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James dressed in white. White lab coat, white scrubs, white cross-trainers. Sometimes he broke it up with a colored shirt, but for these visits, he mostly stuck with white. Made him fit in.
That was important to him. Fitting in. Though deep down, he knew he didn't. Not anywhere. He was one of a kind. One of a pair, really, but even his twin was his opposite.
Fitting in here, thoughor at least, projecting the appearance of doing sowas necessary. A matter of life and death, and maybe part of the elusive thing he'd been seeking his entire life: a reason for his existence.
He nodded in a friendly, confident way to the people he passed in the antiseptic, cluttered corridors of New York Hospital for Children. It was a busy place, even after visiting hours. As soon as he saw his chance, James ducked into one of the patient rooms.
And then he paused and went silent as he turned to look.
There, asleep in the bed, lay a little girl who slept with a knit hat pulled down over her head to cover the fact that she had no hair. No eyebrows, though that was harder to hide, despite the dimness of the room. There was a sickly sweet scent clinging to her, the scent of cancer. And while most human beings wouldn't have been able to detect it, he could. He wasn't entirely human, after all, much as he hated to admit that. Vampiric blood ran in his veins, heightening his senses well beyond the norm. So he smelled the cancer mingling with the stronger scents of antibiotics and the iodine concoction that stained her skin near every puncture wound. The little girl's arms looked as if they'd been used for pincushions. It was barely 9:00 p.m. but she was asleep, her body exhausted. Her spirit worn down. Her name was Me-linda. She was ten years old.
And she was terminal.
His eyes on the sleeping child, he moved closer to the bed. Watching her, keeping his steps silent, he reached out his open hands and laid them gently on the center of her chest, palms down, thumbs touching. He closed his eyes, and opened his heart.
"Doctor?" a woman asked.
James opened his eyes but didn't move his hands. He hadn't noticed the woman sitting beside the bed. Hadn't even checked to be sure the room was empty. This little girl had been his entire focus. And he thought that for as long as he'd been sneaking in and out of hospital rooms by night, he really ought to know better.
He just got so caught up in his work .
"What are you doing?" the woman asked.
He smiled and met her eyes, willing the unnatural glow in his own to bank itself, to hide from her. "Just feeling her heartbeat."
The womanthe little girl's mother, if physical resemblance was anything to go bylifted her brows. He saw her clearly, despite the darkness of the room. "Isn't that what your stethoscope is for?"
"Do you mind if I finish?" He inserted authority into his tone this time. That was what a real doctor would do, after all. "You're welcome to stay, but I do need silence."
Frowning, Melinda's mother rose from her chair to watch him. He kept his hands on the girl and felt them growing warmer, knew that soon he would give himself away. He had to distract her. "Would you mind getting me her chart? It's over on her nightstand, I believe."
Nodding, though still obviously suspicious of him, she moved to the nightstand. And James let the power he'd felt rising up in him continue to move through him, into his hands and into the child. A soft golden-yellow glow emanated from his palms for a long moment, and he let it, not stopping even when he knew the mother was turning back toward him. Even when he knew from her sharp gasp, that she'd seen.
The power would flow as long as it needed to. Sometimes it took a second, sometimes a minute. But only it knew when it was finished.
"What is that?" the woman asked. "What the hell are you doing?"
"Shh," he whispered. "Just a moment, please."
"A moment my ass. Who are you? Why haven't I seen you before? What's your name?"
The light beamed brighter.
"God, what is that?" And then she was striding to the door, flinging it open. "Help! Someone help me, there's a stranger in here and he's"
He lost her words in the softness of the hum that filled his head. It was a vibration, a harmonic tone that made his entire body vibrate in resonance with it, and it felt like well, he couldn't describe what it felt like. Never had been able to. But he thought it must be what it felt like for one's soul to leave one's body at death and to emerge into oneness with the universe. It felt like bliss and perfection and wonder and ecstasy.
The glow died. His hands cooled. A nurse came running, and the room's lights came on. Blinding and harsh. As he lifted his head and finally refocused on the here and now, he became aware of several people standing in the doorway, frozen in that suspended moment before action set in.
But his main focus was on the little girl. Her eyes were open and staring into his, and she knew. He knew she knew. The exchange between them was real and utterly silent, overloaded with meaning. She might not be able to describe it or explain it or even understand it, but on a soul-deep level she knew what had just happened between them. He smiled warmly and gave a nod of affirmation, and he saw the relief, and then the joy, in her eyes.
She smiled back at him, and then someone was grabbing him, pulling his arms behind his back and holding them there, while another someone snatched the name badge from the lapel of his white coat and said, "Call the police."
"The police are already here," said a familiarand welcomefemale voice. "He's been lurking around here for a while," the uniformed "officer" explained. "Someone already called it in." She took hold of his arm. "Come on, buddy. Let's you and me have a little talk in private."
"I want to know what this was all about," the mother demanded.
"Can I see some ID?" one of the nurses said at the same time, addressing his captor.
"Yeah, yeah," Brigit said, her impatience palpable. "How about I get him out of the poor kid's room first, huh? I'll need to question each of you just as soon as I have him securely tucked away in the backseat of my car. Do not go anywhere."
