“Are we down for the count, darling?”

“Don’t call me darling.”

His arm slipped around her shaking shoulders, long fingers dipping across the muscle in her pale arm. Clutched within her dancing fingers was a sheet of metal, stilled only when her breath pulled in.

The whisper of her mind was pounding within his heart and he watched with oddly colored concern while she fought with the screaming behind her eyes. Her brain wanted blood and a hissing sting to dull the throbbing ache within her chest. Logic already knew that road led only to death though and the fight was ripping her apart.

He tapped his finger tips against her skin, observing the way she would jump ever so slightly with each difference in contact. Her nerves were misfiring like a shattered mirror casting off too many reflections.

Finally, Gabe pulled his arm away and shifted himself to sit in front of his disheveled friend, tucking his long legs beneath him and carefully grasping her wrists. The contact coming so close to her struggle shot her eyes to the left with shame building clear liquid paths through swollen lids.

“Hey weirdo, look at me,” he whispered gently, prompting her with a light squeeze to her wrist.

Instead she dropped her head, sucking in a sharp breath while the liquid in her eye spilled over and dripped across enflamed cheeks.

“You don’t like seeing people cry, Gabe. I don’t want you to look at me the way I’ve seen you looking at others like this. I can’t handle that right now.”

Her voice was hollow and shook with emotions barely held at bay behind the dam she built from ropes and rotted boards. He locked his jaw and closed his eyes for a moment, letting out a long stabilizing breath.

“You’re right,” he finally replied. “I don’t like seeing people cry. Especially the strong ones that I know are capable of finding their way out of the forest on the darkest of nights. I hate it when those people break down. It means I have a real cause to be wary. Do you really want to scare me, hun?”

She allowed a strangled chuckle to fall from her lips as she brushed away another tear. Breifly, she allowed herself to glance up through blue hair, the corner of her lips barely turned up.

“Don’t call me hun either. And I think it would be a cold day in Hell when you allow a human to make you afraid.”

Now he grinned with a devious glint lighting up his brown eye. “In fact, Hell has a variety of weather patterns ranging from dessert heat waves to blizzards. By your logic, I can be afraid rather often madam.”

She began to laugh and for a moment it seemed her chest wouldn’t burst and in that moment she was grateful. Gabe squeezed her wrists one more time with a smile grasping his lushious lips before gliding his hand through her fingers and stealing the sinfully chilled metal in one smooth gesture.

“You know you don’t need this anymore, love. Let it go and come here instead,” he instructed quietly.

He pulled the girl against his chest and if anyone were to ask, he’d say that he never noticed his shirt growing wet with warm salty liquid nor would he ever admit to hearing muffled sobs pull from her lungs. He would always protect her, and whether she asked for it or not was irrelevant. He loved her and that was all he would ever admit upon the subject.