that I wanted the constant reminder. “Maybe,” I told him.
He left it at that, turning the shower off and reaching for a towel to wrap round me.
I did feel better for washing, but I was exhausted again so I climbed onto the bed, curled up and went straight back to sleep.
Someone was calling my name. And the world seemed to be moving backwards and forwards. I opened my eyes to see Perry looking down at me, one hand on my shoulder as he shook me awake.
“You have to eat as well as sleep,” he said with a grin, passing me a tray of food as I sat up.
Obediently – for now – I ate what was there then pushed the empty tray away and lay down again. Perry had said all I'd really want to do was eat and sleep, and so far he was right.
The next time I woke, it was to the sound of Perry’s voice, from a distance, the other side of the room. “She’s still asleep,” he hissed. “She needs to sleep. I’m not letting you disturb her.”
“We’re going to need to examine her again.” Another voice, probably Benjamin.
I scrunched my eyes tighter. If he was planning that, I was going to stay asleep.
“Half an hour.” That was Andrew. “Let her sleep another half hour, and see if she wakes naturally by then.”
I didn’t hear Perry’s answer but there was a ‘snick’ as the door closed and then the sound of footsteps as he returned to sit by the bed. I risked opening my eyes a little. Perry was grinning at me. “I thought you were awake,” he said. “We’ve got a little bit of leeway, but then Gabriel wants to discuss what we’re going to do next. And Benjamin and Andrew want to examine you.”
I was sure they’d want to do what they’d done before – the bit that made me want to scream. It wasn’t going to be any better this time. I shuddered slightly, trying to keep my reaction from Perry.
“Officially, you’re still a patient,” he told me, reaching over to finger my wristband. “They’re going to want to check on you every day at least.”
I scrambled my way up to sitting. “But not for half an hour, right?”
He nodded and held his arms out. “Come here for a few minutes and then I’ll help you get dressed.”
Usually he was more interested in me getting undressed, but I wasn’t going to miss a chance to be close so I launched myself onto his lap. By the time Andrew knocked on the bedroom door at the end of the half hour I was dressed and sitting cross legged on the end of the bed, watching Perry tidy stuff away.
Benjamin and Andrew turned Perry out of the bedroom again while they examined me. He muttered under his breath as he left. I stayed on the end of the bed trying not to snarl at them. Yet.
“That monitor you’re wearing tells us most of what we need to know,” Benjamin said as he sat down on a chair. “But we do need to look at your mind. Nothing can report on that for us.”
“No,” I said. That was exactly what I was afraid of.
He just looked at me.
The Them flashed across the room, black, cloaked and hooded, long arms reaching for me.
I. Am. Awake.
“No,” I said again, louder now, as the Them disappeared.
“I’ll be here,” Andrew said. “You’ll be quite safe. You can hold my hand if it helps.”
One of the Them shot between us, arms outstretched.
I. Am. Awake.
No one was holding me. The door was close by. Perry was just the other side. I leapt off the bed, yanked the door open and ran. Away from the Them, away from Andrew, away from Benjamin. I headed for Perry and cannoned straight into whoever he was talking to.
Andrew and Benjamin had gone to examine Leonie and Perry had come over to talk to Melanie while they did so. Not that he was paying any attention to her. He was staring at the bedroom door, shifting his weight from foot to foot, twisting his fingers in the fabric of his top.
Melanie took the opportunity to look around the room, taking in the changes since she’d last been here, barely a couple of days ago. Then, it had been filled with people worrying over Leonie and piles of medical supplies and equipment. Now it had returned to a large, open living space, lit by a wall of windows. There was a kitchen at one end, and doors down one side which she knew opened onto a couple of bedrooms and a bathroom. The space was still full of people, though, all those that had gathered to discuss how to care for Leonie. Melanie’s mother, Eleanor, was there, Gabriel, Chloe, Edward, and a couple of others Melanie didn’t know.
Then the red-headed waif they’d all been fretting over hurtled through the bedroom door, spun round Perry and bounced straight into Melanie, putting them between her and Benjamin and Andrew who were following.
“Don’t let them! Please! Stop them!” she pleaded breathlessly.
Perry pulled her into his arms, but he kept his body angled to protect her from the other two.
Perry and Andrew on opposing sides?
That was so unusual as to be almost unprecedented. And what had they been doing to scare Leonie so? Benjamin was clearly upsetting Leonie, and Melanie wasn’t having that. Leonie was hers to protect. Why did men have to be so confrontational? Really, they weren’t that different from the small boys she’d left at home. She stepped between them.
