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~:: Endgame ::~
Chapter IV

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Her mouth felt like it was full of dry flannel. The room was still quite dark as she began to overcome the fog of confusion that was suffocating her conscious thoughts. Her eyes struggled to focus as she shifted her weight beneath the heavy blankets. Her mind floated at the edge of cognizance as the softness of the warm bed urged her back to dreamland, however a sudden realization that she wasn't where she should be jolted her into an abrupt awareness. Taking a deep breath, she attempted to sit upright. Her head throbbed and spun, sending her reeling back to a reclining position.

"I see you're finally awake." A deep, quiet voice came from the darkness beside her.

She jumped at the sound. Her gaze darted around but she could see nothing. Then, with the rasping sound of a match being dragged over some rough surface, he lit a small oil lamp next to the bed. The flickering fire gave his rugged features a shadowy cast as he moved from the shadows into its warm glow. She pulled the covers tight around her body and tried to gather her wits about her.

It was plainly evident that she was no longer in Pocket D. She had no idea where she was but she knew instinctively that it wasn't anywhere she was supposed to be.

"W-w-where am I?" she stammered.

"You are a guest in my humble abode. Just relax." His voice was smooth as he tried to reassure her.

"I...need to get...home. My... m-m-mother will be worried."

He chuckled. Now he was almost certain that she was far too young for his tastes.

"Unfortunately, your mother will have to wait. Day will be breaking soon and I can't return you to Pocket D until nightfall. Port Oakes is far too dangerous a place for you to be wandering around in the daylight."

A small gasp caught in her throat. He must be one of villains who inhabited the realm of Lord Recluse. She'd heard her mother and Aunt Azazela speak of the dangers they posed. A wave of fear gripped her as she stifled the urge to burst into tears.

"Can you take me to my home?" she squeaked hoarsely. The pitch in her voice rose in proportion to the fear that gripped her.

The hint of a dark smile turned his lips up at the corners. "And where would your home be?"

"Talos Island."

He laughed softly. "I don't think the Paragon City police department would appreciate my presence."

A sick feeling settled in the pit of her stomach.

He moved closer and sat on the edge of the bed. She visibly winced as if she were expecting him to strike her. He felt a wave of coldness as she instinctively began to wrap herself in the dark energies that she had the power to command.

"Calm down. If I wanted to see you hurt, I could have left you in the company of your friends at the club." The venom he applied when spitting the word "friends" brought images of the young men she'd met earlier whirling back into her consciousness. The last thing she remembered was drinking with them before she apparently blacked out.

"They...umm...were not really my friends..." she started, hesitantly.

He rolled his eyes. "I'd never have guessed," he retorted with his voice fairly dripping in sarcasm. She gave him a puzzled glance and he continued. "Friends don't usually try to drug each other. I can only guess what they must have had planned for you. And to think, they presented themselves as heroes." He snarled the last word in an angry tone.

She suddenly felt very naive and foolish. In the warm light he stared at her as if he was trying to second guess her intentions. She took a deep breath and dismissed the swirl of negative energy with which she'd been wrapping herself. He laughed softly. To most others the falling shadows would likely have made the girl blend quickly into her surroundings. Being a creature of the shadows himself, he had no problems seeing through the darkness in which she tried to take refuge.

"It was simply lucky for you that I happened to be observing your little group of acquaintances. I saw what they had done, and by borrowing your identification, I was able to convince them that I was your brother and was there to retrieve you. Of course, once you'd ingested their potion, I was left with a very catatonic burden on my hands. It would have been rather pointless to save you from one group only to leave you there for some other evil opportunists to happen upon."

Suddenly the implication of what he was telling her hit home. She realized what might have happened, had he not stepped in to rescue her, and she began to cry in earnest.

The tears welling on her thick lashes tugged at his heart. "There, now. Don't cry. You are here now. It will be dawn soon, far too soon for us to make our way back under the cover of the darkness. As soon as night falls again, I will return you to the club and you may find your way home from there. I suggest," he added in a sardonic tone, "that you don't stop to make any friends this time."

She looked up at him as tears flowed down her cheeks and nodded her agreement.

