The phone rang only once before it was picked up. "Hel---HEY! Get that squirrel out of there!!! No, not blue! Uh . . . sorry, what was the question again?"
Mark says, "Um, could I speak to Kayla, please?"
"Sure I'll g---DAMMIT! I said NOT blue. That'll never come out of his fur. I'll get her, hold on."
"I don't want to hold him, you hold him. No, I don't like rodents. Hello? Prudence Nut House, Nurse Kayla speaking."
"Hey, Kayla, it's Mark." Taking a deep breath, he came straight to the point, "I made you a promise last night, and I need you to release me. She needs to know."
There was a long silence, then Kayla said, "Just a second." He heard footsteps, then a door opening and closing, and the background noise faded considerably. "Why?" she demanded.
"Because we just found out how her mother died. She starved to death when she wouldn't leave her father when he was in the mountains, unconscious, with a broken leg. I'm trying to get Kristen to promise not to do that."
Another uncomfortable silence, then Kayla sighed. "Shit."
"Yes," he agreed. "She's refusing. Saying that she'll starve herself if I die for any reason. I need to tell her. Please."
Kayla sighed. "It wouldn't matter, Mark. It's possible that she would leave me for you, even if she loved me, but she wouldn't live for me without you."
"I think she might, Kayla. When I brought up someone loving her, her counter argument is that they would have fallen in love with her knowing how she felt about me. This is the counter to that."
"It doesn't matter. Look, I lied to you the other night. I would have told you eventually, but it hurt and I didn't want to deal with it, so please forgive me."
"You know how you said that there were, like, bits of her tangled up with bits of you and it would hurt both of you to try and untangle them, and I said something like, 'I don't know what it is, could be a lot of things'?"
"Okay," Mark said, bewildered. "What is it?"
"See, sometimes people have like, a bond, right from first sight. Like they're just meant to be together, like they each have part of the other in their soul so they're just not whole without their opposite. It's called a lot of things...true love, soulmates, soulbonded, lifebonded . . . but it all means the same thing."
"And," she continued, "hysterical romantics aside, most people don't die if their significant other dies. They might want to for a while, but they grieve, they get over it, they go on with their lives. Soulmates aren't like that. They never get over it. They just hurt and hurt until they die from it."
"Fuck." Mark was silent for a few moments, his mind working frantically. I can feel my bond with Kristen, he thought. _No doubt about that, and that explanation feels true, but . . . is there any reason she couldn't have the same sort of bond with Kayla? Wouldn't I feel it if she did? Something, anyway? Wait . . . she would._ "Kayla, will you do something for me? Right now? Close your eyes. Try to shut out all outside distractions. Separate what's you from what's not. Tell me what you feel."
"Mark, hon, this is a bad thing to talk about on the phone, but . . . look, I'm psychically a dead zone. I don't 'feel' a damned thing, and never will."
"I have trouble believing you, Kayla," he said. "There was a feedback loop last night, you can't be a dead zone. Maybe there's something else interfering, but . . . " He broke off, on the verge of suggesting that maybe Kristen was bonded to her as well. _Better not. If they're not, I wouldn't want to raise her hopes like that. It would be cruel._ "But anyway," he continued, a bit awkwardly, "just because Kristen and I are lifebonded doesn't mean there's not hope for you, you know. And I still want to tell her. Maybe it won't help. Maybe nothing can stop her. But . . . damn it, I can't not fight the idea with every weapon I have. Could you?"
Kayla sighed. "Got me there. Okay, fine. Go ahead and tell her. Maybe it will help."
"Thank you." He paused again, wishing he had something to say that would actually help. "I mean it, Kayla. Thanks. I'll let you know how it turns out."
"Yeah. Okay," she said sadly. "Later."
"Later." He hung up, and headed back into the living room, where Kristen watched for him silently from the couch.
Mark sat down next to her. "Thank you for trusting me, love. I was getting close to breaking a promise. I had to get permission to tell you something. But I'd like you to do something, first. Close your eyes, and separate out what's you, and what isn't. Can you feel where we're kind of . . . tangled up together?"
She frowned and shook her head. "I . . . don't know, Mark."
Mark closed his eyes, and tried to 'tug' on her.
Without thinking about it at all, Kristen crawled into his lap.
"Did you feel that?" he asked.
She looked up at him, wide-eyed. "Yes," she said, and lay her head on his shoulder, molding her body as tightly to his as possible.
Steven frowned. "Feel what? What is going on?"
Mark flushed. "Ah . . . the only way I can explain it is, well, magic. Give me just a moment, and I'll try to explain. I want to try something first."
Kristen's father nodded, though somewhat reluctantly.
"Thanks." Mark looked back to the girl in his lap. "OK. Can you feel another place that feels like that?"
"Not exactly." She nibbled her lower lip while she thought. "There are . . . similar things, I think, but it's all tangled up."
"More than one more place like that?" he asked, surprised.
Kristen looked away. "I . . . think so. I can't really tell. Sorry."
"It's okay, love." He hugged her tightly. "I just wanted to know. We have what Kayla calls a lifebond. That's what that tangled up place with us is, and why she looked so sad when I mentioned it."
"Why, is there something wrong with it?" she asked. "It doesn't sound like a bad thing . . ."
Mark smiled, then kissed her gently. "She's been in love with you for as long as she can remember. She'd be devastated if you let yourself die."
She laughed. "Mark, that's ridiculous."
"I've known Kayla for years, but we've only even been friends these past couple of weeks, really."
"She told me she fell in love with you the first time she saw you. Who do you think gathered the evidence and put that bastard in jail? Why do you think she was so mad at me for hurting you even accidentally? She loves you, Kristen. She made me promise not to tell you because she didn't want you to be confused by it, or hurt because you don't love her back." He paused, then managed a little smile. "I guess I should be honest, and admit that's why we had the conversation we did last night. I didn't want you to feel bad if you realized you did love her."
