My hands are shaking.
I look away from her, knowing that if I look too long, I’ll fall helplessly into the depths of her green eyes.
“Foolish,” I say, ready to call it a night and be done with this ludicrous conversation. “I’m going to shower and get some sleep. You can join me if you want.”
I want her to say yes.
I feel like she’s not going to…
“I won’t be joining you,” she says. “I meant what I said. When this is over, when they’re dead, I’m leaving.”
I whirl around at her, my hands in half-fists at my sides, the cuffs of my white dress shirt somehow seeming tighter around my wrists. “You’re not going anywhere. Not like that. I won’t let you.” I laugh dryly. “Jesus, Sarai, you really do have a lot to learn. I’m dumbfounded by how you don’t see how stupid this is!”
“Stupid?” she scorns. “No…OK, maybe you’re right, but what’s more stupid than anything that I’ve just explained to you is thinking that I could ever have any kind of life with you. I hate myself for what I’ve put you through, for what I’ve put Dina through. And here I am, like an orphan dropped on your doorstep, expecting you to take care of me and feed me and teach me how to live an unconventional life and not get killed doing it. You didn’t ask for this and I never should’ve thrown it on your lap the way I did.”
My teeth are starting to taste like plastic as I grind my jaw so hard and for so long without realizing. My chest rises and falls with deep, angry and even fearful breaths. I feel like I haven’t blinked in minutes, my eyes are beginning to dry out from the unrelenting breeze that pushes against the whites, widely exposed from my lids. It feels like my heart is trying to pound its way right out of my chest.
I’ve never felt this way before…not since I was a child. I’ve never been so furious and…scared.
“I’m sorry that I put you through this, Victor,” she says softly and with sincerity. “I want to thank you for everything you’ve done to help me. I doubt that anything I could ever do or say to you will make up for your help. I know. But the least I can do is leave you alone and let you live your life the way you know how. You don’t need me in it f**king it up all the time.”
She turns her back to me and starts to walk away.
“Sarai!” I shout and she stops instantly. I try to calm my voice. “Just…just wait a minute.”
She turns to face me.
I’m stumbling over every single word in my mind, trying to pick each one out of the disarray and put them all together properly so that they make sense. But it’s hard. It’s so damn hard!
“I…,” I look down at my dress shoes, over at the wrought iron patio chair, up at the strands of her hair blowing against her soft, bare shoulders. Back at my shoes again. “…I don’t want you to go.”
“But I have to, Victor,” she says with such kindness and understanding in her voice that it nearly breaks me in half. “You know I have to. It’s the best thing for both of us.”
“No,” I say simply, sternly, rounding my chin and gathering my composure. I will not accept this. “You’re staying with me. I can keep you safe. We won’t talk about this anymore. Now let’s go to bed.”
I reach out my hand to her.
“No, Victor. I’m sorry.”
I grab her hand and pull her to me. She doesn’t stir or recoil or even look surprised for that matter. I grab her cheeks within my hands and I stare down into her beautiful face, her almost childlike eyes, though they are so illusory. A little wolf hides behind that doe. My little wolf.
“I-I want you to stay with me.”
“Because it’s what I want.”
“But that’s not a reason, Victor.”
“It doesn’t matter, Sarai, you need to stay with me.”
“But I’m not going to.”
I shake her, her cheeks still engulfed by my hands.
“YOU CAN’T LEAVE!” My soul is trembling. I cannot bear these emotions.
She still doesn’t flinch, but I see a thin layer of moisture begin to coat her eyes.
She shakes her head in my hands, gently.
“I’m going to leave and there’s nothing you can do to change that.”
“NO, SARAI!” I roar. “I NEED YOU IN MY LIFE!”
I pull my hands away from her abruptly and look down at them, wide open in front of me, as if they have betrayed me somehow. My chest swirls chaotically inside as if emotions that have lain dormant all my life have finally awoken and don’t know what to do with themselves anymore.
Wanting only to hide myself away in my room so that I can try to understand what just happened to me, I turn on my heels and head for the glass door.
“Victor,” I hear her call out softly behind me.
I stop. I can’t bring myself to turn around.
I feel her step up behind me, the warmth of her presence, the sweet scent of her skin.
“Look at me,” she says with a voice as light as the wind.
Slowly, I turn around.
She steps up and places her hands against my cheeks, gentler than I had done to hers. She tilts her head to one side and then the other, gazing into my eyes with her tear-filled ones. She pushes up on her toes and kisses me lightly on the mouth.
“Don’t hold any of it back,” she says with soft urgency. “Say everything you’re feeling right now. In this very moment. No matter how wrong or uncomfortable or foreign it seems, say it anyway. Please…”
I didn’t notice when my hands came up and hooked around her wrists. I hold on to them gently, as her fingers touch my cheeks. And I search inside myself, trying to understand what she’s doing to me. What she’s done to me. I think about what she said and against my hard external identity, I want only to give her what she wants.
