Chapter 11

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Chapter 11

 

Chapter 11

 

CHR

– The Path of Kaph (Atu X). The Hiereus prepares the Candidate.
The Vision of the Wheel of Fortune.
The Three Energies of the Universe. 1

 

“I’m not what I seem to be.
The threads that bind me are thin, imperceptible, invisible.
And when you see me walk, laugh, speak, and breath, that’s all fake, nothing but lies.
In truth I’m nothing but a lifeless doll, over whose glassy face was painted a bright smile.
And the hands that command the threads of my life are beautiful white and cold.”

 

 

 

Part 4

Lea sat at the table, his legs anxiously swinging back and forth as he waited for yet another huge cup of chocolate milk. I'd just placed a few slices of bread in the toaster and he kept eyeing the small device eagerly, probably wishing he could command it to toast the bread faster.

"Do you ... come here, to this world, often?" I asked, looking for the best way to strike up a conversation without having him telling me up front he wasn't allowed to answer, and handed him his chocolate milk, which he immediately gulped down followed by a huge smile.

"This is really good!" he said once again, licking his brownish lips, chocolate marks all across his face, his silver eyes shining enthusiastically. I couldn't help smile.

"Better or worse than cat food?"

"Hmm, it's hard to choose," he answered pensively and I made a slight grimace. How come he had to think about that? Those dry, crunching things even smelled bad! And if they smelled bad, how could they possibly taste any good?

The smell of toasted bread started filling the kitchen and I took out the hot slices to put in new ones.

"And?" I insisted, spreading butter over the toast and handing it to him.

"If we come here often?" Lea wanted to make sure and I nodded. "No. Not that I know of. For me this is the first time. And Master doesn't like Human Beings, much less being surrounded by them." I considered his words for a moment. No one would have ever guessed. Every time I saw him at school there were people around him, and he always smiled politely and was cordial with everyone. Sometimes I asked myself if we were talking about the same person.

"Why?" I finally asked. "Does he hate us? Despise us?"

"No," he answered, staring down at his half eaten toast as if it were a work of art. "I'm the one who feels that way. Master just doesn't like being around you because you're ... too frail."

"Lea, you hate us?" I asked placing an affectionate hand over his head and he nodded lightly. "Why?"

"Because you create us at your own whim and then abandon us to our luck. And we are nothing, and can't even defend ourselves. And we spend our existence running, and hiding in fear and terror. And when we're captured, all that's left is suffering and pain, until our beings start to break down and slowly cease to exist." The pain in his child-like voice left a bitter taste in my mouth and I recalled what he'd told me before, about how his caste came from the negative wishes and dreams of Human Beings. "It was better if you'd just destroy us after using us," he added. I didn't quite understand what he meant, but Lea raised his head and a childish smile brought a new light to his face. "But you're different. I like you." I was taken aback by the simplicity of those words and couldn't help laugh.

"Glad to know, even if, in your opinion, it was better if I would simply die," I said jokingly and Lea tilted his head to a side.

"Um, one thing has nothing to do with the other. It's true that I like you, but as far as my Master is concerned, it was really better if you were dead," he replied with that same simplicity and I gave him a light slap on the back of the head that made him protest with a loud 'Ouch!'

"If I die I swear I'll come back to haunt you!" I promised and his laughter filled the kitchen.

"Great! You can make me chocolate milk for all eternity!"

I gave him a threatening look and he laughed even harder. That small pest was much closer to being a devil than a demon.

I took out the remaining toast and spread strawberry jam, Lea's favorite, on a slice. His eyes widened when I passed it to his small hands, now smeared with butter, and I watched as he relished his snack.

"Lea, when you said he thought we were frail, what did you mean?" I asked and he licked his sticky fingers.

"Because you Humans break too easily," he explained, carefully making sure there were no more red marks worth licking. "Interacting with Humans requires extra caution, especially for someone like Master. Any small loss of control is enough to erase hundreds of Humans from the face of the Earth." I shuddered at the idea. Somehow, and although Lea had said that as if it were of no consequence, I had the feeling I knew perfectly well what he meant. "That's why I was really surprised when Master called me and told me he had accepted a Contract. I've never seen him accept a Contract before. Normally there's no need to do so."

