Part The Fifth
Urim looked around the lodge in approval as he stepped into the vast lobby. He could see why Zane was so enamored of the place. That wasn’t his main concern with being there, however, and after a brief moment, he made his way to the desk to inquire after her... only to find himself unexpectedly stonewalled by the clerk behind the counter.
“I’m sorry, sir – she’s asked not to be disturbed by anyone. Only her... companion... is allowed in her rooms presently.”
Urim frowned. He could do this the old-fashioned way, of course, but he preferred not to give himself away this close to the finish by utilizing those particular skills if he didn’t have to. He bit his lip thoughtfully, then turned to the young man behind the counter. “Would it be possible to speak to her companion then? It is vital that I reach her and I’m on the clock. It wouldn’t take but a few minutes.”
The man took a long moment to study Urim, but there was nothing threatening or off-putting about him. Satisfied, he dipped his head as he reached for the house phone. After only a few words, he hung up and nodded at Urim. “Valeria will be here momentarily if you’d like to have a seat in the lobby,” gesturing towards the seating area. Urim took the hint and bowed his head slightly in thanks before walking away to wait for Valeria’s appearance.
Urim watched Valeria approach the front desk, rising when the clerk pointed him out and Valeria turned in his direction. She didn’t offer her hand and Urim waited for her to speak. Valeria looked him up and down first – only then did she address him.
“You wanted to speak to Zane?”
“I actually need to see Zane,” Urim corrected gently. “Allow me to introduce myself – I’m her Uncle Urim. I have some papers she needs to sign.”
“And they can’t wait, Urim?” deliberately not giving him her name.
“Not if she wants to get that book published in a timely manner, no.”
Valeria hesitated. She knew the writing Zane was doing was important to her. It had been one of the things they had discussed at length. “Wait here,” Valeria instructed imperiously, before turning and walking back the way she’d come. Urim remained standing, and in a few minutes his patience was rewarded. “Come with me,” she beckoned when she was within hearing distance. Urim hurried to her side, and soon they were standing in front of a set of double doors. “Wait here,” Valeria commanded again, then disappeared into the room hidden by the doors, giving Urim only the briefest glance at the sumptuous interior before he was shut out once more.
When the doors opened again, Zane was standing in front of him with only a flicker of impatience in her eyes before she smiled and opened her arms for a hug. Urim obliged her briefly, then gestured at the room behind her.
“May I come in?”
“Of course,” stepping back and opening the door wider. Urim gave a fleeting glance around the room, idly noting the understated opulence as well as the absence of the woman that had so abruptly escorted him here.
“Nice,” he said with a smile. “I chose well.”
“You did indeed, Uncle. But what was so urgent you felt compelled to interrupt my sabbatical with a visit?”
“You said you wanted this venture particularly to be successful. I have the papers in hand to ensure that happens. You need only sign them.”
Zane sighed and shook her head. “Urim... not that I don’t appreciate your efforts on my behalf, but I....” she sighed again. “I wanted to do this on my own.”
“Zane, everything you’ve done has been on your own merit,” he assured her. “I just take care of the paperwork to make it legal. But if you want to wait....” Urim shrugged. “It will delay things on the production end immensely, but it is certainly your choice, my dear.”
Zane shook her head. “You’re already here and it’s already done,” extending her hand for the paperwork Urim had brought with him. He opened the portfolio he carried and withdrew the appropriate contracts, looking over them once more before nodding in satisfaction and passing them to her. She held her hand out again and he gave her his pen.
“Are you certain you don’t want to read them over, Zane?”
She gave him a droll look. “Uncle, I have never read a contract you’ve had me sign. I trust you. It’s not like you’ve ever steered me wrong, right?”
Urim nodded his acceptance of the truth of her words, then watched with a smile as she signed everywhere he pointed out to her. In moments their business was done, and Urim scooped up the papers and placed them neatly back into his portfolio. They weren’t sealed with blood like the last ones were, but they were satisfactory enough. Her success was assured for the rest of her life and his assignment was finally complete. He looked around again.
“Where is your companion?”
“On the deck. I asked her to give us a few minutes. Would you like to meet her... properly, I mean?”
“I don’t think so,” Urim demurred. “I don’t think she approved of me interrupting your time together.”
Zane chuckled. “She didn’t.”
“Then we should wait for another time perhaps?”
Zane nodded. “Perhaps. You know the way out?”
“Of course. Enjoy the rest of your holiday, my dear,” walking towards the door.
“Oh I plan to,” Zane replied with a leer. She remained sitting at the desk while Urim made his way the door. “Bye, Urim.”
He smiled and waved, opening the door and pulling it closed slowly – but not so slowly that he missed Valeria reentering the room or Zane pulling the other woman into her lap before taking possession of her mouth. He allowed himself to enjoy a long, indulgent look before finally closing the door and walking away. It had been a good day.
Part The Sixth
For the next several weeks, Zane’s time was equally consumed with writing and spending time with Valeria. And it wasn’t simply about the sex anymore, though there was certainly plenty of that and it was extremely satisfying. Zane found she anticipated their talks and taking walks along the shore and cooking meals together. The closer she got to finishing her book, the more Zane recognized she and Valeria needed to discuss the future.
So just a week out from Zane’s planned departure, she decided to bite the bullet. They had just finished sharing dinner and were sitting on the deck listening to the waves crash on the nearby beach.
Valeria turned her head, but didn’t speak... uncertain if they were at the beginning of one of their usual sex games or if it was something else. Something in Zane’s tone made her believe it was the second, but she didn’t want to take the risk in the event she guessed wrong.
Zane shook her head. “No games tonight, baby. Just you and me here.”
Valeria smiled lustily. “In that case,” she said, slipping into Zane’s lap and wrapping her arms around Zane’s neck before kissing her passionately. Zane was only human – she let the kiss play out to its logical conclusion before attempting to speak again.
“Val, I want you to leave here,” seeing green eyes widen in confusion. “I want you to come home with me.” Without a word, Valeria moved out of Zane’s grasp and inside so she could curl into a straight-backed chair some distance from where Zane still sat... stunned by her reaction. “C’mon, baby... we’re SO good together. I want you with me permanently.”
“Zane, despite the informalities we’ve adopted here, you’re still a client. In a few days, you’ll go back to wherever it is that you call home, and I’ll move on to my next client. That’s how this business works.”
“That’s what this is to you... business??”
“Of course,” Valeria answered without a hint of emotion in her voice. “That’s all this has ever been.”
“I don’t care where you go or what you do, but I want you out of here now.” Valeria rose from the chair and moved towards the door. “Leave your key,” Zane instructed, her eyes never leaving the darkness beyond the deck. Valeria dropped the key on the counter and left, closing the door soundlessly behind her. Only when Zane heard the latch click did she allow the tears to roll down her face.
A knock on her door early the following morning made Zane flinch, but even though she was confident that she knew who was on the other side, she still got up to answer it. She had expected Valeria to return, if only to retrieve the belongings she’d had to leave behind in her abrupt departure. She swung the door open and motioned Valeria inside without ever actually looking at her.
“Your things are where you left them,” she said sharply. “Please be quick,” walking away from Valeria to stand on the deck and watch the water roll to the shore. Valeria nodded unseen and moved into the bedroom, collecting her stuff as fast as she could. When she was done, she walked to the door, turning to look at Zane’s profile before she opened the door.
“I’m sorry, Zane. I wish things were different. You’re the most considerate client I’ve ever had the pleasure to entertain and the only one I’ve ever been a companion to. But I can’t feel anything for you. I can’t feel anything at all... except for pleasure and pain. Everything else is off-limits to me.”
It was a long time before Zane turned to look at the doorway where Valeria had been.
Zane spent hours writing feverishly, desperate to finish writing her novel so she could return home. Perhaps she would call her teacher – if anyone could make her forget Valeria, it would be the woman who had taught her about loving another woman all those years ago.
Zane froze as she realized the direction of her thoughts. When did it become about love and not just sex and pleasure? I thought.... She picked up the phone and Urim answered on the first ring, as though he had been sitting by the phone waiting for her call.
“Zane, my dear... how lovely to hear from you. How are things going?”
“I’m almost done,” she replied dismissively. “Look, Urim... I have a question, and I don’t know who else I can ask.”
“Of course, my dear. Anything for you... you know that.”
“Right. Um... what does love feel like?”
“In your case? Hopelessness, my dear. You’re not allowed to have love in your life, remember?” savoring Zane’s gasp as it traveled across the phone and into his ears. “You gave up love so you would never know cold or hunger or the pain of being hit again. You gave up love so you could have success and wealth. So while you can feel love for someone, however unlikely that possibility is, they will never, EVER return that love,” grinning as the taste of victory washed through him.
