1. Hitting Bottom
Chapter 1 - Hitting Bottom
Marisol drew her jacket close about her and shuddered as she crouched in the shelter of the storefront overhang. California was supposed to be warm and sunny, not grey and drizzly and freezing without a sign of ice or snow. It wasn't supposed to be so hard to get a job here either. The land of milk and honey had proven anything but; it seemed a hard-hearted place where failure became a way of life all too easily, and the situation only worsened the closer it got to the holidays.
She cast her gaze about her into the surrounding dark yet again to see if Crazy Larry was anywhere nearby. Tall, with long, stringy, filthy hair, sallow skin and a light of real insanity glowing behind his dark eyes, Crazy Larry frightened her more than anyone else ever had, especially after awakening late one night to find him pawing to get at her through her blanket. Only her screams and the growing murmur of disapproval from the others sheltering under the freeway overpass that night had driven him off that time - but it soon became obvious he'd decided to wait for another opportunity instead of giving up entirely.
He smacked his lips every time he caught sight of her now, as if to remind her that he was hungry for her in ways she didn't even want to imagine; and the menace in his gape-toothed smile brought the hackles up on the back of her neck even in broad daylight. If her nightmares had a consistent villain of late, it would bear the name of Crazy Larry; and the very last thing she would want would be to encounter him again alone in the night.
"Miss? You need to move along now."
Marisol flinched hard in surprise, and then relaxed slightly when her nightmarish villain turned out to be someone far less threatening. The security officer that patrolled the shopping plaza had a kind voice, but she knew he had his job to do. No one was allowed to shelter in any of the covered doorways of this open-air mall after hours - no one. It didn't matter that the place was locked up tight, without a single pedestrian to beg for quarters. She knew this, but had been hoping against hope...
"Where can I go?" Marisol asked plaintively. "It's pouring."
The officer, whose rain pancho covered up any nametag, shook his head. "There's always the shelter, down on Fremont..."
Marisol shook her head vehemently. Everyone knew that the shelter was no safer than the overpass underpinnings. She'd had her baggage stolen there - and been beaten twice by others who had thought she might have drugs on her. There was no way she'd go back there. "That place is dangerous," she replied, her teeth chattering. "Can't you just look the other way - just for tonight? It's freezing, for pity's sake!"
"Sorry, miss." The cop sounded sympathetic, he really did. "I can't afford to lose my job." He extended his hand. "You'll have to find somewhere else."
Marisol sighed and let the officer pull her to her feet. "There is nowhere else," she stated flatly.
"Sorry, miss. Move along now."
With a hand at her elbow, the officer escorted her to the corner stoplight and then stood and watched to make certain she crossed the street and kept on going.
There was only one other place she could think of to try to sit out the storm with any chance of getting completely out of the rain. An old, WPA-vintage bridge just outside the city limits spanned the creek that finally found an outlet into the ocean beyond; and the tiny ledge formed by the cement foundation beneath it could be accessed in good weather from the north bank. Few stayed there now after a recent deluge had undercut much of the vegetation that had supported the path, and the rain tonight no doubt would make things slippery and dangerous for anyone trying to seek shelter there.
Marisol shuffled down the street, wishing that the edge of town had more streetlamps. Light - even just a pool of cool neon - made her feel safe; and right now, in the dark and the cold rain, her mind was running wild with all the misshapen shadows that swayed and moved in the malicious storm wind.
She didn't know what made her turn around and look back toward the last streetlamp she'd passed, but she felt her heart start pounding in her chest when she saw a tall and looming figure scuttling along purposefully behind her. At her present speed, it wouldn't take him long to catch up to her. It had to be Crazy Larry - he'd seen her and followed her here, and now she was all alone where nobody would hear her scream...
Marisol cast her eyes about her desperately, searching for the slightest indication of a place into which she could dart and hide from a determined lunatic. All that she could see were the tall brambles and bushes that lined the immediate vicinity of the creek. Certain she had no other choice, she ducked her head and dove for the cover of the vegetation, mindless of the way the brambles caught at and tore at her jacket.
