Dark Impulse Ch. 14byAurora Black©
April 1, 2001
The early morning sun gradually filled Gabriel's room with its light. He slept on, completely absorbed by the dream that was taking shape behind his closed lids.
* * *
The soft summer breeze gently stirred Gabriel's hair, waking him up. He opened his eyes and winced as the blinding light of the sun shone directly into them. Shutting his eyes, he swore in a low voice. As he waited for his eyes to clear themselves of the bright flash, he became aware of a subtle rocking sensation, as if he was back in the cradle. He cautiously opened his eyes again, and a long glance at his surroundings confirmed his suspicions. He was on a boat.
All of the earlier ice had melted away from the lake and was replaced by beautiful and clear water. Gabriel's small rowboat floated at the center, and he observed the trees which stood along the water, their leaves fresh and green. His gaze was drawn to the high buildings that seemed to play peek-a-boo with him from behind the trees, and he realized exactly where he was.
Central Park. I'm getting closer to Grace, I can feel it.
With a feeling of nervous anticipation in his belly, Gabriel grabbed the oars and began to row to shore. He drew closer to his destination, the muscles of his back and arms moving beneath the white linen shirt that he wore. Sweat gleamed on his forehead from the effort of rowing; he lifted a hand to wipe it away as he glanced at the shore behind him, and froze at what he saw.
Someone waited for him. He knew with every fiber of his being that it was Grace.
He pumped his arms faster, his eyes never leaving the figure in the distance. The boat reached the shore and Gabriel quickly climbed out of it, not caring that it drifted away as soon as he left. She waited patiently for him as he ran to her, his heart racing. She was wearing a sleeveless dress, its peach hue complimenting her creamy skin. He had longed to touch her for ages, hold her. She was finally within his reach.
Gabriel drew to a stop before her, breathing heavily from fatigue and desire. Grace watched him with a cool expression, but he saw the fire in her eyes when she looked at him, the yearning that she tried so hard to hide. He didn't want her to conceal it; he wanted to bask in its heat, roll around with her in the flames.
He started to raise his hand to touch her face, but the frightened look in her eyes gave him pause. In that moment she looked as if she was a wild animal confronted by a man offering it food and shelter, and she had to decide whether to trust the stranger or flee to the safety of the woods. He gave her the chance to retreat, and when several seconds had passed he finally made contact.
At the touch of Gabriel's hand on her cheek, Grace's eyes closed briefly before their eyes met and held. He wrapped his arms around her waist, pulling her close to him. She didn't pull away. He leaned forward, bringing his face close to hers. His voice was hoarse as he whispered the words he'd waited so long to say, and he felt her tremble against him.
"I love you."
A sob escaped her lips as she broke away from his embrace, and he felt as if he'd been stabbed in the heart. She whirled around, facing away from him. He watched helplessly as she cried, her shoulders shaking from the intensity of her emotions. He reached out to her, placing his hands on her shoulders and turning her to face him. He repeated the words over and over, determined to make her believe them. Tears escaped from her eyes, and he kissed them away.
Gabriel realized that she hadn't spoken a word the entire time, and he was anxious to know what she was thinking. "Gracie, please say something."
Grace's eyes opened, and she looked down at her hands. She opened them and he saw that they were full of some yellowish grain. It took a moment before Gabriel could figure out what it was; it was birdseed.
She looked into his eyes, and her face was curiously blank as she spoke.
"The birds are hungry, Gabriel. I must feed them."
She suddenly flung out her arms, and from out of nowhere a large black raven landed on her hand and fed delicately on the birdseed. Gabriel, having stepped back when the bird first appeared, stepped closer to watch it eat. His stomach churned, filled with a strange tension and fear. He reached out his hand to stroke the raven's wings, and the bird turned its head quickly away from the seed and stared straight at him. The sight of the bird's beady eyes made Gabriel feel cold inside, and before he could react the raven plunged its sharp beak into the soft flesh of Grace's arm.
Grace screamed from the bird's attack, and Gabriel leapt forward in an attempt to swat it away. The raven mercilessly pecked her fragile skin again and again, driven by some unknown desire to cause her agony. Gabriel roared in anger as he unsheathed his dagger, wanting to rip the offending animal apart. Upon seeing the dagger the bird flew away, its caws mocking the Shadow Hunter as its wings flapped against the wind.
