Aine Grian had spent a life-time living to dream. Shane Sorley had spent a life-time drifting aimlessly in search of something to keep him grounded. He thought his muse could weight more than his heart-strings, when she offered him lyrics to the songs that she can never hear. But he couldn't stay put, and though the force of his tornado stirred everything around them, it wasn't strong enough to pull her along with him. When opposing forces meet, will Aine be able to use her gift to heal Shane's wandering heart or will reality blow them away?
Chapter 1 – Aversion
Hugging the crate against her chest, Aine Grian treated the crowded sidewalk as though it was an obstacle course – the people were the obstacles. She sucked in a breath when someone got too close to her and was unable to release it until she was at least two steps away from them.
Touching was a definite problem. Brushing against passersby on the street affected her in an unfortunately physical way. A point was made to maintain barriers – a mandatory hands-off policy with just cause. But sometimes keeping a proper distance proved difficult with the steady stream of pedestrian traffic in the city.
She cringed as she rounded the corner. The projected path was the most difficult to navigate. There was a magazine vender and a busker in close proximity – both generating crowds. They were between her and where she needed to go, which made avoiding them impossible.
She stopped as she tried to muster the strength to press forward; then she lifted her leg to help balance the heavy crate while she readjusted her grip. Someone moved past her – barely grazing her jacket – and her muscles tightened reflexively. The crate and its contents fell to the pavement below.
For a moment she considered leaving the material lying there. It was safer than kneeling down to pick up the thankfully undamaged books.
You can't abandon them, her inner voice warned her. You will have nothing left.
When Lord Larcon's estate had gone up for auction upon his death, the literary association had won the bid on his entire personal study. Aine's job involved straining through the mess of boxes his snooty daughter had sent via moving truck. The general idea had been for her to filter through the contents and determine appropriateness for public viewing.
Some of the items had been best left hidden from society's eye, some were retained by her, and some were proudly on display in the library where she was temporarily employed – the library that was on the opposite side of the menacing crowd.
Surveying the spilled treasures, Aine felt a little sad to see her task coming to an end. The crate she held was the final one, and it had taken her twice as long to pilfer through it than the others had. There weren't more materials inside it; she was procrastinating.
She had worked on the process for nearly a year and had grown fascinated by the man's range in tastes. Words were all that she cared to live for. In recent months, the middle of a restless night had often found her sneaking into the nook of a local café with one of his collective novels as company.
The plush leather chairs and lovely woodwork had made her feel very much at home; the café atmosphere had been nothing less than cozy. Any cover could be opened, and immediate displacement had followed. She had lost hours to whatever world she had encountered within – fiction was her favourite. Each had carried her to a place better than the world in which she dwelled, better than the reality that she needed to face.
She wouldn't miss the pay, because the wage hadn't been worth the time she had put into the task, but she would miss the fringe benefits that had made up for the modest salary. She had been granted permission to keep anything in duplicate as well as any work unsuitable for mass observation. The increase in her personal collection had progressively given her house the same leather and parchment smell of the library. That shift had been the only reason she had ever gone home.
The hot sun was beating onto the pavement below and produced a sauna-like temperature underneath of her protective layering. By the time that she returned each book to the crate, she had worked up a sweat from the effort. Bright side – no one stopped to help her so she didn't have to worry about ushering them away. Dim side – she was losing hydration quickly because of her self-proclaimed mandatory dress-code.
Summer brought with it the sun, sun invited exposed flesh, and exposed flesh meant increased physical contact which was not a good thing. While she was better equipped to withstand adverse conditions than most, due to her quick-healing capabilities, her desire for additional shielding was losing the battle against heat stroke.
She had no intentions of ending up in the emergency room. Hospitals were the bane of her existence, ready to attack her immune system with their overflow of illness. It wasn't the germs exactly that bothered her, though she did wish people would take better precautions against them, it was potential accidents. There were more ways people could affect her than simple sickness. Injuries were more cumbersome when transferred.
After years of self-analysis, Aine had discovered that she could not only search inside a person and pinpoint their illness, but she could also – through no choice of hers – pull it out of them when she withdrew.
