Shadow & Light

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broken roots

Dominic

The snow falls lighter in Connecticut than it does in Massachusetts. It clings to the glass of the window which spans the length of the entire wall and ends just below the intricate ceiling where it meets at an arc in a way classic to early twentieth century architecture. Dominic paces slowly in front of the glass, watching intently the ice which is light enough to be swept up into the wind rather than falling steadily to the ground and the dark clouds which spread across the sky, masking the light from the sun. When its golden rays do peak through, it is only for a moment, reflecting off the surface of the icy pavement and shrouding the city in shadow and light.

He shifts his gaze from the skyline and down to the busy sidewalk below. People pace quickly across the pavement in business coats and knitted sweaters and haste. A young woman on the other side of the street holds tightly the hand of a young boy who looks to be her son as he balances atop the narrow ledge of a flower bed. He stands with arms outstretched as he carefully places one foot in front of the other, gradually increasing his speed before he reaches the end and his mother lifts him by the waist up into her arms, blowing kisses into his neck as he laughs with the joy and abandon that only a child has.

He looks at this young mother and swallows with difficulty the bitterness that threatened to destroy the last fragment of understanding for the woman who was his own mother and a stranger to him because he could not know what it was to look upon your own blood and feel nothing.

His mind wanders then to Aurora, his light. In time, he thinks, she will walk down the street holding his son in her arms and people will stop her along the street and admire his soft features, ask his name, how many months old. She will answer proudly, with the love and adoration that a mother is meant to have for her child. He will take his family to visit another family whose father was twelve years in preparatory school instead of twelve years in the system and it will not matter about the past, because time will have erased it from their memories and he won’t be a son anymore because he will be a father, and that will be more important.

And as the sun is swallowed up by the clouds once again he is also overcome by the darkness of his self, because time might cloud the memories of others but the resentment is inside of him and time will not soften that.

“Mr. Carter?”

He turns from the window, shutting his eyes for a moment to adjust to the low lighting in the room before opening them once again to focus on Carmen, his personal assistant, in the doorway of his office. Her long, straight black hair rests smoothly against her back, her dark eyes meeting his in something between concern and confusion.

He says nothing, but meets her eyes long enough to prompt her to continue.

“Calvin has January’s data report, I forwarded it to you. Also, I pushed your meeting with Neilson to next Friday.”

“Thank you.”

She smiles. “Russell Harris is on the line. Should I put him through?”

His brows knit together as he stands for a moment before sauntering across the dark office and to his desk. He nods.

She turns and leaves the private office. A few moments later, the red light on the phone atop his desk blinks silently. He presses the speaker at the same time he powers on the screen of his Macbook and opens an email.

“Harris,” he acknowledges after a moment of silence.

The man clears his throat before speaking. “Carter, It’s been a while!”

Dominic’s jaw clenches slightly at the sound of the middle-aged man’s voice. He spoke to him as though he was a nephew, or the child of a good friend. The reality was that Russell Harris would have more luck in film acting than in business for how quickly he could change from the role of good-natured friend to the greedy bastard he was. Caspar’s recent purchase of a renewable energy technology company had initiated a shift in power, a team of senior Vice Presidents on the operating committee. A few major investors in the software engineering company, including Dominic, had attended a series of meetings regarding the issue a few months back, and that was when he met Harris.

“It has. How are you?”

“Well, you’ll have to ask me at the end of this call.”

There was a follow-up meeting at corporate in less than a month. Dominic wonders what had to be discussed over the phone privately that couldn’t be discussed at that meeting. But Russell takes Dominic’s silence as the cue to continue.

“I won’t keep you long, Carter, I know you’re a busy man,” he laughs, but it’s forced. “Have you seen the data report for January?”

He had.

“I have.”

Russell clears his throat. He is silent as he calculates his next response.

“And what do you think?”

He thinks that Russell Harris and the rest of the operating committee would find any excuse to take Caspar down because he was young and he was kind and on Wall Street you couldn’t be both.

“Carter?”

He couldn’t seem to focus clearly on anything today.

