Everything was pain, almost blinding, sparks of red and white shooting across the blackness of my inner eyelids. I couldn’t hold myself still, and immediately curled forward, wincing and gritting my teeth to keep from screaming.
Then I felt something cool and damp press against my forehead, and a soothing voice murmured words I couldn’t understand.
I opened my eyes.
At first, all I saw were blurred shapes, the world still hazy with pain. I blinked a couple times, helped by that cool cloth still blotting against my forehead. Slowly, those blurs resolved themselves somewhat into shifting strands of red hair, floating above me.
“I,” I began, my voice immediately cracking with disuse as I opened my mouth.
Before I could say anything more, a finger, soft and warm, pressed itself against my lips to hold them shut. “Hush,” murmured another voice, soft and feminine and filled with caring. “You don’t need to speak. Just take it easy.”
The easy choice would be to let my eyes close once again, to drift back into the peaceful embrace of oblivion. But I forced myself to blink, and slowly, the blurry shapes in front of me began to swim into focus.
Up above me were wooden boards, a roof of some sort. I realized that I was horizontal, and it felt like I was lying on some hard bed. Those red hairs floating in the air above me were connected to a girl crouching beside me, one of her hands still dabbing at my forehead with the blessedly cool cloth.
Although it sent pain coursing through my body with each fraction of a degree, I turned my head slightly to the side, looking at her.
Danni, her hair an orange halo around her face, smiled down at me. “I’m glad you’re still alive, Priest,” she said to me, as her eyes flicked over me. “I was fairly convinced you were dead for a while!”
“I might still be,” I responded, my voice still rough and raspy. I found that, although the pain persisted, I could block out enough to start to pull together my shattered thoughts. I tried to think back to how I had ended up here, but it was all nothing but shards in darkness. “What happened?”
For a moment, a cloud passed across the girl’s face. “The train was falling into the water beneath the bridge,” she said, “and you threw me clear of the cars. I think you were going to jump after me, but-“
I remembered, a flash of panic and horror. “There was another car, the one behind ours, that hit before I could jump,” I recalled.
Danni nodded. “Yes. I saw you get thrown clear, but you were limp, like a ragdoll. I had to dive down to pull you out before we were both buried under the debris.”
I tried to raise my head to look around. “Now where are we?” I asked, but as I tried to lift my chest, another wave of cutting, stabbing pain forced me back down, and I gritted my teeth as I panted and fought to remain conscious.
Next to me, the girl leaned forward, putting her other hand on my chest and pressing me gently down. “Will you stop it?” she scolded, sounding almost motherly as she ran her hands over me. “You need to relax, Priest! We’re safe, that’s what matters, and you have to recover. You were on Death’s doorstep, knocking, before I pulled you back.”
My eyes rose up to the girl, and a sudden flush crept through Danni’s cheeks. “Not that I cared about you or anything, Priest,” she murmured faintly, reaching up to push a few strands of that bright red hair back behind an ear.
“Jasper,” I said quietly.
“My name. It’s not Priest. It’s Jasper.” A little chill passed through me. I had never before told anyone, much less one of my targets, my real name.
But above me, Danni stared at me for a moment, and then smiled. “Jasper,” she repeated, running her finger lightly down my cheek. I could feel the heat of her skin soaking into mine. “Well, Jasper, focus on resting. Try to relax.”
I started to open my mouth to say something, but the girl leaned down to shush me. This time, however, instead of pressing a finger against my mouth, she met me with her lips.
The kiss was as light as a feather, but warm as the sun’s spring rays. As Danni pulled away, I wanted to say something, but I fell back into peaceful, shady oblivion before I could form the words.