"Can I have your autograph?" She squeals. I roll my eyes.
"What?" She cries. Her brother is shaking his head at her, obviously not approving. I sigh and squeeze his hand one more time before letting it drop.
"No." I smile at her, but it's weak. She frowns.
"What? Why?" I roll my eyes. The adults start standing from their seats, obviously going to have their own discussion of how best to deal with this new threat. Once they're gone I push to my feet so that I can stretch out on the floor.
Blake gets up without a word and follows them out.
I lay on my back and let my eyes drift shut.
"Why?" Arrow whines again. Ryker growls at her, but I wave my hands in his direction.
"T-that's not who I am anymore."
I can feel the frown she throws my way. A second later I feel her stretch out beside me, just beyond the bubble I like to keep.
"Why?" She lilts. I frown and turn to look at her. She rolls her eyes at me.
"I'm not stupid, I get that everything you went through made you wary and you're still dealing with the trauma, but.. Don't you think eventually you will want to go back to dancing? You were so incredibly talented and watching you... It was like watching pure magic."
"That's enough Arrow." Ryker growls. I flick my eyes open again to lock eyes with him. He looks so frustrated, and I want so badly to reach out and smooth the crease from between his eyebrows.
"I was just-" "N-no its ok... " I breathe. I flick my eyes closed again and then have an idea.
"I-is it possible to share m-memories?" I whisper into Ryker's mind. I feel his confusion at the base of my mind, but he answers my question with one of his own.
"With me?" I shrug. "With everyone, I g-guess." He sighs and I feel him settle on to the ground beside me, closer than his sister but still not touching me.
"Take your wall down, and we will be able to hear whatever you're thinking about." I nod once and then focus on removing the wall in my mind. When it's gone, Ryker flits into my mind to tell me to go ahead. I am surprised that I can feel his trepidation, his sadness in a way that I almost confuse it as my own. I push those thoughts aside and suck in a deep breath.
"J-just... just w-watch." I speak out loud. My friends hold their breath as I start thinking of the best parts of my life. The parts of my life that were Before.
Steven at six dancing beside me, twirling around and around to one of Beethoven's symphonies. The memory feels sad, tainted. Another memory, again tainted; us practicing our plie's in my old house, both dressed in black tights and legwarmers.
I remember another and a stab of pain arcs across my chest. Steven, dressed in gold and white with the crown on his head, with his arms wrapped around my waist as he lifts me. I can hear the audience beyond the orchestra, and although I KNOW I felt happy while this memory was forming, the lights are tinged blue and it hurts too much to focus on in too much detail.
I flick to another memory- signing programs outside of the Ed Mirvish Theatre in Toronto. The pen feels heavy in my mind, and I feel guilty seeing my name scrawled across the page. This is the persona that ruined my life, that stole my best friend from me.
Another memory, and more guilt. Stretching onto pointe, making sure my back is ramrod straight while cameras flash around me. I remember the people who had been gathered to watch as Steven and I were posed for pictures. I wonder briefly if Seth was there too- he had infiltrated so many parts of my life, surely this was just another stolen moment.
I grit my jaw and think of the last time I'd danced, in my basement. Arrow gasps beside me, and I feel Ryker turn to look at me. They can't see my movements, just the way the dance made me feel. The pain is more than I remember feeling in those moments, but I push through it and focus on every twist, each spin, every lunge and jump. I remember chasing the ghost of Steven, wishing he were dancing alongside me like in my other memories.
'You danced?" Ryker breathes. I feel a tear fall and throw my walls back up. I turn to look at him and he's crying. I lick my bottom lip before stretching back out.
"I can't be t-that person anymore."
Arrow is frowning, sadness seeping off of her.
"It hurts." She breathes, acknowledging my decision. I nod. Ryker reaches over and interlocks his fingers in mine. I haul in a deep breath, grateful for his silent support.
" I gave it u-up because it h-hurt too much. And I t-think that was the right decision. B-ballet was my life f-for so long, b-but now.... I have other things."
