Chapter Five

The Element of Trust

Interlude: Rowana

I love the city. Of course have never seen a real city- at least I don't remember it. But I just know that if I did somehow get the chance to go, I would love it. I would love walking down the street just like I'm doing now, watching the evening lights flicker on and lingering over the different items in the shops windows; wishing that for once I could buy something for the sheer pleasure of buying it because I WANT it and not because I need it.

Beside me, Elizabeth meanders down the street, lost in her own head. She's been so snappish lately. It's as if every time I touch her I'm burning her flesh off. Who knew 13 year olds could be such drama queens? When I'm your age, I resolve, I'll never be as whiny and emotional as you are.

I peer at her sideways through my bangs. Even with a three year gap between us we're almost the same height. I can't help but feel a little smug about that. I know it irritates her to no end to be so short.

"What time is it?"

Her voice startles me out of my musings and I glance down automatically to look at my watch. It was a present from Alex and one of the few things I truly cherish. I remember the exasperation in his voice as he told me why he bought it.

"You're such a girl- never on time. Maybe if you keep this with you at least you'll know how late you are."

It was a delicate strand of metal links with a tiny round pink face and two clock hands that ticked steadily away. I loved it immediately. Even though he didn't make a big deal out of it I could tell by the smile in his eyes that he knew it and was glad.

"It's half-past six." I replied, not even bothering to summon the energy to needle her about not wearing her own watch. With the mood she's been in lately, any glee I might obtain from irritating her won't be worth the probable sulk to follow. Elizabeth has a tendency to lose things rather quickly, which is why she doesn't fiddle with wearing accessories. At least there is one thing I'm better at than she is.

"What! It's that late already?" She glares at me as if I'm the one controlling the setting of the sun and quickens her pace down the street. I frown back and shrug as if to say 'not my fault'.

Her short legs churn as if plowing through a field and I do a half-skip half-jog step to catch up to her.

"What's the big deal? It's not like they're going to leave us!"

"I told Granna we'd only be gone for half an hour! She's going to kill us!"

By this point Elizabeth is almost running and I have to put an extra spring in my step.

"It's only Albuquerque!" I complain. "It's not like we're in the big city!"

"It's big enough that Granna will be really mad that we didn't come back on time." She slows suddenly and I trip on my feet trying not to bang into her.

Somehow my feet are always too big for my legs though, they keep getting in the way. I catch myself against Elizabeth's shoulder, fingers accidentally grazing the back of her arm.

She flinches away from me, hissing softly. I right myself as fast as I can; snatching my hand back so maybe she won't yell at me.

"Sorry, sorry! I didn't mean to!" I apologize hurriedly. "But you can't just stop like that- what's the matter with…" My words trail off as I follow Elizabeth's gaze down the street. The street lights, usually so constant here-unlike in some other towns after the War, were out for the next two blocks. Every. Single. One. Of. Them.

Shadows cast by the dying sun crept up the adobe walls of the buildings lining the roadway, giving a canyon-like feel to the street. I look around but no one else is out on the sidewalks. War-time habits die hard; most people still preferring to be indoors with curtains pulled by the time darkness falls. The memories of night-time air raids are difficult to forget.

All at once the absolute stillness of out surroundings hits me. It's been several minutes since the last car or bicycle has passed us. I feel a growing sense of paranoia as I realize just how very alone we are. My heart flutters and I shift closer to Elizabeth, wanting so badly to hold her hand that I almost grasp for it involuntarily.

Instead I raise my voice, trying to muster a measure of courage to keep it from quivering. After all I'm probably just being a wuss. If Alex knew how my chin trembled right now he would surely make fun.

"C'mon Elizabeth, They're waiting for us." I speak a little louder than I have to. I know shadows don't have ears but somehow it feels better to be loud then quiet.

Elizabeth doesn't respond to me except to reach back, gripping my arm in a vise of steel. Amidst my distraction I still notice she is careful not to touch my skin. Typical I wish she would just get over the whole contact thing. But then I wonder. Surely she wouldn't choose NOW to exaggerate the affects her growing Talent had on her while we are alone in the growing dark, possibly in a dangerous situation. No, she wouldn't do that. She's a drama queen but she's not a stupid one. Her eyes dart back and forth searching for a lighted and therefore safer path.

I guess I am wrong. The shadows do have ears for they begin to coalesce into two distinct forms 20 yards ahead in the deeper darkness of a building wall.

"Stay close to me." Elizabeth murmurs under her breath.

I am only too happy to comply. She straightens up, stretching her short frame as tall as she can and throws her head back, looking for all the world like she's about to order the shadows to come carry our shopping bags for us. The strength with which she grips my arm – I'm sure my skin will have a permanent white hand print from the lack of blood, is the only indicator I have that she is not perfectly at ease.

