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Prudence, Chapter 52

They all met at Steven's house, since Mark's was still pretty much in pieces from the remodeling. Steven's den was a cozy, comfortable place to talk, though, with its soft leather couch and over-stuffed armchairs.

Mark pulled Kristen close to his side and looked at Kayla and Aaron. "Okay. We've got a bit of a problem. I'm hoping you can help, Kayla. If not... I'm not sure where to go from here."

Kayla arched her eyebrow. "Well?"

"You saw how bad Kristen looked this morning? That was after she gave me a blowjob in the counselor's office," he said bluntly.

She frowned. "What were you doing in the counselor's office? What put her in that shape to begin with?"

He sighed as Kristen hid her face against his arm. "Seeing Angie did. It's... there's a life-bond there, I think. But it's like a raw, bleeding wound that gets worse when she gets closer, or thinks about it too much. And something seemed to short circuit when I asked Kristen a question."

"A life-bond," Kayla said carefully. "With Mrs. Angie? One that hurts Kris?"

He nodded, stroking Kristen's hair. "It hurts because she sent Kristen away. And the question I asked Kristen was how she'd feel if Angie wanted her to come back." He watched Kristen carefully as he explained. He didn't want to hurt her, but he did want to know what the bond would do.

Kristen didn't faint, this time. She shivered violently and clutched at his arm, though, and the bond flared angrily and seemed to drain a bit more energy from her.

Kayla frowned thoughtfully. "Maybe it hurts because she sent her away, or maybe she sent her away because there was something wrong with it in the first place."

Mark shook his head. "It just drained some energy from her when I repeated that. She sent her away to try to protect her. She considers herself a child molester and a failure."

"If it's a life-bond, she shouldn't have been able to send her away, Mark," Kayla said.

"I know. I think the problem is the rejection."

"So what do you think needs to be done?" she asked.

"I'm not sure." Mark sighed. "I know this is hurting Kristen. It's really hurting Angie, too. I'd like for them to not be hurting."

Kayla rubbed her forehead. "I don't know, Mark. I just don't know," she said. "You're not supposed to have more than one life-bond. That's just the way things work." Beside her, Aaron was flipping through the information his mother had sent, frowning.

"She does, though," Mark said. "I think it's got to do with being what she is. What if the potential for life-bonds is far more common than actual bonds, and they only occur under certain circumstances? It would be reasonable for her kind to develop the ability to make the actual bonds form more easily."

"Okay, here's all it says..." Aaron looked up from the papers. "It says if her mate resists her, then she's his slave. And it says that if she leaves, her mate will die of it. But I don't find anything on what happens if the person gives in and then leaves her. It's like it's not even an acknowledged possibility."

Mark nodded. "Yeah. I suspect it was only possible because Angie was trying to protect her."

Frowning, her eyes speculative, Kayla asked suddenly, "What would happen if Angie died?"

Kristen moaned miserably, then sagged against Mark, whimpering.

"Shit!" Kayla went a bit pale herself. "Sorry, honey. Okay. Bad idea, then."

Mark pulled Kristen into his lap, holding her close. "Honestly, I think there's only one solution to the problem," he said. "And it's not up to us. But I'm hoping y'all can think of something."

Kayla sighed. "Keep her well fed and keep her the hell away from Angie, is all I can suggest," she said. "If neither of them are willing to take the most obvious solution, that's all we can do."

"Yeah," Mark agreed tiredly. "I had a long talk with Angie. She's thinking about things, but I don't know. I think that if she could get over the feeling that homosexuality is a sin..."

"No," Kristen said, raising her head and speaking for the first time since they'd all sat down to talk. "I'm not giving her a chance to send me away again!"

"Love, it's your choice," Mark said, softly. "But would you rather be with her or without her?"

She shivered again, and her skin paled even more. "I can't risk it," she said. "I can't. It would kill me if it happened again."

He gathered her against his chest, rocking her gently. "I won't let her hurt you. But if you could pick one outcome, what would it be? With her, or without her?"

She was quiet for a moment, then whispered, "With. But... not with then without. Either forever or not at all."

"Okay, love." He kissed the top of her head. "I won't let her near you until I'm convinced she's made up her mind for good. Okay?"

"No, not really," she said, her face muffled against his chest. "But I can't think of any way to make things okay, so I guess it'll do."

"I know, love. She realizes how much it hurt you now, though, I think."

She shivered again, then looked up at him pleadingly. "I don't want to think about it. It's too much right now. Please?"

He kissed her gently. "Of course." She looked so fragile. Not to the point of being drained and desiccated as she had been that one time, but still too thin, too frail. Her pale skin looked stretched and almost translucent, like it would bruise at the lightest touch, and she lay too still in his arms, weak and exhausted. He caressed her cheek gently, then looked up at the others.

"I move that we all take this beautiful girl to bed and make passionate love to her for hours and hours? Do I hear a second?" he asked.

Kayla cocked her head, smiling slightly. "Hmm... Well, it's a dirty job, but... ah who am I kidding. Pick her up, Mark, she's too slow."

They skipped supper. Mark had recently noticed that he and Kristen, at least, seemed to do that a lot. He never felt any hungrier than normal, though, and hadn't lost any weight. Apparently, despite the legends they'd been able to find that implied that Kristen's kind -- or at least their closest guess -- tended to drain their lovers, the opposite was closer to the truth. It made him wonder if they were really on the right track with the 'Leanan Sidhe' definition at all. Not that he particularly cared; he loved her, whatever her ancestry.

