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The Ring and the Bridle

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The smell of blood was hard to ignore. It had pooled around the body and alighted on the air like a cloying and heady miasma. The human man was laying crumpled on his side, his throat ripped open in a grotesque gash, and his hands clawed in the final shock of violent death. Naoise would not come near to the corpse however to even drop a blanket over the unfocused eyes. He was a predator and excited by the sight of spilled blood and especially after a kill. He had retreated into the corner away from the body. His self-control had become stronger and stronger as the heavy scent of gore had faded from the air, dissolved by cooling bodily fluids.

He would at least not desecrate the body.

By dawn he was alone. The fire spirit may or may not have watched the murder, Naoise didn’t notice his presence until he had raised his head, trying to not choke on the gore. As he swallowed their eyes met, the jinn had looked away first. Naoise had collapsed in the corner.

“Are you going to kill me?” Naoise had at last asked softly. Once his mouth no longer tasted of human blood.

“No.” But the jinn remained high above the killing field. “This was the will of Allah, the will of Ulysses MacGregor.”

“The will of Regan MacGregor,” Naoise sneered. The spirit didn’t answer. He billowed down to stand above the blood soaked faerie.

“I am going to fetch my mistress.” It was a warning perhaps and not a comfort. Naoise could certainly not stop him, not when he had been ordered to remain until Eddie came. He only passively sighed at the statement and the fire spirit left him to his agony.

The fire spirit’s kind had been made much more in the human image than the fae. The jinn must have hated him for what he had done, but he would not take vengeance upon him. He was a demon glutted on human blood, a disgusting thing to any being of grace. A human, angel, or jinn had a concept of unjustified hatred, there was no such concept to a fae. All hatred was justifiable.

Naoise raised his head at the feeling of the hold becoming tighter. Eddie was approaching in the low rays of the dawn. He had done this for her. It was the truth; he had killed for her.

He had been given the perfect opportunity for revenge on the woman who had enslaved him. He could have at last killed his rival for her affections. He could have severed her last tie to this world. He could have taken everything away from her. When he had lost his ownership of her death he could have made her claim it by her own hand. With perfect impunity by her own weakness he could have avenged the breaking of the seal.

It would have been balm to a wound that still festered.

Instead he had torn the throat out of the innocent spare. He didn't know how Regan had conceived this gambit but Naoise was certain he had not foreseen the loophole. It was only due to Naoise's years of practice of sabotaging the bridle that he had detected the spare. And Regan was far too removed from his ancestors to know every crevice within the monolith of the kelpie’s malice. It had been a humanistic choice however to be merciful, even if the mercy had only been directed towards one person. It had been cruelty to exploit MacGregor's guilt but Naoise could understand the concept of duty. It had now killed every MacGregor patriarch.

Perhaps Regan had been his mother’s vengeance after all. Yet what was he, Naoise, now? What had that girl made him into?

He allowed his glamour to descend over his languishing body. His wounds from being strangled and torn by the bridle were healing, but slowly, humanly, in arduous inches. The pain from the gashes however were nothing like when his chest had been split wide.

The door opened and she walked in. It was strange how much smaller she seemed in this time from when he had last seen her. In Faerie a day had not fully passed but he knew it had been far longer for her. Not so long she would have aged but long enough for her to suffer more than he had.

Perhaps it was because he had always known her as his indefatigable captor. She had been afraid but she had never cowered or hesitated. Her life had been a heady charge to the end. Now she was wan, as if she had some inkling of what she was about to look upon. It was as if the white fist below her chin was a desperate clenching at the last strands of a shining world as she lifted her eyes to look upon the horror of grotesque death.

Oh but he had taken that summery world from her long before and all she was reaching for was an intangible phantom.

She stopped breathing when she smelled the dried blood. She began to struggle to bring air into her lungs as she took in the scene of slaughter before her. She raised her hands to her mouth but her gasps could not be muffled. She at last raised her eyes to look for an explanation. As her hands fell away in despair Naoise recalled that he was still blood splattered, having forgotten reality in the twilight of shock that had existed after the kill. Yet he would not try to hide the truth; that the blood was that of the last heir of MacGregor and his jaws were stained with it.

"Naoise." It was not a question but a lamentation. He stepped forward and though she stiffened she didn't step back.

"Eddie…" Ah, but what did he have to say? Should he apologize for sparing her brother? Defend killing an innocent man?

I never lied that I am what I am. I take life. I would have taken yours not so long ago. I am more than this however. I am a guardian. I can protect life as much as end it. I only wanted to protect you. I only wanted to share this terrible world with you.

In such a world words were inept and inadequate.