“What are you doing to your patients these days, Benjamin? She’s clearly scared stiff,” she drawled.
Leonie spoke up from the safety of Perry’s arms, her voice still showing signs of panic, “They want to be in my head and I’m not even there! I don’t want them there. How do I know what they are doing? Or if what I’m doing is me or them?”
Did ‘them’ mean Benjamin or the Them? Melanie suppressed a shudder. She’d seen the Them in Leonie’s memories.
Andrew answered Leonie, “We have to look in your mind, or we won’t know how you’re healing, or what to do next.”
"Perry can," Leonie volunteered. "I don't mind Perry looking."
"No!" burst from three throats at once – Benjamin, Andrew and Gabriel.
Leonie looked up at Perry, dark eyes wide in surprise.
"I can't," he said, his voice regretful. "It all drained me, too. Tomorrow maybe, or the next day, but today, I just can't."
Leonie reached up to stroke his cheek and attempted to comfort him. Over the past week, Melanie had seen how Perry felt about Leonie; now she could see that love reciprocated. She shook her head gently.
Can’t they tell she’s terrified? Time for me to take charge.
“Benjamin, Andrew, you sit down over there. Leonie, sit here. Perry, sit next to her and keep your arms around her so she knows she’s safe.”
Somewhat to her amazement they all did as they’d been told. She sat down herself, opposite Leonie, took her hand and spoke gently, “Perry’s your safe place, isn’t he?” She didn’t wait for an answer. “I’m not going to let anyone hurt you or do anything to you without your agreement, okay? Do you trust me?”
Leonie nodded slowly, and Melanie smiled at her. “Good. Now, Benjamin does need to see how you’re healing so we can look after you properly. But suppose I watch him for you while he looks in your head? And Perry will keep his arms round you, and I’ll hold your hand. Do you think you could manage that? I think you can.”
Leonie gave another reluctant nod, gripped Melanie’s hand tighter, and hid her face in Perry’s shoulder. Melanie could feel the tension in her body, but she gestured to Benjamin to begin. She mirrored his link to Leonie’s mind herself, seeing what he was seeing as he visualised the damage. Benjamin saw it as a network of memories and abilities, but with every node now disengaged from every other. Wordlessly he pointed out where the nodes appeared to be reconnecting and then, apparently satisfied, withdrew his link. It had taken just a few seconds. It wasn’t Melanie’s area of medical expertise but even she could tell that Leonie was making better progress than anyone had dared to hope. She squeezed Leonie’s hand reassuringly. “All done,” she said. “You can relax now. You’re doing really well.”
Benjamin murmured his agreement and then described her progress in medical terms for Andrew and Perry. Leonie lifted her head from Perry’s shoulder to question Melanie. “What do you see in my head?” she asked.
Melanie answered quickly, to reassure her. “We see your memories, loose and unconnected with each other, trying to join up in a pattern and the same with the various components of your Gifts. We’ve seen a lot of your memories while we’ve been supporting you.”
Leonie snapped her head round to Perry, eyes wide open in horror. “Others have seen what I showed you? Everyone knows about everything? All about me? They all know?”
He nodded, and there was concern in his dark eyes. “Everyone who has looked after you, yes.”
Leonie twisted round, burying her head into his neck again, her shoulders shaking with sobs, and tears running down her face. Perry stroked her hair, whispering to her, but he clearly didn’t know what to do. Feeling guilty over the problem she’d caused, Melanie squatted down beside them and reached out, placing her hands either side of Leonie’s head and turning her gently so that they were eye to eye.
“Leonie,” she said, her voice little more than a whisper. “Those of us who’ve been supporting you have been in your memories. And yes, we saw some horrible things, but they were done to you, not by you. No one here is going to reject you because of something that happened in the past. We’ve been fighting to keep you alive because we love you and we want to keep you because you belong to us. We want to keep it that way.”
Leonie turned her head to Perry for confirmation. Melanie understood that, even if she’d provided the words, only Perry had the ability to provide full reassurance.
“Truly?” Leonie whispered.
“Truly,” he replied, wiping her cheeks with his thumbs, his words echoed by others in the room. “Some people here have only just found out, others – Andrew, Benjamin, Gabriel, Pedro – have known for weeks, months even. It didn’t change how they felt, did it?”
She shook her head. “Nobody minds?”
“They mind only that you suffered. That’s all,” he told her.
Once more she buried her head in his shoulder, and this time Benjamin spoke, “She’s not strong enough to deal with this right now.”