“I think,” Dominic cuts in, tilting his head back and tracing his eyes along the intricate detailing on the high ceiling, “that income increases on an exponential line. Not a linear one.” A pause. “At least that is what we were taught in high school economics. Would you disagree, Harris?”

He is silent on the other end. There is no right answer. Instead, he avoids the question entirely. “We’re thirteen percent below the projected income.”

“I can read. We learned that in school as well.”

“The committee is going to vote for him to step down.”

Gone is the friendly, lighthearted tone from earlier, showcasing a bitter self-interest that made no distinction as to what was wrong and what was right and who was born into success and who had earned it with everything inside of them. There was no awareness of a different class of people, of boys who grew up in and out of foster homes with no father to pay their way through the ivy league and into an internship and into a steady income.

“At least temporarily.”

Caspar was the reason Harris had a job.

“You’re calling to warn me, then?”

“I’m calling because I want you to back the vote.”

There is a tense silence before Dominic finally speaks.

“No.”

“I’m telling you, as a friend, Carter. Everyone is behind this.”

“If everyone is behind you, why do you need me to fix the vote?”

“It’ll look bad for you not to-”

The sound of Dominic’s laugh silences him immediately. It’s cold and insincere.

“You can’t make me look bad,” his voice is calm in a chilling sort of way. “You aren’t important enough.”

He can practically hear Harris’ jaw clench in anger as he scrambles to defend the shattered remnants of his pride. “Well, I’m important enough to end your friend’s career.”

“Only because of the job he gave you.”

“Everything he does is in his own interest.”

“You know the greatest lesson I learned in high school economics?” Dominic cuts in, folding his hands against his mouth as he recalls the words of an old professor he can’t remember the name of. “Everyone works in their own interest. There isn’t one nation or person who doesn’t. Economics is figuring out what you interests are. What others’ interests are.”

Harris is silent on the other end, for once at a loss for words.

“You can’t say I didn’t warn you, Carter.”

“No, I suppose I can’t. Afternoon, Harris.”

Aurora

Snow like pouring rain. It sucks the light from the afternoon and the warmth from her body as she waits on the train platform. It clings to the loose strands of her braids and the ends of her lashes. The sun hardly clears through the storm even once before sinking back and turning the sky dark like early morning except it’s almost evening.

She sits on the edge of the tracks and swings her legs, which are heavy from the weight of her red rainboots which June gave her on her last birthday. She said it was so she and Christian could pick her out in a crowd when they went to New York in the rain.

The snow crumbles off the ledge as she swings her small feet back and forth. It makes a satisfying crunching sound each time, drowned out by the rattling of the tracks and the crackling of the intercom when the announcer says “Northeast Regional seven forty-two A to Hartford Connecticut arrival in two minutes. Departure in five.”

She grips tightly the straps of her backpack, the zippers closed at her side so nobody can reach in and steal what’s inside without her seeing. Dominic’s present, whatever it is, is extremely heavy against her back; she lifts her shoulders and drops them again to relieve some of the pain of carrying it. The overhead lights buzz loudly over the sound of rattling and beeping and shouting yet her mind is silent, studying everything and everyone intently as though watching through a screen. She likes feeling like something is happening.

When she can hear the whistling of the train in the distance, she backs away hastily, always afraid that her legs would get caught up in the train’s violent mechanism. The thought sends a chill down her spine; she grips her legs tightly to her chest to protect them from her vivid imagination before standing up on the platform.

Now, as she stands at the edge of the tracks, the train rattles past right in front of her eyes, the words and windows and colors on the sides all blurring together in one mass of silver and red until it slides to a stop. The doors slide open and the passengers file out before the people waiting on the platform get on.

She walks all the way to the back of the train and sits, swinging her legs nervously as she opens her phone. She drags her thumb down the screen to refresh the location. Until this afternoon, she had forgotten that Dominic shared his location with her. It had been a game between them when he first left; he’d given her a paper map and helped her tack it to the wall across her bed. Each place he traveled to, she would mark on the map with a red pin.

He promised that, one day, he would take her to every single place that she marked.

Now, the map laid folded up atop her desk, but his location stayed on her phone. He was still in Hartford. Near the top of a building called the Hartford Trust Company Building. She remembers Caspar mentioning Dominic having an office in Hartford.

