Work in progress
Aurelia remembered her mother, in a foggy, almost dreamlike way. She had been only four years old when the woman died and many years later she still did not know how it had happened. Her father refused to speak of his wife and had never shared a tale or memory of her, never revealed what had taken her from her child’s life. Aurelia had become afraid to bring her up, his anger growing each time she was mentioned. She lived with her father, a quiet and reclusive kind of man, and her grandmother. When she asked her grandmother whether she was her father’s or her mother’s mother the old woman simply smiled. Then changed the topic of conversation. There were no photographs of either of them as children in the house, no family photos that might give her a clue. The only personal picture was one of her mother, holding Aurelia as an infant in her arms and gazing lovingly upon her. She wondered who had taken such an intimate kind of portrait in a home where the subject could not be mentioned. As time passed, aurelia simply accepted the state of silence as her standard of living. Her father kept his distance, cloaked in anger and resentment she figured she would never know the source of. Her grandmother taught her and raised her, cared for her gently and kindly. She never attended school, never played with other children she saw about her neighbourhood. She never played a sport or attended a dance class. It was a strange kind of childhood, secluded in suburbia and full of secrets.
She itched to grow up, to be old enough to leave the old creaky house and quiet emptiness behind. There had to be more to the world, more for her, than the loneliness and boredom that seemed to plague year after year. Her father left the house sporadically, for indeterminate periods of time. Sometimes he would be gone for days. When she was little she presumed that he was going to work, like father’s did on TV or in her books. As she grew older his movements made less sense and she became bold enough to question him.
“What have you been doing today, Dad?” she asked from the kitchen table when she was ten years old. He froze, turning to her with wide surprised eyes.
“What? Why?” he snapped. She flinched.
“Oh, um its just you’ve been gone all day and I wondered what you had been doing.”
“Well, don’t,” he barked at her, “Mind your own damn business.” He grabbed her head, roughly turning it back toward her dinner plate as he stomped past her and up the stairs. She proceeded to mind her own business, settling for asking him how his day was every now and again. He responded only with a grunt or a glare and she wondered what it was he went to do. Perhaps he did work, they seemed to have enough money to pay the bills and keep food in the house. She never went without clothes or books for her studies. She asked her grandmother once, about a year after she had first questioned her father.
“Ellie, lovey, that’s not something for you to worry about. We are taken care of, you won’t go without. Best just leave him to himself, eh? Us girls have our own things to get on with,” her grandmama told her, in her warm, husky voice. It was a comforting voice, suiting her motherly demeanor and the way she fussed so lovingly about her granddaughter. It grated on Aurelia’s nerves. She did not want to be padded and protected, taken care off. She wanted to be let loose into the world to experience things for herself.
“Grandmama, why do you call me Ellie? Dad never does.” There was a soft sigh from the old woman, a longing and sad kind of sound.
“Your mother called you Ellie. What would you like to do tomorrow, lovey? I thought maybe the museum in the city, finish off your history project?”
Aurelia knew better than to push any conversation that involved her mother. She wondered if the deep sigh had indicated something in regards to who’s mother her grandmama was. Although if she was her mother’s mother she wasn’t entirely sure why she put up with her father and his bad temper.
“Sure, grandmama, museum sounds good.” Life carried on, constant and predictable. Until she was fifteen.
She wasn’t sure what sound it was that stirred her but she woke to a commotion outside the house. there were raised voices, angry and frightened. A strange sound, part hiss and part screech, made her skin ripple with shivers. Slipping from her bed, she ran to the small window and tried to peer out into the front yard. There was flickering light, like fire, the source just outside her vision. The voices seemed to grow in intensity. Deciding she didn’t care if her observation was know, she unlatched and pushed open the window, leaning out further so that she could see the front steps of the house.
Her jaw dropped open as she stared. A mob of angry people crowded the front steps of the house. she stared up and down the street, lights on porches were coming on, people stepping out in their pajamas and robes to see what all the noise was about. She heard her father’s name shouted by a large man brandishing a large knife. The man beside him appeared to be carrying a flaming torch and her eyes widened, it was like something out of a medieval movie.
Her father’s voice issued from the front porch, she couldn’t see him from the window above but his tone was low and desperate. The angry voices blended into a cacophony that muffled the words. She shook her head, she needed to know what was going on, and turned to run down the stairs. Inside the front door her grandmother grabbed her arm, stopping her. Her grip was surprisingly tight for a woman her age and Aurelia froze, staring at her in fear.
“No, don’t,” she hissed,
She was in trouble. The really bad kind, the kind you probably won’t live to tell anyone about. She stood motionless, her gazing drifting one by one over the men surrounding her. They were more than just men, she was certain. They were all a little too tall, too wild. Their eyes glowed yellow in the darkness. She didn’t know what it meant, but she did know it did not bode well for her. She couldn’t run, she had already seen that they were much faster than her and now they had her boxed in. She could try to fight back but she didn’t think her limited skills would be much in comparison to whatever they were about to throw at her. She wasn’t stupid, they were just playing with her now because she knew they could have killed her several times over already.
