A Last Time For Everything

“Who goes there?” he heard, the words sounding as muffled as the form in the dense fog, but he could make out the spot of light from the lantern.

He stopped and hesitated before he answered.  When he did so, his voice broke with fear and exhaustion.  “I know not if I have stumbled upon friend or foe, and if I tell you who I am you may run me through!”

“I am a guard of Qurn,” the guard replied.  “Now speak if you are friend or foe!”

“Praise the goddess,” he cried, stumbling forward.  “I am Nebosa, a recruit with the Night Patrol’s second squad.”

The guard saw as he came closer the gash on his head, bound haphazardly with some strips of cloth.  “Second squad?  We’ve heard no word on them for three nights now,” she said.  “We thought them all dead.”

“Three nights?” he repeated, astonished.  “Then I must have been unconscious for an entire day.  I was injured, the Hets must have left me for dead, though I fear the others were killed.”  He threw back his cloak to reveal his uniform, recruit stripes on his shoulder indicating the lowest rank of the army.

“Then welcome back from the dead, brother.  We are glad to have you.”  The guard called for a medic to help him to the infirmary, but he shook his head.

“No,” Nebosa insisted, holding out a satchel.  “I must deliver this!  Our squad captured a messenger, and Captain Dayio believed they carried information on the Hettani’s army.  I must give this to the general, not a moment can be lost, for I’ve already lost a day!”

“Of course.  Yes, you will be taken there at once!”

Two guards were dispatched to escort Nebosa.  The general’s own doctor looked after him while the general looked through the satchel, drawing out various documents, a Hettanian army captain’s emblem, and what appeared to be a map, though Nebosa only caught a glance as the general looked through the items.

“This may well turn the tide of this war,” the general said at last, looking over at him.

“Sir,” Nebosa mumbled.  His head ached, his mouth was parched, and had he not felt compelled to deliver his burden, he would have gladly taken a sip of water and a bed and slept for as long as he might be allowed.

The general, however, was very much interested in one thing.  “Tell me, how did a mere recruit come to be the lone survivor of your squad and return with such a prize?”

Nebosa’s gaze fell and he stared at his hands.  He felt at a loss to explain.  “I do not know, Sir.”  He felt the tension creep up on him, like water filling the tent, threatening to drown him.

“Do you have any idea what it is you brought back?”

“No, Sir?”  He looked up at the general.  “That is- I knew it was important.  Captain Dayio said we needed to deliver it, but I had no need of knowing the particulars.  She would have… she would have given it to you herself, but we were ambushed on our way back.”

The general put a hand on his shoulder and nodded.  “You’ve done well, and you’ll be rewarded for this.”

“Thank you, Sir,” he said, though his voice betrayed that reward was not what he had been after.  Or if it was, a soft bed was the one he’d be most looking forward to.  “I was just doing my duty.”

“We could use more recruits like you, then,” the general said.

***

Three days earlier:

Nebosa stared down at the body; the lifeless face stared back at him.   Something inside him was not quite able to accept the reality of the moment.   He barely registered the pats on his back and shoulder as his companions praised him with ‘well done, lad’ and ‘we’ll make a proper warrior of you yet.’  All he could see was the blood on his knife and hands.

He pulled the war-mask from his face, feeling suffocated by it.  He wanted to protest he hadn’t meant it.  He had turned to see the figure looming over him and instinct took over, his knife finding its target before he had even really seen what it was.  But he hadn’t meant it.  He wanted to scream it at them, at the sky, at his god.  He hadn’t meant it!  But words refused to come to his mouth.

Later, as the other four of his squad gathered around the fire to warm themselves and their food, Nebosa sat hunched beneath the crumbled remains of a rock wall a short distance away. He drew his blanket tight around his shoulders but even so it could not keep out the chill of night that pierced him to the soul.

After finishing off the wine found among their enemies things, three had bedded down, but Captain Daiyo had been keeping her eye on Nebosa ever since the battle.  Now she approached him quietly, her imposing frame seeming even larger silhouetted by the remains of the fire.  Without a word, she found his hands, pressing a cup into them.

He wanted to protest, but the warmth was a welcome change.  He mumbled out a half-hearted, “Thank you.”

She gave a little hum of acknowledgement as she settled in beside him, looking up at where the moon and stars played hide-and-seek with breaks in the clouds.  The silent companionship she offered, the intimacy of darkness, gave him that impression of safety to find his words.

