The Artist's Wolf Ch. 18bybrightlyiburn©
Notice: Usually when I get story related questions, I don't answer them, because they get answered in the story usually. But someone asked me how Aislinn is pronounced. It's an Irish name, and I think the original pronounciation is something close to "Isleen". However I've always pronounced it "Ayslin" like they do in Dragonheart. And I could have sworn I mentioned at some point that Gabriel's motorcycle is a Ducati (like Rei's!) but we're talking 188 pages, so it might have gotten lost along the way.
Chapter Eighteen: Burning Bridges
“I wanted to thank you for taking me, Callie.”
Aislinn glanced sideways at Callie and grinned. She cradled her stomach, feeling blissfully happy. I didn’t think it would be that easy, she thought. Hard to believe… It was the middle of September now, a little over a year since she’d met Gabriel. It was amazing how much their lives had changed since that moment.
“He should have been the one to take you,” Callie said, scowling.
“I told him it was fine,” Aislinn assured her. “He’s going to college, Callie. That’s important.”
“Yeah, I know,” Callie conceded grudgingly. “I still can’t believe it…Gabriel, a teacher!”
Aislinn laughed. “Teaching little hellions like himself, no less. I’m so proud of him.”
She pulled out a chair at a little table outside the café and sat down. Callie took the seat across from her. They had decided to go out to lunch after her appointment with the doctor, and now they had reason to celebrate. Several reasons, Aislinn thought, grinning. I cannot believe he’s going to be a teacher. No one had been more shocked than she when he’d announced that he was planning to teach children…troubled children.
“So, when did he decide to do this, anyway?” Callie asked.
“I don’t know,” Aislinn frowned. “He doesn’t always tell me things. Like that thing with his medication.”
Callie laughed. “Oh, man! Even I forgot about that!”
“It’s not funny!” Aislinn said, scowling. “He shouldn’t forget things like that!”
“It was probably subconscious,” Callie said, grinning. “Gabriel’s one of those guys…the thought of not being able to pass on his genes would really wound his ego. He acts all tough, but he’s a real marshmallow when it comes to kids.”
Aislinn sighed, fighting back a grin. It was always so hard to stay mad at Gabriel. I find out something new everyday, it seems, she thought, browsing through the menu. I’ve never really seen him around kids… It was reassuring to know that he liked children. Especially seeing as they were going to have one, now. Aislinn felt a sudden twinge of nerves. She couldn’t help being afraid, after what had happened with her other child.
“Mmm, the cheese melt sounds good,” Callie cooed. “I’m starving.”
“Me too,” Aislinn agreed, pushing away her fears. “I think I’m going to have one of these croissant sandwiches…”
“Pardon me for interrupting, Aislinn…”
Aislinn nearly jumped out of her skin. She turned around to find herself facing a middle aged man with short, graying brown hair and slightly beaky features. Surprised, but pleased, she stood up out of her chair to give the man a hug. He returned the hug enthusiastically, chuckling to himself.
“Uncle Vic!” Aislinn greeted. “What are you doing here?”
“I needed to talk to you, Aislinn,” Vic said, growing quickly serious. “It’s about Eddie.”
Aislinn frowned and glanced sideways at Callie. The other girl nodded in understanding and stood up, vacating her chair. Vic took up the seat with a nod to Callie, then turned to face Aislinn, folded his thin hands in front of him. I thought for sure this would be the last I heard of this, she thought. I guess I was wrong…they’re not going to keep this from me after all.
“Aislinn, Eddie is…in bad shape…” Vic began hesitantly. “He…well, he’s in the hospital. He hurt himself really badly before we could get him into the psychiatric center.”
“What does this have to do with me?” Aislinn asked quietly. “He isn’t my responsibility.”
“I know that, I know,” Vic assured her. “But…you may be our only hope. He’s our best witness against his mother. We need him to testify, but he’s reluctant to talk to even me.”
Aislinn frowned. “What about the tapes?”
“There was a problem with the warrant, I guess,” Vic sighed. “So the judge threw them out.”
