Lost In Shadow: Chapter 2

“Lost In Shadow”
Chapter Two:
“Untitled” – By Reaper’s Harvest

My victory in the white room over Sneed, by far my least favorite person here, brought short lived relief. Before I got back to my room, after getting lost along the way a couple of times, I was intercepted by Dixon. Apparently because I had an impending assignment, there was less time to become reacquainted with “field tactics” than I hoped. The next hour or two were spent landing hard on the mat in the gym after being thrown every which way possible by Tariq, who is certainly not my first choice of training partner. Finally, I got a good hold on my extra.

I love my extra. When I got used to it again, it was like a flashlight with which I could navigate this dark world. I had to concentrate and clear my mind, and then it felt as if my fingertips were pushing through the air and along the floor, spreading out in all directions as I felt every surface around me all at once with a strange intensity. I was casting out this bubble around me, in which I could feel every bump on the surface of the mat, and the smells in the air each became stronger, and within it I could hear a fly like a lawnmower. Every sense was heightened within a three foot radius, but beyond it I got nothing. I think I could cast it out further if I tried, but it was overwhelming in that small area, everything was so strong that I passed out a couple of times, but I learned how to separate the senses.

Tariq’s swinging bo staff cast ripples in the air that allowed me to feel the blows coming, as did the whistling noise it made, which would otherwise have been barely audible. When he got close, I was even able to sense where their were vulnerable spots on him. By the end of the training. I had been able to pin Tariq down two out of three times. I hope that’ll be enough once I’m actually out there.

Now I’m walking back to my room, hoping to get some DVD time before the end of the night, my aching muscles were begging for some “tension release” of a rather specific nature. Finally, I reached my door, and nobody has snatched me away to some demanding chore. I didn’t get too lost on the way over, and I can finally relax for a bit…

Oh great, I should have known it wouldn’t be that easy.

Of course as soon as I open the door I find Orion in my room, slouched over on my bed, looking up at me with the only kind of desperate fear that could bring him back after our fight. As nervous as I was to have him hanging around again, I was even more nervous about the bad news he clearly had to share.

“Thank God I caught you before they came.” He sprang up and hugged me, which was a bit jarring, “God, Adam, I’ve been scared shitless all evening.”

“How long have you been here? Did anyone see you?!” I can’t deal with this every night.

“No, I snuck over here as soon as I heard, I wanted to look for you, but nobody can see me walking around so I’ve just been waiting for you here. Oh God Adam, it’s all gone to hell.”

“What do you mean?!” I was panicking by this point.

“Katrina knows! She’s known for weeks now about us, about my visits. A few hours ago, she sent me to get her a B positive and Stoli on the rocks, just like always, and I passed Sneed on my way out. When I got back, I heard through the door they were talking about the situation with our- well, they called it a crush. Anyway, it got worse. She went on about how she expected you to be ‘finished’ by now, that ‘the last one should have done the job,’ and this time she’ll have to ‘catch you alone.'”

“Dammit, I was afraid of this.”

“It was a trap, I heard it myself. He saw you coming and had orders to kill you! This next job is a trap too. You can’t go, Adam, it’s a miracle you survived the last one.”

Orion was gripping my arm, and his last words reminded me of something Liam had said to me, *I thought you couldn’t get caught by surprise* but Kristoff did. How? My extra should have sensed the attack before he hit my head. I shook Orion off my arm and walked numbly over to my desk to check the files that lay strewn about. On the top was a recent one with Kristoff’s photo on it, I recognized him from the fight he had with Widow and Hell razor. I opened it and there were some photos of what looked like an abandoned convenience store. Underneath it read, “location has been scanned for defense systems. Extra-blocking waves were detected, hunters will be unable to use extras on site.”

Well, that explains it. Clearly Katrina has thought of everything. “What am I supposed to do, Orion?” I was worried and it came out a bit more harshly than I meant. He just looked at me weakly.

“I don’t know, just… don’t go on your next job, please.” I could see tears shining in his eyes. Who could blame him for crying at a time like this? He’s just kid who’s now learning that anybody he talks to will be put on a hit list.

Just then someone knocked on my door and I heard Liam, “Exile, I have that info you asked Dutch to get on this ‘Daniel Gray’ fellow. I think you ought to have a look.”

“Um, sure, I’ll be right out,” I turned to Orion and whispered, “Just stay here, this should only take a second.”

