"B-But you were asleep!" I stuttered and he sighed.

"Now I'm awake," He answered. "Come on out, and we'll get your wrist looked at."

I let him lead me out and from my little Haven, being set on the bed like a doll and he picked up a first-aid kit from the corner of his huge room. "I took to learning a bit of this stuff when Michael kept getting his ankles sprained."


He knelt down beside me, carefully unstrapping the cast and looking over the neat splint. "Rog did a good job on this," He muttered to himself and went about turning my hand over so that he could look at the inside of my wrist. "It doesn't look too bad, considering." I could've sworn his eyes darkened dangerously, but they were back to the light hazel the next moment.

"It just hurts a little," I told him, trying to get him to finish his inspection quickly.

"A little? That's understandable. I'll put a new splint on that, but it may hurt a fair bit."

I was no stranger to pain, and simply nodded, feeling little pricks of agony as he undid the splint and lay the new materials down on the mattress beside me. "You're a fast healer," He remarked and I knew he was forcing it.

"What happened to my father?" I asked on an impulse.

"He is being carted off to a drop-off point outside his gang, who will no doubt retaliate. He will walk with a permanent limp and one arm will hopefully take years to finally move without severe pain," He said, unflinching in his brutal honesty. "It took all of my self-control not to kill him. As for the back-up, they are worse for wear."

"I didn't think anyone could beat him, though," I murmured, ashamed that they had had to see the treatment, mild in comparison to what I was used to, but still exhibited.

"Every man has a weakness, Nora," Gabe grumbled. "Make no mistake about that. And you don't need to feel the compulsion to follow every order."

"I can't help it!" I protested, and found the cast being clipped back into place around a new splint.

"We're going to have to get you used to choices, then," He planned. "Before you ask; you're staying here. And no buts."

"This is your room, though," I told him.

"And for the time being, it is also yours," He told me, closing the kit and walking over to put it back in its place. "I neglected to tell you earlier; my family has arranged for you to have plenty of places to go if you are not satisfied with this one."

"How could I not be satisfied with this place? With everyone here," I murmured. "Don't think I'm not grateful, because I owe you all more than my measly life, but… I'm just a charity case."

"I highly doubt you actually understand why my little brother brought you here," Gabe snorted, a first. "I'll bring you a cup of water, but I want you to go and clean yourself up to sleep."

"Isn't it too late?" I fidgeted with my dress sleeve.

"It's only ten. Do you want me to run the bath?"

I didn't even protest, just sagged against his side as he helped me to stand. He was taller, and equally capable of supporting me inside the bathroom, sitting me down on the wicker chair that was for the clothes to be set on. "Sit down while I fix the tub."

"Did you get this specially made?" I asked, gesturing to the whole room.

He smiled a little. "I helped with it quite a bit, and commissioned a friend who is a skilled stonemason. A few workers, and in a month; I had this little sanctuary."

"You must want to just stay in here for days and days on end," I remarked, touching one of the blue lanterns and letting out long breath.

"All the time," He amended, smiling a little. "It reminds me of a little underwater cave in the ocean, and I love the ocean… I'd go down to the beach and just lay there for half the day. Before all these responsibilities meant I had to travel extensively."

"You must enjoy it though, the travelling."

"It does get a little monotonous," He admitted. "Several occasions saw me nearly dead."

"So, not that monotonous," I couldn't help but smile meekly.

"The near death experience was the highlight!" He exclaimed. "It was business until I got back home."

"And I ruined it…"

"No," He said after a moment. "Just surprised me."

"My daughters were born three days before Christmas…" I said half to myself. "I always thought that they were little Christmas bundles and it was the best Christmas I had ever had! I was in hospital and safe from Dad for the time being. Even though I spent a few more days in there, it was the best I'd ever had."

"Is that counting my family's post-Christmas celebrations?"

"No, because I ruined Christmas. I'm both a bad luck charm, as well as a Grinch."

"Just a little bad luck, but no Grinch," He was throwing the rose scent into the rising water and steam curled up from the water. "I will leave you to it."

I held out a hand even as he began to leave. "Thank you, again," I called after him, and he shut the door behind him. Instinct. I hated it as I went to lock it behind him, deeming it safe to get changed as soon as I was by the huge bathtubs' side. I wrapped up my arm, shivers creeping up as I tried to peel my dress from my body slowly, eventually naked and slipping into the soothing lull of the little waves in the pool.

I began to hum, chasing away the memories of my father yelling at me, cursing my very existence… The tune carried around the room, an eerie echo that I felt made my limbs heavy. I didn't venture past the point where I could comfortably sit and leaned back, cool tiles against my back. The tune vocalised and I found myself singing the very tune I would to my babies whenever they needed medicine.

"Just a spoonful of sugar helps the medicine go down…" I smiled at the echo. "The medicine, go down, medicine go down."

I was washing my hair in the side sink off from the pool, a special little one that prevented the soap suds from the shampoo from mixing in with the filtered water. This was what drained each time one got out; the pool was cleaned each night, by internal filters. So rich, and I knew this had spoiled any bath in the future that wasn't to be in this one!

