"Oh God," I said again. I had never lost the need to appeal to my creator, despite my theoretical renouncement.
I clutched her hand, not knowing what to do. A half-dressed Etienne appeared in the crowd. I looked up at him desperately.
"You have to go get a doctor. Please."
Whatever injured pride he harbored over my rejection, he couldn't refuse me in that moment. I saw him make motions to leave, but Bastien grabbed his arm. "No, it doesn't matter." To me he said: "She's gone, Fleur ."
I looked at Dominique's young face. Her skin was pale, eyes blank and glazed over as they stared at nothing. I knew I should close them, but suddenly I didn't want to touch her. I dropped her hand, slowly backing up, staring in horror.
It was by no means the first time I'd seen a dead body, but something struck me about it then I'd never really considered with such shocking clarity. One moment she was here, the next she wasn't. Oh, the difference one heartbeat could make.
The stink of mortality hung in the air, painting the awful truth about humans. How short their lives were. And fragile. They were like paper dolls among us, turning to ash in the blink of an eye. How many had I seen come and go in over a millennium? How many had I seen pass from infancy to a gray-haired death? The stink of mortality. It threatened to overwhelm the room. How could no one else sense it? I hated it...and I feared it. Feeling suffocated, I backed up further.
Both Bastien and Etienne reached for me in some fumbling attempt at comfort, but I wanted none of it. Dominique, barely out of childhood, had just bled her life away in front of me. What fragile things humans were. I had to get out of there before I became sick. I turned from those who would console me and ran away.
"What fragile things humans are," I murmured to Doug.
The feeling that welled up within me now as I sat beside him was not sorrow or despair. It was anger. White-hot anger. Humans were fragile, but some of them were still in my care. And whether that was foolish or not on my part, I could not shirk my duty. Doug was one of my humans. And someone had nearly cut his time short.
I stood up, gave his hand a last squeeze, and strode out of the room. From the shocked glances Corey, Min, and Wyatt gave me, I must have looked terrifying. I hit the pause button on my righteous fury when I noticed something. "Where's Seth?"
"He said he had to go," said Corey. "He left you this."
He handed me a scrap of paper with Seth's scrawled writing.
Thetis, I'll talk to you later.
I stared at it, suddenly feeling nothing. I went numb. My mind would not allow me to focus on Seth just then. I crumpled the paper up, said good-bye to the band, and left the hospital. When I reached the lobby, I took out my cell phone and dialed.
"Alec? This is Georgina."
"Hey, Georgina!" I heard the anxious note in his voice. Almost desperate.
"You were right," I began, hoping I sounded anxious too. "You were right. I need more. Now. Tonight. Can you do it?"
"Yes," he said. There was palpable relief in his voice. "Absolutely I can do it."
We set up a meeting spot immediately. It couldn't be too soon for me. I'd been on an emotional roller coaster in the last twenty-four hours, and I was about to take it out on Alec. I couldn't wait. The fact that he seemed so eager for it was icing on the cake.
"Oh, hey, Georgina?" he asked, just before we disconnected.
His voice sounded strange; I couldn't decipher the emotion. "You have no idea how glad I am you called."
The dealer's house sat away from the road, just like all sinister houses should, I suppose. My biased perceptions aside, there was actually little else about the house that was all that creepy. It was big and expensive-looking, spreading out lazily on beautifully manicured lawns, visible to me even at night. In a region where yards were at a premium, that much land signified a great deal of money. Unlike Bastien's place, this house had no similarly well-to-do neighbors. This house was in a class of its own; it could not be part of a mere suburban neighborhood.
"Where are we?" I asked, because it seemed like the kind of naive, starry-eyed question I should be asking. Alec had met me downtown and then driven me out to this place in his own car. We were about twenty minutes outside the city.
"This is where the guy lives," he told me happily. His mood improved as we got closer to the house. "He'll hook you up."
The car followed the long, sinuous driveway and came to a stop by the garage. In an oddly chivalrous way, he opened the car door for me and gestured that I follow him inside. Glancing back at his beat-up Ford Topaz, I couldn't help thinking that being an immortal drug lord's lackey should pay better.
Alec led us through a side door in the house, and even I was taken aback at what I found inside. The first word that came to mind was lush. And not the drunk kind either. I meant in the opulent sense, the kind of lush you sink your teeth into. The walls, floor, and ceilings consisted of gleaming dark hardwood, almost like we were inside a lodge - say, a lodge that cost seven figures. Beams of that beautiful wood crisscrossed the open, cathedral ceiling. Jewel-toned oil paintings in gilt frames hung on the walls, and I had enough of a sense for the value of art to recognize they had not come from Bed Bath & Beyond.
We crossed out of the foyer and found more of the same in a large living room. Its focal point was an enormous fireplace whose brick façade stretched to the ceiling. A multicolored stained-glass landscape hung above the fireplace's opening, and flames from the roaring fire - along with several strategically placed candles - cast the only light in the room. Nothing electrical.
In that dim, flickering lighting, I sensed the man before I saw him. The same unfamiliar immortal signature from the concert carried to me, coupled with something else. This close to him, I noticed how much he felt like the crystals. Or rather, how much the crystals felt like him, as if they were pale, fractured versions of the masterpiece. The whole vibe from him felt weird but not quite as discordant as the crystals themselves had.
"Alec," said a creamy voice, "who is your lovely friend?"
The man unfolded from the couch, standing in one fluid motion. I now saw the same features as before: flawless tanned skin, long black hair, high cheekbones. He also wore the same hot Victorian couture, complete with another of those gorgeous silk shirts that billowed around his arms and showed smooth skin through the V-neck.
"This is Georgina," said Alec, voice quaking with nervousness and excitement. "Just like I said."
The man glided to us and took my hand in both of his. "Georgina. A beautiful name for a beautiful woman." He drew my hand to his lips - which were full and pink - and kissed my skin. He held my hand a moment, letting his dark eyes bore into mine, and then he slowly straightened up and released me. "My name is Sol."
I turned off all my impulses to make snappy jokes and/or maul this guy, instead opting for stunned innocence mingled with a little fear. "H-hello." I swallowed nervously and looked down at my feet.
"You've done well," Sol told Alec. "Very well."
I didn't have to see Alec to tell he was practically melting with relief. "So...does that mean...I can, you know...?"
"Yes, yes." Unless I was mistaken, a slight note of irritation underscored that pleasant voice. "Afterward. Go upstairs now. I'll summon you when I'm ready. "
Alec started to leave, and I grabbed his sleeve, still playing frightened maiden. "Wait - where are you going?"
He smiled at me. "I'll be right back. It's okay. You wanted more, right? Sol's going to get it for you."
I must have truly looked terrified because he squeezed my arm reassuringly. "It's okay. Really."
I bit my lip and gave him a hesitant nod. His eyes held mine for a moment, and something very like regret flickered across them. Then he left.
"Come sit with me," intoned Sol, taking my hand again.
He led me to a sumptuous couch by the fire. Warmth from that orange glow spilled over me, and the flames were reflected in his dark eyes. I sat down gingerly, scooting back because the cushions were so big. We sat there quietly.
He smiled expectantly, and I gave him a faltering smile back. "Alec said you could give me more...you know...of that stuff."
"You enjoyed it then?"
"Yes. Oh yes. It made me feel..."