Remembering what Dutch had told me earlier about Dotti, I made sure to handle Liam carefully as I slid myself out the door, being careful not to let him get a glance inside my room.

“Well, you’ll find this interesting. I went over the background given to you and the others by Sneed, and it’s totally out of thin air. There’s no paper trail to back up that he was Hunted, which is understandable considering the secrecy surrounding these missions. But then I looked him up with facial recognition software and found him in an unusual place in our files. He’s a hit man, Exile.”

“Meaning any killing he does, he was hired for. And he’s certainly not the type to be crying in some interrogation in a bow tie.”

“Definitely not, but they were right about his disguises. The software I used barely picked him out based on the points I used to ID him. He’s in our files for some consulting work he did for us about ten years ago when were revamping our monitoring technology.”

“So this is probably a set up?”

“Certainly, though by whom is the question. I should get this to Dutch right away, I just thought I’d share it with you first. Good call, Exile.”

With that, Liam left, and I stood there, the cold realization sinking on me that a vampire Mafia princess had it out for me. I stormed back inside my room and started pacing intensely, startling Orion, who I noticed was keenly listening through the door the whole time.

“I heard what Liam said, Exile,” Orion was gingerly trying to get my attention, “I was hoping I could have been wrong, but I guess she hired him to fake the evidence and set you up again.” I was barely listening to him, thoughts were just rushing through my head at a mile a minute.

“Liam will tell Dutch, and Dutch will pass it on to Sneed, who’ll tell Katrina, who’ll freak out and realize that I’m on to her. It can only get worse from there.”

“Shit, Adam,” Orion sighed to himself as he glanced down at his watch, “I have to get back to Katrina’s now.” He looked at me sadly, patted my shoulder, and slipped through my door.

I had been mumbling to myself and did not even hear him, until it dawned upon me the only course of action, “I have to leave.”

It wasn’t safe here at the compound. Katrina would always know where to find me, and there would always be another mission that could kill me. I scanned the room quickly to look for what I could bring with me, but all I could see of was clothes. I walked over to my desk and pulled open the drawer, hoping there would be something else to help me. At the back of a bunch of pens and pencils was an envelope labeled “emergency money.” Why not? I threw it in the bottom of a small duffel bag in my closet underneath some clothes. To check if the coast was clear for me to leave, I peered through the door, and my heart skipped a beat.

There was Katrina, with Sneed as always, talking to Dutch and Tariq. They were close, but I could sneak around to the exit, avoiding their view entirely. Unfortunately, as I began to ease my way out of the door, Rachael walked by.

“Hey Adam, Katrina’s here about that new mission, Dutch wants us all over there.” I opened my mouth as if to respond, and then noticed out of the corner of my eye that Orion was crouched behind a desk, beckoning me. Rachael followed my gaze, and then looked back at me with a look of shock, confusion, and oddly, a hint of sadness. She smiled at me though and put her hand on my shoulder, whispering to me, “Just go, I’ll cover for you.”

“Thanks,” I returned her smile and scurried off to meet Orion. I had to be careful to keep low and zig-zag to avoid people, but I got to him. We were squeezed together behind the desk, and before I could say anything, Orion gestured to me that we were going to try to get to the hallway behinds us be about ten feet and across the room by about eight.

I followed him as he gingerly snuck over to the entrance of the hallway, which allowed us to hide by pressing up against the wall. The Orion took off to the end of the hall, where it made several sharp turns and we passed by several more doors. As we were running, I noticed the walls showed more and more signs of age the farther down we got until it seemed as if nobody had been down here in decades. At the end of the hallway was a rusty old metal door, but Orion pried it open with surprising ease. This must have been how he’s been sneaking into the facility. A rush of cool night air blew in and I saw Orion race up a flight of adjacent stairs. We got out outside the chain link fence bordering part of the forrest. For the first time we stopped for a breath, and I had a chance to put down my bag and think about what to do next.

Unfortunately, I didn’t have that chance. I looked down the street and noticed a black town car with two men in charcoal grey 3-piece suits having cigarettes next to it. Orion noticed where I was looking and followed my gaze.

“Shit! Katrina’s bodyguards.” He whispered and pulled me aside to flatten ourselves against the fence, trying not to be noticed. No such luck, as the rattle on the fence aroused the attention of the two figures, who began to pace briskly towards us.