“But that isn’t fair!” Aislinn exclaimed.
“I know,” Vic agreed.
She sat back in her chair, feeling overwhelmed. Aislinn stared down at the ring gleaming on her finger and sighed. Vic followed her gaze to the ring, and a smile light his lined face. He had been as much of an uncle to her as any of her blood uncles, and she realized she should have told him about her engagement. Vic opened his mouth to say something, but she cut him off.
“What would you have me do?” Aislinn asked.
“Just…just visit,” Vic said quietly. “See if you can get him to talk to you at all. Please.”
Aislinn sighed. “All right,” She conceded. “But not today. Tomorrow.”
“Thank you, thank you so much,” Vic said, reaching out and taking her hand. “This means a lot to me, Aislinn, it’s really does.”
“Don’t worry about it,” Aislinn told him. “I’ll see you tomorrow.”
Vic nodded and stood up. They exchanged a last hug before he left. Callie came back a few minutes later, with two plates full of food. Ah, god bless her, Aislinn thought, taking her plate. She’s really become a good friend to me. Callie sat back down in her chair and, much to Aislinn’s relief, began talking about her car, rather than the appearance of Vic.
“So I was wondering if Gabriel would mind me going to his shop,” Callie said.
“I don’t think he would,” Aislinn told her. “But just in case, go later, while he’s at school. Talk to Tifo. Just tell him you know me.”
“All right, thanks,” Callie said, smiling. “So, are you hoping for a boy or a girl?”
Aislinn laughed, and picked up her sandwich, taking a bite. This was oddly pleasant, really. She couldn’t believe how nice it felt to just talk about mundane things. But there was a bit of worry in the back of her mind about her visit tomorrow. I’m only doing it for Uncle Vic, Aislinn thought, sighing. And well…maybe for the little boy Eddie used to be. She couldn’t help feeling just a little bit responsible for this.
Gabriel dropped his backpack inside the door with a sigh. Oh my god, he thought, rubbing the back of his neck. I never thought this would be so tiring. His body ached, and he found himself longing for Aislinn’s soft, loving touch. The apartment was dim, however, and he frowned, wondering where she could be. Gabriel walked to the bedroom and pushed the door open, his lips curling into a smile when he saw her.
She was stretched out on the bed wearing on of his t-shirts, the sleeves rolled up and the hem tied to expose her stomach, plus a pair of string bikini panties. What is she doing? he wondered, grinning. A tray of food sat on a stand near the foot of the bed. Gabriel settled on the edge of the bed and began taking off his boots. Aislinn crawled up behind him, her hands sliding up under his shirt, gently along his skin.
“What are you doing?” Gabriel asked, glancing back at her.
“Touching you,” Aislinn murmured, her breath warm against his ear.
“I know that,” Gabriel grumbled. “But why are you so…mmph!”
He flailed as she suddenly pulled his shirt up over his head. Laughing, Gabriel helped her pull his shirt off, then turned to face her, a slow, sexy grin curving his lips. He moved suddenly, pushing her back onto the bed and crawling on top of her. Aislinn laughed, snaking her arms around his neck. He cradled her face in his hands, his calloused fingertips sliding gently along her skin.
“So, tell me what has you so excited,” Gabriel said. “You’re practically glowing.”
Aislinn’s eyebrows lifted. “You can’t guess?”
“I’m tired,” Gabriel complained, pouting. “Just tell me.”
“Idiot!” Aislinn rolled her eyes.
She put a hand against his chest and pushed. Gabriel sat back, startled, as she moved up onto her knees. Aislinn reached out, gripping his wrist and drawing his hand towards her, to rest it against her stomach. That’s right! he thought, feeling a spark of excitement light in him. She had her appointment with the doctor today. Gabriel had been thrilled when her home pregnancy test has shown positive, but it wasn’t a one hundred percent.
“So…so then you’re…you…” Gabriel stammered, his mouth suddenly dry.
Aislinn sighed in mock exasperation. “Yes, love. We’re going to have a baby.”
