Soothe 3 – Souls of a Thousand
"Take my hand."
Heather turned around from her precarious position on the ledge. Her bloodshot eyes widened at the sight. A man stood there, holding out his hand. More than that, what caught her breath was the image of him standing against the bright white light. It was as though the sun was just behind him. "Who--who are you?" she asked tremulously.
"Take my hand, Heather."
"How did you know my name?" she demanded, backing off, even furthering the danger she was in. "Who are you?"
"Calm down, Heather. There's no need to be afraid." His voice was soothing, and so her rapid heartbeat slowed to a more normal pace. "I'm an angel. I'm here to keep you from committing a mistake you would repent for all eternity. Step off the ledge, Heather. Finn isn't worth throwing your entire life away. You're worth so much more."
She quickly wiped away at the tears. "Do you really believe that?"
The angel nodded. When he stepped closer to her, she placed her hand on his. And then she stepped down. A few seconds later, when her grief cleared, she turned around and looked at the ground where she would have fallen. She took a deep breath. "I don't know what I was thinking. Thank y—" And when she glanced back to where he had been standing, she found that her savior was no longer there.
He watched her from the other building, happy at another successful mission. Just a few more jobs and he would attain that which he had been trying to find for the past weeks. Once he was able to get it, he would be able to set his life to rights. Someone bumped him from behind.
"Sorry, man." The teenager hid deep inside his jacket as he hurried down the hallway.
"Christopher," he called out.
The boy stopped stock still. "You know me? Whatcha want?"
He walked towards the boy and laid a comforting hand on his shoulder. "I know more about you than you can possibly imagine," he began. "And I know that you want to please your father beyond everything else."
The boy pulled away from him. "No, you don't know that. Nobody knows me! Only I know me!"
"You're right, Christopher. And that means those friends of yours don't know you at all. Only you can decide what's right for you. I believe you'll realize even before you step into room 481 that letting your peers pressure you into taking drugs is hardly the best choice to make." The boy's head whipped around, his fearful gaze meeting that of the man who had appeared out of nowhere yet who apparently knew all his plans. The gaze widened when the man suddenly vanished into thin air. "Trust only in yourself."
Hours later, the mysterious man watched silently from the small television set as policemen raided the building he had been in. Carefully he watched as each one of the young men was escorted out of room 481. With satisfaction, he drank his soda after the last young man was led out. None of them was Christopher.
She watched the photograph curl at the edges as the flames at the memories contained therein. The features immortalized on the glossy paper took on a weird transformation as it burned into nothingness. Piper pulled the tin washbowl from under the bed and dropped the stack of envelopes she had carefully hidden at her closet's bottom drawer. She lit several matchsticks and watched the letters being consumed by the flames.
She had waited, devoted her entire being, thought and consciousness to the memory of one man. She never ate or moved… She never breathed unless it was for him. At first she clung to his image for survival, until little by little she saw life pass her by. It hadn't been too long, only a few months, but those months had been an eternity after what she had gone through. She watched her sisters move and grow from her safe, lonely place at the corner of the barricaded room.
"I hate you for leaving me," she murmured like some sort of chant as one by one the pictures and mementos blackened and melted away. "I hate you for promising me tomorrow when we're never going to have any." One lone tear crept down her cheek. "You're never going to hurt me again," she sobbed. "You're going away for good now, Leo. No more visiting me in dreams, no more whispers in the wind. You're going to let me move on. I deserve it. Let me live my life!"
The flames blurred in her vision as tears filled her eyes. The mountain of once precious hoards of the past vanished into dust and charred unrecognizable pieces. When the containers have cooled, she picked them up. Once they were thrown out, they would never creep back to haunt her. And she would be free.
A dizzy spell hit her halfway down the stairs. She fought the wave of nausea that threatened to engulf her. Piper blinked back the swimming haze until she reached the bottom step. "Prue," she called out, voice cracking after not using it out loud for such a long time. "Prue!" She wavered on her feet, clutching the burned mementos to her like some treasure.
He was standing before her, so faint that she knew this was nothing but a cruel trick of her exhausted mind. The image of her dead lover approached her, and she warded him off with a hand. "Get away from me! Leave me alone, Leo! Please."
She saw him look at her with liquid eyes shining with sorrow. Was he trying to apologize? "Just stop it. The greatest gift you can give me now is to allow me to forget you." To her immense relief, the figure faded before her eyes. But then, so did the entire world as she came tumbling down, hitting the floor.