But she had not reckoned on being quite so close to the creek already. The ground beneath her feet suddenly gave way, and she was on her backside slipping uncontrollably toward the fast-running water. She let out an involuntary shriek as she tumbled over the reinforced embankment edge and into the icy water. It wasn't deep, but she was now soaked to the skin. Moreover, the rocks that lined the normally sleepy channel hosted a healthy growth of algae that made regaining a solid foothold so she could get back to her feet difficult.
There was a crash through the underbrush on the bank that told her that her pursuer was still on her trail and getting closer, and she took a hesitant step. Once more her legs flew out from beneath her, and this time pain exploded through her head just before a darkness the like of which she had never known before closed around her.
It was a miserable night, and he shrugged his cloak tighter over his shoulders and head as the intensity of the rain increased. It was one of the storms from the north, where while the rain was not quite freezing the wind could steal what little warmth was in a person all too quickly. Getting back to his cabin meant he would have to cross the stream from where he had set his snares, then walk nearly a half a mile. Considering the way the wind twisted this way and that among the trees of the Los Padres forest, the only thing that would be dry when he finally made it back to his cabin would be the two opossums hanging limply from his belt.
The storm had been threatening for the better part of a day, but had broken over him as if Ossë himself had decided to suddenly throw a temper tantrum. Even this far inland, he could hear the dull roar of the storm-driven waves crashing on the rocks at high tide. It was a sound that both comforted him greatly and made his very being ache. On the other side of that sea, somewhere, was home: people and places he would never see again, regardless the many Ages of exile he had served in penance for the violence committed against his kin.
But it wouldn't do to stew about such things with the full force of a true tempest breaking about his ears. The snares had been re-set and re-baited, meat for the pot for the next few days hung from his belt. It was time to find shelter and wait out the temper tantrum.
And that's when he heard it: a low shriek and then the sound of something pushing through bushes on the way to the banks of the stream. His ears quickly picked up a second set of rustling and crashing; something or someone was fleeing something or someone else, for one reason or another. Either way, it didn't involve him. He tugged on the hood of his cloak to protect him just a little more and continued on his way.
The shriek came again, along with a wet, slipping sound. The prey - the one fleeing - had evidently reached the top of the banks and slipped in the loose mud. Sounds of splashing below told him that the fall had carried that being all the way into the stream itself. From behind, the crashing grew louder, closer, more hurried, as if the one pursuing knew that its prey had stumbled.
He sighed and headed for the roadway that would become a rusted iron bridge over the stream. He had no intention of getting that wet. Let those who didn't know the threat of loose dirt mixed liberally with rainwater make a mess of themselves without his assistance! Still, curious, he walked to the side of the bridge and gazed down on the drama taking place below.
Another shriek cut the air, followed by another, larger, splash. Into the middle of the flowing water tumbled a figure, and he cringed at the sound of flesh striking rock. Whoever it was, wasn't moving anymore – probably unconscious. He gazed, hoping to see movement, but… nothing… until…
From the bushes came a straggle-haired fellow who was now talking to himself at a near-shout. Again he watched, hoping to see a sign of simple human kindness from one who was able to one in need; but he bit back a growl when he saw the fellow bend over the fallen one and begin pulling on the clothing. Did he intend to steal the very jacket from that person's back in the middle of a storm while they lay helpless?
He straightened in disgust and took a few steps toward the other end of the bridge. It wasn't his business, he reminded himself harshly; these Second-born were more than capable of handling themselves without his help. In fact, his height and his tendency to wear his hair very long – just as he had for well on four Ages now – tended to make the After-comers nervous, which was fine with him because he wanted little to do with them either. And besides, he'd seen and heard enough to know how the Second-born treated anyone who was "different". He gave a glance over the metal railing, preparing to simply wish those below well and be on his way.
But the man wasn't helping the fallen person in the least. In fact, it now looked as if he were beginning to rifle through that person's pockets, with water washing over that one's face in a manner that could drown them, and then... No, he couldn't just walk away – especially when he saw where the fellow's hands were going once the zipper to the jacket was open. The figure beneath the protective coat was decidedly female, and the fellow's eagerness made him seem ready and determined to perpetrate the most foul of violence on her, despite the fact that her face was nearly covered with water half the time.