She moved behind James as she spoke, and he felt metal on his wrists, then heard the telltale click of handcuffs snapping tight. She certainly was pouring it on. She took him by an elbow and turned to lead him out of Melinda's room. As the door swung closed behind him, a tiny, beautiful voice said, "It's okay, Mamma. I think he was a angel. Not the kind that comes to take you away. The kind that comes to make you better."
He smiled as he heard those words. Yes. This was his purpose. It was the only thing that gave him any pleasure at all in this isolated, lonely life of his: using his healing gift to save the innocent.
Then his captor shoved him into the elevator, and they rode in silence to the ground floor. He looked her up and down. Her Goldilocks curls were bundled up tight, and her pale blue eyes, with their ebony rings, refused to meet his. When the elevator doors opened, she escorted him unceremoniously outside to her waiting cara baby-blue, fiftieth anniversary edition Thunderbirdwhere she opened the passenger door.
He got in. She went around, got behind the wheel and started the engine. Then she reached into her pocket and pulled out a key. "Turn toward the door," she ordered.
James turned toward the side window, so his back and cuffed wrists faced her. She inserted the key, twisted it and the cuffs sprang free. But even as he brought his hands around in front of him, he saw one of the nurses from Melinda's room coming through the hospital doors, frowning as she moved toward the car.
"Incoming," he muttered.
And then the nurse had rounded the car and was tapping on Brigit's window.
Brigit rolled it down in the middle of the nurse's "I knew it! You're not a cop at all, you're"
Brigit released a growl like that of a panther about to strike. Not human, that sound. It sent chills up even James's spine. He knew she'd exposed her fangs, and probably showed her glowing eyes, as well.
The nurse backed away so fast she fell on her ass, and then Brigit hit the gas and they pulled away, tires squealing before catching pavement and launching the T-Bird into motion.
"That was unnecessary."
She glanced his way, fangs still visible, eyes still aglow. "Says who?"
"Says me. And will you put those damned things away?"
She shrugged, but relaxed enough to let the razor-sharp incisors retract. Her eyes returned to their normal striking ice-blue shade. "So are you done bitching now? Ready to throw in a 'Hi, sis. Thanks for saving my ass back there. Great to see you again.'?"
He sighed, shaking his head. "It is good to see you again, little sister. How are you?"
"I'm good. So far. And you?"
"Typical. One-word answers always were your thing. And I see you're still trying out ways to use your gift. You decide to eradicate death altogether now, or just for those you deem too young to die?"
He lowered his head. "I didn't need your help, you know. I do this sort of thing all the time."
"I know you do. Unlike you, big brother, I care enough to keep track of my kin."
He closed his eyes. "I'd see you more often if you didn't give me this lecture every single freaking time."
"What lecture? The one about abandoning your family? About turning your back on what you truly are, J.W.?"
"It's J.W. It's always been J.W., and it'll always be J.W."
"And I didn't abandon my family or turn my back on what I am."
"No? When's the last time you exposed your fangs, J.W.? When's the last time you tasted human blood?"
The last time.? It had been when he and his sisterhis twinhad been adolescents, and their honorary "aunt" Rhiannon had insisted they imbibe. From a glass, not a warm pulsing throat, and still it had repulsed him.
"You're lying to yourself," Brigit said. "It was delicious. It set your soul on fire and left you craving more, and you know it as well as I do."
He was startled, but only briefly. "I'm not used to being around someone who can read my every thought."
"Yeah, well, whose fault is that?"
"Look, I admit, the blood was.appealing. That's what repulsed me. I don't want to be.that way. And I'm not denying who I am, I'm choosing who I want to be, even while trying to discover why I'm here, why I was given this power." He turned his palms up and stared at them, as he had so often throughout his life. "Power over life and death."
"You've always been so sure there's a reason," she said softly.
"I know there is, Brigit."
She nodded. "Well, I hate to admit this, bro, but you're right. There is a reason. And I have recently discovered what it is."
He stared at his beautiful twin, his opposite in almost every way. And yet they were the only two of their kind. He was certain she was kidding at first, because she had always teased and taunted him about his yearning for meaning, his quest for understanding. His innate sense of goodness and morality. But she didn't laugh or even smile at him this time. And her face was stone serious.
"You think you know why we were born?"
"Yeah. And it's not to run along the seashore revivifying dead starfish and tossing them back into the waves like you did when we were kids, or to cure little girls with cancer." She licked her lips and shot him a quick look. "That's what you did, just now, isn't it? Cured her?"
He felt warm all over, and his smile was genuine. "Yeah. She's gonna be just fine."
Brigit's lips curved upward, too, before she bit back the smile and put her trademark stern expression back in place. She was a hard-ass. Or at least she liked people to think she was. They'd played these roles all their lives, and he often wondered why she'd taken to hers as easily as he had taken to his.
His was easy. He was the good twin. The healer. The golden child.
Hers was a harder role to embrace. She was the bad twin. The destroyer, in a manner of speaking. And yet she'd never once complained about the label, even mostly seemed to try to live up to the tagor rather, live down to it.
"Well?" he asked at length. "Are you going to tell me?"
"I think I have to show you." She nodded at a magazine that was rolled up and tucked into the cup holder between them.
He sighed, about to argue with her, but when he met her eyes, he found her mind open, as well. Nothing hidden, no barriers, which was a very rare thing for his sister. He narrowed his eyes and felt only sincerity coming from her. No pretense, no hidden motives.