All’s Well That Ends – October 2016

Claudia reviewed the papers again, her fingers flipping through the elegant black folder slowly. Pale digits lingered over photos of a lovely view of the ranges -a small stream winding through a mottled green field, and a long dirt driveway sheltered by deciduous trees – before finally finding the contracts and initial ownership transfer agreements.

-Do it.-

She ran her fingertip across the curve of her own signatures, pressing her lips together.

-Wait. Don’t do it…hold off…for another day maybe…-

She drew in a deep breath, then sighed, her jaw clenching.

-No. I’ll do it.-

Standing to fix her dress, Claudia pulled her long flaxen hair over one shoulder, quietly bracing herself for what was to follow before setting out to find her partner in crime.

“Niki, darling?”

‘Darling’ Nikolai was asleep in the lounge, curled up on the sofa under a blanket, the television playing an endless flicker of moving images – screaming women being massacred by the latest horror movie villain, serial killer documentaries played over and again. He’d been obsessively watching the psychologically disturbing fare all week, having discovered Netflix during his ’bout of plague,’ as he called it, poring over endless films and docos well into the night. When Claudia found him, he’d been dozing for the better part of an hour, snoring ever softly, an almost empty bottle of vodka dangling from his fingers, his mussed hair falling over pale features.

She smiled fondly when she saw him, debating leaving her surprise for later.

-My beautiful gypsy boy-

He was sleeping more and more, the flu had done a number on him to be sure…but there was something else now, a weariness behind his eyes that whispered of sleepless nights and a mind that never stopped. He spent most of his waking moments at Claudia’s side…or watching his gorenography until he passed out again – which never took long. Asinoe’s visit had helped, slightly, but something else seemed to be draining the life from him bit by bit. Even the medication didn’t seem to be alleviating the problem.

Biting her lip, she made her way to the couch, carefully pulling the bottle from his fingers and setting it aside. Niki shifted and moaned, limbs stretching as his blue eyes opened and gazed up at her blearily, a lazy smile melting over his lips.

“Hi…” he murmured, tilting his mussed head, “Where you been all my life?”

She chuckled and leant down to kiss him.

“Right by your side…” she breathed, marvelling at how much he brightened her day.

/We need to talk about that/

-We really don’t-

“How are you feeling, my heart?”

“A little less like death than I was yesterday…” came the pouting reply, his breath catching as it always did at her kiss. His hand snaked up her leg, fingers curling around her inner thigh. “I could be better though…” he added with a playful grin, then frowned, “Is my hair awful? I bet it’s awful.”

Claudia chuckled and shook her head.

“Bed hair,” she told him, then grinned, making room for herself beside him on the sofa and fixing his hair habitually, “Would a surprise make you feel better?”

You’d make me feel better,” came the response, his hands slinking about her waist to pull her closer. He sat up, kissing her neck, then going limp against her shoulder. “Ok, no more fast moving for Nikolai…” he groaned, turning his face into her neck, “You said present..?”

Claudia giggled, holding him close and kissing his cheek before lowering him back into his reclining position, her hand moving to feel his forehead.

-His fever is fading…but it’s still quite fierce…maybe this would be a good distraction? –

“I did say present, yes,” she smiled and gestured to the folder in her lap, “Take a look…I think I labelled everything…”

Nikolai tilted his head in that way he always did when he was sizing something up, laying back and taking up the folder, flicking through it slowly. He blinked, his blue eyes widening after a moment, then his brow furrowed and he glanced at her.

“You buying land, sugarplum?” he asked slowly, “That’s a big space for little old you…”

Claudia nodded and shifted beside him, reaching out with perfectly manicured fingers to tug an architectural draft out from behind the photos.

“For us. For our family. There is enough room for everyone to have their own space here. We’ll build a place for OUR Fundays. See?”  she pointed, “Bella is here…in this building, Bethany and Grigori here…Scarlett and Eden there…then…whatever happens…lives here…” she indicated a segment labelled ‘Asinoe/Alina?’ and grinned, “There is a large central property where we can celebrate and hunt….” her words trailed off and she leant her head against his, “Your kingdom,” she breathed, kissing his cheek.

