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Angeline closed her eyes, the dark around her holding a simple silence that only nature could weave. The wind teased the hood of her midnight-blue windbreaker and whistled a hello and good-bye, chased away by the warmth and light of the fire crackling cheerily into the minutes and hours.

“Today felt good.” Her simple response to the surrounding night fit with the melodious chorus of the crickets and cicadas. “A long walk. A longer talk. A quiet rest for a tired soul.”

A soul she continued to lift to the light and hope of a better eternity than what they had imagined for themselves. Why don’t they see the hope waiting for them? Why do they need me? She took in, held, and then released a long, slow breath to settle the questions and wonderings–they never received an answer. One day it would come, likely before she even understood the question, but for now she would enjoy the knowledge of a good day.

A lock of strawberry blonde hair escaped its place behind her ear, tickling her cheek before she tucked it back under submission. Her blue eyes opened, her attention distracted by the uncanny certainty that someone approached. They were not alone, and yet they were, their own self mirrored into multiple and simultaneous versions of themself like nothing she had ever sensed before.

They were tired–so tired.

They did not notice the light of her fire yet, tucked as she was in a clearing beyond a not-so-well-traveled path she had discovered ages ago. The evergreens and ivy intertwined with the younger saplings to create an oddly enclosed pathway. A boundary that did more to guide people than keep them away. As if the clearing beckoned to road-weary travelers in need of a sanctuary for a deep-seeded rest that even they couldn’t possibly understand.

Angeline stoked the fire, encouraging the largest log to confession her presence with a startling pop, sparks of warning and welcome piercing the air just as the stranger reached the last few feet of the pathway. The wave of his hesitation sent a chill the same moment the icy fingers of his weariness grabbed at her lungs until it hurt to breathe. Her soul ached until her eyes stung with unshed tears. Then the warmth of the Light drew close, ushering away the icy burn.

His feet could not move, neither forward nor back the way he had come, though she could plainly feel the war raging within him. Oh how long had it been since he looked upon a friendly face. A fire to chase the shadowy claws always at his heels, tripping and grabbing and drawing his strength until there was nothing more. Nothing left. Nothing.

Angeline released a slow sigh, drawing in courage before she began to hum a warm and inviting hymn from her childhood so very long ago. Her mother’s voice could be heard in the midst of it, regaling her with soft memories and blurred images of welcome and acceptance. Even should he turn and walk back into the silky silence, at least she could send him off with this glimmer of a promise of something more.

They would meet again, someday, a fact she did not doubt.

His step retreated for an instant before falling still a second time. She could feel his burning need to remain the same time he grappled with the urgent insistence to retreat. He could sense something lingered here that he craved more than his breath. A renewal of warmth he nearly forgot existed. A refreshing of humanity he often forgot. A meaning. A purpose. An intent other than listless survival. That is what beckoned at her fire.

But the risk… the ache of it sent her reeling deeper within the hymn and melody, recalling the kiss of happier times and weaving it into the tune, willing it to cascade over that dark, layered shadow of everything he had ever regretted–

The whisper of his name within her spirit opened her eyes and drew the song to a close. Still he remained, his presence screaming and begging for an invitation even through the solid silence of his desire for retreat.

“Ezekiel, you are welcome to stay.”

Her whispered invitation buffeted his soul as a rogue wave, and he teetered back a step before fighting off the revulsion to step toward her and the ring of warmth and welcome.

He stood tall, his shadow falling over her for several moments before the creak of leather accompanied his move to sit upon the bolt/log across from her. He held his black helmet tightly against his side, messed spikes of black hair bristling with wariness and suspicion.

His dark eyes showed no external reaction to her appearance. She knew her worn boots, faded jeans and jacket screamed “wanderer”, and to some people that word held evil greater than a murderer of children.

“You’re one of them, aren’t you?” Ezekiel’s voice rasped with a rough certainty that disappointment loomed on the expectation of her response.

She met and held his level gaze, her lips caressed with the hint of a smile. There was no way he could understand the weight and breadth of his question. “One of who?”

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