"Aella, you know you don't have to do what she asks. You have a choice.?" Her mother sighs, running a had through her hair. "Why do you always have to keep me up worrying?" I look up at her, my eyes bloodshot. My lip had began to swell, blood seeping into my mouth. My head felt like it was about to spilt in two. "What am I going to do with you," she mumbles, as she takes a seat next to me. She places my head in her lap, her hands pulling the strands of my hair back from my face. Just like she used to do when I was younger. But instead of singing quietly under her breath, she sat quietly, eyes that were identical to my own observing me. Worry and frustration stared back at me.
* * *
"Aella, we have to hurry! They're coming! A! Lets go!" Scouts voice was desperate in my ear, her fingers pressing into my shoulder as we waited nervously for the group to pass. We had been sent on a task from the Vipers leader to gather some intel on one of the higher ranking members of a rival gang. Harley, the leader and my mothers sister, had asked us to investigate the new some recent activity.
She wouldn't have expected the mission to become too violent so quickly. "Shit," I curse as the footsteps come closer, echoing around the silents hallway. This was supposed to have been a simple get in and get out. But things had started to look pear shape when some of the gang members had shown up. We were told that no one was going to be around for a couple hours.
So Scout and I had hid, our bodies pressed close as we waited for the steps to pass. But they didn't They stopped in front of us and I held my breath, my heart pounding in my ears. They had found us. The door is ripped open. Grip as strong as iron wraps around my arm and I am yanked from my hiding place. Desperate, my eyes meet scouts as she too is ripped from our hiding place. Her face was pale. She never really had the stomach for situations like this. Shit. Shit, shit, shit. My eyes flash to Scout again and I can see that she is crumbling, the corner of her lips turned down as tears begin to well in her eyes.
I had asked Harley to partner her with someone else. Someone who I knew that I could trust to have my back. But she had insisted that I bring Scout. Harley had said that she needed the practice and a simple task like this would be something that would boost the young girls confidence. She said that she could see potential in the young girl, I couldn't to be honest. She was weak, mentally and physically. The vipers didn't need someone like her. Vipers needed women who were strong, who were relentless and who were confident. we needed people who were venomous and slippery. We needed snakes. Vipers.
Unfortunately for me, Harley had chosen this one. And Harley would skin her alive if she didn't bring her home in mostly one piece.
It wouldn't matter that she was her niece.
"What have we got here?" the voice belonged to a man who was only a few years older than myself. "Two little girls, who are sticking their nose in where they don't belong- what's this?" The man had my wrist gripped between his fingers. He tilted it the side to reveal the small viper tattoo that was embedded into my pale flesh. "Vipers." He spits and pushes me to the ground.
And scout is quickly tossed beside me before a boot finds a new home in her stomach. She groans, the air knocked out of her lungs. Her body folds in on itself as her arms move to protect her torso. Shit. I have to think quick. Quickly I climb to my feet and put myself between the girl and the two men. "Just one. This girl isn't a Viper. She doesn't have the mark. So leave her out of this. This is between you and me. She knows nothing." Which was true. Harley had told neither myself nor Scout the intricate details of the plan. Only to scout out and observe. In case a situation like this appeared, I guess.
A fist is slammed into my face and instantly I taste blood quickly followed by pain. I grunt, "Fuck. That hurt." But that was a mistake. I might look small. Useless. But I was quick. I was smart. And I was slippery. My hand flies to my boot, my fingers closing around the hilt of the small blade as I pull it from its sheath and fling it towards the boy who had attacked scout. It finds its home, buried in the boys eye. He screams in pain, his wails echoing though the building. "Wrong choice." I hiss as I watch the boy fall to his knees, his hands cradling the knife that protruded from his face. He would not die. But he would lose his vision from one eye. Excitement pounded through my veins as my eyes turned to the boy who had punched me in the face. "Looks like your friend might need some medical attention. Who knows, maybe if you're quick you might be able to save his vision. Though I doubt it." The boy curses at me, his eyes burning with fury.
"You will pay for this, you bitch." He hisses before grabbing his friend and leading him from the building.
I smile, and reach down to pick haul scout to her feet. "Get on your feet. We have to go." I grumble. "Your're going to have to develop thicker skin if you are going to make it with the gang. Harley may see potential in you. But I don't." I pause for a moment, before meeting the younger girls eyes, And if you don't pick up your game one, day you might get yourself killed. Or worse one of us killed." With that I march back down the empty hallway, not caring if Scout had bothered to follow or not. I didn't have time for the weak.
* * *
"We could leave, Aella. We could get away from all this." Mother ran her fingers down my pale face, her fingers pausing over the bruise that was benign to form on my cheek. "You wouldn't have to get hurt anymore. I could find us a safe place." She tilted my chin so that she could look me fully in the eyes. Whilst her hair was a mousey brown, mine was forever changing. I never liked it to be the same colour for long. I liked the feeling of confidence which flooded through me each time I found a new look.
I studied her eyes once again and guilt began to weave its web. She hated that she made her worry. Hated the look of hurt that would be painted across her features with each new bruise, but, or broken bone. But I loved my life here. I loved being part of the Vipers. I loved training. Loved feeling powerful every time I knocked someone to the ground. Or every time my blade slipped past my opponents defence. I loved the violence, the chaos. The excitement. It was exhilarating.
So instead of saying anything, I turn my face into her palm and close my eyes.
I didn't need to say anything. Because she knew. She knew that I loved it here. And even though she didn't, she would stay. She would stay because she loved me and she wanted to protect me. She wanted to be there for me. And I loved her for it.