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Wisps of Smoke and Colorful Souls

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Renato has just turned thirteen and his name is finally gaining weight in the underworld. He is thirteen and his hands are already tainted with blood. He doesn’t really care, even though he sometimes thinks he should.

(His mama would have wanted him to.)

Renato is thirteen, four feet nine, and his eyes are cold even though they are brown. His life has not been kind to him, but he’s stubborn; he’s determined. His life is his, and no matter what it throws at him, he will raise up to the challenge and win.

Renato is thirteen, and one night he awakens in a different mindscape for the first time.

The muscles in his back tense for a second before relaxing, fluid and graceful, and his hand closes over his Glock. He barely moves as he analyzes the undefined space with eyes hidden in the shadows of his hat.

What is this? Mist Flames? He can’t sense them, not even after opening up his senses and reaching.

There’s a tug on his pants and he doesn’t jump. His muscles obey his training, so before his conscious mind registers there is a threat, his Glock is already turned down, pointed directly between the eyes of the offender who has evaded all his senses.

Huge, innocent green eyes peer up at him, shining with undisguised curiosity, and Renato freezes. The owner of the eyes blinks and crosses them a bit, trying to focus on the weapon, and it is then that Renato realizes what he’s doing. He quickly secures his weapon in the holster strapped to the small of his back and takes a hasty step away from the goddamn baby.

Then it clicks.

A baby. His soulmate is a baby.

Renato doesn’t know if he should laugh, cry, or shoot something. Because of course.

The child gurgles and claps his hands in a careless show of happiness, and Renato can only manage a glower in response, not that the brat seems to care. Instead, it squeals and lifts demanding arms, completely disregarding Renato’s dark scowl.

Narrowing his eyes, Renato studies the tiny thing, but does not approach.

One year old. Happy. A mop of dark hair and soft, tanned skin. Chubby. A pair of startlingly green eyes that are becoming brighter and bigger and… is that a pout?

Alarms blare in his mind. He doesn’t want to deal with a bawling baby, thank you very much, and if bending to the little creature’s demands and lifting it awkwardly in his arms is the only way to avoid the waterworks, then he’d gladly forsake his pride and carry the thing. It’s not that there’s anyone else there to be a witness.

The baby is heavier and lighter than he thought, and it giggles the moment Renato perches it on his bony hip, all sadness forgotten. He hadn’t thought much about his sideburns until the tiny monster has access to them, but if letting it play with them makes the crying stop, then—

“Argh, no! Don’t do that!” He’s way too old to whine, so he’s not. He’s not. He’s just complaining vehemently against the baby’s decision to suck on his goddamn hair. Why is this his life? “Let go, bad baby.”

And it seems that the little being understood, or at least got the meaning of Renato’s tone, because he slowly releases the now soggy curl, eyes filling with fresh tears.

Oh, no, Renato thinks, and then he’s mentally and crudely swearing before trying to calm down and summon some kind of smile to his face. It felt… stiff and terribly awkward and almost foreign, pulling muscles that he’s almost forgotten how to use. (How long has it been since he last smiled? Truly smiled. Not a smirk, a smile. Probably when his mama was still alive, before… Before.)

“It’s fine, bambino,” he says, trying to make the words soft, like he remembers listening from his mama when he was a kid himself. (He’s thirteen now, but he hasn’t been a kid for years.) Like the smile, it doesn’t feel quite right, but it seems to help. “I’m not mad at you.”

The baby sniffles once, then peers at him beneath wet eyelashes, and Renato’s heart constricts in his chest. He smiles again, more genuine, and the baby answers with a truly breathtaking, beaming smile.

Ugh. Damn, his soulmate is the cutest little thing ever.