Part Two

A small hiss escaped from between clenched teeth as Muffy snatched her hand away from the scalding water and executed a quick tap-dance across the kitchen. Making a face, she jammed her fingers in her mouth and cast a pitiful look out the window. It was just like her to burn her hand when she was thinking. Normally she just dropped and broke dishes, which while expensive and rather messy to clean weren't painful, but tonight seemed to be especially hazardous to her health. It was the second time she'd burned herself.

Pulling her fingers out of her mouth, she stared at the angry red streaks and pouted. It really did hurt. More, she didn't want to finish the dishes, as they seemed out to kill her.

She cast the sink one arch look, muttering, "I'll see about you later," before turning on her heel and stalking out of the room. The door slammed behind her, reverberated, and then everything was absolutely silent.

Resting her uninjured hand on her hip, Muffy glanced around the bar. It was late and they were closed, which left the cleaning, polishing, and prepping for the next day. Griffin was in town visiting some friends of his, so she'd had the bar to manage by herself for the past two days. He would be back at the end of the week, and every night she sent a little prayer up to God that he didn't get detained.

Muffy liked the bar, she really did, but she didn't want her waste her life away in it. Already she had spent far too many years slaving away behind the counter and too few out enjoying herself. It was nice to have a job where she could chat with so many people, but the work was ruining her hands, and the environment was too static. She was never going to get married at this rate.

Sighing, Muffy let her hand slip and hang limply at her side as she turned and shook her head. She should've given up on the fairytale by now. No one but the good girls ever got love and happily ever after; she'd seen that with Jack and Celia. Life would be easier if she just gave up on that dream and resigned herself to forever being a bar wench while her hair slowly turned gray, her skin shriveled and her hands fell off.

Depressed now, Muffy pushed through the doors of the bar and closed it, leaning heavily against it as she closed her eyes and tilted her face toward the sky. She didn't want to grow old and ugly alone.

Why was it that she always missed the base entirely when it came to love? What had she ever done to deserve to be slapped in the face when she started to care for someone? It wasn't fair. She deserved happiness just as much as the next person, even if she wasn't perfect. She might have made some mistakes, but that didn't mean she should be forsaken.

Exhaling slowly, Muffy opened her eyes slightly and sighed again. She often got like this on nights when there was no one to talk to. The best thing, she had found, was to take a walk, empty her mind, and then go to sleep. Tomorrow would bring a new day and new chances to be content.

Pushing forward, she rubbed one hand along the back of her neck as she made her way toward the beach. The sight of the ocean always calmed her with its steady presence. She could always count on the waves to lap up and go back. They might've been the only thing that had never let her down in her life. It certainly seemed like everything else delighted in doing it.

A faint, bitter smile twisted her lips as she kicked off her shoes in the sand and lowered herself to a sitting position, feet only inches from the lines of water at their furthest reaching point. It didn't do any good to feel sorry for herself, but damn it, once in a while somebody had to. It wasn't as though she got a lot of sympathy around the village.

Perhaps that was being childish of her, but it was true. Everyone was busy with their own lives and families, and even if they weren't, they had better things to do that soothe her spirits when they got low. In fact, most people didn't think she was capable of a mood that was anything but perky, and though that was partially her fault, it was still disheartening.

Bringing her knees up to her chest, she wrapped her arms around them partially to stave off the cold, and partially for comfort. There were times she felt so alone it was as though there was a gigantic black hole tearing through her chest and it would never be full of anything. Griffin never knew how to help her when she got like this, so it was probably just as well that he wasn't here. He would have just floundered and ended up upsetting her more with his attempts to make her feel better.

No one seemed to understand her. She'd thought that Jack did, and had thought that they had shared something special, but she'd been wrong again. Just like every time before, she'd fallen headfirst into a fancy and ended up by herself when she needed to be held the most, carrying a bruised heart and wounded pride. No one ever felt as strongly or deeply as she did.

