A Week

When she had first heard the sound, it had been deafening. As the clock in the corner of the room slowly ticked, the sound of time passing became as loud of cannon fire in her ears, the long continuous beep faded into the background.

Blinking slowly, she felt herself step away from her heart. She couldn’t keep it, not any longer. She couldn’t live through the pain that resonated there, that grew and grew until it filled her heart to the point of breaking.

 So she stepped away, leaving it there, lonely and beating.

As she turned away from the doctor that was still talking to her, she picked her bag up from the chair by the door. She could feel the stiff edge of the Bristol board shoving up into her armpit. She didn’t have to open her bag to see the Lost Dog poster inside. She saw that poster when she closed her eyes; it was the same poster she had been handing out for weeks.

She walked through the halls of the hospital like a zombie. She moved out of instinct alone, yet somehow, she managed to emerge outside into the sun.

Turning her face up, she felt the sun kiss her cheeks ever so gently before it disappeared all together. Dark clouds covered the sun up in an instant, a small drop of water dropping onto her cheek before she pulled her hood over her head and shoved her hands into her pockets.

Thunder boomed as the sky cracked open. Thick drops of rain fell, soaking her in an instant as she walked back to her car.

Headlights lit up for a moment as the car unlocked and she slowly got in. Despite the rain outside soaking through her cotton hoodie, she was in no hurry. Sliding into the driver’s seat, she sat there for a moment before putting the key into the ignition.

Her red car whined for a moment before starting; a sure sign that it would need to be looked at sooner, rather than later. It was a new whine, one she hadn’t heard before.

With the day she was having, that sound made perfect sense. She didn’t furrow her brow, she didn’t purse her lips, she simply accepted it as she put her car in drive and pulled out of her parking space. As she pulled out of the parking lot, she looked at the yellow slip of paper tucked under her windshield wiper.

Driving through the streets, she made her way home.

She drove past a dozen of posters taped to the light poles that lined the streets. Bright yellow, green, and pink boards with the same poster on it that was slowly being blurred as the rain seeped through the tape and made the color run together.

The garage door opened as her car approached it. She pulled in, turning her head slightly as she heard the sound of glass breaking and fiberglass splintering. Eyes blank, she looked at her passenger side mirror hanging from wires.

Grabbing her bag, she got out of her car. She didn’t bother to lock it as the garage door closed behind her. Walking through the door, she stepped into the hallway off the kitchen. Dropping her bag on the chair, she ignored all the posters sliding out onto the floor as the bag slumped over and hit the button on her answering machine.

As she slowly stripped, making her way to her bathroom, the messages droned on in the background. She didn’t know why she had pressed the button, urging those messages to play when she had absolutely no intention of listening to any of them.

Perhaps she had left her mind back at the hospital with her heart.

Completely naked, she walked into her bathroom and started the shower. Stepping in, she immediately sat in the tub, letting the water from her shower rain over her as she brought her knees up to her chest.

The sound of her messages still droned in the background.

Her skin ached. The water was so hot, it felt like a hundred small pins poking into her as she sat there, but she made no move to adjust the temperature. Closing her eyes, she rested her cheek on her knee and let it torture her slowly.

We really need you to come back to the hospital. I know you are going through a difficult time now, but there is some paperwork that needs to be attended to before-

Absentmindedly, she ran her hands down her legs. She could feel the sharp stubble growing in there.

Frowning, she grabbed her razor and a bar of soap.

Rubbing the soap slowly along her legs, she let it foam up before running the razor up her leg. Her mind was blank, without a single thought floating around in it. Instead, her eyes just followed the bubble trail down her shin as she pulled the razor up to the base of her knee.

As she shook the razor in the water pooling around her, her eyes caught on the pink water passing her to get to the drain. Her eyes nonchalantly rose, catching the small cut on her leg.

 No flinch, no wince, no pain.

Here in the shower, as the scalding water poured over her, she was completely numb.

Numb to everything out there in the world.

Numb to all the feelings that flooded her abandoned heart, the thoughts that clouded her absent mind.

