Authors note: So I haven't updated this in awhile but I'm really excited to finish it so here is an update. I'm so glad there are STILL people who like this after TWO hiatuses. You guys are amazing. Just to let you know, at one point in the story it is not from Mary's perspective. It's a third person view which I really thought would be cool. So just keep a watchful eye out for that. Oh, also, if you feel lost, there is a full recap of the story in the author's note of Chapter 18. So check that out if you feel confused.

Chapter Nineteen

The Interview

I knew today wasn't going to be easy.

In fact, I knew today was going to be difficult.

Today was the day of my Berkeley interview—the interview that decided whether or not I would be on the Californian campus come this fall.

My throat was already clogging up, making it hard to breathe. My fingers were so numb they could very well be chopped off and I wouldn't even feel it. And even though I had slept on a fairly cushy pillow, my neck ached.

So slowly, and with numerous grunts, I lifted myself to a sitting position. Glancing to the side table in the guest room, I saw that the digital clock read 7:13. My interview would start in a little under two hours.

Grudgingly, I swung my legs over the side of the bed and plopped my feet onto the floor. I then walked over to the small dresser adjacent to the guest room bed.

Now I wasn't a very classy girl and thus, I didn't really own any college interview appropriate clothing. And even worse, the only clothes I had with me were the few articles I could scrounge up as Bastion and I fled from my home just two days ago.

So I pulled on a wrinkled pair of black skinny jeans and an ill-fitting whit peasant top. After untangling my hair with my small comb, I looked into the mirror and observed my frumpy ensemble.

I sighed.

Nothing could really be done.

It was when I knelt to put a pack of tissues into my shabby messenger bag—tissues I would need when the interviewer told me I had been rejected—that the guest room door opened.

Glancing over my shoulder, I saw Leon saunter into the room. His hair was in a neat braid lying against his chest and he was wearing a pair of loose jeans and a black hoodie. This told me he was ready to go as well.

"Nervous?" he said with a teasing grin as he kneeled beside me.

I mimicked someone barfing as I clutched onto my bag straps. And even though the both of us smiled and laughed after this, my stomach was churning violently and it was taking everything within me not to pass out.

"I'm not going to get in," I sighed hopelessly as I rose to my feet, "I just know it. I don't even know why we're risking our safety for some meaningless—"

"Shut up," Leon interrupted as he gripped my shoulders firmly. He then proceeded to shake me fervently.

"You're already psyching yourself out," he said sternly. "If you keep telling yourself you can't do it, then trust me you won't be able to. You have to go in there believing in yourself. You have to go in there thinking that if your one applicant out of five hundred others and there is only one spot left…that you're going to get that spot."

"And you will get it," he said, leaning in with a warm, kind grin, "Because I know that…that you're the best. And that if-if my Marsbar believes in herself…then there is no possible way anyone else won't."

Did he…

Did I…



By the expression on Leon's face, the muddled thoughts rolling around in my head seemed to be plaguing his mind as well.

"…Did…did I just call you…my Marsbar?" Leon said, I think more to himself than to me. Rubbing the back of his head nervously and quickly backing away, Leon laughed softly before bumping into the bedroom door.

I couldn't help but giggle as he heaved a girlish sigh, hugging himself.

"What I mean is…just…just do your best. That's…what I should have said in the first place…instead of gibbering on. Which is so unlike me. I don't even…oh wait, I'm doing it again."

Staring at Leon as he mumbled to himself, for a moment, I saw us again.

I saw us as friends, being as we had been before—laughing off our miseries, encouraging each other in our distresses, and smiling even through our pain. Just for a moment, Leon wasn't dating Loran and Leon and I were just the way we had been a year ago.

Best friends.

Or maybe perhaps…we never stopped being best friends?

Maybe we're just…just…

I mean he did let me and Bastion stay here and…

And…he did just call me…

"I'll go now," was the first thing I heard from Leon when I emerged from my thoughts.

"No, no," I said, inching forward, "I like what you said first. You're right…I shouldn't psych myself out. Thank you."