Kristen shook her head. "W . . . I'm so confused. Where did all this come from?"
"I think . . . I think she knew that you said you'd never fall in love again, and she didn't want to hurt you by asking for something you weren't willing to give. Plus, around here, telling another girl that you love them is probably more than a little risky."
"But I didn't think she even liked me."
"Defense mechanism?" he suggested.
She rubbed her temples. "My head hurts now. I don't know what to think." She looked at her father questioningly, but Steven just shrugged, as if to say, Don't look at me_, I didn't even know you were bi._
Mark wrapped his arms around Kristen. "Hey. I love you. You don't have to know what to think right now, love. It'll take you some time to work it through. You might look back, to the first time you remember seeing her, though, when you sit down to work on it." He squeezed her gently. "But will you give me that promise? Please?"
"I can't." She looked down, unable to meet his eyes. "I just can't. I won't lie to you, and I don't think I could. I'm so sorry, Mark." She glanced up at him, wincing at the pain on his face, and offered hesitantly, "Maybe . . . maybe later, when I've had some time. . ." Her voice trailed off and she looked down again. "I'm sorry," she whispered.
He closed his eyes and swallowed past the knot in his throat. "Gods. Okay, love, if you can't, you can't." He opened his eyes and looked at Steven. "Sorry. This really wasn't what I'd expected." A trace of the evil grin from before crossed his face. "I don't suppose you can think of a way for the two of us to go ahead and get married without causing a scandal, can you?"
Steven shook his head.. "Publicly, no. Privately, quietly . . . well, this isn't the dark ages. You don't have to post marriage bans anymore, you know. You just need parental permission."
"But could we get away with living together?" Mark asked.
"Again, publicly no. But your house is only a mile or so from here. And this is a big house, too. And there's a bit of woods that runs between them and hardly crosses a road at all. I don't want her taking that route alone, though. Not now."
Mark nodded. "Neither do I." He sighed. "I'd have to tell Dr. Ward, though. And I can't figure out a way to do that without . . . well . . . but if I don't, and word got out . . ."
"No. Telling David Ward any such thing would not be good," Steven said, his voice sharp. "And it's none of his damned business."
Mark raised an eyebrow. "She's one of my students. Wouldn't I be legally obligated to tell him? Or am I wrong about that?"
Steven shrugged. "Perhaps. But if he has a problem with it, I would be legally obligated to turn in to the police the tape I have of him threatening to expel Kristen for her behavior unless she . . . performed certain acts for him."
Kristen's mouth dropped open. "He didn't!?"
Mark frowned. "Okay, I'm not happy."
Steven smiled grimly. "Neither was he when I played the tape. Fortunately, he was stupid enough to approach me rather than her . . . as he already assumed I was enjoying the pleasures he so greatly desired." His jaw clenched angrily. "It's been...useful...however, having some control over the principal of her school. And I made it plain that Kristen could sleep with whoever she pleased . . . except him."
Mark shook his head in wonder. "Good lord." He looked down at Kristen. "On the other hand, it did work out fairly well. And that means there's nothing stopping us from getting married." He blinked suddenly, grinning as an idea occurred to him. "Heh. Right. And it gives us a way to give me some more freedom at school, and to get away with bringing her home every day. We just say that you decided to hold me personally responsible for her safety. He'll jump to a conclusion without me having to say anything."
The older man smiled and nodded. "I like it."
"Wait," Kristen interjected, "Hold on. You mean, like, get married now?"
"Yup." Mark tightened his arms around her unconsciously. "Unless you don't want to, love, I'm not trying to rush you."
She shook her head, looking a bit overwhelmed. "Um. Just . . . man, things changed fast. I thought we were talking, like . . . years."
"We were. And if you aren't ready yet, love," he says gently, "that's fine. I'm not trying to rush you."
"Well . . . " She nibbled thoughtfully on her lower lip. "If we did, then it would be legal for me to be with you, wouldn't it?"
"It would be."
"Oh." She looked back at her hands in her lap. "A . . . and I could sleep with you every night?"
He kissed her forehead gently, "Of course.".
"Oh my," she whispered wistfully, then looked up at him. "But if you changed your mind later, people would say that you'd just gotten bored because I grew up and would say the most horrible things about you."
"I'm not going to change my mind, love. Don't worry about that," he said firmly.
She smiled. "Then why wait? If you're arrested, I'll lose you. If we're married, then no matter what, they can't take you from me that way."
"Wonderful!" He smiled down at her, his delight plain, then looked over at Steven. "How soon can we manage it?"
"Hmm." Steven thought for a second. "File for the license, wait three days, have a JP perform the ceremony and you're set. Less than a week."
"We'll probably want to do it quite a ways from here, won't we?" Mark asked.
"You pretty much have to. It's closer to Dallas than it is the county courthouse."
Mark nodded. "Point." He hugged Kristen again, burying his face in her soft curls, then smiled down at her. "Why don't you go pack up the stuff you'll need? There are a couple more things that I want to talk to your dad about, and . . . well, I'd kind of like some privacy."
Kristen looked puzzled. "Um . . . school, work for you? Can we just run off like that, love?"
He shook his head. "Sorry, I meant that you'll need to stay over with me. We'll drive up and file for the license, then drive up again for the ceremony."
"Oh! Okay. I guess it's okay. Um, call me when I can come back down, then," She reached up and caressed his cheek, her eyes nervous and questioning. He smiled again turned his face to kiss her palm.
"It's okay, love, I promise. I'll come get you when I'm done, alright?" She frowned, but nodded and reluctantly slid off of his lap, looking back over her shoulder as she walked towards the stairs.
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