Mark caught Kristen and cradled her to his chest, worriedly examining the damaged link. As far as he could tell, it hadn't taken on any more damage, and didn't seem to be draining her any faster. He needed to get her away, but he still had some time before she was in any danger. "Wonderful," he said, with a sigh, then looked over at Angie. "I'm not sure what to do at this point. I don't know if I can trust you."
She looked up from her sobbing, her face red and blotchy, and her eyes widened with surprise upon seeing Kristen unconscious in his lap. "Oh God! What happened?!"
He stared at her, considering, judging. "Can I trust you, Angie? To keep something a complete and utter secret? Something that could kill her if it got out?"
"I never wanted to hurt her," she whispered. "I would never endanger her."
"Damn it... I just don't know if this is a good idea." He sighed. "I really don't. But... Kayla trusts you. And I don't think you meant to do this to Kristen. She's in pain, actual, physical pain, whenever she sees you, because you sent her away. And being this close to you is... draining her. Not fast, but it it's doing it."
"I don't understand," she said, shaking her head.
He sighed again. "No, you probably don't. I'm not sure how to explain it, either. If it wasn't for the raw, gaping wound this is causing, I'd think it might just be kinder to leave you ignorant." He stared into space for a moment, then asked, "Are you religious?"
She flinched, looking deeply ashamed. "I always considered myself so."
"Hmm. Do you believe in the idea of, well... soul-mates?"
"No, not really," she said with a bitter half smile. "Love is something you really have to work to maintain. The whole 'love at first sight, happily ever after' thing is a dangerous myth."
"Mostly, yes," he agreed. "But not always. Sometimes love at first sight does happen. It did for Kristen and me. We still have to work at it, of course. It doesn't stop us from hurting each other... just like it didn't stop you from hurting her."
She shook her head. "Mark, I can't be in love with her. I just can't."
He smiled. "That's kind of what I said. It didn't help me either."
"You don't understand. I'm married."
"I know," he said. "That's why I said I thought it would be kinder to leave you ignorant. I'm not sure what to do."
"I don't understand any of this," she said. "What's happened to her, why isn't she waking up?"
He closed his eyes again, checking to make sure Kristen was still okay. The small, steady drain continued, but was still not near the dangerous point. He bent and slid a hand behind her knees, then sat down with her on his lap.
He sighed. "This is where I have to decide to trust you," he said, swallowing nervously and hoping like hell he was doing the right thing. "Kristen is... not entirely human, though she's not a demon or anything like that."
"Wh-what do you mean?"
"She's... different. With different needs. Do you remember when she got sick a month or so ago?"
She nodded, still confused.
"That happened when she stopped sleeping around," he said.
Angie blinked at him. "Huh?"
"Sex provides... energy, I guess you would call it, for her," he said. "She need that as much as she needs food or water. Without it..." He shrugged, stroking Kristen's hair.
"She eats sex?!" Angie stared at him, wide-eyed. "You're crazy, too!"
He shook his head. "I'm not. If she wasn't so drained, I could prove it... and if she gets much more drained, it will be visible." He checked her again. She was still within 'safe' ranges, but she looked exhausted, pale, and sickly.
"You... she..." Angie stammered, trembling as she looked at them with horror. "She is a demon, a vampire! Oh God, help us."
"No!" he snapped, then forced himself to respond more calmly. "No. Nothing like that. She's no more a demon than you or I, and she's not a vampire. She doesn't take anything from me."
"You were willing to risk your career, risk going to jail to have her," Angie said. "I... I was willing to do the same, even though I knew it would destroy my husband if he found out, and even though I knew I was damning my soul to hell."
"Love is so evil, then, that it damns you?" he asked softly.
He shook his head. "No, I don't think so. I think it's wrong, yes. It hurts your partner -- not so much that you had sex with someone else, but that you broke their trust. You promised them something, and then didn't keep your promise. That's what makes it so wrong. But it's not... it's not murder. It's not on that level at all."
"It's a betrayal of a sacred trust," she said. "And to do it with another woman... a young girl who was entrusted to me, who came to me for help.... Yes, it damns me."
"I'm not saying it was right, Angie. Not at all. You made a vow to your husband, and you didn't keep it. That was wrong. As to the homosexuality... I can't see why love is wrong, no matter what the sexes involved are. And as for her coming to you for help..." He sighed. "Angie, do you realize that you wouldn't have harmed her in the slightest if you had just been nice to her after you had sex with her? It was sending her away that's hurting her."
She didn't really seem to be listening to him. "She's not human," she said, and he could hear the belief in her voice. "That's why I couldn't resist her, isn't it?"
"That's part of it. The other part is that you fell in love with her the first time you saw her. She doesn't make you want her, Angie. All she does is..." He hesitated, groping for words. "She lets you feel how she feels about it. And now that she knows, she can control it, at least somewhat. What you felt was your desire and her desire, both, if that makes sense."
She leaned her head on her hands and groaned. "I don't know what to do. I don't know what to think. What is she then, if she's not a succubus?"
"I'm not sure yet. I've run across a couple of things that sound similar, but nothing that fits exactly yet. I think she's what spawned the legends of succubi. Imagine living your entire life, needing sex, not knowing why, causing men to lust after you like that... in the Dark Ages. It must have been hell."
"Mark... I'm not a man," she said. "And I'm not gay, really I'm not. It's not just denial, it's truth. I never even thought about it."
He nodded. "That's the thing with life-bonds, from what I've been able to find out," he said. "When they're there... they just are. It doesn't matter if you're straight or gay, whether you want to love them or not. You don't have a choice."