Not for the first time I wish I could radiate such a presence without saying anything. I always have to demand attention while she seems to …command it. Not Fair.

"Yeah, I know!" She exclaims brightly, her voice carrying in the dark. "They should be here any minute. I told them it was this corner."

I feel slightly bewildered, trying to figure out who she's talking to, before the light bulb clicks on.

The two shadows pause, their liquid movements halted by the possibility of witnesses.

"I'm such an idiot. I meant the corner across the street." Elizabeth smiled and tapped her head as if she'd left the sinking running. "Let's just cross here."

My arm wrenches as we make an abrupt turn and step into the street. A horn blares and we both look up in shock as two bright headlights bears down on us. Instinctively we both jump back, stumbling over the curb as the car whooshes past; it's so close I can feel the heat of the day radiating off the metal as the air whips around us.

Stupid electric cars! It's impossible to hear them! At least the gas-powered cars the military use are audible- even if they do smell bad.

My thoughts are interrupted violently as I feel a large coarse hand come down on my shoulder. I jerk in fear and surprise, twisting my gaze back to try and see who is behind me. Another hand clamps across my mouth, pressing so hard against my face that the feel of sausage-like fingers is easily distinguishable through the leather gloves. Fright turns to terror and I try to draw breath to scream. The sound comes out as a muffled squeal and the hand presses in tighter. I can hardly breathe.

I twist madly, trying to get away; trying to find Elizabeth. The hands begin dragging me backwards away from the street, back into the deeper shadows of the alley between buildings. Desperately I scrape against the curb, trying to find purchase with my feet, wind-milling my arms to find any leverage at all that will help me get away.

All my efforts are for nothing as the hand not smothering me wraps around my thin body like a band of iron, pinning my arms to my sides and pulling me close. The smell of diesel and cigarette smoke is overwhelming, penetrating even the clamp of fingers that is cutting off my air supply.

Finally, I catch sight of Elizabeth a few feet away, involved in her own battle. She is fighting for all her worth as she wrestles a man twice her size. Gloved hands are clamped over her mouth too but I can hear the snorts of terror and rage through them. Suddenly, she stops kicking uselessly against the curb; instead planting both feet firmly against the ground and launching herself back into her attacker.

He is overbalanced and for a moment my heart leaps that she might break away. Hope fades however, as the man regains his feet. Using his arms he pulls her tight against his chest, standing up straight to that Elizabeth's feet are left kicking air.

Quickly he turns, carrying a struggling Elizabeth directly towards me- towards the alley.

I realize that my own attacker has got us almost completely out of any remaining light. I know deep in my gut that if the darkness of that alleyway engulfs us there is a good chance we will never see the light again. How many times has Granna warned us that the peace after war can be just as dangerous as war itself; too many stragglers cut loose with no ties to bind them or rules to govern them. I'm not sure what these two plan to do with us but it can't be anything good.

In desperation I use the only thing I can think of. I bite down as hard as I can on the finger directly crossing the line of my lips. Blood mixes with the taste of leather and tinges my mouth were I've caught my lip against my teeth and his hand. He grunts in pain and his grip loosens a little. It is enough.

I wrench my head away from his grasp and scream as loud as I can. The sound is piercing as it reverberates off the mud walls of the building next to us. His breath is hot on my neck as he mutters in Spanish; I think it's a curse, and the hand clamps back down across my mouth. I try to bite him again but he has shifted so that instead of fingers it is the width of his palm against my teeth. I want to howl in frustration. We're gonna die, we're gonna die, we're gonna die. My mind chatters over and over again. What hope do two girls aged nine and thirteen have against grown men?

The sound of a body hitting the wall echoes close beside me. Elizabeth slides down, dazed from the force with which the man holding her has thrown her up against it. She is still for a moment and then a hand tentatively slides up to her head and she shakes it slightly as if trying to clear her sight. If possible my heart plummets even further. We'll never escape if she's been hurt.

Suddenly the man looming over her turns, glancing back the way we came. And that's when I hear it. Feet slap the ground in quick succession, coming closer. The sound of male voices shouting is music to my ears.

The hands holding me drop unexpectedly and I fall heavily to the ground. Immediately I begin to try and crawl to Elizabeth. I don't care if she doesn't want to be touched right now. I bury my face in her shirt and cling to her with all my might. She wraps an arm around me and pulls me into her lap and we huddle there against the wall.

Our shadows have disappeared, melting into the black like ink on black paper. A moment later I hear Alex's voice and Bleys as they arrive, huffing as if they've been running for a while.

"Rowana? Elizabeth? Are you ok? Did they hurt you?" The sound of Alex's fifteen year old voice cracking with worry tips me over the edge and I can't stop the tears spilling over my cheeks.