“I’ve…Sarai, I’ve never felt this way before.” I can’t look her in the eyes, but she forces my gaze anyway.
“Tell me everything,” she urges. “I need to hear it.”
The desperation in her voice is passionate and matches what I feel deep inside. I search her face. Her eyes. Her pouty mouth, lips parted ever so slightly that it makes her mouth look innocent and inviting. The curvature of her cheekbones. Her chin. The elegant slope of her neck.
But her eyes…
“Sarai, you are important to me,” I say desperately through an urgent whisper. “You’re more important to me than anything or anyone. To have you here, with me, isn’t a burden. I want to train you. For as long as it takes. I want to wake up every morning with you next to me. I need you in my life more than I have ever needed or wanted anything.”
I pause and avert my eyes downward. And then I step away from her. Her hands fall away from my face.
I swallow hard. “I won’t force you to stay with me,” I compel myself to say, despite what I feel. “But just know this…if you leave, you will become a burden. If you think that by being here you’re f**king up my life, you have no idea how true that will be if you set out on your own. Because I will spend every waking moment of my life trying to protect you!” My heart is racing. “I won’t be able to sleep, knowing that you’re out there, trying to fit into a life that’s nothing but a death sentence when you’ve not had proper training! Sarai…IT WILL KILL ME! DON’T YOU SEE? YOU’LL KILL ME IF YOU CHOOSE TO LEAVE!” I’m shaking all over, my entire body wracked by pain and fear and heartache.
Sarai is in front of me again so fast, standing mere inches from my chest, her fingers dancing upon my face again, just like before. She appears calm. But there’s something else in her eyes now that wasn’t there moments ago. Relief? Happiness? I can’t quite decipher the emotion when all I want to do is pull her against me and hold her until we both die.
She reaches up and brushes the tip of her index finger underneath my eye. A tear.
Consumed by confusion, I can’t speak and I can’t move. I look down at her hand first, where the remnants of the tear glistens on the edge of her finger. I look back into her soft green eyes, which are smiling back at me, not with arrogance, but with warmth.
Clever little wolf…
“I’m sorry,” she says with nothing but kindness. “But I needed to know how you really felt, Victor.”
I sit down against the black wrought iron patio chair, extending my legs out before me. I prop my elbow on the arm and rest my head exhaustively upon my fingertips.
Sarai kneels down in front of me, between my splayed legs.
“To be with you,” she says, “means more to me than to be part of your job. I needed to know that you want the same from me that I want from you. And…when we’re together, I always feel like I’m more a part of your job than a part of your heart.” She tries to catch my gaze, but I’m too focused on the concrete. I hear every word she’s saying to me, but I’m still too perplexed by the emotions that she pulled out of me to look down into her eyes.
I feel like I can’t face her. Not because I’m angry with her, but because I’m ashamed.
“You’ve been this impenetrable man since the day I met you,” she goes on, her fingers coiling around those of my free hand. “The only time I’ve ever felt a real emotional connection with you is when we’re sleeping together. I would get so frustrated. Because I knew, deep underneath your many layers, that this, this right here,” she tightens her fingers against mine with the emphasis of those words, “what you showed me, it was there all along just wanting to be set free. I—Victor, please look at me.”
Reluctantly, I raise my head from my fingertips and look down into her eyes.
“I don’t want to be your job,” she says. “I want to work alongside you. I want to learn from you. But I want to feel like I’m yours emotionally when business isn’t getting in the way. Victor, I know it’s not your fault. I know you can’t help the way you are, how emotionally detached you are from the world. But I needed to try to help undo what Vonnegut and the Order did to you.”
“You manipulated me,” I say simply.
She lowers hers eyes.
“Don’t be.” I raise my back from the chair, leaning over and fitting my hands underneath her arms. I lift her onto my lap. “Don’t ever be sorry.”
Reaching up with one hand, I turn her chin toward me so that she’ll look at me.
“You did what you had to do,” I say and I can only hope that she will remember that later. “I cannot fault you for that.”
“You’re not angry?” she asks.
I shake my head. “No. I think ‘thankful’ is a better term.”
She smiles. I smile, too, and kiss her on the mouth.
“It seems we’re helping each other,” I say.
She tilts her head thoughtfully and listens.
“I’m helping you become what you want to be, to live the life you choose to live. Something you’ve never had—a choice—because it was taken from you. And you’re helping me take back the kind of life that was taken from me, showing me what it’s like to be something more than a killer, to feel something more than the need to kill. And for that, I could never be angry with you.”