The drive to commit sexual mayhem was something endemic to the Second-born that he had never understood, something about the world he lived in now that sickened him to the depths of his faë. It didn't matter that Mortal women apparently had a kind of strength that sometimes allowed them to survive such abuse. As far as he was concerned, no woman should ever have to suffer that indignity, that outrage – Second-born or not. And this time, of all times, he was just too close to the situation to walk away and pretend it wasn't happening, telling himself "it is not my business." If he walked away now, the violence would be as much his fault as that of the man already fumbling at his trousers.
He loosed a growl of outrage and vaulted over the bridge railing with a shout, determined to put a halt to what he was hoping wasn't happening below. "You there! Stop that!" He wished he had his sword, or something that would make him seem more of a threat, but even just his voice made the scrawny man – for man it was – shrink together and peer about nervously. He landed hard in the middle of a small stand of manzanita and brushed through it as if it were nothing with as much menace in his posture as he could manage. "I said, get away from her!"
The eyes of the living scarecrow that stared back at him held the light of true insanity, but tempered with enough cunning to know that the one challenging him was both bigger and probably stronger. With a scuttle that would have done a spider proud, the fellow followed the stream for a short distance before making a bolt for dry land. He glared at the fellow until tattered coat, stringy hair and filthy-looking jeans had slid, scrabbled, climbed and finally vanished into the brush and the downpour.
He looked down at the girl and frowned. All of that commotion over her, and she'd not moved a muscle. He sighed again, making a reluctant peace with the fact that his intentions for the evening had just taken an about-face. If he left this woman – nay, she was too young to be fully grown, surely! – this child in the stream, either she would catch lung fever and possibly die, or that wretched excuse for a human being would be back to molest her again. Neither of those options were acceptable, now that he'd actually inserted himself into the situation; but the sole alternative meant picking up a drenched, utterly limp human figure and carrying it…
With a low grunt, he slung the girl over his shoulder, knocking the hood of his cloak back. Well, there was nothing for it now. He would just have to be as drenched as she was by the time he got her to his cabin.
As Marisol slowly awoke, she realized that she was actually warm - warm and dry! Her fingers moved and touched soft, warm blankets that were tucked in so tightly about her that she could hardly move. Her head ached, though, and the struggle to free a hand so as to touch the source of the agony made it begin to throb; and she let out a low moan.
"Don't move about. You hit your head when you fell, and you have quite a lump." The voice that sounded very close at hand was low, resonant, lilting, with a hint of an accent. "You're safe now." She felt someone sit down next to her - where was she? - to readjust the warm blankets after tucking her wayward hand back beneath them, and then they were gone again.
"Where... am I?" she murmured, wishing her vision would clear. "Who are you?"
For a long moment, there was nothing but silence; and then she felt the return of someone next to her. "I have some tea for you that will help with the headache. Allow me to help you." With that, a strong arm raised her up so that she could sip at the liquid from the mug that suddenly appeared at her lips. Marisol wrinkled her nose at the strange and slightly bitter taste, but otherwise relished the sensation of warm thawing her from the inside as it slid all the way down her throat and into a very empty stomach. "Just a few sips," the voice insisted and the mug vanished from her lips. "Let us make certain you can keep it down before adding more to it." Once more, the blanket was tucked in tightly around her before the pressure of someone sitting next to her departed.
Marisol blinked, and slowly the fog lifted so that her eyes could focus on the details. The first thing that came clear was that the room had only a very little light coming from a fire not far away and two candles. The fire itself danced within what looked like a stone hearth with strange hooks extending like skeletal arms over the space inside. One of those hooks dangled a dented cooking pot just within reach of the flames, another, a well-blackened kettle. Slowly she turned her head to discover that she was in what looked like a rustic, one-room cabin. The walls looked rough-cut and of utterly unfinished wood, visibly caulked with a dark substance that had to be mud.
The wooden furniture appeared serviceable, nothing fancy or even varnished. A plank table and two three-legged stools sat against one wall, with another wood-framed chair padded with cushions covered with what looked like animal hides gracing the other side. An odd sort of rack sat directly in front of the flames, and Marisol blushed to realize that the blue, red white and black bits of fabric draped over it were her clothes, obviously set out to dry. She moved her hand beneath the covers and bit back a whimper of fear when her fingers encountered nothing but skin.
