[Trigger Warnings: Abuse. Sexual Abuse. Violence. Nongraphic.]
She woke up suddenly with an awareness of her surroundings. Sharp eyes peered around the room. The disparity gave away his outline. Dark and shadowed, he watched her as she slept. “I see you. So you might as well come out of the deep shadows.”
He stepped forward tilting his head thoughtfully. “You’ve matured since we last met.”
“Well, it’s been around ten years or so.”
“I’m not sure how much time I have but I slipped the watchers. Can we…talk?”
She patted the side of the bed as she reached over to grab the robe. “I-I’ve missed you, Caleb.”
“I wouldn’t have left if I could have stopped it from happening. They dragged me away.”
She slid her hand over his, light blending with shadows.
♦ ♥ ♦
The first time she spotted him was after a nightmare. He climbed out from under her bed to find her crying. Wrapping her up in his arms, he soothed her. She had been four. He looked no more than six. “Who are you?” she asked.
“Um, I don’t have a name. I’ve been here awhile, though. You are my assignment, Lauren.”
She blinked up at him curiously. “Are you…a monster?”
He smiled kindly. “That’s what many of your kind call us. We are Orrai. We live in the shadows and watch over the young humans.”
“Like an angel?”
He tilted his head but then nodded it slowly. “Angels need the light. We can work with them, however. We require the darkness. It’s rare for a human to be able to see us, though. Most don’t move past shadows.”
“Because humans are made of light.”
She thought about this a moment before she asked, “Even bad guys?”
“Each act of evil will dim that light a little. If they continue to sin, they will eventually be consumed by darkness. Orrai are born when one of these dark humans pass away.”
“So you’re a bad guy?”
“No…I just hold his darkness. You have to have some light to make it to the first tier of the heavens where their fate is determined. The darkness is stripped away. When it reaches the shadows, it will create an Orrai. But Orrai are not evil. They are just darkness. We…protect our humans. You are my first human.”
“You need a name. Can I give you one?”
“If you’d like.” He smiled gently towards the child. “What name would you give me?”
She studied him a bit chewing her lip thoughtfully. “I think I would call you Caleb.”
He smiled and nodded. “That’s a good name. It means ‘whole hearted’. I will protect you with all of my heart for as long as I am allowed.”
“You won’t be here always?”
“One day your vision of me will dim and you won’t be able to make me out in the shadows. When that happens, the light within you is too strong and I will have to move on.”
“Does my name have a meaning?”
“Fierce…like a warrior.”
“I like that.”
He nodded as he tucked the covers back around her. “You should sleep now. I’ll keep watch.”
♦ ♥ ♦
Lauren threaded her hand into his. “I could still see you when you went away.”
“I know. Too much darkness had entered your life by that point.”
“Why did they make you leave? I didn’t want you to go.”
“Th-they were concerned that I was too close. Perhaps I was. I no longer saw you as a child. You were no longer just my assignment. You hadn’t been for awhile.”
“You were…my best friend. At times, you were my only friend. You kept me safe at that darkest moments of my life.”
“I know…and I would do it again without hesitation. All of it.”
♦ ♥ ♦
That moment occurred when Lauren was seven. Gunshots ripped her from her sleep and she was instantly awake, sitting upright. Shouts and more shots tore through the night. “Caleb!” she called out softly, fear causing her voice to quaver.
“Who is it?”
“Your father’s darkness has caught up to him.”
“Am I going to die?”
“Not tonight. I’ll keep you safe.” He pulled her into his arms and wrapped her in his shadows. “They won’t be able to see you now.”
Minutes ticked by at an eerie pace. Sounds came from below as furniture shifted and drawers were opened. The clatter of cabinet doors opening and shutting filled the air. The acrid smell of the spent gunpowder made its way up the stairs. “Did you get the girl?” a voice called out.
“No. I thought you did!”
She tightened her eyes and Caleb could feel her fear. “Shh! I’ve got you, Lauren. You are safe with me. Just keep quiet. They can’t hear me but they will be able to hear you.”
She nodded and buried herself into Caleb’s chest clinging to…was it fur? She never quite knew what he looked like. The door burst open.
“She’s not here!” one of the cried.
“Check in the closet. I’ll look under the bed.”
The bed shifted and she could feel him close, the heat off his body unsettling her as she squeezed her eyes shut. Again she heard Caleb’s gentle voice quieting her.
“There’s no sign of her. Maybe she stayed at a friend’s house.”
“No worries, then. She wont’ be a witness. Let’s get out of here.”
Then they were gone.
Caleb held her all the way until morning. As he retreated to the shadows, he could hear human movements below as the crime was discovered. Police arrived and Lauren was taken away, placed in foster care.