The first rosy fingers of dawn were winding their way through the gaps in his shutters, reminding him that he was incredibly tired. He looked at the frightened girl huddled in his blankets and his bed and suddenly realized he had a problem.

"I work nights, so it is time for me to go to sleep. Unfortunately," he began, "I am not sure what to do with you. I think since we are somewhat on opposite sides of the law, as it were, I am going to need to restrain you, in case you get a sudden attack of righteousness and decide it might be your duty to arrest me while I sleep. The bed is large enough for both of us. To sleep in," he added as her eyes opened wide, "I will attempt to make your restraints as comfortable as I can so that you can get some rest before our journey tonight."

He opened a drawer and pulled out several silken neckties.

She trembled in fear as he approached her. The trail of tears that trickled down her cheeks turned into a full blown torrent as she sobbed loudly.

"Hush," he said softly. "You have to understand that I cannot afford to take any risks with you. Please don't take this personally. I want to make sure both of us make it through the day without falling into any harm." Her body shook with the sobs. He took a gentle fingertip and brushed her now saline soaked locks away from her eyes. Tracing the outline of her delicate jaw he lifted her face up to meet his gaze.

"How old are you?" he heard himself asking. He felt torn between hoping for an answer that would relieve his conscience from the guilt his untoward thoughts had fostered, and an answer that would force him to remain morally restrained towards this frightened creature.

She shuddered and closed her eyes. "I will be eighteen in November," she whispered.

Not quite of age, he mused. But close enough, especially here where the authorities could care less, the darker side of his conscience prodded. He looked away from her for a moment. Here he was, about to tie her down in his own bed. He swallowed a huge lump of discomfort that he couldn't explain. Maybe it was the pity he felt. He wasn't hard-hearted. Just practical when it came to plying his vocation. And if he occasionally had to be a bit forceful in order to make a point with women he encountered, he had never regretted it. This girl was an entirely different situation, however.

Gently, he took first one hand then the other. Wrapping the soft material around her wrists, he tied them to the bedposts on either side. He realized that this effectively located her in the center of the bed, leaving him little room for his own sleeping comfort. Unless you'd lie atop her, his darker nature intoned.

She was silently sobbing now, tears soaking the hair at her temples. As he pulled back the blankets to fasten her ankles, she felt the cool air on her bare legs. Suddenly she wished she'd been much more modest in her choice of attire.

He gripped one shapely ankle tenderly in his hand. As he wrapped the soft cloth around it, he felt a surge of longing course through him. He groaned out loud as he struggled to control himself and to hide the physical manifestation of his urges.

Once she was secure, he turned away from her and adjusted his clothing for comfort and discretion. It baffled him as to why he was so torn between a completely natural urge and the desire to protect this vulnerable little creature.

With a deep sigh, he resigned himself to sleeping on his sofa. It wasn't comfortable, but he felt the temptation of unavoidable contact with the girl now stretched across his bed would prove insurmountable.

As he silently stole out of the bedroom, he heard her breathing catch, as if she was trying to quiet herself in order to hear his movements. He smiled to himself.

After a few tempestuous hours on the sofa, he realized sleep was not within his grasp. He quietly made his way to the kitchen for a glass of slightly old but not yet soured milk. Without a sound he slipped into a shadowy corner of the bedroom and watched her sleep. Her pert breasts were rising and falling in a slow, steady rhythm. He knew this meant she'd finally succumbed to exhaustion. Even in the dim light that filtered through the shuttered windows, he could see her eyes were swollen from crying. A wave of pity swept over him as he approached her side.

He slid out of most of his clothing, and gently laid down at her side, carefully avoiding allowing certain areas of his physique to touch her warm soft skin. She murmured and sobbed softly in her sleep yet did not awaken.

With a deep breath, he inhaled her very pleasant soft scent. He felt a twinge of guilt at having to truss her up to the bedposts, but in reality he couldn't be certain that she was not a threat to him.

As he settled in beneath the soft cotton sheets his eyes closed involuntarily. He realized how tired he really was. It took mere moments for the pall of sleep to descend upon his consciousness.

To Chapter V