I kept thinking to myself that this was a horrible idea, but it was the only idea. Walking down that alleyway toward the man I hated most was nerve racking. Every instinct I had told me to run away as fast as I could but I had to pull it together, put on a confident face, and make sure my hands didn’t shake.
This was going to work . . . or it wasn’t.
But it was going to happen either way, so I just had to deal with it.
He was waiting for me at the mouth of the street—waiting for me to bring him what he wanted. I came to a stop before him and saw the his soldiers over his shoulder, waiting for his orders. They were watchful.
I made my eyes skip over Ethan, knowing that if I saw him my act would be shattered immediately. The same two men were holding him with everyone else between, but they were spread out from the others, exactly how I had hoped they would be.
The sun was going to peek over the horizon any minute now, and the sounds of war were almost gone. I didn’t know which side had won, but we were in our own battle now, and a winner had yet to be crowned.
“Where is he?” Dersa finally asked impatiently.
“Down there,” I said, jerking my head behind me. “I didn’t want him to come until I saw that Ethan was all right.”
He frowned. “Your trust in me is disheartening, Reese, even though I trusted in you. I knew you would pull through, and I was right.” Dersa smiled wickedly, greed pouring from his presence.
“Well, old habits die hard I guess.”
He crossed his arms. “How’s the hand?”
“I’ll survive,” I gritted tightly.
Dersa laughed, having a hard time holding in his excitement of finally having West again. It made my stomach sick.
“Let’s get on with it then, shall we?”
I turned my head and whistled down the alleyway. As soon as I turned back around, two men came forward and grabbed my arms, taking me to the side and holding my hands tightly behind my back. I didn’t struggle though, knowing he would do this. He was becoming oddly predictable for me.
“Just until I know it’s him, then I’ll let you go,” Dersa assured me. “You know it didn’t have to be this way, Reese. If you only would’ve cooperated from the beginning.” He just shrugged and looked away, not waiting—or caring—to hear an answer. He was getting what he wanted, and that was all the mattered to him.
A lone figure came into view down the alley, the light behind him silhouetting his face, making it nearly impossible to recognize him. I relaxed my arms, readying myself for the moment I knew was going to come. My heart was already pounding, just waiting to let my adrenaline out like a caged lion. I horribly wished West was here. I hated being away from him; away from his smiling eyes and sweet smell—everything that made him.
Seth came out of the shadows and Dersa’s once smiling face was dropping like a brick. He’d made another mistake by underestimating me and his face turned into a snarl, almost like a wild animal with rabies.
Gunfire erupted; two shots only, one right after the other rang out and echoed down the streets. The two men holding Ethan dropped simultaneously, hitting the ground with hard thuds, laying there lifeless in the street. Seth didn’t hesitate. As soon as he saw the bodies drop he dashed forward, taking out the men that stood in his way. His movements were not like a person that had been shot recently. The adrenaline coursing through him took care of that.
When I saw that he and Ethan were safe, I twisted out of the men’s hold on my arms. I was able to shake one away and my hand twitched quickly, grabbing my pistol waiting in its holster. I felt its cool metal and tightened my fingers around the handle. But before I could shoot, I was suddenly swung around by the man who still had his grip on me. He jerked me back so hard that I lost my balance.
My feet came out from under me and then I was floating. As I was falling through the air, almost slowly—or maybe it was just me—my hand somehow came up with my gun. The trigger was quickly pulled and I shot the opposite man trying the come at me again. He stubbled in mid-step, clutching his chest with his eyes wide and full of fear.
My back slammed against the ground, making the air leave my lungs in a rush. The remaining man above me loomed over me, coming at me again. His hands brought his gun around, something like a snarl rippling from his mouth. My head swam, barely able to see clearly.
But before he could do anything, I brought up my gun a second time, shooting him in the chest at close range. I had to roll out of the way from the falling body. Some much happened in such little time it seemed to make my head explode. Only seconds had passed yet my heart had pounded dozens of times over.
As I sat up off the ground, I saw Cruz coming from the shadows like a silent ghost, sweeping through the remaining men with his sniper rifle now on his back. As soon as my legs had straightened, something hard hit the side of my face and I fell again, my palms scraping the asphalt, grinding bits of dirt into my already hurt hand. I wasn’t sure at the time if I had screamed—or if someone else had—but I heard it echoing in my ears. I was able to stop myself just an inch away from my nose touching the ground. I breathed heavily with my arms shaking, no longer able to contain my weight. I stared at the ground a moment, just hearing the awful sounds of falling bodies around me.