Nikolai’s eyes had followed as she pointed, scanning the maps and sketches silently, his lips moving as he mouthed the names when she spoke them. For a long moment afterwards he just blinked and stared at the documents before him, an expression somewhere between awe and surprise dancing through his features, then he frowned and looked at her again.

“What about you?” he asked warily, as if suddenly very concerned that she didn’t have a place…or that she was giving him this gift in preparation for her own departure.

Claudia frowned, uncertain.

“Well…I have a small place here, by the stream,” she ran a finger over the drawing, “I don’t like big empty spaces….but I hope that I will be near you most of the time…” she hesitated, “As your…companion…or partner…I guess…” Picking up the photos, she flicked through them quickly, suddenly anxious, “Not officially, of course…just…” Changing the subject, she held up the image of the shaded dirt track – amber leaves sheltering a wide expanse that just begged to be a grand entrance, “Look at the driveway, isn’t it grand? That’s existing…”

Nikolai stared at her as she spoke, a glimmer of something warm and all-consuming flickering in the blue depths of his gaze. He flinched, his breath catching, that intense stare shifting to study the ‘driveway’ that she tried to distract him with…for about five seconds before his eyes returned to her. His lips parted as he drank in her features – her silken hair, the curve of her jaw, the softness of her lips…

“Grand…” he murmured, a hand coming up to brush back an errant lock of gold, his fingers tracing her face, a single digit hooking beneath her chin and tilting it towards him, forcing her to look at him. Claudia bit her lip, her insides twisting as she met his intense stare.

-Marry me, fuck me, kill me…oh god. I just want to make everything perfect for you. Let me help you….let me build you something the world will tremble to see. We could do such great things…-

/Don’t lose your head. We need to talk/

-Shhhh-

She dove on his lips eagerly, not wanting to voice any of her desires, but desperate to quell the niggling echo of the Jackal gnawing at her mind. Niki’s arms came up to catch her immediately, wrapping around her and drawing her down on top of him. His lips parted beneath hers in a moan, his teeth grazing her mouth as the album fell to the floor with a clatter.

And then he was kissing her face, his warm lips trailing over her cheek, her eyelids, her forehead, his breath quickening with each new press of his mouth against her flesh.

Claudia gave a sigh, returning his kisses gleefully and nuzzling her face against his, delighting in the sensation of his skin against hers, the smell of him…stronger after a feverish nap.

“I take it, then, that you like it? You consent?” her voice was small, much like a child presenting a macaroni necklace to a parent. Niki laughed, kissing her again and drawing her into him, biting her ear playfully.

“That would be a yes,” he chuckled, “You’re too good to me Doctor…” Words trailed off as he flinched suddenly, his grip tightening on her as his face paled. Swallowing hard, he shook his head at her as if to tell her he was fine…before a sudden stabbing pain in his chest near doubled him over and he cried out.

Claudia’s face was instantly shadowed, her hands jumping to his shoulders in concern.

“What’s wrong, my heart? Aches from the flu?”

/You know what it is. He won’t last/

-He will. I will fix him. I can do it-

She drew him close, worried at the sudden change.

“It’s nothing…I’m…” Niki choked on the word ‘fine’, gasping as another stab of pain knocked the breath from him, “Motherfuck!” Sitting up suddenly and almost sweeping her to the floor, he gripped the edge of the sofa, his breath quickening as he winced in agony. Blue eyes widened and filled with tears, and he doubled over, moaning.

Claudia watched him, baffled.

-Sudden pain….clearly psychosomatic. Emotional ties to the family, perhaps? He needs a distraction…something familiar and comforting…-

Reaching out to take hold of him, she forced a kiss onto his lips, her nails digging into his skin and her teeth biting down hard. Niki’s breath caught at the contact, his body responding instantly to the pain.

All at once he was snarling at her and throwing her off violently, a curse escaping him as he rose to his feet. Her head smacked against the back of the couch and she withdrew immediately.

“Fucking monster, don’t you touch me…this is my body. MINE!”

His pupils had become instantly huge, his eyes almost black as he balled his hands into fists, his body shaking with sudden rage as he spat a string of threats and curses at her in Russian, so fast the words were barely distinguishable.