“I can’t stop seeing it,” he said after some time, eyes fixed on the cup.

“You’ve never killed before, have you…”  He remained silent, but she already knew the answer.  “Maybe you thought killing would bear no consequences if it was an enemy.  But you can’t get their blood on your hands without seeing it is the same color as yours.”

The image of it flashed in his mind again and he set the cup aside to cover his face with his hands, hiding the tears he refused to let fall.  She stroked his hair gently, as a mother might.

“I don’t understand,” he said after a while.  “Why did he have to die?  Why did…”

“Wars are not about the people who must fight them, Nebosa.  The man you killed, I doubt he was evil.  But there exists an idea,” she said. “An idea that says their ways are better than our ways, and their gods are better than our goddess.  Swords cannot kill that, nor arrows pierce it.”  She rested her cheek against his head and sighed.  “We fight the Hettani and they fight us, not because Hettani are evil, but because they think we are.”

“I don’t understand,” Nebosa repeated in a whisper.

Daiyo took a long breath and stared back at the sky.  “Neither do I,” she confessed.

They sat in silence for a long time after that.  When Daiyo did speak again, she sounded strained, her breath heavy.

“I’m going to turn in.”

Nebosa pulled away at that.  “Is something wrong?”

“I don’t-” she shook her head, “I’ll be fine.  It was a long day today.”  She stood, holding her hands out as if for balance.  “You should get some sleep,” Daiyo added as she walked away.  “And make sure you eat.”

“I will,” he said, picking up the cup she had brought earlier, but it was cold now.  He waited until she settled in some distance away to keep watch before he discretely poured the contents out onto the ground.  Then he let his tears fall in silence, holding the symbol of his faith so tight it cut into his palms.  He prayed for atonement, for some penance that might undo what had been done.

The light of morning roused him from the sleep that had eventually claimed him.  He stood, still numb with grief, and walked over to where his companions lay.  He nudged Daiyo, then rolled her to her back.  Her lifeless body offered no resistance.  He checked through her pockets and bags until he found the orders she carried.

There was not much to take from the other three, nothing he wanted, anyway.  He left even their money – it could never pay the debt he carried now.  He dragged their bodies into a dense patch of brush, then gathered his things.  Taking his bearings, he set off north to find the Hettanian camp, arriving just after mid-day.

As he approached, the guards raised their weapons, calling at him to halt.  He continued to walk forward.  As he got closer, he pulled a faded emblem from his bag and held it up.  The guards, who at first seemed confused, stood back and saluted.  Without a word, or glance to either side, he went straight to the commander’s tent, pushing open the flap and throwing the pouch with the orders in it at her.

The commander nodded for the guards to step outside.  When they were alone, she stood up from her desk and took a step toward him.  “I heard.  I am sorry-”

“Don’t.”

“Krayle-”

“You knew I was with them,” Nebosa screamed.  “You knew!  How could you let him go on that patrol!”

“It’s war.  I have five thousand soldiers to think about,” she said, keeping her own voice calm.  “Do you think I personally know where every one of them is?  What every order given by a sergeant might be?”

“His blood is on my hands!”  He held them up as if in proof.  Though they had been washed clean, Nebosa could not but see it still, accusing him.  “And it will be on your head!”

The commander came over and took his hands in hers, pressing them together as if in prayer.  “And I am truly sorry, Krayle.  I am.  There’s nothing can change what has happened.  But I need you to go back.  I need you to finish your mission.”

“There is no mission anymore!  I killed them!”

“No, Krayle.  There is still a mission.  Now, as the lone survivor of your squad, you may be in an even better position.  Go back, and you may yet win this war for us.”

“For you?”  Nebosa jerked his hands away, tears of grief and anger obscuring his vision.  “I killed my own husband for you, was that not sacrifice enough?”

She bowed her head.  “Then don’t let his death be meaningless.”

“His death was meaningless!” he cried, his whole chest filled with rage..  “It accomplished nothing!  His blood flowed on these hands, sworn ever to honor and adore him, and you let him be sent when you knew – you knew – it was my squad that was out there!”

“Would you have chosen to kill someone else in his place?  Deprive someone else of their love so that yours might have been spared?  What of the others in his squad, did you spare even a single thought to them?”