Someone pushed their foot into my shoulder, making me roll over onto my back. I didn’t have enough strength to sit up. My muscles felt like jello and my head pounded where I was hit. My vision swam again and my actions were much slower than before. I just stared up at the yellow and blue sky, thinking maybe I could lay there forever, watching the sun come over the horizon like it was a relaxing Saturday morning. It hadn’t come yet—the sun—but I could almost feel the light that it was going to bring. My night was so dark and cold that I was more than ready for it to be here.
Dersa crouched down beside me and I couldn’t even lift my head. My pistol was laying in a heap of rubble too far from my reach. It seemed to yell for me to come and get it, and I wished I could. Something warm was inching its way down my head, making my skin prickle with its slow progress. I didn’t need to see it to know it was blood.
I finally looked at him—a face of someone who didn’t care about anyone, as long as he got his way. A face full of revenge and hatred.
“I hit your head harder than I’d thought,” he murmured.
His hand came up to my face and touched my cheek, running his finger down to my chin. I shivered violently and wished I had to strength to move, to push it away, but my limbs felt like lead. It made my stomach twist into knots.
“Somehow it’s better this way,” Dersa said. “He’ll be in more pain than having to die by the end of my knife.” He studied my face and it freaked me out beyond all reason. “He’ll have to live in this world without you.”
He stood suddenly and glanced over where Cruz was taking out his men one by one. The big man never got the chance to even glance in my direction. He was to busy trying to survive and I couldn’t contradict him for that. I tried to pick up my head but the vertigo was too strong and overpowering that I almost hurled. My world was turned upside down and I didn’t know how to make it stop. It kept spinning and spinning, making me vulnerable to what was around me.
Dersa bent and grabbed my foot, dragging me away from the intersection. I struggled against him, trying to free myself but it could hardly be called a fight. His hand was in a steel grip, determined to at least have one kill this day. He dragged me towards the nearest building where there was a hole the size of a car in the wall, crumbled around the edges. He stepped over the rubble into the open building, not even caring that my back was being dragged across broken pieces of cement.
I gritted my teeth, trying not to yell out from all the places my body was hurting. I was a broken doll to Dersa—too beaten up to play with anymore. Time to be thrown away.
When he finally dropped my foot, I tried backing away from him with shaking arms. A feeble attempt to escape. And he just watched me, enjoying every minute of it. After a few feet, still unable to stand upright, I backed up into a wall. I pressed my back against it, wishing I could melt straight through it.
Dersa came and crouched before me. He brought his head next to mine, his mouth near my ear, breathing into my hair. The skin on my neck prickled like walking outside on a sub zero day, and I was unable to stop a shiver from crawling down my spine. He inhaled and I tried to lean away but his hand curled around my neck, his long fingers stopping me where I didn’t want to be. His smell filled my nostrils, forcing me to breathe in his scent. The scent that haunted me even when he wasn’t around, and probably would have haunted me forever.
“It’s a shame he won’t see you alive, one last time.”
He pulled back, standing tall over me like a giant. I didn’t say anything; there was nothing to say. I wanted to fight him—to fight for my life and everything I cared for. But my head wouldn’t even stay up straight. I was having to lean it against the wall to keep my brain from spinning.
So I just sat there, waiting for the moment to come and dreading it all at once. I closed my eyes and thought of a time away from here—all the perfect moments with West. My heart ached for them to come back to life, to a world where we could be together. They felt so far away. A life miles from here.
Dersa slid his knife from the place I could never figure out. That blade in which was always there, ready to kill something at a flick of his wrist. He reached for my arm and pulled it towards him. His fingers rough against my skin, cold and stone put together.
It happened too fast, before I could even see it coming. I wasn’t ready—
The blade sliced through my skin, spreading an agonizing fire through my veins. My heart raced, only making the blood pour faster. I heaved in air and couldn’t stop staring at the red liquid dripping down my arm and off my elbow like a melting icicle. I started shuddering uncontrollably, shivering throughout every muscle and bone. My fists clenched onto anything under them.
Dersa backed away, staring down at his work, wiping the blood off on his pants before sliding it back into the unknown. I couldn’t make out his expression, ready to see him smile but it wasn’t there. I couldn’t control anything anymore, my hands were shaking from something unknown.
“Goodbye, Reese,” he said. Then he shook his head and stepped another step back. “He deserves this,” he whispered.
My mouth wanted to form words like ‘please don’t leave me like this’ or ‘help.’ But nothing came out as he turned and walked towards the opening in the wall. My vision blurred. But then another figure came into view, running, like their life depended on it.
