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    Chapter Twenty


    Sinajfae

    Chapter Twenty
    In the Dark

     

    Madeline stood in the elevator, staring uneasily at the panel of buttons before her. There was only one button she wanted to press, but her hand hung frozen, poised in mid-air as an unknown external force acted against her. 

    Dressed in the only outfit she’d brought with her that could pass for a party, a classic little black dress, Madeline kept her makeup and hairstyle simple despite dropping her mascara brush into the bathroom sink and smearing a Sumi-e streak across the white porcelain. She’d cleaned it up and soldiered bravely on, but the unexplainable tremors and feeling out-of-sorts were not subsiding. 

    Pressing the Club Level button which would bring her into the bowels of Taro’s building, Madeline felt its cool surface sink beneath the weight of her index finger. It wasn’t the floor she wanted, she wanted the Lobby, but every time she reached for it, a sense of doom rained down upon her so heavily that it nearly buckled her knees. And the more she struggled to gain control of her motor skills, the more dreadful the feeling became.

    Not giving up, another attempt caused the foreboding discomfort to twist into a piercing, skull-splitting pain. Gritting her teeth and pushing through the agony, tears began to blur her vision. Madeline’s trembling fingertip inched closer, now fighting a sensation akin to magnetic repulsion. With all the strength she had left, her final, desperate push managed to activate the Lobby button moments before the elevator would have passed the floor by. But when the doors slid open, she could not bring herself to move forward. 

    Not a single step. 

    And she did try, but the sense of panic was debilitating. It constricted around her chest, and her skin grew cold and clammy. Pressing the Lobby button had been exhausting, leaving her powerless to fight against whatever force was imposing its will on her right now. Also, she couldn’t fathom why she had even considered staying here, thinking Gideon could protect her and make her well again. Something had influenced her mind, and now her body, as if the goal was to keep her in this building. She had to escape. 

    Her eyes darted frantically around the lobby, urgently seeking Cameron in the hopes he was coming for her as he said he would be, but only the concierge and a couple of security guards stood by. No one else was in sight.

    As the doors slowly joined together and the elevator continued its descent, the horrible attack ceased.

    Madeline cursed under her breath.

    When next the elevator doors opened, Madeline was immediately inundated with the rich, bassy music of the nightclub. The lighting was annoyingly dim, especially over the dancefloor in the center, brightening only slightly at the seating areas that lined the perimeter. Thankfully the place was already packed, making it easy for her to blend in. Scanning the dessert table and what decorative displays she could see through the bodies of guests, the redhead concluded the strange and dangerous flowers had been removed.

    She spotted Gideon conversing cheerfully in a corner booth large enough to seat half a dozen people. Taro was there, as well as another man and woman she didn’t recognize. Madeline wanted to avoid joining them, waiting for a moment when Gideon appeared too busy to concern himself with her so she could briefly show him she was fine and excuse herself from the premises.

    “Good to see you are feeling better, Miss Madeline,” Takeshi greeted her from behind. “Gideon has been waiting for you. This way please.”

    Fuck my luck today.

    Faking a pleasant smile, Madeline let herself be guided to their table, unhappily taking a seat next to Gideon while feigning enjoyment.

    “You look spectacular, my dear,” Gideon beamed, bright blue eyes sweeping over her before turning his attention back to his guests and rejoining their conversation.

    There was something different about him tonight. His elegant composure was sprinkled with a dusting of innocent flirtation. It could have been the club atmosphere playing tricks on her mind, but Madeline swore she caught him stealing glances at her throughout the business discussion rotating around the table. She tried to follow the flow of the conversation, but quickly realized she had nothing to offer.

    “Good to see you are doing well,” Taro’s voice broke through the chatter around her, his lips curved into a pleasant smile.

    Mind flashing back to the night she almost kissed him, Madeline struggled to keep her urges from resurfacing.

    She was helped, unexpectedly, by another episode which prompted her to hyper-focus on the sensations rolling across her body. It was shorter in duration than the others, causing the music to seemingly decelerate for a few seconds, buying her a desperately needed moment of clarity.

    “Restrooms?” she asked hopefully. She needed to distance herself and find a place where she could think straight.

