In Pursuit of Mr. Sands Part 5: A KDG Consortium Story

Mondays are always happier when they start with a cheeky little read, and nobody is cheekier than Mr. Sands. Unless it’s Elise North.  Today is the fifth instalment of In Pursuit of Mr. Sands,  and Elise gets an unexpected visitor.  As I said,  I’ve been in pursuit of Mr. Sands for quite some time now, and somehow he always manages to elude me. And surprise me. Just recently he made another titillating appearance, only to lead me on a merry chase. I lost him in North Africa somewhere and ended up recovering in Delphi, where I met up with some unexpected acquaintances. (More on that to come. )Never mind. There are worse places to end up, and I’m sure Mr. Sands will raise his oh so fascinating head again when I least expect him.

But for now, Elise finds Mr. Sands hanging out in Soho, not doing what she expected him to do.

If you missed the last instalment of Mr. Sands, catch up with this link.

In Pursuit of Mr. Sands Part 5: An Unexpected Visitor

Mr. Sands read. And he read and he read. He didn’t get up, he didn’t move, he didn’t even look up at me. And I waited and waited. I lost track of the coffee I’d drank, the junk food I’d chomped, I’d even finished a very large pizza as the day wore into the night. While he might have been refreshed and reenergized by his inflight meal, I was jetlagged and flagging. Sleep deprivation was something I could do really well, banking a nap here and there as I needed, but even I had my limits and sometime after midnight, I fell asleep.

I woke up with a jerk that made my neck pop and sent my heart racing with that 6th sense of knowing I wasn’t alone in the room that now felt chilled. The sheer curtains in front of the bay window wafted in a phantom breeze. The windows had not been opened. Mr. Sands still sat in his chair reading his book, the clock on the mantle, which I had not noticed until just now ticked the seconds loudly into the silence. The only other sound was deep, even breathing right behind her. I froze, quieting my own breath so I could hear. Without moving my head, I glanced around for a weapon.

“You don’t need a weapon, El, not for me.”

That voice was the soft-spoken baritone rumble I’d come to love so dearly. There was only one person who had ever called one El, but I killed him. My body went stiff, my heart went into free-fall, I tried to convince myself it was only a dream just like I always did when the nightmares began, but just like always, it didn’t matter that I knew it, I could never wake myself up until I relived every brutal, violent detail, until I stood with the bloody knife in my hand shouting the blinding spell with a voice that broke like glass shattering on concrete. Then I woke up tangled in my clammy sheets sweating and trembling and crying like a baby feeling as though it had been my own soul, I’d ripped out that night. Even so, every time it came upon me, I began the same useless mantra, “it’s a dream, it’s a dream, it’s only a dream.”

“It’s not a dream, El. You know it’s not.” Dru’s voice was feather soft next to my ear. “You don’t need to be afraid this time, El. El, look at me.”

In the window, I could see the reflection of the man I had loved and lived with for three years standing just to the left of my chair, his hand resting on the winged back. The curtains blew as if the window had been left open and a sudden storm had blown in. “Dru?” My voice was thin and breathless.

He came and knelt in front of me laying icy, insubstantial hands on mine. “You know magic well enough to know that it’s me, that I’m here, I’m real.” He chortles softly. “I remember you even working for a couple of grumpy ghosts at one point. They nearly drove you to drink, as I recall.”

“In my line of work, they didn’t have to drive me very far.” My forced laugh came out a little hiccup of air as I blinked back a tear, and when they just spilled over anyway, I stopped trying. All this time I had hoped, prayed, even begged that Dru’s ghost would visit me, would offer me the forgiveness I so badly needed, the forgiveness that no amount of therapy ever convinced me I deserved. And yet in the next breath, I would pray and beg that his ghost would stay away, for fear there would be no forgiveness, only cold, endless condemnation hounding me for the rest of my life. And in my most desolate moments, I was sure I deserved that condemnation. I was sure that somehow if I’d only waited just a little longer, fought just a little harder, I might have found another way. But there was no condemnation in those blue-grey eyes, no hate, only concern, and beyond that was it even possible, love?

“Don’t cry, darling. Please don’t. I can’t stay long, but he thought maybe you could use a visit.” He nodded over his shoulder to where Mr. Sands still sat with his nose in his novel.

“I’m so, so sorry, Dru. I would, I wish. I … If I would have waited just a little longer, then–”

He stopped my words with a cool kiss no more substantial than the weight of the thin curtains against my lips. “Sh. Sh, darling. If you’d waited any longer, I would have killed you. I can’t imagine how you held out as long as you did. You were so badly beaten, so broken, so…” He shook his head and shivered. “El, you saved me, that’s what you did. Don’t you think I know that? Don’t you think I would have begged you to end it all if I could have spoken. I would have done anything to stop hurting you, anything. I was so terrified that I would kill you, so terrified. Death was welcome compared to living with what I had done to you, what I might have done.”

“It wasn’t you, who hurt me, Dru. It was the demon. It was the fucking demon.” This time I didn’t just cry, I broke down and sobbed and howled and keened, and for a brief moment, he somehow managed to pull me into his arms, and they felt almost warm, almost real. But he was right. I knew what a ghost felt like.

“When my spirit left my body, I didn’t leave immediately, El, I wanted to help. I didn’t quite understand what had happened, but then I saw, El. I saw what you did to him. He’ll never hurt anyone again, my love. I’ve never loved anyone as much as I loved you right at that moment, that moment when I understood what you’d done, what it had cost you. El, El listen to me, my suffering was over the second you released me.”

“I killed you!” I spoke in broken, wet hiccups, struggling for breath. “Christ, Dru, I took a knife, and I stabbed you in the heart.” I dissolved into blubbering again.

“After what I did to you, I deserved no better, and yet you never once blamed me for that.”

“It was the demon, not you, Dru. Never you.” I reached up and stroked his cheek nearly warm now, nearly solid beneath my fingers, gone icy. “I was arrogant. I should have never believed such a demon could be so easily bound. I was arrogant, and it cost me you.”

“No El, no. You asked me to stay away, and I didn’t. I didn’t trust you to handle that monster on your own. I was arrogant to think I could do anything to help. You did everything right, El. Everything. I was free from my suffering the minute that blessed blade entered my heart, but you,” he nodded over to Mr. Sands, who still read as though totally oblivious to my distress. “You’re still suffering.” He took my face in his hands, but even as he did so I could feel the chill, feel him fading. “I’m free. I’m dead. You’re not, El, you’re alive. You’re alive, and you’ve forgotten that, what it means, how much it matters. “That man,” he nodded to Sands. “That man, he gave you a gift. Take it. Let me go, let yourself go. What we had was good, it was wonderful, but I’m gone. You’re still alive, my beautiful El. Your whole life is ahead of you, and you’re far too young not to love again. Oh not him, I understand that, but take the joy he offers. He kissed me again, lingering just long enough until I felt nothing but the chill of the ghost he was. “Nothing would make me happier than to see you happy again, my darling, to see you laugh, to see you love, to see you live. I’m dead. You’re not. Stop acting like you are.” And just like that he vanished. The cool breeze in the room vanished, and I slid out of the chair, curled up onto the floor in front of it and sobbed myself back to sleep.”

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