As one, the men in the circle stepped forward, closing her in tighter. Her breath caught in her throat. This was it. She would resist, she would fight with everything she had, but this was about to be her death. Suddenly, one man stepped up to her and swung his fist. It connected with the side of her face and she fell, hard, into another member of the circle. He grabbed her shoulders, spinning her so that her assailant could take another shot. She kicked back at her captor with all the force she could manage, hitting him squarely in the knee. His leg buckled and as he was thrown off balance she twisted from his grasp and tried to run. Before she could take a second step she was grabbed again, more than two hands this time and she did not even see the blow before it struck her face. She threw her foot out blindly and was rewarded with a grunt of pain as she hit flesh, not wasting a beat she struck out in the same direction again. A curse followed and suddenly she was thrown through the air. Landing hard she was instantly smothered by large, hard bodies that seemed to rain blows down on her. The hands were grabbing at her again and her strength was waning, her muscles pulling as she yanked against their grip.
She was dizzy and despite her efforts could not break the restraining hands. Without aiming, she kicked and thrashed, feeling her feet and elbows hit flesh. She couldn’t do enough damage to free herself. Sharp pain shot through her arm. She screamed, yanking harder at her limbs in an attempt to pull away. More searing pain, it felt like tearing teeth but her vision was blurring and could make out little of the bodies around her.
She heard another scream and registered dimly that this one was not hers. Without warning she fell, slamming into the ground, the wind rushing from her lungs. She lay still, shocked and gasping for air. The sounds of a fight seemed to continue around her and more guttural screams reached her ears. Something had changed, but she couldn’t see what. Rolling awkwardly, she rose to her knees, wobbling.
Looking up, her jaw dropped. He stood in the middle of what had been a circle of a terrifying men. Somehow, he was more terrifying than all of them and yet she was not afraid of him. He was disposing, singlehandedly, of each man that attacked him. Laying about, with fists and feet. Barely a moment later it seemed, her attackers lay motionless before him or fleeing into the shadowy alleys around them.
She waited, frozen, watching him. After a long beat of silence, he turned quickly to face her. Taking a few steps forward, he stopped before her and offered his hand. Without hesitation she took it and let him pull her to her feet.
They stared at each other. He was fearsome, but she felt reassured by his presence. He was easily a foot taller than her five and a half feet, with dark hair that stuck out at messy angles and dark chocolate eyes. His shoulders were broad and lean muscles rippled under his light cotton shirt.
“Who are you?” she whispered, her hand still clasped in his.
“My name is Levi. Are you alright?” his voice was deep and smooth, less husky than she had expected. She wasn’t sure why that matter at the moment when she should be wondering why he was here. She nodded, attempting to answer his question, but was contradicted when her legs collapsed beneath her. He caught her as she fell, scooping into his arms and beginning down the deserted street.
“Tell me your name,” he commanded, softly.
“It’s Aurelia,” she managed to squeak, trying to get her head upright as her vision blurred, “but people just call me Ellie.”
“I like Aurelia,” his words were so soft it was almost as though he was talking to himself, “It’s a pretty name.” The jolting motion of his body as he strode through the night jarred her own in all that places that hurt and her head seemed to swim further and further from reality until she began to think she surely must be dreaming him. Her consciousness faded.
Levi watched her unconscious form as the hours ticked by. Her wounds were cleaned and bound, her pulse and breathing steady. He was confident she would wake. The room was dark, curtains drawn against the moonlight. He could barely see the gentle rise and fall of her chest but he sensed it. He had saved her from the Lycans and brought her back to his home, not somewhere he usually revealed to friends let alone strangers. He had wanted her to be safe and she would be safe here. He had never even met the woman, he wasn’t entirely sure why it mattered, why she mattered.
She stirred and then groaned. He stilled, for the first time considering the panic she would wake with when she realized she was in a secluded place with a strange man. With a small gasp, her eyes flew open, the whites seeming to glow in the darkness. She whipped her head around, trying to take in her surroundings but she could barely make out the shapes around her. Sitting up, she gasped again at the thudding pain as her hand shot to her head.
“Easy,” he said, softly, “Move slowly, you copped a beating.” Moving to the window, he pulled the curtains back. The moon was the only light outside the window but it shone a bright beam of light into the room. She blinked against it, trying to adjust her eyesight as she scanned the room again.
“Where are we?” she whispered, her throat felt raw and her head pounding. Every breath seemed to hurt, as though her lungs themselves were bruised.
“This is where I live, no one will find you here,” he grimaced at the way her eyes widened, “That was not meant to sound so sinister. I meant that you’re safe. I won’t hurt you.”
