Authors: JC Andrijeski
Maybe I shouldn’t have let it.
Maybe that was the time to tell him everything––about the voice in my head, about what I’d seen in my dreams. Maybe that was the time to convince him he wasn’t going to save me like this. That he wasn’t going to save either one of us.
“You always have
choice, Black,” I said, my voice apologetic. “I wish you’d trust me a little. I wish you’d let me help you with this.”
He clicked under his breath, but didn’t answer. I saw him thinking about what I’d said, even as I felt him wishing he knew how to make me understand.
Ironic really, given that I felt pretty much exactly the same way.
I didn’t have any way to bridge that gulf between us, not back then. Back then, I knew too little about his world. I knew too little about his past, and my own for that matter. I doubted my own dreams, my own mind, that voice I’d heard in my head, my fears. I knew as well as he did that I’d recently been through a serious trauma. It had crossed my mind already that the dreams might simply be another form of PTSD.
I knew Black would probably think so, if I told him.
Or worse, he’d assume it was Solonik’s voice I heard.
To be fair to Black, maybe I was underestimating him, though.
Back then, I didn’t know how badly I needed to learn to trust those vague pings of warning I would get, more and more often as time went on. On the contrary, I’d spent my whole life trying to
those things. I wanted to react only to facts...
not vague intuitions that were probably based on nothing anyway.
I get those limitations now. I really do.
I’m not mad at myself for not pushing on him harder.
Even so, I wish I’d said more.
I really wish I’d said more to him while I had the chance.
BY THE TIME we landed at San Francisco International Airport, I’d shoved all thoughts of dreams and mysterious voices out of my mind.
All I could think about was getting home...
and taking a really long, really hot shower.
Preferably with Black.
I watched him, unable to look away as he pulled two hard-case suitcases off the conveyor belt in baggage claim. He grabbed them one at a time, still favoring his hurt shoulder, but the motion still looked effortless on him somehow, almost graceful.
I watched his muscles move under his skin, rippling tattoos as he raised each case, the only indication of their weight. His mouth firmed into a grimmer expression as he dropped them on the linoleum floor beside the baggage carousel, releasing the handle locks so he could use the wheels.
I watched him in all of it––the way his body moved, the way his clothes hung on him.
He wore the same black T-shirt he’d put on in the Bangkok airport. Only now he wore a leather jacket over that and the bandage on the flesh wound he’d sustained, hiding his wound as well as the gun I suspected he wore on a shoulder holster now that we were off the plane. His dark pants hung low on his hips from the weight he’d lost, and below those, he wore leather dress shoes. He moved slower than usual, the only indication he was tired.
Well, and wounded, I reminded myself.
We’d been on various planes for over thirty hours with layovers and I don’t think he’d slept, but I knew that wasn’t all of what I was seeing. I knew the gunshot wasn’t all of it, either. He had on the same watch as when I’d first met him in an interrogation room inside a police station here in San Francisco. His black hair was matted to the back of his neck and I noted again that it had grown out, contrasting the distinctly cop-like flavor of his mirrored sunglasses.
I was conscious of his attention on me as well, even when he seemed to be looking elsewhere. His sculpted mouth remained in that grim expression, but he looked relieved too, just like he’d said he would, as soon as we landed back in the States.
I only looked away when I saw a woman in a designer coat giving him a once-over, her eyes narrowing in obvious interest.
Looking down, I pulled my phone out of my bag, maybe so I didn’t have to watch her try and angle her way closer to him. I knew I’d have to get used to women hitting on Black, but I wasn’t there yet, and I wasn’t in the mood to pretend I was, not after everything.
My phone kind of blew up as soon as I turned it on.
It occurred to me only then to think back on how long it had been since I’d last checked it. Somehow, in all of my time of being in Bangkok, I don’t think I’d even turned it on. I never even noticed that it had lain dormant in my bag after that first plane ride.
Then again, when would I have used it?
I was tied to the wall of a psychopath’s room the vast majority of the time I’d been in Thailand. There’d been that first day, with Black and his lawyer, Lawrence Farraday and later his old army buddy, Kevin Lawless.
Then there had been Solonik. I only spent one night in an actual hotel bed.
Shoving that from my mind with a grimace, I tried to focus on the phone. On normalcy.
On my actual life.
The first few messages were––predictably, I guess––annoyed ones from my overly paranoid and occasionally judgmental homicide detective pal, Naoko “Nick” Tanaka.
I got a few from Angel too, another homicide cop from Nick’s precinct. I even got a call from Glen Frakes, Nick’s partner, which told me just how desperate Nick must have been to reach me. If he’d roped Glen into his paranoia, he’d likely be calling Interpol next.
