Pink Walls

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Day Four [Part V]

Ten minutes ago, a short walk in the snow hadn’t sounded so bad.

Ten minutes later, I realized that I had underestimated both the harshness of winter and severity of my injuries.

The wind cut into me with every step I took, ignoring the presence of the coat buttoned over my jacket.

Snow melted at my ankles, soaking my socks through to wet my feet. If I had any energy to spare, I would have shivered.

“We’re almost there.” Danny’s hands tightened around my right arm, practically hugging it to his chest. The heat of his palms felt scorching despite the many layers stuck between his skin and mine, and for a moment it was all I could focus on.

When I turned to him, the pain in my arm dimmed to a dull throb. It was only now that I realized that he should have been cold, wearing so little in winter.

“Everything will be fine,” he said again without meeting my eyes. The fact that he was trying to reassure me made me feel a little warmer, but I was too jaded to be optimistic about our situation.

I managed to smile before the lie left my lips. “I know.”

Then I took my eyes off him.

Like clockwork, my shoulder started to ache. The feeling was uncomfortable, and not just because of the pain. I balled my fingers into a fist in an attempt to ease the burn that radiated down my arm.

It did little to help.

“Kayden?”

I gritted my teeth and smoothened out what would have been a grimace. If Danny noticed how much pain I was in, his guilt would double—and that was the last thing that needed to happen.

What happened... is not something either of us need to relive anytime soon.

“Hm?” I answered, turning away slightly so that my eyes could scan the street.

It was a gloomy morning so only a handful of people were out walking. Some of them met my gaze before looking away immediately, it took me some moments to realize that to them I and Danny probably looked like a couple.

I wondered if they were close enough to notice our matching bruises.

Danny leaned in closer. “Are you okay?”

Am I okay? I mulled over the question for a moment before looking back at him with what I hoped was a convincing smile. “Yes.”

It took everything in me to not start analyzing everything I had done wrong, from the first time I lost Danny to losing consciousness when things mattered most.

At the back of my mind, I wondered what Ron would think of the way I had been handling things. She was already disappointed by what happened at Hotel Dei Lupi, if she saw what happened in the parking garage…

Resigned, I loosened my fist, feeling the slickness of blood rubbing against my freezing fingers and the coat. I flexed them, trying to work off the numbness taking over their tips.

If the coat had been any other color, the growing bloodstain in its left pocket would have given us away to anyone observant enough.

Just one drop falling on the snow at the wrong moment could have—

Daniel nudged me gently, cutting off my train of thought.

“We’re here,” he announced quietly, then stopped holding me to dig into his pockets.

Without his support, I could only lean my good shoulder against the building.

“Nice place.” I examined the store. It was small and compact—and I had trouble imagining him standing behind a cash register, working. I could picture him selling pastries at a bakery and waiting tables at a restaurant but for some reason him being a cashier at a grocery store was hard to swallow.

Maybe I was so bothered because I knew how much he loved being in the kitchen. Maybe I was just overthinking things to distract myself.

I wonder if he enjoyed working here...

When he found his keys, I let my gaze drift to the buildings on the other side of the street.

The upper floors of the houses facing us all had windows with perfect vantage points for someone to take a shot and make off before anyone could realize what had happened.

Instinctively, I shifted to shield Danny despite knowing that my body would do little to stop a determined killer.

Being made while walking here had been a risk I had been willing to take, but for some reason standing here like this, out in the open, made me uneasy even though there was nothing I could do about it.

I turned to face the store when I heard it’s doors slide open. When Daniel’s warm fingers tugged on mine, I took a step inside.

He reached behind me and shut the glass doors behind us.

Before I could point out that glass would do nothing to stop a bullet, he closed the gap between us and stared up at me with those curious eyes of his. “If there was a sniper out there, Kayden, I’d already be dead. Stop worrying.”

Had it been that obvious? I forced myself to relax, knowing that he was right.

Between the two of us there was no way a tail would have gone unnoticed until now, and there was no way the hitmen could have known where we were headed and set up an ambush beforehand.

“We should take care of that wound,” he added, then reached up to undo the buttons of the coat.

I grabbed his hand. “I can do it.”

“No,” his turquoise eyes shimmered and I was fixed in place while his fingers worked, “you can’t.”

It wasn’t until he took a step back and asked if I needed help taking the coat off that I realized that I had been holding my breath.