“You saved me,” she said, softly and turned to meet his eyes, “Thank you.” He nodded, but said nothing. He was still puzzling over his decision to do so.
“Why?” she asked him, beginning to gingerly move her limbs, as though testing what worked.
“Straight to the point, huh,” he muttered, and her gaze returned to his face, “Because you needed saving or you were going to be Lycan meat.” He couldn’t help the frown that creased his face.
“What would it have mattered to you?” She winced as she rolled her shoulders and tried to stretch her legs.
“I wouldn’t try to stand, your knee doesn’t look good,” he told her, leaning over the bed and tucking another pillow behind her back. She noted that the caring gesture seemed to contrast his stern appearance. He didn’t answer her question.
“Are you hungry?” he asked her. She shook her head automatically and then winced at the increased pounding that followed. She was feeling ill and disoriented.
“You’re going to need to rest and heal, try to relax.”
“How long do you plan to keep me here?” She asked, trying to put an edge into her voice. Instead she just sounded weak and rasping. He straightened from where he was gathering up the supplies he used to tend to her wounds.
“I’m not keeping you,” there was a harshness to his tone, “You can leave whenever you like, crawl out the door if you wish. Head south and stay true, you’ll get to the road eventually.” He turned to leave the room without looking at her again.
“I’m sorry,” she whispered, laying back and closing her eyes, “I didn’t mean it that way. You’re being very – “She searched for a word, caring seemed too intimate somehow.
“Hospitable. I’m grateful for what you’ve done for me.” He glanced over his shoulder and nodded at her, again not acknowledging her thanks.
“I’m not afraid of you,” she added, voice so soft she wasn’t sure he would hear. A smile spread across his face.
“Good to know,” he told her, turning to leave the room and adding so quietly that she almost didn’t catch it, “but maybe you should be.”
Ellie woke with a sharp gasp, monsters hovering on the edge of her thoughts as her gaze whipped around the room. The nightmare faded quickly as the reality of the night came back to her. She wasn’t sure how long she had slept for but the daylight was now streaming into the room. Levi was nowhere in sight. Moving as carefully she could manage, she sat up and tried to stretch. She was stiff but the general ache of the night before was fading slightly, leaving in its place several areas of focused pain. Her knee was the worst, it was swollen and various shades of blue and purple. Her ribs hurt badly on one side and she knew without looking they were bruised too, that would be the cause of the pain when she tried to breath. Her head pounded and her throat ached, from the screaming she supposed. There were bandages on all four of her limbs and she knew from the sharp pain each time she moved one that there were some nasty wounds underneath.
She still didn’t know why those men had attacked her, Lycans Levi had called them. She was pretty sure that was some kind of mythical creature, something like werewolves. She couldn’t put much stock in that, they must be a gang or something that went by that name and she had wandered into a gathering at the wrong time. Serves her right for thinking she could find her way around the city on her own. She hadn’t wanted to draw any attention to herself or leave a trail for anyone that might be following.
She could move, it was a struggle and it hurt like hell, but she could manage it slowly. Twisting her body, she shuffled to the side of the large bed and got her feet on the floor. Clinging to the bedpost, she pulled herself up and attempted to take a step forward. Her injured knee gave out and she cried out in pain. Levi’s hands caught her as she stumbled and gently lifted her back onto the bed.
“I told you you wouldn’t be able to walk,” he said, shaking his head.
“Well, that’s inconvenient,” she grumbled through gritted teeth. The shot of pain had made her head spin unpleasantly and she felt queasy. She sat motionless, waiting for the feeling to pass. Levi stood and watched her silently.
“The bathroom’s through there,” he told her, pointing out the bedroom door. She glanced at the door and then back at his face. He was smirking. She glared.
“Yeah, thanks,” she muttered, sarcastically. Without warning, he reached down and scooped her into his arms, carrying her from the room. Crossing a narrow, dim hallway, he entered a brightly tiled bathroom. The tiles were many colours, in no particular pattern and the effect was a little garish. A large window over a freestanding bathtub filled the room with natural light. Levi set her gently on her feet by the basin. She held it tightly for support.
“Best you handle it from here,” he said, still smirking slightly, “I know you probably feel like a shower but I think it’s a bit soon for those bites.”
“Bites?” she cried.
“Yes,” he indicated her bandaged arms and legs, “The Lycan bites. Nasty wounds that need to be sterilized the right way or they’ll get infected.” Ellie stared at the bandages in shock. Those men bit her? Because beating her half to death wasn’t doing enough damage? The whole thing seemed insane.
“I’ve left some clothes on the rack there. I know they won’t fit properly, they’re mine, but yours are, well, tatters.” She looked down. He was right, they were torn and dirty.
“Thanks,” she croaked.
