The following entry contains discussions on sensitive topics and will include graphic details that some may find too disturbing, including: domestic violence, child abuse, sex trafficking, and death.
READER DISCRETION IS ADVISED
The young couple would not resume their discussion for another hour or so.
Lizzie sighed contentedly as her body relaxed against his left side. His bare skin warmed hers in the cool winter night, the fingers of his left hand slowly trailing up and down the arm she rested on his abdomen; it laid by her head, positioned so as to best hear the steady beating of his heart.
She reached around his torso with her left arm and squeezed him in an impulsive, one-armed embrace. Monty chuckled at her affectionate nature; it was a side she only showed him, a part she kept secret from the world.
“So, are you ready to talk now?”
She smirked. “Was all that just a way to get me to talk?”
His body tensed up. “That isn’t funny. Don’t joke about that.”
Lizzie frowned and perked her head up, studying his unforeseen serious expression. “Why are you handling me with kid gloves?”
It was his turn to frown. “What do you mean?”
She pulled away from him and sat up with a sigh. We’re really doing this, aren’t we?
“Mona and I talked last year, Monty. I know that you know about… What happened to me. When I was in Jesup.”
The tension in that moment was so palpable, Lizzie was certain she could reach out and touch it. It was like a thick, transparent wall, separating them. Distorting their appearances and filtering their words, adding layers of hidden meaning to every response, every reaction.
Monty’s initial silence was just as telling. He sat up as well, letting out a short huff and resting his right arm over his raised knee. His eyes were lowered for only a couple of breaths before he nervously met hers.
“Kris told us about your injuries. I don’t know the details.”
“But you can imagine,” she pressed.
He gulped and nodded. “Yeah.”
Lizzie took a deep, steadying breath. “… Okay. What do you want to know?”
The angel reached out, the back of his fingers brushing against her arm. “Are you really okay?”
It was her turn to tense up. “Stop coddling me. I’m not a kid.”
“I’m not!” he insisted, miffed. “And I know, okay? You’ve been telling me that since you first got here.”
“Yeah, well, I wasn’t a kid then, either.”
He scoffed. “Babe, you were fourteen–”
“A fourteen-year-old bandit,” she hissed. “Growing up out there isn’t the same as growing up here. The little bit of learning I did, and the small semblance of humanity that you saw in me when you found me five years ago–all that is because of Clint, because he went behind our father’s back and taught us everything he knew. Those injuries you saw? Other bandit kids have it ten times worse, ‘cause none of them have a big brother willing to lie for his siblings.”
She couldn’t help but let the venom from deep within seep into her words. She couldn’t help the defensive stance she took; shoulders hunched over, arms crossed over her torso, body turned away slightly so that she had to look over her own shoulder to stare at him. She especially couldn’t help the look in her eyes, almost as if she could throw daggers and carve warnings into his soul.
His eyes were somber, his outstretched hand hanging in midair between them before it fell silently to the mattress. “Okay, so other bandit kids have probably had it worse than you,” he conceded. “That doesn’t mean that what you went through wasn’t bad.”
Lizzie shifted uncomfortably. “I know that, but that’s what I’m saying. I’m not some weak, helpless thing. I know it looked that way when you found me, but it isn’t true.”
“I never said you were–” Monty began to protest, only for her to cut him off.
“I was nine years old the first time I killed another human. I’ve taken part in raids, seen what happens to colonists who get in a bandit’s way. I watched my uncle slit a woman’s throat, laugh as her blood gushed all over the crying baby in her arms, and then throw that baby to a pack of hungry dogs.”
The angel remained frozen by her side, watching her with abject horror.
Tears brimmed her eyes. Now you get to see the real me.
“I still hear that baby’s screams as they tore it apart,” she continued. “I see so much when I close my eyes. The faces of other kids as they beg me not to kill them. Mama’s face all bruised and bloodied whenever Daddy got set off–something always set him off. When I think back to my childhood, all I see is brown, black, and blood red…”
Then she turned back around, facing the prince. “I haven’t been a kid for a long, long time, Monty. I had to grow up fast; I hurt countless people in order to get ahead. I can’t even tell you how many people I’ve killed–even though I remember most of them, they all blend together. Their faces just start morphing after a while, becoming new people who’ve never existed. That’s how twisted I am, and how twisted I was when you found me. If you had been anyone else, I would have attacked you with the intent to kill.”
