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A/N: I wrote this in a fandom but it was soooo completely out of the fandom the only thing I ended up having to change were the names. So I decided to repost as an original fic because I think it works better this way. Please R and R and tell me what you think.

It's all a matter of ritual. Ritual and a sort of dull acceptance that one must waste an hour of the day sitting, standing, kneeling, crossing, praying. It's been ingrained into my brain since I was a child. Every Sunday, one hour. Walk, cross, kneel, cross, stand, sit, kneel…

It just goes on and on. Now I do it without noticing that I am doing it. Now, at this age where I am still so young yet feel so old, my mind is elsewhere. It's out on the small, sunny beach. It's across the ocean in the busy New York City, it's up the Alps in France. It's anywhere but here.

The music, the dull, boring organ music, sounds through the cathedral. It's always cold in here, always drafty. The ceiling is too high to let any warmth settle over us as we sit. And sit. And sit. Our mouths move in a rhythm that has been bred into us. One that we have known since we were dragged here as children, forced to sit, and to repeat. On our off days we had to learn, to study, to memorise until we'd got it right. Then comes the confession, the communion. It's all rubbish but by the time we reach that place we just don't care anymore. It's already become part of us. We are already drifting somewhere else whilst our bodies do their best to look present.

So here I sit, on this Sunday, much the same as it always is. The sound of the priest's voice is settling somewhere in the back of my brain, my eyes wander to the ceiling and I begin to lose myself in my thoughts. Then something odd happens. The side door opens.

No one is ever late. Ever.

I look over and see a man I have never noticed before. He is tall, gaunt with sallow skin and his hair is hanging in his face. He doesn't make another sound as he does his part of the ritual. Kneels, crosses, rises, sits. I watch him out of the corner of my eye as our lips move in sync, saying what must be said to end this part of the day.

I find I really cannot stop staring and eventually the Mass ends. It startles me when everyone begins to rise and file out. I follow the crowd, narrowly avoiding my family as they glower at me from across the courtyard. I hate them, probably always will. They bred this into me, this ritual, this pointless rubbish I force myself to endure each week.

Is God listening?

Does he care about the pointless millings about of us wee humans?

Does he exist?

I shove my hands deep into my pockets as my eyes scan the side of the street for my car. Just as I left it. Not in the most brilliant of conditions but mine. My feet make a faint clicking sound on the pavement as I heel-toe towards my automobile. It amuses me slightly, just how free everything seems once we are away from those doors.

As I fumble for my keys, my eye catches the strange man again. He is starting off once more, probably to his car, I don't really know. I see the ever-present, very blonde heads of all three Esparzas as they start towards the man. Brilliant! Friendly with the Esparzas. The worst of the families, we all know this. England is big, but it's small enough to know who has the power, especially in this city.

I try to ignore the pointed look that Jasper is giving me as I unlock my doors and slide into the seat of my car. I notice something odd, though it doesn't register straight away. Fiore Esparza, Jasper's father, seems to have an entire conversation with the strange man, yet no words are spoken. It was as though the entire thing had been conducted through their eyes.

I switch on my car and drive off.

Free again.

Free from the rituals and back to my life as a sinner.

Of course work calls on this bright, Sunday morning so I head to the office to finish up my article. I do admit I come up with the strangest ideas but they are well liked in our small literary community. This current one, "The Gentlemen of the Gentleman's club." And what a piece it is. The interviews were the best part.

This part is my least favourite. Making it come together so a decent person with mild intelligence can decipher the point I'm trying to get across. Really, I'm not so great at that part and that's why I adore my editor. She's ruthless and perfect. I've known her since I was in school and she knows exactly where my creativity ends and her work must begin.

The article only takes me two hours but now I'm starving and it feels like I've been working for days. My wrists ache from the typing and I am ready to say goodbye to the office for a long time. Pity I must return tomorrow morning to hear all of the things wrong with my piece.

There is a small café just round the corner and instead of taking my car, I enjoy the brisk walk. I sit outside and order my usual; a strong cup of coffee. I think coffee must make up at least thirty percent of my bodily fluids, if not more.

I sip on the hot, bitter brew and as I settle into my usual thoughtless void, a shadow passes over me. I look up and there he is. That man from Mass. I think for a moment that he is looking at me but before I can get a better look at him he disappears inside. I feel a sort of disappointment but I brush it away quickly. The last thing I need right now is to form some sort of teenaged crush on some stranger I've seen at Mass. Really, that would be too much for me.

As this thought passes through my head, the café door opens and he exits, holding the cup tightly in his hand. His eyes scan the tables, all full except mine. I give a nonchalant shrug and he actually accepts the invitation. He gives me a long, hard once over before sitting down properly. He sets his cup on the top of the table, reaches into his pocket and pulls out a small novel. I can't see the cover properly but it's very black. He begins to read.

It is probably the strangest thing that's happened to me in a long time. The silence is so strange. Who does this? Who sits at a stranger's table and then pulls out a novel to read? It just strikes me as odd and my brain refuses to process this.

I clear my throat but he doesn't look up. I do it again and still nothing. So I lean over just slightly and say, "I think I saw you at Mass today. You know the Esparzas, right?"