Staring at the cut, she watched, as it seemed dark red for a single moment before the water washed it away. Then it would be red again, only to once again be washed away, almost before she could catch sight of it.

We’re so sorry… The messages of her machine droned on, the sound of the shower streaming against her face making them sound like they were coming from so far away.

Looking at the blades of the razor, she pulled the heavy plastic frame away from them. It took some tugging, the blades cutting into her thumbs as she tried to break the blades free.

She didn’t need to ignore the sting of the blades slicing into her thumbs. She couldn’t even feel them.

When the razor finally broke apart in her hands, she heard one blade bang against the tiles of her shower floor as the other two were held in her hands.

They seemed so small.

Holding the blades in between her fingers, she slowly dug them into the flesh of her arms. She could feel the pressure as the blade broke through the skin. She trailed them up her arms before letting the blades join the other on the shower floor.

Lying down, she pulled her knees to her chest. As she closed her eyes, she could still hear the long beep from the hospital room, the sound of the tape being pulled, wrapped around light pole after light pole as she stared at the latest picture of her dog. Her messages droned on as the water ran red under her.

If you could just call me… Just… call me. Please. I’m afraid of what you might do… after everything that’s happened this week.

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A Name At Last

The air was cool.

Flipping up the collar of his leather jacket, he shoved his hands into the pockets and lifted his shoulders up around his ears. He had been pacing early, perhaps that was why he didn’t feel the sharpness of the air.

Standing back on the grounds of the Hunter estate filled him with both dread and euphoria. All his memories, both good and bad seemed to clash in the air around him, they mixed in the air like a storm.

Letting out a breath, he tried to push his bad memories away from him, keeping only the good ones around him. He hoped they would do something to add some warmth to the air around him.

Taking his hands out of his pockets, he cupped them to his mouth and exhaled hot breath into them.

“It’s weird that is was so simple.” He said finally. Her presence was overwhelming, it made him forget the cold for a moment. “Tedious if anything. A lot of waiting. It’s weird to think of you out there, perched up in branches. I guess you’ve spent a good deal of your life perched somewhere, always watching…”

Her silence was something he was beginning to get used to.

“The building is something of a landmark. If it weren’t I would have burnt the whole place to the ground.” He still regretted not setting it up in flames, but something had told him it wasn’t something she would condone, no matter how deep her hatred for Aleksandr was. Sighing, he ran his hand across his face. “But I am guessing there won’t be much of a Refuge left behind with him gone… all of the others will branch out, live their lives out from under the weight of his thumb.”

Reaching around his back, he pulled the 9mm pistols with stainless steel slides from his belt holster. Pulling back the slide, he inspected the pistol. “Those who feel like they have to live up to Aleksandr’s legacy will be found… and dealt with.”

She had lived her life alone, searching for a piece of herself she knew she hadn’t the right to take but rather, had to earn. She had hoped to earn it one at a time, one slip of paper put inside the old wooden box.

Sitting on the concrete bench, he opened the black bag he had with him. Pulling out the wooden box he had been given on the plane, he ran his thumbs along the rim.

Hesitating for a moment, he slowly opened the box.

Inside this box, he had found so many names, even the name of his own father. He wondered how much it must weigh on her, all these little papers, all these names.

She had been made into a weapon, her main skill being able to stifle life with the simplest of ease. She could have turned away from it as a whole, camped out somewhere along a beach and learned to try to enjoy life any way she could. Instead, she had leaned into all she had been taught, yet used it in a way that could change the world, one slip of paper at a time.

Pulling her computer out of his bag, he opened it and browsed through the page he had opened. “I am not as skilled as you at finding people. I guess I will learn in time. In the mean time, money does seem to find whoever you are looking for, and I have found quite a few people who are tipping the scales as you would say.”

He chuckled, more to himself than anything else.

“You changed my life.” He told her. “Before you, I was…” He tried to think of the right words to say. “Nothing.”

In a way, she should be happy. She had escaped Refuge more than once, escaped the hungry clutches of Alexandr and snubbed out his legacy.