    “Of course, dear,” Gideon answered graciously. “Toward the entrance, to the left of the bar.”

    “Thank you,” she smiled as she scooted away from his side, straightening out the hem of her dress as she stood. “Be right back.”

    How the hell did I manage to get myself into this situation? Madeline complained under her breath as she weaved through the socializers.

    Halfway to the ladies room, Madeline felt another episode. 

    The onset, so soon since the last one, caught her off guard, and the thought of getting to the point where she would be inundated continuously was truly frightening. Again, her skin tingled in waves, but when she looked down at her arms, she saw nothing. And each time the sensation surfaced, Madeline found it increasingly harder to move until the foreign phenomenon passed. 

    Once it subsided, she slowly lowered her arms to her sides, briefly balling her hands into fists to steady her frustration. 

    Letting out slow controlled breaths, Madeline relaxed and uncurled her fingers.

    At that moment, something brushed across her palm, tugging her hand up and forward as if urging her to resume her path towards the hallway.

    Madeline’s blue gaze jumped from figure to figure, looking for the culprit, and came to rest on the back of a man walking away from her. 

    Shoulder-length, layered black hair. Lean physique. Hips swaying ever so seductively as he disappeared down the same hall she’d been heading for... The likeness was uncanny.

    Careful not to betray the possibility with hurried steps, Madeline followed the man, who was now about ten feet ahead of her, down the hallway. His long strides took him past both the Men's and Women's rooms to the end of the corridor where a door, painted the same crimson color as the walls, was almost undetectable in the low light. As the stranger opened it with his left hand, he reached back toward Madeline with his right, never once looking over his shoulder. 

    Tentatively, she slipped her hand into his and stepped through, letting the door close behind her.

    "Why didn’t you answer my texts?" an all too familiar voice whispered questioningly in the darkness.

    Madeline couldn't bring herself to utter a word. 

    It sounded like Levi, but the alluring sandalwood that captivated her whenever he was near was absent. And being this close to him, she should be able to detect it without a doubt. Her hands fumbled around the door frame from which she entered. There had to be a light switch. She had to be sure.

    Before Madeline’s fingertips could locate the switchplate, they were pulled away and held captive. The sudden electric glow of a cell phone screen bathed the supply closet in enough light to make his features clear.

    “Is it really you?” she asked quietly. 

    Wearing a heather-gray shirt of thin, draped fabric paired with lightweight black trousers of the ripped-yet-expensive variety, Levi looked down at her through brown contact lenses.

    “We don’t have time for this,” he replied impatiently, running a hand through his black hair. “Look, you once went by the name Emily, you’re one of the few girls I know that hasn’t slept with Caslon, and you have a very peculiar taste in handheld video games.”

    “I never got any texts,” Madeline whispered, convinced. “I thought you deleted yourself from my phone.”

    “Why would I do that?” he asked, voice raw as if wounded.

    Taking a deep breath, Levi placed his palms lightly on Madeline’s shoulders, looking unwaveringly into her stormy blue eyes.

    “I came here to tell you to leave the building. Cameron tried to get to you earlier but failed. As it is, I have to suppress my scent to avoid unwanted attention. It’s not an easy thing to do, so you need to leave now.”

    Leaving now was an understatement. Levi wasn’t sure what Gideon was up to, but Cameron’s intel was right. Something was wrong with Madeline. She still had the same beautiful scent about her, but there was what appeared to be a thin film of magic encasing her body. Actual magic. He wasn’t sure what the underlying cause was but didn’t want her in the vicinity of Gideon right now. Thankfully, he didn’t believe there was anyone else in the building capable of seeing magic, but having her out in public while he figured this out was a huge risk.

    "I should never have let it get this far," he mumbled. 

    Assessing the immediate area, Levi strained his senses while struggling to keep himself hidden. Filtering out the electronic dance music, the only footsteps he could hear where going in and out of the restrooms; no one heading in their direction. And although the whole place reeked of rot to his sensitive nose, there were no vampires in the immediate proximity. 

    Much to Madeline's surprise, Levi suddenly pulled her intimately against his chest. Head resting partly on the softly draped chenille of his shirt, and partly on the warm bare skin of his collarbone, Madeline's heart began to race. Still, after all this time, he affected her exactly the same.