His hand twitched toward his knife, imagining for a moment how much pleasure he might take in depriving her of her own life, but he also recognized the truth in her words.  If it had not been Saru it would have been someone else, some other eager  young warrior who would have spilled their blood on his hands.  That did little to ease his pain but it did at least still his rage for a moment.

“We will give him a hero’s funeral,” she said softly.  “And if the gods will, his spirit will stay with you, protect you.”

If there was any justice in the universe, Saru’s spirit would kill him instead, that they might be at least united again in death if not in life.

“Now, Krayle,” the commander continued, “you must return, to finish your mission.”

“I want to see him first,” Nebosa said after a moment.

The commander sighed, then nodded and called her guards back in, sending one to escort Nebosa to where Saru’s body was laid out for funeral.  Almost overcome, his knees went weak as he walked into the tent, a lump forming in his throat that refused to be swallowed away.

Saru looked almost peaceful laying there, as if he merely slept.  He was arrayed in white and red with his weapons situated around him.  On his chest was the pendant Nebosa had given him at their wedding.  Though it seemed someone had tried to clean it, it still held the stain of blood.  Shaking, Nebosa reached out and placed a hand on Saru’s cheek, tears dripping on his robes.

“Forgive me, my love.”  He pressed a kiss to Saru’s cold lips, then laid his head on his chest.  Part of him wished he would have died at Saru’s hand, and part of him would not have wished this grief on him for the world.  “You will be with me always, and I pray I will be with you again, soon.  This life holds nothing for me now that you are gone from it.”

He slipped the pendant from over Saru’s head and put it around his own neck, and there he stayed beside Saru’s body, refusing food or drink.

When night had fallen, a pyre was made ready.  Nebosa carried the torch but remained silent as those around him recited the prayers to take Saru’s soul to the halls of the gods.  When it was time, he thrust the torch in, and as the flames engulfed the pyre he briefly entertained the idea of throwing himself onto it as well, but even as the thought crossed his mind, he could almost hear Saru chiding him for being such a romantic fool.

“I know,” he whispered in answer to his thoughts.  “I’m sorry.”

After the rituals had finished, the commander came to stand beside him.  “You’ll have to leave before dawn.”

He nodded in reply.

“I’ve had some fake documents drawn up for you to take with you – including a false cypher that we can use to deliver misinformation.”

He nodded again, not really wanting to discuss this right now, but his fight from earlier had died out.

“You’re a hero, Krayle.”

“I’m a risan bastard,” Nebosa corrected her.

The commander’s lips curled up slightly.  “Heroes generally are, Captain.”

Nebosa looked at her.  “I will curse your name until the day I die.”

She didn’t seem surprised by the sentiment.  He turned away.  He would do his duty and complete the mission.  He would infiltrate the intelligence of the enemy.  And, gods willing, after he had died, he would haunt her.

It was an hour before dawn when he stopped, about two miles gone from the encampment.  He took his knife and cut a deep gash in his head, then bound it hastily with some scraps of cloth before too much blood was lost.  He sat down to wait for the light-headed feeling to pass, thumbing through the documents intended for the Qurn general.

The cypher caught his eye and he took it out, looking at it – staring right through it.  Unbidden, the kind words that Daiyo had spoken to him that night came to mind.  Though in his grief he had killed them all for simply being there at Saru’s death, thinking back on it now, she had been genuine in the comfort she had offered him.  Though she could not hope to fathom what his pain had been, she had allowed him to grieve, and for a moment he wished he had not poisoned them.

His eyes refocused on the cypher.  Setting it down for a moment, he struck a spark with his flint, then lit it on fire.  The orange glow reflected in his eyes and little sparks fancied themselves stars, rising into the still-dark sky.  He held it until only the edge beneath his fingers remained, then let it fall to the ground, crushing the blackened parchment under his heel.

He took from among his things a true cypher and his Captain’s badge and tucked them both into the satchel.  He wouldn’t be needing them again.

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Writer’s Digest Creative Writing Prompt: The Wedding Pawn

Writer’s Digest Creative Writing Prompt: The Wedding Pawn

You are about to get married at the wedding ceremony of your dreams. Absolutely everything has gone perfectly, until the best man says that he pawned the ring a couple of days ago. Write this scene.

“Bad luck to see the bride!” Carla screamed out as she dove behind the changing screen.