Alexandr had believed himself to be like Death. His reach was black and everything he touched seemed to fall to his feet. He had taken in the innocent and corrupted them, making them all pieces in his chess game. The weight of Aleksandr on the scales of evil was heavy, and she had finally tipped the scale.

What was better, was she had influenced someone to want to make the same changes in the world.

It wasn’t ideal. She had always hoped to keep that burden on her shoulders alone, but now she could be sure the scales could be tipped in their favour.

Getting up from the bench, he shoved everything back in his bag.

It was time to go, he had a lot that had to be done.

Shoving his bag on his shoulder, he rested his hand on the large slab of stone. “I’ll be back soon. Sleep well, Athena Hunter.”

 

 

 

 

Three Months Later

Letting out a long breath, he remembered all the training he had put himself through. Money could get you anything you want, it opened doors that were usually closed, or sometimes even non-existent.

After a few calls and using some of his brother’s old connections, he had found the man he was looking for and travelled all the way out to the Sonoran Desert to seek him out.

Hunter was a different man now. He could feel the change, looking back at the person he was only months ago as though he were a stranger.

If his brother could see him now, he thought. He would be proud, he told himself.

Every moment in his life had been moments wasted. Time he could have spent trying to find purpose. Instead, he had been perfectly content spending his life under the umbrella of the Hunter name, in the shadow of his brother’s accomplishments.

All of his life until a few months ago had been a waste. A waste of life.

So many more years could have passed with him living his life exactly the same way he had been. Missing all the kinds of moments that define people.

Undefined with no character and without the ambition to go looking for anything that could change him and shape him into the kind of person he was now.

All because he fell into the street.

That day could have gone completely different for him. He could have fallen, and she could have been somewhere else.

He used to think he welcomed death. There had been nothing for him to live for. No reason for him to care about living or dying.

Until he saw her.

She looked like someone who lived outside of the world everyone else created. No makeup on, making no effort to conform to societies idea of what she should look like with a self-confidence that radiated off her.

Pulling him out of the road just in time to save his life, he waited. Expecting her to recognize him, he had been in a few trashy magazines that wrote he was well on his way to destroying his family’s name. Most women looked at him and saw dollar signs, and the kind of face that made being a gold digger that much easier.

She looked right through him. He had never felt more worthless than when her eyes skimmed over him and she began to walk away without saying anything to him.

It was wonderful. It intrigued him to want to know absolutely everything about her. She made that extremely difficult.

Now that he knew more about who she was, the life she had come from and the life she had lived, he knew why she was so hesitant to invite anyone into her life.

The man who had owned the private plane had given him her bag when he carried her off the plane. She had purposely left it there, all she was inside one bag just in case she didn’t make it out of Refuge alive.

Later, he had gone through her bag.

The woman he had decided to call Athena had little belongings. A few changes of clothes, mostly weapons, and a wooden box. What was inside the box intrigued him just as much as she did.

Nothing but names.

One of the names interested him more than the others.

Malcolm Hunter.

From what he could make of who she was, he knew that box was full of the names of her victims. Athena had killed his father.

At first, that knowledge had torn through him. He was hit with a rush of emotions, unable to focus on just one. Then, after a long overdue visit to his mother, he learned more about his father’s character. His dear old dad wasn’t the man he always thought he was.

Athena wasn’t the kind of woman who knocked people off without good reason. She was someone who believed in justice, in levelling the playing field between the good and the bad.

His father, seemed to fall on the bad side of the scales.

It took him awhile to wrap his mind around that. His mother had told him that if she had known who he was going to become before she married him, she would have ignored the feelings she had for him and moved on. Her eyes got all glassy, and Hunter wondered just how much his mother had endured during their marriage.

We all endure pains inflicted by people we think love us. Those were the last words his mother said to him when he left her that day.

Steadying himself on the branch he perched on, he brought the scope up to his eye. The smell in the air caused his heart to pound anxiously against his chest. It was daunting, reminding him of the trauma he barely escaped.

A ghost, he marvelled in his newfound abilities.

The windows were all covered over, either by the dirt and grime of these woods or the boards pushed up against them from the inside.

The numbness in his legs was something he could easily ignore. He had already been ignoring it for over an hour.