Aine Grian had an innate ability to heal, though it was more complicated than laying her hands on someone and removing their burden. She couldn't send it flittering away in the breeze to create happy endings. It didn't just vanish. It couldn't magically disappear like fairy-tale simplicity would depict. The negative energy had to be displaced, and the only place for it to go when it left its current host was into her.
Aine was stuck between two difficult options. She could either pass out from the heat, or she could risk someone touching her. Which was the lesser of the two evils?
She forced herself through the crowd that seemed to be fanning out on both sides of the walk, swaying gently as her vision blurred. If she could make it to the stairs, she could regain her bearings and remove the buffering layer.
Baby steps, she thought. Just watch your feet and pretend they aren't there.
Aine's body temperature seemed well beyond boiling by the time that she had made it through them. The fact that her eyes were unable to focus on the figures as she passed them helped more than she cared to admit.
Biting her lip, she looked up the stairway leading to the library and wondered if she could find the strength to climb up to her sanctuary. Lose the jacket, her inner voice commanded, and she grumbled silently about having no choice but to listen to it.
She sat the crate down for long enough to discard the thin leather garment. The humid June air felt like autumn on her exposed skin. Picking up the crate, she started up the steps.
Halfway through the venture she had no choice but to stop. She felt disoriented and could only hope that she would make it inside before she passed out. Aine closed her eyes and effectively shut out the world. Behind her lids was a silent space, a place beyond the chaos of sight and sound.
Being deaf had advantages too – ignoring her surroundings was easy. Only touch could breach her perimeter when she lowered the shades to reality. When the stranger's hand braced her arm, she barely registered the girl who took the crate and helped her inside.
The air conditioning swept over her skin with a reviving cool that alerted her to the mistake she had made. She had opened herself up to potential harm despite her best intentions. Fearful to look the girl in the eye, Aine pulled out her writing pad and opened it to a pre-written script.
As a child, the moving mouths of speech had seemed impossible to decipher. Foreign. As a woman, Aine had fine-tuned the art of lip reading. Since most individuals couldn't sign, it had helped with basic communication. Not that she had expected them to learn her language, but it would have made a great many things less difficult.
To assist, she carried a pad of paper and pen with her at all times. She had placed canned responses on the beginning pages – I'm Deaf. I can lip read. Thank you. Those were pretty basic and completely effective answers to typical questions.
Andrea was returning selections to a wall shelf when she spotted Aine. She dropped the book and ran toward the door. Sighing, Aine geared herself up to endure to another rant about her clothing preferences.
"What happened to you?" Andrea asked, her deep brunette ponytail swaying as she forcefully hauled Aine to the desk.
She looked nothing like a librarian should. She was far too young and energetic to enjoy the dying art of reading. The woman was as enthralled with literature as Aine. Her area of fascination revolved around nonfiction, particularly archaeological discoveries. She appreciated Aine's attempt to set aside extra works that she knew would appeal to her taste. It didn't go unnoticed.
"Nothing," Aine signed. "I'm going to work now. This is the last one."
Andrea knew the cases were almost empty, but she hadn't realized how close Aine was to being finished. They weren't exactly best friends, or friends at all in the typical sense, but they had developed a sense of fondness for one another. Aine was very withdrawn, and as much as Andrea had tried to break through the barrier between them, it had never crumbled completely.
"Why do you insist on dressing for winter when it's clearly summer?" Andrea persisted. "You are soaking wet."
To avoid having to respond to her Aine took the box from the stranger, who was standing next to her awkwardly. No free hands meant that she couldn't respond. No response meant not having to lie about why she needed to cover herself.
Aine couldn't tell by sight who was safe to touch and who wasn't. Knowing when someone was sick or hurt took more than visible projection to discern. People were comfortable in masking things they didn't want others to see. Always hiding. They kept their distance as if believing that what they had inside them was contagious. For the most part they were wrong. They couldn't share it – not with anyone but her. The truly dangerous people were those that existed in blissful ignorance to the disease inside them.
She had made conscious efforts to purposely heal people – more to experiment than to aid. She had documented such ventures, but it was difficult to investigate when the key witness didn't remember anything afterwards. Even if she found someone that believed her – she was doubtful that she would – could she trust them with the knowledge?