“Hey! Hey, who is that!” One of them shouted, reaching into his jacket for what I doubt was another cigarette. I panicked and turned to run and Orion followed suit. Once that set them off, they were as quick as lightning. I felt one of them grab my shoulder and swing me into a telephone pole, he grabbed both my arms and pinned them against my back. I looked over and saw the other one holding Orion with one arm with a gun pointed at the back of his head.

The one holding Orion recognized him and said, “You? What the fuck are you doing here? You’re in deep shit with the boss lady, kid.” It was then that I knew he was no safer with Katrina than I was, and there was no hope for him to return after this point. I rammed the back of my head into the bodyguard’s face, which loosened his grip, elbowed him in the stomach, turned and punched him in the face. Without allowing a split second for my actions to sink in, I grabbed his gun, spun around and disposed of the second with two quick shots to the head, and then shot the first in the same way. Orion just stood there, mouth agape, his face pale, then he smirked a little and said, “Cool.”

I laughed a little, but it was a nervous laugh, “It’s what I do.”

“Are they gonna die?” Orion looked down at the two bodies.

“I doubt it, but brian damage takes a long time to heal and they’ll be knocked for a while. However, if they’re still unconscious when the sun rises, they’ll be toasted.” I replied, echoing the knowledge Dr. Colby had shared with me on vampire head wounds during my own recovery.

“Speaking of sunrise, we need to find a place to go before dawn.”

“You’re right…” my mind raced at a mile a minute, desperately formulating a plan, “You know how to get to Katrina’s from here, right?”

“Um, yeah, she’s in the city, only about twenty minutes away. But Adam, she’s already angry enough, probably even more so now that she knows we’ve run away.” Orion’s last words sunk in and I felt a cold panic wash over me.

“Wait a minute, she does know?”

“Yes, she must know by now… oh shit.” Just as the realization hit us, I heard a noise in the woods and saw it was Katrina and Sneed, with a few figures behind them, emerging from the shack. I grabbed Orion’s hand and sprinted towards the car. I could see she was walking agitatedly, and I could hear the anger in her voice as she got closer and closer to us. As I stuffed Orion into the passenger’s seat and rounded the car to get behind the wheel, they were coming out onto the sidewalk across the street from us, and she looked right into my eyes. they were like hot coals, and I froze from the sheer rage seething from her.

“You… BASTARD!” She hissed viciously and practically flew across the street in an animalistic rage. I dove into the car and slammed on the gas, propelling Orion and I down the street, and I could see her behind us in the rearview mirror, standing in the middle of the street, and I barely caught her last scream, “He’s mine!!!!”

Orion and I were both shaking with panic, I was so worried that I didn’t even have time to reflect on the fact that I only partially remembered how to drive. I turned to Orion, “You’re going to have to tell me how to get to Katrina’s”

“Um… take a left here. But why are we going there? You never explained that to me.”

“She might have evidence there of her next move. I need to know what I’m… we’re up against.”

“Well, right before I ran over here to tell you, I heard her say that she’ll have to ‘catch you alone’ next time, and she was about to call some guy…”

“Daniel Gray probably. Dammit, I should have gotten his file from Liam when I had the chance.”

“Shit” Orion moaned softly as he sunk into his chair sadly, “I can’t believe this, I had a life. Now the only person who took care of me, who was a witch to begin with, has her heart set on killing me.”

I looked over at him sadly, he was so unequipped for all this. I reached over and placed my hand on his and gave it a comforting squeeze, “Hey,” I sad soothingly, “I care about you. And she’s not going to kill either one of us.”

We both knew my words were hollow, but Orion smiled at the kind gesture and the silence for the rest of the car ride was comfortable, save for the occasional directions from Orion.

As we got into the city, our surroundings became more and more dubious. We were driving through filthy streets past hookers, dealers, and their customers. Orion’s head was leaning against the window, and he muttered, “I bet all these guys are working for Katrina.”

Orion told me to stop when we were in front of Katrina’s building. It was an old bank building on a corner facing a relatively wide street, which appeared to be the epicenter of all the criminal activity in the area. I parked across the street and Orion and me walked over to the great metal doors of the grimy old Beaux Arts palace. The ornate opulence and power evoked by the imposing bronze doors and concrete decorative architecture, complete with corinthian columns, was like looking upon the ruins of a once-great empire. Yes this empire was still alive under Katrina, and this place that was once a place of wealth is now one of decadence. Outside the doors lingered more hookers and junkies, and the pulse of music was emanating from behind the grand doors. I looked over at Orion and he explained, “Her private quarters are over the club, it’s her pride and joy.”