Nothing. He doesn't even bat an eye.

"Okay then," I say, sit back and finish my coffee. I stand after a moment and only then does he look up. I notice right then that his eyes are utterly black. "Nice chatting with you," I say.

He frowns a bit, looking mildly confused and then goes back to his book.

I shrug to myself and wander back to my car. The entire ride home I think of nothing but him and those black eyes.

This man, this black-eyed stranger, haunts me for days. I can't concentrate, I can't write, I can't come up with a single idea for my next article. Emily, my darling editor, so kindly tells me that I need a holiday. I accept her offer and tell her that I plan to take her fiancé out for a pub-crawl and make sure he sleeps with at least a dozen hookers.

She shows me the kindness of her two fingers shoved up into the air as I'm leaving the building. I start towards my car but strangely enough, my feet propel me towards a small Italian bistro. The smells are heavenly as I enter and I find the place utterly crowded with people.

"We don't have any open spaces," the woman tells me as I walk forward. "You can share a table outside if you'd like. There's one gentleman alone."

I frown. Is this some sort of joke? How often does this happen, placing customers with total strangers at a restaurant? "Uhm… is it customary to seat me with a stranger?" I ask.

She shrugs. "I don't think he'll mind."

"I suppose." I feel the irony of the situation, the odd coincidence surrounding it and as she leads me outside, I feel my heart lurch. It's him. Again. And will he recognise me?

It seems he does as I sit down and he lifts an eyebrow in my direction. He doesn't have a book this time, just a glass of water and he's staring out at the passers-by. I quickly place my order, some sort of overly large pasta stuffed with cheeses and sauces. Probably going to taste ridiculously rich and be loaded with calories I don't need, but I don't care.

When we are alone, or as alone as we can be in this crowded place, I catch his eye. "I saw you at Mass on Sunday with the Esparzas. I haven't seen you there before. Are you a regular?"

He frowns at me but says nothing. We keep our eyes locked so I decide to try again.

"Do you usually attend Mass with the Esparzas? I know them… unfortunately." I try to make a joke of it but he does not laugh, nor does he answer me.

Eventually he sighs, puts two fingers to his ear and shakes his head.


And then I know what he means. Deaf. So he hadn't been ignoring me at the café. But how odd is this now? How complicated it has become. We get our food, his brought at the same time as mine is and we begin to eat. The silence feels so strange. Two people who don't know each other and can't because of this silent barrier.

He finishes before I do and he looks at me. He looks rather surly, like the last time I saw him but his eyes grow soft for one small moment. He nods, smiles, which looks very foreign on him for some reason, stands and leaves. I give a little wave but he doesn't see me as he passes through the crowd.

Ten minutes pass and eventually I am brought the bill. I look down and see both orders. The woman is smiling at me. "You're paying for both meals, right?"

Now I understand what the smile was for. I giggle; I can't help but appreciate the humour of it and I gladly pay for us both. A silent date that ends where I pay but without a good snog. How typical for my luck. When I go home, I fall asleep on the sofa and dream of him again.

For the first time in my life, I am anxious for Sunday to arrive. I can't ever remember waiting to go to Mass. I am early which is a complete shock to me, never mind that I deliberately left ten minutes earlier than usual. The church is unusually full for just a random Sunday and I take a seat in the pew near the back. As people begin to file in, I don't see him.

I hope to meet with him but somehow I doubt it will go as I hope. Eventually the doors open and in file the Esparzas. Jasper catches my eye and I look away. I still can't look at him, no matter how much I want to prove I am stronger than he is.

Fiore sees me and smiles. He takes his wife's arm and Jasper follows them over to my empty pew.


"Daphne, how utterly delightful to see you," Fiore croons. He is buttering me up because I can write what he desires… if tempted enough. He needs publicity with elections so near. "May we join you?"

"Of course," I mutter.

Fiore turns a firm glare towards Jasper. "How impolite my son has become. Jasper, you haven't even said hello."

Jasper and I exchange smouldering looks and Jasper lowers himself into the pew directly next to me. I can smell his cologne, the distinct smell of him, and I shiver. How close we had been and how far apart we are now. "Daphne," he says in a low tone. How many times has he spoken my name? How many ways has he meant my name to sound?

"Jasper," I respond back. I want to make the word sound cold and distant but there is heat in my tone. I can't help it. The sudden close proximity of Jasper unnerves me and even though the music begins, signalling that Mass is about to start, I stand and excuse myself to the loo.

Rushing into the drafty corridor, I open the door to the loo, wincing when it slams shut. I walk to the mirrors and splash a bit of water onto my face. I squeeze my eyes closed and wipe my face dry. When I open my eyes again, I am startled to see Jasper's reflection in the mirror. I whirl round and face him.

"What?" I demand.

"You wanted me to follow you," he says with a shrug and takes a step towards me. I take one step away.

"What the hell makes you think I wanted you to follow me?" I demand. I feel a bit of fear creep into my belly. Has he gone mad? I know I nearly have.

"You said my name and then came to the loo," he replied with a shrug and backed me up against the wall.