It wasn't that she didn't want to help people, but she had seen first-hand what people would take if given the chance. While she likely deserved the misuse as atonement for her past discretions, it was far easier to avoid, when possible, all physical contact than to risk being taken advantage of again. Or worse. What if it all backfired like it had in the past?
Aine made her way through the metal doors that led downstairs. She didn't look back – partly because she didn't want the holes Andrea was staring into her back to bore through her chest and partly because it upset her to look at the tall bookshelves that she couldn't spend hours perusing once she was gone.
The books residing within them had offered Aine many places to visit and many sights to see. She would miss the mini-vacations more than anything, but she knew that she couldn't stay on after the contract had ended. Her purpose for hire did not extend beyond the basement. They wouldn't have a place for her upstairs.
The fact that anyone had trusted her with such an important responsibility had surprised her. She lacked any such faith in others. In herself. She had been deemed the sole decision-maker for selected material, and it had created a sense of pride that she hadn't realized that she had been craving.
It had felt strange to be needed in such an honourable way – not like the negative twinge she was used to. Aine had no delusions of maintaining such a heightened sense of elation. Such feelings of positivity, of productiveness, were not meant for her; she didn't deserve them.
Her land of books would be left behind, and she would be grateful for the time they had permitted her to spend there. There would be no argument from her to stay. She couldn't even if they wanted her to.
Looking around the dingy basement, she smiled. Most individuals considered the dank smell and muggy atmosphere gloomy. Aine liked to think of it as a dungeon where she stayed with chains of her own design. If she were a captured princess, she had given up on her white knight long ago. Reality didn't accommodate such fantasies, and its stinging whip was all too familiar.
There was no dashing hero bent on protection. She had saved herself from the dragon. He would be returning, and she had no intention of being around when he came back. No definite travel itinerary had been set, but she had strongly considered accepting Miss Sorley's invitation to visit her in Four Corners. Did she have any other options?
Caitlyn Sorley had tended her house during Aine's childhood. The position of guiding parent had been accepted graciously. She had spent as much time cleansing emotions as any other housekeeping task. Caitlyn had seen a father that had been too busy working to notice the needs of a distraught daughter, but she had never blamed him for his absence. For the most part Aine hadn't blamed him either.
He had worked hard to make sure that Aine was taken care of financially, providing basic necessities in lieu of emotional development. His smartest parenting move had come from hiring Miss Sorley. It had been a positive authority she had brought to the family when she had taken on the role of Aine's guardian angel.
The trip to Ireland could proffer a more defined purpose than recreational leave. When he was released, Gradon would look for her. It wouldn't be a pretty picture for either of them if she were found.
Gradon – her husband. Technically, he still held that title since he had refused to sign the divorce papers that were delivered to his cell. The separation would finalize itself in three months whether he had agreed to the terms or not. While Aine was well past accepting responsibility for his incarceration, she understood that he wouldn't let go of her by choice. She belonged with him. To him.
His scheduled parole was coming in two month's time. She would be gone by then, away from the city. She couldn't imagine any restraining orders preventing his wrath from being unleashed. If he found her before the papers went though, he might find some way to make her change her mind – threats, deceit, and anything but remorse.
To her knowledge he had always been angry. Her father had overlooked that when he had guilted her into marrying him. To him it had been a suitable business arrangement that had ensured the continued care of his handicapped daughter.
She hated that term. There was nothing wrong with her as far as she could tell. Aside from her tendency to bury herself in books, she was pretty normal. The major difference between her and others was that she could see through what people pretended to be. Losing one sense had increased the strength of the others.
At the core, she truly believed that everyone had selfish intentions. She had never met anyone who didn't hide ulterior motives behind sly smiles. Men had the added bonus of enhanced muscular development to bully their way into getting whatever they wanted. Just because she couldn't hear society's words didn't mean that she couldn't understand what was being said.
Individuals with power used that power against others in one way or another. Those without authority coveted control and spent their lives trying to take it from someone else, desperate for something beyond their means. Always for advancement whatever the cost. Nothing came without a price. For Aine, the price of his imprisonment would mean blood. Her blood.
If the world knew of her gift, it would eat her up and spit her back out when the taste became dull. What she could do mystified her, but outside eyes might confuse it with awe, instead of giving it the cautious respect it deserved. Above all, healing was dangerous, making it more like a curse than a gift – a curse that she couldn't break.