"There isn't?"

"No. Master has enough power to attain what he wants, without having to give anything in return," he said, licking the inside of his now empty cup, stretching his small tongue as far as it would go, which spread chocolate stains around his face.

"Did he have the power to do that with my Contract as well?"

He looked at me and shrugged.

"That I'm not really sure," he said, "but I guess so. I still think that, had Master really wanted, he wouldn't have had to accept this Contract. I thought a lot about this, especially after he ... got so angry at me because of what I did. And I think ... I think he somehow made use of the Law so that it had to accept his choice and make it happen."

I was truly confused. However Lea's grave expression warned me that he couldn't tell me much more about that. And so I simply smiled and dropped the subject.

"And now, young man, bath time!" I informed him to which he immediately frowned in protest.

"Eh? Why?" he complained and I looked at him disapprovingly. There was chocolate all over his face, from his chin up to his forehead, and his black hair was sticky with jam.

"Really? Do you have to ask?"

"But I don't like water!" he whined with a grimace. "Besides, I can use my powers and get all cleaned up. Better yet! I can change shapes and wash myself with my tongue!" he argued and I raised him from his chair, placing him on the floor.

"No way! And no powers either! Isn't that what you've been told? Your small trick this morning was enough!" He looked away and folded his arms, frowning.

"That was because I didn't want you to be punished because of me," he mumbled and I ruffled his dark hair.

"I know. And thank you. But now let's be good, okay? And as for your second option, spit bath isn't a bath at all!" I stubbornly stated and held his hand, towing him upstairs, towards the bathroom. "Hmm, you sure your original form isn't a cat?"

"Of course I am!" he exclaimed, as if I'd just offended him, and I smiled.

"Come on, then. It's going to be fun," I tried to convince him. "And I promise I won't try to drown you," I added, joking, but Lea didn't seem to think it the least bit funny. However, he did stop fighting me, resigning himself to the inevitable, and I finally managed to put him in the bathtub.

The battle started as soon as I turned on the water and lasted throughout the entire process. Once again I was sure I'd right in my last assumption regarding his original shape. Lea just didn't like water, he hated it, shaking his head, spitting and almost drowning when I rinsed his hair and a few drops slid over his face.

When it was finally over we were both tired and wet, and the bathroom floor looked more like a lake. I wrapped his small body in a warm bath towel and he sighed in relief.

I took him to my room, sitting him on my bed while I changed my wet clothes for something dry. Then I returned to his side, brush in hand, and started combing his hair.

"You think he'll come home today?" I casually asked and he nodded. "Do you remember what we were talking before? About what he thinks of us?" He kept silent, waiting for me to go on. "What would you say if I told you that ... he's been going out with a girl?" I asked and only then noticed how hard it had been to put it into words. Lea turned towards me with a jump, his fierce gaze making me recoil apprehensively.

"What do you mean?"

"I ... I don't know," I answered, unsure, uncomfortable under the heavy pressure of his gaze. "All I know is that one of my friends told me that they were together and that she didn't want me to interfere," I reported in an almost inaudible voice and that thin, sharp pain returned. Even if Steph didn't like it, even if I hadn't the right to meddle, something like that! I simply couldn't allow it!

Lea averted his gaze, although his small hands clutched the towel tightly, and frowned with a clear disgruntled expression.

"That's why I wanted to take him away," he grunted, now apparently angry with himself for having failed his mission, and I refused to recall what his success would have entailed.

"You knew, Lea? You knew about him and Steph?"

He shook his head. "No. And that's not the real problem!" he answered, pointedly looking at me, and I was sure he thought I should know exactly what he meant. As I kept silent he released a deep sigh and knelt on my bed, sitting on his heels, losing his menacing stand. "What are you going to do?" he asked me curiously and I was completely caught off guard.