Gabriel let out a yelp of joy and threw his arms around her, dragging her close. Aislinn laughed, her small hands resting on his shoulders as she clung to him. He slid an arm down to her thigh, catching it and pulling it against his hip, while the other remained around her back to support her as he lifted her up. Cradling her close, Gabriel brought her to rest against the pillows, then stretched out next to her. He rested his hand on her stomach, a smiling tugging the corners of his mouth.
“I made dinner,” Aislinn said softly, pointing to the tray.
Gabriel reached out and dragged it close. “I see that. It looks wonderful. And I’m starving.”
“How was school?” Aislinn asked, reaching out for a piece of homemade beef teriyaki.
“Challenging,” Gabriel answered, grabbing the piece of teriyaki for her, and holding it up for her.
“You can’t always treat me like this,” Aislinn said, smiling. “You’ll spoil me.”
“I fully intend to,” Gabriel informed her as she nibbled at the teriyaki. “I promise to take the best care of you and the baby.”
Her soft blue eyes warmed as she looked up at him. He closed his free hand around hers, holding to it tightly. They ate in blissful silence; occasionally Gabriel paused to run his hand over her stomach. He felt oddly at ease, despite that this was going to be a big, daring venture. He found he wasn’t at all scared. Aislinn was a strong young woman and she was a fantastic artist. They would make it through together.
“Gabriel,” Aislinn murmured as she pushed away the tray. “Come here.”
“I am here,” Gabriel teased, even as he scooted closer to her.
Aislinn looked up at him sleepily. “Hold me.”
He closed his arms around her and brought her up against him. The feel of her body pressed to him tightly stirred his blood. Oh, man, he thought, nipping gently at her earlobe. I can never get enough of her. Gabriel rested his head on her shoulder, listening to her breathing until it became even and deep. She’d been up since early morning, doing things for him and for herself.
“Rest, love,” Gabriel murmured, resting his hand on her stomach. “We have the rest of our lives to be together, now.”
Aislinn felt nervous as she walked down the hall in the hospital, next to Vic. He had told her the day before that Eddie was in bad shape, but she was having some problems believing it. How bad could he really be? Last year, when she had first met Gabriel, he had seemed fine. But it just got worse and worse as time went on, Aislinn thought, frowning. I wonder what happened.
“He was asleep last time I checked on him,” Vic told her. “He’s doing better physically, but mentally, he’s in bad shape.”
He stopped in front of a door and raised his eyebrows. Aislinn took a deep breath and nodded. Vic opened the door and Aislinn followed him inside. Eddie was asleep on a hospital bed. She was shocked at how he looked; his hair was messy, his face was gray and haggard, and his breathing was shallow. As she stepped closer she noted something on the inside of the wrist. Aislinn focused for a moment, and was shocked to see that it was stitches.
“He…he didn’t…did he?” Aislinn stammered, her eyes wide.
Vic sighed. “He did. But he won’t tell me anything close to why he’s doing all this.”
“He hasn’t told you anything?” Aislinn asked. “Nothing at all?”
“Not a damn thing,” Vic answered, shaking his head. “In fact, he barely talks.”
Aislinn frowned. She walked slowly, quietly to the side of the hospital bed and looked down at Eddie. Sudden anger flared up in her. This is where Gabriel was after you shot him! she thought, her eyes narrowing. The anger faded, though, almost as quickly as it had risen. She knew that Gabriel could be angry at Eddie for a long time, and probably would be, but she had never been that kind of person. Aislinn reached out, gingerly resting her hand on his forehead. To her surprise, his eyes flickered open.
“Ais…linn?” Eddie rasped. It was the first time she could remember him using her first name in a long time.
“Yeah,” Aislinn answered quietly. “Uncle Vic asked me to come visit you. He said you wouldn’t talk to him.”
“Can’t. Won’t…won’t…too…” He struggled to speak, as if the words wouldn’t come out of his throat.
“Shhh, it’s okay,” Aislinn soothed. “You don’t have to tell me anything right now.”
