It's Saturday, so that means Taylor's back with more of her writing.
It's always a crapshoot as to what she's going to send Adam each week.
Sometimes it's her Guardians story. Or Innocent Eyes. Or, and this is my bias showing, my favorite, the one about Avan and...
You know, I have a complaint.
I still don't know who the girl in the story is!
She's a nice kid, really seems to care about Avan, but who the heck is she?
Come on, Taylor! People (like me!) need to know!
The basement was colder than when we left. As soon as we were freed, our hoods taken off and the zip-ties cut, I guided a freezing Avan to the bed. I sat him down and wrapped the blanket and sheets around his shoulders. He shivered uncontrollably as crouched in front of him, taking his hands and gathering them to my chest. His teeth chattered, his face downcast as if not wanting me to notice. Sweat was frozen to his hair. His fingers and toes were just as frigid as the rest of him. I drew our knotted fingers to my mouth and breathed on them, rubbing his palms and fingers to get them warm. His knuckles were bloodied and bruised. Dried blood crusted his gathering goatee, it's metallic scent still on his breath. But it was the sight of his ribs, dark purple and ugly, which hurt worst.
"My poor baby." I whispered, barely audible.
He looked at me, finally warm enough to stop shivering, but he didn't pull his hands away. Instead, he leaned forward, closing his eyes, and rested his forehead against mine. I felt his brow crease as he sighed. The scent of blood was stronger now.
"Say something. Please, Avan." I thought these words but didn’t speak, unwilling to break the silence first. He hadn't said one word to me since before we'd been forced into the truck. Before this moment, I'd never wanted to hear the sound of his voice so badly. His prolonged silence scared me. He pulled back, his eyes steady on me, and I sat beside him on the bed, crossing my legs. His hands pulled from mine and touched my cheek, his fingers still ice coid. When I flinched, he stood up, taking my hand and letting the blanket fall back onto the bed.
"Let's get you cleaned up." he said, very quietly.
Me? Why was he worried about me?
It didn't seem possible. He was the one who was forced into the cage, the one who'd endured three rounds of constant, painful exertion, the one who'd slipped on his own blood in the octagon. Yet here he was, sitting me down in the tiny bathroom I'd discovered hours after our kidnapping.
Looking in the mirror, I was shocked to find my face looking as battered as Avan's. The entire right side, where our captor's fist had struck me, was red and puffy to the point where my eye had blackened and was nearly swollen shut.
God, I looked terrible!
Avan sat me down on the edge of the tub and dampened a washcloth. The closed toilet lid creaked as he sat down and began dabbing gently at the cut on my cheek.
"How's your hand?" I asked after a long silence.
He smiled a small smile, shifted the cloth to his right hand and curled the fingers of his left. It was wet from the cloth, the blood washed away, his knuckles swollen.
"It still works," he said pleasantly, ignoring the noticeable bruising.
It was adrenaline. It had to be. And when it burned off, when he exhausted it, when he came down from the high of the fight? He’d collapse. I had to be strong, push past my own pain, convince him I was alright. Then, maybe, I could get him to rest before he dropped.
"And, your mouth?" I asked, staring at the flakes of blood in his goatee.
Avan felt the back of his mouth with his tongue. When he did, I realized he'd had no mouth guard. He shrugged his shoulders, unphased.
"Tooth must've caught my cheek when he hit me. It's just a little cut. The face has hundreds of blood vessels, remember?"
I swallowed, remembering a particularly nauseating cage fight where Avan's opponent cut his forehead after Avan delivered a powerful high kick. Nausea roiled my stomach as the blood gushed from his head, blinding him, spilling into his nose and mouth. And yet, when his face was wiped clean, there was only a tiny cut in the center of his forehead. The wound that seemed so horrific was little more than a large paper cut.
There was no point in asking Avan about the rest of his body, so I just sat there and let him dab lightly at my cheek with the cloth. My eyes fluttered from his face to his free hand that I so desperately wanted to hold. Through his fingers, I saw his shin, black and blue like his ribs, and I asked him the same question I always did.
"Doesn't that hurt?"
He jerked his head very slightly.
"The hits hurt more when you're not expecting them."
My brain flashed back to the men dragging him upstairs. In my head, I watched them throw the sack over his hand, and hit him with everything they had, every blow unexpected.
I inhaled a shaky breath. Avan's hand pulled back, his brow furrowed.
"Am I hurting you?"