Peppered between Nick’s protective big-brotherly messages, each a bit more terse and vaguely threatening than the last (although most of those threats seemed aimed at Black, interestingly enough), I also got a handful from psychology clients, mostly the ones I would have expected. One of those in particular I really needed to pass off with a referral. He seemed to feel betrayed whenever I was out of his contact range for more than an afternoon, and was growing increasingly demanding about both my time and the “attention” I paid him. He’d also grown increasingly immune to any feedback from me on the subject.
Sighing, I listened to part of the fourth message from that same patient, only glancing at Black again when he was within a few yards of me.
He walked right up to me, and I felt a coil of heat off him, hitting me somewhere below the naval as his eyes took me in with a swift glance. He wrapped an arm around me once he was close enough, kissing me on the mouth. The kiss was more than friendly, and I couldn’t help but feel the message there, too.
It didn’t feel aimed at the woman in the designer coat, though.
It also didn’t feel aimed solely at me.
He didn’t release me when he came up for air, but glanced behind me. Turning my head to follow his stare, only then did I notice a man standing there, watching me and Black furtively even as Black warned him off with a blatant scowl.
Rolling my eyes a little, I smiled, although I knew I shouldn’t.
“Down, boy,” I murmured, sliding my hands inside his jacket.
“Fucker’s been staring at your ass for the last ten minutes,” he growled softly, kissing me again, harder that time, with even more heat behind it. That time he used his tongue. Raising his head with a more pained expression, he gave the other man a level stare. “I’m about to have a talk with him. Man to man. You know how it is.”
“Please don’t,” I said, sighing. “And no...
I don’t know how it is.”
Black smiled when I glanced up at him.
I felt him relax when he kissed me the next time, caressing my hair back from my face with both hands. It struck me to wonder why both of us were having such a hard time with the whole “overreacting to minor sexual attention from other people” thing––but I already knew what Black would say to that, too. He would dismiss it as a “seer thing” and tell me again how all seers acted like jealous, hyper-possessive assholes a lot of the time.
genes. Or something.
“That’s right, baby,” he said, grinning at me from behind the shades, right before he smacked me sharply on the ass with his palm, making me jump. “Now let’s get the fuck out of here. I’m hungry. And now I’m horny. We should go before I feel the need to get territorial again, maybe with a little indiscriminate violence...”
He gave another predatory stare over my shoulder, his gold irises still hidden behind the shades. I followed the stare and saw the guy Black had been posturing with blanch, right before he backed visibly away.
I fought a sudden and wholly inappropriate desire to laugh.
Instead I shook my head disapprovingly at him, pursing my lips as I put my phone back to my ear. I hit the button so it would replay the handful of messages I’d missed while kissing Black. He grabbed a suitcase handle in either hand, only wincing a little from his shoulder before motioning with his head for me to follow him.
I kept the phone pressed to my ear as I did, only halfway paying attention as he led us towards the glass doors and into the morning sunlight beyond.
When we reached the curb, just as I was listening to the last two messages on my voicemail, Black’s own phone rang.
My eyes followed his hands and his face as he took the call.
A few seconds later, I realized I hadn’t heard anything of my own messages as I watched micro-expressions flicker across his high-cheekboned face.
I lowered the phone, my voicemail still playing as Black exploded suddenly in anger.
“No!” he snapped into the phone. “What the fuck is this? He said later...
at a later date. I just got off a fucking plane––”
Someone must have cut him off.
There was a silence while he listened.
I wished he wasn’t wearing the sunglasses so I could see his eyes. Instead I found myself watching his body where he stood by the curb, the suitcases forgotten, one hand on his hip as his shoulders and arms tensed.
I couldn’t feel his mind either.
He’d shuttered it to me, closed it down like a locked vault.
I was still staring when that frown on his face hardened. He continued to hold the phone to his ear, not talking, as someone on the other end spoke.
“I know I agreed to that,” he growled. “But fuck. I can’t just––”
They cut him off a second time.
For a few more seconds, Black only listened.
When he next spoke, his voice was cold as ice.
“This is bullshit. You know that, right? It’s also totally against our laws. You don’t get to decide who can and can’t...”
Again someone must have cut him off. I saw Black listening, right before he clenched his jaw, hard enough to push out his cheek.
“Then I guess I’ll see you in hell,” he said.
He hung up, muttering under his breath, not in English that time.
I thought he would turn, give me some excuse, but he didn’t.
He just stood there for a moment, breathing harder. He didn’t seem to notice when a black limousine pulled up, or when the door opened and one of his drivers got out, another of his buffed, ex-military types wearing all black and with an earpiece in their ear like they worked for the Secret Service.
He barely seemed to notice as the same man popped the trunk, then walked up to him and took the two suitcases.