Christian Quarter of the Old City
June 6th, 5:54 a.m.
Shots firing. Children screaming. Smoke clouding his vision.
Damien remains calm and collected.
He was born for this.
He weaves in and out of the crowds, right in the middle of the action, amidst the danger that most photographers won’t come within thirty yards of.
The military is relocating the sector, accusing them of harboring terrorists. They’re shooting innocent civilians, creating hatred and fear where there once was peace and hope.
Damien keeps snapping photos: a soldier crushing a table displaying a rosary and a painting of Jesus, children being torn from their parents. the world needs to see this.
A hand grabs his shoulder and Damien spins around with a raised fist, tucking his camera against his side to protect it. Amani, a fellow photojournalist and one of his best friends, lets go and raises his hands.
“Easy, pal, just me. Some thirtieth birthday, huh?”
“Yeah,” Damien says, turning away to continue documenting.
“Look,” Amani says, “ I just want to warn you about something.”
“That we’re under attack? I kinda got the memo.”
Amani rolls his eyes and snaps a photo of a young woman being hit with a riot shield and falling to the ground.
“Rose is here.”
Damien pushes the thought aside for a moment and rushes to the woman who is currently about to be trampled by a group of Syrians attempting to escape. He lifts her up and drags her out of the way, handing her over to her friend who makes the sign of the cross over her heart and kisses Damien’s cheek.
He returns to Amani who is rounding up civilians and pointing them toward the evacuation route before they can be corralled there at gunpoint like criminals.
“Where is she?”
“She’s down that way,” Amani tells him, pointing South down the street to where a smoke bomb just went off. As soon as Damien turns to run his friend grabs him.
“I wouldn’t advise it, man. You really fucked things up with her.”
“I just wanna talk.”
“Romantic drama in war zones, you know how that usually ends.”
Damien shrugs out of Amani’s grip and heads down the street, pretending he doesn’t hear the fading, “She’s got a boyfriend, you know!”
It’s not hard to find Rose, video camera in hand, right in the middle of the danger, like she always is.
His ex looks at him, expression unreadable. “Damien.”
“What are you doing here?”
“My job,” she says calmly, even as a bullet narrowly misses her left ear.
Damien feels fear for the first time in a long time.
“You need to evacuate.” Damien may have left her over a year ago without any explanation or contact since, but he still cares about her deeply.
“Like hell I do,” Rose snaps defiantly, pulling against his grip. It’s not like her to curse, even if it’s something as mild as “hell.”
“Let me go, Damien. You’re good at that.”
There’s a fierceness in her eyes that Damien knows he can’t argue with. He never could. So he lets go of her arm, adjusting his lens and following her. He takes a few photos of her running out into the action. Even in full on action mode she is photogenic, her dark curls framing the sides of her beautifully rounded face.
That’s when the civilians start fighting back. Guns, rocks, more smoke bombs. An old woman, not causing any trouble, is knocked to the ground by a riot shield. Damien gets to his knees to help her out. He jumps slightly when she grabs his face and then says, in perfect English, “Damien, I love you.”
He opens and closes his mouth a few times before settling on a basic, “What?” He’s never met this woman before in his life.
“It’s all for you.”
And then her eyes roll back and turn white. Damien’s blood runs cold. For the first time in his dangerous career as a war photographer, he feels truly terrified.
As he stares into her horrifyingly blank eyes he feels darkness stirring within him, darkness from his past that he’s always felt but never understood. She’s drawing it to the surface somehow, and along with it come visions.
Damien wants to pull away but he can’t. He doesn’t remember his childhood, nothing before his parents’ deaths. He knows, though, somehow, that he’s seeing his fifth birthday party, tinted in a grim red hue. His governess is standing on the roof of his family’s mansion, saying the same words this old woman just said to him. The old woman who is speaking over the flashback in another language.
Damien sees his governess, noose around her neck, jump from the rooftop ledge. Her body bounces as her neck snaps and she swings through a glass window.
He feels arms wrap tightly around his small frame as his head is turned from the tragic scene. In the memory, he looks up at the face of the person holding him‒a young man with slick dark hair‒but his face is blurred. Then his mother grabs him frantically and the memory shifts.
The old woman’s voice continues as another clip flashes before him. It’s his father, Robert Thorn, crouching over him with a dagger.
“Robert, stop!” a voice yells from the shadows to his left. From what Damien can see it’s the same young man who was holding him in the first vision. He’s raising his palm toward Robert, as though that will do any good. Still, Damien feels a strange force, a breeze picking up. His face is still blurred and he sounds like he’s using a voice modulator. These memories are being altered.
Then the cops are shouting at his father to drop the weapon. He doesn’t, instead making a move like he’s going straight for Damien’s heart. There are several gunshots and then blood on Damien’s face.
The sounds of gunfire in his head merge with the blasts around him and he’s back in the present.
“Who are you?” Damien demands, shaking her shoulders. ”What the hell did you do to me?”
She smiles eerily for a moment before a rock strikes her head hard, blood wetting Damien’s face just as his father’s had decades ago.
He hears his name being called from nearby, over the screams and the violence. It’s not a familiar one. He lets go of the old woman and looks behind him just as a young man comes into view. He’s not Syrian, in fact, he sounded British, and Damien has no idea who he is or how he knows his name. But he definitely said it and is definitely running directly at him.