“Are you alright? You look pale.” She nodded, silently. Pursing his lips, clearly not believing her, he left the bathroom and closed the door. She stood at the basin for a long time, staring at her battered face in the mirror. No wonder her head hurt, her face was an assortment of bruises. Lycans bit her? It couldn’t be real.
Curiously, she carefully unwound the bandage on her left arm. A strip of flesh seemed to have been ripped from her arm and she could see teeth marks on the surrounding skin. She stared in shock. It definitely hurt a lot but from the mess of her arm it seemed like she should be in far more pain. She didn’t dare look at her other limbs. Turning around she eyed the distance between her and the toilet, groaning inwardly at the thought of trying to stumble across the room. Staying off her injured leg as much as possible, she hopped and hobbled her way around the bathroom, clinging to any available support to stay upright.
As she pushed open the door, Levi sauntered up the hallway. Ellie leaned in the doorway, trying to catch her breathe. He offered his hand and she reached out, leaning on him as he helped her back to the bedroom.
“Wait,” she said, suddenly. He paused, looking at her curiously.
“Is this your bedroom?” she asked him. He blushed in response.
“Yeah, it’s a small place, only one bedroom.”
“Oh. I can’t take your bedroom, you must have a couch or something.”
“And how hospitable would that be? Letting an injured lady sleep on the couch?” he scoffed, “Don’t worry about it, I don’t sleep much anyway.”
“Me either,” she muttered under her breath. If she slept here then she would have the nightmares she always had and he would hear her. She never could sleep when there were other people around. Easing her back onto the bed, he reached for bandage on her arm and began to unwind it.
“I need to clean and treat these again,” he told her, “This stuff smells pretty awful but I promise it helps them heal and eases the pain.” Sitting on the edge of the bed, he picked up a small glass bottle and uncorked it. Ellie immediately gagged at the smell.
“Yeah, like I said,” he laughed lightly. He took her wrist in his large hand. His palms were calloused but his touch was gentle. He held the bottle over the gash in her skin.
“This isn’t going to be pleasant,” he warned her. He tipped the bottle and a gluggy oil oozed out, dripping into her wound. It stung fiercely. Her breath hissed through her teeth and she turned her head away, jaw clenched and eyes screwed tightly closed. After winding the bandage carefully back around her arm, he laid it gently on the bed and stood, moving to the other side.
“I’m sorry,” he said, softly and begun to unwrap the bandages on her other arm.
“You have nothing to be sorry for, you didn’t do this. I’m alive because of you. I should be apologizing to you for the trouble I’ve caused you.”
“You don’t owe me an apology, or anything else.”
“Why didn’t you just take me to a hospital or something?” she asked, curiously.
“Because they wouldn’t know how to treat the Lycan bites and you would probably have died,” he said, bluntly, “If you hadn’t, they would have been asking you question with suspicious injuries like these and one of the Lycan pack would probably have come and finished you off to keep you quiet.” Her face drained of colour as she listened to him.
“Lycan,” she repeatedly quietly, then her voice rose, “Are you telling me those men were…what? Werewolves?! That’s insane.”
“I…that’s,” she stuttered her disbelief. “I mean, it can’t be…” she trailed off. She would be lying if she said she’d never seen anything that other people would put clearly in the fiction category. Did she believe him?
“So I owe you my life twice over then,” she said, softly, a slight tremor in her voice.
“You don’t owe me anything,” he repeated.
“Well, you didn’t have to risk your own life to step in and save me,” she pointed out.
“I could hardly just stand by and watch them kill you,” he said, trying to keep his voice light but she could see the shadow on his face that meant there was more to it than that.
He would not tell her that he had stood by and watched the same fate befall others. Why she was different, he wasn’t entirely sure. Something about the way that she fought, even when her death was inevitable. He saw a spirit in her that he did not want to see snuffed out. Without seriously considering what he was starting, he had intervened and fought for her. Now here she was, in what had been his secluded refuge, needing him. He probably seemed kind and caring to her and to his surprise he wanted her to believe that. The truth was drastically different, he was barely better than the callous Lycan that attacked her.
Ellie remained silent as he treated the rest of her wounds, but he could feel the tension in her body as she tried to hide any expression of the pain he was causing her. He kept his eyes on his task, wanting to give her some semblance of privacy as she suffered. When he was finished he looked up and found her eyes on his face, she was studying him, her gaze steady. He knew he was generally hard to read, he tried to give little away to anybody, but it felt like she could see through the blank expression on his face. He cleared his throat, uncomfortable with the thought that she might come to know more of the real Levi. She blinked, as though she hadn’t realized she had been staring so intently and then blushed.
“Are you alright?” he asked, knowing how uncomfortable she would be as the salve burned its way through the remaining Lycan venom in her tissues. She nodded but the expression on his face showed that he was convinced.