"What am I ... I don't know!" I answered, feeling pretty useless. "I tried talking with her, but she wouldn't listen. So I thought I should try and talk with him. But it's so hard. And then I don't really have a way to make him obey. If he refuses ..." Lea held my hand and I turned to face him.

"You have to do like Master does," he stated, smiling mischievously. "You have to learn to use the Law to your advantage."

"Are you talking about the Contract? I thought about that, but, well, he can always break it, can't he? And if he does, I'm sure he won't get whatever it is that he wants, but, on the other hand, he'll be free from all the other terms and will be able to do as he pleases. He might even decide to kill everyone," I argued and Lea's gaze glinted astutely.

"That's not quite right," he answered me and his small fingers touched the blue velvet ribbon I kept around my wrist. "Contracts can't be broken just like that. If they could they wouldn't be Contracts, but mere agreements. This mark is the Seal that enforces the Law, and the Law states that the one betrayed by the breach of a Contract has the right to demand that the betrayer be punished. And the gravity of the punishment depends on the value of the Contract."

I had to carefully ponder his words for a few moments before I was able to completely understand what he'd just told me.

"So, if he breaks the Contract, I can demand that he is punished?" I concluded.

Lea nodded with a serious expression. "And vice-versa." I swallowed hard. It was kind of logic. I just had never thought about that.

"And the weight of this punishment varies according to the Contract's value," I went on, the gears in my head turning. "But how can I know what's the value of my Contract? What he has to do for me is so ... mundane. And what I have to do for him is ... well, although I might find it disgusting, it's not like it would be that much of a problem for most people," I argued in a low voice, too embarrassed for having to talk about it.

"It's not that simple," Lea countered in his grown-up tone. "I can't explain it, but if you'll believe in me ..."

I took a deep breath. Believing, not believing, things in my head weren't that linear.

"Anyway, what kind of punishment can I demand?"

He hesitated for a moment. "You can ask for his Soul."

I was so stunned by his answer that I didn't know what to say.

"Wha ... what?" I choked. "But that's like asking for his death, right?"

"Not quite. Unlike you Humans, our Souls don't belong to the Cycle of Life and Death. If you were to ask for his Soul he would be imprisoned for all eternity, his powers Sealed," he explained, his pained expression leaving me wordless.

And there it was! My heart rushed. A way to Seal him again! The answer to all my problems! All I had to do was to make sure he broke that Contract. And suddenly that didn't seem all that difficult. After all, he'd already almost done it once. And now, if I would just let him be ... If I were to allow him to hurt Steph, as it would certainly happen, I could make use of the Law and demand his imprisonment. Sure Steph would be depressed, and she might even hate me for the rest of her life. But, in the end, she was still a Human girl, and I knew all too well how resilient Human Beings could be, more than able to stand up and face almost anything that might be thrown their way. I was sure she'd forget him soon enough and that she would end up finding some nice boy that would really deserve her. And the rest, as painful as it might be, was a cheap price to pay to free her, and me, from that terrifying creature. Above all, I'd be free from that terrible Contract. And he would disappear from my life, returning to the darkness from where he should have never been released.

That last thought left a bitter taste in my mouth and I recalled Lea's presence, watching me in silence, as if he could listen to the endless torrent of thoughts and arguments that crossed my mind. He looked apprehensive, as if aware of my motivations and ideas, and I felt sorry for him, knowing that he too would suffer when I sent his Master back to oblivion.

"Lea, why are you telling me all this?" I asked softly and he lowered his head.

"Because if I can't take him back home, then at least ... at least I hope that someone might be able to take care of him," he answered darkly.

"Take care?" I repeated, trying hard to understand what he meant. "Are you talking of me?" I concluded, half outraged, half panicking and he just stared at me. "You've got to be kidding!" I exploded, jumping to my feet, and paced back and forth, trying to keep rational about it all.

"Because right now you're the only one who can do it! Because you're the one who called him here! And because it's with you he has this Contract!" Lea told me in one breath, his gaze following me from one end of the room to the other, and frustration squeezed my chest as despair took over my thoughts.