“But... but why, Urim? Why?”
“Because, my dear – you wanted to be warm and fed and safe. I, on the other hand, needed to guarantee you would never know love.”
“I don’t understand,” Zane cried and in that moment, Urim felt enough compassion for his charge to offer her an explanation.
“It was foretold, long before your birth, that when you came into the world you and your companion would be able to destroy MY world... eradicating our powerbase through the love you would share with one another and the rest of humanity. I was privileged to have been given the assignment of ensuring you would never have that love. And I have in my possession the contracts that you signed agreeing to it.”
Silence was its own answer and Urim felt compelled to continue. “Come, Zane – it’s nothing to be unhappy about. After all, your success is safeguarded for the rest of your natural life.”
“And after that?” Zane asked. When there was no answer forthcoming, Zane changed the topic. “Urim, was Valeria supposed to be my companion in this love venture you managed to derail?”
She heard him shrug over the phone, the rasp of shifting material loud in her sensitive ears. “Honestly, Zane – I couldn’t say because I really don’t know. Your companion was never in my purview; you were my assignment and thus my focus.”
“I see,” Zane responded casually, though her mind was racing a thousand miles a minute. “So what happens now?”
“That is totally up to you, my dear. The world is your oyster – you may make of it what you will. As for you and me... nothing need change unless you desire it so. I am happy to continue looking after your interests, but it is no longer necessary.”
“Can I think about it for a few days?”
“Take whatever time you need, Zane. I’m not going anywhere until you say otherwise.”
A dial tone was her reply. Urim simply looked at the phone and then shook his head, turning his attention back to the tasks at hand.
And somewhere distant, Zane sat assessing this new turn of events – pondering her options and wondering if Valeria would even talk to her now.
Part The Seventh
“I need to see you... NOW,” Zane demanded before slamming the phone off. Valeria glared at the phone she still held, more than a little outraged with Zane’s presumptive tone. Unfortunately, Zane had bought and paid for Valeria’s company for the length of her entire stay, so Valeria had very little voice in the matter. She didn’t, however, have to be at all pleasant about it.
“What do you want, Zane?” she challenged as soon as Zane had opened the door. “You made it quite clear the other day you were done with me and our arrangement.” Valeria crossed her arms over her chest and glowered at Zane.
“Be that as it may,” Zane replied calmly, though she was speaking through clenched teeth, “I have paid for your time and attention until I leave here and the fact is that I now require it.”
“You should have been more specific in your demand to see me then, baby. I’m not prepared for anything beyond regular sex at the moment,” her voice changing and taking on a husky tone even as she released her arms from their defensive posture and began unbuttoning her shirt. “If that’s not your desire, Zane, you’ll have to tell me what you want and give me a few minutes to get things ready.”
Zane shivered in response even as she reached forward and grabbed Valeria by the hand to drag her into the room. “STOP!” she growled. “Just stop, please,” running frustrated hands through her hair.
Valeria looked at Zane in disbelief. “If not this, Zane, what do you want from me?”
Zane led Valeria to the couch and released her hand before she moved to the other end and took a seat. She gestured impatiently at Valeria to do the same, watching with sad amusement as she did so slowly, obviously confused about what the hell was going on. Not that Zane could really blame Valeria – she was more than a little confused herself, and she had at least some idea of what was happening. She sighed deeply.
“I want to talk.”
The look of incredulousness that flitted over Valeria’s features would have been comical if Zane hadn’t been so deadly serious in her intent. “Talk?? *Now* you want to talk??” Valeria closed her eyes and consciously slowed her breathing, forcing herself to a calm she really didn’t feel. When her eyes blinked open again, she turned a burning green gaze in Zane’s direction, but her voice was completely tranquil. “Very well, Zane – you’re still the client. What would you like to discuss?”
Zane flinched visibly when Valeria called her a client, but she didn’t correct the term. Instead, she plunged into the conversation she felt compelled to have. “You mentioned something the other day – you said you can only feel pleasure and pain,” seeing Valeria’s eyes widen. “Can you explain that to me... why you think that? Because I’ve seen you feel more, Val. You were most certainly angry when you came here today, and I’d like to believe you were at least content in the time we spent together.”
“What do you want to know?”
“I want to know why you think that!” Zane growled impatiently.
Valeria sighed. This really wasn’t any of Zane’s business, but it wasn’t like she had anything to be ashamed of either. It just was what it was, and maybe if Valeria shared her story with Zane, they would be able to look back at this time together fondly. Because she certainly had no confidence that they would ever be more than a memory to one another in a few days’ time.
“My mother was a crack head,” Valeria said in a low monotone. “I don’t know who my father was – there were so many men in and out of my mother’s bed, she couldn’t pinpoint which guy it was that knocked her up with me. Doesn’t matter really... not to this story anyway. Suffice it to say that I wasn’t particularly wanted by either of the people who created me.
At some point, though, right after my birth, a man approached my mother. In exchange for me, he would take me away and provide her with all the drugs she craved. According to Donny, she didn’t even let him finish speaking before signing me over to him.
I wasn’t mistreated or abused – not physically or sexually anyway. Donny was a good provider of material things; I had the best of everything money could buy. I never did without anything except emotional connection. And to be honest, it’s not like I miss it – I mean, you really can’t miss something you’ve never actually had and I’ve seen what emotional entanglements do to people.” Valeria shrugged and accepted the bottle of water Zane offered, swallowing about half of it down before setting it aside to continue her tale.
“When I turned sixteen, Donny sat me down and explained in detail about my mother... about what she had done and what that meant for me. Until that point, I had only known that she gave me up in exchange for enough drugs to kill her quickly.”
“You mean there’s more?”
“Of course,” Valeria replied sardonically. “What kind of a bard would I be if there wasn’t?”
“Is that what you wanted to be?” Zane queried. “A storyteller?”
Valeria shrugged. “I never thought about it. I was never given a choice.”
“Hush and let me tell this. I promise it will all make sense shortly.” Zane nodded and Valeria resumed her story. “When my mother signed me away, she didn’t just give me up – she made me responsible for her debt, and when I turned sixteen, Donny told me it was time for me to learn the skills I would need so he could collect.” Zane’s brows went high on her forehead, but she kept silent by biting her lips together. Valeria nodded her approval and took a deep breath.
“Donny introduced me to Naamah, who became my teacher for the next two years. She taught me every way possible to please a lover – man or woman; vanilla or kinky; singly or with partners... it doesn’t matter. I am acquainted with them all and I was an exceptional student,” Valeria said without a hint of braggadocio in her demeanor. In her mind, she was merely stating fact, and remembering what they had shared, Zane was inclined to agree with Valeria’s assessment.
“So that’s why all this is just business?” Zane asked. Valeria held up a hand. Zane closed her mouth and waited.
“Before I was released from training, Naamah and Donny sat me down and offered me the choice to do this without emotional entanglements. I could still feel pleasure and pain as those serve me well in this profession; I can get angry because there are some clients who feed off that; and I can be content as that keeps clients from feeling guilt. But love and hate were removed from my emotional repertoire – I don’t need the complication of love in this trade and hatred would do nothing but cause me untold grief. It wasn’t a hard decision to make.”
Valeria stopped speaking and Zane sat silent for a few minutes after that. Finally, “So that’s why everything is just business to you,” she said flatly. Valeria nodded.
“It’s nothing personal, Zane. It really is just business.”
Zane sucked in a breath. Even knowing the circumstances surrounding them didn’t make it easier to hear again. She bit her lip in thought. “Did you sign papers?” Valeria looked at her with confusion and Zane huffed impatiently. “When Donny and your teacher took love and hate out of your life... did you sign papers?”
“Yes,” Valeria replied with a frown. “I had to. It stipulated what was required of me and how long my services could be compelled to pay off the debt I owed.”
“And once that is complete, do you get your feelings back?”
“No – I didn’t want them; emotions would just get in the way of what I do. Besides, since I never had much use for them before I’m not really sure what I would do with them if I suddenly had them now.”
“So you’ve already paid the debt you owe?” seeing Valeria nod. “Then why keep doing it??”
“I like sex and I’m good at it – and I make a lot of money doing what I do. I’m setting that money aside; one day I’ll be able to go and do without having to answer to anyone ever again.”
“So you would rather spend the next few years of your life being paid for sex by multiple people who don’t care for you than settle down with one person who does right now?”
Valeria’s brow furrowed in confusion. “I... I don’t know. I’ve never... it’s never been a possibility for me, so I’ve never considered it.” She met Zane’s eyes. “Why?”