Leon, now standing in the doorway, nodded. "You are—?"

"And you can call me 'My Marsbar'," I interjected hastily. "I…it's…just say it…if you want because I don't mind. I actually…kind of like it."

Leon's eyes widened instantly. "You do—?"

"Mooorning," came a sing-song voice as Bastion waltzed into the room. He passed Leon, receiving a slight glare.

I smiled to myself, my cheeks flushed…I suppose due to Leon.

That's strange…

"Good morning," I said, fidgeting with my hands as Bastion walked and stood beside me.

He gave Leon a quick "I want to talk to her now so leave" look and Leon rolled his eyes, his feet heading toward the exit.

"I'll go start the car," he mumbled, pacing out of the room.

"Thanks!" I called after him.

Although I was happy to see Bastion, I was a little disappointed that Leon and I hadn't been able to finish our conversation

Oh well…I guess.

"So…did he give you pep talk?" Bastion asked rather hastily.

I smirked. "How'd you know?"

Bastion sneered. "Eh…even though I hate to admit it, Leon is always good about making people feel confident. I remember him giving those peppy speeches to his friends back when I was at Kingston. When I was feeling low…I kind of wished he would give one to me."

My jaw dropped as my head fell on my right shoulder.

Bastion lowly snickered. "What?"

I shook a quivering finger in Bastion's direction. "You…you just gave Leon a compliment…"


"And you should tell him. I've never heard you give him a compliment before."

Bastion crossed his arms and then promptly shook his head.

"Never. It would go straight to his head and then he would think I'm a wimp."

I slid to the left so that I stood in front of Bastion. He was eyeing me closely.

And he was smiling.

My eyes slowly lowering to the floor, I clicked my shoes together. Getting a glimpse of the clock again, I saw that it was 7:54.

I sighed, looking hesitantly at Bastion.

He was still grinning.

"I don't like this," I whispered, "I don't like this at all. We're going to a building that's on a college campus. We'll be right in the public. It probably won't take your dad more than five minutes to locate us and hurt you. We can't risk our hiding place for some stupid interview."

"It's not stupid. It's your college interview. And if it weren't for me, you'd be completely excited about it."

"No I wouldn't," I hastily said with a frown.

Bastion sighed to this, smiling with slight frustration.

"It doesn't matter…we're going. I understand the risks. But I'm willing to take them. And so is Leon. And that's why we're coming—to make sure nothing happens to you. "

Gripping my shoulders and leaning in closer, he murmured, "I'll be fine...but I need you to do this. Okay? I need you to live your life just like before. Got it? I need it…"

His eyes dancing across my face, I imagined he was playing connect-the-dots with the blemishes on my face.

"Got it…" I said, feeling my cheeks warm just like they had when Leon had talked to me a few minutes ago.

"We should go," I said, gently pushing away from Bastion and heading towards the door.

Of course, he caught my arm.

But there was no time for this now.

No time at all…

"We should go," I said again.

I heard Bastion sigh.

"Yes, I suppose we should."

It didn't take us long to find the building, although I had thought with the directional skills of Leon and Bastion it would take us till kingdom come. Surprisingly, on the whole ride to the building, Leon and Bastion didn't bicker once. Not one sarcastic remark or deathly glare. It was so…strange.

In fact, it was so odd, that it made my skin crawl and produce goosebumps.

"Are you two okay?" I asked at one point, to which they both nodded simultaneously.

And I left it at that. Reclining in the back seat, I figured that they were thinking about the task ahead of us.

I knew Leon was probably worried that someone was following his car. We had been driving for quite some time and it didn't seem like a car had been tailing us. But one couldn't really tell. The traffic had been so thick and yet brisk that really, any car could've been following us. But we had to move on, just hoping that we would make it to our destination safely.

After only passing the building once, Leon pulled his car into the college campus parking lot and stationed the car several spots from the entrance. As we walked up to the doors, all of us glancing around repeatedly, Bastion reiterated our plan.

First things first, I was to get to the interview room inconspicuously. Pulling a hoodie over my head and placing a large pair of sunglasses on my face, Leon and Bastion would stand on either side of me as they escorted me to the building.