"Lea!! All I want is for him to disappear!" I stated, raising my voice, and ran a shaky hand over my face. "And you, you give me the solution and ask me to use it to control him?" I asked and laughed nervously. That couldn't be happening! "What about me? Where do I stand in all this? If I can't get rid of him, what's left of my life?" I went on, my voice breaking into a rough whisper and I let myself lean against a wall, sliding slowly towards the floor, suddenly too tired to even stand. The cold from the plaster trespassed my cotton blouse, calming me down, although it did little in helping me order the chaos running amok in my head.

"Mari, I wish I could tell you everything," he told me in his child-like voice. "But I can't. The only thing I can do is ask you this."

I raised my head, staring at the ceiling, and took a deep breath.

"I don't know if I can do what you're asking," I declared, my voice sounding hard and cold. "I'm sorry. Maybe you should really kill me, or something. If you did all your wishes would come true."

I heard the soft creaking of the bed and the sound of bare feet against the floor, followed by the soft tinkling of his bell. I didn't move. I'd grant him that chance. If everything ended there, then at least it was an end. I was too tired even to think about tomorrow. He stopped right in front of me, his silver gaze too cold and hard to belong to a child's face. I didn't react. It was almost easier to just die there than having to decide what to do next. His small hands surrounded my neck and I took a deep breath, closing my eyes. Only just a bit more and I'd have eternal silence. Sure I felt sorry for those that would suffer from my departure, but maybe this was for the best. However, Lea's small hands didn't choke me as I expected, and slid, warm and soft, over my skin, slowly enveloping me in his embrace as he leaned his forehead against mine.

"I'm sorry, but now I can't kill you anymore," he whispered as if he really meant it, as if he wished he could fulfill my wish, but something prohibited him from doing so. "And it's not only because Master would be very angry. I need you alive. Please forgive me."

I shuddered at the realization I hadn't died, that I wasn't going to die, and a stupid relief washed over me. I raised my arms and pulled him into my embrace, sitting him between my legs, resting my head on his naked shoulder. The flowery scent of the shampoo I had used on him reached my nose.

"Don't know which one of you is worse."

"Sorry."

"You're asking me to willingly throw away the only chance I have to win my life back."

"Sorry."

"And you're telling me to throw away what's most important to me to help a creature that I still haven't even understood what he wants from me."

"Sorry."

I clenched my teeth, struggling against myself, and anguish nearly smothered me.

"Why? Why can't I refuse you!"

His small hand caressed my hair, comforting me, and once more I found myself wondering where were the tears I knew I should be crying.

"You're Human, Mari. The choice is always yours," he answered me softly.

To use the Law to control him, or to use the Law to Seal him.

I leaned my head back against the wall and he straightened his back to look at me. I felt his small fingers softly touching my cheek and faced his bright gaze. If I were to Seal him, what would it be of that child? And why did that bother me so much? Once more I told myself not to be deceived by appearances. That child was not a child! He was a demon. And no one could guarantee that anything he'd just told me was true, that it wasn't all part of some sordid plan, too big for me to see the whole picture from where I stood. Like he said, there were a lot of things that I still didn't know, things that he wouldn't, or wasn't allowed to tell me. But, if it really was like that, why was his gaze so straightforward and pure? For good or for evil, his heart was completely loyal and dedicated to Gabriel. Lea had risked everything by telling me all that. And I was sure that, through Gabriel's eyes, him doing so could even be seen as a betrayal. On the other hand, the risk he'd taken only went to show just how desperate he was and how serious the situation really was. How could I disappoint him? And how could I sacrifice my happiness to help a demon?

"Even if I ... even if I use this Law, the only thing I can make sure of is that he will not hurt those around me. I can't stop him from seeing Stephanie," I argued, assuming the possibility, and Lea's expression became immediately brighter, tugging at my soft heart. How could I condemn him to absolute solitude again, when I knew how much he'd suffered these last eighty years? "Besides, if they're really in a ... relationship, breaking it up just like that can also mean a breach in the Contract."

"He'll do as you wish, Mari. If you clearly tell him what you wish," he explained firmly, which deeply bothered me.

"Without asking for anything in return?" I asked, unsure, and he averted his gaze.