The figure that now moved from bedside to hearth, the one who had stripped her and yet left her covered chin to toes with a sinfully warm blanket, dominated both the room and her attention. He was very tall, with an athlete's build and long, black hair that hung like a cascade down his back. His clothing, what she could see of it, looked to be made of leather. His movements were smooth and graceful, as if he were dancing rather than merely walking from one side of the room to the other. As he went about his business, he sang softly in a language the likes of which Marisol had never heard before.
As grateful as she was for the warmth, and for the apparent rescue from Crazy Larry, Marisol watched the man move about the room with growing fear. For all she knew, she had managed to elude one maniac only to fall into the clutches of another she knew even less about. Her imagination began to present one terrifying scenario after another, and she began to shiver, knowing that in the state she was in at the moment, she would not be able to escape whatever fate this very tall man intended for her.
Whoever he was, he was very much aware of his surroundings and those in them, because he turned abruptly to look at her, and then his brows knit together in a dark scowl. He muttered something in that very different language and spun away only to turn back moments later with another piece of much thicker fabric, which he carefully draped over the top of the blanket that already covered her. "This should warm you more," he said before turning away to head to the hearth. He crouched down, stirring something in the cooking pot and humming whatever melody he'd been singing before.
The additional covers were warmer, and the sharp pain in her head had retreated to a persistent ache. Marisol soon found herself blinking hard to keep her eyelids from closing, no matter how much she knew she needed to stay alert and aware if she was to have any hope at all of defending herself. Had the man put something in the tea he'd given her – something to make her sleep? A Rufie, perhaps? What did he intend to do with her when she couldn't fight back?
She was almost ready to concede and let herself fall asleep when she felt someone sit down next to her again. Her eyes flew wide open to find the man bending towards her with a mug in one hand. "No! Please…"
"Hush, little one," he soothed in that oddly accented voice of his. "You need to take a few more sips of the tea. It will help with your poor head."
Her eyes welled with tears of genuine terror. "Please don't hurt me," she whispered as his strong arm slipped behind her. "I'll do whatever you want, just please…"
He blinked and gazed deeply into her eyes, and she had to bite her lip to keep from gasping at the pain and the sadness in those intense, grey orbs. The man closed his eyes very briefly, and when he opened them again, there was only compassion and kindness. "You are safe now, this I swear," he told her gently. "I will not harm you. I only wish to make certain you do not have a concussion. Will you take a few more sips of this for me?"
"What is it?"
"A very mild herbal pain reliever, which, when processed and ground into a powder and pressed into small lumps by pharmaceutical corporations, is sometimes called aspirin. Frankly, I find the natural product more effective." He smiled encouragingly. "I added some honey, so it isn't completely disgusting. Please."
The mug touched her lips again, and Marisol closed her eyes and gave in to the inevitable. Now that he mentioned it, she could taste the hint of honey; perhaps he was telling the truth about the rest of it. She truly wasn't ready to trust him at all, but had little choice in the matter. At least she didn't think he'd done anything to her… yet.
"We shall wait a little longer before seeing if your stomach is steady enough to hold something a little more fortifying," he said then and carefully let her recline again, tucking the blankets in securely. "Warm enough?" He seemed satisfied with the tiny nod she gave him and moved away again. He paused by the chairs that held her clothing and felt of them each in turn, then turned them over and shifted the chairs a little closer to the fire before crouching and stirring whatever was in the pot again.
"Who… who are you?" she asked in a tremulous voice, having had to work up the courage to speak.
He cast a glance over his shoulder and then shrugged. "You can call me Mac, I suppose."
In turning his broad back to her, he gave a daunting hint that he wasn't interested in polite conversation. Not sure of what else would be required of her, and desperate to try to stay awake more successfully than she had done before, Marisol turned her head to see what else she could discover about the shelter she'd been brought to.