“Too late for that,” Maya replied, but chuckled at the duality of the statement.

Carla thought for a moment before sticking her head out from behind the screen.  She first gave a happy sigh and smiled as her eyes fell on Maya’s dress, but then shook her head and pulled herself back to the moment.  “What do you mean ‘too late’?”

“I mean I need you to come out here and sit down,” Maya said pulling her out from her hiding place and sitting her down firmly in an overstuffed chair.  “Now listen, I have good news and I have bad news…”

“You’re backing out on me, aren’t you,” Carla said, already prepared for the worst.

“Don’t be daft,” Maya said and kissed her forehead.  “But we don’t have rings.”

Carla blinked a few times as her mind turned those words over.  Then she set her jaw and folded her arms.  “What do you mean we don’t have rings?  I’ve seen them, we bought them together!”

“Yes… and… a few days ago, Jason pawned them at-” Maya caught Carla around her waist as she stood up, eyes focused on the fire axe beside the emergency exit.  “No no no!  Wait, let me explain!”

“Explain, what’s there to-” Carla narrowed her eyes.  “You knew about this, didn’t you?”

“Look, I asked him to, but-”

“HOW COULD YOU DO THAT?” Carla screamed.

Maya wrapped her arms around her, speaking softly. “Carla, they’re just rings, they’re just symbols.”

“Yes, symbols of our marriage!”  Carla wiggled out of Maya’s arms.  “What are we going to do when we’re told to exchange rings?  Stand there exchanging significant glances and tell her to get on with it?  God, Maya!”

Maya sighed.  “Okay, look, I know I should have told you earlier, I was hoping we’d have them back by now.”

Carla wiped at her eyes, trying desperately not to smear her makeup.  “Dare I even ask what the good news is, then?”

“Actually…” Maya laughed nervously.  “That wasn’t the bad news.”

Carla gaped.  “There’s something worse?”

“Yeah, see, about that.  The bad news was supposed to be we hocked the rings to bail your dad out and then he’d get them back out, right?  Well, now the good news is your dad is out, but the bad news is he skipped town, so…”

“He isn’t walking me down the aisle,” Carla finished, sinking back into the chair, tears dripping down her cheeks now.

“But hey, I have these.”  Maya held up two rings.

Carla took one and looked at it.  “Those are from a quarter machine, aren’t they?”

“Maybe, but look, no one will know from a distance, will they?” Maya took Carla’s hand and tried her best to smile, wiping her fiancé’s tears away.  “We’ll slip these on and in a few weeks we’ll get the real ones back, and-”

“And my dad isn’t coming to my wedding.”

Just then the door flew open and in came Carla’s father, looking like – well, frankly, looking like he’d just been on the run from police for three days.  Jason was close behind him.

“Daddy?!”

“George?”

Carla stammered for words.  “But I thought you-”

“Hey, honey!  I’m sorry I’m late,” her father said.  Carla jumped up to hug him but he demurred.  “Don’t want to get that dress dirty, not with what we paid for it.  Look, you know I wouldn’t miss this day for anything.”

“Oh, Daddy!” Carla was outright crying now, and making no effort to control it.

“Maya, these are for you,” he said, holding out his hand.  Into her palm dropped two perfect diamond rings.  “Sorry for all this.”

“Thank you, George.”  They shook hands and Maya slipped the rings into her pocket.

“Alright, good,” George said. “Look, I’m going to get cleaned up.”

“I love you, Daddy!” Carla said, taking her father’s hands.

He smiled and kissed her cheek.  “I love you, too.”

Jason gave his arm a tug.  “Come on, old man.  Leave Sis to clean up her face, we need to be in place in five!”

The two men left to get George presentable.  Maya helped fix Carla’s makeup, and in five minutes, everyone was ready to go.  Just before Maya left to take her place at the end of the aisle, Carla kissed her softly and said, “This… this is why I love you so much.”

“I know, sweetie,” Maya replied.  “Now come on, we’ll have to bail my mom out after the ceremony.”

The Ultimate Question

He settled onto the couch to watch the news like he did every night.  I went to the kitchen to make dinner, like I did every night.  I put a pot of water on the stove for the rice and started to chop vegetables for the stir-fry.

“Honey?” he called, “Can you bring me a beer?”