Naoise offered his hand, palm up and open. In this place there were only genuine gestures of regret and sorrow. They only became corporeal through the acknowledgement others felt this pain. Eddie raised her hand and hesitated. She drew it in as she struggled against her fear and distress. At last however the hand spread open like a fish opening its fragile fins and it swam over to his. His fingers dove beneath hers. His cold fingertips brushed her flushed palm as his hand dipped to cradle her trembling fingers. He felt the pulse in her wrist and encircled that vivid beat of life.

For a second he dared to dream beneath these dark and oppressive waves that even now they would rise from these depths. That he could save her from drowning, and that she still loved him. That even the anchor that lay gored at their feet could be overcome.

The shadow that fell over them could not be ignored however. Regan MacGregor, the enchanter, the foe, vivisected the light from the doorway as he surveyed the scene with an impassive glance. His eyes however went wide as Naoise lunged at him in a perfect arc after he had pushed Eddie out of the way. The faerie leapt as a man and landed as a horse with his jaws seeking to paint the walls with the blood of the true perpetrator of the crime. Regan leapt back with a cry. He stumbled on an errant statue and reached into his coat. Naoise heard the slight clatter of the silver bells before they were fully exposed and with a strike of the hoof knocked it from the warlock's grasp.

His fury reached a roiling peak of hatred. He had never wished death upon this man as much as he may have loathed him until now. Nothing in centuries compared to his rage at this moment. Not the slow simmer that had led to his boiling wrath when his waters had been drained. Not even when his body had been violated by the MacGregors and they had attempted to crush his spirit had he been so incandescent with fury. Not even when the bridle had been slipped over his head the first, or second, time had he been so offended.

Only a few times before had he been so enraged. It had been those times when his children had been killed in service to the MacGregors. Those foals he had been forced to sire with mares that had never wanted him. They had been his blood, his bond with them explicit the moment they had been born. He had been furious, a slow burn that consumed him in incandescent flares at each death. Over time he learned to maneuver around the bridle. He found ways to curse the mares so they died before they completed the pregnancy or that the foal died in the womb. Over time the wound became a scar that ached in phantom pain.

The weal only throbbed when he looked upon the descendants of his children, mounts of the MacGregors that carried so little of his blood that no cry resounded in their death throes. Yet that trace was still there, it gave intelligence to their actions, brightness to their eyes. It had been three hundred years since he had sired a child, yet the prince’s mount had been unwavering in her determination to defeat her ancestor.

It seared however to see Eddie’s suffering. For he knew he loved her as much as he had his children, that his blood swam in her veins, as much as his did hers. He had used the same magic to save her as he had all his unborn children. With their memory blazing in his mind, he lunged at her, and their, tormentor.

“Criminal!” He would crush Lorna MacGregor's curse upon him into a gory red stain beneath his hooves and devour the bones! All that remain of the transgressor would be an inviolate stain. Then he would offer himself to whatever judgment may fall upon him. This act of retribution would be his however!

Eddie however would not be acting as judge today, only as executioner.

"Naoise, stop!" She cried out as the bells struck the wall with a horrid chime. The bridle bit into his flesh with its insidious magic and he was brought to his knees with a low groan. As he struggled to raise his head for a death blow his prey skittered away like a retreating rat. Regan propelled himself to the wall near the bells. He picked up his charm and two spectral hounds slid out from the walls.

The mighty black beasts sinuously fell to their master's feet and gave low whines of supplication. The bitch of the pair raised her fine head and showed Naoise her jaws. The kelpie snarled in reply, daring her to test those fangs against his hide and hooves. Naoise slowly realized the ringing of the bells had been meant to summon the pair, not fend him off. Regan would not be so arrogant as to confront an enraged kelpie with only a small strand of silver bells. It was the only way a pair of such spirits would enter a sanctuary. The kelpie snapped his jaws and Regan gave him a nonplussed look as he stroked the dog of the hell hounds.

"Well, I see your taste for blood had not been quite sated yet Naoise of Lake Santos." Regan commented dryly as he slid the bells back into his coat. The hounds remained near however and slowly began to circle the captured kelpie.

Naoise glanced at Eddie who while shaking had no cognizance specters of death for her kind were so close. She was rather watching Regan with a wary look. She stepped back when Regan stood but drew no closer to Naoise. He was unsure if it was because she was afraid of him or could sense the forewarning presence of the shucks. Regan looked at the corpse of MacGregor.

"It was only a matter of time I suppose." Regan looked at Eddie. "Before he would kill. It's in his nature after all."

"Regan?" The woman asked softly as she looked again at the slain man. Regan inclined his head.