Zane blew out a rough breath, fluttering her bangs in frustration. “Let me tell you my story.”
Part The Eighth
“Okay,” Valeria drawled slowly when Zane was done with her story. “So you basically made a deal with the devil to be the success that you are?”
“Apparently. It wasn’t like I understood the implications of my agreement with Urim at the time – I was five. By the time I signed anything, I trusted him completely. He was all the family I knew.” Zane clasped her hands together between her knees and kept her head down.
“At least someone else didn’t sign your life away,” Valeria stated with only a hint of bitterness in her tone. After all, hatred was still beyond her realm of possibilities. Still, it was enough to cause Zane to tilt her head thoughtfully. “What?” Valeria asked when the silence droned on too long. “What are you thinking?”
“Not... thinking as much as wondering.” Zane huffed out a breath in frustration. “I wish there was someone we could talk to about this. Surely there’s something we can do to change... this.”
“Zane... no offence, but I’m not really sure I *want* to. My life really isn’t all that bad... especially when you consider what it probably would have been if Donny hadn’t interfered.” Valeria glanced into Zane’s blue eyes and found a depth of pain there she didn’t understand, but that made her want to do something for Zane to make it better. “Look - I have a client... a regular. She’s... she claims to come from old gypsy stock and she’s into the whole voodoo culture thing. Maybe she could... she might be able to offer some sort of insight into your situation – maybe even find a way out of it.”
“You really think so?”
“I think it can’t hurt to talk to her.” A beat. “You want me to call her?”
Zane sat quietly considering Valeria’s words. Then she nodded her head. “Yeah.”
Valeria got up and headed for the door, pausing only when she saw Zane’s confusion. “Her number is on my phone and I left my phone in my room. Be right back.”
True to her word, Valeria was back moments later, setting her phone on the desk. “She’ll be here in just a few minutes,” Valeria replied to Zane’s unspoken question. “She lives just down the beach.”
A sharp rap on the door and Valeria was guiding a striking, dark-skinned woman into the room. Zane rose with an inexplicable sense of nervousness, rubbing her hands down her legs before accepting the hand the woman proffered. The woman flinched when their hands touched, but before Zane could jerk hers back in reaction, the woman covered the hand she was clasping with her other hand.
There was silence for a long moment while the woman studied Zane’s eyes, then her brown eyes closed. After another moment, they opened, and Zane couldn’t contain the gasp when she saw the previously dark eyes now glowed almost amber. The woman turned to Valeria and waited.
Valeria cleared her throat. “Zane, this is Ayida. Ayida meet Zane.”
“I’m pleased to meet you, Zane. Ria tells me you’ve got a problem I might be able to help with.” Ayida looked at Valeria. “You didn’t tell me it was so serious.”
Valeria shrugged. “How should I know what you think is or isn’t important, Ayida?” Ayida just glared at Valeria until Zane spoke.
“I don’t know if you can help or not,” Zane said frankly, trying to reclaim her hand without jerking it from Ayida’s grasp. “But I’d be willing to try anything at this point.”
“Anything? Are you so certain?” Zane tilted her head and waited for Ayida to continue. “You would give up the life you know now – your success and fame – and risk it on a possibility? Because that’s what it will take for you to have a chance of claiming the love you seek.”
“How did you...?”
Ayida held Zane’s blue eyes with glowing amber. “I see many things, Zane. I know the past you come from, and what that past could have been had Urim not stepped in when he had.” She reached out a hand to Valeria without releasing her grip on Zane, then turned her head to meet Valeria’s green eyes. “I see what Ria was born into and the many paths she could have taken had she been left to grow up in that place. I see that you were made for her and she for you in every timeline available to me... even when you were apart from one another. Oh yes, Zane... I see many, many things.”
“And what do you see in the future?” Ayida shook her head.
“The future is not as clear as the past because it has yet to be.” Ayida sighed. “So tell me, Zane – would you jeopardize what you have for what might or might not be?”
“If I risk... doesn’t that mean Val has to gamble her past and future as well? Because I love her, Ayida; I want *her*... not someone else. So doesn’t she have a say in all this too?”
Ayida nodded. “Of course – you were made for her and she for you.”
She turned to Valeria who looked at both of them as though they were just the other side of crazy. “Maybe you should tell us exactly what the stakes are, Ayida. Because I want all the facts before I make a decision... especially if it’s going to change the course of my entire life.”
Ayida nodded again – only this time, she seated them side-by-side on the couch without ever relinquishing her hold on them. She stared at each of them for a long moment, measuring them carefully before taking a deep breath to speak. She never even acknowledged when they reached for one another.
“You were never supposed to meet in this reality,” Ayida began. “Once you were removed from your original circles, you were never to cross paths. However, once you both gave up love as a viable commodity in your lives, Urim and Abaddon relaxed their vigilance. They figured they had a lock.”
Ayida shrugged delicately. “That is up to the two of you. Because your original agreement with Urim was made when you were a very young child, Zane, and you unwittingly trusted him during the most influential years of your life, I am able to offer you a single opportunity to renege on your agreement with him. The same goes for you, Ria – you were placed into a position of duress to accept Abaddon’s terms through decisions not your own. So you have the same choice that Zane does. However,” she cautioned before either of them could speak. “It is a decision you must make together. Because as Zane so aptly pointed out... this would be a gamble that affects both of you.”
“So what’s the deal?” Valeria asked with little inflection.
“What you have – everything you know – will be taken away and you will be put into one of the pasts you would have lived through had not Urim and Abaddon interfered. You will have all the memories and all the experiences you would have known in that life had you actually lived through it.”
“Will we remember each other? Will we remember the lives we have right now?”
Ayida paused and looked down, and when she looked up a second time, her eyes glowed almost white in their intensity. “That I cannot say,” she replied softly. “You will have until Halloween to find one another, fall in love....” She broke off, unable to reveal any more.
“If we succeed?”
“Then your agreements with Urim and Abaddon will become null and void. If you fail, however.... The future is unclear - I cannot predict what your reality will be for the rest of your lives.”
“So we risk safety and success... for what? Some fleeting emotion that does nothing but cause misery and heartache eventually?” Valeria asked incredulously. “I don’t think so.”
Ayida freed the hands she held, immediately placing one over Zane’s heart and the other over Valeria’s. “This,” she hissed. “This is what you are missing, Ria,” letting the joy and wonder of Zane’s love flow into her soul for the first time. “This is the two of you together. And why Zane wants you to make the choice that’s best for you. This,” shifting her hands minutely until Valeria could feel Zane’s pain and emptiness, “is why Zane needs you to choose what is best for you both. Because this is all she will ever know for the rest of her life if you decide not to accept the chance you’ve been given to change your lives. And you will never find the fulfillment you seek.”
“Do we have a chance in hell of succeeding?” Valeria asked wearily.
“A chance in hell, a chance in heaven, and every chance on Earth,” Ayida assured her. She looked between them, noting they were still holding hands. “You two talk it over, but you need to decide quickly. Today is Summer Solstice, and we have one opportunity to act. We have a very small window before Urim and Abaddon discover their mistake. After that, there will be little I can do to alter your realities to give you the chance you deserve.”
“*IF* we do this,” Valeria said slowly, “what about Urim and Donny? Will they be around to interfere in the lives we have?”
“They will have to find you first. Since today marks the longest day of the year, you will disappear into the light; it will take them a little while to notice you are gone. After that...?” Ayida shrugged. “Well, that will depend on the outcome of your situation. If you succeed, you will be rid of them for good. If you fail, they will likely torment you until such time as you die.”
Zane snorted. “You’re not making this particularly appealing.”
Ayida shrugged again. “My job is to give you the facts as I know them and hope you’re willing to make the hard decision anyway.”
“You want us to be together,” Valeria stated prosaically and watched Ayida nod. “Why?”
“Because, Ria – some things in life are meant to be. And the two of you?” She held out her hands and waited for them each to clasp one. She moved Valeria’s smaller hand on top of Zane’s larger one, then covered them so hers formed a shell around theirs. “Close your eyes.”
They did so and Ayida waited a long moment before she followed suit. Taking a deep breath, she hummed low in the back of her throat, and when she could see what she needed, she blinked her eyes open slowly. “Can you see them... your auras? They are deep, strong – that is your soul strength. The turquoise... that is Zane; the green belongs to Valeria. Now watch what happens when they bond... when you become the people Urim and Abaddon were sent to prevent.” Slowly, the auras melded until they were, of all things, pink and blue woven so closely together they appeared to be lavender. Two sets of eyes popped open and gazed at Ayida curiously.
“Pink and blue, actually,” Ayida corrected with a smile. “The two strongest auras that can be achieved intertwined so tightly they are indicative of perfect balance.”