"I-I'm s-sso-o scar-ed." I hiccup the last part and turn and hold my arms up to Alex. I know I'm supposed to be too old for this sort of thing but all I want is for him to hold me. He sinks down beside me and gathers me to him. I wrap my arms as tight as I can around his neck and squeeze my eyes shut to block out the memory of what almost happened.

"Elizabeth?" A quiet voice belonging to Bleys causes me to twist around, still not letting go of Alex, to see Elizabeth. Bleys is crouched down beside her, studying her face. It is gray-almost white in the darkness, and she stares blankly out. I imagine this is what her body would look like if she were dead and a shudder passes through me.

"Sweetheart? Can you hear me?" He reaches out and lightly grazes the cut on her forehead where a bruise is already beginning to form. Even though it's just a light touch, Elizabeth cries out as if in mortal agony and I see with new clarity just how little control she has over the emotions flooding into her system at his touch. She grabs at his hand and I can feel the struggle she has in needing to lessen the tide of overwhelming sensation battling with the desire to not let go of the person anchoring her to reality.

I guess her mind couldn't decide what to do because the next thing she slumped over, eyes rolling back up into her head.

"This can't happen again." Bleys voice grated harshly as he directed his words into the brick of the wall facing him.

"We can't be with them every second." Worry and practicality mixed in Alex's voice. I felt the muscles in his body tense in his own struggle to explain away what had just happened.

"No, we can't, but what if next time it's not just a couple street thugs. What if next time it's someone who knows who we are? What if it's someone who has training? "

"That's why I signed you all up for self-defense classes today." Granna's voice bloomed in the darkness as she glided silently up beside Bleys. "All of you, but especially the girls, need to know how to defend yourselves before an attacker has the chance to get close enough to do this." She waved to Elizabeth's slumped form.

"You start tomorrow."

"Are you serious?" Elizabeth stared in dismay at the shiny black motorcycle in front of her.

"This is your ride?"

David stepped up beside her and grinned, brushing a stray piece of platinum hair back under his cap.

"Pretty isn't she."

"Not exactly the phrasing I had in mind." She retorted derisively. "I was thinking 'noisy death trap,' death on wheels,' the grim reaper's steed' ... take your pick."

He chuckled. "I take it you aren't a fan of motorcycles."

"I'm sorry. Did I give that impression?" Her voiced dripped sarcasm. "Let me clarify- I hate motorcycles!"

"Well I guess it's a good thing we don't have far to go then, huh."

She blinked. "Um, what part of 'I hate motorcycles' didn't you understand? I'm not going anywhere on that thing."

He gazed at her patronizingly and Elizabeth felt the sparks of her irritation sputter into flames.

"I apologize. I was not aware you had control issues." He cocked his head suddenly. "On second thought, now that I think about it, it does make sense considering our last encounter."

The arrogance of the man enraged her! She wanted to strangle his gorgeous neck! Who does he think he is! He doesn't know me! It wasn't even true! She did NOT have control issues. Hadn't she trusted herself to Alex's driving that very morning! If that's not trust I don't know what is. This wasn't about control- motorcycles were proven dangerous, especially in the mountains during winter. Besides... she wasn't ready to be in that close of contact with him again. There were too many unanswered questions for her to risk accidental contact with some random guy that felt like black fog and had a tendency to insult her!

She glared at him coldly. "Excuse me. This conversation is over. Consider your obligation fulfilled. Go get your coffee"

She moved to step around him. He moved with her, blocking her from leaving... it could have been an accident. She moved to step the other way. Again, he blocked her. Accident or not, she didn't care anymore.

"Get out of my way!" She grumbled loudly, her voice only slightly lower than a shout. She brandished her crutch at him like a sword.

Immediately, hands up, he stepped back out of her range, eyeing her warily, as if he didn't quite believe she would strike him but didn't want to get close enough to try his theory out.

She held her crutch up a moment longer, waiting to see if he did anything tricky. He stood still, calmly watching, rather like observing an exotic bug that may or may not be poisonous. A slight smirk hovered about his lips. She raged inwardly.

They stood there, her glaring and him smirking. White puffs of breath frosted the air about them, the only outward sign of the silent standoff. Finally, more or less satisfied with the lack of any offensive movement on his part, she set her crutch down with a thud, - stupid thing is too heavy- and turned her attention to the street, judging the distance she planned to walk. Only five blocks or so, she surmised. It would probably be harder then she had thought, she admitted to herself. But, she set her jaw firmly; it has to be done. Dismissing David from her mind, she readied herself to endure whatever discomfort that would result from the walk and made to begin moving again.

She was surprised to see David standing in front of her again. She hadn't seen him move. He held out his hands, placating. "Look, just hang on a minute."

"Hey!" Even as she growled she shied away from his touch and threatened to lift her makeshift weapon again. Now would be the perfect time to execute some of those self-defense moves she always tried to wiggle out of practicing with Alex.