After I was safely inside, Bastion was going to stand a few feet from the interview door and guard the hall. Leon, on the other hand, volunteered to stand in front of the building and be the lookout for any conspicuous cars. He had decided to undertake this job just moments ago.

And it caused Bastion to turn to him abruptly.

"You can't do that," he said.

"Why not?" Leon replied indignantly.

"Because, if you're seen…my dad will know you're involved. That not only puts you but your family in danger. Right now, Mary's and my location is at large. My dad doesn't need any help in narrowing it down to you. Just keep watch from—"

"I don't care if they see me. I want to stand in the front. We need to know when they arrive and see first hand what we're up against. And I don't think putting you in the front will work, Bastion. That will certainly tip them off more than me standing there."

"But—" Bastion started.

"Trying to change my mind is a useless endeavor," Leon said as he pulled his black hood over his head and propped himself up against a cement pillar. With about as much swagger as one person can possibly handle, Leon pushed on his pair of sunglasses and crossed his arms.

Bastion just rolled his eyes, shaking his head.

"Fine…I'm not going to try and fight with you."

Opening up the door to the building, Bastion ushered me in. I walked through the door, looking back at Leon the whole time.

"Stay safe," I called back.

As Bastion walked me down the hall, he pulled on his hood as well. Somehow, the act frightened me.

"Bastion, what's going to happen?" I said, clinging onto my messenger bag for dear life.

Bastion only gave me a short glance as we progressed farther into the plain building. It was about as boring as a university building could get. It still had old seventy couches and wood paneling on some of the walls. Thankfully, this was only where Berkeley was conducting the interview and not where I would be going to school.

And yet, I had little care for the décor in this building, at Berkeley University, or even my interview in general as Bastion and I followed signs directing me to the interview room.

…We were terrified.

And yet we—yes, even I—did not let it show.

We just kept walking.

Turning a fifth corner, Bastion and I noticed a door on the far end of the hallway on my left. There was a sign in front of the entrance. It said "Welcome Berkeley Applicants." There were a few other high school students sitting outside the door, who I supposed were waiting their turn.

My competition.

They looked on Bastion and me with curiosity.

He paid them no heed. I tried my best to ignore all the ogles the girls gave Bastion.

His hands gripped on my shoulders, Bastion once again smiled.

I was starting to think he was alien.

There was no possible way a normal human could go through all of this pain and fear and still be able to smile.

"Be yourself…without be obnoxious," he said, "Speak out…without be outspoken. Smile…but don't forget that frowning can also be appropriate at some points. Take deep breaths…and huge leaps of faith. You'll do fine."

My face in a knot, I shoved Bastion away.

"Are you seriously trying to give me advice on my interview…right in the middle of crisis?"

Bastion, who was already backing away, laughed lowly to this.

"I promised I wasn't going to hurt anybody with my past," he said in a whisper, "…So I'm not going to hurt your future…"

"MISS MARY BRIGHTON!" came a loud voice down the corridor.

Taking a quick peek over my shoulder, I saw a plump woman in a purple suit motioning for me.

I looked back to Bastion.

And, of course, he was gone.

As I walked to the room, part of me actually felt that fending off Bastion's father was going to be a whole lot easier than making it through this interview.

"See anything?"

"Nope…the parking lot is at a complete standstill—wait, I see a car pulling up. They took a handicap parking spot."

"What kind of car?"

"An old Ford pickup…the driver door is opening."

Both boys held their breath.

Then, Leon sighed into his cellphone speaker.

"Forget it…it's just an old lady," he murmured, as he slumped to sit on the building's front stairs.

He lazily let his phone lye in his lap as he scanned the parking lot for the millionth time. On the other line, he could hear Bastion walking to and fro.

"Where are you going?" Leon asked.

"Just checking the halls," Bastion replied, as he made his way down a long, narrow walkway. He knew if he turned to his right at the end of hallway it would lead him to the front of the building. So instead, coming to the fork in the path, Bastion veered left.