“You ask that a lot,” she muttered. His smile was amused.
“Well, when I believe your answer I’ll know you’re on the mend,” he replied. She couldn’t help her smile in response.
“Wait here,” he said, standing and putting aside the potent bottle.
“Very funny,” she replied, sarcastically and he laughed. His laugh was light and warm and Ellie thought it contrasted with how large and imposing he looked from her place on the bed. She liked that she could illicit a laugh from him, she had the impression he was generally quite stern.
He left the room and she lay back against the pillows, closing her eyes. The pain was exhausting her. She wanted to sleep but she was afraid to. She was always afraid to and really only managed any sleep when she was completely worn out. She certainly felt like she could sleep now but she didn’t want him to hear her dreaming. He would probably assume it was nightmares of the Lycan attack, but they were not her first encounters with monsters. The ones that haunted her were monsters disguised as men.
She began to drift off. The afternoon sunlight falling across the bed felt warm and soothing and the sounds of the forest were peaceful, natural. She was startled awake by a noise at the bedside. She jolted upright.
“Hey, it’s ok,” Levi reassured, noting the fear in her eyes. He wondered again why he felt so protective of her. “You’re safe here, Ellie.” She nodded, trying to calm her rapid breathing. She didn’t look convinced. He couldn’t blame her, she’d been jumped in a back street but something she probably didn’t even believe existed.
“Why am I here?” she asked him, with the same puzzled tone she had used when she asked last night why he had saved her.
“Because I needed somewhere safe to bring you,” he said, simply, “Here, you should eat something.” He gestured to a bowl of what looked like some sort of stew on the bedside table. She opened her mouth to protest but he shook his head.
“I know you don’t feel well, but you need to feed your body or you won’t have the strength to heal or fight off an infection.”
“I thought that’s what the foul smelling oil was for,” she grumbled. He smiled.
“It helps, but not if you’re weak.”
“I am not weak,” she protested.
“I didn’t say you were,” an amused smile was creeping across his face, “Just try and eat a bit OK? I know my cooking’s not the best but I promise it won’t kill you.”
“That would make all this kind of a wasted effort at this stage, wouldn’t –“ she stopped, her face falling.
“What’s wrong?” he asked quickly.
“They got you too,” she sounded dismayed, as she pointed at a gash on his upper arm that looked distinctly like her wounds, “Why didn’t you say they’d hurt you? God, it’s my fault you were even involved. I’m so sorry.”
“You apologize too much,” he told her, “Would you calm down? I’m fine, it’s not that bad and a bite from them won’t affect me like it does you.”
“But –“ she started, he cut her off.
“Stop finding distractions and eat, woman,” he voice was stern but he expression was playful. It changed his entire demeanor. She grinned, giving in.
“Fine, but if you poison me…”
“Oh, what are you gonna do? You’re half crippled and I’m twice your size,” he laughed. It shocked him how quickly he had become comfortable with her, he didn’t even know her yet he found himself enjoying the banter and her company. She laughed and it was the first time he had heard it. It warmed him. Her voice seemed deep for a woman her size and her laugh was deeper, rich. It seemed to fill the room. She twisted in an attempt to reach the bowl on the nightstand but fell back with a groan, her hand going to her bruised ribs.
“Forgot,” she mumbled, the shook her head as though amused at herself. Without a word, he handed her the bowl, trying not to smile.
“Thanks,” she said, laughing lightly again, “I’ll learn.” He grinned and left.
When he entered the room again she was lying back on the pillows with her eyes closed. He hesitated in the doorway, if she was sleeping he didn’t want to wake her, especially if it would frighten her as he did earlier. She must have sense him there because she opened her eyes and turned her head toward him, the sunlight was fading as the sun dipped out of sight. The fight from last time seemed a long time ago. She smiled slightly at him and something about it made his stomach drop. She was beautiful, her chestnut colored hair splayed on the pillow around her head. Her eyes were such a light green that in the darkness they seemed to glow almost colorless. He’d never seen eyes like hers. The fact that she was attractive wasn’t the reason he had saved her or the reason he found himself caring now if she recovered.
He glanced at the bowl on the nightstand. It was still half full.
“Was it that bad?” he joked. If he was being honest, he wanted to make her laugh again. She smiled but he could see that it was strained.
“No, not bad. Thank you.”
“You’re welcome. Do you need anything else?” he asked.
“No, I’m fine,” she told him. Her voice was tight and she was avoiding movement as much as possible. Her bites burned and any flinch of her limbs sent pain shooting through them. Her head ached, as did her chest with each breath. He studied her for a moment before taking the food and leaving.
When he returned there was a glass of water in one hand and steaming mug in the other. He put down the glass and sat, carefully, on the bed beside her.
“You need to drink this,” his voice was stern this time. She wrinkled her nose at the smell and he couldn’t keep from smiling.
