The sound of voices drifted back from the living-room. In his bed, tucked safely away in his room, Sasha cringed from those voices and held his stuffed unicorn closer to his chest.
The little boy was cute. Asian, with rounded cheeks and pretty, chocolate brown eyes. His hair was a shade too red to be considered brown, and his skin was fair, not marred by scars or freckles.
But those brown eyes of his were shaded with fear, years of it layered on over him like a shield.
Tighter, tighter, he held the unicorn. The stuffed animal looked worn; it was fraying at the seams, with one stitch down the ragged belly in bright green.
Sasha stroked at the rounded ears, tugging at one and pulling it between his teeth. Sasha nibbled at the unicorn’s ear, his eyes scanning the room.
Dark, it was so dark. Why couldn’t anyone understand how much he hated the dark?
Loud laughter erupted from the living-room and Sasha flinched, shoulders hunching. He slid out of bed, his feet resting on the old wood floors.
Warped and scarred with age, they held a haunted beauty about them.
Dressed in a little girl’s night dress, the boy got out of bed and padded towards his door, his footsteps quieter than a hunting cat’s.
He poked the door open, peeking out behind it. Hesitant, like a butterfly flying towards a hand. He wiggled his scrawny body through the narrow opening.
The door would squeak if he opened it more. The hinges were rusted at the edges.
He crept down the hall, his dress brushing around his ankles as he walked towards the living-room.
The warm glow of lights lit the hallway three feet past the entrance to the living-room and he halted in the shadowed corner before the light hit him.
He looked past the light, and saw the laughing crowd.
There was the big man, the one who always helped him with his lunches. Sasha liked the big man. He called himself Sung-Ki. Then there was the skinny man.
That man just looked at Sasha and just said his name was Jason. Then there was Nikita.
Sasha’s mother, Charolette, had always told him that Nikita was a dangerous creature and was not to be trusted. But Nikita had rescued Sasha. She kept him safe. He loved Nikita.
With her wild curls and her quick, fierce smile, how could he not?
Sasha looked at the three of them, laughing around a table crowded with chip bags, cups for salsa, and beers. He knew their lives were hard, full of thievery and death.
They pretended Sasha didn’t know- and Sasha pretended he didn’t know. But the seven-year-old was observant. It was a necessary trait in someone who wanted to survive.
But he wasn’t the only one who was observant. Ever alert, Nikita’s head whipped around as a floorboard creaked under Sasha’s foot.
She got to her feet, her chair scraping over the floor, and she walked towards him. Dressed in dark jeans and a tank-top, wearing boots on her feet, she didn’t look intimidating.
But he knew better.
The woman got to her knees in front of Sasha, cupping his cheeks gently, “Sweetness, you should be in bed.”
He liked her husky voice. It was comforting, and he liked when she sang to him, “But Nikita, I don’t want to.”
Nikita’s heart gave a soft lurch. The way the little boy said her name always did that to her. Nahkeetah. Like some she was some exotic creature.
It was because he’d been raised in Korea and spoken to only in rough tones. The child spoke quietly. So quietly. She chuckled gently and nodded, “Would you like to come and sit with us, then?”