"Anything new?" he inquired, trying his hardest to keep his cool. But truthfully, everything within him was falling apart.

"No…the parking lot is completely still. Almost too still…it's pretty creepy. How's the inside look?"

"Pretty safe…" Bastion murmured as he poked his head out of one of the building's back doors, "I just checked the back of the building. Nothing happening…"

"Got her to the interview room safe?"


There was a slight pause in the conversation before Leon asked, "Was she nervous?"

Bastion shrugged, even though he was talking over the phone. "I couldn't really tell. But she seemed more confident than she did this morning."

Leon nodded to himself, his eyes now lazily looking over the lot.

"That's good…at least she looked better."

"Yeah." Bastion smirked. "You know, I'm starting to think I want her to do well in this interview more than she does herself."

Bastion heard Leon snicker.

"I was thinking the exact same thing," Leon responded. "I suppose it's because we both…" his voice trailing off after he said the words.

Another silence.

"Yeah…that's it," Bastion whispered as he walked back to the hallway where the interview room was being held. He was welcomed by uncanny, disturbing ogles.

"You know," he said, giving a harsh glare to the gawking students, "If we somehow make it out of all of this…I'm going to have to thank you."

Leon scoffed as a black Mercedes pulled into a parking spot five spaces away from the building.

"Well…if you thank me," Leon said, his eyes planted on the vehicle, "Then I might just shake your hand."

As Leon said this, Bastion sneered on the other side.

"Deal. Huh…now I'm actually kind of hoping we get caught. Saying thank you to you? That might just kill—"

"Bastion…I think they're here."

Bastion's grip on his cell-phone instantly tightened. "What…who? Who's here?"

"I-I don't know who the hell they are…but they are definitely here for Mary."

"Alright Miss Brighton…I think that'll just about do it."

When the interviewer said this, instead of it calming me, it made me perspire even harder. My pits were soaked with sweat and my hands were so clammy, I don't even think I could grip the firmest of rubber.

I could only remember half of the interview and even that part was starting to drift from my mind. I knew the minute I walked out of the room, I was going to collapse.

I just had to make it through these last few seconds.

Then, I could die.

…And yet, I suppose that kind of kills the purpose of the interview.

"Miss Brighton, are you alright?"

Awaking from my daze, I quickly nodded embarrassedly. "Oh yes. I'm fine. Is…is that all?"

The overweight woman who had led me into the room smiled as she glanced to the two people on her right: a skinny man in a nice suit and an even skinner woman in a black overcoat. They all smiled, glancing at one another.

"Almost," the man said, giving a glimpse to the paper he had been questioning me from. "We just have one final question for you. And that is…why do you want to come to the University of California, Berkeley?"

Looking from one interviewer to another, I muttered, "Why do I want to come to Berkeley?"

"Yes," one of the women answered politely.

Settling back in my chair, I felt my heart rate increase even more. They were all still grinning and the man even told me it was alright for me to think for a little awhile.

And yet, sitting there, I found that I already knew my answer.

For the first time that day, I knew exactly what I wanted to say. There was no hesitation in the pit of my stomach or any worries in my soul.

I knew what to say.

And even more, I wanted to say it.

So clearing my throat and pushing back a wisp of my hair, I looked to the three assessors.

"Well...firstly, I want to be honest and say that ever since I was little girl…I have not wanted to go to Berkeley. In fact, I didn't really want to go to any college. I thought the idea of dropping out of school was so romantic. I thought that that was what I wanted to do with my life."

"But then I watched my mother—a hardworking woman who toiled in college for seven years. I saw how accomplished she was and how much college had helped her to get where she was. She went to Berkeley mind you." The statement caused all the interviewers to smile and I felt a warm, fluttering feeling in my stomach.

"Well," I started again, "My mother truly convinced me I wanted to go to college. She didn't really have to say anything. She encouraged me to consider it a little…but her actions really said it all. After watching her, I decided I didn't just want to go to any college. I wanted to go to Berkeley. And so, I decided was going to work hard for it. I was going to do whatever it took to get into Berkeley. My drive to go to your university only increased when one of my friends decided he wanted to go as well. We..." I closed my eyes, breathing deeply, "We are best friends…and going to college together was our dream."