“She’s stronger than you think,” Melanie snapped back, still exasperated at Benjamin. “Just give her a minute or two."
Perry mouthed “thank you” at Melanie over Leonie’s shoulder, and then worked at persuading Leonie to lift her head and turn back to face the room. He was successful; she settled down beside him and apologised to Gabriel for disrupting everything.
He smiled at her. “You have nothing to apologise for. Right now you are the most important person in this room – this is about what is best for you.”
Still twisted into Perry, Leonie slid one hand into Melanie’s for reassurance. Melanie sensed a flash of jealousy from Perry, but kept hold of Leonie’s hand anyway. Perry could learn to deal with it.
“All I can suggest,” Benjamin said, “is to eat well and sleep well, and we’ll arrange some physical therapy sessions, and Gift therapy sessions and see what they do. But I really don’t know what will happen long term.”
That was hardly surprising. I’d been listening to him, Lord Gabriel and some of the others talking and it was quite clear that I was a medical puzzle to them. And it was obvious that they were trying to avoid talking about the fact that I should have died. I tightened my grip on Melanie’s hand. At least she’d been honest with me and she’d protected me from Benjamin. Taking a deep breath, I interrupted the discussion.
“Lesley might know,” I volunteered.
“Lesley?” echoed both Perry and Benjamin. There was an undertone of something in Perry’s voice too. Perhaps it was a mistake to mention her. She and I had both known Perry would try to sacrifice himself to protect me and we’d collaborated to protect him. We’d obviously succeeded but I had no idea how Perry had reacted at the time. Not well, would be my guess. He’d probably been absolutely furious with Lesley.
“She told me how to release the power,” I said slowly then turned to look at Perry. “And she helped me protect you, at the end,” I confessed.
Perry’s face was a picture as he shook his head slowly. He glanced at Lord Gabriel who was smiling, almost smug.
“You were right,” Perry said to him and then turned to me. “So the pair of you set me up. Remind me never to let you conspire together again.”
“Lesley is otherwise engaged anyway,” Lord Gabriel said. “I was sent a message that says her son was born last night. She’s planning to call him Peter.”
“Is she okay?” I asked.
“Both mother and baby are doing fine,” Lord Gabriel said. “There’s to be a service of thanksgiving for the baby sometime in the next week or so. I’d like Prospero to attend on our behalf.”
I thought Perry was about to say no, so I nudged him. “You should go,” I said.
He shook his head. “No, I’d rather stay here with you.”
I glared at him but before I could say anything, Lord Gabriel spoke. “I wasn’t giving you a choice,” he said, his voice quiet and mild.
Perry spluttered quietly, but even he had more sense than to argue with Lord Gabriel.
“Moving to other matters,” Lord Gabriel continued, looking straight at Perry, “I’ve been speaking to your mother. I know you were planning to visit, later in the summer, but I think that would be a good place for Leonie to convalesce. Chloe will arrange for you to travel there as soon as Leonie is strong enough for the journey.”
I turned to Perry. “Can we?” I asked. “I’d really like to do that. As soon as we can.”
Perry may have had some reservations – he hadn’t visited his family in years – but he smiled at me. “Of course we can. As soon as they let us.”
“Ten days or so, then,” Benjamin said to me. “Depending on how you’re progressing. For now, you’re going to spend time each morning with Lucy working on physical exercises, and Andrew on the Gift related ones. And while you do that, Prospero and I will research every possible potential problem and make sure he’s equipped to deal with it.”
That all made sense. Lucy was a physiotherapist and Andrew’s specialty was the development of Gifts. And dealing with things going wrong when using Gifts was Perry’s specialism. If we were going to be with his parents, he’d be the one best equipped to deal with any problems.
Tired again, I curled against Perry and let the rest of the conversation wash over me as they all sorted out the details. Idly I watched Melanie, letting my mind freewheel. In person, neither Lesley nor Melanie looked quite how I had expected. Up to meeting them, I’d only seen them in Perry’s mind where the image wasn’t just visual; it incorporated feelings, sensations and memories – all the things he associated with that person. People he saw every day looked pretty much the same in his mind and in real life but the longer it was since he’d seen them the more they changed.
Had Melanie felt familiar to me because she’d been in my head supporting me, or because I’d seen her in Perry’s thoughts? It was strange how two of Perry’s previous lovers had been instrumental in saving my life. Had they done it for him, because they still loved him?
