Angie moaned and cupped Kristen's head in her hands, kissing her as if her very life depended on it, as if it were her last hope of salvation, her only promise of heaven.
Watching intently, his eyes half-closed so he could see how the lifebond reacted, Mark saw it pulse once, brightly, and then the red was burned away in a flare of gold fire, leaving a twisted strand of gold and amethyst. Energy started to flow from each of them into the other, somehow giving them both slightly more than they had before. He closed his eyes briefly, releasing the breath he hadn't realized he was holding, and relaxed gratefully.
Angie pulled away first, gazing down at Kristen with eyes full of wonder. The girl was glowing subtly, her skin a luminescent white, her eyes a drowning, vivid emerald green, and her hair flickered as if it were full of little red-gold flames. Angie's expression grew amazed, awestruck. "Angel..." she whispered, reverently.
Mark stared, stunned, wondering what had happened. Kristen hadn't been anywhere near that level of energy before the kiss. She'd hadn't been 'starving', but she hadn't been that far from it, either. Certainly she hadn't even come close to glowing. But a tremendous amount of energy had come from that initial release when they'd kissed. He'd 'seen' it, but hadn't realized just how much. Or how much of her 'normal' energy had been bound up by the painful, damaged bond...
Because, now, Kristen seemed to have so much more available to her, more than could be accounted for from just the bond with Angie. And Angie's line looked 'healthier' too. He realized, suddenly, that he'd been wrong before. The energy hadn't been flowing from Kristen into Angie when the link was bad-- it had been flowing from Kristen and Angie, into the corrupted bond. "My god," he whispered. "It's been draining into the link all this time..."
Kristen just sighed softly and sunk back against the pillows, smiling shyly up at Angie. Mark looked back and forth between them, judging their interaction. They both seemed calm and content. Quiet. Still shy of each other, still a bit frightened, and very, very careful, but happy.
Finally, Mark smiled down at Kristen. "Should we bring Aaron and Kayla back in? I guess we all need to talk. And then I need to call your dad and wake him up."
She wrinkled her nose. "I want to get out of this place, Mark. I want to go home."
He nodded sympathetically. "I know, love. It'll probably take a while to get that taken care of, but... we'll see what we can do." He squeezed her hand once more before standing and walking to the door. He stuck his head out and asked Kayla and Aaron to come back in.
Kayla stalked in suspiciously. "A nurse wanted to come in and check on her because her heart rate went up," she said, jerking her head towards Angie. "We convinced her you were just talking-- friends trying to help, a good cry would be the best thing for her, all that crap." She glared at the woman with undisguised hostility for a moment (though Aaron regarded her more sympathetically) and turned to Kristen, her expression softening. "You okay, angel?" she asked quietly, and Kristen smiled and reached out for her.
"Kayla... check their bond," Mark said, as the girl took Kristen's hand and sat on the side of the bed. She reached up, stroking red-gold curls back from her lover's face. She finally seemed to notice Kristen's faint glow, because she relaxed slightly, the stiff set of her shoulders loosening just a bit, right before she closed her eyes.
A moment later, she opened them again and shrugged, still distrustful. "So?" she asked. "She rejected it once before." The words were cold, hard, and her expression didn't even waver when Angie flinched as if struck and hung her head guiltily.
"Ask her, then," Mark said.
"I don't trust her, Mark. That's why I'm asking you."
He sighed. "I don't think she'll do it again. I think she's... come to her senses."
Kayla looked at him skeptically, then turned back to Kristen. "Kris?" she asked, tenderly.
Kristen turned her head, smiling, and kissed the inside of Kayla's wrist. "It's okay," she said softly. "It really is. Whatever was, um, sickening it... the bond, I mean... is gone. Don't worry."
The little brunette sighed, but none of the tension left her. "Okay, love. If you want it, I'll accept it. It just scared the fuck out of me to come so close to losing you."
"I'm fine," Kristen said, rubbing her cheek against Kayla's hand. "It'll be okay."
"Kayla, I didn't know!" Angie looked at her miserably. "I didn't know! I'll never... not now! Please..."
The girl's hard, wary expression didn't waver. She obviously wasn't going to trust the woman anytime soon. Mark stared thoughtfully at Angie, wondering if he actually trusted her, himself. Kayla was right— it was a risk. Several risks, really, and any one of them would hurt, or maybe kill, Kristen. They needed to know if they could trust her, or if it would be a new battle with each 'sin' she discovered. Considering it, he came to a decision. He held his hand out to Kayla.