"A kelpie is a predator, dangerous and never trustworthy. They may make powerful and fantastic slaves but they'll kill the second they get a chance. Anyone who enslaves one must never, never, trust one." The magician informed her pitilessly. As Eddie began to stagger at this horrible and subtle accusation Naoise assumed his human form.

"He lies! I didn't kill MacGregor because I wished to!" Naoise argued and Eddie turned towards him with a guarded expression of hope.

"Oh? Then tell us why did you kill him then?" Regan challenged. Naoise turned towards him with a vicious glower but he knew Eddie was the one with the true power. She was the owner of the bridle and thus the only one he needed to plead his case to.

"Regan has tricked you! You would never ask me to do such a thing!" Naoise countered.

"Do what?" Regan demanded and Naoise ignored him. He looked at Eddie instead. Eddie, who looked small as she bore their words with hunched shoulders and a hanging head. She bore their words and now the guilt of the death of an innocent man.

"Do what?" She echoed Regan's terrible question. She didn't look up but drew her hands to her shoulders as if she was trying to hold herself up. Naoise strained against the bridle again. How he longed to rip out the throat of the one person in all this that deserved it! He growled at the circling hounds.

"Naoise." Eddie pressed as he hesitated. He closed his eyes and unleashed the cruel truth.

"Last night, you ordered me to kill a man."

"What?" Eddie went rigid in terror. He had never seen her look so afraid, not even when he had shown her his jaws.

"See how he lies! As if you would ever order such a thing!" Regan interjected as the leering prosecutor.

"No she would not! But you would!" Naoise snapped and Regan snorted.

"How could I when I don't own the bridle?" he challenged and Naoise was forced to concede for the moment. He had no true idea how it had been done but he could assume enchantment of some kind had played a large part.

How could he have been so conceited? He had not wanted to see the truth of the matter. Eddie had warned him that Regan still had power. He had tasted death and had wanted to separate from the Earth forever with the one he loved. He had been so angry at her he would have killed her. He had blamed her for breaking a promise when he had been the one to break his oath.

The woman was looking down at her murdered fellow with a grimace. She closed her eyes and turned away from the carnage. This was his punishment. This was what it was to be foresworn. What it meant to break a vow. Human could break their promises because they were only fragile clay, fae could never break their word for they were immortal spirit.

"Naoise. I order you to tell me the truth." She said quietly but it was above a whisper of shame. It was a muted statement of self-reproach.

"You ordered me to kill a man. A man with a dead twin. A man who is near to you."

"I, I…did this?" she asked as her hand clawed at her breast, desperate for something, anything, to hold onto. She turned towards the corpse again and fell away from the sight. Naoise rose to catch her but she pushed out her arms and repelled herself from him. She fell to the ground rather than be touched again by him. She landed with a groan and pulled herself forward into a kneeling position so she would not have to look upon him.

"Eddie." Regan moved to kneel besides her and ignored Naoise's warning snarl. The kelpie knew by now however to not attack again in front of the woman. Regan laid a hand on her shoulder as she began to tremble. "It's not your fault. He surely tricked you."

Naoise stepped back. What could he say that would not make Eddie suffer more? He had only wished for her to not lose everything but MacGregor's death had been the price to pay.

"You asked me to tell the truth," he said slowly. "And I did. I can only hope you'll believe me when I say it was not a trick. If there was guile involved, it was Regan MacGregor’s."

"Remember Eddie he was going to kill your brother and he tried to kill you. He is a fae; they are all given to deception." Regan countered. "Do you really believe you would have given an explicit order to kill someone?"

"Eddie," Naoise gently pleaded but he knew it even before she looked up again. She had already turned from him, pushed him out of her life. There was nothing but the wall again, high and impenetrable. It was there in her broken and bitter gaze. All I see before me is a monster.

"Leave me now. I don't want to look at you anymore. Go to your lake, go back to Faerie, go wherever you want, as long as it is out of my sight!"

He had to obey. He could only accept it. He had shown her all that he was. He would always be a monster to her. It would forever haunt her that he may have been more to her.

“I love you.” Was the last terrible truth.

The magic carried him away. He should have told her this was his fault, that this was the price of his arrogance. This was the requiem of a broken promise. It was he who had been a coward! Yet, it was the truth, and he would give her this to rally against Regan’s lies and deceit.

He contorted his body in anguish as he drifted to the bottom of his lake. Things could have been different. If only he had heeded Eddie's warning, if only he had laid down his pride! A million missed chances and possibilities chased him to the frigid and unyielding heart of his lake. His body dispersed into the indifferent embrace of the water. Each piece was a singular regret that drifted towards the surface, towards her world, carrying upon it a small fraction of his hope. When all thoughts of forgiveness had been absolved from him he let his consciousness float away on a gentle and reprising current.