“What is it?” she asked, both curious and trepidatious.
“Tea,” he stated. She pulled a face at him and he laughed. She smiled and then shrugged as she took the mug. She took a tentative sip and pulled another face, this one clearly of distaste.
“What kind of tea?” she asked, pointedly.
“It’s-,” he cocked his head from side to side, “A concoction. An old witch taught the mixture to me, it’s effective,” he said, “It will ease the pain and hopefully ward off any fever.” She nodded and sipped again, the expression of distaste less pronounced but still present. After a few more sips, she looked up and her eyes met his. They held each others gaze.
“Do you live here alone?” she asked. He blinked, unprepared for personal questions.
“Do you work? Have a job?”
She returned to sipping the tea, then brought her eyes back to his.
“Not a fan. Coffee drinker here,” she commented, “So how do you survive? Living out here in the woods alone?”
“I’m resourceful,” he replied, voice guarded. She continued to sip and study him, but didn’t pry any further. When he was satisfied she had drunk enough he held out a hand and she passed him the mug with a sense of relief.
“Drink the water,” he instructed, rising from the bed, “Do you read?” She raised an eyebrow at him.
“Are you asking if I can?” she asked, sounding slightly offended.
“No,” he replied, on a laugh, “I’m asking if you like to.”
“Oh,” she smiled, “Yes I do.” He nodded and left. She watched him go, wanting to learn more about him but knowing he didn’t want to share. Despite the apparent secrecy and isolation, she wasn’t afraid to be here alone with him. This surprised her because the fact was she had been here before, alone with a man who had promised to take care of her but instead was abusing her. There was something threatening about him but she knew, with a kind of intuitive certainty, that it wasn’t threatening toward her. Even when he had appeared to be caring and loving toward her, there was something about Wyatt that had put on edge and made her anxious. She felt calm and comfortable with Levi, and she had known him less than 24 hours. She didn’t know him at all in fact.
Levi walked in with a stack of books in his arms. He placed the pile on the bed beside her. Her face lit up at the sight of them and he felt a strange kind of joy. He wondered when he had gone so soft.
“I don’t know what your tastes are,” he said with a shrug, “but I have a lot more out there if there’s nothing you like her.” With an almost childish smile, she gently fanned the books across the bed cover to see the selection. Suddenly, she froze. She looked up at him.
“You’re joking,” she said, flatly. At his confused look she picked up a well worn copy of Little Women and he laughed.
“It was my sister’s,” he told her, his eyes softening as he thought of her, “She left in the bookcase a long time ago and I couldn’t throw it away.”
“She didn’t want it back?” she asked. He hesitated, chewing his bottom lip, before answering.
“She passed away young,” his response was heavy.
“I’m sorry, Levi.” He nodded. She lay the book back in the fan.
“You’re welcome to read it,” he told her, more color back in his voice, “It was one of her favorites.”
“Mine too,” she said, with a wistful smile. He wondering if she was remembering someone as well as she stroked the book’s battered cover.
“What do you do?” he asked, suddenly, realizing he wanted to know more about her, “You know, work or whatever.” She seemed to think for a while about her answer.
“I used to be a musician,” she said and he noted sadness in her voice, “and a teacher.”
“Used to be?”
“Things changed,” her toned darkened, “Now I do whatever I have to get by.” He wanted to ask further but thought better of it. Collecting the books, he stacked them on the nightstand and waved toward Little Women, still in her hand. “Why don’t you try to relax a bit? I’ll be back shortly.” She nodded, not meeting his eyes. He had touched on a sensitive issue.
As he left the room he wondered, not for the first time, why a young woman had been wandering the back streets of the city alone in the middle of the night? Why was she not panicking that people would miss her if he didn’t return her home? He didn’t want her to leave until he knew she was well and safe from the transition, but shouldn’t she be eager to get back to someone or something? She was hiding things.
She curled in the center of the bed, a pillow propped under her side. She glanced over her shoulder toward him as he came in but seemed reluctant to move. He imagined it had taken her a while to find a comfortable position. He had broken ribs plenty of times, it was a painful experience. He had been gone a few hours and she was well into Little Women. He hadn’t meant to take so long but hunting had been difficult tonight and he had needed to feed since his hunt had been interrupted last night by an impromptu rescue mission. She didn’t comment on how long he had left her alone, but her attempt at a smile was weak and tired.
“I need to redress those bites but I thought you might want to use the bathroom again first.” She simply nodded in response and put the book down. As she made a move toward the edge of the bed he stopped her before carefully lifting her into his arms as he had done before. She leant against him as he carried her across the hall and he could feel the weariness in her. Easing her to her feet before the sink, he closed the door behind him as he left. Her condition seemed to be getting worse and this concerned him. What if she did transition? Or died? It shouldn’t matter so much to him, she was nothing to him. He had lost everyone he loved and he had killed people who were more integral parts of his life than she was. Yet his chest clenched painfully at the thought that she might not survive.