She would leave the present, leave the building, leave him. She wouldn’t see him again.

She repeats the plan in her mind and feels nothing. She reaches mindlessly to fiddle with a locket that isn’t there while a boy her age drops his backpack onto the seat and sits across from her. He offers her a smile and she returns it and feels nothing. She doesn’t mind it; better an absolute nothing than half a meaning, better than the heavy feeling which had settled in her chest since the day he left and never completely gone away.

She knows the train ride back home could hurt. She tries not to think about it. That will be three hours from now.

“I like your rainboots,” the boy across from her smiles kindly.

She looks down at them before looking back at the boy. She smiles back.

“Thank you.”

His name is Immanuel. They talk about their favorite books and music. About school, how he loves fixing cars and will probably fix cars the rest of his life and never go to college. His mother hates that about him, says he’s crazy for wanting that. Aurora listens intently. She tells him that everybody is crazy for pretending they’re not.

When the train stops in Hartford and the doors slide open, he asks for her snapchat and she gives it to him. He waves goodbye and she refreshes Dominic’s location on her phone. It’s 7:13 PM and he is still in the building called Hartford Trust.

The snow doesn’t fall as heavily here, but the air is colder, biting at the skin of her ears and cheeks until it feels like she’s burning. She tucks her loose braids into her coat before lifting the hood over her head as she walks along a street called Ford. It’s only five blocks to the building, but she forgot a scarf and the sweater is too big on her to cover her neck. She coughs and can see her breath cloud the dark air in front of her. Important looking people in heavy winter coats and scarves all rush around her to get somewhere and it’s now that she becomes nervous.

Her plan seemed simple enough, but as she looks up at the towering, classic brick building in front of her, she can’t help but feel like something might go wrong.

She refreshes her screen one more time. The little blue dot is in the same place, the top of this building.

She reaches her hand around to rest against her backpack, tracing the edges of the present just to assure herself of its company. A deep breath in, a deep breath out.

Back straight like a soldier. She can hear Caspar tell her.

She walks carefully up the steps to the front entryway.

Dominic

When he lifts his eyes from the screen of his computer, his office is completely dark. There is no evening sun filtering through the storm clouds, no mother and child playing in the falling snow.

He had, for the past three hours, battled the words which Russell Harris had shared with him on the phone; he could swear that each word was calculated just to drive him mad, to crawl beneath his skin and make him question Caspar’s authority and his own responsibility to him.

But he forced the feeling to the back of his mind while he worked. He was good at that: compartmentalizing. Capitalize on the emotions you need in the moment, eradicate the ones you don’t. But now, as the silence in the office becomes deafening, his mind wanders once again to that phone call. To Caspar. He looks out into the dark sky and a certain unease surges through him. Like he could be doing something to fix it all, to make them understand, but he can’t. This is Caspar’s battle, and Dominic was already fighting one of his own.

With a look at the time: 7:33 PM, he stands from his chair, shutting off his Macbook and sliding it into his briefcase along with the set of files on the desktop. He had an hour long drive ahead of him back to his home in Chatham, near Cambridge so that he could take Aurora to school the next morning.

He grabs the keys to the McLaren from the bowl beside the door and reaches for the knob just as a knock resounds from the other side.

His hand freezes in midair for a moment before he turns the knob to see Carmen’s giddy smile on the other side.

Her expression falls slightly in confusion as she sees the coat on his shoulders and the briefcase in his hand.

“You’re leaving, Mr. Carter?”

He nods.

She holds out a medium sized package in her hands, one with red and gold paper and a neat ribbon to tie it off. His eyes widen in shock and her smile returns. She’s never seen him caught off guard like this.

“Where did you get this, Carmen?” his voice is tense, almost panicked.

Her smile wavers slightly before returning as she recalls the young girl and her soft little braids.

“The most precious girl you’ve ever seen, she left it at the front desk, said her mother is an older friend of yours-”

“What was her name?”

His eyes are dark, his body thrumming with energy as he waits for an answer he already knows.

“She said it was Aurora.”