And this was how he must exist without her.

#

Eddie felt like she was drowning. She was struggling to breathe and her limbs felt heavy. How she wished she could raise her head towards the sky and find the surface to break past. This was reality however and it offered no such merciful respite. There was a dead man besides her, and he would be dead forever. She was alive when he had bled out hours before. Nothing would change this. It was a thought to drive a person mad.

"Is this why you asked me down here, Regan?" she asked as she grappled against the fierce current of guilt and desolation. She looked at the red stain by her hand and curled her fingers but didn't raise herself up. Naoise's last words had been heart wrenching for she could not discern their true nature. Had he been pleading with her or punishing her? Perhaps it had even been a jeer.

Does he still love me even now? She put one fingertip into the blood. It was real, sticky, and cold. She closed her eyes and held back her tears. She would not weep in front of Regan. How could I think such a thing when he killed poor Mr. MacGregor?

"The spirits knew first. I felt like you had to see such a thing with your own eyes." She looked up at him in distress. He smiled gently at her. "Do you think I am being cruel? Perhaps I am. Nevertheless Eddie, you must understand why this happened."

She looked down at what she had done. "Because I trusted him."

"That's right." Regan stood up and looked at the shattered glass of the window that had once depicted St. John. "He was just looking for an opportunity. It's not your fault ultimately Eddie. He just took advantage of your guard being down."

"But I let it down." She bowed her head. He gently pulled her up, taking her away from the carnage. Perhaps he thought she would be able to think more clearly without that terrible sight before her. Nothing would fade the phantasmagorical smell of blood that chased after her however or ease this pain in her chest as if the life was being crushed out of her by a settling weight. She fell onto a bench outside. She concentrated on the indifferent songs of the birds in the trees above and wished the entire world would stop and gape at the death of one man.

"You were drunk last night weren't you? You must have said something vague enough that he could twist it around into an execution order." Regan hovered over her shoulder. "After all why wouldn't Naoise wish to kill the man he surely saw as an accomplice to his enslavement? Kelpies can carry a grudge for centuries."

Yes, she had surrendered to drink last night. She babbled whenever she became unhinged. She avoided drinking because she always said something she regretted. In her carelessness she had accidentally ordered the death of a man. She put her hands to her temples and tried to remember. It was like running into a locked door again and again.

Naoise had tried to lay the blame on Regan. That was impossible. What could have motivated Regan to kill the other man? Naoise was a monster. He was a liar. She felt certain of this, and yet, something cried out on the other side of the door, rattling it, creating echoes of insurrection in her psyche.

No, no, everything was as it appeared. She bowed her head and moved away from the door. Let it remain locked.

"I, I don't know what to do." Eddie at last admitted. She lowered her hands and shuddered at her pernicious indecision. Where could she even begin to atone for this? In her recklessness she had allowed for someone to be killed!

"Give me the bridle." She looked back at Regan in surprise. "Hand him over to me Eddie, is it not apparent he's far too much for you?"

"I…" she hesitated. So long she had resisted in giving her burden up. It was her personal agony to bear but now it had ended another life. She had wanted to save Naoise. For no other reason than selfish pride! To prove to herself and all those around her she was a good person. That she was not the horrid sixteen year old who had punched out her father in a drunken argument about her mother. That she had grown into a mature and worthwhile person. Her arrogance had only leaded to another disaster however. She covered her face with her hands, trying to recall why she had done such a stupid thing.

"Listen, let me tell you a story about a farmer many hundreds of year ago who bridled a kelpie. The poor man was tricked into believing for as long as the fae was his slave he must sacrifice a human life to it every year. So he went out and captured victims for the water horse. But the truth is what you know Eddie, kelpies are malicious liars."

I thought he wouldn't lie to me. I thought after we made that deal we could be friends. In giving him respect and not treating him like a slave he had become approachable, kind in his own way. He had only helped her and had not tried to abuse her. Until now, he had treated her like an equal so long as she did him. She had become close to him as they spent time together and had even found his company enjoyable. He was quiet, and appreciative of simple gestures and touches. He listened to her and when he did speak it was with purpose. It had felt like they had come to an understanding in a way no one else ever had with her. She had even felt affection for him and had once wished they could have their own life together.

It was just a lie. Those feelings and memories were shut away behind heavy and bitter wood. "I love you!" He had cried out just to damn her.

"You fear he'll kill again under my watch, don't you?" Eddie asked softly.

"If he can do it once he can do it again." Regan warned.

