It made my entire body clench with longing because I knew, without any doubt or uncertainty, that in this short fragment of time, I spoke to the boy who’d lived before the man who’d suffered.
I’d dropped the books I’d gathered off the shelves in the library—medical texts and extensive surgical volumes that belonged in a hospital instead of a civilian’s collection—and collapsed on the floor.
He’d tried to catch me. Long-buried instincts hurling him out of his blankets to catch a stranger he believed he’d never met. However, he hissed and buckled. Pain jerked him back. Nursing his arm, he rocked over the mottled bruising before clutching his head with another groan.
It’d been my turn to catch him.
I’d crawled into him, not fearing my life. Not from this version of Kas. Not this sweet, sweet boy.
“Tell me what hurts.”
He blinked huge dark eyes at me, wetness glistening on his bottom lashes. “Everything.”
I took his swollen arm in my hands and pressed gently, working my way up and down, feeling bumps that shouldn’t be there. “There? Does that hurt?”
He moaned and bit his bottom lip. “Yes.”
“I think it’s broken.”
“I think so too,” he whispered. “It doesn’t like it when I move.”
“Okay.” I patted his hand and gave him a gentle smile. “I’ll fix it.”
“You will?” He looked at me as if I held his world. As if I was some mythical guardian who would protect him for always.
“Yes. I’ll be right back.”
For days, I’d suspected his arm was broken but had no way of splinting it. Now? Now I had another version of Kas that I wasn’t afraid of, and time was of the essence to help him before he switched again.
Pushing to my feet, I dashed out of the library, ran to the garden, and grabbed a small bamboo stake that I’d seen in the pea vine part of the veggie patch. Bolting back into the house, I skidded to a halt and dropped into the blankets.
For a second, I froze.
What if he’d switched while I was gone?
I’d just given him the perfect opportunity to kill me.
However, he shifted away from me as if my freezing like a cornered cat unsettled him. “What? What is it?” he asked warily, his eyes darting over my shoulder, looking for something he should be afraid of. “Is something out there?”
His voice remained sweet and young.
Unbroken before abuse.
“No.” I exhaled heavily. “Nothing is out there.” I forced myself to relax and scoot closer to him. “It’s nothing, truly. I was just worried about you, that’s all.”
“Me?” He gave me a shaky smile. “Why?”
“Because you’re hurt.” I frowned at his swollen arm he was cradling. “You remember what we talked about?”
He frowned and looked to the side, his mind obviously struggling to recall something that only happened a few minutes ago.
God, what did this mean for him?
Would he be destined to spend the rest of his life flickering in and out of reality and mirages?
Dropping his gaze, he stared at his arm, then twitched as if memories physically pinched him inside. “Oh, I remember.” He nodded. “My arm is broken. It hurts.”
“I know.” I resisted the urge to cup his cheek. To just touch him. I ached to touch him—to somehow keep his mind from straying, aging, breaking. “Should we fix it?”
He made eye contact and smiled again. This time, it was the most beautiful smile I’d ever seen. It made me tremble as he carefully placed his arm into my lap and shuffled closer until our knees touched. Until his body heat from the blankets tingled over my skin.
The same chemistry that existed between us from the very first moment we met existed even now. A gentle buzzing from his body to mine, sending my blood shivering as well as my bones and breath.
He inhaled sharply.
I stiffened, ever so jumpy in case the kid had become the killer again. But instead of angry dark eyes filled with murderous intent, they stayed a syrupy golden brown filled with absolute trust and gratitude.
“I like you,” he murmured, licking his lips. “I think I know you from somewhere. I feel it...” He tapped his chest with his free hand. “In here.”
I struggled to swallow, doing my best to ignore the humming electricity twining around us. “I like you too.”
And I swallowed tears because what kind of boy could blush at the confession of affection after every sexual desecration he’d been through.
“Thank you for looking after me,” he murmured.
“You’re welcome.” My heart absolutely pounded, wanted.
“You’re really pretty.” His free hand came up to twist a lock of my hair, his knuckles kissing my cheek. “Want to go out with me? Once my arm is better? We can go swimming at my favorite lake.”
Despite the fire in my cheek from his touch and the constant tingle in my blood from being so close to him, I forced pragmatism to focus on the pieces of his past. He’d given me his name. If he gave me the town where he lived, then perhaps, I could find his family. Maybe, after years of being alone, he could go home.