Pink Walls

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Day Three [Part VII]

“You sound like your grandfather.”

There were no clocks in Daniel’s one-bedroom apartment but I didn’t need one to know that it was just a little past nine—and a handful of dreaded hours till midnight.

Wednesday was fast approaching—I still felt like shit—and I had counted all the seconds in-between, agonizingly aware that I wouldn’t be able to take down another hunting dog if one showed up now at the front door—even if they turned out to be less determined than Amelia had been.

Give yourself more credit, Kayden, a grim voice whispered at the back of my mind just as the thought was fading away. She was determined and you still killed her.

The cotton swab in my hand slipped across a cut on my arm, broke the still-forming scab, then fell to the floor.

When I looked up, I saw my annoyed expression staring back at me.

I turned my gaze away from the standing mirror and thumped my bandaged fist on my knee. C’mon.

One shallow inhale later and I had cleared my mind, now preoccupied by the piece of abstract art my chest had been turned into. Light and deep splotches of black and blue ran down my body from collar to torso, and my right side was just a mess.

I gave it an experimental prod then sucked in a sharp breath when a burning pain lanced through me. Something is definitely fractured.

The antibiotic cream stung more than the shower did but nothing beat the soreness in my ribs. Deep breaths were hard to take, and breathing alone put me in a world of pain.

While I wouldn’t have had my fight with Amelia go any other way, my body begged to differ.

I could feel every lick of air against my injuries and I didn’t want to think about how it would feel to fight someone and run around with them.

It was safe to say that I wasn’t looking forward to tomorrow.

Other than my ribs, my back had taken the most damage. I had washed most of the glass out the many cuts that now decorated it but I knew that I hadn’t gotten them all. After spending a couple minutes struggling with a tweezer, I gave up.

Despite knowing that I needed to patch myself up and get in the best condition that I could, I just couldn’t bring myself to do anything more than the bare minimum.

What’s the point if you’ll just get yourself beaten again tomorrow, Kayden?

I pressed my knuckles to my forehead and let the thought leave my system with the stream of air that passed my lips.

This wasn’t the time to be entertaining my voice of doubt. Optimism was needed, more than fighting skills, to survive as a runner, but doubts always snuck past my walls when I was too tired to keep them up—like right now.

Sometimes I wondered why I didn’t just get a promotion and spared myself the unnecessary beat downs. Other times I wondered why I didn’t just gather the money I had saved till now and leave without saying goodbye.

You know why, Kayden. You love the pain.

The bathroom door swung open almost silently, but I was able to hear Daniel’s soft steps approaching even though most of the sound was swallowed up by the rug.

“I can help,” he said, directly behind me now.

I could almost hear the water dripping down his hair to the floor. Almost.

I swallowed the word ‘no’ before it rolled off the tip on my tongue, reached into the first aid kit balanced on my right thigh and got the tweezers out.

“Thanks.” He took them from me and sat himself on the couch. “This. . .will hurt.”

I said nothing. I was more than used to pain by now, and the worst of it had been washed away by the powerful shower jets in the bathroom.

It was only after hearing Daniel sucked in a breath that I realized that he had already started.

I tried to stay as still as possible while he worked. I knew that he was trying his best to be gentle and I didn’t want him to think that he had hurt me. Neither of us needed to carry that sort of emotional baggage into tomorrow.

“That’s all of them,” he said, his voice a little shaky. “Did it hurt?”

“Barely,” I lied. Digging into those wounds had hurt a lot, but he didn’t need to know that.

“No. . . I mean—”

When I turned my head to face him, he averted his gaze. I let my eyes take in his dejected form. His hair hung limply down the side of his face, matching his gloomy aura perfectly, and without all his makeup and piercings, he looked a lot more docile and innocent.

Skimming briefly over his bare chest, my gaze finally landed on the bloodied shards in his hand. “You shouldn’t be holding those. You could cut your fingers.”

“I did this to you,” he said.

When he looked up, he eyes were set in a glare, but I didn’t think it was meant for me. It was for the mirror behind me. “You were right about me not knowing what I was dealing with, but I didn’t listen and you had to pay for me being stupid.”

“I’m your bodyguard,” I reminded him quietly, not knowing what else to say.

Maybe if this was yesterday, I would have found a way to comfort him, but today he would be too high-strung to believe anything I told him. And I. . . I was in no shape to comfort anybody.

Slowly, I reached into the bin bag by my feet and pulled out my shirt, or at least what remained of it. I had cut it off to avoid pushing glass dig deeper into my back, so now it was in pieces.

One more good shirt down the drain.

I didn’t even let myself feel that familiar tug in my heart before upturning Daniel’s hand over it. The shards that wouldn’t fall, I picked from his palm myself.

“There,” I told him, examining the fading bruises on his face. I resisted the urge to stroke them with my thumb, or ask if they still felt tender. That sort of familiarity would cause unwanted attachment, and again, that was an emotion neither of us needed.

I needed him to be able to use me as a shield, to push me in front of him if that was what it came to. That was the only was the only way we could make it tomorrow. He had to trust me to be able to stop whatever came at him before he could get hurt. “I’m supposed to hand you over unscathed, remember?”

He touched the edge of his lips and I could almost see the memory of his beating flash through his mind.

“You could die.”

“So could you.”

“That’s not even a good excuse.” He laughed and reached into the first aid kit for a pack of cotton balls.

He chewed on his bottom lip and glanced at me through the mirror. “I don’t even know your name. I can’t keep calling you, Mr Bodyguard.”

“After tomorrow, we won’t see each other again. So it doesn’t matter what you call me.”

“If we make it to the end of tomorrow,” Daniel said darkly.

“Don’t be so pessimistic, we’ve made it this far, right?” I tried to lighten the topic, but the moment the last word fell from my tongue I knew that I had failed.