And then he was doubling over again.

“Mine…” he gasped, “Mine mine mine…don’t touch me…”

“I won’t…” Claudia’s voice was deliberately calm, as if she were reasoning with a wild animal, “Niki I’m not going to touch you…” She held up her hands, open and submissive, “What I am going to do is move to the kitchen and fetch some water and some painkillers for you. Then I will go and read in the other room to give you some space…” she watched him carefully, trying not to fuss or provoke him, “Is that ok?”

“No,” he shook his head, his eyes darting about as if he half expected someone or something to attack him unexpectedly when he wasn’t looking. “No it’s not okay. Nothing is okay…it’s never going to be okay!”

He kicked the album across the room, pages scattering as he whirled about, his breath coming hard and fast as he sought a target for his rage. The small glass table beside the sofa was overturned, shattering as it hit the floor, the vase of flowers atop it spilling over the hardwood surface. Ornaments were picked up and hurled at walls, leaving marks and dents in the plaster, cushions were torn open, sending stuffing flying…and all the while Niki just shouted and cursed.

And then he turned those shadowed eyes on Claudia.

-Fuck-

She’d backed away, instinctively finding a defensive position as she watched him tear her apartment to pieces. When he looked at her, something deep within her flared to life and the Jackal snarled.

“Niki. Don’t…” she failed at keeping the snarl from her words.

-Trigger him-

“Niki don’t…Niki no…” he imitated in a high pitched whine, “Darling come…baby go…Niki Niki Niki…” Advancing on her, he shook his head. “I’m not your…fucking toy…” his breath was ragged, his wide eyes glimmering with insanity, “I’m just…as good…as you are…” a hand rose to his chest and he winced at the stabbing pain, “And this is MY kingdom…my rules…my fucking body…”

-Wait…what?-

Claudia’s face darkened to something dangerous.

 

“Your kingdom?” she sneered “What are you going to do, Nikolai? Dance in ashes and get drunk over memories? You need your family, and they need….” she stopped, calming herself, her voice returning to that low and measured tone, “Yes, you are as good as me, but I am not yours. You can’t control me…those who try end up dead. I earned my freedom…I am here by choice.”

-Don’t argue with him…trigger him-

/You won’t…you like his fire…/

-He is so strong. Look at him.-

/We really need to talk/

Something in Niki’s face changed as she spoke and he tilted his head, approaching her slowly.

“Lavenders blue…” he sing-songed in a faux Southern accent, “…lavenders green…”

Claudia fell instantly to her knees before him, her lips clamping shut and her gaze downcast. Niki’s eyes widened at the reaction, then he laughed almost cruelly.

“See I CAN control you…” he sneered at her, panting, “Not so nice…when it’s you…is it..? How’s your freedom feel now?”

/Perhaps now is a good time?/ came the smug growl of the Jackal.

– I can’t believe it?! Clever fucker!-

/More ironic…don’t you think? Given the poem?/

-Where did he find it? Clever fucker…fuck….fuck-

“Not so nice…when someone takes…your choices…away is it, Professor Monére?”

A hand came up to play through her hair and he drew her face against his thigh, pressing her so tightly it seemed he would smother her. He winced again as his chest constricted, his eyes glazing over.

“Pretty Claudia…” he said in that Southern drawl, “Did you kneel like this for him? Did you open your mouth…for Daddy Kreutz and let him…fuck you? I bet…you did…” Sliding to his knees before her, he tilted her face upwards, blue eyes staring into her, his entire body shaking. “Do not…fuck with me…little girl…” he stammered.

Claudia’s green eyes were not present, her mind was absently passive – save for a slight and insane ache of pride – the deep black of her pupils shrinking as fear shuddered all at once through her body.

Scenes she didn’t remember played before her eyes…her own childish voice sobbing quietly in her ear as horrific pain ripped through her body.

-Be a good girl, Claudia…-

She cried out soundlessly, her eyes welling with tears as images of her own torture and multiple rapes that she never knew had occurred played over and over to her mind’s trembling audience.