"Ah," she knew this was true but she still hesitated. Were her feelings really so strong for a monster? Even now she didn't wish to see him suffer? But could she really take the risk of another death? She knew she couldn't yet something cried out from deep within her to not give him up.

Is this the feeling of true love then? This was the solidification of the dream so many chased after. Only now in this terrible moment of seeing Naoise for what he truly was did she know she was truly in love with him. For even knowing he was a blood thirsty monster she still wished to protect him.

But there was also folly and selfishness in love.

Loving him or not she had always known what he was. Yet for one night she had allowed herself to forget and catastrophe had erupted from her singular dream. Her self-indulgent and ludicrous fantasy. Naoise had played her for a fool, and she had allowed him to.

"Remember," Regan pulled her closer into his vicious bind. "Remember, that he was going to kill your brother. He has already killed a friend, how long before he kills a family member?"

She remembered thinking Naoise was going to spare her. That he would dissolve from her life like the fog upon the lake as the sun climbed higher and higher into the sky. She had never thought it would end like this.

“I made a blood-pact with him.” She told Regan.

“I know. Ulysses told me.” He informed her. She licked her lips.

“Can he still kill me?” She asked softly.

“I won’t let him.” Regan answered staunchly. Eddie narrowed her eyes.

“Not by killing him?”

“I am not a murderer like he is.” Regan shook his head. “I am sorry you had to go through something like that.”

She drew her shoulders back and gave a long exhale. She closed her eyes.

I wish we had never met.

"What must I do?" she asked when she was done hesitating before the bridge.

"It's simple enough, give me your hand and announce I now own the golden bridle of Warlock Willox." Regan instructed and offered that hand. Once more she hesitated, but Eddie shut away all the lingering voices of love. She took Regan's hand firmly.

"Regan Seele, I give you the golden bridle of Warlock Willox." She said strongly and immediately understood why Regan had been able to know right away when Rhona had found her pelt. It was like a string was pulled out of her and cut. She faltered from the ephemeral feeling and landed on her side feeling empty and forlorn.

Regan only looked victorious.

He helped the young woman to her feet however as she still held in her tears. "It's all over now, it's all right. We need to call the police now."

She didn't weep for all she had lost until several hours later. After she had finished the final interview and report. After Matthew had come to fetch her. After she had ignored all his questions and concerns. After she had asked to be put to bed though it was only three in the afternoon. It was only after she had denied herself any further sunlight of this day and had lain upon her bed, naked and wet, that she allowed herself to cry. She dissolved into her anguish. Her grief flooded from her body in tears and heaving sobs.

She dispersed herself into her dreams where every tear carried a sorrow and floated away from her until there was nothing left but an empty shell of an ardent agony.

#

Eddie had tried to not lose track of the days but found she had somehow when she was informed some indeterminate day was actually Friday. The television had been playing for an absent audience, filling the hall with its white noise, forgotten by Matt in his habitual morning rush. The sprightly newswoman chattered about the lovely weather there would be the coming Saturday and Sunday. Friday promised for a light shower in the afternoon however so one had better get their umbrella!

"Saturday afternoon…" was when MacGregor's funereal would be. She remembered being told so by a very exhausted looking Matthew at some point in the intangible timeline that had extended from that horrific Sunday morning.

"Jesus died on a Friday," Eddie mused morbidly as she put a few cookies on a plate. She looked around and found herself alone in the small kitchen. She blinked, was Matthew gone? No, no, he would have told her if he had left. Wouldn't he have? Eddie looked towards the distant drone of the TV and caught sight of a comb.

It was a hair piece Sarah had given her, carved from moonstone. Eddie curled her fingers as she recalled the feel of Sarah’s warm hand. Something to remember her by when she left. Her fingers opened. Naoise had tried so very hard to give her a moonstone ring. A way out of Faerie, out of their conflict, a gift of love. She had refused it, and now she had nothing but memories. The phantom of gentle lips on her hair, and the fangs hiding beneath.

I don’t want to forget.

Regan had told the truth, hadn’t he? Hadn’t he? She had been tricked. Naoise was a liar. Keep the door closed and locked.

She hadn't gone to school or work since that morning. She was incognizant however how much of either she had missed. Ms. Takahashi had been over with a cake at some point and she was distantly aware at some point she should call her counselor. It was only Sarah who had drawn her towards the light. It was a slow crawl from those depths but she was now hovering at the edge after their talk yesterday.

Eddie had confessed to her crime within a day of the event to her sole confidante. Sarah had comforted her and though Eddie could not remember what exactly had been said during that first conversation afterwards she had slept for the first time since finding MacGregor's body. Sarah had come twice more since then but it was their most recent conversation, shared in Eddie's bedroom as the sun died behind the horizon, which had at last pierced the veil.