“Will they attack tonight?”

I tried not to wince at the thought of being in another fight. “I wouldn’t put it past the hitmen your brothers hired, but the Carmosinos will leave us alone tonight.”

“Why?” he asked.

I just shook my head. It wasn’t something I was at liberty to discuss with anyone outside the gang, much less a cub.

Daniel nodded like he understood, but I caught the look of suspicion that flashed across his features when he thought I wasn’t looking.

I ignored it.

It was best if he thought that I was keeping things from him. He had to learn that I couldn’t be his friend. I was just doing my job, and he was just trying to stay alive.

It was only when I was settled in bed with an ice pack pressed to half of my face and my wounds dressed and neatly bandaged, that Daniel spoke again.

“Thank you for being my bodyguard,” he said quietly, then slipped beneath the duvet beside me.

With his back to me, I could see just how much tension he kept in his shoulders.

“None of us will die tomorrow,” I told him. “I’m your bodyguard because I’m the best.”

I left it at that, not adding the fact that right now I felt nothing like the best. “Goodnight Danny.”

When he didn’t say anything in reply, I shook my head and leaned back until my back rested on the bed’s headrest. It hurt but it was the most comfortable position I could get into—sitting.

I didn’t plan on sleeping anyway.

The paper bag I had been given at the hotel sat on my lap, too heavy to contain only a couple of knives and a bloodstained hundred dollar bill.

With an almost lazy tug, I poured its contents onto the duvet, and out fell a handful of pill bottles and a burner phone.

Take me now, the description on two of them said, so I did and popped the capsules into my mouth.

I put ‘Take me in two hours’ and ‘Take me in six hours’ aside and reached for the phone.

The moment I turned it on, it started to ring.

Immediately, my eyes shifted to Daniel. When he didn’t stir, I answered the call and pressed the phone to my ear.

“Hello?”

"Hello yourself, Kay,” Ron’s hoarse voice poured out of the receiver. “I’ve been calling you for hours.”

“Are you okay, boss?”

“I’m the one asking the questions here,” she said, then cleared her throat. “You could have been dead for all I knew. Would you be able to live with yourself knowing that you made me feel that sort of guilt?”

“You heard what happened at Dei Lupi.”

“You fought with Amelia De Dona. I had all reason to be worried.”

“She’s dead.”

“A pity. She was the very best in the Prime,” Ron said. “If the Carmosinos wanted to cut her off, they should have just given her to me.”

“They did.”

“I would have preferred if she didn’t come with a bullet in her brain.” There was a pause, heavy with everything I knew she wanted to say, then she added, “I watched the footage, Kay. You’ve gotten sloppy.”

“I know.” I was in enough pain to be aware of that much. If I had been a little more ruthless, I would have walked away with less bruises.

“Will you be able to complete this mission?” she asked, surprising me. This was the first time she had ever wanted me pulled out prematurely.

“You found out about the Council.” My fingers dug into the ice pack until my nails began to ache. I had wanted to be the first to tell her, even though the vastness of her intelligence network made it a nigh impossible task

I pulled it away from my face and sighed, knowing what was coming next. “I’m fine, Ron.”

“Amelia De Dona was not human.”

“We don’t know that.”

“I don’t need a damn autopsy report to smell another wolf, Kay.”

“You’re sure?”

“The surest I’ve ever been.” She sounded as pained as I felt. “The Carmosinos are trying to create high breed killers.”

“That’s illegal, isn’t it?” I scratched at my collar and looked up at the ceiling.

I hated it when simple things complicated themselves.

“When have the Carmosinos ever cared about our laws?”

“Then we should tell the Council and let them handle it.” That would solve the Carmosino problem for a while. Whatever punishment they received would put a big enough dent in their resources to make them inactive for at least a month.

That would mean no more turf wars until the New Year. Enough time for the gang to amass more firepower, and for everyone to recuperate.

“No.”

I sat up straighter. “What?”

“We can’t tell the Council.”

Why? I bit my tongue and waited for her to continue.

She didn’t.

“You. . ” The rest of the sentence lodged itself in my throat.

I forced it out.

I needed to know.

“You aren’t involved in this, right?”

“No. No, Kay. I’m not. But I’m not the only Cisco still alive. If the Council investigates this, they’re going to dig into everyone’s closets. There are secrets older than even my great-grandfather buried in the graves of our enemies. Secrets that mustn’t be unearthed.”

“So. . .no Council.”

"No Council,” she confirmed.

I sighed. “There is going to be a war then.”

“We’ll win it,” she said, as though we hadn’t just accepted the fact that the Carmosinos had superhumans on their side.

“What happened to your voice, Ron?” Sensing the lull in the conversation, I changed the subject. “You sound like your grandfather.”

“Alphaz,” she croaked. “They raided HQ, gassed it up real good. I took in a mouthful of the stuff. Not the best meal I’ve ever had, but it was decent.”

Her humor was lost to me. “Why didn’t I know about this?”

“Because you don’t have a phone and you don’t watch the news, and—”

“Why didn’t you tell me?”

“You’d be worried for nothing,” Ron said, and she was right. But that didn’t make the prickling feeling in my chest go away. “I didn’t want to distract you.”

“Are you okay?”

“Yeah, I just need someone to talk to.”

“You have Alex.”

She snorted. . .or at least that is what I assumed she did. She probably rolled her eyes too.

“I haven’t seen Alexiares since we got news of Dei Lupi.”

“He’s going on a hunt?” I asked, a little louder than I intended.

I glanced at Daniel and in a quieter tone, added, “He can’t do that.”

“Is what I told him. But when has he ever listened to me?” Saffron said, her tone resigned. “There’s nothing to be done about it now. If we’re having a war, we might as well be the ones to start it.”

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