"What do I do?" she asked plaintively. "God... is she okay? Should she still be unconscious?"
"Angie... I don't know what you should do. I honestly don't. As for Kristen..." He closed his eyes. She wasn't any worse. In fact, she might have been slightly better. Maybe sitting in his lap had helped. He opened his eyes. "She'll be okay. I'll probably have to find a way to slip off with her before class..." He grimaced. "Though how I'm going to do that, I don't know."
She stared at Kristen with naked hunger, then shuddered and closed her eyes. "Just take her home, Mark. Tell them you're sick."
"You still want her," he said softly. "I know."
"Yes," she whispered hoarsely. "I still want her. I'll always want her. I... I'm going to get a divorce. This past year... it hasn't worked. It's just been hurting him." Tears ran freely down her cheeks.
He looked at her with sympathy. "Angie... has it not been working because of her? Or were there problems before that?" "Everyone has problems," she said. "It wasn't perfect, but it worked. We worked. I loved him... I still love him. But since--" She broke off, biting her lip hard as she swiped at her eyes. "I haven't wanted him, you know, physically. I've only wanted her. I tried, and he tried so hard to make me want him, but nothing worked, and trying just hurt him. We haven't made love in over six months. I've got to let him go."
"Shit. I'm sorry, Angie."
"Ten years, Mark. We've been together for ten years, and I can't even tell him why."
"Gods, I wish..." He shook his head. "I'm sorry, I wish there was something I could do."
"Just take her home," she said. "Take her home and take care of her. I won't tell anyone about her. I couldn't... I know what they would do to her, and whatever she is, she doesn't deserve that."
He looked at her, and something that had been flitting through his mind became a decision. "Angie... you can ask her. I don't know what her answer will be. You hurt her... terribly. But you can ask. I won't object."
"No, I can't," she said. "You not objecting doesn't make it okay with God, Mark. Even though I've failed, I still have to try."
He nodded, slowly. That was pretty much what he'd expected her to say. "Angie, I can't tell you what to believe. I wouldn't if I could. But... would the God you know make you fall in love with someone, only to tell you that you can't be with them? Would he condemn you to torture for the rest of your life, for something you had nothing to do with?"
"God tests his children, Mark."
"Testing is one thing," he said. "Torture is another, and I can't see Him doing that."
"I failed my test, Mark," she said, flatly. "If I'd resisted, maybe... but I didn't."
"You're judging yourself assuming that it was wrong to love her, Angie. What if it wasn't?"
"How could it not be?" she asked.
"Why would it be?" he countered.
She sighed. "Loving her may not be wrong... it may even make what I did less wrong. But giving in to it, that's what was wrong."
"Why would that be wrong?"
"Because it violated my oaths," she said. "It hurt other people. It was a sin. There's just no way around that."
"And when you've divorced your husband?" he asked. "Will it still be a sin?"
She smiled ironically. "It would still be having sex out of wedlock, Mark. Adultery, too, since she's married."
He looked at her thoughtfully. "I'll tell you a secret, Angie. She never vowed to be faithful. I wouldn't let her, and I didn't want her to. She wouldn't be cheating on me."
She closed her eyes tightly. "Go! Just go. There's only so much temptation that I can take."
"Angie, I'm sorry. I'm not trying to tempt you. But..." He sighed tiredly. "As long as you are rejecting her like this... it's like taking a wire brush to an open wound for her."
Angie shivered. "So anytime someone doesn't want her, it causes her pain? Real, physical pain?"
"No," he said. "Just someone she's got a life-bond with."
"This 'life-bond' thing," she said hesitantly. "Assuming for a moment that it's real... that doesn't bother you?"
"No, why should it?" he asked.
She just shook her head, looking at him as if he were crazy. "She's your wife."
"Yes. She is." He smiled, savoring the feeling of being able to say that. "But if she loves someone else, and still loves me, that doesn't take anything away from me. If it makes her happy... why should I object?"
She rubbed at her forehead. "I've got... I've got to think about all this. I'm taking the day off. Are you sure she's okay?"
"She will be. And..." He hesitated for a moment, then sighed. "I have to say this: Please don't discuss this with anyone else without asking, Angie. You know what would happen. And the Reverend was highly offended that I still have my job. He would love something to use as a way to fire me... and I think this conversation would qualify."
"I know, Mark," she said, slightly offended. "I said I wouldn't betray her, and I won't."
"Angie, I know you wouldn't... but I had to say it. I hope you understand. I'm sorry. If you need someone to talk to..."
She shook her head. "No. This in my problem. I'll work it out."
"You aren't going to do anything... rash, are you?" he asked.
She shook her head again. "I'm just going to think things over."
"Okay," he said, still a touch worried. "If you... want to talk more about it, or anything, maybe later tonight, give me a call, okay?"
"Sure," she said, giving him a tight smile.
He glanced down at Kristen thoughtfully. "You can kiss her goodbye, if you'd like."
She trembled violently, and shook her head, eyes wide. "No. No... that would be too much. God, God, God..."
"I'm sorry," he said. "I thought it might help, being able to touch her a least that much."
She laughed shakily, a touch of hysteria in it. "You don't help an alcoholic by giving him a wine cooler, Mark!"
"Mmm. Right. Sorry," he said.
She stood up. "I am going home. I haven't taken a sick day in the past two years. They can deal with it this once." Before he could say anything else, she practically ran out of the office, leaving him alone with Kristen.
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