He cut off her angry reply. "We won't go on the bike if you don't want to, but I DID promise to get you there." Cautiously he stepped to her, eying the crutch for any sudden movements. "Besides," He grinned suddenly. "I have to pay for my coffee if I don't."

Elizabeth instantly felt the fire of her anger begin to cool to a simmer when he smiled. Shian had been right- he is absolutely gorgeous. She wondered briefly at the radical effects his smile worked on her. She'd been ready to scorch him in his tracks five seconds ago, and now... she couldn't concentrate. He was looking intently at her with those icy blue eyes. She felt the little pitter-patter of bunny feet in her stomach. Mutely she nodded, afraid that if she tried to speak those rabbits would hop themselves right up her throat.

He held her gaze a moment longer, as if making sure she wasn't just blowing him off, and then nodded in quick decision, turning to take two quick steps back to the coffee shop.

Elizabeth heard the chimes sound behind her as the door opened and shut again. Without the effect of his eyes directly on her, her head began to clear and the little bunny feet in her stomach subsided. A picture of Bleys popped into her head and she pushed it away hastily. She had few close friends and guilt provided an uncomfortably close companion.

Besides! She stabbed the sword-like crutch at the snow-covered ground. She had nothing to be guilty about! She had done nothing wrong. Nor was she planning to. It was perfectly all right to accept a completely innocent ride from him considering he was the reason she needed it in the first place! Admitting he was gorgeous was a fact. It didn't make her a traitor to Bleys. She thought many people were nice looking. Yeah and those 'nice looking' people don't make your blood leap like a flipping jackrabbit either, her subconscious prodded.

She began to argue hotly against that statement when the door opened, ending the ridiculous one-sided argument. David reappeared, a set of keys in his hand. Fortunately he didn't notice any difference that might have been in Elizabeth's countenance; or if he did, at least he had the wisdom not to comment on it.

"Come on." He said and led the way over to the small sedan Angela normally drove around town.

Elizabeth gaped, all thoughts of guilt vanishing. "She's letting you borrow her car?" She asked incredulously.

"She said it was no big deal." He shrugged. He opened the passenger side door for her.

She looked at him suspiciously. "Angela never lets anyone touch her car. What did you say to her?"

David ushered her in, closing the door behind her without answering. When he climbed into the driver's seat on the other side she pressed him again. "What did you say?"

He made an irritated sound in his throat. "Does it really matter? You're getting a ride. Are you always this ungrateful?"

Elizabeth sat back, stung. He turned the keys in the ignition, watching the battery gauge flicker in response. He sighed.

"I apologize. Somehow you manage to bring out the... ungracious side of me."

"She snorted, "doesn't take much to do that apparently." Her irritation had flamed to life again. She tried to control it this time though. She was being childish and it worried her. Why all of the sudden are my emotions running wild? Something about this man didn't feel right. He was screwing up her balance and she wanted to know why. She shifted in her seat, uneasy again to be sitting alone in the car with this incredibly good-looking stranger who played her emotions like a violin but felt like a brick wall.

She sat quietly for the duration of the short trip, not really inclined to make small talk and potentially provoke another spat. She wanted to touch him again to see he was the same as last time- blank, but she didn't dare.

He sat easily in the car, as if it were his own instead of borrowed. Pale, strong-looking hands gripped the steering wheel almost lazily. His fingers, in contrast to undoubtedly masculine hands were long and slender- a pianist's fingers. Elizabeth was pleased to notice that his fingernails were clean and clipped, and then bothered that his personal hygiene mattered to her. Obviously he took care of himself- though he didn't seem fussy about his appearance. Not that it matters to you. Elizabeth wondered if it was possible to glare at one's own consciousness.

The car rolled to a stop a few moments later in front of a fairly modern, if small cement building. She moved to open the door but David's voice arrested her.

"I don't want to fight with you, Elizabeth." The low pronounced tone in which he spoke her name inspired little tingles to run up and down her spine. A very small bunny hopped.

She waited.

"Look, I'm sorry about the other day. Really." She turned her face back to look at him and arched an eyebrow. He hadn't moved but was looking at her intensely. Elizabeth fought the surge of what seemed like jackrabbits on speed in her stomach. She concentrated on keeping her expression unaffected.

"It won't happen again. At least not without your consent." This time she didn't try and fix her expression, both eyebrows shot up in unison and he quickly added, "not that I'm expecting you to give it...I heard you're taken."

He looked away from her, fingering the car keys gently. The silence dragged out for what seemed like forever. Elizabeth wondered if she was supposed to say something back or just get out of the car when he spoke again.

