Ece moved in time to avoid the dagger, watching as it kissed the wall instead. Her dark eyes snapped toward the entrance of his living room, following Cassiel as he stalked toward her, fingers curling into a fist, then uncurling. The top of his button up shirt was undone, cap of black curls a mess on his head and his lips pressed into a thin line.
This wasn’t the Cassiel Blaze she knew. He wasn’t supposed to be tolerant nor did he feign attacks like he had done now. Something had changed and Ece was thrilled—but afraid—she may be the reason behind it. Ece pulled the dagger from the wall, where a gaping hole now resided. She ran her finger along the sharp edge of the blade before smiling up at him.
“So, you’ve finally come to play with me.” Ece had been waiting for this moment since last night. Now as the sun returned to run its course, the news of her departure had finally reached Cassiel and he had returned to his manor.
Her lips spread wide into a cruel grin as he paused by the blue sectional sofa, gripping the top. His coffee brown eyes were uncertain, brows drawn in thought as if he didn’t understand the person he stood in front of. Ece didn’t want his trust, didn’t want his loyalty and yet her heart drummed against her chest loudly, wanting to invite him closer, to run her slender fingers through his black curls, to hold his hand as they lie side by side, their breathing in tune.
Her body craved his touch. Her ears yearned to hear his declaration of his distaste for her. Soon enough, she would have neither. If passion had simmered between them, hatred had always burned brighter.
“You’re leaving,” he said, eyes narrowed into slits. His dark eyes reflected the flames from the fireplace behind her, watching her with the same hunger a fire licked at the woods. “You’re going to walk away from our gang and everything my mother gave you. You’re going to… to leave?”
Accidentally, her finger pressed down on the blade too harshly, drawing blood. Ece’s brown skin split further as she pressed the dagger deeper into her wounded finger, letting the blood drip to the hardwood floor. Maybe his words did mean something to someone but currently he was in front of Ece. And she didn’t care. She killed people when they became a burden to her and saved the ones she could benefit from.
This time, she told herself it was better to walk away, to leave before she got too attached. That’s what Ece had wanted ever since she was brought to his gang in chains, sold to these demons by her parents for money. Every night she had dreamed of her grand escape, of killing his mother and escaping.
Now his mother was dead from a sickness that had plagued her body. All past debts were forgiven and with the gang under Cassiel’s control, she was free to leave. Unless… he chose to claim her as his moll. But Cassiel knew how much her freedom meant to her. She didn’t fear that he would forever tether her to this place. No, Ece knew if such a thing were to happen, she would kill him. He was aware of that as well.
And yet, some part of Ece wanted him to stop her. She didn’t want to end the five years she had spent with him. She wanted to tell Cassiel about the child she carried. She wanted to stay. He was like a cold she could never fully become numb to. She wanted the warmth, but she wanted him just as much. With Cassiel, life hadn’t always been bad. Her time with him had been more than insults and threats. They had spent some nights under the starry sky, following the amber glow in the dark while talking about dreams neither would ever live.
In the past, she had stolen lives without a thought. Children and adults, alike, she had killed without a reason. The monster within Ece had always stirred, darkening her soul. Now her human skin was shedding, and the claws were ripping through the cracks, enveloping her into the creature she was always meant to be.
For the first time in years, Ece no longer wanted to be this monster that had called to her. She wanted to be better. For Cassiel. For their child.
But Ece couldn’t do that to herself. She had dreamed of this moment every day and night for the last five years. Now she couldn’t abandon her one true purpose for the sake of Cassiel or their child. The child would be nothing more than a marionette in this ploy. It would be another claim Caasiel would hold over, and Ece no longer wanted to belong to anyone. She didn’t want to be branded. So, she would never let him know about the thing growing inside her.
His lips parted. “Ece,” he whispered, slowly taking a step in her direction. He wasn’t afraid of her; he was scared for her. The thought made Ece only hate him further. “Put the dagger away.”
She threw the weapon like a Frisbee, neither watching as it landed on the sofa a few feet away from them. In a matter of seconds, Ece was in front of him, gripping the collar of his black shirt as she turned them around, pushing him up against the wall. Her other hand was on his chest, wanting to feel the rhythm of his heart, to know her effect on him was more than fear. She wanted to engrave the melody of his heartbeat to mind so she could always remember him.