People were users and could not be trusted to treat healing in a way that didn't benefit them. Of course, her outlook revolved around limited personal experience. It hurt to help, caused her physical pain. The worst of it was that the ache she felt was never hers. She had never broken bones, required stitches, or needed an antibiotic to work in the place of a failed immune system. Her issues were transferred from others, leaving her to feel somewhat bitter about their constant intrusion.
An exception had occurred in childhood. As a young girl, she had cheated death, and the cost had been more than she would ever be able to repay.
Aine didn't hear the truck coming down the lane. The driver overlooked the warning sign, Deaf Child at Play. Her mother's screams were useless. Childish curiosity found Aine following a butterfly into the roadway. It was pretty fighting against the breeze.
The truck slammed against her four-year-old body, causing her to fly through the air much like the coloured insect. Her connection with the pavement came in slow motion movements, but she was unable to stop her descent. She hit the ground before she could even fully register what had happened. There was an insurmountable pain and a sort of crunching in her bones that was like grinding chalk.
A mother ran to aid her daughter, prepared to handle what would be taken from her. Aine cried and released a muffled sound that brought the taste of something metallic. She tried to cough out the suffocating liquid that filled her lungs. Desperately, she clung to her mother.
A brown mist rose from Aine's body and crawled its way into her mother. Anyone else would have withdrawn and ran. Not her mother. As the transfer began, she did not let go. She held tighter, as if her heart understood the repercussions and didn't care. She gave her life freely, satisfied to die so long as Aine lived. The brown haze changed its hue and direction. A white trail moved back into Aine – cleansed and pure.
Confusion clouded Aine's vision, and she tried with an undeveloped mind to comprehend her mother writhing in agony. Aine was hit but could no longer feel the pain of the crash. It wasn't until her mother's form lay soulless on the road beside her that she was able to release her grip. To let go.
The debt for Aine's survival was repaid in her mother's death. A life for a life.
The driver of the truck didn't believe his eyes. He somehow managed to convince himself that the trauma of the accident had fogged up his memory. It was the woman he had crashed into, not the girl. That was what he told the police.
Aine tried to correct them, to explain what had really happened, but they disregarded the flailing arms of a hysterical child. They simply patted her on the head and said things that she was without the capability to hear. The men in blue didn't listen then. Or ever.
Aine Grian sat at the computer and powered it on. She chose a book from the crate to catalogue, running idle fingers over the smooth cover. Transferring the collection to computer registry was a tedious task. It was the boring part of her work – like editing to a writer.
There existed no woe-is-me attitude that drove her actions. Everything that happened to her, she had invoked in the moment that she had chosen to force life. Even though she had been merely a child, she continued to hold herself accountable for her actions. She hadn't known her protective reach could leave poison in its wake. It had. She was responsible for her mother being gone. Atonement could only come from her personal suffering. It never occurred to her that she was entirely too hard on herself or that she had wrongfully accepted the blame that no one else had tried to place on her.
She made it through three entries before the heat finally hit her. She laid her head down on the desk to give it a little rest. Her inner world was a compilation of everything that she wished for. There was only one trouble with her imagination vacations. They were addictive, and she came to depend on the aversion far too much.
Sleep – it was her sanctuary from the world that longed to ruin her. She was solely responsible for what happened there and was in complete possession of her abilities. In her dreamscape, all voices seemed song-like, smooth, and fluid as the pond beyond the falls. She could hear things there beyond the familiar inner voice that tormented her.
The downside of spending as much time there as she possibly could was that reality got jealous. The hands of greedy users were sometimes sent to remind her of her purpose – to remind her that she would never have a happily ever after. Without the façade of propriety and inhibitions that reality demanded, people showed their true selves. They were selfish. They knew only how to take, and she was helpless to do anything but give.
Fate's duty during the summer months would not be to enlighten the season. The gift was already acknowledged. What she needed to do was to help her understand it as something more than a curse – which would require getting around Aversion. Summer was without trust. For others. For herself. Chancing a glance at the Realm of the Gods, Fate watched the minor deities running amuck like unsupervised children at a playground. Rolling her eyes, Fate moved herself toward babysitting detail. With the cat away, the mice indeed played.