"What I'm trying to say is," he glanced up and met her eyes firmly. "I would like to be your, your friend... if that's ok with you." His gaze never wavered; the line of his jaw set in determination yet as he spoke Elizabeth perceived a contrasting image. He sat very still, so still in fact that Elizabeth wondered if he had quit breathing. The slight tightening around his eyes suggested a vulnerability to her rejection that he seemed to be trying to disguise. She felt her resolve to despise him for all eternity begin to evaporate. Surely she had just been overreacting. He's not evil! Maybe we just got off on the wrong foot.

She recalled the feeling of a thick black fog when she reached out to him... and decided to dismiss it. Maybe he just had really strong internal defenses. The twinge in the back of her mind pointed out that a few seconds ago she had been readying herself for mental battle over the uneasiness he caused in her, but it all seemed like nonsense now that she thought about it. He apologized and wanted to be her friend. I would be a horrible person to reject him just because he kissed me! She thought, firmly stamping on her internal Jiminy Cricket.

She realized that he was still looking at her, waiting on her to speak this time. As she met his gaze, the doubts and anger still surviving died

"Ok." Her voice sounded strange in her ears, slower and softer; someone else's voice granted friendship. For one interminable second she regretted relinquishing that element of trust central to the basis of friendship. Then she saw the lessening of the creases around his eyes and his mouth relaxed into a dazzling smile.

"Great!" His reaction created a warm glow in her stomach and she was absurdly happy that she had said yes.

Sustained by her elation, Elizabeth wasn't bothered by the emphatic way in which David took control of the doctor's visit, first pointing at a chair for her to wait in and then striding up to the nurse's desk to handle her check in. Nor did it bother her when he followed her back into the examination room, despite a frown from the nurse, Rita. Elizabeth charted his actions up to concern rather than arrogant confidence.

She found it hard to concentrate fully on Doc's assessment of her progress with David in the room. He stood beside her as she sat on the examination table twisting and bending her knee under Doc's skillful fingers. She hardly paid attention to the 'hmm-ing' of Doc making notes to himself as he inspected the damage to her knee. She was too engrossed in watching David- discreetly of course. She might as well have stared full out at him for all the attention he paid her. He focused entirely on Doc, watching as he made the physical examination and asking probing questions if the tone of some particular 'hmm' didn't satisfy. She wondered at the easy confidence with which he obtained answers about her medical condition. He didn't look as if he was trying to be nosy. The concern in his face discounted any thought of pinning it to obnoxious seemed instead as if the concept that he did not need or deserve to be informed had never occurred to him. He asked questions. He expected to be answered. Yet he remained courteous through it all. The absolute power of the attitude awed Elizabeth a little.

At some point in the discussion a sharp query from David brought her focus back to the examination at hand. Doc was frowning at her curiously. Immediately she straightened from her lax pose on the table, ready to defend herself from whatever Doc was about to accuse her of.

"What do you mean 'this isn't right?" David asked sharply. "What's wrong with her?"

Distracted, Doc glanced at David as if really seeing him for the first time. "Nothing, Nothing's wrong with her. That's the point." He turned his attention back to Elizabeth .

"You're sure it doesn't hurt when I do this?" He exerted a slight pressure against her knee and looked for her reaction. When she didn't flinch he frowned again.

"It's only been a week right?" He bent to examine her again.

"Yeah, I hurt it last Tuesday. Why is something wrong?" Doc looked up again at the dread he heard in her voice and hastily assured her she was fine.

"It's just that, honestly… you shouldn't really be healing this fast. These types of injuries, especially in the ligaments, normally take several months to heal properly. When you came in I remember it being a really nasty sprain but looking at you now I'd say this sprain is at least two months old." He stared at her curiously. "What have you been doing?"

Elizabeth stared back at him, aghast. "Umm, nothing really. Just what you said, you know, rest, sleep, I haven't been doing anything special."

"You're sure about this? How can you tell?" The strange intensity with which David spoke startled them both. Doc shifted his feet.

"Well, uh," Doc fumbled, not used to having to explain the technicalities of his diagnosis. He darted a look at Elizabeth as if to make sure it was ok with her before he went on.

"The bruising around the kneecap is completely gone and," he pointed to the indentures around her knee as David bent to examine her himself. "The swelling is mostly gone. I expect it's still slightly painful to walk for longer periods of time isn't it?" He nodded at her confirmation, beginning to get back into his stride. "If this injury was as bad as I remember it being when she came in, the bruises would still be there, if faded a little bit and the swelling would remain. She would be in incredible pain walking for any length of time unaided."

He took a step back and adjusted his glasses as David straightened. "As I said, very strange, extraordinary even. Whatever you're doing, maybe you should write it down. I'm sure the medical profession would be very interested in your methods." He smiled gently at Elizabeth as he peered at her over his glasses.

