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Chantal's good deed had served part of its purpose - I was dealing with the feeling of guilt about moving on without Tracy - but it hadn't helped with the sheer terror of the whole thing. I had tried to sleep two or three times, and hadn't even been able to keep my eyes closed. About 3, I had gotten back out of bed and was sitting in my chair, wearing a t-shirt and sweatpants, reading the dullest book ever written.
It was a testament to human adaptability that I didn't even start when Jeeves' voice came out of nowhere.
"You have a visitor, sir."
I glanced toward the door, but it was a solid piece of wood, so I couldn't see into the corridor.
"Couldn't they have knocked?"
"Yes, sir. But the lady wanted me to check that you were available for visitors."
"Oh. Tell her to come in."
I had to give Chantal credit - she was certainly going out of her way to distract me before my first day on the job. The video and followup message had been very nice, but a visit in the wee hours of the morning was beyond the call of duty.
I heard the door open, and the sound of a deep breath, but no one came into the room.
I had had a long day at the end of a long week, and the words just started flowing uncontrollably.
"Yes, Goddess, I know you told me to get a good night's sleep, but I have insomnia and I didn't know what the god version of Lunesta might be. So I'm studying - I'm reading the 2007 United Nation report on world malnutrition and hunger."
I waved the report at her, but I didn't stop talking.
"You've already made it clear that you regret bringing me here and that you expect me to be a miserable failure tomorrow and that most of humanity will probably be dead within a couple years. You don't need to come here at 4 o'clock in the morning to remind me, and although I know that I am nothing more than a lowly apprentice, I'd appreciate if you didn't yell at me. We start work in five hours, and you'll have plenty of chances to do it then."
At that point, I had to pause slightly to get some more air in my lungs, and Kaitlyn seized her opportunity.
"Michael, will you shut the fuck up?"
It wasn't said loudly, but it stopped me dead. There had been about 87 layers of emotion in that question, but none of them had sounded like anger.
After a second, I finally got out "Yes, Goddess."
She finally came into the room, and as I looked at her, most of my brain activity burned away. Kaitlyn would be stunning in a Hefty bag, but she was unearthly in black lingerie. I had no idea what that specific outfit was called, but it worked. It wasn't that revealing - it was only slightly low-cut and it came down to mid-thigh - but it gave you the instant impression that it might fall to dust if you looked at it too hard. Which made you want to look at it even harder.
After a period of time that was somewhere between two seconds and 90 minutes, I noticed two other things. She was holding a wrapped package in her left hand, and her face was locked in pain.
"Goddess?" only came out in a half-whisper, but it she still visibly flinched.
"Michael, please stop calling me that," she said, her Irish lilt more obvious than it had been earlier in the day. "Don't ever call me that. I'm Kaitlyn. Please?"
She was close to me now, and if I hadn't picked up the tremor in her voice, I couldn't have missed it in her body. She was shaking like someone that is cold enough to think they will never get warm.
She stared at me helplessly, then suddenly thrust the package at me.
"I brought you a present," she said at about twice her normal speaking speed. "I was going to give it to you tomorrow after your first day of work but I couldn't sleep and I felt so terrible about earlier. I thought you would be sleeping but Shabhac said that you were awake and he told me that you had watched the tennis match and I thought maybe I should give it to you tonight instead. I'm so sorry that I ruined your life and dragged you here against your will. I just didn't know what else to do. I had to pick someone."
The torrent of words stopped so abruptly that I just stared at her for a moment before taking the package.
"Shabhac?" I asked, fumbling with the silver paper. Either she had been shaking when she wrapped it or she was even worse at it than my sister, who could use an entire roll of paper and 722 pieces of tape to wrap a CD.
"Shabhac is my Jeeves. He's named after James Stephens - he was a Irish rebel when I was still alive. His code name was An Shabhac - 'the hawk'. Do you like it?"
The last four words had sounded almost like a little girl wanting approval from a parent. I glanced up at the look of terror in her eyes, then looked back at the object in my lap.
"Yes. Very much."
"It's for your desk in the Chamber. I thought it might make it feel more comfortable. I hope you don't mind. I just thought it would be nice."
I shifted forward to the edge of my chair and reached up to hold her right hand with my left. I squeezed it gently while looking at the crystal-clear picture of Tracy Harris holding the United States Open tennis trophy over her head. The other emotions were totally different, but the shine of tears in her eyes matched what I saw when I shifted my gaze back to Kaitlyn.
"It's more than nice. It's amazing. Thank you."
She started to say something, but it caught in her throat and she shivered. She looked miserable, and I stood up and gestured to the chair.
"Here, sit down."
For an instant, I saw amusement in her face. She shook her head very slightly while reaching down to place her fingers on the arm of the chair.
"Expand," she said.
My incredibly comfortable chair seemed to give birth, pushing another segment out of its side until it had been transformed into a love seat.
I sat back down and Kaitlyn practically fell next to me, tucking her bare legs under her and leaning against me piteously. I wrapped my arms around her, and she buried her face in my neck and shoulder. She wasn't crying, but I could feel her shaking through the wispy fabric.
"Kaitlyn, what's wrong?"
In response, she pulled me harder against her and her voice was muffled by my body.
"I'm so scared. I can't do this."
I guess that should have been obvious. There had been the flash of emotion at my funeral, when she talked about her new responsibility, and her sudden shift to martinet this afternoon. It hadn't been me that she was expecting to fail. It was her.