"I'm worried about you." Sarah had sighed as she sat on the bed.

"Sorry." Eddie said quietly, curled into a ball.

"It's not something to be sorry about." Sarah huffed as she glanced over her shoulder. "I know you feel like it's your fault and nothing I can say will make you think otherwise."

Eddie didn't answer and Sarah leaned over her. "So, maybe I have an idea to help you feel better. Take a walk.”

Eddie raised an eyebrow. Sarah smiled, “he’s everywhere isn’t he? Desensitize yourself to it. If you can get through one walk around the basin, you can push through each day after.”

“I’ll go with you if you like,” she leaned against Eddie. “Many an evening I’ve pulled up shrubs and kicked at trees.”

“No, I’m….not ready.” Eddie sighed and Sarah left her. Eddie was uncertain if it was in disgust or regret. Either way, Sarah’s life was continuing on, as Eddie knew hers must. Yet she was not ready to leave her coffin.

Regan had refused to ascribe anymore guilt to Eddie than being negligent. The woman had an idea that perhaps the wise man had his own guilt at the death of his ancestor. Perhaps his mercy was the manifestation of his regret in not acting more forcefully to prevent the tragedy he had warned about. Eddie felt terribly petty that she could not find it within herself to rouse any feelings of sympathy for Regan. As angry as she had been at his actions had they not ultimately been proven to have been the right ones in the face of her unyielding arrogance?

Eddie believed in kindness but with fae one must always act in prudence over all else. Prudence could be as gentle as a hand reaching to lift one up and as vicious as the hand driving the sword into one's gut. Regan had only been acting in necessity. Yet she found something like bitterness within her at the thought.

Was it pride or sorrow that made her doubt him?

Eddie walked out of the kitchen towards her brother's bedroom. His door was partially open and Eddie glided careful fingertips over the wood. She paused however at the sound of a conversation already taking place.

"—Just never mind, Aunt Luz, please." Matthew said agitatedly with his back to the door. He had his phone to his ear and Eddie silently shifted back from the door. "It doesn't matter what I think. I have to do what is best for Eddie. Things have never been so crazy before it's unbelievable—"

Matthew paused and raised his head up, he didn’t see his sister cowering in the doorway however.

"We've had some real trouble here. I told you about Kelly’s cousin gettin' his throat torn by some sort of beast and Eddie findin' him. She's not taken it well at all. By the way she acts you think it was her fault! She's gone all quiet. I worry. I'm beginning to think that and Kelly brother's hand gettin' torn off are somehow connected. I don't know. I just want to get Eddie away from here. I want to take her to that therapist that did so well with her before. She's never taken death well." Matthew tried to explain to their aunt as his sister slowly down outside his door. He was quiet for a time as he listened to Luz and Eddie burned with shame.

"Kelly is….being a little weird," Matthew admitted and Eddie could imagine his grimace at Luz's protest. "I think maybe she's gettin' cold feet. It may be better if we were apart for a while. She's not havin' an easy time either with her cousin being killed or her brother being attacked.”

What had happened while she had looked away? Or was Matthew projecting his guilt onto things and skewing them in that hazy light? Eddie inhaled, you can't run away Matt. You can't.

"Right." Matthew said after a pause. "So we'll be comin' in a few days. Thanks Luz. I appreciate it. See you then."

Matthew wanted to go back to Orange County? He was that worried about her? Or was he afraid of something else? Her brother who had been so resolute in everything before, was he becoming the coward Regan had imagined? That he would make such a decision without even speaking to her first and forsaking Kelly! It felt like an excuse to flee.

But what were they trying to escape?

Eddie sat stunned for a few seconds at this revelation and the pernicious sort of serendipity that she had been alerted to it as Matthew finished the call. She forced herself up as she heard him agitatedly move about the room, muttering to himself as he sought out his wallet and jacket. She was sitting before the TV when he began to call for her. She answered and tried to slow her breathing.

"I'm off to work for the day." He informed her as he slipped into his jacket. She nodded. "Will you be at home all day or…?"

"I was planning on going for a walk, and then to the college to get my catch up work and then the café to talk to Ms. Takahashi about being gone." She told him. He looked surprised and she smiled a little at him. We were so happy here; do you really want to give it all up?

"Are you feeling better then?" he asked.

"Yeah." She inclined her head. "I was very upset about what happened but…it did."

Matthew looked at her for a few seconds and then dropped his hand on her head. "One step at a time."