Abruptly, I looked up.

"But that's not the reason I want to go your school. And I know that's not the reason you want me to come to your college."

"As cliché as it is, you probably want to hear me say that I can bring something to your college. You probably want me to say how much the university will be benefited because of me. But I can't say I'll bring much to the college. I don't know if I'll be able to do an internship or join a sorority. I don't know how much I'll be able to volunteer or how good my grades will be. I don't know if I really can change this college."

"And I know if I can't benefit this college, then you probably want to hear me say at least I'll give my best. That even though there will probably be students who are better than me, I will always give it my all. But I have enough confidence and experience in me to know that I can't promise you my best. I don't know if I'll always be able to give it. I will strive to…but it might not always be there.

The interviewer's faces were now completely blank. Long gone were their well-mannered smiles and low giggles.

Now they were just staring at me, wondering why the heck I was even considered for this interview.

But I only looked down, tears beginning to form in my eyes.

"But I'll tell you the truth," I said in shaky voice, "I'll tell you why I want to come to Berkeley."

Swallowing, my mouth completely parched, I slowly lifted my head up.

And I spoke.

"I want to go to Berkeley because…I want to make my mother proud. She has shown me so many things and taught me so many lessons without even saying a word. In some way or fashion, I want to do the same for her. I want her to learn things from me. I want to be the teacher to her for a change. I want my actions to speak for me. And I know that they can be spoken the loudest at Berkeley."

"I want to go to Berkeley because I have step-dad named John who is the best father you will ever meet. He loves my mother and me and he protects us. There have been so many times in my life when I haven't felt safe. John makes me feel safe. Now I want to repay his kindness and show him what I will I do with myself. And I know that I can at Berkeley."

"I want to go to Berkeley because I want to prove all of the teachers who thought I wouldn't amount to anything wrong. I want to prove to them that I can make something out of myself and I know I can silence them quickest at Berkley."

I smiled, choking on my tears as one slipped down my cheek.

"I want to go to Berkeley because I have a group of friends at school who said if I didn't get in…they would protest the college until the apocalypse. But they said they would never have to do that because I was shoe in. I don't want to prove them wrong…"

"And I…and I want to go Berkeley…because…because right now there are two people risking everything for me—their time, safety, effort—just so I can be at this interview right now."

"They didn't tell me the interview wasn't worth it or that I wasn't worth it. They encouraged me and told me to be strong. They told me my future was important. That I…was important."

My jaw tightened as my eyebrow furrowed resiliently.

"I do not want all of their efforts and kindness and love to go in vain. That is why…I want to go to Berkeley."

"I want to go for all of these people who have given me so much…after I have given them nothing. I want a chance to repay them. And in doing so…perhaps I will end up doing my best or bring something to your school. But I'm going for them first…and I want to go for them at Berkeley. Thank you."

When I looked back to the interviewers, they still had vacant expressions. But something told me that was a good thing now.

Something told me that the efforts of all the people I spoke of would not go down in vain.

"Leon…Leon get out of there," Bastion ordered into his cell as he began to pace swiftly towards the back of the building.

"They're getting out of the car…" said Leon in a low voice.

"Leon, are listening to me—get out of there."

"There are two guys…huge…wearing black suits."

Bastion instantly stopped in his tracks as he leaned against the back door. He looked out the door pane, gazing out onto the street. He put his hand on the door handle.

Run…run you fool.

Forget Leon.

Forget Mary.


He remained halted.

Turning away from the door, he pressed his phone closer to his ear.

He never looked back.

"Anyone else?" he asked hurriedly, heading back to the front of the building.

"Umm….no…I just think it's them. I don't see—wait, wait there's two more people coming out. Its two women, very young looking. I think…I think they're your sisters."

Bastion's heart stopped.

Then he put the phone speaker directly in front of his mouth.