Athena’s gun felt like it was at home in his hands. Letting out a breath, he resisted the urge to grin when the man he knew only as ‘Twee’ stepped out into the sim sunlight. Without pause, his finger pressed lightly against the trigger.

Twee crumpled to the ground before he could even prepare himself.

If there was one thing he had learned, it was that none of the orphans here at Refuge had been trained with guns, which was probably why Athena seemed so fond of them.

The silencer had hushed the sound of the bullet leaving the barrel. A pop had sounded through the air, it seemed loud to him in the silence, but the birds perched in his tree barely stirred.

All the torture he had endured at the hands of Twee, he was glad to see the world rid of him, but he wasn’t the one he was looking for.

Someone else stepped out, their eyes dropping to their fallen comrade on the floor.

Hunter pressed the trigger, the other body falling on top of Twee.

They would pile up, he would get rid of all of them if he had to.

It was a heartless thought. It was entirely possible there were orphans in there similar to Athena, just trying to escape a life they were merely trying to survive. He would never shoot a child. He just had to pray that no children stepped out into the clearing and made him decide what was more important.

Hours passed, the body count was already at seven before he saw the man he had been waiting for.

Aleksandr.

He walked out, staring at the pile of bodies for a moment.

“Gotcha.” Hunter whispered. He pulled the trigger.

The bullet flew through the air, sinking into the weak flesh of his knee. The same knee Athena had damaged when she had escaped this place as a child.

His groan echoed through the air as he grabbed onto his leg, all the veins and muscles in his neck exposed as he grit his teeth. Hunter watched him squirm for a moment before his finger caressed the trigger again. The bullet sunk into the opposite leg.

“The pain tolerance in this guy is crazy.” Hunter whispered to himself before letting out a long sigh. “Alright, enough playtime.”

The final shot flew through the air, sinking in the flesh between his eyes.

 

 

No Name For Her

Hunter drove the car into the small, private airport she had directed him to. The tires skid as he braked, shutting the car off and turning to look at her.

Her hand whipped out and held onto the dash to keep herself from flying through the window. “Jesus Hunter. I would hate to die by flying through the windshield of a car after all of that.” She inhaled sharply. “That’s it.” She pointed to the small plane. “That’s the one that is going to take us home.”

Nodding, he got out of the car and ran around, opening the door for her to get out.

Pursing her lips, she nodded to the nervous man standing in the small hangar. “Go on, tell him we are all set to go and we will be on our way.”

Hunter’s brows creased as her looked her over. “Why don’t we go together?”

She could feel the blood pooling in the seat beneath her. She didn’t think she would make it onto the plane, she knew for sure she wouldn’t make it home. She would be stuck here, in the country she had tried so hard to escape and worked so hard to never return to.

At least she was out of Refuge.

The look on his face made him want to tell her. She had never been the kind of person to sugar-coat things for people. She had always been upfront, not wanting to waste time. She should just tell him she wasn’t going back, she would sit here in this car until Aleksandr figured it out and showed up just in time to see her slip away, completely out of his grasp.

It would be her last triumph over him. Within reach but unable to ever be caught by him again. All these years plotting and searching, wasted.

“Hey, come on. Let’s go.” He looked at her. “You look a little banged up. Let me help you.”

She swatted his hand away. “I don’t need your help.” She told him.

“Then get up,” He countered. “Because I am not leaving here without you.” His jaw was set as his eyes bore into hers, challenging her to make him prove it.

Letting out a deep breath, she tried not to snarl at him as she forced herself out of the car. She leaned back on it for a second before slowly pushing herself to walk towards the anxious man who waited for them. This was her last fight, fighting to get onto that plane.

“As you requested,” He was practically shaking, her threats repeating themselves in his mind from the moment she met him.

Nodding, he gestured for him to go ahead of them. “We have to get going. They should be here soon. The last thing we want is to be shot out of the sky.”

He ran ahead of them, only turning back when they all got onto the plane. “They won’t really shoot us out of the sky, will they?”

She ignored him and pushed him back so she could get to the small bathroom.