One deep inhale later, I regained my senses and shrugged off the coat, trying not to flinch when the coarse material grazed my shoulder.

Daniel gave me a small smile then kicked his duffle bag aside and shoved his hands into his pockets. “I’m going to get a first aid kit.”

I watched him weave through the shelves of processed food and waited till he disappeared from my line of sight before slipping my hand into my pocket.

I retrieved the first container my fingers touched, popped the top off then tipped its contents into my palm. I managed to toss the pills into my mouth and swallowed just as Daniel reappeared.

“Can I have some water?” My voice came out as a croaky whisper. I ignored it and held up the pill bottle. “Need to take one of these...for the pain.”

“Oh,” he said, dropping the first aid kit on the counter beside me before leaning over it to rifle through the shelves behind us.

“Here.” He took the cap off a bottle of water then touched it to my arm.

I accepted it with a smile which he returned before returning his attention to the first aid kit.

Now, I looked at the writing on the pill bottle, relieved to see the words ‘Take Me Now’ scrawled on the bloodstained label. Despite the fact that I desperately needed something to take the edge off my pain, I knew how addictive that numbness was. The other pills were stronger and would have worked better but I didn’t want to become dependent on something Ron actively kept away from me.

If I didn’t need to, I wouldn’t have taken any of the pill but the willpower I had used to walk here was fading fast and the last thing I wanted was for my pain to hold me back in the middle of a fight.

But I lied to him again. The guilt ate at me despite all the reasons I gave myself.

Excuses, not reasons.

I looked away and pretended to take a pill. The water flushed down the ones stuck in my throat and by the time my thirst was sated, the bottle was empty.

I set it down beside Danny.

“Thanks.” I tossed the empty pill bottle into the bin by the door then looked up to see Danny frowning.

“If you weren’t lucky, you would have died,” he said.

“You shouldn’t have tried to protect me,” the first aid kit closed with a crisp snap, “you should have taken care of yourself. Take off your jacket.”

I’m your bodyguard, I wanted to argue, but I was tired of reminding him of a fact he had clearly chosen to ignore.

Instead, I did as he said.

My jacket was sticky with blood, especially where it met my shoulder. Pulling it off was excruciating for the most part but eventually it joined the coat to form a small pile on the floor.

The instant I turned to look at Danny, my vision dimmed.

I saw his lips move.

He reached out to me.

The room darkened.

I slipped. Somehow.

“Hey!”

I felt arms wrap around me. I blinked slowly until I could see again, aware of how fast I was breathing.

“Are you okay?”

“Yeah.” I gripped the counter to steady myself, smearing blood on its tabletop.

“You should sit down.”

I swallowed when I realized that he was still holding me. “You can let go now.”

He did and stepped away to give me space.

I let out a sigh and lowered myself to the floor. My movements were sluggish because the pills were finally working. Unfortunately for me, painkillers did nothing to mitigate the side effects of blood loss.

Daniel knelt down in front of me, reaching forward to brush away the hair that had fallen over my eyes. “I should have given you the antidote earlier.”

Now, he had his fingers running through my hair. I wanted him to stop, but the words wouldn’t leave my throat.

“It’s fine.” I stared at the ground, trying to make sense of my frustration. “Things could have been worse if you didn’t do what you did.”

“Maybe,” he said, then soaked a wad of cotton wool in antiseptic and started wiping my face.

I winced when little cuts I didn’t know I had begun to sting. His fingers drifted down my jaw and then my neck.

He threw down the stained cotton then fell back on his heels to watch me. “Do you think you can take your shirt off?”

I shook my head. “Just cut it off.”

It hurt me to say it. I had just gotten new clothes yesterday but they were already ruined.

Yesterday... Ron would expect a detailed report if I survived this, and this was the perfect time to clear the doubts I had about what happened.

“Where did you go?” I asked, being as vague as I could afford to be.

Things had been set in motion the moment he disappeared. If he had stayed, things might have been worse, but without me by his side he could have gotten hurt or killed.

He had to have known that after what happened last time, so this question was an important one.

“I thought I saw my brother.”

“Your brother?”

“Yes.” Daniel knelt beside me and tugged on my collar, scissors in hand. “So I followed him.”

“Why?”

“I thought I could convince him to stop sending hitmen after me. Convincing him would mean convincing the rest of my brothers. They all listen to him.”

I swallowed the warnings that I was too late to give and waited for him to continue.

