|A Gift of Time
Author: Wyndes PM
In the quirky small town of Tassamara, FL, paranormal gifts are taken for granted. Natalya's gift has always been bleak, though - she can see the future, but changing it seldom works for the better. But when a future she's known about for years doesn't happen the way she expects, what else will change in her life?Rated: Fiction T - English - Supernatural/Romance - Chapters: 16 - Words: 36,278 - Reviews: 57 - Favs: 4 - Follows: 12 - Updated: 04-30-13 - Published: 06-26-12 - id: 3036333
|A+ A- Full 3/4 1/2 Expand Tighten|
Nat flat-out refused to discuss the two of them and their relationship. At another time, in another place, Colin would argue with her. But it was the middle of the night, they were both tired, and they had the child to take care of. He retreated to the room where he'd left his belongings and dressed as slowly as he could, waiting, hoping that the quiet voice in the back of his head would let him know what he should do next.
But the voice was silent.
Colin thought. What had the voice said? Don't tell. Keep her secret. How the hell could he manage that? No way was he taking the girl home with him, not when she was scared of him. And if he brought her to the station, the wheels of bureaucracy would start spinning immediately.
He needed someone to watch her while he tried to find out who she was and where she came from. He could bring her to one of his female relatives—his sisters or aunts or grandmother. But his family was in and out of one another's houses all the time and what one knew, the others quickly learned. If he left her with a relative, half the town would be talking about the girl by noon tomorrow, the other half by nightfall.
No, to keep the girl secret—safe—he needed someone who could take care of her, who lived alone, and who guarded her privacy fiercely.
He knew exactly the person.
She was never going to agree.
Half an hour later, back in Nat's office, Colin ran his hand through his hair while he tried to muster another argument, one that didn't revolve around, 'Because an invisible girl told me so.'
"I know you think I'm being unreasonable," he said, in as placating a voice as he could manage.
"I don't think you're being unreasonable. You are being unreasonable." Natalya glanced at the sleeping child behind her and lowered her voice. "Her family must be frantic. Every minute that goes by is another minute of torture for them."
"I'll look for them. I'll find them," Colin promised. "I just want to keep this quiet until we do."
Natalya spread her hands wide. "So we tell the people at the hospital not to talk to reporters. They're medical professionals. They can handle that."
"Nat…" Colin couldn't think of anything else to say. He knew Nat was right. If it weren't for his delusion about the invisible teenager, he would already have called DCF and the hospital would have been notified that he was bringing a child in. Hell, the deputy on duty might already have found a missing person report that matched her description.
"I'm taking her to the hospital, Colin. Period. End of story. You can't talk me out of it."
"The hospital's gonna scare her. Poking her, prodding her, nasty smells, strange people, weird noises." Colin believed in his invisible girl, he really did. But the whole night had been surreal. Maybe he'd imagined that voice he heard before.
"For the fourth time—or is it the fifth? I'm losing count." Nat's voice held forced patience, but an edge of temper revealed her exasperation. "Whatever. Let me repeat myself yet again. She's been wandering in the forest. She wasn't desperately thirsty, so she was drinking something and it was probably untreated water. In Florida, that means parasites. Giardia lamblia. Cryptosporidium."
"Brain-eating amoebas?" Colin asked dryly. Hell, if Nat wanted to focus on the negative possibilities, they might as well go worst-case scenario.
"Wrong time of year for that," Nat replied as if he'd been serious. "Those need warm temperatures."
"Well, that's a relief." Nat glared at him. Colin looked away. Okay, maybe he shouldn't be flippant. "Sorry."
"She needs a thorough medical evaluation."
Colin wasn't sure how Nat was managing to keep her patience. If their roles had been reversed, he would have scooped up the little girl and carried her out of here by now. "They're not going to test for parasites unless she gets sick."
"Not the point." Nat threw up her hands.
"You're a doctor. You can take care of her."
"Damn it, Colin." The volume on their voices had been increasing as Colin stubbornly retreaded the same ground they'd already covered, but they both froze at the sound of a small whimper. The girl stirred restlessly, her face creasing in an expression that might have been fear or pain. And then she sighed and her face smoothed out. She turned her head deeper into the cushion.
Neither Nat or Colin moved for a moment. Nat gestured with her chin at the door and Colin nodded. In the room with the scanner, Nat said, "She should have a forensic medical exam. One that collects evidence. You should want that!"
"I do. Of course I do. It's just…"
"I'm a doctor. I'm a mandated reporter. It's a felony with a million dollar fine attached not to report an abused or neglected child in Florida."
"I'm local law enforcement. You've reported her to me."
"And you want to hide her! You know what they call that? Kidnapping is what they call that! You have lost your mind!"
Colin winced. Moving away from the sleeping child might have been a mistake if it meant Nat felt freer to yell at him. Pressing his hands together as if in prayer, he said, "Nat. Can't you trust me?"
"No," she snapped. "I don't trust you."
Colin felt a flicker of pleasure. That was a lie.
She must have seen the gleam of amusement on his face because she rolled her eyes. "Fine," she admitted. "You know I trust you. But I still think you're wrong."
The corner of Colin's mouth lifted. 'Wrong' was better than 'insane.' He could work with wrong. But before Colin could think of a new approach, the phone in the other room began to ring.
Natalya frowned. "That must be the security guard," she said. "He's the only one who knows I'm here."
As she hurried back to the phone, Colin followed her. The only strategy that he hadn't tried was the truth. He turned the words over in his imagination, wondering how Nat would react. 'I saw a girl when I was dead and I think she's talking to me. She's the one who wants the little girl kept secret.'
Nat pushed a button on the front of the phone. "Yes?"
A woman's voice spoke. "Oh, good, you're still there. Hi, Natalya."