A soft knock at the door made me catch my breath, scared for a moment. "Your nightgown is outside the door," Gabe told me through the door and let out my held breath in a whoosh, flushing.

"Thanks," I could only say. The gravity of the situation hit me then and I was quick to finish up, washing my hair and pulling my sluggish body from the once revitalising waters. Drying off, I unlatched the door and stuck my hand out, feeling blindly for the dress before pulling it back inside with me. I imagined I had heard a soft chuckle, shimmying into my clothes and carrying out the old ones.

"Better?" Gabe asked, already in bed. He sat up against the back board and I nodded mutely, "The water's on your side if you want a drink. And there's some pain medication along with it. For the arm."

I found a sealed packet of panadine, deciding the pain wasn't that bad. I brushed my hair briskly, ducking back into the bathroom to put the hairbrush in my toiletry bag. Then I remembered that I had the bottom shelf behind the mirror.

I stumbled back out, placing my brush on the dresser I'd been given and my footsteps were muted as I wandered around the bed to sit on my side. "What you did for me. Not long ago…"

"No 'thank you's'," He muttered, pulling back the blankets so that we could both slip under. "He was a threat to the safety of my family. I did it for selfish reasons."

"Oh." Of course he hadn't done it for me! "I have a feeling you should have just let him drag me back home."

With my head in the pillows, I could still feel his body freeze up, anger in his eyes making me shrink back. "That isn't your home any more. I want you to forget about that place, and that monster," He demanded. I was further shocked when I found he had turned to face me, his arm propping his head up on the pillow.

It dawned on me, finally, that this was the most intimate I had been with a man. The only others I could go off were brutal experiences and best not relived. "It's difficult…" I timidly answered, sinking back into the pillows under his reproach.

He seemed to soften just a little, but he was still incensed. "That's why you're going to stay, and learn to move on from that."

"You sound like a counsellor," I mumbled.

I must have imagined a small smile playing around his lips. "Getting you one isn't a bad idea."

"They never worked. They kind of made me want to go drown myself sooner."

"Then no counsellor. We'll start with getting some sleep," He murmured, returning to his more comfortable sleeping position. He faced the ceiling, body leaning away from me.

I was too exhausted then to scuttle closer to the side this time, falling asleep in a blink, or less than a blink. Images of colourful summers and a smiling woman played behind my eyelids in the Cinema del La Nora. I was anxious to wake up though and see what damage I'd done in my sleep.

I felt around before even thinking about opening my eyes. I was enclosed in blankets, warmth spread throughout my body, going so far as to make my mind hazy. Next, I smelt. The salty air was taking a back seat to the calming mint scent that seemed to be so close to me. Deeming myself ready, I peeled open my eyelids and found the blankets were indeed gathered around me. There was something different though.

A pale forearm was draped over my waist, the other under my head as I was so close to—I cut off my thoughts as I found lips close to my ear. How had I wriggled over to Gabe's side? The blankets were covering him too and I realised that my legs were tangled in his. I was too comforted to care at the moment. My broken wrist had come up to be held by his hand behind my head, his thumb set on the skin just underneath the cast. As I went to move my other hand up to rub sleep from my eyes, the tips brushed skin. It was resting on his hand at my waist and I squeaked, rousing a sleeping Gabe slowly from his sleep.

"Morning," He murmured huskily, slipping his hand up from my waist to ruffle up his hair. He stiffened as he realised the position we were in. "How…"

I rolled away, taking with me the blankets and he quivered a little before holding up his hands. "Sorry, sorry. My fault," He said, but I just shook as memories of painful… "What is it?" He asked, rising to sit up against his pillow. "Look, if it's about how we woke up, I'll fix a little pillow wall there."

"I'm not a whore," I whispered, voice hoarse and painful to vocalise.


"My father… He called me a whore—I never even consented!" Why I was telling him this, I didn't know, but tears were already on their way out.

A hand touched my shoulder, but I skittered back from it. "What are you talking about?" Gabe inquired, pulling me back stubbornly so that I was swathed in the blankets.

"I… I was raped—that's how I got my daughters. That was my first… Not that I even count it, and the last," I whimpered. "He took my children that night they died… His mother! She thought I wasn't doing my job right! It wasn't a job they were taking from me. They were taking my life! She blamed the whole accident on me, and thanked God for the fact that her son was alive!"

Gabe only listened, processing the near hysteria that rose in my voice. "We're going for a walk," He said, eyes set on my expression as if waiting for something.

A walk… I was left to change in the room while Gabe threw on a grey sweat shirt and shut the bathroom door behind him. I got dressed in a daze, finding that he was pulling two coats down from behind the screen and leading me out again, holding out shoes.

He didn't speak, just led me out and into the corridor. The ocean was just beyond the bolted door and he pulled it open with ease, our bare feet touching the sandy steps. "Where?"

