Bookworm slowly stepped forward...his eyes fixated upon me.
For someone who previously seemed so thin and wiry before...a mere quiet advisor to The Jeweler and nothing more...he was definitely a much more intimidating presence now. I watched as the red 'hunter's glow' in his eyes began to fade and return to normal. His face was stoic, with a stare that I could feel in the pit of my stomach. And yet, it was his extremely calm demeanor that frightened me most. Especially when I consider the fact that he had just nearly severed one of the guards' hands off with a single bladed page from his book.
Bookworm leaned his head to the side slightly to look over my shoulder at the guard he had maimed. "Take him to the third floor for medical attention." He said, looking at the pool of blood at the guard's feet. "Tell them to send some of our parishioners down to the lobby for the mess, please. We can't have our entrance looking so unpleasant."
"Yes, sir..." Two of the guards helped the man up off of his knees, and carried him away, crying and grinding his teeth in intense pain, holding his hand onto his wrist so he wouldn't tear the thin flap of skin holding it on.
As Bookworm approached, I gently put my arm out to lightly push Taryn behind me. He looked me in directly in the eye, soft spoken with his measured tone, and said, "My apologies, Justin. It was not my intention to have you witness such things."
Trying to control my involuntary trembling, I said, "That did seem...a little excessive."
"The Jeweler gave specific orders to make sure that your stay here was as comfortable as possible. You and your sire were not to be harmed. That was the order. That soldier broke the rules."
"So...you cut his hand off?"
Bookworm stepped even closer, forcing me to take a baby step backward...keeping myself between him and Taryn. "A facility like the one we have here cannot be maintained without a sense of order. And a sense of order cannot be maintained without a sense of consequence. But, worry not. I assure you that he will be fine."
"Fine? You're joking, right?"
He gave me the slightest of smirks. "Strings is the playful one. I don't have much time for such games." He looked over at Taryn and nodded his head. "Are you alright?" Taryn nodded, but remained silent. "Good. My apologies for any inconvenience we may have caused you." He directed his stare back at me, and then looked down to see us holding hands. "I take it that you two were looking to leave this establishment for the evening?"
"We...we were just going to go out and get some fresh air. We've been cooped up in here for longer than I expected." I said.
"I see..." He said, and he let his arm drop to hold that large book of his at his side. "I'm afraid that Mr. Lockheart has given us instructions to keep you inside the building for the time being, unless we have received direct permission from him to allow you to do otherwise. Thus, the unfortunate altercation that happened here tonight."
"We're not prisoners in this place. We just wanted to go outside."
"The order was given, not to antagonize you, Justin, or to complicate your situation. It was given to ensure your safety. Word of your very existence is rapidly spreading...and people will come looking for you. They won't all have the best of intentions. Not for you. And not for your sire."
Attempting to fake a bit of confidence, I stood up straight and pushed my shoulders back. "I think I'll take my chances. Just for one night." I said. "Hopefully, The Jeweler won't have much of a problem with that."
Bookworm stared into my eyes for a moment. I knew that he was a reader, but I could always tell when he was invading my thoughts, so I was prepared to block him out with Kid's extra again if I had to.
He was silent at first, but then said, "I need to discuss this with Mr. Lockheart. Give me a moment, will you?" I nodded, and Bookworm turned around to make a brief call upstairs to see if we could get 'permission' to leave the premises. I swear, every time I begin to think that I might be able to get comfortable in a place like this...somebody does something to let me know that I probably shouldn't be so eager to do so.
Taryn seemed a little shaken, and when i felt him squeeze my hand a bit tighter, I turned to him and raised his chin with my fingers, giving him a comforting kiss on the lips. "It's ok. I promise." I hugged him close, and waited for Bookworm to walk back over to where we were standing.
"The Jeweler wants you two to be careful during your little outing. He expects you back tomorrow evening at your earliest convenience so that you can continue your training. He feels like you still have much more to learn, and not much time to learn it. Provided you can operate within those guidelines...he wishes you well." He said.