“I will hurt you and I will hurt you again, just because I can. And I’m not afraid to do so.”
Now Cassiel smiled as dawn broke free, sunlight poured into the room through the curtained windows. His silver earrings glinted. “Monsters are real,” he said. “If you’re one, then so am I.”
As he placed his dark hand to her face, she bit the inside of her cheek. Cassiel wanted to play with her just as much as she wanted to play with him. So, she would let him. After all, Ece was the master at every game there existed.
She was certain he could feel the groove in her cheek as he ran his finger delicately down her face, like tracing every inch of it, embedding her to memory. As if he planned to throw her away first, before she could leave on her own. She let him for a moment, wanting to see how far he would go before one of them pulled away.
Ece leaned in closer, her lips inches away from his ears. “I’ll always be worse than you,” she mumbled. She could feel the quickening of his heartbeat under her palm, see the beads of sweat above his dark brows. He was vulnerable and yet he did nothing to gain control. Before pulling away, she placed a kiss to his cheek, letting her lips linger despite the uncomfortable texture of his stubble.
He didn’t let her get far. Cassiel’s dark fingers wrapped around her wrist, tugging on it. His arm snaked around her waist, their chests touching. Ece didn’t react, didn’t let the surprise sneak into her stoic features as she looked into his steady gaze. Before Cassiel, she had never been close enough to someone to be able to hear the rapid beat of their heart. She wasn’t sure if she wanted to run from him. She’d never wanted anyone as much as she wanted Cassiel. She wanted him gone.
“Stay with me, Ece. You and I, we will rule over this gang together.” Ece could hear the desperateness in his tone, dangerously low, but so attractive. “Be mine.” She wanted to close her eyes and listen to him. But after spending five years with criminals, after being abandoned by her alcoholic parents, she knew better. If she turned her back, she wouldn’t be the only one watching it.
Be his. Cassiel wanted to own her. That’s what a woman was to men like him: an object, a property to be claimed and placed on the shelf as a trophy.
Ece’s fingers ran through his hair, pulling at the strands as her lips hovered over his. Just a slight move and they would be touching. This was the boy she’d grown up with for the past five years. This cruel person who had killed without hesitation as had she, who had hurt and tortured others for his pleasure. She was no less than him. At his every win, she set out to prove herself better. Every fight he lost became a battle she won. As Ece rose up the ranks, for Cassiel, she only sunk lower and lower until she became someone he could trample on. Now they were eye to eye, no ranks, no victory separating them. They were deadly quiet as they stared into each other’s eyes, waiting for either to break.
“Is that what you want, Cassiel Blaze? You want me,” she whispered, as his hands rose to her face, his thumbs caressing her cheeks.
“Yes, I want you,” he breathed, leaning in closer. Barely, his lips grazed against her own.
Ece pulled away. “Good,” she said, her voice hoarse like she hadn’t spoken for a while. He blinked as if he’d been in some trance and only then broke away. At least she hadn’t been the only one who let it play for too long. Like always, they were never certain when to call truce, when to pull away from each other. And now, she would carry the reminder of their mistakes in her womb.
She wiped at her lips, removing the feel of him. “I want you to want me.”
As Ece turned away from a silent Cassiel, the wind howled against the window, swaying through the leaves while the birds chirped early in the morning. Order in the world had been restored.
Nine Months Later
Ece woke to the cries of her newborn—no, the baby belonged to her friend now. He may have been biologically hers, but she would never address him as her son. She wanted no claim over the child; she had no affection for him. His cries echoed in the room, cutting through the silence she sought comfort in.
“Shut him up,” she said, her voice low, tired, after the hours she had spent in labor. The midwife had left Baira’s apartment a few hours after the child’s birth, congratulating them both as if it were the happiest moment of Ece’s life. Rather, Ece would remember this as the worst day of her existence.
Ece’s back remained turned to Baira, who coddled the baby in her arms. A fly buzzed angrily over Ece, moving past the queen-sized bed to the stuffed armchairs against the yellow bare walls where Baira sat. It flew to the curtained, dormer windows across Ece, from where the sun poured into the room, acting as an oven for the heat.
