The Shadow

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Toxic Masculinity

Caeli

“Caeli, um, Sinclair told me to…” Syrus trailed off as he walked into my room, no knock on the door as per usual with him and Vincent. I’d been sitting at the desk in my hotel room. Papers and a book on Incan history covered its surface.

“Told you to what?” I asked, my hand resting on my cell phone, which had also been on my desk. Researching two things at once had led to some exciting facts being revealed, especially going after to a nearby internet café to complete some further investigating.

“Tell you the pizzas are on the way here now.” He told me as he walked over to me, I didn’t move to cover any of my notes. I didn’t feel the need to, I wasn’t lying about who I was, or keeping my identity a secret. That was him and his sister. “What is all this?” He asked, so I turned in my chair to look him in the eyes. He seemed angry…

“Research on Incan history,” I answered, looking back to my notes and seeing the two names I had written. “I guess on your history as well, it’s an interesting one.”

“How did you…” He seemed shocked by the fact I had found out after knowing them for only a handful of days. It wouldn’t shock me if Vincent didn’t know. Then again, he was never that interested in my past until I was ready to share it with him.

“I called some contacts of mine, the internet is also handy. You know, Nylah and Syrus Dawson turned up a few months after two other kids, Nylah and Syrus Madeira disappeared. Now, I don’t want to rule out coincidence here, but I assume that there is a connection there.” My eyebrows furrowed.

“I don’t understand what you’re talking about,” Syrus replied, I smiled in a gentle, hopefully, semi-comforting way.

“Sure you don’t. However, I want you to know that if you are lying about who you are, I’m sure there’s a good reason behind it.” I responded, standing up from the chair and placing a hand on his shoulder. “If you ever need someone to talk to about it, please don’t come to me. I don’t have the patience for backstories unless it is fascinating.” I told him with a laugh, but he didn’t seem to hear the humour in my tone.

“Great, thanks.” Sarcasm. Blunt sarcasm.

“I was joking… mostly.” I told him, taking my hand away from his shoulder since we were both uncomfortable with the contact. “Look, get some alcohol in me, and I am a brilliant listener… I think I skipped the point I was attempting to make. What I meant to say is that I understand if you’re trying to keep your identity a secret, if you find it difficult to trust other people. Of all the people on this damned planet, I understand the most. I just want you and Nylah to feel you have someone you can trust. It gives you a safety net, and in this line of work, it’s a true strength to have allies. You’ve been working with Sinclair for a while now, he’s a good person, most of the time, and you don’t give him enough credit or trust. Just keep in mind that he is a valuable player to have on your side.” I told him, as I sat on the desk, my hands next to my legs.

“The only person I trust is my sister, I don’t have any reason to trust anyone-”

“You know that Vince saved your sister in Australia, right? The Order of Shadows would have killed her without hesitation because she was an obstacle. Aside from that, I’m sure you could think of at least one other time when he helped you out, either saving your life or breaking you out of prison, which I hear you have a knack for getting into.” He didn’t deny my statement, so I continued. “I don’t want to work with you any more than I honestly have to, but since we stole that stuff from the museum, took that music box… I have come to a realisation.”

“And what might that be?” He asked, his arms crossed as he leant against the wall. The question seemed almost rhetorical, but I was leading this conversation, and that question was exactly what I had been fishing for.

“Vince and I are having too many ideas, too big for just us to go through with. We need more allies, to trust more people, to make an alliance of sorts. You need the help too, judging from your criminal record, if for no other reason than to know that your sister is safe when you can’t be there. Surely that’s one thing that plagues your mind, the question of her safety.” I said, observing his expression. He tried not to give any emotion away, but I had always been able to read people effortlessly. That didn’t mean I was good with emotion myself. “I have many skills that make me a highly sought after player in any game, it’s something that you should think about at least, working with us,” I added, he sighed before he looked to the notes next to me, the one’s not about him and his sister.

“What’s all this other stuff about?” he asked, changing the topic. I looked down at the notes but picked up the small statue, it was still trying to tell me something.

“The statue,” I answered bluntly, and before he could read too much, I grabbed my notebook to close it. “Once I have more information and know that I can trust you, I will tell you more about it.”

“And how will you know that you can trust me?” he asked me, I shook my head slowly.

“I don’t know yet, but I will when it happens.”

“So, you just gave me that entire speech about trusting people and yet you don’t want to trust me?” Guess I fell right into that one.

“Dawson, I have known you for the better part of a week given the circumstances, I think I’m allowed to have a bit of doubt. Besides, I was specifying you trusting Vince, not me. Trust is a two-way street, much like respect. I have to do something that proves you can trust me, and the same goes for you gaining my trust.” I said before I stood up from the desk, holding the notebook to my chest. “Both trust and respect are vital to me, so I will give you this warning once. If you do somehow gain my trust, respect or both and you break it, betray Vince or me, for example… you’re going to regret ever knowing me.” That wasn’t where I intended to go with the conversation, but here we are. Too late to turn back now.