My body began to relax more, slouching against the wall as the person slammed into Dersa. I looked down—not feeling anything anymore—at the pool of red next to me. Like a miniature stream rolling through the dirt and dust. I was mesmerized by it, it was like a leaf traveling down river. I couldn’t take my eyes from it.
I had less than a minute before I bled out.
Someone crouched next to me and leaned over my limp body. I could still hear Dersa fighting with someone; the dull thuds of punches and the scrambling of feet. I slowly raised my head to find Cruz shrugging off his gun, letting it drop to the ground. He suddenly grabbed my arm and pressed his fingers into the bleeding gash on the inside of my bicep. I cried out in pain, unable to contain it any longer. I felt like letting it all out, screaming until my air ran out. I just wanted it to stop.
“I’m sorry, Reese,” he said. “This is the only way I can make it stop.”
It felt as if his fingers were pressing up against my bone, searing through them with something white hot. I looked away and laid my face up against the cool wall, thinking of West and wishing he was here. I needed to see his eyes one last time and watch the way the lips formed into his brilliant smile—one side of his mouth curling up before the rest of it followed. I needed to see it before I couldn’t see anything ever again.
I could even hear his voice, like he was right next to me. It was so soft, almost afraid he would blow me away with one breath. I could feel Cruz wrapping something tightly around my arm and I clenched my teeth again against the pain that came with it. But his fingers never left, never stopped putting pressure where Dersa cut me.
A hand came from somewhere out of view and brushed against my cheek, slowing turning my head.
I turned to find West studying me with those lightning eyes of his.
My lips pulled into a small smile, but his thumb lightly pressed against my lips, keeping me from talking.
“Don’t talk, okay? Just take even breaths and concentrate on that.”
Cruz finished wrapping my arm and tore the end off before examining his work. He looked at me for a moment before taking a deep breath. “We have to get you back for a blood transfusion. Luckily for us, he just missed the artery. I wasn’t sure at first, but he did. But that doesn’t mean you didn’t loose a lot of blood.”
I wasn’t shaking anymore, but it was like my body was too weak to even accomplish that.
Cruz stood to his feet and shouldered his gun, looking back at the opening. “I’m gonna go find us a ride, I told Seth to take the Hummer.” He cringed a little. “I wasn’t thinking that we would need it.”
“I’m glad he took it,” I said hoarsely. “He needs more help than I do.”
West smiled and put his hand on my face again as Cruz nodded and disappeared through the opening. My good hand—and arm—found West’s fingers and I twined them through his.
He shifted so he was sitting next to me, his leg pressing against my leg and his arm curled around my arm, coming down to our clasped hands. He was so warm.
Light suddenly broke across the room, coming through another large opening I hadn’t noticed before. The sun had just made it over the building and sliced its rays through the dark places. It was finally morning.
I smiled again, staring at the light streaking through the dusty air.
“What are you thinking about?” he asked.
“The sun, and how I have two of them.” I turned towards the sun and back at West, looking deeply into his eyes.
West looked almost shocked but pulled off a smile and shook his head.
“It’s just that . . .” He pulled me into a kiss that left me breathless, and broke off, his eyes glittering. “We think alike. From the first time I saw you, and every time after that, you’ve always been like a sun to me.”
“I have?” My voice was small and skeptical.
“Yes,” he said. “Of course.”
My heart fluttered as he said those words. West brushed some hair out of my eyes and suddenly his face went blank. He continued to look into my eyes, but there was no facial expression.
“What is it?”
His smile came back and he opened his mouth a few times before words came out. Words that I wasn’t expecting. “I love you.” He said it so casually, and that in itself made it more powerful. Like he never needed to think about what he felt—he just knew it, like it was a fact.
“I love you, too,” I finally said. Staring into his eyes made my heart skip faster. I couldn’t believe he was really mine.
We kissed again and he put his hand on the back of my head, keeping me close to him even though I would never pull away. There was a squeaking of brakes and then a door slammed, followed by Cruz coming through the opening again.
“Do you think you can stand?” West asked, breaking away.
West helped me to my feet, and I stood for a total of two-seconds before I swayed and starting falling to the ground. But West was there—has he’d always been—and caught me in his arms, scooping me up into them.
We walked out of the building and climbed into the back of a jeep—with a knife in the ignition, where the key should have gone. As we were driving back through the streets that were once so active, it felt like everything was finally coming to a halt.
Everything but us.
Because our life together was just starting—just like the sun on every new day.