The addition of Aaron to their happy little orgy had benefits other than the obvious. Primarily, it meant that Mark no longer had to get out of bed to drive Kayla home afterward. That made life much easier, particularly when Kristen curled up into a little glowing ball and went to sleep. He could just tuck the blanket around her, untangle her hair from his neck, lie there with her cuddled next to him, and read one of the books Kayla had loaned him until he could join her in sleep.

Someone was holding Kristen down. She was struggling and frightened and he couldn't get to her, and they'd pried her jaw open and were forcing handful after handful of pills down her throat while she cried and gagged. He knew he was dreaming, but it didn't matter... something was dreadfully wrong.

Mark forced himself awake and reached for Kristen with a strangled cry. To his horror, she was cool to the touch and barely breathing, and the bright glow she'd radiated when she went to sleep had already dimmed to a bare hint of luminescence. He looked for the damaged bond, but had to close his eyes to find it. It was still draining energy from her, not fast enough to be immediately life-threatening, but steady enough that it would be if it continued. It was darker than it had been, and had a somewhat 'numb' feel to it, as if something were dampening the pain but not stopping the flow of energy.

He swore under his breath, and shook her shoulders. "Wake up, baby."

She half-opened her eyes, but she couldn't seem to manage to get them to focus on him, so she gave up and closed them again. "Mark?" she whispered, barely audible. "It's cold." With a little sigh, her head fell to the side.

Terrified, and fighting a heavy, unnatural feeling lethargy of his own, Mark grabbed for his cell-phone, thanking any gods that cared to listen that they'd thought to get Kayla one, too.

"Mmmm? Hm?"

"Kayla, wake up. I think Angie's committing suicide."

"What? How?" Her voice was harsh, heavy with sleep.

"I dreamed about someone forcing pills down Kristen's throat." He shook his head, trying to wake himself up but having trouble despite his near panic. "She's cold. I can't get her to wake up... and that life bond is draining more energy from her. She's hardly glowing. It's the logical conclusion. Wake up, Kayla! I think it's affecting us, too."

"Hospital," she said, thickly. "Take her to a hospital. Call the sheriff. Say someone called, sounded like there were going to kill themselves. Say you think it was Angie."

"Would a hospital be able to even help her?" He'd thought it wouldn't, since the problem was magical, but...

"Maybe," she said. "Life support. Keep her breathing."

He looked down at Kristen, reaching for her limp wrist. She still felt cold. Her breathing was about half the speed it should be, even sleeping, and her pulse, once he managed to find it, was weak and frighteningly slow. He shook her like before, but she didn't even stir. "Right," he said. "You get up and walk around. Oh shit, call Aaron too. Wake him up, get him moving." He shook Kristen again, trying to force her to wake up, but there was no response at all.

"Right," Kayla said. "Think we'll be okay if Kris is. Go."

"Going. Bye."

He dialed the sheriff then held the phone to his ear with one hand while he pulled on his jeans with the other. It only rang once before being answered. "Sheriff Smith. What's the emergency?"

"Sheriff, this is Mark Hasseran. I just got a really disturbing call from someone who sounded like she was killing herself." He fumbled around beside the bed, hunting Kristen's sweater.

"Do you know who it was?"

"I'm... not certain. I think so. It sounded like Angie Sloan, the counselor at the school. Maybe. It was hard to tell."

"Ah hell. Do you have the number on your cell-phone, or was it your home phone?"

"I don't have the number, sorry." At least that part wasn't a lie. Mark held the phone with his shoulder and carefully pulled the sweater over Kristen's head, trying not to panic at the way her body flopped limply in his hands.

"Shit. Okay. I'm not that far from the Sloan place, anyway. I'll go check things out. I need you to stay by the phone in case whoever it is calls back, and I'll give you a call when I know something."

"Actually, Sheriff, I can't. I'm sorry, but if she'd called five minutes later, I'd have been gone. My wife's unconscious, and not breathing well, and I'm taking her to the emergency room." 45 minutes away. At best. Damn it.

"Shit!" The exclamation was somehow both sympathetic and apologetic -- a linguistic talent particular to small-town southerners. "Yeah, go son. Though... if I have to call the copter for Angie, it'd be faster to have them take your wife, too. Wait... what wife?"

"Oh, shit. You haven't heard?" The jeans were harder to get on her than the sweater, and since it covered her nearly to her knees, anyway, he threw them back on the floor. "I figured word was all over." He sighed. "I married Kristen Davis a little while ago. We kept it quiet until I could talk to the school board."

"Well I will be god-damned! What is it with you, Hasseran?" Sheriff Smith laughed, the kind of harsh, barking laugh you get from too many cigarettes for too many years. "Do you like having people out for your blood or something? Okay. Well, I'm nearly to the Sloan's. Get Kristen in the car, start driving down Main Street towards the interstate. You'll pass my car in about five miles. I'll be waiting to flag you on if everything's fine. If I'm not, pull in and the hospital copter'll be here in less'n 15 minutes.

Meaning she'd be at the hospital in half an hour, and receiving care from the time the ambulance-equipped helicopter got there. Mark let out a breath of relief. "Will do. Thanks."

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