He resheathed the dagger and knelt down to tend to Grace where she had fallen. She clutched her arm, her entire body quaking with shock. He tore off his shirt and wrapped it tightly around her arm to try and stop the bleeding. He stroked her hair as he pulled her to him, whispering that it was over. She wrapped her good arm about his waist as he helped her up, and they both froze when they heard the sounds in the distance. They looked into the sky and saw a multitude of black shapes approaching fast, so many that they blocked out the sun.
Gabriel grabbed Grace's good arm, bringing her with him as they began to run. After a few steps, she let go of his hand and extended her mangled arm towards some point among the trees. She softly whispered something that he couldn't hear, her bleeding arm beckoning to no one.
His heart pounded with fear, and his voice was rough with concern.
"Gracie, what are you doing? We have to go now!"
She was staring at something that he couldn't see, and he knew that they would be overcome by the raven flock if they delayed much longer. He tried to grab her, but she fought him with all her might.
"Please, we have to wait!"
He glanced at the sky, which was rapidly turning black from the sheer mass of the swarm. She also saw the danger but she remained where she stood, her bad arm waiting to be taken. The furious caws grew louder, and Gabriel had to scream to be heard over the noise.
"Wait for what, Gracie? What are you waiting for?"
* * *
The alarm clock went off and Gabriel jerked awake with a sharp gasp, his arms automatically rising to fight off the imaginary black birds. Even when he looked around and realized that he was safe in his old room, he didn't relax.
Something is going on in New York where Grace is concerned, and she's seriously at risk of being hurt. Or worse. I need to find out what's going on with her.
He rose from the bed and began to dress, his thoughts centered on locating Grace. He decided that as soon as he was settled in the city, he would try and see her at the address that Mosely gave him on Friday night. If for some reason she wasn't there, he would try her office at Columbia on Monday morning.
He left the room and climbed the stairs to the attic, wanting to see his portrait again. Stepping closer, he stared at the likeness that Grace had so lovingly created. He lightly touched the wooden frame, clearing his mind to receive whatever information the painting had to give him. He closed his eyes, his senses taking over.
* * *
Gabriel saw a large room, obviously an artist's studio. Sunshine streamed in through the many windows. Perhaps one of them was left open; the air was crisp and refreshing. He breathed it in, and detected a hint of linseed oil along with the familiar smell of fresh paint. He looked at the canvas and saw a rough outline of his face, his hair streaked with shades of vermilion and his emerald eyes flashing back at him.
Grace was sitting in a chair, a gin and tonic in her hand. She sipped her drink as she contemplated the painting. She wore a white artist's smock over a black cocktail dress and high heels, her hair piled on top of her head. She looked as if she was dressed for a night on the town. Gabriel missed how she used to look when she was with him, back when she was more casual and natural. He continued to watch her with his mind's eye, trying to reconcile the old Grace with the new.
She leaned forward and with a bitter smile, lifted her glass to the portrait.
"Knight, you heartless bastard. Here's to you! With this painting, may I finally be free of you! My heart was yours from the very beginning, but you never wanted it. Even now, it still belongs to you despite my not wanting it to. Hopefully this project will get you out of my system for good, and then I can finally move on with the rest of my life! Damn you, and damn me for still loving you after all this time!"
She drained her drink in one gulp, and Gabriel wished that he could speak with her. Just then, there was the sound of a buzzer going off. Grace rose from the chair and walked towards the intercom, pressing the button.
"Who is it?"
"It's me, love. Let me in."
Gabriel recognized Liam's voice, and he felt a sharp pang of jealousy. He heard Grace sigh briefly before she pressed the button again to reply.
"Liam, I'm working on something important right now. Can't I just come down?"
"What's the big secret, Grace? You can't show me this thing that's taking up almost all your time now? We don't see you anymore these days, mate."
After a moment, she let Liam in. Gabriel watched them greet each other in the European way, kissing each other on both cheeks. Seeing this, he felt relieved that their relationship was more platonic in nature.
Before Liam arrived in the studio, Grace had covered the portrait with a cloth. The Irishman kept peeking at the shielded canvas with unveiled curiosity. Flustered, she tried to distract him by making small talk, pouring a drink for him.
"Would you like a drink? How long do we have before the party begins?"
