It's time for a sequel! All right! Okay, this will probably be the craziest fic I have ever written. Just a heads up there. The rating is T for now, but will be bumped up to M in later chapters. Oh yeah, Angel lives! Woo-hoo! That's all I have to tell you for now. Enjoy the first chapter.
I own the plot line and the OCs. I do not own the title, anything Law & Order related, or anything RENT related.
Collins felt all eyes on him as he walked up to the front of the room. Angel had told him that these meetings would get easier if he kept going, but it didn't seem that way to him. He was starting to believe that the only reason he was going was to keep himself preoccupied so he didn't have time to think of where and how fast he could get morphine. It had been a trying three years and another relapse was the last thing he needed.
Before he left the apartment, he had a long talk with Angel about how hard it was getting to continue the meetings. How he didn't feel like they were helping him. She simply told him to share. Share how the drug came into his life and why he was coming to the meetings. He promised her he would try, but now, as he made his way to the front to do so, he didn't know if he could.
He stood there for a moment, looking out at the faces of the men and women who were just like him. They were here because they had nowhere else to go and felt they couldn't be trusted alone for even a minute. They didn't make eye contact. No one ever smiled.
"Uh . . . hi," Collins began. No one moved, but they all seemed interested in what he was about to say. "My name is Collins . . . Tom . . . and I . . . I have a problem with morphine."
"Hi, Tom," everyone said at once. That was the one thing that annoyed him about the meetings. Everyone droned the name of the person who was up front speaking like they were robots or something.
"I, uh, I've been coming here for two and a half months now and . . . this is my first time sharing." He paused for a moment, unsure of how to continue.
"It's all right, Tom," Nate, the leader of the group, told him. "No one here is going to judge you and everything that's said in here stays in here." Collins nodded and took a deep breath before looking up.
"I used to be a professor at NYU," he said. "My, uh . . . problem caused me to have to quit." He paused again. "Three years ago, the aunt of one of my students tried to kill me because she believed I was the cause of his homosexuality. She hit me with a car and knocked me unconscious. The next thing I remember is waking up in a cottage my student had taken me to in order to protect me. He, uh, gave me . . . morphine . . . for the pain I was in. Each time he gave it to me . . . I felt like . . . it wasn't enough and I could tell I was . . . becoming addicted." He scanned the faces of the other members. One member in particular seemed to be extremely focused on him. "I was safe for a couple days . . . until his aunt showed up." He stopped and looked down again.
"Just take your time," Nate said. "There's no hurry."
"She held us both hostage. She . . . she had a gun and it ended up on the floor. I remember her coming at me with a knife and I . . . I picked the gun up . . . and I shot her." He looked up. "I didn't mean to kill her. I was only trying to defend myself. Now, every time I close my eyes . . . I see her die all over again and it makes me feel horrible. She wasn't exactly the nicest person in the world, but she was still a person . . . and I took her life. I started taking morphine every day after that, sometimes twice or three times." Tears formed in his eyes and he blinked them away. "My friends found out I was taking morphine and they helped me quit. I had been clean for about a month when Angel, the love of my life, got sick. We, uh, we both have AIDS. As her health faded, I felt this . . . pain in my chest . . . like my heart was breaking. When I was told he . . . she only had a few weeks left to live . . . I turned back to the morphine." He smiled a little. "Angel's a fighter though, she pulled through and was able to leave the hospital by the end of the month. That was one of the greatest moments of my life, but . . . I was back on morphine and hiding it from Angel and my friends. I felt so ashamed for what I was doing." A single tear escaped from his eye.
"That's a perfectly natural feeling, Tom," Nate assured Collins. He nodded, closed his eyes, and took another deep breath.
"Sneaking around was killing me inside, so I told everyone the truth," he continued. "I expected them to be angry, and they were, but they didn't turn their backs on me. They helped me get clean again, but the second time around was even harder. I kept cheating, I don't even know how many times I stole morphine from hospitals. Once I was two weeks clean, Angel told me she wanted a family. Any time I got a craving, that's what we would talk about . . . starting a family. We eventually adopted a beautiful baby girl named Olivia and the first time I held her . . . I knew I couldn't go back to drugs. I had a family and I had to stay clean. I've been clean for eleven months now . . ." The other members applauded him. "Thank you. I, uh, still get cravings every now and then, but . . . I refuse to go back to that drug. I'm going to do my absolute best to stay clean . . . for my family."
When the meeting ended, members hugged and shared final pieces of advice with one another before embarking on their journeys home. Collins received congratulations from several people while he was pulling on his coat. As he turned to leave, he nearly collided with someone.
"Sorry," he said. The man waved off his apology.
"No need to be," he replied. "You're brave for goin' up there and sharin' all of that." His accent reminded Collins of his mother.
"I don't really think I'm brave, but it had to be done." The man nodded. "Are you from Virginia, by chance?"
"I am. Lived there until I graduated high school, then I moved to Louisiana to get away from my parents. Oh, I'm sorry, I haven't even introduced myself. My name's Charles, but you can call me Charlie." Charles held his hand out and Collins shook it.
"Nice to meet you. I'm Tom, but I like to go by Collins." Charles nodded again as their hands separated. "Well, I should get go-"
"What was his name?" Charles interrupted.
"Who?" Collins asked.
"The student of yours that saved you." Collins eyed Charles suspiciously. "I'm just curious and you heard what Nate said. 'Everything that's said in here stays in here.'" Charles seemed honest, but Collins couldn't tell if he could trust him.