Images of me, or a weird possible future version of me flick through my mind without my consent. I am insanely grateful that I'd locked my thoughts up again as they flick rapidly through my mind.
I imagine I'm standing in a flowing white dress, smiling up at a man I recognize but refuse to name. I am folding my arms around my swollen belly, soft edges and wide eyes. I am standing beside Arrow as she carries a miniature version of her. I am folding dough in front of me with two strong arms wrapped around my waist.
I shake the thoughts off, not allowing myself to dwell on all the feelings that bubble up with each thought.
We sit in the living room for hours in silence, all lost in thought.
Eventually, Blake sighs as he stalks back into the room. "Well... I should be going. Andy, coming or staying?" I furrow my brows. He gestures outside. I turn to look and am shocked to see that the sun had set at some point.
"It's getting late. I want to get something to eat and then sink into my bed. I'm guessing you feel the same. So... are you coming home with me or staying the night with your friends?"
Arrow shoots up. "Oh please stay! You've never stayed before!"
I bite my lip and shoot Blake a glare for putting me in this position. He shrugs and leans against the doorway. I sit up to look properly at Arrow.
"I.. I d-don't think it's a good idea tonight." I whisper. She frowns. "Why?" I glance briefly at Ryker but he's staring curiously at me like his sister. I sigh and pull on my hair.
"I have n-nightmares. And when I have a n-nightmare..... I s-scream." Ryker flicks his eyes shut and I feel like brushing my fingers against the tight clench of his jaw to relax it. I swallow and turn to Arrow.
"Oh...." Arrow's Voice breaks on the simple word.
"My r-room is soundproofed. Here... E-everyone would be able to h-hear me..." She frowns and wipes her hands over her face.
"Well.... I can understand that. But none of us would mind..." I purse my lips and she rolls her eyes.
"Andy give me some credit. After everything you've been through, I wouldn't blame you for waking up screaming. And I know that all of us would rather be a part of calming you down rather than letting you continue suffering alone." She glances over at her brother before turning back to me. "You don't have to be alone anymore." My heart kicks and I feel something I can't explain slide into place in my chest. A sob pushes out, but I think it's one of relief rather than real sadness.
"I d-don't want to be alone a-anymore." I breathe. Ryker steals my attention by tugging on my arm. He pulls me closer to him and I raise onto my knees as he does the same. He leans down to press his forehead against my own. The warm mint of his breath hits me and I feel my heart skipping a beat. My eyes drift shut of their own accord.
"You will never be alone again." He pushes into my mind. Another sob wracks my chest. He wraps his arms around my waist, and the heat and electricity from him becomes completely wrapped around me.
We stay pressed together for a never ending moment, and eventually my heart steadies out. He releases me slowly, and when I peel my eyes open his own are shining in that way that makes my knees weak. He offers me a lopsided smile and I return it with a wide one of my own. His heart stutters, and his smile grows to match the width of mine.
I haul in a deep breath and drop onto my heels, pulling away from Ryker because the longer we stay almost touching the harder it is to keep from actually touching. I turn to smile at Arrow and she grins at me like she knows something I don't. I push that thought away.
"So.. Staying or going?" Blake rumbles, annoyance that I've forgotten him dripping from his words. I jump, totally forgetting that he was here. I blush and turn to look at him. He rolls his eyes before giving me a wide smile. I bite my lip and turn back to Arrow.
"I'm g-going to go tonight.. I just d-don't want the f-first sleepover to be on a n-night I'm guaranteed to h-have a screaming f-fit." I don't say that it will be worse tonight because of the information I've shared, or because I know he's watching me.
"OK," Arrow smiles,"Just don't take them off the table completely, OK? I can handle a bit of shrieking. I spend most of my time hanging out with Rowan." I roll my eyes with a smile as he starts whining at her.
I push to my feet and head towards my brother.
Ryker follows me, and when we reach the door he sighs.. I feel like he wants to say something, but he's holding himself back. Blake gives me an awkward smile and pulls the door open.