Liam waited until Grace's back was turned before he pulled away the cloth.
"I'd say we have about twenty minutes before we have to hit the road. The traffic is bound to be crazy at this hour... oh, my. Who is this, lovely? He's quite tasty."
Grace blushed hard at Liam's words, and Gabriel felt a similar flush creeping on his face and neck with the realization of his new acquaintance's personal tastes. But whatever discomfort he felt was quickly forgotten when Grace spoke.
"This, my good friend, is the man who broke my heart once. It took me a very long time to recover. Let's just leave it at that, shall we?"
Liam raised an eyebrow questioningly. "Not even a name for me, darling?"
She took a deep breath. "It's not worth mentioning, believe me."
Liam regarded the painting again, wondering at the man behind the image.
"Since he's so unworthy of discussion, why bother to paint him?"
Frowning at his question, Grace sipped at the fresh drink that she'd fixed.
"Because I want to say goodbye to the past, and this is as good a way as any."
Liam placed an arm about her shoulders and gave her a squeeze.
"Well, my dear, good luck. I think that we should leave now for the party."
Grace pulled off her artist's smock and draped it over the chair as Liam picked up her coat from the rack by the door, holding it out for her to slip into. As they left the studio, Gabriel released his hold on the picture frame and returned to the present, his mind whirling from all that he saw and heard.
* * *
Gran said that Grace gave her the finished portrait sometime last year, so the things that I just saw happened at least a year ago! Jesus, this ability to pick up echoes of past events still scares the shit out of me at times, and it gives me a headache. God!
He heard the sound of footsteps on the attic stairs as he stepped away from the portrait, and a minute later Gran touched his shoulder. He turned to her, speechless from the shock of what he'd just experienced. Rebecca didn't need an explanation; she knew that he'd be able to pick up something. They embraced, and she spoke to him as Gabriel looked at the portrait for the last time.
"Good luck with everything, my sweet boy. Give Grace my love, as well as yours. Help her in any way that you can, and watch your back."
He hugged her tightly. "I will, Gran. You know I will."
A few minutes later, Gabriel left the house and hurried towards the taxi that was waiting for him. Rebecca watched him from her front porch. He waved to her and shouted over his shoulder as he climbed into the cab.
He gave her a wink. "Love you, Gran! Take care of my bike, will ya? Other than you and Grace, she's my best girl!"
Gran chuckled as the taxi drove off, and she watched it until it was gone.
It was 10am sharp when Gabriel arrived at the Ritz-Carlton. As soon as he entered the elegant lobby, he was escorted to Liam's suite on the top floor. Inside, there was a flurry of activity; Gabriel observed several bellhops entering and leaving the room, preparing Liam's belongings for his departure from the hotel.
Liam's voice called out to him from the balcony. "Gabriel, I'm out here."
Gabriel stepped out onto the balcony, which had a wonderful view of the French Quarter a mere block away from the hotel. Since it was Sunday, Liam was dressed casually in jeans with a long-sleeved white shirt and a dark blue sweater that brought out his enigmatic eyes. His shoulder-length blond hair was still damp from his morning bath, and its texture made Gabriel think of a lion's mane.
Liam nodded his head to Gabriel in greeting, his eyes bright with excitement.
"Good morning, Gabriel. I trust that you slept well?"
Gabriel forced a neutral expression. "Well enough for the circumstances."
Liam smiled as he poured coffee for the both of them.
"Today is the big day. I must say, as charming as I find New Orleans, I am quite relieved to be returning to New York and back to work."
Sitting down across from Liam, Gabriel took his cup and sipped the potent brew.
"What are you going to do with the business while Anami's away? You did say that he's returning on Wednesday, right? You'll be holding the fort for two whole days."
Liam reached for a croissant and took a hearty bite, deep in thought.
"I suppose that I'll be handling things the way I always do when David is off on business. That means that I'll sign the papers that require a signature, make the deals that need to be made and brief David on all new developments via conference calls."
Gabriel bit into a blueberry muffin as he listened to Liam speak. More than anything, he wanted to talk about the vision that he saw of Grace and Liam in the studio, but he knew that it would be wise to keep it to himself for the time being.
Finishing his breakfast, he cleared his throat.
"Well Liam, it seems that you and Anami are running a tight ship. The two of you must be very proud to have such a successful company. I want to change the subject now, and ask you something that's been on my mind since last night."
