Sarah fought with the hands on her body, trying to pry them off while at the same time, tugging at her dress to keep it down. She screamed again but this time a sweaty palm came over her mouth, silencing her.
Panic rose in her at the realization of what was about to happen. She was lifted off her feet and as the brute holding her began to back into the darkness at the end of the ally, Sarah screamed out in her mind for Axin once again.
He isn’t coming! No one is!
She kicked her legs once again, this time making contact with the groin of the man that blocked her path earlier. He cried out, grabbing his midsection with both hands and spitting out a string of curses at her.
The one holding her off the ground leaned in to speak in her ear, “Stop being a little bitch and just let it happen. It will go a lot easier if you stop fighting.”
Sarah shook her head, mumbling her own creative response into the man’s palm, but without realizing the one she clocked in the nuts had recovered, a hard slap hit her face, making her eye throb and tears well.
The guy holding her placed her on her bare feet, and Sarah cried out as pain stung her sole’s. Broken glass jingled on the tar road as she stumbled to stand.
The man that slapped her came towards her again, a furious look on his face, and Sarah cowered from him, trying to ignore the agony in her feet as the glass embedded deeper into her skin.
“Please don’t do this,” she begged, tears making her vision go hazy.
“I’m gonna fuck you up for that, you little bitch!” he spat, stalking closer to her.
“Fuck you, you sick perv! Leave me alone!”
He chuckled. “This one has some fight in her. I like it!”
He launched himself at her, grabbing her around the waist, and lifting her over his shoulder. The men all went farther into the dark at the end of the alley, as Sarah tried kicking and screaming again.
“Axin!” she begged once more, knowing that he was her last hope for any kind of help.
“Your boyfriend’s not gonna save you, sweetheart,” the asshole carrying her said and gave her a hard smack on her ass.
They stopped by a dirty, piss smelling corner in the alley, and she was lowered to the ground. Her feet stung as they set her down, and Sarah lost her balance, falling to her knees and feeling the skin scrape off from the tar.
More tears spilled. “Please! Don’t do this.”
One of them stepped forward, the one that had remained silent all this time. “Let’s get this over and done with. She’s a mess, and I’m starving!”
As all three men moved in on her, Sarah shut her eyes and with one last shout in her mind for Axin, she braced for what was about to happen.
Gasps and cursing around her made her open her eyes to find the three men staring at the space just behind her with wide, shocked eyes as they backed away from her.
“What the fuck is that?” the one that had carried her cried out, stumbling to get back.
“Run!” a deep, menacing voice said from behind her, but Sarah smiled.
“Shit!” The silent one spattered before spinning to the entrance of the alley and bolting away. The other two followed with haste, and when Sarah was alone, she dropped her face and let the sobs come.
A cloud of smoke surrounded her, blocking out the dim light of the moon, but instead of the cold, wet feeling she felt the last time the smoke touched her, she felt a warmth surround her.
She opened her eyes, her breaths hitching from the crying, and saw Axin kneeling in front of her, the dark wall of smoke surrounding them both.
Without a word, he leaned forward and scooped her into his arms. He stood to his full height with ease as he cradled her against his chest.
She didn’t resist. Her feet throbbed with pain, the glass still deeply embedded into her skin, and her body trembled with fear. She closed her eyes, resting her head against his shoulder, and felt him begin to walk.
She knew the moment he entered his own world. The air grew cooler, smelling fresher, and the silence of the open fields left a ringing in her ears. She opened her eyes to find Axin walking through the open field, not showing any sign of strain at holding her in his arms. She looked up at his face, admiring it from up close. The thick black hair on his head sat in waves, a strand falling to curl around his eyebrow. His cheeks shaded in a short stubble, and his red eyes danced and swam in a bright glowing fire.
“Wow,” she whispered without thinking as she stared at them.
Axin looked down at her with a half-smile. “What?”
“You have really pretty eyes.”
His smile faltered a tiny bit. “Not the reaction I usually get, but thanks.”
He walked again, and Sarah turned to see where they were heading. A small cottage stood in the valley of the hill, with white walls, and a thick thatch roof. She frowned, trying to get a better look at it, then gasped.
Axin nodded. “Yip.”
He smiled. “Let’s get inside, then we can chat. You need to be cleaned up. That glass in your feet could cause an infection.”
He approached the tiny cottage, the smell of the wildflowers hitting Sarah’s nose, and she looked back up at him. He met her eyes and lifted a brow, “Mind getting the door. My hands are kind of full.”
A small blush crept onto Sarah’s face and she reached for the handle, pushing the door open. He stepped in and moved to the open sitting area where a roaring fire burned in the open fireplace.