She hugged herself tightly. The wall was so white and blank. What she would not give to have her life as uncomplicated as that. "How could you do this to me? Why couldn't you have just let me be?" she whispered furiously.
Piper felt the touch of her sister's hand on her shoulder. "It will be all right, Piper. Be thankful."
She shoved the hand off. "You just shut up, Prue! You don't know what you're talking about." She turned to glare at her sister. "Don't tell me you understand because I'm the only one who knows!"
"Just leave me alone." Quietly, her sister slipped out the door. Piper sat up on the bed and pushed down the hospital blanket. Her gaze fell down on her belly. "Get out of there or I'm taking you out. Dammit, you're going to ruin my entire life!"
Just two more souls. How hard could it be? It was surprising how swiftly a man could save a thousand souls when he devoted himself to it. At first, when they had told him about the task, he had been hesitant. Was it really possible that he could change a thousand lives in so short a time? But he had no choice. It was the only way he could regain mortality. The alternative was unthinkable. Because of unknown occurrences that led to his death, he was slated to spend eternity in uncertainty. And he did not even know the reason why. And so he had opted to fulfill what once was a legend. He would seek to save a thousand people from committing sins that would lead to their souls' destruction. Should he complete a thousand rescues before his fortieth day as a restless soul, he would reclaim mortality, his memories and his life. No matter what paradise or misery his life had been, he was willing to live it again rather than exist in an endless limbo.
If his sense were still with him, he knew he would be tasting victory right now. Mortality was just two souls away. Maybe he needed to save only one to save two. It had happened before. Humans, after all, had such strong connections that the fates of many were sometimes sealed by the decision of one.
He sat down on the soft cushioned sofa and watched the steady traffic of people coming in and out of the clinic, watching the expressionless faces, waiting for the blossom of light where his heart should be—that same old blossoming that would indicate that the soul he was supposed to save was within sight.
Once more he wondered what his life had been like. Who were his family? What had he been alive? Did he leave weeping hearts or relieved smiles? Was his life before worth this assignment?
Someone sat down beside him, and he though he had lost all physical feeling, her intense emotions rang in his inner ear. His head turned to see the bowed head of neatly tied back brown hair. Her eyes were closed it seemed, as though she was probing deep within her heart. It was not until he heard the whispers in her mind. She was saying goodbye. The light exploding in his chest convinced him that this was the soul he had been looking for.
"A child is a wonder, the greatest gift any human can receive," he said quietly.
The woman beside him took a deep breath. "Kindly mind your own business, sir. I've though this through, and this is best."
"Did he leave you? Are you burning with hatred for a man and taking it out on a child?" Information about the woman flooded his mind. "Piper, are you hurting that much? You know you can't do this to an innocent baby. Do you think he deserves for you to kill his child when he had given up so much?"
She looked up at the man beside her, startled by the way his words struck home.
And then she drowned in hazel pools she had tried to put behind her so hard. Her memories still won't let her be. "Why are you doing this to me? I said go away! Please! You've ruined my life enough!"
Did she see in him someone she would rather forget? His mind connected with her throbbing consciousness. She thought he was the man who had fathered her child and left her in the world. Why would she think that? "I will never leave you. I'm your angel. I'll be watching all the time," he started to explain, the way he did with Heather, and all the rest of those whose minds were too clouded by grief to take him at face value.
"You're dead, Leo. Let me live," she pleaded.
"Was that his name?" he softly inquired. Piper shook her head. She grabbed her purse and started to walk swiftly away from him. She knew that if she thought of other things, he would just vanish. But why was it that he seemed more real this time? A hand closed over her shoulder, and she turned. "Don't do this."
A sob caught in her throat at the presence deep in his eyes. The longer she stared into them, the more of him she saw. Yet why was it that there was no flicker of recognition in his eyes? Was death really so empty? And then her heart froze. Wasn't it that she could not touch his ghost? Wasn't it that he had tried to touch her before and it seemed as though he was nothing more than a breeze?
How far would this go on before it drives her insane?!
Piper clutched at her handbag and started to back away from him. Her legs carried her away quickly. He was standing there, so solid. What was going on? She turned and ran out the door, getting into her jeep and speeding away, yearning to forget, yet aching to relive each kiss and caress.
She lay in bed, her hands resting on top of the gentle swell. It was hard to believe that there was another human being forming there. It didn't really seem like there was life inside her. She felt the same, except for the regular nausea and discomfort. There was nothing at all about this child that connected her to it. Sickness and nothing else. Who would treasure anything that brought only that?