“Yup.” He left her then and she stood in the doorway. She watched his car be swallowed into the distance. She trembled in the doorway, never being so afraid in all her life. Even when Naoise’s jaws had been open wide to her had she not flinched so much as she did at the chickens scratching and clucking in the yard. Life was hurtling all around her, the clouds were zooming by in the endless sky, the dogs were digging holes by the water tubs to ensure a cool place to lay in the heat of the afternoon, insects were feasting, grass was dying, and the flowers were growing.

She hesitantly stepped back out into the world. It was a slow climb across the boundless earth. She traversed the yard in its microcosm of life and death. She interrupted nothing, as ethereal as the race of the cloud’s shadows on the dirt. She landed on the back steps of the front house.

Mindy was in town with La-La and Tom was out on the range. She had the home to herself and the store of whiskey Mindy kept in the pantry. She just needed a little courage to do this. It was why she had dismissed Sarah, she had not wanted her friend to see her this way. She would make this journey but she must also survive it.

She wrapped the bottle in her jacket as she began her ascent across the basin. She managed to walk on Highway 9 to the dirt road that led to Lake Santos’ bridge before she broke. The wind shifted and brought the acrid scent of water to her. She recalled its chill, his touch, and the sight of blood stained jaws. She fell to the dirt and opened the bottle.

Just a sip. That’s all I need. Just something to ease the pain. Just enough that she could make it through. It was as it had been before. She just needed enough to sleep. Just enough to see the end of the day. Just enough to forget.

Her steps became erratic as her body swayed. The path became blurred and she moved forward on the last lingering traces of memory. She found the shoreline on sound and smell alone. By the time she fell she forgot why she had come at all. She glanced at the granite cliff near her and covered her face as she dropped the half-empty bottle. She wept for no reason she knew, she could only feel something in her heart violently clattering. She smiled in her oblivion at the clouds overhead, even as tears continued to stream down her cheeks. She giggled that in the sun and wind she was going to become as dark as the mud clotting around her head. Perhaps she could even sink into the earth’s embrace.

Hadn’t she known someone once who had been born from the land itself?

Her memories came crashing over her as off in the distance she saw a dark shape emerge from the shrubbery. She rolled onto her side and trembled. She found no struggle to form the name even as the surge threatened to drown her.

She sat up and cried out into the silence.

"Naoise!"

The horse raised his head and the equine form melted away. Eddie drew in her breath as she realized by his light step and gracious posture that it was Dougal. His expression was guarded however as he approached and Eddie laid back down in total vulnerability.

“You still recall my brother's name lassie?" he murmured in surprise as he stood over her.

"Why wouldn't I?" she asked.

"Because isn't it terrible for you to hear now?" Dougal frowned and Eddie made no answer, uncertain how to define something between agony and desire.

"I couldn't just forget," she said at last.

Dougal tilted his head as he glanced at her. "But you will."

"How could I?" She demanded. She suddenly felt angry at Dougal's resigned countenance. "How could I forget what happened?"

"Because you should have never known about us. Your suffering is over lass, give up your burden." She gasped at his reproach. It was not angry or bitter but it was an inviolate wall between him and sympathy.

"I don't want to forget about Naoise!" Eddie cried and Dougal's eyes went wide in surprise. She sat up even as the world violently tilted. She panted and struggled to control her tumult of emotions. Her rage devoured her drunkenness and made her furiously aware. "Jai Darzi told me once that I could give up my memories if I wanted. But I don't, I don't! I am an ass, but I am not a coward. I have always carried on. So I won’t give up now!"

She shook her head and grimaced. "It is my sin and no one will take it from me!"

Dougal said nothing in reply. He only watched her with a distant expression that may have been pained nostalgia. He knelt down and gently touched his cold fingers to her cheek to make her look up at him.

"But it was never your sin. Don't you see? It is Naoise's, and it is his to reconcile."

"But it was I who loved him and trusted him." Eddie admitted miserably.

"It is a sin to deceive those who love you." Dougal drew his fingers away and Eddie's face fell again. She stood up in an inviolate rage. The world swirled around her in a melting flood but she still lunged at the retreating faerie. Dougal easily side-stepped her first punch, a mirror reflection of Naoise doing the same to Matthew months before. He caught her fist on her second attack. His grip was strong and freezing.

“Why are you all so damned complacent?!” Eddie screamed. She fruitlessly struggled to get her grip freed from the kelpie’s hand. She clawed and pounded at him with her free hand. Her body violently twisted as she gnashed her teeth. He watched her fury with an impassive expression. “You, MacGregor, you act like the fucking world is nothing more than a constant rainstorm you have no control over! Is that why he died?! Because he just got tired of the fucking rain?!”

She used a foot to try to leverage herself away from Dougal but she found him as inviolate as Naoise had been the day at the pond. She gave a gasping sob as she dropped her head in frustration.