"His name is Connor."
"What does he look like?"
"Why do you want to know that?"
"I want details so I can complete the mental picture."
"I, uh, really have to go now. Angel's home with our daughter and I promised her I'd take over as soon as I got home."
"That's understandable. See you around, Collins."
Collins gave a small wave goodbye before rushing out of the building. He thought about everything he had shared during the meeting. It felt refreshing to get what was going on in his mind out in the open. He felt even better knowing that the people who had listened to what he had to say weren't judging him. As he walked past several small stores on his way the subway station as he always did after a meeting, a woman stopped locking up her store and stared at him. She had a strange expression on her face. Collins pretended not to notice as he walked by her. She suddenly grabbed his arm and forced him to look at her.
"You have a bad chi about you," she said. Her dark brown eyes seemed to be peering right into Collins' soul through his eyes. "I wonder . . ."
"You wonder . . . what?" Collins asked, trying and failing to break eye contact with the woman. She opened the door of her store and pulled him inside. Collins took notice of the strange artifacts and trinkets. Hearing the door slam behind him, he quickly turned to face the woman. She was staring at him again. Her skin was just a shade lighter than his. She was wearing a long, brightly colored skirt, a tank top underneath her small jacket, and, despite the cold weather, sandals. Her long, black hair hung over her shoulders underneath her head scarf, which was just as brightly colored as her skirt.
"The feeling is stronger now that you're inside," she stated. Collins backed away as she walked closer to him. A counter stopped him from going any further. "Come with me."
The woman grabbed Collins' arm again and pulled him toward a room near the counter. There was nothing inside except a table, two chairs, and a small dresser. Releasing Collins, the woman flipped the light switch, opened a drawer of the dresser, and produced a deck of cards. She then sat down in one of the chairs at the table.
"Who are you?" Collins asked.
"You may call me Zina."
"Yes." Zina gestured to the empty chair. "Please, take a seat."
"I'd rather not."
"You must." Zina was looking into Collins' eyes again. She seemed alarmingly calm. Collins found it somewhat frightening. He slowly sat down as Zina spread the cards face down over the table. "Pick one."
"I really have to get home," Collins told her. "My-"
"The sooner you pick a card, the sooner you can get back to you lover and child," Zina interrupted. Collins stared at her with a blank expression on his face.
"Have we met before?"
"No. Pick a card." Collins looked at the cards for a long moment before picking up a card and looking at it. There was a skull with a few daggers through it on the face of it. His eyes widened as Zina took the card from him. "Here it is again."
"What does it mean?" Collins asked.
"It's the head of a skeleton with three daggers in its head. What do you think it means?"
"Well, I know I'm going to die. I-"
"This has nothing to do with your health," Zina interrupted.
"You have AIDS, don't you?" Collins opened his mouth to speak. "No, we haven't met before."
"Then . . . how would you know-"
"Focus! I only see this card once every few years, but, two months ago, I started seeing it once a week, always on Tuesdays. And every time I have seen it, I see you pass my store sometime afterward. That cannot be a coincidence." Zina stood up and opened another drawer of the dresser.
"So . . . does it mean I'm going to die very soon?" Collins asked. Zina took a candle and a match out of the drawer before closing it.
"No," she said, placing the match and candle in the middle of the table. "There is a different card for a person's death. This card deals with the spirits of the deceased." She walked to the doorway and turned off the lights. Collins watched as she returned to her seat and lit the candle.
"'Spirits of the deceased?'" he repeated.
"You have angered one or more of them and they are seeking revenge. In order to figure out which one it is, I must look into your life. Hold your hands out, palms up." Collins hesitated before doing what Zina instructed him to. She placed her hands on top of his and closed her eyes. "I see a boy . . . he is frightened. He came to you for help in the past and therefore trusts you enough to come to you again."
"Connor . . ." Collins whispered to himself.
"You agree to help him . . . and now you and your lover are with him . . . traveling." Zina's grip on Collins' hands suddenly tightened. Her eyes remained closed. "There's a man . . . you are attacked. Your lover is as well."
"What man?" Collins asked. His pulse had quickened.
"I see you in chains . . . struggling and demanding to know where your lover is, but the man refuses to tell you." Collins tried to pull his hands away from Zina, but she maintained her grip. "The man talks about how beautiful your lover is . . ."
"I don't want to hear anymore!" Zina's eyes snapped open and she stared directly into Collins' eyes for a long while. He continued to try to take his hands back. She soon released his hands, stood up, and left the room. After taking a few deep breaths to calm himself down, Collins followed Zina out of the room. She was looking inside a box near the cash register.
"Here we are," she said, taking half of a sky blue amulet with half of a ruby in the middle of it out of the box. She walked to Collins and placed it on him. "This has been in my family for centuries and passed down from generation to generation over the years. The youngest member of the family receives half of it at age sixteen and the other half at thirty-two."
"Thirty-three. My family ages very well. Since I am not able to have children, I am the last one to receive the amulet. But you need its power more than I do, so I am giving you half. Do not take it off for any reason. Do you understand me?" Collins nodded, afraid to speak. "Good. Now, go be with your family, Thomas Collins."
"I . . . I never told you my name."
"Go. And keep that amulet on at all times."
Collins nodded again and practically ran out of the store. He looked at his watch and began sprinting in the direction of the subway station. Once he was on the train and waiting for other people to board, he looked down at the amulet around his neck.
The ruby was glowing.