“Thank you,” Alphonse bowed his head graciously. “If there is anything that I can do – anything – just say the word. I want to make your passing as easy on you as possible.”

“Don’t talk like that,” I told him firmly, turning my fury. “He’s going to be fine. We still have a few days, maybe a week. We’ll get through tonight and make the most of it.”


“No,” Cole responded.

“I…what?” I turned to him, stricken with panic.

“The doctors…say…I won’t last the night…this is it.”



* * *

Everything was faint and disoriented, as if swirling under the surface of a clean, clear lake, while the rest of the world continued on above the crisp edge of the water.

There was some small sensation – I believe someone was holding me by the shoulders. I turned my head. It was Alphonse, with a face filled with concern.

Something brushed my own face. It was a set of pale, strong fingers. My attention turned towards them, and I could see Cole, reaching down to console me.

Down?

Right. I was on my knees. Did I faint?

The room slowly came back. My head didn’t hurt, and nothing else on me did. I must not have fainted, only…collapsed downward, perhaps. The shock had been a bit much.

The shock.

I remembered, all of a sudden. Cole – my husband – was going to die tonight, in all likelihood. I thought I had more time with him, but no. The world was cruel, and my love was going to fade away from me.

Once I was back on my feet and steady, Alphonse quickly checked me over. Apparently satisfied, he elected to ask me a few times about my present condition, before stepping aside to grab some coffee and give us some time alone.

I sat next to Cole, pulling a chair up beside him. I held his hand to my face, feeling his fingers grasp lightly at my hair or caress my cheek. To think that I was such a different person before I met this man; I couldn’t fathom being that person anymore.

“You look…so very beautiful,” he whispered.

“You’re not too bad-looking yourself,” I smiled through my tears.

Cole grinned weakly, his eyes twinkling just a little. “Transparent flattery…was never a…very good color on you…”

We smiled at each other, thinking back to the lunch appointment that had set this entire mess into motion. Before I knew about Coppersmith’s secretive agenda against Cole…before Alphonse Megami and the buyout…before I really learned who this man was, his tragic past…before I knew that he was dying. So much had happened since then. We had come to trust one another, rely on one another…I’d seen this standoffish leader of his tiny, lucrative empire open his heart up, finally letting go of his fears and anxieties…and in return, he had given me stability, love, and personal sacrifice.

We had learned to love one another – our partnership of mutual business benefit had become something else entirely.

It had become an unbreakable bond.

“When did you decide that you loved me?” Cole asked, as if reading my very thoughts.

“I think I knew when I was against your body in a little soul club in New Orleans,” I answered softly. “I still needed time before I could really admit it to myself…but that sounds about right.”

Cole nodded softly, lost in thought.

“What about you?”

“I knew for sure…with complete certainty…when I told you that I was dying…and you told me you would…stand by my side…I had been so afraid…and in that moment…I knew I wouldn’t be afraid again…”

I pulled myself upwards and planted my full lips against his. It wasn’t a deep, passionate kiss – I knew he didn’t have the lungs for that right now – but there were just as many sparks as the moment that we had first kissed in that sham of a wedding.

About two minutes after I pulled away from the kiss, an older, stern man in glasses and a lab coat appeared in the doorway, flipping through pages on a clipboard.

Cole immediately perked up a little at the sight of him. “Doctor Greene…” he murmured, gazing over at the physician – who was approaching us from the doorway. “Kiona…meet my specialist…this is the man who…has been guiding me with the…disease…”

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