    "You need to leave Japan and get back to the states," he whispered tenderly. "This is one time I can't take you by force. Believe me; if I could, we wouldn't be having this conversation."

    Sensing something change in the pressure around her body, Levi released Madeline and took a step back, observing as the film he noticed early thickened and began to seep, forcing energy out of her pores before tapering off as if someone closed a faucet. And from the look on her face, the process was terrifying her.

    “I see it,” he comforted. “It looks like your body is filling up with magic from the inside, and when it can’t contain anymore, it spills out through your skin. That’s probably when you feel strange. Like just now.”

    Finally. Somebody finally understood what was going on, and that somebody was Levi. Embracing him tightly, Madeline began to sob.

    “You need to stop crying,” he warned as he gently stroked her long auburn hair, fingers losing themselves in her curls. “If my concentration falters, they’ll find us in a matter of seconds.”

    Establishing some remnant of strength, Madeline inhaled sharply to stop the flow of tears.

    "When we get somewhere safe we need to have a long talk," he added softly.

    Suddenly, Levi backed away from Madeline and placed his hand on the doorknob.

    “Someone’s coming,” he warned, sniffing the air. 

    Confusion spread across Levi’s face. 

    “Gwen?”

    Tucking his cell phone back into his front pocket, Levi opened the door cautiously. He wasn't sure what was going on, but it was indeed Gwen approaching, along with a very tall, hooded fae that was obviously only here for muscle. 

    Were fae to blame for Madeline’s current state? 

    "Good evening, Levi," Gwen greeted quietly as she came into view, while the intimidating fae at her side remained silent. "You can leave Madeline in our care. We’ll get her out of the building carefully and quickly; I give you my word."

    As Gwen gestured for Madeline to come forward out of the supply closet, Levi noticed her index finger was adorned with a pair of silvery-gold leaves twisting around a circular emerald.  He knew this emblem, though he’d never seen it on Gwen's finger before. Perhaps it was like his gate key, in that she only wore it when she felt the need to either impress or threaten.

    "Can you bring her to the Granbell?" he asked hopefully. “Please?”

    Gwen smiled wildly, eyes sparkling, and nodded. It greatly amused her to see Levi so openly worried about Madeline’s safety.

    “Thank you,” Levi whispered before turning to Madeline. "Please wait for me there."

    Gazing at Madeline with uncharacteristic affection, Levi squeezed her hand once then let it go, disappearing down the corridor into the darkness. 

    Gwen approached Madeline with a misplaced sense of excitement, sweet blond ringlets bouncing as she placed a light jacket over the redhead's shoulders. 

    Madeline didn’t understand any of this. Why was Gwen, of all people, here?

    "I can tell by your quizzical look that you believe there has been a mistake in my presence here," Gwen beamed brightly as she linked her arm with Madeline’s and the pair walked back in the direction of the dancefloor, bodyguard in tow.

    Madeline nodded, dumbfounded.

    "Just you wait! It gets better!" 

    The blond fae was grinning from ear to ear, frighteningly innocent, leaving Madeline to wonder if better meant safer, or crazier.

    Approaching the corner table where Gideon and his crew sat, Madeline felt nervous once again. Not because she was that afraid of them, but because she was now with Gwen and didn’t know what to expect. Guest parted in front of the trio, noticeably shocked and a bit frightened. 

    "Greetings from House Floradorei!" Gwen bubbled happily at Taro, giving him a little wave.

    "Ah, Genevieve," Taro smiled. "It is good to see you. Still traipsing around with my little brother?"

    "Yes, sir. Thank you, sir," she said, curtsying before clearing her throat to prepare her declaration. "I am here on official business."

    "Business is very unlike you," Taro frowned. "What is this business about?"

    Madeline could tell Gideon and Taro already knew what this was all about, and they weren’t too happy about it.

    "This child, sir," Genevieve began, indicating Madeline with a sweep of her hand. "I understand she was under your protection, and we thank you sir, but we have come to gather her now."

    "You've come to gather her? That almost makes it sound like she is kin."

    "Yes, sir. It does sound that way. Thank you, sir."

    “But she was enjoying herself so much,” Gideon interjected, and then directed his attention to Madeline. “Do promise us you’ll come back?”