“And that’s what we can have?” Valeria asked. Ayida shook her head.
“No. That’s what you will be,” letting them feel the rare sensation that lavender was flow through them. Ayida released their hands once more and stood to move away from them. A hand on either arm prevented her from moving and she watched in fascination as Zane and Valeria held an intimate conversation without words. With barely a nod of acknowledgment between them, they turned back to Ayida.
“We want this, Ayida. We want to be lavender.”
“Then close your eyes and rest. I need to prepare, but when I return, it will be time to become the people you were truly meant to be.”
Part The Ninth
“Asshole!!” Zane growled as she blocked a blow aimed at her face. Without pausing, she kicked the perpetrator in the nuts, smiling viciously at the keening sound he made as he sank to the floor. She slammed her fist into his face, grunting in satisfaction at the crunch of bones created by the impact of her knuckles against his nose. He didn’t even have time to bemoan the damage Zane had done – he was out like a light. Zane didn’t hesitate, but jerked his arms high up his back before locking the cuffs around his wrists. Only then did she expel a deep breath, and wipe the blood from a cut above her eye. “Jackass,” she muttered again, wincing when she put too much pressure on her wound.
“Damn, Zane,” her partner snorted, unable to keep the laughter from his tone. “Did you know this prick or somethin’?” Zane offered him a smirk.
“No, but he stinks like he hasn’t see a shower in six months. He was making my eyes water, and that makes my mascara run. And I know how you feel about me having to fix my makeup while we’re on the clock.”
Her partner laughed out loud at her words. Zane may have been as tough as any of the guys and someone he trusted to watch his back, but she was definitely all woman where it counted. Still, they’d had to come to an agreement about make-up breaks – which had actually helped him to quit smoking since she’d forbidden him to have smoke breaks in return. It was an odd partnership, but it worked.
“Fair enough,” he agreed. “You up for a drink after work?”
Zane shrugged and replied, “Sure. Not like I’ve got a reason to rush home since Mike and I are taking a break again. And don’t say it,” she instructed with a glare. “I don’t want you setting me up with any more of your old Army buddies, Paulie. I dunno where they grew up, but they need some manners beat into them or something.”
Paulie just snorted. “Nah... you just scare the crap out of them, Zane. You’re a threat to their manhood, I guess. Mike’s too, I’m betting,” digging a little because he really didn’t like Zane’s ‘on again, off again’ relationship with the bartender. Paulie felt she could do a lot better.
“But not yours?” she asked with a smirk, ignoring the gibe. Paulie laughed.
“Not mine – I’ve got nothing to prove at this point.”
“This is true. Let’s take the trash to the stationhouse, then you’re buying the first round.”
Zane looked around her tiny, cramped apartment much later that evening. It had been a strong, clean collar and there had been plenty of good cheer and camaraderie at the bar. Now, however.... It wasn’t that she was unhappy here or even discontent. Instead it was more a feeling of unfulfillment... of missing something that she couldn’t even identify. She shook her head, determined not to let her thoughts become maudlin. If her life wasn’t perfect, at least it was hers – something she’d created for herself after crawling out of the gutters of abuse and neglect she’d suffered during her growing-up years. She had a roof over her head and food in her belly; she had a partner she trusted and the respect of most of her fellow officers; she had a job she mostly liked and was good at; and sometimes, she had the pleasure of someone’s company in her bed. All in all, it wasn’t a bad life.
On those occasions that she acutely felt like something was missing in her life, she usually made a phone call to Mike, and he helped relieve the stress or satiate the need or whatever Zane required of him. He was a good guy and she cared a lot for him. But she couldn’t say with absolute certainty that she loved him; hence the reason they were taking a break.
Mike had proposed marriage just a few days prior, and not only had she not accepted immediately as he’d expected her to, Zane had actually turned him down. She hadn’t been cruel or heartless about it... simply honest.
I can’t, Mike. I can’t make that kind of commitment to you right now... maybe never. I don’t want to hurt your feelings, but I’m not gonna lie and pretend to feel something for you I’m not sure is really there. That would be worse than being upfront about things and it would only make us both miserable the longer we played house together.
He’d been angry and embarrassed and had walked away without looking back at her. Zane wasn’t going to act like she wasn’t hurt by his leaving her – she did care for him after all, and he’d been an attentive, steady influence in her life for years. Still, she couldn’t help the relief she felt about it either. And relief made her feel guilty which in turn made her realize that something more than Mike’s presence was missing from her life. So she looked around her apartment and decided it was time to see if she could find what she was searching for. The first thing she was going to do was to get rid of the clutter. The rest she’d figure out as she went along.
“Val,” a soft voice called. “Valeria... are you up dearest?” Green eyes blinked open slowly. When they focused on the clock beside the bed, they popped open wide and Valeria sat up as though she’d been jolted by electricity. She jumped from the bed and started pulling on various bits of clothing whether they actually were meant to go together or not.
“Holy crap!! I’m sorry, Granny. I must have overslept. I mean, I did oversleep... obviously,” Valeria babbled, hopping around as she tried to get dressed and losing her balance when she gestured to the clock. Fortunately, her face-first landing was cushioned by the thick mattress of her bed and she rolled over onto her back just to find Granny leaning over her with a twinkle shining out of her merry green eyes. “You’re laughing at me,” Valeria accused flatly.
“Of course,” Granny admitted. “You make it too easy. It would be a crime against nature not to take advantage of such quality free entertainment.”
Valeria glared, but she couldn’t quite hide the twinkle in her eyes. “Unloved and unappreciated,” she mumbled, smiling when Granny wrapped her in a firm embrace.
“You know better, Valeria. You are the most precious thing in all the world to me, and I thank God every day for bringing you into my life... no matter how unorthodox His methods.”
“I love you too, Granny,” Valeria replied sincerely, turning to return the hug so freely offered. “And so do I,” not elaborating further. “I’m sorry about oversleeping, though.” She frowned and stepped out of the hug to pick up the clock. “I thought I set my alarm when I went to bed.”
“You did,” Granny assured her. “I turned it off this morning when I got up. I know you were up until the wee hours of the morning going over everything one more time, so I decided to let you have a bit of a lie-in. Don’t argue with me,” she instructed. “You needed the rest. But... you do need to get ready now. You don’t want to be late today of all days,” giving Valeria a big smile.
“I know. I’m so excited,” Valeria gushed, her cheeks pinking in her excitement. “I never thought this day would come... or that I’d be valedictorian a second time.”
“I’m proud of you, Val. You’ve worked hard to be where you are. But just remember this is the first step towards bigger and better things.”
Valeria stepped closer to Granny once more and hugged for all she was worth... even when she heard the air rush out of Granny’s lungs. “You’ve always been my number one cheerleader.”
“And what does that make me?” a voice boomed from the doorway. “Chopped liver?”
Valeria released her hold on Granny and moved to the door with open arms, squealing when she was lifted completely off the floor and scooped into a strong embrace. “You have always been my biggest supporter, Gramps.”
“And don’t you forget it,” he charged. “Now what are you girls doing up here lollygagging around? Don’t you know what an important day this is? C’mon now... breakfast is already on the table. So chop chop... let’s see a little excitement and enthusiasm around here. I expect you both to be at the table in the next two minutes, all right?”
“We’ll be right there, Gramps,” Valeria promised. Gramps nodded and walked back downstairs. Granny and Valeria just watched him go before turning back to one another.
“He’s right proud of you, Little Girl. We both are.”
“I’m proud to belong to you two. What you did for me....”
“... we were glad to do, Val. I don’t know how we messed up so badly with your mama; I’m glad we got a second chance with you.”
“Me too,” Val agreed. “Now c’mon before Gramps decides we’ve wasted enough time being mushy up here.” A growl interrupted her words and they both laughed. “Besides, I’m obviously hungry.”
“Let’s go then. We don’t want you growling like that during your speech. You’re liable to scare the diplomas off making that kind of racket.” Laughing again, they headed downstairs together.
Valeria was putting the finishing touches on her outfit when her eyes caught on the cap and gown that hung waiting for her to don them. There was the normal hood that indicated her field of study, but there were also the sashes that paid tribute to her academic achievements.
Valeria stared at them a long time, remembering every hour and effort she’d put into becoming valedictorian – first for high school and then again in college. As Ayida had promised, she remembered growing up with her grandparents – the highs and lows; the love and the disagreements; the laughter and the tears. But beyond that, she could remember who she had been before. She remembered Donny and Naamah and Zane.