With the meeting over, Melanie’s mother headed across the room towards her, but it was Perry she was aiming for. He unwound from Leonie and stood up to talk to her. Melanie stayed seated, looking at Leonie who studied her back, head tilted to one side, clearly curious.
Does she even know who I am? What does she know about me? About me and Perry?
“I’m Melanie,” she said, watching Leonie's reaction closely.
A slow smile spread across Leonie’s face, lighting it up. "Hello, Melanie,” she said. “I didn't recognise you when I bumped into you, not until you touched my mind. Unless he sees them every day, the people in Perry's head don't look like themselves but like how they made him feel."
Perry turned back at the sound of Leonie's voice.
"I need to talk to Andrew," she told him.
"Of course. Go on. He’s over there." Perry indicated Andrew with a nod.
Leonie started to move, but Melanie put out a hand to stop her for a moment. "How I made him feel?"
Leonie turned back towards her, still smiling. "You made him feel trusted and safe," she said and then slipped across the room to Andrew.
Melanie looked at Perry, bewildered.
He grinned back at her as he sat down again. "Disconcerting, isn't she?"
"I feel like she’s very gently pointed out to me something I should have known but was too slow to see," Melanie confessed.
"Happens to me all the time,” he told her.
"Trusted and safe? Is that right? I thought I led you into all sorts of trouble."
He nodded. "You did. But that’s still how you made me feel, at a time when I needed it."
She carried on, "What does trusted and safe look like anyway?"
He shrugged. "I don't know. To me people look like they always do. It's Leonie who sees them looking different in my memories. Knowing what matters to her, I should think trusted and safe looks very beautiful indeed, so she should have recognised you."
Melanie found herself blushing at the compliment. "Does she know about us? I wasn't sure."
Perry was more serious now, the smile gone from his face. "Oh yes, I've told her everything I could remember. Andrew and a few others have added bits that I didn't remember. Some of that time is rather…blurred. Some of it I don’t remember at all."
"And she's not bothered by it?"
He took a moment or two to respond. "She's not bothered to the extent that she's not the slightest bit jealous, not of you or any of the others. And you're not the first she's met, either, there are several still around the House and hospital, and of course she met Lesley. She just doesn't see any point in worrying about things that happened before she knew me. What bothers her more, if that's the right word, is the effect people in my past have had on me. Most of the women I slept with she considers utterly unimportant; a few she has opinions on. She’s convinced you were there for me when I needed someone – trusted and safe, remember – so I don't think you could do any wrong in her eyes."
They both looked across at Leonie, now standing talking with Andrew.
"Who else does she have opinions on then?" Melanie asked.
"That you know of? Lesley and Marie."
"Are they bad?"
"No, not exactly. She may see people how they made me feel, but she's doing it with hindsight, so she also sees the outcome. And she thinks about their side of things. And I did care about Lesley, so a lot of what I felt was very good."
"Did she know Lesley was going to be at the conference?"
"Oh yes, Leonie was expecting to meet Lesley, just not quite how it happened." He paused, remembering and sighed. "My world is turning into before and after and I don't even know what to call the thing that divides them!"
Melanie responded gently, "Whatever it was, I'd call it an accident."
He looked at her, grateful. "You're probably right. Anyway, they were on good terms from the start and Leonie was very protective of Lesley's baby. And then Lesley looked after Leonie. What she did then made what you did later possible."
Leonie shot back across the room into the space she'd vacated earlier and curled close into Perry again.
"Alright, beautiful?" he asked softly as he wrapped his arms back around her.
Leonie nodded. "I didn't know Andrew knew about me. I needed to know how long he’s known," she said.
“And now you do know?” Perry asked.
Leonie nodded again. "And he looked after you—I wanted to thank him."
That rendered Perry speechless for a moment, and a variety of expressions – relief, guilt, love – crossed his face. What did he have to feel relieved or guilty about? He couldn't possibly be jealous of Andrew, though perhaps Andrew could be jealous of Leonie. Perhaps even now Perry might not realise how Andrew felt about him.
"You looked after him, too,” Leonie said to her, twisting round in Perry’s arms to talk to her. “And me. You did so much for me, and I don't know how to say thank you enough."
Melanie smiled at her earnest face. "You're welcome. I was glad to help and I've enjoyed coming back here and visiting old friends. But I haven't been looking after Perry, just you."
"But you looked after him before," Leonie stated. "After Lesley. When you loved him."
This time it was Melanie who was rendered speechless.
"Whatever we did, we were just friends, Leonie," Perry said, but Leonie gave him a look that suggested she thought he was being either slow or stupid.
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