Her last guess was right, she saw as she neared the door. Patterns clung to it, coining from the person on the other side  -  patterns she recognized.

Nathan. And pain. She fumbled with the locks, swung the door open, and let in a rush of cold, wet air.

The man standing in the puddle of yellow light from her porch light didn't move. He was on the lanky side of lean with a long face, black hair, and weathered skin that suggested native or Hispanic blood, though his features were Anglo. His clothes were dark and dripping. No jacket. He was cradling his left arm with his right, but she didn't see any blood.

"Nathan. Come in. What  -  No, come in first, then tell me."

"There's a bullet in my shoulder."

"An ambulance. I'll call... or do you want me to take you to the hospital? I'll get my coat." Keys. She needed her keys. She turned.

"Eh." One long arm reached out and stopped her. "No hospital. I don't want that. Will you take the bullet out?"

Her mouth gaped. She shut it. "I'm a physical therapist, not a doctor. Certainly not a surgeon."

"I don't need a surgeon. You know how a body is put together."

"I don't know how to  -  " She heard her voice rising and shut herself up, took a breath, and said more quietly, "I can at least clean it and wrap some gauze around it. Come inside."

"I shouldn't have bothered you." He turned.


This time she grabbed his arm. "In, dammit."

He looked down at her hand, then up at her face, and smiled a singularly sweet smile. That was typical. Nathan's smiles were rare, but each arrived as a new discovery, invented on the spot. "Yes, ma'am."

Standing still, Nathan didn't draw the eye. When he moved, men stood straighter and watched, wary. Women just watched. When he moved, Nathan was power.

Power with a bullet in the shoulder. A bullet. God! Kai shut the door, locked it, and stalked around behind him to look at the wound. How dare he get himself shot. How dare someone shoot him. And he wanted her to cut into him! She wanted to punch things. She was furious and irrational and hoped she'd get over it soon, but she wanted to punch things first.

His cotton shirt clung to his back, soaked through. There was a small, neat hole in the cloth in the neighborhood between his spine and his left scapula. "There's hardly any blood."

"It's usually best not to bleed."

She couldn't help but smile, which made it hard to hold on to her anger. "Bleeding isn't optional for most of us. What about pain? Is that optional, too? Unless you can shut the pain off, it's going to hurt badly if I start digging around in you.".

"Shutting pain off is dangerous."

"Can you do it?" she asked, startled.

He didn't answer. He did that sometimes. If she asked a question he didn't want to answer, he said nothing  -  no evasions, no anger. And no lies. In the eighteen months she'd known him, Nathan had never lied to her.

The last of her temper poofed out like mummy dust. "Nathan, I'm not qualified. You know that. You need a doctor."

He turned to face her. "Being cut will hurt, but I'm already in pain. Removing the bullet will allow me to heal properly. You're worried that you might damage me, but you won't. I'll direct you. If your hand slips and you cut where you shouldn't, I'll heal it. I heal quickly."

He spoke patiently, as if she were making a fuss over a simple favor. Maybe to him that's all this was. "And if I don't remove the bullet?"

"My body will push it out in a few days, but my range of motion will be impaired until then, and my healing delayed."

Not to mention the pain thing. "I guess a doctor would notice the quick healing. You don't want that."

"Yes. He or she would also have to report a gunshot wound."

Her neighbor's cat had quieted. The apartment was silent except for the shushing of the rain outside. Kai's heart thudded hard in her chest and her palms were damp. Was she seriously considering doing what he wanted?

She met his eyes. They were steel gray like a winter sky, and heavily lashed, striking beneath his dark brows. As usual, they gave away nothing. But the slow, indigo shapes of the thoughts weaving around his head and torso kept spiking into ragged scarlet, toothy orange. Pain colors, when they shaped themselves that way.

He'd given her what he considered enough information to make a decision. He wouldn't ask again. "Who shot you?"

"A city cop. I was somewhere I wasn't supposed to be."

"You'll tell me," she said fiercely. "If I do this, you'll tell me why you were shot, what you were doing  -  all of it."

He nodded.

"All right. I'm insane, but I'll do it."

Chapter 3

Nathan lay on his stomach on Kai's couch, waiting for her to return with whatever medical supplies she thought she needed. He heard her muttering to herself as she rummaged in the medicine cabinet in the bathroom.

He'd already selected the knife  -  a short, sharp paring knife from her kitchen, part of a set he'd given her last Winterfaire.

Not Winterfaire. Christmas. That's what they called the celebration of the winter solstice here. Even after all these years, in the privacy of his mind he sometimes forgot to name things in the common way.

She'd given him a present, too  -  a suede shirt the color of sand, soft as a mare's nose. He was glad he hadn't worn it tonight... but that was silly thinking. He wanted to keep it for as long as possible, so he seldom wore it. Certainly not for a hunt, even such a limited one as tonight's had been.

Kai had laughed when she opened his gift and said something about the difference between men's presents and women's. She did see him as a man. Sometimes he wanted to ask her why. Was it only his shape that made her think of him that way? Or were his thoughts man-shaped in some ways?

That could be. He'd been here a long time. Perhaps he wasn't as far from human as he sometimes felt.

Feelings spiked in him at the thought. Complicated feelings. Humans dwelled within their complications so consistently, even as they squirmed and disavowed and tried to make the world simple by thinking it so. Nathan had never grown accustomed to human complexities, even  -  especially  -  when he experienced them. This wash of huge, contradictory feelings made him want to weep.

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