"Akira?" Natalya sounded surprised. "How did you know I was here?"
From the doorway, Colin realized that either the argument or the ringing phone had woken the little girl. She was sitting up, blinking sleepily, but at the sight of Colin, her eyes went alert and wary. He nodded at her, wondering. Was it the uniform that scared her or the fact that he was male? Neither was a good sign.
After a moment of thought, he crouched in front of her, keeping a comfortable distance between them. She inched backward on the cushions.
"I don't remember what happened on the road very well," he told her. "I remember that my chest hurt, and then I remember waking up." He glanced over his shoulder at Nat. She'd picked up the phone receiver and seemed to be listening to Akira, two lines between her brows. He remembered kissing her, the taste of her, the smell of her, the feeling of being absolutely present in his body, his heart pounding, his nerve endings sizzling. But between the pain and the joy, what had happened?
He looked back at the girl. "You did something, didn't you?"
She didn't answer.
"I think you brought me back to life," Colin said quietly. "I think you healed me."
Her chin went up but her frozen stare looked afraid.
"I'm not complaining." He waited but she didn't say anything and her stiff muscles didn't relax.
Behind him, Nat said, with a choke that sounded like suppressed laughter, "You have got to be kidding, Akira. Do you even know what you're asking?"
Colin ignored her, his eyes still intent on the girl. "If we were Wookiees, I'd owe you a life debt," he told her. "Do you know what that is?"
She made a tiny movement of her head, barely an inch in either direction.
"A life-debt means that because you saved my life, I have a sacred obligation to you. For the rest of my life I would have to protect and serve you."
Her eyes narrowed and he couldn't resist smiling at her. Despite the skepticism in her expression, the tension in her neck and shoulders had eased. She didn't look relaxed, but she looked calmer, less fearful.
"A what?" Nat's laughter was gone, replaced by shock. Colin stood, turning to see what was wrong.
With a shake of her head, Natalya pushed the button to return the phone to speaker and suddenly Colin could hear Akira talking. She was mid-sentence. "…no wings and no halo, but she hasn't explained why she's running around in the middle of the night telling people what to do." There was a brief pause before Akira spoke again, "Fine, asking people for help."
"Do you know what she's asking me to do?" Nat asked.
Colin could hear the yawn in Akira's voice as she answered, "Not really, no. Listen to the sheriff, that's all I know. She promised to tell me the whole story in the morning when I'm a little closer to awake."
Colin blinked. Listen to the sheriff? This must be the help his invisible girl had promised. But what was that about wings and a halo?
"I can't believe this," Nat muttered.
"Mmm," Akira's murmur sounded sympathetic. "We good, though? 'Cause I'd really like to go back to bed now."
Nat shook her head but her tone, as she answered Akira, was resigned. "Get some sleep."
There was another pause, longer this time, before Akira said, "Um, sorry to be pushy, but Rose says that's not a yes and she's not going to let me sleep until she's sure the girl is safe. And safe means secret. I hope this makes sense to you, because it doesn't to me."
"Oh, it makes sense." Nat ran her hand through her hair, pushing the dark locks back and away from her face impatiently. "It's just insane."
"This is why I ignore ghosts. Give 'em an inch and before you know it, you're picking up their laundry." Colin could hear a rustling on the other end of the phone and a murmur of male amusement. Akira's voice got fainter as if she'd moved the phone away from her mouth as she said, "It's a metaphor, Rose," before her voice got louder again and she added, "So is that a yes?"
Nat sighed. She paused, staring directly at Colin, her lips pursed in thought. He smiled at her, trying to look encouraging and not smug, but some of the smug must have showed, because she was gritting her teeth when she finally said, "Fine. I will listen to the sheriff. But first thing tomorrow, I want you to get the whole story and I want to hear every detail."
With a few final words, Nat hung up the phone as Colin looked down at the girl. "Did you hear that?" he said to her, still smiling. "We're going to keep you safe."
"She'd be perfectly safe at the hospital," Nat said. She took a couple of steps toward the door and turned as if she wanted to start pacing the room, but was holding herself in check. "I have an open mind. We have a team upstairs working on teleportation. I accept that could be possible someday, in a way that would be no more miraculous than flying in an airplane or watching television. I accept that ten years from now, neuroradiologists could be reading people's minds using scanners like the one in the other room. I accept that time travel might be possible, even though it makes no sense whatsoever."
Colin grinned and crouched again. The girl was watching wide-eyed, not afraid anymore, but uncertain. "Don't worry," he said to her in a quiet voice. "She gets like this sometimes."
"I don't have a problem believing in any form of extrasensory perception," Nat continued, eyes sparkling with energy. "I believe I can see the future. I believe in telepathy. I believe in ghosts! So why does the word 'angel' seem so very, very unlikely?" Nat finished with a sweeping rhetorical wave of her hand.
A spark of memory ignited. Colin frowned, trying to capture it. His invisible girl, pouting. "I think she prefers spirit companion," he said, and then chuckled. "Useless spirit companion, if I'm remembering right."
Nat put a hand across her eyes, squeezing her temples as if her head ached. "Okay," she said, voice slightly muffled by the arm blocking her face. "We keep the girl a secret, we tell no one about her."
She dropped her arm and looked at the girl. "Is that okay with you?" Nat asked her in a calm, polite voice, as if she were inquiring about the weather.
A tiny smile curved the girl's lips, but her nod was an emphatic yes.
Nat's tone was less calm and much less polite when she turned her gaze on Colin. "And you…" she started. Colin suspected only the presence of the girl was preventing a bad word from being the next word out of her mouth, so tried hard not to grin at her. "You will find out where she belongs as quickly and as quietly as possible, before I lose my medical license for not reporting her or we both go to prison for kidnapping."