Bloody hell. I had forgotten the code. Jasper and I hadn't done the code since we first met and were trying to hide our relationship from friends and family. I would say his name in greeting and then rush to the loo. He would follow and then the most amazing sex would happen behind the locked wooden door. It had been so long.

"I had forgotten," I whisper and realise just how close Jasper is to me. "I didn't mean for it to happen."

"Maybe your subconscious did," Jasper breathes. I can smell the mint on his breath.

"No," I say and shake my head. The tiles on the wall feel very hard against the back of my head but I dare not lean closer to him.

"You want me, you can't reject me," Jasper breathes.

I shake my head again. "You rejected me, Jasper, if you care to remember." The words I utter hurt more than I want them to. I want to be over him. Jasper was never good for me. I had known right from the off that Jasper and I weren't meant to last. But it still hurt, the rejection, the feeling that I was not good enough for him.

Jasper swallows loudly; I hear the gulp in his throat. "I've been trying to win you back, Daphne."

That is also true. He has been trying to win me back. Emails at work, letters in the post, random gifts sent to my flat, surprise appearances when I'm in public. He's tried everything from outright wooing to trying to make me jealous.

"I know," I finally whisper.

"Why don't you want me back, Daphne?" Jasper all-but begs.

It's not that, to be honest. I suppose if I gave in to what my body wanted I would take Jasper back. But my heart and mind knows better. "Because I don't love you," I finally say.

Jasper gives a hard growl and before I can move he reaches out. One hand tangles painfully in my long, black hair, pressing my head back into the tiles. His other arm presses across my chest, just below my breasts and holds me fast. I struggle against him but Jasper has always been stronger than I.

"Let me go," I demand but Jasper doesn't seem to hear me.

He brings his head in and presses his mouth to mine. I slam my lips closed in an effort to block him and this frustrates him so badly that he bites down on my lower lip. I cry out in pain as his perfect, white teeth break the skin and I taste the blood spilling into my mouth.

"Fuck you," I spit. "Fuck you Jasper, I will never love you."

"You will!" he screams.

I feel his hand tighten on my hair and the next thing I know, pain explodes in the back of my head as he brings my head forward and slams it back against the wall. I feel sudden numbness, dizziness, as a warm trickle starts down my neck. My eyes grow dim for a moment and I blink them clear.

Jasper's face is a perfect mask of shock and for a second I think he is surprised at himself. Then, in the corner of my eye, I catch the sight of a dark figure. Him. That man from the café, from the restaurant. The one whom I had been waiting for.

"Nikolas," Jasper hisses in surprise. The name settles in the back of my brain for later use. Nikolas.

My whole body feels weak, my head spinning. My legs give out under the sudden weight of my body and I slide to the floor. I watch with half-lidded eyes as Jasper and Nikolas exchange a silent conversation, hands fluttering, faces angry. Eventually, Jasper gives Nikolas the sign of Fuck You, jamming his two fingers into the air. I notice there is a smear of blood across his knuckles and inwardly I smile. Explain that one to your father, Jasper. He's not going to be happy about this.

In a flurry of movement, Jasper shoves past Nikolas and out of the loo. I look up as Nikolas kneels beside me. He takes my chin in his hand and I feel the warmth of his fingers on my skin. Even in my drowsy state it feels good.

Nikolas holds up one finger, silently asking me to wait… I think. I nod and he disappears out of the loo. I want to stay awake but I am so tired. The pain in my head is overwhelming and I just want to sleep it off. My eyes slip shut.

The next thing I know, my head is pulled forward and a warm, wet flannel is pressed to my wound. It hurts beyond belief and I cry out, opening my eyes. I look up at Nikolas and see two of him. I blink again and both images combine back into one. "Hurts," I moan and let my eyes close again. Just sleep. Please.

But no such luck. Nikolas is slapping the sides of my face with the back of his hand. I growl and try to bat his hand away but he is hauling me to my feet and pulling me down the corridor. Walking feels strange, like I'm in a dream, and I can barely balance on my high heels. The sun is too bright as we step outside and I am far too groggy to appreciate the fact that he is shoving me into his car.

I barely notice the scenery pass by as he flies down the street, all the while un-gently prodding at me to keep me awake. I don't want to. So tired. I give in to my exhaustion just as we pull into a random car park. I'm too gone to know where we are. My eyes slip shut…

The next thing I know, there are lights being shined in my eyes. People are talking to me, the sting of a needle in my arm. I hear things but they don't register. Out of the corner of my eye I see Nikolas using his hands to talk to a nurse. I wish I could know what they're saying.

Before long, my head begins to clear and I am rolled over to my stomach. There is more stinging and this time I fully feel it. "Bloody hell," I gasp out.

The doctor behind me chuckles. "This'll numb the pain so I can stitch you up."

"Stitch me up?" I ask.

"You've suffered a nasty concussion, young lady," he says. "You'll be right soon, though. You've come out of the shock and I think the worst is over."

"Oh… good," I say because I don't know what else to say. I feel as though I've suddenly woken up and I have no idea what happened. How the hell did I get a concussion? I roll my eyes to the left and see the man again. For some reason I know his name now. Nikolas. He must've brought me here because he keeps looking over with a mildly disgusted expression on his surly face.