Aurora

The walk back to the train station is a long one; each step feels like she is betraying something. A ball of unrest settles in the pit of her stomach, growing and growing as she pushes open the door to the train station, as she buys her ticket from the tired man across the glass window, as she steps down onto the platform for Northeast Regional seven forty-two B and sits down on the ledge just above the tracks.

She reaches her hands up to adjust the straps of her backpack; without the weight of the present there, she feels like she is missing something. Each time that she rediscovers it’s absence, her heart skips in her chest before her mind has a chance to recall the events of the last forty minutes. The present was gone, she gave it to a nice lady at the front desk who promised to get it to Dominic. Except they all call him Mr. Carter, which Aurora thinks sounds odd.

Maybe he is finding out right now. Is he upset? Is he trying to call her? He would be wonder why his calls won’t go through. He would see that his number was blocked from her phone, then check to see her location and find that blocked too.

And by that time she will be on a train back to Cambridge and the events of the night in culmination will be enough for him to hate her. Hate would be fine. She could deal with hate.

She is pulled from her thoughts when a boy around her age sits on her right, sliding his legs out from beneath him and letting his converse-clad feet dangle above the tracks just like she does.

Normally, she wouldn’t think anything of it. And she doesn’t, until another boy of the same age sits directly on her other side, rips in his jeans and tattoos all along the exposed skin of his hands. She doesn’t mind tattoos; Dominic has some along his chest and abdomen, Caspar has them on his wrists and hands.

What she does mind is the knowing smile these boys with each other before the one on her right turns toward her.

“You sitting here alone, sweetheart?”

Her brows knit together in confusion. She turns toward the boy on her other side, who just smiles a teasing sort of smile, before turning back to the boy on her right. She nods, hoping the loose strands which escape her braids cover the blush which rises to her cheeks.

“You hear that, Caleb? She’s all alone.”

The boy, Caleb, shakes his head in mock concern.

“What’s a pretty thing like you doing here all by yourself?”

She keeps quiet as the other boy, not-Caleb, continues to stare at her, brows raised. Something about the two of them doesn’t feel good.

“My boyfriend is meeting me here,” she lies through her teeth, ignoring the guilt which creeps under her skin. “He doesn’t like me riding the train alone.”

The boys, Caleb and not-Caleb look over their shoulders around the buzzing neon lights and crowds of people which line the platform before they share a knowing look.

“I don’t think I believe her, Caleb. Do you believe her?”

“No, Will, I don’t think I do.”

Caleb shifts closer. At the same time, Aurora stands and tries to back away, but Caleb and Will are on their feet and towering over each side of her before she can move.

“I have to go,” she murmurs softly, trying hard to control the wavering in her voice as she tries to push past them. Caleb grabs her by the waist and pulls her back against his chest.

“Not yet, beautiful. We’re still getting to know each other.”

He shoves her gently over to Will, who catches her by her forearms. She tries to pry her arms away but he tightens his grip. He turns her to face Caleb who smiles menacingly. She feels Will’s hand, the one that doesn’t hold her in place, reach around her and tuck her hair behind her ear.

“What’s your name, sweetheart?” he murmurs softly in her ear, the endearment sending a nervous chill down her spine. The people around them pace quickly, eyes fixed on a glowing screen or straight ahead to their destination. No one seems to care about her or the two boys with their hands on her.

She shakes her head and Will’s grip tightens painfully before he pushes her back to Caleb.

It’s a sick game between them now. Caleb’s hands slide down to wrap around her abdomen. “Will asked you a question.”

Aurora’s breath picks up as she begins to panic. Caleb’s grip on her sides is extremely tight. He pushes her again, harder this time. She trips before landing in Will’s arms. The relief is short lived before Will grabs Aurora by the waist and swings her around so that her legs dangle above the tracks for a moment before resting her back halfway onto the ground.

“Aurora,” she breathes out and Caleb looks at her in question. “My name’s Aurora.”

“Aurora,” Will tests out the name on his tongue; she can almost feel him behind her, smiling knowingly at Caleb. “Are you telling us the truth?”

She nods vigorously.

