It was early enough that Kristen was still alone in the library, except for the librarian. She looked up at him, surprised, when he sat down beside her.
"Love, we've got a bit of a problem," he said, quietly, and she went pale.
He sighed, hating the fear in her eyes, but she needed to know. She deserved to know. "I found out why she never apologized to you," he said.
"What do you mean? I didn't expect her to!"
"She's obsessed, love," he said softly. "With you."
"What?" Kristen stared at him, her green eyes wide.
"She's obsessed with you," he repeated. "In a manner of speaking. Just like me. Once wasn't enough for her."
She shook her head in sudden panic. "Once is all she's getting!"
He reached for her shoulders. "Easy, love!" She swallowed hard, shaking, and he frowned. "Why are you so upset?"
She wrapped her arms around her ribs and looked down at the floor. "I'm sorry," she said tightly. "And I'm sorry if she's obsessed with me. B-but I don't care. I still won't do it again. I... I can say 'no', now. I can!"
"Whoa, love! I'm not asking you to." He tilted her chin up and studied her face. "Why are you so frightened? Are you tempted?"
"No," she said firmly. "Not at all. I can't stand the thought."
He tried to read her face, but he couldn't tell whether or not that was what she really felt. And even if it was, her reaction still seemed to be too much. He frowned. "Why does it bother you as much as it does?" he asked. "This seem... excessive. It might be important."
"It hurt, Mark," she said. "I wanted to die. I'd never felt more humiliated in my life."
He was still struggling to understand. "But from what you said, some of the boys said things almost as bad. Why did this in particular bother you so much?"
She shivered. "Not that bad," she whispered. "But... it just does. She wasn't a boy, she was an adult, and I trusted her. I thought she cared."
He stared at her for a long moment, his face thoughtful. "I see. You say you can tell her 'no'?"
"I don't want her to touch me," she said. "I don't want to see her at all."
He caressed her cheek. "Love, I won't force you... but would you at least see her long enough to let her apologize."
She started trembling more violently, and shook her head mutely.
He frowned, even more concerned now. "Love, something is wrong here. I'm thinking it may have something to do with your... nature. Can you figure out why the thought of ever seeing her bothers you so much?"
She bit her lip hard enough to draw blood and shook her head. "She hurt me. I don't want to put myself where she can do it again."
He rested his hand on her shoulder. "Do you trust me to protect you?"
"Yes, she whispered. "But not to be omnipotent."
"Love, she knows I can have her thrown in jail. And... I don't think she wants to hurt you. Trust me? Please?"
She whimpered. "I trust you. But I'm too scared. I don't think I could make myself talk to her."
"Can you let her talk to you? If I'm touching you at all times, with you always?"
Her eyes glistened. "Don't let her touch me?"
"I won't. I promise."
"If... if you really want me to, I will, then," she whispered. "But... oh god, Mark, I don't want to!"
He caressed her shoulders soothingly. "Love, I think it will help you to hear her apologize. Please?"
She avoided his eyes. "I said I would, Mark."
He nodded, and took her hands, pulling her to her feet.
She went reluctantly, dragging her feet as he led her towards the counselor's office. As they neared the door, though, she grew more and more agitated before finally yanking away and running into the nearby bathroom.
He stopped outside the door for a moment, thinking maybe she needed some time alone to gather her nerve, but violent retching sounds came to him faintly through the thick door.
He frowned, looking around, and then pushed the door partway open, calling hesitantly, "Is anyone else in there?" There was no answer, so he stepped inside, just as Kristen finished being violently ill and staggered to the sink, turning it on and splashing cold water on her face.
He went to her, smoothing the hair back from her face, resting one hand on her back. "Are you okay, love?"
She leaned miserably against the mirror, looking like utter shit. Her face was pale and splotchy, her eyes closed in misery. "Not really."
"I don't know. I just... I got so scared I couldn't stop myself from being sick."
"I won't let her hurt you, love. I promise."
"I know." She leaned back over the sink, rinsing her mouth and washing her face. Finally, she looked up at him, and he held out his hand. She stared at it for a few seconds, then took it.
He squeezed. "I love you."
She smiled weakly. "Love you, too."
Once again he led her towards the office, and this time she made it all the way, but balked at the door, pulling hard against his hand. He stopped, and looked down at her for a moment, then said, "Wait here a second? Let me talk to her first?"
She nodded, the relief plain on her face. "Absolutely."
He stepped inside, closing the door behind him, and Angie looked up miserably.
"I want you to apologize to her," he said. "Whatever you do, don't hurt her again. Just the thought of seeing you frightens her so much that it made her sick."
Angie started shaking again. "No! Keep her away from me. Don't let her near me."
He shook his head. "You hurt her, badly, and she needs to hear you apologize. I'm going to be here, so I know you won't do anything."
"I don't trust myself," she said. "I don't know what I might do. Please keep her away... it's just not safe. Call the police if you want to, but don't expose her to me."
He shook his head again. "I'm going to be right here, and I'm going to be between the two of you at all times. I'm not going to let you hurt her... but don't even try, okay?"
"Look... I... I don't think I'm sane, okay? Not in this. It's totally crazy. Please don't!" she begged.
He didn't answer, just opened the door and called softly. "Love?"
She stared at him from across the hall, and he held out his hand. Reluctantly, she let him draw her into the office, and held her hand, comfortingly, as he closed the door. He held her, and looked at Angie. "I think you owe her an apology, Angie?" he prompted gently.
Angie closed her eyes tightly, her whole body vibrating with tension, and nodded, but seemed totally unable to speak.
"Angie? Tell her."