"So...we can...we can just go?"
With another smirk, he replied, "As you said, Justin...you're not a prisoner here. Enjoy your evening." Bookworm gave the other guards a nod, and they spread out to give us access to the front door...
...Except for Cage, that is. Their team leader.
It was obvious that he was extremely annoyed by the fact that his orders were being undercut by a higher authority. Especially by a teenager. But screw him. His ego will just have to take the blow tonight.
He stood right in front of us, refusing to move, as if this was some kind of macho power play on his part. But I looked up into his angry eyes...and with a delicate smirk, I used Dizz's extra to toss his attention over to the right, and Chad's speed to carry me and Taryn right around him before he was able to look back and focus again. By the time he knew what was going on, we were already standing in front of the glass doors.
He was completely caught off guard by how fast and how effortlessly I was able to get around him. And Taryn and I both looked back over our shoulders to send him a condescending smile as I said, in a mocking tone, "You guys 'enjoy your evening'. Hehehe!" And with that, I opened the door and we stepped out into the night air. Safe and sound. No conflict needed.
Taryn looked at the smile on my face as we began heading down the street, my eyes focused up at the stars, and the brightness of a three-quarter moon as a cool breeze brushed up against my face. I hadn't even realized that were still holding hands until Taryn pulled me closer to him to lightly kiss me on the cheek. "You are so much trouble, you know that?" He grinned.
"Me? What did I do? Hehehe!"
"You're just...so beautifully wicked. You know that?"
"I'd like to think that I have my moments, sure. But I'm no more wicked than anybody else in that place." I said. Then, I looked into his eyes as he brushed some of his longish hair out of his eyes with the softest gesture. Sometimes, I swear his every graceful movement makes me fall in love with him all over again. "I'm sorry if they scared you..."
"I just want us to be safe. I wasn't scared so much...just...concerned, I guess." He put on a brave face, but I knew him better than that.
"I was a little scared myself. Don't sweat it."
"Hehehe, oh please." He grinned. "You can't get scared. You're the 'chosen one', remember? You're not allowed to be afraid of anything." Taryn playfully reached out with his hand, hitting me in the stomach, and then in the arm, and then in the chest as I giggled cheerfully at his well planned attack. "Psh, psh, psh! I got you!"
And as he lashed out again, with his right hand, and then his left, my instincts took over and I was able to grab him by the wrists to keep him from landing any more soft blows on me. Right wrist...left wrist...then I spread his arms out, holding him steady. And once he figured out that he couldn't break out of my grip, he jerked forward to give me a sweet kiss on the lips. "Hehehe, cheater!"
Ha laughed with me for a moment, but the stare in his eyes softened, and he moaned, "I love you, Justin."
Standing there in the street, I let go of his wrists and put my hand behind the back of his neck to give him a proper kiss...our lips melting into one another, tongues touching...and just inhaling the sweet scent of my lover as I felt all of my worries fade away like the memories of a forgotten dream come morning. There was nothing more soothing than the comfort of Taryn's love. There were times when it almost literally moved me to tears.
We had been through sooooo much in such a short amount of time. I felt as though I had lived an entire lifetime in his arms already, and it hadn't even been a full year yet. And to think...
...We still had the rest of eternity to look forward to...
Walking back through the brightly lit Chicago streets, I began to remember how much I loved my city. I missed the 'feel' of it. The smell of it. I had almost forgotten the pride that came with being in one of the greatest metropolitan areas in the country. Hell, maybe even the world. It doesn't take long to get homesick when you're apart from it for any length of time. Anybody that's lived there knows exactly what I'm talking about. There's a certain vibrant energy to Chicago that you simply can't duplicate anywhere else. A feeling. A hidden force that flows through its streets, it's architecture, its people...it never leaves you. It becomes a part of you forever once you've truly been exposed to it. It was something special to me that I was happy that Taryn and I could both share together...even if he's been walking these streets for a lot longer than I have.
