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5. Testing Devotion

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I was thinking back to the last thing I had written about. To when they’d beaten Dusk. Since then, more had fallen. We’d taken down some of them, but not nearly enough. It was getting worse, and fast. I thought back to where I was, holding Dusk’s hand, his blood staining my fingers. I remembered Colt’s downcast expression, the look of hopelessness in his eyes. I remember all that as I coughed up my own blood, looking at hands stained red with blood from my veins. Those memories seemed so distant. I wasn’t in danger then. I wasn’t dying.

I’m not dying, even though it feels like it. I’m just in so much pain it hurts to breathe. It’s been days, maybe weeks since they raided the circus and beat up Dusk. They caught me right off the street outside the bar, a whole troop of them. Linkon came over, dropped a coin in my case and looked up. And I knew as soon as I locked eyes with him that it was done for. That I was his. That there was no way I’d see home tonight. And I was right.

The rules of war shifted. Instead of just beating kids at random, each side has started taking prisoners. To trade. They’re hoping that in doing so, one side can force the other into trading the leader – ending the conflict. It might work – then again, the sun might decide to fizzle out tomorrow. I’ve been here for a while and I don’t think it’s worth it. Cough up more blood. I wonder how much I’ve lost. I wonder how much more I can afford to lose. I wonder if anyone’s being traded for me. Whose life equals my own?

I heard the steps coming from awhile away. I was in a room, dirt floor, nothing in it, walls, no windows. Just the door. There was nothing really in here. I had been relocated a bunch of times. The door creaked open. I was curled up in the corner, leaning on the walls. They stepped closer to me, kneeling down to my level.

This was Linkon. He was the leader of the enemy, the driving force of the opposition. But he was compassionate, just as Colt was. He took a flashlight and tipped my head up with two fingers, carefully. He looked at my eyes, had me open my mouth. He turned my face side to side.

“How do you feel?”

I looked into his eyes for a moment, feeling the hatred burning through him. I coughed, holding my stomach, showing him the blood that came up. He got up and stepped back a moment, watching my body lurch and shake from the stress. I stopped coughing and closed my eyes, breathing in slow, deep breaths. He just stood and watched me for a while. He knelt down again, daring to get closer.

“I’m sorry. This wasn’t supposed to work out this way.”

I merely glared at him in response. He looked around, collecting the thoughts for his next statement carefully.

“We…they were just supposed to bring you here. This wasn’t…they had no permission…I never ordered them to do this.”

I glared at him, trying desperately to suppress my coughs. He looked around the room again, reconsidering his options. When he’d reached a decision, he dropped flat on his knees. And picked me up. And carried me out of there. I closed my eyes for the trip, slipping between consciousness and delusion; hope and despair. He brought me to a room, not the best kind of place, but a room with a window and a bed. He set me down on it carefully, not a simple drop.

“Why?” I coughed. He looked around, sitting on the edge of the bed.

“Mr. Brogan has us all wrong. See, we don’t want this war any more than you guys do. But he’s losing control. Someone must keep order. Someone must rule with an iron fist. There has to be control somewhere. And he’s just not keeping up.”

“No. Why…me.”

“Because you’re important to both Brogan brothers. While one confides in you, the other…well, he loves you.”

“Liar.”

“Why do you think he acts so big and tough around you?”

“I just want out.”

He leaned over and kissed me on the forehead. “No such luck in this game. I’d have thought you’d have learned that by now.”

“I left the last town to get away from you, Linkon.”

He smiled as he got up to leave. “I know.”

“How’d you set up shop so quick?”

And he moved towards the door, thinking his answer over carefully. “I’m just a figurehead. You’ve not yet seen who’s pulling the strings.” And he left, with that hanging in the air, and the sound of the door locking behind him. I turned over and went to sleep, despite the pain. There was nothing else to be done but wait. And I would do so.

And I did. For days. Until Linkon returned. And I was helped out of bed and led away, out, to a chair. Where I sat. I wasn’t coughing up any more blood. Linkon had sent a few girls to come by and clean me up a bit. He figured that they would seem like less of a threat. I still felt like I’d been run over, and probably looked just as bad. I was seated at a table, in the middle on one side. At one end of the table sat Linkon. Across from me was one of his lackeys. And at the other end of the table was Colt.

I sat slumped over, my hands on the table, holding my body up. Colt looked exhausted. He must have been doing a lot of running around these days. He had Dusk standing next to him.

“We want an exchange,” Colt demanded, his voice even.

Linkon nodded. “Understood, and we’ve met your requirements. Who are you prepared to return to our good graces that is worthy of such an exchange?”

Dusk disappeared into the shadows and came back, pushing a girl in as bad a shape as I was. She was bigger, like an older model of myself, all the finishing touches made. She was pushing the whole way in. They had her hands bound behind her, but she still pushed and tried to slip away from Dusk. He had a good hold on her, even though he didn’t look to be in the best shape either. There were still scars and bruises from when they caught him.

He stopped when he got next to Colt. He stood up and rested a hand on the girl’s shoulder and she stopped fighting. They exchanged looks. Linkon nearly jumped the table when he saw her. He turned away, took a few deep breaths, and turned back.

“Deal.”

And I was pulled out of the chair while Colt led his prize over to Linkon. They shook hands and we all turned to part. Colt had an arm around me, holding me to his side the entire time on the way out the door.

“Why’d he jump at the chance?”

“Because that is his baby sister.”

“I don’t understand…how he could be so careless?”

Colt smiled down at me, kissing me on the cheek. “She was never really on his side in the first place.”

“What?”

“It’s a set up. She conveys information to us about them. Don’t worry about it. Let me handle all the particulars. You just get home and rest.” He handed me off to Dusk once we were back on the street. “Take her home, look after her, and don’t leave. Understand?”

Dusk’s arm replaced Colt’s, and we were on our way. We all bid our farewells in the middle of the busy street. I hugged Colt tight before we left, holding onto him like I’d never held onto anyone before.

“Thanks,” I whispered. And we all split and departed. I know he’d never cop to it, but there was a tear in his eye during all that. My eyes were dry. From lack of caring, lack of feeling.

Dusk took me home. And when we got there, he made sure the door was locked. I kept walking, moving to my room, dragging my feet, desperate for a shower and a change. I could hear Dusk’s footsteps. He was checking windows, any other way into the place. I heard shades come down. We’d risen in respect for one another since this all started. He would make sure the place was safe. And I would clean up. And sleep. And he would watch over me, just as he was told. He would do as his brother instructed. In this case above all.

I got a change of clothes, and moved off to the bathroom to start the water. I went out to the living room, finding Dusk standing in the middle of the room, arms folded. He was watching the door like a hawk. I crept over to him, sliding a hand on his shoulder slowly so he wouldn’t jump. He turned his head a little. And I kissed him. We separated. And I went off to shower. And he went back to the night’s watch.

Not another word was said. Nothing was questioned. We slept in the same bed, fully clothed, myself locked in his embrace, safe from the world in his arms. I can’t explain how or why we ended up that way, why not one word passed about the kiss, or the sleeping conditions…but that’s just how it worked out.

It didn’t matter anyway. When all things are put into perspective.

But for one moment, nothing mattered not because we were pessimists bent on the world’s destruction. No. Nothing mattered because we were at peace.

Just…peace.

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