This child… was not even a child. It was just… blood. Her blood and his. Mixed together in a moment of complete, utter bliss.
"I don't remember it!" she insisted to herself. "I don't remember the soft caresses and the unbelievable kisses, the perfect way our bodies fit together. I don't cry out in my dreams for you." Her mind, tired and running wild, stretched her imagination to even more torture. She imagined how he would be like as a prospective father.
Had he not been insane enough to face off with a criminal the way he did, and he had been around now, would he have already proposed to her? What she just didn't understand, and kept asking the silent nothingness, was what possessed him to do it? Did he not even think of the wonderful future they could have had together? He healed her and then proceeded to kill her a thousand times, just by allowing her to lose him.
Did she think of it even once in those heavenly months they have been together? She had been too involved with herself, licking away the wounds, her eyes looking inward, with no time to see what's around her. He had given himself to her. And each moment, the only object in their sights was she. They both devoted attention and patience to seeing that she would heal. And holding hands they soothed her.
"Leo, it's going to be all right," she told him softly. "You're a great guy. I just know you'll be a wonderful father." He sat stunned, dumbstruck eyes expressionless as they stared into her eyes. "You've been nothing but a nice, understanding man. And I'd rather not have a baby if it weren't yours."
It took him a long moment to process her words it seemed. She watched, a smile teasing her lips, as slowly he shook his head. "This is all so fast," came his whisper. "I don't know what to do. I don't know how to change diapers. I don't know how to mix milks for babies. There are formulas for that, isn't there?" The words tumbled out. "If it were just those bottled milk you get in the supermarket, I'd be fine. But Piper, babies need specialized milk. And the baby has to be taken to the pediatrician. I'm finishing my master's thesis. And the load in the university is killing me already."
"Leo," she said softly.
"The responsibility is going to be too much. I'm not ready to be a father!"
"Leo, honey, I'm not ready to be a mother when we think of it. But we're in this together, remember? Maybe between us two, we could be passable parents." She took his chin and tipped his face to look into his eyes. "And all your problems, we'd solve. I'm just a few months along. We have more than half a year to learn. We work well together, don't we? I can teach you how to change diapers. I've done it before when our cousin Matthew came to visit."
"That was years ago. You could have forgotten. Then where would we be?"
She took his hand and held it to her temple. "It's all in here. It's like riding a bike," she said with a grin. "You never forget."
"What about making the milk? Babies need different formulas. I know that. Dr. Stevens said it varies. Matthew's formula would be different from our baby's. With no milk, it's going to die."
She led his hand slowly down from her temple and onto the side of her breast. His eyes fell down to where she held his hand cupped. "Here's all the milk the baby's going to need until the pediatrician tells us what kind of milk we have to learn how to make. I'll make sure the baby doesn't get hungry, ok?" Slowly, his head moved in an indication that he understood. He was still looking down in amazement at her breasts. He had never before imagined her to be a mother. And in his mind, she suited perfectly. "Leo, look into my eyes, honey." He did. "We've always worked well together. And if you're busy, I'll take him or her to the doctor. And when I have to work, you can do it." She laughed softly at the way his eyes shone, slowly filling up with the warm moistness that told her that he finally was beginning to accept it. "It will be just like when you were teaching me that program for the files of P3." Suddenly, she felt all choked up. He just looked so…
She did not know at which point in her speech it was that his eyes cleared, and a silent contentment crept over his face. All she knew was that at one moment, Leo seemed so confused and at the next, he appeared…
She slapped him on the shoulder with a fresh diaper as he jokingly gagged at the odor. Leo laughed, pointing at some incoherent direction. "What is it?" she asked, chuckling.
"Those wet things! These need to come off very soon before it gets permanent on his butt."
"Leo!" Piper took the box and handed it to him with the lid off. "And they're wet baby wipes."
"We better hope they work well. Get some alcohol, soap and scrub. Maybe like the scrub we use for fireplaces. This looks like a very difficult job."
She stuck her tongue out. "Just wipe it off, wash him and then dry."
"You make it sound so easy, sweetie. Maybe you should do it." He handed the wriggling baby to her.
Piper took their son in her hands. "Coward," she muttered. "Watch closely, daddy, so you can do it next time." Piper cleaned the baby and started drying him. "Now hand me that nappy." When she did not feel the white plastic covered diaper being put into her hand, she looked up at her husband. Leo was reading the directions on the pack carefully. "Leo?"