"That ... that I don't know. But the choice is yours, it's always yours," he repeated, sounding depressed now, and I took a deep breath running a hand over his still damp hair.

"I won't promise you anything, Lea. But, for now, I'll just focus on saving Stephanie from all this mess. As for me, if I've survived until now, I'll probably be able to do so for few more days and, who knows? Maybe I'll find another solution," I told him and he gave me the most beautiful smile I'd ever seen. "However! Please understand. I will not allow this Contract to be fulfilled!" I clarified and his expression became serious again. "It's something I'd already decided, even before you told me all this. For now, I'll just keep avoiding Michael as much as I can. Do you understand? My wish can never be fulfilled," I tried to explain. "At least not through this Contract. Even if Michael returns my feelings, the price I have to pay will ruin everything. So, if the time ever comes when I feel that the Contract is about to be fulfilled and there's nothing I can do about it, I won't hesitate, and I will use this Law of yours to get rid of him. When that time comes, if it comes, I'll allow you to kill me, if that's your wish. After all, it's only fair, since it was you who offered me a way out, and it's you who will be alone once he is gone. Just like I'm now fighting to avoid having to suffer, I'll grant you that same chance." I caressed the soft, warm skin of his face.

"And you're telling me all this?"

"Sure. This is our Contract, Lea."

He looked down, as if considering all that I'd just told him and, when he raised his head, there were no doubts in his silver eyes.

"I accept!" he firmly declared and, before I could react, his small hands held my face and his lips touched mine in a brief, child-like kiss. "Now our Contract is Sealed," he told me in that grown-up tone of his and I was so caught off guard that I just sat there, completely stunned, for a few seconds. Then my face caught on fire as I became aware that he'd just kissed me, and I hit him over the head, making him cringe with an 'Ouch.'

"You! Really!" I complained and he laughed, amused by my angry expression. I inhaled deeply, smiling as a reflex brought upon by the pure sound of his laughter, and held him under his arms, making him stand up. "And let's get you dressed before you catch a cold!" I added and Lea shrugged, showing he would only do it to please me.

I helped him put on his pajama shirt and he slid into its matching pants, the only clothes we'd bought for him during the weekend, and the only ones that fit him without making him drag long sleeves all over the place.

"Maybe I should get you some more clothes," I mused.

"No need. As soon as Master is no longer angry with me, I'll ask him to get me all the new clothes you want," he told me with a strained smile and I effortlessly raised him from the ground, sitting him on the bed.

"He is not angry with you!" I practically spelled it out for him. "You heard what he said, didn't you?"

"Yes, but even so, it's still hard to talk with him," he lamented. Although I'd be trying my best to cheer him up these last few days, the truth was that Lea felt very lonely without him. I grabbed the book I'd bought with Michael and sat beside him.

"How about a story?" I suggested and he jumped excitedly.

"Yes, please! I love when you read for me!" he declared, pure happiness making his eyes even brighter. I opened the book to the first page. He was so easy to please.

I read for Lea the rest of the afternoon and through the night, until he fell asleep.

Then I stood up, so that sleep couldn't claim me as well, and went downstairs to the kitchen where I sat to wait for him. I almost fell asleep a half-dozen times and fought the increasing drowsiness with all my persistence. I washed my face, drank cold water, paced around the table, dampened my neck and behind my ears, and yet no sign of him. When I'd finally began to accept the fact that he wasn't coming home after all, his presence echoed throughout the entire house, stealing my breath away. My eyes flew to the kitchen clock — it was almost three in the morning.

I tried to control my breathing and to still my jumping heart. Mentally reviewing what I had to tell him, I uselessly reinforced the idea that he couldn't harm me. Even so, and although I couldn't hear his footsteps, my hands were already shaking before he'd even reached the door.

"Mariane." My name ... in his voice.

I flattened my hands against my ears and counted my breathing.

"Stop saying my name," I asked with a broken voice.

He seemed surprised to see me there but simply stood by the door, so completely still that he could've easily been mistaken for a statue, granting me the time I needed to recover. Slowly, I began regaining control over the irrational fear that drowned every cell in my body, and managed to take a deep breath. I felt so tired.