The doctor finishes up rather quickly and I am pleased to find the pain is gone. The more I sit here, the more I can remember. The altercation with Jasper starts to come back to me. Lovely. Not the first time Jasper has caused me injury.

Nikolas stays near the corner of the room for the longest time. After I am given release papers and instructed to have someone wake me once an hour for the first night, I stand up. Nikolas approaches me and offers his arm. I take it, still feeling unsteady. We manage the walk outside and he stops beside his car. Reaching into his pocket, he pulls out a small pad of paper and a pencil.

I take it from him and read on the pad, Directions to your home. I look up at him and he makes a motion with his hands like he is writing on paper. Ah he wants me to write down directions to my flat.

I nod and hurriedly do so. I had the paper back to him, he reads it over and snorts, scribbling something under them. He shows me the pad and I laugh.

Your handwriting is horrid.

I get into the car, this time without his assistance. There is blood on the seat where my head had been resting and I flush. Nikolas looks at me and I point to the blood and say as clear as I can make the word look, "Sorry."

Nikolas gives one shrug, makes a fist and rubs it in a circular motion over his other palm. I think he means he'll wash it. I smile and sit back as we drive towards my flat. It's not far and though I am sleepy I also feel much better.

Nikolas comes to a stop in front of my building and raised his eyebrows in question. I nod and reach for the door handle. He grabs my wrist and shakes his head. Getting out, he opens my door, points to himself, to me and to the door. I shrug. Yes, God yes I want him to help me upstairs. If I have to pretend to be a total invalid, I shall.

I take his offered arm, use my key to open the door and we take the lift up to the third floor where I live. We stop at my door, I open it and gesture him inside. It's cluttered but I like it this way. I am not embarrassed even as he scans the room with a disdainful look.

He takes out his small pad and scribbles on it. Handing it to me, I read;

Do you have someone to stay with you?

Should I do it? Should I lie to him? Yes, because I am not a confessed saint and because I want him, despite my injury. Of course I know it's not going to happen tonight but lying to get him here once won't harm anyone.

I take the pencil and write down, No one I can think of but I have an alarm that's sure to wake me.

Nikolas reads the words and rolls his eyes. He scribbles one thing down on the paper.


He writes a bit more. I'll stay. I need a few things. I'll be back soon.

Nikolas doesn't wait to see if I approve. He slips the notepad back into his pocket and leaves. As the door slams shut, I let out a breath. He's going to stay.

By the time Nikolas returns with a few items, the pain is back in my head. I have medication for it but it's not helping. Nikolas finds me sitting on the sofa with a cool flannel pressed to my forehead. He touches my arm lightly and I look up.

"Hurts," I mouth.

He nods and mimics drinking tea. I nod and he helps himself to my kitchen. Feeling at home already. That thought cheers me a bit. It takes him a few minutes but eventually he brings the tea and sits down next to me. I take it gingerly and begin to sip on the hot liquid. Somehow he's got it just the way I like it. Perfect. The thought gives me chills.

There's that silence again. That impenetrable silence between us. Nikolas is looking at me and pulls out his notepad. He writes on it and hands it to me.

Why was Jasper attacking you?

I sigh. Such a complicated question and not one easily answered on a small bit of paper. I take the pencil and write out, Jasper and I have a complicated history. Not the first time he's hurt me.

Nikolas looks down and gives a small shake of his head. He doesn't write anything more for quite some time and I'm not sure if I've upset him. Finally he begins to write again and we have a conversation over the pad of paper. He learns where I work; I learn he is a teacher at a school for the deaf. I also learn he can speechread but not perfectly and that he can speak but never does. He doesn't talk much about himself but I am happy to talk about me, just to keep the conversation going.

Eventually we have sandwiches with our tea; Nikolas makes them and they are wonderful. For dinner I phone out for food and we eat in the lounge. The conversation continues and each bit of paper we use, he tears from the notepad and tosses towards the bin. Most of them end up on the floor but neither of us pay them any mind.

Finally, the time comes for bed. Bed. The part I've been hoping for and dreading at the same time. Where will he sleep? Will he wish to change his mind about this whole thing? After all, I know him yet we are perfect strangers to each other.

I show Nikolas to my bedroom and he crosses his arms, surveying things. Eventually he points to the floor and points to himself. I shake my head. How silly is that? For him to sleep on the floor. Ridiculous, even, just the thought of it.

But despite my protests, Nikolas makes himself a bed on the floor next to my own bed. I watch as he pulls out a small, digital alarm clock and a round black disc. He plugs the cord into the alarm clock and slips the black disc into the pillowcase. How strange. He then fiddles with the clock a bit.

I take up the pencil and paper and jot my question down. What's the black disc for?

When he is finished readying his little bed, I hand him the note. He reads it and scribbles something down for me. It vibrates to wake me up since I cannot hear.

