Alicia paced back and forth across the hall. Every few seconds she would glance at the door, behind which Jacob rested in critical condition, and then she would look away. She couldn’t stand the sight of that door. Her mind kept playing tricks on her, calling up images of what Jacob had looked like before he disappeared into that room.
Her heart was hammering in her chest. Regret and worry gnawed at her insides. Self-recriminations filled her as she thought of all the things she could have done, should have done, to prevent this from happening.
I should have pushed harder to keep him away from that woman.
She still remembered what Jacob had looked like they found him, a hole in his chest, blood leaking everywhere, forming a puddle underneath his inert body. Alicia remembered crying over him, thinking he was dead. She also remembered the relief she had felt when Azazel told her that he was alive.
That relief had been short-lived. It didn’t change the fact that Jacob was on the verge of death, nor did it change how part of that reason was because of her.
She wished she had done more. She wished she had kept him away from Gabriel. She wished and wished and wished…
I wished I had told him how I felt.
Alicia couldn’t really deny it now, her feelings. She still didn’t know if she loved him, as she had never experienced the kind of love that a woman had for a man, but she now understood something she hadn’t before, and if Jacob died before she could tell him, then she would regret it for the rest of her life.
“You should stop pacing,” Matilda said.
Presenting a stark contrast to her own irrepressible pacing, Matilda stood with her hands clasped, her expression calm, composed. The woman didn’t look concerned in the least.
Alicia admired how her maid was able to keep her composure. At the same time, she hated it. She wished Matilda would show more worry for Jacob’s well-being, even if she knew, logically, that it wouldn’t help.
“I can’t help it,” Alicia said. “I should have done more to protect him. I knew that Jacob was desperate for companionship. I should have been a better friend. If I had, then maybe none of this would have happened.”
“Perhaps, perhaps not,” Matilda rebutted. “You can’t predict the future. Had you done anything differently, our situation might have ended up worse. Rather than spending time regretting the past, what you should be doing right now is thinking about how to help Jacob from now on.”
Alicia twirled a strand of her red hair between her fingers. “You’re right. I know you’re right. I’m just so worried. I don’t know what I’ll do if Jacob doesn’t make it.”
Matilda said nothing to that, probably because she knew that nothing could be said to make her feel better.
Alicia continued pacing, back and forth before the door, waiting, hoping, praying that Azazel would come out and tell her that Jacob was going to be okay. She would have even prayed to God if she thought it would help.
A hand grabbed onto her wrist. Alicia jolted out of her thoughts. She looked down at the small hand, which was attached to a slender wrist and shoulders. Looking further up, Alicia met a pair of bright yellow, cat-like eyes.
It was Yūgure, the young nekomata who either couldn’t or wouldn’t speak. She stared at Alicia, who could only wonder what Yūgure was seeing when she looked at others.
“Are you telling me to stop worrying?” asked Alicia. Yūgure didn’t say anything, but she did nod. “I see. I must look really pathetic if you’re telling me to stop worrying.” Yūgure nodded again. Alicia couldn’t bring herself to be mad. “Thank you. I appreciate your concern.”
Tilting her head as a curious look crossed her face, Yūgure let go of Alicia’s wrist and took several steps back, until she was up against the wall. There she sat down and crossed her arms, waiting. She stared at the door with an intensity that Alicia hadn’t thought possible from her.
She’s probably just as worried as I am.
Alicia still didn’t know anything about Yūgure since the nekomata refused to speak. One thing she did know, however, was that Yūgure seemed to have feelings of some kind for Jacob.
Just then, the door to the bedroom opened, and Azazel walked out. He was still wearing his usual dark clothes. The scent of blood hung thick from him.
“Jacob is going to be fine,” he said to the relief of Alicia. “The wounds have healed completely. We’re lucky Gabriel is an angel. As a Nephalem, Jacob is highly resistant to injuries inflicted by angels and devils. If she had been a being from another pantheon, we might have had reason to worry.”
All of the strength fled from her legs. Alicia stumbled backwards, back hitting the wall. She slid down until she was resting on her butt.
“I… I’m so relieved,” she mumbled, tears stinging her eyes. She tried to wipe at them before they fell, but she was unsuccessful. They trailed down her cheeks, leaving tracks across her face. “I can’t believe it… Jacob’s gonna be okay.”
“He’s awake if you want to see him,” Azazel said.
Alicia’s head snapped up. “I can?”
“You can. Just be careful. He is still weak.”
Scrambling to her feet, Alicia almost tripped over herself as she rushed into the room. Yūgure followed silently behind her. She thought about not letting the nekomata in with her, but then she thought better of it. Yūgure was also worried about Jacob.
It had been awhile since she’d been in Jacob’s bedroom. Actually, she couldn’t remember coming into his new bedroom at all. The last time was before this place had been renovated into a house, back when it had been an apartment complex, and she had slept in the same bedroom as him—no, he had let her sleep in his bedroom and even gone so far as to give her his bed.
Jacob was lying on the bed, not moving, though his eyes were open. With her mouth going dry, Alicia walked up to the bed.
“Um…” she didn’t know what to say. “I’m, um, I’m glad you’re okay, Jacob.”
Alicia ignored the look Yūgure gave her, which seemed to be questioning her sanity. She kept her eyes on Jacob, who turned his head, staring at her with an expression that was twisted in torment.
“How… how are you?”
“You were right, Alicia,” Jacob said, and the sudden, random comment threw her completely off.
“Um, what was I right about?” she asked.
“About Gabriel.” Jacob’s eyes looked dead as he stared at the ceiling. “I should have never trusted her. I should have been more suspicious of her. I should have… I should have realized that no one would ever befriend a monster like me.”
Alicia wanted to say that wasn’t true, to tell him that he was wrong, that she was his friend, but she couldn’t. The look in his eyes stopped her. They were dead. There was nothing in them. His eyes were like a void.
She understood, in that moment, that it wouldn’t matter what she said to him while he was in this state, he wouldn’t believe her.
Because Jacob had no sense of self-worth.