“I don’t think I believe you,” he shoves her, even harder this time into Caleb’s arms, who pretends to almost drop her off the ledge onto the tracks before lifting her back up.

“It’s Aurora, I- I promise!”

In the distance, the whistling of the incoming train can be heard.

“You hear that? She promises, Will!”

“Well, there’s only one way to seal a promise.”

Caleb nods vigorously behind her. “Go give Will a kiss, Aurora.”

She shakes her head, her cheeks blushing a bright red as Caleb pushes her towards him. She freezes in his hold as Will steps closer. The train’s whistle becomes louder.

“C’mon Aurora, just one kiss!” Caleb shoves Aurora into Will’s arms. She slips against the slick pavement before Will catches her.

The tracks rattle louder as the train approaches around the corner.

She shakes her head in panic. “I don’t want to.”

He only smiles threateningly. She pushes at his arms and chest, managing to push away from him far enough to be at arms length.

The train is yards away now, the whistle echoing thunderously around them.

She plants her feet into the ground and shoves at his chest, hard. That same moment, Will lets go of her completely and she stumbles backward off the ledge and onto the tracks.

Dominic

An eight minute drive takes him three, having pushed sixty-five all the way to the train station. He swerves into a parking spot just as another car leaves, barely turning off the engine before jumping out and slamming the door. The snow falls more heavily now, covering every inch of the pavement.

He thinks of little Aurora, of everything that could go wrong. It was storming still in Cambridge, and would be night when she arrived there. He thinks of her being followed off the train, the long walk home. Being cornered alone.

He all but runs onto the platform, the sounds of rattling tracks and beeping intercoms surrounding him as he scans over the flashing signs overhead, signaling the arrival of each train. He stops when he sees Northeast Regional seven forty-two B to Cambridge.

He hears the pending departure announcement just as he reaches the platform. He scans his eyes all around him, searching intently for the small girl among the crowd of people.

He hears the train before he sees it, rattling down the tracks. At the same time, he can just make out Aurora’s figure where she stands between two boys, who look to be around her age. One of them shoves her into the other’s arms, before that one laughs and shoves her back. She tries and fails to pry herself from his grip.

Dominic almost smiles.

They’re fucking dead.

He keeps his eyes fixed on Aurora’s trembling figure as he storms across the platform, the train barreling around the corner. He walks faster, his fists clenching and unclenching at his sides as he focuses on her.

“C’mon Aurora, just one kiss!” he hears the one on her right tease her.

That one dies first.

“I don’t want to,” she shakes her head with wide, panicked eyes. She clenches her hands to keep them from shaking.

The next moment passes slowly, more vividly than any moment in his life so far. Aurora pushes hard at the boy’s chest, who releases his grip on her at the same moment, her little form tumbling backwards and down into the tracks, right in front of the train which is only yards away. She screams.

He sees red.

The humor in the two boys’ eyes is gone now, people gathering around the tracks to see where the scream came from but by the time they see her down there it will be too late. Dominic shoves past all of them, dropping down to his stomach in front of the tracks and reaching down for her. He grabs her by the forearms and pulls her violently up onto the surface, just as the train barrels in where she had just been standing. It is the most rough he has ever handled her.

He holds her painfully close to his chest where he sits on the ground, and she clings to him just as tightly, her breathing short and sporadic as her grip tightens even further. The crowd around them is silent; the magnitude of what could have happened settles over them heavily.

“Dominic-” she chokes out into his chest. He grips the back of her head into his neck.

“You’re okay,” he grips the back of her neck, her back, her head. “You’re okay.”

He feels the pounding of his heart coursing through every inch of his body. If he had been even a few seconds later...

No. He wouldn’t think about that.

The people around them all talk at the same time, their voices all blurring together in one mass of sound as she grips him like a lifeline, her small hands clutching the fabric of his suit jacket. They say things like “poor thing is probably scared to death,” and “that train nearly killed her.”

He slides his hand over her ear, the one that isn’t pressed against his chest, and stands.

Her body fits effortlessly in his arms as he carries her away from the the crowds and buzzing lights. They part easily for him, a dozen or so holding up their phones, filming the entire thing. He presses Aurora’s head more firmly into his neck so she is unidentifiable, but a small part of him knows it’s too late.