"Kristen..." Her voice was shaky, strained. "I... I'm so sorry. There's nothing wrong with you. It's... it's not your fault. It's me. I'm sick, insane. Oh god."
Kristen was shaking, terrified, but unable to look away.
"I'm sorry," Angie said. "I'm so sorry... I don't know what's wrong with me, I don't understand. Just s-stay away, honey, please!"
Kristen pulled away from Mark and backed up against the door, eyes wide. "But she was right, Mark," she said, looking up at him. "You know she was."
"No. She wasn't."
She shook her head. "What's the difference?" she asked. "It's just semantics."
He stepped close to her, and whispered in her ear. "Love... there's nothing wrong with what you are. She was just scared. She'd never felt anything like that before, especially for another woman. Ask her why she hurt you."
Kristen swallowed hard, and looked at Angie. "W-why? Why did you want to hurt me so much? Why did you hate me like that?"
"Hate you?" Angie stared at her, horrified. "God... god help me. I was so scared... I just had to get you away from me, make you stay away. I couldn't resist you, couldn't stop myself from abusing you, and I didn't know why. I still don't know why. I panicked, blamed you for my own sickness, but honey, it's not your fault. I knew those things were a lie even when I said them."
Mark squeezed Kristen's shoulder.
"I... I don't know what to say! It hurts!" She whimpered, hunching over as if struck in the stomach, and Mark wrapped his arms around her, supporting her, soothing her.
"Tell her what hurts, love," he urged gently.
She moaned. "I don't know. I don't know!" She shuddered, whimpering, then blurted out, "She didn't want me! She told me to go away!"
Mark looked over at Angie, wanting to see her reaction to that.
She was crying, shaking as hard as Kristen, and looking sick and miserable. "I told you to go away because I wanted you. I wanted you too much," she said. "You're not safe around me."
"You don't hate her?" Mark asked. "You don't think she's sick?"
"No!" Angie shook her head violently. "Not her, me! I hate myself, I'm sick!"
"Why?" he asked. Kristen was shivering violently, hanging in his arms, her own legs too weak to hold her up.
Angie stared at him in confusion. "How can you even ask that question?"
"How do you feel about her, Angie? Tell me the truth, even if you've been lying to yourself."
"I'm obsessed," she whispered. I still want her, even more badly than before. It's like a constant, aching need."
"But how do you feel about her?" he insisted.
"You said you don't hate her," he said. "What do you feel, then?"
He looked straight into her wide, panicked eyes. "Are you in love with her, Angie?"
"That's totally impossible."
"I am a grown woman. I am not a homosexual. I am married, and I do love my husband," she said, a desperate edge to her voice.
"And?" he asked.
"And it's impossible."
"And I don't know!"
He held Kristen tightly, and looked at her. "You are, aren't you?" he asked softly.
"I don't know. I've never felt this way. It's totally insane."
He nodded. "Of course it is." He closed his eyes. He'd checked for a link between them before, but couldn't find anything. Now, he checked again, looking deeper inside Kristen. There was... something. It didn't touch him, just Kristen and Angie, but there was something there. Something raw, and red, and throbbing with pain.
Kristen looked up at him as he gently tugged on the threads that joined her to him, and he tried to draw her attention to the area. Her eyes filled with tears, and she stiffened, blinded by pain. He pulled her close against him, holding her up.
Mark sighed. "This is... awkward." He bent his head to whisper in Kristen's ear. "I'm not sure... but I think she's life-bonded to you. That's why it hurts so much."
"I don't understand," she whispered back. "Kayla said that they're rare. How? And it hurts. Not like you and her."
"I don't know, love. Maybe you have so many because of what you are? Or maybe you... make them more probable? Something like that?"
She closed her eyes. "I don't know, Mark. I just know it hurts, and I can't handle it."
"I think it hurts because of the... conflict between you, and if that's the case... it won't get better until it's resolved."
He sighed again. "I don't know. Why don't we try... tell her how it made you feel. Tell her how much you hurt. Maybe that will at least be a start."
She trembled in his arms, and whispered, "I can't. I really, really can't."
"It hurts too bad. Please let me go, it doesn't hurt if I'm not with her, not unless I think about it. Please!" she begged.
He hugged her, cradling her against his chest. "Okay, love. But... can you forgive her."
"No!" She yanked back, looking up at him, her eyes full of anger and pain.
"Do you hate her?" he asked.
She slumped. "No," she said, more quietly. "Maybe. I don't know. I just can't forgive her. For hurting me, yes, but not for sending me away."
"She was trying to protect you, love, the only way she knew how. She thought if you hated her, you'd be safe."
Kristen shook her head stubbornly. "Then she should have sent me away before anything happened. It would have been okay, then."
"I don't think she could stop herself, love. Not before." He kissed her gently. "Tell her, please."
Kristen looked at Angie, who was collapsed over her desk, her head buried in her arms, and didn't say anything.
He stared down at her, realizing suddenly that she looked bad. Very bad. Faded and fragile. Alarmed, he closed his eyes, looking again for the raw, angry area. It wasn't hard to find. He just had to follow her energy as it was drained into the pulsing red hole. He tried to surround the area, block the energy flowing into it, but nothing he tried seemed to help.
He opened his eyes and looked at Kristen. "All right, love. Go find Kayla. I'm going to talk to her a bit more. She's hurting as bad as you are, you know. Maybe worse."
Kristen whispered, "She didn't have to send me away."
"I know," he said. "And it's killing her." He wanted her out of the room, somewhere safe where the pain from the injured link wouldn't drain her, but there was one thing he had to know, first. "Tell me... what would you do if she wanted you to come back?"
The flawed link pulsed brightly, and Kristen passed out.
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