She turned back to the mirror and forced those thoughts from her mind. Today was a day for celebration. Tomorrow she could decide if she wanted to risk this present to return to what she had known before. Because despite her doubts and her fears, Valeria was much better off in this reality than she’d been in the other. Was it really worth it to gamble it all again?
Part The Tenth
Zane looked around at her Spartan apartment with a sigh of relief. It had taken an entire weekend of scrubbing and cleaning, but she finally felt comfortable in her surroundings. Gone was the clutter and the extraneous trappings and the crap she really had no use for. Instead, her space now reflected who she was and what she valued in life.
She had done just the opposite with her personal life, however – seeking something outside herself to fill the emptiness she felt but couldn’t rationalize as simply missing Mike. Unlike other times when she and Mike had been on a break, this time Zane had spent a month trolling the bars looking for a warm body to fill the emptiness she felt. There were plenty of men and women who were more than happy to volunteer for that role in Zane’s life. But that existence quickly paled and Zane grew frustrated looking for something she couldn’t even explain to herself... much less anyone else - instinctively knowing what she needed was beyond what she already had and already knew.
So after weeks of unsatisfactory prowling, Zane decided to turn her focus to herself instead. Maybe if she could be satisfied with who she was, the rest would fall into place. And as her apartment slowly began to reflect her new outlook, her mind and body did as well… to the point that Paulie even noticed.
“Hey Zane! You do somethin’ different with your hair or somethin’? You look... I dunno – different, somehow.”
“Good different or bad different, Paulie?” she asked with a raised eyebrow and a smirk.
Rhonda, Paulie’s wife and Zane’s friend, just laughed as she caught the tail-end of the conversation between the two partners as she set the potato salad on the table. “Better be careful, Paulie. You don’t wanna piss off a woman with a gun.”
Paulie snorted. “I don’t wanna piss off Zane, regardless. You haven’t seen her take down a guy twice her size with nothing but her body. I kinda like knowin’ she’s got my back.”
“Avoiding the question, Paulie,” Zane growled. Rhonda smirked and covered her mouth to hide the laughter that wanted to spill over. Paulie glared at his wife, then tilted his head slightly to study Zane seriously for a long moment.
“Good different, I think. You seem more settled.” He shrugged. “Happier maybe.”
Now it was Zane’s turn to shrug. “Maybe.”
Paulie looked at her a moment longer and nodded his head. “Whatever. It’s workin’. You look good.” He turned to his wife. “Don’t she, Rhonda?”
Rhonda met his eyes before turning to stare at Zane contemplatively for several minutes before nodding her agreement just as Zane started to squirm. “Yeah,” Rhonda said. “You do look good, Zane. You think cutting Mike loose mighta given you some peace or somethin’?”
“I dunno. I kinda miss him – I mean he was part of my life for a long time and we had some good times together.” She paused and frowned and Rhonda waited. “It really wasn’t all that bad.” Zane shrugged. “It just wasn’t enough, ya know?”
Paulie chuckled. “Yeah, partner... we know. And you’ll know when it is.”
Zane looked at Paulie with a smirk, but there was a vulnerability in her eyes she couldn’t quite conceal. “You think so, Paulie?”
“Nah, Zane – I know. Just like I know it’ll happen when you least expect it to.”
Val was exhausted. The weeks since graduation had been filled to the brim with work and interning and more work. As hard as she’d struggled to become a doctor, there were times when she wondered if it was all worth it – times when her feet were killing her from being on them for hours and days at a time; times when she didn’t have the opportunity to eat despite her growling belly; times when she was too exhausted to remember her own name.
But then there were other times – when her skill saved a life; when a parent hugged her neck in relief and gratitude; when a child smiled – those times made her glad for the choices she been given... and had made... in this life.
And that train of thought, of course, brought her right back around to the dilemma she’d been having with herself since her arrival in this time and place. Because despite her surety at having grown up in a loving home with Grandparents who cared for her and raised her, Val couldn’t quite dismiss the memories of the life she’d known before this. And she wondered if Zane was plagued by her memories as well, or if she was even aware of whom she had been before she became whoever she was now.
Valeria rubbed her temples as a headache threatened. Thinking about this whole situation always caused a brain melt and today was no different. She was at something of a loss to know what to do about it, though, and she still wasn’t certain she wanted to risk who she was and what she had now to go back to who and what she had been before.
Val wished Ayida had been more forthcoming with details of what was expected of them. Was she supposed to look for Zane? Maybe Zane was supposed to look for her or perhaps they were simply supposed to meet by chance. At the moment, Valeria was leaning towards the chance option, followed by Zane looking for her. In her mind, her looking for Zane was a very, very distant third alternative.
She remembered Ayida’s vagueness... her unwillingness to say whether or not they would retain the memories of their former lives, and Val wondered if that was deliberate. If that was the case, there was every possibility Zane *didn’t* remember, and that left the responsibility for them squarely on Val’s shoulders. She frowned. She didn’t really care for that prospect.
She glanced at her watch and shook her head. It was time to head for the hospital. With it being Friday night and a full moon besides, it had all the makings of a humdinger of a shift.
“Should I ask what happened to him, officer?” Val asked Paulie as he accompanied the struggling suspect currently handcuffed to the gurney into the emergency room. Trauma had been mercifully slow so far... especially considering the Solstice moon was full... and Val had been called in to consult on the GSW when it had been called in.
Paulie smirked. “He was too stupid to understand to stop runnin’ when my partner told him to freeze. Then he resisted arrest.” Val looked at the gunshot wound currently trickling blood out the left cheek of the perp’s ass as well as the contusions and scratches on his face. She arched an eyebrow at Paulie, who shrugged back at her. “That was the resistin’ part.”
“Ya see wad dad bidch did t’me, Doc?” the man on the gurney groaned. “Dis wad p’lice brutaliddy. ‘M g’nna sue.”
Before she could respond, Val’s attention was pulled elsewhere. “Hey, Doc,” a male nurse called from the doorway. Val held up a finger and turned to the nurse in charge of the room.
“Sedate him and prep him for surgery. I’ll be right back.” She turned to the nurse waiting in the doorway. “Let’s go.” He led her to the room next door.
“I thought you might wanna look at the officer who took him down,” jerking his head towards the other room. “He did a number on her ribs, and she’s giving us grief about taking care of them.” Val rolled her eyes and snapped on a pair of clean gloves.
“Don’t they always?” backing into the room, then stopping short when she recognized the woman sitting on the gurney in front of her. “Zane??”
Zane tilted her head, but gave no sign of recognition. She figured the doc had gotten her name from Paulie. “Hiya, Doc,” she replied breathlessly, keeping her hand wrapped around her mid-section. “Can you tell Dave there I’m good to go? I still gotta do the paperwork on that fucker.”
“How about you let me take a look and we’ll see what we can do, all right?” She turned back to Dave who was hovering just within the doorway. “Tell Vicki ‘that fucker’ is going to have to wait until I get done here,” smiling when Zane smirked when Val repeated her description of the suspect being detained next door. “Now, officer – I need you to take off your shirt so I can get a good look at what said fucker did to you, all right?”
Zane snorted. “No need to be formal, Doc. You called me Zane before.” Val didn’t have the opportunity to say anything; Zane’s hiss refocused her thoughts on the wounded woman in front of her. “Probably should call me Zane anyway, Doc. You’re gonna have to help me get out of this,” indicating her uniform. “And people who get that up close and personal call me Zane.”
Val smiled and stepped forward to assist her, completely convinced Zane had absolutely no recollection of their previous lives. Then she focused on what she could do to help Zane recover in this incarnation. The rest she put aside to think about later.
Part the Eleventh
“C’mon, Za... Zan... Zan-e,” the woman on the other end of the line slurred. “Jus’ a li’l bit... nobody’ll even know it’s missin’.”
“No, Ma... NO!” Zane snapped, almost jerking her hair from her head when she impatiently tried to run her hands through it. “I’m a police officer. I follow the law; I don’t break it. I’m not taking drugs from the evidence locker for you.”
“Worthless child!” the woman spat. “Can’t do nothin’ for your mama.”
“It’s not like you ever did anything for me, Ma,” Zane snarled, as hurt as she was angry. “Don’t call me again.” She slapped her phone shut and pulled her arm back to hurl it into the nearest wall... only to find her elbow caught in a strong grip. She turned and glared at Paulie. He kept his face grim, though his eyes shone with compassion.
“Don’t you go bustin’ up that new phone, Zane. We don’t have time to go get you another one and you know how the Cap feels about bein’ able to reach his crew at a moment’s notice. You don’t wanna piss him off now, do ya? Promotions are due out soon.”
