|Location||Outside a small town. India.|
|Summary||Rohan tries to stop running.|
Her name was Theresa Francis, for all that she was Indian, far more Indian than Rohan had ever been.
“We’re named for saints,” she told Rohan when, exhausted and bloodless, he made the assumption she was part English. Her words were almost stern, but there was a smile behind them.
She didn’t say who ‘we’ were. Family, Rohan assumed, but it might have been anyone.
Theresa was always smiling. She was short and rather wide, but for all that she had slender, sure hands that fluttered when she spoke, like a bird. They were kind hands, so kind Rohan nearly flinched when she first touched his leg because he had forgotten what that much kindness felt like.
She was a doctor. Well-trained, too, from the little Rohan knew, and he assumed there was some story behind what had brought her to this tiny village, but he never asked. The local priest had fetched her when he’d found Rohan in his church, bleeding beneath the votive candles.
She didn’t just fix his leg. She took him in. She lived in a tiny house not far from town, where she grew herbs and spices in her garden, and fed the village’s stray cats. Rohan’s world became her settee, where he slept until he lost all concept of time, and regained his strength.
There was something lovely about this place. It was like sunshine solidified. It was warm and safe, and the air was rich with the scent of spices. It was everything good in India, rolled up in tiny space. He began to forget his fever dreams of green, green hills and fluffy sheep.
“You shouldn’t have me here,” he told Theresa, early on, when he was still half out of his mind with blood loss. “Bad people want to kill me.”
“I’m not afraid,” she said, and checked his bandages. “You need help.”
“You shouldn’t,” he said. “I’m a bad person, too.”
She looked at him, thoughtful, the sun tangling in the silver strands of her hair. “I don’t believe that,” she replied, reaching to touch his temple lightly, and there was such surety in her voice he almost believed her.
She took his gun and his money from his jacket, and put them away in a drawer, without a word, either of curiosity or judgment.
And, despite himself, he began to feel safe again. He fell asleep on the settee, the cool night air sneaking in, and forgot to look over his shoulder.
Maybe there could be a new life for him.
“They’ll find me if I go online,” he told Theresa one evening. She was feeding the cats, setting down bowls for them in the growing dimness. He sat on the doorstep, and smoked. For all she didn’t smoke, she’d brought him cigarettes one day, and it seemed one of the kindest things she had ever done.
“It doesn’t work very well out here, anyway,” she said, pausing to stroke the head of the ginger tom, her favourite.
“I need to get a message to someone,” Rohan confessed in the growing dimness, the smoke drifting from his cigarette.
She straightened up and shot him a knowing look, coupled with a warm smile. “A girl? Or is it a boy?”
“A girl,” Rohan admitted to that smile.
“Right.” Theresa wiped off her hands. “Write her something and I’ll see what I can do.”
So he wrote Sky a message. By hand. It had been a very long time indeed since he’d written anything the old-fashioned way, on actual paper, and his writing looked like a child’s, spidery and uneven.
He didn’t know what to say. He didn’t want to say too much. He didn’t want to say too little.
He told her he wasn’t running away from her, and he would find her again.
The message disappeared, off to Theresa’s own network, and he grew stronger. He helped feed the cats and weed the garden, and worked his way through her small library, He was beginning to find something he had forgotten existed.
It didn’t last long.
He was cooking when they came. He made his mother’s recipes for Theresa, with the fresh spices from her gardens. She protested they weren’t authentic, twisted by generations in England, but she ate them all the same.
There were two of them. One was a woman he’d seen before; a wiry woman with a face like a ferret and a fondness of large guns. The other was a huge brute, and he had Theresa by the hair.
And Rohan froze. Froze, like the green boy he’d been eighteen years ago, and not the seasoned merc he was.
The brute forced Theresa to her knees. She looked up to Rohan, with dark eyes that were still kind, still smiling and not afraid, and said, “Run.”
The brute shot her.
It was just like that. No dramatics, no threats—just a casual twitch on a trigger, and Theresa’s head exploded. And Rohan was left, still frozen, clutching a wooden spoon ridiculously and his gun a room away.
“You better come with us,” said Ferret Face. “The boss really wants to see you. Or we’ll do the same thing to your girl.”
Rohan stared a moment more, frozen, still frozen.
He broken into motion without thought. He snatched the pot from the stove, and threw it at Ferret Face, searing curry and all. He followed the arc of the curry, flinging himself at the brute, and catching him so by surprise the huge man stumbled backward, brought to the floor by the impact of an angry Rohan to the chest.
Rohan fought dirty. He ignored the ache of his healing knee, and fought with every trick he knew, sitting on the brute’s chest, and grappling for the gun. His fingers slid over it, once, twice, and the brute hauled his fingers back so abruptly he screamed in pain. He jabbed a finger into the man’s throat, hard, and while he gasped for breath, Rohan managed to grab the gun from him, and in a single motion raised it, and shot it at Ferret Face just as she raised her gun again.
She crumpled. The brute reached back up, skittering a weak blow off Rohan’s cheek, and Rohan turned back to him.
“There was no need to do that,” he told the brute between his blows. “She was good. She was good!”
And he rained down blows on the man beneath him, until his face was a ruined wreck. The brute had stopped moving. Perhaps he had stopped breathing some time ago.
And this lovely house, this place of sunshine, that had been so warm and so safe, was only filled with death.
Rohan arose with effort, his knee stiff and sending stabs of pain up through his thigh, his hands bloodied and sore. He looked at the bodies, the two thugs and Theresa, still, those hands of kindness limp and useless.
There was a world where this sort of thing didn’t happen, he knew. Normal people didn’t trail death around after them, a black dog at their heels. Normal people lived, and built lives, and slept without looking over their shoulders.
He hated himself. He hated himself and everything he had become.
If only he had been better. Stronger.
So many people would still be alive.
He found the message he had written Sky, with his scrawl, childish and uncertain, in Ferret Face’s pocket. He burnt it in the garden, watching it catch fire and dissolve, with all his hopes, the night breeze on his face, rich with the scent of spices, and tears coming to his eyes.
The cats were coming to the gardens, mewing for their dinner. He put out their food, and petted the ginger tom. “I’m sorry,” he told the cat. It was useless.
Back in the house, he left Lincoln’s thugs lying in their own blood, but he lifted Theresa and placed her gently on the couch where he had been sleeping for so long. She was lighter than he thought in his arms, limp and devoid of life.
The air stunk of death. Death and spilled curry. He was so fucking sick of death. Watching it. Hearing of it. Fearing it. Dealing it.
He closed her eyes, and crossed her arms on her breast. He tried, clumsily, to pray for her, but he was so out of practice he doubted they went anywhere.
“You should have listened to me,” he said, voice hoarse, to those dead ears. He brushed back her hair, silver and black, from her brow and pressed a kiss there, just above her brows.“I told you I was a bad person.”