"What are you doing here? It's late. Shouldn't you be sleeping?" he asked, keeping his voice down, and I forced myself to answer him.

"I needed ... to talk to you," I replied, annoyed at myself when my voice trembled, and he crossed his arms over his chest, leaning against the door frame.

"To me? Interesting. I'm listening."

I watched him for a moment and couldn't help wonder where he'd been until then. That small, sharp pain returned when I considered the possibility that he'd probably been with Steph, which, together with everything else, made me irritable and angry for no apparent reason.

"I ... I still haven't thanked you for what you did this morning. For having ..." I stopped myself, recalling his words, and corrected my phrasing. "For releasing Lea form his punishment and for saving my life. And what happened, well, I'm sorry." I finally said it, telling myself that throwing away a bit of pride was a cheap price to pay for sealing any debts I might have incurred in during the last events. "I was scared. I didn't think ... I never meant ..." I stammered, unable to put it any clearer and made a brief pause to recover from the effort. He remained calm, unmoving, as if he wasn't even there and I was talking to a wall. "Now, that aside, I need to know. What happened between you and Steph?" I asked, making sure I did so in my firmest tone, and his eyes looked away.

"So, that's it then," he observed in a mix of scorn and disinterest, and my anger burned molten hot.

"It's important!" I retorted, countering his apparently detached expression.

"She's nothing but an insignificant Human."

"Stephanie is my friend!" I declared, raising my voice, and unthinkingly stood up, as if doing so could help me mark my point. The chair fell backwards with a loud bang that left both us in silence.

"Very well. What do you want to know?" he finally conceded, but his gaze escaped mine once again, his expression becoming even harder and indifferent.

It took me some time until I was able to organize my ideas enough to establish a coherent line of thought, and I swallowed hard before talking again. Now it wasn't only his presence that made me shiver, that made my stomach burn. I had questions I wanted to ask, but answers I was sure I didn't want to hear.

"Are you ... together?" I managed to ask and my voice sounded lonely and frail as the words left my lips.

"What does that mean?" he counter-asked, completely indifferent, which made me frown as I had to reformulate my question.

"Tuesday. Were you together?

"She came to me," he calmly admitted and my heart almost stopped since he hadn't hesitated for even a split second.

"You stayed together?"

"What do you mean?"

I clenched my teeth, grinding them together in despair. He wasn't going to spare me having to ask it word by word.

"Did you ... sleep with her?" I whispered in a hiss, the words burning my tongue, and he just stood there, unmoving.

"Yes."

Pain spread through my chest, making me lean forward, and I forced new air into my lungs. The pain started clawing at my brain, making me faint, and I braced myself against the table, my fingers clawing its smooth surface.

"Why?"

"Because she came to me." His indifference exploded against the wave of pain that consumed me and my anger was unleashed.

"What now?" I asked, unable to recognize my own voice, hard and threatening, and he shrugged.

"You heard what she said. She thinks I belong to her." The mocking tone that marked his last comment was the last drop. I slammed both my hands on the table, wishing I could hit him instead, and the sound vibrated in the air around us. His head turned slowly to face me, his expression half surprised half curious, and I faced his dark eyes with all my fury and anger.

"Because of you! Because of you, I lost my friend!" I accused him and my mouth tasted bitter at his lack of reaction. "And I can't care less about what you do! But one thing you have to abide by!" I went on, not wanting to stop, knowing that if I did I'd probably never be able to start again, and I pulled hard at the blue ribbon around my wrist, tearing it effortlessly, raising my hand in front of him. He frowned, annoyed at the sight of the small red mark that stained my skin, and I continued. "You're the one who created this Contract! And I will not allow you to break it!"

"I don't know what you're talking about," he retorted dryly, completely different from his previous indifferent self.