"The diaper? I need to protect Mark's privacy, and the bed sheets should he decide to do the natural processes again." She grinned at her husband, but he was still looking at the pack. "Leo… I need the diaper," she said in a singsong voice.
"What? Uhh.. never mind, I got it."
"Daddy's gonna go it."
"Really now?" she asked, smiling.
She moved away from the bed and sat on a chair facing them. He knelt in front of Mark, armed with a diaper in one hand and the pack on the other. Piper watched as Leo carefully raised the baby's bottom up into the air by holding both ankles up in one hand. Leo carefully inserted the diaper under him and proceeded following the instructions until at last, he taped the diaper closed at Mark's waist.
He took the baby in his arms and turned to his wife, eyes shining brightly with his success. "I am the best father ever!" he exclaimed.
"Yes, honey, you are," she said softly, smiling at the elation in his face.
She opened her eyes. Her hands were still on top of the gentle swell of her belly. She needed that. Piper took a deep breath. Did she disturb his rest so much with her anguished decision for an abortion? Perhaps deep inside her she knew that she objected to this, and she woke the sleeping memories she would rather have forgotten in her grief. Leo did not deserve any of this. He died for her. And more importantly, she knew that in his last months, he lived for her. His child deserved to live. The baby deserved to learn what a wonderful father Leo would have been. She would tell the baby about Leo.
She curled on her side, speaking to the child in her mind. II'm so sorry, baby. From now on, mommy's going to take care of you. I love you. /I
And as for the memories… even without pictures and little mementos, he was there. In her mind. In her heart. To forget… was impossible.
He was getting closer. There was only one more soul to save. After devoting his entire being to saving souls, he would finally achieve his goal—a mortality to house his own. Almost he could feel the rush, since he was nearer to achieving a body of his own. Soon he would remember everything that had been forgotten. Soon he would find out if his death had been in vain. Soon he would find out what heaven or hell he had come from. And whether or not it would make a difference, he knew he would not rest until he learned what it was his soul sought to find his peace.
The man he had come for entered the hospital quietly carrying his backpack. He walked calmly, and the soul looked down onto the ground. He knew what the man had come to do, yet he could do nothing to stop it. He was not here to change the course of life, only to save souls, and he could save the man's soul without disrupting fate.
A sudden coughing caught his attention, and he turned to see the woman he had spoken to yesterday. His lips curved in satisfaction. He had seen the way she had realized that he was correct. Piper decided yesterday that she would care for her baby. His job with her is done. He had saved his soul, and he was not supposed to interfere with her life anymore.
Still, like a mentor with his student, he was still interested on what went on in her life. He knew that only this morning she had experienced some spotting, and that her doctor asked her to drop by for an ultrasound and medicines to strengthen the hold of the fetus in her womb.
She passed by him, not seeing him because she was no longer his intent. He heard her fervent prayer in her mind that her child be fine, and he was satisfied. She had accepted finally, and relearned to love after getting burned.
He watched as Piper entered the hospital as his intended soul exited. Poor woman, he thought, to love so late, so futilely. He could save her life, but it was not his mission. He was here to heal souls. He touched the arm of the man whose soul was his thousandth. "You would kill innocents, without even a twinge of guilt?"
The man's hazy eyes started to focus. "You saw the bomb?" he demanded.
"I know what you've done. I'm beyond all this," he told the man. "Do you realize the danger you've put your soul in? Do you know how many people are in that hospital building, wanting and needing life so badly? You are destroying hundreds of lives."
"What do I care?" the man spat out. "So many people. Have they done anything for me?"
"Not everyone would be able to touch your life, but that does not give you the right to execute those who you've never met." Leo continued his argument, listing one by one all the hurts that the man had undergone in his lifetime. He touched on the short, important events in his life, and gleaned over the insecurities and hurts. "You don't hurt people who have never hurt you. You don't take vengeance from those who have. Do you know how many fathers are in there? Do you know how many children you would deprive of their mothers? Do you know how many brothers would lose a sister?"
"My family never cared about me. Children are better off without their parents!"
"And if I tell you today that I know of a mother who would give heaven to her child. And she's in there. And if I show you a letter written by a young woman to her sisters. And that letter saved their lives. But what do I have to show you now? You've killing beauty before it blossoms." There was poison in the man's eyes as he glared at him. "Not everyone would suffer the way you did. Will you not allow them to find joy? Maybe they would be what you never were, what you always hoped to be."