“Wow, now you’re threatening me?” He asked, pushing off of the desk he had been leaning on to stand closer to me. He looked down at me, an attempt at intimidation I assumed, but no one intimidated me without a valid reason. He didn’t have one. I couldn’t back down, so I didn’t.

“I’m warning you, there is a difference. Believe me when I say that you would know if I was threatening you, I wouldn’t be so nice about it.” I told him, placing my book down but still holding his stare.

“That was nice?” he asked rhetorically, but once again I was the one steering this conversation, and I was going to give him an answer to make him understand his situation a little better.

“For me, that was beyond being nice, and you can speak to a handful of my enemies who can vouch for that fact.” If I did ever give him some form of respect, I might have to get a brain scan done. The fact I was going to continue working with him was almost enough to get checked for a tumour…

“What skills do you even have that I don’t?” Syrus asked. My body went deadly still at the words. I know I’ve said it before, but I will say it again; the audacity. My hands were shaking as my blood ran hot.

“What don’t I have? Have you ever killed people with your bare hands? Cut through the eye of another person because they tested your limits? How did you go from agreeing that I had superior fighting skills to now questioning my abilities? Did you realise that a girl is better than you? Did your toxic masculinity take a hit? I don’t know what changed between then and now, but I am so very close to teaching you a lesson on what I can do. I won’t hold back, and it will be a lot more painful than what you’ve seen me do so far. You have no idea what I have gone through, no idea who I am-”

“I know that you’re a bloody feminist-”

I slapped him.

I didn’t even think about the action. I wasn’t good at keeping my emotions in check and, because of my past, I resorted to violence when negative emotions came into the equation. However, it surprised me that I had slapped Syrus instead of breaking his nose.

“Just so you know, with me being a feminist and all, that it’s assholes like you that piss me off the most. You front as someone who supports women, but as soon as you’re challenged by one you feel threatened by it and don’t know how to act so you show your true colours…” I trailed off as soon as I realised exactly what had happened, why he had lashed out. I shook my head. “Wow, you really are one of them.”

“What the hell do you mean by that?” He asked in an angry tone, but my mood lightened, if only slightly, by the red hand-print bright on his cheek.

“It was when I told you that your actions can make women feel uncomfortable. When I told you that girl at the museum probably didn’t like you and just wanted you gone.” I said, laughing since I lacked any other response in my system. “It must have made you question everything, and then later that night, I was the one who took care of that guard because you couldn’t. Practically rubbed salt into the wound, didn’t I? Well, guess what, sweetheart, you’re bloody easy to read, and I’ve got you figured out. So you know, I will not slow down to help you feel better about yourself, I will not ease up on who I am to nurture your insane fragility. You aren’t going anywhere, anytime soon, I know, because Sinclair already has you locked in for our next plan. You need to figure out who you’re going to be, you need to get your shit together and realise that women are as powerful as men. It might come as a shock to you, but if you asked Sinclair who was in charge, he would tell you it was me. Think about why that is.”

“I-”

“Whatever you’re about to say, I’m going to tell you I don’t give a shit. Unless you have an apology for me, which I really don’t expect, then I don’t want to hear anything from you.” I turned and walked out of the room, not leaving any chance for him to retaliate. I would let him stew on what he had said, let him realise in his own time that he was wrong. I couldn’t believe that he had acted like that, especially when he had a little sister… I walked into Vince’s room, where Nylah was waiting for Syrus and their food.

“I’m going to go for a walk. If Syrus is pissed off, it’s because of me. The handprint on his face is also because of me. He deserved it. You can ask him about it if you’re interested. I’ll be back in twenty minutes.” I said with a bitter-sweet smile before I walked out of the hotel and followed the path around the block.

To think for even a moment there, I had found the Dawson brother attractive, that he might have been the one I could let in behind my walls. What a stupid, idiotic thought. At least the idea was now long gone, I could focus on my future instead. I could never be with someone who wanted me to be weaker than them, who didn’t feel at least a little intimidated by me. Hell, even Vince felt threatened by me at times… but that was for a good reason, when I became something else, not from questioning his actions and saving his life.

I guess that Vince had always been good in that way.

He had been the one to teach me that I should never sell myself short, hold myself back, or change who I am to fit someone else’s desires. I only did so when it was easiest to get what I wanted, and that only happened when I decided it for myself. No one made that decision for me. Another thing that Vince had taught me, to let no one dictate my life for me… which was why I was still so angry about the museum.

Although, I probably would have picked Syrus apart in a matter of seconds had Vince had introduced us any other way. But it would have been for a good reason, I would have seen who is straight away…

I walked around the block twice, just long enough for the cold air to help calm my body down and allow my racing heart to settle to a steady pace. I processed the entire situation once more and decided that I would be the bigger person. Syrus would have one more chance to get on my good side if he apologised.

But I had a feeling that he wouldn’t.

We were as stubborn as each other, and he lacked the power that I had over him.

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