Zane snorted. “Paulie, you know and I know it’s not gonna matter. I’ve passed that damn test the last three times I’ve taken it and yet I’m still pounding pavement. He’s never gonna give me the rec I need to get that gold shield and get off the beat.”
Wisely, Paulie decided not to comment on Zane’s words – he knew she was right... to a degree at least. Instead he changed the subject. “Everything all right?” nodding his head towards her phone as he released her arm. She sighed deeply and shrugged, but followed him when he headed to the twenty-four hour restaurant. She needed caffeine as badly as he did at the moment.
“My ma,” she replied succinctly. “Thinks I’m some sort of fucking supplier.” Paulie’s eyebrows shot into his forehead.
“She does know you’re a cop, right?”
Zane snorted. “Yeah. In her eyes, that just means I have easier access to the good shit.”
“You need to cut her loose, Zane. She just gonna keep draggin’ you down til ya got nothin’ left.”
Zane gave Paulie a sardonic look. “I’m pretty sure she’d find a way to screw up my life no matter what I did, Paulie. Hell, even if she died, she’d probably haunt me... just for spite.”
Paulie shook his head, knowing Zane spoke the truth. Of all the changes Zane had recently made for the better in her life, she seemed destined to carry the albatross of her mother and their shared past with her for the rest of her life. He wondered if there was something he could do to help Zane rid herself of the final millstone he knew was keeping her from becoming all she could be. Paulie sighed and decided to talk it over with Rhonda later. Maybe she’d have some ideas.
They got their coffee and nodded their thanks to the boy at the counter. They walked over to the condiment bar and Paulie caught the slight wince Zane made as she reached for the sugar. “Ribs still bothering you?”
Zane grimaced slightly, but shook her head. “Just a little stiff.” She shrugged lightly. “After a couple weeks you’d think they’d be healed, but.... I think it’s the weather, ya know?”
Paulie chuckled. “Yeah, I know. I think we all get those kind after a while.” He finished stirring the creamer into his coffee and threw away the straw he’d been using. “What’d the doc say?”
“Dunno,” Zane replied, crumpling up a napkin. She replaced the lid on her cup and took a satisfied sip. “I didn’t go back and ask.”
Paulie turned around to glare at her so quickly, he sloshed hot coffee over his hand. “Shit! Goddamn, that’s hot!” Zane had already covered his hand with a napkin and turned to catch a couple pieces of ice from the dispenser beside her. She put the ice over the burn and he hissed again.
“You all right?” she asked, taking the remainder of his coffee and handing the cup to the kid who’d come around the counter as soon as he’d heard the male cop start swearing... loudly.
“Yeah,” Paulie grumbled. “That was stupid.” He pulled his hand from Zane’s to look at his reddened skin. “Guess I should be more careful. Thanks, kid,” he said to the boy who’d returned with another full cup of coffee. Zane took it and prepared it the way Paulie liked, deliberately recapping it before she passed it to him. They headed back outside. “Now what do you mean you didn’t go back to the doc? How’d you get released from medical?”
“There wasn’t anything in the restrictions saying I needed to go back. She said to take it easy for a couple weeks.”
Zane shrugged. “That was it. Unless I was in pain, I was good to go.”
Paulie stared at her, but Zane deliberately kept her attention on their surroundings. Finally he grunted and nudged her towards the car. “C’mon. We’re gonna….” But before he could finish, their radios crackled to life and their coffee and everything else was forgotten as they dashed for the car and headed out to cover the call.
Val sighed. Mondays tended to be far less hectic than Friday and Saturday nights, but it also made time drag so badly it seemed to run in reverse. She looked around the trauma unit. It was quiet and the compassionate part of her was thankful for that. But the part of her that thrilled to the adrenaline rush she got when she was able to beat the odds by saving a life – that part was less than happy about her current circumstances... especially since she was stuck working on a backlog of paperwork her Chief was demanding. It didn’t help that her thoughts continued to turn to Zane.
She hadn’t seen the other woman since her visit in the ER a couple weeks previously, and Val had done some judicious investigation on Zane and was torn by what she had learned. On the one hand, from all the reports Val had found, Zane’s childhood had been less than stellar. There were repeated incidents of abuse, and more than once she’d been removed from her mother’s care, though she’d always been returned.
She’d managed to create a better life for herself despite everything – graduating near the top of her Academy class and earning several commendations during her time as a beat cop. She appeared to be on the fast track for promotion, yet even after almost ten years on the force and those commendations, she didn’t appear to be advancing like Valeria believed she should have been. But Val figured Zane could have preferred to remain on the streets – she was good at it, after all.
Truthfully, Val was a little hesitant to dig any deeper. For one thing, she didn’t want Zane to come after her, thinking she was some kind of freaky stalker. For another, she still wasn’t sure she wanted to risk her current present for her past present. She liked who she was here, and she got an enormous amount of satisfaction from her work. It was certainly better than being a housekeeper and a high-priced call girl, despite some amazing sex. And Zane did seem to like her current occupation.
Maybe they didn’t really need more than they had now.
Zane wrapped her arms around her middle, clutching at the side of her torso even as she gasped for breath. What had been stiffness an hour ago had become agony; but she’d gotten her man. The suspect she and Paulie had been chasing was currently sitting in the back of the squad car fighting and cussing as he struggled to escape the handcuffs Zane had snapped on just a shade too tight.
She blinked rapidly, desperate not to let the tears she felt gathering roll out of her eyes. She knew if Paulie saw them, he’d be taking her back to the hospital. Then it didn’t matter – a hand grabbed her around the waist and she whimpered and flinched before she could control her response. The gloved hand of the EMT froze, and the woman eased around in front of her.
“Officer? Officer Rollins? You need to let me have a look,” knowing it was going to be bad when Zane didn’t even bother to refute her words. The EMT led her over to the ambulance and seated Zane cautiously before slowly starting to remove her shirt. When Zane hissed and the color faded from her face, the EMT pulled her to her feet and urged her inside the ambulance. “C’mon – we’re gonna take you to the hospital. They’ll be able to give you something for the pain before taking your shirt off. Because we both know getting that vest off is gonna suck worse.”
Zane nodded. “Thanks, Gregory,” noting the woman’s nametag.
“Alice,” the EMT offered.
“Thanks, Alice. I’m Zane,” said slowly so as not to get too winded. “Can you tell my partner...?”
“Sure, Zane. Marty’ll let him know. Easy now,” pushing her onto the gurney still in the back of the vehicle. “I’m gonna put this on you,” holding up an oxygen mask. “It’ll make it a little easier for you to breathe, okay? I’ll be right back, and then we’ll get you to the ER.”
Zane nodded and closed her eyes.
Part the Twelfth
Val jerked her head up at the address and her frown turned to a smile when she recognized Dave standing in front of her. The middle-aged nurse had looked out for her from the time she’d started working at the hospital and she counted him and his wife among her closest friends. Still, she didn’t generally see him on Monday night; he preferred the excitement and drama of working overnights on the weekends. “Hey, Dave! What are you doing here? Picking up overtime?”
He shrugged but offered Val a tiny smile. “Yeah. I’m hoping to surprise the wife with a trip to Cancun on our anniversary.”
“Oooo,” Val said with a smile. “Lucky lady.”
“Lucky me – it’ll be twenty-five years this year,” he replied with a smirk before turning serious. “Listen, Doc – do you remember that cop we had in here a couple weeks ago? The one with the broken ribs that brought in the GSW suspect?” he added when Val showed no sign of recognition.
“Oh,” feeling the color fade from her face at the thought of something having happened to Zane. “Yeah, I remember. Why?”
“We just got a call – seems she’s on her way in with a re-break.”
“Are you kidding me?” Val growled. “What the hell was she thinking?”
Dave’s eyes widened. He’d never heard Val curse – certainly never about a patient she’d only treated briefly once. “I dunno, Doc, but their ETA put them about five minutes out.”
Val closed her eyes and nodded her head as she pinched the bridge of her nose. “Set up trauma room one for me, Dave. If it’s the same ribs, we’re gonna have to put a plate in and I want to be prepared for the worst case scenario.”
“Already done, Doc. I just wanted to give you a chance to get into your groove before....” Right then, both their pagers sounded an alarm and Dave turned and jogged towards the ER doors with Val just behind him. They were waiting when Marty and Alice pulled Zane from the back of the bus.
Alice started calling out stats and Val let her finish before she started calling out orders. Just as they reached the doors of the trauma room, Alice leaned down and patted Zane’s hands. “You’re in good hands, Zane. You get better soon, all right? I still want to introduce you to my brother.”
Zane nodded, but didn’t try to speak around the oxygen mask still firmly attached to her face. Val watched their interaction but didn’t comment. Instead she focused on getting Zane into the treatment room so her injuries could be taken care of. After that was done, maybe they could talk.