"I'll be in the car." He darts out the door, tugging it shut behind him. I offer Ryker a small smile and he sighs. He reaches up and tugs his hand through his hair, and I have to fight to keep my own from reaching out to do the same.
"Andy...” He murmurs. I suck my bottom lip between my teeth and tilt my head up so I can lock eyes with him. The floor seems to fall out from under me, and all I can see is the swirling brown of Ryker's eyes.
"Ryker.." I whisper back. His tongue darts out to wet his lips and I struggle to keep myself from stretching up to close the gap between us.
"If you need anything..." He trails off. I nod and swallow. He raises his hand and I feel it brushing against my skin before he actually makes contact. He brushes the back of his hand against my right cheek, from my temple to my chin. My breath catches and he smiles at me before dropping his hand and taking a huge step back.
I haul in a deep breath once he's out of my space to try to clear my thoughts; thoughts that are whirling quickly around my brain, solely about him.
"Goodnight Andy." He whispers. I trace my tongue around my lips quickly.
"Goodnight Ryker." My voice is heady and light, and sounds so unlike mine that it surprises me. I reach blindly for the doorknob to escape from the heat that's beconicking me closer to Ryker.
I barely make it out of the door and into Blake's jeep. But eventually I do, and we speed off. Each turn that takes us away from the Cardinal's home squeezes at my chest, but I'm pretty sure that it's because a large part of me hadn't wanted to walk away from Ryker tonight.
"Did she like the flowers?" His voice to anyone else would seem disinterested. But I know him better than I know myself, so I hear the excitement he is trying so desperately to hide. Irritation that he's still only thinking of her, while she's off galivanting with that dumb-
"She loved them, master." He smiles in the way I wish he would for me.
"And no one saw you put them there?"
"I followed your directions completely. And-" I pause to glance at the bored looking guard that's standing a few people down. He isn't looking this way, so I risk it. "I wiped my scent so none of the wolves would figure it out." His eyes light up in anger at the mention of the mutts. I swallow, hoping he isn't angry with me.
"Good." He flicks his fingers against the glass, and I want so badly to press my own against his.
"That's good. Don't want them catching on and sticking their noses in where they don't belong."
"They're definitely good at that." I can't disguise the disdain I feel for them, and his eyes flash.
"What's that supposed to mean?"
"Nothing master! They're just..."
"Just what?" He spits. I wince and lower my head so I don't have to see the anger on his face.
"They're her friends." I whisper into the phone. He snorts and I glance up, confused. He isn't angry?
"She's just using them." He rolls his eyes. "Learning everything she has to before I come for her, that's all." I nod quickly, hoping not to anger him again.
"You got the other stuff I asked for?" He breathes, glancing over his shoulder to check the guard is still distracted. I nod and focus on the gifts I'd brought him this time. The weight of the pictures and her soap settles in my pocket and a second later my skin sizzles painfully. I push it aside to look at his beautiful face once again. He's smiling at me again, and I know that I would suffer a million times what I am feeling now just to see that smile again.
"Good." He glances back over his shoulder and when I look too I see the guard is making his way over.
Our visit is coming to a close again, sooner than I want.
"Good. I'll keep you posted on the rest of the plan." He gives me a wider smile and my heart thuds louder in my chest at the devastating beauty of it.
"Goodbye, Master." I breathe. He hangs the phone up then, and the guard quickly tugs him away.
Before he's gone from my view I transfer my gifts to his pocket and ignore the new burn on my chest.
It takes me longer to get out of the prison than it normally does, but I'm OK with that because it means I'm able to spend more time close to him.
By the time I reach my car, my visit has been erased from their records. I hop into my jeep and head out of the prison. I start the long drive back to my home, and my next job.
I smile to myself as I imagine him flicking through the photos I'd given him, praising me in his mind.
He might think he loves her, but I know he will eventually wake up and see that I'm the right person for him. It's only a matter of time...