She looked at him thoughtfully for a moment, then reached out and took his hand. She let him pull her to her feet, but her other hand kept hold of Kristen's, even as he wrapped his arms around her and kissed her gently but passionately. She returned the kiss with equal intensity, then pulled back and smiled up at him approvingly. "Love you, too, you old pervert," she said fondly, then brushed her lips across his once more before stepping away and returning to her place at Kristen's side.
She curled her knees up on the bed, sliding an arm around Kristen's shoulders, and smiled at him, challengingly this time. She knew what he was doing, obviously, but she was daring him to go all the way. To reveal it all. And, just as obviously, she wasn't sure he would.
He returned her smile, then turned to Aaron, who was staring at them with worried confusion. Mark reached out, taking both of the boy's hands in his. Aaron was frozen, stiff with shock and nervousness, but he'd never resist anything Mark wanted from him. Once more, just to be sure, Mark looked inside himself, feeling for the newest bond, 'seeing' the silver twining around his line, then stretching out and weaving a filagree net around the others, strengthening and supporting them. He smiled and looked down into Aaron's confused, frightened hazel eyes. "Aaron... I love you." He cupped the boy's pale cheek, gently caressing that bond, trying to let Aaron feel what he felt.
Tears gathered on dark lashes, and Aaron trembled in his arms. "I love you," he whispered. "I've always loved you. I always will love you. I'm yours, body and soul. Thank you, oh thank you!"
Mark buried a hand in his hair, tilting his face up, and kissed him gently. Aaron returned the kiss with desperate intensity, putting everything he offered in that one act, trembling with so much emotion that Mark could feel them pressing against his mind. Love, devotion, surrender... and relief from the fear that had been with him constantly as he waited to be either accepted or sent away. Mark curled his fingers around the boy's neck, tightening his fingers, accepting the offer and returning it just as strongly.
When Mark finally raised his head, Angie was staring at him, wide-eyed. As he watched, she looked helplessly at Kristen. Her face filled with confusion, though, because Kristen was smiling at him lovingly, proudly. Mark relaxed, slightly. He'd known, he thought, how Kristen would react, but there had been the tiniest bit of fear that he might be wrong, that she might be hurt. He should have known better.
He returned her smile, his own adoring, then looked down at the boy in his arms. Aaron trembled, then dropped to his knees on the hard tile floor. He bowed his head and lay his forehead against Mark's thighs, wrapping his arms around his knees.
Mark stroked his silky dark curls for a few seconds, then took his shoulders and pulled him up. "Beside me, love. Stand at my side, supporting me, always," he said gently.
Aaron swallowed hard. "Yes, m--" He broke off, glancing at Angie, then bit his lip. "Yes, sir."
Mark squeezed his shoulder, then looked over at Angie, waiting for her response. One was not forthcoming, however. The woman seemed lost in her confusion, and just stood silently, her gaze flickering nervously over all of them, waiting for something that would help her make sense out of things.
Finally, Mark grinned, relenting. He turned to Kristen. "I guess you'd better explain, before she goes nuts trying to figure out what's going on."
Kristen lay cradled in Kayla's arms and watched Angie quietly. "I think she knows," she said. "She just doesn't understand. She still thinks it's only right to love one person at a time, even though she knows I don't." There was just the tiniest trace of hurt in her voice, and Mark nodded thoughtfully, watching Angie.
"But it's not that simple," Kristen went on. "Love happens. Or it's even simpler: love is good. More love is better. You love me more because of Kayla and Aaron, not less."
Mark nodded again, and she smiled a bit weakly. "But it is scarier," she said. "More people to worry about. More people who could hurt you."
He smiled back at her, and sat on the foot of the bed. "Yeah."
"It doesn't hurt me, though," Kristen said, looking up at Angie and reaching for her hand again. "It could, yeah, if Mark snuck around, and lied to me, or fell in love with someone who hated me... but he won't, so it doesn't. Just like it doesn't hurt him that I love Kayla... and... and you. These things... these bonds... I don't know where they come from, but they're real. And I think we both know now that fighting them is just a really, really bad idea."
Angie licked her lips. "Honey... angel, you're not... not human," she said tremulously. "You're special. But Kayla and Aaron are just ordinary teenagers. They can't know what they're getting into--"
Kayla interrupted with a sharp laugh. "Oh fuck that's funny! Ordinary. Ohhhh, I'm gonna die!" She leaned against the headboard, giggling, and Mark fought back his own laughter. "I'm a mad scientist's daughter and he's the son of a voodoo queen, and we're 'ordinary'. Wooo! Coulda fooled me!" She shook her head, her grey eyes glittering dangerously. "Lady, ordinary people don't form bonds with supernatural beings. Sorry to intrude on your private reality, but that's just the way it is. Get used to it."