“We will be leaving in five minutes.” He yelled after her, turning to awkwardly look at Hunter before joining the pilot in the cockpit.

Hunter walked back as he heard the engines starting, the door closing. “Hey… I still don’t know your name.”

Annoyance rocked through her as the bathroom door opened and he stared at her with her top off as she fumbled with a needle and thread and a blood covered bottle of whiskey.

His eyes went wide. “Where did you get that? What happened to you?”

“I got shot.” She said flatly as the small bathroom started to spin around her. Leaning back, she clutched the counter before biting her lip and sticking the needle through her skin again.

“Is that even sterilized? Where is the bullet?” He ran his hands through his hair as all the questions seemed to flood through him. “You… you… ugh, I don’t even know your name.”

“I don’t have one.” She snapped at him, unable to beat around the bush as she struggled to stay conscious and stop the bleeding.

His brow furrowed. “You don’t have a name?”

Closing her eyes, she let her head roll back as the pain washed over her. She felt as though she were slowing dipping below the surface of the water, waves washing over her, holding her under as she tried to break free, swim up. Her knuckles turned white as she gripped the counter with all her strength.

Her mind was reeling. At the front of her mind, she could hear Hunter, she could see the look on his face as he worried about her while still trying to figure her out. In the back of her mind, she could feel the plane speeding down the runway, lifting into the air as she momentarily felt weightless. All the while, her she counted. Counted the seconds until she was out of this country and anywhere else.

Nausea rocked her, light-headed, she struggled to keep her eyes from rolling back into her head.

Blindly running her hand along her abdomen, she could feel the bleeding had stopped, she had sewn herself up enough to keep whatever blood she had left inside her.

She was no doctor, but she knew there wasn’t enough left in her to survive her final escape from refuge.

Her knees buckled, and she felt herself falling forward.

Arms closed around her, holding onto her as she felt herself being lifted, carried.

Something soft surrounded her, covering her across her shoulders that were still bare, her shirt a bloody mess on the bathroom counter.

“Jesus Christ!” The cockpit door opened, and the owner of the plane stuck his head in to look at them. “What the fuck happened to her?”

“She’s been shot!” Hunter’s frantic hands moved over her abdomen. “She’s not bleeding anymore.”

“Look at her. Does she have anything left to bleed.”

She wondered what they must be looking at, a ghost of who she was. Her skin must have been pale, her lips dried and chapped, sweat slicking her brow. She was moments away from death, she could feel his cool arms reaching out to her.

“How long?”

“We just got in the air!” His voice was panicked. “We still have over 8 hours left until we return to Canada.”

“Is there anywhere we can stop.”

“No.” She intervened. “We don’t stop. Dead or alive…” She trailed off. Summoning the strength she needed, she opened her eyes and looked at the man she had threatened for use of his plan. “We don’t stop.” She repeated.

Nodding, he returned to the cockpit.

“Christ!” Rolling his eyes at her, he bared his teeth. “It’s really difficult to yell at you without using a name.”

Her brow furrowed, her breath becoming shallow. “That sounds ridiculous. I’ve yelled at a handful of people without knowing who they are, or their name.”

Running his hand along her forehead, he looked down at her. “You went through all this trouble to avoid me, you made me stalk you for weeks before you agreed to spend a night with me, where you barely said anything. Then you come across the Atlantic to rescue me. Someone it didn’t even seem you cared about. Why?”

“If it weren’t for me, you wouldn’t have been there in the first place.”

“And that’s reason enough.” He thought for a moment. “I don’t know a lot about you, but while I was there… back wherever I was there was a man who told me a bit about you. He said you believed you were the hands of justice, a vigilante.” Covering her chest, he did his best to try to make her comfortable. “When I was a child, I had this obsession with Greek Mythology. I borrowed every book I could find from the library, had my parent buy me limited edition hard copies of all the legends and myths. The more I get to know you, the more you remind me of someone. The perfect name for someone who doesn’t have one. “Athena.” Looking down, he looked at her face to judge her reaction to the name he had chosen for her.

Her eyes were closed, her face lax as her head was slumped against the pillows on the fancy bench seats. Her arm hung lifelessly at her side, dangling an inch above the floor.