-No. Oh no no no no…it’s not true…it’s not…-

“I’ll behave…” she whimpered, “Professor…I’m sorry…”

Nikolai froze at her words, staring at her tears, bewilderment filling his features as he shook his head. His eyes became clearer and he shivered.

“No…” he breathed, his hands coming up to cup her face, “Claudia no…” His expression twisted to match hers, his lips moving to cover her flesh in kisses, “I’m…sorry…” he panted, “I ruined it…I’m sorry…”

-Naughty naughty little boy…-

He sat back on his haunches, his head shaking as his hands rose to cover his ears.

“God oh god oh no stop shut up just shut up…”

Claudia broke free from her psychological bonds just enough to scramble away from him, backing herself across the floor and into a corner. Her hair fell over her face and she clutched her knees to her chest, her breath coming in rapid gasps as her lips mouthed soundless words.

“Please no…help…no no no…I can’t…don’t…please…”

Nikolai had curled into a ball on the floor, gasping for breath, his face deathly white.

“I’m bad…I’m sorry…I’ll be good…don’t…don’t leave me…I’m sorry…” his voice was broken, those blue eyes filling with tears, “I’ll be good…I promise…I can be good…”

And on and on it went.

“Niki…”

When she whispered his name, her voice small and frightened, those eyes swung towards her, wide and scared. He blinked, a hand reaching out for her…and then he was crawling, dragging himself across the floor in a quivering and shuddering mess, trying to get to her before he passed out.

-That is Niki. Niki. He won’t hurt you…unless you ask him to. He promised…-

Claudia watched the figure crawling like a child towards her. His voice was familiar…she remembered it from…somewhere. He was babbling…saying words…what were they?

“Shut up…please…please….” her fingers ghosted across her lips as she stared at him, “You are so good….so amazingly clever….” She crooned reassuringly to him, shrieking as her own words echoed back in her mind with that horrifying Southern drawl. Her body arched and seized in phantom pain, her hand lashing out desperately for Niki.

He had dragged himself the last few feet, throwing himself at her and shaking his head as his arms crushed her into his chest.

“No…” he panted, “I’m not…I’m bad…I’m…” smoothing down her hair, he pressed his cheek against hers and began to rock them back and forth, as if trying to calm a child…and himself, “We’re bad…this is…”

-Bad. Yes.-

Words failed him, that stabbing ache in his chest suffocating in its intensity. He drew her closer, kissing her forehead and trying to soothe her even as he fell apart.

“Shhh…”

Claudia jerked at his touch, green eyes wide as she stared at him. She blinked hard, the traumatic scenes fading into the view of his red sleeve.

“You’re here?” she said after a moment, sounding astonished, “You stayed…you came for me?” She shook her head, as if she were more willing to believe she was a child again. Her fingers wound around his shirtfront and she pressed her face against his chest, listening to his heartbeat and blinking in bewilderment.

“Of course I’m here…where else…would I be?” his lips trailed her face, his breath slowing somewhat as he focused on her. Claudia bit her lip, her voice when she piped up again holding all the authority and measure of a determined child.

“If it’s ok with you, I think…I think you should still have my virginity…I…I liked that night. We were laughing and very drunk…” She smiled, then a jolt of pain went through her again and she whimpered, her face burying in his chest. “Oh god…I want that again…” she grit her teeth, “Not doctors with their instruments and vile ideas…not…not him.”

Nikolai had nodded at her reminiscing.

“I remember…” he whispered, kissing her lips, his hands trailing down her back, “I remember all of it…”

Claudia smiled, flinching slightly at his caress but gritting her teeth and forcing herself to lean into him.

-Relax-

“I’m so weak….I should have…”

/Not productive/

She nodded her head slowly at the Jackal’s words, then kissed Niki fiercely, pulling herself onto his lap and biting him hungrily.

“Do it again,” she pleaded, “I need…I need to feel you…and I want the memory of his touch gone…out of my head…off my skin…just…I need you to fuck me…”

His arousal was instant – though in all honesty he’d been ready and willing ever since she’d awoken him – his body grinding up against hers as he nodded.

“Whatever you want, Claudia…” he moaned against her lips, “…ask me for anything…”

She drew back, looking him in the eyes…searching for something.