I suppose some people would have had an opinion on that – that I should have told him to get it himself – but it was just how we were.  I never felt like I had to take some kind of indignant stand; and besides, I enjoyed it.   I supposed I’m old fashioned, in my own way.

I made a small tray of sliced meat and cheese and brought it out with his beer to hold him over until dinner was ready.  He gave me a kiss and told me to sit with him for a while but I insisted the rice would burn so I slipped from his needy grasp and went back to the stove; the news was his thing, not mine.  I usually found it too dull or too filled with bad news to be worthwhile.

The vegetables sent up a billow of steam and sizzles as they hit the wok and I stirred quickly before putting the cover on it and checking on the rice.  He had never been much of a rice person before he met me, but I had been raised with it at every meal.  Sometimes the stereotypes are true.  We got the culinary ones out of the way early on; I cooked on our first date.  He teased me about my rice and I said I was fresh out of watermelon.  I asked if he would ever try tofu and he said only if they start making it in fried chicken flavor, and before we knew it we were in love.

My friends said he was too old; his friends said I was a gold digger.  All our friends said we moved way too fast.  I moved into his apartment at four months, and just after a year we found this house.  It was a little more than we had expected to pay, but we took it; he because it was close to work, I because of the kitchen.  The hardwood floors, two bedrooms, and a view of Puget Sound was just the icing on the cake: it was like a dream.  No matter what anyone said, we were happy.  That’s all that really matters, isn’t it?

From the living room I heard a clatter of the plate hitting the floor.  It didn’t sound like it broke, so I just called out to ask if everything was okay.  The answer I got was him rushing into the kitchen and grabbing me around the waist.

He gave me a spin that had me wiggling to get free and protesting his sudden behavior.  Then he knelt down and took my hand and I realized what was going on.  When said those marvelously beautiful words, I knew what had just happened.  “David, will you marry me?”

I confess, I squealed like a six-year-old girl right before I started choking.  Not like a little inhale that catches in your throat, but the kind of choking that makes you double over and gasp for air.  His eyes went wide and he grabbed a glass of water, holding it for me as I tried to take a few sips to wash out whatever had gotten in my throat.

Then he held me close to his chest and repeated his request, words whispered in my ear and sending shivers up my spine.

“Yes, yes of course!” I said, tears streaking down my face which I wiped at in vain.  “Dammit, William!  Yes, I’ll marry you!”

“R74 passed,” he said.

I laughed at that.  “I would have married you any way.”

“I love you,” he said, and I echoed the words back to him before he caught me in a kiss and pressed me back against the counter.  I could tell what was on his mind.  I think mine had already jumped ahead to who I wanted to invite and where it should be held.

The San Juan Islands were beautiful, and how can you beat a ferry ride to kick off the honeymoon?  I was distracted from impromptu wedding plans by his mouth on my neck and I melted into his touch, letting him carry me off.

Twenty minutes later, the fire alarm went off.  I burned the rice.  But of course, I didn’t care.

“There’ll be plenty of rice at the wedding,” he said as we threw opened windows and fanned the smoke from the stove.

“Oh no, that’s bad for the birds,” I said, trying to salvage something of the meal.  “Bubbles.  Let’s have bubbles.”

He came over and closed his hands around mine, drawing them away from the pans.  “Come on.  Let me take you out to dinner.”

I looked into his eyes and said, “Sweetie?  I want kids.”

He laughed and said, “I’m not sure where they serve those.  How about Thai instead?”

“Okay.  But kids, after.”

“Whatever you want for dessert is fine with me,” he said and grabbed our coats.

Some people don’t get us.  But we do, and that’s all that matters.

Continue reading

Battle of the Sexes

Miles walked into his room and switched on the light.  Or at least, he switched on the light switch, but was met with only persistent darkness as a result.  He sighed, dropped his gym bag on the floor, and hollered for his roommate, Lane.

Lane, being the self-professed expert in all things electric, was only too happy to take a look.  It had only taken four wrong guesses before he got the right breaker turned off, but now he was balancing as best he could on a computer chair since they didn’t have a ladder, the fixture hanging from the wires as he poked and fussed.

Miles watched, the inner workings of his light being akin to invisible magic as far as he was concerned, clueless what to do beyond flipping the switch and changing the bulb, and the bulb was new.

Since the fuse also turned off all his outlets, Miles couldn’t do anything until Lane finished, so he was sitting on his bed, kicking his heels, as Lane fussed with the wires.