However...as the downtown city lights began to fade into the background...and we were getting closer to the lot, I couldn't help but to feel a series of paranoid jitters begin to bounce around in the pit of my stomach. We were still a number of blocks away from home, but...the idea of walking back through those front gates to face everybody again was...'frightening', to say the least.
I had to struggle a bit to focus on what Taryn was talking to me about at the time. "So, wait...you're telling me that The Jeweler has an entire room full of dead vampires? What the...?"
Shaking myself out of my trance, gradually slowing down my pace so as not to get back to the lot too quickly...I said, "Well, not, like...dead bodies or anything. He turned them into jewels."
"Like, he takes their ashes..." I tried to explain. "Vampires come in when they're at the end of their rope and they want, like...a 'Sun Quest' thing, like Tiana had...?"
"That's what those hot boxes in the building are for?" He asked, innocently.
"I'm pretty sure that's how it starts. And then, when they turn to ashes...he finds a way to heat them ujp and make their body into gemstones." I said. "He's got like a whole sparkly graveyard full of them just hanging from the ceiling somewhere in the building. It's so creepy."
"That entire operation seems kinda creepy to me. But...if you think he can help..."
"That's just it, Taryn...I'm not so sure he can." I said, slowing down even more as Taryn walked a few steps in front of me. "The Jeweler keeps telling me that I need to know myself. That i need to break my chains or whatever. But I don't know what any of that means. I keep having these...dreams, and...these voices in my head...and I can't tell if it's me, or if it's someone else, or if it's nobody at all. And I'm scared that I'm not going to be able to make any sense out of all this before it's too late, assuming that I'll ever be able to make any sense out of it at all." Taryn stopped walking, and he caressed my cheek with a soft palm, looking deeply into my eyes. "Some 'chosen one', huh?"
"Justin...baby, you work soooo hard to be so much for SO many people. Sometimes, being imperfect with a good heart and good intentions is as close to perfect as we can get. Don't you understand that?" He said softly. "Maybe there was some secret force or some wild prophecy that chose you to carry the power that you have...but what you do with it is totally up to you."
Taryn kissed me, the taste of his lips lingering on my own as he gave me an adorable grin. "Would it be a great disappointment if I told you that I didn't want this? Any of it?" I said. "Because, the truth of the matter is...everything that I love, everything that I become a part of...ultimately gets destroyed. People get hurt. People I love and care about. I screwed up my life, I'm screwing up yours, I screwed up Richie's now...and then there's Dylan..." I sniffled quietly. "...Tim's house, Jeremy's lab, Bernie's club, the Nifty Archive in the Ice Zone, Dash's sanctuary...I just wish that I knew how to fix what was broken in me so that I could stop bringing a wave of disaster and pain with me everywhere I go. But I don't think I can. I was hoping The Jeweler could help, but he pushes soooo hard sometimes..."
"Justy, I need you to listen to me, ok?" He said, now caressing both sides of my face as tears welled up in my eyes. "I know what it's like to be scared. I know what it's like to feel helpless...and unprepared. Believe me, I know." He used his thumbs to wipe my falling tears, and he said, "When I first ran away from home, all those years ago...I didn't know what I was doing either. I dragged my little brother out here with me on the city streets...no real plan, no shelter, barely enough cash to last us a few days as far as food and supplies were concerned. And...when Alec got sick...I had no idea how to make things better. I kept worrying that I wasn't strong enough. I wasn't smart enough. But when the time came for me to make the hard decisions...I did what I thought was right. And I'm not saying that I didn't make mistakes, nor that I don't have any regrets...but I did the best that I could. And that's all that I could do." He kissed me once more, now looking a little misty eyed himself. "You're the most incredible soul that I've ever come across, Justin. Everything about you amazes me, and I've learned to have faith in you. No matter what." He said. "And you'll know what needs to be done...when you need to know what needs to be done. It's all you can do."
More tears slid down my cheek as I looked upon that beautiful face of his and felt my heart reaching out to him as if our affectionate embrace wasn't keeping us close enough to matter. "Taryn, please...you don't know what you're saying when you say that..." I sobbed. "Please don't say that."
