My breath came fast and heavy, I wasn't sure there was anything I needed to run from, but I was running regardless. I felt like I needed to run for my life, like I should, perhaps, not have avoided any and all exercise like the plague. I wouldn't be panting quite so hard and maybe I could hear what I was certain was following me.
It felt like an age that I hid behind a dumpster in an alley I was sure I'd never seen. It felt like I had been running for hours, lost in a big city in the middle of the night. It felt like I was going to die, murdered by some invisible demon.
My heart slowed, quieted slowly, my breath came easier and the world became clear again, edges defined, shadows seemed to shrink. The world was suddenly a safer place and maybe my mad flight through the unfamiliar streets had been ill advised. Maybe I was being paranoid again, maybe there was nothing there.
I stood and took a deep breath and turned to face the way I had come, I tried to make everything right in my head and remember where I had come from. And then there was a movement in the dark. Suddenly the panic was back.
It was a dark shape, indistinct, that flitted between the ample shadows with great speed. There was someone there, I knew it. But it didn't seem like a someone. It was a something. There was something there in the dark with me.
It got closer and closer and the world seemed to slow, seemed to come into focus. Everything got sharper, clearer and sharper until you could cut yourself on the edges. The world got clearer and sharper until I could see them for the person they were. Some one rather than some thing.
They were after me, and there was nothing I could do about it. Adrenaline surging through my entire being and I could do nothing. I couldn't do anything, I was just as useless as I always was, just as pointless as I had ever been.
I was just going to stand there and take it, I was going to be still and die.
Suddenly they were on me, the shadow became a person and they were on me. Pinning me down, arm raised to strike me. I just stared, like I was already dead, eyes staring into nothing, seeing nothing. I was nothing, didn't deserve to be saved.
So I was really quite surprised someone saved me.
A hand stopped the person above me from doing me any damage. A pale, strong, hand gripped the wrist of the person who had pushed me to the ground and pulled them off, flinging them from us. I could see above me a tall figure in a dark jacket.
"I have been here one day," the figure informed my assailant, sounding rather unimpressed. "Nine hours since I got off a plane."
My savoir appeared a knife from somewhere in the heavy jacket and my assailant tried their very best to get away. Scrabbling on the ground and trying to get to their feet. They had just managed their feet when the other suddenly moved.
They were almost faster than the shadow had been. There was a grunt, from who it came was unclear, but I knew the knife was at work. I found myself unsurprised when the spectre slid to the ground and my saviour removed the knife. I was surprised when they raised the blade to their face and there was no mistaking what they did.
They licked the blade clean.
"Sorry it took so long," they said, spinning to face me and bowing.
They weren't wearing a mask but I didn't see their face at all, just a splash of bright blonde hair. And then they twirled, the coat billowing out behind, and they vanished. Vanished almost into thin air. Like maybe they had never been at all.
I lay there in an alley and found myself with an unreasonable feeling. I felt like I was safe, like for some unknown reason there was nothing to fear in an alley at night. This was not a rational feeling. I suspected it was to do with the fact that I probably couldn't conjure any more fear adrenaline even if I wanted to.
It took me a long time to gather myself enough to get up, to do anything at all.
My parents didn't even notice I was late, being asleep. I doubted that they would have much cared how late I was regardless. They were into freedom, which, oddly enough, made me crave structure. Of course I had plenty of that when it came to work.
Lying on my bed the shaking wouldn't stop, I couldn't make the thunder stop. My heart was back, thundering in my ears like the rain on a metal roof. I couldn't make anything stop, couldn't do anything. I was useless and I was a waste. Not worth saving.
And the dreams helped nothing.
"Did you sleep at all, love?" Nick asked, almost the moment he saw me.
"That obvious?" was my reply.
"Three days now?" he asked.
"I technically slept last night," I told him. "Though I don't know that it counts."
"Same dreams?" he asked.
"Same dreams," I confirmed.
"Still don't want to tell me?" he asked.
"Still don't," I confirmed.
Every few days I had the same dreams, they made me want to stay awake, they made it hard not to. They were terrible, awful, things, but I didn't want to tell anyone what they were. I didn't want anyone to know that much about me.
So I kept it to myself, despite knowing that no one I would talk to would hold anything over me, no one would hold it against me. My dreams were my own. They exposed all of my own personal fears. I didn't want others to know what my fears were.
That was the wrong way to think about it, I was sure.
"Hmm," the sound Nick made was almost appreciative.
I looked up from where my hands rested on the table to see a girl I had never seen before entering the school. She was tall and broad, and strong. She wore black pants and a plain black t-shirt and carried a black bag over one shoulder, she was just missing the great black coat. She glanced around herself before entering the school and I could swear her eyes lingered on me a moment longer than on anyone else.
Likely, I told myself, I was just imagining things.
"Don't get many new people around here," I commented.
"And even fewer interesting girls," he said. "I'm just lucky that I found one of the few." With a smile that managed to be both adorable and irritatingly condescending he kissed me on the cheek.
"You are lucky," I told him, trying to put a confidence I didn't have into the observation.