Reaching over, he tapped her cheek lightly. “Athena?”

30 Days- 4. Day One: Yosemite Valley

The smell of bacon, waffles and fresh coffee floated through the air. It drifted under my blankets and danced around under my nose. Rolling over with a moan, I reached out beside me. My hands grasped around on the empty bed.

Exhaling slowly, I rolled over and poked my head out from under the blankets. My eyes watched the digital numbers on my clock as they slowly changed. I turned it off when the numbers read 4:00am long before the  alarm was scheduled to sound. Throwing my feet to the floor, I got up and slowly walked down the hall. My fingers ran through the mess of my curly pixie cut as I trudged over to the kitchen.

Ruby looked over her shoulder at me with a glowing smile. She was wearing a pair of my jeans and a plaid button down, her red hair pulled back in a messy bun on top of her head, shoes already on. “Amazing, you’re up.” Walking over, she put a plate on the table and smiled at me before bringing over a mug of coffee.

Turning, I looked at the two backpacks by the front door of my apartment. “What’s all that?”

“We’ll talk while we eat to save time.” Sitting across from me, she poured syrup all over her waffles and bacon before sipping her coffee. Reaching into her back pocket, she pulled something out and put it on the table between us.

Picking up the envelope, I pulled out the tickets inside. “Fresno, California.” I looked at the tickets for a few moments. “Why are we going to Fresno?”

“We’re not. We’re just passing through. We are going to Yosemite Valley.”

“Yosemite Valley.” I remembered the scenic place from the screen saver I had for five months.

“We leave for the airport in less than an hour.” Shoveling a couple of pieces of bacon into her mouth, she looked at me. Her face was light, like yesterday hadn’t happened. “I am assuming you don’t mind missing work, since you were planning on being dead today.”

Pursing my lips, I shook my head. “Nope.”

“Amazing. So eat up, you can squeeze in a shower before we head out.”

We ate in silence, although every time I looked over at her, she had a comforting smile on her face. Getting up, I put my plate in the dishwasher and walked past her out of the kitchen. “Ruby, why are we going to Yosemite Valley?”

“Sometimes when you are surrounded by darkness, the only thing to do is search out some light.”

—–

Standing with my toes in the water, I looked up at the beautiful mountains that seemed to surround us. It was like a dream, or a painting the way the water reflected the trees and mountains. I breathed in the fresh air; letting it fill me up completely as I closed my eyes and let my head fall slowly back.

Ruby took my hand in her own, linking her fingers through mine as she stood beside me.

We didn’t say anything; we just stood there in silence.

I was no fool; I knew what Ruby was trying to do. She was trying to give me a reason to live. I was not defiant; I was not so set on ending my life that I wouldn’t let any happiness in. I would take all the happiness I could get.

I would follow Ruby around the world if that were what she wanted. As much as she wanted me to live, I still wanted a little bit of her to rub off on me. I wanted to find the light she kept going on about.

I lived my life drowning in a darkness that overwhelmed me, it sunk deep down into my skin, and filling me with a pain I couldn’t describe but felt with every breath I took. All these years, I wanted someone to reach down, to pull me out of the darkness and into the world. Maybe this was when it would happen.

As much as I needed to die, I also wanted to find a reason to live.

That was why I gave her 30 days. That was why I was here, in Yosemite Valley.


“You know, there are two types of people. There are the kind of people who are surrounded by darkness, walking through tar their whole life. And there are those who are flooded with light, rainbows paving their way. Sometimes both can seem overwhelming. What you need is to find your opposite, balance yourself out to make it all seem bearable.”

Looking out at the beautiful world around me, I felt the darkness ebb slightly away. Suddenly I felt light surround the darkness around me, trying to fight its way in. It was slight, but it was there. Strong and forceful.


There were years of darkness to get through, I wasn’t confident it would work. The company made it worth the journey of trying to figure it all out.

Smiling at her, I nodded. “So, Yosemite Valley.”

“Yosemite Valley. Can’t you feel the light here?”

Nodding, I tightened my grip on her hand. “Yes. I actually can.”