The man took all this in. "I've already set it off," he muttered. "And I've already killed them."
"All I need is your repentance. It would save your soul."
"But still destroy their tomorrows."
"Then it is their fate." As though the world had begun to crumple around him, the man looked inside himself, yelling in frustration, tears gathering in his eyes in apology.
And the soul felt himself take a concrete form, a mortal body. He grabbed onto a bench, sitting down as memories flooded his mind. And it was only then that terror caught him in its claws. "Piper…" He jumped up onto his feet and started towards the hospital.
The deafening blast sent them lying on their chests. "It's too late," the man cried at him. Leo, yes, he remembered now that that was his name. That was what she called him yesterday. Leo shook his head. His family was inside that building. "It's their fate. You told me that it's their fate. It's not your mission to save lives!"
"I did not come back for nothing." He took off in the direction of the burning building.
The screams were deafening. Women yelling piercing his ears. Men shouting tearing their drums. He frantically searched for her, yet he felt his heart rip apart as he forced his eyes away from the people reaching out to him from the rubble, begging for his help. So many discussions ran through his mind. He saw the fear in their eyes, the pain from the line of their lips. For those who would survive this would be hell stamped in their brains. And for those who would not, hell would lie in the breasts of those they leave behind.
He longed to save the world and help them all to their feet, gently guide them to the exit and assure them that all will be well. From the corner of his vision, the color of her blouse drew him to her. For the first time he turned his back on those pleading with him, and he knew he would forever be punished for selfishly choosing to go to her.
Her swimming gaze regarded him warily, searching in his face for some abstract thing; he did not know what. "Are you all right?" She bit her lip and shut her eyes so tightly that tears sipped from underneath her eyelids. She held up an open palm, completely smeared with blood. And then his attention fell to the pool beneath her. He knelt before her, and she was sobbing. She was sobbing her heart out as she delved into his shirt, murmuring incoherent words, seeking comfort that he could not completely give her. What would his, "It's okay, baby," benefit her now? "It's going to be all right." But was it ever?
She needed help though. Fast. The blaring horns and sirens told him that the paramedics have arrived. He took her up into his arms and she moaned in pain as he felt the hot rush of blood flow onto his arm. "I hated it, Leo," she whispered miserably. "That's why God took it away from me. I didn't deserve the baby."
"Hush, honey. That's not true." He stepped over the debris as he hurried for help. He could not break into a run. He was not even sure that moving her was the right thing to do. All he wanted now was to get help. "You loved the baby. I know that you did."
"This is my punishment! I was awful to the baby. So when I learned to love it He took it away from me! It hurts more if I love the baby. That's why!"
His voice, always soothing, wrapped around her as his lips moved over her hair. "You don't really believe that, Piper."
She didn't answer him. Instead she laid her head on his shoulder and closed her eyes, wondering why he was there, how he remembered, what had happened that now he was tangible. But she was tired, hurt and drained both mentally and physically. She drifted off to sleep even before he handed her to the paramedics in the scene.
Piper hugged the coat tighter around herself as she stepped into the puddles of rainwater forming on the street. It had been months after the accident, months after she had lost the baby, months after that soul-rending vision of Leo holding her close, whispering into her ear in an effort to keep her belief in herself. In her delirium she must have conjured his image. Had she been so close to death that she saw him as an angel leading her to heaven?
She decided to put everything to rest. She had depended on him so much for survival since she met him. She had put so much stock on him that upon his death she was at a loss. Piper knew she needed t actualize herself now. No one could depend on a ghost without driving herself insane.
Goosebumps prickled her arms. Abruptly, she stopped walking and waited. The footsteps behind her also stopped. Someone was definitely following her. "What do you want?" she asked softly without turning around.
"Don't be scared, Piper. I only came to see you."
She caught her breath at the sound of his voice. She whirled around and saw him standing before her, looking steadily. "Leo…" she breathed out.
"The journey has been so long, Piper. Now I'm in my destination. And I'll do anything to stay."
Tears stung her eyes. In an effort to show her welcome, a trembling smile curved her lips. "We had a baby," she said sadly.
With infinite understanding, Leo nodded and stepped closer, enfolding her in his embrace. "We'll have others. If this, my presence here today with you, is possible, then anything is."
"What rules aren't we willing to break together?" Piper glanced up at him with all the satisfaction and contentment shining in her smile. And then she reached up, grasped his hair with her fingers and pulled him down for a long kiss.