He grinned and probably would have kissed me again had the electronic chime that passed for a bell not been played over the school grounds at that moment. He looked at the school building and his happy expression did not last.
"I'll see you during lunch," he told me.
His being a year older than I was, Nick and I weren't in any classes together.
I watched him enter the school and wondered why he bothered with someone like me. As I often wondered. I wasn't a confident person, not even a little. At least I wasn't confident when it came to people. People confused and frightened. But she seemed interesting.
I followed the rest of the students who had arrived early by necessity rather than choice into the school building and managed to make it to class in time, despite my desire to do otherwise.
School didn't interest me, people kept telling me that if I applied myself I could have been bumped up a year and it might be more interesting. But to apply myself I would have had to put effort into school work. The fact that I got good grades without having to try was good enough for me.
I had enough to do without school work getting in the way.
I was spending recess in the library, working on my laptop, when I met her properly for the first time. The new girl wasn't in my grade, but the one above, so I hadn't met her and I didn't know her name. She found me in the library, not a place many people spent time when they could be elsewhere. It wasn't a good library, not much use when you were looking for something, certainly.
But she found me easily enough, sitting in a back corner of the library, on the floor against the wall next to one of the three power outlets that I could use for my laptop. I didn't need to keep it plugged in, I wouldn't be there very long. But I preferred to.
She stood over me and I looked up.
"Did you get home alright?" the voice was immediately recognisable as the person who had saved me the previous night.
"I did," I told her, trying not to sound quite as frightened of her as I was. The fact that she had saved me didn't change the fact that she had murdered someone and then licked their blood off her knife.
"Good," she said, almost to herself. "Sorry again that I only stepped in at the last moment. They aren't always so easy to find."
That intrigued me a little: who were they? Why did she need to find them? But of course I didn't ask, I didn't expect that she would tell me regardless.
"I'm Kane," she told me, offering a hand. "By the way."
She had a strong handshake, but not like she meant it. It was just a side effect of her being a strong person. She was strong and I suspected that sometimes she forgot that some people were not. I certainly wasn't strong.
"Lovett," I told her.
She smiled and I did like her smile, it seemed to cut her air of power right across the middle. "So your nickname is Love?" she asked.
It occurred to me that in a way my nickname was Love, though only because the only people that talked to me were people who loved me, or at least were likely to call me 'love'. My parents and Nick were the only people who really talked to me and they all called me 'love'. But it was a pet name.
My nickname had nothing to do with my name. "I don't have a nickname," was the best I could come up with.
"I remember not having a nickname," she said, quite obviously understanding what I meant. "Best thing to do is ignore it. It was nice meeting you properly."
"You too," I replied, a little surprised at the abrupt end of our conversation. I wouldn't have admitted it, but I was also a little disappointed.
She turned and the smile was gone. I watched her leave the library before I looked back at my laptop and suddenly I couldn't concentrate. I had never been unable to concentrate on my work, which was why I did it for a living.
I could always do it, but now I couldn't.
I didn't mention the encounter to Nick, I didn't want to tell him what had happened the previous night.
It suddenly occurred to me, sitting at one of the benches outside, next to my boyfriend. That I should have worried. I should have worried about the previous night, should have been traumatised, should have had some sort of lasting reaction. But I hadn't.
I knew that Kane had done the right thing.
I just knew it.
"Are you alright there, love?" Nick asked. "Do you know where you are? What we were talking about?"
"I may be in school, and no," I told him. "I guess the deprivation is catching up to me, sorry."
"No need to apologise," he told me with his cute, condescending smile. "I don't even remember what I was talking about. I doubt I was being interesting."
I normally would have corrected him there, but I didn't think of it in time. I just sat there and stared into space. I just kept thinking about her smile, and I just kept thinking about the previous night, I just kept thinking about Kane.
I didn't even notice when the bell sounded.
"Lovett," Nick said, bringing me out of my stupor. "Go home and go to bed, you aren't going to get anything done until you've gotten some sleep."
Normally that wouldn't be true, I could absorb knowledge until my body gave up, or at least I could create knowledge. But that particular day was worse than most. I was worse off than I normally was and it wasn't hard to guess the reason for that.
So I skipped the classes I still had remaining that day and went home. I wasn't expecting to get any sleep, but being in the darkness of my own room made me feel better. Better enough to get some more work done and before I knew it, it was one am again and I was finished.
One am wasn't the worst it could have been, so I got up and stretched and then lay right back down on my bed. I had nightmares, I always seemed to have nightmares, but these were different. These were normal dreams, not the dreams I had. I had dreams where Kane didn't exist, or was too late. I had dreams in which I had not survived, had not had anyone to thank.
I woke to my alarm, eight am on a Saturday I woke and found that I had slept. I had slept soundly for almost six hours in all. I remembered the nightmares I had had, but not once had they interrupted my sleep.
Simple nightmares were much easier to sleep through than my dreams.
"Hello," Nick was always cheerful on a weekend.
"Fair warning," I replied. "You are on a speaker, in my living room."
"Ah, so no talking about all the sex," he said, I could practically hear his smile.