“Why am I the only one who cares?”

She lifted her head when Dougal suddenly pushed his arm forward, forcing Eddie down onto her knees with sheer strength. She gasped as he leaned down, using his weight to keep her arm wrenched back. Her body was pinned. All the time his expression never changed from emotionless smoothness. It was the face Naoise had worn when he had wanted to hide something.

“Just because I am not jumping up to put my head on a chopping block, lass,” his expression at last broke its cool countenance with a heated glare, “doesn’t mean I don’t care.”

He let her go and stepped away from her. Eddie recoiled on the dirt. She swallowed and rubbed her arm. She knew she had deserved what he had said. Though only her drunkenness wearing off made her aware of it.

"Why are you out here?" she asked softly when she could raise her face again. He was about a meter away looking towards the shore.

"Just listening to gossip." He responded and he looked back at her. "You look terrible lass."

“Mm.” She ran a hand over her head, her hair was a tangled mess from the wind and mud. “It’s been a rough week.”

She paused and sighed.

“I’m sorry I took a swing at you,” she softly apologized. Dougal absorbed it.

“I can apologize too,” he came to stand near her. “If I had not also been afraid Naoise had murdered Ulysses MacGregor, I would have come sooner. I would have had the chance to speak to him and perhaps the fire spirit too. I may have known the truth. But I was afraid.”

Eddie could find no more anger within herself. At Dougal, at herself, at Yusuf, at all of the doubts of mortal and immortal beings. They were all only given life.

She raised her face to look at the lake that had summoned her here. Even without its patron protector the waters pulsed in the ebb and flow of life. It was a complete whole in its being. Naoise who had scorned death's touch had only known immortality through the ceaselessness of the waters. His absence for the first time made it clear that his existence was as insignificant as hers in the great destiny of all of creation.

Yet one day his god would die, hers would not, and perhaps that made this task all the more perilous.

“But you would still not give up?” Dougal asked as he followed her line of sight.

“No.” Eddie smiled wistfully. “Not even if I wanted to. I can’t, I am incapable of it. Because…I am surrounded all the time by beauty, y’know? It’s lovely to just be alive.”

She swallowed, “maybe I’m talking nonsense, but it’s how I feel, half-drunk and exhausted. But…I don’t want to give up. Not even now. Life can be pretty terrible at times, Naoise….did awful things to me, and I did them to him but…even now, I don’t want to regret that we met. There was good there, even with the bad.”

She sniffed and choked on her tears. “I’m sorry, I guess I’m being stupid. But…I need that, to carry on. I don’t want to forget it, even with the bad stuff.”

"I say this Edith Moreno, if you loved my brother that much, that the memory is worth that much suffering to you— then show me he is worth that."

Eddie looked up at the kelpie for a long moment with a terrible empathy.

"You feel guilty too, don’t you?”

Dougal narrowed his eyes. "My brother committed a sin but it is merely a question of what he did. Keep in mind lass it is a perilous thing for a fae to love a human. It is a gamble that often ends in enslavement, as what happened to Rhona of the Ocean. My brother may have been bitter enough at the man to kill him as he's accused, but he may have loved you enough to allow himself to be manipulated. Either way, he pays the price for his actions."

"Would fae really turn their backs on someone like that?" Eddie cried in disbelief.

"You know the answer to that." Dougal said tightly and Eddie recoiled in remembrance. Yes she did. Rhona's suffering had only been alleviated by a human woman who had felt sympathy for that poor creature. To her people she had been punished for being foolish.

"I have heard nothing that exonerates my brother," Dougal continued heavily. "And I know his nature. So…"

He leaned down and gently tilted her chin up. "Show me he is worth saving if you love him that much. Your life will mean nothing to him now. Your love however may show his life has worth."

He dropped her face. "Nevertheless, if you insist on keeping your memories I would warn you Eddie, you may find Naoise was never worth your love."

Eddie didn't answer, for she was uncertain if she could even achieve such a task. She may only have her heart broken once again, or even worst she would be forced to acknowledge that she had been the one to betray someone she loved.

"Will you be at the funereal tomorrow?" Eddie asked softly as Dougal turned to take his leave of her.

"Nay. The spirits knew first and mourn in their own way. I will stay away from your human affair. But that is when he will be buried, is it not?" she nodded in confirmation. "Then pour a shot of whiskey onto the stone for me to christen it."

He smiled at her look of consternation. "It’s an old ritual."

He left, unconcerned with Eddie's disquiet at being asked to handle alcohol after her whiskey soaked confession. Life was full of cruel ironies after all.

The road to forgiveness was hard and even if it may lead to her destruction, it was hers to walk.