Ah. Makes perfect sense. It's still odd to me that he can't hear anything but somehow it fits and to be honest, it's comfortable. I take my pyjamas and head into the bathroom to change. My head is pounding by this point and I do not look forward to be woken each hour. But I also do not wish to die. I finger the bandage covering my stitches and part of me wants to find Jasper and slap the hell out of him. The other part of me is just weary and wanting to be free of him forever.

Pyjamas on, I walk back into my bedroom and see Nikolas already lying down. I slip between the covers, and look at him. He is scribbling furiously on his notepad and eventually hands me the paper.

You'll need to answer questions. If you can remember the signs I make and answer them, I know you're fine.

I look up at him and he has a few sheets of paper in his hands. He makes the first sign, his fingers touching his forehead and then moving out a little. Then he hands me the paper. Name, is all it says. I nod and reply, "Daphne." He looks at my mouth and then nods.

He then wiggles his fingers in front of his face slightly. He hands me the slip of paper and I read, Age. I smile. "twenty-one," I lie with a grin and he snorts, shaking his head.

Finally he puts three fingers down onto his palm and then hands me the slip of paper. Month, it reads. "August," I say and he nods. That is the end of the papers and he lies back against the pillow. I do the same and we both give a silent nod goodnight.

Switching off the lamp, I lay there and listen to his breathing. The shallow ins and outs until it finally lulls me to sleep.

Every hour. Every hour. How is one supposed to feel rested after a head injury when they must endure something like this? I want to strangle Nikolas at one point. He doesn't wake me gently, prodding my arm, giving a low grunt in the back of his throat. He looks sleepy. Well, the bits I can make out in the dark look sleepy.

I switch on the light each time, he makes the signs, I answer them, the light goes off, we fall back to sleep. Not fun for either of us and I'm sure he's cursing the fact that tomorrow is Monday and we both must work.

Finally the last hour comes and we can get at least two hours of straight sleep before we both have to be up and about. The odd thing about this is that he doesn't wake me the same. My eyes flutter open when I feel a warm hand pressed to my cheek. He's not smiling, in fact he looks rather put out but he doesn't make the signs to me. He just nods and climbs back down into his makeshift bed. His eyes close and then so do mine.

Finally my alarm goes off and when I sit up, I feel groggy and un-rested. I don't want to go to work. Work is a cruel joke in this moment but I force myself to sit up. When I look down, I see Nikolas is already gone and his make-shift bed is now folded and sitting atop the chair in the corner of the room.

Not wanting to look desperate, I grab my clothes and head into the bathroom, trying not to hurry as I shower and dress. Heading for the kitchen, I see Nikolas drinking tea and feel relieved. He looks up as I enter and offers me the kettle. I fix myself a strong cup and we drink in silence.

Eventually he points to the clock, to himself and to the door. I understand. I was due at the office an hour ago. Nikolas stands and goes to fetch his things. It won't surprise me if I never see him again yet I am desperate to keep in some contact with him. But how?

I follow Nikolas down to the street and as we reach the pavement, he reaches into his pocket and pulls out a note that is already written. I look down at it and read, I owe you a dinner, since you treated me to Italian. Will you accept?

I look up at him and try desperately not to smile. "Yes," I say.

He pulls out another note and I read it. His phone number and scribbled underneath is, Text me because I cannot speak over the phone.

I grin, though I try to keep it mild, and I slip the paper into my pocket. "Thank you," I say and extend my hand.

He stares at it for what seems like eternity and then takes it carefully. His hand shake is firm but very short yet when his palm touches mine, I can remember the feel of it on my face. Then, as I thought he was about to pull away, he brings the top of my hand to his lips and presses a short, dry kiss to it and lets me go.

I try not to blush, though I fail miserably and hurry back up to my flat. Inside, I take the slip of paper and tuck it into my desk where I know I won't lose it. I then hurry round my flat and pick up all the papers of conversation Nikolas had discarded.

Slipping them into the pocket of my jacket, I head out to signal for a cab and get to the office two and a half hours late. When I arrive, I head straight to my office and find Emily and her fiancé, Bryan, standing in my doorway.

"What are you doing here?"

"Why didn't you phone?"

"Who stayed with you?"

"Want me to kill that little shit?"

The barrage of questions forces me to take a step back and Emily puts a steady hand on my shoulder. I'm still not feeling quite myself and I push past her and Bryan into my office. Collapsing onto my office chair, I sit back and clasp my hands on the desk. "Who told you what?" I ask and then as Bryan opens his mouth, I hold up my hand. "Emily, I meant," I say. I only say this because when excited, Bryan never makes any sense about anything.

Emily smiles and nudges her fiancé with her elbow. "A certain someone came into the office this morning after a little chat with Jasper at the pub last night."

I lift an eyebrow. "Oh?"

Emily nods. "I'm surprised you even showed up here, Daphne."

"What exactly did this certain someone hear?" I press.

Emily shrugs and leans her chin in her hand, elbow on top of my desk. "Apparently you and Jasper had a small altercation in the loo at Mass which landed you with a bloodied head."

"A concussion and a trip to the hospital is more like it… after Jasper bit my lip open."

"Bit it open?" Bryan exclaims. His eyes were wide and he looks at me sharply. "Were you snogging?"