A Lioness

Sucking in a breath, she noted the way the air felt cooler across her left ribs where Aleksandr’s blade had sunk in. The copper taste of blood filled her mouth as she looked at him through her one good eye. She barely noticed the swollen throb of the other as she looked at him.

Ten, nine, eight, seven, six, five, four, three, two, one.

Sighing in relief, she braced herself. Blood trickled down the middle finger of her right hand. She could feel the heat of the crimson river as it flowed from the gaping gash on her upper arm.

Knowing she had to bide her time, she had allowed herself to be sloppy. Aleksandr craved the triumph, and if she put up too much of a fight early on she was afraid he would step back, allow the other orphans to step in and they would disperse, others going to search the rest of the grounds.

Running her tongue along her upper gums, she resisted the urge to wince as blood seeped into her tongue.

Aleksandr thought he was a cheetah, fast and efficient. His moved were quick and calculated, He had hunted her for a long time and his mouth was salivating now that she was within reach.

She was a lioness. Her muscular build made her more capable of taking him down, her paws were massive, the size of his head and her heart was determined.

It was time she show Aleksandr just how capable she was.

In the back of her mind, she could hear the car starting, feel Hunter shifting in the driver’s seat and hesitating. No matter what she had told him, he would wait for her. He would wait until she was dead and in the ground and they came for him.

All the more reason she had to get to that car and fast.

Closing the space, she quickly swung her foot up and through the air. It connected hard with Aleksandr’s jaw, sending him back as he lost his footing and his consciousness for a moment. She used the moment to grab the knife from his sheath. Throwing it through the air, she heard it sink into Twee’s shoulder. He stumbled, dropping to his knees in shock.

Running out of the room, she hopped up on a desk and scurried through the window.

If she were competing here, Aleksandr would tell her retreating was a loss. She had never cared much for his opinion, or for winning. She had merely tried to survive, anything else was trivial.

Biting the inside of her cheek, she tried not to call out in pain when she fell to the floor she her chest hit the ground. Her ribs vibrated with pain, her body shaking as it threatened to give up on her. Pushing herself up, she forced her legs to steady as she zipped quickly through the trees.

She kept her pace even, trying to keep her visibility to a minimum as she weaved through the trees and around buildings.

They didn’t know where the car was, there was still a chance to get there and leave unnoticed.

A shot sounded. It seemed so loud it was deafening and then it quieted everything around it. Her breath fogged before her as she sucked in air, the animals panicking to get away before they stilled, hiding.

Quickly moving to hide behind a tree, she waited.

A bunch of orphans ran out to stand beside the main building, a twenty or so yards from the tree she hid behind.

Aleksandr came out of the building, shoving a few of them aside as he looked around. “A gun?” His voice was heavy with disbelief. “Which one of you pathetic excuses for a human being dare bring a gun into Refuge?”

Everyone stepped back, their eyes intent on the one who had been so foolish as to think Aleksandr would ever accept such a cowardly weapon be used here of all places.

Clearing her throat, a pale girl with dirty blonde hair stepped forward, the gun still in her hand. “Sir,” She practically whimpered, realizing her punishment would be harsh. “You said to stop her by any means.”

His hand whipped across her face. “Have I taught you nothing?”

“I just thought-”

“No, I don’t think you thought at all.” Pulling a knife from his belt, it was already sunk in the flesh between her eyes before she could gasp in shock. Her knees buckled, her mouth gaping open before she crumpled to the floor. “Are there any others with such ridiculous thoughts?”

Silence fell across the group.

“Wonderful. Bring her to me. Now!”

Waiting until they dispersed to look, she made her way to the car.

Pulling open the door, she was in the passenger’s seat before Hunter could react. “Jesus,” He looked at her. “Are you alright? I didn’t think you were coming.”

“Go!” She demanded.

She didn’t have to tell him twice. Turning the key, he quickly pulled away, following her directions as she barked them at her.

“No lights,” She told him as he tried to make his way through the early dawn. “Left here, quickly. They will have noticed us by now.”