He can wait. Damien turns back to where the old woman was kneeling. She’s gone. Only a bloody rock lays on the ground in front of him.
Hands grab his biceps from behind and it feels like a mild electric current flows through his entire body from the points of contact.
“Damien, we need to go, now!”
Damien’s body seems to move without his consent, submitting to the will of this stranger who feels so familiar, though he doesn’t remember anyone’s touch ever making him feel this way.
“Who are you?” Damien asks as he’s pulled into an alley.
“My name is Emrys. I need to get you out of here.”
Damien struggles against the odd feeling pulling him along with the man who is still gripping him. He’s wearing dark layers and a scarf, the dark mop on his head a mess and his facial hair scruffy. His eyes are bright blue, and they’re watery as they gaze at Damien for a little too long. It’s like he’s a star-struck admirer trying to remain serious and professional.
“I need to find that woman,” Damien argues. “She did something to me.”
It was a rush, what she did to him. Something he’s yearned for for twenty-five years, and he needs more. But he also doesn’t want to leave this man either. It’s a rush in itself, whatever his hands are doing to his nervous system, those little pulses of electricity. It’s odd and unsettling, but not unpleasant.
“She won’t give you the closure you desire,” Emrys tells him sombrely, snapping him out of his internal crisis.
“And you will?” Damien asks skeptically. How the hell does this guy know anything about what he wants?
“In time,” he says. Emrys pulls at him, trying to urge him further down the alley. “You need to trust me. Come with me, Damien.
“I don’t know you. But you know me… somehow.”
“In time,” the man snaps, and Damien thinks he sees just the slightest glint of gold in Emrys’ bright blue eyes. He suddenly feels calmer, more compliant.
The man looks over Damien’s shoulder, eyes widening. “Oh my god,” he says, blinking over and over like whatever he’s seeing will change. “Shit.” Damien turns around to see what’s upsetting him so much.
It’s Rose, calling out his name.
He wrenches out of Emrys’ grip, making a move towards his ex.
“Damien, don’t,” the man calls after him. Damien freezes for a moment, conflicted, before making up his mind and running to Rose. He feels the mysterious man’s gaze following him, though the physical buzz faded the moment they broke contact.
Rose looks like she took quite a hit, a small bloody cut over her left eyebrow.
“Are you okay?” Damien reaches up and wipes a droplet of blood off of her face before it can drip into her eye.
“I’m fine.” She bats his hand away but her frustration is halfhearted at best. “Who’s that?” Rose lifts her camera up to record the man in the alley who quickly pulls his hood and scarf up to cover his face.
“No clue. But he knows me… somehow. Did you see that old woman who grabbed me?”
“I did more than just see,” Rose says, gesturing to her camera. “What the hell happened?”
“No clue, but we have to find her,” Damien tells her desperately, still feeling a pull to the alley and an urge to feel that strange connection again.
“That’s what I came to tell you. There’s a civilian who knows where they’re taking the prisoners. Five hundred to get me, you, and Amani, there.”
“You know better than to get into a vehicle with a civilian. He could be anybody.” And yet he feels ready to throw himself in whatever direction the man in the alley wants to take him, despite knowing nothing about him.
“You want answers, don’t you?” Rose asks, and yes he does. He’s just conflicted about where he wants to get them from. From an old woman who spoke in Latin and whose eyes turned white, who gave him visions he never dreamed of seeing, but were somehow altered…. or from a man who has explained nothing to him but seems to have more answers in his fierce gaze than the woman had when she threw him down memory lane.
“Well, the only way we’re going to get them is if we follow those prisoners.”
“Yeah, maybe…” Damien drifts off, eyes traveling toward Emrys. The young man‒though something about him seems so much older about him, something wise‒is glaring at him, his expression a mix of anger and worry.
Their gazes connect for a few moments and when he turns back around Rose is gone, being ushered quickly by the civilian into a beat-up car with most likely stolen license plates.
He makes up his mind and moves in the direction of Rose and the civilian, intercepted swiftly by Amani, who is being dragged along by a soldier yelling through a megaphone in Arabic. Damien is not sure to be more concerned or relieved when Rose’s ride speeds off.
“Damien, they’re arresting‒”
And then Damien has a mouth full of dust and a boot on the back of his neck.
“Is Rose okay?” he asks Amani, who is yelling profanities at the military in Arabic.
“She made it out,” he manages to grunt out. It sounds like his face is being crushed into the ground now. “Some shifty looking car. We, on the other hand, are being deported.”
Amani starts yelling again in Arabic, and Damien can understand enough to understand why one of them shouts, “اخرس ، أمريكا !” which Damien knows all too well. Shut up, American . He recognizes that particular phrase in quite a few languages, actually, thanks to his dangerously fiery friend.
Amani actually complies for once, probably because he heard the metal of a gun being cocked. That sound is followed by the jingle and click of his friend being cuffed before Damien feels the cool metal being closed far too tightly around his own wrists. He’s pulled up roughly by his hands, feeling the all-too-familiar pop of a shoulder dislocating‒thankfully his left this time.
Now that he has fuller range of motion in his neck despite the throbbing pain in his shoulder, he looks towards the alley for Emrys.
He’s nowhere to be seen.