"On his part we were," I say. "I told him to fuck off and he slammed me against the wall."

"Well this certain someone who gave me all this information saw you and another man leaving your flat this morning when he went to check on you."

"Michael," I say suddenly. Bryan's twin brothers, Michael and William, are the only ones who could get the information out of Jasper and would be the only ones who would want to come check up on me. I knew it had to be Michael as William was off on holiday.

Emily nods. "That would be him. So do you want to tell us about this mysterious man or do we have to beat it out of you?"

"I doubt I can take any more beatings," I say with a laugh. Leaning forward, I quickly spill the entire story. I start from the first Mass and end with Nikolas leaving this morning. When I finally stop, I lean back and look at Emily and Bryan who, for the first time ever, have nothing to say.

"That's…" Bryan starts.

"Rather odd," Emily finishes.

"It is," I reply and pull out the small pieces of paper. I spread them out on the desktop and look at them. It's odd to see our entire night spread out like that. "I dunno why I saved them," I say.

"Because you are smitten by this man," Emily says with a laugh as she picks up one of the pieces. "What sort of signs did he make at you?"

"Well," I say, tapping my chin, "he did a lot of pointing at things and at himself. He did this," I said and mimicked the sign he used in the car when I fussed over the blood. "He meant it about cleaning."

"Not the sign for clean," Emily says. "I think he was just using universal signs to try and make things clear."

"Well then he did this," I say and show her the signs he used for name, age and month.

"Ah, well those are correct," she says.

I frown. "You know how to sign?" I demand. How did I not know this about her?

"Yes," she says. "I learnt BSL because I planned to work in communications. Don't you remember the classes I was taking?" She looks affronted and I blush.

Right. I do remember now. "Maybe you can teach me."

Emily frowns. "It's not my specialty, Daphne. But I can sign you up for the classes I took. They lasted thirty-four weeks and I was fairly fluent after that."

I hesitate a moment, just long enough for Bryan to say, "Daphne, do you really want to deal with a deaf man? I mean, to learn an entire language for one person… besides, isn't it kind of soon after Jasper. You don't want to make that mistake again."

I wince and Emily slaps her fiancé. Leave it to Bryan to say it all so bluntly. "I think Daphne's had plenty of time to decide what she wants," Emily says in my defence.

"But she's only just met this bloke," Bryan snaps.

"And I've been split up from Jasper for quite some time now," I say. "It's time for me to move on."

"Well God knows I never liked Jasper," Bryan says with a sneer. "I've always thought him a right little ponce, but that relationship was horrible, Daphne. It did something to you that… well I didn't like seeing."

I bow my head. Bryan is right on that, but at the same time I'm wiser now. More aware. I will not make the same mistake again. "Get me the number for the classes, Emily."

Bryan lets out a small groan and Emily makes a happy noise, skipping off to fetch the number. I look up and Bryan and I lock eyes. We stay that way for sometime. Eventually he backs down, like he always does. True friends, I suppose. They let you do stupid things after warning you over and over about them. Then they stick by just to help you pick up the pieces.

Weeks and weeks pass for me. The first thing that is taught in the class is that sign language has rules just like any other language. The teacher explains to us that sign language is spoken. It cannot be written, it would make no sense. She writes a sentence on the board that is translated word for word from sign language and she is correct. It's gibberish. She explains most deaf people learn to use signed exact English, speechread and speak so they can write and communicate that way with the hearing. This is all new to me, learning about the deaf culture and it helps me to understand things about Nikolas just a little bit more.

I exchange a few text messages with Nikolas during the course of my lessons, but never allow anything to be planned. I attend the classes and find the language comes rather easy to me. Perhaps it's because I can practise with Emily every chance I get. My work suffers a bit but I don't mind, nor does Emily who makes my excuses promptly. I want to see Nikolas but I am determined to do this first.

Luckily none of us hear from Jasper during this time and I wonder if Jasper speaks to Nikolas at all. After all, he does know the Esparzas and they know me rather well. Jasper could muck things up if he really wanted to.

Eventually, ten weeks before the Level One classes are done, I get a call on my mobile. It's Emily so I pick up. "I have a favour, Daphne," she says. Her voice sounds strange.

"What?" I ask.

"I need you to do a piece on Fiore for his campaign. They're going to pay a lot and we could use the money."

I want desperately to say no but she's done so much for me over the past twenty-four weeks so I decide it's the least I can do. "Send me the information and I'll do what I can."

"It'll require an in-home interview, Daphne," she says.

I groan but still agree to do the piece. She gives me the time I'm supposed to go over there and I jot it down in my book. Ringing off, I head back to my flat and debate whether or not to text Nikolas. I give in and send him a quick message.

We should lunch soon. Should be free. You?

I wait for hours before I get a response.

Might be. Rather busy lately.

My heart sinks at this. He sounds so cold even though I can't hear his voice. I wonder if perhaps he hasn't found another and it begins to eat me away inside. I try to ignore the feeling as I make an appointment to see Fiore. He is more than pleased to see me and sounds thrilled that I agreed to do the piece. He tells me that tonight is the best night and though it is short notice, I agree.