Liam smiled, his teeth flashing in the sun.
"Does that something concern Grace, by any chance?"
Gabriel leaned forward, his green eyes scrutinizing Liam's dark blue ones.
"How did you find out about me and Grace exactly?"
Liam stood up from the small table and looked down at the street below. Gabriel watched him, secure in the knowledge of his vision. He'd been wondering for some time if Liam could be trusted, and Gabriel knew that he'd be able to catch him in a lie if his answer deviated from what he had seen himself using his second sight.
Liam turned to face Gabriel, leaning against the balcony. His smile was gone.
"About a year ago, Grace and I were due to appear at some charity dinner or other for the museum and I went to pick her up at the studio..."
Gabriel couldn't stop himself from interrupting. "What studio? Whose is it?"
Liam sighed heavily, his eyes darkening.
"I own a studio apartment in Hell's Kitchen, and I rent it to Grace for her personal use. She paints there, and she also uses the apartment when she needs to be alone."
Gabriel sat back in his chair, regarding Liam. "Go on."
The Irishman gripped the balcony railing behind him.
"I was curious about what she was working on, so I went up and looked. I saw your face, and I asked her about you. She wouldn't tell me, but as she looked at the canvas her eyes were full of such anguish, such longing. It both worried me greatly and piqued my interest. Since Grace was so obviously upset over you, I couldn't rest until I knew who you were."
Gabriel stood and walked up to Liam. "Why?"
Liam's eyes were somber as he replied, his voice rough and low.
"Because Grace has been a wonderful friend to me, and I respect and love her. I can't bear to see her unhappy, and I would do anything to bring her life out of the shadows and back into the light. She is in so much pain, and despite her claims that she doesn't need any help with her problems, I believe that there's one thing that can turn everything around. You. The best thing for her now is you."
Gabriel's heart lurched in his chest at Liam's words.
"But how did you make the connection between me and Grace?"
Liam shrugged, the corners of his mouth turning upwards in a smile.
"It wasn't hard to figure out. Sometime after the episode in the studio, your last novel was released. 'Sacred Blood,' was it? Anyway, Grace and I were taking a walk one day and we passed a bookshop which had a large promotional display in the window, complete with your picture. Grace looked at me and realized that I had matched the name with the face, and she told me that she used to work for you. Of course, it had to have been more than that."
Gabriel's eyes narrowed. He was still unsure of Liam, so he decided to bait him.
"What makes you so sure that Grace's dismissal of me wasn't deserved? How do you know that I'm not a complete bastard, the type of person who destroys everyone and everything that he touches? What makes you think that I won't hurt her any more than I have already?"
Liam placed his hands on Gabriel's shoulders, staring into his eyes.
"You know, they say that the eyes are the windows to the soul."
The breath stopped in Gabriel's throat. "Yes?"
"You're so open, Gabriel. Right now I can see the very heart of you, and somehow I know that you are deeply regretful of the past and that you want so much to be forgiven for what you've done, whatever it was. Now you have your chance. In a few minutes we're going to leave for New York and Grace. Will you take it, or will you spend another several years in isolation and despair?"
Gabriel stared at Liam, at a loss for words. A soft knock distracted the two men.
Liam turned toward the closed French doors. "Yes?"
A bellhop stepped onto the balcony. "The limo is ready, Sir."
"Excellent. Thank you."
The bellhop left, and Liam faced Gabriel again. "Shall we go?"
Gabriel gave a terse nod, his emotions in an uproar. He followed Liam out of the suite and out of the hotel, his mind otherwise engaged. He remained silent throughout the ride to the airport, his thoughts on Grace and how he would approach her in the city. He hoped to God that she would respond to him, or else his heart would break into so many pieces that it would never be whole again.
The limo stopped near a small airstrip close to the airport, and Gabriel looked out of the window and saw an impressive looking private jet with the initials "AE" emblazoned on the tail. He let out a low whistle as he and Liam stepped out.
They boarded the plane, and Gabriel's jaw dropped as he took in every detail of the interior. They sat down, facing each other across a table which was apparently used for in-flight board meetings. Liam motioned for the stewardess to bring a leather briefcase to the table. She set down the case in front of Gabriel, and he looked at Liam with a curious expression.