FIRST FRIEND by Rachel Collier Faline knew she was hurt badly. She staggered slightly as she made her way slowly, ah, so slowly, across the park. She smiled with dark humor, and perhaps with endorphins. At least she had avoided being raped. Attacked in an alleyway, she had fought with everything she had in her petite, teenage body. She had screamed as well . . . as if anyone gave a damn what happened to a street child. The man had stabbed her, and escaped. Faline wasn't entirely certain how she ended up in the park, but she was dimly aware it was one of the worst places to find herself. She leaned against a tree, and moaned slightly. God, it hurt. It would be so easy to lie down, to sleep, but something told her that if she slept, she would never wake. Starting forward again was agony. Her knees buckled, and she sank to the ground, her backpack, which contained all her belongings, slipped from her blood-slicked hand. Staring up at the sky, she laughed, hysterically, giggling insanely. So it ends. So be it. The laughter degenerated into sobs, and finally silence, heard only by a cat, who ran from the human sound. Vincent knelt next to the girl, gently feeling for a pulse, any signs of life. She was covered in blood, seeping out of the horrible gash in her stomach, and a small trickle from the corner of her mouth. Much delay, and she would die in his arms . . . if she hadn't already. He finally found a pulse, weak and unsteady, but there. He was reminded strongly of that night, long ago, when he brought Catherine to his home in the tunnels. Leaving the girl was not even a thought. He gathered her in his arms, along with her belongings, and carried her to Father. "It's bad." Father's voice was quiet as he worked. Vincent stood silently next to the girl, his clawed hand very gently holding hers. He had brought her directly to Father, and was still covered in her blood. Father looked up, into his son's eyes. "She . . . " He looked back down. "The poor child has lost too much blood. I've done what I can with the wound, there's nothing else I can do." He looked up, tired, haggard, somehow . . . older. "Only time will tell." "Is there anything we can . . . get for her?" Vincent's voice was tight, his eyes almost pleading. "Catherine could . . ." Father shook his head. "All we can do now is wait." For Vincent, the night passed with agonizing slowness. It seemed . . . unfair that a child (for, she was no more than 18, surely) should have her life cut short at such an early age. He brushed back a stray lock of her long, auburn hair. She was so pale . . . he wished she would open her eyes, everything would somehow be all right if she could only open her eyes . . . Vincent woke in the armchair he had placed by the girl's bedside. He yawned, and looked up. The first thing he saw was a pair of vivid, emerald eyes staring back at him. Faline woke in considerable pain, with an odd weakness throughout her body. She moved slightly, and immediately wanted to scream with agony, but all she got out was a weak moan. She felt terrible, and hadn't the faintest idea where she was. Looking about the cluttered room, her eyes fell on a figure, slumped, asleep in an armchair. He was half lion. Panic settled in for a moment, she tried to move, moaned in agony again, then calmed. She reasoned with herself. Yes, he did have rather monstrous claws, and she guessed he had teeth to match, but, logically, if he had wanted her dead, she had no doubt that she would be. Obviously someone had taken her out of the park, and tended her wound. Logically, it was him. And, besides, if she was wrong, and he really did want to kill her, she was hardly in a position to resist anyway, so panicking did absolutely no good. She lay still, gravely considering her fate, but soon slipping into drowsiness. She needed rest, she knew that. She had been dying, now she was alive, and needed to heal. Beside her, the man stirred. She watched as he yawned, baring fearsome canines. He looked over at her. He blinked. He seemed more startled than threatening. "You're awake!" He exclaimed, then, more softly, "How do you feel?" "Pain." She managed. Speaking was tiring, and painful. He stood, slowly walking over, watching her reaction. She remembered, very dimly, a piece of a dream . . . a cat's paw holding her hand, and she had felt safe in that dream . . . "My name is Vincent." His voice was soft, comforting. "You were injured, I brought you to my home. You are safe here." "Safe?" The word felt almost foreign. Her life had never been safe. Not on the street. Never on the street. Vincent nodded, gravely. "Nothing will happen to you here." He took her hand, gingerly, as if he feared he would break her. "I promise you that I will never let anything happen to you." She was drowsy, floating on his words. "Never had a friend . . . like that." Her voice was a whisper. Vincent brushed his hand gently against her cheek, his fur cat-soft. "You do now. You always will." "My first." She whispered, and slept without fear for the first time she could remember. The End ************************************* About the Author Rachel Collier is a college student from Virginia studying nursing but is hoping (and praying!) for a bestseller BEFORE she ends up as an RN! She has been a fan of Beauty and the Beast since the first season and is very frustrated that her cable company won't carry the Sci Fi Channel (alot of us can relate to that!) - but they DO carry 4 ESPNs! Figures! Aside from wanting to marry Brad Pitt, Rachel would like to visit the United Kingdom some day and when she is not writing or going to school, she is a gourmet cook. "First Friend" was written one night in a burst of creativity specifically for Father's Online Library although it had been on her mind for some time and you can consider this a continuing story. You can send your comments to Rachel at Hexidex@aol.com.