    Just as Madeline inhaled to provide a reply, Gwen’s hand clamped down over the redhead’s mouth and prevented her from speaking.

    “Regrettably, she won’t be returning to the party,” Gwen replied in Madeline’s stead.

    Without giving the pleasure of a goodbye, Gwen curtsied and swung around, pulling Madeline with her, the bodyguard following behind them both. Passing through the crowd, no one made a move to stop them from getting into the elevator. They couldn't. It was yet another rule of the otherworld. If fae comes to call, you let them take who they want. To question validity would be an insult, and no one wants to piss off the fae.

    As the elevator ascended to the floor where Madeline’s guestroom was, the redhead could be silent no longer.

    “It is so good to see you,” she told Gwen, feeling the weight of her dilemma lifting away. “Where're the guys?”

    “I came here on my own,” Gwen mused, her voice light and melodic. “I needed to rescue you because the cat and the dog couldn’t. The vampires won’t try any more of their tricks on you because I’m here now, but even so, you need to be swift in getting your things because not only is Gideon dangerous, he’s also a very quick thinker.”

    As she waited for the elevator to make its floor, Madeline’s eyes turned from her bubbly friend to the gentleman beside her. Easily over six feet tall, the way his hooded jacket was pulled taut around his biceps and shoulders made clear the muscles he possessed underneath. 

    There was something peculiar about him though.

    Although the fur trimming on the hood and the downward position of his head blocked a view of his face, this stranger felt familiar to her though she couldn’t figure out why. Looking down at their feet, Madeline realized she was standing much closer to him than she should have been comfortable with. In fact, she somehow felt safer next to him than Gwen.

    Narrowing her blue eyes, she spoke directly to the fae bodyguard.

    “Do I know you?”

    The bodyguard brought his head sharply down, chin to chest, and said not a word, just as the elevator floated to a halt.

    “Ah, here we are!” Gwen chimed in. “No time to waste.”

    Rushing out of the elevator, Madeline hurried into her room, grabbed her small suitcase by the handle and high-tailed it back to Gwen. As the elevator approached the lobby, Madeline realized she hadn't checked to see if she’d left anything behind, or even if her suitcase was still intact. At this point, there wasn’t much they could have taken that couldn’t be easily replaced. She’d know immediately if they took the strip of trackers out, and if so, she’d deactivate them, and she had kept her passport, credit cards, and phone with her in her purse.

    Before the doors opened, Gwen started humming a whimsical tune, child-like smile on her lips as she rocked back and forth on her heels. 

    “I bet right now Gideon is trying to think of a way to stop us,” Gwen smirked, “But he won’t succeed. He simply doesn’t have enough time.”

    With a gentle ding, the doors opened to the lobby causing Madeline to cringe. She was expecting the same ominous feeling to assault her, but it was absent this time. 

    “You better put that jacket on,” Gwen pointed to indicate the one still resting on Madeline’s shoulders. “It’s chilly outside.”

    Walking through the lobby under the watchful stares of the guards filled Madeline with such relief that she couldn’t stop her smile from spreading.

    A few seconds later, and she was safely outside. Madeline could remember only one other time where the cold night air felt as welcoming. As the tension began to drain from her muscles, Madeline noticed Cameron across the street, approaching them with considerable speed, a duffel bag slung over his shoulder.

    As he marched up to the trio, heavy footsteps betraying his outwardly calm demeanor, it wasn’t the bodyguard, but Gwen that blocked his path to Madeline. She placed her small hand lightly on the side of Cameron’s cheek, bring him to a screeching halt.

    Who the hell is this girl?! Cameron thought, wide-eyed. 

    Her touch forced him to an alert state of passiveness like the snap of a finger. And although he didn’t know her, he could not bring himself to have even the slightest ounce of animosity towards her. 

    “My, my,” Gwen whispered, her voice suddenly dropping to an uncharacteristic iciness as her fingertips stroked Cameron's face, “What a majestic hound we have here.”

    Cameron struggled to put up any form of resistance, but could not. 

    “So strong. So loyal. You must be Cameron McCaffery.”

    “What are you doing to him?” Madeline asked stepping forward, openly worried by the change in Gwen’s composure. 