The bed she lay on was against one rough wall not far from a door, and the stonework that included the hearth comprised the second. Windows that looked to have been salvaged from someplace much more modern were inset into the two holes prepared for them in the third wall, which also held another door to the place. The fourth wall had no windows and was covered in what looked like skins and hides in various stages of being stretched and prepared for use. Her gaze caught on a set of shelves mounted in the corner which held a couple more mugs and possibly other utensils she couldn't see in the dim light of the flames. A wooden crate to the side of the hearth held firewood that had been cut and readied to burn, and a bucket sat on the other side.
And over the hearth, hanging from a peg set into the stone, was a harp that seemed woefully out of place in that rustic setting. Marisol couldn't resist looking back at the man and wondering just what kind of person would have crafted a shelter such as the one they were in, and yet possess something as strange as a harp.
The man – Mac, she remembered him saying his name was – seemed to be in no hurry to do anything to or with her. After another spell of stirring whatever he was cooking, he rose and walked over to the table and seated himself. Evidently there was some task that he had ongoing there as well, for he had some implement in one hand and was working it against something else – was that another skin? And as he did, he once more began to sing very softly to himself.
Marisol let herself relax back into the cushions on the bed, still wary and frightened, but with the sharper edge of her terror fading. As yet, her questionable rescuer had done and said nothing remotely threatening, and it appeared that he was more than comfortable keeping himself company. She might have been naked beneath the blanket, but she was unbound; if necessary, she could get up and run from him, for whatever good that might do her. Moreover, she was warm, warmer than she'd been in well over a week. Her headache had taken yet another shift toward gone, leaving her very weary. Did she dare let herself doze while the man worked, or at least until he awakened her to sip again at that not-quite-disgusting tea?
The next thing she knew, however, the man – Mac – was sitting next to her again, gently jiggling her shoulder to rouse her. "Awaken, child. You should not sleep. Not yet." As clouded as her mind was, she jerked awake violently the moment he'd touched her, and paid for the movement with a wash of nausea. Surprisingly, she saw that the automatic flinch that she had made caused him to hesitate in his movements. "Peace," he soothed softly. "All is well. I merely want you to drink more of the tea and try to eat a few bites of bread this time."
Indeed, that was exactly what he had in his hands: the mug in the one and a piece of lightly toasted bread on a small wooden platter in the other. Still, she stared up at him, terrified of what his real intent might be.
"I am going to help you sit up a bit first," he said then, as he put the platter on the blanket next to her legs. "I promise I shall not harm you."
Once more, his arm slipped behind her to raise her up, only this time, he brought the toast to her lips. "Just a small bite, and chew it well," he directed. Wide-eyed and wary, Marisol did as she was told. The toast was a bit dry, but it was the first thing she'd had to eat that day that hadn't come from a dumpster. "Good." Mac nodded at her. "Now a bit more of the tea." The liquid had cooled considerably, but even tepid, it still felt warm going down.
Finally he let her down again and adjusted the blankets over her. "How do you feel?"
"OK…" What was she supposed to say? What would keep him satisfied and prevent him from doing to her exactly what Crazy Larry had intended. She was alone, and naked, in a cabin probably out in the wilds of the state park north of town, with a man she'd never met before.
He looked over toward the hearth and then back at her. "I fear your clothing will take time to dry, even in front of the fire. You will have to be content with blankets, probably until morning. You were soaked when I found you."
"I… fell… slipped…" Her memory of those last, terrified moments was hazy.
"I saw. I do not believe the man who was following you was very happy that I came upon you when I did." The grey eyes were intense, searching. "I believe you were running from this person?"
Marisol closed her eyes. That was right; she'd been running from Crazy Larry. She nodded and then whimpered when the movement hurt. Her head was better, but it wasn't completely right yet.
"He did not look like a very wholesome individual. I believe you were probably justified in fleeing from him." The smooth-shaven face looked disgusted at the memory of the man who had chased her. It was a disgust she shared. Just the thought of Crazy Larry's hands on her… She shuddered at the thought and held hard to the underside of the blanket.
"What were you doing out in the dark and the rain, little one?" The musical voice called her attention back to the man sitting at her side. He was gazing at her questioningly. "This is the kind of night when all sane people stay indoors, where they are safe and dry. Why were you not at home?"