"I told you you weren't allowed to hurt those around me! I won't allow you to hurt Steph! Or is it that you only know physical pain!" His eyes widened in an expression I'd never seen in his face, as if he'd just now thought about that. And then his expression became heavier like the air around us, becoming harder to breathe. I pressed my lips together before throwing myself back into the fight. "If you hurt her ... if she ends up suffering because of you. If you make her cry. I swear I'll declare this a broken Contract and I will demand your Soul as compensation!" I threatened darkly, lowering my voice to a tense murmur, certain that it would end up failing me should I try to speak any louder than that, and the fury that took over his face would have sent me spiraling to the floor, if it weren't for the table that I used to supported my shaking body with all my strength and determination.

I closed my eyes for a moment, feeling cold drops of sweat sliding down my forehead. I'd managed to say what I wanted to say, I congratulated myself, trying to focus on what was really important instead of the devastating effect that his terrible presence had over me. Now all I wished was to be able to get away from that place, to return to the apparent safety of my room. Above all, I didn't want to lose consciousness there, in front of him!

"I see what you mean." His voice was surprisingly calm and I opened my eyes to look at him. I recalled what Lea had told me. He hadn't only controlled his voice, but his emotions as well. His face returned to that perfect unfeeling statue, his dark gaze once more indifferent. The air became lighter once again, and I was able to straighten my back. "Agreed," he conceded calmly. "So, from where I stand, I only see two ways to solve this. Either I go on sustaining this relationship, or I break up with her. What do you wish me to do?"

Wish. Lea had told me that he would comply with my wishes, as long as I made them clear. My answer was so immediate that I couldn't help hesitate. I had no doubts regarding what I wanted. I wanted him to break up with her, now! In that precise moment if possible! However ... however, my mind could easily come up with arguments that made the other option look much fairer, as far as Stephanie's happiness was concerned. And, if I rationally thought like that, why was I wishing the opposite?

"How ... how can you break up with her and not hurt her at the same time?" I questioned, hoping that he'd offer me a few more arguments in favor of my rational choice. If I could prove to myself that my wish was impossible, then there wouldn't be a choice to be made anymore. I should've known better. He would never help me. That wasn't his role.

"It's quite easy for someone like me. There's a Human boy interested in your friend. If he takes my place in her heart, then she will not suffer," he stated in a disconcerting matter-of-fact tone, his black eyes observing me, and I felt a hint of guilt weighing on my consciousness. I knew he was challenging me, provoking me, and that he knew all too well what I really wanted, just like he'd known when I'd evoked him. There was no escape. "To tell you the truth, it's not like she's in love with me, or anything," he pointed out, his voice deep with sarcasm as he pronounced the word love. "She admires the fleeting image she created of me in the brief moments she saw me, and is under the influence of the night we spent together. She doesn't even know me. How could she possibly love me?"

It was the same, the same that Michael had told me. Sure, his tone was colder and bitter, and filled with sarcasm, but strangely enough that only made it sound even more real.

"Do it then!" I decided and he tilted his head sideways, smiling murderously.

"And what shall I do, exactly?" Again, without sparing me, not even when I knew that my choice wasn't as unselfish as it should be.

"What I wish!" I stated firmly. "Break up with her and leave Mark in your place!"

His smile widened and he straightened his back, uncrossing his long arms, leaving me apprehensive and trembling, as it always happened every time he moved.

"Fine. I'll do as you wish," he said and I sighed in relief. "However!" His 'however' echoed in my mind, making me tense. There was more. It wasn't going to be that easy. He wasn't finished.

He kept silent for a moment, allowing me to recover from the shock and disappointment, and I took a deep breath when I felt myself able to resume our conversation.

"However?" I asked and he smiled again, seeming amused, his face taking on that surreal beauty that could never belong to a Human Being.

"However, I'll only do this if I get something in return." My legs threatened to buckle under my weight and I held on to the table with all my strength. More exchanges, more Contracts. And what could I possibly give him that wasn't already pledged? I had nothing, besides despair.

"What ... do you want?" I whispered between breaths, my voice falling to its usual frail and broken tone, and his expression became slightly cruel, the corners of his perfect lips slightly turning downwards. And still he was breathtakingly beautiful.

