“Friends?” she said.
“Yeah…I mean, I wouldn’t disgrace you by asking for more than that. I know that you regret…Anyway, I just couldn’t let you go without…Yeah, so…friends.”
Holy…Moses. He’d come looking for her. With the intent of coming back and reaching out to her. Man, this was completely outside any scenario she’d imagined as she’d prepared to talk to him.
“I…What are you saying Zsadist?” she stammered, even thought she’d heard every word.
He glanced back down at the pencil in his hand and then turned to the table. Flipping the spiral notebook to a new page, he bent way over and labored on top of the paper for quite a while. Then he ripped the sheet free.
His hand was shaking as he held it out. “It’s messy.”
Bella took the paper. In a child’s uneven block letters there were three words:
I LOVE YOU
Her lips flattened tight as her eyes stung. The handwriting got wavy and then disappeared.
“Maybe you can’t read it,” he said in a small voice. “I can do it over.”
She shook her face. “I can read it just fine. It’s…beautiful.”
“I don’t expect anything back. I mean…I know that you don’t…feel that for me anymore. But I wanted you to know. It’s important that you knew. And if there’s any change we could be together…I can’t stop my job with the Brotherhood. But I can promise that I’ll be so much more careful with myself---“ He frowned and stopped talking. “Shit. What am I saying? I promised myself I wouldn’t put you in this position---“
She crushed the paper to her heart, then launched herself at him, hitting his chest so hard he stumbled back. As his arms came around her with hesitation, as if he didn’t have any idea what she was doing or why, she wept openly.
In all her preparations for this meeting, the one thing she had never considered was that the two of them might have some sort of future.
When he tilted up her chin and looked down at her she tried to smile, but the crazy hope she felt was too heavy and joyous a burden.
“I didn’t mean to make you cry---“
“Oh, God…Zsadist, I love you.”
Twenty months later…
Oh…the agony. This training was going to kill him. Sure, he wanted to get into the Brotherhood, or at least be one of their soldiers, but how could anyone survive this?
As time was finally called, the new pretransition candidate sagged because the class on hand-to-hand was finally over. But he didn’t dare show any more weakness than that.
Like all the trainees he was terrified and in awe of their teacher, a great, scarred warrior, a full member of the Black Dagger Brotherhood. Rumors abounded about the male: that he ate lessers after he killed them; that he murdered females for sport; that his scars were his doing just because he liked pain…
That he killed recruits for making mistakes.
“Hit the showers,” the warrior said, his deep voice filling the gym. “Bus is waiting for you. We start tomorrow, four sharp. So sleep up good tonight.”
The trainee ran out with the others and was grateful to hit the showers. God…At least the rest of his class were just as relieved and sore. They were all like cows at this point, just standing under the spray, barely blinking, stupid from exhaustion.
Thank the good Virgin, he wouldn’t have to go back onto those godforsaken blue mats for another sixteen hours. Except as he went to put on his street clothes, he realized he’d forgotten his sweatshirt. With a cringe he shot down the hall and sneaked back into the gym…
The trainee stopped dead.
The teacher was across the way, shirtless and sparring with a punching bag, his nipple rings flashing as he danced around his target. Dear Virgin in the Fade…He more the marks of a blood slave, and scars ran all the way down his back. But, man, he could move. He had incredible strength and agility and power. Deadly. Very deadly. Totally deadly.
The trainee knew he should leave, but he was unable to look away. He’d never seen anything snap out so fast or strike so hard as the male’s fists. Obviously, the rumors about the instructor were all true. He was a flat out killer.
With a metal clank, a door opened at the other end of the gym, and the sound of a newborn’s cries echoed up into the high ceiling. The warrior stopped in midpunch and wheeled around as a lovely female carrying a young in a pink blanket came over to him. His face softened, positively melted.
“Sorry to bother you,” the female said over the wailing. “But she wants her daddy.”
The warrior kissed the female as he took the small young into his heavy arms, cradling the newborn against his bare chest. The baby girl reached her tiny hands up and around his neck, then settled into this skin, calming instantly.
The warrior turned and looked across the mats, pegging the new trainee with a level stare. “Bus is coming soon, son. You better hurry.”
Then he winked, and he turned away, putting his hand on the female’s waist, pulling her close to him kissing her again on the mouth.
The recruit stared at the warrior’s back, seeing what had been hidden by all that vicious movement. Over some of his scars there were two names in the Old Language in his sin, one on top of the other.