“I got distracted when I heard the first gunshot and lost track of him.” His finger brushed over a spot on my shoulder. “You’re pretty lucky, the bullet only grazed you.”

“Danny, what’s the time?”

His father should have arrived by now, but Ron wasn’t picking up her phone. I didn’t know where our meeting place was and strolling around the city with targets on our backs was just stupid.

“Why are you in such a hurry?” Daniel sighed and started cleaning the cut on my shoulder.

“Every second you stay here increases your chances of getting killed.”

“You have the energy to scold me,” Daniel commented as the heap of bloody wipes beside him grew, “you must be feeling better already.”

“You aren’t taking this seriously enough.”

"You are the one not taking this seriously,” he snapped then grabbed a roll of gauze from the counter, “acting like you’re a shield and not a person. If you cared about yourself a bit more, we wouldn’t be in this mess. You keep on saying that you’re my bodyguard, but what use are you if you die?”

At the back of my mind, I was constantly being reminded that this was a mission. Daniel was just a teenager who the Carmosinos wanted to kill and it was just my job to keep him alive. After this I’d get a two week break and probably spend it at the music store in front of Olly’s apartment.

I wasn’t a part of Daniel’s life and we had only spent three days together. He was a Guerrero and an Espinoza, our social circles didn’t intersect. By tomorrow he would be in Italy.

We shouldn’t have met.

We wouldn’t have met if he hadn’t come to Ron’s city to start a goddamned war.

I shut my eyes, conflicted, while he just continued dressing my wounds in silence. Should I comfort him or push him away?

Before I had to make a decision, Daniel sighed again and got to his feet. He grabbed the burner phone then handed it to me. “It’s for you.”

I rested my head on the wall of the counter and answered the call, trying not to think about how terribly these three days had been going. I was really tired of almost dying a handful of times every month.

“Boss?”

“Kay,” Ron answered. Even over the phone, I could sense her tension.

“You weren’t picking your calls,” I said, worried about what had kept her away from her phone. Last time, Alphaz had attacked our HQ. This time it had to be even worse news.

“There has been a change of plans,” she said, as though I had ever been aware of her plans in the first place, “you need to drop Daniel off at the train station.”

I blinked in surprise. “What?”

“The streets aren’t safe anymore,” she answered, that sentence alone revealing how stressed she was. This mission was as bad for her health as it was for the city’s.

In seventy-two hours, Antonia had been taken hostage and two hunting dogs had been taken out of the picture. There was no peaceful way to resolve things with the Carmosinos now.

“Kay?”

“It’s the war, isn’t it?”

“Not yet. But it’s looking that way.” She sighed. “I really didn’t want it to come to this.”

“Boss,” I considered another lie but thought better of it, “I need a favor.”

“What is it?”

“Can you delete the footage from the parking garage at Daniel’s apartment?” Asking so bluntly made it seem like I was hiding something... but I didn’t know how she would react to what happened.

For a moment, there was silence then she spoke, “I already did.”

“Thank you. . .Is Alex with you now?”

“Yes, he is.”

Suddenly, I had a hunch about where they were. “Are you two watching us?”

My question was answered by a gunshot.

I pulled the phone away from my ear.

Ron chuckled. “Alexiares says hi.”

“You and Daniel have thirty minutes before the hitmen close in on your position. Alex is running interference,” she added.

"Is there another entrance?" I mouthed the question at Danny.

He nodded.

“After we leave, there’s going to be a bloodbath...isn’t there?”

“Two of the Prime are dead, the Carmosinos can’t ignore that.” A cold laugh followed her words and I immediately had a bad feeling about what she was going to say next.

“And they’ve tried to kill you too many times for me to just… let it slide.”

“If there’s a war, we’ll all be losers,” I tried to argue.

“But they’ll be the bigger loser,” she argued back.

“Will you kill Antonia?”

“That depends on how badly her father wants this war.”

The call ended there and I let my hand fall from my ear. I didn’t think Alex would let Antonia live. If Ron decided to keep her alive, the two of them were going to have another fight and I would get caught in the middle of it.

Daniel rushed to my side before I could say anything. “I heard what she said.”

“This is all my fault, isn’t it?”

I shook my head. “This would have happened sooner or later.”

“But because of me, it’s sooner.”

He looked at my shoulder, frowning when he noticed the spot of blood soaking through the bandage. “How are we going to make it to the train station?”

“We’ll walk.”

I tried not to think about Olly and Frank… who were less than ten minutes away.

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