TABLE OF CONTENTS!
- Chapter One
- Chapter Two
- Chapter Three
- Chapter Four
- Chapter Five
- Chapter Six
- Chapter Seven
The scent of jasmine filled her nose as she stretched out across a grassy knoll. Aria tucked herself into Eli’s arms, twisting so that her cheek was pressed against her chest.
Eli smiled at her as she counted the freckles across the bridge of her nose. She wanted to kiss every spot, but Aria’s serious expression was enough to still her in her tracks.
“You know I love you, right?”
She smiled a genuine smile and traced the line of Aria’s jaw with her thumb. “Yeah,” she murmured, leaning closer. “You know I love you too, right?”
Aria smiled. Softer. There was something unreadable in her gaze. It spoke to a distance Eli knew she could not bridge. Yet, she had faith that, someday, she’d be able to break down those walls.
Someday, she promised herself as she tilted Aria’s head back and pressed a tender kiss to her lips. A kiss that was more sweet than wanting. It was gentle and unassuming, only deepening when Aria turned the tables and crawled into Eli’s lap. Their fingers laced as the redhead pinned their hands to the grass beneath them. “I’m always gonna love you,” Aria said, her voice low, her eyes wide as if she were hoping to imprint her words on Eli’s soul. “No matter what happens or where life leads us, I want you to know that.”
Eli giggled at the sudden seriousness, her arms looping around her girlfriend’s waist. “You say that like we’re not already planning on being together forever. I’ll know that because you’ll be there to tell me that every day.”
Aria’s eyes grew misted. Distant. “I will be,” she agreed. “Every day.”
Eli blinked, and the warmth of the sun disappeared entirely. Instead, she was covered in thick blankets that smelled like dust and cheap laundry detergent.
It took a moment for her to gather her bearings. The last thing she remembered was being at The Howl.
Fuck, I must have drank way too much.
Guilt roiled in the pit of her stomach when she realized that she must have ditched Yui to come to bed with some stranger.
She remembered that she was worried about something. Yui. She had been trying to get to her.
Eli tried to push herself upright but was immediately sent toppling backward by an agonizing pain in her belly.
Her memories returned, trickling into her skull like the false start of a broken faucet.
The not-spirit guides, the woods. The shot.
She laid back, raking her fingers through her hair. To her surprise, her fingers didn’t come back, sticky and grody with grease. Instead, they came back tacky—powdery. She chanced a look down at herself and was surprised to see that her clothes were gone. Instead, she wore something old, faded, and deceptively comfortable. It took a moment, but eventually, she realized that the t-shirt she was wearing was from Aria’s high school. And the debate team, no less.
Eli couldn’t help but smile. Nerd.
The same nerd she had traveled across the country to see. The same nerd who, she remembered, had a live-in girlfriend.
She had barely been awake five minutes, and she’s already put herself through a rollercoaster of emotions. With a groan, she scrubbed her hands across her face. It was stupid of her to think Aria would have waited for her. It had been years since they had been together. Had she expected her to pine after her like Eli did for her?
It was stupid. The entire thing was stupid. And now, here they were in a small town, ten miles past where Jesus Christ left his sandals that was, apparently, crawling with hunters. Her luck couldn’t be any worse if she got it directly from the veins of the leprechaun’s village drunken idiot.
The door creaked open, and Aria peeked in. She wore a relieved smile as she stepped in. “You’re awake.”
“Barely,” Eli agreed, her eyes glued to her. She couldn’t help it, either. It had been far too long since she had last seen Aria, and she had thought about her far too much not to gape. At least a little.
“Makes sense,” Aria replied, moving to sit at the edge of the bed. “It’s not often that someone takes a bullet to the stomach and is chipper the day after.”
Eli nodded, hazarding a half-smile. “So, I’ve been out a day?”
“You slept through the night.”
She nodded again, her dark eyes sweeping over the bedroom. “Guest room?”
The question caused Aria to pause. Her lips quirked in a lopsided smile as she shrugged her shoulders. “Sure. Is there anything you need? Painkillers? Coffee?”
“Painkillers. With the coffee.” Eli grimaced, trying to push herself into a more upright position.