Eddie stared at her for a long moment, then nodded. He closed his eyes then, and Aislinn sighed. Why do I have to be such a softie? she wondered, stepping back from the hospital bed. I shouldn’t care. After what he did to me and Gabriel, I shouldn’t care. But she did. She had never been the type to stay angry. As she walked out into the hall, she felt Vic take hold of her arm.
“I know what you’re going to say,” Aislinn sighed. “And…Uncle Vic, I just don’t know if I can do this!”
“I won’t ask you to if you can’t,” Vic told her. “But I could use any help you could give. I don’t ask this for me or Eddie alone. I’m afraid of what…what my sister in law might do to other children.”
“I know, I know,” Aislinn groaned. “What is it you want me to do, exactly?”
“Just talk to him,” Vic answered. “See if you can get him to tell you anything. If you try a couple of times and you’ve made absolutely no progress, I won’t ask you back. I can promise you that.”
“All right,” Aislinn agreed, reluctantly. “I’ll stop by once or twice, I guess. But I can’t spend too much time! I’ve been helping Gabriel.”
Vic smiled. “I wouldn’t want you to give up your life, Aislinn. Just a few hours of your time. And thank you so much.” Vic sighed heavily. “I feel like I don’t know my own brother…my sister in law is crazy…and the rest of our family is dead or doesn’t want anything to do with us. You and Eddie are all I have left.”
Aislinn winced. He had to say that, didn’t he? she thought, sighing. But she understood. Especially now, with her parents not talking to her. Besides, it would only be a couple of hours a week. It wasn’t like she was going to be spending every day with him. She just hoped that Gabriel would understand. If he says no, then I won’t, Aislinn thought resolutely. I won’t do it if it really bothers him. I love him too much for that.
Aislinn had been planning to tell Gabriel about helping Eddie, but he was so joyous when he came through the door that she just couldn’t. There was light sparkling in his dark eyes and a boyish grin on his face. She stood up to meet him, and squeaked when he grabbed her suddenly, sweeping her off her feet. Aislinn let out a startled laugh and threw her arms around him, clinging to him tightly until he put her back down.
“What’s gotten into you?” Aislinn asked, a little breathless.
“You are a genius,” Gabriel said enigmatically, picking her up against, this time cradling her in his arms.
Aislinn’s eyes widened a bit. “I know that. That’s why you’re happy?”
“No,” Gabriel laughed. “I just saw the greatest thing, love. You know how you sent Callie to our garage yesterday?”
“Yeah,” Aislinn frowned. “What happened?”
“Tifo went crazy,” Gabriel explained as he carried Aislinn into the bedroom. “Apparently he really liked her. He wouldn’t stop talking about her. I swear, he was practically gushing!”
Aislinn felt a grin creeping into the corners of her mouth. She would have loved to see that, too. Tifo needs a woman in his life, she thought. She squeaked as Gabriel tossed her lightly onto the bed, then jumped up next to her. He pinned her to the bed, his mouth ravishing hers with hungry kisses. Aislinn squirmed beneath him, eventually pushing him away for a breath of air.
“Yikes!” Aislinn gasped. “You’re awfully excited about this.”
Gabriel smiled. “You’ve changed my life, my beautiful little artist. It means more to me than you can ever guess.”
“It’s because I love you, my big, bad wolf,” Aislinn murmured, her voice gently teasing.
“If you love me, you’ll make me supper,” Gabriel said, affecting a pout.
“More like my big, bad pig!” Aislinn exclaimed, laughing. “All right, if you let me up, I’ll make dinner.”
Gabriel let out a boyish whoop of joy and leapt off the bed. She watched him, unable to fight a smile. I’ll tell him later, she thought, as she climbed down off the bed. No way am I gonna risk spoiling this mood right now. She could hear Gabriel in the kitchen, singing “Arms Wide Open”, and she snickered. Never figured him for liking Creed, Aislinn thought, as she skipped into the kitchen to throw her arms around him. Takes all kinds.