He carefully set her down on the armchair, making sure to not let her feet touch the floor, and knelt down in front of her.
He stared at her face, waiting for her to meet his eyes.
When she did, he asked, “Are you okay?”
Sarah grunted, shaking her head as tears filled her eyes. “No. Not at all. Thank you, Axin.”
He lowered his eyes to her feet, a faint glow coming from his hidden face, “I’ve always watched out for you, Sarah. Since the day we met. I never thought I would feel the urge to kill a living until I saw what those sick fucks planned to do to you tonight. My job is to protect the living, not slaughter them.”
Sarah swallowed. “When did we meet? I don’t remember ever meeting you, and I have seen your smoke my whole life.”
He sat back on his heels, gently taking one of her feet into his hands. Sarah hissed with pain, squirming as he raised it to rest on his knee.
“I need to get the glass out before I can heal it. Try not to move, this is going to hurt.”
Fingers gripped tightly on the arms of the chair, Sarah held her breath as Axin pulled the first large piece of glass out. She cried out, shutting her eyes and waited.
“Sorry, but they need to come out. The next one is pretty deep. Its gonna hurt like a bitch.”
She nodded, clenching her jaw, and waited. Agonizing pain shot from her foot, causing her to scream.
“Shit, I’m sorry. One more and that’s this foot done.”
She braced herself, prepared for the pain as he pulled the last piece of glass out.
“There, now I can heal it. Close your eyes.”
Sarah stared at him with wide eyes, not blinking.
He chuckled. “Close them, Sarah. You’ve been freaked out enough for one day, the last thing you need is to see me like that. Especially seeing as how running away will cause you more pain.”
Her heart sank and her mouth went dry. “See you how?”
He sighed. “I need to partially change into my true form to access my healing ability. It’s not something you want to see without understanding more about me. Please, just trust me on this.”
She contemplated what he said as she stared at him, her mind trying to think past the shock of what happened earlier. Change forms? Healing ability? How the hell can any of this be real?
Despite her own doubts, she closed her eyes and waited. A warmth began to radiate against her foot, the pain easing quickly, and she wondered if she should risk a peek. But maybe Axin was right. If she freaked out and tried to run, she would hurt herself more. Her other foot still had glass in it, and hopping away on one foot didn’t seem too practical.
“You can open them now,” he said after a moment.
She tore them open to find him sitting in the same spot, no different than before. His hand rested on the bridge of her foot, his thumb stroking her toes, “Better?”
She nodded, speechless at what had just happened.
He placed her foot on the soft carpet and reached for the other one. Repeating the same process of removing the glass, he met her eyes when it was done and waited.
“I want to see, Axin,” Sarah said, her gaze fixed on his red eyes.
He sighed. “I don’t want you to get scared of me. I want to tell you the truth about what I am before you see that. I promise, once I tell you everything, I will show you my true form. You won’t miss out on anything here.”
“Fine. But when you’re done, we are going to have a nice long chat about all this. I am trying my best to hold my shit together, but it’s not easy.”
He smiled, causing an eruption of butterflies in her stomach.
“Just hold it together a little longer. I would hate to see you have another meltdown like you did in high school. That really wasn’t warranted.”
She paled, thinking back to the exact moment he spoke of.
“You saw that?”
He nodded, still smiling at her, “I did. I felt your emotions and went to check on you. Man am I glad you outgrew those years. You were hell in high heels when you were in high school. Your grandmother is a saint. Now close your eyes, and let me get this done. Unless you like bleeding out all over this white carpet.”
Her cheeks burned as she turned her face away and shut her eyes. I cannot believe he saw that! God, he must think I’m such a spoiled brat!
She kept her eyes shut, waiting for him to finish as her entire life flashed through her mind. What else did he see?
“All done,” he finally said, placing her foot on the carpet.
He stood, moving towards the back of the house, “Coffee?” He called to her.
While he was gone, Sarah lifted her feet to examine the sole’s and shook her head. “This is impossible,” she mumbled as not only the wounds were completely gone, but not a drop of blood or vomit stained her feet. She checked the carpet by the foot of the chair and it looked pristine. A million questions ran through her mind when Axin came back with two large, steaming cups in his hands. He handed her one.
“Two sugars, right?” he asked with a wink.
“Thank you,” she said, reaching for it like a lifeline to shore.
Axin took a seat on the coffee table in front of her and waited, sipping his drink as he watched her.
“Tell you what?”
She squared her shoulders, “Everything. From the beginning. How did we meet, what are you, and how did you end up becoming a Japanese legend?”