He heard the creak of the door as he stood in the bedroom, gazing out the window into the night. The moon was bright, but not full. He hurried to her as she clung to the door frame. He knew she would try to walk back to the bed but she was in no shape to do so. He carried her, setting her down as gently as he could. Her face was pale.
As he treated and rebound the wounds on her arms she lay still, eyes closed tightly and jaw clenched, but not a sound escaped her lips. He was hurting her and he hated it but he needed to do what he could to keep the transition from starting. She was weak, he didn’t think she would survive it. As he slowly poured the oil into the deep wound above her right knee she cried out, before biting down on her lip. Frowning, he gently pressed the inflamed red skin around the gash. She whimpered, her teeth sinking deeper into her lip.
“Sorry,” he whispered. This was what he had been trying to prevent, the infection that would set in and trigger the transformation. Reaching out he pressed the back of his fingers against her cheek, followed by her forehead. Her skin was burning.
“Damn,” he muttered. Her breathing seemed more labored with each breath she took. Rushing to the kitchen he returned with a small ceramic jar. Her eyelids fluttered as she lay her head down. If she’d been standing she would have fainted.
“Just rest,” he told her, deep voice soft and soothing. As gently as he could manage, he finished the bites on her legs and sat back, watching. If he could break the fever he might prevent the change. If not, she would become a Lycan. He didn’t think she would be happy about that. She was too warm. A teacher, an artist, he could already see she seemed thoughtful and bright.
The rise and fall of her chest settled into a rhythm and he was confident she was asleep. He didn’t want to leave her alone but he needed to go back out, he needed the wolfsbane. He knew where it grew, if he shifted he could probably run there and back within half an hour or so. It might be enough time. If he didn’t prepare it properly it would kill her, and quickly. He had the other ingredients. He had never tried to stop a transition before but he was determined to this time.
Upon his return her found her shivering and sweating, it was progressing quickly. He couldn’t rush the mixture, he couldn’t risk an error. By the time he was satisfied the brew he feared he was running out of time. Lifting her head as gently as he could manage he placed the cup by her lips.
“Ellie, I need you to drink this,” he murmured. Blinking vaguely, she tried to pull her head away. “Ellie, please, just a few mouthfuls.”
“You can’t keep doing this to me,” her voice cracked, as though she was on the verge of tears.
“What?” he was startled. Was she speaking to him? Surely not. It must be a fever dream.
“Come on, Ellie, drink,” he urged. He thought she would pull away again but she allowed him to pour the brew into her mouth, swallowing obediently. When she coughed and gagged, he pulled the cup away and eased her back down. She drifted back to sleep. She would need more, but for now all he could do was wait.
A scream woke him with start. He jerked up from the chair he had pulled to the bedside and dozed off in. Her eyes were open wide, full of horror, her hands pressed tightly over her mouth.
“What happened?” he asked urgently.
“He took him from me,” she cried into her hands.
“Took who, Ellie?” he asked. She blinked rapidly a few times and then her eyes scanned the room around her. She pulled her hands from her face and her gaze rested on him.
“It was a dream,” she whispered, but the pain in her voice was real, “It was just a dream.” He knew it hadn’t been just a dream. A memory turned nightmare perhaps, but certainly more real than just a dream. He reached forward, taking her hand. It felt small and warm in his. The odd tingle that crawled up his arm made him want to pull her whole body against his and hold her.
“It’s OK, Ellie,” he told her softly, “I’m here and you’re safe.” She began to relax, her breathing evening again as she drifted off. He wondered who she had lost.
As the night wore on her voice woke him again, this time begging.
“Please, please just tell me,” she pleaded, her voice desperate, “Please, I need to know where he is. Tell me where you took him, please!”
“Ellie,” he stroked her face, “Ellie, wake up, it’s a dream.”
“Please, I need to know,” she sobbed, “I need to know if he’s dead.” His heart skipped a beat. He shook her shoulders lightly and she awoke with a gasp. There were tears on her cheeks.
“Are you alright?” he whispered, knowing she would answer yes but that the true answer was no. She didn’t respond. He reached for the cup and quickly put it to her lips. It would taste worse cold but her needed her to drink some more of it and it was easier while she was awake.
“Drink some, please,” he begged her. She obediently took several swallows from the cup before he pulled it away. As he lay her back against the pillows he couldn’t resist the urge to ask.
“Who did they take, Ellie?” He thought she wouldn’t answer as she closed her eyes again. A long moment passed.
“Finn,” she whispered. He waited but she said nothing more.
