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   Chapter 24 NO.24

Damsel[ed] Rescue Required (3 of the Damsel[ed] Series) By m i c h e l l e p a k Characters: 13049

Updated: 2018-06-26 19:53


"Angelos? Bud? Good news."

My hands are dashed with small, shallow cuts. I'm lying on the couch with my face pushed into the pillows. My breath is gasping and a new bruise wells up under my eye. Blue or black, I'm at least partially sure. When I try to speak, my tongue is heavy and suckers to the roof of my mouth. "Hrrm?"

"Aaron texted me. The cast lists are up."

"Ugh." I chew my lip, playing broken skin between my teeth. I'm less speaking and more whistling, attention drawn to a creaking forearm under armored hands, numbing. "G-great."

Someone is stroking my hair. The fragrance of vanilla lingers in the air, pulled in with my every gasping breath. "He's gone, " she says against my skin. Her breath is a warm puff on my cheekbone. "You didn't hurt anyone. You're okay, hon."

Somewhere, Jaylin grunts. I squeeze my eyes shut, thinking only of the blackness that overtook me, the sound of my aura's thoughts. Darkness strung into poetic cadences, the rush of strange emotions. Kill. Reign. My own panicked shouts of equations and multiplication tables in a quickly smothered attempt to push him out. How I held my eyes shut and pressed my face into the crook of my elbow so he couldn't hurt my brother. And how, seconds later, I lost control. My thoughts, whisked to some dark, hidden place as his raced, loud and pounding.

Brains are gray globs of slimy meat. They shouldn't break. "Why is this happening to me?" I say. "What did I do to deserve this?"

Fear rattles inside me. My breathing is still quick, and the sounds leaking from my mouth are soft and squeaky.

"You want to guess who's Romeo?" Gats asks, but I'm not listening. I'm trying to still my shaking. To breathe again.

Jaylin grabbed me by a fist full of shirt and pushed my face into the cushions. I don't remember what I said to her. All I remember was fear, Luce's and mine, and how I so vividly thought of her cackling laughter, her ropes around my wrists, her strips of tape on my face. I must've hit her, because under the sweet vanilla of Heaven's perfume, I can still smell blood. I must've hit her because she dug her nails into the back of my neck and pressed my face so deeply into the couch, I stopped breathing. You ever been smothered by a cushion? Your lungs wheezing desperately for air, big black spots welling up in front of your eyes? Words become gasps. Thoughts become screams. You flounder and cry as you drown in a room full of air. And then? Then, there's only darkness.

And it sucks.

"You." Gatsby's claws tap gently on the crown of my skull, sheathing and unsheathing, so I feel the cool talons and then the hollows of his fingertips. His voice is a happy croon, gentle and quiet. "You're going to be a lead."

"Oh, " I murmur through a clumsy tongue. Heaven releases my arm, leaving the bone creaking under slashed skin. I don't remember her coming. Just the searing wounds on my hands and her ever-tightening grip on my arms. I turn over, blinking up at my friends. Heaven, with the visor of her mother's armor slid up. Her eyes fluttering, then falling tacitly shut again, shoulders slumped. Soot stains her armor. Gatsby, blue eyes big and round, smiling sympathetically. He touches me again, and I only glimpse Jaylin by a locke of black hair and an ice pack over her eyes. I bolt upright, and pain uncoils deep in my chest cavity. My hands grope at the arms of the couch. My brains ooze and ache behind eyes I blink, once, twice, but my eyes still seer behind burning eyelids. I'm a lead. Freaking-whip-ee. I mean, yeah. I wanted a role. And it aches, that something I cared about has, suddenly, become nothing at all.

He says, "I'm your understudy." A smile creeps across his face, and his eyes, which I'm used to seeing perpetually rounded, have fallen back to their normal width. With his cheeks flushed bright and that small smile lingering on his smug face, I'd almost

s me as tragic. I could sit her, in the fake basement the old supers used to gather in, making plans and shooting painted balls into cups and shouting at Jupiter for his drinking problem. I could sit here, reflecting. But Jaylin only offers it a passing glance and treks higher into the museum, her fingers twined tightly with mine.

The Room of Love.

The ceiling is a canopy of electric twinkling stars, the center of the room, a monument to Nebula and Taurus. The two of them are embracing, their faces rapt with joy.

What the adults in the museum don't know, or what they don't let on to know, is that the pedestal beneath the stone heroes' feet is hollow. Thousand of teens trek to the museum to make out beneath the stars and the hugging heroes; the pedestal is stuffed with flowers, pillows, blankets. Security clears them, but every time I've glanced inside, the floor is covered in plush throws and fresh petals. Jaylin glances over her shoulder at me, and I shrug, tugging the scabs on my palms. She slips inside and I follow. Just her and me and the faded smell of roses lingering on the walls. We're sitting together, criss-cross applesauce, knees touching. I bring my non-bleeding hand to her face, since that feels like the thing I'm supposed to do in a place like this. But I'm thinking back to my aura explosion, and she doesn't reciprocate. Her fingers spider on my kneecap.

"It's really private up here, " she says. Her breath is quick. "Needed to talk to you."

I let my hand linger on her cheek. "Okay."

"You have to get out of Starlight."

"We've talked about this." My heart is a lump stuck to the back of my throat. "Can't do it. Don't have a car. Gotta do something to Syndicate."

"No, no. Not what I meant." She leans forward, taking my bleeding hand in hers. She clenches it. "June signed your bill of Sale. Cleo...my mom...scares Fallout. He's gonna get you and Hev'll try to stop him, but she's only so strong."

I close my eyes, as if I can shut out the truth if I refuse to look at the person whose bringing it. I'm tired of crying. Tired of panicking. After losing myself to Luce, I only want to lay my head on her shoulder and sleep. Instead, I try to make my voice smooth. "How much longer do you think I have?"

She presses her thumb to the torn parts of my palm. "A few hours."

***

Hi, guys. It's been a little over a month since I lasted updated this story, which is unfair to you. I've posted why I've been struggling so much with this in my 'Hero Stuff' author book, but I'm getting back at it and I'll have an update for you next Monday.

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