“All I want is you…and for you to be mine…anything we say will be just words anyway…I don’t need words,” She moved against him, her body relaxing somewhat at the familiar sensation of being in his arms. Her own arms wound around him protectively, her kisses becoming longer and deeper.

“God…” he breathed, gasping, “God help me…”

It was an odd thing to say, if anyone had license to be anti-religion and cynical about Gods, it was Niki…and yet the plea fell from him almost desperately as he kissed her back, clinging to her, shuddering in her arms as if he were deathly cold.

He wasn’t…his skin was still burning with fever.

“I’ve never had someone stay….” she murmured against his mouth, drawing his hand between her thighs. Niki didn’t answer right away, his fingers slipping into her underwear to draw them aside as his breath came hard and fast. The panting panic from moments before had been replaced by desperate hunger as he kissed her over and over.

“I’ll never leave you…” he promised, pushing forwards and lowering her onto her back, his fingers moving to unfasten his trousers…he couldn’t get inside her fast enough.

-Weak…-

Nikolai flinched, his eyes snapping shut as the mocking voice echoed in his mind, his teeth clenching as he shook his head.

-Cry baby

Claudia arched up beneath him, shoving away a sudden flickering reminder of her recent revelations and the memory of the Professor’s hands on her.

-This is Niki – she told herself. – Niki-

-He always finds the darkest truths…how does he do that? I don’t even know what’s hidden in my mind…but it all comes spilling out around him…-

/Claudia/

The Jackal’s disciplinary tone was drowned out by the low moan that sounded on her lips as she pulled him closer.

“What did I do to deserve you?” she breathed. “Wickedly clever…my perfect…” her words trailed off in a gasp as he bit her cheek and she giggled, nuzzling into his face, “I am so…so lucky…” she breathed.

“Claudia,” he almost choked on her name as he slid inside her, the syllables spilling from his lips in something almost like a plea. His fingers curled around her thighs, drawing her legs up and around him, his mouth finding her earlobe, teeth grazing the flesh as a growl sounded in his throat.

-She will destroy you…-

Wincing and shaking the irritating whispers from his mind, he thrust harder, his cheek sliding against her face as he sought her lips, his tongue lapping at her pout before his mouth seized hers with a moan.

-….weak-

Claudia blushed at the squeak of delight that she made as he pushed into her.

-Merde, really? For fuck’s sake…what is wrong with me?-

/I can’t believe you don’t…/

“Shh…” she murmured out loud, a hand pressing to her head before she hurriedly brought her focus back to Niki, “Not you….” she assured him with a grin, “You make all the noise you…fuck…” a sharp gasp of delight stayed her words and she laughed.

“Oh I will,” he chuckled back to her, pulling the hand from her head and biting her palm.

-End this. She makes you weak-

“Just me…” he murmured to her, ignoring the voice as his hips bucked up against her, his lashes fluttering, “No one else will ever…touch you…I won’t let them…hurt you…I swear it…Claudia…”

She stared at him, her fingertips tracing his cheek and tucking his hair behind his ear. It sprang free seconds later and she made a face, repeating the movement.

“Just you and I,” she agreed breathlessly, nodding.

– I love him –

The snarl of disgust and exasperation from the Jackal spoke volumes. She almost laughed herself, the idea was so ridiculous.

And yet…

Her hands tangled in his hair and she gave in to sensation as his forehead bowed against hers, his lips parting in a sigh as his features contorted in pleasure.

“Baby…” he moaned, “Claudia baby…”

-Listen to you. You’re not a Katorga…-

Biting his lip, Niki scowled, thrusting harder and deeper as if his movements could banish the negative niggling within his mind. Claudia wound her legs around him, locking her feet around him and gripping him so tight that her nails drew blood…the warm stickiness against her fingertips sending shivers of delight down her spine.

“Oh mon cœur chéri, s’il vous plaît…s’il vous plaît ne vous arrêtez pas. Je…j’ai besoin de vous…” The French words fell almost of their own accord from her mouth as she writhed beneath him. Niki growled at her, his body arching and his fingers rising to draw her head back so he could bite at and kiss her neck. His body convulsed as she spoke, heavy lidded cobalt hues fluttering, his mouth trailing those kisses to her ear, hot panting breaths falling against her flesh as he responded in Russian, the words ragged and disjointed.