“Hey, Lane?  Mind if I ask you a question.”

“Shoot.”

He had wanted a chance to talk to Lane for a while, and this seemed to have proved a good excuse.  “I know you, uh, y’know…”

Lane craned his neck around to glance at Miles, giving him an expectant look.

“Go both ways,” Miles finished lamely after a moment.

Lane snorted out a laugh.  Oh, it was going to be one of those questions.  “Yeah, I kinda do,” he said, turning back to his work.  “What do you wanna know?”

Miles shrugged, sniffed a little, and tried not to look uncomfortable.  “Why?  I mean, I get that you’re attracted to both.  But wouldn’t it be simpler?”

Lane stopped and gave him a bemused look.  “Simpler?”

“To, y’know, stay with women.”

Lane started to laugh; a deep, intense laugh as if that was one of the funniest things he had ever heard.

“What?” Miles asked, wanting in on the joke but feeling he had become the butt of it.

“Simpler?  My god, you think dating women is simple?”  Lane was laughing so hard he almost couldn’t get the words out.  “Dang, Miles, you are deluded.”

“I mean it,” he said, wanting to be serious.  “No,… no hiding.  No worrying about being caught, or what people will think.  No-”

Lane interrupted, holding his fingers out as he count off his reasons.  “No needing ESP to figure out his emotional patterns; my fair share of the closet space; bathroom products,” he said, getting very animated in his attempt to get the point across, “that I can actually identify!”

Miles shrugged again.  “Well, they do smell nice.”

“Men smell nice,” Lane said with a smirk and went back to the light fixture.

“Yes, but aside from the small stuff- well, okay, the emotions thing, I’ll grant you,” Miles said.

“No unplanned pregnancies,” Lane noted.

“No pregnancy, period,” Miles said.

“Ha!  You say that like it’s a bad thing!”

Sure, Miles wasn’t ready himself yet, but that didn’t mean in ten years or so it wouldn’t be nice.  “You honestly telling me you never want kids?”

“Oh hell, Miles,” Lane said, “are you serious?  What the hell would I do with a kid?  Nah, man, I ain’t a dad.  Besides, with my luck, I’d have a girl.”

“Yeah, and have to lock her up to keep her from all the guys just like you.”  Men or women, Lane had himself a reputation.

“Exactly,” Lane said, with perhaps a bit too much seriousness in his tone.

“Natural lubrication.”

“Spit is natural,” Lane countered.

“Okay, that’s just gross.”  Miles was beginning to think he shouldn’t have started this conversation.

“Oh, come on, man!  That’s a time-honoured tradition!  Besides, when you’ve got a bottle you don’t have to wait for her ‘mood’.”

Ouch.  “No having to figure out who’s changing their last name,” Miles said after a brief pause.

Lane shrugged, “Big deal.  No being dragged along to all-day shopping marathons.”

“Yes, but less exciting underwear.”

He pondered that for a moment before nodding. “Yeah, I’ll give you that one.  No PMS though,” he said, wagging his finger at Miles when he finished replacing the fixture.

“You’ve got a good point there,” Miles conceded, then countered, “No boobs.”

“Dang, mm.  I do like those,” he hummed wistfully as he carefully got off the chair.  “Still, men have a lifetime of experience with the equipment.”

Miles barked out a laugh.  “Alright, I’d say we’re even.  But won’t you miss women?”

Lane was about to reply when he paused and got a warm little smile on his face.  “Not as much as I’d miss Dave,” he said at last.

“Ah, the answer that trumps all arguments.  Can’t argue with love, my friend.”

“Well, look at the bright side,” Lane said, clapping Miles on the back.  “You’ll never have to worry about me messing with your relationships.”

Miles chuckled.  “Hey, speaking of, you got anything for Valentine’s Day, yet?”

“Ah hell,” Lane said, stepping out of the room to flip the breakers back on.  “That time already?”

“Gettin’ close,” Miles called back.

“What about you?”

“I thought about going out tomorrow, see if I could find some romantic little thing for Sarah.  You wanna tag along?”

Lane came back in, nodding.  “Yeah.  Yeah, that sounds good.  See if I can pick up anything.”  He flicked the light switch a couple times, just to make sure nothing was gonna catch fire.

Miles grinned as the invisible magic of power was restored to his room.  “Hey, thanks man.”