    She’d never seen Gwen act like this before, and the command she had over Cameron was both frightening and absolute. She was admiring him, yet dominating him with a mere stare. Is this why fae were so feared?

    Releasing her hand, she bounced back to her usual bubbly self. 

    “I was just evaluating him,” she replied as if it were no big deal. “He is beautifully raw, not shiny like my Michael.”

    “Um, still standing here,” Cameron quipped, regaining the willpower to transform back into his usual curt self. “Not sure who you are, but thanks for getting her out of there. I’ll take it from here.”

    “Sorry, but she’s already been promised to someone that outranks you,” Gwen said taking Madeline’s free hand. “I’ll be sure to have her call you when she gets there.”

    Cameron was getting agitated, but one look from Gwen shut him down.

    “She will be safe. You have my word.”

    Cameron took a step back, nodded his head, then mouthed the words call me to Madeline before turning and leaving the trio.

    Hailing a taxi, Gwen slid into the backseat first, leaving Madeline to be sandwiched between her and the bodyguard. Speaking in perfect Japanese, Gwen directed the driver to the Granbell Hotel. As the car pulled up out front, only Gwen got out to walk Madeline to the entrance after the driver retrieved her suitcase from the trunk.

    “Don’t worry about what’s going on, little hu… I mean Madeline,” Gwen whispered before giving the redhead a hug and a kiss on each cheek. “Over the next few days, things will clear.”

    Reaching into her pocket, Gwen handed Madeline what appeared to be a business card printed on fancy parchment paper that felt warm to the touch. It contained the word Neverland and a street address.

    “You must go there as soon as you can,” Gwen said as she planted another sweet kiss on Madeline’s cheek. “You can bring Levi if you want, but understand that you will be responsible for him while you’re there. Bye-bye!”

    And with that, Madeline found herself standing alone in front of the Granbell Hotel in the middle of a cold, February night. 

    She had so many unanswered questions. Of course, it was commonplace for her to have lots of questions, but in the whirlwind of the past thirty minutes she could have written down a few pages worth. 

    Stepping through the hotel’s revolving glass door, Madeline entered the lobby. As she rolled her suitcase towards the white marble reservation desk, she felt footsteps approaching from behind that matched her pace. From years of training, she immediately knew who they belonged to, and felt her remaining stress dissipate. 

    He’d changed clothes since she’d last seen him at Gideon’s party, and was now dressed in a comfortable pair of jeans and a brightly graphic shirt mostly hidden beneath an oversized black hoodie. 

    “I’ve got a suite here,” Levi indicated, keeping his voice low and his hands in his pockets. “Come on.”

    Silently, she followed him into the elevator, both of them instinctively keeping their backs to the security cameras. As they ascended, neither said a word, which was a difficult task for her considering the circumstances.

    Coming to a smooth stop on the 14th floor, the doors opened with a pleasant ding. Stepping out ahead of her, Levi walked past a handful of rooms before removing a key card from his front pocket and swiping it through the magnetic lock on his door. With a green light and a click, he rotated the brushed nickel handle and pushed the door open.

    Flipping on a light switch, Levi illuminated the small foyer with subtle, warm light, allowing Madeline a glimpse of a narrow, wooden credenza at the far end next to the archway on the right which opened up to the rest of the suite. Stopping briefly to change into a pair of slippers, Levi waited for Madeline to do the same before entering into the main room. 

    The whole west wall was nothing but plate glass windows, giving the most stunning floor-to-ceiling view of Shinjuku. Against the opposite wall, facing the landscape, was a king-sized bed, and at the far end of the room was a full bath separated from an outdoor spa and the rest of the suite by frameless glass walls. The extravagance left her speechless. 

    “It’s safe for us to talk here,” Levi said, voice still a whisper as he took a seat at the small, round table, inviting Madeline to join him.

    To be honest, she was nervous he didn’t turn on any other lights in the room, leaving the glow of the city the only illumination. Cautiously, she rolled her small suitcase to the side of the bed before taking a seat at the table across from Levi all the while doing her best to ignore the dizzying height.

    Removing the business card from her pocket, Madeline slid it across the table, presenting it to him.