“Ya zdes’ moya prekrasnaya koroleva…ya tebya…ya budu sledovat’ za toboy na kray zemli…nikogda ne otpushchu tebya…ya umru bez tebya…bog rebenok, ya budu chertovski umeret’…”

And then he was moaning her name again, over and over, begging for release, for forgiveness, for pain…for everything and nothing but her.

-This will not end well-

He was hyperventilating again, panting and gasping for breath as she clung to him, his body moving in perfect time with hers. When she finally cried out in orgasm, he buried his face in her neck and bit down hard, the wanton sounds falling from her lips driving him completely over the edge not too long after her. His body shuddered uncontrollably and he squeezed her so tightly it seemed he was trying to crush her, his ragged gasps smothered against her flesh.

He was babbling again, apologising for hurting her, begging her not to leave him, calling her all manner of names for frightening him, then apologising for that…all the while trying desperately to keep breathing, pushing against her so hard that it seemed he was trying to disappear from the world within her ribcage.

Claudia held him close as she tried to catch her breath.

“Darling…darling…stop. I’m fine. You awoke a truth in me, again…it wasn’t your fault. I…I will always be grateful, regardless of what it is you show me…I was sleeping and you woke me up Niki…and I will never leave you. Never.”

She pushed his hair back from his face, crooning words of adoration without filter as the endorphins flooded her body.

“You’re my other half…you see the same beauties that I do in this cruel world…you hunger for the same things…with the same tastes. Without you I’m numb, Niki…”

His hands had found her face, his trembling lips pressing against hers as he kissed her, over and again, almost as if he wanted to stop her from speaking, to silence her before she went too far.

“Don’t…” he whispered, gasping against her mouth, “Claudia don’t…I’m not…there’s something…” he shuddered, “I’m wrong…there’s…something wrong with me…”

She nodded immediately…her face falling.

“I’m sorry… I don’t…I shouldn’t say these things…” she shook her head and pulled away, insecurity flooding her and drowning the joy she was feeling in an instant.

-Don’t think about it. Don’t. Do something helpful. Something logical.-

She sat up and adjusted her clothing, squirming at the wet heat between her thighs.

“Perhaps we should call your wife? We should let her know you are fit for visitation now…she must be wondering how….how you are…” she paused as Nikolai’s blue eyes filled with bewilderment, then fear, then anger and confusion, his head shaking as he clawed at her, drawing her back and closer.

“Why…why do you do that…why are you…where are you going?” he blinked, shaking his head…then his eyes narrowed and he let her go all at once, “Is this…is this a game to you…is this one of your experiments..?” Trembling hands moved to adjust his trousers, to smooth down his hair, to brush the sweat from his forehead as he stared at her.

“No!” she flared, grabbing at his arm, “No…I…I just don’t know what to do to help! I’m not good with people who I….I just know the medical side – brains and bodies…you know? That’s the only way I know how to help…” she looked towards the ceiling, trying to avoid the flood of tears that was rising as she let him go again, “I was never made to be a match for someone else…I always forget that. I am no one’s wife or family….I was raised to be alone, to rule alone. It’s just….I like the way you make me forget that, even for all the other truths you tell me. I can live this one little lie for a little while…can’t I?”

“Alone…” Niki echoed the word, his voice hollow as he stared at her, something very much like hurt, followed by nausea washing over his features. Nodding to himself, his face turned away from her and he rose from the floor, or at least he tried to…his legs were shaking and it took some doing. “I see…” he murmured, not meeting her gaze, “Of course…you can live…whatever lies you like…” he finished, fingers raking through his hair again. He seemed at a loss suddenly, his attention on everything but her, his throat constricting as a new kind of pain enveloped him.

-She’s playing you…and you’re letting her-

-No I’m not…-

-Weak. Pitiful…-

-Shut up…-

-Dance puppet, dance…-

“I…I have to go…” he choked out all at once, looking around in confusion, not even beginning to know where to find his wallet or keys. Claudia followed his gaze sadly, nodding.