Why indeed! Marisol closed her eyes and swallowed hard against tears of regret. If she hadn't listened to Trevor, hadn't believed his tall tales of easy money and perpetual sun, she wouldn't be in this fix. She'd be home, with Dad and Mom and Gran and Uncle Pete. She'd be working in the little store the family owned and ran, and maybe even taking an art class at the local community college. The tiny Nebraska town that had been her home all her life might not have been as exciting or novel as California had been in the dreams and fantasies Trevor had fed her, but it would have been home.
"No matter. I will see you safely home, once you are recovered and your clothing fit to wear again." Her eyes popped open in surprise at the determined tone of voice.
"But I don't…" she began, and the rest of it died unsaid. She didn't need to burden this man with her sad saga. He probably wasn't interested anyway. She had brought this fate on herself; she would just have to live with her poor decisions. "That's very kind, but you don't have to."
"It is not a bother. You must have family that is worried about you," he said with a slight frown.
Feeling guilty, she avoided his gaze and turned her head to look instead at the chairs that held her drying clothes. "I suppose," she mumbled.
"You do live in town, do you not?" A gentle finger caught at her chin and carefully brought her back to face him again.
"I have no home anymore," Marisol mumbled under her breath, so quietly that she was sure that only she would hear it.
Instead, she was shocked when Mac shook his head firmly, making that shining curtain of black silk wave as if in a wind. "You are far too young to be adrift in this world without belonging somewhere, child!"
"I'm not a child – and you're not a whole lot older than I am!" she blurted defensively at him, and then cringed in fear of his reaction. The time she'd spent with Trevor and his so-called "friends" should have taught her better…
The absolute last thing she expected him to do, however, was to break into a warm chuckle as he rose and once more adjusted the blankets to just below her chin. "Looks can be very deceiving," he tossed at her and headed back to the fire to stir his pot. He crouched there for a short time, and then rose and walked to the table, where he grabbed up one of the stools and brought it over next to the bed and sat down again. "So tell me, why have you no home any longer? And where have you been living if you have no home?"
She stared at him in wonder and consternation. "I don't need anyone to tell me that I was stupid," she hedged defensively.
"You have said nothing yet, so I have no reason to assume anything about the wisdom of your actions," he replied kindly. "It is just that I know this is a special time of year for your people. Most people around here want to be at home, or to return there to be with loved ones…"
"I can't go home." Her voice was flat and emotionless.
"There must be a reason…"
She scowled at him, forgetting her fear of him. "Because I don't have any money, and it's too far away."
Slowly he nodded, accepting her words. "And if you had the coin necessary," he pressed, "you would return home?"
Would they even want to take her back in, after all the hard words and hurt feelings that had accompanied her defying their wishes to go off with Trevor? Never mind that they had been right about him, that he was up to no good and would only bring her grief… No, she was better off not going all the way back there only to have the door slammed in her face. At least in California, being stuck outdoors in bad weather didn't mean being up to her knees in snow, although she'd learned that the absence of snow didn't guarantee that one would be warm at all.
Marisol shrugged. "I don't know. I don't know if they'd even let me…" No. It hurt too much to say the words aloud. Bad enough she had to think them. She gazed up into Mac's face, finding it all too handsome, and decided to change the subject to one of more immediate concern to her. "What are you going to do with me? …to me?"
Those grey eyes widened in surprise and consternation. "Do with you? Whatever gives you the idea that I intend to do anything with you?"
But… she was naked under the blankets… She was getting confused. "Why did you help me, then?"
Dark brows rose abruptly and then lowered into a glower. "Because you needed the help, of course," was the terse rejoinder. "You were unconscious and half-drowning in the middle of a stream with what looked like a wild man bending over you. The look on his face and the things he was doing with his hands told me he meant you no good. And once I had chased him away, I was not about to leave you to drown by inches in a chilled stream until you awoke again by yourself, if you ever did, or to catch lung fever from wearing clothing that was soaked through to the skin to the point it would not keep you warm."
She was unnerved by the display of indignation, as well as the idea that he had helped her for no other reason than that she needed assistance, and she looked away so that she didn't continue to be pinned by the intensity of his gaze. "It's just…" She sighed. "It's just been a long time since anybody's really helped me. I'm sorry. I didn't mean to make you mad."
