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   Chapter 25 NO.25

Damsel[ed] Rescue Required (3 of the Damsel[ed] Series) By m i c h e l l e p a k Characters: 14642

Updated: 2018-07-10 21:34

By the time Jay and I return from the museum, the city is chilly and dark. Though the sky is technically full of stars—whole constellations of them—Jay and I only get a few sad specks amid the golden moon and neon lights tonight. My left hand is clasped in hers, my right a shaking fist at my side.

"It's pretty, " she says, looking up at the sky. The dying light outlines each soft curve of her face, and I want to bring my hand to her cheek again. But I don't. I only squint at my apartment building, trying not to think. "When I was little, us kids could never leave the hideout. Couldn't go to school until we were thirteen. Not even a private one. I used to look out the bars of my window every night, staring at the stars until I couldn't keep my eyes open."

I wish I can say I can smell her perfume, the balmy smell of her shampoo, the soft, earthy scent of her hand lotion. I wish I can say I can feel the warmth of her hand pressed to my skin. I wish I can say my heart swells so big I think it'll break.

I can't. Because ever since she told me how much time she thinks I have, free, I've been hearing her as if I'm standing in a glass box. Like there's layers between us. And all I feel, despite the spring wind, is cold.

Lonely and cold and shivering with fear. Lonely because no one else will ever feel this, unsafe in their own mind, crowded out by their own body. Cold because lately, nothing can warm me. Fearful because when I try to think of my future, I only hear my father's voice, a voice like mine. And I only see fire.

"Ang." Jaylin lifts my hand. We're still staring up at my building, all glittering chrome finishes and blocks of light that stain the night sky with a greasy, golden glow. "I, uh, with what might happen, I want to, um, to tell you..."

"Hmm?" Jaylin never speaks like this. Never mumbles, never stammers. Roses stain her cheek, her eyes flutter, and the knot in my stomach tightens. Jaylin's supposed to be my constant. The mountain stone battered by a sea of chaos. Always the same, always strong. But in a few short breaths, my world is coming undone again.

" you."

I cough. Love me? How can she love me when I'm the stake that drove her life apart? This is what I I wanted, what I wanted since we fell together. But for the second time tonight, what I wanted doesn't seem to matter. I'm watching who I am and what I wanted lift into smoke, and it should scare me, but I'm too tired to feel a thing. If Luce is fire, then it's fitting I've become smoke. Fleeting and inconsequential.

"Are you crying?"

I bring my thumb to my eyelashes. They're dry. I blink a few times at the sidewalk.

"Angel, this is weird. It's hard to think when you're quiet like this." She laughs, harsh and humorless. "I know it's rough, but—"

"I love you too." The words leave me in a big whoosh of air. I mean them, and I mean them so sincerely something cracks in my chest. Because I don't want to think about how irrational and hormone-driven and stressed-induced this love is.

I want to stop thinking, stop our lives from unraveling around us, stop. I just want to stand here holding her hand and knowing she's close. That I'm safe with her. "I really do. I really love you." And I'm sorry, I want to say, I'm sorry that my love for you and yours for me may never become more substantial than irrationality and hormones and stress. I'm sorry that I'm Romeo and you're Juliet. I'm sorry that we've always been star-crossed. I'm sorry that we're going to die.

I'm so sick of feeling sorry. I'm so sick of feeling cold. She brings my knuckles to her lips and kisses me, but I still can't shake what she's told me enough to respond. I only flinch a little, thinking of the night that may be ahead of me. I'm looking away from her and the sky, a little right, a little low, and I'm noticing cars parked out front of the apartment I've never seen. Several small, black cars, and a van.

I unravel my fingers from Jay's. She makes a sound of surprise, but I'm already racing through the doors and jabbing at the service elevator buttons, digging my teeth into the side of my mouth so deeply, I taste blood. But I don't feel it. I'm so accustomed to pain it doesn't tip me off at all. So I just keep tearing and worrying the skin between my teeth until I'm sick of my blood's metallic taste. Jay catches up and says nothing

know what I'm doing. I don't even want to admit it to myself.

I stoop so we're eye level. "Take care of Shir' and Jay and Hev for me, alright? And Kep, Kep loves you."

"A-ang." His voice cracks. He grabs me by both hands, yanks them apart. I can smell the musk of his cologne, the clean smell of his aftershave. "This can't end well for you." He's clenching my hands so tightly that all the blood leaves my knuckles. "Please don't leave me again."

My father tugs on my shoulder. I can feel his fingertips digging into my flesh. Gats is grinding his jaw, his shoulders are shaking. I see a flash of his teeth, a flushed cheek. And when a tear rolls down his cheek, I realize it's not out of sadness. It's out of frustration. "You keep letting them take you away."

I run my thumb under his lashes and wipe away his tear. "It's going to be okay."

"It isn't." Another tear races down my fingertips, and I Ieave it there.

"We're going." Fallout can make his voice go even deeper when he wants it to, and when he speaks, it sounds like the earth is cracking all around me. Tears shudder down Gats' cheekbone. And I can see him, all at once, as a thirteen-year-old rummaging through the fridge, and then a seething fifteen-year-old, standing in the school courtyard with his knuckles caked with blood. Sixteen, dancing around the apartment, speaking in poetry to an unamused Heaven.I see us sitting together, back to back on the balcony, lazily finishing homework under the falling sun.

I'm losing him again. "Whatever happens, it's going to be okay." I don't want to lose him again. And I can hear his short, muffled sobs, and it breaks me. Tears splatter my held hands. "And if I change... I... don't let me fall that far." Will I be hurt the way Poison was? Will I become like my dad? I don't know, and now we're both crying, quietly crying. He nods, his mouth pulling into a grimace. And he cups my face, tilting my chin down to meet his, and he kisses me.

"I'm going to hold on to you."

My father yanks me to my feet. I'm blinking, over and over, trying to shake the spice of his aftershave and the musk of his cologne from my head.. Gats' scriptbook is on the floor and I pick it up, forcing a smile at Gats, at Jay, my head spinning. I keep thinking of the blood running down Heaven's shirt. Keep thinking of Storm with the sword, keep thinking of what's happened, what's about to happen as I look back at my apartment.

And then I turn away. My father digs his hand into my shoulder one more, and I clench the script so tightly the pages crumple into paper petals that fall away at my feet.

As I shuffle into the hallway, the heat of Gats' mouth still tingles on mine. Does he love me? Or did he do that because he thinks he'll never see me again? Did he kiss me because it doesn't matter what Jay thinks? Because this is it, the last time he'll see me. Maybe this is a fitting goodbye.

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