-Alone-

-What’s he looking for? He could just leave…and…oh…-

“They’re under the couch, I can see them from here…” she said and pointed to his belongings, her voice hollow.

-Alone-

She frowned as a soft chirping noise echoed through the room. Her eyes widened and she looked around.

-I know that sound. It can’t be…-

Small beady eyes looked out at her from under the couch, just beside his keys. It took Claudia a long time to spot the tiny paws and little pink nose in the shadows. She felt her chest tighten, squeezing a quiet sob from her lips, and she scowled at herself.

-Stop it. You’re being useless.-

Niki’s gaze had zeroed in on his things, long strides carrying him across the room to fetch them, his body swaying as he almost toppled over onto the couch. His hands slammed flat onto the back of the settee, his head bowing and his hair falling over his face as he drew in long and laboured breaths.

“I…I have to go…” he murmured again after a moment, not moving.

-So leave-

-I’m going to…in a minute-

-No you won’t-

“I will…” he whispered, closing his eyes tight, “Leave me alone.”

Claudia nodded.

“Whatever you wish…but…can I…can I ask you to take a driver?” she said softly, concerns lacing her words, “You’re still sick…feverish.” Absently, she held out a hand to the small creature under the couch.

-Elora….I didn’t think I’d see you again-

The tiny nose twitched and delicate paws edged forwards, those black eyes casting a doubtful look at the other person in the room. Claudia followed her friend’s gaze.

-Oh….I see. Well, that’s slightly disconcerting…-

Niki was pushing off the couch, swaying a little then turning towards the door, the distance seeming ridiculously far all at once.

-You won’t leave-

“What?” his eyes shifted to Claudia as if she had spoken, then danced away quickly again, “Oh. No I’ll be fine…I’m fine…I don’t need a driver…”

-I will leave. Watch me.-

-Weak-

-I’m not weak-

-Cry baby-

“I’m fine…” he murmured again, teetering on his feet, “I need to go.”

-But you won’t.-

-Why?-

-You know why-

Claudia felt concern stabbing at her chest, her throat constricting as she swallowed the impossible lump that had formed there.

-Just leave it. It’s better this way.-

“You can’t even walk straight…” she pointed out hoarsely, watching the mouse slip back under the couch into darkness. Her heart sank and she stood, moving to the phone, “Let me call Stanson, he can meet you out the front if you like…he won’t be more than a few minutes.”

“No.”

The word was firmer now, more insistent, blue eyes blazing as he stared at her.

“I can do it.”

-Go on then-

Steeling himself, Niki grit his teeth and headed towards the door, wobbling slightly but managing to make it at least partway there. Then he stopped.

-Well?-

Turning on his heel suddenly and almost collapsing, he threw himself towards Claudia, sweeping her up in his arms and kissing her almost desperately. His hands buried in her hair, something partway between a moan and a sob falling from his lips. Claudia melted into his arms, gripping him tightly.

But not tightly enough. He was shoving her away in seconds, letting her fall to the floor as he headed towards the door once more.

Claudia watched him go, her insides trembling. He didn’t look back again.

“Take care…” was all she could think to call after him as the door clicked shut. She sat back, hugging herself tightly.

/Breathe Claudia/

Nodding, she focused on her intake of breath, closing her eyes and ignoring the tears that spilled over her cheeks, her mind fixed instead on the rise and fall of her lungs. After a few moments more, she opened her eyes again and tapped on the floor with her nails.

“Elora….Eee-lloooora.”

Tiny eyes blinked out of the shadows again beneath the couch, the little mouse timidly making its way across the room and over to her hand, sniffing curiously.

/She is back/

The Jackal lowered its great head to bow a little to Elora, those yellow eyes moving to the door where Niki had been not too long ago.

-I don’t know what to do- she thought sadly. –Tell me what to do with him-

/You need do nothing/ came the flat reply.

 /This will not end well…but it will end fast/

 

Written by R.Quin and Natalie Ristovski.

All characters and story lines remain the property of N.Ristovski and the Underground. All character writings within the Underground are fictitious. Any resemblance to persons living or dead is purely coincidental.

Copyright © 2016. Natalie Ristovski.

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