"Leon, get out of there!" he screamed, "Get out of there now!"

"There already coming…" Leon said, his voice hushed now, "Don't scream anymore. Just go get Mary."

"Leon! Leon, you idiot! If my sisters are here that means my dad could be too! If they notice you then—"

"Well hello!" Bastion heard Leon say in a friendly voice from his phone receiver. Bastion realized quickly that Leon was no longer talking to him but to his sisters and the two other men. "How are you all today?"

Bastion groaned. "Dammit…Leon."

"We're looking for a Mary Brighton. Is she here? " Bastion could hear a young, female voice ask. He sighed. It was Nadia for certain.

"I'm sorry?" Leon said in a joking voice. "I don't know who you're talking about."

"Mary Brighton. We're certain she's here for a college interview. Can you tell us where that room is?"

"Look…I was just sitting on these stairs. I didn't even know this was a university building."

Bastion held his breath, barely able to stand to listen to the conversation. He just hoped with all his might that Leon's face was still covered and that his hoodie was still on.

"Fine then. Sorry to bother you," one of the men said, "We'll just go inside."

Bastion heard some clomping of feet before Leon breathed loudly into his phone.

"You can't!" he said.

There was short silence. Bastion shook his head as he began to continue down the hallway he was in.

"And why not?" Bastion heard his sister Reena ask.

So they are here. Both of them.

Leon…how could you be so foolish?

Get out of there!

"Because…because the interviews are highly confidential. And if you're looking for a girl in one of those meetings then you would be interrupting. And that would be rude."

"I thought you said you were just sitting on these steps," one of the men retorted harshly, "I thought you said you didn't even know this was a university building."

Bastion grimaced, quickening his pace as he sped through the halls.

"I…I'm just making an observation," Leon said with a laugh, still talking loud enough into his phone for Bastion to hear, "Can't a guy just give a little advice?"

Right when Leon asked this question, Bastion turned into the interview hallway. It was empty now for some reason.

Heaving, he bolted down the hallway.

"Who are you?" he heard one of his sisters ask Leon.

…And for a while, only the sound of Bastion's footsteps could be heard.

All the rest was still and quiet.

It was a beautiful moment.

But it was a moment that was about to be swallowed whole.

In one…two…three…

"Look, you need to just get out, okay!" Leon shouted, this time so loudly into his phone that Bastion had to pull his away from his ear. "Get out of here! Just pack up your things and get out the back door. You guys shouldn't even be here."

As Bastion came upon the closed interview door, he pursed his lips as Leon continued to scream the same type of message into his phone.

The statement was so unusual.

It didn't even seem like Leon was talking to the two guys and Bastion's sisters.

It was like—

"He's talking to me," Bastion murmured to himself.

I have to go out the back door. Makes sense.

Anything else?

"Look, if I had car keys," Leon persisted from the front of the building, "I would personally drive you away. But since I don't, I suppose you'll just have to drive yourself. The keys are probably with her…probably in her ugly purse."

Bastion nodded to himself.

Mary's got the keys to the car…in her purse.

Let's do this.

"You little bastard. Andre, Lucas…get him. Nadia and I are going inside. We'll get Mary…and Bastion."

Bastion's eyes widened as he heard Leon's phone crash to the ground.

Everything heard after that was just scuffling sounds and grunts.

He knew the two men were brutality beating up Leon.

Bastion burst into the interview room.

And there she sat.

Thank you…Leon.

He could feel it seeping between his teeth like a river flowing through two, knitted together rocks. It made his tongue writhe and his belly ache. When he felt it roll down his lip and then his chin, he groaned. Soon, it made a puddle on the cement.

He coughed harder, almost throwing up in the process.

The two men certainly hadn't done Leon any favors.

They had surely "gotten him".

After giving several great wallops to his stomach, a few good slaps to his the face, and even a knee to his groin, they finally let up and raced inside to find Mary and Bastion.

Leon was bruised and battered, blood swimming in his mouth. But he was still conscious.

A fighter…still.


Almost falling down the stairs, Leon gripped onto one of the pillars with his left hand and slowly glanced around his lap.