The girl's grin held a definite challenge, and Angie frowned, drawing back a bit. Watching her, Mark could almost see her mind working. She was obviously quite willing to accept that Kayla, at least, was a far from normal teenager, and so her uncertain amethyst gaze rested on Aaron. It was also obvious that they boy's involvement... and his demeanor... were what disturbed her the most. Mark started to answer her, but stopped, wanting to see if Aaron would speak for himself.
Aaron gave her a gentle smile. "My mother gave me a rattlesnake for my seventh birthday," he said quietly. "It was supposed to be my familiar. Instead, it overwhelmed me and I had a tremendous urge to eat mice and bite things for months after she got rid of it. When she needed to know where her mother's great aunt Marie had left a particular recipe, she summoned her up and asked. A school teacher who called me a 'half-nigger little faggot' ended up in a mental institution because the spiders just wouldn't go away." He tilted his chin up, his eyes locked on hers. "I'm not normal. You might not like what I am, but I. Am. Not. Ordinary."
Mark covered his mouth with his hand to hide his smile at her stunned, shocked look.
Aaron shook his head, tossing his hair in a gesture that was uncharacteristically-- and probably unconsciously-- defiant. "And I don't need protecting. I know what I want," he said, glaring at her. He didn't add, "unlike some people," but Mark could tell he wanted to.
Angie, still totally overwhelmed, looked up at Mark. "Then what are you?"
He shrugged. "A teacher."
"You know what I meant."
He smiled, shrugging. "I don't know." He cocked his head thoughtfully. "Or maybe that is it. Maybe that's what I'm supposed to be. A teacher." He shrugged again. "Most importantly, I'm Kristen's husband."
She lowered her eyes. "I'll do whatever she wants. Accept whatever she asks me to. I don't understand, but... I was wrong about a lot of things. I'll try to learn."
He reached out, taking her free hand. "Angie, there's only one thing you need to learn: We all love each other, and want the best for each other. That's the key."
She shook her head. "No. That's not what any of you said. And I love Kristen... stupid to deny that now. But... it's not everyone to everyone."
"We aren't all lifebonded to each other..." He hesitated, unsure how to explain the different types of bonds, particularly since he really didn't understand it himself. "Not exactly, anyway. But we all care deeply about each other. All of us. I love Kristen and Kayla and Aaron. Kristen is in love with me and Kayla, Aaron is in love with me... I don't know if Kristen loves Aaron, or if Aaron loves Kayla or Kristen. You'd have to ask him. I know it seems confusing, but it's simple, really if you remember that they do care for each other deeply. "
She sighed, her shoulders slumping. "Yeah. I know. I can see that."
He raised an eyebrow. "Why so sad, then?"
"I don't fit in this equation. You might not be ordinary, but I am. I'm... I'm not made to love more than one person at a time."
"Angie... do you know that?" he asked. "Or have you simply never had the opportunity?"
"I know I don't want to," she said firmly. "I don't think I even can. I... I don't mind sharing her, not if it makes her happy, but I don't want to be shared."
He looked at her thoughtfully. "What do you mean, exactly?"
"I don't understand... what part of that was unclear?"
"What do you mean by not wanting to be shared?" he asked. "Exactly?"
"I don't want to be involved with anyone but Kristen. Even if she only has a very little bit of time for me," she said.
"Okay. Emotionally, sexually, both?"
"Both," she said. "They're the same thing, to me."
He nodded. "Okay. I can understand it. What about other people making love to her at the same time as you, if they aren't touching you?"
She hesitated. "I... I don't think so. Maybe some day, but definitely not right now."
Mark nodded again. "Okay. I'm not asking these questions just to be difficult, Angie. You already know she's not human. There are things that help her that aren't 'normal' in any way. And we're more or less making up the rules of our relationships as we go along, so we have to spell these things out explicitly."
"God." She rubbed her forehead tiredly. "I'm not good at explicit, either," she said, ruefully.
Mark quirked one side of his mouth in a smile. "That's okay. You'll learn. We all are. Angie... if something bothers you, tell us. I don't think any of us would intentionally push you into something you aren't comfortable with... but we might not realize we're doing so."