She woke with a start, eyes searching for the danger but she was alone. She relaxed and tried to inhale deeply. She had been beaten before but she couldn’t remember ever feeling as bad as she had this past night. She pushed herself upright and slowly climbed off the bed. Her legs were shaky. With a bit of a shuffle and a heavy limp she could move and made her way to the bathroom. She could see the early morning light outside and realized she had now been here just over a day. It seemed much longer. She felt safe here and she couldn’t say why, she knew that logically she shouldn’t. she knew nothing about Levi beyond his name and the fact that he had a sister and apparently a decent knowledge of herbal medicine. But his touch was gentle and the caring way he looked at her had her trusting him.
“You’re such a sap,” she mumbled to herself in the mirror, “A sap and an idiot.” One of these days she was going to get herself killed. It didn’t help that she already had someone trying to kill her and a band of strange creatures willing to unknowingly do it for him.
She looked awful, the bruises on her face standing out against her pale skin. The whiteness was almost scary, she was usually tanned. With difficulty, she made her way back across the hall. As she paused in the bedroom doorway, gripping the frame and trying to catch her breath, Levi appeared behind her.
“Determined little thing, aren’t you?” he commented, wrapping an arm lightly around her waist and guiding her to the bed. He wanted to ask her about the things she had said last night, ask who Finn was, but he suspected she wouldn’t answer.
“How are you feeling?” he asked instead and she responded with a groan as she fell onto the bed.
“I need to clean these again,” he indicated her bandages.
“OK,” her agreement was a reluctant mumble. He touched her face and she blinked in surprise at the gestures before realizing he was checking her temperature. The fever had broken but he would bet she felt like hell.
“Are you hungry?” he asked, hoping she would say yes.
“Definitely not,” she responded quickly, her voice rasping. he nodded and still breathed a sigh of relief that she seemed to have able to ward off the change. She was stronger than he had thought.
She lay still and silent as he tended to her but her jaw and fists were tightly clenched, her eyes closed. When he had finished, he sat back and scrubbed at his face with his hands. He was tired. He had not slept more than brief dozes between her fever dreams in the past 48 hours. When he lifted his head she was watching him but the curiosity that he had seen in her bright eyes yesterday was dulled.
“Are you OK?” she asked softly and he barked a short laugh.
“Me? I’m fine,” he replied, “It’s you we’re trying to fix.”
“You look tired. I’m imposing on your sleep, and your life.” Her voice was different today and it wasn’t just the raw scratchiness that probably came from fever and screams; it seemed flat, weary.
“I need to leave, there’s something I need to do. I don’t want to leave you alone –“
“I’ll be fine,” she interrupted, quickly, “Go and do whatever you need, I’ve interrupted your life more than enough. I’m fine.” He knew it wasn’t true but if he didn’t show up today then Tristan would come looking for him and he couldn’t let him find Ellie here. He went to the kitchen and returned with two steaming mugs this time. She eyed them both with disdain.
“This one first,” he offered her one, placing the other by the bed. She sniffed and blanched, glancing quickly up at him. He raised his eyebrows at her.
“Just trust me and drink it,” he told her, sternly. She quickly gulped a few mouthfuls and shuddered. He took it from her hands and passed her the other.
“This is willow bark, I know you don’t like it either but just sip on it for a bit ok?” She nodded, meekly and he backed away from the bed.
“Just try to rest,” he instructed and headed for the door. He paused, looking back over his shoulder at her. She was staring into the mug in her hands. He couldn’t believe the lengths he would go to already to keep her safe, he barely knew her and yet felt as though he had always known her, as though there would be a hole in life where she had been when she was gone. And she had go, he had no doubt of that. He left, but worry for her was on his mind every minute.
She sipped slowly on the willow bark a few times before placing it on the nightstand. She knew she should probably drink more but she didn’t feel like she could stomach it. Sure enough, a few minutes later, she hauled herself from the bed and dashed as fast as she could across the hall, falling to her knees in front of the toilet and throwing up the brews. She cursed several times, vicious pain shooting from her right knee. When her stomach was empty she sat back against the wall and closed her eyes, the room spinning slightly. What the hell had those Lycan things done to her? She crawled over to the sink and pulled herself up, rinsing her mouth and splashing her face before sliding down, resting against the cupboard under the basin. She wasn’t sure how long she sat there on the floor but she figured an hour or so passed. She didn’t have the strength to get back up and instead opted for a slow and awkward crawl back to the bedroom. Thank goodness Levi wasn’t here to see.
When she was settled back on the bed she eyed the mugs on the dresser. The willow bark she knew was for pain, the other she thought might have been for the fever and infection, she vaguely remembered drinking it last night. She knew she should drink more of both of them. Tentatively, she took a small sip of each. They were stone cold but this seemed to help. When minutes passed and all seemed well, she repeated the process. Picking up Little Women she continued her reading, taking tiny sips of each at intervals. Her eyes grew heavy as she read and eventually she fell asleep, the book laying open on her chest.