"Leon…Leon…" he heard someone say again.

He knew it was coming from his phone. He was surprised the men hadn't located it while they were pummeling him and destroyed it.

Due to his injuries, it took him twice as long to find the device. When he finally did, the person on the other line's voice had gone from an urgent whisper to a bloodthirsty scream.

"What…the hell, Bastion?" Leon muttered, before sputtering up more blood.

"What happened to you?" Bastion said with actual ounce of concern.

"Oh…nothing bad," Leon said, pulling his cell away from his ear to moan, "Just got beat to a pulp…but I'll be fine. You got Mary?"

"Yeah, she's right here with me. We're walking around the building. My sisters are still inside. I think they're heading for the interview room. We're coming your way. Stay put and don't move because—"

"LEON, LEON ARE YOU OKAY?" came a loud, pitchy voice.

Leon moved his phone away, his eye tightly shut. But a smile was on his face.

"Yeah Mary," he said in the stoutest voice he could, "I'm okay. You be quiet now. We don't want to give away our position. …How'd your interview go?"

"It was fine. Look…Leon…are you okay? They hurt you. I'm so sorry…I'm so sorry, Leon."

"Don't worry about it. I'll be fine. Just put Bastion on."

Leon waited as the phone was exchanged. Seconds later, Bastion murmured, "What?"

Leon sighed. "I think one of your sisters noticed me."

A few moments after Leon said the statement, Bastion ended the phone call.

And as quietly and serenely as they had arrived, the trio left the parking lot.

After getting into the car with Mary, Bastion drove the car to the front of the building.

There they found Leon, injured and worn. The two helped him into the car, setting his body in the backseat.

There was no surprise encounter outside the building. There was no high-speed chase.

They just left.

And yet, Bastion knew and Leon knew and Mary knew that today they had risked it all.

And sooner than later, their risk would pay them back in full.

"Does that hurt?"

"Nah…just stings a little"

"…I'm sorry."

"Hey, I told you to stop saying you're sorry. It's not your fault that Bastion's dad hired the mafia's big ass brothers to kick my butt. There was nothing you could have—ah!"

"I'm sorry!"

Fumbling through the first aid kit, I fortunately found another packet of peroxide. Leon wasn't reacting very well to the plain alcohol.

And I couldn't blame him.

He had cuts everywhere, his jaw was busted on the right side, and his mouth was still covered partially in blood.

A little pain-free relief wasn't too much to ask.

It was a little over 9 o'clock at night. Leon and I were in his apartment bathroom while Bastion was in the living room watching Mean Girls. He hadn't seen the movie before and for some odd reason, Leon had successfully convinced him to watch it. He didn't laugh very loudly but he smiled continuously at the screen so we guessed he was enjoying it. Meanwhile, I was dealing with Leon's wounds.

In order to avoid being followed back to the apartment, Bastion decided that we drive around the city for several hours in order to make certain we lost his sisters. The idea seemed good at the time. But when we finally arrived home, Leon was nearly about to pass out from his injuries.

That's why we were here now. Leon was sitting atop the countertop, lying against the mirror as I tended to him.

I didn't like seeing Leon like this…

He was always the one who was supposed to heal my scrapes.

I hadn't the first clue about healing his.

"Should I put a band aid on it?" I said, referring to several cuts on his forehead.

Leon gradually turned around to look in the mirror. He shook his head.

"No…they'll heal relatively quickly," he said, turning back to me, "It's really just…just the one on my shoulder that's killing me."

"Hmm? Which one?"

Leon touched his right shoulder, the action itself making him grimace.

I looked up to him and he looked back.

"…May I?" I said, clutching his white T-shirt.

Leon nodded.

I already knew from the red stains on the shirt that what I was about to uncover wasn't going to be pretty. But when I slipped Leon's shirt off his shoulder, my body instantly moved away. I crashed into the wall.

"Is it bad?" Leon said, looking away with closed eyes.

"….Yes," I said, not wanting to withhold the truth. "I think you'll need to have it sewn up."