He sighed deeply and seemed to calm down a bit. "I am not angry at you, little one, merely very weary of a world which has grown so cold-hearted that a helping hand from a stranger can be so deeply mistrusted." He rose, taking the stool with him and putting it back in its place at the table. "As for your not having a home…" He gestured around the room. "This is not much, but it is warm and dry and safe. Until you have the coin to return to your proper place, wherever that is, you may consider it yours."
Marisol stared at him. "But… You don't even know me. I could be…" She shuddered, thinking of all the things that she had done to survive in the past months that she would never have considered herself capable of, things she was ashamed of. "I could be a thief…"
"Yes, I realize that." Strangely, her protestations didn't seem to alarm him. "And if I find out that your means of acquiring coin runs to the dishonest, it will cost you this place and my protection. I will not allow you to bring trouble to my doorstep."
His protection? That was right – somewhere out there in the dark and the rain was a certifiable nutcase hell-bent on assaulting her. "But Crazy Larry won't stop, and I know he'll come looking for me. You don't want me to cause you any trouble, and Crazy Larry is nothing but trouble." Not after he had taken care of her, saved her from almost certain attack…
His eyebrow were quite expressive when they shot upwards in that manner. "Crazy Larry?"
"That's what they called him at the shelter, and the folks who sleep under the overpass said…"
"Is that where you have been staying?" It seemed impossible, but the eyebrows had risen even higher.
"It wasn't so bad until the weather turned, the underpass, I mean," she answered, cringing at his tone. "At least it was dry. When it got cold, I stayed at the shelter a few nights…"
"But the shelter, if memory serves, is a quite unsavory place; and the underpass is even more so, and cold besides."
"I had no choice." It was the truth, and an unhappy one. "Without a home, nobody would hire me, and without a job, I couldn't pay for a motel room."
Mac gazed at her intently for a long and silent moment, and Marisol tried very hard to ignore the thoughts she was certain were running through his mind. Finally, however, he turned away and crouched down next to the hearth to tend the pot again. "No matter. Provided you behave appropriately, you need go back to neither place again."
He was a strange one, Marisol decided as she relaxed back against the rough cloth beneath her, clinging to the blankets over her as if they could shield her from everything that had gone wrong with her life of late. His moods seemed to blow hot and cold very easily, and he moved with an almost wild feline grace that spoke of great strength. She had felt that strength when he'd lifted her so she could drink his tea, and the thought of it turned against her was frightening.
But he had yet to touch her with anything but respect and gentleness, and he had offered her a place of her own next to a hearth that warmed the inside of this one-room shelter better than the floor furnace had heated the women's dormitory in the shelter. He had fed her bread that hadn't seemed stale or moldy, and the smells beginning to arise from that pot he kept stirring were starting to make her stomach growl softly.
"Thank you," she said softly, not wanting to rile him at all and finally finding a reason to remember her manners.
He rose and walked over to a wooden box that she hadn't noticed before, situated below the shelves, opened a hinged top and drew out something. "Here," he said, turning and tossing that nameless something onto the bed. "It is too large for you, I am sure, but perhaps you will feel a little less vulnerable or threatened if you are wearing more than just a blanket or two."
It was soft leather, softer than any she'd ever seen before, and by the cut it was a shirt. She pulled it beneath her blanket and dragged it over her head. He was right; she swam in it. But as he had suspected, she felt a little more secure. Maybe all of her nightmares weren't on the verge of coming true after all. "Thank you," she said again, a little more confidently this time.
"What is your name?" he asked, turning to close the box again.
She saw him nod slowly. "A pretty name."
This is a work of fan fiction, written because the author has an abiding love for the works of J R R Tolkien. The characters, settings, places, and languages used in this work are the property of the Tolkien Estate, Tolkien Enterprises, and possibly New Line Cinema, except for certain original characters who belong to the author of the said work. The author will not receive any money or other remuneration for presenting the work on this archive site. The work is the intellectual property of the author, is available solely for the enjoyment of Henneth Annûn Story Archive readers, and may not be copied or redistributed by any means without the explicit written consent of the author.