"Let's see ..." He left his words hanging, as if considering the matter, and I waited. "It so happens that I'm rather bored," he told me with a tedious expression. "In the end, we both know that I've already fulfilled my part in this Contract, and still here we stand, in this boring impasse." My eyes widened unable to understand, not wanting to understand, and he looked at me curiously. "Come on! You're not going to tell me that you still haven't noticed! The useless blondie is head over heels for you!" he declared with such certainty that I felt completely lost, as if I'd just been pushed to the edge of a cliff, not knowing how I'd come to stand there. "Everyone can see it! It's rather annoying!" he went on and my mind fervently denied every single word he said. "Whatever the reason, he seems to be refusing to admit it. I wonder why!" Sarcasm again. "Either way, I promised that your feelings would be returned and, although we all know this is already true, there's no way to prove it to you, unless he admits it himself." I almost felt relieved. If that was true, then there were still ways to stop it from happening. "And so, I have to remain here, until such time comes. I was about to die of boredom when Stephanie challenged me." I clenched my teeth hard and resisted the impulse to cut him off. Hearing Steph's name in his voice annoyed me deeply, beyond any rational reasoning. "And now you want me to give up my one and only amusement. It just doesn't seem fair."

"Amusement," I repeated in disbelief. Was that how he saw her? And those who worried about her, like Joanne and me? All of that, was it of no consequence to him? "Just say what you want!" I demanded, once again boiling with anger, and his face lost that sarcastic look, becoming frighteningly serious.

"The time I should be passing with her, you will be passing with me," he told me with absolute certainty, and I just stood there, staring at him.

"What?"

"You'll be the one to decide. The longer you spend with me, the lesser I'll spend with her. After all, it's your clear lack of taste in men that lead us to this annoying situation. Any other in his place would've already taken the next step!"

I ignored his clear provocation and ran a hand over my damp forehead.

"How long?"

"How long?"

"How long will you need to let her go," I clarified and immediately wished I'd kept quiet.

His eyes flickered lightly, as if he'd just had a wonderful idea, and that ironic smile returned to his face.

"Hmm, let's see. It all depends on you," he declared and I stared at him clueless. "I'll set your friend free the day you're able to come close to me enough to kiss me. Until then I think I'll probably go on having fun in her company every time you're otherwise engaged. Contrary to your indecisive self, she always knows perfectly well what she wants."

Not thinking, I grabbed the first thing my hands could reach and threw it at his head. I didn't quite understand how he managed to avoid it, since I couldn't even see him move. However, the glass hit against the door frame right behind his head, shattering and falling on the ground in a dozen pieces. He looked down at the small pieces of glass at his feet, looking surprised for just an instant, and then laughed, a rich, warm laugh that filled the entire room, ringing in my ears.

"I guess that means we have a deal?" he suggested, still laughing, and I wished I could cry of anger.

The soft sound of a small bell captured our attention, and Lea appeared at the door, still rubbing his eyes, looking extremely sleepy.

"What is it? What's happened?" he mumbled and Gabriel bent over, picking him up with ease. His silver eyes shot wide open, immediately awake as he felt himself suddenly being risen so high above the ground, and, for a second, I was afraid for him. "M-m-master ..." I thought he was going to scold him for walking around the house in that shape, or at least treat him coldly as he'd done that morning. But Gabriel smiled, that smile he only showed that child, and ruffled his hair in an obvious good mood.

"You better sleep with me tonight, Lea. Mari is throwing a tantrum and dangerous things happen," he added, pointing to the glass pieces with a movement of his head, and Lea followed his gaze, almost alarmed.

"Mari," he whispered looking at me, his childish expression changing to one of sadness and pity as he empathized with my wasted and broken appearance, and then turned to Gabriel, pleadingly. "Master, can we go now?" he asked and Gabriel offered me one last amused smile before turning his back on me and walking away, taking Lea with him.

Lea, looking even smaller in his arms, still peered at me over his Master's shoulders, his silver eyes sad and worried, and then they were both gone, lost among the shadows of the corridor.

[DISPLAY_ULTIMATE_SOCIAL_ICONS]

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