♦ ♥ ♦
“I thought you would be gone…I reached out for you when they took me away. You were all that I had left, Caleb,” she whispered even as she felt his arm slip around her. She rested her cheek against that chest once more as tears from that memory washed freshly down her face.
“I had to follow you through the shadows. It took me a few days to reach you but I knew where they took you.” His arms held her close. He rested his cheek on her forehead. Things were so complicated. How could he tell her?
♦ ♥ ♦
The foster home held its own kind of loneliness. She shared a room with three other kids, all of which knew their own darkness and were wary of the others. Lauren felt broken. Then he was there wrapping her up in his embrace. “Shh,” he whispered. “They’ll hear you if you talk to me. You can press your thoughts to me, though. I will hear you.”
She closed her eyes and concentrated. “Where have you been?”
“I had to chase the shadows until I could reach you. If I entered the shadow lands, I could have lost sight of you. I didn’t want to risk that.”
“I’ve been afraid since you’ve left.”
“I know. I’m sorry. This place…it’s dripping with darkness. There are several Orrai here but the others haven’t accepted their guardians.”
♦ ♥ ♦
“I hated that first foster home. There was no cheer.”
“Eventually, they moved you. The second one was better.”
“But the third one was hell. I couldn’t have survived it if you weren’t there.” She tightened her hold on him. He had once more pulled her from the darkness that day.
♦ ♥ ♦
The man jerked her hair. “Now call me ‘daddy’, Lauren.”
He laughed but no mirth filled his voice. “You will comply or you will feel the strap.” He held the leather over his head in demonstration. “Now, call me ‘daddy’.” He repeated.
“D-daddy,” she stammered. At twelve, her body no longer appeared like that of a child although she tried to hide the changes with her clothes. He saw right through them.
“Good girl. Now daddy will reward you,” he sneered. He forced a slobbery kiss upon her, holding her still by her throat.
“Caleb!” she cried out for help in her thoughts. A pop in the air sent the room into darkness. The light bulb smoked a bit then calmed. She felt his arm wrap around her protectively. He reached up with his other hand and grasped hold of the man’s arm.
“What the h-!” the man called out, releasing her. Caleb shoved her behind him. He rose up to his full height as he shed his cloak. This was the first time she saw his monster form. The man before them paled. “Who…what are you?”
“I am Orrai. You will not touch her again.”
The man backed away. “D-demon!” he cried out.
Caleb laughed bitterly. “We have also been called by that name. Your light has been extinguished, human!”
Lauren turned away from the violence. When he returned to her, he was wrapped in his cloak and spread it out to cover her. “Come with me, Lauren. Let’s get you someplace safe.”
“W-will they blame me for this?”
“No child can cause that kind of damage,” he responded quietly. He felt her withdraw a little. “Don’t be afraid of me,” he whispered. “It makes it harder to protect you.”
♦ ♥ ♦
“My next place was a good place and I was adopted by that family. Then at sixteen, I looked into the shadows to see your sadness.”
“I had learned that I was being reassigned. And yet, it was difficult to leave you. They told me that was why we never stayed so long with an assignment. It causes us to…change.”
“Where did you go?”
“I was sent to watch over another child but I couldn’t bond with them. Time and again, I failed at my assignments. What about you?”
“I graduated and went to follow in my father’s footsteps. I’m a police officer now, a detective.”
“So you protect the innocent as well.”
She smiled, reaching up to touch his cheek. He drew a sharp intake of breath. “You provided the example as well. I…have learned to see into the darkness of humanity and find the light.”
“I-I’ve been touched by the light. So much so that I no longer fit among my own kind.”
“What does that mean?”
“I am in danger of being extinguished. I’m no longer of use. I don’t want…to disappear.” She saw the real fear in his eyes. “I came to you because…you and I…we are still tied together.”
“Can you not join the angels?”
He laughed bitterly. “One has to become human once more, die as a good man over and over again to become an angel. Orrai…we only have one chance. We are rarely reborn.”
“How does one become human?”
“We have to be loved by another human,” he answered shakily turning his eyes upon her.
She gasped at the rawness of his emotion. “I have always loved you,” she confessed softly. Her kiss met his as he held her close to his chest. Out of the corner of his eye, he could see the shadows retreat back into the corners.
“And I’ve loved you,” he whispered as the kiss broke. “That’s why I could not leave you.” He winced as he closed his eyes, pain of transformation surging through him. “It hurts!” She watched in alarm then wonder as his monstrous form was stripped away, replaced by human skin holding the small amount of light she had given him. “It will take a lifetime to rebuild the light. However, if you are by my side, I know that I can do this.”
“You have always been light to me, Caleb. Your heart has always protected me. That to me is light.”
He reached out towards her, his hand stroking her cheek as he watched in wonder at the change of his skin. She leaned towards him and he met her half way into the kiss. “I will continue to protect you, Lauren. You hold my heart in your hand. All of it.”