“How is she, Doc?” Paulie asked when Val stepped from the trauma room. He’d gotten there as quickly as he could and had been watching through the windows for the last few minutes.
Val shook her head. “She’s awake. She’s going to be on medical a while for this.” She gave him a dirty look. “What the hell was she doing?”
Paulie held up his hands in surrender and took a step back as his eyes widened at Val’s angry tone. “Her job?” asked as much as answered. “Look, Doc – she said she didn’t need a medical release to be back out on the streets. Maybe you shoulda....” Paulie stopped speaking when he heard Valeria growl.
“I. Tried.” She replied in bitten off words. “She should have gone into the hospital that night, but she left against medical advice.”
“I’ll kill her,” he muttered.
“Me first,” Val answered with a grim smile. “I’ve gotten her put back together again, but it’s going to be a couple days before release is even considered.”
Paulie snorted. “Better make sure you tie her to the bed then. Zane hates hospitals... more than most cops, I mean.”
Val frowned. “Any particular reason other than she’s a female cop?”
“Yeah,” Paulie said, scratching the back of his neck. “But it’s not my place.” He cleared his throat. “Can I go see her?” jerking his head towards the door.
“No. They’re getting ready to move her upstairs. Give us about fifteen minutes to get her settled; I doubt she’s going to want you to see her any more weakened than necessary. I’ll come get you or I’ll send Dave to find you, okay?”
“All right, Doc. I’ll be in the waitin’ room.”
Val nodded and the two of them headed in opposite directions. Just as Paulie reached the double doors that led back to the ER waiting room, Val called out to him.
“Did she at least get her man?”
Paulie grinned big and nodded.
“I’m not staying here – you can’t make me,” Zane growled woozily, jerking at the soft restraints that had been wrapped around each wrist, then whimpering at the pain that ratcheted through her entire body at the motion. The local anesthetic they had used was wearing off.
“He might not be able to,” Val said with a nod towards Dave, who knowingly started the morphine drip, “but I certainly can.” She bore Zane’s stare stoically. “Either you agree to lay here quietly for the next couple days AND stay off work until you heal properly this time....”
“Or I will be more than happy to contact your supervising officer and have them make it an order. I’m confident I could get your partner to give me the details I need, but I assure you I am more than capable of getting them on my own if need be.”
“I hate you.”
“As long as you hate me from that bed and do what you’re told, I don’t care if you hate me or not,” Val returned impassively, though her chest ached from the harshness of Zane’s words. “So what’s it going to be?” Zane tried to draw a deep breath to answer and flinched. Val covered one hand and clasped her chin lightly in the other. “Look at me, Zane – open your eyes and look at me.” Zane slowly blinked her eyes opened as she tried not to breathe. Dave slipped an oxygen mask over her nose and mouth, but she kept her eyes focused on Val. “Listen to me, Zane, okay?” Zane nodded gently, but otherwise gave little indication she was aware of what was being said. “Good girl,” Val muttered and Zane narrowed her eyes in response. “You need to leave the mask in place, all right? You managed to rip the nasal cannula out and you need the help to breathe right now, so leave the mask alone. Don’t be shaking your head or anything to loosen it, okay?”
Zane nodded again slowly and Val nodded her acceptance. She started to move away from the bedside, but Zane grasped for the hand covering hers as best she could. Val turned back to face her. “Zane?”
“Doc, can we lose the restraints? I’ll stay put but... please.”
Val held her eyes for a very long moment before nodding her head at Dave. He untied them from the bed, but left them on her wrists, not wanting to mess up the tubes and wires still running into Zane’s body from various directions. “I’ll go find her partner,” Dave offered and Val nodded without taking her gaze off of Zane.
“Don’t make me regret this, Zane.”
“Why do you care?” Zane asked sluggishly, the morphine finally kicking in. “I know it’s your job to heal, but that doesn’t mean you have to care.”
Val shrugged. “Maybe I’ll tell you some day.”
“’Kay,” Zane agreed as her eyes closed. “Night, Doc.”
Val eased the lights to their lowest level, then walked to the door. “Night, Zane,” she whispered and headed out to finish her shift.
“How’s she doing, Doc?” Alice asked when she and her partner brought in a heart attack patient some hours later. It wasn’t a trauma, so Val wasn’t the attending physician. Alice had made it a point to look the young trauma surgeon up to get a status update on Zane.
“Alice,” Val cautioned.
“Valeria,” Alice countered. “C’mon. She was my patient too for a little while. I just wanna know she’s gonna be okay.”
“If we can keep her still long enough to heal, she’ll be fine.”
“Thanks, Val. She and her partner seemed like good guys, ya know?”
Val smirked, though inside she was trying to control her jealousy. “You just want to introduce her to your brother.”
Alice laughed lightly. “Mama’d be thrilled if Ralphie brought home a girl like Zane. But there’s something about her....” Alice shrugged. “I dunno.” Her radio squawked. “Maybe I can figure it out later, but it’s time for me to get back to work. Later, Doc.”
Val watched her jog back towards the ambulance bay, but her mind was a thousand miles away. Maybe it was time for her to find out some truths about this reality.
Ayida frowned at the crystal ball where she was watching all the action as it took place, and stomped her foot impatiently as Val walked out of sight. She’d used all the influence she’d had to get them to this reality. What was Valeria waiting on?? Did she not understand what was at stake?? Or how little time they really had to make this reality work??
Maybe it was time to confer with her sisters, and with that thought, Ayida shimmied out of sight in a sparkle of glitter, leaving only a trail of rose petals in her wake.
Part the Thirteenth
“What do you mean you lost them?” the Master growled as his eyes flashed red. “How did you LOSE them?” crossing his arms over his chest and tapping his foot as he waited for an answer. Urim and Abaddon exchanged glances, each hoping the other would reply first. The Master growled. “I’m waiting, gentlemen. And we all know how much I adore waiting.” Urim and Abaddon swallowed hard and looked at one another again. Urim sighed and decided to take the responsibility that was mostly his anyway... as he was the senior agent on this assignment.
“We are still trying to discover where we made our mistake, Master. We do know it hasn’t been very long – I spoke with Zane several days ago,” being deliberately vague about the number of days.
“I see,” the Master replied slowly. “And what was your conversation about?”
“Love,” Urim answered succinctly. The Master waited, but when nothing more was forthcoming, he turned to Abaddon.
Abaddon swallowed hard. He knew he had screwed up by not keeping a closer eye on Valeria, and it was fixing to bite him in the ass. “I haven’t spoken to Valeria in several months, Master,” flinching when flames leapt out of the glowing red eyes when they met his. “I... I’m sorry, Master,” he stuttered, taking a step back in a futile effort to stave off the Master’s rage. “I didn’t see the need. I... I mean – it really wasn’t necessary. The papers have long since been signed, and we did everything by the book. Valeria was of legal age and completely cognizant of what she was choosing when Naamah and I put the papers in front of her. They’re a lock, Master. Valeria is not an issue for us.”
The Master sneered at Abaddon, but moved his attention back to Urim. “And Zane?”
Urim shrugged. “Her contract is as solid as we could make it, Master. There are no loopholes – she signed it of her own free will.”
“Except that she was a child when she signed them.”
“The first time, yes,” Urim agreed. “But not the second - when we signed in blood, nor the third – when everything was finalized.”
“And it didn’t occur to you that there could be a problem with them crossing paths?” the Master’s voice dangerously low. “The entire point of this mission was to keep them apart.”
“I understand that, Master. I was not aware of who Valeria was or was to have been to Zane. My main concern was ensuring that Zane’s contracts remained legal. While the first could be brought into question because of her age, she was perfectly legal and competent when she signed both of the other sets. By the time I was made aware of Valeria’s true identity, I had Zane’s final contract in my hand. Them meeting at this point should be nothing more than a fluke.”
“Um hmm,” the Master said as he stroked his goatee. “Then where are they?” He looked up and glared at Urim. “If their meeting is merely a fluke, where are they? I can no longer find them.”
Urim frowned and looked at Abaddon, who shrugged at him. “Perhaps we should return to our places in the other world, Master. We should be able to contact our charges there and we can alert you to their whereabouts.”
“And if you can’t find them, Urim? What then?” The calm tone of the Master’s voice was more unnerving than shouting would have been. Silence met his question, and the Master glared at both of them with burning eyes. “GO!” he commanded with a bellow, and Urim and Abaddon scrambled out of his presence as quickly as they could move. The Master sighed and dropped into a chair that suddenly appeared behind him. He had some thinking to do, and there were many things to consider before he could choose a course of action. He wasn’t about to allow all their progress to be destroyed by a simple oversight. He was too close to winning.
