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“This sucks,” Yuina rumbled, kicking the gravel as they walked. “He should have left us the car.”
Elizaveta resisted the urge to roll her eyes. They had been walking for the better part of a half-hour toward Sanctuary Hills and Yui had yet to stop talking about Gunner. “How would he have ditched us if he didn’t have the car?”
“My point is that he shouldn’t have ditched us at all.”
A good friend would have read into her frown. She would have inspected Yui’s uncharacteristically make-up free face and studied her frown lines to read the secrets carved there. A good friend would have asked her what the real issue was. But Eli wasn’t. She was herself. Crass, brooding, and in desperate need of a cigarette.
Eli grumbled as she fished around in her jacket pocket. Her fingers had gone numb at some point, courtesy of this dreadful New England cold. It was a far departure from the Las Vegas heat. If the Devil she had escaped wasn’t still there, she might have considered migrating back for the winter months. But she couldn’t. More than that, she didn’t want to. She had insisted that they come to this godforsaken arctic tundra to start a new life. And, if she were to be honest with herself, to see if she could find her first love: Aria. Eli tamped down thoughts of her as she shakily brought the lighter up to the end of her cigarette.
Drawing in the first inhale of smoke, she felt steadier, and more prepared to deal with Yui’s whining. She frowned at the Siren, inspecting her profile—her long dark hair had been pulled into a sloppy top-bun, and her hooded eyes were free of their usual vibrant liner. The world around them was an unflattering gray, making her golden skin look almost ashen under pregnant clouds. Yuina hugged her jacket tighter around herself, and self-consciously touched the front of her throat. After years of having been bound with a collar, she was finally free to use her abilities as she pleased. But its removal had almost cost her life.
Eli softened as she watched. She reached for Yui’s fingers and tugged her hand down to her side where she laced their fingers. “Keep looking ahead,” she instructed.
“You’re afraid I’m going to trip?”
Eli’s lips twisted in a wry, amused smile. “That’s always a fear. But I mean that you should keep looking to the future. Gunner is in our past, now.”
“He was our friend.”
Eli shook her head. “No. He was a contracted employee who did his job. He got us from Vegas to Sanctuary Hills… More or less unharmed.”
Yui shook her head, her expression crumpling into a petulant pout. “He said he was coming with us.”
“Yes, he did,” she agreed, sucking another inhale of her cigarette between her teeth. “But he never said that he was staying with us.”
“Don’t you care?”
The sharpness in Yuina’s voice startled her. Eli blinked owlishly as she struggled to come up with a reply. “I do and I don’t,” she settled after a long pause. She shrugged as she flicked the ash column with her thumb. “I care because you do. I care that it’s upsetting you. I care that he took off without saying anything. But…” She pressed her lips into a thin line and shrugged. “I’m not going to ask him to stay somewhere he doesn’t want to be. He’s off chasing his own bliss, probably.”
It was hard to know what was going through Yuina’s head, but Eli knew it wasn’t anything good. Their flirtation had been impossible to miss during the days leading up to their arrival in Sanctuary Heals. It seemed only natural that they developed affection for each other. Especially after everything that had happened—fleeing murderous hardened criminals, and nearly dying from a cursed necklace could do that to anyone. Their attachment had only manifested physically the night before. They had been a tangle of limbs and bare flesh at the end of the night, all three boneless and thoroughly satisfied.
Eli felt something soften inside her when she realized that Yui wasn’t as callous as she was. Her life had been hard, but she hadn’t seen the absolute worst in everyone. She hadn’t been trained to expect the worst. This was more than just a simple case of “fuck and duck.” This was a betrayal.
Sighing, Eli looped her arm around Yui’s shoulder and tugged her close to her side. “Forget him, huh?” She pressed a kiss to her temple. “We got each other. That’s all that matters.”
Yui nodded her agreement, but something about her expression made Eli doubt that she meant it.
They were steadily drawing closer to the town, swallowed by craggy pavement and weather-worn houses. The homes held a grizzled charm—aged façades that spoke to the decades of hard times, both in the wallet and in its harsh winters. There were very few people milling about, but those who were seemed singularly focused on getting to work to begin their countdown to five o’clock.
And yet, for some reason, Eli couldn’t shake the feeling that they were being watched. Her gaze trailed listlessly from side to side, noting every evergreen shrub and garish lawn gnome. Her eyes tracked over the windows, searching for peering eyes.
“It will be the full moon soon, won’t it?” Yui asked, tracing her thumb over the hollow of her throat, no doubt searching for her collar.
“Yeah,” she replied distractedly. “We don’t have long to get settled and find a place for me to shift.”
The Siren nodded, weathering her lower lip between her teeth. “We need to find a place to stay, too.”
“Right. The sooner we’re out of the safe house, the better.”
They fell back into uneasy quiet. Yui’s worries were all but carved into her brow.
“If Gunner wants to find us, he will,” Eli said, snaking her hand into Yui’s. “He is one of the best smugglers in the country. He knows where we are.”
“Yeah,” the Siren sighed. “Yeah, you’re right.”
“I know I’m right.”
Yui didn’t share her impish grin.
Eli sighed. “Let’s go get breakfast and get to know the lay of the land, yeah?”
Something cold crawled its way up her spine, leaving pinpricks on her skin. She did her best to not stiffen, though her gaze sharply darted from one end of the street to the other.
She saw no one. There wasn’t a single soul in sight that seemed to care about their arrival.
Old towns are creepy.
She shivered, drawing Yui closer to her side. “So. What do you think the real estate market is like in Sanctuary Hills?”
Her question earned a ghost of a smile. “Will you let me paint some rooms pink?”
“Just as long as you do all of the painting, I don’t give a shit.”
Yui squealed. Almost with a snap of her fingers, she was back to herself again. She rambled about her “vision” for their “apartment-house-cottage whatever,” waxing poetic about pastels and color accents. Eli didn’t understand a word she said but smiled along anyway.
The chill rolled up her spine again, forcing her to tug her jacket tighter. “Maybe we can get one of those electric fireplaces,” she suggested.
“Or a real one!”
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