Aria lurched into action, leaning over her to stuff more pillows behind her back. The scent of jasmine flooded her nose, and she was taken right back to that hill. To the place where the sun kissed their cheeks, and Eli counted the freckles on Aria’s face. Her eyes fell to her mouth, and for a brief moment, she considered acting on impulse. It had been too long since they had last kissed, and Eli wanted to know if she tasted the same. She wanted to know if Aria made the same sweet, whimpered sounds or if she was still prone to mewling breathlessly.
Somehow, Eli managed to keep herself together.
“And a cigarette,” she added glumly.
“Well,” Aria settled onto the edge of the bed. “Salena doesn’t like it when people smoke inside, but,” —her eyes roved over Eli’s legs beneath the mountain of blankets—“I think given the situation, she’d understand.”
It was impossible to say for sure, but Aria seemed to have difficulty staying still. She was on her feet in an instant. The windows and curtains were opened, blinding Eli with the late afternoon rays. Eli’s eyes hadn’t even adjusted by the time Aria disappeared and reappeared, holding a ceramic ashtray, a bottle of pre-made cold brew, and a fistful of painkillers.
Eli accepted everything with her mumbled thanks.
“What do you want to eat?” Aria asked, tugging at the blankets to pull them to her thigh. Eli nearly jumped, but she realized that Aria was only checking the bandages. Her expression grew contemplative and guarded, and Eli was suddenly quite self-conscious of her preternatural healing abilities. She tugged the blankets back over her belly and produced two cigarettes from the pack. She held one out for Aria, trying not to think too much about how her skin felt electric when their fingers brushed.
“Uh, what are the… options?”
“I can make you some scrambled eggs and bacon. Some toast? Maybe even French Toast if we’ve got cinnamon. Uh,” Aria’s face scrunched as she lit the cigarette and drew in the first inhale. “We can order stuff, too. There’s pizza and Chinese. Subs from Trout Mouth.”
Eli couldn’t help her laugh. “What the fuck is ‘Trout Mouth?’”
Something played out on Aria’s face. A tight smile formed on her lips. “Trout Mouth Lodge. It’s a bar and restaurant.”
“Ah,” Eli nodded, exhaling a plume of smoke. “This place has some… interesting names.”
“Yeah,” Aria agreed, tapping her cigarette against the ashtray. “Are you going to explain why you didn’t want to call an ambulance?”
She caught her lip between her teeth and forced herself to meet Aria’s eyes. No part of her wanted to, but she knew that she owed her something of an explanation after everything she had done.
“I was dating a guy. Bad news bears kind of guy. And I uh. I ran off. So he and some of his friends are looking for me.”
“I’m assuming that they’re well-connected.”
“Better connected than that,” Eli said as she sucked in another puff of her cigarette.
“So… Why are you here of all places?”
“It was the first place I could think of. And it would be the last place he would.”
The words hung between them, settling like dust motes on the bed between them.
“I’ll be getting out of your hair soon enough.” She especially wanted to get out of there before Aria started poking around her bandages again and realized that she was healing at an alarming rate.
“No,” Aria said, perhaps too sharply. “You’re not going anywhere until you’re good enough to take care of yourself.”
“I’ve already overstayed—”
“Elizaveta.” Her tone was enough to belay any argument. “No. You’re here until you feel better. Okay? I’m not going to argue with you about it.” She exhaled her final puff and put the cigarette out in the ashtray in Eli’s lap. “I’m going to go make you breakfast.”
“Okay,” Eli replied weakly. “Thank you.”
The door closed behind Aria, and Eli pushed herself to her feet, stretching and twisting to the best of her ability. She padded to the adjoining washroom and removed the bandages to inspect the damage. The wounds were still hideous and puckered, but they looked far better than they should for less than twenty-four hours after the incident.
Dread sank into the pit of her stomach. Panic filled her lungs like ice water.
She had to get out of there before Aria returned.
She scrambled around the room, looking for her belongings. Her clothes, she reasoned, were in the wash. But that didn’t account for everything else. Her wallet, her keys, her cell phone. Her weapons.
All she had were the borrowed clothes on her back, freshly dry-shampooed hair, and borrowed clothes.
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