I lay on my back, staring up at the gym’s ceiling as I tried to catch my breath. My lungs burned and my sides stung from the hits Kingston had delivered. He, unlike me, had barely broken a sweat as he sat next to me on his phone, soft music playing from its speakers. If my time keeping skills were any good, Echo would be here in ten minutes.
“What’s the deal with the bullet?” I asked, sensing it in his jacket pocket. Without a second thought, I folded my arms over my stomach to protect it from any further abuse from him retaliating.
“None of your business,” Kingston growled but didn’t attempt to get up or attack me. “What’s up with the scars around your neck?”
“Pet collar around my neck for six months and a recently burned shock collar,” I stated with a shrug. Kingston stopped scowling on his phone to stare down at me with dismay.
“You ain’t getting any more unless you tell me about the bullet.”
He was silent, working his jaw as he held his phone tighter before hanging his head. His shoulders seemed to deflate as he took in a deep breath. In a way, he looked like a dejected puppy who was waiting for an owner that would never come.
“It... was meant for me. Was supposed to pierce my heart, instead, it collided with Tango. Lucky me. No doubt Tango told you the story when he found out he was Gifted; my brother was the first one shot and killed. If it weren’t for him, this bullet would have taken me too. I got to go home, he did not.” Kingston took out the bullet, turning it around between his fingers before looking at me expectantly.
“I was owned by another Gifted with telepathy. He stopped my gifts from developing and kept me under lock an’ key. I was his private pleasure if you know what I mean. He’s the main reason why I look so pale and fragile, the reason I’m scared to come out of my shell and I guess, get attached to people.”
Kingston nodded as he slowly digested my words before speaking. “But here you are talking to me, hanging around Echo and making peace with the others. I think you’re stronger than you allow yourself to see. I will say though, I enjoyed today’s sparring. Maybe we could do it again tomorrow?”
Smiling, I nodded happily. Silence fell on us, the music playing from Kingston’s phone setting a comfortable mood until Echo came to fetch me with a glare at Kingston who only grinned back.
When we got back to the dorm, I had a hot shower, examining the new bruises littering my abdomen that would make Echo possibly jump into worried mother mode if he ever saw them. When I was finished, I headed back to my area, seeing Victor and Fox already passed out in their beds made me feel my exhaustion ten times more. Entering my area, Echo was already waiting on my bed while Rooi was sleeping soundly in his bed.
“What’s this?” Pointing to Rooi’s curled form, I laughed softly as to not wake her. “She’s now taking over our space.”
“It’s not that bad,” Echo mumbled, placing his book onto the window ledge as I sat at the end of my bed, placing my boots next to his. The bed creaked as he made himself comfortable and I crawled under the blankets, having to press close to Echo to stay on the bed.
“Can’t you sleep on your side?”
“Nope. You can sleep on my chest.”
Sighing, I glared at his playful face before giving in and laying my head on his chest, embarrassed as my arm rested over his toned stomach. His heartbeat, however, managed to lull me to sleep. Vaguely, I felt his arm come around my side, fingers drawing circles on my forearm as he pulled me closer to him.
“Relief Day, finally!” Someone cheered, boots thumping against the carpet as they ran out of the room followed by two other voices stuck in a mumbled conversation.
Opening my eyes sleepily as Echo stretched under me, I felt his arm press against my side. I couldn’t help but stretch too. Attempting to sit up only ended with me giving up halfway as my arms complained under the strain. So, embarrassingly, I stayed on Echo’s chest with my hand on his stomach.
“Hey,” Echo mumbled, voice husky and words slurred.
Echo shifted under me before he clasped my hand, lifting it and linking our fingers as he turned them slowly.
“What are you doing?” I asked with a laugh. He stopped, letting our intertangled hands rest on his chest.
“Weird thought,” He muttered. Humming, I smiled and snuggled closer. These mornings we shared were starting to become my favourite thing, even though few, I was already used to the idea of having him asleep next to me. Echo was warm and soft for his hard exterior while Damian was cold and rough with every move he made. I could happily say right then that Echo’s arms had become home to me.
“What’s relief day?” I asked, remembering Rooi’s cheery voice shouting the words as she ran out.