The feeling of Aurora’s panicked breathing against his neck has any anger he had with her completely forgotten. He can’t help but feel responsible. It was his present she was returning.

And as he walks through the sea of rushing people, pressing his lips all along the length of her soft neck, her rushing pulse against his lips offers a lucid reminder of just how fragile life is. Even trembling in his arms, this girl is the glowing hot center of his life. Her existence is the kind that is painful to love silently, the kind that is too pure for the arms of a man who lacks the courage to embrace what is good and real and purely beautiful, because in the end, these are the things which lacerate and wound when we lose them.

And he nearly did.

She is too stunned, too panicked to cry out. She doesn’t even lift her eyes from his chest to see where he is taking her.

When they finally reach his car, he uses the hand that doesn’t brace Aurora’s tiny figure against him to open the passenger side door. He kneels down beside the car, the snow immediately soaking through the fabric of his slacks but he hardly notices as he lifts her easily, gently into the seat. When she realizes what he is doing, she grips her hands tightly to the fabric of his suit jacket and for the first time her eyes meet his.

The panic in them nearly shatters his heart.

“Close your eyes.”

And almost mindlessly, her eyes flutter shut. For a moment, all she can feel is the cold breeze against her skin, until suddenly she feels his warm breath on her neck as he presses a soft kiss there. Then another right above it. And another on her jaw until his lips brush softly against her ear.

“Now open.”

And she does. She gazes curiously at him, the panic easing slightly with the comfort in his dark eyes and the soothing, melodic tone of his voice.

“Just a bad dream, baby.”

Only one light is on in the group home when Dominic pulls up, the one in the dining room. It is 9:47 PM; he carries Aurora up the steps to the front porch, using his other hand to sift through his keys before finding the one for the front door; the one he’s used more in the past three days than he has in years.

When he walks inside, Aurora clutched tightly against him, Miss Amy, Junie, and the boy who he believes is named Christian all snap their heads up from across the house to see him standing in the doorway.

Miss Amy claps her hand over her mouth, a dozen different emotions flashing across her eyes. As far as she is concerned, Aurora has been missing for the past six hours, and Dominic has been missing for the last six years.

But none of that will be addressed tonight. He meets her eyes, the ones which stare back at him with relief, anger, confusion, and unconditional love and it is in this moment, with Aurora bruised and trembling in his arms, Junie staring at him with contempt, that he wonders if he did the right thing.

He opens his mouth to speak, but for what purpose? Anything he could possibly say in this moment would be inadequate. Miss Amy finally just nods at him in a sad understanding, gesturing upstairs. He nods at the three of them, before turning and starting up the steps.

He takes the first set of stairs quietly; he knows that Miss Amy keeps the younger children on this floor. When he reaches the second set, his steps are quicker, creaking against the floorboards. If Aurora was truly asleep, he would worry about waking her. Her body is exhausted, he can feel it in how she leans her head against his shoulder, but her mind is wide awake.

His movements are mindless, almost second nature as he paces quietly down the hallway and into the room which used to be his.

He didn’t look closely the night of her birthday, but now he can tell that she has hardly changed anything, save for the polaroids lined up just above the desk and the paintings tacked all along the walls, her sweaters and dresses peaking out from the open closet. His subject notebooks still lay stacked along the edge of the desk, old report cards and certificates strewn across the surface, but pushed to the back to make space for a propped canvas. Their bed has the same blue covers.

He sets her gently onto the bed, kneeling down in front of her and sliding her red rainboots off from her feet, and then her socks. Her coat comes next, he sets it on the floor next to him before his hands fall to the band of her leggings.

She rests her hands abruptly against his and he pauses, meeting her eyes from where he stares up at her. He used to dress her for bed all the time, but things were different now.

She lifts her hands to cover his eyes and he understands, keeping his eyes shut while she slides her leggings off, and her sweater next. At the same time he blindly unfastens the first few buttons of his dress shirt, slipping it over his head and onto her small frame. He opens his eyes to refasten the buttons as she struggles to keep her eyes open. He stands, stepping quietly over to her dresser and pulling out a pair of knitted socks.

