Chapter Twenty-Eight

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I rouse to whimpering.

The air is thick, ripe with fear. After inhaling the scent of fresh sweat and lavender, my head swivels to the side, finding Cassandra in a frightening state of slumber. Knees pulled up to her chest, arms curled around them, she struggles to catch her breath.

Her words are mostly muddled, incoherent ramblings, but there is one name that stands out amongst the rest. Chen. I extend my arm, gently touching her back.

"Cassandra." She continues to tremble, moaning tearfully. I rub her back harder. "Cassie."

"I can save her!" she cries. "I—I can—"

I'm rattling her awake with force now, wanting to spare her from unconscious guilt. She startles awake, pleading helplessly to the air. Her focus is scattered, trapped between the deep infinity of the mind and the unpleasant truth. Chen is beyond our help. Her grip loosens first, each finger lifting into a wave upon her arms. She kicked off the covers in her vivid dreaming and her skin is ice-cold to the touch. As she turns, flattening onto her back, I bring the sheet up to cover her.

There's no need to pry the dream out of her. What I need to know is written all over her face.

She catches her breath, avoiding looking into my eyes at all costs. Her chest crashes in the struggle and to my surprise, she lets out a soft chuckle, pushing back her sweat-soaked hair.

"Do you want to talk—?"

She flips onto her side, tucking her face into my chest and utters a definite, "No."

To hold her as she wishes me to, I release whatever tension rousing to such an unpleasant occurrence created, sinking into the mattress with a gentle hum. At first her body quivers in my grasp, unsettled. I stroke her hair until the shaking has subsided and I can feel her breath leave her in heavy gasps once she's fallen back asleep.

A good deal of time passes in such a position before the tasks weighing on my mind accumulates, becoming too occupying to ignore. I slip out from her grasp carefully, guiding her head onto the mattress with no wish to disturb her. The chill of the bedroom has left marks of red on her cheeks, drying her rose-colored lips as she breathes in and out deeply.

Oh, the sight of her.

Lying face down, cheek against the sheets, her pale skin practically glowing against the bedding. Hair spread out in every direction, a mass of waves that cannot be properly tamed. I reach out to graze the exposed part of her neck, the nape, memorizing every angle of her.

We don't have much time.

Even if we win this, there's never enough time. I want it all.

After a shower, I move about the room stealthily, pulling on a pair of slacks and a grey sweater. The fabric at the collar soaks up the water dripping from the ends of my hair. Before leaving, I gather our things, cleaning up. I place our bags on the chairs of the table, gathering the cups and plates containing our half-eaten dinner. Bending down, I pick up Cassandra's coat that's fallen from the seat rest, removing the weapons protruding from the pockets.

My fingers come upon something soft. Incredibly soft.

I pull out a thick lock of hair, tied together with a piece of string. Black hair. I can smell the child from the strand's alone without having to try. The weightless reminder of Chen, a little girl who left a surprisingly strong impact on our lives, grows unbearably burdensome in the palm of my hand.

I'm glad for the lack of light in this room as I place the lock gently onto the table, knowing discontentment must be written all over my face. The child is a loss, although I knew she could never be ours. What weighs on me is how closely this met with all of Cassandra's fears.

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