I rocked her slightly and kissed the top of her head.
"Yes, you can," I whispered into her hair. "The only reason I haven't already fled in terror is that I know you're going to be so good at this that you'll be able to overcome my mistakes."
"No, I can't," she said with a touch of fierceness. "I'm only an apprentice. I'm going to fail, and everyone is going to die!"
I kept my tone soft.
"Angel, you were more than just another apprentice. Chantal told me how much the others look up to you, and how they all know you're going to be great."
A slight amount of hope slipped into her voice
"Did she really say that?"
"Yes, she did, but I would have known it even if she hadn't."
"Because of something you told me. You said the previous Harvest God was the finest man you had ever met."
"Yi. His name was Yi. Yes, he was," she said with certainty.
"And, even given the way time works here, you were his apprentice for, what? 13 years?"
She nodded. Her hair tickled my face, but I didn't think it was a good time to mention it.
"OK. How much did he care about his job?"
"It was everything to him. He'd been an apprentice for 20 years and then he became the god, and he was more passionate about it than any other god that I've ever known here."
"Did the two of you work well together?"
"Yes," she said, her voice almost normal. "We were a great team right from the start, and within a few years, I knew exactly what he was going to need and what he was going to do."
I stroked her back slightly and kept my voice soft and kind.
"That doesn't surprise me at all. But now I have two questions."
"First, given what you learned about Yi in all those years, would he have let you have the job if you weren't ready?"
A barely whispered "No."
"I didn't think so. But here's the most important question. If you knew for the last 10 years exactly what he was going to do, don't you think you can do it yourself?"
A long pause.
"Maybe. I guess so. I don't know."
I pulled away slightly, and lifted her chin with my hand until she was looking into my eyes.
"Yes, Kaitlyn, you do know. You know that this is what you've spent the last 14 years preparing to do, and you know deep down that you're meant for this job."
She nodded slightly.
"Yeah. At least I thought I did. I was excited until you got angry with me, and then I started panicking that you were right, and I was wrong to bring you here, and that if I couldn't handle that, how would I handle the actual job and..."
I stopped her by putting the tip of my index finger on her lips.
"Stop it. Jeeves told me that you tried to rip Yi's eyes out when you got here."
Her eyes widened. Her mouth started to move, but I increased the pressure slightly and she stopped.
"I know. You didn't mean it. You were just shocked about having to leave your other life behind, right?"
"OK. I might not have left as much as behind, but don't I have the right to the same adjustment period?"
"As a matter of fact, I'll bet just about every new godling has a moment like that, right?"
"So it isn't really fair to beat yourself up for that. You must have done a pretty good job - I never even thought about touching you."
Kaitlyn shook my finger off her mouth, and smiled ever so slightly.
"You appear to be touching most of me right now."
I laughed, and saw light returning to her eyes.
"That's not what I meant!"
There was a flash of something resembling her irresistible mischievous smile, and while it was quickly replaced by a serious look, the pain and fear didn't come back. As she spoke, she leaned forward slightly so that our foreheads were touching.
"You know, that was one of the reasons I chose you."
"That you didn't have kids, and you wouldn't be leaving a family in terrible financial trouble. Plus you seemed so sincere and so driven when you worked for your foundation or with people that didn't have what you did."
It was my turn to nod.
"I'm honored. Here I thought it was just my dashing good looks."
"That did help. It was you or Brad Pitt, but I figured he'd spend all of his time pining for Angelina's lips."
"Plus he would have left behind 32 children."
She moved her head back an inch and stared at me. She was obviously wrestling with something, but I was distracted by the flecks of gold in her green eyes.
"There was one other reason I picked you."
"What was that?"
She started to speak, stopped, and looked nervous again. I thought she was about to fall apart again, but she surprised me by blushing bright red and burying her face in my chest. She mumbled something, but I didn't understand it.
"Because you aren't a monk," came the slightly louder reply.
I repeated my last question and I'm sure my utter confusion made it into my voice.
She looked up at me, the blush still visible on her pale skin.
"Yi was a monk. He was here for almost 35 years, and he never touched a woman. Or a man, for that matter."
"I mean, like I told you, this isn't about some heavenly orgy, and there's not a whole lot of monogamy up here, so I wasn't lacking for partners, but do you have any idea how frustrating it was to work that closely with a gorgeous man and worship him and know he's not even vaguely interested in you?"
The last part had sounded like a question, but I never had a chance to get in an answer. Her face went back into my neck, but I could still hear her clearly.
"This must sound so shallow and you've just found out about Tracy and I promised myself I wouldn't say any of this until we'd had a chance to work together, and now I'm just babbling and I'm sorry. I didn't mean..."
She stopped and looked up.
I could see emotions racing across her face, but I kissed her before any of them had a chance to take root.
She gasped in surprise, then moaned slightly as I felt both of her hands clench on the back of my shirt. After that, things blurred into a frenzy of small motions. Within 30 seconds, she had pulled my shirt off, and her fragile collection of silk and lace quickly joined it on the floor.
We lurched to the bed without letting go of each other and fell onto each other with a frightening intensity. We didn't make love, we tried to fuse ourselves and devour each other at the same time. It was about trust and anger and grief and fear and hope and a million other things. And, as it turned out, it was about astonishing sex.
Then we slept.
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