She blushed, and tried to diffuse the air of mystery Doc seemed to imply she was hiding behind. "Just good home-cooked meals and all… I guess if anyone's to blame Granna would be the one to deserve it."

"To be sure. Your Granna is one special lady." At once Doc shifted and began to clean his glasses on the tail of his shirt, embarrassed at having said so much.

Elizabeth ducked her head to hide the smile that flickered about her lips. It didn't work and Doc shifted again uncomfortably. She opened her mouth to comment on it, glancing mischievously at David, and then shut it again. David wouldn't understand the light teasing Bleys and herself shared over Doc's transparent attempts to hide his preference for Granna's company. David watched impassively, either not picking up on the humor of the situation or else ignoring it completely. He didn't even seem to be paying attention to them anymore. New friends or not Elizabeth felt just a little put off. Abruptly she felt an intense longing for Bleys to be standing here with her. She began to climb down off the table. Time to go. She beckoned to David to hand her the crutch.

"So when can I go back to work?"

Doc pursed his lips thoughtfully. "The way you're getting around now, I'd say you'll only need those crutches for another day or two at most. However, I don't want you getting back on skis, even for the bunny slopes for at least another month."

What? "Wait a second, you just said I was fine!" Elizabeth bent her gaze on him accusingly.

"I know what I said. You of all people should understand how long these injuries take to heal. I don't know how you're healing so fast but never the less your body needs time to build up strength again or else you'll be right back here with the same problem or worse!" He frowned at her paternally. "At least a month do you understand?" He waited for her grudging acquiescence before smiling genially at them. "I'll be keeping tabs so I'll know if you cheat. Now scat. I need my morning coffee." He ushered them out the door and immediately headed to the back towards the break-room.

David followed her out silently. He waited while she paid for the visit at the front desk and used the phone there to call Angela and tell her they were on their way back. Quietly he helped her to the car, holding open the door for her and placing her crutch in the backseat. He still hadn't said anything by the time he had started the car and left the small parking lot in front of Doc's office and she began to feel self-conscious.

Ok, we're friends now right. Just ask him what's wrong.


"Huh?" The confusion written on his face didn't really reassure her but she persisted. Friends, we're friends now, I can ask what's wrong

"Penny for your thoughts." She repeated.

The blank stare she received reinforced her conclusion that she was right to press on. Focused confusion surely beat out distracted silence in her opinion. She almost reached out to touch him, feel his emotions and get a sense of what to say, something held her back though. She'd just have to do it like everyone else did- blunder through the conversation and hope she read him right.

"I don't think I understand." He knitted his brows together and cocked his head to one side.

"It's a common phrase...well I thought it was common enough, to ask someone what they're thinking about." She looked quizzically at him. "How is it that you have never heard it?"

And just like that he relaxed.

"Well I told you I was from Quincy but that's not strictly true. That's my last place of residence. I've actually lived most of my life moving around. My mother is Indian and my father is German. They never had much use for making friends."

He darted a small smile at her. "I guess that's why I seem to have such a hard time making friends myself."

I guess he takes after his father then…

Elizabeth humphed. "Not according to the rest of town apparently." She bit her lip as she realized he now knew she had been talking about him with other people. She didn't want him to acknowledge her embarrassment so she plowed on quickly.

" Oh yeah you'll get used to being talked about in this town. Angela knows everything about everyone. She's turned gossiping into an Olympic sport here." The twist in David's mouth made her explain hurriedly. "Oh don't worry. she only likes to gather and pass on the juicy but harmless details of our little mountain kingdom. She doesn't put up with the nasty stuff."

"Well I guess that's something." He grunted.

"Best way to keep her off your back is to either tell everyone the same thing or else tell no one anything. Though if you choose the latter you'll probably be regarded as a snob or something and be talked about anyway." She joked lightly. A curious expression crossed his face but disappeared so quickly she wondered if she'd even seen it.

"You seem to be doing just fine though according to Angie." She grinned slyly. "It appears you've already gathered a fan club."

"Oh, that." He waved his hand. "I find it doesn't take much to inspire devotion among those desperately wishing to be devoted."

"So you are encouraging it!" Her moment of triumph conflicted momentarily with the fact that they were friends now. She tried to reign herself back in. I guess I shouldn't rub his arrogance in his face too much so soon after becoming friends.

He didn't act the least bit defensive. "If you call common manners and courtesies every gentleman should be raised with encouragement then I'm guilty as charged." The mildness of his voice suggested reproof but Elizabeth wasn't stumbled. She tossed her hair back and faced him directly.

"From what I remember your GENTLEMANLY manners far exceeded common courtesy. She replied pointedly.

"Ah but then they didn't sway your devotions did they?"

"Only because you manhandled me!" He pulled the car to a stop in front of the coffee house.

"So you're saying you would have been swayed otherwise?"