My father glanced at me, but I was sure neither of them would have much cared if I had had sex. Or they would have cared that I was safe rather that it had happened at all. I had not ever had sex, so they cared even less.
"You know my parents," I pointed out, instead of explaining it to him again.
We didn't ever talk about much, I worked constantly so my attention was not focused on him. My attention wasn't often focused on Nick, nor his attention focused on me. Not for some time by that point.
So I worked and we chattered. He did school work, judging by all the questions he asked me and we talked about nothing, as we usually did. He was as surprised as anyone to find out that I had slept, and slept relatively well, all night. My father suggested a celebration at the news.
I wasn't working for money that day, which made a nice change. I had finished my work very early that morning and what I worked on that weekend was a personal project that had been running for almost a year already and was still not in sight of completion.
And then school was back again.
"You look better today," Kane told me.
She'd found me again in the library, I was sitting at one of the tables that day. It was a better day so I didn't have to keep my laptop plugged in. She sat down across from me and her observation doubled as a greeting.
"I was concerned on Friday that you were not handling it well," she told me. "But I don't think that is the problem you have."
I didn't really know what to say to that, so I went with honesty. "I had a good night sleep over the weekend," I said and then surprised myself by continuing. "So I am feeling better now."
She smiled at me, a different smile this time, but no less honest. "I haven't had a good night sleep for a long time now," she told me. "It gets harder and harder, you know, the longer I have this job."
I repressed the urge to ask what her job was. It was my tendency to stop myself asking things of people I didn't know, or people in general. I didn't want to upset her and didn't want her to give me anything so that I didn't have to give her anything in return.
We sat in silence for some time before she broke it. "Who are you?" she asked. "You're a lot like most, but you aren't. Not as heavy as me, but not light like most either." It sounded like she was being vague on purpose, like a sort of code.
"What?" was the best I could come up with.
"You don't know?" she asked. "You must at least be a candidate." She looked at me like that should have meant something.
"What are you talking about?" I asked her.
She smiled again, a mischievous smile. "This is good," she told me. "I am enjoying this. You've no clue what I'm talking about, do you?"
"I don't," I admitted.
Her smile stayed firmly in place. I quite liked her smile. "This is great," she told me. "Don't worry, I won't tell on you."
"Am I in trouble for something?" I asked. I wouldn't have asked so many questions but for the fact that she was making no sense at all.
"Have you told anyone?" she replied.
"No, not even my boyfriend," I assured her.
"Ah, so he is your boyfriend," she said. "You aren't in trouble as long as you don't tell anyone. And also don't mention that I thought you were a candidate."
"I don't actually know what that means," I told her.
"Hmm," was her response. "Why did you run? The other night, when we met, why did you run?"
"Something bad was out there," I pointed out. "Isn't that why you were there?"
"How did you know?" she asked. "Did you see something? I don't mean to interrogate, but I want you to notice something. You knew something bad was there before you saw it, didn't you?"
"That isn't unusual," I told her. I didn't want to open up, didn't want to tell her about me, but apparently that wasn't going to stop me. "I have been paranoid for years. And in a dark unfamiliar place it wasn't the first time I had felt the desire for an impromptu sprint through the city."
Kane smiled like it proved something. "I want to say that that just proves it," she said. "But of course it could actually be paranoia. Does it vary?" she asked, faced with my quizzical look she elaborated. "You don't always feel the way you did that night, I mean. Sometimes it is different, sometimes it is bad at night but sometimes it is feral, during the full moon, or the days leading up, and sometimes it is just a little bit wrong. Always people who seem normal but you are sure they aren't."
That was exactly right, but I wasn't going to admit it. Maybe I wasn't paranoid, she offered me that, maybe I was justified. But by what? Was I any less crazy because I saw the things that Kane saw, but didn't recognise them? Did not being paranoid make it better?
She smiled like she had won the argument. There hadn't been any argument, she was just right, I couldn't really deny it. What she said was exactly the truth, but I didn't have to actually admit to it.
"Did it happen to you?" I asked, surprised at myself for asking something.
"I was a little like you," she told me. "But I never had the chance for it to get bad, before I had to start the training. I was quite young."
We were interrupted then by the chime that signalled the beginning of more classes. She watched me pack up with an interesting expression on her face. She smiled idly as she watched me and I remembered that expression from when I had first met Nick. He still did it sometimes, but like everything he did it always seemed condescending.
"I'll see you tomorrow," I told her, taking my bag and leaving the library without giving her the opportunity to refuse. I didn't give her any opportunity to reject me and that was probably the most assertive I had been since I was a small child.
After the paranoia started, and the insomnia, I hadn't communicated so well. But somehow Kane wasn't threatening like everyone else was. There was something about her that comforted me, which was really quite unintuitive considering.
A/N: A few things before we start, or before we start properly. Some people (if you consistently read things I write and remember them) may remember the last time I started this. It is obviously a little different now and starts a little earlier in the story. The perspective will change between Lovett and Kane (fair warning) so don't be confused by the start of the next chapter. I started this before NaNoWriMo but I am working on this and another story for november. Hopefully I won't get all depressive and delete it again but I am not so predictable while on holidays.
PS: I hope you enjoy.