"Shhhh...it's ok. I trust you. I'll always trust you." He whispered.
"You shouldn't. I don't even trust myself anymore."
"Then maybe you're just too scared to see what I see when I look at you. Let me help you." He said. "Let me be your mirror, ok? And you and I can get through this together." He took me by the hand and started to walk forward again while gently pulling me along. And I know that Taryn was really trying to keep my hopes up. I know that he really wanted me to have faith in him and his loving heart in all the places where I couldn't find faith in myself. But as we got past the old church, and the abandoned building with the rooftop...I found those fearful tremors inside beginning to jackhammer away at my ribs with growing intensity. And even though Taryn was extremely excited about heading home again, I reached my limit, and found myself pulling back from him. "What's...what's the matter? What's wrong?" He asked.
"I think...I should probably go and check up on Richie before I get too comfortable for the evening." I said, knowing full well that it was a lie. "I'm going to head out to Jeremy's..."
"What are you talking about?" Taryn smirked at first, as if wondering whether or not I was playing some sort of game with him. But his smile dimmed a bit once he realized what was going on here. "Justin? Talk to me."
"There isn't much to talk about. I just...I really think that I should go. Maybe come back later."
"Justy, we're already home. Just walk in with me, and we'll..."
"I don't think I'm ready for that, ok? I mean it, Taryn." I said, now pulling my hand out of his grip completely. "I'm sorry."
He stood in front of me, saying, "If you think you have anything to worry about with the others...you don't. Ok? Just give them a chance. They'll understand. And they'll do everything they can to help. We're a 'family', Justin. It's what we do for one another."
"I didn't leave on the best of terms..." I mumbled sadly.
"We'll deal with it."
"You don't get it, Taryn. Everything that I touch turns to shit, eventually. When I left the lot...I got in a huge fight with Dion. I lied right to Bryson's face. Jenna had to leave and get away from the rest of us and stay emotionally stable...Taryn, I literally invaded Doc's mind and stole the directions to find The Jeweler's location. Don't you see? It's happening all over again. I don't bring whatever I'm cursed with to the lot. I couldn't bear it if anybody else got hurt." Taryn attempted to reason with me, but as he reached out for me, I brushed his hands off of me and stepped back from him. nothing hurts more than having to push away someone you love so deeply. But for now, the best way to keep my Taryn safe...is to stay the hell away from him. Just for a little while. "Go." I told him. "I'll check in with Jeremy, see how Richie is doing with his crossover...and I'll come back."
Hesitating for a moment, Taryn stepped forward and said, "You look me in the eye, Justin. You look me in the eye and you tell me that you're coming back for me tonight."
"I'll come back for you. Ok?"
"Tonight!" He insisted.
"I promise." I said, and Taryn lightly kissed my lips, following up with a tight hug around the neck as he closed his neck and tried to send me off with all of the affection and support that he could. "I love you." I said.
"Love you too." He replied. "Even though you drive me fucking crazy sometimes. Heh..." He loosened his embrace, and stepped back to wipe his eyes on the back of his hands, his optrix glowing again as his tears warped the light.
"Stay beautiful until I get back, alright?" I said, and started to walk away from him while he attempted to fix himself up.
He watched me until I was almost out of sight, and I wish things could be easier to navigate in this world. I'm trying to learn, but everything seems to be moving so fast. Day by day. I'll take a few bruises and black eyes for a couple of high school bullies over having to fight for my very life and the lives of the people around me any day.
Unfortunately, I don't have any say in how many or how few options I have to choose from. What's worse, I don't have the luxury of taking my time to figure this stuff out while my loved ones suffer and die for my lack of experience. I don't know...I just...I couldn't stand to have the others in the lot look me in the face right now. I'll keep my word to Taryn, and I'll return before the dawn. But it terrifies me to think that I'll have to face their judging eyes on me. I think I just need to see Richie and, hopefully, get some good news tonight.
I could really use some right about now.