I know the way there. How could I possibly forget? In the car, the drive makes me nervous. I don't want to see Jasper again; it's just too much for me right now. Most of me wants to strangle the little shit and I'm not sure how much self control I have.

It's not long before I get to their rather large house and I am brought into the parlour. I see Fiore first, seated on the sofa and then to my complete and utter surprise, I see Nikolas standing there. Oh God.

Nikolas looks at me with a raised eyebrow and then over at Fiore. "You two have met?" Fiore asks with a frown.

"Briefly," I say and I watch as Fiore translates what I say. I'm not sure if I ought to let them know that I can understand and use sign language rather well. Fiore motions me over to sit and pours me a drink. I accept it politely and try not to stare at Nikolas.

Eventually, Nikolas raised his hands and signs to Fiore, Ask him how his head is feeling.

Fiore turns to me and opens his mouth but before he can speak, I raise my hands. It feels better, I sign.

Both Nikolas and Fiore look rather surprised. Fiore clears his throat uncomfortably and excuses himself from the room. Nikolas stares at me for quite some time. Eventually he raises his hands.

I didn't know you could sign. I notice that he is signing very slowly so I can understand him.

I blush a little. I've just learnt. I'm twenty-four weeks into Level One.

Nikolas' eyes widen with surprise. Classes? Why?

For you, I admit to him and then feel embarrassed for being so open. I wanted to talk to you. My hand was getting tired.

Nikolas snorts a little, his eyes brightening with a bit of amusement. I see, he signs. He pauses and then signs, Are you the reporter?

I flush again. Not my usual work. Favour to my editor. Money reasons.

Nikolas laughs out loud. It's the first time I've heard his voice, even if it is just a laugh. Reminds me of any other deaf person I've heard. Thick, like the tongue is blocking the airway.

Before either of us can continue the conversation, Fiore returns and announces it's time for dinner. "We can conduct the interview when it's over," he says and signs.

I nod and thank him and follow him into the dining room. I notice Fiore has saved the seat I had used the many times I had been here with Jasper. I look at him and have to smile a bit.

"Thought you might like your seat back," he says and signs.

I flush a little and sit down. Bianca, Fiore's wife, and Jasper are missing, not that I mind at all. I never hated Bianca but she did complicate things and had a knack for making the situation uncomfortable.

Nikolas looks at me with a curious eyebrow raised but I don't give anything away. The food is served and I find it odd to sign and eat at the same time. Still, we manage it nicely and eventually the pudding has been served and consumed. Fiore announces it's time for the interview which I conduct in his office. Nikolas has disappeared somewhere and though I wonder, I focus on my work.

Fiore is a rather crooked fellow and I know most of the answers he gives me are total crap. Still, he needs me so he does the best he can. Funny, I realise, that I hate Jasper for being the same person that his father is. Yet, I don't hate Fiore. Perhaps because Fiore never buggered me, told me he loved me and then chucked me for some bird with big tits and a huge family fortune.

Yes, I am still bitter. How pathetic I feel in this moment.

Fiore notices my sudden melancholy and he cuts the interview short. "This ought to help out my campaign Daphne. I owe you for this. Anything I can do for you?"

I shrug. "You can keep your son from giving me another concussion."

Fiore' eyes darken. "Nikolas explained a bit of what that was all about. Jasper came home spitting out rubbish that Nikolas was conspiring to make him miserable or some such rot. I noticed Jasper had blood on his hands and when he wouldn't tell me, I asked Nikolas. I don't think Nikolas knows you and Jasper were… close."

I nod. "Yes well…"

"I did, however, notice that Nikolas has his eye on you. Tread carefully." Fiore' voice sounds strange and I have a feeling that Nikolas has been involved in some things that Fiore knows I won't approve of. Still… I did waste two years of my life with Jasper and he had been in more dodgy things than I could possibly imagine.

"I'll take my time," I say and Fiore gets my meaning.

"Well if you'll excuse me, Daphne, I have a lot of paperwork to attend to and my wife and son should be returning soon." That is his signal that I can go without being rude. Fiore heads for the door, pauses and looks back at me. "Nikolas is in the parlour."

I can't help the smile as Fiore disappears down the corridor. I slip out of the office, head down the stairs and back towards the parlour where Nikolas is sitting, reading a book. I'm not sure how to gain his attention so I decide to touch his shoulder lightly.

He looks up at me and frowns. What?

I am finished.


I shift weight from one foot to the other, feeling uncomfortable. Fancy a drink?

Nikolas turns his eyes away for a moment and just when I am certain he is going to reject me, he looks up and nods. I'm utterly elated by this. Do you have a car? I have my car, I sign hurriedly.

Nikolas shrugs. Your car.

I try not to walk quickly, a habit I have when I'm anxious or excited. I lead him out to my small car and we both climb inside. With the light still on, I ask, Do you have a favourite pub?

Yes, Nikolas signs. My home.

My stomach lurches. At your home?

He nods and then signs, If it is okay.

I shrug. That's fine. Switching on the engine, I start down the road and realise I have no idea where to go.

