All the King's Horses
Part I: Chapter 19

Alison paused, her blood suddenly rushing quicker through her veins as she turned to face him. “Well, you say that now, but you’ve never really been stuck with me for days on end, and I bet… I bet you would go crazy before twenty-four hours was completely up, you know? I’m a very hard person to handle.”

“You have a point.” His eyes raked over her, and surprisingly enough, he didn’t blush when it became clear that she noticed. “Twenty-four hours straight with you may be a little hard to handle.”

“Yeah… It would be very hard to handle.” Although she could recommend a few things they could do to pass the time. She blushed, her cheeks actually flamed at the thoughts that were running through her. Rafe wet his lips, and the smoldering look her gave her left no doubt in her mind that he could still taste her there. She followed his lead, her tongue darting out to lick her lips. “We’d drive each other crazy.”

“Absolutely up the wall,” he agreed, taking a small step forward and tugging her back to him with the hand she still held onto tightly. “Why are we talking about spending twenty-four hours straight with no one but the two of us, Alison?”

She closed off the small space between them and tipped her head back. “I don’t know,” Alison whispered.

“Then maybe we should change the topic?” His free hand returned to the small of her back, burning through all the layers she wore to set her skin on fire. Rafe frowned lightly when she shivered. “Cold?”

“Not exactly,” she admitted, smiling at his honest concern. “Wanna come in and have some hot chocolate or something? I promise not to con you into helping me bake anything else.”

“Sounds like fun.” Rafe brushed his lips across hers just briefly then broke the contact between them.

Pouting, Alison took his hand once more. She decided that a change in topic was very necessary. “Beware, Valerie may still be in there.”

Shrugging, he squeezed her hand. “You did a good thing letting her stay with you.”

Alison turned back around to face him, the key in her hand and her back quickly against the door when she realized how close he was. How close she was keeping him. Her other hand still didn’t let his go. “It was really a selfish thing,” she confessed. “I’ve never really lived by myself before, and I can’t really handle alone and quiet, so… We both know that Valerie isn’t quiet right?”

“Right,” he laughed. “Still, I think maybe you’re starting to get along with her… just a little bit.”

“No way!”

“You seemed pretty friendly earlier. Strictly from the observers point of view.”

“We… understand certain things about each other that maybe we didn’t before. But we aren’t friends. And I still don’t like her.”

Rafe nodded. “Ok.”

“What? Ok? Just like that? You aren’t going to argue with me?”

Again he shrugged. “I think you know how you feel better than I do, Alison.”

She patted his cheek playfully. “You’re learning! I’m so proud.”

His smile would not be masked. “You’re a pretty good teacher, I guess.”

“You know what?” Alison asked, hooking her arm through his and unlocking the door at the same time. “If you keep acting so perfect, I may just not let them have you back.” She sighed as she flipped on the lights, glancing around the apartment to find the boxes and suitcases gone. “Valerie?” she called, stepping more into the room and taking off her gloves as she went. Trying to shove them in her pocket, she noticed for the first time the paper that was there. “Oh my gosh! I forgot all about this!”

Pulling out the finger painting she grinned at her angel. “You’re the best.”

“Oh, I know,” he joked, rolling his eyes.

“You are! Thank you.” She put her gloves in her pockets and slipped out of her coat. “Valerie?” she called again. “Are you here?”

“Doesn’t look like it,” Rafe answered. Handing her the note that caught his site, unsure who it was from.

“Thank you,” she chirped, taking the piece of paper from his hand. “Dear Alison… blah, blah, blah, thanks again for the offer, blah, blah, blah, Jamal left his key on the bed, blah, blah, blah… Ah! I’m working an extra shift tonight, I’ll be in late and just wanted to let you know.” Looking up she smiled at her angel and tossed the note into the nearest wastebasket. “I guess that answers that doesn’t it?”

“Uh huh…” Tilting his head, Rafe studied her carefully. “You’re really ok about all of this?”

“Yeah, totally! I mean, Valerie can be a pain, you know, but maybe she just needs to get her head on straight or something. I think she’s finally starting to see… Maybe she’ll learn from my mistakes and not base her entire life around a- What? Why are you looking at me like that?”

Alison sighed in confusion when he didn’t answer and made her way to the kitchen. Opening the painting that was folded in half, she hung it on the refrigerator. Stepping back, she grinned at it again proudly. Would this be what it was like hanging pictures her own kids drew her? When did she start thinking of kids of her own? She shook the thought from her mind before she could answer herself and grabbed a teakettle to fill with water. Pausing, she turned back to him, sitting the kettle back down. “That’s not what you were talking about is it?”

He threw is coat over the back of the sofa before walking toward her. Putting his elbows on the counter he leaned forward, and she mimicked the pose opposite of him. “No, but considering how long it took you to figure it out, I’d say you’re going to live.”