She didn't like the way this conversation was going. She stuttered, trying to redirect the focus of the conversation. "That's not what I- you're not being- whatever, we're friends now so it doesn't matter."

"It doesn't?" He quirked his lips at her. She wondered how the man could have possibly found her most uncomfortable button so quickly. He didn't even like to push it. He wanted to hold the damn thing down!

"No! It doesn't, Ok?!


She could have ground her teeth in frustration at letting herself get sucked into this kind of conversation.

David smiled. "Ok 'just friend,' lets go get some coffee and warm up. That doctor's office felt like an ice cube!"

She nodded, piqued again with his arrogant familiarity but too relieved that he let the conversation drop to care much.

The rich smell of hot coffee flooded Elizabeth's nose as David opened the door to Angela's Café. She murmured a polite thank-you as she entered, stepping past him, carefully not touching him. The change in manners obviously pleased Angela. Elizabeth couldn't help responding to her self-satisfied smirk with a withering stare. Instantly the older woman's face smoothed, leaving no trace of its previous expression. She turned to the three tourists who murmured over the options painted on the cabinet behind her.

"You need a little more time?" She asked. They nodded and she excused herself, picking up a waiting mug to bring to Elizabeth. As their fingers touched over the mug Elizabeth could feel smug contentment radiating from her.

"That didn't take very long?" She asked innocently.

"Apparently I'm a fast healer." Elizabeth leaned her crutch against the wall by the door and limped back over to her favorite chair. She heard Angela speaking to David behind her.

"Thank you for taking her. It was very kind of you."

"Not at all ma'am, it was the least I could do." Elizabeth turned to see David give a slight bow respectfully to Angela. Angela blushed and began to stutter.

"W-well now, no need for that here. No need a'tal. I'm no ma'am. Not in these parts." She waved her hands deprecatingly, but Elizabeth could tell she was pleased with the attention.

"Come on now," she walked around back behind the bar. "What's your pleasure? Anything you like."

"Um well, I've never had coffee before…what's good?"

Both women stared at him in stunned silence. Elizabeth finally broke in. "You've never had coffee? What planet are you from?" The three tourists glanced curiously at them. The taller man leaned down and whispered something that made his partner giggle. Elizabeth felt her blood rush to her cheeks. Wow, I'm on a roll today.

He shrugged casually. "No where in particular; we just didn't have that kind of stuff around when I was growing up. Everything was rationed anyway."

"Well!" Angela motioned him to take a seat by Elizabeth. "Let me take care of these three lovely customers first and then we'll figure out something for you. I'm sure Elizabeth wouldn't mind helping you pick out something to try."

He bowed again and turned away from Angela's delighted prattling about "such mannerly young men." Elizabeth rolled her eyes has he came over.

"You know you should really lay off the whole bowing thing. We're not exactly the royal court here."

"I was raised to be courteous." He sat down beside her at the table.

"Yeah well there's courteous and then there's 'knight in shining armor.' You're so shiny I'm going to have to find you a dragon to slay." She grinned to soften her words.

He snorted and leaned back on the legs of his chair. "No worries, I have enough dragons to slay at the moment. Most of the time I end up carrying their mail."

Elizabeth widened her eyes in mock horror. "You couldn't possibly be referring to our charming post-mistress now could you!"

"The woman's a slave driver!"

She sniggered. "And here she's had us fooled into thinking she's a sweet old lady who needs help from time to time."

"Oh no, she's definitely a slave driver. I can see right through her!" He grinned and pulled off his cap. Shiny platinum hair fell out over his forehead in a messy pile and Elizabeth relaxed into the conversation. It's easier to have a conversation with someone gorgeous when something is slightly askew. At least his hair doesn't obey his every whim. He wouldn't even have to slay the dragon then. He would just look at it and it would fall over dead!

"So, coffee virgin, what's it gonna be? Personally, I'd go with something….mild- coffee is an acquired taste. You'll hate it if you start out too strong."

"I'm all ears."

Elizabeth listed off several possibilities and began to explain each one. By the time Angela came over David had picked one and she rattled back over to the bar to start making it.

"Is she always so…musical?" David asked, eyeing Angela's many jangling bracelets.

"Yeah it's kind of her trademark. She collects them. Don't ask her about them though unless you want to hear the story for each one." Elizabeth straightened in her chair and opened her eyes wide in an impression of Angela. "Well now! Let me tell you about this one here. Back during the war I was takin' a little holiday in Albuquerque when I…" She trailed off as David burst into laughter.

"That's good! You sound just like her!" He grinned. "Does that come naturally or just from long exposure?"

She grinned back. "Long expos-" The door chimes clattered and she twisted her head to see Bleys step in out of the cold. The grin slipped a little from her face and she didn't finish the sentence.

Bleys looked around. Seeing her, he smiled his warm genuine smile and made in her direction.