    “Gwen gave me this. Told me to go to this place as soon as possible. I really wanted to leave Taro’s building but I couldn’t. It was weird. Even the words coming out of my mouth any time I wanted to talk about leaving were different than what I wanted to say.”

    Levi picked the card up with his long fingers, flipping it over to read the address as he carefully listened to the flurry of information Madeline was recapping to him; from her frightening experience at Aokigahara, to the wealth of information in Taro’s library, and also her lunch with Gideon and the subsequent inability to follow her own will. He’d never heard of Neverland but suspected there was a reason for that, considering his growing suspicion that the fae were behind Madeline’s sudden ailment.

    “I’m not sure what could have prevented you from leaving, but we should go to this place tomorrow,” Levi advised. “I have a hunch we’ll get all the answers we need there, but first, we need to talk. In the past, I’ve made you play games for answers. But not today. I’m prepared to answer everything I can. No tricks. No half-truths.”

    Taking an audibly deep breath, Madeline could feel her nerves start to work their way into butterflies. 

    She never imagined she’d get a chance like this, at such an unexpected moment. And as uncomfortable as it was going to be, this was the best opportunity, perhaps the only opportunity, to get the truth. If only she wasn’t so afraid of pushing him away with questions now that he was back in her life.

    No turning back now, she thought to herself, feeling as if she were about to jump into a body of water without knowing the temperature nor the depth. 

    “Did you really kill all those people? The merchant’s family in Cairo? The bride? The scholar in front of her students?”

    Searching for an emotional response in his emerald eyes, Madeline could tell her questions dusted off painful memories.

    “No, I did not,” he answered softly. “Did you actually believe in your heart I could ever do any of those things?”

    He had every right to ask that of her, and she wrung her hands in guilt under the table for believing, even for a second, that he was capable of such atrocities. Still, she felt the need to defend her inquiry.

    “I was shocked to read all those stories,” Madeline admitted, “It didn’t make sense at first. But after I read about bastets, and remembered how the twins were terrified of you, and how Cameron considered you a monster, I began to see the possibility. Especially because I’m human and easy to trick.”

    Levi leaned his elbows on the table, resting his head in his hands as he looked down, defeated.

    “What if I told you I wasn’t a bastet,” he mumbled, still staring down at the smooth, wooden tabletop. “Or even felinae?”

    “Eh?”

    “It’s a long, complicated story, but I need your full trust back quickly,” he continued, “And we need to be able to move forward, so here it goes...”

    Raising his head, Levi lowered his arms, interlacing his fingers as his hands rested on the table. 

    “I want you to understand that anything I omit is only because it’s too dangerous for you to know, not that I don’t trust you with the knowledge,” he began.

    Removing her hands from under the table, Madeline placed them over Levi’s, nodding. She’d grown accustomed to how need-to-know information worked.

    “I was found next to the body of my oldest brother, with his blood on my hands and no recollection of what had happened. Naturally, I was blamed, which led to my exile. I wandered for many years, ending up in Cairo around the 16th century. That’s where I met the real Leviticus, and yes, he was just as barbaric as you’ve read. I bore a striking resemblance to him, which he took advantage of immediately. In a short period, he taught me to be him, and since I needed a new identity in order to leave my past behind, I embraced his offer. What I didn’t realize was that someone wasn’t happy with me simply being exiled, so they sent assassins after me. During a job where Leviticus and I switched identities, he was killed in my stead. I made a decision that night. I would become Leviticus from that point forward, forever burying who I was so that whoever thought they had killed me would be satisfied and never go looking for me again. I perfected being felinae; having a felinae’s scent, shape-shifting into the varying degrees of a cat, even all the mannerisms and instincts. I’ve been Leviticus for so long that I’m not sure I remember what being me even feels like.”

    For a few seconds, Madeline forgot to breathe.

    “The number of enemies Leviticus made before I came across him was staggering, and they continue to be very deeply seeded into current day descendants. That doesn’t even account for the enemies I’ve made since I became him, so you can imagine why I never allowed myself to get involved with anyone who didn’t have the strength to hold their own against my enemies.”

    He paused for a moment, struggling to organize his next thoughts. He wasn’t sure why the near darkness helped ease his nerves. Perhaps he felt the shadows gave him somewhere to hide. Slipping his hands out from under hers, Levi caressed Madeline’s fingers and found the words to continue.