I was reluctant to approach the towering bouncers. Interestingly, they wore the same 3-piece suits of her bodyguards. Orion swallowed nervously, but straightened up in front of them, trying not to show weakness.

“Excuse us, we have business here.” it seemed the right thing to say, because the bouncers silently nodded in agreement and heaved open the huge doors for us. Orion leaned over and whispered, “They know me.” Then the inside of the club was presented to me, and it was amazing.

I had never seen a more bacchanalian venue. The towering interior was even more ornate and palatial in its decoration, and its gold details glowed in the red light. There was red fabric wrapped around the corinthian columns bordering the room, and the central octagonal console that was once for paperwork had been turned into a mini pole dancing stage. The front area in which we now stood was full of red velvet modern sofas, all facing the stripper. Some people were getting lap dances, some from men, and others were hooking up among themselves on the plush furniture. The grates on the teller’s stations had been cut down to the countertop and was it was turned into the bar, which created a border between the front and the back areas. The back was cleared of files and desks and was now a dance floor. There was a DJ at the head of it all, looking down at the moving sea of people through his booth above the vault. The great circular vault entrance was open, and lead into the VIP room. The bar glowed red, the DJ’s booth glowed red, and the VIP Vault glowed red. it was like being in an inferno.

Orion was grabbed my hand and spoke into my ear over the music, “This way, the elevator is by the vault.” He pulled me through the steamy atmosphere of the luxurious front room, past the crowded bar, and around the rapturous tumult of drugged up revelers on the dance floor. He led me to a door off to the side of the wall where the vault was, where another bouncer stood at attention. He recognized Orion on site and let us through. It amazed me that this kid who is so unable to handle a life of darkness is still part of the vampire A-list. We took a small elevator up to the upper floor, where the music was barely audible. There were another two bodyguards with tridents on either side of the elevator in the entrance hall area. I followed Orion through what had once been office space and was now a palatial penthouse apartment, to the entrance on the other side to the old boss’ office. When Orion opened the door for me, though, I instead saw a huge four poster bed, with more red fabric flowing from each post. On one end was a couple of sofas in front of a fireplace with a coffee table, on which were a few papers. I immediately began digging through them and found one with a picture of Daniel Gray, though he was difficult to recognize.

This Daniel Gray was not the man from the forged video Sneed showed me, but the real Gray that I would have to face. He looked far more imposing, his hair not stringy but thick, his features strong, and his eyes were powerful. This would not be easy. I grabbed the file and checked it for anything that would help. There were payments plans for Katrina, some info on me, and the same falsified evidence I’d already seen. I shoved the file in my bag. I then looked across the room to where Orion was rummaging through a drawer. His lips were pursed in concentration, his soft blonde hair fell over his face, and I was just struck by his beauty. Even the way his fingers numbly skimmed through papers was like poetry in motion. I just walked over to him and looked over his shoulder at what he was looking at. He glanced at me briefly, smiling, and returned to his task, while I rested my chin on his shoulder. I rested my arm on his other shoulder and he looked up at me again, except this time there was a question burning in his gaze. I responded my moving in, and gently touching my lips to his. He was so soft, and our kiss just felt like home to me. When I used my extra to compound the feeling, it was fireworks. His every sensation sent electric sparks across my skin.

My extra also revealed something else. There was movement outside the door, by the elevator. I was forced to tear away from our kiss and glance over to see one bodyguard receiving a call on his ear piece. He looked over at his partner and nodded, and I knew whatever that call contained it couldn’t be good. I noticed as well that each guard picked up their trident and began to walk toward us. I turned back to Orion, who was standing behind me.

“What’s wrong?”