Did she really ask too much? Were things like a home, comfort, and a family really that demanding? All she wanted was to have someone to go home to every night, someone to hold her when she felt like this, someone to laugh with, cry with, fight with... someone she knew she would always make up with at the end of the day, and a man that would always be with her no matter what. One that wouldn't ever get tired of her or patiently explain that she simply 'wasn't the sort of girl he took home to Mom and Dad'.

Her lips trembled briefly and she pursed them, squinting so as not to cry and ruin her make-up. Those parting words had stung viciously when they'd been said, and they still hurt now. What was wrong with her, exactly? She just liked to have fun and certainly she might have dressed a little lavishly, but that didn't make her an immoral woman.

No one ever went to hell for wearing lipstick and fire-engine red.

Leaning her forehead against her knees, she closed her eyes and fought desperately against the tears. She would have to go back soon, she knew, back to her empty room that was cold because she hadn't lit a fire. The thought was so bleak that she almost didn't want to go home.

"Where else would I go?" She asked herself harshly, voice rising an octave as she did. "No where."

Just as the first hot tears pushed past her lashes and began slipping down her cheeks, the sound of music filtered softly down to her. It was slow and gentle, almost inaudible, and for a moment, Muffy thought she was imagining it. When she lifted her face it got louder, however, and even as the cold air hit her cheeks and chilled them, the music began to wrap around her.

A slow, sad smile began to grow as the song played. It sounded almost exactly how she felt - hopeless, lost, and hurting. It seemed that the melody had almost been designed for her, and for some reason, it soothed better than any words could have managed. As she listened she closed her eyes and slowly the tears stopped falling.

When the last notes trailed into silence she finally opened her eyes and turned, bracing herself with one hand as she searched for the source. Somehow she had known who it was, and the sight of him standing on the crest of the little rise just behind her, his guitar balanced carefully between his hands, face downcast, seemed so natural that she didn't for a moment wonder why he was awake so late and playing an instrument of all things.

His hands slowly stilled and she watched him for a moment longer before grabbing her shoes and standing, brushing at her eyes with one hand as she approached him. Her mascara had run and she knew her nose was red, but for once she didn't care. The song had been beautiful and she wanted to tell him so, because of that, and also because she knew exactly why he was playing it.

Heartache's wintry grip spared so few people these days, after all.

He looked up when she was close enough to speak and offered her a brief, wan smile. "Muffy."

She angled her head. "Thank you. That was beautiful."

He nodded, and it hit Muffy quite suddenly that he wasn't wearing his glasses. And oh, he had the most beautiful blue eyes she had ever seen.

Recognizing the warning sign, she quickly ground that thought into oblivion and mentally chided herself. She was feeling sentimental tonight was all, which was the last thing she needed. Falling for someone else when she was still recovering from Jack was not a good idea at all.

"It felt like you needed a kindred spirit."

Blinking, Muffy jerked herself from her thoughts and stared at Gustafa silently a moment. He was watching her carefully with those calm blue eyes, prompting her to say more. It was ridiculous, but for a fleeting second, she wanted to spill everything to him. It would be so easy, especially since he was offering, to finally unburden herself from all these thoughts, worries, and insecurities.

And why shouldn't she? She was always listening to other people's troubles and giving them advice. It was about time her turn came around.

Still she hesitated a moment and decided just to say, "It seems I did."

Lines feathered out from the edges of his eyes as he smiled. It was an action that spoke volumes for the man; he was someone accustomed to laughing, smiling, more often than frowning. "And you don't anymore?"

Feeling a smile begin to stir on her own lips, she replied, "I don't know. Are you my kindred spirit for tonight?"

He chuckled softly. "It looks that way. What do you say?"

Muffy studied his face a moment, then glanced toward his yurt. It looked warm and cozy even from here.

He followed her gaze and slipped his tongue in cheek. "It's rather warm."

Arching both her eyebrows at him, Muffy tapped her finger on her chin and then smiled widely. "Why not? It's fairly scandalous, I'm sure, but no one ever has to know, right?"

She winked and he shook his head. Gustafa held the door open for her and she tossed him a smile over her shoulder.

There really wasn't any harm in talking, was there?