Nikolas notices this and points left as we reach the end of Fiore's street. I nod and turn. Nikolas gives accurate directions and before long we're at his small cottage. It's in a rather dodgy part of the city, the buildings all dilapidated, and I'm curious why he lives here. When we get inside, it's exactly how I imagined him living. Books covering every wall, worn but comfortable furniture, a fire already roaring in the hearth.

He gestures to the sofa and I sit. He has a small liquor cabinet which he opens and pulls out brandy and scotch. I choose the brandy and he pours me two fingers. I swirl it round the glass and then sip it. It's very good and I have to be careful not to drink it too quickly.

Nikolas pours himself scotch, adding ice and then he sits next to me. He takes a drink and then sets the glass down on the small table. I still owe you dinner.

I smile. We have time.

Do we? His eyebrows are raised and I find my attraction to him growing. I think for a moment that this is not like me. That me fancying a stranger this suddenly is not in my character. Yet it is. It is very me. It's completely me. I embrace it in this moment and finish the brandy to help give me courage.

I want to have a lot of time, I sign. My fingers are sloppy and I am amazed that in this slightly drunken state I am able to remember and use the language with such clarity. Perhaps it's because I want to so badly.

You do not know me, Nikolas signs slowly.

I shrug. Does it matter?

It should.

I suppose it should, but to me it doesn't. Not right now. Not when I am just finding my way away from Jasper. It doesn't matter to me, I finally sign to him.

The corners of his mouth twitch upwards a moment. An almost smile. I grin inwardly at this as we both finish our second round of drinks. Finally I think we reach the point of drunkenness where we can be comfortable with the fact that we are all-but strangers. Nikolas gestures for me to follow him and he leads me into the kitchen and out the back door to his garden. It's a quaint little thing, two chairs, a few potted plants here and there that are slowly dying as the weather grows colder.

I notice a slight chill in the wind and I shiver, drawing my coat tighter round my body. Nikolas looks at me for a moment and then gestures for me to sit. The light out here is dim and in my state of inebriation, it's hard to make out what his hands are saying.

moon light… comfort

I frown. Sorry, I missed most of that.

I hear Nikolas chuckle again and he goes slowly this time. Still, I don't catch it all.

soft moon light… little bit of comfort… cold.

I growl, frustrated with my inability to understand him. I know I can't expect to be fluent in the language, I'm only twenty-four weeks into it and there are still three levels to go before I can truly be fluent. Can't understand.

Nikolas lets out a slow breath, clears his throat and says aloud, "I like the soft moonlight, it gives a little bit of comfort even in the cold." His voice is so underused and sounds very strange. But I understand it and the words are nice.

I smile and nod. I can't think of anything to say to that so I keep silent. We sit there for quite some time and in that silence I feel Nikolas' hand close over mine. I think again of the moment when he had his hand on my face and it suddenly strikes me as odd that he stayed with me at all. I want to ask but it seems pointless in the dark.

I begin to sober up a little and as I do, Nikolas tugs on me and we head inside. He leads me back to the lounge where we resume our previous seats on the sofa. He is looking at me with hard eyes and raises his hands. You and Jasper, he says, spelling out Jasper's name.

I blush and nod. Yes, I sign.

How long?

Two years, I answer. Painful.

Nikolas nods. I didn't know.

I sit back and try to remember how to form the question I want to ask. Why did you stay with me? I finally manage.

Nikolas opens and closes his mouth a few times before reaching onto the table beside the sofa and grabbing his notepad. He writes for some time and then hands me the notepad.

I saw something between you and Jasper that I saw with Bianca and Fiore. He was violent and controlling and I feared you would succumb to the same thing she has. Fiore and Bianca passed over their differences but it doesn't make me worry less that I might witness another marriage like that. I was in love with her and she rejected me. I still feel like I failed her. Something in your eyes reminds me of her. Besides, I wanted to see if you were worth keeping around.

All of this makes perfect sense and the end of the note makes me laugh. I look up at him with a smile and he shrugs with a completely blank face.

I set the notepad down and sign, Am I worth it?

He frowns but that is the only indication that he is thinking. I expect an answer in sign so I am utterly taken by surprise when he reaches out, grabs the back of my neck and pulls me in for a kiss. His mouth is hot against mine, his tongue insistent and prodding. I thread my fingers into his hair, finding it rather coarse but fitting for what I know of him

When he pulls away, I'm surprised that it happened at all. It feels like both an eternity passed and that no time passed at all. Nikolas has his nose pressed to my cheek and we are both of us breathing rather heavily.

Eventually Nikolas stands and disappears, returning minutes later with fresh tea and biscuits. I pass over the biscuits and gulp down two full cups before I feel ready to meet his eyes. When I finally stare into those amazing eyes, eyes so dark they are almost black, I find a bit of similar shame and a flurry of unspoken questions. Probably the same questions I'm asking myself. Am I worth it? Is he worth it?

Eventually I raise my hands and sign, I should go.

Nikolas says nothing at all so I stand and reach for my coat. Just as my fingers brush over the fabric, I feel his hand close over my wrist. I turn to face him and see him almost smiling. He clears his throat, again, and says very quietly, "Stay… please."