    “But you… you somehow reached a part of me I thought I’d killed off. I actually used my own ki, something I’d only used on one other occasion since I was exiled, to heal the broken ribs Scott gave you. And that morning, after I healed you just enough so your injuries wouldn’t be suspicious, I wanted to just hold you. When I realized why that was, I left. I didn’t want someone going after you because of me. Maseo… Caslon...  all of them can take care of themselves, but not you. And because of my feelings, you would have been put in the most precarious position of them all.”

    For a long while, no more words were spoken. Madeline was processing Levi’s confession, feeling the warmth of his hands as they held hers, and listening to each breath he took. Levi, on the other hand, had turned his gaze to the window, his mind processing a thousand scenarios. If she reciprocated his feelings, which he believed she would, he would be bound to her over time, and once her short human life passed him by, that would be it. He would take no other mate. He had tried to fight these feelings, tried to convince himself over and over again that this was not a good match for either of them, but it was a useless battle. The only way he could be free of these feelings now would be if she rejected him. 

    Madeline’s whisper interrupted his deep thoughts.

    “I missed you.”

    Looking back at her, he was caught unexpectedly by the shimmer of tears in her blue eyes, twinkling from the city lights. He rose from the table the moment she did, springing into each other’s arms. She was crying again, only tears which didn’t have the same effect as those born of misery. 

    “I missed you too,” he whispered into her ear as they embraced.

    Burrowing into the crook of his neck, Madeline wrapped her arms around Levi’s waist and lost herself in the curves of his muscles and the familiar scent of his skin. She pressed herself firmly against him, something she never dared to do before. Being wrapped in his arms was just as heavenly as she imagined. 

    Warm. 

    Safe.  

    After a few more minutes passed, Levi slowly released her.

    “I bought you some clothes,” he said, voice low and husky. “I wasn’t sure what you’d have with you. There’s also some sushi in the fridge in case you’re hungry.”

    “Thanks,” Madeline replied with a sniffle.

    Letting her arms regretfully slip from Levi’s body, Madeline turned around, spotting a couple of boutique bags on the floor next to the dresser. Rustling through the tissue paper, she found a thigh-length, powder blue sweater-dress, a pair of black leggings, and an incredibly soft set of pajamas. The trials of the day had been exhausting, and she was all set to settle in for the night.

    Ducking into the bathroom, Madeline quickly realized that except for the main foyer and the area around the toilet, all the walls were glass, providing zero privacy. Given as tired as she was, she only took that into consideration briefly before stripping down and out of her nightclub dress, and into the fresh comfort of the cotton-soft pajama shirt and shorts provided by Levi. Sure, she had nightclothes of her own packed away in the carry-on, but there was something magical about sleeping in a pair of pajamas given to you by the person you loved. 

    Walking back out towards the bed, Levi had likewise changed into a pair of charcoal-colored, drawstring pajama pants and a white t-shirt. He’d been leaning over her suitcase, running his fingers over the surface to eliminate the possibility that Gideon or Taro placed a tracker on it. The frequency detector he was running hadn’t picked up anything since she rolled it into the room, but he wanted to be thorough to prevent any attempt at a delayed activation. Confident it was secure, he climbed into bed, nothing seductive about his mannerisms. Today had simply been too much. The words that had been spoken were so heavy on the mind that it completely smothered the libido. Pulling back the sheets, he invited Madeline into his arms. 

    Madeline, finally feeling safe after days of being on edge and dealing with the exhausting focus of maintaining her guard, was anticipating the peaceful sleep Levi’s scent was inducing.

    Or at least she was until she felt the sensation of another episode.

    She found herself suddenly in an upright position staring out at the city, its sparkle captivating her like the glitter of moonlight across a flowing stream. 

    Levi sensed the change and sat up next to her, pulling her close.

    “When did this start happening?” he asked from over her shoulder, hoping to gain some insight. “Was it all at once, or has it been a gradual thing?”

    “This morning,” she replied, forcing her eyes shut until the overwhelming feeling went away. “And it was sudden.”