“Won't you look at him just once?” Baira’s quiet tone was almost inaudible. But in a lifeless apartment, the sound echoed loudly in Ece’s ears along with the cries of the despicable newborn.
Ece clenched her eyes shut tightly, reminding herself of all the reasons she had befriended Baira back in school days. Baira was good at following orders. She was kind, caring and loyal. She was everything Ece could never be. On days, when Ece needed to escape from her abusive parents, Baira was the first one to offer her a home. When Ece didn’t have enough money to buy lunch, Baira had shared her own. Now Ece had repaid her by giving her a child. Baira had yearned for company in her lonely life, and this child had been the solution.
It was Ece’s time to cut off her ties with her past relationships and finally move on. She needed to grow, to be able to become someone and for that to happen she needed to leave behind everyone who was a part of this dark life of hers.
She needed to leave Baira. She needed to leave Cassiel Blaze. She needed to leave this child.
“Leave, Baira. I want to sleep.” Just a few hours of rest before Ece was on the run. A few more hours of this foreign peace before familiar chaos enveloped her.
She heard shuffling, footsteps softly padding across the carpeted floor as Baira neared. Ece kept her eyes closed, fingers fisted by her side. The bed dipped with Baira’s weight.
Suddenly, Ece could smell him. The baby smelt like something pure, like a field of orchids. It was more than a smell; it was a feeling of being soothed, of warmth and medicine from the pain that was insistent upon staying. Ece was tempted to open her eyes, to peek at him just once, but she didn’t. She was afraid of a bond. She wanted to be free. She needed to do this. It was for the best for all of them.
“Just touch him once, at least. Let him have something that belongs to his mother.”
No, no, this wasn’t her child. She had only given birth to him. If she let herself be attached, the child would become her liability. Cassiel Blaze would use the child to control her, and Ece couldn’t let that happen.
When she didn’t move, Baira lifted the former’s hand, directing it to what Ece assumed was his face. Ece could have protested but she didn’t. It was like she needed this shove, this guidance for a single moment with this child that had grown inside her for the last nine months. This child, who would be the symbol of a life she had once shared with Cassiel Blaze.
Ece gently placed her finger on the baby’s soft cheek, caressing it. Something inside her twisted, clenching in despair. It was like finding a flicker of light in an abyss of darkness. It was like finding herself only to realize she would soon be lost.
She pulled away. “Leave me alone.”
This time Baira obliged, standing up. “Wherever you decide to go, Ece, I hope you return home eventually.”
Ece didn’t respond. She didn’t bother telling Baira that her home wasn’t among people. That it wasn’t a building of solace, or something stable enough for her to center her world around. Rather, her home was blood, murder and betrayal. It was revenge, money and hatred. Home was the life she didn’t want for the child.
Baira was at the door, when she paused, lingering as if pondering to herself. Something inside Ece twisted further, begging to be free, to beckon Baira near. But Ece held it in, pushing it down, engulfing it in the hatred she had harbored for years as a reminder of why she needed to leave. Yet, the thing within Ece spoke to her, demanding to be heard.
Look at him once. Just once. Look at your son. Look at him. Look. Look. Look.
“I’ve named him,” she said eventually. Before Ece could answer, Baira continued. “His name is Sahen. Sahen Ece.”
Baira left quietly then, closing the door behind her. Eventually, Ece opened her eyes, staring at the open window. Wind billowed past the curtain, revealing the fly, who continued to rest on the panes, not wanting to leave. Perhaps, it had found a new home.
“Sahen Ece,” she echoed. She wasn’t sure why, but tears slipped down her eyes as she repeated the name, reminiscing the feel of his soft skin and the sound of his cries. She told herself it was because she was tired. Ece’s hormones were all over the place, that had to be it. Otherwise, she didn’t cry. She didn’t love or care for anyone but herself.
Her body shook as strangled sobs escaped her lips. Sahen would never be hers. She would never let him be a part of her world. She would never let him be known by the names of his parents. He would neither know Ece nor Cassiel.
Eventually, sleep pulled her into a world of dreams where bloodshed was her only companion.
It was better than feeling everything at once for the child she would never know.