“I could have told you that, Angel Boy.” Sighing, she slumped a little more on the counter. “I’m not heartbroken, my life didn’t just end, and my world didn’t stop spinning. I’m going to live, and maybe I’m even going to learn a thing or two, you know? I need to not have everything that I do wrapped up in him. I need to make up my mind on what’s best for me, I need to decided what I want, and I need to do what I need and want.”

“I couldn’t agree more.”

“You can actually understand that?” Alison paused and laughed at herself. “Of course you do. You always understand what I mean.”

“It’s just too bad I can’t read your mind.”

Laughing, Alison hid her face in her hands. “Are you kidding? It’s a very good thing you can’t read my mind. I’d have sent you running in the other direction so long ago if you could.”

“I highly doubt that. I just wish I knew what you were thinking sometimes, that’s all. I can see the wheels turning almost, but I don’t know what it is that’s going through your mind. There, see? Something I don’t know about you.”

She blushed, remembering the question she had asked yesterday in passing. Had it been anyone else she would have been surprised they remembered. “Tell you what, if you just ask, I’ll try to tell you. As long as I’m not thinking anything really horrible.”

“Now see,” he laughed. “I don’t think you could think anything horrible.”

“You’d be really surprised,” Alison whispered. Shaking her head, she stood up straight. “Like, for instance, my ex didn’t enter my mind until brought up. You seem to be thinking about him more than I am.”

“Is it denial, or are you really just ok with it?”

“I’m really just ok with it, but I’m not supposed to be. I shouldn’t be! But I am. So can we drop it, please?”

“Consider it dropped.” He stood as well, putting his hands on her shoulders, he lead her toward the couch. “But, you look tired.”

“I am,” she confessed. “I just… I haven’t really been able to sleep lately. I’m just… restless or something, you know.”

“Ah, well then, you’ve come to the right place.”

“Oh, I have?” she laughed. “And tell me, why is that?”

Sitting her down, he knelt before her and unlaced her boots, pulling them off of her feet. “I don’t know what it is,” he grinned, “maybe I’m just really boring. But there was this story I used to tell my insomniac sister-”

“You have a sister?”

He paused, his smile dropping only slightly. “Yeah… I’m not supposed to…”

“Rafe, come on, I think you’ve already broken the rules here, buddy. Is she older or younger?”

“Younger- by five minutes. She used to tell me I acted like it was five years.”

“Well, you do strike me as the over protective type of big brother.” Alison smiled at him, her hand resting on his cheek when a shadow fell over his expression and he looked away. “Oh, Rafe, I’m sorry… I didn’t mean to-”

“It’s ok,” the angel replied, shaking the thoughts away and taking her hand. “Don’t apologize.”

Alison bit down on her lip, shifting to be just a little closer to him. “You must miss her like crazy. She’s your twin after all.”

“I’d been told all my life that she was the other half of me, you know?” His smile was one of bitter remembrance, and his eyes seemed to glow with something she couldn’t pinpoint. “I got the good, she got the bad. She hated that, and I think a part of her hated me. But it was established probably the minute we were born what was going to happen, and it did. Our mother pushed her one way, our father pushed me the other… It wasn’t easy. We loved each other like mad, we still do, you know? But there’s always going to be a part of each of us that can’t stand to be in the same room as the other.”

“You didn’t have to tell me all of that,” Alison murmured softly, her other hand moving to curl itself in the back of his hair.

“I know. I guess I just wanted to.” Clearing his throat, he moved to sit beside her. “But, we aren’t supposed to talk about me. You need sleep.”

She sighed. “Yes, I’ll give you that, angel boy.” Grabbing one of the pillows, she placed it in his lap, then laid her head down and smiled up at him. “You’ll stay for a little while?”

Rafe laughed, sliding his fingers into her hair. “I’ll stay as long as you want me to, Alison.”

Great! Let’s start with forever. Alison giggled, turning on her side to settle in. “You really think you can put me to sleep?”

“It helps if you close your eyes and stop talking,” Rafe grinned. Pulling a blanket off the back of the sofa and covering her with it. “Now, keep in mind it’s been a while since I’ve done this! I’m a little rusty…”

“Bring it on, Angel Boy.”

“You’ve got to stop calling me that,” he laughed.

“Oh, and why’s that?”

“Is this what you thought I meant by not talking?”

“Bossy,” she mumbled, shutting her eyes again.

“Yeah, I know. Hush.” That same rhythm he’d found of stroking her hair was found again, repeated over and over. It was easy to tell that she was already sliding off into unconsciousness. “Too bad there isn’t really a story,” he mumbled. “The trick is just finding a way to keep you still for five minutes… It never fails either.”

Rafe could do nothing but watch her as she relaxed more and more, he didn’t want to do anything but watch her. “Goodnight, Alison.” Her breathing was deep and even, and he could tell the moment that she was out. “You gotta stop calling me that… because,” he whispered. “I don’t feel very angelic around you.”

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