“Here, hold this,” I handed him my bag and stepped out to deal with the bodyguards. I closed the door behind me just as Orion was about to protest and stared at them as they approached. Once they were about five feet away from me, they stopped and we stared each other down for a while. Finally, one of them jabbed his trident at my gut, I dodged it efficiently as the other one went for my head. I grabbed it and delivered a strong kick to his chest that sent him toppling. I held on to his trident and used it fend off the second one until he aimed low and I could step onto the head of it and use it to propel myself over him, delivering a rear kick to his head ion the process. I noticed a decorative rack of antique swords by one wall and ran for it. I grabbed myself a pair of short swords, almost daggers, but they would do. My extra kicked in, and I blocked them easily now, swatting the points away as they continued to stab me simultaneously. At one point, I wedged my blade between the points of one trident, and the guard twisted it so I was forced to let go and the sword flew over his head. I kicked off of one guard and then the other, grabbing the sword in midair, and landing to fend off a stab from behind, I spun around to slice my assailant’s neck with my other sword, but he blocked my blow with the end of the staff and spun around to send me flying. I landed on my back and rolled to the side in time to avoid a stab to the neck, and the trident instead went stabbed the floor and got caught. Giving me a chance to kick it away, leap to my feet, and efficiently stab him in the stomach. It’s not a fatal wound by any means, but it’ll distract him. I then noticed the second man at the door of the office where Orion was. He was opening the door, and I panicked and threw one of my swords. I was lucky, it struck him in the back, which sent him out of commission for about twenty minutes. In that time I ran to the office and saw Orion next to a doorway that I didn’t know was there. He waved me over frantically.

“Come on! It’s her emergency exit!” Just as I got there, we heard the elevator doors open, and standing there was Daniel Gray. He was out of his bow tie now, and that same face I saw in the photo was on top of a mountain of a body that looked stronger than a tank. The other two guards recognized that their job was done and they left in the elevator, tending to their wounds. They were probably instructed by Katrina to leave once the ‘professional’ arrived. He strode toward us with a huge gun and began blasting at us. Orion and I ducked into the door and slammed it behind us, but he already knew it was there. It went to a small stairwell we dashed down that took us to the back of the building on the sidewalk. We ran instinctively to the car as we heard Gray pursuing us. We were barely at the car once he opened fire on us again, this guy was brutal. I floored it and we sped away, with a few holes in the back, I’m sure. Once we were down the road a ways, I heard a ringing.

“What’s that?” I asked Orion.

“Sounds like a cell phone, but I don’t have one. Do you?” He was looking around.

I realized that it was coming from my jacket and I reached inside to find a phone, “Apparently I do,” I flipped it open and was relieved to hear Rachael’s voice.

“Hey Adam, I dropped the phone in your pocket when I said goodbye.”

“Oh, um, I should explain.”

“Let me go first. You and Orion are way up the shit creek. Katrina’s absolutely furious over your escape. the worst part is, you’re now considered a security risk.”

“What? That crazy bitch is the fucking security risk!”

“Well, word of this stunt reached the Elders, who only see that you’ve run off with a friend of a Mafia princess and now one of their hunters, who knows a lot of classified information, is off the grid. Things like that worry the Elders, and I’m warning you that they’re sending people to find you… brutal people.” Great, as if I needed this in addition to the hit man.

“Are you saying that I’m… hunted?”

“It hasn’t reached that point yet, but don’t let it. Listen, I know you, and I know you wouldn’t do something like this without a good reason.”

“Yes, I’ve got a good fucking reason, she’s trying to kill me! The last job that cost me my memory- which, by the way, is why I don’t have any goddamn classified information to leak- it was a setup! And now this next one, I find out, is another setup! She wants me dead and Orion knows it, that’s why he’s with me, we can prove it.” I was losing my shit over the phone from panic, but I still had the presence of mind to omit that we had feelings for each other. That detail would do nothing for my credibility.

“Fine, then come back and prove it! If the Elders find out that Katrina deceived hunters and tried to have one killed for petty reasons, then you’re vindicated. Just please come back and don’t let this get ugly.” She was pleading, and her sincerity was comforting, but it wasn’t that easy. I had all the evidence I need, but I need to get it to them without being killed in the process. And afterwards, what will become of Orion? I had him to consider.

“Fine, I’ll try, but I need to know we’ll both be safe, and…” I trailed off as I looked in my rearview mirror and saw Gray on a motorcycle speeding toward us. This conversation would have to wait, “Listen, just talk to Liam, he has some interesting information for you all, good bye.”

“Wait! Adam, I know a place for you to stay until tomorrow night… a shelter.” She sounded genuinely concerned, and that comforted me somewhat. She told me the address and I relayed it to Orion, who knew where it was, and I hung up.

“I know that neighborhood, it’s not too far.”