Still she says nothing. He kneels back down and slips those onto her feet, before running his fingers lightly across a deep scrape marring her left knee. It isn’t new, so it can’t be from falling in front of the train. He looks up to her little hands which rest at her sides. Similar cuts and bruises decorate the skin there too.

Maybe he will ask her tomorrow where they are from. For now, he lifts her back up into his arms to lay her down under the covers.

Her head falls back against the pillow, her hair falling loosely around her as the light from the moon illuminates her soft skin and lightly freckled nose, making her look like a little Angel. He rests his hand beneath her head, caressing her hair softly. With each stroke of her hair, her eyes grow heavier and heavier, and with each soft breath out she seems to burrow herself deeper into his heart. She lies here beneath him, buried in his shirt and leaning into his touch. If it is a hallucination, let it be.

He finds himself mindlessly humming a lullaby, one he can’t remember the words to. It’s soft and familiar and resonates gently in his chest. He feels Aurora’s breathing gradually soften and he pauses.

Could they stay this way? He would sit beside her all night like this, if that would be right. He would chase away every bad dream with the soft strokes of his hands against her hair and back, and he would leave in the morning just before she woke up and she would never know.

But it wouldn’t be right. So he stands. It takes every bit of his self-control to back away from her and reach for the door. His hand just barely brushes against the doorknob when Aurora calls out sleepily from behind him.

“Dom?”

His arms tense, he turns over his shoulder to look at her. But he doesn’t meet her eyes. If he does, he won’t ever leave.

“Will you stay?”

The question weighs heavily in the cool, dark air of the bedroom. He clenches and unclenches his fists.

Fuck it.

He slides his dress shoes off his feet, unfastening his belt next and letting it fall against the floor. All the while he watches her, expecting any moment for her to change her mind, not knowing if he could handle that. But she doesn’t. She only stares back at him as he crosses the room, as he slips under the covers and wastes no time in pulling her into him. All the tension leaves him. It feels as though he has been running, stumbling, reaching his entire life to get to her and now he can finally breathe.

He knows she’ll feel differently in the morning. When the panic and exhaustion wears off and reality sets in, she’ll regret letting him hold her this way. Still he shuts his eyes, running his fingers through the soft strands of her hair, his other hand tracing mindless patterns along her little back.

She shifts gently, laying her head against his bare chest to press her ear against his pulse.

It is still dark out when Aurora stirs awake. The bed is still warm where Dominic was laying next to her, but he is no longer there.

She sits up, the covers pooling around her as she scans the small room before she spots him by the dresser, sliding his belt through the loops of his slacks. She checks the clock, 6:15 AM.

Dominic stands with his back to her, the tanned muscles there shifting beautifully with his every movement with no shirt to strain against. He leans over, unfolding a white dress shirt similar to the one she wears and sliding his arms through, his long fingers working quickly as he fastens the buttons.

She wants him to know she’s awake, but she doesn’t want to startle him. She could pretend to be asleep, but she is relieved of the responsibility of deciding when he says,

“Good morning, baby.”

When she doesn’t answer, he smiles softly at her over his shoulder, fastening his cuff links quickly before stepping towards her.

She slides off the bed before he can reach her, stepping toward the bathroom to brush her teeth. She could never stand the feeling of talking in the morning before brushing her teeth.

He watches her from where he sits on the bed. She brushes her teeth quickly before pulling her hair up into a messy bun which frames her sleepy face beautifully. She rubs tiredly at her eyes before looking across the room at him while he fastens his watch.

Her eyes run curiously along the length of his figure; he catches her doing this whenever she thinks he isn’t paying attention, taking in every single inch of him. If he didn’t know the innocent intent in those soft amber eyes, the action would seem quite lustful. But it’s precious, how she doesn’t realize the implications of studying him this way, of standing there in nothing but his dress shirt and her knitted socks. He doesn’t doubt her distrust of him, but he knows there is a small part of her that mindlessly trusts him enough to be vulnerable this way.

“Where did you get clothes for work?” her soft question brings him from his thoughts.

He smiles. “My assistant, I had her bring some.”