“My pleasure,” Lane said, gathering up his tools.

“So, I’ll grab you on my way out tomorrow?”

Lane grinned.  “It’s a date.”

“Dude… just… no.”

A Little Tied Up

Creative writing prompt: Don’t Spoil the Surprise

You arrive home early, and it seems that your partner is already back. The blinds are closed, and you think there might be more than one person within. Confused, and a little suspicious, you quietly open the door and slip inside.

Victor wasn’t supposed to be home for three more days. That was definitely his car in the driveway, but something wasn’t right. Kyle sat parked on the street, watching the house and rubbing his thumb over his bottom lip. There was no movement, the blinds were drawn closed. Something was most definitely not right.

He got out of the truck, approaching the house from the side and along the hedge. The front door did not show any sign of forced entry. He tested the handle: locked. He glanced back toward the street, his gaze taking in a full sweep of the yard before he drew his gun and continued on to the back door, which was unlocked. He was glad he’d finally oiled the hinges; it swung open without a sound and he slipped inside.

The house seemed empty at first, no movement at all, and no sound. He moved from room to room, walking on the outsides of his feet to dampen the sound of his steps. When he reached the bottom of the stairs, he heard muffled voices drifting down from upstairs.

Kyle knew where the squeaky spots were, going slow to avoid them. When he reached the door to the office, it was ajar. He peered in, taking in the scene.

Victor was tied to a chair, back to the door. There was another man at the desk, searching the computer. Kyle leaned back against the wall, staying out of sight but listening.

“I’ve already told you what I know.” That was Victor.

The stranger answered, accent a little hard to follow; sounded Czech. “Yes, so you keep insisting, but I think you are not telling me everything.”

“Suit yourself.” Victor always was a cocky one, even tied up.

“I might remind you that no one knows you’re here.” There was the sound of tapping on the keyboard, followed by an unpleasant ‘beep’ which meant the password had been entered incorrectly and the system had locked down.

“Pretty sure my partner is smart enough to figure this one out.”

“You aren’t even expected back for several more days.” There was movement from in the room, the voice coming nearer the door, now. Nearer to where Victor was tied. “He won’t be looking for you yet.”

Victor didn’t answer, but Kyle could just imagine the unimpressed look on his face.

“Well then, Mr. Renaud, if you can no longer be of any use to me, I will have no choice but to-”

The stranger fell over backward with a bullet through his forehead. Kyle lowered the gun.

“You’re late,” Victor said.

“You’re early,” Kyle answered.  He holstered his pistol and frowed now that he could get a good look at Victor’s black eye and bloodied shirt.

Victor shrugged. “I knew you’d turn up.”

“No you didn’t,” Kyle said with a chuckle.

“What? Don’t be ridiculous,” Victor said, as if chastising him for being thick. “You always come check on the place, even when I’m not here.”

Kyle hesitated. Victor knew about that? “I do not…”

“And I knew if you saw the car here and hadn’t heard from me, you’d know something was wrong,” Victor continued, ignoring his weak protest.

“What you mean, of course, is that I should have expected you’d get caught and dragged back here to retrieve the files.”  It took a few minutes to work out the knots of Victor’s bonds.  He could have just used a knife but that was such a waste; rope was always a useful thing to have around.  Once he finished, though, Kyle crouched in front of him, giving a quick glance over his injuries and making sure nothing was serious enough for a hospital.

Free of his bonds, it was now Victor’s turn to protest. “Don’t be tiresome; I only get caught when I intend to.  As part of my plan.”

Kyle helped him to his feet.  It made him worry how much Victor was needing to lean on him for support; he must have taken more of a beating than he was letting on.  He still couldn’t help but rile him on a little.

“Oh, so you mean when the KGB had you holed up in a base in Siberia, that was all part of your ‘plan’…”

“Obviously.”

“So, you intended to miss our anniversary…”

Victor realized he’d walked into that one and began to backpedal. “Well, now clearly the timing wasn’t quite what-”

Kyle cut him off with a kiss, then grinned. “Come on, we’d best get you cleaned up before the boss finds out you’re back.”

“You’re awful bossy for not being the boss, you know,” Victor said, feigning protest as Kyle dragged him toward the bathroom.

“Then after the shower, you can clean up the dead body.”

“Hey, that one’s your mess.”