“Good, we’ll be able to stay there, but we still have to lose this guy first. Listen, I still have the gun from that bodyguard. I am going to pull over at that corner about two blocks ahead and you are going to get out and run down that street. I’ll give us some cover fire, okay?”

“Yeah, okay,” His voice was shaky, but he was ready.

And so, I fishtailed the car into a sharp turn that nearly flipped it over, and stopped in such a way that the car blocked most of the street. Orion got out and bolted to where I told him just as the motorcycle smashed into the rear side of the car and flipped Gray over onto the pavement. I shot at him while running to catch up with Orion, who was waiting at the end of the block. The crash probably broke a limb, which would only slow a professional like Gray so much. I caught up with him and he gestured for me to follow him, so I guess he knew how to get to he address Rachael gave me.

We ran down a confusing series of twists and turns, but Orion seemed to know his way around, he must have been a local in his human life. Finally, he stopped in front of an abandoned townhouse. The windows were boarded up, the small patch of grass our front had grown out of control, and the rusty gate was less than inviting. Orion looked at it quizzically,”Are you sure she said number fourteen?” He asked, looking at the number on the door.

“Um, yeah, that’s what she said,” I saw the number on the door as well, but this did not look like the kind of safe haven she would recommend to me.

“Then I guess… this is the place,”

Still, though, neither of us made a move. Then I looked at the crescent moon emblem on the gate, and inspected the graffiti on the doors and windows. I pulled back my right sleeve and checked the intricate pattern imprinted on my wrist. It wasn’t the same pattern, but it was similar, like two different words written by the same hand. You had to look closely, but this place wasn’t as forbidding as one would assume, not to a vampire.

“Here, I think we can give it a shot,” I led Orion by the hand through the rusty gate and thick tuft of weeds up the crumbling stairs to the door. Standing in front of it, I noticed it was more sturdy than it looked from the sidewalk. I noticed a doorbell button and pushed it. I didn’t hear anything inside and I raised my hand to knock the door opened a crack and I saw a dark eye looking at me.

“Yes?” A gravelly voice inquired.

“We need a place to stay for the day,” I couldn’t think of what else to say, “A friend recommended you to me.”

The eye gave me a penetrating gaze as he sized up me and Orion, but he ultimately closed the door, undid the chain, and opened it for us completely. Beyond the doorway was pitch blackness, but I could see that the eye in fact belonged to a woman. She looked ancient, she was tall and wiry, but little more than a delicate tower of brittle bone with long silver hair draping over her loose clothes. With a spidery finger, she gestured for me and Orion to follow her up the stairs in the entrance hall.

“One room for you two?” I cast a look over at Orion.

“Yeah, that’s fine. Thanks” I answered for us.

“You have to be out by eight tomorrow night, without the continental breakfast,” She spoke bitterly, but nevertheless croaked out a laugh at her own joke. At the top of the stairs she led us down the hall, which was dimly lit by wall sconces to reveal a house that was no more well maintained than the exterior. She opened a door for us and flicked on the light. It was small, with two twin beds against either wall and a small table between them beneath a small window. There was peeling wallpaper and the room was lit by a lone bare bulb. I followed Orion in and the woman closed the door behind us with a sarcastic, “Nighty night.”

I sat on one bed and Orion sat on the other across the room so we were facing each other. There was a brief but awkward pause before I finally said, “I guess I should explain our, um, kiss back at Katrina’s.” Orion just smirked and cast his eyes down sheepishly.

“There’s not much to explain. I felt it too.” I just nodded and looked at him. My God he’s sublime. His perfect features and expressive eyes, reflecting my own feelings back at me. It was scary how he had that capability. I suppose he could read me like a book, because he grinned through his blush and giggled at me.

“What?” I smirked, amused at his reaction.

“Come here.” He said it so softly, yet it was a command. I obeyed, stood up, and deliberately walked over to his bed, where I sat down next to him. He turned his face towards mine, our noses only an inch apart, and leaned in to kiss me. I obliged, and ran my hand down his soft hair as his tongue slipped between my lips. We both slowly fell over onto the bed, where he lay partially on top of me, his head resting on my right arm. He broke away from our kiss and looked at me with his piercing blue eyes and whispered, “It’ll be okay.”

So we lay like that, with his hand on my right wrist. As we drifted off to sleep, I could have sworn I felt my tattoo become warmer.

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