    She painstakingly described the markings on the hotel chair and how they vanished. About the shower and the mist. And the flowers. The awful, awful flowers. She also went into more detail about how it felt like her will was being controlled at Taro’s. She’d wanted desperately to leave, to ask for help, but her body wouldn’t comply, and her words became twisted as she spoke them.

    “What’s happening to me?” she asked after feeling she’d given Levi every detail.

    “Some sort of fae magic would be my best guess,” Levi assured, getting comfortable as he continued to cradle Madeline from behind. “But try to clear your mind of worries. You are safe with me, and tonight we’re both going to rest. No alarms. We sleep in as long as we want.”

    Her body suddenly went rigid.

    “Oh shit, I forgot to call Cameron!”

    She sprung from the bed and began fumbling through her purse in the darkness, searching for her phone. No sooner did she bring it to her ear did Levi appear, in a silent blur of movement akin to materializing out of thin air. His long fingers were already wrapped around her hand, lowering it and the phone she held.

    “I got you a new phone,” he revealed, offering the sleek black device to her. “I suspect your old one’s been compromised, meaning they have been monitoring your calls. We’ll keep it around in case we need to draw them out somewhere, but don’t use it again for anything else, okay?”

    Nodding, Madeline took a seat back on the edge of the bed and copied Cameron’s number into her new phone’s directory. She also checked her text messages. Everything from Levi was intact since the last time she’d taken a look at them. All her other contacts were there as well, and, of course, her grandmother’s voicemails. If Levi was anything, it was meticulous. 

    Dialing Cameron’s number, she pulled her new phone to her ear.

    “Cameron? Yeah, it’s me. I’m safe.”

    Levi could hear the mutt yelling on the other end.

    “Calm the fuck down for just a minute,” Madeline replied to the outburst, causing a satisfied grin to spread across Levi’s face. 

    How he missed that potty mouth.

    “That was my friend Gwen. She’s fae. Well, she apparently knows how to shut you up.”

    More yelling exploded on Cameron’s end.

    “Look, I know you’re mad, and I don’t blame you, But I wasn’t able to leave, and I couldn’t say what was on my mind, but I am fine now. I’m with Levi.”

    Madeline had to pull her ear away at the volume of Cameron blowing up.

    “Hang up and come back to bed,” Levi purred loud enough for Cameron to hear.

    Lowering the phone down to her waist, Madeline shot Levi a look. 

    “You’re not helping things,” she glared.

    Levi just smiled devilishly.

    Bringing the phone back up to her ear, she caught the tail-end of Cameron asking her if she was out of her mind spending the night with Levi.

    “I’m fine now, really I am,” Madeline responded. “There’s someplace I have to go tomorrow, but then we can meet up somewhere. I feel awful about missing the onsen. You too. Goodnight.”

    Immediately, Levi wrapped his arms around her and pulled her in close once more. She let herself drown in the warmth of his body and the rise and fall of his chest against her back.

    For a long time, Madeline blissfully relished in the warmth, the dark, and the quiet. She would be okay just spending forever like this. Twenty-four hours ago, had someone told her today would end like this, she would have thought they were crazy. Hell, if they would have told her Levi would be back in her life, she wouldn’t have believed that either. Yet here she was, wondering what loving a felinae was going to be like.

    No. Not felinae.

    “Hey, Levi?”

    “Mmm…?”

    “If you’re not bastet or felinae, what are you?” Madeline asked quietly. 

    He didn’t answer right away, which made her immediately regret asking. She imagined it would be difficult to tell someone a secret you’ve spent centuries hiding. Something you dared not utter for fear of putting others in danger. 

    After a minute or so, Madeline felt the tickle of his breath on her ear as he leaned his head in closer to her's, whispering a single word so quietly that Madeline had to strain to hear it.

    Her eyes widened.

    Everything made sense now, from his lack of shedding hair to his aversion to processed foods and body contaminates. She could not imagine, however, how difficult it was, and how much energy and concentration it took, to suppress being that. To keep it all bottled up in the framework of a felinae. And she couldn’t deny, although in the current situation it was entirely inappropriate, how arousing it was knowing the body that held her was so… 

    “That’s… that’s pretty um… wow...,” she finally managed.

    After an amused sigh, Levi chuckled.
     

    Edited by Sinajfae

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