I left the station as fast as I could, turning around now and then to be sure no-one was watching as I gated back to my shop where I climbed the steps to the flat above. My shirt was drenched in blood and just looking at the marks the deep-red liquid left on the floor made me want to call Anne as soon as possible, the vertigo growing stronger with every move I made. She answered her phone immediately.
'Alex, you're alright?'
'Well, I'm...no, don't think so. Would you mind coming over?'
'On my way. Stay where you are.'
'I think I'm not going anywhere anytime soon.'
'Alex, what happened?'
'You – what?'
I sat down on the sofa, pressed my hand against the wound to stop the bleeding and flinched – with the adrenaline gone, the cut hurt like hell.
'It's okay, just – come over, will you?'
'I am here.'
I looked up and saw Anne striding towards me, her hair tied up in a loose ponytail – she must have left her clinic right away to come here.
I gave her the short version of my investigation and the subsequent chase including the air mage and the lady on the DLR.
'I hope she's okay,' I muttered but Anne didn't seem to listen.
'You need to lie down so I can tend to your wound – no, not here, get over to the bed.'
She got hold of my right arm, put it around her shoulder and helped me to get up, leading me to my bedroom.
'You might want to get undressed so I can have a look at your injuries.'
Was it just me or did she sound quite uneasy when asking me to get rid of my clothes...? I raised my head and saw her blushing, turning away when she met my gaze.
'Only if that's okay for you, I could as well...you know...'
'No, it's fine.'
I took off my shoes and shirt, wincing again when the fabric was pulled away from the wound. She cleared her throat and seemed to shy away again.
'Your trousers too, please.'
I obeyed, struggling with the button, my hands already numb from the blood loss. Wearing nothing but my underwear, I lay down on my bed, looking at Anne expectantly. Her red-brown eyes reminded me of the glowing embers in the fireplace at my parents' house; I loved to stare at them when I was a child, waking up in the middle of the night while everyone else was fast asleep.
Anne, beautiful Anne.
'Try to relax.'
I did as I was told and closed my eyes, concentrating on my other senses. There was a slight hint of perfume wafting through the room, something sweet but unobtrusive. I inhaled carefully, not wanting to spoil the moment by coughing right now. The scent grew stronger and I felt the warmth of Anne's body as she bent over me, her hands just inches above my skin as she examined the wound in my side.
'You're sure it was just hardened air?'
'I don't know, I didn't get a close look at – ouch!'
'I'm sorry. You need to hold still.'
'That's easier said than done.'
'Don't move. Lie down, close your eyes and let me do my job.'
'Do I have to close my eyes?'
She looked at me, taken aback.
Stupid, I scolded myself.
I saw the flicker of green light as Anne started to weave her spell and closed my eyes as demanded. I didn't feel anything, even the warmth of her body seemed to have gone although I could sense her presence all around me. My breathing steadied and I had almost fallen asleep when her soft voice reached my ears.
'There, as good as new. How do you feel?'
I looked down at the pale but unbroken skin that used to be a nasty bleeding cut just moments ago, noticing that the pain was gone.
'Completely fine, thank you, I...'
'No, stay where you are, I'll fetch some water to cleanse your side.'
I leant back into the pillows, keeping an eye on the door until Anne returned, a bowl of water and a piece of cloth in her hand which she used to wash off the blood.
'Your skin is so cold, you must be freezing.'
I shrugged, looking at her without saying a word while she pulled the bedsheets up to cover my legs before she placed one of her warm hands on my chest.
'And your heart is racing.'
She looked at me, serious again. Her gentle touch sent shivers down my spine and the subtle scent of lilies and jasmine made me feel a little bit dizzy.
'Alex, what's wrong with you?'
Anne draw her hand away, leaving me desperate for her touch.
I stared at her with pleading eyes, lifting one arm to get hold of her wrist.
'You already know, don't you?' I whispered, leading her hand back to where it had touched my skin only seconds ago, 'Please...'
She stared at me with inscrutable eyes and I already regretted what I just said, letting go of her hand. Surprisingly, she didn't pull away but draw a deep breath.
'It's okay if you don't...'
I couldn't finish the sentence due to the fact that Anne's lips were pressed firmly to mine. Completely caught off guard, I watched her blush, running her hands through her hair and showing off one of her rare smiles as soon as she leant back, looking at me curiously.
'That was nice' she stated, scanning my body for signs of approval, which – unfortunately – she found below my waistline. I tried to hide underneath the duvet, but she just sat on the edge of my bed, grinning at me.
'I'm glad your circulation is back to normal.'
'Well, maybe I should take a shower, the heater's broken, but right now I don't really care...'
'You don't want to get a cold, do you?'
'Any other suggestions?'
'Oh, loads of...'
She didn't need much time to find out how ticklish I was, teasing me again and again until I got hold of her arms and pulled her onto the bed. I rolled over and now she was lying underneath me, giving me a strange, ecstatic look.
'I certainly underestimated you when it comes to these things,' I whispered, closing my lips around her earlobe, sucking gently.
'Same goes for you.'
'What do you mean?'
'I always thought you were...you know...'
'What? I'm not gay if that's what you mean.'
'No, just some kind of...asexual.'
'I did have sex before, you know?'
'Pretty much, yes.'
She smiled, pulling my head down to kiss me again.
'Well, I would, but you don't seem to be willing to get rid of those clothes anytime soon, are you?'
'I thought you'd want to take care of this little detail yourself...'
I stared at her, stunned, shaking my head in amazement.
'All those wasted years...,' I mumbled, 'If only I knew this before...'
'Never mind,' she answered soothingly, 'We both weren't ready before. Not even sure if we are now, but I'm willing to try.'
I still don't know how Anne found out that I kept a package of condoms in the bottom drawer of my bedside table – just in case. Since I became aware of my feelings for her, I intended to get rid of them, quite sure she wouldn't approve if she found out; she always seemed to be the kind of girl who took things slow in a relationship. Apparently I was wrong, apart from the taking things slow part – although I wasn't referring to her way of making love back then. She took her time touching my chest and my back, running her hands through my hair and kissing every inch of my upper body – completely ignoring the lower half. After a few minutes I couldn't think straight any more, not able to hold back any longer and holding onto Anne for dear life. Only then did she allow me to take over and finally find relief.
Exhausted, but utterly overwhelmed, I lay beside her, our bodies covered in sweat, our fingers intertwined. Looking at her naked body, bathed in moonlight, I touched the spot above my hip were the cut had been.
This woman wasn't just worth a wound – she was worth dying for.