Damian's Assassin (Chapter One, page 1 of 4)

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Fifteen years ago

Bianca looked from her pale brother lying too still on the hospital bed to the smiling nurse. The room was dark except for the light above Jonny's bed and the red and green lights dotting the machines keeping him alive.

"Sweetie, you can lay down in the bed next to your daddy's," the nurse said.

Adults would argue with her if she told them she wasn't leaving her brother, Jonny's, side until he was healed. They thought her too young to understand words like coma and deteriorating, and they accused her of lying when she said she could help him.

"Okay," Bianca replied.

The nurse handed her a thin blanket and pointed to the phone. "Call me if you need anything, okay? All you have to do is pick up, and I'll answer."

"Thank you," she said.

Satisfied, the nurse swept up the linens she'd changed and left. Bianca waited until she heard the door click closed and looked across the small bay to make sure her daddy still slept.

Why couldn't she heal her brother? She scooted forward, frustrated and tired, and touched Jonny's arm. She felt death within him, as she had with her cat Snickers after a car ran him over. She'd saved Snickers. She'd kept the flowers around Jonny's bed as fresh as the day they arrived last week. She'd helped her father sleep.

She couldn't help Jonny.

Maybe Daddy was right. Maybe she was too small. But she was nine, and Jonny was even smaller at four. He really wasn't too much bigger than a cat, not when compared to an adult.

She cried again, snuffling and wiping at her nose before she pushed herself off the chair. She concentrated hard on another wilted flower, bringing it back to full bloom.

"Jonny …" she whispered. "I'm so sorry, Jonny!"

It was her fault he was in the hospital. Her stepmother-- Jonny's mother-- had said as much. Bianca cringed as she had earlier that day when her mother and Jonny's mother screamed blame at each other until the nursing staff kicked them out of the room.

She hadn't meant to hurt him. He was annoying, and she wanted him to leave her alone. All he ever wanted to do was play with his stupid baseball, and she'd taken it and thrown it into the forest. He went after it, and she played with her toys all day. He didn't come back, even when it got dark and it was time for them to go inside.

"I can help him," a man said. She jumped. No one had come in through the door she faced. She twisted in her chair to see a man near the dark windows whose eyes were the color of her bright purple Easter dress.

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