Leon groaned. "Damn…how am I going to explain this to my mom?"

It only took Leon a few seconds for his face to brighten.

"Soccer accident," he said happily. "I'm always busting up my arms in practice. It'll be no big deal. But I'll have to wait for Monday to get it stitched or my Mom won't believe it's from soccer. I have practice on Monday. For now…could you just bind it up?"

I nodded quickly, reaching for the white adhesive bandage in the kit and unwinding some. After a rather rough beginning, I was able to wind it around his shoulder without causing him too much discomfort.

"…You know, we were pretty awesome today?" Leon said, his mouth close to my as I leaned over him, "I totally felt like a secret agent. It was kind of amazing. And Bastion wasn't nearly as much of an SOB as he usually is."

I rolled my eyes.

"His dad…I've only seen him a few times," Leon said, still staring at me, "You know, since he was Vice President of whole school district. He always looked uncaring to me and I knew he wasn't that great of a father just by the way his children treated others. But I never thought him to be this much of a pyscho. I mean…chasing a girl around. It's all so bizarre."

"Part of me is afraid," Leon whispered, "I was scared today…very scared. And I don't think I ever want to be beat this bad again."

I gasped, suddenly feeling a warm hand on my own shoulder. I looked up from the bandages.

Leon was grinning.

"But I will endure it again…if it means protecting you."

As he said, I finished winding the cloth.

"All done…" I murmured.

But Leon didn't move. He didn't even remove his hand from me.

He just kept smiling.

And I tried to smile back. I did.

But I couldn't.

"Maybe…" I said, "Maybe I don't want you to get hurt for me. Maybe I don't like seeing you like this. Maybe seeing you bruised and cut and weak makes me ache inside. Maybe I'd rather be taken away then for you and your family to be in danger. Maybe I don't want you to protect me, Leon. Maybe I just want you to stay safe."

Leon gazed at me, expressionless, for a while.

And then…he snickered.

Sliding his hand down my arm, he gripped my left hand.

"Well…it's a little late for that, now isn't it?"

After a moment of silence, I had to giggle myself.

I was the one who had come to his home for shelter.

"I suppose so," I laughed, fiddling with the medical items. I tried putting them back into the bag but then Leon caught my arm again, and I didn't give the box a second glance.

"I need you…to pull up my shirt…" he whispered softly, his voice so inviting. I almost thought to greet it with a hello.

Turning to his uncovered shoulder, I slowly reached out, gripped his shirt, and began to ever so slowly pull it back over his skin. My fingertips grazed his arm softly, making us both jump.

He looked at me and I looked at him.

Once the shirt was over his beautiful copper skin, I sighed.

And then, remembering his welcoming voice, I let myself in.

Falling forward, my head slammed into Leon's upper chest. My ear was just above his bruised shoulder and my cheek was lying against the nape of his neck. Venturing into the unknown, I lifted my head just an inch so that my lips could graze his shoulder.

"Forgive me…"

…My insides twanged with pain as I felt his nose gently collide with my left ear.

"I don't want to forgive you. I just…I just want to forget the past. I want to forget this whole last year. I want us to move on from everything that was said and everything that we did to one another."

"I just want to start fresh with you, Mary," he said as I pulled my head away.

His eyes were plastered on me, like was some sort of beautiful painting.

But my eyes were fixed on him as well…because he was just that.

"…Stop staring," he said in raspy voice. "Before I do something I shouldn't."

I flushed, averting my eye instantly. "I'm…I'm sorry."

I could hear him let out a frustrated exhale from above.

I pursed my lips. "I didn't mean to—"

"I think you got all my cuts. Everything just hurts now. I need to rest. You can go."

I looked up hurriedly, hurt and confused. "But Leon, why are you—?"

"Mary, right now, all I want to do is grab you and kiss you. Can you please just go before I do?"

Seconds later, I was out of the bathroom, the door shut behind me.

Finally, I passed out.

Authors note: And the romantic ties strengthen. Pretty excited for the next chapter. I hope you all review! I really want to know what you guys think!