With that thought, he turned to study the flames that surrounded him, taking comfort in their familiarity. He was looking forward to being done with this particular scenario sooner rather than later. He was ready to move on to bigger things.
“Doc?” Valeria’s head snapped quickly up from her contemplation of the tomatoes neatly piled up in front of her when she heard the address, and her jaw dropped when she realized her ears hadn’t been deceiving her. In front of her stood Zane holding a shopping basket, not dressed in her uniform, but casually clothed in a pair of sweatpants and a hoodie. “What brings you here?” motioning around the neighborhood grocery store.
“Zane,” she replied softly, a smile lighting her face. “How are you?”
“Better,” Zane said with a shrug. “I should be cleared to go back to work next week.”
“So no issues? No lingering pain?”
Zane smirked. “I’ve been told I’ll set off every metal detector within a five block radius, but I feel better than I’ve felt in a long time.” She shrugged. “Guess I needed the break. I would have rather spent it in the Islands, but beggars can’t be choosers, I suppose. At least my dogs have enjoyed the break from regulation footwear.” Zane cringed. “Sorry... you can tell me to shut up anytime now.”
Val started chuckling. “Why? Listening to you ramble about ‘your dogs’ is much better than having you tell me you hate me,” the last added a little sadly.
Zane flinched and reached out, though her hand fell before she could actually touch Val. Instead, she scratched the back of her neck awkwardly. “Yeah... about that – look, I’m really sorry. I don’t like hospitals and I react pretty badly when I’m medicated.”
“So it was nothing personal?”
“Nah – I’m just naturally bitchy, and you were the closest target.” She took a deep breath. “How ‘bout you let me buy you a cup of coffee? I can apologize properly and you can tell me how you ended up in the neighborhood.”
Valeria tilted her head thoughtfully. “I’ll tell you how I ended up in the neighborhood if you tell me why you hate hospitals so much.” Val was glad she was watching closely, because she would have missed it otherwise – the barely perceptible flinch that was quickly hidden by what she was learning was Zane’s ‘cop face’. Zane cleared her throat.
“I suppose that’s a fair exchange, but I warn you... it’s not pretty.”
Val wondered how bad it could possibly be.
Part the Fourteenth
“So you chose this part of town because it’s close to the hospital?” Zane asked as they claimed a table in the corner. Val shrugged.
“Partly. It’s close to the hospital and not too far from my grandparents, so I can keep an eye on them and visa versa. I don’t see a reason to worry them, and it makes them feel better knowing they can check on me.”
Zane’s brows went to her hairline. “Your grandparents check on you? Aren’t you an adult?”
“Yes,” bitten off with a hint of aggravation in the tone. “But we’ve looked after each other since they took me in as a kid. Gramps has even been helping me restore the old brownstone I bought. It makes him happy and gives Granny peace of mind about both of us.” She shrugged again. “It helps that I like the neighborhood and know quite a few of the local merchants too.”
Blue eyes widened. “How’d you manage that? It took me a couple of years to get to know the people around here... even with a badge.”
“The badge might have been part of the problem,” Val commented softly. “But to answer your question, I volunteered at the clinic while I was in med school. I still do whenever I’m able.”
“That’s pretty cool, Doc.” A pause. “Do you like being a doctor? Is it what you always wanted to be?”
Val hesitated. In this lifeline, her sole goal had been in pursuit of a medical degree. But she still remembered her other life, and while housekeeping wasn’t an exciting career choice, it had enabled her to meet a number of people - many of whom she’d indulged in sex with... including Zane. She couldn’t deny the illicit thrill she got from the power that had given her, and honestly, she kind of missed it. Her schedule didn’t allow for nearly the amount of sex her body was accustomed to, and self-love was far from being as satisfying as intimacy with another person... especially Zane... was. Val finally met Zane’s eyes.
“Mostly, yes. I like what I do and I’m good at it, but I sometimes wonder what it would be like to have chosen something... I dunno. Daring, maybe?”
“Like what?” Zane inquired curiously, linking her hands together and propping her elbows on the table.
“A firefighter, maybe. Or a showgirl,” added with an impish grin that caused Zane to chuckle. “Hey! I’ll have you know I’m a great dancer!! How about a sex slave?” laughing herself when Zane’s eyes bugged out at her. “Or maybe even a police officer. Surely *that* is exciting.”
The amusement fell from Zane’s expression and her features darkened. “Not really. It’s a lot of the same thing, day in and day out.”
“So you’re not happy?” Zane shrugged.
“It’s not what I wanted it to be, you know? But at least I’m part of the solution and not the problem.” There was something in her tone that made Valeria want to press for more information, but before she was able to formulate a question, Zane spoke again. “So you and Alice are pretty good friends, right?”
Val tilted her head as she considered her answer. “Well, we’ve had coffee a few times, but we don’t really socialize outside of work. There hasn’t really been time. Why?”
“Is that why she hasn’t introduced you to Ralphie?”
Val laughed, and Zane just gave her a bemused look. “That’d be one reason.” Val sighed. “Ralphie isn’t really my type.”
“Because...?” Zane looked at her beseechingly. “C’mon, Doc... you gotta give me more than that. Alice has been trying to set me up with him for a month now.”
“Is there a reason you don’t want to go out with him aside from the fact that you haven’t actually met him yet?”
“I’m just not enthusiastic about that whole scene right now. I feel like I need to put me first right now, and I can’t do that if I have to worry about being in a relationship with someone else. Because you have to consider them in everything you do, ya know?”
Val smiled. “Not really. But I do know someone will be really lucky to have you someday, Zane.”
Zane shrugged, but couldn’t stop the blush from staining her cheeks. “Maybe,” she said noncommittally.
“Well, I will tell you that Ralphie is a nice enough guy – good manners, nice looking... he even has a good, well-paid job - but he’s a mama’s boy. And if I’m going to be with someone, I want it to be between the two of us... as adults. I’m not willing to start a relationship that already has three people in it before the first date.”
“Oh... EW. I certainly don’t need any more baggage coming into my life, and somehow a mother-in-law attached at the hip before there’s even a wedding ceremony is way more baggage than I’m willing to accept. I’ve got enough issues of my own to deal with without adding that kind of complication.”
“Is this leading up to why you hate hospitals so much, and why you react so badly to drugs?”
Zane sighed, but held Val’s eyes as she spoke. “If I tell you this, you gotta keep it private – you know... like doctor/patient confidentiality or something, all right?”
Val held up a hand. “Pinkie swear,” she promised. Zane looked at her like she was nuts, but linked their pinkies together.
“Okay... let me go get a couple refills, because this is gonna take longer than half a cup of coffee.”
“So why is none of this in your file?” Zane frowned and Val covered her hand and briefly squeezed it. “Zane, it’s important medical information. It could affect your treatments.”
Zane snorted. “Until the last six weeks or so, I haven’t had to worry about it. I’ve been pretty careful about staying away from doctors and hospitals.”
Valeria sighed. “Val, please. I’d like us to be friends, Zane, but you’re going to have to call me Val first. Doc is just so... formal.”
A smirk. “All right... Val. See, although parts of my history are common knowledge, if the rest got out....” Val tilted her head and Zane sighed and shook her head. “I’ll never get my gold shield.”
“And that’s important to you?”
Zane glared up angrily until she realized Val was asking a legitimate question. “It’s all I’ve worked for, D... Val. It’s the best I can hope for.”
“Can I ask you something?” waiting for Zane to nod. “Have you always wanted to be a police detective or was there something else you aspired to when you were younger?”
This time Zane laughed full out, though there was little mirth in the sound. “Val, the only dream I had as a kid was to grow up enough to get the hell out of the shit hole I was born into. The Police Academy offered me a way out, and Paulie and Rhonda made it possible.”
“Will you do something for me?”
“Sure... if I can.”
“I want you to think about it, and the next time we talk, I want you to tell me about your dreams. What your dreams would have been, if you’d have them – what you’d want them to be now if they could be anything you wanted them to.”
Blue eyes held green for a long time; then Zane nodded. “I’ll try,” softly.
Val smiled. “Good. It’ll be my turn to buy the coffee.”
“Sounds like a plan.”
Ayida kept her eyes on her crystal ball, even as she reviewed the conversation she had shared with her sisters only moments before.
The Master knows they are gone, and has instituted measures to ensure their swift return to his fold. The time that you gave them is contingent on him not finding them. If he figures out that you have manipulated time to hide them....
Ayida bit her lip thoughtfully, wondering if there was any way to speed things along. She was playing a dangerous game... and someone was going to get hurt.