“So you didn’t leave.”

“I didn’t.”

“Why?”

He finishes fastening his watch and looks up to her. “You asked me not to.”

“That’s never stopped you before.”

His jaw clenches tightly, the way it does when he is caught off guard. With a sigh he stands silently from her bed and crosses over to her dresser, reaching for the pair of black socks which lies there.

“You don’t have anything to say to that.”

He shakes his head. Doesn’t even look at her.

“Say something.”

He clenches his eyes shut, shaking his head.

“Dominic, say something!” she cries out.

“Since when do you call me Dominic?”

The question lies heavily in the air between them, but he just continues to stare at her. She looks down at his chest.

“I don’t know.”

“You don’t know?”

“No! Since you stopped loving me? I don’t know!”

He knew this would happen. If he stayed, he knew she would need to reestablish her hate for him. And he would need to reestablish his love for her. And he would. God, he would spend his entire life loving her endlessly.

“I could never stop loving you. Not for a single moment.”

He speaks to her simply, clearly, every single word contemplated deeply. He stares at her the same way. Like the whole world could crumble and he wouldn’t blink.

“Maybe it would be easier if you could,” she says softly but he hears. He hears every word as clearly as if she screamed them at him. “You’d be happier that way.”

A heavy silence. His eyes turn so dark they almost look black.

“Don’t say that,” He steps closer and she steps back against the wall. “Don’t you ever fucking say that again, do you hear me, Aurora Davis?” He reaches for her wrists but she pulls away.

“No.”

“No?”

“No! You don’t get to be angry!”

“I don’t get to be angry?” he is seething now. “You put your fucking life in danger just to prove a fucking point to me and I don’t get to be angry!”

He never cusses toward her. Maybe around her, but even that is rare. She can count the amount of times on one hand.

“I love you. I can’t stop, Aurora, it’s not a choice for me anymore. I don’t care how many times I have to say that to make it real to you, I will!”

She is silent as he grabs her jaw in his hand, forcing her to look up at him.

“I love you. Do you believe me?”

She shakes her head.

“I love you,” he repeats, leaning down to meet her eyes. “I love you, I love you, I love you-”

“No you don’t!”

The hurt in her voice silences him immediately. Her eyes are red, brimming with unshed tears as she steps away from him.

“You- you don’t get to come back and hold me and make everything okay. You don’t get to feel better about what you did, and you don’t get to come and go at your every whim and expect me to understand and comply and love you for it! I needed you!”

He steps closer but she doesn’t move. She clenches her hands to keep them from shaking, wiping angrily at the stubborn tears which stream silently down her cheeks.

“I needed you. She killed herself, Dominic. There... was so much blood, when I found her, she had... all the way up- th-they almost sent me away and you weren’t there! I needed you!”

He is crossed the room before she can even think to step away, leaning down and grasping her face in his large, warm hands.

“Stop it!”

His arms fall to wrap around her waist while she shoves at him.

“Don’t touch me, Dominic!”

He only grips her tighter and her right fist meets his chest, followed by her left, until she is slamming her fists against his chest with everything in her. He looks down at her, watching silently and taking it, every single blow. Each one hurts more than the last, not physically, but something much deeper.

“I’m sorry,” he whispers as she continues to hit his chest. “I’m sorry.”

“I don’t want you here!”

“I know.”

“I hate you!”

“I know.”

She shoves at his chest but he doesn’t move. She hits him again. And again. And again until his hand finds the back of her head and pulls her closer. She slumps against him in exhaustion, tears pouring down her face but she does nothing to stop them. She is so tired.

“I’m sorry,” he whispers again. “I’m sorry. I love you. I’m sorry.”

“I missed you,” she sobs into his chest, gripping the fabric of his shirt loosely. “I missed you so much.”

He grabs her waist and lifts her effortlessly up into his arms.

She cries softly into his neck while he holds her, swaying her lightly back and forth until her cries slow and soften into the light shaking of her shoulders and eventually die out completely as rests tiredly against him. He continues to hold her, knowing there is nothing he can to say to fix this.

They stay like this until the sun peaks over the horizon and begins to hide some of the stars.

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