Lifting her hands from her abdomen, she looked down at the thick redness that slicked her hand. Letting out a breath, she kept her eyes ahead and hoped they made it to the small airport before she completely bled out.

 

Too Important To Love

In three days, she was going to be seventeen.

Birthdays had never really meant much to her. When she was younger, it had seemed sad. Her mother and father were masquerade as perfect parents with these happy faces painted on as they took her out to dinner to celebrate what she knew now for sure was one of their biggest mistakes.

Her.

It wasn’t a depressing thought she used to keep herself down, she was fine with it. Her parents had been full of lust and too young to know that was all it was. He was oblivious to just how sick she was and how mentally unfit she was to belong to anyone. Her mother just wanted to belong to someone, regardless of the consequence.

Since she had moved in with Vincent and Harrison, she had learned they made a huge deal out of birthdays. There were surprises, and a ridiculous amount of gifts and money being spent and they would block whole weeks out of their calendar to celebrate one another.

It was sweet, in a way. She would enjoy it more if she got to participate in their celebrations without them doing the same for her.

Harrison hopped onto the couch, putting his head in her lap as they watched TV. “So, have you been thinking about what you want for your birthday?” He asked her, trying his best to seem nonchalant.

Vincent had been away on a business trip. Whenever he had to go away, he usually hired someone to watch over them, but since Vincent had turned sixteen, he had trusted them to be alone in the apartment and had the doorman and security check in periodically.

He was expected to return the evening of the day before her birthday.

“Nothing.” She said absent-mindedly, watching the romance movie that was on TV.

Groaning, he rolled over on his side to watch. “Why do you watch this nonsense?”

“They are pretty predictable.” She nodded. “But who doesn’t want to believe you can find love no matter the situation?”

Harrison looked up at her. “You don’t even go on dates. How are you supposed to find love?”

Sparrow lifted her shoulders. “What’s the point of dating? According to your mother we are already betrothed.” She joked.

“If our lives were a romance movie, we would already be in love with on another. We just haven’t realized it yet.” He smiled up at her. “Do you love me, Sparrow?”

Running her hand slowly down his cheek, she looked into his eyes. “I do. Forever and always I do, but I didn’t realize it until this very moment. Kiss me!” She pursed her lips and made smoothing noises at him.

He pushed her face away. “Stop!” He laughed, rolling off the couch.

Sparrow laughed hysterically when he rolled into the coffee table, shaking all the contents on top of it and spilling her soda.

“Ouch!” He moaned, pushing himself up to his knees. Looking up at her, he frowned, rubbing at the side of his head. “Do you see what you did?”

“Hey, I didn’t do anything but confess my love and affection for you. I didn’t think you were going to be such a baby about it.” She playfully rustled his hair.

Moving his head out of reach, he got to his feet and sat beside her. “I am not a baby.”

She snorted at him. “Whatever you say, Harry.”

“So there is no one you are crushing on right now?” He asked her once he settled back on the couch.

Sparrow shook her head. “No one that interests me. You know, you are one to make fun, but you don’t really date anyone either.”

Thinking about it, Harrison frowned. “Yeah, no one really interests me either.” He was quiet for a while, sitting with her as they watched the movie.

Reaching out, he took her hand and held onto it in his lap as they watched.

It was comfortable, and Sparrow slid down to enjoy the movie and the company.

“You should only have relationships with people you don’t really care about.” Harrison said finally. “People you aren’t afraid to lose.”

Her brow creased.

“When you fall in love with someone you are actually afraid to lose, when it all doesn’t work out, you end up losing the most important person in your life. That is why we would never work, I love you more than I’ve ever loved anything, and if anything ever happened between us and we broke up, I would want to shut you out so completely. I’d end up losing the only person I had ever truly let into my heart.”

He didn’t look at her then, and she was glad for it because her eyes started to fog over. Harrison was the most important person in her life besides Vincent. He was the person who showed her she could be loved.

There was so much truth to his words. She was the same way. She shut down when she was hurt, closing herself off from the rest of the world.

Falling in love with Harrison would be losing him.

Squeezing his hand, she cleared her throat. “So I guess it’s a good thing we don’t plan to fall in love.”