The basement door creaked open before I could shake my head. Heavy boots descended and when our captor stood in the doorway of the bathroom, I didn't react. I felt safer with Avan between. Avan's dark eyebrows drew closer together as he watched our captor set an ice pack and water bottle on the counter next to the sink. Taking a step further into the room, our captor roughly patted Avan on the back. I didn’t like it, but held my tongue.
"You put up a good fight tonight, Gutierrez."
Everything inside me felt very hot. Touching me was one thing. Laying his filthy hands on Avan was another. Even with no knife in his hand, neither Avan or I made an attempt to escape. We knew the others were upstairs, waiting for us with zip-ties and hoods and who knew what else. We couldn't see them, but we knew they were up there.
"Four days to recover," said our captor, taking a bottle of anti-inflammatories from his coat pocket. "That's it."
He set the bottle on top of the ice pack and it rolled onto the floor, its lid staying firmly closed.
Four days? Four days until the next three rounds of fighting?
Avan always needed at least several weeks, up to a few months, to recover when he fought professionally. He had a team of nurses and doctors on call whenever he needed them. But here? What if he broke something? What if he was hit so hard that he didn't wake up?
"Four days?!" I snapped, standing up. "Four fucking days? That's not long enough!"
Avan grabbed my wrist, and it burned my skin. I glanced at him, then watched our captor go, grinning at my anger before walking up the stairs and out the door. My chest heaved. I clenched my fists.
"Hey," Avan said, pulling me down. "Hey, it's okay. Sit down."
I sat down heavily, feeling the weight of the world beginning to crash down on my shoulders. Avan took my hands. My tears were hot.
"Don't do this, Avan." I begged. "Please, don't do this!"
He squeezed my hands.
"It'll be okay." he said, a little softer now. "I'll be okay. I'll get us out of here. I promise."
"Four days, Avan." I whispered through clenched teeth. "That's all you get. Look at you! Your body can only take so much."
He placed his hands on either side of my neck, his thumbs brushing my earlobes. He spoke so softly I could hardly hear him.
"I can handle it."
My chest tightened. I spoke up anyway, the words pouring from me.
"But what if you can't? What if you break something? What if you get hit so hard you-"
I didn't finish. I couldn't finish. I couldn't breathe. Avan was talking to me, his words muffled, his voice too quiet to be heard. His face swam in and out of focus. My hands found his elbows. I knew I was squeezing them, hurting him, but my thoughts were spinning, my mind unable to control my body.
"I'm here," a muffled voice said. "Focus on me. That's It. Just focus on me. I'm right here with you..."
Avan sat beside me on the couch, a glass of water in his hand.
"Feeling any better?"
The water shook in my hands as I took a sip and set it on the coffee table. I sighed, slouching into the couch. God, I was exhausted. Avan turned to face me, his elbow against the cushions. I closed my eyes, not answering him. For a long time, we sat there like that, me trying to get a grip on my thoughts, him brushing the hair out of my face. My breathing slowed to match his and I remembered seeing him, just a blurry silhouette in the hight of my panic, breathing slowly, deeply, until I did the same. Until I calmed down. I opened my eyes, not looking at him.
"How do you know so much about anxiety attacks?"
I lifted my head from the pillows. Now I was looking at him.
"Do you know what makes our strikes so powerful? How we feel next to nothing when we get hit?"
I knew who he was talking about. This was a question that wasn't meant to be answered. So, I stayed quiet until he answered it himself.
I raised an eyebrow and he grinned.
"We breathe with each strike."
He sat up and demonstrated, closing his fists. As he punched at the air, he exhaled, fast and loud, through clenched teeth.
"It's all about control." he continued, sitting back and leaning towards me. "If you can't control your own breathing when someone is swinging at you and vice-versa, what can you control? Breathing is key."
He kissed my hair and got up, taking the blanket from the back of the couch. I smiled and laid down. He draped the blanket over me and tucked it around me. He leaned in close.
"Sleep," he whispered in my ear.
He kissed me again, on my cheek, then very carefully placed his hand over my eyes, closing them for me. Though my eyes were closed, I still felt him crouching down In front of me. He ran his hand through my hair, leaving me feeling something I'd never felt before; peace.
"Baby, can you hear me?"
I could. Avan's face came into focus, his breathing slow and steady as mine was. My hands slipped off his arms, too clammy to gain traction. I could breathe again.
"You're okay." Avan soothed. "I've got you. Everything is okay."
I didn't look at him. I slid off the side of the tub and fell into his arms. After all, it was the safest place I could be.