"Mornin' Angela!" he called over his shoulder in response to her greeting.

Elizabeth felt trapped. There's no reason for this. Stop it! You haven't done ANYTHING wrong! She couldn't escape the feeling that something momentous was about to happen; a train speeding to the edge of the cliff. Bleys would see David and KNOW. Know what exactly?

Bleys reached her and bent to kiss her cheek. "Got your message this morning. Couldn't make it for lunch so I thought I'd drop in this morning to say hi."

He noticed David for the first time and blinked. The pause didn't last for more than a second though and he introduced himself "Hey, don't think we've met. I'm Bleys Anderson." He held out his hand and David took it.

"David Stratham." David responded politely. Elizabeth shot a quick glance at him. Yes, he was the same David, but she felt suddenly as if he had retreated into himself. His expression denoted polite interest but nothing more.

Bleys turned back to Elizabeth . "I see you haven't been lonely this morning. How's your knee?" He knelt down to examine her closely. David watched guardedly and she wondered how much of that polite interest was a mask.

"I think it's fine. Doc says I'm healing really fast." She still felt tense. Any moment now, Bleys was going to explode in anger and pummel David into the ground. You're so irrational sometimes it's irrational! She tried to lighten her thoughts by explaining David's presence.

"Did you know David's never had coffee? We were just talking about that. Angela and I are helping him through his first experience. If he's going to live here he's got to know about the best coffee around!" She sounded false in her own ears and hoped desperately that neither one of them would pick up on her stress.

Bleys looked up from his examination. "You're the new instructor then. Good for you. We have a pretty little town here. This café has the best coffee for a hundred miles – as I'm sure Angela and Elizabeth have told you."

David cleared his throat. "Yeah, speaking of instructing…I'm going to be late if I don't leave now." He looked at Elizabeth . "I'm sorry you'll miss my first experience with coffee. I'm sure it won't be the last." He got up.

"You're leaving right now?" She asked. She tried not to let her relief color the comment. New friends or not she didn't really trust him to bring up something he shouldn't. If only I could feel his emotions!

"Yeah, uh, sorry. I guess time just slipped away from me." He walked up to the bar.


Angela. "We don't go by ma'ams around here. Once was quite enough to flatter my ego" She replied.

"Angela then. Would it be too much trouble for you to put that in a cup I can take with me? I'm running late."

"You're not going to stay and chat with us?" She pouted.

"Afraid not."

She let out a long heavy sigh. "Ohhhh, alright, if you insist. You must come back and visit me again though."

He smiled charmingly. "Undoubtedly. I hear you have the best coffee around."

Slightly mollified she poured his coffee into a ceramic mug and clamped a metal lid over it. "See that you bring the mug back. I have a terrible time finding replacements for those. I don't give them out very often."

Elizabeth watched him put on his jacket. The tension of the moment before was starting to fade. They had met and incredibly or maybe not so incredibly since you're making a big deal out of nothing - nothing had happened. No eruptions of jealous rage, no threats of annihilation, just a simple introduction. She began to feel better at once.

And then Bleys spoke.

"David? It's David right? We're having a get together out at our place next weekend if you would like to come. Since you're new in town it might be a good way to get to know some people."

Elizabeth gaped in horror at him. How could he! He did NOT just invite him to our HOUSE!

She tried to think of a reason for him not to come. "Well, I don't know, Bleys. He's riding a motorcycle. You know how impossible it is to get up to our house anyway. I don't think it would be very safe."

Bleys frowned at her. "He can hitch a ride with Shian or somebody."

"I don't know–" She began again when David cut in. "I'd love to come. Thank you for the invite. What day is it?"

"Saturday around four. It gets dark early so we'll be able to have a fire."

"Do I need to bring anything?"

"Chips and whatever you like to drink is good. Granna is making spaghetti."

Angela handed him the coffee and David opened the door. "See you Saturday then." He nodded to Bleys and then to Elizabeth and stepped out into the snow.

Elizabeth sat in stunned silence. It had all happened so quickly. She turned to Bleys and he patted her on head.

"I'm glad you made a new friend. Don't worry so much, he'll be fine coming up to the house. I'll have one of the guys pick him up so he won't have to ride the bike. Glad I got to see you. I have to run though. Mrs. Windham at the post office needs one of the lights fixed. She says it's twitching or something." He straightened and squeezed her hand. "Hey, How about we to go to Taos this evening since you're feeling pretty good?" He grinned at her. "Our date has been too long postponed." The half-hearted smile from a few moments ago was still plastered on her face. It must have been good enough for Bleys because he let go her hand. His familiar warmth disappeared. "See you later."

Elizabeth stared up at him and wondered how in the world she was going to figure out a way to get David uninvited without anyone noticing.

Created By Megan Aubrey 125