Swaying gently in an arc, I could feel the blood rushing to my head and the rope’s rough edge bite into the skin of my left ankle. Below me was the leaf blanketed ground, only slightly disturbed by Tango’s trap being triggered. Being upside-down for this long was starting to give me a headache.
“You and Rooi aren’t having the best of days, are you?” Taylor said, not bothering to hide the amusement in his tone as he placed his hands-on hips and smirked at me. Glowering back, I waited for him to cut me down. He did not come any closer.
“What are you waiting for? Cut me down already before I pass out!” I snapped, kicking my free leg out to prove my point. He snickered, taking out his knife painstakingly slow out of its sheath before slashing the rope above my ankle. Stretching out my arms as I tumbled down did not do much to stop the jarring pain to ignite in my bones.
“Happy?” Taylor helped me up, stopping me from going head-over-heels when I got lightheaded.
Back at the mansion, the remainder of Alpha team who had not gone on the hunt for Gifted with Tango were setting up the generator, sifting through gear and sorting out rations for the four days they would be here. They had only come late last night, leaving us to rely on a fire made in the mansion’s fancy marble hearth to have a light and combat the cold settling into the walls.
“You wanna do some bullet practice since you’re out?” Taylor suggested, nudging my arm to get my attention.
“Sure, but the clip you have right now only has one bullet, might want to go and reload,” I responded, smirking as he scoffed on his way to Neo. Axel watched us with a wry smile, his knives laid out in front of him.
“How about you work on something heavier?” Axel suggested, tilting his head as he stood and held two of his knives on either side of his hips. One was heavier than the other, its shape jagged.
“I guess, just don’t aim for my head or I will roast your ass.” Shrugging, I bent my knees slightly, preparing for the knockback of the heavy knives. Axel smirked. With a flick of his wrist, the first knife came straight for me. It was easy to stop but was heavier than I had thought, making my muscles strain to stop it. When it slowed down, Axel threw his second blade, catching me off guard. The knife barely missed my head, nicking my ear as it thudded into the ground behind me.
“I said don’t go for my head!” Shouting, I glared at Axel, watching as his hands snuck behind his back. He tilted his head innocently before hurling six throwing knives. Flinging my arms up, I managed to stop four in different rotations and distances. The last two, however, managed to get through my defences, narrowly missing my hip and shoulder. There were no more knives but that did not stop Taylor from pulling the trigger of his gun. Trying to concentrate on the bullets was too much, my legs buckled as the bullets zipped by where my head should have been.
Groaning, I pushed myself onto my back, gulping for air as my muscles spasmed. A sharp ringing started in my ears, growing louder until I had my hands over them and was gritting my teeth. Something felt like it was wriggling into my brain, forcing its way into my mind.
Damian’s voice, filled with glee, drowned out the ring. I jolted up, vision blacking out before coming back in spots. There was no Damian around me, only three worried Alpha team members.
“What happened?” Neo held my head, moving it around, studying my face. “These two assholes pushed you too far, didn’t they?”
“It’s okay,” I muttered, batting away Neo’s hands and slowly standing up. “I... I’m gonna go for a shower. I will be fine after that. Don’t worry.”
Water cascaded over my shoulders, pooling around my feet. It was hot so why was I shivering? Why was I holding myself, trying to get warmth into my bones when that was what the shower was for? His voice, it could not have been real yet it felt like he had whispered the words into my ear, his presence in my mind strong. No, it must have been my overworked, paranoid mind conjuring his voice and presence. It had to be, right?
“Hunter, you okay?” Echo called, the click of the bathroom door signifying his entry and the end of my thoughts. “Axel told me what happened. I was worried since the last time you weren’t doing well.”
“I... Why don’t you join me? The water isn’t hot enough,” I suggested, pushing the glass door open. Echo stood near the dusty sink, his eyes widening as he saw me, all of me without being next to me. He opened his mouth but nothing came out. With a quick nod, he began undressing and I allowed myself to drink him in. When he entered, he closed the door as I wrapped my arms around his neck, pressing my lips against his. He kissed back, pushing me into the cold wall, arms weaving around my waist, chests flush.
This was real. Echo kissing me was real. Him holding me, touching me was real. Damian’s voice had been a figment of my deluded, paranoid mind. He was not here, Echo was.
“Later, tell me what happened. For now, relax,” Echo murmured, voice husky as his lips moved to my neck, pressing into my back as they moved lower, dangerously low. But for once, I was not hesitant or worried I would be hurt. I knew he would be gentle with me. Holding him closer, I accepted him.
We were around the fire Kingston had lit in the old bonfire pit at the back of the house. We had already eaten and we were now relaxing. I sat in Echo’s lap, my cheek on his shoulder, his arms around me. The crackle of the flames was giving off a peaceful atmosphere once again after we had disturbed it early when coming back from our shower. Everyone knew from the marks on our necks to keep quiet and carry-on eating.
“You ready to tell me what made you so scared?” Echo asked, squeezing me. Neo glanced up from the fire, concern flickering in his eyes.
“I heard Damian’s voice.” Gulping, I bit my lower lip. “It was like he was right there, speaking into my ear. His presence was even in my mind but he was nowhere...”
“What did he say?” Tango asked.
“That he had found me.”
“Shit, I knew this was a bad idea. We have been here for two days and now you hear this? No, we are going back to the base first thing tomorrow morning. I will talk to Lima about transferring you to Everest base.” Tango leaned forward on the stump he was using as a seat, his once calm face giving way to a hardened scowl. “Go get some sleep, all of you. I want to leave as early as possible.”
“Aren’t you being too unreasonable? They came here to get away from the walls you’ve placed around them, now you want to box them in even further by shipping them off to some mountain base,” Kingston argued, glaring at Tango. “You really have to be reminded that they are kids, not soldiers and therefore not conditioned for this type of thing. They need their freedom too.”
“Okay, Kingston, if we were to stay for the full five days and Damian oh so happens to pitch up, what are we going to do? He’s a telepath, he will cut you down before you even can reach for your gun,” Tango countered, standing up to pace back and forth in front of the fire. None of us has dealt with a telepath besides Alpha and I don’t even want to have that experience.”
“It’s okay, Kingston. No one should suffer his wrath when he does find me or in fact be there if he does. I rather go willingly into his arms than let any of you bow down to him. Let’s just enjoy tonight as it is,” I said, smiling as I snuggled closer to Echo who kissed my forehead. Tango sat back down. Kingston allowed the tension in his shoulders to be softened out. If Damian comes, I don’t know what I was going to do but I would not allow him to hurt my friends.