"And don't make assumptions about anything," Kristen said, glancing over at Aaron. "Something that bothers you might be something that someone else truly needs to be happy. Ask, if it worries you. Try and understand. But... keep our secrets. There's too much to risk. If you really love me, don't betray us, any of us, not even if you think it's for our own good. If you don't promise this, we can never trust you all the way, no matter how we feel about it."
Angie stared at her silently, then let her eyes linger on each of them in turn, longest on Aaron's calm gaze and Kayla's hard, prideful glare, then she nodded. "All right. I can't say I won't argue with you if I think something is wrong, but I won't take it outside the... the family. I won't risk hurting you. And I'll try to understand the things I don't like."
"That's all we ask," Mark said. "Try to understand."
"Do... do their parents know?" she asked.
Mark started to shake his head, then stopped. "Yes and no. Aaron's mother does; we had to ask her for help on some things. I assume that his father doesn't. Unless Kayla has told them, her parents don't."
Kayla shook her head. "My parents do not. I'm not entirely sure they'd react badly if they did, though. They're unusually intelligent."
"And mine..." Aaron shrugged. "My mother... you can't hide things from her. Ever. My father doesn't know, but he may suspect. He'd... he'd understand, probably more than you do, honestly."
Mark looked at him thoughtfully. "He married your mother, so... yeah. He probably would."
Aaron nodded. "He would have stayed married to her for as long as she wanted, gay or not, but she said it wasn't fair to him."
"What about Kristen's father?" Angie asked. "How much does he know?"
Mark turned to her, suddenly completely sober. "Angie, there's something I have to tell you. You aren't going to like it, and you aren't going to want to believe it, but we do have proof."
"Amazing," she drawled. "Something you have to tell me that's unbelievable and that I won't like. What a surprise."
He didn't even smile. "Don't trust Dr. Ward. He's twice tried to use blackmail to get Kristen to sleep with him."
Her mouth dropped open. "But... he never... I mean, he won't even call her to the office... how?"
Mark shook his head grimly. "Kristen's father has a tape of the first time. The last time was on Friday. Someone had mailed him pictures of me and Kristen together, and he threatened to go to the police if she wasn't 'appropriately grateful' if he didn't." He smiled coldly. "He was... quite upset to discover we were married."
"So that's why you didn't just keep it secret... so Steven does know? Everything?" She looked again at Kayla and Aaron.
Mark nodded. "Everything. More or less. He hasn't asked about Kayla and Aaron... but he made some comments earlier that made it clear he knows that there's something going on between them and Kristen, at the very least, and he doesn't mind."
"Does he know that his daughter isn't... that she's... different?"
"Her mother was the same way," Mark said. "That's why he never objected to Kristen's behavior-- he knew it wasn't something she had a choice in."
"Oh." Angie blinked, looking stunned. "That explains so much... so he does care about her. I'd... wondered."
"He loves her. A lot," Mark said. "Don't ever make the mistake of thinking he doesn't. It's just... there was nothing he could do, and he couldn't spend much time around her."
Angie's eyes widened at the implications of that statement. "Oh. Oh, I see," she whispered.
Kristen turned her face away, embarrassed, and Mark flinched guiltily. "Oh, shit." He'd forgotten she hadn't known her power had affected Steven as well. And he certainly hadn't meant for her to find out, and certainly not like this. "Love... you weren't supposed to know about that. I'm sorry."
"It's okay, Mark," she said, quietly. "I've understood ever since we discovered what I am."
"You did know?" he asked, surprised. "I asked him if I could tell you, but he didn't want you to know, and I had to respect his wishes. It was never that he didn't love you, that he wanted to stay away. You understand, don't you?"
She swallowed. "I know. Now, anyway. And I do understand that he just couldn't explain. It... it really is okay, now." She looked up at him, smiling just a bit, and cuddled against Kayla.
Mark smiled in relief. "Good. I hated the idea of you thinking he didn't want you, but I couldn't figure out a way to let you know." He looked back at Angie. "And he's... not too happy with you right now."
Angie sighed. "I'd have to kill him if he was. I'm not happy with me, either."
"It's probably not going to be very pleasant for you," Mark warned. "And as much as I hate to do it, I need to call and wake him up."
She sighed again, and nodded, then smiled weakly at Kristen as the girl squeezed her hand and tugged her closer.
"It'll be okay, it really will," Kristen promised.
Angie smiled, caressing the pale little hand gently. "Worth it, anyway."
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