Warning: Contains PG-13 / T-rated content.

The world faded into an arid, windy desert plain under a cloudless sky and she came into view before me. “I’m sorry,” she said, stepping close and taking my face in her hands. “So sorry.”

We stood like that for a moment. I could feel contrition seeping out of her every pore, but still it felt like a betrayal.

I brought my fist back and she went flying.

An open room with two doorways either side and windows behind flew into place, and she slammed against the hard, unpainted wall that rose in greeting on the opposite side. There are things you can forgive, and others that take time to digest. This was the latter. And sometimes through action, you can start to figure out what it is you want from a situation. It’s like the pause in between thoughts, or the space between breaths.

The floor was dark and rough, and the wall looked to be the same. I surged forward and hooked my hands under her underarms, preparing to hit her again. She didn’t scream as my knuckles slammed against the other side of her head, and I felt something inside me loosen.

Her eyes silently gave me permission. “It’s okay,” she said, as her head lolled from side to side in-between blows, “I don’t mind.”

I respect a foe who doesn’t squirm.

I drove repeated punches into her abdomen boxing style, and blood began to trickle from her mouth down to her collar. “It looks good on red,” I said nastily, digging my knuckle upward to cause more pain.

She was bloodied and bruised now, but I kept going, extinguishing the last of my demons with violence until my knuckles were chafed and her head fell slowly onto my shoulder in soft surrender. “I’m sorry,” she mumbled into my shirt, where I felt the gentle impression of teeth and a mark of red on white. Then with some effort her head lifted to look at me. “I had no idea what I was doing.”

A part of me wanted to stroke the back of her hair, but I wasn’t there yet. So I grabbed her shirt where the placket opened and threw her against the wall.

She gave a small involuntary gasp and slid to the ground, where to my surprise blood began to soak her right sleeve. I stepped closer and saw two familiar holes in her arm. She brought it quivering to my face and with gentle strokes left a faint smudge with her thumb. “If you want to hurt me,” she said, and the wind seemed to pause, “you know how.”

I yanked her to her feet, ignoring the way the movement pained her. Every fiber of my being yearned to do as she suggested—we both knew I wasn’t squeamish when it came to retribution. But as I raised my fingers to inflict agony, an invisible wall of feeling seemed to come between us. I attempted to walk forward and was halted as if by a force field. It wasn’t painful, just certain.

There was no friend that day.

She took this as her cue to close the distance. “If you wanted me dead,” she leaned in unsteadily so her head was next to mine, and whispered in my ear, “I would be.”

“You didn’t touch any of my vital points.”

“Or my wound.”

It sat between us oozing blood, a symbol of so much.

I stepped back and turned away. “I don’t kill anymore.” There was a clear view of the desert outside the window, barren but not harsh. “Doesn’t mean I forgive you.”

“How many people have you allowed this close?” she asked softly.

I would do anything for you.

My shoulders tensed as she spoke, “How many people know—”

I swiveled but she was faster, jamming one leg between mine and using my momentum to press me over the table behind us. “—that underneath the neat and refined exterior,” her voice trembled, and blood dripped from her injured arm onto my usually pristine white shirt, “is a passion and a violence so exciting.”

Her eyes gleamed as I broke the grip and shoved us both upright. “We have a history. It’s not uncommon.”

“Why have only the boring parts?” she challenged. “I like seeing you like this.”

I looked down and saw my shirt tail had become untucked in the scuffle. There was blood in various places, including on my cheek.

I looked at her, barely standing with bruises and blood everywhere, and somehow the whole thing seemed ridiculous. “This is nuts.”

“No, it isn’t.” Clouds moved in outside as if there was suddenly water for their formation.

“What do you want from me?”

“I want you to believe.”


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