He pointed over to a point along the beach that I had often went to sit on and let the tide tickle my toes. "My spot," He told me and took my elbow in a gentle grasp, continuing with his steady pace.

The waves were almost like a long-lost friend to me as we wandered along the line of receding water. It was dawn, and the tides were not as high as they had been hours before. Before we reached the little isle, Gabe came to a complete stop and I gazed up to him, finding the jacket was being pulled around my shoulders. "Put your arms through the sleeves," He instructed and buttoned up the three top buttons to my neck.

We were sloshed by the lazy sea-foam and I jumped back into Gabe. He ignored my rising apology and instead gestured for me to sit on the little hill, his own jacket being draped over his shoulders as he joined me. I knelt, the jacket huge on me and making me seem like a dwarf. It seemed that Gabe thought along the same lines and smiled a little as he caught sight of me.

"I come out here to think," He told me. "Clear my head. When the sun rises… I can't explain it. The day doesn't become the next obstacle; it's time that I realise I'm still living."

"You want to live," I found myself muttering.

"Sometimes," He retorted, meeting my hazy gaze. "Other times I feel like ending it right here on this little isle."

"What stops you?" I asked him, wondering at the back of my mind what could possibly make him want to die when he had such a future ahead of him.

His brow raising made me think he could hear my thoughts, and where they were leading. "The excuse I tell myself is that I wouldn't want to have all the responsibility shoved onto Michael; he's more the administrative and bookish type, not assertive. He wouldn't like it, but he'd take it on as an obligation. My second reason, you just thought of. I could see it on your face. Now, ask yourself… Why would you kill yourself?"

"This is temporary," I tried to excuse. "I could hardly take it when I don't have nice people trying to stop me. Others would just let me drown or lie down and fall asleep forever."

"That was my mindset as well…" He admitted. "I was with my brother when your father was trying to drag you back to who knows where. Michael convinced me to step in too. That child can convince even the most tyrannical person to do something!"

"What do you mean 'step in'?"

"Michael was never a good swimmer, so when he went to jump in to grab you, I pulled him back and did it instead. It was the night that I had been back for but a few hours, and we were on our way back to the airport. You have only a little bad luck; you ran into us."

"You shouldn't have… It would save you so much trouble in the future. If my father is alive, then he'll be plotting a way to avenge his lost dignity. He only used me as a way to get into your house; what he wants is a war."

"Then he will get one," Gabe stated grimly, hazel eyes glinting off the few rays now lighting up the waves.

"You are not a gang! He is a dangerous man," I groaned. "He has murdered on less a charge than this!"

"You haven't seen every angle to my family, or myself," He told me, grinning a little. "How do you think we have survived so long? How I've survived so long?"

"You can't be in a gang!"

"As far as you know. My wealth is in family and centuries of nobility, but prestige doesn't pay as well as it ought, and many of our… extended family overseas have branched out. We simply followed suit."

"So… Guns, the mob threats, the works?"

"All of that, minus the drug trade," He chuckled. "You don't seem disconcerted."

"I've grown up around violence," I excused. "As much as I hate it, I can't stop it. I just accept it's there."

"Your mother wouldn't have wanted that."

"Well, she died when I was young. I could barely stop the social workers from handing me to a guy I'd never even seen! My Dad could be charming, but then, he turned into a monster… I guess he was a monster in sheep's clothing."

"You're not going back." He was irresolute again. "Grandma has offered to take you from the country altogether if you wish."

"Is it near the ocean?"

"No," He answered, a quirk reappearing in his lip. "Icy pools and a downfall of snow nearly all year round."

"That sounds…"

"Not fun," He finished. "I nearly froze to death on the third day there. I missed the ocean by the fourth hour in land."

"I pity you," I joked, patting his head mockingly. "Truly a terrible fate."

He playfully acted as though he was going to bite my hand, and I drew it back into the long coat arms. "Better?"

"Yes, thank you."

"No thank you's," He told me. "Just trust me; that is the best kind of gratitude."

Even as I flushed and ducked my head under the collar of the coat, I cleared my throat. "Can we wait to watch the sunrise?"

I must have sounded so childish but he didn't mock me, just nodded and we listened to the receding waves and the birds rousing from their sleep. I forced my drooping eyes open as we were bathed in warmth, the horizon breaking out in a riot of soft hues from a blazing white to the deepest tone of red. As the sun rose over the far mountains, I was completely unaware of anything except the sun's arrival and the same sense of awakening arcing across my chest. I could see how this made one feel like they could survive another day just to see this again.

Even as the colours became the serene periwinkle blue, I was standing up and reaching out, as if to touch the giant gastric form that we were graced with. Gabe didn't say anything, just stood beside me, hands in pockets, eyes on the horizon. "How about we get back inside?" He asked. "Breakfast is probably ready."

I didn't question the impulse, I just did it. My arms wrapped around his body, my cheek resting against his chest. "Thank you," I simply muttered before releasing his frozen form and running ahead. I didn't turn around to see if he was following, because I needed to try and get rid of this troublesome blush.