“Relief Day is our day off. We can do anything we want except leave the base like the other soldiers,” Echo explained. “It’s our little reprieve from the shouting of instructors. When we get back into the swing of things, Relief Day will become your favourite day of the week.”
“What do you guys do then?”
“I go to the obstacle course mostly. Victor meditates in the courtyard where the pool is. Rooi and Fox go into the kitchen and prepare this huge lunch for all of us.”
“What happened to the cooking staff?”
“They get to leave too. The leftover instructors join us though.”
“There are instructors that like us?”
Echo smiled, his hand coming to ruffle my hair, making me giggle. Yes, giggle. My cheeks burned even more as I tried to hide my face from him. His reaction was to laugh and call me cute with a mischievous grin on his lips. What was this guy doing to me? My body felt funny with a foreign emotion running through it. Even Damian couldn’t fake this emotion out of me.
Most of my morning was given up to going in and out of sleep with Echo sleeping under me until he groggily got up for the bathroom. By the time he got back, I was stretched out under my covers, on the brink of sleep again.
“Nah uh, you are not going back to sleep!” Echo’s voice and chidings made me groan just as the bed disappeared under me, replaced with rough carpet. He then yanked me up onto my feet with clear instruction to get cleaned up for our extravagant lunch. Though when I was changing out of my sleep shirt, he took the time to examine the new bruises with a disproving glare.
Not long after, I found myself entering the mess hall to loud laughing and unfamiliar faces mixed in with the Gifted. Food was already set out on serving plates and bowls down the middle of a table, the smell of fresh bread the strongest scent over the spices on the meat and the cut-up fruit.
“Rooi and Fox did all this?” I asked, awed at their work. Victor clamped a hand on my shoulder, a large grin on his lips making his eyes close slightly.
“Relief Day is a day I think reminds them of home. Fox likes to describe the huge dinners his folks cooked up on Fridays and I guess it reminds both of them of home when they’re in the kitchen,” Victor explained with a soft voice, something so out of character of him before he squeezed my shoulder. “Plus, it helps these instructors to bond with us and we get to know them better.”
Looking around, I couldn’t help the awe continue to seep in. These instructors wanted to get to know us? Forget the term freak and change it to a friend? Every unfamiliar face had a smile and when I made eye contact, I got a nod, a wink or even a larger smile as they acknowledged me. Then there were the two instructors play-fighting with a loose ring around them. A woman fought her male counterpart, quickly gaining the advantage as she hooked her arm around the man’s neck and held him down in a headlock until he finally tapped out. They both laughed, some instructors around them downing a shot of alcohol, obviously losing a bet on who they thought would win.
“Quit the rough-housing you two, it’s time to eat!” Tango shouted as he strolled in through the door, a familiar mess of pink hair following close behind him. Everyone cheered as if they had been waiting for his arrival the entire time, which seemed likely.
“Skinny, start serving up,” Rooi chided with a gentle elbow jab to my ribs as Fox handed me a plate with a shy smile. I bumped my shoulder against Echo’s arm before serving small amounts of food onto my plate. The only thing missing from the meals strewn over the table was a bowl of bubble-gum ice cream.
“Um...can I sit next to you?” A small voice asked behind me. Without looking, I said they were welcome to do so as I took my seat next to Echo who was already digging into his meal. Victor was across the table with the woman from earlier, Rooi and Fox sitting happily on either side of the man who had been in the headlock.
“Y-you’re Alpha, right?” Her voice was so quiet that I almost didn’t hear the words. Curious, I gazed at my right to see Desert Cat, her head bowed as she held fistfuls of her camo pants.
“Yes, and you must be Cat?” Her eyes jumped up to my face, sapphire orbs searching me before a sheepish smile curved its way onto her lips.
“Sorry for dropping you onto the floor the other day.”
“It’s chilled, I have faced far worse than just being dumped onto the floor.”
Grinning, I held up my bandaged hand for her to inspect. As I let her small fingers turn my hand around, I felt Echo’s lightly on my thigh. Glancing at him, he only pointed his fork at my plate and then glared at Cat.
“Start eating or I’ll freeze both of you right now,” He growled with amusement dancing in his eyes. Snorting, I shoved a mouthful of mash potatoes, nudging Cat’s knee with my own.
“Might as well not let good food go to waste.”