The last word hung in the air, soiling the space between them like a bloodstain on a white sheet. Lizzie’s heart was pounding in her own ears, and she counted at least ten before Monty spoke.
“So why didn’t you?”
She opened her mouth to answer, but he waved off any excuse she might have given. “And don’t bother with the whole, ‘angel’ crap. You didn’t know who I was until after we started talking. So, if what you’re saying is true–if you would have killed me on sight–then why didn’t you?”
Her bottom lip quivered. “B-Because I’d never seen so many colors before.”
She watched as his emerald gaze brightened with understanding. “ ‘Brown, black, and blood red.’ Those were the only aura colors you’d seen up until that point.”
Lizzie nodded, not trusting her voice.
“Why…” He hesitated. “Why did Clint wait until you were fourteen to get you out of there?”
“Because–” she shut her eyes and hugged herself once more. “Because I was old enough to be auctioned to the strongest bandit.”
Monty took a deep breath and let it out through his nose as he reached over, taking her hands in his. “I’m sorry. I don’t mean to coddle you, or treat you as if you can’t take care of yourself. I guess I’m just protective of you–I always have been, ever since I found you all alone in that fountain. That doesn’t excuse the way I’ve handled us.”
She opened her eyes to find a swirl of colors surrounding his handsome face. Royal blue lined his neck, and a green that matched his jewel-like irises radiated off of his crown. The two melded together to create a dazzling teal shade that took her breath away. All the while, he watched her in earnest, his visage as sincere as his words.
He’s the most beautiful person I’ve ever seen.
“Thank you,” she breathed, squeezing his fingers in her small hands. “And I hope this means you have no objections about me going to Charlotte while you’re in Nashville.”
A slash of tortilla brown raced across his energy, battling the aquatic colors for dominance as the green darkened to a basil shade. “I…”
Lizzie cocked an eyebrow at the angel, mutedly egging him to agree. It took several seconds for the conflicting colors to reach a compromise: the green brightened, the royal blue was once again dominant, and the pale brown was barely a stripe across the cloudy teal.
“I won’t object,” he vowed. “You’re not just an adult and a member of this colony, but a scout tasked with defending our people. I… It would mean a lot if you participated in the mission, regardless of which team you’re on.”
She couldn’t help but smirk. “You know I’m on this mission anyway, right?”
“Yeah, yeah,” Monty sighed, a smile tugging on his lips. His thumbs were passing over the back of her hands absentmindedly. “Is there anything else that I should know about your life before Jesup? Even if there is, you don’t have to tell me yet. It can wait until you’re ready.”
“Um…” Lizzie thought back on the years before she woke up and found herself in a strange colony. “I don’t know. Maggie and Lori were sold to older men by the time Clint got me out–each one was the strongest bandit at the time, but both are still considered low-level. We might come across them at some point, if they’re still alive. Their names were Cyrus and Ford.”
“Any chance you can ask your sisters about them tomorrow? It might be useful.”
“Alright, I will.” Monty had begun leaning back to resume laying down when Lizzie blurted out, “Oh! Who else knows?”
The prince blinked. “What do you mean?”
“Who else knows about the ‘issues’ with my family?”
“Uh…” He chewed on his bottom lip as he settled down onto his left side, still facing her. Despite his hesitance, his energy remained the same. “With your sudden arrival and my having brought Kris the healer into it, the council demanded answers. I had to tell Frankie everything I knew.”
She joined him, laying on her right side. “Just Frankie?”
He grimaced. “No. The entire court knows.”
Well, fuck. “I guess that couldn’t be helped,” she mumbled as she scooted nearer to him. “Anything else I should know?”
The brown stripe thickened somewhat as he cleared his throat. “Uh, yeah, actually… But I want to wait until we get most of this bandit business figured out. It shouldn’t have any bearing on the mission.”
“Okay,” she smiled. The human snuggled up to him then, shutting her eyes and burying her face in his chest. “But no more secrets after that, okay?”
The angel held her close and brushed his lips against her forward, his tone unreadable. “No more secrets.”
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